Early January has some of us in an auld lang syne kind of mood. Enjoy Team Booksweet’s favorite reads of 2021 – and some honest “real talk” about what made these books so meaningful to us.
All of the books featured here did something important for us in this incredibly challenging year: they changed us, motivated us, kept us connected to the deeply human impulse to tell, share, and hear stories. They are Booksweet’s Best of 2021.
The Four Winds, by Kristin Hannah, was the most thoughtful and well written book I read this past year. I enjoy this author immensely and when she dives into historical fiction her books are magic. (See also The Nightingale). The Four Winds is the remarkable story of Elsa Martinelli and her journey into adulthood and motherhood, while battling relentless Dust Bowl storms in Texas, and the uncertainty and hardship of providing a new life in California for her children. Through it all Elsa proves she is much stronger than she ever thought possible. With fleshed out characters, complex relationships and an underlying theme of resilience and love, this novel stayed with me long after finishing it. While this is a work of fiction, the attention to detail and historic facts included in the story gave me a desire to know more about this time in US history. Additional note: if you prefer audiobooks or want to give them a try, the narrator of the novel, Julia Whelan, is fantastic!
Another book I really enjoyed is Malibu Rising by Taylor Jenkins Reid. I love a generational family saga, and this one did not disappoint, complete with sibling drama, an absent father, divorce, betrayal, and one heck of a raging party.
There were a lot of excellent books in 2021, but Cloud Cuckoo Land by Anthony Doerr was the absolute standout for me. It indulged my fascination with history through both the titular “lost” Ancient Greek satire and the chapters set during the fall of Constantinople, while also hitting hard on science fiction during the portions taking place in the far future. And the present-day story arc provides a fascinating bridge, offering a perspective on unexpected and unintended legacies as well as the tenuous threads that keep knowledge alive. (Two of my other favorites of the year, The Dawn of Everything by David Graeber and David Wengrow, and Far Sector by N. K. Jemisin and Jamal Campbell also hit on multiple levels, with each exploring the conscious construction of societies through anthropology and sci-fi, respectively.)
The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by V.E. Schwab came out in 2020, but I read it in early 2021. The relentless demands of early-pandemic life really burned me out and fractured my attention in a way that made reading really challenging. Addie LaRue was the first book that brought me back to myself and my life as a reader. My love of V.E. Schwab’s Shades of Magic series motivated me to give this book a try but it was the combination of romance, history, secrets, and adventure that kept me engrossed. The book unfolds over centuries, continents, and petty crimes committed out of necessity as Addie LaRue tries to carve out a life for herself after a powerful deal with the devil. I needed needed a vivid refuge from the everyday this year and V.E. Schawb’s sweet fantasy delivered. Best of all, ushered me back into my life as an avid reader. I’ll always be so grateful to her for this book.
Another fantastic book that changed me this year was My Grandmother’s Hands: Racialized Trauma and the Pathway to Mending Our Hearts and Bodies by Resmaa Menakem, MSW, LICSW. This book asserts that our bodies carry inherited generational trauma of white supremacy — and offers hands-on activities based on the latest neuroscience and somatic healing methods to aid in healing. The book includes prompts for Black Americans, white Americans, and families with law enforcement/military lineages. Pair this book with any read from our Racial Justice Reading list, especially The 1619 Project. The fight against white supremacy cannot only take place in our minds: the fight requires a healing of the body, making radical changes from the inside out, to ensure our actions create good and lasting change towards co-liberation.