My Favorite Reads of 2021

Since I had a reading goal for the entirety of 2021, I thought it would be fun to do a round up post of the top ten books out of the 76 books I finished.  For the most part, I am excluding old favorites which I re-read from the list. The inclusion of a book on this list might mean I really enjoyed it, or it has stuck with me, or I think it is a really important book. That is to say, this is not scientific, y’all.

An Honorable Mention must go to all the Brother Cadfael books I read this year. These medieval mysteries by Ellis Peters are a joy for me to read, but I could never pick a favorite. Let’s just say I will drop anything else I am reading when one of these appears in my house (via the library, courtesy of my daughter).

Now, in no particular order, here are the top ten.

Ask Again, Yes by Mary Beth Keane–a Georgetown book club selection–was my favorite read in January.  This story of the intertwined lives of two families and the tragedy that tears them apart was surprisingly uplifting in the end.  And I found it deeply Catholic in its views on marriage and redemption.  Some favorite quotations: “Marriage is long. All the seams get tested,” and (of marriage) “Love isn’t enough. Not even close.

I read Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate for my in-person book club at my next door neighbor’s house.  I couldn’t put it down, even though parts of it were painful to read–it’s based on a true story of poor children in Tennessee being stolen from their parents to be adopted out to well-to-do families.

This Is All I Got: A New Mother’s Search for Home by Lauren Sandler was a gut-wrenching, soul-sucking read, and if you are one of those people who believe a smart, hard-working woman ought to be able to pull herself out of poverty, you need to read this. It was one of my Georgetown book club reads for April.

I read The Silmarillion by J.R.R. Tolkien (duh!) via the Tea with Tolkien book club. Although I did not have time to participate in the discussions, I found the weekly podcast episodes summarizing each chapter to be super helpful. This was my second read of this book, which sat largely untouched on my shelf most of my life because it was so challenging, and I think I really have a handle on it now. It is so beautiful.

Another Georgetown selection, The Pull of the Stars by Emma Donoghue is set during the 1918 pandemic but the author did not plan its publication to coincide with our current pandemic. It was a case of truth being stranger than fiction that she had this book about to come out before she ever heard of Covid-19. Needless to say, the coincidence adds weight to what is already a well-written and riveting story about three days is a ward for pregnant flu patients in a hospital in Ireland. It was graphic and painful but I could not stop reading.

Mary Pezzulo, the author of Stumbling into Grace: How We Meet God in Tiny Works of Mercy, is one of my favorite bloggers–I share her writing on my page all the time. This is an amazing and personal explanation of the Works of Mercy, with practical and empathetic takes on how you can practice them: “I  have learned so much about what it’s like to be poor, sick, and lonely that I have something to tell other people, so that we as Christians can help one another. God didn’t want me abused, but he has used my journey to help me tell other people about what it’s like so it’s not so hard and isolating for them. I couldn’t have done that before.”

The House in the Cerulean Sea by T.J. Klune was our in-person book club choice for August and I enjoyed it very much. I found myself wanting to know about the backstory and hoping for more in this universe. I will say the tone is a little strange. It reads like YA fantasy but the protagonist is middle-aged. Also some bits are over the top–like the hilarious pronouncements of the six-year-old Antichrist, but that adds to the fun. At bottom, it’s a sweet, affirming book–though it has its own controversy. I am already thinking about reading it again.

I stumbled into an Instagram book study on The Whole Language: The Power of Extravagant Tenderness by Father Greg Boyle that was hosted by Alissa Molina and I am so glad I did! I had been fortunate to have heard Father Greg speak at my son’s graduation from Notre Dame so I was excited to read this book, and it did not disappoint.  Father Greg is the founder of a ministry that serves gang members, and the stories of mercy and grace and wisdom in this book will surprise and move you.

I read The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien edited by Humphrey Carpenter off and on for several months as my reading plan is to always be reading something either by or about Tolkien. This was just delightful–both for the insights into the writer and his creation. Catholics will especially enjoy learning more about Tolkien’s faith and its relationship to his mythology.

And finally, the book that was undoubtedly my favorite! If you don’t read a anything else on this list, read this one. I promise you will not be disappointed.

I read Piranesi by Susanna Clarke for the Fountain of Carrots book club. It’s absolutely delightful. I read it a second time for my in-person book club (they were fans), and I already am wanting to re-read it so I can unpack new layers of meaning. I loved it so much that I was unable to stick to the book club schedule and finished way ahead. Also, it’s short! A sampling: “The Beauty of the House is immeasurable; its Kindness infinite.

That was fun! I would love to know what your favorite reads from 2021 were, if you would care to comment below!

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