Books of 2021

Counting chapter books that JC and I read with the kids, I read 92 trackable books (I also read a significant number of unpublished plays, but need to find a better way of tracking them—they aren’t in Goodreads).

Here are my top favs…

Plays

  1. Legacy of Light by Karen Zacarias. It’s a play about surrogacy and also about Emelie du Chatelet, who was a French natural philosopher and Voltaire’s lady friend. It’s not published, but is available on the New Play Exchange.
  2. Winter’s Passage by Jennifer LeBlanc. It’s a retelling of The Winter’s Tale but more from Hermione’s perspective. It embraces the magical side of things, so of course I liked it. Also on NPX.

Novels

  1. Daisy Jones and the Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid, which my sister gave me for Christmas last year as an audio book. She said it was one of those where the performance of the audio book cast added a lot, and I agree. It’s a sort of fictional oral history of a 1970s rock band. Very fun, and the ending is both surprising and inevitable. The last 20 pages, I was thinking, “There’s no way she pulls this off…” and then she did!
  2. Nothing to See Here by Kevin Wilson. A novel about a woman who finds herself serving as a nanny to kids who sometimes catch on fire. Besides being a funny premise, I thought that the main character had a lot of depth and nuance. She was very well drawn.
  3. How to Remember by Cari Dubiel. This novel about a woman who wakes up with total amnesia because of an experimental machine that removes traumatic memories is compelling and thoughtful. It works like a mystery, as the character pieces together clues about her life before the incident. Also a very clear and stark rendering of early parenthood.
  4. Give Way to Night by Cass Morris. The second book in the Aven cycle. I liked the first book in the series, but I LOVED this one. The writing is gorgeous—Morris’ voice seems clearer than in From Unseen Fire—and the world building is solid without being obtrusive. Lots of great character development, cool twists, and so many awesome women.

Series

  1. The Flavia de Luce mysteries by Alan Bradley. The story of a 12-year-old chemist/detective, it hits all those “plucky heroine” vibes with a side of “cozy murder.” Clever and well-plotted.
  2. Temeraire by Naomi Novik. What if the Napoleonic wars….had dragons? This globe-trotting series takes on that alternate history. It’s funny and thought-provoking. Also, since the POV character is very “proper,” we’ve been able to read this aloud to the kids with only minimal edits for the naughty bits.

Kids

  1. Ramona Quimby books. Rereading these was such a joy. I remember feeling so seen by Beverley Cleary as a kid. She understood what it was like to be in elementary school.
  2. Beasts and Beauty by Soman Chainani. I feel like I have read a thousand “fractured fairy tales” books since having my kids. They can’t get enough. But this one was actually extremely good. The fractures were creative, culturally specific, and inventive. The writing was beautiful. And, at the end, it turned into a prequel of sorts for The School for Good and Evil series, which we all loved.
  3. Ender’s Game and Ender’s Shadow by Orson Scott Card. The author is so freaking problematic, but these books are so good and they still hold up. The kids were old enough to appreciate and understand the politics of the battle school and the whole concept.
  4. Mulan Before the Sword by Grace Lin. A very cool prequel branded to go with the live-action Mulan, but structurally much more similar to her Where the Mountain Meets the Moon series, blending Chinese folklore with a novel structure.
  5. Hoot by Carl Hiassen. A 12-year-old ecoterrorist tries to save some tiny owls. I love the grittiness of Hiassen’s writing and was surprised at how well it fit into a novel for preteens.

Nonfiction

  1. Finishing the Hat by Stephen Sondheim. I love books about how something was made, and this is a book about how a lot of things were made. I immediately moved on to Look, I Made a Hat.
  2. Leonardo Da Vinci by Walter Isaacson. There are so many things you think you know about Da Vinci. Yadayada mirror writing blah blah Mona Lisa…but there’s so much you DON’T know. I mean, apparently he knew all kinds of things (like the mechanics of the eye) literally hundreds of years before everyone else. Also he was apparently very fun at parties.
  3. The Art of Gathering by Priya Parker. I love books that take the time to examine something everyone thinks they know. This one looks at times when we come together in groups and how to structure and consider gathering. I read it from the library but bought a copy because I’m going to want to come back to it.
  4. The Open Circle: The Theater Environment of Peter Brook by Andrew Todd. This looks at all the spaces where Brook’s company has performed, including on tour, and explains how they changed the spaces to accommodate his work. It’s an interesting examination of what makes a space feel alive.

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