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Dear Wendy
Dear Wendy

What Are Your Favorite Books You’ve Read This Year?

Last year I had a goal of reading 25 books, which averages to about two books a month and which seemed both totally doable but challenging enough that it would require some changes in my behavior, which was kind of the point of the goal. Unfortunately, once the pandemic hit in March, I became so distracted that it was hard to focus on texts longer than social media captions, and the same book remained by my bedside, barely read, for about six months. This year I’ve done a much better job meeting my reading goal and I’m excited to share what books I found most enjoyable and hear your suggestions, too. First, my favorite book this year was…

1. Between Two Kingdoms

I LOVED this memoir of a 20-something’s ordeal with cancer and her re-entry into “normal” life after a harrowing experience that both took so much from her and gave endless entry points to discovering more about herself, her place in the world, and the rich connections people share with each other. The writing is exquisite!

2. Long Bright River

This is a murder mystery novel, which is not a genre I usually gravitate to at all, but I read this on the recommendation of a friend and I’m so glad I gave it a chance! It’s a gripping suspense that’s “also a moving story of sisters, addiction, and the formidable ties that persist between place, family, and fate.” Obama listed it as one of his favorite books of last year, so there you go.

3. Somebody’s Daughter

In this memoir, writer Ashley Ford shares her experience growing up a poor Black girl in Indiana “with a family fragmented by incarceration, exploring how isolating and complex such a childhood can be. As Ashley battles her body and her environment, she embarks on a powerful journey to find the threads between who she is and what she was born into, and the complicated familial love that often binds them.” Ford’s narration is at once heartbreaking and hopeful, and ultimately a triumphant coming-of-age tale that I read faster than any other book this year.

4. My Dark Vanessa

A novel based on real events, “My Dark Vanessa” explores “the psychological dynamics of the relationship between a precocious yet naïve teenage girl and her magnetic and manipulative teacher.” It was a both disturbing, yet all-consuming and thought-provoking, read that nailed so much of the experience of being a teenage girl discovering the effects her changing body has on men and a brilliant reflection of the “shifting cultural mores transforming our relationships and society itself.”

Currently, I’m reading the NYTimes Bestseller “Crying at H-Mart,” and though I’m just 20 pages into it (I only picked it up at the library yesterday), I can tell it’ll likely be another favorite read of the year. What are you reading these days? What were some of your favorite books this year?

35 comments… add one
  • Copa December 6, 2021, 11:07 am

    Oh, I’m excited to get some new book recommendations. Some of my favorites that I read this year include:
    – Know My Name
    – The Office of Historical Corrections
    – Evicted: Poverty & Profit in the American City
    – The Great Believers

    I’m currently reading Maid, which had been on my list for awhile but I’d forgotten about it until I watched the Netflix show.

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    • Dear Wendy December 6, 2021, 11:47 am

      I just finished Maid last week! Pretty good. Started the series last night. ‘Know My Name’ was the book that sat on my bedside table, unread, for six months last year. A good book, but not during the height of a pandemic…

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    • Dear Wendy December 6, 2021, 11:49 am

      Oh, and I read “There Great Believers” a while back, too, and I liked one of the story arcs better than the other (present day vs. the past) but I can’t remember anymore which one I liked best.

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  • Kate December 6, 2021, 11:42 am

    I read My Dark Vanessa and Long Bright River also and thought they were really good.

    I also liked Great Circle, Kara and the Sun, and Hour of the Witch.

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    • Dear Wendy December 6, 2021, 11:49 am

      Haven’t heard of those – will add to my list!

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      • Kate December 6, 2021, 12:04 pm

        *Klara, not Kara. That one’s by Kazuo Ishiguro and anyone who liked “Never Let Me Go” would probably like this one too.

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  • ktfran December 6, 2021, 11:45 am

    Somebody’s Daughter is on my to-read list, and now I want to read Long Bright River, which is more my literary jam. I haven’t read as much this year as I usually do. I haven’t been able to concentrate.

    I just finished Louise Penny’s latest Three Pines/Inspector Gamache installment. She basically tackled the pandemic and group think. I loved it, per the usual. I’m excited to read State of Terror, a fiction Louise Penny/Hilary Clinton collaboration.

    Obviously, I gravitate toward suspense.

    Also on my list is “Three Girls from Bronzeville.”

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    • Dear Wendy December 6, 2021, 11:49 am

      You’ll love Long Bright River. And you might like my friend’s novel Fierce Little Thing, which Kirkus called “A compelling study of power, sociopathy, and the possibilities of survival.”

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      • ktfran December 6, 2021, 12:48 pm

        Thank you! I’ll check that out too.

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  • Akeath December 6, 2021, 1:19 pm

    Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi is a good fantasy I’ve read this year that delves into lot of the issues we’ve been having with racial issues in the US recently.

    I also discovered Frances Hardinge this year, who is a truly incredible fantasy writer. I’ve been devouring her books. Some of my favorites of hers are Gullstruck Island, Cuckoo Song, a Face Like Glass, The Lie Tree, Deeplight, and Verdigris Deep.

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  • MPS December 6, 2021, 3:09 pm

    LOVED ‘My Dark Vanessa’ too! Thanks for making my list.

    Here’s my favorite books I’ve read 2021:
    The Veins of the Ocean by Patricia Engel
    My Sister, the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite
    Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid
    Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata
    Dark Places by Gillian Flynn

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    • MPS December 6, 2021, 3:17 pm

      the list* haha not MY

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    • Dear Wendy December 6, 2021, 5:01 pm

      I enjoyed Such a Fun Age too!

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      • Vathena December 7, 2021, 12:35 pm

        I liked Such a Fun Age, but thought the babysitter protagonist was a little unfairly judgmental of the mom character. I think it’s totally fine for characters to judge one another, but it just got my hackles up a little bit because it seemed like we as the readers are expected to agree she’s a bad mom for not laser focusing on her kid 100% of the time. It was interesting to (accidentally because of library availability) read back-to-back with another book that had a similar plot device with a mom/babysitter, but different in that both women are white (Friends and Strangers, by J. Courtney Sullivan – Courtney Sullivan has kids, but I think Kiley Reid doesn’t).

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  • anonymousse December 7, 2021, 11:40 am

    I read a lot. That’s what I do besides mother my kids, go to therapy and paint. I am constantly waiting for my favorites to write new books. I’ve read a lot mentioned already and would normally want to engage heartily in a discussion of fiction. Fiction is my favorite.

    Instead of fiction I wanted to specifically recommend this book, especially if you find yourself compelled to be nasty to victims of trauma in the comments section.

    https://bookshop.org/books/the-body-keeps-the-score-brain-mind-and-body-in-the-healing-of-trauma/9780143127741

    Happy holidays, everyone. Try not to be a dick!

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    • Copa December 7, 2021, 11:52 am

      I’ve heard excellent things about this book over the years and after being on the waitlist at the library for what felt like eternity, was able to check it out… but it became available to me at the same time as half a dozen other books. I had to return it before I had the chance to read it and now I’m back on the waitlist.

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    • MoMac December 15, 2021, 2:08 pm

      Agree 100% on this recommendation. The book is easily accessible to the average reader while still being instructive to those that work in the field of trauma.

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  • Vathena December 7, 2021, 12:20 pm

    Yay, end of year book lists! I also did much better in 2021 than in 2020. I had in mind a goal of 30 books, and I just finished #25, with two more library picks on deck, so not too bad. Standouts in no particular order:

    “Deacon King Kong” by James McBride – great, funny descriptions of a neighborhood and community, and a sort of mystery caper pulling it all together.

    “Perfect Tunes” by Emily Gould – captures the push/pull of life dreams and motherhood, brought back memories of being young and dumb in my 20s!

    “Mexican Gothic” by Silvia Moreno-Garcia – creepy and beautiful thriller with a wisecracking protagonist, with some sci-fi/magical realism thrown in if that’s your jam.

    “Leave the World Behind” by Rumaan Alam – I don’t know really how to describe this book. Family goes on vacation and everything is great until there is some sort of unnamed disaster. Totally gripping; I finished it in two sittings. Stayed with me more than any other book I read this year.

    Other good ones: The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett; Caul Baby by Morgan Jerkins; Red, White & Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston (loved this one as pure fluff, and it was great timing for my brain that I read it back in January between the 6th and the 20th!!). I also read the first three of the four books in the Neapolitan series by Elena Ferrante and have enjoyed those.

    Books I asked for for Christmas because I’m #70+ on the library hold list: The Sentence by Louise Erdrich; Harlem Shuffle by Colson Whitehead; Matrix by Lauren Groff.

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    • Kate December 7, 2021, 2:10 pm

      Leave the world behind and Mexican Gothic were really good! Haven’t read the others yet.

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    • Dear Wendy December 8, 2021, 10:03 am

      I’ve read Colson Whitehead’s other novels; will add this one to my list! I’m in the minority, but haven’t loved Lauren Groff’s writing. Maybe I should give her another try though.

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  • ktfran December 7, 2021, 2:03 pm

    Have any of you read or listened to “Please Don’t Sit On My Bed in Your Outside Clothes”?

    I like the title more than anything else.

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    • Dear Wendy December 8, 2021, 10:03 am

      Heard of it, liked the title, but haven’t read it. I’ll add to my holds list at the library.

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  • Rangerchic December 7, 2021, 3:28 pm

    I need a print option so I can just print this page and add most of these to my to-read list! 🙂

    One of my favorite reads this year was This Tender Land by William Kent Kreuger. It is not my typical kind of read – I usually read fantasy or mystery novels. But something about this book really got to me. It’s a sweet and harrowing story about four orphans who embark out on their own in 1932. It is said if you like Where the Crawdads Sing then you’ll like this book…honestly I liked this book better. It reminded me of the move Stand by Me – so if you liked that movie then I think you’ll like this book.

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    • Dear Wendy December 8, 2021, 10:04 am

      I really liked Where the Crawdads Sing so I bet I would like this too. Adding to my list!

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  • anonymousse December 7, 2021, 4:52 pm

    This tool helped me survive the pandemic/my last year spent in waiting rooms at medical offices:

    https://www.literature-map.com/

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    • anonymousse December 8, 2021, 9:46 am

      *You can input any author and it will populate authors with similar themes/styles

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  • Vathena December 8, 2021, 10:16 am

    I forgot about kids’ books! My favorites that I read with my daughter this year were The Wild Robot series (2 books) by Peter Brown. The writing is just wonderful. A poignant tale about the nature of humanity and family. Highly recommend for kids age 6-ish and up.

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    • anonymousse December 8, 2021, 12:11 pm

      I read that and the second with my son this year.

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    • Dear Wendy December 8, 2021, 2:42 pm

      Thanks for the rec! Sounds like something Joanie might like.

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  • Moneypenny December 8, 2021, 12:53 pm

    I’m currently reading Cloud Cuckoo Land by Anthony Doerr and I am loving it so far! It’s so engrossing, I read 140 pages yesterday. I highly recommend it!

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    • Kate December 9, 2021, 7:14 am

      Oh yeah, forgot about that one! Also great.

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  • anonymousse December 8, 2021, 4:45 pm

    Wendy, I have to say I love this post. I really miss discussing books with all you other booknerds.

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    • Dear Wendy December 9, 2021, 9:01 am

      I do too! We’ll have more book posts in 2022 – kind of like a book club but just sharing what we’re reading and giving recommendations instead of all reading the same book (but maybe we can do that too).

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  • allathian December 9, 2021, 4:52 am

    I’m normally a voracious reader, but I don’t think I’ve read more than one new to me book this year, Died and Gone to Devon, a cozy mystery by TP Fielden, set in the late 1950s. It’s the 4th in the Miss Dimont series. I haven’t read the earlier books (yet), but the book’s pretty self-contained so that didn’t really matter.

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