When I think about self-discovery, throughout my whole life, I can easily look back and see that reading has always been the catalyst.
From James and the Giant Peach to Nancy Drew to American Girl (they were BOOKS before they were dolls), Harry Potter and Shakespeare, I’ll forever believe books are the very best way to discover more about yourself, page by page, story by story. And when you aren’t able to explore the world in reality, books always offer a way to explore the world in imagination. It’s a beautiful thing.
I look at just how much reading has enhanced my life in the last five years, and it’s no wonder these are my very favorite dispatches to write to you.
The last quarter of reading is no different. This is a list I really, really love. I can hardly believe the last three months have gone by so quickly, but when I look at them in terms of books, I can see it. Nearly every single one of these was a total page-turner. And I’m excited to share them all with you, in hopes that you’ll find some great reads that will allow you to discover something wonderful about yourself too in the coming months. And so…
18 books that just might help you on your self-discovery journey
Hot Milk Deborah Levy (This book was a good one. This author is one of those British authors who writes in kind of a dark, slow, syrupy, and frankly, kind of weird style. But it grabs you and makes you think, keeps you thinking. Indeed, the main character is absolutely on a self-discovery journey.)
A Lot Like Adiós: A Novel Alexis Daria (The second novel in the Primas of Power series, and better than the first. Honestly, though it’s centered around one of the Primas [that’s cousins in Spanish], I found the book to be more about the male lead than the female. And I LOVED it that way. He was definitely the richer character, and I loved his conflict and resolution story arc. Plus: super hot sex scene in, like, the first 50 pages.)
When Sparks Fly Helena Hunting (Oh God, this one was sweet. I’m a big Helena Hunting fan, and this one didn’t disappoint. Plus, I loved that it took place in Colorado, and it was accurate to location stuff. Like the book above, this one really included depth for the male lead, and his story was pretty moving. I loved how it all came together in their relationship. This is a good one, and actually one I wish we could all get the important men in our lives to read. I’m convinced folks who identify as male can benefit from good romance novels way more than women.)
Odd Thomas: An Odd Thomas Novel Dean Koontz (My first Dean Koontz novel! And now I see exactly why he’s such a famous author. The writing is just so smooth and interesting, in particular, the vocabulary and sentence structure. Plus, Odd is just a wonderful character. I will absolutely continue reading this entire series.)
The Man Who Died Twice: A Thursday Murder Club Mystery Richard Osman (The second book in this series, and another joy to read. Loved that this one gave some more insights into some of the character backgrounds. Plenty of fun twists and turns!)
The Sum of Us: What Racism Costs Everyone and How We Can Prosper Together Heather McGhee (When I say this is a must-read, I mean it’s a fucking must-read. If you, like me, have ever considered yourself to be “socially liberal but fiscally conservative” or something similar, you need to pick this up. The ramifications of that nonsense are wide and deep, for everyone in America of every race and standing. This book taught me the details of the zero-sum paradigm so many of us believe, what economy really means, why and how ours got to be in such crappy shape, and exactly what we can do about it.)
Simmer Down Sarah Smith (A very meh romance. I had higher hopes than what this one was able to deliver. Just way too many moments of OMGGGG WHYYYY ARE YOU MAKING SO MANY ASSUMPTIONS JUST TALK TO HIM. I say skip it.)
Ender’s Game (Ender Quintet Book 1) Orson Scott Card (A sci-fi classic, and high time I read it. I enjoyed it quite a lot, and I’m glad I did finally get to it. I would recommend making sure you get a copy with the added introduction from the author – it does a great job of explaining a lot about the background and the intent.)
Velvet Was the Night Silvia Moreno-Garcia (Ooooooh, this one was great. I’m finding I enjoy a quality noir book here and there. It just felt rich – rich in plot and structure, depth, great writing, accurate history. Silvia Moreno-Garcia is quickly becoming one of my favorite authors.)
The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue V. E. Schwab (Yes, of course I read this one too. And I did like it quite a lot. It’s not at the top of my list for the year, but I absolutely recommend it. I particularly enjoyed the very last few paragraphs. So satisfying.)
Finlay Donovan Is Killing It: A Mystery Elle Cosimano (This one was another disappointment for me. I just thought it was kind of…dull.)
Come Fly The World: The Jet-Age Story of the Women of Pan Am Julia Cooke (Wow. Loved this book! I think a lot of us have this feeling of romance toward the “golden age” of airplane travel, especially international. This book did an amazing job of telling the story of why. What I loved the most was the focus on how becoming a Pan Am stewardess was truly a way to open up the world to young women when literally nothing else in that era could. Highly recommend.)
The Deviant’s War: The Homosexual vs. the United States of America Eric Cervini (Oh my. Think you know queer history? Yeah, grab this book and learn some more. This was phenomenal. It spans a time well before Stonewall, before anyone knew there was anyone fighting for gay rights in any capacity. Also, don’t be scared by the length – the book part is less than 300 pages and the rest is notes.)
The Last Graduate: A Novel (The Scholomance Book 2) Naomi Novik (This series continues to keep me on the edge of my seat. It’s just so dang good. Can’t wait for the final installment!)
Portrait of a Scotsman (A League of Extraordinary Women Book 3) Evie Dunmore (Love this series as well. As with most of the rest of the romances I’ve read recently, the male lead is complex, and his transformation is raw and real and really lovely. These books are just excellent historical fiction filled with a lot of love. Highly recommended.)
The Five Wounds: A Novel Kirstin Valdez Quade (I cannot stop thinking about this book. Honestly, I don’t really know what else to say about it. Just put it on your list, now. God, it’s so, so good. So very human.)
Dial A for Aunties Jesse Q. Sutanto (Sweet and hilarious. Well worth the read! Already looking forward to the next one in the series.)
The Lost Apothecary: A Novel Sarah Penner (Alas, this one didn’t live up to the hype for me either. I thought it was OK, but I wasn’t blown away by any means. Good concept, but it just sort of lacked some of the drama that could have really enriched the story.)
As I typically do, I’ll narrow down 84 books into a whole lot fewer for you. Looking back, I loved a lot of the books I read this year, so unfortunately, I couldn’t make it to a top 10. But a top 13, just about perfect for one book a month in 2022, seemed reasonable to share. Here you are!
Top 13 of 2021:
Let Love Rule
Kiss My Cupcake
The Knockout Queen
The Dinner List
Broken (in the best possible way)
Project Hail Mary
The Five Wounds
The Sum of Us
And OK, if that’s really too much to deal with, here’s what I would recommend as my must-reads of the year. Like, if I could have everyone I know, all my close friends, my husband, and you, read stuff so we could talk about it, these would be the books I would want to spend hours discussing.
Top 6 must reads:
The Five Wounds
The Sum of Us
Kiss My Cupcake
The Knockout Queen
The Dinner List
Talking about book discussion, you might remember that I started a Book Nerd Slack channel a few months ago. There has, indeed, been some fun sharing and discussion there, and if you want to join the conversation, you can do that here. (The link will get you to my KT space, and then you can join the #book-nerd channel.)
If you’d rather just follow along with my real-time book list, become my friend on Goodreads! I’ve become a little obsessed with staying up to date there.
And if you’re into tangible books instead, don’t forget to buy indie. I’ve got quite a lot of my 2021 favorites (and more!) listed in my personal Bookshop shop for easy searching and buying. (If you do buy a book there, I get a small commission, just FYI. But, better than Amazon, y’all.)
As always, if you have any books you just can’t stop thinking or talking about, please email and share with me! I’m always adding to my list. I’m particularly leaning toward romance, fantasy, dystopia, and non-fiction on climate change or interesting historical topics for next quarter, so I’m definitely up for any recommendations you have.
No matter what you’re reading right now or next, I hope it’s something that ignites your sense of discovery and exploration. Reading – just like literally everything else I’ve ever talked about with you – is personal. There are no requirements, no expectations, no definitions other than your own. There is only what feels good for you.
You get to choose, so choose what you like.
Here’s to your book-assisted self-discovery.
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