Recent Favorite Reads: Winter 2021

winter booklist

Up until a couple of weeks ago, I had been on a HOT streak of amazing books. It was tough for me to narrow down my favorites of the season for this list. As a result, this post ended up being a little longer than I was picturing, but oh well. 

I usually post on IG when I finish a book–just a screenshot of the cover and a three second blurb about whether I liked it or not. The reason I do this is because I want to be honest about every book I read. I guess I feel like this will help people who follow me better understand my taste? Building trust, you know? 

My goal with these quarterly blog posts is to round up my favorites, the ones I do recommend.

(If you’d like to know what I’m reading/loving at the moment in more detail than on IG stories, head to this link to sign up for my weekly newsletter. This is my big project this year–just a little weekly love note from me on Friday mornings). 

Fiction

Olive, Again – Elizabeth Strout

“When you get old,” Olive told Andrea after the girl had walked away, “you become invisible. It’s just the truth. And yet it’s freeing in a way.”

I love a well-written, quirky narrator. I first met this hero in the first installment, Olive Kitteridge, so I already knew I’d love the sequel. Set in Coastal Maine, Olive, Again follows the path of a retired middle school teacher and the lives with whom she comes in contact. The stories and characters are breathtaking and just human. You don’t have to read Olive Kitteridge before Olive, Again because everything would still make sense without doing so. I do feel that the first one adds some depth and color that might be missed if you jumped straight into the second. 

The Midnight Library – Matt Haig

“Sometimes regrets aren’t based on fact at all.” 

TW: suicide

This book didn’t really seem like my style but a friend of mine told me that I just had to give it a chance. I’m so glad I did. The Midnight Library begins with a young woman named Nora who decides that her life is not worth living anymore. She wakes up in a library, full of books that hold alternate lives, based on regrets she claimed to have in her real life. She steps into these other versions of her life, one at a time, and tries to find the one that will make her the happiest. While the book did slow down a bit in the middle, the ending is amazing. I would recommend this to almost anyone. 

Long Bright River – Liz Moore

“But if I was self-conscious about my appearance, I was proud of my intelligence, which I thought of, in secret, as something that rested quietly inside me, a sleeping dragon guarding a store of wealth that no one, not even Gee, could take away. A weapon I would one day deploy to save us both: myself and my sister.”

Okay. This is one of the best books I’ve ever read, and I’m still not over it. Long Bright River details the lives of two sisters in Philadelphia. One is an addict, and the other is a cop. The book is narrated by the cop who I came to love more deeply than most people outside of my bloodline. It’s a family drama and a pulsing thriller all in one. 

The Last Flight – Julie Clark

“I’m not very good at forgiveness.” Liz nodded. “Not many people are. But what I’ve learned in life is that in order for true forgiveness to occur, something has to die first. Your expectations, or your circumstances. Maybe your heart. And that can be painful. But it’s also incredibly liberating.” 

This was another great thriller. The Last Flight begins with two women who meet at an airport and swap tickets and effectively switch lives as a result. I could not put this book down. Unlike most thrillers, this novel features two strong female leads (not unstable, alcoholic, or generally psychopathic like in a lot of suspense books). 

Dear Edward – Ann Napolitano

“So much could be solved, she thinks, if we simply held hands with each other more often.” 

This book is about a young boy who miraculously survives a plane crash. His entire family was killed, along with the rest of the passengers and crew. The story follows Edward as he moves into his aunt and uncle’s house and figures out how to move on. Dear Edward is sharply devastating but has so many pockets of hope and light woven throughout. I read afterwards that the author, Ann Napolitano, drew inspiration for the plot from a true story: a Dutch boy who survived a plane crash that took his whole family in 2010. Napolitano has two sons of her own and was deeply moved by the tragedy, as was the rest of the world. She said that she needed to write this book to prove to herself that there would be a way forward, should anything like this happen to her family. I just found that overwhelmingly beautiful. 

Nonfiction

Hillbilly Elegy – JD Vance

“Psychologists call it “learned helplessness” when a person believes, as I did during my youth, that the choices I made had no effect on the outcomes in my life.” 

People have been talking about Hillbilly Elegy for years, I know, but better late than never. JD Vance wrote this memoir and societal commentary about his upbringing in poor Middle America, a place wrought with poverty, despair, and addiction. Vance approaches his memoir from a place of honesty and compassion. I learned so much about a part of our country that I truly never think about, as bad as that sounds (typical Californian, I suppose). This book was moving and thought-provoking, and it’s one of the few books I’ve recommended to Tyler that he actually made it through and loved, lol. 

Operating Instructions – Anne Lamott

“…one of the worst things about being a parent, for me, is the self-discovery, the being face to face with one’s secret insanity and brokenness and rage.” 

Operating Instructions is actually a journal that Anne Lammott kept during her son’s first year of life. Reading this during a year where I, too, gave birth and walked through the newborn stage, was cathartic for me. Honestly, Anne Lammott could write about filling up her gas tank, and I would think it was a masterpiece. She is honest and hilarious and relatable to the core, and I loved every page of this.

Fierce, Free, and Full of Fire – Jen Hatmaker

“I decided that people-pleasing, fear, and politeness weren’t the hallmarks of a well-lived life, nor were their ugly companions: passive aggression, resentment, and dishonesty. I discovered the world is hungry for women who show up and tell the truth, unafraid and free, expanding to the very edges of who they were always meant to be.”

Another powerhouse upon whom I would base my entire writing style if I could, Jen Hatmaker brings it all to the table in Fierce, Free, and Full of Fire. Jen is refreshingly candid as she empowers her readers to take hold of their true selves and live life on their own terms. And it’s not all fluff–this book covers how to say no, how to speak up, how to reflect and be better, and other practical ways to find your place in this world. Jen has a way of making you feel like you’re curled up with a Barefoot Dreams blanket, a glass of zin, and your best girlfriend. 

More book posts: 

My tips for reading more books

The best books I read in 2020

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