If you’ve met me or spent any time following the blog, you know I’m a reader. Always have been. Always will be. Books have been companions. Escapes. Classrooms. Windows.

I read 81 books in 2021. I’m going to be honest. Would I recommend every book I read last year? No. Do I even remember every book I read last year? Again, no. But….every year there are a handful of books that stick with me – books that still invade my thought space months later. When I walk past these books in the library, I smile – as if they were an old friend.

It’s been over a year since I’ve read a few of these books, and they’re still on my mind. They gripped me. Changed me. Made me think. And these are the books I would hands-down recommend to a friend looking for something to read. My hope? That you’ll check out this list and find one book suggestion that piques YOUR interest. Books speak to people differently, but a good story is a good story – and these (with the exception of the three non-fiction titles in the bunch) are phenomenal stories. Happy reading everyone.

*All book descriptions were taken from Amazon.com and appear in italics. MY thoughts are in standard text form. 😉 Click on ANY title to find the book on Amazon. Thank you! #AffLink

1. The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek by Kim Michelle Richardson

This is a novel following Cussy Mary, a packhorse librarian and her quest to bring books to the Appalachian community she loves. Cussy’s not only a book woman, however, she’s also the last of her kind, her skin a shade of blue unlike most anyone else. Not everyone is keen on Cussy’s family or the Library Project, and a Blue is often blamed for any whiff of trouble. If Cussy wants to bring the joy of books to the hill folks, she’s going to have to confront prejudice as old as the Appalachias and suspicion as deep as the holler.

I still think about Cussy. I loved her grit and determination. She was a woman in tune with her purpose. Purpose > Approval. (I am SO excited a follow-up novel is coming later this year!) For other mega-readers like myself, I was concerned this would be too similar to Jojo Moyes’s Giver of Stars (which was also great), but the stories are unique and I enjoyed both.

2. Bear Town by Fredrik Backman (*I would read this man’s grocery list.)

By the lake in Beartown is an old ice rink, and in that ice rink Kevin, Amat, Benji, and the rest of the town’s junior ice hockey team are about to compete in the national semi-finals—and they actually have a shot at winning. All the hopes and dreams of this place now rest on the shoulders of a handful of teenage boys. Under that heavy burden, the match becomes the catalyst for a violent act that will leave a young girl traumatized and a town in turmoil. Accusations are made and, like ripples on a pond, they travel through all of Beartown. This is a story about a town and a game, but even more about loyalty, commitment, and the responsibilities of friendship; the people we disappoint even though we love them; and the decisions we make every day that come to define us. In this story of a small forest town, Fredrik Backman has found the entire world.

I have LONG been a fan of Fredrik Backman. He is incredible. BUT, I had held off reading Bear Town (and the follow-up Us Against You) for a long time because they were “about” hockey. Hockey? I thought to myself – I’m not the least bit interested in hockey. Why should I read this? I was wrong. I should’ve read this sooner. Is it about hockey? Sure – in the way The Lord of the Rings is about jewelry. Every time I put one of his books down, I am blown away by how well Fredrik Backman writes people. So good.

*There is strong language in both Backman books.

3. Us Against You by Fredrik Backman (the follow-up to Bear Town!)

Here is a declaration of love for all the big and small, bright and dark stories that give form and color to our communities. With immense compassion and insight, Fredrik Backman—“the Dickens of our age” (Green Valley News)—reveals how loyalty, friendship, and kindness can carry a town through its most challenging days.

4. The Four Winds by Kristen Hannah (*Another favorite author)

Texas, 1921. A time of abundance. The Great War is over, the bounty of the land is plentiful, and America is on the brink of a new and optimistic era. But for Elsa Wolcott, deemed too old to marry in a time when marriage is a woman’s only option, the future seems bleak. Until the night she meets Rafe Martinelli and decides to change the direction of her life. With her reputation in ruin, there is only one respectable choice: marriage to a man she barely knows. The Four Winds is a rich, sweeping novel that stunningly brings to life the Great Depression and the people who lived through it―the harsh realities that divided us as a nation and the enduring battle between the haves and the have-nots. A testament to hope, resilience, and the strength of the human spirit to survive adversity, The Four Winds is an indelible portrait of America and the American dream, as seen through the eyes of one indomitable woman whose courage and sacrifice will come to define a generation.

This book reignited my love of historical fiction – something Kristin Hannah is a MASTER at btw.

5. Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain

In Quiet, Susan Cain argues that we dramatically undervalue introverts and shows how much we lose in doing so. She charts the rise of the Extrovert Ideal throughout the twentieth century and explores how deeply it has come to permeate our culture. She also introduces us to successful introverts—from a witty, high-octane public speaker who recharges in solitude after his talks, to a record-breaking salesman who quietly taps into the power of questions. Passionately argued, impeccably researched, and filled with indelible stories of real people, Quiet has the power to permanently change how we see introverts and, equally important, how they see themselves. 

I listened to this one as an audiobook – and I can’t tell you how many times I stopped dead in my tracks on my walk because I. FELT. SEEN. She got me. She understood me.

6. Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir

Ryland Grace is the sole survivor on a desperate, last-chance mission—and if he fails, humanity and the earth itself will perish. Except that right now, he doesn’t know that. He can’t even remember his own name, let alone the nature of his assignment or how to complete it. All he knows is that he’s been asleep for a very, very long time. And he’s just been awakened to find himself millions of miles from home, with nothing but two corpses for company. His crewmates dead, his memories fuzzily returning, Ryland realizes that an impossible task now confronts him. Hurtling through space on this tiny ship, it’s up to him to puzzle out an impossible scientific mystery—and conquer an extinction-level threat to our species. And with the clock ticking down and the nearest human being light-years away, he’s got to do it all alone. Or does he?

Who knew a book about outer space could move a middle-aged mom to tears?!

7. Wintering: The Power of Rest and Retreat in Difficult Times by Katherine May

Sometimes you slip through the cracks: unforeseen circumstances like an abrupt illness, the death of a loved one, a break-up, or a job loss can derail a life. These periods of dislocation can be lonely and unexpected. For May, her husband fell ill, her son stopped attending school, and her own medical issues led her to leave a demanding job. Wintering explores how she not only endured this painful time but embraced the singular opportunities it offered. Ultimately Wintering invites us to change how we relate to our own fallow times. May models an active acceptance of sadness and finds nourishment in deep retreat, joy in the hushed beauty of winter, and encouragement in understanding life as cyclical, not linear.

This was not at all what I thought it would be. I expected “science” and psychology. I expected a “self-help” vibe. And instead, I was met with the most beautiful prose and an authentic take on what it looks like to be sad.

I LOVED this quote from the book, “Plants and animals don’t fight the winter; they don’t pretend it’s not happening and attempt to carry on living the same lives that they lived in the summer. They prepare. They adapt. They perform extraordinary acts of metamorphosis to get them through.” YES! We cannot carry on through seasons of sadness the same way we travel through seasons of joy.

8. Wintersong by S. Jae-Jones

All her life, Liesl has heard tales of the beautiful, dangerous Goblin King. They’ve enraptured her mind, her spirit, and inspired her musical compositions. Now eighteen and helping to run her family’s inn, Liesl can’t help but feel that her musical dreams and childhood fantasies are slipping away. But when her own sister is taken by the Goblin King, Liesl has no choice but to journey to the Underground to save her. Drawn to the strange, captivating world she finds―and the mysterious man who rules it―she soon faces an impossible decision. And with time and the old laws working against her, Liesl must discover who she truly is before her fate is sealed.

One comment from another reader on goodreads.com kept me from reading this book much earlier. I’d heard it was a “copy” of the iconic Bowie movie, Labyrinth. Is it similar? Yes. Does it remind me of the babe? No. (And if you got that reference, I love you extra.) I was so pulled into this story.

*Ironically enough, I did not love the follow-up novel, Shadowsong. (I didn’t hate it either – it was just like getting stuck behind a very slow driver. You get where you want to go, it just takes forever and bores you as you travel.)

9. Once Upon a Broken Heart by Stephanie Garber

For as long as she can remember, Evangeline Fox has believed in true love and happy endings…until she learns that the love of her life will marry another. Desperate to stop the wedding and to heal her wounded heart, Evangeline strikes a deal with the charismatic, but wicked, Prince of Hearts. In exchange for his help, he asks for three kisses, to be given at the time and place of his choosing. But after Evangeline’s first promised kiss, she learns that bargaining with an immortal is a dangerous game ― and that the Prince of Hearts wants far more from her than she’d pledged. He has plans for Evangeline, plans that will either end in the greatest happily ever after, or the most exquisite tragedy…

I devoured the Caraval series, and was THRILLED to get to enter this world yet again.

10. The Courage to be Disliked: The Japanese Phenomenon That Shows You How to Change Your Life and Achieve Real Happiness by Ichiro Kishimi

Is happiness something you choose for yourself? The Courage to Be Disliked presents a simple and straightforward answer. Using the theories of Alfred Adler, one of the three giants of nineteenth-century psychology alongside Freud and Jung, this book follows an illuminating dialogue between a philosopher and a young man. Over the course of five conversations, the philosopher helps his student to understand how each of us is able to determine the direction of our own life, free from the shackles of past traumas and the expectations of others. Rich in wisdom, The Courage to Be Disliked will guide you through the concepts of self-forgiveness, self-care, and mind decluttering. It is a deeply liberating way of thinking, allowing you to develop the courage to change and ignore the limitations that you might be placing on yourself. This plainspoken and profoundly moving book unlocks the power within you to find lasting happiness and be the person you truly want to be. Millions have already benefited from its teachings, now you can too.

I feel like this is a book I could read a dozen times, and find something new to think about each time.

*I will note that there are a fair amount of reviewers on goodreads.com that take issue with the author’s stance on trauma.

Happy reading everyone! I hope you’ve found at least one book that seems intriguing or appealing! ~Bekki