Year-end Reading Roundup: reading for fun and disproportionate amounts of middle grade

At the beginning of 2021, my biggest hope for my reading year was to start enjoying the act of reading again. I’d gotten into a habit of reading to finish books, rather than just reading to read. My focus was on the numbers – how many books, how many pages, how many can I check off this or that list. While it’s in my nature to get caught up in the numbers, I kept this goal in the front of my mind all year and tried my best to correct my course when I got off track. And a weird thing happened – I read just as many books when “how many books” wasn’t the goal. I just got a lot more enjoyment out of the process. Turns out, when you’re having a great time reading, you just do it. Naturally. Without self-imposed goals and deadlines.

Normally this is where I’d share the reading habits that have worked for me lately, but I haven’t really had reading habits lately. I might get up early and read, use my Kindle while nursing at night, turn on an audiobook while cooking, or get a paragraph in between my kids’ fights. I do all these things sometimes, but none of them with any consistency. Some weeks I read a lot, and some I don’t manage much at all. Usually, I’ll find at least a few minutes every day. I read when I can and that’s about that.

So, without further ado, favorite books of the season (plus a review of all my favorites from 2021).

That brings me to favorite books!

Hero of Two Worlds by Mike Duncan. I’m a huge fan of the Revolutions podcast, so I’ve been waiting for this one for years. Like a proper podcast fan, I had to listen to Duncan read the book himself. This is biography at it’s best. Duncan perfectly combines meticulous research with excellent storytelling, which never feels like just a collection of facts in chronological order (my general experience of biographies). What was most fascinating was the woman behind the Marquis, Adrienne – certainly one of the many incredible unsung women of history, and I’m grateful for Duncan’s determination to tell her story as well as her husband’s.

A Place to Hang the Moon by Kate Albus. I adored this middle grade historical fiction about three siblings trying to find a home. William, Edmund, and Anna are evacuated to the countryside during the Blitz, but unlike the other children, they don’t have a home to return to when it’s over. They’re hoping to find a family to take them in not just for wartime, but forever. I was so charmed by the characters and Albus’ gentle prose that barely anyone got out of getting this book from me for Christmas.

The Tale of Despereaux by Kate DiCamillo. Sometimes I finish a book and think, “How can this be that good?” Kate DiCamillo never fails to be original and stunning. I started out reading this aloud, but found it was not age appropriate (torture and other things unsuitable for the youngest readers) – but by the time I decided it wasn’t for Bub, I was hooked and had to finish for myself. This is so much more than a story about a mouse – it is a story about the good, the true, and the beautiful.

Solutions and Other Problems by Allie Brosh. Allie Brosh’s unique brand of relatable weirdness makes me feel like she is an utterly original, singular human being while at the same time being all of us. This lived up to and exceeded my expectations set by Hyperbole and a Half.

Surprised by Joy by C.S. Lewis. This memoir of childhood and young adulthood by C.S. Lewis demands to be read from page one. It is obvious right away why Lewis’ fiction is so beloved by children – he remembers what it’s like to be a child like few adults do. I enjoyed listening to the audio, which was included with my Audible membership (along with almost all of Lewis’ most beloved nonfiction).

Rules of Civility by Amor Towles.  This book is so different from A Gentleman in Moscow, but Towles’ distinct style shines in both. The prose, the characters, the setting (Towles does sense of place like no one else), the plot twists. Everything was just perfect. I’m DYING to read this again knowing everything I know now. 

The Vanderbeekers of 141st Street by Karina Yan Glaser. When five siblings face losing their beloved brownstone apartment in Harlem, they set out on a mission to convince their landlord to let them stay. This is everything a middle grade book should be. Lovable characters, fun and heartfelt story, excellent writing. I loved how this book took place in four days, and divided the chapters up by days. A great book for adults and children alike, and (for future reference) a feel-good holiday read (that could be read any time of year, IMHO).

Here are the rest of my favorite books of 2021. You can find my descriptions in my past Reading Roundups here and here.

I’d love to hear all about your favorite books of 2021! Happy New Reading Year!

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