• The Bossy Bookworm

My Twelve Very Favorite 2021 Reads


My very favorite reads this year!

I post a monthly wrap-up of my favorite reads, and now that 2021 is almost over, it's time to share the best books I've read during the calendar year.

In no particular order, here are my absolute favorite reads of the year. Have you read any of these? All of these?

What are some of your recent favorite reads? Let's do some Bossy book talking!

01 Crying in H Mart by Michelle Zauner

In her memoir Crying in H Mart, Michelle Zauner takes unflinching looks at her family, herself, and her potential future, all while exploring the rich flavors, traditions, and challenges of the Korean meals intertwined with her identity and her past.

Crying in H Mart is a complicated, layered love letter to Zauner's mother, who is dying of colorectal cancer over the course of the book.

The book is also an exploration of the author's Korean-American heritage, her feelings of being caught between two cultures, and, largely, her deep and growing connection to Korean food.

Zauner delves into her intense love for the complex flavors, the frequently time-consuming and sometimes meditative preparations required, and her many emotional associations with certain dishes.

The author takes unflinching looks at her life, choices, and feelings. Her story is compelling and intriguing--whether or not you're familiar with her or her indie band Japanese Breakfast. (She mentions her musical journey, but the band is not the focus of the book.)

Crying in H Mart is beautiful, painful, and evocative.

02 The Space Between Worlds by Micah Johnson

In The Space Between Worlds, Micaiah Johnson offers a wonderfully imperfect heroine and her fascinating journeys through the multiverse, her various lives, and her alternate selves. I loved this science fiction debut.

Cara is one of a dwindling number of traversers. She can travel through the multiverse, but only to worlds where another version of herself no longer exists. Her other selves seem uncannily apt to die, so Cara is able to visit 372 other Earths where her counterparts are no longer living.

But when one of Cara's eight remaining selves mysteriously dies while she is world walking, shocking secrets are revealed that connect various worlds and shake Cara to her core.

She must cobble together the various bits of knowledge and savviness she's gained through tracing the steps of her many other selves if she's going to stand any chance of outsmarting the canny and intelligent Adam Bosch--a man who will otherwise almost certainly be the source of her undoing.

03 Cloud Cuckoo Land by Anthony Doerr

Doerr's Cloud Cuckoo Land was a complex, heartbreaking, hope-filled, surprising, fascinating read.

Young Anna lives in fifteenth-century Constantinople with her sickly sister, frustrated with endlessly stitching priests' robes--and secretly learning to read stories from the past.

In twentieth-century Idaho, elderly Zeno has lived a life filled with yearning, war, and unexpected late-in-life academic satisfaction. He is directing a precious group of children in a farcical, heartbreaking play based on the stories Anna read five centuries earlier.

Even when all hope should be lost, each character continues to press on.

"But what's so beautiful about a fool...is that a fool never knows when to give up."

It took me a little bit of page time to sort out the various settings and characters at the start, but Cloud Cuckoo Land was consistently beautiful, always interesting, and sometimes heartbreaking.

I received a prepublication digital edition of this book courtesy of NetGalley and Scribner. For my full review, check out Cloud Cuckoo Land.

04 A Beautifully Foolish Endeavor by Hank Green

The ending to Green's duology has tremendous heart without ever flirting with sappiness, offers deep meaning without being pedantic, and it felt blissfully, naturally, and gloriously quirky and lovely.

A Beautifully Foolish Endeavor is Hank Green's sequel to An Absolutely Remarkable Thing and is the final book in his Carl saga. It features the fantastic characters from book one, and the plot picks up with a new version of the fight to save humanity from interfering extraterrestrials.

I just love love loved A Beautifully Foolish Endeavor so much. My son is reading it and isn't quite as enamored of it as I am, but he does think it's really good. Fun fact: the author is brothers with the prolific and talented young adult author John Green, and the two also put out science videos on YouTube.

For my full review of this book, please see A Beautifully Foolish Endeavor.

And for my review of An Absolutely Remarkable Thing, click right here.

05 We Begin at the End by Chris Whitaker

Walk is the chief of police in the small coastal California town where he grew up. Decades earlier his account of a terrible event sent his best friend Vincent to prison. Vincent has tried to make his own suffering as great as possible behind bars by eschewing distraction and comfort, and now he's about to be released.

Duchess is a thirteen-year-old girl trying to keep her family together. Her mother Star is old friends with Walk and Vincent, and when Vincent reappears, the tenuous peace and calm Duchess and her steady family friend Walk have been able to secure for her household are disrupted.

Walk and Duchess are an unlikely pair, a milquetoast cop and a defiant young teen. But both of the longtime family friends are used to disappointment and both are used to relying on themselves. Can they somehow prevent Vincent and Star from destroying themselves and everyone who cares about them, or are Walk and Duchess inadvertently adding to the collapse?

For my full review of this book, please see We Begin at the End.

If you like character-driven suspense and mystery books, you might also like John Hart's (grittier) books; for my review of his book The Unwilling, click here.

Another (also grittier) author I like in this vein is S.A. Cosby; I loved Blacktop Wasteland last year (it was one of my Six Favorite Summer Reads) and I just read and enjoyed his newest book, Razorblade Tears.

06 Broken Horses by Brandi Carlile

In Broken Horses, Brandi Carlile shares a beautifully open, poignant, tough, rich, gorgeous account of her life and career so far. The audiobook includes over thirty songs, and I highly recommend it.

I listened to Broken Horses: A Memoir by Brandi Carlile, and I can't imagine feeling the full emotions involved and the immersive experience of this book without hearing Carlile's voice tell it--and without all of the music Carlile offers here. She weaves songs into her stories and personal history, and the placement of the music feels seamless and illustrative.

She shares the pressures of the music business, the difficult matter of taking care of her voice and her body while trying to create and push and perform, and her magical encounters with idols who have become friends--including Elton John, Dolly Parton, Joni Mitchell, and Tanya Tucker.

Carlile intersperses songs with stories about their impact on her or the influences that led her to write and create them. The music is all included again at the very end of the book, by which point the listener understands its import. Her songs felt incredibly powerful as a closure to her story.

07 Great Circle by Maggie Shipstead

Maggie Shipstead's story spans the wilds of Prohibition-era Montana, the blustery Pacific Northwest, the unforgiving chill of Alaska, the glitz and glamour of Hollywood and the movie-making business, and the stark, brutal dangers of Antarctica, from the early twentieth century to modern day.

In interconnected stories--which felt equally compelling to me--Shipstead brings to life these disparate places and times and focuses on various colorful characters within them.

The author has created two independent, defiant, appealingly strong young women split by time (and, secondarily, complex male characters the women love as family or romantic partners).

Shipstead is a wonderful writer, and I loved every word of this. Both of the timelines had me hooked.

I received a prepublication copy of Great Circle courtesy of Knopf Publishing Group and NetGalley.

For my full review of this book, please see Great Circle.

08 The Best of Me by David Sedaris

This collection of previously published Sedaris works is a gold mine of discomforting, edgy, offbeat observations--with more heart than I expected. I loved this audiobook.

I was drawn in by the mix of tones represented here, and by the introspection and vulnerability Sedaris intermingles with the off-kilter, singular, sometimes excruciating moments he draws readers into.

I hadn't read (or listened to) a good number of these selections, and I was repeatedly surprised and delighted with Sedaris's depth...then often cringed at an eccentric, discomforting observation that promptly followed. I enjoyed the roller coaster and was taken with this collection.

Whether Sedaris is reliving specific, offbeat memories and mining them for poignancy and also laughs, or presenting his own distorted versions of morality plays, he does so with dark humor but also, frequently, with heart.

For my full review, check out The Best of Me.

09 Soulmate Equation by Christina Lauren

The Soulmate Equation is the latest book from the writing pair known as Christina Lauren, and I loved it.

Single mom Jess is a data analyst. She's good at crunching the numbers for work, taking care of her daughter, and leaning on her grandparents (who raised her) for help, but she's not comfortable with the idea of dating again.

But then her daring best friend (who writes sexy romance novels!) pushes her to consider a DNA-based, data-driven dating program that makes sense to her--and she receives an unheard-of 98 percent compatible romantic match with an unlikely partner.

The story is steamy and romantic at times without being dramatic. I love the tone the writing team of Christina Lauren struck with this one!

I received a prepublication digital edition of this book courtesy of Gallery Books and NetGalley.

For my full review of this book, please see The Soulmate Equation.

10 The Great Mistake by Jonathan Lee

Andrew Green has been shot dead in front of his stately New York City home at the age of 83. He was elderly but remained an opinionated spitfire who hadn't felt he'd finished making incredibly significant contributions to society.

The real but forgotten figure of Green was involved in a gloriously and absurdly extensive array of essential projects—the creation of Central Park, the founding of the Met Museum and the Natural History Museum, putting Boss Tweed behind bars, securing a more equitable New York public school system, establishing the New York Public Library, and combining Manhattan with Brooklyn and Queens into a greater New York.

Lee's detail is just fantastic in terms of Green's emotions, hopes, dreams, everyday life at the time, and everything else in this epic story.

The Great Mistake feels like a love letter to turn-of-the-century New York and a captivating story.

I received a prepublication digital edition of this book courtesy of Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group and NetGalley.

For my full review of this book, please see The Great Mistake.

11 Beautiful World, Where Are You by Sally Rooney

Rooney's characters engage in extensive self-reflection while struggling to open up emotionally to each other. Their vulnerabilities feel hard-won and powerful.

Although successful young novelist Alice just met Felix, a young man working in a warehouse in the seaside town where she's staying temporarily, she invites Felix to travel to Rome on a book tour with her. Meanwhile, Alice's best friend Eileen is questioning her life path, working at a literary magazine and feeling generally adrift. She's just gone through a breakup and is growing closer to a childhood friend she's always secretly loved.

The best friends and their love interests delve into their complex connections with each of the others, and through an omniscient viewpoint, Beautiful World Where Are You tracks the characters' romantic fits and starts, power shifts, and the roots and growth of their emotional connections.

Click here for my full review of Beautiful World, Where Are You.

12 Five Tuesdays in Winter: Stories by Lily King

King builds each story within Five Tuesdays in Winter to be full, rich, and full of pain and poignancy. I loved this collection.

In Lily King's new story collection, she turns her eye for detail and for wonderfully faulted characters on explorations of love, desire, loss, and tragedy.

From a bookseller closed off emotionally from the world who begins to consider letting someone in again to the complicated, tragic reunion of former college roommates; from a mourning elderly man faced with disaster to a writer who has been silenced for too long, King mines uncomfortable or joyful, sometimes tiny moments that shape her characters' lives in profound ways.

With masterful storytelling, King builds a world within each short story that feels immediate, sometimes poignant, and which repeatedly surprised me with the amount of heart involved.

I received a prepublication digital edition of this book courtesy of Grove Atlantic and NetGalley.

For my full review of Five Tuesdays in Winter, click here.