I tried. I really tried to write this year. I did manage to edit some chapters of my novel and added a new chapter to give more depth to one of the characters. I started writing a children’s book. I journaled a little and even wrote the first couple pages of a memoir. But my days of writing and editing were much fewer and farther between than I would prefer.
My mental energy was practically nonexistent thanks to the second year of pandemic life and the addition of homeschool teacher to my mom-ing duties. But, and it’s a big but, I did read (which I believe is an important key to being a good writer thankyouverymuch). I read a lot. As in my best reading year ever–more than a book a week on average. (Disclaimer: about a fifth of those were audio books, but I say those totally count. And if you don’t agree, let me just say I used to agree with you–until I listened to my first audio book. So go try one.)
With 60 books added to my mental library this year, I have plenty of recommendations. Here are my top picks.
The Four Winds by Kristin Hannah
My fav read of the year. Although I’m a big Kristin Hannah fan, I was a little reluctant to read this one because I kept hearing comments about how depressing and slow the book was. Well, let me tell you, I am so glad I gave in and read it. It’s one of those books that sticks with you for a long time. The story follows the life of Elsa, who lives on a farm in the Great Plains area during the Dust Bowl. I knew little, if anything, about the incredible hardships faced during that time, and it was a good reminder that people have gone through difficult times throughout history and made it through. So take that COVID-19 pandemic!
Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir
This one is tied for my favorite of the year. It is written by the author of The Martian (also a great book and one of my fav movies). It tells the story of Ryland Grace, a man who awakens to find himself the only one alive on a spaceship far from Earth and he can’t even remember what his mission is. Slowly he realizes that he is humanity’s last hope for survival. There is a twist (scratch that–two twists) that I never saw coming–and that make me want to go back and read the book again and again.
A House in the Sky by Amanda Lindhout
This is an intense memoir about a young girl who mentally escapes into National Geographic magazines to avoid a rough home life, and who then starts traveling the world as soon as she is able. Working as a freelance journalist, she ends up in Somalia with her photographer ex-boyfriend, where they are hoping to find stories to tell, and instead become the story themselves when they are kidnapped and held for over a year.
Broken by Jenny Lawson
I listened to the audio version of this book and it literally had me LOL-ing in the shower. It is a memoir about depression and anxiety, so not exactly funny topics, but I found the way the author told her story completely relatable and hilarious. FYI though, if you choose to listen to the book as I did, make sure to wear headphones if around children or at work.
The Home for Unwanted Girls by Joanna Goodman
This one hit me hard in the chest. This is the tale of fifteen-year Maggie who becomes pregnant in 1950’s Quebec, and her parents force her to give up the baby for adoption. The book then also follows the life of the child, Elodie, as she grows up in an orphanage that is later turned into a psychiatric hospital. Elodie and the other orphans are treated as patients, abused and given medication they don’t need. While the characters in this novel are fictional, the orphanage-turned-psychiatric-hospital story line is unfortunately and disturbingly very real.
Feels Like Falling by Kristy Woodson Harvey
If you’re looking for a quick, light read, this is a good one. It’s about two women: one a mom, divorcee, and owner of a very successful company; the other newly single, jobless, and homeless. When their paths cross, they find themselves unexpectedly becoming employer-employee and the best of friends.
The Last Thing He Told Me by Laura Dave
This domestic suspense novel was hard to put down. It follows Hannah, whose new husband Owen suddenly disappears, leaving her with only a two-word note saying protect her. Her in this case means Owen’s teenage daughter, and as the two women begin unraveling the mystery of Owen’s disappearance, they discover that he wasn’t who they thought he was.
Blush by Jamie Brenner
If you love wine, cheese, family secrets, and book clubs with trashy romance novels, this story about three generations of women who come together to save their family winery is for you. Enough said.
The Midnight Library by Matt Haig
This book is all about how the choices we make change the course of our life. Nora Seed mysteriously finds herself in a library where every book holds one of her lives–ones she could have lived had she done something differently. And now she has the opportunity to see what could have been. If only we all had this chance.
Billy Summers by Stephen King
Billy Summers is a decorated war vet and available for hire to use his sniper skills, but only if he determines the mark is a really bad guy. When Billy decides to take one last job before getting out of the game, things don’t go as planned. This book kept me turning the pages to see what would happen next.
A Hope More Powerful than the Sea: One Refugee’s Incredible Story of Love, Loss, and Survival by Melissa Fleming
This is a true story about an amazing and strong woman named Doaa, who flees the war in Syria with her family and settles in Egypt. Things are better there at first and she falls in love with Bassem. When the political climate in Egypt changes for the worse, however, Doaa and Bassem decide to risk a treacherous trip across the Mediterranean to seek asylum in Europe. And then when the boat sinks, Doaa must figure out how to survive in the water. This book was heart-wrenching and eye-opening to me, particularly with the horrific news stories coming from Afghanistan this year.
28 Summers by Elin Hilderbrand
This book, about a woman and man who have a secret affair for one weekend each summer for 28 years, had the hopeless romantic in me shaking my head, rolling my eyes, smiling, and tearing me up at different points. And then repeating the above over and over. The emotional roller-coaster was worth the read, however.
Written in the Stars by Aisha Saeed
Naila lives in America, but when her parents find out she has been dating someone they don’t approve of, they whisk her away to Pakistan for a “vacation” to visit relatives. There, she discovers that the real purpose of the trip is to marry her off to a man of her parents’ choosing, and her only hope is if her boyfriend from back home can come rescue her. My heart broke at the way Naila was treated by her family and at the thought of all the real life women who have faced similar circumstances.
The Boy From the Woods by Harlen Coben
I used to read a lot of Harlen Coben novels, but had forgotten how much I loved his work. And this book was no exception. It is about a man named Wilde, who was found living in the woods alone as a young child. Decades later, he finds himself helping to search for a missing teen–and discovers a political scandal involving a presidential candidate. One of the best parts of this book is Hester, a sassy, kick-ass 70-something famous attorney.
The Arctic Fury by Greer Macallister
In the mid-1800’s, Virginia Reeve is tasked with leading 12 women into the Arctic to find a missing expedition. But after one of the women disappear during the trek, Virginia is arrested and tried for murder. This book is full of adventure and strong characters, and a great one to read next to a warm fire.
Well-Behaved Indian Women by Saumya Dave
Beartown by Fredrik Backman
Year of Yes by Shonda Rhimes
Hattie Big Sky by Kirby Larson
My Last Continent by Midge Raymond
An American Marriage by Tayari Jones
Treasure of the World by Tara Sullivan
Hadley & Grace by Suzanne Redfearn
We Begin at the End by Chris Whitaker
Brave Girl, Quiet Girl by Catherine Ryan Hyde
You Then, Me Now by Nick Alexander
In Five Years by Rebecca Serle
If you have any questions about these books, or suggestions to share, leave me a comment! And may your new year be filled with health, happiness, and lots of wonderful books!