July-Dec 2021 Books in Review

Well, I missed writing a Q3 books in review blog, so you get a combo of the second half of the year for 2021. This is a testament that putting things off only makes them worse to complete. Listed in order of when I finished them. I leaned heavily on audiobooks again. Hoping my ability to focus in consuming books will return soon.

July-December 2021 Books in Review

  • Winter of the Witch by Katherine Arden *
  • Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi*
  • Ida B. The Queen: The Extraordinary Life and Legacy of Ida B. Wells by Michelle Duster*
  • The Hero and the Crown by Robin McKinley
  • Endurance: Shackleton’s Incredible Voyage by Alfred Lansing
  • Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng*
  • The Dutch House by Ann Patchett*
  • Saints, Volume 2
  • Midnight in Chernobyl: The Untold Story of the World’s Greatest Nuclear Disaster by Adam Higginbotham*
  • I Want You to Know We’re Still Here: A Post-Holocaust Memoir by Esther Safran Foer
  • Moloka’i by Alan Brennert*
  • Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup by John Carreyrou*
  • Kindred by Octavia Butler*
  • Everything Sad is Untrue (a true story) by Daniel Nayeri*
  • The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill*
  • My Own Words by Ruth Bader Ginsburg with Mary Hartnett and Wendy W. Williams*
  • More Than a Body: Your Body is an Instrument, Not an Ornament by Lindsay Kite and Lexie Kite*
  • The Burning: Massacre, Destruction, and the Tulsa Race Riot of 1921 by Tim Madigan
  • Truly Madly Guilty by Liane Moriarty*
  • The 100-year-old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared by Jonas Jonasson*
  • The Girl With Seven Names: A North Korean Defector’s Story by Lee Hyeon-seo and David John*

*Audiobooks

Novels

Winter of the Witch

By Katherine Arden

Audiobook: Great

This is the final book in the Winternight trilogy. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this trilogy. The series is set in Russia and has many themes from Russian folklore and fairy tales (but quite a bit darker). I really enjoyed the journey of the main character Vasya and the beautiful writing of Arden.

Homegoing

By Yaa Gyasi

Audiobook: Great

Two half-sisters are born in 18th century Ghana. One sister is married off to an Englishman. The other is is sold in the slave trade and is shipped to America. The book follows the lives of these women and their descendants over many generations (about 300 years) until the present day and details what each generation’s lives would have been like. The storytelling is very well done and well researched. It details pain, suffering, slavery, and many mature themes, so it is a very difficult read. Recommended.

Little Fires Everywhere

by Celeste Ng*

Audiobook: Fine

This is one of those books everyone recommends that I just wasn’t enthralled with. I could have put it down and not finished, but I also HAD to finish it because it was just kind of weird and I just wanted to know why the house burned down (not a spoiler, you learn about it two seconds into the book). And that is why many people read books–the secrets and intrigue are too compelling. At its base this is tale of a very wealthy family, and a single mother and her daughter who rent a house from them, and some explorations of what motherhood really means.

The Dutch House

by Ann Patchett*

Audiobook: Read by Tom Hanks, so I thought it was quite fun

I was quite intrigued by this book and don’t even know how to describe it. It is a story of a house–an estate that brings ruin to a family. It is the story of two siblings–a sister who fights fiercely for her brother even amid her own battles. It is a story of finding a home. And a story of obsessions and inability to move forward from past trauma. I

Moloka’i

By Alan Brennert

Audiobook: fine

Moloka’i is an island in Hawaii. Kalaupapa is a city on Moloka’i that was a leprosy colony. Those on any islands who were found to have leprosy were sent to this town so they would not spread the disease to others (as understood at the time). This follows the story of fictional Rachel Kalama as her life would have been in the colony. The book draws from historical accounts and is an interesting depiction of life in that time–with great tragedy of separation and sorrow–but also the beginnings of new lives and different hopes and dreams. My beef with the story is that I feel the author tried to pack every single possible human experience into Rachel Kalama’s life so she embodies the lives and experiences of everyone. Obviously that felt like too much to me. Not sure I loved the book, but I am always intrigued to learn about different times, places, and situations.

Kindred

By Octavia Butler*

I often read/listen to quite heavy books with heavy topics. This is one of those. Dana is a Black woman in modern times. One day, she is pulled from her present life to the South in the pre Civil War era. In her brief time there, she saves a white boy from drowning. Yet soon after her return to the present, she is pulled back. She bounces back and forth in time, each time connecting with the boy as he grows, and each stay being longer. As she is Black, she is assumed to be an enslaved woman. This was an interesting take on a view into life in those times but as with all heavy topics (at least for me), it is difficult to read.

Truly Madly Guilty

by Liane Moriarty*

Something happened at the barbecue. We don’t know what; we just know something happened. Three families were there and all wonder what would have happened if they hadn’t gone or if they had acted differently or if, if, if. This was my first Liane Moriarty book (I’ve read another since) and she definitely has a style: a present-day situation that flashes back and forth to tell a story that ends in the middle, but ultimately resolves the mystery and makes sense of where people were and how they are now. An interesting listen.

The 100-year-old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared

by Jonas Jonasson*

This has a similar feel to Fredrick Backman books, and it’s even set in Sweden. Allan Karlsson is a resident of a care center as he approaches his 100th birthday. But he doesn’t want to spend it there so he escapes out of the window and disappears. Thus begins a tale that involves him in intrigue, possible murder, and love. As he meets new friends, his life story comes to light with incredible tales of meeting with and influencing important political figures and changing world events. I was actually annoyed with this book for the first few chapters, but after that started to have fun with it and ultimately found it odd but clever.

Biographies/History

Ida B. The Queen: The Extraordinary Life and Legacy of Ida B. Wells

by Michelle Duster

Audiobook: Good; read by the author

This is a short biography/history book with some personal inserts from the author (Wells’s great-granddaughter). Wells’s life was indeed extraordinary and she left an amazing legacy. But, I thought I would learn more about Ida B. Wells in this book than I did. It jumps from past to present to different eras and highlights many important topics but it was a little hard to follow the whole story and connect everything to Wells. I would like to find another biography to get a better view of her life.

I Want You to Know We’re Still Here: A Post-Holocaust Memoir

by: Esther Safran Foer

Hauntingly beautiful and incredible book. The author grew up knowing that her parents had survived the Holocaust, but it was something they never spoke about and the silence left her wanting. When her mother reveals information about her father’s past, Esther is catapulted into a need to connect with the stories of her parents, with their experiences, and with their extended family members. This is incredible, terrible, sad, and beautiful all at the same time. Definitely recommend.

Everything Sad is Untrue (a true story)

by Daniel Nayeri*

Audiobook: great reader

This is actually more of a middle-grade memoir/novel and it is a very well-crafted story by a compelling writer. Khosrou (who everyone calls Daniel) is a refugee from Iran who now lives in Oklahoma. He tries to tell the story of his life and of his people and their history to gain acceptance among those who see him as an outsider. The author raises the question of what makes stories true–who it is told by or what is believed or what the perspective is at the time. I think this is very much worth reading or listening to.

The Girl With Seven Names: A North Korean Defector’s Story*

by Hyeonseo Lee and David John

Audiobook: good

Hyeon-seo Lee grew up in North Korea on the border with China. She tells of her upbringing and what life was like for the average family under the oppressive regime of what she had been told was the best country on the planet. As a teenager, she decides to escape into China for a time, as others had done. Things didn’t go as well as planned and suddenly she could never go back or she would be imprisoned or worse. It would be many years before she connected with her family again. She shares her experiences from life in China as a North Korean who could be reported and deported at any time, to finding a way to become a citizen, to determining she wanted a life she could live as her own. This is an eye-opening book into life in North Korea as well as the struggle to understand what “home” means. I definitely recommend it.

Non-Fiction

Endurance: Shackleton’s Incredible Voyage

By Alfred Lansing

I remember watching a documentary about Shackleton as a teenager and being so fascinated by Shackleton’s leadership. This book has been recommended so many times and I finally got through it. For those unawares, Shackleton set out in 1914 to Antarctica with the goal to cross it on foot. In early 1915, his ship Endurance became locked in ice. After hoping for the ice to let up, the ice eventually began to crush the ship and the 27-member crew set off to try and make it to and through terrible conditions to civilization. The story is miraculous at many turns and seems almost unbelievable, but all somehow made it through.

Saints, volume 2

This is the continuing story of the history of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, covering 1846-1893. It took me a long time to work though this one–a little slower read than Saints, volume 1. I had a friend tell me that she felt like it should have just been called George Q. Cannon’s history. I will admit that there was a preponderance of history from George Q. and he did happen to write loads of stuff in his journals. I hope that my journals will never become a history. I think I will burn them. But anyway, I didn’t totally mind as I am a descendant of George Q. Lots of other history as well, to be sure.

Midnight in Chernobyl

By Adam Higginbotham*

Wow. I started into this book and within a few minutes (ish) there it was: the nuclear disaster. I thought to myself, “Surely, it can’t START with the disaster–we’ll likely go back and visit how it happened and what led up to it.” But no, it really was chronological and the rest of the book explores the fallout after the power plant disaster. The author gathered information from hundreds of interviews to compile this insanely detailed and might I say wild account of the secrecy and deception during this dangerous disaster. I was fascinated by this book.

Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup

By John Carreyrou*

I love the work that journalists put into insanely well-researched and well-written books. This tells the story of Theranos CEO and co-founder Elizabeth Holmes and the reported lies and deception that fed her work. She purported to have a new technology that could test your blood with a single drop. Fascinating, groundbreaking, fantastic–but the technology did not work. So “things” had to be done to prevent those using it, those promoting it, those working on it, and investors from knowing. This is made more fascinating by the outcomes of her recent conviction of four charges of federal fraud.

My Own Words

by Ruth Bader Ginsburg with Mary Hartnett and Wendy W. Williams*

Audiobook: recommended

I recommend the audiobook because the collaborators pulled from many speeches of RBG’s and wherever they could, you listen to the actual speech in her own voice. This is more a collection of her speeches, papers, and thoughts than a biography of her life, but as you know, the words we speak embody the direction of our lives and our own character. And her opinions and her growth over time as shown in her speeches are quite fascinating.

More Than a Body: Your Body is an Instrument, Not an Ornament

By Lindsay Kite and Lexie Kite

This is an important book. “Positive body image isn’t believing your body looks good, it’s knowing your body is good, regardless of how it looks” (https://www.morethanabody.org/about-us/). From obsessions with health, diet, and exercise, to media portrayals of the “ideal” or “perfect” body, to modesty, this book covers nearly every topic related to body image and body positivity. This book helps us learn how to talk to ourselves and to others in helpful ways that help remove body shame. I have so much to say on it, but instead invite you to read the book instead of reading my words about the book.

The Burning: Massacre, Destruction, and the Tulsa Race Riot of 1921

by Tim Madigan

If you haven’t heard about the Tulsa Race Riot of 1921, I wouldn’t be surprised. I hadn’t either until this book was recommended to me. In this well-researched book, the author explores a massacre of hundreds (and possibley more) Black men, women, and children by White Tulsa in 1921. Why hadn’t we heard of it? It was basically swept under the rug. Many of the Black citizens never returned after entire neighborhoods were pillaged, burned down, and destroyed. This book did take me a long time to read. Some of that was the subject matter, but the writing was also a little bit tougher to plow through. But I definitely still recommend learning about and from this experience in our history.

Middle Grade

The Hero and the Crown

By Robin McKinley

I have a friend who has been reading through Newbery award books and this was up on the list for the book club that I can’t ever attend (but I like to read along with them anyway). Aerin was born the daughter of a king and a woman who people thought to be a witch. This is a coming of age fantasy as Aerin discovers her destiny. I found this book pretty slow to get into and am still intrigued that it won a Newbery because I wonder what others saw that I didn’t…but I also wonder of the time it was published in, too.

The Girl Who Drank the Moon

by Kelly Barnhill*

I just loved this book. At first, I wasn’t quite sure I was into the fantasy realm and the strange world where a child is sacrificed to a witch every year to protect a city. And a witch who takes the babies and…well you’ll have to read to find out. But as the story progressed, the growth in some of the characters and the essence of love and compassion is just…beautiful. I overuse that word. But there were times I almost cried (maybe I did cry?) because of the ordinariness of life and the sacrifices made to protect people we love.

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2 Replies to “July-Dec 2021 Books in Review”

  1. I always love your reviews. I could not finish Little Fires Everywhere. I’m adding some of these to my TBR list. Thanks Liz!

  2. Carly Sessions says: Reply

    I read almost all the Newberrys as a teenager and I remember absolutely LOVING The Hero and The Crown, but I reread it as an an adult and… meh. I wondered what I ever saw in it.

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