reading

A Year of Reading | My Favourite Books of 2021

a plate of tarts and a teacup in front of an open book

Here we are at the end of 2021… already? It seemed like a busy year for me with so many projects going on, but I still managed to get in a fair amount of reading too. How about you? Since I started this blog series, last year, I thought I would carry it on by sharing my favourite books I read this year. In no particular order, here they are!

Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand

This was maybe my favourite book of this year, recommended to me by my friend Meghan, who also has a YouTube “booktube” channel, in case you are interested. (I get so many great book recommendations from her!)

This is the biography of Louis Zamperini, which follows his life from his beginnings as an Olympic runner in the 1936 Berlin games, then to his time during WWII as a fighter pilot and after that as a POW in a Japanese camp. I wouldn’t recommend this one if you don’t like reading about war, especially the Pacific theatre, as it is quite brutal at times. He went through, and suffered, a lot during the war, but thankfully the book doesn’t end there. It chronicles his path afterwards, finally ending in a very powerful and beautiful redemption.

Miss Fortune by Sara Mills

This is a fun spy/espionage novel set in the 1940’s just after WWII. It is written in the style of film noir, about New York’s only female private eye, the “P.I. Princess” Allie Fortune. Unfortunately the author intended to write three books, but was only able to finish two of them. This is the first one, which does set up the beginnings of a secondary storyline which isn’t completed, but the main storyline is good and is resolved by the end. (I wouldn’t recommend the second book in the series, though, because she never wrote the third one, and there was too much of a cliffhanger at the end.)

Target Africa by Obianuju Ekeocha

Africa has a long history of colonial influence from the West. In this book, Obianuju Ekeocha, who is a biomedical scientist and founder of Culture of Life Africa, talks about how the West is still trying to influence African countries with what she calls “Ideological Neocolonialism”. She talks about how much of the “foreign aid” from wealthy donor nations comes with strings attached; including the population control abortion agenda, sexualization of children and radical feminism, which many African nations, including her own country of Nigeria, are not interested in. It was an eye opening look into how much of the foreign aid money sent from Western nations, including my own country of Canada, is being used ineffectually and is siphoned off into corrupt organizations, instead of being used to help poor third world nations with their immediate needs, and to actually help them flourish.

Dear Mrs. Bird by AJ Pearce

This is another quick and enjoyable novel, this time set during WWII about a young woman who moves to London in hopes of becoming a war correspondent. Instead, she accidentally ends up getting hired as an assistant to a women’s magazine advice columnist! I read this one in a couple of days, and thoroughly enjoyed it. There are a couple of more intense scenes, because it is set during the London Blitz, but it’s overall an entertaining, heartwarming and funny story.

the covers of the three Madame Chic books

Lessons from Madame Chic, At Home with Madame Chic and Polish Your Poise with Madame Chic by Jennifer L. Scott

This is a three-for-one, because this is actually a series of books that I read this summer. Jennifer is the blogger and YouTuber of “The Daily Connoisseur”, and in these books, like her blog, she speaks about how to add elegance and “chic” to your everyday life. When she moved to Paris as an exchange student, she was so inspired by how the French live, that she adopted many of their habits. She shares these stories and lessons that she learned from her host family about how to add elegance and poise to your own everyday.

My favourite one was definitely the first in the series, Lessons from Madame Chic, since I found there was a bit too much overlap with the other two books. It felt a bit like I was re-reading the same advice for several chapters- perhaps if I had read them farther apart I wouldn’t have noticed it so much.

The Shallows by Nicolas Carr

This is the other book that ties for #1 with Unbroken in my list. (Though they are totally different subjects, so maybe they can both place #1 in their respective categories!)

The most striking thing about this book is that it was written in 2010- more than ten years ago now- and it so accurately predicted the trajectory of internet; our usage and habits, and how it has continued to affect us as a society. He talks about how the internet is quite literally changing our brains, which is in turn making us more distracted and less capable of critical thinking. Interestingly, social media was in it’s infancy in 2010, (Instagram wasn’t even around at the time of writing) but already he saw the negative impact it was having on people. Reading this book and then taking a look around at the culture in which we are living in now was more than a little eery. Of course, here I am writing about the evils of the internet…on the internet! He doesn’t condemn it entirely, but instead demonstrates how we should be aware that the internet is making us “shallow”, and how we should take the time to put limits on it; relegating it once again to just a tool.

My favourite quote which I didn’t copy down, but recall from memory, goes something like “the internet is so helpful and good a servant, that it would be a little churlish to note that it also seems to be our master.” I definitely recommend checking this book out, if you’ve ever thought about your internet habits and wondered whether they are entirely all that healthy.

The Hiding Place by Corrie Ten Boom

This is one of my favourite books of all time and I like to re-read it every few years when I need some encouragement.

The Ten Boom family was a Dutch Christian family who hid Jews in a secret room in their house in defiance to the Nazi’s during WWII. The story follows the family pre-war, how they got involved in the Dutch Resistance and then how Corrie and her sister were eventually sent to Ravensbruck concentration camp. The book doesn’t end with the war; she focuses the final section, most importantly, on forgiveness, her faith in God and how there is “no pit so deep that God’s love is not deeper still”.

Forgiveness by Mark Sakamoto

In a similar vein, here is another book about WWII (I sure read a lot from that era this year) and this time from a Canadian perspective. The author shares about his grandparents’ experiences during WWII, and how their stories weave into each others lives and into his life. His maternal grandfather fought for the Canadian army in the Pacific theatre against the Japanese army, and his paternal grandparents were Japanese immigrants to Canada who lost everything they owned in BC and were sent to forced labour in Alberta.

He writes poignantly about his own struggles towards key figures and events in his life and how he was able to learn forgiveness from his grandparents and how they were able to forgive the “other side” and build a new life together after the war- one that wouldn’t even have been possible without that forgiveness.

If Walls Could Talk by Lucy Worsley

Lucy Worsley is a British historian and curator at Historic Royal Palaces, so she is definitely qualified to write a book about the history of the home. However, maybe even more importantly, she is also a great presenter who is quite funny, in a cheeky way, and so her books (and TV programs) are engaging as well as informative.

I had already watched the BBC program that this book is based on, but I still enjoyed reading about the evolution of the way we live in our homes. She talks about the practical and social reasons changes occurred, from the medieval times of the Great Hall, to the more intimate and private Victorian Parlour, all the way to the current Living Room (which is remarkably similar to that medieval model). If you don’t feel like reading it, I would recommend watching the four part BBC program!

Unplanned by Abby Johnson

I had listened to Abby Johnson’s testimony before, but I still wanted to read her book: and then I received it for Christmas and was able to read it just in time to add to this list! In this book, Abby shares her story of how she started volunteering at Planned Parenthood in her college days, which eventually led to her working full time as a clinic director. She wanted to be able to help and counsel women in crisis, but God used a series of events to lead her to leave the clinic and, to her surprise, join the pro-life movement instead.

Educated by Tara Westover

The last book in my list is another excellent one. I had heard about this memoir last year and then when one of my favourite bloggers listed it among their favourite books, I knew that I had to pick it up the next time I was at the library.

The author chronicles her life growing up in a dysfunctional family in a rural area. Although it wasn’t that remote of an area, they didn’t mix with other people, and she only attended school sporadically. The story is quite intense and frightening at times as it follows the author’s life as she grows up and decides to eventually leave her family’s home and go to university. This book is a rare glimpse into what life in an isolating and abusive environment can be like, and how it can affect even the strongest person.

Tara Westover truly has a gift for words and engaging storytelling; I was hooked from the moment I read the introduction.

Well, that’s my list of favourite books from this year. I read 50 books in total this year, so these are just the highlights. I’ve already got a stack on my nightstand…so here’s to reading more good books in 2022!

What was your favourite book you read this year? Do you have any recommendations? 

A Year of Reading, In Review

stack of books with a teacup on top

I love reading. For education, for entertainment, lighthearted books for passing the time, heavy books to challenge my reading skills…

2020 was going to be my year of finally getting through my massive “To Be Read” book list but, alas, the library closed for quite a few months and derailed that plan. However, I was still able to read through a variety of books, and took the library closure as an opportunity to read through some of the unread books on my own shelves too. I didn’t quite succeed in finishing off my personal collection, but still managed to read 40 books this year, so it was a good year for reading! Thankfully the library opened again in the fall, so I was able to get a few more to last me for the next while. When you’re stuck at home on a bleak winter day, there’s nothing better than curling up in a blanket with a book and a cup of tea, right?

I thought I would share a few of my favourites today, so if you are looking for some books to add to your list, here are my 2020 reading highlights (in order of when I read them).

Wives & Daughters by Elizabeth Gaskell

wives and daughters book cover

I’ve watched the BBC version of Wives and Daughters and it is excellent. It stars Francesca Annis as one of the main characters, and she is really good in that role. I read North & South last year, (I asked for books for my birthday and Christmas gifts, and was happy to get copies of both North & South and Wives & Daughters.) and was able to get through Wives & Daughters early on in the year. I quite like Elizabeth Gaskell’s writing. There weren’t any surprises, since I have watched the film, but it was still an enjoyable way to spend a few days. I would like to read some of her other works- I’ve added Mary Barton to my list.

The Panic Virus by Seth Mnookin

The Panic Virus book coverI heard about this book a couple of years ago, and had it on my library list for quite a while. It delves into the history of vaccinations and all of the scandals and cover ups that have come along with them (and that still plague us today). It kind of sounds like a boring topic, but it is actually a really good book. It is quite well written and surprisingly engaging. 10/10 would recommend this one if you like medical history and science!

Quiet by Susan Cain

Quiet book cover

I had also heard of this one a couple of years ago, from Susan Cain’s TED talk, so I added it to my library list. It wasn’t mind blowing, but it was a helpful book for me to read, to learn about some of the differences between introverts and extroverts, and how to use my introvert tendencies as a strength instead of a limitation. It’s a slower paced book, but was well researched and informative.

The Body: A Guide for Occupants by Bill Bryson

The Body book cover

Hands down, this was one of the most enjoyable reads of my year. This is an interesting overview of the human body, but it was funny and witty as well. It is a thick book, but is broken up into small, manageable sections, so you can pick it up and read a little bit without losing your place and having to start over.  I never understand why textbooks can take an interesting topic and distill it down into the most boring format possible- this book is really the furthest thing from being a textbook (it’s actually fun to read) and I learned so much. I also thought that the index was good, so you can find sections easily if you want to read about a certain topic again.

The Mystery of the Exploding Teeth by Thomas Morris

The Mystery of the Exploding Teeth book cover

Another medical book (What can I say? I love reading about science and medicine!) This book recounts some of the hilarious, horrifying and miraculous medical cases from historical medical journals. The book is compiled of excerpts from journals (all written in proper Old English, which makes it even better) but the best part of the book is the commentary that Thomas Morris offers alongside. He has the perfect dry/dark sense of humour that lands just right. I read this one, and then I made my sister and mom read it too!

King Raven Series (Hood, Scarlet & Tuck) by Stephen R. Lawhead

King Raven trilogy book covers

This series is a reimagined version of the tales of Robin Hood, set in Wales during the 11th century. It’s the perfect blend of history, action and adventure. Each book is told from the perspective of a different character (Robin Hood, Will Scarlet and Friar Tuck) and I really enjoyed the story. The author did so much research into this time period and his world building was very believable and realistic. Even though Robin Hood is likely a legend, after reading this series he definitely seems real! I do love a good historical fiction series to escape into and I can see myself re-reading this series again in a few years.

How to Be a Victorian by Ruth Goodman

How to be a Victorian book cover

I had heard good reviews of this book, but after reading the back cover, I was kind of wondering whether it would be one of those “corsets are oppressive” sorts of history books. However, I was pleasantly surprised as it was nothing like that! I learned quite a bit about daily life in the Victorian era- the author is a British historian and was actually part of BBC’s historic farm television series. She had a lot of insight about what life could have been like (of course, she points out, we’ll never know completely) during the era. This book was also broken up into manageable sections, so you can pick it up and put it down as you have time. As a lover of vintage and history, this was a great one to read!

You’re Not Enough (And That’s Okay) by Allie Beth Stuckey

You're Not Enough book cover

I listen to Allie Beth Stuckey’s podcast occasionally, so was interested to read her first book. She tackles the self help and self love culture that is so prevalent today, and how it is ultimately unfulfilling and empty. There was lots to ponder in this book, and I am debating adding this one to my library so I can re-read and refer back to it in the future.

Death in the Clouds and The Hollow by Agatha Christie

Death in the Clouds and The Hollow book covers

I do love a good murder mystery, and if you haven’t read any of Agatha Christie’s, you are missing out: there is a reason why she is the most popular writer of the 20th century! I received a whole stack of her books for my birthday in October and, while I haven’t gotten through all of them yet, these are my two favourites so far. Both of them are Poirot mysteries, and very quick enjoyable stories. I can never guess who the murderer is!

Jane Austen at Home by Lucy Worsely

Jane Austen at Home book cover

My last read for this year was this biography of Jane Austen (who is also one of my favourite authors!) I have watched some of Lucy Worsely’s BBC histories, and have found them engaging and entertaining; her ‘If Walls Could Talk: The History of the Home” series is a really good one. I’ve read a couple of other biographies of Jane Austen, but I quite liked this one. Of course so much has been lost to history, and we’ll never truly know Jane, but I feel like I got a glimpse of her in this book, and she really does feel like a kindred spirit. I am also debating adding this one to my personal library too!

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Fields of Joy by Ruth Chou Simons

fields of joy book cover and pages

Ok, actually my last book of the year, which I haven’t completely read, is this one, Fields of Joy. My friend gave it to me for Christmas, and it was the most unexpected, yet lovely, gift! It’s not a book designed to be read cover to cover, but is filled with pages of verses and watercolour artwork, so you can read a page each day. This is going to be a good one to keep on my bedside table to refer back to often.

So, those are my favourite reads from this year! Have you read any of these titles? What were your favourite books from this year? Do you keep track of how many books you read each year?

(Also, on a side note, I noticed that my library prints on their receipts how much money you’ve saved by using the library, instead of buying books, and I saved $363.43 this year!)