The Best Books I Read in 2021

Hello friends! How was 2021 in terms of reading? In this post, I’m sharing my best books of 2021 with a few honorable mentions.

If you want to know what else I have been reading or what I’m currently reading, you can find me on Goodreads.

One of my favorite things is reading your book recommendations, so feel free to add those in the comment section or send me a DM via Instagram.

Here are the best books I read in 2021.

this is a compilation of all the books I have read in 2021

Small Things Like These – Claire Keegan

A book in Ireland during Christmas- you might think this is a holiday story sprinkled with pies, heroic acts, and life lessons. This story is different.

I enjoyed the writing style (prose), and the book with all female characters told from a male perspective made this story more interesting.

The book opens in New Ross, on the coast of Ireland. The writing is picturesque, but it also shines a light on the economic and social tensions during that time.

Bill Furlong, the protagonist, is a hard-working, good father of five girls. His past and present stories merge subtly, almost invisible.

New Ross was the site of one of the infamous Magdalene laundries. A religious institution that took in young women under the authority of the Roman Church with support from the Irish government. Many girls and women lost their babies or their lives there.

Bill is confronted with what the institution does. The institution reminds him of his fortunate past and how he could have ended up. He feels he needs to decide what to do with his gained knowledge while everyone keeps quiet purposely. Bill wants to do the right thing.

It is incredible how much of an ambiance and facts the author was able to weave into a short book without compromising the quality of writing. This book could have easily been endlessly long.

I will be reading more of Claire Keegan because of her writing style and ability to combine fiction with important historical facts.

“This story is dedicated to the women and children who suffered time in Ireland’s Magdalen laundries”
 "Was there any point in being alive without helping one another?"

Die, My Love – Ariana Harwicz

This book is gripping and not for everyone. It’s about a woman living with her husband and child in France. The woman regrets having a baby and is going crazy.

There is no other way to rate this book five stars, and here’s why.

This book is about a topic no one likes to talk about. It’s about motherhood (babies) and the fact that it’s not all how other people want us to believe it is. Being a mother is a horrible struggle for some women, and some regret it. Ariana Harwicz writes about that. The raw truths of what motherhood can feel like. It’s a suffocating, gripping, and claustrophobic read. Every dark truth about motherhood is exposed. Things that women could never share. Well, they could, but with whom? It’s socially not ok to share it the way Ariana Harwicz does.

Yes, you could mock it all and say the protagonist is totally nuts. Sure, but she does share what the reality is for some women. Truths that probably even the most loving mother can relate to.

The other reason I have to give this book five stars is the writing. Oh my! (hats off to the translators for doing such a great job). This book reads like prose. But then horror prose. You can’t skim through it. I had to take breaks reading this book because I was just scared of her mind.

The way she writes about this child taking everything away from her, including her whole self, is terrifying. And the way she writes about society expecting her to love every aspect of it feels claustrophobic.

Her writing is beautifully scary. The book is sometimes difficult to follow and unclear, but that’s how her mother’s mind works. You are trapped in her brain.

I hope the group of mothers who feel this way is minimal. Yet, I don’t think you need to reach that level of insanity to give a voice to mothers doing the best they can while sometimes losing their sanity and feeling trapped.

''I'm a mother, full stop and I regret, it but I can't even say that. Who would I say it to? Mummy was happy before the baby came. Now Mummy gets up each day wanting to run away from the baby while he just cries harder and harder. Being a mother is so very unexciting. I can hardly keep it in. I think about how disgusting it all is.''

Sweet Bean Paste – Durian Sukegawa

This book is a sweet little, cozy read with a powerful message. The writing is simple, and the story is small in a way that it’s slow, but this book is like a cherry blossom opening up and showing its full beauty only at the end when it’s fully blossomed.

The story is about a young man named Sentaro. After time spent in prison, a mother who passed away, and no contact with his father, he feels like he is and always will be a failure in life. Sentaro sells dorayaki (pancakes filled with sweet bean paste) to pay back a debt. He is lonely and drinks at night. One day, an older lady (Tokue) helps him in the shop, which will change his life.

This book is about food, how it can bond us and how a family is not always a blood tie but often a deeper connection. It’s about freedom and the value of human life, about friendship and social judgment. And above all, that life is meaningful even when you can’t contribute to society.

Although the writing and story are simple, I learned much about Japanese life. Not only about the society, the food, but also about Hansen’s disease (also known as leprosy) in Japanese history. This book took me from a shop selling confection to a sanitarium for lepers and its thought-provoking story.

I loved the author’s note at the end of the book. It made me reflect on the value of human life when we can’t contribute to society. A society (not only in Japan) focused on being productive. What is the true meaning of life? How do we live it? What do we see and hear? That’s all there is.

Gilead – Marilynne Robinson

Gilead is quietly powerful and moving, but you need to read it slowly and give it some thought. This book is not one to read quickly if you want to appreciate and feel the beauty of the writing.

This book is packed with wisdom, and I find it hard to review. How do you review beautiful prose filled with profound knowledge?

It’s a rare book, and it is also complex in terms of emotions, topics, and morals.

The closer I got to the end of the book, the more I discovered, the more delicate story structures. The writing is stunning. It’s hard to believe it’s fiction.

It’s full of profound messages, and you will feel like a student underlining every single beautiful phrase because of its wisdom or just for the sheer beauty of it, such as: “History could make a stone weep.”

Topics in this book are:
race
war
violence
judgment
love
death
the discussion about what is right and wrong
family

And above all, the love of an old dying father for his young son.

"…if you ever wonder what you've done in your life, and everyone does wonder sooner or later, you have been God's grace to me, a miracle, something more than a miracle. You may not remember me very well at all, and it may seem to you to be no great thing to have been the good child of an old man in a shabby little town you will no doubt leave behind. If only I had the words to tell you."

Swimming in the Dark – Tomasz Jedrowski

This book is a gloomy love story, and the writing is very intentional, with the love between Ludwik and Janusz noticeable throughout the “letter” set in the 1980s in Poland.

In the beginning, I was a bit skeptical at a certain point. The writing is consistently beautiful, but I was afraid it would become a “simple love story” in the countryside in Poland with some heated topics on politics. “Two boys hiding in the bushes kind of story”- if you know what I mean? But the story soon picks up and becomes captivating.

The writing is lovely, and the story is written like a long letter, which kept me engaged in the story. The book is beautiful and full of aches and nostalgia from beginning to end.

Their opposite views to Communist Poland mark the story with tension and context. They are both oppressed by a corrupt political system but have different opinions about their life and future in Poland.

I will not share any spoilers, but even though you know it’s not going to end very happily, this book will keep you engaged until the last page.

The writing alone – almost like lilting poetic prose- makes this a splendid book. But this book also has an extraordinarily compelling plot, seemingly weaving history, food, politics, friendships, family, sexuality, loss, and humanity.

This book is not just an endearing gay coming of age story but also an insightful and informative story of the social and political climate in Warsaw during that era.

The switch from nature in Poland back to life in the city truly emphasizes the powerful and destructive nature of the Soviet regime. It’s fascinating to read how intrusive political powers can pull people apart.

“Because you were right when you said that people can’t always give us what we want from them; that you can’t ask them to love you the way you want. No one can be blamed for that.”

Crying in H Mart – Michelle Zauner

Every woman with a mother (figure) will find this memoir a balm to the soul. Every woman who has lost a mother (figure) will relate to this memoir.

This book is about grief. On every single page, the pain and grief seep through. It’s a beautiful way of writing about grief that only mothers-daughters will be able to relate to.

I loved how she connects with her mother through food. Food plays such an essential role in this book, and it blends seamlessly with her grief, fear, and doubts.

This memoir does a great job of showing that we can sometimes only appreciate certain things our mother did when we get older. She also makes a strong case for mothers who are homemakers and how vital their work is as a homemaker for the next generation growing up.

This book must have been tough to write for the author. I have much respect for that. The main message of this memoir is that to lose your mother slowly to cancer is a traumatic event, after which life is never the same again. When still possible, appreciate and absorb as much as you can from your mother and her roots.

The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo – Taylor Jenkins Reid

I know I’m late to the Evelyn Hugo party. I know, and I blame the cover and the title. It doesn’t radiate anything I would want to read or would find interesting. But I should not judge a book by its cover and I’m glad I didn’t.

The first 100 pages, I wasn’t impressed, but every 100 pages in, I had to add a star. This book is a ride! It’s near perfect. The character development is impressive, and it’s such a page-turner. It feels so real (you want to Google Evelyn Hugo).

This book has a seemingly simple storyline and a dazzling execution. The ending was terrific, but the deeper meaning of the topics in this book is heartbreaking, meaningful, and lovely.

I can still recommend this book even if you are like me not into romance (or necessarily a fan of old Hollywood actresses). Evelyn Hugo is worth the hype.

The Driver’s Seat – Muriel Spark

I’m still trying to organize my thoughts after reading ”The Driver’s Seat”. The book is full of spoilers, but this only increases the tension and makes this an unputdownable read.

It’s hard to review this book without giving away actual spoilers. I would recommend reading it without reading any reviews first (which I luckily did) because most reviews contain spoilers.

All I can say is that you will be wondering if you were all wrong at the end. And simple sentences and scenes from earlier in the book will suddenly make more sense. Or not..?

I find it remarkable that Muriel Spark managed to write a seemingly simple book and make it yet so complicated. I guess I still can’t wrap my head around this story. Was Lise indeed in the driver’s seat of her life?

If you like to think about a book for hours (or even days) after finishing it and if you like a book which reads like a movie I can recommend ”The Driver’s Seat”.

Mrs. Palfrey at the Claremont – Elizabeth Taylor

”Mrs. Palfrey at the Claremont” (released in 1971) is about life in all stages, and it’s an honest and delightful read. I might be a little biased as I love to read novels with older people, but besides my preference, this book is truly worth reading.

It’s about life being raw at times without falling into a depressing writing style. It just is what it is.

The novel is about seniors living in a hotel before going to a nursing home. So they are not allowed to die in the hotel and not get dependent. It’s intriguing. The story also follows the path of a young guy trying to make it as a writer and navigate his family and love life.

We all go through stages in life (child, adolescent, young adult, middle-aged, elderly). They are awful and fantastic. But the cruelest is the last lonely stage of our life. Having children doesn’t mean you won’t be lonely. Will they visit? How often?

I also appreciated the perspective on how (without even knowing it) we sometimes discriminate against older people. It’s cruel but true.

As I mentioned, the book is about our last stage in life, specifically about Mrs. Laura Palfrey, a widow and once diplomat’s wife. She lives in the Claremont Hotel in London. It’s a hotel open to everyone but primarily for the elderly – forgotten in society.

Mrs. Palfrey’s only daughter doesn’t care much about her mother, and her friends are not there either. So she lives in a hotel, counting the days. Lonely.

She low-key falls in love with a young boy who helps her. He is the guy who should have been her grandson. But he isn’t.

This book is not plot-driven, but it’s cozy without getting too cheesy. It stays real, poignant, honest, and funny. Life is cruel but also unexpectedly wonderful.

After this book, you might think differently about older people; at least I did.

Here are my honorable mentions for 2021.

Calypso – David Sedaris

David Sedaris shows that reading about complex topics in life can be enjoyable. It can be hilarious, relatable, odd, poignant, and embarrassing.

This book is hilarious and, at times, weird. It’s about his family and the loss of his mother 30 years ago and his sister more recently in 2013. The book is also about aging and the relationship with his parents, both now and when he was younger.

What makes this book so good is that it’s all so relatable and human. And because of that, you will both laugh and get emotional. And just when you think ”that’s weird”, he will describe something you can relate to.

His essays are wry, witty, and I’d say also R-rated. If you are not easily offended, this might be a fun read for you.

''Our mother was the one who held us all together. After her death we were like a fistful of damp soil, loose bits breaking off with no one to press them back in.''
 “In the ocean that afternoon, I watched my brother play with his daughter. The waves were high, and Madelyn hung laughing off Paul’s shoulders, I thought of how we use to do the same with our own father. It was the only time any of us ever touched him. Perhaps for that reason I can still recall the feel of his skin, slick with suntan oil.''
 “We're not pessimists, exactly, but in late middle age, when you envision your life ten years down the line, you're more likely to see a bedpan than a Tony Award.”

Bluets – Maggie Nelson

This is an interesting and delicate book, but it’s not easy to review or recap.

This book may not be for everyone, and I think it should be read slowly or maybe even twice.

Her approach to specific events, colors, art, philosophers, religion, and relationships is raw and lyrical, often philosophical and sometimes explicit.

The essays are about personal suffering and the limitations of vision and love, as explained through the color blue. She uses symbolism in art, songs, writing, religion, and movies.

This book may get you thinking about our vision and perception of colors, the world, and words.

Before the Coffee Gets Cold #1 & #2 – Toshikazu Kawaguchi

These are two books published two years apart from each other. The first book ”Before the Coffee Gets Cold” in 2015, and the second book, ”Before the Coffee Gets Cold: Tales from the Café” in 2017. These books can easily be read separately.

The novels are about time-traveling. Not very unique, right? And it starts pretty bad. The first chapter is a solid two stars. But the more you invest in the story, the better it gets.

This book reminds me of ”The Midnight Library” by Matt Haig, and I have a weakness for stories like that.

The author uses magic realism and the concept of time travel as a way to tell his story about love and that it’s never too late to have a change of heart. Nothing is what it seems it is. We think to know what the people we love think, but we don’t.

But most of all, it is a story about emotions. It’s about love, regret, and the sadness of not being able to influence life when things go wrong. We do better when we know better, but for the people in these stories knowing better comes too late. But even when it’s too late, you can have hope and that’s what this book is about.

If you can’t change the past or future, you can still change your current life and mindset simply because what was left unsaid is said. It’s a delightful read.

The same applies to book #2. You need to get into this book, and then it becomes a very heartwarming read.

With the concept of magic realism and time travel, the author tells the story of different people traveling back and forward in time.

In this book, I felt there were two main messages:
The importance of communication while we still can.
The only wish of those who have died is that their loved ones are happy.

 ''We can never truly see into the hearts of others. When people get lost in their own worries, they can be blind to the feelings of those most important to them.''

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