10 Favorite Reads from the 2nd Half of 2021

I fell behind in 2021 on blogging for a number of reasons. But it’s a new year and I’m back. Let’s dive in!


Crying in H Mart – Michelle Zauner

In the past, I didn’t listen to many audiobooks because it’s really hard for me to focus on the story except in very narrow circumstances. But, one of those circumstances is when I’m stuck in traffic. This year I returned to working outside of my house at least four days a week, which meant I had the time for audio books.

I think this book came to my attention through a best-of or a highly-anticipated list. I suppose it doesn’t matter. Crying in H Mart is Michelle Zauner’s memoir about growing up Korean American, but I’ll be honest, it mostly felt like the story of her relationship with her mother, and the journey of learning about herself while her mother slowly dies from a terminal disease.

I laughed and cried while listening to this book. Her relationship with her mother is complicated, like so many of ours are, and the rawness of passages of this book, especially when hearing her read them, stuck with me long after I’d left my car. I found myself sitting in the parking garage upon arriving to work, unable to head in until I finished a chapter.

Dear America: Notes of an Undocumented Citizen – Jose Antonio Vargas

This is another one that I listened to as an audiobook. It was also read by the author. I really enjoy when the author of nonfiction works narrate their own books. I think it adds a level of emotion and connection that the reader might otherwise miss out on.

I went into this book thinking I had an idea of the complications and unfairness of immigration in the US. And then I learned that there’s so much I didn’t know. Jose is charming, and the way he introduces the reader to how he came to be living in the US, and the confusion for him growing up here not knowing his papers were faked, was a great introduction to the overall confusion of our overly complicated legal system. Following along on his journey to try to become documented is heartbreaking at times. But there is also humor in this book.

I think more people should take the time to read something that might challenge their perspective. I didn’t expect to have my eyes opened. I thought they already were. And I was wrong.

Children’s & Middle Grade Books

I Am Enough – Gracy Byers

I read children’s picture books throughout the year, hunting for fun but meaningful books for my friends and family’s kids.

The title and book carries a message I wish I’d had hammered into my head as a child, and therefore I’m going to use my ‘auntie’ status to make sure the kids in my life know it early, and hear it often.

Pokko and the Drum – Matthew Forsythe

This picture book is delightful to look at, but also carries the impactful message that you shouldn’t give up art or your passion when criticized.

I also laughed pretty hard about 1/3 of the way into the book. You’ll know it when you get to it.

Essentially this book is delightful to read as an adult, and carries a great encouraging message for children.

Small Spaces – Katherine Arden

I was looking for something to get me in the Halloween spirit last year, and oooh boy did this bring the creepy don’t-turn-off-the-lights vibe. I had to look it up to make sure it was actually for middle grade kids, but I was reading Poe in 5th grade, so I should have realized kids love this scary stuff.

Katherine Arden wrote The Bear and the Nightingale, an adult book a friend sent me that I loved, so I figured I’d try out some of her other works. This ghost story reminded me how creepy scarecrows are, and had me nervous of shadows curling up in the edges of my house. In other words, it was perfect for that Halloween mood. It’s well written, and tackles the struggle of dealing with loss as a child, showing how it’s better to reach out for friendship than to stay withdrawn and try to tackle grief on your own.


A Psalm for the Wild-Built – Becky Chambers

Maybe you’re not someone who went in hard for philosophy in school. Totally fine. I still think you’ll enjoy this book. If you do love the meandering philosophical journey for meaning, then have I got a novella for you!

People have been trying to get me to read other works by Becky Chambers for years, and I’ve tried a few times but either wasn’t in the right head-space for her harder sci-fi, or just am not a big hard sci-fi person. Either way, I wasn’t jumping out of my seat to pick up this novella, except….it’s about a travelling tea monk and a robot.

Tea Monk. Robot. Journey.

Sign me up!

This is a slowly unwinding book that makes you feel as if you’re also wandering the dirt path with the tired Sibling Dex. The curiosity of the robot that arrives, the need to understand what people might need, feels like my own inner child approaching society at large and wondering ‘why?’ and ‘what would fix you?’

It’s hard to explain why this book gripped me much beyond saying that I have a minor in philosophy, enjoy spending hours discussing the hard questions of life, and the concept of a tea monk delights me.

The Chosen & the Beautiful – Nghi Vo

I read The Great Gatsby in high school and found it to be a tale about a sad white man struggling in the face of having everything he could ever want right next door. So many of the classics I read in middle school and high school were about white boys or men, struggling because the entire world is set up for them, but it’s still not enough. That sounds horribly jaded. Let me take a step back: I did not read books in public school that showed the diversity of our world or that highlighted experiences different than the US default, which is white male. I still liked many of the classics, despite this. The Great Gatsby was not one I enjoyed.

So why on earth did I pick up this retelling of The Great Gatsby?

Because I wanted to see what could be done with that story of excess and privilege when written by and about someone who is not a white man. And it’s fantastic.

I read a lot of speculative fiction, specifically fantasy. I almost forgot that this was speculative fiction, despite the magic and the demons. All of that so effortlessly (from the reader’s perspective) folds into the excess of the 1920s. It almost feels inevitable that you’ll have magic, real magic, in those outrageous parties. And of course there are people who have sold their souls to reach such great heights. Such is life in this luscious world Nghi Vo creates.

If you didn’t like The Great Gatsby, awesome, pick up this book. If you loved The Great Gatsby, awesome, pick up this book. It’s a spectacular voyage no matter your take on the original.

The Secret Life of Church Ladies – Deesha Philyaw

This collection of short stories is excellent. I can’t say that I loved every single story (what a rare collection of short stories that is to find), but I really enjoyed almost all of them. I highly recommend the audiobook for this one. Hearing the prose is beautiful and added a richness to the stories.

I was enthralled by the variety of stories and POV in this collection. I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect from the title, but each story felt like its own contained world with a very different experience from the others. The prose was elegant and engrossing.


How Moon Fuentes Fell in Love with the Universe – Raquel Vasquez Gilliland

My best friend sent this to me in the mail. I have another of the author’s books on my TBR, and given my friend’s response to this book, I was excited to dig in immediately. I’ve stuck this under the romance header, but it easily could have gone under fiction too. Yes, there’s a romance, but mostly the book is about Moon learning to stand up for herself and recognize her own worth. There were some hard to read family dynamics (trigger warning for discussion of domestic abuse), which I think the author handled beautifully.

The love story is also very cute. I love an ‘enemies’ (would I say they were enemies at first? Maybe not that far, but we’ll go with it here for the trope) to lovers arc. What I love even more is a woman finding her power and worth, and realizing she doesn’t have to take shit from anyone (especially her family).

The Charm Offensive – Alison Cochrun

I don’t watch reality television. Let’s start there. So why on earth did I pick up a book that’s based on The Bachelor, where the main two characters are a producer on the show and the show’s lead? Because it promised it would turn the usual reality television tropes on their head, and it also promised a queer love story.

Imagine my delight when the entire book deconstructed the problems of reality shows like The Bachelor, and then built up this heart-warming story of two men learning about themselves, and learning how to find love.

Melting. My heart was melting. I powered through this book very quickly, and thoroughly enjoyed the warm fuzzies it left me feeling for the rest of the day.

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