Reading is and always has been one of the great loves of my life! I have shared annual book and reading recaps at the end of every year for a while now (2020, 2019, 2015, 2014, 2013, my 2021 non-fiction book list, and my all time favorite books), and I want to regularly share more recent book lists and what I’m reading and loving without waiting til the end of the year! There are SO MANY incredible books to be read, and my to-be-read book stack is constantly growing. I read quickly and often, but I barely feel like I can keep up with all of the books that I want to read and all of the knowledge I want to learn! I love when dear friends (and beloved bloggers!) recommend books to me, and those are the ones that instantly go to the top of my reading queue. Truly, one of the happiest gifts I could ever give someone is a book that he or she loves and connects with, and the same is true when I am given an excellent book recommendation, too.
It’s only mid-February, and I’ve managed to read 18 books already this year! Even for me, this is a number way, way ahead of where I typically am. I blame winter, a pandemic/no social calendar, a winter trip to the beach, and a bevy of fantastic books in from the library for an inordinate amount of time spent reading, and I don’t mind one bit. I have upwards of 20+ books currently checked out from the library, so I also feel like I’m racing the clock to read them as quickly as possible!
Here are the 18 books I’ve read thus far in 2021, along with my ranking (I’ll start with the highest rankings!) and a review or blurb about each book:
Prayer: Experiencing Awe and Intimacy with God by Timothy Keller | 5/5: As expected, this was far and away one of the best faith/theological books I’ve read by one of the most impactful, wise author and pastor. I absolutely loved this deep, insightful, convicting, and Biblically-grounded book on prayer and learned so much more about the incredible importance of genuine prayer, ways to make prayer more powerful and personal, ways to cultivate a deeper prayer life, methods and practices to incorporate, and ways to enjoy an even deeper connection with God. Tim Keller also does a beautiful and masterful job at explaining just how much God loves us and wants us to experience the fullest life in Him. Wow, this book was so, so good and such a rich read – I would absolutely recommend it to every believer. I basically highlighted the entire book; it is a must read and one I’ll reference for the rest of my life.
The Four Winds by Kristin Hannah | 5/5: I’d been anticipating this novel for so long (she also wrote The Great Alone and The Nightingale, among others), and it definitely lived up to my very high expectations. I flew through this one at the beach and loved it so much. I can’t stop thinking about it and how much it touched my heart. The characters, story, era, and journey were all so beautiful, sweeping, compelling, and, at times, devastating to read about. This historical fiction book takes place during the Dust Bowl in rural Texas and the Great Depression in California as one farming family struggles to survive and overcome such extreme hardships. This coming of age story plays out in a couple central female characters, and it’s both heartbreaking and redeeming all at once. Hope can be found in the most trying of circumstances and the smallest of ways. Go read this one as soon as possible; it’s unbelievably good!
Friends and Strangers by J. Courtney Sullivan | 4.75/5: I loved this book so much! If you read (or want to read) Such a Fun Age, this one has somewhat similar characters (a new mom and a younger nanny), but it’s a million times better. I couldn’t put this one down and thought all of the characters and story were fascinating, had so much depth, and relatability in many ways. I can’t wait to discuss this one!
The Lager Queen of Minnesota by J. Ryan Stradal | 4.75/5: This was a fantastic read about a Midwestern family often down on their luck, their multigenerational family saga, making one’s way in the world, and beer – yes, brewing! I loved this one and simultaneously learned so much, too.
The Splendid and the Vile by Erik Larson | 4.5/5: Erik Larson’s books never disappoint, and this was a massive, sweeping, and very intensive look at Winston Churchill and his first year as Prime Minister at the start of WWII. It’s a very in-depth look at his life, his leadership, his family, and the Blitz in London. Churchill fascinates me, and I loved learning more about him and the art of being fearless even in the darkest of times.
Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance | 4.5/5: As a sociology major, I especially loved this real life memoir and found it so interesting and moving in a myriad of ways. J.D. Vance, just a few years older than I am, vividly and perceptively shares about his upbringing and his family – hillbillies from rural Kentucky and small town Ohio. Despite many disadvantages, lack of family stability, and few prospects, he ends up becoming a Marine, graduates from Ohio State, and graduates from Yale Law. I loved this raw look into his life and the mindset/cultural norms of his family and where he’s from, along with the crises and challenges they face. The movie was excellent, too!
HRH: So Many Thoughts on Royal Style by Elizabeth Holmes | 4.5/5: My sister and I have long loved the royals, and they’re the only “celebrities” I follow whatsoever. We’d been anticipating this new (and beautiful!) book and it did not disappoint. Four beautiful women (inside and out), lots of amazing and intentional fashion through the years, and so many excellent thoughts and insights. This was a fun and insightful read!
Writers & Lovers by Lily King | 4.25/5: This book is our February book club pick, and I already can’t wait to discuss it. It started a little slow/not sure how much I was going to enjoy it, but I ended up really liking this one! It’s very aptly names since it’s about… writers… and lovers… but it has such depth to it, and the main character is so likeable. I found myself always rooting for her during the many downs (and a few ups) of this season of her life. It also made me want to become a writer (sort of). Read this one!
One to Watch by Kate Stayman-London | 4.25/5: I ended up really enjoying this one and have lots of thoughts that I’m still mulling over. This book is essentially The Bachelorette come to life but with a plus size female lead. She’s very relatable, as someone who has watched many seasons of The Bachelor, it was an interesting and predictable read. So many of the insecurities, fears, and worries of Bea about her size (and America’s unfiltered thoughts on her size) are things I’ve wrestled with in my life, so it strikes very close to home in many ways. It’s a very eye-opening read that I’d definitely recommend for anyone – if you know someone plus-sized, if you are, or if you just love an entertaining read.
The Book of Lost Names by Kristin Harmel | 4/5: I’m sure I’m not the only one who’s noticed, but there are SO many WWII books these days. This is yet another one, but it’s another beautiful, poignant read about a young Jewish woman who flees Paris and then helps forge documents to help Jewish children safely flee to neutral Switzerland. She’s determined not to let these children and their real identities be forgotten, so she records their real names in a book in code. Who can she trust, where can she turn, and what can she do to help?
Things We Didn’t Say by Amy Lynn Green | 4/5: Another WWII book – and another good one. This historical fiction novel is about German POWs in the US and their young, female American translator who ends up being accused of treason. Where do lines get drawn, how can you feel compassion for your enemy, and who can you trust? The entire book is written in letters/correspondence, and it’s fascinating.
The Silent Patient by Alex Michaelides | 4/5: This was a really gripping and fascinating psychological thriller that I wasn’t expecting to love as much as I did! I couldn’t put this one down and it most definitely kept me guessing.
Finding Freedom by Omid Scobie and Carolyn Durand | 3.75/5: I love anything royals, and this was a really good insider peek at Harry and Meghan and their thoughtful decision to step back from the royal family – and what drove them to make such a drastic family change.
Rules of Civility by Amor Towles | 3.75/5: This book is by the author of A Gentleman in Moscow, and I enjoyed this one much more. If you love books that take place in NYC or post-Depression era Manhattan or the social lives of the privileged, this book is for you. It was very dynamic and has fascinating characters.
Beach Read by Emily Henry | 3.5/5: This was cute and breezy but fairly predictable chick-lit. It was enjoyable and entertaining but nothing life changing!
The Beekeeper of Aleppo by Christy Lefteri | 3.25/5: This book was beautifully written and poignant about Syrian refugees fleeing during the recent civil war, but it was far and away one of the saddest and most heartbreaking books I’ve read.
The Age of Light by Whitney Scharer | 3/5: I wanted to like this one so much more, but it felt really flat for me and dragged on. It’s an account of Lee Miller’s life as she transforms from model to muse to artist in her own right in bohemian Paris.
Betty by Tiffany McDaniel | 2.5/5: This seemed like a fitting pick after reading Hillbilly Elegy (both about very poor rural families in Ohio), but wow this story was so heartbreaking and painful – “a brutal and moving story about the legacy of [emotional, physical, & sexual] abuse passed down through generations and the power of words to stop the cycle.” It was also so long-winded and, I’d imagine, very triggering.
Now it’s your turn! What is THE best book you’ve read in the last year? What’s your most recommended book to your own family or friends? I would absolutely love to hear from you and add to my queue, and I hope you enjoyed this roundup of my recent reads, as well!
I always share what I’m reading in real time over on Instagram (#stephaniereads), along with Goodreads – so find me on one or both of those! You can read a ton more previous blog posts of mine about books: my 2021 non-fiction book list (I’ve already read 3 this year!), my favorite books of 2020, my favorite books of 2019, my favorite books ever, all things books, let’s talk about books, best books of 2014, best books of 2013, the South’s best books and authors, and plenty more in my blog’s archives!
Affiliate links are used in this post – but I can’t sing the praises of shopping from smaller, independent bookstores (or supporting the library!) enough!