Saturday, January 22, 2022

2021 Reading Challenges Wrap-Up

Better late than never! COVID interfered with my usual start-of-the-year blog posts, but I just posted my Best Books of 2021 Summary, and now it's time to sum up my 2021 Reading Challenges! You can check out my 2021 Reading Challenge tab to see the lists of books read for each challenge.

Here's what I joined and how I did:

Mount TBR Reading Challenge 2021 hosted by My Reader's Block

My goal was to read 48 books from my TBR shelves, and I missed that, reading a total of 38 books from my own shelves last year. That was 48% of my books read ... and yet somehow, my TBR bookcase is still overflowing!


2021 Monthly Motif Reading Challenge hosted by Girlxoxo. 

Another annual challenge I always enjoy! And in 2021, I read books in the monthly motifs all 12 months! Success! 

Back to the Classics Challenge 2021 hosted by Books and Chocolate

My goal was once again to read 6 classics in 6 different categories, but I only read 4 classics last year. But Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy was 900+ pages, so maybe that counts as two?? I will try again this year!


2021 AtoZ Reading Challenge hosted by Bookstacks and Golden Moms

This was my first year for this challenge, and I enjoyed it! Though I soon realized certain letters pop up again and again. Do you know I read 11 books whose titles began with the letter A last year? In the end, I filled in 21 of 26 letters, missing only J, K, P, Q, and X. Of the monthly Mini Challenges, I hit 8 of the 12. This was a fun challenge I plan to do again!


2021 PopSugar Reading Challenge hosted by POPSUGAR.

Once again, I joined the Pop Sugar Challenge which provides 50 unique and fun categories. I read books in 37 of those categories in 2021.


2021 Nonfiction Reader Challenge hosted by Book'd Out.

I always enjoy a Nonfiction Challenge. For 2021, I sign up for the Nonfiction Know-It-all category, hoping to read at least 12 nonfiction books ... and I read 13! Success! I also filled in 8 of the 12 categories.


Diversity Reading Challenge 2021 hosted by Celebrity Readers.

I also always enjoy a diversity challenge. My goal was to read 40 diverse books in 2021, and I ended up reading 33. Of the Monthly Themes, I hit 7 of the 12. 


Travel the World in Books Reading Challenge hosted by Mom's Small Victories 

This is a perpetual challenge that I signed up for in 2014 and continue every year. In 2021, my reading took me to 36 locations outside the U.S. and to 17 different countries (lots of duplicates with UK, Canada, and Australia!). I traveled to some interesting places in my books last year!


2021 Literary Escapes Challenge hosted by Escape with Dollycas Into a Good Book.

I like tracking where I read domestically, too. In 2021, my reading took me to 23 different states (versus 24 in 2020). SO many books are set in California and New York!


Bookish Bingo hosted by Chapter Break - not really a challenge per se, but a fun game that I played every month in 2021, with a different Reading Bingo card for each month.


Big Book Summer Challenge 2021 hosted by Book By Book (me!)

My own challenge that I host every year from Memorial Day weekend (end of May to Labor Day (early September), where the goal is to read books with 400 or more pages (just one or two or however many you choose). In 2021, I read 12 Big Books (including audios) during the summer!


Readers Imbibing Peril XVI Challenge:

I love this annual fall challenge to read darker books! #ripxvi #Perilreaders In 2021, I read 11 books featuring darker themes in September and October.


Nonfiction November 2021:

I read 7 nonfiction books last November.

That's it! Check out my full lists for each of these challenges on my 2021 Challenges page

What reading challenges did you enjoy last year?


Friday, January 21, 2022

Best Books Read in 2021

COVID delayed my year-end wrap-up--not a great way to start the year--but here it is!

First, I'll share some stats and fun facts about my reading year, then my Top Picks in different categories, and finally my Top 10 (or whatever) lists in each category. It was an outstanding reading year, so I had some tough choices to make.

You can see a complete list, with links to reviews, of all the books I've read since 2015 at the Book Reviews tab.

Stats and Facts

Total Books Read in 2021 = 78 (just a few less than in 2020)


Adult Fiction = 45 (58%)

Adult Nonfiction = 11 (14%) – 6 were memoir

Teen/YA = 10 (13%)

Middle-Grade = 12 (15%) 


Of those books, 

Audiobooks = 25

Graphic Novel/nonfiction = 10

Poetry = 0


More Facts:

Women Authors = 47 (60%)

Diverse books = 33 (42%)

From my own shelves = 38 (49%)

Re-reads = 1

Authors read more than once in 2021: Connie Willis

Shortest book: The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde (play) – 94 pages

Longest book: Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy – 964 pages

Average book length: 353 pages


Top Picks - Best of the Best

So many good books! See below for my Top 10 lists. Links are to my reviews. I try to force myself to choose one best, but I just had to declare a tie in fiction last year!

Best Adult Fiction

It's a tie! Both of these books blew me away, made me laugh and cry, and got perfect 10's:

The Heart's Invisible Furies by John Boyne



A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles  

Best Short Stories

Not the End of the World by Kate Atkinson 




Best Nonfiction

  The Sixth Extinction by Elizabeth Kolbert 



Best Memoir

No Cure For Being Human (And Other Truths I Need to Hear) by Kate Bowler  



Best Audiobook

The Night Watchman by Louise Erdrich  



Best Teen/YA

Young Man with Camera by Emil Sher  



Best Middle-Grade

Drums, Girls, and Dangerous Pie by Jordan Sonnenblick 



Best Graphic Novel/Memoir

Flamer by Mike Curato  


Top 10 (or Whatever) Lists

Lists are alphabetical. Some books appear in more than one category.

Top 10 Adult Fiction

The Air You Breathe by Frances de Ponte Peebles

All Clear by Connie Willis

Blackout by Connie Willis

The Book of Longings by Sue Monk Kidd

Clock Dance by Anne Tyler

A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles

The Heart's Invisible Furies by John Boyne

The Night Watchman by Louise Erdrich

The Summer Guest by Justin Cronin

The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett


Top 8 Nonfiction/Memoir

Becoming by Michelle Obama (re-read)

Crying in H Mart by Michelle Zauner

An Elegant Defense: The Extraordinary New Science of the Immune System by Matt Richtel

I'll Be Gone in the Dark: One Woman's Obsessive Search for the Golden State Killer by Michelle McNamara

Nature's Best Hope by Douglas Tallamy

No Cure For Being Human (And Other Truths I Need to Hear) by Kate Bowler

The Sisters of Auschwitz by Roxane van Iperen

The Sixth Extinction by Elizabeth Kolbert


Top 5 Teen/YA

All of This Is True by Lygia Day Peñaflor

Dragon Hoops by Gene Luen Yang

Flamer by Mike Curato

Young Man with Camera by Emil Sher

Zara Hossain Is Here by Sabina Khan


Top 5 Middle-Grade

A Corner of White by Jacalyn Moriarty

Drums, Girls, and Dangerous Pie by Jordan Sonnenblick

A Home for Goddesses and Dogs by Leslie Connor

Other Boys by Damian Alexander

The Remarkable Journey of Coyote Sunrise by Dan Gemeinhart


Top 5 Graphic Novel/Memoir

Dragon Hoops by Gene Luen Yang

Flamer by Mike Curato

A Map to the Sun by Sloane Leong

Other Boys by Damian Alexander

Twins by Varian Johnson and Shannon Wright


Top 4 Short Stories

Astray by Emma Donoghue

Breakfast at Tiffany's by Truman Capote (novella & short stories)

Not the End of the World by Kate Atkinson

Whisky for Breakfast by Christopher P. Mooney


Top 10 Audiobooks

All of This Is True by Lygia Day Peñaflor

Animal Dreams by Barbara Kingsolver

Becoming by Michelle Obama (re-read)

A Corner of White by Jacalyn Moriarty

An Elegant Defense: The Extraordinary New Science of the Immune System by Matt Richtel

The Night Watchman by Louise Erdrich

The Remarkable Journey of Coyote Sunrise by Dan Gemeinhart

The Sisters of Auschwitz by Roxane van Iperen

Under the Whispering Door by T.J. Klune

Zara Hossain Is Here by Sabina Khan

Monday, January 17, 2022

Movie Monday: Finch

Saturday night, after two weeks with COVID, I declared a fun night, and my husband and I ordered pizza and wings and watched a movie. We settled on Finch, an original movie on Apple TV starring Tom Hanks that looked appealing to both of us. We had a wonderful feast and thoroughly enjoyed this warm, funny and heartbreaking yet hopeful movie.

Hanks plays Finch, an engineer marooned in a post-apocalyptic world. A solar flare rendered Earth almost uninhabitable, with searing temperatures, soaring radiation levels, and nothing left growing. It's a stark, terrifying landscape, but Finch is holed up in the old tech company where he used to work and is fairly safe. Something of a tech genius, he has not only outfitted his bunker but also developed a protective suit for himself and some rudimentary robots to help him scavenge what he can (though there's not a lot left). Most important, for his mental health, he found a dog who lives with him in the bunker and to whom he is devoted. At the start of the movie, once we see what the outside world is like and what Finch is up against, he puts the finishing touches on his best robot yet: a human-like robot who has been programmed with a "prime directive," to protect the dog. Not a moment too soon because Finch spots a huge storm coming and decides that the three of them will be better off leaving town. They pile into a modified, tank-ified RV and head west out of St. Louis. Finch has always wanted to see the Golden Gate bridge in San Francisco. Their journey is an adventure, with plenty of challenges encountered but also some laughs and tender moments along the way.

This movie is filled with the kind of warmth and humor you expect from Tom Hanks (not to mention his smart, just-learning-about-the-world robot), though there are moments of peril and one very sad part, too. It takes you on an emotional journey along with the characters. Hanks has some experience with starring in a movie where he is practically the only character on-screen, though here, both the dog and the robot have their own fully-developed personalities, so it doesn't feel like he's alone. The challenges they face are often dark and frightening, so there is plenty of action and suspense, though the heart of this movie is ... its heart, and there is plenty of humor along the way. It's really about relationships and about hope. We both enjoyed it very much; it was a perfect Saturday night escape!

Finch is an Apple original, so it is available exclusively on Apple TV.

It's Monday 1/17! What Are You Reading?

Hosted by The Book Date

COVID Day 13, and I am slowly--very slowly--coming back to life. It hit me particularly hard because of my chronic immune disorder (I hardly made any antibodies from the vaccines), though it hit my healthy son pretty hard for a week, too, so it's definitely something to take seriously. And my father-in-law, at 96, is really struggling, still in the COVID wing at the nursing home, more than two weeks in. We're trying to encourage him to eat and build up his strength because he also needs to do PT and recover from a broken hip!

As for me, last week was a rough one. Some days, I just slept all day, with brief breaks for a sitcom (about all I could handle) or 10 minutes of reading. I was feeling pretty down by Friday because with my chronic illness, there is a good chance that COVID will cause a long-term worsening, and I still had zero energy. I began to see small signs of improvement this weekend, though. I was sitting up most of the day (other than my usual nap time in the afternoon), and I felt my brain begin to function again! It's a concept I call "mental energy" in the chronic illness world, and when it comes back, it feels glorious. So, I was able to feel a bit useful this weekend, paying some bills on my laptop, and even managing a couple of short blog posts. I'm still sleeping 10-11 hours at night (plus my nap) and had a terrible coughing fit at 7 am this morning, but those signs of improvement have lifted my spirits and given me some hope that I might be able to get back to my "normal" baseline.

I managed to help celebrate my son's 24th birthday last week. We just had a quiet evening at home with him and his girlfriend and takeout, gifts, and cake. I stayed on the other side of the room and wore my mask. He was thrilled to be fully recovered and able to enjoy a weekend at the beach with his girlfriend. 

Birthday Celebration!

That took a lot out of me, which is probably why Friday was so rough. Feeling down, I told my husband I needed something to look forward to. It's an old adage I learned from a wonderful psychologist in the early years of my illness: What are you looking forward to? My days were running together, so I suggested we do something special and order pizza and wings for Saturday evening. I know - crazy, right? Since I'm dairy intolerant and don't usually eat grains, it was a little crazy! I added a diet root beer for me, and we totally enjoyed our junk food feast, along with a movie (Finch on Apple TV, which was very good). It was just what I needed to lift my spirits!

Our wild Saturday night

I did manage one brief video last week, on one of my better days:

Friday Reads 1-14-22 - where I talk about the top two books below

(anyone else still writing 2021 by mistake?)

COVID has slowed down my reading, but books still provided a lot of enjoyment and comfort last week. Here's what we've all been reading:


I finished reading Happiness by Aminatta Forma. I like this sort of story, where two very different people's lives intersect unexpectedly. In this case, it's Jean, an American wildlife biologist studying urban foxes in London, and Attila, a Ghanian psychiatrist who specializes in PTSD; their paths cross in London. It was a beautiful novel, thoughtful and warm and all about healing.


I also finished my audio book, The Sentence by Louise Erdrich, which I loved! Erdrich reads her own audios, making them even more special. In this one, a Native American woman named Tookie spent years in prison and is now working in a bookstore (the real-life bookstore owned by the author) where she sees the ghost of a former customer. It takes place in 2020 so covers all that happened then, too. It was warm and funny and, coincidentally, also very much about healing.


I just started reading Bottle of Lies by Katherine Eban. This is nonfiction and the choice for my neighborhood book group (on Zoom) this week. The author is an investigative journalist, and the book is about dangerous fraud and scandal in the generic drug business. To be honest, I didn't want to read it, since I rely on about 20 different generic medications every day! But it's quite interesting so far (and hasn't yet mentioned any of my meds).


For my next audio book, I chose Mercy Street by Jennifer Haigh, which will be released on February 1. I love Haigh's novels, and it's been years since she published a new one, so I was thrilled to spot her name in the list of upcoming releases! I only just started listening, but this one is about disparate people's lives that intersect at a women's clinic in Boston.


My husband, Ken, is still reading Gardens of the Moon by Steven Erikson, book one of The Malazan Book of the Fallen series, a fantasy novel recommended by our son. Once again, he didn't have much reading time this week, between sanitizing, hand-washing, and doing the cooking, but he says he's enjoying it.


Ken also mentioned to me that he read Animal Farm by George Orwell during some late-night sessions! He's been sleeping in the guest room since I got COVID, and we keep all of our classics on a shelf in there, so when he can't sleep at night, he grabs something from the shelf. This was his first time reading this satirical classic, and he enjoyed it. I'd like to reread it myself, as I think I read it (this copy even!) back in Junior High.


Our son, 27,finally took a break from his new Pokemon game for the Switch (a gift from his brother) and finished reading Spinning Silver by Naomi Novak, a follow-up to Uprooted, which he loved. He said it was "really good--not super actiony, but a great and unique fantasy tale."


Now, our son is reading a book that was a gift from his girlfriend, The Rage of Dragons by Evan Winter, book one of The Burning series. Amazon says it's one of Time magazine's Top 100 Fantasy Books of all time!

A new blog post yesterday!

Fiction Review: Miss Benson's Beetle by Rachel Joyce - funny, quirky but also warm and moving story of two women on an adventure in 1950.

What Are You Reading Monday is hosted by Kathryn at Book Date, so head over and check out her blog and join the Monday fun! You can also participate in a kid/teen/YA version hosted by Unleashing Readers.

You can follow me on Twitter at @SueBookByBook or on Facebook on my blog's page.   

What are you and your family reading this week?