I read 73 books in 2021. That just barely passes 2020 and hopefully doesn’t start a pattern of lower reading numbers.
If you want to read more, check out my booklet 137 Books in One Year: How to Fall in Love With Reading Again.
2021 Reading Themes
I think the pandemic again messed with my reading. Much like 2020, it was hard to stay focused and engaged in a book. Nonfiction was the death of me.
I tried to overcome it by focusing on books I really enjoyed (sci-fi hit 55% again) and ruthlessly giving up on books that weren’t great. At least I tried. Sometimes I think I still read books out of obligation, and that just slowed things down.
I also think my continued disdain for YA and middle grade keeps my numbers low since those books are such quick reads.
The Books I Read in 2021:
- My Soul to Take by Tananarive Due – 3 stars
The final chapter in the African Immortals series is a bit of a letdown. It feels like it fizzles out, never quite capturing the frantic pace of the earlier chapters. It is interesting that it includes some pandemic elements that feel very familiar, despite being published in 2011.
- Almost American Girl by Robin Ha – 4 stars
An immigrant’s story about a middle school age girl moving to America when she really didn’t want to and struggling to find her place. It’s a quick story but gives a painful glimpse of what that experience was like. Ultimately it was positive, so not a complete downer.
- Ring Shout by P. Djeli Clark – 5 stars
I’m not big into fantasy, and P. Djeli Clark’s stuff tends to be weird. I also don’t like stories that ascribe the supernatural to ordinary evil. We need to be able to reckon with our own depravity, not find excuses for it. But Clark overcomes all these objections and delivers a quick and gripping story. It’s a powerful treatise on hate and power.
- Rebel Sisters by Tochi Onyebuchi – 3 stars
Much like War Girls, this sequel has a lot of potential and a lot of interesting things going on, but it just feels too muddled and too much. It doesn’t help that half the story is told from the perspective of this synth robot/human hybrid that only speaks in the present tense and it’s not always clear what’s happening. It also plays with a lot of deep themes of war and remembering and forgetting and refugees, which is perhaps why I was able to muddle through.
- Dragon Hoops by Gene Luen Yang – 4 stars
An interesting and very meta graphic novel about a graphic novel nerd falling in love with basketball. Author Gene Luen Yang tells the story of writing this book (see? meta) as he follows the basketball team of the school he taught at. It’s engaging even for non-basketball fans. The whole meta aspect of it could be a unique angle all on its own. For those especially interested in his writing process, the endnotes have a lot of detail about what he changed and how the story came together.
- Goddess in the Machine by Lora Beth Johnson – 3 stars
A fascinating set up—an interstellar colonist put in stasis is woken up a thousand years too late and has to find her place in among a culture and technology that has vastly degraded. But some of the typical YA tropes, not asking the obvious questions and fixating on foolish ideas, get in the way. The story eventually comes around with a few surprises to keep things engaging, but also ends without a real ending (wait for part two). It had some moments, but the frustrations keep it to only three stars.
- Remote Control by Nnedi Okorafor – 3 stars
Nnedi Okorafor is an exceptional writer and her words and style always pull me in. Her world-building is solid and her character was also intriguing. But the plot left me wanting. I was never sure where this story was going and it never seemed to get there. It’s more of a future folk story and hints at all kinds of interesting things, but there just wasn’t enough to get me excited.
- Brood by Jackie Polzin – 5 stars
This is such a wonderful book. It explores grief and miscarriage through chickens, which sounds ridiculous, but is really delightful. It’s funny and sad and poignant and beautifully written. (Disclaimer: I received a free review copy from the author.)
- When Stars Are Scattered by Victoria Jamieson and Omar Mohamed – 4 stars
The African refugee story feels like it’s become a genre of its own in recent years, which is just a sad assessment of the world today. This story focuses on refugees from Somalia and focuses almost entirely on life in the refugee camps. We follow Omar and his brother through more than 10 years in the camp, and while it’s ultimately a hopeful story, it’s sad and really acutely showcases the hopelessness of life as a refugee.
- Lost Stars by Claudia Gray – 5 stars
I’ve heard people say this is the best of the Star Wars novels for years, and I can finally say that I agree. It tells an incredible love story that perfectly follows the original trilogy without ridiculous coincidence or upstaging. It reminds me of the Certain Point of View short stories, though it stands alone as its own story. We get brief visits from major players (Darth Vader, Princess Leia, Tarkin, Wedge, Mon Motha, etc.) and other delightful characters that really flesh out the powerful central story.
- Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You by Jason Reynolds and Ibram X. Kendi – 4 stars
This takes Ibram X. Kendi’s sprawling Stamped From the Beginning history and reduces it to a breezy YA format (if a history of racism can be described as breezy). It has Jason Reynolds’ conversational style that does make quick reading of a heavy subject. As breezy as it is, it’s still dense. A lot to unpack here, and left me feeling like I need to read the full version and struggle with the density of it.
- The Unkind Hours by Dwayne Alexander Smith – 4 stars
Oof, what a story. It’s about a man whose daughter is abducted and killed, and it takes some wild twists and turns. The story is fast paced and the writing is addictive.
- Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty – 3 stars
This over-the-top, who-done-it among a group of kindergarten parents is funny and engaging. But it does drag on a little long. It took me six months to get through the audiobook. Surely my lack of travel during the pandemic didn’t help, but I also felt like the book turned into a slog. Entertaining, but it could have been a little shorter and faster to the punch.
- Compassion & Conviction: The AND Campaign’s Guide to Faithful Civic Engagement by Justin Giboney, Michael Wear, and Chris Butler – 4 stars
This is a great little book for encouraging Christians to be politically involved in ways that are consistent, honorable, and effective. It’s full of practical advice and biblically grounded ideas. Unfortunately, it’s also a little basic. The first couple chapters felt like ‘well duh,’ as it goes through a basic civics lesson. My other concern is that the AND Campaign has a very specific evangelical viewpoint, which shades how they talk about political issues. They talk about Christians disagreeing on some issues, but there are other issues where the Bible is clear and we have to fall in line. It’s convenient that they get to decide what issues those are when reasonable Christians still disagree. That undercuts their message. But if you can at least be aware of that and ignore it, there’s some helpful ideas.
- I Will Judge You By Your Bookshelf by Grant Snider – 4 stars
A fun and whimsical collection of cartoons about books and writing.
- The Heart of a Woman by Maya Angelou – 3 stars
It’s always fascinating reading Maya Angelou and her stories of interacting with everyone of consequence in the 20th century. The story starts out with Billie Holiday and we get Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, James Baldwin, and others. No big deal. I didn’t know that Angelous worked for King’s Southern Christian Leadership Conference for a time. What’s perhaps most interesting about this memoir is she talks about her teenage son and a couple romantic relationships. Knowing what a strong, independent woman Angelou was, it was surprising to see her accept such a traditional marriage role. It’s obvious she chafed at both situations, but I’m surprised she consented to enter those relationships, or at least didn’t shape them with the force of her will (I guess ultimately she did).
- Cinderella Is Dead by Kalynn Bayron – 4 stars
It feels like the fairy tale story as dystopia is fairly overdone these days, though Cinderella Is Dead does a pretty good job. It’s engaging and fairly quick, and as a bonus it doesn’t get too bogged down in the YA tropes.
- Into the Dark by Claudia Gray – 5 stars
Claudia Gray is proving herself to be by far the best Star Wars writer and this story, one of the first set in the earlier High Republic days, sets a new bar. She does an excellent job introducing a new batch of Jedi and telling a highly engaging story—all with hardly any reference to the characters we know and love (Yoda is mentioned once, but doesn’t appear). My only critique is with the High Republic setting. It’s supposed to be a hundreds (thousands?) of years before even the prequels, but there’s very little hint of technological advancement between the two eras. That would have been interesting to see, even on a small scale. As is, it’s virtually the same as the era we know. That certainly makes storytelling easier, but it doesn’t feel like it creates a new and distinct era to explore.
- We Could Be Heroes by Mike Chen – 5 stars
A fun superhero story where a villain and hero team up to discover their origins. It’s fun, fresh, and witty. There were several moments of edge of the seat action where I was genuinely nervous for the outcome. Fun read.
- A Test of Courage by Justina Ireland – 4 stars
I’ll be honest: I did not have high hopes for this one, especially when I saw it was a middle grade novel. I liked Justina Ireland’s Dread series, but I thought her other two Star Wars novels were just OK—and both were also middle grade. But I was pleasantly surprised. This was a great story with proper stakes and action, plus a great cast of characters. It explored the dark side quite a bit, more than I expected for a middle grade story. As the final climax I imagined this would make a great movie. I’d love to see Vern and Imri in real life, plus Avon and J-6 are a fun combo.
- Out Past the Stars by K.B. Wagers – 4 stars
I love the character of Hail Bristol and I love the breakneck pace of K.B. Wagers’ writing. But I hate the way this series just screams so fast that there’s never any time to slow down and catch up to what’s happening. This the third installment of the second trilogy, so I guess I should get over it by now, but there’s absolutely no easing you into it. Doesn’t matter if it’s been years since you read the last installment, you’re catching up on your own. I hate that. At least help us remember who is who and what’s going on. Oh well.
- Slay by Brittney Morris – 4 stars
Intriguing story about a high school student who creates a multiplayer online card game that celebrates Black culture and is inadvertently accused of racism. The story goes off the rails a bit in that the teen keeps this entire online world a secret from her family and friends. It’s the kind of stuff that drives me nuts about YA, and becomes ridiculous when at one point she dislocates her shoulder and has to go to the hospital, but rather than have her parents take her, she sneaks out of the house with her sister. For no reason. That whole bit is unbelievable, but the rest of the story is intriguing and engaging.
- Black Sun by Rebecca Roanhorse – 5 stars
A fantasy epic rooted in the pre-Columbian cultures of the Americas, which gives it a unique and fresh feel. I’m usually not that big on fantasy, but this one was gripping. It took a little while to get going, but once it did, I was along for the ride. When does the sequel come out?
- River of Teeth by Sarah Gailey – 4 stars
A fascinating alternate history where the U.S. imported hippos for the meat (apparently a real proposal) and they replaced horses and cattle, I guess? It’s a weird take on the Western, but it’s a lot of fun. Could have used a little more something—seemed like the villain felt a little too flat and the plot a little too simple for such an ingenious idea.
- Taste of Marrow by Sarah Gailey – 3 stars
This is one of those sequels where it’s really not necessary, but it’s such a fun world you want to go back and do it again. Unfortunately, there’s not much of a story the second time around. It is fun to revisit the world, and while a few loose threads are tied up, it probably could have been done with a grander epilogue in the first one.
- The Latehomecomer by Kao Kalia Yang – 4 stars
A memoir that follows a Hmong family from fleeing war in Laos through refugee camps and to adjusting to life in the U.S. It’s fascinating seeing the journey and learning Yang’s perspective. But it wasn’t as gripping as her Song Poet memoir.
- The Fall of Koli by M.R. Carey – 5 stars
What a great conclusion to this post-apocalyptic trilogy. I haven’t read a trilogy in a while that I love the whole way through, and this is one. The voice is so unique and good, the world is so different and well drawn out, and the characters are just phenomenal.
- Afterland by Lauren Beukes – 4 stars
I’m not sure why I keep reading pandemic novels. This one involves a cancer-causing disease that targets males and we follow a mother and son as they try to escape a government control and a sister with crime connections. It’s a pretty wild story and mostly keeps moving, though it did start to feel a little long.
- Save It for Later: Promises, Parenthood, and the Urgency of Protest by Nate Powell – 3 stars
A fascinating graphic novel/memoir/parenting exploration of the Trump era from the illustrator who worked on the March series with the late John Lewis. It’s a series of graphic essays about protest and fascism and parenting. It raises some hard questions and doesn’t offer easy answers.
- Chaos on CatNet by Naomi Kritzer – 5 stars
AIs that love cat pictures are awesome. So it’s no surprise that this sequel is fun. It dives back into the world of CatNet—and unlike many sequels I didn’t feel like I was struggling to remember everything for the first 100 pages. It dives into a new world of social apps coordinating people to do bad things, which feels a little too real and creepy. It’s quick and fun and has a great setting of the Twin Cities, which is spot on.
- Fugitive Telemetry by Martha Wells – 5 stars
I love the Murderbot stories. Murderbot is such an asshole, and their character and deduction is just fun to follow. My only complaint is that it’s over so quickly.
- A Pale Light in the Black by K.B. Wagers – 3 stars
This was not the fast-paced thrill ride I’ve come to expect from K.B. Wagers. It was slow and plodding and nearly lost me. The characters were great and the plot was interesting, but the pacing was very weird. It focused on the Boarding Games almost to the exclusion of the real mystery, but then just when things get good it skips the real action. Not at all what I’ve come to enjoy about Wagers’ work.
- Just Call My Name by Holly Goldberg Sloan – 3 stars
A sequel to the crushing I’ll Be There, Just Call My Name is an enjoyable read because you get more time with the characters, but it doesn’t feel as ground breaking or full of wonder. Part of it is not having the same introduction. The plot also isn’t as gripping, though it does have some good moments, especially as it’s building to the climax.
- Hench by Natalie Zina Walschots – 4 stars
This is a really fascinating and fun dive into the world of heroes and villains from the perspective of a henchman. There’s a whole short hand with hench and meat and kicks that’s really fun. The plot is also engaging, though at times it feels like it gets bogged down and we dwell on some unnecessary detail.
- Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir – 4 stars
Andy Weir’s breakout novel The Martian was something else, making death-defying feats of engineering and science a pulse pounding affair. Project Hail Mary tries to do the same thing: An alien microbe is sucking power out of the sun and dooming all mankind and our intrepid hero is out to fix it. Unfortunately he woke up alone in a spaceship with no memory and two dead crew members. The amnesia setup feels a bit strained and while the engineering is certainly next level, it’s not always as pulse-pounding as The Martian. Sometimes it’s just hard to follow. But overall it’s still a fun story, has more heart than you might expect, and just leaves you wanting more.
- Keep Going: 10 Ways to Stay Creative in Good Times and Bad by Austin Kleon – 4 stars
More quality creative fuel from an artist who had a unique perspective and voice on fueling creativity.
- Day Zero by C. Robert Cargill – 5 stars
Another great robot story in Cargill’s Sea of Rust world. This installment tells some of the same history told in Sea of Rust, but we experience it in realtime as opposed to back story. It’s a fascinating descent into chaos and just leaves me wanting more of this world.
- Elysium by Jennifer Marie Brissett – 3 stars
This is a very trippy novel where the characters kept changing every chapter or so—literally shifting from being two male lovers to being a male and female lover to being a brother and sister, etc. They kept similar names and traits, but the story kept shifting gears. It’s a bizarre mystery that’s not really explained until the end, and it made for a weird reading experience. The first third or so was hard to get through, but then it started getting more engaging. There’s a post-apocalytpic, alien-invasion vibe, though you never quite know for sure what’s going on. Very experimental, though I’m not sure how successful it was.
- The Fall of Io by Wesley Chu – 4 stars
The continuing story of the Quasling from Wesley Chu’s Tao series, this second installment in Io’s story continues to be fun and engaging, if a little hard to leap directly into (while you don’t have to read the Tao series, the backstory really helps). It’s a fun read, though it is the middle-of-a-trilogy installment, so everything isn’t tied up nicely.
- Light of the Jedi by Charles Soule – 3 stars
This is the first in the Star Wars High Republic series, which is supposed to be set a few hundred years before the prequels. It has to do a lot of heavy lifting to set up the story, and jumping back and forth between multiple characters probably doesn’t help. It also doesn’t help that the first hundred pages or so deal with a major cataclysm that introduces our major characters while jumping back and forth at a break-neck pace, then the story abruptly shifts gears and never returns to that urgent pacing. The story is also setting up multiple other High Republic stories, some of which are barely connected, but some will clearly be a continuation of the conflict. All of that makes this harder to do well and it doesn’t feel like a shining success. I enjoyed the backstory on Jedi and simply being in the Star Wars world again, even if it’s not quite familiar. The set up for other High Republic stories is also helpful, as I’ve enjoyed some of those more.
- The Echo Wife by Sarah Gailey – 4 stars
A creepy Stepford story of cloning and murder. The first chapter or two are hard to get through (not sure why, they set up the character pretty well, but I didn’t find them very captivating), but stick with it. It gets pretty captivating.
- The Heartbeat of Wounded Knee: Native America from 1890 to the Present by David Treuer – 4 stars
A really detailed dive into the history of American Indians after the Wounded Knee massacre. It’s fascinating stuff, though Treuer has a tendency to break up the history with random, sort of connected stories. That can be a helpful break, but it can also feel kind of random.
- Alphabet Squadron by Alexander Freed – 4 stars
A fun little Star Wars novel that follows Rebel Intelligence in the aftermath of Endor as they try to mop up the deadly Shadow Squadron. They form the ragtag Alphabet Squadron and we get a little bit of Hera Syndula from Rebels (aside from quick mentions of other characters, that’s about the main connection we get).
- A New Dawn by John Jackson Miller – 4 stars
This is Star Wars: Rebels prequel that tells the story of how Kanan Jarrus and Hera Syndulla first meet and begin working together. It’s a pretty good story that sets up enough mystery and intrigue yet keeps things moving. Other than the obvious Rebels connections, there aren’t a lot of connections to other Star Wars stories, though the glimpses of young Kanan talking to Obiwan Kenobi are pretty great. The only downsides are the moments when Kanan starts channeling Han Solo (I never got that feeling from the Rebels TV show, but felt it strongly here; maybe because this is before Kanan started working with the Rebellion?) and the fact that [SPOILER ALERT] we never get to see Kanan break out the lightsaber (contrary to the cover; though not the first time Star Wars art was misleading—see A New Hope’s lack of Luke wielding a lightsaber).
- Embracing the Ghosts: PTSD and the Vietnam Quagmire by J. Michael Orange – 3 stars
A local Minnesota author reflects on his Vietnam experience, the resulting PTSD, and how he overcame it through therapy.
- Last Gate of the Emperor by Kwame Mbalia and Prince Joel Makonnen – 4 stars
This is a fun mix of video game, sci-fi space and mechs, and Ethiopian culture. It’s incredibly fast paced, rarely stopping for much of a breather before barreling ahead again. That’s both good and bad. It sucks you in, but it also never slows down enough to establish the stakes or explain what’s happening. The plot is a little muddled as a result. On the other hand, I haven’t read much middle-grade fiction in a while, so the pace worked in that regard.
- Ready Player Two by Ernest Cline – 3 stars
If there were ever a book that didn’t need a sequel, this one is probably it. To make matters worse, it’s hard to get through. There’s about a hundred pages of setup before the book really takes off. Once it does take off, I stuck with it, but wow that was too much boring setup. When it does get moving, the adventure is pretty good, though it does feel a little too formulaic and not as wonderous as the original. The biggest failing is perhaps the ending, which seems to negate the entire setup.
- Victories Greater Than Death by Charlie Jane Anders – 3 stars
A YA space opera that felt a little too YA and not enough real space action.
- Strange Love by Ann Aguirre – 4 stars
Alien abduction turned romance with lots of alien/human porn. OK, the porn is probably relatively standard for this type of romance, I’m just not used to that much sex in my sci-fi. The story itself was pretty good, and the talking dog was the best. I actually read this series out of order and did #2 first, which didn’t make much of a difference, though I thought Helix was really underdeveloped in this one. Given how the second installment turns out, it’s surprising the author even thought of focusing on Helix.
- Love Code by Ann Aguirre – 4 stars
This is a fun AI love story (with a little alien porn) where the AI is dumped in an organic body and has to figure out being a real person (well, alien). It’s really interesting and funny. Good stuff. Ironically, this is #2 in a series and I didn’t realize that and read this one first. It’s fine. It totally stands alone and is probably better than the initial installment.
- Show Your Work by Austin Kleon – 4 stars
It’s always good to revisit these creative kick in the seat of the pants type books, so I did. Still good.
- Battle Dragons: City of Thieves by Alex London – 4 stars
I read this so I could recommend it to my son, because it’s totally up his alley (i.e., dragons). It’s actually pretty good. The main character and narrator is pretty funny and self deprecating, which made it an enjoyable read. It’s also quick moving and short, so it gets to the point. Adventure, heart, nerdiness—pretty good.
- A Psalm for the Wild-Built by Becky Chambers – 5 stars
A wonderfully fun book about a monk trying to find his place in the world and instead finding a robot trying to find his place in the world. There’s a danger that this could veer too deeply into philosophy, but it walks a perfect line and was just a delightful read. It does take a little bit to get into, so give it a chance.
- Salvation Day by Kali Wallace – 5 stars
A really unique and gripping space thriller. Love how this story feels like it treads some new ground in interesting ways. It’s a far-future civilization where humanity has sent people to the stars to escape the dying planet, but they never came back. The rest of humanity on earth had to make things work, and there are rebel outcasts. Pair that with an abandoned space station and a mysterious virus, and there’s just a lot to like here.
- Star Wars The High Republic: Out of the Shadows by Justina Ireland – 4 stars
The High Republic series continues to be interesting and engaging, though it’s the side stories I’ve been more drawn to. There is some frustration in that I don’t seem to be reading these in the right order, but at least for these side stories that matters less. In this case I think it helps to have some of the back story, but I skipped The Rising Storm and seemed to get through OK. This one has some repeat characters, mainly from Claudia Gray’s story and Justina Ireland’s earlier work in the series. So it was fun to see them again. The story stayed engaging, though it felt a little like a side story. Minor SPOILER ALERT: We get a reference to Maz!
- When We Were Magic by Sarah Gailey – 4 stars
This story about teen witches struggling to cope with their barely contained magic powers is weird and funny and a little off the wall. I enjoyed the story and the ups and downs of the friendships and romance (veered close to too much drama, but didn’t go too far), though my biggest let down was the seeming lack of moral character by the end (shrugging over murder?).
- The First Rule of Punk by Celia C. Perez – 3 stars
There’s a lot to appreciate in this story about a middle school girl moving to a new city and trying to blend her punk rock ideals and her Mexican roots. It does a good job exploring identity and Mexican culture. Between punk music, Mexican culture, and zines, there’s a lot to explore. But it’s also a middle schooler and I just couldn’t relate to some of her choices (no shock there).
- Race to the Sun by Rebecca Roanhorse – 3 stars
A Rick Riordan presents book from a rising author that explores Native American stories. I’ll admit, I’m not a fan of the Riordan books (though my kids are) but I am a fan of Rebecca Roanhorse. She spins a good story, and the climax was pretty good. Though all in all I wasn’t a big fan.
- Love Is the Way: Holding on to Hope in Troubled Times by Michael Curry – 4 stars
Michael Curry is the presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church and everybody knows him as the guy who preached at the royal wedding and brought it. His book is more of that, expounding on the way of love in a world that doesn’t much care. He has some great stories and answers some of the big questions people have about love, though I found about three-quarters of the way through the book is when it got more engaging for me. That’s when he started talking about the Episcopal Church grappling with LGBTQ issues, from gay priests to gay marriage. There’s the U.S. dealing with that issue, and then when it was settled, there’s the international fallout of that issue (when it was far from settled). That issue segues into our current political divide, and here Curry’s perspective was a needed reminder and breath of fresh air.
- Hard Reboot by Django Wexler – 5 stars
This battling robot novella has the quote “Giant. Freakin’. Robots.” as an endorsement quote on the cover, and yes, there are big robots fighting, but the real hooks of this story are the characters and the far-future setting. Kas and Zhi are from opposite worlds, and we get just enough of both of them to be intrigued and yearning for more. The setting is fascinating, and also just intriguing enough to keep you wanting more. It’s quick, it’s addictive, and it’s good.
- Long Time Coming: Reckoning With Race in America by Michael Eric Dyson – 3 stars
I enjoy Michael Eric Dyson’s writing and his commentary on racism, but I didn’t much care for the conceit of this book where he wrote specifically to Black victims of violence and used their situation to address broader issues of racism. It felt a little disjointed and disconnected from these specific lives, as if they were being used. That being said, there were some arguments and lines of reasoning I appreciated.
- The Freedom Race by Lucinda Roy – 3 stars
This is the story of a future fractured America where slavery has returned. Slaves, known as seeds, have a rare opportunity to compete in an annual race to earn their freedom. This is speculative fiction, so it weaves scifi and fantasy together in a weird mix. Not my favorite, but it was also hard to put down. It felt like less of a straight forward story, never quite what I expected and always taking odd turns.
- It Is What You Make of It: Creating Something Great From What You’ve Been Given by Justin McRoberts – 5 stars
This is sort of a book about creating things, but not specifically for the artist/creative type, more for people in general—along the lines of make something with the life you’ve been given. But the best part, and the real reason to read it, is just the wonderful stories Justin shares. They’re funny and interesting and quirky and just suck you right in. Plus, he tells one about the 1999 Holy Rollers tour with Five Iron Frenzy, so all the nostalgic feels.
- Down the Long Hills by Louis L’Amour – 3 stars
I haven’t read Louis L’Amour in a while, but picked one up while in North Dakota. It’s a classic L’Amour quick read, full of surviving against the odds in nature and the Old West. His depiction of Native Americans is stereotypical. There’s a certain respect in his caricatures, but they’re still flat and one-dimensional.
- The Book of Lost Saints by Daniel Jose Older – 4 stars
An intriguing and engaging ghost story that explores the Cuban revolution and modern day Cuban immigrants. I’m not usually one for ghost stories, but Older does a nice job of pulling you in and keeping it intriguing.
- The Afterward by E.K. Johnston – 4 stars
This is an enjoyable if peculiar book. It’s a swords and knights fantasy, though the normal white males are pushed aside for women, people of color, and LGBTQ folks, which is pretty refreshing. What’s peculiar is the way the book jumps back and forth between perspectives and times. It main story follows the aftermath of a heroic quest, but we also keep jumping back to see the quest unfold. That’s a little confusing, but works. What’s more confusing is jumping back and forth between a couple of the main characters. One jump is fine, but the two different types of jumps together is a lot. Still, it was a good read and fun story of adventure and love.
- Becoming Better Grownups: Rediscovering What Matters and Remembering How to Fly by Brad Montague – 5 stars
There are high expectations for a book from the creator of Kid President. In some ways, those crushing expectations led to the depression that plagued Brad Montague and led to him writing this book. He learned to cope with his depression in part by going on a tour of classrooms and listening to children (along with therapy and who knows what else). Those interactions with classrooms led to all kinds of lessons and insights about being better people, changing the world, taking care of yourself, and more. In the end, it’s a story full of positive stories, and has hints of how to manage the creative process. It’s a great book for anyone looking for hope in the world and any person who creates things for a living.
- Edges by Linda Nagata – 4 stars
An interesting hard sci-fi story about far-future, deep space travel with a strain of humanity that can upload and split their consciousness. The limitations and science of space travel paired with the unique biology make for a really interesting story. Unfortunately, it’s part of a series so there’s not real closure. It also seems to be based on a previous series as well, so there’s some backstory you’re missing out on (haven’t ready it, so not sure how much it fills in).
- Felix Ever After by Kacen Callender – 3 stars
The story of a trans teen in New York figuring out their life. In terms of addressing trans issues, bullying, abuse, etc., it was pretty great. But in terms of a YA book being exactly why I got tired of YA, it’s right on. The drama of teens making stupid decisions and just leaning right into them is so painful. I guess it’s fairly accurate, but it’s maddening to read.
- 8-Bit Christmas by Kevin Jakubowski – 4 stars
I’ve had my eye on this book for a few years but was never able to track it down. Then came the movie version (with Neil Patrick Harris) and I scored a copy for Christmas. I saw the movie first, which meant I was able to read the book with Harris’ voiceover firmly in mind (even though the framing of Harris telling the story isn’t in the book). The movie was fun, and the book is as well. It’s a longer, slightly different version, but still hits all the good points and a few more. It takes a few different turns than the movie, but all the 80s nostalgia and then some is there. Honestly, it probably could have benefited from some editing and been 50 or 100 pages shorter, but it’s all good Christmas fun. It’s like the Christmas Story for the 80s.
- Call Us What We Carry by Amanda Gorman – 4 stars
I’m not a big fan of poetry, so it’s rare I even attempt a book of poems. But Amanda Gorman’s inaugural reading was pretty incredible, so I gave this one a shot. I did find it hard to get into, but there were some incredible turns of phrase that kept me reading. By the second half, I was really getting into some of the poems. It’s also an interesting book because it’s one of the first I’ve read that directly addresses the pandemic and attempts to process some of what we’ve been through.
- Stuntboy: In the Meantime by Jason Reynolds and Raul the Third – 3 stars
I should preface this by saying middle grade quasi graphic novels are not my thing. But it’s Jason Reynolds, so I gave it a chance. It’s an interesting look at a character dealing with anxiety, but other than that it didn’t do much for me.
- Nimona by ND Stevenson – 5 stars
Re-read this one in 2021. Such a fun story. Original, quirky, full of heart.
Again, if you want to read more, check out my booklet 137 Books in One Year: How to Fall in Love With Reading Again.