In the midst of the pandemic, I found that I struggled with reading heavy, serious books. It was very hard to focus on a story when so much was happening in the world around us. Much of my list features heartwarming reads because they were what I could manage to use as an escape from reality. Here are some of my favorites from the past year.
We Ride Upon Sticks by Quan Barry – Plenty of 80s nostalgia, an abundance of witchy magic, and an all-girls field hockey team at the center of it all really made for an amazing read. This book just hit all of the right buttons for me. Following the 1989 Danvers High School Falcons field hockey team as they do everything they can to fight their way to the state finals, We Ride Upon Sticks is full of female force, big hair, and learning how to be true to yourself and your teammates.
The Pull of the Stars by Emma Donoghue – Well before the COVID pandemic began, Donoghue began penning this novel set during the 1918 flu pandemic. However, it feels all too real in present day as we grapple with the realities of the coronavirus. Things are hard enough for Nurse Julia Power as she works at an understaffed hospital stuck in a tiny room caring for her pregnant patients, but add to that the deadly flu outbreak and you have quite a gripping tale. I couldn’t help but to feel hopeful that the world persevered through the last pandemic, and hopefully one day soon, we will too.
Evvie Drake Starts Over by Linda Holmes – There’s nothing too heavy here, and that is just why I enjoyed this book so much. Evvie is a grieving widow who’s having trouble moving on, and Dean is struggling baseball player who ends up renting an apartment in the back of Evvie’s house. Sounds like a predictable romance, but what I enjoy most is the insight we are given into their lives that allow us to really connect and root for them. I would definitely read more from Linda Holmes.
The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek by Kim Michele Richardson – I absolutely loved following the story of Cussy Mary, one of the blue people of Kentucky who works for the Pack Horse Library Project delivering reading material to the remote hill people of the Appalachian Mountains. This is the story of Cussy’s fierce belief in the power of books, and her determination to get them into the hands of her patrons no matter the struggles she must endure. This fictional account of the historical blue-skinned people of Kentucky and Pack Horse Library Project was a powerful one that I believe anyone who appreciate books will find great joy in reading.
All Adults Here by Emma Straub – If Straub teaches us anything in this book, it’s that life is short and you better not waste time living your life – and especially living your truth. Despite the many issues surrounding the Strick family, All Adults Here manages to be a lighthearted, and highly enjoyable story.
Be Frank with Me by Julia Claiborne Johnson – Mimi Banning is a well-known reclusive author who must finish her long-awaited second novel. In order to accomplish this, she needs someone to care for her 9-year-old son Frank. Here enters Alice Whitley to work as a full-time companion for Frank at the Banning mansion. Alice is pulled into their world as she gets to know the precocious but sweet Frank, the unconventional Mimi, and the fascinating world around them. This book is sure to capture your heart just as Frank captured Alice’s.
Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption by Bryan Stevenson – This was a super powerful true story from lawyer Bryan Stevenson about the broken nature of our justice system. The stories Stevenson shares of the vulnerable impacted by the system are both heartbreaking and eye-opening. I’m so inspired by Stevenson’s continued determination to fight for justice even in the face of incredible challenges.
The Power of Vulnerability by Brene Brown – I have to say I love listening to Brene. Sometimes I find inspirational speakers come off as too cheesy or over-the-top for me to take seriously, but I didn’t feel that way at all during this listen. Brene has a wonderfully emphatic approach while speaking about serious issues like vulnerability and shame, and is able to incorporate humor without it feeling ill-timed but rather a welcome break from a topic that can become overwhelmingly heavy. 10/10 would hire her as my life coach.
Dear Girls: Intimate Tales, Untold Secrets, & Advice for Living Your Best Life by Ali Wong
I listened to this on my commute and was probably receiving strange looks from other drivers because I was laughing out loud as I drove. Comedian Ali Wong wrote this book as a series of letters for her young daughters to read when they are older, telling stories and sharing tidbits of wisdom from her life with her usual wit and insights that will keep you engaged and entertained. Warning: It is a tad raunchy, so be prepared before you dive in.
The Two Loves of Lydia Bird by Josie Silver – Warning: This one made me cry. A LOT. But sometimes you just need a good cry. Lydia’s world is turned upside down when her love, Freddie, is killed in a car accident. When Lydia discovers a world where Freddie still lives, she must decide if she would rather stay in this dream world, or wake up to be present for those who need her most.
The Wedding Date by Jasmine Guillory – Drew Nichols doesn’t have a date to his ex’s wedding…that is, until he finds himself stuck in an elevator with Alexa Monroe. After a fun and flirty weekend together, Alexa and Drew are forced to return to their real lives far away from each other. Will their connection be enough to turn their fake date into a real romance? This was a fun read to spice up the many endless days at home!