Family Life

Joyful Reads 12 Favorite Books of the Year

Hello! I’m Joy, and I love to read. I consider it my greatest talent and favorite hobby. Another one of my preferred pastimes is recommending reads to anyone who is the least bit curious. Seriously. I am always volunteering book recs to people near me, whether they ask or not. I thought it would be fun to bring this passion to Baton Rouge Parents Magazine. I will share with you every book I read month by month and what I think about them. You can also follow me on Instagram at @joyfulreadswithjoy!

This entry is a 2021 reflection of all the books I read this year. I want to share with you my Top 12, one for each month. 


This Tender Land by William Kent Krueger 
“There is a river that runs through time and the universe, vast and inexplicable, a flow of spirit that is at the heart of all existence, and every molecule of our being is a part of it. And what is God but the whole of that River?”

This exquisite masterpiece unwound page by page to be a personal journey of faith and discovery. What a beautiful story of courage and forgiveness and faith. Each character was dynamically layered and lovingly shaped to create a tapestry of love and redemption. In the summer of 1932, the Lincoln Indian Training School in Minnesota is a horrible place where Native American children, forcibly separated from their parents, are sent to be educated. Odie O’Banion and his brother, Albert, are forced to flee for their lives along with their best friend, Mose, a mute young man of Sioux heritage and a brokenhearted little girl named Emmy. Over the course of one unforgettable summer, these four vagabonds journey into the unknown and discover what family really means. 


The Giver of Stars by Jojo Moyes 

I adored the strong women and grit in this one. This novel is a tale of Packhorse Librarians in Depression-era Kentucky who depend on one another for support and encouragement. The characters are remarkable and memorable, each developing brilliantly throughout the plot. And who doesn’t love a story of traveling librarians? Giver of Stars had some Catherine Marshall vibes that I really dug.


Anxious People by Fredrik Backman

What an incredible story that was so much more than I expected. What began as a slow build became a fast-paced, character-driven comedy of errors with tender heart. A motley group of characters meet in an apartment for an open house, but the real estate setting quickly becomes a crime scene and a possible hostage situation. Everything is not as it seems, though. The jewels of truth and kindness shone so brightly in this tight-knit journey of character development. I am all about this gorgeous story of trauma, everydayness, second chances, redemption, relationship, hope, and change. We are all so much more connected than we know. 

Pachinko by Min Jin Lee 

Sweeping epic vibes! This haunting and captivating family story spans nearly one hundred years, tracing a multi-generational Korean family in Japan. I knew nothing about Korean discrimination in Japan. This novel brought me so much understanding of how Koreans and Japanese lived through the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s. Suffering, forgiveness, loyalty, family, honesty, and love are the major themes of this epic. Heartbreaking events, incredible character development, and stunning prose make this a must read. 


Firekeeper’s Daughter by Angeline Boulley 

Immersive. Stunning. Moving. Although listed as YA, this debut novel that took 10 years to write and was inspired by Nancy Drew is a complete page turner for grown ups. Part mystery, part romance, and part cultural experience, Firekeeper’s Daughter is a powerful and engaging read that I will not forget. Daunis Fontaine is a heroine I want to read more of, and this story should be adapted to any screen. She is caught in a web of investigation to help uncover the source of a new drug ravaging her reservation and town. Torn between two worlds, Daunis must use her knowledge and wisdom to outsmart the criminals causing harm around her. It’s about time we have a young Native American protagonist who shares her heritage as well as grapples with her complex world. 


Malibu Rising by Taylor Jenkins Reid 

Taylor Jenkins Reid does it again!  Malibu Rising is the quintessential summer read, but honestly, it can be read at any time. The Riva family, four Riva children and their fascinating parents, is unforgettable. And the setting! 1983 Malibu with flashbacks of the 1950s-1970s. This novel takes off three pages in and careens its way through relationships, disappointment, family crisis, broken hearts, disaster, and sunny Malibu nonstop until the last page. Most of the action takes place in one day, culminating in a reckless and wild party that ends in flames. It also ties in with Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo, another of Reid’s books! So obsessed with this book! 


We Are the Brennans by Tracey Lange

We Are the Brennans is a tale of a messy family that loves each other through thick and thin, even when dark secrets pierce the surface. Tracey Lange develops six characters so well that a part of me genuinely believes they are alive and well in Westchester. The Brennan family is composed of four siblings: Denny, Sunday, Jackie, and Shane. Sunday fled from her home to L.A. where a bright new future eluded her, but she is back home in New York after an alcohol-induced car accident. Her brothers are dealing with an awful lot, as is her ex-fiancé, who is basically another member of her family. It seems like everyone is hiding something from someone else, and when the secrets come rushing out, it’s a torrent of force that will change everything, and just maybe save them all. The Brennans are a captivating bunch who grow sharper and clearer with every page. The narration is multi-character, each picking up where the other left off, giving the reader a keen understanding of each perspective.

The People We Keep by Allison Larkin

This is a BEAUTIFUL coming of age story of growth and healing. April is a neglected teenager who lives through her songwriting and guitar. She is desperate to escape her small town, and she drives to find a new home in Ithaca. After she finds a home and belonging, she is on the road again, performing and surviving. Along the way she learns we are all broken, and the people we meet are the ones that can help mend us. Music and found family propel April to a new start. Her discovery becomes ours, as we travel along with her. Truly memorable. 

The Star-Crossed Sisters of Tuscany by Lori Nelson Spielma
Family drama, personal awakening, touch of romance, descriptive beauty, and a stunning love story make this a delightful reading journey. The second-born Fontana daughters have been cursed for generations, unable to find love and marry. Emilia and Lucy, the second-born of their family, are trapped in this curse in their own ways when their Great Aunt Poppy invite them on a tour of Italy to return to their family’s homeland. The trip is more than they imagined as new experiences being about unexpected growth and untold stories. As the three women travel, they bond and lift one another up; each confronting the curse in their own ways. The protagonist, Emilia, is forever changed. Aunt Poppy’s story is told in alternating chapters, giving me my favorite parallel story plot setup.


The Book of Magic by Alice Hoffman 

This novel is the final installment of the Magic series that began with Practical Magic. The Owens family are a part of a fantasy world where women unite for love and sisterhood.

This novel picks up about 10 or so years after Practical Magic. When Jet realizes she is nearing the end of her life, she readies the Magic resources for her sister and nieces. Around the same time, a tragic accident changes Kylie’s path, and she sets out for England to break the tricentennial curse that has plagued all Owens women and men. The entire family joins together to rescue Kylie from a devious relative who has ties to the family heritage. Sally finds love, Vincent finds peace, Franny finds her purpose, and Gillian finds her true self. Alice Hoffman weaves the previous three books and the family histories perfectly. All the storylines converged, and nothing was wasted from any volume.

Harlem Shuffle by Colson Whitehead 

Colson Whitehead is an immersive historical fiction storyteller who captures his characters so well in their times. Ray Carney is the son of a bonafide crook in 1950s Harlem. He is determined to make it as a straight businessman, but sometimes the side hustle as a fence is too appealing. As he gets entangled in one fiasco after another, Carney accepts that even though he may appear to be on the up and up, he’ll always be a little bent. Carney and his cousin Freddie get mixed up in heists, revenge, and bungled burglaries.

I really enjoyed the development of Carney and the changes in Harlem. Whitehead’s nuance of Black History including Black businesses, shakedowns by white police, his wife’s green book travel company, PTSD, police brutality, Harlem riots, classism, and striving is remarkable. 

The Overstory by Richard Powers

What a masterpiece. I am frankly overwhelmed by the majestic genius of this novel. As a tree lover, this sweeping epic has resonated deeply in me.

A summary is a bit of a challenge for this multiple perspective, interlocking narrative. Richard Powers creates the backstories of several characters throughout the first quarter of the novel, and then all of their stories begin to converge. Individuals from the East Coast, Midwest, West Coast, and Pacific Northwest all have a story to tell and they all connect to trees. The trees are the real protagonists. They speak through and to the humans in diverse ways. Powers weaves a powerful story as an allegory of environmentalism and love for the earth, but it is also so touching and personal. This epic truly stirred something in my soul. I have cultivated a love for plants, trees, and flowers the last few years, and this opus magnified it. 

Honorable Mention
I know I said only 12, but I would be remiss if I didn’t share with you a few of my favorites that didn’t make the list. 

The Midnight Library by Matt Haig, The Bad Muslim Discount by Syed M. Massoud, People We Meet on Vacation by Emily Henry, What You Wish For by Katherine Center, The Rose Code by Kate Quinn, The Paris Library by Janet Skeslien Charles, Hana Khan Carries On by Uzma Jalaluddin, Wholehearted Faith by Rachel Held Evans and Jeff Chu, and The Other Black Girl by Zakiya Dalila Harris


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