212: Unabridged Book Awards for 2021
What books would you give awards to from your 2021 reading? It's that time for Unabridged! We each pick a couple of books that we absolutely loved from our 2021 reading, and we share the specific custom-made award we're giving for the books we've selected. We also all share one Young Adult Lit pick from the year, and we end the episode with a Non-Bookish Award for our Give Me One.
Sara - Holly Carpenter’s The Cozy Christmas Movie Cookbook: Mouthwatering Food to Enjoy During Your Favorite Holiday Films (Bookshop.org)
Our Unabridged Book Awards for 2021
Nonfiction book everyone should read to think about our history and our present - Clint Smith’s How the Word Is Passed: A Reckoning with the History of Slavery Across America (Bookshop.org | Libro.fm)
John Green’s fiction
Give Me One - Non-Bookish Award for 2021
Listen in to hear our Non-Bookish Awards, and share your picks on social media on Monday!
(A note to our readers: click on the hashtags above to see our other blog posts with the same hashtag.)
Interested in what else we're reading? Check out our Featured Books page.
Loving what you see here? Please comment below (scroll ALL the way down to comment), share this post using the social media buttons below (scroll down for those as well!), and find us on social media to share your thoughts!
Want to support Unabridged?
Subscribe to our YouTube channel.
Ashley was reading . . .
Ali Hazelwood’s The Love Hypothesis (Bookshop.org | Libro.fm)
"When a fake relationship between scientists meets the irresistible force of attraction, it throws one woman's carefully calculated theories on love into chaos.
"As a third-year Ph.D. candidate, Olive Smith doesn't believe in lasting romantic relationships--but her best friend does, and that's what got her into this situation. Convincing Anh that Olive is dating and well on her way to a happily ever after was always going to take more than hand-wavy Jedi mind tricks: Scientists require proof. So, like any self-respecting biologist, Olive panics and kisses the first man she sees.
"That man is none other than Adam Carlsen, a young hotshot professor--and well-known ass. Which is why Olive is positively floored when Stanford's reigning lab tyrant agrees to keep her charade a secret and be her fake boyfriend. But when a big science conference goes haywire, putting Olive's career on the Bunsen burner, Adam surprises her again with his unyielding support and even more unyielding...six-pack abs.
"Suddenly their little experiment feels dangerously close to combustion. And Olive discovers that the only thing more complicated than a hypothesis on love is putting her own heart under the microscope."
Jen was reading . . .
Mona Awad’s All’s Well (Bookshop.org | Libro.fm)
"Miranda Fitch’s life is a waking nightmare. The accident that ended her burgeoning acting career left her with excruciating chronic back pain, a failed marriage, and a deepening dependence on painkillers. And now, she’s on the verge of losing her job as a college theater director. Determined to put on Shakespeare’s All’s Well That Ends Well, the play that promised and cost her everything, she faces a mutinous cast hellbent on staging Macbeth instead. Miranda sees her chance at redemption slip through her fingers.
"That’s when she meets three strange benefactors who have an eerie knowledge of Miranda’s past and a tantalizing promise for her future: one where the show goes on, her rebellious students get what’s coming to them, and the invisible doubted pain that’s kept her from the spotlight is made known.
"With prose Margaret Atwood has described as 'no punches pulled, no hilarities dodged…genius,' Mona Awad has concocted her most potent, subversive novel yet. All’s Well is a 'fabulous novel' (Mary Karr) about a woman at her breaking point and a formidable, piercingly funny indictment of our collective refusal to witness and believe female pain."
Sara was reading . . .
Holly Carpenter’s The Cozy Christmas Movie Cookbook: Mouthwatering Food to Enjoy During Your Favorite Holiday Films (Bookshop.org)
"‘Tis the season for cozy comforts, delicious holiday treats, and having a good cry while watching your favorite Christmas movies! The Cozy Christmas Movie Cookbook: Mouthwatering Food to Enjoy During Your Favorite Holiday Films brings you 100 recipes inspired by America’s most adored Christmas films, from Northpole to The Christmas Train, A Royal Christmas, and many more! Give the gift of seasonal fun to the holiday film-lover in your life, or enjoy the dozens of recipes—from snacks and small bites, to Christmas cookies and cakes, to warming drinks and cocktails, with a recommended film to watch with each—while curled up next to your Christmas tree, in the seasonal glow of your own home.
"Snack on popcorn treats as you wrap gifts, pipe frosting onto Christmas cookies with your favorite Lacey Chabert or Danica McKellar film on in the background, and bake up a storm for your next party. Have a lovely Christmas with the perfect companion cookbook to the most wonderful time of year. You’ll find yourself cozying up to your most cherished films with delectable recipes from this very special cookbook!"
Our Unabridged Book Awards for 2021
Book that left a strong impression and deserves a reread
Robert Jones Jr.’s The Prophets (Bookshop.org | Libro.fm)
"A singular and stunning debut novel about the forbidden union between two enslaved young men on a Deep South plantation, the refuge they find in each other, and a betrayal that threatens their existence.
"Isaiah was Samuel's and Samuel was Isaiah's. That was the way it was since the beginning, and the way it was to be until the end. In the barn they tended to the animals, but also to each other, transforming the hollowed-out shed into a place of human refuge, a source of intimacy and hope in a world ruled by vicious masters. But when an older man—a fellow slave—seeks to gain favor by preaching the master's gospel on the plantation, the enslaved begin to turn on their own. Isaiah and Samuel's love, which was once so simple, is seen as sinful and a clear danger to the plantation's harmony.
"With a lyricism reminiscent of Toni Morrison, Robert Jones, Jr., fiercely summons the voices of slaver and enslaved alike, from Isaiah and Samuel to the calculating slave master to the long line of women that surround them, women who have carried the soul of the plantation on their shoulders. As tensions build and the weight of centuries—of ancestors and future generations to come—culminates in a climactic reckoning, The Prophets fearlessly reveals the pain and suffering of inheritance, but is also shot through with hope, beauty, and truth, portraying the enormous, heroic power of love."
Nonfiction book that comments on what it’s like living through this era
John Green’s The Anthropocene Reviewed (Bookshop.org | Libro.fm)
"The Anthropocene is the current geologic age, in which humans have profoundly reshaped the planet and its biodiversity. In this remarkable symphony of essays adapted and expanded from his groundbreaking podcast, bestselling author John Green reviews different facets of the human-centered planet on a five-star scale—from the QWERTY keyboard and sunsets to Canada geese and Penguins of Madagascar.
"Funny, complex, and rich with detail, the reviews chart the contradictions of contemporary humanity. As a species, we are both far too powerful and not nearly powerful enough, a paradox that came into sharp focus as we faced a global pandemic that both separated us and bound us together.
"John Green’s gift for storytelling shines throughout this masterful collection. The Anthropocene Reviewed is a open-hearted exploration of the paths we forge and an unironic celebration of falling in love with the world."
YA Lit Pick - Amazing historical fiction book focused on an important US event
Randi Pink’s Angel of Greenwood (Bookshop.org | Libro.fm)
"A piercing, unforgettable love story set in Greenwood, Oklahoma, also known as the 'Black Wall Street,' and against the Tulsa Race Massacre of 1921.
"Isaiah Wilson is, on the surface, a town troublemaker, but is hiding that he is an avid reader and secret poet, never leaving home without his journal. Angel Hill is a loner, mostly disregarded by her peers as a goody-goody. Her father is dying, and her family’s financial situation is in turmoil.
"Though they’ve attended the same schools, Isaiah never noticed Angel as anything but a dorky, Bible toting church girl. Then their English teacher offers them a job on her mobile library, a three-wheel, two-seater bike. Angel can’t turn down the money and Isaiah is soon eager to be in such close quarters with Angel every afternoon.
"But life changes on May 31, 1921 when a vicious white mob storms the Black community of Greenwood, leaving the town destroyed and thousands of residents displaced. Only then, Isaiah, Angel, and their peers realize who their real enemies are."
Nonfiction book everyone should read to think about our history and our present
Clint Smith’s How the Word Is Passed: A Reckoning with the History of Slavery Across America (Bookshop.org | Libro.fm)
"It is the story of the Monticello Plantation in Virginia, the estate where Thomas Jefferson wrote letters espousing the urgent need for liberty while enslaving more than four hundred people. It is the story of the Whitney Plantation, one of the only former plantations devoted to preserving the experience of the enslaved people whose lives and work sustained it. It is the story of Angola, a former plantation–turned–maximum-security prison in Louisiana that is filled with Black men who work across the 18,000-acre land for virtually no pay. And it is the story of Blandford Cemetery, the final resting place of tens of thousands of Confederate soldiers.
"A deeply researched and transporting exploration of the legacy of slavery and its imprint on centuries of American history, How the Word Is Passed illustrates how some of our country’s most essential stories are hidden in plain view—whether in places we might drive by on our way to work, holidays such as Juneteenth, or entire neighborhoods like downtown Manhattan, where the brutal history of the trade in enslaved men, women, and children has been deeply imprinted.
"Informed by scholarship and brought to life by the story of people living today, Smith’s debut work of nonfiction is a landmark of reflection and insight that offers a new understanding of the hopeful role that memory and history can play in making sense of our country and how it has come to be."
Book that still has me thinking . . . about everything
Kazuo Ishiguro’s Klara and the Sun (Bookshop.org | Libro.fm)
"Here is the story of Klara, an Artificial Friend with outstanding observational qualities, who, from her place in the store, watches carefully the behavior of those who come in to browse, and of those who pass on the street outside. She remains hopeful that a customer will soon choose her. Klara and the Sun is a thrilling book that offers a look at our changing world through the eyes of an unforgettable narrator, and one that explores the fundamental question: what does it mean to love?"
YA Lit Pick: The book that made me fall in love with YA mysteries again
Maureen Johnson’s Truly Devious (Bookshop.org | Libro.fm)
"Ellingham Academy is a famous private school in Vermont for the brightest thinkers, inventors, and artists. It was founded by Albert Ellingham, an early twentieth century tycoon, who wanted to make a wonderful place full of riddles, twisting pathways, and gardens. 'A place,' he said, 'where learning is a game.'
"Shortly after the school opened, his wife and daughter were kidnapped. The only real clue was a mocking riddle listing methods of murder, signed with the frightening pseudonym 'Truly, Devious.' It became one of the great unsolved crimes of American history.
"True-crime aficionado Stevie Bell is set to begin her first year at Ellingham Academy, and she has an ambitious plan: She will solve this cold case. That is, she will solve the case when she gets a grip on her demanding new school life and her housemates: the inventor, the novelist, the actor, the artist, and the jokester.
"But something strange is happening. Truly Devious makes a surprise return, and death revisits Ellingham Academy. The past has crawled out of its grave. Someone has gotten away with murder.
"The two interwoven mysteries of this first book in the Truly Devious series dovetail brilliantly, and Stevie Bell will continue her relentless quest for the murderers in books two and three."
Best backlist read for the win
Taylor Jenkins Reid's One True Loves (Bookshop.org | Libro.fm)
"From the author of Maybe in Another Life—named a People Magazine pick—comes a breathtaking new love story about a woman unexpectedly forced to choose between the husband she has long thought dead and the fiancé who has finally brought her back to life.
"In her twenties, Emma Blair marries her high school sweetheart, Jesse. They build a life for themselves, far away from the expectations of their parents and the people of their hometown in Massachusetts. They travel the world together, living life to the fullest and seizing every opportunity for adventure.
"On their first wedding anniversary, Jesse is on a helicopter over the Pacific when it goes missing. Just like that, Jesse is gone forever.
"Emma quits her job and moves home in an effort to put her life back together. Years later, now in her thirties, Emma runs into an old friend, Sam, and finds herself falling in love again. When Emma and Sam get engaged, it feels like Emma’s second chance at happiness.
"That is, until Jesse is found. He’s alive, and he’s been trying all these years to come home to her. With a husband and a fiancé, Emma has to now figure out who she is and what she wants, while trying to protect the ones she loves.
"Who is her one true love? What does it mean to love truly?
"Emma knows she has to listen to her heart. She’s just not sure what it’s saying."
Non-fiction book that gave me so much (too much) to think about
Rachel Held Evans’s Inspired: Slaying Giants, Walking on Water, and Loving the Bible Again (Bookshop.org | Libro.fm)
"If the Bible isn't a science book or an instruction manual, then what is it? What do people mean when they say the Bible is inspired? When Rachel Held Evans found herself asking these questions, she began a quest to better understand what the Bible is and how it is meant to be read. What she discovered changed her and it will change you too.
"Drawing on the best in recent scholarship and using her well honed literary expertise, Evans examines some of our favorite Bible stories and possible interpretations, retelling them through memoir, original poetry, short stories, soliloquies, and even a short screenplay. Undaunted by the Bible's most difficult passages, Evans wrestles through the process of doubting, imagining, and debating Scripture's mysteries. The Bible, she discovers, is not a static work but is a living, breathing, captivating, and confounding book that is able to equip us to join God's loving and redemptive work in the world."
YA Lit Pick: YA Book that combined everything I love all in one book
Laekan Zea Kemp Somewhere Between Bitter and Sweet (Bookshop.org | Libro.fm)
"Penelope Prado has always dreamed of opening her own pastelería next to her father's restaurant, Nacho's Tacos. But her mom and dad have different plans—leaving Pen to choose between not disappointing her traditional Mexican American parents or following her own path. When she confesses a secret she's been keeping, her world is sent into a tailspin. But then she meets a cute new hire at Nacho's who sees through her hard exterior and asks the questions she's been too afraid to ask herself.
"Xander Amaro has been searching for home since he was a little boy. For him, a job at Nacho's is an opportunity for just that—a chance at a normal life, to settle in at his abuelo's, and to find the father who left him behind. But when both the restaurant and Xander's immigrant status are threatened, he will do whatever it takes to protect his newfound family and himself.
Together, Pen and Xander must navigate first love and discovering where they belong in order to save the place they all call home.
"This stunning and poignant novel from debut author Laekan Zea Kemp explores identity, found families and the power of food, all nestled within a courageous and intensely loyal Chicanx community."
Please note that we a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for us to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites. We also are proud to partner with Bookshop.org and have a curated Unabridged store as well as affiliate links. Finally, we're also honored to be a partner with Libro.fm and proudly use affiliate links to support them and independent bookstores.