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Five of Ashley's Favorite Reads of 2021 (Part 2)



by Ashley Dickson-Ellison (@teachingtheapocalypse)

Oh, friends, this is such a hard decision! A lot of my reading was less than fully focused during the second half of 2021 as I spent it on the go and building up a business... so while I read a lot of books I really enjoyed, I also read differently than I have in many other years. I shared more about that on our Unabridged Awards for 2021 episode that recently came out. But these five were all five-star reads for me, and I loved them and highly recommend them!


Georgia Hardstark and Karen Kilgariff's Stay Sexy and Don’t Get Murdered (Bookshop.org | Libro.fm)


From the Publisher:

"Sharing never-before-heard stories ranging from their struggles with depression, eating disorders, and addiction, Karen and Georgia irreverently recount their biggest mistakes and deepest fears, reflecting on the formative life events that shaped them into two of the most followed voices in the nation.


"In Stay Sexy & Don't Get Murdered, Karen and Georgia focus on the importance of self-advocating and valuing personal safety over being 'nice' or 'helpful.' They delve into their own pasts, true crime stories, and beyond to discuss meaningful cultural and societal issues with fierce empathy and unapologetic frankness."

Why It Made the List:

I was completely (and unexpectedly, if I'm being honest!) captivated by this true crime-adjacent memoir. While I had heard of Kilgariff and Hardstark's podcast, My Favorite Murder, I wasn't interested in it because true crime is very definitively NOT my thing. But this memoir grabbed my attention right away and was both hilarious and brilliant. I love the topics and tips that both authors share, and some of the points they made helped me consider things in a new way. Their essays in this work are deeply personal but also have universal elements, and they are both raw and honest in a way I appreciate so much.

Jennifer Saint's Ariadne (Bookshop.org | Libro.fm)


From the Publisher:

"Ariadne, Princess of Crete, grows up greeting the dawn from her beautiful dancing floor and listening to her nursemaid's stories of gods and heroes. But beneath her golden palace echo the ever-present hoofbeats of her brother, the Minotaur, a monster who demands blood sacrifice.


"When Theseus, Prince of Athens, arrives to vanquish the beast, Ariadne sees in his green eyes not a threat but an escape. Defying the gods, betraying her family and country, and risking everything for love, Ariadne helps Theseus kill the Minotaur. But will Ariadne's decision ensure her happy ending? And what of Phaedra, the beloved younger sister she leaves behind?


"Hypnotic, propulsive, and utterly transporting, Jennifer Saint's Ariadne forges a new epic, one that puts the forgotten women of Greek mythology back at the heart of the story, as they strive for a better world."

Why It Made the List:

This retelling, which I listened to on audio in the summer, has really stayed with me. I was captivated by Ariadne, the oldest daughter of King Minos of Crete, and her journey to escape the island and to turn away from her childhood. I'm loving the retellings of myths that are centering women and exploring their role in the traditional stories. See my full review of this one here.


V. E. Schwab's The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue (Bookshop.org | Libro.fm)


From the Publisher:

"In the vein of The Time Traveler's Wife and Life After Life, The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue is New York Times bestselling author V. E. Schwab's genre-defying tour de force.


"A Life No One Will Remember. A Story You Will Never Forget.


"France, 1714: in a moment of desperation, a young woman makes a Faustian bargain to live forever--and is cursed to be forgotten by everyone she meets.


"Thus begins the extraordinary life of Addie LaRue, and a dazzling adventure that will play out across centuries and continents, across history and art, as a young woman learns how far she will go to leave her mark on the world.


"But everything changes when, after nearly 300 years, Addie stumbles across a young man in a hidden bookstore and he remembers her name."

Why It Made the List:

Wow. I was worried this book wouldn't live up to the hype for me, but I found it propulsive, and I could not wait to dive back into the story each day I read it. I thought a lot while I was reading about why this book is so wildly popular. What struck me is that in addition to just being an outstandingly woven story, Addie's unusual life prompts readers to consider central questions about what it means to be human and why we as humans long to endure and be remembered. And Addie's resilience and determination to find her way when so many things are stacked against her is so powerful! And we all know what it can feel like and what we'd be willing to bargain in those moments of desperation in the dark. So. Good.


Jasmine Warga's Other Words for Home (Bookshop.org | Libro.fm)


From the Publisher:

"A gorgeously written, hopeful middle grade novel in verse about a young girl who must leave Syria to move to the United States, perfect for fans of Jason Reynolds and Aisha Saeed.


"Jude never thought she'd be leaving her beloved older brother and father behind, all the way across the ocean in Syria. But when things in her hometown start becoming volatile, Jude and her mother are sent to live in Cincinnati with relatives.

"At first, everything in America seems too fast and too loud. The American movies that Jude has always loved haven't quite prepared her for starting school in the US--and her new label of 'Middle Eastern,' an identity she's never known before.

"But this life also brings unexpected surprises--there are new friends, a whole new family, and a school musical that Jude might just try out for. Maybe America, too, is a place where Jude can be seen as she really is.

"This lyrical, life-affirming story is about losing and finding home and, most importantly, finding yourself."

Why It Made the List:

I loved this beautiful book so much, and Jude's story of her journey from Syria to the US and her attempts to find her way in American life was such a powerful one. This book would be so powerful in the classroom as well as it shows so much about what life can be like for a refugee coming to the US. Check out my full review of this one here.


Michelle Zauner's Crying in H Mart (Bookshop.org | Libro.fm)


From the Publisher:

"A NEW YORK TIMES NOTABLE BOOK OF THE YEAR - NEW YORK TIMES BEST SELLER - From the indie rockstar of Japanese Breakfast fame, and author of the viral 2018 New Yorker essay that shares the title of this book, an unflinching, powerful memoir about growing up Korean American, losing her mother, and forging her own identity.


"In this exquisite story of family, food, grief, and endurance, Michelle Zauner proves herself far more than a dazzling singer, songwriter, and guitarist. With humor and heart, she tells of growing up one of the few Asian American kids at her school in Eugene, Oregon; of struggling with her mother's particular, high expectations of her; of a painful adolescence; of treasured months spent in her grandmother's tiny apartment in Seoul, where she and her mother would bond, late at night, over heaping plates of food.


"As she grew up, moving to the East Coast for college, finding work in the restaurant industry, and performing gigs with her fledgling band--and meeting the man who would become her husband--her Koreanness began to feel ever more distant, even as she found the life she wanted to live. It was her mother's diagnosis of terminal cancer, when Michelle was twenty-five, that forced a reckoning with her identity and brought her to reclaim the gifts of taste, language, and history her mother had given her.


"Vivacious and plainspoken, lyrical and honest, Zauner's voice is as radiantly alive on the page as it is onstage. Rich with intimate anecdotes that will resonate widely, and complete with family photos, Crying in H Mart is a book to cherish, share, and reread."

Why It Made the List:

Oh my goodness, this one made my heart ache for Michelle but was also so powerful and brought me some solace as I remembered the early days after losing my mom to cancer when I was in my twenties. I also loved the beautiful way that Zauner explored her connection to her Korean heritage after her mother's death, and I appreciated her sharing how she found ways to anchor herself during a difficult and grief-filled period of her life. This one is gorgeous.


#bookishfaves #nonfiction #memoir #fantasy #mythology #retelling

(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.


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