Eighteen books isn’t a bad number considering I’m back in school part-time, working full time, and trying to stay fit and active on a daily basis! Life was busy in 2021 and no doubt, 2022 will be even busier! I have an eclectic selection of books this year, I managed to mark off 2 Steinbecks, they were short ones, but next year and the year after, I’ll keep chipping away until the list is complete. Steinbeck wrote 33 books, and I think I’ve only read six of them so far, looks like I have my work cut out for me!

Of Mice and Men – Steinbeck. I started this book at the end of 2020, it’s a short but powerful story of American life in the ’30s, it’s harsh with no happy ending however it’s real, it’s raw, and I felt like I was there watching the story unfold. Who says short stories aren’t masterpieces? Steinbeck never lets you down.

“In every bit of honest writing in the world, there is a base theme. Try to understand men, if you understand each other you will be kind to each other. KNOWING A MAN WELL NEVER LEADS TO HATE and nearly always leads to love. There are shorter means, many of them. There is writing promoting social change, writing punishing injustice, writing in celebration of heroism, but always that base theme. TRY TO UNDERSTAND EACH OTHER!”

I decided that January 2021 was going to be a dry month. 2020 was a year in seclusion and maybe a little indulgence so January started with me reading “The Alcohol Experiment” by Annie Grace. It takes you day by day through little exercises helping you understand your relationship with alcohol. After a long day of work, you always hear “I need a drink” or “I need to relax, so I’ll have a cocktail” I managed to make it through January 2021 with an insurrection, and a change in political leadership (which I really wanted to celebrate with champagne). I didn’t need to have it, and I survived with the extra stresses without having to dull my senses. I have a family of alcoholics from my parents, to my children, and I’ve always been very careful to not let it get out of control. For the last few years even drinking a glass of wine will result in a headache, I think this is in part due to my age and the fact that I’m going through the last stages of peri-menopause, but it’s made it really hard for me to enjoy alcohol in the evenings. I felt so much better during the month of January than I have in a very long time. The biggest question was “Does Alcohol really make you happy?” If you really analyze that, the answer is no, it just sweeps your problems under the rug or masks the pain, but the problem will still be there in the morning and intensified with a hangover. I didn’t commit to never drinking again, however, I plan on moving forward in extreme moderation, a martini here and there, or if I feel really wild, a Sunday champagne brunch. Here’s a great interview with Annie Grace. It’s well worth the listen.

My next book was a quick read for me, Beneath A Scarlet Sky by Mark Sullivan

I read this book cover to cover in 2 days, I loved the writing and how easy it was to follow. This is based on a true story though classified as fiction due to some facts that couldn’t be confirmed. It’s an extraordinary story of a young Italian man and his experiences during World War II, the Fascist Regime, and Nazis during World War II in Milan, Italy. Some of it was almost too crazy to believe and there’s been some talk on the internet about the validity of this story and its place as Historical fiction but I genuinely loved it and can’t wait for the mini-series to come out on Amazon. These are the kind of books we all love to read, the kind that keeps on you in suspense for what will happen next and keep you up all night reading. I highly recommend this book.

Station Eleven – Guess what?? There’s a movie coming out and I’m so excited! Let’s see the adaptation and its likeness. I really enjoyed this book and I’m looking forward to starting the HBO Series this week. This kind of story is right up my alley, I love post-apocalyptic books. It starts with the “Collapse”, the Georgian Flu has a 99% mortality rate and there’s very few left. Over the next 20 years, societies are created and the story revolves around a select few who have survived in a time with no electricity, running water, gas, or any other type of modern-day luxury. There are a few who travel in a Shakspearan Symphony from town to town, there are good people and bad people, and you see them all in this story. If you enjoy a good post-apocalyptic adventure, this is for you, I highly recommend it.

As part of my curriculum in my English 100 class, I was assigned to read the novel Dracula by Bram Stoker. I examined this book in length as the assignment and the assignment was to identify 19th-century fears, here’s my essay if you’re interested. I chose “madness” as my subject topic. Not my favorite thing to do however I did get an A, so there’s that.

The novel is a classic, and I’m happy to check it off the list, it’s much easier when you are reading a classic and have to write about it later, you gain a much better understanding and deeper look than you would if you were reading it for pleasure. We had sessions in the evening, watching the classic Bram Stoker’s Dracula films and also, for the final, we watched the newest movie from 1992, this was a great introduction into 19th Century literature, there’s quite a cult following of Dracula.

Daisy Jones and The Six was a breath of fresh air, an easy read but reminded me of when I was young in the 70’s and early 80’s, I had to repeatedly check to see if this was a true story, it reminded me so much of Stevie Nicks and Fleetwood Mac, one of my childhood favorite bands, there’s sex, drugs, and rock and roll, I really enjoyed this book, if you’re looking for a story that will immerse you into another time, this is the book for you.

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn is a coming-of-age novel written during the turn of the century in Brooklyn, NY. The story is told through the eyes of young Francie who was born around 1900, it tells of poverty, love, and survival. This is a heartfelt novel that everyone should read, I plan on reading this again someday as no doubt I missed something.

After the serious reads of Betty Smith, Bram Stoker I needed some light-hearted reading, so I picked up The Authenticity Project

I really enjoyed this book and every time I see a local coffee shop, which we have many here in Downtown Fullerton, I think of the camaraderie and special feeling of belonging somewhere, a sense of community. It’s based in London and an older gentleman is tired of his life and feels as if he’s surrounded by so many people yet, he’s alone. He wrote the story of his life in a notebook and left it in the coffee shop, the owner of the coffee shop reads it and adds her story to it. The then notebook travels across the world and lands in the hands of a man who inadvertently falls in love with the proprietor of the coffee shop. There are many facets to this story, but all in all, it’s a feel-good book, one you should read when you need to see that there’s love in other people.

Oh Steinbeck, how I love you! I read Tortilla Flat which is yet another book that was centered around a small town in Central California, around the community of Monterey. There wasn’t a lot of redeeming characters in this story, I typically need that in order to enjoy a book, but I still loved this because of Steinbecks ability to capture the reader and immerse them into his world. They say that Steinbeck understood Americans like no other writer of the 20th century, I believe this to be true. Steinbeck ties his characters to the land they live on, that is their soul and how they survive, they drink, they laugh, they cry. “Two gallons is a great deal of wine, even for two paisanos. Spiritually the jugs may be graduated thus: Just below the shoulder of the first bottle, serious and concentrated conversation. Two inches farther down, sweetly sad memory. Three inches more, thoughts of old and satisfactory loves. An inch, thoughts of bitter loves. Bottom of the first jug, general and undirected sadness. Shoulder of the second jug, black, unholy despondency. Two fingers down, a song of death or longing. A thumb, every other song each one knows. The graduations stop here, for the trail splits and there is no certainty. From this point, anything can happen.”
― John Steinbeck, Tortilla Flat

Between Two Kingdoms was a story of survival. I enjoyed this book so much as it was a true story, my heart ached for Suleika, the pain she suffered, and her courage to fight through her illness.

“He has a theory: When we travel, we actually take three trips. There’s the first trip of preparation and anticipation, packing and daydreaming. There’s the trip you’re actually on. And then, there’s the trip you remember. “The key is to try to keep all three as separate as possible,” he says. “The key is to be present wherever you are right now.” This advice, more than any, stays with me.”
― Suleika Jaouad, Between Two Kingdoms: A Memoir of a Life Interrupted

The Midnight Library by Matt Haig was another easy read, I found this book in my local “little Library” on the street next to me on one of my walks. I saw that it was on the best books for 2021 so I thought, why not?

By no means was this a masterpiece however it was a book that was enjoyable and it took me on a ride of “What if”? It’s a ride that I often live in my daily life thinking about how life would have been with different by no choices not of my own, but by choices are made for you that impact the rest of your life, for the rest of your life. It’s a rabbit hole for sure. In the end, every choice you’ve made up to this point has molded you into who you are, and that has to be good enough. ‘Would you have done anything differently, if you had the chance to undo your regrets?’ Most of the time, my answer would be yes, but who knows what can of worms would open up.

One of my book clubs read “The Blue Tattoo” it wouldn’t have been a book that I would have chosen however it was incredibly interesting and a part of American History that maybe my own family was a part of. I’m 23% Native American according to my DNA. I don’t know from what tribe, however, when I read pieces of history such as the Blue Tattoo, it makes me ashamed that people were driven to such extreme actions in the name of survival.

The Life of Olive Oatman is quite controversial, the authenticity of this book has been questioned as well as disputed over the years.

“In 1851 Olive Oatman was a 13-year-old pioneer traveling west toward Zion with her Mormon family. Within a decade she was a white Indian with a chin tattoo, caught between cultures. The Blue Tattoo tells the harrowing story of this forgotten heroine of frontier America.

Orphaned when her family was brutally killed by Yavapai Indians, Oatman lived as a slave to her captors for a year before being traded to the Mohave, who tattooed her face and raised her as their own. She was fully assimilated and perfectly happy when, at 19, she was ransomed back to white society. She became an instant celebrity, but the price of fame was high, and the pain of her ruptured childhood lasted a lifetime.

Based on historical records, including letters and diaries of Oatman’s friends and relatives, The Blue Tattoo is the first book to examine her life, from her childhood in Illinois – including the massacre, her captivity, and her return to white society – to her later years as a wealthy banker’s wife in Texas.”

I read my first Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice. This was a harder read for me, but I can see why there’s a cult following, it’s a true love story, the kind we long for in our lives.

Here’s the Amazon summary: “The Bennet family is in a bit of a jam. With five daughters and no sons, their property is entailed away from their line, and all the women will be largely penniless when their father dies. And so the best way to ensure the most comfortable livelihood for all is for at least one of the five girls to marry “well”, which has their mother’s sharp eye ever seeking a single man in possession of a good fortune. The situation deepens when we take a look at the ladies in question. For the Bennet sisters aren’t wholly on board with marrying anyone flung at them. And when the solicitous Mr. Bingley moves in to an elaborate estate nearby, bringing with him some illustrious company, the entire Bennet household is flung on its end. The result is Austen’s signature novel, where many subtle shades of pride do battle with multitudinous layers of prejudice.”

One of my favorite things to do is read a book, then watch the adaptation, here’s the trailer for the 2005 movie. I have yet to watch the PBS mini-series, maybe I’ll add that to my long list of things to watch – Oh Mr. Darcy!

There are countless discussions about the next book I read. I did a quick search online to find book club questions and as this is a classic AND part of Oprah’s Bookclub, I found myself overwhelmed. One Hundred Years of Solitude written by Gabriel Garcia Marquez was a VERY TOUGH READ, make no mistake about that however it was magical. It’s no wonder that it was a Nobel Prize winner. I both listened to AudioBook and read the paperback. I’m going to have to read it again. There are so many characters, all with the same name, all who have their own story.

I found this review on Goodreads that really sums up the whole book. I was fortunate enough to have both of my book clubs coincide on dates, so I had each one read this novel. The conversation lasted well into the night, talking about the many characters that spanned decades. The genre is considered Magical Realism, it was my first experience reading this type of book. I understand why this won the Nobel Prize.

Huh? Oh. Oh, man. Wow.

I just had the 
weirdest dream.

There was this little town, right? And everybody had, like, the same two names. And there was this guy who lived under a tree and a lady who ate dirt and some other guy who just made little gold fishes all the time. And sometimes it rained and sometimes it didn’t, and… and there were fire ants everywhere, and some girl got carried off into the sky by her laundry…

Wow. That was messed up.

I need some coffee.

The Kitchen House was another quick read and a “Between Friends” book club choice. I liked this story, it was a tough subject as it revolved around slavery and plantations during the late 1700s. A young Irish orphan girl was brought to a plantation to work in the kitchen with the slaves. Relationships and bonds were made, tragedy strikes and in the end, the good guys win. It’s a feel-good story in a not so feel-good of a time in American History.

All The Pretty Horses by Cormac McCarthy was a good book, both Sean and I read this at the same time. My dearest friend insisted that we read this book, that it was a masterpiece.

This is part one of the Border Series. The only other Cormac McCarthy book I’d read in the past was The Road, which was a post-apocalyptic emotional rollercoaster that I truly loved. I knew that All The Pretty Horses wouldn’t disappoint. I will say that the writing style was a little challenging for me with very long sentences. I found that if I read the story and listened to it at the same time that I’d keep my attention focused. After the book, we watched the movie with Matt Damon which was enjoyable and well done.

American Dirt had some controversy surrounding the subject matter as the author is not Hispanic. I had borrowed the book from the Library at the beginning of 2020 and couldn’t get into it, But this was another Between Friends book club selection so I decided to give it a second try.

Reading this story was eye-opening and brought on compassion and empathy in me that so many Americans lack when it comes to illegal immigration, deportation, and our fellow humans. Here’s an article explained on the controversy. Overall, I gave this book 4 stars. I enjoyed it, it was sobering and prompted thought-provoking conversations.

My final book of the year is another Between Friends Bookclub read, I honestly didn’t think that I would start, let alone finish this in 2021. Four Winds was a quick read but it lacked depth. I felt that it was more of a take-off from Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath which was set during the Dust Bowl era. I”m not saying that I didn’t enjoy the book, I did. I was reading some reviews online that people wouldn’t read this book based on the political agenda that they thought the author was trying to convey. Poverty, starvation, child labor exploitation, and extreme capitalism are facts that happened during The Dust Bowl and great migration to California. This is another shameful period in our American History and for that, I’m thankful that Kristin Hannah brought this story forth.

This wraps up my 2021 books, with the Pandemic still in full swing, I’m anticipating 2022 to be a year of reading new books and learning new things. I’m taking 4 classes in the spring so, through May, I’ll be a busy bee! Wishing you a Happy New Year and welcome 2022 with health, happiness, and prosperity!