January #whatsonyourbookshelfchallenge and my favorite books from 2021

I decided for this year, I won’t be borrowing any books from the library or buying any books until I finish reading the books from my bookshelf. I bought these books because they caught my eye or because I added it to my order to qualify for free shipping. I also was on a waitlist for books from the library. When it arrived, I kept extending the hold because I already had other books I was reading. Based on the books on my shelf and on my waitlist, I think I already have my to-read pile for 2022. Not borrowing anything new or buying any books will be a challenge. Since last year I read 31 books, my new goal for this year would be to read 34 books making it about a 10% increase from last year.

The Lost Apothecary by Sarah Penner

“To me, the allure of history lay in the minutiae of life long ago, the untold secrets of ordinary people.”

Sarah Penner, The Lost Apothecary

This was the last book I finished in 2021. I thought this book was okay. I would have preferred to have stuck with the 18th-century story because I did not care too much about the events that happened present day.

Nine Perfect Strangers by Liane Moriarity

“Men often used that phrase: “drop some weight.” They said it without shame or emotion, as if the weight were an object they could easily put down when they chose. Women said they needed to “lose weight,” with their eyes down, as if the extra weight was part of them, a terrible sin they’d committed.”

Liane Moriarity, Nine Perfect Strangers

The first book I finished in 2022. It’s another okay book. Maybe there were too many viewpoints to track. I think this was supposed to be a parody on the wellness industry. It feels like it to me: people pay exorbitant amounts of money to get better, whatever it takes. I’ve seen the show and it does go in a different direction but for the better. That’s my opinion.

Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell

“I want everyone to meet you. You’re my favorite person of all time.”

Rainbow Rowell, Eleanor and Park

Though I have some problems with the portrayal of Asians in Eleanor and Park, I still liked it. I played it in my head as the teen movie I wished to see when I was in high school not that self-awareness garbage and the movie ends with a big school dance (think prom, homecoming, or winter formal). I did not understand why the half-Korean protagonist’s first name was Park — that’s a common Korean last name. Maybe it was his mom’s maiden name? I am not sure. There were moments where Asians were fetishized and it did make me cringe. Everytime someone tries to diminish me as someone docile or mock me with an accent (I was born here), I want to distance myself far far away from them.

The Barbizon by Paulina Bren

“n. The residential hotel built in the 1920s on the promise of women’s independence and the nurturing of their artistic talents and all-around ambition would become a casualty of that very same goal.”

Paulina Bren, The Barbizon

I’m not sure if the Barbizon Hotel for women set them free. Maybe free temporarily like a rumspringa to try out New York City life before moving back to their hometown to get married and raise a family. The women highlighted in the book arrived to the Barbizon because of a guest editor opportunity with Mademoiselle magazine (I remember Mademoiselle!), secretary school to get their foot in corporate America, or they were aspiring models and actresses. Throughout the book they talked about the contradictions of the 1950s: women having ambition and pursuing a career but dealing with the societal pressure of marrying before 24 and bearing a lot children. And some of the fates of these former residents were quite sad — one of them married wealthy and ended up divorced and homeless.

The Essential New York Times Cookbook by Amanda Hesser

The nice thing about borrowing from the library is that you can always borrow it again. This is an incredibly THICK cookbook. There were a few salad recipes that caught my eye and then I returned it. I’ll be back for you for other things…

Favorite books of 2021

In 2021, I read 31 books (plus a few cookbooks). I think it helped that I read something every day. I completed just about every book I read. Any book I did not want to read, I panned and moved on. In reviewing this list, my favorite types of books were memoirs and different cultures. I present to you my favorite books of 2021:

Firekeeper’s Daughter by Angeline Boulley

“I’m reminded that our Elders are our greatest resource, embodying culture, and community. Their stories connect us to our language, medicines, land, Clans, songs, and traditions. They are a bridge between the Before and the Now, guiding those of us who will carry on in the Future.”

Angeline Boulley, Firekeeper’s Daughter

This book was my introduction to indigenous authors which then lead me to Jesse Thistle. This was a book I raved about all summer long. (Read more about Firekeeper’s Daughter here)

From the Ashes: My Story of Being Indigenous, Homeless, and Finding My Way by Jesse Thistle

All us criminals start out as normal people just like anyone else, but then things happen in life that tear us apart, that makes us into something capable of hurting other people. That’s all any of the darkness really is—just love gone bad. We’re just broken-hearted people hurt by life.

Jesse Thistle, From the Ashes: My Story of Being Indigenous, Homeless, and Finding My Way

The pathway to redemption and success is never a clear straight path, but more like a yarn ball rolling around the floor and inevitably making a mess in the process. I found myself frustrated at him because he kept coming back to his poor life choices, but that shows I care and am invested in Thistle to succeed. It also occurred to me that you cannot “switch off” poor life decisions to make good life decisions like in TV shows and movies. In real life, regression happens. (Read more of my thoughts on From the Ashes here)

Motherhood So White: A Memoir of Race, Gender, and Parenting in America by Nerfertiti Austin

“Women of any race shouldn’t have to be superstars for our status as mothers to be respected, no matter what each woman’s path to motherhood is.”

Nefertiti Austin, Motherhood So White: A Memoir of Race, Gender, and Parenting in America

Austin adopts a black boy from the Los Angeles adoption system as a single mother. She writes about the adoption process and raising her son. She also writes a parallel story about her childhood being “adopted” by her grandparents because her parents were unable to care for her and her brother. I was drawn to this book because I know couples who are looking to adopt and I did not understand the adoption process. Also, sadly, I know parents who don’t deserve to raise their own children and I feel the child is better off somewhere else. Since this memoir takes place in my county, I was also interested in learning about the Department of Child and Family Services and the foster care system.

Minor Feelings: An Asian American Reckoning by Cathy Hong Park

“Asian Americans inhabit a purgatorial status: neither white enough nor black enough, unmentioned in most conversations about racial identity. In the popular imagination, Asian Americans are all high-achieving professionals. But in reality, this is the most economically divided group in the country, a tenuous alliance of people with roots from South Asia to East Asia to the Pacific Islands, from tech millionaires to service industry laborers. How do we speak honestly about the Asian American condition—if such a thing exists?”

Cathy Park Hong, Minor Feelings: An Asian American Reckoning

This book inspired me to write about my own Asian American reckoning in my blog even if I am going to embarrass myself. People already tell me I am not Asian enough because…I don’t live with my parents, I did not grow up poor in America, my parents are not nurses, my parents did not serve in the military, I lived in a mostly white town…fill in whatever reason here. But guess what, they are my experiences. A lot of these posts are sitting in drafts waiting to be posted.

Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

Noemí’s father said she cared too much about her looks and parties to take school seriously, as if a woman could not do two things at once.

Silvia Moreno-Garcia, Mexican Gothic

This was such a fun book to read. Part horror, part social and historical commentary. I mentioned many times I enjoy reading Silvia Moreno-Garcia. I currently have Gods of Jade and Shadow on my shelf waiting to be read. (Read more of my thoughts on Mexican Gothic here)

More Than Enough: Claiming Space for Who You Are (No Matter What They Say) by Elaine Welteroth

When the world tells you to shrink, expand.

Elaine Welteroth, More Than Enough: Claiming Space for Who You Are

Elaine Welteroth is one year older than me. Her rise in the publishing and media industry before turning 30 is incredibly impressive! Usually, when I think of someone in the publishing industry they are usually someone from some fancy named university and/or old money. Example: see Bon Appetit scandal as told by Sohla El-Wayly on the LA Times “Asian Enough” Podcast. Throughout the book, she has so many life lessons to take away. I listened to her audiobook and since I listen to audiobooks while driving, I could not stop the car to write down her words of wisdom. This is a book I would definitely re-read as a physical book.

Orhan’s Inheritance by Aline Ohanesian

“Maybe that is why I hate here,” she says.
“Here?” he asks.
“The nursing home. It’s everywhere. They won’t let you forget it. It’s in the music, the damn sculpture in the garden, in schools and living rooms. You can’t open a book or sip a cup of coffee without confronting it.”
“Confronting what?” Orhan asks.
“The past.” The word comes out like an ancient curse. Everything is soaked and mired in its bitter liquid. Our young people want us to live it. They can’t get enough of it. Where did you come form? How old were you? How did you survive? They make you tell it over and over again, write it, record it, make videos. It’s exhausting,” she says. And he believes her. She looks thoroughly exhausted.
“Maybe they think it’s therapeutic,” Seda continues, “this sharing of past horrors. But not for me. I don’t want them poking their fingers into my wounds…All these years, I was praying for a scab, a hardened piece on dull skin that would cover it all up. But I’m ninety years old, and still the thing festers like an open wound in my chest.”

Aline Ohanesian, Orhan’s Inheritance

Such a beautifully written story! There was a point at the book where I just could not stop reading it! It made me ask questions (in a good way) until the end…and then there was a twist! (Read more on my thoughts on Orhan’s Inheritance here)

Educated by Tara Westover

“The most powerful determinant of who you are is inside you,” he said. “Professor Steinberg says this is Pygmalion. Think of the story, Tara.” He paused, his eyes fierce, his voice piercing. “She was just a cockney in a nice dress. Until she believed in herself. Then it didn’t matter what dress she wore.”

Tara Westover, Educated

It looks like a lot of my favorite books from 2021 were non-fiction — especially memoirs. I am just drawn to stories about resilience — and this one was no exception. (Read more of my thoughts on Educated here)

#whatsonyourbookshelfchallenge (hosted by Deb, SueDonna and Jo

7 thoughts on “January #whatsonyourbookshelfchallenge and my favorite books from 2021”

  1. I’ve heard so many good things about Educated – I really should read it. I would buy The Lost Apothecary just because of the title and the cover – and I too struggled with Nine Perfect Strangers. It was, in fact, a did not finish for me. The New York Times Cookbook is one I’d absolutely pick up. Thanks so much for linking up with us.


  2. Thanks for joining us for this month’s #whatsonyourbookshelfchallenge, always great to see what others have been reading! I read Educated a year or so ago and really enjoyed it. I’m with you on Nine Perfect Strangers. Many of your others I’ve not read but they sound interesting reads. Well done on trying not to buy or borrow any books this year, that’s a challenge in itself!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. “I won’t be borrowing any books from the library or buying any books until I finish reading the books from my bookshelf” – I say something to that effect at least once a year, and I fail every time. I’m sure the books on my shelf and in my Kindle library are quite jealous, since I keep overlooking them in favor of whatever hot, shiny title flashes into my attention.


  4. I agree with you regarding Nine Perfect Strangers and the Lost Apothecary. I think the present day storyline in the Lost Apothecary wasn’t not really relevant and I think I would have enjoyed the book more if we had just stayed back in the 18thC. I like your idea of not borrowing any books until you’ve read the ones on your bookshelf. Thanks for joining us for What’s On Your Bookshelf? and I look forward to you joining us next month. Happy reading! x


  5. Thank you for joining “WOYBS. I like your reading goal to stick with what is currently on your bookshelf or is already on order from your library. Thank you for the recommendation of The Essential New York Times Cookbook. I’m off to my online library to put it on hold. Fingers crossed that my local library has a copy!


    1. It’s like an encyclopedia. But in case they don’t have it, they do have other cookbooks or the NYT writers (i.e. Melissa Clark) have their own cookbook.


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