The Great Book Review of 2021


Sharing the books I read in 2021 and whether I’d recommend adding them to your collection.

(SO ready for pool season to come back!!)

Last year, I set a pretty lofty goal for myself: read three books each month. I know for some of you it may not seem like a lot, but I was at a point where I didn’t make time to read. I was watching TV or working until I crawled into bed each night, and I remembered how much I genuinely enjoy reading and vowed to make it a priority.

I told myself I’d aim for one fiction, one non-fiction, and one personal development or health-related book each month, and I did it. 🙂 I think having the blog for accountability made a huge difference and I looked forward to writing my book reviews each month.

I found some new authors I loved, I learned SO much, and I truly fell in love with reading again. While I’m not setting such a specific reading goal for this year – I have a lot of behind-the-scenes work stuff so I don’t want to add anything to the list right now – I’m still focused on making it a priority. 

Here’s a list of almost all of the books I read last year:

The Great Book Review of 2021

The Dutch House

I read this entire book in two sittings, which is RARE for me these days. I found myself so intrigued in this story and especially loved the author’s vivid character descriptions and the dialogue between the characters.

Danny and Maeve had such a unique bond as brother and sister. While nothing crazy intense happened, I was so drawn to the characters that it was suspenseful to feel the story and events unfold. I think that the book dragged a tiny bit towards the end. For that reason, I’d give it an 8/10.

Atomic Habits

I listened to this one via Audible, and as someone who has a hard time finding audiobooks that capture my attention for very long, this was a gold star. I’d probably recommend this over reading the physical book, except there are a few documents that he references (you can access them via his website if you’re listening to the audio version).

This book is based on the compound effects of habits and how small habits and choices build the person we eventually become. I thrive on routine and have a fixed set of daily habits, so I wasn’t quite sure how much I’d get out of this book.

Spoiler: it was a LOT.

It was fascinating to learn why and how certain habits lead to success and others lead to defeat. It was also helpful to leave how to hack your habits to encourage the good habits and discourage the habits that cause us harm.

Some of the things I learned from this book:

The key steps to making a good habit stick

How to break bad habits

Why you should focus on small habits first and build from there (<— don’t be “fair-weather” in anything you decide to do. Do it wholeheartedly)

A couple of quotes I kept in my phone:

“Good habits have long-term rewards while bad habits have instant rewards. What is immediately rewarded is repeated.” This is why you have to make an active choice to perform good habits, because there’s a delay in the reward. You have to stick with it even when you don’t feel motivated and it feels boring.

“Small habits don’t add up; they compound.”

Would I recommend it? YES. Download it, buy the physical version, or listen to the audiobook. 10/10 would recommend.

The Primal Gourmet Cookbook

I met Ronny at a NOW Foods event a couple of years ago and have been following him on IG ever since. (Funny story: we were in the same group to make a recipe for our Iron Chef-style challenge and I was making the sauce and struggling with the ginger, since we didn’t have a grater. I asked if anyone was good at chopping ginger – I could do it but my mincing skills aren’t fabulous – and he literally turned it into ginger paste in 30 seconds. I was like, “Ok, wow. So turns out you’re a real chef.”) I love how quick and AMAZING all of his recipes look on IG, so I was excited to get his cookbook. All recipes are gluten-free and dairy-free.

The Huntress 

This was a book I started months ago that I would pick up and put down in spurts. I didn’t find it as compelling as The Alice Network (by the same author), but in the end, I really enjoyed it. It’s the type of book where you know what’s going to happen pretty much from the beginning, but the climax unfolds in a surprising way. While it was a bit slow, I loved the movement between eras and characters to comprise the entire story. If you’re a sucker for historical fiction, I’d recommend checking it out.

Greenlights 

I had a feeling I was going to love this one, and it blew me away. I listened to it via Audible and highly, highly recommend the audio version. His voice is just a treat. (Let’s be real. Everything about Matthew McConaughey is a treat.)

This book is part memoir and autobiography, part personal development and motivation. The premise is based on the idea of greenlights: when we’re coasting through life and everything feels effortless and easy. Even when things are difficult, opportunities are slashed, or we’re hit with trauma or grief, it’s a red light, but we live with the hope and confidence in the fact that eventually it will turn green. He shares some of his green light and red light moments, including an insane yearlong trip to Australia, that one time his dad put his pet cockatiel in his mouth to revive him, how he became famous, glimpses into his marriage, poems and prescriptions for life, and so much more. I snickered to myself and giggled, swooned, and cried a little. SO many emotions in this book.

Eat Smarter 

Shawn Stevenson is my #1 favorite podcast host, so I was obviously excited to read this one. It also far surpassed my expectations. As you can probably guess, I’ve read a lot of “diet” and health books in my life. Some have been cringeworthy to the max, while others have inspired me to make positive changes in my personal routine and share new knowledge with clients. This is one of those books! I love that he goes into the science and the WHY behind his recommendations, and shares tips and strategies for fueling for longevity and optimal health. I also appreciate the fact that many times he mentions that diets shouldn’t be one size fits all. It’s up to you to experiment with different strategies and find the methods that resonate best with your unique body.

With his funny one-liners and conversational way of explaining some intense science-y stuff, Shawn shares optimal foods and how they impact our sleep, hormones, longevity, and fat loss. The book also includes a 30-day sample meal plan and recipes. I only wish that the book had more recipes!

The Four Winds 

I’m a huge fan of Kristin Hannah and have read a few of her books. The Nightingale is on my list of top books of all time. I was excited to read this one and it didn’t disappoint. It’s a bit longer, but I devoured it within a few days.

The Four Winds tells the story of a fierce and independent mother and her two children as they flee the dusty and drought-ravaged plains of Texas to head out west for a better life. The book begins in the 1920s and achingly describes the harsh reality of the Great Depression for many families, and the unwavering dedication of a mother to do what ever she needs to do for her children. Some parts of this story were extremely heavy, especially with the current state of our world, but I still really enjoyed it. 10/10 would recommend.

The Lost Apothecary 

I received this through my Book of the Month club subscription and this is exactly why I signed up: it’s encouraging me to pick books I may not have chosen on my own. This one was a STANDOUT. It’s the kind of book where you think you know what happens from the beginning, but the story unravels in the most surprising way. It was suspenseful, poignant, and such an easy read. 10/10 do it.

The Lost Apothecary transcends across two time periods and a few different characters: Eliza and Nella in the late 1700s, and Caroline in present day. Caroline is in London on what should have been an anniversary vacation, but instead, she makes a discovery that completely changes the course of her life. Nella is an apothecary who has a small, hidden shop, lined with glass bottles of remedies and… poisons. Her entire business is founded on her dedication to help women, whether they need an elixir intended to cure sickness, or to poison the man who has wronged them. Nella meets 12-year-old Eliza after receiving a mysterious letter, and Eliza makes a string of unfortunate mistakes that drastically affect their futures.

Take Control of Your Life – DNF (= Did Not Finish)

I downloaded this one on Audible because I’m a huge fan of Mel Robbins. I follow her on IG and I love her no-nonsense approach to mental health and the relationships she has with her older kids. (More proof that teenagers don’t always grow up to hate you!)

This book is about anxiety and how anxiety can be attributed to a loss of control. When you feel anxious, it’s because you feel like you lack control in a situation. This audiobook includes live sessions with six of her clients and the breakthroughs they experience.

Dirty Genes

One of my friends recommend this book to me and I can’t recommend it enough. It’s FASCINATING. While there is a lot of science-y mumbo jumbo, the author does a fantastic job of making everything very easy to understand and the tone is conversational.

Beneath a Scarlet Sky

This is at longer book at over 500 pages, but once I started, I was immersed and FLEW through it. It sucked me in instantly and is one of the books that you think of long after you turn the final page.

Beneath a Scarlet Sky is based on the true story of Pino Lella, a young Italian boy in WW2 who helps Jews escape to Switzerland. He later becomes a spy for the allies while working as a driver for a Nazi general. As you can imagine, some parts were harrowing and difficult to read. Others filled me with inspiration and hope, and there’s a beautiful love story intertwined with the more traumatic events. 10/10 would recommend.

Rocket Fuel

One of my business mentors highly recommends this book, so I was excited to read it. The premise is based on the concept that every successful company has a Visionary – the creative juice of the operation – and an Integrator, who is responsible for the behind-the-scenes implementation and organization of the ideas. Many times, businesses have a sole Visionary who is also trying to complete the roles of the Integrator, which doesn’t excite them, they fail to pay attention to the little details, and they find the work draining. True Integrators love what they do and are GOOD at it, which is why it can help a Visionary take their business to the next level.

This book really resonated with me because I’ve been simultaneously performing the roles of Visionary and Integrator since the beginning of the blog days, which has been necessary. That’s how ya get started! I do all of the creative aspects, which I love, as well as the behind-the-scenes implementation stuff and things that don’t motivate me (graphic design, invoicing, which you think I would love because it means someone will pay me but it’s the woooorrrsttttt, podcast editing and uploading, editing and uploading videos, analytics, SEO, etc.). It then continues to go on to describe what types of characteristics you should look for while hiring an Integrator and the hiring process.

Worth noting here that the Audible version is pretty dry. 😉 I would read the physical version. 7/10 would recommend. Helpful, but not the best business book I’ve read.

Beach Read

This book had stellar reviews, so I was excited to read it. Also, I was looking for a cupcake book (light and fluffy) after finishing Beneath a Scarlet Sky. Beach Read is about two bestselling authors who are polar opposites. January Andrews is known for writing romance novels, while Augustus Everett’s work tends to be more dark and depressing. They find themselves living as neighbors for the summer with looming deadlines and writer’s block, so they end up making a bet: they switch genres to see whose book will sell first.

The writing in this book was cheeky and fun, and it was a fast and breezy read. At the same time, some of the “dramatic portions” seemed a little superficial. (Like “Why are they fighting over that? Why does she cry in every chapter?”) It’s also called Beach Read so I think it was silly of me to expect anything super deep. 😉 Some tangents seemed a little out there but it was an enjoyable read, and I liked the ending, so I’d say 7/10.

Body Love Every Day

I have the original Body Love book and ordered this one to find some new ideas and recipes. This book recapped a lot of the original information – it’s more of a low-carb style of eating, which isn’t for everyone but I like these types of recipes – and unfortunately, I thought the organization made the recipes harder to find. It’s segmented into different “plans” (21 day plans crafted for four different archetypal of women) which have the recipes for that specific plan. I don’t really want to follow the plans, just want new recipes, so instead of having a dinner section, I have to skim through each of the four plans to find all of the dinner options. I could see how this would be helpful if you wanted to follow the plan exactly, but for people like myself, it’s kind of a jumble. The recipes are all simple and healthy, so if you’re looking for some new inspiration, I’d check it out. I’d say 8/10.

The Hunting Wives

This book was NOT at all what I was expecting and so far outside my usual range of chosen book titles. I don’t typically read thriller or crime-y type books because they freak me out and make me feel bad. This popped up on Book of the Month (<— my link lets you try it out for $5!) and I don’t know if I was feeling particularly brave at the moment, but I decided to give it a whirl.

Anxious People

After Hunting Wives, this book was an absolute treat. It’s about a bank robbery gone awry and all of the suspects are anxious, awkward people. Their stories are intertwined in surprising ways and I enjoyed it a lot. If you’re looking for a light summer read, I’d definitely check it out. 9/10 would recommend.

Talent Code

I was fascinated by this title because I’ve already been intrigued by talent. What makes some people exponentially more talented than other people? What do incredible musicians, artists, and athletes have in common? This book breaks it all down and explores the habits of talented people and the strategies of these “talent hubs”: small towns that produce great numbers of famous musicians and athletes. I won’t post too many spoilers here, but a lot of talent has to do with deep practice and practice strategies. When you make mistakes and correct them, the myelin in your brain forms new sheaths; it’s like you’re re-programming yourself to do it better each time. The trick is that you have to choose things that you genuinely enjoy, because such strategic and consistent practice requires an immense amount of passion.

The main takeaway is that talent can be created and nurtured. 9/10 would recommend.

WomanCode

I think that this is an excellent and thorough introduction to hormone balancing and cycle syncing. I’ve always been fascinated by the idea of syncing up our activities, workouts, work to-dos, etc. to align with our cycle. There are times when you feel more outgoing and energetic, and other times when you’re withdrawn and focused. As someone who has been exploring hormone balancing since I went off the Pill about 13 years ago, a lot of this was a helpful review for me. The author gives great ideas on how to structure your diet, workouts, and routine for optimal hormone balance. 8/10 would recommend.

The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry

This book was highly recommended and didn’t disappoint. It follows the story of A.J. Fikry, a grumpy bookstore owner, and how one week completely changes the course of his life. I didn’t want it to end and while it wasn’t insanely deep or suspenseful, it was a joy to read. I would definitely recommend it for a light, summer book. 9/10 would recommend.

One Million Followers

I had high hopes for this book. I thought it would give me helpful connect strategies and ideas for growth, especially since my Instagram has plateaued for the past 3 years.

The golden ticket for growth: paid advertising.

While I know this is a helpful strategy and SO many people use it, something about it feels icky to me when it comes to growing my following. It may be something that I explore for launches, I don’t think I’m going to use it to boost followers. The thing is, when it comes to the amount of followers you have, you also want them to be the *right* followers; the people who truly resonate with what you post and stand for. It’s better to have 10 followers that *get it* than 100 followers who have zero interest in your industry and your main topics.

Also, he spends most of his time talking about why paid advertising is important than telling you how to actually do it. Facebook Ads are so dang confusing and I would have loved a step-by-step. (I guess that’s what YouTube is for.)

Rose Code

I’ve read a couple of Kate Quinn’s novels (The Huntress, The Alice Network) and this was my favorite of the three. The book follows the story of three friends who are recruited to work as cryptographers breaking German military codes during WWII. They’re sworn to extreme secrecy about their job and what it entails, and one friend, Beth, discovers a traitor in their department. I didn’t know anything about Bletchey Park before reading this novel, and have been intrigued by the various roles women played during the second World War. The basis of the story and main characters are based on real people, and if you like historical fiction, I highly recommend it. 9/10 would recommend.

The Midnight Library

I read this book in two days, which pretty much never happens anymore. I was SUCKED IN and it’s been a long time since I’ve been this engrossed in a story. It explores the idea of second chances and how the tiny actions and decisions we take can completely transform the course of our life.

This is easily my favorite book I’ve read all year so if you’re looking for something new to completely breeze through, highly, highly recommend. 10/10

Game Changers

I was really looking forward to listening this one on Audible, particularly because I like Dave Asprey and I enjoy listening to his voice. 🙂 He’s easy to listen to and I usually appreciate his perspective on things. (Some of his philosophies could be considered a little *out there* but I’m a believer in taking what you need and deleting the rest. For example, he uses a small dose of nicotine for longevity and that’s something I’d never choose to do.) I was very bummed to discover that he only reads the intro to each chapter and the rest is narrated by a… narrator guy. I don’t know why but it’s so hard for me to listen to and pay attention to professional narrators. Sooooo I listened to this one on double-speed lol.

The book includes tips from interviews with over 450 experts in various fields, along with “laws” for becoming smarter, faster, and happier. I did get a few great tips from this book, but I liked Super Humaneven more. I give it a 7/10.

Malibu Rising

I received this one in my Book of the Month subscription and was wondering if I was going to like it. The author is one hit (The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo) and one miss (Daisy Jones and the Six) for me. I ended up reading it in two days because I was so immersed in the characters. Not a lot *happens* in this book, but the character development and backstory, alternating between two eras, made it worthwhile to me. 8/10 would recommend.

Broken (in the best possible way)

I love love LOVE Jenny Lawson, and remember listening to her book “Let’s Pretend this Never Happened” and laughing so hard I was crying. I listened to this one on Audible, too, and ended up feeling a little bit meh about it. The funny parts didn’t resonate with me, and the sad, more profound parts, made me feel sad instead of finding comfort in relating to her. Some of the portions about her experience with depression were triggering for me (and I’m so thankful she’s sharing her story with others to remove the stigma associated with mental health diagnoses), but I think it was compounded by everything going on in the world. Perhaps I would enjoy more in another time, but it was a bit too much for me right now.  5/10 would recommend.

Grow Wild

I received this book from Katy Bowman’s publicist (I still can’t believe Katy was on my podcast!!!!!!!!) and was so excited to dive in. This book gives real-life examples of how to cultivate a family lifestyle centered on movement. Kids are moving so much less these days, and I’m always looking for ways to add more movement into our lives and make it fun.

This insightful book (with beautiful color photos!) includes tips for movement stacking, spending time in nature, proper footwear, gardening, cooking activities, seasonal activities, furniture and home additions to promote less sitting and more movement, learning, etc. I feel like it’s easy to be overwhelmed when you’re looking to change up your lifestyle in any capacity, but this book includes so many easy habits and tips that you can continue to build. 10/10 would recommend.

The Inheritance of Orquídea Divina 

I received this one from my Book of the Month subscription and was really looking forward to it. I adore magical realism, and this book’s style reminded me of two of my most beloved authors: Isabel Allende and Gabriel García Márquez. This book was a bit slow to start for me, but the story was complex and layered, and the type of book that sticks with you for a long time. It has deep character development, a story that spans across two lifetimes, and the tiniest bit of magic (that makes it seem very real). 9/10 would recommend.

The Ride of a Lifetime 

This book has been highly recommended – Ashley and Chalene both said it was excellent so I had it on my mental radar – so I was excited to listen to this one on Audible. I ended up blasting through it within a few days. (I love audiobooks and podcasts while I’m walking with the pups or doing chores.) Whether you’re looking for some personal development tips, a memoir, Disney scoops (this is a must-read for Disney fans), it checks all of the boxes. It was heartwarming, inspiring, and fascinating. 10/10 would recommend!

Cook Once Dinner Fix

As someone who is ALWAYS looking for new weeknight dinner inspo, I was pumped to check out this book. (This one was gifted by Cassy’s PR team after she was a guest on the podcast). The concept behind this cookbook is that you prep the protein for two meals at the same time. This way, when you make the second meal, the *meat* of the dish is already finished. I love the idea of setting yourself up for success (especially since weeknights are so bonkers) and I can’t wait to try some of these recipes. 9/10 would recommend.

Dreena’s Kind Kitchen

I shouted this book out in Friday Faves, but it needed another mention. Two of the recipes are on our meal plan for this week! (Ok, one of them is a cookie.) Dreena Burton has been one of my long-time favorite cookbook authors and some of these faves are still my go-tos, all of these years later. She uses whole foods in her recipes (instead of vegan substitutes that are packed with chemical ingredients) and they’re always family-friendly and bursting with flavor. 10/10 would recommend, especially if you’re vegan or a non-vegan who adores vegan food, like yours truly.

The Silent Patient

I was nervous to read this one, because I typically stay away from gory, scary, and violent books/movies. They give me bad dreams, and with the Pilot’s travel schedule, I just knew it wasn’t a smart move for me. I completely cut them out years ago and haven’t looked back. When I was browsing my Book of the Month options (still loving it!), this one caught my eye and had excellent reviews.

I asked on Instagram if you thought it was too much, and the majority said to go for it. It was INTENSE and super good. I love that it was a thriller without being violent/gory. It was mostly just suspenseful. No spoiler, but I knew there would be some type of twist at the end, and this one completely took me by surprise. I’ve heard that a lot of people hate the ending, but I thought it was amazing and so unexpected. That’s all I’m going to say! I’m giving it a 9/10.

7 Habits of Highly Effective People

I read this book many years ago, in my lululemon days, and really enjoyed it. I decided to revisit some previous gold star personal development books, so I listened to this one on Audible. It was a much-needed refresher, especially when it comes to working with teams. Most of my work is done here in the blog and on Fit Team workout programming/deliverables, but I’m constantly looking for ways to create community for Fit Team, here on the blog, and with my Beautycounter team (50+ people). These are helpful foundations that you can use in personal or your professional life. Highly recommend this one! 10/10

Dreena’s Kind Kitchen: 100 Whole-Foods Vegan Recipes to Enjoy Every Day

As a non-vegan who adores vegan food, I couldn’t wait to get my hands on this cookbook. I’ve mentioned this one in Friday Faves, but figured it needed a spot in my books recap because we’ve been enjoying this one so much! I’ve been a fan of Dreena Burton since the early days of the blog, and so many of her recipes are go-tos in our house. Our copy of Eat, Drink, and Be Vegan is covered with stains and splatters from all of the love it’s gotten over the years.

This is her best work yet and I especially appreciate that she uses whole foods in her recipes. One of my biggest gripes with a lot of vegan recipes is the dependence on chemical-laden ingredients and meat substitutes. She uses whole foods and lets their inherent flavors shine. I highly recommend this one! The crackle brownies, waffles, cookies, and beet burgers have all been fantastic. 10/10.

Pachinko

I chose this one through my Book of the Month subscription and had a feeling I would enjoy it. This is exactly my favorite type of book: a historical saga with deep character development that spans multiple generations. At the end of this book, I closed the final page and sat, stunned for a second. I felt like I knew the entire family when it was finished and while it was a longer read (around 500 pages), it was engrossing and beautifully done. 10/10 would recommend. 

In Order to Live

I won’t give any spoilers but I heard Yeonmi Park speak on a podcast and knew immediately that I needed to download her book. I listened to the audio version, which I highly recommend. It was harrowing to learn about her personal experience, and I was inspired by her resilience. 

Some pieces of her story gave me additional insight into Pachinko and the other way around. It’s an important reminder that while the US isn’t perfect, I feel blessed to live here and raise our family here. 

I cried when I finished In Order to Live — it shook me to my core. I was very emotional about everything she endured. While it was difficult to listen to some parts, it was an important read that will stick with me for a long time. 10/10. 

The Four Agreements 

It’s a short read with simple premises that you can use to cultivate more joy and purpose in your life. Each day, I remind myself of the Four Agreements and use this mindset with my interactions with others and my family. 9/10 would recommend, especially if you’re trying to reduce the noise and stress in your life, and don’t mind books that are a little on the *woo* side 😉 

Will

This book has so many incredible reviews for a reason – it’s everything. We all love Will Smith and it was fascinating to learn more about his background and his family (with some 90s nostalgia and rap sprinkled in). Definitely listen to the audio version!

The Holiday Swap 

This was a Christmas cupcake of a book and such a joy to read. It was the lighter beach read type book I craved over the holiday season. I definitely recommend it if you’re looking for a lighter and extremely enjoyable book. 

Did you have a favorite book from 2021? Did you read any from the list above? Leave your book recs in the comments below!

Do you want me to continue monthly book reviews in 2022?

xoxo

Gina





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