Book Review 2021

Books are a valued treasure in our household.  One of Chaos’ biggest must-haves when we searched for a house a few years ago was a room for his books.  Every year, he also sets a goal of reading at least 52 books, a goal he meets even without counting comics, rereads, and partially read texts… Confetti sets the same goal but never hits it (maybe one day). Our bookshelves carry a lot of weight and more shelves are waiting to be erected.  The to-read pile never really shrinks.  Instead books are added as quickly as they are read, and each one hopes not to be pushed further back in line.

Chaos is a little more old school with his love of physical copies of texts.  Something just feels right about holding a book, flipping through its pages, and seeing memories join each other on shelves.  He’s willing to give ebooks and audiobooks a go, but deep down they make him feel a little dirty.  People regularly drop hints about getting him an e-reader, and they usually have to be warned about the waste of money it would be.  When it comes to book collecting, Chaos is not a minimalist.

Confetti has embraced digital books. Physical is fine, but her Kindle is just a breeze to use and take around.  Beach trips, bathes, or just around the house, what’s wrong with a nice, compact device?  She knows one day she’ll have to cut Chaos off from his amassing of books, and prays that their son won’t want to pick up the same habit as dad.  How many books does it take to destroy the foundation of a house and bring the whole thing toppling down?

Between the two of us we’ve read over seventy books this year, with a few more waiting to be squeezed in over the next couple weeks.  Here’s a look at some of our favorites:

Confetti Book #3: The House in the Cerulean Sea by T.J. Klune

Our friend group does a book club and this was the book for July. I immediately liked the story because the main character Linus has the same name as one of our dogs. While fantasy isn’t normally my preferred genre (I love religious fiction.. Specifically Amish fiction), I found the world created by Klune surprisingly relatable. The real-world school system isn’t quite as broken as the Department in Charge of Magical Youth, but it’s close. Linus’ plight as a cog in the system spoke to me and I loved watching his individuality and purpose unfold during his time on Marsyas Island. 

At its core, the book is a fairytale and, like all of my favorite fairytales, it has a happy ending. I hope this eventually gets made into a movie, because I would love to watch it. Klune created a fantastical world. 

Chaos Book #3: Where the Forest Meets the Stars by Glendy Vanderah

Where the Forest Meets the Stars is a novel about three people: Jo, a grieving graduate student studying birds in Illinois; Gabriel, a kind local dealing with his own issues; and Ursa, a young girl who claims to come from the stars.  They come together to build a unique family unit that we all know can’t last.  There lies both the joy and the heartbreak.

Vanderah writes a heart-warming story about growth, love, and trust.  I don’t want to spoil anything about this book, so I’ll just say it does a good job of creating engaging characters and interweaving the mystery of a little girl, who clearly needs people to care for her.

I liked how the novel acts as a reminder that broken people are worth loving, and even if we’re not perfect that doesn’t mean we don’t have a lot to offer to the other people around us. 

Confetti Warning: An animal dies tragically in this book

Confetti Book #2: The Rampart Trilogy by M.R. Carey

Chaos and I read the first book (The Book of Koli) in the Rampart Trilogy as part of book club in December 2020. Again, not my normal preferred genre, but I really grew to like Koli in spite of his flaws. He whines a lot and struggles to take accountability for his actions, but he manages to muddle his way through when his whole worldview disintegrates around him. Our other main character, Monono Aware, is also delightful (the audible voice for her slays me).  We liked book #1 enough that we decided to read book #2 and then book #3 as soon as it was released. 

Book #2 (The Trials of Koli) is my favorite of the trilogy; you get to continue following along with Koli’s story, while also finding out what is happening in Mythen Rood (the village Koli left). We begin to hear some of the story from Spinner’s perspective (the girl Koli was in love with during Book #1), who in my opinion is the most interesting character. Book #2 ends on a huge cliffhanger, which made the wait for Book #3 difficult. 

Book #3 (The Fall of Koli) picks up from the cliffhanger and takes the readers on a long, sometimes convoluted journey to all of the perspectives in the book coming together. When the end came, it was super enjoyable and I felt like all of the characters’ stories wrapped up nicely. However, there were times when Book #3 really dragged and felt bloated. I think Carey tried to combine a few too many storylines and it probably could have benefited from some streamlining. 

Honestly though, I was too invested into Spinner’s story in particular to care and I was sad that it was the last story in the series. I’d probably only recommend this series though if you start book #1 and like Koli as a character – some of our friends found him super annoying and he doesn’t have a major personality change at any point during the series. As for me though, MYTHEN ROOD!!

Chaos Book #2: FantasicLand by Mike Bockoven

If you like books like The Hunger Games or Lord of the Flies, you’ll probably enjoy Mike Bockoven’s FantasticLand.  The basic premise is that the staff, mostly teens, of a Florida-based amusement park get stranded inside the park after a giant storm and then are left with no connection to the outside world for weeks.  They do what they need to survive.  Sections of FantasticLand break into factions and then everything else breaks down further from there.  The book is told through a series of interviews, giving many different characters and factions a chance to share their perspectives on the horrors that occurred in FantasicLand.

This felt like a modern and more entertaining take on the tale of tribalism and the darkness that lurks beneath the surface of most humans.  As a fan of amusement parks, I like Bockoven’s creation of FantasicLand.  The history and detail he puts into it makes it feel as real as Disney World or Universal Studios.  Then, he tears it all apart over the course of the novel in a fascinating way. 

Even with the shifting perspectives and conflicting reports, the narrative remained cohesive with a lot of forward momentum, and characters were still built up enough to matter.  I also appreciated that the book didn’t go too far into the idea of “people be bad,” and instead created monsters to root against but still allowed for characters to rally behind.  

Since the story takes place in a modern setting, you do have to suspend your disbelief a bit, but I never felt Bockoven went too far.  FantasticLand gets dark at points, but overall remains a fun and entertaining read.

Confetti Book #1: Cribsheet by Emily Oster

Probably not a huge surprise that my top book is baby related given life events this past year. I read Expecting Better by Emily Oster in 2020 and enjoyed it, so I decided to pick up Cribsheet in 2021. Expecting Better focuses specifically on pregnancy and breaking down the data surrounding some typical pregnancy advice (such as, why do doctors tell you to avoid lunch meat?). Cribsheet is similar, but it breaks down the data on parenting topics for the early years. Oster is an economist, not a medical doctor or psychologist or parenting expert, but I found her take on the topics in the book to be accessible and she broke the data down into a digestible format.

Although we haven’t started sleep training yet, this is the section of the book I’ve returned to the most. It seems like infant and baby sleep is probably one of the most controversial parenting topics out there and everyone has different opinions on the subject. We are planning on sleep training once our son hits four months, so reading this section helps me keep things in perspective. 

It’s amazing how little good quality data is available on some common parenting topics. Hopefully, we see more high quality studies done in the future.  I would recommend Cribsheet if you’re a new parent or soon-to-be parent who wants to see some actual data without having to track it all down yourself. 

Chaos Book #1: Book of Unknown Americans by Cristina Henriquez

The Book of Unknown Americans sat on my Amazon wishlist for a while.  Unlike other books I wanted, I never felt too called to just buy it for myself.  While the premise originally grabbed my attention, other flashier books kept calling me first.  Finally the novel was gifted to me, and I decided to give it a go after it sat on my to-read pile for a while.  A few pages in and I immediately regretted waiting so long.

Henriquez’s novel isn’t flashy or epic.  Instead it’s a simple story of youth, family, love, and immigration.  In an apartment building in Delaware, lives a number of immigrant families from many Latin American countries.  This is a glimpse into their stories.  We learn about their struggles and successes.  We see what pride and sacrifice are worth.  Most importantly, their love is put on display, parental and romantic.  

The Book of Unknown Americans creates characters that feel real and relatable.  The time spent with the Rivera and Toro family made me care deeply for them.  I cared for them not only as Latinos trying to navigate their way in America, but just as people trying to do their best and to find happiness.  Don’t we all deserve love?  Shouldn’t we all be able to bring happiness to those we care about?   Aren’t dreams something we all desire?

Mayor Toro, with his teenage world-view and hope for a joyous romance with Maribel, resonated most with me.  I’m a sucker for characters who follow their hearts for love and sometimes proceed optimistically despite all else.

If you’re looking for a sweet book about humanity, I would highly recommend The Book of Unknown Americans

The Wrap Up:

We’d write more, but we both have some reading to get done.  Feel free to recommend us some books you love, and if we’re lucky it may just make it past the to-read pile. 

Follow us on Goodreads in 2022

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