66 books of last year

Cozy and reading The Vanishing Half the Fairmont Le Château Frontenac in Quebec City, captured by my husband, Feb 2021

Memoirs, rereads, topics that challenged my way of thinking… 2021 was full of twists and turns and my ’21 literary exploration was no exception. Due to life being busy as a parent of two young kids, working full time during a pandemic (and sometimes homeschool and/or virtual learning to boot!) life in 2021 was a bit chaotic to say the least. This has lead me to putting my blog on the back burner, as you may have noticed. I love writing book reviews, but I can’t keep up with them in the same way as I could before. Alas, these types of round ups help me to share with you my favourite books of the year. So, without further adieu, out of the 66 books I devoured in 2021, here are some of the most notable.

Memoirs

Crying in HMart, By Michelle Zauner- One of my favourite reads of 2021 was the memoir, Crying in HMart. Written by Michelle Zauner of the indie band Japanese Breakfast, Crying in HMart is an extension of Zauner’s essay of the same name which was published in The New Yorker on August 20, 2018. The memoir chronicles Zauner’s life and relationship with her mother, woven with threads of Korean heritage, food and indie music. Zauner lost her mother to cancer and wrote this memoir as a way to grieve and heal. 

I loved this memoir so much, not only because of my love of all-things-Korean (including the food!) but I also enjoyed the way Zauner was so raw and candid about her life experiences and the way her relationship with her mother was truly a journey throughout her life. Zauner doesn’t sugar coat her relationship with her parents, and this memoir was refreshing and honest, while tugging on my heartstrings. I cried tears of sadness by Chapter 2, but the overall tone and message of the story is beautiful and uplifting and powerful. A must-read! (And I highly recommend this as an audiobook as well!)

Taste: My Life Through Food, By Stanley Tucci- I loved the way, similar to reading the Stephen King classic, On Writing, Tucci weaves his experience with practical tactics. Also, similar to Crying in HMart referenced above, Tucci weaves his love of food into his memoir from as early as childhood. Food has sculpted Tucci, and growing up in an Italian-American family had a profound impact on the way he views food and, well, Taste. His life-this-far story, as well as his experience with cancer and his relationship to food throughout his recovery make for a compelling story. I listened to his book as an audiobook, and my mouth was watering at his descriptions. (His voice is also a great reading voice!) I cannot wait to make some of the recipes he included in his book, and I also bought his other cookbook for my brother-in-law for Christmas last year. Taste is a unique book you can pick up time and time again, and I highly recommend.

Yearbook, by Seth Rogan– I laughed. I laughed and laughed and laughed. Listening to Seth’s audiobook, and all of Rogan’s guests who read on it as well, was like listening to a hilarious podcast of unbelievable stories from Rogan’s childhood as well as an in-depth look into what made Seth the comedian he is today. Funny side note: He tells a memorable story from the summer camp he went to run Northern BC, and I ended up meeting one of his camp counsellors from the story in Mexico on vacation! (Got to love those Canadian small world connections!) A+.

This Will All Be Over Soon, By Cecily Strong– This book was truly beautiful. Cecily Strong is one of my favourite SNL actors of all time, and I knew as soon as she announced her book, I would be reading it. Once I found out more about the subject content, I was even more intrigued. This Will All Be Over Soon is a beautiful memoir dedicated to Cecily’s late cousin, who passed away of cancer. She chronicles her life experiences, her cousin’s memory, COVID in New York City, falling in love, and the mental health struggles during the loss of her cousin and the pandemic. It’s heartbreaking, sad and funny. I bought this book for two friends who lost someone special to them at the beginning of COVID, as I thought that this book could be therapeutic when read at the right time.

Greenlights, By Matthew McConaughey– One word: Audiobook. It won’t disappoint.

The Meaning of Mariah Carey, By Mariah Carey– My friend Jess bought me this book, and she warned me that she never looked at Mariah the same since, swearing that she and her boys at home had Mariah’s music playing on blast in her house since she finished it. I couldn’t wait dive in, and the book didn’t disappoint. In her memoir, Mariah reveals her challenges as growing up as a mixed race child on Long Island with little money and a divided family unit. She later talks about her toxic marriage to Tommy Mittola, where she was essentially held hostage with seemingly no escape. She writes about her complex relationship with her father, and her disastrous moment on MTV’s TRL. Her story is compelling, intriguing and gives readers an important look at racism in America from a unique lens. I too, now have a newfound respect and understanding of the Meaning of Mariah, and who she really is.

Wellness

I read more wellness books than usual this year; I was looking for facts to motivate me to strive to eat healthier and educate myself in hopes of kickstarting new habits. I struggled a lot with motivation with eating and working out the latter half of the year, so I dove into wellness books to try and help me on my motivation journey. Here are my faves:

I’m So Effing Tired, By Amy Shah, MD– I loved this book so much that after listening to it on my public library app, I bought it in hardcover. Why? So I could go through, highlight and make notes. (Type A, much?) Dr. Shah writes about the power of circadian fasting and ingesting vitamins through food vs. taking supplements to regain energy back in your life. I have felt so depleted this year, so I was fascinated by her take on traditional medicine in combination with alternative medicine. I ended the year with this book, and it was a great way to go into a new year reset. Dr. Shah puts together a detailed plan, recipes and motivating factors for her readers and I am on board!

Here are some high level notes I took in my phone while consuming this book:

  • Adrenal Fatigue “AF” is caused by chronic stress 
  • Gut health is essential to immune system 
  • When the body deems foods are foreign, that’s when allergies develop. It starts from inside the womb 
  • When you eat is also important to our overall health. Eat according to the circadian rhythm 
  • Intermittent fasting – and specifically, circadian fasting, works in sync with our bodies natural clock
  • Studies show that getting six hours of sleep or less a night is almost as bad as not sleeping for two nights in a row 
  • Exercise- limit exercises like HIIT if you have a very stressful work environment. The TYPE of workout you do is important in relation to your day-to-day stress.
  • Some of the most important vitamins: Vitamin D, Adaptogens and Omega. 
  • All energy begins in the gut

The Cancer Code: A Revolutionary New Understanding of a Medical Mystery, by Dr. Jason Fung– I read this book in Spring of 2021 at the start of my intermittent fasting journey. While Dr. Fung does get a little science-y at times (he is a doctor, afterall all), I did fine that he broke down the importance and correlation of intermittent fasting with cancer, cancer prevention, and slowing of cancer growth in an accessible and fascinating way. This book jumpstarted my motivation and got me on the IM train.

Intuitive Fasting, By Dr. Will Cole– I first heard Dr. Cole on The Skinny Confidential Podcast and became interested in intermittent fasting upon seeking out The Cancer Code.

This is Your Brain on Food, By Uma Naidoo, MD– I first hear Dr. Naidoo on The Skinny Confidential podcast, and was very intrigued by Dr, Naidoo and her book– with good reason. Check out her bio (taken from her website):

Michelin-starred chef David Bouley described Dr. Uma Naidoo as the world’s first “triple threat” in the food and medicine space: a Harvard trained psychiatrist, Professional Chef graduating with her culinary schools’ most coveted award, and a trained Nutrition Specialist. Her nexus of interests have found their niche in Nutritional Psychiatry.

Dr. Naidoo founded and directs the first hospital-based Nutritional Psychiatry Service in the United States. She is the Director of Nutritional and Lifestyle Psychiatry at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) & Director of Nutritional Psychiatry at MGH Academy while serving on the faculty at Harvard Medical School.

In her book, she shows the cutting-edge science explaining the ways in which food contributes to our mental health and how a sound diet can help treat and prevent a wide range of psychological and cognitive health issues, from ADHD to anxiety, depression, OCD, and others.

Let’s just say… I took a LOT of notes. I love that this book was broken out by category of concern- it made it easy to digest how to help anxiety, for example, rather than reading about all the benefits of a particular food in one sitting.

Here are some highlights I wrote down from the book:

  • It only takes two hours of psychological stress to alter the bacteria levels in your gut 
  • Emotional eating and depression: Junk food to help cope; mental toll is beyond physical. Food can be powerful medicine. 
  • This book talks a lot about the importance of micro biomes
  • Gut-induced depression: pro and pre biotics.
    • Prebiotics: kimchi, fermented soy beans, cheddar, gouda.
    • Probiotics: berries, miso paste, honey, kefir, leafy greens, onions, leeks, cinnamon. 
  • Bad for depression: sugar. The more sugar you eat, the more likely you are to be depressed.
  • The quality of the carbs you eat matters. Carbs: how quickly a food turns into glucose matters. Good ones are chia seeds, quinoa, brown rice, but still can raise your blood glucose levels. 
  • Aspartame causes oxidation, which increases free radicals in the brain 
  • Salami and sausage can trigger bipolar to those who are prone (Research provided in book).  If you can’t stay away, use ones with buckwheat filler. 
  • Omega 3 fatty acids are crucial to mental health, and we cannot produce them on our own. 
  • B12 and folate should be concentrated on for depression 
  • B1 and B6 help the brain regulate our mood (soy beans and whole grains are great foods for this)
  • Vitamin A can significantly improve (found in sweet potatoes, carrots, black eyed peas) brain function. Broccoli + cauliflower are great for Vit A as well. 
  • Iron: low iron levels are linked to depression. Ways to get more iron through food: dark chocolate, lean meats, and shellfish. 
  • Magnesium rapid recovery from major depression: Think of seeds, avocado, and salmon. 
  • Use tumeric and add freshly ground pepper for absorption. Two teaspoons a day. 
  • Nordic or Mediterranean diet are great options for food guides to follow.
  • Peptides are useful for anxiety. 
  • Anxiety: stay away from the western diet- sweetened drinks, red meat and fried foods 
  • Take B1, B Complex, Magnesium for anxiety 
  • What’ bro’s best for dementia and brain fog?: Micro greens, rosemary and “the mind diet.”
  • Hippocampus gets damaged and can cause a loss in memory  The western diet can impact this negatively (insulin signalling and inflammation). High fat diet damage can be undone. Brain changes from high fat/high sugar diet, and sustained exercise can reverse memory-making damage in the brain. 
  • Avoiding gluten can prevent dementia 
  • Protecting memory through diet: calorie restricting works (cut by 25%). But dieting to lose a dramatic amount of weight is detrimental to memory. 
  • Coffee drinkers at mid life (3-5 cups of coffee per day) had the lowest risk of dementia. This research is not conclusive but it still excited me! Note: Keep consumption under 400 g a day (2-4 cups). 
  • Tumeric (front and centre/ anti oxidant and anti inflammatory) as well as black pepper, saffron, rosemary, ginger, and cinnamon: many control studies show that these spices help inflammation. 
  • Study of people ages 70-79 in India were four times less likely to develop Alzheimer’s (possibly due to the turmeric found in curry). 
  • Berries, nuts, olive oil, salmon, beans lentils and soy beans, wine: one glass of wine per day, green leafy vegetables. 
  • Brain fog is believed to be caused by brain inflammation. Foods to avoid: white bread, pasta and anything made from refined flour, anything fried.
  • Tea for Insomnia: chamomile 
  • Too many late nights can affect your gut bacteria. It can increase inflammation in our bodies and cause overeating. 
  • For sleep- diversify your palate 
  • Foods that disrupt sleep: caffeine, obviously. But three to four cups of coffee a day can prevent cancer and help you live longer. Drink 3-4 coffees or caffeinated tea. Stop all caffeine by 3pm 
  • Alcohol: even on days you don’t drink, your sleep cycle and anxiety can be affected. 
  • Sleep better: omega 3 (salmon, tuna, sardines) + camomile before bed with cherry juice. Also, blueberries in morning cereal, fruits, cucumber, and rolled grains all help to produce melatonin. 
  • Ginseng increases dopamine
  • Even better than the Mediterranean diet is the Keto diet for Bipolar Disorder (although there are health risks with Keto, so contact your doctor).

Atomic Habits by James Clear- Everyone has heard of Atomic Habits, and I wrote a full blogpost on this fantastic book (click here for a summarized version of his tips and tricks). Since reading it, I have listened to James on various podcasts (including Brene Brown) and doing this has been a helpful reminder of what I learned in his book.

What Happened to You? Conversations on Trauma, Resilience and Healing, By Oprah Winfrey and Dr. Bruce D . Perry– There is not enough time to write how I felt about the material and the impact of this book. It resonated with me deeply. I listened to the book, and ended up buying a hard copy to have, highlight and revisit. I also ended up buying this book for my mom and sisters for Christmas in 2021. I want everyone to read this book, to walk through these conversations. Regardless of having experienced trauma, this book will give you insight to many other experiences and will offer an important, empathetic lens into the lives and experiences of others. READ THIS BOOK.

All dressed up and lockdown ready, thanks to Fitzroy Rentals

Fiction

The Vanishing Half By Brit Bennett A captivating story about race, class and identity. Twin sisters separate and discover different ways to navigate life, and the reader gets an in-depth study into just how different their lives are because of one sister’s choice. Bennett is a beautiful writer, who builds characters with a slow burn. I thoroughly enjoyed this book, and it gripped my fragments of my heart throughout. The ending is my only complaint but even with that, this book is a #mustread.

The Last Thing He Told Me, By Laura Dave– This thriller had me on the edge of my seat. I loved the main character and the slow-build mystery. As I read it, I thought to myself “I think this would make a thrilling tv series.” Well, as it turns out, Reese Witherspoon’s production company is creating a series based on this book! Keep your eyes peeled for it- I think it will be great!

Midnight Library By Matt Haig– This story was beautiful and pulled on all my heart strings. It took a relatively common contemporary concept of depression and suicide (and no shade there- these issues should be discussed as much as possible), and explored potential outcomes in a unique and intriguing way: out of this story came a beautiful story of “What If’s” and a protagonist journey that was charming, funny, unexpected and magical.

The Queen’s Gambit– I decided to read this before watching the show, and I absolutely loved the book! The way author Walter Tevis describes chess, makes it easy to learn and picture, as well thrilling and entertaining! It’s also free on Kindle Unlimited, so check it out!

Fantasy

Kiss of Deception Series by Mary E Pearson- I loved this YA fantasy series so much and had been waiting to find another addicting YA series to sink my teeth into. If you are thirsting for the same, look no further! For my full review of the series, click here.

Vow of Thieves & Dance of Thieves by Mary E Pearson– After reading he Kiss of Deception series, immerse yourself in Pearson’s world once again with this fantasy romance. Two fantastic protagonists that will leave you rooting for them the entire time during this dualogy! I LOVED this series.

Ash Princess by Laura Sebastian- “Theodosia was six when her country was invaded and her mother, the Fire Queen, was murdered before her eyes. On that day, the Kaiser took Theodosia’s family, her land, and her name. Theo was crowned Ash Princess–a title of shame to bear in her new life as a prisoner.” – Via Goodreads. I enjoyed this book and will eventually read the next two in the series. I didn’t love it as much as I enjoyed the Kiss of Deception series though, so if you are entertaining both, I would start with KOD.

A Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes, By Suzanne Collins– For those who don’t know, this is the Hunger Games prequel. I know this story has mixed reviews (as any prequel would, in my opinion) but I absolutely loved it. I really enjoyed immersing myself back into the wold of the Capitol & Districts, and reading about President Snow’s journey. It’s a reminder to readers that people are not born evil, and that the decisions we make lead us down the journey we take- but we have the power to – when given the opportunity- to make our own choices.

***

These were my top reads out of the 66 I devoured last year. Drop me a line with your favourites of 2021 as well… if you can remember that far back!

3 replies »

  1. What a beautifully written list of books Kelly! I will look into the books you mentioned (the one about food on your brain sounds fascinating!) as I’ve found myself checking out more wellness books too! Thanks for sharing!!

  2. Loved this list of books Kelly! The one about your brain on food sounds fascinating and I’ll be digging into these excellent recommendations! Hope you’re doing amazing and that you’ve brought more
    Wellness into your 2022!

    • So nice to hear from you JoFo! I hope you are doing well! ❤️❤️❤️ Let me know if you end up reading This is Your Brain on Food! 😘😘😘 and feel free to send any recommendations my way too!

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