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Book Recommendations and Reading Goals for 2021

My Year in Books

21 Books to Read in 2021 by Canadian Artist Rachael Grad

An avid book reader, book worm and overall nerd, I enjoy reading books from across different genres. In the past year I've read many different books, many of which I suggest to friends to read. If you have any book recommendations for me, please send them my way. I'm always looking for books to read: fiction, historical fiction, non-fiction, murder mystery, biography or art-related novels or theoretical books. Children's books for my kids are also welcome too. 

20 Top Books I Read in 2020

In March 2020, when Toronto, Canada and much of the world went into lockdown, I binge-watched everything on my Netflix watchlist. I quickly grew tired of tv and wanted to read books about times and places that were similar to our surreal contemporary time during COVID-19. So I read books set during the last worldwide pandemic of influenza that started at the end of WWI in 1918, as well as one about the bubonic plague in the 1600s. 

Some of the other books I read in 2020 were recommended to me by artist friends or were book club picks from the two reading groups I joined in summer 2020. So several of the books on my must-read list have been artistically approved by artists and professional readers! As you can tell by my book list (shown below), I love reading different types of books and am willing to read almost anything. Below are 20 great books I read in 2020, over 21 books that I want to read in 2021 and a few I've already read. The ranking is in no particular order but I've grouped the books into 4 book categories: fiction, non-fiction, murder mystery, and food (baking/cooking). 

Fiction Book Recommendations

1. Suzanne by Anaïs Barbeau-Lavalette. French-Canadian filmmaker Barabeaua-Lavalette reimagines the of her grandmother, who abandoned her mother at a young age, was a painter, poet and involved with famous events and people. Some characters' stories are heart-wrenching but the book is unforgettable.  

2. Binti by Nnedi Okorador. A sci-fi book recommended by an artist friend for older kids. I enjoyed the short novel and look forward to treading the next in the trilogy. 

3. The Flight Portfolio by Julie Orringer. I'm a sucker for any fictional books that are based on historical events and the real lives of famous artists. This one is set during W.W.II. and includes Marc Chagall, Andre Breton, Max Ernst, Franz Werfel, Marcel DuChamp, and Hannah Arendt. Based on American Varian Fry's efforts to save Jewish artists and artwork during the Holocaust.

4. Akin by Emma Donoghue. A older man in New York city suddenly gets custody of his great-nephew just as he's planning to revisit Europe. 

5. Five Wives by Joan Thomas. A book club recommendation that I would never have read otherwise and am so happy that I did. The book is the reimagined true stories of Christian missionaries in 

6. Big Lies in a Small Town by Diane Chamberlain. Set in North Carolina, where I went to law school, and revolving around different artists. The story goes back and forth between the 1940's during America's public artwork projects and contemporary times. 

7. The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett. I know this book is on many top books lists for 2020, but I really enjoyed it and had to include it here. The book follows the story of two light-skinned black American sisters: one who joins a white community and the other who marries a black man.

8. The Weight of Ink by Rachel Kadish. A fascinating historical novel set both in London in the 1600s during the bubonic plague and in contemporary times. Strong, intelligent women are the main characters.  

Non-Fiction Book Recommendations

9. The Color of Love: A Story of a Mixed Race Jewish Girl by Marra B. Gad. A memoir of a black Jewish woman growing up in Chicago. The first part of the book narrates childhood memories of discrimination, while the second part focuses on the author helping her fascist aunt with Alzheimer’s disease.

10. Ways of Seeking by John Berger. I can't believe that I've studied and created art for so many years without reading this classic art history book. The book is an excellent critique of traditionally accepted standards in Western art history and the art world. Although written in the early 1970s, the art and sociological ideas in this books are still as relevant today in 2021. Even better than the book are the short videos originally aired on the BBC in 1972. The book is based on the TV series, which you can easy find online (YouTube, etc.). 

11. A Thousand Days in Venice by Marlena de Blasi. Just as I'm a sucker for art-related books, I'll also read any books, news, or articles on Italy and especially Venice, where I was a lucky to spend two summers studying art. Chef and food writer writes about her tumultuous romance with a Venetian and her experience of related from St. Louis, Missouri to Venice for love. I also enjoyed her follow-up book A Thousand Days in Tuscany and hope to read more books by de Blasi in this year. 

Book to Read by Toronto Artist Rachael Grad

Murder Mysteries Book Recommendations

12. A Duty to the Dead (Bess Crawford #1) by Charles Todd. A murder mystery set during W.W.I. with a nurser as the main character and amateur detective. I also read a few of the subsequent books in this historical fiction/mystery series written by a mother and son duo. 

13. Maisie Dobbs Series by Jacqueline Winspear. Another murder mystery set during W.W.I. with a nurse as the main character, but this main character (Maisie Dobbs) is a trained professional detective and psychologist. In 2020 I read the entire Maisie Dobbs series (16 books), which follow the same characters beyond W.W.I. and the influenza pandemic.  

14. Still Life (Chief Inspector Armand Gamache #1) by Louise Penny. A murder mystery set in a small town in Quebec, near the U.S. border, that revolves around the murder of a local painter who has several artist friends. I also read the second book in the series Dead Cold / A Fatal Grace

15. Troubled Blood by Robert Galbraith (a.k.a. J.K. Rowling). This is the fifth book in the contemporary murder mystery series by JK Rowling and by far my favorite. I recommend starting with #1 in the series because I personally love starting book series at the beginning. The character development is better if you read the books in order. 

16. Inspector Lynley Series by Elizabeth George. As you may have noticed, I like reading books in series and I’ve been reading this contemporary murder mystery series for years. The Lynley Series takes place in modern day London and around the U.K. and follows the stories of Scotland Yard inspectors who make an odd pair. 

Baking and Cooking Book Recommendations

I've gotten really into baking and cooking for over 3 years during my last pregnancy. The urge to bake and cook hasn't gone away since then and I continue to try new recipes on a weekly basis. I find baking, dessert decorating and cooking to be just as creative as painting and drawing! That's probably why I savored Marlena de Blasi's memoirs (listed above) the also include some Italian recipes. Here are some of my favorite baking and cooking books:

17. Rose’s Baking Basics: 100 Essential Recipes, with More Than 600 Step-by-Step Photos by Rose Levy Beranbaum. My sister recommended by my sister, this beautiful book explains every step of common baking recipes with helpful explanations and lovely photographs. As baking often requires precise measurements and directions, I really appreciate the step-by-step explanations with visuals in Rose's Baking Basics

18. Bread Toast Crumbs: Recipes for No-Knead Loaves & Meals to Savor Every Slice: A Cookbook by Alexandra Stafford. Based on her mother's peasant bread recipe, Stafford adds flavors and variations to give lots of delicious no-knead bread recipe options. My favorites include the coconut bread, pumpkin harvest loaf, monkey bread, maple oat bread and more.  

19. Jerusalem by Sami Tamimi and Yotam Ottolenghi. Gorgeous photographs and fascinating history of Palestinian and Israeli cuisine. The recipes are delicious though some are very involved and I often have a difficult time finding some ingredients in Toronto.

20. Smitten Kitchen Every Day by Deb Perelman. Great recipes from a wonderful food writer. I love trying recipes from Perelman's blog and various cooking books. Her chocolate olive oil cake, babka, Martha's mac n' cheese, and many more recipes are family favorites in my house. 

21 Books to Read in 2021 by Toronto Artist Rachael Grad
And here are some books on my bookshelf that I can’t wait to read this year (in no particular order)...

21 Books I Want to Read in 2021

  1. Boom: Mad Money, Mega Dealers, and the Rise of Contemporary Art by Michael Shnayerson.
  2. American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins.
  3. Family Papers: A Sephardic Journey Through the Twentieth Century by Sarah Abrevaya Stein.
  4. Intimidations by Zadie Smith.
  5. Say Nothing: A True Story of Murder and Memory in Northern Ireland by Patrick Radden Keefe. 
  6. The Choice: Embrace the Possible by Edith Eger. 
  7. A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles. 
  8. Educated by Tara Westover. 
  9. The Best Place on Earth by Ayelet Tsabari.
  10. The Ickabog by J.K. Rowling.
  11. Late Breaking by K.D. Miller.
  12. Ottolenghi: Flavor by Ixta Belfrage, Tara Wigley, and Yotam Ottolenghi.
  13. The Lying Life of Adults by Elena Ferrante.
  14. The Lions of Fifth Avenue by Fiona Davis.
  15. Home (Binti #2) by Nnedi Okorafor. 
  16. The Pull of the Stars by Emma Donoghue.
  17. The Henna Artist by Alka Joshi. 
  18. Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia. 
  19. The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid.
  20. The Splendid and the Vile by Erik Larson.
  21. Flour Water Salt Yeast; The Fundamentals of Artisan Bread and Pizza by Ken Forkish. 
Did you read any great books last year? Any books you recommend or want to read this year? I'm always looking for amazing book recommendations so please let me know! 
Want more book suggestions and reading tips?

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Happy Reading...
Books to Read by Toronto Artist Rachael Grad