It appears my last blog post was my Reading Roundup 2020. Does this mean I’m back and committing to a reliable blogging schedule? Hahahaha no. Like everyone, last year was a lot of hits without much recovery time in between. I’d like to think 2021 will be better—that I’ll be organized, focused, resilient, active, and all that jazz. I’d really, really like to think that. Time will tell.
Whatever happens, at least there will be books providing escapes into new and different worlds. If you want to see what I’m reading and my star ratings of previous reads, you can follow me on Goodreads. Or read on for my favourite picks of 2021. (Not all of these came out in 2021; this is just what I read and loved this year.)
THE INVISIBLE LIFE OF ADDIE LARUE (V.E. Schwab). This was a devastatingly good book, the kind I could never write in a million years. A fantastical tale about a woman who longs to be free, so she makes a deal with the gods who answer after dark. Of course, the deal goes wrong, and Addie winds up essential invisible and forgotten, unable to leave any trace on the world. Until one day, someone remembers her—and horrors and wonders follow.
THE HELM OF MIDNIGHT (Marina J. Lostetter). I’ve been getting back into fantasy after some time away. This book was rich, deep, complicated, dense, and utterly engrossing. It isn’t a light beach read, but I loved the world building and the strong characters. In a world of enchanted objects, a mask containing the spirit of a Jack-the-Ripper-style serial killer is stolen, and now the bodies are starting to appear.
THE SEVEN DEATHS OF EVELYN HARDCASTLE (Stuart Turton). SEVEN DEATHS (published as 7 1/2 Deaths in the States) starts out as an interesting but familiar plot and then goes wildly off the rails in the best way. A guest at an English country house party is trying to stop a murder, but every time he goes to sleep he switches bodies, Quantum-Leap-style. He has to learn the strengths and weaknesses of each body to continue his investigations, hoping that if he prevents the murder, this strange merry-go-round of body swapping will stop.
THE ONLY GOOD INDIANS (Stephen Graham Jones). This is a straight up gory horror novel, so be warned, but Jones’ portrayal of four Blackfeet men hunted by the restless spirit of an elk kept me obsessively flipping pages. Jones has a stong writing style that almost drags you along. At one point I was so mad at the book I almost stopped reading, but I’m glad I didn’t. The ending made the hard bits worth it.
THE LOST MAN (Jane Harper). I love Jane Harper’s thrillers. They blend contemporary fiction and high-tension thrills in an immersive setting (Australia). This one draws a fascinating picture of a complicated family dealing with the mysterious death of the eldest son, whose body is found alone in the middle of the desert.
THIS IS HOW YOU LOSE THE TIME WAR (Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone). I *could* tell you this book (novella) is about a time-traveling lesbian robot assassin and it would be true, but it’s also about much more. Rival hunters Blue and Red taunt each other in a series of letters, but as they write to each other, they begin to learn about each other and question the entire foundation of their conflict.
A MEMORY CALLED EMPIRE and A DESOLATION CALLED PEACE (Arkady Martine). Wow, these are good books. The densely detailed space empire setting is brought to life via the vibrant hero, young ambassador Mahit Dzmare. The first book has Mahit taking her position as ambassador to the massive Teixcalaan empire after the previous ambassador dies under mysterious circumstances. Mahit thinks it was murder, and so does the dead ambassador (who lives, in a sense, in Mahit’s head, his memories and personality transfered via future tech).
STATION ELEVEN (Emily St. John Mandel). My top pick of the year goest to the 2014 publication STATION ELEVEN. Why did I wait so long to read it? Because everyone told me it was so good, and I was jealous. Well, I finally broke down and read it, and it was so good.
The back copy makes it sound like a sci fi book about a pandemic (another reason I put off reading it), and it is, but it’s so much more than that. It was written pre-covid, which gives it a glossy unreality. St. John Mandel could never have imagined what our actual pandemic reality is. If I’d read this book when it came out, it would have seemed terrifyingly possible, and now it reads like a fanciful dramatization. But the pandemic is hardly necessary in the book. Substitute any fast-moving disaster and you’re left with an incredibly vivid and unforgettable cast of characters.
Kirsten travels around Lake Michigan with her crew of actors and musicians, remembering her past as an eight-year-old child in a production of KING LEAR in Toronto the week the pandemic struck. As the book moves back and forth in time and between characters, we understand the delicate web of action, coincidence, intent, and life that connects all humanity. I absolutely loved this book. It’s reputation is well deserved.
My reading challenge last year was 40 books, and I beat it by 1. This year I’m setting a goal for 42 books. Maybe that will bring us life, the universe, and everything.