Books I enjoyed most this year

Books!

The Best of those I’ve Read Between December 2020 and Nov. 15 2021

Listed in no particular order – Out of 81 total books read/listened to over the past year-or-so

The Mirror and The Light – by Hilary Mantel – the third in the Wolf Hall/Thomas Cromwell trilogy is a wonderful literary challenge, immersing you in the drama of the Tudor court, I genuinely did not want this book to end, you will likely want to start at the beginning of the trilogy.

Maddie McDowell and the Radio Robbery by LuAnn M. RodI received an advanced reader’s copy (ARC) of this book in exchange for reviewing, and it was unexpectedly delightful. While not perfect, this was an enjoyable, fast read, taking us to a rodeo in the early 20th century. It reminded me of Enid Blyton’s children’s adventure stories. I expect that I would have become a fan of Maddie McDowell when I was eight or nine, and even as a grown woman I hope that there will be more stories with this heroine and her friends.

Love Stories Inspired by Country Music – by Sonja Heisinger – this anthology of short stories was another book I picked up as an ARC. I don’t consider myself a romance reader, and barely ever listen to country music, but I figured what was the worst that could happen? The book is likely best if read a story at a time over a week or two, so, I of course, binge-read through this anthology over two days and felt a little tired of the since-school-sweethearts and Austin by the time I reached the end. However, I have decided to grant this book space on this list because it overcame my reluctance to engage in romance stories and entertained and involved me in several of its tales – although not every story in the anthology was a real gripper, there were a few that truly did draw me in.

Out of Darkness, Shining Light by Petina Gappah – This book requires patience and is not quite the adventure story it promises to be, given that it is about Dr. Livingston’s final expedition and the people who worked for him, but I found it quite interesting and also sometimes funny.

Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia – I will be 100% honest, I almost stopped reading part way through this heavily promoted book, about to dismiss it is over-hyped and a bit heavy-handed, and there were parts that I found continually disappointing (surely more could have been made of it’s 1950’s Mexico setting?) Still, there’s no question that particularly in the last third, there is excellent pacing and imagination. It became an enjoyable page turner, by the end, taking me on a wild, slightly sick ride through a land of…psychedelic mushroom creature ?!

Light of the Western Stars – by Zane Grey And here be the book most likely to get me in trouble for having it on my “recommended” list. There is blatant racism in this novel. (And misogyny.) There was one passage in particular that reads as so unspeakable today that I laughed out loud in shock when I read it. This western was first published in 1914, and, somewhat unusually, has a heroine as it’s main character. After you get over your shock at some of the content, you mgiht find this book is actually charming in places, and exciting, and there were a few times I laughed or smiled with the text. There are also parts that drag a little, and the writing style is of course, not of our time, so there are digressions that don’t really go anywhere which would probably by a modern editor – and its safe to say that the language can be florid. The same florid language that sometimes had me as a reader thinking “come on, get to the point” also gives us some really lovely descriptions.

Dear Durwood by Jeff Bond – Another ARC, this is a little book which was a one-day read for me. Although it is the second book in a series it also stands alone, following a somewhat crochety older guy as he is asked to investigate the goings-on in a small company town in Texas, he is naturally inclined to suspect the bankers, the lawyers, the people who have no calluses on their hands. It proves, however, to be a little more complicated than a case of simple corporate skulduggery. Not ‘literary,’ just having fun!

The Birdwatcher by William Shaw Apparently a prequel, this crime novel is ‘quiet’ in the best way, with a lovely melancholy setting and a suspect narrator, a bird watching police officer who may have killed someone as a child, being dragged into a procedural when his neighbour is killed. I was surprised to realize that the main character in this prequel is not the main character in the rest of the series, which seems too bad.

Special Mentions to:

We Have Been Harmonized: Life in China’s Surveillance State by Kai Strittmatter

The only non-fiction book I’m recommending this year – this may be written from a biased point of view, but what it tells us should scare us – at least it does me – because it’s so easy to see how increased surveillance will/is having its impact here, too.

Paper Blossoms: A Book of Beautiful Bouquets for the Table by Ray Marshall

I’ve become a bit interested in pop-up books, and now have this book, which gives you five pop-up flower displays, which you can hold open to display. Not particularly expensive for a pop-up book, I have it open on my living room table now.

(Audiobook) Better than Homemade: Amazing Food That Changed the Way We Eat by Carolyn Wyman, narrated by Nancy Wu

Fun and educational, a short book talking about the “amazing-ness” of processed food. A line that stuck with me, although I can’t remember exactly how it goes, talking about how the cool kids are down on processed food these days, says something like “if we were expected to retreat from convenience and innovation in other areas like we have with food, we’d all be doing laundry by hand and travelling by horse cart.” And makes the important point that processed food proved/s primarily a help to working women. To be listened to in short bursts as much of it is small chapters on a particular product. I still cook from scratch, and mostly enjoy it, in fact, I’ve started work on a cookbook this fall, but since listening to this book, I’ve been picking up a bit more packaged food to help me out when I’m tired of cooking, and instead of feeling like I’m doing something shameful, I’m telling myself I’m being smart and taking advantage of innovation.

Book that I thought at the time wasn’t really all that good but had some interesting ideas in it and I keep thinking about them again – Galveston ’44 by Bruce Peterson

A crime thriller set… well, in Galveston in 1944. Some of the ideas of this story have informed the nugget of a story I’ve half-started.

Book that I noted I enjoyed quite a lot but I read it so early in the book year that I can’t remember anything about it right now – Tiger in the Smoke by Margery Allingham – it says here in the GoodReads summary it’s a detective or mystery story. Oh, I think I might remember a few things about it now, yeah… yeah, it was good…

I thought these books were good too: Hamnet and Judith by Maggie O’Farrell, Canaryville by Charlie Newton and House of Correction by Nicci French

What were your favourite reads of the year? Do you have a reading plan all ready for next year? Any books on your “most enjoyed reads” list that you’re a bit embarrassed by?

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