2021. Another unprecedented (yes, I’ve overused this word, too) year. But life goes on, and reading is a big part of mine. With more stutters than starts this year, nevertheless, here’s the list.
As usual, I read a variety of books, found, bought, and e-read from a variety of sources.
- First up, a popular one in paperback that I found left in our condo common room, “Gone Girl” by Gillian Flynn. Not something I would normally read or buy, being a contemporary fiction. (I prefer my fiction in a non-contemporary time setting: past, future, or alternate.)
- The Gamble by Bill Arnott. Cute, different. Another contemporary cop/robber type. Short, novella; I like that – I used to read a lot of short stories and this one reminded me why. Fun, with a satisfying ending. (Why do some novels insist on just ending…?)
Still in January. Started the year reading lots, it seems.
- “Sub-Human” by David Simpson. Sci-fi, ok, cool ideas. But. I like action as much as anyone, but come on, this reader needs some rest and reflection time, too. This was too much. Even as a movie, it would be too much. Won’t bother with the rest of the series.
- “Supertide” by Steven F. Freeman. Fun, easy reading, disaster stuff. This one would be a movie I’d watch – lots of different characters with their points of view on the calamity.
- “Through Black Spruce” by Joseph Boyden. Different settings were fascinating to follow the Indigenous characters from Moosonee, Ontario to Toronto, Montreal, New York city and back again. Enjoyable and well-written. Recommended.
March – April
- “The Revolution of Marina M.” Best one of the year – bought the follow-up second one too at full price (which says something) to read right away, “Chimes of a Lost Cathedral”, both by Janet Fitch. Now this is a reader’s writer. Fantastic story – of the Russian revolution through the experiences of an upper-class girl from St. Petersburg. Well-researched, fresh perspective, growth and change, deeply emotional, action, true history. Got it all. Super-satisfying. Highly recommended. Now the problem is where to go from here?
- I can only trust a reputable author next. Joyce Carol Oates, a sci-fi. “The Hazards of Time Travel”. Well. This was great: refreshing, dark, yet with hopeful glimmers in a dystopian future. Tight writing, so different from the previous month’s luscious style. This is the joy of reading, to continually be surprised and entertained with such variety and skill of writers and their stories. So thought-provoking, I think my brain needs a rest.
- No rest with Kim Stanley Robinson! I refused to go back to unknown (to me) writers yet. “Ministry for the Future” was not a rest from any provoking thoughts! KSR is one of those authors whose writing has influenced my life ever since his colourful Mars trilogy. But what a masterpiece of writing; the author has outdone himself in this book. Half novel, half essay, half creative, half creative non-fiction, with plenty of halves left over. There is a chapter told from the perspective of a water molecule. What more can I say?
- “The Burning Stone” by Jack Whyte. This was a sentimental read because the author, almost all of whose previous books I’ve read over the years, passed away in 2021 and this was his last. I won’t say anything bad other than it’s of the old-fashioned writing style that I’ve moved away from in recent years: long, wordy, lots of “this then that then this” – somewhat tedious. Although I always love a Roman Britain historical read. Rest in peace, Jack, and thank you for the pleasure your work has given.
This was a rare time in my life. I didn’t have the time, motivation, nor the mental capacity available to read this month. Unprecedented, again, still.
- Life goes on. Please, back to KSR with “Red Moon”. I wonder if I should have read this one before MFTF (see June above), as in the author’s order of release. It reminded me of the style of the novel part of MFTF, and it was just what I needed: a good near-future sci-fi story about China and its moon colony. The ending? I’m a fan of great endings – and this odd one caught me off-guard, which I loved.
- I’m ready for a new author. Dennis Bock, “The Good German”. Now, I must say, I’d seen this book promoted around, but I never bothered to investigate nor read any review about it. Once I pick a book to read, I rarely even read the back cover blurb. I don’t want any spoilers, you see, none at all. So if you’re like me, don’t read any more of what I have to say, just go get and read this book. But if you’re still curious, then wow. This is sci-fi, alternate universe stuff! I was so surprised when I figured it out! Unexpectantly great. A depressing society is portrayed throughout most of the book, but hey, that’s real life sometimes, too, right? An imaginative rendering, and I liked that it was so Canadian, as in, I recognized the settings. Hmm… I liked the setting of a Chinese moon, too, though. I guess I just like good books, in varied settings!
- “The Oppenheimer Alternative” by Robert J. Sawyer. This is an author I tried earlier in his writing career, and although I liked the ideas of his sci-fi, I wasn’t impressed back then with the simplistic telling of the writing style. Back then. This book is light years better. What a story, what writing. If not for the word ‘alternate’ right in the title, I would have thought most of this book an accurate historical fiction novel, not the incredible sci-fi that it seamlessly becomes. I won’t spoil anything. It’s a fascinating read.
- Sharon Kay Penman, “The Land Beyond the Sea”. Like with Jack Whyte, I’ve read most everything this author ever wrote, especially in my youth when I was voracious for historical royal stories. You know, Eleanor of Aquitaine stuff and everything before and after. Alas, another wonderful writer gone in 2021 but her stories never to be forgotten. This book should have the “old-fashioned writing” stamp I seem fond of noticing, but it doesn’t. It’s wonderful. So juicy and long and yet, like the author, over too soon.
- “V2” by Robert Harris. A favourite author, maybe the best writer ever. I haven’t read everything he wrote (yet) but can’t resist his new releases, and I’ve loved them all so far. A magician of an author, who transports us to his world with a minimal number of characters and settings, as in this one about the Nazi Germany V2 “vengeance” rockets of the end of WW2 against London. I feel like I lived those 6 days in which the book takes place. Or at least could see the movie clearly in my head. Hard to put down.
- “Earth” by J.Robert Sawyer. This is a collection of (older) short stories. I used to be a bigger fan of short stories, but never really of collections by the same author. So I only read a couple, then got bored of the repetitive style. Moving on.
- “Deep River” by Karl Marlantes. This is one to sink into. Like the Marina books by Fitch, this is juicy, rich, historical fiction around the turn of the century (20th, not 21st) and the uprisings of the working class. This time, Finnish immigrants in Oregon. A completely new setting and story for me, written so well that I dreamed about the characters thinking they were real and known to me. So good that I immediately bought his earlier book “Matterhorn” – see more later.
- “Stonehenge” by Bernard Cornwell. Older book but well-known author, fabulous setting (prehistoric Britain) – what could go wrong? I didn’t finish it, so that should tell you. Too childish – is this what YA means? Adolescent protagonist who wants to become the hero to save the tribe and get the girl. Not for me, anymore, anyway.
- So, try another well-known author, but newer, recent setting. “The Boy From the Woods” by Harlen Coben. This was a nice, satisfying page-turner, contemporary. Like watching the movie in my head while I read. Pretty good, and just what I needed with the twists and interesting story.
Wow, a busy reading November! That’s because November is my least favourite month of the year. But almost December; I’ll be busier, but the reading bug has bit me hard lately.
- “The Cuban Affair” by Nelson Demille. Another popular-type book, also contemporary, about an Afghanistan veteran finding his way as a fishing boat captain in the Florida Keys who gets involved with, well, an affair in Cuba. My theme this year is new, different settings, and this fit the bill. Although I’m Canadian, I’ve never been to the popular Air Canada southern destination of Cuba. After reading this book, and learning more about the darker side of the island, I doubt I ever will! A great read, and I must comment on the fantastic dialogue which tells a lot of the story throughout. It is some of the best I’ve ever read.
- “Matterhorn” by Karl Marlantes. Like his other book I read this year, this one is a meaty tome, set in 1960s Vietnam, yes, with an American marine unit in the bush. I’ve seen lots of Vietnam war movies, but curiously, this is the first fiction novel I’ve come across. So glad I did. A great read to end a great reading year.
Bring on 2022! Want to try my Books? Let me know what you think of them!