Top 10 Reads, 2021
If ever a year existed when a dive into fiction was far preferable to reality, 2021 was it. (Although 2020 nipped hard at its heels, and who knows WHAT will be "Behind Door #1" in 2022. *shudder*)
I smashed my reading goal this past year - I'd hoped to read 52 books as of today, the 31st of December, and instead clocked in with 64 (Hurrah!) a feat due mostly to a long commute to work combined with a new (to me) delight: audiobooks, a previous-to-now untapped venue, and one I've asked, many times over the last 12 months "Where have you been all my life?!"
There is, after all, something tremendously satisfying about having someone read you a compelling story.
The following list is a mash-up of novels I both read and listened to, in descending order, #10--> #1. Here we go:
#10 The Southern Book Club's Guide To Slaying Vampires by Grady Hendrix
Talk about an outlier! I do not like spoofs (I am the rare bird who hated the movie Airplane back in the day, and I really loathed the horror/spoof People Under The Stairs back in the '90s). Nonetheless, I really liked this story (note: 'liked', not 'loved') and I was surprised that it beat out the title that had been sitting at #10 for several months on my list - The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett. Yet in the end Southern Book Club had something The Vanishing Half did not, and that was relationships. It was the friendship and bond these women (who were each incredibly flawed and incredibly real - as in, I have met these women. I've been at least one of these women) shared that planted this title solidly on my Top Ten list.
So...is this title campy? Yes. Unnecessarily gory? Yeah, in a couple spots. The rats were totally unneeded. Is it silly? It truly is, but...these women. I liked 'em. And the fate of one in particular really kicked me in the feels.
I listened to this on Audible over the month of October and while I was preparing loot bags for Halloween. I'm glad I did.
#9 The Last Thing He Told Me by Laura Dave
Propulsive. The mystery here really grabbed me and so did the cast - another ensemble of imperfect characters whose authenticity made me care about them and root for them. The ending might not have been the one I wanted, but it was still the best possible conclusion for this excellent suspense novel that was an impulse buy for me after seeing it on one of the Book Lovers groups I frequent on Facebook.
#8 Where The Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens
Yeah, yeah. You're saying "Where've ya been, Bonnie? This novel was so 2019."
Well, that doesn't change that I read it in 2021 now, does it? (If it helps, it was in the beginning of 2021).
This story embraced two of my favourite themes in both real life and fiction: resiliency and restitution. Kya's solitude sang like the lone call of a loon, and from the moment her Mama puts her party shoes on in that fateful first paragraph I was invested not just in Kya's story, but in her heart.
If you've wondered what all the hype was about over Crawdads, wonder no more.
#7 The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah
There are lines and scenes that haunt me, even months later:
Bug out bags, packed in the middle of the night.
Ernt's ever-escalating spiral into madness, envy, and madness. I've spent years in the counselling field, and Hannah captured this domestic horror with unerring accuracy.
The line that brought me to my knees - Cora, to Leni: "You were the great love of my life." I wept because I have daughters. I could relate.
The beauty, treachery, and granduer of Alaska was vividly crafted here. Don't pass this book by.
*6 The Four Winds by Kristin Hannah
Please don't be under the illusion for a warm, fuzzy ending, and be aware going in that sorrow never takes a coffee break for the duration of this book, but...thus was life in the Great Dustbowl Depression.
No one does pathos quite like Hannah. She is a rock star.
The misery, the lack, the desperation...my generation, and certainly the generations below me, have no clue how horrific life can truly be. This novel was brutal in its ruthless accuracy. My only complaint was the bit of rah-rah Communism. "From each according to his ability to each according to his need." Uh...yeah. About that. Communism might sound like ducks and sunshine in theory, but in real life it's never been anything other than a blood-socked shit show.
So: Four Winds? Recommended. Communism? Not recommended.
#5 The Tea Rose by Jennifer Donnelly
Set in 1888 East-End London, this vivid historical is the chronicle of self-made business mogul Fiona Finnegan and all the people in her life: her precious brother, her One Great Love, and her best friend (and, arguably, soul-mate, Nicholas).
Ach, Nicholas. You about ripped my heart out when you parted ways from this tale.
Clocking in at a whopping 28 hours (!!) this Audible tale made me feel like I was married to the characters! I loved its vividness and its melodrama, and I am tickled pink that there is not just one sequel, but TWO (also 20+ hrs in the telling. GULP!)
#4 The Guernsey Literary & Potato Peel Pie Society by Shaffer & Barrows
Charming. Delightful. And Dawsey.
HOW COULD ANY WOMAN NOT FALL IN LOVE WITH DAWSEY?!
Yet another historical in what appears to be a theme of historical this year, TGL&PPPS was an epistolary novel (which I LOVE), a journey into the English Channel Islands and their German Occupation during the war, and a love story that will paste little wings onto your feet and lift you straight into the sky.
If you've only seen the Netflix adaptation, you are being cheated (even thought it's good). Pick up the book or do as I did and listen to it on Audible. Each letter is read by its own voice actor. It's marvellous.
#3 The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah
Hannah obviously attained a fan in 2021 (as if she needed another - but no wonder she has so many).
France in World War II under occupation. This novel is a study of sorrow...and courage. And of love discovered in the most unlikely places for the most unlikely reasons. I could not stop listening to this story, and Daniel.
I thought my heart would snap in half.
Yet he never forgot her....
Again, like Crawdads, if you've wondered why the hype, trust me. The hype is deserved. Add this title to your reading list if you haven't read it already.
#2 Daisy Jones & The Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid
As a writer, I am not too proud to confess: I am HELLA JEALOUS of Taylor Jenkins Reid.
There. I said it. And admitting envy dilutes its wickedness, right? RIGHT!?!
In any event, everything about this Audible book was outstanding; the voice actors with their perfect inflections and interpretations of the dialogue, the concept, the story....
All of it.
And? Is it Fleetwood Mac? No - but it's obviously heavily inspired by FM, and you will see the ghosts of the Buckingham / Nicks era of FM dancing atop your interpretations of Billy and Daisy, Karen-Karen, and the rest.
Bonus points for the use of the sinister old Chateau Marmont. If these walls could talk what sorts of dark tales and eerie secrets could they tell?
Maybe I need to write a story set in the Chateau Marmont....
#1 Dracul by Dacre Stoker & JD Barker
What if Dracula was based on Bram Stoker's real-life experiences with a vampire? Based on Stoker's life and the mysterious journals he left behind (and the cryptic clues indicative that perhaps there was more than met the eye when he crafted Dracula) this novel was the perfect Halloween read - and propelled me to re-read Dracula with fresh eyes in November.
What if, indeed.
And that's a wrap! Have you read any of these titles? Want to read any of these titles?
I have a goal of 75 books for 2022, and have already started: A Good Girl's Guide To Murder by Holly Jackson will be my first read of the year.
Here's to great stories, and even GREATER writing in 2022!