Friday, December 31, 2021

Favorite Reads of 2021 - A Baker's Dozen


The Proper Place by O. Douglas (1926): After Sir Walter dies, his family is forced to sell the family estate and move to a modest home in Fife.  Nicole adapts to her new life with maturity and grace while her cousin Barbara is unwilling to accept their change in circumstances.  This was my first five-star book of the year!   My review.
The Book of Two Ways by Jodi Picoult (2020) ( audio): When Dawn, a former Egyptologist, is in a plane crash, she thinks about her lost love from Yale instead of her husband, which causes her to reevaluate all her life's choices. Lately, I have found Picoult’s books hit or miss but this, despite an annoying heroine, was a fascinating blend of anthropology and emotions.  The Egyptology reminded me of fifth grade and a great social studies teacher.  The story is told in flashbacks and audio made that confusing so I recommend reading the physical book.
Other People’s Children by Joanna Trollope (1998) (audio): The ripple effects of Josie’s and Tom’s divorce on their family, Josie’s new husband Matthew’s children, Matthew’s ex, and Tom’s new girlfriend are deftly handled. The assorted offspring are mostly dreadful but very convincing. I thought about recommending this to friends who had tough adjustments to becoming stepmothers, then decided it would just bring back the early dreadful years. Trollope is another whose books can be great or disappointing but this was both interesting and unpredictable.  I often say the test of a great audiobook is whether you are so engrossed you don't want to get out of the car!


State of Terror by Hillary Rodham Clinton and Louise Penny (2021) (audio): Hillary is a fan of Penny’s detective Armand Gamache and they became friendly after the 2016 election. This thriller is about a Secretary of State much like Hillary and the world crisis she has to deal with in her first weeks on the job.  Here is an interview with Hillary and Louise that is very entertaining! Interesting to read my former colleague Jen Enderlin was the editor - well, she is one of the very best!  I have never met anyone so good at getting a room of sales and marketing people excited about an acquisition.

The Night Fire by Michael Connelly (2019) (audio): When Harry Bosch, retired but obviously still detecting, is given a 20-year-old LAPD murder book, he takes it to his new ally, Renée Ballard, and asks for her help. Unexpectedly, there is a link to the death of a homeless man that she is doggedly investigating. My sister and I like this new character, Renée, who is a tough cookie, ostracized by her peers for complaining about sexual harassment, but determined to succeed despite her exile to the night shift.
All the Devils Are Here by Louise Penny (2020): In the 16th series entry, Chief Inspector Armand Gamache has temporarily left Quebec for Paris to visit his children, and finds himself investigating a hit-and-run attack on his godfather and suspicious financial activity that may implicate his son. It was lovely to read this as I was on my way to Paris in September (I am saving the most recent book for New Year’s Day). I just read that Louise Penny has Covid, which is very sad. I wish her a speedy recovery.

Madam, Will You Talk by Mary Stewart (1955): Charity Selbourne is a young widow on vacation in Avignon with a friend when she is catapulted into a mystery. I reread this in preparation for my trip to Provence, which added greatly to our enjoyment. Click here for my impressions.

Historical Fiction

A Single Thread by Tracy Chevalier (2019): 38-year-old Violet Speedwell musters her wits after her fiancé and beloved brother die in WWI by moving to a Cathedral town and making new acquaintances. My review.
Secret River by Kate Grenville (2005) (audio): An enthralling and gritty historical novel about an early 19th-century Englishman transported to Australia for theft and how he and his family cope with their new world. My review.

A Place to Hang the Moon by Kate Albus (2021): Evacuated from London to live in the countryside during WWII, three orphaned siblings search for a permanent home. Thanks to Emily for recommending this book! She knows how much I love evacuation stories. It is much simpler than The War That Saved My Life and meant for younger readers, perhaps, but is very charming. My review.

Shadow Spinner by Susan Fletcher (1998) audio: This is a wonderful retelling of the Shahrazad story, told from the perspective of an orphan who aspires to be a storyteller herself. Thanks to LexLingua for the recommendation. My review.

Candy Nevill by Clare Mallory (2012): Candy is the youngest of four, all of whom are brilliant academically or athletically, while her skill lies in cooking which her family disdains (her father is really a jerk). It takes her a while but she eventually triumphs in this delightful family story published long after Mallory’s death by Margin Notes Books (which also brought Masha back into print (for a bit)).  Maybe I elevated this from a 4 to a 5 because I was so pleased to have a new Clare Mallory to read!  Also, it was refreshing to have a heroine who is not the most brilliant student or games captain.
Anthem by Deborah Wiles (2019): Molly and Norman, teenage cousins, set out on a cross-country trip in search of Barry, whose draft card has come. Norman, an aspiring drummer, insists he salvage some of his summer by experiencing all the rock & roll music he can find on the way. A great snapshot of 1969 and coming of age story! My review.

Authors I read for the first time and went back for more

Kelley Armstrong: The Minotaur newsletter mentioned her new book was coming out and I was intrigued enough to get the first one, City of the Lost, about homicide detective Casey Duncan who accompanies her friend to live in an isolated Canadian town where people can disappear. I read the first four, then decided I needed to take a break.

Katherine Center: I really enjoyed Things You Save in a Fire (my review), set in Massachusetts and recently finished Happiness for Beginners. I guess one would describe them as women’s fiction with some romance.

Dervla McTiernan: Both Nancy Pearl and my friend Marianne recommended these mysteries set in Ireland and I really enjoyed the first two. I am waiting for my excruciatingly slow library to get the third. 
Constance Savery: I read five books by Savery this year and especially enjoyed Enemy Brothers.

Worst Book of the Year

A Stranger in the Mirror by Sidney Sheldon.  My review.
Thanks to Bettina for reminding me of this category. However, if the author had been alive, I probably would not have posted it. Why ruin someone’s day if he or she came across it? Sidney, on the other hand, would probably have laughed his way to the bank.

Best Rereads

In addition to Madam, Will You Talk by Mary Stewart, I reread several books by D.E. Stevenson (thank you, Furrowed Middlebrow) and Elizabeth Cadell.  I check them out of the area libraries so the books won't be discarded but am also delighted that both authors are newly available in paperback so I have been adding to my collection as well.  I also reread several mysteries by Patricia Wentworth and a few books by Essie Summers, which are definitely comfort reads.


It is extremely unusual for so many of my favorite reads of the year to have been audiobooks! When my organization stopped working remotely in June, I started driving to work instead of taking the bus-subway-bus so have listened to a lot more books than in previous years. Perhaps I chose audiobooks I expected to enjoy? One was narrated by award-winning Simon Vance - does the narrator influence one's opinion of the book?  If you are an audiobook fan, were there any that made a strong impression this year?


Cath said...

That was an enjoyable read and several I want to look up, in particular A Single Thread by Tracy Chevalier and the Jodi Picoult. Currently reading Northern Lights by Nora Roberts, an author I don't usually have a lot of luck with, but this time she's really surprising me!

Happy New year, Constance, and hope to see you in June.

Claire (The Captive Reader) said...

Your mention of Essie Summers earlier this year has sent me down a long and enjoyable rabbit hole as I track down her books. The formulaic plots and descriptions of beautiful New Zealand scenery have struck just the right note for me and they've been perfect comfort reads. Thank you!

Lex @ Lexlingua said...

I read the Rockton series too (based on your recommendation actually) and had to take a breather after the first 2 books. That series really pulls no punches, but so well written. I also read a book by O. Douglas called Penny Plain -- it had a bit of Anne of Green Gables vibe so I liked it overall. D.E. Stevenson -- now that's an author I'd like to read. ~Lex

TracyK said...

That is a nice list. There are several here I would like to read, especially State of Terror and Madam, Will You Talk by Mary Stewart.

I got my copy of Countdown by Deborah Wiles recently, and I am very excited about. I will be reading it in early 2022.

Bettina said...

I agree, Sidney would have laughed and moved on. I wouldn’t like to ruin anyone's day either, but some authors are very touchy about even the mildest comments. I was chatting on Twitter with a friend who said she’d finished a book I was struggling to get into. I asked if it became easier after ch x, as that was where I was at. Nothing negative, but the author found the tweet, quote tweeted it and I ended up with a weird pile on. And that is why I never finished her book!

DVC said...

What a great round-up! You have such interesting and eclectic tastes! Oh how I loved Sidney Sheldon when I was in college. He was the perfect antidote to learning anything.

LyzzyBee said...

You've reminded me that I like O. Douglas a lot and I'm sure I've got an ebook collection buried on the Kindle! I am loving the D.E. Stevensons that are getting republished - in fact reading one at the moment. Happy New Year and here's to a great reading year in 2022.

Helen said...

That looks like a good year of reading! I love Madam, Will You Talk? and I enjoyed A Single Thread a few years ago too. I haven't read any of the other books you mention, but I would like to read something by Kate Grenville this year.