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No. of Recommendations: 3
So I just noticed that I've read 101 books so far this year. Big deal, right? No, I'm not going to bore everyone with a list but thought maybe I'd write a bit about my favorite reads so far in 2021. I may have written about some of these here previously.

Louise Penny's Fatal Grace: There is something comforting about reading Louise Penny, as comforting as her main character, Chief Inspector Armand Gamache. Her lyrical writing is a pleasure to read, her characters a joy to meet and to get to know. Perhaps she is a bit heavy-handed with her darker characters, CC de Poitiers in this case -- is anyone so despicable? And the slightly broken Agent Yvette Nichol. Small quibbles for a book that offers so much reading pleasure. I finished the entire Gamache series this year and each is a small gem. These novels are not for the crime reader who craves non-stop action or gritty violence... generally, these are quiet contemplative books.

Nikki Giovanni's Love Poems and a Good Cry: This collection of poems by the wonderful Nikki Giovanni celebrates the individuals who helped shape her life... in both happier and sadder moments. She recalls the violence within her family, her health challenges, and her friends -- especially Maya Angelou who enjoyed Chardonnay for breakfast -- most of whom have died. Clever, moving, funny, these poems are a pleasure.

Toni Morrison's The Bluest Eye: Morrison examines how society indoctrinates children with respect to the concepts of beauty and conformity, writing with precise poetic language and pages of completely natural dialogue... but as with most of Morrison's novels, the lessons are difficult to take in, the lives too often unpleasant, and the stories sad and tragic. A wonderful novel by one of contemporary America's finer writers.

C.J. Box's Dark Sky: The past couple of Joe Pickett novels have been just a little disappointing, not the usual high-level of writing and storylines, but with "Dark Sky" Box is firing on all cylinders again. His characters are lifelike and fully dimensional -- with the possible exception of Steve "Steve-2" Price -- his landscapes carefully drawn, his adventure timely and (mostly) believable. Pickett has come a long way over the course of these novels, into a world of widespread social media, ubiquitous technology, and debates over the ways they've changed culture and society. That's not to say these themes dominate the novel -- they do not -- but, instead, add layers to the storyline. As usual, Nate makes an important appearance and Box has set up the next novel to feature him more prominently in their upcoming adventure. All in all, a most satisfying novel.

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's We Should All Be Feminists: A compelling essay that redefines and examines what feminism means in the twenty-first century, suggesting that feminism is an inclusionary experience open to both men and women. Adichie describes her own life experiences having faced discrimination as a woman and as a woman of color. Her writing is clear, her tone even-handed, and her language persuasive.

Maggie O'Farrell's Hamnet: Beautifully written, imaginative, bold, and spectacular -- a stunning exploration of marriage, family, love, loss, grief, redemption, and hopefulness. O'Farrell magically transforms life into art and art into life in a rich tapestry of visual imagery drawn by poetic language so vivid in the sights and sounds cascading down from over 400 years in the past. Matching Shakespeare with a woman who is a worthy partner, a better person, O'Farrell has written a novel that can only be described as a tour de force.

Milan Kundera's Immortality: Reading a Milan Kundera novel is a little like reading an inventive novel while watching a Ted Talk on Mussolini that suddenly shifts to a different Ted Talk on German poetry which then suddenly shifts to a biography of Ernest Hemingway while listening to Italian opera while having sex. Which, come to think of it, doesn't sound too bad.

Martha Wells' Murderbot series: Just read them. Seriously.

Anthony Doerr's Cloud Cuckoo Land: An homage to books and libraries, 'Cloud Cuckoo Land' -- finalist for the 2021 National Book Award, longlisted for the 2022 Andrew Carnegie Medal -- straddles centuries and civilizations, unfurling the stories of a half-dozen people, revealing our interconnectedness and our humanity. Doerr's writing is beautiful and inventive, his message resonant: we save ourselves through literature.

Sally Rooney's Beautiful World Where Are You: There's no disputing that Sally Rooney writes beautifully... there's a lovely lyricism and sharp tonality to her writing. Her characters are always quirky, here oddly mismatched is a way that makes the reader scratch his head and wonder what has brought them into each other's orbits -- Tinder for Alice and Felix, their childhoods for Eileen and Simon -- or what keeps them spinning along together. Social anxiety is the heart the novel, a thumping, skipping, at times terrifyingly pulsating rhythm as the four principle characters navigate their personal, family, social, business, and sexual relationships. The plot is, well, umm, there is no plot other than people talking or emailing one another and just living their lives. The novel is, at turns, a pleasure to read and enormously frustrating. And really, any couples who talk the way these characters talk while having sex -- and there's a lot of the characters having sex and talking while they're having sex -- should be embarrassed for their lack of intimacy and imagination. In the final analysis, if you're a Rooney fan you'll love this novel, her best to date... but if not, you'll wonder why there's all this Rooney-fuss.

Hillary Clinton and Louise Penny's State of Terror: Well, what a terrific surprise. I had low expectations for a tag-team novel but Louise Penny (always a wonderful writer) and Hillary Clinton (a skillful writer, although more comfortable in the world of non-fiction) have written a real page-turner. The plot is mostly realistic, the characters are very well-drawn and the writing is mostly top-notch. Sure, there are a few clunky words and phrases here and there but that's only my own narrow viewpoint and the novel is as strong as what's currently available in the genre. Happily, they tee up a sequel at the conclusion and hopefully they're already at work on a second chapter in the life of Ellen Adams.

Kristin Hannah's The Nightingale: Kristin Hannah has written a novel of broken families grappling with their changing circumstances as World War II invades their quiet home and their lovely village in France in the late nineteen-thirties. As two sisters -- abandoned by their father after their mother dies -- bicker with one another, their lives are overtaken by the savage cruelty and depravation of war. A novel of love, loss, and forgiveness, "The Nightingale" is also a suspenseful page-turner and an historical novel, a reminder of the death and suffering unleashed upon the world by Nazi Germany, their deep and consuming hatred of others, and a sad reflection on the madness of crowds.

We've discussed these in other threads: The Girl Who Drank the Moon; The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet; Ms. Bixby's Last Day; A Psalm for the Wild-Built; When the Stars Go Dark; The Echo Wife; FireKeeper's Daughter; and She Who Became the Sun.

I was disappointed by Gabriel Garcia Marquez's Love in the Time of Cholera; Murakami's books; Lisa Jewell's The Family Upstairs; and Eliza Jane Brazier's If I Disappear.

Happy reading.
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