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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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No. of Recommendations: 1
Here are the books that I rated as great or best of the year so far.

The Galaxy and the Ground Within by Becky Chambers is the final book in the Wayfarers series. I am going to miss reading more about the characters and civilizations in this series.

A Psalm for the Wild-Built also by Becky Chambers is the first book in what promises to be a fascinating look at humans and technology.

Perestroika in Paris by Jane Smiley is a book you want to read if a horse, a dog, a rat, a crow, and assorted humans work together intentionally and accidentally to solve a problem and make their lives better along the way. It is a beautiful story.

I scored big this year with three books by P. Djèlí Clark.
Ring Shout is a fantasy alternate history centered around the 1915 movie The Birth of a Nation and the rise of the KKK.
The Black God's Drums is a story of a steampunk New Orleans where magic of all kinds is real.
A Dead Djinn in Cairo is the story of Special Investigator Fatma el-Sha’arawi case to routinely investigate a suicide that turns out not to be either routine or a suicide.

These next four are categorized as YA but I think they would appeal to readers who do not usually read those books. Two of these books, Elatsoe and Firekeeper's Daughter are by Native American authors as are most of the characters in the books.
Elatsoe by Darcy Little Badger is about the magical world that exists along side our normal world. Elatsoe can raise the ghosts of dead animals. This is a Hugo nominee this year in YA SFF. If I voted, it would be my #1 choice.

The Ruthless Lady's Guide to Wizardry by C.M. Waggoner is set in the same magical world as her book Unnatural Magic. You don't have to have read the first book to understand this one. It is not a sequel. If scams and unlikely pairings appeal to you, then this may be one to add to your reading list.

You'd Be Home Now by Kathleen Glassgow is the story of a family being torn apart by drug addiction and more.

Firekeeper's Daughter by Angeline Boulley is another book with drugs at its core. This time prejudice, drugs, and rape are not just tearing a family apart, they are destroying a community.

And I have to get in some MG books too.
The Moorchild by Eloise Jarvis McGraw was published in 1996 but reads like it was written much earlier. Moql is a halfling who sets out on a quest to return a human child to its family. To do this she must visit the fae who rejected her.

I like a lot of books by Mercedes Lackey. I usually rate them as good or very good and mark a few for rereading. This year I read two that were some of the best books I've read this year. They are both repurposing of fairy tales.
Briarheart is her reworking of Sleeping Beauty. The story is not about the princess or her handsome prince but is about the princess' sister who must protect her.
Phoenix and Ashes is book 3 of Lackey's Elemental Masters series. The books are only related in setting and the theme of elemental magic; they can be read in any order. This one loosely uses Cinderella but sets it in London during WW1. Women's sufferage, shell shock, and workers' rights are all themes that she uses in this story. I've probably read 20-30 of her books and this is my favorite.

Ms. Bixby's Last Day by John David Anderson is a book that if I was still teaching I would read it book every year before starting the school year. It goes straight to the heart of teaching.
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Oops cutting and pasting error. Phoenix and Ashes should not be in the MG or even the YA sections. It should be up in the top general fiction section of my post.
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