Hamnet

Boy, am I behind the 8-ball on this one. Everyone was talking about Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell a while ago and it didn’t spark my interest. Some of this apathy was because I didn’t like her book This Must Be the Place. But, someone left it in my Little Free Library, so I gave it a try. Amazon: “In 1580’s England, during the Black Plague a young Latin tutor falls in love with an extraordinary, eccentric young woman in this “exceptional historical novel” (The New Yorker) and best-selling winner of the Women’s Prize for Fiction. Agnes is a wild creature who walks her family’s land with a falcon on her glove and is known throughout the countryside for her unusual gifts as a healer, understanding plants and potions better than she does people. Once she settles with her husband on Henley Street in Stratford-upon-Avon she becomes a fiercely protective mother and a steadfast, centrifugal force in the life of her young husband, whose career on the London stage is taking off when his beloved young son succumbs to sudden fever.” I really enjoyed it. My one complaint was that Shakespeare’s name was never used in the entire novel. It became kind of annoying. But, otherwise, it was a good read.

The Anomaly

I have read a million reviews of The Anomaly by Hervé Le Tellier and, oddly, when I posted a photo of me reading it in front of the fire on our snowy day, two good friends told me they were also reading it right now. So, it’s making the rounds. Amazon describes: “In their own way, they were all living double lives when they boarded the plane: Blake, a respectable family man who works as a contract killer. Slimboy, a Nigerian pop star who uses his womanizing image to hide that he’s gay. Joanna, a Black American lawyer pressured to play the good old boys’ game to succeed with her Big Pharma client. Victor Miesel, a critically acclaimed yet largely obscure writer suddenly on the precipice of global fame. About to start their descent to JFK, they hit a shockingly violent patch of turbulence, emerging on the other side to a reality both perfectly familiar and utterly strange. As it charts the fallout of this logic-defying event, The Anomaly takes us on a journey from Lagos and Mumbai to the White House and a top-secret hangar. In Hervé Le Tellier’s most ambitious work yet, high literature follows the lead of a bingeable Netflix series, drawing on the best of genre fiction from “chick lit” to mystery, while also playfully critiquing their hallmarks. An ingenious, timely variation on the doppelgänger theme, it taps into the parts of ourselves that elude us most.” This was a GREAT read. Mind-bending, thought-provoking, and just very interesting. My only complaint is I can’t envision it actually happening…

November 9

After reading Colleen Hoover’s It Ends with Us, I was eager to find another of her books to enjoy. November 9 was that book. It was such a good read. Romantic and creative, while deeper than I expected. It’s too chick lit to be five-star, but it’s the perfect book to take your mind off reality or stick in your beach bag. “Fallon meets Ben, an aspiring novelist, the day before her scheduled cross-country move. Their untimely attraction leads them to spend Fallon’s last day in Los Angeles together, and her eventful life becomes the creative inspiration Ben has always sought for his novel. Over time and amidst the various relationships and tribulations of their own separate lives, they continue to meet on the same date every year. Until one day Fallon becomes unsure if Ben has been telling her the truth or fabricating a perfect reality for the sake of the ultimate plot twist.” (Amazon) Liked Sliding Doors or Jojo Moyes? You will enjoy this.

The Island of Missing Trees

2022 has had a slow reading start. I read 50% of Colm Toibin’s The Magician, but really didn’t love it. It’s quite long, so that was many days of wasted reading. I picked up The Island of Missing Trees by Elif Shafak because of Reese, of course. It had a bit of a slow start as well, but I did stick with it. “Two teenagers, a Greek Cypriot and a Turkish Cypriot, meet at a taverna on the island they both call home. In the taverna, hidden beneath garlands of garlic, chili peppers and creeping honeysuckle, Kostas and Defne grow in their forbidden love for each other. A fig tree stretches through a cavity in the roof, and this tree bears witness to their hushed, happy meetings and eventually, to their silent, surreptitious departures. The tree is there when war breaks out, when the capital is reduced to ashes and rubble, and when the teenagers vanish. Decades later, Kostas returns. He is a botanist looking for native species, but really, he’s searching for lost love. Years later a Ficus carica grows in the back garden of a house in London where Ada Kazantzakis lives. This tree is her only connection to an island she has never visited— her only connection to her family’s troubled history and her complex identity as she seeks to untangle years of secrets to find her place in the world.” (Amazon) This was a fine read, but I can’t say I loved it. Hoping for a better choice next.

Best Books of 2021 – A Year in Review

Every year, at the end of the year, I look back on all the books I have read the year before and list my favorites overall. This year, my goal was again 100 books (even though I read 130 last year). I barely made it to 100 (and included a school summer reading book and three literature circle books in that total – so fewer than 100 reviews on the blog – but, I’ll blame COVID). The added bonus of this post is that you don’t have to bother to read any of my other posts over the course of the year.

This year I had fewer 5-star books than I sometimes read and way too many (27) 4.5-star choices.

5 Stars
The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue
Anxious People
Between Two Kingdoms
The Less People Know About Us
The Heart’s Invisible Furies ***TOP PICK OF THE YEAR!!!
Beautiful Country

4.5 Stars
This Time Next Year We’ll Be Laughing
Blood, Bones, and Butter
The Women in Black
The Midnight Library
Leave the World Behind
The Splendid and the Vile
Don’t Look for Me
Eat a Peach
Dear Child
When We Were Orphans
The Last Thing He Told Me
Empire of Pain
The Echo Wife
Think Again
Running with Sherman
Too Good to be True
The Plot
The Personal Librarian
We Are Not Like Them
The Unhoneymooners
On Juneteenth
Miss Benson’s Beetle
South of Broad
It Ends With Us
Count the Ways
The Nine Lives of Rose Napolitano
What Comes After

2020’s best books are here.
2019’s best books are here.
2018’s best books are here.
2017’s best books are here.
2016’s best books are here.
2015’s best books are here.
2014’s best books are here.
2013’s paltry selection of best books are here.

Abandoned in 2021

A short and simple post – convince me why I should give any of these a try again.

American Spy by Lauren Wilkinson – started off interesting, but just didn’t capture me

We Keep the Dead Close: A Murder at Harvard and a Half Century of Silence – couldn’t get into it

The Cold Millions

The Sun Collective

White Teeth – loved the beginning, gave up 50% of the way through

These Women by Ivy Pochado

Of Women and Salt – gave up 50% through. Had trouble keeping track of the characters and jumping back and forth. not enough exciting plot to keep hold.

How Beautiful We Were by Imbolo Mbue – read 20% but just could not get into the story even though I loved Behold the Dreamers

Peace Like a River

A Promised Land – amazing (especially because read by author), but TOO LONG

Seven Days in June – just didn’t keep it going for me.

The Enchanted April – SO boring and dated – read 30%

Celine – couldn’t get into it

The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie – too adolescent

Dark Things I Adore – not interesting enough

Shoulder Season – maybe will take on again, but didn’t capture my interest in the moment

Velvet was the Night – couldn’t get into it (and hated previous book I read by this author)

What Comes After

Last book of 2021 was What Comes After by JoAnne Tomkins. It also was on Gayle Weiswasser’s best of 2021 list – I am ending the year with a bang and all her best books! “In misty, coastal Washington State, Isaac lives alone with his dog, grieving the recent death of his teenage son, Daniel. Next door, Lorrie, a working single mother, struggles with a heinous act committed by her own teenage son. Separated by only a silvery stretch of trees, the two parents are emotionally stranded, isolated by their great losses—until an unfamiliar sixteen-year-old girl shows up, bridges the gap, and changes everything. Evangeline’s arrival at first feels like a blessing, but she is also clearly hiding something. When Isaac, who has retreated into his Quaker faith, isn’t equipped to handle her alone, Lorrie forges her own relationship with the girl. Soon all three characters are forced to examine what really happened in their overlapping pasts, and what it all possibly means for a shared future. With a propulsive mystery at its core, What Comes After offers an unforgettable story of loss and anger, but also of kindness and hope, courage and forgiveness. It is a deeply moving account of strangers and friends not only helping each other forward after tragedy but inspiring a new kind of family.” (Amazon) I really enjoyed this book, but it dragged a little in points and could have been shorter (is that a theme this year or what?). But, overall, this was a decent story, even though it didn’t have the rush-to-the-finish ending.

Wolfpack

OK, I will admit that this last full book of 2021 was a complete cheat. Abby Wambach’s kids book, Wolfpack was basically a pamphlet. But, it was a good little read and one that would make a nice Oh the Places You’ll Go-type of inspirational gift for kids moving onto middle school, high school, etc. I do love Abby Wambach and have obsessively followed her and Glennon Doyle’s story, so it wasn’t that much of a stretch to grab this one. And, I liked it, but it wasn’t too challenging. Amazon: “From rising young star to co-captain of the 2015 Women’s World Cup Champion team, Abby Wambach’s impressive career has shown her what it truly means to be a champion. Whether you’re leading from the bench or demanding the ball on the field, real success comes when you harness your inner strength, forge your own path, and band together with your team. Updated with stories that trace her journey from youth soccer to the hall of fame, this young readers adaptation of Abby’s instant bestseller Wolfpack is for the next generation of wolves ready to change the game.”

Things Fall Apart

Most people read Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe in high school. I am not sure why it wasn’t on my syllabus, but I have had it on my radar for a long time. I believe it is also generally regarded as one of the best books of the century. I, however, didn’t love it. It was short enough that I plowed through, and I can see why it would be good to read, especially in a class where it could be analyzed. But, it didn’t particularly hold my interest (granted, I am still trying to blow through my books at the end of the year with the goal of 100 by tomorrow and grabbed this one as a quick way to accomplish that – perhaps not the best way to read, but…). “Things Fall Apart is the first of three novels in Chinua Achebe’s critically acclaimed African Trilogy. It is a classic narrative about Africa’s cataclysmic encounter with Europe as it establishes a colonial presence on the continent. Told through the fictional experiences of Okonkwo, a wealthy and fearless Igbo warrior of Umuofia in the late 1800s, Things Fall Apart explores one man’s futile resistance to the devaluing of his Igbo traditions by British political and religious forces and his despair as his community capitulates to the powerful new order. With more than 20 million copies sold and translated into fifty-seven languages, Things Fall Apart provides one of the most illuminating and permanent monuments to African experience. Achebe does not only capture life in a pre-colonial African village, he conveys the tragedy of the loss of that world while broadening our understanding of our contemporary realities.” (Amazon) Clearly, reading this review, I missed the boat on this one.

The Nine Lives of Rose Napolitano

The Nine Lives of Rose Napolitano by Donna Freitas is another book I had on my list that Gayle Weiswasser posted on her best of the year list, so, as it also came available to me from the library, it was added to the “must read before the end of 2021” pile. “Rose Napolitano is fighting with her husband, Luke, about prenatal vitamins. She promised she’d take them, but didn’t. He promised before they got married that he’d never want children, but now he’s changed his mind. Their marriage has come to rest on this one question: Can Rose find it in herself to become a mother? Rose is a successful professor and academic. She’s never wanted to have a child. The fight ends, and with it their marriage. But then, Rose has a fight with Luke about the vitamins–again. This time the fight goes slightly differently, and so does Rose’s future as she grapples with whether she can indeed give up the one thing she thought she knew about herself. Can she reimagine her life in a completely new way? That reimagining plays out again and again in each of Rose’s nine lives, just as it does for each of us as we grow into adulthood. What are the consequences of our biggest choices? How would life change if we let go of our preconceived ideas of ourselves and became someone completely new? Rose Napolitano’s experience of choosing and then choosing again shows us in an utterly compelling way what it means, literally, to reinvent a life and, sometimes, become a different kind of woman than we ever imagined.” (Amazon) This was a really cool book. The nine options for the way life plays out kept weaving in and out and back again. I should have written a chart to keep track of which was which. That would have made me like the book even better, I think. I really, really liked this book, but I didn’t LOVE it. I LOVED the ending and the way things tied together and I thought it was really creative, but something holds me back from giving it best of the year. I can’t quite put my finger on it, but it falls into the way too long 4.5-star category for me. Definitely read it, but, for me, not 5-star worthy quite.