Best Books of 2021

I think this will be the very last round up post of 2021, it’s getting past the appropriate time for them. I have been putting it off because I don’t really know how to pick a favourite book or books. I don’t have a very objective reviewing system, and I have never been very good at making decisions subjectively.

These are in no particular order:

The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid

This book is absolutely superb! I’ve heard rumours that it is going to be made into a movie, which is amazing because it is going to make a fabulous movie. This movie follows the story of two women, a young journalist, Monique, who is hand selected by an famous old movie star, Evelyn Hugo, to write her biography under ambiguous pretenses. Evelyn was a true movie star of the 60s, 70s, and 80s and throughout her time in the limelight went through seven husbands. But Monique is not a random selection of an author for Evelyn, for Evelyn knows truths about Monique’s family on matters that she never even knew were secrets.

The Paris Library by Janet Skeslien Charles

This is one of the most heartbreaking books I read this year. This is another book that follows two women, or in this case a woman and a girl who find each other and help them heal from their lifetimes of loss. We are split between Lily, a bored Montana teenager who decides to do a school project on Paris and goes and bombards her quiet, solitary neighbor, Odile, who is our other narrator. We move between Lily and Odile’s present and Odile’s past starting before World War 2 and moving forwards through World War 2. Odile becomes a librarian at the American Library in Paris which exposes her to a world of expats, academics, and different viewpoints from her policeman father and traditional mother. We move through their shared stories of love and loss and in between get to read these notes that were sent to Odile’s father during the War. After the Nazi invasion, his job became following up on tips the police got where French people ratted out other French people for being Jewish, expressing anti-Nazi sentiment, trading on the black market, anything that went against the Nazi rule. The notes that we get to read are all about the staff and regulars at the library and as you move through the book you start to wonder, is Odile the one who is ratting out her friends?

The Historians by Celia Ekback

This book is fantastic. It made me realize that I know absolutely nothing about what the Nordic countries (except Denmark) were up to during WWII and that I had no clue that Finland wasn’t considered part of Scandinavia. I also had a laugh that even when I’m not reading about racism and white supremacy; I’m reading about racism and white supremacy. The book is set in Sweden and follows Laura Dahlgren as she tries to find out who killed her best friend from college that she has kind of fallen out of touch with, in that way that you wall out of touch with friends from school but still consider them to be a friend. This is happening with Sweden’s balancing act as a neutral country supplying coal to the Axis forces and the Allied forces demanding that they cut Germany off and the work in eugenics that they were secretly doing.

It was the twist at the end that makes me think this is such a good book. I almost always call the end of TV shows, movies, books etc. but this twist I a) had no guesses and b) would have never guessed. Ever.

I read this book in a single weekend, it was amazing.

If I Had Your Face by Frances Cha

I read this book last February and I still think about it about once a week.

I did find the ending to be slightly unsatisfactory. I really enjoyed reading about a culture that I know nothing about, what was really interesting is one of the women I volunteered with’s family is from South Korea so I was able to ask her about the plastic surgery culture and if they book was accurate to what she knew. And apparently it is extremely accurate, like she knows of people who get eyelid surgery as high school graduation presents. I wish that the story had gone on for a bit longer, I would have loved to have seen the fallout of Miho’s revenge plan on Hanbin and if she ever showed her art of her late friend to the public or to Hanbin? Do we ever learn if Ara is physically incapable of speech or if it is a trauma response? If it’s a trauma response does she ever regain speech? If she does would that impact her hairdressing career? Does Sujin’s jaw ever fully heal or does it click forever? Does Kyuri become the best plastic surgery receptionist in Seoul and lift them all out of relative poverty? Does Wonna’s husband come back? Does she leave her miserable job? How does she manage working and caring for the baby when she won’t be able to afford childcare?

I love that the ending shows them settled and content in their lives and ready for a late-night of fried chicken and girl talk, I just wish the story seemed more finished. But as I’ve revisited this book in my head several times over the past 11 months I’ve realized that leaving them in the middle of the lives is a very deliberate choice, we pop into their lives and we never get their full back story and then we pop back out, leaving them to live their lives as if we were just a voyeur into their lives.

The Midnight Library by Matt Haig

This is another book that I have thought about all year. I’ve heard a few critiques that it’s an oversimplification of mental health, which it may be, I’ve never had concerns with suicidal thoughts or ideation, so I can’t contribute to that discourse. But the idea of a place where we can go and live out all the alternatives of our choices. I think about those options all the time, and we also do as a family, “what if we never left Ireland?”, “what if we stayed in Manitoba? Tennessee?”, “what if I got into vet school?”, “what if I didn’t break up with this boyfriend or that?”, and so on. Maybe it’s the reflective Cancer in me, but this book stuck with me.

But it does have a big trigger warning for suicide.

Honourable mention books go to Body Talk by Katie Sturino, When We Left Cuba by Chanel Cleeton, Code Name Helene by Ariel Lawhon, and The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller.

I’m really glad to have gotten back into reading this year. University and grad school really broke my ability to read for fun, I think it does for most people. I read all the time growing up and then never did and I missed it.

What are you reading this year?


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