Favorite Reads of 2021
Updated: Jan 3, 2022
My favorite reads this year are an eclectic selection. Of the dozens of books I've read, three stand out as exceptionally enjoyable and memorable.
The Who Died Twice by Richard Osman
I devoured both of the excellent Thursday Murder Club books after reading The Man Who Died Twice is one of the fastest-selling books of all time. After reading The Thursday Murder Club, I was duly impressed with Osman's writing and thought it was one of the better books I had recently read. The sequel is even better. Osman hits precisely the right tone for this crime story that is touching, harrowing, and whimsical by turn. The elderly characters are simultaneously eccentric and relatable. Very few books make me laugh and bring tears to my eyes, but this one did. Highly recommended.
For aspiring authors, this is simply a must read no matter what genre you write. Osman's sparkling words, characters, and plot are worth studying.
The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson
This novel is a classic. To my surprise, it has aged exceptionally well. At times, I find the casual sexism in some classic sci-fi and fantasy off-putting. You don't find any of that in this novel, likely because it was written by a woman.
If you yearn to read a spectacular haunted house/possession story, The Haunting of Hill House is a great place to start. Eleanor is a young paranormal investigator who battles madness while staying at Hill House. Watching her psyche fray is as fascinating as it is horrifying. In this novel, you won't find slashers or gore of any kind, but the psychological terror is downright frightening. This makes for a yarn that lingers pleasantly and unsettlingly in one's memory.
Iron Widow by Xiran Jay Zhao
I don't recall why I picked up this novel, only that I'm glad I did. The back jacket claims the book is Pacific Rim meets The Handmaid's Tale, which is true as far as it goes. The mecha battles are interesting, sometimes even captivating, but that's not what the story is about at all. I'd go so far as to claim the semblance of the story to Pacific Rim, or any other giant robot yarn is superficial at best. The Handmaid's Tale influence is far stronger as Zetian, the protagonist, rails against a misogynistic society that treats women, especially young women, as slaves with no agency or basic human rights. As the story progresses, I saw parallels to The Hunger Games in how the mecha pilots are treated by the public and the media.
Two aspects of this novel make it very memorable. First, Zetian is a sympathetic character––she's really treated like dirt by her family and society––but she's not an easily likable character, especially early on. She's driven by revenge and willing to do some fairly despicable things to achieve it. Still, she grows on the reader as the story progresses. Why? Because she can reevaluate her prejudices and change her behavior. Zetian is truly a great lead character.
The second aspect of the novel I thoroughly enjoyed is the world-building. The author does an excellent job creating a mythical kingdom reminiscent of China while being wonderfully unique. Iron Window is a must-read for the fans of fantasy and science-fiction.