I’m finally getting around to naming my five favorite books of 2021. I must tell you, however, that there are seven. Seven is such an odd number of faves, so I’m pretending like I’m naming five and have two honorable mentions. The reality is I’m offering these books in no particular order.
Winter Counts by David Heska Wanbli Weiden
Virgil Wounded Horse is the informal “enforcer” on the Rosebud Indian Reservation in South Dakota. He has no training, and the position is unpaid. He simply makes sure that things are mostly on the straight and narrow on the Rez. But when heroin is being brought onto the reservation, a member of the Tribal Council asks him to find out where it’s coming from and make it stop. In the meantime, the problems begin to start hitting close to home. I loved the writing, but mostly I was fascinated to learn more about what is often the tragic lives of the people on the Indian reservations.
The Rose Code, by Kate Quinn
Beth, Mab, and Osla are three very different young women, their only similarity being that they all work for the uber-secret Bletchley Park during World War II. Their jobs are some variation of breaking codes so that the military can anticipate strikes. The workers consist mostly of women because most men are off fighting the war. Each of the three women have their own personal issues, but the stories of how Bletchley Park helped form their lives was rivoting. Bletchley Park has always interested me because of the brilliance of the minds at work, and the fact that they were mostly women.
Malibu Rising, by Taylor Jenkins Reid
Nina and her siblings, Jay, Hud, and Kit have grown up in L.A. mostly without parents. Their father, a famous rock star, left the family behind long ago. Their mother was the sole parent until she died when Kit was just a small girl. Nina, only 16 at the time, had to take over the family, keeping this fact a secret so that the authorities wouldn’t split them up. They managed, even thrived, though Nina’s life wasn’t what she’d expected. Each year the four siblings throw a huge party. Though told with flashbacks, the gist of the story takes place over a 24-hour period around one of these parties — a period that will change all of their lives forever. Malibu Rising was an unexpected surprise to me, and I really couldn’t put the book down. I will admit that if my feet were held to the fire, this was my favorite book of 2021.
Razerblade Tears, by S.A. Cosby
I looked forward to Cosby’s second novel as soon as I finished his first, Blacktop Wasteland. In this story, the fathers of two gay men, one white and one black, are dissatisfied with the police’s inability to solve their sons’ murder cases. Though very different men, the two work together to avenge their son’s deaths, in part to make up for the fact that they didn’t accept their sons’ sexuality before it was too late. The book is gritty and often difficult to read, but the author’s writing is so amazing, and his ability to make readers get deeply into the minds of his characters is incredibly satisfying. Though it is a sad book, it was one of my favorites of the year.
The Guncle, by Steven Rowley
Perhaps pre-COVID, this book wouldn’t have been one of my favorites. But as it happens, I read the book at a time when I most needed to read such a book. The Guncle is the story of a former sitcom star whose fame is diminishing. He is referred to by his young niece Maisie and his even younger nephew Grant as Guncle, which stands for Gay Uncle Patrick. A tragedy hits the family that requires Maisie and Grant to spend a summer with their uncle, whose life is very different from what they are used to. It turns out that Patrick needs Maise and Grant as much as they need him. He is still grieving the loss of his life partner in a sudden accident. But the bottom line is, they all love one another. I’m pretty sure Patrick will remain one of my favorite characters of all time. The book was one of the most poignant and uplifting books I’ve ever read.
The Nature of Fragile Things, Susan Meissner
It is the beginning of the 20th Century, and Sophie, an Irish immigrant who lives in the NYC slums, answers an ad in a newspaper placed by a San Francisco man seeking a wife and a mother for his young daughter. Desperate to get out of her present situation, she answers the ad and makes her way across the country to marry a man she has never met. The man is willing to provide for her, and seems tolerant if not in love with Sophie. As time goes by, Sophie becomes more and more fearful of the man and his strange life. And then the San Francisco earthquake of 1906 hits, chasing Sophie and her newly adopted daughter Kit at great risk for their lives. The story is one of strength and the importance of strong female friendships. I enjoyed learning the history of the earthquake and the subsequent historical events.
The Lincoln Highway, by Amor Towles
The Lincoln Highway runs right through the town in which I spent my formative years. Despite my ties to that highway, I had little understanding of its history or importance to the development of the United States. It runs from Time Square in NYC all the way across the country, ending in San Francisco. The Lincoln Highway, is primarily the story of young Emmett, who has served time in a reform school for killing another young man, and his brother 8-year-old Billy. Emmett was released early to care for Billy because their father had died and their mother had disappeared shortly after Billy was born. Their plan is to get out of their Nebraska home town and go, well, ANYWHERE, to start a new life. However, when former co-inmates Duchess and Wooley unexpectedly show up, this leads to that, and most of it ends up happening on the Lincoln Highway. I loved the characters in this book, even the ones who weren’t always on the up and up. Billy is unforgettable.
There you have it, my friends. I found 2021 to be a good year for reading. I am looking forward to the reading year ahead.