The Best of Books (2021 So Far)

It was the best of books, it was the worst of books, it was the tome of wisdom, it was the tome of foolishness, it was the chapter of belief, it was the chapter of incredulity, it was the story of light, it was the story of darkness, it was the blurb of hope, it was the paragraph of despair…

I know it’s only August, but since I haven’t posted in forever and since I’ve hit my goal of reading 30 books this year, I thought it would be fun to do a round-up of some of the highlights (and maybe lowlights) of the reading year so far.

The Best of Books

Earlier in the year, I decided to revisit the Narnia books. Anyone who knows me knows that I don’t really rate C. S. Lewis, but it was fun to go back to these books after a number of years and read them again. The first time I ever read these, they were read aloud to me as a child, and there was pleasant nostalgia to reading them. 

I had always thought The Horse and His Boy was my favourite, but this time round, I enjoyed Voyage of the Dawn Treader the most. The Magician’s Nephew was a close second, but I had great fun exploring beyond the edges of the map of Narnia. It turns out I still love Lucy most of all the Pevensies, but The Silver Chair made me appreciate Eustace much more. 

The Worst of Books

I haven’t read anything shockingly bad this year (thankfully!) but there is one book that stood out as a bit of a disappointment (I’m sorry, ok??). Earlier in the year, I bought a copy of Dearest Josephine for a friend firstly because it’s beautiful, and secondly because I had read so many glowing reviews. It sounded sweet and romantic and I liked the idea of a love story spanning two different ages. 

I’m sad to say, it read a bit like an American writing Austen fanfiction. Some of it read more like what Americans think England is like rather than what it’s actually like. In terms of the story itself, it was a little overly gushy for my personal taste, the writing read like someone who has never actually been in a relationship, and I found the ending was a bit of a let-down after all of that build up. I don’t know, I finished it so it wasn’t totally awful, but it could have been so much more. I’m not really a romance reader, so maybe I just didn’t come into it with the right expectations. It has a lovely cover, but I just didn’t care for it *shrugs*

A Book of Wisdom

My church’s ladies’ group have been reading through Twelve Extraordinary Women together. It’s a book of eleven character studies (Mary and Martha share a chapter) by John MacArthur, looking at the lives of various Bible women and what we can learn from them. 

I particularly enjoyed the chapter on Anna because she’s someone I’ve always been curious about, but you don’t hear much about her. To be fair, she only appears in a couple of verses. 

A Book of Folly

It’s not folly so much as silliness. Along with revisiting Narnia, I spent an afternoon listening to an audiobook of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. I’ve always loved Roald Dahl, so it was fun to go back and read/listen to this story again. I’d forgotten how funny and clever it is. I think my favourite part would still be the square sweets that look round. 

A Book of Belief(?!)

This year, I’ve been part of a middle-grade reading club. Each month we work through one middle-grade book together. We’ve read some fun stuff, but I especially enjoyed The Girl Who Drank the Moon. I was going through something of a reading slump at the time, and the world and the story were so immersive that it took me no time at all to finish. 

I liked the fairytale feel and the dynamic characters, and the book has a beautiful cover to boot. It reminded me of a lot of things I love in stories.

A Book of Incredulity

There’s a book my dad introduced me to a long time ago and from time to time I think about it. Back in January I decided it was time for a re-read. The High Crusade is about a village who are about to leave to join the crusades, but an alien ship lands in their fields. They conquer the aliens on board and decide to take the ship to France to aid in the fight, but the last surviving alien sets it on autopilot for his home planet instead. 

Well, these middle-ages knights end up conquering half the galaxy in the name of King Edward. It sounds incredulous, but it’s actually a very logical and coherent book. Most people scoff at the idea, but weirdly it works.

A Book of Light

Little Women fans are going to butcher me here, but all I ask is that you hear me out. A light-hearted and enjoyable read this year was Jo & Laurie. I have a friend who has been recommending it to me for a long time, but I finally got around to it. 

Here’s the thing: it’s not a retelling and it’s not trying to be Little Women. It’s set in a world where Jo is the best-selling author of Little Women and struggling to write the second book she’s contracted for while struggling to come to terms with her new-found fame. Her book is only loosely based on reality, and so the characters you know from Little Women, though similar, aren’t the same people and it’s not the same world. In the end, I enjoyed it. The characters were different enough but faithful enough to the original that it worked, and Laurie in particular was much more likeable in Jo & Laurie, so that they did actually work together. I’m a Little Women fan, but I also very much enjoyed this spin-off.

A Book of Darkness

I made the mistake of reading Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s Warning to the West (also Orwell’s Animal Farm) and it was just depressing. I learned a lot I hadn’t known before about some of the lesser known parts of Russian Communist history, but it was concerning to see the predictions Solzhenitsyn made back in the seventies when he gave these lectures coming true (or already true) in the West today. It was worrying and miserable, but also enlightening. I’d like to read Gulag Archipelago by the same author, but it’s on a par (size-wise) with War and Peace, so that won’t happen for a while.

A Book of Hope

It’s fresh off the press, but it’s oh-so-good. Shadow by Kara Swanson is the epic finale to her Heirs of Neverland duology. The first book recently won a bunch of awards (congratulations!) and Shadow itself has only been out about a month. It’s kind of a Peter Pan retelling, except that it’s more of a continuation than a strict retelling. 

It had strong themes of light and darkness and healing from the darkness we hold inside ourselves. Dust was a fun adventure, but Shadow got me where it hurt. If you like adventures with deep and meaningful themes then this is one of my top recommendations. Also the cover is so beautiful.

A Book of Despair

I don’t know if it counts as a book, but after years of hearing about the poem, I listened to Christopher Lee reading The Raven by Edgar Allen Poe. I’m trying to put some more poetry in my reading diet, but it’s difficult to find things I like. 

The Raven is creepy with strong gothic vibes, but the rhythm and structure is compelling and Christopher Lee’s voice is perfect for reading it aloud. It’s weird, it’s a classic, it’s pretty good despite being depressing (and what on earth happened to Lenore??).

One for the Road

Ending with despair is pretty miserable, so instead, I leave you with a book that will set you up for excitement and adventure. Around about March I joined Net Galley (recommend it by the way!) and received a free ARC of Circus Maximus: Race to the Death. It’s about a girl whose father trains horses for the Circus Maximus, but when he’s brutally murdered, she flees Rome in search of her estranged grandfather. 

I loved that although she ends up racing in the Circus in the end, it’s not a modern feminist book thinly veiled as historical fiction. It’s a really exciting and tense mystery adventure and I appreciated the effort the author put into historical accuracy. I’m looking forward to the next book in the series. Horses, history, adventure, and a lovely cover is a good combo.

So there you are, a few of my favourite and not so favourite reads so far this year. I hope you find something new to read among these titles. What have been some of your favourite reads of this year so far? 

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