If you’re looking for something new to read in 2021 or beyond, check out everything I read this year! I did a similar list of everything I read in in 2019, and enjoyed it so much that I thought I’d see what gems I find in 2021. I’ll be updating the list throughout the year, so make sure to check back for more reviews in the coming months!
1. Sourdough – Robin Sloan
Like many people, I baked a lot of sourdough in 2020. I love my sourdough starter dearly (her name is Velma) and I think the sourdough baking process is incredibly interesting. I love to bake and was hoping this book would be a new favourite. Unfortunately, that didn’t quite turn out to be the case. The story follows Lois, a software developer working a soul-crushing job in San Francisco whose life is changed when she’s given a mysterious sourdough starter. I found the characters very two-dimensional, especially Lois. I know very little about her personality or what she wants in life, which isn’t helped by the fact that whenever strange things happen (and quite a few do), she has no emotional reaction whatsoever. Similarly, the two brothers who gave Lois her sourdough are almost entirely defined by their ethnicity. Belonging to a culture called “the Mazg”, we’re given tidbits about this group that seems more focused on making them appear mysterious and exotic than like a real (or even believable) culture. All of these tidbits are fed to us through a strange chapter format that begins as a series of emails to Lois, but moves in and out of that format for no discernible reason.
In the same vein, established facts about the story’s world are dropped almost as soon as they’re established. For example, we’re told that Lois has to work so long and so hard that all she does is work, sleep, and drink Soylent-style sludge specifically designed for busy tech workers like her. That is, until she doesn’t. She has this job for most of the story, but suddenly has time to experiment with bread and open a stall in an experimental food market when the plot requires it. There were so many inconsistencies in this story that I couldn’t connect with it. I didn’t care about Lois, I didn’t believe anything that was happening, and the missed opportunities that could have made this book salvageable frustrated me. if you’re looking for a fun book about bread, look elsewhere.
2. The Princess Bride – William Goldman
I found this book difficult to separate from its film adaptation, which has made it tough to review as an independent piece of work. I think being a fan of the film actually made the book more enjoyable for me, and I suspect that this might be one of those rare occasions where the film is better than the book. While other films might cut your favourite scene in a book for a smoother plot or shorter run time, The Princess Bride‘s book-to-film process just saved us from a long-winded, half-fictionalised version of the author’s life that, because I was reading the 25th anniversary addition, were made longer by a second introduction and an epilogue about a pretend sequel. That said, the core Princess Bride story is still at the heart of this book. The film adaptation really leaves very little out here, including almost all of the lines word for word, and almost every scene apart from a creepy series of nightmares Buttercup has. The one element I do wish had made it into the film was the deeper insight into Inigo and Fezzick’s friendship, because it is absolutely adorable. Overall, I wouldn’t be recommending this to anyone other than die-hard fans of The Princess Bride and even then, that recommendation would need to be taken with a pinch of salt.
★ ★ ★
3. Foundation – Isaac Asimov
I find that sci-fi often feels like a mirror being held up to the society in which it was written- all you need to do is look at the plethora of contemporary dystopian stories to see what I mean. Written in 1951, I think one of Foundation‘s most impressive attributes is how timeless it feels (occasional references to the popularity of smoking and paper communication aside). Foundation introduces the reader to the concept of psychohistory, a mathematical and psychological science which a uniquely brilliant man named Hari Seldon uses to predict the future of the universe, tens of thousands of years in advance. The novel is more like five short stories, beginning with Seldon’s plan to save the Galactic Empire from thirty thousand years of suffering, and jumping across decades to see if things really happen they way he thinks they will. While Foundation can definitely be classed as sci-fi, the core of its intrigue is political. Foundation‘s timelessness is done so well because no matter what year it is and what planet you’re on, people will act the way people always do.
★ ★ ★ ★
4. Persuasion – Jane Austen
I’ve loved every Jane Austen book I’ve ever read, and Persuasion was no exception. It has all your classic Austen features- a sensible heroine in a silly family; long walks through the countryside; and a will-they-won’t-they that mainly involves quietly yearning for a man in tights from across various drawing rooms. I think the satire of Austen’s writing is easier to pick up on in this book than some of her others, something which I think makes it easier for modern readers to connect with the story instead of being bogged down by etiquette details that feel strange and counter-intuitive. I think the characters were my favourite part of the book, and while Anne Elliot might not be right up there with Lizzie Bennett and Elinor Dashwood in terms of great Austen heroines, I think she’s very, very close.
★ ★ ★ ★
5. The Colour of Magic – Terry Pratchett
I’d read one or two novels in the series previously, but recently decided to bite the Discworld bullet and start from the beginning of this 41-book series. As I’ve grown up, I’ve found myself missing the whimsical, tongue-in-cheek writing style that children’s books have in abundance but adult books leave out. Even though I didn’t read it growing up, reading Discworld now has felt like coming home. As interesting as The Colour of Magic’s plot was (in case you’re curious, it’s about the Discworld’s first tourist and an inept wizard with an ancient, potentially earth-destroying spell lodged in his head), it came second to the novel’s atmosphere. Each scene was entertaining, each piece of dialogue was witty, each little detail added to the world. I knew before going into this that the Discworld series was a platform for multiple stories to be told within the same world, and although I will miss Rincewind and Twoflower when their part of the story ends, I know I’ll enjoy what comes next.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
6. Thirty-Two Words for Field: Lost Words of the Irish Landscape – Manchán Magan
Like many Irish people, I would like my level of Irish to be better than it is. I also love learning about obscure, unused, or unusual words in any language. Cue Manchán Magan and his incredibly unique relationship with Irish. I had my ups and downs with this book- he makes some very questionable points about the links between language and quantum physics, for example. However, when I allowed myself to stop questioning the factuality behind his ideas and simply enjoy them as an insight into this man’s strong relationship with our native language, I could appreciate that this book is an important link between the way Irish was and the way Irish will be. Some of the words in this book (as Magan admits himself in the appendix) have no verifiable written sources. This is not from a lack of research, but because they are the remnants of dying oral traditions. Most Irish farmers don’t name their fields anymore, but, technically, a lot of those fields still have names. The thirty-two words for field that can be found in this book, as well as countless other words, concepts, and links between the Irish language and its people, might just continue to exist because of this book. You don’t need to be a Gaeilgeoir to read this book, but it’s helpful if you know how different Irish words sound, so you can read all the words mentioned. I learned things about Irish culture and history through word origins that I had never considered before, and I’m so glad I know them now. While it’s important to know about the big events in history, learning about the little things that collectively make us who we are can be just as important.
★ ★ ★ ★
7. The Light Fantastic – Terry Pratchett
We’re back to the adventures of Rincewind and Twoflower, the wizard/tourist combo who just can’t stay out of trouble. Like The Colour of Magic, The Light Fantastic is a jaunty adventure through a fantastically creative setting. It feels difficult to tell you how good this book is by describing the plot, because, although it’s a good plot, it wasn’t the highlight of the book for me. Like The Colour of Magic, I was reading this book for the journey, not the destination. I wasn’t gripped by tension around how the conflict would be resolved- it either would or wouldn’t be, but the writing would be equally satisfactory either way. My enjoyment of this book was driven by the characters and their interactions with the world. Pratchett’s mastery of character is key to this series, which is interesting because I know he’ll switch to an entirely new cast after this book. I was sad to say goodbye to the the only characters I’ve known in this series so far, but I’ll be interested to see how a new story can begin and still feel like Discworld.
★ ★ ★ ★
8. Equal Rites – Terry Pratchett
If it isn’t clear yet, I’m really enjoying Discworld. We’ve moved on to the second story arc in the series (although it’s a one-book arc, so don’t get too attached). Equal Rites is about a young girl named Esk, the first female wizard on the Discworld. Unfortunately for her, female wizards aren’t really a thing. Cue a montage of witchy business, courtesy of local witch/mentor/all-round badass Granny Weatherwax. Esk and Granny’s adventures to get a witch into Unseen University (and maybe save the world while they’re at it) was a lot of fun. It’s strange to describe a book about a young girl overcoming sexist obstacles as “tongue-in-cheek”, but that’s just how Terry Pratchett is. Overall, I’d recommend this book, but I did knock one star off for pacing. It felt like the book ended a bit abruptly, with the final wrap-up of the characters’ futures feeling a bit vague. However, this gives me hope that Esk and Granny could pop up in future Discworld books, so I won’t begrudge the ending too much.
★ ★ ★ ★
9. Cúpla – Óige Ó Céilleachair
Tá an leabhar seo as Gaeilge, mar sin táim ag scríobh mo léirmheas as Gaeilge. Táim ag léamh cúpla leabhair as Gaeilge mar táim ag ullmhú don scrúdú, agus mholfainn an leabhar seo do dhaltaí ar bith. Tá an scéal seo faoi cúpla déagóirí, Éile agus Sharon, agus a dtuismitheoirí. Tá a dTeastas Sóisearach ag teacht agus tá Éile ag staidéar, ach feiceann Sharon rud a chuireann as go mór di. Tá sí ag beochan bruíne mar tá sí faoi bhrú an rún a choinneáil, ach cad a tharlóidh nuair a insíonn sí an fhírinne? Is scéal gruama é, ach tá sé suimiúil agus is cleachtadh mhaith do dhaltaí é.
★ ★ ★ ★
10. An Béirín Dána – Marc Cantin & Sébastien Pelon
Leabhar Gaeilge eile é seo, ach tá An Béirín Dána níos simplí agus níos giorra ná Cúpla. Is leabhar pháiste é mar sin tá sé éasca a léamh, ach fós, bhain mé an-taitneamh as. Tá as scéal faoi Níotú, buachaill dúchasach Meiriceánach. Oíche amháin, tá sé ag dul abhaile nuair a feiceann sé lorg béirín. An bhfaighidh sé an béirín? An mbeidh sé i mbaol má bhfaigheann sé é? Is scéal gleoite é, ach bhí sé an-chabhrach chun focail nua a fhoghlaim. Ba mhaith leat é má tá tú ag lorg rud éigin a léamh le leanaí.
★ ★ ★ ★
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