Top 6 Reads of 2021

I wish I had the time to read oodles and oodles of books, but alas, I do not. Between my reality of a full-time job; a house hunt, move, unpack; the usual daily activities, like cooking and cleaning; and making time to stay physically healthy, some days it’s tough to find time to read. And I’m not even counting the time it takes to write reviews and format them for blogging.

That said, I’m proud that I managed to read 48 books in 2021. I set my goal to be greater than that of 2020 and I succeeded. I’ll give myself a nice pat on the back for that achievement. And so, in no particular order, here are my top six reads of 2021. If you’ve read and enjoyed any of these, let me know! Otherwise, I hope this inspires someone to pick up a “new to you” book to read in 2022.

Half Sick of Shadows by Laura Sebastian
Read my book review here.

Official synopsis:
The Lady of Shalott reclaims her story in this bold feminist reimagining of the Arthurian myth from the New York Times bestselling author of Ash Princess.

Everyone knows the legend. Of Arthur, destined to be a king. Of the beautiful Guinevere, who will betray him with his most loyal knight, Lancelot. Of the bitter sorceress, Morgana, who will turn against them all. But Elaine alone carries the burden of knowing what is to come–for Elaine of Shalott is cursed to see the future.

On the mystical isle of Avalon, Elaine runs free and learns of the ancient prophecies surrounding her and her friends–countless possibilities, almost all of them tragic.

When their future comes to claim them, Elaine, Guinevere, Lancelot, and Morgana accompany Arthur to take his throne in stifling Camelot, where magic is outlawed, the rules of society chain them, and enemies are everywhere. Yet the most dangerous threats may come from within their own circle.

As visions are fulfilled and an inevitable fate closes in, Elaine must decide how far she will go to change destiny–and what she is willing to sacrifice along the way.

A Court of Mist and Fury by Sarah J. Maas
Read my book review here.

Official synopsis:
The seductive and stunning #1 New York Times bestselling sequel to Sarah J. Maas’s spellbinding A Court of Thorns and Roses.

Feyre has undergone more trials than one human woman can carry in her heart. Though she’s now been granted the powers and lifespan of the High Fae, she is haunted by her time Under the Mountain and the terrible deeds she performed to save the lives of Tamlin and his people.

As her marriage to Tamlin approaches, Feyre’s hollowness and nightmares consume her. She finds herself split into two different people: one who upholds her bargain with Rhysand, High Lord of the feared Night Court, and one who lives out her life in the Spring Court with Tamlin. While Feyre navigates a dark web of politics, passion, and dazzling power, a greater evil looms. She might just be the key to stopping it, but only if she can harness her harrowing gifts, heal her fractured soul, and decide how she wishes to shape her future-and the future of a world in turmoil.

Bestselling author Sarah J. Maas’s masterful storytelling brings this second book in her dazzling, sexy, action-packed series to new heights.

For the Wolf by Hannah Whitten
Read my book review here.

Official synopsis:
For fans of Uprooted and The Bear and the Nightingale comes a dark, sweeping debut fantasy novel about a young woman who must be sacrificed to the legendary Wolf of the Wood to save her kingdom. But not all legends are true, and the Wolf isn’t the only danger lurking in the Wilderwood.

As the only Second Daughter born in centuries, Red has one purpose—to be sacrificed to the Wolf in the Wood in the hope he’ll return the world’s captured gods.

Red is almost relieved to go. Plagued by a dangerous power she can’t control, at least she knows that in the Wilderwood, she can’t hurt those she loves. Again.

But the legends lie. The Wolf is a man, not a monster. Her magic is a calling, not a curse. And if she doesn’t learn how to use it, the monsters the gods have become will swallow the Wilderwood—and her world—whole.

Crisis in the Red Zone by Richard Preston
Read my book review here.

Official synopsis:
This time, Ebola started with a two-year-old child who likely had contact with a wild creature and whose entire family quickly fell ill and died. The ensuing global drama activated health professionals in North America, Europe, and Africa in a desperate race against time to contain the viral wildfire. By the end—as the virus mutated into its deadliest form, and spread farther and faster than ever before—30,000 people would be infected, and the dead would be spread across eight countries on three continents.

In this taut and suspenseful medical drama, Richard Preston deeply chronicles the pandemic, in which we saw for the first time the specter of Ebola jumping continents, crossing the Atlantic, and infecting people in America. Rich in characters and conflict—physical, emotional, and ethical—Crisis in the Red Zone is an immersion in one of the great public health calamities of our time.

Preston writes of doctors and nurses in the field putting their own lives on the line, of government bureaucrats and NGO administrators moving, often fitfully, to try to contain the outbreak, and of pharmaceutical companies racing to develop drugs to combat the virus. He also explores the charged ethical dilemma over who should and did receive the rare doses of an experimental treatment when they became available at the peak of the disaster.

Crisis in the Red Zone makes clear that the outbreak of 2013–2014 is a harbinger of further, more severe outbreaks, and of emerging viruses heretofore unimagined—in any country, on any continent. In our ever more interconnected world, with roads and towns cut deep into the jungles of equatorial Africa, viruses both familiar and undiscovered are being unleashed into more densely populated areas than ever before.  

The more we discover about the virosphere, the more we realize its deadly potential. Crisis in the Red Zone is an exquisitely timely book, a stark warning of viral outbreaks to come.

The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by V.E. Schwab
Read my book review here.

Official synopsis:
A Life No One Will Remember. A Story You Will Never Forget.

France, 1714: in a moment of desperation, a young woman makes a Faustian bargain to live forever—and is cursed to be forgotten by everyone she meets.

Thus begins the extraordinary life of Addie LaRue, and a dazzling adventure that will play out across centuries and continents, across history and art, as a young woman learns how far she will go to leave her mark on the world.

But everything changes when, after nearly 300 years, Addie stumbles across a young man in a hidden bookstore and he remembers her name.

Persist by Elizabeth Warren
Read my book review here.

Official synopsis:
The inspiring, influential senator and bestselling author mixes vivid personal stories with a passionate plea for political transformation.

Elizabeth Warren is a beacon for everyone who believes that real change can improve the lives of all Americans. Committed, fearless, and famously persistent, she brings her best game to every battle she wages.

In Persist, Warren writes about six perspectives that have influenced her life and advocacy. She’s a mother who learned from wrenching personal experience why child care is so essential. She’s a teacher who has known since grade school the value of a good and affordable education. She’s a planner who understands that every complex problem requires a comprehensive response. She’s a fighter who discovered the hard way that nobody gives up power willingly. She’s a learner who thinks, listens, and works to fight racism in America. And she’s a woman who has proven over and over that women are just as capable as men.

Candid and compelling, Persist is both a deeply personal book and a powerful call to action. Elizabeth Warren—one of our nation’s most visionary leaders—will inspire everyone to believe that if we’re willing to fight for it, profound change is well within our reach.

Book Review: Crisis in the Red Zone by Richard Preston

Reading format: Library hardback

Content warnings: blood, gore, death

Rating: 5/5

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Author of New York Times Bestseller The Hot Zone, Richard Preston chronicles the Ebola outbreak of 2013-2014 in Crisis in the Red Zone. Preston sets the scene for us in 1976 at the Yambuku Catholic mission hospital in Zaire. There, a woman who comes in for labor also exhibits signs of what the sisters believe is malaria of the brain. Unfortunately, the sisters are unsuccessful in treating the woman. And one by one those running the mission down with a mysterious malady that we now know was Ebola. Fast forward to 2013 when a toddler contracts the virus, likely through wildlife at a popular play spot near the village. It spreads amongst his family, setting off a series of events in Guinea, Sierra Leone, and Liberia that spark a global effort to contain and quash the outbreak.

Like a gripping documentary, Preston describes the epidemic to us in such a way that it feels as if we’re hovering unseen nearby. We witness the split second decisions and herculean efforts of health professionals to save those afflicted with Ebola while simultaneously trying to control the spread of the virus through contact tracing and education. Across the world in Europe and North America are the moving pieces of pharmaceutical companies, government bureaucrats, and non-government organizations who are working to develop drugs and distribute supplies and on-the-ground expertise to help fight the virus. We feel the fervor and desperation of the characters through the pages. They are fraught with emotional, physical, and difficult ethical struggles, particularly when rare, experimental doses of a vaccine become available.

Crisis in the Red Zone is a clear example of invisible yet ever-present viruses spilling over into humans and how severe outbreaks such as these can be difficult to contain. Having read this in January 2021 during our current pandemic, it’s easy to make simple comparisons. Covid-19 is not as gory or fatal as Ebola, but the learning curve and race against time to develop a vaccine parallel our current experience with a novel virus. If you love reading medical nonfiction like me, you’ll appreciate how Preston linearly and richly describes the unfolding of these events. However, because of the covid-19 pandemic, this is not a book for those who may be triggered by similar medical and global events. That said, I found this book just as engrossing as I did The Hot Zone and couldn’t put it down. Some people enjoy murder mystery stories or psychological thrillers. But I prefer medical nonfiction accounts which are thrilling (and terrifying) in their own way.