Best Books of 2021

2021 has not been a great reading year for me as the year was quite stressful, just like 2020 for everyone. I did manage to read some great books and have been wanting to make a post about the best books I read from last few weeks. I will be back to blogging in a few months’ time. Life has become too hectic and I have not been able to blog much from last year.

Here are my favorites from 2021 (no synopsis, only my thoughts about these books) –

1. Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir – 5 stars

This book by Andy Weir was even better than the Martian. I went in with very low expectations considering how Artemis was a disaster but this surpassed every expectation I ever had from a sci-fi book. Hard sf at its best. After reading the 3BP series, I was craving for some real science and this book gave me all the science I wanted. I loved it and highly recommend it to fans of the Martian. The plot was very unique and different from every other alien first contact story out there. Looking at all the research that the author has done for this book, it’s going into my all time favorites list. I loved the ending too. The friendship in this book was one of the best I have ever read.

2. Swimming in the dark by Tomasz Jedrowski – 5 stars

“You can’t make people love you the way you want them to.”
It had been a long time since I read a book that engrossed me so much. I couldn’t put it down and read it in just a few days which hardly happens. As soon as I heard that the main protagonists read Giovanni’s Room (GR) in secrecy, I had to read this book. GR is one of my most favorite novels ever and I think this book comes very close to GR now on my favorites list as it feels very much like a retelling of GR. The writing was beautiful, the portrayal of socialism in Poland post world war was very interesting as I had read nothing about it in the past. In fact, I have hardly read books about communist USSR so I enjoyed that history bit. The love story itself is so heartwarming in the first half and quite heartbreaking in the second half. I am so glad I read it. Highly recommend! 

3. Night by Elie Wiesel – 5 stars

Is it even possible to give this book anything less than 5 stars? A must read for every single human in this world. I am horrified at the way they were treated, even though I have read multiple holocaust books and movies in the past. It was clearly worse than anything I could ever imagine. How could humans treat fellow humans that horribly? I have never read anything more heartbreaking than his father’s death. I knew this book would be 5 stars and it is worth 6 stars. If there is one book that you want to read in your life, let it be this book.

Listen to his Nobel prize acceptance speech (so good!): “Please take side. Please don’t be indifferent. Silence encourages the tormentor. Never the tormentor” 

4. Deep Work by Cal Newport – 5 stars

Having read and loved Digital Minimalism by this author earlier, I was pretty sure I was going to love this one too and I did. I think Cal and I are very similar in some aspects as I was nodding my head to most of the ideas in this book. After reading this book, I believe I am a deep worker in general as I get lost in anything that I am doing without realizing how many hours elapsed since I started this work. I can forget to eat and drink if my work interests me enough. But I am pretty distracted with social media (that I quit thanks to the other book by this author) and network tools (which he mentions in this book) most of the time. I didn’t realize how much time I spent in reading “infotainment” articles like Huffpost and other news sites. Even though I am not on social media anymore, I do waste time watching YouTube or reading articles online. Browsing Internet is like falling into a rabbit hole – one article leads to another and you will end up wasting hours together reading about some war that took place in 1700s or so.
One topic that I felt he could have covered was about doing boring tasks or tasks that you don’t like to do. I find that only when my work is boring, I get distracted. How can you achieve deep work when the work you are doing doesn’t interest you, even if it is not a shallow task? I wish he had answered that.
Definitely a book I will come back to in future and I highly recommend it to everybody.

5. Algorithms to Live By by Brian Christian and Tom Griffiths – 5 stars

As a computer engineer, I knew many of the algorithms mentioned here but I still enjoyed reading about them. There were some machine learning, statistics and probability related ones which were new to me. The authors give high level overviews of computer algorithms and show how these algorithms can be used to solve our day to day problems in real life. Even a person who doesn’t know anything about computer science will be able to learn something from this book. I only wish it had some mathematics in it and then it would have been perfect for me. But I guess mathematics would have pushed some people away making it look intimidating. I want a similar book written just for computer engineers with full algorithms in it as that would be amazing.

6. The southern book club’s guide to slaying vampires by Grady Hendrix – 5 stars

I found a new favorite book and author. I hadn’t read such a fun book in the recent past. The story and characters were so engrossing and interesting that I had a hard time keeping the book down. This was like Dracula but with suburban moms, their kids and dumb unsupportive husbands. It’s set in a small town where everyone knows everyone else in the town. The first half of the book had me laughing while the second half was pretty scary. I had never read a horror comedy before and I want to read more books like this. This was really entertaining. I can’t wait to watch the movie adaptation.

7. Second Foundation by Isaac Asimov – 5 stars

I have already reviewed this book and series here. This was a reread and still a favorite book of mine.

8. The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller – 4.5 stars

4.5 stars
I think I liked it more than Circe for sure. It was written beautifully. This author can write well and she is now an auto-buy author for me. Unlike Circe, I knew the story and the ending before I started reading. I had seen the movie “Troy” with Brad Pitt as Achilles and Orlando Bloom as Paris (rewatched it after I started reading the book) so I knew who was who. Also everyone knows what happened in the Trojan war and the horse is so famous that I would be surprised if someone didn’t know that story. Even though I knew the story, it was still interesting since it is from the perspective of a person who doesn’t play a major role in Trojan war – Petroclus. His relationship with Achilles was portrayed well. Loved it but sometimes the book dragged on a little bit which is why I deducted 0.5 stars. 

9. Once there were wolves by Charlotte McConaghy – 4.5 stars

4.5 stars
Scottish highlands, Denali National Park and Yellowstone National Park – all of my favorite places are mentioned in one book. Climate change, environment, wilderness and nature- everything that I am passionate about. I knew I would end up loving this book and I definitely did. I loved this even more than the author’s first book “Migrations” which was my favorite read from 2020. I never knew much about wolves except for how they were reintroduced in Yellowstone. I remember seeing the den of a wolf pack in Denali National Park which was the best part of the tour. There is a mystery too in this book but I guessed it right at the beginning and I was right. The plot was pretty obvious from the beginning so I had to dock 0.5 stars. But I still loved reading this book. I just loved the writing style and learning about animals and nature. There is a subplot about rape, abuse and a love story which was okay- I neither disliked it nor did I love it. I wasn’t fond of any characters. I just was there for the wolves.

10. The Eye of the world by Robert Jordan

If I do not compare this book with LOTR books, then it is a solid epic fantasy with lots of great characters, storyline and interesting world building. I love classic sword and sorcery type fantasy so loved it. It is entertaining for sure so I am definitely going to watch the TV show.

But if I also consider LOTR books, which are the best fantasy books I have ever read, then I feel these are just bloated versions of the LOTR books. Nothing seems original or new. All the characters are same, the plot is exactly same. They are long winded and were badly in need of an editor. The book doesn’t seem to end at all. It drags on and on and on and it takes 100s of pages for something to happen. If I didn’t have the audiobook with me which I was listening while physically reading the book, I am not sure if I would have finished it.

But it’s still entertaining to read and provides escapism. I will probably read this series when I am out of other books to read or after I retire and have unlimited time to slog through 1000s of pages. But someday, I will complete this series.

Every time a new character was introduced, I was trying to figure out which character from LOTR they most resembled with.

Characters in this book and their counterpart from LOTR 
Moraine = Gandalf (very obvious)
Lan = Aragorn
Rand = Frodo
Merry and Pippin = Mat and Perrin (even names sound similar)
Egwene = Female Sam
Dark one = Sauron
Fades = Blackriders
Forsaken = Nazgul
Tam = Bilbo
Trollocs = Orcs
Ogier = like dwarves (builders) or Ents (treeherds)
Draghkar = fellbeasts that Nazgul ride
Padan Fain = Gollum
Min = Galadriel
Shayol Gul = Mordor
The two rivers = the shire

11. Nothing to see here by Kevin Wilson – 4 stars

Funny, heartwarming, sweet story. This is everything that I expected The House on the Cerulean Sea to be. Not preachy and no lectures about morality. This book is also about kids who are different from other kids as they can spontaneously combust. The bond that the governess and the kids share was wonderful without the kids acting obnoxiously. The kids were cute and I fell in love with them. Everything about the story and the characters was believable. My only issue was with Madison and how I felt she didn’t get punished enough for how mean and selfish she was. I hated Madison for everything she did to Lillian. Lillian was amazing. The story is so interesting that I found it difficult to put the book down and finished it in 2 days with the audiobook.
Many people have written that there is no plot. There is a plot – it is about kids who were shunned by their own parents because they were combustible. It is about kids who finally find someone who accepts them and loves them. The kids combust without any fault of theirs but they are considered sinister by their own parents. Audiobook is great. 

Looks like I completed 15 years of blogging on WordPress platform (I was on blogger before that for over a year) which is really amazing. I never expected to blog for these many years. I have no plans of quitting too. 🙂 Thank you WordPress for reminding me.

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