Best Books of 2021

Goodreads has this really neat feature – your “Year in books”. For me, a reader and numbers girl, it’s just what I need – a depiction of my year. And since I was so bad at writing reviews in 2021 (none, I didn’t write any) I feel the need to at the very least go through my lists and stats and choose what were my best books of the year.

So here we go, in no particular order, and also – a mix of fiction and non fiction.

Anatomy of a Scandal by Sarah Vaughan was gripping, and different and very easy to become completely engrossed in.

Sophie and James are from privileged backgrounds – the best schools and the best universities. How could anyone believe it when James is accused of a vicious, horrible crime? It couldn’t possibly be. Could it?

Kate is the prosecutor, also from the prestigious university, and now a Queen’s court barrister – but she’s had to work hard to get there, and she knows about men like James.

I found this to be a clever book, with lots of layers, emotion and drama. I couldn’t put it down.

The Fountains of Silence was another surprise. I loved this “portrait of love, silence, and secrets” set in Madrid in 1957.

Of course, there is a ruling dictator – General Franco. Ana is a maid who works at a hotel which welcomes international guests, including the Mathesons from the United States, with their son, Daniel.

You’ve guessed it – forbidden love between Ana and Daniel is the main story here, but it does take some unexpected turns amidst the historical setting, which is a fairly violent backdrop for the poignancy of the love story.

We also meet the rest of Ana’s extended family, and issues of adoption, poverty and Catholicism are explored, all against the dark background of the tyranny that is Spain in that time. An immersive experience.

It is difficult to explain how much I loved this book.

The French Revolution is not something I had read much about, although it had always fascinated me. In Ribbons of Scarlet Kate Quinn (The Huntress, The Rose Code) and other eminently qualified women authors take the history of six powerful women and give them voice as the political situation becomes fraught and violence erupts.

What is particularly enjoyable, is that although these are six distinct women with different stories and backgrounds, the authors have collaborated in the telling, and there is entwining of the history, which makes the book read like a novel.

What an interesting take on history.

I know most of you readers are going to skip past this economist’s view of how the world should be transformed, because you’re here for the fiction, but Mission Economy was one of the most fascinating books I have ever read.

Ok, you can scroll down, but before you go, watch Mariana’s clip on innovation here.

Her point in this book is that – like the Apollo landing, we need to have big dreams, that fulfil many objectives – from uplifting society to being environmentally friendly and creating value in our economies. She also identifies all the amazing inventions that wouldn’t have happened, were it not for the moon landing – the dustbuster, for example.

Like I said, an inspiring and amazing book.

I’ve read a few books in 2021 about 50something year old women who have a “should I leave my life and try something different?” moment. Unbecoming, by Joanne Fedler, I’m looking at you, for instance. The Paper Palace was quite special.

Very nostalgic – the setting in Cape Cod, where Elle (our protagonist) went for all her childhood holidays. Her husband, Peter, who saved her in so many ways and her childhood friend, Jonas, who was never far away, until he was.

Early in the book, I told my husband the plot, so far (which I won’t do here – no spoilers) and he honestly couldn’t cope with the dilemma. He was checking in every hour – what has happened? He knew he would never be able to read it. It’s that kind of book. Breathtaking.

Another non-fiction, but oh such a goodie – Edge

Laura Huang starts with a really good story about how when she meets a famous person, for a study related reason, she says something that pisses him off and then she rescues the situation, by seeing the funny side and making the most of it. Best part is, it seems to be true.

Quite remarkable really, how many of those stories abound. And when one is trying to make the most of life, and it’s not all moonlight and roses, those little things that people do to turn mistakes into art, failures into successes and weaknesses into strengths are so encouraging.

It was the perfect pandemic partner, keeping me optimistic when adversity abounded.

I’ve read a number of Peter Swanson’s murder mysteries (The Kind worth Killing and All the Beautiful Lies, for instance) but this one’s the best, Rules for Perfect Murders.

Let’s start with the premise – 8 murders based on an online list, each predicated on, you guessed it, a novel.

This ticked all my boxes. Murder, mystery, twisty, and did I mention all the murder mystery books? Including Agatha Christie and Donna Tartt.

Books are time travel. True readers all know this. But books don’t just take you back to the time in which they were written; they can take you back to different versions of yourself.” 

“Being an avid mystery reader as an adolescent does not prepare you for real life. I truly imagined that my adult existence would be far more booklike than it turned out to be. I thought, for example, that there would be several moments in which I got into a cab to follow someone. I thought I’d attend far more readings of someone’s will, and that I’d need to know how to pick a lock, and that any time I went on vacation (especially to old creaky inns or rented lake houses) something mysterious would happen. I thought train rides would inevitably involve a murder, that sinister occurrences would plague wedding weekends, and that old friends would constantly be getting in touch to ask for help, to tell me that their lives were in danger. I even thought quicksand would be an issue.” 

Don’t you want to read it now?

That’s my list – I hope it’s inspired you to find something good to read. Me, I’ve read The Lincoln Highway by Amor Towles, It Ends with Us by Colleen Hoover and Long Walk to Freedom by Nelson Mandela this year – off to a cracking start.

Hit me with your recommendations in the comments, and have a great reading year.

The Lincoln Highway by Amor Towles

Third book review of the year, and the other two were both 5 stars, so the pressure is on here.

I had so many reading intentions last year, one of which was A Gentleman In Moscow by the same author, who I’d never read before. Unfortunately, I never got there. This was my Christmas Eve book (a really reasonable price from for my SA friends), and I have been savouring it since then.

It starts in the middle, as all good books do, with Emmett being driven home from Salina, a juvenile facility where he has been doing time. He is looking forward to reuniting with his younger brother, Billy, who wants to go on a road trip in the hopes of finding their other, who went a-wandering towards San Francisco just after Billy was born.

Since this is a book of thwarted plans, interrupted dreams, lives travelling off course, and escaped villains, who are more accident prone than being men of evil intentions, it isn’t as simple as it sounds. In some ways it is though – Billy’s big red book is full of stories of intrepid adventurers, both real and imagined, who inspire our unlikely heroes and the people they meet along the way to see that life can change for the better, and that even in unlikely places, humanity can bring salvation instead of destruction and help is often a call away.

“—It wasn’t a bother at all, the old gent replied, gesturing toward his bed. I was only reading. Ah, I thought, seeing the corner of the book poking out from the folds of his sheets. I should have known. The poor old chap, he suffers from the most dangerous addiction of all.” 

The back story is how Emmett, Billy and their sidekicks Duchess and Woolly came to this point, and I was engrossed by the detail, and the vivid scenes – statues of Abraham Lincoln in parks, HoJos (Howard Johnson hotels) in their blue and orange splendour and the vaudeville stage in NYC. We see this through Billy’s and Woolly’s awe-filled eyes, and also through the less starstruck, over-and wiser vision of Emmett and Duchess.

“And from all of these pages upon pages, one thing I have learned is that there is just enough variety in human experience for every single person in a city the size of New York to feel with assurance that their experience is unique. And this is a wonderful thing. Because to aspire, to fall in love, to stumble as we do and yet soldier on, at some level we must believe that what we are going through has never been experienced quite as we have experienced it.” 

I now have given the books I’ve read in 2022 an average of five stars – or five stars each, whichever way you look at it. I hate doing that, because it makes me seem easy. But I’d rather be easy than mean, and this was a great book.

5 inspiring stars.

Long Walk to Freedom by Nelson Mandela

I’ve been wanting to read this for ever so long now, and I’m so glad I did.

The autobiography of Nelson Mandela’s life makes for riveting reading. It starts with all the early influencers on his rural life and moves at a rapid pace, covering his early adulthood, his employment as a law clerk, his many colleagues and close friends and finding his tribe in the African National Congress.

He is generous in his treatment of friends and foes, always respectful of different views and so self aware, that he almost over-acknowledges his weaknesses. He describes all the struggles too well – prison life, the suffering of his family because of his political stance, the ideological issues that he encounters – it’s all there, and is a rich and nuanced account.

“I am fundamentally an optimist. Whether that comes from nature or nurture, I cannot say. Part of being optimistic is keeping one’s head pointed toward the sun, one’s feet moving forward. There were many dark moments when my faith in humanity was sorely tested, but I would not and could not give myself up to despair. That way lays defeat and death.” 

It made me miss him, reading this book. Not that I ever knew him, but I was proud that a man of his moral and ethical stature was our leader, albeit for a short period of time. It also made me appreciate afresh how far the standard for leadership has been lowered, not just in SA, but globally. Leaders just don’t measure up to his work ethic, his sense of duty and responsibility and his empathy with so many different people groups. We needed to clone him while he was alive.

“I have walked that long road to freedom. I have tried not to falter; I have made missteps along the way. But I have discovered the secret that after climbing a great hill, one only finds that there are many more hills to climb. I have taken a moment here to rest, to steal a view of the glorious vista that surrounds me, to look back on the distance I have come. But I can only rest for a moment, for with freedom come responsibilities, and I dare not linger, for my long walk is not ended.” 

It’s difficult not to rate this book five stars, because the subject matter is so five star worthy. In this case though, the writing measures up, and makes the book worthy of the man. I loved every minute.

Five noble stars.

It ends with us by Colleen Hoover

I’m starting the year as I intend to continue – getting back into the habit of reviewing all the books I read. Trouble is, there are so very many good ones I’ve read last year, that I haven’t reviewed. Sigh. Maybe I’ll get there, but the priority is going to be to review as I go, so that it’s done.

So here’s the first. Colleen Hoover also wrote Verity, and Layla, both of which I’ve read, and there are more, which I haven’t. Both of the above were relatively dark (an attractive feature for me), and this one was not -well not overtly anyway. Not any worse for being a “easier” read, however.

Lily is our protagonist, and she’s a good one. Her life hasn’t been easy, and she is trying to make her way after the death of her father and a tough childhood. All seems to be going much better, apart from some minor setbacks and challenges – more in the embarrassing category than the “changed my destiny” one. She meets and falls in love with Ryle, the neurosurgeon who is perfect in every way. And that’s all I’m saying about that. We read about her past through her journal, which she is revisiting – and I found the transition from “before” to “now” much more natural than when the chapters just skip in that way.

I should mention that “easier” is not really an appropriate word for this beautifully written, empathetic and heartfelt story, and as a number of reviews state, if you are in the habit of reading the author’s notes, that is the part at which you may ugly cry. There is a depth of understanding and relating and pain and truth that will resonate with your soul.

I loved every minute of the heart wrenching book.

5 guttural stars.

Building Capital by Muitheri Wahome

When Muitheri told me that she was writing a book, about two years ago, I was excited and intrigued. When she told me that it was about the history of asset management in South Africa, I thought two things – one, there is no better person that I can think of to write this book and two, I cannot wait to read it. I love the work I do – which also happens to be in the asset management industry in South Africa. I also love a good story, especially when it is historical. 

You can imagine my delight when I received an early copy of the book – all of those passions to be unpacked in 250 pages. I found a free weekend, and tucked in. My copy started with some acknowledgements – in keeping with Muitheri’s generous style of giving space and voice to the characters that leap off the pages. She observes that there is little documented history when it comes to South African Asset Management. That is a great pity, since our country has experienced a wealth of experience, a diversity of views and a plethora of highly skilled players in this space – most of whom are eminently qualified to string a few sentences together.  The author gives time for tellings that are “in their own words”. As I was reading, I wouldn’t have been surprised had some of the doyens walked from the offices and boardrooms into my room – it felt like they were that close. Muitheri’s style is engaging and inclusive and paints an accurate and vivid picture, and anyone with even a mild interest in the subject will find themselves drawn into this rich and thorough account.  (Who knows, perhaps even my long-suffering husband, who often despairs of my endless “industry chats” when he is at the table?)

Muitheri goes further however. Not only has this book been based on extensive interviews, but she has trawled through many data sources – from surveys to newspapers, financial publications, and even actuarial society journals – there are (a few) members among that profession who will attest to never having read a single one in full. All the research is placed in its proper historical context, and used to enhance the colourful characters. The story flows from the origins of the JSE, through the establishment of an insurance industry, and incorporates all the major thought leaders and developments – often pioneering ideas – that built the asset management industry. 

I’ve now got a beautiful hardcover version that will take pride of place on my shelf. I’m grateful to Muitheri for her labour of passion. This was a story that needed to be told, and Muitheri took the time and invested the energy to do so well. John Morley, the 1st Viscount Morley of Blackburn said It is not enough to do good; one must do it the right way”.Muitheri has led the way in doing just that, and I share her hope that there will be many more accounts written on this topic, from differing perspectives. 

Weekly Ten

The BIG news this week. Yes – they’re back together – with an ALBUM. On 5th November. It’s ABBA! Woohoo.

And sorry, I promise I wont do ten ABBA posts this week (although, sadly, I probably could). Here is the first single. I Still Have Faith in You. It’s lovely. And there was a nearly two hour streaming event for those die-hard fans, ( where they tell you all about the upcoming concert – which is them, and not them – i.e. eternally youthful avatar versions. So clever.

Ok, moving on. Here’s the Emirates woman on top of the world, from a few weeks back – I missed this somehow. Scary stuff.

This is funny. And it’s all in the timing – as these things usually are…

I had to watch this cat clip at least 5 times. Love it.

This is fabulous – maths and poetry… thanks Lisa.

Been thinking about this all week – “Good without God” – how church is better without the “magic”. How though, when we humans always mess up? Don’t we need a little grace, a little mercy, and from someone other than ourselves?

There’s a new Crosswalk – Cinderella – from James Corden. Always funny, these, except one day someone is really going to run someone over.

I love most things Helena Bonham Carter. Here’s a recent Vogue article (mostly pics). Enjoy.

We have to play out with my favourite ABBA song – As good as new. This version has old footage – most of which I hadn’t seen. It’s got everything – even the key change! Have an awesome weekend and an amazing week, people. Try not to sing Voulez Vous all week. Not sorry!

Weekly Ten

Morning peeps. It’s cold everywhere in SA today- even in Durbs. So I hope you have a cuppa something warm and are ready to have our weekly catch-up.

I’ve discovered Janey Godley. Love her accent. Love “we don’t even want to read your shite on Facebook”. There’s more (swearing) where that came from – be warned.

And, continuing the ranty, sweary vibe…

How cute is this pic from Twitter? After knowing each other 16y, together 11, engaged 4, they got married. Click the pic for another cute wedding story.

Oh, the irony… Kamala wears grey suits, the whole time, so as NOT to draw attention to her clothing, and here is the NYT, writing an article about that….sigh

This thread is great, especially the comment “deliver us from Noakes and lead us to slap chips”.

Again, the comments… particularly the “made by Apple?” Hilarious.

More SAns getting vaccinated, in style.

And our music clip, more Hamilton.

Ozzy Man Reviews has a cat video this week – who woulda thunk it? Cute.

Nando’s does it again.

That’s the ten. Hope you enjoyed it. Stay warm and have an awesome weekend.

Weekly Ten

Good morning everybody. As I type this, it’s morning, but I may not finish in time – I have to dash to Benoni, because I GOT A SLOT. If you, like me, are trying to renew your driver’s license you know what I mean. If you’re not, count yourself lucky. Anyhoo, it’s the weekend. And there’s time to catch up on all our favourite stuff.

Speaking of which, I loved the latest Ben Trovato post:

“Anyway. We all make mistakes. Nothing on the scale of Mkhize or Godongwana, obviously. But still. We are nothing if not a forgiving nation. The only thing our government has an unlimited supply of is second chances.”

I know the Olympics is over, but…

And this wow!

I hummed and ha’ed about this one. Some of the “times people flawlessly executed their ideas” are downright yucky. And weirdly fascinating. But in the end, the mask in the picture, tipped the balance. I would hate to see it in real life, but it’s quite funny in a picture.

This next article may just clear your palate. It’s quoted by James Clear – a convocation speech George Saunders (author of Lincoln in the Bardo) gave, entitled “Failures of Kindness”. I loved it. Click the pic for the article and the video link.

This was fabulous. Our very own galloping granny, Mavis Hutchison. There’s a story and a podcast. She’s inspirational. Enjoy.

This was fun – school and college pics of celebs. See if you can figure them out before you read their names. I recognized the girl on the left straightaway, and I’m really bad at this game.

Loved seeing so many of our 18-35s get so excited about getting vaccinated yesterday. Like this…

This tweet aligned with my sentiments, and I love how the doctor explains it all. Read the whole thread.

Which made me sing “My shot” the whole day yesterday. So we shall play out with “Aaron Burr, sir” and followed by “My shot” at about 2:40. From Hamilton, which reopened in the West End on Thursday. Love it.

That’s it, guys. See you all next week.

Weekly Ten

Good afternoon! Seems my lockdowned Saturday mornings have too much lying in and reading in them and it takes me a while to get to post all my favourite social media stuff. Anyhoo, here it is, starting with the best tweet I’ve seen for ages.

And then we move to James Corden. It’s been a while since I’ve found anything worth posting from the comedians, but I quite enjoyed the evolution of Steve’s jingle.

I’ve discovered Crazy Werrie – “Welcome to da boosh”. Enjoy.

And then for more South Effriken-ness, there’s the Russian Video. Don’t worry, I missed it too, but GoodThingsGuy catches us up.

Cameron Walker writes about motivation in the NY Times. Trouble is I run out of free articles on around the second of the month. So I’ve developed a skill at finding them in alternative places. Here is “How to get things done when you don’t want to do anything”. From the NYT, but also, not.

“Rummaging in his kitchen drawer, Freeman found the perfect tool: a sharp pick of the sort used to shear ice from large blocks. He knew his close colleague, surgeon James Watts, wouldn’t sanction his new approach, so he closed the office door and did his “ice-pick lobotomies” — more formally, transorbital lobotomies — without Watts’ knowledge.”

This book looks terrifying!

Where would we be without some household hacks? I confess I’ve seen most of them, but there are a few – like the peanut butter one – that I hadn’t.

Bucket list stuff – how awesome is this photo, by Deon Wessels? I found it on a Kruger FB group. And hiding behind that is a gorgeous tulip pic, if you haven’t seen enough of them yet. I never do.

We re-watched Bohemian Rhapsody this week on Netflix – what a classic. So is this post. Such legends they all are and were.

Can’t believe it’s been 7 years since we lost Robin Williams.

We are playing out with a classic. One of my favourite songs, and I just love this version.

Well, that’s all for this week, guys. Hope you found something you hadn’t seen yet. Enjoy the rest of the weekend and have an awesome week.

Weekly 10

I’ve been thinking about this a lot. Imagine your barrista in a coffee van, same time every morning – gosh I’d probably follow the truck the whole day! Maybe that’s why they don’t.

Hope you’ve got your cuppa as we catch up on my best posts of the week.

Yes, of course we are still milking the Tatjana moment. Besides, even though I saw this, I didn’t get a chance to watch this, which is one of the points of this post. There is so much joy in this clip.

We are a nation of buskers and beguilers adrift on a boat made of bullshit. Ben Trovato’s latest.

Such a clever series of images…I stole the moon.

Loved these – five minutes of symphonies per famous person. Beautiful.

You need to read the story here. Not just see the picture. Click.

That’s what I love about maths, there’s only one right answer. Except when it isn’t there. This freaked me out so much. Click the pic for the reactions.

My story of the week – the 94 year old lady who finally got to wear a wedding dress.

Such a good commentary on balancing risks, and thinking through vaccination. Have a read.

Scared to shop online? Here are some epic fails that may help you choose wisely. Or you may never shop online again.

My favourite Olympic moment of the week… we watched athletics and the men’s high jump was riveting. It ended with both Qatar’s Mutaz Essa Barshim and Italy’s Gianmarco Tamberi taking gold medals. Here’s how it happened.

And then, Italian Marcel Jacobs won the 100m (spot the South African – Simbine who finished fourth). What a moment!

That’s all for this week. Have an awesome weekend.