By Julie Kish

I read 55 novels in 2021, which I think is a personal record. I can’t be totally sure because this is my first year keeping a Reading Journal, which I use to record a brief synopsis of each book I read. I find it necessary to keep a record because my spotty memory has caused me to purchase books I have already read. With no travelling and very little socializing during the past year, I’ve had much more time to read.

I seek comfort during these uncertain times by escaping into a good book. An engrossing story can make the world disappear around me. 

I used specific criteria to choose my four favourite books: the story had to grab me from the beginning and keep my attention; there had to be characters I cared about; and it had to be an engrossing story that stayed with me after I finished reading.

The House in the Cerulean Sea, by T. J. Klune, 2020, is my first choice. I absolutely loved this novel, even though it’s not my usual genre and it’s difficult to categorize. It is delightfully humorous and consists of mythical creatures and children with magic powers. Linus Baker is a 40-year-old lonely caseworker with the Department in charge of Magical Youth. He is assigned to evaluate six orphans on a remote island to determine if they are too dangerous to be integrated into society. It was expertly written and each character, especially the unusual children, tugged at my heart. It is a remarkable story.

The Rose Code, by Kate Quinn, 2021.  This historical novel is about three British women who worked as code breakers at Bletchley Park during the Second World War. The women come from different social classes but form a tight bond as they use their brilliant minds to fight a common enemy. After the war, they come together again to bring a war criminal to justice. The superb writing and emphasis on historical accuracy allows the reader to be transported back to England in the 1940s with the air raids, the food rationing and the fear.

Malibu Rising, by Taylor Jenkins Reid, 2021, is about four rich and famous siblings who throw an epic end-of-summer party at their family’s Malibu beach house in 1983. By midnight the party is out of control, and by morning the house is up in flames. The story is rich with flashbacks that slowly uncover dangerous family secrets and the sins of their parents. It was difficult to put down.

Anxious People, by Fredrik Backman, 2020, is a whimsical comedy that reminds us to have compassion for everyone, particularly anxious people. A desperate thief tries to rob what turns out to be a “cashless bank” and hides from the police by taking refuge in a nearby apartment during an open house. The eight strangers viewing the apartment become hostages when the police and the media surround the building. The author uses expertly crafted dialogue and intriguing backstories to create eccentric, unforgettable characters. The “would-be” thief must decide which is the more terrifying prospect: going out to face the police or staying in the apartment with a group of impossible people. I enjoyed this humorous escape from reality so much I sought out other novels by the same author.

Based on the most recent COVID statistics, 2022 will be another good year for escaping into some absorbing novels.