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Bad Girls Book Club top reads of 2021

January 26, 2022

Wondering what I’ve been up to the past couple of days? Well, at the request of the local arts council, I’ve been compiling a list of last year’s favourite fiction and non-fiction reads of the members of the Bad Girls Book Club. Given that I don’t have anything in particular to say today and thinking the list might be of interest to others, I thought I’d post it here. If anyone has a particular favourite to add, please feel free to do so in the comments section.

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There was a lot of time to read in 2021 and a lot of books were read by the members of the Bad Girls Book Club – and certainly not just the book of the month (although some included in the following were). Here are some of favourite works of fiction and non-fiction. Links to longer reviews are included, if you want to know more.

Susan says, with no hesitation, that of the 50 or so non-fiction books she read last year, 

“My two favourites were both by local authors:  Watermelon Snow, by educator, scientist, and environmental activist Lynne Quarmby, and A Brief History of the Earth’s Climate, by Steven Earle whose credentials are similar to Quarmby’s.

“They are both committed, passionate scientists in their fields; biochemistry for Quarmby (‘watermelon snow’ derives from reddish algae that thrive as the climate warms) and geology for Earle, and they employ their extensive knowledge and unwavering dedication to fighting climate change in their writing.  

“Lynne Quarmby’s book focusses on her trip to the top of the world and what it means to see, hear, and feel the Arctic disappearing, and how to cope with the existential sadness of bearing witness to such events.  Steven Earle’s book takes the reader through every dip and rise of the earth’s climate, with fascinating geological revelations of how life on our planet has coped with climate change over the past few billion years.

“Earle and Quarmby are familiar with each other’s’ work and share their commitment to the environment, so much so that Earle quotes Quarmby with this memorable passage: “There is a yawning chasm of difference between how bad things will get if we continue business-as-usual and how bad they will be if we get off fossil fuels as soon as possible.”

“Both Quarmby and Earle present dire warnings about the inescapable results of anthropogenic climate change, and yet both of their books also offer hope on many levels, if only we can curb our greed and selfishness and be willing to give up just a little in order to gain so much for future generation.

“Interestingly, A Brief History of the Earth’s Climate and Watermelon Snow are both about 170 pages long and there is not one sentence, phrase, or chapter I would want to miss in either book.” 

Heather O would also have picked the above two books as her top non-fiction picks of 2021, but decided Susan had said it all, so she just went with her favourite novel, We Begin at the End by Christopher Whitaker.

According to Heather: “If you like complex characters, a compelling narrative, and intricate plotting then this award-winning literary mystery will be right up your alley. Kept me guessing right until the end. One of my absolute 2021 favourites.”

Linda’s non-fiction pick was The Reality Bubble by Canadian author Ziya Tong.

Linda says, “A well-researched book that is both entertaining and informative. Tong mixes science, philosophy, and history to point out the short-sighted ways we are endangering life on Earth. It’s important.”

Linda’s favourite novel of 2021 was The Thursday Murder Club by Richard Osman, of which Linda says, “An escapist, fun, easy read set in a Sussex ‘Retirement Village’, well written with interesting protagonists (and there are two more books in the series, so one can stay on awhile).”

Hilary’s favourite novel in 2021 was A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki. 

Hilary says, “I enjoyed the half almost-local, half Japanese setting and the touch of magical realism. I found myself deeply engaged with the main characters.” 

As far as non-fiction goes, Hilary says, “I don’t read a lot of non-fiction so I’m going to be ‘bad’ and suggest something that has been recently recommended to me and looks very interesting. I have just started Flower Diary by Molly Peacock, a biography of a Canadian woman artist from a century ago when that was a much more challenging proposition. Her work is quite astonishingly beautiful and still looks fresh today. I’m looking forward to reading more and think it could be of interest to both artists and feminists.” 

Donna didn’t bother with non-fiction at all and went for her two favourite novels of 2021 – Take Nothing With You by Patrick Gale

 and Hamnet and Judith by Maggie O’Farrell. 

According to Donna: “Both books share the themes of coming-of-age, discovering your own strength, music, theatre, love and loss and are written in the most exquisite, lyrical language. I couldn’t put them down but I didn’t want them to end!” (FYI, Hamnet and Judith would have been Susan’s favourite novel, if she hadn’t concentrated on non-fiction.)

Heather M also eschewed non-fiction in favour to two novels. First up is Did You Ever Have a Family by Bill Clegg.

Heather says, “As a family tragedy unfolds, the characters’ reactions and the back stories that emerge are unexpected, and show how first impressions and stereotyped assumptions can be so wrong for so many reasons.”

Her second pick is Five Little Indians by Michele Good, because “After reading this book we feel we know and like these kids, we can almost feel what they endured at residential schools, and we sense how their families and communities experienced those times. All Canadians should read this book.”

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My non-fiction pick was The Five by Hallie Rubenhold.

“Perhaps you recognise these names: Polly Nichols, Annie Chapman, Elizabeth Stride, Catherine Eddowes and Mary Jane Kelly. If you do, it’s as the prostitutes killed by Jack the Ripper. As Hallie Rubenhold reveals in her meticulously researched book, these women were wives and mothers who, through tragedy or betrayal, ended up at the bottom of Victorian London’s heap and would do anything to stay out of the workhouse. A fascinating read.”

As for top novel, not an easy choice. “It’s so difficult to pick a favourite, but if I’m going for the one which will stay with me the longest, it has to be The Other Black Girl by Zakiya Dalila Harris.

“Nella is the only young Black woman working as an editorial assistant for an otherwise lily white publishing company – the first Black woman to be employed there since the sudden disappearance decades before of the only Black editor ever appointed. It isn’t easy, so she is delighted when Hazel-May, another Black editorial assistant, appears. But is Hazel-May what she seems? Is she friend or foe? The novel gave me a much greater insight into the trials and tribulations of Black women (and their hair) in a predominately White workplace. Highly recommend.”

2 Comments
  1. krysross permalink

    Thanks for this. Ordered most of these from the library.

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