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HOOKED ON BOOKS: It’s Robbie Awards time again

On average, my life was enriched by at least one book a week in 2021. Here are my highest recommendations based on literary merit, pure entertainment and kid-friendly fun.

Random House, 2014; Scholastic, 2011; Tundra Books, 2018

This year, I only reached the last page of 58 books – for me, a disappointing third-worst total in the 13 years since I started keeping track. I feel better about that number when I reflect that, on average, my life was enriched by more than one book per week.

And so, the time has come to recognize the best of the books I read this year. To qualify for a Robbie Award, books need not be new releases or best-sellers – the only requirement is that I read them last year.

If you’d like to start your own awards, try setting up an account on Goodreads. Then, each time you finish a book, assign it a score from one to five stars and check out your “year in books” as it grows.

Goodreads tells me I averaged 308 pages per book in 2021, from Bette Slater Seres’ “John J. Hammerlink and the Really Big Think” (34 pages) to “Gone Tomorrow” by Lee Child (441).

I rated them an average of 4.6 stars, which suggests that despite everything else, 2021 was a year of great reading satisfaction.


Let’s turn it over to the acad-o’-me and find out who the winners are.

Critic’s Choice

As the critic, I was torn between two series of historical fiction set in the Napoleonic wars. One contender was author David Donachie, whose six-book “Privateersman Mysteries” I got into last year – specifically the first two books, “The Devil’s Own Luck” and “The Dying Trade.” They were an intriguing mash-up of murder and maritime adventure, featuring a roguish pair of brothers in the hero roles.

However, I had to give this award once again to Naomi Novik for her “Temeraire” series, in which dragons help fight the war between Napoleon’s empire and the rest of the world.

I read the last two installments of the nine-book series early in the year, titled “Blood of Tyrants” and “League of Dragons,” and I just can’t praise them highly enough. All these months later, my senses are still filled with their rich language, thrilling action and the monumental stakes of a war that circled the globe. At the center, what matters most is a handful of characters who pop right off the page and become readers’ intimate friends.

People’s Choice

I’m also a person, and as such, I give this award to “Mortal Engines” by Philip Reeve.

I read it only a few weeks after seeing the movie based on it, and I refuse to choose which version I like better. They’re very different, and both worth getting to know.

With the book featuring younger heroes than the movie, they both take place in a far future century when cities of Europe have become monstrous, tracked vehicles that prowl the landscape, gobbling up smaller towns in a “municipal Darwinist” race for resources.

Now London has made its way across the Channel, and one of its leaders has found the ultimate weapon that destroyed the world of long ago (where you and I live). A handful of kids are the only ones who recognize the danger, and they have to stop it before London attacks the last stronghold of non-mechanized mankind.


It’s a weird, ominous vision for our world, with undead cyborgs and land pirates, a city in the sky and scarred children living by their wits in a dangerous landscape. It’s a powerful ride for both the imagination and the emotions.

Kid’s Choice

The child in me wants to name so many books that I read last year, but I’ll narrow it down to one winner: “The Nose from Jupiter” by Richard Scrimger, which explores a Canadian boy’s struggle with suffocating unhappiness and how a tiny alien flies up his nose and turns his life around.

Alan worries that Norbert’s (the alien’s) smart-aleck remarks will get him in trouble with the teachers and bullies at school. Despite the danger, what happens to the pair is strange, funny and touching.

Honorable mentions: “Ban This Book” by Alan Gratz, “The Magic Thief” by Sarah Prineas and “The Goldfish Boy” by Lisa Thompson.

Robin Fish is an avid reader who blogs about books and other topics at Contact him with questions or suggestions at

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