It’s that time of year where we look back on the books we’ve loved most this year.
In 2021 I’ve read a total of 170 books (well, I will have by the end of tomorrow lol) so you can imagine that narrowing it down to just 21 was no easy task. I went back and forth over this list for weeks, struggling to get it down from 30 and then 25.
Thirteen of these book are by new-to-me authors, eleven are debuts and two are part of a series. Three of the author, Stacey Halls, Ellen Alpsten and Jessica Ryn, have had all of their books in my list of favourites in the year each was released and were all in my list of 20 favourites of 2020.
I plan to do a stack of the books that almost made it in the coming days so keep an eye on my social media for that. But for now, here are the 21 books I loved most in 2021:
The Lamplighters by Emma Stonex
The Lamplighters is a truly accomplished debut. Haunting, mesmerising and atmospheric, it tells the story of the disappearance of three men and their warring widows. Drenched in mystery and with a hint of the paranormal, it is a vividly told and addictive read that I devoured quickly. I loved that it was based on a true story, adding even more intrigue to this already fascinating tale.
Call Me Mummy by Tina Baker
This crazy psychological thriller still vividly lives rent free in my mind almost a year after reading. Like the author herself, this is a vivacious, darkly funny and compelling debut that I loved. It tells the story of every parents’ worst nightmare come true, of how longing can become twisted into evil, and the ripple effects of trauma and pain. Mummy remains one of the most terrifying creations I’ve read, mostly because I understand her and why she became who she is. If you love a well-written thriller then read this book.
The One Hundred Years of Lenni and Margot
I’m a sucker for a multi-generational friendship so I was immediately on board for a story about a seventeen-year-old girl and eight-three-year-old woman. Lenni and Margot are residents of the hospital’s terminal ward and build a friendship in the art room, telling their stories through paintings that illustrate the many highs and lows of their shared one hundred years. Hypnotic, mesmerising and heart-rending, this is a book that reaches into your soul and changes you forever. A story of life, death, all the magical moments in between.
The Asylum by Karen Coles
Claustrophobic, haunting and addictive, The Asylum is a spectacular debut that doesn’t get enough love in my opinion. Exquisitely written, it transports you to the bleak, shadowy rooms of the asylum and the anguished recesses of Maud’s mind. Fans of historical and Gothic fiction will not want to miss this book.
Circus of Wonders by Elizabeth Macneal
Once again Elizabeth Macneal has created a masterpiece. Captivating, illuminating and consuming, I was under the spell of this story from start to finish. This is a story about the outcasts, about finding your place in the world and what it is to be human. Circus of Wonders is dazzling piece of historical fiction that is not to be missed.
The Metal Heart by Caroline Lea
Oh, my heart. When I think of this book that is my first thought. A story about love, sacrifice, fear and survival set against the backdrop of a remote Scottish island during World War II, The Metal Heart is a breathtakingly beautiful story that I will never forget.
Ariadne by Jennifer Saint
Atmospheric, lush and evocative, Ariadne is a rich tapestry that swept me away. In this glorious debut, Jennifer Saint brings to life many of the familiar Greek myths through a new lens, tells them from the perspective of the women who were previously relegated to the sidelines. And it is utterly spectacular, sparking my obsession with Greek mythology. I loved it so much that I not only bought the beautiful hardback, but also the Waterstones special edition. This is a book that I recommend to everyone, whether you’ve previously been interested in Greek myths or not.
The Wolf Den by Elodie Harper
If Ariadne ignited my obsession with Greek mythology, The Wolf Den solidified it. The first in an exciting new trilogy, it tells the story of Amara, a former Doctor’s daughter sold into slavery and now one of the she-wolves at Pompeii’s infamous brothel. Lush, evocative and atmospheric I was transported to the doomed city’s dusty streets and immersed in Amara’s fight for survival and freedom. I am counting down to book two in May so I can find out what happens next.
The Stranding by Kate Sawyer
The Stranding is a story about the end of the world. About humanity, love, hope and survival. Imaginative, original and utterly magnificent, it surpassed all my expectations. I still find it hard to believe this is a debut. Exquisitely written and beautifully observed, this was a masterclass in storytelling. I will certainly be buying anything Ms. Sawyer writes in the future.
This Is How We Are Human by Louise Beech
This is the book that I always recommend when anyone asks for a 2021 book they might not have read. A truly astonishing novel from an extraordinary talent, I think this book deserves to be on everyone’s reading list. It is a story about the nuances and complexities of being human that is full of heart, warmth and wisdom. A story that is unflinchingly honest and achingly real. I have a son with autism and am so thankful to Louise for writing a book that doesn’t show us a cliché, but a real person who is as individual as anyone else. Please read this book.
The Tsarina’s Daughter by Ellen Alpsten
Another masterpiece in the Tsarina series by Ellen Alpsten. Her debut novel, Tsarina, was one of my favourite books of 2020 and I am not surprised that the follow up was every bit as good. This time she tells the story of Elizabeth, daughter of Peter the Great, following her highs and lows after Russia is torn apart and her fortunes drastically change. The Tsarina’s Daughter is dazzling piece of historical fiction that I couldn’t put down and left me eagerly awaiting book three.
Before You Knew My Name by Jacqueline Bulbitz
A murder mystery with a twist, this startling debut tells the story from the perspective of the victim rather than those investigating the case. And this creative author goes even further, also highlighting what it is like to be the person who discovers the body, a person we rarely hear more than a passing sentence or two about in most thrillers. Timely, brave and thought-provoking, it stands out from the crowd of other thrillers. A must read for fans of the genre.
Mrs England by Stacey Halls
Stacey Halls once again shows why she is a Queen of historical fiction and one of my favourite authors with this slow-burning novel. Atmospheric, eerie and full of menace, it follows Ruby, a Norlander Nurse, on her latest job caring for the four England children is West Yorkshire. But all is not quite what it seems with Mr. and Mrs. England, and secrets are slowly revealed in this haunting and twisty novel.
The Beresford by Will Carver
Will Carver is an author with a quirky, twisted and original style that is all his own. And The Beresford is another outstanding example of his creative genius. It opens with a murder then follows the residents of The Beresford, a halfway house for the disillusioned and vulnerable that has a life of its own, living and breathing as much as the physical characters of the story. Seductive and unsettling, The Beresford is my favourite Will Carver book to date.
The Last Library by Freya Sampson
The Last Library is my favourite uplit of 2021. A bibliophile’s dream, this is a hug in book form and is now one of my favourite books of all time. It follows a varied cast of characters as they fight to save their beloved local library from closure. It is a celebration of books and the power of stories, but also of community, friendship, kindness and courage. A charming, funny and uplifting story that I can’t recommend highly enough.
The Hidden Child by Louise Fein
A perfect family is fractured and torn apart when illness invades their lives and not only tests their strength, but makes them question their core beliefs and values in this extraordinary piece of historical fiction. Powerful, moving and thought-provoking, this beautifully written story is one you won’t forget.
The Maid by Nita Prose
I was lucky to be selected as a VIP for the Tandem Collective readalong of this highly anticipated debut. A murder mystery that was also a balm for my soul, this book exceeded all expectations and was like nothing I’ve read before. I adored Molly, the heroine of this wonderful story. Quirky and endearing, the world would be a better place if we were all a little more like her. Nita Prose is an author with a bright future ahead and I have no doubt that this book will be a sensation when it’s released next year and I can’t wait to see the movie adaptation that is already in the works.
Wish You Were Here by Jodi Picoult
A book about the pandemic doesn’t sound like something that would be on my list of top books, but Jodi Picoult has added her magical touch to make that so. A story about resilience, hope and survival that explores the fear and trauma of the pandemic and the limitless potential of the human mind. Beautiful, heartwarming and absorbing, I got lost in this book. I thought I knew what I was getting when I started reading, but I had no idea. When that twist comes it blows your mind and shakes you to the core. This is one of Ms. Picoult’s best books to date.
The Imperfect Art of Caring by Jessica Ryn
Sometimes you pick up a book and it is exactly what you need. That was the case when I decided to read this book on a whim. Uplifting, heartwarming and hopeful, this is a beautiful story of friendship, community and forgiveness. Just as she did with her debut novel, Jessica Ryn has given us another everyday heroine to root for and I was behind Violet every step of the way. Ms. Ryn has solidified her place on my list of auto-buy authors and I can’t recommend her books highly enough.
A Girl Made of Air by Nydia Hetherington
One of those books that is just as beautiful on the inside as it is on the outside, A Girl Made of Air is a mesmerising and magical tale. It tells the story of an nameless and unwanted protagonist, following her from the days as a neglected child living in a circus in England then all the way to New York, where she found fame as the greatest Funambulist of all time. For this dazzling debut, Nydia Hetherington merged Manx folklore, fairy tales, circus freaks and fiction to create a story about the strange and the extraordinary. My only regret is that I left it to languish on my shelf for so long. Pick it up now.
Midnight in Everwood by M. A. Kuzniar
I am so glad that I saved this spellbinding story to read over Christmas as it is on Christmas Eve that most of the magic happens in Everwood. Marietta dreams of being a ballerina but her high society family have another path for her life that she must follow. As she prepares for final performance, Marietta discovers a hidden magical world full of wonder hidden in the scenery. But this enchanting place holds magic darker than she ever imagined and Marietta soon finds herself fighting to find a way to break free of Everwood’s hold and return home. A mesmerising debut sprinkled with magic, this is the perfect winter read.
BOOK OF THE YEAR
I have agonised for weeks over what book should be given the title of Book of the Year. I had two main contenders: Ariadne and This Is How We Are Human. It was only now, while writing this post and putting together my thoughts about the books, that it became clear which book would get the title. It is a book that lives in my heart and soul, one that I am passion about having other people read and that I truly believe has the power to educate and change minds. That book is This Is How We Are Human by the incomparable Louise Beech. If you’ve not read it, please do. And let me know your thoughts.
Thanks for reading Bibliophiles Happy New Year and I will see you in 2022. Emma xxx