My top reads of 2021

Another year is over and that means another annual reading summery. I love reading other people’s book year in review and that inspires me to keep writing my own. Despite the fact 2021 was another weird and wonderful year I hope you all at least had some good books to get you through. I would love to hear your favourites in the comments section. This post is a review of all of the books I scored 4/5 or 5/5. I am quite a harsh scorer so I really mean it when I say I loved all of these books.

My 2021 in reading Statistics: 61 books read (Goal of 60 books); 19,256 pages read; 315 pages average book length; 3.3/5 average rating.

I read a mixture of paper books and on my beloved 9 year old Kindle e-reader. A big theme of my reading this year is probably sitting in cafes with an oat milk coffee, reading my kindle.

Fiction

‘American Dirt’ Jeanine Cummins: 5/5: This book tells the story of a mother and her son fleeing cartel violence in Mexico and their journey to the United States. It is gripping, moving and so believable. It does not sway away from the hardships faced on the route but the people remain real not just reduced to their struggles. The characters come to life and I was willing them onwards after every step. Too often migrant and asylum seekers stories are ignored. Stories like this need to be told. One of the best books I have read in a long time.

‘The Enchanted April’ Elizabeth von Arnim: 5/5: This was the ‘Enchanted Book Club’ read for April and I adored it. Through the pages I could imagine myself in the sunshine by the Coast in Italy rather than in rainy lockdown Scotland. It’s not a super dramatic book in terms of plot but the character development and descriptions keep you well engaged. First published in 1922 it was a defining novel in encouraging women to travel with friends and without husbands. It’s worth looking up Elizabeth’s life because she was a really cool lady, living in several different countries and never tying herself to a man.

‘Purple Hibiscus’ Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie: 4/5: The first book of one of my favourite authors. Adichie combines engaging human stories with social commentary and history of life in Nigeria after the 1985 coup. As well as covering themes of religion, colonialism, racism, patriarchy and domestic violence. With all this you would think this would be a dense and hard to read book but it just isn’t. Yes it’s a little slow in places but overall the characters and their surroundings came to life and I truly cared about what happened to them. I went through a whirlwind of emotions and when the book ended I wished I could know that the characters would be okay.

‘The Dutch House’ Ann Patchett: 4/5: Set over the course of five decades this book is not full of big events but the stories, successes and hardships of a normal family. Themes of love, loss, betrayal and forgiveness run through. The characters grow as the pages pass and you can imagine the setting, especially the big old house to which the book gives its name. The timeline jumped around a little in places and some events were skimmed over a little fast but I still enjoyed it.

‘Olive’ Emma Gannon: 4/5: I absolutely inhaled this book. This story tackled so many issues that are not usually addressed in fiction and made me feel seen. Olive is in her early 30s and trying to manage navigating adulthood. It’s partly a book about not wanting children but mostly about trying to figure out what it is you do want in life and that things don’t always go to plan. One thing that stuck with me was watching Olive go through that change when you and your friends leave university and your lives start to move in different ways. Each of the characters is on their own journeys with their own struggles and successes and this book helps to remind us all those are valid. The ending was a bit neat and rushed for my liking but excellent other than that.

Middle Grade

‘The Christmas Carrolls’ Mel Taylor-Bessent, Selom Sunu (Illustrator): 4/5: Yes this is very much a children’s book but it is so full of joy it doesn’t matter. The story itself is so sweet and festive. The illustrations in the paperback are just gorgeous (why don’t more adults books have pictures?). This is a story about family, friendship, identity and belonging. It focuses on being true to yourself and doing your best to help others.

‘Mary Poppins’ P.L. Travers, Júlia Sardà (Illustrator), Mary Shepard (Illustrator): 4/5: I’m basing my review on this beings a children’s book although I never actually read this as a kid. I would never have thought to read it now but you know I really enjoyed it. Quick, light, cheerful and nothing bad happens. The book isn’t quite like the Disney movie (unsurprisingly). Mary Poppins is much more vein and particular than in the film and I actually preferred that as it made her seem more real. I just loved the magic and wondering whether there events were ‘real’ or in the children’s imagination.

Classics

‘The Secret Garden’ Frances Hodgson Burnett: 4/5: Published in 1911 this is a children’s classic and rightly so. I loved re-reading this as an adult. The Yorkshire setting and the house and grounds of Misselthwaite Manor come to life on the pages. The characters grow too and you are rooting for them as each chapter continues. It is a fairly simple story full of childhood magic and that’s what makes it so special. I found it fascinating how ‘far’ and ‘getting fatter’ were used as positive phrases suggesting health and wellness which is a big change to now! Yes it is of its time, poverty is romanticised and the ‘disability’ story doesn’t sit quite right with me. But overall it remains a firm classic favourite of mine.

‘Emma’ Jane Austen: 4/5: Book club read and I thoroughly enjoyed picking up this classic again. I have seen the newest Emma film twice recently so I did skin read a bit but I can confirm the film is so true to the book. A couple of bits are a little slow. But overall there is a reason it’s a classic. I love the character building and I could really imagine the settings in my mind.

Fantasy

‘Incipience’ L. Gourley: 5/5: This fantasy novel tells the tale of the seraphs, Gods last attempt to create a perfect creation, and their battle against demons. More than that though this is a book about family, identity, responsibility and a battle between the dark and light within ourselves. This book has strong female characters and LGTBQ representation. The plot line was gripping and the ending you will not see coming. I am already excited for book two.

‘The Hunger Games’ Suzanne Collins: 5/5: I had forgotten just how fantastic an example this series is for young adult dystopian. The books are genuinely well written alongside having great plot and characterisations. Despite the other world setting it still manages to be very believable with excellent discussions around morality, loyalty, power, human nature and more. I was gripped despite having read it before.

‘The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes (The Hunger Games No.0)’ Suzanne Collins: 4/5: I wasn’t quite sure about a Snow backstory and it did take me a bit to get into. But after a few chapters I was gripped by the story. The character arcs were done is such a clever way with no sudden changes just gradual building blocks. I loved the subtle links to the main Hunger Games books. The universe became more real as the pages went on. A real page turner.

‘The Court of Miracles’ Kester Grant: 4/5: If you enjoyed Six of Crows then you’ll enjoy this. I don’t think the Les Mis themes were that obvious beyond names but if you put that to one side this is a great YA fantasy novel. It’s a pretty easy read but it keeps you gripped. I loved the historical setting and the politics and power struggles within the Parisian Miracle Court. I was really rooting for ‘The Black Cat’, who is a true girl power icon. It was also a book almost free of romance which makes a nice change for the genre.

History and Historical Fiction

‘Pompeii’ Robert Harris: 4/5: I thought I had already read this book but for some reason I had only got through the first 10%. I am not sure why because I found it a gripping read. I loved the way the Roman society was brought to life in terms of the people and their way of life, the architecture, the landscape and more. The story actually felt quite believable which engaged me further. I was never board even though I knew the rough path the story had to take. Yes the historical accuracy was questionable in places and the ending a little to convenient but overall I really enjoyed it.

‘The Jane Austen Society’ Natalie Jenner: 4/5: This homage to Jane Austen set in the mid 1940s is just a wonderfully pure and sweet story. There is enough happening and ups and downs to keep it interesting but still soothing. I just really enjoyed it as a nice easy read. Plus ‘Pride and Prejudice’ is my all time favourite book so I would definitely have joined the Jane Austen Society if it was real.

‘The Lost Apothecary’ Sarah Penner: 4/5: Set over two timelines, one in the 1700s and one present day which gradually grow in connection together. This book is a fantastic feminist book. The modern plot I was very forced and not all that interesting but the historic one kept me gripped from start to finish. It had a fascinating story line, characters that seemed to come to life and was just generally really unique. I average the book at a 4 with them modern storyline being a 3 and the historic one a 5.

‘The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir’ Jennifer Ryan: 4/5: Set in a village in Kent during WW2 this book follows a community and their choir. I really enjoyed it. Even though it had sad bits it was still warming and uplifting. A reminder perhaps that even in hard times there can be joy and perhaps those hard times make us appreciate the joy. There was a real sense of woman discovering their potential and a changing of societies power structures. I loved getting to know the characters and was so behind the choir, possibly because I love choral singing too. I wasn’t 100% convinced by the diary format which is what stops it from being a five.

‘Seashaken Houses: A Lighthouse History from Eddystone to Fastnet’ Tom Nancollas: 4/5: Part history part memoir, this book charts the stories of a selection of lighthouses from around the U.K. each one selected because of a particular significance either historically, architecturally or personally to the author. It was a really interesting read and I learnt a lot about these unique structures and those who created them. It was however very detail heavy which took out some of the enjoyment of the read.

Non-Fiction

‘Reef Life: AN Underwater Memoir’ Callum Roberts: 5/5: I would highly recommend this book to anyone who is interested in conservation, the oceans, nature or travel. Callum Roberts is one of the world’s top marine conservationists and this book walks you through his career; education about coral reefs; and fascinating if heart breaking explanations of the decline of reefs. There are stories from all over the world from Saudi Arabia and Iran to Jamaica and the Caribbean to the Maldives and Egypt. Although it’s a book to inspire us to action to save the reefs there are stories of wonder and hope that will keep you gripped and learning.

‘Janesville: An American Story’ Amy Goldstein: 4/5: This non-fiction text follows a cast of characters in Janesville, Wisconsin in the aftermath of the nation’s oldest operating General Motors plant shutting down in the Great Recession, two days before Christmas 2008. Over a five year period Goldstein follows the fate of the twin and its residents as they try to reshape and retrain for a future without the certainty of auto work. I was so invested in each individuals story and shared in their triumphs and heart breaks. This narrow focus on one community gives a human face to the collapse of industry and makes the impact of it much easier to understand. Only negative would be that there are a lot of character and I did sometimes lose track of who people were.

‘A Buzz in the Meadow: The Natural History of a French Farm’ Dave Goulson: 4/5: An interesting book about the author buying an old French farm and his journey in rewilding it. Although it was a bit detail heavy in places I learnt a lot. Most rewilding books seem to focus on mammals and birds so to have a text like this focused far more on insects and invertebrates was fascinating. Goulson’s passion for studying this small world was clear. Furthermore the book does not shy away from addressing land mismanagement and climate change, which I think is important.

‘Life on Earth’ David Attenborough: 4/5: Let’s be honest you can’t go wrong with an Attenborough, he is a national treasure. I have new watching his documentaries for years but am only now beginning to read his books. This one is quite a heavy read but considering the subject it is accessible and highly readable. It traces the history and evolution of life right from hundreds of millions of years ago with the first organisms to the human dominated world of today. I learnt a lot.

Biography

‘In the Wars: A Story of Conflict, Survival and Saving Lives’ Waheed Arian: 5/5: I have read a lot of books about medicine and the refugee crisis and this was one of the best in both categories. Waheed’s life story is one of sheer determination to succeed no matter the obstacles in your way. The book gives a poignant insight into growing up in conflict and being a refugee in the U.K. Then it charts his journey to becoming a doctor and a world leader in tele-medicine. This book reminds us that everyone deserves to dream and to strive towards that dream.

‘My Father’s Paradise: A Son’s Search for His Jewish Past in Kurdish Iraq’ Ariel Sabar: 4/5: An American Jewish man traces his father’s life from Iraqi Kurdistan to the brand new state of Israel before finally America. Although the structure was a little confusing at times, this was such an interesting read. Despite having studied Iraq at university I did not know there used to be a be big Jewish Community in Kurdistan. The descriptions of the impact of the formation of the state of Israel on Iraq was especially fascinating and in turn the reasons that cause the family to become disillusioned with Israel and move to America. This book is historical and political but it is also about identity, belonging and family.

‘Step by Step’ Simon Reeve: 4/5: A fascinating insight into Simon’s early life and his journey to becoming a top BBC travel documentary maker. I am a huge fan of Simon’s programmes. They go deeper than your classic show. He doesn’t shy away from difficult issues and totally immerses himself in whatever society he is in. But Simon is not another middle class media graduate or in fact a graduate at all. He built his career up from nothing. Sure there was some luck along the way but I found his journey quite inspiring. The book was a little slow in places but mostly very engaging.

There we have it. My top reads for 2021. Lets roll on another year of books in 2022. I think I’ll have a little less spare time this year so my goal is to read 45 books. Do you set book goals? Let me know what they are in the comments section. Happy reading everyone.

One thought on “My top reads of 2021

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s