Books of the Year

Best Books of the Year 2021!

Happy New Year!! Yes, somehow it is now 2022 and that means its time for me to reveal my Best Books of 2021! I’ve decided to change the format a little this year – primarily because I’ve read so many fantastic books that trying to narrow them down to a list of five or ten title would be impossible! So instead of a list of reads, I’m going to give you a little narrative walkthrough of my favourite reads of the year, along with links to reviews or featured posts about those that I’ve covered in more detail (just click the book title and it should take you to the correct page).

Right back at the start of the year – my very first book of the year in fact – I read Eowyn Ivey’s To The Bright Edge of the World, a wonderful historical novel set amidst the wilderness of the Alaskan interior. I loved Eowyn’s first novel, The Snow Child, but, if possible, I adored this one even more. Although meditative in many ways, I became rapidly swept up in the tale of Colonel Allen Forrester and his exploration of the Wolverine River – and in the story of his wife Sophie, left at home but making new discoveries of her own. For any fans of historical novels, this one really is a must read.

The first few months of the year also saw me read Shaun Bythell’s amusing Confessions of a Bookseller, a sequel to his Diary of a Bookseller and a highly entertaining read for anyone who has ever wondered what running a bookshop is really like. I was also impressed by The Long Long Afternoon, Inga Vesper’s debut novel about secrets and lies in a picture perfect American suburb. The sultry heat and 1950s atmosphere practically rose off the page as I read! Summer sunshine and deadly secrets also permeated the pages of Alexandra Andrews’ page-turning psychological thriller Who Is Maud Dixon?

2021 has been a year for impressive debuts. I thoroughly enjoyed Emma Stonex’s The Lamplighters, with its combination of domestic drama, folk fable, and supernatural suggestiveness, whilst Virginia Feito’s Mrs March provided a brilliant psychodrama of a woman teetering on the edge of crisis. Honourable mentions also need to go to Natasha Brown’s Assembly and Robert Jones Jr’s The Prophets – impressive, deeply moving novels with huge contemporary resonance that, although I never managed to put my feelings about them into words, have stayed with me long after turning the final page.

I wrote a double feature about two of my favourite crime novels of this year – Janice Hallett’s The Appeal and Joseph Knox’s True Crime Story – but they weren’t the only crime novels I read and enjoyed. The genre remains a firm favourite of mine and other favourites from this year included K J Maitland’s historical novel The Drowned City, V L Valentine’s wryly amusing The Plague Letters, Elly Griffith’s compulsively readable second standalone novel The Postscript Murders, The Diabolical Bones – the second in Bella Ellis’s Bronte Mysteries series – and Richard Osman’s The Man Who Died Twice.

I also enjoyed some historical true crime in the form of Thomas Morris’s fascinating account of The Dublin Railway Murder whilst other no-fiction favourites included Professor Alice Roberts’s enlightening Ancestors: A Pre-History of Britain in Seven Burials, Greg Jenner’s hilarious Ask a Historian, Natalie Hayne’s witty and enlightening Pandora’s Jar: Women in Greek Myth (all of which I reviewed in one post here), and Liz Jones’s fascinating biography of now-forgotten romance novelist Marguerite Jervis, The Queen of Romance.

2021 was also a good year for YA and Middle Grade reading. I’ve mentioned in a few posts that I’ve been reading more YA and Middle Grade as a result of taking part in blog tours for the wonderful folk at The Write Reads. And indeed, my favourite YA and Middle Grade reads of this year are all books I have read as part of their tours: Fireborn by Aisling Fowler, Instructions for Dancing by Nicola Yoon, and Kat Ellis’s Wicked Little Deeds.

A couple of gloriously gothic reads also deserve a mention: Rebecca Netley’s brilliantly spooky debut The Whistling, Rhiannon Ward’s The Shadowing, and Riley Sager’s Home Before Dark. I also read and adored the latest in Matt Wesolowski’s Six Stories – although my full review of Demon will not be coming until the new year!

Finally, the end of the year bought a small raft of brilliant fiction titles, including two of my favourite books of this year: the remarkable Piranesi by Susannah Clarke and quietly brilliant Small Pleasures by Clare Chambers (both reviewed here). I also adored Lauren Groff’s remarkable Matrix, another quietly brilliant novel that imagines the life of the extraordinary Marie de France and her relationship with Eleanor of Aquitaine. And a final mention has to go to Sarah Moss’s masterful The Fell. I didn’t think I’d want to read any pandemic fiction but, in Moss’s hands, the subject becomes a deeply human story of isolation and connection.

All in all, 2021 was a fantastic reading year. Even with all of the titles that I have mentioned here, I’m sure I’ve missed a few that I very much enjoyed! Out of the 122 books I read this year, the majority were 4 star reads or above. As always, I’d love to know if you’ve read and enjoyed any of my favourite reads – and please do tell me your top books of 2021 in the comments below!

Wishing you a very happy 2022 and here’s to another year of bookish delights!

If you decide to pick up any of today’s titles, please consider supporting a local indie bookshop by ordering from them either in person or online! Some of my favourites include Booka Bookshop, The Big Green BookshopSam Read BooksellersBook-ishScarthin Books, and Berts Books.

Reviews on The Shelf are free, honest, and unbiased and I don’t use affiliate links on my posts. However if you enjoy the blog please consider buying me a coffee on Ko-Fi!

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