2021 Top 10

Hello Reader,

I hope you had an amazing Christmas if you celebrate it, and that your year has had some great moments!

Today is the very last day of 2021 and personally, it has been such a rewarding and manic busy fulfilling year! We’ve done lots of decorating and house hunting, bargaining and paperwork this year. I sold my first house and we bought our new home together in August, we then got Engaged and I’m excited to say that I have a new job and company to look forward to starting in January! There has been so much going on that I have often found it difficult to read and blog but I aim to get back into the swing of things next year and re-prioritise what I truly find enjoyment from doing, so I’ll be thinking about what books to share with you!

I aimed to read 30 books this year, and I topped that my reaching 39 books, including the monstrous Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel over Christmas. I have read such an amazing bundle of books this year that when I was looking back over what I’d recorded on goodreads, I was just like ‘wow’! I wish I’d shared more of them with you, so here I’ve compiled my top 10 of 2021 (which was very difficult to do by the way!!) and I hope it serves as inspiration for your own TBR (To be read) if there are titles on here that you’ve not yet read but that interest you. I’ll be sharing my list, a little bit about it and then my review which was written at the time. Some of these do have their own papyrus and peppermint review so just click the library link on the main page to find a full detailed review.

These are in no particular order because it was hard enough deciding on the top 10 – a bookworm can never decide on a favourite book ;).

1. You and Me on Vacation, by Emily Henry 5/5

I absolutely ordered this happy little gem of a book. Here was my goodreads review just after I’d finished reading this one in the summer:

‘Honestly, this book got me through a house move which is said to be one of life’s most stressful events, and boy they were not kidding.

I fell in love with this book at the first page. It is witty, heart warming, good fun, upbeat and like the rom com films of the 90s. Yeah I knew what would happen in the end but I was willing for it to. I loved each character and with all the travelling I felt like I’d been around the world even though I haven’t left this bloody island for 1.5 years (cheers Covid).

I haven’t stopped recommending this book to anyone that will listen and I aren’t stopping now. If you’re in a reading slump/feeling shit/stressed/miss holidays/need some giggles/feeling bored just go and pick this book up. Even if you’re not any of those (and I hope you aren’t), you will love it. 

Will be reading beach read ASAP. Thanks so much Emily for writing this beauty. Also, the cover is fab’

*Adds ‘Beach Read’ to 2022 TBR List*.

2. Silence is a Sense by Layla AlAmmar 5/5

I first discovered Layla AlAmmar’s work through the Rare Birds book club when I received her first novel as part of my subscription. I was super fortunate enough to receive an early copy of Silence is a Sense direct from the publisher, and wow. I thought her first novel was powering. This is a book that I feel has been a little under publicised, it’s absolutely a hidden gem and one I urge you to read. Here’s my goodreads review:

Layla AlAmmar has done it again. Her debut ‘The Pact We Made’ stunned me, with its beautiful writing and hard hitting themes, challenging cultures and popular opinions. I’ve been eagerly anticipating Silence is a Sense and was lucky enough to receive an advanced copy from Borough Press.
This time around is no different, I am stunned and in awe of her skill, and dare I say it, her writing has evolved. The way Silence is a Sense is written is poetic and lyrical, descriptions make me feel like a fly on a wall – I’m in war torn Syria then to a border in France, in a local corner shop smelling all the wonderful food on offer, then to her apartment in the UK, seeing all through her eyes.
The hard hitting topics covered are done so with such respect and honesty and I couldn’t think of a more fitting main character than the voiceless. There are so many teachings about humanity and suffering, and as a citizen in the UK it holds up a mirror to the racial issues and prejudices sadly alive and well on our streets today. It challenges what the main character describes as ‘refugee porn’, where articles are written by those who have encountered these harrowing crossings, yet edited by people in places of privilege to suit a narrative that suits a privileged audience. 
The characters our main character engages with all begin as neighbours seen from her window, which I loved. Yes some of these characters were stereotypical but I think the author was having a bit of fun with an element of an otherwise heavy book. This read for me is a 4.5/5, the only reason for being so is that I am still left a little confused as to why the main character ended up travelling alone.
This is honestly the most beautiful yet raw book I’ve read all year. There are so many other things I could say about this book and I still don’t think I would do it justice.

3. The Girl with the Louding Voice by Abi Dare 5/5

Again this was another Rare Birds Book subscription and whilst I read it in January of 2021, it’s a book that has stayed with me ever since. I loved the main character, there’s definitely an Adunni sized piece in my heart. She’s wonderfully written.

In my opinion, this book is outstanding and I devoured it in less than 24 hours. I was at first apprehensive about the use of dialect language but quickly absorbed it and came to enjoy it. I started to hear and connect with Adunni quicker because of it. What a main character – a 14 year old girl in dire circumstances, determined to better herself. The circumstances she found herself in may be so alien to many of us but are sadly so normal to many others – children being married off to old men, modern day slavery, corruption, the abuse of maids. This book gives those girls a voice. I would say that Adunni taking a potion to prevent pregnancy was a little coincidental and engineered to carry the story along, if she was pregnant she would not have had the job for Big Madam nor escape her punishment. Although a difficult and graphic read, Adunni, her fierceness, her sense of self, her humour and her misunderstandings of language made this potentially heavy book, rather joyful to read

4. The Thursday Murder Club by Richard Osman 4/5

This book was such a cheeky joy to read. Who would have thought I’d be saying that about a murder novel?

How do I join the Thursday Murder Club? Can visitors attend?

What a brilliant, warm, comical crime novel. I absolutely adore this book, it is like listening to a naughty grandma through the voice of Joyce, scheming and nebbing into other people’s business and trying to find out the latest gossip. I loved the references to British culture such as a trip to Holland and Barrett’s (a health haven for the elderly) and Sainsbury’s taste the difference (‘it’s taste the difference you know’). These describe the lives of my own Grandparents perfectly.

Although I wasn’t completely sold on the who dunnits, I don’t actually care. I loved this book with every page. And I also appreciate the short chapters – perfect for when you’ve got a few minutes here or there. I can’t wait to read the second novel. Please keep writing Richard Osman!

I received the second novel for Christmas, so shall be reading that in 2022!

5. The Idea of You by Robinne Lee 5/5

I’d not heard of this novel until I won it on an Instagram giveaway. This was a proof copy and it was so striking, but I had no idea really what to expect. Well, I’m not kidding in my review, this book was HOT!!!

Why did this book have to end? Even after 400+ pages, I wasnt done with this love story.

The proof cover I received boldly said ‘this will keep you up all night’. It wasn’t joking.

This is the story of a ‘forbidden’ romance, between a 40 y/o Art Dealer Mum Solene, and the hottest guy on the planet, 20 year old pop star Hayes Campbell.

I guess this was a little like fan fiction in my eyes, Hayes could very easily be Harry Styles (for many reasons!) and the Band August Moon very easily One Direction. But whether or not this was fan fiction I do not care. It is epic.

I began reading this book one afternoon in a coffee shop. A few chapters in and I realised I had to go home and carry on reading this – it is steamy af and my face and body language were probably giving that away to anybody in close proximity. This book is HOT. Move aside fifty shades, ‘cos this one doesn’t get boring after chapter 9.

I laughed, I got *all in* and in the end… I cried. This is a truly immersive book and I loved each and every character.

If I could give one negative point, it would be that I did have to message my friend @bookclubforme and ask about Hayes’ age as I did get confused at some stages, partially because I felt he was much older in his speech and character than the age he was said to be and that wasnt fully explored – there was more to it than that. Also with the plot moving around the world, it is a little staccato plot wise and its easy not to be quite on the right scene.

Oh heck please make this a movie. I want front row seats.

6. The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller 5/5

I’d read Circe last year and decided to treat myself with a gift voucher I had to her previous book (this one is never on sale!). I read this one just before Christmas, and although I’ve just finished Wolf hall, I definitely still have a book hangover for this book.

I read this book in three sittings in the space of 10 hours. I could not bear to put it down. What a retelling. I was a huge fan of Circe and was a little concerned I wouldn’t enjoy this one as much. I needn’t have worried – wow what a read. I felt like I had never understood Achilles till now. The relationships were written perfectly and I felt a great moral of the story through the pages also. Fantastic.

7. American Dirt by Jeannine Cummins 5/5

So this book has had it’s share of controversy and I understand why – but I am boldly going to say that this is an amazing book. For sure, there are more ‘authentic voices’ to tell this story, and there is an issue full stop with representation in the book publication industry, but this does not stop this book from being incredible to read.

I would have to have been living under a rock not to have heard, or, understood the controversy surrounding it. I am aware of my privilege as a white, English woman living in the UK, therefore I appreciate that I am unlikely to holistically understand the full extent of issues in this book/with this author expressed by other reviewers on goodreads and worldwide.

However, as someone that sees migrants seeking safety in my local city, but whom has admittedly been completely ignorant to their journey or their reasonings for doing so, this book has been one heck of an eye opener for me. I firstly did not understand before now how undocumented migrants from Mexico reached the States, I knew that they remained illegally, but I thought it was just a case of going through border control and never going back, or paying some border patrol person off. I also naively thought that they just went for the American dream. I’d had no thoughts that this journey would begin due to horrific events at home and the dangerous and treacherous journeys that they would go on to reach their new destinations. Admittedly I had only ever thought of the journeys of migrants we most commonly see here in the UK which are those making dangerous journeys on the back of lorries or on inflatable boats across the channel. There’s a lot of chatter about why its mainly men who make these crossings, and after reading this book and the journey across tough terrains, I now have a broader understanding of why that may be. I am aware that this is fiction of course, and that this is one woman’s interpretation of an issue.

I appreciate that the author isn’t someone that has ‘gone through this’ and that the book would have perhaps taught me more authentic things if she had and I note people’s reviews about the wrong language being used on occasion and the understanding of why Javier’s Cartel’s name would have induced fear, its not just ‘an owl’. But even with these potential flaws, this book has taught me more empathy for people who enter countries undocumented than I could ever have previously understood. Thats not because I’m without a soul, it’s simply because I’ve never found a way to connect before now. For that, I cannot criticise it. I applaud it.

8. The Sanatorium by Sarah Pearse 4/5

Not my image – image credit is credited on the full review.

I was lucky to receive an advanced e-copy of this ‘locked door’ thriller. It’s a book that has since received amazing publicity and you will have no doubt seen a copy in your local book store. Waterstones have this at half price in their book shops so now is a good time to pick it up!

Initially I wasn’t sure if I’d enjoy this book, the premise sounded very much like Hanna Jameson’s ‘The Last’ and Ruth Ware’s ‘One by One’; and admittedly whilst there are similarities in terms of being locked door and the setting, the story and style itself is very different. 

This was a very slow burn for me, it took me DAYS to get to 30% of the book. I wasn’t quite connecting with the narrative and I felt the pace was a little slow. But then it started snowing outside and I felt much more connected to the plot as a result so sat down and read it for much longer than I had been doing previously. At around 50% in, it turned. All of a sudden I couldn’t put the book down, flipping through as much as possible. It was as though I’d been in a carriage of a rollercoaster, slowly climbing to the top of the drop, then the carriage had accelerated down and couldn’t be stopped. The rest of the novel was that level of excitement, a frenzy of action.

All the time I was guessing people’s involvement, I don’t think I trusted anyone at one point! However one of my hunches was correct, I just maybe don’t find the why believable. On the whole a really solid thriller and one that will certainly get you drawn in!

9. My Dark Vanessa by Kate Elizabeth Russell 5/5

Now I recommend this book with a little trepidation. It is 100% not for everybody, it is triggering, it is difficult it is complex. But if you can read it, I advise to do so. Perhaps get a library copy, you’ll be unlikely to want to re-read it.

This is hands down the most difficult book I’ve ever read. Disgust, confusion, repulsion, anger, sadness.. just some of the emotions that stirred within me as I read through the pages.
A book split into the past and the present, but neither at ease, both so troubling and hard to read. I had no choice but to respect the content and to read slowly, carefully and considerately. Emotionally so very challenging, triggering and disturbing. Some of the dialogue made me want to vomit.

A skilfully written insight into the mind of the sexually abused and of the behaviour of the sexual predators that abuse their position of power in a young persons life to fulfil their disgusting urges. Covering so well the utterly conflicting and confusing nature of being groomed, of the stir of the #metoo movement and the opportunistic media’s virtue signalling and click bait by ‘giving women voices’ , which in reality so often leave these women with nothing but more pain and misery in their current lives. The women, men and faculties who fail young people everywhere to protect their own agendas, and of society’s general acceptance of sleaziness and unwanted attention from men as being something women ‘have to deal with’ in professional and social settings. I hope with time and awareness from literature such as this, we see this change.

It’s hard to give this book a rating as I certainly didn’t enjoy it. I don’t want to critically review its writing or strength of side characters. The topics and conversations the author has included are crucial. 

This is a book that I never want to read again, but it’s a book that I urge everyone to read at least once. 

10. With the fire on high by Elizabeth Acevedo 5/5

Image from Amazon

This was a YA novel I was kindly gifted on my Kindle, and I wasnt sure what to expect. However inside I found such a warm novel that didn’t really come through as YA because of the themes, so would recommend to all readers. I read this after finishing the novel above and was quite glad to have something with such a good vibe!

After just finishing a pretty heavy read, I was looking for a book that was light enough, with a feel good factor and some great characters. I found all of that in ‘With the fire on high’. As a YA read the language was easy to follow and accessible for all reading levels, but that does not mean that the themes are juvenile or not relatable to readers older than teenagers. As someone who really enjoys cooking and is also trying to learn a bit of Spanish, I absolutely adored the journey Emoni goes on with her culinary arts class, the exploration into her heritage, and her trip to Spain and the use of Spanish in the text (as I understood it, yay!). The group of characters around her have different levels of depth and energy, and Emoni herself is a strong young woman determined to make something of herself, regardless of how some people may expect her life to go as a teenager mother. A really uplifting book of finding ways to follow your passion despite the obstacles along the way. Definitely recommend!

So, will any of these be books that you’ll be adding to your 2022 TBR?

I have no idea what my first read of 2022 will be, I’ve got such a great selection to choose from! I have also (after a 4 month break) re-joined the Rare Birds Book Club – I tried other book subscriptions but I couldn’t stop thinking about what the RB would be reading. I HIGHLY recommend it if you fancy giving it a go. A lot of my favourite books from this year were from their selections!

Finally, I hope you have/have had an absolutely amazing New Years Eve and I wish you every health, happiness and success for 2022. I would love to know what you’re reading and any of your own top 2021 reads, so share with other readers and I in the comments below! Also, if you’d like a full review of any of the books listed above that do not have one currently published on my blog, again just drop a comment to let me know which one.

Have a fab weekend!

And now, wine.

Until the Next Chapter,

Emma X0

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