Need some inspiration for what to read next? Or just need to compulsively fill your wishlist with books even though you have stacks of unread books sitting right next to you? You are my people. Here are the 100 books I read last year, my top 25 book recommendations, and some tips on how to read more.
Last year was a mixed bag for me when it came to reading. I started strong, reading great book after great book and feeling really motivated. Then, about half way through the year, I think the Covid/lockdown/weirdness of 2021 kicked in. I hit a patch of not-so-great books and I began to struggle a bit with motivation. So I thought I would share what helped me, in case you’re feeling the same.
Table of Contents
HOW TO READ MORE:
- Have a few books on the go at once. I always have a day-time book (usually something non-fiction that I need to be fully awake to take in!) and a night-time book on the go (usually crime/thriller related so I can scare myself before bed). That way if you’re not feeling one book, you can dip into the other. Reading on the kindle makes this so much easier.
- If you have a kindle, I recommend downloading the kindle app onto your phone. Instead of doom scrolling on twitter or losing yourself in a TikTok rabbithole while you wait for your food to cook or for your bus to arrive, spend 5 minutes reading instead. It is amazing how quickly those 5 minutes add up.
- Set aside time to read. This is a big one and my main reply when people ask ‘how on earth do you read that many books in a year?’ I make an effort to give myself time to read, whether that’s reading a chapter with my breakfast or lunch, going to bed an hour earlier than usual, or having screen-free evenings.
- Choose your books carefully. If you’re in a bit of a slump or want to ease yourself into the habit of reading, pick books that are designed to pull you in. Anything from the thriller, YA, or romcom section below is perfect for this – these stories are designed to pull you in, keep you interested, and ultimately leave you with a sense of satisfaction or happiness at the end.
- Consider reading with others. It doesn’t have to be an official book club, but in the same way that it’s fun to discuss the newest episode of a TV show with a friend the same goes for a book.
- Look for adaptations. I find that choosing books that are either in the process of being adapted for TV/film or have already been made inspires me to finish them: I love to be able to compare the two afterwards and it pushes me to finish the book so I can start on the adaptation quicker.
Right! Enough preamble. Let’s get going with my 2021 book recommendations. I’ve split them out into genres, so if you’re a fan of a particular kind of book you can narrow it down. I’ve also highlighted my top 25 books of the year – there were lots of others I enjoyed, but those bolded were the stand outs. If you want to hear my thoughts on any of the other books, just let me know!
- Laurel Canyon: The Inside Story Of Rock And Roll’s Legendary Neighbourhood, Michael Walker – Laurel Canyon was the area of LA populated by the who’s-who of the music world in the 60s and 70s. This is a love letter to rock and roll and the stories are fascinating – it makes me want to go back in time and start a band. I’d love to read more about this era, so if you have any recommendations, please let me know!
- This Is Going To Hurt: Secret Diaries Of A Junior Doctor, Adam Kay – I’m so behind with this bandwagon for this book but it’s as good as everyone says. Funny, shocking, sad, a bit gross, and ultimately a rallying cry for us to protect the NHS and respect the amazing people who keep it running.
- Dear Reader: The Comfort And Joy Of Books, Cathy Rentzenbrink – As a I was a book-obsessed child, this was such a nostalgic and fun book to read. She takes us through the books that were formative in her childhood and, even though some of them weren’t familiar to me, she speaks about them with such warmth and humour it almost feels like I was there with her.
- Ramble Book, Adam Buxton
- Just Ignore Him, Alan Davies
- Over The Top, Jonathan Van Ness
- Stiff: The Curious Lives Of Human Cadavers, Mary Roach
- I Heart Me: The Science Of Self-Love, David R Hamilton
- The Psychopath: A True Story, Mary-Turner Thomson
- Dark Dreams: A Legendary FBI Profiler Examines Homicide and the Criminal Mind, Roy Hazelwood
- Chase The Rainbow, Poorna Bell
- Past Mortems: Life And Death Beyond The Mortuary Doors – Carla Valentine
- How To Argue With A Racist: History, Science, Race, And Reality – Adam Rutherford
- Bella Figura: How To Live, Love, and Eat The Italian Way – Kamin Mohammadi
- The Rules Do Not Apply – Ariel Levy
- I Remember Nothing And Other Reflections – Nora Ephron
- Unfollow: A Journey From Hatred to Hope, Leaving The Westboro Baptist Church – Megan Phelps-Roper
- Women And Power: A Manifesto – Mary Beard
- Wintering: The Power Of Rest and Retreat In Difficult Times, Katherine May – This book was such a comforting read. It focuses on the concept of humans needing to ‘winter’ in the same way as some animals and plants: time to recoop, heal, and prepare for the coming seasons. It is separated into months so you can dip in and out as the year goes on. This is definitely one I’ll return to every year.
- Untamed: Stop Pleasing, Start Living, Glennon Doyle – I really like Glennon Doyle’s way of writing (although I know it can be a little *much* for some people) and this book is great for anyone who spends too much time worrying about what other people think of them, looking to find their confidence, and live authentically. I found parts of it quite ‘mom’ focused, but just skimmed those and focused on the parts that resonated.
- Big Magic: How To Live A Creative Life And Let Go Of Your Fear, Elizabeth Gilbert – I put Elizabeth Gilbert in the same bracket as Brene Brown and Glennon Doyle: I just really enjoy the way they write and the advice they have. This is a great book to read at the start of the year (or any time you’re feeling a bit sluggish and lacking inspiration).
- Screen Time: How to make peace with your devices and find your techquilibrium, Becca Caddy* – Becca is a wonderful journalist who has so much knowledge and passion for tech, so in my opinion she’s the perfect person to give advice on how to use tech in a more helpful and healthy way.
- Hype Yourself: A No-Nonsense PR toolkit for small businesses, Lucy Werner
- You’re Not Broke, You’re Pre-Rich, Emilie Bellet
- Skincare: The Ultimate No-Nonsense Guide, Caroline Hirons
- Out Of Office: Ditch The 9-5 and Be Your Own Boss, Fiona Thomas
- Find Your Voice: The Secret to Talking with Confidence in Any Situation, Caroline Goyder
- The Cross, Steve Cavanagh – I read some of Steve Cavanagh’s books last year (you can see my 2020 book recommendation blog HERE) without realising they were part of a series… don’t you hate it when that happens? So this year I made sure I went back and started from the beginning. The Cross isn’t his best book, but it’s the first one (kind of a novella prequel) so I’m recommending you start there. The series focuses on Eddie Flynn, a former con artist turned lawyer. They’re very good courtroom dramas that keep you guessing and are really easy to read.
- Still Life, Val McDermid – Val McDermid is considered to be the queen of crime thrillers and this is a brilliant example of why. Two bodies, two separate cases: A cold case with no leads, and a crime that went unnoticed. I definitely need to read more by this author (I read her non-fiction book Forensics: The Anatomy Of Crime last year and loved it. If you’re a true crime fan, or just a bit morbid like me, you’ll love it).
- We Have Always Lived In The Castle, Shirley Jackson – This book is a classic thriller for a reason. It has no jumps, or moment of stereotypical horror, just a slow build filled with unease, tension, and an underlying pervasive feeling of dread. I loved it.
- The Last Mrs Parrish, Liv Constantine – At first I thought this was a fairly standard psychological thriller but it had a great twist that I didn’t see coming. It was a brilliant book to get me out of a reading rut.
- Hold Back The Tide, Melinda Salisbury – This was one of the biggest surprises of the year for me. A book that started as one thing and quickly developed into something else entirely. I absolutely LOVED this and think it would make a great film.
- 56 Days, Catherine Ryan Howard – I wasn’t sure if I was ready for a book set in lockdown, but I really enjoyed this. A body and a secret, combined with the isolation, uncertainty, and claustrophobic atmosphere of lockdown make for a really good story.
- The Woman In The Window, A.J. Finn – This was a book I read super quickly because I wanted to watch the film (which is great, Amy Adams is wonderful). It’s another brilliant pacey book that would work well as a palette cleanser if you’re feeling like you’re in a reading rut.
- The Defense, Steve Cavanagh
- Thirteen, Steve Cavanagh
- Fifty-Fifty, Steve Cavanagh
- The Mist, Stephen King (reread)
- Our House, Louise Candlish
- The Last Resort, Susi Holliday
- My Dark Vanessa, Kate Elizabeth Russell
- The Other Passenger, Louise Candlish
- The French Girl, Lexie Elliott
- Meadowlark, Melanie Abrams
- The Argument, Victoria Jenkins
- Substitute, Susi Holliday
- Rules For Perfect Murders, Peter Swanson
- The Holiday, T. M. Logan
- The Girls Are All So Nice Here, Laurie Elizabeth Flynn
- Ordeal By Innocence, Agatha Christie
- In The Night Wood, Dale Bailey
- People Like Her, Ellery Lloyd
- Standard Deviation, Katherine Heiny – This book is like nothing else I’ve read. The characters are not likeable, the story is meandering, the writing is beautiful, and I found it absolutely captivating.
- Stay Another Day, Juno Dawson – Buy this now and save it to read next Christmas. It’s lovely. Juno Dawson has such a funny and natural tone of voice that makes her books a pleasure to read.
- The Kiss Quotient, Helen Hoang
- The Shelf, Helly Acton
- Insatiable, Daisy Buchanan
- The Summer Job, Lizzy Dent
- Have We Met? Camille Baker
- Ghosts, Dolly Alderton
- The Road Trip, Beth O’Leary
- Prep, Curtis Sittenfeld
- The Lost Hero (Heroes Of Olympus #1), Rick Riordan
- A Wizard Of Earthsea, Ursula K Le Guin
- Matilda, Roald Dahl (reread)
FICTION: APOCALYPSE/END OF THE WORLD
- I Who Have Never Known Men, Jacqueline Harpman – I’m an end-of-the-world obsessive but this rocketed into one of my favourites of all time of that genre. I found myself thinking about this book constantly and desperate to get back to reading it (the best feeling!). I think this will be a book I go back to again and again.
- The F*ck It List, John Niven
- The Water Cure, Sophie Mackintosh
- Everyone In This Room Will Someday Be Dead, Emily R Austin – This is another book that I could not stop thinking about. It’s a dark, funny, sad, and odd book but a brilliant one. Lots of comparisons to Fleabag, if that’s your thing.
- American Housewife, Helen Ellis – A wonderfully surreal collection of short stories about different American housewives. They’re all a little bit strange, but I loved them (the one about the shared corridor was a particular highlight).
- The Secret History, Donna Tartt – I can’t believe it took me so long to read this when I adored The Goldfinch by the same author. I was told it was the perfect autumn read and I agree, in fact I will probably read it again when next autumn rolls around. A clique, a murder, friendship bound by a secret… all the good stuff. The writing is phenomenal, if a little dense and self-aware in places (but if you’ve read The Goldfinch you’ll expect that!).
- Circe, Madeline Miller – A book so many people recommended to me and I don’t know why I resisted for so long. A retelling of the story of Circe, the banished daughter of Helios. Witchy, strong women, mythology – what’s not to like?
- Pizza Girl, Jean Kyoung Frazier – Another odd book that doesn’t have a typical start-middle-end type story (I seemed to be drawn to those last year…) A young girl struggling with her pregnancy, her close relationships, grief, addiction, and a compulsive obsession with a stranger.
- Marilou Is Everywhere, Sarah Elaine Smith
- Of Mice And Men, John Steinbeck
- The Man Who Saw Everything, Deborah Levy
- Y: The Last Man (book 1-10), Brian K Vaughan and Pia Guerra – Knowing how much I love the end-of-the-world genre, my husband recommended I read this before the recent TV series started (which is great by the way and I’m gutted that it hasn’t been renewed for a second series) All males (human and animal) die suddenly and violently…except one. The story of how the world continues and how things are changed by the loss of all men. Plus there’s a monkey.
- The Walking Dead (vol 1-13 [books 1-78]), Robert Kirkman – We’re rewatching The Walking Dead and I wanted to read the graphic novels as we went along, so I could do the annoying thing of saying ‘that’s different, that doesn’t happen, that character’s not in the comic…’ Yes I know, I’m very fun to be around.
- Hawkeye, Matt Fraction and David Aja (books #1-22) – Again, my husband urged me to read these before we watched the new TV series. I have held a deep hatred for the Hawkeye character throughout all of the Marvel films (he’s just so deeply, deeply boring), but after reading this and watching the Hawkeye TV series I see that that is not due to the character or his background but down to a clear lack of storylines and character development in the films. The comics are funny and fun to read, the same goes for the series.
And that’s your lot! 100 books and some absolutely wonderful ones that I will definitely return to in coming years.
What were your favourite reads of 2021? Even though my book wishlist and TBR pile is ENORMOUS, I still would love to hear what you would recommend.