2021 is drawing to a close so it’s time to look back at the brilliant books we’ve been reading this year. Library staff from throughout the county have been pondering, picking and narrowing down their choices to bring to you some of their favourite books of the year.
This isn’t a Top Ten – it’s a selection of titles we’ve enjoyed, that have had us gripped from the first page and that have stayed with us after the last chapter has drawn to a close.
There are so many that this is a post in two parts – check back next week for Part 2 for more of our favourite reads of 2021.
We’d love to hear your favourites of 2021 too – leave us a comment and let us know what you’ve enjoyed reading this year.
Ryland Grace, a junior school science teacher, wakes up on a spaceship, unable to remember how he got there or even his name. He is in fact on a suicide mission to save the human race from extinction and find the answer to a baffling scientific mystery that is causing the sun to cool down.
This is such an intriguing and exciting story, brilliantly conceived, that had me gripped from the start. You don’t need to be a scientist to appreciate Ryland’s generous character and wonderfully dry humour. [Spoiler: it has a really feel-good finale!]
Grimwood by Nadia Shireen (physical copies)
My children (6 and 9) read this together and were laughing so hard we had to keep stopping as we couldn’t breathe!
It’s the story of Ted and Nancy, two city foxes who fall foul of a local cat and run away to Grimwood forest where they must adapt to country life and get to know a whole crowd of hilarious animal characters.
Darkly funny, silly and occasionally surreal, it’s one of the most original new children’s books we’ve read in ages.
Here are a few of the books I have enjoyed recently with their accompanying blurbs:
Beyond race or class, our lives are defined by a powerful, unspoken system of divisions. In Caste, Pulitzer Prize-winning author Isabel Wilkerson gives an astounding portrait of this hidden phenomenon. Linking America, India and Nazi Germany, Wilkerson reveals how our world has been shaped by caste – and how its rigid, arbitrary hierarchies still divide us today.
Nation by Terry Pratchett (physical copies)
On the day the world ends, Mau is on his way home from the Boys’ Island. Then the wave comes – a huge wave, dragging black night behind it and bringing a schooner which sails over and through the island rainforest. The village has gone.
Now there’s just Mau, a trouserman girl, and an awful lot of big misunderstandings.
Red Wall by Brian Jacques (physical copies)
Redwall Abbey, tranquil home to a community of peace-loving mice, is threatened by Cluny the Scourge – the evil one-eyed rat warlord – and his battle-hardened horde of predators.
Ann Cleeves is my favourite crime writer. As a huge fan of both the Shetland and Vera series of books, I had high expectations for Ann Cleeves’ latest detective, Matthew Venn and I wasn’t disappointed.
The Long Call is the first book in the Two Rivers series set in Devon, which introduced Matthew Venn and his team. The plot was full of twists and turns to keep me on the edge of my seat.
I was so excited to read the second instalment, The Heron’s Cry. I wanted to know what the mystery was and more about the characters. The story starts slowly with an increasing sense of dread, secrets are revealed in the build-up to an unexpected climax.
I have become a big fan of Matthew Venn and can’t wait for the next chapter.
When Stars Are Scattered by Victoria Jamieson & Omar Mohammad
I thought this was amazing. It tells the true story of Omar & Hassan who spend years in a refugee camp in Kenya after fleeing Somalia where Omar witnessed the shooting of his father and they had become separated from their mother.
It’s very moving but not distressing just matter of fact – they are interviewed for possible resettlement but then don’t get approval for another 4 years. There are photos of the boys in the back of the book which is also very poignant.
I also enjoyed Convenience Store Woman by Suyaka Murata (translated by Ginny Tapley Takemori).
The Big Over Easy by Jasper Fforde
The book is set in Reading, Berkshire. Jack Spratt, is a detective in the Nursery Crime division of the constabulary, and has been teamed up with newly transferred colleague Mary Mary. They have been tasked with solving the murder of ex business tycoon Humpty Dumpty, who was found shattered to death by a wall near a boarding house he was staying at, owned by Mrs Hubbard.
After interviewing Wee Willie Winkie, Humpty’s insomniac neighbour, the notion that Humpty was generally ‘a good egg’ slips further away and more clues begin to emerge as to what Mr Dumpty was embroiled (not boiled) in.
With the help of Constable Baker (PC Butcher’s replacement), Gretel Kandlestyck-Maeker, PC Ashley, the Binary speaking Alien and Mary Mary, Spratt has to solve the crime to make amends for the murder of Mr Wolf by the Three Little Pigs.
The book with its very concept had me smiling, but reading it was an absolute joy. Fforde has managed to capture that essence in childhood, which allows you to think that these things really could be real, such as your toys talking to each other at night time.
It is a charming read, full of puns and references from the dark world of nursery rhymes to Greek mythology. It is by no means a children’s book.
The sequel, The Fourth Bear is equally well written. For sophisticated classical literary references, I would recommend The Eyre Affair by Fforde. Jane Eyre gets kidnapped in a crime wave, and Detective Thursday Next must enter the book to find out where she has gone as with her missing, the novel will remain changed throughout history.
The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah
I actually listened to this book on BorrowBox and it lends itself perfectly to audio (though I think it would be a great read too). I loved it – it’s gripping, wonderfully descriptive and, in places, quite emotional – it certainly brought a lump to my throat.
We follow Lennie from a young child through her teenage years and into her mid twenties. The daughter of a Vietnam war hero and a mother so in love with her hero she can’t see the damage its causing their family. A new start in Alaska proves really tough for the family and while Lennie forges friendships and a new life, things at home gradually disintegrate with tragic results.
Stunning description of the scenery and life in Alaska and a cast of vivid , strong characters – I really enjoyed listening to this and will definitely read / listen to more by Kristin Hannah.
Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens
Loved it – an easy read, yet a beautiful and sensitively written story about a young girl, Kya, abandoned by her family and left alone to grow up on the marshes of the North Carolina coast. Dodging the authorities that want to send her to school and scraping by on a tiny income earned from collecting and selling mussels, she grows up with few friends, educating herself with the help of a childhood friend, Tate.
She is a mystery to the locals, but finds love, good and bad, loyal friendships and a passion for nature that brings her joy and income. Of course tragedy strikes, and the last few pages brought tears to my eyes.
I couldn’t resist adding in a quick non-fiction. All I can say is Wow, what a career. Gory and gruesome, but FASCINATING.
Sue Black, forensic anthropologist, recounts her amazing career as she takes us through each part of the human body and what it can reveal to a forensic anthropologist.
All My Mothers by Joanna Glen
I just adored this book and think it might be my favourite book I’ve read this year.
It follows Eva (as in forever, not evil, as she points out) from childhood to her thirties and from London to Spain. She has an emotionally unavailable mother, a physically unavailable father and a childhood with many unanswered questions, but through it all she has her marvellous friend, Bridget Blume by her side.
Their friendship is beautiful and Bridget’s mother, Mrs Blume, shows Eva what a mother can be like. The descriptions of Eva’s relationships are brilliant, from her adoration of the Blume family to her brittle relationship with her boyfriend’s mother and her complicated relationship with her own mother.
The details are exquisite, and it is both heart breaking and joyous. It has made me want to visit Cordoba and wander amongst the orange trees!
If any of these whet your appetite and you’re not yet a Warwickshire Libraries member, find out how to join here.
If you have any questions about using our libraries or our online resources, whether that’s BorrowBox, our eInformation resources such as Encyclopaedia Britannica, Go Citizen or Theory Test Pro or exploring the classical music available to stream via Naxos, you can email us at email@example.com with your question or pop into your local Warwickshire Library.
You can find our opening times here.
Join us next week for Part 2 and even more of our Books of 2021!