And so another year begins. Let’s hope that 2022 is a better year for us all!
I was lucky enough to read some incredible books in 2021, so to narrow it down was no easy task and I could quite easily have added many more. But I’ve somehow managed to narrow it down to those books that either took my breath away or left the deepest impression on me.
So to get the New Year off to a flying start by sharing the book love, here (in no particular order) are my top reads of the year. I hope you enjoy!
The Last Thing to Burn by Will Dean
The Last Thing to Burn is the highly anticipated first standalone thriller from bestselling author and rising star Will Dean. Unrelentingly tense and heart-poundingly atmospheric, The Last Thing to Burn is a chilling and thought-provoking exploration of human survival and life on the fringes of society. He is her husband. She is his captive. Her husband calls her Jane.That is not her name. She lives in a small farm cottage, surrounded by vast, open fields. Everywhere she looks, there is space. But she is trapped. No one knows how she got to the UK: no one knows she is there. Visitors rarely come to the farm; if they do, she is never seen. Her husband records her every movement during the day. If he doesn’t like what he sees, she is punished. For a long time, escape seemed impossible. But now, something has changed. She has a reason to live and a reason to fight. Now, she is watching him, and waiting …
Everything Happens for a Reason by Katie Allen
( This is a book that means so much to me and will stay with me always) A beautiful, poignant and enchantingly funny debut, inspired by journalist Katie Allen’s own experience of stillbirth and grief. Mum-to-be Rachel did everything right, but it all went wrong. Her son, Luke, was stillborn and she finds herself on maternity leave without a baby, trying to make sense of her loss. When a misguided well-wisher tells her that ‘everything happens for a reason’, she becomes obsessed with finding that reason, driven by grief and convinced that she is somehow to blame. She remembers that on the day she discovered her pregnancy, she’d stopped a man from jumping in front of a train, and she’s now certain that saving his life cost her the life of her son. Desperate to find him, she enlists an unlikely ally in Lola, an Underground worker, and Lola’s seven-year-old daughter, and eventually tracks him down, with completely unexpected results… Both a heart-wrenching portrait of grief and a gloriously uplifting and disarmingly funny story of a young woman’s determination, Everything Happens for a Reason is a bittersweet, life-affirming and, quite simply, unforgettable read.
This is how we are Human by Louise Beech
Sebastian James Murphy is twenty years, six months and two days old. He loves swimming, fried eggs and Billy Ocean. Sebastian is autistic. And lonely. Veronica wants her son Sebastian to be happy, and she wants the world to accept him for who he is. She is also thinking about paying a professional to give him what he desperately wants. Violetta is a high-class escort, who steps out into the night thinking only of money. Of her nursing degree. Paying for her dad’s care. Getting through the dark. When these three lives collide, and intertwine in unexpected ways, everything changes. For everyone. Both heartbreaking and heartwarming, This Is How We Are Human is a powerful, moving and thoughtful drama about a mother’s love for her son, about getting it wrong when we think we know what’s best, about the lengths we go to care for family and to survive.
You, Me & the Sea by Elizabeth Haynes
Compelling, moving and teeming with feral desire: Elizabeth Haynes’s new novel is an intoxicating story of love and redemption, set on a wild and windswept Scottish island. Rachel is at crisis point. A series of disastrous decisions has left her with no job, no home, and no faith in herself. But an unexpected job offer takes her to a remote Scottish island, and it feels like a chance to recover and mend her battered self-esteem. The island’s other inhabitants are less than welcoming. Fraser Sutherland is a taciturn loner who is not happy about sharing his lighthouse – or his precious coffee beans – and Lefty, his unofficial assistant, is a scrawny, scared lad who isn’t supposed to be there at all. Homesick and out of her depth, Rachel is sure she’s made another huge mistake. But, as spring turns to summer, the wild beauty of the island begins to captivate her soul.
No Honour by Awais Khan
In sixteen-year-old Abida’s small Pakistani village, there are age-old rules to live by, and her family’s honour to protect. And, yet, her spirit is defiant and she yearns to make a home with the man she loves. When the unthinkable happens, Abida faces the same fate as other young girls who have chosen unacceptable alliances – certain, public death. Fired by a fierce determination to resist everything she knows to be wrong about the society into which she was born, and aided by her devoted father, Jamil, who puts his own life on the line to help her, she escapes to Lahore – only to disappear. Jamil goes to Lahore in search of Abida – a city where the prejudices that dominate their village take on a new and horrifying form – and father and daughter are caught in a world from which they may never escape.
I Know What I Saw by Imran Mahmood
I saw it. He smothered her, pressing his hands on her face. The police don’t believe me, they say it’s impossible – but I know what I saw. Xander Shute – once a wealthy banker, now living on the streets – shelters for the night in an empty Mayfair flat. When he hears the occupants returning home, he scrambles to hide. Trapped in his hiding place, he hears the couple argue, and he soon finds himself witnessing a vicious murder. But who was the dead woman, who the police later tell him can’t have been there? And why is the man Xander saw her with evading justice? As Xander searches for answers, his memory of the crime comes under scrutiny, forcing him to confront his long-buried past and the stories he’s told about himself. How much he is willing to risk to understand the brutal truth?
Fragile by Sarah Hilary
A modern Gothic thriller from an award-winning and critically acclaimed author – a REBECCA for our times. Nell Ballard is a runaway. A former foster child with a dark secret she is desperate to keep, all Nell wants is to find a place she can belong. So when a job comes up at Starling Villas, home to the enigmatic Robin Wilder, she seizes the opportunity with both hands. But her new lodgings may not be the safe haven that she was hoping for…
The Gathering Storm (The Sturmtaucher Trilogy 1)
The Gathering Storm: Book 1 in the Sturmtaucher Trilogy, a powerful and compelling story of two families torn apart by evil. Kiel, Northern Germany, 1933. A naval city, the base for the German Baltic fleet, and the centre for German sailing, the venue for the upcoming Olympic regatta in 1936. The Kästners, a prominent Military family, are part of the fabric of the city, and its social, naval and yachting circles. The Nussbaums are the second generation of their family to be in service with the Kästners as domestic staff, but the two households have a closer bond than most. As Adolf Hitler and his National Socialist Party claw their way to power in 1933, life has never looked better for families like the Kästners. There is only one problem. The Nussbaums are Jews. The Sturmtaucher Trilogy documents the devastating effect on both families of the Nazis’ hateful ideology and the insidious erosion of the rights of Germany’s Jews. When Germany descends ever deeper into dictatorship, General Erich Kästner tries desperately to protect his employees, and to spirit them to safety. As the country tears itself apart, the darkness which envelops a nation threatens not only to destroy two families, but to plunge an entire continent into war.’
I haven’t had a chance to read the complete trilogy yet, but rest assured they’re on my Kindle and ready to read in early 2022. If the first incredible book is anything to go by I’m in for a real treat!
Deity by Matt Wesolowski (A Six Stories Episode)
When pop megastar Zach Crystal dies in a fire at his remote mansion, his mysterious demise rips open the bitter divide between those who adored his music and his endless charity work, and those who viewed him as a despicable predator, who manipulated and abused young and vulnerable girls. Online journalist, Scott King, whose ‘Six Stories’ podcasts have become an internet sensation, investigates the accusations of sexual abuse and murder that were levelled at Crystal before he died. But as Scott begins to ask questions and rakes over old graves, some startling inconsistencies emerge. Was the fire at Crystal’s remote home really an accident? Why was he never officially charged? Are reports of a haunting really true? Dark, chillingly topical and deeply thought-provoking, Deity is both an explosive, spine-chilling thriller and a startling look at how heroes can fall from grace and why we are willing to turn a blind eye to even the most heinous of crimes…
Space Hopper by Helen Fisher
They say those we love never truly leave us, and I’ve found that to be true. But not in the way you might expect. In fact, none of this is what you’d expect. I’ve been visiting my mother who died when I was eight. And I’m talking about flesh and blood, tea-and-biscuits-on-the-table visiting here. Right now, you probably think I’m going mad. Let me explain… Although Faye is happy with her life, the loss of her mother as a child weighs on her mind even more now that she is a mother herself. So she is amazed when, in an extraordinary turn of events, she finds herself back in her childhood home in the 1970s. Faced with the chance to finally seek answers to her questions – but away from her own family – how much is she willing to give up for another moment with her mother? For fans of The Time Traveler’s Wife comes an original and heartwarming story about bittersweet memories, how the past shapes the future, and a love so strong it makes you do things that are slightly bonkers.
Emmet and Me by Sara Gethin
I once had a forbidden friend. He was funny and brave, had scabbed knees and grubby shorts, a gleeful grin and fathomless eyes. My co-conspirator and hero. He called himself Emmet. Summer 1966. Claire and her brothers are packed off to Granny Connemara when their mother runs away. Granny’s rural Irish cottage is very different to their Cardiff city home, the peaty air thick with unspoken secrets. With no sign of Uncle Jack picking them up at the end of the holidays, there is school to be survived. Granny is formidable and the children unsettled by the conversations they’re excluded from. Will Mother ever return? Will they ever get home? Why does their father hate everything to do with Ireland? The only light on Claire’s horizon is an out-of-bounds friendship… and it will change her life forever.
Circus of Wonders by Elizabeth Macneal
1866. In a coastal village in southern England, Nell lives set apart by her community because of the birthmarks that speckle her skin. But when Jasper Jupiter’s Circus of Wonders arrives in the village, Nell is kidnapped. Her father has sold her, promising Jasper Jupiter his very own leopard girl. It is the greatest betrayal of Nell’s life, but as her fame grows, and she finds friendship with the other performers and Jasper’s gentle brother Toby, she begins to wonder if joining the show is the best thing that has ever happened to her. In London, newspapers describe Nell as the eighth wonder of the world. Figurines are cast in her image, and crowds rush to watch her soar through the air. But what happens when her fame eclipses Jasper’s own? And as she falls in love with Toby, can he detach himself from his past and the terrible secret that binds him to his brother?
The Shadowing by Rhiannon Ward
When well-to-do Hester learns of her sister Mercy’s death at a Nottinghamshire workhouse, she travels to Southwell to find out how her sister ended up at such a place. Haunted by her sister’s ghost, Hester sets out to uncover the truth, when the official story reported by the workhouse master proves to be untrue. Mercy was pregnant – both her and the baby are said to be dead of cholera, but the workhouse hasn’t had an outbreak for years. Hester discovers a strange trend in the workhouse of children going missing. One woman tells her about the Pale Lady, a ghostly figure that steals babies in the night. Is this lady a myth or is something more sinister afoot at the Southwell poorhouse? As Hester investigates, she uncovers a conspiracy, one that someone is determined to keep a secret, no matter the cost…
A Slow Fire Burning by Paula Hawkins
‘What is wrong with you?’ Laura has spent most of her life being judged. She’s seen as hot-tempered, troubled, a loner. Some even call her dangerous. Miriam knows that just because Laura is witnessed leaving the scene of a horrific murder with blood on her clothes, that doesn’t mean she’s a killer. Bitter experience has taught her how easy it is to get caught in the wrong place at the wrong time. Carla is reeling from the brutal murder of her nephew. She trusts no one: good people are capable of terrible deeds. But how far will she go to find peace? Innocent or guilty, everyone is damaged. Some are damaged enough to kill. Look what you started.
The One Hundred Years of Lenni and Margot by Marianne Cronin
Life is short. No-one knows that better than seventeen-year-old Lenni. But as she is about to learn, it’s not only what you make of life that matters, but who you share it with. Dodging doctor’s orders, she joins an art class where she bumps into fellow patient Margot, a rebel-hearted eight-three-year-old from the next ward. Their bond is instant as they realize that together they have lived an astonishing one hundred years. To celebrate their shared century, they decide to paint their life stories: of growing old and staying young, of giving joy, of receiving kindness, of losing love, of finding the person who is everything. As their friendship deepens, it becomes vividly clear that life is not done with Lenni and Margot yet. An extraordinary friendship. A lifetime of stories. Their last one begins here.
My top reads of 2021 list wouldn’t be complete without including my two favourite memoirs of the year:
The Reacher Guy by Heather Martin
Lee Child is the enigmatic powerhouse behind the phenomenally successful Jack Reacher novels. With devoted fans across the globe, and over a hundred million copies of his books sold in more than forty languages, he is that rarity, a writer who is both critically acclaimed and adored by readers. And yet curiously little has been written about the man himself. The Reacher Guy shows us for the first time the young man behind the invention of Jack Reacher. Through parallels drawn between Child and his literary creation, it tells the story of how a lost and lonely boy from Birmingham with a ferocious appetite for reading grew up to become a high-flying TV executive, before coming full circle and establishing himself as an internationally bestselling author. Heather Martin explores Child’s lifelong fascination with America – and shows how the Reacher novels fed and fuelled this obsession. Drawing on exclusive correspondence and conversations with Child over a number of years, she forensically pieces together his life, from Northern Ireland and County Durham to New York and Hollywood. This is the definitive account of the man behind one of the most iconic series of our times.
Hamilton and Me: An Actor’s Journal by Giles Terera
Hamilton and Me: An Actor’s Journal is an honest and thrilling inside account written by one of the UK’s leading actors, Giles Terera, who played Aaron Burr in the London production of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s smash-hit, award-winning musical Hamilton which opened in London’s West End in December 2017 and won a record-equaling seven Olivier Awards. One of the most important actors of his generation, Giles Terera was appointed a Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE) in 2020 for his services to theatre. Before securing a lead role in Hamilton, Giles Terera worked as a writer, producer and filmmaker and performed in West End shows such as Avenue Q, The Book of Mormonand Rent, and at the UK’s most prestigious venues including the National Theatre and Shakespeare’s Globe alongside the likes of Jonathan Pryce, Lenny Henry, Hayley Atwell and Ralph Fiennes. At a time when performing arts is desperately missed, this is a wonderful opportunity to not only step back into the auditorium but explore behind the scenes to gain a rare insight into one of the most important cultural spectacles of our time, and enjoy an experience that would typically remain a mystery.
And that’s it! Thank you so much to everyone who supported my little corner of the book world in 2021. Here’s to a safe and book filled 2022!