01 January 2022

Top 5 Books of 2021

It's time to reflect on my year of reading in 2021 and select the best 5 books from a total of 75 titles read this year. Last year my Top 5 list contained only review titles, and this year I'm pleased to return to a more balanced mix. Two of the books in the following list were sent to me for review, with the remaining three coming from my own TBR pile. Once again, historical fiction dominated the list and I was proud to include Australian author Tabitha Bird in the cut.

Without further ado, here are my Top 5 Books of 2021 in the order I read them:

1. Hamnet by Maggie O'Farrell
Hamnet by Maggie O'Farrell book cover

For some reason I now regret, I didn't request a review copy of Hamnet by Maggie O'Farrell, but after seeing so many of my trusted book bloggers falling in love with this story, I had to jump on board.

Hamnet is an historical fiction novel about the death of Shakespeare's 11 year old son Hamnet in 1596, and in particular how his wife Agnes and family deal with the loss. Shakespeare is never named in the book (not once!) and while the book is about his family, it's not all about him.

You don't need to know anything about Shakespeare in order to enjoy this novel. It's essentially the story of a 16th century family and the way in which they cope with life's choices and challenges and I was absolutely blown away by the evocative writing.

2. Mrs England by Stacey Halls
Mrs England by Stacey Halls book cover

This was one of my most highly anticipated releases for 2021 and I was thrilled when it delivered on all of my hopes and expectations. Ruby May is a qualified nurse from the Norland Institute in London and accepts a position at the isolated Hardcastle House looking after three children from the family of wealthy mill owners Charles and Lilian England.

Mrs Lilian England keeps strange hours, doesn't interact much with the children and doesn't involve herself in the running of the household while Mr England is friendly, relaxed and approachable and it's soon clear who really runs the house. Mrs England is a slow moving gothic tale, with Ruby's past carefully revealed and the relationships between the characters slowly evolving.

The ending made me gasp and I thoroughly enjoyed discussing it with other readers on GoodReads and social media. This is the second year in a row Stacey Halls has made my Top 5 Books of the year list, what will she write next?

3. The World At My Feet by Catherine Isaac
The World At My Feet by Catherine Isaac book cover

This book was a complete surprise. Ellie is a social media influencer and avid gardener suffering from agoraphobia. Living in a granny flat behind her parent's home in the English countryside, she makes a living from her sponsored gardening posts on her highly successful Instagram account EnglishCountryGardenista. I was interested to get to the root cause of Ellie's agoraphobia and when I did, I found I was fascinated by the topic and spent a few nights Googling post-revolution Romania.

Offsetting this dark beginning to Ellie's life, her gardening career was a sheer delight to read about and I thoroughly enjoyed following her around the garden and reading her Instagram posts in the book.

The World At My Feet by Catherine Isaac was a terrifically enjoyable contemporary novel with moments of character insight and inspiration and I was willing Ellie through as she lost her way and dusted herself off again.

4. The Emporium of Imagination by Tabitha Bird
The Emporium of Imagination by Tabitha Bird book cover

Set in Boonah in Queensland, this book contains magical realism and reading it was like sending nourishing warm hot chocolate straight to the soul. The Emporium of the title is a shop, and Earlatidge is the store's custodian. The shop travels the world to where it's needed and at the start of the book, it's opening in the small town of Boonah. When it magically appears and the shopkeeper has been found, the store will sell vintage gifts to revive broken dreams, repair relationships, ease grief, soothe broken hearts and more.

The Emporium of Imagination is an incredibly uplifting and life affirming novel delivering messages about regret, lost opportunities, guilt, smothered dreams, love, loss, sorrow, grief, duty, hope, redemption and more to the reader.

Written by Australian author Tabitha Bird, I loved sharing this with a family member and it was a highlight of my reading year.

5. The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by V.E. Schwab
The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by V. E. Schwab book cover

Adeline LaRue is born in France in 1691, and at the age of 23, her family decide to marry her off but she refuses to be 'gifted like a prize sow to a man she does not love, or want, or even know'. In sheer desperation to avoid this fate, Adeline prays with every fibre of her being. A spirit of the woods eventually answers and Addie explains she wants to be free and doesn't want to belong to anyone. In making a deal, her soul is cursed.

The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by V.E. Schwab is a character driven story about how Addie comes to terms with her curse and learns to navigate life now that she is forgettable. Addie is invisible, unable to leave a mark on the world or even say her own name. The unexpected ache of losing her family and everyone she's ever known is tough.

The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue is full of evocative writing and passages that made me pause and reflect on the past, the present and the future and ponder what really matters in the world.

So, there you have it! What do you think of my list? What was your favourite read in 2021?

Would you like to comment?

  1. Replies
    1. I agree Davida, Hamnet really was exquisite wasn't it?

  2. I got Tabitha's book for Easter, but still haven't read it yet. This year!

    1. In that case Claire, you're in for an absolute treat when you do pick it up. I put Tabitha's earlier book A Lifetime of Impossible Days on my Xmas wishlist but it's out of stock at the few stores I frequent here in Melbourne.

  3. Thanks for sharing your choices Tracey. I’ve read Tabitha’s but not Hamnet yet.

    1. Thanks Shelleyrae, not sure if Hamnet will be your style, (slow going historical fiction) but it's too good not to give it a chance.


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