We’ve been incredibly absent on here this year haven’t we? Who would have thought 2021, with the expectation for so much hope and promise, was just another strange and challenging year! I only returned to my office at work in the Fall, so most of this year was another where I was sitting at home, seemingly suffocating within the same four walls day in and day out – all day and all night. I couldn’t take it anymore and gladly returned to the office.
I was reading, although very slowly, and upon checking my Goodreads Challenges history, I haven’t read so little since we started the Literary Hoarders! The last time I read a number under 70 was in 2011. (61 books that year.) But my posting about these books this year has been abysmal hasn’t it? I truly hope to make better effort in 2022! (Can you believe that?! 2022? Seems too futuristic.) With our refreshed look unveiled late this year, I’m hoping it provides strong incentive too!
I was talking with Hoarder Elizabeth about the books I read this year, and those that would be featured on this “best books” post. I remarked that the greatest majority of the books I loved this year were written by men. Normally my reading is predominantly women, and I did read a lot of women this year, but my best ones are overwhelmingly male-authored. They were all incredible works of storytelling – beautifully immersive books. However, it is not all men featured in my best books list. Here we go!
Best Books Read in 2021
I’m going to go in order of when I read them, and I’m also not going to include the audiobooks here. I will list my Best Audiobooks separately. Each of the books listed below received 5-stars from me, with one receiving every star you can throw at a book.
- The Chestnut Man by Søren Sveistrup. This was a page-turner!
Lots of twists, great characters, and a pulse-pounding ending. It was so much fun!
- Two White Queens and the One-Eyed Jack by Heidi von Palleske. Simply put: Loved it. Loved every character, loved all the symbolism of sight, vision, and eyes. Another book that didn’t make the Giller Prize list this year and what a disappointment.
- Ragged Company by Richard Wagamese. What a beautiful writer. What a beautiful story that was a love letter to friendship and movies.
- Satellite Love by Genki Ferguson. Why this wasn’t on the Giller Prize lists this year is beyond me. I even said if it wasn’t I would eat my hat in anger and frustration, so I have to run off and do that now. How incredibly disappointing that this gem of a novel wasn’t recognized in any way this year. I loved it. Very Ruth Ozeki-esque.
- The One-Hundred Years of Lenni and Margot by Marianne Cronin. Another beautiful and wonderful novel. Another love letter to friendship, hope and human-spirit. Loved it.
- We Begin at the End by Chris Whitaker. This is #1. This book got all my love, all my stars. I loved it, I loved it so very much. Hoarder Elizabeth read this one before me and kept saying “This is such a Penny book”, and it really, really was!
- I’m about to finish August into Winter by Guy Vanderhaeghe tonight and this one will definitely sit nice and tight on my best books list. What a remarkable writer! His use of metaphor is the best I’ve ever read, his descriptions, his details, his characters. Gah – loved it.
Best Audiobooks Read in 2021
Again, I’m going in order of when I listened to them. My audiobooks for 2021 were 99% celebrity memoir and the reason for that is something I wrote about here.
- Mr. Mercedes by Stephen King. The only novel on this list. My word, Will Patton made this book sing and shout. I cannot even begin to tell you my love and adoration for Will Patton’s narrative powers. That man’s performance of this book made me tingly and go weak in the knees. And King’s writing, his descriptions, his characters – he’s so gifted! Definitely. I loved that this was more police-procedural and I can’t wait to listen to the others in this series.
- If I Knew Then: Finding Wisdom in Failure and Power of Aging by Jann Arden. Oh, you have to listen to this one. Jann reads it with her signature humour and it will be the most empowering book you read!
- Inside Out by Demi Moore. I will never have her story leave my brain. Incredible. She reads this with incredible openness and emotion. She has laid herself bare. I loved the structure of how she wrote this too – it’s incredible. You gotta read it – actually listen to it – she reads often with such pain and sometimes bitterness in her voice, it’s amazing.
- Born a Crime by Trevor Noah. This man makes me laugh so hard. What an incredible life-story! Those last chapters of this book however are incredibly emotional and heart-pulling.
- Greenlights by Matthew McConaughey. What a storyteller! Hilarious. I thought I was laughing with Trevor Noah, but with Matthew I was busting a gut laughing out loud. I looked rather strange walking by others laughing and grinning by myself.
There are many here. My “best of” list consists of 5-star books, but these were absolutely wonderful reads too and I recommend all just as much as the ones in the “best” category.
- The Other Half of Augusta Hope by Joanna Glenn
- Walking with Ghosts by Gabriel Byrne. This man needs to write a novel. I will be first in line to buy when he does. Gorgeous, gorgeous writer!
- The Secrets We Kept by Lara Prescott
- Sorrow and Bliss by Meg Mason
- The Widow Queen by Elżbieta Cherezińska. So very Game of Thrones-esque!
- All the Young Men by Ruth Coker Burks. What an incredible and selfless woman!
- Dominion of Mercy by Danial Neil
- Astra by Cedar Bowers. This should have been on the Giller Shortlist.
- Summerwater by Sarah Moss
- No Time Like the Future by Michael J. Fox (so emotional!)
- Mrs. Everything by Jennifer Weiner
- A Keeper by Graham Norton
- Summer Light, and Then Comes the Night by Jón Kalman Stefánsson. Such a gem!
- Bloomsbury Girls by Natalie Jenner. This one isn’t out until May 2022 but you need to look out for it! Another wonderful story by the author of The Jane Austen Society.
Way too many to mention here. At times it seemed like they were overpowering my reading year, but looking back at the lists above, this definitely wasn’t the case! I will register my immense dislike (that’s not even strong enough) for That Old Country Music by Kevin Barry however. Annoyed and beyond pissed off that distasteful stories of blatant misogyny and sexism are published and published to critical acclaim. We have a serious societal problem with misogyny and violence against women folks – there is zero need for its promotion.
Favourite New Author
He isn’t new by any stretch, but this year for the first time I read Richard Wagamese. I have since been out buying his books. It’s unbelievable that Ragged Company was the first time I’ve read him, but the writing and the heart in this book make sure it will not be the only book I read by him.
Graham Norton. What a storyteller! I look forward to buying (have already bought one) the rest of his books.
Of course I can’t forget Chris Whitaker either. I hungrily await whatever he puts out next! Until then I can read from his backlist like, All the Wicked Girls and Tall Oaks.
Most Beautifully Written
- Summer Light, and Then Comes the Night by Jón Kalman Stefánsson. So beautiful and very humorous too. The translation was also flawless.
- Ragged Company by Richard Wagamese. Beautiful.
- August into Winter by Guy Vanderhaeghe. Masterful.
Most Memorable Characters
- Hands down it’s Duchess from We Begin at the End by Chris Whitaker. She’s an outlaw! Walk is another great character too.
- Vivien, Grace, and Evie from Bloomsbury Girls by Natalie Jenner. Three strong women!
- Everyone in August into Winter by Guy Vanderhaeghe. He can hold a masterclass in character development!
- Augusta and Parfait in The Other Half of Augusta Hope by Joanna Glen. They were both so heartwarming and heartbreaking to read about. I loved how their lives ran parallel throughout and then connected at the end.
- Gareth and Jack and Clara and Blanca in Two White Queens and the One-Eyed Jack by Heidi von Palleske.
- The “the hard-drinking, philosopher detective, Jack Laidlaw” is a fantastic character. He’s in The Dark Remains by William McIlvanney and Ian Rankin.
- And of course Margot and Lenni in The One Hundred Years of Lenni and Margot by Marianne Cronin.
There were so many great books I should have written about eh? I promise to do better for 2022!
I hope you had a wonderful reading year and I look forward to talking with you about all the great ones we’ll be reading in the New Year! Can you believe we are at the end of the year?? It feels both so long and flew by so quickly! Perhaps because it was mainly a repeat in so many ways of 2020. Here’s to hoping 2022 is awesome all around!
Thanks for the honorable mention, Penny. Honored to be among such great writers.
Thank you Danial for always thinking of us when sending your latest! It’s always an honour. Merry Christmas!
Nice list, Penny! I’ve added a few of them to my own. Wasn’t ragged Company so good? It was my first Wagamese.
Have a great holiday!!
Have a wonderful Christmas Naomi! Ragged Company was so very good! I can’t wait to read the others I ran out and bought of his!:-)
It’s hard to believe it’s time to think about end-of-year favourites already (I’ve still got some reading planned for the next few days, so I haven’t made any decisions yet – heheh). I hope you find that this coming year’s focus suits you better.
I really enjoyed Heidi von Pelleske’s novel too. Did you know there are more to come (two, I think?) in this story? I thought it stood a good chance for this year’s Giller list (along with a few others) too!
Wagamese is on my MustReadEverything list (I wonder how many people read one of his and then make that decision, so far you and me and Naomi just here alone!) but I haven’t read Ragged Company yet (might save it as my last).
I’ve only read one of Kevin Barry’s stories but I think he’s a very fine writer. Not to say that he always writes about likeable characters but I enjoy the exercise of trying to inhabit the viewpoints of people I might not choose to sit and dine with. 🙂
Happiest of New Years BIP!!! I did not know about two more books from Pelleske! That is exciting! I am so hoping for a “better” Giller year this year, I just can’t shake my overall disappointment in the past year’s lists, shortlist especially. It is just me, my opinion, but what can you do? It would be brilliant if you were able to join us this year on the Shadow Giller!
Ragged Company was recommended to me and I sadly cannot remember where or who it came from – but it was the one I specifically sought out because of that recommendation. It is such a beautiful story of friendship and love of movies! I cannot wait to read the others by him I have on my shelf.
I don’t mind reading unlikeable characters at all, but I just could not sit through Barry’s stories. 🙁 I am so keen on an excellent reading year for 2022 – I can’t imagine it won’t be! Here’s to having great discussions about them!
The first two sentences of this post also capture my 2021 accurately! And this too is the lowest number of books I’ve read since 2011, when I started counting on Goodreads. I’l have to check out Satellite Love. I couldn’t get into Ozeki’s latest novel but I’m still willing to try anything comped to her! You are in for a treat with whatever Wagamese novel you pick up next, I’m sure. Ragged Company isn’t one I’ve read but I really enjoyed Medicine Walk and Starlight. Happy New Year 🙂
Happy New Year Jenna! I still have to read Ozeki’s latest – I ran out and bought it the moment it hit the shelves, but so like me it still waits! I bought Medicine Walk and it will be one I read this year for sure. I also bought A Quality of Light. Here’s to an amazing reading year in 2022!