Time for my second instalment of the best books I’ve read this year, this time focussing on fiction published pre-2021. As an avid reader and a book blogger with a veritable TBR mountain, I often buy books that I don’t get around to reading immediately. And yet some of these books – when I do get around to them – are excellent and well worth shouting about. Here then are the best books I read this year that were published prior to this year, in order read.
The Captive by Deborah O’Connor
Hannah knows the cage intimately. Small, the size of a shopping centre parking space. A bed, a basin, a table and chair. A hatch and metal drawer through which to exchange food and other items.
Then there’s him. Always there on the edges of her vision, no matter how hard she tries to block him out.
Every day, the same thoughts run through Hannah’s mind:
What if he speaks to me?
What if he hurts me?
What if he gets out?
Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo
This is Britain as you’ve never read it.
This is Britain as it has never been told.
From Newcastle to Cornwall, from the birth of the twentieth century to the teens of the twenty-first, Girl, Woman, Other follows a cast of twelve characters on their personal journeys through this country and the last hundred years. They’re each looking for something – a shared past, an unexpected future, a place to call home, somewhere to fit in, a lover, a missed mother, a lost father, even just a touch of hope…
Cat Step by Alison Irvine
She only left her daughter in the car for a minute; just a quick minute whilst she ran into the shop. She barely thought twice about making that decision, but it soon began to consume her every thought. And not just her thoughts, but those of every neighbour, police and social security worker in a fifteen-mile radius . But this is her child. Surely she knows best?
After she’d made the move to a small town in Scotland, the rolling hills and blustery beaches seemed to be the perfect backdrop for her and her four-year-old daughter, Emily, to start again, to mend and move on. It wasn’t always easy just the two of them, but Liz was sure that she can manage. And now this?
The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by V. E. Schwab
When Addie La Rue makes a pact with the devil, she trades her soul for immortality. But there’s always a price – the devil takes away her place in the world, cursing her to be forgotten by everyone.
Addie flees her tiny hometown in 18th-Century France, beginning a journey that takes her across the world, learning to live a life where no one remembers her and everything she owns is lost and broken. Existing only as a muse for artists throughout history, she learns to fall in love anew every single day.
Her only companion on this journey is her dark devil with hypnotic green eyes, who visits her each year on the anniversary of their deal. Alone in the world, Addie has no choice but to confront him, to understand him, maybe to beat him.
Until one day, in a second-hand bookshop in Manhattan, Addie meets someone who remembers her. Suddenly thrust back into a real, normal life, Addie realises she can’t escape her fate forever.
Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia
He is trying to poison me. You must come for me, Noemí. You have to save me.
When glamorous socialite Noemí Taboada receives a frantic letter from her newlywed cousin begging to be rescued from a mysterious doom, it’s clear something is desperately amiss. Catalina has always had a flair for the dramatic, but her claims that her husband is poisoning her and her visions of restless ghosts seem remarkable, even for her.
Noemí’s chic gowns and perfect lipstick are more suited to cocktail parties than amateur sleuthing, but she immediately heads to High Place, a remote mansion in the Mexican countryside, determined to discover what is so affecting her cousin.
Tough and smart, she possesses an indomitable will, and she is not afraid: not of her cousin’s new husband, who is both menacing and alluring; not of his father, the ancient patriarch who seems to be fascinated by Noemí; and not of the house itself, which begins to invade Noemi’s dreams with visions of blood and doom.
Her only ally in this inhospitable abode is the family’s youngest son. Shy and gentle, he seems to want to help, but might also be hiding dark knowledge of his family’s past. For there are many secrets behind the walls of High Place. The family’s once colossal wealth and faded mining empire kept them from prying eyes, but as Noemí digs deeper she unearths stories of violence and madness.
And Noemí, mesmerised by the terrifying yet seductive world of High Place, may soon find it impossible to leave this enigmatic house behind…
Safe House by Jo Jakeman
SHE LIED TO PROTECT A KILLER. NOW THERE’S NOWHERE LEFT TO HIDE…
The morning after a great storm, a woman arrives in a remote Cornish village.
But Charlie, as she now calls herself, steers clear of the locals and keeps a low profile – because she has a terrible secret.
Recently released from prison after providing a false alibi for the man she loved, Charlie wants to move on and start afresh. But someone, somewhere, is watching her, determined that she will never get that second chance.
The Thief on the Winged Horse by Kate Mascarenhas
The Kendricks have been making world-famous dolls for over 200 years. But their dolls aren’t coveted for the craftmanship alone. Each has an emotion laid on it; a magic that can provoke bucolic bliss or consuming paranoia at a single touch.
Persephone Kendrick longs to learn her ancestors’ craft, but only men may know the secrets of the workshop. So when a handsome stranger arrives claiming doll-making talent and blood ties to the family she sees a chance to grasp all she desires.
But then, one night, the firm’s most valuable doll is stolen. Only someone with knowledge of magic could have taken her.
Only a Kendrick could have committed this crime…
The Betrayals by Bridget Collins
When Léo joined the Montverre academy he was a nobody, but he dreamed of winning its legendary Great Game.
When Carfax joined, he was notorious: the son of a family renowned for their brilliance – and their madness.
Their rivalry would end in tragedy.
Years later, Léo returns to Montverre. Carfax is gone, but his sister is now the first ever female master of the Game.
As secrets whisper in the walls, what will Léo do to win this time?
Hollow Empire by Sam Hawke
You never get used to poisoning a child…
Two years after a devastating siege tore the country apart, Silasta has recovered. But to the frustration of poison-taster siblings Jovan and Kalina, sworn to protect the Chancellor, the city has grown complacent in its new-found peace and prosperity.
And now, amid the celebrations of the largest carnival the continent has ever seen, it seems a mysterious enemy has returned.
The death of a former adversary sets Jovan on the trail of a cunning killer, while Kalina negotiates the treacherous politics of visiting dignitaries, knowing that this vengeful mastermind may lurk among the princes and dukes, noble ladies and priests. But their investigations uncover another conspiracy which now threatens not just Silasta and the Chancellor but also their own family.
Assassins, witches and a dangerous criminal network are all closing in. And brother and sister must once more fight to save their city – and everyone they hold dear – from a patient, powerful enemy determined to tear it all down…
Blood Red City by Rod Reynolds
A witness but no victim. A crime but no crime scene…
When crusading journalist Lydia Wright is sent a video of an apparent murder on a London train, she thinks she’s found the story to revive her career. But she can’t find a victim, much less the killers, and the only witness has disappeared. Wary she’s fallen for fake news, she begins to doubt her instincts – until a sinister call suggests that she’s not the only one interested in the crime.
Michael Stringer deals in information – and doesn’t care which side of the law he finds himself on. But the murder on the train has left him exposed, and now he’ll stop at nothing to discover what Lydia knows.
When their paths collide, Lydia finds the story leads through a nightmare world, where money, power and politics intersect… and information is the only thing more dangerous than a bullet.
A nerve-shattering and brutally realistic thriller, Blood Red City bursts with energy and grit from the opening page, twisting and feinting to a superb, unexpected ending that will leave you breathless.
So there you have my top ten fictions read published pre-2021. Have you read any of these, or have them on your own TBR mountain? Let me know in the comments!