The third and final instalment in my books of the year posts (you can find my non-fiction and fiction pre-2021 picks using the links), this time looking at fiction first published (in any format) during 2021. These are presented in the order of reading, apart from my book of the year which I’ve saved until last.
The Whispers by Heidi Perks
Grace’s best friend Anna is missing.
She would never leave her husband and son by choice and Grace is beside herself with worry.
As Grace searches desperately for answers, everyone seems to have a different version of the truth.
Why won’t Anna’s husband call the police?
What secrets are the other mothers at the school gate hiding?
With each day that passes, Anna’s life is under increasing threat.
The pressure is mounting and it won’t be long before something cracks…
Dog Days by Ericka Waller
George is angry at the world. His wife has died and now all he wants to do is sit in his underpants and shout at the cricket. The last thing he needs is his cake-baking neighbour Betty trying to rescue him. And then there’s the dog, a dachshund puppy called Poppy. George doesn’t want a dog – he wants a fight.
Dan is a counsellor with OCD who is great at helping other people – if only he were better at helping himself. His most meaningful relationship so far is with his labrador Fitz. But then comes a therapy session that will change his life.
Lizzie is living in a women’s refuge with her son Lenny. Her body is covered in scars and she has shut herself off from everyone around her. But when she is forced to walk the refuge’s fat terrier, Maud, a new life beckons – if she can keep her secret just a while longer…
Dog Days is a novel about those small but life-changing moments that only come when we pause to let the light in. It is about three people learning to make connections and find joy and comfort in living life off the leash.
The Secret Life of Albert Entwistle by Matt Cain
Living alone since the death of his mam, 64-year-old Albert Entwistle keeps himself to himself. So one frosty December morning, just back from delivering mail full of the Christmas cheer that no one now extends to him, Albert is surprised to find himself in receipt of a letter.
The contents shock him. With no friends, and nothing to look forward to, his future suddenly seems lonely and frightening.
It’s not the first time that Albert has received a letter that will change his life. But, as the snow starts to fall, this time around he’s spurred into action. The time has come for him to face the secret he’s been keeping for fifty years . . .
With a new year fast approaching, Albert needs to be brave and go after what he wants, however much it scares him. And he will begin by looking for the man that, many years ago, he lost – but has never forgotten . . .
Join Albert Entwistle as he sets out to find the long-lost love of his life, and has an unforgettable and completely life-affirming adventure on the way.
This is a love story the likes of which you have never read before and the perfect uplifting story to curl up with as the dark winter nights draw in!
Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir
A lone astronaut.
An impossible mission.
An ally he never imagined.
Ryland Grace is the sole survivor on a desperate, last-chance mission – and if he fails, humanity and the earth itself will perish.
Except that right now, he doesn’t know that. He can’t even remember his own name, let alone the nature of his assignment or how to complete it.
All he knows is that he’s been asleep for a very, very long time. And he’s just been awakened to find himself millions of miles from home, with nothing but two corpses for company.
His crewmates dead, his memories fuzzily returning, Ryland realizes that an impossible task now confronts him. Hurtling through space on this tiny ship, it’s up to him to puzzle out an impossible scientific mystery-and conquer an extinction-level threat to our species.
And with the clock ticking down and the nearest human being light-years away, he’s got to do it all alone.
Or does he?
An irresistible interstellar adventure as only Andy Weir could imagine it, Project Hail Mary is a tale of discovery, speculation, and survival to rival The Martian — while taking us to places it never dreamed of going.
A Line to Kill by Anthony Horowitz
‘I couldn’t see the sea from my bedroom but I could hear the waves breaking in the distance. They reminded me that I was on a tiny island. And I was trapped.‘
There has never been a murder on Alderney.
It’s a tiny island, just three miles long and a mile and a half wide. The perfect location for a brand-new literary festival. Private Investigator Daniel Hawthorne has been invited to talk about his new book. The writer, Anthony Horowitz, travels with him.
Very soon they discover that all is not as it should be. Alderney is in turmoil over a planned power line that will cut through it, desecrating a war cemetery and turning neighbour against neighbour.
The visiting authors – including a blind medium, a French performance poet and a celebrity chef – seem to be harbouring any number of unpleasant secrets.
When the festival’s wealthy sponsor is found brutally killed, Alderney goes into lockdown and Hawthorne knows that he doesn’t have to look too far for suspects.
There’s no escape. The killer is still on the island. And there’s about to be a second death…
The Origins of Iris by Beth Lewis
‘I opened my eyes and the woman wearing my face opened hers at the same time.’
Iris flees New York City, and her abusive wife Claude, for the Catskill Mountains. When she was a child, Iris and her father found solace in the beauty and wilderness of the forest; now, years later, Iris has returned for time and space to clear her head, and to come to terms with the mistakes that have led her here. But what Iris doesn’t expect in her journey of survival and self-discovery is to find herself – literally.
Trapped in a neglected cabin deep in the mountains, Iris is grudgingly forced to come face to face with a seemingly prettier, happier and better version of herself. Other Iris made different choices in life and love. But is she all she seems? Can she be trusted? What is she hiding?
As a storm encroaches, threatening both their lives, time is running out for them to discover why they have been brought together, and what it means for their futures.
Author of the critically-acclaimed debut The Wolf Road, Beth Lewis returns with her brand new novel The Origins of Iris where Wild meets Sliding Doors. An important, searing novel about one woman’s journey in fleeing an abusive relationship and confronting the secrets of her past.
The Lamplighters by Emma Stonex
Cornwall, 1972. Three keepers vanish from a remote lighthouse, miles from the shore. The entrance door is locked from the inside. The clocks have stopped. The Principal Keeper’s weather log describes a mighty storm, but the skies have been clear all week.
What happened to those three men, out on the tower? The heavy sea whispers their names. The tide shifts beneath the swell, drowning ghosts. Can their secrets ever be recovered from the waves?
Twenty years later, the women they left behind are still struggling to move on. Helen, Jenny and Michelle should have been united by the tragedy, but instead it drove them apart. And then a writer approaches them. He wants to give them a chance to tell their side of the story. But only in confronting their darkest fears can the truth begin to surface . . .
Inspired by real events, The Lamplighters by Emma Stonex is an intoxicating and suspenseful mystery, an unforgettable story of love and grief that explores the way our fears blur the line between the real and the imagined.
Five Minds by Guy Morpuss
SHARING A BODY CAN BE MURDER
The Earth’s spiralling population has finally been controlled. Lifespans are limited to eighty years, except for those who make an extreme choice: to become a commune. Five minds sharing one body, each living for four hours at a time. But with a combined lifespan of nearly 150 years.
Alex, Kate, Mike, Sierra and Ben have already spent twenty-five years together in what was once Mike’s body, their frequent personality clashes leading to endless bickering, countless arguments, and getting themselves stranded on a Russian Arctic freighter. Wanting to buy upgrades for their next host body, they decide to travel to a Death Park where time can be gambled like money. But things go very wrong when Kate accepts a dangerous offer, and one of them disappears.
Someone is trying to kill off members of the commune. But why? Is one of them responsible? Or is an outsider playing a deadly game? It’s hard enough to catch a murderer. It’s almost impossible when you might be sharing a body with them…
This brilliant murder mystery blends classic crime with speculative fiction in a stunning debut.
Ezra Slef: The Next Nobel Laureate in Literature by Andrew Komarnyckyj
The pioneering writings of celebrated Russian novelist Ezra Slef have made him a titan of contemporary Postmodernism, with a worldwide following keen to know more about the man behind the books. Enter Humbert Botekin, a disgraced former professor of literature, and Slef’s biggest admirer. He writes the definitive biography of Slef, with compendious notes, an introduction, a list of plates, and a glossary.
But Botekin’s narrative soon spirals dangerously out of control. A supreme egotist, Botekin cannot resist assuming the foreground, so that his ostensible biography of Slef gradually changes into a personal memoir in which we learn far more about the biographer than about his subject. The narrative is both sinister and darkly comic.
Botekin’s secrets include making a Faustian pact with a well-travelled gentleman who bears an uncanny resemblance to the Devil – a likeness the self-absorbed Botekin fails to notice, even as his world collapses around him.
And that brings me to my book of the year. I read this way back in January, and knew as soon as I started reading it that I was onto something special. It’s stayed with me throughout the year, and while picking my favourite books is always a challenge, this one really stood out to me.
🥁 …drum roll please…🥁
The Appeal by Janice Hallett
ONE MURDER. FIFTEEN SUSPECTS.
CAN YOU UNCOVER THE TRUTH?
There is a mystery to solve in the sleepy town of Lower Lockwood. It starts with the arrival of two secretive newcomers, and ends with a tragic death. Roderick Tanner QC has assigned law students Charlotte and Femi to the case. Someone has already been sent to prison for murder, but he suspects that they are innocent. And that far darker secrets have yet to be revealed…
Throughout the amateur dramatics society’s disastrous staging of All My Sons and the shady charity appeal for a little girl’s medical treatment, the murderer hid in plain sight. The evidence is all there, waiting to be found. But will Charlotte and Femi solve the case? Will you?
The standout debut thriller of 2021 that delivers multiple brilliant twists, and will change the way you think about the modern crime novel.
So there you have my top ten fiction reads published this year. This will (probably) be my last post of the year, so let me take the opportunity to wish you a very merry Christmas!