My favourite new reads of 2021

A very late Happy New Year! I am remotivated to post this then get on with some more up to date regular 2022 posts! I also love posting on Instagram @carlybooks_ and looking at bookish accounts, so please follow me there if interested! 😊 I never count rereads in this list because I reread old favourites, so here are my 5 favourite new reads of 2021 (p.s. there are fuller descriptions of each book in 2021 blog posts so these are just wee snippets):

Honourable mentions:

Klara and the Sun, Kitchen, After Dark, Luster, Exciting times. I’ve written about these books in more detail in 2021 blog posts, but they all have the sort of style of writing I love- character driven, almost plotless, somehow dreamy, reflecting on social issues and their impact on people in today’s society. I fell in love with Japanese literature this year, it’s very beautiful and almost magical!

Number five- Pandora’s Jar by Natalie Haynes:

‘’Now, in Pandora’s Jar: Women in the Greek Myths, Natalie Haynes – broadcaster, writer and passionate classicist – redresses this imbalance. Taking Pandora and her jar (the box came later) as the starting point, she puts the women of the Greek myths on equal footing with the menfolk. After millennia of stories telling of gods and men, be they Zeus or Agamemnon, Paris or Odysseus, Oedipus or Jason, the voices that sing from these pages are those of Hera, Athena and Artemis, and of Clytemnestra, Jocasta, Eurydice and Penelope.’’ (Pandora’s Jar synopsis)

I didn’t read as much non-fiction as I usually do this year, but this was a great one! I didn’t love Natalie Hayes fiction books as much when I read them, but the way this book was written weaved in all the characters with modern social issues so well, I’d recommend! I’d also recommend listening to the songs she mentions throughout, listening to Beyoncé lemonade during the Medea chapter was quite an experience.

Number four- Beautiful World, Where Are You by Sally Rooney

‘’Alice, a novelist, meets Felix, who works in a warehouse, and asks him if he’d like to travel to Rome with her. In Dublin, her best friend Eileen is getting over a break-up and slips back into flirting with Simon, a man she has known since childhood. Alice, Felix, Eileen and Simon are still young – but life is catching up with them. They desire each other, they delude each other, they get together, they break apart. They worry about sex and friendship and the world they live in. Are they standing in the last lighted room before the darkness, bearing witness to something? Will they find a way to believe in a beautiful world?’’ (Beautiful World, Where are You synopsis)

I listened to this as an audiobook which I think is always the way to go with Irish narrators because I love the accent and it adds to the feeling of a conversation unfolding. I think this might be my favourite of her books. I love the storytelling, elements of mental health and the social commentary on social media/technology and climate change. I do feel the need to say that the characters are a bit pretentious (why do they always go on a spontaneous holiday hahaha) and Rooney’s characters are definitely privileged with first world problems. I think it’s important to keep this in mind whilst reading, but I do always feel for the characters (I was more interested in one perspective than the other though). I’d love to read more books that look at the impact of social media on our self-esteem and mental health.

Number three- Shuggie Bain by Douglas Stuart


’It is 1981. Glasgow is dying and good families must grift to survive. Agnes Bain has always expected more from life. She dreams of greater things: a house with its own front door and a life bought and paid for outright (like her perfect, but false, teeth). But Agnes is abandoned by her philandering husband, and soon she and her three children find themselves trapped in a decimated mining town. As she descends deeper into drink, the children try their best to save her, yet one by one they must abandon her to save themselves. It is her son Shuggie who holds out hope the longest. Shuggie is different. Fastidious and fussy, he shares his mother’s sense of snobbish propriety. The miners’ children pick on him and adults condemn him as no’ right. But Shuggie believes that if he tries his hardest, he can be normal like the other boys and help his mother escape this hopeless place.’’ (Shuggie Bain synopsis)

This book was so powerful, and the relationships were beautiful and very sad. I felt even more connected to the story because of the LGBT elements and the setting- some of my own family members have experienced some of these issues and I think they’re still sadly very relevant around Glasgow. I think this book manages to be filled with hopeful moments despite the poignant sad ones. I’m currently reading Young Mungo as I got a review eBook on net galley, woo (did not know that was a thing until last month!) and I think I like it even more, although I love wee Shuggie as a character so much. I’d 100% recommend reading some Scottish fiction if you’re from elsewhere around the world, I’d love to know if it still has the same impact or gives you a new perspective on Scotland. I’d also be curious to know where you are from and what books you’d recommend from your home country! 😊

Number two: Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami

’When he hears her favourite Beatles song, Toru Watanabe recalls his first love Naoko, the girlfriend of his best friend Kizuki. Immediately he is transported back almost twenty years to his student days in Tokyo, adrift in a world of uneasy friendships, casual sex, passion, loss and desire – to a time when an impetuous young woman called Midori marches into his life and he has to choose between the future and the past.’’ (Norwegian Wood synopsis)

This was one of the first books I’ve read translated from Japanese and I loved it! I always love books which are basically just about characters and relationships where nothing really happens, and this is exactly that bit with a kind of whimsical feeling. There was something so interesting and unusual about this book and it’s made me want to go to Tokyo one day even more than I already did. I”d really recommend this, although I’d first check the trigger warnings as there are themes such as suicide. I’d also recommend this as a first choice for Murakami’s books because it’s a lot more realistic and less insane than his others. I read 4 of his this year and I am finding some uncomfortable themes with the ways he writes women. Overall though, Norwegian Wood has become one of my favourite ever books!

Number one: Duck Feet by Ely Percy

’Twelve-year-old Kirsty Campbell used to like school – that is until she started first year at Renfrew High. Set in the mid-noughties and narrated in a Renfrewshire dialect, Duck Feet is an episodic novel comprised of 65 linked short stories, all following the lives of working-class school-girl Kirsty and her pals as they traverse from first to sixth year of high school.’’ (Duck feet synopsis)

Another Scottish book, they did well last year! I also went to a Waterstones reading and signing from Ely Percy and it was amazing to hear their perspective on their perspective on writing the story, it brought it to life even more. I’d like to go to more book events in 2022! I’m also happy that I joined an Instagram book club last year, hosted by @scottieandthebooks. It gave me the chance to read with others, making it a less solitary experience and creating a culture of celebration of Scottish literature (although I’m too shy to really speak in it haha!) Anyway, I loved book so much, I went to school nearby Renfrew a few years after this is set and it’s so close in time and place that I felt like I was reading about my own school (good and bad times haha!). My favourite chapter VL just flashed me back to forgotten (or repressed) times. I also loved the deeper moments and themes throughout and related to so many of the characters. I’d love to read more about the queer characters in Duck Feet if Ely writes this book. I’d 100% recommend this book to everyone!

Thank you everyone who read or commented last year, I honestly love reading comments and talking about books as reading can feel lonely otherwise! Please let me know of your favourites reads of last year, I’d genuinely love to know! 😊 I know we’re still in difficult times, but I hope you have an amazing year, and please reach out to me if you’d ever like to talk- about books, mental health or anything else!

Books I read in August/September 2021

Every time I went to write about my August books I just really could not be bothered, hahaha. One reason was that I leave it all too long and can’t remember lots- I’m trying to change this for October by writing notes after I finish each book so I can get a bit better. Instead of writing half remembered thoughts, I’m just going to list the books I read in August here: Such a Fun Age (mainly enjoyed), Soul Tourists (not my fav of hers), The Wolf Den (mainly enjoyed), The Mash House (not my genre, but good). I just decided to have a little break, especially considering this is just a hobby and really does not matter in the grand scheme of things! I did listen to a podcast today though, which made me very excited about reading and books, and it has motivated me to try to put my best effort into posts going forwards (excluding this one haha as I’ve done the usual thing of forgetting most of what I read). I hope you’ve been having a good couple of months, please let me know what you’ve been doing or reading! 😊

Buddha Da by Anne Donovan (physical book, new read)

‘‘Anne Marie’s dad, a Glaswegian painter and decorator, has always been game for a laugh. So when he first takes up meditation at the Buddhist Center, no one takes him seriously. But as Jimmy becomes more involved in a search for the spiritual, his beliefs start to come into conflict with the needs of his wife, Liz. Cracks appear in their apparently happy family life, and the ensuing events change the lives of each family member.’’ (Buddha Da synopsis)

In September, I found an Instagram book club called ‘The Scottish Book Club’, for which this was my second read (The Mash House was the first). This book club is great, encouraging Scottish people to read books written by fellow Scots, often including Scot’s language. The host, Natalie is really welcoming and often manages to contact the authors to get involved in live chats which is an amazing way to learn more about the books! I’d recommend joining if you’re Scottish and have Instagram! 😊 Buddha Da is written in Glasgow dialect which I find really easy to follow being from there, but I would encourage anyone interested to try as it makes for a really authentic account of many Scottish lifestyles. I loved this book, the characters were incredibly likeable with great relationship dynamics, even if they made some annoying yet realistic decisions. This book focuses on the themes of identify/future and loss/grief, using Buddhist philosophies to contrast with an ‘ordinary’ Scottish family. This was so interesting, because a lot of Scottish culture, especially Glaswegian is about humour which can often lead to people hiding their feelings, particularly stereotypically males. This made for such a great character study of Jimmy, with interesting perspectives on the changes he makes and whether things like taking the time to meditate or ‘self help’ can actually become quite selfish if they cause you to distance yourself from the needs of others around you. I felt like the story is reflecting on being your own person whilst in a relationship and the ways in which burying sad emotions can lead to co-dependency. There were so many themes to reflect on and I’m excited to hear from Anne Donovan to learn more, as it’s semi-autobiographical. I’d definitely recommend this book (please let me know if you do read it and want help with any Scots phrases haha!)

Favourite/Meaningful quote:

‘Glasgow for it. That’s the gemm. Embra’s lovely, a great place for a day oot or a wee break but Glesga’s hame.’

Beautiful World, Where Are You by Sally Rooney (audiobook, new read)

‘‘Alice, a novelist, meets Felix, who works in a warehouse, and asks him if he’d like to travel to Rome with her. In Dublin, her best friend Eileen is getting over a break-up and slips back into flirting with Simon, a man she has known since childhood. Alice, Felix, Eileen and Simon are still young – but life is catching up with them. They desire each other, they delude each other, they get together, they break apart. They worry about sex and friendship and the world they live in. Are they standing in the last lighted room before the darkness, bearing witness to something? Will they find a way to believe in a beautiful world?’’ (Beautiful World synopsis)

I haven’t read too many Irish books, but I’ve loved each one that I have read, I think mainly because they feel like a conversation almost, they feel quite homely if that’s the right description by marking out the simple details of daily life without every feeling slow. I’ve listened to all of Sally Rooney’s books which has definitely helped my positive opinions because Irish accents are my favourite and listening adds to the feeling of a conversation unfolding. I listened to her other books a few years ago so I don’t remember how strongly I felt, but like most people I enjoyed Normal People a lot more. I think Beautiful World may now be my favourite of hers. Before I compliment this book too much, I do feel the need to say that the characters are a bit pretentious (why do they always go on a spontaneous holiday hahaha) and Rooney’s characters are definitely privileged with first world problems. I think it’s important to  keep this in mind whilst reading, but her story telling is excellent and I do always feel for the characters (I was more interested in one perspective than the other though). I think they are very self-aware and reflect on their own feelings of guilt whilst dealing with mental illness, so their more pretentious qualities are definitely written intentionally. I enjoyed that this book almost breaks the fourth wall, giving Rooney an opportunity to add in some commentary on her own experiences as an author and the controversy/opinions that come with becoming more well known. I also really liked the discussions surrounding technology and social media and their impact on the modern world, these really resonated with me as I do often find myself thinking about the impact of media and technology on my ability to communicate and my own self esteem. I think social media has made a lot of things easier for us, but left us with a lot more time to fill, a lot of room for negative comparisons and a lot of isolation and loneliness. I find these conversations so interesting, and I would love to read more books reflecting on social media (please let me know if you’ve read any!) Overall, I would recommend this, but as with all her books, prepare for her characters to be very white and privileged. I enjoyed the overall message being conveyed, the characters finding a sense of peace or meaning in the modern world that they have been blaming for the sense of feeling unfulfilled; I think unfulfilled or lost is something that lots of people are now experiencing. I also enjoyed the links to our own reality at the end of the book.

Favourite/Meaningful quote:

‘’do you ever experience a sort of diluted, personalised version of that feeling, as if your own life, your own world, has slowly but perceptibly become an uglier place? Or even a sense that while you used to be in step with the cultural discourse, you’re not anymore, and you feel yourself adrift from the world of ideas, alienated, with no intellectual home? Maybe it is about our specific historical moment, or maybe it’s just about getting older and disillusioned, and it happens to everyone… When we were young, we thought our responsibilities stretched out to encompass the earth and everything that lived on it.”

‘’It is hard in these circumstances not to feel that modern living compares poorly with the old ways of life, which have come to represent something more substantial, more connected to the essence of the human condition.”

Six Tudor Queens: Katharine Parr by Alison Weir (audiobook, new read)

‘’Two husbands dead, a boy and a sick man. And now Katharine is free to make her own choice. The ageing King’s eye falls upon her. She cannot refuse him… or betray that she wanted another. She becomes the sixth wife – a queen and a friend. Henry loves and trusts her. But Katharine is hiding another secret in her heart, a deeply held faith that could see her burn… KATHARINE PARR. HENRY’S FINAL QUEEN. HER STORY.’’ (Six tudor Queens synopsis)

I won’t write too much about this book as I’m mentioned most of this series in previous blog posts, but I love this series! These books were interesting, at least semi-factual and a great way to learn more about the Tudors from the perspective of the Queens. They are such easy reads which provide great satisfaction to know that you are learning more about history in such an interesting way! This wasn’t my favourite of the series (she definitely wasn’t the most dramatic queen haha) but I still loved it and would recommend reading! I listened to these books which made it easier to read any slow bits and helped the characters to really come to life. So happy to have found these books! 😊

The Sopranos by Alan Warner (eBook, new read)

‘’The choir from Our Lady of Perpetual Succour School for Girls is being bussed to the national finals in the big, big city. And it’s an important day for The Sopranos – Orla, Kylah, (Ra)Chell, Amanda Konky and Fionnula (the Cooler) – pub-crawling, shoplifting and body-piercing being the top priorities. Then it’s time to lose that competition – lose, because a nuclear sub has just anchored in the bay and, tonight, the Man Trap disco will be full of submariners on shore-leave. There is no time for delays…But after the fifth bottle of alco-pop up the back of the bus it’s clear that all is not going to plan, for anyone. The Sopranos are never going to be the same.’’ (The Sopranos synopsis)

This is such a strange one to write about because I watched the film (Our Ladies) and read this book, but I can’t really decide what I thought of either. I found something very intriguing about both, maybe because they are Scottish are I can’t resist a book in a setting I’m familiar with. The fact that I chose to read the book and watch the film suggests that I did like them, but it is more of a feeling of intrigue rather than enjoyment. I think, on reflection, that I maybe feel strange because this was written from the male gaze when it is a story about catholic schoolgirls, two or who are gay (btw, I’m always strangely satisfied when I instantly know someone’s gay, it really is like a superpower hahaha). I think the fact that it was written by a male and is over 20 years old has led to a slightly uncomfortable vibe surrounding this book although it’s hard to pinpoint exactly why. It felt almost like an Irvine Welsh counterpart for young teenage girls. I think I’ll end by saying I do like the book, but I wouldn’t recommend it.

The Women of Troy by Pat Barker (physical book, new read)

‘’Troy has fallen. The Greeks have won their bitter war. They can return home as victors – all they need is a good wind to lift their sails. But the wind has vanished, the seas becalmed by vengeful gods, and so the warriors remain in limbo – camped in the shadow of the city they destroyed, kept company by the women they stole from it.’’ (The Women of Troy synopsis)

I’ve mentioned before that I’ve now read quite a lot of Greek myth retellings, so I’ve become fussy with them. I was interested to read a story which focuses on the aftermath of the war as I most of the myths I have read focus on before or during. This was an interesting perspective on the aftermath, questioning the meaning and purpose that people are left to grapple with after conflict, and our nature as human beings to feel dissatisfaction; we often strive to achieve something only to be left with a sense of discontentment or peace, in exchange for a drive to move on the next thing that we think will give us a sense of purpose. The characters in this story are (very rightly) left feeling doubt, dissatisfaction and intense guilt following the events of the Trojan war. I think the reason I was let down a little was the marketing- recent myth retellings always emphasise the need for female voices and a feminist take. This book is marketed as a feminist retelling, literally emphasising this in it’s title, which left me a little frustrated when it often strayed away to focus on male characters, often switching to Neoptolemus’ perspective. This was not a problem in itself, but I get a bit bored of such marketing because it appears to become about selling books and looking progressive, rather than the actual content (if that makes sense). I was hoping to learn more about the Trojan women themselves and would love recommendations for books following these characters. I didn’t realise that this is almost a sequel to the Silence of the Girls so I would recommend reading/rereading this first, as I couldn’t remember much about Breseis’ relationship with Achilles and inner monologue in this retelling. I think I’d have taken more from this book had I read it directly after the Silence of the Girls. I also found it a little strange (again, maybe I’m just very fussy haha) that sometimes the phrases used by characters seemed very modern or took me out of the story. This therefore made it uncomfortable when the R slur was frequently used in a very derogatory manner towards certain characters. It felt very odd and wrong to use this slur, and I feel that due to the modern phrases used elsewhere, the time period of the story cannot be used as reasoning.  

Nightshift by Kiare Ladner (physical book, new read)

’When twenty-three-year-old Meggie meets distant and enigmatic Sabine, she recognizes in her the person she would like to be. Giving up her daytime existence, her reliable boyfriend, and the trappings of a normal life in favour of working the same nightshifts as Sabine could be the perfect escape for Meggie. She finds a liberating sense of freedom in indulging her growing preoccupation with Sabine and plunges herself into another existence, gradually immersing herself in the transient and uncertain world of the nightshift worker.’’ (Nightshift synopsis)

This is an example of when my ramblings about books suffer because I forget to take notes- I read this in the first couple of days of September and I’m coming to realise that I have a shocking memory haha. Nightshift is advertised as a thriller, which I typically don’t read, but I was intrigued because reviews I watched on YouTube referred to it as more of a character study, which I would, having now read it agree with. I always get so excited for spooky season and Halloween as soon as I see one Autumn leave haha, so this was definitely a good time to read the book! I found the character Sabine to be quite annoying to read (actually, I disliked them all haha) because she’s written as that stereotype of a narcissistic ‘manic pixie dream girl’ trope, but this was very purposeful and contributed to the characters dynamics and decisions. I don’t tend to have a problem with books with unlikeable characters so I don’t think the story suffered because of that. The book was very fast paced- I read it in a day- and interesting throughout but wasn’t a favourite of mine. I would give it a go if you read the synopsis and like the sound of it, but please know that it is definitely a character study rather than a thriller. It’s also very important to read the trigger warnings as there is an incredibly difficult chapter in this book!

Her New Best Friend by Penny Batchelor (physical book, new read)

‘’Mum-of-two Audrey is horrified when during a moment of distraction in the park, her pram with baby Wilfred in it rolls down the hill and into a pond. Fortunately for her, Claire Jones is nearby and rescues Wilfred, soothing Audrey and daughter Antonia with coffee and cake in a nearby café. No harm is done. However, the frightening experience dents Audrey’s confidence and she replays the events over and over, convinced she can’t have forgotten to put the brake on. To make matters worse she keeps spotting a shadowy figure everywhere she goes and becomes sure that someone is stalking her. Does Claire really have Audrey’s best interests at heart?’’ (Her new best friend synopsis)

This is the first book I’ve been sent to read by a publisher (guess I’m famous hahaha) which was so fun! Crime and thrillers aren’t a genre I ever really read, but it was good to read a book out of my comfort zone. I’m glad I did read it because when I do read thrillers, I remember how fast paced they are, and the story was interesting. I also really enjoyed reading an own voices account of disability, of which I’ve read few in the past and need to read more frequently. The only thing I didn’t particularly enjoy was that at times I thought it was slightly too fast paced in the sense that there was not enough time to build up the thrills or twists. I’m still going to continue my pace of reading a crime/thriller every 5 years or less haha, but I know that this is one of the most popular genres for readers so I would recommend this one if you do enjoy thrillers, particularly around the spooky season. 😊

This ended up being very long hahaha. Please let me know how you’ve been and what you’ve been reading! 😊 I would recommend looking up the Scottish Book club on Instagram, it’s great! Also, may as well plug my own haha, please follow me on carlybooks_ if you’re interested (Dusty my cat is a regular feature).