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 April 2021

Klara and the sun by Kazuo Ishiguro (new read, physical book)

‘From her place in the store, Klara, an Artificial Friend with outstanding observational qualities, watches carefully the behaviour of those who come in to browse, and of those who pass in the street outside. She remains hopeful a customer will soon choose her, but when the possibility emerges that her circumstances may change for ever, Klara is warned not to invest too much in the promises of humans.’ (Klara and the Sun synopsis)

I was excited to hear that this what coming out as I loved Never Let Me Go and hope to read more of Ishiguro’s books. I love that Ishiguro’s writing is almost plain and simplistic but very compelling too, it was really refreshing to have such an easy literary fiction experience, especially after the brain frazzling world of Murakami. It was so interesting to have Klara as a narrator and see the world from her perspective, as it creates elements of mystery for the reader and made me curious and eager to learn more. Klara’s relationship with the Manager and the Sun were really interesting as they almost take the form of a mother and a relationship with a God. As with Never Let Me Go, something in the writing style stopped the book for being as emotive for me as lots of people find them, but that hasn’t stopped his books from being favourites. I like feeling almost distance whilst still being engaged as this doesn’t often happen, and I think this leaves me more space to really reflect on the philosophy and the questions posed. I also loved how quick this book was to read and feel like I get the most from his books when I read them in just one or two go’s.  I’d definitely recommend this and Never Let Me Go, but please try to learn as little as possible about them before reading! 😊

The Other Bennet Sister by Janice Hadlow (new read, audiobook)

‘The Other Bennet Sister shows another side to Mary. An introvert in a family of extroverts; a constant disappointment to her mother who values beauty above all else; fearful of her father’s sharp tongue; with little in common with her siblings – is it any wonder she turns to books for both company and guidance? And, if she finds her life lonely or lacking, that she determines to try harder at the one thing she can be: right.’ (The Other Bennet Sister synopsis)

I really liked the idea of this book, and the writing was amazing; at no point did it feel like fan-fiction or take you out of the world, it honestly felt like a companion to Pride and Prejudice. I enjoyed learning more about Mary and reading about her perspective, however, at times the extent of her self-deprecation and melancholy made this feel like quite a long book to get through. I understand that this was necessary, as Mary has experienced so much neglect and emotional abuse throughout her life. This is not to say that I didn’t enjoy this book, I just felt that it was too long for me to feel that I loved it. Also, I just reread Pride and Prejudice at the end of last year, and due to the amazing writing style, this felt so similar that it was maybe too soon for me to listen to this book and get the most from it. I did find that I was more invested and interested in the later chapters, which I listened to over a couple of days. I always feel this way about audiobooks; listening to them frequently and quickly usually means I enjoy the book more, and for this reason I don’t really feel like my opinions are always truly reflective. Overall, I found this interesting and really enjoyed being back in this world, reading about a character who really didn’t get enough time or credit in Pride and Prejudice. I would recommend this, although I did feel it to be a little long at times.

Percy Jackson and the Last Olympian by Rick Riordan (new read, physical book)

‘Normally when you turn sixteen you get a really cool present. But, being sixteen and the son of Poseidon can never be that simple. So instead, I get a prophecy that says the fate of the entire world on my shoulders. Great. On top of that, Kronos, Lord of the Titans, is attacking New York City and the dreaded monster Typhon is heading our way. So, it’s me and forty of my demi-god friends versus untold evil. Happy birthday to me!’ (The Last Olympian synopsis)

Somehow, after reading (and loving) the series for the first time last year I managed to forget to read the last one hahaha. I didn’t remember too much before going into this, but for once that meant I was thankful for the middle grade trait of constantly recounting the previous books in the first chapter. I love this series, the characters are funny, kindhearted and a bit chaotic, the plot is always interesting (although I’m too lazy for fight scenes haha so I’d genuinely just prefer a book of them all dancing about camp half blood) and the myths are woven in so well for children, interesting enough that it never feels like a school lesson. I know that Percy has dyslexia and ADHD, which is something Riordan has written for children to relate to. I was thinking about this while reading, and I’ve noticed that these books and constantly full of twists, turns and actions; I think this was done purposefully to engage children with ADHD who would maybe otherwise find reading to be a chore. I think this was such a clever idea! I think this series is particularly good as I often find middle grade boring, but I was interested throughout despite reading these aged 24/25. 😊 Having read Harry Potter countless times throughout childhood, I definitely feel a stronger connection to those books (although I’m having trouble with she who must not be named), but I think Percy Jackson is such a good engaging and exciting series for children. 😊

Grown Ups by Marian Keyes (new read, physical book)

‘Married to brothers Johnny, Ed and Liam Casey. Three very different women tied to three very different men. Every family occasion is a party – until the day the secrets spill out.’ (Grown Ups synopsis)

I don’t know if every country has an Asda, but it’s always one of my favourite places to buy books, they have such good deals on and I come out with incredibly random selections of funny warm hearted books. I enjoyed this book as it was really easy to read and I liked the characters who were written too be liked as well as disliking those who weren’t. I would love to learn more about Ireland and visit it, and I enjoyed the Irish words and humour throughout (some is very similar to Glaswegian!). However, at times this book felt a bit long (I feel like I’m saying this about lots of things recently, maybe it’s just my pandemic mindset haha). I also think it’s really important to mention that this is advertised as funny and light-hearted; quite a significant plot point follows a character suffering from an eating disorder, which I really didn’t realise going into it. Family members close to me have dealt with eating disorders and I find it really difficult to read about them. I think it’s therefore important that books advertised in such a way acknowledge the triggers as I felt very upset and a bit overwhelmed whilst reading. Saying that, I acknowledge that I read lots of books with dark themes, many of which others may find triggering, and my emotions whilst reading this book probably wouldn’t be felt as strongly by some others. It’s just something I’ve been thinking about in the marketing of books. Anyway, this is otherwise quite funny and an easy read, so I’d recommend it for anyone who enjoys family themes.

A Kind of Spark by Elle McNicoll (new read, physical book)

‘A Kind of Spark tells the story of 11-year-old Addie as she campaigns for a memorial in memory of the witch trials that took place in her Scottish hometown. Addie knows there’s more to the story of these ‘witches’, just like there is more to hers. Can Addie challenge how the people in her town see her, and her autism, and make her voice heard?’ (A Kind of Spark synopsis)

As I said above, I sadly don’t really enjoy middle grade or children’s books unless I read them as a child. I can find these books quite boring at times. For this reason, I like to focus on how I feel the intended reader may find these books instead. I bought this book to read to my classes in the future and to pass on to children who enjoy reading, and this book was chosen for a number of reasons- the narrator is an autistic female and is this book is very importantly written by a neurodivergent author. Very little is known about autism in girls and the ways in can present in some individuals due to a lack of research and girls tendency to be very good at masking. I therefore think this book is so important in reading diverse voices, especially for children. The plot is interesting and touching, and I’m excited to have lots of conversations with my older classes regarding the themes of this book. I should also say I’m always more intrigued to buy anything Scottish, I am pretty biased haha! I’d definitely recommend this book for children, and adults who enjoy middle grade. 😊

Thank you for reading, I hope you’re well! 🙂 Please let me know what you’ve been reading. Also, please recommend anyone who writes like Ishiguro, I love his writing 🙂