Cultural Wednesday’s Best Books 2021

I love a good book. Fact or fiction it doesn’t matter. One of my great blogging joys in my summer and best book lists. So here we are Cultural Wednesday’s Best Books 2021 book reviews of best titles I have read this year, well these and the ones in my summer list. Perfect present inspiration for bookworm in your life.

Disclosure: Contains Affiliate Links if you buy a book from Waterstones I will get a tiny bit of money. Some books were given to me by publishers, others via NetGalley and others I paid good money for. Books which I don't enjoy, don't get reviewed.
Cultural Wednesday's Best Books 2021

Best Fiction Books 2021

Once again historical fiction dominates by list, partly because they are the books that find their way into shopping basket. That having said I like any kind genre as long as the story is well told.

Tsarina’s Daughter by Ellen Alpsten

If you asked asked to name Russian imperial rulers before last week I could have managed Peter the Great, Catherine the Great and the doomed Tsar Nicholas.  Now I’ve read Tsarina’s Daughter by Ellen Alpsten and I can hold forth at length on Peter the Great the rulers that follow him.  The Tsarina’s Daughter tells the story of Elizabeth, the daughter of Peter the Great and his second wife.  It is the second in a trilogy of novels, a fact that I didn’t discover or suspect until I had finished devouring the Tsarina’s Daughter.  An absolutely fascinating glimpse into a patch of history that I previously knew nothing about.  Now I’m off to find Tsarina, the first in the series and then wait impatiently for the third instalment. 

Women of Troy by Pat Barker

Anything that Pat Barker writes makes it onto my To Be Read list. The same goes for the retelling of Greek Myths.  The Women of Troy by Pat Barker picks up the story of Seige of Troy just as the Trojan horse is inching its way into the city.  As with The Silence of the Girls we see events through Briseis eyes.  Kings and soldiers roar around the perimeter of the story whilst the women take centre stage.  In much the same way as I binge watched Ghosts, I binge read The Women of Troy in a day and now feel slightly sad that it is finished.  Now I’m eagerly awaiting Pat Barker’s next novel.

Beloved Girls by Harriet Evans

How could I resist a book where the main character is called Catherine and Mother Julian of Norwich is quoted on the first page.  Beloved Girls by Harriet Evans manages do do both of those things and have twins featured heavily.  Even if you are not called Catherine and do not invoke Mother Julian of Norwich at frequent intervals I urge you to dive into The Beloved Girls.  You start in London with Catherine who is a high powered barrister with a glossy life but soon things begin to unravel.  We skip back int time and to the West Country to meet Catherine as a young girl.  All the time the tension mounts.  There are liberal doses of myth and magic and still the tension rises.  I was lost for two straight days in the pages of The Beloved Girls and even neglected to drink my wine one evening.  Just excellent in every way.

Cecily by Anne Garthwaite

Richard III was a hero in our house when I was growing up.  Not a bad man but a wise King much loved in Yorkshire.  My mother is drinking coffee from her Richard III mug as I type.  Despite all this I could not have told you who is mother was until last week when I read Cecily by Anne Garthwaite. Cecily tells the story of Cecily, Duchess of York mother of two kings, every monarch since Edward IV can trace lineage back to her.  To be honest I find the battle bits of the Wars of the Roses to be the dull bits, it is story behind why they all feuded in such spectacular fashion that intrigues me, Cecily shines a light on the why really well.  My only niggle with the book is that the story stops when her son becomes King, I would have liked to follow her onwards.

Matrix by Lauren Groff

Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff takes a sideways look at the modern American marriage.  I loved it and confess that I expected more modern America from Matrix by Lauren Groff.  Think again.  This time Lauren has turned her imagination to twelfth century nuns in England.  Marie, our heroine is a nun of Royal descent.  She is tall, HUGE with HUGE feet and hands we keep on being told.  As a HUGE woman with HUGE feet and hands the constant implication that all such folk are odd got a teeny bit irritating.  She has visions, she writes books.  Sort of a cross between Mother Julian of Norwich and Christine de Pizan.  I loved Matrix but at the end I was not sure what had happened that I should care about.  It is a song of praise to capability of women and enjoyable if you enjoy a dive into the world of the twelfth century nunnery.

Christmas with the Surplus Girls by Polly Heron

Regular readers will know that I love Polly Heron’s Surplus Girls series, the latest is Christmas with the Surplus Girls, This time we meet Nancy who is an unwilling pupil at the Misses Hesketh business school.  She has a work placement at Zachary Milner’s fire extinguisher business but makes a costly mistake.  Will it all come good, will Zachary see beyond the foolish error?  Is it too late for romance for the Misses Hesketh?  Another excellent unputdownable tale in the Surplus Girls series, can’t wait for the fourth and final instalment.

Daughters of Sparta by Claire Heywood

Greek myths are great stories, that’s why they have survived so long. In the versions I read growing up women were beautiful and virtuous or mad and bad, to be fought over or ridiculed.  I love modern focus on the mythical women making them seem like people not cut outs.  The Daughters of Sparta by Claire Heywood tells the story of Helen and Klytemnestra.  I confess that I spent a whole day doing nothing but read Daughters of Sparta and loved every second of it.

The Late Train to Gypsy Hill by Alan Johnson

Much of my book reading is done sat on trains.  So when The Late Train to Gipsy Hill by Alan Johnson landed on my doormat I couldn’t wait to dive in.  Whilst the trains of South East London do make an appearance they are not the stars of the show.  Gary Nelson is quiet ordinary man who lives in Crystal Palace.  Every morning on his commute to work he watches a beautiful blond woman putting her make up on.  One evening he sits beside her and she writes HELP ME on her make up mirror.  From then on we are catapulted into the world Russian gangsters, the FSB and crooked police.  I loved all the twists and turns of The Late Train to Gipsy Hill.  There was one big niggle for me though … why if you start your journey in Sutton (as our heroine does) would you get on a slow train that goes via Crystal Palace and Gipsy Hill to get to Clapham Junction when there are several fast trains each hour that get you Clapham in half the time?  Most readers will not be reading The Late Train to Gipsy Hill on a train that goes through Sutton and will not have this niggle!

Saying Goodbye to Tuesday by Chris Manby

I love a good ghost story and also appreciate a talking cat.  Saying Goodbye to Tuesday by Chrissie Manby has both of these.  Tuesday and Stupendo are a team until one day Stupendo wakes up dead.  He doesn’t realise he’s dead until Caligula the cat tells him he is.  Why he has not gone to doggy heaven is a mystery.  Saying Goodbye to Tuesday takes us through the events leading up to Stupendo’s death.  Why can’t Stupendo remember that last crucial week?  Saying Goodbye to Tuesday is a ghost story but it is also a love story.  Love between animals and humans, humans and humans as well as cats and dogs.  

The Man Who Died Twice by Richard Osman

The Man Who Died Twice by Richard Osman has a tough act to follow.  The Thursday Murder Club was not only a cracking good read it is also a record breaker, the only book to become a platinum best seller (that’s one million copies sold) in the year of publication.  Was it a flash in the pan?  The Man Who Died Twice see’s the four senior citizen sleuths on the track of mafia diamonds.  It is both funny and suspenseful (is that even a word?). All the neat ends get knitted in.  The baddies come to a sticky end and we are perfectly set up for a third instalment.  Perfect. 

The Smallest Man by Frances Quinn

The Smallest Man tells the tale of Nat Davy who was sold by his father to be the personal dwarf of the Queen.  Frances Quinn imagines the life of Queen Henrietta Maria’s dwarf.  Through him we get a ring side seat of the lead up the English Civil War and the Queen’s exile.  I absolutely loved The Smallest Man, definitely one of the top five books of 2021.

Best Non Fiction Books 2021

Not many non fiction titles have found their way into my handbag in recent months. Time to go off and browse some different shelves!

Index, A History of the by Dennis Duncan

I love a good fact.  Books filled with facts are fantastic.  Good prose is essential for a fact book but equally essential is the Index.  I confess that on occasion I have turned straight to the Index to see leap to the sections where people I know have been mentioned.  A good index is a thing of beauty.  I confess that I had given the history of the Index no thought at all until I read Index, A History of the by Dennis Duncan.  It is a joy.  There were indexes in the times of scroll but they really came into their own with invention of the book as we know it and page numbers.  Who knew that page numbers had to be invented.  So many excellent bookish facts are contained in Index, A History of.  There are even spats played out via the medium of the Index.  If you love a book then this is the book for you.  

How to Stand Up to Sexism by Toni Hargis and Britmums

The female readers among you will have at some point have been on the end of a sexist comment that left you speechless.  Be it a comment about not embroidering cushions, or being told that you are too delicate to carry heavy cables or unwanted hands exploring your body.  How to Stand Up to Sexism contains much sound advice on how to deal with everyday sexism.  If you have teenage daughters buy this for them, I wish that I had read it when I was a young woman.

  • How to Stand Up to Sexism by Toni Hargis and Britmums
  • Paperback £10.99
  • Published by Springtime Books

The Power of Geography by Tim Marshall

It will come as no surprise to you that I love a bookshop.   The Cultural Teens also love a bookshop.  Whilst I did enjoy the YA years, we now more likely to share books.  Teen One appeared with The Power of Geography by Tim Marshall and told me that he thought that I would enjoy it.  He wasn’t wrong.  Tim Marshall takes a snapshot of world politics and likely future developments by looking at ten maps and taking a deep dive into each regions history and driving forces.  An absolutely fascinating book that shines a light on why what happens in the Sahel has an impact on life at home.

  • The Power of Geography
  • Paperback £9.99
  • Published by Elliot and Thompson

Last year an author got in contact with me and told that they were “absolutely fine” with having been included my Best Summer Books and not the Best Books post. Just to be extra clear the Summer Books are my favourite reads from the first half of the year and the best books from the second. All the books mentioned across the two posts are the best that I have read (and there are quite a lot that don’t make either list) in 2021.

These are Cultural Wednesday’s Best Books 2021, what have been your favourite books of the year?


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