Once again we’ve made it to a fresh new year, and for our librarians that can only mean one thing: time to look back on all the great books we read in 2021! Here are the favourite books of our librarians last year. Between fiction, non-fiction, bestsellers and hidden gems, there’s sure to be something to catch your eye. Click on the titles to go to the book on our online catalogue and reserve your copy to start 2022 with some great reads.


Failures of State book cover

Failures of State: the inside story of Britain’s battle with coronavirus, Jonathan Calvert and George Arbuthnott.

This book, by two journalists from ‘The Sunday Times’, essentially tells the story promised by the title. After a fairly detailed, and absolutely riveting, discussion about the possible origins of the virus (lab-leak versus natural zoonotic emergence), the great majority of the book deals with the British government’s pandemic response. Most of the key issues and controversies, including care homes, PPE and thinking around herd immunity, are covered in depth. What I particularly liked is that quantitative statistical data is provided in support of most of the authors’ key points.

As the book was published quite early in 2021, a sequel would now be interesting.

Stop Reading the News book cover

Stop Reading the News: a manifesto for a happier, calmer and wiser life, Rolf Dobelli, translated by Caroline Waight.

Rolf Dobelli advises his reader to stop reading online news and newspapers and not to listen to or watch news on radio or TV! ‘News is to the mind what sugar is to the body: appetising, easily digestible and extremely damaging’, he warns. It’s also highly addictive, again, just like sugar. Scanning ‘breaking news’ stories on our phones and other devices multiple times per day is rewiring our brains and rendering us unable to concentrate on books and longer articles. While the quantity of news on offer has increased exponentially in recent years, its quality has dramatically declined, argues the author, and most news stories are irrelevant to our personal lives; if something happens that we need to know about, we will! While I haven’t adopted the radical ‘no news’ solution advocated, I have changed some of my habits after reading Dobelli’s book; his arguments were very much pushing at an open door with me.

Vaxxers book cover

Vaxxers: the inside story of the Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine and the race against the virus, Professor Sarah Gilbert, Dr Catherine Green and Deborah Crewe.

This is the story of how a ‘vaccine for the world’ was designed, told by its very creators! Written largely to allay concerns that, because this COVID-19 vaccine was developed so quickly, corners must have been cut and it might not be safe, the book is incredibly interesting. Asides into some of the day-to-day issues which the vaccine’s creators, along with most other people in the UK, were grappling with at the time add a very human dimension to the account.

Different Class book cover

Different Class, Joanne Harris.

In this, the second of her three (so far) novels set around St Oswald’s School and its characters, Joanne Harris executes stunning misdirection, one feat of which left me reeling! Part crime/mystery work, in which the ghosts of the past are visited on the present, part literary novel, ‘Different Class’ is extremely dark and twisty, with elements of black comedy thrown in for good measure.

Sorrow and Bliss book cover

Sorrow and Bliss, Meg Mason.

Martha, who has suffered with mental health issues since ‘a little bomb’ went off in her brain at the age of seventeen, tells us the tale of her marriage to Patrick, which has just ended as the novel opens. Peopled by authentic characters, ‘Sorrow and Bliss’ is written in a very engaging style and I liked that the author doesn’t resolve her players’ complex problems in unrealistic ways.



Last One at the Party book cover

Last One at the Party, Bethany Clift.

A refreshing take on post-apocalyptic fiction, this book follows our protagonist after a virus wipes out the population. Far from your typical zombie-fighting wasteland, the main antagonist in this book is the loneliness left when everyone else is gone. I read this in one sitting and it was heart-wrenching but brilliant.

The Stranger Times book cover

The Stranger Times, C. K. McDonnell.

The first in a (hopefully lengthy) new series, this beautifully written, laugh-out-loud funny book is the perfect tonic after a year of stress and uncertainty. Douglas Adams meets The Fortean Times in a celebration of British weirdness and how a cup of tea solves (almost) everything.

Little Fish book cover

Little Fish, Casey Plett.

By far the best literary novel I read this year, this is a stunning portrayal of one woman’s struggle to find herself and her history. At times heart-breaking, at others uplifting, this is a remarkable examination of modern womanhood and finding your own life.

Witches Steeped in Gold book cover

Witches Steeped in Gold, Ciannon Smart.

This gorgeously written book is pure escapism. A fantasy with light political intrigue and plenty of magic, the use of in-world terms immerses you in the fractured Aiyca from page one. If riding around on giant cats with a wayward pirate sounds like your idea of a good time, this is the book for you! I can’t wait for the sequel.

The Stopping Places book cover

The Stopping Places: a journey through gypsy Britain, Damian Le Bas.

I learnt so much reading this book, and the evocative writing meant I couldn’t put it down. Seeing Britain (and France) through the eyes of Le Bas gave a new perspective on the landscape and the people who live there – and are penalised for it.



The Underground Railroad book cover

The Underground Railroad, Colson Whitehead.

I had been reading a lot of non-fiction about the underground railroad and so I was curious to read this book. Until the last page you are willing Cora to a safe life in a free state.

Pizza Girl book cover

Pizza Girl, Jean Kyoung Frazier.

I really enjoyed this debut novel, it was funny, tender and it definitely didn’t go where I thought it was going. It also had lots of characters who are not particularly likable which I always enjoy in a book!

And Away book cover

And Away…, Bob Mortimer.

I loved this audiobook as it was narrated by Bob and his lovely ‘borough accent. His early years were tinged with tragedy and challenges but the book is wrapped around lovely (often hilarious) tales of a navigating a tough start to become, dare I say it, a national treasure.

Mr Gum collection cover

The Complete Mr Gum, Andy Stanton.

This is the audiobook that was meant to entertain a 6 year old at bedtime but I ended up listening too. It’s fantastically produced with a cast of crazy characters and of course Mr Gum, a nasty old man.

I'll Be Gone In The Dark book cover

I’ll Be Gone in the Dark, Michelle McNamara.

Not an easy listen at all, it’s the work of Michelle McNamara who seeks to find the person dubbed the Golden State Killer. McNamara spent years working on this book, talking to detectives who worked on the case, researching multiple angles. It was meticulous and painstaking work. She died whilst she was still writing it, so she never knew that the case would be solved just two months after publication.



Mudlarking book cover

Mudlarking: lost and found on the River Thames, Lara Maiklem.
(Listen here.)

Loved this, fascinating insight into the weird hobbies of interesting people. From Teddington to the sea the Thames unearths a vast array of historical findings, but only when the tide is out.

Unorthodox book cover

Unorthodox, Deborah Feldman.
(Listen here.)

The secrets of Hasidic Jewish life are revealed. The Netflix interpretation is good too.

On Chapel Sands book cover

On Chapel Sands: my mother and other missing persons, Laura Cumming.
(Listen here.)

A real life mystery unravelled about a child kidnapped from the beach. Thoroughly enjoyed the twists and turns to find out why she was kidnapped and by whom.

The Lying Life of Adults book cover

The Lying Life of Adults, Elena Ferrante.
(Listen here.)

The closest thing to feeling you’re in Italy for now.

The Wild Silence book cover

The Wild Silence, Raynor Winn.

A physical book I read whilst on holiday on the Isle of Skye. A lovely follow up to The Salt Path for those of us wanting to know what happened to Raynor and Moth. Incidentally they got married in Portree on Skye!


Meet Me In Another Life book cover

Meet Me In Another Life, Catriona Silvey.

An absolute corker of a book, made me gasp so many times! Very original and it takes the reader on a proper ride, full of unexpected twists and turns. Best read without knowing much about it.

A Marvellous Light book cover

A Marvellous Light, Freya Marske.

Magic, mayhem and queer characters in Edwardian London. Very steamy in places, very funny in others, a great adventure full of unforgettable characters.

Open Water book cover

Open Water, Caleb Azumah Nelson.

A complex story of love, racism, trauma and celebration of Blackness. Beautifully written, moving and poetic.

Circus of Wonders book cover

Circus of Wonders, Elizabeth Macneal.

A tale of a Victorian circus, discussing themes of otherness and carving a space for yourself in a hostile and fickle world. Detailed and very readable.

Kololo Hill book cover

Kololo Hill, Neema Shah.

A family saga set in 1970s Uganda, during Idi Amin’s regime. Beautifully told story of family life, secrets and a struggle, discussing themes of belonging and family ties.



Shuggie Bain book cover

Shuggie Bain, Douglas Stuart.

Listening to this award-winning title told in beautiful Glaswegian voices added yet another layer to an already all too readily relatable tale for those of us who grew up in the north during the 1980s. It was an emotional, and at times, tough tale of how some families coped with changing social and economic conditions and expectations. I confess, I cried. But I also fell in love with so many flawed characters.

Caste book cover

Caste: the lies that divide us, Isabel Wilkerson.

It’s really easy to “observe other societies” from a distance while maintaining that events happening therein couldn’t possibly happen on one’s own doorstep.  Ever the librarian, looking to challenge my own assumptions, this title illuminated so many of my own biases. I realised I didn’t know half as much as I had thought. My “further reading” list doubled overnight. It felt less like reading than imbibing information – so natural, logical and clear. Brilliant!

Redhanded book cover

Redhanded: an exploration of criminals, cannibals, cults and what makes a killer tick, Suruthi Bala and Hannah Maguire.

Based on an established and successful podcast (of which I was unaware until reading this book), this title delves into the murky world of criminal psychology, complementing the podcast and acting as a well-researched primer for the True Crime fans of Mindhunter and that currently popular ilk of show.

Punching The Air book cover

Punching The Air, Ibi Zoboi and Yusef Salaam.

I initially read this title to review for our Young Adult publication “The Current” but instantly fell in love with the remarkable elegance of the book!  The text reflects the unfair confinement of our protagonist with stark precision; both in its content and typography.  This would be particularly of interest to those who follow Ava Du Vernay’s work or want to know more about The Exonerated Five.

Wonder book cover

Wonder: the Natural History Museum poetry book, Ana Sampson.

A perk of my job is that I get paid to read and share poetry. This beautiful book made me reflect on nature, and both the resilience and fierceness of the natural world. A real tonic in comparison with the unpredictability of our lives over the last two years.


Diary of an MP's Wife book cover

Diary of an MP’s Wife: inside and outside power, Sasha Swire.

The Eastern Front 1914-1917 book cover

The Eastern Front 1914-1917, Norman Stone.

Killing Commendatore book cover

Killing Commendatore, Haruki Murakami, translated by Philip Gabriel and Ted Goossen.

Seasons in the Sun book cover

Seasons in the Sun: the battle for Britain, 1974-1979, Dominic Sandbrook.

Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell book cover

Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, Susanna Clarke.


If you want even more recommendations, you can find last year’s list here. Happy reading!