The best books of 2021 have helped many of us to fall in love with reading all over again. There have been plenty of exciting new releases, from authors old and new. But with so many new reads to discover, whittling down the very best that 2021 offered requires an expert eye. Here, our Books Editor Zoe West presents the best books 2021 list, all of which have earned themselves a w&h's Book Award.
Below, you'll learn more about each of the award winners, all of which have been deemed the best book in their related genre by our books expert. From murder mysteries to the best historical fiction books, our best books edit covers a lot of ground. You'll also find heartwarming tales in the best romance books, as well as some of the best thriller books of the year, and some literary novels that strike a powerful cord.
So whether you prefer to read via a paperback or on a digital device (we have a guide to the best eReaders and best Kindles if you're due an upgrade) dive into one of these sensational reads that should not be missed as we head into a new year.
Best books 2021—w&h's pick:
1. Manifesto On Never Giving Up by Bernardine Evaristo
⭐ 2021 W&H Book Award Winner: Inspiring memoir
In this honest and gripping account, Booker prize-winning author Bernardine Evaristo (opens in new tab) explores her growth as a creative person and the surprising life experiences which made her who she is today—an unstoppable, world-renowned writer. She explains, "If I’d lived a conventional life, where would the source material for my writing be?Even awful, abusive relationships can inspire great characters later on."
Read it because... It’s a moving, funny, and engaging read about pursuing passions and embracing life, no matter what it throws at you. And her take on "positive self-talk" is inspirational.
A line we love: "I don’t want to diminish who I am, or give others ammunition to criticize me."
2. Forever Young by Hayley Mills
⭐ 2021 W&H Book Award Winner: Autobiography
Mention films like The Parent Trap and Whistle Down the Wind and the name Hayley Mills will likely spring to mind for lots of people. The child star was hugely popular in the 1960s and won an Oscar at the age of just 14. But what was it really like to be so successful, so young? In this gripping memoir, packed with photos, Mills talks honestly about the highs and lows of her teenage career, and what it was like working with Walt Disney himself. A coming-of-age story that kept us reading through the night, and one of the best autobiographies (opens in new tab) of the year.
Read it because... Hayley Mills offers a unique insight into the world of 20th-century film, and was cast by Walt Disney himself who came round to her family's home.
A line we love: "When we finally shot the last scene in the water tank, I was flailing around so much, so drunk, and so heartbroken, I almost did drown."
3. Songbirds by Christy Lefteri
⭐ 2021 Woman & Home Book Award winner: Literary novel
From the author of the bestselling The Beekeeper of Aleppo comes another transformative novel. Lefteri’s haunting tale about migration is set in her native Cyprus: an island where songbirds rest as they make the journey from Africa to Europe. While we in Britain celebrate their return to us each spring, few of us are aware that many are trapped and killed for commercial gain. An analogy is drawn between them and vulnerable migrant domestic workers like Sri-Lankan-born widow Nisha. She was in Cyprus seeking a better future for her daughter, but has now vanished.
Read it because... It's based on the frightening real-life disappearance of domestic workers in Cyprus, and is one of the most remarkable and memorable novels of the past year.
A line we love: "It is a well-known fact that her hair turned white overnight, during the war, when the island was divided. That's when she started storing everything in her mind, so that nobody could take her soul from her."
4. All My Mothers by Joanna Glen
⭐ 2021 Woman & Home Book Award winner: Self-discovery
Mothers are artists—a beautiful sentiment from a beautiful book that challenges the notion of what a mother should be. Eva (as in forever) is lost. She’s sure her mother doesn’t belong to her and with her father absent no one seems to have any answers. And so she goes looking for them, on an epic journey that takes us to Cordoba, one of Spain’s most fascinating cities. In a coming-of-age story, we feel every desire Eva has just to belong.
Read it because... It's a heartfelt book you’ll be pressing into the hands of anyone you meet. One which would make for a brilliant book club book (opens in new tab).
A line we love: "Some days heaven touches Earth. And do we notice it at the time? Or do we know it later—when heaven is snatched away?"
5. For The Love Of The Land by Jenny Jefferies
⭐ 2021 Woman & Home Book Award winner: Cook book
Our best books 2021 list isn't only full of fiction. Be inspired by the wonderful farming families for whom working the land and raising livestock is a true labor of love. With heartwarming stories from farmers who produce sustainable and seasonal food, and want to supply locally—all are passionate about what they do. It includes irresistible recipes such as Blackbrook beef bolognese, winter vegetable gratin and lavender shortbread, complied by farmer Jenny Jefferies. One of the best cook books (opens in new tab) of the past year.
Read it because... It’s a celebratory book in praise of British farming at its best, and aims to help us all put sustainable, home-grown food back on our tables.
A line we love: "This job is where I can really live out my passion, and animal welfare is at the top of the list. Organic farming, or what I call ‘farming how it used to be’ is the only way forward."
6. The Push by Ashley Audrain
⭐ 2021 W&H Book Award Winner: Thought-provoking read
The arrival of baby Violet was supposed to be the happiest day of Blythe's life—the chance to become the kind of mother she'd like to be. Motherhood may be harder than Blythe thought, but as she holds Violet in her arms, she knows something isn't right. In fact, something feels very wrong. This complex, psychological book will make you question the notion of nature vs nurture and the preconceived ideas we have about being a parent. It's disturbing, painful, and brilliant, holding a mirror up to society, One of the best feminist books (opens in new tab) on our list.
Read it because... This stunningly successful debut from a former publicity director for Penguin books is being translated into 36 languages and adapted for television. This couldn't be missed off of our best books 2021 list.
A line we love: "We could have counted our problems on the petals of the daisy in my bouquet, but it wouldn’t be long before we were lost in a field of them."
7. Exit by Belinda Bauer
⭐ 2021 W&H Book Award Winner: Humorous crime
It's a crime novel, but not as we know it. When Felix Pink lets himself into a house to keep a dying man company in his last moments, little does he know that 15 minutes later he'll be on the run from the police. An offbeat, comic crime book with such endearing characters. This is a truly unique story we know you're going to love.
Read it because... Bauer has expertly created a comedic crime. And if you loved Richard Osman's The Thursday Murder Club, you'll love this. Rights have been bought by Steven Spielberg's company too—so watch this space!
A line we love: "Maybe that would be the best way to go—drunk and stupid."
8. Shiver by Allie Reynolds
⭐ 2021 W&H Book Award Winner: Classic whodunnit
This chilling thriller had to be on our best books 2021 list—it will have you feeling like you're hurtling down a black run. Milla, a former snowboarder, is invited to a reunion in the French Alps. The friends haven't seen each other for 10 years since the disappearance of the beautiful Saskia. With a broken ski lift, a blizzard setting in and a group turning on each other, secrets are about to emerge—and it isn't pretty.
Read it because... It's a thrilling murder mystery set in the French Alps. Allie Reynolds is a former freestyle snowboarder whose expert knowledge gives us a real insider insight into the world of competitive sports—and how rivalry can turn deadly.
A line we love: "As I have done many times before, I imagine what might have happened if I'd made a different choice that night."
9. The Shape of Darkness by Laura Purcell
⭐ 2021 W&H Book Award Winner: Gothic
Silhouette artist Agnes is struggling to make ends meet in Victorian Bath. But someone is murdering her clients shortly after they've sat for her. Seeking help from a child medium, Pearl, to identify the killer, Agnes embarks on an eerie, gothic trail, leading to dark and hidden corners of people's lives. With atmospheric seances, a cast of quirky characters, and a hint of the supernatural, this will have you guessing until the end.
Read it because... The former winner of the WHSmith Thumping Good Read Award, Laura Purcell serves up a deliciously dark Victorian gothic murder mystery with surprising twists and a shocking conclusion.
A line we love: "Her eyes range the surfaces, fall upon the biggest, sharpest kitchen knife. And she knows what she has to do."
10. The One Hundred Years of Lenni and Margot by Marianne Cronin
⭐ 2021 W&H Book Award Winner: Heartwarming feel-good
An exquisite story of friendship between 17-year-old Leni and 83-year-old Margot. Leni is living on the terminal ward and has dealt with the fact she is going to die, only she still feels very much alive—even more so when she meets Margot at an art class. They bond instantly and realize that between them they have lived an astonishing and eventful 100 years. To celebrate, they paint their life stories, and their story is the most beautifully written love letter to friendship, managing to make you laugh and cry in equal measure.
Read it because… It'll make you laugh and cry. Cronin admits that it took seven years to write and film rights have already been snapped up by Sony. We can't wait for this heart-warming tearjerker to come to the screen.
A line we love: "'Do you know,' she said slowly, 'that the stars that we see the clearest are already dead?'"
11. The Lamplighters by Emma Stonex
⭐ 2021 W&H Book Award Winner: Mystery
In this tale set in Cornwall in the winter of 1972, three lighthouse keepers seemingly vanish from a locked-on-the inside tower 15 miles out to sea during a storm. But, what really happened? Inspired by a true story, this beautifully written, gripping, and haunting novel alternates between the narratives of the three men in the lighthouse tower and those of their wives and girlfriends left behind, as a novelist sets out to uncover the truth. This genre-defying mystery has it all, including an eerily accurate insight into relationships and marriage—and a haunting look at love, loss, and guilt. We loved it—it's one of our best mystery book (opens in new tab) picks for 2021.
Read it because... It's based on a true story—the real-life Eilean Mor mystery where three lighthouse keepers vanished in 1900. And, before releasing The Lamplighters Stonex wrote several books under pseudonyms. She was saving her real name for this story, which had always been in her heart.
A line we love: "In all my years I've realized there are two kinds of people. The ones who hear a creak in a dark, lonely house, and shut the windows because it must have been the wind. And the ones who hear a creak in a dark, lonely house, light a candle, and go to take a look."
12. Wolf Den by Elodie Harper
⭐ 2021 W&H Book Award Winner: Historical fiction
There’s nothing like being transported to a different place and time and wholeheartedly believing you are there. And here in this novel, we are on the dusty, noisy streets of Pompeii in this no-holds-barred novel of what life must have been like for the 'she-wolves' of this great ancient city. Amara was once a beloved daughter of a doctor. Now she is a slave in Pompeii's most famous brothel, Lupanar. Sharp and clever, she has become used to hiding her talents but determined to escape, she never stops looking for a way out. Despite its themes, this novel is never gratuitously harsh but is instead a compelling story of survival, friendship, and courage. Amara and her fellow she-wolves are vividly drawn in a fascinating depiction of women at the time. Utterly spellbinding and well deserving of a place on our best books 2021 list.
Read it because...You love historical fiction centered around women. This is the first in a trilogy of novels about the lives of women in ancient Pompeii by ITV journalist Elodie Harper. It was inspired by her lifelong interest in the ancient world.
A line we love: "May men fall to me as this offering falls to you, Greatest Aphrodite. May I know love’s power, if never its sweetness."
13. The Husbands by Chandler Baker
⭐ 2021 W&H Book Award Winner: Domestic noir
Every once in a while there's a book that stays with you—whether the subject resonates, makes you think, or quite simply shocks. The Husbands does all that and more. When successful attorney, Nora's, house-hunting takes her to a small neighborhood where women aren't the only ones making sacrifices in life, her eyes are opened. But, when she's pulled in to help solve a wrongful death case, she realizes just what it might take in order to 'have it all'. From the author of bestselling The Whisper Network comes this brilliantly written novel that will truly make women everywhere feel seen.
Read it because... It's described as Little Fires Everywhere meets The Stepford Wives, and MGM has snapped up the film rights. Reese Witherspoon and Celia Walden are also big fans of this book.
A line we love: "Ready to explain the truth, ready to face exactly what happened that day even if the result strips the temporary patch off of the flotation device on which their relationship's been bobbing, even if it sinks them. She's going to tell."
14. Everyone Is Still Alive by Cathy Rentzenbrink
⭐ 2021 W&H Book Award Winner: Family drama
One of the most honest, poignant, and well-observed books about family life we’ve ever read, Rentzenbrink takes you by the hand and reassures you, you’re not alone. Juliet, Liam, and their young son, Charlie move into Juliet's late mother’s house on Magnolia Road where it seems lots of families are living 'happily ever after.' But while stay-at-home Dad Liam seems to be getting to know the local mums, Juliet is not only dealing with grief but with being a mother. It soon becomes apparent that everyone is struggling in their own way and when tragedy strikes, everything is thrown into perspective.
Read it because… It's a funny, wise, and moving read about the realities of being a mother. Full of wisdom, you’ll be clutching this book to your heart for a long time after
A line we love: "Where has all that love gone? She doesn't know. Perhaps she is just too changed by having children, by having them ripped out of her, and if there was any love left after that it was elbowed out of the way by their kids."
15. The Lost Storyteller by Amanda Block
⭐ 2021 W&H Book Award Winner: Exceptional storytelling
This is a real story lover's book. In it we meet Rebecca, whose enigmatic once-famous Dad suddenly disappeared, never to be spoken about again. It is only when a journalist turns up at her office inquiring as to his whereabouts that she begins to wonder about him again. On discovering a book of fairy tales he left for her, she thinks there may be more to these strange and fascinating tales than first meets the eye. As we follow Rebecca on her journey, the truth of her and her Dad's story is beautifully revealed, with a lovingly drawn conclusion.
Read it because… You love compelling page-turners that have a sprinkle of magic. Amanda says her writing is often inspired by myths and fairy tales which she uses to tell new stories. Perfect for fans of Ruth Hogan, Jessie Burton, and Diane Setterfield.
A line we love: "I think that little girl was the only person in the world Leo cared about..."
16. The Dark by Emma Haughton
⭐ 2021 W&H Book Award Winner: Psychological drama
In a bid to escape her own demons back in the UK, Kate takes a job as the resident doctor in a remote outpost in Antarctica. While she knew the isolation was going to be tough, she didn’t expect a killer to be living amongst the 12 residents. With extreme temperatures and total darkness outside, Kate has to figure out which one of them is the killer. A modern-day Agatha Christie on ice, this is so remarkably well written, you'll be enthralled by every page.
Read it because... It's from the author of Now You See Me, which was nominated for the Carnegie and the Amazing Book Awards. As a former travel journalist, Emma draws a lot from her own experiences in her writing and has based this novel on Antarctica.
A line we love: "In all my life, I realize, I’ve never felt more alone than now."
17. Did You Miss Me? by Sophia Money-Coutts
⭐ 2021 W&H Book Award Winner: Comedy
There are some authors who are just funny, and consistently so. Sophia Money-Coutts is one such author, and her fourth book is no exception. Nell Mason is pretty happy with her life—she's a successful lawyer in London, got a nice boyfriend, and has sex once (maybe twice) a week. But when she bumps into her first love, Art, from back home, she begins to question how happy and satisfied with her life she really is. Has she just settled? A fun and fabulous read about 'the one who got away' and second chances—the perfect poolside read and one of the best books of 2021.
Read it because... This is a warm and witty read from the queen of rom-com.
A line we love: "In the end, all relationships come down to asking someone if they could pick up more loo roll on the way home. It was just a matter of who you picked up loo roll for."
18. No Honour by Awais Khan
⭐ 2021 W&H Book Award Winner: World book
Set in Pakistan, this moving book centers on the terrible price paid to protect a family's honor. When spirited 16-year-old Abida falls in love with Kalim, she faces certain death in her rural village. The pair escape to Lahore but things do not go to plan. Abida is callously exploited and—but for her father—destined for ruin. With gripping twists and turns, your heart will go out to women who are persecuted for being human.
Read it because… It's an incredible story of courage and resilience. No Honour took almost three years to write and is inspired by horrific real-life events and the injustices being suffered by 'shamed' unmarried women and their babies in rural Pakistan.
A line we love: "How could she even begin to consider this proposal, given her current state?"
19. The Lincoln Highway by Amor Towles
⭐ 2021 W&H Book Award Winner: American history
Following the runaway success of A Gentleman in Moscow, Towles returns with his third major novel—and we’re pleased to announce—it’s another stunner. Set in the 1950’s it tells the story of two brothers who drive the famous Lincoln Highway stretching from America’s East to West coast, to find their mother who abandoned them years before. Brimming with hugely memorable characters, this big-hearted novel reflects on the families from which we are born, the ones we sometimes choose to forget and those who become family in more subtle ways. An absolute gem of a novel and one of our best books of 2021.
Read it because... Amor Towles is a master storyteller and if you fancy going on an epic road trip full of twists and turns, hope and despair with characters you won't forget in a hurry, this is the book for you.
A line we love: "Wouldn’t it have been wonderful, thought Woolly, if everybody’s life was like a piece in a jigsaw puzzle...one person’s life would just fit snugly in its very own, specially designed spot, and in so doing, would enable the whole intricate picture to become complete."
20. Midnight In Everwood by M.A. Kuzniar
⭐ 2021 W&H Book Award Winner: Magical realism
Perfect autumnal reading comes in the shape of this enchanting and fantastical re-telling of The Nutcracker. Set in Edwardian society, we meet Marietta, who longs to be a ballerina. Unfortunately, her family has other ideas and wants her to marry well. When the new neighbor—mysterious toymaker, Dr Drosselmeier—turns up, Marietta becomes bewitched by the magical world he spins, but could his magic be darker than she had anticipated? In this show-stopping book awash with sumptuous descriptions, our feisty heroine Marietta refuses to succumb to what men expect of her and takes charge of her own destiny. After all, she just wants to dance...
Read it because... You enjoy exquisite literary descriptions and you're a fan of Erin Morgenstern. The heroine is spectacular too.
A line we love: "In the bathing pool, the rush of the peppermint-tinted waterfall foamed over the sound of their voices and there they lingered, until their fingertips puckered and their ideas were spent."
21. Taste by Stanley Tucci
⭐ 2021 W&H Book Award Winner: Funny memoir
A divine celebration of food, Italy and life—this joyous memoir from the popular actor couldn't be left off of our best books 2021 list! Through stories of Tucci’s life, conversations with loved ones, and his relationship with food, we learn more and more about this charming man. And as for the recipes, as anyone who has visited Italy will know, the simplicity and beauty of a Pasta con Aglio e Olio is a thing of beauty; the recipe of which is included alongside the more flamboyant Ragu Tucci. It's a real treat.
Read it because... With his trademark wry humor and warmth, this will keep you entertained through those long winter nights. Plus, it's one of the best books to gift someone (opens in new tab), too.
A line we love: "When we were young, whenever my sisters or I complained about a certain meal my mother had lovingly made, she would suggest rather tersely that we go see what the neighbors were cooking. And that, as they say, put an end to that."
22. In Kiltumper A year in an Irish Garden by Niall Williams & Christine Breen
⭐ 2021 W&H Book Award Winner: Gardening memoir
Whether you like gardening or enjoy reflections on a life lived simply in harmony with nature, this book is a sheer joy. Writers Niall and Christine gave up their lives in New York 35 years ago and settled in Kiltumper to garden, raise children and write, in an oasis amid the insanity of the world.
Read it because... They celebrate the challenges and joys in delightful detail, from feeding Harp beer to brassicas to running writing workshops and sharing the good life with friends and family.
A line we love: "In the uncertainty over everything beyond the hedge, the poppies, the peas, the tomatoes can be counted on."
23. Ariadne by Jennifer Saint
⭐ 2021 W&H Book Award Winner: Re-telling history
It seems that 2021 was another year in which we just couldn’t get enough of Greek myth retellings, and this highly anticipated debut was a most welcome addition. As Saint gives a voice to the forgotten women of one of the most famous myths, this is an engaging, brilliant tale of Ariadne—daughter of Pasiphae and the Cretan king Minos. After she flees Crete with her sister Phaedra, they embark on a journey, determined not to repeat the mistakes their mother made in the past, all the while fighting in a world where men are all-powerful and the gods ever mercurial.
Read it because... It's beautifully written and deals with issues that feel very relevant today. It’s an illuminating read.
A line we love: "I would not let a man who knew the value of nothing make me doubt the value of myself."
24. Great Circle by Maggie Shipstead
⭐ 2021 W&H Book Award Winner: Epic
This epic read piques your curiosity from the start, with an enigmatic entry from the log book of aviator extraordinaire Marian Graves, written in 1950 in Antarctica. Fast forward to 2014 and US actor Hadley Baxter is set to play Marian in a biopic. Both women were orphaned and raised by irresponsible uncles, both are also driven, unconventional and prey to forces beyond their control.
Read it because... With philosophical reflections and fabulous descriptions—Edinburgh is ‘like a shabby tuxedo’—Shipstead weaves together their trajectories alongside adventurers, artists and bootleggers in a sweeping arc that spans a century and circumnavigates the globe.
A line we love: "Where to begin? At the beginning, of course. But where is the beginning? I don’t know where in the past to insert a marker that says: here. Here is where the flight began. Because the beginning is in memory, not on a map."
25. Summer Job by Lizzy Dent
⭐ 2021 W&H Book Award Winner: Feel-good fiction
Who doesn’t love a story that whisks you away somewhere else—especially when it’s a luxury Scottish hotel! Birdy Finch is quite literally flitting through life, doing her best not to commit to anyone or anything. So when an opportunity comes up to be someone else for the summer—her best friend Heather—she jumps at it. But pretending to be a world-class sommelier is a little more taxing than she thought...
Read it because... It's an escapist read with a flawed but fun protagonist and a real sense of place. Perfect for fans of Jenny Colgan.
A line we love: "Perhaps you must find somewhere to put your roots into the earth? A little water, a little sunlight, a little time and space? Like the vine? You cannot hope to debut the perfect vintage if you do not take the time to grow and nurture and love."
Best books 2021:
There have been some fantastic book releases in 2021 and these are our selection of our favorites:
It’s safe to say, woman&home’s Books Editor, Zoe West has read a LOT of books.
As an avid young bookworm obsessed with the adventures of The Magic Faraway Tree and the misadventures of red-haired orphan, Anne Shirley, Zoe never lost her love of reading - and the fact she now gets to do it as her job is a constant source of wonderment for her.
When Zoe isn't reading she is interviewing authors, hosting live events where she gets all the gossip, and seeking out exciting new writers she can’t wait to tell her readers about.
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