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  • Gracie Carmichael

The 10 Best Books I read in 2021

Dear kindred spirit,


I am so glad you could join me today, just when we are so very close to embarking on a new year with our hearts full of dreams and resolutions for brighter times ahead. As we look forward, we also look back on the joys, triumphs, and even the disappointments of the year we are leaving behind, and I always take the most excitement out of reviewing the books I've read and remembering the stories that made the days and weeks brighter by the time I spent with them.


It's a joy to be able to look back on 2021 as a year in which I discovered new stories that have ultimately come to join my list of lifelong favorites. I am very fond of rereading the old well-loved gems, and this year I did try to break myself of the habit and read from new authors, which was a rewarding challenge according to this list! And so, here it is: the best ten books I read in 2021. I am limiting this list to purely the books that I only read this year for the first time, for as I've said, I'm fond of rereads! ;)


 

#1: North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell

It was a goal of mine to finally read something by Elizabeth Gaskell this year, as she's an author I've been frequently recommended by other readers. I saw the 2004 BBC mini-series of Gaskell's North and South for the very first time in the summer of this year, and I was completely blown away by the compelling storytelling and true-to-life characters. I finally got my hands on a copy of the book this November, and it truly astounded me. It's deeply emotional, deeply melancholic, but lifelike and raw, shedding hope in lightless places and laying bare the structure of the class divide in a way that feels relevant today, just as it was when the book was first published in 1854. Without a doubt, it's the best book I've read all year—and one of the best I've read period.

 

#2. Howards End by E.M. Forster

Like North and South (2004), it was the 2018 mini-series adaptation of Howards End that convinced me to read this classic story. The Schlegel sisters and their relationships to the wealthy Wilcoxes and the poor but aspirational Leonard Bast is deeply rich and compelling, and the main motif of Howards End runs through the story like an ornate, cleverly-woven thread of lace weaving the characters' lives together seamlessly. I'd strongly recommend every reader to pick it up, and I give the 2018 mini-series a stamp of high approval—it's genuinely one of the most flawless adaptations of a book that I've seen, truly bringing to life the characters, the tone, the beauty and the tragedy of Forster's masterpiece.


#3. Far From the Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy

This one was the biggest surprise for me, as I had bought a copy of the book back in 2016 and planned on reading it, then not long afterward saw the 2015 film adaptation and was completely put off. I loathed the film at the time (Bathsheba's terrible decision making ruined the whole thing for me) and I never ended up picking the book. As it had been now quite a while since then, this fall I finally decided it was time to read the book (which has been sitting un-read on my shelf for far too many years now) and was utterly taken aback—because the truth of the matter was, I absolutely loved it.

I don't think I've ever been so surprised to love a book! I was so gripped by the plot that I genuinely looked forward every night to picking it up again first thing in the morning. I watched the 2015 film again after finishing the book—and, to my amazement, I actually loved it. The book gave me the understanding that I needed to appreciate Bathsheba's character and the main themes of the story. I wanted to read the book all over again once I finished it!


#4. All Creatures Great and Small by James Herriot

Discovering the world of beloved Yorkshire country vet James Herriot was one of the highlights of the entire year for me. I deeply, dearly enjoyed this book and look back on reading it this spring with so much fondness. Without a doubt the most comforting, hilarious, heartwarming book on my shelves, and I wholeheartedly recommend reading it whenever you're in need of a laugh. I smiled through every page! I wrote my full review (spoiler-free) last spring, which you can read here!


#5. The Twisted Sword (Poldark #11) by Winston Graham

Poldark is one of the literary loves of my life. I documented my read-through of the 12-book saga through my Poldark Perusals here on the blog, which was a real treat. I spent 3 years of my life reading the saga, finally finishing the last one this past autumn. Book 11, The Twisted Sword, was one of my favorite books of the saga, and absolutely deserves its place in this list! You can find my full (and very spoiler-y, I warn you) Perusal of Book 11 here!


#6. The Golden Road by L.M. Montgomery

Montgomery is my favorite author, surpassing even my love for Jane Austen and Louisa May Alcott for which I've named my blog, and I've read more of her works than I have of any other author. The Story Girl and its sequel The Golden Road were two of the last of her books I hadn't read yet, and I adored discovering them this year. Both are full of some of Montgomery's best writing in my opinion. I dearly enjoyed them, and the sequel even more so than the first. I reviewed them (without spoilers) here!


#7. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows

One of my absolute favorite movies has been The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society for a few years now, and it was only just this past summer that I finally read the book, which many readers have frequently told me is their favorite book of all time. I thoroughly enjoyed going deeper into the story, which was already so dear to me from my love of the movie; and while the book and its adaptation do differ, I think they both succeed beautifully in themselves. I wrote my full review here on the blog!


#8. The Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Brontë

After reading Jane Eyre for the first time in 2020, I've slowly been delving further into the works of the Brontës, hearing much praise in particular for Anne Brontë's The Tenant of Wildfell Hall. If I read a single book this year that heavily influenced my entire life's outlook, I think it would be this one. Without the dark melodrama and emotional intensity of other, more well-known Brontës, this book stands out for its rawness: its unembellished portrayal of the truth as it pertains to oppression, marriage, the meaning of life, and the inherent good and evil in man as influenced by environment and society. A thought-provoking read, driven by character dynamics rather than active plot points, making for perhaps a slower read, but an important and meaningful one.


#9. James Herriot's Children's Treasury by James Herriot

After first discovering the world of James Herriot in the spring through All Creatures Great and Small, many readers recommended I look into his children's stories, which proved an immense treat full of so much heartwarming goodness, laughter, and comfort. I am convinced it deserves a worthy place among the classic stories beloved in my own childhood, alongside Beatrix Potter and Winnie-the-Pooh, and I recommend it to readers of all ages.


#10. Around the World in 80 Days by Jules Verne

In anticipation of the upcoming mini-series starring David Tennant on PBS Masterpiece Theater (which comes out in just a few days on January 2nd), I read this classic story on a whim this autumn and absolutely loved it. Verne's writing is as immersive and transportive as his eccentric characters are memorable and beloved. Well known as a children's classic, I felt myself as interested in Phileas Fogg's adventures as a child, despite discovering them now in adulthood!

 

Those are my top 10 books of the year! In 2022 I am greatly looking forward to reading more from some of the authors I discovered this year, whose books ranked high in this list. More works from Elizabeth Gaskell and Thomas Hardy are a must, and I have high expectations for both Cranford and Tess of the D'Urbervilles early into the new year!


I would love to hear from you if you've read some of these books and would love to share your own take on them—or if you fancy sharing some of your own best books of the year! You can leave a comment below to get the conversation started! :)


Thank you so much for being a part of my little book-loving community this year; your presence here has been dearly appreciated, and I'm blessed to have gotten to know so many kindred spirits. :)


I wish you a most joyous start to a prosperous and life-giving new year!


Until next year!

-Gracie


 

Want to follow along on Instagram? You can find me @austensandalcotts for mini blog-posts, a glimpse into my reading life, and giveaways for products from my shop. You can also subscribe to the Austens & Alcotts mailing list to receive my twice-monthly newsletter direct to your inbox, where I share personal encouragement for kindred spirits longing for a simpler, lovelier life, as well as news on shop releases, subscriber-only sales, and more!