My ten favourite books of 2021

Last week, I presented you with my bookish year in numbers. This week, it’s time to list my ten favourites of 2021. With 4 five-star-reads and 20 books that received four stars, the choice was tough. Let’s go!

First of the Tudors by Joanna Hickson *****

Joanna Hickson takes us to the Wars of the Roses and focuses on the perspective of the early Tudors. In this book we meet Jasper Tudor and his fictional Welsh niece Jane Hywel. It offers a whole new perspective on the known events and a human Margaret Beaufort (which is quite an accomplishment). In my opinion this is Hickson’s best book so far. I’m looking forward to read the sequel ‘The Tudor crown’ in 2022.

The Romanov empress by C.W. Gortner *****

The ideal winter read. This extensive novel covers the life of Dagmar of Denmark, better known as tsarina Maria Feodorovna. Wife to Alexander II and mother of Nicholas II, we discover the last decades of Romanov rule through her eyes. This is a fascinating book about a tragic end to a dynasty.

A thousand ships by Nathalie Haynes *****

I read this one during my cancelled holiday and enjoyed it a lot. This is the Trojan war trough the eyes of the women, girls and goddesses who lost everything. Their home, their family and their body. It’s my favourite Greek myth retelling so far and I discovered some new stories that I didn’t know yet.

World without end by Ken Follett

The long anticipated sequel to ‘Pillars of the earth’. In World without end we again follow four youngsters during their life in Kingsbridge. They are bound by secret in which even the king and queen are interested. The cruel 14th century is the setting this time, so poverty and disease are all around. These really are the Dark Ages.

The burning chambers & The city of tears by Kate Mosse ****

2021 was the year in which I discovered Kate Mosse’s books. Both books take place in 16th century France during the Huguenots Wars. Minou Joubert receives a mysterious letter and at the same time helps the Huguenot Piet flee the city. In ‘The city of tears’ the St. Bartholomew’s Day massacre is one of the key events and it’s still so important to create awareness around what happened there. I’m looking forward to the third part in this series and hope to start more books from Mosse in 2022.

The color purple by Alice Walker ****

This modern classic is about the black sisters Celie and Nettie growing up in early 20th century America. The book talks as much about racism as about feminism. Apart from Nettie and Celie, there are some other black women that are part of the main cast. The novel mainly consists of letters from Celie to God, written in poor English. This all contributes to the general atmosphere. A book every woman should read at least once.

Cecily by Annie Garthwaite

Am impressive debut novel from a new voice in historical fiction. Garthwaite writes about the life of Cecily Neville. Wife of Richard, duke of York, and mother to both Edward IV and Richard III. Garthwaite takes us to the sparks of the Wars of the Roses during the Hundred Years Wars. The book opens with Cecily being witness of the burning of Joan d’Arc. I’m looking forward to her next novel, a sequel perhaps?

The scarlet contessa by Jeanne Kalogridis ***

Do you know that feeling that sometimes a book stays longer with you than you thought when you finished it? That’s why there are some three stars reads in this top ten. ‘The scarlet contessa’ tells the story of Catherina Sforza, one of my favourite historical persons. Although the book certainly has its flaws (too much magic and a high focus on Dea, Catherina’s maid), this was the only book I read set in renaissance Italy. Because of it, I again began reading about that period a lot. So, it deserves a spot here.

Winter pilgrims (Kingmaker #1) by Toby Clemens ***

Another three star read that stayed with me much longer. And yes, again about the Wars of the Roses. Thomas and Catherine, are two ‘normal’ people trying to make sense of this conflict and survive. This is an action-pace novel that focuses on the battle (also the smaller ones, which I appreciated). Clemens is no Conn Iggulden nor Bernard Cornwell, but he writes in the same tradition. However, I must admit that I liked the second part in this series ‘Broken faith‘ a lot less. I will continue this series in 2022.

The tenant of Wildfell hall by Anne Brönte

My first book of the year and also the first classic I read. This epistolary consists of letters from Gilbert to his brother-in-law. He tells the story of his new neighbour Mrs Graham who has come to live at Wildfell Hall. Gilbert immediately takes a liking to her, but Mrs Graham carries with her a conflicted past and dares not to open up to him. A lovely Brönte novel.

Have not made it to the top ten, but deserve a head ups: Revelation by C.J. Sansom (Matthew Shardlake never disappoints), The true queen by Alison Weir (finally again a Weir novel that I did like) and Protector by Conn Iggulden (for introducing me to such a fascinating period).

What was your favourite book in 2021?

December recap

Happy New Year! Although it feels like 2012 is only a few years ago, I now have to write 2022 on top of every document at work. I hope 2022 will bring a good health, love and some fun. But I also hope I’ll read some great books and that I can continue to share my reading journey with you all.

Before we dive into the new year, it’s time to look back at my reading of December. I didn’t read as much as a normal month, but with good reason…

Read(ing)

I started the month with a novel about Maria Feodorovna, set in Russia. C.W. Gortner again showed me why he’s one of my favourite authors. The Romanov empress received 5 stars and a spot in my top ten of 2021. Afterwards, I didn’t know what to read and I decided to focus again on my classics club project. I started Jamaica Inn and enjoyed it. And then, it was half December and I started Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina. I don’t know why but I tend to look for classic reads especially in December/January.

I kept up a good pace in Anna Karenina, until Christmas. But the week between Christmas and New Year always tends to be a difficult period for reading. So I slowed down and will only finish it in January.

Number of pages read: 1.320 pages
Number of books finished: 2
Favorite read: The Romanov empress
Centuries visited: 19th century, 20th century
Countries visited: Russia and England
Currently reading: ‘Anna Karenina’
Next up: Probably ‘The hemlock cure’, one of my Netgalley arcs

Reviewed

Blogged

Watched

  • I started the German 2021 mini series Sisi and am enjoying it so far. It’s modern and very coming of age. But I don’t mind that.

Added to my TBR

Do you read a lot in December or do you also tend to be taken up by the festivities?

My bookish 2021 in numbers

I was happy to receive my Goodreads year in books. Especially as 2021 was my best reading year ever, so I’m just going to take you through my reading stats :).

General

  • I’ve read 48 books in total. That are 9 books more than in 2020 and the highest number ever.
  • Those 48 books counted for 19.329 pages. Wow!
  • My books were on average 402 pages long. I’m happy to have an average above 400 again 🙂 I tend to read ‘big’ books so you can see this represented in the stats.
  • Ken Follett’s ‘World without end‘ with 1.014 pages was the longest one I’ve read, the 221 pages of ‘Rags in time‘ made for the shortest read.
  • My average rating was 3.5 stars.

Format

  • I varied a lot in formats and read 20 e-books and 28 physical books. I still love the smell of a real book, but I’m already attached to the ease of reading on my kindle before I go to sleep.
  • Of those 20 e-books, I received 9 books as an e-arc via Netgalley. Of which ‘Cecily‘ was definitely my favourite.
  • I only read 4 physical books that I own, so the other 24 came from the library that I visited frequently. I really hope to read more from my own shelves in 2022.
  • I didn’t buy a single book in 2021. And funny enough, this wasn’t on purpose. I blame covid-19, I guess? I received some books as a gift and listed a few for my christmas wishlist. Edit: I discovered that I bought 5 books during a library sale (for 1 euro per book).
  • I read 11 books in Dutch and thus 37 books in English.

Rating

  • I honoured 4 books with the full 5 stars and they will no doubt make it to my top 10 of 2021.
  • I also gave no less than 20 books four stars (which means I enjoyed them), so it was a good reading year. However, it will be difficult to choose my other 6 favourites to compile my top ten.
  • There were also some disappointing reads that only received 2 stars. ‘Far from the madding crowd‘, and ‘Amenable woman‘ are the ones that I remember being not my cup of tea. And both books disappointed me the most.
  • I only DNF one book, an e-arc from mystery author Paul Doherty. I won’t pick up any of his other books soon.
  • I must admit that my historical fiction books got a higher rating in general than the 12 classics I read. I gave a lot of classic books 3 stars, while I tend to rate a historical book with 4 stars.

Setting and era

I intend to keep these stats in my bullet journal for 2022, because now I was just counting this backwards and I’m not sure if I have covered everything correctly. I consider 36 books as historical fiction (I exclude most of the classics and I also count some books rather as novels than as historical – for example ‘Where the crawdads sing‘).

These are the countries in which my historical fiction novels took place:

  • England: 25 books
  • France: 5 books
  • Greece: 4 books
  • Italy: 1 book
  • America: 1 book
  • Norway: 1 book
  • Egypt: 1 book
  • Russia: 1 book

England and France again top the list. However, I would have a liked a more diverse list here. But well, I do love books set in England. And it’s hard to find other books, when those in set in England just grab my attention immediately.

Regarding the era, I did a lot better in terms of diversity:

  • Ancient Greece: 4 books
  • 10h century: 1 book
  • 12th century: 1 books
  • 13th century: 1 book
  • 14th century: 4 books
  • 15th century: 6 books
  • 16th century: 5 books
  • 17th century: 7 books
  • 18th century: 2 books
  • 19th century: 1 book
  • 20th century: 4 books

Most of the books were set during the 15-17th century. I read 5 novels that took place during the Wars of the Roses this year, one of my favourite periods. And it surprised me how every novel presented me with a new perspective on the same events. I didn’t read a book about the world wars, neither did I read a story set in ancient Rome (for the second year in a row).

People

These are some of the historical people I read about for the first time this year.

So if I look back on all these numbers, I can only conclude it was a great reading year. And that I’m already looking forward to my next ‘year in books’.

Do you keep track of your reading stats? How many books did you read in 2021? Which one is your favourite?

My first year of the classics club

A year ago I had the ambitious – or insane, that depends on your perspective – idea of joining the notorious classics club. The classics club is a book challenge where the goal is to create a list of 50 classics novels and read them in the coming 5 years. And then you win totally nothing :); but you can boast to your friends that you’ve read 50 classics in 5 years and they will mock you.

But how I do I look back on my first year of participating? And am I still on track? Which means I should have read a fifth of the list by now. By the way: you can find the whole list here.

Well, the good news is that I have already read 11/50 classics and am in the middle of my 12th which I hope to finished around New Year. So I’m on track.

As you can see, I’m more or less aiming at a monthly frequency of reading a classic. For me, that’s a way to structure this project. I also did participate at all the spin editions, which helped me choose my next novel.

I did notice that I hadn’t read a real bumpy classic yet this year, so that’s why I decided to start my first Tolstoj, which are lengthy novels. I’m also aware that it’s easier to read classics for me during the Winter (especially December – January), so I’m just going with the flow at the moment.

Before starting, I thought that reading classics would have an impact on my reading pace. Literature tends to read slower and takes more time, but this wasn’t really the case. I’ve never read more books than in 2021.

I must admit that there were times when asked myself why I started this challenge in the first place. There were some disappointing reads which made me scan the books and look forward to finishing it. I had expected to love these books as they survived for so long and pop up at everyone’s favorites’ list. But I sometimes just didn’t get it, or I could only admit that it was well-written prose but that I just didn’t liked the plot.

But the good news is that there were 4 books that I did enjoy enough and that I can recommend if you want to read a classic during the holidays. These were my favourites of 2021:

Jamaica Inn by Du Maurier is just a great gothic novel. I know by now that I mostly enjoy gothic or Victorian classics, so this one was right up in my alley.

Alexandre Dumas is another author whereof I knew I like his writing and storytelling. The man in the iron mask is full of humor and adventure. Maybe not so good as ‘The three musketeers’ (because it lacked Milady, one of my all-time favourite characters), but still good.

The tenant of Wildfell Hall was my first Anne Brönte. It’s a very readable classic that incorporates modern themes. I’m eager to read ‘Agnes Grey’ now.

And then The color purple! The most recent book on my whole list. This is a great book about the struggle of black American woman in the previous century. It has an unique writing style and I understand now why they say that every woman or girl should read this. I would certainly recommend it to my daughter or sister. If I had one of the two.

I don’t know what 2022 will bring, but it will bring some more classics for me. I’ll not give up on this project yet and I hope I can give you a higher number of recommendations in a year from now.

How many classics have you read in 2021?

November recap

December is here, so we’re almost done with 2021. And I can admit that I’m really happy about that. 2021 wasn’t my year and with covid hanging around again like an old friend, I’m eagerly awaiting Spring. November felt like a more difficult month for reading, but I still managed to finish quite some books so this is more like a feeling than a fact.

Read(ing)

I started the month with ‘Love in time of cholera’ for the classics club. I found this one easier to read than expected but had some feministic issues with the plot. Next, I read two library loans I was really looking forward to. I enjoyed ‘Where the crawdads sing’, but was disappointed by ‘The doll factory’. In between, I read ‘The butcher bird’ on the train, the next historical mystery in the Somershill manor mystery series about Oswald De Lacy. An entertaining light read.

Number of pages read: 1.410 pages
Number of books finished: 4
Favorite read: ‘Where the crawdads sing
Centuries visited: 14th century, 19th century, 20th century,
Countries visited: Columbia, England and America
Currently reading: ‘The Romanov empress’ by C.W. Gortner
Next up: I have no idea yet :).

Reviewed

Blogged

Added to my TBR

What was your favourite read in November?

October recap

I don’t know what it is with October but it always feels like the longest month ever. I’ve been wanting to write this recap a few times now, but then I noticed it was still two weeks to go or so. 😅 It’s getting dark real soon, and we got a lot of rain. I’m no autumn person, which makes me think I don’t belong in the book blogging community since everyone seems to enjoy crawling under a blanket with a hot chocolate and a book. I do like that sometimes, but I’m a summer person and I always will be. And summer is still so far away 😢.

Read(ing)

Ah well, I did manage to make time for reading. But after World without end, it wasn’t easy to find my flow again. I even decided to DNF a certain book: ‘Dark queen watching‘ from Paul Doherty. Doherty was an author I’ve been wanting to read for a time and this was one of his Margaret Beaufort mysteries so I thought I could jump right into the story, as I know a lot about the Wars of the Roses. And yes, I could jump right in but I found out I didn’t like it at all. Doherty’s writing is fine, but his story is full of secret organizations wanting to massacre each other, not really knowing why because they have been doing that since the birth of Christ or so. If there is one trope that I really hate it is secret organizations (I’m looking at you Dan Brown) and in this book there was even some useless bloody violence. I’m not a quitter usually, but this time I gave up. But what did I manage to read? Well, I finished 5 books!

I really enjoyed ‘The damask rose’ and ‘Revelation’, I love both series and this were excellent parts. Also, Broken faith was the second book in the Kingmaker series, I did like it but it felt more like an in-between book. The catcher in the rye was an easy to read classic that did make me experience how a torn teenage boy may look at the world.

Number of pages read: 2.219 pages
Number of books finished: 5
Favorite read: Revelation
Centuries visited: 13th century, 15th century, 16th century and 20th century
Countries visited: Ancient Greece, England and America
Currently reading: ‘Love in time of cholera’, my CC Spin result.
Next up: I have no idea yet :).

Reviewed

Blogged

Watched

  • I’ve started Maximilian on Disney + about Emperor Maximilian and Mary of Burgundy
  • In Belgium, we now have our own historical series, which is also available in some countries on Netflix with English subtitles. It’s called ‘Thieves of the wood’ and is set in the 18th century. The main character is Jan De Lichte, some kind of Flemish Robin Hood.

Added to my TBR

Some new work from favourite authors, and some next installments in series I’ve been reading

What was your favourite book in October?

September recap

September, that meant going back to the office most of the time and less corona measures. But also some sunny days and the cycling world championships in my city :D. So yes, this was a great month! I even managed to reach my reading challenge (in September yes, I also don’t know what got into me).

Read(ing)

It’s an easy month to recap. Lolita was my 35th book of the year and so I surpassed my Goodreads reading challenge. I already can tell you this will be my best reading year ever. Thanks covid 😷, thanks bad weather ☔︎, thanks failed holidays… and thank God for books 😅🙏.

To celebrate I started a really big one. I love Ken Follett, but his books are heavy in pages. ‘World without end’ proved the perfect medieval escape during this busy month. ‘The collector’s daughter’ was a review copy of a much anticipated author for me. I read it during my train rides and enjoyed it. But maybe I had expected a bit more? I’ll definitely try another Gill Paul!

Number of pages read: 1.915 pages
Number of books finished: 3
Favorite read: World without end
Centuries visited: 14th century and 20th century
Countries visited: England, America, Italy and Egypt
Currently reading: The damask rose by Carol Mcgrath (and loving it)
Next up: I hope to grab ‘Revelation’ at the library and I’m looking for my next classic

Reviewed

Added to my TBR

  • The handfasted wife as I want to try some more books of McGrath
  • Matrix by Lauren Groff because it’s about the 12th century (not the kind of author I was expecting this as a setting from, but it sounds promising)

What’s the longest book you have read so far this year?

August recap

So summer is over, but I still need to look back at August. As you might have guessed from my 20 books of summer recap, this was a successful reading month. But in the end, this summer didn’t work out as I wanted in some way. We had so much bad weather, some troubles were on my mind and my boyfriend got sick during our the few days we would go on holiday. But well, here’s what I read :D.

Read(ing)

I stared off with my classics club spin result ‘Treasure island’, which I enjoyed but the language was a bit too difficult for me at times. Then I finally got to ‘The scarlet contessa’, a novel about Catherina Sforza, one of my favourite historical figures.

My library haul just before my holidays included ‘Captive queen’, ‘A thousand ships’ and ‘Dit leven is van jou’ (the newest book of Tatiana De Rosnay in Dutch, translated from French. The book is not out yet in English, so I’ll not review it for the moment. But it was great, I finished it in one day!).

Number of pages read: 1.922 pages
Number of books finished: 5
Favorite read: A thousand ships
Centuries visited: Ancient Greece, 12th century, 15th century, 18th century and 21st century
Countries visited: England, France, Italy and Greece
Currently reading: ‘Lolita‘ for the classics club and ‘The collector’s daughter‘ (an e-arc I received via Netgalley).
Next up: I might finally start ‘World without end’ as this was on my 20 books of summer list but I didn’t manage to pick it up.
20 books of summer: 14/20

Reviewed

Blogged

Watched

  • I watched the BBC docuseries ‘The Boleyns, a scandalous family’. I liked the focus on Thomas Boleyn and his politics. I disliked the framing of Mary as the victim and Anne as the scheming one. Mary’s absence at the French court and her lying with the French king make for a whole different story. Also no mention of her two children whose father possibly was Henry VIII.

Added to my TBR

I was looking for some more Greek myth retellings #sorrynotsorry.

Do you have any other Greek myth recommendations?

July recap

I almost forgot to write this, as I didn’t realize another month has passed. I don’t really have a summer feeling, apart from the fact that my 20 books of summer challenge is going great. We experienced some grave floods and a lot of people lost their homes. It made me extremely sad. 😢

But August is my favorite month with my summer holidays, birthday and this blog’s first anniversary apparently :D.

Read(ing)

In terms of reading this was my best month so far as I’ve finished 5 books. All lighter entertaining reads that I enjoyed a lot. My favourite was ‘The city of tears’, closely followed by ‘The last daughter’. But I can’t say anything bad about the other books either. Great reading month!

Number of pages read: 2.016 pages
Number of books finished: 5
Favorite read: The city of tears
Centuries visited: Ancient Greece, 14th century, 15th century and 21st century
Countries visited: England, France and Greece
Currently reading: I’ve started my spin result ‘Treasure island’
Next up: One of my kindle books, but I’m not sure which one yet
20 books of summer: 9/20

Reviewed

Blogged

Added to my TBR

Watched

  • ‘Luca’ at Disney+ while recovering from my second Pfizer shot. It was great!

How is your summer reading going?

May recap

Finally, the sun has arrived! I was so tired of all the cold and the rain. I’ll also have a week off at work in June, so I’m looking forward to reading in the sun in my garden. But rain or no rain, May was a great reading month. I read some fantastic books and am eager to share them with you.

Read(ing)

I stranded at 4 books this month. First of the Tudors was the first one I finished and I’m already sure this will be in my top list at the end of the year. I really enjoyed learning more about the Welsh culture and the Tudor perspective so early in the Wars of the Roses. But actually, I loved every book I read in May. The burning chambers was a lovely surprise and would have made to my favorite in a normal month, but well Joanna Hickson grabs that spot this month.

Number of pages read: 2.026 pages
Number of books finished: 4
Favorite read: First of the Tudors
Centuries visited: 15th century, 16th century, 17th century and 18th century
Countries visited: England and France
Currently reading: The vanishing with by Karen Maitland, the first book for 20 books of summer!
Next up: The crimson ribbon and afterwards I want to read my next classic.

Reviewed

Blogged

Added to my TBR

Links I enjoyed

How was your month?