Most years I split my “favourite” stacks into regular fiction and crime fiction, but this time round ― mainly because we just had a baby, and I’m typing this with one hand while my other comforts our daughter ―I decided to just grab the ten books that most entertained, moved me, or provoked the most thought, and highlight them together.
Everything below was published in 2021, but I read plenty this year, published previously, that deserve special mention, particularly “The Paying Guests” by Sarah Waters, “The Silence of the Girls” by Pat Barker, and “The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay” by Michael Chabon.
Love & Virtue by Diana Reid
Through the prism of two young women at an elite residential college in Sydney, Diana Reid explores feminism, power, privilege, love and consent, as she asks us to re-examine our own perceptions of morality in her exceptional debut novel. More >>
The Chase by Candice Fox
More than six hundred of the United States’ most dangerous prisoners break out from Pronghorn Correctional Facility in this turbocharged suspenser from Candice Fox — her most ambitious and byzantine novel yet. More >>
Razorblade Tears by S.A. Cosby
This is a powerhouse of a novel, one of the best of the year. It’s dark, brutal and unsparingly violent. S.A. Cosby knows the evil that men do, to themselves and to others. He’s not afraid to guide readers into that darkness. What might be a routine revenge thriller in other hands is elevated by an emotional depth that staggers. Cosby is the real deal. He’s a writer I’ll follow to hell and back. More >>
Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir
Somehow Andy Weir has this ability to make what I’d otherwise consider mind-numbingly tedious explanations on quantum physics, rocket science, chemistry, engineering — basically anything remotely scientific and mathematical — absolutely enthralling, and more often than not, insanely nail-biting. He dumps his heroes in life threatening predicaments, and works with the reader through the solution, which is always constructed around veritable science, and deciphered for the layman. And when things get speculative, you buy into it, because he’s earned it. More >>
The Performance by Claire Thomas
I’d love to sit down with Claire Thomas and deconstruct “The Performance.” I am in awe of its architecture; the elegant circumscription of its staging; its multidimensional exploration of womanhood, the power of art, the geometry of relationships, and the state of the world; the vibrancy of its language, and the vividity of its character and place. This is a novel that thrums not with ferocious dramatic force, but with naked emotional power and insight. More >>
Treasure & Dirt by Chris Hammer
Fans of the Martin Scarsden trilogy will feel right at home with “Treasure & Dirt,” and newcomers will see right away what the fuss has been about. All of Hammer’s considerable strengths are on display: his keen eye for detail, assiduous plotting, vividly-etched characters, and the ability to evocatively render imagined townships, and fill them with local colour. More >>
The Housemate by Sarah Bailey
There is something immensely satisfying about following a writer for several years, experiencing the consistent honing of their craft, and reading the brilliant culmination of their evolution as a storyteller; which is the case with “The Housemate,” the best crime novel Sarah Bailey has produced, and one of my favourites of the year. More >>
The Last Guests by J.P. Pomare
An atmosphere of dread and stomach-churning paranoia permeates every page of J.P. Pomare’s “The Last Guests,” whose airtight plot proceeds with implacable logic and spine-chilling plausibility as it builds towards completely subverting its reader’s sense of right and wrong. More >>
The Others by Mark Brandi
Even with two extraordinary novels under his belt, this stands as a radical achievement for Mark Brandi. “The Others” is a spare yet emotionally sumptuous psychological drama, laced with page-turning suspense, and a creeping sense of dread that turns into something excruciatingly claustrophobic as it builds to its heart-pounding crescendo. More >>
The Women of Troy by Pat Barker
This is a fabulous continuation of Pat Barker’s feminist retelling of Homer’s Iliad, although given my elementary knowledge of Greek mythology and history, “The Silence of the Girls” and “The Women of Troy” are forming my baselines on the subject. I’m interested to see how my eventual reading of Homer’s text is shaped by my reading of Barker’s interpretation first.