2021 has been a brilliant reading year for us. Mrs Tea Leaves and Reads surpassed her reading goal of 120 books – reading a nice tidy number of 125 across the year. Of all the books read there was only one that was awarded ‘one’ star, a handful that were given three and the majority being a four or a five. The average rating for 2021 was 4.7. So, having read 41213 pages – which ones stood out the most?


The Stranding by Kate Sawyer

Instantly in our top books of the year, we read an advanced copy of Kate Sawyer’s debut novel and couldn’t wait for it to hit the shelves so we could shout about it some more.

‘This is such an original, beautiful story and it captivated my heart from the very first pages. It’s hard to describe exactly how this book made me felt but it was almost… reassured. It’s a dystopian debut novel and explores the depths of loss, love and life against what can only be described as a bleak and desolate post-apocalyptic world. At the same time though… it all feels oddly familiar and dreamlike instead of your worst nightmare.’

Ragdoll by Daniel Cole

Our September book club choice, this was such a good read and it’s always great to read a debut long after it’s been published and realise that you have many more books by the Author to read too! Ragdoll appeared on our TV screens late November too – having first been written as a screenplay and then adapted to become a book, this was a brilliant moment for Daniel Cole’s writing career.

‘The tagline of One Body… Six Victims… was enough in itself to lure me in to find out exactly how that was possible and what was going on in this book. I wasn’t disappointed! Hooked from start to finish – not least by the storyline but also by Daniel’s writing style.’

The Girl She Was Before by Jess Kitching

Arguably one of the best Crime Thriller debuts of 2021, this book and this Author will go places that’s for sure! This was one of those advanced copies (thank you Kingsley Publishers) that we finished and just knew… we knew that this was going to be loved by so many people.

‘The almost unanimous theme throughout reviews for this debut novel is… how on earth is it a debut?! It’s brilliant! And that’s exactly how I felt when reading it. Everything about this book is incredibly professional, warm and inviting. From the marketing, the publisher, the cover, the Author right up to the final edited version. Because of all of this, I can’t wait to see what Jess writes next!’

The Arctic Curry Club by Dani Redd

Published by Avon books in the last month of 2021, we read an advanced copy after hearing Dani talk about the book and being kindly sent a proof from the publishers. This was surprising – the cover and the title are both attractive and work well but this book has hidden storylines… you will be (nicely!) surprised at the content and the topics covered.

‘I really liked the characters, flaws and all. There was a very realistic, honest and sometimes raw accountability within the pages of the book and I loved that. I also had to remind myself that it’s a debut. It’s written with a style that seems comfortable and at ease.’

Dark Pines by Will Dean

Having read The Last Thing to Burn at the beginning of the year, we knew that Will’s books needed to feature on our 2021 reading list. However it took almost twelve months to get around to it and Mrs Tea Leaves squeezed in Dark Pines towards the end of December. Totally hooked. Totally. And even better, this is a series and there are more books to read!

‘Chilling…atmospheric…this book is gripping, creepy and very very sinister. I loved it. As darkness fell on the days between Christmas and New Year, I was tucked up reading this, feeling the cold that is described in every chapter and even at some points experiencing the vulnerable feeling that the main character, Tuva, has.’

Series We Loved

The Witcher

Mr Tea Leaves has been enjoying The Witcher Series and has read almost the whole set – he’s a quarter of the way through the final book. For Mrs Tea Leaves watching the series, this has been particularly useful when wondering, ‘What on earth is going on?!’ The TV series loosely follows the books diving off every so often onto random tangents and adding elements of its own.

Carla Kovach – Gina Harte Series

With just four books left to go of this brilliant series Mrs Tea Leaves has been buddy reading this throughout the year. Carla Kovach is fast becoming one of our favourite Crime Thriller Writers. We are completely hooked on this series – the back story of Gina Harte just as much as the current crimes that she is investigating. Carla gets a little darker and more sinister with each book – it’s not too much, it’s just the right amount! It’s very easy to fall into this series and not want to stop reading – the books are extremely well written, the twists and turns contained in them will have you hooked and second guessing, and the characters are brilliant.

Chris Carter – Robert Hunter Series

Another brilliant series that Mrs Tea Leaves started in 2021!

‘Twelve years late to the party but finally… FINALLY! The series has commenced for me. The Crucifix Killer by Chris Carter is the first in a series of now twelve books with more on the way, focusing on Detective Rober Hunter. If you’re looking for a new crime series to fall in love with then this is the one for you. Warning… you need a strong stomach though!

I read this as a Buddy read and I think we pretty much read it in a weekend. It was so good from start to finish but in particular as the storyline unravelled and the pace picked up, it became more and more addictive.’

Elin Hilderbrand’s Paradise Series

ABC is developing a series adaptation of Elin Hilderbrand’s “Paradise” novel trilogy, with “Grey’s Anatomy” star Ellen Pompeo set to executive produce. This is EXCITING news!

Elin Hilderbrand is without doubt queen of the romance novel and her newest series – the Paradise series – will not disappoint you at all. Whether you felt bereft at the end of the Winter Street series or whether you’re discovering Elin for the first time, you will in love with this newest set of characters and a brand new setting on the distant Caribbean island of St. John. Here’s the series in order:

  • Winter in Paradise
  • What Happens in Paradise
  • Troubles in Paradise
Caroline Kepnes ‘You’ Series

Mrs Tea Leaves read You Love Me this year and… Joe Joe Joe Joe Joe. He’s built up into an amazing character. We root for him. We want him to succeed. We don’t want him caught and locked up, of course we don’t! But why why why why why? He’s an incredibly dangerous person. He’s killed people. And yet… There’s just something about him. Book three was incredible. But we need more. If you’ve seen the series you’ll likely read this book in Joe’s voice too – and it’s even better if you do!

Quite a few people have asked whether or not this book can be read as a standalone. Of course it can – most books can! But should it be? Probably not. You can read them out of order but you won’t always get the references and the references are amazing. Throughout You Love Me the subtle references back to the past were brilliant!

Second question – should you watch the series or the book first? In our opinion it’s whatever usually works best for you BUT… The narrative of the You series is very unique. VERY unique. We’ve read a lot of books but there aren’t a huge amount in this style. It’s brilliant. However if you find yourself struggling to become immersed in it then watch a few episodes and you’ll soon understand it all. And you’ll read it all in Penn Badgley (Joe’s) voice. Here’s the series in order:

  • You
  • Hidden Bodies
  • You Love Me
  • Untitled number 4…

Contemporary Choices

This is a favourite genre and the one where we couldn’t really whittle the list down too far because there were so many good books in this genre that we read this year!

When we Believed in Mermaids by Barbara O’Neill

Hauntingly beautiful. Those are the two words that sum this book up perfectly. There’s a beautiful nod to care-free days and childhood but equally a more sinister haunting undertone and storyline. Both of these elements furiously collide to create an absolutely stunning novel. There are characters that you’ll fall in love with and despair at, emotions that you’ll feel just like the aftershocks following the Earthquakes written about – and scenery that you will want to be part of.

You Me and the Sea

Marian Keyes describes this novel as Immersive and affecting…utter bliss. She’s not wrong. (It’s Marin Keyes, is she EVER wrong about books?!) I have to admit that’s what first caught our eye with this book. Then there’s the title, simply, You, Me & The Sea. Oh and that cover. Everything about this book screams escape, delicious escapism to desolate beauty, wild stormy coasts, and, perhaps, into someone else’s arms. There’s so much to learn whilst reading this book – but at the same time without feeling like you’re being preached to. Teaching through contemporary fiction is a talent, and Elizabeth Haynes has it mastered well.

New Discoveries

How to be Brave by Louise Beech

Absorbing and consuming Louise’s books seems to be becoming something of a habit. Starting with This is How We Are Human – her latest publication – and working my way back, I can honestly say I don’t think she is faltering with her talent and her way with words. The stories that pour onto the pages and into the readers minds are woven with expertise, knowledge and a basis of real life happenings. This book is no exception to that.

Where the Forest Meets the Stars by Glendy Vanderah

Reading Glendy’s second novel was a real treat because realising you have the debut still to read is a fantastic feeling! Where the Forest Meets the Stars is Glendy Vanderah’s first publication – and what a journey it is. As is becoming apparent with Glendy’s books, all is never as it seems. Her writing spans genres from start to finish – from the arrival of Ursa and her quest for five miracles to the warming conclusion and the domestic drama undertones.

Glendy’s books are hugely educational but entertaining at the same time. Her previous work as an Avian Biologist is put to great use as in her second book, as we learn so much from that world that we wouldn’t ordinarily learn from contemporary fiction. The characters are beautiful – flawed yes – but beautiful. Glendy’s writing style can only be described as ‘with ease’ – it’s gentle, unhurried and yet extremely immersive.

The Moon over Kilmore Quay by Carmel Harrington

This is a beautifully written dual timeline book written across two characters points of views thousands of miles apart, in both Ireland and New York.

Aside from this being a really emotive and heart-warming storyline, it’s a book full of accuracy and careful research. Carmel visited New York just before the global pandemic started, to ensure that accuracy was portrayed in her books. It pays off. Whether you’re immersed in the Irish Community described in Kilmore or the one described further from home, in New York, you are really and truly there.

The Appeal by Janice Hallett

This would really not have been a book that I would have chosen and I even delayed starting it because of the format. That’s a personal preference though, I personally felt I needed a clear head in order to process the books epistolary format and I’m so glad that I waited until I felt I could absorb it properly. Once I started, I finished it within a few days. Spurred on by a fantastic group of people reading the book at the same time – I was gripped from the start right until the conclusion.

Many reviewers have compared this book to Richard Osman’s writing and have coined Janice a modern day Agatha Christie too. I definitely don’t dispute her talent but it would be unfair to liken her to anyone else when she has created a sub-genre of Murder Mystery all of its own. Whilst the format of her debut book isn’t unique – there are lots of successful published books in epistolary [letter/email/message] style – it’s extremely modern and current and is probably one of the best modern day Thrillers that I’ve read.


Midnight in Everwood by M A Kuzniar

You will fall down the rabbit hole into a completely different world with this book. It’s truly truly wonderful. Characters and whole lands that will have you invested in them, sweet treats that will have you salivating, and an underlying story, morals and values, that will have you turning the pages until that gripping conclusion. There is so much within this book – it’s almost impossible to do it justice in a review and you really do need to pick it up and see for yourselves!

Authors We Know And Love

Wish You Were Here by Jodi Picoult

This book taught me so much. Firstly, not everything, but much of what we’ve lost these last few years but also what we’ve gained. Secondly, that whilst it was all happening, there were still beautiful things occurring. In nature, in hospital wards, in care homes and beyond. Third, it reminded me of everything we sacrificed as a human race and all the promises we made to ourselves. The pandemic changed us all – some of us have yet to admit it to ourselves. This book explores exactly that. Finally, it reminded me that this pandemic has shown and is still showing all of us what we’re capable of when we least expect it. The good and the bad.

‘Life IS what happens when you least expect it, but that doesn’t mean you can’t have a blueprint in your back pocket.’

Someone I Used to Know by Paige Toon

Whether you’re a die hard Paige Toon fan or whether you’re brand new to her books – this one is going to sweep you off of your feet. As the book progressed the thoughts of, ‘Everyone needs a George and Theo in their lives’ were strong but towards the end it was adjusted to, ‘Everyone needs a Leah too.’ And every Foster Child needs a Foster parent like the strong supportive ones written about in this book. There’s so much to learn within these 400 pages – so much research and careful consideration of emotions and feelings has gone into this book. And yes, so many interesting facts about Alpacas too!

Call of the Penguins by Hazel Prior

If you’re worried about this sequel – don’t be. Trust us – it’s perfect. Well, not perfect because nothing is, not even Veronica, but you know what we mean. It’s Veronica. It’s Penguins. It’s Hazel Prior’s calm, unruffled, precise way of writing. And it’s exactly what we need.

You can read these books out of order but why would you? You do need to read book one for the full effect of Veronica’s personality and the history. This book has some many themes woven together to eventually bring the main characters together too. The plight of the Penguins, and of nature in general, is carefully and tastefully highlighted, so that whilst it’s highly educational you’re not being preached to. Fact is beautifully merged into the fiction that we’ve come to know and love from Hazel Prior.

That Night by Gillian McAllister

I was drawn to the family dynamics immediately. Frannie, Joe and Cathy. Linked together forever not just through blood but through tragedy. Their close relationship, at times, was annoying. But I got it. This book directly challenges you to think, ‘What would I do? If I got that call, in the middle of the night, what would my response be?’  It’s the impossible dilemma, something of which Gillian is quickly becoming the master of writing about.

The Castaways by Lucy Clarke

This is a book that you will constantly think about, even when you aren’t reading it. From the moment you start to the moment you finish, this book will consume you. From the mysterious beginnings right up until the emotive and powerful conclusion…you will be gripped. You will want to immerse yourself on Erin’s journey to find out what happened to her sister two years before.

Historical Fiction

Mrs England by Stacey Halls

Our first Stacey Halls book and it certainly won’t be the last! The underlying story in this book is both sad and fascinating all at the same time. Don’t look it up though because it IS a spoiler but do read the Authors note at the end. You may have already heard about it too…We were influenced by the above photo from Kate Frances to buy this book!

Songbirds by Christy Lefteri

Imagine saying goodbye to your loved ones, packing up a few belongings and heading to a foreign country in search of a better life. Imagine making a promise to find work that would allow you to send funds home to keep your Children alive, clothed and fed. Imagine bringing a child into the world and then parenting their whole childhood through a computer screen, snatched conversations on a cheap mobile phone, or handwritten letters that only occasionally make it to their destination. Imagine doing all of that because you want to find better, be better, give more, promote survival…and yet…finding yourself more trapped than you were before.

Imagine that the above isn’t completely fiction – and it’s contained within the pages of this book.


Under the Mistletoe

Our December book club choice was a real treat! If you want to escape to the cottage & village in The Holiday movie then this is absolutely the book for you! This is such a lovely, warm and inviting book – despite dealing with some difficult topics.

Sue handles the sensitive issues (no spoilers here!) with care and consideration. A lot of time and research has obviously gone into the storylines that Sue covers too.

Underneath the Christmas Tree

Oh Heidi Swain – what a treat this book is! Heidi is the absolute Queen of domestic fiction – whether it’s something to get you through the Summer or cosy up with in Winter. This is probably my favourite of her publications so far – she just keeps getting better and better and yet her books are fantastic to begin with! Heidi’s books explore multiple themes – romance – loss – friendship and so much more. The themes are explored sensitively and through a carefully written and researched storyline.

The Merry Christmas Project

A truly beautiful first Christmas novel from Cathy Bramley – The Merry Christmas Project is heartfelt, warm, topical and well written. I’m never disappointed with Cathy’s Summer books and it was a real treat having a festive read from her this year too.

It’s hard to create a unique Christmas book with so many well-covered topics and love stories these days. But Cathy is one of the few Authors that can and she brings something a little different into her books.

There were some really emotional bits, other chapters that made me smile, and bits that just pulled at my heart strings. This book IS Christmas…in a book…a perfect festive read.

Crime Thriller / Psychological Thriller

The Split by Sharon Bolton

It has been absolutely ages since I’ve read a Sharon Bolton book and I have been reminded of why I absolutely love her writing, style and characters.

With so many books in the world and so many fantastic Authors, it’s sometimes hard to believe that a unique idea can be born. Sharon Bolton and Gillian McAllister are both masters of the unique idea and running with it in a well-written, heavily researched and brilliant way.

I read this book in a weekend, I was hooked from start to finish. We start in Antarctica and then travel back nine months to the UK – both settings are well researched and described, transporting you to the isolation of South Georgia and the streets of Cambridge and back to South Georgia for a thrilling, gripping conclusion to what has been an absolutely epic nordic-esque dark novel.

First Girl to Die by Helen Phifer

We love a Crime Thriller that keeps you guessing right up until the end and this book did exactly that. Unexpected twists and turns are the key to keeping the reader interested and there were plenty throughout. I’m already looking forward to the next publication in this addictive series. I especially like the back story coming through of Morgan’s past too. It doesn’t detract from the main storyline but instead compliments it well.

We are so honoured as well that the name of our bookish shop has been featured in this book – keep an eye out for Tea Leaves and Reads!

The Forever Home by Sue Watson

Read in a day and absolutely gripping! This pretty much sums up Sue Watson’s books. Each and everyone is a gripping thriller that will have you hooked from start to finish. Sue creates characters that are realistic and human. Her thrillers are always tipped into being ‘believable’ and that’s what makes them extra special and well written. Sue doesn’t write unrealistic twists and storylines – and so here’s your warning that you’ll be double checking the doors are locked and the window shut at night when you start reading this!

Mr Tea Leaves and Reads – Book of the Year

Under the Whispering Door

I really loved this book and how well it was written, it felt gentle and in the right places humorous. I felt it discussed themes in an easy to digest manner while also being poignant. Most of us have lost someone in their lives weather it be family and friends and this I think helps deal with some of the feelings that I have felt, growing up.

A beautifully told story, that will surely give your heart a bit of a workout and impact you in a way that will hopefully leave you feeling a little wholesome.

The first time you share tea, you are a stranger.
The second time you share tea, you are an honored guest.
The third time you share tea, you become family.

2022’s Most Anticipated

The Maid by Nita Prose

Molly Gray is my new favourite literary character and will, I’m sure, be one of the most talked about in 2022 when this book is finally out there in the world! In the meantime, I’ve never seen a more talked about proof – the hype around this book is to be fully believed!

It was a very easy five star read for me. Totally gripped from start to finish – this is a book about all the bits in between what’s said and what isn’t said. You’ll know what I mean when you start reading it. It’s about the blind spots, the red flags, we’ve all seen them and not seen them.

At the heart of the book is a ‘cosy’ mystery which is gripping but doesn’t detract from all of the underlying messages. Wonderful wonderful book!

Wrong Place, Wrong Time by Gillian McAllister

Never have I stopped so many times and stared at a book in disbelief until now. Even with Gillian’s previous publications. Every twist and revelation is shocking, unpredictable, mind-bending.

I was instantly challenged, in the first few pages, to think about what I would do. And that right there is what Gillian is fast becoming well known and celebrated for. She’s the queen of the moral dilemma. I’ve said it before. Every single book challenges you to explore, “What on earth would I do?” And by the end of it? You still won’t know.

The Start of Something by Miranda Dickinson

The Start of Something will be our March Book Club choice in 2022 – it was already pretty much decided before I read it but getting stuck into the book just reaffirmed the decision. Miranda Dickinson writes beautifully and this book is no exception. Counting myself lucky to have an advanced copy gifted to me by the publisher!

The most beautiful literary characters are within the pages of this book. I’m sure that they’ll both be firm favourites in 2022 as others start to read this. I felt the emotionally raw situation of both Bethan and Lockie’s situations – the authenticity of their characters and the characteristics that make them both very unique.

Goodreads Roundup

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