All we want for Christmas is… Bestselling authors choose their favourite books of the year — from a Booker prizewinner to the knights of King Arthur, and a sci-fi fantasy to a housewife superspy
Ken Follett (pictured) has loved reading The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett
I loved The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett. It’s about twin sisters, African-American but light skinned. The story takes off when one twin decides to pass as white and gets a job that would normally be given only to white people (like all the good jobs where she lives).
The suspense kicks in when an African-American man gives her a knowing look and she realises that some people can tell she’s faking it. I was completely caught up in her fraught experience of living a lie and her insights into both sides of the racial divide.
Santa Montefiore (pictured) said her favourite book of the year is Circe by Madeline Miller
(Flappy Entertains, Simon & Schuster)
My favourite book of this year was Circe by Madeline Miller. It’s a refreshing and imaginative take on the Greek myth about the witch Circe. I had already read and loved The Song Of Achilles, so I knew I was going to like this, too.
Madeline weaves a compelling tale of magic and adventure that is full of emotion. She has a beautiful writing style and some of her metaphors left me gasping with delight and admiration.
I also admired The Midnight Library by Matt Haig, and if you want a ‘diet’ that really works, read Dr Steven Gundry’s The Plant Paradox.
(Not That Kind Of Love, Quercus)
Natasha Lunn’s Conversations On Love. I’m not including this just because I’m in it, honestly. A beautiful exploration of the human heart and love in its many forms. Uplifting and hopeful.
Finding The Mother Tree by Suzanne Simard. Trees help each other and are in constant communication on the Wood Wide Web.
This seemingly scientific tale is about our relationship with our world. I will never look at a tree the same way again.
Kathryn Mannix’s Listen, which is one of the most important books I have ever read, as it is about training ourselves to listen in the difficult conversations we often have. Essential reading.
Francis Spufford (pictured) enjoyed Jon McGregor’s Lean, Fall, Stand
(Light Perpetual, Faber)
I deeply enjoyed and admired Jon McGregor’s Lean, Fall, Stand, a novel that begins with an explorer having a stroke in the Antarctic and then moves to his speech therapy afterwards with no loss of drama.
It’s a virtuoso piece of work — because the author writes about the stroke and what it does to language from the inside — but it’s all in the service of quiet, almost domestic truth-telling. My most uncategorisable read was Maria Stepanova’s marvellous In Memory Of Memory. It is a profound reflection on the way we relate to the past, using her Jewish family’s history in the 20th-century Soviet Union as the central thread, but reaching out to cover almost everything.
(The Tick of Two Clocks, Virago)
I loved A Swim In A Pond In The Rain by George Saunders, Booker winner and teacher, who explains what makes four Russian writers great and suggests how you might improve your own efforts.
Shuggie Bain by Douglas Stuart: a wrenching, painful and honest account of family love and struggle. This year’s Booker-shortlisted No One Is Talking About This by Patricia Lockwood, a novel in which Twitter life and real life collide . . . a brilliant take on what social media is doing to our brains.
(Two Terrible Vikings, Faber & Faber)
No one matches Kevin Crossley-Holland in his re-tellings of myths and legends, and his latest book, Arthur The Always King, is a brilliant collection of the epic tales of Arthur and his knights of the Round Table.
In this new version, he collaborates with the peerless Chris Riddell, who draws ogres and giants and maidens fair like the anointed Camelot court artist. For myth-lovers of all ages.
(Great Circle, Doubleday)
I loved venturing from London to the fictional African nation of Bamana in Chibundu Onuzo’s Sankofa, a novel I found hard to put down. I was also riveted by The Third Pole, writer-mountaineer Mark Synnott’s non-fiction exploration of the mystery of whether George Mallory and Sandy Irvine summited Everest which he interweaves with an account of his own climb.
Jonathan Franzen’s Crossroads is a meaty glory of a novel. I also blew right through Dolly Alderton’s Ghosts.
Mary Lawson (pictured) enjoyed Mick Herron’s Slough House series
(A Town Called Solace, Chatto)
Mick Herron’s Slough House series. These brilliant thrillers, about a bunch of outcast spies, got me through lockdown. To my husband’s annoyance, they had me laughing out loud at 3am.
Actress by Anne Enright, whose writing is simply glorious. Comedy and tragedy in one.
Agent Sonya: Lover, Mother, Soldier, Spy by Ben Macintyre. What makes this story so jaw-dropping is that it’s true.
Sonya was a communist spy who rose to the rank of colonel in the Red Army while being a housewife and mother of three. MI5 assumed she couldn’t do both.
(Unsettled Ground, Fig Tree)
Damon Galgut’s The Promise. I read this when it was on the Booker Prize longlist and I was so delighted when it went on to win. It’s a layered, clever and sometimes uncomfortable read, but with a gripping story.
It’s about four deaths in a white South African family, and the promise one member makes to another.
Galgut plays fast and loose with time and point of view, making it feel like the reader is part of this often racist and troubled family. I kept trying to see how he did it but then found myself swept up in the story.
Rev Richard Coles
(The Madness Of Grief, W&N)
I was gripped by David Baddiel’s Jews Don’t Count. It calmly, wittily, insists we look at the sharp rise in anti-Semitic comment and attitudes, the more insidious for being underground or in disguise.
I adored Susie Boyt’s novel Loved And Missed, which explores what can happen when, out of the blue, addiction and dereliction arrive to wreck a family. And how goodwill, determination and encouragement can ultimately put things back together again.
Matt Haig (pictured) loved reading Greg Jenner’s Ask A Historian
(The Comfort Book, Canongate)
This has been a bumper year for books I feel, for fiction and non-fiction. I have had quite eclectic taste in 2021, reading Kazuo Ishiguro’s great and masterful sci-fi exploration of humanity and mortality Klara And The Sun, then following it with Miriam Margolyes’s brilliantly cheeky, warm and emotional memoir This Much Is True, which is everything you would expect from a Miriam Margolyes memoir.
As an amateur history geek I loved the fun of Greg Jenner’s Ask A Historian, which answers all the burning historical questions, such as ‘when was the first Monday?’
(High Performance, Random House Business)
Sarah J. Maas (pictured) chose Archangel’s Light as her favourite book this year
I’ve read every Jack Reacher by Lee Child and am a huge lover of action. Yes, they follow a formula: he always beds the girl, drinks the coffee and then leaves town after getting rid of the bad guys… but I love them. The Sentinel particularly.
Sarah J. Maas
(House Of Earth and Blood, Bloomsbury)
Nalini Singh is the queen of paranormal romance. I would read anything she has written, and I’m absolutely obsessed with her Guild Hunter series. The latest, Archangel’s Light, is the story of a love that’s been building for centuries. It’s thrilling, epic and beautiful.