40 Books from 2021 You Need to Read in 2022

Posted by Bijal Shah on

Hello! Every year Book Therapy curates a list of our best books of the year spanning both fiction and non-fiction, ranging from literary fiction, young adult, romance, sci-fi, fantasy, mystery and thrillers, LGBTQIA+ as well as best political and business books, memoirs and biographies and travel and cookbooks. We hope these offer literary inspiration for the year to come and we'd love to hear your thoughts on these. If you feel there's any we've missed, please reach out and let us know too! Also to help you get the most out of your reading life don't forget to sign up to our signature Bibliotherapy, Literature & Mental Health online course or our personalised reading service (tailored book recommendations and curated reading lists)!

Best Literary Fiction of 2021

1. Bewilderment (Novel) by Richard Powers

From the Pulitzer-prize winning author of The Overstory, Richard Powers, comes this stunning novel with simply, gorgeous and thoughtful prose.  Following the death of his wife, Theo Byrne, an astrobiologist, pursues a mission to discover life in space as he embraces single parenthood, raising his neurodiverse 9-year-old son, Robin. Robin has two sides to him: he's a kind, compassionate, caring boy with exquisite artistic abilities, painting pictures of endangered animals. He is also deeply disturbed and physically hurts a friend in third grade risking being expelled. He spirals into more and more despair. Theo, hoping to avoid psychoactive drugs, tests out a innovative neurofeedback treatment to help Robin regulate his emotions, using his mother's brain and mirroring her own brain pathways. 

In the backdrop, Powers continues to immerse us in gorgeous scenes of the natural world and of perhaps a life beyond planet earth, drawing parallels to his parenting challenges and unconditional love for his son. Through the eyes of Robin, we see his frustration at humanity's lack of care towards the environment and its impact on the multitude of life and sophisticated eco-systems that are struggling to survive, shining a light on the value of all life on earth and the depths of human destruction.

With themes of climate change, animal extinction, compassion towards nature and the deep love and intimacy between parent and child, this is an inspiring yet eye-opening book on the world and environment around us, making us fall in love with our planet again and looking at it with a renewed sense of care, compassion and responsibility, if that is still possible.

My favourite quotes: "They share a lot, astronomy and childhood. Both are voyages across huge distances. Both search for facts beyond their grasp. Both theorize wildly and let possibilities multiply without limits. Both are humbled every few weeks. Both operate out of ignorance. Both are mystified by time. Both are forever starting out."

"I wanted to tell the man that life itself is a spectrum disorder, where each of us vibrated at some unique frequency in the continuous rainbow."

"Oddly enough, there's no name in the DSM for the compulsion to diagnose people."

"Earth had two kinds of people: those who could do the math and follow the science, and those who were happier with their own truths. But in our hearts' daily practice, whatever schools we went to, we all lived as if tomorrow would be a clone of now."

"That's the ruling story on this planet. We live suspended between love and ego. Maybe it's different in other galaxies. But I doubt it."

Get your copy here.

2. Beautiful World, Where Are You? (Novel) by Sally Rooney

Another truly millennial story from our favourite millennial novelist as she seeks to answer intimate questions about the interior lives of young adults through the lives of four young protagonists, Alice, Felix, Eileen, and Simon. Alice is a novelist. Felix works in a warehouse and considers travelling to Rome with Alice. Whilst Alice's best friend, Eileen finds herself seducing her childhood friend Simon in a bid to overcome a break-up. Through their eyes we see the contradictions of desire, of intimacy, of friendship and sex  -  the transient nature of each and how to negotiate these in the hope to live a more fulfilling life and to have faith that the world is indeed beautiful. 

My favourite quotes: "When I try to picture for myself what a happy life might look like, the picture hasn't changed very much since I was a child  -  a house with flowers and trees around it, and a river nearby, and a room full of books, and someone there to love me, that's all. Just to make a home there, and to care for my parents when they grow older. Never to move, never to board a plane again, just to live quietly and then be buried in the earth."

"And we hate people for making mistakes so much more than we love them for doing good that the easiest way to live is to do nothing, say nothing, and love no one."

"People who intentionally become famous  - I  mean people who, after a little taste of fame, want more and more of it  -  are, and I honestly believe this, deeply psychologically ill. The fact that we are exposed to these people everywhere in our culture, as if they are not only normal but attractive and enviable, indicates the extent of our disfiguring social disease."

"At times I think of human relationships as something soft like sand or water, and by pouring them into particular vessels we give them shape."

Get your copy here.

3. Harlem Shuffle (Novel) by Colson Whitehead 

After two giant novels, The Underground Railroad and The Nickel Boys, Colson Whitehead hasn't lost his magic touch with this incredible novel of family, race, power and heists in 1960s Harlem. The salesman protagonist Ray Carney and his wife are expecting their second child. Money can be tight sometimes, and the pressure to make ends meet, means that Ray's extended crookish family and friends often drop off jewellery, sometimes stolen to help him out. Things get really tricky when Ray himself is pulled into a heist.

The pressure of the double life and the mission to stay loyal to and protect his family kicks in and he finds himself caught in an impossible situation. A delight to read, this is a fast-paced novel that will keep you hooked and perhaps even make you fall in love with both the characters and 1960s Harlem. Would recommend the audio version as the narrator, Dion Graham, is simply fabulous.

My favourite quotes: "Part of moving up in the world is realizing how much shit you used to eat."

Get your copy here.

4. Chronicles from the Land of the Happiest People on Earth (Novel) by Wole Soyinka 

Chronicles from the Land of the Happiest People on Earth: A Novel by [Wole Soyinka]

A fascinating take on the invisible forces of power and social corruption that can destroy the very social fabric of a society and a nation, from the historic winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature and one of the greatest African political activists. Set in Nigeria, the protagonist Dr. Menka owns a hospital and discovers that a shrewd businessman is stealing human body parts from the hospital. Upon sharing this with his childhood college friend Duyole Pitan-Payne, who is up for a prestigious position at the United Nations, they both realise that someone is deeply upset about this revelation and is doing everything in their power to stop Duyole from taking on the position. The enemy is closer than they think and more powerful than they naively envisaged. A thriller, a half-a-century wait for this one from Wole Soyinka is well worth it, even if it can prove to be a challenging read at times.  

Get your copy here.

5. Fault Lines (Novel) by Emily Itami 

Fault Lines: A Novel by [Emily Itami]

A poignant and spookily accurate exploration on the cost of a mother's desire, a debut novel by Emily Itaki takes on this existential question with both humour and stark precision on what it means to long for another life beyond marriage, motherhood and family.

Mizuki, a Japanese housewife is trapped in a marriage where she is never seen by her husband. Her children are her life and while they and her enviable Tokyo apartment bring her happiness and joy she yearns to explore another life  -  a love life with the charming restaurateur Kiyoshi, with whom she rediscovers herself and her own romantic needs and desires.

As she interweaves two lives, a domestic, family life and an exciting love life, navigating two identities, she can only choose one  -  one that brings her happiness and meaning. Which one will she choose?

The novel screams open the multitudes of female identity, one where women are forced to choose between every day  -  at a cost. Instantly relatable, gorgeously written and transportive, the reader finds themselves immersed in the world of the protagonist, in the hustle and bustle of Tokyo, yearning for a balance between desire and domesticity. A compulsive read, this is definitely one for fans of Sally Rooney.

My favourite quotes: "I wonder what will still matter when I'm as old as she is. I wonder who she loved, and what she hid, and when it stopped hurting her to remember, even while she was pretending to have forgotten."

"I forgot which bit was pretending and which bit was me."

Get your copy here.

6. Intimacies (A Novel) by Katie Kitamura

Intimacies: A Novel by [Katie Kitamura]

This is a story about how language influences the truth. It's also a story of the power and sheer responsibility resting on an interpreter's shoulders to protect the truth of the person they translate for.

An interpreter leaves New York after her dad passes and her mum returns to Singapore in the hope of re-discovering herself and where home potentially is. She soon arrives at The Hague to work at the International Court. 
As the story unfolds, we learn that she's in a complicated relationship with a man who is still in touch with his wife. All the while she is an interpreter for a former president who is accused of war crimes. To make matters worse one of her friends has been witness to a seemingly random act of violence, that she is drawn into.

All these events, force her to reckon with power, intimacy and brutality, and ultimately work out who she is and what's important to her.

A brilliant read with beautiful prose, it's a meditation on the meaning of language and what home means to us.

My favourite quotes: “Interpretation can be profoundly disorienting, you can be so caught up in the minutiae of the act, in trying to maintain utmost fidelity to the words being spoken first by the subject and then by yourself, that you do not necessarily apprehend the sense of the sentences themselves: you literally do not know what you are saying. Language loses its meaning.”

“It is never easy to move to a new country, but in truth I was happy to be away from New York. That city had become disorienting to me, after my father‘s death and my mother’s sudden retreat to Singapore. For the first time, I understood how much my parents had anchored me to this place none of us were from. It was my father‘s long illness that kept me there, and with its unhappy resolution I was suddenly free to go. I applied for a position of staff interpreter at the Court on impulse, but once I had accepted the job and moved to The Hague, I realized that I had no intention of returning to New York, I no longer knew how to be at home there”.

"My job is to make the space between languages as small as possible. I would not obfuscate the meaning of what he had done, of these words that he deemed so insufficient, my job was the ensure that there would be no escape route between languages."

Get your copy here.

Best Crime & Thrillers of 2021

7. Girl A (A Novel) by Abigail Dean

Lex Gracie, Girl A, comes from a dysfunctional family, the 'House of Horrors'. Luckily she escapes, but her siblings (an older brother and four younger siblings) aren't as lucky. Her father doesn't make it out alive and her mother is serving a life sentence in prison. She now has to confront her past  -  her childhood and that of her siblings.

With a twist of sibling secrets, betrayals, partnerships, what's true and what's false, we are let into a psychological head-trip  -  which memories are true, whose side is the other on, who has truly escaped and who hasn't from the trauma and secrets of the past that continue to haunt?

My favourite quote: "That was the problem with coming home: you also had to come to the self which resided there."

Get your copy here.

8. Silverview (A Novel) by John Le Carré

The last novel by the towering author before he passed leaves a huge legacy on his work and is one not to be missed. The protagonist, Julian Lawndsley, has swapped stressful city life for a more relaxed one in a small English seaside town where he runs a bookshop. Then a surprise visit from a Polish émigré, Edward, shocks him with his intimate knowledge about his family and also the bookshop.  

A spy chief in London is drawn to a little seaside village after an alarming leak that leads him to investigate a bookshop owner. What ensues is a classic cold war espionage story in true Le-Carré-style.

This is a masterpiece from le Carré who forces the reader to reflect on the fine line between public duty and our own integrity, whilst highlighting the bureaucracy of the intelligence service.

Get your copy here.

9. The Man Who Died Twice (Novel) by Richard Osman 

Another fantastic follow-up from the talented author of The Thursday Murder Club. A sequel, the same members of the Thursday Murder Club, Elizabeth, Joyce, Ron and Ibrahim, are struck by a surprise male visitor who is a friend of Elizabeth's. Accused of stealing valuable diamonds, he needs some help. Then the dramatic events unfold: a murder the following day, and then the next and the next too. As always the Thursday Murder Club come to the rescue, determined to find the murderer (and the diamonds too, perhaps.)   A brilliantly, hilarious and pleasurable read  -  a sequel that's equally good as the first.  

My favourite quote: "And if one is never lost in life, then clearly one has never traveled anywhere interesting."

Get your copy here.

10. People Like Her (A Novel) by Ellery Lloyd 

People Like Her: A Novel by [Ellery Lloyd]

A depiction of the dark side of influencer culture, this book perfectly explores how a young mum, Emmy Jackson, monetises her entire family life over Instagram. But there's a twist - there's the serial follower, the one who obsessively watches her every move, yet envies it all and deeply believes she doesn't deserve any of the attention she gets. As Emmy's marriage begins to crack under the intense social media scrutiny, so does the very real security threat to her family.

A brilliant portrait on the pressures of online celebrity culture and social technology in the 21st century  -  on how it stirs our deepest desire to be seen and the addictive lengths we go to, even if it means putting our lives in danger. A fascinating thriller offering up the psychological suspense of Gone Girl. Fast-paced, read it one go. 

Get your copy here.

Best Business & Leadership Books of 2021

11. Empire of Pain: The Secret History of the Sackler Dynasty (Narrative nonfiction) by Patrick Radden Keefe


An intimate account of three generations of the Sackler family by the prize-winning author of Say Nothing , documenting everything from  their rise to unthinkable riches to their incredible contributions to philanthropy. This is the book that also inspired the HBO documentary Crime of the Century.

You might have seen The Sackler name under the donor sections of many of the world's greatest art and cultural institutions such as Harvard, the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the Louvre in Paris, the Royal Academy of Arts and the Serpentine in London's Hyde Park. These have been stained by blood money as exuberant funds have flown in from the family foundation, whose fortune corresponds to the creation and excessive marketing of the painkiller that sparked and stoked the Opioid crisis.

Empire of Pain is the story of the exceptionally talented Arthur, who grew up in poverty during the Great Depression and his two brothers Raymond and Mortimer. Their parents settled in New York immigrating from Poland and Ukraine before World War I. Arthur studied medicine and became a psychiatrist, working in a mental health institution. His brothers followed a similar path all becoming doctors. Arthur had a knack for marketing, particularly pharmaceuticals, due to his own background as a doctor. He bought a small ad firm and began marketing Valium, influencing doctors to prescribe it with financial incentives - the secret formula that sustained the prescription of the long list of drugs that the brothers manufactured and marketed including the highly addictive and potent painkiller OxyContin. The golden goose in the family fortune generating thirty-five billion plus in revenue, it is also responsible for the public health crisis in the US where hundreds of thousands of people have died.

Empire of Pain sheds light on the 'mass murder' of these people through the family's failure to alert the public and the authorities to the highly addictive power of OxyContin, prioritising profit over anything else, and securing a lavish life of luxury for their children and grandchildren.  From the intriguing accounts of the multiple investigations the Sacklers have been involved in, to the family disputes, dysfunctional family lives and excessive art collections amassed, Empire of Pain is a story of exuberant greed, suffering, power, calculation, crime and pain, and one that deserves a read by all of us.

My favourite quotes: "It is a peculiar hallmark of the American economy that you can produce a dangerous product and effectively off-load any legal liability for whatever destruction that product may cause by pointing to the individual responsibility of the consumer."

"A 2016 study found that purchasing even a single meal with a value of $20 for a physician can be enough to change the way that he prescribes. And for all their lip service to the contrary, the Sacklers didn't need studies to tell them this."

"That message was repeated many times throughout the event  -  that when morphine was used to treat pain, it was not actually addictive."

Get your copy here.

12. Cumulative Advantage: How to Build Momentum for your Ideas, Business and Life Against All Odds (Nonfiction) by Mark W. Schaefer

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From the author of the previous bestsellers, "KNOWN" and "Marketing Rebellion" comes this inspiring guide about how to take your business dreams to new heights, where you can truly create a movement and where your ideas can gain serious momentum. 

Fresh ideas that are both practical and realistic, Cumulative Advantage shows you exactly how to give flight to your ambitions.

The book's key focus is on how to create a HUGE awareness for your projects, while building and developing powerful connections that enable life-changing opportunity.

Mark Schaefer weaves his lifetime of experience and expertise in a rich narrative filled with anecdotes, revealing how to create initial advantages, opportunities and use mentors to influence your life in a powerful way that's long-lasting and self-propagating. 

Grab your copy here.

13. The Premonition: A Pandemic Story (Non-fiction) by Michael Lewis

A non-fiction thriller, Michael Lewis with his signature storytelling brings forth this incredible tale of a small group of smart, supremely dedicated, and resourceful experts who took on the task of informing the US government just how underprepared the world was for the Covid-19 pandemic, with the hope that they would take faster action. But with a dysfunctional Trump government underway, that was already severely fragmented, this was a story about superheroes wanting to help but not quite succeeding. Nonetheless, the dedication of a colourful cast of characters, gives us faith that this crisis will be saved.

From a 13-year old's science project that models how to control disease to a local health officer's clairvoyant details about what the government has overlooked to the wisdom of doctors and scientists with extraordinary experience in fighting similar pandemics (swine flu, avian flu),

Michael Lewis documents their passion and work to mitigate the risks posed by the government's mishandling of this to save the American people. The overriding message is that a dysfunctional government's incompetent behaviour often leads to important health contracts being handed over to an even more, ill-equipped, inexperienced and unregulated private sector when it comes to large-scale catastrophes, such as the Covid-19 pandemic. And as the pandemic continues, the value of the book is the important lessons of these superheroes who show us how we can still mitigate the impact of the virus and its variants, despite the odds.

My favourite quotes: "People don't learn what is imposed upon them but rather what they freely seek, out of desire or need. For people to learn, they need to want to learn."

"I found that if schools are closed AND preschoolers, children and teens are restricted to the home epidemics that would have infected 65% of the population COULD BE REDUCED BY NEARLY 80%," she wrote. "If adults also restrict their contacts within non-essential work environments epidemics from such highly infective strains can be ENTIRELY THWARTED!"

Get your copy here.

14. The Cult of We: WeWork, Adam Neumann, and the Great Startup Delusion (Nonfiction) by Eliot Brown & Maureen Farrell


A wild business story, this is the true story of the intoxicating rise and epic fall of one of the most disruptive startups in Silicon Valley and its ambitious founder Adam Neumann. Investigative journalism at its best, it's also the story of how Wall Street Journal correspondents, as a result of their investigation and work on a WeWork Hulu documentary, led to the unravelling of the company.

Famed to be worth $10 trillion-plus, the startup was on track to becoming one of the most valuable companies in Silicon Valley and the world. Evolving from more than a space provider, it was leveraging artificial intelligence technology to disrupt education and housing too, with its WeGrow and WeLive offshoots.

With ambitions to colonise Mars too, there was nothing stopping Adam Neumann from becoming the world's richest man, valued at more than a trillion himself. So what went wrong? And why were so many venture capitalists (including Softbank's Masayoshi Son) and tech leaders lured into Neumann's vision (or trap even?) WeWork was after all, a company that simply owned space that sublet desks. The reality is Neumann looked the part, with his Israeli roots, charismatic personality and six-foot-five height. His days of selling children's clothes were long behind him. He was courting the likes of Goldman Sachs and JPMorgan, all the Wall Street elite who wanted a piece of the valuable action. 

Neumann's lifestyle and aggressive fundraising meant that the spending was stupendous and on what, it's clear that the dollars were not being invested where they should have been. Right before the highly-anticipated IPO, WeWork's value plummeted with multi-millions worth of dollars vanishing into thin air. In almost Gatsby-esque fashion, this is a capitalist story of greed and excesses, not so dissimilar to the Theranos story.

Long-listed for the Financial Times book of the year, it's definitely the one to read if you're looking for a fast-paced business thriller.

Get your copy here.

Best Science Fiction & Fantasy Books of 2021

15. The Love Makers (A Novel plus Essay Collection) by Aifric Campbell

The Love Makers by [Aifric Campbell]

A futuristic novel, filled with suspense and possibilities about love relationships in the future complemented by 14 further expert essays in artificial intelligence and robotics.

The novel itself called Scarlett and Gurl, begins with a serendipitous encounter on Christmas Eve between two women, Scarlett a technologist and ex-banker and a poor woman in distress, Gurl, who shares her innermost secrets and life story (love affairs, childbirth, motherhood and sex) on the way to the airport. These revelations will have startling ramifications for both of them; and leads us to question whether artificial intelligence will actually reverse progress for women, and whether we need to pay more attention to our relationships now as they rapidly evolve to something so different that we may no longer recognise ourselves or the relationship itself.

The essays each explore, from a philosophical perspective, what parenthood, desire, love and friendship might look like.  

Thought-provoking it give a fascinating glimpse of what the future might look like - both the challenges and the opportunities.

Get your copy here.

16. The Memory Theatre (Novel) by Karin Tidbeck

A fantastical, imaginative and inventive world that splits the world between the masters and the young who serve them. The young age quickly while the masters live in a heavenly paradise, where feasts never end and time halts.

The young protagonists, Dora and Thistle are best friends and are looking for an escape as they travel different worlds and times, spending time in and out of metaverses. Drawing inspiration from fairytales and other fantastical novels such as Piranesi this is a treat for fantasy lovers although be warned there are themes of violence and abuse.

Precise prose and magical writing, this is as good as fantasy gets.

Get your copy here.

17. Klara and the Sun (Novel) by Kazuo Ishiguro

For the first time, we hear the narrative from the voice of a protagonist, Klara who is an Artificial Friend, that caters to the emotional needs of children. It's wonderful to look at the world through an egoless protagonist whose perspective on humans is very revealing, sometimes positive and sometimes discomforting as she highlights our obsession with power, status and loneliness, with her astute observation skills.

She is brought in to help a little, poorly, girl called Josie to not feel lonely. Ishiguro explores this theme of loneliness further with guiding readers to the possibility of Josie's mother wanting Klara to replace Josie in the event that Josie does not survive. There is also the romance between Josie and her childhood friend, from a different class background which may or may not last into adulthood, again exploring the themes of loneliness and class.

Lastly what happens to Klara if Josie does survive and enter adulthood? Can Klara, as a robot, feel lonely? A fascinating exploration from the Nobel Prize Winner in Literature, it is certainly one not to disappoint.

My favourite quote: “Not only had I learned that ‘changes’ were a part of Josie...I’d begun to understand also that this wasn’t a trait particular just to Josie; that people often felt the need to prepare a side of themselves to display to passers-by - as they might in a store window - and that such a display needn’t be taken so seriously once the moment had passed.”

Get your copy here.

Best Political Books of 2021

18. Trans: When Ideology Meets Reality (Non-fiction) by Helen Joyce

Over the last ten years, gender identity has taken on a more serious meaning where what we feel from a gender identity perspective trumps our biological sex. The influence of this trend has led to millions of people embracing the right use of pronouns with laws, while company policies, sports, media and medical protocols have been updated to more accurately reflect this newer reality. 

A thorough examination into the implications of gender identity ideology in everyday life enabling people to declare the identities they really want to be, without the silencing shadows of shame.

The book highlights how little is understood about transgender lives and how much more awareness is needed about the significance of our bodies and the bodies of transgender people.

Grab your copy here.

19. How Iceland Changed the World: The Big History of A Small World (Nonfiction) by Egill Bjarnason

One of my favourite books of the year, revealing how this tiny island, like the UK, has had an influential impact on the rest of the world map for hundreds of years, documenting how much of a role it played in a wide-ranging set of events from the French Revolution, the Moon Landing and the birth of Israel. For a country whose population is less than half a million at its peak, you cannot but find its 1,200-year-old history remarkable, refreshing and inspiring as a small island that has not only learned to survive but lead and thrive influencing nations globally.

Get your copy here.

Best Biography & Memoir of 2021

20. Let Me Tell You What I Mean (Memoir) by Joan Didion


From the iconic writer, comes this insightful collection of essays written through the decades from 1968 to 2000 giving us uninterrupted access to Didion's mind - her thoughts and reflections as a journalist bringing illuminating wisdom to the things that she has witnessed - about society and about us as humans. She confesses that she writes entirely to determine her own opinion and thoughts, but with that, she brings astute observations and truths with essays ranging on subjects as varied as Hemingway, Martha Stewart's business empire, on the craft of writing, and on being rejected by Stanford. Each written with philosophical precision, they will leave you wanting more.

My favourite quotes: "In many ways, writing is the act of saying I, of imposing oneself upon other people, of saying listen to me, see it my way, change your mind. It's an aggressive, even a hostile act. You can disguise its aggressiveness all you want with veils of subordinate clauses and qualifiers and tentative subjunctives, with ellipses and evasions - with the whole manner of intimating rather than claiming, of alluding rather than stating - but there's no getting around the fact that setting words on paper is the tactic of a secret bully, an invasion, an imposition of the writer's sensibility on the reader's most private space."

"Make a place available to the eyes, and in certain ways it is no longer available to the imagination."

Get your copy here.

21. Crying in H Mart (Memoir) by Michelle Zauner 

Initially appearing as an essay in a viral 2018 New Yorker piece, Michelle Zauner's New York Times bestselling memoir is an intense memoir about grief  -  from losing her mother to growing up Korean American and learning to balance her Korean identity with that of an immigrant in America. A singer, songwriter and guitarist, through writing about family, food and immigrating to Eugene, Oregon, she works through her complicated feelings of grief. She writes about a difficult adolescence, navigating her mother's incredible expectations of her to cherished memories of her time in Seoul with her grandmother and her mother over native food.

In early adulthood she moves to the East Coast, working in restaurants as she attempts to keep her music career alive, performing gigs and eventually meeting her husband. As she loses more and more of her Korean-ness, she has a startling reckoning with it at age twenty-five when her mother is diagnosed with terminal cancer.

An almost coming-of-age memoir, she begins to dig deeper into her cultural history, embracing all things Korean she took for granted, only realising its true value now, from food, language, culture, taking readers on a journey of self-discovery. The reading experience is enhanced by the intimate stories of her past, that so easily resonate, and delightful family photos that bring her narrative to life.

My favourite quotes: "I had spent my adolescence trying to blend in with my peers in suburban America, and had come of age feeling like my belonging was something to prove. Something that was always in the hands of other people to be given and never my own to take, to decide which side I was on, whom I was allowed to align with. I could never be of both worlds, only half in and half out, waiting to be ejected at will by someone with greater claim than me. Someone whole."

"It felt like the world had divided into two different types of people, those who had felt pain and those who had yet to."

"Food was how my mother expressed her love. No matter how critical or cruel she could seem - constantly pushing me to meet her intractable expectations - I could always feel her affection radiating from the lunches she packed and the meals she prepared for me just the way I liked them."

"Cooking my mother's food had come to represent an absolute role reversal, a role I was meant to fill. Food was an unspoken language between us, had come to symbolize our return to each other, our bonding, our common ground."

"The lessons she imparted, the proof of her life lived on in me, in every move and deed. I was what she left behind. If I could not be with my mother, I would be her."

Get your copy here.

22. Consent: A Memoir (Memoir) by Vanessa Springora

One that came out earlier this year, this is a haunting #MeToo story of child abuse, trauma, grooming, seduction and self-healing. It's particularly striking because the abuser is a huge literary giant in France, Gabriel Matzneff. When our abusers are powerful, the resulting post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is even harder to understand and unravel, made worse by a country that turns a blind eye to the sexual abuse of minors.  The author, now in her forties and a celebrated director of one of the largest publishers in France in her own right, exposes her story, in a profoundly honest account of her experience as a fourteen-year-old teenager who was groomed. She recounts the aftermath, the trauma, as she attempts to make sense of what actually happened to her detailing the whole host of emotions that victims of child sexual abuse experience and often continue to re-live. Consent gives voice to her story  -  a story of an adolescence that was taken from her by a man three times her age, a fifty-year-old paedophile whose actions were dwarfed by his immense literary success.

Written in painstaking detail  -  the seduction and the grooming right under her mother's watch  -  is a story of immense loss and sadness, but also of hope ,  recovery and resilience as she grows older. Narrated in Vanessa Springora's beautiful writing voice as she illuminates the elephant in the room, a male-dominated literary world that stays silent on abuse and exploitation. The memoir has led to the pursuit of a legal case against Gabriel Matzneff.

My favourite quotes: "For many years I paced around my cage, my dreams filled with murder and revenge. Until the day when the solution finally presented itself to me, like something that was completely obvious: Why not ensnare the hunter in his own trap, ambush him within the pages of a book?"

Grab your copy here.

Best Young Adult of 2021

23. The Gilded Ones (Novel) by Namina Forna

One for fans of Children of Blood and Bone, comes this fantastic West African novel, totally magical and addictive. When Deka, the protagonist, is discovered as having golden blood during a village blood ceremony, she is tainted as impure. To save herself from persecution, she has the option to join an army of talented girls called 'Alaki', almost immortal beings with unique gifts, who fight for the empire in the capital. She soon discovers nothing is as it seems. This is a highly-charged fantasy novel that explores current day themes of misogyny, feminism, inequality, trauma and abuse, serving as an empowering novel that teaches resilience and celebrates diversity with its colourful characters. Definitely one for fans of Children of Blood and Bone and Black Panther.

Grab your copy here.

24. Firekeeper's Daughter (Novel) by Angeline Boulley

Eighteen year-old Daunis Fontaine has always felt like an outsider in her Native American community. Her hope for new beginnings at college is crushed when a family tragedy happens and she has to put college on hold to look after her mother. As ever, the only thing that lifts her spirits is Jamie, who plays hockey with her brother Levi. The more she falls for him, the more she realises that something's not right. She then witnesses a murder that leads to an FBI drug investigation and further murders. Layered with a strong sense of Native American heritage and what the community is all about, this is a fascinating and insightful read into the lives, trials and tribulations of an indigenous community.

My favourite quotes: "It wasn't just generational trauma that got stored in our blood and passed along, but our resilience and language too."

"Some boats are made for the river and some for the ocean. And there are some who can go anywhere because they always know the way home."

"Maybe there's a word in Anishinaabemowin for when you find solid footing in the rubble after a tragedy."

"Mazina'iganan mino-mshkikiiwin aawen. Books are good medicine!"

Grab your copy here.

25. Tokyo Ever After (Novel) by Emiko Jean

Tokyo Ever After: A Novel by [Emiko Jean]

Izumi Tanaka, a Japanese American protagonist, living in Northern California struggles with belonging. She has never quite felt that she has fit in. She has been raised by a single mother all her life, and has no clue who her father is.

Then she discovers that he's actually the Crown Prince of Japan (and she is technically a princess) she flies to Japan almost immediately to meet him.

This is where fantasy and reality collide. Little did she realise that she would be tormented by prowling press, tricky family members and have millennial traditions and culture to learn at lightning speed, plus she is falling for her handsome bodyguard. Caught between two identities, one Japanese and the other American, she's not sure if there will be a happy ending to this seemingly, miraculous fairytale.

Grab your copy here.

Best Romance of 2021

26. Happy Endings (Novel) by Thien-Kim Lam

Happy Endings: A Novel by [Thien-Kim Lam]

The protagonist, Trixie Nguyen, is determined to prove to her traditional Vietnamese parents that she is perfectly capable of succeeding in a non-traditional career: a sex toy business in Washington DC. She's hosting her first pop-up event when she crosses paths with her ex-boyfriend, who broke up with her, Andre Walker who is on a mission to save his family restaurant that serves soul food from vicious developers.

With the chemistry still flaming between them, they partner up to turn the restaurant into a food-cum-vibratory pop-up shop for clients. It's a success! As the restaurant blooms so does their relationship but then an opportunity lands in Trixie's lap, which threatens their relationship. Will they have a happy ending? The perfect Christmas rom-com for romance lovers.

Grab your copy here.

27. People We Meet on Vacation (Novel) by Emily Henry

Two friends whose paths crossed unexpectedly when they share a car ride home, now take vacations together  -  for one week every summer and have done so for a decade. A case of opposites attract, best friends, Poppy and Alex couldn't be more different. Poppy an explorer at heart contrasts with introverted Alex who'd rather curl up with a book. 

Then two years ago, it all stopped and they stopped speaking. It threw Poppy off. Their friendship made her the happiest she was. In a bid for a reconciliation, she suggests one final vacation together. Alex agrees. Could anything possibly go wrong? And what does this mean for their relationship  -  the perfect, escapist beach read.

My favourite quote: "Like a good book or an incredible outfit, being on vacation transports you into another version of yourself."

Grab your copy here.

Best LGBTQIA+ of 2021

28. The Perfume Thief (Novel) by Timothy Schaffert

Clementine, a retired queer American 72-year-old ex-pat in Paris has always been a con artist in the business of perfume making. She dresses as a man and creates perfumes for cabaret singers. When a Nazi bureaucrat, Oskar Voss, enlists her services for a play that he's producing, Clementine has no choice but to agree. To win Oskar's trust she comes clean about her life, her business and her past loves.

Written in a similar style to Amor Towles' A Gentleman in Moscow, the prose whisks you away to a romantic 1940s Paris and reflects on the meaning of memory, how different perfumes can evoke different memories for a woman who's lived on the fringes of society  -  as a lesbian thriving in the Gilded Age, the roaring 20s and WWII.

A beautiful, page-turner, it hits all the high notes for a novel from romance, espionage, conflict, it's the perfect gift for friends and family this Christmas.

Grab your copy here.

29. The Magician (A Novel) by Colm Toibin

Colm Tóibín's exquisite novel set in Germany at the start of the twentieth century, focuses on the incredibly famed author, Thomas Mann, winner of the Nobel Prize in literature in 1929, as the protagonist. The novel starts with a young Mann, who is besotted by one of the most wealthy and respected families in Munich, eventually marrying their daughter Katia and raising a family of six kids who refer to him as 'The Magician'.

He has artistic aspirations and homosexual desires, that he hides from everyone. In this book, Tóibín brings to life the real, private life of Mann, his desire for men and boys and perhaps the parts that might shock us and look at the author in a very different light. His son and daughter also had polyamorous lives, sharing partners. A revelatory novel ,  showing the conflict between a man with incredible artistic talents and tense, forbidden sexual desires.

Mann continued to write his novels in the backdrop of war breaking out, fleeing to Switzerland, France and then New Jersey and Los Angeles. Tóibín captures this history, beautifully leveraging both impeccable research and imagination. 

My favourite quote: "On a few occasions in his own books, Thomas [Mann] thought, he had risen above the ordinary world from which the work emerged. The death of Hanno in -Buddenbrooks-, for example, or the quality of the desire described in -Death in Venice-, or the séance scenes in -The Magic Mountain.- Maybe in other parts of other books too. But he did not think so.He had let dry humor and social settings dominate his writing; he was afraid of what might take over if he did not exercise caution and control. He could imagine decency, but that was hardly a virtue in a time that had grown sinister. He could imagine humanism, but that made no difference in a time that exalted the will of the crowd. He could imagine a frail intelligence, but that meant little in a time that honored brute strength. As the slow movement [of Beethoven's String Quartet, op. 132] came gravely to an end, he realized that, if he could summon the courage, he would have to entertain evil in a book, he would have to open the door to what was darkly outside his own comprehension."

Grab your copy here.

30. Detransition, Baby (A Novel) by Torrey Peters

When the protagonist Reese's trans partner Amy detransitions and becomes Ames, her world falls apart. For a while, everything looked perfect . Reese had the job she wanted, the NYC apartment she loved and a job she enjoyed. The only thing missing was a child and a chance to start a family.

Post-the-break up, Reese began sleeping with married men in a bid to feel less lonely.  However everything is not as it seems, and Ames misses Reese. His life as a man is not any easier, and there's a certain longing to get back together with Reese. When he discovers that his new lover and boss, Katrina was pregnant with his child and wasn't sure whether to keep it, he wondered if this was his opportunity to get back together with Reese and raise the baby together, with Katrina of course as a part of the family.

A thought-provoking debut about how families can be versatile as we adapt to the modern world  - that the model of monogamy and a conventional marriage and relationship is not always the answer . The book pushes the boundaries of gender, identity and relationships giving way to a new perspective on family arrangements.

My favourite quote: "Many people think a trans woman's deepest desire is to live in her true gender, but actually it is always to stand in good lighting."

Grab your copy here.

Best Translated Fiction of 2021

31. The Hummingbird (A Novel) by Sandro Veronesi

One of my favourites books this year, this one is by fabulous European master, Sandro Veronesi, one of the winners of Italy's Premio Strega. A thoughtful family saga of a family, evolving through the generations, as the chaos of life takes hold illustrating poignantly how the choices we make paradoxically weather us but also break us down to our core. 

The protagonist, Marco Carrera is "the hummingbird", aptly called so as he stays calm in a stormy world that brings unexpected family challenges  -  from his sister dying, to a difficult relationship with his brother, separation from his wife, raising his granddaughter on his own in the aftermath of his daughter's death, all the while being in love with a woman that he cannot be with.

Stoic, he carries on for the sake of his granddaughter, who brings him infinite joy and hope. Part-epistolary novel, Veronesi, takes readers on this spellbinding journey of suffering, resilience, joy, loss, love, and hope , showcasing  the invisible heroes in the mundane, and often painful domesticity of family life with a striking moral at the end: the importance of the future in the present, as a way to channel hope and light in the existential challenges of human life. A book that deserves to be read by everyone.

My favourite quotes: "Marco always felt justified in believing that psychotherapy was like smoking: it wasn't good enough not to do it yourself, you also had to stay away from those who did."

"The fact is, when things change it's easy to see that they change for a reason, but it's not as easy to understand that there's a reason things stay the way they are, too. This is because we've been glorifying change for such a long time now, that all everyone wants is change - even when it's just change for change's sake. Therefore, inevitably, those who move on are brave and those who stay still are coward, those who change are enlightened and those who don't are ignorant. It's the zeitgeist. That's why I was glad to see you've realised that it takes a lot of effort and courage to keep still too."

Grab your copy here.

32. Whereabouts (A Novel) by Jhumpa Lahiri 

A genre-bending novel Lahiri does something interesting here: firstly she writes the book in Italian, that she's recently learnt and then translates into English. The protagonist is an unnamed narrator in an unnamed city, which may appear to be Rome however is deliberately left open as though to simply explore the solitude a city can bring but also the loneliness, after her husband's untimely death.

She explores the paradoxes of life  -  the freedom versus the constraints of being on one's own, how the character of a city can bring companionship from the parks, piazzas, museums and coffee shops yet there is an inner homelessness that cannot be cured by any city.

A story of belonging and not belonging, it attempts to hold polarities that create conflict and tension, even in the absence of a solid plot, leaving you wanting more , perhaps because there is resonance in the way that we all feel from time to time in urban life and at various stages of adulthood.

An artistic work, that explores new ways of using the novel form, from layering the physical observations with the emotional ones and creating an almost atmospheric narrative charged with emotions.

My favourite quote: "There's no point discussing it given that she's blind to the small pleasures my solitude affords me. In spite of how she's clung to me over the years my point of view doesn't interest her, and this gulf between us has taught me what solitude really means."

Grab your copy here.

33. The Country of Others (Novel) by Leïla Slimani

A fiction book originally inspired by the story of her grandmother, Slimani, takes us back to 1944 when post the liberation, the protagonist, a young Mathilde leaves France and joins her husband in Morocco. However as a woman and a foreigner in Morocco she begins to learn what her place in the world is - the sacrifices, the submission, the frustration. The first in a planned trilogy, this one captures the atmosphere of Morocco, during its fight for independence from French colonial rule.

Being a white woman in this increasingly black community, Mathilde struggles with what it means not only to be a woman but a Moroccan woman who must submit herself to the patriarchal nature of Moroccan society, embracing domesticity.

In the country of others, women are in the country of men, and so must constantly fight for their own liberation. Plus in the backdrop of the independence movement, the novel brings to light the other others who live "in the country of others" - from locals to immigrants and soldiers to civilians.

The novel explores womanhood and shame and the intergenerational shame that the women all carry with the next two books in the trilogy - the second based on her own mother's life and the last on her own life.

If you're a fan of Elena Ferrante and Maggie O'Farrell, you'll love this one.

Grab your copy here.

Best Cooking, Food & Wine Books of 2021

34. Rice (Cookbook) by Michael W Twitty 

One of the most versatile staple foods on the planet, Michael W. Twitty bring this collection of Southern recipes covering a range of fascinating nuggets about rice: from the botanical variety to the ways it can be used as a main dish, side dish, snack, dessert and across breakfast, lunch, tea and dinner.

Offering different scents, flavours and textures depending on how you cook it, rice often brings a delight to our palette. Plus Twitty's 51 recipes include everything from Jollof Rice, Liberian Rice Bread, Savannah Rice Waffles to Ghanaian Crab Stew to Princess Pamela's Rice Fritters!

Grab your copy here.

35. Bavel: Modern Recipes Inspired by the Middle East (Cookbook) by Ori Menashe and Genevieve Gergis

A labour of love from chef Ori Menashe and pastry chef Genevieve Gergis following the huge success of their Los Angeles restaurants, Bestia and Bavel. Bavel the restaurant soon led to Bavel, the cookbook, is an invitation to its patrons to home cook Bavel's delightful Middle Eastern cuisine from creating aromatic spice blends, to gloriously tasty zhougs, the creamiest tahini, pearly labneh, and sublime hummus, with rainbow vegetable trimmings, gorgeous flatbreads, perfectly prepped, succulent meats and of course something sweet to finish with: wholesome pastries and mouth-watering tarts. Notable recipes include Tomato and Feta with smoked Harissa, Turmeric Chicken with Toum, Pistachio Nigel Labneh, Hingali, Peshalo, Nissim and Rose-Clove Donuts with Sherry Diplomat Cream and Chocolate Ganache.

Bavel celebrates Middle-Eastern cuisine without attributing foods to any specific country  -  'cooking without borders' -  it unites the people of the Middle East through cooking bringing a comprehensive selection absent in other cookbooks to date. 

Grab your copy here.

36. Colombiana: A Rediscovery of Recipes and Rituals from the Soul of Colombia (Cookbook) by Mariana Velásquez

Mariana Velásquez, a recipe developer, food stylist and a Bogotá native, whose clients include Michelle Obama, pays tribute to her home country with this stunning collection  -  a recipe book dedicated to Colombian food only (the first of its kind) featuring 100 traditional and contemporary dishes.

Colombian food nourishes both the mind and the body. This is evident in the sensual flavours that Velásquez brings together in this curation  -  from Lomito de Cerdo al Tamarindo y Menta (Tamarind Pork Tenderloin with Mint), Gazpacho de Papaya y Camarón Tostado (Spicy Papaya and Charred Shrimp Gazpacho), and Cuchuco de Trigo con Pollito y Limón (Lemony Bulgur Farmer's Chicken Soup).

To complete the meal, Velásquez suggests a fabulous selection of side dishes, snacks and drinks to create an atmospheric and memorable dining experience that stays with us and makes us feel alive.

Grab your copy here.

37. Taste: My Life Through Food (Food Memoir) by Stanley Tucci

Taste: The Sunday Times Bestseller

A fabulous memoir focused on food by the might author, capturing his early years growing up in New York with his Italian-American family, his acting career and preparing for the big foodie films, Big Night and Julie and Julia and the role of food has played in his marriages and in raising his children. Food has been the connective tissue that binds the family.

He deliciously chronicles the food he's loved and the food he's despised including much-loved restaurants to cooking gone wrong. The memoir immerses us in food all the while documenting some of his extraordinary experiences as an actor who has appeared in 70+ movies, TV shows and Broadway plays as well as written two other successful cookbooks: The Tucci Table and The Tucci Cookbook.

This memoir, in particular, is a celebration of food, Italy and life and perhaps the perfect Christmas gift as we all come together over communal feasts. 

Grab your copy here.

Best Travel Books of 2021

38. The Women I Think About At Night: Traveling the Paths of My Heroes (Travel Memoir) by Mia Kankimäki

I absolutely fell in love with this part travelogue, part memoir, part-mini-biographies  -  specifically because she captured her travels in three of my favourite places in the world: Kenya, Italy and Japan.

In The Women I Think About at Night, Mia Kankimäki honours ten extraordinary female pioneers from history. Single, forty-something and restless, Mia Kankimäki needed to do something different. She had a calling, so she left her job, her apartment, and took the decision to travel the paths of ten female explorers and artists who have intrigued her for a long time.

She visits Kenya, to explore the life of Karen Blixen   of Out-of-Africa fame who lived there in the 1920s. Mia then flies to Japan to treat her depression following the footsteps of Yayoi Kusama, an artist who elected to live in a psychiatric hospital for a large portion of her life. And then finally to Italy, Mia searches for the little known Renaissance women painters of Florence's Uffizi Gallery exploring the portraits of Sofonisba Anguissola, Lavinia Fontana, and Artemisia Gentileschi. 

A charming, inspiring and informative book, you'll most certainly be signing up for these destinations as soon as you can.

Grab your copy here.

39. Waypoints: A Journey on Foot (Travel Memoir) by Robert Martineau

A compelling travel book on the benefits and psychology of walking from pilgrimage to solitude to escape. At age 27, author Robert Martineau left his office job and flew to Accra where he began his 1,000-mile walking journey on the West African coast, crossing deserts, rainforests, mountains and sleeping in villages. He documents his encounters with priests, shamans and even kings as he contemplates the beginnings of slavery that took place here.

Whilst an outward journey in the natural world, it is also a journey of the mind, as he finds himself transformed by the act of walking  and connecting with both nature and the past. You'll be thinking about it long after you have read it.

Grab your copy here.

40. Bicycling with Butterflies: My 10,201-Mile Journey Following the Monarch Migration (Travel Memoir) by Dykman and Sara

Field researcher Dykman goes on a solo bike trip following the 10,201 mile migratory path of the Monarch butterfly across three countries.  The first to have ever done so, in this book she recounts the highs and lows of the journey and of course the stories of the people she meets on the way from farmers to fellow bicyclists to scientists. The real message of the book is the need to save the threatened monarch butterflies and, in parallel, the many other natural systems out there on which our own survival depends. Part memoir, part travel book and part science this is a book of hope, adventure, resilience and inspiration  to do the trail yourself and spend time with these magical creatures.

Grab your copy here.


Other notable, must-read books which did not make this list include Afterparties: Stories (a collection of short stories) by Anthony Veasna SoAll That She Carried: The Journey of Ashley’s Sack, a Black Family Keepsake, by Tiya Miles, The Other Black Girl by Zakiya Dalila HarrisGreat Circle by Maggie Shipstead,  Crossroads by Jonathan Franzen, Matrix by Lauren Groff, The Sentence by Louise Erdrich, No One Is Talking About This by Patricia Lockwood and Cloud Cuckoo Land by Anthony Doerr.


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A big hello and thank you for reading! Passionate about literature, psychology, and life I launched Book Therapy as an alternative form of therapy using the power of literature. I train mental health professionals, librarians, teachers as well as readers on using bibliotherapy in their own work through our online Bibliotherapy, Literature and Mental Health course. We also curate reading lists/personalised book prescriptions for clients based on their individual needs. This is our signature personalised reading service.

You can also check out Book Therapy’s other free reading lists and A- Z of book prescriptions (covering both fiction and non-fiction). These suggest books based on your existing life situation (e.g. anxiety, job change, relationship heartache) as well as interests (e.g memoir, historical fiction, non-fiction, crime etc). There’s also a Children’s A — Z of Book Prescriptions. Feel free to check out the blog for more literary gems. There’s also a post on my personal story of how I entered the world of bibliotherapy and book curation.

In this role, I have had the opportunity to publish a book called The Happiness Mindset, and write various literary essays and pieces for newspapers and magazines. I have undertaken bibliotherapy workshops for The United Nations, various libraries in New York and corporate organisations in the UK and US. My book recommendations have featured in the Guardian, Marie Claire, NBC News, Asian Voice, New York Observer, Sydney Telegraph and various other publications. If you are a parent you might enjoy a podcast I’ve recorded with speech and language therapist Sunita Shah on Raising A Reader & Storyteller. And if you’d like to connect, email me at bijal@booktherapy.io or www.booktherapy.io.

Book Therapy is a participant in the Amazon EU, US and Canada Associates Programme, an affiliate advertising programme designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.co.uk, Amazon.com and Amazon.ca

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  • Congratulations on a successful application of a controversial process: Bibliotherapy. I am a staunch supporter and enjoy seeing your development of an accessible and psychologically self-affirming remedy to what ails you: Reading!

    Loren on

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