books

'I'm a book reviewer. Here are my top 10 books from 2021.'

When you read a lot of books, you soon become very good at picking out the best ones. 

The books you throughly enjoyed reading. The books you wouldn't hesitate to recommend to anyone. 

The books that were beautifully written, perfectly plotted out, and absolutely unputdownable. 

These are those books for me from this year. Here are my top 10 books from 2021:

The Paper Palace by Miranda Cowley Heller

This is a book so beautifully written and so expertly plotted out, it's destined for a HBO series starring Meryl Streep and Reese Witherspoon (seriously HBO, we need to watch this, pick it up). 

The Paper Palace follows the story of New Yorker Elle Bishop, who was raised by eccentric, divorced parents in the 1960s and 1970s. 

After her parents divorced, a string of step-parents and step-siblings and step-grandparents came in and out of her life, causing all sorts of childhood trauma. 

The one constant in her life was her mother's family holiday home - a rundown house and collection of cabins they called 'The Paper Palace', on the banks of a pond at Cape Cod. 

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Elle's family spent every summer there, and that's where she met her best friend Jonas. 

Although they are destined to be together, a traumatic experience from Elle's childhood and a secret keeps them apart for decades. 

Until the night of the party. 

In The Paper Palace, Miranda Cowley Heller creates a world you never want to leave and characters who you become genuinely invested in. 

It's an epic love story, a coming-of-age story, and a tale that explores the impact of childhood trauma and the power secrets hold over us. 

Insatiable by Daisy Buchanan

Twenty-something Violet is stuck in a dead-end job, broke, broken-hearted and estranged from her best friend. 

Then she meets Lottie – a woman who looks like the kind of woman Violet wants to be when she grows up – at a party. Lottie offers Violet a role at her new startup, but Violet is soon sucked into Lottie and her husband Simon's world. 

Two of my favourite writers described Daisy Buchanan's debut novel as FUNNY (Marian Keyes) and FILTHY (Dolly Alderton) and look, they were right. 

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But Insatiable is more than that. It’s about a woman learning to love her own body, beginning to understand her own self worth, and figuring sh*t out. It’s about the loneliness of your twenties and taking the road less travelled. It's a sexual coming of age story packed with hilarious, laugh out loud observations.

The Last Thing He Told Me by Laura Dave

Occasionally a book comes into your life and slowly worms its way into your heart. 

This year that book for me was Laura Dave's The Last Thing He Told Me. 

I picked up a copy as soon as I heard Reese Witherspoon was adapting the book into a TV series starring Julia Roberts. In doing so, she's basically combining three of my favourite things - thriller TV series, Julia Roberts and anything Reese Witherspoon touches. 

From the very first page I was hooked. But The Last Thing He Told Me isn't a dirty little thriller you consume in one afternoon. It has a lot of heart, and the story is as much about the main character's relationship with her missing husband, and reluctant stepdaughter, as it is about the mystery at its centre.

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The plot centres around 40-something Hannah, a woodturner, who moved to Sausalito in Northern California to live with her new husband, Owen, and his 16-year-old daughter, Bailey. 

One afternoon a note is delivered to Hannah from Owen that simply reads: "Protect her". 

Owen has vanished into thin air, and with the FBI and the state troopers on her heels, Hannah must discover why Owen left and if he was ever really the man she thought she married. 

The Push by Ashley Audrain

Image: Penguin Books Australia/Mamamia.  

One of my favourite books of all time is We Need To Talk About Kevin

So when I heard about the premise of The Push, I knew I needed to pick up a copy as soon as possible. I read it in one day and haven't been able to stop thinking about it since. 

The book follows the story of Blythe Connor, a woman who is determined to be the warm, loving mother she never had. 

But when Blythe's daughter Violet arrives she struggles to bond with her. And when Violet grows up and begins to interact with other kids, she begins to wonder whether there's something seriously wrong with her. 

The Push ends with a killer twist that will haunt you for days after you've put the book down.

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The Other Black Girl by Zakiya Dalila Harris

Image: Bloomsbury/Mamamia.  

The Other Black Girl has been described as The Devil Wears Prada meets Get Out.  

But it's so much more than that. 

The debut novel from Zakiya Dalila Harris follows the story of 26-year-old editorial assistant Nella Rogers, who is tired of being the only Black employee at Wagner Books. 

When Hazel starts working in the cubicle next to her, Nella thinks she'll finally have someone who'll understand the microaggressions and isolation she experiences every single day. 

Then a note appears on her desk: LEAVE. WAGNER. NOW. 

The Other Black Girl is full of twists that will keep you guessing right up until the final page.  

Malibu Rising by Taylor Jenkins Reid

Image: Penguin Books Australia/Mamamia.  

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It's August 1983 and the Riva siblings are preparing for their annual end of summer party. 

There's Nina, a surfing supermodel whose husband, the best tennis player in the world, has just left her for another tennis player. Jay, a championship surfer who's still reeling from being dumped by his ex-girlfriend, Ashley. Hud, Jay's 'twin' brother, a talented photographer, who's now madly in love with Ashley. And finally Kit, the baby of the family, who's still figuring out who she is and who she wants to be. 

For the past few years, the Rivas' party has been the hottest ticket in town. A place where the cast of Family Ties share a joint with the newest voice in literary fiction, while Rob Lowe swings from the chandelier. 

But by the end of the night, family secrets will come to surface, long-lost family members will show up out of the blue, trays of cocaine will be passed around while the Riva siblings come to blows on the back lawn, and a Malibu mansion will go up in flames. 

Malibu Rising has all the elements of a crackin' good novel - a page-turning plot, fully fleshed out, flawed, relatable characters, GOSSIP AND DRAMA, and little lessons you'll take with you long after you've read the final page. 

Heartsick by Jessie Stephens 

Image: Pan Macmillan/Mamamia.  

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When Jessie Stephens was heartbroken in her early 20s, all she wanted to do was read a book about people who had gone through the same thing she was going through in that moment. 

But that book didn't exist. 

In 2021, when she was 30 and madly in love, Jessie published that book. 

Heartsick is a non-fiction, narrative style story that follows of the journey of three real people in the throes of heartbreak. 

Ana is in her 40s and married with three kids. Then, she falls in love with someone else. Claire is in her 30s and married to Maggie. Then, one day, she finds something on Maggie's phone. Patrick is in his 20s and engaged. Then his entire world blows up. 

Bruising, beautiful and ultimately healing, Heartsick is the perfect read for fans of Three Women and Elizabeth Gilbert, and anyone who has ever had their heart broken. 

Magpie by Elizabeth Day

Image: HarperCollins Australia/Mamamia.  

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Magpie follows the story of 28-year-old Marissa who falls in love with a man named Jake and soon moves in with him. Not long after, they're over the moon when Marissa becomes pregnant with their first child. But not everything is quite what it seems.

Lisa Taddeo described Magpie as "a book that needed to exist in the world" and she's completely right.

It's terrifying, beautifully written and ultimately uplifting. 

We Were Never Here by Andrea Bartz

We Were Never Here is a quick-paced thriller that could best be described as Thelma and Louise meets Single White Female.

If Thelma and Louise were millennials and more... murdery.

The Reese Witherspoon Book Club pick follows the story of twenty-something Emily, who lives and works in Milwaukee. A few years ago, her best friend Kristen moved to Australia and they meet up every year at some exotic location to go backpacking. 

During a trip to Chile, Emily comes back to their hotel room to find Kristen covered in blood and a dead backpacker on the floor. 

Kristen tells Emily the backpacker attacked her, and she had no choice but to kill him. Emily helps her bury the body and they swear to take the secret to their grave. 

But soon Emily begins doubting Kristen's version of events. 

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If you like your thrillers fast-paced and packed full of twists, then this is the book for you. We Were Never Here is the kind of book you can escape into and read in one day. 

Seven Days In June by Tia Williams

Image: Hachette Australia/Mamamia. 

Seven Days in June is a Reese Witherspoon Book Club Pick and an instant New York Times bestseller. 

It's a witty, steamy romantic comedy that follows the story of two writers and their second chance at love in the middle of a New York summer. 

Brooklynite Eva Mercy is a single mum and bestselling erotica writer. Shane Hall is a reclusive, enigmatic, award-winning literary author who, to everyone's surprise, shows up in New York.

When Eva and Shane meet at a literary event - sparks instantly fly - raising the eyebrows of the Black literati. 

But what no one knows is that Eva and Shane spent a steamy week together over 20 years ago, and they've been secretly writing to each other through their books ever since. 

Keryn Donnelly is Mamamia's Pop Culture Editor. For more of her TV, film and book recommendations and to see photos of her dog, follow her on Instagram and TikTok

Feature image: Supplied.