It’s that time of year again when bookworms begin their reading challenge reviews. It’s been a funny old year, and once again, I’m glad we have books during this strange time. Normally I just compile a list of my top five reads of the year, but with 63 books read in 2021 and a new obsession with all things Jodi Taylor, it was never going to be that simple. Let’s start by saying my top 5 reads are all by Taylor. Actually, my top 10, possibly 15. As a result I’ve done a top 5 by Jodi Taylor which are my absolute top 5 of the year, and I’ve also compiled a top 5 of everything else from this year which fall in somewhere in the middle of the 63 books I’ve read. Reader, let’s begin.
Top Five of 2021
1 – The Nothing Girl by Jodi Taylor – ★★★★★
It was so tough choosing which book ranked as my absolute favourite (and I feel so disloyal to the St. Mary’s books here), but in the end I went with The Nothing Girl. The book reads like a dream. It’s a beautiful, sometimes haunting, very modern fairy tale for adults. As with all Jodi Taylor books, it’s a joy and a delight, packed with humour, warmth, passion, tension, mystery, and one hell of a heroine. Because yes, that’s exactly what Jenny is. I don’t know if the echoes of Jane Eyre were intentional, but it helped to make this one extra special for me as I followed Jenny’s journey from lonely adolescent to married life, and beyond in the rundown Frogmorton Farm. I really can’t recommend this highly enough. It’s one of the most uplifting books I’ve ever read. I’d give it six stars out of five if I could. It deserves to be a classic.
2 – Just One Damned Thing After Another by Jodi Taylor – ★★★★★
This is the book which unleashed Dr Madeleine “Max” Maxwell onto the world. It was an absolute joy to escape into the weird and wonderful world of St. Mary’s who investigate major historical events in contemporary time (don’t call it time travel, folks!). The series follows Max as she makes her way in the world, ticking off just about everyone and everything, including dinosaurs, and being absolutely unapologetic about it. The first in the series sees her getting to grips with her new job, her new environment, new rules, a new way of living, and a new romance. It’s packed full of everything: joy, humour, sadness, grief, relief, time travel (sorry), etc., and I just devoured it. There are so many excellent, loveable, and dastardly supporting characters too but special mentions go to Chief Farrell, Markham, and Peterson. Nobody does strong female characters quite like Jodi Taylor, and Max is the best of them all. She’s stolen my heart.
3 – Saving Time by Jodi Taylor – ★★★★★
I can’t believe the third in the Time Police series is so low on the list, but that’s testament to how good the top two books are. Saving Time is the third in the series which follows Team Weird (Jane, Matthew, Luke) as they try to graduate from the Time Police in one piece and it’s another rollercoaster ride through time. Old favourites from the St. Mary’s books make an appearance, the characters of Team Weird are fleshed out a little (could there be unrequited love brewing?) along with various Time Police personnel; the stakes are high; there are adventures, romance, and action; red herrings are revealed. Best of all, there are shining moments for some secondary characters as well as more of Jane being fire-truckingly amazing but still not realising her worth. There are twists and turns to make your heart race and then break as Team Weird try to get to the bottom of their latest mystery. There are some extremely poignant moments towards the end of the novel between Matthew and a certain special someone. And, although this series is not about her, you just can’t leave out Max. Here she’s back, as fierce, determined, and funny as ever. And wow, what an ending. I can’t wait for more.
4 – Plan for the Worst by Jodi Taylor – ★★★★★
The eleventh book in the St. Mary’s series, and another amazing rollercoaster ride. It’s far from stale or formulaic. There are fresh ideas and fresh revelations, including one massive reveal concerning one of St. Mary’s most beloved characters. Max is attempting to get back on her feet, and is glad to have her family safe with her at last. There is fun, action, and drama during a trip to Ancient Crete, but it’s the jump to the Tower of London which changes Max’s life forever and nothing will ever be the same again. Trust is broken, secrets are revealed, friendships are tested, and there is lots of time travel as usual. It’s funny, heartbreaking, surprising, and amazing!
5 – Long Shadows by Jodi Taylor – ★★★★★
This is the third novel in Taylor’s Elizabeth Cage series. It’s the best yet, and I hope there are more to come. Elizabeth just wants to live a normal life, but the question of who and what she really is never leaves her. She continues to see auras and ghosts, and all manner of weird things just keep finding her, a certain medical professional continues to hound her, and the will-they-won’t-they between her and Michael Jones is turned up another notch. It’s heart in your mouth, page turning excitement, drama, suspense, and romance with a supernatural twist. Taylor is the Queen of big reveals and turning things on their head (see above), and the big finish in this one left me speechless. It’s so powerfully written and engaging. Cage follows on from Max in the St. Mary’s books by being strong, courageous, curious, and independent.
Best of the Rest of 2021
1 – The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde – ★★★★☆
Time travel (again), literary detectives, dodos, an alternative history, a brilliant protagonist with a brilliant name (Thursday Next), and fictional characters with lives and ideas of their own. There’s also an evil villain and a dastardly plot against Jane Eyre herself that Thursday must solve. What’s not to love?
2 – The Jane Austen Society by Natalie Jenner – ★★★★☆
Following the Second World War, the final home of Jane Austen, the Chawton estate, is at risk of being sold off to the highest bidder. Eight very different people (including a farmer, a doctor, a movie star) come together in order to form the society of the title and save Jane’s former home. It’s an uplifting tale but there is plenty of heartache along the way as the group begin to bond and perhaps find something they never knew they needed.
3 – The Swish of the Curtain by Pamela Brown – ★★★★★
One of the most charming and delightful novels I’ve ever read. It’s actually juvenilia, the author being just sixteen when it was published! It tells the story of a group of neighbours who band together to form a small theatre company. Aged between 9 and 15 when the novel begins, the group all excel in different areas but are all equally determined to succeed with their plans to bring the theatre to their small town. It’s a charming book for when times are tough.
4 – Absent in the Spring by Agatha Christie (Mary Westmacott) – ★★★★★
On the surface of things, nothing actually happens in this book in which a middle aged woman waits to board a delayed train in the desert. It’s a rare non-crime Christie book and it’s phenomenal. As she waits and faces the monotony of her surroundings, housewife Joan muses on her life, relationships, and choices, leading up to an existential crisis. It really is superb.
5 – Scharlette Doesn’t Matter and Goes Time-Travelling by Sam Bowring – ★★★★☆
Scharlette is stuck in a rut working in the airport security section when a wormhole suddenly appears, putting an end to her life as she knows it. More time travel, lots of humour, an intergalactic battle, and a handsome and charming travelling companion named Tomothy. Oh, and an amazing spaceship named Gordon.
In Loving Memory of Bob the Bichon (2007-2019)
A lover of life, the Brontës, and Haworth who knows that I’m just going to write because I can’t help it.
By Nicola F. a.k.a. The Brontë Babe.
Thanks for reading. I’d love it if you stopped by The Journal of Juvenilia Studies where you can read my essay, “Autobiography, Wish-Fulfilment, and Juvenilia. The ‘Fractured Self’ in Charlotte Brontë’s Paracosmic Counterworld”.
Tales of the Genii (edited by myself) is now available from The Crow Emporium – click here to buy.
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