My Top Ten Novels of 2021 – Part Two
The Girls Are All So Nice Here
Laurie Elizabeth Flynn, 1 April 2021
Ambrosia ‘Amb’ Wellington attends her college reunion despite being involved in a scandal there in her late teens. Her best friend from home, Billie, is lost to motherhood, Riesling and her new life as an Instagram influencer – but it's her college friend, Sully, who's on Amb's mind. Scenes of boozing and partying highlight the cyclical boredom of college, supposedly the best years of your life – not the case for Amb, who finds herself walking into Sully’s trap twice. A slow burn that pays off.
For fans of: The Secret History, My Dark Vanessa, Prep and Gossip Girl.
Crystal Jeans, 1 April 2021
Bettina and Bart grow up together in Britain after World War I. They have dysfunctional parents, want to be parents themselves, and share a deep, abiding love, but will never be fully compatible – because they’re both gay. The two bright young things enter a lavender marriage to pursue their real sexual desires on the side, but when we first meet the older Bettina, fat and alcohol-sodden with the wattle of her chin hanging down like 'a post-pregnancy apron,' we sense it didn't go well. Like Fitzgerald’s characters, these two cause destruction, but remain fiercely loyal to each other. 'The Inverts' is more than a book about being gay. It's a book about relationships, what a relationship is and who gets to be the judge of that, if anyone. Above all, it reminds me of the Larkin quote, ‘What will survive of us is love.’
For fans of: F. Scott Fitzgerald, the histories of Diana Souhami, the Mitfords, and (laughing at) The Well of Loneliness.
The Summer Job
Lizzy Dent, 15 April 2021
Hot-mess heroine Birdy Finch is easy for any audience to empathise with, even if they haven't done anything as extreme as the scrape she gets herself into in The Summer Job. Birdy finds herself impersonating her best friend Heather, a highly talented sommelier, at a Scottish countryside hotel – though she doesn't know her Lafitte from her Lambrini. While laugh-out-loud funny, this novel also explores the struggles of Birdy and Heather, and where their bad choices come from. Anyone who's ever worked in hospitality will understand the struggles and joys of the events the author captures beautifully. It just made me want to return to those food-and-wine-soaked nights – but maybe not as a waitress. Five Michelin stars to Lizzy Dent!
For fans of: Lucy-Anne Holmes, Sophie Kinsella, Four in a Bed and Hell’s Kitchen.
The Road Trip
Beth O’Leary, 29 April 2021
I was impressed by the way that O'Leary's first book, The Flat Share, dealt with the aftermath of an abusive relationship through the flowering of a new one, exploring themes of gaslighting, love-bombing, and coercive control. These themes also slightly colour the action of The Road Trip, which is the story of Addie and Dylan, and Dylan's possessive friend Marcus. The three of them – plus Addie's straight-talking sister Deb and a tagalong called Rodney – end up trapped in a Mini on the way to a friend's wedding in Scotland. Will Addie and Dylan be able to find paradise again? A sweet story about the importance of not giving up.
For fans of: Eva Woods, Lindsey Kelk, Holly Bourne and Marian Keyes.
The Cancer Ladies Running Club
Josie Lloyd, 13 May 2021
You might remember Josie Lloyd and Emlyn Rees’s jointly-written romance Come Together which dominated bookshelves in the late 1990s. In Josie’s standalone new novel, you find yourself rooting for the heroine Keira and the new friends she makes through a running club that supports cancer patients. I really liked how the story deals with Keira’s problems at work and her anxieties about her relationship – the author correctly reminds us that these things do not disappear when you are ill. Light, but rewarding and moving.
For fans of: Milly Johnson, Jill Mansell, Cathy Kelly and Jojo Moyes.