Top 5 Books of 2021

2021 has been an incredible year – for reading, I mean!

I've taken part in a bumper number of fantastic review blog tours this year, organised by the amazing Mary Anne from The Coffee Pot Book Club and the lovely Rachel at Rachel's Random Resources

A big shout-out to both! Thank you. 💖

During my reviews, I've discovered some amazing reads by brilliant authors of historical fiction, both traditionally published and self-published. I wish I could list them all, but we'd be here forever!

So I've chosen five incredible novels that I can highly recommend to you, my wonderful followers. Please do check them out!

Ruins & Reading Top 5 Books of 2021

Book of the Year:

1. Luminous: The Story of a Radium Girl by Samantha Wilcoxson

Words can barely describe how that book made me feel. Based on the true story of Catherine Donohue, it is a moving and heartbreaking account that triggers a range of emotions: sympathy, pity, anger, frustration, and profound sadness. 

Catherine finds a job at Radium Dial, a new company in town that makes clocks. Her job is to paint the numbers on the dials, a delicate job – using a shiny green liquid. The workers – all girls or young women – have to ensure the tip of their paint brushes are accurately pointy. To do that, they have to use their lips. I'm sure many of us have done that with water colours, but the materials used for those clocks were highly radioactive. And whilst the girls fell ill – some deteriorating faster than others – the company denied any danger. 

It is a tale of gross corporate deception and prevarication, abetted by local councillors and even doctors. The women suffered the consequences, and even Catherine's brave fight against the company takes a tragic end.

I can't recommend this novel highly enough. It plays on your emotions without being insipid, it triggers a strong sense of injustice, and you will think about it for many months. A tremendous story!

My review:

Buy links: 

Amazon US:

Amazon UK:



2. Discerning Grace (The White Sails #1) by Emma Lombard

If you love fast-paced historical adventures with a strong female lead, Discerning Grace is for you! 

I could barely catch my breath as young Grace Baxter decides to take her fate in her own hands (and out of her father's who wants to marry her off), and sets off from the grimy backstreets of London to the wide open ocean. 

Her deception as a boy works well when she finds work on a ship, but soon, her dilemma becomes clear. Opinionated, kind-hearted, and not always wise, Grace is a fabulous heroine who deserves your attention. 

A riveting, fast-paced romantic adventure. Highly recommended.

My review:

International buy link:


3.  The Lengthening Shadow (Linford #3) by Liz Harris

The Lengthening Shadow is the story of Dorothy, a young English auxiliary nurse, who falls in love with German internee, Franz, in 1917. As her family disapproves of the match, she follows him to Germany where they settle and have two children. 

But when, over a decade later, darkness descends on the country, she finds it hard to reconcile herself with what's going on around her. Jewish friends leave, her own children are manipulated by doctrine, and her husband doesn't want to see what's happening. So she makes another difficult decision.

Dorothy's account is very moving, and realistically portrayed. Ms Harris captured the changing mood in Germany very well, without resorting to stereotypes, and Dorothy's dilemma is shown with a great sense of urgency and concern. 

A highly recommended novel! 

Full review:

Buy links:

Amazon UK:

Amazon US:


4. A Matter of Conscience – Henry VIII, The Aragon Years by Judith Arnopp

There are few who do not know about King Henry VIII, and how he disposed of his various wives, but how many of those know that he was actually fond of his first, Katharine of Aragon, before he began to fight her? 

Judith Arnopp’s re-telling of Henry’s younger years, first growing up in his brother Arthur’s shadow, then during the earlier years of his marriage to Kate, a few years older, who had been contracted to Arthur first, is excellent, personal, and very well-researched. 

The close narrative works well in gauging Henry's moods, his innermost thoughts and intentions. 

A brilliant insight into Henry’s mind. Highly recommended.

*Winner of The Coffee Pot Book Club Gold Medal Award in the Tudors,
and Commonwealth of England category.*

My editorial review for The Coffee Pot Book Club:

International buy link:


5. The Serpent King (The Whale Road Chronicles #4) by Tim Hodkinson

Whilst The Serpent King is the fourth novel in the series, I had no problems getting into it, especially as you're straight in the action from the beginning. Young Einar is on a quest for revenge for the killing of his mother, but the path is full of unexpected obstacles. 

Gripping fighting scenes chase each other as Einar learns some experiences the hard way as loyalties are not as clear-cut as he expected.

One scene – a fight warrior to warrior – is set against the most spectacular backdrop, and has jaw-dropping moments. A real treat, highly recommended for fans of historical fiction in the tradition of The Last Kingdom.

My review:

Buy links: 



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And that's it – my Top 5 reads of 2021! All incredible tales by talented authors. Please have a look!

It was not an easy choice to make, and I would like to give a special shout-out to some wonderful writers who didn't make this list, but whose stories I've thoroughly enjoyed this year, and who I can highly recommend:

Christina Courtenay, Anna Belfrage, Matthew Harffy, Jennifer C. Wilson, Kathleen McGurl, Clare Marchant, Helen Hollick, Jenni Fletcher, Tony Riches, and Anne O'Brien.

Now, I wonder what fabulous books the next year will bring. Wishing you a happy and healthy 2022!

Oh, and keeeeeep reading!