Book ReviewsReading plans

10 Books That Got Away

10 books I bought in 2021 and really meant to read but they are still on my bookshelves waiting to be opened

My capacity to buy books far exceeds my capacity to read them all so it’s not surprising that I got to the end of 2021 with a large number of the year’s purchases unread.

This week’s Top Ten Tuesday  topic is “2021 Releases I Was Excited to Read But Didn’t Get To” but for my list I’m tweaking this prompt a little to include books I acquired in 2021 that were published before that year.

Ardent Swarm by Yarden Manai

The first book by this Tunisian author to be translated into English, caught my attention because it’s about a beekeeper. And I’d just finished reading (and enjoying) The Beekeeper of Aleppo.

After Lives by Abdulrazak Gurnah

I’d not heard of Abdulrazak Gurnah when I saw this in a bookshop (yes the real, bricks and mortar version). But two days later he was named as winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature 2021. This novel is about the friendship of two boys caught up in set in Germany’s brutal colonial rule in East Africa during the early years of the 20th century.

Fox Fires by Wyl Menmuir

Menmuir’s debut work The Many was one of the most intriguing books I read in 2016 so of course I had to buy his latest novella. It sounds just as enigmatic. The synopsis tells me it’s about a girl who has followed her concert pianist mother around the cities of Europe for almost two decades. Their arrival in the mysterious city-state of O, marks the beginning of the girl’s quest to find the man she believes is her father.

Mrs Mac and Me by Emma Freud

I do love a novel connected with the artistic world and this one features one of my favourites artists: Charles Rennie Mackintosh. He is a mysterious visitor who arrives at a Sussex coastal resort where he forms a close relationship with the publican’s son. But soon Britain is at war and Mackintosh’s curious behaviour maks him a target for suspicion.

Open Water by Caleb Azumah Nelson

The winner of the Costa First Novel Award 2021, this debut novella length work is about two Black British artists who fall in and out of love. Their relationship is used as a way of exploring attitudes to masculinity and race.

Rules of Civility by Amor Towles

I was introduced to Towles when his novel A Gentleman in Moscow was chosen by our book club a few years ago. I’ve seen comments from several bloggers that they didn’t rate the book as highly as his debut novel Rules of Civility. So when I found a copy in a National Trust bookshop sale, and it was only £1, it was impossible to resist.

Sankofa by Chibundu Onuzo.

Described as a funny, painful novel that explores race and identity, Chibundu Onuzo’s novel tells the story of a mixed-race British woman who goes in search of the West African father she never knew.

The Cone Gatherers by Robin Jenkins

Last summer I was a guest on the Read All About It podcast hosted by Paul Cuddihy. We did a bit of a Welsh/Scottish swap of recommended authors from our respective countries. The Cone Gatherers was Paul’s gift to me and I feel rather guilty it hasn’t yet been read. It’s a short book about two brothers growing up in Scotland who encounter the brutal gamekeeper of a large estate. The keeper Duror commits an act so brutal it destroys all sense of humanity in the once thriving wood.

The Promise by Damon Galmut

Of all the novels longlisted for the Booker Prize in 2021, this one had the strongest appeal for me. I’m a sucker for novels by South African authors but this tale of forsaken promises of the post-apartheid era and a family in crisis sounded particularly promising.

White Spines by Nicholas Royle

This is the only non fiction book in my list. I bought it purely out of curiosity because it sounded unusual. Nicholas Royle has a passion for the the white spines of Picador paperbacks released between 1972 and the late 1990s. This book reflects on his habit of visiting second hand book shops, searching the shelves for titles to add to his collection. Next to buying books and reading books, I do love reading about other readers and buyers. I’m dipping into this currently so there is hope that I’ll finish it in 2022…..

Have any of you read these books?  Which would you recommend I move to the top of my “to read” pile? Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme created by The Broke and the Bookish and now hosted by Jana at That Artsy Reader Girl. For the rules see her blog.


What do you need to know about me? 1. I'm from Wales which is one of the countries in the UK and must never be confused with England. 2. My life has always revolved around the written and spoken word. I worked as a journalist for nine years then in international corporate communications 3. My tastes in books are eclectic. I love realism and hate science fiction and science fantasy. 4. I am trying to broaden my reading horizons geographically by reading more books in translation

33 thoughts on “10 Books That Got Away

  • The Promise is great – a worthy Booker winner for once! I enjoyed The Cone-Gatherers overall, but had some reservations – not quite as good as its reputation, imo, and very dismal. Worth reading, though. And I’m one of the people who preferred Rules of Civility to A Gentleman in Moscow. I haven’t read any of the others.

    • I do get the impression The Cone Gatherers isn’t going to bring much of a joyful atmosphere.

  • Having done a walk around and through Walberswick where her novel is set I’ve long wanted to read ‘Mr, Mac and Me’ (having enjoyed ‘Hideous Kinky’ way back when).

    • Having some knowledge of a setting does provide an additional layer of enjoyment when you read the book

  • I enjoyed Mr Mac and Me and thought it was beautifully written, so I hope you like it when you eventually get to it!

  • I would highly recommend Rules of Civility and The Promise, both of which I read last year and both of which I loved.

    • I’ve not encountered any blogger yet who didn’t like The Promise.

    • I remember reading your review so I knew you’d enjoyed it. It’s just the kind of book that you do enjoy

  • First off, I have a lot of Welsh DNA since my mother’s ancestors emigrated from there to the U.S. back in the 1800s. I visited Wales for the first time in the Fall and it was beautiful. You have a lovely country and I’m dying to go back! I need to check out your Welsh literature tab for some great recommendations.

    I haven’t heard of any of the titles on your list today. I haven’t heard of any of the authors either, except for Towles. I hope you enjoy all these when you get to them!

    Happy TTT (on a Wednesday)!


    • Where in Wales were your family from? So glad to hear you enjoyed visiting us even though your timing meant we were still in the throes of the pandemic so restrictions in place. Hope that didn’t spoil too much for you Susan

      • The restrictions weren’t too bad at all! The worst part was having to wear a mask during the entire plane ride from the U.S. to the U.K. I had rashes around my ears from it. It was worth it, though, to be able to take the trip and see all the things we did.

        My Welsh ancestors were from the Neath/Carmarthenshire area in southern Wales. My husband’s ancestors were from the north, so we spent all of our time there since we didn’t have enough days to tour the entire country, unfortunately. We’ll definitely be going back. My kids’ favorite part of our whole trip was visiting Conwy Castle. They had a great time exploring that beautiful place!

        • I bet that was an uncomfortable journey. At least you enjoyed the time here

  • The only one here that I’ve read here is Rules of Civility. I concluded that there was a good book trying to come out of a flawed book. Others have commented to me that A Gentleman in Moscow is better. Pick the bones out of that!

    • That just proves that for every book there will be different responses!

    • Glad to hear this Stefani. I just wish there were more hours in the day so I could get to all these excellent books.

  • Rules of Civility is a throughly enjoyable, satisfying read, and I loved White Spines which made me laugh out loud.Quite rare for a book!

    • I imagine, given your previous incarnation as a bookseller, that White Spines would certainly resonate

  • Sorry, I can’t help, I’ve not read any of these either.

    • When do you think you’ll read it? If you are anything like me, books from many Christmas Days past are still unread

  • I have a couple of these unread myself (White Spines for example). I liked Rules of Civility although not as much as most people (I kept thinking Scott Fitzgerald did it better). Like you, I found Menmuir’s The Many quite intriguing if a bit baffling; I didn’t know about Fox Fires and will check it out. I did read The Promise, which I thought was absolutely one of the best things I had read in quite a long time (but then, I’m a long time Galgut fan). Regardless of your choice, there’s a lot of great reading in this stack!

  • piningforthewest

    I think you’ll enjoy Rules of Civility.

    • Everything I’ve heard about this book suggests I will

  • Our book club will be reading The Promise and After Life this coming year. The White Spines is a new purchase and I look forward to reading it. You have some lovely reading ahead of you with this list.

  • Buying books and reading them are two different life skills!!! 😂 I read Open Water for Novellas in November. It’s written in 2nd person and I had a difficult time reading it. The point of view kept taking me out of the story because I was busy trying to figure out who was talking to whom! It was distracting for me I guess because it was so different and I’m not accustomed to that voice. Of course, there’s a great possibility that I’m an outlier!

    • I’ve seen other comments that it was difficult to get into the story Carol


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