The best books of the year - from compelling thrillers to fascinating non-fiction

The Year in Books looks back at some of the best titles of 2021.
Stephen McNeice
Stephen McNeice

15.00 25 Dec 2021

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The best books of the year - f...

The best books of the year - from compelling thrillers to fascinating non-fiction

Stephen McNeice
Stephen McNeice

15.00 25 Dec 2021

Share this article

It has been another year of fantastic, imaginative and thrilling books, across both fiction and non-fiction.

It can be overwhelming trying to pick out the best of the bunch.

That's where The Year in Books comes in, with host Stefanie Preissner and her guests looking back at some of the best work published in 2021.


From the best crime thrillers to some of the most beautiful children's books of the year, here are the panel's top recommendations for the year.

Vanessa O’Loughlin, founder of

Freckles by Cecelia Ahern

“It’s based on the quote about ‘you become the product of the five people who are closest to you’.

“The protagonist Allegra sets out to try to curate the five people around her, which is heartbreaking and hilarious at the same time. But as the novel progresses, she discovers she had those five people around her.

“I cried at the end - I just loved it. The characters in it are fantastic.”

The Killing Kind by Jane Casey

“Jane Casey has written a whole series of Maeve Kerrigan detective novels - this is standalone.

“It moves into London and the legal world. It’s about a stalker, and it’s absolutely gripping.

“One of the things that Irish women do very well is that feeling of suspense and fear, and Jane writes short, punchy chapters.”

The Murder Box by Olivia Kiernan

“This is another one I absolutely loved.

“This is part of a series. Frankie is a detective-inspector in Dublin who receives this game called the Murder Box… but as the story unfolds she finds out it isn’t a game at all, and it’s playing out in real life.

“It has the best twist. You don’t have to have read the other Frankie books - a good crime writer will encapsulate an entire story in a book, and Olivia does it beautifully here.”

Razorblade Tears by SA Cosby

“I went through this one with a highlighter!

“SA Cosby is just a beautiful writer. He finds a way of putting the words in an order you just would never have thought of. It’s just fantastic.”

The New Girl by Sinead Moriarty

“This is a fantastic children’s book. Sinead spent five years researching this book, and getting really close to a refugee family. It’s the story of a Syrian refugee going to a new school.

“It’s a story about dislocation and trying to find your place in society - for both an Irish kid in school, and this refugee girl coming in.

“It’s for the 10-12 age group.”

The Little Bee Charmer of Henrietta Street by Sarah Webb

“This one’s for slightly younger children.

“She did masses of research about this, about the whole Henrietta Street in Dublin around the 1910s.

“It gives you a real sense of place, and gives you a fantastic story about a child and the bees.”

Lisa Rowntree, manager of Dubray Books on Grafton Street

Small Things Like These by Claire Keegan

“This is on everybody’s list this year, and for very good reason. It’s extraordinary.

“It’s something I think absolutely everybody should read. Even if you’re a person who doesn’t usually read fiction… this is just 100 pages long, so it’s not going to take weeks of your life to read it. It’s worth the gamble.

“It’s set in New Ross in the mid-80s - but it could be the 60s or 70s as well. The main character is a quiet, ordinary man who is the fuel merchant in town. He knows everybody in the town and all their business, but he’s a very kind man.

“On the hillock outside town, there is a covenant and mother & baby home. The novel is not about that as such, but it does touch on that.

“It’s perfectly crafted - no word is out of place.”

Matrix by Lauren Groff

“It’s not what you might think at first - something sci-fi or techy. This is absolutely not that.

“It’s historical fiction - a fictional imaging of the life of a real woman, Marie de France, a 12th-century French poet. There are lots of theories about who she was - this takes one of those and turns it into a novel. It follows her life, from when she was 16-17 to her death in her 70s.

“It’s so well done - it’s worth a try. It’s beautifully written - really visceral and earthy, but then totally transcendent at other times as well.”

‘Twas The Night Before Christmas

“We all know the classic rhyme by Clement Clarke Moore, but this is a very special new edition - illustrated by the wonderful Irish illustrator PJ Lynch.

“His illustrations are such a perfect match for the classic - really vivid and richly detailed.

“It’s in hardback - you’ll buy it, keep it and read it every Christmas for the rest of your life.”

Stefanie Preissner, host

A State of Emergency by Richard Chambers

“I loved Richard’s book. It starts off with Tony Holohan sitting in a restaurant with his wife and kid, and his phone beeps. He’s heard about this virus he’s tetchy about.

“Often when you get these non-fiction books, the players you’re reading about are historical figures. But these are the same people who are sitting in front of us, on NPHET. We see the tensions between the Minister for Health and NPHET… it’s gossipy in a Love Island kind of way!”

Main image: File photo. Picture by: Trevor Chriss / Alamy Stock Photo

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