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The 10 Best Books of 2021

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It’s been a great year for books! Let’s take a look back at the 10 best that were released in 2021.

How has your reading year gone? For me, my reading habits have changed—I used to sit down and read an entire book in one sitting but that’s not so easy to do with a nine-month-old. So now I read when I can, which is mainly at night, and I’ll read a book over several days. The ‘binge’ reading might be a thing of the past for me but I’m embracing the slow pace of reading a book over time, which does cause me to reflect more about the story.

I overall have enjoyed so many books this year! 2021 saw the return of so many talented authors. The books served as a reminder of why these authors are so popular. We also saw several standout books by debut authors as well, which is always so exciting.

The year isn’t over but I’m starting to turn my attention to 2022 books so I thought this is a perfect time to reflect on the best books of 2021 (in my opinion).

#10

The Lost Apothecary by Sarah Penner

While I love WWII historical fiction, I also very much enjoy when authors in the genre cover other time periods. The Lost Apothecary by Sarah Penner is such a unique and engaging novel. This a dual timeline story is set in both the 1700s and present day London. Our protagonist Caroline in the present timeline is running from her own demons after finding out about her husband’s infidelity. When she stumbles upon a clue to the unsolved apothecary murders that haunted London two hundred years ago, her life collides with the apothecary’s in a twist of fate with lasting impacts. Grab a cup of your favorite warm drink and spend some time with this one. Here’s the synopsis:

Hidden in the depths of eighteenth-century London, a secret apothecary shop caters to an unusual kind of clientele. Women across the city whisper of a mysterious figure named Nella who sells well-disguised poisons to use against the oppressive men in their lives. But the apothecary’s fate is jeopardized when her newest patron, a precocious twelve-year-old, makes a fatal mistake, sparking a string of consequences that echo through the centuries.

Meanwhile in present-day London, aspiring historian Caroline Parcewell spends her tenth wedding anniversary alone, running from her own demons. When she stumbles upon a clue to the unsolved apothecary murders that haunted London two hundred years ago, her life collides with the apothecary’s in a stunning twist of fate—and not everyone will survive.

With crackling suspense, unforgettable characters and searing insight, The Lost Apothecary is a subversive and intoxicating debut novel of secrets, vengeance and the remarkable ways women can save each other despite the barrier of time.

You can order the book on Amazon here.

#9

Apples Never Fall by Liane Moriarty

Liane Moriarty is another one of my favorite authors. While I didn’t love her novel Nine Perfect Strangers, I was eager to read Apples Never Fall. And I thought it was great. A little random at times but she’s such a good writer that I will read anything she releases. The story follows a very competitive family full of tennis players. But when the mother goes missing, the father is the suspect. While the story is a mystery, it’s also very much a character study as well. Here’s the synopsis:

If your mother was missing, would you tell the police? Even if the most obvious suspect was your father?

This is the dilemma facing the four grown Delaney siblings.

The Delaneys are fixtures in their community. The parents, Stan and Joy, are the envy of all of their friends. They’re killers on the tennis court, and off it their chemistry is palpable. But after fifty years of marriage, they’ve finally sold their famed tennis academy and are ready to start what should be the golden years of their lives. So why are Stan and Joy so miserable?

The four Delaney children—Amy, Logan, Troy, and Brooke—were tennis stars in their own right, yet as their father will tell you, none of them had what it took to go all the way. But that’s okay, now that they’re all successful grown-ups and there is the wonderful possibility of grandchildren on the horizon.

One night a stranger named Savannah knocks on Stan and Joy’s door, bleeding after a fight with her boyfriend. The Delaneys are more than happy to give her the small kindness she sorely needs. If only that was all she wanted.

Later, when Joy goes missing, and Savannah is nowhere to be found, the police question the one person who remains: Stan. But for someone who claims to be innocent, he, like many spouses, seems to have a lot to hide. Two of the Delaney children think their father is innocent, two are not so sure—but as the two sides square off against each other in perhaps their biggest match ever, all of the Delaneys will start to reexamine their shared family history in a very new light.

You can order the book on Amazon here.

#8

Cloud Cuckoo Land by Anthony Doerr

I, like so many of you, absolutely loved All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr. So I’ve been eager for the release of his latest work, Cloud Cuckoo Land. But honestly, at first, I could not connect with it. I knew there would be a payoff in the end so I stuck with it and once the story took off, I loved it. The main timelines include Constantinople in the fifteenth century, small town in present-day Idaho, and on an interstellar ship decades from now. The thread that ties these timelines together is an ancient text—the story of Author, who longs to be turned into a bird so he can fly to a utopian paradise in the sky. A beautiful story. Here’s the synopsis:

Thirteen-year-old Anna, an orphan, lives inside the formidable walls of Constantinople in a house of women who make their living embroidering the robes of priests. Restless, insatiably curious, Anna learns to read, and in this ancient city, famous for its libraries, she finds a book, the story of Aethon, who longs to be turned into a bird so that he can fly to a utopian paradise in the sky. This she reads to her ailing sister as the walls of the only place she has known are bombarded in the great siege of Constantinople. Outside the walls is Omeir, a village boy, miles from home, conscripted with his beloved oxen into the invading army. His path and Anna’s will cross.

Five hundred years later, in a library in Idaho, octogenarian Zeno, who learned Greek as a prisoner of war, rehearses five children in a play adaptation of Aethon’s story, preserved against all odds through centuries. Tucked among the library shelves is a bomb, planted by a troubled, idealistic teenager, Seymour. This is another siege. And in a not-so-distant future, on the interstellar ship Argos, Konstance is alone in a vault, copying on scraps of sacking the story of Aethon, told to her by her father. She has never set foot on our planet.

You can order the book on Amazon here.

#7

We Were Never Here by Andrea Bartz

So I always look to see what Reese Witherspoon picks for her book club and I was so thrilled when she selected We Were Never Here by Andrea Bartz! I’ve been such a fan of hers since her debut novel, The Lost Night, and I’m so glad she’s getting the recognition she deserves. And I do think We Were Never Here is her best work yet. The story is about two friends who go on a backpacking trip and everything is going perfect—until one of the friends kills a man in self defense. It then follows the friends as they try to bury the trauma but the question keeps coming up—what really happened that night? It’s an exciting and engaging thriller. Here’s the synopsis:

Emily is having the time of her life—she’s in the mountains of Chile with her best friend, Kristen, on their annual reunion trip, and the women are feeling closer than ever. But on the last night of the trip, Emily enters their hotel suite to find blood and broken glass on the floor. Kristen says the cute backpacker she brought back to their room attacked her, and she had no choice but to kill him in self-defense. Even more shocking: The scene is horrifyingly similar to last year’s trip, when another backpacker wound up dead. Emily can’t believe it’s happened again—can lightning really strike twice?

Back home in Wisconsin, Emily struggles to bury her trauma, diving headfirst into a new relationship and throwing herself into work. But when Kristen shows up for a surprise visit, Emily is forced to confront their violent past. The more Kristen tries to keep Emily close, the more Emily questions her motives. As Emily feels the walls closing in on their cover-ups, she must reckon with the truth about her closest friend. Can Emily outrun the secrets she shares with Kristen, or will they destroy her relationship, her freedom—even her life?

You can order the book on Amazon here.

#6

The Kindest Lie by Nancy Johnson

The Kindest Lie by Nancy Johnson is one of those books that will stick with you long after you finish it. Ruth is an engaging protagonist with a complicated past. On paper she has it all: successful career and a loving husband. But she can never shake the guilt over giving up her baby she had when she was a teenager. It’s time for her to find a way to move on and to do that, she needs to go back to her small hometown to face her past. While back at her hometown, she unexpectedly befriends a young white boy who is also adrift and looking for connection. This is an interesting story about race, motherhood and facing one’s past. Here’s the synopsis:

It’s 2008, and the inauguration of President Barack Obama ushers in a new kind of hope. In Chicago, Ruth Tuttle, an Ivy-League educated Black engineer, is married to a kind and successful man. He’s eager to start a family, but Ruth is uncertain. She has never gotten over the baby she gave birth to—and was forced to leave behind—when she was a teenager. She had promised her family she’d never look back, but Ruth knows that to move forward, she must make peace with the past.

Returning home, Ruth discovers the Indiana factory town of her youth is plagued by unemployment, racism, and despair. As she begins digging into the past, she unexpectedly befriends Midnight, a young white boy who is also adrift and looking for connection. Just as Ruth is about to uncover a burning secret her family desperately wants to keep hidden, a traumatic incident strains the town’s already searing racial tensions, sending Ruth and Midnight on a collision course that could upend both their lives.

Powerful and revealing, The Kindest Lie captures the heartbreaking divide between Black and white communities and offers both an unflinching view of motherhood in contemporary America and the never-ending quest to achieve the American Dream.

You can order the book on Amazon here.

#5

The Guncle by Steven Rowley

Steven Rowley’s novel are full of heart and humor and I promise it’s not a cliche. I find myself laughing at loud at one page and wanting to grab for tissues on the next. The Guncle refers to Patrick, also known as Gay Uncle Patrick (GUP), a famous actor who stepped away from the spotlight. Tragedy strikes his family—his sister-in-law passes away from cancer and his brother is dealing with a health crisis. Patrick is then asked to take in his niece and nephew for the summer. While he expects to teach the kids a bunch of fun lessons, he learns so much about love and family as well. This book is truly a joy to read. Here’s the synopsis:

Patrick, or Gay Uncle Patrick (GUP, for short), has always loved his niece, Maisie, and nephew, Grant. That is, he loves spending time with them when they come out to Palm Springs for weeklong visits, or when he heads home to Connecticut for the holidays. But in terms of caretaking and relating to two children, no matter how adorable, Patrick is, honestly, overwhelmed. 

So when tragedy strikes and Maisie and Grant lose their mother and Patrick’s brother has a health crisis of his own, Patrick finds himself suddenly taking on the role of primary guardian. Despite having a set of “Guncle Rules” ready to go, Patrick has no idea what to expect, having spent years barely holding on after the loss of his great love, a somewhat-stalled acting career, and a lifestyle not-so-suited to a six- and a nine-year-old. Quickly realizing that parenting–even if temporary–isn’t solved with treats and jokes, Patrick’s eyes are opened to a new sense of responsibility, and the realization that, sometimes, even being larger than life means you’re unfailingly human. 

With the humor and heart we’ve come to expect from bestselling author Steven Rowley, The Guncle is a moving tribute to the power of love, patience, and family in even the most trying of times.

You can order the book on Amazon here.

#4

We Are Not Like Them by Christine Pride and Jo Piazza

Another standout read is We Are Not Like Them by Christine Pride and Jo Piazza. It follows two lifelong best friends, Riley, a Black female reporter and Jen, a white pregnant wife of a police officer. The opening starts off in such a heartbreaking place as a Black teenager is shot by two police officers, one of which is Jen’s husband. Everything changes between the friends as the two have to grapple with their different perspectives and realize how much has been left unsaid. It’s not an easy read but it’s an important one. Here’s the synopsis:

Jen and Riley have been best friends since kindergarten. As adults, they remain as close as sisters, though their lives have taken different directions. Jen married young, and after years of trying, is finally pregnant. Riley pursued her childhood dream of becoming a television journalist and is poised to become one of the first Black female anchors of the top news channel in their hometown of Philadelphia.

But the deep bond they share is severely tested when Jen’s husband, a city police officer, is involved in the shooting of an unarmed Black teenager. Six months pregnant, Jen is in freefall as her future, her husband’s freedom, and her friendship with Riley are thrown into uncertainty. Covering this career-making story, Riley wrestles with the implications of this tragic incident for her Black community, her ambitions, and her relationship with her lifelong friend.

Like Tayari Jones’s An American Marriage and Jodi Picoult’s Small Great ThingsWe Are Not Like Them explores complex questions of race and how they pervade and shape our most intimate spaces in a deeply divided world. But at its heart, it’s a story of enduring friendship—a love that defies the odds even as it faces its most difficult challenges.

You can order the book on Amazon here.

#3

Wish You Were Here by Jodi Picoult

Wish You Were Here by Jodi Picoult takes place in March 2020, making it the first mainstream book that features the pandemic front and center. I thought Jodi did such a fantastic job with handling the subject matter and the story is so engaging. Diana believes she has her life figured out, however, everything changes when there are documented cases of covid in NYC. Her boyfriend is called to the hospital but he still encourages her to go on their nonrefundable trip to the Galápagos. I keep these spoiler-free but I will say, this one goes in such an unexpected direction that my jaw literally dropped. Here’s the synopsis:

Diana O’Toole is perfectly on track. She will be married by thirty, done having kids by thirty-five, and move out to the New York City suburbs, all while climbing the professional ladder in the cutthroat art auction world. She’s an associate specialist at Sotheby’s now, but her boss has hinted at a promotion if she can close a deal with a high-profile client. She’s not engaged just yet, but she knows her boyfriend, Finn, a surgical resident, is about to propose on their romantic getaway to the Galápagos—days before her thirtieth birthday. Right on time.

But then a virus that felt worlds away has appeared in the city, and on the eve of their departure, Finn breaks the news: It’s all hands on deck at the hospital. He has to stay behind. You should still go, he assures her, since it would be a shame for all of their nonrefundable trip to go to waste. And so, reluctantly, she goes.

Almost immediately, Diana’s dream vacation goes awry. Her luggage is lost, the Wi-Fi is nearly nonexistent, and the hotel they’d booked is shut down due to the pandemic. In fact, the whole island is now under quarantine, and she is stranded until the borders reopen. Completely isolated, she must venture beyond her comfort zone. Slowly, she carves out a connection with a local family when a teenager with a secret opens up to Diana, despite her father’s suspicion of outsiders.

In the Galápagos Islands, where Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection was formed, Diana finds herself examining her relationships, her choices, and herself—and wondering if when she goes home, she too will have evolved into someone completely different.

You can order the book on Amazon here.

#2

Malibu Rising by Taylor Jenkins Reid

Taylor Jenkins Reid is another one of my favorite authors—I love everything she writes. It’s not easy to follow the huge success of Daisy Jones & the Six but Malibu Rising is also very well done. While the book is a bestseller, I feel like it didn’t get as much attention as her previous ones but I think it’s right up there with Daisy and also The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo. It might seem superficial at first—following four famous siblings who throw an epic party. But it’s really focuses on the different dynamics between the siblings and their relationship with the parents. It’s quite emotional in many scenes. Here’s the synopsis:

Malibu: August 1983. It’s the day of Nina Riva’s annual end-of-summer party, and anticipation is at a fever pitch. Everyone wants to be around the famous Rivas: Nina, the talented surfer and supermodel; brothers Jay and Hud, one a championship surfer, the other a renowned photographer; and their adored baby sister, Kit. Together the siblings are a source of fascination in Malibu and the world over—especially as the offspring of the legendary singer Mick Riva.

The only person not looking forward to the party of the year is Nina herself, who never wanted to be the center of attention, and who has also just been very publicly abandoned by her pro tennis player husband. Oh, and maybe Hud—because it is long past time for him to confess something to the brother from whom he’s been inseparable since birth.

Jay, on the other hand, is counting the minutes until nightfall, when the girl he can’t stop thinking about promised she’ll be there.

And Kit has a couple secrets of her own—including a guest she invited without consulting anyone.

By midnight the party will be completely out of control. By morning, the Riva mansion will have gone up in flames. But before that first spark in the early hours before dawn, the alcohol will flow, the music will play, and the loves and secrets that shaped this family’s generations will all come rising to the surface.

You can order the book on Amazon here.

#1

The Four Winds by Kristin Hannah

This is my top spot, best book of the year. Kristin Hannah is one of my favorite authors and I just absolutely loved The Four Winds. The story is set during the Dust Bowl era, which is something I have a keen interest in as I’m originally from Oklahoma and now live in California. The story is beautiful, heart wrenching and impactful. We follow the main character Elsa who eventually leaves the family land behind to go West in search of a better life for her children. You all have to read it. Here’s the synopsis:

Texas, 1921. A time of abundance. The Great War is over, the bounty of the land is plentiful, and America is on the brink of a new and optimistic era. But for Elsa Wolcott, deemed too old to marry in a time when marriage is a woman’s only option, the future seems bleak. Until the night she meets Rafe Martinelli and decides to change the direction of her life. With her reputation in ruin, there is only one respectable choice: marriage to a man she barely knows.

By 1934, the world has changed; millions are out of work and drought has devastated the Great Plains. Farmers are fighting to keep their land and their livelihoods as crops fail and water dries up and the earth cracks open. Dust storms roll relentlessly across the plains. Everything on the Martinelli farm is dying, including Elsa’s tenuous marriage; each day is a desperate battle against nature and a fight to keep her children alive.

In this uncertain and perilous time, Elsa—like so many of her neighbors—must make an agonizing choice: fight for the land she loves or leave it behind and go west, to California, in search of a better life for her family.

You can order the book on Amazon here.

Let me know what is your favorite book of 2021!

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