It’s the end of the year (where did the time go??), and there’s been a lot of really great books published in 2021! My list is of course very science fiction and fantasy heavy, but what can I say? I’m a lady who likes spaceships and unicorns.
Without further ado, here is my top ten of 2021 – click any of the book covers below to be taken to our catalog, where you can request a copy of the book with your library card number and PIN.
And last but not least, my favorite book of 2021:
Time travelling alternate history queer love story – plus naval battles and the Napoleonic Wars… what’s not to love? You can read my review of this excellent novel here. You can also find all of these titles by searching in our digital library.
Well, that’s a wrap on 2021 for me. Be sure to check out the top ten lists of other staff members this week!
The Night She Disappeared by Lisa Jewell Her daughter heads to a party and never returns, leaving her one year old behind. Did she run?
The Devil and the Dark Water by Stuart Turton A locked-door mystery aboard a merchant vessel. A sort of Pirates of the Caribbean meet Sherlock Holmes affair…
The Viper by Christobel Kent A lovely series taking place in Florence with an aging detective , Sandro Cellini, working as a PI. You will fall in love with the characters and the scenery.
Never Saw Me Coming by Vera Kurian A YA-style read that answers the question, what would happen if you brought a group of psychopaths to a college campus to study them?
The 22 Murders of Madison May by Max Barry A fun time travel murder mystery–well, fun for everyone except Madison May.
The Long Call by Ann Cleeves A new series by the UK’s queen of crime. Beautiful but bleak settings, genuine and dedicated characters- a lovely addition to the Ann Cleeves universe.
Northern Spy by Flynn Berry Tessa’s non-political, hometown sister, Marian, is caught on video blowing up a gas station in Northern Ireland with members of the IRA. The police think she’s a member, Tessa thinks she’s been kidnapped.
The Burning Girls by C.J. Tudor A single mother takes a job as a vicar in a small village. Of course she must find out where the bodies are buried. Not a cozy mystery.
The Once and Future Witches by Alix Harrow Women gathering together, casting spells during the turbulent time of the suffragettes- they will help women find their power by any means necessary.
Ghosts of Harvard by Francesca Serritella Cady Archer attends Harvard the year after her older brother committed suicide, hoping to understand his death. I’m pretty sure I remember something creepy happens.
The Children’s Blizzard by Melanie Benjamin
Consequences of Fear by Jacqueline Winspear
Dear Miss Kopp by Amy Stewart
The Kitchen Front by Jennifer Ryan
Leonard and Hungry Paul by Ronan Hession
The Mystery of Mrs. Christie by Marie Benedict
The Operator by Gretchen Berg
The Paris Library by Janet Skeslien Charles
The Rose Code by Kate Quinn
Three Sisters by Heather Morris
The Woman with the Blue Star by Pam Jenoff
Beowulf: A New Translation by Maria Dahvana Headley– An iconic work of early English literature is updated in Headley’s feminist adaptation, bringing to light elements never before translated into English.
A Hawk in the Woods by Carrie Laben– A suspenseful, dark tale of family trauma, abuse of power, and the bonds of sisterhood that centers on supernaturally gifted twins Abby and Martha Waite and follows Abby’s choices after she discovers she has been diagnosed with late stage melanoma.
The Push by Ashley Audrain– A tense, page-turning psychological drama about the making and breaking of a family and one woman’s deeply affecting and difficult story of motherhood, womanhood, grief, and guilt.
Build Your House Around My Body by Violet Kupersmith– Haunting and inspired, this novel looks at the stories of three women in Vietnam, weaving together Vietnamese folklore and themes of national and racial identity, women’s bodies and their burden, and sweet revenge.
Things Have Gotten Worse Since We Last Spoke by Eric LaRocca– A standout novella featuring an interesting combination of atypical structure, beautiful writing, and body horror about two women who meet in a queer chat room. This book, and the ending in particular, will keep you thinking long after you finish this short work.
Love and Fury: A Novel of Mary Wollstonecraft by Samantha Silva– An amazingly well-crafted and beautiful historical fiction novel of Mary Wollstonecraft – arguably the world’s first feminist and one of the world’s most influential thinkers. Inspiring and enlightening.
Betty by Tiffany McDaniel– Perhaps my most favorite book of the year, this heartbreaking and remarkable novel is inspired by the life of McDaniel’s own mother. Set in rural Ohio during the 50s, readers follow Betty Carpenter, as she endures terrible discrimination, violence, loss, and love in this luminous and often emotionally difficult book.
The Death of Jane Lawrence by Caitlin Starling– A beautifully written gothic romantic thriller with a dash of magic and horror. Drawing inspiration from such classics as Bluebeard and working the dangerous bridegroom trope, Starling delivers an engaging and tense tale.
The Chosen and the Beautiful by Nghi Vo– A skillful and fantastical reimagining of The Great Gatsby that reimagines Jordan Baker as a queer Vietnamese immigrant, embellishing upon Fitzgerald’s original plot with commentary on gender, race, and sexuality, set in a magical Jazz Age New York.
Seek You: A Journey Through American Loneliness by Kristen Radtke– A timely and moving meditation on isolation and longing, both as individuals and as a society, delivered in a beautiful graphic novel.
Teen & Middle Grade:
I read some really great books this year. It’s always so hard to pick my absolute favorites, but I did my best to list ten of the (fiction) titles I enjoyed the most below:
Ridgerunner by Gil Adamson
Mary Jane by Jessica Anya Blau
Early Morning Riser by Heiny
Morningside Heights by Joshua Henkin
Featherweight by Mick Kitson
The Man Who Died Twice by Richard Osman
Great Circle by Maggie Shipstead
Harlem Shuffle by Colson Whitehead
Very Sincerely Yours by Kerry Winfrey
We Begin at the End by Chris Whitaker
Hope you find something wonderful to read before the year is out and that you have a safe and happy holiday season!
This has been an unusual year (such an understatement!) and (not shockingly) it’s translated to what I wound up reading this year… (so much insight!) But like every previous year, it was a struggle to decide which books and why. Hopefully you’ll find a new book to try or you’ll have a happy “oh! meeee too!” moment! (Bonus comments in parentheses because you can’t see me doing eyerolls at myself. Enjoy!)
Now let’s get on to the goods, in alphabetical order by author, The Books:
Poppy Redfern and the Midnight Murders by Tessa Arlen
It felt like reading an excellent BBC series: engaging characters, smart mystery, and a great WWII time/place setting. The second book in the series will be out before the end of the year: Poppy Redfern and the Fatal Flyers! (Historical Mystery)
Anxious People by Fredrik Backman
Mr. Backman can write a likable, curmudgeonly character like few can but this book is really more of an ensemble journey and each character has their own quirky personality. The beginning is a little dark but quickly becomes an uplifting story of how individuals can build their own supportive community. (General Fiction)
Recipe for a Perfect Wife by Karma Brown
Just like when you hear about any picture of a perfect wife, husband, or marriage, it becomes clear there is no such thing as perfect. Quiet and thoughtful, suspenseful and satisfying, this book was everything I wanted it to be. (General Fiction)
Ready Player Two by Ernest Cline
I loved Ready Player One and was a little worried the sequel wouldn’t live up to the original, what a waste of a decent worry! All the pop culture references, interesting future-thinking ideas, and plenty of exciting plot twists, this is *chef’s kiss* a delight! Fun extra -the IRL setting is Columbus, Ohio!(General Fiction/Science Fiction)
Weather by Jenny Offill
Odd, quirky, sometimes uncomfortable, and completely engaging. If you’re looking for a book short on pages and long on impact, this might be the one for you! (Literary Fiction)
Bellweather Rhapsody by Kate Racculia
Tuesday Mooney Talks to Ghosts was on my list last year and prompted me to read this older title by the same author. Yep, just as good! It’s a long-game mystery with shades of The Shining suspense. (Mystery)
The Daughters of Erietown by Connie Schultz
The family relationships, the wanting to be a part of something while also needing to be an individual, watching how society’s views on a variety of topics changed with the decades, all made each page of this book a pleasure. If you grew up in a small town, you’ll feel this story that much more deeply. (General Fiction)
Fortune Favors the Dead by Stephen Spotswood
Mix a little Thin Man, Nick and Nora, with a little Mickey Spillane, add a female Sherlock Holmes and Watson, put World War II espionage into the background, and you’ll get close to understanding why you want to read this next. It’s a debut and I’m typing this with my fingers crossed that the second book will be coming soon! (Historical Mystery)
Mr. Nobody by Catherine Steadman
This author consistently connects her characters and action in smart and surprising ways, with conclusions that are unexpected and satisfying. I’ve only listened to the audio versions of Ms. Steadman’s books, and I don’t plan to change that, it’s like hearing a radio drama with all the sound effects a listener could hope for! (Mystery)
Set My Heart to Five by Simon Stephenson
Charming and insightful, this is the story of a “bot” who has a degree of self-awareness that he needs to seek therapy before going on a journey to fulfill his dreams. It’s not a simple journey as he needs to hide his true nature as our society is prejudiced against AI and are as likely to attack him as help him. You might shed a tear or two along the way, but it’s worth it. (General Fiction)
Hench by Natalie Zina Walschots
If you like superhero/supervillain movies or you’ve watched The Boys on Amazon Prime, you will love every page of this book. Anna shows some small but special abilities with numbers but she’s tired of being a contract worker for whichever villain needs temporary help. Offered what seemed to be an easy and high paying gig changed everything, just not for the better. With engaging characters, interesting thoughts on how we think of good vs. evil, and some really clever surprises, this book checked all the boxes for me this year. (General or Science Fiction)
Barnstorming Ohio to Understand America by David Giffels
The 2020 General Election may have cost Ohio our “bellwether state” title but if you want a better understanding of how one state can represent so much of the entire USA, this book is the one to read. The author uses his own travels to different locations and conversations with individuals to make each experience engaging for the reader. (Nonfiction)
Talking to Strangers by Malcolm Gladwell
I’m embarrassed to say this is the first book I’ve read by Mr. Gladwell but this book sent me off on a “what else” deep dive, and now I’m a die-hard fan. I learned so much but reading the book felt more like I was reading a series of short, connected, stories. If you pick this one up, we can talk about how crazy it is that our brain defaults to what we want to believe even when the facts show a different reality. Just, so good!
The Greatest Love Story Ever Told by Megan Mullally and Nick Offerman
Individually, they are funny and the laughs only increase as they tell how they became a couple. I listened to the audio version and highly recommend this option as Megan and Nick are the readers -it starts to feel like you’re in a candid conversation with new friends.
The Darkness Duology: Courting Darkness and Igniting Darkness by Robin LaFevers
The characters and setting are part of the His Fair Assassin series, and it feels like catching up with old friends (who can kick some serious hiney). Sybella must protect her younger sisters from being used as political pawns while also trying to keep the new Queen safe from enemies within the Royal House. The author always provides such strong women as main characters but remembers to give them flaws and quirks so they remain relatable. Ms. LaFevers never disappoints! (Historical Mystery)
Of course, I also think pretty highly of the books I suggested for the RRPL Gift Guide -ya know- and I might be counting those books as part of a bigger list for the year? Anyway… Happy Holidays, with books and snackies, for all!!
- Strange frequencies by Peter Bebergal
- Gay New York by George Chauncey
- From Here to Eternity : Traveling the World to Find the Good Death by Caitlin Doughty
- Team Human by Douglas Rushkoff
- Rust: A Memoir of Steel and Grit by Eliese Colette Goldbach
- Rust Belt Arcana by Matt Stansberry
- The Miracle Habits by Mitch Horowitz
- The Invisibles by Grant Morrison
- Harrow County by Cullen Bunn
- Hellblazer by Various
Here’s one good thing I’ll say about 2020 – at least I had the opportunity to read and enjoy some pretty fantastic books this year! And for that, I am grateful and ready to share.
Here are my top ten of 2020 (along with links to our library’s catalog):
The Searcher by Tana French
Moonflower Murders by Anthony Horowitz
The Exiles by Christina Baker Kline
The Mirror & the Light by Hilary Mantel
Apeirogon by Colum McCann
Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell
The Thursday Murder Club by Richard Osman
The King at the Edge of the World by Arthur Phillips
The Authenticity Project by Claire Pooley
Miss Cecily’s Recipes for Exceptional Ladies by Vicky Zimmerman
And, now, I’m off to make merry and to add my name to waiting lists for all of my coworkers’ favorite books that I haven’t read! Happy Holidays. -Carol