Monday, December 6, 2021

Best Books of 2021

Next year, I don't think I'll be reading for any awards, so I can say WAY more about literature for young people, but this year I am still in awe of the YA novel Gravity (2020) by Sarah Deming. It was a book I heard about at ALAN back when that was a face-to-face thing, but never actually ran across until later, but it was a stunner.

Actually, most of the protagonists I have been reading about in 2021 have been older...

Over That Hill

I was surprised to find Caroline B. Cooney had some new books out with some very grown-up themes but all her predictable twists and turns. I highly recommend Before She was Helen (2020) by Caroline B. Cooney and The Grandmother Plot (2021) by Caroline B. Cooney was a treat as well.

If you want to push your spunky old ladies a bit further afield, I recommend the always-underestimated Maude who appeared first in An Elderly Lady is Up to No Good (2018) by Helene Tursten and reappears in An Elderly Lady Must Not Be Crossed (2021) by Helene Tursten -- so good that I preordered. Life changing! 

If you are of an anxious bent, The Ditch (2019) by Herman Koch will hit you right in the suspicions. Bonus: great Amsterdam scene-setting. Oh, to travel again!


While it skewed a bit pedestrian,  The Party Upstairs (2021) by Lee Connell has stuck with me all year -- I keep thinking about other people's right to trash coming before my own. Applicable in this pandemic and this economy for sure.

Set in a very James M. Cain-esque midcentury America, More Better Deals (2021) by Joe R. Lansdale is remarkable is scene-setting, brutality, and character development.

As in 2019, I am still all about Louise Candlish -- see The Heights coming out in 2022 -- but I have never seen set-ups quite like The Double Life of Anna Day (2006) by Louise Candlish (totally wild self-recreation in the shadow of the Alhambra) and the bystander-savior falling in love with the possibly homicidal teen mom in The Day You Saved My Life (2013) by Louise Candlish.

Want to know how booksellers make Amazon work for them? Some Books Aren't for Reading (2019) by Howard Marc Chesley gives you some insight, and a little intrigue.


Hungry: A Memoir of Wanting More (2020) by Grace Dent. Dent is one of my absolute favorite writers, and this is about the midlife crunch as much as it is about food and ambition.

Crying in H Mart: A Memoir (2021) by Michelle Zauner. I don't know the band, and don't even really like Korean food, but the author's complicated relationship with her mother is relatable and will make you cry. 

The Empathy Diaries: A Memoir (2011) by Sherry Turkle. Turkle herself is an interesting as her theories, especially when she writes about MIT and Seymour Papert.


We Keep the Dead Close: A Murder at Harvard and A Half-Century of Silence (2020) by Becky Cooper More academia, and more stories not ending the way you wanted them to.

For real life and its ghosts, writing doesn't get more vibrant than The Lost Pianos of Siberia (2021) by Sophy Roberts, which weaves music and mystery and geography in a fascinating way.

Again, Hallie Rubenhold manages to address all of this hidden, female history and I especially enjoyed the broadsheet coverage of the trial she includes in The Lady in Red : an Eighteenth-Century Tale of Sex, Scandal, and Divorce (2008) by Hallie Rubenhold.

Paperbacks from Hell: The Twisted Story of '80s and '80s Horror Fiction (2017) by Grady Hendrix made me want to reach down into the backlist. Frankly. I am looking forward to spending a lot of this holiday break reading some solid old stuff -- I have dipped into Phyllis A. Whitney, Mary Stewart, and Dorothy Sayers all recently. Book history for real....

Twelve more years of best books:

Best Books of 2020