You know how a really great book just sort of … ruins you for others? We’re talking a novel so engrossing, so ingenious, so thought-provoking that you can’t help but feel saddled by that unmistakable book hangover after you’ve closed the last page? These reads inspire the push/pull we live for as readers: too good to put down, but too bittersweet to finish.
I was fortunate to discover several new favorites in 2021 — year of the continuing pandemic. As we all sought escape in different ways, I binge-read into the wee hours or sank into the couch while my kids got lost in Minecraft. After getting very into memoirs in recent years, the vast majority of my books read this year were fiction — and only one non-fic read made my top five this year.
Probably not a ton of surprises in this grouping, but here they are: the best o’ the best in what I happily enjoyed in 2021, in no particular order!
Tia Williams’ Seven Days in June (2021) is as thought-provoking as it is drool-worthy. This story of two successful writers reconnecting after a tumultuous teen romance was riveting. I absolutely loved Eva’s character — strong and flawed … in other words, human. And Shane is a hero truly worthy of the moniker. Williams created a heart-stopping world in which two people revisit the past in order to determine if there is a path for them in the future. As a writer and all-around book nerd myself, I really enjoyed the depictions of Eva’s vampire fic fandom and the crossover of how both leads are processing their past through their writing. Listened to this one on audio, and the production was excellent. Part of me still expects to bump into Williams’ characters on the street — less far-fetched given that part of the plot is set in Washington, D.C. The local flavor for this Marylander was the icing on top.
Emily Henry’s People We Meet on Vacation (2021) needs no introduction from the likes of me, but I found the heaps of praise totally justified. When done well, the friends-to-lovers slow build is so satisfying. And this book? Satisfying. For sure. Couldn’t stop reading until I knew how their feelings would eventually bubble up to the surface, and whew — steamy. Then passed along my copy to relatives, friends, coworkers … everyone, basically. It’s still floating around in Southern Maryland. I’ll eventually try to get it back — it’s one of the few books I could actually see myself re-reading.
Hilarie Burton Morgan’s The Rural Diaries: Love, Livestock, and Big Life Lessons Down on Mischief Farm (2020) was an impulse buy that made me grateful I have zero self-control in Target. I knew little about Hilarie beyond her early fame on “One Tree Hill,” but the cover spoke to me. This book was just fresh. I loved her honesty on universal topics like family, love and marriage — and less relatable (but fascinating!) musings on fame. Its setting in Rhinebeck, New York evoked such a strong sense of place that I found myself idly browsing AirBnBs so I could camp out near Samuel’s Sweet Shop. A tender, memorable memoir that will, I think, make an especially strong impression on mothers. Hilarie just gets it.
Taylor Jenkins Reid’s Malibu Rising (2021) is a whole mood. This family saga manages to be both epic in scope and uniquely and memorably detailed. Reid doesn’t waste a word. I listened to the story on audio and appreciated the narrator’s impressive ability to coax separate intonations from each character, particularly brothers Hud and Jay. And like the incredible Daisy Jones & the Six, Malibu Rising found me again wanting to google Reid’s characters, so convinced was I that the Riva siblings were all actually surfing away their afternoon out there along the California coast. A must-read from a must-read author.
Finally, coming off the heels of my late “Hamilton” obsession, Stephanie Dray and Laura Kamoie’s My Dear Hamilton (2018) started my reading year off with a bang. Eliza Hamilton, wife of Alexander, is the heroine of a story that follows her from general’s daughter to new bride to mother to famous widow, with passion and devotion and loss running deeply through the narrative. I loved the examinations of early America alongside the stirring romance between Alexander and Eliza. Very engrossing and wonderfully written.
Looking forward to more up-until-2-a.m. reading moments in 2022!
What were your favorite reads this year?
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