It’s that time of year again. These are the books that I liked the best this year. This is my very subjective, very personal list. I loved a lot of books this year; I mostly read romances and romcoms, and those books tend to keep me happy. But to be honest, I forget a lot of them as soon as I’ve moved on to the next. So the ones that stay with me are the ones that end up on my annual list. I’ve read over 300 books this year so had plenty to choose from. It’s in no particular order, other than loosely by genre.
I hope you find this list useful and interesting.
Best historical fiction: THE FOUR WINDS by Kristin Hannah: This was one of the darkest, most depressing book I’ve read in many, many years. And you know what? It was great. I think the NY Times review summed it up beautifully: “The Four Winds seems eerily prescient in 2021 . . . Its message is galvanizing and hopeful: We are a nation of scrappy survivors. We’ve been in dire straits before; we will be again. Hold your people close.” Set during the Dust Bowl in the 1920’s, this is history brought powerfully to life. This glimpse into a period of American history is soulful and disturbing and beautifully illustrates the American people’s resilience. Don’t miss it. Read the full review.
Best Holocaust fiction: Eternal by Lisa Scottoline: I have read many books set during the Holocaust, or around it, but this book was different. Many years ago I visited the Temple in Rome, and saw the Jewish ghetto, but this book brought it to life. I got to know the people and how they lived. Most importantly, Scottoline captures this very specific slice of Italian history but in a very personal way. Difficult at times but always engrossing, this is an excellent read. Historical fiction about WWII abounds, but this was a fresh new angle. Scottoline told me this was the book she has always wanted to write, and that it took her twenty years to get here. It was worth the wait. Read the full review.
NOTE: This was a favorite of Paul Lane, who reviewed for this site for many years until we lost him earlier this year. He said, “My recommendation for any reader is to read this novel and possibly make the same determination as I did, which is that it is a classic.” I think he would have included it on his list of favorites, had he the time to make one. I wanted his voice heard here; he deserves it.
Best historical women’s fiction: THE KITCHEN FRONT by Jennifer Ryan: This book is a heartwarming story about four women living in a small village a couple of years into World War II who end up competing in a cooking contest put on by the BBC (the forerunner of the Great British Bakeoff!) There was a real radio program called The Kitchen Front whose goal is to help the housewives who are all struggling with rations, severe food shortages, and black market food. Eventually, these women form friendships and as the war goes on, they find struggling together is much better than struggling alone. The food history (and recipes) are fascinating, even if I wouldn’t make any of them. This was a different look at WWII from the perspective of England’s housewives, and a very interesting, compelling read. Read the full review.
Best coming of age: THE SINGING TREES by Boo Walker: Boo Walker’s beautifully written coming of age story (after An Unfinished Story) is set against the backdrop of the unpopular Vietnam War. It is ideal for book discussion groups and should appeal to readers who enjoyed Daisy Jones & the Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid, Dance Away with Me by Susan Elizabeth Phillips, or the emotional resonance of Nicholas Sparks’ books. Read the full review.
Best time travel/family fiction: THE NINE LIVES OF ROSE NAPOLITANO by Donna Freitas: Freitas debuts an extraordinary, multi-faceted novel for adults that is a serious yet fantastical look at relationships, family, and feminism told in a unique voice, and book groups should take note. The closest readalikes are Life After Life by Kate Atkinson and Replay by Ken Grimwood, two books that I loved as much as this one. Read the full review.
Best crime fiction: THE DARK HOURS by Michael Connelly: This latest from America’s best crime fiction writer is truly extraordinary. There is a lot going on in this book, yet it moves fast. I love seeing these characters grow and evolve. The writing is perfect; descriptive enough without ever going too far and it never slows up. Publisher’s Weekly called this book a masterpiece, and I agree. You don’t have to read the series in order or anything, this book definitely stands alone, but there is so much more richness, more depth to it, when you are familiar with the past. Either way, don’t miss it. Read the full review.
Best thriller: HER PERFECT LIFE by Hank Phillippi Ryan: I love that strong women were at the heart of this story, have to solve the mystery of Cassie’s disappearance, who the source really is, and why he’s doing what he’s doing. And they kick ass! The suspense kept spiraling up throughout this novel, making it impossible to put down. Ryan is at the top of her game, and that’s really saying something as she’s written so many great books. Read the full review.
Best romantic suspense: NO HOLDING BACK by Lori Foster: I’m glad I got to start this series with the first book because it is a complicated and worthwhile story. The McKenzie family business is vigilantism. This is a fast read with a lot of suspense and steamy love scenes, and some violence. I can’t wait for the next book in this series. This is romantic suspense at its best. Read the full review.
Best rom-com/murder mystery mashup: DIAL A FOR AUNTIES by Jesse Q. Sutanto: Part mystery, part romance, part family drama, but mostly laugh-out-loud funny, this book hits it out of the park. And I’m super excited that Netflix is on board. Lots of over the top situations and slapstick humor, and it really works here. This book had me laughing out oud several times, and I I enjoyed every page. Honestly, it reminded me of the first few Stephanie Plum (Janet Evanovich) books only with a happy ending, and that is high praise! I also really liked learning about Chinese/Indonesian culture. Read the full review.
Best book set in the book world: THE LAST CHANCE LIBRARY by Freya Sampson: This book is a love letter to libraries and librarian; let me add my voice to the chorus. There is a lot of humor here, along a touch of romance. I loved that this is a look at the importance of libraries in a community, beyond the bookshelves. I loved this book and wish everyone would read it! Read the full review.
Best “own voices” romance: THE HEART PRINCIPLE by Helen Hoang: This is the latest entry into one of the best contemporary romance series. While there are three books in the series, I think that each stands alone. Caretaking is a big issue in this story. In fact, the book is divided into three sections; before, during, and after [the stroke.] These characters wormed their way into my heart and there they stay, especially after reading the author’s note. I loved this book so much – I think it is the best book of an already excellent series, and everyone should read it. This is a wonderful romance with lots of humor, pathos, and hot sex, but it is the emotional journey that means everything here. It was worth the two year wait! Read the full review.
Best steamy romcom: THE TAKEOVER by T L Swan: This is my favorite book of the series. The sex is steamy as in all the books in this series, but it’s the humor that really made this special. Single moms will appreciate how protective Claire is of her children, and will swoon at Tristan’s relationship with her boys. These books all stand alone so if you want to try one, I highly recommend this book; it is equal parts super sexy, heartwarming, & hilarious! I loved it. Read the full review.
Best sports romance: MOST VALUABLE PLAYBOY by Lauren Blakely: This was a terrific read, fast and sexy and fun, especially if you like football – and I do. There is also some sweetness here, which I really appreciated, along with some laugh out loud moments and some very steamy sex. Lauren Blakely is self published, which I often have issues with, but she is a pro. Her books are reliably well edited, and I highly recommend! Read the full review.
Best Christmas romance: THE SANTA SUIT by Mary Kay Andrews: As readers of this blog know, I love Mary Kay Andrews, and I was so excited to see she has written a holiday romance! It has her all of her trademark humor, love of kitsch and everything vintage, and terrific characters I wanted to hang out with. If you are looking for a way to get in the holiday mood, this is a great start. It’s a novella, so pretty short and fast reading (I wish it were longer!) It’s heart warming, sweet, and fun – all the good stuff I look for in a Christmas book. Read the full review.
Best “enemies to lovers” romance: BATTLE ROYAL by Lucy Parker: This is the perfect amalgam of romcom and British Bakeoff; no wonder it garnered starred reviews all around. It’s also the classic enemies to lovers trope of romance, and done really well. This was a really fun read with a lot of emotional resonance. Romcoms don’t get much better than this! Don’t miss it. Read the full review.
Best updated Jane Austen: INCENSE AND SENSIBILITY by Sonali Dev: I read all three books in this series in a week, and frankly, that says a lot. I loved spending time with the Rajes, and while each book stands alone, I think they are best read in order. This is Yash’s and India’s story. One of the reviews of this book that I read described it as “West Wing meets Jane Austen” and while that is quite a stretch, the politics are an important part of the story. It seems hopeless that Yash and India will ever be able to get together, but have no fear, they get their happy ending. Read the full review.
Best Regency romance: THE DUKE GOES DOWN by Sophie Jordan: Assume the title of this book is double entendre; this was a steamy historical romance with terrific characters who come to life on the page. I have enjoyed Jordan’s previous series, and this looks to be another winner. Read the full review.
Best Alaska romance: ENJOY THE VIEW by Sarah Morgenthaler: Moose Springs, Alaska, Book 3. This is one of my favorite series so I was very happy that this third entry was just as good as the first two. Alaska is one of my favorite settings, and small towns are always a good thing for me. But sometimes you have to bring in outsiders to make a romance, and that’s what happens here. There are some really funny, laugh out loud moments, and some dangerous ones, too, making this a book that is hard to put down. I loved the characters and the setting and the romance, a perfect trifecta of a read. Read the full review.
Best foodie romance: THE KINDRED SPIRITS SUPPER CLUB by Amy E. Reichert: I loved this book even though it has a touch of the woo-woo paranormal, which I normally avoid. All of Reichert’s books tend to focus on food, which probably explains why I enjoy them so much! I hated to turn the last page. I wanted to spend more time in the Dells, especially with these fabulous characters. Another winner from one of my favorite authors. Read the full review.
Best beach read: GOLDEN GIRL by Elin Hilderbrand: If you like family drama with a touch of romance and an edge, this ticks off all those boxes. Another excellent read from the Nantucket Queen of beach reads, and this may be her best book yet which is really saying something! Read the full review.
Best nonfiction: MY TIME AMONG THE WHITES by Jennine Capó Crucet: Notes from an Unfinished Education. Struggle is at the heart of this memoir, a collection of essays, and is remarkable reading. What drew me to this book was the immigrant experience being told first hand. Crucet is Latinx, a light-skinned brown person who often passes as white, living in a country where the last president called Mexicans rapists and murderers. It is a worthwhile read, especially now when right-wing racist groups have gained national attention. It is sometimes painful reading, sometimes funny, but always engaging, making this a difficult but excellent read. Read the full review.