Best Books of 2021

What did you read in 2021 that you L-O-V-E-D?

Here’s my list—in no particular order except for one thing. Four Winds was the best thing I read in 2021.

Four Winds, Kristin Hannah. Talk about a sad, sad book. But I had to read it. I love Kristin Hannah. And I loved to a life-changing level, John Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath. I read this is high school and it changed the way I thought about poor people, the land, and writing in general. If you don’t remember that ending scene, go back and read it. It has stayed in my heart for nearly half a century. In her new book, Hannah brings to life the story of girl no one loved—or that’s the way it often felt to her. But as she urged herself to be brave, she found a family to love, a daughter who learned to love her back—and they endured the Dust Bowl, the injustices of life as an “Okie” and she found her courage and her voice along the way. I think I’ll remember the closing scenes of this book as well as I remember the Joads of Grapes of Wrath.

The Little Bookshop on the Seine, Rebecca Raisin. I didn’t say everything I was going to recommend was published in 2021. They’re just what I read. And I delighted in this charming little book about an American lost in Paris where she goes for a bookshop exchange. She works in Paris while the Paris bookshop owner takes over her bookshop in the States. I found myself constantly curious about how this young woman was going to get herself out of all her troubles.

Phantom’s Apprentice, Heather Webb. One of Heather’s earlier books, Apprentice tells the back story of Phantom of the Opera. If you love Paris, theatre and opera, and the spooky tale of Christine and the phantom, you’re going to want to get wrapped up in this mesmerizing story.

Wild Women and the Blues, Denny S. Bryce. Everybody loves Denny’s debut book. And no wonder. She brings to life the Jazz Age in a dual-timeline novel entwining the story of ambitious Honoree with the research of a 2015 film student looking for a link to a legendary filmmaker. I couldn’t help myself when late in an evening, I turned page after page, dying to know what happened to these great characters.

Remembrance, Rita Woods. Do you ever read a book you don’t want to end? This is one of them. Woods has managed to braid three time lines in a fascinating story. I’m particularly drawn to the story of Winter, a young girl who finds herself in this strange Antebellum place magically protected from slave catchers. I’m still reading this one and I really don’t want it to end.

Bridgerton, Julia Quinn. Yes, I read all eight books, from Anthony to Hyacinth. I was taken by the variety in the stories—they aren’t cookie cutter stories as I expected. And I loved Quinn’s wit throughout the stories. I think you can read them in any order but I started with The Duke and I and read in order through On The Way To the Wedding. They are quick and fun. These—one or all of them— are a must for romance fans.

The Nature of Fragile Things, Susan Meissner. A story about the 1906 earthquake in San Francisco—but really a story of mail order bride so desperate to get out of the tenements of New York she agrees to marry a man she knows nothing about. And that’s the truth. She knows nothing about him. And, oh the secrets he keeps.

A Bridge Across the Ocean, Susan Meissner. A story of European war brides on their trip across the Atlantic to new lives in the U.S. after the Second World War. A second time line brings a modern day character to the now-permanently docked Queen Mary looking for a ghost. It’s so much fun.

Migrations, Charlotte McConaghy. A haunting novel about a woman’s determination to follow the last Arctic terns in the world, no matter the cost. And the costs are enormous. This was a difficult book for me but one that has stayed with me.

The Dutch House, Ann Patchett. Actually, Tom Hanks read this to me in an audio book in the closing days of 2020. Houses can have quite an effect on a family and this Philadelphia dream house turns out to be something unexpected for Danny, who narrates the story, and his sister Maeve. It’s a meandering story that requires a reader to enter in, take off your coat and enjoy time spent with this unusual family.

It wasn’t until I wrote my list down that I realized every book was written by a woman. I did read books by men—but these were my favorites for the year. They took me away from covid and other troubles. They made me feel strongly about strong characters. They took me to new places and old places, places I’d never see if not for these authors.

Thank you all for writing them.

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