My Favorite Novels of 2021

I read forty-two works of fiction in 2021; forty were new and two were re-reads. (I also read ten novels as a PW reviewer, but none of those are included in this roundup.) For the second year in a row, I’ve read considerably fewer novels than in pre-Covid years. It’s hard to tell if this is only because of Covid. I also spent the last two-plus years writing two books, which occupied a lot of my attention.

Woman Reading Book Paintings | Fine Art America
Painting by Charles Edward Perugini

Fortunately, as in past years, I read many good books. I know that a “Top Ten” is standard for “Best of” lists, but I had to stretch to eleven for 2021. And a reminder, this list is for the books I read in 2021, but not all the books were necessarily published that year.

Here they are, in no particular order:

1. The Final Revival of Opal & Nev by Dawnie Walton

I’m not sure what I expected when I started this novel, but it certainly exceeded every expectation I had about the story.

2. Shuggie Bain by Douglas Stuart. I put off reading this for awhile, and while I was reading it I had to set it aside for days at a time because of the subject matter. But it really is a beautiful book.

3. We Begin at the End by Chris Whitaker. I picked it up on a whim from the New Books shelf at the public library and had a hard time putting it down. Wonderful characters and a great structure.

4. Of Women and Salt by Gabriela Garcia. A fabulous generational story about Cuban women.

5. House of the Patriarch by Barbara Hambly. I read a lot of mystery series, and historical ones are my favorite. (Jacqueline Winspear’s newest addition to her Maisie Dobbs series was also one of my favorite reads of 2021.) Hambly’s Benjamin January is one of the genre’s most unforgettable characters.

6. The Office of Historical Corrections by Danielle Evans. Inventive and stunning.

7. A Girl is a Body of Water by Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi. A riveting drama of a teenage girl who longs to know her mother.

8. Yellow Wife by Sadeqa Johnson. This is a sensitive exploration of the kinds of realities faced by enslaved women in the antebellum South.

9. Annie and the Wolves by Andromeda Romano-Lax. I can’t resist reading about characters who are academics. It has a time-travel twist.

10. Outlawed by Anna North. This alternate history of the American West contains one of my favorite opening lines: “In the year of our Lord 1894, I became an outlaw.”

11. Build Your House Around My Body by Violet Kupersmith.

Wow! There’s time-travel here, too, as well as some ghosts. Totally different from what I usually read but I couldn’t stop reading it.

My 2022 reading is still very new, but I’ve started the year with two stunners. One I began late last month and didn’t want to rush through it to finish before the end of the year. I know both will be on my “Best of 2022” list, so stay tuned until next January for that!

Up next, reflections on my 2021 nonfiction reading. Then some other new stuff, especially about my forthcoming book, Queen of the West: The Life and Times of Dale Evans.

Happy New Year everyone.