Last week, I shared the first part of this list, my favorite books of 2021. Again, this list is purely subjective and may not properly highlight many of your favorite or popular releases over the past year. Though there were a ton of amazing novels released over 2021, this list is simply the ones that stuck out to me and my personal tastes.
Also, by clicking on either the book title or the cover image with each listing, you will be taken to each one's bookshop.org listing. Bookshop.org is an online bookstore with a mission to financially support local and independent bookstores like Burrowing Owl. They also have an affiliate program which pays affiliates (like me!) 10% commission on any book sale made through the site.
Also, also: I ran a contest over on Facebook for a signed, rare copy of The Unwinding Cable Car as well as some extra goodies. And the winner is...after the list.
5. The Price of Silence by Rick Treon
Rick released two novels this year, but this sequel to Let the Guilty Pay, which was one of my favorite books of 2020, was the one to make this list just because I was impatiently waiting for him to finally release it. The Price of Silence follows our protagonist/antihero from LtGP, “true”-crime writer (if you’ve not read either book, you need to in order to understand why true is in quotations) Bartholomew Beck after the events of that first novel where he had to clear his name in a recent murder case — a murder case that, incidentally, mirrors one from two decades ago. The same murder case that he wrote about and made him a literary star. Also, Beck may not be telling the truth about a lot of things. It makes the character both incredibly frustrating and so compelling. You want to continue reading to see how he weasels his way out of these situations. Beck, though the protagonist, though the main character, is not a good guy. But that’s what makes Treon’s books such page-turners. There’s a reason he’s an award-winner, and The Price of Silence is a top-notch crime thriller.
Okay, technically this one doesn’t come out til 2022, but Abby sent me an early review copy, which I devoured in about forty-eight hours.
At this point, the bar is set so high you almost have to wonder if Abby — coming off her New York Times bestseller Life's Too Short — can continue the upward trajectory. If perhaps she'll run out of gas.
But, no. If anything, Abby proves with Part of Your World that there is no ceiling when it comes to her work. That her stories transcend typical rom-coms to something universally understood about life, love and the happy-ever-after — that real life is dirty, messy, shaped by our choices.
In Part of Your World, we get to meet sweet small-town Daniel, the twenty-eight-year-old "mayor" of Wakan, a tourist town that all but shuts down in the offseason. He helps everyone around him without expecting anything in return because that's how things are done in Wakan, and that's how things have been done in his family for five generations.
We also are introduced to Alexis, successful in her own right, though she may never live up to the renown of her name. The Montgomerys have been world-renowned doctors for generations, and she and her brother were both molded to continue the tradition.
It's with these two characters and their meeting that we get this other-side-of-the-tracks romance. Daniel and Alexis come from completely different worlds, but they find a comfort and a peace in each other.
It's an HEA, so you know how it turns out, but I think this is the most enjoyable "journey" of romance that Abby has written thus far. It's fun, it's sweet, there are a ton of ancillary characters who add complexity to the story. But Abby really tackles head-on abuse in relationships, whether it's physical or emotional, and how that abuse can be generational.
Once again, Abby made me ugly-cry with a heartfelt and honest romance.
Jen Morris does romance and banter better than any other witty romance novelist out there. Like Rick, she had a couple of releases in 2021, but You Know It’s Love is not only my favorite, but it was also one of my favorite romance novels period. I read this over two days, and absolutely fell in love with Cat and Myles and their budding romance. Morris gives her characters real issues to overcome, which makes that HEA ending so, so magical. She’s got three books in this series out, with the third (and most recent) Outrageously in Love pretty much a lock on my 2022 list.
2. The Siren by Katherine St. John
If anyone feared that St. John would have a sophomore slump after her meteoric debut The Lion’s Den (one of my Top 10 books of 2020), you should be happy to know that that’s not the case with THE SIREN. Weaving multiple POVs and multiple timelines, with the ticking timebomb of a threatening hurricane, the bulk of THE SIREN takes place on a movie set shooting in the Caribbean. Which means lots of sun, bikinis and sex. Oh, and murder. This is a fantastic thriller and the climax moves at breakneck pace. I could not put it down once I hit those final 100 pages. If anything, THE SIREN proves that Katherine St. John isn’t just a talented storyteller — she’s a master of the art.
1. A Bright Ray of Darkness by Ethan Hawke
The best book I’ve read this year, hands down, is Ethan Hawke’s — yes, that Ethan Hawke — latest. Which, when reading the synopsis — married actor caught cheating on his wife must face his infidelities and grow up, all while starring as Hotspur in a Broadway production of King Henry IV — you may scratch your head. Finally, a novel about the trials and tribulations of a rich, white guy! What could pull at the heartstrings of a beleaguered nation tighter than a story of brief, emotional setback of a good-looking actor? But look. It really is that damn good. Hawke, being known as the guy who cheated on Uma Thurman and then his meteoric embarrassment afterward, takes that experience and crafts an incredibly human story that explores the delusions of manhood with uncanny nerve and insight. I read it twice this year and shared it with my book club. A Bright Ray of Darkness is raw, unfiltered and has quickly found itself at the top of the list of books I recommend to my friends.
AND...congratulations to Charlie Collins! You have won the signed book prize package. Email email@example.com with your mailing address so we can get your book and prizes to you. And thank you to everyone who signed up.