Best Fiction Reads of 2021: Part 1

Happy Holidays and Seasons Greetings to everyone celebrating a holiday at this time of the year: Happy Hanukkah, Happy Kwanzaa, Yule (Winter Solstice) Greetings, and Merry Christmas. Although I’m not celebrating any major religious holidays, I’m always ready to provide bookish recommendations to friends and family. This year, rather than simply doing a “best of 2021” list (books published and read in 2021), I decided to break my list down into general fiction, historical fiction, romance, and other fiction. (Yes, I have quite a number of recommendations, thus the breakdown.) Please note that some of the books included in these lists may have been reviewed here, others were not.

Happy Holidays


Let’s get things started with my best of 2021 in general fiction. If you haven’t already read any of the books on these lists, then I hope one or two will pique your reading interest and you’ll grab copies for yourself (or to gift).

I read this one at the very beginning of 2021 and at that time, it didn’t make a huge impact (sorry but bad migraine days usually result in bad everything including bad impressions of books being read). Since that initial reading, I’ve had time to re-evaluate and I’ve come to the conclusion that my pain levels during my reading played a major role in my initial response. As a result, this book is my first recommendation.

 
The Wife Upstairs by Rachel Hawkins
ISBN: 9781250245496 (hardcover)
ISBN: 9781250245502 (trade paperback – released November 2, 2021)
ISBN: 9781250245519 (ebook)
ISBN: 9781250752451 (digital audiobook)
ISBN: 9781250752468 (audiobook on CD)
ASIN: B08DRR2K6X (Audible audiobook)
ASIN: B08BKLVZRJ (Kindle edition)
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
Release Date: January 5, 2021

Meet Jane. Newly arrived to Birmingham, Alabama, Jane is a broke dog-walker in Thornfield Estates—a gated community full of McMansions, shiny SUVs, and bored housewives. The kind of place where no one will notice if Jane lifts the discarded tchotchkes and jewelry off the side tables of her well-heeled clients. Where no one will think to ask if Jane is her real name.

But her luck changes when she meets Eddie­ Rochester. Recently widowed, Eddie is Thornfield Estates’ most mysterious resident. His wife, Bea, drowned in a boating accident with her best friend, their bodies lost to the deep. Jane can’t help but see an opportunity in Eddie—not only is he rich, brooding, and handsome, he could also offer her the kind of protection she’s always yearned for.

Yet as Jane and Eddie fall for each other, Jane is increasingly haunted by the legend of Bea, an ambitious beauty with a rags-to-riches origin story, who launched a wildly successful southern lifestyle brand. How can she, plain Jane, ever measure up? And can she win Eddie’s heart before her past—or his—catches up to her?

Purchase Links #CommissionEarned: Indiebound.org | Amazon | Amazon Kindle | Audible | Audiobooks | BookDepository | Downpour Audiobook | eBooks | !ndigo | Kobo Audiobook | Kobo eBook


My next best read in general fiction is another Southern story and one I thoroughly enjoyed. Part coming-of-age tale combined with a moral tale, this story has a little bit of everything for every reader desiring a good story told well. Psst, it has even been considered a more contemporary retelling of The Great Gatsby, so if you’re into retellings, here you go!

The Fortunate Ones by Ed Tarkington
ISBN: 9781616206802 (hardcover)
ISBN: 9781643752006 (paperback – Released October 5, 2021)
ISBN: 9781643751078 (ebook)
ISBN: 9781649040237 (digital audiobook)
ASIN: B08QXZMS9Q (Audible audiobook)
ASIN: B08519FF6Z (Kindle edition)
Publisher: Algonquin Books
Release Date: January 5, 2021

 

When Charlie Boykin was young, he thought his life with his single mother on the working-class side of Nashville was perfectly fine. But when his mother arranges for him to be admitted as a scholarship student to an elite private school, he is suddenly introduced to what the world can feel like to someone cushioned by money. That world, he discovers, is an almost irresistible place where one can bend—and break—rules and still end up untarnished. As he gets drawn into a friendship with a charismatic upperclassman, Archer Creigh, and an affluent family that treats him like an adopted son, Charlie quickly adapts to life in the upper echelons of Nashville society. Under their charming and alcohol-soaked spell, how can he not relax and enjoy it all—the lack of anxiety over money, the easy summers spent poolside at perfectly appointed mansions, the lavish parties, the freedom to make mistakes knowing that everything can be glossed over or fixed?

But over time, Charlie is increasingly pulled into covering for Archer’s constant deceits and his casual bigotry. At what point will the attraction of wealth and prestige wear off enough for Charlie to take a stand—and will he?

 


I read this book early in the year, and yes, I gave a copy to my 87-y.o. mother to read. We both enjoyed it and it made a lasting impression. It’s much more than a story about race, it’s about striving to be better, regrets, and the power of reaching out to others.

The Kindest Lie by Nancy Johnson
ISBN: 9780063005631 (hardcover)
ISBN: 9780063005655 (ebook)
ISBN: 9780063005662 (digital audiobook)
ASIN: B0872K2Y82 (Audible audiobook)
ASIN: B086ZRRYCW (Kindle edition)
Publisher: William Morrow Books
Release Date: February 2, 2021

 

A promise could betray you.

Its 2008, and the inauguration of President Barack Obama ushers in a new kind of hope. In Chicago, Ruth Tuttle, an Ivy-League educated Black engineer, is married to a kind and successful man. He’s eager to start a family, but Ruth is uncertain. She has never gotten over the baby she gave birth to—and was forced to leave behind—when she was a teenager. She had promised her family she’d never look back, but Ruth knows that to move forward, she must make peace with the past.
 
Returning home, Ruth discovers the Indiana factory town of her youth is plagued by unemployment, racism, and despair. As she begins digging into the past, she unexpectedly befriends Midnight, a young white boy who is also adrift and looking for connection. Just as Ruth is about to uncover a burning secret her family desperately wants to keep hidden, a traumatic incident strains the town’s already searing racial tensions, sending Ruth and Midnight on a collision course that could upend both their lives.
 
Powerful and revealing, The Kindest Lie captures the heartbreaking divide between Black and white communities and offers both an unflinching view of motherhood in contemporary America and the never-ending quest to achieve the American Dream.

 

 

Read an excerpt here.


I had the pleasure of reading this book with my online book group, Mocha Girls Read. This is just one of the many powerful and realistic fictional stories I’ve read this year dealing with friendship, family, and race relations. A definite #mustread.

WE ARE NOT LIKE THEM book coverWe Are Not Like Them by Christine Pride and Jo Piazza
ISBN: 9781982181031 (hardcover)
ISBN: 9781982181055 (ebook)
ISBN: 9781797131092 (digital audiobook)
ASIN: B08WT2PVKZ (Audible audiobook)
ASIN: B08VJM1568 (Kindle edition)
Publisher: Atria Books
Release Date: October 5, 2021

 

 A GOOD MORNING AMERICA BOOK CLUB PICK

Named a Best Book Pick of 2021 by Harper’s Bazaar and Real Simple

Named a Most Anticipated Book of Fall by People, Essence, New York Post, PopSugar, New York Newsday, Entertainment Weekly, Town & Country, Bustle, Fortune, and Book Riot

Told from alternating perspectives, an evocative and riveting novel about the lifelong bond between two women, one Black and one white, whose friendship is indelibly altered by a tragic event—a powerful and poignant exploration of race in America today and its devastating impact on ordinary lives.

Jen and Riley have been best friends since kindergarten. As adults, they remain as close as sisters, though their lives have taken different directions. Jen married young, and after years of trying, is finally pregnant. Riley pursued her childhood dream of becoming a television journalist and is poised to become one of the first Black female anchors of the top news channel in their hometown of Philadelphia.
 
But the deep bond they share is severely tested when Jen’s husband, a city police officer, is involved in the shooting of an unarmed Black teenager. Six months pregnant, Jen is in freefall as her future, her husband’s freedom, and her friendship with Riley are thrown into uncertainty. Covering this career-making story, Riley wrestles with the implications of this tragic incident for her Black community, her ambitions, and her relationship with her lifelong friend.
 
Like Tayari Jones’s An American Marriage and Jodi Picoult’s Small Great Things, We Are Not Like Them explores complex questions of race and how they pervade and shape our most intimate spaces in a deeply divided world. But at its heart, it’s a story of enduring friendship—a love that defies the odds even as it faces its most difficult challenges.

I recommended this next book earlier prior to the release date and again later in the year in a review. Seriously y’all, I can’t say enough good things about this book. Okay, I can add that my 87-y.o. mother enjoyed it as much as I did (thank you, Ms. Nolfi for thinking about us and sending us the signed books). The book is The Passing Storm by Christine Nolfi. It is a story about secrets, forgiveness (of others and of self), tragedy, survival, second chances, love, and family being more than DNA.

THE PASSING STORM by Christine NolfiThe Passing Storm by Christine Nolfi
ISBN: 9781542029124 (paperback)
ASIN: B08SXRK8M1 (Audible audiobook)
ASIN: B08MZPFY3J (Kindle edition)
Publisher: Lake Union Publishing
Release Date: November 1, 2021

 

A gripping, openhearted novel about family, reconciliation, and bringing closure to the secrets of the past.

Early into the tempestuous decade of her thirties, Rae Langdon struggles to work through a grief she never anticipated. With her father, Connor, she tends to their Ohio farm, a forty-acre spread that itself has enjoyed better days. As memories sweep through her, some too precious to bear, Rae gives shelter from a brutal winter to a teenager named Quinn Galecki.

Quinn has been thrown out by his parents, a couple too troubled to help steer the misunderstood boy through his own losses. Now Quinn has found a temporary home with the Langdons—and an unexpected kinship, because Rae, Quinn, and Connor share a past and understand one another’s pain. But its depths—and all its revelations and secrets—have yet to come to light. To finally move forward, Rae must confront them and also fight for Quinn, whose parents have other plans in mind for their son.

With forgiveness, love, and the spring thaw, there might be hope for a new season—a second chance Rae believed in her heart was gone forever.

Purchase Links #CommissionEarned: Indiebound.org | Amazon | Amazon Kindle | Audible | BookDepository.com | !ndigo

 


I consider myself incredibly fortunate to have read a host of great books this year. I’m grateful to the authors, publishers, publicists, virtual book tour companies, and book clubs that have afforded me the opportunity to read so many wonderful titles. Please note that this is just my first “best of 2021” post, I hope you’ll return to read future posts focusing on historical fiction, romance, and other fiction (Sci-Fi, AfricanJujuism, etc.) reads of 2021. Until then…

Happy Reading, y’all!