It's summer, and that means more time to dive into our reading lists. Whether you've promised yourself you'll read more this year, or you simply need a new recommendation for your book club, our list of the best books of 2021 has you covered.
So what should you read next? This year, there are lots of exciting new releases from some of our favorite authors, as well as stunning debut books from a diverse group of newcomers in just about every genre you can think of. For 2021, many of our top book picks (so far!) offer us critiques on our society today or a peek into complicated family dynamics; we've also got steamy romance novels that will send shivers up your spine, historical books that dip back into the past and creepy tales of suspense that will keep you up past your bedtime.
Note that while some of these books may not be on shelves quite yet, you should hit that preorder button anyway; ordering books in advance not only gives you mail to look forward to that isn't a bill, but it helps support authors too. And if you think we've missed something that should be included on our list, let us know in the comments — or sound off about what you thought if you've read one of our favorites, too!
Fans of psychological thrillers, crack open this one about the relationship between mothers and daughters. Before Blythe's daughter is born, she wants to create the deep bond she never had with her own mom. But when Violet arrives, she's convinced something's wrong with her little girl. The tragic events that follow will make you question her sanity, and the story she's telling us.
One fateful night, 15-year-old Libby's harried single mom orders her sister Ellen, 12, to get out and walk home after their bickering gets to be too much. What follows not only shatters the girls' innocence, but sets off a chain of events that reveals the darkness in their sleepy town. This novel drives home how one moment can change everything.
Joan Didion needs no introduction, and neither does this incisive collection of works, mostly drawn from early in her career. Topics include Martha Stewart, a Gamblers Anonymous meeting, writing itself and her own doubts about it all. Didion fans shouldn't sleep this one, and neither should anyone else.
The plot might feel familiar in this feminist twist on a classic gothic romance. Broke dog walker Jane has her sights on the wealthy Eddie Rochester. Eddie's got a past, but then again, so does she. Read to find out whether either of them can ever escape their secrets, or if their forbidden tryst is doomed to failure.
A creeping aura of disquiet pervades this quietly unsettling novel set in a cluster of cottages in rural Scotland. Lacking cell service, the families spend their days watching each other's movements through the blinds, learning perhaps a little too much about the others. It's a slow burn, but the payoff at the end will leave you breathless.
This transporting novel set in Barbados reveals the way even the most disparate lives are interconnected. It delves into wealth and class, love and crime — and the emotional turmoil that roils in a rapidly gentrifying area and the people who live there.
In a series of vivid, immersive short stories, we meet characters living in ever-so-slightly fanciful realities and others navigating deeply human experiences that could be ripped from our own lives. Whether you enjoy sci-fi, realistic fiction or bite-sized escapes from the real world, you'll find something to love here.
The Echota family is never the same after their son Ray-Ray is killed in a police shooting. His mother Maria struggles with her husband Edgar's worsening dementia, while their daughter Sonja leads a solitary life and her brother Edgar battles drug addiction. As the anniversary of Ray-Ray's passing approaches, Maria and Edgar take in a foster son whose arrival just might be the change the family needs.
After Lex escapes from an abusive childhood, she does her best to put it all behind her. But when her mother dies in prison and leaves their family home to her and her siblings, the woman formerly known as "Girl A" has to reconnect with the only people who really know what happened to them. This gripping story about family dynamics and the nature of human psychology will hold you tight all the way through.
When Ruth gets pregnant as a teenager, she gives up her son for adoption and leaves town for an Ivy League education, hoping they're both on a path toward better things. But she never really gets over him, so when her husband wants to start a family years later, she's drawn back home to find out what happened to her baby. What follows is a heart-wrenching story of family, racism, poverty and love.
This wildly original novel carries us across the world as Tiller, a mediocre college kid, gets tied up with Pong, an international businessman who takes him on the trip of a lifetime. We bounce between those adventures and the life Tiller finds afterward with Val, a single mom in witness protection, as he tries to figure out what it all means. It's by turns dark, humorous and almost sneakily insightful.
We all carry our past with us, and that's never clearer than in this powerful story about two strangers who come together when they both need someone the most. Recently divorced therapist Tallie Clark pulls over when she sees Emmett about to jump from a bridge. She coaxes him to safety, and over the course of the emotional weekend that follows, we learn that Emmett's not the only one who needed saving.
You'll feel like you stepped back in time with this historical fiction set in WWII Britain. Four women from very different walks of life compete in a cooking competition to become a presenter on the BBC, and learn a lot about themselves — and each other — along the way. It's uplifting, a little scandalous and even includes recipes so you can cook along with them.
This fragmented, genre-bending story about a woman who earns social media fame and wonders about what "the portal" is doing to society, her brain and the people who use it, feels both strange and intimately familiar. It's bizarre, oddly funny, at times piercing and absolutely a must-read for all of us social media users.
When scandal strikes a prestigious New England Prep School, all of the students handle the fallout a bit differently. This striking debut follows nine young women as they navigate their own coming-of-age in the shadow of a controversy that feels all too familiar.
The hotly-anticipated latest novel from Nobel Prize in Literature-winner Kazuo Ishiguro deals with themes both personal and universal, familiar and futuristic. The 2017 Nobel committee described Ishiguro's books as "novels of great emotional force" that "uncovered the abyss beneath our illusory sense of connection with the world." Read this one and you'll understand why.
If you've ever wanted to really get back at someone, have we got a book for you. In 18th century England, a secret apothecary sells disguised poison to the victims of oppressive men. That is, until a client makes a horrible mistake. Meanwhile, in modern-day England, an aspiring historian stumbles onto the story with potentially devastating results.
Growing up in Brooklyn during the Reconstruction, Libertie knows her physician mother wants Libertie to follow a similar path. But instead, Libertie accepts the proposal of a Haitian man to pursue a new life, only to discover she's still not his equal on the island. Inspired by the story of one of the first Black female physicians in the U.S., this is a gorgeous meditation on what freedom means.
In a gorgeous memoir that talks about how she put her life back together after a massive medical event, actress and humanitarian Sharon Stone lets us all in to her world. Whether you've followed her work or not, this slice of life makes a great read.
The Harlem Melancons are powerful and prosperous, thanks to their magical caul that has healing properties. When neighbor Leila turns to them to save her baby and the deal falls through, it sets off a chain of events that will reverberate through the Melancon clan and Harlem itself. This engrossing story is rich with mystery, page-turning tension and the powerful ways family can hold us even in toxic circumstances.
As Carmen tries to help keep her daughter Jeanette's addiction under control, Jeanette yearns to learn more about her family. When she travels back to Cuba to seek answers, she learns how secrets can fester over generations. This sweeping story takes us from the Cuban cigar factories of the 19th century to present-day Miami as we see the ways betrayal, tragedy and women's choices embed themselves in our histories.
When Flora stumbles upon a secret her husband has been hiding from her, it makes her question not only their decades-long marriage, but her relationship with her best friend Margot, too. This page-turner will make you think about the role friendship can play in both large and small decisions in our lives.
As the fictional African village of Kosawa is slowly being destroyed by an American oil company and their government seems to only care about its own interests, the people who live there decide to fight back. This exploration of capitalism, colonialism and what a difference the little guy will really make you think.
Life isn't always linear, and neither are Reese and Ames' journey in this story of love, loss and chosen family. When Ames' impregnates his coworker Katrina, he thinks co-parenting with her and his ex Reese might be a win-win-win: Reese has always wanted a baby, Ames misses Reese, and three adults is better than two, right? Well, it's not that simple. This book shows us, above all, that nothing ever is.
Atmospheric, lyrical and deeply weird, this story about Otto and Xavier traveling on a mysterious private train with their pet mongoose feels like a fever dream in the best way. When the pair discovers another secretive passenger on the train, the mysteries that unravel show them connections between their past, present and each other.
Known for her roles on ER and The Good Wife, Julianna Margulies had an unconventional childhood that taught her to seek order in chaos and find sunshine even in dark places. This honest portrait of her faith, fate and resilience as she finds her way in the world as both a woman and an actor is deeply personal and relatably universal.
Twins Jeanie and Julius, 51, live insular lives with their mother Dot in the rural English countryside, until she dies suddenly and leaves them with a financial mess and long-buried secrets. The two have to find their way in the world for the first time, in a quiet tale of loss and survival.
The political powerhouse is also a fantastic novelist, as evidenced by this juicy legal thriller that takes us inside the hallowed halls of the Supreme Court. When a pivotal justice falls into a coma and names his clerk as his legal guardian, she discovers a controversy that may prove downright dangerous. As she races against time to solve the clues to the conspiracy her boss uncovered, you'll find yourself holding your breath too.
Isaac and his neighbor Lorrie are both single parents, mourning the tragic loss of their teenaged sons and the shadow of a heinous act one of them committed. When a pregnant teen named Evangeline shows up on Isaac's doorstep, Lorrie steps up to help out when he retreats to his Quaker faith. Her presence forces them all to reckon with their pasts and take a hard look at what they want for their futures.
One of Peynado's stories plays on the "thoughts and prayers" that echoes across the Internet after every school shooting, another features floating children who eat rocks to stay grounded. In still another, people's appendages begin to dissapear and with them, their rights. Spanning time, space, and magical possibility, this collection is achingly beautiful and hauntingly prescient.
August, a jaded waitress at an iconic New York City diner, thinks she’s too smart to fall in love. But then she meets Jane, a punk-rock chick who jump-starts her heart. One problem: Jane is a time-traveling exile from the 1970s, and she literally can’t get off the train. It’ll take everything August has to save Jane and the life she’s carved out for herself.
When Ashley’s father went to prison, he left her to struggle with her body, her mother and her identity as a poor Black girl, all while wishing her dad were there for support. After a sexual assault throws her into turmoil, Ashley finally learns what he did to land there, setting off a whole new reckoning. Not a light read, but a gorgeously poignant one.
A sharp, often wryly funny, sometimes heart-wrenching look into parenting, queer marriage and growing up, this searing novel feels like walking across a lawn gone crispy in the sun. It's deeply satisfying and a little painful, all at once.
For over a decade, preacher Luke Nolan has led the Hope congregation with his wife and daughters Abigail and Caroline dutifully by his side. But when his infidelity comes to light just weeks before Abigail’s wedding, the two sisters flee to their late grandmother’s ranch to figure out what they really owe their family — and themselves.
In a series of deeply emotive linked stories, a young man struggles to find his way among a cast of artists in the Midwest all reckoning with their bonds to one another. Through a pair of dancers in an open relationship, a fraught night of babysitting and teens teetering toward violence, you’ll be drawn into the characters’ search for connection.
There's something dark lurking beneath the pink toe shoes and elegant relevés at the Durant ballet school in this novel that's as taut as a dancer's bun. Sisters Marie and Dara are toxically intertwined with one another and Charlie, Dara's husband, and the fallout reveals itself over the course of this disturbing and gripping read.
Luca's struggling to find his way amidst the literati of New York City, broke but all too aware of his privilege. Meanwhile, his best friend Zara throws herself into the rising social justice movement as Luca gets entangled in the lives of a glam older married couple he befriends. Lyrical but uncomfortably real, this novel invites readers to take a hard look at our ideals and what we will (or won't) do to uphold them.
Miranda’s marriage is over and her job as a college theater director is in peril. In short, her life is in shambles, all because of debilitating nerve pain from the accident that ended her stage career. She’d do anything to make it go away. And then, three strange benefactors offer to do just that, in this darkly comedic story that’s uniquely unsettling.
These immersive short stories offer readers a sweeping, often funny, look into a Cambodian American community in California. Characters struggle with the shadow of the Khmer Rouge genocide, their own sexuality and conflicts related to family and friendship. The snippets of life in all its complexity resonate long after the last page.
This lyrical memoir told in essays and snippets of verse, follows as the narrator explores what it means to grow up a woman, as well as all of the societal pressures, uncertainties and challenges that brings. Shifting between time, place and perspective, it will feel familiar to those who have also traveled a wandering path toward the person they want to become.