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Bookreporter Reviewers' Favorite Books of 2021

Reviewer Picks

Bookreporter Reviewers' Favorite Books of 2021

Recently we asked our reviewers to provide us with a list of some of their favorite books from 2021. Included is a mix of fiction and nonfiction titles, all published for the first time this year. Take a moment to read these varied lists of titles and see if you agree with any of their selections! Please note that due to personal and professional commitments, some reviewers were not able to participate in this feature.


Kate Ayers


Cindy Burnett


Sarah Rachel Egelman


Megan Elliott

    If you liked Irish novelist Sally Rooney’s previous books, CONVERSATIONS WITH FRIENDS and NORMAL PEOPLE, you’ll enjoy her third effort, which explores some of her recurring themes --- female friendship, romantic relationships, mental health and class --- in a story of two college friends on the cusp of turning 30.
  • DREAM GIRL by Laura Lippman
    Laura Lippman's creepy, stand-alone suspense novel delivers a clever twist on Stephen King's MISERY. An egotistical Baltimore novelist is imprisoned in his luxury condo after an injury. Then he starts receiving calls from the woman who claims to have inspired the main character in his career-making novel. This page-turner will keep you guessing until its dramatic finish.
  • HOW BEAUTIFUL WE WERE by Imbolo Mbue
    Cameroonian-American writer Imbolo Mbue follows the residents of a West African village whose tight-knit community is destroyed when an American oil company begins drilling on nearby land. This powerful and devastating novel wrestles with the consequences of unfettered capitalism and the legacy of colonialism.
  • THE HARD CROWD: Essays 2000-2020 by Rachel Kushner
    In 19 wide-ranging essays, novelist Rachel Kushner (THE FLAMETHROWERS) reflects on radical Italian politics, the art of Jeff Koons and her restless youth in San Francisco. In the standout piece, she recalls her experience competing --- and almost dying --- in the Cabo 1000, an intense (and illegal) Mexican motorcycle race.
  • JUST THIEVES by Gregory Galloway
    Gregory Galloway’s expertly plotted and thoughtful modern noir is about two recovering addicts turned professional thieves who are sent on a job that goes badly wrong. It’s full of nods to great crime novelists (Ross Macdonald, Raymond Chandler, Patricia Highsmith) and classic films such as Double Indemnity and The Maltese Falcon.
  • NO ONE IS TALKING ABOUT THIS by Patricia Lockwood
    Poet and well-known Twitter personality Patricia Lockwood delivers a gut-punch with her debut novel. The first half recreates the disorienting experience of being immersed in the internet’s neverending stream of in-jokes, information and outrage. In the second half, the book switches gears as a devastating personal tragedy pulls the unnamed narrator back into the real world.
  • THE TURNOUT by Megan Abbott
    After tackling the competitive, claustrophobic worlds of high school cheerleading (DARE ME) and gymnastics (YOU WILL KNOW ME), Megan Abbott naturally turns her attention to ballet. Two sisters who own a run-down ballet school hire the contractor from hell to repair damage to their studio. His appearance turns their insular world upside down and exposes hidden faultlines in their relationship.
  • LET ME TELL YOU WHAT I MEAN by Joan Didion
    This slim collection pulls together a dozen essays from the masterful Joan Didion written between 1968 and 2000. Whether she's reflecting on her failure to get into the college of her choice, her less-than-successful attempts at short fiction, or the phenomenon that is Martha Stewart, Didion never fails to deliver pointed insights in her signature style.
  • LOVE SONGS FOR SKEPTICS by Christina Pishiris
    Music lovers will love this charming and heartfelt debut romance from Christina Pishiris about a London-based music journalist who has given up on love. When her childhood friend (and secret crush) reappears in her life, she believes she might have a second chance at a happy ending. But a career crisis --- and a handsome music publicist --- have her reconsidering what she wants out of life.


Pauline Finch


Harvey Freedenberg


Pamela Kramer

  • THE UNWILLING by brilliant storyteller John Hart is a searing tale of courage, honor and war.
  • BILLY SUMMERS by Stephen King is touching and thoughtful --- a book you will keep thinking about.
  • THE BONE MAKER by Sarah Beth Durst is a brilliant fantasy for those past their prime who still dream of being heroes.
  • THE MADNESS OF CROWDS is part of Louise Penny's revered Inspector Gamache series.
  • DOG EAT DOG is the latest installment in David Rosenfelt's Andy Carpenter mystery series, all filled with humor and Rosenfelt's fine writing.
  • A BLIZZARD OF POLAR BEARS is the latest entry in Alice Henderson's wonderful mystery series about a female biologist and endangered animals.
  • RIGHT BEHIND HER is a continuation of Melinda Leigh's quick-paced mystery series featuring Bree Taggert, a female sheriff in upstate NY.
  • I THOUGHT YOU SAID THIS WOULD WORK by Ann Garvin is a heartwarming journey of friendship, love and dogs.
  • AN OBSERVANT WIFE by acclaimed author Naomi Ragen gives readers an inside look at the Ultra-orthodox Jews in Boro Park, Brooklyn.


Bronwyn Miller


Rebecca Munro


L. Dean Murphy

Dean's List

  • WATCH HER FALL by Erin Kelly 
    Ava Kirilova has reached the top of her profession. After years of hard graft, pain and sacrifice as part of the London Russian Ballet Company, allowing nothing to distract her, she is finally the poster ballerina for "Swan Lake." Even Mr K --- her father and the company’s intense, terrifying director --- can find no fault. Ava has pushed herself ahead of countless other talented ballerinas, and they are all watching her. But there is someone who really wants to see Ava fall.

» Click here to read our interview with Erin Kelly.

  • LAST REDEMPTION: A Rick Cahill Novel by Matt Coyle
    Rick Cahill finally enjoys a settled, happy life. Fiancée Leah Landingham is pregnant with their child, and Rick performs PI work that pays well and keeps him out of danger. Then a doctor gives him the bad news about the headaches he’s been suffering: Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy, which leads to senility and early death --- a secret he keeps from Leah and friend Moira MacFarlane. When Moira asks him to monitor her son Luke regarding a restraining order, a simple surveillance explodes into greed, deceit and murder. Luke goes missing, and Rick’s dogged determination compels him to follow clues that lead to the exploration of high finance and DNA cancer research. Ultimately, Rick is forced to battle sadistic killers as he tries to find Luke and stay alive long enough to see the birth of his child.

» Click here to read our interview with Matt Coyle.

  • GUMSHOE GONE by Rob Leininger
    Kidnapped by a gorgeous gal in Reno, Mortimer Angel disappears for several days. When he finally makes contact with family and friends, he’s on a new case, one that takes him on more than one unexpected journey. That becomes a new case with more unexpected journeys. This time, Mort travels more roads than he ever has and ends up in a place he could not have predicted. Mort is gone.

» Click here to read our interview with Rob Leininger.

  • PAY OR PLAY: A Charlie Waldo Novel by Howard Michael Gould
    Paying self-imposed penance for a terrible misstep, former LAPD superstar detective Charlie Waldo lives a life of punishing minimalism, making a near religion of his commitment to owning no more than One Hundred Things. His PI gal-pal Lorena keeps drawing him back to civilization, though every time he compromises on his principles, something goes awry. Unfortunately for Waldo, all roads lead back to L.A. When old adversary Don Q strong-arms him into investigating the mundane death of a vagrant, Lorena agrees he can conditionally work under her PI license: that he help with a high-maintenance celebrity client, wildly popular courtroom TV star Judge Ida Mudge, whose new mega-deal makes her a perfect blackmail target. Reopening the coldest of cases, a decades-old fraternity death, Waldo begins to wonder if the judge is, in fact, a murderer and if he’ll live long enough to find out.

  • MURDER AT GREYSBRIDGE: An Inishowen Mystery by Andrea Carter
    Before attorney Benedicta (Ben) O’Keeffe can decide to accept a position at a law firm in America, she must attend her assistant Leah’s wedding at the restored Greysbridge manor house converted to a hotel, with its private beach and pier. It’s the perfect location, but festivities are cut short when a young American staying at the hotel drowns in full view of the wedding guests. When a second death occurs, Ben finds herself embroiled in a real manor-house-murder-mystery, where all the guests are suspects. Sergeant Tom Molloy’s appearance to investigate throws Ben into turmoil, especially when the pursuit of two runaway teens leads the pair to an island off the Donegal coast, where a violent storm traps them, cut off from the mainland. A deadly conspiracy unfolds on the tiny island, fueled by the ruthless pursuit of money --- careening toward disaster for the inhabitants, and for Ben.
  • GUMSHOE IN THE DARK by Rob Leininger
    Nevada’s attorney general is missing. On a dark, deserted highway in a storm, PI trainee Mortimer Angel comes across scantily clad Harper Leeman. She’s cold and alone, far from the nearest town. When Mort offers a ride, she orders him out of his truck at gunpoint. She tries to take off, but he cuts the valve stem. Without a spare tire, he devises a creative way to get them out of the hills: precariously balanced on three tires. Along the way, a rough-looking man stops and asks if Mort has “seen anyone up in the hills.” Mort realizes he’s after Harper, who is hiding in the truck. This classic cat-and-mouse chase in northern Nevada continues even after Mort finds the dead attorney general, Harper’s mom. Mort’s wife, Lucy, joins what becomes the deadliest case of Mort’s career.

» Click here to read our interview with Rob Leininger.

  • THE OC: A Jake Longly Thriller by D.P. Lyle
    Former pro baseball player Jake Longly hopes for a few weeks of fun with Nicole Jamison in the Orange County, CA sun: The OC. After that, they’ll be on their way to L.A. for the filming of Nicole’s screenplay. Upon arrival, they discover that Nicole’s friend Megan Weatherly, a local TV reporter, has a stalker. Megan downplays any real danger, but her new intern Abby, as well as Jake and Nicole, don’t agree. As harassment escalates and the shadowy man invades Megan’s world, Jake calls in the big guns from back home in Alabama: Ray and Pancake. But will Ray’s military black ops experience and Pancake’s technical skills be enough to expose the predator in time? The stalker is no fool. He makes no mistakes and manages to cover his trail completely. So how do you identify and locate the untraceable and protect Megan from a potentially lethal phantom? The sunshine and safety of The OC seem more façade than reality. Jake and crew must punch through that façade and dig into the dark world of celebrity stalking. The clock is ticking.
  • SHADOW MUSIC by Helaine Mario
    Late in the Cold War, a young woman escapes from Communist Hungary, vanishing into the night with a priceless painting and a baby --- setting events into motion from a decades-old secret that will change lives for generations. Decades later, classical pianist Maggie O’Shea is drawn to Cornwall in search of a long-lost Van Gogh and the truth behind her husband’s death. A journal from World War II Paris holds many of the answers, but only two people know where the Van Gogh is now hidden --- a courageous religious figure and a man presumed dead. Maggie finds herself on a collision course with three dangerous Russians who threaten all she holds dear, including her life and that of the man she has come to love.
  • BAD SCENE: A Colleen Hayes Mystery by Max Tomlinson 
    When PI and ex-con Colleen Hayes learns that a local neo-Nazi group plans to kill San Francisco’s mayor, she thinks it’s just another rumor --- until her source winds up in SF General, beaten to a pulp. Adding to her grief, she discovers that her estranged daughter Pamela might have joined a shadowy religious group, building a church in Ecuador near a volcano about to erupt. Death is the path to perfection, according to the charismatic cult leader --- and the date is fast approaching. Colleen is desperate to stop Pam from making the ultimate mistake before she and hundreds of others lose their lives.


Eileen Zimmerman Nicol


Ray Palen


Norah Piehl


Barbara Bamberger Scott


Roz Shea

  • GO TELL THE BEES THAT I AM GONE by Diana Gabaldon is, without a doubt, the best book of 2021. It could be a 21st-century version of GONE WITH THE WIND. I've read all of Herman Wouk's books about World War II, and this one is definitely on equal footing.


Stuart Shiffman

Another year of reading has passed with great enjoyment. I finally found the time to begin attacking the pile of unread books that were published prior to 2021, but the new books keep coming. So here are some of my favorites with 2021 publication dates.

  • ALL ABOUT ME!: My Remarkable Life in Show Business by Mel Brooks
    A joyful look at the life of an exceptional comedian, writer, film director and all-around “mensch.”
  • THE BARCELONA COMPLEX: Lionel Messi and the Making --- and Unmaking --- of the World's Greatest Soccer Club by Simon Kuper
    Even if your love for football is limited to American shores, this is an interesting study of sports in the world of big business.
  • FORGET THE ALAMO: The Rise and Fall of an American Myth, by Bryan Burrough, Chris Tomlinson and Jason Stanford
    I grew up in “Alamo myth years” when children revered Davy Crockett and the valiant fighters at the Alamo. But after substantial research and fresh views, historians have begun a reevaluation of what occurred in San Antonio in the early days of the battle for Texas independence. The authors summarize the various views and detail many of the myths that surround the Alamo battle. The pushback on the book has been loud in the state of Texas, but the book can fight its own battle.
  • THE MAGICIAN by Colm Tóibín
    A well-told fictional biography of the author Thomas Mann.
  • MIKE NICHOLS: A Life, by Mark Harris
    An outstanding biography of a great comedian and director. Almost every important actor of the last 50 years appears somewhere in this theater history. Mark Harris does an incredible job of detailing what goes into crafting a play or a movie. A phenomenal book.
  • NEW YORK, NEW YORK, NEW YORK: Four Decades of Success, Excess, and Transformation, by Thomas Dyja
    A vivid and entertaining portrait of New York City for the past half-century, from Ed Koch to Michael Bloomberg and a few mayors in between. The cast of characters would fill several Broadway stages. As a New York lover, I was enthralled.
  • OUR TEAM: The Epic Story of Four Men and the World Series That Changed Baseball by Luke Epplin
    The 1948 Cleveland Indians won the World Series, their only series victory in more than 100 years. Epplin covers the season through four contributors to that championship: Bill Veeck, Bob Feller, Satchel Paige and Larry Doby. For many fans, the post-World War II era of the late 1940s and early 1950s was the greatest of the game. This outstanding history is a reminder of the impact that sports has upon our society and lives.
  • RAISE A FIST, TAKE A KNEE: Race and the Illusion of Progress in Modern Sports by John Feinstein
    John Feinstein is one of America’s premier sportswriters. If there is a ball involved, he has written about the game and done so with grace, style and wit. In this book, Feinstein takes on a very sensitive subject: racism in the world of sports. He begins with the Mexico City Olympic protest of Tommie Smith and John Carlos, and finishes with Colin Kaepernick and his treatment by the NFL. It is a thoughtful look at where we have been in the struggle against racism and where we need to go.
  • THE TREES by Percivel Everett
    A unique and modern commentary on racism in contemporary America as two Mississippi police detectives and an FBI agent investigate a crime that has connections to the brutal killing of Emmett Till in 1955.


Jana Siciliano


Carly Silver


Rebecca Wasniak


Katherine B. Weissman

  • NO ONE IS TALKING ABOUT THIS by Patricia Lockwood
    Both Peter Ho Davies and Patricia Lockwood, in different ways, address the agony and grace of parenthood. Lockwood’s much-touted, interestingly structured novel evokes the disjointedness of internet-fed consciousness.
  • THE EMPATHY DIARIES: A Memoir, by Sherry Turkle
  • A SENSE OF SELF: Memory, the Brain, and Who We Are, by Veronica O’Keane
    I don’t read much nonfiction, I’m ashamed to admit, but I resonated with these two titles in a big way: science for people who flunked math and never even attempted physics. File them under “books that help to explain ourselves to ourselves.” Invaluable.
  • SUMMERWATER by Sarah Moss
    Intimate character sketches, seemingly unrelated at first, add up to an atmospheric and moving portrait of an ill-fated (and very wet) day in a Scottish vacation spot.
  • THE VIXEN by Francine Prose
    Witty and disturbing and fiendishly plotted, Francine Prose’s coming-of-age story is set in the publishing world of the 1950s and reflects that decade’s paranoid politics and rampant red-baiting.   
    Graphic violence and enormous tenderness make S. A. Cosby’s “Southern Noir” crime novels absolute standouts (I also loved BLACKTOP WASTELAND).
  • MORNINGSIDE HEIGHTS by Joshua Henkin
    When a Columbia University professor contracts Alzheimer’s, his marriage --- once a starry teacher/student romance --- cracks and shudders (but survives). For me, this novel’s pleasures were enhanced by the author’s affection for his neighborhood and mine, the Upper West Side of Manhattan.
  • KLARA AND THE SUN by Kazuo Ishiguro
    Kazuo Ishiguro always asks the right questions. Only he could make me care for a robot and believe that a product of artificial intelligence is capable of love. There’s a purity to this novel, and deep pathos.
  • STILL LIFE by Sarah Winman
    There’s more than a little Room with a View-ishness about this charming novel (a youthful E.M. Forster even makes a cameo appearance). It’s a love letter to Florence with a cast of (mostly English) characters who are massively endearing without being twee.