all of my 2021 book recommendations

All year long, I’ve made a weekly book recommendation when kicking off the weekend open thread. These aren’t work-related books; they’re just books I like, mostly fiction. Sometimes they’re books that I’m in the middle of reading, and other times they’re just long-standing favorites.

Here’s the complete list of what I’ve recommended this year (maybe in time for holiday gift-shopping!). I’ve bolded my favorites of the favorites.

Park Avenue Summer, by Renee Rosen. When Helen Gurley Brown became editor of Cosmopolitan magazine right after publishing her notorious Sex and the Single Girl (a book I stole from my mom and read incessantly as a teen), her plans to sex up the magazine created scandal and she faced aggressive opposition from people (mainly men) who were shocked and outraged by the content she wanted to run. The novel is a fictionalized account of a young woman who moves to NYC in the ’60s and becomes Helen Gurley Brown’s assistant in the middle of all this. It’s fiction, but it’s based what really happened and it’s pretty fascinating.

Dreamland, by Nancy Bilyeau. In 1911, an heiress is pressured into spending the summer at Coney Island with her rich family and her sister’s highly sketchy fiancé. There are murders and intrigue and way too much money.

Dear Mrs. Bird, by AJ Pearce. Set in London during World War II, it’s about a young woman who hopes to become a journalist but accidentally ends up as the assistant to a ladies’ advice columnist … and begins to secretly write back to letter writers whose troubles the columnist deems too unpleasant to answer.

I Suck at Girls, by Justin Halpern. A very funny book of essays about the author’s dating life from boyhood on, entwined throughout with highly amusing advice from his dad on all aspects of life. (You may know the dad from the author’s viral Twitter account, Shit My Dad Says.)

The Assistants, by Camille Perri. An underpaid assistant to a rich CEO finds a way to use her boss’s expense account to secretly pay off her and her fellow assistants’ student loans. It’s smart and funny and will speak to anyone who’s ever been underemployed or resented their overprivileged boss.

The Chicken Sisters, by KJ Dell’Antonia. Two family-owned restaurants with a century-old rivalry battle it out on a reality TV restaurant competition that ends up bringing out plenty of family drama.

Necessary People, by Anna Pitoniak. Two friends, one rich and one who’s had to work hard for everything she has, find themselves at professional odds when they start working for the same cable news show and it becomes clear one of them only has her own interests at heart.

The Nature of Fragile Things, by Susan Meissner. A young Irish immigrant, miserable in early 20th century New York, answers an ad from a San Francisco man looking for a mother for his young daughter. The man is polite and treats her well, but it soon becomes clear all is not as it seems. I read this all in one (long) sitting and could not put it down.

You’ll Never Believe What Happened to Lacey: Crazy Stories about Racism, by Amber Ruffin and Lacey Lamar. This is two sisters, one of them a comedian, writing about the crazy racist things that have happened to the other, and I didn’t know that humor and horror and fury could be combined so effectively. It’s excellent, and if you’re white it’s eye-opening even if you thought you already knew.

We Run the Tides, by Vendela Vida, about a teenage girl’s relationship with an attention-seeking friend. It perfectly captures what it’s like to be a 13-year-old girl — the shifting nature of reality, the blend of the ridiculous and the profound, and the precariousness of friendships.

The Mystery of Mrs. Christie, by Marie Benedict. In 1926, the real Agatha Christie disappeared for 11 days, claiming on her return that she didn’t know where she had been. This is a fictional explanation for what might have happened, involving her faithless husband and an excellent mystery.

Sorrow and Bliss, by Meg Mason. It’s about family and relationships and the impact of mental illness on both, and it’s funny and snarky and moving.

Girl A, by Abigail Dean. Lex is known in the media as Girl A, who escaped from the house where her parents had kept her and her siblings captive for years. This is about what happened afterwards and how each of them moves forward. It’s heart-wrenching but very good.

A Lady’s Guide to Selling Out, by Sally Franson. An English major working at an ad agency is tasked with convincing authors to sign on to corporate marketing campaigns, as she struggles to decide where her ethical lines are. It’s both funny and serious.

Parnassus on Wheels, by Christopher Morley. A woman in 1915 decides to escape her life as a spinster living with her brother by roaming the country in a mobile bookstore, selling books as she goes. It’s funny and charming.

Early Morning Riser, by Katherine Heiny. A strangely charming story of Jane; her ladies’ man boyfriend, Duncan; his seemingly perfect ex, Aggie; Aggie’s extremely odd husband, Gary; and the small, too-close-for-comfort town they all live in.

What Could Be Saved, by Liese O’Halloran Schwarz. Two sisters are contacted by a man claiming to be their brother who disappeared decades earlier when they were kids. It alternates between the story of their reunion and what happened to their family 47 years ago, and it’s beautifully written and riveting.

All Girls, by Emily Layden. Told in the voices of many different students at an all-girls boarding school that seems to be covering up an assault, it’s a story about what it’s like to be a teenage girl trying to figure out yourself, friendships, authority, and the world in general.

The Fortunate Ones, by Ed Tarkington. A coming-of-age story in which a young man’s friendship with a son of a wealthy family pulls him into a different world.

The Plot, by Jean Hanff Korelitz. A writer whose career is in decline steals an irresistible plot from a student who died shortly after taking his writing class and finds great success with it … but then begins receiving anonymous messages from someone threatening to reveal the theft.

Mary Jane, by Jessica Anya Blau. Fourteen-year-old Mary Jane, who has strict parents with strict ideas about values, gets a summer job nannying for a psychiatrist — who happens to have a rock star patient and his famous wife secretly living with him for the summer. Things are learned by all.

Admission, by Jean Hanff Korelitz. I’m reading everything by this author after loving The Plot recently. In this one, an admissions officer at Princeton confronts her failing marriage, issues with her mom, and a momentous decision from the past. There are fascinating details about how admissions officers work!

Last Summer at the Golden Hotel, by Elyssa Friedland. As two families who own a historic Catskills resort gather to decide whether to sell it, family drama, dysfunction, and secrets emerge. It’s funny and includes a lot of enjoyable old-timey Catskills nostalgia. (The author’s The Floating Feldmans is also good.)

Home Made: A Story of Grief, Groceries, Showing Up — and What We Make When We Make Dinner, by Liz Hauck. A woman’s account of what happened when she spent one night a week teaching teenage boys living in a state home how to cook.

People We Meet on Vacation, by Emily Henry. Poppy and Alex have been best friends since college and take a trip together every year. On the last one, things Went Awry and now they must fix things. This is like the book version of a really delightful rom-com, and genuinely funny in surprising ways.

The Killings at Badger’s Drift, by Caroline Graham. A detective in a small British village must solve the murder of a kindly 80-year-old woman who saw something she shouldn’t have. This is cozy and delightful, like if Barbara Pym wrote a murder mystery.

Fly Away Home, by Jennifer Weiner. Sylvie has been a perfect politician’s wife for years but when her husband’s affair makes headlines, she and their grown daughters begin to rethink what they want from life.

The Very Nice Box, by Eve Gleichman and Laura Blackett. An engineer mourning her girlfriend develops an unexpected relationship with her new boss at a trendy furniture company … who might not be who he appears. This was an unexpected pleasure and a funny skewering of corporate culture.

Malibu Rising, by Taylor Jenkins Reid. Four siblings with a rock star father grapple with fame, family, and the legacy of their parents. And there’s a really big party.

The Kitchen Front, by Jennifer Ryan. Four very different women compete in a British wartime cooking competition during World War II.

Friends Like Us, by Lauren Fox, which is about what happens to two close friends when one starts dating the other’s BFF from high school. It is, as you might imagine, about trust and betrayal, but it’s also funny and feels real.

A Good Family, by A. H. Kim. When a wealthy pharma exec is sent to prison, her sister-in-law steps in to help with the kids … and uncovers a string of lies and deception. Much suspense and excitement ensues.

Morningside Heights, by Joshua Henkin. If you’ve learned anything about my taste in books from these weekly recommendations, you might know that I love sweeping family sagas, and this is one. It’s the story of a college professor, his wife, their marriage and children, and how things change as they begin to lose him.

You Should Have Known, by Jean Hanff Korelitz. Grace Sachs is the author of a book telling women the signs of problems in their partners were there all along, if only they’d paid attention … and then discovers she hadn’t known her own husband at all.

We are the Brennans, by Tracey Lange. A daughter returns home to a family full of secrets, as well as to the man she left years before without explanation. This was like a delicious soap opera.

Send for Me, by Lauren Fox. The story of a young woman in Germany on the brink of World War II, and her granddaughter who finds her letters decades later. Beautifully told.

Under the Whispering Door, by TJ Klune. It’s the latest from the author of The House in the Cerulean Sea (which was my favorite book of 2020) and is about a man who dies, ends up in a tea shop between worlds, and … undergoes some changes. It shares a lot of DNA with his previous book, and I loved it.

Several People Are Typing, by Calvin Kasulke. Told entirely through Slack messages, this is the story of an office, complete with morning meetings, out-of-touch bosses, and a cursed spreadsheet. It’s very funny.

The Second Home, by Christina Clancy. As three siblings try to decide what to do with their family’s summer home on Cape Cod, long-buried secrets are reckoned with.

The Husbands, by Chandler Baker. In a neighborhood of high-powered, accomplished women and their extremely supportive, housework-loving husbands, all is not what it seems.

Small Pleasures, by Clare Chambers. A reporter in 1950s Britain who is investigating a woman’s claim of an immaculate conception finds herself becoming personally entangled in the story.

The Days of Afrekete, by Asali Solomon. A woman throws a dinner party while awaiting her husband’s arrest on corruption charges and contemplating their marriage, her past, and whether she wants the life she’s found herself in.

The Buddha in the Attic, by Julie Otsuka. Told in the first person plural, these are the stories of a group of Japanese women who came to America as brides after World War I. Short and powerful.

Klara and the Sun, by Kazuo Ishiguro. Told from the perspective of an “artificial friend” — a highly intelligent robot — who’s selected as the companion for an ill teenager.

The Midnight Library, by Matt Haig. A woman finds a library where each book lets her enter a life she would have had if she’d made different choices along the way.

The Last Thing He Told Me, by Laura Dave. A woman’s husband disappears under mysterious circumstances, leaving her alone with her stepdaughter and a series of emerging clues that he wasn’t who he said he was.

Ella Minnow Pea, by Mark Dunn. An island’s totalitarian government bans the use of more and more letters of the alphabet as they fall from a memorial to the town’s namesake.

And if you’re looking for more, here are my lists of book recommendations from 2020from 2019from 2018from 2017from 2016 … and from 2015.

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{ 133 comments… read them below }

  1. Daniel*

    Thanks for recommending Malibu Rising. I read it on the plane rides I had as I was taking a trip and it was excellent.

  2. Cookies for Breakfast*

    I have a soft spot for office-based fiction (would love to finish my own novel draft some day), and can’t wait to read “Several People Are Typing” and “The Very Nice Box”. Finding out that my local library has an e-reader app was a saving grace this year, so I hope they’ll be available on there soon.

    Also, thank you for the reminder about “The Last Thing He Told Me”. I wanted to put it on my list but lost the tab with the post where it was recommended first, and my memory for titles I’ve only heard once is not great!

    1. Clefairy*

      Libby has been a blessing and a curse- I read SO MUCH MORE now that I don’t need to leave my house for free books, but if I get on a reading kick which happens a couple of times a year for a couple of months, I completely ignore everything in my life except for reading. I just read 37 books between October-November because Libby is a total enabler of my reading addiction hahaha

      1. Cookies for Breakfast*

        Yes! It’s Libby for me, too. The library was using a different app until earlier this year, but Libby is much better, though I suspect some titles got lost in the transition.

        I’m usually awake way earlier than I’d want, and reading ebooks in bed helps keep the brain weasels quiet until it’s breakfast time. In the before times, trips to the library were sometimes my only outside time on working days. I miss them a bit. But free books! In the comfort of my bedroom! Under a warm blanket! They’ve changed my mornings for the better, after a lifetime of loyalty to paper books and paper books only.

      2. addicted to reading*

        LIBBY IS FREAKING AMAZING. I discovered it last year after our local library did online library card signups for the pandemic…and I may have gone a little overboard. I have six cards attached now, but one’s expired. Kindle app says I have a 120-weeks-in-a-row reading streak and 197 books for the year.

        I also have access to CloudLibrary, but I don’t like their reader as much.

        1. Cookies For Breakfast*

          CloudLibrary is what my library moved on from and my very first ebook experience. I’d always thought ebooks needed to be downloaded and opened in separate apps, so was positively surprised to be able to read immediately after borrowing. I found its catalog browsing better than Libby tbh. But I came across a couple of books that came with blanks where pages should be, and that was definitely weird, so yay for Libby overall.

      3. Enna*

        hah this is so me. And then I stop suddenly

        I started reading e-books for our vacation in August and ended up reading something like 2 a day for a couple months and then haven’t read one since and have had all my waitlists at the library come on hold and then be released since I never responded.

        BUT my offices closes from the 23rd to the 4th so I should get some of these on the waitlist now.

    1. Youngin*

      I hate to be so dramatic but i read that book in a very transitional time in my life this year and it really gave me such a different outlook on life. I really enjoy the lessons i learned there

    2. cacwgrl*

      This one has been on my library queue for weeks. This feedback and it being on the list today made me download it.

  3. Student Affairs Sally*

    Excited to see The Killings at Badger’s Drift on the list! There is also an excellent television adaptation of that entire series – Midsomer Murders. There are adaptations of each of the books in the Chief Inspector Barnaby book series, as well as a bunch of stories created specifically for the show, with the same characters (mostly). It’s available on Prime – I’m in the middle of a re-watch right now, it’s one of my favorites!

    1. freddy*

      I liked the Midsomer Murders series on TV, but I read the Killings at Badger’s Drift on Alison’s recommendation and found the casual homophobia pretty repellent. I don’t think I’ll read more of the series.

      1. Nessun*

        The book was distinctly different from the TV series (which I love and re-watch all the time). I found the book had an interesting perspective, but definitely it wasn’t what I expected based on the TV show. I agree, there’s some rather difficult stuff in it, especially Troy’s character. I’ve read a few more in the series, and while I’m not interested in reading further, I’ll keep watching because it’s a total joy to revisit the show.

      2. pancakes*

        I read all of the Caroline Graham books earlier in the pandemic, having run out of Midsomer Murders episodes. Troy’s homophobia seemed pretty on-point for a distinctly unsophisticated young suburban cop in the late 1980s, when the book came out, and I would’ve been a lot more bothered by it if Inspector Barnaby shared his mindset. That said, I’m happy they changed the character quite a bit for the TV series and made him more goofy, less repellant. I did enjoy the books, though they are darker than the show in other ways, too.

      1. pancakes*

        Ha! I can’t really comment on Cabot Cove, but now I’m wondering about Saint Marie (the setting for Death in Paradise, which I don’t like anywhere near as much as Midsomer but sometimes watch anyhow). Saint Marie seems much smaller than Midsomer county but has a steady flow of tourists and expats coming and going, which seems like it ought to account for some of the weekly murders.

  4. Pop*

    Alison, I love your book recommendations! I read about a book a week, and it’s great to have recommendations.

    I just finished Under the Whispering Door this morning, and I did not love it at all. It shared way too much DNA with his previous book for me personally. I liked the characters much less, and I found it hard to believe that there was something so uniquely special about the tea shop and its inhabitants. I was also disappointed by the ending. I do think I would have liked it more if I hadn’t loved House in the Cerulean Sea so much – this one just kind of fell flat to me by trying to copy his successes but not doing as good of a job.

    1. Stephanie*

      Funnily enough I read Under the Whispering Door first and am only now going through House in the Cerulean Sea – I see the similarities but so far I’m preferring Door over House, though we’ll see once I finish!

    2. betsyohs*

      So interesting! I read both, (both on Alison’s recommendations) and I think I liked Under the Whispering Door more. It just wasn’t clear to me at all why there was romance in the Cerulean Sea. It seemed overly convenient – I’m here, you’re here, wanna snog? Why were they ever attracted to each other?? I enjoyed the book overall, though.

    3. Fiction Reader*

      I agree with you! Maybe I just wasn’t in the right mood, but the main character’s personality change was so quick and extreme that it seemed unearned. And I also didn’t like that this book repeated the plot line of “redeemed by falling in love with a very good/almost saintly man” and I didn’t like it as much the second time.
      I am currently reading Tunerville by our own Elizabeth West and while it is not as beautifully written as Under the Whispering Door, I am finding the characters and situations more interesting and believable, with less soppy ideas about the afterlife.

      1. Elizabeth West*

        *melts into a tiny puddle* Omg thank yewwwwwwww :3

        If you read the sequel, I hope you don’t get mad at me!

    4. Mango Is Not For You*

      I’ve been reading TJ Klune since way before he was a bestselling author, and I hate to say it, but ALL of his books have the same DNA. It’s good DNA, though. Comforting DNA. Warm fuzzy slipper DNA. So keep reading. :)

  5. Sariel*

    Alison, thank you so much for sharing your book list! As a reader, I always find plenty to add to my TBR list. And as a Librarian, I think it’s AWESOME!
    Reminder to everyone else — your local library staff are always happy to help you find any of the books on this list, in all kinds of formats. And if they don’t own it, they can request it. And if you read something and enjoyed it, library staff are also very, very happy to give reading suggestions (we call this Reader’s Advisory).

    1. Stephanie*

      Not a librarian but an active user of my local library and they’re awesome about ordering almost anything I ask for (they’ve got an easy form to fill out and then they make sure I’m the first user to get to check it out!)

      1. PhyllisB*

        Seconding the library recommendation. I’m a huge reader, and if I bought everything I read I would need another house just for my books. If library doesn’t have it can request through inter-library loan. (It’s fun to see the places they come from.) Sidenote: when I get my printout showing due dates, they add how much I’ve saved by using the library. This year it’s been about $3600.00.

  6. Respectfully, Pumat Sol*

    I really loved Under the Whispering Door too. He did an author talk and spoke about how this book’s take on grief was even more personal than the previous book. It was a great talk ( I think Third Place Books in Seattle hosted it, and may have a recording up?) that added some depth to the story.

  7. The Smiling Pug*

    Ella Minnow Pea sounds pretty interesting!! I love stories that do creative things with words and their sounds. Looks like I’ll have to pick up a copy.

    1. Ashley*

      DO IT!! It’s one of the most creative books I’ve read. When I first read the premise I thought there’s no way this can work haha But you will not regret picking it up!

      1. The Smiling Pug*

        I’ll try to lol! I like books that have more going on with them than the story, like stuff hidden in pictures. I liked Chasing Vermeer for the same reason.

    2. Heffalump*

      I recommend it. It’s based on a really original premise–always a good trait in a book or movie IMO. I couldn’t possibly have thought it up. It won’t be a spoiler to say that “Ella Minnow Pea” is meant to sound like “L M N O P.”

    3. ecnaseener*

      Absolutely, it’s fantastic! Pretty short, but I recommend spacing it out over a few sittings — the better to laugh at yourself censoring your own thoughts as you go about your day.

      1. Heffalump*

        It didn’t even occur to me to censor my thoughts. I kept thinking, “I’m glad I don’t have to censor my thoughts in that manner!”

    4. Noxalas*

      If you enjoy Ella Millow Pea, I also recommend “The Wonderful O” by James Thurber. Another story of chaos following after the banning of a letter!

      1. Heffalump*

        I’m reminded of a joke placard I saw at a gift shop ca. 1965:

        IF YOU THINK
        that yo don’t amont to mch, so what happens when we leave yo ot.

    5. Tierrainney*

      I read Ella Minnow Pea when my child brought it home. I think I liked it as a adult much more than she did at her age. When I saw it on Alison’s list, I thought it was good that other people could read it.

  8. Ashley*

    I await your weekly book recommendation like it’s Christmas morning! I’ve read a number of them and have many more on my To Be Read list!

    1. Re'lar Fela*

      Right?? Alison has SUCH good taste! Any time I’m looking to gift a book to someone I go back to the roundup posts.

    2. Cookies for Breakfast*

      Me too! I get so excited on Saturdays, knowing book recommendations and cat photos are coming.

      If I haven’t read anything from this year’s list yet, it’s only because I’m still catching up with past suggestions. I could never thank her enough to for getting me into the “Bad Blood” rabbit hole, as that’s something I’d never have expected to find as wildly interesting as I did (I’m on to John Carreyrou’s podcast right now, and watched “The Inventor” not even a week after finishing the book).

  9. Rara Avis*

    I read We Run the Tides on this recommendation. Enjoyed it, and then found out that the author went to high school with my sister-in-law. Small world!

    1. Anonymous for this comment*

      I teach at the K-8 school that the author attended, and which is HEAVILY the inspiration for the school in the book. (I didn’t teach her – she’s older than me, actually – but some of my former now-retired colleagues did, and she came to speak to the students at graduation one year.) Both the school and the neighborhood have changed, and not changed, since the ’80s, and it was a surreal experience to read a story set where I spend five days a week. I recognized specific houses she described, and of course the beaches. And where things differed, especially about the school, I was left to wonder if the differences were because of the passage of time or the fictionalization.

  10. Re'lar Fela*

    I’m not joking when I say that I look forward to this post all year! I try to catch the recommendations every week, but it’s nice to have the roundup. It’s probably fair to say that my favorite book of every year for nearly the past decade has been one of Alison’s recommendations.

  11. ZSD*

    Small note on your Small Pleasures review: I haven’t read it, but I would bet that it’s a claim of a virgin birth, not an immaculate conception.

  12. Re'lar Fela*

    Also, I accidentally read The Husbands in one day a month or two ago. I sat down to read one chapter with breakfast…and the next thing I knew I was closing the book around 3pm. I haven’t done that in a WHILE (with a kid and grad school, it’s a rare luxury!)

  13. Dark Macadamia*

    It’s funny seeing things here that are on my to-read list and remembering oh, that’s why I wanted to read that! I just finished The Plot and started We Run The Tides, and loved Klara and the Sun earlier this year.

  14. Kate*

    Alison, I love your book recommendations and they’ve more than once saved me from a funk during this pandemic. So many titles on here that I enjoyed this year.

    A rec for Alison and everyone–Moon and the Mars by Kia Corthron. Starting in the 1840s, orphan Theo narrates the doings of her Black and Irish-American extended family in the Five Points neighborhood of Brooklyn. Her voice is delightful, believably historical and totally unique. The book deals with a lot of history I for one knew way too little about while still being a thoroughly enjoyable trip along with the characters. Historical fiction fails for me when it’s either too modern–the characters sound like now and aren’t meaningfully restricted by their settings–or when it misses the fact that historical oppression never removed people’s ability to find resilience and joy. Moon and the Mars is a triumph. I can’t recommend it highly enough.

    1. Falling Diphthong*

      I will check it out–one of my pet peeves is historical fiction when I can tell the decade in which it was written. (Not set.)

  15. addicted to reading*

    The Assistants is great! It was on a list of recommended “beach reads” from our local library.

  16. Alldogsarepuppies*

    Alison – are you a member of BOTM – based on many of these suggestions I suspect you might.

  17. Thin Mints didn't make me thin*

    Alison, would you also consider joining the Apple Books affiliate program? I would love to support you by buying books, but I have sworn off giving Amazon any of my money.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I would love to try an alternative but I’ve investigated other options (including Bookshop, etc.) and unfortunately Amazon’s program is the best revenue-wise (since it pays out even for non-book stuff people buy after originally going to Amazon via your book link) and cats gotta eat.

      1. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

        And if there is anything a cat owner knows it is that eating food of the amount and quality the cats demand is non-negotiable

      2. Don’t at me*

        Good to know we can feed the kitties if we were going to get something from Amazon anyway… do you know if it works with Amazon smile as well?

  18. Campfire Raccoon*

    I think it’s funny how you can tell where a person is in **the universe** by the books they’re reading (and liking!). It’s interesting to see the progression from year to year.

    Thank you, Allison. I love your book lists and always do a pre-Christmas order based on your recommendations.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Interesting! When I put the list together for this year, I looked at it and realized that I didn’t read anything I really LOVED this year other than Under the Whispering Door. Lots I liked, but this year felt like a less successful reading year for me than other years and I can’t figure out why.

      1. Campfire Raccoon*

        The Blerg? I have a pile of books on my nightstand that I can’t finish or haven’t started. My husband calls it “Where books go to die” which is a little unfair.

        If a book is hot garbage —like so bad it would be a crime to donate it and foul someone else’s eyes with its misogyny, racism, or poor grammar— I throw it in the trash. The pile is extensive and varied. The issue must be with me, rather than the books themselves.

      2. Campfire Raccoon*

        If you like magical realism, you might want to try “Sia Martinez and the Moonlit Beginning of Everything” and How Moon Fuentez Fell in Love with the Universe by Raquel Gilliland. She’s a poet that writes YA magical realism and scifi.

    2. Dark Macadamia*

      Last year I read a lot more fluff/wholesome books than usual – not surprising that I wasn’t up for heavier reading in 2020! This year was a lot of witchy books, which was not intentional but made for an enjoyable year.

      1. Campfire Raccoon*

        2020 was all about zombies, end of the word, and disasters for me. Severance, Devolution, End of the World Running Club, Station 11, Underground Airlines, Life as We Knew It, The Dreamers, Weight of Our Sky, and so on. When I get stressed out I watch disaster movies. When I’m melting down I go full Jane Austen (different type of disaster movie). I guess my reading choices for 2020 were much the same.

        1. Dark Macadamia*

          My book club’s last book before the pandemic began was about the Spanish flu, lol. This year I read “Year of Wonders,” about the village that quarantined during the plague, and it was surprisingly comforting

  19. Elizabeth West*

    Ugggghh, I have such a long list of books I want when I have money again. Also, I’d like to get my books off Amazon since no one wants to buy from them.

    1. Pop*

      I just use the library! And my library has a page you can request books as well. Checking them out also helps them know that there’s demand for that book and they buy more copies. I know some people like to own books (I used to be there, too), but with limited expendable income and a tiny space, I haven’t bought a book for myself in years and I’m happy with it!

      1. Elizabeth West*

        I love the library but I don’t have a card currently. Even if I don’t get a job out of state*, I likely won’t stay in this county, so it really isn’t worth the trouble to get a card here. I’ll wait until I get settled.

        Besides, Mom loves to shop (as in, addictively) so she buys a ton of books at Target and then donates them. I go through the bag before she drops them off. :) I’ve already nicked some that look pretty good, though I haven’t had a chance to read them yet.

        *pleeeeeeeeeeease universe!

        1. Nancy*

          Lots of libraries have ecards you can get online to take out ebooks and also belong to wider library systems, so you can use the card at other libraries. Also, larger city libraries sometimes allow anyone in the state to get a card or ecard.

        2. Having fun isn't hard when you have a library card!*

          It’s really super easy to get a library card- so easy that I’ve gotten one in every place I’ve lived, even temporarily! Many libraries even offer a specific temporary library card as an option (the library I went to growing up even let you check out a certain number of books with your driver’s license).

          Not really understanding the resistance here- haven’t you lived in the same place for a while? Worst case scenario, you get one and move immediately out of state so you stop using it, which is really a non-issue.

          1. Elizabeth West*

            I have some authors I like to buy—Stephen King, Preston & Child, etc. They have content out I can’t get right now. No big deal, though. Their books aren’t going anywhere. I can get them later.

            Plus I have like 15 books on my Kindle I still haven’t read yet. >_< Why do I want new books when I haven't read the old ones?!

            1. Having fun isn't hard when you have a library card!*

              That’s fine, but I was specifically responding to the whole “it isn’t worth the trouble to get a library card here when I might move at some point” part, where I assumed you were talking about books you weren’t planning on buying. You can literally get a library card online if you don’t want to physically go to the library, and it lets you check out books digitally (I can put mine directly on my kindle).

        3. Nope.*

          What trouble? It takes less than two minutes to sign up and it’s free. And there’s no convoluted transfer of services to deal with when you move – just toss out the old card and go sign up at your new library. It’s about as easy as getting yourself to the library in the first place.

          1. Elizabeth West*

            Maybe I don’t want to go, not with all these maskless wonders around here. We’re in Red status right now.

            It’s fine; I have plenty to read. I just need to make time to do it. My brain is so fried I can barely think.

    2. RagingADHD*

      If you mean you want to publish your books elsewhere, Draft2Digital dot com now offers paperbacks as well as ebook, and you can distribute to any channel you want (like Barnes & Noble, etc). Their interface is really easy to use and there are no up-front costs, they just take a small percent of your sale price (less than AZ does). I haven’t used their print service yet, but the ebook formatting and distribution is great.

      That said tho, the vast majority of my sales come from AZ. I know a lot of people say they don’t want to buy there, but a lot more people actually do buy there (it may be highly audience dependent). I use AZ directly and D2D for all the other wide distribution channels, so you can always do both.

        1. RagingADHD*

          They’re the same folks who do Universal Book Links, which I’m always shocked that more people don’t know about. You can get a custom link for your book, to use anywhere, and it will show the reader every possible place they can buy from. They can even set their own default store if they want.

  20. Abogado Avocado*

    Thank you for these book recommendations! Were it not for you, I’d never have read (really, listened to the audio version of) Pachinko or Free Food for Millionaires. I now have more additions for my county library holds list!

  21. RosyGlasses*

    I love these lists and have them all bookmarked. Thank you for being such a prolific reader – I find the books I grab off your lists add a wonderful variety to my normal genres that I gravitate toward.

  22. Soup of the Dau*

    Thank you for the recommendations, Alison! I feel like I had a pretty disappointing year in books – I didn’t read nearly as much as I wanted to, and what I did read was based on recommendations from Booktok/Bookstagram and largely disappointed! I guess I’m pickier than I thought.

    On that note, I was not able to get into Malibu Rising. If you don’t enjoy the first few chapters, is it worth continuing? I picked it up because it was so popular but I’m not really interested in books about the 80s or California or famous people so I probably should have known better than to try, haha.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I just wrote something similar above about my own year! Maybe we’re all in weird headspaces.

      I think if you didn’t like the first few chapters of Malibu Rising, I wouldn’t keep forcing it. It is indeed about the 80s and California and famous people :) Also lots of family stuff, but all against that backdrop.

      1. KLS*

        I liked Malibu Rising the least of that author’s books. I liked it well enough, but it doesn’t hold a candle to Evelyn Hugo or Daisy Jones, in my opinion.

    2. AY*

      If you can’t get into Malibu Rising, I would try Reid’s other recent book Daisy Jones and the Six. It’s written as a fake oral history about (basically, but not really) Fleetwood Mac, and I loved it so, so, so much. Malibu Rising seemed so . . . ordinary in comparison.

    3. Katie*

      I didn’t like Malibu Rising but I really liked the Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo. One big difference is I didn’t care about any of the characters in Malibu Rising (or for the big party; I don’t like parties too much so “being” at one for the whole second half of the book was not my thing). On the other hand, Evelyn Hugo herself as a character is fascinating, and I find myself thinking about her from time to time. (I knocked my rating for the book down a star for the cluelessness of the other character, Monique, though–she was an investigative reporter, but somehow didn’t investigate, even in her own mind, why Evelyn hired her and only her–but that is a different discussion!)

  23. Falling Diphthong*

    I really loved The Mystery of Mrs. Christie* and The Midnight Library**.

    Just picked up Under the Whispering Door yesterday.

    * Satisfying cross of biography and a mystery very much in Christie’s style.

    •• A look at the different lives a woman might have lived if she made different choices. This hit at a time I was feeling pretty stressed and exhausted, and the reminder of how much can unfold from doing one thing differently really resonated for me.

    1. Sunshine's Eschatology*

      Haha, right?? I currently have about a dozen books on hold, so Imma wait a little bit, but I can see many of these going on my holds list soon! I loooove Libby and getting library books on my kindle so much!

  24. Sunshine's Eschatology*

    I suspect I got “The Buddha in the Attic” rec here, and I LOVED it! I just finished it, and whew, what a short but intense read. The first person plural format is so unusual but manages to not feel gimmicky at all. The level of detail and research that clearly went into it is really stunning.

    The description for “Ella Minnow Pea” reminds me another book I recently read, “The Memory Police” by Yoko Ogawa. It’s not new, but I recently received it as a gift. It’s set on an island controlled by the eponymous Memory Police, where people collectively lose their recollection of things and ideas, except for a handful of people who secretly remember the forgotten things. It’s dreamlike and chilling and really great.

    1. Alldogsarepuppies*

      I love both Ella and Memory Police. They are extremely different books – for one Ella Minnow Pea is YA and much more hopeful, both amazing reads that stick with me.

  25. Catherine*

    I didn’t see these on your list this year, but wanted to recommend a couple of my favorites from the year for others who might be looking the the comments! One Two Three by Laurie Frankel is EXCELLENT. Also highly recommend her novel This Is How It Always Is. Other five star read from this year was The Rose Code by Kate Quinn

    1. Fellow Writer*

      Hey, me too! I’m a Pitch Wars mentee this year (!!!) and it almost feels like dreams of publication are in reach… Except not 2023. I think publishers are into 2024 at this point.

      For those writers unfamiliar, Pitch Wars is an annual mentorship program for unagented writers. There are around 100 spots, and mentors guide their chosen mentees through a vigorous three-month manuscript revision process. At the end, there’s an literary agent showcase where agents are able to directly request materials from mentees. It’s not guaranteed, but I think around 50% of last year’s class is now agented. Competition is fierce (I think there were something like 4,200 applicants this year) but it’s been an incredible experience so far.

      Similar programs include Author Mentor Match (apps open next month), RevPit, and WriteMentor.

      1. Fellow Writer*

        To clarify, giving the info for other aspiring writers out there with dreams of making someone’s book rec list :)

        Someone with a publication date is well ahead of me!!

  26. generic-username*

    The Plot is so underrated. It was such an enjoyable book and the ending was so satisfying. I didn’t love Klara and the Sun, but a lot of people in my book club did. Otherwise, I haven’t read most of these (I tend to read books that are a year or so old because I rely a lot on the library and what’s easily available there, lol). I suppose its time to add to my already over-flowing to-read shelf on Goodreads

    One that isn’t on your list that surprised me this year was “West With Giraffes” by Lynda Rutledge. It is based on a true story of two giraffes who were transported across country from New York to San Diego in the 1930s and was wonderful. Another one was “A Funny Kind of Paradise” by Jo Owens. It’s narrated by a woman in an assisted care facility who is mostly paralyzed and mute. It’s written by an actual care worker (maybe retired now) and pays wonderful tribute to them and the stories of the patients in long-term care facilities

    1. generic-username*

      Oh, just saw another on the list I had read. I just finished “The Last Thing He Told Me” a couple of days ago and really enjoyed it. I read most of that in one sitting, very late into the night

  27. Midwesterner*

    I’m always gratified when I read your year end list and there are titles I’ve either already read, or that are on my “coming soon” list. Two books I read this year that I liked were the 7 1/2 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle (liked very much, didn’t love the end though) and Project Hail Mary, which I LOVED and highly recommend.

  28. StoneColdJaneAusten*

    The number of books you read is impressive, but I’m more impressed by the number you LIKE. (Whenever I’ve read a book on your list, it has been a book I liked, but I like a lot less of what I read.) You have a real flair for finding good books.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      It’s all from reading reviews! I love reading book reviews and it’s how I find a lot of what I read. Also, I am pretty good at knowing in the first chapter or two if I won’t like something and just moving on to something else. (I may be missing books I would have liked if I’d stuck with them longer though.)

  29. AY*

    Girl A, YES! I read this book over the summer and have been dying to talk to someone about it. I don’t really read any thrillers or psychological thrillers or whatever you would call this, so I was absolutely FLOORED by the twists. I wandered around in shock for 24-48 hours before I could pick up another book.

    1. SaffyTaffy*

      OMG AY can we talk about it?? Because I love so much about it and found it so real until we got to the “my sister is Tyler Durden” subplot and i NEED to discuss it with someone!

      1. AY*

        OK so maybe this is exactly why I was stunned by the sister reveal! It’s so different from the way the rest of the story was told and came completely out of the blue. I had to reread that section a few times to make sure I was reading it correctly.

        1. Me*

          That was such a great book! After I hit the twist, I had to go back and read all the sections that referred to that character (especially Lex talking to others about her) and look for the hints and sort of…the other characters’ reactions. Honestly it reminded me a lot of the musical “Next to Normal” in a good way.

  30. Mim*

    I need to put an entry on my to-do list to go through your recommendations and tag them for myself in Goodreads. I remember from past years that you have enjoyed many of the same books I have. Enough, at least, for me to trust your recommendations!

    Perhaps not so surprisingly in this year when pandemic-brain decimated my reading habits I have only read one of the books on your list. It was Admission, which I read several years ago and also found fascinating!

  31. Noxalas*

    Chiming in to say I also look forward to the book recs every week! I’m always impressed by the range of books you read.

  32. Jessica*

    Dear Alison,
    I have a critical job (for which read, I’m not a big shot but I keep my department afloat) at a public institution, where the pandemic has really increased our workload and driven everyone to the brink. Plus I just lost a team member so we’re stretched extra thin and I’m working all the time. I’m just trying to hold it together till we get through this, but today there was an unforeseen development that threatens to derail everything.

    There’s a workplace advice blog I read that’s really helpful and terrific. I recommend it to everyone and it’s seriously helped me become a better manager. The posts are normally about workplace dilemmas and really solid advice–BUT TODAY the blogger went rogue and posted a ton of book recommendations, and I just can’t even anymore. All these books sound SO good that I want to just take vacation time for the rest of the year, unplug everything, let my department collapse, and stay under the blankets for the month of December reading all these delicious books one after another. I feel no motivation to do anything else.

    What can I do about this treacherous act of industrial sabotage? I’m concerned that resistance is useless.

  33. Books*

    There’s always something entertainingly meta about seeing books on the list published by the company I work for. That’s why I’m reading Ask a Manager in the first place!

  34. RB*

    I used to really like Kazuo Ishiguro based on Remains of the Day and Never Let Me Go, but then I read When We Were Orphans and it felt like he was really off his stride and I thought that the whole second half was a bit of a mess. I almost couldn’t finish it. So if you’re thinking of reading him, don’t start with that one.

    1. SaffyTaffy*

      Nah, that book is a masterpiece. I lived in Shanghai for years and I loved all the little references to things really in the city and to its history. The magical second half is meant to mimic going into a deep interior self, a sort of dream.

      1. RB*

        Thanks for this, and I did like the parts about Shanghai because it made me want to visit there. Is there another one of his books you’d recommend that is maybe more grounded in realism (other than the two I mentioned I’d read already)? Thanks!

        1. SaffyTaffy*

          RB, please do visit Shanghai when you’re able, it’s the most exciting, vibrant, wildly ALIVE city in the whole world. And I feel like Ishiguro has been getting less and less realistic recently. The Buried Giant is dreamlike and kind of a metaphor for the end of the Middle Ages in Europe, so that might not be up your ballpark, and this new one Klara and the Sun looks to be pretty dreamlike, too. So maybe his older work?

  35. SaffyTaffy*

    May I say, as a sex-positive feminist and an amateur sexual anthropologist, I think Helen Gurley Brown did more to harm American women in the last 50 years than anyone else I can think of. Her magazine equated sexual freedom with “be ready for it at all times and never, ever say no.” I hate her.

  36. Kelly Kapoor*

    I want to put in a plug for the audio version of You’ll Never Believe What Happened to Lacey. Amber reads the book, and it’s like a warm Amber hug for a few hours.

  37. LP*

    I’m curious to know if the us of first person plural in The Buddha in the Attic was distracting. I can only think of one book that I’ve read before that used first person plural but that one felt like the author was using it to be different and it ended up distracting from the story rather than adding to it.

    1. LP*

      Typo correction: “…use of first person plural…”; that’s what I get for not proofreading before hitting submit.

  38. Bossy Magoo*

    We have very similar taste in books so I often rely on those recommendations. I’ve ready about 6 of the books you’ve recommended and they were all very good! Thank you!

  39. Tierrainney*

    I read Parnassus on Wheels after you recommended it and really enjoyed it. the Sequel was interesting but not as good.

  40. Jingle all the way*

    Loved Girl A, and We Run the Tides.

    Also, as a side note, the Badger’s Drift book was also an episode on the show Midsomer Murders, which my parents are big fans of. Two years ago, my mom got a custom made sign for my dad, and they hung it on the tree at the end of the driveway, reading “Badger’s Drift.”

  41. Sack of Benevolent Trash Marsupials*

    Glad to see someone else has become as obsessed with Jean Hanff Korelitz as I am. I read Admissions several years ago and loved it, and that led to You Should Have Known (chilling) and The Plot (even more chilling!). I am still hoping to score a copy of A Jury of Her Peers, which is one of those bizarre books on Amazon that I guess is scarce enough to force the pricing algorithm into overdrive – whenever I decide to check back in, it’s always like $709 dollars, so still haven’t read that one yet!

    1. Anonymous Bosch*

      I leave a comment whenever “You Should Have Known” is mentioned that people should read the book and not see very strange adaptation made for cable. Hint: No one in the book is British.

      Fun Fact: Jean Hanff Korelitz is a distant cousin to the late Helene Hanff of “84 Charing Cross Road” fame.

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