Like so many of you, I had a lot going on in 2021.
I did my best to continue managing health, risk, and sanity during the pandemic, I worked full time, wrote the first draft of my next book, read when I could, assisted family members during a time of medical/health difficulty (they're doing alright now, yay!), and in the midst of all this, I also launched my debut thriller Dark Things I Adore. (I'll be talking about the launch process in an upcoming blog post, so stay tuned!)
I didn't read as many books as I'd hoped this past year, but that's ok. 2021 was A Lot.
So, here are the books I read in 2021, in the order I read them:
HIDDEN VALLEY ROAD: INSIDE THE MIND OF AN AMERICAN FAMILY by Robert Kolker (Non-Fiction, 2020)
"The heartrending story of a midcentury American family with twelve children, six of them diagnosed with schizophrenia, that became science's great hope in the quest to understand the disease."
This book was engrossing, fascinating, and at times, heartbreaking. Well worth the read.
NOTHING CAN HURT YOU by Nicola Maye Goldberg (Fiction, 2020)
"On a cold day in 1997, student Sara Morgan was killed in the woods surrounding her liberal arts college in upstate New York. Her boyfriend, Blake Campbell, confessed, his plea of temporary insanity raising more questions than it answered. Nothing Can Hurt You dares to examine gendered violence not as an anomaly, but as the very core of everyday life. Tracing the concentric circles of violence rippling out from Sara's murder, Nicola Maye Goldberg masterfully conducts an unforgettable chorus of disparate voices."
I found this to be a unique and propulsive book, and at only 240 pages, it really moves.
LONG BRIGHT RIVER by Liz Moore (Fiction, 2020)
"Two sisters travel the same streets, though their lives couldn't be more different. Then one of them goes missing. Alternating its present-day mystery with the story of the sisters' childhood and adolescence, Long Bright River is a moving story of sisters, addiction, and the formidable ties that persist between place, family, and fate."
There's a reason why this was one of Barack Obaam's favorite reads of the year! It's powerful, beautifully written, and pulls no punches. The meet of grit and resilience.
LEAVE THE WORLD BEHIND by Rumaan Alam (Fiction, 2020)
"Leave the World Behind explores how our closest bonds are reshaped—and unexpected new ones are forged—in moments of crisis. Amanda and Clay head out to a remote corner of Long Island expecting a vacation: a quiet reprieve from life in New York City, quality time with their teenage son and daughter, and a taste of the good life in the luxurious home they’ve rented for the week. But a late-night knock on the door breaks the spell. Ruth and G. H. are an older couple—it’s their house, and they’ve arrived in a panic. They bring the news that a sudden blackout has swept the city. But in this rural area—with the TV and internet now down, and no cell phone service—it’s hard to know what to believe. Should Amanda and Clay trust this couple—and vice versa? What happened back in New York? Is the vacation home, isolated from civilization, a truly safe place for their families? And are they safe from one other?"
I think about this book a lot, even months and months later. The writing is superb. The circumstances are eery and unnerving. It is painfully humane, showing us the good, the bad, and the ugly of human nature. Truly obsessed with this book. Can't recommend high enough. That's why it's one of my STUNNER picks for the year!
THE SCORPION'S TAIL by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child (Fiction, 2021)
"From #1 bestselling authors Preston & Child comes a thrilling novel following archaeologist Nora Kelly and FBI Agent Corrie Swanson as they work together to solve a twisted crime that reaches far beyond any of their worst fears. When Nora and Corrie at last identify the body at the center of the mystery -- and the bizarre cause of death -- they open a door into a terrifying, secret world of ancient treasure and modern obsession: a world centered on arguably the most defining, frightening, and transformative moment in American history."
Again, if you're a fan of Preston & Child, you're a fan. I'm a fan. I enjoyed this second installment of the Nora Kelly spinoff series (spinoff from the Pendergast novels). They always deliver fun and intrigue -- that's why I always buy these books automatically when they come out.
IF I DISAPPEAR by Eliza Jane Brazier (Fiction, 2021)
"When her favorite true crime podcast host goes missing, an adrift young woman sets out to investigate and plunges headfirst into the wild backcountry of Northern California and her own dangerous obsession. Sera loves true crime podcasts. They give her a sense of control in a world where women just like her disappear daily. She's sure they are preparing her for something. So when Rachel, her favorite podcast host, goes missing, Sera knows it's time to act. Rachel has always taught her to trust her instincts. Sera follows the clues hidden in the episodes to an isolated ranch outside Rachel's small hometown to begin her search. She's convinced her investigation will make Rachel so proud. But the more Sera digs into this unfamiliar world, the more off things start to feel. Because Rachel is not the first woman to vanish from the ranch, and she won't be the last...Rachel did try to warn her."
This book was so great! If you are into true crime podcasts (as I am), you'll really enjoy this book. Great twists and turns in a very ominous setting.
BLACK WIDOWS by Cate Quinn (Fiction, 2021)
"Polygamist Blake Nelson built a homestead on a hidden stretch of land—a raw paradise in the wilds of Utah—where he lived with his three wives:
Rachel, the first wife, obedient and doting to a fault, with a past she'd prefer to keep quiet. Tina, the rebel wife, everything Rachel isn't, straight from rehab and the Vegas strip. And Emily, the young wife, naïve and scared, estranged from her Catholic family.
The only thing that they had in common was Blake. Until all three are accused of his murder. When Blake is found dead under the desert sun, all three wives become suspect—not only to the police, but to each other. As the investigation draws them closer, each wife must decide who can be trusted. With stories surfacing of a notorious cult tucked away in the hills, whispers flying about a fourth wife, and evidence that can't quite explain what had been keeping Blake busy, the three widows face a reckoning that might shatter all they know to be true."
This book was a lot of fun and it has a very good, explosive twist ending.
THE OTHER BLACK GIRL by Zakiya Dalila Harris (Fiction, 2021)
"Twenty-six-year-old editorial assistant Nella Rogers is tired of being the only Black employee at Wagner Books. Fed up with the isolation and microaggressions, she’s thrilled when Harlem-born and bred Hazel starts working in the cubicle beside hers. They’ve only just started comparing natural hair care regimens, though, when a string of uncomfortable events elevates Hazel to Office Darling, and Nella is left in the dust. Then the notes begin to appear on Nella’s desk: LEAVE WAGNER. NOW. It’s hard to believe Hazel is behind these hostile messages. But as Nella starts to spiral and obsess over the sinister forces at play, she soon realizes that there’s a lot more at stake than just her career. A whip-smart and dynamic thriller and sly social commentary that is perfect for anyone who has ever felt manipulated, threatened, or overlooked in the workplace, The Other Black Girl will keep you on the edge of your seat until the very last twist."
This was a really great one -- I thought it was going one way, but by the end, it totally goes another! The stakes end up being higher than I could have dreamed. Oof -- such a creepy ending.
GOOD NEIGHBORS by Sarah Langan (Fiction, 2021)
"Welcome to Maple Street, a picture-perfect slice of suburban Long Island, its residents bound by their children, their work, and their illusion of safety in a rapidly changing world. But menace skulks among this exclusive enclave. When the Wilde family arrive, they trigger their neighbors’ worst fears. Dad Arlo’s a gruff has-been rock star with track marks. Mom Gertie’s got a thick Brooklyn accent, with high heels and tube tops to match. Their weird kids cuss like sailors. They don’t fit with the way Maple Street sees itself. Maple Street’s Queen Bee, Rhea Schroeder—a lonely professor repressing a dark past—initially welcomed Gertie, but relations plummeted during one summer evening, when the new best friends shared too much, too soon. By the time the story opens, the Wildes are outcasts. As tensions mount, a sinkhole opens in a nearby park, and Rhea’s daughter Shelly falls inside. The search for Shelly brings a shocking accusation against the Wildes. Suddenly, it is one mom’s word against the other’s in a court of public opinion that can end only in blood."
This book had me laughing, tense, anxious, gutted -- FEELING. I cried at the end. It has it all. Including top-notch writing that explores the sometimes troubled or troubling characters with exquisite nuance. Sarah Langan is a queen. Another 2021 reading list STUNNER!
BLOODLESS by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child (Fiction, 2021)
"On the evening of November 24, 1971, D. B. Cooper hijacked Flight 305—Portland to Seattle—with a fake bomb, collected a ransom of $200,000, and then parachuted from the rear of the plane, disappearing into the night…and into history. Fifty years later, Agent Pendergast takes on a bizarre and gruesome case: in the ghost-haunted city of Savannah, Georgia, bodies are found with no blood left in their veins—sowing panic and reviving whispered tales of the infamous Savannah Vampire. As the mystery rises along with the body count, Pendergast and his partner, Agent Coldmoon, race to understand how—or if—these murders are connected to the only unsolved skyjacking in American history. Together, they uncover not just the answer…but an unearthly evil beyond all imagining."
Super fun! I really enjoyed this one. I will probably read the Pendergast Series Preston & Child novels until the day I die, and I feel like this one helped prove out my loyalty.
PAINTED FLOWERS SHOULDN'T TALK BACK: THE HOUSTON GARDEN ARTISTS IN THE SEVENTIES by Margaret O. Killinger (Non-Fiction, 2021)
"Painted Flowers Shouldn’t Talk Back tells the story of a suburban women’s art collective that painted together in Houston, Texas, from 1970 to 1977. They called themselves the Garden Artists, though their subjects were much more varied than just garden views. Author Margaret Killinger’s artful narrative illustrates how these women creatively confronted profound sociocultural challenges through decorative art. Some discovered much-needed financial independence and personal freedom through the group; others, camaraderie and gratification outside home and marriage. Still others found a welcome reprieve from the demands of motherhood, the confines of suburban conformity, or the sinking weight of grief. They collectively learned to confront stark walls and to determine what they could and could not live with, all the while enjoying art and each other."
This was a quick (about 95 pages) and interesting read about a small, mostly unknown artists' collective in the 70s. It was really cool to step into a world that was completely new to me.
READER, I MURDERED HIM by Betsy Cornwell (Fiction, October 2022)
"In this daring tale of female agency and revenge from a New York Times bestselling author, a girl becomes a teenage vigilante who roams Victorian England using her privilege and power to punish her friends’ abusive suitors and keep other young women safe. Adele grew up in the shadows—first watching from backstage at her mother’s Parisian dance halls, then wandering around the gloomy, haunted rooms of her father’s manor. When she’s finally sent away to boarding school in London, she’s happy to enter the brightly lit world of society girls and their wealthy suitors.
Yet there are shadows there, too. Many of the men that try to charm Adele’s new friends do so with dark intentions. After a violent assault, she turns to a roguish young con woman for help. Together, they become vigilantes meting out justice. But can Adele save herself from the same fate as those she protects? With a queer romance at its heart, this lush historical thriller offers readers an irresistible mix of vengeance and empowerment."
I had the great good fortune of getting to read this book pre-publication so I could provide a blurb if I liked it. I more than liked it. I LOVED IT. Here's what I wrote about it:
"A captivatingly written tale of vengeance, survival, derring-do, and the myriad complex forms of female love, READER, I MURDERED HIM is a breathtaking achievement. Reader, I devoured it."
This book comes out October 11, 2022 and is available for preorder!
So, that's my 2021 list!
What did you love in 2021?
What are you looking forward to loving in 2022?
Until next time, happy reading!