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Farewell to 2021, a year that was supposed to be a light at the end of a pandemic-weary tunnel. We made incredible strides this year thanks to vaccines, masks, social distancing, incredible frontline workers, and shared kindnesses. We were almost there. And then Omicron hit right at the holidays just as we were looking forward to some festive normalcy. If this was a difficult year for you, please know you’re not alone. If you miss your family from a distance, please know you’re not alone. If you’ve been sick, tired, or are just plain worn out – you’re not alone. We’re right there with you, and we have some ideas how to help a sullen mood.

Books. Beautiful, heartfelt, clever books.

Since 2021 shaped up differently than we had hoped (don’t even get me started on our collective loss of the formidable Betty White), this post will only be about the books that I loved this year. You don’t need to hear about disappointing reads, or any novel that I closed with an irritated thud.

Let’s talk about the books that have the power to sweep you away, inspire you, or make you laugh.

Here’s Elizabeth’s list of 2021 best reads.

The Reading List by Sara Nisha Adams

This one hit me right in the heart. This novel is about books, friendship, loss, love, and a library. The unlikely friendship between Mukesh (widower) and Aleisha (library employee) will break through the clutter of your day and inspire you to join a book club. Even more wonderful are the reading recommendations that you’ll get just from reading THIS novel. What could be better? If you want something heartfelt that will make you thankful for good friends and good reads, then this novel is for you. I was all smiles after reading this wonderful story.

Suburban Dicks by Fabian Nicieza

Absolutely hilarious. But how could this murder mystery NOT be funny when it was written by one of the creators of Deadpool? This is a smart, sarcastic whodunnit with fantastic characters and a twisty crime. Who better to solve it than a very pregnant ex-FBI profiler and a disgraced journalist? What’s even better is that I heard from the author, and he let me know that this is a series! The second installation will be released next summer. I might be able to wait until then. Maybe.

The Man Who Died Twice by Richard Osman

Did you fall in love with The Thursday Murder Club in 2020? Well, stand back, because believe it or not, this is even better than the first novel in the series. Your favorite four septuagenarians are back with another mystery, and you’ll learn all over again that these crime fighters are not to be trifled with. The only thing matching the wit and intelligence of these wonderful characters is their collective heart. The dialogue will have you laughing out loud, and the mystery will have you guessing until the end.

Razorblade Tears by S.A. Cosby

This novel is not for the faint of heart. While the book is advertised as a thriller and the premise is largely based on a mystery, this is also an unflinching examination of race relations. Its message of acceptance bursts through the whodunnit with remarkable force, and every conversation will make you think. This novel redefines the term page burner, because you will not be able to put it down until the very end. Couple this with stellar character development and you have a 2021 must read.

We Begin at the End by Chris Whitaker

Another story that will sweep you away. This novel broke my heart 100 times, but I loved the characters so much that I didn’t mind. Pick this up if you want to root for a proud chief-of-police named Walk, and a 13-year-old self-proclaimed outlaw named Duchess. Family takes on new meaning in this story, and you’ll miss these characters long after you close the book. Beautiful in every way.

The Happiest Man on Earth by Eddie Jaku

A must read. When Eddie Jaku started his memoir off by addressing the reader as “my friend,” I knew that this remarkable gentleman was going to overwhelm me with his story. Mr. Jaku survived seven years of horrors at the hands of the Nazis, from his time in concentration camps to his walking in a death march. That he remained convinced that most people are kind was nothing short of a miracle. Mr. Jaku passed away in 2021, and I’m so happy that he saw his story published before he died. This is a short book, but it’s lengthy in faith and friendship.

The Burning Girls by C.J. Tudor

I can barely talk about this book without spilling a spoiler, so I’ll just say this. Now that’s a twist. C.J. Tudor did it again.

Sparks Like Stars by Nadia Hashimi

This was my first novel by Nadia Hashimi, and she quickly catapulted to my favorites list. Sparks Like Stars is fantastic – a heart-wrenching plot, beautifully drawn characters and infinite wisdom. This is the story of an Afghan American woman who returns to her home in Kabul to finally learn the truth about her family’s tragedy. Aryana left the pain of Kabul decades ago and is now a successful surgeon in the U.S. But when the soldier who saved her so many years ago winds up in her exam room, she must face her past and her fury. I was not expecting to like this novel as much as I did, but once I was finished, I added the rest of Nadia Hashimi’s novels to my TBR pile.

The Last Flight by Julie Clark

I pulled an all-nighter to get to the end of this thrilling read. The plot had me seething, and the twists would not let up for a moment. One woman is trying to escape a brutal marriage. Another is planning to disappear for her own reasons, and the two meet by accident in an airport. What follows is a story that runs at a break-neck pace. I loved having a front row seat to these women’s self-discovery. They were stronger than they thought and were each underestimated. Here’s to women helping women. Here’s to women standing up for themselves. And here’s to the strong statement that this book made. This is an excellent novel that’s definitely worth your time.

A Knock at Midnight by Brittany K. Barnett

This book was jaw dropping. Reading it gave me a sobering education about the flaws of the U.S. justice system, and the failure of the War on Drugs. Ghost drugs, mandatory life sentences, staggering inequality, the fight for clemency – there were moments during this memoir when I was actually holding my breath. Luckily, there are amazing people out there like Brittany K. Barnett, who have dedicated their lives to the fight for justice. This is a very powerful and at times upsetting read, but I’m so glad that I picked it up. It was an eye-opener.

The Magician by Colm Tóibín

In this remarkable book, Colm Tóibín meticulously walks us through the life of Thomas Mann. Sound dry? It’s not. Thomas Mann was a remarkable author, and the story of his life is truly astounding. From using the written word to stand up to Hitler to fathering six amazing children who became famous in their own right, this retelling of Mann’s life is nothing short of breathtaking. And while this is a list of all my top 2021 reads, The Magician was hands down my favorite book of the year.

And there we have it. My top recommendations for 2021. So many thanks to the authors for pulling me out of my day-to-day and plunking me right in the middle of their imaginations or their amazing personal experiences. For that, I will always be grateful. For books, I will always be grateful. Let’s continue sharing wonderful stories and sweeping sagas. They’re something we can all have in common – a lively discussion about the books that we love.

Bring on 2022.