Six Book Club Books I Loved in 2021
Book club love!
My book club has been together in some form for thirteen years, and for a good while I've been (surprise!) the Bossy Final Decider of the books on our annual book list.
I ask for book suggestions from my fellow book clubbers, add my own ideas, make sure early reviews look solid enough for us, establish when an intriguing book is likely to be generally widely available from the library, vary our genres throughout the year, try to give us lighthearted reads for the summer, and adhere to our 400-page-ish page limit.
Here are my personal book club favorites from last year. I also enjoyed two of my favorite authors' newest books, Maggie O'Farrell's Hamnet and Matt Haig's The Midnight Library, but in both cases my expectations were sky-high and I was left wanting a little more.
For my favorite book club reads of 2020, check out the Greedy Reading List Six Book Club Books I Loved Last Year.
01 The Girl from Widow Hills by Megan Miranda
Miranda uses the framework of a famous fictional rescue story to imagine the characters' turmoil and desperate coping mechanisms, crafting a fascinating look at the depths beneath their surfaces.
Olivia (then called Arden) was a small child when she sleepwalked into a storm and was washed away. Three days later, she was recovered in a miraculous series of events that ended up with her rescue and removal from a storm drain.
Now someone from her past has resurfaced, and he could reveal her carefully hidden secrets and ruin everything. When evidence of brutal violence emerges close to home, Olivia wonders if someone is protecting her or possibly seeking some kind of revenge--and if that someone might even be Olivia herself.
I found the ending of the book gloriously terrifying. The last few pages felt a little disjointed from the story. But the familiar echoes of a story like "baby Jessica in the well," the media frenzy, and the public's emotional investment were a intriguing framework for Miranda's story.
For my full review of this book, see The Girl from Widow Hills.
02 Migrations by Charlotte McConaghy
Migrations features a tragic ecological setup of a world in which wild animals are largely nonexistent, with a cold and relentless ocean setting and frequently dramatic, sometimes tragic character interactions--but also glimmers of hope.
Franny is taking her research equipment and heading to Greenland to track the last Arctic terns in the world, during what might be their final migration to Antarctica.
She manages to talk her way onto a fishing boat and falls in with the crew, and it soon becomes clear that she's not only on a mission to document the critically endangered birds' journey. She's also conveniently left behind many complications and some dark secrets.
Migrations follows Franny as she travels farther from civilization and safety--and as she considers what it would mean to try to cobble together some version of personal redemption and possibly even some semblance of peace with what she's done, what she's seen, and what she's lost.
Click here for my full review of Migrations.
03 Today Tonight Tomorrow by Rachel Lynn Solomon
Solomon offers a sweet, romantic young adult story with emotions that feel authentic; the book showcases competition, honesty, youthful exploration, and valuable self-discovery.
It's the last day of high school, and senior nemeses Rowan Roth and Neil McNair have battled bitterly for every title, position, honor, and moment of recognition during their high school careers. They wake up texting each other their usual taunts and challenges. But today will be different: they'll find out which of them has earned the title of class valedictorian.
Today Tonight Tomorrow is a sweet, ultimately romantic story that celebrates essential teenage touchstones: academic achievement and competition; cultivating and appreciating meaningful friendships; facing and expressing even challenging feelings; and appreciating the wonderfully precious, fleeting moments that make up each day in a life.
For my full review, see Today, Tonight, Tomorrow.
04 Don't Look for Me by Wendy Walker
Walker offers a terrifying, disturbing premise--but I was fascinated with the character depth, explorations of grief, and the twist I never saw coming in this suspenseful book.
Molly Clarke is dealing with bottomless grief. Her youngest daughter died in an unthinkable accident, and for Molly, making her way through each day is like wading through floodwaters threatening to drown her.
So she walks away--from her distant husband, her always-furious oldest daughter, her absent middle son, her broken life, and her relentless pain. At least, that's what the clues left behind seem to indicate.
But the truth of what has occurred is horrible, terrifying, twisty--and absolutely fascinating. Yet I was pleasantly surprised by the generous character depth, explorations of grief, and self-actualization Walker offers within her suspenseful, gripping story. Situations aren't black-and-white, and terrible pain sometimes leads to intense realizations in what feel like realistically messy routes toward closure.
For my full review, check out Don't Look for Me.
05 The Exiles by Christina Baker Kline
Many of her characters find themselves in despairingly difficult situations, but Kline offers glimmers of hope as well.
Christina Baker Kline deftly exposes the raw truths of tough situations in her character-driven historical fiction. In The Exiles, she writes a story of friendship, despair, and emergences of hope with a richly drawn Australian backdrop--while laying bare the country's often-painful history.
The women's discoveries of their inner strength during their desperation are wonderful lights in the (significant) darkness here.
Kline offers uncomfortably vivid details of prison life, sea voyage, male-female power structures, the tiny glimmers of hope characters try to kindle into sustaining flames, and the deadly influence of negative societal judgment.
Christina Baker Kline also authored Orphan Train (which I really liked) and A Piece of the World (which I loved). Click here for my full review of The Exiles.
06 Red Notice by Bill Browder
Browder takes the reader deep into the intrigue and terror of the corrupt Russian political and business systems he uncovered. Despite some small moments that felt heavy-handed, this is a powerful, fast-paced, compelling nonfiction read.
The subtitle of Browder's nonfiction book is A True Story of High Finance, Murder, and One Man's Fight for Justice, and in Red Notice, Browder traces his path from Wall Street to the Soviet Union after its breakup--and the crimes, mysteries, and political machinations that he witnessed and helped uncover.
The story Browder shares is so compelling, so shocking, and so intriguing, I didn't mind skimming over some moments that felt heavy-handed. Browder brought me along into the thick of situations of which I had little or no prior understanding in a way that assured that I never felt lost. He's specific without getting bogged down in the details, and the pacing of the book is appealingly quick and compelling.
For my full review, see Red Notice.
If you like nonfiction books that read like fiction, you might try the books on the Greedy Reading Lists Six Compelling Nonfiction Books that Read Like Fiction and Six of the Best Nonfiction Books I've Read This Year.