I asked Curtis staff – “what was the best book you read in 2021?” and here are the books they told me about. A few are older titles, but most were published in 2021. Click on title to check availability and request.

FICTION

Wayward by Dana Spiotta (2021)

At the end of 2016 Samantha Raymond’s life feels like it is falling apart. One day she sees a house in a hardscrabble neighborhood in Syracuse, she buys it on a whim as she grapples with how to be a wife, a mother, and a daughter, in a country that is coming apart at the seams.

A Line to Kill by Anthony Horowitz, Hawthorne & Horowitz mystery #3 (2021)

When ex-detective Inspector Daniel Hawthorne and his sidekick, author Anthony Horowitz, are invited to an exclusive literary festival on Alderney, an idyllic island off the south coast of England, they don’t expect to find themselves in the middle of murder investigation– or to be trapped with a cold-blooded killer in a remote place with a murky, haunted past. (This is third in the series — start with The Word is Murder.)

Once and Future Witches by Alix E. Harrow (2020)

In the late 1800s, three sisters use witchcraft to change the course of history in this novel of magic and the suffragette movement. The sisters will need to delve into the oldest magic, draw new alliances, and heal the bond between them if they want to survive. There’s no such thing as witches. But there will be.

Solutions and Other Problems by Allie Brosh (2020) Graphic Novel

Includes humorous stories from Allie Brosh’s childhood; the adventures of her very bad animals; merciless dissection of her own character flaws; incisive essays on grief, loneliness, and powerlessness; as well as reflections on the absurdity of modern life.

The Man Who Died Twice by Richard Osman, Thursday Murder Club #2 (2021)

When an old friend, who has been accused of stealing millions of dollars’ worth of diamonds, desperately needs her help leaving a dead body in his wake, Elizabeth and her friends go up against a ruthless murderer who wouldn’t bat an eyelid at knocking off four septuagenarians.

The Hour of the Witch by Chris Bohjalian (2021)

The enthralling story of a young Puritan woman who marries the wrong man and soon finds herself caught up in the violence and hysteria of the Salem Witch Trials.

Suzanne and Gertrude by Jeb Loy Nichols (2019)

Suzanne has arranged her life to suit her solitariness, living quietly on her untended hill farm. Her days are a word-shy negotiation, caught between indifference and uncertainty. Into this world comes Gertrude, a wandering donkey. Together they form an unlikely alliance; each protecting the solitude of the other.

Finlay Donovan is Killing It by Elle Cosimano (2021)

Finlay Donovan is a struggling suspense novelist whose fiction treads dangerously close to the truth as she becomes tangled in real-life murder investigations.

The Vanishing Half  by Brit Bennett (2020)

The Vignes twin sisters will always be identical. But after growing up together in a small, southern black community and running away at age sixteen, it’s not just the shape of their daily lives that is different as adults, it’s everything: their families, their communities, their racial identities. Ten years later, one sister lives with her black daughter in the same southern town she once tried to escape. The other secretly passes for white, and her white husband knows nothing of her past. Still, even separated by so many miles and just as many lies, the fates of the twins remain intertwined. What will happen to the next generation, when their own daughters’ storylines intersect?

All Systems Red by Martha Wells, first in the Murderbot Diaries (2017)

In a corporate-dominated spacefaring future, planetary missions must be approved and supplied by the Company. Exploratory teams are accompanied by Company-supplied security androids, for their own safety. But in a society where contracts are awarded to the lowest bidder, safety isn’t a primary concern. On a distant planet, a team of scientists are conducting surface tests, shadowed by their Company-supplied ‘droid–a self-aware SecUnit that has hacked its own governor module, and refers to itself (though never out loud) as ‘Murderbot’.

The Waiting by Keum Suk Gendry-Kim (2021) Graphic Novel

The Waiting is the fictional story of Gwija, told by her novelist daughter Jina. When Gwija was 17 years old, after hearing that the Japanese were seizing unmarried girls, her family married her in a hurry to a man she didn’t know. Japan fell, Korea gained its independence, and the couple started a family. But peace didn’t come. The young family–now four–fled south. On the road, Gwija was separated from her husband and son. Then 70 years passed. Seventy years of waiting.

Hamnet: A Novel of the Plague by Maggie O’Farrell (2020)

A novel about the death of Shakespeare’s 11 year old son Hamnet–a name interchangeable with Hamlet in 15th century Britain–and the years leading up to the production of his great play. Hamnet is also a portrait of a marriage, a shattering evocation of a family ravaged by grief and loss, and a hypnotic recreation of the story that inspired one of the greatest masterpieces of all time.

Pony by R. J. Palacio (2021) juvenile

Accompanied by a ghost and a pony, a young boy goes on a quest to find his father.

In the Company of Witches by Auralee Wallace (2021)

When a local woman dies while staying at their B&B and her Aunt Nora is the prime suspect, Brynn Warren, a witch who can commune with ghosts, must use the gift she once thought herself ready to give up forever to prove her aunt’s innocence.

Last Chance Library by Freya Sampson (2021)

Lonely librarian June Jones has never left the sleepy English village where she grew up. Shy and reclusive, the thirty-year-old would rather spend her time buried in books than venture out into the world. But when her library is threatened with closure, June is forced to emerge from behind the shelves to save the heart of her community and the place that holds the dearest memories of her mother.

The Night Watchman by Louise Erdrich (2020)

A novel based on the life of “Erdrich’s grandfather, who worked as a night watchman and carried the fight against Native dispossession from rural North Dakota all the way to Washington, D.C.

The Holiday Swap by Maggie Knox (2021)

While chef Charlie Goodwin loses her ability to taste and smell—both critical to her success as show judge—Charlie’s identical twin, Cass, is frantically trying to hold her own life together back in their quaint mountain hometown. With only days until Christmas, a desperate Charlie asks Cass to do something they haven’t done since they were kids: switch places.

Last True Poets of the Sea by Julia Drake (2019) teen

Inspired loosely by Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, teenaged Violet is shipped off to Maine after her brother’s hospitalization, where she searches for the lost shipwreck that her great-great grandmother survived and for answers about her family’s long struggle with mental illness, all while falling in love.

NONFICTION

Woke Racism:  How a New Religion has Betrayed Black America by John McWhorter (2021)

An acclaimed linguist and award-winning writer discusses how a well-meaning but pernicious form of antiracism has become, not a progressive ideology, but a religion—and one that’s illogical, unreachable and unintentionally neoracist.

Broken (in the Best Possible Way) by Jenny Lawson (2021)

As Jenny Lawson’s hundreds of thousands of fans know, she suffers from depression. In Broken, Jenny brings readers along on her mental and physical health journey, offering heartbreaking and hilarious anecdotes along the way.

 

Call Us What We Carry:  Poems by Amanda Gorman (2021)

The presidential inaugural poet–and unforgettable new voice in American poetry–presents a collection of poems that includes the stirring poem read at the inauguration of the 46th President of the United States.

Mill Town: Reckoning with What Remains by Kerri Arsenault (2020)

Kerri Arsenault grew up in the rural working class town of Mexico, Maine. For over 100 years the community orbited around a paper mill that employs most townspeople. Arsenault sifts through historical archives and scientific reports, talking to family and neighbors, and examining her own childhood to present a portrait of a community that illuminates not only the ruin of her hometown and the collapse of the working-class of America.

Women and Other Monsters: Building a New Mythology by Jess Zimmerman (2021)

This essay collection uses female monsters from Greek mythology to explore traits that women are taught to suppress, and encourage readers to embrace them instead.

Mudlark: In Search of London’s Past Along the River Thames by Lara Maiklem (2021)

Lara Maiklem tirelessly treks along the Thames’ muddy shores, unearthing a myriad of artifacts and their stories–from Roman hairpins and perfectly preserved Tudor shoes to the clay pipes that were smoked in riverside taverns. Seamlessly interweaving reflections from her own life with meditations on the art of wandering, Maiklem ultimately delivers a treatise “as deep and as rich as the Thames and its treasures.”

The Women I Think About at Night: Traveling the Paths of my Heroes by Mia Kankimäki, trans by Douglas Robinson (2020)

What can a forty-something childless woman do? Bored with her life and feeling stuck, Mia Kankimäki leaves her job, sells her apartment, and decides to travel the world, following the paths of the female explorers and artists from history who have long inspired her. She flies to Tanzania and then to Kenya to see where Karen Blixen–of Out of Africa–fame lived in the 1920s. In Japan, Mia attempts to cure her depression while researching Yayoi Kusama, the contemporary artist who has voluntarily lived in a psychiatric hospital for decades. In Italy, Mia spends her days looking for the works of forgotten Renaissance women painters of the Uffizi Gallery in Florence, and finally finds her heroines in the portraits of Sofonisba Anguissola, Lavinia Fontana, and Artemisia Gentileschi. If these women could make it in the world hundreds of years ago, why can’t Mia?

How to Garden the Low Carbon Way: The Steps You Can Take to Help Combat Climate Change by Sally Nex (2021)

Transform your outdoor space into a low-impact, carbon-absorbing sink with this fantastic gardening guide, packed with ideas to grow a climate-friendly garden that will help protect the planet. Keen on starting your own garden but unsure about your environmental impact? This guide will give you practical advice on which soil to use, plants that are best for absorbing carbon dioxide, low-carbon fertilizers, and cutting out single-use plastic. What’s more, this garden book is completely backed by scientific research!

Broken Horses: A Memoir by Brandi Carlile (2021)

Brandi Carlile was born into a musically gifted, impoverished family on the outskirts of Seattle and grew up in a constant state of change, moving from house to house, trailer to trailer, fourteen times in as many years. As an openly gay teenager, Brandi grappled with the tension between her sexuality and her faith when her pastor publicly refused to baptize her on the day of the ceremony. Shockingly, her small town rallied around Brandi in support…Brandi Carlile takes readers through the events of her life that shaped her very raw art–from her start at a local singing competition where she performed Elton John’s “Honky Cat” in a bedazzled white polyester suit, to her first break opening for Dave Matthews Band, to many sleepless tours over fifteen years and six studio albums, all while raising two children with her wife, Catherine Shepherd.

Finding Freedom: A Cook’s Story: Remaking a Life from Scratch by Erin French (2021)

Long before The Lost Kitchen became a world dining destination, Erin French was a girl roaming barefoot on a 25-acre farm, a teenager falling in love with food while working the line at her dad’s diner and a young woman finding her calling as a professional chef at her tiny restaurant tucked into a 19th century mill.

Zero-Waste Gardening:  Maximize Space and Taste with Minimal Waste by Ben Raskin (2021)

Learn about the roots of organic gardening, and unearth how to plant waste-free for any size plot, from balcony containers to 5-metre-square yards. Peppered with root-to-stalk cooking techniques, and edibility tips including which crops you can eat straight away, this is a plot-to-plate handbook for everyone with a green-thumb.

This Time Next Year We’ll Be Laughing: A Memoir by Jacqueline Winspear (2020)

This portrayal of a post-War England, the author reflects on her childhood in the English countryside, of working class indomitability and family secrets, of artistic inspiration and the price of memory.

Blow Your House Down: A Story of Family, Feminism and Treason by Gina Frangello (2021)

Worn down from years of caregiving both her elderly parents and three kids, Gina starts to interrogate her own mortality and what she once longed for as a younger woman : a kind of sexual, romantic and artistic intensity radically at odds with her comfortable but emotionally stagnant marriage. Falling into a passionate affair with a writer/musician, Gina begins living a shocking double life while continuing to outwardly project the image of having a “perfect family.”

 

If you need more recommendations, call us at 725-5242 or email helpdesk@curtislibrary.com.  We love to guide you to your next great book!