2021 Reading List: Year’s best in genre fiction for adult readers

CHICAGO—The Reading List Council has announced the 2021 selections of the Reading List, an annual best-of list comprised of eight different fiction genres for adult readers. A shortlist of honor titles, up to 4 per genre was also announced. The list was announced Thursday during the Book & Media Awards Virtual Ceremony.

The 2021 selections are:

Adrenaline

Winner
“The Holdout: A Novel” by Graham Moore (Random House, an imprint and division of Penguin Random House LLC)

Ten years after Maya Seale convinced her fellow jurors to acquit a man of murder, a true crime documentary reunites the jury amid claims of new evidence. When one of them is found dead in Maya’s hotel room, she must prove her own innocence in this taut legal thriller.

Readalikes

“The Body in Question” by Jill Ciment
“The Runaway Jury” by John Grisham
“Twelve Angry Men” by Reginald Rose

Short List
“Blacktop Wasteland: A Novel” by S.A. Cosby (Flatiron Books)
“A Good Marriage: A Novel” by Kimberly McCreight (Harper, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers)
“A Solitude of Wolverines: A Novel of Suspense” by Alice Henderson (William Morrow, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers)
“When No One Is Watching: A Thriller” by Alyssa Cole (William Morrow, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers)

Fantasy

Winner
“The House in the Cerulean Sea” by TJ Klune (A Tor Book Published by Tom Doherty Associates)

Linus Baker, diligent case worker at the Department of Magical Youth, travels to Arthur Parnassus’ orphanage to determine if any of the magical children in Arthur’s care might cause the end of the world. While getting to know Arthur and his charges, Linus discovers a found family worthy of rule-breaking.

Readalikes

“Every Heart a Doorway” by Seanan McGuire
Joe Vs. the Volcano (movie)
“Silver in the Wood” by Emily Tesh

Short List
“Black Sun” by Rebecca Roanhorse (Saga Press, an imprint of Simon & Schuster, Inc.)
“The City We Became” by N.K. Jemisin (Orbit, an imprint of Hachette Book Group)
“A Deadly Education: A Novel” by Naomi Novik (Del Rey, an imprint of Random House, a division of Penguin Random House LLC)
“Ring Shout: or, Hunting Ku Kluxes in the End Times” by P. Djèlí Clark (A Tordotcom Book, Published by Tom Doherty Associates)

Historical Fiction

Winner
“Conjure Women: A Novel” by Afia Atakora (Random House, an imprint and division of Penguin Random House LLC)

During Slaverytime, conjure woman and healer Rue kept the plantation slaves healthy. With the Civil War over, Rue continues to tend to the formerly enslaved until the birth of a child feared to be a demon and the arrival of a charismatic preacher place Rue in a precarious situation.

Readalikes

“Remembrance” by Rita Woods
“The Underground Railroad” by Colson Whitehead
“Washington Black” by Esi Edugyan

Short List
“Code Name Hélène: A Novel” by Ariel Lawhon (Doubleday, a division of Penguin Random House LLC)
“The Cold Millions: A Novel” by Jess Walter (Harper, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers)
“The Pull of the Stars: A Novel” by Emma Donoghue (Little, Brown and Company, a division of Hachette Book Group)
“The Land Beyond the Sea” by Sharon Kay Penman (G.P. Putnam’s Sons, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC)

Horror

Winner
“The Only Good Indians: A Novel” by Stephen Graham Jones (Saga Press, an imprint of Simon & Schuster, Inc.)

This slow-burn horror novel follows four members of the Blackfeet tribe as an illegal elk hunting trip catches up to them ten years later, and the spirit of the elk they wronged methodically tracks them down to exact her bloody revenge.

Readalikes

“Empire of Wild” by Cherie Dimaline
“The Ritual” by Adam L.G. Nevill
“Trail of Lightning” by Rebecca Roanhorse

Short List
“The Hollow Places: A Novel” by T. Kingfisher (Saga Press, an imprint of Simon & Schuster, Inc.)
“The Return” by Rachel Harrison (Berkley, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC)
“Mexican Gothic” by Silvia Moreno-Garcia (Del Rey, an imprint of Random House, a division of Penguin Random House LLC)
“The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires” by Grady Hendrix (Quirk Books)

Mystery

Winner
“Fortune Favors the Dead: A Novel” by Stephen Spotswood (Doubleday, a division of Penguin Random House LLC)

Pentecost, premier female detective of 1940s New York, and her right-hand woman Parker, an ex-circus performer, are called to investigate a ghostly murderer. The victim’s shadowy past, an eerily knowledgeable medium, Pentecost’s health, and Parker’s growing attraction to the victim’s daughter complicate this noirish locked room mystery.

Readalikes

“Fer-de-lance” by Rex Stout
“Girl Waits With Gun” by Amy Stewart
“The Right Sort of Man” by Allison Montclair

Short List
“The Devil and the Dark Water” by Stuart Turton (Sourcebooks Landmark, an imprint of Sourcebooks)
“The Eighth Detective: A Novel” by Alex Pavesi (Henry Holt and Company)
“The Silence of the White City” by Eva García Sáenz, translated from the Spanish by Nick Caistor (Vintage Books, a division of Penguin Random House LLC)
“A Trace of Deceit: A Novel” by Karen Odden (William Morrow, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers)

Relationship

Winner
“Oona Out of Order” by Margarita Montimore (Flatiron Books)

On New Year’s Eve 1982, 18-year-old Oona Lockhart faces a personal crossroads. But when the clock strikes midnight, she faints and awakens decades in the future as her older self. Jumping to a new age each New Year’s, Oona grapples with constantly changing circumstances and discovers relationships that anchor her.

Readalikes

“Before the Coffee Gets Cold” by Toshikazu Kawaguchi
“In Five Years” by Rebecca Serle
“The Two Lives of Lydia Bird” by Josie Silver

Short List
“Anxious People: A Novel” by Fredrik Backman, translated by Neil Smith (Atria Books, an imprint of Simon & Schuster, Inc.)
“His Only Wife: A Novel” by Peace Adzo Medie (Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, a division of Workman Publishing)
“The Love Story of Missy Carmichael” by Beth Morrey (G.P. Putnam’s Sons, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC)
“This Won’t End Well” by Camille Pagán (Lake Union Publishing)

Romance

Winner
“The Duke Who Didn’t” by Courtney Milan (Courtney Milan)

Chloe Fong is the capable, list-focused love of Jeremy Wentworth’s life, but she’s looking for someone serious. After three years of chasing seriousness, Jeremy returns for the annual fair determined to show Chloe that he may not be serious, but he’s serious about her. A flirty, sexy historical romance.

Readalikes

“Breathless” by Beverly Jenkins
Bridgerton (TV series, Netflix)
“True Pretenses” by Rose Lerner

Short List
“Love Lettering” by Kate Clayborn (Kensington Books)
“Spoiler Alert: A Novel” by Olivia Dade (Avon, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers)
“Take a Hint, Dani Brown: A Novel” by Talia Hibbert (Avon, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers)
“You Had Me at Hola: A Novel” by Alexis Daria (Avon, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers)

Science Fiction

Winner
“The Space Between Worlds” by Micaiah Johnson (Del Rey, an imprint of Random House, a division of Penguin Random House LLC)

In a future where people can travel to parallel universes in which their counterparts are deceased, Cara’s worth is measured by how easily she dies. Earth after Earth, the poor die to benefit the wealthy, until Cara discovers a secret that could disrupt the whole corrupt system.

Readalikes

“Binti” by Nnedi Okorafor
“The Future of Another Timeline” by Annalee Newitz
“Recursion” by Blake Crouch

Short List
“Axiom’s End: A Novel” by Lindsay Ellis (St. Martin’s Press, an imprint of St. Martin’s Publishing Group)
“The Doors of Eden” by Adrian Tchaikovsky (Orbit, an imprint of Hachette Book Group)
“Hench: A Novel” by Natalie Zina Walschots (William Morrow, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers)
“A Pale Light in the Black: A NeoG Novel” by K.B. Wagers (Harper Voyager, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers)

The winners were selected by the Reading List Council whose members include eleven expert readers’ advisory and collection development librarians. The eight genres currently included in the Council’s considerations are adrenaline, fantasy, historical fiction, horror, mystery, relationship fiction, romance, and science fiction. However, the Council is adaptable to new genres and changes in contemporary reading interest.

The Council consists of Andrea Gough, The Seattle Public Library, chair; Meagan Day, High Plains Library District; Halle Eisenman, NoveList; Matthew Galloway, Anythink Libraries; Stephanie Handy, Library of Congress; Marlene Harris, Reading Reality LLC; Sarah Jaffa, Kitsap Regional Library; Liz Kirchhoff, Barrington Area Library; Kara Krekeler, University City Public Library; Teresa May, Durham County Public Libraries (retired); Karin Suni, Free Library of Philadelphia.

The Reference and User Services Association (RUSA), a division of the American Library Association, represents librarians and library staff in the fields of reference, specialized reference, collection development, readers’ advisory and resource sharing. RUSA is the foremost organization of reference and information professionals who make the connections between people and the information sources, services, and collection materials they need. Learn more at www.rusaupdate.org.

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