Student Life

Best Books 2021: Historical Fiction, Mystery and More

A student shares the best books of 2021 -- maybe your next leisure read is below.

Student Contributor, Jasmin Kaur

January 27, 2022

Best Books 2021: Historical Fiction, Mystery and More
Looking for a new novel to read in your down time?
There are few things more satisfying than a rainy day, a cup of tea or coffee, and an engaging book to read for a few hours. Below, I’ll explore the top ten books of 2021, ranging from historical fiction to mystery to science fiction! A quick note: These books are in no particular ranking, just a few good reads that hopefully you’ll be able to enjoy on your next rainy (or sunny) day!
  1. The Four Winds Author: Kristen Hannah Genre: Historical Fiction
    From the author of The Nightingale comes a lush new historical fiction set in 1934, Texas. Amidst the devastating climatic effects of the Dust Bowl and the economic despair of the Great Depression Era, the novel follows Elsa Martinelli, a woman striving to protect her family, who must decide whether to stay at the family farm or undertake the perilous journey west to California. An intimate portrayal of one woman’s strength, loyalty, and courage, complete with poetic prose and minute details, go check out The Four Winds if you're a fan of historical fiction!
  2. Project Hail Mary Author: Andy Weir Genre: Science Fiction; Mystery
    Spinning another elaborate and intellectual but digestible tale of an incredible space journey, Andy Weir drags in his readers to face the insurmountable odds of a mission gone wrong alongside the protagonist Ryland Grace. With only his dead crewmates for company, millions of miles away from home (Earth), and suffering from amnesia, Grace must determine his own survival while also figuring out how to complete his assignment. As flashbacks reveal Earth's precarious state and the imperative nature of Grace’s missions, readers find themselves turning page after page. Deftly weaving together mystery, sci-fi, humor, as well as a healthy dose of questions on what truly defines us (humans), Weir's third novel certainly lives up to the universal dimensions its plot contains.
  3. Whereabouts Author: Jhumpa Lahiri Genre: Contemporary
    Pulitzer Prize-winning author Jhumpa Lahiri's first novel in Italian presents a spectrum of universal themes, from longing for a home to the desire for solitude and independence, drawing her readers into a tantalizing tale brimming with poise and movement. Whereabouts follow a woman (our unnamed narrator) as she lives out her daily life, season after season until a stunning transformation follows. Not wanting to give out too much information, the short novel (only a mere 160 pages) reads far more like a vignette, slowly but surely revealing the depths of our narrator’s mind as she explores the characters surrounding her and the effects they present on her own self. A short but powerful read, Lahiri’s Whereabouts makes a perfect read for a quiet, sunny day.
  4. Harlem Shuffle Author: Colson Whitehead Genre: Historical Fiction Another historical fiction from another Pulitzer Prize-winning author, Harlem Shuffle places the readers in vibrant 1960s Harlem. Well-known for his work, The Underground Railroad, Colson Whitehead creates yet another set of intriguing, complex characters finding themselves in complicated situations. As we follow our protagonist, Ray Carney, and his cousin Freddie, dealing with a heist gone wrong (and the fallout that... follows), this fast-paced novel is reluctant to let readers slip from the clutches of its dazzling prose and meticulous details. From a furniture salesperson to a temporary thief, Carney is a protagonist that readers will find themselves rooting for time after time.
  5. Klara and the Sun Author: Kazuo Ishiguro Genre: Science Fiction Another novel in the science-fiction territory, Klara and the Sun reads a bit differently than the average intergalactic adventure. Klara is an AF, or artificial friend, who longs for the day when she will be brought home. Her wish is answered when she’s purchased by Josie (a young teenager) and her mother, but her journey into what it means to love has only begun. While the writing tends to linger at times, Klara's uncolored voice sets up a succinct narrative as the readers navigate her obsession with the sun while Ishiguro builds upon the novel's understanding of human nature. As Ishiguro tackles the looming threat of climate change and the consequences of rapid modernity, Klara and the Sun is a thought-provoking read for any reader!
  6. A Slow Fire Burning Author: Paula Hawkins Genre: Mystery From the award-winning author of The Girl on the Train, this mystery thriller is an elaborate weaving of suspense, emotion, and character-driven plot. As we follow our wide host of characters, all connected to the murder victim in some way, we uncover their dark secrets, painful presents, and vindictive desires, all leading to bitter resentment that can last only so far before erupting. Without wanting to give away too much, I’ll only say this is a tantalizing mystery that’ll make you keep turning the pages deep into the night!
  7. The Witch’s Heart Author: Genevieve Gornichec Genre: Fantasy; Young Adult Genevieve Gornichec’s intricate young adult fantasy, based upon Norse mythology, follows the banished witch, Angrboda, who falls in love with the trickster god Loki. After refusing to give Odin knowledge of the future, Angrboda is burned at the stake, only to come back to life and flee into the woods where she meets Loki, falls in love, and has three children with him. As we follow Angrboda's journey from an outcasted witch to a wife and mother, we see her grow into a woman who will go to any length necessary to protect her home and self from forces that seek to drown her and a fate that strives to dictate her. A dazzling retelling, this novel is a must-read for fans of fantasy and Norse mythology!
  8. The Secret Keeper of Jaipur Author: Alka Joshi Genre: Historical Fiction This gorgeous historical fiction (as you can guess, a favorite genre) follows up on Lakshmi and Malik, Joshi’s protagonists from her first novel in the planned trilogy—The Henna Artist. While the story does take off in a different direction from the prior novel, I would highly recommend starting with The Henna Artist to fully appreciate the depth and range of the characters present in this novel. Brimming with Joshi's melodic prose and details that truly bring to life the city of Jaipur in 1969, we follow Malik (now twenty) as he revisits his childhood city and becomes acquainted once again with the webs of deception and power that overlay the Pink City. For anyone seeking to escape to a sun-filled region filled with the scents of diverse foods and a mystery to solve, The Secret Keeper of Jaipur offers an excellent read!
  9. The Burning Girls Author: C.J. Tudor Genre: Horror; Thriller In this unsettling and suspenseful thriller of a town with everything to hide, readers will find themselves glued to the pages until the very end. We follow Reverend Jack Brooks and her 14-year-old daughter, Flo, as they attempt to settle down in the quiet (or so they initially believe) little town of Chapel Croft, located in the English countryside. Instead, as the mother and daughter receive an exorcism kit as a welcome package, and Flo begins seeing visions of burning girls, the two uncover Chapel Croft’s bloody history of past martyrs burned at the stakes and two teenage girls who went missing. And they realize that something far more sinister than its strange citizens lurk underneath the idyllic setting of Chapel Croft.
  10. Velvet Was the Night Author: Silvia Moreno-Garcia Genre: Mystery; Historical Fiction Gorgeous cover aside, Velvet Was the Night is a spectacular blend of mystery, romance, and historical fiction by bestselling author Silvia Moreno-Garcia! Set in the 1970s, Mexico City, Velvet Was the Night follows our protagonist, Maite, as she goes from a simple secretary to a part-detective seeking to solve the mystery of her missing neighbor- the enigmatic art student Leonora. However, Maite soon discovers another shadow on the case—Elvis—an elusive figure who, despite being in charge of groups dedicated to quelling political activists, seeks to escape his violent present. As we follow Maite's and Elvis's search for Leonora, the turbulent political climate of Mexico City creates an energetic and watchful backdrop, igniting a spark that’ll lead straight to our protagonists.
Those were some of the top books of 2021; I hope you enjoy(ed) them! And now, onward to 2022!

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