Can you believe 2022 is just around the corner? I’m still mentally back in the fall of 2019. BC, I call it: Before Covid. Hopefully, 2022 sees a bit more return to normalcy! Things started to feel more normal this past year, but of course there is still a ways to go.
The 2021 year saw me getting back to my normal monthly travel cadence, which means I spent a great deal of time in planes and trains and automobiles, with nothing else to do but read to my heart’s content. I was able to polish off at least a couple books each month — and while there were some duds, there were quite a few winners that I’m excited to share. This year I found the most enjoyment in mystery and historical fiction genres, and when they overlap, all the better!
With no further ado, here are some of my favorite books from 2021.
- Finlay Donovan Is Killing It – Elle Cosimano
“Finlay Donovan is a young divorcee with two kids, an empty bank account, and a looming book deadline. When she is overheard discussing the plot of her new suspense novel, she’s mistaken for a contract killer, and inadvertently accepts an offer to dispose of a problem husband. She soon discovers that crime in real life is a lot more difficult than its fictional counterpart, as she becomes tangled in a real-life murder investigation.”
This was one of the cutest books I have read lately. It was the perfect blend of humor, mystery, and romance. The crime plot-line was actually very gripping and intriguing, and yet the author was able to maintain a lighthearted approach to the whole thing that kept it from delving into a gritty, gory crime thriller. I absolutely loved it and am very excited that the author is publishing a sequel in the spring.
- The Rose Code – Kate Quinn
“A beautiful blue-blooded debutante, a tart-tongued London shop-girl, and a shy crossword-solving spinster join the war against Nazi Germany as codebreakers of Bletchley Park, only to find that the real puzzle lies inside the Park itself as a traitor sets them against each other in a betrayal reaching past the end of the war.”
I am a huge Kate Quinn fan and love all of her WW1 and WW2 novels. The Rose Code follows two other books of a similar vein: The Alice Network and The Huntress. The Alice Network is based on a real-life WW1 spy ring led by the legendary Louise de Bettignies. The Huntress is a split narrative based on both the try stories of the Soviet Night Witches, as well as the escaped Nazis that assumed perfectly normal lives in the United States. The Rose Code was a perfect third installation to this genre, and I can’t recommend it enough.
- God Rest Ye, Royal Gentlemen – Rhys Bowen
“Georgie is back and hanging the stockings with care when a murder interrupts her Christmas cheer in this all-new installment in the New York Times best-selling Royal Spyness series from Rhys Bowen. Two gentlemen of the royal household have died in mysterious circumstances, and another has been shot by mistake during a hunt. Georgie begins to suspect that a member of the royal family is the real target.”
Think Legally Blonde meets Nancy Drew meets Downton Abbey. The characters are incredibly lovable — or perfectly hateful, in some cases. The setting is accurate and well researched. The mysteries are clever. The humor is on point. And fortunately, the author (the winner of almost every mystery writing award known to man) is showing no signs of ending the series, so there is always a book to look forward to each year.
- Imposter Syndrome – Kathy Wang
“A sharp and prescient novel about women in the workplace, the power of Big Tech, and the looming threat of foreign espionage. In 2006 Julia Lerner is recruited by Russia’s largest intelligence agency. By 2018 she’s the COO of one of America’s most famous technology companies. Alice Lu is a first-generation Chinese American who discovers some unusual server activity, and now she’s burdened with a distressing suspicion.”
Breaking away from my usual historical fiction and mystery preference, Imposter Syndrome was a really great cultural satire (another genre I love) that was especially amusing and interesting to me as a woman working in the tech space. It was interesting how the author wove reality and speculation throughout the book, and she did a really good job illustrating some of the issues women and minorities face working in this niche space.
- The Paris Dressmaker – Kristy Cambron
“World War II is just about to break out, and a haute couture dressmaker finds herself drawn to the Resistance and offers to use her skills as a dressmaker to infiltrate the German headquarters in the city. While she is busy gaining information, she meets and quickly falls for the handsome Rene Toullard. She now has to decide whether to continue life as normal or somehow save her love and his Jewish family from death.”
What can I say? I’m a sucker for WW2 historical fiction, especially when you add in a forbidden romance and some high-end fashion. This book was a bit slow to start for me, but I’m really glad I stuck it out because it really picked up, and gripped me from about 25% of the way in all the way to the end.
The year, I have been disappointed by a few different forums for sourcing books:
- The Instagram/TikTok book recommendations were severely lacking. Fluffy, smutty, poorly written, and poorly developed in most cases. It’s like they all followed the same writing formula but plugged in different character names and locations. Girl meets boys. Girl hates boy (or loves boy but thinks boy hates girl). Boy and girl do not communicate. Boy and girl have to share a hotel room — gasp, there is only one bed! I was never into it, and now I’m decidely over it. Where is the creativity?
- Reese’s Book Club picks. This hurts me to say, because the picks used to be so good, but I feel like they have defaulted to the most pandering books on the market. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for books skillfully weaving hot button topics and relevant issues into the storyline…keyword though being “skillfully.” In most cases I felt like the author was just pushing an agenda and the books fell flat. Either the narrative works for the storyline, or it doesn’t. I wish authors would stop trying to force things in that don’t flow. If you want to write about X topic, do it. Don’t try to force it into a random romantic comedy book — or worse, force a narrative into a historical setting that was not relevant for that time.