Favorite Fiction as of 2021

The list that each of us carries in mind and heart of our favorite fiction is, of course, ever changing as we continue reading new books. For me, though, there have been several constants that have remained on this list for years and years now. These books have taken up residence in my heart. I’ve read most of them more than once, and will read all of them again at some point when the mood strikes. I love these characters. I was captured by their stories. Whenever people ask me, “What are your favorites?” These are the books I name, again and again.

Americanah tells the story of Ifemelu and Obinze, two young Nigerians falling in love at the tail end of high school. Something poignant and particular swirls in the midst of their love for one another- and not just because they are “first loves.” (Because just as often as they remain in our minds, some first loves become forgettable within the years following, with consequent, more powerful, better fitting loves to come).

Yet, as all great love stories do, this one enters a phase of uncertainty and even divergence. Upon entering college, Ifemelu gains a scholarship to go to school in the U.S. Obinze encourages her, supporting this venture. The two agree he will join her there shortly following her arrival and settling overseas.

Unsurprisingly, this goes awry. While in the US, alone and struggling, destitute and desperate, Ifemelu loses her way momentarily and pushes away Obinze along with this. As the reader, this is heart-wrenching to witness. Meanwhile, Obinze goes off to London. Living there illegally, his experience is equally disheartening and distressing in differing degrees.

By this point, they lose touch.

Without offering spoilers, Ifemelu and Obinze journey down separate paths for years. Then, they both return to Nigeria, though he is married and has a child by then, while she has experienced a handful of other loves and began a blog which caused a rousing and stirring overseas. Their communications with one another flare up once more when Ifemelu reaches out. And what follows…you’ll have to read and find out.

Adichie is a superb storyteller. A poet and an artist. Insightful, romantic, watchful, and supremely intelligent. The story made my heart both race and sing. It changed my viewpoint on various things, gripped and inspired me. I cared about these characters.

Run, don’t walk, to snag a copy and dive in yourself. You will not regret it. I’ve read this one twice and will definitely read it again.

This dark, visual tale grabs hold of you tight and doesn’t let go until the end. It is both bewitching and haunting, glittering and dark. The Goldfinch nabbing a Pulitzer didn’t surprise me in the least. In my opinion, she spins magic with her words and the settings are as much a part of the story as the characters.

“You can look at a picture for a week and never think of it again. You can also look at a picture for a second and think of it all your life.”
― Donna Tartt, The Goldfinch

The story told is of Theodore Decker, a barely teenaged boy whose mother is killed in a terrorist attack explosion during their day together at an NYC museum. Theodore makes it out physically intact, but emotionally shattered and psychologically devastated. This moment sets in motion the trajectory of the rest of his life, and the kind of person he will become. Hint: not a great one.

On his way out of the museum, dazed, disoriented, panicked, he lifts a small painting from the rubble-laden, dusty, apocalyptic aftermath of the bomb. This painting, The Goldfinch, an apparently renowned one, is another crucial part of the tale.

Meanwhile, upon attempting to reconcile with the loss of his mother, Theo descends into darkness and self-annihilation, spiraling into drug addiction and allowing his heart to harden. His self-contempt is so great that he becomes the ultimate in self-serving. In fact, most of the characters in this story are not especially likable, with the exception of Theo’s mother, Hobby, and Pippa (Theo’s long-term, unrequited love).

However, that is part of what lends this story its stronghold. The characters, while not people with whom you would ever wish to associate, are compelling, some even contradictory, and such fun to read about. Roxane Gay talks about this in a superb essay of hers. That our judging stories as bad because the “characters are unlikeable,” is misguided and unfortunate. That in doing so, we might even be missing out on something significant.

My god, did this book pack a wallop.  It was incredible.  This one took me about 2.5 weeks to finish but it is without question one of the most powerful books I have read since I can remember.  It took my breath away.

Don’t worry, no spoilers!

The story (fiction) follows four men and the trajectory of their lives and friendships with one another.  First off, her writing is excellent.  She is a superb writer, on par with Patti Smith and a few other literary heavyweights.  Secondly, the story is just riveting. 

We learn about these four fascinating men, their friendships which are wrought with contradiction and complications over the years (as most close relationships tend to be), as well as what happens to each of them as they go through life individually.  You will be gripped tight by this novel.

The book eventually hones in and focuses on one of the characters more so then the others, the story of Jude.  His life story is absolutely captivating.  It’s horrific, tragic, and beautifully told.  Your heart aches for Jude, all while you cannot turn away from the jaw dropping story.

I was wildly impressed and awed by the way in which this woman (the author) is able to inhabit her characters to such a degree.  I cannot think of many other character narratives or emotional in-habitations by an author that felt more authentic than this story.  I was blown away.  She is out of this world talented.

Further, while reading this particular tale, one feels the entire gamut of emotions coursing through them at varying moments.  Everything, from being deeply emotionally moved, to outraged on a characters behalf, to horrified, to a rush of joy or even awe for a character.

This book is one of the best examples of which I have ever come across of a complete contrasting story that occupies both the deepest depths of dark, and the most illuminating of light.  While much of it is hard to read, for the pain and trauma that Jude experiences, it is equally filled with moments that lift your heart and fill your soul with awe. 

This book takes one into the center of experiences such as sexual abuse, in a way that is not found in hardly any other books.  It’s brave, raw, and utterly authentic.  It also shows us the heart-healing power of friendship, a supportive circle of steadfast and truly good people, and ultimately, of love.

Read this.  It will be one of the best you’ve ever read.

Man oh man, did this book fill me with wonder.  An emotionally stirring story to be sure.  I’ve read it a couple times and still, think of it from time to time. 

Told through the eyes of a fourteen year old girl who has been murdered.  Now, watching from heaven, both her family and their lives unfolding in her absence, as well as with curiosity, her killer.  Will he ever be caught?  And, what will happen to the people she loves most?  How do their lives unfold? 

This book is poetic and compelling, gorgeously written, and gripping. Numerous scenes within it take my breath away.

This is such a richly peopled book. The focus is on five central characters. At Westish College on Lake Michigan, Henry Skrimshander, up and coming baseball star, makes an off throw and badly injures his teammate and friend, Owen Dunn. Meanwhile, Owen, who is also Henry’s roommate, gets caught up in a dangerous romantic affair. The college President, Guert Affenlight, has fallen in love himself, which will turn out to be a ticking time bomb. Mike Schwartz, the Harpooners’ team captain and Henry’s best friend, realizes he has guided Henry’s career at the expense of his own. And Pella Affenlight, Guert’s daughter, returns to Westish after escaping an ill-fated marriage, determined to start a new life.

What a fun, rollicking story this one is. The villains within are sinister, sly, and the most entertaining of bad guys about which to read.

This one has it all. Suspense, thrill, romance, sadness, surprise.

The story begins one afternoon at an all-boys school, during which one boy purposefully drowns the other on an afternoon swimming sojourn. Then, we witness the lengths this boy (and later, man) goes to cover up the murder he committed in the years to follow. That is what paves the way for this novel’s path.

I’ve read it several times and have yet to tire of this fantastic story.

This book is a collection of interconnected stories, all of which I find quite compelling, unique, and with which I can empathize/identify with, or if nothing else, was moved by. 

One story offers us the searing inner emotional experience of a woman who discovers her husbands affair, though the way in which her inner experience with this is offered, I found more moving and nuanced than other accounts I have read. Another story comes from her husbands point of view, with regard to his affairs, making for a fascinating, alternate point of view to the same coin. 

There is a story of a woman who has a son, though he has decided he’s a girl, loving to dress in female clothing at the age as young as five.  His mother grapples and struggles with it, between wanting to allow him to be who is he, all while fearing for his safety and well-being (after he is violently attacked one morning in the park). 

I love this book, for the engaging and unique stories it tells.

I revel in a well-written, finely drawn family saga, in which you get to know all the characters intimately, their relationships, dilemmas, strengths, and weaknesses. It’s such fun to get lost in one of these. This is one of those stories.

This book has the feel of a page-flipping beach read, while it has heft and much substance.

We follow the lives (and marriage) of Marilyn and David, and their four adult daughters, Wendy, Violet, Liza, and Grace. All of these relationships are, of course, layered with complications, dilemmas, drama, and love.

Aside from a couple of disappointments I felt in certain moments the characters shared (I was wishing for a more fulfilling confrontation between two of them in particular), I found this an emotionally moving, memorable, great read. (In fact, I’ve read it twice!).

Interestingly, the first time I read it, I couldn’t stand the character, Wendy. The second time I read this, though, she became the character who moved me the most. This goes to show that our perspectives on a story can change when we return to it later on.

This one packs a jaw-dropping punch.  It’s about a young woman working as a baker who befriends one of the customers in the café.  As they grow closer over time, he reveals to her an astounding thing upon asking for a favor.  He used to be a Nazi.  Very likely at the same concentration camp in which her own grandmother was kept.  He asks the baker, his now friend, to help him die.

Caught between the moral ethics of this and her own desire for vengeance on behalf of her grandmother’s suffering, this beautiful story grabs hold of you fast.  We enter the alternate perspectives of both the grandmother and the baker’s friend who used to be a Nazi, and are taken back in time and enter each of their narrations. 

This book is gorgeously written, an awe inspiring read, and with a terrific twist at the end.

This story is rich in terms of the character and relational developments the reader is invited to delve into. 

One comes to know the people in these stories intimately.  To care, empathize with, root for, and feel engaged/invested in what happens to them. 

It’s a fast and fun read. 

I’ve read it several times, finding myself finishing it in a couple of days with each return to such.  It’s a great one. I realize I’ve said very little about it for a book I love so much (I’ve read it three times now!). You won’t be disappointed, though. The characters and their stories are quite compelling in this one.

To snag the synopsis from Amazon: Evelyn has been married to her husband for forty years, but their son’s messy divorce has put them at rare odds; James, a beleaguered paramedic, has spent most of his marriage haunted by his wife’s family’s expectations; Delphine has thrown caution to the wind and left a peaceful French life for an exciting but rocky romance in America; and Kate, partnered with Dan for a decade, has seen every kind of wedding and has vowed never, ever, to have one of her own. The Engagements explores the complicated ins and outs of relationships, then, now, and forever. 

Lily and Nick were deeply in love, until time and outside circumstances pulled them apart.

Now, years later, Lily’s former best friend, Budgie is married to Nick.

When Lily returns to her former hometown, she is seduced by Budgie’s glamorous influence and pulled into her tangle of complicated friendships and connections, including something poignant with Nick.

The writing in this book is atmospheric and gorgeous. The story, evocative and intriguing. One of my favorites. It’s a sexy one, a tender one, and even, a surprising one, with big reveals and twists.

The Harry Potter Series (though especially the last book) is phenomenal.

These books contain it all. Friendship. Romantic love. Unrequited love. Bravery and sacrifice. Good versus evil. Themes of racism and echoes of Hitler or Trump-esque figures. Darkness and light. Suspense. Excitement. Thought-provoking conversations and scenes. Triumph. Loss.

It’s all here in Harry Potter.

This is an emotionally poignant, gripping, though dark tale. We spend it following the path charted through the foster care system that a young girl must travel, on the heels of her mother murdering her lover. 

This book is sensual and evocative.  It’s lush and sensory laden.

The story explores the complicated and even contradictory bond between a mother and daughter, as well as the devastation, confusion, and trauma one young woman suffers in her experience of navigating this pathway alone within terrible circumstances and trying environments.

It’s quite memorable and gripping.

Oh man, is this a roller coaster of thrill and suspense.  Famous author Paul Sheldon is in a horrible car accident in one of the typical Nor-Easter storms we tend to get here routinely throughout the winter.  Pulled out of the storm by a local woman, he is lucky to be alive, until realizing he is bedridden in the home of his “number one fan,” and a totally insane one at that.  Buckle up for a wild ride with this fast read.  Its a great one.  Much better than the movie version.

“The Night Circus” is an evocative, tension building love story, set to the backdrop of an otherworldly event.  Two magicians, Marco and Celia, who unbeknownst to them, have been entered into a competition from which there is no escape back when each of them were children.

One, an orphan, the other, nearly as much so in how cruel and contemptuous their singular parent was.  Marco and Celia have been training since they can both remember, preparing for a competition or challenge for the whole of their life.  The details of which remain veiled.

One training is laden with a seeming endless amount of reading, research, writing, travel, and study.  The other, with more hands on with illusions, the altering of reality, and incantations, if you will. 

These two illusionists are bound to one another in a duel with no conclusion- yet, they do not yet know this.  The only possible ending to the duel is one of their demises. And then of course, the twist.  Upon finally meeting and getting to know one another, they fall in love.  Yet, neither knows of the caveat with regards to the way in which their mysterious competition of sorts can possibly conclude.

If Harry Potter is a G and PG rated tale, The Night Circus oscillates between PG-13 and occasional R.  It is the darker, more sensual and lush cousin to J.K Rowling’s series about a boy wizard navigating both his coming of age and an inevitable battle into which he was born into and thrust.

For me, where Night Circus excels is imagery, which is spellbinding.  All of the magic and bewitching scenes within this book lift the heart and play to the hopeful, excitable child and romantic in all of us.  The moments of illusion, the scenes and scents of the circus, the way Marco leans in to kiss a love interest and, upon opening her eyes, she finds herself no longer in the rainy, dimly lit back alley of London in which they stand, but instead in a silent, tree shrouded wood.

All of this and more, make The Night Circus bewitching and awe inducing.

If you liked Harry Potter, you’ll love this.  Its the hard alcohol version to Harry Potter as a mocktail 

This is a sexy, sensual, evocative novel about a man torn between routine and novelty, convention and the erotic, known versus unknown, the permitted versus the forbidden. His long-time girlfriend and childhood love, Rachel, and her sensual, forbidden, unconventional, damaged cousin, Ellie. This is a super fun read, especially fitting for summer time.

This one is such fun!  Told from the perspective of pretentious, witty, intellectual Nate, this story follows his inner narrative and dating escapades. We follow along with the ups and downs of his budding relationship with Hannah, his ex, Elisa, and others, as he navigates the intellectual, starving artist scene in New York.

The prose is incredibly smart, laugh out loud funny, and the story an entertaining page turner. Her characters are relatable and come alive amidst the words on the pages. 

It’s also just interesting to read a conception of what might be the thoughts of a man with regards to women. Granted, he is just one man (and fictional, at that), with his own particular personality, temperament, background, and personal lens through which he is viewing these women. However, fiction is typically based on some level of actuality and human experience, and the viewpoint of Nathaniel P is certainly an amusing one through which to read.

The synopsis to “Everything I Never Told You” sounds akin to a “whodunit” scenario.  The body of Lydia, beloved and worshipped daughter of James and Marilyn, is found at the bottom of the lake just down their street. Both are aghast, devastated, and confused, as their family seemed, at least from the outside, like the stereotypical, cookie-cutter, white picket fence, “perfect” family.

I loved this book. While it was quite sad, the writing was beautiful and poetic, evocative and sensory. The story was gripping, layered, and covered many crucial topics (such as racism, perfectionist/toxic parenting and what this can result in for their children), the complicated dynamics of sibling relationships, as well as romantic ones.

It explored loneliness, the painful sensation so many of us experience (at one point or another) of feeling misunderstood and different, and the nuances that, though seemingly small and inconsequential, can add up to significant family dysfunction.

This book is quite empathy inducing with regard to all characters.  We learn of the beginning love story between James and Marilyn, as well as the racism James navigated, much to Marilyn’s lack of awareness (with her being Caucasian and him being Chinese).

All while simultaneously, the question hovers: What happened to Lydia? A primary suspect, at least in Lydia’s brothers mind, is Jack. The supposed womanizing, unsympathetic neighbor with whom Lydia grew quite close towards the end of her life.

Tensions, resentment, and hurt mounts. Climaxes and explosion occur. Some degree of catharsis is ushered in. The family is, of course, never the same following.

I highly recommend this fast, suspenseful, and intriguing read.

This is a suspenseful, creepy, layered, well-plotted tale. Leland Gaunt arrives in Castle Rock, opening up a shop he called Needful Things. Somehow, anyone who enters seems to find exactly the dream item they never knew they wanted or needed. Leland doesn’t take money though. Instead, he barters. The dream item in question in exchange for a…favor. Each of these “favors” slowly unleashes a domino effect chain of events between numerous citizens of the town, building until it all explodes. A superb book.

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