I believe this is new for our “Best Of” week, but I challenged each of our reviewers to pick their favorite book they read in 2021, whether they reviewed it or not. The book didn’t have to release in 2021, though. Some of them weren’t too happy they had to pick just one, though this place would be absolutely lawless if I didn’t make rules!
Here are our favorites of the year! We’d also love to hear about your best read of 2021!
The Heiress Gets a Duke
Even a fortune forged in railroads and steel can’t buy entrance into the upper echelons of Victorian high society—for that you need a marriage of convenience.
American heiress August Crenshaw has aspirations. But unlike her peers, it isn’t some stuffy British Lord she wants wrapped around her finger—it’s Crenshaw Iron Works, the family business. When it’s clear that August’s outrageously progressive ways render her unsuitible for a respectable match, her parents offer up her younger sister to the highest entitled bidder instead. This simply will not do. August refuses to leave her sister to the mercy of a loveless marriage.
Evan Sterling, the Duke of Rothschild, has no intention of walking away from the marriage. He’s recently inherited the title only to find his coffers empty, and with countless lives depending on him, he can’t walk away from the fortune a Crenshaw heiress would bring him. But after meeting her fiery sister, he realizes Violet isn’t the heiress he wants. He wants August, and he always gets what he wants.
But August won’t go peacefully to her fate. She decides to show Rothschild that she’s no typical London wallflower. Little does she realize that every stunt she pulls to make him call off the wedding only makes him like her even more.
Amanda: This book revitalized my love for a genre that I had honestly felt I would never be excited to read again. I also think the series, as a whole, has been wonderful.
Praying with Jane Eyre
Author: Vanessa Zoltan
July 6, 2021 by
A deeply felt celebration of a classic novel–and a reflection on the ways our favorite books can shape and heal us.
Our favorite books keep us company, give us hope, and help us find meaning in a chaotic world. In this fresh and relatable work, atheist chaplain Vanessa Zoltan blends memoir and personal growth as she grapples with the notions of family legacy and identity through the lens of her favorite novel, Jane Eyre. Informed by the reading practices of medieval monks and rabbinic scholars from her training at the Harvard Divinity School and filtered through the pages of Jane Eyre as well as Little Women, Harry Potter, and The Great Gatsby, Zoltan explores what it means to have a birthright that you want to both honor and leave behind. Brimming with a lifelong love of classic literature and the tenderness of self-reflection, the book also reveals simple techniques for reading any work as a sacred text–from Virginia Woolf to Anne of Green Gables to baseball scorecards.
Whether you’re an avowed Eyrehead or simply a curious reader looking for a richer connection with the written word, this deeply felt and inspiring book will light the way to a more intimate appreciation for whatever books you love to read.
Carrie: This nonfiction book gave me new ways to think about reading and spirituality in general and deepened my relationship to my favorite book. Every page was a “WOW” moment.
He’s a paladin of a dead god, tracking a supernatural killer across a continent. She’s a nun from a secretive order, on the trail of the raiders who burned her convent and kidnapped her sisters.
When their paths cross at the point of a sword, Istvhan and Clara will be pitched headlong into each other’s quests, facing off against enemies both living and dead. But Clara has a secret that could jeopardize the growing trust between them, a secret that will lead them to the gladiatorial pits of a corrupt city, and beyond…
Catherine: Hard to choose just one book for this year, but Paladin’s Strength just made me happy in so many different ways. I loved its humour and its groundedness, I loved the fact that Clara and Istvhan are grownups navigating grownup problems, and the romance was both sweet and swoonworthy. I also loved the non-romance elements – the deeply satisfying fantasy plot, and the mutual coming to terms with what it means to have great and dangerous gifts in a world where the gods very much do exist, but don’t necessarily speak to you.
Book of Love
She’s trying to make ends meet. He’s out for a bit of fun.
Cordelia is busy, focused, worried about the future of her fledgling bookbinding business. When a handsome man stops her on the street to pester her with questions, she gives him the consideration he deserves: none.
That handsome man happens to be the Duke of Stroud, and he finds Cordelia’s hostility hilarious. He gives chase, if only for the pleasure of provoking her again.
He thinks life is a game. She doesn’t play around.
Within days of meeting Cordelia, Stroud sets a marching band on a matchmaking mama, defaces a local monument, and ropes Cordelia into a round of his favorite game.
In that same time, Cordelia stitches together the complete works of Mary Wollstonecraft, enthusiastically devotes herself to a petition demanding expanded legal rights for married women, and beats Stroud at his own game.
She defies all expectations. So does he.
Most people dismiss Stroud as a fool—himself included. When Cordelia sees past his lighthearted facade, he’s terrified and also… in love?
Stroud barges into Cordelia’s life, offering her all the material and sensual temptations she’s learned to do without. She usually has willpower to spare, but turning him down takes all of it, and then some. He’s oddly irresistible.
Or maybe they’re perfect for one another.
Claudia: I thoroughly enjoyed the romance and the bits about book-biding and women’s rights history added to a delightful historical romance.
The Love Hypothesis
When a fake relationship between scientists meets the irresistible force of attraction, it throws one woman’s carefully calculated theories on love into chaos.
As a third-year Ph.D. candidate, Olive Smith doesn’t believe in lasting romantic relationships–but her best friend does, and that’s what got her into this situation. Convincing Anh that Olive is dating and well on her way to a happily ever after was always going to take more than hand-wavy Jedi mind tricks: Scientists require proof. So, like any self-respecting biologist, Olive panics and kisses the first man she sees.
That man is none other than Adam Carlsen, a young hotshot professor–and well-known ass. Which is why Olive is positively floored when Stanford’s reigning lab tyrant agrees to keep her charade a secret and be her fake boyfriend. But when a big science conference goes haywire, putting Olive’s career on the Bunsen burner, Adam surprises her again with his unyielding support and even more unyielding…six-pack abs.
Suddenly their little experiment feels dangerously close to combustion. And Olive discovers that the only thing more complicated than a hypothesis on love is putting her own heart under the microscope.
Elyse: This book is a tropey fake dating romance with a heroine working in STEM, and I grinned the entire time I was reading it.
A Psalm for the Wild Built
Hugo Award-winner Becky Chambers’s delightful new series gives us hope for the future.
It’s been centuries since the robots of Earth gained self-awareness and laid down their tools.
Centuries since they wandered, en masse, into the wilderness, never to be seen again.
Centuries since they faded into myth and urban legend.
One day, the life of a tea monk is upended by the arrival of a robot, there to honor the old promise of checking in. The robot cannot go back until the question of “what do people need?” is answered.
But the answer to that question depends on who you ask, and how.
They’re going to need to ask it a lot.
Becky Chambers’ new series asks: in a world where people have what they want, does having more matter?
Sarah: Thinking about that book brings back the feeling of awe and stillness and gratitude I had when reading it. It’s so peaceful and kind. I almost miss it (which is fixable because I can re read).
Reena Manji doesn’t love her career, her single status, and most of all, her family inserting themselves into every detail of her life. But when caring for her precious sourdough starters, Reena can drown it all out. At least until her father moves his newest employee across the hall–with hopes that Reena will marry him.
But Nadim’s not like the other Muslim bachelors-du-jour that her parents have dug up. If the Captain America body and the British accent weren’t enough, the man appears to love eating her bread creations as much as she loves making them. She sure as hell would never marry a man who works for her father, but friendship with a neighbor is okay, right? And when Reena’s career takes a nosedive, Nadim happily agrees to fake an engagement so they can enter a couples video cooking contest to win the artisan bread course of her dreams.
As cooking at home together brings them closer, things turn physical, but Reena isn’t worried. She knows Nadim is keeping secrets, but it’s fine— secrets are always on the menu where her family is concerned. And her heart is protected… she’s not marrying the man. But even secrets kept for self preservation have a way of getting out, especially when meddling parents and gossiping families are involved.
Shana: Accidentally Engaged does two things incredibly well. There’s so much fabulous food, falling in love over food, and sharp criticism of food culture. And it captures a complex mix of love, messiness, and change in a family, with a pitch perfect depiction of the appeal and frustration of matchmaking parents. The book’s parents are maddening, and also, they know their daughter better than anyone else could. The HEA for everyone is extremely satisfying. I loved watching these characters find their home in one another. I think about them all the time, and I miss the way reading about their food diaspora made me feel more at home too.
Laziness Does Not Exist
Author: Devon Price
January 5, 2021 by
From social psychologist Dr. Devon Price, a fascinating and thorough examination of what they call the “laziness lie”—which falsely tells us we are not working or learning hard enough—filled with practical and accessible advice for overcoming society’s pressure to “do more.”
Extra-curricular activities. Honors classes. 60-hour work weeks. Side hustles.
Like many Americans, Dr. Devon Price believed that productivity was the best way to measure his self-worth. Price was an overachiever from the start, graduating from both college and graduate school early, but that success came at a cost. After Price was diagnosed with a severe case of anemia and heart complications from overexertion, they were forced to examine the darker side of all this productivity.
Laziness Does Not Exist explores the psychological underpinnings of the “laziness lie,” including its origins from the Puritans and how it has continued to proliferate as digital work tools have blurred the boundaries between work and life. Using in-depth research, Price explains that people today do far more work than nearly any other humans in history yet most of us often still feel we are not doing enough.
Dr. Price offers science-based reassurances that productivity does not determine a person’s worth and suggests that the solution to problems of overwork and stress lie in resisting the pressure to do more and instead learn to embrace doing enough. Featuring interviews with researchers, consultants, and experiences from real people drowning in too much work, Laziness Does Not Exist encourages us to let go of guilt and become more attuned to our own limitations and needs and resist the pressure to meet outdated societal expectations.
Sneezy: The book verbalized so clearly things I needed to hear, especially during this year. Thank you Dr. Price
The Hellion’s Waltz
It’s not a crime to steal a heart…
Sophie Roseingrave hates nothing more than a swindler. After her family lost their piano shop to a con man in London, they’re trying to start fresh in a new town. Her father is convinced Carrisford is an upright and honest place, but Sophie is not so sure. She has grave suspicions about silk-weaver Madeline Crewe, whose stunning beauty doesn’t hide the fact that she’s up to something.
All Maddie Crewe needs is one big score, one grand heist to properly fund the weavers’ union forever. She has found her mark in Mr. Giles, a greedy draper, and the entire association of weavers and tailors and clothing merchants has agreed to help her. The very last thing she needs is a small but determined piano-teacher and composer sticking her nose in other people’s business. If Sophie won’t be put off, the only thing to do is to seduce her to the cause.
Will Sophie’s scruples force her to confess the plot before Maddie gets her money? Or will Maddie lose her nerve along with her heart?
Susan: I like f/f historicals, I like stories about cons, but honestly what pushed Hellion’s Waltz to the top of my list was that it was *kind*. The characters are trying to make life better for their communities, not just themselves; the fact that they’re doing it through crime honestly just makes it better.
The Menopause Manifesto
Author: Jen Gunter
May 25, 2021 by
The internationally renowned, New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of The Vagina Bible , Dr. Jen Gunter has been called the world’s most famous–and outspoken–gynecologist (The Guardian), the internet’s OB/GYN, and one of the fiercest advocates for women’s health. Now, in The Menopause Manifesto, Dr. Jen Gunter brings you empowerment through knowledge by countering stubborn myths and misunderstandings about menopause with hard facts, real science, fascinating historical perspective, and expert advice.
The only thing predictable about menopause is its unpredictability. Factor in widespread misinformation, a lack of research, and the culture of shame around women’s bodies, and it’s no wonder women are unsure what to expect during the menopause transition and beyond.
Menopause is not a disease–it’s a planned change, like puberty. And just like puberty, we should be educated on what’s to come years in advance, rather than the current practice of leaving people on their own with bothersome symptoms and too much conflicting information. Knowing what is happening, why, and what to do about it is both empowering and reassuring.
Frank and funny, Dr. Jen debunks misogynistic attitudes and challenges the
over-mystification of menopause to reveal everything you really need to know about:
– Hot flashes
– Sleep disruption
– Sex and libido
– Depression and mood changes
– Skin and hair issues
– Outdated therapies
– Breast health
– Weight and muscle mass
– Health maintenance screening
– And much more!
Filled with practical, reassuring information, this essential guide will revolutionize how women experience menopause–including how their lives can be even better for it!
Tara: If you had told me at the beginning of the year that I’d be choosing a nonfiction book, I’d have thought you were joking. But here we are, because I feel like I owe a ton to The Menopause Manifesto. It gave me the words I needed so I could have the right conversation about hormone therapy with my doctor. Reading so much evidence-based information also felt like a balm after seeing so many predatory marketing ads on Instagram, aimed at perimenopausal and menopausal folks.