The Best New Books to Read in 2021 (So Far)
Drumroll, please: 2021 has arrived—and with it, a whole batch of new books for avid readers to devour. This is Real Simple’s definitive list of the best books of 2021. We’ll be updating it with the latest and greatest books launching each month. (If you’re looking for the best books of 2020, we have those, too.)
The world has plenty of interesting books to read, and more are written, edited, and released every year. To help make it a tiny bit easier to find something to read, we’re curating the list so only the most compelling, fascinating, thought-provoking books (in our opinion, of course) are featured. If you’re seeking a good book club book, wanting a book you can read with a friend or partner, or just want to stay updated on the best books of 2021, check back here each month for our latest picks.
Like previous annual best book lists, this will feature fiction, memoirs, thrillers, nonfiction, and more. Like you, we love to read anything we can get our hands on, and you’ll see the best books that come across Real Simple editors’ desks right here. Start building your 2021 reading list now—you may need to learn how to read more books if you want to get through all of these before 2022 rolls around.
RELATED: How to Find More Time to Read
God Spare the Girls by Kelsey McKinney
Caroline Nolan grew up committed to a life of faith, as expected by her father, a famous pastor of an evangelical megachurch. But soon before she leaves home for college, and when her older sister’s wedding is just weeks away, a scandal involving her dad shakes the community, causing her and her sister to question everything. God Spare the Girls by Kelsey McKinney is a fascinating look at the moment in a young woman’s life when she starts to forge an identity separate from her family’s.
People We Meet on Vacation by Emily Henry
Bookish homebody Alex and free-spirited globe-trotter Poppy took summer vacations together for a decade. But two years ago, something happened on that trip, and the friends haven’t spoken since. Poppy can’t stop thinking about him, so she convinces Alex to go on one last getaway, her final shot to fix everything. People We Meet on Vacation by Emily Henry is a delightful love story full of hilarious one-liners and winking asides, making it the perfect poolside companion.
Somebody’s Daughter by Ashley C. Ford
In Somebody’s Daughter, Ashley C. Ford recounts growing up captivated by hazy memories of her incarcerated father; she believes she’ll finally feel whole when they eventually reunite. But after the reason he was imprisoned comes to light, her self-discovery truly begins. This is a deeply honest story about how she reckoned with her family’s past, and how her fraught history informed her future.
Should We Stay or Should We Go by Lionel Shriver
In Lionel Shriver’s new novel, Should We Stay or Should We Go, Kay and Cyril, a 50-something married couple, decide that instead of risking the age-related decline that could be devastating for themselves and their loved ones, they’ll die by suicide together when they both turn 80. The author then gives us a dozen possible outcomes—some poignant, some funny, some gutting—each of which asks interesting questions about aging, longevity, and living well.
Great Circle by Maggie Shipstead
Two ambitious women—a daredevil aviator raised in Prohibitionera Montana and the actor cast to play her in a Hollywood film nearly a century later— are the focus of Great Circle, the compelling new novel by Maggie Shipstead. With an unforgettable plot that zigzags around the globe and across time, this epic tale is a storytelling marvel, the kind of crowd-pleaser your book club will devour
Good Company by Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney
On the day of her daughter’s high school graduation, happily married Flora Mancini is looking for an old photograph when she discovers an envelope containing her husband’s wedding ring—the one he said he lost over a decade ago. Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney’s Good Company is a smart and nuanced examination of the growing pains of long relationships, sure to spark great conversations about marriage, friendship, and parenthood.
The Souvenir Museum by Elizabeth McCracken
A woman travels with her boyfriend to his sister’s wedding and meets his high-spirited family for the first time. A man takes his recently widowed elderly father on a long-awaited trip to Scotland. The stories in Elizabeth McCracken’s new collection, The Souvenir Museum, are witty, insightful, bittersweet, and charming— pitch-perfect reflections of the seemingly ordinary moments that come to define us.
The Final Revival of Opal & Nev by Dawnie Walton
A bold novel with an unforgettable protagonist, Dawnie Walton’s The Final Revival of Opal & Nev reads like a rock and roll docudrama. It tells the story of Opal, one half of an Afro-punk duo in 1970s New York. They’re an unlikely pair—Nev is white and British; Opal is a Black American—and their rise to fame is upended by racial controversy. Decades later, when a potential reunion means confronting the past, tensions rise again, revealing the explosive power of speaking one’s truth.
Whereabouts by Jhumpa Lahiri
Whereabouts, the new novel by Pulitzer Prize winner Jhumpa Lahiri (her first in nearly a decade), is a gorgeous, contemplative read about an unnamed woman’s solitary—but not necessarily lonely— life against the backdrop of an Italian city. Short, meditative chapters showcase her quiet existence in poetic prose that invites you to linger over the words. It’s a fascinating look at the daily choices that make up a life.
The Last Thing He Told Me by Laura Dave
When Hannah Hall’s husband, Owen, suddenly disappears, his goodbye is a simple note: “Protect her.” She knows immediately he means her teenage stepdaughter. As FBI agents and U.S. marshals descend on their home, Hannah and the girl question Owen’s true identity, and realize they must work together to uncover why he left. The Last Thing He Told Me by Laura Dave is a fast-moving, heartfelt thriller about the sacrifices we make for the people we love most.
Of Women and Salt by Gabriela Garcia
Of Women and Salt, the debut novel by Gabriela Garcia, follows three generations of women from 19th-century Cuba to modern-day Miami. In just over 200 pages, Garcia makes a powerful statement about how we draw on our roots to understand our place in the world, showing that no matter how much we may try to escape the past, it always influences the present.
Leaving Isn’t the Hardest Thing by Lauren Hough
Lauren Hough has endured more than most of us would in 10 lifetimes, and she reveals it all in Leaving Isn’t the Hardest Thing—from her globe-trotting childhood in an infamous cult to her time in the U.S. Air Force to her eye-opening experiences as a bouncer and cable installer. Hough bravely and compellingly shares how our search for identity can be searingly awful, wickedly funny, and totally worth it.
Hour of the Witch by Chris Bohjalian
It’s 1662 in Boston, and Mary is a young Puritan woman married to a formidable man who’s essentially a monster. When her push for independence sparks the suspicions of the people around her, a rich and terrifying story ensues. Hour of the Witch by Chris Bohjalian is a grab-you-by-the throat suspense read that both historical fiction fans and thriller lovers will devour.
Early Morning Riser by Katherine Heiny
In Early Morning Riser, the charming, hilarious new novel by Katherine Heiny, Jane is an elementary school teacher whose boyfriend, Duncan, is handsome and lovely—and has unfortunately seduced nearly every woman in their small city. Their one-of a- kind story, featuring a cast of quirky characters, is a surefire literary mood boost with a heartwarming reminder of the many ways love appears in our lives.
Caul Baby by Morgan Jerkins
Laila longs to have a baby, so she seeks help from the Melancons, a legendary Harlem family rumored to possess a caul—an amniotic sac— that’s thought to carry healing properties. Their agreement falls through, but it’s only the beginning of the two families’ entanglement. Caul Baby by Morgan Jerkins is a fascinating, of-the-moment story about the intersection of motherhood, power, and community.
Girls with Bright Futures by Tracy Dobmeier
Girls with Bright Futures by Tracy Dobmeier and Wendy Katzman is a sharp, irresistibly fun fictional look at college admissions. Three moms—a frantic PTA type, a renowned tech exec, and her down-to-earth assistant— will stop at nothing to ensure the success of their daughters, who attend an elite Seattle private school. You’ll quickly align yourself with one side while relishing the downfall of the other. There’s lots of fodder for talks about how insanely far parents will go to get those coveted acceptance letters.
Do No Harm by Christina McDonald
Emma is a well-respected doctor who loves her work and her doting detective husband. But when their young son is diagnosed with cancer, an expensive treatment is their only hope. Out of desperation, Emma turns to selling opioids to pay for it. Do No Harm by Christina McDonald is an intense, emotional page-turner that’s impossible not to devour in one sitting.
Remember by Lisa Genova
Can you accurately describe both sides of a penny? In Remember, acclaimed neuroscientist Lisa Genova, the best-selling author of Still Alice, explains why so many of us can’t—and why that doesn’t mean we’re losing our minds. This fascinating exploration of how memory works reveals why those blips are totally normal. It’s capital-r Reassuring for anyone who’s ever walked into a room without remembering why.
The Fourth Child by Jessica Winter
In The Fourth Child by Jessica Winter, Jane becomes pregnant in high school, gets married, and is raising three children by the time most of her friends are finishing college. Years later, she falls in with a pro-life group and adopts a child just as her teenage daughter is coming of age. What happens next forces Jane—and readers—to ask big questions about how firmly held principles can affect a family.
The Kindest Lie by Nancy Johnson
The Kindest Lie by Nancy Johnson tells the story of Ruth, an Ivy League– educated Black engineer living in Chicago in 2008, just after the Obama inauguration. Her husband’s eagerness to start a family leads her back to her Indiana hometown to confront her past. In the beleaguered factory town, she forges a friendship with a white middle schooler. As racial rifts deepen, Johnson makes powerful points about our connections and communities.
Good Apple by Elizabeth Passarella
Elizabeth Passarella is a Southerner and evangelical Christian raising three kids on New York City’s famously liberal Upper West Side. In Good Apple, she details, with often hilarious transparency, what it’s like to bear seemingly contradictory labels, and how her relationship with religion has shaped her identity—and influenced her rebellion.
Bravey by Alexi Pappas
Alexi Pappas has a no-limits approach to life that’s led her to the Ivy League, an Olympic running career, and starring roles in movies she herself created (even though she was, of course, told to choose between being an athlete and being an artist). In Bravey, her movingly honest memoir, she shares how her most difficult moments—her mother’s death by suicide, her post-Olympic depression—fueled her remarkable drive. The result is an engaging portrayal of resilience, proving challenges limit you only if you let them.
City of a Thousand Gates by Rebecca Sacks
The heavy emotion on both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is breathlessly conveyed in City of a Thousand Gates. Novelist Rebecca Sacks deftly zooms in on the perspectives of a broad cast of characters, like a new father with an American wife, and a college student illegally entering Israeli territory for work. She reveals with startling intimacy what it’s like to live in the center of one of the world’s most divisive conflicts.
This Close to Okay by Leesa Cross-Smith
This Close to Okay by Leesa Cross-Smith opens with divorced therapist Tallie Clark driving home from work. She notices a man standing on the edge of a bridge, coaxes him back, then persuades him to have a cup of coffee with her. What happens next makes for a poignant page-turner about perseverance and two broken people who, like all of us at one time or another, just need someone to tell them everything’s going to be all right.
The Four Winds by Kristin Hannah
Kristin Hannah’s latest, set in the Dust Bowl during the Great Depression, centers on a Texas mother forced to decide whether to leave her family’s farm, destroyed by drought, for better opportunity out west. The Four Winds is a sweeping epic about an American struggling to keep her family afloat. It feels eerily timely as it highlights the ways women rally during a national crisis.
The Prophets by Robert Jones Jr.
In this powerful novel about a Deep South plantation, enslaved Isaiah and Samuel share a private, abiding love that’s a refuge from the daily brutality they endure—and that has consequences for everyone around them. The Prophets by Robert Jones Jr. is an original, heartbreaking testament to love, and to the supremacy of good over evil.
Before the Ruins by Victoria Gosling
The only relic from Andy’s troubled childhood is her friend Peter. The two occasionally meet for drinks in London, where they carefully avoid discussing one particular summer: On an abandoned manor decades earlier, they played a game that ended in tragedy. But then Peter disappears, and Andy is forced to untangle what she’s tried so hard to forget. Before the Ruins by Victoria Gosling is a lush and layered thriller that mystery lovers will savor.
The Rib King by Ladee Hubbard
In the early 1900s, the Barclays, a white family with a cadre of Black servants, are desperate for cash. They begin selling their cook’s delicious rib sauce and slapping a humiliating caricature of their groundskeeper on the label (without compensating either long-time employee). Through its searing portrayal of exploitation, The Rib King by Ladee Hubbard conveys a modern message about how African American stereotypes are used for profit.
The Push by Ashley Audrain
After giving birth to her first child, Blythe Connor vows to be the doting mother she never had. But when she finds it difficult to connect with baby Violet, she’s alarmed, frustrated, and increasingly convinced there’s something dangerously wrong with the girl. The Push by Ashley Audrain is a chilling page-turner that asks provocative questions about nature versus nurture and what makes a good mother.
What Could Be Saved by Liese O’Halloran Schwarz
Laura Preston ignores her sister’s warning and travels to Bangkok to reunite with their brother, who went missing 40 years earlier when they lived in the city for their father’s mysterious job. As the story unfurls, shocking family secrets are slowly revealed. What Could Be Saved by Liese O’Halloran Schwarz is a rich, complex novel that shifts between present-day Washington, D.C., and 1970s Thailand—just the kind of book you want to sink into on a winter day.