2021: A Great Year for Books? Tell Us Your Favorites.

Did you notice I’ve been missing? Or that Sunday Inspiration posts are the only ones on Southern Exposure since early fall?

Okay, so you didn’t notice, and frankly neither did I. In fact, when I began to think about this, I couldn’t remember when my new aversion to deadlines began to infect my blogging, too. I had to page back and see when I last wrote a general post.

There’s a problem with deadlines.

Since the mid-1980s, I’ve paid close attention to writing deadlines, and those deadlines helped me survive and thrive as a novelist. But 2021 was the year I realized I’d had my fill. Team that  with the pandemic, and somehow I just stopped blogging, too.

Today marks my return but with a different approach. In honor of the new year, I plan to blog when and if I have something I want to say. Since I don’t know how often that will happen, I hope you’ll pop in from time to time to see.

Back in March 2021, I blogged about all the books I read in 2020, and listed my favorites. As hard as it is for me to believe, I’ve kept a list this year, too, more than a list really.  I rate each book and always add a few lines to remind myself of the story, because titles rarely stick with me. That’s funny, of course, since finding the right title for my own books is front and central to my writing process.

Since I’m not much of a list keeper, I’m delighted I can be this organized. But what a pleasure it’s been to look back over my lists this month and recall the books I loved most.

Before you read my list? How about yours?

I’d love to know what books you loved in 2021, so if you comment here, and list some of your favorites  (you must list at least three), I’ll enter you in a randomly drawn giveaway for a copy of The House Guests, my own 2021 book. The winner must have a North American address for mailing and you must comment here by January 28th.

By the way, don’t confuse this giveaway with the January giveaway for my newsletter readers. This is a different one entirely. You can enter both.

My list for 2021 has–and I didn’t plan this–21 “best” books, as opposed to 14 last year. 10 are historicals–depending on how you define that term. 6 are women’s fiction, 1 is fantasy, 1 a thriller, 2 suspense/mystery. Several were feel-good, laugh aloud, books with great author voices. Some stories were painful to think about and difficult to finish. What they had in common? Wonderful writing, characters I wanted to know more about, and stories with something to say. Since I love audiobooks, I listened to 3 of these on Audible.com as I walked in the mornings.

Without further introduction, here’s a list of all the books that received either a 4.5 or 5 star review from me. They’re listed in no particular order, but once you’re read my list, I’ll tell you which book got an immediate 5, a story I won’t soon forget.

  1. A Thousand Splendid Suns–Khalid Hosseini
  2. The Last Days of Night–Graham Moore
  3. The Splendid and the Vile–Erik Larson
  4. The Book of Lost Friends–Lisa Wingate
  5. The Searcher–Tana French
  6. Writers and Lovers–Lily King
  7. Big Summer–Jennifer Weiner
  8. We Were the Lucky Ones–Georgia Hunter
  9. The Newcomer–Mary Kay Andrews
  10. New York–Edward Rutherfurd
  11. The Silence of the Girls–Pat Barker
  12. Natchez Burning–Greg Iles
  13. Pack Up the Moon–Kristan Higgins
  14. Nine Women, One Dress–Jane L. Rosen
  15. The Huntress–Kate Quinn
  16. The Four Winds–Kristin Hannah
  17. The Last Train to London–Meg Waite Clayton
  18. The Thursday Murder Club–Richard Osman
  19. Mutts and Mistletoe–Natalie Cox
  20. Churchill’s Secret Messenger–Alan Hlad
  21. Turn Coat (Dresden Files) Jim Butcher

The book that most stood out for me? The Four Winds by Kristin Hannah. While the novel is heart wrenching, I think Kristin Hannah recreated a moment in history that transformed our society, and she recreated it beautifully. It didn’t hurt that I was an American Studies major in college, either. We bring ourselves to what we read, and that influences us, doesn’t it?

Now, it’s your turn. What were your favorite books in 2021? Let us know.

***Because I can only link to one store at a time, the books on this list are linked to Amazon, where I am an Amazon Associate. This means that, at zero cost to you, I will earn an affiliate commission if you click through the link and finalize a purchase. That said, please buy or borrow them at the store or library that’s easiest for you.



  1. Cathy Hughes on January 20, 2022 at 7:17 am

    I will eagerly await your posts, no matter how seldom you are inspired to write, because nearly everything you write resonates with me!

  2. Eileen on January 20, 2022 at 8:11 am

    1. The Bird and the Sword by Amy Harmon
    2. The entire Linear Tactical romantic suspense series by Janie Crouch
    3. For the Wolf by Hannah Whitten
    4. Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik
    5. Lawfully Unwed by Allison Leigh
    6. How Far to Bethlehem by Norah Lofts (how did I not read this before?)

  3. DELORES on January 20, 2022 at 9:40 am

    Meeting deadlines is tedious at times. I am sitting out six weeks as a line dance instructor thanks to a pulled/torn muscle—shoveling snow did me in! I did not enjoy the pain and discomfort, but I am enjoying not thinking about what I am going to teach next, etc. People are sometimes demanding without realizing it.

    Three books I read last year.
    The Sugar Sand Inn series by Leigh Duncan.
    Picnic in Some Day Valley by Jodi Thomas
    The Stepsisters by Susan Mallery

    • DELORES on January 20, 2022 at 9:45 am

      I didn’t mention the book that was top on my list—The House Guests by none other than Emilie Richards😂

  4. Kate C on January 20, 2022 at 10:48 am

    The Rose Code by Kate Quinn was my favourite. I really could not put it down until I finished it.
    My second choice would be Last Garden in England by Julia Kelly.
    I would like to thank the public libraries who have embraced technology and make books available to me whenever I need something new to read, and it’s FREE. Much of my reading has been ebooks from my local library.

  5. Lynda Gamble on January 20, 2022 at 11:04 am

    I read a lot of series last year during the pandemic lockdowns but my three favorites were stand a lone novels : The Four Winds by Kristin Hannah, The Last Thing He Told Me by Laura Dave, and The Last Garden in England by Julia Kelly . Another one I really enjoyed was The Lost and Found Bookshop by
    Susan Wiggs. Maybe my choices reflect that I enjoy historical fiction but also suspense.

  6. Nita Voleski on January 20, 2022 at 11:06 am

    Some of the best I read in 2021 are:

    Surviving Savannah – Patti Callahan
    The exiles – Christina Baker Kline
    House guests -Emilie Richards
    Nature of fragile things- Susan Meissner
    The kitchen front- Jennifer Ryan

  7. Patti Whitebird on January 20, 2022 at 11:25 am

    The Four Winds-Kristin Hannah
    The Newcomer-Mary Kay Andrews
    Karolina’s Twins- Ron Balson

  8. Debra Hearne on January 20, 2022 at 12:37 pm

    1. The Red Tent by Anita Diamont
    2. The Nature of Fragile Things by Susan Meissner
    3. The Four Winds by Kristen Hannah
    4. The Dutch House by Ann Patchett, performed by Tom Hanks (was fantastic)!

  9. Susan Geneva on January 20, 2022 at 12:51 pm

    3 books that meant the most were written by Martha Hall Kelly. A historical series based in truth with much reseach from the estates and archives of Woolsey and Ferriday sisters. Sunflower Sisters time period the Civil War.. The Woolsey sisters one starting an orphanage for poor abandon black children. Georginna started a nursing school for women. They fought beside soldiers on Civil War battle fields. Where she meets young slave girl .The fight to get Jemima back from the horrible plantation misstress. Lost Roses, Eliza Ferriday during WWI helping Russian women immigrants in NY. Goes through the horrors of that war and survival. In Russia. Lilac sisters is set durning WII. Very powerful experiences from this time period from the prison camps.

  10. Kathryn on January 20, 2022 at 12:54 pm

    Loved The Newcomer. The Huntress was amazing on audio.
    Not entering but who can resist sharing good books. So many but a few from 2021
    The Guncle Steven Rowley.
    Firekeeper’s Daughter Angeline Boulley
    A Good Day for Chardonnay Darynda Jones.
    Home Fires. Fiona Lowe. (Australian)
    And the year I read through Mary Marks quilt cosy series.
    Of course I loved yours but keeping them out of the mix.
    May your reading be great in 2022.

  11. Bev Baird on January 20, 2022 at 4:27 pm

    My top read – The Midnight Library by Matt Haig.
    My top reread – The Others series by Anne Bishop
    I read over 300 books last year (including pbs mind you) so I had many books that I rated 5 stars. Yours I include with that. Thank you for such awesome reads: Touching Stars, Endless Chain, Lover’s Knot.

  12. Barbara Keiler on January 20, 2022 at 4:37 pm

    Here are a few:
    The Sympathizer, by Viet Thanh Nguyen
    One To Watch, by Kate Staymon-London (thank you, Emilie!)
    And It Will Be a Beautiful Life, by Craig Lancaster
    The Heebie-Jeebie Girl, by Susan Petrone
    Italian Tales: Stories of the Mezzogiorno, by Linda Cardillo
    The Girl You Left Behind, by Jojo Moyes
    Breaking the Silence, by Diane Chamberlain

  13. Judy M Zell on January 21, 2022 at 3:01 pm

    I read over 160 books last year, and I only rated about 2 dozen of them with 4 stars or more, including your 2 new books, Emilie. However, I will only name the 4 books to which I gave 5 stars, in alphabetical order:
    American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins
    The Book of Lost Friends by Lisa Wingate
    The Book of Lost Names by Kristin Harmel
    The Rose Code by Kate Quinn

  14. Ginny Andersen on January 23, 2022 at 5:25 pm

    I co-inherited a series of Patchwork Mysteries of which I am on book #21 and completed 19 of them in 2021. They are light, easy reading for bedtime wind-down reading time.
    I also read:
    Lord John and the Private Matter by Diana Gabaldon
    The Scottish Prisoner by Diana Gabaldon

    I received my Peaks & Valley book in the mail today and can hardly wait to get started!

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