Right now I’m on track to read 52 books in 52 weeks, and I’ve finished up some great novels this fall. As I look toward the last two months of the year to finish up my reading list for 2021, I’m rounding up the best fall fiction I’ve read so far. I’d love to hear yours in the comments, as well!
I’ve also started using LibroFM to listen to audiobooks in addition to whatever Audible credits I have. I like LibroFM because it lets me choose what bookstore I purchase my audiobook from (Parnassus!), and thus my money continues to go to support independent booksellers since the majority of books I read are from the Nashville library. If you use my referral code, I get a free book and so do you, and who doesn’t love more books?
Malibu Rising by Taylor Jenkins Reid
I’d honestly read anything Taylor Jenkins Reid wrote. Evelyn Hugo was amazingly layered and complex, and Jenkins Reid’s writing style is just up my alley. I was skeptical, though, with many of my fellow bookworms not in love with this novel. Luckily, that was not the case for me and Malibu Rising.
This multigenerational, family-oriented novel chronicles the lives of four beach-raised surfers on the coast of Malibu as they each come to terms with the emotional abuse of having a deadbeat dad who left them at a young age. The whole book centers around one night—the epic annual party our heroine Nina hosts—then takes us back in time decades before the kids were born as the author builds up the backstory and some pretty nuanced character development. If you love contemporary fiction with some twists and turns, this is a must-read and goes pretty quickly.
Send for Me by Lauren Fox
It wouldn’t be a season of my life if I didn’t read a World War II novel. Sadly, this one was far from my favorite. I do like that it leaned into a different facet than other war novels I’ve read—a Jewish family in Germany who was forced to separate as anti-Jewish sentiment grew, with half fleeing for America and the other half staying in Germany—but ultimately, this book felt empty in the end to me, like it never really had a resolution. It also had too many secondary characters I didn’t really grow to care about.
The Paris Library by Janet Skeslien Charles
Speaking of World War II and historical fiction, I finally read The Paris Library, and it was everything everyone told me it would be—even better when I learned it was very much based on a true story.
The book has two different settings: 1939 Paris and 1983 Montana. In Paris, Odile Souchet has a police officer boyfriend and a job she loves at the American Library in Paris. But when the Nazis arrive, she stands to lose everything. The library crew winds up joining the Resistance and plying the soldiers in the frontlines with books, as well as smuggling literature to close Jewish friends who can no longer come to the library.
Meanwhile, in Montana, Lily is a teen who is curious about her French neighbor and her mysterious past. They strike up an unlikely friendship as the two worlds eventually merged into one beautiful story of the power of books and the relationships they forge.
The Dutch House by Ann Patchett
I know, I know, I should have read this years ago. I love Ann Patchett, and she’s even been so kind to invite me to her house in Nashville for coffee in the past. But I was waiting for a time when I had 10 hours to devote to the audiobook, narrated by Tom Hanks, and that finally came on our Northern California road trip in August.
Like the name suggests, this is a book very much about a house, an architectural piece of art in Pennsylvania that raised a pair of siblings until their teenage years and one that haunts them for decades to come after their father’s untimely death. I’ve read some reviews of The Dutch House that call the characters whiny and unlikable, but I didn’t think that: Through Patchett’s words, I felt their pain of being ripped away from the one thing that gave them stability as children. The book did feel like it went on longer than necessary, and I think I might have grown a bit bored by it had I read and not listened to it. It was not my favorite Patchett book, but an interesting concept nonetheless.
The Truants by Kate Weinberg
This suspenseful read has all the elements of a great novel: scandal, adultery, murder, a beautiful secluded island off the coast of Italy. It also centers on a love triangle between a student, her crush and a professor. The first half of the book got five stars from me, but then it all kind of fell apart at the end.
Nine Perfect Strangers by Liane Moriarty
Ahead of the HBO show, I wanted to read this Moriarty bestseller before watching it, and well, I’ll be honest: I struggled. Nine strangers, each insufferable in his/her own way, arrive at an expensive wellness retreat where everything—and everyone—are not as they seem.
The premise sounded interesting, but the book lagged on with shoddy character development and no real plot—then rushed to wrap everything up at the very end. As always, Moriarty’s writing is great, but her pacing just isn’t my jam; the only book of hers I’ve loved was Bit Little Lies I’ve watched a few episodes of the show, but again, it hasn’t really captured my attention either.
Sorrow and Bliss by Meg Mason
I put this book down a half-dozen times before finally committing as the beginning is a bit slow, but boy am I glad I finally read it. It’s a coming-of-age story about an English teen/woman Martha who grapples with mental illness, balancing relationships and her unconventional upbringing, but it’s not really that sad at all. Rather, it’s extremely hopeful, charming, lovable and laced with witty repartee—a book that every woman should read.
The Paper Palace by Miranda Cowley Heller
If you love The Sopranos, Six Feet Under, The Wire, Deadwood and/or Big Love you’ll likely want to put this debut novel on your list as it’s written by a first-time author and ex-HBO exec who developed some very beloved hit shows during her time in TV. Trigger warning: rape.
Protagonist Elle grew up summering at her family’s rustic compound on Cape Cod, and the book launches with her trying to choose between two loves: her husband (and father of her three children) Peter and the island boy Jonas who captured her heart as a kid. The novel also toggles back and forth between present day and her childhood of abuse in which she grew up with an unstable mother, beloved-but-distant sister and rotating host of stepfathers, which gives us readers a lot of insight into why Elle is the reason she is today.
The Thursday Murder Club by Richard Osmond
This was another of my monthly audiobook purchases, and it’s cute and funny and British and delightful (and also soon to be a Steven Spielberg film!). There’s a murder in a small English town near a retirement community, and an unlikely group of seniors decides to crack the case. An Instagram follower recommended it to me for a recent round-trip drive to South Carolina, and it was exactly what I needed at the moment (i.e. not dark and not serious).
Though I listened to it, I’m convinced it would be every bit as charming to read. And there’s a second book in the series that just came out last month, too!
Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler
One of our best friends Em said this was a book she’s read/listened to many times since it was first published in 1993, and I’m not sure how I missed it as dystopian is totally my jam. So SVV and I loaded it up on audiobook and have been listening as we travel the South for photography projects. The narrator is excellent, and while the subject matter heavy, I highly recommend listening to it if you have long drives ahead.
The year is 2025 (ha, but remember it was written almost 30 years ago!), and the the world is descending into madness and anarchy (sounds familiar…). Poverty abounds, food resources are skim, families live in constant fear that raiders are going to break into their houses or, worse, burn them down. When the latter happens to our heroine Lauren, she escapes from marauders and gets out of Los Angeles to head north to safety—all the while conceiving an idea that may mean salvation for all mankind. Like the cover line says, if you like The Handmaid’s Tale and 1984, two of my favorite classics, this book is for you.
Currently, I’m in the middle of Severance (another post-apocalyptic read), Meet Me in Another Life (very Addie LaRue-like) and The Lager Queen of Minnesota (impossibly charming). I’ve got People We Meet on Vacation, Last Summer at the Golden Hotel, They Both Die at the End and We Were the Lucky Ones currently checked out from the library, but I’m always looking for a good psychological thriller so give me your best recs, please!
I read the Paris Library but just couldn’t love it as I think that Code Name Helene has forever ruined this genre for me and nothing compares! I abandoned Nine Perfect Strangers halfway through (a rarity for me) but will try to watch the series as I really love Big Little Lies!
Helene is still my favorite, of course, but I loved the whole library aspect of Paris Library. So cool—and I knew nothing about it!
You were smart to abandon Nine Perfect Strangers 🙂
I haven’t read fiction in so long that it’s a joke. I’ve been focusing on all kinds of self-development books, but most importantly, The Secret that I’d heard about for so many years! The Thursday Murder Club looks like an exciting book that I’d love to read, though. I should get back to reading more often, I miss it so much!
It’s such a cute, funny book. Hope you like it!
I have mixed feelings about The Paper Palace. I did finish it (the writing was good enough that I couldn’t really put it down for long), but I cringed through most of it and just felt icky. I liked Midnight Library (believe I saw that recommended on a previous month’s post) and am now reading You Think It, I’ll Say It, which is a collection of short stories. Really enjoying it.
Totally understand that sentiment! I felt the exact same way the first few chapters then anytime the stepbrother came up (obviously), but in the end, I really enjoyed the storytelling. My sister, on the other hand, struggled to finished Paper Palace. I liked Midnight Library a lot, too! Not my favorite read of the year, but definitely a good one.
I am an avid reader as well. I often look for new books to read, and your list looks amazing. I have read some books such as Malibu Rising, Sorrow and Bliss, Parable of the Sower, and I am looking forward to reading all the books you shared on your list. It is so nice to find someone who is as passionate about books as I am. Looking forward to reading more of your lists, and do share your thoughts and your favorite books as well.
I’m so glad you found my list useful. Thank you, John!
52 books in 52 weeks, sounds amazing. There was a time, a few years back, when I read around 100 books, but after that year, I have struggled to read even 30. I am hoping to manage my routine and read more. Hopefully, this will be my year. Your list looks amazing, I have read some of them such as Malibu Rising, Nine Perfect Strangers, and the paper palace. I have been meaning to pick up the Paris library, thank you for adding it to your list and reminding me that I should finally read it.