52 Best Fiction Books to Read This Year
Whether you're in the mood for a gritty suspense novel, a lighthearted rom-com, or a thoughtful examination of the human condition, there's a book for you in 2021. Check out our list of the best fiction books to read this year.
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Best new fiction books
If the pandemic is gifting us anything positive, it’s time. Especially time to read. Print book sales were up nearly 10 percent in 2020, while e-book sales increased by at least 15 percent. From new releases to the best fiction books of all time, avid readers stuck at home relished the time to gobble up new titles.
There’s never been a better time to curl up with a good book or three. Works of fiction provide just the escape we need from the stresses of a difficult year. Put these hotly anticipated new titles for 2021 at the top of your list of the best fiction books to read this year. Note that some of these are already on shelves, while for others you may have to wait a few months. To round out your reading list, you’ll also want to take a look at these 100 books everyone should read in their lifetime.
The Stranger in the Lifeboat by Mitch Albom
You are probably aware of Tuesdays with Morrie, Mitch Albom’s bestselling memoir as well as the scores of other bestsellers the prolific author has penned. His latest, The Stranger in the Lifeboat, will be released on November 2, 2021, and tells the story of a group of shipwrecked passengers who pull a strange man from the sea, claiming to be “the Lord.” What follows is an inspiring novel full of big questions around God and divinity, leaving the reader to think about their deepest held beliefs.
The Hare by Melanie Finn
In Melanie Finn’s latest psychological thriller, impressionable young Rosie falls for a dashing man 20 years her senior—and with more secrets than she could have imagined. Torn from their tony Connecticut estate and posh social circles, Rosie and her young daughter must fend for themselves in a remote Vermont cabin—where their only link to civilization is the dangerous con man she’s married to. By the way, these are the books you need to read to call yourself a book lover.
The Four Winds by Kristin Hannah
The New York Times #1 bestselling author certainly timed her newest novel, The Four Winds, right—a saga about a woman and her two children surviving the Great Depression, the Dust Bowl, and a disintegrating marriage. Sure, the heroic and ultimately uplifting work is set in the 1930s, but it resonates as a reminder that even in dark times—like those we’re living through—the human spirit survives. Reader’s Digest staffers really loved this one!
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Every Last Fear by Alex Finlay
Hold onto your hats, dear readers, as Alex Finlay’s debut thriller is full of more adrenaline-pumping twists and turns than a theme park roller coaster. College student Matt receives the news that most of his family has died on vacation—ostensibly an accident but the FBI seems to think otherwise. In dealing with the tragedy, Matt discovers that their deaths may be linked to an earlier dark chapter in his family history—his own brother’s murder conviction. Though entirely a work of fiction, true crime fans will appreciate how media coverage and public opinion play into this story.
RELATED: 50 books to read before you’re 50.
Fake Accounts by Lauren Oyler
This debut novel from established essayist Lauren Oyler takes on just about every flashpoint of current events—social media, gaslighting, “fake news,” online dating, and Internet conspiracy theories. When the heroine of Fake Accounts finds out her boyfriend is leading a double life, the forthcoming twists and turns lead her to question the real meaning of reality and identity.
Seven Days in June by Tia Williams
When vampire romance novelist and single mom Eva Mercy has a chance encounter with an old flame, the sparks fly. But what’s on its face is a delightfully steamy read is a story layered with nuance that gracefully examines thornier topics of parenting in the modern age, life with chronic pain, and Black identity. Through it all, Williams’ clever and witty writing will leave you clamoring to be part of Mercy’s world. Williams is also the author of one of the best summer reads of all time.
Klara and the Sun by Kazuo Ishiguro
In this bittersweet novel from Nobel Prize in Literature awardee Kazuo Ishiguro, readers meet Klara, an AI machine who narrates the tale from her perch in a supermarket. Keenly observant of the humans who come into the shop and browse, Klara harbors an all-too-human desire—to be chosen and loved by a new owner. Ishiguro, considered one of the most influential living writers, weaves themes of love and belonging in a dystopian future that seems all too near.
Good Company by Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney
D’Aprix Sweeney’s sharp second novel delves into the fragility of marriage—when a long-hidden secret is enough to shake Flora and Julian’s two-decade union to its foundations. As questions abound and her comfortable married life teeters on the edge, Flora must also reassess her relationship with her best friend, Margot. Despite serious themes, this is a fun read imparted with plenty of humor and tenderness.
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Runner by Tracy Clark
The latest installment in Clark’s popular and award-winning Cass Raines Chicago Mystery series, Runner sees ex-cop turned private eye Raines trying to find Ramona, a runaway 15-year-old girl. Along the way, she finds out that young Ramona is running from more than just a troubled adolescence—and the secrets she’s hiding put her life, and those who try to help her, at risk. In Raines, Clark has created a streetwise, spunky protagonist who doesn’t shy from trouble—and who’s great fun to follow through the series.
The Funny Thing About Norman Foreman by Julietta Henderson
Full of heart and tenderness, this debut novel introduces Norman Foreman, a 12-year-old boy who, along with his mom, Sadie, set out on a dual quest—to get Norman onstage at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival and find his father—whom Sadie never knew. This is a fun and touching road trip story about mother and son bonding that’s a sweet as it is easy to read—another Reader’s Digest staff favorite!
The Last Thing He Told Me by Laura Dave
Hannah’s life takes a dramatic turn when her husband of one year leaves her a mysterious note—just before he disappears. Prolific author Laura Dave’s latest heroine soon finds herself trying to find her vanished husband, build a relationship with a reluctant stepdaughter—and learning that her husband may not be who she thinks he is. This is a fast-paced suspense novel enriched by strong characters and narratives.
Cold Wind by Paige Shelton
Fans of Shelton’s first cozy mystery set in Alaska, Thin Ice, will welcome heroine Beth Rivers like an old friend when she returns for more amateur sleuthing in Cold Wind. As mystery writer Rivers is adjusting to life in Benedict, Alaska, and overcoming her own past trauma, a new drama unfolds—a mudslide reveals a long-buried trapper’s house, a dead body, and two very much alive—but silent—young girls. Shelton weaves a just-creepy-enough tale that makes a great fireside read on a chilly night!
Black Buck by Mateo Askaripour
This riveting debut novel from 24-year-old Askaripour is led by former Starbucks barista Darren Vender, “Buck” of the title, a rising star at a tech startup. But as the company’s sole black sales agent, Darren is subject to blatant racism. How long can he—and a CEO happy to look the other way—ignore it? Fans of techy fiction will appreciate this raw take on what it means to be a person of color in a largely white industry.
We Were Never Here by Andrea Bartz
How well do you know your best friend? And how far would you go to keep a secret buried? After an annual backpacking trip takes a deadly turn, Emily is forced to confront the possibility of her BFF Kristen’s guilt—and her own complicity in hiding an earlier violent incident. This smartly written psychological thriller will leave you all tingly.
Harlem Shuffle by Colson Whitehead
Winner of two Pulitzer Prizes, Colson Whitehead is back with another swift-paced heist novel, this one set in 1960s Harlem. When born scammer Ray Carney gets himself into a caper he can’t extract himself from, the lies and deception pile up as the stakes get higher. As Ray tries to stay alive and salvage his share of the heist, there’s plenty of period nostalgia, humor, and intricate family drama to go around.
Girl A by Abigail Dean
First-time novelist Abigail Dean weaves a devastating tale of adult siblings who must confront the horrors of their shockingly abusive childhood. Together at the family home they’ve inherited, protagonist Lex seeks to unpack her and her siblings’ emotional baggage, only to find that each of them has created their own version of the past. Heavy themes, to be sure, but artfully shared in this knock-out of a debut.
Foregone by Russell Banks
Literary legend Banks is back with this tale of deathbed revelation by an American filmmaker who fled to Canada to avoid the Vietnam War draft. The character, Leonard Fife, gathers his wife and his closest colleagues to film his shocking confession, which will forever change his legacy. In the process, Banks artfully examines a facet of American history that’s largely forgotten.
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The Plot by Jean Hanff Korelitz
If you’re a fan of HBO’s hit series The Undoing, you may already know Korelitz’s work—the show is based on her book, You Should Have Known. In The Plot, Korelitz spins a tale of literary intrigue—a has-been fiction writer steals the brilliant story of a deceased student, and wealth and fame follow. But when a menacing email threatens to expose his big lie, the plot, as they say, thickens.
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The President’s Daughter by Bill Clinton and James Patterson
Separately or as co-authors, former president Bill Clinton and blockbuster writer James Patterson could probably write a bad book and still have it sell briskly. Fortunately, their follow-up to The President Is Missing is an intriguing and face-paced account of the kidnapping of the daughter of fictional ex-president Matthew Keating—who also happens to be a former Navy SEAL. Bad guys, lookout.
The Wife Upstairs by Rachel Hawkins
If Wuthering Heights and the Hitchcock classic Rebecca had a baby, it might look something like The Wife Upstairs. Newlywed Jane has a past almost as checkered as that of her widower husband, Eddie. His wife’s mysterious disappearance is still the talk of the town—and there are spooky thumping noises coming from upstairs. Hawkins made her name as a YA author, but this twisty, suspenseful, and feminist take on romance gone wrong is all grown up.
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People Like Her by Ellery Lloyd
That Ellery Lloyd is the pen name for married literary couple Collette Lyons and Paul Vlitos makes this cynical take on marriage and motherhood in the age of the influencer all the more delightful. Emmy Jackson is a supermom, with a legion of social media followers and a thriving business built on the façade of domestic perfection. Then an obsessed follower threatens to tear it all down. Lloyd’s sharp take skewers fake celebrity, mompetition, and the allure of the curated online persona.
Blood Grove by Walter Mosely
Fan-favorite Easy Rawlins is back in Mosely’s 14th book in the long-running mystery series. It’s 1969, and Rawlins finds himself in the midst of a cultural revolution in Southern California. When a traumatized Vietnam Vet asks for his help, Rawlins goes against his better judgment and finds himself in the thick of trouble again—and dealing with a personal crisis at the same time. He’s helped by an endearing band of misfits readers will recognize from other books in the series.
Act Your Age, Eve Brown by Talia Hibbert
Chick-lit lovers, rejoice over this feel-good offering from Talia Hibbert, third in her popular Brown Sisters trilogy. Eve Brown is a train wreck. First, she ruins an expensive wedding, then she runs over B&B owner Jacob. Her parents want her to grow up and Jacob wants her to get lost, but Eve insists on sticking around to clean up her mess. She and Jacob are polar opposites, yet…even if you know right where this playful rom-com novel is headed, it’s a fun ride all the same.
A Crooked Tree by Una Mannion
A devastating first act sets the narrative for this suspenseful, heartfelt coming-of-age novel, when a harried mother orders her 12-year-old out of the car to walk home. The events of that night haunt the family forever and reveal the dark shadows of their sleepy Pennsylvania town. This is Mannion’s debut novel, and it firmly established her on the literary map.
Annie and the Wolves by Andromeda Romano-Lax
Ruth McClintock, the protagonist of Romano-Lax’s latest novel, is a historian obsessed with Wild West sharpshooter Annie Oakley. Ruth’s research has cost her a personal life and stymied her career, but it’s finally paying off—she thinks she’d found Oakley’s lost journal. Cue some out-of-body experiences, and Ruth is suddenly part of Oakley’s memories. Themes of vengeance, justice, long-buried secrets, and impending doom are woven through this engaging tale of strong, resourceful women.
Maggie Finds Her Muse by Dee Ernst
Call this chick-lit for grown women. Popular romance novelist Dee Ernst’s latest finds the nearly-50, newly single Maggie retreating to Paris for much-needed downtime to finish her manuscript. You know what comes next—a few romantic interests that threaten to derail her peace and quiet. Ernst spoofs on a lot of romance novel tropes here, making Maggie Finds Her Muse a perfect choice for romance fans who want something fresh and fun.
Twice Shy by Sarah Hogle
Rom-com fans will spot some familiar themes in Sarah Hogle’s sophomore effort—a disillusioned woman looking to make a fresh start in a new town, unexpected worries in the form of an inherited house that’s in a terrible state of repair, and a grumpy—oh and did we mention handsome?—caretaker with whom she butts heads from the get-go. Sure, there’s some predictability here, but it’s a fun read all the same.
The Removed by Brandon Hobson
National Book Award finalist Brandon Hobson’s fourth novel tells in magical prose the poignant story of the Echota family, still shattered and scattered 15 years after a police shooting killed teenage Ray-Ray. As the family gathers for the annual Cherokee National Holiday and the anniversary of Ray-Ray’s death, each member undertakes a physical and emotional journey of healing and reconciliation—with heady doses of Native American folklore and mysticism thrown in. Released in February, The Removed is one of 2021’s most anticipated titles.
Of Women and Salt by Gabriela Garcia
Celebrated young poet and writer Gabriela Garcia’s highly anticipated first novel follows the lives of three generations of women as they attempt to untangle their complicated pasts and find peace in the present. Jeanette tries to understand her clouded family history by traveling to Cuba to visit her grandmother—but this is far from a feel-good family reunion story. Garcia confronts not just the Cuban diaspora but the difficult choices that mothers make—and by which they’re sometimes haunted.
Later by Stephen King
King’s latest novel once again blends his aptitude for nuanced character development with his ability to scare the wits out of us. Teenager Jamie was born with a gift he never wanted—the ability to see and learn things no one else can. As he gets drawn into a murder investigation, he realizes that the killer may already be dead—and every bit as dangerous. King is, of course, the author of some of the scariest books of all time.
Second Place by Rachel Cusk
When “M,” Cusk’s middle-aged protagonist, invites a famous artist to stay in her guest cottage, she gets more than she bargained for. The artist shows up with his young girlfriend, and M’s daughter and boyfriend soon arrive as well. The interaction and intrigues of the guests soon throw into question M’s very sense of self and her place in the world. The marshy coastal landscape where the story is set plays a big role here.
The Upstairs House by Julia Fine
Julia Fine’s second supernatural, psychological drama centers around Megan, a new mom dealing with physical exhaustion, loneliness, and postpartum depression. When the ghost of children’s author Margaret Wise Brown appears upstairs—soon joined by her longtime lover, poet Michael Strange, only Megan can see them. Her depression deepening, the lines between the real and the ghostly increasingly blur, ultimately putting her and her baby’s lives at risk.
The Charmed Wife by Olga Grushin
Cinderella is back and she is not happy. Olga Grushin’s darkly comic take on happily ever after finds Cin and Prince Charming 13 years into a loveless marriage. She visits a local witch—no benevolent fairy godmothers this time—and instead of asking to restore the love she and her prince once shared, she reveals that she wants him out of her life forever—as in dead. It’s quirky, unique, and great storytelling.
The Final Revival of Opal & Nev by Dawnie Walton
This debut novel lands with a bang as it recounts the story of Opal, a radical Afro-Punk performer in 1970s New York who experienced a brief burst of fame before a violent incident ends her career. When she reunites decades later with musical partner Nev, journalist S. Sunny Shelton discovers there’s a lot more to Opal’s backstory than initially appeared. Despite tackling big themes of sexism, race, and power, Walton’s writing positively sings.
Hummingbird Salamander by Jeff VanderMeer
If you weren’t worried enough about climate change, Jeff VanderMeer’s fast-paced thriller, Hummingbird Salamander might set you into a full-blown panic. Protagonist Jane Smith, a high-level security consultant, receives a storage unit key that once belonged to an eco-terrorist. A taxidermy hummingbird and salamander later, all hell has broken loose, and she has to race time to save family and herself and, just possibly, the planet. Fans of VanderMeer’s ecologically-themed thrillers won’t be disappointed by his latest effort.
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With Teeth by Kristin Arnett
This second novel from New York Times bestselling author Kristin Arnett probes family dysfunction with warmth, humor, and honesty. Sammie is the mother of a teenage son whose hostility verges on violence, and she’s getting little help from her mostly absent wife. While the thought-provoking work delves into queer family dynamics, its themes are universal.
Dead Souls by Sam Riviere
A scandal has rocked the literary world as famous poet Solomon Wiese is accused of plagiarism. In Dead Souls, Sam Riviere’s unnamed narrator runs into Wiese at a London bar, and the poet proceeds to spend the rest of the evening—and the rest of the book—telling the narrator his side of the story. Riviere, a poet himself, artfully blends metaphysics, existentialism, ideas of originality, and plagiarism, plus an enticing dose of history and memoir in this captivating read.
A Bright Ray of Darkness by Ethan Hawke
Lovers of theatre will delight in actor and author Ethan Hawke’s first book in 20 years, about a young actor whose personal life is unraveling just as his professional life takes a challenging new turn—the chance to perform in Henry IV on Broadway. Hawke examines the meaning of marriage and fatherhood across themes of guilt and redemption.
The Other Black Girl by Zakiya Dalila Harris
The publishing world’s reckoning with race is on full display in Harris’s debut novel, which starts with Nella, the only Black employee at a book publisher. A newly hired Black colleague quickly climbs the ladder and leaves Nella behind. The suspense starts to build when Nella is the target of an anonymous campaign to scare her into resigning. Besides addressing timely topics on race, Harris has written a doozy of a thriller.
The Turnout by Megan Abbott
At once engaging and unnerving, Abbott’s sibling drama is set in the tightly controlled ambiance of a family ballet studio. When an accident occurs and an outsider threatens the neat façade of their lives, sister Dara and Marie must confront their childhood, the lives they’ve constructed, and the feelings they’ve repressed.
We Begin at the End by Chris Whitaker
Secrets, redemption, disappointment, and the families we make are all themes in Whitaker’s artfully written third novel. Small-town sheriff Walk wrestles with the guilt of helping send his best friend to prison 30 years earlier. When the friend is paroled and returns to the town, Walk, assisted by a worldly 13-year-old girl, must confront the past as they attempt to mend their fractured lives.
Velvet Was the Night by Silvia Moreno-Garcia
This classic noir mystery is set in Mexico City of the 1970s, where lonely heart Maite lives vicariously through her vivacious neighbor Leonora. When Leonora goes missing Maite sets out to find her, and soon joins ranks with Elvis, a lovable thug hired to find the missing girl. Set against a backdrop of political unrest and government corruption, this latest from Moreno-Garcia promises to be a fun romp—and worth waiting for its August release date.
Infinite Country by Patricia Engel
Talia’s bold escape from a juvenile detention center in Bogota is the catalyst for recalling the journey of her parents—their dream of a new life in the United States and the heartbreaking decisions that splintered their family. The drama of Talia’s desperate race to get to her father in Bogota is spliced with past and present stories of her parents and siblings, and the all-too-real choices immigrant families face.
The Push by Ashley Audrain
Already a New York Times bestseller, this unsettling psychological thriller centers on Blythe, a new mom anxious to forge the bond with her infant daughter she never had with her own mother. When she senses something is not right about her daughter, Blythe starts to question her own sanity—as readers question the story she’s recounting. Audrain examines the fractures between parent and child and the darker parts of motherhood while deftly creating a mood of creepily menacing suspense.
The Kitchen Front by Jennifer Ryan
If you’ve spent the year feeding your pandemic sourdough starter, this work of historical fiction set in WWII Britain will be a welcome escape. In Britain’s darkest hour, four home cooks compete to be the first female BBC presenter. Each one deserves the chance to change her life, but who will win? Ryan’s third novel is heartfelt and entertaining, as the tensions of the competition threaten to upend lives and tear apart a community. Here are more international fiction books that will help you feel connected with the world.
The Echo Wife, Sarah Gailey
We’ve used the term creepy to describe a lot of the books on this list. But when your husband is having an affair with your clone, well…creepy. Renowned scientist Evelyn Caldwell discovers the truth about her husband’s infidelity—just in time for her clone to kill him. Now Evelyn and her genetically engineered twin must cover their tracks—with lots of revelations and plot twists along the way, of course.
The Lost Apothecary by Sarah Penner
Fans of historical fiction will love to creep through the back alleys of 1700s London in this twisty tale of female solidarity and sweet revenge. An apothecary shop sells poisons that leave no trace—perfect for its female clientele to dispatch with the oppressive men in their lives. When present-day historian Caroline makes a shocking discovery about the apothecary murders, a twist of fate puts several lives in danger.
U Up? by Catie Disabato
Like lots of millennials her age, Eve leads her social life online—constantly texting with best friend Ezra—and with the ghost of her deceased bestie, Miggy. He’s not the only ghost Eve is in contact with, but he is the most persistent. When Ezra goes missing on the anniversary of Miggy’s death, Eve discovers Ezra’s secret life and confronts truths about her own past. Set amidst the gay youth scene of Los Angeles, this sophomore work from Disabato is poignant, honest, and hard to put down.
The Sanatorium by Sarah Pearse
Seriously, do stories set in former insane asylums ever have a happy ending? When a hotelier converts a ruined sanatorium in the Swiss Alps into a luxury resort, no good can come of it. British detective Elin Warner is one of the hotel’s first guests. And when staff and guests start to disappear and an avalanche snows everyone in, the suspense heats up. Agatha Christie would probably like this debut effort.
Summerwater by Sarah Moss
It’s a little too quiet in the rural, sparsely populated Scottish village of Sarah Moss’s latest work. People mostly keep to themselves, but with a keen eye on one another’s comings and goings. The tension rises here as the longest day of the year finally cedes to nightfall, and these disparate residents are brought together.
Second First Impressions by Sally Thorne
This feel-good saga set in a retirement home will appeal to readers both young and old. Ruthie is a nose-to-the-grindstone front office employee at the home, with a non-existent personal life. When Teddy, the owner’s ne’er-do-well son gets hired by two nonagenarian residents, comedy ensues and, of course, romantic sparks fly.
Slough House by Mick Herron
The seventh title in the series of the same name, Slough House revisits Herron’s band of demoted British MI5 spies navigating the Brexit era. As more of his old crew start dying untimely deaths, ringleader Jackson Lamb seeks to find their killers—and save himself and his remaining comrades. Russian spies, counterintelligence, shadowy figures, and Brexit populism—it’s all part of this smart package.