This year, we’ve had a lot of fun writing bookish lists full of hidden gems, buzzworthy novels, and wonderful recommendations from industry insiders. Here are 10 of the most popular book lists we ran on Off the Shelf in 2021—as decided by you, our readers!
Best of 2021: Our 10 Most Popular Lists of the Year
What do fifteenth century Constantinople, modern-day Idaho, and an interstellar starship have in common? These are the settings for Anthony Doerr’s latest book, CLOUD CUCKOO LAND. The book follows three separate stories that are all connected by the characters reading the tale of Aethon, a man who longs for paradise so much that he wishes he could turn into a bird to fly there. Ironic, given that all the characters are trapped in dangerous situations they would love to fly away from. Each story connects the lives of these protagonists separated by time, telling a profound tale of hope, humanity, and the strength to continue in the face of uncertainty.
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From the Pulitzer Prize–winning author of All the Light We Cannot See, perhaps the most bestselling and beloved literary fiction of our time, comes a triumph of imagination and compassion, a soaring novel about children on the cusp of adulthood in a broken world, who find resilience, hope, and story.
The heroes of Cloud Cuckoo Land are trying to figure out the world around them: Anna and Omeir, on opposite sides of the formidable city walls during the 1453 siege of Constantinople; teenage idealist Seymour in an attack on a public library in present day Idaho; and Konstance, on an interstellar ship bound for an exoplanet, decades from now. Like Marie-Laure and Werner in All the Light We Cannot See, Anna, Omeir, Seymour, and Konstance are dreamers and outsiders who find resourcefulness and hope in the midst of peril.
An ancient text—the story of Aethon, who longs to be turned into a bird so that he can fly to a utopian paradise in the sky—provides solace and mystery to these unforgettable characters. Doerr has created a tapestry of times and places that reflects our vast interconnectedness—with other species, with each other, with those who lived before us and those who will be here after we’re gone.
Dedicated to “the librarians then, now, and in the years to come,” Cloud Cuckoo Land is a hauntingly beautiful and redemptive novel about stewardship—of the book, of the Earth, of the human heart.
I was in one of my worst reading slumps at the beginning of this year and couldn’t seem to shake it until I picked up INFINITE COUNTRY. While fewer than two hundred pages long, Patricia Engel’s saga of a family divided between the United States and Colombia is breathtaking. The story shifts perspectives among parents Mauro and Elena and children Karina, Nando, and Talia, as each character honestly portrays the struggle of immigration and being able to call a place home. These unforgettable characters, along with Engel’s command of language and gorgeous prose filled with passages that feel like a punch to the gut, make INFINITE COUNTRY a can’t-miss read.
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A REESE’S BOOK CLUB PICK and INSTANT NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER
“A profound, beautiful novel.” — People * “Poignant.” —BuzzFeed * “A breathtaking story of the unimaginable prices paid for a better life.” —Esquire
This “heartbreaking portrait of a family dealing with the realities of migration and separation” (Time) is “a sweeping love story and tragic drama [and] an authentic vision of what the American Dream looks like in a nationalistic country” (Elle).
I often wonder if we are living the wrong life in the wrong country.
Talia is being held at a correctional facility for adolescent girls in the forested mountains of Colombia after committing an impulsive act of violence that may or may not have been warranted. She urgently needs to get out and get back home to Bogotá, where her father and a plane ticket to the United States are waiting for her. If she misses her flight, she might also miss her chance to finally be reunited with her family.
How this family came to occupy two different countries, two different worlds, comes into focus like twists of a kaleidoscope. We see Talia’s parents, Mauro and Elena, fall in love in a market stall as teenagers against a backdrop of civil war and social unrest. We see them leave Bogotá with their firstborn, Karina, in pursuit of safety and opportunity in the United States on a temporary visa, and we see the births of two more children, Nando and Talia, on American soil. We witness the decisions and indecisions that lead to Mauro’s deportation and the family’s splintering—the costs they’ve all been living with ever since.
Award-winning, internationally acclaimed author Patricia Engel, herself a dual citizen and the daughter of Colombian immigrants, gives voice to all five family members as they navigate the particulars of their respective circumstances. Rich with Bogotá urban life, steeped in Andean myth, and tense with the daily reality of the undocumented in America, Infinite Country “is as much an all-American story as it is a global one” (Booklist, starred review).
Anthony Doerr explains in this video that what sparked the start of his bestselling novel ALL THE LIGHT WE CANNOT SEE was the magic and connection of radio during wartime. And the motifs of communication and storytelling resonate throughout the plot with two overlapping stories. Similarly, the idea for Cuban author Armando Lucas Correa’s novel revolves around a wartime event with alternating stories. The author spent years researching the tragic story of the SS St. Louis, which carried Jewish refugees from Nazi Germany but was denied entry to ports overseas, eventually forcing its devastating return, where many of the passengers die. Themes of survival, travel, rescue, loss, and hope echo throughout THE GERMAN GIRL as it alternates timelines between Hannah, who lives in 1939 Berlin, and Anna, from present-day New York. As the novel slowly reveals, these two young girls are connected across the years and continents, and the plot is expertly woven as it builds slowly to a devastating end.
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Five women. Three time periods. One amazing book. In THE LAST GARDEN IN ENGLAND, Julia Kelly tells the story of how the lives of five women are irrevocably changed over the course of a century because of one garden. Spanning 1907 to the present, the sweeping novel shows the life-changing impact of one special place in England. If you want to make the reading experience extra delightful, make sure to grab a chair or blanket and find a garden to relax in.
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From the author of the international bestsellers The Light Over London and The Whispers of War comes “a compelling read, filled with lovable characters and an alluring twist of fates” (Ellen Keith, author of The Dutch Wife) about five women living across three different times whose lives are all connected by one very special garden.
Present day: Emma Lovett, who has dedicated her career to breathing new life into long-neglected gardens, has just been given the opportunity of a lifetime: to restore the gardens of the famed Highbury House estate, designed in 1907 by her hero Venetia Smith. But as Emma dives deeper into the gardens’ past, she begins to uncover secrets that have long lain hidden.
1907: A talented artist with a growing reputation for her work, Venetia Smith has carved out a niche for herself as a garden designer to industrialists, solicitors, and bankers looking to show off their wealth with sumptuous country houses. When she is hired to design the gardens of Highbury House, she is determined to make them a triumph, but the gardens—and the people she meets—promise to change her life forever.
1944: When land girl Beth Pedley arrives at a farm on the outskirts of the village of Highbury, all she wants is to find a place she can call home. Cook Stella Adderton, on the other hand, is desperate to leave Highbury House to pursue her own dreams. And widow Diana Symonds, the mistress of the grand house, is anxiously trying to cling to her pre-war life now that her home has been requisitioned and transformed into a convalescent hospital for wounded soldiers. But when war threatens Highbury House’s treasured gardens, these three very different women are drawn together by a secret that will last for decades.
“Gorgeously written and rooted in meticulous period detail, this novel is vibrant as it is stirring. Fans of historical fiction will fall in love with The Last Garden in England” (Roxanne Veletzos, author of The Girl They Left Behind).
If you’re looking for a thriller with morally ambiguous characters who will do whatever it takes to protect their family, THE LAST THING HE TOLD ME is for you! The book starts with Hannah Hall trying to fathom the sudden disappearance of her husband, Owen. All she’s left with is a duffel bag full of cash and a note saying, “Protect Her,” referencing Hannah’s stepdaughter, Bailey. As Hannah tries to unravel what happened to Owen, she deals with the additional challenge of helping Bailey cope with the trauma, a challenging task since Bailey wants nothing to do with Hannah.
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From internationally bestselling author Laura Dave comes a riveting new suspense novel about a woman’s search for the truth about her husband’s disappearance—no matter the cost.
We all have stories we never tell.
Before Owen Michaels disappears, he manages to smuggle a note to his beloved wife of one year: Protect her. Despite her confusion and fear, Hannah Hall knows exactly to whom the note refers: Owen’s sixteen-year-old daughter, Bailey. Bailey, who lost her mother tragically as a child. Bailey, who wants absolutely nothing to do with her new stepmother.
As Hannah’s increasingly desperate calls to Owen go unanswered; as the FBI arrests Owen’s boss; as a US Marshal and FBI agents arrive at her Sausalito home unannounced, Hannah quickly realizes her husband isn’t who he said he was. And that Bailey just may hold the key to figuring out Owen’s true identity—and why he really disappeared.
Hannah and Bailey set out to discover the truth, together. But as they start putting together the pieces of Owen’s past, they soon realize they are also building a new future. One neither Hannah nor Bailey could have anticipated.
With its breakneck pacing, dazzling plot twists, and unforgettable characters, The Last Thing He Told Me is bestselling author Laura Dave’s finest novel yet, certain to shock you with its final, heartbreaking turn. This propulsive thriller with a heart is for fans of Liane Moriarty and Jojo Moyes.
King Richard III was made famous by Shakespeare as the dastardly murderer of his nephews in his quest for the English throne. But in THE DAUGHTER OF TIME, when a Scotland Yard inspector, stuck in bed with a broken leg, decides to investigate this allegation, he discovers a compelling mystery that soon obsesses him. A classic and unputdownable novel that has inspired generations, THE DAUGHTER OF TIME is a thoroughly unique and compelling detective tale that will change the way you look at history.
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"One of the best mysteries of all time" (The New York Times)—Josephine Tey recreates one of history’s most famous—and vicious—crimes in her classic bestselling novel, a must read for connoisseurs of fiction, now with a new introduction by Robert Barnard.
Inspector Alan Grant of Scotland Yard, recuperating from a broken leg, becomes fascinated with a contemporary portrait of Richard III that bears no resemblance to the Wicked Uncle of history. Could such a sensitive, noble face actually belong to one of the world’s most heinous villains—a venomous hunchback who may have killed his brother’s children to make his crown secure? Or could Richard have been the victim, turned into a monster by the usurpers of England’s throne? Grant determines to find out once and for all, with the help of the British Museum and an American scholar, what kind of man Richard Plantagenet really was and who killed the Little Princes in the Tower.
The Daughter of Time is an ingeniously plotted, beautifully written, and suspenseful tale, a supreme achievement from one of mystery writing’s most gifted masters.
If you loved DAISY JONES & THE SIX, you are going to devour THE FINAL REVIVAL OF OPAL & NEV! This electric new novel tells the story of an iconic rock duo from the early ’70s who shot to fame on the music scene. But after a promotional concert turned violent, the two stars wind up on vastly different paths. Decades later, the duo are contemplating a reunion concert, and a music journalist sees her chance to write the true story of the legends. S. Sunny Shelton thought she knew everything about Opal & Nev’s history, but as she begins interviewing the major players of the time, she uncovers an allegation that changes everything. This book is unlike any I’ve ever read before, and I’m constantly recommending it to my friends!
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A kaleidoscopic fictional oral history of the beloved rock ’n’ roll duo who shot to fame in 1970s New York, and the dark, fraught secret that lies at the peak of their stardom.
Opal is a fiercely independent young woman pushing against the grain in her style and attitude, Afro-punk before that term existed. Coming of age in Detroit, she can’t imagine settling for a 9-to-5 job—despite her unusual looks, Opal believes she can be a star. So when the aspiring British singer/songwriter Neville Charles discovers her at a bar’s amateur night, she takes him up on his offer to make rock music together for the fledgling Rivington Records.
In early seventies New York City, just as she’s finding her niche as part of a flamboyant and funky creative scene, a rival band signed to her label brandishes a Confederate flag at a promotional concert. Opal’s bold protest and the violence that ensues set off a chain of events that will not only change the lives of those she loves, but also be a deadly reminder that repercussions are always harsher for women, especially black women, who dare to speak their truth.
Decades later, as Opal considers a 2016 reunion with Nev, music journalist S. Sunny Shelton seizes the chance to curate an oral history about her idols. Sunny thought she knew most of the stories leading up to the cult duo’s most politicized chapter. But as her interviews dig deeper, a nasty new allegation from an unexpected source threatens to blow up everything.
Provocative and chilling, The Final Revival of Opal & Nev features a backup chorus of unforgettable voices, a heroine the likes of which we’ve not seen in storytelling, and a daring structure, and introduces a bold new voice in contemporary fiction.
WWII Germany isn’t an unfamiliar setting for a historical fiction novel, but a canine narrator who turns into an acting star, circus performer, and spy certainly is. In Jonathan Crown’s debut novel, SIRIUS, readers are treated (dog pun?) to an exhilarating tale of one Jewish family’s fox terrier who escapes from Berlin and navigates fame in Hollywood, only to end up back in Germany playing a spy and informing upon Adolf Hitler himself—and contributing to his downfall. Filled with famous figures and a fresh take, this novel offers a new perspective, literally, on a familiar historical backdrop.
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An international bestseller—“an elegant, charming, and heartwarming fable...one part Zelig, one part Siddhartha, and one part Rin Tin Tin” (Vogue)—about an extraordinary fox terrier who helps his Jewish family escape from Nazi Germany, becomes a Hollywood star, and ultimately contributes to Hitler’s downfall.
Levi, a fox terrier, lives with his family in a grand townhouse in Berlin. Each day he enjoys a walk through the neighborhood, where people greet him by name. But the year is 1938, and Berlin is no longer safe for Levi or the Liliencrons, his Jewish owners. They rename him Sirius, after the constellation, to protect him.
One night, Nazi troops storm the city and begin to search houses. Sirius alerts the family, and they manage to flee to California. In his new home, Carl Liliencron becomes a chauffeur and Sirius befriends everyone from Humphrey Bogart and Cary Grant to Rita Hayworth and Jack Warner. He is renamed Hercules and becomes a canine movie star. Little does Sirius know that he’ll soon have to perform his most difficult acting role yet, when through a series of exceptional events as World War II unfolds, he winds up at the right hand of Hitler himself. Can Sirius help the German resistance, derail the Führer, and reunite with his family? Or is the cost of peace too high?
“Heartwarming...charming...for history buffs and dog lovers alike” (Publishers Weekly), Sirius is an enchanting fairy tale about love and humanity and a roving exploration of a momentous historical moment. Like My Dog Skip and The Artist, this “triumphant novel” (The Missourian) will make you stand up and cheer.
Taking place in London in 1940, we meet Emmeline Lake as she begins working for Woman’s Friend magazine as a typist for the well-known advice columnist Henrietta Bird. Emmy soon learns that Mrs. Bird will not answer any letters that are unpleasant in her eyes. To Emmy, though, these are the letters that are the important ones, the ones calling out to be answered. Pretending to be Mrs. Bird, Emmy begins to answer the letters one by one. This endearing story is one of my favorites
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“Get Out meets The Devil Wears Prada....” and that’s about right for this debut by Zakiya Dalila Harris, THE OTHER BLACK GIRL. Nella is the only Black employee at a very tony publishing house, until Hazel arrives, and what should be a positive step turns Nella's world upside down. Downright chilling.
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“Riveting, fearless, and vividly original. This is an exciting debut.” —Emily St. John Mandel, New York Times bestselling author of The Glass Hotel
Get Out meets The Devil Wears Prada in this electric debut about the tension that unfurls when two young Black women meet against the starkly white backdrop of New York City book publishing.
Twenty-six-year-old editorial assistant Nella Rogers is tired of being the only Black employee at Wagner Books. Fed up with the isolation and microaggressions, she’s thrilled when Harlem-born and bred Hazel starts working in the cubicle beside hers. They’ve only just started comparing natural hair care regimens, though, when a string of uncomfortable events elevates Hazel to Office Darling, and Nella is left in the dust.
Then the notes begin to appear on Nella’s desk: LEAVE WAGNER. NOW.
It’s hard to believe Hazel is behind these hostile messages. But as Nella starts to spiral and obsess over the sinister forces at play, she soon realizes that there’s a lot more at stake than just her career.
A whip-smart and dynamic thriller and sly social commentary that is perfect for anyone who has ever felt manipulated, threatened, or overlooked in the workplace, The Other Black Girl will keep you on the edge of your seat until the very last twist.
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