Best of 2021: Our 15 Most Popular Books of the Year

December 7 2021
Share Best of 2021: Our 15 Most Popular Books of the Year

While 2021 was another tough year, we found immense comfort in reading. That’s why we could never agree on the “best” books of the year—what an impossible task! Instead, allow us to present the 15 most popular books on Off the Shelf from the past year. We hope you enjoy discovering which reads resonated the most with your fellow booklovers!

For more, check out Simon & Schuster’s roundup of the Best Books of the Year!

The Last Thing He Told Me
by Laura Dave

What would you do if, out of the blue, you learned that your new husband’s company was under federal investigation and he was nowhere to be found? It’s not a hypothetical question for Hannah Hall, whose idyllic life turns nightmarish in the space of a day in THE LAST THING HE TOLD ME. Guided only by a cryptic note from her husband that simply reads “Protect her,” Hannah assumes responsibility for her moody teenage stepdaughter, Bailey, and together the two of them try to figure out what on earth is going on. Because while they may not agree on much, they’re on the same page about one thing: Owen Michaels’s disappearance must be solved. Laura Dave’s discussion-worthy thriller was not only a perfect beach read, but it also made me wonder how I would react if I were in Hannah’s shoes. In fact, I’m still thinking about it . . .

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The Last Thing He Told Me
Laura Dave

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.

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Lightning Strike
by William Kent Krueger

In the summer of 1963, change is coming to the small Minnesota town of Aurora, but 12-year-old Cork doesn’t know it yet. After stumbling on to the hanging body of a man he once admired, Cork’s belief in his family, hometown, and way of life is rocked. As he and his sheriff father, Liam, begin to investigate if the death was suicide or something more, Cork begins to see that the truth might not be so simple. LIGHTNING STRIKE is the emotionally resonant prequel to William Kent Krueger’s powerful Cork O’Connor series.

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Lightning Strike
William Kent Krueger

The author of the instant New York Times bestseller This Tender Land returns with a powerful prequel to his acclaimed Cork O’Connor series—a book about fathers and sons, long-simmering conflicts in a small Minnesota town, and the events that echo through youth and shape our lives forever.

Aurora is a small town nestled in the ancient forest alongside the shores of Minnesota’s Iron Lake. In the summer of 1963, it is the whole world to twelve-year-old Cork O’Connor, its rhythms as familiar as his own heartbeat. But when Cork stumbles upon the body of a man he revered hanging from a tree in an abandoned logging camp, it is the first in a series of events that will cause him to question everything he took for granted about his hometown, his family, and himself.

Cork’s father, Liam O’Connor, is Aurora’s sheriff and it is his job to confirm that the man’s death was the result of suicide, as all the evidence suggests. In the shadow of his father’s official investigation, Cork begins to look for answers on his own. Together, father and son face the ultimate test of choosing between what their heads tell them is true and what their hearts know is right.

In this masterful story of a young man and a town on the cusp of change, beloved novelist William Kent Krueger shows that some mysteries can be solved even as others surpass our understanding.

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The Missing Treasures of Amy Ashton
by Eleanor Ray

I know I can’t be the only one who blew off their reading goal for 2020, but back in the early winter, when it was perfect weather to curl up with a book, I couldn’t think of anything less appealing. Focus on a story for longer than the length of a TikTok? No thanks. But when one of my colleagues with perfect editorial taste passed me THE MISSING TREASURES OF AMY ASHTON, I decided to read a chapter—just a chapter—to see how it felt after my monthlong reading drought. From the first few pages of THE MISSING TREASURES OF AMY ASHTON, I could tell I was reading something special. Amy Ashton’s house is littered, cluttered; she’s spent the past twenty years hoarding vases, ceramic birds, newspapers, and mugs. But as you uncover the story behind each object and learn to appreciate its beauty, your heart will open for Amy more and more. And as Amy gets to know her unjudgmental neighbor Richard and his sons, you’ll be reminded to be gentle and patient with yourself. THE MISSING TREASURES OF AMY ASHTON (publishing as EVERYTHING IS BEAUTIFUL in the UK) will remind you what it’s like to fall into a story and back in love with reading.

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The Missing Treasures of Amy Ashton
Eleanor Ray

For fans of The Keeper of Lost Things and Evvie Drake Starts Over comes a funny and tender debut about a reclusive artist whose collection has gotten out of control—but whose unexpected friendship with a pair of new neighbors might be just what she needs to start over.

Amy Ashton once dreamed of becoming an artist—of creating beautiful objects. But now she simply collects them. Aquamarine bottles, bright yellow crockery, deep Tuscan red pots (and the odd slow-cooker) take up every available inch of space in her house. Having suffered a terrible tragedy—one she staunchly refuses to let herself think about, thank you very much—she’s decided that it’s easier to love things than people. Things are safe. Things will never leave you.

But when a new family moves in next door with two young boys, one of whom has a collection of his own, Amy’s carefully managed life starts to unravel, prompting her to question why she began to close herself off in the first place. As Amy embarks on a journey back into her past, she has to contend with nosy neighbors, a meddlesome government worker, the inept police, and a little boy whose love of bulldozers might just let Amy open up her heart—and her home—again.

Quirky and charming, big-hearted and moving, The Missing Treasures of Amy Ashton proves that it’s never too late to let go of the things that don’t matter...and welcome the people who do.

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Yellow Wife
by Sadeqa Johnson

Pheby Delores Brown is a survivor. Every step of the way while reading YELLOW WIFE you will be rooting for Pheby—a mixed slave who has lived a relatively sheltered life on a plantation in Virginia. She has been promised to be freed on her 18th birthday, in 1850, and is looking forward to her emancipation and to being able to marry her true love, Essex Henry. When her promise of freedom is stolen from her, Pheby is forced to leave the plantation and finds herself at an infamous slave prison called the Devil’s Half Acre, where she is slated to be sold to a new owner. There she attracts the eye of the sadistic Jailer, who wants Pheby for himself. She will have to figure out how to survive in this new environment, outwit the Jailer, and protect the ones she loves.

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Yellow Wife
Sadeqa Johnson

Called “wholly engrossing” by New York Times bestselling author Kathleen Grissom, this “fully immersive” (Lisa Wingate, #1 bestselling author of Before We Were Yours) story follows an enslaved woman forced to barter love and freedom while living in the most infamous slave jail in Virginia.

Born on a plantation in Charles City, Virginia, Pheby Delores Brown has lived a relatively sheltered life. Shielded by her mother’s position as the estate’s medicine woman and cherished by the Master’s sister, she is set apart from the others on the plantation, belonging to neither world.

She’d been promised freedom on her eighteenth birthday, but instead of the idyllic life she imagined with her true love, Essex Henry, Pheby is forced to leave the only home she has ever known. She unexpectedly finds herself thrust into the bowels of slavery at the infamous Devil’s Half Acre, a jail in Richmond, Virginia, where the enslaved are broken, tortured, and sold every day. There, Pheby is exposed not just to her Jailer’s cruelty but also to his contradictions. To survive, Pheby will have to outwit him, and she soon faces the ultimate sacrifice.

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In Five Years
by Rebecca Serle

During the past year, I found myself drawn to books that asked “what if,” probably as my own way of coping with and embracing the absurdity of reality. The one I was most intrigued by, IN FIVE YEARS, asks: What if you woke up five years in the future to find that you’re in bed next to a man who is definitely not your fiancé? That’s what happens to NYC lawyer Dannie Kohan. When she returns to her present day and ends up crossing paths with that same man, she tries to avoid him, but fate—or something like it—keeps pulling them together. Echoing the craziness of pandemic life, this book takes some sharp turns into unexpected territories that’ll remind you to cherish the simple moments in life. It gave me a much-need cathartic cry right when I needed it.

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In Five Years
Rebecca Serle

An Atria Book. Atria Books has a great book for every reader.

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The Paris Library
by Janet Skeslien Charles

THE PARIS LIBRARY is based on the true story of the heroic librarians at the American Library in Paris during the dangerous times of World War II. Alternating between Paris 1939 and Montana 1983, this novel weaves its story through two libraries. Odile in Paris makes the brave decision to join the Resistance after the Nazis invade her city. But once freedom comes, she is faced with unbelievable betrayal. Flash-forward to Lily in Montana, whose interest is piqued by her elderly neighbor. As she uncovers mysteries about her neighbor’s past, she slowly comes to realize that one dark secret connects them both.

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The Paris Library
Janet Skeslien Charles

Based on the true World War II story of the heroic librarians at the American Library in Paris, this is an unforgettable story of romance, friendship, family, and the power of literature to bring us together, perfect for fans of The Lilac Girls and The Paris Wife.

Paris, 1939: Young and ambitious Odile Souchet has it all: her handsome police officer beau and a dream job at the American Library in Paris. When the Nazis march into Paris, Odile stands to lose everything she holds dear, including her beloved library. Together with her fellow librarians, Odile joins the Resistance with the best weapons she has: books. But when the war finally ends, instead of freedom, Odile tastes the bitter sting of unspeakable betrayal.

Montana, 1983: Lily is a lonely teenager looking for adventure in small-town Montana. Her interest is piqued by her solitary, elderly neighbor. As Lily uncovers more about her neighbor’s mysterious past, she finds that they share a love of language, the same longings, and the same intense jealousy, never suspecting that a dark secret from the past connects them.

A powerful novel that explores the consequences of our choices and the relationships that make us who we are—family, friends, and favorite authors—The Paris Library shows that extraordinary heroism can sometimes be found in the quietest of places.

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In a Book Club Far Away
by Tif Marcelo

I devoured Tif Marcelo’s THE KEY TO HAPPILY EVER AFTER—a charming rom-com with a lot of heart. I was thrilled to find out she had more books on the horizon. And I was even more excited when I found out the plot of her newest novel, IN A BOOK CLUB FAR AWAY. Three women—Regina, Sophie, and Adelaide—became inseparable during their book club days but they are wrenched apart after a betrayal destroys their friend group. Years later, they are pulled back together when Adelaide needs help and has no one else to turn to. Throughout the novel, they rediscover one another and the books that brought them together the first time. I love any good story that looks to explore female friendships and the power that they hold in our lives, and this new novel from Tif Marcelo is a perfect fit.

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In a Book Club Far Away
Tif Marcelo

From the author of Once Upon a Sunset and The Key to Happily Ever After comes a heartwarming and moving novel following three Army wives—estranged friends—who must overcome their differences when one of them is desperate for help.

Regina Castro, Adelaide Wilson-Chang, and Sophie Walden used to be best friends. As Army wives at Fort East, they bonded during their book club and soon became inseparable. But when an unimaginable betrayal happened amongst the group, the friendship abruptly ended, and they haven’t spoken since.

That’s why, eight years later, Regina and Sophie are shocked when they get a call for help from Adelaide. Adelaide’s husband is stationed abroad, and without any friends or family near her new home of Alexandria, Virginia, she has no one to help take care of her young daughter when she has to undergo emergency surgery. For the sake of an innocent child, Regina and Sophie reluctantly put their differences aside to help an old friend.

As the three women reunite, they must overcome past hurts and see if there’s any future for their friendship. Featuring Tif Marcelo’s signature “enchanting prose” (Amy E. Reichert, author of The Coincidence of Coconut Cake) and the books that brought them together in the first place, In a Book Club Far Away honors the immense power of female friendship and how love can defy time, distance, and all old wounds.

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The Night She Disappeared
by Lisa Jewell

Thrill master Lisa Jewell is never one to disappoint, with her multitude of characters and heart-stopping twists. Her latest novel, THE NIGHT SHE DISAPPEARED, only serves to further cement that reputation. What thrills and terrors could await in an idyllic English cottage? Newly-moved-in writer Sophie certainly isn’t expecting a dark mystery in her own backyard. But when she finds a note on a tree that reads “Dig here,” she gets sucked into the dark intrigue of what happened to a young couple, and what happened to them on these haunted grounds. The twists don’t stop coming until the very end, leaving your heart in tatters.

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The Night She Disappeared
Lisa Jewell

“I love all Lisa’s books, but The Night She Disappeared is her best thriller yet.” —Harlan Coben, New York Times bestselling author of Win

From the #1 New York Times bestselling author of Then She Was Gone and The Family Upstairs comes another riveting work of “gloriously twisted” (Marie Claire) psychological suspense about a web of people whose lives are forever changed in the wake of a young couple’s disappearance.

On a beautiful summer night in a charming English suburb, a young woman and her boyfriend disappear after partying at the massive country estate of a new college friend.

One year later, a writer moves into a cottage on the edge of the woods that border the same estate. Known locally as the Dark Place, the dense forest is the writer’s favorite area for long walks and it’s on one such walk that she stumbles upon a mysterious note that simply reads, “DIG HERE.”

Could this be a clue towards what has happened to the missing young couple? And what exactly is buried in this haunted ground?

With her signature “rich, dark, and intricately twisted” (Ruth Ware, New York Times bestselling author) prose, Lisa Jewell has crafted a dazzling work of suspense that will keep on the edge of your seat until the final page.

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Vera
by Carol Edgarian

When I first read the manuscript of Carol Edgarian's VERA, set in San Francisco around the 1906 earthquake, I knew it was a gorgeous piece of literary historical fiction. But I couldn't have predicted how resonant and relevant this thoughtful, lively account of a world recovering from disaster would feel at the time of our publication. The girl at the center of this novel discovers an unexpected strength and resilience, and readers will root for her and her new family of survivors.

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Vera
Carol Edgarian

New York Times bestselling author Carol Edgarian delivers an astonishing feat of imagination, a grand adventure set in 1906 San Francisco—a city leveled by quake and fire—featuring an indomitable heroine coming of age in the aftermath of catastrophe and her quest for love and reinvention.

Meet Vera Johnson, the uncommonly resourceful fifteen-year-old illegitimate daughter of Rose, notorious proprietor of San Francisco’s most legendary bordello and ally to the city’s corrupt politicians. Vera has grown up straddling two worlds—the madam’s alluring sphere, replete with tickets to the opera, surly henchmen, and scant morality, and the violent, debt ridden domestic life of the family paid to raise her.

On the morning of the great quake, Vera’s worlds collide. As the shattered city burns and looters vie with the injured, orphaned, and starving, Vera and her guileless sister, Pie, are cast adrift. Vera disregards societal norms and prejudices and begins to imagine a new kind of life. She collaborates with Tan, her former rival, and forges an unlikely family of survivors. Together they navigate their way beyond disaster.

In Vera, Carol Edgarian creates a cinematic, deeply entertaining world, in which honor and fates are tested; notions of sex, class, and justice are turned upside down; and love is hard-won. A ravishing, heartbreaking, and profound affirmation of youth and tenacity, Vera’s story brings to life legendary characters—tenor Enrico Caruso, indicted mayor Eugene Schmitz and boss Abe Ruef, tabloid celebrity Alma Spreckels—as well as an unforgettable cast that includes Vera’s young lover, Bobby, protector of the city’s tribe of orphans, and three generations of a Chinese family competing and conspiring with Vera.

This richly imagined, timely tale of improbable outcomes and alliances takes hold from the first page, gifting readers with remarkable scenes of devastation, renewal, and joy. Told with unflinching candor and wit, Vera celebrates the audacious fortitude of its young heroine and marks a stunning achievement by an inventive and generous writer.

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Cloud Cuckoo Land
by Anthony Doerr

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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Cloud Cuckoo Land
Anthony Doerr

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.

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The Lost Queen
by Signe Pike

Whenever I think about historical fantasy, my mind immediately goes to THE LOST QUEEN. If you enjoy the enduring legends of Merlin and great wizards, then this book is worth a read as Signe Pike’s extensive historical research brings those stories to life. In ancient Scotland, Languoreth and her brother were raised on the old ways of superstition and magic. But the Anglo-Saxons, who are bent on colonization and the spread of Christianity, bring bloodshed to their doors. Languoreth and her brother join forces with the druid Myrddin, the inspiration for Merlin. But Langoureth has been promised to marry the High King’s son, Rhydderch. She must learn to adapt and preserve the ways of her people.

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The Lost Queen
Signe Pike

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The Forest of Vanishing Stars
by Kristin Harmel

For a unique and harrowing take on a survivalist story, check out Kristin Harmel’s latest WWII historical fiction, THE FOREST OF VANISHING STARS. As a child, Yona was kidnapped from her German parents, and was taught by her kidnapper to survive in the Polish forests. But when her kidnapper dies in 1941, Yona must fend for herself. She hunts, forages, finds shelter, and grows used to living in isolation, but when she discovers Jewish refugees hiding from the Nazis, she opens up her heart (at great risk to herself) and teaches them all she knows. Along the way she discovers some things herself about trust, friendship, and her own past. This is one heartbreaking narrative based on true stories and impeccable historical research.

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The Forest of Vanishing Stars
Kristin Harmel

The New York Times bestselling author of the “heart-stopping tale of survival and heroism” (People) The Book of Lost Names returns with an evocative coming-of-age World War II story about a young woman who uses her knowledge of the wilderness to help Jewish refugees escape the Nazis—until a secret from her past threatens everything.

After being stolen from her wealthy German parents and raised in the unforgiving wilderness of eastern Europe, a young woman finds herself alone in 1941 after her kidnapper dies. Her solitary existence is interrupted, however, when she happens upon a group of Jews fleeing the Nazi terror. Stunned to learn what’s happening in the outside world, she vows to teach the group all she can about surviving in the forest—and in turn, they teach her some surprising lessons about opening her heart after years of isolation. But when she is betrayed and escapes into a German-occupied village, her past and present come together in a shocking collision that could change everything.

Inspired by incredible true stories of survival against staggering odds, and suffused with the journey-from-the-wilderness elements that made Where the Crawdads Sing a worldwide phenomenon, The Forest of Vanishing Stars is a heart-wrenching and suspenseful novel from the #1 internationally bestselling author whose writing has been hailed as “sweeping and magnificent” (Fiona Davis, New York Times bestselling author), “immersive and evocative” (Publishers Weekly), and “gripping” (Tampa Bay Times).

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The Other Black Girl
by Zakiya Dalila Harris

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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The Other Black Girl
Zakiya Dalila Harris

“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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Dear Mrs. Bird
by AJ Pearce

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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Dear Mrs. Bird
AJ Pearce

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The Last Garden in England
by Julia Kelly

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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The Last Garden in England
Julia Kelly

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).

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