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Best Reads of 2021

In no particular order, my top-ten favorite reads of 2021. If you enjoy psych-thrillers, you might glean a few good recommendations from my list.

  1. Little Darlings, by Melanie Golding: part horror, part psych-thriller, part modern fairy tale, this novel had me reading nonstop for two days. It's creepy, especially for any mother having undergone postpartum depression or prolonged sleep deprivation, and really hit a nerve because the mother in this story has twins. A changeling story, it will keep you guessing what's real and what's not.

  2. My Lovely Wife, by Samantha Downing: a psych-thriller with a married-couple killers, ala Mr. and Mrs. Smith. Not exactly believable, but really fun, especially if you know the genre well and can laugh at some of the self-deprecating nods to thriller tropes.

  3. For Your Own Good, by Samantha Downing: Samantha Downing is the queen of psych thrillers, and this one takes place in a prep school--you can see why I liked it. Parts of this novel almost felt like satire, humorous nods to prep-school scandals and ridiculous power plays that she makes somehow plausible. Again, Downing loves to play with tropes, employing them in unique and often humorous ways.

  4. Small Animals: Parenthood in the Age of Fear, by Kim Brooks: Everyone should read this, regardless of parenthood status. Through memoir and copious research, Brooks explores how and why our country became so frightened for our children, despite having gotten safer for them in recent decades. Scary and eye-opening, but necessary to read.

  5. Before I Go to Sleep, by S.J. Watson: a relative oldy, but goody, this psych thriller questions the nature of memory and how others might use someone's lapses to his advantage. Creepy good.

  6. Witch Elm, by Tana French: Also a relative oldy, this psych-suspense/mystery is one of French's best. Her writing is subtle, her characters nuanced, and I love its setting in an old Irish country-house.

  7. The Push, by Ashely Audrain: a psych-suspense with a creepy child at its center, this book puts We Need to Talk About Kevin to shame. The writing is fantastic, and though the plot moves slowly, the pages will turn quickly.

  8. Hamnet, by Maggie O'Farrell: one of the few of my non-thriller favorites, Hamnet is so well-crafted, with such an interesting premise, I couldn't put it down. If you're a fan of Shakespeare, you will find this tale, told through his wife's eyes, fascinating.

  9. Thrill Me: Essays on Fiction, by Benjamin Percy: a craft book not just for thriller writers, Percy explores how elements of story-telling, particularly in suspense, work to engage readers. I found so much of his advice useful and thoughtful, not repetitive of other craft-book advice.

  10. Consider This, by Chuck Palahniuk: A craft book with employable and demonstrated writing advice, about structure and sentence-level issues, Palahniuk's memoirish writing is also funny and entertaining.

Honorable mention: The Nothing That Is: A Natural History of Zero, by Robert Kaplan: a historical, philosophical, and mathematical dive into the nature of zero. So fascinating.


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