If you’re looking to plan your 2021 reading, here are recommendations from independent bookstore staffers across a range of genres, from young adults to biography to science fiction and beyond, from both popular authors and newer ones.

1. Concrete Rose by Angie Thomas (Jan. 12)

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Photo: Pinterest

Blair Boles, co-owner and bookseller, Beausoleil Books, Lafayette, Louisiana: “Angie Thomas has already blown readers away with The Hate U Give and On the Come Up. Her stories are complex, layered, relevant, and enlightening. At Beausoleil Books, the focus of our store is inclusivity. We want everyone to feel heard, appreciated, and safe when they come in. This book, much like her others, gives a voice to people who have so often been marginalized by society. We admire that and we strive to do the same with the books we carry in our store. We want people to feel seen. Angie Thomas has done a remarkable job at doing just that to the people who need it most. I am so excited to see what this next book has in store for us.

2. A Swim in a Pond in the Rain: In Which Four Russians Give a Master Class on Writing, Reading, and Life by George Saunders (Jan. 12)

The Booker Prize-winning author of Lincoln in the Bardo invites us to consider what makes fiction work and why, through his dissection of Russian short stories. In seven essays, George Saunders examines works by Anton Chekhov, Ivan Turgenev, Leo Tolstoy, and Nikolai Gogol to underline the power of successful narrative writing. A master of the short story form himself, Saunders’ writing advice is wide-ranging and captured in witty and accessible prose.

3. The Four Winds by Kristin Hannah (Feb. 2)

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Photo: goodreads.com

In the Texas panhandle in 1934, severe drought plagues the land. With crops failing, dust storms whip up, leaving the farmers fighting for survival. In the perilous times of the Great Depression, Elsa Martinelli must decide whether to stay and fight for her land or head west to California which offers her family a better life. If you are looking for book club books for 2021, you’ll want to keep your eye out for this one.

4. The Committed by Viet Thanh Nguyen (March 2)

Jennifer Caspar, owner, Village Well Books & Coffee, Culver City, California: “My book group loved Nguyen’s first novel, The Sympathizer, which was a bestseller and Pulitzer Prize winner, and The Committed promises to deliver more meaty, conversation-worthy action, humor, and existential despair. In The Sympathizer, the unnamed narrator related (to Hollywood filmmakers) his stories about being a Communist mole from North Vietnam in the South Vietnamese army. In the new book, it is 1981 and he’s in Paris, his father’s homeland, where he and his best friend Bon make their way into the city’s criminal underbelly. Nguyen’s quirky intellectualism takes on heavy and relatable issues that are even more critical today: race, immigration, identity, irreconcilable world views, and the addiction and PTSD that lie in the wake of the big isms (commun-, capital- and Catholic-) that dominated the 20th century.”

5. First Person Singular by Harumi Murakami (Apr. 6)

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Photo: amazon.com

Harumi Murakami's latest novel once again showcases the author's mastery of surrealism. Originally published in July 2020, the hardback is coming in 2021. First Person Singular is a hypnotic collection of short stories from jazz to baseball to whimsical dreamscapes that are all narrated in the first person—hence the title.

The eight stories all tackle different themes, from the nostalgic memories of youth, meditations on music, the love of baseball to the Japanese author's signature dreamlike sequences that together challenge the boundaries of reality and illusion. But the ultimate question the book poses is, is it a memoir or a fiction? You decide.

6. While Justice Sleeps by Stacey Abrams (May 11)

Apart from serving in the Georgia House of Representatives for 11 years, becoming the first Black woman nominated to run for governor by a major party in any state, and playing a major role in flipping her state in the 2020 election, Stacey Abrams has also somehow managed to nurture a side career as a novelist. She has published eight romance novels under the pseudonym Selena Montgomery, and now with While Justice Sleeps, Abrams tells the story of astute young law clerk Avery Keene. Juggling a demanding career alongside family troubles, Keene’s life is shaken when the celebrated justice she works for goes into a coma. She becomes his power of attorney and legal guardian, and as the title suggests, discovers what exactly happens while justice sleeps. As Keene steps into her boss’s shoes, she finds herself in the middle of a controversial merger, a political conspiracy, and more, working with the clues he left behind.

7. Animal by Lisa Taddeo (June 8)

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Photo: amazon.com

Animal marks the debut novel of New York Times best-selling author, Lisa Taddeo. It illustrates a woman's transformation from prey into a predator, a tale of female empowerment against a male-dominated society.

Telling the story of Joan, who spent most of her life enduring horrific treatment from men. She's had enough when one of them commits a shocking act of violence in front of her and flees to New York, looking for Alice, the only person who can help her about her past. Joan unravels the mysteries of a horrific event she witnessed as a child that's haunted her for as long as she can remember, eventually gaining the courage to strike back.

8. Filthy Animals: Stories by Brandon Taylor (June 22)

In his debut novel Real Life, a finalist for the 2020 Booker Prize, Brandon Taylor told the wrenching story of a Black and queer graduate student reevaluating his relationships over a long weekend at his midwestern university. Now, he presents a collection of linked short stories, again centered on young adults in the American midwest. Though the narratives range in subject matter—one follows a girl and her babysitter, another looks at the intricacies of an open relationship—they all explore themes of intimacy, desire, and love.

9. The Rose Code by Kate Quinn (Mar. 9)

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Photo: bookfever11.com

I can’t seem to get enough of World War II stories, and unsurprisingly I have one in my top books to read in 2021. During the war, three women become unlikely friends while working as code breakers at Bletchley Park: Osla is desperate to prove she’s more than just a society girl; Mab is determined to rise above the poverty of her birth; and both encourage Beth, a shy local spinster, to step up and use her brilliant mind. Years after the war, the three women must come together one more time to help uncover a spy who was working in their midst.

10. The Turnout by Megan Abbott (July 6)

The Durant sisters, Dara and Marie, have been dancers for as long as they can remember. Their mother, who trained and homeschooled them both, was also the founder of the Durant School of Dance. After she died in a tragic accident years ago, the sisters took over the school with Dara’s husband Charlie, a beloved former student of their mother’s. Marie handles the younger dancers, Dara trains the older ones, and Charlie runs the office. But their workflow is interrupted when an accident occurs right at the start of the studio’s annual performance of The Nutcracker, and the presence of an outsider threatens everything they’ve worked for. In The Turnout, Edgar Award-winning author Megan Abbott weaves a thrilling tale of family drama, power, and femininity.

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