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Best books of 2021

"Harlem Shuffle" by Colson Whitehead.
"Harlem Shuffle" by Colson Whitehead. [ PENGUIN RANDOM HOUSE | Penguin Random House ]
Published Dec. 23, 2021

“Best books” is always a subjective term. No one can honestly claim to know which books are best in a time when more than 1 million books are published each year in the United States alone.

But, as a book reviewer, I can tell you which books I reviewed in 2021 stand out as best in their categories (or in the somewhat eccentric categories I put them in).

So if that holiday bookstore gift card is burning a hole in your pocket, or you just want to catch up before the 2022 books start to arrive, here are some books to consider. Click the links to read my reviews.

Best novel about people responding to the pandemic

Tie:

The Sentence by Louise Erdrich

Our Country Friends by Gary Shteyngart

Best thriller that will make you want to throw your smartphone off the Skyway

Tie:

Last Girl Ghosted, Lisa Unger

Where They Wait, Scott Carson

Best first novel

The Love Songs of W.E.B. Du Bois by Honorée Fanonne Jeffers

Best nonfiction book about true crimes on a staggering scale

Tie:

Empire of Pain: The Secret History of the Sackler Dynasty by Patrick Radden Keefe

Perversion of Justice: The Jeffrey Epstein Story by Julie Brown

[ Penguin Random House ]

Best feminist historical novel

Matrix by Lauren Groff

Best short story collection by a Florida author

Tie:

Rising by Gale Massey

Milk Blood Heat by Dantiel W. Moniz

Best biography of a Florida icon

The Life She Wished to Live: A Biography of Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, Author of The Yearling by Ann McCutchan

Best Florida essay collection

The State You’re In: Florida Men, Florida Women, and Other Wildlife by Craig Pittman

[ Little, Brown ]

Best crime fiction by a master writing at top form

Tie:

The Dark Hours by Michael Connelly

Another Kind of Eden by James Lee Burke

Best anthology of American history

Four Hundred Souls: A Community History of African America, 1619-2019 edited by Ibram X. Kendi and Keisha N. Blain

Best novel about writers’ dirty little secrets

Dream Girl by Laura Lippman

Best novel about a hitman

Billy Summers by Stephen King

Best Southern noir

Tie:

The Heathens, Ace Atkins

Razorblade Tears, S.A. Cosby

Best nonfiction book by a former Tampa Bay Times staffer

Tie:

Call Me Commander: A Former Intelligence Officer and the Journalists Who Uncovered His Scheme to Fleece America by Jeff Testerman and Daniel Freed

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A Shot in the Moonlight: How a Freed Slave and a Confederate Soldier Fought for Justice in the Jim Crow South by Ben Montgomery

Best natural history

The Sound of the Sea: Seashells and the Fate of the Oceans by Cynthia Barnett

Best essay collection about death that brims with life

These Precious Days by Ann Patchett

Best book of 2021

Harlem Shuffle by Colson Whitehead