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The 5 best novels of 2021 according to Bethanne Patrick

The 5 best novels of 2021 according to Bethanne Patrick
(Illustration by Martina Ibáñez-Baldor / Los Angeles Times; photos by Harper,‎ Algonquin Books, Knopf, Pantheon, ‎Knopf)
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As 2021 comes hobbling to an end, we asked four book critics to pick their favorites from a very fruitful year (at least where books are concerned). Here are Bethanne Patrick’s five favorite novels.

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As 2021 comes hobbling to an end, we ask four book critics to pick their favorites from a very fruitful year. Here are Mark Athitakis’ top 5.

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"Early Morning Riser" by Catherine Heiny.
(Knopf)

Early Morning Riser

By Katherine Heiny
Knopf: 336 pages, $27

Welcome to Boyne City, Mich., where new arrival Jane, an elementary school teacher, instantly falls for genial town lothario Duncan and never looks back. Heiny’s latest (following 2017’s “Standard Deviation”) works as a love story on many levels: between husband and wife, mother and daughters, a community and its least fortunate. Yet it’s also so quietly funny that its deep compassion will sneak up on even the most cynical among us.

"Bolla" by Pajtim Statovci.
(Pantheon)

By Pajtim Statovci
Translated by David Hackston
Pantheon: 240 pages, $26

Arsim, a Kosovan medical student, has a passionate hookup with Serbian Miloš in April 1995. Unfortunately, Arsim is married with a pregnant wife, and when war breaks out, trauma and ethnic division will tear the men apart. Statovci (“My Cat Yugoslavia” and “Crossing”), a Kosovan immigrant to Finland, weaves in the ancient folk tale of the demonic serpent Bolla to illustrate the sad fates on both sides of a man-made border.

"Libertie" by Kaitlyn Greenidge.
(Algonquin)

Libertie

By Kaitlyn Greenidge
Algonquin: 336 pages, $27

Libertie Sampson is someone new, and something overdue, in fiction. The daughter of a female physician, Libertie is a free Black woman in 19th century Manhattan whose ambitions are complicated by a visit to Haiti, where she falls in love with an ambitious but tragically flawed man. Based on the true history of Susan Smith McKinney Steward, the first Black female doctor in New York state, “Libertie” glows with truth and beauty.

Kaitlyn Greenidge on her expansive second novel, “Libertie,” colorism from Haiti to Meghan and Harry, and why motherhood makes her a better artist.

"The Love Songs of W.E.B. Dubois" by Honoree Fanonne Jeffers.
(Harper)

The Love Songs of W.E.B. Du Bois

By Honoree Fanonne Jeffers
Harper: 816 pages, $29

First, this debut novel from an accomplished poet is superbly written and plotted. Second, it will transform your perspective on history and who gets to tell it. Third, the book earns its great length, carrying us back from Ailey Pearl Garfield’s modern troubles to those of her ancestors, who carved out lives in a remote Georgia town for centuries. Only in embracing them, and her identity, can Ailey finally thrive.

"Great Circle" by Maggie Shipstead.
(Knopf)

Great Circle

By Maggie Shipstead
Knopf: 608 pages, $29

Shipstead’s glorious new saga tempts you to take a break after its first half, which covers the giddiest adventures of young Marian Graves as she learns to fly barnstormers and becomes an aerial courier for a powerful bootlegger. But as a circle must complete its circumference, Marian’s story only comes home at the end, as Shipstead’s writerly pyrotechnics pay off in a truly masterful loop-de-loop landing.

Bestselling novelist Maggie Shipstead had depicted elite worlds, but for “Great Circle,” a globe-spanning epic, she had to become a solo adventurer.


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