A guide to exploring new genres

Each year, groups of librarians from across the country hole up in a room (this year, a virtual room) to discuss and select the best books from the year before. The Notable Books List features literary fiction, nonfiction, and poetry; the Listen List is all about outstanding audiobooks; and The Reading List, which I want to tell you about today, highlights outstanding genre fiction in eight genres: Adrenaline (aka thrillers, adventure stories), Fantasy, Historical Fiction, Horror, Mystery, Relationship Fiction, Romance, and Science Fiction.

While each genre has a winner, it also has a four-title shortlist of runners up. Taken together, the five books in each genre represent a range of the types of stories a reader can find in that genre, with the idea that both longtime fans and folks new to the genre can find a title of interest. If you are looking to branch out into new areas of fiction reading, it is a great place to start. Check out the 2021 winners (for books published in 2020) below, with annotations from the ALA Reading List Council, or in our catalog.


The Holdout by Graham Moore
Ten years after Maya Seale convinced her fellow jurors to acquit a man of murder, a true crime documentary reunites the jury amid claims of new evidence. When one of them is found dead in Maya’s hotel room, she must prove her own innocence in this taut legal thriller.

Short List:
Blacktop Wasteland by S.A. Cosby ♦ A Good Marriage by Kimberly McCreight ♦ A Solitude of Wolverines by Alice Henderson ♦ When No One Is Watching by Alyssa Cole



The House in the Cerulean Sea by TJ Klune
Linus Baker, diligent case worker at the Department of Magical Youth, travels to Arthur Parnassus’ orphanage to determine if any of the magical children in Arthur’s care might cause the end of the world. While getting to know Arthur and his charges, Linus discovers a found family worthy of rule-breaking.

Short List:
Black Sun by Rebecca Roanhorse ♦ The City We Became by N.K. Jemisin ♦ A Deadly Education by Naomi Novik Ring Shout by P. Djeli Clark


Historical Fiction

Conjure Women by Afia Atakora
During Slaverytime, conjure woman and healer Rue kept the plantation slaves healthy. With the Civil War over, Rue continues to tend to the formerly enslaved until the birth of a child feared to be a demon and the arrival of a charismatic preacher place Rue in a precarious situation.

Short List:
Code Name Helene by Ariel Lawhon ♦ The Cold Millions by Jess Walter ♦ The Land Beyond the Sea by Sharon Kay Penman ♦ The Pull of the Stars by Emma Donoghue



The Only Good Indians by Stephen Graham Jones
This slow-burn horror novel follows four members of the Blackfeet tribe as an illegal elk hunting trip catches up to them ten years later, and the spirit of the elk they wronged methodically tracks them down to exact her bloody revenge.

Short List:
The Hollow Places by T. Kingfisher ♦ Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia ♦ The Return by Rachel Harrison ♦ The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires by Grady Hendrix



Fortune Favors the Dead by Stephen Spotswood
Pentecost, premier female detective of 1940s New York, and her right-hand woman Parker, an ex-circus performer, are called to investigate a ghostly murderer. The victim’s shadowy past, an eerily knowledgeable medium, Pentecost’s health, and Parker’s growing attraction to the victim’s daughter complicate this noirish locked room mystery.

Short List:
The Devil and the Dark Water by Stuart Turton ♦ The Eighth Detective by Alex Pavesi ♦ The Silence of the White City by Eva Garcia Saenz ♦ A Trace of Deceit by Karen Odden


Relationship Fiction

Oona Out of Order by Margarita Montimore
On New Year’s Eve 1982, 18-year-old Oona Lockhart faces a personal crossroads. But when the clock strikes midnight, she faints and awakens decades in the future as her older self. Jumping to a new age each New Year’s, Oona grapples with constantly changing circumstances and discovers relationships that anchor her.

Short List:
Anxious People by Fredrik Backman ♦ His Only Wife by Peace Medie ♦ The Love Story of Missy Carmichael by Beth Morrey ♦ This Won’t End Well by Camille Pagan



The Duke Who Didn’t by Courtney Milan
Chloe Fong is the capable, list-focused love of Jeremy Wentworth’s life, but she’s looking for someone serious. After three years of chasing seriousness, Jeremy returns for the annual fair determined to show Chloe that he may not be serious, but he’s serious about her. A flirty, sexy historical romance.

Short List:
Love Lettering by Kate Clayborn ♦ Spoiler Alert by Olivia Dade ♦ Take a Hint, Dani Brown by Talia Hibbert ♦ Your Had Me at Hola by Alexis Daria


Science Fiction

The Space Between Worlds by Micaiah Johnson
In a future where people can travel to parallel universes in which their counterparts are deceased, Cara’s worth is measured by how easily she dies. Earth after Earth, the poor die to benefit the wealthy, until Cara discovers a secret that could disrupt the whole corrupt system.

Short List:
Axiom’s End by Lindsay Ellis ♦ The Doors of Eden by Adrian Tchaikovsky ♦ Hench by Natalie Zina Walschots ♦ A Pale Light in the Black by K.B. Wagers

~ posted by Andrea G.

3 thoughts on “A guide to exploring new genres”

  1. This is a wonderful publication. It helps me decide which books to put on hold. I’ve always been good about returning ebooks when I’m done; but maybe I am putting too many on hold. I will think about this more. It feels so daunting when there are many, many holds which is why I join the queque. Anyway, thanks for being there for all of us. I’m not sure how I could have handled the pandemic without these books. You rock library workers! Kathy

  2. I would like to see a you borrowed this. Book on xx/ 25/2021 so I don’t repeat a book that I already read
    Thanks Jennifer lawless

    1. Hi Jennifer! Thanks for the suggestion, I will pass it along. It’s not quite the same, but the catalog does allow you to keep track of your borrowing history. If you log into your account, then go to My Settings, then click on Borrowing History, you can enable that function. It won’t count retroactively. You’ll still have to go look to see if you’ve checked out a book before, but it’s something! — Andrea G.

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