Ahead of summer reading lists traditionally released around this time (the official start of the season arrives June 20 alongside Father’s Day), Amazon has launched its own books list: the Best Books of the Year So Far. Amazon Books editors picked out each of the books in the list — 20 top titles published within the first half of the year that its editors “couldn’t stop thinking, raving about or recommending,” genres spanning from mystery to biography.
“The editors collectively read thousands of books each year, passionately debate them, and create editorially curated lists of recommendations each month,” explained Sarah Gelman, Amazon Books’ editorial director. “When the year is halfway through, we comb through the titles that made the cut and select the best of the best. While many of these books end up being bestsellers and customer favorites, we get especially excited about highlighting literary gems customers might not otherwise hear about.”
There weren't any general guidelines that the editors considered before choosing books except that each had to be published between January and June — “the only criteria is to choose books that we loved and that we think will resonate with other readers,” Gelman said.
The 20 best books of 2021 so far, according to Amazon Books editors
The following are among Amazon Books editors’ favorite reads so far this year. For the full list of editor-recommended books, you can find them all here.
Top 10 best books
Out of the top 20 books featured, here are the top 10, which we listed alongside their average Goodreads ratings and why Amazon Books editors said they love each one.
1. ‘Great Circle’ by Maggie Shipstead
- Publisher: Knopf
- Goodreads: An average 4.18-star rating over more than 1,800 ratings
Amazon Books editor Al Woodworth: At a young age, Marian Graves becomes obsessed with flying, and she’ll do whatever it takes to get into the sky and circumnavigate the globe. Fast forward 100 years, and Hadley Baxter is remaking herself in Hollywood as the role of Marian Graves in a Hollywood bio-epic. From Montana to Los Angeles, London to New Zealand, “Great Circle” follows these two women who yearn for adventure and freedom, and like flying, it’s the thrill of the century.
2. ‘Klara and the Sun’ by Kazuo Ishiguro
- Publisher: Knopf
- Goodreads: An average 3.9-star rating over more than 47,200 ratings
Amazon Books editor Chris Schluep: When he was awarded the 2017 Nobel Prize in Literature, the committee noted how Ishiguro “uncovered the abyss beneath our illusory sense of connection with the world.” In this beautiful novel, Ishiguro presents an “artificial friend,” a robot girl with artificial intelligence designed as a playmate for real children. It is a simultaneously heartbreaking and heart-mending story about the abyss we may never cross.
3. ‘The Code Breaker: Jennifer Doudna, Gene Editing, and the Future of the Human Race’ by Walter Isaacson
- Publisher: Simon & Schuster
- Goodreads: An average 4.37-star rating over more than 6,550 ratings
Schleup: Isaacson is famous for writing “Steve Jobs” and “Leonardo da Vinci,” so a title like “The Code Breaker” might imply a book about a lesser character. But the 2020 Nobel Prize winner in Chemistry, biochemist Jennifer Doudna, who co-developed the gene editing technology CRISPR, is a giant in her own right. CRISPR could open some of the greatest opportunities, and most troubling quandaries, of this century — and this book delivers.
4. ‘We Begin at the End’ by Chris Whitaker
- Publisher: Henry Holt and Company
- Goodreads: An average 4.21-star rating over more than 21,300 ratings
Amazon Books editor Vanessa Cronin: “We Begin at the End” is a story of regret and revenge, wrapped around a mystery, buried inside a tale of star-crossed love. Thirteen-year-old “outlaw” Duchess Radley — fierce but vulnerable — attempts to protect her troubled mother but instead sets off a fateful chain of events in this gorgeous, harrowing novel.
5. ‘What’s Mine and Yours’ by Naima Coster
- Publisher: Grand Central Publishing
- Goodreads: An average 3.7-star rating over close to 8,000 ratings
Woolworth: For fans of Celeste Ng, Ann Patchett, and Jacqueline Woodson, “What’s Mine and Yours” beautifully unravels the hurt, happiness, and hope that one generation bestows upon the next. An unforgettable portrait of how parents and kids—white and Black—handle love and loss, racism and loyalties.
6. ‘The Four Winds’ by Kristin Hannah
- Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
- Goodreads: An average 4.36-star rating over more than 169,700 ratings
Amazon Books editor Erin Kodicek: Set during the Great Depression and featuring an unlikely heroine who will lodge herself into your heart, “The Four Winds” is a reminder, when we so urgently need it, of the resiliency not only of the human spirit, but of this country as well. Kristin Hannah's latest reads like a classic.
7. ‘Punch Me Up to the Gods’ by Brian Broome
- Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
- Goodreads: An average 4.4-star rating over more than 330 ratings
Woolworth: Hard-hitting, unflinching, and written with the unfettered gusto of a fist in motion, “Punch Me Up to the Gods” is a searing memoir of racism, homophobia, and addiction from a writer of enormous talent. With humor, grace, and honesty, Broome investigates his own identity and his experience as a gay Black man in America.
8. ‘Gold Diggers’ by Sanjena Sathian
- Publisher: Penguin Press
- Goodreads: An average 3.7-star rating over close to 1,700 ratings
Gelman: This debut novel is part examination of the immigrant experience, part exploration of the dark underbelly of suburbia, all with a dash of magical realism thrown in. Two second-generation Indian Americans discover the secret to success is drinking a lemonade made from literal gold, and their lives are forever fused together and altered. If this funny, realistic, and heart-breaking story is any indication, Sathian is an author to watch.
9. ‘The Plot’ by Jean Hanff Korelitz
- Publisher: Celadon Books
- Goodreads: An average 3.94-star rating over more than 5,300 ratings
Amazon Books editor Seira Wilson: “The Plot” is a riveting story within a story that is a Rubik’s Cube of twists. Jake Finch Bonner, a once-promising young author, is floundering in obscurity when a one-of-a-kind plot falls into his lap. The resulting book rockets Jake to stardom — only, the plot wasn’t his. Korelitz’s thriller keeps readers guessing right up to its shocking end.
10. ‘Chatter: The Voice in Our Head, Why It Matters, and How to Harness It’ by Ethan Kross
- Publisher: Crown Publishing
- Goodreads: An average 4.03-star rating over close to 3,000 ratings
Schluep: It turns out that some of the most important conversations we have are with ourselves. Ethan Kross examines the voice that speaks inside our head, explains why it’s there, and reveals how we can learn to rely on it rather than being broken by it. “Chatter” is a masterful, revealing take on human nature.
The rest of the top 20 books
- ‘Malibu Rising’ by Taylor Jenkins Reid (Ballatine Books)
- ‘The Other Black Girl’ by Zakiya Dalila Harris (Atria Books)
- ‘Infinite Country’ by Patricia Engel (Avid Reader Press / Simon & Schuster)
- ‘The Good Sister’ by Sally Hepworth (St. Martin’s Press)
- ‘Project Hail Mary’ by Andy Weir (Ballatine Books)
- ‘Good Company’ by Cynthia D'Aprix Sweeney (Ecco Press)
- ‘One Two Three’ by Laurie Frankel (Henry Holt and Company)
- ‘How Lucky’ by Will Leitch (HarperCollins Publishers)
- ‘Somebody's Daughter’ by Ashley C. Ford (Flatiron Books)
- ‘Girl A’ by Abigail Dean (Viking Books)