The 21 Best Books I’ve Read in 2021: Year in Review

And another year has come to an end! So, you know what that means, my loyal blog readers: Another TBR log and reading goal has been met (and then some, let’s be real) and so, I’m back to recount the 21 best books I’ve polished off this year. Ones that earned an impressive (and coveted) five whole stars upon a first read, a sweet re-read that I couldn’t get out of my head all year long, and so much more. So, keep reading for my favorite books that I’ve completed this year, and hopefully, at least one of them gives you TBR inspiration when you need it.

The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by V.E. Schwab

You may remember how I gushed over this read back in January, and truly, I don’t think out of the 150+ books I managed this year that any topped this one. Sorry not sorry.

This book is like a  mix of genres between historical fiction, contemporary, fantasy, romance, and literary fiction. There’s so much vulnerability about life, love, and being remembered. Here, we start in a small town in France in 1714, and we meet a young girl named Adeline. She dreams of a life and real love. She soon meets a mysterious stranger who offers her a Faustian deal for immortality. In doing so, she’s cursed where no one can remember her after they first meet. We travel with her from century to century and continent to continent, through various historical and artistic moments. Then, some three hundred years later, everything changed. When, in New York City, Addie meets Henry in a hidden bookstore and he remembers her name. We follow her relationship with Henry and with Luc, the devil she made a deal with, all as she struggles to make her mark on the world when she’s destined to be invisible. This book is just so so so so special, a five f**king star read in all its glory, no doubt about that.

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You Have a Match by Emma Lord

Well, I technically read this last year (and included it in that’s wrap-up post), I had to order a finished copy after its pub date and have since re-read it a few times.

Here, we follow 16-year-old Abby, who in a bet with best friend Connie, takes a DNA test to find out her ancestries along with their other best pal, Leo. This book brings an engaging point of view that feels both authentic and current for a teen girl with really fun and relatable language. So, the DNA test revealed that Abby has a secret full sister, Savannah, an 18-year-old Instagram star. The two are polar opposites to their cores but want to get to know each other. To figure things out and get to know each other, Savvy invites her new sister to attend the camp where she’ll be a junior counselor. It’s seriously like a modern-day version of The Parent Trap, and I’m here for it. Then, there’s also a precious slow-burn romance between Abby and her best friend and neighbor, Leo.

This book is so much more than a teen romance, more than a summer camp adventure, more than a familial drama, more than a story of friendship and sisterhood, more than a comedy, and more than a deep, emotional novel. It’s a book in a class all its own and had me captivated until I read that very last word on the final page. Seriously, it’s totally worth those five stars because now I have to buy and I just can’t imagine a world where I haven’t read this, and it also made me feel closer to my grandfather who’s passed away, my own Poppy, which I needed now more than ever.

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The End of Men by Christina Sweeney-Baird

After literally devouring this ARC, I knew I wouldn’t be forgetting about this fan-freaking-tastic novel any time soon.

In this work of fiction, a virus circulating around the UK sweeps the world and takes out most of the male population, leaving women to pick up the pieces of society as Sweeney-Baird posits what would happen to the world without men. The book starts in 2025 when a mysterious virus shows up at a hospital in Scotland. Only men are carriers and are affected, and as the virus grows into a global pandemic, it’s up to women to save the future of humanity while also dealing with their own loss and grief. This book is the immersive first-person account of the women rebuilding the world, including Amanda the doctor who treated Patient Zero, Catherine a social historian documenting everything, scientist Elizabeth working on a vaccine, and others around the world. It aims to chart how the absence of men changed society both personally and politically in this prolific and prescient novel.

I just poured over the text, the language, the story, the vulnerability, and the heart. This gripping modern thriller slash literary fiction read is so poignant and timely about the world’s new normal. It’s so relevant, raw, and vulnerable, and just like, wow. The language just enthralled me, captivated me, and drew me in. I loved the ending about how these women found the strength and power in this new world, while also dealing with what they lost. In the end, this had to be a five-star read for me, it’s just so poignant, well-written, and prolific.

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Instructions for Dancing by Nicola Yoon

Nicola Yoon’s a master at creating contemporary YA novels and this latest read fits in perfectly with what she does best.

It starts with the main character Evie, who doesn’t believe in love anymore after her parents’ divorce. The girl who once devoured romance novels now can only see how couples’ love stories end instead of the actual loved-up parts. After some fated encounters, she ends up at La Brea Dance Studio and finds herself learning to dance with the spontaneous, adventurous X. Xavier (who goes by the nickname X) is the total opposite of Evie, but the two of them are thrown together as a pair for a local ballroom dance competition. As they practice together and get to know each other, Evie has to confront if love is worth the risk.

It’s a beautifully written book and so authentic because, hey, not everything lasts forever except that feeling and association of love sometimes can. This book is romantic, fantastical, authentic, vulnerable, bittersweet, and heartfelt. I loved it so darn much. Yoon effortlessly blends the contemporary with the fantasy in this sweet YA read about the power of first love. This book is just so flipping good, she’s done it again.

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This Close to Okay by Leesa Cross-Smith

This book took me completely by surprise but in the absolute best way as its told in alternating perspectives over the course of one weekend.

Here, we follow Tallie and Bridge/Emmett who meet when she finds him about to jump off of a bridge when she drives past. As a therapist, she can’t just let him do this and so, she gets out of her car and starts talking to him. This book has such compelling language that pulls you in from the very first page. It reads quite quickly and features impactful writing, touching on important subjects like grief, suicide, race, and mental health. It’s so captivating and the plot twists were truly unexpected, which I loved that I didn’t see it coming. This book, wow, just so mesmerizing.

 

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If The Shoe Fits by Julie Murphy

Julie Murphy, who’s killed the YA game with her Dumplin, Puddin, and Pumpkin novels, kicked off a new “Meant to Be” series, which reimagines a bunch of Disney fairytales with modern romances featuring body-positive leads.

This book was so juicy, engaging, unputdownable just by the first couple of chapters! Here, Cindy’s just graduated with a degree in shoe design and trying to get her career off the ground. So, she takes a job working for her stepmother, the executive producer on the popular reality show “Before Midnight.” When a spot on the show opens at the last minute, Cindy volunteers hoping it could help jumpstart her fashion career or give her something to do while her classmates land high-fashion jobs. But being the only plus-size competitor on a dating competition show makes a big splash and her a body positivity icon. The only thing she didn’t expect was to find inspiration and love in this crazy process. 

Next up, romance legend Jasmine Guillory is set to tackle a freaking Beauty and the Beast adaptation and you know it’s already on my 2022 TBR list.

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The Hill We Climb by Amanda Gorman

For a dash of something different, I wanted to include some other genres on here, like poetry. I read a copy of this young poet’s Inauguration Day poem and it was just so, like, poignant and electric to talk about her dreams for the country moving forward and what the country is now.

This was a printed version of the monumental poem that she read at the POTUS’ inauguration ceremony back in January and it was so hopeful and captivating whenever you need a dash of motivation, which, let’s face it: We all could use at some point in our daily lives.

 

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It Ends With Us by Colleen Hoover

So after seeing my fellow #bookstagram and #booktok people rave over Colleen Hoover books pretty much all year, I had to check them out for myself, including November 9 and Ugly Love, though nothing could compare to this read, my first foray into CoHo books. I literally devoured and sobbed my way through this emotionally charged contemporary romance novel.

After a challenging upbringing and past heartbreaks, Lily has moved from her Maine hometown to Boston and even started her own business. Soon, she meets gorgeous neurosurgeon Ryle and it seems like her life is almost too good to be true. But, then she somehow can’t get her ex Atlas and their troubled past out of her head when he comes spinning back into her orbit. This book was so poignant, vulnerable and heartbreaking. Plus, it’s literally like the book personification of Taylor Swift’s “All Too Well (10 Minute Version) (Taylor’s Version).” It tracks.

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Live Your Life by Amanda Kloots

After following Amanda Kloots’ and Nick Cordero’s heartwrenching coronavirus story and her inspiring positivity last year, I was so interested in reading her memoir about the ordeal. She reflects on love, loss, and life with her husband, Broadway star Nick Cordero.

It’s the story of their life together and his fight against COVID-19. It’s a beautiful, heartfelt, and emotional story of her entire journey with Nick, from the first time they met, their wedding, the birth of their son Elvis, through COVID and her unimaginable loss. It’s such a poignant and honest first-person account that makes your heart break even more than it did while reading the news stories. You can feel all her raw, vulnerable emotions from this period come through while reading. With Kloots’ positive spirit, her memoir shares an unplugged look at this awful period along with her strength, support from loved ones, and it provides a tribute/lasting memory for Cordero to assist with her grief.

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Blackout by Dhonielle Clayton; Tiffany D. Jackson; Nic Stone; Angie Thomas; Ashley Woodfolk; Nicola Yoon

These authors individually are some of my favorites and together they created a masterpiece. By the first few chapters, I already loved every page and each character’s story! It’s so full of heart, authenticity, representation, and adorable teen love stories.

Here, these authors came together to write an interlinked novel about Black teen love through heartwarming and charming coming-of-age stories. Each author writes a short story, focusing on one of six different love stories that all take place in New York City during a heatwave and blackout, on the same day. Each tale reads like a short story that’s compelling and adorable on its own (plus is well-written, obviously) with interconnected settings and characters to tie it all together. These are seriously adorable and cute teen love stories, plus I love to see all the representation done so accurately and relatably. Each chapter introduces a side character or background that effortlessly leads into the next story and chapter. It’s a YA novel and a romance read, unlike anything I’ve read before, which is what made it so great. Plus, the Obamas are set to adapt it for Netflix and I cannot wait.

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No Words by Meg Cabot

Meg Cabot has continued to prove her status as the queen of romance with her third “Little Bridge Island” book and it is equally adorable and engaging watching a new pair of characters fall in love.

Our main characters are Jo Wright, who is an acclaimed children’s book author with serious writer’s block, and Will Price, an arrogant novelist of literary fiction who lives in LBI. The duo are both set to attend and speak out the island’s first-ever book festival, yet they have an intense history and rivalry between them and so Jo doesn’t want to associate with the British-accented, good-looking author whatsoever. Yet, he desperately wants to prove to her that he’s changed and hopes to make amends during the course of the weekend festival. From the summary alone, I can tell we’re going to get a delicious enemies-to-lovers trope and a fun vacation romance from Cabot, which instantly excited me about this book — and it totally delivered on all fronts. Loved loved loved it!

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The Party Crasher by Sophie Kinsella

I requested and started this ARC on a complete whim because of the author, a clear instant-read for me. Once I started, I just couldn’t stop because it was so captivating and fun as a novel and as a women’s fiction novel specifically.

Here, it’s been two years since Effie’s parents divorced which has completely destroyed her idea of a happy, perfect family and relationship. Since then, she’s been estranged from her dad, in a feud with his much-younger girlfriend Krista, and learned her childhood estate has been sold. When Krista hosts a “house-cooling” party before they hand over the keys, Effie is left off the guest list, leaving her fuming. At first, she isn’t bothered about skipping the festivities until she remembers a childhood treasure is left at the house that she wants, and so she plans to sneak in during the party, grab her trinkets, and get out sight-unseen. But, as she does, she catches her siblings and dads in their hidden secrets and figures out all aren’t as she suspected. Then, there’s her ex and first love, Joe. While he broke her heart years ago, he’s finagled an invitation to the gathering, and when she sees him, it’s honestly as if nothing has changed.

This book, honestly, feels different from her other straight-up romance books, as this is more about familial drama and individual growth. Despite its differences, Kinsella stays true to her style and delivers compelling language that has me hooked and curious from the jump. So much so that I really didn’t want to put this book down and ended up devouring it in a single sitting. This book reads quickly and the hijinks of hiding/not getting caught juxtaposed with the vulnerable, heartfelt family dynamics and adorable first love/second chance trope makes a completely unputdownable novel. Plus, that epilogue was so darn adorable and precious that I’m still smiling just thinking about it.

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The Soulmate Equation by Christina Lauren

This Christina Lauren novel is another delightful romcom read from these two authors.

Here, single mom Jess is barely holding it all together to make ends meet. She lives with her grandparents, who helped raise her, and who helps raise her seven-year-old daughter Juno. She’s a statistician who loves data and crunching numbers but hesitates to get back in the dating game. As a statistician, when she and her best friend discover GeneticAlly, a DNA-based matchmaking service, she’s skeptical but intrigued. On a whim, she signs up and spits into a tube. Soon, she’s discovered that her results have matched her with Dr. River Pena at a freaking 98 percent compatibility, a nearly unheard of score. Oh, but she already knows River and doesn’t really like him after some initial, unfriendly meetings. The company has a proposition for her. To pretend to date, or actually just get to know, River and they’ll pay her a handsome sum that could really help her day-to-day. Since she needs the cash, she reluctantly agrees. They’re trotted out at all sorts of public events as the rare, elusive Diamond Match in order to help his company succeed, but eventually, they realize there might be something to each other than they initially thought.

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Meg & Jo by Virginia Kantra

I’ve always been a huge Little Women fan ever since childhood, and when I heard Virginia Kantra wrote a modern retelling of itI knew I’d like it just as much, which I did. Now, I’m even more besotted with the lives of the March sisters than ever before.

Here, we follow modern and grown-up versions of the March girls, here focused on Meg and Jp. While Jo has moved to NYC to become a journalist, things haven’t gone as planned, and Meg, for her part, has lived her so-called dream life as a wife and mother. However, “getting everything you’ve ever wanted isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.” After a family emergency forces the girls to return to North Carolina for the holidays, they rediscover what really matters.

 

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Beth & Amy by Virginia Kantra

After writing Meg & Jo, author Virginia Kantra put a fresh spin on the modern versions of sisters Beth and Amy as they get their chance in the spotlight.

This book is all about Beth’s and Amy’s coming-of-age stories: Amy’s an ambitious up-and-coming handbag designer in New York, whereas good girl Beth is a singer-songwriter working to overcome her anxiety and stage fright on tour with country superstar Colt. When they both return home for Jo’s wedding, they must confront their lives and what they actually want it to be.

As a reader who’s enthralled with the March sisters, while we all adore Meg and Jo, who doesn’t secretly love Beth and Amy, so, it’s exciting to see their perspectives and get inside their heads as they grow up, especially since in the original novel, they were children. This story alternates between the point of view of the two sisters, much like Meg & Jo, but also includes chapters focus on Marmee/Momma/Abby’s sides too, which is another intriguing perspective to understand. True to form, Kantra’s novel features rich storytelling and language to draw you in. Set three years after Meg & Jo, I loved seeing Beth and Amy shine, expressing vulnerability and complexity in both past and present timelines. As expected, I really dug this book and just didn’t (and couldn’t) want to put it down.

All in all, I think I did like this more than Meg & Jo because it’s partially a new story with previously hidden depths and vulnerabilities of these former minor characters that I loved so fiercely.

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The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller

As the faithful #bookstagram and #booktok member I am, I had to give this read a spin after seeing y’all rave about it. And rave is right on the money.

Here, Greece in the age of Heroes as young prince Patroclus has been exiled to the kingdom of Phthia. As a nobody, he’s living in the shadow of King Peleus and his memorable son, Achilles. After he takes Patroclus under his wing, the boys develop a strong connection and bond into something quite strong and beautiful, however heartbreaking that means for me as a reader of this Greek mythology adaptation.

 

 

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Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo

As you’ve probably guess, I spent my far time this year obsessing over this entire franchise and its Netflix adaptation, even figuring out how to adapt the character’s look into modern-day outfit ideas. While all the books have been great, I included this one because Book One is where it all begins.

We follow the orphaned Alina Starkov, an ordinary soldier in the Ravkan Army who takes her first-ever harrowing trek across the Shadow Fold. After her regiment is attacked, it turns out some dormant magic may be the key to saving them all. As a newly discovered magical entity, Alina is thrust into the luxe world of the Grisha as she starts her training with General Kirigan AKA The Darkling. And once you finish Alina’s three books, check out the Six of Crows and King of Scars duologies. You won’t be disappointed, trust me.

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The Charm Offensive by Alison Cochrun

This book is pitched as a Red, White, & Royal Blue meets One to Watch rom-com, and as a fan of both of those books, I was excited about that juxtaposition come to life in this totally original romance novel.

The story follows awkward tech wunderkind, Charlie, as he’s set to become the next lead on a reality TV dating show, called “Ever After.” Then, there’s his handler, producer Dev, who wholeheartedly believes in fairy tales though hasn’t had luck with his own. Charlie, who only agreed to go on the show to rehab his image to get a new job after the show airs, isn’t the typical show lead and is very awkward and anxious. It’s up to his producer Dev to jumpstart a massive “charm offensive” to get Charlie to open up, be a likable lead, and fall in love on the TV show. Along the way, Charlie starts opening up to Dev and vice versa, and the two realize they have the most chemistry with one another. But, reality TV shows have scripts to follow and unfortunately, a queer love story with a show producer isn’t what the executive producer had in mind for the season (though, I’d watch it!).

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In Every Mirror She’s Black by Lolá Ákínmádé Åkerström

This novel shares insight into what it means to be a black woman today, following three distinct POCs who are in some way linked to the same influential Swedish white man in Stockholm.

Kemi is a workaholic marketing executive who moves to Sweden to head up diversity for CEO Jonny’s company after a tone-deaf incident and partially looking to reclaim her social life in the process. Meanwhile, Brittany-Rae is a flight attendant who meets Jonny on a flight and is suddenly thrust into his luxury world. Then, there’s Mena, a refuge struggling to establish residency in a new country while working as a janitor for his company.

The book aims to tackle racism, classism, sexism, tokenism, and fetishization as these three women come to terms with what it means to be a black woman in a white-dominated society. Told in three point-of-views, this book reads quite quickly and is well-written, engaging, and difficult to put down with many complex characters sharing their stories and journeys.

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If This Gets Out by Cale Dietrich & Sophie Gonzales

Everything about this story intrigued me so much. Besides, as a massive boy band fan, I was super excited about this concept and a behind-the-scenes look at what that recording and touring lifestyle is really like.

Here, 18-year-olds Ruben Montez and Zach Knight are two of the four members of the hit boy band, Saturday, which is one of the biggest acts in America. Onstage, the four boys are teen heartbreakers, and offstage they are just four normal best friends. However, cracks are starting to form under the pressures of fame. Ruben even confides in Zach that he’s feeling smothered by their management’s pressure to stay in the closet. During a whirlwind European trip, while dealing with a busy schedule and minimal supervision, Ruben and Zach rely on each other more and more as their close friendship soon evolves into romance. Though the guys decide they are ready to tell their fans and live freely, they realize that their management will never support the plan. They question how to hold on tight to what they have when the entire world seemingly wants to come between them.

I would describe this book as Red, White & Royal Blue meets One Direction, which means it’s pretty darn close to perfect for my interests. Co-authors Sophie Gonzales and Cale Dietrich, who are masters of their craft, have created such a compelling narrative that’s chock full of engaging language that draws me in from the very first page. Told in dual points-of-view, readers have the chance to get inside the mindsets of both leading men, who are equally vulnerable and authentic. Plus, they as a couple are 1000% precious and adorable, and I ship them. Facts are facts.

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Lease on Love by Falon Ballard

I was enthralled and captivated by this romance novel from the very first page until the very last. It wasn’t just a sweeping romance that totally had my heart from the get-go but it also shared insight into a pair of flawed, vulnerable individuals who find their own identity and dreams along the way.

This book picks up when Sadie gets passed over for a long-overdue promotion in the finance sector of Manhattan, so she does what any millennial in the midst of a quarter-life crisis does: She gets drunk and tries to seek a date. However, when she accidentally mixes up a dating app and a roommate-finding app, she stumbles upon Jack, the owner of the most beautiful Brooklyn brownstone she’s ever seen. Knowing she’s not interested in Jack romantically in any way but rather lusting over his gorgeous apartment, she rents a room in his place for a tiny sum. After losing her job, she decides to start a new career as a BK-based florist. Then, there’s the mysterious Jack, who’s been grieving the death of his parents and unexpectedly finds himself drawn to the vivacious gardening enthusiast who brings him out of his shell.

Read the Book (beginning February 2022)

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