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Our Favorite Books of 2021 (and Books You NEED to Read in 2022)
2021 was a fantastic year for books.
Here’s my top list (starting with my top 5) for the year, and the books you need to be looking for in 2022.
A Place to Hang the Moon by Kate Albus
I am absolutely smitten with this book. Once I finished, I clutched it to my heart in absolute adoration. It’s a giant hug, a warm cup of cocoa, and the tenderest of love letters to family, books, and facing difficulty in hope with those we love.
“England, William, Edmund and Anna are evacuated to the countryside both for their safety, and perhaps also to find a family to be adopted into. As they struggle through various billets, problems at school, and other hardships the children never lose their love for each other, for books, or for the belief that they will find a forever home.” (Alysa Wishingrad on Goodreads)
Kate’s voice and writing are absolutely breathtaking, with the perfect touches of humor and lots of heart. A PLACE TO HANG THE MOON is an absolute must-read.
People We Meet on Vacation by Emily Henry
I am an absolute Emily Henry devotee. Truly, her books are a masterclass not only in romance, but in the craft of writing itself.
Following two best friends over the course of their yearly summer trips, we see Poppy and Alex develop their relationship, watch it fall apart, and breathlessly find it all over again.
My plan right now is to build a time machine or develop a memory eraser so that I can go back and re-read this novel for the first time all over again. I loved it even more than BEACH READ and I fell in love with every aspect of the book — the tension-building pacing, the flashbacks, the rich characters, the setting descriptions, and the friends-to-lovers romance. It was smart and funny and sweet and utterly perfect.
(Also, the audio by Julia Whelan is fantastic! I am picky about audiobooks, but really, really enjoyed her narration. A buy-in-all-formats book.)
The Summer of Broken Rules by K.L. Walther
Sarah Dessen beach reads were what fueled my love of reading as a teenager, and K.L. Walther’s THE SUMMER OF BROKEN RULES is a perfect homage to that era.
Meredith Fox has been going to Martha’s Vineyard for the summer as long as she can remember. But this summer is the first one back since the death of Meredith’s sister. It will all be overwhelming, but even more since since the entire extended family will be together for her cousin’s big wedding.
Unfortunately, Meredith’s longtime boyfriend unexpectedly dumped her two weeks before the wedding, leaving her dateless. Luckily, she has the perfect distraction. Her family has a tradition of playing the ultimate game of Assassin every summer, and this year it will take place during the week of wedding festivities.
But her target just happens to be a very cute groomsman. She’s determined to not let herself get distracted, not let herself be lost in another doomed relationship. But as the week progresses, she can’t help falling for him, which may cost her not only the game, but also her heart.
For me, it was everything I wanted in a YA, and in any book: characters with depth that immediately draw you in, a setting that transports you, engaging pacing, and swoonworthy romance. K.L. nailed it in all of these respects. Not only is it the PERFECT summer beach read, but it’s a warm and tender and charming story that you’ll come back to again and again — no matter the season.
Between the takes-you-there descriptions of Martha’s Vineyard, the mouthwatering food, and this lovable family, you’re immediately tucked into this dreamy, but achingly real world. You can feel the hope and the grief and the wildness and the heartbreak that Meredith feels and you experience it alongside her. I felt like a teenager again, and that is my marker of a great YA. I truly felt *there.* Plus, there are Taylor Swift references (love!), fun and games and family dynamics, and a boy that will make you blush.
(And can you believe that cover?! Heart eyes!)
Loved, loved, loved.
Better Than the Movies by Lynn Painter
Another fantastic, swoonworthy YA that earns a top spot on my ‘favorites’ list this year.
This book was a freakin’ DELIGHT.
Enemies-to-lovers, boy-next-door, a lil’ fake-dating action, and ridiculous but swoony teenage shenanigans MAKE FOR MY FAVORITE KIND OF YA. I seriously couldn’t put it down once I started. The characters were well-developed and I thoroughly enjoyed the ups and downs of the plot. I felt very much seventeen again and I loved every minute of it. So so good.
And plus, with lines like, “the saviors that are Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks,” rom-com lovers will feel seen.
Gosh, I just want to read it all over again. This one definitely made my “Favorite Ever YAs” list. LONG LIVE THE ROM COM!
Under the Whispering Door by TJ Klune
TJ KLUNE CAN DO NO WRONG! TJ is an auto-buy author for me, and one of my all-time favorites. Once you read one of his, you’ll immediately need to read the whole backlist. FACTS.
When a reaper comes to collect Wallace Price from his own funeral, Wallace suspects he really might be dead.
Instead of leading him directly to the afterlife, the reaper takes him to a small village. On the outskirts, off the path through the woods, tucked between mountains, is a particular tea shop, run by a man named Hugo. Hugo is the tea shop’s owner to locals and the ferryman to souls who need to cross over.
But Wallace isn’t ready to abandon the life he barely lived. With Hugo’s help he finally starts to learn about all the things he missed in life.
When the Manager, a curious and powerful being, arrives at the tea shop and gives Wallace one week to cross over, Wallace sets about living a lifetime in seven days.
What a an utterly beautiful and thought-provoking book. Important and heart-wrenching and meaningful. (With the most perfect touches of humor and swoon!) Another TJ Klune must-read, and one that I’ll hold close to my heart.
And yes. You will cry.
(For a laugh, pick up Flash Fire, the second in TJ’s Extraordinaries series, another 2021 fav.)
I Hope This Finds You Well by Kate Baer
With poems that are so universal, yet intimately personal, I Hope This Finds You Well turns internet cruelty into art.
I Hope This Finds You Well is a book of poetry birthed in the darkness of the internet that offers light and hope. By cleverly building on the harsh negativity and hate women often receive—and combining it with heartwarming messages of support, gratitude, and connection, Kate Baer offers us a lesson in empowerment, showing how we too can turn bitterness into beauty.
I wish I could give this book 1,000 stars.
The Guncle by Steven Rowley
|The Guncle is a moving tribute to the power of love, patience, and family in even the most trying of times.|
I LOVED this book. It’s such a beautiful story about grief and family, but it’s also HILARIOUS and unputdownable. An absolute must-read.
The Love Hypothesis by Ali Hazelwood
This one was all over BookTok and everyone has been raving…and let me tell you: THE HYPE IS REAL. A grumpy + sunshine, fake dating, hates-everyone-but-her romance with two scientists who pretend to date and WHAT DO YOU KNOW end up falling for each other. PERFECTION. So glad I picked this one up.
A Marvellous Light by Freya Marske
I AM OBSESSED WITH THIS BOOK.
I knew I was going to like it, but I wasn’t prepared for how much. Not only is it beautifully written, but it’s instantly engaging — absolutely un-put-down-able. The worldbuilding is unique and captivating, and the slow burn romance is agonizingly delicious. Well-paced, magically crafted, and incredibly satisfying. (AND STEAMY! NSFW!)
PLUS: LIBRARIES. HEDGE MAZE. MAGIC. GRUMPY & SUNSHINE. MYSTERY. QUEER. FOREARMS. !!!!!
The Wolf’s Curse by Jessica Vitalis
What an utterly FANTASTIC MG debut.
A tender exploration of grief through a folklore lens and a singularly unique POV. THE WOLF’S CURSE’s setting, the characters, and the depth of the themes were memorable and meaningful. Simply wonderful!
Fifteen Hundred Miles From the Sun by Jonny Garza Villa
A poignant, funny, openhearted novel about coming out, first love, and being your one and only best and true self.
Fifteen Hundred Miles from the Sun navigates some really important topics about sexuality, family, friendship, culture, romantic relationships, and self-discovery, and the author tackles these with an achingly beautiful (and engaging) voice. What results is a captivating combination of heartbreak, humor, meaningful messages, and SWOON. OMG SO MUCH SWOON. (Also, s/o to the Texas nods!) It’s an unapologetic, but compassionate story of love, hope and healing.
Indivisible by Daniel Aleman
I’m not even sure I have words for how much I loved this book.
Indivisible tells the story of Mateo and his efforts to keep his family together as his parents face deportation. It’s powerful in its explorations of immigration in America and tells a deeply intimate portrait of a teen boy driven by his fierce, protective love for his parents and his sister.
I couldn’t put it down once I started, and was completely engrossed from beginning to end. What a beautiful and important book — tender and heart-wrenching and resonant. The writing was beautiful and meaningful without being flower-y or over-the-top, the characters were real and well-developed, and the story is incredibly important and impactful. …Just wow.
It’s a book I’m going to be thinking about — and recommending to everyone — for a long time. An incredibly moving and important debut. Adding Daniel to my list of auto-buy authors!
The Charm Offensive by Alison Cochrun
In this witty and heartwarming romantic comedy, an awkward tech wunderkind on a reality dating show goes off-script when sparks fly with his producer.
I *KNEW* I was going to love this, but I wasn’t prepared for how much. Not only is the writing just incredibly lovely, interesting, and unique, but the story tackles so much deep stuff with grace, awareness, and sensitivity. It’s steamy, sweet, and SUCH a good read. Loved loved loved it!
The Ex Talk by Rachel Lynn Solomon
I was SOOOO excited to read this book and it did not disappoint! I loved the characters and the premise and was laughing and swooning throughout the whole book.
THE NPR LOVE!
It was steamy and funny and everything I love about romance. Rachel Lynn Solomon is definitely an auto-buy author for me and I highly recommend The Ex Talk.
Aristotle and Dante Dive Into the Waters of the World by Benjamin Alire Saenz
I had the privilege of reading this before release day, and I don’t think I’ve stopped thinking about it since.
Usually, I am wary of sequels, because even thought you *want* more than anything to return to the world and those characters of stories you love, they never usually match the magic of the original.
This was not the case with Aristotle and Dante Dive Into the Waters of the World.
I deeply loved this continuation of Ari & Dante’s story, and the new facets and colors it added to their journey. It kept the same beauty and breathlessness of the original, while bringing beautiful additions. Plus, we get to see what happens AFTER the falling in love montage. I feel lucky, as a writer, that we get this deep–but tender–dive inside. I love the characters (esp the females) that we got more of. The writing, of course, was transcendent. This book is romantic and magical, captivating and tender. It will intensely tug your heartstrings and warm them through. Benjamin Alire Sáenz truly is a gift to the world!
The Sky Blues by Robbie Couch
For me, Robbie NAILED it with The Sky Blues.
Reading TSB, I immediately felt seventeen again. Even though my high school experience was different from Sky’s, I felt like I was there, like I was feeling the same things and experiencing the same things he was. I was immersed in those moments, and it just felt so true to what those years are really like. Found family, stalking your crushes, figuring out your future — it was just so relevant, real, and engaging. I couldn’t put it down. It has beautifully real characters, and the plot is weaved really seamlessly together in ways that were satisfying but still surprising. A must-read.
(Also, as a yearbook nerd, this book truly made me feel seen. Ha.)
2021 (Extremely) Honorable Mentions
Dark Rise by C.S. Pacat
A fantastic, mystical and uniquely page-turning story of light vs. dark.
Welcome to Dweeb Club by Betsy Uhrig
A fantastic, thought-provoking and funny middle grade novel about a mysterious school club.
To Sir With Love by Lauren Layne
A You’ve Got Mail-inspired romantic comedy that does the online-lovers-to-real-life-lovers right.
Anxious People by Frederik Backman
Another phenomenal Backman mastercraft, a weaving together of plot, characters, and setting that tell a beautiful story of the human experience.
The Bookshop of Second Chances by Jackie Fraser
A unique, tender, swoony, and lovely story about starting over. (And books!)
A Pizza With Everything On It by Kyle Scheele, Andy J. Miller
A fantastical and fun picture book about accidentally destroying the world…and rebuilding it from pizza.
The Verdigris Pawn by Alysa Wishingrad
A timeless tale of quests and friendship, mystery and magic in an immersive world with lush prose; an adventure with powerful themes of inequality and class, justice and power, truth and trust. It’s smart and absolutely unforgettable.
Before We Disappear by Shaun David Hutchinson
The writing in this book is captivating and lovely, and the story unique and un-put-down-able. I love the real-life setting intertwined with the fantasy, and the plights of the characters were heart-wrenching and tender.
Any Way the Wind Blows by Rainbow Rowell
The final episode in the Simon Snow trilogy, we get answers to some questions, and even more questions. Thick and utterly bingeable.
Pencilvania by Stephanie Watson
Besides being a pencil fantatic, I thought this book was so creative and well-done. The illustrations are fantastic and fun. The writing is creative, engaging, and unique, and I was sucked into this story of grief and fantasy from page one.
Update your TBR; these are books you need to read in the new year.
Book Lovers by Emily Henry
|“The last-page ache. The deep breath in after you’ve the set the book aside.”|
“Does anyone ever want to finish a good book?”
I cried when I finished this, so, NO I did not want to finish, and I deeply felt that last-page ache.
I am a HUGE Emily Henry fan, and this was my favorite of hers so far. I’ve said it before, but I’m going to say it again: Emily’s books are a MASTERCLASS, not only in in romance and characters and setting, but also in the craft of writing itself. HOMEGIRL CAN WORK A METAPHOR. I was blown away by how beautiful this story was, and all the elements just *worked* so well. I couldn’t put it down and I just want to re-read it again and again and again. I laughed, I cried, I swooned. A++++++
(Also, we love a man with killer eyebrows???)
Weather Girl by Rachel Lynn Solomon
|Rachel Lynn Solomon is truly a master of her craft. She imbues her books with such depth and meaning, while still managing to get that perfect blend of humor and heart. She’s so intentional in the way she builds worlds and characters, allowing readers to feel seen and represented and valued within them. Her books are incredibly enjoyable, but also meaningful and important.|
WEATHER GIRL is no exception. As a charming Set it Up/Parent Trap-inspired story, Rachel builds a narrative that shines a light on mental health and how it affects not only ourselves, but also how it affects the ways we navigate the relationships in our lives — both familial and romantic.
When You Get the Chance by Emma Lord
I *adored* this book!
With quintessential Emma Lord charm, this Mamma-Mia-inspired YA romp is equal parts fun, heartwarming, and laugh-out-loud funny.
Blaine for the Win by Robbie Couch
A fun and meaningful YA version of Legally Blonde with characters you’ll want to know IRL.
Never Been Kissed by Timothy Janovsky
Not only is Tim a close friend, but he’s an amazing author. His debut is filled with masterful writing, a touch of To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, and a magic-making nod to cinema.
This May End Badly by Samantha Markum
Already one of my top favorite books of 2022, Sam Markum’s debut features rival boarding schools, a dash of fake dating, prank wars, and oops! Falling in love.
The Temperature of Me and You by Brian Zepka
Magic, first love, and lots of Dairy Queen.
Love at First Spite by Anna E. Collins
When Dani’s breaks off her engagement when her fiancé cheats on her with their realtor, she joins with a co-worker to build a spite house next door. This book had me absolutely immersed from page one. The characters are magnetic (have I been as obsessed with a LI as much as Wyatt Montego? I don’t think so), and the plot compelling and fun. Steamy, swoony, and perfect.
A Little Bit Country by Brian D. Kennedy
Homage to country music and patron saint Dolly with a love story of two boys who work at an amusement park for country star Wanda Jean for the summer.