Wow, 2021. You really did us dirty. Somehow, this year was more difficult than the last in a lot of ways. But, like any year on the books (pun intended), there were wonderful parts that co-existed with the not-so-wonderful parts. One of the wonderful parts of 2021 was our reading list.
Both of us read some really solid books this year. Combined, we read a combo of new releases and backlist titles, ranging from literary fiction to romance to paranormal fantasy. Some of our favorite authors, like Emily Henry, made the list alongside some new favorites, like Violet Kupersmith. All in all, we read over 100 books combined! (I’m too lazy to figure out the exact number, but it’s a lot!)
Without further ado, here’s our list of the best books we read in 2021. Can you guess which ones are Sami’s and which ones are Liz’s? We’ll never tell. (Just kidding, we totally will if you just keep reading.)
If you want to jump straight to our Bookshop, you can see the whole list here. This article contains affiliate links.
Build Your House Around My Body by Violet Kupersmith
This was, absolutely, hands-down, Liz’s favorite read of the year. It is a brilliant, symbolic exploration of colonialism, generational trauma, women’s bodies, and the history of place. And it’s all told as a ghost story. This is a beautiful book to pick up if you’re looking for a new literary fiction read. You can read the rest of Liz’s gushing review here.
The Soulmate Equation by Christina Lauren
Sami is a huge Christina Lauren fan, and she was beyond excited to have gotten an ARC for The Soulmate Equation this year. (Thank you NetGalley and Gallery Books!) This book is up there on the list of Christina Lauren favorites, by far. The enemies-to-lovers trope is executed perfectly, and the characters are very well written. You can read Sami’s full review here!
Monday’s Not Coming by Tiffany D. Jackson
So Liz read almost all of Tiffany D. Jackson’s books this year, and Monday’s Not Coming was one of the top ones. All of Jackson’s books are basically five-star reads, but this one in particular is excellent. It’s not a light read by any means, and there’s very few, if any, YA books quite like this out there. This is a story of one girl’s search for her missing friend, but it’s also a story about how when a young Black girl goes missing in the US, our society and our systems don’t seem to notice or care.
Malibu Rising by Taylor Jenkins Reid
If you’re here or on Bookstagram, you probably already know that Taylor Jenkins Reid is an overall fan favorite in the book world. Malibu Rising is a beautifully written and well executed story of sacrifice, love and choice. This book has Jenkins Reid’s usual top-notch character development and original plot, and it does not disappoint if you are fan. You can read more about Sami’s opinions here!
The Removed by Brandon Hobson
This was one of our most anticipated books for 2021, and it did not disappoint. Liz was able to score a copy at her local library and she flew through it. The Removed is steeped in Cherokee folklore and history, some elaborated by the author himself. It’s about the power of memory, the power of ancestral stories, ancestral traumas, and how they can influence a whole family.
Finlay Donovan is Killing It: A Mystery by Elle Cosimano
Both of us discovered the amazingness that is Finlay Donovan this year, and this book made both of our “Best Books of 2021” lists! This comedy-mystery is freakin’ laugh-out-loud funny and so twisty-turny. It’s a great, fast-paced read for people who love some light crime that isn’t too scary. Finlay Donovan is an easily lovable hot mess, and she gets up to some new shenanigans in the sequel, Finlay Donovan Knocks ‘Em Dead, out February 2022!
Front Desk by Kelly Yang
This middle grade novel, frankly, kicked ass. It addresses racism, inequity, poverty, and challenges faced by many immigrants in the US in a way that is accessible to kids and not watered down. Front Desk is based off of the author’s own experiences growing up in California, and Liz loved the way it infuses fun and lightheartedness into a book about some pretty serious stuff.
Last Night at the Telegraph Club by Malinda Lo
This book was a top pick on both of our lists! We buddy-read it on audiobook (we share a Libby account hehe) and both loved it. It’s such a well-researched historical fiction, and we both learned so much about San Francisco in the 1950s during the Red Scare. It’s also just a really, really good love story.
The Dangers of Smoking in Bed: Stories by Mariana Enríquez
This was one of the best books of 2021, but with a caveat that there are MAJOR trigger warnings for basically everything in here. There are some pretty disturbing short stories in this collection, and Liz loved so many of them. A neighborhood begins deteriorating when a stranger leaves his cart behind. A woman is followed around by a slightly creepy ghost baby only she can see. Children suddenly begin appearing in local parks years after they have disappeared or been pronounced dead. Enríquez pulls us in with ghosts and body horror, but leaves us feeling unsettled about our own complicity in a world that is scarier than fiction.
The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer
2021 was Sami’s year of Meg Wolitzer. How have we been sleeping on her books?! The Interestings is an excellently executed story that follows a friend group through the decades. Wolitzer is truly a master of writing about the intricacies of a relationship, and how that relationship can imperceptibly shift through the course of time. This book was an unexpected favorite, and more books from her backlist are now in the TBR pile.
Ace of Spades by Faridah Àbíké-Íyímídé
This book was SO good and SO entertaining. Everyone says its like Get Out meets Gossip Girl, and yes, it’s true. Ace of Spades starts off standard enough with Aces spreading secrets all over Chiamaka and Devon’s white-dominated private school. Then, about half-way through- BAM. Àbíké-Íyímídé elevates the story into the sinister. It’s allegorical and realistic all at the same time.
The Love Hypothesis by Ali Hazelwood
The Love Hypothesis bubbled up as a Bookstagram favorite towards the end of the year, and Sami can attest that it does, in fact, live up to the hype. It’s just a super cute, well-done story for lovers of the fake dating trope, STEM romances, and contemporary romance.
To the Bright Edge of the World by Eowyn Ivey
This book is a super-detailed, well-researched, and very long epistolary historical fiction about a white expedition into Alaska in the 1880s. The characters are so well done, and Liz highly recommends this book to anyone who loves a good, quiet historical fiction.
The Ensemble by Aja Gabel
The Ensemble follows four friends and their complex relationships within the cutthroat world of classical music. The writing is beautiful, the audiobook is well-done, and it was definitely one of the best books of 2021 for Sami. We love when we try out a new author and it turns out to be a top read!
People We Meet on Vacation by Emily Henry
Both of us really bonded over Emily Henry this year. Her books are so fun, well-written, and relatable. People We Meet On Vacation is no different. It’s fun, lighthearted, and great on audiobook. Alex and Poppy are both such joys to read on the page, and the way Henry writes romance is the perfect combo of sweet and steam. We both can’t wait for Henry’s new book, Book Lovers, to come out in 2022!
Crying in H Mart: A Memoir by Michelle Zauner
So, let me start this off by saying this is by no means a light read. Michelle Zauner of Japanese Breakfast fame chronicles her experience of losing her mother to cancer. It is hard, it is visceral at times, and it is emotional. But it is so good. If you can handle it, Zauner’s exploration of her relationship with her mother through food is incredibly moving. You can read Liz’s whole review here.
The Road Trip by Beth O’Leary
We’ll tie up this “Best Books of 2021” post with another exciting ARC-win for Sami. She won a copy of The Road Trip through a Goodreads giveaway, and she loved the story! There’s really nothing to say except this book is sweet, fun, and so, so good. If you love Beth O’Leary’s other books, you’ll love this one too!