It was a record year for me, finishing 35 books just before the ball dropped. There were a few great ones, and I ended up kind of hitting a theme. I got stuck among the pages of a few not-so-good ones too. I revisited a lot of authors and even managed to squeeze in a book my middle schooler read for class so we could talk about it.

What were the standouts in 2021? Here you go, in no particular order:

1. The Inheritance Games (Jennifer Lynn Barnes)

Completing two of the three in this YA trilogy, these books were fast-paced and fun. They’re like National Treasure meets all kinds of teen angst, where the treasure is already found, but the reasoning behind who it belongs to must get discovered.

The books begin with the death of a wealthy family patriarch. His will jumpstarts all the trouble when he leaves the bulk of his estate to an unknown girl. She’s never met the family, and is struggling to make a life for herself. The four grandsons expected the money, and there’s the two daughters who definitely feel slighted.

Dodging near-death experiences, overcoming past devastations, and figuring out how to work together, the end of each of these books surprises you. They’re so much fun.

2. Two books by TJ Klune

Because The House on the Cerulean Sea was THAT GOOD, I managed to pick up another Klune title before the year ended. Neither disappointed. Cerulean Sea was a beautiful story about acceptance and living life freely as the person you’re meant to be. It involves an orphanage full of extraordinary young creatures, the adults that care about them, and a beachfront town full of skeptics. There are so many moments in this book.

The same tenderness and passion travels over to Klune’s unrelated title, Under the Whispering Door. This book is about regret and breaking free from expectations. It’s powerful and special too. A ‘company man’ who has recently died ends up serving time in the most unexpected place as he prepares to move on. Greeted by a cobbled together ‘family,’ the arc of our stuffy lead is so perfect and wonderful. I’d watch it all unfold again.

3. Two books by Taylor Jenkins Reid

I also hit the jackpot with my two books from Reid’s library of published works. Having already enjoyed Daisy Jones and the Six, this year I read The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo and Malibu Rising. I loved them both. Reid builds such amazing stories with her poignant present and powerful flashbacks. Every step in her stories is deliberate, and as they come together, you get to really know her characters.

Seven Husbands chronicles the experience of one up-and-coming journalist, given the chance of a lifetime to interview the cinematic icon, Evelyn Hugo, whose life is marked by her many husbands. Stick around to the end for sure; you won’t believe what happens.

Malibu Rising also deals with fame, but in a completely different way. The book explores the aftermath of having a famous, absentee father, losing a mom way too soon, and the responsibilities children so often take upon themselves when there are other siblings involved. It’s about the bonds of shared experiences and about learning how to speak your truth. It all takes place in one night, at one massive party, with enough flashbacks that you really know these characters by the time the book ends.

4. Beach Read (Emily Henry)

The perfect summer read, expertly light and silly without it feeling superficial, Beach Read is really the first piece of “chick lit” I’ve read and loved in a long time. Of course, what drew me to the book was that both main characters are novelists, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg. They both have writer’s block, they’re both dealing with extra emotional baggage. They live next-door, and hate each other….maybe.

This is a fun, well-written story that’s a perfect literary brain break.

5. The Shadow and Bone Trilogy (Leigh Bardugo)

I technically finished the trilogy in 2022, but these books read so fast, and aren’t very long, so whatever. They’re also a lot of fun. The Grishaverse, created by Leigh Bardugo, is an exciting place to be in for a lot of reasons, and although the third book gets a little repetitive, the story twisted and turned in all the right directions, coming to an ending I thoroughly enjoyed.

I picked up the first book after watching the TV series, and will be continuing with other series taking place in the same world. I really like it here.

6. The Midnight Library (Matt Haig)

It’s not a new troupe, but people are always drawn to stories where someone gets to try out do-overs in their own life. The point here being, in this story, to change a single decision each time to live through the ripple effect of that decision.

There’s not much to say here without giving things away, but it was a great telling of this type of story. The troubled heroine gets to experience many versions of her life to learn the life lesson waiting for her at the end.

7. The Vanishing Half (Brit Bennett)

To round out my best list, I give you The Vanishing Half. The story was unlike anything I’d ever read, and I liked everything about it. Two identical twins leave home before graduating high school and struggle to find their places in the world. One twin, ends up a good place with a bad husband, eventually coming home to raise her daughter. The other twin marries well and lives a very comfortable, shielded life.

The one kicker — one twin represents as a black woman, the other as a white woman. The psychological remnants of both women’s choices, how it impacts other members of their families, and even their own life experiences are all so interesting. Every character is complex, making for a great read that you don’t want to put down.

The runners up

A few others to consider:

  • In Five Years by Rebecca Serle because the ending will make you cry.
  • Night Tiger by Yangsze Choo because it’s a good story.
  • A Deadly Education by Naomi Novik because it’s the start of a good magical trilogy.
  • Lore by Alexandra Bracken because it’s violent, in a girl-power way.
  • Radium Girls by Kate Moore because it’s a story everyone should know.

The duds

My 2021 titles that disappointed did so mostly because the story just wasn’t interesting. They were missing that something that blew me out of the water like my favorites did. They were:

  • Catherine House by Elizabeth Thomas
  • Outlawed by Anna North
  • How to Stop Time by Matt Haig
  • People We Meet on Vacation by Emily Henry

Yes, you’ll see books on this list by authors who made it to my favorites list. You can’t always write a winner.

Setting a 2022 goal of 40 books

What will 2022 bring? Who knows, but four books into the new year, I’ve already had a doosey that will end up high on my next list. Have you read Hell of a Book yet? You should. Everyone should. It’s intense and fabulous. For more recommendations, you’ll just have to stay tuned.

Happy reading!