At the end of each year, the NetGalley team loves reflecting back on the great books and audiobooks we’ve read. These are the books that made us laugh, cry, and swoon, and kept us talking nonstop. Here’s a look at our favorite 2021 releases we read this year.
Act Your Age, Eve Brown by Talia Hibbert, narrated by Ione Butler
This year I read Talia Hibbert’s Brown sisters trilogy and was completely blown away. Each book is incredible, and I can’t recommend it as a whole highly enough, but Act Your Age, Eve Brown stands out for hitting all of my personal sweet spots. While some romance couples have a meet cute, Eve and Jacob have a meet disaster that involves her accidentally hitting him with her car. What follows is a hilarious, moving, and steamy journey as Jacob learns to let Eve into his heart and Eve discovers that there isn’t one “right” path in life, only the path that’s right for her. Ione Butler did a fantastic job narrating the audiobook and had me laughing out loud and swooning in all the right moments. I can see myself returning to it time and again as a comfort read.
The Queer Principles of Kit Webb by Cat Sebastian
The Queer Principles of Kit Webb was everything I wanted it to be—sharp-witted, tenderhearted, hilarious, and sexy. It exemplifies so much of what I love about Cat Sebastian’s works, which is characters ultimately making their corner of the world better through taking care of their own, through rebellions big and small, through the simple yet radical act of happiness. Kit Webb is a grumpy reformed highwayman and Percy is a bratty lord asking for Kit’s help to commit a robbery. The romance between them was a delicious slow burn with Kit’s fortified walls crumbling in the wake of Percy’s pursuit of him and, as always, through them Sebastian delivers sharp critiques of class and privilege. Add in caretaking scenes, insults as a form of flirting, and a bossy valet judging all of Percy’s fashion choices—what more could I ask for? I’m already looking forward to getting my hands on the next in the series: The Perfect Crimes of Marian Hayes.
Concrete Rose by Angie Thomas, narrated by Dion Graham
One of the first books I read in 2021 was Concrete Rose and it has stuck with me all year long. It follows Maverick Carter, who readers first met as Starr’s father in The Hate U Give. At the age of 17, Mav learns that he’s going to be a father and it upends his entire world. Thomas perfectly balances the ways in which Mav is still a child himself alongside his desire to be the best father he can be, all while exploring toxic masculinity and the way boys are encouraged to hide their emotions. I listened to the audiobook and loved every second. Dion Graham is a truly exceptional narrator who conveyed every nuance of Mav’s thoughts and emotions. This book cover, this author, this story, this narrator—perfection across the board!
Libertie by Kaitlyn Greenidge
This book is a beautiful, lyrical journey into the Reconstruction era and an investigation of what it means to be free. Libertie has always grown up with the expectation that she will follow in her mother’s footsteps and become a doctor. But as she becomes a young adult and discovers her own passions, she struggles against this assumption. Above all, she yearns to be herself and live her own life. She’s searching for a new kind of freedom. Beyond her mother’s expectations, Libertie’s journey forces her to confront the realities of being darker skinned (whereas her mother can pass as white), and being a woman in a world run by men.
Remote Control by Nnedi Okorafor, narrated by Adjoa Andoh
Imagine having the power to accidentally kill those around you with a stray thought or an uncontrolled emotion… now imagine having that power as a small child and trying to contain it while wandering from town to town and through the countryside alone. Remote Control is a compelling story of a powerful child and a thoughtful examination of how difficult it would be to develop close relationships in such a situation. Nnedi Okorafor is one of those rare authors whose books always top my favorites list, and this one was no exception. Recommended for anyone who likes sci-fi & fantasy, and also a great short read for those who might want to give the genre a try.
Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir
Given how much I loved The Martian, I wasn’t sure if Project Hail Mary would be a favorite, but it far surpassed any expectations I might have had and is definitely one of my top reads of the year. This novel is the story of an amnesiac astronaut on a mission to save Earth, whose memory returns slowly over the course of the journey, as he realizes that everything is not as it seems. It’s a riveting page-turner that got passed around my house as various members of my family raced through it.
The Storyteller written and narrated by Dave Grohl
One thing I found when listening to this audiobook was just how appropriate the title is. I was continually turning to my family and saying “Dave Grohl was telling this story…” and isn’t that the mark of a good book, when you just can’t stop talking about it to everyone around you? Sure there’s a lot of name-dropping, but that’s part of the appeal—who doesn’t want to hear offstage stories about Iggy Pop, Paul McCartney, Joan Jett, and more? From his early days on the road with the band Scream through his time with Nirvana and then the Foo Fighters, Grohl’s stories of life on the road made this a thoroughly enjoyable listen.
One Two Three by Laurie Frankel, narrated by Emma Galvin, Jesse Vilinsky, Rebecca Soler
I was a latecomer to audiobooks, but Laurie Frankel’s One Two Three was the perfect way to get me hooked! It’s told from the point of view of three incredible sisters—triplets Mab, Monday, and Mirabelle—who have spent their lives growing up in the tiny town of Bourne under the shadow of something terrible that happened there 17 years ago. The Mitchell sisters find themselves digging into Bourne’s past and trying to uncover its secrets to try and stop history from repeating itself. All unique in their own ways, each girl is incredibly brilliant and alternate sharing their stories in this amazing audiobook. I’m not sure how any other audiobook will ever measure up as the perfectly cast narrators for each sister made this story such an incredible experience. I laughed and I cried and months later I’m still blown away.
Tokyo Ever After by Emiko Jean
I’m a huge Princess Diaries fan and as soon as I heard about this book, I knew I would love it! Izumi is a Japanese American girl living in California and she discovers that her father is the Crown Prince of Japan. Her world is completely turned upside down when she takes a whirlwind trip to Japan to meet the family she never knew she had. Tokyo Ever After is such a heartfelt exploration of identity and family history. This book also includes a super swoony romance with her hot new bodyguard, who is just taking over the family business. They had some serious romantic tension and it was so hard not to skip ahead to see what would happen with their storyline.
The Darkness Outside Us by Eliot Schrefer
The Darkness Outside Us is an enthralling YA sci-fi novel and I seriously could not put it down. Two boys wake up alone in space on a rescue mission to Titan, Saturn’s moon, and every page is a tense race to figure out what’s actually going on up there. The Darkness Outside Us is part romance, part survival story, and part futuristic speculative horror and I just can’t recommend it enough. It’s really best to go into this one without knowing much about the plot. You will definitely be surprised along the way!
People We Meet on Vacation by Emily Henry
People We Meet on Vacation by Emily Henry was one of my favorite reads this year. The chapters alternate between “This Summer” and 10 past summer vacations that best friends Poppy and Alex took together. This book really resonated with me because it reminded me of classic romantic comedy movies like When Harry Met Sally. It’s emotional and hilarious and, at its core, is about an incredible friendship. I read People We Meet on Vacation in July, and I think it was a great contemporary read for summer!
The Love Hypothesis by Ali Hazelwood
A romance set in academia (STEM, no less) is guaranteed to have my full attention! Olive is a Ph.D. candidate and through a series of hilarious events finds herself with a fake boyfriend. But as their fake relationship progresses, so do their feelings for each other. I loved this book so much I already know it warrants a re-read sometime soon. I think Christina Lauren said it best: “Contemporary romance’s unicorn: the elusive marriage of deeply brainy and delightfully escapist… The Love Hypothesis has wild commercial appeal but the quieter secret is that there is a specific audience, made up of all of the Olives in the world, who have deeply, ardently waited for this exact book.”