TOP TEN READS OF 2021

It is with much angst and wringing of hands that we present our Top Ten Reads of 2021.

For clarity, these are books we read in 2021, not necessary books published in 2021, and presented in no particular order.


Micky’s Top Ten of 2021

Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir
Son of the Shadows by Juliet Marillier
Fire by Kristin Cashore
Ariadne by Jennifer Saint
The Prison Healer by Lynette Noni
Under the Whispering Door by TJ Klune
The Love Hypothesis by Ali Hazelwood
Felix Ever After by Kacen Callender
All Rhodes Lead Here by Mariana Zapata
Seven Days In June by Tia Williams


Hollis’ Top Ten of 2021

Iron Widow by Xiran Jay Zhao
Just Last Night by Mhairi McFarlane
The Girls I’ve Been by Tess Sharpe
Act Your Age, Eve Brown by Talia Hibbert
Felix Ever After by Kacen Callender
Blood Heir by Ilona Andrews
Twice Shy by Sarah Hogle
Seven Days in June by Tia Williams
Lore Olympus : Season One by Rachel Smythe
Son of the Shadows by Juliet Marillier (reread)


Have you made a top ten, top three or top fifty? Let us know some of your favourties.

AURORA’S END by Amie Kaufman & Jay Kristoff

The squad you love is out of time. Prepare for the thrilling finale in the epic, best-selling Aurora Cycle series about a band of unlikely heroes who just might be the galaxy’s last hope for survival.

Is this the end?


What happens when you ask a bunch of losers, discipline cases, and misfits to save the galaxy from an ancient evil? The ancient evil wins, of course.

Wait. . . . Not. So. Fast.

When we last saw Squad 312, they were working together seamlessly (aka, freaking out) as an intergalactic battle raged and an ancient superweapon threatened to obliterate Earth. Everything went horribly wrong, naturally.
But as it turns out, not all endings are endings, and the team has one last chance to rewrite theirs. Maybe two. It’s complicated.

Cue Zila, Fin, and Scarlett (and MAGELLAN!): making friends, making enemies, and making history? Sure, no problem

Cue Tyler, Kal, and Auri: uniting with two of the galaxy’s most hated villains? Um, okay. That, too.

Actually saving the galaxy, though? 

Now that will take a miracle. 


Title : Aurora’s End
Author : Amie Kaufman & Jay Kristoff
Series : The Aurora Cycle (book three)
Format : eBook (overdrive)
Page Count : 512
Genre : YA sci-fi
Publisher : Knopf Books For Young Readers 
Release Date : November 9, 2021

Reviewer : Hollis
Rating : ★ ★ .5


Hollis’ 2.5 star review

I definitely didn’t expect to rate this one higher than a three but I did not quite expect to rate it lower than a three. Yet here we are.

Obviously, nothing I say in this review will make any kind of sense because it’ll all be vagueries because this here is a series ender. That aside..

This was a very.. samesies kind of series. We of course had big moments, big reveals, big heartbreaks, of varying kinds, in each instalment, but in each review I was just feeling a lot of like, no real love. Certainly not any other strong emotions about anything. And it was all that but worse in this finale.

Once again, things did take a turn I wasn’t expecting, we had some interesting direction to much of the squad’s conflict (both separate and as part of the whole) but, again, I was only half tuned in. As in, I wasn’t distracted or bored but I could easily have been pulled away from the book and not been mad about it.

Having read books by both of these authors, as solos or various duos, and enjoyed most of those other reads, I definitely don’t think it was an author or writing thing. I just think it was a plot and character thing. Mostly I just kept wishing I was reading the Illuminae Files. Sorry not sorry?

However. If you love sci-fi, if you love big stakes, aliens, romance, and action, you could probably do worse! In fact, I know you could. I also know I’m a bit of an outlier for this series so hey what do I even know. What I do know is that I might be a little less keen for whatever these specific two put out next; not in the sense that I wouldn’t pick them up but more in the sense of expectations and investment.

WRAPPED UP IN YOU by Talia Hibbert

William Reid is nothing special, except for his billion-dollar acting career and his, you know, face. (Apparently, it’s a good one.) Winning ‘Sexiest Man Alive’ was nice, but this Christmas, he has more important goals in mind… like finally winning over his best friend’s little sister, the super-smart and kinda-scary Abbie Farrell.

When a blizzard leaves Will and Abbie alone at Grandma Farrell’s house (if bunking with 27 pets counts as ‘alone’), it’s the perfect opportunity to pull off a Christmas miracle. Convincing clever, frosty Abbie to give Will a chance will take more than mistletoe, but hiding his lifelong crush on her is no longer an option.


Title : Wrapped Up In You
Author : Talia Hibbert
Format : eBook (overdrive)
Page Count : 127
Genre : contemporary romance
Publisher : Kobo Originals
Release Date : November 16, 2020

Reviewer : Hollis
Rating : ★ ★ ★ .5


Hollis’ 3.5 star review

What a perfectly timed addition to my library’s Recently Added section. Even better it was available for immediate reading which I did. Immediately. And in one sitting. Which was kind of a no brainer as it was a short little novella full of holiday cheer, angst, and romance.

I’ll admit, this time, Hibbert’s male love interest won the game. The show. My heart. A Chris Evan’s-ish kind of character, William grew up next door to Abbie but upon reaching young adulthood went to Hollywood to became an actor. And he became quite successful, actually. He is a bit of a himbo and honestly that just adds to his appeal. An appeal that was already a lot considering his intense and enduring, but patient, love for Abbie.

Abbie meanwhile has been through some stuff. She’s also not the biggest fan of Christmas. So when her longtime friend, who she’s harboured complex but impossible feelings for, suddenly reveals all on Christmas? What’s a girl to do but deny deny deny.

Anyway, I won’t go into any more detail, not that it’s hard to follow along where things go next, but. For such a short story, this was eMOTIONAL. There was a gorgeous scene between Abbie and her twin brother that just.. ugh, things got blurry. But also every confession, every hard-won exchange of feelings between the two leads, all the realness and trauma and patience was just.. gah.

I wish I could’ve had this in long novel form but even in it’s shorter span it was still delightful. I do think, though, it would have a higher rating from me had some of the issues been.. well, more of an issue, to warrant the angst. Or at least had more time to breathe? I don’t know quite how to describe it. But also, Will’s childhood? That little bit of exposition? Oh my god, I desperately want it.

Nevertheless, Hibbert rarely stumbles and this certainly isn’t one of them. Definitely a must for the season.

FROM BLOOD AND ASH by Jennifer L Armentrout

A Maiden…

Chosen from birth to usher in a new era, Poppy’s life has never been her own. The life of the Maiden is solitary. Never to be touched. Never to be looked upon. Never to be spoken to. Never to experience pleasure. Waiting for the day of her Ascension, she would rather be with the guards, fighting back the evil that took her family, than preparing to be found worthy by the gods. But the choice has never been hers.

A Duty…

The entire kingdom’s future rests on Poppy’s shoulders, something she’s not even quite sure she wants for herself. Because a Maiden has a heart. And a soul. And longing. And when Hawke, a golden-eyed guard honor bound to ensure her Ascension, enters her life, destiny and duty become tangled with desire and need. He incites her anger, makes her question everything she believes in, and tempts her with the forbidden.

A Kingdom…

Forsaken by the gods and feared by mortals, a fallen kingdom is rising once more, determined to take back what they believe is theirs through violence and vengeance. And as the shadow of those cursed draws closer, the line between what is forbidden and what is right becomes blurred. Poppy is not only on the verge of losing her heart and being found unworthy by the gods, but also her life when every blood-soaked thread that holds her world together begins to unravel.


Title : From Blood and Ash
Author : Jennifer L Armentrout
Series : Blood and Ash #1
Format : ebook
Page Count : 622
Genre : Fantasy/PNR
Publisher : Indie
Release Date : March 29, 2020

Reviewer : Micky
Rating : ★ ★ ★ ★


Micky’s 4 star review

Headlines:
Slow start but picked up at 20%
Shocks around the corners
Jaw dropping addiction

That was one hell of a ride! From Blood and Ash starts slow, there’s world building to be done but do not be put off because by 15-20% of the way in, it was an addiction. That world building I mentioned? Yeah, some of that comes tumbling down, all to shock the reader.

Poppy as a character was complex and well-constructed. She was a woman shielded from life but revered and abused at the same time. She had scars in all the ways and I loved her tenacity, badassery and deep compassion. Hawke was a complex character and more difficult to fathom, shady as-**** but appealing all the same. I still feel conflicted but addicted by him at the end. There was serious conflict between these two that channeled in lust and hate.

Plot wise, this was cleverly thought out, lulling the reader into one way of thinking then producing twist after twist. I dropped into some buddies DMs giving them live reactions and gif while they laughed at me. Such a satisfying read in terms of unexpectedness despite the one main twist I guessed.

It’s not a perfect read with the slow start but it feels like a great read all the same. I can’t wait to read the next one.

I’ve read pretty much all of JLA’s catalogue and I’ve been reading her nearly for a decade but she still managed to surprise me with this one and this was probably the most steamy of hers I’ve read.

IF WE WERE VILLAINS by M.L. Rio

Oliver Marks has just served ten years in jail – for a murder he may or may not have committed. On the day he’s released, he’s greeted by the man who put him in prison. Detective Colborne is retiring, but before he does, he wants to know what really happened a decade ago.

As one of seven young actors studying Shakespeare at an elite arts college, Oliver and his friends play the same roles onstage and off: hero, villain, tyrant, temptress, ingenue, extra. But when the casting changes, and the secondary characters usurp the stars, the plays spill dangerously over into life, and one of them is found dead. The rest face their greatest acting challenge yet: convincing the police, and themselves, that they are blameless. 


Title : If We Were Villains
Author : M.L. Rio
Format : eBook (overdrive)
Page Count : 368
Genre : contemporary mystery
Publisher : Flatiron Books
Release Date : April 11, 2017

Reviewer : Hollis
Rating : ★ ★ ★ ★ 


Hollis’ 4 star review

Considering I only recently read The Secret History, after years of build up and anticipation, and had it bomb, I opened my hold of If We Were Villains with some two-fold trepidation; one, because they are so often compared so if I hated (it was one star) the first one, wouldn’t I hate this one? And two, did it make sense to read these so close together, regardless of how I enjoyed them?

And yet here we are with four stars. Which is additionally surprising because for the first third I don’t know that I was really in this story, just along for the ride. But somewhere along the lines it grabbed me and would not let go.

Also, yes, I cried at the end. Let’s just get that out of the way.

But wow, yes, so my biggest takeaway/recommendation would be don’t classify this in the same category as The Secret History. They are definitely aesthetic cousins and there are similarities with the studious fanatic ensemble element but honestly that’s where, for me, it ends. Because in addition to those differences the writing was also vastly superior. I enjoyed these characters, I enjoyed how the narrative was set up, the mystery of it all, and well.. pretty much everything. Except the stuff that broke my heart, that was rude. But in a good way.

Probably the strangest thing, however, was that the majority of this book takes place in 1997 and yet it never felt like it. Neither timeline felt like any particular time and so it feels strange to even mention a distinct year. It will likely help it to endure, to not be bogged down by referenced, but I wonder why the distinction was ever made. I’ll have to check out reviews and see if my little brain missed something.

Having said that, my brief skimming of reviews did reveal that the biggest hurdle of this book for other readers was a lack of familiarity with the subject matter; and while I get that, I cannot claim to be an expert or even an intermediary on the subject of Shakespeare, and yet it still worked for me. I think this is going to be a very hit or miss thing for each reader with or without knowledge of the Bard. But that’s just my two cents.

I will be very keen to read whatever this author comes out with next and, being that this released back in 2017, I’m sure there’s a very long queue to join in anticipation over whatever that might be.

JINGLE ALL THE WAY by Debbie Macomber

A young workaholic avoiding home for the holidays discovers that you can’t run away from who you are–a heartfelt Christmas novel from #1 New York Times bestselling author Debbie Macomber.

Everly Lancaster always dreamed of leaving her hometown in rural Illinois. Now she helps run a burgeoning startup in Chicago, where her professional goals leave little time for friends…or a vacation.

When a massive snowstorm hits, Everly’s mother urges her to come home for Christmas, but she hesitates to return to the life she’s worked so hard to escape. Searching for other holiday plans, Everly tasks her assistant with booking her a cruise–the perfect getaway. Embarking on a weeklong tour of the Amazon guided by charming naturalist Asher Adams, Everly slowly but surely begins to realize that relationships are more important than work–and just might decide to journey home just in time for Christmas Day.

Debbie Macomber’s signature wintry warmth shines in this holiday delight.


Title : Jingle All The Way
Author : Debbie Macomber
Format : Paperback
Page Count : 235
Genre : Christmas Romance
Publisher : Sphere Books
Release Date : October 13, 2020

Reviewer : Micky
Rating : ★ ★ .5


Micky’s 2.5 star review

Headlines:
Don’t be fooled by that snowy scene
Emotionally naive characters
Odd plot

So, colour me surprised when the story quickly left snowy Chicago for the Amazon and a non-luxury and outward bound cruise for all things rainforest and creature. It immediately lost its christmassy feels and although it did come full circle in the end, this was rather disconcerting.

The characters Everly and Asher were well matched in that they both seemed emotionally 13 rather than their late 20’s with hardly a decent relationship in their past between them. Insta-declarations were all over the place. If that’s your cuppa, this story might work better for you.

Readers need to stow their realism as Everly got into an excessive amount of scrapes and Asher was there to rescue, always. I didn’t buy into this couple and I didn’t feel this chemistry. This was easy reading, even if it was eye-roll inducing.

I won’t be recommending this Christmas read that is low on Christmas feels and was underdeveloped in terms of plot and characterisation.

Thank you to Sphere Books for the review copy.

ANY SIGN OF LIFE by Rae Carson

When a teenage girl thinks she may be the only person left alive in her town—maybe in the whole world—she must rely on hope, trust, and her own resilience.

Paige Miller is determined to take her basketball team to the state championship, maybe even beyond. But as March Madness heats up, Paige falls deathly ill. Days later, she wakes up attached to an IV and learns that the whole world has perished. Everyone she loves, and all of her dreams for the future—they’re gone.

But Paige is a warrior, so she pushes through her fear and her grief. And as she gets through each day—scrounging for food, for shelter, for safety—Paige encounters a few more young survivors. Together, they might stand a chance. But as they struggle to endure their new reality, they learn that the apocalypse did not happen by accident. And that there are worse things than being alone.


Title : Any Sign of Life
Author : Rae Carson
Format : eBook (overdrive)
Page Count : 384
Genre : post-apocalyptic / sci-fi / YA
Publisher : Greenwillow Books
Release Date : October 12, 2021

Reviewer : Hollis
Rating : ★ ★ ★ 


Hollis’ 3 star review

So, I’ll admit this was only on my radar because I’m a fan of the author and I went into this knowing not even the bare bones of the summary. Which, for anyone who wants to avoid plague/pandemic/world ending events..? I would not recommend doing. Take this as your warning.

While this is not COVID (though it is mentioned that the main character did live through it during her childhood) there is another reason why she wakes up after an almost week-long coma to discover everyone around her has died. It definitely unfolds in a pandemic-life way but quickly becomes something else. Mostly.

This clearly wasn’t a favourite but I was loving the beginning. It’s gruesome, eerie, and strange, and I was really digging it. Later, as things are explained, it was still somewhat interesting but this definitely isn’t a unique premise, even if the details aren’t an exact copy from anything that I can think of.

Be warned, though, that I’m really not overusing the word gruesome.

Sadly this didn’t seem to have any of the author’s particular brand of excellence but it’s also not something I’ve seen from her before, either, as she generally sticks to fantasy, not contemporary. There were definitely some really good bits, though, and it definitely didn’t stand out as a flop by any means. But it won’t be one I can recommend, either, purely because I’m not sure everyone is ready to dive into this kind of content yet — or ever again.

THE MAN WHO DIED TWICE by Richard Osman

It’s the following Thursday.

Elizabeth has received a letter from an old colleague, a man with whom she has a long history. He’s made a big mistake, and he needs her help. His story involves stolen diamonds, a violent mobster, and a very real threat to his life.

As bodies start piling up, Elizabeth enlists Joyce, Ibrahim and Ron in the hunt for a ruthless murderer. And if they find the diamonds too? Well, wouldn’t that be a bonus?

But this time they are up against an enemy who wouldn’t bat an eyelid at knocking off four septuagenarians. Can The Thursday Murder Club find the killer (and the diamonds) before the killer finds them?


Title : The Man Who Died Twice
Author : Richard Osman
Series : Thursday Murder Club
Format : eBook (overdrive)
Page Count : 336
Genre : crime / mystery
Publisher : Penguin
Release Date : September 16, 2021

Reviewer : Hollis
Rating : ★ ★ ★ ★


Hollis’ 4 star review

While I said this series maybe wasn’t for those looking for thrills, this second instalment in the Thursday Murder Club maybe made me a bit of a liar. It definitely won’t compare to some of the usual thrillers but things did get a touch hairier and definitely more intense. Also a tiiiiny bit outlandish but I mean.. you see the concept of this series, right? It’s kind of expected.

I want to organize a meeting with the mafia. [..]
Of course you do. Any reason? Or was bridge canceled and you had a slot in your diary?

What I didn’t expect, though honestly how could I not, was that I would be even more in love with the characters of this series than I already was. I overused the word delightful in my first review but honestly it does them justice. One even broke my heart quite a lot. Honestly, I dare you to be unmoved by this group. Dare you.

The mystery, too, was great. We had a converging of schemes and plots and it all fell together beautifully. Unrealistically maybe? But I thought it was great. And I absolutely loved the end.

It feels strange to not have more to say but all I’ll leave you with is that I do, still, maybe even more than before, recommend this series. And I can’t wait for more to come.

THE RIGHTEOUS by Renee Ahdieh

The third book in the instant New York Times bestselling series that began with The Beautiful.

Pippa Montrose is tired of losing everything she loves. When her best friend Celine disappears under mysterious circumstances, Pippa resolves to find her, even if the journey takes her into the dangerous world of the fae, where she might find more than she bargained for in the charismatic Arjun Desai.

Renée is back with her rich, atmospheric fantasy world that will continue to enthrall readers, new romance and mystery, and lush, pacey writing.


Title : The Righteous
Author : Renee Ahdieh
Series : The Beautiful #3
Format : eARC
Page Count : 432
Genre : Historical Fantasy
Publisher : Hodder Books
Release Date : December 7, 2021

Reviewer :  Micky
Rating : ★ ★ ★ ★ 


Micky’s 4 star review

Headlines:
Different couple
Trust no one
The vale and the wyld

I thought I didn’t want to leave Bastian and Celine behind at the end of The Damned but Renee Ahdieh wrote Anjan and Pippa so well that I changed my focus incredibly quickly and got involved in their story. These two had a subtle but palpable connection that grew.

This story took readers away from familiar territories and into the vale and the wyld. The fey were a nasty bunch and not one of them felt trustworthy. I’ve come out of this book wondering about some of the characters, who is genuine (or not) and how things will resolve. Errr, yes there is a book four coming.

Good news for all fans of this series is that we got a fair chunk of Bastian and Celine and a little of Michael too. I enjoyed the tentative stepping needed in the vale and wyld, I loved the different fey creatures, especially the mischievious small fey. So right now, I need all my questions answering and the next book, pretty please!

Thank you to Hodder Books for the early review copy.

NEAR THE BONE by Christina Henry

A woman trapped on a mountain attempts to survive more than one kind of monster, in a dread-inducing horror novel from the national bestselling author Christina Henry.

Mattie can’t remember a time before she and William lived alone on a mountain together. She must never make him upset. But when Mattie discovers the mutilated body of a fox in the woods, she realizes that they’re not alone after all.

There’s something in the woods that wasn’t there before, something that makes strange cries in the night, something with sharp teeth and claws.

When three strangers appear on the mountaintop looking for the creature in the woods, Mattie knows their presence will anger William. Terrible things happen when William is angry.


Title : Near the Bone
Author : Christina Henry
Format : eBook (overdrive)
Page Count : 336
Genre : horror / paranormal?
Publisher : Berkley
Release Date : April 13, 2021

Reviewer : Hollis
Rating : ★ ★ .5


Hollis’ 2.5 star review

I picked this up thinking it would satisfy the part of me that wanted something wintry with the part of me that was still wanting spookier or thriller-y type reads. And it gave me both of those things for sure. But did I like it? Eh.

In addition to a horror, with possibly some kind of paranormal aspect, Near the Bone is about.. other things. That may actually be very spoilery, now that I’ve read the synopsis. Ahem. Anyway, it’s a very isolated and claustrophobic kind of story, for all that it’s set in the woods, and there is a horrific reason why Mattie is there in the first place. Which, again, I won’t spoil. I just wish.. well, I kept waiting for a “why” for the whole thing and I’m left unsatisfied because there wasn’t a good why. But maybe that’s realistic. Maybe that’s the whole point. And yet, still, unsatisfied.

This is unsettling and disturbing for a whole host of reasons and in hindsight both of the main conflicts and reasons for disturbance are kind of just things that happen, or have happened, and we go along with them without ever getting true explanations. Again, maybe that’s the whole point, maybe that’s supposed to make it all scarier. I definitely needed more, though.

This isn’t my first read by this author and I think to some degree I’m always left feeling a bit like this after reading her books (though the ones I’ve read before were some of her dark retellings) so I probably shouldn’t have been surprised.

Definitely wouldn’t recommend but due to the thrilling nature, and how everything comes to light for Mattie, it does make it a fast read, so. There’s that.

Create your website with WordPress.com
Get started