Announcing the 2021 N. N. Light Book Awards - Winners #books #bestbooks2021 #bookawards #bookish



We at N. N. Light's Book Heaven read a wide variety of books every year. 2021 was no different. We read and reviewed over 1,800 books this year. As the year draws to a close, we award the best books of the year (December 2020 - November 2021). Each of these books was given a 5 star or 5+ star review by N. N. Light's Book Heaven and they are highly recommended reads. These are the winners along with our review for each book:


Action/Adventure:

Releasing the Catch by Jeny Heckman


Mack Carter craves adventure and when he hears about how much money there is in crab fishing, he leaves his crappy life behind and heads up north to Alaska. He befriends Nels Pearson who teaches him everything about crab fishing, from the bottom rung up to the captain’s chair. They form an unbreakable bond and a life-long friendship. Through hard work, heartbreak, tragic events and the dangerous waters of the Bering Sea, Mack, Nels, and Nels’ young daughter Faith navigate and thrive as a family unit. Not even death can separate these three. When Faith insists on being treated like an equal, Mack agrees. She’s lived through it all and can do anything on a fishing vessel that any man can do, but what happens when love sweeps her off her feet? Can she find balance for all her loves (fishing, family, and romance), or will she be forced into choosing one over the other?


Releasing the Catch is a heart-wrenching adventure story I couldn’t stop reading. It reels you in hook, line and sinker. I connected with the characters right away, especially Faith. The sheer amount of death she must deal with broke my heart over and over. While the struggles she faces in her youth creates the strong woman later on, her wounds never fully heal. This part of her personality is not only authentic but bonds Faith with the reader. Jeny Heckman is a brilliant writer and her ability to draw the reader in is evident in her descriptive narration. I’ve never been on a commercial fishing boat but after reading Releasing the Catch, I’m ready to give it a go. The intricate ins and outs of crab fishing is detailed with precision in Releasing the Catch. Well done to Jeny Heckman for all the research she did for this book. Releasing the Catch is a must-read for adventure fans. If you like strong female characters, you’ll love Releasing the Catch. An emotional story about taking risks, family and fishing, Releasing the Catch is a must-read.


Anthology/Boxed Set:

Storm & Shelter by Alina K. Field and other authors


A fierce storm rages off the coast of the small village of Fenwick on Sea, leading to complete chaos. Stranded travelers invade this village and seek refuge at The Queen’s Barque Inn. Storm & Shelter by Bluestocking Belles and friends features eight interlacing stories with dashing heroes and cutthroats, peers of the realm and servants, heroines from all walks of life, and eight love stories sure to melt your heart. A brilliant boxed set with something for every reader.


An Improbable Hero by Mary Lancaster:

An heiress on the run gets rescued by a mysterious stranger. When they are both stranded at the inn, Letty calls him her missing husband. Can she convince Simon to leave his dangerous life behind and become her improbable hero? I absolutely loved this story. Letty and Simon are polar opposites yet together, they’re perfectly matched. The romance, suspense, witty banter and sweet ending make this a must-read. Mary Lancaster is a talented writer who draws the reader into the story. This is my favorite story in the set. 5+ stars


Lord Stanton’s Shocking Seaside Honeymoon by Cerise DeLand:

After a long courtship, Josephine and Lord Stanton are married. Before they go on their honeymoon, devastating news arrives. Stanton must rescue an agent (read spy) for Josephine and her father’s business in order to secure defeat for Napoleon. A storm hits and risking his life for another, he discovers just how much his beloved loves him. A sweet romance between two mature adults in the middle of a storm where many lives are in jeopardy. Josephine is a strong-willed heroine who’ll do anything to protect those she loves. The historical accuracy is impressive and adds depth to the story. This is my first time reading Cerise DeLand and it won’t be my last. I got swept away with this one. 5 stars


The Tender Flood by Caroline Warfield:

From the moment Patience and her wagon full of boys and books arrive at the inn, Zach is smitten. When he finds out she’s an earl’s daughter, he surmises she’s above his station in life. He tries to keep his distance but when there’s a missing boy, he takes a leap of faith. Can these two souls unite during the tender flood? I’m familiar with Caroline Warfield and have read a few of her books. She weaves a heartwarming tale in The Tender Flood, blending history and romance with precision. Zach and Patience have tender hearts and are delightful to read. The boys’ antics provide some comedic relief to a tense situation. 5 stars


Before I Found You by Sherry Ewing:

All Miranda wants is to marry a wealthy gentleman. She craves a title but her beliefs are called into question when she meets Jasper at a ball. He’s rich but the only title he has is Captain. Will she throw love overboard or will she realize love is greater than any title? Sherry Ewing is a one-click author in my books and I inhale all her stories. Before I Found You is a historical romance gem from the first page to the last. The chemistry between Miranda and Jasper is electric and had me rooting for them. Fans of Bree Wolf will love this story.


The Comtesse of Midnight by Alina K. Field:

A Scottish earl in search of the missing Comtesse de Fontenay saves a French female smuggler in the storm. Little does he know his mysterious companion is a Comtesse de Fontenay but not the one he’s determined to find. Can he discovery new meaning in her embrace and love? I’m a huge fan of Alina K. Field and have read all her books. While this is a novella, the story reads like a full-length novel. I found myself captivated and read it in one sitting. From the characters to the plot to the emotional tension to the suspense, The Comtesse of Midnight is historical romance at its best. I loved it from start to finish. Highly recommend! 5+ stars


Wait for Me by Rue Allyn:

Esmeralda (also known as the pirate Irish Red) and Captain Brandon are sworn enemies. Due to the storm, they’re forced to work together and stay in close quarters. They wind up learning a lot from each other. With both loyal to the sea, can their shared passion turn to love for each other? Wait for Me is a pirate romance where opposing sides come together in a fiery embrace. I was drawn to Esmeralda’s spirit right away. A female pirate? I love this twist to Rue Allyn’s story. Once I started reading, I couldn’t stop. The descriptive narration transported me while the romance filled my heart with emotions. A brilliant story. 5 stars


A Dream Come True by Jude Knight:

The last thing on Vicar Barnaby Somerville’s mind is finding a wife. When the storm hits, a beautiful young woman sweeps into his life. He knows her stay is only temporary, so he cherishes her company and her sweet temperament with his young wards. Can she be his answering prayer, his dream come true? A Dream Come True is such an uplifting, feel-good romance. As I read, I kept rooting for these two to make it work. This is my first time reading Jude Knight and I enjoyed it immensely. There’s so much emotion packed into the story, I quickly became attached to the characters. Before I knew it, the story ended. I wanted to stay a little while longer. If you like sweet cozy romances, you’ll love A Dream Come True. 5 stars


A Kiss by the Sea by Grace Burrowes:

Thaddeus Pennrith has suffered greatly. The only place he’s felt at home is at Fenwick on Sea, working as a blacksmith. When the storm brings him Lady Sarah Weatherby, he knows he must choose between staying hidden and risking his heart for love. Which path will truly heal him? A Kiss by the Sea is a heart wrenching historical romance. Two tortured souls not looking for love, but for shelter out of the storm. Grace Burrowes is a bestselling author and it’s easy to see why. She creates a romance so compelling, the reader becomes part of the story. Once I started, I couldn’t stop reading until the very end. Several bookish friends have urged me to read Grace Burrowes and now I understand why she comes so highly recommended. A brilliant writer and one that I will read again. Fans of Julia Quinn will want to read A Kiss by the Sea. 5+ stars


Audiobooks:

No Known Address by Jo A Hiestand


Summary –

Three years ago, Luke went missing. His father hires Michael McLaren to discover is Luke is alive or dead. As McLaren investigates, he suspects the pressures of life got the better of Luke and he just ran away. Lies, deceit, false identity and more spurn McLaren too close and someone tries to silence him. Will the assault quiet McLaren or will he root out what happened to Luke?


Narrator’s overall voice –

Callum Hale is a superb narrator, one of the best I’ve heard. His voice creates the imagery needed to follow the story. His soothing British accent works perfectly for this story.


Does the narrator fit the characters?

Callum uses different dialects for each character which is so helpful while listening. There were many times I would close my eyes and could picture what was going on. Callum also invokes emotion while reading. I found myself getting carried away into the story.


Narrator’s reading style –

Callum’s reading style is the perfect tempo, allowing the listener to be fully invested in the story.


Narrator’s impact on reading experience –

Callum makes this one of the best books I’ve listened to. Everything from his pacing to the inflection in his voice to the recreation of the characters to the emotional impact on the listener all combine to an excellent reading experience.


Narrator’s pacing –

Callum’s pacing is slow in parts, quick in others, which comes across as natural ebbs and flows of the story. It’s a wonderful performance.


Audiobook flow –

The flow of the audiobook is right in line with the flow of the story. I immersed myself in the mystery and thoroughly enjoyed it.


What makes this audiobook unique –

What a superb performance by Callum. He becomes McLaren, at least for my imagination.


Would I recommend this audiobook –

YES! It’s such a wonderful listen, especially for fans of British mysteries and mysteries.


Beach Read:

Return of the Runaway Bride by Nancy Fraser


A runaway bride returns to her hometown a successful romance author yet craves for the groom she left behind. They say you can’t outrun your past and Emily Bennett wish it wasn’t true. After leaving five years ago, she’s back at Last Chance Beach. Unfortunately, it’s not only for a much-needed vacation. She’s a bestselling author and one of her books is about to be made into a movie; they are shooting on location in her hometown. Her ex is also back in town. Talk about awkward. Seeing Chase again brings back emotions she thought were long buried. Could this reunion turn into something more than a fling? Can Emily and Chase get their second chance at love, or will old hurts rear their ugly heads and sever this couple’s love forever?


Return of the Runaway Bride is a second chance romance sure to pluck at your heartstrings. I adore summer romances and Return of the Runaway Bride is the ultimate beach read. There’s sun, surf, beach, reunion of lovers, two big secrets revealed, best friends, hot summer nights, and a second chance at love. Nancy Fraser is a gifted writer who creates characters so real, they become a part of you. She blends heart-racing romance with emotional tension with ease so the reader is transported inside the story. My heart went out to both Emily and Chase time and again. I kept rooting for them to work it out. I was so engrossed while reading, I neglected household chores and even a few hours of sleep. If you love romance, pick up Return of the Runaway Bride. If your reading jam is second-chance romance, you’ll inhale Return of the Runaway Bride. It’s the ultimate summer read. Highly recommend!


Children’s Books:

Charles McCheese: And The Childhood News Network by Emma Jean


A fun and exciting read for kids! Charles isn't your typical kid, but he acts like the normal kid which makes this fun. There are a ton of lessons to be learned from reading this book. You learn to be willing to accept new ideas. You learn that others have valid things to offer too. You learn that seasick children shouldn't ride across the Pacific on an aircraft carrier! You learn some truth too. Puppy and kitten videos can be big rating grabbers. You learn everyone loves a rubber ducky, even royalty. This book is a clever concept that flows smoothly from one day to the next. The author captures the innocence of child with an ebullience of fantasy thrown in. The creativity of concepts will appeal to both child and parent. A very fun book that will be a must read for kids.


Christian Fiction/Romance/Thriller:

A Measure of Madness by Kim McMahill


The stakes couldn’t be higher for FBI agent Devyn Nash and her team. They’ve finally located the architect behind the deadly organization, Coterie. When trying to bring him in, bullets rain and Coterie agents flee. Devyn and her partner are hot on the trail when her partner winds up in the hospital with life-threatening injuries. More determined than ever to capture these vile people affiliated with Coterie and bring them to justice, Devyn defies orders and goes after them. She puts her job, her career, her relationship with Sheriff Gage, her very life, on the line. Has she taken a measure of madness or will she be the latest victim in Coterie’s lethal plan?


A Measure of Madness is a thrilling suspense from start to finish. I’ve read every book in the Risky Research series and this one is my favorite. Maybe it’s because I know these characters like the back of my hand, yet they continue to surprise me. Maybe it’s because the plot is so well-designed and executed, it takes my breath away. Maybe as the net is closing in on the bad men and women of Coterie, the stakes rachet up the suspense. Whatever it is, I couldn’t put it down. I lost sleep over this book. I thought about A Measure of Madness when I wasn’t reading. My mind reeled at the possible outcomes and when the ending finally arrived, I was blown away. Such a brilliant book and in my opinion, the best one Kim McMahill has written. If you’re a fan of suspense, drama, a touch of adventure and a thrilling chase, you’ll want to read A Measure of Madness. Kim McMahill has solidified herself in the genre nicely. Highly recommend!


Coming of Age:

The Search for Synergy by Brett Salter


This is one of the best young adult books ever written. This reminds this reader of the classic YA books that I grew up with. It has the feel of a classic Hardy boys mystery, the ones from last century.


This is a fantastic adventure that focuses on two young heroes - Rome and Julian - who unite to battle monsters threatening Earth. Well written and creatively described, the book is a pleasure to read. Here you have a book about 13-year-olds who go to school and there is NO BULLYING. That makes this book super special. Here is proof you can write a fantastic young adult book and not include bullying. EVERY other writer should take note, learn this lesson, and never write about bullying again.


The story is incredible and every young reader will love this book. This is the first book in what will be a fantastic series. I personally can't wait to read the next part of this tale. Truly a brilliant YA adventure that should be made into a tv series.


Contemporary Romance:

Breathe by Lucinda Race


Tessa Price never expected her life to change so dramatically when she bought Sand Creek Winery. She fully intended to take over her family’s winery but when her brother, the prodigal son, returned, her father snubbed her, choosing her brother instead. Branching out on her own drives her to make Sand Creek Winery a success. But in order to do that, she must convince the previous owner, Max, to stay on for one year. He reluctantly agrees and they discover they work well together. They can’t deny the heat which simmers between them. Like a fine wine, relationships need time to breathe and grow. But when a terrible accident takes place, they discover their foundation is not built on firm ground. Will it destroy their burgeoning romance or will they realize how scintillating love can be?


Breathe is one of the best romances I’ve read. As a wine lover, I was instantly transported to Finger Lakes, New York, and the wine industry. Every nuance, every detail of the winemaking business is beautifully described. Intricate narration allowed me to escape the cold and travel to lush landscapes. The plot moves at a great pace with a fairly large cast of characters. Since this is book one of a series, there’s a fair bit of background information but it’s done a little morsel at a time. Excellent work by Lucinda Race, to not info dump on the reader. Each character presented has its own voice and I found myself wondering if they will get their own story. Breathe’s couple is Tessa and Max. While combative in the beginning, love soon smoothes out the rough edges. The romance is sweet, slow-burning and I loved every minute of it. I sighed with contentment when I finished the book. A delicious romance to savor, Breathe is a must-read, perfect for wine lovers. Highly recommend!


Cozy Mystery:

Death by Sample Size by Susie Black


“The question isn’t who wanted the victim dead; who didn’t?”


No kidding, Columbo. Get in the boat and row.


Bunny Frank may have been diabolical but that doesn’t mean she deserved to be murdered. Swimwear sales executive Holly never expected finding big wig buyer Bunny dead humorous, but her reaction echoed off the parking garage. Sure, everyone had a reason to hate Bunny, Holly included, but murder? Nah. The police call it a rage murder and seek Holly’s assistance. Holly reluctantly agrees, especially after they arrest her coworker. Holly slyly investigates on her own time. As she narrows the suspects, she herself becomes a target. Can Holly nab the killer before she becomes the next death by sample size?


Death by Sample Size is a hilarious cozy mystery that will have you clutching your sides. In my previous life, I worked in fashion on the store level. Fashion is a cutthroat industry, and I am sure there were many people who wanted to off conniving buyers. From the start, the one-liners of Holly’s inner dialogue kept me invested in the story and gave me comic relief. My favorite lines are at the top of this review. Classic. Holly is an honest character, to a fault at times, and it endeared me to her. I connected with her on so many levels. The mystery itself is so well-conceived with quite a few twists and turns, I didn’t know who the killer was until it was revealed to me. Kudos to Susie Black for a superb cozy plot with red herrings, a full cast of characters, a wise-cracking ME and a bumbling detective. An added bonus was the ins and outs of the swimsuit industry. That, in itself, was worth the read. Death by Sample Size is Susie Black’s debut novel, yet you’d never guess by the quality of the writing. Sophisticated prose, characters that leap off the page, snappy dialogue, all make Death by Sample Size a must-read. I look forward to reading more from Susie Black. Highly recommend!


Dark Romance:

Reign of Temptation by A.G. Kirkham


When an author writes a brilliantly first book in a series, they have set the bar pretty high. Reign of Temptation exceeded every expectation. The story is so well written, the prose can only be described as smooth. The characters are so engaging, the reader is immediately caught up in their concerns and cares. The story of Reno and Anna is, in many ways, even better than the incredible story of Nero and Felicity (Reign of Pride).


I say this next part with 100% sincerity - If you are an author who is writing the first book in your series, you must read Reign of Pride and Reign of Temptation. These two books are definitively how to write a sequel that works as book two and a solo. Here you are given subtle information that fills in a new reader or gently refreshes a knowledgeable reader. There is no info dumping and you are never left scratching your head. You are never bored or feel you are reading the book over. I again say: aspiring authors, read these books and see how it is done.


Exciting, romantic, mysterious with edge of your seat action and off the scale heat between a husband and a wife. I started this book thinking, how can this compare to the amazing book 1? I finished realizing this book is better than the first great one. Reign of Temptation is outstanding and the basis of the third book has me hungry to read the next one. Reign of Temptation will appeal to every fan of a soprano. This book will appeal to every reader of organized crime fiction. I recommend Reign of Temptation and the series to everyone. This is a brilliant work.


Dystopian:

Heart of a Traitor by CC Bolick


All Chase can think about is freeing his sister from the kidnappers. He can’t eat, can’t sleep, and worst of all, the woman he loves is lying to him. He’s the future prince of Golvern yet he’s blindsided by an enemy who holds the key to their planet’s future. Will Chase be able to get to his sister in time? What’s the point in getting a glimpse of the future when you’re powerless to stop it?


Heart of a Traitor is one of those books which yanks out your heart then places it gently back in your chest. You’re not quite the same yet the change makes you a better person. C.C. Bolick is known for her immense talent for writing science fiction. This time, she’s delving into dystopian. From the first page, I was hooked. The characters leap off the page and into your heart. The plot moves at an excellent pace, with equal parts action and emotional tension. There’s a lot at stake for several of the characters so the friction is intense. C.C. Bolick’s ability to draw out a plot with just enough revealed to string the reader along is masterful. There were times when I became part of the story and I kept shaking my e-reader while yelling at the characters. And the ending… oh my! I didn’t see it coming. If you love dystopian, you’ll want to read Heart of a Traitor. Fans of Veronica Roth will love Heart of a Traitor and will want to binge-read the whole series. C.C. Bolick’s writing gets better and better. I can’t wait to read her next series.


Erotic Romance:

Finding Tiegan by Hanna Park


Two lost souls find each other in the heart of Portugal, but can they leave the past behind and walk together towards the future? Tiegan needs to let go of the past and rediscover who she is, so she takes a holiday in Portugal. The last thing she expects is sexy as sin Tomas, a mysterious man who lights her heart on fire. The only problem is his hot and cold attitude. There’s a haunted expression behind his sultry gaze. One touch is all it takes and Tiegan yearns for more. Can she bring him out of the shadow of grief and into the light of the living?


Finding Tiegan is a sweeping erotic paranormal romance I couldn’t stop reading. From the very first page, I connected with Tiegan. She’s such a complex heroine. She’s got a sassy side to her personality which I really enjoyed. Both the hero and heroine are haunted by past loves yet there’s something drawing them together. What is it? I’m not going to reveal here but trust me, you’ll savor the touching moments the journey takes the reader on. The plot moves at a nice slow pace with intricate descriptive narration. Hanna Park has a talent for writing unforgettable characters dealing with insurmountable grief. Emotional, heart-wrenching prose take the reader on a journey of self-discovery, passion, and romance. Fans of Nicholas Sparks will love this erotic tale. Highly recommend!


Erotic Romantic Suspense:

Desire and Deception by Sharon Buchbinder


Spoiled and used to getting what she wants, Isabel Ramirez is a force to be reckoned with. She's the daughter of a drug lord and climbing the ladder of success in a professional academic field. Just when she's about to get everything she's ever wanted, her boss uncovers her lies. Together with her boy-toy and graduate assistant, Sean Richards, she hatches a plan. No problem, a little 'accident' takes care of her boss. The one person she doesn't count on is her friend nosing around. Isabel is facing a tough decision: kill her friend to hide the truth or come clean and be the woman Sean knows her to be?


Desire and Deception is an inferno of romance, suspense, and moving ahead in the academic arena. There's plenty of twists and turns in this steamy romance which made for a compelling read. Sharon Buchbinder is known for paranormal romance and it was refreshing to see her tackle blistering hot romantic suspense. From the first page, I was enraptured by the character Isabel. She's a clever mix of siren, social climber, villainess, and lover of younger men. She does have a vulnerability which can only be seen by looking underneath all the tough exterior. Sean saw it and so did I. I'm familiar that tenure is cutthroat but who knew it would be so thrilling to read? Sharon Buchbinder is a brilliant writer with a gift for building suspense. I thoroughly enjoyed reading Desire and Deception. I recommend this book to any reader who loves steamy romantic suspense with strong heroines. I look forward to reading more of this from Sharon Buchbinder.


Fantasy:

Celtic Myst by M.L. Foxx


A sacred chalice forged by the gods, now lost, must be recovered in order to restore peace and prosperity to the clans. Mourdra is a witch obsessed with envy, for the clans have denied her what she craves most. She vows revenge and steals the chalice, leaving guardian Amergin doomed to wander the Earth and unable to protect the clans.


Aibell, heir of the de Danann clan, trains for her quest to find the lost relic. With the help of Amergin and an army willing to fight to the death, she will face her greatest enemy and reclaim the chalice. Nothing is ever easy, Aibell soon learns, and she’ll need the strength of her ancestors to be victorious.


But reclaiming the Cupán of Flúirse is not enough, it must be returned to its rightful place, the Tomb of the Tuatha de Danann. Through time, the location has been lost. Amergin is once again tasked to guide the de Danann in order to fulfill the prophecy. They must travel through darkness, battle plenty of foes and reach their final destination. Will they complete their quest or will the sacred chalice be lost forever?


Celtic Myst: The Complete Trilogy is a brilliant epic fantasy from start to finish. The world building is exceptional and truly transports the reader. What makes it such a compelling read is how M.L. Foxx layers in classic Celtic mythology. The plot progression is paced perfectly, with natural ebbs and flows. The characters are so well developed, they became a part of me. It’s been a long time since I’ve read such a sublime fantasy trilogy and yes, I believe Professor Tolkien would agree. If you’re looking for your next epic fantasy to binge-read, pick up Celtic Myst: The Complete Trilogy. Highly recommend!


Fantasy Romance:

In Mage We Trust by Heidi Vanlandingham


Thrown into a magical world she doesn’t understand, metal mage Johnna must defeat her rogue mage grandfather who wants her dead, a wicked queen who’ll do anything for power, and her growing attraction to a sexy demon enforcer. College student Johnna’s life is turned upside down when she dies, well sort of, and a zombie saves her. Turns out the ‘zombie’ named Niki is actually a sexy as sin demon enforcer to the king of a realm of the Dark World. There’s a rogue mage running around murdering demons and his next target is Johnna. But the more she learns, the more family secrets are unearthed. Reuniting with her parents and teaming with Niki, they hunt for the truth behind the lies and discover a traitor amongst them. Can Johnna defeat the wicked queen’s plan to take over the Dark World, all while trying to sort out her feelings for Niki, or will she fail when she’s needed the most?


In Mage We Trust is a magical story about family secrets, falling for the wrong guy, and saving hell from a power-hungry demoness. I started reading this book not knowing what to expect and stayed up half the night. I couldn’t put it down. Johnna is a heroine who gets in your head and sets up camp. Trust me, this is a good thing. I adored Niki and his inner conflict. I mean, just think of the age gap between a demon who been around a couple millennium and a twenty-something. The connection these two share was pretty intense and I loved every minute of it. The world building was intricate and beautifully described. There were so many layers and as a fantasy reader, once I entered the Dark World, I didn’t want to leave. There’s plenty of action in this story as well as plenty of romance. If you’re looking for your next series to binge-read, you’ll want to start with In Mage We Trust. In Mage We Trust is one of the best books I’ve read in 2021. Highly recommend!


Fiction/Literary Fiction:

The Goalie by Angelo R. Lopez


Only in the last few years has the curtain been pulled back on mental health issues with pro athletes. This book is a clarion call for the spotlight to be shone on this critical area.


This is an incredibly important book. It is extremely well written and tells a gripping story. That this story centers on one great athlete suffering with mental health struggles elevates this book. The story is well paced and developed. A reader quickly becomes connected to Ben and cares deeply for this character. The other characters are brilliantly developed.


This book is even for people who do not understand hockey. The author takes the time to explain the game in a way that isn't preaching. The game is clearly defined in a way that makes sense as part of the story being told. That is the sign of a gifted writer. Many could take a lesson to not assume your readers understand the basics of a book.


The illustration of Ben's struggles is harrowing to read. They are so realistic as is the difficulty athletes face opening up about their problems. The world is making strides in accepting mental health as not a definition of a person. The world of pro athletes is one of the last that needs to understand this.


A wonderful book that tells a superb tale. Recommended to every fan of the game of hockey. Recommended to anyone battling with mental health issues or those who know someone who is. This book will open the eyes about the reality of mental health challenges. A tremendously important book for the world to embrace.


Historical Fiction:

Through Forests and Mountains by Margaret Walker


It’s 1942 and fascism is sweeping through Europe like the plague. Many strong men have gone off to war, leaving farmers and women to fend for themselves. Mara is one of those women and she is thrilled when she is allowed to fight back, with a weapon no less. When she meets Anton, she’s not sure what to make of his scowl. He’s got a bullet wound in the head but maybe it is more than that. As they travel through the forests and mountains in Yugoslavia, one thing is certain: death to fascism by any means necessary.


Through Forests and Mountains is a riveting tale of World War II not often told. The Germans were unstoppable until Tito in Yugoslavia came up with a brilliant plan. Margaret Walker takes us inside one of the most successful resistance groups who thwarted the Nazis at every turn. While this is historical fiction, Through Forests and Mountains reads like a World War II memoir. Everything from the setting to the beautiful descriptive narration to the characters add immense enjoyment to the story. The stark contrast between Anton and Mara sets the tone for the book. The plot moves at a good pace. Margaret Walker must have done a lot of research and it shines in Through Forests and Mountains. I learned quite a bit from reading and look forward to reading more from Margaret Walker. If you’re a historical fiction reader, you’ll quite enjoy Through Forests and Mountains. If you’re looking for a fresh viewpoint on World War II, pick up Through Forests and Mountains. Highly recommend!


Historical Romance:

The Redemption of Heathcliff by Alanna Lucas


All Catherine Earnshaw wants is to escape her drunken brother and to fulfill the deathbed promise she made to her mother, to marry a man of means. The only man she loves, Heathcliff, is not only too poor but wouldn’t take her away from Wuthering Heights. Her plans go up in smoke when Heathcliff disappears into the night. Three years later, she’s in London for her first year. She needs to find a husband, but none can compare to Heathcliff. She’s resigned to never finding love when she lays eyes on the mysterious Mr. Markus Bell, whom every lady in the Ton has her sights set on. Her heart stops when she observes he has the same mannerisms as her Heathcliff. When she confronts him, he denies it but she’s certain he’s her Heathcliff. His cool demeanor belies the fire in his eyes. Can she convince him her love has never wavered but has grown over the years or will he reap his misplaced vengeance on her?


The Redemption of Heathcliff is a retelling of one of my favorite books, Wuthering Heights. The theme in Wuthering Heights is tragic, unrequited love. Alanna Lucas transforms Wuthering Heights and gives Heathcliff and Catherine their happily ever after. The couple must overcome a lot of misunderstandings and misjudgements to get to their HEA. The emotional trauma of Heathcliff and Catherine reaches out and grabs the reader by the throat. From the beginning, The Redemption of Heathcliff cast a spell on me. Beautiful, intricate narration captured my imagination, and I became a part of the story. The setting is Regency and like any Alanna Lucas story, it’s historically accurate. The character-driven plot propels the story. The ending made me cry both happy and sad tears, for I didn’t want to leave. Words don’t seem adequate enough to describe how much I truly loved The Redemption of Heathcliff. Don’t take my word for it, read it for yourself. Fans of Regency romance will fall in love with The Redemption of Heathcliff. Wuthering Heights fans will be torn by which story they like best. This is a feast for any romance reader and one I highly recommend!


Historical Western Fiction/Romance:

The Three Widows of Wylder by Julie Howard


Drawn to Wylder for different reasons, three widows find love and redemption. Clara's wishful thinking lands her with a date with a noose. Her husband's death haunts her every move. Can she find solace with her brother in Wylder? Mary Rose is in dire straits, so she jumps at the chance to escape. She helps Clara by furnishing a wagon and a horse, but will she find what she's looking for out west? Emma knows her way around horses and guns but she's hiding a dark secret. As she teams up with Clara and Mary Rose, the three women survive to make it to Wylder. Once there, three women struggle to find their place in this rugged town. Romance blooms but will it wither on the vine when their pasts catch up with them?


The Three Widows of Wylder is a feast for historical western romance readers. I love a good old-fashioned historical west story and this one has triple the action, adventure, peril, mystery, and romance. I connected with all three heroines right away. Their strength, determination, and independence struck a chord with me. The descriptive narration is immersive with historical accuracy down to the last small detail. The plot moves with perfect pacing. The dialogue is so entertaining, I couldn't stop reading. There were a few twists I didn't anticipate which added to the overall enjoyment of the story. Julie Howard is a talented writer and she expands her prowess into the historical western romance genre with The Three Widows of Wylder. If you love historical westerns, pick up The Three Widows of Wylder. If you're a fan of historical western women's fiction, you've got to read The Three Widows of Wylder. A brilliant story from start to finish, The Three Widows of Wylder is your next must-read. Highly recommend!


Holiday Romance:

Merry Little Wishing Spritz by Cherie Colyer


A premonition with a wrecking ball spurns Cassie to cast a wishing spell but the tables are turned when she’s the recipient of a spell. Cassie loves living above a bookstore and working there as well. She helps own Bea by using little spells to keep the building from falling down but she must not divulge she’s a witch. When news hits that Bea is selling to some guy named Jack, Cassie goes into full-blown panic. She creates a wishing spell and gives Bea the chance to back out of the sale. But like everything in Cassie’s life, it goes horribly wrong. Upon meeting Jack, she has all these lovey feelings toward him, a guy she wants to despise. Turns out her friend cast a spell of her own on Cassie. Sparks fly between Cassie and Jack but it’s all part of the spell, right? Or maybe, just maybe, this magical feeling she’s experiencing is love. Ugh, what’s a witch to do? Can she stop Jack from his demolition plans or will Cassie have to face facts that it’s time to move on?


Merry Little Wishing Spritz is a delightful holiday fantasy romance I couldn’t put down. This is an enemies to lovers romance with a magical twist. Cherie Colyer is a gifted paranormal romance writer, so it was fun to read her foray into holiday fantasy romance. From the very first page, there’s a whimsical undercurrent to Merry Little Wishing Spritz. Cassie is such an endearing heroine. While under the spell, her inner dialogue is hilarious. Cassie and Jack’s meet cute is adorable. Who knew peppermint bark had that kind of power? With a character-driven plot, you can’t help but feel good while reading Merry Little Wishing Spritz. The characters are vibrant with each having a distinct personality. The romance is flirty with a definite sparring vibe. I kept rooting for them to work it out. There’s something about Jack which will make readers gasp. I won’t reveal it here but trust me, you’ll fall for him. I finished reading Merry Little Wishing Spritz and I wanted to read it again and again. That is something special and it’s all thanks to writer Cherie Colyer. If you’re looking for one magical holiday romance to read, pick up Merry Little Wishing Spritz. It’s going on my annual holiday reads list. Highly recommend!


Horror:

Hungry Business: A Short Story by Maria DeBlassie


If you are looking for a creepy, fun, macabre short story, then this is for you. Maria DeBlassie quickly places the reader in the story. Gifted in the way there is no info dump, and nothing takes away from the flow. You are suddenly a struggling to be alive person dating the walking dead.


Immediately I thought this was more like a Bradbury work then it really took on a King like feel. Upon completion, I honestly feel this story would have played perfectly in a film like Creepshow. Simple yet detailed, unique and innovative. A brilliantly written little gem that is equal part creepy with the plague of walking dead and equal parts cozy with the hot chocolate and watching the neighbor's cat. Confession: I enjoy watching the three cats across the road from our flat. Who knew that was a connection the alive made to be different from the undead! A great short story every paranormal or horror fan would love.


Later in Life Romance:

Compromise by Marsha R. West


Jessica fights tooth and nail for what she believes is right… will a compromise cost her to lose her life? Widow Jessica Allen loves living in beautiful Tidbury, New Hampshire. She discovers developers want to build a retirement center on the beautiful Tidbury Green, and worst of all, use the shoddy construction company who caused her husband’s death. She vocalizes her disapproval which leads to a seat on the board. As the threats and ‘accidents’ mount, she fights harder. A relationship blooms between her and developer Jeff Hudson. She tries to convince him how bad the construction company he’s partnered with is but is he willing to break the contract? Jessica knows compromise is part of life, but she won’t allow the threats to stop her. Will she die for her beliefs, or will she lose the second man she’s loved to a dangerous construction company?


Compromise is a riveting romantic suspense I couldn’t put down. From the very first scene, I connected with Jessica. She’s such a feisty heroine and her convictions are strong. The setting in New Hampshire is intricately described and I allowed myself to escape to the quaint town. Marsha R. West is masterful when it comes to seasoned romantic suspense. Her characters have such depth and heart, they become a part of you. Mature romance is very popular right now, but Marsha’s been writing it for years. The plot is equal parts romance and suspense with smooth pacing. The descriptive narration will sweep you away and you’ll become a part of the story. Compromise is pretty intense at times, and I must admit, I stayed up late into the night reading. Addictive, romantic, edge of your seat suspense, Compromise is a brilliant story. Marsha R. West has another hit on her hands. If you love romantic suspense, you’ll want to read Compromise. If you’re in the mood for a mature romance, pick up Compromise. Highly recommend!


LGBTQ:

There’s So Much I Need to Say to You by Sutton Tell


A sign that this is a great book is that it took me hours to figure out what to say in this review. From start to finish, you can't help but cheer on Taryn. The reader is able to make this character part of the reader's life right away. It is within only a couple of chapters and Taryn's happiness will be central to your own peace of mind.


A brilliantly paced book that puts the reader deep into the music scene. What the reader also grasps quickly is that love is complicated but young love is very tricky. Taryn and Shay are so much more than bandmates but how much more? For that answer, you have to read this amazing book.


The characters are rich and full. There are some very funny lines in this book too. The imagery is strong and gripping. A reader can't be more than halfway through this book without wondering aloud, 'What will happen next??'


A superb book that deals with love, accepting grief and the intricacies of celebrity lifestyle. Compelling, emotional and well written, this is a book for 2021. Recommended to every LGBTQ+ reader. Recommended to readers who enjoy rock fiction. Recommended to fans of good love stories. Just a great book.


Medieval Fiction/Romance:

Rorik by Mary Morgan


Rorik is known as the Dark Seducer. He uses his charm to get women to reveal dark secrets, all in the name of his king. Seer Ragna knows this all too well, yet her heart yearns for him. Betrayal and heartache are sure to be Ragna’s lifetime companions, so she keeps her distance, only speaking to Rorik when absolutely necessary. But when a deadly vision plagues her, she knows she must cross the North Sea into Scotland and give her warning to Rorik. She enlists the help of Magnar in case Rorik won’t listen. She loves him dearly and would risk his wrath than lose him to death. What happens next surprises them both. They must learn to trust in Rorik’s wolf or they will both perish. Can Ragna succeed in preventing Rorik’s death and securing his love or will she be too late?


Rorik is book two in Mary Morgan’s award-winning series and I truly loved reading it. Rorik’s and Ragna’s combative natures make for explosive passion when they get together. The sparring between these two had me whipping through the pages. But there’s more to this couple than meets the eye. There’s deep hurt, not to mention fears to work through. Mary Morgan writes so eloquently, the reader is whisked away and becomes a part of the story. Rorik is the Vikings version of a playboy spy and his bad boy ways are definitely swoon-worthy. Ragna is the honest ‘tell it like it is’ heroine who sees beyond the bad boy persona. The romance is enemies-to-lovers with a few twists I didn’t see coming. A beautifully written Viking paranormal romance, Rorik is a must-read this summer. Highly recommend!


Memoir:

The Awkward Armadillo by Aimee Larson


I have read a number of books about the journey through mental health issues. Every time, I am struck by the sheer courage exhibited by the author. This book is no exception. Without any doubt, Aimee is one of the bravest people in the world. To place her life story out for the world to see is so courageous.


The Awkward Armadillo is a compelling read. As you ache for Aimee's pain from her anxiety and depression, you are uplifted by her humor. This person is a miracle because deep down inside this turtle shell is the heart of a comedienne.


You cannot help but smile every time Aimee considers llamas or dragons as the creature most likely to turn the tide or save the day. The traumas and struggles Aimee survived make her a veteran. If there was one person she interacted with in her life that I could help her with, it is 'Jim'. Her old college roommate needs five minutes alone with me while I explain it is never appropriate to intimidate a person weaker than you.


People faced with anxiety and/or depression will get a lot out of this book. There is the indefatigable core that can't be defeated. Aimee shows that no matter how hard you are pushed by your monster, you can overcome. Powerful and touching, this is a book that will make you cry and make you cheer. A great read and a superb addition to the self-help area of mental health issues. The main message that resonates is having a mental health issue doesn't define a person. The example that a forest full of bunnies isn't a bunny is apt. A person with a mental health issue is just a person. A brilliantly written book that will touch anyone willing to take this journey of self improvement.


Middle Grade:

Mall Girl Meets the Shadow Vandal by Kimberly Baer


What girl wouldn't want to live in a mall? Chloe Lamont, that's who. She'd love to be like normal kids her age and live in a neighborhood. But she and her mom's house is smack dab in the middle of the mall, and Chloe will be the first to tell you it's not as fun as you might think. A vandal is egging stores in the mall and as Chloe soon discovers, they are stealing eggs from her own kitchen. Who is behind the egging and why are they framing Chloe and her mom? Chloe hasn't a clue but enlists the help of her mystery reading group at school. Can Mall Girl, as her friend calls her, and the Mystery Groupers solve this real-life mystery before it's too late?


Mall Girl Meets the Shadow Vandal is an imaginative, quirky middle-grade mystery. As a girl, I often thought how cool it would be to live at the mall. Kimberly Baer takes this idea and creates a truly original story. Chloe is a heroine every reader can relate to. She's entering the 7th grade and her best friend to this point isn't in any of her classes anymore. Chloe reluctantly makes new friends and steps outside her comfort zone. This important subplot and character development arc takes this book from a regular mystery into an emotional coming of age story. The plot progression is set at a natural pace. There's a real-life feel to Mall Girl Meets the Shadow Vandal, which impressed me. Kimberly Baer's growth as a writer is showcased in Mall Girl Meets the Shadow Vandal and I commend her. Part Beverly Cleary, part N. Drew, Mall Girl Meets the Shadow Vandal will keep you reading until the very end. I hated leaving Chloe and I wish there were more Mall Girl adventures to read. If you've ever wanted to live at the mall, pick up Mall Girl Meets the Shadow Vandal. If you're looking for a middle-grade mystery, you'll love Mall Girl Meets the Shadow Vandal. Highly recommend!


Military Fiction/Romance:

Northern Dawn by Daniel Greene


This is the book Northern Wolf fans have been waiting for! Once you crack the cover, you can't put it down. Incredible historical accuracy. I have just finished reading Bloody Roads South and this book seems taken from the pages of that history book. The reader will be hard pressed to think the 13th Michigan wasn't there in these amazing battles.


Northern Dawn rewards the reader who has gone through the trials and tribulations of Wolf. Finally, the character and bravery of this man are recognized. The pacing is perfect. The action scenes are tense. You are on the edge of your seat over and over. One of the most intense calvary fights is given great detail here.


Simply a brilliant book that will make my annual re-read list. Fantastic from start to finish. A book that raises what was a great Civil War fiction series to the level of incredible literature. Recommended to every reader of the Northern Wolf series. Recommended to every reader of military fiction. A truly magnificent book.


Mystery:

Haunted Water by Jo A. Hiestand


A body of water with a dark legend could bode evil for the living...and perhaps because of the living. A gripping mystery that takes the reader deep into the myths of Welsh folklore. Former Detective McLaren is called on to aid the relative of a deceased nemesis. An unexpected story comes from this simple storyline.


This is probably my favorite McLaren mystery that I've read in a long time. The descriptions are evocative, and you can really see the landscape. The characters are well developed with depth and richness. The action scenes are gripping. The mystery keeps the reader guessing right to the end.


A multi layered story that does all a reader needs to keep them intrigued. A brilliant standalone read. This book is also a must read for any fan of the excellent McLaren mystery series. The ending of this book makes the reader clamour for the next chapter in this story. This author has set herself a difficult task...this series is simply too well done to end.


Nonfiction:

The Successful Manager: Practical Approaches for Building and Leading High-Performing Teams by James Potter and Mike Kavanagh


The Successful Manager is the best book on managing I have ever read. This book should be mandatory reading for every current manager and anyone who aspires to be one. If you are about to become a manager for the first time, read this book.


James Potter and Mike Kavanagh have created an easily readable, well written and smooth flowing book detailing managerial life.


What struck me over and over is how past people I knew as managers have made the mistakes highlighted in this book. It is a fact that, if those mistakes hadn't been made, I might still be working at that job. In some ways, bad management decisions helped me to a better life. That isn't the point to this book. This book will be a key to creating a successful manager. The Successful Manager could be critically important to allow current managers to self evaluate. If you read this book and find you have made decisions that are pointed out as bad here, change your ways.


One of the best aspects in this book is the key point - give praise. Some managers are only heard from when a mistake happens. If an employee does a great job 19 days out of 20, he should be commended on those 19 days.


An absolute gem of a book for the management field. A brilliant work that is much needed and needs to be a must read for every person affiliated with management.


Paranormal:

Damned When I Didn’t by Cherie Colyer


One minute Avery Williams is alive, the next minute she’s dead. The afterlife is nothing like it is in books or the movies. Avery’s confusion hits new heights when she meets Cole and her new boss, Lilith. Avery is a succubus now, which is even stranger than it sounds because she’s a virgin. Lilith pairs her with Cole, an incubus, and instructs her to suck souls for a living. Avery knows she’s not cut out to be some sultry succubus so she devises a plan to skirt her duties until she can see her family one final time. But skirting her burgeoning feelings for Cole is a whole different matter. If she gives her heart to Cole, will he chuck it away or will he give her afterlife the one thing she never got as a human?


Damned When I Didn’t is such a fun paranormal romance, I loved every minute of it. The characters I connected with most are Avery and Cole, though I relished the scenes with Lilith, too. Cherie Colyer does such a magnificent job with her world-building. I let myself escape inside Avery’s world and it was hard for me to put it down. The plot moves at a nice clip with plenty of characters to interact with. The attraction between Avery and Cole was obvious from the start but Cherie Colyer threw in just the right amount of conflict to keep me turning the pages. The ending surprised me yet completed the story arc. I wish it would become a series because I honestly didn’t want to leave Avery and Cole and all the other characters. If you’re looking for a paranormal romance with a fresh take and snarky dialogue, pick up Damned When I Didn’t. Highly recommend!


Paranormal Mystery:

The Spiricom by Roslyn Reid


One man’s grief over the death of his bride propels him to build a spiricom and sucks Early into the strangest case of murder. Heartbroken over the death of his wife, Dr. Spenser Py can’t let go. He’s gone to see psychics to contact his beloved Melanie but to no avail. Wracked with survivor’s guilt, he’s built Thomas Edison’s spiricom, a device used to communicate with spirits. On the first trial of using the spiricom, Melanie speaks to him from the great beyond. She pleads with him to bring her murderer to justice. Spenser hires James Early, a detective, to track down Melanie’s killer. Early reluctantly agrees to investigate. Spenser doesn’t realize he’s opened a can of supernatural worms and his life is in jeopardy. Can Early unmask the killer and whatever else is going on before it’s too late?


The Spiricom is a spine-tingling paranormal mystery. The detailed narration is intricate and plunged the reader into the story. Every creepy sensation, from the spiricom to Spenser living in the old Hammond mansion to strange occurrences, is poignantly written to amp up the scare factor. The plot is perfectly paced with clues revealed along the way to keep you reading. James Early is a great character rooted in the explainable. Spenser, on the other hand, has his whole being invested in the paranormal, desperate to speak with his wife one more time. These two men play off each other, thus portraying polar opposites in The Spiricom. The mystery behind the murder/accident and the spiricom piqued my interest as I whipped through the pages until the very end. The explosive ending took me by surprise. The murderer was devious, cold-blooded, and their personality was unlike anything I’ve read before. Roslyn Reid is a brilliant mystery writer whose ability to blend paranormal with murder rivals King, Poe, and more. Fans of paranormal and mystery will love The Spiricom. Highly recommend!


Paranormal Romance:

Redeemed by Fire by C.J. Bahr


A supernatural serial killer closes in on Casi and Lucas, but can they outrun it, or will they be its next victims? Casi returns to New Orleans in the hopes of a fresh start but soon becomes the target of a monster. Fleeing for her life as a witness, she’s placed in the care of a sexy Cajun detective named Lucas. Harboring an abusive past, she’s wary of the police and of Lucas. Is she truly safe? The attraction grows between them and while she tries to fight it, his touch and tenderness lights her soul on fire. As they dash through the streets of New Orleans, can their special abilities combat a supernatural killer on the loose or will they, in fact, be the next victims?


Redeemed by Fire is a volatile paranormal romance I couldn’t stop reading. From the gorgeous setting of New Orleans and its surrounding bayou to the danger of a supernatural killer to the romance, this book has everything you could possibly want in a paranormal romance. The setting is beautifully described with intricate detail so that it truly plunged the reader into the story. The characters are well-developed with plenty of conflict to overcome. CJ Bahr’s writing style is very deep POV so that the reader can really get a feel for what is going on. The way she tackles Casi’s abusive past is so well done, my heart went out to her and other victims. Hunky Lucas is a hero after my own heart. The plot moved at a great pace with plenty of twists and turns to keep me whipping through the pages. I stayed up late at night just to read a little more. The romance between Casi and Lucas was explosive, but I thoroughly enjoyed it. The killer subplot is one of the most original ones I’ve read. The ending caused an emotional response from me. Nope, no spoilers here, you’ve got to read it for yourself. If you’re like me and love traveling via books, you’ve got to read Redeemed by Fire. Paranormal romance readers will love Redeemed by Fire. A brilliant story from start to finish, Redeemed by Fire is one of the best books of 2021. Highly recommend!


Regency Romance:

A Bonny Pretender by Aubrey Wynne


I was immediately captivated by this story. Brigid quickly gets into the heart of the reader. Aubrey Wynne has long been one of my favorite authors. This book doesn't disappoint. This author has won awards for humor and this book shines brighter with the humorous lines.


A brilliant regency novel. The plot flows in a smooth fashion. The characters are well crafted. Even secondary characters are fully developed, giving great depth to this book. The drama is heartfelt. The actions scenes are suspenseful. The romance is, at times, sweet and, at times, very spicy.


Recommended to every fan of Regency Romance. Recommended also to fans of historical fiction. This book should be a sure-fire bestseller.


Romantic Comedy:

Dibs by Allison Hubbard


Thanks to her cheating ex-husband, Olivia's lost her mojo. Her flirting gene has flown the coop and can't seem to read body language, let alone tell when a guy is into her. She hasn't healed from her ex's betrayal but maybe it's time to get back in the dating pool. When she goes on a two-week training boot camp, she meets handsome Adam on the flight. She's struck mute by his attention and it only gets more awkward when her bouncy blonde roommate calls 'dibs' on Adam. The trouble is Olivia really likes him and he thwarts her roommate's advances to spend more time with her, boring 'ol Olivia. Can Olivia call dibs on Adam and realize he likes her just as much as she likes him? Or is she reading too much into his signs?


Dibs is unlike anything I've read before. It's a work romance, of sorts, but the couple is ordinary, everyday normal people with foibles and insecurities to work through. The hero and heroine could be you or me. What impressed me was the fact they didn't jump in the sack right away. They got know each other first, which gets an extra star in my rating. The characters were well-written and I enjoyed the push & pull as they tried to figure out their attraction. By the time I finished reading, these characters became a part of me. Like I mentioned above, the pacing of Dibs is perfect. The romance moves at a good pace with a few obstacles, mainly their own self-doubts, to overcome. There are a few sub-plots to keep track of, but they added such delightful humor to the overall story. Dibs is a romance everyone can relate to and find a bit of themselves in the story. The hot tub and bourbon scenes make Dibs a must-read. The ending was so sweet, I reread it four times. Yes, I loved it that much. Allison Martine is a gifted writer and while this is my first read by her, it won't be my last. I can't wait to read the next book in the series. If you love realistic romance, pick up Dibs. If you're looking for a romance with late twenties characters, pick up Dibs. Highly recommend!


Romantic Suspense/Thriller:

Fatal Recall by Gini Rifkin


Neuroscientist Dr. Marilyn Monrose is on the brink of a breakthrough. Using VR (virtual reality),