Like last year, we once again decided to post 3 separate top 10 reads of 2021 lists instead of one mega-list or one with only a couple of picks each. Which, let’s face it, would be downright cruelty to ourselves. Our only rule was that any book on these lists has to be read during 2021, regardless of when they were published and by whom. And we had to love them, obviously. Maybe. I mean, when you keep shouting at the author in private for things they did, it’s surely a sign of love, right? Even if you call said author names… *ahem* Anyway. First to go is Timy with her Top 10 Reads of 2021!
Before I get to my list, let me bore you with some statistics. I’ve read (fully or partially) 59 books in 2021 (15 less than in 2020 which is not surprising). 4 of those were a DNF (a lot less than in 2020, when it was 16). Out of the 54 books I did read (yes, I know the math doesn’t add up, but I’m still reading one I started in 2021), 36 were traditionally published and 22 were indie or self-published. And not counting the DNFs, 1 beta read, and a book I need to reread and decide my rating on, my average rating was 4.3. The same as last year. Man, I’m being so nice to you all. Another interesting fact (to me) is that I read almost as many audiobooks as I did ebooks (25 vs 26) rounded up with 3 physical copies. 8 out of the 54 read books were reread and I reviewed only 24 of them. Which is pretty shocking to me. I knew I reviewed a lot less this year, but it still just hit me. 44 reviews in 2020 vs 24 in 2021 is not a comparison I expected to see.
But enough about the numbers, I know you are all here for the books. I’ve read many excellent books this past year, although it wasn’t my best reading-wise. Don’t get me wrong, the books I did read were mostly excellent, I was just struggling with reading in general. I hope that now I once again have a proper daily routine, reading will do a come back soon.
Now, without further ado, here are my top 10 reads of 2021 more or less ordered with my absolute favorite at the bottom:
A Numbers Game by RJ Dark aka RJ Barker
I was lucky to read the self-published version of both We Ride the Storm and We Lie With Death and I knew with a bit more polishing they both would be excellent books. And I was not disappointed. 3 different cultures. 3 POV characters. Lots of drama, political intrigue, beheadings and some mystery. What’s not to love?
One dead man and a missing lottery ticket.
Two family members who need that money to get away from the rundown Blades Edge estate.
Three local gangsters who want that money for themselves.
Meet Malachite Jones – the foremost (and only) psychic medium on the gritty Blades Edge estate. All he wants are two things: a name that isn’t ‘Malachite’, and a quiet life. And maybe some real psychic powers, but he’s making a living without them.
Janine Stanbeck wants to find her dead husband Larry’s winning ticket and escape Blades Edge with her son. And she thinks Mal can help her.
But Larry’s dad is the crime lord of the estate, and he wants that ticket for himself, and worse for Mal, he’s not the only criminal with his eyes on it. Add in two coppers desperate to nick Mal’s best, only, and admittedly quite dangerous, friend, Jackie Singh Kattar, and Blades Edge is getting pretty crowded.
Malachite Jones might not really be able to talk to the dead, but if he and his friend Jackie Singh Kattar can’t find that money and a solution that pleases everyone they’re likely to be in need of a psychic medium themselves.
The first Mal Jones and Jackie Singh Kattar adventure: a chaotic rollercoaster ride through a Yorkshire landscape full of double crossing friends, dogged police, psychotic gangster and voices from the other side.
“A Numbers Game has everything you can ask for: great characters just short of walking off the pages, twists, treachery, a murder mystery, fast cars, and a good dose of blood and pain just to make it interesting. A book that gives just as much joy to the reader as it gave to its author, because it’s pretty obvious from the first page, that RJ Dark had one hell of a time writing A Numbers Game and that comes through loud and clear. Impossible not to be swept away by Mal and the whole atmosphere.”
Triggernometry by Stark Holborn
I’ve read Triggernometry as part of the British Fantasy Awards which I was judging for in 2021. I’ve seen Stark Holborn’s novella mentioned on my feeds before and that cover is definitely an eye-catcher, but I was wary. Western is not something I’m overly familiar with as a genre and if I see/hear the word mathematics I simply just run the other way. And so, I was immensely surprised by how much I loved this novella. Sadly it didn’t win its category, but if an author can make me fall in love with a book about mathematicians, then it certainly deserves to be on my top 10 reads of 2021 list, no questions asked. It’s fresh, entertaining, full of action and twists and characters who you can’t help but root for.
Triggernometry is a brand-new novella from Nunslinger author Stark Holborn, mixing the grit of the west with a cast of mathematicians from across history to create a truly unique and unforgettable western adventure.
“I hereby arrest the fugitive “Mad” Malago Browne for murder, arson, robbery and acts of pernicious arithmetic against the Capitol States. Also the fugitive Pierre “Polecat” de Fermat, for sundry of the same.”
In the Western States, it doesn’t pay to count your blessings.
Professor Malago Browne, once the most notorious mathematician in the west, has been trying to leave her outlaw past behind and lead a quiet life. But all of that changes when her former partner – the deadly and capricious Pierre de Fermat – shows up with a proposition of a lifetime.
One last job, one last ride: a heist big enough to escape the tyranny of the Capitol forever.
We Cry for Blood by Devin Madson
I’ve been following Devin Madson‘s The Reborn Empire series from the beginning when We Ride the Storm was first self-published. All books in the series, We Lie with Death and now We Cry for Blood all got their honorary places on my top 10 reads lists in their respective years, and I expect nothing less from the next book either. I’m fully invested in all four POV characters’ lives and I really want to know how their story ends. In We Cry for Blood the stakes are getting even higher, characters’ paths are meeting and pretty much is nothing as it seems.
The empire has fallen and another rises in its place in the action-packed continuation of Devin Madson’s sweeping epic fantasy quartet.
Ambition and schemes have left the Kisian Empire in ashes. Empress Miko Ts’ai will have to move fast if she hopes to secure a foothold in its ruins. However, the line between enemies and allies may not be as clear-cut as they first appeared.
After failing to win back his Swords, former Captain Rah e’Torin finds shelter among the Levanti deserters. But his presence in the camp threatens to fracture the group, putting him on a collision course with their enigmatic leader.
Assassin Cassandra Marius knows Leo Villius’s secret-one that could thwart his ambitions to conquer Kisia. But her time in Empress Hana’s body is running out and each attempt they make to exploit Leo’s weakness may be playing into his plans.
And, as Leo’s control over the Levanti emperor grows, Dishiva is caught in his web. To successfully challenge him, she’ll have to decide how many of her people are worth sacrificing in order to win.
“There are some revelations and twists you’ll never see coming, and you might even scream at Madson for some of the choices she made – I know I did. We Cry for Blood is an excellent installment in this richly layered, character-driven and all-around gut-punching series. If the ending of We Cry for Blood is anything to go by, We Dream of Gods will be one hell of a ride to bring the series to an end. And I can’t wait to be along for the ride.”
The Last God by Michael McClung
Lhiewyn. If you ever read any of the Amra Thetys books by Michael McClung then you are most likely familiar with the grumpy old man who has a sharp tongue and even sharper wit. I’ll never be able to thank McClung enough for writing The Last God, which features three novellas from Lhiewyn’s POV telling part of his story which holds some pretty unexpected surprises. And more than a few laughs. And a shit demon. Don’t ask. Just read the book.
From the author of the Amra Thetys series comes a new novelette set in the same world, featuring the world’s grumpiest old man:
Sage Lhiewyn, high priest of the god of knowledge, would like nothing better than to spend his remaining days getting his naps in and collecting offerings from what few faithful remain. Unfortunately, he’s going on a pair of adventures instead. With his less-than faithful acolyte at his side, Lhiewyn will have to face down a rampaging sewer demon and outwit the beautiful, wily priestess of a foreign god bent on unearthing his greatest, most terrible secret. Looks like his nap will have to wait….
“With its 165 pages, The Last God provides perfect entertainment for an afternoon and one which will make you laugh out loud and keep you glued to the pages. If you won’t fall in love with Lhiewyn’s character by the end, I’ll take that as a personal insult and we are not going to be friends anymore. (Just kidding, but I’ll be very disappointed nonetheless.) The Last God should be prescribed for those who love snarky, foul-mouthed characters, humor mixed with a good dose of mystery and fantasy focusing on gods/myths. Can’t. Put. It. Down.”
A Song With Teeth by T. Frohock
I was a bit late for the Los Nefilim bandwagon, but I eventually caught up. The ride, however, was over way too soon. The third book in the series (technically fourth, if we count the novella collection), A Song with Teeth was released in February of 2021 and sadly made us say goodbye to all these beloved characters. While Carved from Stone and Dream introduced Rafael to us as a POV character, in A Song With Teeth we get Ysabel. And World War II as a backdrop for the events. Talk about high stakes… I love this series for many reasons, but mostly because it features one of my favorite literary couples, Diago and Miquel. They are just so damn adorable.
As the Allied forces battle to defeat the Nazis, a shadow war rages between angels and daimons fighting for the soul of humanity in this thrilling conclusion to the critically acclaimed Los Nefilim historical fantasy series.
The year is 1944, and the daimons are rising. With the Inner Guard thrown into disarray by the German blitzkrieg, the daimon-born nefilim of the Scorpion Court gather in Paris, scheming to restore their rule over the mortal realm. Working as a double-agent, Diago Alvarez infiltrates his family’s daimonic court, but soon finds himself overwhelmed by his kin’s multiple deceits.
Meanwhile, Ysabel Ramírez hunts a Psalm that will assist Operation Overlord, the Allies’ invasion of Normandy. Her objective takes her to Paris—into the heart of territories controlled by Die Nephilim and her power-hungry uncle, Jordi Abelló, who seeks the same Psalm in his quest to wrest control of Los Nefilim from her father. When their paths cross, he abducts her and leaves her to the mercy of his Nazi followers.
But Ysabel is as cunning and bold as Jordi. She knows only one of them can survive to one day rule Los Nefilim, and she’s determined to be the one to succeed her father as queen.
Trapped in her uncle’s château hidden deep within the Fontainebleau forest, Ysabel discovers the truth behind her uncle’s lust for dominance: those that wear the signet of the Thrones are not blessed . . . they are cursed. And it may take a miracle to end this war once and for all.
“This series was an emotional ride all around as we got to watch these characters grow so much and overcome so much hurt and horror. Frohock doesn’t shy away from giving them (and us) punches and then watch them as they become stronger not least thanks to the support of their friends and family.
If you are looking for a Historical Fantasy series with kick ass magic, strong messages, LGBTQ+ rep, and loveable characters, then you definitely should give a go to Los Nefilim. It’s raw, brutal, emotional and so damn satisfactory.”
A Plain-Dealing Villain by Craig Schaefer
I can’t possibly have a top 10 reads list without at least one Craig Schaefer book, now can I? I’m painfully behind on the Daniel Faust series, which is something I intend to work on this year. Along with rereading and reviewing Schaefer’s latest novel, The Hungry Dreaming which should have been on this list, but I want to make it justice with a review, so it’ll go on the one next year. In this installment of the Daniel Faust series, which is the fourth book, our Dan is having a worktrip, if you like. He visits the Windy City for a job which naturally goes not at all as it was planned. I’m constantly amazed by Schaefer’s storytelling skills and the way he paints characters. I love the unexpected plotlines popping up and making my head reel. This whole series is such a joyride. And it has an amazing found family theme going on as well.
It’s hard to make a dishonest buck in Sin City, especially when a rogue FBI agent is gunning for your head. Flat broke and one step ahead of the law, Daniel Faust flees Vegas and lands in Chicago, where a risky heist promises to fill his pockets with cash.
There are the risks you can account for, and then there are the risks you never see coming, the ones that leave you blindsided and fighting to survive. Daniel is a stranger in a strange land, out of his element and surrounded by corrupt sorcerers, demons, and worse. Still, with a friend’s soul hanging in the balance — not to mention a pile of stolen cash — giving up isn’t an option.
Before he’s done, Daniel will descend into the depths of Chicago’s occult netherworld, competing in an underground poker tournament where the winner takes all…and with the infernal Court of Night-Blooming Flowers running the show, “winner takes all” has an entirely new meaning. The Flowers haven’t forgotten Daniel’s past insults, and if they get their way, he’ll never leave the Windy City alive.
“The series gets better with each book as we get deeper into Daniel Faust’s life of crime and the supernatural. As the intricacies are getting broader and more complex. I can’t press this enough, but if you love UF, this is one you shouldn’t miss.”
Miss Percy’s Pocket Guide to the Care and Feeding of British Dragons by Quenby Olson
Miss Percy’s Pocket Guide to the Care and Feeding of British Dragons was one of the nice surprises of 2021. I was forced to read it by a friend’s insistence and the fact that Olson tweeted a description of the book name-dropping Judi Dench in relation and yeah, that was pretty much it for me. In the past few weeks, I started watching Downton Abbey and apparently I love period dramas/books/stuff. Who knew? Having a super cute baby dragon in the book probably didn’t hurt either for me to fall in love. I also can’t believe this was my first ever Quenby Olson book. Whatever have I been doing with my life?!
Miss Mildred Percy inherits a dragon.
Ah, but we’ve already got ahead of ourselves…
Miss Mildred Percy is a spinster. She does not dance, she has long stopped dreaming, and she certainly does not have adventures. That is, until her great uncle has the audacity to leave her an inheritance, one that includes a dragon’s egg.
The egg – as eggs are wont to do – decides to hatch, and Miss Mildred Percy is suddenly thrust out of the role of “spinster and general wallflower” and into the unprecedented position of “spinster and keeper of dragons.”
But England has not seen a dragon since… well, ever. And now Mildred must contend with raising a dragon (that should not exist), kindling a romance (with a humble vicar), and embarking on an adventure she never thought could be hers for the taking.
“Overall, Miss Percy’s Pocket Guide to the Care and Feeding of British Dragons is the perfect read for a cold winter night, if you want to escape to a small British village and go on a journey of self-discovery along with Miss Percy and her adorable baby dragon, Fitz. You’ll find friends, budding relationships, and adventures at the end of which you’ll want more. As do I.”
Priest of Gallows by Peter McLean
If you know me, then it probably comes as no surprise that I put Priest of Gallows on this list. I’m fiercely protective of Billy the Boy and I’m waiting with bated breath to find out what McLean has in store for him. My hope is only good things and happiness, but… we are talking about McLean here, so probably he’ll get neither. And then we’ll have words. Priest of Gallows is the third book in the War for the Rose Throne series, following Priest of Bones and Priest of Lies. I love how this series grows in scale book by book. The world of Tomas widens with each installment, placing him and his men and women in shittier and shittier situations. And he might even come face to face with people who are even worse than him. *cough* Vogel *cough*. This book is mainly set in the capital, far from Ellinburg which is a shame. But in exchange, we have some familiar faces back, such as Tomas’ father-in-law. And some pretty interesting twists.
Gangster, soldier, priest. Queen’s Man. Governor.
Tomas Piety has everything he ever wanted. In public he’s a wealthy, highly respected businessman, happily married to a beautiful woman and Governor of his home city of Ellinburg. In private, he’s no longer a gang lord but one of the Queen’s Men, invisible and officially non-existent, working in secret to protect his country.
But when the queen’s sudden death sees him summoned him back to the capital, he discovers his boss, Dieter Vogel, Provost Marshal of the Queen’s Men, is busy tightening his stranglehold on the country.
Just as he once fought for his Pious Men, he must now bend all his wit and hard-won wisdom to protect his queen – but now he can’t always tell if he’s on the right side.
Tomas has started to ask himself, what is the price of power? And more importantly, is it one he is willing to pay?
“Priest of Gallows is another great addition to a series that already been on my list of favorites. This book only just strengthened that place. Priest of Gallows is a raw, gut-wrenching, and unputdownable page-turner, where you can never know if it’ll be Remorse or Mercy cutting your heart out next. You can try and hide from the inevitable, but at the end of the day, you just have to join Tomas’ crew and hold tight because the road won’t be smooth and painless, that’s for sure.“
Meet Me in Another Life by Catriona Silvey
There is always that one book you absolutely didn’t see coming. In 2021 that was Meet Me in Another Life for me. I’ve been eyeing it for a while but I was unsure, then it became available on Netgalley in audiobook format and I knew I just had to take it. Boy did I get obsessed with it after the first chapter. It is probably the most unusual book I’ve read all year. It’s about two people who live through several lifetimes, always meeting always having the same people around more or less. Sometimes they are lovers, sometimes not. Sometimes we get only a glimpse of one of their lives, sometimes we get more. Love has so many forms, and this book shows probably most of them. With an ending that will leave you wide open. It takes a lot of time to see the point of the book, but it’s so worth it. I’m sure Catriona Silvey is an author we all need to watch out for.
Two people. Infinite lifetimes. One impossible choice.
Thora and Santi are strangers in a foreign city when a chance encounter intertwines their fates. At once, they recognize in each other a kindred spirit—someone who shares their insatiable curiosity, who is longing for more in life than the cards they’ve been dealt. Only days later, though, a tragic accident cuts their story short.
But this is only one of the many connections they share. Like satellites trapped in orbit around each other, Thora and Santi are destined to meet again: as a teacher and prodigy student; a caretaker and dying patient; a cynic and a believer. In numerous lives they become friends, colleagues, lovers, and enemies. But as blurred memories and strange patterns compound, Thora and Santi come to a shocking revelation—they must discover the truth of their mysterious attachment before their many lives come to one, final end.
“Meet Me in Another Life is a love story, but it’s also not. Well, not in the general sense. Catriona Silvey eplores all the type of loves there is – between friends, between family, between lovers which makes it so real. It drags the reader through all kinds of emotions, and breaks their hearts. Over and over and over again. I swear I did not get misty eyed at the end. I SWEAR! I absolutely loved every moment of it – the characters, the mystery the way it all unfurled. The way the little details later come back to paint a much bigger picture. It was just absolutely awesome. Meet Me in Another Life easily earned a spot on the best books I’ve read in 2021 list. I’ll make sure to keep an eye on Catriona Silvey‘s books in the future.”
The Bone Ship’s Wake by RJ Barker
Look at that, RJ Barker not only got two books on my top 10 reads of 2021 list, but he also snatched the top place for the second time in a row. If I thought the Call of the Bone Ships was brutal and that it broke me, boy I had no idea what I was talking about. Because The Bone Ship’s Wake just went way beyond that. I’m sure if I was cut open just now my heart still would be a smoking, bruised mess. So much so, that it made me create a new badge with an “Emotional Support Panda Needed” warning. The Bone Ship’s Wake brought the Tide Child trilogy to a cathartic end and I’m super grateful I got to be part of the journey.
The sea dragons are returning, and Joron Twiner’s dreams of freedom lie shattered. His Shipwife is gone and all he has left is revenge.
Leading the black fleet from the deck of Tide Child Joron takes every opportunity to strike at his enemies, but he knows his time is limited. His fleet is shrinking and the Keyshan’s Rot is running through his body. He runs from a prophecy that says he and the avian sorcerer, the Windseer, will end the entire world.
But the sea dragons have begun to return, and if you can have one miracle, who is to say that there cannot be another?
“The Tide Child trilogy got a thrilling, heart-wrenching, and overall most deserving ending in The Bone Ship’s Wake. One that’s going to take me quite a while to get over. I can’t even recommend it highly enough because it just deserves all the praises. If you are into audiobooks, I wouldn’t miss out on Jude Owosu‘s narration, who brings this series into life in a way that will give you goosebumps and chills all over. It’s a match even the Hag, the Mother and the Maiden would approve of. If you’ve been waiting to start this series, I’d urge you to get on board as this is an adventure you wouldn’t want to miss out on.”
And that concludes Timy’s part of our Top 10 Reads of 2021 series. Check out Jen’s and Arina’s lists as well!