Best of 2021 and the Year in Review

Well, 2021 was mildly less chaotic than 2020, but it still had its share of stress, frustration, anxiety, and more. There were long periods where I didn't even pick up a book, and there were others where I dug deep into my bookshelves for reads I just wanted to enjoy, with no pressure to track or review.

By The Numbers

This year I read 142 books (including a few 'secret' awards titles), which is a drop of about 10% from last year, but given that I tended to read bigger/longer books this year, and had fewer regrets when it came to discarding reads that weren't working for me, I'm happy with that number.

Among those books were 17 perfect 5-star reads, which is down about 30% from last year, but on par with the year before, so let's just call last year the perfect anomaly. Besides, that's almost 1.5 perfect reads a month, which is pretty damned enjoyable.

At a quick glance, my genre shelving saw some big changes for the second year in a row, with Romance/Erotica topping last year's big increase at 48% for top spot, Fantasy gaining 3 points at 24%, and Urban Fantasy/Horror slipping 9 points to 19%. The Thriller shelves stayed steady at 8%, while Science Fiction doubled shelf space to account for 5% of my reading. And, yes, I know those numbers don't add up, but that's because some books fall into more than one genre.

For the second year in a row, the shelves were just under 60% female-authored, while 60% of my reads were female-fronted, which is down 2 points from last year. However, 31% featured female-led/dominant relationships, which is up 6 points from last year. Approximately 43% of my reads featured significant LGBTQIA representation, up 13 points from last year, and 23% included transgender/nonbinary protagonists, up a point from last year.

In terms of blog traffic, I've stopped obsessing over the monthly numbers, so I was deliriously pleased to sum up the year and see that 2021 was my best year for traffic since 2016. Even more impressive, June was my best single month since 2013 . . . and my second-best month ever!

Most Popular Reviews

Speaking of blog traffic, before I get into my best-of-the-year lists, I wanted to take a few moments to thank everyone who stops by, likes, comments, and shares my reviews across the wide world of social media. I looked back at what reviews got the most love on the blog, Goodreads, Twitter, and Facebook this year, and YOUR top 10 reads are:

Most Popular Guests

Thanks to partners like Other Worlds Ink, IndiGo, and Psst… Promotions, we had a great year of guests from multiple genres offering exciting excepts, giveaways, promotions, and more:

Biggest Surprises of the Year

Kingdom of Bones, the 16th Sigma Force novel by James Rollins, was a book I entered into with no small amount of trepidation given my exhaustion with plagues and lockdowns, but it proved to be a fantastic piece of storytelling, an adrenaline-fueled adventure thriller that was as though-provoking as it was exciting.

The Jasmine Throne by Tasha Suri is a book I was curious about, but I didn't have much in the way of expectations. It hooked me from the first page, though, drawing me in with the horrors of sacrificial immolation, infectious rot, violent conquest, and the erasure of an entire culture, with three women - Malini, Priya, and Bhumika - standing alone against it all.

I'd never read Christopher Buehlman, so I didn't know what to expect when a copy of The Blacktongue Thief arrived on my doorstep. Much to my delight, it proved to be epic fantasy at its finest, full of magic and adventure, with as much gallows humor as horrific violence. The climax was fantastic, a perfect finale to the tale, with enough threads left hanging for the next two books.

Best Sequels of the Year

While I didn't enjoy Brian Naslund's second book as much as the first, finding its pacing to be off, with too much focus on the least interesting characters, the final chapter, Fury of a Demon, hooked my attention from the opening chapter, getting back to the darkly humorous fun of the first book, and redeeming some of the character aspects of the second. A more than worthy finale that stands tall alongside the pleasant surprise of the first book.

While I didn't necessarily love the last Green Rider tale, I loved a lot about it, and I appreciated the way Kristen Britain explored the emotional toll that the previous book had left on Karigan. That emotional toll, psychological scars, and physical exhaustion weigh heavily upon the story of Winterlight, but where I previously found those aspects tiresome, even if realistic, the story of perseverance, healing, inner conflict, and growth here made this one of my favorite books in the series.

There weren't a lot of 'new' plot developments in The House of Always by Jenn Lyons, but there were more revelations, expositions, and elaborations than any book has a right to, putting so much of the existing story into new context, with new significance. Once I accepted that Shadrag Gor was the story, and not just a prelude or a stepping stone, I stopped chafing the repetitiveness and embraced that deeper understanding. It took some time for me to get there, but the last two-thirds absolutely flew by, and the climax was the most fun I've had on the page in ages.

Best Books of the Year

There's no polite way to put this. Manhunt fucked me up. This was a deep, dark, daring look at gender that somehow managed to be completely monstrous without ever descending into mockery. Gretchen Felker-Martin is bloody brilliant. She stunned me, amazed me, aggravated me, and excited me in equal measure. She raised me to such heights of hope and dragged me to such depths of despair that I found it hard to trust anyone or anything. I had high hopes for this, grand expectations, and it surpassed all of them. It's brave and it's fucking brilliant.

There are no words for how much I loved His Secret Illuminations by Scarlett Gale. Out of 5 stars, I would give it an enthusiastic 10. It's a book that slipped deep into my romantic heart and connected intimately with my submissive soul. I loved Glory more than any character in recent memory, but I absolutely adored Lucian with every ounce of my being. I didn't just 'see' myself in this, I 'felt' myself in every scene, on every page. This is a book to which I happily, thoroughly, and irredeemably lost myself - and will gleefully do so again and again!

There's a shelf above my desk of books that I tell people they need to read to understand me. Last year I added A Brother's Price by Wen Spencer. This year it was His Secret Illuminations.

The Unbroken by C.L. Clark was brilliant in its brutality, an honest look at all the ugliness of colonialism, rebellion, racism. It's a story about not even knowing which side you're supposed to be on, much less which side to choose. It's so good, so unexpectedly tragic in every way, that I was left speechless as I turned the final page. The epilogue left me torn, but knowing how many times the story twisted and pivoted, I'm anxious to see what's next.

Last year's Stealing Thunder was a book I didn’t just want to be good, I needed to be good - to set the example, and to open the shelves for more books like it. As a result, I put some pretty heavy expectations on Alina Boyden with Gifting Fire but she delivered a book I feel like I’ve been waiting my entire life to read. Its take on gender and the portrayal of transgender lives was exquisite, the world-building was wonderful, and the romance was absolutely delightful. I've never cried so many times over the course of a story's final hundred pages, being put through the wringer of emotions with joy, sorrow, triumph, pain, hope, and despair, but that just had me turning pages faster and faster.

Coming up this Wednesday . . . my Most Anticipated Reads of 2022!


  1. Excellent post! I'm so with you re Blacktongue Thief (your review was what made me pick it up in the first place!) and Gifting Fire; they're both going on my best of 2021 as well. And I haven't read Manhunt yet, but the arc is waiting for me and I'm now even more excited to check it out.

    His Secret Illuminations has been on my tbr for a while; I think I need to bump it up to the top now.

    REALLY can't wait to see your most anticipated for next year!

    1. Great minds read alike. ;)

      Normally I'd avoid spoilers, but it's my own anticipated list, so all I'll say is I'm really hoping Maya Deane's 'Wrath Goddess Sing' is next year's Gifting Fire.

    2. Oh HELLS YES! I'm crossing my fingers for an ARC, but either way I'm very very very ready for Wrath Goddess Sing to knock my socks off! I'm pure heart-eyes and grabby-hands for that book. CANNOT WAIT!


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