I’m really bad at choosing and making end-of-the-year lists of favourites always breaks my heart, because even in years when I have a clear favourite, I love a lot of books. So I cheat. My Top 12 includes more than twelve books (presented below in chronological order of release and by author) and I’ll have another list dedicated to audiobooks. And I don’t think it will come as a surprise to anyone who follows me on social media, the book I’ve recommended most often, my favourite 2021 release, is The Headmistress by Milena McKay. The audiobook, narrated by the fabulous Abby Craden, will be out on February 22nd and I can’t wait.
Night Tide by Anna Burke
There’s so much more to Night Tide than hatred and privilege and irresistible lust and passion so strong you don’t know what to do with it. It’s raw and rough and pretty much perfect. I love how much Anna Burke’s books hurt. It takes a very talented writer to get away with such an unhealthy relationship and make the reader nevertheless root for the characters to make it work somehow, to get out of the spiral of hell and find their way to happiness. You don’t want my take, you want the real thing, and to read this book as soon as possible. Read the full review.
Sea Wolf by Anna Burke
Fantasy / Science Fiction / Dystopian
There’s something very special about dystopian novels. The premise is an awful catastrophe/apocalypse/human stupidity (that one feels more and more real) and yet there is so much hope in surviving. Anna Burke’s writing is at once beautiful and efficient. It’s precisely crafted to break the reader’s heart while not giving a lot of opportunities to breathe as they, along with the characters, are put through the wringer again. Read the full review.
The Delicate Things We Make by Milena McKay
Debut / Traditional Romance
The Delicate Things We Make is dedicated “to the survivors”, so be warned that it tackles sensitive and possibly triggering topics. It’s a love story and a #MeToo story, it speaks of strength and vulnerability, of taking back the power, taking back one’s life and also of letting go. And it does so with care, finesse and talent. Read the full review.
The Perfect Match by Milena McKay
When I fall in love with an author’s first book, I always worry that I won’t like their second one as much. And so of course, I opened The Perfect Match with that niggling fear at the back of my mind. Ha! My anxiety was all for naught. Not only did I love The Perfect Match, but I also loved that it’s so different from The Delicate Things We Make. The Perfect Match is light and fun and had me laughing right from the start. It’s not all roses and cinnamon rolls however, there are also some very moving moments, there’s passion and, when the time finally comes, all the steam you can expect from experts in love and lust. Read the full review.
The Headmistress by Milena McKay
A couple of chapters in, I got that giddy feeling that comes from knowing you’re reading a really good book. The good news is, that feeling remained till the end. And after. Milena McKay may still be pretty new on the lesfic scene but she already has a unique voice. As she first proved in The Delicate Things We Make, she doesn’t shy away from sensitive topics yet doesn’t write heavy dramatic books either. The Headmistress is a subtle blend of substance, witty dialogue, humour, and sexiness. Read the full review.
Pyotra and the Wolf by Elna Holst
Fantasy / Retelling
I’m late to the Elna Holst party. I read one of her Tinsel and Spruce Needles Romance novellas a couple of years ago, which I enjoyed, but I wasn’t wowed at the time. Since then, and in a rather quick succession, I’ve read In the Palm, Lucas and now this latest novel, and Holst is now definitely in my favourite authors’ hall of fame. Each book I read becomes my new favourite. They’re so brilliant I’m not sure I have the words to explain why. They delight me, they disturb me, they make me feel smart. Read the full review.
Worthy of Love by Quinn Ivins
I loved Quinn Ivins’ first book so didn’t read the blurb before opening her second one. My first thought when I understood what it was about was “wow, that’s gutsy”. And while I liked her first book a lot, I think I enjoyed this one even more. Read the full review.
How to Become a Planet by Nicole Melleby
This book would have helped young me a lot, maybe not at twelve or thirteen because I don’t think I was that aware that early but who knows. It’s gentle and heartbreaking and heartwarming and so many other things at the same time. I haven’t liked a children’s book so much in a very long time. While it made me cry more than I’m comfortable with, it also made my heart very full and warm. Read the full review.
The Murder Next Door by Sarah Bell
Debut / Historical Fiction / Mystery
The Murder Next Door is Sarah Bell’s debut novel and what a debut it is! A historical mystery with a sapphic couple investigating and so much more. The mystery itself is effective, with twists and revelations. Unveiling the culprit isn’t what matters most (even though the suspense about what happened is very satisfying), it’s a pretext for a reflection on justice, the police and the dichotomy between legality and morality. Read the full review.
Honey Girl by Morgan Rogers
Debut / General Fiction
This book proves that you can write about mental health and systemic racism and do it with such beautiful and effective writing that it ends up being a warm hug after a lot of tears. Read the full review.
Ignis by KJ
Romance / Mystery
Forget everything you think you know about KJ’s writing. A thriller isn’t where she’s expected to go, especially not this thriller. Sweet and quirky it isn’t. But boy, can KJ write. With her usual ease with words, the poetry, the rhythm, she tells, in the same universe as Coming Home or Art of Magic, a much grittier and darker story. Read the full review.
Dead Lez Walking by G Benson
Benson writes angst incredibly well. I shouldn’t be surprised she can insert that heart-wrenching stomach-churning quality in gory scenes just as well. This mix of humour (mostly dark), melancholy, and downright gruesome moments results in excellent and diverse characters, a delightfully inappropriate romance between idiots (which I of course love), and a whole lot of adrenaline. Read the full review.
Guardian by Jen Lawrence
Debut / Fantasy / Romance
Jen Lawrence writes an unusual and strangely relatable love triangle. Guardian is a story of fate versus free will, even though putting it like this is much too simple. Is it still fate when what you’re destined to is also what you really want? Read the full review.
The Tell Tale by Clare Ashton
Historical Fiction / Mystery
This isn’t the kind of story in which twists and revelations explode in fireworks. There are plenty of twists and revelations, however. On the surface, the story is unassuming and takes its time to progress, all the better to surprise the reader, breathlessly trying to hold on to the illusion of comfort, with unexpected developments. And the ending is like the sun finally bursting through the clouds, brilliant and warm. Read the full review.
Unbreakable by Cari Hunter
Thriller / Police Procedural
This new novel is everything I’ve come to expect from Cari Hunter. It’s captivating, it’s well-written, it’s smart, it’s funny when the reader needs to breathe a little, and the characters are ordinary people entangled in extraordinary circumstances, wonderfully human and flawed and endearing and I love them. Read the full review.