I love looking back at the year in books and 2021 was a good year to escape into all of them. The books that stood out to me seem to linger and remain with me all year and there are authors that have appeared on past lists and I’m always a little amazed that this carries over from one year to the next. There are also authors who haven’t appeared on any of my lists that were true standouts. I once again would like to thank Jay for the privilege of being part of the Joyfully Jay blog and providing access to truly fabulous books all year long.
This is Not the End by Sidney Bell
I have liked everything I have read from Sidney Bell and even though I knew This is Not the End was going to be good, this book turned out to be fantastic. It’s a deeply emotional, raw, and vulnerable look at the lives and love of Anya, Zac, and Cal and their path to create their family.
The book is told in three parts with no chapters and the third-person perspective gives the book a dreamy and emotional feel. Married couple Anya and Zac love hard, are brutally honest with each other, and sometimes bringing in a third feels natural to them both—which is where Cal comes in as Zac’s best friend who shares a special bond with Zac and then Anya. The book is highly character driven, with just the right words, descriptions, and details to add incredible depth to the characters and their story. For an exceptionally well written polyamorous romance, this is the book you want to read.
The Sheltering Tree by J.R. Lawrie
I liked this book right from the start and, as each chapter revealed itself, I liked it more and more and then some more. With deep character development and sensual scenes, this book is a love story from start to finish. We know from the beginning that Jay is in witness protection and where Alastair is in his career as police commissioner. There is instant attraction, and the men burn bright and hot right from the start and the chemistry that is flawlessly layered throughout this entire story is mesmerizing. The book is told in dual POV from Alastair and Jay and the men have an incredible connection with both poignant and erotic moments that are pure magic.
If you are looking for true chemistry with a fierce and dazzling connection, I encourage you to step into Alastair and Jay’s captivating love story.
The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid (audio narrated by Alma Cuervo, Julia Whelan, Robin Miles)
This book made me especially excited to hold a place on my Best of 2021 list as I get incredibly pleased with myself when a Reading Challenge Month book becomes a favorite of the year. Evelyn’s story is a decades-long tale of a strong female character making her way in 1950s Hollywood and the book was truly captivating from start to finish. The character development was layered and complex, with flawed characters that became incredibly real. While we do meet all seven husbands and the purpose they served for Evelyn, with more than one storyline running parallel to Evelyn’s, her one great true love becomes the heart and the center of the story.
The audio was the perfect way to enjoy this one with three talented narrators reading out Evelyn’s life story like the movies she was famous for. We learn the many private details of Evelyn’s life directly from her and I would suggest you meet Evelyn and add her story to your TBR.
The Lodger, That Summer by Levi Huxton
This book was unexpected as I had never heard of this author. I tend to find the books that are the hardest to talk about without giving anything away and The Lodger, That Summer falls into that category as well. The blurb only mentions James by name and while he might be a cornerstone of the story, we get four points of view in this shorter novel. This book is not a romance, and it is not intended to be one. It is, however, many other things. It is a highly charged erotic tale, a coming out story, a coming-of-age story, and a sexual awakening. The catalyst is Cary, the lodger, and while Cary is on page maybe the least, I will remember him the most. I would definitely read a book from Cary’s point of view, although I am certain the illusion this story creates would be shattered and it’s really between that illusion where this story lives.
Christmas Mountain by Garrett Leigh
Christmas Mountain is not listed as part of Leigh’s Darkest Skies series, but prison guard, Fen, and probation officer, Rami, were introduced in that series and there is some cross over in this book. The story takes place on Christmas Mountain and is set around the holidays, but in true Leigh style, it is not an overdone holiday book, which suits my tastes perfectly as well. Leigh excels once again in character development and dialogue and there is dry humor and laughter as being together soothes both men. This book was a pleasure to read from start to finish with Leigh at the top of her game as Rami and Fen find love and a life they never envisioned, high up on Christmas Mountain.
Loose Cannons by Kasia Bacon
Ervyn and Lochan are my favorite elves and it was such a rush to be back in their world. The story truly works best having read the other books in The Order series to be familiar with these characters and the fantasy world they live in. Then, it’s a treat to see Ervyn and Lochan on an adventure doing what they do best and having an interlude in a place that only these elves could find themselves in. Bacon excels at world building and character development and dialogue and this story only makes me wish to return to this world again and again.
A Small Hotel by Suanne Laqueur
A Small Hotel is a standalone book that links back to the earliest days of Laqueur’s Fish Tales series, which made my best of list in 2020. Set in the early 1940s, we get to know the earlier generation of the Fiskare family as war looms closer. The focal point is Kennet Fiskare as he falls in love, gets his heart broken, and goes farther away than he ever thought he would go, to fight a war. Beautiful and terrible things happen in the world of war as Kennet and his brothers are sent to different parts of the world. Kennet has his heartbreak riding alongside him as he trudges through battlefields seeing the worst of humanity. For evocative and lush writing set around war, everlasting love, and the bonds of family, it’s a fabulous book you will want to read.
My author of the year would have to be Sierra Simone and I find it almost impossible to believe that I only started reading her words this year.
I started with the Thornchapel series, where the first book, A Lesson in Thorns, started weaving its spell on page one. I was completely caught up in the atmosphere and the characters of this contemporary novel with fantasy and fairy tale elements well past the last page. The series features Poe, Auden, and St. Sebastian (such a great character St. Sebastian) and their small group of friends and is full of erotic and sensual storytelling that remains addictive to the very end.
I then moved on to the audios of the New Camelot series and became addicted to the lives of Ash, Embry, and Greer. Starting with American Queen, the series is a modern day fairy tale that follows a twisty path and the writing is gripping and evocative and enchanting. There is a rich and intricate story that unfolds here with hits of high drama and angst that is balanced by blazing hot erotic scenes. It’s the type of series that will destroy and shatter you emotionally, but will then put it all back together while continuing to linger long after the final scene.
Saint by Sierra Simone takes the spot as my number one choice of the year and it is a truly stunning book. The writing is both extraordinary and mesmerizing as Aiden tries to balance his newer life as a monk with his passion for his ex-boyfriend, Elijah. This book can be read for the taboo element of a monk in his habit breaking his vows, but this story is so much more than that. There is a lingering hunger beneath every interaction between Aiden and Elijah and everything is meticulously plotted, and I found it to be a stunning novel of eternal love.