Best Fiction Reads of 2021: Part 4

Best Fiction Reads of 2021

Good day, my bookish peeps. My apologies for the tardiness in posting the fourth and final addition to my “Best Reads of 2021” list, but I’ve had to deal with a series of severe migraine episodes over the past few weeks. The only good thing about the delay in writing this post was that I had a chance to fine-tune this section of my “best of” list, the romance reads. (Even though I had the time to fine-tune the list, I wound up not adding or deleting any of my original choices, so I guess they were the best choices after all.) Although I enjoy reading from a wide variety of genres, especially mystery, suspense, and thrillers, I’m also a huge romance fiction fan.

The first title on this romance best of list is the final book in the Brown Sisters trilogy by Talia Hibbert, Act Your Age, Eve Brown. If you haven’t read the previous two books in this series, Get A Life, Chloe Brown and Take A Hint, Dani Brown, then you’ll want to add those to your list as well. These stories feature flawed, but realistic characters that are trying their best to cope in a world that doesn’t often make room for differently-sized, neurodiverse/neurodivergent, or differently-abled people. What more can I say other than these are great diverse romance reads.

Act Your Age, Eve Brown, The Brown Sisters #3, by Talia Hibbert
ISBN: 9780062941275 (trade paperback)
ISBN: 9780062941282 (ebook)
ISBN: 9780062941299 (digital audiobook)
ISBN: 9781799971085 (audiobook on CD)
ASIN: B089WJ184B (Audible audiobook)
ASIN: B089SYX5F5 (Kindle edition)
Publisher: Avon Romance
Release Date: March 9, 2021
Genre: Fiction | Romance | Interracial Romance

 

In USA Today bestselling author Talia Hibbert’s newest rom-com, the flightiest Brown sister crashes into the life of an uptight B&B owner and has him falling hard—literally.

Eve Brown is a certified hot mess. No matter how hard she strives to do right, her life always goes horribly wrong—so she’s given up trying. But when her personal brand of chaos ruins an expensive wedding (someone had to liberate those poor doves), her parents draw the line. It’s time for Eve to grow up and prove herself—even though she’s not entirely sure how.
 
Jacob Wayne is in control. Always. The bed and breakfast owner’s on a mission to dominate the hospitality industry—and he expects nothing less than perfection. So when a purple-haired tornado of a woman turns up out of the blue to interview for his open chef position, he tells her the brutal truth: not a chance in hell. Then she hits him with her car—supposedly by accident. Yeah, right.
 
Now his arm is broken, his B&B is understaffed, and the dangerously unpredictable Eve is fluttering around, trying to help . Before long, she’s infiltrated his work, his kitchen—and his spare bedroom. Jacob hates everything about it. Or rather, he should. Sunny, chaotic Eve is his natural-born nemesis, but the longer these two enemies spend in close quarters, the more their animosity turns into something else. Like Eve, the heat between them is impossible to ignore—and it’s melting Jacob’s frosty exterior.
 

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Read an excerpt here.


 My next romance recommendation is the first book in a new series by award-winning romance author Sandra Kitt. Winner Takes All kicks off the Millionaires Club series. This is nice, tender, and sometimes emotional diverse romance from an author that has written quite a number of tender, emotional romances.

Winner Takes All, The Millionaires Club #1, by Sandra Kitt
ISBN: 9781728214887 (paperback)
ISBN: 9781728214894 (ebook)
ISBN: 9781662081477 (digital audiobook)
ISBN: 9781662081828 (audiobook on CD)
ASIN: B08SR9CXWF (Audible audiobook)
ASIN: B08DHGVN2L (Kindle edition)
Publisher: Sourcebooks Casablanca
Release Date: April 6, 2021
Genre: Fiction | Romance | Interracial Romance

 

“Great story-telling of the most romantic kind.”—Brenda Jackson, New York Times bestselling author

“A warm-hearted story and a clever plot reflecting current issues with sensitivity, warmth, and wisdom.”—Susan Wiggs, #1 New York Times bestselling author

Jean Travis has the job of announcing the latest lottery winner on TV and is stunned to find that Patrick Bennett, her teenage crush, is the top mega winner. They haven’t seen each other in years, and Patrick is thrilled to renew their acquaintance. Jean, not so much. After all, a lot has changed since they used to study together and Jean worked so hard to hide her feelings. Now that he’s won so much money, Patrick faces a whole new world of demands from family, friends, coworkers, strangers. The only person he knows for sure he can trust, is Jean…

“Romantic, tender, emotional, and compelling.”—RaeAnne Thayne, New York Times bestselling author


When you’re a person of color and a religious minority (at least in this country), it is often incredibly difficult to find books that have characters that look like you and practice your faith. Thankfully, there are a growing number of authors of color and books that reflect a variety of religious beliefs, including Islam. YAY! I had the pleasure of reading and reviewing Ayesha at Last by Uzma Jalaluddin and knew that I’d be purchasing all future books by this author. I immediately grabbed a digital copy of Hana Khan Carries On when it was released and was fortunate enough to add a print copy of this book to my home library later.

Hana Khan Carries On by Uzma Jalaluddin
ISBN: 9780593336366 (trade paperback)
ISBN: 9780593336373 (ebook)
ISBN: 9780593410431 (digital audiobook)
ASIN: B08KWKPPGL (Audible audiobook)
ASIN: B08JKN98K9 (Kindle edition)
Publisher: Berkley
Release Date: April 13, 2021
Genre: Fiction | Romance| Women’s Fiction

 

From the author of Ayesha at Last comes a sparkling new rom-com for fans of “You’ve Got Mail.”

Hana Khan’s family-run halal restaurant is on its last legs. So when a flashy competitor gets ready to open nearby, bringing their inevitable closure even closer, she turns to her anonymously-hosted podcast, and her lively and long-lasting relationship with one of her listeners, for advice.

But a hate-motivated attack on their neighbourhood complicates the situation further, as does Hana’s growing attraction for Aydin, the young owner of the rival business. Who might not be a complete stranger after all…

A charmingly refreshing and modern love story, Uzma Jalaluddin’s tale is humorously warm and filled with gorgeous characters you won’t be able to forget. Now in development for film with Mindy Kaling and Amazon Studios.


Another author on my “just buy it” list is Jasmine Guillory. I love her characters, the romance, the romantic-struggle, and the humor. Ms. Guillory’s 2021 release, While We Were Dating featured a plus-size woman of color as the love interest. YAAS! This book was the sixth addition to “The Wedding Date” series. If you enjoy well-written romance with lots of intelligent characters and humor, then I suggest you binge-read this entire series (if you haven’t already).

While We Were Dating by Jasmine Guillory
ISBN: 9780593100844 (hardcover)
ISBN: 9780593100851 (trade paperback)
ISBN: 9780593100868 (ebook)
ISBN: 9780593409800 (digital audiobook)
ASIN: B08LQYMB1F (Audible audiobook)
ASIN: B08L5WF4YM (Kindle edition)
Publisher: Berkley
Release Date: July 13, 2021
Genre: Fiction | Romance | Multicultural Romance

 

Two people realize that it’s no longer an act when they veer off-script in this sizzling romantic comedy by New York Times bestselling author Jasmine Guillory.

Ben Stephens has never bothered with serious relationships. He has plenty of casual dates to keep him busy, family drama he’s trying to ignore and his advertising job to focus on. When Ben lands a huge ad campaign featuring movie star Anna Gardiner, however, it’s hard to keep it purely professional. Anna is not just gorgeous and sexy, she’s also down to earth and considerate, and he can’t help flirting a little…

Anna Gardiner is on a mission: to make herself a household name, and this ad campaign will be a great distraction while she waits to hear if she’s booked her next movie. However, she didn’t expect Ben Stephens to be her biggest distraction. She knows mixing business with pleasure never works out, but why not indulge in a harmless flirtation?

But their lighthearted banter takes a turn for the serious when Ben helps Anna in a family emergency, and they reveal truths about themselves to each other, truths they’ve barely shared with those closest to them.

When the opportunity comes to turn their real-life fling into something more for the Hollywood spotlight, will Ben be content to play the background role in Anna’s life and leave when the cameras stop rolling? Or could he be the leading man she needs to craft their own Hollywood ending?


I’ve recently realized that I read a large number of books that are part of a series. If I’m grabbed by the first title in a series, it’s a sure bet that I’ll be reading all of the new books in that series. Although I’m not a big sports fan, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the “Bromance Book Club” series. Come on folks, a romance series featuring male characters that read romance books to help with their relationships, what’s not to love?! Book four in this series, Isn’t It Bromantic? is slightly different from the first three because the male character is actually writing a romance rather than reading one to help with his love interest.

Isn’t It Bromantic?, Bromance Book Club #4, by Lyssa Kay Adams
ISBN: 9780593332771 (trade paperback)
ISBN: 9780062964595 (ebook)
ISBN: 9780593332788 (digital audiobook)
ASIN: B08MMJVQ81 (Audible audiobook)
ASIN: B08JKP2G5S (Kindle edition)
Publisher: Berkley
Release Date: August 3, 2021
Genre: Fiction | Romance | Sports Romance

 

With his passion for romance novels, it was only a matter of time before Vlad took up the pen to write a novel the Bromance Book Club would swoon over.

Elena Konnikova has lived her entire adult life in the shadows. As the daughter of a Russian journalist who mysteriously disappeared after speaking out against government corruption, she escaped danger the only way she knew how. She agreed to marry her childhood friend, Vladimir, and move to the United States, where he is a professional hockey player in Nashville.

Vlad, aka The Russian, thought he could be content with his marriage of convenience. But after four years, it’s become too difficult to continue in a one-sided relationship. He joined the Bromance Book Club to learn how to make his wife love him, but all he’s learned is that he deserves more. He’s ready to create his own sweeping romance—both on and off the page.

The Bros are unwilling to let Vlad forgo true love—and this time they’re not operating solo. They join forces with Vlad’s senior citizen neighbors, a group of meddling widows who call themselves The Loners. Just when things finally look promising, the danger from Elena’s past life intrudes, and the book club will face their first-ever life-or-death grand gesture as they race to a happy ever after.

 

I was honored to get the opportunity to see this author at a regional book festival last year. I was incredibly blessed that my youngest brother took the time to get my copy of The Dating Playbook signed while I was attending another author presentation. (My brother also drove me to North Carolina so I could attend this event. We spent a lovely day at the Bookmarks Festival of Books and Authors and I didn’t have to do the drive down or back to West Virginia. In-person events with authors. Got books signed. Had a fantastic day trip without driving. Win-Win-WIN!) I had read the first book in this series, The Boyfriend Project with my online book group, Mocha Girls Read and was hooked. And yes, I own the digital and print copy of this book.

The Dating Playbook, The Boyfriend Project #2, by Farrah Rochon
ISBN: 9781538716670 (trade paperback)
ISBN: 9781538716663 (ebook)
ISBN: 9781549135941 (digital audiobook)
ASIN: B09B38J4WF (Audible audiobook)
ASIN: B08PV5JRHM (Kindle edition)
Publication date: August 17, 2021
Publisher: Forever
Genre: Fiction | Romance

When a personal trainer agrees to fake date her client, all rules are out the window in this “fun, heartfelt, and totally relatable” romantic comedy (Abby Jimenez, NYT bestselling author of Life’s Too Short).

When it comes to personal training, Taylor Powell kicks serious butt. Unfortunately, her bills are piling up, rent is due, and the money situation is dire. Taylor needs more than the support of her new best friends, Samiah and London. She needs a miracle.

And Jamar Dixon might just be it. The oh-so-fine former footballer wants back into the NFL, and he wants Taylor to train him. There’s just one catch—no one can know what they’re doing. But when they’re accidentally outed as a couple, Taylor’s game plan is turned completely upside down. Is Jamar just playing to win . . . or is he playing for keeps?

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I actually had this next author’s first book, Ties That Tether on my TBR list for awhile. I don’t know why I grabbed her latest The Sweetest Remedy to read first, but I did. No, this book isn’t part of a series, but I do heartily recommend you grab both books if you enjoy reading multicultural romance or want to start reading multicultural romance. I’m looking forward to reading more from this author in the future.

The Sweetest Remedy by Jane Igharo
ISBN: 9780593101964 (trade paperback)
ISBN: 9780593101971 (ebook)
ISBN: 9780593456484 (digital audiobook)
ASIN: B08SMNJPT5 (Audible audiobook)
ASIN: B08R5LW2H3 (Kindle edition)
Publication date: September 28, 2021
Publisher: Berkley
Genre: Fiction | Romance

When a woman travels to Nigeria to attend the funeral of the father she never knew, she meets her extravagant family for the first time, a new and inspiring love interest, and discovers parts of herself she didn’t know were missing, from Jane Igharo, the acclaimed author of Ties That Tether.

Hannah Bailey has never known her father, the Nigerian entrepreneur who had a brief relationship with her white mother. Because of this, Hannah has always felt uncertain about part of her identity. When her father dies, she’s invited to Nigeria for the funeral. Though she wants to hate the man who abandoned her, she’s curious about who he was and where he was from. Searching for answers, Hannah boards a plane to Lagos, Nigeria.

In Banana Island, one of Nigeria’s most affluent areas, Hannah meets the Jolades, her late father’s prestigious family—some who accept her and some who think she doesn’t belong. The days leading up to the funeral are chaotic, but Hannah is soon shaped by secrets that unfold, a culture she never thought she would understand or appreciate, and a man who steals her heart and helps her to see herself in a new light.

 

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I have this rather annoying (or at least it’s annoying to me) habit of adding books to my TBR list and then promptly forgetting about them until they pop back up on my reading radar. This next title is one such book, Seven Days in June. As someone that has been dealing with migraine for 40+ years, any book featuring a migraineur should have been one of the first I grabbed to read (the main female character suffers from migraine and the portrayal was all-too familiar). Sadly, I didn’t end up reading this book until mid-December and I had even obtained a signed copy of this book earlier this year in North Carolina. If this one is on your TBR list, I suggest you read it sooner rather than later!

Seven Days in June by Tia Williams
ISBN: 9781538719107 (hardcover)
ISBN: 9781538719114 (ebook)
ISBN: 9781549104855 (digital audiobook)
ASIN: B094471J1S (Audible audiobook)
ASIN: B08KQ3KS5Y (Kindle edition)
Publication date: June 1, 2021
Publisher: Grand Central Publishing
Genre: Fiction | Romance

Brooklynite Eva Mercy is a single mom and bestselling erotica writer, who is feeling pressed from all sides. Shane Hall is a reclusive, enigmatic, award-winning literary author who, to everyone’s surprise, shows up in New York.

When Shane and Eva meet unexpectedly at a literary event, sparks fly, raising not only their past buried traumas, but the eyebrows of New York’s Black literati. What no one knows is that twenty years earlier, teenage Eva and Shane spent one crazy, torrid week madly in love. They may be pretending that everything is fine now, but they can’t deny their chemistry – or the fact that they’ve been secretly writing to each other in their books ever since.

Over the next seven days in the middle of a steamy Brooklyn summer, Eva and Shane reconnect, but Eva’s not sure how she can trust the man who broke her heart, and she needs to get him out of New York so that her life can return to normal. But before Shane disappears again, there are a few questions she needs answered…

With its keen observations of Black life and the condition of modern motherhood, as well as the consequences of motherless-ness, Seven Days in June is by turns humorous, warm and deeply sensual.

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This next title is part of a series, “Modern Mail Order Brides” by Olivia Gaines. I’ve read all of thirteen of the titles, enjoyed some much more than others although I’ve enjoyed them all. Sunflowers and Honey had me staying up late reading, choking on my tea and triggering an asthma attack from laughing so hard, and smiling until the last page. Although this title released in October, I’ve already read it a number of times and enjoy it a little more with each re-reading.

Sunflowers and Honey, Modern Mail Order Brides #13, by Olivia Gaines
ISBN: 9798488630000 (paperback)
ASIN: B098LZBGLJ (Kindle edition)
Publication date: October 12, 2021
Publisher: Davonshire House Publishing
Genre: Fiction | Romance

Symphony Willis wasn’t about to let her big sister have all the fun. Placing a call to Melody, she asked what everyone wanted to know, “where did you meet Lakota?”

Following the directions sent via text, Symphony walked into the offices of Perfect Match to start a journey that opened not only a lot of doors, but her heart to understanding what it truly means to be family.

Saddle up as we head West to a family farm in Oklahoma that specializes in Sunflowers and Honey.

 
Purchase Links #CommissionEarned: IndieBound.org Amazon | Amazon Kindle | BookDepository.com


My final romance recommendation is a novella by the one and only, Beverly Jenkins. (Told you, I read everything this Queen writes!) Ms. Bev released this novella a few months ago and I’ve already read it multiple times. Yes, it was just that good. Romance, interesting characters, books, intrigue, books, romance, and books!

Rare Danger by Beverly Jenkins
ISBN: 9781713643876 (audiobook on CD)
ASIN: B09JFSH428 (Audible audiobook)
ASIN: B09CGBQW7R (Kindle edition)
Publication date: November 16, 2021
Publisher: Montlake
Genre: Fiction | Novella | Romance | Romantic-Suspense

A librarian’s quiet life becomes a page-turner of adventure, romance, and murder in a thrilling novella by USA Today bestselling author Beverly Jenkins.

For Jasmine Ware, curating books for an exclusive clientele is her passion. Until an old friend, a dealer of rare books, goes missing and his partner is murdered. Linked to an artifact smuggled out of the ancient library at Timbuktu, the mystery draws Jasmine deeper into a plot that could cost her her life.

Air force veteran and private security ace Torr Noble is accustomed to adrenaline-pumping stakes. He never expected a private librarian would be so intriguing, but Jasmine is full of surprises. As the connection between them burns hot, a powerful old enemy raises his head. Torr and Jasmine must work together to find the missing dealer.

Will the search be the start of a happily ever after or a disastrous THE END?

 
Purchase Links #CommissionEarned: Amazon Kindle | Audible Audiobook | Amazon Audiobook on CD


Of course there were plenty of other titles that I read and enjoyed in 2021. The few mentioned on this “best of” list are the ones that truly stood out. Once again, I have to say “THANK YOU” to all of the wonderful authors, publishing companies, publicists, book tour companies, and libraries that afforded me so many fantastic reads over the course of 2021. I hope y’all had some wonderful reads last year and I hope we all have just as many great reads on our 2022 list come the end of the year.

Happy Reading, y’all!

Best Fiction Reads of 2021: Part 3

Best Fiction Reads of 2021

This third installment to my “Best Fiction Reads” list focuses on historical fiction. As with my previous recommendations, this portion of the list includes a little bit of everything within the historical fiction genre. If you haven’t read any of these titles, then I hope one or two (if not all) of these will spark your interest and make it to your 2022 reading list.

I love reading anything written by Beverly Jenkins. (Seriously, if she writes it then I’m reading it!) Earlier this year, I had the pleasure of reading and reviewing Wild Rain, book two in the “Women Who Dare” series. This book included a character readers were introduced to in book three of the “Old West” series, Tempest. I’m a big fan of books featuring strong characters of color and this particular book introduced me to what has been termed a “cinnamon roll” male character. A “cinnamon roll” character is one that is described as kind and sweet, as well as being strong (physically and/or emotionally) and invested in the well-being of their love interest (yes, I’ve read other books with this type of character but hadn’t heard them referred to as a “cinnamon roll” before). If you enjoy reading historical romance with strong female and male characters, then look no further and grab yourself a copy of Wild Rain ASAP!

Wild Rain, Women Who Dare #2, by Beverly Jenkins
ISBN: 9780062861719 (paperback)
ISBN: 9780063075153 (hardcover)
ISBN: 9780062861726 (ebook)
ISBN: 9780062861733 (digital audiobook)
ASIN: B07ZTVKBPW (Audible audiobook)
ASIN: B07ZP1NLD8 (Kindle edition)
Publisher: Avon Books
Release Date: February 9, 2021
Genre: Fiction | Historical Romance | African-American Historical Fiction

 

The second novel in USA Today bestselling author Beverly Jenkins’ compelling new Women Who Dare series follows a female rancher in Wyoming after the Civil War.

A reporter has come to Wyoming to do a story on doctors for his Black newspaper back east. He thinks Colton Lee will be an interesting subject…until he meets Colton’s sister, Spring. She runs her own ranch, wears denim pants instead of dresses, and is the most fascinating woman he’s ever met.
 
But Spring, who has overcome a raucous and scandalous past, isn’t looking for, nor does she want, love. As their attraction grows, will their differences come between them or unite them for an everlasting love?

 

 Read an excerpt here.



 

I’m sure you’ve probably heard of this next book, simply because it has been raved about online all year, Yellow Wife. If you haven’t heard anything about this book, then I’m pleased to introduce you to this amazing fictionalized historical read based upon a real woman and amazing circumstances in Virginia during the 19th Century.

YELLOW WIFE book coverYellow Wife by Sadeqa Johnson
ISBN: 9781982149116 (paperback – released on December 28, 2021)
ISBN: 9781982149109 (hardcover)
ISBN: 9781982149123 (ebook)
ISBN: 9781797118819 (digital audiobook)
ASIN: B08CM6NJBF (Audible audiobook)
ASIN: B08BZFTB1Y (Kindle edition)
Publisher: Simon and Schuster
Release Date: January 12, 2021
Genre: Fiction | Historical Fiction | Coming-of-Age | African-American Historical Fiction

 

Called “wholly engrossing” by New York Times bestselling author Kathleen Grissom, this “fully immersive” (Lisa Wingate, #1 bestselling author of Before We Were Yours) story follows an enslaved woman forced to barter love and freedom while living in the most infamous slave jail in Virginia.

Born on a plantation in Charles City, Virginia, Pheby Delores Brown has lived a relatively sheltered life. Shielded by her mother’s position as the estate’s medicine woman and cherished by the Master’s sister, she is set apart from the others on the plantation, belonging to neither world.

She’d been promised freedom on her eighteenth birthday, but instead of the idyllic life she imagined with her true love, Essex Henry, Pheby is forced to leave the only home she has ever known. She unexpectedly finds herself thrust into the bowels of slavery at the infamous Devil’s Half Acre, a jail in Richmond, Virginia, where the enslaved are broken, tortured, and sold every day. There, Pheby is exposed not just to her Jailer’s cruelty but also to his contradictions. To survive, Pheby will have to outwit him, and she soon faces the ultimate sacrifice.

 

I especially enjoy reading stories about books or people dealing with books. This next book hit on both levels. The Personal Librarian presents the fictionalized story of the woman responsible for crafting the Pierpont Morgan Library, Belle da Costa Greene. This amazing woman of color passed as “White” for almost all of her adult life and had the amazing responsibility of assisting in the development of and subsequent management of one of the largest private libraries in the United States.

The Personal Librarian by Marie Benedict and Victoria Christopher Murray
ISBN: 9780593101537 (hardcover)
ISBN: 9780593101551 (ebook)
ISBN: 9780593409701 (digital audiobook)
ISBN: 9780593409718 (audiobook on CD)
ASIN: B08J8HRWP8 (Audible audiobook)
ASIN: B08HL999ZD (Kindle edition)
Publisher: Berkley
Release Date: June 29, 2021
Genre: Fiction | Historical Fiction | Literary Fiction

 

The remarkable, little-known story of Belle da Costa Greene, J. P. Morgan’s personal librarian—who became one of the most powerful women in New York despite the dangerous secret she kept in order to make her dreams come true, from New York Times bestselling author Marie Benedict and acclaimed author Victoria Christopher Murray.

In her twenties, Belle da Costa Greene is hired by J. P. Morgan to curate a collection of rare manuscripts, books, and artwork for his newly built Pierpont Morgan Library. Belle becomes a fixture on the New York society scene and one of the most powerful people in the art and book world, known for her impeccable taste and shrewd negotiating for critical works as she helps build a world-class collection.

But Belle has a secret, one she must protect at all costs. She was born not Belle da Costa Greene but Belle Marion Greener. She is the daughter of Richard Greener, the first Black graduate of Harvard and a well-known advocate for equality. Belle’s complexion isn’t dark because of her alleged Portuguese heritage that lets her pass as white—her complexion is dark because she is African American.

The Personal Librarian tells the story of an extraordinary woman, famous for her intellect, style, and wit, and shares the lengths to which she must go—for the protection of her family and her legacy—to preserve her carefully crafted white identity in the racist world in which she lives.

 

There seems to be an underlying theme of “strong women of color” within my historical fiction recommendations, and the next title fits this quite well. I had never heard of Dorothy Kirwan Thomas before reading Island Queen, but I quickly became fascinated by this woman that lived during the 18th and 19th centuries. This is a fictionalized story of a real woman that had great influence in the Caribbean and beyond across two centuries. This is yet another book that I passed to my mother to read. We both enjoyed it so much, we have print copies for our respective home libraries (okay, I also have a digital copy in addition to my print copy). I consider myself fortunate enough to have obtained the author’s signature on my print copy at a regional book festival (I forgot to take my mother’s copy to get it signed, sorry Mom).

ISLAND QUEEN by Vanessa Riley book coverIsland Queen by Vanessa Riley
ISBN: 9780063002845 (hardcover)
ISBN: 9780063002869 (ebook)
ISBN: 9780063002876 (digital audiobook)
ASIN: B08MLPY619 (Audible audiobook)
ASIN: B08KQD5J9T (Kindle edition)
Publisher: William Morrow
Release Date: May 11, 2021
Genre: Fiction | Historical Fiction | Literary Fiction

 

A remarkable, sweeping historical novel based on the incredible true life story of Dorothy Kirwan Thomas, a free woman of color who rose from slavery to become one of the wealthiest and most powerful landowners in the colonial West Indies.

Born into slavery on the tiny Caribbean island of Montserrat, Doll bought her freedom—and that of her sister and her mother—from her Irish planter father and built a legacy of wealth and power as an entrepreneur, merchant, hotelier, and planter that extended from the marketplaces and sugar plantations of Dominica and Barbados to a glittering luxury hotel in Demerara on the South American continent.

Vanessa Riley’s novel brings Doll to vivid life as she rises above the harsh realities of slavery and colonialism by working the system and leveraging the competing attentions of the men in her life: a restless shipping merchant, Joseph Thomas; a wealthy planter hiding a secret, John Coseveldt Cells; and a roguish naval captain who will later become King William IV of England.

From the bustling port cities of the West Indies to the forbidding drawing rooms of London’s elite, Island Queen is a sweeping epic of an adventurer and a survivor who answered to no one but herself as she rose to power and autonomy against all odds, defying rigid eighteenth-century morality and the oppression of women as well as people of color. It is an unforgettable portrait of a true larger-than-life woman who made her mark on history.

 

I had the pleasure of seeing this next author in a presentation with Vanessa Riley and others a few months ago at a regional book festival. And yes I got my print copy signed. This is another fictionalized history story featuring strong women of color. Sisters in Arms presents the story of several African American women in the Women’s Army Corps during World War II. For those of you that enjoy WWII stories, I encourage you to grab a copy of this one to read.

SISTERS IN ARMS by Kaia AldersonSisters in Arms by Kaia Alderson
ISBN: 9780062964588 (trade paperback)
ISBN: 9780062964595 (ebook)
ISBN: 9780063096837 (digital audiobook)
ASIN: B08TN14WK9 (Audible audiobook)
ASIN: B08FJHLBW3 (Kindle edition)
Publisher: William Morrow
Release Date: August 3, 2021
Genre: Fiction | Historical Fiction | African-American History | WWII

 

Kaia Alderson’s debut historical fiction novel reveals the untold, true story of the Six Triple Eight, the only all-Black battalion of the Women’s Army Corps, who made the dangerous voyage to Europe to ensure American servicemen received word from their loved ones during World War II.

Grace Steele and Eliza Jones may be from completely different backgrounds, but when it comes to the army, specifically the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps (WAAC), they are both starting from the same level. Not only will they be among the first class of female officers the army has even seen, they are also the first Black women allowed to serve.

As these courageous women help to form the 6888th Central Postal Directory Battalion, they are dealing with more than just army bureaucracy—everyone is determined to see this experiment fail. For two northern women, learning to navigate their way through the segregated army may be tougher than boot camp. Grace and Eliza know that there is no room for error; they must be more perfect than everyone else.

When they finally make it overseas, to England and then France, Grace and Eliza will at last be able to do their parts for the country they love, whatever the risk to themselves.

Based on the true story of the 6888th Postal Battalion (the Six Triple Eight), Sisters in Arms explores the untold story of what life was like for the only all-Black, female U.S. battalion to be deployed overseas during World War II.

 


The final book on this list is a blend of contemporary and historical fiction, coupled with magical realism and time-travel. I’ve read and reviewed a number of titles in the “Found Things” series by Paula Brackston, including City of Time and Magic. This addition to the series is a bit darker than some of the others but it was still an engrossing read and one I hope you’ll enjoy when you read it.

City of Time and Magic, Found Things #4, by Paula Brackston
ISBN: 9781250260697 (hardcover)
ISBN: 9781250260703 (ebook)
ISBN: 9781250818874 (digital audiobook)
ASIN: B08TZ38281 (Audible audiobook)
ASIN: B08R2HCFLR (Kindle edition)
Publication date: November 23, 2020
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
Genre: Fiction | Historical Fiction | Fantasy | Time-Travel

Xanthe meets Brackston’s most famous heroine, Elizabeth Hawksmith from The Witch’s Daughter, in this crossover story with all the “historical detail, village charm, and twisty plotting” of the Found Things series (Publishers Weekly).

City of Time and Magic sees Xanthe face her greatest challenges yet. She must choose from three treasures that sing to her; a beautiful writing slope, a mourning brooch of heartbreaking detail, and a gorgeous gem-set hat pin. All call her, but the wrong one could take her on a mission other than that which she must address first, and the stakes could not be higher. While her earlier mission to Regency England had been a success, the journey home resulted in Liam being taken from her, spirited away to another time and place. Xanthe must follow the treasure that will take her to him if he is not to be lost forever.

Xanthe is certain that Mistress Flyte has Liam and determined to find them both. But when she discovers Lydia Flyte has been tracking the actions of the Visionary Society, a group of ruthless and unscrupulous Spinners who have been selling their talents to a club of wealthy clients, Xanthe realizes her work as a Spinner must come before her personal wishes. The Visionary Society is highly dangerous and directly opposed to the creed of the Spinners. Their actions could have disastrous consequences as they alter the authentic order of things and change the future. Xanthe knows she must take on the Society. It will require the skills of all her friends, old and new, to attempt such a thing, and not all of them will survive the confrontation that follows.

 

 Purchase Links #CommissionEarned: IndieBound.org | Amazon | Amazon Kindle | Audible Audiobook | Audiobooks.com | AudiobooksNow.com | Barnes and Noble | BookDepository.com | Bookshop.org | Downpour Audiobook | eBooks.com | !ndigo Books | Kobo Audiobook | Kobo eBook


Thanks once again to the authors, publishers, publicists, book tour companies, library systems, etc. that afforded me the opportunity to read so many wonderful books this year. I hope you’ll return to see what books make the fourth part of this list, the contemporary romance reads.

Happy Reading, y’all!

Best Fiction Reads of 2021: Part 2

Best Fiction Reads of 2021

We’re getting close to the end of 2021. At times, this year has seemed to drag by, second-by-second, and at other times it flew. Okay, it seemed to drag whenever I was looking forward to the release of a new book or an in-person book event. (Time always seems to drag when you’re anticipating something or at least it does for me.) Although this was a moderately bad year for me migraine-wise, it was actually a good reading year. Part One of my “best of 2021” left off with general fiction reads. Today, I’d like to focus on my suspense, thriller, Afrojujuism, Young Adult, and Sci-Fi reads. I have very eclectic reading tastes and this year afforded me the opportunity to read a number of great books across a host of fiction genres.


I began reading P.J. Tracy with the Monkeewrench series (man, I miss that series; guess it’s time for a re-re-read). I was sad to hear of the passing of half of this mother-daughter writing duo, P.J. Lambrecht, in 2016 and thought that might be the end of books by this author. I was happily surprised when Traci Lambrecht continued the Monkeewrench series and released this psychological thriller earlier this year, the first in a new series.

DEEP INTO THE DARK by P.J. TracyDeep Into The Dark, Detective Margaret Nolan #1, by P. J. Tracy
ISBN: 9781250813831 (trade paperback – released 09/28/2021)
ISBN: 9781250754943 (hardcover)
ISBN: 9781250783578 (ebook)
ISBN: 9781250790071 (digital audiobook)
ASIN: B088ML1NXZ (Audible audiobook)
ASIN: B08BKL7N6K (Kindle edition)
Publisher: Minotaur Books
Release Date: January 12, 2021

 

Sam Easton—a true survivor—is home from Afghanistan, trying to rebuild a life in his hometown of LA. Separated from his wife, bartending and therapy sessions are what occupy his days and nights. When friend and colleague Melody Traeger is beaten by her boyfriend, she turns to Sam for help. When the boyfriend turns up dead the next day, a hard case like Sam is the perfect suspect.
 
But LAPD Detective Margaret Nolan, whose brother recently died serving overseas, is sympathetic to Sam’s troubles, and can’t quite see him as a killer. She’s more interested in the secrets Melody might be keeping and the developments in another murder case on the other side of town.
 
Set in an LA where real people live and work—not the superficial LA of Beverly Hills or the gritty underbelly of the city—Deep into the Dark features two really engaging, dynamic main characters and explores the nature of obsession, revenge, and grief.
 
P. J. Tracy is known for her “fast, fresh, and funny” characters (Harlan Coben) and her “sizzling” plots (People); the Monkeewrench series was her first, set in Minneapolis and co-written with her mother. Now with Deep into the Dark she’s on her own—and it’s a home run.
 
 
 
Read an excerpt by clicking here.
 

I’ve read quite a number of titles by Nnedi Okorafor and this author does not disappoint. Most of her titles are classified as AfricanJujuism and they meld African folklore and legends with hints of Sci-Fi and Fantasy. This title was released early in the year and I enjoyed it so much I now have two different digital copies of the book (Kindle and EPUB formats). If you enjoy reading multicultural stories that blend Sci-Fi, Female Empowerment, Coming-of-Age, and good storytelling, I encourage you to grab a copy of this novella for yourself or a friend.

REMOTE CONTROL by Nnedi OkoraforRemote Control by Nnedi Okorafor
ISBN: 9781250772800 (hardcover)
ISBN: 9781250772794 (ebook)
ISBN: 9781250772961 (digital audiobook)
ASIN: B087V5LZD2 (Audible audiobook)
ASIN: B0879FRJ9X (Kindle edition)
Publisher: Tordotcom
Release Date: January 19, 2021
Genre: Fiction | Novella | AfricanJujuism | Science-Fiction

 

“She’s the adopted daughter of the Angel of Death. Beware of her. Mind her. Death guards her like one of its own.”

The day Fatima forgot her name, Death paid a visit. From hereon in she would be known as Sankofa­­—a name that meant nothing to anyone but her, the only tie to her family and her past.

Her touch is death, and with a glance a town can fall. And she walks—alone, except for her fox companion—searching for the object that came from the sky and gave itself to her when the meteors fell and when she was yet unchanged; searching for answers.

But is there a greater purpose for Sankofa, now that Death is her constant companion?

 

I was afforded the opportunity to read this Sci-Fi title shortly before its release. Sadly, this was during a severe migraine period so I was unable to write a review at that time. (It’s difficult to sit upright when dealing with severe vertigo. Photosensitivity issues and blurred vision make it impossible to look at a computer screen and type anything.) I enjoyed this book so much I recommended it to one of my local book clubs and then got to read it again and discuss it with the club. Happily, my club members seemed to enjoy it as much as I did. Several members strongly encouraged me to try the audiobook, still waiting for that pleasure. If you read The Martian or Artemis, then I strongly encourage you to grab a copy of Project Hail Mary to read. Don’t just take my word for it, Project Hail Mary won the Goodreads Choice Award for Science Fiction this year. Yes, millions of readers voted this book as the best Sci-Fi read for the year.

PROJECT HAIL MARY by Andy WeirProject Hail Mary by Andy Weir
ISBN: 9780593135204 (hardcover)
ISBN: 9780593135211 (ebook)
ISBN: 9781713630296 (audiobook on CD)
ASIN: B08GB58KD5 (Audible audiobook)
ASIN: B08FHBV4ZX (Kindle edition)
Publisher: Ballantine Books
Release Date: May 4, 2021

 

Ryland Grace is the sole survivor on a desperate, last-chance mission—and if he fails, humanity and the Earth itself will perish.

Except that right now, he doesn’t know that. He can’t even remember his own name, let alone the nature of his assignment or how to complete it.

All he knows is that he’s been asleep for a very, very long time. And he’s just been awakened to find himself millions of miles from home, with nothing but two corpses for company.

His crewmates dead, his memories fuzzily returning, he realizes that an impossible task now confronts him. Alone on this tiny ship that’s been cobbled together by every government and space agency on the planet and hurled into the depths of space, it’s up to him to conquer an extinction-level threat to our species.

And thanks to an unexpected ally, he just might have a chance.

Part scientific mystery, part dazzling interstellar journey, Project Hail Mary is a tale of discovery, speculation, and survival to rival The Martian—while taking us to places it never dreamed of going.

 

The title of this next book just grabbed me, so it was immediately placed on my personal TBR list. I’m not a big reader of Sci-Fi, although I do enjoy what I read in this genre, nor am I a big reader of Steampunk, but this Steampunk Sci-Fi read pulled me in and I’m glad I read it. A Master of Djinn by P. Djeli Clark is the first book in the Dead Djinn Universe and it packed quite a punch. If you’re going to add this to your TBR list (and you should), then I also encourage you to add A Dead Djinn in Cairo, Dead Djinn Universe #0.1, and The Haunting of Tram Car 015, Dead Djinn Universe #0.3, to your list as well. I’m greatly looking forward to reading the next book in this series.

A MASTER OF DJINN by P. Djeli ClarkA Master of Djinn, Dead Djinn Universe #1, by P. Djeli Clark
ISBN: 9781250267689 (hardcover)
ISBN: 9781250267672 (ebook)
ISBN: 9781250807731 (digital audiobook)
ASIN: B08JD2THTX (Audible audiobook)
ASIN: B08HKXS84X (Kindle edition)
Publisher: Tordotcom
Release Date: May 11, 2021

 

Nebula, Locus, and Alex Award-winner P. Djèlí Clark returns to his popular alternate Cairo universe for his fantasy novel debut, A Master of Djinn

Cairo, 1912: Though Fatma el-Sha’arawi is the youngest woman working for the Ministry of Alchemy, Enchantments and Supernatural Entities, she’s certainly not a rookie, especially after preventing the destruction of the universe last summer.

So when someone murders a secret brotherhood dedicated to one of the most famous men in history, al-Jahiz, Agent Fatma is called onto the case. Al-Jahiz transformed the world 50 years ago when he opened up the veil between the magical and mundane realms, before vanishing into the unknown. This murderer claims to be al-Jahiz, returned to condemn the modern age for its social oppressions. His dangerous magical abilities instigate unrest in the streets of Cairo that threaten to spill over onto the global stage.

Alongside her Ministry colleagues and her clever girlfriend Siti, Agent Fatma must unravel the mystery behind this imposter to restore peace to the city – or face the possibility he could be exactly who he seems…

 

The next book is another title from my personal TBR stash and list (versus the blog’s TBR list and yes, I actually have two separate TBR lists although there is often some crossover). I had previously read this author’s romantic suspense titles and was greatly anticipating the release of this suspense thriller, While Justice Sleeps. I enjoyed this one so much that I “lent” my hardcover copy to my 87-y.o. mother to read and she promptly lent it to one of my aunts to read after she finished it. I finally got my print copy back, but it made a few rounds in the family first. And yes, I do own a digital copy as well as a print copy of this book!

WHILE JUSTICE SLEEPS by Stacey AbramsWhile Justice Sleeps by Stacey Abrams
ISBN: 9780385546577 (hardcover)
ISBN: 9780385546584 (ebook)
ISBN: 9780593413708 (digital audiobook)
ISBN: 9780593501764 (audiobook on CD)
ASIN: B08L5KSV33 (Audible audiobook)
ASIN: B08KSRQ7L1 (Kindle edition)
Publisher: Doubleday
Release Date: May 11, 2021

 

While Justice Sleeps is a gripping, complexly plotted thriller set within the halls of the U.S. Supreme Court.

Avery Keene, a brilliant young law clerk for the legendary Justice Howard Wynn, is doing her best to hold her life together–excelling in an arduous job with the court while also dealing with a troubled family. When the shocking news breaks that Justice Wynn—the cantankerous swing vote on many current high-profile cases—has slipped into a coma, Avery’s life turns upside down. She is immediately notified that Justice Wynn has left instructions for her to serve as his legal guardian and power of attorney. Plunged into an explosive role she never anticipated, Avery finds that Justice Wynn had been secretly researching one of the most controversial cases before the court–a proposed merger between an American biotech company and an Indian genetics firm, which promises to unleash breathtaking results in the medical field. She also discovers that Wynn suspected a dangerously related conspiracy that infiltrates the highest power corridors of Washington.

As political wrangling ensues in Washington to potentially replace the ailing judge whose life and survival Avery controls, she begins to unravel a carefully constructed, chesslike sequence of clues left behind by Wynn. She comes to see that Wynn had a much more personal stake in the controversial case and realizes his complex puzzle will lead her directly into harm’s way in order to find the truth. While Justice Sleeps is a cunningly crafted, sophisticated novel, layered with myriad twists and a vibrant cast of characters. Drawing on her astute inside knowledge of the court and political landscape, Stacey Abrams shows herself to be not only a force for good in politics and voter fairness but also a major new talent in suspense fiction.

 

The next book is a title I won in an online giveaway via BookishFirst, Sugar Town Queens by Malla Nunn. This author has delftly combined a coming-of-age story with female empowerment, colorism, family, community, abuse, emotional health issues, as well as social and racial equity. Yes, there is tragedy in this story, but there is also laughter, love, friendship, and more. I passed this title along to not only my 87-y.o. mother to read, but to one of my 14-y.o. diva twin nieces as well. I’m happy to report that everyone enjoyed it as much as I did.

SUGAR TOWN QUEENS by Malla NunSugar Town Queens by Malla Nunn
ISBN: 9780525515609 (hardcover)
ISBN: 9780525515616 (ebook)
ISBN: 9780593397886 (digital audiobook)
ASIN: B08MV6KWH9 (Audible audiobook)
ASIN: B08MQ3G34L (Kindle edition)
Publisher: G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers
Release Date: August 3, 2021

 

 From LA Times Book Prize Award Winner and Edgar Award Nominee Malla Nunn comes a stunning portrait of a family divided and the bonds that knit our communities.

When Amandla wakes up on her fifteenth birthday she knows it’s going to be one of her mother’s difficult days. Her mother has had another vision. If Amandla wears a blue sheet her mother has loosely stitched as a dress and styles her normally braided hair in a halo around her head, Amandla’s father will come home. Amandla’s mother, Annalisa, always speaks of her father as if he was the prince of a fairytale, but in truth he’s been gone since before Amandla was born and even Annalisa’s memory of him is hazy. In fact many of Annalisa’s memories from before Amandla was born are hazy. It’s just one of the many reasons people in Sugar Town give Annalisa and Amandla strange looks—that and the fact her mother is white and Amandla is brown.

But when Amandla finds a mysterious address in the bottom of her mother’s handbag along with a large amount of cash, she decides it’s finally time to get answers about her mother’s life. But what she discovers will change the shape and size of her family forever.

 

The final book on this list is another Young Adult title and a Jane Eyre fantasy retelling. (Jane Eyre is one of my all-time favorite stories and I enjoy reading anything inspired by or listed as a retelling.) This title had been on my personal TBR list from the moment I heard about it (hey, Jane Eyre retelling folks!). However, due to a few parental health issues followed by multiple deaths in the family, I didn’t get around to reading this until recently. Let me sum up with “WOW, Great Read!”

WITHIN THESE WICKED WALLS by Lauren BlackwoodWithin These Wicked Walls by Lauren Blackwood
ISBN: 9781250787101 (hardcover)
ISBN: 9781250787118 (ebook)
ISBN: 9781250819833 (digital audiobook)
ASIN: B08SNSSJZG (Audible audiobook)
ASIN: B08R2L2BRD (Kindle edition)
Publisher: Wednesday Books
Release Date: October 19, 2021

 

“Lauren Blackwood’s can’t-miss debut is a magical, Ethiopian-inspired remix of Jane Eyre.” – Harper’s Bazaar

Within These Wicked Walls is an indulgently Gothic fairy tale, comparable in mastery with Mexican Gothic and Jane Eyre. An intricate magic system, a grimly humorous Black heroine, AND a heart-thumping romance? This book leaves nothing wanting.” – Jordan Ifueko, New York Times bestselling author of Raybearer

What the heart desires, the house destroys…

Andromeda is a debtera—an exorcist hired to cleanse households of the Evil Eye. She would be hired, that is, if her mentor hadn’t thrown her out before she could earn her license. Now her only hope of steady work is to find a Patron—a rich, well-connected individual who will vouch for her abilities.

When a handsome young heir named Magnus Rochester reaches out to hire her, she takes the job without question. Never mind that he’s rude and demanding and eccentric, that the contract comes with a number of outlandish rules… and that almost a dozen debtera had quit before her. If Andromeda wants to earn a living, she has no choice.

But she quickly realizes this is a job like no other, with horrifying manifestations at every turn, and that Magnus is hiding far more than she has been trained for. Death is the most likely outcome if she stays, the reason every debtera before her quit. But leaving Magnus to live out his curse alone isn’t an option because—heaven help her—she’s fallen for him.

Stunningly romantic, Lauren Blackwood’s heartstopping debut, Within These Wicked Walls, ushers in an exciting new fantasy voice.

Kiersten White meets Tomi Adeyemi in this Ethiopian-inspired debut fantasy retelling of Jane Eyre.

 

Once again, I’m grateful to the authors, publishers, publicists, virtual book tour companies, book clubs, and libraries that have afforded me the opportunity to read so many wonderful titles. Part Three of my “Best of” list will focus on Historical Fiction. I hope you’ll return to read that one and stay tuned for Part Four focusing on Romance.

Happy Reading, y’all!