As we begin a new year, I wanted to post my Favorite Reads of 2021 (among hundreds of books I really enjoyed – a huge thank-you to not just these 13 authors, but the many, many authors whose books helped make 2021 less bleak and more survivable. Thank you for all you do!! )
In no particular order:
Master of Hounds (Master of Hounds #1 ) by R.A. Steffan
I really enjoyed this high-fantasy story about an aging soldier whose emperor is falling into senility, while three legitimate sons maneuver to take his place, none of them worthy of the role. Caius is no longer sure where honor drives him. The second son is the worst of the lot, crafty and sadistic, and since he’s also not the true heir, Caius’s conscience doesn’t bother him when he helps a prisoner escape a cruel and unjust death. Developing an attachment to that prisoner, desire and affection combining for the first time in years, is a complication he didn’t need, though. And it turns out someone wants one of them, or perhaps both of them, dead. This book has a very unresolved ending, but book 2 is HFN. Book 3 in 2022.
Peter Cabot Gets Lost (The Cabots, #2) by Cat Sebastian
You don’t need to have read book 1 – A lovely story about Peter, a young man whose political family has high expectations for him, which don’t include being gay. And Caleb, the poor scholarship kid who managed to get through college, graduate, and lands a job he can’t get to. On the spur of the moment, Peter offers to drive Caleb to California, giving himself an escape, and so this road-trip, awakening, exploration and coming of age story develops across 1960s America. A comfort read of two men finding their places in the world and in each other’s hearts.
Magic in Manhattan Collection: Spellbound / Starcrossed / Wonderstruck by Allie Therin
This trilogy was a whole lot of fun. In 1920s Manhattan, twenty-year-old Rory is a psychometric talent. He can hold an object, and look back into its past, watch it being made. This is very useful for detecting forgeries, his current job. But when a high-hatted gentleman tests him with a bundle of letters, it’s the beginning of danger and adventure, with evil and magic afoot. The two men dance around their attraction, in that era, but the end of the series is solid romance HEA, and the fantasy world-building is intriguing and entertaining.
Off Balance (Painted Bay, #1) by Jay Hogan
I really enjoyed this story of a ballet dancer whose brilliant career came crashing down – literally – when his Ménière’s disease took hold and he fell onstage, dropping his partner and beginning his descent into a routine of sudden dizziness and nausea, unexpected drop attacks, and a body out of his control. Judah has retreated home to the family mussel farm, run by his antagonistic brother, where a chance meeting with a widowed fisheries officer gives them each a new hope, even though Judah is really in no place for a relationship. I really appreciated the characters, the nuances, and the very real obstacles to their romance and HEA.
Charles (Learning to Love, #1) by Con Riley
Charles Heppel is a man who has dealt with substantial challenges from his severe dyslexia, and not let them stop him. A man who has used sex as fun and a mood-elevator happily and unashamedly, with enthusiasm and humor. He loves children and feels enormously protective of their right to emotional security and self-expression, and since his disability makes teaching unlikely, he’s found himself a niche working with the preschoolers and play. But Charles has a hard time seeing his own worth. Then he meets Hugh, and finds a man for whom he is a light in darkness. Wonderful characters are the heart of this lovely, sweet story with a hint of poignancy, a favorite and already a reread.
Molly House by A.R. Pip
I went into this book expecting a simple historical romance arc, with the nobleman and the groom somehow finding a way to be together. But while the end of the story does give me a beautifully solid HEA for Theodore and Jack, the road there is long, winding, and full of fallible men, stubborn men, mistakes, social issues, class differences, nasty family, good friends, love and loss and love again. (The cover is a bit misleading, showing Jack when cross-dressing, and perhaps looking like M/F.) There is a lot of great historical detail, and many unexpected turns. I will definitely be looking for more from this author.
Breathe (London Love, #1) by Sophia Soames
We meet two young men – one a burned-out porn star whose career and relationship crashed; the other a student trying to do everything from getting his degree to being guardian to his younger siblings. They both make mistakes. They both have back-story gradually revealed. In this author’s hands, we empathize with them and perceptions of these guys change with new revelations and their own growth and maturity. The secondary characters were an interesting bunch, nicely nuanced, all with positive and negative qualities. The story itself is quiet, but echoes of the past shake both these guys, and they don’t always react well. The ending is solid, sweet, and even fun.
Songs of Red Currant Wine (Colors of Love #6) by V.L. Locey
Carl is a 55-year-old divorced ex-NHL player with an empty life, a dad he loves but hasn’t spent enough time with, and a bad problem with alcohol. He’s gay and has been in the closet his whole adult life. I love stories of older guys with baggage, and I really enjoyed this portrait of a man deeply damaged by childhood emotional abuse, and by the pressures of societal homophobia. Carl feels real, rough around the edges, bitter but daring to hope just a little. Tigh is young, but his experiences overseas make him wise beyond his years. His calm stability and centered self-perception make him exactly the right anchor for Carl’s storm-blown angst.
Heir to a Curse (Romancing a Curse, #1) by Lissa Kasey
Zach has recently lost the woman he considered as close to a mother as a foster kid ever got, to cancer, and inherited her huge house. Over and over – far too often to be natural – the property has been visited with damages, fires, strange lights, and micro-burst storms. Zach takes up residence on the property in the cottage and starts seeing a lovely, slender white-haired man who disappears, a white rabbit, and fire and breakage. And then the dreams begin, of battle and death and promises broken. Myth and Asian cultures and fantasy blend, in a quest to solve the riddle and save the ghost, if that’s what he is. And IMO this book hits an excellent balance between having the 2020 pandemic be a significant presence (like the main character yearning to hug a friend, when it’s not safe) and yet not having the story centered on the pandemic. This story is a fascinating blend of urgent contemporary and paranormal/fantasy.
Penetration Test (The Phisher King, #3) by Thursday Euclid and Clancy Nacht
This book stands alone reasonably well. Unlike the first two books, this one focuses on Sam, a trans guy who’s made a very successful career in the FBI by being excellent at what he does, which has so far all been on the tech/computer side. But he’s a fit, active guy and willing to dive in when assigned along with Agent Crawford to go undercover in an intolerant gated community, investigating the disappearance of a gay couple.
I enjoyed the characters and (as a cis ally) felt the trans rep was well done. Sam’s concerns and moments of dysphoria were well-judged, neither too angsty nor totally absent. The sex combined heat and vulnerability, on the part of both men, and the plot played out plausibly, with a twist.
Honorable mention for the ends of series:
(These are books where you do have to read the series in order)
Subtle Blood (The Will Darling Adventures, #3) by K.J. Charles
This trilogy is a great post-WWI spy-adventure-historical romp, but because it’s by Charles, the characters are fascinating, nuanced, unexpected and appealing. I loved all 3 installments, with Will, the stolid ex-soldier wondering why his inherited bookstore is attracting odd and dangerous folk, and Kit, the elusive and enigmatic young nobleman and spy who turns Will’s life upside down.
The Beginning (Starting Over #5) by Matthew J. Metzger
I love almost everything Metzger writes. This series has fairly heavy BDSM for one MC, open relationships, a trans main character, and by the 4th book MMM and an asexual main character. The characters were very different men with different needs and yet they fit well together, and the author’s skill helps expose and clarify who each man is and how they fit together, as they also grow and come to understand themselves better. Fascinating, with a solid romance ending by the conclusion of book 5.
Benediction (Diversion #9) by Eden Winters
I really enjoy Lucky and Bo, from their first meeting in Diversion to this, the end of this mystery series, with a bonus novella to really wrap things up. Lucky is wonderful – tough, scrappy, smart-assed, intelligent, and deliberately abrasive, as he works desperately to maintain a veneer of don’t-give-a-shit over his vulnerable core. Bo is his perfect match – strong, easygoing, quick with a comeback, and with hidden vulnerabilities of his own that Lucky can’t ignore. The crimes in each book are interesting, with prescription drug issues I often learned something about, but the characters make the books, with humor even in the midst of adventure or angst. A favorite series.
Looking ahead, may 2022 be a great reading year for everyone – if you have a book you loved in 2021 and want me to add to my 2022 TBRs feel free to post it in a comment. Not that my list isn’t already bursting at the seams, but I love hearing about the good stuff.