Woo! We get to wrap up this year long blogging project! If you missed the first two, you can find them here (January – April) and here (May – August). Essentially though, this post is one where I attempt to rank the 2021 releases I read from worst to best, so a few disclaimers here. First, this is entirely my opinion, which is again, my opinion. Second, within the star ratings, I’m going to be real honest, y’all could probably assume a book could go up or down about two spots. This was hard! And then my top five books? I loved all of them so much and genuinely could go back and forth on the order of at least the top three depending on when you ask me. But, let’s get started!
The Witch’s Wolves by Ellie Mae MacGregor
You know, what’s bad is that without clicking on the synopsis of this book, I remember literally nothing about it. It has left my memory entirely. I really proved this beginning of my review totally correct: “The Devil’s Own Duke was a perfectly fine romance novel, but not one that’s going to stick with me for a long time. In fact, in the two or three days since I finished it, I have already forgotten so many of the details.”
Okay, I am confident this book has a market for it, but despite thinking that I would be that target market, it turns out, nope. Not at all. If you like fun and funny paranormal romance with a wild plot that should be heavy but is not, maybe give this one a shot.
This book was estranged childhood friends to lovers and in theory, I should have loved it on that basis alone, but there were just a variety of things that didn’t work for me and it lacked the spark that Shupe’s novels usually have. The second book in this series though you’ll see later on this list and much higher up.
I mostly really enjoyed this second chance romance, but it sort of drags and I think even though I love the idea of Oliveras’ plots, I just don’t jive with her writing style, which is crushing.
This book was good, but it was not what I wanted. It’s not what I wanted because I wanted a book to give me all the feels the way Daisy Jones did and this book just couldn’t quite compete. I never forgot that these people were characters and while I was curious about the music stuff, I wasn’t desperate to listen to them the way I was with Daisy Jones songs.
Good Twin Gone Country by Jessica Lemmon
Not quite as good as the first book I read of Lemmon’s, but I still enjoyed her writing and I always love a plot where a woman comes into her own. However, why does coming into one’s own always have to mean flouting rules and conventions like you can’t be a whole person if you follow the rules?
Maybe it’s the West Virginian in me, but I really loved this Hatfield and McCoy inspired feud situation and the romance that crossed clan lines. It’s not my favorite of Bateman’s books, but it was an enjoyable historical and I had fun with it.
The Queer Principles of Kit Webb by Cat Sebastian (ARC Review)
I found this book to be difficult to get into for entirely too many pages and then I found the middle to end to be mostly really lovely, except it also got a little confusing. Basically, for me, the biggest success of this book was the set up for the next book in the series. I’m so intrigued by these side characters, even though I’m not entirely convinced I like them? Somehow, despite reading this book three months ago, I still don’t quite have my thoughts sorted. My ARC Review is coming though, I swear. I sort of forgot I hadn’t already posted it. Oops.
We Can’t Keep Meeting Like This by Rachel Lynn Solomon
This YA romance really should have worked for me, I think, but didn’t and I wonder if that’s not in large part because I just wanted Solomon’s writing to be giving me an adult romance instead. Hm. Regardless, I’m not sure why this one didn’t work so well for me, but I think it was definitely a personal thing and would recommend this to anyone into YA contemporary.
A Kiss to Remember by Naima Simone
This novella was one that I both really liked and felt like needed a lot more space because it felt like there were a lot of family dynamics and internal issues that both characters needed to work through before their HEA. That said, I still enjoyed it a lot and loved the Fall vibes. Especially the cover.
Sometimes I Trip Over How Happy We Could Be by Nichole Perkins
Honestly, I don’t know how to talk about this book beyond it’s a memoir in essay collection form and… It’s a book that I feel like I should have enjoyed more than I did, but I can’t explain what didn’t work for me about it. That’s not to say I don’t think it’s good, by any means, but the essays were an uneven collection for me. That said, I think if you’re an older millennial and/or interested in dating, pop culture, or you just really like Perkins on Twitter, you can still get a lot out of this one.
I have really loved the Jackson Falls series and the over the top soapy familial drama of these books, but this one pushed me a little too far, but in a weird way. We’re introduced to a different side of the family and we get a suspense subplot and I just… didn’t feel like the balance was quite there. It felt like it would have been better served as being a pure spinoff of the series and not still trying to shoehorn in scenes with the other side of the family in Jackson Falls when most of this story takes place in South Carolina. But otherwise, I enjoyed this one!
Lore Olympus: Volume One by Rachel Smythe
I am genuinely so excited for Volume Two because I feel like this sort of ends more abruptly than I would like. And I know, I know I could just go read the webcomic, but I love the way this book feels. The papers are so smooth and the colors are stunning. I just really enjoyed this, but huge CW for rape.
I enjoyed this installment of Simone’s Rose Bend series more than the first, I think. What I really loved about it was this exploration of staying in one’s town and grief and the complexities of family. There was a lot here actually to unpack and I think for the most part it was handled really well. I just think that even though sometimes it felt long, there were still parts that needed more air to breathe.
Twisted Love by Ana Huang
This book was addictive for me, but intellectually I struggled with the content at times when my brain would come back online and be like, “he did what?” Basically, the male main character in this romance is… not a great dude. But when my brain wasn’t online, I was really into this.
Jesse’s book was one I was desperately waiting for and it certainly lived up to what I was hoping for the most part. I don’t know if it was my mood that kept me from falling super in love with it or if there was something about the way this book felt stuffed full of plot without time to breathe, but regardless, that’s how we landed here.
I really enjoy the way Lopez wrote this whole series. They’re all a little over the top, but the way she weaves the royal and suspense plot lines together just really appeals to me. It still feels more contemporary than romantic suspense, which for me, is usually the right balance. Plus, as usual, the romance was quite sexy and enjoyable.
The Summer of Lost Letters by Hannah Reynolds
The writing in this book is absolutely gorgeous and I loved almost everything about it. I have really fond memories of it, but it took me ages to read, which is the main reason I wound up rating it 4 stars. But if you’re interested in a YA with a sort of loose dual timeline situation (there are letters from the main character’s grandmother) I would highly, highly recommend.
Payback’s a Witch by Lana Harper
This book was really fun! It’s a sapphic romance with this fantastic competition situation and then whole journey of our main character is like, trying to balance all these sides of herself and I loved it. I can’t wait for more from this world.
The Enforcer by Katrina Jackson
I really love The Family series from Jackson. I don’t think this one was quite as enthralling as The Hitman because for once the fact that the balance of things was so far on the romance rather than the suspense side did not work for me (I’m weird sometimes, I guess), but it was still fantastic and I’m so excited for the next installment.
This book was so close to being perfect for me but there were just a few too many plot points and I felt like some of them weren’t wrapped up quite well enough for my satisfaction. But I really loved the characters and the romance and the grief aspect and so much about it.
You Got Anything Stronger? by Gabrielle Union
Although I personally did not like this book quite as much as I did Union’s first one, I think she continued her status as an author to watch and is definitely still one of my favorite celebrities. She’s just so down to earth. And funny. I love her and I loved listening to her share these stories.
This estranged childhood friends to lovers with some second chance vibes worked super well for me. This one is also super steamy and that was fun. Plus I love the cast of characters.
The HGTV Vibes of this book we everything I wanted them to be and I really appreciated the second chance romance as well. I love Rita so much, she’s amazing. I can’t wait for more from Vale.
Twisted Games by Ana Huang
On the one hand, I feel like I shouldn’t love this book as much as I do. On the other hand, I devoured this book and I loved it. Is it perfect? Certainly not for everyone. But for me? Maybe. Almost. There’s just a litttttle too much drama for me, but mostly this royal falling for her bodyguard romance was everything I wanted it to be even though I had zero expectations going in. I am so glad I read it. It was so fun.
A modern day marriage of convenience and the Bergman siblings? This book was so cozy and wonderful. The only thing that kept me from giving it a full five stars was that I just needed a little more something to create some more tension. But if you’re in the mood for cozy goodness, look no further than this.
I really loved this one, but there was something I can’t put my finger on that I felt like I was missing that kept me from giving it a full five stars. Part of this may be that the closer we got to the end of the year, the more strict I became with my ratings, if we’re being honest. But really, Lauren and Alex were wonderful and I loved watching them come together. Alex’s ADHD messiness and his struggles with remembering to eat breakfast before he takes his medicine taught me a lot of things about myself… So, I’m very grateful for this book if nothing else.
I just really love Armstrong’s time slip romances, I think. They’re so unique and I love her characters and the entire concept of a time slip. Plus, this ghost exploration situation was really fantastic and I loved the child in this one. It just super worked for me.
I highly recommend the audiobook of this one. It may be available for you on Hoopla if your library has that option. This is a sports romance that is very outside of my usual, but I was really, really into it. I’m just also pretty sure the audiobook added to the appeal of this rivals to lovers.
Y’all! This book has sex lessons. Well, romance lessons. And I love that. I love it so, so much. I really loved the characters here. Kit and Alice are just fantastic and there’s something about a male main character who has this idea of who he is in his mind and having that challenged by his actions and watching the cognitive dissonance slowly fade as his outer self and inner self got closer and closer. Suddenly I feel like this makes no sense, but let’s just say that Kit and Mat from Wheel of Time have a lot of common in my mind.
The long awaited installment that gave us Sesily and Caleb and it was everything I hoped and more than I dreamed it would be. MacLean hit the angst meter perfectly for me on this one and the adventurous nature of it was really enjoyable.
Hello, I am a Jacobite about a thousand years (two? three?) after that matters and it didn’t go away even reading about people who are like, just trying to survive. Wild. Anyway, I loved this book a lot and I can’t wait to re-read it.
The Love Hypothesis by Ali Hazelwood
This book was funny and sweet and also had a rage enducing scene of sexual harassment that was handled so well by the hero that I forgave the book for the spike in my blood pressure. Honestly, Hazelwood’s debut was just brilliant for me. Her writing style and humor worked remarkably well for my tastes and I loved it.
The Brightest Star in Paris by Diana Biller
This book is gorgeously written with a beautiful romance and the grief aspects are stunning. I just love this one.
Finlay Donovan is Killing It by Elle Cosiamo
This murder mystery situation is the funnest book I read all year and I loved it. It’s so over the top and fabulous but also real enough to feel like it could happen. Plus, I loved the characters.
Reel by Kennedy Ryan
I mean, this book is actual perfection, so… It just captures the emotions so perfectly and everything about it is just stunning and gorgeous.
The Belle and the Beard by Kate Canterbary
I really can’t say anything about any of these top four books beyond they’re so freaking brilliant. I mean, I just love this book and Kate Canterbary’s writing so much.
Archangel’s Light by Nalini Singh
Apparently, I have nothing besides I loved this book so much to say about these top books and that’s more or less how I feel about Archangel’s Light too. Aodhan and Illium are everything to me and this book was such a slow burn and I am so looking forward to more from these two. I really hope this next book in the Guild Hunters series just straight up continues their story because I don’t think it’s complete at all.
This post is always slightly exhausting to put together, so I’m relieved to have it finished! Please let me know what books you loved, whether from this list or not, and especially if you disagree with my ratings. Or if based on my ranking, you have some ideas for other books I might love!