Choosing a Top Ten list was harder this year than ever before. I read 91 books in 2021, and believe me, choosing just ten took a while. The books listed here affected my life and they linger still. I hope you see something new that piques your interest!
The purchase links are on the images if you see one you want to grab.
And before I close out the year, I want to pay tribute to an author who passed away in 2021. Suzanne Burke was bold in her writing and delved deep into the psyche of twisted characters. But the book that changed me forever, was her memoir, EMPTY CHAIRS. The horrific abuse she suffered would destroy a lesser person, but not Sooz. She was a warrior.
I didn’t read as many books this month as I normally do, but I did manage to finish my current WIP, so I call that a win. Here are the books I did read!
Rancher Staten Kirkland, the last descendent of Ransom Canyon’s founding father, is rugged and practical to the last. No one knows that when his troubling memories threaten to overwhelm him, he runs to lovely, reclusive Quinn O’Grady…or that she has her own secret that no one living knows.
Young Lucas Reyes has his eye on the prize—college, and the chance to become something more than a ranch hand’s son. But one night, one wrong decision will set his life on a course even he hadn’t imagined.
Yancy Grey is running hard from his troubled past. He doesn’t plan to stick around Ransom Canyon, just stay long enough to learn the town’s weaknesses and how to use them for personal gain. Only Yancy, a common criminal since he was old enough to reach a car’s pedals, isn’t prepared for what he encounters.
Ransom Canyon by Jodi Thomas embodies the very essence of the heart of Texas. Staten Kirkland owns a ranch in the panhandle that includes the deep canyon where a hundred years ago, Spanish and Anglo traders negotiated with the Comanches for the return of hostages. The author does a great job of describing the setting, from the smells to the sights and sounds
But the way Thomas wrote this story reminds me of watching a spider weave an intricate web, one thin strand at a time. Each chapter is written from a major character’s point of view, and each character in the story has major life events happening simultaneously.
Quinn has loved Staten Kirkland since they were in school together twenty years ago. But Staten’s heart is closed after the death of his wife, followed by the untimely death of his son. Quinn owns a lavender farm and while she is an accomplished pianist, refuses to use her talent and it is shocking to find out why. Perhaps one of the most interesting characters in the story is Yancy Grey. He’s spent most of his adult life in and out of prison. Now he wants to be normal and has landed in Crossroads, Texas to start anew. No one has to know his past. When a retirement community hires him to fix up their dilapidated cottages, it is a huge turning point for him. Of all the characters, I found myself rooting the most for him. He was a good man, he just needed a chance to prove it.
As the story unfolds, Quinn and Staten have fallen into a comfortable routine that doesn’t have any requirements or promises. While they are lovers, they are first and foremost friends. What happens to shake them both out of their comfort zones is perfect. I won’t leave any spoilers, I will just say it is a piece of the web that is beautifully woven.
Lauren is just turning sixteen and being the daughter of the small town’s Sheriff has disadvantages. She is a beautiful girl and I loved her part of the story, as I did Lucas Reyes, an ambitious young man determined to make a good life for himself.
I cannot say enough good things about this book. It’s so easy to picture it as a movie or a TV series, and I can guarantee it would be one I would binge-watch. If you love stories that are layered and multi-dimensional, as well as beautifully written, you will love Ransom Canyon! I highly recommend it!
Ralph Thyme, an addicted gambler and his wealthy grandmother’s only acknowledged heir, discovers he has an elder sister, Olivia, who was sold at birth. Suppose Olivia discovers her true identity and claims half the inheritance he craves? How far will he go to eliminate the threat? Olivia escaped childhood sexual abuse. Despite horrific memories, nightmares, and fear, she is determined to save a stranger’s little girl from the same fate, and the solution she offers takes all her courage… and then some.DCI Croft investigates a heinous case of rape, murder, and mutilation. Next to die, are a private detective and his pretty daughter… and then another woman… and another. Can DCI Croft identify and capture a psychopathic killer hell-bent on eliminating anyone who stands in his way before he murders his sister… or is it already too late for Olivia?
This story is not for the squeamish or faint of heart. It is a thriller and it’s intense. While it is totally fiction, it is also chillingly realistic. Ralph Thyme is only twenty, but an addicted gambler and sole heir to his grandmother’s large estate. At least that’s what he thought until he finds a diary entry written in his grandfather’s hand. He has a sister. Now, he must find her and eliminate her, because he will not share the inheritance with anyone. That is his motivation to begin a killing spree. Unfortunately for many victims, he keeps killing the wrong Olivia. DCI Gerald Croft is working overtime to catch this killer, but unfortunately, he keeps arresting the wrong men. The story unfolds multiple plots simultaneously. Sophia suffered child sexual abuse at the hands of her parents from the time she was a baby. She’s so damaged, she cannot tolerate a man being near her. But when she sees the same terrified and desperate look in the eyes of Mark Nicholl’s child, she cannot stand idly by and let the little girl suffer the same abuse that she did. DCI Croft has a difficult family situation, with a special needs child. He is torn between family and work. Ralph Thyme discovers, once he’s killed his first victim, that he enjoys it and even craves it. The author did a superb job of letting us inside his demented psyche. She also included BDSM, an interracial marriage, pedophiles, and graphic violence in the story. As I said, it is not for the faint of heart, but if you like a good thriller that will keep you turning pages, you will enjoy this cat and mouse chase between the killer and the detective. The book has a satisfying conclusion.
I’ve been in this life for fifty years, been trying to work out its riddle for forty-two, and been keeping diaries of clues to that riddle for the last thirty-five. Notes about successes and failures, joys and sorrows, things that made me marvel, and things that made me laugh out loud. How to be fair. How to have less stress. How to have fun. How to hurt people less. How to get hurt less. How to be a good man. How to have meaning in life. How to be more me.
Recently, I worked up the courage to sit down with those diaries. I found stories I experienced, lessons I learned and forgot, poems, prayers, prescriptions, beliefs about what matters, some great photographs, and a whole bunch of bumper stickers. I found a reliable theme, an approach to living that gave me more satisfaction, at the time, and still: If you know how, and when, to deal with life’s challenges—how to get relative with the inevitable—you can enjoy a state of success I call “catching greenlights.”
Often, when we think of celebrities, we see them as living privileged jaded lives. In Greenlights, Matthew McConaughey shows us how he started out in life at the bottom of the pile. Born into a highly dysfunctional family, he describes one scene he remembers when his mother and father got into a knock-down-drag-out fight in the kitchen, then wound up making love on the kitchen floor. They were divorced twice and married three times (the same two people). But Matthew learned what love looked like and what it didn’t. Of course, we know his somewhat Cinderella story and rise to fame and fortune, but what impressed me the most throughout this book was his incessant need and quest for spiritual enlightenment. He went to extremes to follow dreams (literal and perceived). The things he realized along the way are shared in a raw and honest way. Tidbits of wisdom mixed with common sense make this book more than a memoir or biography. It’s hard to define it. Is it a self-help book? Maybe. Is it a man’s journey from poverty to fortune? For Sure. Is it a roadmap for finding all the greenlights? I’d say so. But most of all, I’d say this is a book of raw and uninhibited inspiring honesty. That’s what I felt the most.
Here’s one of my favorite passages found on page 259: “An honest man’s pillow is his peace of mind, and when we lie down on ours at night, no matter who’s in our bed, we all sleep alone.” Truth! And this one: “We all have scars, we’ll get more. So rather than struggle against time and waste it, let’s dance with time and redeem it.” This book is filled with stories, memories, confessions, life lessons, and spiritual wisdom. It gives lots of food for thought. I enjoyed it!
The Fever Field is a burial ground that is far older than the inhabitants of the Flowing Lands realize. We first saw it in the prologue of Journey 1, Forlorn Peak. Now we learn more about the place where ancient evil was buried and forgotten, until that moment in the prologue when it broke free. On the cover of Journey 3, The Fever Field, Emlyn has turned to look toward Zasha. Much of this third installment is told from Zasha’s point of view. We’ll get better acquainted with the sisters in the Society of Deae Matres who traveled with Zasha. Also, we meet a tall, intriguing north-man and the most mysterious adherent of the Deae Matres. The youngest of all the Society, Zasha encounters some resistance from the other sisters traveling with her. She also runs into trouble of her own. Meanwhile, Emlyn’s uncertain situation with her family combines with the threat posed by the Brethren of Un’Naf. What is the greater danger, her loved ones, or the fanatics? In Journey 3, Emlyn’s circumstances reach a tipping point. There seems to be no good choice for her. How can she survive?
In this installment of Emlyn’s journey, she manages to barely escape what would be a sure death at the hands of the Brethren. With the help of the silver-haired entity from her dreams, she makes it to the camp of Deae Matres. We learn more about the mission of the Deae Matres and more about Zasha. She is such a free spirit and deep thinker and she doesn’t hesitate to stand up to the older women. The fever field is an ancient burial ground and I am intrigued to know more about it and the purpose it serves in the story. There are lots of teasers in this part of the story.
Previously, Journey 3, The Fever Field left Emlyn on the run. Will the Society of Deae Matres be willing to help? After all, in Journey 1, they rejected her father’s plea to take her away. Journey 4, The Old Road features Boabhan, the Society’s most enigmatic adherent. Emlyn finds herself in another kind of danger when the archvillain from the prologue of Journey 1, Forlorn Peak returns to the story in this installment. Plus, she still has not outrun the Brethren. Meanwhile, Emlyn isn’t the only one at risk. This Journey finds many of our friends in harm’s way. This Journey is notably longer than the others. Some parts of the story needed to be told together, in one volume. Come, be a part of the Journeys of Dead of Winter.
In this fourth installment of the series, we learn more about some of the Deae Matres characters. I particularly liked Boabhan, always dressed in green and eyes sensitive to sunlight. While at times, she appears fragile, at other times, she has unimaginable strength. Add that she is a shapeshifter, and you have a fascinating character. Danger lurks both in this world and beyond the veil. In this segment, Emlyn comes face-to-face with Arawn, Mythical King of Hell, and he is terrifying. But she is safe with the Deae Matres and is experiencing unknown freedom for the first time in her thirteen years. As the story unfolds, we learn more about the mysterious staff and rune symbols as well as each member of the traveling party. I am looking forward to the next segments and going deeper into the story!