The Word Nerd Reviews' Best Books of 2021
If we thought compiling the Christmas list was hard, it had nothing on this one! Both Florence and I agonised over our lists, it's like trying to choose a favourite child, how do you do it? After much nail biting, and toing and froing, we managed to cut it down to a manageable list. These books are not in any specific order, it was way too hard to try and prioritise them, we had to save some of our sanity!!
The rules of this list were very simple, in fact there was only one. The book could be published in any year, the only stipulation was that it had to be read in 2021. See, easy! Yeah, not so much, but it was still fun to put together!
Now 18 months in to my MM journey, I've read many fantastic books this year. I'm extremely lucky to regularly read/review for a number of authors, and I hope in some small way I've helped to spread the word on some amazing titles. I've also stumbled across a few amazing debut authors: Lily Mayne, Austin Oakley, and T.H. Compton, to name just three, and I am looking forward to what they have in store for us next year!
One of my highlights for 2021 was being able to preview the Vino & Veritas series, drawn to the series by authors I was already following such as Annabeth Albert and Eden Finley, this series is partly responsible for the massive increase in numbers in my TBR as I discovered new amazing authors and added their backlists such as: L.A. Witt, Rhys Everly, Ana Ashley, A.E Wasp, and E. Davies just to name a few.
Of course, a roundup of 2021 would not be complete without mentioning the CU Hockey series by Eden Finley and Saxon James. I'm so proud to call both these authors home grown, and I love seeing Australian talent being recognised. This series is just spectacular and I was very sad to see it end, but I'm really looking forward to the spin off starting next year. Both of these authors are talented in their own right, but together they are dynamite. Can't wait to see what they can do next year!
Soul Eater ~ Lily Mayne
I did not pick up Soul Eater until months after its release. I kept seeing it recommended and I had added it to my TBR, but despite my love of dysotopian stories, I kept putting it off. Not necessarily a bad thing though, as by the time I picked it up there were two other books in the series released so I was able to binge them. Now, having read Soul Eater at least 3 times, I think I would have been devastated if I hadn't been able to keep moving on to the following books. I have read many similar titles in my years in reading M/F and I've always enjoyed them, but there was just something about this world of Danny and Wyn that just set it apart. I still can't believe it was a debut novel, the world building and character development was that of a much more experienced author. I simply can't wait to watch Lily grow and develop her writing over the coming years.
Witchfire ~ Austin Oakley
Even now, I can't remember how I stumbled across this book. It may have popped up as a recommendation in a group or perhaps an Amazon recommendation. All I know is that it ended up in my TBR somehow, and when I was looking, that beautiful cover caught my eye. Loving anything paranormal, I decided to give it a go. The rest, they say, is history. I was utterly enthralled before the end of the first chapter. After finishing, I searched for the author's backlist, and when I couldn't find one, I was dumbfounded. The consistent level of sophistication in the storytelling, world-building, and character development doesn't often happen in first novels. This book and author are just not being promoted enough, in my most humble opinion. This book is an awe-inspiring debut novel, and I can't wait to see how this author's writing style matures and develops. Austin Oakley is a writer to watch out for, and I, for one, can't wait until his next release.
Full review: Witchfire
Dead Serious ~ Vawn Cassidy
Although not a debut author in the true sense, this was the first book released under this pen name that had a M/M focus, and what a first attempt it was! I remember having just finished a really heavy and serious book, and I was really looking for something lighter, but still with substance so I could dig my teeth in to it. Dead Serious was exactly what I needed. It was hilarious, with great characters, no angst, and it was a light and relaxing read. While it was light, it wasn't superficial. It had quite a few serious and emotional moments, especially near the end, where I needed a tissue at one stage! Most importantly, it had a beautiful HFN ending, leaving it open for the second book in the series (but no cliffhangers, the story is complete). Personally, I think this remarkable book is not getting anywhere near the attention it deserves. It is a breath of fresh air. The romance and the mystery blend together to form an effortlessly delightful and satisfying whole. I'm really, really looking forward to the second book in the series!
Full review: Dead Serious
The List ~ Felice Stevens
It's a well known fact that I'm a huge Felice Stevens fan. The List is a powerfully written character driven romance with a relatively small cast. Although small, everyone of those characters is dynamic on the page. Elliot and Win are both beautifully broken, and the supporting cast (the majority of whom have their own books) are already imbued with life and made me invested in their own HEAs. If you enjoy a strongly character-driven story, one that will make you cry, make you laugh, and just sigh at the pure romance of it all, then I hope you grab a copy of this one. You will not be disappointed.
Full review: The List
Code Red ~ N.R. Walker
It's no secret that N.R. Walker is one of my favourite authors. Not only is she a fellow Aussie, but many of her stories are based in Australia. I love seeing an accurate representation of my country, it just gives me the happy feels! Code Red is an addictive and emotional examination of the pressures of life in the limelight, and how if the effect of that pressure is not addressed, it can have potentially catastrophic consequences. I don't think I have ever read a book by this author where I have not emotionally responded to her characters, they are not those that you can passively read and forget. For me, anyway, it's impossible not to become invested. ode Red is a superb examination of the pressures of living in the spotlight. It describes the effects of the mental and physical stresses of touring, fans' expectations, and the media upon the band and their staff. The underlying theme is the need to find a balance to ensure that 'what you do' doesn't mean that 'who you are' disappears entirely.I found it very addictive, and with a few tears and many laughs, I enjoyed every moment from the beginning to the beautiful HEA.
Full review: Code Red
Frat Wars ~ Saxon James
It is so hard to believe that Saxon released her first book, at least in 'adult' category, only last year. The sheer number of books she has produced since makes my head spin, but none of them can be faulted as rushed jobs. There is no 'cut & paste' format, they are all wonderfully individual, distinct, and nuanced. Frat Wars is the beginning of a new series that has the potential to be a lot of fun. It is is the perfect blend of low angst and witty and snarky dialogue, all balanced with a beautiful romance that will leave you with a sappy grin. Ignore any preconceptions you may have about the shallowness of this story; Frat Wars: Prince of Thieves is a sophisticated romance that will leave you wanting more. Saxon James has the knack for creating beautiful characters with whom you can't help but fall in love and become entirely invested. This is why I ultimately chose the first (and only so far) book in this series, it was an easy decision whereas if I'd had to choose between Tanner/Roo and Leon/Auggie I would have driven myself nutty!
Full Reviews: Frat Wars: Prince of Thieves
The Blacksmith & the Ex-Con ~ Jackie North
Jackie North was a new author to me at the beginning of the year, and I'm so happy that I discovered her writing. This book was actually the first I had read of Jackie's work, and what a glorious start it was! The Blacksmith and the Ex-Con was a lovely hurt/comfort story that, even though it was intensely emotional and painful (in sympathy with Ellis) to read at times, it never felt overwhelmingly heavy or depressing. There were too many light scenes, particularly between Jasper and Ellis, and the addition of the ‘Frontier Girls’ added lightness to the story. It was a passionate romance between Jasper and Ellis. Broken but surviving, Ellis needed Jasper’s care, support, patience, understanding, and love. Yet, he was never weak; he was fiercely protective of Jasper, despite Jasper being the physically more imposing of the two. They gave the other what they needed, and it was marvellous to experience.
Full Review: The Blacksmith and the Ex-Con
Rebound ~ Lynn Van Dorn
Another new to me author for 2021, I've since read quite a few of her books, including devouring the Forbidden Desires series she writes with Piper Scott. Rebound revelled in turning society’s stereotypes and norms on their head. None of the characters acted as per society’s guidelines. The 'uber twink' who is not only the grumpy side of the grumpy/sunshine equation, but is also a dom in a small package. Meanwhile, the physically imposing Levi is not only sunshine personified, but a very willing submissive. Together, Jacob and Levi are total opposites in looks and personality and in the bedroom. They complement each other perfectly, and their chemistry is explosive! Apart from being extremely hot, Rebound is also hilarious. Side characters had me giggling at inopportune times, and I can honestly say that this was my first encounter with 'involuntary birdslaughter'! Rebound also gave me one of my favourite quotes for the year (extra info Leah and Levi are twins) ‘According to Mom and the ultrasounds, you had your face in my crotch for most of her pregnancy.’ Leah shuddered. ‘And people wonder why I’m a lesbian.’
Full review: Rebound
The Murder Between Us ~ Tal Bauer
This was my first book by Tal Bauer, but it certainly wasn't my last! I picked it up after it was recommended so many times. I'm sometimes a bit cautious with books that are so massively hyped, but I gave it a chance anyway. Best thing I ever did! It was an intensely passionate love story with an excellent suspense serial killer theme. It had a police procedural type feeling to it in parts, and one of the best HEAs I've read in a long time.
Full Review: The Murder Between Us
Always Eli ~ Charlie Novak
Charlie Novak is one of those authors whose stories will leave you with a happy glowing feeling. Always Eli has all the characteristics you expect from a Charlie Novak novel: beautiful, genuine characters; engaging story; laughs; a good dose of steam; all the romance and intimacy you could possibly want; and just a touch of angst (outside of the relationship) to keep the story interesting. One of the defining characteristics of Charlie's stories is her characters. I haven't met one yet that I haven't been 100% invested in, and Eli and Tristan were no exception. These men were beautiful together, with Tristan 110% behind Eli. They were the perfect counterbalances for each other: Eli's sunshiney, light and free personality and lifestyle balanced Tristan’s more reserved qualities. They complemented but never overshadowed each other. Always Elis is a smart and funny story with captivating characters, who are devoted to each other and not afraid to show it leading to So. Much. Romance. This is a book I will return to again and again.
Full review: Always Eli
Slow Heat ~ Leta Blake
Another new to me author, and a book I honestly put of for a long time. It was the mpreg (especially outside paranormal) aspect that pulled me up, I wasn't really sure if it was my thing. But, after reading a few others that were great introductions to various types of mpreg, I thought I'd give it a go. Now, all I can think of is 'why did I wait so long!'. To be fair though, Slow Heat is so much more than a mere mpreg romance. I never expected such an emotionally nuanced story covering so many serious issues: significant age differences, infertility, and government control over an individual's choices for their body to name just a few. This was definitely a 'mind blown' experience for me, and although I found it confronting at time, I was utterly enthralled and loved every moment of it.
I enjoyed many books in the last year, and I've spent so much time trying to pick my favourites of the year; but ultimately I just ended up picking the books that have had the longest lasting effects on me. All of my picks are books that I talked about at least once a week in the last year and they’re the books that I made all of my friends read.
Home Plate ~ Christina Lee
While this book is in a series, it could be read as a standalone, but there is some background information in book 1 that helps with the context of this book. I read this book at the start of February, and I still think about this book at least once a week. I have gone back and re-read this book so many times, whether it is my favourite scenes or just the entire book, I didn’t keep track but I have probably read this book four times by now. I just love it so much and my love for it is never-ending, I just keep finding new things I love about the book. This book makes me so emotional, it’s just a story I can really relate to and I appreciate it so much. I love how much love there is in this book and how much work is put through working through your personal trauma and abandonment issues and letting someone in and letting yourself fall in love. This book is such a gorgeous love story, and this book is everything I love in a book and a story that will always stay with me. Just a side mention to MacLain that I wanted to hug during this entire book, he is one of my favourite book characters of all time.
Domesticated Beast ~ Onley James
It’s probably better if this book is read as part of the series as it is very interconnected, and it could be a little confusing as a standalone. I’m pretty sure everyone I have talked to for more than 5 minutes this year has heard about my love of Javier, one of the main characters of this book. He is probably my favourite book character of all time and I just love him so much. I also loved everything about this book, this is the perfect combination of everything for me, a main character who’s processing through his trauma during the book, a main character who’s very morally gray and would do everything for his man, a very engaging story full of very good communication, trust, love, a very good connection between the main characters and scorching sex scenes. I couldn’t have asked for more, this book was a perfect combination of everything I love in a book.
Salvation ~ Garrett Leigh
I'm really recommending reading this book as part of the series, the series provides a lot of very important context for this book. I absolutely love redemption stories, I love when we meet an evil side character in a series and then he gets redeemed later in the series, and let me tell you, this is my favourite redemption book I have ever read. This was everything I wanted in this type of books, I loved how the entire redemption angle was tackled, it was done with so much respect and so much care, it was perfect for me. Dante Pope has always been an evil character in this series so seeing how he is and seeing him fight so hard to not be like he used to be just so rewarding as a reader, his character progression was really wonderful. Also, the love story in this book absolutely melted me. It was just so good. These two guys are meant for each other, and it showed in their every action, I just loved both of the main characters of this book so much and I absolutely loved them as a couple too, they were the perfect fit for each other.
Pinot & Pineapple Lumps ~ Jay Hogan
This book is part of a series but if you don’t mind not knowing some background information about the characters, I’m sure it could be read as a standalone. I absolutely adore Jay Hogan, I could have put any of the books she released this year in my top 5 of the year, but I just had to give it to this one. I was looking forward to this book even since the first book in the series, and it was everything I wanted it to be. The love story in this book was so romantic and full of wonderful communication and there is not a page of this book where I didn’t swoon while reading it. Also, the main characters in this book were so well developed and felt so realistic to me, it really felt like the characters were people I met in the street and struck a conversation with, and I loved that so much. Also, the depiction of PTSD in this book just deserves to a special mention because it was so realistic in its portrayal.
Full Review: Pinot & Pineapple Lumps
Down and Dirty / Down and Out ~ Parker St John
While being part of a series, these books could be read as standalones, although the first book in the series do provide some context for the books that is nice to know. I couldn’t separate these two books, they impacted me in the exact same way and I love them the same. While sometimes I would say I enjoyed Down and Out a little more, then I think of Down and Dirty and I would probably say I enjoyed that one more, I just love both books and they both impacted me so much.
For Down and Dirty, that book just absolutely wrecked me, but I loved the journey of reading that book and it was so rewarding. Also, it was one of the best love stories I have ever read, I just adored it. For Down and Dirty, it was a combination of a well executed best friends to enemies to lovers’ story, which is a trope I just love, and good main characters that I just adored that and that really made the book for me, and their love stories was also one of my favourites. Parker St. John writes books that make me so emotional but that are also full of love and wonderful characters, and I absolutely love it.
Full Review: Down and Out
Grumpy Bear ~ Slade James
Reading this book and thinking about this book just makes me happy. This book was pure happiness in a book for me. All the tropes in this book hit all my buttons and it was a mix of everything I love in a book. But it was more than that, this book was just an experience for me, I just got lost in the world so much and in the characters and their experiences. This book took me by surprise because it grabbed me from the first page and never let me go, all I could do is keep reading the book and enjoy it. This book is the book I always go do when I need a pick me up, just re-reading a few scenes for it just always helps me.
King's Man ~ Sally Malcolm
I recommend reading the short story Rebel before reading this book, it has a lot of information that is important to understand this book. This book deserves of the book that made me cry the most this year. This book absolutely shattered me and then put me together but still made me cry by how beautifully it was done. I love historical romances and I love when they are political and talk about social issues. This book is about two lovers that were separated by being on different sides of the American Revolutionary war and how they reunite after it. I loved all the social commentary in this book and how it talked about war and the effects of, on the main characters and on everyone else in the world but mostly I adored the love story in this book. This love story was so rewarding and the way it was executed and how it ends just made me so happy, everything about this book worked for me.
Beautifully Unexpected ~ Lily Morton
This book made me feel all the emotions possible. But mostly I just had the best time reading it. I adore stories about older men finding love and this one was everything I wanted it to be. This book was so romantic and made me swoon so many times, but it was also full of snark and pop culture references that really worked for me. And I just loved the two main characters so much, they really made the book for me and their relationship coupled with their banter was just the best to me. This book was just the right combination of everything I love in a book and I had the best time reading it.
Off Key ~ May Archer
While being part of a series, I think that this book could be read as a standalone. This book. Just this book. This is another book that made me so emotional I spent most of the time I read the book crying. Three things I absolutely love in in books is the best friends to enemies to lovers trope, pining and people who are made for each other finally communicating with each other after and finding their happy ever after. Reading this book just felt very rewarding as a reader and the story progression really worked for me. And the romance in this book was very magical and I absolutely loved every second of it.
Beautiful & Terrible Things ~ Riley Hart
This book is also another candidate for the book that made me cry the most this year, this book ripped my heart apart but the way it put back together was so wonderful and rewarding. I love books that spawn during a really long time in character’s lives and show us their entire life story and their struggles. And this book give me all of that. It spawn during many years of the main characters lives and we get to see them live through love, loss, depression and many other others things. This book was such a journey but I’m so glad I took it.