Best of 2021 ~ Books & Blog Posts

Welcome to my annual “best-of” celebration!

I set a Goodreads reading goal at 80 books! Last year I exceeded this number, but this year I didn’t quite get there with 74+ ,which is fine by me! It’s an ideal, not something I really payed attention to working toward.

Looking back at my reading habits of 2021, I see I have read quite a bit of historical fiction! I’ve included more titles in the histfic category for this best-of list. If you’d like to see all of the books I read and read more extensive reviews, check out my 2021 Goodreads Year in Books or browse my blog archives.

THE (self-imposed) RULES: because sometimes I need to keep things brief, I’m choosing to share 3 things that describe each of these stories along with a link to Goodreads and my review (if applicable). At the end, I’ll be sharing popular posts on the blog this year.

All titles are inspirational fiction unless noted with *.

Best Books of 2021

Novellas

The Journey of Runs-Far by Lori Benton | Review

Redemption. Family ties. Freedom.

Snowbound by Carla Laureano | Review

Rivals. Sentimentality. Blizzard.

Split Time

On the Cliffs of Foxglove Manor by Jaime Jo Wright | Review

Atmospheric. Sibling bonds. Hope.

The London House by Katherine Reay | Review

Truth. History’s influence. Healing.

Hope Between the Pages by Pepper Basham | Review

Legacy. Longing. Story.

Contemporary

Let It Be Me by Becky Wade | Review

Dialogue! Magnetic romance. Identity.

Is It Any Wonder by Courtney Walsh | Review

Genuine characters. Forgiveness. Idyllic setting.

Beyond the Tides by Liz Johnson | Review

Dreams. Lobster determination. Joy.

Thriller & Suspense

John Eyre by Mimi Matthews* | Review

Brilliant retelling. Gothic. Threads of light.

The Curse of Morton Abbey by Clarissa Harwood* | Review

Sacrifice. Classic influence. Conquering love.

A Brush with Shadows by Anna Lee Huber* | Review

Setting as a character. Personal mystery. Married relationship growth.

Historical

The Ice Swan by J’nell Ciesielski | Review

Intrigue. Trust. Romantic prose.

Tidewater Bride by Laura Frantz | Review

Tender romance. Endurance. Riveting events.

When Twilight Breaks by Sarah Sundin | Review

Intelligent romance. Justice. Sacrificial Love.

Mountain Laurel by Lori Benton | Review

Epic story. Lyrical. Grace.

A Portrait of Loyalty by Roseanna M. White | Review

Fitting title. Unique perspective. Patterns.

The Mozart Code by Rachel McMillan (2022 release) | Review

Nuanced romance. Bravery. Sacrifice and loyalty as love.

Most popular posts:

North and South 2004. Drama, love, & social commentary in my favorite miniseries.

Most popular new book reviews:

As always, thank you for being a blog reader in 2021 and beyond. Many thanks and appreciation to the publishers and authors who have graciously included me on their review teams this year. It has been a joy to be a part of this bookish community!

What are your favorite books you read this year? Do we share any favorites? Did you post a list of favorites on your blog or social media? I’d love for you to share in the comments!

Recommended Reading: Historical Fiction with Gothic and Mystery Elements

Since autumn is my favorite time to read historical fiction that falls in the gothic, mystery, or otherwise atmospheric storytelling category, I thought I would share some recommendations of this kind!

On the Cliffs of Foxglove Manor by Jaime Jo Wright | Review

This split time mystery and suspense novel takes readers to a manor on the shores of Lake Superior in contemporary times and the post-Civil War era with a haunted quality and a search for missing treasure.

Lost in Darkness by Michellle Griep | Goodreads

This Regency story combines elements of a Frankenstein-like tale with that of a romance as siblings contend with life-changing choices. I’m currently reading this one — expect a review soon!

A Grave Matter by Anna Lee Huber | Goodreads

The third novel in Huber’s Lady Darby Mystery series, this one finds the heroine and her inquiry agent counterpart contending with folklore and grave robbers in 1830 Scotland.

John Eyre by Mimi Matthews | Review

A retelling of the classic Jane Eyre, this one *slight spoiler* also combines elements of Dracula with a spooky and SMART gender flipped twist like only Matthews could pen.

The Curse of Morton Abbey by Clarissa Harwood | Goodreads

This is a Victorian mystery full of suspense and a formidable heroine who comes into her own with agency and an unexpected romance. It considers the scenario of the classic The Secret Garden with grown-up leads and draws out themes of loyalty and sacrifice with some influence by Brontë’s Jane Eyre. (Review coming here on the blog next week!)

You’re Invited! Read-Along: The London House by Katherine Reay

You’re invited to join a read-along for Katherine Reay’s upcoming novel, The London House! I’ll be hosting it on Twitter beginning on the book’s release day, November 2. A few friends are already planning to join using the hashtag #TLHral on Twitter (and elsewhere on social media).

If you’d like to share on socials and invite friends to join us, please do! I’ve participated in a few read-alongs, some of which have been with Katherine Reay’s novels, and it is a delightful way to read and discuss in real time with bookish friends.

My plan is to read it over 7-10 days, that’s about 35-50 pages a day. Please feel free to read at your own pace! I will do my best to avoid or warn of spoilers in my comments.

Find me on Twitter @cameracourt and Instagram @courtneyec90

About the Book

Uncovering a dark family secret sends one woman through the history of Britains World War II spy network and glamorous 1930s Paris to save her family’s reputation.

Caroline Payne thinks it’s just another day of work until she receives a call from Mat Hammond, an old college friend and historian. But pleasantries are cut short. Mat has uncovered a scandalous secret kept buried for decades: In World War II, Caroline’s British great-aunt betrayed family and country to marry her German lover.

Determined to find answers and save her family’s reputation, Caroline flies to her family’s ancestral home in London. She and Mat discover diaries and letters that reveal her grandmother and great-aunt were known as the “Waite sisters.” Popular and witty, they came of age during the interwar years, a time of peace and luxury filled with dances, jazz clubs, and romance. The buoyant tone of the correspondence soon yields to sadder revelations as the sisters grow apart, and one leaves home for the glittering fashion scene of Paris, despite rumblings of a coming world war.

Each letter brings more questions. Was Caroline’s great-aunt actually a traitor and Nazi collaborator, or is there a more complex truth buried in the past? Together, Caroline and Mat uncover stories of spies and secrets, love and heartbreak, and the events of one fateful evening in 1941 that changed everything.

In this rich historical novel from award-winning author Katherine Reay, a young woman is tasked with writing the next chapter of her family’s story. But Caroline must choose whether to embrace a love of her own and proceed with caution if her family’s decades-old wounds are to heal without tearing them even further apart.

Goodreads | Amazon | BookBub

Recommended Reading: Summer Vacation

With summer in full swing, I thought it would be fun to share some themed book recommendations! If you are packing a stack of books with you in your suitcase or just want to escape to an idyllic setting through an armchair adventure before summer is over, I hope you find something on this list to add to your TBR!

at the beach

Is It Any Wonder by Courtney Walsh Goodreads | Review

A coastguard hero, Nantucket Island setting, a real lighthouse, and a second-chance romance make this the perfect beach read.

A Glitter of Gold by Liz Johnson Goodreads | Review

The nautical history of Savannah, Georgia, a pirate story, and a search for treasure combine in this romance.

in the mountains

Brunch at Bittersweet Café by Carla Laureano Goodreads | Review

This whole “Supper Club” series showcases Denver and its nearby mountainous region, but this second book in the series showcases it from the air, too (pilot hero!). Perfect for lovers of romance with depth and lots of food.

Count Me In by Mikal Dawn Goodreads | Review

Did someone say coffee? Or paragliding in the Cascades? 😉 This romcom is for the adventurous at heart!

in the city

Dear Mr. Knightley by Katherine Reay Goodreads | Review

This forever-favorite epistolary novel has nods to classic literature aplenty yet explores its own Chicago setting through the life of Samantha, the heroine.

Jane of Austin: A Novel of Sweet Tea and Sensibility Goodreads | Review

This loose retelling of Austen’s Sense & Sensibility has sisters moving across the country to experience the culture of Austin, Texas through fresh eyes.

in a small town

Keep Holding On by Melissa Tagg Goodreads | Review

Melissa Tagg’s “Walker Family” romcom series is perfect for fans of small town life as most of it is set in the fictional community of Maple Valley, Iowa. This one combines an orchard, baby goats, and a tiny bit of a prodigal’s return with a romance.

The Cul-de-Sac War by Melissa Ferguson Goodreads | Review

Neighborhood life and a rivalry anchor this hilarious rom-com set in Abingdon, Virginia.

traveling abroad

Love in Three Quarter Time by Rachel McMillan Goodreads | Review

This favorite novella takes readers to caffeinated corners of Vienna, Austria (with a brief trip to Prague!) on a journey that explores the romance of history and culture — and love, of course.

Then There Was You by Kara Isaac Goodreads | Review

See Sydney, Australia through the eyes of a Paige — an American transplant to the country whom the hero, Josh, never hesitates to initiate into the Aussie culture through pranks and humor. A heart-deep story of healing and romance can be found between these pages, too.

Star Rising by Janet Ferguson Goodreads

This books takes the characters on a tour of Ireland through some hilarious (and relatable) travel mishaps and an unexpected romance.

What is your preferred destination for summer travel? Would you rather read at the beach or beside a mountain lake? What’s your favorite “armchair adventure” destination?

Cover Reveal: “In Search of a Prince” by Toni Shiloh

I’m so happy to be sharing a cover reveal for Toni Shiloh’s upcoming novel, In Search of a Prince! I’m very excited for this story and impressed with the stunning cover. Read on for more about Toni and the novel.

Toni Shiloh is a wife, mom, and multi-published Christian contemporary romance author. She writes to bring God glory and to learn more about His goodness. Her novels, Grace Restored, was a 2019 Holt Medallion finalist, Risking Love a 2020 Selah Award finalist, and The Truth About Fame a 2021 Holt Medallion finalist.

A member of the American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW) and of the Virginia Chapter, Toni seeks to encourage authors in the writing industry. She loves connecting with readers and authors alike via social media. You can learn more about her writing at http://tonishiloh.com.

Facebook | Twitter | Pinterest | Instagram | Goodreads | BookBub

Author Newsletter: http://tonishiloh.com/subscribe Blog: www.inspyromance.com  Blog: http://diversitybetweenthepages.wordpress.com

About the Book

Brielle Adebayo is fully content teaching at a New York City public school and taking annual summer vacations with her mother to Martha’s Vineyard. But everything changes when her mom drops the mother of all bombshells—Brielle is a princess in the kingdom of Oloro Ilé, Africa, and she must immediately assume her royal position, since the health of her grandfather, King Tiwa Jimoh Adebayo, is failing.

Distraught by her mother’s betrayal, Brielle is further left spinning when the Oloro Ilé Royal Council brings up an old edict that states she must marry before assuming the throne or the crown will be passed to another. Uncertain who to choose from the council’s list of bachelors, she struggles with the decision along with the weight of her new role in a new country. With her world totally shaken, she must take a chance on love and brave the perils a wrong decision may bring.

THE COVER!

Cover Reveal: “Shiloh” by Lori Benton

Congratulations to author Lori Benton on the reveal of her new cover!

Today’s the day to reveal Shiloh, the second installment in her “Kindred” duology. If you haven’t yet read Mountain Laurel (Kindred #1) be sure to grab a copy before Shiloh releases this autumn (10/5/21). Shiloh also revisits several key characters from Lori’s debut novel, Burning Sky. If you’ve yet to make their acquaintance, good news! There’s plenty of time to meet the frontier denizens of Shiloh, New York in the pages of Burning Sky before Shiloh’s October release — that’s my TBR plan!

About the Book

Award-winning author Lori Benton delivers a rich historical novel of faith, hope, and second chances.

DECEMBER 1795

A year has passed since Ian Cameron reluctantly sent his uncle’s former slave, Seona, and their son, Gabriel, north to his kin in Boston. Determined to fully release them, Ian strives to make a life at Mountain Laurel, his inherited plantation, along with Judith, the wife he’s vowed to love and cherish. But when tragedy leaves him alone with his daughter, Mandy, and his three remaining slaves, he decides to return north. An act of kindness on the journey provides Ian the chance to obtain land near the frontier settlement of Shiloh, New York. Perhaps even the hope for a new life with those he still holds dear.

In Boston, Seona has taken her first tentative steps as a freewoman, while trying to banish Ian from her heart. The Cameron family thinks she and Gabriel should remain under their protection. Seona’s mother, Lily, thinks it’s time they strike out on their own. Then Ian arrives, offering a second chance Seona hadn’t dared imagine. But the wide-open frontier of Shiloh feels as boundless and terrifying as her newfound freedom—a place of new friends and new enemies, where deep bonds are renewed but old hurts stand ready to rear their heads. It will take every ounce of faith and courage Ian and Seona can muster to fight for their family and their future . . . together.

…the COVER!

Shiloh Cover

Isn’t it just gorgeous!? I think if fits well with the “botanical” feel of the first book, Mountain Laurel.

4 Historical Romances with Beauty and the Beast Vibes

I will use any excuse to talk about great romance novels. Since it’s Valentine’s week, I’ve compiled a list of 4 must-read historical romances with Beauty and the Beast vibes. I confess to falling in love with the 1991 version of the film in my childhood, likely due to the A-MA-ZING library and singing dishes as much as the intrigue of the romance. Let’s admit it. The Beast can be a bit too prickly sometimes. That’s where stories like these come in…

Each of these 4 novels offers a romantic story and unique setting, with smart heroines and scarred heroes – all shaped by past circumstances or trials.

The Lost Letter by Mimi Matthews | Review

The Lost Letter is a second chance romance reuniting a lady-turned-governess and a veteran of siege in India. The Victorian setting, library, and initially bristly hero make the B&B parallels evident. Matthews’ stories are always super romantic and I appreciate the way she takes great care to be historical accurate.

Beauty Among Ruins by J’nell Ciesielski | Review

Beauty Among Ruins is an exquisite romance set against the perils of war and loss. A WWI estate-turned-convalescent-home in the Scottish Lowlands is the setting for this couple. Alec’s initial brooding and distance disguise a poetic heart that answers Lily’s in a beautiful way, while a slight mystery complicates their relationship and keeps the reader hooked.

The Lady and the Lionheart by Joanne Bischof | Review

In subtle and surprising ways, The Lady and the Lionheart highlights the contrast between light and dark, good and evil, and the redemptive power of sacrificial love. The Victorian-era Virginia setting of a traveling circus is the backdrop of the pairing of charming-yet-secretive Charlie with sweet Ella, a nurse he befriends.

Not By Sight by Kate Breslin | Review

World War I intrigue and secrets interweave with the unlikely pairing of two socialites — the hero a conscientious objector secretly working for the crown, the heroine a suffragette trying to prove her cause. Themes of sacrifice and trust underscore this retelling.

Best Books of 2020

Welcome to my annual “best-of” celebration!

I set a Goodreads reading goal at 100 books! I got close to making it happen at 86 books — and I’m happy with the high number I achieved. With all the bad news and unexpectedness of 2020, I have found books and the online bookish community to be a bright, positive spot in many ways. I hope you have, too.

I’ve included 20 books, 2-3 per genre, in my BEST list this year! If you’d like to see all of the books I read and read more extensive reviews, check out my 2020 Goodreads year in books or browse my blog archives.

THE (self-imposed) RULES: because sometimes I need to keep things brief, I’m choosing to share 3 things that describe each of these stories along with a link to Goodreads and my blog review (if applicable). At the end, I’ll be sharing popular posts on the blog this year.

All titles are inspirational fiction unless noted with *.

Best Books of 2020

Novellas

Fair as a Star by Mimi Matthews* | Review

Sweet romance. Compassion. Hope.

A Pressing Engagement by Anna Lee Huber*

Long-awaited event. Earl Gray the cat. Charismatic criminals.

Christmas in Three Quarter Time by Rachel McMillan | Review

Belonging. Vulnerability. Vienna & the Tyrolean countryside.

Split Time

Set the Stars Alight by Amanda Dykes | Review

LIGHT. Longing. Hope.

Echoes Among the Stones by Jaime Jo Wright | Review

Puzzling mystery. Devotion. Collin O’Shaughnessy.

Whose Waves These Are by Amanda Dykes | Review

Sacrifice. Beauty in the commonplace and extraordinary. Poignant.

Contemporary

The Solid Grounds Coffee Co. by Carla Laureano | Review

Honesty. Complexity. Friendship.

Now and Then and Always by Melissa Tagg | Review

Winsome. Humorous. Faith.

The Fifth Avenue Story Society by Rachel Hauck | Review

Redemption. Relationships. Enchanting concept.

Romantic Comedy

The Cul-de-Sac War by Melissa Ferguson | Review

Frenemies-to-romance. Farm animals. Rivalry.

Hadley Beckett’s Next Dish by Bethany Turner | Review

Wit. FOOD. Healing.

Close to You by Kara Isaac

Adventure. Unexpected love. Hobbits.

Thriller & Suspense

The Wind Will Howl by Sibella Giorello

Immersive setting. Classic-feel mystery. Smart.

Soul Raging by Ronie Kendig | Review

Twists. Revelations. Banter.

Chasing the White Lion by James R. Hannibal | Review

High-tech action. Suspense. Purpose.

Historical

The London Restoration by Rachel McMillan | Review

Reconciliation. Friendship. Selflessness.

An Uncommon Woman by Laura Frantz

Lyrical prose. Strength on the frontier. Riveting romance.

Gentleman Jim by Mimi Matthews*

Daring adventure. Truth. Swoony romance.

Nonfiction

Special mention to a couple of nonfiction titles I enjoyed: Dream, Plan, and Go by Rachel McMillan, an inspirational travel memoir and guide; Everything Beautiful In Its Time by Jenna Bush Hager, a family-centric memoir of love and grief.

Popular #OnTheBlog in 2020

Most popular posts:

Most popular new book reviews:

That’s it for 2020! Happy new year to you all. As always, thank you for being a blog reader and part of this bookish community.

What are your favorite books you read this year? Do we share any favorites? Did you post a list of favorites on your blog or social media? I’d love for you to share in the comments!

Top Ten Tuesday: 10 Celestial Titles

It’s another Top Ten Tuesday, hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl!

Top Ten Tuesday at The Green Mockingbird

Today’s Top Ten Tuesday topic is a FREEBIE! I’ve decided to focus on specific titles, most of which I have read.

One definition of celestial is “pertaining to the sky or visible heaven, or to the universe beyond the earth’s atmosphere, as in celestial body”. I’ve chosen 10 titles that refer to things in the sky and beyond. Ones that just might encourage you to look up.

10 Celestial Titles

A Moonbow Night by Laura Frantz | review

How a Star Falls by Amber Stokes | review

High as the Heavens by Kate Breslin | review

Fair as a Star by Mimi Matthews | review

Blue Ridge Sunrise by Denise Hunter | review

Set the Stars Alight by Amanda Dykes | review coming soon!

This Quiet Sky by Joanne Bischof | review

Under Scottish Stars by Carla Laureano | highly anticipated, on my TBR!

Moonlight Masquerade by Ruth Axtell | review

Where the Stars Meet the Sea by Heidi Kimball | on my TBR!

Did you participate in the week’s TTT? What topic did you choose? Share your links & thoughts in the comments!

Top Ten Tuesday: Landscape #CoverLove

It’s another Top Ten Tuesday, hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl!

Top Ten Tuesday at The Green Mockingbird

Officially, Top Ten Tuesday Turns 10! Congratulations to the beginning ladies at The Broke and the Bookish for starting this Tuesday tradition and to Jana of That Artsy Reader Girl for continuing it!

The assignment this week is to pick a past topic and redo it or to pick one you haven’t done and participate! I have decided to do a twist on book cover design, particularly my favorite landscape-style covers. Some of these are favorite stories, some are still on my TBR. I recommend checking out these authors’ other books, too, for more great landscape covers.

Top Ten Tuesday: Landscape #CoverLove

The Mountain Midwife by Laurie Alice Eakes

Honeysuckle Dreams by Denise Hunter | review

Many Sparrows by Lori Benton | review

The Painted Castle by Kristy Cambron

Set the Stars Alight by Amanda Dykes

The Right Kind of Fool by Sarah Loudin Thomas

Water from My Heart by Charles Martin

Promise Me Tomorrow by Lori Wick

The Reckoning at Gossamer Pond by Jaime Jo Wright | review

Together at the Table by Hillary Manton Lodge | review