The Best of The Best 2021 Weekly Reader
By Julie Sara Porter
Spoilers: 2021 was well not a great year. With a struggling economy, different strands of Covid, an insurrection, and political unrest, there are many reasons to stay inside and curl up with a good book.
There have been many great books that I reviewed this year. So many that I have separate lists for New Book Alerts and Weekly Readers. Unfortunately, I didn't get to read that many classics, but I highly recommend the ones that I did get to review: Nancy Drew Series Books 1-10 by Carolyn Keene, Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maud Montgomery, The Collected Stories of Franz Kafka, The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Women's Weird: Strange Stories by Women 1849-1949 Edited by Melissa Edmondson. I may phase out Classics Corner next year, we'll see if I get as many requests for Weekly Reader or New Book Alerts.
Now without further ado, the best of Weekly Readers, books published between 2010-2020. (Some of these are series that count as one.)
20. Dreaming Sophia by Melissa Muldoon
Muldoon's love letter to Italy is deeply felt as Sophia, a college student realizes her dream to move to Italy. Along the way she receives guidance from spirits of Italy's noted past like Eleanora De Medici, Lorenzo "Il Magnifico" De Medici, General Guiseppi Garibaldi, Venus, Lucrezia Borgia, and Sophia Loren. Muldoon's love for Italy is paramount throughout the entire book revealing it as a setting enchanted by its history, art, literature, and entertainment.
19. Ugly Girl Sweet Nectar: Based on a True Story by D.D. Kaye
Kaye's moving novel is about a woman writing about the troubles in her life to find some semblance of peace. Alessa, the protagonist, recalls child abuse, sickly aging parents, troubled romantic relationships, difficulties with her three daughters, and her own struggles with depression and her self-esteem. In making connections and finding the truth about her life, Alessa finds her own beauty and truth within herself.
18. Mother: A Mother Gothel Tale (Witches of Grimm Book 1) by C.M. Adler
Adler's short novel brilliantly subverts the fairy tale Rapunzel. Cerelia, a witch with an enchanted garden opens her home to Maia, a pregnant woman on the run from angry villagers. The two form a surrogate family and coven of two eventually drawing in a certain baby girl destined to have very long hair. Mother tells the traditional fairy tale from the point of view of the witch, making it a cry for independence and female togetherness.
Powell's two part series effortlessly combines History with Epic Fantasy. Set in 13th century Wales when the Welsh army is fighting a losing battle against the English army, Prince Llewellyn is killed. During this time, a brother and sister discover and embrace unusual abilities. Hwy can shapeshift into various animal forms and Llewellyn's spirit communicates mentally with him. Cat can see prophetic visions in water and might be the reincarnation of The Morrigan, the Celtic warrior goddess. As their world begins to fall apart around them, the duo discovers the difficulties and sacrifices that come with these powers as they fight their enemies and defend their loved ones. There is a sense of fatality throughout the books as Hwy and Cat are determined to fight in a war that history has already deemed that they will lose.
16. Gilded Summers: Newport's Gilded Age Book 1 by Donna Russo Martin
Martin's Historical Fiction novel explores the Gilded Age with its income inequalities, xenophobia towards immigrants, and restricted roles towards women. Two women, Pearl Worthington, a daughter of a wealthy family, and Ginevra Costa, an Italian immigrant hired to be Pearl's lady maid, form a close friendship despite class and ethnic barriers. The two explore their dreams of pursuing art and fashion design respectively while trying to maintain independence which society forbids. Their friendship is deepened as they protect each other from a potentially violent situation that changes them forever.
Strauss' Historical Mysteries are part of a bright sparking series with a witty bubbly fun protagonist. Set in the 1920's flapper and amateur detective, Ginger Gold solves murders on a luxury ocean liner, her childhood home, and her late husband's family estate. The mysteries are suspenseful and engaging towards the Reader. Ginger is a great independent lead, full of wit and style but possesses a dark side as she is mourning the death of her husband and was involved in the Great War more than she admits. Like her name, Ginger is pure Gold.
14. The View From Breast Pocket Mountain: A Memoir by Karen Hill Anton
Anton's autobiography is part travelogue and part personal story as she recalls her childhood with a loving father and mentally ill mother, her troubled first marriage, single motherhood, her happier second marriage and above all her many travels through the United States, Europe, and Asia. The highlights are a memorable road trip through Europe and Asia ending in Japan as well as the happiness that Anton and her family find in Japan. The book shows that you can find home anywhere, even if it's far away from where you started.
13. Where The Sun Rises by Suzanne Strong
Strong's heartbreaking and suspenseful novel is about two women who join the all female fighting unit, Yekineyen Parastina Jin (YPJ), to fight Daesh forces in Syria. The two women fight for Kurdish independence for their own reasons: Roza to protect her son and Karin to prove her status as an independent woman. The women get involved in major battles like rescuing a colleague's sister from human trafficking and losing some friends and fellow soldiers. It's a brilliant novel of true sacrifice during war.
12. Miss Mabel's School For Girls (Book 1 in The Network Series) by Katie Cross
Cross' fantasy could be considered a deconstruction of the Harry Potter series. Instead of starring a boy destined to be the Chosen One who joins a wizarding school to fight a clear enemy simply because he survived, it's about Bianca, a girl who works her way into a witches' school so she can face the headmistress who put a curse on her family. Bianca and other girls perform a series of tests that challenge their awareness of their abilities and recognize the dark nature in others and themselves. As Bianca ascends higher in school, she recognizes the enemy is around her and within herself, making this book more nuanced and morally gray than Rowling's more popular work.
11. The Berlin Escape: An Aubrey Endeavors Spy Thriller by Warren Court
Court's thrilling series has the romance of World War II spy films with the suspense of a James Bond movie and gives us a spunky protagonist to root for. On her first assignment, aviator Aubrey Endeavors is sent to Germany just as the Nazis seize power. Throughout her tense adventure, Aubrey encounters imprisonment, betrayal, romance with a possible enemy, switched allegiances, and exciting escapes. It is definitely a thriller with an old fashioned style but a more modern sensibility that leaves the Reader gripping the pages (or their mobile device) until the end.
10. Gol: The Legend of Ansu Book 1 by J.W. Webb
It feels weird to say this but there is a sense of Realism in Webb's Epic Fantasy series. Besides giving us sharp characterization to go with this magical setting, Webb takes the characters on journeys in which they are truly altered. Lovers, Erun and Lissane are separated and forced to go on their own heroic journeys where they emerge stronger, older, wiser and more mature people who don't even recognize each other when they meet again. Also, the antagonist is a fire demon that destroys everything in its path revealing that the characters' only options are to fight it to the death and then leave the destroyed world behind. Along with a pair of scene stealers in Scaffa, a sardonic giantess who trains warriors and Morwella, a mentally ill and dangerous princess, this is revealed to be one of the best Epic Fantasies of the year.
9. Centricity (Centricity Cycle Book 1) by Nathaniel Henderson
Henderson's Science Fiction novel is an expansive and immersive experience of several plots and characters facing each other. Most of the conflicts concern the 1 percenters, like Adasha Denali, who live on the high rises and the poorer people, like Nik Amlin, who live down below in what remains of the city slums. Technology is ever present as everyone has cyber implants connected to their brains and many are on the hunt for a super weapon called the Acorn which can be directly implanted into the user's brain.
It's a brilliant multiplotted work which brings several characters with different stories and agendas together and have them fight against and bounce off each other. The two standouts, Adasha and Nik, represent their classes and problems in their societies as they struggle to make their voices heard and find answers to buried questions.
8. The Eidola Project Series Books 1-2 (The Eidola Project, Moonlight Becomes You) by Robert Herold
Herold's eerie Horror series explored the world of the supernatural in the Post Civil War United States. William James, co-founder of the American Society for Psychical Research creates The Eidola Project, a group that investigates various hauntings like werewolves, ghosts, and vampires. With a group including Annabelle, his female assistant, Sarah and Nigel, a pair of psychics, and Edgar, an African American doctor and skeptic, the James Gang has to face otherworldly terrors, people who mistrust their multiracial and unisex makeup, and their own prejudice and mistrust in each other. The series is both chilling and honest.
7. All Eyes on Me: A Miranda and Parker Mystery Book 1 by Linsey Lanier
Lanier's tense hard boiled noir novel focuses on a troubled investigator trying to solve an even more troubling murder. Husband and wife private investigators, Miranda and Parker try to find who killed pop star diva Ambrosia Dawn. While studying Ambrosia's abusive and unhappy home life, Miranda has to come to terms with her own past of surviving domestic abuse and the aftermath of the kidnapping and return of her young daughter.
6. Murder on The Dark Web (A Belfast Murder Mystery Book 4) by Brian O'Hare
This disturbing murder mystery subverts the notions of good and evil, right and wrong, innocent and guilty. Detective Chief Inspector Jim Sheehan and his colleagues investigate the murders of members of an affluent club. However, what starts out as a typical murder investigation turns far worse as the Reader learns the real motives of the club. They are a truly horrible depraved bunch that hurt others, particularly children, without a thought and the murderer was someone who had been hurt by them. The backstory about the Club makes it easy to understand and sympathize with why someone would want to stop them in any way possible.
Sergeant's Historical Fiction focuses on female spies during the Revolutionary and Civil Wars. Her brilliant masterful work focuses on various strong-willed intelligent women like Meg Coughlin, Elizabeth Bergen, and Sally Townsend, three women who help form George Washington's spy ring. During the Civil War, we encounter the exciting lives of women like Hattie Lewis, one of Pinkerton's only female detectives and Mary Jane Bower, a former slave working and spying in the home of Jefferson Davis. Both books show the lengths these women go through to learn and pass valuable information and the consequences if caught. They were truly brave and deserve to be remembered.
4. Nightfall Gardens (Nightfall Gardens Series Book 1) by Allen Houston
Houston's eerie YA novel is a tribute to the Gothic works of the past like the illustrations of Ed Gorey or the comics of Charles Addams. Siblings, Lily and Silas Blackwood return to the Blackwood Family Estate of Nightfall Gardens where Lily must assume the role as Guardian and Silas is to be a Rider, or security guard.
Nightfall Gardens is a memorably spooky setting with various creatures from werewolves, ghosts, Pans, and hypnotic sirens. It's the stuff of nightmares but a definitely fun imaginative experience.
3. Champagne Charlie and The Amazing Gladys by B.G. Hilton
Hilton's Steampunk Science Fiction novel is a throwback to the Adventure and Science Fiction novels of the 19th early 20th century. Nobleman Edward "Champagne Charlie" DeCharles attempts to solve the murder of a cab driver friend while Gladys Dunchurch, a magician's assistant tries to find out what happened to Gruffydd Pritchard, her boss, and his possibly real magic wand. Along the way they run into Irish pirates, a madman who wants to destroy the Moon, and aliens who resemble humanoid bats and live in England. The book is completely crazy but it is good crazy fun.
2. A Spell in The Country by Heide Goody and Iain Grant
Goody and Grant's Fantasy novel is wickedly witty and wonderful. Three women, Dee, Caroline, and Jenny are revealed to be witches and are invited to attend a series of courses for witches to study and demonstrate their powers. The witches go through a series of assignments that teach them about loyalty, togetherness, and embracing whatever inner power that they have. Along the way, they learn of a deeper conspiracy and that the terms "good" and "wicked" are constructs and sometimes are disguises for the real soul underneath.
1.Tales From The Hinterland: The Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert
Albert's anthology is an unforgettable blend of Fantasy and Horror. The stories are frighteningly fractured fairy tales. We have jealous sisters fighting to the death, fair folk with murderous intentions, an animal bride bereft of her original skin, children turning into toys, a grieving mother turning into a monster, a changeling girl who connives against her enemies, and several encounters with Death. Albert takes stories that could have been at home in a Brothers Grimm collection and makes them well Grimmer.
Honorable Mention: Home Front Girls by Suzanne Hayes and Loretta Nyhan, Betrayal at Ravenswick: A Fiona Figg Mystery by Kelly Oliver, Mistress Suffragette by Diana Forbes, Demons of Time: Race to the 7th Sunset Time Travelers Book 1 by Varun Sayal, Victorian Adventure Stories by John Steven Jones, Mystic Guests: A Mystic's End Series Book 1 by Leanne Leeds, The Neon God by Ben D'Alessio, The Raven Tower (The Fire Walker Book 1) by Emma Miles, In A Town Called Paradox by Miriam Murcutt and Richard Starkes, The Dark Chorus by Ashley Meggitt, Little Blue Eyes by Rob Santana, One If: A Virago Fantasy by Carol B. Allan, Eternally Artemisia by Melissa Muldoon, 7 Days in Hell: A Halloween Adventure to Wake The Dead by Iseult Murphy, Rosemary For Remembrance by Nikki Broadwell, The Colours of Death: Sgt. Thomas's Casebook by Robert New, The Ghost of Villa Winter (A Canary Islands Mystery Book 4) by Isobel Blackthorn, More Than Words by Christina Benjamin, Girl Gone Ghost by Dawn Husted, The Hysteria of Bodalis by Marcos Antonio Hernandez