Classic Rock Bottom

You'll have to forgive a bit of pessimism at the start of this article. You see, 2021 in real world implications was kind of just a really crappy sequel to 2020. And it's not looking good so far for 2022 either. 

So retreating into my worlds of blood, bodies and bullets is an odd but perfectly fitting break from reality. And I must've done a lot of retreating this year because I ended up reading 101 books during the past year! That is a new personal best for me. Though it doesn't really help cut down on my TBR pile at all.

A lot of things that I do relating to books stayed the same in 2021 as with past years. I'm reading the Jungle Red Writers and Wicked Authors blogs on a daily basis. And I comment regularly so I'm a part of those communities as well. I check out Bolo Books and Dru's Book Musings often too.

I'm happily still part of the team of reviewers for Mystery Scene magazine. And like I said last year, it is a huge thrill to be doing that. It's led to a lot of great interactions with authors both online and in person when that was still possible. Whatever I read that doesn't go to the magazine, I write about over on and surprisingly, I've started getting a few more people following my reviews there over the past year.

Speaking of reviews, 2021 saw another first for me. While pull quotes from my reviews have been used on the inside hype pages of books before (as well as for the online listings on Amazon and Barnes & Noble and some industry trade ads),  they've never been on the outside cover. Until this year. I read Robyn Gigl's By Way Of Sorrow in 2020 when it was originally supposed to be published. But the pandemic delayed that until 2021. I was admittedly kind of stoked when I saw the back cover of the book included part of my review. I don't let myself get remotely big headed about whatever small successes come my way with my review writing but when I learned that, for just a few seconds, in my mind I was doing the Snoopy Dance of Joy.

And while book signings were still mostly a thing of the past, there were some strides made in that department. However, the only "signing" I went to is when I got to have dinner with author extraordinaire Edith Maxwell a few months ago. I brought everything I had that she hadn't signed yet from novels, to anthologies and even a short story that appeared in a magazine. My collection is still not complete but I'm working on it. And my friend Ann is doing her part because I got a few gifts from her at Christmas that she and Edith "conspired" to give me.

Finally, there was one new thing that happened for me. I was asked to be a beta reader for TWO authors. It took me about a nanosecond to say yes to the first request and that experience was so much fun, particularly because I get to be in on the ground floor of a story that I think will turn out to be great. I had to say no to the second author's request because the turnaround time was too short given the other writing I had to get done at the time. But the author graciously is keeping the door open for me to do it when the third book in that series comes into form.

Okay, enough about the ME, ME, ME of life in the mystery community. Except to say that I have thoroughly enjoyed every author I've come into contact with and greatly appreciate them taking the time they have to make those experiences so darn memorable. I'm hoping that we'll all get back to book signings soon and who knows, maybe even a convention that I can afford to attend someday as well.

Here's three books I enjoyed that didn't quite make my list but they've been added to my MUST BUY authors list for sure.

Taylor Moore's Down Range is the first book in his Garrett Kohl series. Kohl is an undercover DEA agent who ends up protecting a young boy from killers in Afghanistan. In order to do that, he brings him to the one place he knows he has the advantage, the home he walked away from. (My Goodreads Review)

Brandon Webb & John David Mann's Steel Fear is the first book in the Finn Thrillers series. The authors have written non-fiction books in the past but this debut thriller featuring the single named Navy Seal Finn blew me away! After a failed mission, Finn is assigned to return home on a battleship, but when he gets there, things don't feel right. Soon a dead body leads him to investigating just what's wrong with the ship and its crew. But tracking down a killer on a floating city isn't as easy as you might think. And the killer is on to Finn. (My Goodreads Review)

John Gilstrap's Crimson Phoenix is the first book in his Victoria Emerson thriller series. I missed it when it first came out but received an advance copy of the 2nd book in the series (due out early 2022) to review for Mystery Scene and had the time to go back and read this one first. And it was a great read. The world is on the precipice, it just might end. Normally, the day is saved and life goes back to normal. Except, what if it didn't happen that way? What if the world did "end"? What happens next? Jam-packed with action, Crimson Phoenix was a fantastic read! (My Goodreads Review)

A few other notables include: Ronald H. Balson's Defending Britta Stein, Tracy Gardner's Ruby Red Herring, Archer Mayor's Marked Man and Lucy Burdette's Unsafe Haven.

Now here's my Top 10 Mysteries & Thrillers for 2021...

(Remember, any book that was published in 2021, regardless of format, is eligible. My rules, I make them up. Also, if a book you like isn't on my list, I either didn't read it (or read it YET) or I simply didn't like it as much as you did.)

#10. No Grater Crime by Maddie Day (My Goodreads Review)

The 9th book in the Country Store mystery series has to pull off the delicate balancing act of having a compelling mystery to solve as well as the marriage of the main character. While marriage isn't exactly a shock in a cozy series, pulling it off without giving short shrift to the dead body in the mix can be tricky. It's no secret that I'm a HUGE fan of Maddie Day (aka Edith Maxwell) but I just loved this book. Robbie Jordan is just the best and I remain just a little bit hangry that I can't visit Pans 'N Pancakes for breakfast and lunch.

#9. Double Take by Elizabeth Breck (My Goodreads Review)

I got to read an advance copy of the book and I just LOVED it! It's got a different spin on the narrative than the first book Anonymous but it is just as, if not possibly more, effective. Real life PI Elizabeth Breck imbues the story with an extra dose of realism as Madison, fearless and flawed as she is, looks for answers about a missing reporter in a "thrillingly dark and complex mystery".

#8. The Devil's Hand by Jack Carr (My Goodreads Review)

The epic killing machine known as James Reece is back on U.S. soil and applying for a job with the CIA. But he's soon meeting the President and tasked with stopping a weaponized virus that could bring down the country without so much as firing a shot. I wasn't the biggest fan of the previous book, Savage Son, but The Devil's Hand is a fine return to form and Jack Carr does great job of humanizing James Reece so that he's much more than exceptionally skilled at his job.

#7. Mercy Creek by M.E. Browning (My Goodreads Review)

The second book in the Jo Wyatt series finds the Detective Wyatt involved in a case of a missing child. But while most people in the small Colorado town would've thought the missing girl would be the older of the two Flores sisters, it's actually the younger one who can't be found. Stymied by people hiding their secrets and dealing with both personal and professional disappointments, Wyatt will not only have to find the missing kid but make sure she makes it home herself. I liked Shadow Ridge, the first book in the series, a lot but M.E. Browning's tour-de-force storytelling in this book makes it an even better read.

#6. The Dark Hours by Michael Connelly (My Goodreads Review)

It's New Year's Eve in pandemic stricken L.A. and Detective Renee Ballard is on special duty like the rest of the police force to deal with any celebratory antics the public gets up to. But a death at one of those parties leads Renee to investigating far more than a simple accidental shooting. Michael Connelly explores just how things seemingly are for the police in a world that has turned against them, sympathetic but not without sacrificing reality. Some have mentally checked out, showing up to put in their shift but not really caring about DOING the job. But that's not Renee and soon her investigation leads her to Harry Bosch and the two are teamed up once more on a case that each has ties to. Connelly shakes up the status quo in this book and leave the potential for more to come. And due to events in the narrative effectively sidelining Bosch for most of the book, the narrative focus leans more heavily on Renee Ballard to surprisingly great effect.

#5. The Cellist by Daniel Silva (My Mystery Scene Review)

The murder of an old friend brings Israeli spy chief Gabriel Allon to the realization he needs to bring an end to the blood feud between he and the Russians. His time in charge of Israeli intelligence is coming to an end and now is the time. But a "simple" hunt for his friend's murder blossoms into a massive operation to take down the dirty tricks campaign Russian hackers are employing across the globe. Daniel Silva not only provides plenty of story punch in his latest thriller but just when you think you're done, wait...there's more!

#4. Margaret Truman's Murder on the Metro by Jon Land (My Goodreads Review)

After writing six books in the Murder, She Wrote series (I loved all of them!), Jon Land has taken over the Capital Crimes series originated by Margaret Truman. And he does it with explosive aplomb! A massive terrorist attack on a thriving Israeli beach, the mysterious death of a sitting Vice President and partially foiled attack on the D.C. Metro system kicks off the first three chapters of Murder on the Metro and sets Robert Brixton, Secret Service agent Kendra Rendine and retired Mossad legend Lia Ganz on a collision course not only with each other but powerful enemies determined to bring their plans to sinister fruition. And they won't let three lone "warriors" get in their way. The opening act of the book is just setting the table for a plot that moves at breakneck speed and provide a compelling edge-of-your-seat read from start to finish!

#3. Every Waking Hour Gone For Good by Joanna Schaffhausen 

When you release two books in one year and have both of them turn out to be simply spectacular reads, there's no way for me to not include them both on the list. And that's the case this year with the sublimely great stories from Joanna Schaffhausen

In Every Waking Hour, the fourth book in the Ellery Hathaway series, Ellery is back on the job as a Boston police detective. But she's on probation and not exactly making friends on the job. A case involving a missing girl turns up secrets and reveals truths that lead to shattering conclusions for everyone involved. This is a book I read with a passion because I've come to the love the characters so much. (My Goodreads Review)

As for Gone For Good, how much did I NOT want to like this book? Well, I was bitterly disappointed learning that the Ellery Hathaway series is ending with 2022's Last Seen Alive. And I thought, unreasonably so, that I would take it out on this new series. And then I read the book, dammit! The first in the Detective Annalisa Vega series will get inside your head. 20 years after The Lovelorn Killer disappeared, it looks like he's returned. And Vega is on the case. Tied to the case on a personal level, she's determined to hunt down the elusive killer. But he's hunting her too. It's really annoying that Schaffhausen created such a compelling new character and wrote a book that will blow up Annalisa's world while blowing reader's minds at the same time. And I'm here to say that despite my ridiculous reluctance, I'm on board for the ride! (My Goodreads Review)

#2. Enemy At The Gates by Kyle Mills (My Goodreads Review)

The 20th book in the Mitch Rapp series (created by Vince Flynn, and now superbly written by Kyle Mills) finds Mitch Rapp at a crossroads. The digital world is making analog men like him somewhat redundant. Looking to consider his options, he's taking some time off. 

But when trillionaire Nicholas Ward comes calling with an unlimited bankroll to help find missing scientists aiding him in making the world a better place, Rapp is soon on the hunt once more. But what he doesn't realize is that those in charge of the status quo, including the newly elected abomination of a president, don't want Ward to do anything that might affect their grasp on power. So now Mitch isn't just battling those forces responsible for the missing scientists, he's faced with surviving attacks by his own people as well. The plot is deeply involved yet never slows down. Kyle Mills has continued the great legacy begun by Vince Flynn with style and a flair for the deadly dramatic. This is a series I greatly anticipate with each year's new installment!

And my favorite book of 2021 is...

#1. Dark Sky by C.J. Box (My Mystery Scene Review)

With Long Range being my favorite book of 2020, author C.J. Box has now repeated atop my list for the 2nd year in a row. At this particular time, he is just so on his game that his stories are the kind you want to block out the rest of the world and read in one sitting.

Dark Sky finds Joe Pickett tasked with taking a social media tech mogul on a hunting trip with the order from the government to come back with the man's company building a headquarters in the state or risk losing his job. But when Pickett's party is betrayed and then hunted by killers bent on revenge, it is survival not his job prospects foremost on Joe's mind. It's a race against those killers and Mother Nature's wintry fury to get off the mountain and back to civilization. When you add in a subplot with Joe's friend Nate Romanowski that threatens to see Nate explode in a killing frenzy, you have a book that just rose to the top when I read it and fended off all challengers to the throne since.

And there you have it! Those are my favorite books of 2021. I'm already getting ready for all the Blood, Bodies and Bullets coming my way in 2022. Of which I'm sure there will be plenty. Between the authors I already read and any new or new-to-me authors I discover, I'm sure that I will have plenty to keep me on the edge of my seat all year long! Happy Reading Folks!

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