My Top Reads of 2021

Hey, everyone. With 2021 rapidly coming to a close, I wanted to take time to share my top reads for the year.

I’ll preface this post by saying I’ve read many enjoyable books this past year, but there are a few that really stood out for me—ones I’ll remember in the days and months to come.

These are listed in the order I read them.

An Unwanted Guest

This was my first time reading anything by Shari Lapena. The setting is an old-fashioned hotel where there are no modern amenities such as cell phones during the middle of a winter storm. It was a mere coincidence that I finished the book just prior to being stuck at home because Snowmageddon hit Texas in February.

The Curse of Deadhorse Canyon

I’ve been fascinated by Native American culture for quite some time, so this book particularly intrigued me. Co-written by Marcha Fox and Pete Risingsun, the book has elements of murder, a government conspiracy, greed, environmental issues, and Native American legends. The second book of this series was recently released, and I’ve already snagged my copy.

She Lies Alone

I discovered the author of She Lies Alone in early 2021 and have since read four of her psychological fiction books. When a writer keeps me guessing as to the killer’s identity, it’s a big plus for me. Laura Wolfe has become one of my auto-buy authors

Death in Panama

I enjoy reading a good legal thriller on occasion. I learned of Death in Panama through fellow author Jan Sikes sometime last year. I had the book on my Kindle for several months, but when I did read it, I wasn’t disappointed. William Venema is a retired attorney and I look forward to more from this author.

The Guilty Husband

I discovered this book through Book Bub. This debut novel of author Stephanie DeCarolis did not disappoint. While I don’t condone extra-marital affairs, I couldn’t help but root for the main character, Vince. And the ending totally surprised me.

Iron Lake

When Judi Lynn wrote a review of this book, I was intrigued enough to buy a copy. William Kent Kruger’s Iron Lake was written and first published in the late 1990s. It’s the first of his Cork O’Connor mysteries and also includes elements of Native American folklore.

Home Before Dark

I read Riley Sager’s latest release, Survive the Night, and it didn’t do much for me. But Mae Clair encouraged me to try Home Before Dark, so I checked out a copy from my local library. How can you go wrong where the setting is a house with a mysterious past that’s been abandoned for twenty-five years and is possibly haunted?

You Can Run

After reading Staci Troilo’s review of this upcoming release by Rebecca Zanetti, I was fortunate enough to receive an advanced reader copy. There is mystery and suspense (my favorite genre) with a touch of romance. The book releases in January, and I highly recommend it. It’s the first of Zanetti’s Laurel Snow series and you can bet I’ll be reading the next book.

We Live Next Door

Wrapping up the list is another novel from Laura Wolfe. This was another page-turning psychological thriller set in a small-town neighborhood where things aren’t always as they seem.

That’s it for my top 2021 reads. What are some favorite books you’ve read this year?

Book Review: Home Before Dark

I’ll be honest. My first introduction to Riley Sager was his newest release Survive The Night which I found lacking in many ways. I was a bit skeptical about reading any of his other books, but I decided to check out Home Before Dark from my local library.


What was it like? Living in that house.

Maggie Holt is used to such questions. Twenty-five years ago, she and her parents, Ewan and Jess, moved into Baneberry Hall, a rambling Victorian estate in the Vermont woods. They spent three weeks there before fleeing in the dead of night, an ordeal Ewan later recounted in a nonfiction book called House of Horrors. His tale of ghostly happenings and encounters with malevolent spirits became a worldwide phenomenon, rivaling The Amityville Horror in popularity—and skepticism.

Today, Maggie is a restorer of old homes and too young to remember any of the events mentioned in her father’s book. But she also doesn’t believe a word of it. Ghosts, after all, don’t exist. When Maggie inherits Baneberry Hall after her father’s death, she returns to renovate the place to prepare it for sale. But her homecoming is anything but warm. People from the past, chronicled in House of Horrors, lurk in the shadows. And locals aren’t thrilled that their small town has been made infamous thanks toMaggie’s father. Even more unnerving is Baneberry Hall itself—a place filled with relics from another era that hint at a history of dark deeds. As Maggie experiences strange occurrences straight out of her father’s book, she starts to believe that what he wrote was more fact than fiction.

My Review

Rating: 5 out of 5.

A house with a past? Possibly haunted? Left abandoned for twenty-five years. All the makings of a good ghost story.

Upon her father’s death, Maggie Holt inherits Baneberry Hall, a place she lived with her parents for twenty days. Maggie was only five when they fled the house in the middle of the night, so her memories there are vague. If not for a book her father wrote, she might night remember anything of it.

Ewan Holt’s book about the brief time they spent in the house became a best seller and the family was a media sensation. The pressure destroyed her parent’s marriage and over the years Maggie asked both of them if the book was true. She became convinced it wasn’t, even though she’s suffered from night terrors all her life.

Maggie’s plans to renovate and sell the house require her to return to Baneberry Hall, but her primary reason is to discover the truth about what happened. She soon learns her father made an annual pilgrimage there on the anniversary of their leaving. Maggie discovers more secrets about the house that “remembers.”

The book is written from two points of view—Maggie in the present day and her father’s account of what happened in “The Book.” There are a lot of strange happenings, such as ringing bells, a chandelier that mysteriously turns on, and mysterious figures seen at the edge of the woods.

This was definitely a page-turner and Sager kept me guessing right up to the end. One of the best ghost stories (without all the ghoul) that I’ve read in a long time.

Book Reviews: The Edge of Fear @MauraBeth2014, Twelve Years Gone – K J Kalis, Survive The Night – Riley Sager

Hey, everyone. Time for another book review Tuesday. Today I’m sharing my reviews of three recent reads. The first by an author I’ve read before, the others by “new to me” authors, although one of them is quite popular.

Because of the length of this post, I’m skipping the blurbs. I guess you could call these “The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly.” The last book isn’t really ugly but it just seemed weird to me. Nonetheless, let’s start with the good.

Earlier this year, I read Maura Beth Brennan’s The Edge of Memory. I enjoyed it and was eager to read the sequel.

My Review

Rating: 5 out of 5.

The Edge of Fear is Maura Beth Brennan’s second novel and a wonderful sequel to The Edge of Memory.

Hattie (Harriett) is now married to Eli, a local artisan. They have a three-year-old daughter, Lily. Her life is better than she ever imagined, but she begins having inklings that something is about to happen to destroy her happy family.

Then the unthinkable does. Hattie’s ex-husband, Frank, kidnaps Lily and holds her for ransom. After one attempt at giving him the money goes awry, weeks happen without any contact. That’s when Hattie decides to take matters into her own hands. She’s determined to find her daughter at all costs.

With the help of her best friend Celine, the two women set off on a journey to find the kidnapped child. What follows is a page-turning adventure as they trace Frank’s footsteps.

The character development was superb, the action well-paced, and the ending… Well, I won’t give it away.

If you haven’t read The Edge of Memory, this book could easily stand alone. For those who have read it, you’ll see familiar characters—beloved Agnes and of course, Celine. You’ll also meet new ones whom you’ll come to like, and I hope will appear in future books.

A resounding five stars for this one.

The next book I discovered through a BookBub promotion. Suffice to say, I’m glad it was free. This is probably the longest review I’ve written, so bear with me.

My Review

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.

I wanted to like this book. I really did. The premise sounded great. A teenage girl goes out for a hike and never returns. Twelve years later, her family wants answers. Enter Emily, a former Chicago Police detective turned private investigator. She’s contacted by the mother of the missing girl and decides to travel to the small town of Stockton to investigate.

First, I’ll comment on the writing. There are numerous word echoes throughout the book. A couple of examples – the word truck was used five times in one paragraph and a sixth time in the preceding one. The name Angelica was used sixteen times in three pages. Even in an eighty-three-word author’s note, Kalis used the book’s name twice. Was it not possible to say, “this novel” or “this book?”

The author also mixed up a character’s name. Benny became his father Bucky for a couple of pages. Totally confusing.

The book also has redundancies. How many times do we need to know Emily wasn’t sure if she was going to take the case? Was it not clear Cameron was upset over the death of some of his cattle? Or that Kathy wanted to get out of Stockton but was too scared to do anything about it? Despite all that, I kept reading.

The solution was fairly predictable, but the book had several loose ends. I thought there could have been a lot more tension toward the end. There wasn’t. After building up to the fact the sheriff wasn’t on the up and up and was wary of Emily’s presence, he more or less disappeared. The unusual behavior of a local veterinarian wasn’t explained. Why throw those things in if you aren’t going to do anything with them?

Then came the unbelievable ending. I won’t say more because I hate spoilers in reviews, but I’m still trying to wrap my head around it. Guess I should have paid more attention to the word vigilante justice in the sub-title.

On the positive side – I liked Emily’s sidekick Mike, a computer nerd who helped her out of more than one tough situation. There was also her dog Miner, aptly named for the number of holes he digs in her back yard. One line I found amusing: “All the dog needed was a hardhat and a headlamp.”

Unfortunately, the bad outweighs the good and I feel I’m generous in rating it three stars (actually 2.5 rounded up to three). The use of beta readers, critique partners, or an editor would have been helpful. I won’t bother with any more books in this series or by this author.

I received an ARC of Survive The Night through Net Galley.

My Review

Rating: 3 out of 5.

I’m still trying to come to grips with the mixed feelings I have about this book. Hate it? No. Love it? Absolutely not. Somewhere in between, for sure. I will say this was my first time to read anything by Riley Sager, so I wasn’t sure what to expect.

Charlie Jordan is a theatrical student at a small New Jersey college. Her roommate and friend, Maddy, was murdered by the campus serial killer. Charlie feels responsible because she left Maddy to walk home alone from a bar. Maddy never made it.

Trying to fight the guilt, Charlie decides to go home to Ohio, leaving behind school and her boyfriend Robbie. Because both her parents died in an auto accident, Charlie doesn’t drive, so she posts a note on the campus’s drive board, hoping for a ride. Along comes Josh who offers to take her there on his way home.

They set out around nine at night. As they enter Pennsylvania, Charlie realizes something is amiss with Josh. Is he even who he says he is? Before long, she’s convinced he is the Campus Killer, and Charlie is in for a wild ride.

The book kept me turning the pages because I wanted to learn the outcome. However, Charlie lives her life in the fantasy world of movies, something like hallucinations, so it’s hard to determine what’s real and what isn’t. She makes several stupid mistakes, beginning with accepting a ride from a total stranger. Her poor decisions were based largely because of her guilt over Maddy’s death.

As I got further into the story, it wasn’t hard to figure out the killer’s identity, although the author did throw in several twists to keep readers guessing. A plus for that. But overall, I’m left with a somewhat dissatisfied feeling. Again, I don’t hate it, but I don’t love it. I might consider reading this author again, but judging from this one, the books don’t merit the big price tag. My consolation is the fact I did receive a free advanced reader copy from Net Galley.