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 Reviews: #Texas Authors @JanSikes3 @WHVenema

Hey, everyone. For those of you in the US, I hope you enjoyed the long weekend. Welcome to the first Tuesday of July. I’m plugging right along with my TBR list, and today I have three reviews. All three books are written by Texas authors, and two of them are set in Texas.

The first is by friend and fellow Story Empire author Jan Sikes.


Jag Peters has one goal in his quiet comfortable life—to keep his karma slate wiped clean. A near-miss crash with a candy apple red Harley threatens to upend his safe world. He tracks down the rider to apologize properly. Slipping into a seedy biker bar, he discovers the rider isn’t a “he”, it’s a “she”, a dark-haired beauty.

Rena Jett is a troubled soul, who lives in a rough world. She wants no part of Jag’s apology, but even while she pushes him away, she is attracted to him. When he claims to see a ghost—her brother—can she trust him? And could her brother’s final gift, a magical rune stone with the symbol for “happily ever after” have the power to heal her wounds and allow opposites to find common ground—perhaps even love?

My Review

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Ghostly Interference is a blend of romance, paranormal, and healing. Rena Jett is a young woman who lost her brother, Sam, in the war. She’s lived a tough life—abandoned by her mother she and Sam spent years in the foster care system. After Sam’s death, she has no one who loves and cares for her.

Jag Peters comes from a middle-class family. He’s a computer geek but has an intense love of music, and once desired to play in a band. Jag and Rena meet by accident—he literally almost causes her to wreck the only thing she has left of her brother, a candy apple red Harley.

Beneath her tough exterior, Rena is vulnerable. She wants a home and a family but feels like she won’t fit into Jag’s world. Jag has issues as well. It’s said opposites attract, and that couldn’t be truer with these two. Oh, and there’s Sam’s ghost who keeps appearing to Jag.

The story line is well developed, and we see both characters grow and mature. Throw in music (which is always a plus for me), plus the Texas setting, and I was completely enthralled. All in all a satisfying and enjoyable read. This is the first in the White Rune Series. and I look forward to the next book.

The next books are by author William Venema, and are part of a series. I learned of his works through Jan, purchased the first book, and kept it on my TBR list for about a year. After finishing it (in two days), I immediately bought a copy of the second novel.


Captain Robert E. Clark arrives in Panama on his first tour of duty as a lawyer. He struggles to reconcile his Southern upbringing and West Point training with a strange new environment. Panama is a muddled mix of conflict and corruption, where, among other things, marriage vows don’t mean what they did at the First United Methodist Church of Pemberton, Georgia. When Clark is assigned to prosecute a murder case involving the death of a thirteen-month old little girl, his ambition causes him to neglect his wife and daughter more than usual and—even worse—bend the rules in ways that call into question what kind of man he is and what he truly values.

In this riveting novel, William Venema tells an intriguing, thought-provoking tale of unrestrained ambition and its consequences. Death comes in many forms, each lethal in its own way.

My Review

Rating: 4 out of 5.

I enjoy reading a good legal thriller, so when I heard about Death in Panama, I was intrigued enough to buy a copy.

Set during the early 1980s, the book follows the story of Army Captain Robert E. Clark on his first tour of duty in Panama. Clark, as he is called by his friends, has been assigned to the Judge Advocate General Corps at Fort Clayton. A graduate of West Point, Clark’s life is the army, despite having a wife and young daughter.

He isn’t perfect, and some reviewers said they had a hard time liking his character. I had an even harder time liking his wife. From the start, she appeared selfish. She cares little for him and his wants, even when he has to make an emergency trip to the states when he learns his father is dying.

Clark throws himself into his work and not long after arriving is assigned as chief prosecutor in the murder trial of an army specialist accused of murdering his thirteen-month-old niece. The story covers the investigation, trial, as well as the “aftermath.”

While there are a few instances of author intrusion, overall, the writing is solid. Enough that I’m interested in reading the sequel Dawn in Dallas as it follows Clark’s life after the army.


It is 1986, and Robert E. Clark has no idea what the future holds as he leaves the Army JAG Corps and embarks on a civilian legal career. He secures a position at Underwood & Crockett, a prestigious law firm in Dallas, Texas, even though his young daughter and ex-wife reside in Pemberton, Georgia, the small town where he grew up.

Things get complicated when Robert receives disturbing news from home at the same time he is confronted with unethical behavior by one of the senior partners in the law firm. The challenges of his new career and his responsibilities as a father pull him in opposite directions.

Dawn in Dallas has its share of plot twists and interesting characters and along the way reveals some of the darker secrets of life inside a large law firm and the serious deficiencies of our court system.

My Review

Rating: 4 out of 5.

After reading Death in Panama, I couldn’t wait to pick up a copy of Dawn in Dallas. Like the first book of the series, I read it in two days.

This book picks up a few years after the first when (now) Major Robert Clark has been reassigned to a post in Georgia. Having gone through a divorce which left him with getting supervised only visits with his daughter, Robert decides to leave the Army and move to Dallas, Texas where he’s offered a position with one of the most prestigious firms in the state.

He soon learns that everything isn’t as it should be. Not only that, but there are also problems with his daughter and ex-wife. His visits to Georgia aren’t looked on favorably by one of the firm’s partners.

At first, we see Robert making some bad choices (much as he did in Panama) but when asked to do something unethical and illegal, he must decide between right and wrong. That’s where we begin to see real character growth.

In Dawn in Dallas, we meet some new characters and see some familiar ones from Death in Panama. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this one.

After posting my review, I was delighted to learn a third book is in the works. You can bet I’ll be buying a copy.