You’re the Top…You’re a Waldorf Salad! My Best From 2021

By Kathleen Costa

Enjoy my top favorite authors and their work from 2021 and get an opportunity to win a $3 Amazon ecard (US Only). For your entry to be valid, comment with the answer to the post question ‘What was your favorite author, series, or book from 2021?’ Happy reading in the New Year!

In 2021, I reviewed a record 185 books, and like a Waldorf Salad, the list is a delightful mixture of genres, settings, eras, and characters. The continuing pandemic and up and down mandates did not effect these talented authors from around the world. They continued with established series or broke through with something new. It was again a difficult task to choose my annual “Top” because every book and television show provided me with hours of entertainment and some inspiration.


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Top Favorite Authors 

H.Y. Hanna is a top all-time favorite author bringing green thumbs and magical chocolate to fans with two “must read” books released this year. In March, Fronds and Enemies, fifth in my favorite English Cottage Garden Mystery, again throws some murderous weeds into Poppy Lancaster’s garden shop with a peeping Tom, a missing garden gnome, and an mischievous feline only some of the entertaining predicaments. In July, Salted Caramel Sorcery, seventh in the Bewitched by Chocolate series, has Caitlyn Le Fey mixing up a batch of murder at a masquerade ball to celebrate the festival of Mabon. The enigmatic Blackthorn returns causing a conflict between dear friends and we are stilling waiting to see who, Caitlyn or Lord Fitzroy, will make the next romantic move. Clever. Engaging. Big favorite!

Shout out to Pearl Hewitt! She performs the brilliant narration for all of HY. Hanna’s books including these two series on Audible: English Cottage Garden Mysteries and Bewitched by Chocolate Mysteries. She proves murder is better with an English accent!

Kim Davis is a favorite blogger hosting Cinnamon, Sugar, and a Little Bit of Murder and bringing to fans her literary insights and culinary talents. She is also an accomplished author of the Cupcake Catering Mystery releasing this year two deliciously exciting books, Framed and Frosted and Frosted Yuletide Murder, following Emory Martinez whose uniquely flavored cupcakes continue to get her into murderous peril (Recipes included). This year she also introduced a new series, Aromatherapy Apothecary, with Essentials of Murder focusing on Carissa Carmichael whose efforts to overcome scandal and prove herself to family, friends, and the hunky owner of her favorite bakery seem to go murderously awry. Delicious. Creative. Hungry for more! 

Image source Severn
Jeri Westerson penned the fascinating series Crispin Guest Medieval Noir Mystery, transporting fans like me to the fourteenth century. In January she released the fourteenth adventure, Spiteful Bones, and then ended the year with the final installment, The Deadliest Sin. Former knight Crispin Guest was stripped of his title and property and banished from court, but he found a path forward as the Tracker of London. A detective of sorts, he is hired to uncover the mystery behind the set of bones and a religious relic found in the wall of a friend’s home, and later the death of a nun within the walls of Saint Frideswide Priory bringing to mind the Seven Deadly Sins. Crispin’s journey as an outcast is fascinating with endearing relationships and a few personal revelations, but all is resolved with a satisfying conclusion…tears fell! Compelling. Fascinating characters. Sad to see it end!

Victoria Tait made my “Top” list with a clever six-book series set in Kenya, The Kenya Kanga Mystery series. She released three books this year following the trials and tribulations of paraprofessional veterinarian Rose Hardie, also known as “Mama Rose.” In Jackal & Hide, the relaxing retreat Rose and her ailing husband hope to have is interrupted by the death of one of the guests. Grevy Danger (originally a novella) has two deaths marring an endangered zebra expedition. Wild Dog Revenge (possibly the final book in the series) highlights the ins, outs, and backstabbing nature of the polo culture. Absorbing. Google-worthy look into two- and four-legged culture. Must Read!

Gin Jones came out with a compelling new series, Crazy Cat Lady Chronicles. The four books, all released this year, focus on a fascinating tale of young nurse Wyn Miller and her Maine Coon cat Sal navigating a dystopian-like world using their unique abilities to help patients who have contracted the Tox. From One Cat for the Road and Two Cats are Better Than One to Three’s a Clowder and Four Cat Night, Wyn and her feline entourage encounter resilience and acceptance as well as trepidation and murder. The series had been delayed due to its contemporary theme, but it is too good a series with its strong female lead, fascinating feline interventions, and clever mystery to be overlooked. Thoroughly enjoyable. Highly recommend!

Top Surprises!

Lorie Lewis Ham, the editor of Kings River Life online magazine…and my boss, of sorts, is also the author of One of Us, first in her Tower District Mystery series. Her heroine, Roxi Carlucci, a children’s book author without a publisher, sword-wielding fan of The Once and Future King, and owner of a blue Dumbo rat named Merlin, relocates to Fresno, California, temporarily joining her cousin in his PI firm. Together they investigate a murder at a local theater which entangles a quirky bunch in the small community. Exciting. Eager for more!

Kathleen Fowler Costa…Me! I surprised myself by taking on a “flash fiction” challenge. I wrote exactly 100 words on a specific theme (Scary, Holidays, Valentines, and the Dog Days of Summer), not an easy task for someone who tends to be loquacious on any subject, but I did it eight times! From childhood memories and spooky visitors, from romance to revenge, my efforts were rewarded by becoming a part of A Year of Shorts: Flash Fiction edited by Barbara Venkataraman. Fun. Inspiring. One “bucket list” accomplishment done!

Susan Van Kirk, a new-to-me author, surprised me with the fourth book in her Endurance Mystery series, The Witch’s Child. Retired teacher Grace Kimball becomes interested in the kerfuffle surrounding the return of Fiona MacKenzie. Her mother, dubbed a witch by the locals, was found guilty of murder, died in prison, and now the witch’s child plans to bury her in town. Fiona, herself, is skilled in herbal remedies and professes to be Wiccan. However, serious harassment ensues and the death of Grace’s friend ramps up the trouble. To prep for the fourth book, I read book one, Three May Keep a Secret (2019), raising a tragic event from Grace’s past; I highly recommend it too! Engaging drama. Clever characters. Reading more in the series!


Jennifer Fischetto, part of the Gemma Halliday Publishing writing crew, released three new books this year in her Gianna Mancini Mystery series loaded with plenty of dead guys and gals. Gianna’s childhood accident left her interacting with the spirits of murder victims. In Stilettos, Bow Ties & Dead Guys, Gianna is helping plan an elaborate wedding, but then finds the maid of honor dead and oblivious of what happened. In Diamonds, Pies & Dead Guys, Gianna has a dilemma over her involvement when her frenemy from high school has been murdered. In Ghosts, Private Eyes & Dead Guys, Gianna and her boyfriend attend a Halloween bash and now has to deal with a “real” ghost. Great fun. Just the right amount of ghostly interaction. More coming!

Top “Streaming” British Invasion!

AcornTV and BritBox emerged cautiously from Covid lockdowns to premiere several new and returning series this year along with the continued availability of classics to keep me entertained, inspired, and having me answer “Plenty” when asked “What’s on Telly?” Many shows are actually based on novels that had me exploring the author’s original vision. These are a few 2021 favorites that had me channeling my inner Anglophile with lots of tea, scones, and a detective’s warrant card!

Image Source Acorn
AcornOriginal Whitstable Pearl is based on books by Julie Wassmer following the exploits of Pearl Nolan (Kerry Godliman) who owns a restaurant she named Whitstable Pearl and a small private investigation firm that causes her to run afoul of the broody Chief Inspector Mike McGuire (Howard Charles). The first season had plenty of entertaining cases from a close family friend to a questionable estate agent, from a retired DCI to a long missing young man, and two cases dealing closely with secrets long kept within Pearl’s own family. Clever. Great characters. Looking forward to more! 

Image Source Acorn
AcornOriginal Dalgliesh is based on three novels by P.D. James with Bertie Carvel playing the title role of Detective Chief Inspector Adam Dalgliesh. Each murder investigation (a nurse trainee, a family friend, and a disgraced MP) is complex with additional mayhem and culminating with a surprising motive and arrest. The engaging drama also brings more into focus the trauma the detective is dealing with over the death of his wife and child, and the conflicts between his team are exacerbated by 70’s sexism and racism. Compelling. Well cast. More adaptations in the works.

BritBoxOriginal Grace is a police drama based on two books by Peter James. The Detective Chief Superintendent Roy Grace, still reeling after his wife went missing six years ago and, more recently, having damaged his reputation by bringing the “occult” into his standard operating procedures, is sidelined, but a former apprentice requests his assistance on a trouble missing persons case. In his introspective manner and respected techniques, he proves himself invaluable. Outstanding. New favorite! Exploring more about John Simm, I found BritBox also had the exciting 2006 production Life on Mars following DCI Sam Tyler who is in a coma due to a targeted hit and run incident, but when he wakes…it’s 1973, and he’s only a detective inspector. The two seasons, with a tearful conclusion, follow his efforts to navigate harsh 70’s policing, his feelings for a young female constable, and running into family and friends and people he know will be vicious criminals in the future as he tries to figure out how to get back to his life. Excellent. Fantastic cast. Spin off Ashes to Ashes stars Kelley Hawes in the same predicament, yet she’s navigating the 1980s with figures from the Life on Mars series. Must see!

Popular BritBox favorites like Shetland, Vera, and Midsomer Murders finally released some new episodes this year while the productions kept close the Covid protocols, but sometimes you just need a laugh-out loud, endearing look at a dysfunctional Irish family…Mrs. Brown’s Boys! Starring Brendan O’Carroll as widow Agnes Brown (Yes, he plays her) in the iconic role of the Brown family’s matriarch. The show is filmed in front of a live audience, incorporates bloopers and cast laughs, a few f-bombs and adult humor, hilarious predicaments, and a few musical interludes! The brilliant cast is full of real-life family, friends, and in-laws related to O’Carroll making it very unique. The four full seasons and specials from 2019 and 2020 are included, but I’m thrilled the show is continuing with the 2021 Christmas and Holiday episodes. Hilarious. Big favorite! 

Image Source PBS
PBS broadcast the reprised version of All Creatures Great and Small early this year based on the books by James Herriot with a fantastic cast of Nicholas Ralph as Herriot along with Samuel West and Callum Woodhouse as Siegfried and Tristan Farnon. Season two is nearing its 2022 premier, but BritBox has the original 1978-1990 series starring Christopher Timothy as James Herriot with Robert Hardy and Peter Davidson as the Farnon brothers. It is a marvelous, entertaining look at life in the 30s of a veterinarian practice and the residents and farmers of the Yorkshire Dales. Filled with fascinating relationships, quirky figures, and lots of fur, feathered, and scaled antics. Totally entertaining in both versions!

Happy Shout Out!

Historical Fiction comes in various forms from romance to mysteries, and I’ve explored both this year. From hunky men in kilts to ascots and morning coats, I enjoy being enveloped in romantic triangles, political pawns, some steamy encounters, and always a happy ending. There’s also the knights, nuns, and monks that find themselves seeking the truth to murder and mayhem, and weaving in historical events and figures to enrich my education. I love Peter Tremayne’s seventh-century Sister Fidelma Mystery series on audiobook and Denise Domning‘s five-book Servant of the Crown Mystery series set in the twelfth century! Highly recommend these for an engaging experience!

Short Stories (less than a seventy-five pages) are generally overlooked by me, unless it’s a prequel to a series in which I’ve already become invested. That’s changed! I actually found several over this year that were delightful and very entertaining, even if only 50 pages. I found three books that introduced me to two series with which I’ve started my reading experience. Big thumbs up to The Windy City Files by Ellison Blackburn and Gabe Devlin Mysteries by James Carver. In this case…size doesn’t matter!

Audible.com is a favorite destination for books since I love being read to! With my monthly membership, I downloaded this year over 1000 free “included” books from favorite like Agatha Raisin, Miss Fisher, and Hamish MacBeth to cozy mysteries, romance, self help, basic spells, and some meditation. I was surprisingly shocked to find a library filled of the marvelous books from favorite authors to new-to-me-s. I’m so set that I had to buy a second pair of earbuds due to overuse! 

Check out the Favorite Books of 2021 from the rest of the KRL staff by clicking here!

REMEMBER! To enter to win a $3 Amazon gift card (US Only) to start off 2022, comment below with your answer to this question: What was your favorite author, series, or book from 2021? If entering via comment be sure to include your email address or we won't be able to contact you.

To enter via email, simply email KRL at krlcontests@gmail[dot]com by replacing the [dot] with a period, with the subject line “You’re the Top!” Be sure to include your answer to the post question for a valid entry. A winner will be chosen on January 22, 2022. You must be 18 or older to enter. You can read our privacy statement here if you like.

Check out other mystery articles, reviews, book giveaways & mystery short stories in our mystery section in Kings River Life and in our mystery category here on KRL News & Reviews. And join our mystery Facebook group to keep up with everything mystery we post, and have a chance at some extra giveaways. And check out our new mystery podcast which features mystery short stories and first chapters read by local actors! A new episode goes up next week.

Kathleen Costa is a long-time resident of the Central Valley, and although born in Idaho, she considers herself a “California Girl.” Graduating from CSU-Sacramento, she is a 35+ year veteran teacher having taught in grades 1-8 in schools from Sacramento to Los Angeles to Stockton to Lodi. Currently Kathleen is enjoying her retirement revitalizing hobbies along with exploring writing, reading for pleasure, and spending 24/7 with her husband.

Comments

  1. All of Laura Childs books are wonderful: Twisted Tea Christmas.

    Nancy
    allibrary (at) aol (dot) com

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  2. My favorite book this year was the adaptation of Once Upon A Time In Hollywood by Quentin Tarantino. Very different from the movie.

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  3. Carlene O'Connor. Murder in an Irish Bookshop.
    Wonderful series. txmlhl(at)yahoo(dot)com

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  4. Love it! Your flash fiction is great! :-)

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  5. I have only read children’s books this year! My favorite for my two year old has been the Little Kitten by Nicola Killen

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  6. Thanks so much for including my book on your list, Kathleen! I am absolutely impressed with the number of books you read and review -- you're awesome!

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  7. I'm amazed that you read that many books in one year! Thanks so much for recognizing two of mine.

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