It’s time for my annual list of my favorite books from the past year. My total number of books read and reviewed during 2021 is slightly lower than past years. In 2021 I only made it through 22 fiction books. What can I say. It’s been a busy year. However, 22 books read and reviewed are still enough that I can easily look back and choose a few that stood out above the small crowd. These are the books that I couldn’t put down. The ones that stayed in my head and kept my imagination churning and my face smiling long after I finished the last page. This year, I’m only listing my top 6. I could have added 4 more from my honorable mention list to make it a “top 10 list” but I decided not to. I wanted to be able to say with all honesty that these are the very best of the year. All 6 listed below are incredible reads that I’d recommend to anyone looking for a great book. After my review, I’m also giving a movie rating, even though none of these books have been made into movies. I find the moving rating to be a quick and easy way to warn readers about content issues without getting into all the specifics. It also helps that everyone already knows what the movie ratings mean.
MY FAVORITE BOOK COVER
Of all the books I read in 2020 my favorite book cover from the year is from Vicarious by Rhett C. Bruno. This is a big year for Vicarious, as you’ll see below.
BELOW ARE MY TOP 6 BOOKS OF 2021
#1 – VICARIOUS by Rhett C. Bruno
Vicarious by Rhett C. Bruno is a science fiction fantasy about the future of popular entertainment and how it affects two very different people. Mission is the name of a young woman who has spent her entire life on board a space vessel that carries the last surviving humans through space on their way to live on another planet. The ship she lives on is called Ignus. Asher is a young man who has spent his entire life watching Mission and the rest of the inhabitants of Ignus on a TV reality show called Ignus Live. Asher is obsessed with the show, especially its star, Mission. Mission has no idea that Asher or anyone exists on the planet that her ancestors came from: Earth. When a slip-up occurs among the film crew that produces Ignus Live, a small problem begins to grow into something that could cause harm to Mission. Asher, desperate to protect Mission, considers doing something that he has sworn never to do; interfere.
I loved everything about Vicarious. Author Rhett C. Bruno has a vivid imagination that translates skillfully to the page to become a masterpiece of fast-paced sci-fi entertainment. As I read the two separate but interlocking stories of Asher and Mission, I couldn’t help but feel like one of the obsessed viewers that inhabit Asher’s world. I couldn’t get enough of their plight as their two stories devolved into desperate measures only to eventually find hope. In other words, I couldn’t put the book down. It was that good. Both worlds, Asher’s entertainment obsessed Earth and Mission’s claustrophobic yet endearing space existence, were so well described in the book that either could have been a complete book on its own. But, combining the worlds and watching them collide with one another was a breath-taking experience. I highly recommend Vicarious for anyone looking for a book that is exciting, fun, and heartwarming.
Movie Rating = PG13 for a few curse words & some violence
#2 – TIME WAITS FOR NO ONE by Steve Bellinger
Time Waits For No One by Steve Bellinger is time travel fiction at its finest. As the story begins, we learn that an inventor early in the twentieth century developed plans for a time travel machine that would actually work, once technology caught up to his ideas. He published his plans in an obscure book that was made available to the public. Time Waits For No One is the story of what happens as random people find the book and develop their own machine based on the inventor’s plans. We see what happens to several time travelers, but most of the book is devoted to a young man named Tony Carpenter who gets involved reluctantly after trying to help an old lady. He thinks the whole thing is crazy and he plans to walk away from it all until strange things begin to happen. Soon, Tony finds himself so deeply involved that he can no longer find a way out.
I’ve read many time travel novels in the past but Time Waits For No One by Steve Bellinger is now my absolute favorite. It has everything a story of time traveling should have; a brilliant inventor, a cool hi-tech time machine, a likable protagonist who innocently gets caught between time periods, a plot full of twists and turns, and a fast-moving narrative that barrels through time like a runaway train. All of these elements are woven together perfectly to make a tale that I thoroughly enjoyed reading. According to the book’s description, this novel is the second book in a series. Never once while I was reading it did I feel like I was missing anything by not having read the first book. It seemed completely self-contained as far as I was concerned. I highly recommend Time Waits For No One as a fun, exciting, and thought-provoking time travel story.
Movie Rating = PG13 for racial violence
#3 – RIDGE: DAY TWO by Shawn P.B. Robinson
Ridge: Day Two by Shawy P.B. Robinson is a character driven fantasy of epic proportions. The first book in the series, Ridge: Day One, focused on a prominent leader of Ridge named Rezin Hamel. Day Two is about the consequences of Hamel’s actions from the first book, turning the spotlight on the nation itself. Ridge is at a turning point with enemies attacking from all sides. As the leaders prepare for war with the larger nation of Olmos, a race of human-like beasts that live in the bordering forests, become angry for some unknown reason and begin to overwhelm the Ridge soldiers. All of this, plus the age old mystery of why the people of the Ridge die young is finally revealed.
I enjoyed the large cast of characters that are present in Ridge: Day Two. The author, Shawn P.B . Robinson does a great job of making every character relatable and unique in their own way. I also liked the way the plot followed several characters, each into a different side of the story. Together, each storyline wove together effortlessly to make a fascinating portrait of a good and noble nation trying desperately to fight off the forces of evil. I highly recommend Ridge: Day Two, along with the other books in the Ridge series. I’ve enjoyed the two that are out and am looking forward to reading Day Three.
Movie Rating = PG13 for violence
#4 – ETHICS OF HOPE by Rachel Lulich
The Ethics of Hope by Rachel Lulich is part two in the Fractured Galaxy series. It continues the story of three astronauts whose mission to Mars was derailed when their ship passed through a wormhole and landed in a far remote part of the galaxy. Through a new technology called entangled particles, they regain a limited ability to communicate with ground control back on Earth. The main thrust of Ethics of Hope is the desperate efforts to bring their spaceship back to a part of the universe that is closer to home. The NASA crew does their best to help by troubleshooting and relaying instructions while the astronauts risk their lives with each new procedure.
The Ethics of Hope, like its predecessor, Random Walk, is a delight to read. The almost hopeless plight of the astronauts hangs in the air like a dark shadow over every scene, providing the tension that drives the series forward. Yet, the author keeps the focus on the humanity of her characters, working through each problem together as a team. The three astronauts, who are painted so realistically in the story that they become like good friends to the reader, along with many of the NASA characters that are equally relatable and well-described, are the real stars of this show. The Ethics of Hope is also full of real science described in just the right amount of detail to make the story believable. The author also seems to have inside information on how things work in the world of astronauts and ground control, which gives the story a feeling of authenticity.
I highly recommend The Ethics of Hope for science fiction fans who enjoy stories of high-stakes danger told through a lens of strong characters, realism, and intelligence.
Movie Rating = PG
#5 – DEFICIENCY by S.C. Eston
Deficiency by S.C. Eston is a fully developed vision into the future of mankind that is both thrilling and terrifying in its impact. The story takes place on another planet but has clear ties to Earth in more ways than one. The main characters, Artenz and Keidi, are an average young couple who exist in a mostly artificial world created by a network of corporations. Artenz’s sister, Detel, is a scientist who has been doing forbidden research. When Detel goes missing, Artenz and Keidi find themselves being chased by the authorities including a cyborg named Okran, an unstoppable killing machine. When Artenz and Keidi get separated, they find help from a covert group of rebels dedicated to unmasking the lies of the corporations and promoting truth. The story that follows is a high-powered game of cat and mouse into the underbelly of their seemingly perfect world. At first, Artenz and Keidi are unsure of why they are being hunted so fiercely, but the more they see behind the curtain the more they know they have to keep running so they can bring the truth to the light.
I thoroughly enjoyed Deficiency by S.C. Eston. It has an exceptional cast of characters, all fully fleshed out with interesting personalities and motivations. The science behind the story also feels authentic. Computers control everything in Deficiency and the author does a top-notch job of speaking the language of computers. His technical explanation for everything from Artenz’s virtual living space to the corporate spying methods was not only authentic but understandable. The plot is also exceptional in its creativity and fast pace, filled with delightful twists and turns. I highly recommend Deficiency. It is intelligent science fiction that manages to be thrilling and fun at the same time.
Movie Rating = PG13 for violence and a few curse words
#6 – A DOCTRINE OF FEAR by Paul J.C. Edge
A Doctrine of Fear by Paul JC Edge is a highly imaginative vision of the end of human civilization. It is part 2 of the Summer Haven series. At the beginning of this book, most of humanity has already been wiped out by a deadly virus that turns people into flesh-eating creatures. In Doctrine of Fear, we find out the virus was caused by aliens who are headed to Earth to inhabit the planet. We meet a man named Joe who will play an important part in mankind’s defense against the alien invasion. Although Joe appears to be just an average person, he is suddenly being hunted by evil forces. None other than the Pope himself comes to his aid by assigning an elite group of soldiers to protect him from the brain-washed assassins who will stop at nothing to kill him.
In A Doctrine of Fear, Paul JC Edge did a spectacular job of upping the ante this time around by adding demonic beings and aliens into the mix with the crazed zombies of the previous book. There are new characters and new plot twists that give this book its own unique personality while it also ties in nicely to the groundwork established in book 1. I found A Doctrine of Fear to be an exciting story that was difficult to put down. The pacing is fast and furious. The large cast of characters is well defined and easy to relate to. The author has a fertile imagination that keeps his storyline fresh and unpredictable. If you’re looking for a run-of-the-mill zombie book, you’ve come to the wrong place. A Doctrine of Fear is a wild ride that flies through unexplored territory at incredible speeds. I highly recommend A Doctrine of Fear as well as the rest of the Summer Haven series.
Movie Rating = R for violence and curse words