Best of the Year 2021

Since The Hope Chest Reviews is not dedicated to the latest book releases, the majority of the books on this list were not published in 2021. Instead the list is compiled from the books that were read and reviewed during the 2021 calendar year. If you would like to view our picks from past years, please visit the archive.

Author of the Year - Winner

Larissa Ione (5 - 4 ½ to 5 star reads in a row)

Author of the Year - Runner-Up

Jim Butcher (3 - 5 star reads in a row)

Best Overall Romance

Devil Takes a Bride by Gaelen Foley (5 stars)

Best Alternate Reality Romances

Lethal Rider by Larissa Ione (5 stars)

Reaver by Larissa Ione (5 stars)

Midnight Awakening by Lara Adrian (4 ½ stars)

Rogue Rider by Larissa Ione (4 ½ stars)

Branded by Fire by Nalini Singh (4 ½ stars)

Eat Prey Love by Kerrelyn Sparks (4 ½ stars)

Best Contemporary Romances

Ready for Love by Marie Force (5 stars)

My Kind of Christmas by Robyn Carr (4 ½ stars)

Smooth Talking Stranger by Lisa Kleypas (4 ½ stars)

On Dublin Street by Samantha Young (4 ½ stars)

Best Erotic Romances

Truth by Sherri Hayes (5 stars)

Dark Citadel by Cherise Sinclair (5 stars)

Colters' Lady by Maya Banks (4 ½ stars)

Best Historical Romance (American)

When a Texan Gambles by Jodi Thomas (4 ½ stars)

Best Historical Romances (Britain & Other Countries)

The Madness of Lord Ian Mackenzie by Jennifer Ashley (5 stars)

Devil Takes a Bride by Gaelen Foley (5 stars)

Lady of Desire by Gaelen Foley (5 stars)

The Gift by Julie Garwood (5 stars)

The Pirate Lord by Sabrina Jeffries (5 stars)

Simply Perfect by Mary Balogh (4 ½ stars)

When a Rogue Meets His Match by Elizabeth Hoyt (4 ½ stars)

Best New Adult Romance

Truth by Sherri Hayes (5 stars)

On Dublin Street by Samantha Young (4 ½ stars)

Best Romance Novellas & Short Stories

Oh, Christmas Hells, Oh Christmas Hells by Larissa Ione (5 stars)

O Come, All Ye Horsemen (And Angels) by Larissa Ione (5 stars)

Christmas in the Kitchen by Nalini Singh (5 stars)

Scarlet Stockings by Mary Wine (4 ½ stars)

An On Dublin Street Christmas by Samantha Young (4 ½ stars)

Best Young Adult Fiction

The Reclaimed Kingdom by Dana Claire (4 ½ stars)*

The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin (4 ½ stars)

Best Children's Picture Book

Acceptance Is My Superpower by Alicia Ortego (4 ½ stars)*

Best Children's Middle-Grade Fiction

Santa Paws by Nicholas Edwards (5 stars)

Best Children's Middle-Grade Non-Fiction

I Am an American: A True Story of Japanese Internment by Jerry Stanley (4 ½ stars)

Best Fantasy Fiction

Changes by Jim Butcher (5 stars)

Deerskin by Robin McKinley (5 stars)

Best Fantasy Novellas & Short Stories

Aftermath by Jim Butcher (5 stars)

Bigfoot on Campus by Jim Butcher (5 stars)

Devil's Contract by E. S. Magill (5 stars)

Best Biographies/Memoirs

Confessions of a Prairie Bitch: How I Survived Nellie Oleson and Learned to Love Being Hated by Alison Arngrim (5 stars)

Diana: Her True Story by Andrew Morton (5 stars)

Best Non-Fiction Books

The Outlandish Companion, Volume Two by Diana Gabaldon (5 stars)

Be the Bridge: Pursuing God's Heart for Racial Reconciliation by LaTasha Morrison (5 stars)

Best Christmas Stories

Santa Paws by Nicholas Edwards (5 stars)

Oh, Christmas Hells, Oh Christmas Hells by Larissa Ione (5 stars)

O Come, All Ye Horsemen (And Angels) by Larissa Ione (5 stars)

Christmas in the Kitchen by Nalini Singh (5 stars)

My Kind of Christmas by Robyn Carr (4 ½ stars)

Scarlet Stockings by Mary Wine (4 ½ stars)

An On Dublin Street Christmas by Samantha Young (4 ½ stars)

Most Surprising Winner

The Reclaimed Kingdom by Dana Claire (4 ½ stars)*

Funniest Read

The Gift by Julie Garwood (5 stars)

Sweetest Romance

The best romance I read this year that has milder content.

The Reclaimed Kingdom by Dana Claire (4 ½ stars)*

Steamiest Romance

For me, the steamiest romance doesn't necessarily have the most erotic content. Instead it's the book(s) that best combine hot, sexy scenes with a deep emotional connection that really make the pages sizzle.

Ready for Love by Marie Force (5 stars)

Most Impressive Debut

This wasn't a 2021 release, but it was the debut books for this author and quite impressive for a first effort.

Confessions of a Prairie Bitch: How I Survived Nellie Oleson and Learned to Love Being Hated by Alison Arngrim (5 stars)

Best Overall Hero

Stephan Coleman (Truth by Sherri Hayes)

Best Overall Heroine

Lizzie Carlisle (Devil Takes a Bride by Gaelen Foley)

Most Tortured Hero

Devlin Kimball (Devil Takes a Bride by Gaelen Foley)

Most Tortured Heroines

Both of these heroines are so tortured I couldn't choose between them.

Brianna Reeves (Truth by Sherri Hayes)

Princess Lissla Lissar (Deerskin by Robin McKinley)

Hottest Hero

Luke Harris (Ready for Love by Marie Force)

Most Perfect Couple

Ian Mackenzie & Beth Ackerley (The Madness of Lord Ian Mackenzie by Jennifer Ashley)

Most Evil Villains

The Red Court Vampires (Changes by Jim Butcher)

Pestilence (Lethal Rider by Larissa Ione)

The King (Deerskin by Robin McKinley)

Queen Ebbigal (The Reclaimed Kingdom by Dana Claire*)

Devina (Lover Unveiled by J. R. Ward*)

Marek (Midnight Awakening by Lara Adrian)

Most Memorable Supporting Characters

Elyn & Nate (Lover Unveiled by J. R. Ward*)

Hart, Cam, and Mac Mackenzie (The Madness of Lord Ian Mackenzie by Jennifer Ashley)

Nora and Matthew (The Gift by Julie Garwood)

Susan Rodriguez (Changes by Jim Butcher)

Tavin (Reaver by Larissa Ione)

Ellie and Adam (On Dublin Street by Samantha Young)

Whine (Rogue Rider by Larissa Ione)

Robin (Petals in the Storm by Mary Jo Putney)

Andreas Reichen (Midnight Awakening by Lara Adrian)

Jose de la Cruz (The Wolf by J. R. Ward*)

Most Memorable Child Characters

Luke (Smooth Talking Stranger by Lisa Kleypas)

Nate (A Nanny for Nate by Lisa Worrall)

Lizzie (Simply Perfect by Mary Balogh)

Boy and Girl (Bird Box by Josh Malerman)

Turtle Wexler (The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin)

Carter Jackson (Where Angels Go by Debbie Macomber)

Daniel March (Fallen Angel by Jenna Kernan)

Most Memorable Animal Characters

Ash (Deerskin by Robin McKinley)

Santa Paws (Santa Paws by Nicholas Edwards)

Buddy (Ready for Love by Marie Force)

Morpheus (Bonds of Justice by Nalini Singh)

Rusty (Where Angels Go by Debbie Macomber)

Mouse (Changes by Jim Butcher)

Most Unique/Unusual Romance Leads

Characters with occupations or circumstances you don't often see in romance.

Ian Mackenzie (The Madness of Lord Ian Mackenzie by Jennifer Ashley) - Neurodivergent

Sara Willis (The Pirate Lord by Sabrina Jeffries) - Reformer

Gideon Hawthorne (When a Rogue Meets His Match by Elizabeth Hoyt) - Knife fighter tuned bully boy turned businessman

Tom Cavanaugh (Sunrise Point by Robyn Carr) - Orchard owner

Nora Crane (Sunrise Point by Robyn Carr) - Apple picker

Lydia Susi (Claimed by J. R. Ward*) - Animal behaviorist

Sophia Monmouth (The Virgin Who Ruined Lord Gray by Anna Bradley) - Works undercover to root out corruption among wealthy aristocrats

Lucan (The Wolf by J. R. Ward*) - Prisoner/Drug dealer

Lily Weston (Colters' Lady by Maya Banks) - Homeless

Most Unique/Unusual Romance Plots

The Madness of Lord Ian Mackenzie by Jennifer Ashley - Born autistic, Ian was committed to an asylum by his own father, but later his brother had him released. He now helps his brother with political and business matters. He meets a woman from the opposite side of the tracks, who unexpectedly became an heiress and who is engaged to a man Ian knows is not on the up and up, so he informs Beth of this fact and then offers to marry her himself. She politely refuses, but they meet again in Paris, where Beth can no longer resist Ian's charms. However, they've also been followed by a detective who's convinced that Ian committed two murders and there's a third body also connected to him. Beth will stop at nothing to solve the mystery and clear her new husband's name.

The Pirate Lord by Sabrina Jeffries - Sara is a passionate reformer who goes undercover on a ship transporting convict women to Australia, hoping to document the deplorable conditions these women face. Not long into their journey, the ship is accosted by pirates who want to retire to a lovely deserted island where Captain Gideon Horn wants to build a utopia. The only thing they lack to make it perfect are wives. He figures a ship full of convict women would be happy to be "rescued" from their fate, but he didn't count on a stubborn bluestocking who plagues him with her demands while also stirring his protective and possessive instincts until he can't bear the thought of anyone else touching her.

The Virgin Who Ruined Lord Gray by Anna Bradley - Sophia is an orphan who grew up under the care of an unconventional woman who runs a school for girls where she not only teaches them to read and write but also how to take care of themselves in a man's world. Now that the girls are grown, they engage in activities intended to take down corrupt aristocrats. Sophia is tasked with figuring out who actually killed a Bow Street Runner whose death is being blamed on Jeremy Ives, one of the school's servants and a friend of Sophia's. While tailing a suspect, she hides on a roof where she's spotted and assumed to be a thief by a neighbor. A former Bow Street Runner himself, Tristan, Lord Gray, tracks Sophia and gets to the bottom of what's going on. Tristan wants to see justice done for his dead friend and through Sophia's persistence, he eventually realizes Jeremy is innocent. They must work together to find the real killer, but unbeknownst to them Sophia is now his next target.

Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon - Madeline suffers from a rare disorder known as Severe Combined Immunodeficiency (SCID) and has spent her entire life living inside the safe bubble of her home. Since her father and brother died in a tragic accident when she was just an infant, she has no one but her mother and her nurse, Carla, as companions. Thus far, she's been content with her life, but that all changes the day a new family moves in next-door. Maddy is immediately attracted to their teenage son, Oliver, and they secretly get to know each other, first through pantomime at their windows, then over IM on the computer, and later, in person, with Carla's help. However, when her mom finds out, she forbids Maddy to see Oliver again. But after experiencing a taste of what life is like in the normal world, Maddy realizes that surviving isn't really living and that she'd rather risk shortening her life to have more of those feelings than to stay in her safe bubble that now seems more like a prison.

Best Opening Lines

There is never a good time to be accosted by highwaymen. However, whilst emptying ones bladder is a particularly bad time. - When a Rogue Meets His Match by Elizabeth Hoyt

It was only a matter of time before the wedding guests killed one another. - The Gift by Julie Garwood

Forty-eight minute before Ralphie DeMellio got murdered, he was living the life. - Lover Unveiled by J. R. Ward*

I answered the phone, and Susan Rodriguez said, "They've taken our daughter." - Changes by Jim Butcher

Best Overall Quotes

"But there were some things I believed in. Some things I had faith in. And faith isn't about perfect attendance to services, or how much money you put on the little plate. It isn't about going skyclad to the Holy Rites, or meditating each day upon the divine.

Faith is about what you do. It's about aspiring to be better and nobler and kinder than you are. It's about making sacrifices for the good of others - even when there's not going to be anyone telling you what a hero you are." - Harry Dresden (Changes by Jim Butcher)

"It's like I tell people at my stand-up shows: by making me a bitch, you have given me my freedom, the freedom to say and do things I couldn't do if I was "a nice girl" with some sort of stupid, goody-two-shoes image to keep up. Things that require courage. Things that require balls. Things that need to be done. By making me a bitch, you have freed me from the trite, sexist, bourgeois prison of "likeability." Any idiot can be liked. It takes talent to scare the crap out of people." - Alison Arngrim (Confessions of a Prairie Bitch: How I Survived Nellie Oleson and Learned to Love Being Hated)

"There are no heroes on the battlefield, my lady; there are only survivors." - Samuel Hartley (To Taste Temptation by Elizabeth Hoyt)

Funniest Quotes

"Oh really, I was just thinking about how great a gold filigree necklace and teardrop earrings would look on me, and at seventy five ninety nine plus shipping, its a freaking steal. But damn, I missed the deal because, oh that's right... I'M FUCKING FROZEN ..." - Thanatos (Lethal Rider by Larissa Ione)

"I was thinking about stopping at a restaurant. Would you care to join me?"

She shifted in the car seat to face him, causing him to glance at her legs once again. "Are you asking me out?"

"No."

"Will you purr if I tickle you behind the ears?"

"No."

"Will you dance the samba for me in your hot pink sequined thong?"

"No."

"Do you always say no?"

His mouth twitched. "No." - Carlos Panterra & Caitlyn Whelan (Eat Prey Love by Kerrelyn Sparks)

"Good luck, man." Wraith clapped him on the shoulder. "For an angel, you don't suck."

"Ditto. For a demon....well, you do suck."

"Because I'm half vampire?"

"Sure," Reaver said. "Let's go with that." - Wraith & Reaver (Reaver by Larissa Ione)

"So," he said, "you really think having archangels string you up by your halo is worth saving this Harvester chick?"

"She saved the world"

Wraith shrugged. "So did I, but I don't see you offering up your holy ass to save me."

"Are you suffering unspeakable horrors at the hands of Satan?"

"No," Wraith said, "but sometimes I have to eat the hospital cafeteria food." - Wraith & Reaver (Reaver by Larissa Ione)

Most Emotional Quotes

"I am hurt...in ways you cannot see, and that I cannot explain, even to myself, but only know that they are there, and a part of me, as much as my hands and eyes and breath are a part of me." - Princess Lissla Lissar (Deerskin by Robin McKinley)

"I was no child, for you and my mother gave me no childhood; and my maidenhood you tore from me, that I might never become a woman; and a woman I have not become, for I have been too afraid. But I return to you now all that you did give me: all the rage and the terror, the pain and the hatred that should have been love. The nightmares, and the waking dreams that are worse than nightmares because they are memories. These I return to you, for I want them no more, and I will bear them not one whit of my time on this earth more." - Princess Lissla Lissar (Deerskin by Robin McKinley)

"My Beth," he whispered, his breath hot on her swollen lips. "Thank you."

"For what?" Beth couldn't stop crying, but she smiled, her face aching with it.

"Setting me free." - Ian Mackenzie & Beth Ackerley (The Madness of Lord Ian Mackenzie by Jennifer Ashley)

Most Romantic Quotes

"Dear Miss Independent,

I've decided that of all the women I've ever known, you are the only one I will ever love more than hunting, fishing, football, and power tools.

You may not know this, but the other time I asked you to marry me, the night I put the crib together, I meant it. Even though I knew you weren't ready.

God, I hope you're ready now.

Marry me, Ella. Because no matter where you go or what you do, I'll love you every day for the rest of my life.

Jack" - Jack Travis (Smooth Talking Stranger by Lisa Kleypas)

"Then marry me. For I love you, and I do not believe there is anything so wrong with you. You are fair in my eyes and you lie fair on my heart." - Prince Ossin (Deerskin by Robin McKinley)

"Marry me, Kiara," he blurts out in front of everyone.

"Why?" she asks, challenging him.

"Because I love you," he says, walking up to her and bending down on one knee while he takes her hand in his, "and I want to go to sleep with you every night and wake up seein' your face every mornin', I want you to be the mother of my children, I want to fix cars with you and eat your crappy tofu tacos that you think are Mexican. I want to climb mountains with you and be challenged by you, I want to argue with you just so we can have crazy hot makeup sex. Marry me, because without you I'd be six feet under ... and because I love your family like they're my own ... and because you're my best friend and I want to grow old with you." He starts tearing up, and it's shocking because I've never seen him cry. "Marry me, Kiara Westford, because when I got shot the only thing I was thinkin' about was comin' back here and makin' you my wife. Say yes, chica." - Carlos Fuentes & Kiara Westford (Chain Reaction by Simone Elkeles)

"We don't fit in, you and me," he said. "We're both oddities no one knows what to do with. But we fit together." He took her hand, pressed her palm to his, then laced their fingers through each other's. "We fit." - Ian Mackenzie (The Madness of Lord Ian Mackenzie by Jennifer Ashley)

Sexiest Quotes

"I respect you," he murmured. "and your views. I think of you as an equal. I respect your brains, and all those big words you like to use. But I also want to rip your clothes off and have sex with you until you scream and cry and see God." - Jack Travis (Smooth Talking Stranger by Lisa Kleypas)

"Gentlemen are gentlemen in bed. They make sure you're having a good time."

"I'll make sure you're having a good time, and that you're okay with everything. I just won't be well mannered about it." - Jocelyn Butler & Braden Carmichael (On Dublin Street by Samantha Young)

Prettiest Covers

Sunrise Point Book Cover

Sunrise Point

by Robyn Carr

My Kind of Christmas Book Cover

My Kind of Christmas

by Robyn Carr

When a Rogue Meets His Match Book Coer

When a Rogue Meets His Match

by Elizabeth Hoyt

Sexiest Covers

The Wolf Book Cover

The Wolf

by J. R. Ward*

On Dublin Street Book Cover

On Dublin Street

by Samantha Young

Reaver Book Cover

Reaver

by Larissa Ione

 Most Interesting/Unusual Covers

The Reclaimed Kingdom Book Cover

The Reclaimed Kingdom

by Dana Claire*

Chain Reaction Book Cover

Chain Reaction

by Simone Elkeles

Everything Everything Book Cover

Everything, Everything

by Nicola Yoon

*This book was published in 2021. 

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