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Top 10 Reads of 2021

Happy New Year’s Eve, Everyone!

I hope you all had a fantastic end to 2021! I know I am ready for the year to be over and to embrace new habits and new goals for 2022 (especially my massive TBR pile that seems to have doubled in size, despite my best effort).

To end the year, I wanted to share my top 10 ten favorite reads from 2021! This year I read a total of 119 books. …and yes it does bother me that it isn’t an even 120, but I don’t have time today to finish another book!

I read so many AMAZING books this year, which made it so hard to pick my top 10, but below you will see my list. If you are looking for some amazing reads in 2022, give some of the books on this list a try!

Stories by Shanna P. 
Top 10 Reads of 2021
1) "The Bride Test" by Helen Hoang
2) "Take a Hint, Dani Brown" by Talia Hibbert
3) "Barbarian's Redemption" by Ruby Dixon
4) "A Strange Affliction" by Marie Piper
5) "The Heart Principle" by Helen Hoang
6) "A Court of Silver Flames" by Sarah J. Maas
7) "Get A Life, Chloe Brown" by Talia Hibbert
8) "Roseblood" by A.G. Howard
9) "To Fall For A Duke By Christmas" by Sadie Bosque
10) "Getting Hot with the Scot" by Melanie Johnson 

Thank you to the amazing authors of these amazing books. Your stories lifted my spirits and allowed me to go on grand adventures! Shanna

Just in case the image above doesn’t work, I have listed them below as well — included with a synopsis and link for you to purchase the book if you would like! When possible, I linked to a fantastic store “The Ripped Bodice”. This store, and it’s owners, do all they can to build up the romance genre and authors, so I wanted to help promote them where I could! I hope you find a fun 2022 read!


#1 : “The Bride Test” by Helen Hoang

From the USA Today bestselling author of The Kiss Quotient comes a romantic novel about love that crosses international borders and all boundaries of the heart…

Khai Diep has no feelings. Well, he feels irritation when people move his things or contentment when ledgers balance down to the penny, but not big, important emotions—like grief. And love. He thinks he’s defective. His family knows better—that his autism means he just processes emotions differently. When he steadfastly avoids relationships, his mother takes matters into her own hands and returns to Vietnam to find him the perfect bride.

As a mixed-race girl living in the slums of Ho Chi Minh City, Esme Tran has always felt out of place. When the opportunity arises to come to America and meet a potential husband, she can’t turn it down, thinking this could be the break her family needs. Seducing Khai, however, doesn’t go as planned. Esme’s lessons in love seem to be working…but only on herself. She’s hopelessly smitten with a man who’s convinced he can never return her affection.

With Esme’s time in the United States dwindling, Khai is forced to understand he’s been wrong all along. And there’s more than one way to love.

#2: “Take a Hint, Dani Brown” by Talia Hibbert

USA Today bestselling author Talia Hibbert returns with another charming romantic comedy about a young woman who agrees to fake date her friend after a video of him “rescuing” her from their office building goes viral…

Danika Brown knows what she wants: professional success, academic renown, and an occasional roll in the hay to relieve all that career-driven tension. But romance? Been there, done that, burned the T-shirt. Romantic partners, whatever their gender, are a distraction at best and a drain at worst. So Dani asks the universe for the perfect friend-with-benefits—someone who knows the score and knows their way around the bedroom. 

When big, brooding security guard Zafir Ansari rescues Dani from a workplace fire drill gone wrong, it’s an obvious sign: PhD student Dani and former rugby player Zaf are destined to sleep together. But before she can explain that fact to him, a video of the heroic rescue goes viral. Suddenly, half the internet is shipping #DrRugbae—and Zaf is begging Dani to play along. Turns out his sports charity for kids could really use the publicity. Lying to help children? Who on earth would refuse? 

Dani’s plan is simple: fake a relationship in public, seduce Zaf behind the scenes. The trouble is, grumpy Zaf is secretly a hopeless romantic—and he’s determined to corrupt Dani’s stone-cold realism. Before long, he’s tackling her fears into the dirt. But the former sports star has issues of his own, and the walls around his heart are as thick as his… um, thighs. 

The easy lay Dani dreamed of is now more complex than her thesis. Has her wish backfired? Is her focus being tested? Or is the universe just waiting for her to take a hint?

“Barbarian’s Redemption” by Ruby Dixon

In a tribe full of happy couples, I am alone. But I am not content to remain this way. There are no eligible unmated females left, so I will do whatever it takes to bring females back to our tribe…even if it means doing something wrong. 

“A Strange Affliction” by Marie Piper

In the summer of 1692, Nicholas Cleary arrives in Salem Village. There on orders from the new Governor, he hopes to restore his good name by ascertaining the root of the witchcraft madness so the ridiculous trials can end. He does not expect the widow he boards with to be a mysterious beauty…


Hannah Hibbard knows plants, the moon, and other things a good Puritan woman shouldn’t, and is doing her best to go unnoticed by the citizens of Salem…


To save a dear friend, Hannah must take a risk and work with the arrogant stranger, even if it means telling secrets once better left untold.

“The Heart Principle” by Helen Hoang

A woman struggling with burnout learns to embrace the unexpected—and the man she enlists to help her—in this new New York Times bestselling romance by Helen Hoang.

When violinist Anna Sun accidentally achieves career success with a viral YouTube video, she finds herself incapacitated and burned out from her attempts to replicate that moment. And when her longtime boyfriend announces he wants an open relationship before making a final commitment, a hurt and angry Anna decides that if he wants an open relationship, then she does, too. Translation: She’s going to embark on a string of one-night stands. The more unacceptable the men, the better.

That’s where tattooed, motorcycle-riding Quan Diep comes in. Their first attempt at a one-night stand fails, as does their second, and their third, because being with Quan is more than sex—he accepts Anna on an unconditional level that she herself has just started to understand. However, when tragedy strikes Anna’s family she takes on a role that she is ill-suited for, until the burden of expectations threatens to destroy her. Anna and Quan have to fight for their chance at love, but to do that, they also have to fight for themselves.

“A Court of Silver Flames” by Sarah J. Maas

Sarah J. Maas’s sexy, richly imagined series continues with the journey of Feyre’s fiery sister, Nesta.

Nesta Archeron has always been prickly-proud, swift to anger, and slow to forgive. And ever since being forced into the Cauldron and becoming High Fae against her will, she’s struggled to find a place for herself within the strange, deadly world she inhabits. Worse, she can’t seem to move past the horrors of the war with Hybern and all she lost in it.

The one person who ignites her temper more than any other is Cassian, the battle-scarred warrior whose position in Rhysand and Feyre’s Night Court keeps him constantly in Nesta’s orbit. But her temper isn’t the only thing Cassian ignites. The fire between them is undeniable, and only burns hotter as they are forced into close quarters with each other.

Meanwhile, the treacherous human queens who returned to the Continent during the last war have forged a dangerous new alliance, threatening the fragile peace that has settled over the realms. And the key to halting them might very well rely on Cassian and Nesta facing their haunting pasts.

Against the sweeping backdrop of a world seared by war and plagued with uncertainty, Nesta and Cassian battle monsters from within and without as they search for acceptance-and healing-in each other’s arms.

“Get A Life, Chloe Brown” by Talia Hibbert

Chloe Brown is a chronically ill computer geek with a goal, a plan, and a list. After almost—but not quite—dying, she’s come up with seven directives to help her “Get a Life”, and she’s already completed the first: finally moving out of her glamorous family’s mansion. The next items?

Enjoy a drunken night out.
Ride a motorcycle.
Go camping.
Have meaningless but thoroughly enjoyable sex.
Travel the world with nothing but hand luggage.
And… do something bad.

But it’s not easy being bad, even when you’ve written step-by-step guidelines on how to do it correctly. What Chloe needs is a teacher, and she knows just the man for the job.

Redford ‘Red’ Morgan is a handyman with tattoos, a motorcycle, and more sex appeal than ten-thousand Hollywood heartthrobs. He’s also an artist who paints at night and hides his work in the light of day, which Chloe knows because she spies on him occasionally. Just the teeniest, tiniest bit.

But when she enlists Red in her mission to rebel, she learns things about him that no spy session could teach her. Like why he clearly resents Chloe’s wealthy background. And why he never shows his art to anyone. And what really lies beneath his rough exterior…

“Roseblood” by A.G. Howard

A. G. Howard returns with a creepy, clever novel that will thrill readers. Rune has a mysterious affliction that’s linked to her musical talent. Her mother believes creative direction will help, so she sends Rune to a French arts conservatory rumored to have inspired The Phantom of the Opera. When Rune begins to develop a friendship with the elusive Thorn, she realizes that with him, she feels cured. But as their love grows, Thorn is faced with an impossible choice: save Rune or protect the phantom haunting RoseBlood, the only father he’s ever known.

“To Fall for a Duke by Christmas” by Sadie Bosque

To spite his former love, David, the Duke of Somerset decides to court the least suitable miss of the house party, an enchanting Irish commoner Niamh. He will not marry a commoner, of course. It is just a pretense. Or it was. Until the sparks fly, and he finds himself falling hard and fast for a woman who is completely wrong for the role of his Duchess.

A penniless Irish commoner living among polite society is unlikely to find a suitor. Especially in England. Or at least that’s Niamh’s experience. Living in a troublesome household of her uncle, she is desperate to get away and go back to Ireland. When Niamh meets the Duke during the festivities, however, she finds herself at crossroads. Will she be willing to give up her freedom for a chance at love?

“Getting Hot with the Scot” by Melanie Johnson

IT’S TIME TO FLIRT WITH A MAN IN A KILT

Cassie Crow, a pop-culture reporter for a TV talk show, is focused on becoming a “serious” journalist. But when she stumbles into a kilted Highlander with a killer accent, Cassie decides that taking one night off from work and spending it with a sexy Scot couldn’t hurt. . .

Logan Reid has built a career on his charm, hosting a series of off-the-wall hijinks on the Web. But when the Scottish prankster meets the all-American, equal parts intelligent and irresistible Cassie, Logan realizes that one night of fun won’t be enough. Could it be that this career-focused, commitment-phobic couple is finally ready to take a chance at true and lasting love?

I hope you all enjoyed seeing and reading about my top 10 books of the year! I can’t wait to dive into the next stories in 2022! Until then, have a Happy New Year!

~Shanna Pikora

Book Review

“The Homegrown Café Book Club” by Mellanie Szereto (Book Review)

“The Homegrown Café Book Club” by Mellanie Szereto has been one of my favorite reads in November. It’s a collection of five novellas following the different members of the Homegrown Café Book Club in a small town setting.

What I loved most about this series was the portrayal of each character. All of the women are older and wonder if love wasn’t in the cards for them. Even through their doubts and worries, these women are fierce, loyal to their friends, and have a sense of humor when it comes to the chaos of their lives. I love this as it makes their story even more special when they are struck with cupid’s arrow.

Each new story had me falling more in love with each lady and her love interest. The stories were unique for each couple and show how love comes from unexpected places. Whether the relationship bloomed from a lifelong friendship or a happenstance meeting, the love that follows is true and absolutely heart warming.

I won’t be sharing which characters you read about in which book — because of spoilers — so you will just have to purchase your own copy, either as a print book or ebook. I promise you it is wonderful read (especially around the holidays) and you won’t be disappointed!

Be sure to pick up your copy today!


Follow Mellanie Szereto

Novels, Publications, Writing

“A Second Chance” Alternative Epilogue

SPOILERS AHEAD FOR

“A SECOND CHANCE”

Well, hopefully that warning was obvious enough!

I wanted to share a little outtake from “A Second Chance”. For those of you who have read my contemporary romance know how it ends. But…that wasn’t the first ending! Below is the original ending I wrote for the story.

I ultimately decided to take out the epilogue for two reasons. One, not everyone’s happy ending involves marriage and kids. I wanted this to be a story all could enjoy! Second, I was actually thinking of making this a little “series”, one book for each brother. I’m still on the fence about it, so if you have an opinion one way or another, let me know!

Anyway, as a special thank you to all of you for your support and encouragement during this chaotic year and during publication, I wanted to share this little epilogue that wasn’t in the book. I hope you enjoy it!

Just please note it is unedited! XD


“A Second Chance” Alternate Epilogue

Five years on and the one gift only rule was still in play. Both of them agreed it made for the best Christmases.

Their second Christmas, Lucian’s gift to Raina had been an engagement ring. As she’d opened the box, he’d gotten down on one knee, asking her to be his wife.

To date, it was Raina’s favorite gift. Just like this year was going to be Lucian’s favorite; Raina was certain of it. She sat on the couch as she heard him thump down the stairs. To draw it out, she had sent him on a scavenger hunt. He ran from room to room, searching for the clues. They were little pieces of paper that would fit together like a jigsaw puzzle for a final clue that would lead him to the gift.

In hindsight, she should’ve made it less complicated, but the game seemed to be going well.

“No more scavenger hunts!” he called out, making her laugh.

“Oh, come on, Luce! I promise it’ll be worth your while!” she shouted back to him encouragingly. He only had a couple more clues left; he could do it. Just a few more hints, and she would be able to see his reaction.

Not to toot her own horn, but…toot toot!

At that thought, Lucian came in and gave a deep sigh. “I’m never going to figure this out.” He pouted. “Come on, babe.”

Giggling, she asked, “Which clue are you on?”.

“The one that was on the back of all the others.”

Raina thought for a moment before she got up and read the clue. “Come on, Luce. This is easy. The final clue is hidden in the place you hate to go…”

He mumbled something about the laundry room.

“There ya go!” She gave his butt a playful slap as he moved towards the laundry room.

When he was out of the room, she made sure that his gift was still in her back pocket. Yep, best gift ever.

“Raina? This doesn’t make sense,” he whined as he returned to her, holding a small piece of paper. “Is this another clue?”

Raina nodded.

Sighing, Lucian pulled her close. “You are so infuriating, woman, you know that?”

“You know you love me for it,” she said lovingly as she leaned up to kiss him. “So how about you figure out that last clue so you can get your gift, and if you want…I can give you another type of gift?” She gave him a playful wink.

He turned his attention to the paper. “All right, it says, ‘If your present you want to see, you must first get down on one knee. With hands cradled, just like so, you will find it. You’ll just know.’” Lucian paused for a second. “I don’t get it.”

Raina rolled her eyes. “Let’s take this one line at a time. What’s the first line?”

“‘If your present you want to see.’”

“So…if you want your present, you have to follow the directions.” She giggled, giving him a playful shove.

He then read the next line. “‘You must first get down on one knee.’” He knelt in front of her.

Raina’s heart started to pound.

“‘With hands cradled, just like so…’”

Raina reached down and moved his hands into a cradling position up in the air.

Confused, he read over the last line. “‘You will find it. You’ll just know.’” Lucian stayed still for a moment, his hands still held up, down on one knee. He looked around for a second and then frowned. “I still don’t get it.”

“Lucian!” she groaned and hung her head. “The headlines are going to read, ‘Lucian Pereli mocked to death by his wife because he couldn’t take a hint!’” She then let out a lighthearted laugh and took his hands, guiding them to her abdomen. She gave his hands a little squeeze as Lucian’s annoyance melted away into shock.

He glanced up at Raina for a second and then back to her stomach. “Raina…are you?”

Raina reached in her back pocket. “Merry Christmas,” she murmured as she pulled the positive pregnancy test out of her back pocket.

Lucian’s face lit up as he jumped to his feet and wrapped his arms around Raina, going in for a kiss. Unfortunately, the speed with which he stood caught Raina off-guard, making her tumble to the floor. “Luce!” she shouted in surprise as she fell.

“Oh, god! Raina, I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry, baby,” he said as he pushed the hair from her face, giving her a deep kiss. After a moment, he pulled away with a huge grin on his face and looked down at her stomach. “I’m sorry to you too, baby.” He lifted up Raina’s shirt and laid a soft kiss on her belly. Tears filled Lucian’s eyes. “I can’t believe I’m going to be a dad. Raina, you’re going to be a mom! I love you, Raina. I love you, so much. And I will love our baby with everything I have.”

“I know you will, Lucian. I know.” She wrapped her arms around his neck, holding him close as they both cried tears of joy.

Their relationship had ups and downs, days of pure joy and pure frustration, but they worked for their little slice of happiness. And now this was just another piece of that sweet pie.

Book Review

“A Strange Affliction” by Maria Piper (Book Review)

There is nothing I love more than a book that surprises you. Surprises you with the plot, with the characters, with its very existence. This was that book!

I found this book at Writers on the River 2021. I had stopped by Marie Piper’s table to have her sign my WOTR tote and saw the cover and my interest was peeked. But when she told me it was a historical romance set during the Salem Witch Trials — I knew I HAD to read it.

“A Strange Affliction” is a true work of art. It balances honesty and historical accuracy with a plot of romance, intrigue, and horror as you see the world through the eyes of Nicholas Cleary and Hannah Hibbard. Nicholas is the doubtful and pessimistic male lead who is working to bring to light what is really happening in Salem. Meanwhile, Hannah is a mother trying to make sure her, her daughter, and her faith make it through the horrors that have descended upon their town.

The dual perspective of Nicholas and Hannah and being able to see through both of their eyes and mindsets really brought this story to life. It indulged your heart and mind as the two perspectives battled each other for logic, meaning, and ultimately what it would mean to fall in love. It also shows just how important perspective and meaning are in each scenario, as how Hannah saw a turn of events and how Nicholas saw a turn of events could be drastically different.

What’s more, you feel the sense of urgency and injustice in the novel, especially through Hannah’s perspective. It was truly a book that I couldn’t put down, not only because I loved it, but because it draws you in and makes you feel like you’re actually there. You couldn’t stop because you had to know if the trials would stop or if only despair would win. I cried with each broken heart and loss and rejoiced with each moment of joy and happiness.

Marie Piper is truly a craftswoman of writing. I can’t wait to dive into her other books, including “Christine” (a Phantom of the Opera inspired story). If you’re a lover of historical and historical romance, I BEG you — pick up a copy of “A Strange Affliction” as I have no doubt you will love the story, the characters, and the author.


AUTHOR INTERVIEW

Meet Marie Piper!

What inspired you to write a historical romance set during the Salem Witch Trials? 

I have always loved American History, and – like many – have always found the Salem Witch Trials especially fascinating. The original idea for A Strange Affliction came in a little burst of creativity back when my book club re-read The Witch of Blackbird Pond and someone said, “I want this, but a romance novel!” But, writing a story of love with some optimism and hope in such a dark time is hard, so I put my original scribbles on the back burner. When COVID hit, I was working on a 1930’s Circus-set romance, but could not focus on that story, so I pulled A Strange Affliction out of the drawer and suddenly it was all I could focus on. Maybe because it was a similarly dark time in History. Who knows? Sometimes you have to follow the muse…

There were so many AMAZING scenes in this story (cough, cough, the forest scene!), but which was your favorite scene to write? 

Thank you! One of my favorite things in any book or media is the moment where a whole slew of weirdos comes together to accomplish something, so – without spoilers! – I had the most fun creating the end of the book where our heroine is in trouble and several peripheral characters set things in motion so the hero can help her. 

What was the most difficult part of writing “Strange Affliction”? 

Probably just being terrified of getting one of the real historical details or dates wrong. One thing I’ve learned from writing historical romance is that there are many people out there who know every single inch of a topic (like railroad history!) and will call you out on it. Salem is a time in history that is extensively written about and studied, and there are real people existing in this world even as my fictional Hannah and Nicholas weave in and out among them, and I did not want to mess it up. 

You did a lot of research for your story (and I loved the references you included at the end). What was it like researching the people and stories of Salem? Did you find any interesting details you would like to share that perhaps didn’t make it into the book? 

As I said, this is a time period that is extensively studied and written about. There are so many great books about Salem out there, and I read what felt like a billion of them. Like many, my original knowledge of Salem came from Arthur Miller’s The Crucible, and just learning how much of that play is inaccurate and how much he twisted in order to make it a parallel to McCarthyism, was eye-opening. One wonderful book full of interesting information I could not include was Salem Witch Judge: The Life and Repentance of Samuel Sewall. Sewall was one of the judges, but his post-Salem life, guilt, and turn to social activism is fascinating. 

What future projects can we look forward to seeing from you both in the future? 

I’m thrilled to announce that I have a holiday novella forthcoming – MADAMS & MISTLETOE, which I’m describing as “Like Harlots, but in Deadwood, at Christmas.” While I’m pondering which of a few projects to work on next, the third and final book in my Gilded Brides series will be coming soon (I’m hoping for Spring 2022) and I think its going to be a lot of fun. 

A sneak peek at Marie Piper’s next book!

Novels, Publications

Signed Book Sale (Online-US Only)

I realize that with the pandemic and such, many people were unable to attend events to purchase a signed copy of my book. With that in mind, I’ve put together a google form so you could do just that!

Unfortunately, this offer is for US readers only, as there are many complications right now shipping oversees. I am looking into alternative options for oversees readers though, so please give me time!

For those in the US, here is how you can order your own signed copies of my books. Click the link (above) and it will take you to a google form. Fill out the form with which books you would like to purchase, which name you would like them signed to, and your address & email.

Once I have your responses, I will send a square invoice for the cost of the books and shipping. Once that is paid, I will mail out your books!

It’s as easy as that!

I do hope you all will enjoy getting signed copies. If you have any questions or concerns, please feel free to reach out to me using the contact forum on my website!


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