I had to start my Books of the Year with the above meme. ^^ It’s perfect for me, the Down Under part of On Top Down Under Reviews.

What a year. Again. Through a reasonably lengthy lockdown I did three things – I worked a lot, thank goodness for Zoom, I studied a lot, because you never stop learning, and I read a lot of books, because books represent ‘me’ time. Something I recognise I need at the end of a long day. I love and appreciate reading.

This has definitely been the year of strong book feelings for me. It’s pretty allegorical of the last couple of years spent living through a global pandemic. I’m always a wholly passionate reader, and reviewer, but times have been complicated and this year has been… something. I’ve had a lot of seriously visceral book reading experiences in 2021. I’ve gone darker overall, I like edgier books more often than not anyway, and it wasn’t always easy to find exactly what I wanted this year. I feel like I’ve been overall pickier. When I did find something, it was totally worth it. Every book on my Books of the Year spoke to me in different ways. The writing evoked passion. The characters burnt a place in my heart and soul, they helped me in some way at a particular time, which means everything. I even held up the blog’s original publication date to a later date so I could ruminate a little longer – sorry, Cindi.

I’d like to say something fresh this year instead of pretty much the same thing I say every year. However, it’s the truth: A big thank you to the authors who write the books I read. There’s a lot of pleasure and pain and cursing and mumbling or sighing at the Kindle (or audio device) that I get to live and breathe because of you. I have some of your books on my bookshelves that I can let flop open to a page or a particular moment or experience I like revisiting, or simply look at that book cover up close and personal – it’s a thing. I also have to thank my family who frequently take part in my book reading experiences, whether they like it or not. You are beyond awesome. My son was a big part of this blog in the earlier years, he still takes part now and again. He was also instrumental in our queer YA site that is now sadly gone.

Thank you to the people who subscribe to this blog and to those who come here and check out the reviews. It’s nice not shouting out into the void. Cindi and I have such different tastes, our blog offers a wide selection of reading material to add to your TBR. We may as well share the TBR dilemma with everyone else, right? That’s what readers do. I know I feel part of a wider community of readers though this blog. To be frank, I find it quite hard to write reviews. I’m sure that sounds ridiculous because my reviews are often long. It doesn’t come easily to me. It’s a slow and arduous process these days. I’m getting older and my eyes don’t thank me. I overcome that when a book speaks to me in some way and I have this incredibly overwhelming urge to share my feelings and my experience with others. It feels like internal electricity. That’s why I do this. It’s my hobby. My outlet. My passion. Something I do for me but which also makes me feel like I’m reaching out and connecting with others.

A big thanks to Cindi, aka my blog partner and my best friend, the On Top part of On Top Down Under. This blog would not be the same without you. We gelled from day one – thank you Garnetville – and over time our families have become as one, living through the good times and the tough. Through deaths and births. Through our shared love of books. The 9,000 odd miles between us is nothing. You’re the best, Cindi.

Because audiobooks have become an increasingly important part of my reading experience, they have their own category this year. I’m grateful to the authors in small genres producing audiobooks. Not everyone has great sight. I know Paul, who used to review for us, found reading a problem. Cheers for the narration of books.

All of the books on my Books of the Year meant something to me at the time of reading, or listening. They must have remained in my mind in some way after finishing. I have time to reflect on books before this end of year post. If I remember the MCs names, details about them, their overall story, that’s the start. They get added to a list throughout the year, which is ever-changing as I weigh things up. I give my Books of the Year a lot of thought. Only one of these books had a little over a week to percolate, the rest I’ve thought on for a while.

All the books on my BOTY list below have buy links to Amazon US, or through the author’s website (where possible) for a global audience. The audiobooks are linked to Audible Australia, or through the author’s website (where possible) for a global audience. 

Next year is a decade of reviews for On Top Down Under Reviews. That’s a huge milestone and shall be treated as such then. But for now my attention is on these amazing books that represent my passion and my favourite reading of 2021:



My Book of the Year is –


Bath Haus – P J Vernon. Psychological Thriller. Suspense.

Buy Links ~ Amazon. Penguin/Random House. PJ Vernon’s Website.

What a ride. Bath Haus is superbly crafted from beginning to end. The book’s gritty psychological texture makes it a must-read for those wanting a walk on the edgy side. So many aspects come together to make this work – the gripping writing, the strong narrative, the dual points of view that give insight and clarity and tension I feel unlikely to have been achieved any other way. The writing is both intelligent and accessible and remains unfussy throughout, building to a gripping climax. In a strong year of reading, Bath Haus is a deserving Book of the Year: 2021.

Original blog review here


The other amazing books I loved reading in 2021 are~ 

Shai – H L Night. Dark Gay Genre Fiction. Amazon

This book was a bolter. I didn’t expect it to be as dark as it was. It’s H L Day writing as H L Night – the irony is not lost on me – and wow, this was unapologetically pedal to the metal writing. Set in an alt-universe where two men own parts of the city of Deadwood, Elijah finds out that there is such a thing as going from the frying pan into the fire when he is left for dead by one cruel man, only to be “rescued” by another. The other being Shai, the (apparent) reincarnation of the Egyptian god of Fate. God or not, there is one definite, Shai loves the unique and nasty.

Original book review here 



Master’s Schiavo – Laura Lascarso – Gay Romance. Master/Slave Dynamic.

Book of Orlando was my Book of the Year last year because it was the brilliant start of a fascinating and dark trilogy. Master’s Schiavo is another incredible read. The first 4 books on this list were so close to being #1 for good reason. Gio and Valentin are memorable for a lot of reasons. There is a dark and brooding quality to the story and the storytelling. Laura Lascarso is the queen of moral ambiguity and the psychological. She pushes boundaries in the most lyrical of ways. That is on display in Master’s Schiavo as well. This book is not a cookie cutter story from the age gap to the ending.

Original blog review here


Codirection (Borealis Without a Compass, # 4) – Gregory Ashe. Gay Romance. LGBTQ Genre Fiction. Amazon  

I discovered Gregory Ashe this year and have read all the iterations of Borealis so far. This series contains two of my all-time favourite characters in Shaw Aldrich and North McKinney. They are frustrating as hell, my need to sort them out is off the charts, they’re also totally addictive, and random, and I’m here for their drama and their romance, for the murder/mysteries they investigate. I’m here for them. I’m also currently making my way though the Hazard and Somerset series as well so Ashe has definitely pinged hardcore on my must-read, must-buy radar in 2021.

Original blog review here


Once a Gentleman – Eliot Grayson. Gay Regency Romance. Amazon 

This is a beautifully written gay Regency romance. I’m a sucker for Regency romance of any kind, I love the setting, and when an author uses lush prose that adds to the time and place, I’m sold. Eliot Grayson continues to mix it up and nails it in doing so. I’m a rusted-on and devoted Grayson fan and there were several books I could have chosen but this one really was wonderful.

Tres drama. Tres sexy. The well named Once a Gentleman delivers oodles of the above “tres'” and follows on the back of Like a Gentleman with the naughty but big-hearted Andrew’s story.

Original blog review here


A Rival for Rivingdon – J A Rock & Lisa Henry. Gay Regency Romance. Amazon

Oh look, here I am with another gay Regency romance on my Books of the Year. J A Rock and Lisa Henry write so well together. This is such a sweet book with far more depth than the opening pages would lead you to believe. I read this book in the middle of heavy stories and it wasn’t a palate cleanser it was a shift into adorable land that I didn’t know I needed until I started “Rivingdon.” This book, these characters are adorable. That word, adorable, is used about a thousand times in my original review. The writing is very different to Once a Gentleman but so effective and so apropos of Loftus and Morgan, the young MCs.

Original blog review here 


Hapi –  Cari Waites. Dark Gay Genre Fiction. Amazon

Nice and dark, Hapi is incredibly atmospheric. Being set in North Queensland, and me an Aussie, I knew the terrain. The rain, the mud, the damp, the way it leeches into your system. It sets the scene and the tone. Crocs too. Everything forms a backdrop for the perfectly named Hapi – the Egyptian deity of water and flooding and breath. This is quite the darkly visceral experience.

Hapi is one of two books I have from the dark Malicious Gods: Egypt series on my Books of the Year: 2021 list.

Original blog review here 



The Last Single Man in Texas – Jess Whitecroft. Gay Romcom. Amazon

What can I say that I haven’t said about Jess Whitecroft before? Intelligent. Funny. Versatile. Original. She’s been on so many of my BOTY lists, ever since These Violent Delights. She had my #1 book a few years ago with the excellent historical, Code Noir. She doesn’t quite have the readership she should, in my opinion. Anyhow, this book is random, which I do love, and if you’re looking for fun, zany and clever, give The Last Single Man in Texas a go. If that doesn’t work, there’s always the series about cryptids, or crassly endearing drag queens to cut your teeth on.

Original blog review here



The Root of Lightning and Everything – Scott Alexander Hess. Gay Literary Fiction. Amazon

The Root of Everything & Lightning consists of two novellas, The first is longer. It spans history, from the early 1900s, to a more current time. It captures love and loss and three generations of a family. Lightning is historical and follows the voice of a young 12 turning 13 year old boy.

Scott Alexander Hess is an incredible wordsmith who gives gay men a hopeful and real literary voice.

Original book review here



On Board – Jay Hogan. Contemporary Gay Romance. Amazon 

This is an excellent follow up book in the Painted Bay series after Judah and Morgan’s story, the superb Off Balance. I wasn’t expecting Leroy, Judah’s older brother, so it took me by surprise when he was the next MC up. Fox and Leroy butt heads originally but that turns into so much more. Set in gorgeous coastal New Zealand, with interesting characters dotted around, the Painted Bay series is shaping up as a must-read series for me because of books #1 and #2. I love that there is a bit of bite to add to the spice of these stories but that it’s not dramatic – sometimes I need a break. And look at that cover, it doesn’t lie.

Original blog review here 



Audiobooks of the Year:

Most of these audiobooks were released this year, and some were released earlier but were listened to by me for the first time this year. All of these audiobooks had a combination of a great story and superb narration.

Hitman vs Hitman – Cari Z and L A Witt. Narrator: Michael Ferraiuolo

I read the e-book but what a blast I had listening to this audiobook because of Michael Ferraiuolo’s unbelievable interpretation of Z and Witt’s story about August and Ricardo, enemies to lovers hitmen. I only just discovered Sniper vs Spotter is now out and I’m listening to it next.

Original blog review here

Undercover – Eliot Grayson. Narrators: Cooper North and Tim Paige

This was so good. Two narrators for a gay romance? Fantastic. They were perfectly cast for the characters of Gabe and Alec. I didn’t read the e-book, didn’t know it existed, but I discovered the audiobook cruising around Audible. Great find because as I said above in my Books of the Year, Eliot Grayson is an auto-buy.
Original blog review here

Exposed – H L Day. Narrator: Anderson Richards.

I loved the original e-book of this and it was on my then Books of the Year. This audio took a fabulous book and added another layer via Anderson Richards’ tough as teak British accent. It was something I didn’t expect as I read it differently in my head previously, this was far better than anything I came up with.
Original blog review here

Mr Uptight – Felice Stevens. Narrator: Kale Williams.

I believe this was my first audiobook where I hadn’t read the book or e-book prior. Way to go, me. I like Kale Williams as a narrator, Felice Stevens uses him a lot in her audiobooks, and with good reason. Fun and sexy contemporary gay romance (mm) listening.
Original blog review here  


Declination – Gregory Ashe. Narrator: Charlie David

I started out reading this first then switched to audiobook midway when my eyes had a tantrum. Charlie David adds smooth whiskey tones to his interpretation of North, in particular, and some character to Shaw. Just hearing them made my heart happy. I love these guys.

Original blog review here