What a wonderful reading year 2021 has been so far!
It’s halfway through the year (already?!) and we are so excited to share with you all our most anticipated reads of the second half of 2021. Earlier this year, we shared our most anticipated reads releasing January to June 2021. Reflecting on the books we have read so far, we can certainly say that this year has been full of delights and surprises – both expected and unexpected
We put our three heads together to come up with another list of anticipated reads of 2021. Just looking at our list, we can tell that the second half of 2021 will be just as wonderful, and we are so excited to share the hype and excitement that we are feeling with you all.
A little bonus to our list: being book reviewers means that we sometimes have the privilege of reading the books that we were excited for already. We didn’t want those books to not be featured – so at the end of our anticipated lists, we will also share our list of books releasing between July and December and have already read – and can confirm that we love!
A gentle reminder: all of our books here today will appear in our Bookshop! If any of the books that we talk about today interest you, please consider pre-ordering via our Bookshop. All of our Bookshop links are affiliate links, and we receive a small earning, which will help pay for our yearly website fee!
Without further ado, here are our most anticipated books of July to December 2021!
CW’s Most Anticipated Books
XOXO by Axie Oh
Cello prodigy Jenny has one goal: to get into a prestigious music conservatory. When she meets mysterious, handsome Jaewoo in her uncle’s Los Angeles karaoke bar, it’s clear he’s the kind of boy who would uproot her careful plans. But in a moment of spontaneity, she allows him to pull her out of her comfort zone for one unforgettable night of adventure…before he disappears without a word.
Three months later, when Jenny and her mother arrive in South Korea to take care of her ailing grandmother, she’s shocked to discover that Jaewoo is a student at the same elite arts academy where she’s enrolled for the semester. And he’s not just any student. He’s a member of one of the biggest K-pop bands in the world—and he’s strictly forbidden from dating.
When a relationship means throwing Jenny’s life off the path she’s spent years mapping out, she’ll have to decide once and for all just how much she’s willing to risk for love.
Young adult contemporary has absolutely been my jam lately. I read Axie’s debut, Rebel Seoul, years ago, and I am delighted that we are going to be getting a YA rom-com from her. The premise sounds like everything I’d love – a secret will-they-won’t-they romance, an ambitious heroine with dreams of her own and a boy who is throwing a wrench in her plans, and also a celloist? I’m game, and I can’t wait to read this later this month.
Black Boy Joy edited by Kwame Mbalia
Celebrate the joys of Black boyhood with stories from seventeen bestselling, critically acclaimed Black authors–including Jason Reynolds (the Track series), Jerry Craft (New Kid), and edited by Kwame Mbalia (the Tristan Strong series)!
Black boy joy is…
Picking out a fresh first-day-of-school outfit.
Saving the universe in an epic intergalactic race.
Finding your voice—and your rhymes—during tough times.
Flying on your skateboard like nobody’s watching.
And more! From seventeen acclaimed Black male and non-binary authors comes a vibrant collection of stories, comics, and poems about the power of joy and the wonders of Black boyhood.
I love anthologies so much, so I’m incredibly excited to read Black Boy Joy. Often what I love about inclusive anthologies is that, though having a central theme, all the stories are different, showcasing the many valid and beautiful ways of being and the diversity within an identity. I have a good feeling that Black Boy Joy will be just that—a collection of stories that highlight the power and wonders of Black boyhood. I cannot wait.
How Moon Fuentez Fell in Love with the Universe
When her twin sister reaches social media stardom, Moon Fuentez accepts her fate as the ugly, unwanted sister hidden in the background, destined to be nothing more than her sister’s camerawoman. But this summer, Moon also takes a job as the “merch girl” on a tour bus full of beautiful influencers and her fate begins to shift in the best way possible.
Most notable is her bunkmate and new nemesis, Santiago Phillips, who is grumpy, combative, and also the hottest guy Moon has ever seen.
Moon is certain she hates Santiago and that he hates her back. But as chance and destiny (and maybe, probably, close proximity) bring the two of them in each other’s perpetual paths, Moon starts to wonder if that’s really true. She even starts to question her destiny as the unnoticed, unloved wallflower she always thought she was.
Could this summer change Moon’s life as she knows it?
After reading the beauty that was Raquel’s debut, Sia Martinez and the Moonlit Beginning of Everything, you can bet that I’m absolutely hyped for her next book, How Moon Fuentez Fell in Love with the Universe. Raquel’s writing is a marvel – poetic, gorgeous, and filled with so much magic—and I know that I will love this book just as much as her debut. I can’t wait to fall in love with this book too.
It All Comes Back to You by Farah Naz Rishi
After Kiran Noorani’s mom died, Kiran vowed to keep her dad and sister, Amira, close. Then out of the blue, Amira announces that she’s dating someone and might move cross-country with him. Kiran is thrown.
Deen Malik is thrilled that his older brother, Faisal, has found a great girlfriend, even if it’s getting serious quickly. Maybe now their parents’ focus will shift off Deen, who feels intense pressure to be the perfect son.
When Deen and Kiran come fact to face, they silently agree to keep their past a secret. Four years ago—before Amira and Faisal met—Kiran and Deen dated. But Deen ghosted Kiran with no explanation. Kiran will stop at nothing to find out what happened, and Deen will do anything, even if it means sabotaging his brother’s relationship, to keep her from reaching the truth. Though the chemistry between Kiran and Deen is undeniable, can either of them take down their walls?
Early reviews have indicated that this is not a romance story – though there are romantic components—and is more of a coming-of-age story. So to learn that it’s a coming-of-age story with that awesome synopsis, where the two characters will inevitably have to grapple with who they are as people amid the tumultuous relationship they have with the other? I’m so excited. (And what a splendid cover this book has, too!)
Last Gamer Standing by Katie Zhao
Twelve-year-old Reyna Cheng is the up-and-coming junior amateur Dayhold gamer, competing in a VR battle royale against AI monsters and human players alike. But despite Reyna’s rising popularity and skills, no one know who she is. Gaming is still a boy’s club and to protect herself against trolls, she games as the mysterious TheRuiNar.
When Reyna qualifies for the Dayhold Junior Tournament sponsored by her favorite team, she knows she’s got what it takes to win the championship title and the $10,000 prize.
But when she’s blackmailed and threatened to be doxed, having her personal identity revealed, by an anonymous troll, Reyna will have to deal with a toxic gaming community, family complications, and the increasing pressure to win as the tournament gets underway.
Having played video games since I was eight years old, Last Gamer Standing feels like a dream come true for me. Despite the prevalence of gaming and that young people actively participate in games and gaming culture (and also the plethora of issues within gaming culture that disproportionately affect young girls and women), there seems to be a dearth in stories about video games – so I’m delighted that Katie is filling the gaming-fiction-shaped hole in my heart.
Our Way Back to Always by Nina Moreno
Luisa (Lou) Patterson grew up across the street from Sam Alvarez in the small, quirky town of Port Coral. They used to be inseparable–spending every holiday together, shooting silly YouTube videos, and rescuing stray cats. But then middle school happened, including the most disastrous (and embarrassing) serenade ever, and Lou and Sam haven’t talked in the four years since. Sam is now the golden boy with plenty of friends, while Lou is an introverted romantic who’s happy playing video games and writing fan fiction. But it’s also the summer before their senior year, and life is knocking on Lou’s door.
With her older sister having given up a scholarship to Princeton to have a baby and work at the local botanica, all of their mother’s expectations are now riding on Lou’s shoulders. She’s retaking her SAT’s, signed up for way too many AP classes, and her sights set on colleges with fancy names like Duke and Vanderbilt. But when she finds the bucket list she and Sam wrote together as kids, before Sam’s father was diagnosed with cancer, she’s shocked to see that she hasn’t accomplished any of the goals she’d set for herself. Go to a party? Nope. Pull the greatest prank of all time? Still no. Learn how to be a really good kisser? Definitely not.
Torn between the future that her mother, sister, and younger self planned for her, Lou sets out to finish the list, and in a stroke of destiny or fate, Sam decides to tag along. Still trying to stay afloat amid the grief of losing his father, Sam himself is staring down a future that feels all too close, and is coming far too fast. But with the bucket list to guide them, Sam and Lou might just be able to find a way through the future, and also a way back to each other.
I read Don’t Date Rosa Santos two years ago and I’m delighted that we will be returning to Port Coral in Our Way Back to Always. I love the way that Nina writes romances—soft and sweet—and balances that nicely with personal dramas and emotional journeys. It sounds like with Our Way Back to Always has a childhood-best-friends-to-lovers romance and also explores grief and friendship as well. Ugh, sign me up! I can’t wait.
Jade Legacy by Fonda Lee
Jade, the mysterious and magical substance once exclusive to the Green Bone warriors of Kekon, is now known and coveted throughout the world. Everyone wants access to the supernatural abilities it provides, from traditional forces such as governments, mercenaries, and criminal kingpins, to modern players, including doctors, athletes, and movie studios. As the struggle over the control of jade grows ever larger and more deadly, the Kaul family, and the ancient ways of the Kekonese Green Bones, will never be the same.
The Kauls have been battered by war and tragedy. They are plagued by resentments and old wounds as their adversaries are on the ascent and their country is riven by dangerous factions and foreign interference that could destroy the Green Bone way of life altogether. As a new generation arises, the clan’s growing empire is in danger of coming apart.
The clan must discern allies from enemies, set aside aside bloody rivalries, and make terrible sacrifices… but even the unbreakable bonds of blood and loyalty may not be enough to ensure the survival of the Green Bone clans and the nation they are sworn to protect.
I can’t believe that after four years with this story and its character that it’s finally coming to an end in December. Jade City and Jade War are two of my favourite books of all time, and I’m just. I’m so excited to read it but I’m also going to be so sad (and probably utterly devastated and in pain) that this is going to be over. Jade Legacy spans twenty years and I am not ready for that kind of heartbreak. Pain pain pain pain painnnnnnnnnnnnn.
2021 Books CW Has Already Read but You Should Be Excited For!
Redemptor by Jordan Ifueko
For the first time, an Empress Redemptor sits on Aritsar’s throne. To appease the sinister spirits of the dead, Tarisai must now anoint a council of her own, coming into her full power as a Raybearer. She must then descend into the Underworld, a sacrifice to end all future atrocities.
Tarisai is determined to survive. Or at least, that’s what she tells her increasingly distant circle of friends. Months into her shaky reign as empress, child spirits haunt her, demanding that she pay for past sins of the empire.
With the lives of her loved ones on the line, assassination attempts from unknown quarters, and a handsome new stranger she can’t quite trust . . . Tarisai fears the pressure may consume her. But in this finale to the Raybearer duology, Tarisai must learn whether to die for justice . . . or to live for it.
I had the fortune of reading this book early and, Raybearer fans, you are all in for a treat. Jordan takes the majesty and brilliance of Raybearer and takes it up a notch, elevating the story to another plane that will stun and awe. I loved this sequel, and it was a phenomenal conclusion to Tarisai’s story.
A Clash of Steel by C.B. Lee
1826. The sun is setting on the golden age of piracy, and the legendary Dragon Fleet, the scourge of the South China Sea, is no more. Its ruthless leader, a woman known only as the Head of the Dragon, is now only a story, like the ones Xiang has grown up with all her life. She desperately wants to prove her worth, especially to her mother, a shrewd business woman who never seems to have enough time for Xiang. Her father is also only a story, dead at sea before Xiang was born. Her only memento of him is a pendant she always wears, a simple but plain piece of gold jewelry.
But the pendant’s true nature is revealed when a mysterious girl named Anh steals it, only to return it to Xiang in exchange for her help in decoding the tiny map scroll hidden inside. The revelation that Xiang’s father sailed with the Dragon Fleet and tucked away this secret changes everything. Rumor has it that the legendary Head of the Dragon had one last treasure—the plunder of a thousand ports — that for decades has only been a myth, a fool’s journey.
Xiang is convinced this map could lead to the fabled treasure. Captivated with the thrill of adventure, she joins Anh and her motley crew off in pursuit of the island. But the girls soon find that the sea—and especially those who sail it—are far more dangerous than the legends led them to believe.
A Clash of Steel may well be my favourite pirate book of all time. This was an unforgettable adventure centering on two queer Asian girls as they sail in pursuit of legendary treasure. Along the way, they find each other and a found family, themselves, fall for one another, grapple with challenges beyond what they could have ever imagined – and maybe there’s also the ‘there’s only one bed’ trope! Delicious, fun, and so satisfying and fulfilling.
Not Here to Be Liked by Michelle Quach
Eliza Quan is the perfect candidate for editor in chief of her school paper. That is, until ex-jock Len DiMartile decides on a whim to run against her. Suddenly her vast qualifications mean squat because inexperienced Len—who is tall, handsome, and male—just seems more like a leader.
When Eliza’s frustration spills out in a viral essay, she finds herself inspiring a feminist movement she never meant to start, caught between those who believe she’s a gender equality champion and others who think she’s simply crying misogyny.
Amid this growing tension, the school asks Eliza and Len to work side by side to demonstrate civility. But as they get to know one another, Eliza feels increasingly trapped by a horrifying realization—she just might be falling for the face of the patriarchy himself.
If you love storytelling as sharp as teeth and with plenty of bite, a story that explores feminism, and a hate-to-love romance? Then you’ll love Not Here to Be Liked as much as I did. What a spectacular debut that is all at once thought-provoking, relevant, funny, but also vulnerable and candid with how people are not perfect beings. I loved this book and cannot wait to see how it’s going to empower young feminist readers.
You’ve Reached Sam by Dustin Thao
Seventeen-year-old Julie has her future all planned out—move out of her small town with her boyfriend Sam, attend college in the city, spend a summer in Japan. But then Sam dies. And everything changes.
Heartbroken, Julie skips his funeral, throws out his things, and tries everything to forget him and the tragic way he died. But a message Sam left behind in her yearbook forces back memories. Desperate to hear his voice one more time, Julie calls Sam’s cellphone just to listen to his voicemail.
And Sam picks up the phone.
In a miraculous turn of events, Julie’s been given a second chance at goodbye. The connection is temporary. But hearing Sam’s voice makes her fall for him all over again, and with each call it becomes harder to let him go. However, keeping her otherworldly calls with Sam a secret isn’t easy, especially when Julie witnesses the suffering Sam’s family is going through. Unable to stand by the sidelines and watch their shared loved ones in pain, Julie is torn between spilling the truth about her calls with Sam and risking their connection and losing him forever.
You’ve Reached Sam is such a personal book to me, and if you’ve ever lost someone you loved, this book is for you. Dustin takes one of my greatest fears and puts it in book form—and to be honest, that’s why I loved it. This is a vulnerable book; the emotions and grief are not pretty, there is rage and bitterness and unbridled hurt – but at its center, it’s a story about how losing a loved one is unimaginable but letting go is impossible but ultimately necessary.
Our Violent Ends by Chloe Gong
Note: the following synopsis contains spoilers to These Violent Delights by Chloe Gong.
The year is 1927, and Shanghai teeters on the edge of revolution.
After sacrificing her relationship with Roma to protect him from the blood feud, Juliette has been a girl on the warpath. One wrong move, and her cousin will step in to usurp her place as the Scarlet Gang’s heir. The only way to save the boy she loves from the wrath of the Scarlets is to have him want her dead for murdering his best friend in cold blood. If Juliette were actually guilty of the crime Roma believes she committed, his rejection might sting less.
Roma is still reeling from Marshall’s death, and his cousin Benedikt will barely speak to him. Roma knows it’s his fault for letting the ruthless Juliette back into his life, and he’s determined to set things right—even if that means killing the girl he hates and loves with equal measure.
Then a new monstrous danger emerges in the city, and though secrets keep them apart, Juliette must secure Roma’s cooperation if they are to end this threat once and for all. Shanghai is already at a boiling point: The Nationalists are marching in, whispers of civil war brew louder every day, and gangster rule faces complete annihilation. Roma and Juliette must put aside their differences to combat monsters and politics, but they aren’t prepared for the biggest threat of all: protecting their hearts from each other.
Joce’s Most Anticipated Books
The Heart Principle 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.
I really shouldn’t have to explain myself for this one but HOLY &*%^ HELEN HOANG HAS ANOTHER BOOK OUT PRAISE THE LORD!! I also adore books about musicians as I almost pursued music in college so I live vicariously through protagonists who do. Helen Hoang is an autistic Asian-American author who writes autistic Asian-American characters and I love feeling seen this way in my favorite genre. Her books are always sexy af and hilarious. I can’t wait for this one.
No Gods, No Monsters by Cadwell Turnbull
One October morning, Laina gets the news that her brother was shot and killed by Boston cops. But what looks like a case of police brutality soon reveals something much stranger. Monsters are real. And they want everyone to know it.
As creatures from myth and legend come out of the shadows, seeking safety through visibility, their emergence sets off a chain of seemingly unrelated events. Members of a local werewolf pack are threatened into silence. A professor follows a missing friend’s trail of bread crumbs to a mysterious secret society. And a young boy with unique abilities seeks refuge in a pro-monster organization with secrets of its own. Meanwhile, more people start disappearing, suicides and hate crimes increase, and protests erupt globally, both for and against the monsters.
At the center is a mystery no one thinks to ask: Why now? What has frightened the monsters out of the dark?
The world will soon find out.
I will admit that since the pandemic started and I started working full-time from home while parenting a toddler from home, my brain power to world-build in fantasy and SF has been at level zero. However, I think this book contains the perfect amount of fantasy for me at this moment, and also, ahem, it sounds amazing?! No Gods, No Monsters features characters of a wide variety of races and who identify in the LGBTQ community.
The Holiday Switch by Tif Marcelo
Lila Santos is ready for her last winter break of high school. The snow in her small town of Holly, New York, is plentiful, the mood is as cozy as a fuzzy Christmas sweater, and she’s earning extra cash working at the local inn—AKA the setting of the greatest film of all time, Holiday by the Lake—while moonlighting as an anonymous book blogger.
But her perfect holiday plans crash to a halt when her boss’s frustratingly cute nephew, Teddy Rivera, becomes her coworker. Lila is type A; Teddy is type “Anything but Lila’s Way,” and the two of them can’t stop butting heads over tangled icicle lights and messy gift shop merch. But when they accidentally switch phones one afternoon, they realize they’ve both been hiding things from each other. Will their secrets—and an unexpected snowstorm—bring these rivals together?
If you know me, you know I LOVE Christmas. Like love love love. Like “still has a wreath up in June” love. Naturally, for the second half of the year I had to pick a holiday romance or I’d never forgive myself. Tif Marcelo is one of my favorite romance authors – her books are super easy to read, comforting, and the perfect accompaniment to a warm cup of tea at the end of the day. This one sounds no different!
The Undertakers by Nicole Glover
Nicole Glover delivers the second book in her exciting Murder & Magic series of historical fantasy novels featuring Hetty Rhodes and her husband, Benjy, magic practitioners and detectives living in post–Civil War Philadelphia.
Nothing bothers Hetty and Benjy Rhodes more than a case where the answers, motives, and the murder itself feel a bit too neat. Raimond Duval, a victim of one of the many fires that have erupted recently in Philadelphia, is officially declared dead after the accident, but Hetty and Benjy’s investigation points to a powerful Fire Company known to let homes in the Black community burn to the ground. Before long, another death breathes new life into the Duval investigation: Raimond’s son, Valentine, is also found dead.
Finding themselves with the dubious honor of taking on Valentine Duval as their first major funeral, it becomes clear that his passing was intentional. Valentine and his father’s deaths are connected, and the recent fires plaguing the city might be more linked to recent community events than Hetty and Benji originally thought.
The Undertakers continues the adventures of murder and magic, where even the most powerful enchantments can’t always protect you from the ghosts of the past…
I had the honor of interviewing Nicole Glover earlier this year and we talked about her debut novel, The Conductors, which is the perfect and unique blend of mystery, historical fiction, and magic. Hetty and Benjy are a married couple who solve mysteries in post-Civil War Philadelphia because of the inadequacy of the police, especially in investigations involving Black folks in their community. I adore the combination of the genres and the page turning quality of the mystery.
O Beautiful by Jung Yun
From Jung Yun, the critically-acclaimed author of Shelter, an unflinching portrayal of a woman trying to come to terms with the ghosts of her past and the tortured realities of a deeply divided America.
Elinor Hanson, a forty-something former model, is struggling to reinvent herself as a freelance writer when she receives an unexpected assignment. Her mentor from grad school offers her a chance to write for a prestigious magazine about the Bakken oil boom in North Dakota. Elinor grew up near the Bakken, raised by an overbearing father and a distant Korean mother who met and married when he was stationed overseas. After decades away from home, Elinor returns to a landscape she hardly recognizes, overrun by tens of thousands of newcomers.
Surrounded by roughnecks seeking their fortunes in oil and long-time residents worried about their changing community, Elinor experiences a profound sense of alienation and grief. She rages at the unrelenting male gaze, the locals who still see her as a foreigner, and the memories of her family’s estrangement after her mother decided to escape her unhappy marriage, leaving Elinor and her sister behind. The longer she pursues this potentially career-altering assignment, the more her past intertwines with the story she’s trying to tell, revealing disturbing new realities that will forever change her and the way she looks at the world.
With spare and graceful prose, O Beautiful presents an immersive portrait of a community rife with tensions and competing interests, and one woman’s attempts to reconcile her anger with her love of a beautiful, but troubled land.
When I heard that Jung Yun had another book coming out, I legit screamed. Shelter is one of my favorite books of all time (and shameless plug, also won the Reading Women award in fiction, which is the podcast I am a contributing editor on!). The language that Jung Yun uses is very easy to read and is not dense, but the depth of emotion is unparalleled. I absolutely cannot wait for O Beautiful, and it is my top most anticipated release for the second half of the year.
Skye’s Most Anticipated Books
She Who Became the Sun by Shelley Parker-Chan
“I refuse to be nothing…”
In a famine-stricken village on a dusty yellow plain, two children are given two fates. A boy, greatness. A girl, nothingness…
In 1345, China lies under harsh Mongol rule. For the starving peasants of the Central Plains, greatness is something found only in stories. When the Zhu family’s eighth-born son, Zhu Chongba, is given a fate of greatness, everyone is mystified as to how it will come to pass. The fate of nothingness received by the family’s clever and capable second daughter, on the other hand, is only as expected.
When a bandit attack orphans the two children, though, it is Zhu Chongba who succumbs to despair and dies. Desperate to escape her own fated death, the girl uses her brother’s identity to enter a monastery as a young male novice. There, propelled by her burning desire to survive, Zhu learns she is capable of doing whatever it takes, no matter how callous, to stay hidden from her fate.
After her sanctuary is destroyed for supporting the rebellion against Mongol rule, Zhu takes the chance to claim another future altogether: her brother’s abandoned greatness.
Ah, the radiant book of the summer. She Who Became the Sun is no stranger to The Quiet Pond shores, now that CW has already reviewed this book and Shelley has graciously visited us for a chat during Asian Pasifika Heritage Month; if you’ve been hanging around online SFF circles the past few months, you might even have seen it crop as part of the Golden Sapphic Trifecta. Which is all to say: this book needs absolutely no introduction. I’ve read a few chapters myself in spurts while I was working on my dissertation, and I was already so enveloped in the characters and the slow-building energy of the book I’m fairly certain it will be a lifelong favorite when I finally get around to diving into its world again.
Squad by Maggie Tokuda-Hall & Lisa Sterle
When Becca transfers to a high school in an elite San Francisco suburb, she’s worried she’s not going to fit in. To her surprise, she’s immediately adopted by the most popular girls in school. At first glance, Marley, Arianna, and Mandy are perfect. But at a party under a full moon, Becca learns that they also have a big secret.
Becca’s new friends are werewolves. Their prey? Slimy boys who take advantage of unsuspecting girls. Eager to be accepted, Becca allows her friends to turn her into a werewolf, and finally, for the first time in her life, she feels like she truly belongs.
But things get complicated when Arianna’s predatory boyfriend is killed, and the cops begin searching for a serial killer. As their pack begins to buckle under the pressure—and their moral high ground gets muddier and muddier—Becca realizes that she might have feelings for one of her new best friends.
We recently interviewed Maggie Tokuda-Hall on the Pond for Pride Month where she briefly discussed the origins and inspiration behind Squad, and hooooboy friends, am I excited for this one. Lisa Sterle’s art is so unbelievably stunning, and the premise of a new girl in an elite school who soon finds out that the popular clique she’s invited to hang with are all werewolves—who occasionally also prey on date-rapey boys makes my teen-monster-girl-loving heart go bump. I genuinely might need a time machine ASAP because I have no idea how I’m going to wait until October to get my hands on this book.
Tidesong by Wendy Xu
Sophie is a young witch whose mother and grandmother pressure her to attend the Royal Magic Academy—the best magic school in the realm—even though her magic is shaky at best. To train for her entrance exams, Sophie is sent to relatives she’s never met.
Cousin Sage and Great-Aunt Lan seem more interested in giving Sophie chores than in teaching her magic. Frustrated, Sophie attempts magic on her own, but the spell goes wrong, and she accidentally entangles her magic with the magic of a young water dragon named Lir.
Lir is trapped on land and can’t remember where he came from. Even so, he’s everything Sophie isn’t—beloved by Sophie’s family and skilled at magic. With his help, Sophie might just ace her entrance exams, but that means standing in the way of Lir’s attempts to regain his memories. Sophie knows what she’s doing is wrong, but without Lir’s help, can she prove herself?
Wendy makes such lovely, lovely comics, and I’ve been eagerly anticipating Tidesong ever since they first posted the early sketches of the story on Twitter. I’m also very fond of quiet coming-of-age fantasy stories too, and the world in this one already looks like it’s going to be a treat! A water dragon boy, a coastal setting, and extended magical family shenanigans? Absolutely count me in.
The Taking of Jake Livingston by Ryan Douglass
Jake Livingston is one of the only Black kids at St. Clair Prep, one of the others being his infinitely more popular older brother. It’s hard enough fitting in but to make matters worse and definitely more complicated, Jake can see the dead. In fact he sees the dead around him all the time. Most are harmless. Stuck in their death loops as they relive their deaths over and over again, they don’t interact often with people. But then Jake meets Sawyer. A troubled teen who shot and killed six kids at a local high school last year before taking his own life. Now a powerful, vengeful ghost, he has plans for his afterlife–plans that include Jake. Suddenly, everything Jake knows about ghosts and the rules to life itself go out the window as Sawyer begins haunting him and bodies turn up in his neighborhood. High school soon becomes a survival game–one Jake is not sure he’s going to win.
As a lifelong coward, I’ve recently—surprisingly—been discovering a love for BIPOC-authored horror, especially in the YA category! Ever since its stunning cover reveal, I’ve been really excited for this mysterious book about a queer Black boy plagued by ghostly visions, who must survive both his supernatural hauntings and the discrimination that he faces in the real world as the only Black student in an elite school. I’m a huge fan of deeply atmospheric stories, and all the horror stories I’ve read so far have been masterclasses in mood and tension. After Ryan visited us for Pride Month with his wonderful essay on radical YA, I can’t wait to pick this up!
A Dark and Starless Forest by Sarah Hollowell
Derry and her eight siblings live in an isolated house by the lake, separated from the rest of the world by an eerie and menacing forest. Frank, the man who raised them after their families abandoned them, says it’s for their own good. After all, the world isn’t safe for people with magic. And Derry feels safe—most of the time.
Until the night her eldest sister disappears. Jane and Derry swore to each other that they’d never go into the forest, not after their last trip ended in blood, but Derry is sure she saw Jane walk into the trees. When another sibling goes missing and Frank’s true colors start to show, feeling safe is no longer an option. Derry will risk anything to protect the family she has left. Even if that means returning to the forest that has started calling to Derry in her missing siblings’ voices.
As Derry spends more time amidst the trees, her magic grows more powerful… and so does the darkness inside her, the viciousness she wants to pretend doesn’t exist. But saving her siblings from the forest and from Frank might mean embracing the darkness. And that just might be the most dangerous thing of all.
Dark and eerie magical forest setting? Check. Sheltered children who are about to discover that the world isn’t quite what it seems? Check. A queer fat girl protagonist with PLANT-BASED magic? CHECK. I can honestly count on one hand the number of SFF stories I’ve read that have featured fat protagonists, which makes me a little sad—I want to see fat girls like me thriving in magical, mythical worlds! Plus, doesn’t this premise already sound incredible? All my favorite fantasy tropes bundled up into a book that feels like it was written for me. I have managed to secure an ARC of this already, and I can’t wait to dive into it!
Girls of Fate and Fury by Natasha Ngan
Note: the following synopsis may contain spoilers to Girls of Paper and Fire and Girls of Storm and Shadow.
“Don’t struggle, Lei-zhi. It’s time to take you back to the Hidden Palace. You’re going home.”
The final pages of Girls of Storm and Shadow brought a jaw-dropping conclusion that had the fates of Lei and Wren hanging in uncertainty. But one thing was certain – the Hidden Palace was the last place that Lei would ever consider home. The trauma and tragedy she suffered behind those opulent walls would plague her forever. She could not be trapped there with the sadistic king again, especially without Wren.
The last Lei saw of the girl she loved, Wren was fighting an army of soldiers in a furious battle to the death. With the two girls torn apart and each in terrorizing peril, will they find each other again or have their destinies diverged forever?
When I was a starry-eyed teen just getting into the world of diverse fiction, I was fully and utterly swept away by Girls of Paper and Fire, a YA fantasy about a girl who is forced to become a concubine of a brutish king. The narrative was tightly-paced with a defiant exploration of what it means to be a survivor of sexual abuse, and it was the first ever high fantasy I had ever read in my life that featured both Malaysian-inspired worldbuilding and sapphic characters. The series comes to a close this year right as I graduate from college, and gosh am I sentimental about this series essentially having followed me throughout the early stages of my young adulthood. I will be eagerly devouring this book on release day for sure.
2021 Books Skye Has Already Read but You Should Be Excited For
Light from Uncommon Stars by Ryka Aoki
Shizuka Satomi made a deal with the devil: to escape damnation, she must entice seven other violin prodigies to trade their souls for success. She has already delivered six.
When Katrina Nguyen, a young transgender runaway, catches Shizuka’s ear with her wild talent, Shizuka can almost feel the curse lifting. She’s found her final candidate.
But in a donut shop off a bustling highway in the San Gabriel Valley, Shizuka meets Lan Tran, retired starship captain, interstellar refugee, and mother of four. Shizuka doesn’t have time for crushes or coffee dates, what with her very soul on the line, but Lan’s kind smile and eyes like stars might just redefine a soul’s worth. And maybe something as small as a warm donut is powerful enough to break a curse as vast as the California coastline.
As the lives of these three women become entangled by chance and fate, a story of magic, identity, curses, and hope begins, and a family worth crossing the universe for is found.
Skye: Okay, okay, I’ve talked about this book quite a bit on the blog already, but all of it bears repeating: I genuinely think this was one of the best books I read this year. It expanded and delighted my imagination so much, and I was reduced to such a soft mess upon the reaching final page.
- The plotline details the intersection of the lives of three very different queer women: Katrina Nguyen, a trans teen girl with an unsung passion for music, Shizuka Satomi, a legendary larger-than-life violin teacher on the prowl for one final student in order to fulfill a demonic pact, and Lan Tran, (seemingly) a Vietnamese single mother who runs a beloved donut store.
- I WAS TRULY NOT PREPARED for how healing and queer/trans-affirming this story is. How soft its found family. How wonderful its characters. This book is so so so so loving. It is about violins and deals with the devil and aliens, yes, but it’s also about this really sweet found family coming together amidst trauma and pain, and what it means to be human: to love food and music, what it means to care for someone unexpectedly.
- It is one that holds your hand and assures you: you are worthy. You are safe. You are more than your queerness but also beautiful because of it. Your body may not look how you want it to yet, but look, it is still capable of producing such lovely things. What more can I ask of a book?
Iron Widow by Xiran Jay Zhou
The boys of Huaxia dream of pairing up with girls to pilot Chrysalises, giant transforming robots that can battle the mecha aliens that lurk beyond the Great Wall. It doesn’t matter that the girls often die from the mental strain.
When 18-year-old Zetian offers herself up as a concubine-pilot, it’s to assassinate the ace male pilot responsible for her sister’s death. But she gets her vengeance in a way nobody expected—she kills him through the psychic link between pilots and emerges from the cockpit unscathed. She is labeled an Iron Widow, a much-feared and much-silenced kind of female pilot who can sacrifice boys to power up Chrysalises instead.
To tame her unnerving yet invaluable mental strength, she is paired up with Li Shimin, the strongest and most controversial male pilot in Huaxia. But now that Zetian has had a taste of power, she will not cower so easily. She will miss no opportunity to leverage their combined might and infamy to survive attempt after attempt on her life, until she can figure out exactly why the pilot system works in its misogynist way—and stop more girls from being sacrificed.
Skye: One of my most recent reads, Iron Widow has explosively skyrocketed into the position of what is possibly my favorite YA sci-fi to-date.
- I mean, can we just talk about the premise for a second? The cocktail of giant sci-fi mechas in historical China with an elemental magic system is just so, so potent. It’s layers and layers of speculative writing condensed into a marvel of a story, that pulls inspiration from anime and Chinese culture and conventional Western story tropes alike.
- Fans of The Poppy War will also get their fill of ruthless female protagonists again: like Rin, Zetian is a poor, spite-driven girl driven thrust into a rotten system, whose character arc details her mad scramble for the power that lies at the very top—because it is the only route that ensures her own survival. History would rue the dark day if Fang Runin and Xiran’s Wu Zetian were ever to meet.
- Speaking of story tropes: did you know that this book has a love triangle that resolves in a polyamorous relationship? Between three consenting and wildly smitten teens? Because. You guys. The romance in this is good. It is very very good. The kids are all so gay for each other.
Nothing but Blackened Teeth by Cassandra Khaw
A Heian-era mansion stands abandoned, its foundations resting on the bones of a bride and its walls packed with the remains of the girls sacrificed to keep her company.
It’s the perfect wedding venue for a group of thrill-seeking friends.
But a night of food, drinks, and games quickly spirals into a nightmare. For lurking in the shadows is the ghost bride with a black smile and a hungry heart.
And she gets lonely down there in the dirt.
Skye: Friends, let me be the one to tell you that if you love cutting your teeth on Japanese horror, haunted houses, and scary stories infused with queer, modern sensibilities, you are in for a treat.
- The author’s prose is unbelievably decadent. The writing is descriptive, indulgent, and terrifyingly atmospheric without ever being overbearing, and every turn of phrase felt deliberately and meticulously crafted. There was so much perfect imagery that even now I am still reeling a little from the reading experience.
- I also really enjoyed that the book’s fantastical elements were drawn from Japanese folklore! The creepy faceless woman on the cover is called an ohaguro-bettari (who makes a prominent appearance in the book), and there are many references to various yōkai throughout the story.
- In a genre that has a history of villainizing mental illness, it was so refreshing to read a story that acknowledged the reality and lasting effects of mental illness in the everyday lives of people who struggle with it, too.
- Lightning round, this book has: a really messy friendship group who are (mostly) characters of color! a bisexual protagonist! really cool subversions of haunted house/horror tropes, especially with regards to who survives the eerie night…
The rest of 2021 is going to be an awesome time – I can feel it! Hopefully we’ll all discover more favorites this year. Happy reading friends!
- Did we miss any awesome books releasing in the second half of the year?
- Have you read any of the books on our list yet? Tell us all about it!
- Did you share a post/list of your most anticipated books of 2021? Share in the comments below!