Top Ten Tuesday: 2021 Releases I Was Excited To Read But Didn’t Get To

Top Ten Tuesday is a series hosted on That Artsy Reader Girl! This week, we’re looking back at tantalizing new releases from a year already past. I’m known to revive the backlist, so there’s a good chance I’ll still get to these in the years to come…


1. Jade Fire Gold by June C. L. Tan

June C. L. Tan’s epic fantasy debut turned my head from the get-go: worldbuilding inspired by Chinese mythology, a slow-burn romance between reluctant allies, and an exiled prince’s quest to reclaim the throne all make for a rather enticing pitch––a pitch made even more impressive by the fact that Jade Fire Gold goes after them all as a standalone. It’s rare that I see a recent YA, especially, try to capture that kind of scale between just two covers (and for good reason! It’s difficult to do justice in even two or more books!), and for that reason, as well as the author’s Zutara comparisons, I’m still eager to see how Tan manages it in her hotly-anticipated debut.


2. Little Thieves by Margaret Owen

Once upon a time, there was a horrible girl…what more could one ask of a book, really? Margaret Owen’s thoughtful, textured Merciful Crow duology was enough to pique my interest in whatever she wrote next, but Little Thieves, a wicked, sharp-tongued retelling of “The Goose Girl,” invites its own enthusiasm. Following the crafty servant girl who stole the real princess’ crown in the original tale, this work of fantasy has earned plenty of praise from reviewers whose tastes I share, and it’s a promising potential romp.


3. Down Comes The Night by Allison Saft

Released in March, Down Comes The Night, another YA fantasy debut, offers enemies-to-lovers romance between characters trapped in a cursed manor. Besides my contractual obligation to pick up anything with even a passing resemblance to Jane Eyre, Down Comes The Night hooked me with promises of a snow-drenched wintry setting and a main character who knows her way around medicine, and its beautiful spine has been beckoning me from my shelf since its release date––perhaps I’m just waiting for the perfect stormy night to dive in.


5. The Skyward Flight Novellas by Brandon Sanderson & Janci Patterson

After beefing a little with Cytonic, the third book in Brandon Sanderson’s pilot-minded YA space opera, I stalled on picking up the novellas, all e-books following side characters that dropped in the months surrounding its release. I still want to hop back into this galaxy and follow FM, Alanik, and Jorgen (my inevitable favorite!) on their respective adventures, but for now, I’m happy to wait until they’re re-released in a paper-and-ink bindup in April, because me and e-books just don’t mix.


5. My Contrary Mary by Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, and Jodi Meadows

My Lady Jane, the first in a series of zany, magical, ahistorical adventures involving famous Janes, was a fast favorite for me in 2016, and, on the authority of a 2020 reread, likely poised to be a lifelong one! Last year, one of the characters who appears in the book, a young Mary Queen of Scots, got her own story as the first in a trilogy of Mary-themed books, and My Contrary Mary landed itself on my ever-growing TBR pile. I can’t say when I’ll pick it up, but when the desire next strikes me to read about historical figures turning into ferrets, birds, and/or mice, this will certainly be the first place I turn.


6. Instructions For Dancing by Nicola Yoon

Nicola Yoon’s The Sun Is Also A Star is a star among the few contemporary novels I find myself reading these days. It renders real-life settings in Manhattan with the wonder of fictional ones, crafts a love story that thoughtfully accompanies its romantic leads’ search for meaning, and totally made me cry. Of course I’d have my eyes peeled for Yoon’s follow up! Instructions for Dancing, released in May, follows a girl disillusioned with love after happening upon the power to see instantly how a relationship is fated to end, as she stumbles into her own love story in the world of ballroom dance. Having a fondness for dance stories (and romance with magic-lite à la Instant Karma), I’m likely to fall in love with this, too.


7. The Lady or The Lion by Aamna Qureshi

Another intriguing retelling with a somewhat niche source, The Lady or the Lion puts a YA spin on the short story “The Lady or the Tiger,” a tale that, depending on how you read it, is about a princess who sends her beloved into a tiger’s jaws…or a happy marriage. Aamna Qureshi’s original take on it stages the action in a Pakistan-inspired fantasy setting, where a crown princess must decide whether she can trust a mysterious ambassador, or if her dangerous feelings for him will lead her astray. This book’s premise had me at “court intrigue” and “forbidden love,” and I can’t wait to be swept away by it.


8. Small Favors by Erin A. Craig

Released in July, this fantasy by the author of House of Salt and Sorrows (the first title reviewed on the blog!) is set in an isolated small town where the surrounding woods are still believed to harbor demons. Promising eerie atmosphere, secluded horror, and bees (?), Small Favors gives me high hopes for another dose of the rustic, gothic-tinged chills of Erin A. Craig’s gorgeous, ocean-tossed debut.


9. The Hawthorne Legacy by Jennifer Lynn Barnes

The odd non-fantasy duck on this list, The Hawthorne Legacy is the 2021 sequel to 2020’s The Inheritance Games, a riotously fun thriller-lite about a girl who inherits a fortune from a billionaire she’s never met. It has puzzles, a compelling supporting cast, and some solid twists, but it’s the love triangle that has me chomping at the bit for book two, and since this gives me the chance to say it, Team Grayson. Obviously.


10. Once Upon A Broken Heart by Stephanie Garber

I haven’t read Garber’s much-beloved Caraval trilogy, but the premise of Once Upon A Broken Heart, set in the same world with what I’m told are a few familiar faces, was too good to resist. I love a good “favor by a god in exchange for a kiss” story, and Garber’s reputation for bringing the spirit of fairy tales into her novels un-subtly suggests that this’ll be right up my alley. (Though a few people have told me I’d love Caraval, so it’s possible I’ll go for that first!)


Thank you so much for reading! What are some releases you ‘missed’ last year? Have you read any of these titles? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below 💕

What I Read In December, Part II

Hello, and welcome to the blog! Last week, I shared the books I read earlier last month, and today, I’m wrapping up the wrap-up with seven more. The second half of the month had a fun mix of titles, a few delightful surprises, and the 120 books milestone! Without any further ado, I’m thrilled to be sharing it with you:


114. A Snake Falls To Earth by Darcie Little Badger

Set in both our world and in a perilous realm of shapeshifters and spirits, Darcie Little Badger’s follow up to 2020’s wildly inventive Elatsoe is somehow even more ambitious. A Snake Falls to Earth juggles a sizable ensemble, a climate allegory, two coming-of-age stories, a race to rescue an endangered species, and a viral video subplot: a valiant effort that’s impressive just in the undertaking, but comes at a sizable cost. Little Badger’s worldbuilding, and the way she weaves the paranormal into the mundane with charmingly practical considerations, remains a strength in her writing, as does the richness she brings to her Lipan Apache lead’s depiction, but in the end, A Snake Falls To Earth tries to carry so much that things feel like they get dropped. The aforementioned viral video subplot reads haphazardly, the ensemble is cramped in its limited page time, and the inclusion of a vague, never-seen villain faces the book’s suspense with obstacles it can’t overcome.


115. The Excalibur Curse by Kiersten White

This series finale for The Guinevere Deception is bound to frustrate some of its readers: Kiersten White opts for the vastly unexpected in answering her trilogy’s questions, from Guinevere’s true identity to the rightful course of her future, and not everyone who liked the first two books will be happy with how the cards fall in The Excalibur Curse. For my part, though, I had the time of my life. White’s Arthuriana is rich with love, duty, and sacrifice, and her moral dilemmas are well-poised to ask the most of her characters in thoughtful ways, including and especially when she puts them at odds. Her refusal to give Guinevere (and us!) every answer makes for a refreshing take on a mythos whose familiar patterns often feel set in stone, and the nuance The Excalibur Curse brings to its tenuous happy ending, is, strikingly, more gratifying than certainty could ever hope to be.


116. A Woman of No Importance by Oscar Wilde

Going into this play expecting something as riotously funny as Wilde’s The Important of Being Earnest is a mistake, but, if you’re attentive, you’ll un-make it as soon as you realize what else A Woman of No Importance has to offer. High-brow quips and their jaded upper-class deliverers corner the stage at first, but as the story progresses, Wilde pulls off a perspective shift that interrogates the people we instinctively center, and asks us to reconsider the play’s forgotten women––calling particular attention to the way both rigid morality and cynical amorality fail them. Admittedly, the wealthy-nihilist characters tend to blend together, but the core cast and their ties are rendered very keenly, with special regard to Hester Worsley, a dour Mary Bennet type who could’ve easily been wasted as nothing more than comedic relief.


117. This Book Is Not Good For You by Pseudonymous Bosch

Pseudonymous Bosch’s Secret Series is one of the 2000s’ many militantly quirky middle grade sagas. You know the type: takes after A Series of Unfortunate Events, narrated by a snippy author character who likes to address the audience, puts its hyper-competent child leads adrift in a sea of comically evil or downright oblivious adults. How This Book Is Not Good For You lands in this sub-category, I can’t firmly say, but on its own, it’s enjoyable, albeit in a very selective way: if a mystery in which three precocious middle schoolers are pursuing a sinister chocolatier and his army of bean-sorting capuchins is precisely what you’re looking for, read it. If not, and I cannot stress this enough, don’t. These books are unabashedly weird and make use of their setpieces in a way that dubiously evokes Wes Anderson, two statements that can’t even begin to express how diligently Bosch hams it up––and how little he cares if you’re tired of the schtick.


118. The Taming of the Shrew by William Shakespeare

Another entry into Shakespeare’s notorious trilogy of yikes (accompanying The Merchant of Venice and Othello), this tale of a braggart marrying and “taming” a loud/violent/hysterical woman is precisely what it’s been criticized for over the years: sexist, reductive, and, when staged to the letter, cringe-inducing. That said, there’s something that makes me want to return to it anew. The idea of Katherine finding the love she’s been denied in someone who doesn’t make a show of being afraid of her is compelling, and if the staging makes an effort to show how wrong Petruchio is in trying to “tame” her, I could see it being a delightful watch. (With the allowance made, of course, that all of this must work against a misogynist original text.) For me, it’s fun for Shakespeare’s language, the breadth of potential interpretation, and the skill of his humor, but I don’t blame anyone else for not feeling this way, and, yeah, okay, maybe this shouldn’t be one of his most popular.


119. Cytonic by Brandon Sanderson

Held against the highs of the first two installments in Brandon Sanderson’s YA space opera, Cytonic, as solid a work as it is, can’t help but be a letdown. For one thing, Sanderson opts to start from the ground up and craft a lovable ragtag team in a wholly new setting for the third time instead of leaning on what he already has, and this go-round, it crosses the line from impressive and drifts into irritating. For another, we leave the galaxy explored in book two for the smaller, sparser world of the Nowhere, an unreality of time warps and pirates that just can’t shake the side-quest vibes. Sanderson does well with what he gives himself, though: the flight sequences we experience through our protagonist, Spensa, continue to be invigorating, and this volume is reflective in a way that adds favorably to the others.


120. Mouse Guard: Winter 1152 by David Petersen

Mouse Guard, a comic starring anthropomorphized fantasy mice, gets a satisfying expansion in this second arc of six issues, following guardmice from the stronghold of Lockhaven as they struggle to secure supplies and allies for the difficult winter ahead. Instead of lingering on the rebellion plot he introduced earlier, Peterson takes a lesser-trod but better-fitting path in turning his focus to the nuts and bolts of survival, both for the mouse cities struggling to persist in a world full of predators, and for the mice trapped on the roads between them in peril. In Winter 1152, the Mouse Guard world is enriched by extremes, made more vivid with memorable staging grounds, and re-invented in a way I hope the rest of the series makes good on.


Thank you so much for reading! How was your December in books? Do we have any titles in common? I’d love to hear about it, in the comments below 💕