Top Ten Tuesday: Books On My Fall 2021 To-Read List

Top Ten Tuesday is a series hosted on That Artsy Reader Girl! This week, we’re looking ahead to a season of books I hope I’ll finish (feel free to poke me until I do)…


1. Within These Wicked Walls by Lauren Blackwood

If you’ve read my incoherent babbling about Jane Eyre, you know I have a taste for the gothic, and Lauren Blackwood’s debut, an Ethiopian-inspired fantasy set in an old castle beset by a curse, looks poised to check each and every one of those boxes. Atmospheric, eerie fantasy in step with House of Salt and Sorrows and Down Comes The Night (which I also have to get to!) has seen a surge lately, and I couldn’t be happier to see this trend culminate in a fresh, diverse take on a time-honored setup. Sketchy manor, possible ghosts, and romantic tension? I’m in.


2. Great Expectations by Charles Dickens

I’m still getting a taste for my opinion on Dickens’ canon. A while back, I read Our Mutual Friend, which I loved up until the last hundred pages, and A Tale of Two Cities, which I enjoyed all the way through, if rather mildly. Great Expectations, his penultimate complete novel, contains one of his most iconic characters in Miss Havisham and, in general, gets talked about a lot, so I’m anxious to see where I stand on it. It’s been too long since I’ve picked up a 19th-century doorstopper, frankly.


3. If We Were Villains by M. L. Rio

Dark academia is very popular at the moment, but I think there’s a lot of potential in a similar subgenre, one with the psychological toll of the performing arts in the spotlight instead. M. L. Rio’s literary thriller follows a clique of Shakespearean actors reeling from a murder, and deeply beloved as it is in my bookish circles, I think it’s high time I crack it open and give it a try. If nothing else, my ego will have a field day feeling clever for spotting all the references.


4. Cytonic by Brandon Sanderson

Skyward, the young-adult space epic from Brandon Sanderson, has totally devoured my life. The deep love I have for Spensa and her wonderful supporting cast knows know bounds, and I have been reeling from the cliffhanger at the end of Starsight since I turned that last page. (Reviewed in my August wrap-up here.) I’m anxious to see where Sanderson takes us after that jarring and ambitious turn, and even more anxious to jump into another rousing adventure through a galaxy that’s become one of my new favorites to play in.


5. Mary Barton by Elizabeth Gaskell

North and South, Gaskell’s clear-eyed romance set in the North of England in a time of industry and turmoil, is beloved for a reason: with a strong moral core and powerful character dynamics, it’s a punch in the gut in the best way possible. Mary Barton is her first novel, similarly concerned with love, labor and class, and I can’t wait to dive in. In my limited experience with books from the 1840s, they’ve reliably tended to slap.


6. A Snake Falls to Earth by Darcie Little Badger

Last year’s Elatsoe (reviewed here), a brilliant murder mystery with a fabulist twist, was a rare treat. Following Ellie, a Lipan Apache teenager who, with the help of her dog’s ghost, uncovers a conspiracy in a magical America mostly like our own, it offers a surprising combination of elements that seem like they shouldn’t work together, but do, and like a dream, at that. Little Badger’s follow-up, a fantasy that takes its cues from Lipan Apache storytelling, sounds magnificent. If it’s anything like her first, I’ll be absolutely falling over myself with praise.


7. Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen

I’m about halfway through Jane Austen’s body of work––Mansfield Park I adored, Persuasion I was rather fond of, and Emma…we don’t discuss. Sense and Sensibility doesn’t get talked about as often as its all-but-ubiquitous sister, Pride and Prejudice, but it has its loyal fans all the same, and for my part, I hope to be one of them. I’ll say this right now, though: I doubt it’ll top Mansfield Park (very little can).


8. The Queen of Nothing by Holly Black

At great injury to my pride, this wildly popular series has won my heart in its entirety. (The saga is chronicled here.) Alas, all things must end, and it’s time for me to make my way to the divisive final book. I can’t say with any conviction what I think my opinion will be, but as it stands now, it’s been far too long since I’ve read about Jude Duarte, and I’m itching to return to Faerie, especially because that plot twist at the end of The Wicked King was just rude, on Holly Black’s part. Honestly.


9. Troilus and Cressida by William Shakespeare

For the past couple months, I’ve been making my way through my ancient Complete Works at about a play a week, and after adoring Measure for Measure, I’ve grown ever more intrigued by the two other comedies classified as “problem plays,” stories with a happy ending, technically, that still tow the line between comedy and tragedy. All three are later plays, generally thought to hold a healthy dose of complexity and contradiction, and with how gracefully Measure for Measure straddled these tonal opposites, I can only hope that Troilus and Cressida, Romeo and Juliet‘s more cynical cousin, serves up the same. I’m equally excited for All’s Well That End’s Well, though.


10. The Faithless Hawk by Margaret Owen

This sequel to Margaret Owen’s The Merciful Crow has a promising point of departure. I’m always down for overthrowing the reigning monarch in fantasy, and with Owen’s tightly-controlled scope and thoughtful take on magical caste at the helm, The Faithless Hawk‘s odds look really good. I’m hoping the prose holds up a little better in action scenes, but even if it doesn’t, there’s a lot to love about this story: dialect woven gracefully into the narration, a slow-burn, platonic hate-to-begrudging-respect subplot, and of course, the cat. I would die for Barf without hesitation. ❤


Thus ends the first TBR post of any kind I’ve written for the blog! How are your fall reading plans? I’d love to hear about the books you’re looking forward to, or your thoughts on any of mine, in the comments 💕

If You Love These Books, You’ll Love These Albums

Even if you don’t listen to music as you read, the creative realms of fiction and music are deeply intertwined––look no further than an author’s Spotify playlists. It’s hard to pin down what makes the atmosphere of a book so captivating, but I find that a musical analogue is often the perfect basis for comparison. This week, I thought I’d offer up four recent favorites and their echoes in my music taste: enjoy!

Why I Love the Book: Emily Henry’s starry-eyed tale of star-crossed lovers is rich in metaphor and even richer in place. In Five Fingers, Michigan, lakes, pine trees, and bracing night air hide “thin places”––where the boundaries between the ordinary and fantastical are weaker, and the magical substance of local lore creeps through. Using fabulism as a backdrop for a thoughtful love story, Henry turns a clear eye on human foibles while keeping wonder close at hand.

Why I Love the Album: Metaphor is bread and butter for the Michigan-based Crane Wives, whose folksy but modern instrumentation makes wistful songs of love and loss unfurl like fairy tales. They make the perfect compliment to Henry’s fantastical Americana, a night of summer stargazing embedded in their chords.

Why I Love the Book: The Vanishing Season is a paranormal that isn’t really about the ghosts. Following small-town transplant Maggie through her restless last year of high school, it keeps melancholy company: the loneliness of winter, the pain of growing up, the ache of unrequited love. It’s the fact that it’s both stirring and quiet that makes Jodi Lynn Anderson’s novel so powerful––and a lingering fog that won’t soon lift.

Why I Love the Album: Sarah Jaffe‘s Suburban Nature is the softer cousin of Arcade Fire’s The Suburbs, a deeply personal and raw chronicling of white-picket-fence discontent. The unsettled longing of its most famous track, “Clementine,” is only the tip of the iceberg––the rest of the album boasts soaring yet remarkably simple love songs, and arrangements that are a whisper only and until they creep up on you as a roar.

Why I Love the Book: Stronger, Faster, and More Beautiful puts a name to the unease that accompanies news of developments in tech, offering a glimpse into a world where profit, automation, and unexamined utilitarianism are dialed up to extremes. As an anthology, it’s free to go weird places without having to commit to them for a full novel, and the result is something that unnerves as much as it enthralls.

Why I Love the Album(s): Big Data explores the annals of technology with richly synthesized pop music and powerful featured performances. Social media’s exploitation of our impulses becomes a soaring anthem in “The Business of Emotion,” and the replacement of human labor becomes an ominous bop in “Put Me To Work.” The off-kilter sorrow under some of the slower songs mirrors the darker implications in Arwen Elys Dayton’s anthology, for a sardonic but cautious finish.

Why I Love the Book: Neal Shusterman’s surreal, reality-bending Challenger Deep uses interweaving storylines to explore mental illness––one follows a teenager as he seeks treatment for his disorder, and another plunges us deep into the ocean on the deck of a pirate ship as it seeks the lowest point in the sea. The book’s disquieting reading experience gives way to many a dark night of the soul, but its frankness is ultimately key to its careful emotional resolution, the last page a heavy weight lifted.

Why I Love the Album: On the surface, Picaresque‘s folksy, nautical aesthetic is a perfect fit for Challenger Deep‘s fantastical elements, but beyond that, it’s layered with irony, tragedy, and catharsis, and in joining them together, the album makes meaning out of multitudes, with a full-bodied picture much like the one that lends Challenger Deep its breadth and thematic prowess.


Photos by Sincerely Media, Olesia Buyar, Annelies Geneyn, David Maier, Paweł Czerwiński, Dan-Cristian Pădureț, Geran de Klerk, and Erastus McCart on Unsplash.