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 💕

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 no 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 uncovers a magical conspiracy with the help of her dog’s ghost, 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.