It’s a new year and that means new books to get excited about! Please join us as we explode our TBRs, make grabby hands, and preorder Book Riot’s most anticipated books of 2021.
A Crown So Cursed
A Crown So Cursed is L.L. McKinney’s long-awaited third installment in the Nightmare-Verse trilogy! This is an Alice in Wonderland retelling, set in Atlanta. Alice dives into the harsh world of Wonderland in order to put demons to rest. L.L. McKinney writes a strong series with powerful female characters! You won’t want to put it down!
A Psalm for the Wild-Built
Sentient robots disappeared into the wilderness, becoming things of myth and legend. They haven’t been seen for centuries until one returns to make good on an old promise, asking the question, “What do people need?” But that question depends entirely on who is asked. I’m pretty sure I would be incredibly excited by this premise regardless, but the fact that it’s written by one of my favorite science fiction authors (she of the Wayfarers series) means it is bound to be one of my favorite reads of 2021. More hopeful sci-fi? Sign me the heck up!
Ace Of Spades
Gossip Girl meets Get Out in this explosive thriller set in an elite private school. Devon and Chiamaka are the only two Black students in the prestigious Niveus Academy. And suddenly, their secrets are being revealed to the entire school by an anonymous texter who calls themself Aces. Will the two of them be able to find Aces and put a stop to them before it’s too late? Ace Of Spades is the kind of novel that will constantly have you on tenterhooks. It’s both a thrill ride, and a powerful examination into institutionalized racism. An absolute must-read.
Act Your Age, Eve Brown
In the midst of the world turning upside down this year, I’ve been craving the stability of romance novels. I very happily stumbled upon Talia Hibbert in 2020 and she may be the best thing to happen to my romance reading life since Jasmine Guillory. The third book in her Brown Sisters series is coming out in 2021 and I couldn’t be more excited! The Brown sisters are curvy, vibrant, and wealthy Black women falling in love with everyday men. Hibbert’s sexy, joyful novels tackle anxiety, chronic illness, and fatphobia all while delivering the satisfyingly giddy endings I require of all my romance. I can’t wait to read Act Your Age, Eve Brown!
When Aetherbound was announced, I raised my hands to the heavens and yelled “Yesssssssss!” A YA space opera that is, in Johnston’s own words, inspired by “…Jupiter Ascending, The Fisher King, and the strange intersection that was my pandemic lockdown depression and Tswift’s Lover.” I couldn’t preorder this fast enough. As a fan of Johnston’s writing, I expect Aetherbound will include compelling characters, several of whom will be queer; a found family/strong friendship dynamic; beautiful and deliberate prose; and at least one female character who I will die for. Everything I love about her books BUT NOW IN SPACE?! Come quickly, May.
Arsenic and Adobo
I love funny cozy mysteries with food, but Mananasala takes this one to the next level with Filipino food (some of my favorite cuisine) at a family restaurant! Baker Lila moves back home to recover from a breakup, but soon finds herself the only suspect in the murder of an especially mean food critic who also happens to be her ex-boyfriend. She has to start her own investigation not only to clear her name, but to save her family’s restaurant from their unscrupulous landlord. If you’re not sold yet, there’s also a sausage dog named after a Filipino sausage and a network of meddling aunties.
Dial A for Aunties
Jessie Q. Sutanto’s newest novel had me staying up past my bedtime so I could spend just a little more time with Meddy, her Ma, and her aunts. Hired into several important roles in a lavish, enormous Indonesian wedding on a resort island off the coast of California, the Chan women are also dealing with an even bigger problem: disposing of the body of Meddy’s accidentally dead blind date from the night before. I cannot stress enough how much I laughed; Sutanto captures every nuance of how truly bizarre weddings, families, and life can be. This is the Crazy Rich Asians/Weekend at Bernie’s mashup you didn’t know you needed in your life.
Angeline Boulley has written a coming-of-age meets crime novel with a fantastic voice. Daunis Fontaine is biracial, never fitting fully in the Ojibwe reservation or her wealthy white family’s town. She sees the world as it is, the kindness and cruelty, and is trying to navigate it to be the best version of herself when a horrific crime occurs. Soon, she’s being used for undercover work by those outside the Ojibwe community and will have to help without causing more harm. Fontaine is a beautiful character with so much to teach the world, that I spent the book wanting to hug her, be her best friend, and cheering so hard for her.
How to Find a Princess
Alyssa Cole is currently an auto buy for me anyway, but once she said the words “Queer Anastasia Retelling” I came somersaulting. We’ve all been waiting for her to write a full-length queer story since Once Ghosted, Twice Shy came out, and this is the perfect kind of hijinks story for her to do it with. The Runaway Royals series started off strong with How to Catch a Queen, and I’m very much looking forward to being reintroduced to Beznaria and going on what will hopefully be a colorful Journey To the Past (I had to).
Last Night at the Telegraph Club
In 2018, I read All Out, a collection of queer YA historical short stories, and fell in love with Malinda Lo’s contribution. It’s about a Chinese girl in San Francisco in the ’50s and the male impersonator she has a crush on. It incorporates race, sexism, space exploration, the Chinese immigrant experience, and lesbian pulp fiction. I desperately wanted more, and now we are being blessed with a novel-length version! I can’t wait to see how Lo has expanded on all of the ideas she introduced in the original story. She is an incredible author, so I am confident this will be a highlight of my reading year. The cover alone has me in a swoon.
Lore by Alexandra Bracken is a standalone contemporary fantasy novel. When Greek gods become mortal once every seven years, the descendants of ancient bloodlines hunt them down. In comes Lore Perseous, our heroine who wants nothing to do with the hunt that murdered her family. But when the hunt comes to New York City, Lore’s childhood friend and the goddess Athena ask for her help. She acquiesces and falls back into the deceit, danger, and disaster that comes with an ancient battle between new and old gods. Bracken is known for gut-wrenching character arcs and wild worlds from the Darkest Minds series to the Passenger duology. I am always excited for any Bracken release, but I honestly cannot wait for Lore‘s Greek God Murder Con.
Make Up Break Up
Ever since When Dimple Met Rishi, I’ve been hooked on Sandhya Menon. Reading one of her books just leaves you feeling warm, fuzzy, and a little more optimistic about the world. And in 2021 we’re getting something new and special from the author: her first adult romance novel, Make Up Break Up, written under the pseudonym Lily Menon. This enemies-to-lovers story follows two app developers. One creates an app for saving relationships called Make Up, the other an app for ending relationships called Break Up. I’m sure this story is going to be fun and charming, and I can’t wait to get my hands on it.
Set over the course of one day, Taylor Jenkins Reid’s upcoming release chronicles an epic end-of-summer party thrown by the famous Riva siblings. In 1980s Malibu, Nina, Jay, Hud, and Kit are socialites in their own right, but their notoriety stems from their father, legendary singer Mick Riva. Nina typically looks forward to this party, but after being publicly dumped by her tennis pro husband, she’s not ready to be surrounded by a bunch of nosy partygoers. But the combination of the heat, alcohol, and long-kept family secrets all culminate in the Riva mansion being destroyed by a massive fire. I’m SO ready to be ruined by TJR once again.
One Last Stop
I’ve read Casey McQuiston’s debut, Red, White & Royal Blue, a dozen times since it was published—sometimes all the way through, sometimes just a few pages. Officially, I’ve finished it four times. When I heard the premise of her next book, One Last Stop—two young women fall in love on the subway in modern-day Brooklyn, but one of them is displaced in time and stuck on the train—I absolutely lost my mind. I needed that book. Fortunately, I was able to read it early. Now I need to read it at least a dozen times more. This book is charming, swoony, and full of a constant aching that reminds me distinctly of being a queer young adult myself.
I have been slowly working my way through Helen Oyeyemi’s backlist, hoping that I won’t get to a point where I have none of it left to tide me over until her next new book. Luckily, we have another brilliantly imaginative fever dream of a novel coming from her in 2021. Oyeyemi has one of those imaginations it’s hard to believe actually resides in a human being. I love her completely unique melange of magical realism, fairytale, and dreaminess, and the way that she weaves in contemporary themes of race, queerness, gender, and more. Peaces is about a queer couple who embark on a strange train journey that will change their lives.
Pilgrim Bell: Poems
I first read Kaveh Akbar’s debut collection Calling a Wolf a Wolf a few months after its release in 2017, and I credit it with being the book that got me hooked on contemporary poetry. His work is visceral and immersive, displaying a masterful command of craft without ever feeling arcane. While I’ve reread this collection since, I’ve also found myself grabbling over the internet anytime he publishes a new poem. Now, almost four years later, his follow-up Pilgrim Bell will grace our shelves. The description promises poems on themes of the sacred, the self, and the empty spaces of life; I cannot wait to spend time with each one.
In one of the most anticipated Appalachian books of 2021, Elizabeth Catte, author of What You Are Getting Wrong About Appalachia, tackles the history of eugenics in Virginia. From 1927 to 1979, over 8,000 people were forcibly sterilized in the state. While those involved buried the details of the far-reaching results of the eugenics movement, Pure America reveals that history, giving us a glimpse into the world eugenicists tried to create. With her signature clear and direct approach, Catte asks Virginia, and broader America, to recon with its past and come to terms with the deep ramifications of eugenics on America’s present.
I was a big fan of Kat Chow’s reporting when she was on NPR’s Code Switch podcast team, and I am so excited to be getting a whole book that is sure to be filled with all the nuance and insight I so appreciated and enjoyed in her work. In this memoir about losing her mother as a teenager and uncovering more stories of loss going back three generations in her Chinese American family, Chow explores how we confront and are shaped by grief and family history.
This book had me at phantasmagorical fantasy. As a fan of Kerstin Hall’s sprawling novella The Border Keeper, I’ve been eager for more of her work, and Star Eater sounds like a bloody knock-out. It follows Elfreda, who wants out of the Sisterhood that seeks to use her to create a powerful bloodline. This book tackles issues with hereditary magic, which is often used for the passing of power in so much of the fantasy genre. For that alone, this will be a haunting and much-needed read, but then there’s also spying and cannibalistic magic. Yes please, put this book in my veins (blood pun intended).
I’ve made no secret about the fact that I absolutely adore DC’s kids and YA graphic novel lines, and have read every single one as they’ve come out. One of my favorites of 2020 was Beast Boy by Kami Garcia and Gabriel Picolo, the sort-of sequel to 2019’s Raven. Now DC’s goth princess and class clown, erstwhile teammates in the main DCU for the past 40 years, are finally slated to meet in this little pocket universe, and I could not be more excited. I didn’t even ship it before this, but Garcia and Picolo imbue both characters with such earnest humanity and awkward teen charm that watching them play off of each other is sure to be a delight.
The Bad Muslim Discount
In his YA work, More than Just a Pretty Face, Syed M. Masood proved the distinctiveness of his voice by creating a humorous and heart-warming romance. Now he returns with an adult fiction taking us deep into the dynamics of an immigrant Muslim community, telling the story through two families living in San Francisco, California. I feel excited to dive into 2021 knowing that Masood’s biting and thoughtful satire waits for me on the other side.
The City of Good Death
I absolutely adore this book’s atmosphere. Lush descriptions and the many detailed urban legends make the titular city really feel like its own character. I’m also fascinated with the way the book explores what’s true and what’s not. Secrets and assumptions play a huge role, from the origins of the ghost who haunts a certain stairway to the main characters’ fears about what their family thinks of them. These aren’t just idle rumors: they have real and lasting effects on everyone. Throw in a murder mystery (maybe), a dissatisfied spirit, and unspoken regrets, and you’ve got an absorbing, intricate novel that I, for one, could not put down.
The stories in Mariana Enríquez’s previous collection, Things We Lost in the Fire: Stories, left me breathless (and kept me awake for a couple nights). Enríquez uses glimmers of horror to tell her stories of social and psychological torment that feature difficult women set on survival—she uses abrupt endings that leave you adrift, grasping for the final words. Now, the Argentine author is coming out with a new collection, which promises to feature a woman sexually obsessed with a heart; a lost, rotting baby; and other macabre, strange humans and situations. More fans of Samanta Schweblin and Shirley Jackson should be picking up her tales.
The Dead and the Dark
A town called Snakebite, a ghost-hunting team, and some teen drama: literally a combination of everything I know I’ll love. Logan comes into town with her dads to investigate some paranormal encounters, and Ashley is a local whose boyfriend goes missing. The two team up to investigate and uncover way more secrets than they were prepared for. This looks like the perfect mix of horror, mystery, and angst, and it’s one I cannot wait to get my hands on. And did you see that cover?
The Infinity Courts
It is known that I am a wild fan of everything Akemi Dawn Bowman writes. Starfish was heartbreakingly brilliant, Summer Bird Blue was lyrical and beautiful…Whatever Bowman writes is an automatic most-anticipated pick for me. And after several contemporary novels that tackled everything from first love to mental illness to toxic family members, Bowman is leaping genres with their debut YA sci-fi novel, The Infinity Courts. When a teen girl dies on her way to a party, she’s swept off into The Infinity, where she learns mankind’s afterlife has been taken over by a vengeful artificial intelligence.
The Kindest Lie
Nancy Johnson’s striking and provocative fiction debut, which takes place on the cusp of the Obama era, simultaneously explores some of the most contested issues of the day like race, class, and police brutality, and the universal challenges that people have to navigate in any era—love, family obligation, and forgiveness.
The King of Infinite Space
I’ve been waiting for someone to write a queer contemporary Hamlet retelling for so long, so this book is a dream come true. After physicist Ben Dane’s father dies suddenly, he returns home to find family ghosts looming everywhere. The question of whether his father’s death was an accident or murder haunts him—literally. His only source of comfort is Horatio Patel, his dearest friend (and perhaps more). When Ben’s ex-fiancée Lia returns with bouquets of flowers that can either curse or bless, the three are entrapped in an otherworldly magic that can only result in death.
The Other Black Girl
Nella Rogers is the only Black employee at the prestigious publishing company where she works. She’s thrilled when her team hires Hazel, another Black publishing aspirant who dreams of editing books someday. But something feels…off. Almost like Hazel wants to be competitors, not supportive friends and coworkers. Then threatening notes start appearing on her desk. Is she being paranoid, or is Nella’s job—and maybe even her life—in danger? After this year’s eye-opening #PublishingPaidMe and #PublishingSoWhite discussions, a dynamic thriller with racial commentary on the book industry is exactly what we need to be reading in 2021.
I’m not a big reader of cult books, but I feel like this upcoming one from Courtney Summers might be a perfect one. Aspiring investigative journalist Lo unravels the truth of the infamous Unity Project, and its alluring leader, hoping to reunite with the older sister who abandoned her when she joined. This is a tense and unforgettable read that, as it winds toward its conclusion, makes you wonder about yourself and what you’re willing to believe.
The Rib King
This is a tremendous, mind-blowing novel! I read it months ago and my jaw is STILL on the floor. This incendiary tale, set in the early 20th century, is about race, class, and privilege in America. The Barclays are a once-wealthy family who have lost their fortune, but still depend on their all-Black staff to help them keep up appearances. But the dangers inside and outside of the house continue to mount for the staff, until it ends in tragedy. A decade later, a former maid from the home is trying to establish herself as a business woman, but can’t get out from under the shadow of the past.
The Witness for the Dead
I honestly never thought we’d get a sequel to The Goblin Emperor, and I was fine with that. I loved The Goblin Emperor, and I could happily settle with having that and no more. Or so I thought. Now that I know we’re getting a standalone sequel set in the same world, I’m ecstatic. The Witness for the Dead is told from the perspective of Thara Celehar, who helped the half-goblin emperor Maia in the first book. Now he’s helping commoners and seeking justice. Social justice themes in an epic fantasy world is exactly my reading style. I managed to nab an ARC, but I might just have to reread (maybe on audiobook?) The Goblin Emperor first.
Voices of the Lost
The winner of the 2019 International Prize for Arabic Fiction, Hoda Barakat’s Bareed al-Layl or The Night Post becomes Voices of the Lost in Marilyn Booth’s beautifully minimalist translation. Strangers share their interlinked stories in this epistolary novel that collects dark letters sent into the darkness. The characters are sometimes brilliantly unlikeable but always understandable. Hoda Barakat is a towering contemporary novelist, a finalist for the 2015 Man Booker International, and we are lucky to have this book in Booth’s translation.
We Could Be Heroes
Mike Chen is on that “give the people warm sci-fi nerd fuzzies every January” schedule, and I am here for it. In We Could Be Heroes we meet Zoe, a superhero using her superspeed and strength for food delivery, and Jamie, a villain using his mind reading powers to rob banks. When they meet in a memory loss support group, they decide to team up to save their city and unravel the mystery of their lost time. Messy superheroes, classic Doctor Who references, a goofy cat, unlikely friendships, and a character-driven story told with humor and heart. I can’t wait to spend some quality time in this superpowered world.
We Free the Stars
We Free the Stars is the conclusion to the gripping story Hafsah Faizal began in We Hunt the Flame and I am thoroughly excited to get my hands on it, not only because it looks to be an amazing ride but also because this community of fans is supremely talented and I can’t wait to squeal over a deluge of pretty fanart. The magic, chaos and drama of this world can’t end in anything but an explosive, possibly tears-inducing spectacle.
Jhumpa Lahiri made a huge name for herself in the literary scene with novels like The Namesake and Interpreter of Maladies. In her nonfiction debut, In Other Words, Lahiri shared how her experience learning Italian changed her relationship with language. Whereabouts is her first novel in almost a decade, and it’s the first she wrote in Italian and translated to English. The work explores themes like attachment vs. estrangement, movement vs. stillness, and loneliness vs. human connection. I can’t wait to see how translating her work from Italian affects her literary voice and unforgettable characters in Whereabouts.
Elissa Washuta is the co-editor of the groundbreaking anthology Shapes of Native Nonfiction, so I was happy to hear that 2021 will bring a solo essay collection (her second after the 2014 book My Body is a Book of Rules). These essays are about Washuta’s heritage as a Native woman and how that heritage helps her live in the world today. She writes about life after addiction and how ancestral powers and spirits have helped her move forward. She discusses ancient stories and modern-day culture and moving from pain and loss into resilience and love. The collection promises to be an important addition to the essay genre and to Native literature.