It seems every other year I go between having a surplus of goals, plans, and eagerly awaited publications, or wanting to be completely free to go with the flow; 2021 is one of those years I want to take as it comes without a lot of plans steering me in any particular direction. As such, while I m looking forward to 2021 releases I also feel… less committed to them than I have in the past. Nevertheless, I am getting excited about looking forward generally and finding new bookish favorites, so! I will share this list of books that appeal to me even though I have no idea if or when I will get to them; where applicable I’ll link back to the bloggers who’ve put these titles on my radar.
And now, on to the books! (These are US covers and release dates by the way, unless I mess it up, in which case feel free to correct me!)
Lore by Alexandra Bracken – Jan 5 – YA fantasy
Every seven years, nine Greek gods are rendered mortal and hunted by rival descendants who want to gain the gods’ power and immortality for themselves. Lore’s family fell victim to this punishment, but now she’s teaming up with Castor and Athena against a mutual enemy, hoping to bring the hunt to an end.
Hadeer’s list brought this one to my attention! I’ve fallen away from YA somewhat in recent years but there are still titles that tempt me. Greek myth retellings/expansions are always difficult to resist!
The Prophets by Robert Jones Jr. – Jan 5 – Historical fiction
Two men enslaved on a Deep South plantation build a refuge and a relationship in the barn where they are tasked with caring for the animals- at least until another slave turns on them to gain favor. The master’s religion calls their love a sin, leaving their lives and the balance of the plantation in jeopardy.
Book of the Month introduced me to this debut. I’m not sure my paraphrased summary is doing it justice, but I’m envisioning this as a commentary on LGBTQ+ persecution compounded by rampant racism and weaponized religion, which sounds like a conversation very worth listening to.
Milk Fed by Melissa Broder – Feb 2 – Literary fiction
At the urging of her therapist, Rachel embarks on a communication detox from her mother, who instilled in her a strict habit of calorie counting. When the detox begins, Rachel meets an Orthodox Jew at a frozen yogurt shop and the two grow close, into a journey defined by appetites.
I loved Broder’s The Pisces. I hear this one is very different (CW: eating disorders) and have seen a few balanced reviews that have me adjusting expectations somewhat, but I still hope to enjoy Broder’s sophomore novel.
What Big Teeth by Rose Szabo – Feb 2 – YA horror
Eleanor returns home to her monstrous family for the first time in years, finally ready to reconcile. But as soon as she starts to settle in and find the acceptance she craved, a strange death brings new chaos, and Eleanor must confront the monster within tyrannical Grandmere- and herself- in order to survive.
I’ve seen this one getting some hype, but it was Kristin’s 2021 YA post that finally put it on my list!
Kink: Stories edited by R. O. Kwon and Garth Greenwell – Feb 9 – Short stories
“Kink is a dynamic anthology of literary fiction that opens an imaginative door into the world of desire. The stories within this collection portray love, desire, BDSM, and sexual kinks in all their glory with a bold new vision. The collection includes works by renowned fiction writers such as Callum Angus, Alexander Chee, Vanessa Clark, Melissa Febos, Kim Fu, Roxane Gay, Cara Hoffman, Zeyn Joukhadar, Chris Kraus, Carmen Maria Machado, Peter Mountford, Larissa Pham, and Brandon Taylor.”
This collection seems to be on many 2021 lists, and I was initially waiting to see more actual reviews of the collection as a whole as opposed to just anticipatory hype for the premise and author list, but… I’m hyped.
Never Have I Ever by Isabel Yap – Feb 9 – Short stories
A debut collection of “spells and stories, urban legends and immigrant tales.” It looks like this one includes horror and fantasy elements.
Story collections often slip by me unnoticed, so thanks to Hannah’s 2021 fiction list for bringing this title to my attention! It looks dark and promising, potentially full of cultural details and magic. Also, I love that cover!
The Sanatorium by Sarah Pierce – Feb 18 – Mystery/thriller
In the Swiss Alps, a lavish hotel that was once a sanatorium for tuberculosis patients is now the site of an engagement party from which a woman disappears. Elin encounters a body and the hotel’s dark history, but will she find her brother’s fiancee before it’s too late?
I first saw this title when Naty mentioned getting an ARC, but I’ve seen it on a few other upcoming thriller lists since then as well and there’s just something about an atmospheric, isolated location missing person/murder mystery that always draws me in.
Down Comes the Night by Allison Saft – Mar 2 – YA fantasy/romance
Wren’s magic has gotten her into trouble, so she takes the chance to cure a servant at Colwick Hall to redeem herself. Except it turns out that Hal isn’t a servant but a sworn enemy of her kingdom, looking for redemption of his own in the mysterious, monstrous mansion that could ruin them both unless they work together.
Another title I couldn’t resist from Hadeer’s list. Perhaps 2021 will be the year I get back into some exciting YA releases!
In the Quick by Kate Hope Day – Mar 2 – Science fiction
June has a coveted post as an engineer on a space station, but she’s preoccupied by the mystery of a spacecraft her uncle was on board that went missing years ago; the world has all but forgotten it, but June believes the crew is still alive and in need of rescue, and teams up with her uncle’s former protegee to find a solution to the problem of its failed fuel cell- and in the process falls in love.
I found this title in Naty’s list of 2021 releases! It sounds like a sapphic new version ofThe Martian, which I am here for.
Later by Stephen King – Mar 2 – Horror
Jamie is a kid with an unusual ability, though using it comes at a high cost. His understanding of right and wrong is challenged when a detective convinces him to help stop a killer who’s threatened to kill again from beyond the grave.
I’m on a quest to read and review all of King’s fiction. His writing is certainly flawed, but I often like his plots if not always his choice of wording and characterization. I’ve been burned before, but I just keep coming back. I do tend to enjoy when King writes young characters, so I’m hopeful.
Women and Other Monsters: Building a New Mythology by Jess Zimmerman – Mar 9 – Nonfiction (essays?)
Drawing on eleven female monsters from Greek mythology, Zimmerman guides readers through a feminist reassessment of the ancient lore that has shaped our understanding of women who don’t follow the rules; noncompliance may historically be presented as monstrous, but perhaps that isn’t a bad thing- monsters have power, agency, and a freedom from restraint worth celebrating and maybe even emulating.
I found this title in Hannah’s incredible list of upcoming nonfiction releases!
American Betiya by Anuradha D. Rajurkar – Mar 9 – YA contemporary romance
Rani is drawn to a boy her mother wouldn’t like, and so she keeps him a secret from her parents. But Oliver has a troubled home life and begins asking of Rani more than she can give; a summer in Pune, India for Rani leads her to a reckoning with herself and her first love.
I swear Hadeer’s anticipated releases list is not exclusively YA-focused, but apparently those are the titles that were calling out to me most. I like YA that’s hard-hitting and/or explores social/cultural issues. Also, I read a book set in Pune for the first time earlier this year and would like to give myself a bit more context for the setting by reading about it again from another writer.
Redder Days by Sue Rainsford – Mar 11 – Dystopian
Set in an abandoned commune, this book follows a pair of twins who keep watch day and night, looking toward an imminent apocalyptic event. The commune’s former leader lives there with them, controlling their daily rituals, but their understanding of the present world is thrown off balance when a former commune inhabitant returns unexpectedly.
I read Rainsford’s Follow Me to Ground earlier this year and quite liked it; I was vaguely aware that she had a new novel coming out soon, but spotting this one on Callum’s list was the reminder I needed!
Lolita in the Afterlife edited by Jenny Minton Quigley – Mar 16 – Essays
“A vibrant collection of sharp and essential modern pieces on the perennially controversial Lolita, by a wide range of celebrated writers, edited by the daughter of Lolita’s original publisher.”
Thanks to Rennie for putting this title on my radar with her list of upcoming nonfiction releases! Lolita is, yes, controversial, but it’s also very memorable and layered and full of calculated horror, all of which I found very effective in the classic. I’m certainly curious to see what others have to say about it in the modern age.
There’s No Such Thing as an Easy Job by Kikuko Tsumura, translated by Polly Barton – Mar 23 – Literary fiction in translation
A woman looking for a job that requires little from her finds herself watching an author on a hidden-camera feed, wondering how she found herself in this situation. A string of “easy” jobs follow as it gradually becomes clear that she is looking for something more meaningful in her search than ease.
If I remember right I think I first saw this book on an excellent post of Fatma’s earlier this year, featuring books translated from Japanese!
The Secret Talker by Geling Yan – Mar 30 – Thriller
Hongmei is a perfect wife with a quiet life, but when a stalker begins tormenting her via email, dredging up Hongmei’s dark past in China, her only hope of regaining control of her life is to uncover her stalker’s own secret history, even at the cost of breaking her marriage.
I came across this potential little gem (160 pages!) on Rachel’s anticipated releases list.
Of Women and Salt by Gabriela Garcia – Mar 30 – Historical fiction
Jeanette is the daughter of a Cuban immigrant, determined to finally uncover her family’s history; the relationships between Jeanette and her mother and grandmother are complex and full of secrets. Meanwhile, Jeanette is also battling addiction and caring for the daughter of a neighbor detained by ICE.
I came across this title in Kristin’s list of anticipated 2021 adult releases. I’m interested in reading more immigrant stories, and the focus on addiction particularly caught my interest after reading Gyasi’s thoughtful Transcendent Kingdom earlier this month (review pending).
Bullet Train by Kotaro Isaka, translated by Sam Malissa – Apr 1 – Thriller
“Five killers find themselves on a bullet train from Tokyo competing for a suitcase full of money. Who will make it to the last station?”
This enticing translated title came to my list from Diana’s post of five anticipated 2021 releases.
You Love Me by Caroline Kepnes – Apr 6 – Horror/thriller
In this third installment of Kepnes’s Joe Goldberg (You) series, Joe is done with cities; he’s settled in on an island in the Pacific Northwest, working at a local library. He wants to start a family. There’s just one problem- the librarian he wants to coax into his happily ever after is already a mother with her own life… how long will Joe’s patience last?
I’ve been highly entertained and horrified by the previous books in this series, and though the second book did not impress me as much on the whole as the first, it ended on a dramatic moment and I have been DYING to see the resolution.
Pride and Premeditation by Tirzah Price – Apr 6 – YA historical mystery/romance
Aspiring teen lawyer Lizzie sets out to solve the mystery of a scandalous murder, in which she believes the authorities have arrested the wrong person. As Lizzie realizes how dangerous her hunt for the truth may be, she also develops increasingly complicated feelings for the interfering Mr. Darcy, young heir to the Pemberley Associates firm.
Kristin’s 2021 YA list strikes again! Who doesn’t love a good retelling? And how does one resist a classic romance turned murder mystery??
The Helm of Midnight by Marnina J. Lostetter – Apr 13 – Fantasy
A group of thieves have stolen a death mask imbued with the spirit of a terrifying serial killer, who seems to be killing again from beyond the grave. The new deaths, however, seem to follow a new pattern which demands an answer to a sinister question.
Thanks go to Hannah’s list of 2021 SFF releases for bringing this impressively dark title to my attention!
People We Meet on Vacation by Emily Henry – May 11 – Romance
Poppy and Alex have almost nothing in common, but shared a car ride once in college and thus became the kind of loyal friends who meet every summer for a glorious week of vacation. Except on their last trip, something ruinous happened to their relationship; after an unhappy two years, they’ve finally agreed to try again, but it will mean acknowledging the one big truth standing quietly between them.
I knew Henry had another book coming up but it had fallen off my radar tbh- shout out to Marija for reminding me of the title and release date with her extensive anticipated releases list! I enjoyed Beach Read and A Million Junes by the same author so I’m on board for her new release as well, even though this premise doesn’t grab me quite as much as her others have.
Madam by Phoebe Wynne – May 18 – Gothic mystery
Rose is the new head of the Classics department at an elite girls’ boarding school propped amid Scottish cliffs. It’s a prestigious place, but for Rose the shine soon wears off as her predecessor haunts the halls and she begins to discover the school’s secret purpose- and her own role in it.
This title has really been making the rounds, and it almost sounds too good to pull off, but obviously I’m hoping it’ll be a hit!
Mister Impossible by Maggie Stiefvater – May 18 – YA Fantasy
In this sequel to Call Down the Hawk, Ronan and his new friends are working hard to make dreamers (people who can bring things back from the dream world into waking life) more powerful, all while they are pursued by a team of assassins who believe the dreamers will bring about the end of the world.
It’s not my favorite series or anything and I loathe the title, but… I’m invested.
The Lights of Prague by Nicole Jarvis – May 18 – Historical fantasy
Unknown to the citizens of gaslight-era Prague, the lamplighters keep the monsters of the city at bay; Domek, one of the hunters, befriends a secretive widow, endures a haunting, and faces a dangerous will-‘o-the-wisp, all while battling the vampiric creatures who conspire to terrorize the daylight world.
Another exciting title I found on Hadeer’s list of 2021 releases! Vampires, Prague, the gaslight-era… I’m pretty sure this is going to slap.
The Other Black Girl by Zakiya Dalila Harris – June 1 – Mystery/thriller
Nella is an editorial assistant getting her start in publishing. It’s a very white community, and she’s tired of being the only Black woman in her workplace. But when Hazel shows up in the next cubicle, the relief of having another Black woman around is short lived; soon Hazel is the office darling and Nella is receiving threatening notes- and there may be more than a career at stake.
I’ve been seeing a lot of buzz around this one, and it sounds great. Thrillers are always fun, but it looks like this one’s going to stand out for its meaningful social commentary on race and office politics as well as its plot!
The Chosen and the Beautiful by Nghi Vo – June 1 – Historical fantasy
“Jordan Baker grows up in the most rarefied circles of 1920s American society―she has money, education, a killer golf handicap, and invitations to some of the most exclusive parties of the Jazz Age. She’s also queer, Asian, adopted, and treated as an exotic attraction by her peers, while the most important doors remain closed to her.”
I think I have Hadeer to thank again for first introducing me to this book, but I’ve seen it on several more lists in the meantime as well, and for good reason, it seems! This looks like a magical retelling of The Great Gatsby in which Jordan Baker is an immigrant magician… just sign me up immediately.
One Last Stop by Casey McQuiston – June 1 – Romance
August doesn’t believe in magic and cinematic love stories, and she can’t imagine her move to cramped, busy NYC changing her mind- but the drudgery of her subway commute is interrupted when she meets Jane. Complicating August’s subway crush though, is the fact that Jane seems to have skipped out of her own time, the 1970’s, and she needs a little help getting unstuck.
I’ve been looking forward to McQuiston’s next release since loving Red, White and Royal Blue earlier this year!
The Natural Mother of the Child by Krys Malcom Belc – June 15 – Memoir
Giving birth to his son helped clarify Belc’s gender identity, though the legal documents of his son’s adoption list Belc as the ‘natural mother of the child;’ Belc is a nonbinary transmasculine parent reflecting here on the interplay between parenthood and gender.
I came across this very appealing piece of nonfiction on Callum’s list. It looks like just the sort of challenging and thoughtful work to break me out of my motherhood narrative funk, with style.
Filthy Animals by Brandon Taylor – June 22 – Short stories
“A young man treads delicate emotional waters as he navigates a series of sexually fraught encounters with two dancers in an open relationship, forcing him to weigh his vulnerabilities against his loneliness. In other stories, a young woman battles with the cancers draining her body and her family; menacing undercurrents among a group of teenagers explode in violence on a winter night; a little girl tears through a house like a tornado, driving her babysitter to the brink; and couples feel out the jagged edges of connection, comfort, and cruelty” in this series of linked stories set in the Midwest.
I loved Taylor’s Real Life earlier this year and have been highly anticipating his next release; this collection will be a must-read for me!
[No cover yet]
Dear Senthuran: A Black spirit memoir by Akwaeke Emezi – June 29 – Memoir
The author uses letters addressed to friends and family (biological and chosen) to describe a life outside the boundaries of social expectations. This is their story of building a future in the face of chronic pain and embodiment as a nonhuman, among other challenges.
I keep an eye out for new Emezi releases, as they’re fast becoming a favorite author for me. I’ve loved all of their books so far (most recently, The Death of Vivek Oji)- each shares some similarity in theme, though they’re also very different stories; I’m excited to see what new layers this book will explore.
Survive the Night by Riley Sager – July 6 – Thriller
It’s 1991, and college student Charlie is catching a ride to Ohio after the death of her best friend at the hands of the Campus Killer. She doesn’t know the driver- she met Josh at the campus ride board; as the road spins away behind them she becomes increasingly suspicious that Josh may actually be the Campus Killer- or is she just paranoid after too many horror films?
I’ve read all of Sager’s thrillers as they’ve come out, and they’re always entertaining even though I seem to be in an alternating hit-and-miss trend with his work. If the pattern continues (Home Before Dark was a miss for me), this next release should be a hit again, and the synopsis does sound promising!
Magma by Thora Hjortleifsdottir – July 13 – Literary fiction in translation
Lilja is in love- she’s twenty years old and has met a brilliant young man at school, whom she promptly moves in with. But as she tries to please him, what begin as nearly imperceptible abuses lead to Lilja letting go of her boundaries and losing her sense of self.
This sounds like an incredible portrayal of violence and toxicity rooted in romance; it found its way to my list from Rachel’s!
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The World Ends Here by Rory Power – July – YA/?
There’s no synopsis for this book yet; I liked Power’s Wilder Girls but was never sufficiently excited enough about her 2020 release to pick it up. I think 2021 will be the year I’m ready to try more of her work! I like the sound of the title so I’m looking forward to seeing what this book will be.
All’s Well by Mona Awad – Aug 3 – Horror
Miranda is plagued by chronic pain after an incident with a Shakespeare play (All’s Well that Ends Well, of course) that cost her her acting career and marriage. Now that she’s a college theater director the same play threatens to take what little she’s got left, as her students rebel in favor of Macbeth. But a trio of mysterious benefactors are waiting in the wings to deliver justice to Miranda at last.
I had great fun with Awad’s Bunny and am curious to see what else the author can do. I’m very much drawn to the prospect of chronic/invisible pain commentary.
If the Shoe Fits by Julie Murphey – Aug 3 – Romance
Cindy’s just gotten a degree in shoe design and is working for her stepmother on the production end of a popular reality TV show to get started. But when a spot on the show desperately needs filling and Cindy steps in, she quickly becomes a body positivity icon, as the only plus size woman in the reality dating competition. She only wanted a start in the fashion world, but there may be love and inspiration to find along the way as well.
I’ve not yet read One to Watch by Kate Stayman-London and I still am not a fan of reality dating competitions, but the premise appeals! I can’t explain my interest, but there it is. Also, I loved Julie Murphey’s Dumplin‘. Thanks to Kristin’s list of 2021 romance releases for putting this one on my radar!
The Heart Principle by Helen Hoang – Aug 17 – Romance
Quan isn’t known for making a good impression, but now that he’s a CEO he’s been getting plenty of attention. He’s got his eye on a woman who turned him down long ago, but she’s otherwise attached now, and her sister Anna has her eye on Quan. Anna’s put a lot of effort into overcoming her anxiety and OCD, but it’s still a challenge admitting her crush; can she do it to keep Quan from ruining her sister’s engagement?
I always enjoy Hoang’s characters and romances even though the premises sometimes require a suspension of disbelief. But I’ve been looking forward to this one ever since reading The Bride Test and am happy to see the end of the wait is in sight at last.
A Slow Fire Burning by Paula Hawkins – Aug 31 – Mystery/thriller
A likely suspect is found after a brutal murder on a London canal boat, but complications arise. “No tragedy happens in isolation,” Hawkins explains; an accident or an occasion of misplaced trust can result in consequences far down the line, and these events can shape who a person becomes.
The Girl on the Train may not seem especially impressive by thriller standards today, but when it was new it was the second thriller I ever read, and at the time I loved it. I enjoyed Into the Water to a lesser extent, but am nevertheless very curious to see what Hawkins is doing next.
And to cap off my list, I’d like to include a few imminent releases that I have more certainty about reading, as I already have copies available or on their way; these are books that weren’t really on my radar until I suddenly had the chance to read them, so I haven’t quite been anticipating them in the same way but I do want to acknowledge them as 2021 releases that I’m looking forward to:
Outlawed by Anna North – Jan 5 – Historical western
A year after her wedding with no pregnancy in sight, in a town that hangs barren women as witches, Ada joins a band of outlaws. The Hole in the Wall Gang runs dangerous heists in the name of creating safe havens for outcasts and building a new future for all.
I’ll talk more about Book of the Month in my year wrap-up, but for now I’ll say that I’ve been LOVING the increased diversity and variety in their offered titles over the last six months, and January seems to be off to a phenomenal start for the subscription service as well. (If you’re in the US and interested in joining, you can use this link to get a first month discount, and at no cost to you it will put a credit in my account, too!) I’m not generally big on Westerns, but this feminist LGBTQ+ take on the genre seems like a fun ride that’ll help boost me out of my comfort zone a little while also keeping me fully entertained.
Aftershocks by Nadia Owusu – Jan 12 – Memoir
A coming-of-age story about a woman who grew up all over the world, motherless from the age of two, adrift amid a wash of cultures. Owusu explores identity in the wake of emotional trauma and competing personas.
I’m looking to increase my nonfiction reading in 2021, and I’m always interested in reading about cultures and identity, so I was thrilled to see this title offered as an extra through BOTM for January and happily added it to my box.
The Removed by Brandon Hobson – Feb 2 – Contemporary fiction
Maria is trying to hold her family together as grief for her son- who was killed in a police shooting- lingers years after his death. A bonfire in remembrance of him and the Cherokee National Holiday marks a turning point, as Maria and her husband foster a child who affects them and their surviving children in strange ways; the line between life and the spirit world begins to blur.
Another January BOTM selection, this one drawing on Cherokee folklore. Over the last few years I’ve been trying to diversify my reading more and more, but one area I’ve failed in this endeavor is reading from and about Indigenous peoples, so I’m excited to see BOTM introducing me to such a great-sounding title that’ll help me start out the new year on the right foot.
The Echo Wife by Sarah Gailey – Feb 16 – Science fiction/thriller
“Martine is a genetically cloned replica made from Evelyn Caldwell’s award-winning research. She’s patient and gentle and obedient. She’s everything Evelyn swore she’d never be. And she’s having an affair with Evelyn’s husband. Now, the cheating bastard is dead, and the Caldwell wives have a mess to clean up. Good thing Evelyn Caldwell is used to getting her hands dirty.”
I got an eARC for this title from Netgalley that I need to read soon; I’ve been wanting to try some of Gailey’s work for a while but I’m new to Netgalley so I thought I’d take a chance, and apparently it was meant to be that I should start here. It sounds like great starting point, tbh, bring on the clones!
WE’VE REACHED THE END! This has been a much larger endeavor than I was imagining, but it did help boost my excitement for the year’s upcoming books, so we’ll call it a win. Let me know if anything here catches your eye, or what your most anticipated release for 2021 is!
The Literary Elephant