In 2021, I have but one reading goal: I want to prioritize my backlist. I have so many unread books on my shelves and on my Kindle and a bad habit of buying books faster than I can read them. This year I plan on doing something about that.
Instead of focusing on new releases and purchases, I’m going to focus on the books I already own. I have way more than 2021 books, but these are the ones I want to get to the most. I’m excluding N.K. Jemisin books, as those are a given. In fact, I haven’t really spoken about most of these books on my blog before.
I’m hoping that by posting about my goal publicly, I’ll have an easier time holding myself to it. Wish me luck!
These Violent Delights by Micah Nemerever
Summary: When Paul and Julian meet as university freshmen in early 1970s Pittsburgh, they are immediately drawn to one another. A talented artist, Paul is sensitive and agonizingly insecure, incomprehensible to his working-class family, and desolate with grief over his father’s recent death.
Paul sees the wealthy, effortlessly charming Julian as his sole intellectual equal— an ally against the conventional world he finds so suffocating. He idolizes his friend for his magnetic confidence. But as charismatic as he can choose to be, Julian is also volatile and capriciously cruel. And admiration isn’t the same as trust.
As their friendship spirals into an all-consuming intimacy, Paul is desperate to protect their precarious bond, even as it becomes clear that pressures from the outside world are nothing compared with the brutality they are capable of inflicting on one another. Separation is out of the question. But as their orbit compresses and their grip on one another tightens, they are drawn to an act of irrevocable violence that will force the young men to confront a shattering truth at the core of their relationship.
Exquisitely plotted, unfolding with a propulsive ferocity, These Violent Delights is a novel of escalating dread and an excavation of the unsettling depths of human desire.
My Impression: You guys know I’m a huge fan of dark academia. I’m also 90% sure it’s gay. I’ve heard pretty good things about this one, so I’m excited to give it a try!
Fate of the Fallen by Kel Kade
Summary: The Shroud of Prophecy tests fate to discover what happens when the path of good and right, the triumph of light over darkness, the only path to salvation… fails.
Everyone loves Mathias. So naturally, when he discovers it’s his destiny to save the world, he dives in head first, pulling his best friend Aaslo along for the ride.
Mathias is thrilled for the adventure! There’s nothing better than a road beneath his feet and adventure in the air. Aaslo, on the other hand, has never cared for the world beyond the borders of his sleepy village and would be much happier alone and in the woods. But, someone has to keep the Chosen One’s head on his shoulders and his feet on the ground.
It turns out saving the world isn’t as easy, or exciting, as it sounds in the stories. Mathias is more than willing to place his life on the line, but Aaslo would love nothing more than to forget about all the talk of arcane bloodlines and magical fae creatures. When the going gets rough, folks start to believe their only chance for survival is to surrender to the forces of evil, which isn’t how the stories go. At all. To make matters worse Aaslo is beginning to fear that he may have lost his mind…
My Impression: I meant to read this in 2020, but it fell by the wayside. This is supposed to be a humorous take on the chosen one trope, which is always interesting to see subverted.
Circe by Madeline Miller
Summary: In the house of Helios, god of the sun and mightiest of the Titans, a daughter is born. But Circe is a strange child— not powerful, like her father, nor viciously alluring like her mother. Turning to the world of mortals for companionship, she discovers that she does possess power— the power of witchcraft, which can transform rivals into monsters and menace the gods themselves.
Threatened, Zeus banishes her to a deserted island, where she hones her occult craft, tames wild beasts and crosses paths with many of the most famous figures in all of mythology, including the Minotaur, Daedalus and his doomed son Icarus, the murderous Medea, and, of course, wily Odysseus.
But there is danger, too, for a woman who stands alone, and Circe unwittingly draws the wrath of both men and gods, ultimately finding herself pitted against one of the most terrifying and vengeful of the Olympians. To protect what she loves most, Circe must summon all her strength and choose, once and for all, whether she belongs with the gods she is born from, or the mortals she has come to love.
My Impression: I’ve been meaning to read this book since 2018. This year I’m finally going to. I really liked The Song of Achilles and Circe is such an interesting character in Greek mythology.
The Ruin of Kings by Jen Lyons
Summary: Kihrin is a bastard orphan who grew up on storybook tales of long-lost princes and grand quests. When he is claimed against his will as the long-lost son of a treasonous prince, Kihrin finds that being a long-lost prince isn’t what the storybooks promised.
Far from living the dream, Kihrin finds himself practically a prisoner, at the mercy of his new family’s power plays and ambitions. He also discovers that the storybooks have lied about a lot of other things too: dragons, demons, gods, prophecies, true love, and how the hero always wins.
Then again, maybe he’s not the hero, for Kihrin is not destined to save the empire.
He’s destined to destroy it.
My Impression: I’ve actually already started this one, but set it aside during a reading slump. I was liking it up to the point where I left off, so I’ll definitely be picking it back up soon.
Jade City by Fonda Lee
Summary: The Kaul family is one of two crime syndicates that control the island of Kekon. It’s the only place in the world that produces rare magical jade, which grants those with the right training and heritage superhuman abilities.
The Green Bone clans of honorable jade-wearing warriors once protected the island from foreign invasion— but nowadays, in a bustling post-war metropolis full of fast cars and foreign money, Green Bone families like the Kauls are primarily involved in commerce, construction, and the everyday upkeep of the districts under their protection.
When the simmering tension between the Kauls and their greatest rivals erupts into open violence in the streets, the outcome of this clan war will determine the fate of all Green Bones and the future of Kekon itself.
My Impression: I’ve heard nothing but fantastic things about this series. The final book comes out this year, so what better time to get into this series?
All Systems Red by Martha Wells
Summary: In a corporate-dominated spacefaring future, planetary missions must be approved and supplied by the Company. Exploratory teams are accompanied by Company-supplied security androids, for their own safety.
But in a society where contracts are awarded to the lowest bidder, safety isn’t a primary concern.
On a distant planet, a team of scientists are conducting surface tests, shadowed by their Company-supplied ‘droid— a self-aware SecUnit that has hacked its own governor module, and refers to itself (though never out loud) as “Murderbot.” Scornful of humans, all it really wants is to be left alone long enough to figure out who it is.
But when a neighboring mission goes dark, it’s up to the scientists and their Murderbot to get to the truth.
My Impression: No, I haven’t read any Murderbot books yet. Yes, I fully expect to love them.
Gods of Jade and Shadow by Silvia Moreno-Garcia
Summary: The Jazz Age is in full swing, but Casiopea Tun is too busy cleaning the floors of her wealthy grandfather’s house to listen to any fast tunes. Nevertheless, she dreams of a life far from her dusty small town in southern Mexico. A life she can call her own.
Yet this new life seems as distant as the stars, until the day she finds a curious wooden box in her grandfather’s room. She opens it— and accidentally frees the spirit of the Mayan god of death, who requests her help in recovering his throne from his treacherous brother. Failure will mean Casiopea’s demise, but success could make her dreams come true.
In the company of the strangely alluring god and armed with her wits, Casiopea begins an adventure that will take her on a cross-country odyssey from the jungles of Yucatán to the bright lights of Mexico City— and deep into the darkness of the Mayan underworld.
My Impression: Moreno-Garcia wrote one of my favorite books of 2020, so I obviously need to read more of her work. This one sounds so good. I’m always a sucker for a death god.
All Boys Aren’t Blue by George M. Johnson
Summary: In a series of personal essays, prominent journalist and LGBTQIA+ activist George M. Johnson explores his childhood, adolescence, and college years in New Jersey and Virginia. From the memories of getting his teeth kicked out by bullies at age five, to flea marketing with his loving grandmother, to his first sexual relationships, this young-adult memoir weaves together the trials and triumphs faced by Black queer boys.
Both a primer for teens eager to be allies as well as a reassuring testimony for young queer men of color, All Boys Aren’t Blue covers topics such as gender identity, toxic masculinity, brotherhood, family, structural marginalization, consent, and Black joy. Johnson’s emotionally frank style of writing will appeal directly to young adults.
My Impression: I’m actually planning on reading this memoir in June for Pride Month. I’m very interesting to learn more about gender nonconformity and nonbinary identities and how that intersects with Blackness. This book made so many people’s best lists in 2020 so I know I’ll love it.
Dread Nation by Justina Ireland
Summary: Jane McKeene was born two days before the dead began to walk the battlefields of Gettysburg and Chancellorsville— derailing the War Between the States and changing America forever. In this new nation, safety for all depends on the work of a few, and laws like the Native and Negro Reeducation Act require certain children attend combat schools to learn to put down the dead. But there are also opportunities— and Jane is studying to become an Attendant, trained in both weaponry and etiquette to protect the well-to-do. It’s a chance for a better life for Negro girls like Jane. After all, not even being the daughter of a wealthy white Southern woman could save her from society’s expectations.
But that’s not a life Jane wants. Almost finished with her education at Miss Preston’s School of Combat in Baltimore, Jane is set on returning to her Kentucky home and doesn’t pay much mind to the politics of the eastern cities, with their talk of returning America to the glory of its days before the dead rose. But when families around Baltimore County begin to go missing, Jane is caught in the middle of a conspiracy, one that finds her in a desperate fight for her life against some powerful enemies. And the restless dead, it would seem, are the least of her problems.
My Impression: I originally hadn’t planned on reading this because I’m not a fan of zombies, but so many adult readers have been raving about this YA fantasy. I’ve heard the world-building is incredible and that there’s a fantastic female friendship.
The Wolf of Oren-Yaro by K.S. Villoso
Summary: Born under the crumbling towers of Oren-yaro, Queen Talyien was the shining jewel and legacy of the bloody War of the Wolves that nearly tore her nation apart. Her upcoming marriage to the son of her father’s rival heralds peaceful days to come.
But his sudden departure before their reign begins fractures the kingdom beyond repair.
Years later, Talyien receives a message, urging her to attend a meeting across the sea. It’s meant to be an effort at reconciliation, but an assassination attempt leaves the queen stranded and desperate to survive in a dangerous land. With no idea who she can trust, she’s on her own as she struggles to fight her way home.
My Impression: As if I’m not going to want to read a book from a series called the Bitch-Queen Chronicles. Come on. Do you know me at all?
The Blade Itself by Joe Abercrombie
Summary: Logen Ninefingers, infamous barbarian, has finally run out of luck. Caught in one feud too many, he’s on the verge of becoming a dead barbarian— leaving nothing behind him but bad songs, dead friends, and a lot of happy enemies.
Nobleman Captain Jezal dan Luthar, dashing officer, and paragon of selfishness, has nothing more dangerous in mind than fleecing his friends at cards and dreaming of glory in the fencing circle. But war is brewing, and on the battlefields of the frozen North they fight by altogether bloodier rules.
Inquisitor Glokta, cripple turned torturer, would like nothing better than to see Jezal come home in a box. But then Glokta hates everyone: cutting treason out of the Union one confession at a time leaves little room for friendship. His latest trail of corpses may lead him right to the rotten heart of government, if he can stay alive long enough to follow it.
Enter the wizard, Bayaz. A bald old man with a terrible temper and a pathetic assistant, he could be the First of the Magi, he could be a spectacular fraud, but whatever he is, he’s about to make the lives of Logen, Jezal, and Glokta a whole lot more difficult.
Murderous conspiracies rise to the surface, old scores are ready to be settled, and the line between hero and villain is sharp enough to draw blood.
My Impression: I’ve been meaning to try Joe Abercrombie for a while now. He’s, like, the modern king of grimdark fantasy. This is the first book in his First Law world.
My Sister, the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite
Summary: When Korede’s dinner is interrupted one night by a distress call from her sister, Ayoola, she knows what’s expected of her: bleach, rubber gloves, nerves of steel and a strong stomach. This’ll be the third boyfriend Ayoola’s dispatched in, quote, self-defence and the third mess that her lethal little sibling has left Korede to clear away. She should probably go to the police for the good of the menfolk of Nigeria, but she loves her sister and, as they say, family always comes first. Until, that is, Ayoola starts dating the doctor where Korede works as a nurse. Korede’s long been in love with him, and isn’t prepared to see him wind up with a knife in his back: but to save one would mean sacrificing the other…
My Impression: I’m not a huge thriller reader, but I’ve had this one on my radar for a long time. It sounds so cool.
Breaking Character by Lee Winter
Summary: Life has become a farcical mess for icy British A-lister Elizabeth Thornton. America’s most-hated villain stars in a top-rated TV medical drama that she hates. Now, she’s been romantically linked to her perky, new co-star, Summer, due to the young woman’s clumsiness. As a closeted actress, that’s the last thing Elizabeth needs. If she could just get her dream movie role, life would be so much better. The only problem is that the eccentric French film-maker offering it insists on meeting her “girlfriend”, Summer, first.
Summer Hayes is devastated when her co-star shuns her for accidentally sparking rumors they’re lovers. Now the so-called British Bitch has the audacity to ask Summer to pretend to be her girlfriend to get her a role? Elizabeth doesn’t even like Summer! Oh, how she’d love to tell her no. And Summer definitely would if it wasn’t for the fact she’s maybe a tiny bit in love with the impossible woman.
A lesbian celebrity romance about gaining love, losing masks, and trying to stick to the script.
My Impression: I’m pretty sure a friend recommended this one to me and it’s been sitting on my Kindle ever since. I love stories that take place in Hollywood and making it a sapphic romance just makes it all the better.
There Will Come a Darkness by Katy Rose Pool
Summary: For generations, the Seven Prophets guided humanity. Using their visions of the future, they ended wars and united nations― until the day, one hundred years ago, when the Prophets disappeared.
All they left behind was one final, secret prophecy, foretelling an Age of Darkness and the birth of a new Prophet who could be the world’s salvation… or the cause of its destruction. As chaos takes hold, five souls are set on a collision course:
A prince exiled from his kingdom.
A ruthless killer known as the Pale Hand.
A once-faithful leader torn between his duty and his heart.
A reckless gambler with the power to find anything or anyone.
And a dying girl on the verge of giving up.
One of them― or all of them― could break the world. Will they be savior or destroyer?
My Impression: This is a YA fantasy that I’ve noticed adult fantasy readers tend to like. I started reading it once and liked what I’d read so far, but was in a bit of a reading slump so I put it aside.
A Separate Peace by John Knowles
Summary: An American classic and great bestseller for over thirty years, A Separate Peace is timeless in its description of adolescence during a period when the entire country was losing its innocence to the second world war.
Set at a boys boarding school in New England during the early years of World War II, A Separate Peace is a harrowing and luminous parable of the dark side of adolescence. Gene is a lonely, introverted intellectual. Phineas is a handsome, taunting, daredevil athlete. What happens between the two friends one summer, like the war itself, banishes the innocence of these boys and their world.
A bestseller for more than thirty years, A Separate Peace is John Knowles crowning achievement and an undisputed American classic.
My Impression: I found this book on a list of dark academia books and bought it the next time I saw it at the store. I’m usually wary of classics, especially ones written by men but I’m still going to give this book a chance.
The Unwilling by Kelly Braffet
Summary: A penetrating tale of magic, faith and pride…
The Unwilling is the story of Judah, a foundling born with a special gift and raised inside Highfall castle along with Gavin, the son and heir to Lord Elban’s vast empire. Judah and Gavin share an unnatural bond that is both the key to her survival… and possibly her undoing.
As Gavin is groomed for his future role, Judah comes to realize that she has no real position within the kingdom, in fact, no hope at all of ever traveling beyond its castle walls. Elban— a lord as mighty as he is cruel— has his own plans for her, for all of them. She is a mere pawn to him, and he will stop at nothing to get what he wants.
But outside the walls, in the starving, desperate city, a magus, a healer with his own secret power unlike anything Highfall has seen in years, is newly arrived from the provinces. He, too, has plans for the empire, and at the heart of those plans lies Judah… The girl who started life with no name and no history will soon uncover more to her story than she ever imagined.
An epic tale of greed and ambition, cruelty and love, this deeply immersive novel is about bowing to traditions and burning them down.
My Impression: Because the set-up of this story is a bunch of different men having plans for the female protagonist, I suspect her arc will be about forging her own path. Also, Judah is giving me lowkey Rey Skywalker vibes.
The Truants by Kate Weinberg
Summary: In this seductive coming-of-age debut, Jess Walker, a young and uninitiated first year student, falls in love with two great story-tellers. One, Alec, a journalist in exile, the other, Lorna, a charismatic literature professor. Starting out under the flat grey skies of an east Anglian university campus and ending up on an idyllic Mediterranean island, The Truants is about a group of clever and eccentric misfits who yearn to break the rules. As Jess’ experience of infatuation and betrayal, disappearance and loss gives way to a breathless search for the truth, she finds herself detective in a twisted crime of the heart. Unsettling, challenging, surprisingly funny and beautifully written, The Truants is a compulsively readable literary debut with a twist— and a dead body to boot.
My Impression: Again, I’m just really into dark academia. That cover is really cool too.
The Traitor Baru Cormorant by Seth Dickinson
Summary: Tomorrow, on the beach, Baru Cormorant will look up from the sand of her home and see red sails on the horizon.
The Empire of Masks is coming, armed with coin and ink, doctrine and compass, soap and lies. They’ll conquer Baru’s island, rewrite her culture, criminalize her customs, and dispose of one of her fathers. But Baru is patient. She’ll swallow her hate, prove her talent, and join the Masquerade. She will learn the secrets of empire. She’ll be exactly what they need. And she’ll claw her way high enough up the rungs of power to set her people free.
In a final test of her loyalty, the Masquerade will send Baru to bring order to distant Aurdwynn, a snakepit of rebels, informants, and seditious dukes. Aurdwynn kills everyone who tries to rule it. To survive, Baru will need to untangle this land’s intricate web of treachery— and conceal her attraction to the dangerously fascinating Duchess Tain Hu.
But Baru is a savant in games of power, as ruthless in her tactics as she is fixated on her goals. In the calculus of her schemes, all ledgers must be balanced, and the price of liberation paid in full.
My Impression: I’ve been hearing about this book since I joined the online book community. This year I’m finally going to read it and see what all the fuss is about.
Polaris Rising by Jessie Mihalik
Summary: In the far distant future, the universe is officially ruled by the Royal Consortium, but the High Councillors, the heads of the three High Houses, wield the true power. As the fifth of six children, Ada von Hasenberg has no authority; her only value to her High House is as a pawn in a political marriage. When her father arranges for her to wed a noble from House Rockhurst, a man she neither wants nor loves, Ada seizes control of her own destiny. The spirited princess flees before the betrothal ceremony and disappears among the stars.
Ada eluded her father’s forces for two years, but now her luck has run out. To ensure she cannot escape again, the fiery princess is thrown into a prison cell with Marcus Loch. Known as the Devil of Fornax Zero, Loch is rumored to have killed his entire chain of command during the Fornax Rebellion, and the Consortium wants his head.
When the ship returning them to Earth is attacked by a battle cruiser from rival House Rockhurst, Ada realizes that if her jilted fiancé captures her, she’ll become a political prisoner and a liability to her House. Her only hope is to strike a deal with the dangerous fugitive: a fortune if he helps her escape.
But when you make a deal with an irresistibly attractive Devil, you may lose more than you bargained for…
My Impression: Honestly, I’m just interested in this book because it reminds me of Hanleia.
Sleeping Giants by Sylvain Neuvel
Summary: A girl named Rose is riding her new bike near home in Deadwood, South Dakota, when she falls through the earth. She wakes up at the bottom of a square-shaped hole, its walls glowing with intricate carvings. But the firemen who come to save her peer down upon something even stranger: a little girl in the palm of a giant metal hand.
Seventeen years later, the mystery of the bizarre artifact remains unsolved— the object’s origins, architects, and purpose unknown.
But some can never stop searching for answers.
Rose Franklin is now a highly trained physicist leading a top-secret team to crack the hand’s code. And along with her colleagues, she is being interviewed by a nameless interrogator whose power and purview are as enigmatic as the relic they seek. What’s clear is that Rose and her compatriots are on the edge of unravelling history’s most perplexing discovery— and finally figuring out what it portends for humanity. But once the pieces of the puzzle are in place, will the result be an instrument of lasting peace or a weapon of mass destruction?
My Impression: I’ve heard this series is good for people who liked The Illuminae Files. I didn’t like The Illuminae Files, but I liked the way it was told in a multimedia format. That’s what drew me to this book.
Empire of Sand by Tasha Suri
Summary: The Amrithi are outcasts; nomads descended of desert spirits, they are coveted and persecuted throughout the Empire for the power in their blood. Mehr is the illegitimate daughter of an imperial governor and an exiled Amrithi mother she can barely remember, but whose face and magic she has inherited.
When Mehr’s power comes to the attention of the Emperor’s most feared mystics, she must use every ounce of will, subtlety, and power she possesses to resist their cruel agenda.
Should she fail, the gods themselves may awaken seeking vengeance…
My Impression: I’ve heard nothing but fantastic things about Suri’s books. I absolutely love political intrigue and this novel sounds saturated with it. Hell yeah.
What are some backlist books you want to read this year? Tell me about them in the comments!
5 thoughts on “21 Books I Want to Read in 2021”
I hope you can get to all of these!
I really want to read The Ruin of Kings, Jade City, The Wolf of Oren-Yaro and Empire of Sands as well!
Gods of Jade and Shadow is one of my favourite reads!
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I’m so glad to hear you liked it! I’ve heard mostly good things so I’m super excited.
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