I love this time of year! It’s full of possibilities… and in this case, it means 2020 is officially behind us too. I’m trying not to have huge expectations for 2021, but I’m just hoping it’s even the littlest bit better than last year. At least we know there will be good books!
I’ve scoped out 10 books I’m most looking forward to reading, plus of course, some honorable mentions because it was really hard getting it down to just 10. These all look really promising — some interesting debuts and new stories from old favorites. I also put together a list of 5 reading goals for this year, mostly just to keep myself accountable. I really need to read my shelves, guys.
Okay, here are some of my most anticipated of the first half of the year:
Black Buck by Mateo Askaripour (Jan 5)
This is described as "hilarious, razor-sharp skewering of America’s workforce" and I’m already on the library waitlist — hopefully I get it quickly!
An unambitious twenty-two-year-old, Darren lives in a Bed-Stuy brownstone with his mother, who wants nothing more than to see him live up to his potential as the valedictorian of Bronx Science. But Darren is content working at Starbucks in the lobby of a Midtown office building, hanging out with his girlfriend, Soraya, and eating his mother’s home-cooked meals. All that changes when a chance encounter with Rhett Daniels, the silver-tongued CEO of Sumwun, NYC’s hottest tech startup, results in an exclusive invitation for Darren to join an elite sales team on the thirty-sixth floor.
After enduring a "hell week" of training, Darren, the only Black person in the company, reimagines himself as "Buck," a ruthless salesman unrecognizable to his friends and family. But when things turn tragic at home and Buck feels he’s hit rock bottom, he begins to hatch a plan to help young people of color infiltrate America’s sales force, setting off a chain of events that forever changes the game.
Bride of the Sea by Eman Quotah (Jan 26)
This debut sounds like an interesting look at cultures, religion and family.
During a snowy Cleveland February, newlywed university students Muneer and Saeedah are expecting their first child, and he is harboring a secret: the word divorce is whispering in his ear. Soon, their marriage will end, and Muneer will return to Saudi Arabia, while Saeedah remains in Cleveland with their daughter, Hanadi. Consumed by a growing fear of losing her daughter, Saeedah disappears with the little girl, leaving Muneer to desperately search for his daughter for years. The repercussions of the abduction ripple outward, not only changing the lives of Hanadi and her parents, but also their interwoven family and friends—those who must choose sides and hide their own deeply guarded secrets.
And when Hanadi comes of age, she finds herself at the center of this conflict, torn between the world she grew up in and a family across the ocean. How can she exist between parents, between countries?
The Four Winds by Kristin Hannah (Feb 2)
Texas, 1934. Millions are out of work and a drought has broken the Great Plains. Farmers are fighting to keep their land and their livelihoods as the crops are failing, the water is drying up, and dust threatens to bury them all. One of the darkest periods of the Great Depression, the Dust Bowl era, has arrived with a vengeance.
In this uncertain and dangerous time, Elsa Martinelli—like so many of her neighbors—must make an agonizing choice: fight for the land she loves or go west, to California, in search of a better life. The Four Winds is an indelible portrait of America and the American Dream, as seen through the eyes of one indomitable woman whose courage and sacrifice will come to define a generation.
The Kindest Lie by Nancy Johnson (Feb 9)
This novel is a multi-faceted look at motherhood, race and inequality, and it’s right in my wheelhouse. I already requested it from the library, too.
It’s 2008, and the rise of Barack Obama ushers in a new kind of hope. In Chicago, Ruth Tuttle, an Ivy-League educated black engineer, is married to a kind and successful man. He’s eager to start a family, but Ruth is uncertain. She has never gotten over the baby she gave birth to—and abandoned—when she was a teenager. She had promised her family she’d never look back, but Ruth knows that to move forward, she must make peace with the past.
Returning home, Ruth discovers the Indiana factory town of her youth is plagued by unemployment, racism, and despair. While her family is happy to see her, they remind her of the painful sacrifices to give Ruth a shot at a better future—like the comfortable middle-class life she now enjoys.
Determined, Ruth begins digging into the past. As she uncovers burning secrets her family desperately wants to hide, she unexpectedly befriends Midnight, a young white boy who is also adrift and looking for connection. When a traumatic incident strains the town’s already searing racial tensions, Ruth and Midnight find themselves on a collision course that could upend both their lives.
Firekeeper's Daughter by Angeline Boulley (March 2)
This is recommended for fans of There There, which I absolutely loved.
As a biracial, unenrolled tribal member and the product of a scandal, eighteen-year-old Daunis Fontaine has never quite fit in, both in her hometown and on the nearby Ojibwe reservation. Daunis dreams of studying medicine, but when her family is struck by tragedy, she puts her future on hold to care for her fragile mother.
The only bright spot is meeting Jamie, the charming new recruit on her brother Levi’s hockey team. Yet even as Daunis falls for Jamie, certain details don’t add up and she senses the dashing hockey star is hiding something. Everything comes to light when Daunis witnesses a shocking murder, thrusting her into the heart of a criminal investigation.
Reluctantly, Daunis agrees to go undercover, but secretly pursues her own investigation, tracking down the criminals with her knowledge of chemistry and traditional medicine. But the deceptions—and deaths—keep piling up and soon the threat strikes too close to home.
Now, Daunis must learn what it means to be a strong Anishinaabe kwe (Ojibwe woman) and how far she'll go to protect her community, even if it tears apart the only world she’s ever known.
Sparks Like Stars by Nadia Hashimi (March 2)
I often find myself drawn to stories set in the Middle East and this one just stood out to me.
Kabul, 1978: The daughter of a prominent family, Sitara Zamani lives a privileged life in Afghanistan’s thriving cosmopolitan capital. The 1970s are a time of remarkable promise under the leadership of people like Sardar Daoud, Afghanistan’s progressive president, and Sitara’s beloved father, his right-hand man. But the ten-year-old Sitara’s world is shattered when communists stage a coup, assassinating the president and Sitara’s entire family. Only she survives.
Smuggled out of the palace by a guard named Shair, Sitara finds her way to the home of a female American diplomat, who adopts her and raises her in America. In her new country, Sitara takes on a new name—Aryana Shepherd—and throws herself into her studies, eventually becoming a renowned surgeon. A survivor, Aryana has refused to look back, choosing instead to bury the trauma and devastating loss she endured.
New York, 2008: Forty years after that fatal night in Kabul, Aryana’s world is rocked again when an elderly patient appears in her examination room—a man she never expected to see again. It is Shair, the soldier who saved her, yet may have murdered her entire family. Seeing him awakens Aryana’s fury and desire for answers—and, perhaps, revenge. Realizing that she cannot go on without finding the truth, Aryana embarks on a quest that takes her back to Kabul—a battleground between the corrupt government and the fundamentalist Taliban—and through shadowy memories of the world she loved and lost.
Caul Baby by Morgan Jenkins (April 6)
I often think about Morgan Jenkins’ essay collection This Will Be My Undoing: Living at the Intersection of Black, Female, and Feminist in (White) America even though I read it almost two years ago. This is her fiction debut.
Laila desperately wants to become a mother, but each of her previous pregnancies has ended in heartbreak. This time has to be different, so she turns to the Melancons, an old and powerful Harlem family known for their caul, a precious layer of skin that is the secret source of their healing power.
When a deal for Laila to acquire a piece of caul falls through, she is heartbroken, but when the child is stillborn, she is overcome with grief and rage. What she doesn’t know is that a baby will soon be delivered in her family—by her niece, Amara, an ambitious college student—and delivered to the Melancons to raise as one of their own. Hallow is special: she’s born with a caul, and their matriarch, Maman, predicts the girl will restore the family’s prosperity.
Growing up, Hallow feels that something in her life is not right. Did Josephine, the woman she calls mother, really bring her into the world? Why does her cousin Helena get to go to school and roam the streets of New York freely while she’s confined to the family’s decrepit brownstone?
As the Melancons’ thirst to maintain their status grows, Amara, now a successful lawyer running for district attorney, looks for a way to avenge her longstanding grudge against the family. When mother and daughter cross paths, Hallow will be forced to decide where she truly belongs.
Aquarium by Yaara Shehori (April 13)
I took ASL in high school and have found myself drawn to stories about deaf people ever since. That being said, I’ve mostly found those stories in visual media (TV and movies), so I’m looking forward to reading a story about them.
Sisters Lili and Dori Ackerman are deaf. Their parents--beautiful, despondent Anna; fearsome and admired Alex--are deaf too. Alex, a scrap-metal collector and sometime prophet, opposes any attempts to integrate with the world of the hearing; to escape its destructive influence, the girls are educated at home. Deafness is no disability, their father says, but an alternative way of life, preferable by far to that of the strident, hypocritical hearing.
Lili and Dori grow up semi-feral, living in a world they have created together. Lili writes down everything that happens, just the facts. And Dori, the reader, follows her. On the block where the girls spend their childhood, the family is united against a hostile and alien world. They watch the hearing like they would fish in an aquarium.
But when the outside world intrudes, the cracks that begin to form will span the rest of their lives. Separated from the family that ingrained in them a sense of uniqueness and alienation, Lili and Dori must relearn how to live, and how to tell their own stories.
Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir (May 4)
And now we get into our "old favorites" section (three in a row!)... As you may recall, I did a rare re-read of The Martian last year, and it was just as great as it was the first time! I didn’t so much love Andy Weir’s Artemis, but I’m convinced it’s because he just doesn’t write women well. Thankfully, his newest novel has a male protagonist. I’m hoping for the best!
Ryland Grace is the sole survivor on a desperate, last-chance mission--and if he fails, humanity and the earth itself will perish.
Except that right now, he doesn't know that. He can't even remember his own name, let alone the nature of his assignment or how to complete it.
All he knows is that he's been asleep for a very, very long time. And he's just been awakened to find himself millions of miles from home, with nothing but two corpses for company.
His crewmates dead, his memories fuzzily returning, he realizes that an impossible task now confronts him. Alone on this tiny ship that's been cobbled together by every government and space agency on the planet and hurled into the depths of space, it's up to him to conquer an extinction-level threat to our species.
And thanks to an unexpected ally, he just might have a chance.
Malibu Rising by Taylor Jenkins Reid (May 25)
I loved Evelyn Hugo and was slightly disappointed in Daisy Jones, so I’m really hoping for another home run from TJR.
Four famous siblings throw an epic party to celebrate the end of the summer. But over the course of twenty-four hours, their lives will change forever.
Malibu: August 1983. It's the day of Nina Riva's annual end-of-summer party, and anticipation is at a fever pitch. Everyone wants to be around the famous Rivas: Nina, the talented surfer and supermodel; brothers Jay and Hud, one a championship surfer, the other a renowned photographer; and their adored baby sister, Kit. Together the siblings are a source of fascination in Malibu and the world over--especially as the offspring of the legendary singer Mick Riva.
The only person not looking forward to the party of the year is Nina herself, who never wanted to be the center of attention, and who has also just been very publicly abandoned by her pro tennis player husband. Oh, and maybe Hud--because it is long past time for him to confess something to the brother from whom he's been inseparable since birth.
Jay, on the other hand, is counting the minutes until nightfall, when the girl he can't stop thinking about promised she'll be there.
And Kit has a couple secrets of her own--including a guest she invited without consulting anyone.
By midnight the party will be completely out of control. By morning, the Riva mansion will have gone up in flames. But before that first spark in the early hours before dawn, the alcohol will flow, the music will play, and the loves and secrets that shaped this family's generations will all come bubbling to the surface.
One Last Stop by Casey McQuiston (June 1)
First of all, I LOVED Red, White & Royal Blue when I read it last summer. Second of all, there’s time travel in this one! If you didn’t know, I can’t resist a time travel story. I’m beyond excited for this one to come out!
For cynical twenty-three-year-old August, moving to New York City is supposed to prove her right: that things like magic and cinematic love stories don’t exist, and the only smart way to go through life is alone. She can’t imagine how waiting tables at a 24-hour pancake diner and moving in with too many weird roommates could possibly change that. And there’s certainly no chance of her subway commute being anything more than a daily trudge through boredom and electrical failures.
But then, there’s this gorgeous girl on the train.
Jane. Dazzling, charming, mysterious, impossible Jane. Jane with her rough edges and swoopy hair and soft smile, showing up in a leather jacket to save August’s day when she needed it most. August’s subway crush becomes the best part of her day, but pretty soon, she discovers there’s one big problem: Jane doesn’t just look like an old school punk rocker. She’s literally displaced in time from the 1970s, and August is going to have to use everything she tried to leave in her own past to help her. Maybe it’s time to start believing in some things, after all.
Now, my 2021 reading goals:
Read 72 books, including at least half from my shelf
I read 72 books last year, when I definitely didn’t think I could, so I’m optimistic I can do it again this time around. The twist is that I want to read those pesky unread books on my shelves — I currently have 64! So, I’m making it a goal to read at least half of my overall reading goal from my own shelves, which even with book clubs and new releases, I’m hoping is doable.
Keep track of how much money I saved by using the library
You may or may not know, but I’m a huge library fan. Last year, my library started showing you how much you saved by using the library when you get your checkout receipt. They don’t, sadly, give you a grand total at the end of the year (I asked), so I’m going to track it myself. The library is almost always my first go-to for new books — I try to minimize my book buying, even though it may not seem like it — so I’m really hoping for a shockingly big number!
Improve my NetGalley percentage
I started 2021 with a 70%, and if I’m being honest, I don’t think I’ve ever been higher than 75% since joining. (There are too many tempting books!) But, I want to get to the coveted 85%, which supposedly makes you more likely to get requests. That means I need to read at least 6 of my unread books without requesting more — wish me luck!
Actually read my most-anticipated books!
Even though I make these most anticipated lists twice a year, I usually don’t get around to reading them all, and sometimes barely any (yikes!), so this year I’m hoping to change that. I’m not committing to reading the honorable mentions, though if that happens too, all the better.
Read at least two 500+ page nonfiction books
I’m really excited for this one! I am currently doing a readalong of A People’s History of the United States with my good friend Deanna. We’re reading one chapter a week — there are conveniently 25 chapters — which will take us to the end of June. We’re finishing each chapter by Friday and then finding time over the weekend to discuss. We’re hoping this helps us retain more of the content, but it’s also a nice bonus for us to keep up communication since we’re long-distance now. For the second half of the year, we’ll probably dive into The Warmth of Other Suns, but that’s not yet set in stone.
What are some of your most anticipated reads for the year?
Any reading goals you’d like to share?
Top Ten Tuesday is an original weekly blog meme that was created at The Broke and the Bookish but is now hosted over at The Artsy Reader Girl. I participate about once a month, but each week there is a fun new bookish topic for bloggers to create literary lists about. If you’d like to know more about it, check it out here.
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