The Pond’s 32 Most Anticipated Books of 2021 (January – June)

The Pond's 32 Most Anticipated Books of 2021 (January – June)

We can feel it in our bones: 2021 is going to be an amazing reading year.

The beginning of the year feels like such an exciting time. There are so many books to look forward to this year, so many of which we are excited to read and whether we end up liking it or not – well, the anticipation feels so good.

When we scoured through our spreadsheet, looking for books releasing in 2021 to feature in our The Pond’s Most Anticipated Books list, we were stumped. We had a hard time featuring a list-sensible number of books (my own list included over 30 books!) – there were just so many exciting books to look forward to! (In saying that, this list was incredibly difficult list to put together, and we are looking forward to many books not included in this list as well!)

This year, the three of us at the Pond decided to do a joint post (rather than last year’s individual posts). Moreover, because there were just so many books that we wanted to read, we have decided to split our Most Anticipated Books post in two – today’s post is for books releasing between January to June, and the second post – which we will publish sometime in June or July! – will cover books releasing from July to December!

We also decided to do something new today: we launched our own Bookshop shop! If any of the books that we talk about today interest you, please consider pre-ordering via our Bookshop! Therefore, all of our Bookshop links are affiliate links, and we receive a small earning, which will help pay for our yearly website fee!

Without further ado, here are our most anticipated books of January to July 2021!

CW’s Most Anticipated Books

Wings of Ebony by J.Elle

“Make a way out of no way” is just the way of life for Rue. But when her mother is shot dead on her doorstep, life for her and her younger sister changes forever. Rue’s taken from her neighborhood by the father she never knew, forced to leave her little sister behind, and whisked away to Ghizon—a hidden island of magic wielders.

Rue is the only half-god, half-human there, where leaders protect their magical powers at all costs and thrive on human suffering. Miserable and desperate to see her sister on the anniversary of their mother’s death, Rue breaks Ghizon’s sacred Do Not Leave Law and returns to Houston, only to discover that Black kids are being forced into crime and violence. And her sister, Tasha, is in danger of falling sway to the very forces that claimed their mother’s life.

Worse still, evidence mounts that the evil plaguing East Row is the same one that lurks in Ghizon—an evil that will stop at nothing until it has stolen everything from her and everyone she loves. Rue must embrace her true identity and wield the full magnitude of her ancestors’ power to save her neighborhood before the gods burn it to the ground.

Read the blurb and then tell me: how awesome does this book sound? (Very awesome!) I’m a huge fan of urban fantasies with a magical world tucked away somewhere and stories with magic that takes a life of its own. Wings of Ebony sounds like a story that I will love, and I cannot wait to meet Rue and go on a life-changing journey with her as she discovers and comes into her power. I also have J.Elle visiting the Pond to talk about Wings of Ebony so my excitement for this book has unsurprisingly increased tenfold.

Goodreads | Indiebound | Bookshop | Amazon

Yesterday is History by Kosoko Jackson

Weeks ago, Andre Cobb received a much-needed liver transplant.

He’s ready for his life to finally begin, until one night, when he passes out and wakes up somewhere totally unexpected…in 1969, where he connects with a magnetic boy named Michael.

And then, just as suddenly as he arrived, he slips back to present-day Boston, where the family of his donor is waiting to explain that his new liver came with a side effect—the ability to time travel. And they’ve tasked their youngest son, Blake, with teaching Andre how to use his unexpected new gift.

Andre splits his time bouncing between the past and future. Between Michael and Blake. Michael is everything Andre wishes he could be, and Blake, still reeling from the death of his brother, Andre’s donor, keeps him at arm’s length despite their obvious attraction to each other.

Torn between two boys, one in the past and one in the present, Andre has to figure out where he belongs—and more importantly who he wants to be—before the consequences of jumping in time catch up to him and change his future for good.

I learned of this book only in December, but when I read the synopsis, I was a goner – because everything about this synopsis aches and that’s why I need it. I genuinely love time travel romances, love the introspection and yearning that comes with it, so I’m really looking forward to reading about this queer fantasy. (Also, I cannot wait to share the awesome interview that I did with Kosoko with you all next month!)

Goodreads | Indiebound | Bookshop | Amazon

The Infinity Courts by Akemi Dawn Bowman

Eighteen-year-old Nami Miyamoto is certain her life is just beginning. She has a great family, just graduated high school, and is on her way to a party where her entire class is waiting for her—including, most importantly, the boy she’s been in love with for years.

The only problem? She’s murdered before she gets there.

When Nami wakes up, she learns she’s in a place called Infinity, where human consciousness goes when physical bodies die. She quickly discovers that Ophelia, a virtual assistant widely used by humans on Earth, has taken over the afterlife and is now posing as a queen, forcing humans into servitude the way she’d been forced to serve in the real world. Even worse, Ophelia is inching closer and closer to accomplishing her grand plans of eradicating human existence once and for all.

As Nami works with a team of rebels to bring down Ophelia and save the humans under her imprisonment, she is forced to reckon with her past, her future, and what it is that truly makes us human.
From award-winning author Akemi Dawn Bowman comes an incisive, action-packed tale that explores big questions about technology, grief, love, and humanity.

This may sound weird, but I really love stories that take place in the afterlife. The idea of this in-between space where people can reflect on their lives and find peace is just so… strangely appealing yet heartrendering to me. So I’m really, really intrigued to read The Infinity Courts, which sounds like a San Junipero-gone-terribly-wrong and I cannot wait to see where Akemi will take us in this story.

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Witches Steeped in Gold by Ciannon Smart

Divided by their castes. United by their vengeance.

Iraya has spent her life in a cell, but every day brings her closer to freedom—and vengeance.

Jazmyne is the queen’s daughter, but unlike her sister before her, she has no intention of dying to strengthen her mother’s power.

Sworn enemies, these two witches enter a precarious alliance to take down a mutual threat. But revenge is a bloody pursuit, and nothing is certain—except the lengths they will go to win this game.

Deadly, fierce, magnetically addictive: this Jamaican-inspired fantasy debut is a thrilling journey where dangerous magic reigns supreme and betrayal lurks beneath every word.

I love any story that explores intimate relationships, but I also love stories about enemies-to-allies – especially when it’s a story about two morally-grey witches on the path of revenge. I’m incredibly intrigued by this story, fascinated to learn about the dangerous magic alluded in the synopsis and I can’t wait for my heart to be wrung by this book.

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The Forest of Stolen Girls by June Hur

Hwani’s family has never been the same since she and her younger sister went missing and were later found unconscious in the forest, near a gruesome crime scene. The only thing they remember: Their captor wore a painted-white mask.

To escape the haunting memories of this incident, the family flees their hometown. Years later, Detective Min—Hwani’s father—learns that thirteen girls have recently disappeared under similar circumstances, and so he returns to their hometown to investigate… only to vanish as well.

Determined to find her father and solve the case that tore their family apart, Hwani returns home to pick up the trail. As she digs into the secrets of the small village—and reconnects with her now estranged sister—Hwani comes to realize that the answer lies within her own buried memories of what happened in the forest all those years ago. 

I genuinely love that June is giving us all the historical thrillers set in Korea and after reading her immaculate and thoughtful debut, A Silence of Bones, I cannot wait to read The Forest of Stolen Girls. Honestly, The Forest of Stolen Girls sounds incredibly intriguing and a little terrifying, but I cannot wait to read and fall into this story’s mystery.

Goodreads | Indiebound | Bookshop | Amazon

Counting Down With You by Tashie Bhuiyan

Karina Ahmed has a plan. Keep her head down, get through high school without a fuss, and follow her parents’ rules—even if it means sacrificing her dreams. When her parents go abroad to Bangladesh for four weeks, Karina expects some peace and quiet. Instead, one simple lie unravels everything.

Karina is my girlfriend.

Tutoring the school’s resident bad boy was already crossing a line. Pretending to date him? Out of the question. But Ace Clyde does everything right—he brings her coffee in the mornings, impresses her friends without trying, and even promises to buy her a dozen books (a week) if she goes along with his fake-dating facade. Though Karina agrees, she can’t help but start counting down the days until her parents come back.

T-minus twenty-eight days until everything returns to normal—but what if Karina no longer wants it to?

I’ll admit: I’m biased because we did the exclusive cover reveal for Counting Down With You, but let’s be honest: I am literally counting… down… (the days)… with you (all… to read this…) 👉😎👉 Awful jokes aside, based on the excerpt that we helped share in the cover reveal and another snippet of the story that I had the honour of reading, I think I’m going to love this gorgeous and cute romance.

Goodreads | Indiebound | Bookshop | Amazon

Meet Cute Diary by Emery Lee

Noah Ramirez thinks he’s an expert on romance. He has to be for his popular blog, the Meet Cute Diary, a collection of trans happily ever afters. There’s just one problem—all the stories are fake. What started as the fantasies of a trans boy afraid to step out of the closet has grown into a beacon of hope for trans readers across the globe.

When a troll exposes the blog as fiction, Noah’s world unravels. The only way to save the Diary is to convince everyone that the stories are true, but he doesn’t have any proof. Then Drew walks into Noah’s life, and the pieces fall into place: Drew is willing to fake-date Noah to save the Diary. But when Noah’s feelings grow beyond their staged romance, he realizes that dating in real life isn’t quite the same as finding love on the page.

In this charming novel by Emery Lee, Noah will have to choose between following his own rules for love or discovering that the most romantic endings are the ones that go off script. 

Listen: I’ve been looking forward to Emery’s book for years. I’ve had the honour to have known Emery for a long time and have followed eir writing journey for as long as I’ve known him. And look! Paired with such a cute cover (I just love the summer romance feels from this book). Meet Cute Diary sounds absolutely delightful and I am incredibly excited to read this and whatever Emery may write in the future.

Goodreads | Indiebound | Bookshop | Amazon

The Shape of Thunder by Jasmine Warga

Cora hasn’t spoken to her best friend, Quinn, in a year.

Despite living next door to each other, they exist in separate worlds of grief. Cora is still grappling with the death of her beloved sister in a school shooting, and Quinn is carrying the guilt of what her brother did.

On the day of Cora’s twelfth birthday, Quinn leaves a box on her doorstep with a note. She has decided that the only way to fix things is to go back in time to the moment before her brother changed all their lives forever—and stop him.

In spite of herself, Cora wants to believe. And so the two former friends begin working together to open a wormhole in the fabric of the universe. But as they attempt to unravel the mysteries of time travel to save their siblings, they learn that the magic of their friendship may actually be the key to saving themselves.

After reading Other Words for Home, I vowed that I would read literally any book that Jasmine Warga wrote – so I cannot wait for The Shape of Thunder. I don’t know much about this book (as in, I haven’t read it yet!), but all I know is that The Shape of Thunder sounds extraordinary and moving, and I cannot wait to fall back in to Warga’s sublime prose.

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Off the Record by Camryn Garrett

Ever since seventeen-year-old Josie Wright can remember, writing has been her identity, the thing that grounds her when everything else is a garbage fire. So when she wins a contest to write a celebrity profile for Deep Focus magazine, she’s equal parts excited and scared, but also ready. She’s got this.

Soon Josie is jetting off on a multi-city tour, rubbing elbows with sparkly celebrities, frenetic handlers, stone-faced producers, and eccentric stylists. She even finds herself catching feelings for the subject of her profile, dazzling young newcomer Marius Canet. Josie’s world is expanding so rapidly, she doesn’t know whether she’s flying or falling. But when a young actress lets her in on a terrible secret, the answer is clear: she’s in over her head.

One woman’s account leads to another and another. Josie wants to expose the man responsible, but she’s reluctant to speak up, unsure if this is her story to tell. What if she lets down the women who have entrusted her with their stories? What if this ends her writing career before it even begins? There are so many reasons not to go ahead, but if Josie doesn’t step up, who will?

This should come as no surprise to anyone, seeing as I am a huge fan and advocate for Camryn’s first book, Full Disclosure. Her next book though, Off the Record, sounds like the sort of book that can change the world and literary landscape. I can’t wait to read this book, can’t wait to meet Josie, and be marveled by Camryn’s stellar storytelling and wonderful characters.

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Made in Korea by Sarah Suk

There’s nothing Valerie Kwon loves more than making a good sale. Together with her cousin Charlie, they run V&C K-BEAUTY, their school’s most successful student-run enterprise. With each sale, Valerie gets closer to taking her beloved and adventurous halmeoni to her dream city, Paris.

Enter the new kid in class, Wes Jung, who is determined to pursue music after graduation despite his parents’ major disapproval. When his classmates clamor to buy the K-pop branded beauty products his mom gave him to “make new friends,” he sees an opportunity—one that may be the key to help him pay for the music school tuition he knows his parents won’t cover…

What he doesn’t realize, though, is that he is now V&C K-BEAUTY’s biggest competitor.

Stakes are high as Valerie and Wes try to outsell each other, make the most money, and take the throne for the best business in school—all while trying to resist the undeniable spark that’s crackling between them. From hiring spies to all-or-nothing bets, the competition is much more than either of them bargained for.

But one thing is clear: only one Korean business can come out on top.

Look, give me all the Asian romances. ALL OF THEM. Made in Korea sounds so, so good, and I love that it’s set against a business competition between two ambitious Korean teens. I love a good rivals-to-lovers story and I cannot wait to meet Valerie and Wes and see all the shenanigans unfold.

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Hani and Ishu’s Guide to Fake Dating by Adiba Jaigirdar

Everyone likes Humaira “Hani” Khan—she’s easy going and one of the most popular girls at school. But when she comes out to her friends as bisexual, they invalidate her identity, saying she can’t be bi if she’s only dated guys. Panicked, Hani blurts out that she’s in a relationship…with a girl her friends absolutely hate—Ishita “Ishu” Dey. Ishu is the complete opposite of Hani. She’s an academic overachiever who hopes that becoming head girl will set her on the right track for college. But Ishita agrees to help Hani, if Hani will help her become more popular so that she stands a chance of being elected head girl.

Despite their mutually beneficial pact, they start developing real feelings for each other. But relationships are complicated, and some people will do anything to stop two Bengali girls from achieving happily ever after. 

I absolutely loved Adiba’s debut, The Henna Wars, so I’m inevitably excited to read Hani and Ishu’s Guide to Fake Dating as well! (And look at that cover – isn’t it gorgeous?) I love that we’re seeing more queer Asian stories, especially between two brown Bengali girls, and the fake dating in this sounds delicious and fun as well. This is going to be glorious and so much fun, and I cannot wait.

Goodreads | Indiebound | Bookshop | Amazon

The Darkness Outside Us by Eliot Schrefer

Two boys, alone in space.

After the first settler on Titan trips her distress signal, neither remaining country on Earth can afford to scramble a rescue of its own, and so two sworn enemies are installed in the same spaceship.

Ambrose wakes up on the Coordinated Endeavor, with no memory of a launch. There’s more that doesn’t add up: Evidence indicates strangers have been on board, the ship’s operating system is voiced by his mother, and his handsome, brooding shipmate has barricaded himself away. But nothing will stop Ambrose from making his mission succeed—not when he’s rescuing is his own sister.

In order to survive the ship’s secrets, Ambrose and Kodiak will need to work together and learn to trust one another… especially once they discover what they are truly up against. Love might be the only way to survive. 

When I first learned of The Darkness Outside Us right to the top of my most anticipated list. I love books set in space; I love books with a bit of mystery and danger that bring two people together; and I love books romantic stories with a science-fiction context. The Darkness Outside Us sounds absolutely brilliant, and I truly cannot wait to read this.

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Gearbreakers by Zoe Hana Mikuta

We went past praying to deities and started to build them instead...

The shadow of Godolia’s tyrannical rule is spreading, aided by their giant mechanized weapons known as Windups. War and oppression are everyday constants for the people of the Badlands, who live under the thumb of their cruel Godolia overlords.

Eris Shindanai is a Gearbreaker, a brash young rebel who specializes in taking down Windups from the inside. When one of her missions goes awry and she finds herself in a Godolia prison, Eris meets Sona Steelcrest, a cybernetically enhanced Windup pilot. At first Eris sees Sona as her mortal enemy, but Sona has a secret: She has intentionally infiltrated the Windup program to destroy Godolia from within.

As the clock ticks down to their deadliest mission yet, a direct attack to end Godolia’s reign once and for all, Eris and Sona grow closer–as comrades, friends, and perhaps something more…

I’ve been excited for Gearbreakers for as long as I remember. Pacific Rim, for all its faults, was so formative to me as a young adult, so I’m thrilled that it’s finally releasing this year. Look: queer Asian girls, front and center, looking incredibly powerful, confident, and so gorgeous. I’m also so excited for how this story blends mecha science-fiction and fantasy together and to meet Eris and Sona.

Goodreads | Indiebound | Bookshop | Amazon

Skye’s Most Anticipated Books

Root Magic by Eden Royce

It’s 1963, and things are changing for Jezebel Turner. Her beloved grandmother has just passed away. The local police deputy won’t stop harassing her family. With school integration arriving in South Carolina, Jez and her twin brother, Jay, are about to begin the school year with a bunch of new kids. But the biggest change comes when Jez and Jay turn eleven—and their uncle, Doc, tells them he’s going train them in rootwork.

Jez and Jay have always been fascinated by the African American folk magic that has been the legacy of her family for generations—especially the curious potions and powders Doc and Gran would make for the people on their island. But Jez soon finds out that her family’s true power goes far beyond small charms and elixirs…and not a moment too soon. Because when evil both natural and supernatural comes to show itself in town, it’s going to take every bit of the magic she has inside her to see her through.

This adorable middle-grade fantasy has me absolutely smitten with its premise and the cover! I have such a soft spot for magic that’s based on folklore and myths, especially from cultures that we don’t typically get to read about. This one is already released, so I’m very much looking forward to getting my hands on a copy soon!

Goodreads | Indiebound | Bookshop | Amazon

What Big Teeth by Rose Szabo

Eleanor has not seen or spoken with her family in years, not since they sent her away to Saint Brigid’s boarding school. She knows them only as vague memories: her grandfather’s tremendous fanged snout, the barrel full of water her mother always soaked in, and strange hunting trips in a dark wood with her sister and cousins. And she remembers the way they looked at her, like she was the freak.

When Eleanor finally finds the courage to confront her family and return to their ancestral home on the rainy coast of Maine, she finds them already gathered in wait, seemingly ready to welcome her back with open arms. “I read this in the cards,” her grandmother tells her. However, Grandma Persephone doesn’t see all, for just as Eleanor is beginning to readjust to the life she always longed for, a strange and sudden death rocks the family, leaving Eleanor to manage this difficult new dynamic without help.

In order to keep the family that abandoned her from falling apart, Eleanor calls upon her mysterious other grandmother, Grandmere, from across the sea. Grandmere brings order to the chaotic household, but that order soon turns to tyranny. If any of them are to survive, Eleanor must embrace her strange family and join forces with the ghost of Grandma Persephone to confront the monstrousness lurking deep within her Grandmere-and herself.

I love myself a dark retelling of good old fairytale, especially one told from the perspective of the villain, and one involving… werewolves. 👀 This looks like it’s going to be a haunting and delicious tale of monstrous girls and dysfunctional family relationships, and I absolutely cannot wait to devour it whole.

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The Mirror Season by Anna-Marie McLemore

When two teens discover that they were both sexually assaulted at the same party, they develop a cautious friendship through her family’s possibly-magical pastelería, his secret forest of otherworldly trees, and the swallows returning to their hometown, in Anna-Marie McLemore’s The Mirror Season

Graciela Cristales’ whole world changes after she and a boy she barely knows are assaulted at the same party. She loses her gift for making enchanted pan dulce. Neighborhood trees vanish overnight, while mirrored glass appears, bringing reckless magic with it. And Ciela is haunted by what happened to her, and what happened to the boy whose name she never learned.

But when the boy, Lock, shows up at Ciela’s school, he has no memory of that night, and no clue that a single piece of mirrored glass is taking his life apart. Ciela decides to help him, which means hiding the truth about that night. Because Ciela knows who assaulted her, and him. And she knows that her survival, and his, depend on no one finding out what really happened. 

My first Anna-Marie McLemore book was last year’s Miss Meteor, co-written with Tehlor Kay Mejia, and friends. Friends. I get it now. I am so deeply in love with how Anna weaves magical realism into their tales of teens growing up and figuring themselves out, and the synopsis of this book already feels so… tender. Trauma, sexual assault, and healing are such raw and vulnerable topics to explore in YA literature, but I have so much faith in the author to treat the themes and characters with their signature care and love.

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The Ones We’re Meant to Find by Joan He

Cee awoke on an abandoned island three years ago. With no idea of how she was marooned, she only has a rickety house, an old android, and a single memory: she has a sister, and Cee needs to find her.

STEM prodigy Kasey wants escape from the science and home she once trusted. The eco-city—Earth’s last unpolluted place—is meant to be sanctuary for those committed to planetary protection, but it’s populated by people willing to do anything for refuge, even lie. Now, she’ll have to decide if she’s ready to use science to help humanity, even though it failed the people who mattered most. 

Look, I swoon every time I see this cover, okay. The raging ocean, the two sisters and their intimacy, the blushing skies… I haven’t been able to sit down and fully read through Descendant of the Crane yet, but I know how beloved its reception was among its readers—and I’m so very curious to see where Joan He will go with this sci-fi tale about climate change and two estranged sisters finding their way back to each other.

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Sorrowland by Rivers Solomon

Vern – seven months pregnant and desperate to escape the strict religious compound where she was raised – flees for the shelter of the woods. There, she gives birth to twins, and plans to raise them far from the influence of the outside world.

But even in the forest, Vern is a hunted woman. Forced to fight back against the community that refuses to let her go, she unleashes incredible brutality far beyond what a person should be capable of, her body wracked by inexplicable and uncanny changes.

To understand her metamorphosis and to protect her small family, Vern has to face the past, and more troublingly, the future – outside the woods. Finding the truth will mean uncovering the secrets of the compound she fled but also the violent history in America that produced it.

Rivers Solomon’s Sorrowland is a genre-bending work of Gothic fiction. Here, monsters aren’t just individuals, but entire nations. It is a searing, seminal book that marks the arrival of a bold, unignorable voice in American fiction.

It’s no secret that Rivers Solomon is a visionary in the world of speculative fiction, and their latest novel looks to be an absolutely haunting tale about trauma, motherhood, and transformation. I absolutely adore gothic fiction, especially when it’s wielded in the hands of writers who get to turn the genre on its head, and reveal who the real monsters in our society are. I am anticipating this to be a heavier read than what I usually reach for, but I am so very ready.

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Black Water Sister by Zen Cho

As Jessamyn packs for Malaysia, it’s not a good time to start hearing a bossy voice in her head. Broke, jobless and just graduated, she’s abandoning America to return ‘home’. But she last saw Malaysia as a toddler – and is completely unprepared for its ghosts, gods and her eccentric family’s shenanigans.

Jess soon learns her ‘voice’ belongs to Ah Ma, her late grandmother. She worshipped the Black Water Sister, a local deity. And when a business magnate dared to offend her goddess, Ah Ma swore revenge. Now she’s decided Jess will help, whether she wants to or not.

As Ah Ma blackmails Jess into compliance, Jess fights to retain control. But her irrepressible relative isn’t going to let a little thing like death stop her, when she can simply borrow Jess’s body to make mischief. As Jess is drawn ever deeper into a world of peril and family secrets, getting a job becomes the least of her worries.

Sometimes you don’t want to be swept away to faraway fantastical lands that exist beyond the world you know. Sometimes you want to get into a story that’s set here, in your backyard, peeling away layers of reality to reveal what you already know: of course ghosts and deities exist, and of course a spirit medium grandmother would possess the body of her granddaughter to settle old debts—ones involving gangs and family secrets and offended gods. I can’t express how thrilled I was to discover Zen Cho’s stories last year, starting with The Order of the Pure Moon Reflected in Water, how gratifying it was to read books that draw inspiration from Malaysian culture and settings I’m already familiar with—just with a touch of the fantastic. I am so excited for this book.

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Down Comes the Night by Allison Saft

Wren Southerland’s reckless use of magic has cost her everything: she’s been dismissed from the Queen’s Guard and separated from her best friend—the girl she loves. So when a letter arrives from a reclusive lord, asking Wren to come to his estate, Colwick Hall, to cure his servant from a mysterious illness, she seizes her chance to redeem herself.

The mansion is crumbling, icy winds haunt the caved-in halls, and her eccentric host forbids her from leaving her room after dark. Worse, Wren’s patient isn’t a servant at all but Hal Cavendish, the infamous Reaper of Vesria and her kingdom’s sworn enemy. Hal also came to Colwick Hall for redemption, but the secrets in the estate may lead to both of their deaths.

With sinister forces at work, Wren and Hal realize they’ll have to join together if they have any hope of saving their kingdoms. But as Wren circles closer to the nefarious truth behind Hal’s illness, they realize they have no escape from the monsters within the mansion. All they have is each other, and a startling desire that could be their downfall.

I had the pleasure of reading this eerie gothic fantasy early, and friends, I was absolutely knocked out by the sheer amount of heartache and YEARNING that this book contains. This is a queer fantasy with a bisexual protagonist, who falls in love with both a girl and a boy (!!!) over the course of the book. But don’t be fooled: its romance is lovely, but its plot is also a tense song-and-dance between a mysterious illness, two kingdoms on the verge of war, and a crumbling mansion housing secrets and dangerous enemies that only emerge in the dark. This was such a solid, solid debut, and I am anxiously awaiting the day it releases so I can yell about it to literally the rest of the world.

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Darling by K. Ancrum

A teen girl finds herself lost on a dangerous adventure in this YA thriller by the acclaimed author of The Wicker King and The Weight of the Stars—reimagining Peter Pan for today’s world.

On Wendy Darling’s first night in Chicago, a boy called Peter appears at her window. He’s dizzying, captivating, beautiful—so she agrees to join him for a night on the town.

Wendy thinks they’re heading to a party, but instead they’re soon running in the city’s underground. She makes friends—a punk girl named Tinkerbelle and the lost boys Peter watches over. And she makes enemies—the terrifying Detective Hook, and maybe Peter himself, as his sinister secrets start coming to light. Can Wendy find the courage to survive this night—and make sure everyone else does, too?

I… I don’t know how to describe this book. I write this having finished it in the wee hours of last night, and I am still… trying to process what the hell I just read. Let me give you the elevator pitch: this is a contemporary thriller retelling of Peter Pan, featuring Wendy Darling as a Black girl who has just moved to Chicago from the suburbs with her family. Her mother is seemingly terrified of the subway for no real reason, there are rumors of unexplained murder—and the very first night she’s there, a strange boy slips into her room uninvited. What ensues is a whirlwind of a night as she follows the enigmatic Peter and his friends to a party across the city, with several shenanigans in between; all the while an inexplicable sinister tension simmers among the group, just out of reach. I know this all sounds like a perfectly normal book pitch, but make absolutely no mistake: this book is the most terrifying thing I have ever read. I was so stressed during the last few chapters, and my heart still has not recovered. If you love K. Ancrum’s signature writing stylings and thriller-mysteries, I assure you this is going to be one of the best books you read this year.

Goodreads | Indiebound | Bookshop | Amazon

Joce’s Most Anticipated Books

Seven Days in June by Tia Williams

Seven days to fall in love, fifteen years to forget and seven days to get it all back again… From the author of The Perfect Find, this is a witty, romantic, and sexy-as-hell new novel of two writers and their second chance at love.
Brooklynite Eva Mercy is a single mom and bestselling erotica writer, who is feeling pressed from all sides. Shane Hall is a reclusive, enigmatic, award-winning literary author who, to everyone’s surprise, shows up in New York.

When Shane and Eva meet unexpectedly at a literary event, sparks fly, raising not only their past buried traumas, but the eyebrows of New York’s Black literati. What no one knows is that twenty years earlier, teenage Eva and Shane spent one crazy, torrid week madly in love. They may be pretending that everything is fine now, but they can’t deny their chemistry-or the fact that they’ve been secretly writing to each other in their books ever since.

Over the next seven days in the middle of a steamy Brooklyn summer, Eva and Shane reconnect, but Eva’s not sure how she can trust the man who broke her heart, and she needs to get him out of New York so that her life can return to normal. But before Shane disappears again, there are a few questions she needs answered. . .

Goodreads | Indiebound | Bookshop | Amazon

The Comeback: A Figure Skating Novel by E.L. Shen

Twelve-year-old Maxine Chen is just trying to nail that perfect landing: on the ice, in middle school, and at home, where her parents worry that competitive skating is too much pressure for a budding tween. Maxine isn’t concerned, however–she’s determined to glide to victory. But then a bully at school starts teasing Maxine for her Chinese heritage, leaving her stunned and speechless. And at the rink, she finds herself up against a stellar new skater named Hollie, whose grace and skill threaten to edge Maxine out of the competition. With everything she knows on uneven ice, will Maxine crash under the pressure? Or can she power her way to a comeback?

Set in Lake Placid, New York, this is a spunky yet stirring middle-grade story that examines racism, female rivalry and friendship, and the enduring and universal necessity of love and support. 

Goodreads | Indiebound | Bookshop | Amazon

Incense and Sensibility by Sonali Dev

Yash Raje, California’s first serious Indian gubernatorial candidate, has always known exactly what he wants—and how to use his privileged background to get it. He attributes his success to a simple mantra: control your feelings and you can control the world.

But when a hate-fueled incident at a rally critically injures his friend, Yash’s easy life suddenly feels like a lie, his control an illusion. When he tries to get back on the campaign trail, he blacks out with panic.

Desperate to keep Yash’s condition from leaking to the media, his family turns to the one person they trust—his sister’s best friend, India Dashwood, California’s foremost stress management coach. Raised by a family of yoga teachers, India has helped San Francisco’s high strung overachievers for a decade without so much as altering her breath. But this man—with his boundless ambition, simmering intensity, and absolute faith in his political beliefs—is like no other. Yash has spent a lifetime repressing everything to succeed.

Including their one magical night ten years ago—a too brief, too bright passion that if rekindled threatens the life he’s crafted for himself. Exposing the secrets might be the only way to save him but it’s also guaranteed to destroy the dream he’s willingly shouldered for his family and community . . . until now.

Goodreads | Indiebound | Amazon

Cool for the Summer by Dahlia Adler

Lara’s had eyes for exactly one person throughout her three years of high school: Chase Harding. He’s tall, strong, sweet, a football star, and frankly, stupid hot. Oh, and he’s talking to her now. On purpose and everything. Maybe…flirting, even? No, wait, he’s definitely flirting, which is pretty much the sum of everything Lara’s wanted out of life.

Except she’s haunted by a memory. A memory of a confusing, romantic, strangely perfect summer spent with a girl named Jasmine. A memory that becomes a confusing, disorienting present when Jasmine herself walks through the front doors of the school to see Lara and Chase chatting it up in front of the lockers.

Lara has everything she ever wanted: a tight-knit group of friends, a job that borders on cool, and Chase, the boy of her literal dreams. But if she’s finally got the guy, why can’t she stop thinking about the girl?

Goodreads | Indiebound | Bookshop | Amazon

Careless Whispers by Synithia Williams

Elaina Robidoux knows how people view her: coldhearted, ambitious, ruthless. But it doesn’t matter. Running the family business is all she’s ever wanted and she’s so close she can almost taste it…until her father fires her and hires her nemesis—arrogant, unflappable Alex Tyson. Elaina may be hurt but she refuses to be defeated, so she throws herself into creating a business of her own. But she never dreamed that to close her first deal, she’d need Alex’s help…

Alex understands the power of a family legacy better than most and the last thing he wanted was to take that from Elaina. Her beauty and fierce strength are undeniable, but there’s a softer side that no one but him seems to see. She’s been taught that emotions are a liability, yet one impulsive kiss starts a chain reaction that neither of them wants to stop. But can love ignite—and survive—when secrets and loyalties collide?

Goodreads | Indiebound | Bookshop | Amazon

Anticipated Books We Share

Amari and the Night Brothers by B.B. Alston

Quinton Peters was the golden boy of the Rosewood low-income housing projects, receiving full scholarship offers to two different Ivy League schools. When he mysteriously goes missing, his little sister, 13-year-old Amari Peters, can’t understand why it’s not a bigger deal. Why isn’t his story all over the news? And why do the police automatically assume he was into something illegal?

Then Amari discovers a ticking briefcase in her brother’s old closet. A briefcase meant for her eyes only. There was far more to Quinton, it seems, than she ever knew. He’s left her a nomination for a summer tryout at the secretive Bureau of Supernatural Affairs. Amari is certain the answer to finding out what happened to him lies somewhere inside, if only she can get her head around the idea of mermaids, dwarves, yetis and magicians all being real things, something she has to instantly confront when she is given a weredragon as a roommate.

Amari must compete against some of the nation’s wealthiest kids—who’ve known about the supernatural world their whole lives and are able to easily answer questions like which two Great Beasts reside in the Atlantic Ocean and how old is Merlin? Just getting around the Bureau is a lesson alone for Amari with signs like ‘Department of Hidden Places this way, or is it?’ If that all wasn’t enough, every Bureau trainee has a talent enhanced to supernatural levels to help them do their jobs – but Amari is given an illegal ability. As if she needed something else to make her stand out.

With an evil magican threatening the whole supernatural world, and her own classmates thinking she is an enemy, Amari has never felt more alone. But if she doesn’t pass the three tryouts, she may never find out what happened to Quinton.

Skye: Amari’s story already has so many of my absolute favorite things in fantasy books: secret magical worlds, tournaments, menageries of magical creatures, and confronting hard social issues like classism with the wonder and joy of magic that I’m already so onboard. Middle-grade fantasy is truly winning this year.

Goodreads | Indiebound | Bookshop | Amazon

Lost in the Never Woods by Aiden Thomas

When children go missing, people want answers. When children go missing in the small coastal town of Astoria, people look to Wendy for answers.

It’s been five years since Wendy and her two brothers went missing in the woods, but when the town’s children start to disappear, the questions surrounding her brothers’ mysterious circumstances are brought back into light. Attempting to flee her past, Wendy almost runs over an unconscious boy lying in the middle of the road, and gets pulled into the mystery haunting the town.

Peter, a boy she thought lived only in her stories, claims that if they don’t do something, the missing children will meet the same fate as her brothers. In order to find them and rescue the missing kids, Wendy must confront what’s waiting for her in the woods.

Skye: This is a year of Peter Pan retellings, and I am living for it. And honestly: what a pitch! Children disappearing in a mysterious forest? I’m buzzing with excitement already. I haven’t been able to read Cemetery Boys yet, but judging by how extremely well it was received, we are in for an absolute treat with Aiden Thomas’ next book. What sinister darkness lurks in the belly of the Never Woods?

Goodreads | Indiebound | Bookshop | Amazon

The Other Side of Perfect by Mariko Turk

Alina Keeler was destined to dance, but one terrifying fall shatters her leg—and her dreams of a professional ballet career along with it. 

After a summer healing (translation: eating vast amounts of Cool Ranch Doritos and binging ballet videos on YouTube), she is forced to trade her pre-professional dance classes for normal high school, where she reluctantly joins the school musical. However, rehearsals offer more than she expected—namely Jude, her annoyingly attractive cast mate she just might be falling for. 

But to move forward, Alina must make peace with her past and face the racism she had grown to accept in the dance industry. She wonders what it means to yearn for ballet—something so beautiful, yet so broken. And as broken as she feels, can she ever open her heart to someone else? 

Skye: Years and years of watching the old Barbie movie adaptation of Swan Lake as a child has given me an inexplicable fondness for ballet, and this contemporary about an ex-ballerina who must confront the racism she experienced in the industry looks to be exactly that kind of book I’m aching to read.

Goodreads | Indiebound | Bookshop | Amazon

The Last Fallen Star by Graci Kim

Riley Oh can’t wait to see her sister get initiated into the Gom clan, a powerful lineage of Korean healing witches their family has belonged to for generations. Her sister, Hattie, will earn her Gi bracelet and finally be able to cast spells without adult supervision. Although Riley is desperate to follow in her sister’s footsteps when she herself turns thirteen, she’s a saram–a person without magic. Riley was adopted, and despite having memorized every healing spell she’s ever heard, she often feels like the odd one out in her family and the gifted community.

Then Hattie gets an idea: what if the two of them could cast a spell that would allow Riley to share Hattie’s magic? Their sleuthing reveals a promising incantation in the family’s old spell book, and the sisters decide to perform it at Hattie’s initiation ceremony. If it works, no one will ever treat Riley as an outsider again. It’s a perfect plan!

Until it isn’t. When the sisters attempt to violate the laws of the Godrealm, Hattie’s life ends up hanging in the balance, and to save her Riley has to fulfill an impossible task: find the last fallen star. But what even is the star, and how can she find it?

As Riley embarks on her search, she finds herself meeting fantastic creatures and collaborating with her worst enemies. And when she uncovers secrets that challenge everything she has been taught to believe, Riley must decide what it means to be a witch, what it means to be family, and what it really means to belong.

Skye: This is a 2021 release that I had the honor of reading early, and friends: if you have any affection at all for Korean pop culture (think: BTS, K-dramas) and Korean mythology, you absolutely do not want to miss this. Diving into Riley’s world of divine goddesses, haetae, and unique Korean myth-inspired magic reminded me of the best parts of my early childhood experience with Percy Jackson: the story winds and bends in exciting ways, and all the characters are lovable and easy to root for. The book hasn’t even released yet, and I’m already counting down the days until I get to read the sequel.

Goodreads | Indiebound | Bookshop | Amazon

Ace of Spades by Faridah Àbíké-Íyímídé

When two Niveus Private Academy students, Devon Richards and Chiamaka Adebayo, are selected to be part of the elite school’s senior class prefects, it looks like their year is off to an amazing start. After all, not only does it look great on college applications, but it officially puts each of them in the running for valedictorian, too.

Shortly after the announcement is made, though, someone who goes by Aces begins using anonymous text messages to reveal secrets about the two of them that turn their lives upside down and threaten every aspect of their carefully planned futures.

As Aces shows no sign of stopping, what seemed like a sick prank quickly turns into a dangerous game, with all the cards stacked against them. Can Devon and Chiamaka stop Aces before things become incredibly deadly?

With heart-pounding suspense and relevant social commentary comes a high-octane thriller from debut author Faridah Àbíké-Íyímídé.

CW: This is a book we’ve been waiting for a long time, and I’m so delighted that it’s finally going to read this in June! Ace of Spades sounds incendiary, incisive, and explosive in its storytelling, twists, and revelations. I’m a little terrified of this story, and I mean that in the best way possible. I cannot wait to dive into this book – and I’m also excited to host Faridah at the Pond next month!

Goodreads | Indiebound | Bookshop | Amazon

A Pho Love Story by Loan Le

If Bao Nguyen had to describe himself, he’d say he was a rock. Steady and strong, but not particularly interesting. His grades are average, his social status unremarkable. He works at his parents’ pho restaurant, and even there, he is his parents’ fifth favorite employee. Not ideal.

If Linh Mai had to describe herself, she’d say she was a firecracker. Stable when unlit, but full of potential for joy and fire. She loves art and dreams pursuing a career in it. The only problem? Her parents rely on her in ways they’re not willing to admit, including working practically full-time at her family’s pho restaurant.

For years, the Mais and the Nguyens have been at odds, having owned competing, neighboring pho restaurants. Bao and Linh, who’ve avoided each other for most of their lives, both suspect that the feud stems from feelings much deeper than friendly competition.

But then a chance encounter brings Linh and Bao in the same vicinity despite their best efforts and sparks fly, leading them both to wonder what took so long for them to connect. But then, of course, they immediately remember.

Can Linh and Bao find love in the midst of feuding families and complicated histories?

CW: I’ve always said that we needed more books about food, so I am so excited for A Pho Love Story! (And how cute is the cover?) As a huge foodie, I cannot wait to meet our two Vietnamese-American protagonists, Bao and Linh, and their journeys to self-love, devour their enemies-to-lovers romance, and read all the gorgeous and mouth-watering food descriptions.

Goodreads | Indiebound | Bookshop | Amazon

What an incredible year in books 2021 is already shaping up to be! Hopefully we’ll all discover some new favorites this year, and happy reading friends!

  • Did we miss any fantastic books releasing in the first half of the year?
  • Have you read any of the books on our list yet? Tell us all about it!
  • Did you share a post/list of your most anticipated books of 2021? Share in the comments below!

8 thoughts on “The Pond’s 32 Most Anticipated Books of 2021 (January – June)

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