21 Books for 2021 Part 1: New Buys

in other words: read what you buy!


I am scared of listing to-be-read (TBR) books for each month like many of bookish content creators. As a mood reader whose taste and plans change on the fly, schedules and lists scare me and take the fun out of reading. But lately, I figured that not drafting a list makes me lose track of what I already have. Going through my library feels like I’m unearthing a long-buried gold mine that I’ve always known was in my backyard. I realized that I was drawn to these books and I bought them for a reason. It’s time to sit down and read what I have.

This video by Kat (@herbookishside) about her 21 books for 2021 inspired me to write my own list, which I have divided into three parts. I grouped the books into three main categories: new buys (anything bought since March 2020 aka the start of the lockdown), “old” nonfiction, and “old” fiction. For the sake of convenience, all books acquired pre-pandemic are called “old”.

For every entry in this list, I describe where I first encountered the book, how I bought it, and why it piqued my interest. In addition, the list is arranged in no particular order, not even alphabetical. Sequence is based on which book I see first on my shelf when I glanced at it while writing this particular list. I apologize for how chaotic this all is, but it’s an honest reflection of where I am mentally.

You also will see the words “it was on sale” several times in this list. I have been hit badly by the quarantine shopping bug, and I have also learned how to do online purchases and use prepaid e-wallets. I’ll leave the counting up to you because I am not ready to know how much I spent on my library. I am weak and flawed and easily corrupted. Please spare me your judgment.

1. A Memory Called Empire by Arkady Martine (Teixcalaan #1)

Cover art by Jaime Jones. Cover and synopsis from Goodreads.

Ambassador Mahit Dzmare arrives in the center of the multi-system Teixcalaanli Empire only to discover that her predecessor, the previous ambassador from their small but fiercely independent mining Station, has died. But no one will admit that his death wasn’t an accident—or that Mahit might be next to die, during a time of political instability in the highest echelons of the imperial court.

Now, Mahit must discover who is behind the murder, rescue herself, and save her Station from Teixcalaan’s unceasing expansion—all while navigating an alien culture that is all too seductive, engaging in intrigues of her own, and hiding a deadly technological secret—one that might spell the end of her Station and her way of life—or rescue it from annihilation.

I first saw this on Twitter when the 2020 Hugo Awards coverage dominated my timeline, and it won Best Novel. I forgot all about it until I saw Kate (@yourtitakate)’s Goodreads updates (especially the diplomacy aspects), so I added it to my TBR. You can find her mini review here. I’m drawn to it because it deals with political maneuvering and imperial court drama, rather than the usual blood, guts, and glory that I usually see in other fantasy books. It is also set in cultures I am not familiar with, so I am looking forward to stepping outside my narrative and cultural comfort zones!

Recently, I found a hardback(!) in relatively good condition (!!) for only 275 pesos(!!!!!!!!!!!) at NBS Shangri-La, so I had to get it right away. Fantasy novels in paperback range from 700-900 pesos, and a hardback like this would be 1000+. This is also something my boyfriend Ezra might be interested in, so I think it’s worth getting. I am so happy about this, but I still cannot get over the fact that fantasy novels are so expensive.

2. Jade City by Fonda Lee (The Green Bone Saga #1)

JADE CITY is a gripping Godfather-esque saga of intergenerational blood feuds, vicious politics, magic, and kungfu.

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.

Cover design by Lisa Marie Pompilio; cover art by Getty Images and Shutterstock. Cover and synopsis from Goodreads

When I got into book Twitter, I keep seeing people hype this on my feed especially after news of an upcoming TV adaptation. Shealea (@ShutUpShealea) even hosted a #KeepingUpWithTheKauls readathon and though I was sad I couldn’t join in time, I was able to buy the first book during a one-day Kindle sale using her affiliate link.

I’m excited to read this because I love jade, and I think it deserves more attention as a precious material. Gangsters fighting over jade? Abilities and clan wars? It’s like nothing I’ve encountered before, and I have only heard good things about how the author pulled this off. Also, I’ve heard a lot about a certain character named Hilo, so… I want to see what the fuss is all about.

3. Gods of Jade and Shadow by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

Cover design and illustration: Daniel Pelavin
Cover and synopsis from Goodreads

The Mayan god of death sends a young woman on a harrowing, life-changing journey in this one-of-a-kind fairy tale inspired by Mexican folklore.

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.

It was my first time to be back at a Fully Booked and I finally saw a physical copy of this anticipated release. I remember CW @ The Quiet Pond marking this as part of her TBR, and she had nothing but glowing reviews after finishing it. Also, when I asked Ezra if I should buy it, he handed me his discount card. That’s a yes, isn’t it? 

I don’t know much about Mayan mythology, and to see it combined with the Jazz Age is just… amazing. I don’t know what to expect AT ALL. I also can’t deny that the cover is so gorgeous, and Daniel Pelavin deserves a raise for reeling people in with all these vibrant colors.

4. Sword of Kaigen by M.L. Wang

A mother struggling to repress her violent past,
A son struggling to grasp his violent future,
A father blind to the danger that threatens them all.

When the winds of war reach their peninsula, will the Matsuda family have the strength to defend their empire? Or will they tear each other apart before the true enemies even reach their shores?

High on a mountainside at the edge of the Kaigenese Empire live the most powerful warriors in the world, superhumans capable of raising the sea and wielding blades of ice. For hundreds of years, the fighters of the Kusanagi Peninsula have held the Empire’s enemies at bay, earning their frozen spit of land the name ‘The Sword of Kaigen.’

Born into Kusanagi’s legendary Matsuda family, fourteen-year-old Mamoru has always known his purpose: to master his family’s fighting techniques and defend his homeland. But when an outsider arrives and pulls back the curtain on Kaigen’s alleged age of peace, Mamoru realizes that he might not have much time to become the fighter he was bred to be. Worse, the empire he was bred to defend may stand on a foundation of lies.

Misaki told herself that she left the passions of her youth behind when she married into the Matsuda house. Determined to be a good housewife and mother, she hid away her sword, along with everything from her days as a fighter in a faraway country. But with her growing son asking questions about the outside world, the threat of an impending invasion looming across the sea, and her frigid husband grating on her nerves, Misaki finds the fighter in her clawing its way back to the surface.

Cover and synopsis from Goodreads

After reading The Wolf of Oren-yaro by K.S. Villoso and being stunned at how different a fantasy novel is when a mother is the protagonist, I wanted more. The Sword of Kaigen is consistently one of the first recommendations, and it also helps that Hiba (@shaemisaki) keeps hyping it on Twitter and even making picrews for it. I got this for $0.99 during a super sale for self-published fantasy works, and I hope I can dive into it this year.

5. The Bone Witch by Rin Chupeco

Cover design by Faceout Studio, Jeff Miller. Cover and synopsis from Goodreads.

Synopsis: In the captivating start to a new, darkly lyrical fantasy series, Tea can raise the dead, but resurrection comes at a price.When Tea accidentally resurrects her brother from the dead, she learns she is different from the other witches in her family. Her gift for necromancy means that she’s a bone witch, a title that makes her feared and ostracized by her community. But Tea finds solace and guidance with an older, wiser bone witch, who takes Tea and her brother to another land for training.In her new home, Tea puts all her energy into becoming an asha-one who can wield elemental magic. But dark forces are approaching quickly, and in the face of danger, Tea will have to overcome her obstacles and make a powerful choice.

I used to see the books often on discount tables in NBS, but I didn’t think much about them until I became more active in book Twitter. This is Shealea (@ShutUpShealea) ‘s ride-or-die series, and since I trust her taste and opinion in books, I would love to give this a try. It’s also interesting to read a trad-pubbed YA series from a locally-based Filipino author.

I got the whole trilogy on Kindle during a sale using  ShutupShealea’s Amazon affiliate links, but last December, my niece Zoie gave me a physical copy of Book 1 as a Christmas gift! 

6. Whatever by Carmen Guerrero Nakpil

The essays in this book were chosen at random from a pile of more than two thousand short pieces written over a period of fourteen years, between 1987 and 2001… The title, Whatever, is a reference to the millennial way of ending an argument. It used to mean ‘anything’ or ‘everything’ or ‘no matter’ and ‘in any case, ‘ but has now become a catty, disdainful but peaceable, way of granting a hearing without necessarily agreeing with an opinion. It is now the trendy equivalent of saying, all right, have it your way, but this is my take on the subject. The essays in this book are offered in that spirit.

– Carmen Guerrero Nakpil

Portrait on cover by Allan Cosio; cover and book design by JB de la Peña. Blurb is excerpt from the preface

I’m a sucker for collections, and Carmen Guerrero Nakpil is one of my favorite essayists. Her essay, Where is the Patis? remains one of my favorite nonfiction works, because, as a diaspora kid, it accurately describes my weird preoccupation with finding ~the~ Filipino taste. Although that particular essay is not included in this volume, I am excited to read more of Guerrero Nakpil’s sharp commentary and pithy observations, and from there, reevaluate how I see the world.

I got this on sale from Ateneo University Press during Aklatan 2020, where Filipino presses flooded Lazada and Shopee with awesome titles at discounted prices.

7. Anina ng mga Alon by Eugene Y. Evasco

Cover design and illustration by Jap Mikel. Cover and synopsis from Goodreads.

Synopsis: Isang Badjao si Anina, lumaki sa piling ng mga alon. Kabisado niya ang mga awit at damdamin nito tulad ng isang kaibigan. Bilang kabataan, nasa edad siya ng paghahanap ng kaniyang sarili sa komplikadong mundong kaniyang ginagalawan. Ngunit paano nga ba ang maging katutubo at mahuli sa gitna ng kahirapan at karahasan?

Samahan si Anina sa kaniyang pangangarap, paglalakbay, at pagkamulat sa katotohanang kahabi ng kaniyang buhay bilang Badjao. Sa kuwento ni Anina, makikilala rin ang isang mayamang kultura ng mga katutubong namumuhay sa karagatan at hindi pa ganap na nauunawaan ng karamihan.

Early this year, I joined Talk Bookish To Me, a PH-based online book club. Aside from doing 8-10 day buddy reads, we have an activity called Talk Daily to Me or TDTM. Every day from 5-6pm, a member is assigned to be the host and will recommend a book they think is underloved or underhyped.

Anina ng Mga Alon is Kat (@herbookishside)’s pick. Aside from gushing over Evasco’s beautiful beautiful prose, she encouraged everyone to learn more about the culture of the Badjaos and the pressing issues they face today. It is also a relevant and timely read as we see in the news the escalating violence against indigenous peoples within our own country. A huge bonus: Kat hosted a giveaway! Finally, a book I did not buy!

Reevaluating my haul

So those are 7 of my new buys that I look forward to reading this year! Most of the books here are recommendations from bookish creators I follow, and since last year, I have decided to intentionally diversify what I read and go beyond the usual US- and European-centric storytelling. I also want to recognize the hard work of many bookish content creators in inducing hype and interest for these books, especially those written by BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) authors, who have long been marginalized in a predominantly white- and US-centric publishing industry. Without their efforts, I never would have heard of these books–much less sought them out online or in brick-and-mortar stores.

Hope you stay tuned for parts 2 and 3 of my 21 books of 2021!

Let’s discuss:

  • Have you bought any new books during the lockdown? Which one are you excited to read?
  • How is the state of your TBR?

8 thoughts on “21 Books for 2021 Part 1: New Buys”

  1. AAAAA this is such a nice tbr! I’ve been trying to get through the books I’ve bought from years ago (I have a set of Sherlock Holmes from 2017 that I haven’t touched at all!) but I also can’t pass a good deal so the tbr does keep growing.

    I took three literature subjects last year, two of which were focused on Asian and PH lit and they were really eye opening for me. It also made me reevaluate my library and, long story short, like you, I am now making a conscious choice to diversify my reading list.

    Liked by 1 person

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