LIST: 2021 reads that emotionally WRECKED me

2021 was…something that happened yet I also cannot believe it’s almost over. I was hit by persistent reading slumps as well as a lack of time this year particularly; it’s very sad. But! While I had a lot of mediocre reads this year, I also had a lot of reads that emotionally wrecked me, more so than last year’s list. It didn’t help that a lot of my recent favorite series ended this year either.

As usual, this list only contains books that I read for the first time this year, no rereads. Actually, I’ve been rereading far less this year, which probably explains why I’ve read less since those usually account for much of my reading challenge.

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REVIEW: Year of the Reaper by Makiia Lucier

year of the reaper cover

Book: Year of the Reaper by Makiia Lucier

Release Date: November 9, 2021

My Rating: 4.75 stars

Rep: gay side character

CW: implied torture, gore, illness (plague), amputation, mentions of human experimentation

Summary: The past never forgets…

Before an ambush by enemy soldiers, Lord Cassia was an engineer’s apprentice on a mission entrusted by the king. But when plague sweeps over the land, leaving countless dead and devastating the kingdom, even Cas’ title cannot save him from a rotting prison cell and a merciless sickness.

Three years later, Cas wants only to return to his home in the mountains and forget past horrors. But home is not what he remembers. His castle has become a refuge for the royal court. And they have brought their enemies with them.

When an assassin targets those closest to the queen, Cas is drawn into a search for a killer…one that leads him to form an unexpected bond with a brilliant young historian named Lena. Cas and Lena soon realize that who is behind the attacks is far less important than why. They must look to the past, following the trail of a terrible secret—one that could threaten the kingdom’s newfound peace and plunge it back into war.

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REVIEW: Jade Legacy by Fonda Lee

**I received an ARC from the publisher (thank you, Orbit Books!). These are my honest opinions, and in no way was I compensated for this review.**

jade legacy cover

Book: Jade Legacy (The Green Bone Saga #3) by Fonda Lee

Release Date: November 30, 2021

My Rating: 5 stars

Rep: East Asian-inspired setting and -coded characters, gay biracial main character; (Chinese-American author)

CW: violence, gore, blood, torture, mentions of suicide and rape

Summary: The Kaul siblings battle rival clans for honor and control over an East Asia-inspired fantasy metropolis in Jade Legacy, the page-turning conclusion to the Green Bone Saga.

Jade, the mysterious and magical substance once exclusive to the Green Bone warriors of Kekon, is now coveted throughout the world. Everyone wants access to the supernatural abilities it provides, from traditional forces such as governments, mercenaries, and criminal kingpins, to modern players, including doctors, athletes, and movie studios. As the struggle over the control of jade grows ever larger and more deadly, the Kaul family, and the ancient ways of the Kekonese Green Bones, will never be the same.

Battered by war and tragedy, the Kauls are plagued by resentments and old wounds as their adversaries are on the ascent and their country is riven by dangerous factions and foreign interference. The clan must discern allies from enemies, set aside bloody rivalries, and make terrible sacrifices… but even the unbreakable bonds of blood and loyalty may not be enough to ensure the survival of the Green Bone clans and the nation they are sworn to protect.

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REVIEW: Not Here to Be Liked by Michelle Quach

not here to be liked cover

Book: Not Here to Be Liked by Michelle Quach

Release Date: September 14, 2021

My Rating: 4.75 stars

Rep: Chinese-Vietnamese-American protagonist, biracial (Japanese, white) love interest, Black side character, Korean-American side characters; (Chinese-Vietnamese-American author)

Summary: Emergency Contact meets Moxie in this cheeky and searing novel that unpacks just how complicated new love can get…when you fall for your enemy.

Eliza Quan is the perfect candidate for editor in chief of her school paper. That is, until ex-jock Len DiMartile decides on a whim to run against her. Suddenly her vast qualifications mean squat because inexperienced Len—who is tall, handsome, and male—just seems more like a leader.

When Eliza’s frustration spills out in a viral essay, she finds herself inspiring a feminist movement she never meant to start, caught between those who believe she’s a gender equality champion and others who think she’s simply crying misogyny.

Amid this growing tension, the school asks Eliza and Len to work side by side to demonstrate civility. But as they get to know one another, Eliza feels increasingly trapped by a horrifying realization—she just might be falling for the face of the patriarchy himself.

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REVIEW: For All Time by Shanna Miles

**I received an ARC from the publisher as a giveaway prize. These are my honest opinions, and in no way was I compensated for this review.**

for all time cover

Book: For All Time by Shanna Miles

Release Date: September 28, 2021

My Rating: 4.5 stars

Rep: Black protagonists and side characters; (Black author)

CW: racism

Summary: “A romance for the ages. Fresh voices and original predicaments make this one perfect little novel.”
—Stacey Lee, award-winning author of The Downstairs Girl

The Sun Is Also a Star meets Outlander in this vivid, utterly romantic debut novel about two teens who relive their tragic love story over and over until they uncover what they must do to change their fate.

Tamar is a musician, a warrior, a survivor. Fayard? He’s a pioneer, a hustler, a hopeless romantic.

Together, Tamar and Fayard have lived a thousand lives, seen the world build itself up from nothing only to tear itself down again in civil war. They’ve even watched humanity take to the stars. But in each life one thing remains the same: their love and their fight to be together. One love story after another. Their only concern is they never get to see how their story ends. Until now.

When they finally discover what it will take to break the cycle, will they be able to make the sacrifice?

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REVIEW: The Donut Trap by Julie Tieu

**I received an ARC from the publisher through Netgalley. These are my honest opinions, and in no way was I compensated for this review.**

the donut trap cover

Book: The Donut Trap by Julie Tieu

Release Date: November 2, 2021

My Rating: 5 stars

Rep: Chinese-Cambodian-American protagonist and side characters, Chinese-American love interest, Vietnamese-American side character; (Chinese-Cambodian-American author)

Summary: Julie Tieu sparkles in this debut romantic comedy, which is charmingly reminiscent of the TV show Kim’s Convenience and Frankly in Love by David Yoon, about a young woman who feels caught in the life her parents have made for her until she falls in love and finds a way out of the donut trap.

Jasmine Tran has landed herself behind bars—maple bars that is. With no boyfriend or job prospects, Jasmine returns home to work at her parents’ donut shop. Jasmine quickly loses herself in a cyclical routine of donuts, Netflix, and sleep. She wants to break free from her daily grind, but when a hike in rent threatens the survival of their shop, her parents rely on her more than ever.

Help comes in the form of an old college crush, Alex Lai. Not only is he successful and easy on the eyes, to her parents’ delight, he’s also Chinese. He’s everything she should wish for, until a disastrous dinner reveals Alex isn’t as perfect as she thinks. Worse, he doesn’t think she’s perfect either.

With both sets of parents against their relationship, a family legacy about to shut down, and the reappearance of an old high school flame, Jasmine must scheme to find a solution that satisfies her family’s expectations and can get her out of the donut trap once and for all.

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REVIEW: A War of Swallowed Stars by Sangu Mandanna

**I received an ARC from the publisher through Edelweiss. These are my honest opinions, and in no way was I compensated for this review.**

a war of swallowed stars cover

Book: A War of Swallowed Stars (The Celestial Trilogy #3) by Sangu Mandanna

Release Date: June 29, 2021

My Rating: 4.5 stars

Rep: Indian-inspired world and characters, wlw side characters; (British Indian author)

Summary: “A rare gem of a sequel . . . Each page drips with action and moral complexities.” —Natasha Ngan, New York Times bestselling author of Girls of Paper and Fire, on A House of Rage & Sorrow

A prince without his kingdom.

A kingdom without its princess.

The destruction of the stars themselves.

War is destroying the galaxy. Esmae has vanished without a trace. A terrifying, ravenous beast is devouring the stars one by one. Titania is offered a gift that may well be a curse. Alexi, the exiled prince, is asked to pay a heavy price for his mistakes. And far, far away, on a dark, mysterious planet, a sleeping god stirs awake.

War or family.

Pride or peace.

As the end of the world draws ever closer, Esmae and Alexi must decide how far they’ll go to win—and who they’ll sacrifice along the way.

Celebrated author Sangu Mandanna promises a gripping conclusion to the Celestial Trilogy in A War of Swallowed Stars.

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REVIEW: The Jasmine Throne by Tasha Suri

**I received an ARC from the publisher (thank you, Orbit Books!). These are my honest opinions, and in no way was I compensated for this review.**

the jasmine throne cover

Book: The Jasmine Throne by Tasha Suri

Release Date: June 8, 2021

My Rating: 5 stars

Rep: Indian-inspired world and characters, lesbian protagonists; (sapphic British Indian author)

CW: homophobia, gore, violence, execution by burning, forced drug use

Summary: Author of Empire of Sand and Realm of Ash Tasha Suri’s The Jasmine Throne, beginning a new trilogy set in a world inspired by the history and epics of India, in which a captive princess and a maidservant in possession of forbidden magic become unlikely allies on a dark journey to save their empire from the princess’s traitor brother.

Imprisoned by her dictator brother, Malini spends her days in isolation in the Hirana: an ancient temple that was once the source of the powerful, magical deathless waters — but is now little more than a decaying ruin.

Priya is a maidservant, one among several who make the treacherous journey to the top of the Hirana every night to clean Malini’s chambers. She is happy to be an anonymous drudge, so long as it keeps anyone from guessing the dangerous secret she hides.

But when Malini accidentally bears witness to Priya’s true nature, their destinies become irrevocably tangled. One is a vengeful princess seeking to depose her brother from his throne. The other is a priestess seeking to find her family. Together, they will change the fate of an empire.

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REVIEW: Our Violent Ends by Chloe Gong

**I received an ARC from the publisher through Edelweiss. These are my honest opinions, and in no way was I compensated for this review.**

our violent ends cover

Book: Our Violent Ends (These Violent Delights #2) by Chloe Gong

Release Date: November 16, 2021

My Rating: 5 stars

Rep: ownvoices Chinese protagonist, main character, and side characters; gay main character; gay Korean main character; Chinese trans girl main character

CW: torture, gore, violence, murder (including mass murder), parental abuse, war themes

Summary: Shanghai is under siege in this captivating and searingly romantic sequel to These Violent Delights, which New York Times bestselling author Natasha Ngan calls “deliciously dark.”

The year is 1927, and Shanghai teeters on the edge of revolution.

After sacrificing her relationship with Roma to protect him from the blood feud, Juliette has been a girl on the warpath. One wrong move, and her cousin will step in to usurp her place as the Scarlet Gang’s heir. The only way to save the boy she loves from the wrath of the Scarlets is to have him want her dead for murdering his best friend in cold blood. If Juliette were actually guilty of the crime Roma believes she committed, his rejection might sting less.

Roma is still reeling from Marshall’s death, and his cousin Benedikt will barely speak to him. Roma knows it’s his fault for letting the ruthless Juliette back into his life, and he’s determined to set things right—even if that means killing the girl he hates and loves with equal measure.

Then a new monstrous danger emerges in the city, and though secrets keep them apart, Juliette must secure Roma’s cooperation if they are to end this threat once and for all. Shanghai is already at a boiling point: The Nationalists are marching in, whispers of civil war brew louder every day, and gangster rule faces complete annihilation. Roma and Juliette must put aside their differences to combat monsters and politics, but they aren’t prepared for the biggest threat of all: protecting their hearts from each other.

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REVIEW: The Ones We’re Meant to Find by Joan He

**I received an ARC from the publisher through Netgalley (thank you, Roaring Brook Press!). These are my honest opinions, and in no way was I compensated for this review.**

the ones we're meant to find cover

Book: The Ones We’re Meant to Find by Joan He

Release Date: May 4, 2021

My Rating: 4.75 stars

Rep: ownvoices East Asian protagonists

CW: terminal illness, suicide, violence (including choking), death, death of parent (off page), vomiting, large scale natural disasters and mass casualties, some gore

Summary: One of the most twisty, surprising, engaging page-turner YAs you’ll read this year—We Were Liars with sci-fi scope, Lost with a satisfying resolution.

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-cities—Earth’s last unpolluted place—are meant to be sanctuary for those committed to planetary protection, but they’re 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.

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