Every year, I create a new shelf on my Goodreads account labelled “Most Anticipated Reads of [said year].” The list is a mixture of upcoming books from series I love, debuts I’ve seen circulating online, and new books from authors I follow. In the end, the books in this list often become a mixed bag of both disappointment and exceeded expectations. All opinions are my own, and I’m sure some will disagree with me, but if you’re looking for your next read here are five highly-anticipated books I recommend—and five to approach with caution.
Five That Lived Up to the Hype:
The Wrath and The Dawn by Renee Ahdieh
After finishing this 2015 release, my friend pestered me for days with an ever constant, “You need to read this book!” This was enough to compel me into checking a copy out of the library. At first, I was wary; Khalid was—for lack of a better word—an asshole in my eyes. Yet I knew (I swear this is not a spoiler; it says so right in the description!) that he was going to be the love interest. Sure enough, I found myself warming up to him.
While I wouldn’t read the original Arabian Nights tale collection until college, I was intrigued by the premise of the story and the way Ahdieh adapted it into a book. The Wrath and The Dawn not only has beautiful writing, but is richly imaginative, taking pieces of Arabian Nights and weaving in an imagining of her own.
This book has heart and a story that will keep you hooked until the very end. If you’re looking for something unique (or you love the prince-with-a-tormented-heart trope), you’re sure to love Renee Ahdieh’s debut novel—or the rest of her books, for that matter!
Given to the Sea by Mindy McGinnis
Given to the Sea was one of my most highly anticipated reads of 2017, but I didn’t get around to reading it until last summer. By then, numerous people had posted negative reviews for the book. That said, I’m definitely in the minority for this book; on Goodreads, it dons a 3.21 average star rating (which is honestly ROUGH). I’ll confess, the book had its flaws, but it also held more profound meaning than most other YA fantasies I’ve read.
More than anything, this book is about DUTY. Each narrator has their own duty to their people. And I think that’s what this book is really about; the politics of one’s duty, and the ways that sex has become a factor in this. The book also explores sex in different contexts—as something pleasurable, political, and even a means of power. I liked seeing the way duty played a role not just in sexual relationships, but even platonic ones.
The characters themselves were morally gray (my favorite type!!) and at times, annoying. But I liked that they weren’t the gold-hearted people you often see in YA—constantly making just choices for the greater good. These characters, by contrast, are all struggling with their own internal motivations—which very rarely includes the greater good. These people felt REAL, and I appreciated that.
Overall, this book struck a cord with me. I was left thinking about it days after finishing. The world is definitely a complex one, with all kinds of backstories to untangle, but it’s a world more unique than anything I’ve ever read in the genre. It’s a darker read, definitely meant for the more mature end of young adults, but oh so worth it.
If Goodreads has dissuaded you from reading this in the past, all I can say is: Give this book a chance!! You might find yourself as pleasantly surprised as I was.
The Diabolic by S.J. Kincaid
This book is not talked about nearly enough. Back in 2016, Booktubers galore were recommending this book. I think what people most admired about it was the fact it was a sci-fi standalone—not something we often see in YA. (It has since been extended into a trilogy, but we’re not going to be talking about that today.)
I love a good anti-hero. I love court intrigue. Most importantly, I love female characters that can kill. The Diabolic has it all.
Nemesis is deeply devoted to Sidonia, the person she is sworn to protect. But when she takes Sidonia’s place as a hostage in the Emperor’s court, she begins to question her place in the world. The world/planet of this book is so unique, and the fact that Nemesis isn’t wholly human makes her an interesting protagonist. The more you read, the more you will be sucked into this world.
The book also has the urgency of high stakes that a lot of YA books fail to execute properly. Passing herself off as Sidonia, Nemesis cannot afford to stir the Emperor’s suspicions that she might not be who she appears. If she gets caught, Sidonia could die. There are heart-poundingly close calls, leaving you rooting for Nemesis even more along the way.
I seriously can’t rave enough about this book. This book exceeded every high expectation I had, and I hope it will exceed yours, too!
Two Can Keep a Secret by Karen M. McManus
I adored One of Us is Lying. So when I heard that McManus had a new YA mystery coming out, I was all ears. I’ve heard a lot of people say they were disappointed by the book, so I was wary going into it. But after finishing Two Can Keep a Secret, I can honestly say I enjoyed it as much as her debut.
My favorite part about McManus’ books is that I always have theories. They always shift as we get new information, morphing into crazily absurd ideas. Of course, I never actually guess the ending—but that’s the best part! I love being surprised, and I love twists I never see coming. Two Can Keep a Secret had plenty of these.
Like her debut, McManus’ Two Can Keep a Secret is fast-paced and suspenseful with a cast of characters you’ll love. If you like mystery and teenage sleuths uncovering mysteries of the past, you’ll love this book!
Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon
This book was popular even before there were talks of an adaptation. While I have yet to see the movie, I CAN tell you that this book will not disappoint.
I’m definitely more of a YA fantasy gal than a contemporary one, but I adored this read. Not only were there twists and turns I never saw coming, but I fell in love with Maddy and Olly, and their love story. It screams young love in the best way, reminding me of a cross between Romeo and Juliet and Rapunzel. There were definitely points where I was like, “Oh my god what are you crazy kids doing!!” But I think their impulsivity is realistic. Every teenager is reckless at some point or another, and this book really played on that.
I felt so deeply for Maddy, and I know you will, too. Before you watch the movie (or even if you already have), give this book a read—it won’t disappoint!
Five That Didn’t:
King of Scars by Leigh Bardugo
Let me start by saying I adore Leigh Bardugo. I loved her Shadow and Bone series, and fell even more in love with her Six of Crows duology. Needless to say, I was thrilled when she announced there would be a third series set in the Grishaverse—with Nikolai (my heart!!) as one of the main characters. But the problem with high hopes is that they can easily be dashed. And, unfortunately, that was the case for King of Scars.
Just before starting this new duology, I read Crooked Kingdom—and absolutely loved it. Going into King of Scars, I was looking for the same action-packed narrative, especially since characters from both of Bardugo’s previous series would also be appearing in her new book. Instead of getting action, I got lots of talking and characters coming to grips with their struggles. Which was good and all, until it made the book drag.
King of Scars didn’t have that same magic that the other Grishaverse books do. There’s no question that Bardugo is a talented author, but the execution of her newest book was disappointing. I have to say, I did enjoy the resurgence of some of my favorite characters, as I think any Bardugo fan will. But that wasn’t enough to make me love this book as much as I had hoped.
Grisha fans beware—and maybe rope in your expectations before picking this one up!
All the Stars and Teeth by Adalyn Grace
This book has been all the rage since its release in February earlier this year. Not only has it appeared numerous times on my various social platforms, but it’s also earned the title of New York Times bestseller. With a princess on the run, a pirate looking to reclaim his stolen magic, and the promise of mermaids, this debut YA fantasy instantly piqued my interest. When my book club needed a new read, I instantly recommended we try All the Stars and Teeth.
I’m disappointed to say my expectations for this book were dashed.
Let me first say that the book is in no way a bad one. I did enjoy reading it: the characters were likeable, the world building was well-developed, the magic structure was unique, and the mermaid character definitely met all my hopes and more. But the book dragged, and I didn’t feel particularly connected to the story or its characters. Amora’s magic makes her slightly morally ambiguous as she and her family justify killing one prisoner a year, but not morally ambiguous enough. At times, Amora feels ashamed of her abilities; at others, she fully embraces them. But in the end, she just exhibits the age-old trope of a princess discovering the secrets and hardships of the people she will one day rule.
If you enjoyed The Merciful Crow (another disappointing read to appear later on in this list!) or Graceling, then I suspect you might also enjoy All the Stars and Teeth. But for me, the book just didn’t make the cut.
Nevermore by James Patterson
Yes, I know this book is from a century ago (Feels like it, anyway). Yes, I know he remedied this trainwreck of an ending with another sequel, Maximum Ride Forever. Still, I think we need to talk about it.
Maximum Ride was one of the first YA series I ever read, at the recommendation of a friend. I devoured the series and eagerly awaited for what was supposed to be the final book: Nevermore. If you’re an avid Maximum Ride fan, you probably were counting down the days to its release, too. Sadly, this book destroyed all the hopes and dreams I’d had for it, and left me quite the angry thirteen-year-old. If I could disown this book, I would. This book honestly feels like a dream (or perhaps a nightmare) because it was so different from the rest of the series It focused a lot on Max, Dylan, and Fang, leaving the rest of the flock kind of in the background. The flock in all its depth was always my favorite parts of the books; each of the kids had their own struggles and personalities. To see them take a backseat in the finale was disappointing to say the least.
Yes, Maximum Ride Forever—despite my reservations—more than made up for its predecessor. But that doesn’t mean Nevermore’s disappointing end didn’t break my little eighth-grade heart (because it did!)
The Merciful Crow by Margaret Owen
When I attended BookCon last year, I had one goal: snag as many ARCs as I could. The Merciful Crow was one such advanced readers copy that I hoped to get my hands on—that is until I arrived twenty-five minutes before the drop time, and a snaking line of people had already formed behind the booth. ARCs are first come, first serve, so I was too far behind to receive a copy, though I was lucky enough to get the book for my Christmas later that year.
Like All the Stars and Teeth, it wasn’t a bad book. The world was in-depth, the class divisions were prominent and mirrored those of our own world, and despite not always seeing eye-to-eye, Jasmir and Tavin slowly grow to accept the privilege they have in their world and unravel some of their prejudiced beliefs. It’s definitely a powerful tale, but I didn’t feel particularly connected to its characters.
I like my books to have emotion. I like when they make me not only root for the characters, but break your heart. While I sympathized with Fie, I wasn’t attached to her. A lot of the book was focused on the characters journeying across the country, too, which made the plot drag.
There’s a lot of good things about this book. Unfortunately, the execution fell flat, and the story wasn’t as powerful as I had hoped.
Sky in the Deep by Adrienne Young
As a little disclaimer, I adore Adrienne Young. Her Instagram is populated with writing advice, activism, and just plain honesty about what it’s like to be an author. That said, her debut novel just wasn’t what I hoped it would be.
With a 4.0 star rating on Goodreads, this book is adored by A LOT of people in the bookish community. Reviewers raved about it, so I felt like I should give it a read. I mean, who can resist a book marketed as half-Vikings half-Wonder Woman?
Again, this book wasn’t bad. Young is a talented writer, with the ability to flesh out a fantasy world and make you feel like you’re smackdab in the middle of it. But—and you’re probably sensing a trend right about now—it didn’t make me *feel* anything. Our MC, Eelyn, goes through a lot over the course of the book. While I can acknowledge that she has a strong character arc on paper, I just didn’t feel connected enough to Eelyn to be invested in her story. Frankly, I didn’t much care what happened to her.
If you’re an aspiring author, I definitely recommend following Adrienne Young’s Instagram account. But if you’re looking to pick up Sky in the Deep—and character is important to you—you may want to reconsider.