I read across a large variety of genres. It's cliché but true! I grew up riding around Tortall with Alanna, devoted much of my education to voyaging around Dublin with Leopold Bloom, ultimately traveling to Paradise, Lancantamara with Mala Ramchandin. I am also a devotee of romance, both paranormal and not. I believe literature can help us understand perspectives different than our own. I'm a teacher and scholar by trade and am always looking to learn something new!
Ring Shout or Hunting Ku Kluxes in the End Times is a classic monster hunting tale where the metaphysical power of hate physically manifests itself in a very visceral way. Ring Shout exposes the extent to which economies of hatred (a phrase borrowed from Sara Ahmed) mobilize communities against one another, a power equally present in 1925 when the novel set as it is today. P. Djèlí Clark uses horrific imagery and mystical distortions to expertly unveil the insidious ways hatred is spread, as his protagonist Maryse and her crew must grapple with the seemingly unstoppable spread of hate that turns Klans into Ku Kluxes through the proliferation of racist propaganda. Ring Shout wrestles with the complex relationships between generational trauma, revenge, vengeance, and hope that fuel the fight for change in the face of the myopic cyclops that is racist ideology. This novel is incredible. It acknowledges histories of Black pain and suffering, but empowers its heroes and gives them the ability to triumph over evil. By materially manifesting the language of monstrosity that is so casually bandied about in popular discourses to describe otherness, P. Djèlí Clark reveals the grotesque underpinnings of rhetorics of exclusion while creating a space to fight back, to shout at those who would rather stay silent and interrupt the spread of hatred.
Raybearer by Jordan Ifueko
Tarisai grew up secluded. Her mother, known as The Lady, was always away. The house’s staff would not touch her. And when Tarisai is finally given a shot at a family, a shot at the warmth, comfort, and stability of love she has always craved, it comes with a dangerous caveat. Tarisai is caught between all she’s ever wished for and the fate that seems impossible to avoid. At its core, Raybearer is a book about love, and all that we do for it. It’s a book about the relationships between mothers and daughters, brothers and sisters, and the sacrifices that we make and are made for us in the name of what we believe is right. Tarisai fears the darkness inscribed in her by others. But, as she learns to trust her own voice, she finds her footing as part of a family greater than she’d ever dreamed. Raybearer foregrounds literal black girl magic, demanding that it be shared and embraced. It is a powerful fantasy debut full of action, mystery, and a dynamic group of culturally rich characters, that left me eager for the next book in the series. Raybearer is perfect for fans of Bethany C. Morrow, Sabaa Tahir, and Tomi Adeyemi!
This book is pure joy from start to finish. It checks so many boxes for me: confident and interesting female protagonist with a cool job who knows what she wants before the novel even begins? Yes. A romantic interest who, while aware of the pervasive nature of patriarchy does not spend the whole book agonizing over it and fighting his “male” instincts? Yes. Thoughtful and nuanced portrayal of disability? Yes. Steamy romance? YES. A book that revels in the joy and power of fan fiction communities? Yes! Spoiler Alert is a wonderfully refreshing romantic comedy. The synopsis hooked me immediately, and as I devoured it page by page it only got better. Dade’s embracing of fan culture made me intermittently squeal with delight and snort laugh, while her deft illustration of the complexities of familial relationships and internalized prejudices made me truly fall in love with the characters. April and Marcus, the two protagonists, have each struggled with their identity in face of mainstream discrimination: April because of her weight, and Marcus because of his dyslexia. However, this is not a novel about them overcoming their past and learning to love themselves. They’ve already done that! Rather Spoiler Alert delves into the ways traumas of our childhood continue to affect our adult selves and relationships, even when we have already embraced them as part of our identity. April and Marcus may have come to terms with their respective insecurities, but that doesn’t mean the surrounding world has. Spoiler Alert shows what happens after we take the step of accepting and loving ourselves, and the ways we often must fight to show others what we know to be true. April and Marcus’ relationship does not grow out of shared insecurities, but rather out of a willingness to be vulnerable in the face of a dominant culture that would rather see those insecurities erased.
Where Dreams Descend by Janella Angeles
“Never come to Hellfire House without wearing a mask.” Thus begins Janella Angeles’ debut novel, Where Dreams Descend. Hellfire House is a magical nightly masquerade existing in the Forrests beyond Glorian, a town that wears its own mask, with a shrouded past that is seemingly insulated from the surrounding world. But when a Competition of Magicians calls for contestants to breach the city’s walls, Kallia, Hellfire House’s headliner, sees her ticket out. The fame and freedom winning the competition would provide become Kallias’ single-minded goal. But as the ghosts of Hellfire House bite at her heels, Glorian’s secrets both entice and threaten her to further push the limits of her power, putting both new friends and old dreams at risk. Perfect for fans of The Night Circus, Caravale, and The Crown’s Game, Where Dreams Descend is new tale of old magic, and the unmasking of secrets that drive both audiences and performers to thirst for more.
A novel in verse, The Black Flamingo is an elegantly written and refreshingly new coming of age story. Atta’s poetic voice beautifully illustrates Michael’s journey as he navigates life at the intersection of race, sexuality, class, and gender. The son of a Jamaican father and Greek-Cypriot mother, Michael narrates his transformation from a child unsure of where he fits in the world, to a teen navigating new friendships and beginning to explore his sexual identity, to a university student who finds his tribe as part of the Drag Society. A Stonewall Book Award Winner, The Black Flamingo is a poignant and nuanced novel that engages contemporary issues of race, sexuality, and identity. As Michael embraces the different layers of his own identity, he finds the transformative power of drag and learns how acceptance and the support of a community can set us free.
You Had Me at Hola is a wonderful romantic comedy that takes place on the set of Carmen in Charge, a new American series based on a telenovela. Ashton is a fiercely private telenovela star trying to break into the American market while keeping his personal life hidden from the tabloids. Jasmine is a soap opera star trying to focus on work in the wake of an incredibly public break up. When the two meet, sparks fly. But are they both willing to let go of what they thought they wanted in order to find something new and better than either could imagine? You Had Me at Hola is full of angst, joy, and romance! If you loved Ugly Betty and Jane the Virgin you will love this book. It was such a fun read and I would recommend it to any romantic comedy fan!
A Song Below Water blends the real world with fantasy to beautifully illustrate the need for sisterhood in the face of racism and misogyny. ASBW centers on sisters Tavia and Effie as they navigate life as Black young women in a world trying to silence them. Tavia is a siren passing as a normal teenager, gathering the courage to speak up for herself and the rights of others like her in the face of national persecution and state-sanctioned violence. Effie is a mermaid (or at least she plays a mermaid at the Renaissance Faire every year). As she prepares for the new season, suddenly mysterious events of her past seem to recur, all while Effie faces some physical changes, the least concerning of which being her hair moving on its own. As the political world around Tavia and Effie increasingly mirrors our own, the girls must decide where they stand, and embrace what makes them different to stand up for what’s right. Tavia and Effie, may have fantastic powers, but they are still real girls. The fantasy of Morrow’s world is not metaphoric. Rather, she wonderfully blends the real with the supernatural to paint a nuanced picture of what it means to grow up as Black women in contemporary America. ASBW is a timely read that will become a timeless addition to the bookshelves of YA Fantasy lovers.
Sarah J. Maas’ writing is addictive! The first in her Court series, ACOTAR introduces us to Feyre, a human living just beyond the border to fae lands. An adaptation of Beauty and the Beastand the Scottish tale Tam Lin, ACOTARis overflowing with magic, romance, and adventure. When Feyre shoots and kills a fae disguised as a wolf while hunting, she is brought to the Spring Court and forced to live with the High Lord in exchange for the life she took. As Feyre becomes increasingly implicated in a longstanding mystery pervading the fae lands, familiar fairy tales are reinvented as something new. Maas is an expert at developing plots driven by strong and nuanced characters. Please join Feyre as she explores this new world, meeting creatures and beasts who are not always as they appear and who her to become braver than she ever knew.
Gay’s incredibly insightful and vulnerable memoir shares her history with trauma and the profound effect it has on her identity and her relationship to her body. Gay takes a critical yet emotionally intimate eye to her past and present, sharing the ways in which her experiences with violence have shaped her present as a fat queer black woman living in a society that valorizes the opposite. Hunger is, in Gay’s words, truly “necessary” (303). Necessary for her to write, and essential for others to read. It is an astonishingly personal book that asks its readers to reckon with their relationship to both their own bodies, and those around them.
In Thick, Tressie McMillan Cottom takes on popular culture, in particular its relationship to beauty, race, and class. A professor of Sociology, Dr. McMillan Cottom has been likened to other great writers as bell hooks, Rebecca Solnit, Janet Mock, and Roxane Gay (the last of whom just so happens to be her co-host on the podcast Hear to Slay). Thick is an excellent black feminist cultural critique of modern culture.
In Bad Feminist Roxane Gay “rais[es her] voice to show all the ways we have room to want more, to do better” (xiv). Gay grapples with her own relationship to feminism (or feminisms) in the context of her black and queer identities. The essays in this collection touch on a wide array of popular culture from Tyler Perry, to how Twitter can create community, to the Fifty Shades Trilogy. Roxane Gay has her finger right on the pulse of popular culture and writes with a uniquely individual, nuanced, and unforgettable voice.
Polaris Rising, Book 1 of The Consortium Rebellion trilogy, drops you right in the middle of the action. Ada von Hasenberg is on the run, trying to carve out a life for herself beyond the preening and cutthroat aristocrats of the Consortium. Ada meets Marcus Loch when she is dumped into a shared holding cell after being captured by mercenaries. However, Ada has little need of a rescuer. Taking matters into her own hands she hatches an escape plan that offers Marcus his freedom as well. What follows is a fast-paced adventure complete with political intrigue, space pirates, and sizzling romance. Lovers of smart and strong female heroines and innovative world building should dive headfirst into this series!
Chaos Reigning is a steamy and action filled romance starring another truly kick-ass space princess. Battles come to a head, and more than one secret is revealed in the finale of The Consortium Rebellion Trilogy. Chaos follows Caterina, the youngest of the von Hasenberg siblings. Cat knows she is strong, in more ways than one, but it is a strength she has kept closely guarded for most of her life for fear of it being used against those she loves. She has spent her public life building a reputation as a shallow society girl. Most of the time she is happy to step into that role. When Cat orchestrates an invitation to a party at the estate of a rival family, her sister Bianca hires the mysterious but obviously handsome Alexander Sterling to be her bodyguard. Accompanied by Alex as well as his adopted sister Aoife, Cat charms the crowds by day while searching for evidence of betrayal at night. However, when the traitors reveal themselves and inter-space communications and travel are shut down, Cat, her former bodyguards, and a few friends are all that’s keeping the Consortium from becoming a brutal dictatorship. Chaos Reigning is a thrilling conclusion to the Consortium Rebellion Trilogy. Jessie Mihalik has crafted some of the most exciting and brilliant heroines I have read in years, perfect for fans of Sarah J. Maas and Tamora Pierce. The von Hasenberg sisters are an incredibly strong group of women, confident in their own intelligence and abilities, and working to make the next generation of leaders kinder and more just than the ones that came before.
This was the first book I ever loved. I have read the Lionessand Immortalsquartets more times than I can possibly count. While any of Tamora Pierce’s series can stand by themselves, many take place in the Tortall universe. I recommend starting with Alanna. Alanna is expected to become a lady. But she could not imagine a more boring future. To escape, she disguises herself as her brother and heads to the royal court to take his place as a knight in training. With the help of her friends, Alanna begins to find her footing. But as a series of seeming accidents befall members of the royal family, Alanna must learn to trust her instincts as the kingdom may need her help sooner than she expected. Over the course of the series, Alanna grows up, learning the importance of friendship, love, and fighting for what you believe. I hope you enjoy her adventures just as much I do!
Stella is far more comfortable dealing with numbers and analytics than she is with romantic relationships. Diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome as a child, she has learned to deal with her sensory sensitivities and is perfectly fine living her life as it is. However, to appease her loving yet overbearing mother, she makes it her mission to learn to become more comfortable with physically intimate relationships. In a gender-swapped Pretty Womanmove, Stella hires Michael, a professional escort, to help her with this task. Hoang’s novel is a much-needed representation of an adult autistic woman claiming her own sexuality. Hoang, who also has Asperger’s, offers a novel that is first and foremost a fun, heartfelt, and sexy romance centered around a strong and confident protagonist who just so happens to share that diagnosis.
Maddie and Theo hate each other. That night a few months ago? Definitely a fluke. Really, they can’t stand each other. However, they both love their friend Alexa. And now, as co-Maid and Man of honor for Alexa’s wedding, they are going to be seeing a lot of each other. Suddenly those flukes seem to be happening a lot more often. The third book in Guillory’sWedding Dateseries, The Wedding Partyis full of her trademark humor and heart. As Maddie and Theo each discover that the other person is not quite who they assumed them to be, they must decide if their enemies with benefits relationship might indeed be something more.
Olivia knows first-hand how men in power respond to intelligent, strong, and self-assured Black women. She recently moved to LA to found an independent law firm, and while she knows she has what it takes to make it, she also knows everything that can go wrong. Max is a young hot-shot senator who sincerely wants to make a difference in the world, but whose optimism and excitement sometimes cause him to run before he walks. After a memorable debate in a hotel bar about the best flavor of cake and where to find it, they go their separate ways. When they happen to be at the same fundraiser a few weeks later, the chemistry (and love of cake) remains. Jasmine Guillory’s novels are all joyously delightful, and some of the best contemporary romances out there. They are always some of the first I recommend. Guillory is the master of humorous, socially conscious (the first thing Olivia googles after learning Max’s identity is “Max Powell Black Lives Matter”), and heartfelt romance. I have followed this series from the beginning and it just keeps getting better!
Kazuo Ishiguro’s use of language is breathtaking. He is a master at crafting narratives rich with deeply nuanced emotions. In Never Let Me Go, we follow Kathy, Ruth and Tommy as they grow up at a boarding school in the English countryside. While their lives seemed idyllically normal as children, as an adult Kathy begins to remember certain inconsistencies. There is an underlying darkness to their purpose, the reality of which they could not grasp as children. As Kathy, Ruth, and Tommy delve deeper into their shared histories they are confronted with questions about how we define humanity and what makes a life worth living.
Feel Free collects non-fiction writings of Zadie Smith, author of White Teeth, On Beauty, NW, and Swing Time. The essays range in subject from literature, to popular, to memoir, and beyond. My personal favorite is “On Optimism and Despair” which is a speech Smith delivered upon receiving the 2016 Welt Literary Prize, shortly after Trump was elected. I find it especially resonant today.