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Read This Book: Blacktop Wasteland by S.A. Cosby

Welcome to Read This Book, a weekly newsletter where I recommend one book that I think you absolutely must read. The books will vary across genre and age category to include new releases, backlist titles, and classics. If you’re ready to explode your TBR, buckle up!

This week, I’ve got an AMAZING thriller that you absolutely, positively must read–Blacktop Wasteland by S.A. Crosby.

This novel follows Beauregard, aka Bug, a family man and business owner doing his best to provide for his wife, two young sons, and teenage daughter that he had when he was a teenager himself. But now his garage is struggling, he’s short on rent, and his elderly mother is about to be evicted from her nursing home. He needs cash, and fast. So he decides to return to a job that he left long ago–driving getaway cars. He’s the best driver on the East coast, and he decides one job should bail him out. But when that job goes sideways and the consequences invade his personal life, it’ll take everything Bug has to jut survive.

First off, I love this book because it portrays rural America in such a way that you know it’s written from the inside. Yes, rural tropes and stereotypes do exist in this novel, but they’re interwoven with so many rich details about life, race, class, and family that you know the author is speaking from a place of authority.

Bug is a fantastic character. He is a loving and supportive father who wants to keep his kids away from his troubles, and he’s struggling to deal with the emotional fallout of his own father leaving him at a young age. Everything he does is for his family, and the reader is rooting for him, even if Bug’s actions aren’t exactly legal–you understand where he’s coming from and you want him to succeed. He’s smart and savvy, and the heists, car chase sequences, and action scenes are flawlessly written–perfect if you like Jason Bourne-level action and twists. At the same time, Cosby never neglects to take into account the emotional toll that this life has on Bug and his family, and how a childhood marred by violence has consequences even decades later. That emotional exploration of how struggling to get by affects your quality of life and affects your outlook on life is what makes this book so good, and so memorable. Cosby just leapt on my auto-buy author list!

Bonus: I listened to the audiobook, narrated by Adam Lazarre-White, which is most excellent! I highly recommend it if you like fast-paced audiobooks.

Happy reading!
Tirzah

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Read This Book: HOMEGOING by Yaa Gyasi

Welcome to Read This Book, the newsletter where I recommend a book you should add to your TBR, STAT! I stan variety in all things, and my book recommendations will be no exception. These must-read books will span genres and age groups. There will be new releases, oldie but goldies from the backlist, and the classics you may have missed in high school. Oh my! If you’re ready to diversify your books, then LEGGO!!

Did you know the first Sunday of August is National Sisters Day? Did you remember to give your big or little sis a call? Did you catch up with your sister from another mister? If you didn’t, it’s not a problem. You can give them a call right now! If you’re looking for a book that is not only about sisters, but also feels relevant during this current iteration of the Black Liberation Movement, then look no further than Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi. In this debut novel, Gyasi takes the reader on a sweeping and powerful journey that traces three hundred years of the African Diaspora through two sisters separated by circumstance.

Trigger warning for sexual assault

Homegoing Book CoverIn 18th-century Ghana, Effia and Esi are sisters born in different villages. Known beauty Effia intends to marry the future chief of her village, but rumors spread that she is barren. Instead of marrying a chief, Effia marries James Collins, the British governor of Cape Coast Castle. There, Effia lives comfortably in the palatial castle, unaware of the horrors occurring beneath her in the castle’s dungeons. Esi is the beloved daughter of renowned warrior Kwame and his wife, Maame. After her village is raided and her parents are killed, Esi is captured and imprisoned in the dungeon of the Cape Coast Castle where she is raped by a drunk British officer before being shipped off to America. One story thread follows Effia’s descendants through Ghanaian civil warfare and British colonization while the other thread follows Esi and her descendants in America from the plantations of the South and the Civil War to the Great Migration and 20th-century Harlem through the present day.

When I tell you Homegoing rocked me … Baby! I cried for almost an hour after I finished it. I usually enjoy most books I read, but it isn’t often that I read a book that moves me. Homegoing moved my entire soul. It made me feel seen as a Black American. It honored the strength and struggle of my ancestors. It reminded me of my transformative study abroad experience in Ghana. It’s been a few years since I read Homegoing, and I still find myself thinking about it from time to time. I constantly wonder when I will see this story adapted into a miniseries because Homegoing is Roots for a new generation.

I could keep going on about how amazing Homegoing is, but ain’t nobody got time for that! Instead, I will recommend adding Homegoing as the reading companion to Between the World and Me and How to Be an Anti-Racist on your anti-racist TBR because Homegoing uses an easily digestible fictional narrative that shows readers not just the horrors of America’s (and Britain’s) original sin, but how those sins are still alive and well in contemporary society. Like Kenya along with Kenan, Jay, and Sasheer have already told us, the simplest answer to any question dealing with the state of race relations today is “Because of slavery.” Homegoing also shows the beauty in Blackness. It is an unabashed celebration of our humanity and our spirit that is often overlooked and disregarded … because of slavery.

Until next time bookish friends,

Katisha

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Read This Book: THE CHILDREN OF MEN by P.D. James

Welcome to Read This Book, the newsletter where I recommend a book you should add to your TBR, STAT! I stan variety in all things, and my book recommendations will be no exception. These must-read books will span genres and age groups. There will be new releases, oldie but goldies from the backlist, and the classics you may have missed in high school. Oh my! If you’re ready to diversify your books, then LEGGO!!

The Children of Men by PD James Book CoverIn 2020, the book world will celebrate what would be the centennial birthday of English crime writer P.D. James, born Phyllis Dorothy James on August 3, 1920. Although she rose to fame with the Adam Dalgliesh detective series, I was introduced to James through her dystopian novel The Children of Men.

Set in England during the year 2021, The Children of Men takes place during the aftermath of global mass infertility. The last generation of people known as “Omegas” were born in the mid 1990s, and the last Omega to be born has just been killed in a pub brawl. Apathetic toward a future that in sense doesn’t exist since babies are no longer being born, Oxford historian Theodore “Theo” Faron spends most of his time living in the past and reflecting on the current state of affairs in his diary. It takes the bright and beautiful Julian and her group of unlikely revolutionaries who may hold the key to the survival of the human race to awaken Theo’s desire to live.

Although I enjoy reading different genres, my reading repertoire is lacking in the science fiction department. The Children of Men is the perfect book to read for someone who wants to delve into sci-fi books, but doesn’t naturally gravitate towards sci-fi books. What I enjoyed most is the story feeling grounded in reality since the birth rates in the United States have been declining by 2% each year, and the coronavirus pandemic will likely exacerbate that decline. With facts like these, the concept of the world population no longer being able to reproduce is science fiction I can wrap my head around. The Children of Men not only seems plausible, it seems likely to happen if current trends continue.

Yeah … that got a little dark, but sometimes, I like to embrace living in the Darkest Timeline by diving into books that reflect these bleak times. If you’re looking for an engaging book to do the same, then The Children of Men is an excellent choice.

Not only did I love the realistic sci-fi aspect of The Children of Men, I loved the political commentary within the story that touched on issues like immigration, the judicial system, elections, and human rights. Reading this book made me reflect on how I would behave in this forlorn society. I want to believe I would be revolutionary like Julian and the Five Fishes fighting against the government’s passive tyranny. However, I fear I would most likely be another curmudgeon like Theo living day by day with no regards for the future of humanity that is dying right before my eyes.

The Children of Men is not for the light of heart, but if you take the less traveled road to the disheartening parts of the literary world, then you will find a thought-provoking novel that will stay on your mind for years to come.

Until next time bookish friends,

Katisha

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Read This Book: Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up With Me by Mariko Tamaki and Rosemary O’Connell-Valero

Welcome to Read This Book, a weekly newsletter where I recommend one book that I think you absolutely must read. The books will vary across genre and age category to include new releases, backlist titles, and classics. If you’re ready to explode your TBR, buckle up!

Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up with Me cover imageI’ve been meaning to gush about Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up With Me by Mariko Tamaki and Rosemary O’Connell-Valero, but then it won multiple Eisner Awards over the weekend and now I have to tell you how much I love this book!

Content warning: statutory rape, abortion

This graphic novel is the story of Freddie, a teen girl who is in love with her girlfriend, Laura Dean. The only problem is that Laura has now broken up with Freddie three times, with no signs of remorse. Freddie writes letters to an advice columnist, desperate for insight on how to make this relationship work. But what Freddie is overlooking is that in her attempts to get Laura to stay with her, she’s neglecting her friendships–and her best friend needs her right now.

First off, the art. Oh my word, the artwork is gorgeous. It’s dreamy and romantic, but with occasional details that are odd and disparate, so you feel like you’re in a bit of a strange dream while reading, and you want to pay close attention. The style reminds me of Tillie Walden because of the line work and detail, but it’s also uniquely O’Connell-Valero.

The story is also just so engaging from the very beginning–I love how we get this all from Freddie’s perspective, but the story is framed by her letters to the advice columnist (Anna Vice, I love it) and those letters provide the background narration to the panels. I love that we’ve gotten to a point in publishing, particularly in YA, where a queer girl and her (not so healthy) relationship with another girl is given the same kind of space and grace to exist as dysfunctional heterosexual couples have had for years (decades? centuries?).

This is a book about making mistakes and falling for the wrong person, but it’s also about picking yourself back up, learning from your mistakes, and doing better. Oh, and when Anna Vice’s response finally comes–well, let’s just say that’s something I wish I could tell my own teenage self.

Obviously buy or borrow this one in print. The artwork is gorgeous, and you won’t regret it!

Happy reading!
Tirzah

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Read This Book: Beach Read by Emily Henry

Welcome to Read This Book, a weekly newsletter where I recommend one book that I think you absolutely must read. The books will vary across genre and age category to include new releases, backlist titles, and classics. If you’re ready to explode your TBR, buckle up!

This week’s pick is the ultimate summer beach book, ironically (and I love it) titled Beach Read by Emily Henry!

January is a romance novelist, and a fairly successful one at that. But she no longer believes in love after her beloved father passed away and she found out he’d been cheating on her mom, and he left her his beach house on Lake Michigan, where he saw the other woman. This is a real problem, because January has an impending deadline but her novel isn’t coming together, and she’s out of money. So she heads to her dad’s love nest to take the summer to finish her novel and pack up the house to sell it. She gets a major shock when she arrives and discovers her next-door-neighbor is none other than Gus, her college rival and celebrated literary fiction novelist. Their re-acquaintance borders on antagonistic, but when she learns that he’s also struggling with his book, they decide to challenge each other to swap genres for the summer and see what happens.

I think for the rest of time, as soon as it is summer I will be asking people if they’ve picked up Beach Read yet–it was one of those rare books that hooked me from the first page and kept me absolutely riveted until the very end. Yes, it’s a romance novel, and I think romance novels rock, but it’s got prickly characters who’ve been deeply hurt and big discussions on love, relationships, family, and how you connect with people that should appeal to anyone, no matter what your go-to genre may be. This book is also genuinely funny–it’s set in a small, fictional Lake Michigan town and populated with hilarious characters who surprise and delight you, and January herself has a cutting sense of humor as she reckons with a version of her history that she realizes was never true. I also love the setting, but I admit that I am biased–I grew up and currently live about an hour away from Lake Michigan and yes, the beaches really are sandy, there are waves, and no, you cannot see Wisconsin from the shore, so it feels like being at the ocean but without the salt or sharks. Everything about this book felt so true and genuine to me, from the big questions about how to make relationships work to the funny details about what it’s like to be a writer. Don’t sleep on this book. You won’t be sorry you read it!

Happy reading, and if you hit the beach this summer, don’t forget your sunscreen!

Tirzah

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Who is Vera Kelly? by Rosalie Knecht

Welcome to Read This Book, a weekly newsletter where I recommend one book that I think you absolutely must read. The books will vary across genre and age category to include new releases, backlist titles, and classics. If you’re ready to explode your TBR, buckle up!

This week’s pick is one of my favorite spy thriller books of recent years, Who is Vera Kelly? by Rosalie Knecht!

Content warning: homophobia, but I don’t recall anything else!

Vera Kelly is a bit of an enigma. In her mid-twenties, she’s working for the CIA in Buenos Aires in the 1960s, and the political climate is tense. But her job is relatively mellow–she passes time undercover as a student, tries to befriend the more radical student groups, and transcribes secretly tapped telephone conversations. But then a political coup throws the city in chaos and the CIA withdraws from the country without extracting her. Vera’s cover is blown and she’s left without a way home, with enemies closing in on all sides.

There are so many reasons why I love this book. First off, Vera is queer! Her story is a dual timeline narrative, alternating between her time in Argentina and her young adulthood years, starting with when her mother catches her acting a bit too amorous with her high school best friend. This ensuing fallout definitely shapes Vera’s worldview, and sets her on a long path to the CIA. Which brings me to setting–I love that this is a spy story set in the latter half of the twentieth century that isn’t about how bad the Soviets are. Yes, the Cold War had a huge impact on politics and culture, especially in the ’60s, but let’s not forget that the CIA was meddling in South America an awful lot, and the U.S. was not always the good guy there.

And on that note–this is a spy story that’s a little quirky. It doesn’t gloss over the boring, mundane aspects of spy work, nor does it romanticize the danger and action. Vera is no queer lady Jason Bourne (although if anyone wants to write me that story, PLEASE), but she is a smart, unconventional, determined heroine who is trying to survive the best she can. She’s not mercenary, nor is she a committed patriot–which makes sense, considering that she knows she’d be fired if her handlers knew about her sexuality. Because of who she is, Vera has the unique perspective of being critical and grateful to the CIA at the same time.

This is the perfect pick for people who can’t handle or don’t want to read a lot of violence or sexual assault, because this book doesn’t get very dark. There are some really great action moments, some heartbreaking scenes in Vera’s past, but underneath it all, a dry sense of humor that I couldn’t get enough of!

Bonus: The sequel, Vera Kelly is Not a Mystery just came out last month! It’s about what Vera does after the events of this book, and it’s already one of my favorite books of 2020! All my fingers crossed that Rosale Knecht will write more Vera books!

Happy reading!

Tirzah

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Read This Book: The Season of Styx Malone by Kekla Magoon

Welcome to Read This Book, a weekly newsletter where I recommend one book that I think you absolutely must read. The books will vary across genre and age category to include new releases, backlist titles, and classics. If you’re ready to explode your TBR, buckle up!

Hello, I am back in your inbox after a week off due to the Fourth of July weekend, and I am so excited about this week’s pick, which totally embodies summer shenanigans and fun–The Season of Styx Malone by Kekla Magoon.

Caleb and his brother Bobby Gene never go anywhere, which is why they have to make their own fun at home. After a misadventure involving trading their baby sister to a neighborhood boy who always wanted a sister in exchange for a bag of fireworks, the brothers meet an older boy named Styx Malone. Styx tells them about the Great Escalator Trade–trading up smaller things for something worth slightly more, until you can get something you really want. Before they know it, the boys have set their sights on a motorized scooter–but Caleb and Bobby Gene are breaking their parents’ rules to get the trades they need.

This middle grade adventure will definitely appeal to fans of Christopher Paul Curtis for its laugh out loud humor and hijinks, and careful examination of larger, more serious social issues. Readers will be all in from the beginning with Caleb’s earnest an humorous narration about wanting something more out of his life than just sticking around home–he doesn’t want to be ordinary. Styx seems like a ticket to adventure, to fun, and to making his mark, and the slow reveal that Styx might be in over his head is masterful, leading to some lies, betrayals, and big revelations about why Caleb and his family stick so close to home all the time–it has to do with his dad’s fear that Caleb and Bobby Gene might be seen as a threat anywhere outside their small town. Most kids might not make the clear connection between Caleb’s dad’s fear and the tremendous loss of Black life in America, but the subtlety is what’s so brilliant about this book.

This is a novel about three Black boys having adventures, scheming their next trade, and getting into a little bit of trouble, but it’s not a book about tragedy. The characters don’t exist in a vacuum; their story is about finding fun and joy, learning that each person has something extraordinary inside of them, and that sometimes adults let you down, but the good ones are just trying to keep you safe.

With so much attention being given to books about anti-racism, please remember to pick up books about Black joy, too! This is an excellent pick, plus the audiobook was so much fun!

Happy reading,

Tirzah

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Read This Book: The House in the Cerulean Sea by TJ Klune

Welcome to Read This Book, a weekly newsletter where I recommend one book that I think you absolutely must read. The books will vary across genre and age category to include new releases, backlist titles, and classics. If you’re ready to explode your TBR, buckle up!

Before we get into this week’s pick, I wanted to let you know that Book Riot is running a short reader survey! Tell us more about yourself and potentially win an ereader! It’ll only take a few minutes and you can see the questions and giveaway details at bookriot.com/2020survey.

Now, to wrap up Pride Month, I picked one of my absolute favorite books of the year so far: The House in the Cerulean Sea by TJ Klune!

Content warning: Talk of past child abuse/neglect (nothing graphic)

Linus is a caseworker with the Department in Charge of Magical Youth. He’s thorough, impartial, and his reports are always meticulous. But his personal life is rather lacking, and he dreams of taking a vacation to the sea. When his good work catches the attention of Extremely Upper Management, they assign him a case that throws his entire life upside down. Linus is sent to the seaside, where an orphanage on a nearby island is in need of an evaluation. Six highly unusual children live there with their caretaker, Arthur, and it’s Linus’s job to ensure they’re being well looked-after. But this island holds secrets that could jeopardize their future, and Linus will learn that Arthur is determined to keep his makeshift family together, no matter what he may think of them.

I love the whimsical world building and sense of humor in this book! It makes the story feel like a contemporary fairy tale, and it made me love Linus from the very start. This book is a wonderful journey in which Linus must open his eyes to see that the world contains so much more than he has ever imagined–and that’s a bit scary at first. Mainly because kids he’s meant to evaluate are unlike any he’s ever met, and some of them are still struggling with the effects of adult neglect and prejudice. But Linus must learn to sit with his discomfort and be open to listening and witnessing differences, and along the way he sees how hearts and minds can change. The cast of characters is so imaginative, and the shenanigans that the kids get up to had me laughing out loud in certain parts. The romance that eventually blossoms between Linus and Arthur is sweet and subtle, and so the focus of this book is more on found-family and learning to stand up for the marginalized. If you need a really happy read that will make you laugh and cheer, I promise you this book is just the thing!

Happy reading!
Tirzah

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Read This Book: The Last Place You Look by Kristen Lepionka

Welcome to Read This Book, a weekly newsletter where I recommend one book that I think you absolutely must read. The books will vary across genre and age category to include new releases, backlist titles, and classics. If you’re ready to explode your TBR, buckle up!

The Last Place You Look cover imageThis week’s pick is one of my favorite mysteries starring a bisexual PI, The Last Place You Look by Kristen Lepionka!

Content warning: kidnapping, talk of rape, some violence

Roxane Weary is a bisexual PI grieving her cop dad’s death. She’s broke, she drinks too much, and she is way too dependent on her dad’s former partner. When a woman asks Roxane to look into her brother’s case one last time before his scheduled execution, Roxane agrees reluctantly. She needs the money, but she doesn’t believe there is anything more to dig up on a ten-year-old murder case. But as she slowly emerges from her haze of grief to examine the facts of the case, Roxane realizes that certain things may have been overlooked, and she starts getting pushback on very simple questions. She begins to suspect that there might be something weird going on–and her father’s department might be covering up the truth.

This is a fantastic start to great mystery series (four books and counting) about a tough and sarcastic PI with a great heart. Roxane is a good detective with great instincts, and her connections to the police allow her to make good traction while working slightly outside of the law. This first novel is a whopper of a case–you have an old murder mystery, a Black man who is charged with the crime because of his proximity to the victims, and the growing suspicion that there’s a lot more to this case than first appears. The action is excellent, and it builds to one really explosive ending.

Roxane isn’t at a great place at the start of the series, but she really grows and develops as the series progresses. What I also appreciate about these mysteries is that each one has some really excellent subplots–usually another smaller mystery, some family drama, and relationship woes. Roxane dates both men and women, but her character subverts a lot of tropes, and she’s just so capable and sardonic that you can’t help but want more. Read the books in order, because I promise you’ll care just as much about Roxane’s life as you will about the mysteries she solves. Start with The Last Place You Look, and follow it up with What You Want to See, The Stories You Tell, and Once You Go This Far.

Bonus: The first three books are out now, and the fourth hits shelves next month! Read them now and get caught up in time for the new release!

Happy reading,

Tirzah

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Read This Book: Cantoras by Carolina de Robertiis

Welcome to Read This Book, a weekly newsletter where I recommend one book that I think you absolutely must read. The books will vary across genre and age category to include new releases, backlist titles, and classics. If you’re ready to explode your TBR, buckle up!

cantorasContinuing our LGBTQ+ readathon for Pride Month, this week’s pick is Cantoras by Carolina de Robertis.

Content warning: sexual assault, conversion therapy, homophobia, talk of political torture and violence

Today, Uruguay is one of the most egalitarian of South American countries. It was the first Latin American country to legalize same-sex marriage in 2013, and it has a large middle class. But this wasn’t always the case. This novel opens in the 1970s, only a few years into a military dictatorship, and follows five women who live in the capital, Montevideo. Anita, Flaca, Romina, Malena, and Paz all discover one another and recognize that they are cantoras, women who love other women. To escape the oppressive environment of the city for a week, they head to a small town on the coast, where they camp on the beach and feel the most free they’ve ever been. They decide to buy a shack there, and over the next ten years that place becomes their refuge from the world as their relationships shift, but their friendship remains.

This is a really eye-opening and incredible book that looks at what life was like under the dictatorship, not just for queer people, but for anyone who dissented. The friendship between these five women is powerful, and they support and love each other like no other. For them, finding their refuge is an awakening to their identities, and they can explore who they might want to be when no one is looking. The effects of these discoveries are felt throughout nearly every aspect of their lives when they return home–relationships are broken off, new lovers are found, political callings are discovered, and new careers are forged. The author also examines how the dictatorship absolutely ruins lives–one woman in this group is never able to process what happened to her as a young woman, and is not given the space to heal while she must remain vigilant against drawing any attention to herself. There are moments of deep sadness and tragedy, but the book ends on such a bittersweet note, reminding readers of how hard LGBTQ+ people have fought for their rights and just how far we’ve come in a few short decades. I can’t think of a better book to read for Pride month.

Bonus: This book just came out in paperback last week, so be sure to pick up a copy!

Happy reading,

Tirzah

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