Hello I’m Rogan and welcome to my February books wrap up. This month, I made a point of reading only Black authors and stories (apart from one, but that will only briefly be mentioned today).
Before we get into the books though, I’m going to recommend some Black authors and their books that I’ve read. All of their Instagrams will be linked below. Akwaeke Emezi, who wrote Freshwater, Pet, and The Death of Vivek Oji. I’ve only read Freshwater, but enjoyed it! Elizabeth Acevedo, The Poet X, With the Fire on High, and Clap When You Land. Two of these are written in poetry/verse, and Acevedo is incredible! George M. Johnson wrote All Boys Aren’t Blue. Julian Winters has written several, and I’ve read them all! Running With Lions, The Summer of Everything, and How to be Remy Cameron. Kacen Callender who wrote Felix Ever After, which I absolutely loved, and This Is Kind of an Epic Love Story, which I did not. They’ve also written other things that I haven’t read yet. Keah Brown wrote The Pretty One, which I’ll be talking about today. Layla F. Saad, the author of Me and White Supremacy which is definitely on my TBR. Leah Johnson wrote You Should See Me in a Crown, which is fantastic. Namina Forna wrote The Gilded Ones, which I haven’t read yet, but have seen so much good about!
Now, I originally planned to also recommend some Bookstagrammers, but I discovered I had quite the list and I don’t want to make the beginning of this post any longer than it’s already going to be. So I’m going to have a very extensive list of links at the end of this post, along with some Black bookstores across the country. Be sure to check them out, even if you don’t end up following them. Alright, let’s dive right into the books!
First up is The Pretty One: On Life, Pop Culture, Disability, and Other Reasons to Fall in Love With Me by Keah Brown. This is a collection of essays written by Keah, talking about her personal experiences with cerebral palsy, navigating her life as a disabled Black woman, surrounded by abled people, and exploring representation in popular culture. She really struggled with loving herself throughout her life, due to all of the pressures society put on her and comparing her to her able-bodied identical twin. Keah has fractured relationships with her family, yearns for romantic love, and over time, she connects with others in the disabled community. With a lot of introspection and interacting with other disabled people, she came to love herself and created a viral hashtag, #DisabledAndCute. She’s also a disability rights advocate. — I thought this was “cute” in the way Keah presents the essays—you can certainly see her personality very clearly in this—but she’s very open about the struggles that she personally went through. She acknowledges the pain and hurt she’s caused to her family and loved ones, and what she’s doing now to try and repair or rebuild those relationships. Internalized ableism is a large part of these essays, along with an idealization of who she was “supposed” to be to deserve love and to live. I personally didn’t really get much new out of this, in regard to disability. However, if you’re someone who’s relatively new, or know little to nothing about the disabled community, this will be a beneficial read. I did enjoy this, but I will warn you that Keah repeats several points a lot, and the essays sometimes feel like they meander a little. I get it, Keah was a blog writer before she wrote this, so this is probably close to how she typically writes. Which is fine! I just think it probably could have been edited a bit for this book.
Legendborn by Tracy Deonn. Bree Matthews has recently lost her mother in an accident, and decides that she’ll be using school as an escape. She got accepted to a program at UNC-Chapel for bright high schoolers, and is excited about it. The very first night she’s on campus, she’s at a bonfire party and witnesses what could be nothing else but magic. A mage tries to wipe her memory of the attack, but it doesn’t work, and it unlocks something in Bree. Her own brand of magic and a forgotten memory from the night her mother died. Bree is determined to get to the bottom of whatever’s happening on this campus, even if that means infiltrating a secret society of magic users. She quickly discovers there’s far, far more than meets the eye about this society and has to decide how far she’s willing to go for the truth. — I LOVED THIS!! It will absolutely be a reread for me, probably just before the second book comes out. Also, I will be doing a Title Talks video for this, where I talk about more details and big plot things that I don’t want to spoil here. Bree is Black, her best friend is lesbian and Taiwanese-American. The Order, which is what the secret society is called, is visibly all-white. However! There is a purpose for this, and they’re not all cishet. There are a couple of bi characters and a gay one, a wlw relationship, and a nonbinary character that I love. There are some other Black characters – Bree’s dad, her therapist, and another student who makes a couple of appearances. Also, the ancestors of Bree are vital to part of the story. The reason why the Order is all-white is that they’re descendants of King Arthur and the Round Table. This book directly confronts anti-Blackness in America, and its roots in the history of our nation, along with slavery, colonialism, and violence. It honors the ways that Black folk have had to survive, fight, and thrive. There are a couple of things I’m meh about, like the romance involving the MC, several YA tropes that are just soooo common, BUT those in no way detracted too much from my enjoyment of this book and I gave it a full five stars. I really look forward to seeing what happens next.
Lot: Stories by Bryan Washington. A collection of stories about a young man living in Houston, the son of a Black mother and Latino father. He’s coming of age, has been working at his family’s restaurant for years, puts up with his brother and resenting his sister for not being around. He’s also discovering that he likes boys. While we experience this family’s ups and downs, we also see stories of others around Houston about an affair, a baseball team, hustlers, and more. Many of these stories have other young queer men. — I enjoyed this insight into the daily lives of so many different people across the city, all the different ways a community, family, and a life can be. For some reason, I thought this was a memoir but it’s definitely not! Bryan Washington’s style of writing is really interesting, and I enjoyed it! Since these are short stories, apart from the larger story arc of our main character, a lot of them didn’t really stick with me. Maybe if I had read them one story at a time, but this collection is a little unusual in that it has a combination of short stories and a longer one broken up into parts. Another thing that’s not a big deal, but I didn’t really get a sense of Houston. Reading this, it felt like it could be almost any other large city. Yes, there were specific street names and locations, but I don’t know them, so that didn’t really help set it apart from anything else. That was really minor though, and I’d love to eventually read his other work.
So You Want to be a Wizard by Diane Duane. This is the only non-Black book I read this month, and the only reason why I read it is because I’m working on reading this series for a Title Talks. So I won’t be talking about it today.
Pride by Ibi Zoboi. A retelling of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice full of characters of color, this takes place in Brooklyn, specifically Bushwick. Zuri Benitez is proud of her home in Bushwick, her family, and her Afro-Latino roots. She loves her neighborhood, but that love may not be enough to prevent the gentrification of it. The crumbling mansion across the street from her home has been undergoing renovations, and one day, the wealthy Darcy family moves in. Zuri wants absolutely nothing to do with the family, but her sisters are charmed and interested in getting to know them. Janae, her older sister, starts to fall for Ainsley, and Zuri definitely can’t stand Darius, the arrogant and judgmental brother. Zuri has four wild sisters to deal with, interest from a cute boy, college applications coming up, and she’s struggling to find her place before she loses it all. — This is incredible. It is a retelling, and while I haven’t read the original, I know enough to be able to say that this is not the same story being told again. The fundamentals are kept, but Zoboi really makes it her own, using the original as merely a guideline. I appreciated that the conflict came from culture and background, rather than making it a white/black conflict. It prompted a discussion of race and class, how that can impact people across all skin colors. I liked Zuri well enough, but I was annoyed by her snap judgment of the Darcy boys, especially because she later gets pissed about others making snap judgments about her. She also repeatedly mentions she’s from the hood, which—I get it, the author wants to make sure we remember she’s not from a “nice” background, but I felt like it was mentioned way too much. There was enough in the descriptions of the area, the other people there, and so on, that it didn’t need to be said that she was from the hood repeatedly. Darius bored me, he didn’t feel very fleshed out. Most of what we learn about him is pretty surface level, and nothing about him captured my interest. I enjoyed the other characters though, like Madrina, the landlady and resident Santería priestess. There was a lot of rich culture, some from Madrina, but also throughout the book, there was a lot of Haitian and Dominican food. I really enjoyed the descriptions of New York as well, when they ventured out of the block. Of course, there’s the romance in this. I felt that part was kind of meh, even though it’s a pretty major part of the original story. I think part of it is that I didn’t particularly like Darius at all until much, much later in the story. I was also annoyed with Zuri’s attitude about anyone who’s not from the hood. When the romance actually happened, it felt a tiny bit forced or just skipped over, and became instalove. Regardless of that, I really did enjoy this book and would recommend it if you like retellings of classic stories.
Riot Baby by Tochi Onyebuchi. This is a novella I got from Tor’s monthly free ebook, and wow. We see the lives of siblings Ella and Kev, who both have extraordinary power. Growing up, their lives are defined and wrecked by racism and brutality. Kev gets put in prison for being a young Black man in America, and Ella visits him. Her visits are both mundane and supernatural, and during those visits, she tries to show him the way forward. — I went into this not really knowing much, and I’m kind of glad I did. First, content warnings. This book is chock full of them, references to famous violent events, police brutality, incarceration, descriptions of violence that can get graphic, and probably more I’m not saying. This is a short book, but it has SO much fit into it. It’s very powerful, and Ella has the ability to see the future and change reality. She can never share this part of herself because of how Black people are viewed in America, and the fact that people would never see or understand these things. It might be a short book, but it didn’t feel like one. It really felt like a fully fleshed out novel, with all of the topics it talks about. I look forward to reading War Girls, and whatever else this author has written.
The Sorcerer of the Wildeeps by Kai Ashante Wilson. Demane has been labeled the Sorcerer by the people around him, due to his unusual gifts and understanding of things beyond most people’s comprehension. Demane is a demigod, and he follows his love, the Captain, a beautiful man who has one of the most incredible voices. Their gifts are called on to help protect and guide a caravan through the Wildeeps on the one safe road that’s now being stalked by a monster. — I’d already read another story by this author, A Taste of Honey, and enjoyed that. These are set in the same world, but different areas and different people. I really enjoyed Wildeeps, and the cadence and poetry of Wilson’s writing is just wonderful. The only thing that I wish was a little different is the pacing. The beginning is fairly slow-paced, and the last chunk of pages really picks up, almost too quickly. I would’ve liked it if it had been balanced a little more. I’ve been consuming a LOT of D&D content lately, and this honestly feels a lot like a D&D campaign, where a party is given the task of getting a caravan safely through a dangerous forest where a beast is stalking and killing travelers. But! That doesn’t mean I didn’t enjoy it, I did! It just felt short, and the core story wasn’t all that creative.
That’s all for my February reads! If you’ve watched this far, I appreciate you! I also wanted to let you know that I now have an Instagram account specifically for books, @roganreads, so feel free to follow if you want! In the comments, leave a book by a Black author that you enjoyed.
- Akwaeke Emezi: https://instagram.com/azemezi/
- Elizabeth Acevedo: https://www.instagram.com/acevedowrites/
- George M. Johnson: https://www.instagram.com/iamgmjohnson/
- Julian Winters: https://www.instagram.com/wintersjulian/
- Kacen Callender: https://www.instagram.com/kacen.callender/
- Keah Brown: https://www.instagram.com/keah_maria/
- Layla F. Saad: https://instagram.com/laylafsaad/
- Leah Johnson: https://www.instagram.com/byleahjohnson/
- Namina Forna: https://www.instagram.com/namina.forna/
- AJ’s Bookstagram: https://www.instagram.com/readingwithglamour/
- Bee: https://instagram.com/beebutbookish/
- Bre: https://instagram.com/locd_booktician/
- Joel: https://www.instagram.com/fictionalfates/
- Kobby Ben Ben: https://www.instagram.com/bookworm_man/
- Mikaya Jones: https://www.instagram.com/booksforkay/
- Marines: https://instagram.com/mynameismarines/
- Mina: https://instagram.com/mina_reads/
- Njeri: https://instagram.com/onyx_pages/
- Nokukhanya: https://instagram.com/pretty_x_bookish/
- Novel Allure: https://instagram.com/novelallure/
- Rachelle: https://www.instagram.com/raethereviewer/
- Rachel Rae: https://instagram.com/rachelraereads/
- Starlah: https://instagram.com/starlahreads/
- Harriett’s Bookshop: https://instagram.com/harrietts_bookshop/
- Coloring Books: https://instagram.com/coloringbooks/
- Brave and Kind: https://instagram.com/braveandkindbooks/
- For Keeps: https://instagram.com/forkeepsbooks/
- The Lit Bar: https://instagram.com/thelitbar/
- Semi Colon: https://instagram.com/semicolonchi/
- Uncle Bobbies: https://instagram.com/unclebobbies/
- Mahogany Books: https://instagram.com/mahoganybooks/