Your next great book club pick

Whether everyone takes turns choosing a book, or the entire club votes, picking the next read is always challenging. You want to pick something that will spark discussion but has a wide appeal. We’ve put together a list of recommendations that we think will be a great fit for any book club.

A Place for Us by Fatima Farheen Mirza
We actually did read this in my book club years ago, and it was so enjoyable. Everyone related to a different character in a different way, and it remains my favorite book to recommend for that very reason.

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith
This is a classic that will appeal to clubs who love historical fiction, coming-of-age stories and strong women.

There There by Tommy Orange
I never would have picked this up if it weren’t for my book club, which would have been a huge loss. The stories are so powerful, and the way Orange weaves them together is masterful.

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel
Maybe not the best choice for a pandemic, but the way this story is weaved together likely will have everyone talking — and might even lead to some interesting end-of-the-world theories.

The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett
There’s a reason this book has been everywhere. It is full of questions that have no clear or concrete answers but will keep you thinking for months after reading it.

A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles
If you’re looking for a humorous book that also explores emotion and has a great cast of characters, this is a great fit.

Born A Crime by Travor Noah
The affable TV host’s presence translates well to the page, but the stories about his childhood will capture you even more than his humor. (Note: If you get the chance, grab the audiobook because he’s a great narrator as well!)

The Space Between Worlds by Micaiah Johnson
Science-fiction is a tough choice for many people, but this book paints such remarkable metaphors that are applicable to our reality — many different realities reflecting divides along racial lines, income lines, and more.

An American Marriage by Tayari Jones
If you are in a book club that likes to pick sides, look no further. A marriage is tested when the husband is sent to prison, and most people land firmly on the husband’s side … or the wife’s.

Educated by Tara Westover
This was one of the wildest true stories I’ve ever read and one that had us Googling “did this really happen” during our book club meeting.

The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead
Blending fiction with some horrifying truths, Whitehead’s writing will have you highlighting passages to bring up at your book club meeting to see if they blew everyone else away as well.

Goodbye, Vitamin by Rachel Khong
It’s likely that most people in a book club have experienced feeling lost during a quarter-life crisis or have dealt with the circumstances around aging parents. This slim volume explores both beautifully.

Eloquent Rage by Brittney Cooper
Hilarious, heartbreaking, and so so smart, this should be required reading for any book club with white women.

Transcendent Kingdom by Yaa Gyasi
A meditation on faith without being overtly religious, Gyasi also dives into grief, family, and science in interesting and often devastating ways.

Stamped from the Beginning by Ibram X. Kendi
This would be a commitment because it’s very long, but there were so many times when I was reading this that I wanted to be able to talk to someone and ask them if they were just as shocked as I was by what we were reading.

Find this complete list of great book club picks at bookshop.org.

Books Ted Lasso brought to England (probably)

Ted Lasso was one of my absolute favorite new discoveries of 2020, and I thought it would be fun to peek inside the luggage he brought with him to start his new job in England.

  1. Check, Please! by Ngozi Ukazu Ted has shown a baking prowess just like the main character in this graphic novel, and I feel like Ted would be absolutely hooked on its team spirit and the absolute sweetness.
  2. One Life by Megan Rapinoe If I know Ted (and I do because I’ve watched the show several times), I know that he worships Megan Rapinoe as a hero on and off the soccer field.
  3. A Wrinkle in Time by Madeline L’Engle Ted has been shown to be a fantastic father, and I feel like this book would be a perfect buddy read with his son.
  4. Notes From A Small Island by Bill Bryson When Ted told a bookseller he was going to be moving to London, they recommended this book.
  5. Furia by Yamile Saied Méndez Of course this book about a rising soccer star is on Ted’s radar. “If it’s good enough for Reese, it’s good enough for me.”
  6. The Queen’s Gambit by Walter Tevis Coach Beard watched the show with Ted and then recommended this book to further his chess education.
  7. Darius the Great Is Not OK by Adib Khorram A focus on soccer and discovering one’s identity? A perfect fit for Ted.
  8. Fever Pitch by Nick Hornby A true British classic about football and all the weird rituals that come with it makes a great introduction for Ted.
  9. Only When It’s Us by Chloe Liese Of course Ted reads romance. And he especially loves a romance with a feisty, strong soccer star like Willa.
  10. The Collected Sherlock Holmes by Arthur Conan Doyle He said he felt like he had to read it to complete his British education.

Celebrate National Cocktail Day with these drink and book pairings

Cheers! Drink and book pairings to celebrate national cocktail day

National Cocktail Day is March 24 — also coincidentally my birthday, so double cheers! I’ll be cozying up with one of these drink + book combos to celebrate!

Summer Club by Katherine Dean Mazerov 

Normally, politics, parent drama, drunken soirees, snarkiness and sex-capades reign at Meadow Glen Swim and Tennis club where Lydia Phillips presides as president. Now, a strange car following the club manager, a break-in at Lydia’s home and a shocking discovery on the club grounds have this stay-at-home mom dusting off her newspaper-reporting skills to unravel the mystery. When a body surfaces in the river, Lydia’s life gets a whole lot more complicated — and dangerous.

Pairing: A frozen margarita, perfect for a hot summer day

 

Viral BS by Dr. Seema Yasmin

In Viral BS, journalist, doctor, professor, and CDC-trained disease detective Seema Yasmin, driven by a need to set the record straight, dissects some of the most widely circulating medical myths and pseudoscience. Exploring how epidemics of misinformation can spread faster than microbes, Dr. Yasmin asks why bad science is sometimes more believable and contagious than the facts.

Pairing: A gin and tonic, once used for medicinal purposes

 

The Authors of This Dream by Seth Mullins

Brandon Chane’s life is spinning out of control. After an altercation outside a performance venue nearly proves fatal, he’s feeling at the mercy of dark forces threatening to tear his life apart. Even as a gifted poet and musician, his efforts to channel pain, frustration, and thwarted love into his music may not be enough to save him.

Pairing: The Rock ‘n’ Rolla is self-explanatory.

 

Rethink God by Nadiez Bahi

Sherif and Christian are two strangers whose paths cross by nothing more than serendipity. For their different reasons, they become companions on a journey trying to find an answer for the big question “Does God Exist?”

Pairing: Nectar of the Gods will help you ponder the big questions in life.

 

Murmuration by Sid Balman Jr.

Charlie Christmas, Ademar Zarkan, and Prometheus Stone are the best of America—united by war, scarred by displacement, and resolute in the face of the troubles that rip the nation apart over three decades. Christmas, a Somali translator with a split personality, and Zarkan, a Muslim sharpshooter who defies gender and religious constraints to graduate from West Point, are first brought together by Stone, a lapsed Jew and an Army captain, amidst war and famine in East Africa. Their ensuing journey — which takes them from the mean streets of Mogadishu to the high desert of West Texas, from the barren plains of Indian country to the rolling hills of Minnesota — is at turns tragic and uplifting.

Pairing: A Texas Sunrise mocktail (alcohol is illegal in Somalia) that hails back to Sid’s home

 

Sing Me Forgotten by Jessica S. Olson

In this gender-swapped, feminist version of “The Phantom of the Opera,” Isda does not exist. At least not beyond the opulent walls of the opera house.

Cast into a well at birth for being one of the magical few who can manipulate memories when people sing, she was saved by Cyril, the opera house’s owner. Since that day, he has given her sanctuary from the murderous world outside. All he asks in return is that she use her power to keep ticket sales high — and that she stay out of sight. For if anyone discovers she survived, Isda and Cyril would pay with their lives.

Pairing: A Death in the Afternoon — an unforgettable cocktail for this unforgettable tale

 

Wings of Ebony by J. Elle

“Wonder Woman” meets “The Hate U Give” in a “Black Panther” world in this New York Times-bestselling YA fantasy about a Black teen from Houston who discovers she has magic powers — and learns how powerfully strong and resilient she truly is. Savor this moving story of Black girl magic with a glass of Black Magic Sangria–this cocktail even matches Wings of Ebony’s gorgeous cover! 

Pairing: A Black Magic Sangria matches the the enchanting cover perfectly.

 

The Magician by Kathleen Shoop 

It begins when narrator Patryk Rusek’s great-grandson Owen pulls up to Patryk’s nursing home, and discovers Patryk reading from his chronicle of the town of Donora to half the nursing home’s employees and residents. Flashback to Donora, 1920: Mary Musial is expecting again, and she and Lukasz Musial are hoping for a boy after four daughters. When Stanislaw Franciszek Musial is born, Mary hopes it will bring Lukasz joy, whose American Dream is rapidly fading. The story of Stan inspires Owen’s lifelong dream of being a pro baseball player despite his family’s wishes for his future. Everyone close to Stan has different goals in mind for him, but are they what Stan wants? Will insecurities and the people close to them lead them both to make choices too late, and decades apart from each other, or will they choose to follow their dreams after all?

Paring: The Sidecar is a perfect fit for the 1920s aesthetic. 

 

Among the Beautiful Beasts by Lori McMullen

Set in 1920s Miami, Lori McMullen’s historical fiction novel reveals the remarkable untold story of Marjory Stoneman Douglas– the woman who saved the Everglades. After running away from her husband – a swindler thirty years her senior – and entering into an all-consuming affair, Marjory finds herself drained by the demanding men seeking control over her life. She finds solace in the natural world – wild and free as she longs to be. So, when the Everglades are threatened with irreparable damage, Marjory knows she must speak up, or one of the greatest wonders of the world will be lost.

Pairing: A Matcha Mint Julep has a very earthy vibe. 

 

Closer to Fine by Jodi S. Rosenfeld

One of the warmest, most relatable new adult novels of the year, Jodi S. Rosenfeld’s “Closer to Fine” follows Rachel, a 20-something psych student who knows the human brain but struggles to understand her own anxiety. When a progressive female rabbi shakes up her community — and a new love interest, Liz, shakes up Rachel’s world — Rachel finds herself caught between the person she is and the woman she wants to be.

Pairing: The Sazerac has evolved and changed over time.

 

Denied by Mary Keliikoa

The second book in the gripping, award-nominated PI Kelly Pruett mystery series, “Denied” follows Kelly as a seemingly straightforward missing persons case quickly leads to hidden gambling debts, a severed finger, and an explosive message from the mafia. With a strong and relatable female lead, off-the-charts tension, and breathtaking twists, Mary Keliikoa’s action-packed story is one you won’t want to miss!

Pairing: A Reposado Old Fashioned is a feminine twist on a noir classic. 

 

Rea and the Blood of the Nectar by Payal Doshi

It all begins on the night Rea turns twelve. After a big fight with her twin brother Rohan on their birthday, Rea’s life in the small village of Darjeeling, India, gets turned on its head. It’s four in the morning and Rohan is nowhere to be found. Unwilling to give up on her brother, Rea and her friend Leela meet Mishti Daadi, a wrinkly old fortune-teller whose powers of divination set them off on a thrilling and secret quest. In the shade of night, they portal to an otherworldly realm and travel to Astranthia, a land full of magic and whimsy. Rea must solve clues that lead to Rohan, find a way to rescue him and save Astranthia from a potentially deadly fate.

Pairing: A mango fizz mocktail will be fun for the kids and make them feel adventurous.

 

The Reincarnationist Papers by D. Eric Maikranz

After an arson job gone wrong, Evan is confronted by a mysterious woman, Poppy, who recognizes him for what he is because she also remembers multiple lives — except that she is much older, remembering seven complete lives.  But there is something else Poppy must share with Evan — she is a member of a secret society of similar individuals who remember sequential past lives and reincarnate life after life.  These 28 people created a secret society called the Cognomina centuries ago so that they could associate with each other from one lifetime to another.  They are, in effect, near immortals — compiling experiences and skills over diverse lifetimes into near superhuman abilities that they have used to drive human history toward their own agenda on a longer timeline. 

Pairing: You should be able to find a good negroni no matter where your lives take you.

 

One Must Tell the Bees by J. Lawrence Matthews

It begins in 1918 in the English countryside  where the world’s greatest detective has retired to tend his bees and write his memoirs — memoirs that reveal the full story of his journey to America, first as a junior chemist at the DuPont gunpowder works in Wilmington, then as a companion for young Tad Lincoln on what turns out to be the evening of President Lincoln’s assassination — and finally as an unsung participant in the electrifying manhunt for the assassin, John Wilkes Booth.

Pairing: The Bee’s Knees is a prohibition-inspired cocktail incorporating honey. 

 

Tools of A Thief by D. Hale Rambo

How do you stop being a thief? Zizy assumed quitting her job, stealing from her boss, and flitting magically across the continent was one way to give it a go. Getting in and out of sticky situations is typically Zizy’s specialty. A little spellwork here, a pinch of deception there, and she’s home free. Quick-fingered, fast-talking, and charming the gnome knows traveling across a shattered continent won’t be easy. Still, she has the skills to keep herself from getting killed.

Pairing: Pink champagne punch is fizzy and fun, with a rosy hue.

10 books to check out if you love WandaVision

A couple of us on the Books Forward team are obsessed with WandaVision, and we put together a list of some books to check out if you also can’t stop watching! Most of these books are fairly dark, so keep that in mind if you plan to pick one up.

  1. The Stepford Wives by Ira Levin and Peter Straub – An idyllic neighborhood hides a terrible secret. Sound familiar?
  2. Fool Me Once by Harlan Coben – Maya catches a glimpse of her husband playing with her daughter on their nanny cam, but he had been murdered weeks ago. 
  3. When No One Is Watching by Alyssa Cole – This thriller about gentrification is imbued with dread and quickly turns into a horror story.
  4. Fledgling by Octavia Butler – A young girl has no memory of her past, but starts to realize she has inhuman and startling abilities.
  5. Dark Matter by Blake Crouch – Jason is abducted and wakes up in a new, alternate version of his life. If you love WandaVision for the twists, this is the book for you.
  6. Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty – Big, brittle smiles cover up a lot of secrets in this seemingly perfect community filled with tight-lipped housewives.
  7. Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng – On the surface, Lydia leads a perfect life, but when her body is found in a lake, her family must explore what she had been keeping inside.  
  8. Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia – A tough, smart heroine and a story that gets weirder and weirder as she digs deeper.
  9. The Death of Vivek Oji by Akwaeke Emezi – Vivek’s death at the beginning of the book leads to an exploration of grief, identity and family.
  10. Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn – Camille heads to stay with her family in the town where she grew up after a stay at a psychiatric facility, only to find that they have gotten more stifling, more secretive and more dangerous.

Books in translation that we’ve loved or can’t wait to read

March is national foreign language month, and to mark the occasion, our team put together a list of books in translation that we’ve loved or are looking forward to. These are books that were originally published in a language other than English.

“Love in the Time of Cholera” by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
I’ve owned a copy of Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Márquez for years, but I’ve yet to crack it open. I’m hoping to tackle a few unread books from my home library this year, including this one! So many people have raved about this novel, so I’m excited to finally dive in.

– Angelle Barbazon, lead publicist

“Woman at Point Zero” by Nawal El Saadawi
Originally published in Arabic in the 1970s, this book centers on Firdaus, a woman whose entire life was marked by abuse at the hands of the powerful. Imprisoned in Cairo as an adult, she recounts her life story from childhood to the present day. Her heartbreaking tale reflects the true stories of countless women who face a combination of sexism and class-based oppression.

“The Emissary” by Yoko Tawada
This slim dystopian science fiction novel takes place in Japan, which has cut itself off from the rest of the world following a nation-wide disaster. The book centers on a child, Mumei, who lives with his grandfather. Mumei is part of a generation of children born with a series of medical problems who rely on their comparatively spry grandparents for assistance. Despite the dystopian nature of the plot, Tawada’s tale is full of bright spots and lighthearted moments.
– Jackie Karneth, publicist

“In the Miso Soup,” by Ryu Murakami
My library happened to have it sitting featured on a shelf, so I picked it up on a whim a couple years ago. The novel follows Kenji, a young Japanese sex tour guide who accompanies his new client, a creepy American named Frank, for three nights among Tokyo’s nightlife. Reading this book was at times like a fever dream. Equal parts horrifying and intriguing, I often had to go back and check that what I had just read was really happening. When I finished it, I truly didn’t know if I could even say I liked the book. But I find myself remembering scenes from it randomly, thinking about conversations the characters had, and how the story ultimately took hold of me. A completely different kind of thriller than those I’m used to reading, this book is gruesome: Besides the grizzly murders that take place, it makes us analyze our own worst behaviors and the steps we’ll take to avoid being alone.

“A Man Called Ove,” by Fredrick Backman
This was my first Backman novel, and it still sits with me and is one of my favorite books I’ve ever read. The book follows Ove, a cranky old man who adheres tightly to routine and socializes with no one. When new neighbors moving in start to interfere with Ove’s carefully laid out plans, we begin to see just how broken and alone this grouch really is after losing the love of his life, Sonja. Backman has a way of writing that is effortlessly beautiful without being pretentious. On more than one occasion, I had to stop and take a deep breath after reading the way he so accurately describes feelings like love and heartache.

– Jenn Vance, social media coordinator and publicist

“The Flowers of Evil” by Charles Baudelaire
I remember first reading Charles Baudelaire’s poetry collection, “Les fleurs du mal,” in my college World Poetry class, and it quickly become one of my favorite collections that I read that year. Indulgent, decadent, erotic, romantic, and angst-ridden, the collection is a Poe-esque angst fest and everything you would hope to get from a mid-19th century Parisian poet and laudanum addict. If poetry titles like “Madrigal of Sorrow,” “The Serpent’s Tooth,” and “Vampire” appeal to you, then grab this volume and a glass of red wine, light some candles, and get ready to swoon on your chaise lounge.

– Chelsea Apple, content coordinator

“Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead” by Olga Tokarczuk
I’ve seen so much buzz around this book in the past year or so, and every time I see mention of it, I think to myself “oooo I need to read that soon!” and then I get distracted. But it has everything that I like in a book — an award-winning literary mystery — and it’s set in Poland, where I have roots. So I’m going to get to it soon. I promise.

“The Memory Police” by Yoko Ogawa
This is another book that I’ve been excited about for a while, but I haven’t read it yet because frankly it sounds a little scary and I am a wuss. It involves an Orwellian police force who disappear things and people and is a reflection on memory and loss.

– Ellen Whitfield, senior publicist

“Bottled Goods” by Sophie van Llewyn
I received an ARC of this one a few months back and I devoured it quickly. This concise novel takes place in Romania, a country I know little to nothing about, during the 1970’s. An intimate portrait of a perspective far from my own, I cherished each page of this succinct novel.

– Elysse Wagner, publicist and campaign strategist

Some of our favorite authors to follow on Twitter

We live in a golden age — not only do we get to read masterful books from some truly groundbreaking authors, but we also get to follow them on social media and see what they’re having for lunch and their musings on the latest Taylor Swift album. I’ve been on bookstagram for a while, but recently started getting more into Book Twitter, and while it is a wild and lawless place, it’s also full of hilarious, thoughtful writers. It makes sense that great writing would translate to wonderful social media accounts — check out some of our favorites!

  1. C.L. Polk, author of The Kingston Cycle novels and The Midnight Bargain. Her tweets are somehow relatable and hilarious.
  2. Christina Lauren, author duo who has written 25+ romance books together. They will remind you that being a romance writer isn’t all champagne and flowers.
  3. Kwame Mbalia, author of the middle-grade Tristan Strong series and Last Gate of the Emperor. He is the creator of Gum Baby, Tristan Strong’s snarky sidekick, who is the best thing about the internet.
  4. Saeed Jones, poet and author of How We Fight For Our Lives and Prelude to A Bruise. I follow him for unapologetic takes on the news, politics, writing, and everything else. And for the judgemental cuteness of his dog.
  5. Susan Orlean, writer for The New Yorker, and author of multiple books. Over the summer, a drunken tweetstorm provided some much-needed laughter.
  6. Alexander Chee, author of How to Write an Autobiographical Novel, The Queen of the Night, and Edinburgh. He’s a professor of creative writing at Dartmouth, and his tweets make you realize that the truly great writers see things a little bit differently.
  7. Jasmine Guillory, author of five romance novels. She’s been open and honest about the difficulties of keeping on during the pandemic, which has provided me with some much-needed realism. Her newsletter is also wonderful — I’ve gotten some great recipes from it!
  8. Brandon Taylor, author of Real Life and the upcoming Filthy Animals. My favorite things are his hot takes on centuries-old pieces of art. 
  9. R.F. Kuang, author of The Poppy War trilogy. Readers are constantly tweeting sentiments like “WHY!?” at her as they make their way through her books and terrible things happen to their favorite characters — she seems to take great delight in this, and it’s hilarious to watch.
  10. Nicole Chung, author of All You Can Ever Know, editor of Catapult. She recently started a parenting column, and I’ve found it enlightening and inspiring. Also her Peggy the puppy tweets are a pure endorphin rush.
  11. Roxane Gay, author of several books and contributor to multiple anthologies. Honestly, there are so many reasons to follow her, but I think her pinned tweet sums it up: “I will say it again. My tweets are not meant to be universal. They will not nor cannot account for every reality. If something I say doesn’t include or apply to you that doesn’t invalidate your truth.”
  12. Kristen Arnett, author of Mostly Dead Things and the upcoming With Teeth. The randomness of her thoughts regularly makes me snort with laughter.
  13. Dahlia Adler, author of several novels and book blogger. She regularly champions other authors’ books with boundless enthusiasm and joy, which is truly delightful.
  14. Leah Johnson, author of You Should See Me in A Crown and the upcoming Rise to the Sun. Her small obsessions always make me smile — when she talked about Logan Lerman in Percy Jackson, it ended up making me start the series.
  15. R.O. Kwon, coeditor of Kink, author of The Incendiaries and contributor to multiple outlets. She can tweet back to back tweets about writing panic, political disgust and needing a haircut without breaking a sweat.
  16. Aiden Thomas, author of Cemetery Boys and the upcoming Lost in the Never Woods. He has so much enthusiasm for the things that he loves that it will leap through the screen.
  17. Sabaa Tahir author of An Ember in the Ashes series. Another writer who seems to take pleasure from the pain she causes her readers by putting the characters in her books through pain and suffering.
  18. Alisha Rai, romance author most recently of First Comes Like. She creates excellent TikTok videos and posts them on Twitter for everyone’s enjoyment.
  19. Samantha Irby, blogger and author of several books. No one’s books have ever made me laugh like hers, and this translates well to her Twitter feed. 
  20. Sarah Gailey, author of several novellas and books, most recently The Echo Wife. Their tweets take on the most random of things, and they always stands up for the disabled community.

And special shout out to Mike Lasagna — he’s not an author, but champions them relentlessly in a way that will make you buy way too many books.

Black History Month book recommendations and beyond

To celebrate Black History Month, we asked some of our favorite bookstagrammers to recommend books you should be reading all year round, not just in February! Give them a follow, and then pick up one of these books — there’s something for everyone on this list!

  1. Katherine (@foreverabookseller) recommends: Happily Ever Afters by Elise Bryant. “Happily Ever Afters is for every Black girl that’s felt like she would never find love because she had been told by the world for years that she wasn’t good enough. I can tell you that you are good enough, and I know that by the time that you’re done reading this romantic, funny, kind, loving, and smart debut young adult novel, you’ll believe it too.”
  2. Brittany (@bnjreads) recommends: Snapped by Alexa Martin. “On my account you will see a mix of everything, from feel good rom-coms to explorations of trauma — I read it all! My most anticipated read of 2020 also happened to be my favorite (don’t you love it when that happens)! Snapped by Alexa Martin is my recommendation! Alexa Martin always finds a way to weave together football, social issues, true sisterhood and all the steam you need in her books and just like the other books in the Playbook Series, (Intercepted, Fumbled and Blitzed), Snapped delivered it all!”
  3. Aixa (@thatgoodgoodbook) says: “I recommend Four Hundred Souls, edited by Ibram X. Kendi and Keisha Blain out on February 2 from One World Books. It’s the perfect alchemy of art and history written by some of the most insightful thought leaders and writers (artists) in America. Readers will go back to the future.”
  4. Nicola (@bookedupandbusy) recommends: Born A Crime by Trevor Noah. “I loved this book because not only is it educational and enlightening about Trevor growing up post-apartheid in South Africa, it is filled with super funny and charismatic stories. A well-written and genius memoir.”
  5. Shakara (@booksnbrownsugar) recommends: Monday’s Not Coming by Tiffany D. Jackson. “My top recommendation for any reader or non-reader is Monday’s Not Coming by Tiffany D. Jackson. It’s an easy read that’s packed with the right amount of suspense to keep the pages turning from beginning to end while also sparking the reality of missing children, gentrification, and abuse. A good book should move you, and this novel does just that!”
  6. Bailey (@paperinkstars) recommends: Legendborn by Tracy Deonn. “Legendborn, a debut YA fantasy, is the book I wish I had growing up, the book I’m beyond happy to have grace my shelves now, and the book I would recommend to anyone. It’s a beautiful and impactful exploration of grief, PTSD, intergenerational trauma, racism, and so much more. Legendborn is definitely worth the read!”
  7. Shani (@_shaniakilah) recommends: How To Love A Jamaican by Alexia Arthurs. “Such a wonderful collection, exploring stories from Jamaica and its diaspora in a lyrical and authentic way. Absolutely beautiful and unforgettable!”
  8. Rachelle (@raethereviewer) recommends: Early Departures by Justin A. Reynolds. “It’s a wonderful exploration of friendship, grief, and moving forward. It also tackles issues of toxic masculinity in the Black community.”
  9. Toya (@contemporarily_yours) recommends: When You Were Everything by Ashley Woodfolk. “When You Were Everything is a beautifully written and heartbreaking story that explores the topics of friendships, love, loyalty, and how our expectations can be flawed. It’s a story that reminds us that not all friendships last forever and that sometimes friends grow apart, leaving us to pick up the pieces and figuring out how to continue on without someone you thought would be around forever.”
  10. Suzie (@asbthebookworm) says: “For my book recommendation, I’m going to go with a favourite read from 2020, which is Punching the Air by Ibi Zoboi and Dr. Yusef Salaam. It’s an incredible and deeply moving YA novel in verse that at its core is about finding light even in the darkest of places and holding on to that light. It’s also about the power of art and the importance of the written and spoken word. A phenomenal story that will stay with you long after you’ve read the last page.”
  11. Shawntaye (@shawntaye1) recommends: The Toni Morrison Book Club by Juda Bennett, Winnifred Brown-Glaude, Cassandra Jackson, and Piper Kendrix Williams. “In this nonfiction book, four friends — who are also educators — examine themes in Toni Morrison novels and then connect those themes to their own lives and injustices in the Black community. Reading this book, I felt like part of their intimate circle and wanted to reread the novels with them. This book is evidence that Morrison and her work will always be relevant.”
  12. Zae (@whittyreads) recommends: Take A Hint, Dani Brown by Talia Hibbert. “Last year was a difficult year in many different ways for people. However, that book brought me so much joy and I think it’s a book that everyone should read. If you need to smile or laugh this book is the perfect pick me up.”
  13. Toya (@thereadingchemist) recommends: Concrete Rose by Angie Thomas. “Angie Thomas delivers a raw and unflinching account of Maverick Carter’s life before he was the wise and down to earth dad in The Hate U Give. Concrete Rose will make you uncomfortable and question your biases when it comes to topics such as gangs, teenage pregnancy, and incarceration, but this story is a must read when it comes to understanding the youth that is so often ignored and/or beat down by society.”
  14. Lizz (@readingismyfirstlove) recommends: A More Perfect Union by Tammye Huf. “This romance between a Black slave woman and an Irish immigrant, based on the author’s ancestors’ own story, will make you feel deeply for things that didn’t happen to you: to cry at fictional misery, grieve an imaginary loss and cherish moments of a make-believe forbidden love. Along with the touching romance and theme of courage through strife, this book is a tear-jerker. Full review on Bad Form.”
  15. Hawa (@hawa.reads) recommends: They Can’t Kill Us Until They Kill Us by Hanif Abdurraqib. “I love this book because of the way that the author connects music to his personal experiences. For Hanif Abdurraqib to have such a way with words, I think this essay collection is pretty underrated. I’ll read anything he writes!”
  16. Kayla (@honeybuttergal) recommends: Transcendent Kingdom by Yaa Gyasi. “Transcendent Kingdom is a book about many things — depression, science, the opioid epidemic, absentee parents, wrestling with one’s faith, life in the American South as an immigrant and racial minority. Each topic warrants a closer look in their own right, but where some books might tackle them all and feel bloated, Gyasi is able to strip each of these topics down to their most salient points in a way that is both breathtaking and haunting.”
  17. Latoya (@jamaicangirlreads) recommends: Genesis Begins Again by Alicia D. Williams. “I loved this book! I saw my younger self on every page and I connected personally with the story and characters. This is a middle grade book that is so relevant for our young girls especially at a time like this. The writing flows easily for the targeted audience and I can see so many young girls relating to Genesis’ story of learning to love and accept herself, manage family complexities, colorism and belonging. I’ll probably re-read this book many times and it will always be on my most recommended list.”
  18. Vivi (@culturedmarketer.reads) says: “I would recommend Afropean, a travel memoir by UK broadcaster, photographer and journalist Johny Pitts who journeys in search of Black Europe. A lot of the history discussed was personal to me, having been born in DR Congo, a country which suffered atrocities under Belgium’s colonial rule, and raised in Europe. Pitts’ visits to a gentrified Matongé and to Tervuren, the disgraced Royal Museum for Central Africa in Belgium brought back memories. It made me reflect on Sri Lankan novelist Ambalavaner Sivababdan’s words, as referenced in the book, ‘We are here because you were there.’”
  19. Mikhaila (@mikhailareads) recommends: Black Card by Chris L.Terry. “Black Card is a satire on the black experience. The narrator is a mixed race guy in a punk rock band. I enjoyed this book because it’s reminiscent of living while black, and left me thinking about the painstaking task of being black in America. Terry’s story is reality bending, hilarious, and a unique perspective on blackness.”
  20. CoCo (@coco_chasing_adventures) says: “My choice for a book to get you through quarantine is Take A Hint, Dani Brown by Talia Hibbert. This novel follows the spunky and colorful Dani Brown —  an ambitious, witchy,  PhD candidate studying feminist theories. Dani charges her crystals in a full moon (word to Beyoncé), is body and sex positive, and puts her career first. Still, orgasms are elusive and as a result, she has taken to asking the Gods to send her the perfect sneaky link up. In walks the big, strong and cuddly Zafir Ansari. He’s a former rugby player and reads romance novels (swoon!) This book meets all my criteria for a romance novel: fierce protagonist, snarky humor and Black girl magic. Out of everything, it’s the STEAM for me. Curvy bodies, spontaneous romps and satisfying endings will have you  reaching for every book written by Talia Hibbert.”
  21. Marlowe (@lowelowe_bythebook) says: “For those that are fans of speculative fiction and fantasy, I will forever recommend The FIfth Season by N.K. Jemisin.  The world-building is phenomenal, with some of the most compelling characters I’ve ever read.  What I love most about this book is the way the author addresses issues that very much pertain to our society without using euphemisms or ever stepping out of the fantasy world she has created.  You are dropped into a world and left to figure it out until she decides to let you in on the secret everyone else knows by pushing you off a cliff.  I don’t exaggerate when I say this book (and the series) changed my life and I envy anyone that gets to read it for the first time.”
  22. Kim (@kimbookwyrm) recommends: Legendborn by Tracy Deonn. “This Arthurian retelling mixed with heavy doses of Black [Girl] Magic and grief, is the story I’ve waited for. It’s definitely one of my top reads of 2020!”
  23. Brittany (@_britt_lit) recommends: Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi. “I love this book because it puts black history in the context that spans over several decades by highlighting different stories of fictional people. Even though it’s fictional, the history is true. I never knew I could learn so much about black history from reading a novel. It really opened my eyes to the power of fiction.”
  24. Lauren (@thedopelibrarian) recommends: Black Girl Unlimited by Echo Brown. “It’s difficult to sum the magic of this book up into a couple of sentences. This book is a magical memoir about the power that rests in each of us. We do not have to be overcome by the circumstances of life, you do not have to go at life alone, but you can tap into a space resting beneath the surface and live a life of wonder. This is a transformative book. You will not read this book and remain the same person. You will feel powerful.”
  25. Amanda (@crownofstories) recommends: With The Fire on High By Elizabeth Acevedo. “It was the first time reading a book where I felt intimately connected to a character. The way Elizabeth touched on Emoni’s fears of not being a fully formed person because her mother was dead and wasn’t able to show her how to be apart of the world were some of the same fears I had as a teenager and as a young woman. The discussion on blackness in the Latin community is also something I’ve found myself speaking about at length with my family.”

Finished Bridgerton and need something else to read?

If you’re anything like me, you’re finding yourself HOOKED on the latest Netflix craze, Bridgerton. This period show was based off of the Bridgerton series by Julia Quinn, and the books are becoming increasingly harder to find on bookstore shelves. These are unprecedented times we are in, and I personally am loving the historical romance. It’s keeping me occupied and entertained during these long days of quarantine, and I need MORE MORE MORE! So, if you’re a fan of Bridgerton, here are some other titles you might want to check out: 

Bringing Down the Duke by Evie Dunmore (A League of Extraordinary Women #1)

A stunning debut for author Evie Dunmore and her Oxford Rebels, in which a fiercely independent vicar’s daughter takes on a duke in a fiery love story that threatens to upend the British social order. This is a newer series by the brilliant Evie Dunmore. The second book in the series, A Rogue of One’s Own, just came out in 2020. Her next book will be out this year – stay tuned!

A Princess in Theory by Alyssa Cole (Reluctant Royals #1)

Between grad school and multiple jobs, Naledi Smith doesn’t have time for fairy tales…or patience for the constant emails claiming she’s betrothed to an African prince. But, when Naledi mistakes the prince for a pauper, Prince Thabiso can’t resist the chance to experience life—and love—without the burden of his crown. The chemistry between them is instant and irresistible, and flirty friendship quickly evolves into passionate nights. But when the truth is revealed, can a princess in theory become a princess ever after?

Secrets of a Summer Night by Lisa Kleypas (Wallflowers #1)

Four young ladies at the side of the ballroom make a pact to help each other find husbands…no matter what it takes. Another great historical romance series to cozy up by the fire with!

Destiny’s Embrace by Beverly Jenkins (Destiny #1)

With Destiny’s Embrace, Jenkins brings readers back to the American West, where Logan Yates, a self-important ranch owner, must confront his feelings for his beautiful, free spirited housekeeper, Mariah Cooper. While they bicker incessantly, their sexual tension is palpable, and only rises when Mariah’s former lover arrives on the scene. Will she accept Logan’s heart?

Nine Rules to Break When Romancing a Rake by Sarah Maclean (Love by Numbers #1)

A lady does not smoke cheroot. She does not ride astride. She does not fence or attend duels. She does not fire a pistol, and she never gambles at a gentlemen’s club… but this lady has vowed to break the rules. A spicy series with a strong female protagonist … sign me up! Sidenote: the audio is said to be amazing for this one! 

Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier

Not since Jane Eyre has a heroine faced such difficulty with the Other Woman. An international bestseller that has never gone out of print, Rebecca is the haunting story of a young girl consumed by love and the struggle to find her identity. This is a #bookstagrammademedoit title that I’ve seen floating around quite a bit, and it has exceptional ratings on Goodreads. Though it is a standalone, it might just keep you entertained for the time being! 

The Duchess War  by Courtney Milan (Brothers Sinister #1)

Sometimes love is an accident. This time, it’s a strategy. Miss Minerva Lane is a quiet, bespectacled wallflower, and she wants to keep it that way. So when a handsome duke comes to town, the last thing she wants is his attention. But that is precisely what she gets. Because Robert Blaisdell, the Duke of Clermont, is not fooled. When Minnie figures out what he’s up to, he realizes there is more to her than her spectacles and her quiet ways. And he’s determined to lay her every secret bare before she can discover his. But this time, one shy miss may prove to be more than his match…

Outlander by Diana Gabaldon (Outlander #1)

The year is 1945. Claire Randall, a former combat nurse, is just back from the war and reunited with her husband on a second honeymoon when she walks through a standing stone in one of the ancient circles that dot the British Isles. Suddenly she is a Sassenach—an “outlander”—in a Scotland torn by war and raiding border clans in the year of Our Lord…1743. Hurled back in time by forces she cannot understand, Claire is catapulted into the intrigues of lairds and spies that may threaten her life, and shatter her heart. For here James Fraser, a gallant young Scots warrior, shows her a love so absolute that Claire becomes a woman torn between fidelity and desire—and between two vastly different men in two irreconcilable lives. Admittedly, I’ve never read the Outlander series, but I might need to now! I recently read Kindred by Octavia Butler and really loved the back-and-forth timeline, which it sounds like exists here. I’m definitely intrigued and given the size of the first book alone, I think these could get me through the winter!

Have other recommendations to add to this list? Be sure to contact me at elysse@booksforward.com. Happy reading!

10 of our favorite books featuring dragons

Happy Appreciate A Dragon Day! Yes, that’s another one of those weird made up holidays, but also I love books with dragons, and I’m not going to NOT share about them if given the chance. Some just have appearances of dragons, and the dragons are main characters in others, but if you also have a love for these large scaly beasts, be sure to check out some of the books on this list! Here are 10 I’ve read and enjoyed:

  1. The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkein – However you pronounce his name, Smaug’s greed and treasure hoarding (classic dragon) sets off one of the greatest adventure stories ever written.
  2. Dragons Love Tacos by Adam Rubin, illustrated by Daniel Salmieri – One of my daughter’s favorite picture books, and one I don’t mind reading over and over. It’s also guaranteed to make you want tacos!
  3. Blazewrath Games by Amparo Ortiz – Honestly, who doesn’t want to compete in a tournament where you and a dragon compete for glory?
  4. Priory of the Orange Tree by Samatha Shannon – This epic fantasy tome has a bonus of having good dragons (no wings, water-based) vs. bad dragons (fiery, can fly).
  5. The Rage of Dragons by Evan Winter – Truthfully, there were a lot fewer dragons than I expected in this book, but they were central to the plot and interwoven beautifully.
  6. How to Train Your Dragon – A cute early reader series that’s been turned into a great movie series as well. I’m hoping this book will eventually lead my kiddo to liking dragons as much as I do!
  7. A Natural History of Dragons by Marie Brennan – The perfect combination of historical fiction and fantasy. The book is written from the perspective of a journal by the world’s leading expert on dragons, who just happens to be a woman (gasp)!
  8. The Voyage of the Dawn Treader by C.S. Lewis – The dragon in this book plays a relatively small part, but it’s integral to a central character’s growth.
  9. The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill – This book flips the script: instead of the dragon being large and overwhelming, he is perfectly tiny, and a wonderful addition to a lovely cast of characters.
  10. Highfire by Eoin Colfer – Take it from me, if there was (is?) a dragon living in the swamps of Louisiana, this is exactly what he’d be like: surly, frequently inebriated, but with a heart of gold.

Did we miss any of your dragon favorites? Let me know at ellen@booksforward.com!

Books Forward authors most anticipated books of 2021

There are a lot of things to look forward to in 2021, and new books are at the top of our list! When our authors aren’t writing, lots of them are reading, and we asked them what books they’re excited to read next year.

“Halli Gomez’s List of Ten is a contemporary YA debut about a teen living with Tourette syndrome and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder who is considering suicide. I read an early draft of this #ownvoices novel and it handles these challenging issues in a thoughtful and inspiring way.

Nicole Lesperance’s The Nightmare Thief, a MG fantasy about a girl who works in her family’s dream shop, where they can craft any dream you want — including nightmares. Lesperance is a beautiful writer and I’m a sucker for MG fantasy, so I can’t wait for this one!

Rissy No Kissies by Katey Howes tackles the issue of consent for the picture book set. Beautifully illustrated by Jess Engle, it creates a forum for discussion of bodily autonomy in an engaging and informative way.”

Katharine Manning, author of The Empathetic Workplace

“I couldn’t stick with just one so indulge me, people, but there are four books from the world of crime fiction I’m excited about. In no particular order, P.J. Vernon’s Bath Haus is already garnering a lot of accolades and is poised to be his breakout novel. I’ve been a fan of Laura McHugh’s work for a while, and What’s Done in Darkness looks spectacular. I first read Hannah Mary McKinnon this year, which was a mistake since I should have read her much earlier – she’s now on my “read as soon as it’s out” list, and You Will Remember Me sounds fantastic. And Mia P. Manansala’s debut, Arsenic and Adobo, is long-awaited (Mia’s racked up “emerging writer” awards on her way to publication) and the promising start of a wonderful career.”

E.A. Aymar, author of They’re Gone (written as E.A. Barres)

“There are so many 2021 releases that I’m looking forward to adding to my bookshelves, but the one I’m probably the MOST excited about is Blackout. Not only does this book feature stories written by six AMAZING Black female YA writers (Dhonielle Clayton, Tiffany D. Jackson, Nic Stone, Angie Thomas, Ashley Woolfolk, and Nicola Yoon), but these short stories are all focused on Black love. 2020 was a tough year for everyone, but especially Black and Brown folks — so seeing more Black joy stories couldn’t have come at a better time!”

Pamela Harris, author of When You Look Like Us

“I recommend Trial By Fire, by Scott James. Through interview-based reporting, James investigates the 2003 nightclub fire at The Station in West Warwick, Rhode Island, which happened during a Great White concert. James spoke with concertgoers and local media who survived the fire, as well as others close to the investigation with their own stories and information to share. A true story that reads like a thriller novel.”

Katie Burke, author of Urban Playground

“The books I anticipate reading early in the new year are mainly ones I have, but have not yet gotten to this year.

A novel by Philip Duke called The Village, a story about the German invasion of Crete in WWII, a rich history and a well-paced thriller that explores several points of view, including not only the Cretan guerrillas and the people of the eponymous village, but the opposing figures of a British soldier who gets caught up in it and a German paratrooper. True I have already begun to read it, and we may know how the story ends in history but I’m eager to see how it turns out for the characters.

Most of my reading is research, and most of my research these days is either concerned with the immediate future of our species, particularly related to climate issues. To that end, I also read about the deep past. Here is a sampling:

Humankind, by Rutger Bregman, a more optimistic look at us that I hold and hopefully an antidote to my current pessimism. He wrote Utopia for Realists.

The Rules of Contagion by Adam Kucharski, appropriate for the time of pandemic, but an ongoing issue for the world, and appropriate for my current project, third in my Lisa Emmer series of thrillers. Not only contagions, but toxic memes and disinformation all follow the rules.

Kindred: Neanderthal Life, Love, Death and Art by Rebecca Wragg Sykes. My recent book, Mixed Harvest: Stories from the Human Past, touches on encounters between modern humans and Neanderthals in the Paleolithic era. Research in this area remains intense since it overturned everything we thought we knew about our cousins. Many of us carry Neanderthal genes, which should not only give us more respect, but again in the history of science knock us down another peg on the Great Chain of Being.

Metazoa: Animal Life and the Birth of the Mind by Peter Godfrey-Smith. I picked this book because of Other Minds, his wonderful book about cephalopods, particular octopuses, and how consciousness emerges, and how very different it can develop even on our own planet. They are the real aliens, except from Earth.”

Rob Swigart, author of Mixed Harvest: Stories From the Human Past