10 Contemporary Books to Read During Black History Month

by Brittney Reed-Saltz

Looking for a way to celebrate Black History Month? Reading books by Black authors is a great place to start! This list includes ten recent and relevant titles that cover everything from essays to young adult fiction, from poetry to romance novels, and more.

All of them are available from your local RCLS branch, so check them out today!
contemporary 1
We Were Eight Years in Power by Ta-Nehisi Coates
This essay collection examines the eight years of Barack Obama’s presidency, extending from the Oval Office to include the wider culture at the time. It includes essays that Coates published during the Obama years, as well as new material.

Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward
Winner of the 2017 National Book Award for Fiction, this character-driven family saga deals with race, incarceration, drug use, and ghosts.

The Fire This Time: A New Generation Speaks About Race by various authors, edited by Jesmyn Ward
This nonfiction collection draws its inspiration from James Baldwin’s classic The Fire Next Time and features writing by Kevin Young, Claudia Rankine, Natasha Trethewey,  Edwidge Danticat, and more.
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The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
When sixteen-year-old Starr witnesses a white police officer fatally shoot her childhood friend Kahlil, she is thrust into a complicated morass of grief, publicity, and conflicting senses of loyalty. Read this essential YA novel before the movie hits theaters.

What Is Not Yours Is Not Yours: Stories by Helen Oyeyemi
Helen Oyeyemi has been hailed as an original and dynamic voice in fiction. In this collection, keys and locks provide a means for examining the “boundaries between coexisting realities.”

Homegoing by Yaa Gyasicontemporary 2
Beginning in Eighteenth Century Ghana, this novel follows the different fates of two half-sisters, one of whom marries an Englishman while the other is sold into slavery in America.

Swing Time by Zadie Smith
The latest novel from acclaimed author examines the fraught friendship between two girls who share the ambition to become dancers, but only one of whom has the talent to achieve that goal.

Teaching My Mother How to Give Birth by Warsan Shire
You might be familiar with Warsan Shire through Beyoncé’s use of her poetry in the Lemonade visual album. Though this collection is slim, it packs so much into its poetry contemporary 4about race and the refugee experience.

An Extraordinary Union by Alyssa Cole
Alyssa Cole expands what historical romance novels are capable of doing in terms of race, honesty about history, and whose stories are told. This is the first of her Loyal League series, and it follows a former slave who uses her eidetic memory to spy for the Union during the Civil War.

Little & Lion by Brandy Colbert
Suzette returns to her home in Los Angeles from her boarding school in New England and must contend with supporting her step-brother through his mental illness while developing romantic feelings for the same girl he is in love with.

Hot Scots: Scottish Historical Romances

by Brittney Reed-Saltz

Occasionally, I develop book cravings. All of a sudden, I have to read a particular type of book, and nothing else will do. It might be portal fantasy, or dark thrillers with female protagonists, or vintage Gothic romance. There is rarely any rhyme or reason behind these fixations, diverse and random as they might be, but the result is the same: As soon as I have a target in mind, I go deep into research mode. I have to find as many titles as possible that will fulfill the craving.scot in the dark

Recently I read A Scot in the Dark, the second installment of Sarah MacLean’s Scandal and Scoundrel series. By the third page, I was already in love with Alec Stuart, Duke of Warnick, the kilt-wearing, broadsword-wielding, wolfhound-owning hero, who reluctantly inherits a noble title despite his disdain for London society. And thus, a new reading craving, for historical romances featuring Scottish characters, was born.

I’m not one to hoard the results of my research, so here are five Scottish and Highlander-themed romances that have made their way onto my TBR list.

Enjoy!

scotland 1Once Upon a Highland Summer by Lecia Cornwall
Ghosts, a curse, and misunderstandings definitely piqued my interest. But when I read that the heroine flees to Scotland to escape an unwanted marriage, I knew I had to read this one.

The Madness of Lord Ian Mackenzie by Jennifer Ashley
A love story between a hero who struggles with mental illness and a widow with a dark past sounds like a perfect tearjerker romance to me.

Hero in the Highlands by Suzanne Enochscotland 2
An English war hero inherits a Scottish title and its attendant enormous Scottish estate. However, the woman whose clan owns the property, has strong opinions about the matter. When it comes to romance novels, I adore strong heroines and plenty of bickering, and it sounds like this one has both.

The Lady and the Laird by Nicola Cornick
A bluestocking heroine is hired to write racy love letters for her brother’s friends. When she uses her pen to end the betrothal of a notorious laird, he scotland lastproposes a marriage of convenience as repayment.

The Trouble With Dukes by Grace Burrowes
I have a soft spot for romantic heroes with dark reputations that they didn’t earn, and for heroines who are not intimidated at all by said reputations. In this case, the Scot in question braves the demands of a London season to make his sisters happy, and that adds another level of swoonworthiness.

 

Do you have a favorite fictional Scottish character? Or a particular book craving that you would like me to research for a future post? Share in the comments!

Series Recommendation: The Winternight Trilogy by Katherine Arden

by Brittney Reed-Saltz BEAR AND THE NIGHTINGALE

Toward the beginning of 2017, Jessica recommended The Bear and the Nightingale to me. Because I’m terrible about procrastinating when it comes to reading new releases, it was only in December that I finally read it. Now that the sequel has been released, I’m here to tell anyone else dragging their feet about this book: It’s worth it. You should read it.

In truth, I don’t regret my procrastination too much, because any time in winter is a perfect time to read The Bear and the Nightingale and The Girl in the Tower. Set in medieval Russia, they spin a story of rough winters, political marriages, the clash between old and new religions, and fairy tales.

Vasilisa Petrovna (Vasya to her family) spent her childhood gathering around with her siblings to listen to their nurse, Dunya, tell tales of heroes and of the beings who inhabit the dense forest. As she grows up, her family tells her that she is too old for fairy tales… in direct opposition to the unseen reality around them. Only Vasya speaks with the domovoi who lives in the oven and protects their home, or the vazila who lives in the stables with the horses. Only Vasya can understand the language the horses use with one another, and learns to ride under their tutelage. Although her stepmother, Anna, glimpses enough of these beings to fear them, only Vasya understands them.

When Konstantin, a young priest, arrives from Moscow, he inflames the people’s fear of God and works to stamp out the old ways. No longer do the people leave offerings of bread for the domovoi or the vazila, and so the beings who share their world, and who protect the order of things, weaken. When a one-eyed sleeper in the forest awakens and the dead begin to stalk the living, only Vasya is aware enough to help. But how long can she protect her family and the beings of the forest, when her stepmother conspires to send her away and the entire village whispers that she is a witch?

girl in the towerOf all the things Arden does well, she excels in two areas: description and conflict. Her settings come to life, sparkling with the glimmer of newly-fallen snow and redolent with the scent of baking bread. And the plot brims with conflict. There is hardly a character without an internal struggle or a disagreement with their family, or societal expectations, or the demands of religion. As a reader, I love when an author packs so much tension into a novel. It gives me the feeling that anything could spark a fire at any moment, and I can’t stop reading until I see how everything plays out.

If you’re at all familiar with Russian folklore, the name Vasilisa probably caught your eye immediately, and the Winternight Trilogy will certainly appeal to anyone who loves fairy tales and folklore. Arden writes highly detailed and immersive fantasy that does not bog itself or its readers down with info-dumping, and that is literary while maintaining approachability even to audiences who are not avid readers of historical fiction. You don’t need to know anything about Russian history to understand this series, to lose yourself in it, and to love it.

The Bear and the Nightingale and The Girl in the Tower both are available through your local RCLS branch.

Beth’s 2017 Reading Year in Review

We’re kicking off 2018 by looking back on the best books we read in 2017. Today’s picks come from Beth Elam.

Favorite new author or series you tried:
The Mistborn Trilogy Brandon Sanderson

A book that surprised you:
Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood

The best book you read that was also published this year:
Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepety

A book you read that was outside of your comfort zone:
Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis by J. D. Vance

The book that you recommended to the most people:
Poldark by Winston Graham

The best cover from a book you read this year (please include image):  
Out of the Easy by Ruta Sepetys
image(1)

Caleb’s 2017 Reading Year in Review

We’re kicking off 2018 by looking back on the best books we read in 2017. Today’s picks come from Caleb McLoud.

Favorite new author or series you tried:
The End of Eddy by Edouard Louis

A book that surprised you:
Down There on a Visit by Christopher Isherwood

A book you read for the first time that you will reread in the future:
Walden by Henry David Thoreau

The best movie you watched that was also released this year:
Julieta by Pedro Almodovar

A book you read that was outside of your comfort zone:
The Ritual of Love by Josephin Peladan

The book that you recommended to the most people:
The History of Rasselas, Prince of Abissinia by Samuel Johnson

The best cover from a book you read this year (please include image):
Living Well Is the Best Revenge by Calvin Tomkins

living well

Kathleen’s 2017 Reading Year in Review

We’re kicking off 2018 by looking back on the best books we read in 2017. Today’s picks come from Kathleen Tyree.

Favorite new author or series you tried:
Christopher Farnsworth.  I’d read the John Smith series (Killfile, Flashmob), then Garrett told me about the Nathaniel Cade (President’s Vampire) series – fun!

A book that surprised you:
The One-in-a-Million Boy by Monica Wood

A book you read for the first time that you will reread in the future:
Likely to be A Closed and Common Orbit (Wayfarers #2) by Becky Chambers.  I *loved* Wayfarers #1, The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet, and have already re-read it.

The best book you read that was also published this year:
I enjoyed The Boy on the Bridge more than I expected.  Tough, to follow The Girl With All the Gifts, which was so fresh and engaging.  TBotB is a prequel, you learn some stuff (No Spoilers!) and the pacing is different.  Made it easier to take it as its own story.

A book you read that was outside of your comfort zone:
I was picky about what I read this year (minimal time) so this is NA

The book that you recommended to the most people:
A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles (7 people [so far] have taken my suggestion)

The best cover from a book you read this year (please include image):
Sea of Rust by C. Robert Cargill (also a good read)

sea of rust

Must add:
The best debut:
The Dry by Jane Harper.  Kept me riveted, read straight through, looking forward to the next by her!

James’s 2017 Reading Year in Review

We’re kicking off 2018 by looking back on the best books we read in 2017. Today’s picks come from James Rucker.

So, a few of these books could have served in Multiple Categories, but I decided not to double up, but I put numbers in parentheses for other possible answers.

Favorite new author or series you tried:
Arlette Farge [I read Allure of the Archives]. (and #6)

A book that surprised you:
The Power of the Powerless by Vaklav Havel. (and #7)

A book you read for the first time that you will reread in the future:
The German Ideology by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels. (I intend to reread them all.)

The best book you read that was also published this year:
As far as I know, I have no books for this category.

A book you read that was outside of your comfort zone:
Why Philosophize? by Jean-Francois Lyotard.

The book that you recommended to the most people:
The Present Age by Soren Kierkegaard. (and #2)

The best cover from a book you read this year (please include image):
Godel-Escher-Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid by Douglas Hofstadter.

eternal golden braid