On Writing

June Reads

June Reads

With school ending, road trips, and summer evenings I got in so good reading and was able to finish a few books that have been hiding on the back end of my “currently reading” list.

One of my goals this year is to read more #ownvoices and diverse books. In general, I thought I was doing pretty well at this. I follow a lot of Black authors, I’ve read ARCs and pre-ordered the books of Black fantasy authors. It wasn’t until I saw another bookstagrammer break down the diverse/Own voices books they read into a percentage that I began to wonder what mine would be.

When I actually calculated the percentage I read, I was surprised to find only 12% of the books I’ve read this year (4 books out of nearly 50 at the end of May) could be considered diverse or #OwnVoices. It’s an area I’m committed to growing in. I want to read more Black authors, more #OwnVoices authors across genres and cultures.

It’s a werid admission, isn’t it? I’m sure some will read this and ask, “Why does it even matter?” Why does it?

Oftentimes, I’ve added titles of books to my “want to read” list, but hestitate to pick them up. If I’m absolutely honest, sometimes I wonder if I’ll connect with the characters or if the story is rooted in history, will it be too heavy when I want to read to relax or escape? It’s another way white supremacy, bias, and white privilege have seeped into my own life. Even as a bi-racial Native American, who has felt othered and forgotten at times, I still have picked up these thought patterns and bias in my reading life. I am sorry for it. I am learning and I want to do and read better.

So why does it matter to read #OwnVoices and diverse books? Because when I–we–don’t we only hear a limited narrative, a limited perspective. By reading Own Voices, we’re also hearing people of a particular culture or ethnic group share their own culture, their own experiences, and their own perspective.

In the same way I want to see more older women represented in fantasy (and sci-fi) fiction, I want to read fantasy and sci-fi written by Black women. I want to read and hear the perspectives of BIPOC/WOC in the realm of fantasy. I’ve had to admit to myself that I was surprised Black people liked fantasy. Why, oh, why?!? It’s embarassing to admit. It’s another way I believed a narrative–from where I don’t know–that was untrue because I was ignorant of the plethora and history of Black authors in sci-fi and fantasy. To further illustrate this point, I’m in a literary Facebook group, where a member posted encouraging people to read more widely and consider Black authors, and multiple people replied with “I only read fantasy, so Black authors don’t appeal to me” and what does this say? The message they have heard, received, and believed (as I had) was that Black authors don’t write fantasy. There are many layers we must dismantle!

In the same way I think it’s dumb that women’s literature is a genre, in and of itself, simply because they are stories of women written by womenwhile stories of men written by men are considered literature or fiction without a qualifier, I want to see fantasy books or YA romcoms that feature POC main characters or speculative fiction written by Black authors to be seen as fantasy and romcoms all can enjoy.

In the same way that #PublishingPaidMe showed us that Black authors make significantly less when it comes to advances than their white counterparts AND how Black representation in the publishing industry is incredibly low and not reflective of the population–just 5% of books published in 2019 were by Black authors, I want to see equity in payment and publication.

Stories shape culture and if the stories of aren’t being told, represented, or paid equally (even when they win National Book Awards) that is a problem that needs rectifying. One way to do that is by buying, reading, reviewing, and sharing books.

In short, I want to be a better reader. I want to be a better person. I read to know the world, to see more people, to hear stories of others across time and space that I wouldn’t normally here, but if I’m still reading mostly Western, Euro-centric stories of history, futurism, and fantasy, then I’m only hearing part of the story.

If I’m committed to the work of anti-racism in my own life, in educating my children, and reforming my community, then as a reader and an author my reading life should be the same. It’s an area I want and need to grow in–and I know I won’t be disappointed with more reading.

Dread Nation

What I love: If you’ve seen me in the last month, then I’ve probably talked about Dread Nation . Y’ALL!! Zombies! Civil War! The undead start rising at the Battle of Gettysburg!

Maybe you wouldn’t think a Civil War era book on zombie uprisings and survival wouldn’t be so relevant to today’s world…except it is. From the slave patrols (which is where the earliest form of American policing began), to Indian schools to re-educate and “civilize” native children, phrenology (the idea that a person’s character, mental abilities, & race could be determined by the shape of their skull), medical experimentation on African Americans, passing white, the idea that Black and native people were inherently unintelligent and only good for physical labor and serving the superior white man, and on. Even if part of the history here is speculative and the story fiction, it rings with the truth of America’s very real past and systems of oppression.

Book Blurb:

At once provocative, terrifying, and darkly subversive, Dread Nation is Justina Ireland’s stunning vision of an America both foreign and familiar—a country on the brink, at the explosive crossroads where race, humanity, and survival meet.

Jane McKeene was born two days before the dead began to walk the battlefields of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania—derailing the War Between the States and changing the nation forever.

In this new America, safety for all depends on the work of a few, and laws like the Native and Negro Education Act require certain children attend combat schools to learn to put down the dead.

But there are also opportunities—and Jane is studying to become an Attendant, trained in both weaponry and etiquette to protect the well-to-do. It’s a chance for a better life for Negro girls like Jane. After all, not even being the daughter of a wealthy white Southern woman could save her from society’s expectations.

But that’s not a life Jane wants. Almost finished with her education at Miss Preston’s School of Combat in Baltimore, Jane is set on returning to her Kentucky home and doesn’t pay much mind to the politics of the eastern cities, with their talk of returning America to the glory of its days before the dead rose.

But when families around Baltimore County begin to go missing, Jane is caught in the middle of a conspiracy, one that finds her in a desperate fight for her life against some powerful enemies. 

And the restless dead, it would seem, are the least of her problems.

What to read next: Deathless Divide by Justina Ireland

Deathless Divide

What I love: Deathless Divide picks up a few months after Dread Nation ends with many of the same themes, but Ireland also takes a look at the strain and toll on a person’s soul when you’re constantly having to fight death.

Book Blurb:

After the fall of Summerland, Jane McKeene hoped her life would get simpler: Get out of town, stay alive, and head west to California to find her mother.

But nothing is easy when you’re a girl trained in putting down the restless dead, and a devastating loss on the road to a protected village called Nicodemus has Jane questioning everything she thought she knew about surviving in 1880s America.

What’s more, this safe haven is not what it appears—as Jane discovers when she sees familiar faces from Summerland amid this new society. Caught between mysteries and lies, the undead, and her own inner demons, Jane soon finds herself on a dark path of blood and violence that threatens to consume her.

But she won’t be in it alone.

Katherine Deveraux never expected to be allied with Jane McKeene. But after the hell she has endured, she knows friends are hard to come by—and that Jane needs her too, whether Jane wants to admit it or not.

Watching Jane’s back, however, is more than she bargained for, and when they both reach a breaking point, it’s up to Katherine to keep hope alive—even as she begins to fear that there is no happily-ever-after for girls like her.

What to read next: Hmm…Dreamland Burning by Jennifer Latham

Boundaries for Your Soul

What I love: Boundaries for Your Soul is one of those books that’s been hanging on the back on my “currently reading” list. I finally finished it. It’s like Inside Out for adults. I think it’s a book for anyone who wants to get serious about their spiritual, emotional, and mental health. It’s very much a book that deals with the iceberg under the surfacing problem. For some, it may feel too touchy-feely, but to heal areas of our life we will need to get in touch with our emotions, consider our past hurts, and talk through them to find healing and freedom.

Book Blurb:

You can turn your shame to joy, your anger to advocacy, and your inner critic into your biggest champion. Do your emotions control you or do you control your emotions? Many people let guilt, anger, or self-criticism dominate their lives and negatively affect their relationships. Boundaries for Your Soul shows you how to calm the chaos within. This groundbreaking approach will help you:

  • know what to do when you feel overwhelmed,
  • understand your guilt, anxiety, sadness, and fear,
  • welcome God into the troubling parts of your soul,
  • and move from doubt and conflict to confidence and peace.

Boundaries for Your Soul includes relatable anecdotes, helpful exercises, an engaging quiz, and opportunities for personal reflection. Gathering the wisdom from the authors’ twenty-five years of combined advanced education, biblical studies, and clinical practice, this book will set you on a journey to become the loving, authentic, joyful person you were created to be.

What to read next: Emotional Healthy Spirituality by Peter Scazzero 

Their Eyes Were Watching God

What I love: I’ve had Their Eyes Were Watching God on my shelf for years, so when I friend texted me and told me I had to read it I knew it was time to pull it off my shelf and get to reading. It’s a story of becoming and living, of how a safe and comfortable life can be its own chains. It’s a story of transformation and blooming. It’s lyrical and beautiful. The cadence of the dialogue is a little hard to adjust to at first, but once I found the rhythm it was good (I hear the audio is great for Their Eyes).⠀

Book Blurb: One of the most important works of twentieth-century American literature, Zora Neale Hurston’s beloved 1937 classic, Their Eyes Were Watching God, is an enduring Southern love story sparkling with wit, beauty, and heartfelt wisdom. Told in the captivating voice of a woman who refuses to live in sorrow, bitterness, fear, or foolish romantic dreams, it is the story of fair-skinned, fiercely independent Janie Crawford, and her evolving selfhood through three marriages and a life marked by poverty, trials, and purpose. A true literary wonder, Hurston’s masterwork remains as relevant and affecting today as when it was first published – perhaps the most widely read and highly regarded novel in the entire canon of African American literature.

What to read next: The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison

So You Want to Talk About Race

What I love: So You Want To Talk About Race was very practical. It answers a lot of questions (Why? why does it matter? how did we get here? what is…?) that people have when it comes to race. I really appreciated that Oluo shares stories from her past as well as mistakes, showing that we all still have areas we can learn and grow and do better when it comes to these matters.

Book Blurb:

Widespread reporting on aspects of white supremacy–from police brutality to the mass incarceration of Black Americans–has put a media spotlight on racism in our society. Still, it is a difficult subject to talk about. How do you tell your roommate her jokes are racist? Why did your sister-in-law take umbrage when you asked to touch her hair–and how do you make it right? How do you explain white privilege to your white, privileged friend?
In So You Want to Talk About Race, Ijeoma Oluo guides readers of all races through subjects ranging from intersectionality and affirmative action to “model minorities” in an attempt to make the seemingly impossible possible: honest conversations about race and racism, and how they infect almost every aspect of American life.

What to read next: How to Be Anti-Racist by Ibram X. Kendi

The Color of Compromise

What I love: The Color of Compromise is a book every American Christian should read. In it Jemar Tisby provides a look at the context for American Christianity from Colonial America to present day. Tisby tracks the major thoughts and ideas in government as well as theologians and denominational bodies through time periods of US History. It’s sad to know the American church often looked the other way or actively participated in the violence of racism. We will continue to struggle to understand our present and how we got here if we don’t take an honest look at our past. It may not be an easy read, but it is necessary to see how the American church aided, abetted, and many times upheld, racism in America.  You can read more of my thoughts here.

Book Blurb:

The Color of Compromise is both enlightening and compelling, telling a history we either ignore or just don’t know. Equal parts painful and inspirational, it details how the American church has helped create and maintain racist ideas and practices. You will be guided in thinking through concrete solutions for improved race relations and a racially inclusive church.

The Color of Compromise:

  • Takes you on a historical, sociological, and religious journey: from America’s early colonial days through slavery and the Civil War
  • Covers the tragedy of Jim Crow laws, the victories of the Civil Rights era, and the strides of today’s Black Lives Matter movement
  • Reveals the cultural and institutional tables we have to flip in order to bring about meaningful integration
  • Charts a path forward to replace established patterns and systems of complicity with bold, courageous, immediate action
  • Is a perfect book for pastors and other faith leaders, students, non-students, book clubs, small group studies, history lovers, and all lifelong learners

The Color of Compromise is not a call to shame or a platform to blame white evangelical Christians. It is a call from a place of love and desire to fight for a more racially unified church that no longer compromises what the Bible teaches about human dignity and equality. A call that challenges black and white Christians alike to standup now and begin implementing the concrete ways Tisby outlines, all for a more equitable and inclusive environment among God’s people. Starting today.

What to read next: Be the Bridge: Pursuing God’s Heart for Racial Reconciliation by Latasha Morrison

Serpent & Dove

What I love: Over all, I enjoyed Serpent & Dove—the haters to lovers, the instigating and banter between main characters, the world and magic system (witches v. the church) was compelling. The history of women, witchcraft, and the church is all kinds of interesting. Even if it’s fictional here.⠀

But, for me, I felt like the ending fell short. There were twists and turns and the stakes were heightened, but it ended with the discovery of a super special characteristic in a character that no one else has ever had kind of ending. I’ve kind of grown tired of those and that savior trend in YA fantasy. 

Book Blurb: Two years ago, Louise le Blanc fled her coven and took shelter in the city of Cesarine, forsaking all magic and living off whatever she could steal. There, witches like Lou are hunted. They are feared. And they are burned.

As a huntsman of the Church, Reid Diggory has lived his life by one principle: Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live. But when Lou pulls a wicked stunt, the two are forced into an impossible situation—marriage.

Lou, unable to ignore her growing feelings, yet powerless to change what she is, must make a choice. And love makes fools of us all.

What to read next: A Curse So Dark & Lonely by Brigid Kemmerer

The Princess & the Fangirl

What I love: The Princess & the Fangirl is the second book in Poston’s Once Upon a Con series filled with more geekery and fandom love and hijinks at the con. This Prince & the Pauper retelling touches on the dark side of fandoms, the dangers of being too connected to social media, and the struggle to be yourself when it feels like who you are is not enough. While not as strong as Geekerella, in my opinion, it was still an entertaining read with necessary messages.

Book Blurb: Imogen Lovelace is an ordinary fangirl on an impossible mission: to save her favorite Starfield character, Princess Amara, from being killed off. On the other hand, the actress who plays Amara wouldn’t mind being axed. Jessica Stone doesn’t even like being part of the Starfield franchise—and she’s desperate to leave the intense scrutiny of fandom behind. 

Though Imogen and Jess have nothing in common, they do look strangely similar to one another—and a case of mistaken identity at ExcelsiCon sets off a chain of events that will change both of their lives. When the script for the Starfield sequel leaks, with all signs pointing to Jess, she and Imogen must trade places to find the person responsible. The deal: Imogen will play Jess at her signings and panels, and Jess will help Imogen’s best friend run their booth. 

But as these “princesses” race to find the script leaker—in each other’s shoes—they’re up against more than they bargained for. From the darker side of fandom to unexpected crushes, Imogen and Jess must find a way to rescue themselves from their own expectations…and redefine what it means to live happily ever after.

What to read next: The Once Upon a Con series can be read out of order, if you haven’t read Geekerella go read that one. Or wait until book 3, Bookish & the Beast comes out in August!

The Hazel Wood

What I loved: Slightly dark fairy tales infiltrating characters lives. Portals, other worlds, fairy tales coming alive–all good things!

Book Blurb: Seventeen-year-old Alice and her mother have spent most of Alice’s life on the road, always a step ahead of the uncanny bad luck biting at their heels. But when Alice’s grandmother, the reclusive author of a cult-classic book of pitch-dark fairy tales, dies alone on her estate, the Hazel Wood, Alice learns how bad her luck can really get: Her mother is stolen away―by a figure who claims to come from the Hinterland, the cruel supernatural world where her grandmother’s stories are set. Alice’s only lead is the message her mother left behind: “Stay away from the Hazel Wood.”

Alice has long steered clear of her grandmother’s cultish fans. But now she has no choice but to ally with classmate Ellery Finch, a Hinterland superfan who may have his own reasons for wanting to help her. To retrieve her mother, Alice must venture first to the Hazel Wood, then into the world where her grandmother’s tales began―and where she might find out how her own story went so wrong.

What to read next: The Night Country by Melissa Albert (the follow-up book) or The Modern Faerie Tales by Holly Black

A Sojourner’s Truth

What I love: It has “sojourner” in the title, so that alone sold me. I appreciated how Robinson shared her personal story with Black history along side the Exodus narrative. Since Robinson works in leadership training and mentoring, much of A Sojourner’s Truth: Choosing Freedom and Courage in a Divided World centered on leading, mentoring, and discipling as a person of faith in a world that will pull you in different directions and how knowing the gospel and the Christian’s journey will keep you humble, willing to grow, and committed to Kingdom work for the long haul.

Book Blurb: A Sojourner’s Truth is an African American girl’s journey from South Carolina to the United States Naval Academy, and then to her calling as an international speaker, mentor, and thought-leader. Intertwined with Natasha’s story is the story of Moses, a leader who was born into a marginalized people group, resisted the injustices of Pharaoh, denied the power of Egypt, and trusted God even when he did not fully understand where he was going. Along the way we explore the spiritual and physical tensions of truth telling, character and leadership development, and bridge building across racial, ethnic, socioeconomic, and gender lines. Join the journey to discover your own identity, purpose, and truth-revealing moments.

What to read next: His Testimonies, My Heritage: Women of Color on the Word of God by Kristie Anyabwile and others