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Welcome to In The Club, a newsletter of resources to keep your book group well-met, well-read, and well-fed. Thanks for joining me for my second In the Club newsletter! As I continue to settle into Book Riot, I’m also trading in D.C. for N.Y.C. I love aspects of living in both areas, but the move comes just in time for me to avoid the onslaught of monstrous bugs no one told me the DMV had. To quote Shangela: Halleloo to that!
Let’s get to the club!
Nibbles and Sips
When the heat advisories caution me to stay inside, I listen. The time I do spend outside begs for an icy, refreshing companion. Since it’s summer, I figure that companion should be an alcoholic one. And I don’t know about you, but sometimes reading while just a little turnt makes for a mighty good time.
This watermelon mojito sounds really refreshing and is a combination of two of my summer loves. Making the watermelon purée can be a little annoying, so I recommend making it in batches if you think you’ll want more than a few (you will).
Now, for the books!
This week’s books will be ones where the setting is so fully fleshed out, it becomes its own character.
Heaven, My Home by Attica Locke
The last we hear of nine-year-old Levi King is when he takes a small boat into Caddo Lake– a huge swampy lake that crosses the border from East Texas into Louisiana– and his boat’s motor just died. Texas Ranger Darren Mathews sets out to look for Levi, although it’s the white supremacists the boy is related to that really interest him. This is the second installation of a series following Darren Matthews after he forgoes a career as an attorney to protect and serve an area that wants him to do neither. He battles a faction of the Aryan Brotherhood all while racing against the clock to find a little boy who is being exposed to the harshest of elements. These elements are why I have grouped this book with the others. At times, Caddo Lake felt like its own living, breathing thing whose darkness could swallow you forever with no one the wiser.
Book Club Bonus: This brings about a great opportunity to talk about being a Black policeman or other authority figure. What challenges do officers of color face from their own community as well as from the white community?
Force of Nature: A Novel by Jane Harper
Five women go into the Australian wilderness for a work retreat. When the group makes it out of the forest, one of the women– Alice Russell– is missing. It turns out that Alice was also a whistleblower. Detective Aaron Falk investigates what might have happened to Alice and the story is told in the present as well as with well-timed flashbacks. As pieces of each woman’s past are revealed, it becomes clear that they’re not telling the whole truth. The setting– the Giralang Ranges, a fictional place meant to embody many aspects of the Australian bushland– may be what’s either keeping Alice or what has killed her. Harper’s description of the Australian wilderness is both beautiful and frightening. There’s a constant sense of dread as you feel the characters being watched by someone (or some thing) from the densely packed trees. The Ranges also offer danger in the form of intense weather and the threat of dangerous animals.
Book Club Bonus: This novel makes a bit of a statement on what we’re really like if you remove the mocha frappé lattes and what not (no shade). Do you feel this is an accurate portrayal of our inherent nature? Also, do you feel like the ending is believable?
My Sister, the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite
Okay, so the title is literal. This girl’s sister, Ayoola, is literally a serial killer. Ummm… and she protects her. Yeah, couldn’t be me, but this is darkly funny and describes what life would be like if your sister was a vapid serial killer who called you to clean up her messes. Things become more complicated when Ayooola sets her sights on a doctor her sister fancies. Braithwaite makes the city of Lagos, Nigeria come alive. I felt like I was plopped right in the middle of the hustle and bustle to witness Ayoola’s murderous shenanigans.
Book Club Bonus: There’s a lot to explore here as far as familial loyalty is concerned. Also, how do female beauty standards in a patriarchal society play a role here?
Flyaway by Kathleen Jennings
This one is a little different from the others in that it’s not dealing so much with murder as it is with family secrets and horrors. It also takes place in a small town in Queensland, Australia. Bettina, a reserved girl whose mother has become the center of her world, has her life upended when she sees a message written on a white fence in her neighborhood. This message makes her question everything she knows about her family. Jennings’ mix of Australian lore, family dysfunction, and nuanced prose all combine in a setting that unnerves and is just as affected by the magical elements in the story as the characters are.
Book Club Bonus: What does this say about the element of control in families?
Here are some details on Rapper Noname’s Book Club that meets virtually every month.
Royal-Tea 🍵 (get it? Okay, let me stop): Prince Harry is writing an ‘intimate and heartfelt’ memoir
Again, thanks for joining me! If you have any comments or just want to connect, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.