In The Club

Understanding Afghanistan

Welcome to In The Club, a newsletter of resources to keep your book group well-met, well-read, and well-fed. I, like everyone else I imagine, was shocked when the Taliban moved right in after the U.S. started to withdraw from Afghanistan. More shocking, though, might be how little I know about a war my country has been fighting for the past twenty years. I’d like to correct that now and explore with you all what life is like for Afghani people and start to try to understand what they are facing (and how this mess came to be).

If you’d like to help, here’s a list of different ways you can. Many local mosques are also accepting donations.

With all of that said, let’s get to the club!

Nibbles and Sips

I don’t know about y’all, but I love fresh hummus. Store bought hummus, on the other hand, makes me regret all my life choices leading up to the moment I decided to buy store bought hummus. The duality is interesting. Apparently, it’s not that hard to make at home, though, so here’s a recipe for sriracha hummus to be coupled with some crispy pita chips. If you’re not feeling the heat aspect, just leave the sriracha out. Also, I know some people have this thing with cilantro (to each their own), so you can substitute with parsley if you prefer.

A Decades Long War

cover of The Pearl That Broke Its Shell by Nadia Hashimi showing an Afghan woman holding a child's hand

The Pearl That Broke Its Shell by Nadia Hashimi

This fictional account of what it’s like for girls and women is included because I’ve always felt like I learned more from fiction at times. I chalk this up to the immersive experience it grants. Here, in Kabul in 2007, young Rahima and her sisters can’t leave the house and can only occasionally go to school because they are girls. She finds out that a great-aunt used a custom to change her life around a hundred years ago called “bacha posh,” which allows one to live as a boy/man (so, pretty much to be free), and decides to do the same. With her new found freedom she can go to school and be a chaperone for her sisters. The only issue is, girls are supposed to go back to having women’s lifestyles once they mature, but how will Rahima be able to give up her freedom when the time comes?

cover of The Afghanistan Papers by Craig Whitlock

The Afghanistan Papers by Craig Whitlock

To say that the timing of this book is impeccable would be an understatement. Good timing or not, though, this account of the war in Afghanistan by an investigative reporter from The Washington Post is scathing. Whitlock draws understandable parallels between the Vietnam war and the one in Afghanistan. Apparently, the U.S.’s efforts were a mess from the start in Afghanistan as well, and it was never set up to be a successful endeavor. The documents that The Washington Post unearthed and share here show all of the inadequacies that got us to where we are now.

cover of Dancing in the Mosque by Homeira Qaderi

Dancing in the Mosque by Homeira Qaderi

This is it. This is the one. Qaderi writes of her extraordinary life where she survived a brutal Russian occupation of Afghanistan, only to have to suffer through the Taliban rule of the early 90s right after. As they took over the country, the Taliban immediately started their campaign of misogyny by closing girls’ schools and forbidding them to read. Engaging in these forbidden things might result in being whipped or worse. To put this more in perspective, if I had been caught writing this newsletter by the Taliban in the 90s (and now?), I would have been gravely punished. Lucky for those around her, Qaderi was a rebel and held private tutoring lessons where she taught boys and girls and even some Taliban members at home and at a mosque. She clearly has Mother Teresa-level forgiveness capabilities, because I could never. In this account, Qaderi also tells of the everyday dangers she faced simply for being a woman, what other women and girls suffered, and how she had to ultimately leave her son behind.

Suggestion Section

More books about Afghanistan that are written by women in this list compiled by Carolina Ciucci.

Here’s a great article written by Teresa Preston on discussion questions for book clubs: 40 Great Book Club Discussion Questions For Any Book

So, Jeopardy finally axed that guy that nobody (literally nobody) asked for. My fellow Book Rioter Kelly Jensen tells the Jeopardy team what they need to go ahead and do. decided to throw their hat in the ring and gave a quick lil tug to Mike Richards’ wig with this tweet. Don’t you love it when people are rightly called out?

Also, here’s a chat that will take place between Bitch Media and Nicole Perkins about her book I mentioned in last week’s newsletter, Sometimes I Trip On How Happy We Could Be (on Tuesday, August 31, 2021).

As always, thanks for joining me today! If you have any comments or just want to connect, send an email to

In The Club

That New Hotness

Welcome to In The Club, a newsletter of resources to keep your book group well-met, well-read, and well-fed. I know not too long ago I was bemoaning it already being August, but now I’m ready for August to be over. It’s still hot and things are in shambles all over the world. At the very least, I can say we’re starting to get the new fall releases! I have a feeling we’re going to start having more time to read again, so these new releases are something to look forward to.

On to the club!

Nibbles and Sips

Being back in Jersey City allowed me to visit one of my favorite ramen places where I could get some Taiwanese popcorn chicken again. The dish takes a little prep work, but it’s super satisfying to pop these marinated and crunchy little bad boys in your mouth as you discuss books. Here are some substitutes if you can’t find or don’t have Chinese five spice.

Now for the books!

New Tings

cover image of The Taking of Jake Livingston by Ryan Douglass showing a drawing of a Black teen boy about to be grabbed by a ghost

The Taking of Jake Livingston by Ryan Douglass

As we continue to get to know each other, I’m sure you’ll learn I love fantasy stories, especially involving witchy things and magic, so a Black teenager in Atlanta who can see ghosts and who’s medium powers are burgeoning will always be right up my alley. We meet Jake as he constantly deals with micro aggressions from students and teachers in his very white private school. I like how Douglass constructed the world here. At times it’s grotesque, but it’s also kind of lush and beautiful. Jake comes to be haunted by a white kid named Sawyer who shot up his school before turning the gun on himself. He has to figure out how to get rid of him before Sawyer ruins his life. Some reveals in the second half had me looking like shocked pikachu, and I liked how realistic Jake’s reactions to things were. Dealing with micro aggressions is real and gone are the days where we just grin and bear it. There’s also a cute romance that develops.

Book Club Bonus: Phew, there is a lot to talk about here. There’s a lot to say of child abuse and its long term effects on the child, but also of the parent’s state of mind during the abuse. Are they forgivable?

cover image of Fuzz- When Nature Breaks the Law by Mary Roach showing an iron on patch with a bear, a cougar, and an elephant

Fuzz: When Nature Breaks the Law by Mary Roach

When I say I need to read more nonfiction, I’ve always been recommended books by Mary Roach. She is the reigning queen of taking obscure topics, researching them, and making them actually fun to read about. This one is about the conflict that arises when the human and animals worlds collide, but more specifically, when animals commit crimes. Apparently, a few hundred years ago, offending animals would be given representation and put on trial. I mean, that’s more than some people get now *side eyes the justice system*. Roach speaks of her travels across the globe where she consulted wildlife experts, as well as saw firsthand some of the animal offenders. It’s a great addition to the ongoing and needed conversation of humanity’s impact on the world and what we can do to prevent further damage.

Book Club Bonus: The United Nations released a rather damning report on the state of the climate. Discuss how Roach’s book factors into the report. Also, discuss why humans are considered separate from animals. Is there some inherent quality that makes us different?

cover image of Sometimes I Trip On How Happy We Could Be by Nicole Perkins showing the drawn torso of a Black woman with her hand squeezing a peach

Sometimes I Trip On How Happy We Could Be by Nicole Perkins

First of all, I love this cover. And the title. And Nicole Perkins. Perkins is a pop culture and social commentator as well as a 2017 Audre Lorde Fellow, a 2017 BuzzFeed Emerging Writers Fellow, and a 2016 Callaloo Creative Writing Fellow for poetry. In other words, sis can write. Through her podcasts and writing, she explores pop culture and desire through a feminist lens. She lays herself bare in this memoir as she explores her life growing up as a Black girl in Nashville, TN and how she struggled with depression, as well as a drug-addicted father. She also talks about self-care and the show Frasier (which I also love).

Book Club Bonus: Discuss how the digital era has affected feminine desire. Has it liberated or stifled it by further objectifying women?

Suggestion Section

In a lil more Olympic related news, soccer star Megan Rapinoe has a book club!

In game show news: Jeopardy decided to be real messy and hire Mike Richards as one of the hosts and not LeVar Burton, to many people’s dismay. I would wager that people are upset because LeVar is wonderful (period) and Mike is a hot mess who has had two lawsuits from his days at The Price is Right. John Oliver also had some shade for the choice. Tsk tsk

As always, thanks for hanging out! If you have any comments or just want to connect, send an email to

In The Club

Getting Lost in Translations

Welcome to In The Club, a newsletter of resources to keep your book group well-met, well-read, and well-fed. This past week I had a wonderful time becoming reacquainted with Jersey City, specifically with a nearby park. I moved from here only about 2.5 years ago, but since 2020 lasted 10 years, it feels like longer. I’ve come back to a wonderfully expanded local park that has a little bit of everything for everyone. I was happy to have it combined with the nice weather as I try to continue to socially distance, but still maintain my sanity. I can already tell I’ll be getting a lot of reading done there.

Speaking of: let’s get to the club!

Nibbles and Sips, and Sometimes Tips

As fall steadily approaches, I feel we still have a chance to get some summer brunch in. Living in D.C. showed me a slightly more southern way to brunch that I appreciate. Today, I’d like to feature shrimp and grits, which actually can be a light-ish dish despite the butter and (optional) heavy cream and bacon (I know). Here are a couple recipes one, and two, as I didn’t find one that showed quite the way I make mine, but this comes closest. I typically don’t use bacon or add cheese to my grits. Also, it’s super important to season the shrimp and let it sit for a few minutes. Shrimp and grits don’t take very long to make, freeing your morning up for more book discussion time!

Women in Translation

Some of the books today come from my finished or TBR pile. I’ve chosen to mention them in this newsletter in celebration of Women in Translation month, which was started by Meytal Radzinski in response to the lack of women writers being translated compared to men. So, uh, the usual patriarchy mess *heavy sigh*. Listen, it can get exhausting pointing out disparities in the literary world– as well as the rest of the world– but at least we know there’s this issue barring us from experiencing certain women writers, and we can start to correct it.

Let’s get into it!

cover image of Flights by Olga Tokarczuk

Flights by Olga Tokarczuk translated by Jennifer Croft 

This is one that’s on my read-sooner-rather-than-later TBR list. This is because of her other book, Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead, which I mentioned in last week’s newsletter. With Flights, the Nobel prize winner explores her love of travel after having been barred from it until the age of 28 because of Soviet isolationism. There are 116 nonlinear, existential vignettes here, both fictional and nonfictional.

These vignettes are all connected through travel– travel through space, time, memory, thoughts– and often seem to land in unexpected places. Within these tales there is a story of a flight that lands at the same time it takes off and one about how Chopin’s sister smuggled his heart into Warsaw in her skirt. The author actually took a class on the history of anatomy in Amsterdam as research for this collection, if that tells you anything about what you should expect.

cover image of I, Tituba, Black Witch of Salem by Maryse Conde

I, Tituba, Black Witch of Salem by Maryse Condé translated by Richard Wilcox

Guadeloupean author Maryse Condé tells the story of the Salem Witch Trials through the eyes of Tituba, the enslaved woman who was among the first to be accused of witchcraft during the Salem witch trials. TItuba was orphaned at seven as her enslaved mother dared to defend herself from assault. She goes on to be raised by Mama Yaya, a woman with a great understanding of nature and the invisible. Of course, she shares her knowledge of magic and healing with Tituba, and in doing so, one could say she passes her womanhood to her. There are themes that explore womanhood represented as magic and the unknown.

It was Tituba’s love for an enslaved man, John, that led her back into the maw of slavery, by which she would eventually be accused of being a witch. Sis was down bad for John, smh, but I can’t judge the decisions of a Black woman living in the late 17th century too harshly.

It’s interesting to think of the act of erasure and all the resultant lost stories. This ties nicely into what’s going on in public schools in some of the southern and western states.

cover image of How to Order the Universe by Maria Jose Ferrada

How to Order the Universe by María José Ferrada

M is a seven year old girl whose understanding of life seems to revolve around her father’s career as a traveling salesman. So much so that she eventually starts accompanying him during his travels. Their journeys from town to town are often humorous and filled with wonder. M’s innocence and ignorance of impending change is contrasted against the reality of life in Chile under Pinochet’s rule. When they meet a mysterious photographer who sees ghosts, M’s world gets turned upside down. This has been added to my TBR with the swiftness.

cover image of Vita Nostra by Marina Dyachenko and Sergey Dyachenko

Vita Nostra by Marina Dyachenko and Sergey Dyachenko translated by Julia Meitov Hersey

This is technically written by a wife-husband duo, but was translated by a woman. When the subject of books in translation come up, this one immediately springs to mind as I’m still waiting for the second in the series to be translated *grumbles*.

Sixteen year old Sasha Samokhina is vacationing with her mom when she notices a strange man following her. She finds out he’s there to recruit her by coercion for a magic school no one has ever heard of. Now, before you get it twisted thinking this is just another story of a magical high school, just know that the magic studied here is unlike anything you’ve read before. The students also have to do things that other magical high school students don’t (it gets dark, y’all). It flirts with metaphysical philosophy, teeters on the biblical, and is plum gibberish at times. This story has been described as what those popular wizard school books would be like if they were written by Kafka. It’s an all around darker take on the magical high school subgenre that’s definitely for adults.

Suggestion Section

A List of Japanese women in translation by Pierce Alquist

A quiz to further help you decide on what women in translation book to read by Leah Rachel von Essen

Jenna Bush Hager has chosen the first mystery book for her book club that explores “the darker side of ballet.”

As always, thanks for hanging out. If you have any comments or just want to connect, send an email to

See you next week,


In The Club

In the Club

Welcome to In The Club, a newsletter of resources to keep your book group well-met, well-read, and well-fed. I really can’t believe it’s already August. I feel like July lasted for five minutes, but still managed to have Ms. Delta werk (get it? Rupaul + physics joke… I’ll stop) and give us this rise in COVID cases. SMH! I’m glad to be done with heat advisories (at least in my area), but sheesh!

On to the club!

Nibbles and Sips

In the spirit of the book topic, I wanted to use vegan Tiktoker and literal ray of sunshine, Tabitha Brown’s recipe for mac and cheese. Gone are the days of bland plant-based food! Here’s a pretty straightforward video of her making it, as well as a page with the instructions and ingredients more clearly listed. If you don’t know Tabitha, she makes vegan recipes that everyone will like, is super funny, and even read Wendy Williams for filth (lol).

Material World

The books I will discuss in today’s newsletter deal with consumerism as well as its effect on the environment. Consumerism and environmentalism are inextricably linked. Suzanne Jacobs from Grist explains this relationship well when she was summarizing research findings: “They found that consumerism was much higher in rich countries than in poor countries (surprise!) and that those with the highest rates of consumerism had up to 5.5 times the environmental impact as the world average.” It’s interesting to see how authors work these elements into their writing, using them as backdrops or even major plot points.

cover image of  a children's bible by Lydia Millet

A Children’s Bible by Lydia Millet

Here, Millet explores climate change with the use of biblical allegory in what has been described as a Lord of the Flies-style story. One summer, a group of teenagers and younger kids are dragged to a vacation home by their parents. The parents neglect their children because of their greater interest in alcohol and the kids, in turn, are ashamed and unwilling to claim them. When there is a storm, the parents forsake their children in favor of Ecstasy and the kids are left to fend for themselves.

Book Club Bonus: What is the significance of the Bible throughout the story? Also, what is being said by how the dynamics between the two generations is shown?

cover image of Klara and the Sun by Kazuo Ishiguro

Klara and the Sun by Kazuo Ishiguro

This has been getting a lot of praise lately (it’s on Obama’s summer reading list!), and for good reason. Klara is an android, or AF (“Artificial Friend”) who seems to be a lot more observant and perceptive than other AFs, and sometimes even actual humans. She stands in a store display people watching before a sick girl and her mother pick her out to take her home. This is a world where the class structures we currently experience are still very present and the planet has been polluted.

Book Club Bonus: How can one reconcile Klara’s obvious humanity with the ending? What is it saying about consumerism and its effects on the individual?

cover image of Salvage the Bones by Jesmyn Ward

Salvage the Bones by Jesmyn Ward

The other two books have mostly focused on characters with means. This novel is more realistic and focuses on some of those who may suffer because of overconsumption by the wealthy classes. Salvage the Bones is about a Black family in Mississippi that lives in poverty and how life is for them as they await Hurricane Katrina. The father neglects his children as he medicates himself with alcohol, and his kids are more independent and resourceful as a result. Esch, the novel’s protagonist, is fourteen and pregnant, and often seeks to escape her bleak reality by getting lost in stories (she loves Greek myths). This story of survival is brutal and bloody at times, but it can also be redemptive.

Book Club Bonus: Discuss the significance of myth and biblical allegory in the presence of floods/storms. Also, what themes surrounding motherhood are presented throughout?

cover image of Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead by Olga Tokarczuk

Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead by Olga Tokarczuk

Janina is an aging astrologist that house sits for some of her neighbors, who usually only return to their houses in the small Polish town for vacations. She also translates the poetry of William Blake. When bodies of some of her neighbors, people she knew that did not respect nature, turn up dead, she assumes that animals are taking their revenge. This is a mystery that has possible supernatural elements, with a main character who is eccentric and just as passionate about the lives of animals as she is that of humans.

Book Club Bonus: Discuss how women are regarded once they enter old age. How did this hamper the main character, and how did it benefit her?

Suggestion Section

Goodreads details comedian Ali Wong’s summer book picks

Points on keeping book clubs virtual by Christianna Silva at Mashable.

messy bookish tea 🍵: The sudden death of Scholastic’s CEO has unearthed some interesting things 👀

As always, thanks for hanging with me for a minute. If you have any comments or just want to connect, send an email to

See you next week,


In The Club

In the Club 07/28/21

Welcome to In The Club, a newsletter of resources to keep your book group well-met, well-read, and well-fed. This week I’m settling into my new digs in Jersey City, NJ. I’ve lived here before, but this feels like a new adventure, probably since it was a few years ago, I’m in a different apartment, and of course I now have this job. I’m definitely in a “new job, new phone, who dis?” mood.

I’m also happy to be near NYC again and able to visit my old haunts from when I was a 20-something-year-old scalawag, who did not traipse around Manhattan at all hours of the night with my friends acting grown *ahem*.

To the Club!

Nibbles and Sips

So stone fruit are very much in season now and I’ve been seeing fresh apricots each time I’ve been in my fav. new grocery store, Lidl. Seeing them there made me realize that I’ve never really had apricots unless they were dried and/or in preserves (or baked into brie). So obviously, I had to get some. I will say, they’re cute little fruit, albeit a little tart. I actually thought they would go perfectly in a tarte (ha!). New York Times Cooking came through with an apricot tart recipe that also has pistachios (which I love). The ingredients list is fairly short. Tip: If you can’t find phyllo dough, try puff pasty.

Now, let’s get into this week’s topic.

BIPOC Mental Health Month

July is National Minority Mental Health Awareness Month. Sadly, I’ve only recently found out about this, but of course bringing awareness to mental health care within communities of color is a yearlong concern.

As with other issues pertaining to race and class, the issues surrounding mental health care and people of color is complex. On the one hand, colonizers have gone to great lengths to eradicate non-European cultural practices and convince us that our beliefs are not rooted in sanity. The many horrors of residency schools that have been surfacing lately are a great example of this attempt at cultural erasure (like this one in Colorado, Minnesota, and Canada). As a result, many of us have tried our best to avoid adding yet another stigma to an already fraught social standing by denying the presence of any mental health issues we may experience.

On the other hand, it has also been well documented how communities of color don’t receive much needed health care, mental health care included. The books I’ve included here bring us one step closer to where we should be in terms of understanding by showing what it’s like to 1) be of color, 2) have a mental illness, and 3) have both of those identities at the same time.

The following books need a trigger warning for: sexual abuse and assault, child abuse, domestic violence

cover of heartberries by Terese Marie Mailhot

Heart Berries by Terese Marie Mailhot

Mailhot tells a poetic and lyrical story of her experiences with child abuse and neglect, being bipolar, and an Indian. I almost felt at times like I was experiencing things as one of her friends or even as her. This is a result of her somewhat stream-of-conscious style of writing and how honest she was about everything. She could be cruel and selfish and contradicted herself at times. She could also be forgiving and vulnerable, and really just seemed to be in search of validation. I felt as though I was finding things out with her, including the huge revelation towards the end. This is a short read, but has so much packed into it.

Book Club Bonus: In the book, Mailhot is almost apologetic for merely existing as a poor child. What are some other seemingly unusual ways poverty influences children? Also, how may conflicting cultural views of the world (for instance, Indigenous views versus European views on things such as property and ownership) dictate one’s sense of self and place in the world when you belong to more than one culture?

cover image of the collected schizophrenias by Esme Wang

The Collected Schizophrenias by Esmé Weijun Wang

With this collection of essays, Wang chronicles her experiences with having late-stage Lyme disease, PTSD, and schizoaffective disorder, bipolar type. We follow Wang as she details her experiences with audible and visual hallucinations, her stay in mental hospitals, how she experienced PTSD following an abusive relationship, and more. There’s even a chapter that she wrote while experiencing a particular kind of psychosis known as Cotard’s delusion, which is a rare condition that causes someone to believe they are dead. She’s very honest about being ashamed of her mental illness when she confesses things like “I’m uncomfortable because I don’t want to be lumped in with the screaming man on the bus, or the woman who claims that she’s the reincarnation of God.”

Book Club Bonus: The criteria for having mental illness has changed through the years. How should we reconcile cultural differences in terms of spirituality, etc. with what is considered mental illness? Who dictates what is considered mental illness and what is not?

cover image of black girl unlimited by echo brown

Black Girl Unlimited by Echo Brown

Echo’s life as a wizard on the East Side is rife with substance abuse, child abuse, depression, racism, classism, and sexism. Despite this, there is magic everywhere. This YA coming-of-age story is a mix of surrealism and metaphor that shows how Black women’s resilience manifests as magic. This can be hard to read, but is so necessary.

Book Club Bonus: How can the idea of Black women being resilient actually be damaging? Also, how does this book explore intergenerational trauma?

Bonus Bonus: All of the books mentioned here focus on women/girls of color dealing with mental health issues. All of the books also have sexual assault. Discuss the intersection of mental health concerns with the prevalence of assault.

Suggestion Section

An article on how Reese Witherspoon’s book club is driving book sales. The impact of book clubs!

In case you hadn’t heard, Barack Obama and Bruce Springsteen have a new book.

Here is a list of 2021 releases from Book Riot sure to start some great book club conversations!

Thanks for chilling with me! As always, If you have any comments or just want to connect, send an email to

See you next week,


In The Club

In the Club 07/21/21

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!

Location, Location

This week’s books will be ones where the setting is so fully fleshed out, it becomes its own character.

cover of heaven my home

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?

cover of force of nature

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?

cover of my sister the serial killer

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?

cover of flyaway

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?

Suggestion Section

Billie Jean King’s All In is the L.A. Times Book Club’s August Pick.

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


In The Club

In the Club 07/14/21

Welcome to In The Club, a newsletter of resources to keep your book group well-met, well-read, and well-fed.

Firstly, introductions are in order! My name is Erica and I’m new to In the Club and Book Riot overall. I’m super geeked to be a new Associate Editor (okurrt!) as well as the writer for this newsletter. I only hope that I am half as entertaining as Vanessa was. I’m going to warn you right now that, as you may have already noticed, I may make the occasional Cardi B. reference. I apologize in advance.

To the club!!

Nibbles and Sips

I just spent a wonderful birthday week in New Orleans, courtesy of the good sis Pfizer, and thought I’d share one of the many new things I tried while there. Although I got to sample all the heartier dishes, like étouffée, gumbo, and jambalaya, I figured I’d share something a little more low-key. If you’re up for it, please try these wonderful Creole pralines. Yes, they’re full of sugar, but I think we all deserve a treat for dealing with this heat!

New Orleans was as musical as it’s rumored to be, and it’s got me in a jazzy, nostalgic mood. I’d like to keep the N’awlins vibes going just a while longer as I discuss books set in the idyllic Jazz Age. Now let’s get to the books!

The Other 20s

gods of jade and shadow

Gods of Jade and Shadow by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

I love mythology! Couple that with an intriguing setting like Mexico City in the 20s, and I’m good to go. I essentially finished this one in a day and a half with a combination of the physical copy as well as the audiobook (which I highly recommend!).

Here, we follow Casiopea Tun as she carries out her life as little more than a servant in her grandfather’s house. She discovers a curious box in his room and opens it, accidentally freeing the Mayan God of Death, Hun-Kamé. The romance that manifests during the journey they take to return Hun-Kamé to his rightful throne is juxtaposed against vivid descriptions of the Mayan underworld and skirmishes with those that oppose his return.

Book Club Bonus: There’s a good opportunity here to discuss how Mayan mythology compares with other religions, mythology, and lore. What similarities are there? What differences? Also, how do colorism and colonialism play a role in the social hierarchy here? Why did Casiopea have the status she did in her grandfather’s house?

cover of dead dead girls

Dead Dead Girls by Nekesa Afia

Louise Lloyd is a young, queer Black woman living in Harlem in the 1920s. As a teenager, someone tried to violently kidnap her. Although she got away, this ever-present threat of violence finds her again as Black girls are murdered in her neighborhood. After being arrested following an episode of police brutality, she’s given the option to help solve the murders in exchange for her freedom. This is maybe what the show Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries would be with the addition of 20s-era racism+sexism. It’s also the first in a series called the Harlem Renaissance Mysteries, so there’s more to look forward to.

Book Club Bonus: Discuss the prevalence of violence in women’s lives, and the compounding effect of otherness (being queer, a person of color, and/or disabled). What may be some of the lasting effects of these kind of experiences? Also, how did you like the structure of the mystery (how the killer was revealed) compared to other murder mysteries?

zora Neale hurston and langston hughes drawn

Zora and Langston by Yuval Taylor

This gives a rare glimpse into Zora Neale Hurston’s and Langston Hughes’ intense friendship that shaped the Harlem Renaissance. Their friendship was such that they wrote intimate letters to each other, traveled the rural South in Hurston’s car collecting Black lore (that would later be used in plays and books like Barracoon), and collaborated on creative projects (Mulebone). Their intimacy also meant they shared a patron in the form of a controlling white woman named Charlotte Osgood Mason, who went by “Godmother.” Despite such intimacy, their friendship would be forever damaged in the early 30s.

Book Club Bonus: Discuss what the cost of patronage was as a Black artist. What were the different stances on respectability and how did Zora and Langston fit within them? Why did Zora die in obscurity while Langston remained a well respected literary figure?

Suggestion Section

Luckily for us, Obama has shared his summer reading list, so you can have even more things to add.

Here’s yet another super handy link to the tea 🍵 on other book clubs from all over the interwebs.

And, as always, there are also our other newsletters to keep you well-read.

Thanks for staying a while! If you have any comments or just want to connect, send an email to

In The Club

In the Club 07/07/21

Welcome to In The Club, a newsletter of resources to keep your book group well-met, well-read, and well-fed. If you will, please picture me singing those first dulcet notes of Adele’s Skyfall like a loser because this, indeed, is the end. After just shy of three years bringing you nibbles, sips, and tips for book club, this is my final edition of In the Club.

The good news is that I’m now Book Riot’s Managing Editor (wut wut!)! I’ll still be around doing all the Book Riot things, it’s just time to pass the club torch to someone new. So allow me to introduce our new Associate Editor Erica Ezeifedi! She’ll be taking over this newsletter as of next week. Give her a warm club welcome!

For my final newsletter, I’m hitting you with the club’s greatest hits: random club memories from the last three years that even I have looked back on and went, “how do you have friends?” Then I’ll drop a few club lessons before I bid you adieu.

To the club!!

Nibbles and Sips

Listen, I can’t write my final newsletter and not suggest a toast. Next time you gather for book club, grab some bubbly. Add a little juice for a brunchy mimosa (tangerine has been a recent fave for me), or maybe a little St. Germaine for that sweet, delicate floral flavor. Raise your glass to me—just kidding! Raise your glass to yourselves—to good company, good books, and for just making it through the last couple of years. As for me, I will indeed raise a glass to endings, new beginnings, and the wonderful unifying power of the written word. Salud!

A Look Back at Three Years In the Club

image of two people reading at a wooden table

My Very First Newsletter

First things first — I’m not Jenn! My name is Vanessa and I will be taking over this here newsletter. I’ve been writing for Book Riot for just shy of a year and am super jazzed to be the new bouncer of this club. Get it? Because clubs have bouncers. No? I’m sorry, I’ll stop.

From my very first newsletter back in August 2018

The First of Many Cheesy Song Remixes

This feels like the right time to confess that every time I type the words “in the club,” I most definitely start rapping my very own remix of what was once a college party anthem:

You can find me in the club… of books so there’s no snubs
Look buddy I got the blurbs if you’re into bookish plugs
I’m into reading ARCs from the big and the indie pubs…

What’s that? I’m a loser? Right. Let’s get back to bookish things.

From my second newsletter in April 2018, after which I was shockingly not canned.

P is for Poison

… I really did ask myself, “Would it be weird if I suggested concocting poisons from A is for Arsenic as a book club activity?” I mean, it’s really just chemistry. Yay science! Since I’m really not trying to go down for a mass poisoning though, I do have an alternate suggestion.

From June 2019’s “Please Don’t Get Me Arrested” newsletter

Has Anyone Checked on Andrew Keegan?

…Ah, the film that had all the girls thinking they could drop it low to Biggie’s “Hypnotize” just because Julia Stiles tried it. Shade aside, I love this movie and instantly start singing “Can’t Take My Eyes Off of You” when I think of it. I invite you to join me in spending a little time with Willy Shakespeare, then with Heath Ledger. Also, when’s the last time anyone checked on Andrew Keegan? Is he okay? Does he have snacks? Is he living comfortably off that Tiger Beat money?

From April 2020, book + adaptation pairings
still frame of Andrew Keegan and Larisa Oleynik from movie 10 Things I Hate About You
“Do you know who I am? I have TIGER BEAT money!” – a thing Andrew Keegan probably said

That Poor, Poor Family

…After a fire drill and a miscommunication result in a rescue gone viral, the two embark on a fakelationship with some very steamy sexy time scenes. In case you’ve forgotten, I learned this while audiobooking in my car as Dani went on about her throbbing clitoris right as I pulled up next to a family in a Subaru at a stoplight.

From November 2020’s “pick a mood and I’ll give you a book to read” newsletter. I still think about that Subaru.

That Time I Called a Character Hottie McGuapo

… To prove that he’s a brujo, he performs the sacred coming-of-age ritual wherein brujx come into their powers; with the help of his BFF cousin, he uses his powers to summon the ghost of his murdered cousin and set it free. Pero….. the ghost he summons isn’t his cousin. His name is Julian, he refuses to leave, and he’s what I’ve affectingly dubbed a Hottie McGuapo. The book is inspired by lots of different Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) rituals and is full of Spanish much to my heart’s delight. It’s a sweet, funny and romantic read with great conversation potential.

From December 2020, Best Book Club Books of 2020

What the Club Life Taught Me

Finally, I leave you with lessons I’ve learned from writing this newsletter.

  • Book clubs can be big and boisterous or a one-person affair. Whether you’re gathering with a large group or reading independently at a silent book club, it all counts.
  • People want to be heard, or at least know that they could be. One of the most important aspects of book club is to make sure it isn’t just one or two people dominating the conversation. Everyone should feel like they can contribute, or like they could at any given time. Sometimes it takes a minute for some folks to speak up, but they should feel empowered to do so.
  • Life Happens. So you can’t make this month’s meeting, or maybe the whole things gets postponed. Maybe it’s still on but you didn’t finish the book. It’s all fine! Book club should be a thing that adds to your life, not one detracts from it or gives you feelings of guilt. Jump in and out as you see fit, meet irregularly, go to the meeting for discussion even if you haven’t read the book.
  • Book club is a great place to learn. We’re all on different paths on our journey to be our best selves, and while I certainly don’t think books alone are going to save the world, they can be a fruitful start. I’ve suggested a lot of uncomfortable topics in the last three years and I’ve received a ton of great feedback about the discussions these topics have encouraged. I hope you’ll always read for joy, but that you’ll also take the time to read to learn, grow, and challenge the status quo.

Suggestion Section

This Bronx-based book club shows how community can help anyone build wealth at any age.

A review of Oprah’s latest book club pick, The Sweetness of Water

BuzzFeed’s July book club pick asks: what would you do if your best friend was all, “Hey, so, I’m starting a cult!”?

Thanks for hanging with me today! Shoot me an email at with your burning book club questions or find me on Twitter and the gram @buenosdiazsd. Sign up for the Audiobooks newsletter and catch me once a month on the All the Books podcast.

Stay bad & bookish, my friends. 

In The Club

In the Club 06/30/21

Welcome to In The Club, a newsletter of resources to keep your book group well-met, well-read, and well-fed. Two more newsletters to go together, people of the club! Today I’m going to hit you with some of my favorite book club picks of the year so far. The truth is I could have added another 10 titles from the list of books I have read this year, and another 10 from my TBR. But I’m not trying to go out with a 4,000 word newsletter, you know?

To the club!!

Nibbles and Sips, and Sometimes Tips

I came back to Portland just in time to miss the epic heatwave that smashed temperature records in the Pacific Northwest three days in a row. Bruuuuuh 116 degrees? No quiero! I’ve experienced that ish before and have absolutely no desire to do so again. Climate change!!!!

Because super hot temps are popping up all over the place, I thought today I’d share this thread all of helpful tips for staying cool when you don’t have AC. I used to do A LOT of these when I lived in inland San Diego and my brother unknowingly bought a house with no AC. I hope these will come in handy in helping you beat the heat!

Best of the Club, So Far

cover image of Women and Other Monsters: Building a New Mythology by Jess Zimmerman

Women and Other Monsters: Building a New Mythology by Jess Zimmerman

I love this book so much (I know, I know: Vanessa likes a book about mythology. Shocking!). This cultural analysis dedicates one chapter to each of 11 mythological female monsters to illustrate how women have been labeled as monstrous throughout history. She examines the lore surrounding creatures like Scylla, Medusa, and the Sphinx to show how women’s anger, sexuality, and even ugliness have been used to turn us into villains. You’ll find yourself looking at these “monsters” in whole new light.

Master of Djinn by P. Djèlí Clark

What do the words “magical steampunk Egypt,” matcha, floral cocktails, and cheese have in common? Putting any one of those on a string is easy bait to lure me. In alternative Cairo in 1912, djinn and humans exist alongside one another. Special Investigator Fatma el Sha-arawi is the youngest woman working for the Ministry of Alchemy, Enchantments, and Supernatural Entities and she’s just been tasked with investigating the killing of a brotherhood dedicated to a famed Sudanese mystic. That man, known as al-Jahiz, is said to have torn a hole in the veil between the magical and mundane worlds decades ago before disappearing, and the man claiming responsibility for the killings claims to be al-Jahiz returned. Together with her new partner and her mysterious lover, Fatma sets out to solve the case and uncover the truth about this self-professed prophet.

cover image of The Secret Lives of Church Ladies by Deesha Philyaw

The Secret Lives of Church Ladies by Deesha Philyaw

The collection of nine stories explores “the raw and tender places where Black women and girls dare to follow their desires and pursue a momentary reprieve from being good.” It does it so perfectly, painfully, and poignantly, the kind of read you need to stop and savor. My favorite stories include one about two 40-year-old lifelong friends whose relationship turned sexual years ago; when the narrator drops suggest to her friend that they could be more than occasional lovers, the friend stills dream of life as a “good Christian woman” and recoils in horrified disgust. Another favorite is one about two women who fled their hometown in the South to live freely and safely as a same-sex couple. But one of the women grapples with the concept of home, of belonging, of community, of longing for people and places that made you but may no longer serve you (this passage KILLED ME). The collection is a slim one but packs such a punch. The stories are so vulnerable and revelatory. It almost feels like an invasion of privacy to witness this beautiful if sometimes heart-breaking intimacy, these slices of life that often go unseen.

Firekeeper’s Daughter by Angeline Boulley

Eighteen-year-old Daunis Fontaine is a biracial, unenrolled tribal member with dreams of studying medicine. She defers enrollment to stay local and care for her mother and grandmother, then witnesses the murder of her best friend. When the killing is followed by a strings of other suspicious deaths, the murders appear to be linked to a new lethal cocktail of meth wreaking havoc on the res. Daunis gets pulled into an undercover investigation into the source of the meth, one that brings her into close contact with a new boy in town who might be hiding something about himself. She also pursues her own secret investigation, using her knowledge of chemistry and Ojibwe traditional medicine to uncover buried secrets in her community. 

cover image of The Bombay Prince by Sujata Massey

The Bombay Prince by Sujata Massey

All of the books in the Perveen Mistry series are fun, smart historical mysteries with a feminist message, but this one also has something to say about colonial rule. In 1920s Bombay, Perveen Mistry is India’s first female lawyer. The Bombay Prince opens in November 1921 as the Prince of Wales is getting ready to come to India on a four month tour. There’s major unrest in India and a lot of tension surrounding the visit; people are getting tired of British rule and they’re pushing back against it. When a young Parsi student falls from a second story window just as the Prince Edward’s grand procession is passing by her college, the death rattles Perveen. That very young woman had come to her for a legal consultation just days before her death, asked about the legality of skipping classes on the day Edward would be visiting Bombay. Plagued with guilt and a sneaking suspicion that this death wasn’t accidental, Perveen promises to get justice for the woman. Can Perveen help a suffering family when her own is in danger, and in the middle of so much turmoil?

Suggestion Section

Good Morning America announces its July Book Club

This Bushwick-based book club writes original songs for every book they read. This is amazing, and also feels like a challenge…. *begins scheming in Spanish*

Thanks for hanging with me today! Shoot me an email at with your burning book club questions or find me on Twitter and the gram @buenosdiazsd. Sign up for the Audiobooks newsletter and catch me once a month on the All the Books podcast.

Stay bad & bookish, my friends. 

In The Club

In the Club 06/23/21

Welcome to In The Club, a newsletter of resources to keep your book group well-met, well-read, and well-fed.I have some news for you, people of the club: the July 7th edition of In the Club will be my final one! It’s been almost three years since I made my club debut and it’s been a blast getting to spend time in your inbox weekly. Fret not, I’m not leaving Book Riot so I’ll still be around. More info for you soon as to your new Club host; for now, let’s enjoy the time we have together.

To the club!!

Nibbles and Sips

As the weather gets warmer, I start to look for meals that involve as little time near an oven or sweating over a hot stove as I can. The instant pot comes in clutch here, but sometimes all I want is a no-cook or low-cook salad.

Thing is, I very often find lettuce so boring! While I do love a tender butter lettuce, or even romaine in a delicious Cobb, I’m always looking for lettuce-less salads that are hearty, filling, and bursting with flavor. I add chicken to this salad my family used to make a lot when I was a kid and I’m obsessed! Bust this one out at book club meetings—plus this strawberry cucumber margarita I’m throwing in as a bonus—when you need to beat the heat.

Avocado Cucumber Salad: combine all of the ingredients below in a large bowl. The olive oil and seasoning should be to your taste. If you can, def add that bouillon powder, but go easy on it! It adds a nice salty bite, but a little goes a very long way.

  • 1 large cucumber, 1-2 Roma tomatoes, and 1-2 avocados, all diced (I like a decent sized chunk)
  • Half of a red onion, thinly sliced
  • Juice of 1-2 lemons depending on how citrusy you like things. Me? I have no respect for my tooth enamel.
  • 1-2 tablespoons of olive oil
  • Seasonings: salt, lemon pepper (yes, lemon pepper specifically), chicken bouillon powder
  • Parsley or spinach, finely chopped (I sneak spinach into my food this way for some extra nutrition)

Ouch, My Brain

I was going to call this week’s theme “What the F*ck” Books, and that still holds! I recently read the first book in this week’s roundup and it made my brain hurt a little in a wonderful way. That got me thinking about some of the other books that have made me go, “Huh.” Put your thinking caps on, friends.

cover image of Slipping by by Mohamed Kheir, translated by Robin Moger

Slipping by Mohamed Kheir, translated by Robin Moger

The story takes place in Cairo and nearby Egyptian towns during the Arab Spring. Struggling journalist and magazine writer Seif is grief-stricken after his girlfriend, Alya is killed during a protest. He been assigned to accompany a former exile on excursions to unfamiliar places, a man who possesses an encyclopedic knowledge of Egypt’s obscure, magical places. Together they embark on a very surreal journey to see the elusive corners of the world the Arab Spring left behind: a place where giant corpse flowers fall from the sky, another where it’s said you can walk on the water of the Nile. The further they go and the more stories Bahr tells, the more reality starts to blur for Seif as memories of past trauma begin to surface.

Book Club Bonus: The very structure of the book is a huge discussion point; Bahr’s anecdotes are woven into the story in alternating chapters, which if you don’t know right away may leave you hella confused. But keep going: you’ll see how the stories are linked as you get further in. Discuss, also, the lasting effects of trauma and how it alters our perceptions of reality.

cover image of The Third Hotel by Laura van den Berg

The Third Hotel by Lara van den Berg

A woman travels to Havana, Cuba to attend a Latin film festival, one her husband, a horror scholar, was supposed to attend. Then she sees him standing outside a museum in a white linen suit she’s never seen before, but that can’t be–because he’s super dead. She trails him throughout the crowded city, always seemingly a few steps behind him, as the line between delusion and reality is distorted further and further. Through flashbacks to her childhood in Florida and moments in her marriage, the truth of her role in her husband’s death and reappearance is revealed. I recommended this book a lot as a bookseller, and my shelf talker for the title just said, “What the f*ck did I just read?”

Book Club Bonus: Book Riot Editor Kelly Jensen is always telling readers that horror is not a genre, but a feeling. This is the kind of book that makes that statement make sense for me. There’s no gore or ghosts or big giant scares of the kind many might associate with horror, but there’s a sense of dread and unease that just sort of looms on the page from beginning to end. The fog of grief is almost a character all on its own. Discuss!

cover image of The Only Harmless Great Thing by Brooke Bolander

The Only Harmless Great Thing by Brooke Bolander

This alternate history novelette was recommended to me back in my bookseller days by a customer. I looked it up and saw it described as Radium Girls but with sentient elephants and I thought, “Sure, let’s do this!” In the early 1900s, a group of female factory workers in Newark, New Jersey slowly died of radiation poisoning. Around that same time, Topsy the elephant was deliberately put to death by electricity in Coney Island. Both of these things are true. In the book, elephants have inherited the earth and a mama elephant is telling her calf a lil story. How did we get here? You’ll have to read to find out.

Book Club Bonus: There’s a ton of symbolism in the use of an elephant as a narrator, an animal knows for its memory. Can we ever really forget the wrongs that have been done to us, especially if those wrongs weren’t mere slights but an attempt to eradicate? There’s also a lot of commentary here on our need to reckon with the long term effects of nuclear waste.

Suggestion Section

at The Washington Post: KidsPost Summer Book Club: ‘Clues to the Universe’

BuzzFeed announces their July book club pick (how is July around the corner already?!!)

This brief announcement about a Martha’s Vineyard book club got me thinking: why don’t I see more walk & talk book clubs!? We so often think of book club as “gather round and sit in a circle” situation with possible food & drink, but taking book club for a stroll seems like an excellent idea!

Publishers Weekly shares a list of book club picks for June

Thanks for hanging with me today! Shoot me an email at with your burning book club questions or find me on Twitter and the gram @buenosdiazsd. Sign up for the Audiobooks newsletter and catch me once a month on the All the Books podcast.

Stay bad & bookish, my friends.