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In The Club

In the Club 02/24/21

Welcome to In The Club, a newsletter of resources to keep your book group well-met, well-read, and well-fed. How is everyone this week? In Portland we’re getting some actual sunshine and slightly warmer temps, and I know I’ve changed as a person when I see 45 degrees in the forecast and go, “Oh word? I don’t even need a scarf!” For those of you still recovering from the hell of winter storms, I’m thinking of you and hoping relief finds its way to you soon.

To the club!!

Nibbles and Sips

I’ve mentioned before that I love me some Food Tik Tok, right? Well one of my favorites right now is a creator by the name of Hajar Larbah (Tik Tok username @moribyan). She makes all sort of delicious foodstuffs, including a lot of recreations of popular restaurant foods. I die. My recent favorite recipes (there are… so many) are chicken shawarma, which I’ve always been needlessly intimidated to make??, and yellow rice like you’d get at a Halal cart. My mouth is so happy! Make and share with the club.

Just Because We Can Doesn’t Mean We Should

When planning out this week’s newsletter, I already knew what books I wanted to recommend but couldn’t really put my finger on… why?! I knew I wanted you to read and discuss them because they’re all really great books, but what was the theme that was lumping together in my brain? After lots of consideration, I’ve landed on this: just because we can do a thing, does that mean we should? Let’s get into it.

The Echo Wife by Sarah Gailey

I made a face and went “eeew!” out loud a few times in the first few chapters of this book. Why? Because “eew” is how I feel about a husband stealing his brilliant scientist wife’s research and then using that information to not only clone her (seriously, bro?) and but then cheat on her with! that! clone! The squick factor gets turned all the way up when we find out the clone is pregnant. It all gets just a little more complicated when the wife, Evelyn, gets a panicked call from Martine: she’s just killed the husband Nathan and needs help… err… cleaning up the mess. It does not go how you’re thinking it will. Whew.

Book Club Bonus: Well then! There’s so much to talk about here: bodily autonomy, consent, a woman’s right to choose, and of course: the ethics of scientific research. There’s a lot of grey area in this kind of innovation, and this book dives straight into the murky bits.

The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell

I thought a lot about this book when I heard it was being adapted for film (yiiiiiikes, if you know, you know), and again last week when the Perseverance rover landed on Mars. It’s about a Jesuit priest and linguist who leads a scientific mission to make first contact with intelligent extraterrestrial life. I was told to prepare for a catastrophic end, but I was so not prepared! Space exploration is super cool and all, pero this book is all, “what if it went horribly wrong?” Like rull wrong. So wrong. Theeee most wrong. I can’t get the wrong out of my brain and it’s been literal years since I read it. (TW: violence, sexual assault)

Book Club Bonus: I don’t want to tell you too much here because you need to experience it for yourself. Once you’ve taken a day or two to process this one, write down and discuss the ways in which this book is an indictment of colonization, an examination of faith, and what it says about the way we define humanity.

catherine house

Catherine House by Elisabeth Thomas

Catherine House isn’t your run-of-the-mill educational institution; admission is highly competitive and its demands super intense: once students arrive, they must disconnect from the outside world and remain on campus for their full three-year tenure with no outside contact. No phones, no internet: they must dedicate themselves wholly to the Catherine House way. This sort of immersive education maybe sounds like a cool, edgy and immersive idea, but like… I sense problems! This has been described to me as weird and labyrinthine with major gothic vibes all set in a creepy old house, so what I’m saying is I bought it immediately.

Book Club Bonus: You may have sensed, as I did, that there are some sinister secrets in this story, and you’d be right. The school is determined to keep a history of shady experiments hidden at all costs, and if only THAT were a thing that only happened in fiction. Discuss! You know what to do here.

Suggestion Section

Need some swoonworthy picks perfect for your romance book clubs? Say no more!

How about some queer picks? These audiobooks are great for LGBTQ+ book clubs.


Thanks for hanging with me today! Shoot me an email at vanessa@riotnewmedia.com 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. 
Vanessa 

Thanks again to our sponsor Read Bliss, a community created by romance fans at Harlequin Books! If you’re looking for a way to connect with fellow romance readers and authors, Read Bliss may just be the bookish community you’re looking for. Stay up to date on the latest in romance book news, genre discussions, book-tuber videos, reading challenges and more with fellow lovers of swoons!

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In The Club

In the Club 02/17/21

Welcome to In The Club, a newsletter of resources to keep your book group well-met, well-read, and well-fed—and greetings from my first real snow experience! The Pacific Northwest is one of the regions of the US that got slammed by a snow storm that aren’t used to getting slammed by snow storms (Texas, I see you!), so we effectively shut down as a city. I spent the better part of four days inside a blanket fort with tea and books on hand, and it was kind of glorious? There’s something about the snow and the cold that made doing so less depressing and more fun, at least for me. I embraced the cozy, though I’m aware we had it easy compared to a lot of other places. I hope you too have found some way to be cozy and safe wherever you are.

To the club!!


Nibbles and Sips

image belongs to Vanessa Diaz

I perhaps over-prepared for Snowpocolypse PDX with flashlights and matches (or perhaps not, because a ton of people lost power!), but I’m the most glad I stocked up on groceries. My car remains buried under a mountain of snow and I probs wouldn’t drive it even if it weren’t, and all it took was the sensation of my boot slipping when I placed one toe on an icy sidewalk for me to say “nope!” to an extra grocery run. I made a snow angel instead.

So today’s recipe is one I threw together from the odds and ends of other meals, and it is delicious! I mixed some orecchiette pasta (use whatever you have) with some sautéed mushrooms and spinach that I’d seasoned with salt and red pepper flakes, then tossed all of that with a healthy portion of sun dried tomatoes, olive oil, a little bit of pasta water, and some crumbled goat cheese. Easy, quick, delicious. If I hadn’t scarfed down the leftover spicy Italian sausage bits I had as a “snack” earlier that day, I’d have tossed that in too.

Faithful Schmaithful

You may have heard that Zack Snyder is working on a “faithful” retelling of Arthurian legend—you know, the dude who directed 300. That guy. I…read that and immediately wanted to make the subject of this newsletter “LOL Wut?” because, dear readers: que!? What in the rooty tooty fresh and fruity f*ck is a “faithful” retelling of a legend that is, in and of itself, a mish-mash of British lore, Welsh and Celtic mythology, and a whole bunch of other influence that’s been told and retold for centuries? (I really enjoyed that Twitter thread).

I am not actually dissing 300; in fact, I’ve never seen it. I’m just saying that a guy who made a movie like 300 about the Battle of Thermopylae and the Persian Wars should be intimately familiar with the way legends and mythology work and is clearly okay with some creative license. And you know what, it’s still fine to want to make a film that doesn’t veer so much from you perceive to be the “canon.” But the explosion of people on the internet being like, “Finally! All these retellings have bastardized the original!” are what made me scratch my head.

So today we’re going to revel in Arthurian retellings, versions that are creative and subversive and would certainly ruffle the feathers of Arthurian purists. Two of these are YA, but don’t let that deter any of you who don’t normally read young adult fiction. There is such good potential for book club talk with all three of these interpretations of this age-old legend.

By Force Alone by Lavie Tidhar

Lavie Tidhar said “$@^& your Arthurian feelings” with this book. He took the legend, chopped it into pieces, poured on some gasoline, and lit. that. match. To call this work subversive is not enough. It nocks an arrow with a white-hot tip right at the whole idea of Arthurian legend as a noble, virtuous tale of English conquest (can conquer be noble?) and his aim is true. No one, and I do mean not one single soul, is likable in this version: the Knights of the Round Table are a band of selfish misanthropes, Merlin is a lying jerk and an instigator who feeds off conflict, and even the Lady of the Lake is a shady arms dealer. No one is safe! Woven into lots of violence and some dark & twisty humor is a searing critique of Brexit and British nationalism in general. That is where this book hooked me. Make sure to read the afterword: it explains how and why Tidhar twisted this beloved story to point out the hypocrisy of zealous nationalism.

Book Club Bonus: It’s uncomfortable conversation time! Let this book be a jumping board for a chat about how many classic stories aren’t all that virtuous and actually glorify some pretty trash behavior. Maybe that behavior is imperialism, or ableism, or white supremacy; maybe it’s the vilifying of women as evil temptresses and monsters at every turn. Don’t limit the conversation to literature either (American history taught in schools, I’m looking at you); cast that net wide and talk about it!

Legendborn by Tracy Deonn (Legendborn #1)

My months-long hold on this book came and went for a second time because I was reading too many other books! I will get my hands on it soon though, especially in light of this whole kerfuffle. Tracy Deonn combines Southern Black Girl Magic with a modern-day twist on Arthurian legend. After her mother dies in an accident, 16-year-old Bree Matthews needs an escape from family memories and her childhood home. She enrolls at a residential program for bright high school students at UNC Chapel Hill thinking it’ll be just the thing to bring her back to life, but then…. she witnesses a magical attack on her very first night on campus, as one does. She’s hit with an avalanche of revelations: Bree possesses a unique magic of her own that she never knew about, a magical war is coming, and there exists a secret demon-fighting society known as the Legendborn whose members are descendants of King Arthur’s knights. This is just the sort of adventure I need and crave!

Book Club Bonus: We need more retellings that make space for people that don’t fit the white, cis-het, able-bodied norm. “But Vanessa, you’ve already told us that representation matters!” And I’m gonna tell you again, because it does! How does the southern setting and inclusion of Black characters deepen a legend that was previously super not inclusive? Discuss.

cover of Guinevere Deception by Kiersten White

The Guinevere Deception by Kiersten White (Camelot Rising #1)

**taps mic** The women are the most interesting parts of Arthurian legend. I said what I said. **drops mic**

Now that we have that out of the way, I can tell you about a YA series I have gleaned so much joy from in the last couple of years. Guinevere is front and center in this series, as you may have imagined, but get this: Guinevere isn’t really Guinevere. She’s a changeling! Not-Guinevere has come to Camelot to wed King Arthur in a plot devised by Merlin (spoilery! things! I can’t! tell! you!) to protect him from dark magical forces. Maybe? Gah. I love when a story you think you know still manages to make you go, “Oh word?!” There’s queerness and gender-flipping and all kinds of fun stuff in both this book and it’s sequel, The Camelot Betrayal. I haven’t seen a release date announced for the third book in the trilogy yet and that second book ends on SUCH a cliffhanger. You’ve been warned!

Book Club Bonus: I can’t suggest too much without going into spoiler territory, but I think you’ll come to that part on your own. So here’s this: talk about the symbolism of Guinevere as a changeling and the reframing of villainous women’s arcs in this story. Go!

Suggestion Section

Read all about the Moms Demand Action Book Club, a discussion group open to the organization’s six million (!!) supporters who advocate against gun violence via their state chapters. Love to see that!

More news from Reese’s Book Club: it’s set to launch a digital cooking series hosted by Christina Milian. If you were born in the 2000s or after, this next bit ain’t for you: I desperately need this series to be called Cook It Low, Mix It Up Slow. (insert body roll with spatula here)


Thanks for hanging with me today! Shoot me an email at vanessa@riotnewmedia.com 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. 
Vanessa 

You could win a 1-year subscription to Scribd! Book Riot is teaming up with Early Bird Books for this awesome giveaway. Enter here!

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In The Club

In the Club 2/10/21

Welcome to In The Club, a newsletter of resources to keep your book group well-met, well-read, and well-fed. This week’s newsletter was inspired by a moment of intense frustration when I could not twist and bend the way my yoga app was telling me to, and the feeling that this inability engendered. Luckily I have collected several tools to help me with this frustration, but that journey was a long and hard one. It got me thinking about how so many of the conversations we see on health and fitness leave a huge portion of our population behind, or just exclude them altogether. Let’s dive into that. All three of my picks are by Black women (one in collaboration with a white woman), and that fact alone has been so refreshing in redefining what yoga and body acceptance means for me.

Also: I am not ashamed to admit that in my frustration, I forgot I have vertigo and fell flat on my face trying to get into position. I am nothing if not graceful.

To the club!!


Nibbles and Sips

There is this place here in Portland that rocks my socks off with their juicy, smoky, tasty wood-fired chicken and “guns,” these perfectly crispy potatoes dressed with lemon and sea salt, then topped with pickled red onions and either Peruvian aji sauce or chimichurri. I will almost never turn down a good chimichurri, but that aji sauce is the business. It’s a bright and citrusy concoction of jalapeño, cilantro, garlic, and lime.

So today’s nibble is a recipe for Peruvian-style aji sauce. I had the hardest time finding a recipe by a Peruvian chef or blogger, but did find what sounds like the sauce under a different name by Ecuadoran food blogger Laylita. I also found a YouTube video in Spanish, and a version at Food and Wine. I am not familiar enough with Peruvian cuisine to confidently say whether this sauce is “authentic,” but I do know that it tastes amazing. Serve with some crispy potatoes, put it on on eggs, pour it on tater tots, or use it as a salad dressing. Enjoy!

Move Your Body, F*ck the Shame

Two of these books are about yoga, but you don’t have to be a yogi for their message of self love and acceptance to be relevant. Even if there isn’t a yogi among your book club, I could encourage you all to get into those books and try! One of the many, many lessons you’ll learn is that yoga is not just those intense 90 minute flows in a hot room you may be thinking of; even a quick 15-30 minute stretch in the morning (in a chair! on the floor! with blocks! there are options!) can do wonders for your mood and muscles —I am SO much less sore in my day to day life. The third book is quite literally about the radical power of self love, and all three stare down our society’s lack of acceptance for bodies that don’t fit a narrow definition of “normal.”

cover image of Every Body Yoga by Jessamyn Stanley

Every Body Yoga: Let Go of Fear, Get On the Mat, Love Your Body by Jessamyn Stanley

Jessamyn Stanley is a huge part of the reason I came back to yoga after years of fits and starts. I was disillusioned by all the yoga classes where everyone but me was a thin white person, and where the instructors did little to nothing to offer modifications when poses weren’t accessible to me. I thought there was something wrong with my body and that maybe yoga just wasn’t for me. This book (and Jessamyn’s online presence in general) changed the game. It challenges stereotypes and offers tips and inspiration for finding yoga and self love, whether you’re at the beginning of your yoga practice or have already begun but find yourself hitting a wall. I go back and search for her tutorials at least once a week (I need to repurchase this book, see below to understand why) when I need a little help or encouragement to make a pose work for my body and my ability. It’s also just a really funny book—there’s a section called “The Chick-fil-A Bandit Walks Into Weight Watchers” and I cackle every time I think about that.

A story that sounds made up but is not: I bought this and took it with me to read at a park last summer with a little picnic in tow. A dog beelined it for my sandwich, but I managed to snatch the sammy away just in time. In what I can only call an act of savage vengeance, he/she grabbed my book instead and then hauled ass away in a matter of seconds. And that, children, is how I came to own Every Body Yoga for less than 48 hours.

Book Club Bonus: When you think of yoga, you probably think of a thin, flexible white woman who can effortlessly flow into a perfect chaturanga pushup while dressed in a cute, coordinated sports bra and legging combo that costs what I spend on two weeks of groceries. That’s because yoga is marketed that way pretty aggressively! Discuss that messaging and how completely at odds it is with the core principles of yoga.

cover image of Yoga Where You Are by Dianne Bondy and Kat Heagberg

Yoga Where You Are: Customize Your Practice for Your Body and Your Life by Dianne Bondy and Kat Heagberg

I first heard of Dianne Bondy on an episode of the Food Heaven podcast about joyful movement. When I found out her book was blurbed by Jessamyn Stanley, I had to cop it. This book and Jessamyn’s go hand in hand for me. They both offer a ton of insight as to the origins of yoga and its modern iterations, break down poses in a glossary format with modifications, and provide sample sequences. While Every Body Yoga speaks more to the individual and their own practice, Yoga Where You Are takes the messaging of accessible yoga further by tying it into activism. Dianne Bondy and Kat Heagberg discuss the whitewashing of modern yoga and its failure to make space for larger and disabled bodies, offering suggestions and solutions for creating truly safe spaces aimed at yoga teachers, while also speaking to individuals looking to find a place in the yoga world that’s accepting of them. I found the chapters on breath work super helpful and love the emphasis that there isn’t, contrary to what we’ve been told, a “right” way to do yoga.

Book Club Bonus: A lot of the same talking points for Every Body Yoga apply here. It goes beyond yoga though: discuss how fitness spaces in general leave a lot of people out of the conversation.

cover image of The Body is Not an Apology, 2nd Edition by Sonya Renee Taylor

The Body is Not an Apology by Sonya Renee Taylor (2nd edition)

The cover of the first edition of the book was stunning and they someone managed to up the ante with the second! My nickname for this one is “f*ck your body shame!” Activist and poet Sonya Renee Taylor calls readers to embrace radical self love and shed the indoctrinated body shame that’s so engrained in many of our thoughts. I cried a lot while reading this one when I realized quite how many times a day I think negative thoughts about my body and have spent a lot of time thinking about how and when I learned this behavior.

Book Club Bonus: As prep for book club, spend a day or even a couple of hours paying attention to every negative thought that pops into your brain about yourself. Write down your thoughts on that, then have the group share whatever they’re comfortable sharing, even if it’s just “I shamed my body 12 times in an hour” (you don’t have to share the specifics if you don’t want to). Where do these thoughts come from? At what age or stage in life do you remember absorbing that negative messaging? It’s eye-opening and heartbreaking to have these discussions, but empowering to name and reject the shame once you identify it.

Suggestion Section

Reese Witherspoon’s book club is now an app. Anyone try it yet? Rebecca and Jeff talked about it on this well’s Book Riot podcast and I too am a little surprised by what is and isn’t on the app.


Thanks for hanging with me today! Shoot me an email at vanessa@riotnewmedia.com 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. 

Vanessa 

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In The Club

In the Club 02/03/21

Welcome to In The Club, a newsletter of resources to keep your book group well-met, well-read, and well-fed. I am writing this to you with my face numbed to high heaven on account of some aggressive dental work and I am so. freaking. hungry!!! I keep trying to chew and drink something—anything!!—but I either bite the hell out of my cheek or the food just ends up on my shirt. But enough about me being a mess as per usual! Let’s kick off Black History Month with just that: Black history.

To the club!!


Nibbles and Sips

I was in the mood for an adult beverage last week but couldn’t decide what the $@^#! to make with the ingredients on hand. That’s when I remembered that one of my favorite podcast personalities, Jade Verette, has a legit (and hilarious) IGTV cocktail series called Cocktails en la Casa (read up on her in this spotlight on Black mixologists by Food and Wine). I whipped up this frozen cucumber mint situation to pretend it was much sunnier outside my casa. It’s such a fresh, delicious blend of cucumber, mint, elderflower liqueur, fresh lime, and gin. Enjoy!

New Black History

Let’s get this part out of the way: around here, we read Black authors year round and not just in February. We do still set aside some designated time to celebrate Black voices during Black History month though, so that’s what we’re going to do today. These history books are all new and recent works by Black authors.

Four Hundred Souls: A Community History of African America, 1619-2019 edited by Ibram X. Kendi and Keisha N. Blain

I was originally going to suggest Ibram X Kendi’s Stamped from the Beginning, a book I’ve been slowly making my way through for months now. Then I remembered Four Hundred Souls and had to go with this. It’s a one-volume community history by 90 brilliant writers, each of whom tackles a five-year period from 1619 to the present. Each writer’s approach is different: some wrote historical essays, others short stories, some shared personal vignettes. The result is an important body of work that “fundamentally deconstructs the idea that Africans in America are a monolith—instead it unlocks the startling range of experiences and ideas that have always existed within the community of Blackness.”

The Three Mothers: How the Mothers of Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcolm X, and James Baldwin Shaped a Nation by Anna Malaika Tubbs

I’m actually surprised the concept for this book wasn’t explored sooner, because it feels long overdue. So much has been written and read about Martin Luther King Jr, Malcolm X, and James Baldwin (not that everyone has digested their message accurately, pero that’s some side eye for a different day). But very little has been said about the extraordinary women who raised these American icons. In one stunner of a debut, scholar Anna Malaika Tubbs celebrates Black motherhood by telling these women’s stories.

Caste

Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents by Isabel Wilkerson

When Isabel Wilkerson gets out bed in the morning, do you think she has her toast and coffee before or after she sits down to craft masterpieces of thought? Whew! It landed on all of the best-of lists and won all of the things in 2020, and it’s no wonder. This time she’s taken on America’s hidden caste system with a “deeply researched narrative and stories about real people.” She pulls back the veil to reveal the hierarchy of human rankings that dominates our society and the systemic racism that allows it to thrive.

Suggestion Section

Barack Obama apparently surprised a Zoom book club by dropping in on their discussion of his book, A Promised Land. I can’t even pretend that I wouldn’t have blurted out, “HOW HAVE YOU BEEN, DAD, AND DO YOU THINK MICHELLE WOULD LET ME BORROW THAT COAT?”

Good Morning America’s February book club pick is Cherie Jones’ How the One-Armed Sister Sweeps Her House.

The Today Show’s Jenna Bush Hager selects not one, but two books for February’s book club.

PBS’s February book club pick is Charles Yu’s Interior Chinatown.

American Airlines’ new Apple Books partnership includes access to Oprah’s Book Club picks,


Thanks for hanging with me today! Shoot me an email at vanessa@riotnewmedia.com 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. 

Vanessa 

Categories
In The Club

In the Club 01/27/21

Welcome to In The Club, a newsletter of resources to keep your book group well-met, well-read, and well-fed. This week we’re finding love in this club with some discussion-worthy romance inspired by When in Romance’s 75th episode! Happy 3rd anniversary to the lovely ladies who turned me into a bona fide romance reader! Let’s talk about love and all its trappings.

To the club!!


Nibbles and Sips

By the time this newsletter goes out, a friend and I will have surprised the third member of our quaranteam with a birthday dinner comprised of some of her favorite things. I have never met anyone more loyal to the potato in all its forms—she legit dreams in tater tot. So today’s nibble is exactly what we’re serving our friend for the main course: a totcho bar!

For the uninitiated, tots + nachos + totchos. So you basically load up a bunch of crispy and pillowy potato puffs with all the fixings one might apply to loaded nachos. We all nacho/totcho in our own way, but here’s the bar setup we’ll be providing for customization:

  • tater tots
  • shredded cheese
  • scallions/green onions
  • sour cream
  • diced tomatoes
  • sliced jalapeños
  • crispy chorizo/soyrizo
  • refried beans
  • avocado

You could also go with a bacon/cheese/sour cream/scallion situation, or go the shredded beef route with melty cheese.. go forth and starch totsper.

Romantically Speaking

cover of The Widow of Rose House by Diana Biller

The Widow of Rose House by Diana Biller

I give you this blurb from April 2020 as proof of my When In Romance fandom: “I was in theeeee worst reading slump for weeks and decided I’d try some gothic fiction with a romance at its core; I’m still newish to the romance game, so thanks once again to Trisha and Jess from When in Romance for the inspo. The Widow of Rose House by Diana Biller is the book that not only snapped me out of the slump, but keep the reading well past my bedtime. Gilded Age New York, a gothic mansion, a ruined widow with a tragic past, and a sexy nerd type who loves consent, sexy times, and science in equal, passionate measure. Oh and some ghosts, maybe? What a remedy! Read this now.” (tw: domestic violence)

Book Club Bonus: There is plenty to talk about with respect to Alva and how many hoops she (and any woman from that time period) has to go through to live life on her terms. But! Please also talk about how awesome it is to see such explicit requests for consent in sexy times scenes! It was so refreshing, as is how open and communicative Sam is so consistently.

Recipe for Persuasion by Sonali Dev

This is the second book in Sonali Dev’s The Rajes series of Austen rom-com remixes. Chef Ashna Raje is not okay; she’s struggling to run the failing restaurant that was her father’s legacy and is desperate to prove to her estranged mother that she knows what’s best for her own life. When she gets a last-minute offer to be on a celebrity cooking show, Ashna agrees to be on it mostly to avoid having to see her mother, but also because winning the competition means a giant cash prize that could turn her restaurant troubles right around. But plot twist!! The sexy retired pro soccer player she’s paired with is the former love of her life, the one who ghosted her at the lowest point in her life. He has reasons of his own for wanting to be on the show, and he remembers the end of their relationship quite differently. Is this partnership a recipe for disaster, or one for…persuasion? You don’t need to read the series in order, but I do very highly recommend Pride, Prejudice, and Other Flavors! (tw: suicide, sexual assault; descriptions aren’t extremely graphic, but may still be much for some)

Book Club Bonus: Sonali Dev’s books are hilarious and fun, but they tackle some heavy issues (see trigger warnings above). Both Ashna and her mother have made decisions about the way they move in the world that are easy to judge if you don’t examine them through the lens of trauma. Why is Ashna so attached to the restaurant, and why does she idealize her father? What would you have done in her mother’s shoes? This is such a good one to unpack.

Spoiler Alert by Olivia Dade

April is a geologist who writes fan fiction of her favorite show, Gods at the Gates, and cosplays in her free time. She’s always kept her “real life” separate from her fandom, but she decides to be more open about it when she gets a new job. When she posts her latest costume creation on Twitter, a plus-size take on Lavinia, it goes viral. Then the star of the show, Marcus, surprised everyone by first defending her from fatphobic trolls online and then asking her out on a date IRL. It’s on that date that Marcus—a secret fanfic writer who goes by Book!AeneasWouldNever online—realizes that April is his longtime online friend. Eek! This part I had to rip from the publisher copy: “With love and Marcus’s career on the line, can the two of them stop hiding once and for all, or will a match made in fandom end up prematurely cancelled?” (tw: fat shaming—but it’s not the whole point of the book, know what I mean?)

Book Club Bonus: We’ve recently seem some progress in the body positivity movement, and with that some moves in fat positivity, too. But wow, is there still a long ways to go. Was I jazzed when Ashley Graham became the first plus size model to book a Sports Illustrated cover? F*ck yes! Am I also tired of *only* seeing plus size bodies with those hourglass proportions in content that alleges fat positivity? Also yes. Discuss fat representation in media and in this book.

cover of reverb by anna zabo

Reverb by Anna Zabo

This third book in the Twisted Wishes series is one I keep meaning to read, and I remember that every time Trisha gives it a shout out on the show. Bass player Mish Sullivan is a rockstar goddess who can fend for herself, thankyouverymuch. But when a stalker gets too close and puts her in the hospital, Mish finds herself stuck with a bodyguard she doesn’t need or want. That bodyguard is David, a badass, ex-army martial arts expert who feels an instant attraction to this person he’s supposed to protect. Neither of them can deny the attraction and whoops! They wind up in bed together (again and again and again). But when the stalker up his game, David will have to choose—lover or bodyguard?

Book Club Bonus: Mish is cis femme and David is trans masc, and that’s why I think this makes such a great book club book: not because it has a trans character (because that should just be normal), but because it centers trans joy. As Zabo said themselves, “…people aren’t only their gender—even cis people. It’s an aspect of their lives, sure, and maybe a big one, but at a certain point, you’re just yourself. You’re the sum of all the things about you, and then some.” Discuss how representation is more than just seeing yourself on the page; it’s also about the quality and diversity of that representation, like in this lovely HEA.

Suggestion Section

Some book club friends in Skowhegan, Maine started a community refrigerator to help hungry. Love to see it!

Meet the book club that’s helping to quickly vaccinate its town. Love to see this too!

Brown Girls Book Club, a group of eight Black women who’ve been meeting for 25 years, came together to celebrate and watch last week’s historic inauguration. I love everything this week! Look at that joy.


Thanks for hanging with me today! Shoot me an email at vanessa@riotnewmedia.com 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. 

Vanessa 

Categories
In The Club

In the Club 1/20/21

Welcome to In The Club, a newsletter of resources to keep your book group well-met, well-read, and well-fed.Tis I, Vanessa, coming to you from the past, hoping that Inauguration Day goes off without a hitch and does not become a scary pop-up news alert on our phones. This week I’m offering you all book club picks based on how much you feel like “engaging.” A little more on that below.

To the club!!


Nibbles and Sips

It’s a little nippy here in Portland so I’m craving the comfort of soups. This week it’s going to albondigas, a Mexican soup full of veggies and fluffy, delicious meatballs. There are more complicated versions, this is just the simple version I grew up with.

  • A package of ground beef or turkey
  • 1 egg
  • Half cup of par-cooked rice (give or take, and use cooked if that’s what you have)
  • Chicken bouillon powder
  • Veggies: 3 carrots (peeled and cut into 1-inch rounds) 2 zucchini or Mexican squash, (cut into 1 inch half moons), 2 russet potatoes (peeled and cut into 1 inch chunks)
  • 2 tomatoes (roma or on the vine), grated
  • salt & pepper
  • 6 cups (or so) of water or chicken broth

Combine the ground meat, egg, and rice in a bowl, then season with salt and pepper. Roll the mixture into smallish balls; I make mine about the size of a ping pong ball. Set aside.

In a large pre-heated pot, warm the grated tomato mixture. Add the water and chicken bouillon to taste (how much you need will depend on what liquid you used). As the water starts to simmer, add the potatoes and carrots and let cook for about 10 minutes, then drop the meatballs in carefully so as not to splash. Cook for about 20 more minutes, adding in the zucchini when there are about 10 minutes left.

For all my Instant Pot people, I do all the same steps except I use. the sautéed function at the beginning and throw all the veggies in at the same time before dropping in the meatballs. Once everything is in, seal the lid and cook on high pressure for 4 minutes. Release immediately when done.

Choose Your Own Engagement

I constantly ask myself what the right balance is between acknowledging the state of the world and providing escapism. I very solidly believe that reading is an inherently political act, and I try to reflect that belief by encouraging an activist approach to reading. I also want this space to be one of escapism, but to be clear: we’re not plugging our ears and screaming “lalala!” at the world’s injustices, but just taking a break to practice a little self care and recharge.

That being said, each of you lovely humans will find yourselves in a different head space this week. Some of you may want to engage with the realities of this political moment head on, others may want to yeet themselves into another galaxy to get a break from it all. So I have four book club options for you below that hopefully cover a few of those bases.

Straight, No Chaser

For the book club that’s ready to unpack some ugly truths and get uncomfortable right here and now, I suggest:

Mediocre: The Dangerous Legacy of White Male America by Ijeoma Oluo

Look, I told you this would make you uncomfortable. Ijeoma Oluo’s latest asks: “What happens to a country that tells generation after generation of white men that they deserve power? What happens when success is defined by status over women and people of color, instead of by actual accomplishments?”

Book Club Bonus: Apply what you learn here to what the US is going through right now, and really sit with the fact that it was a long time coming.

Oh Snap, There’s Spinach in This Smoothie?!

For the book club that wants the lesson snuck into some levity: you want to stay engaged, but are craving a lighter read. Try:

You’ll Never Believe What Happened to Lacey: Crazy Stories about Racism by Amber Ruffin and Lacey Lamar

Amber Ruffin is such a talented and hilarious human. She’s written for Late Night with Seth Meyers since 2014 (a role that made her the first Black woman to write for a late-night network talk show in the US). Amber lives in New York, but her sister Lacey still lives back in Nebraska where they both grew up. This book is a downright horrifying collection of stories of the kinds of the racist BS that Lacey deals with on a daily basis in Omaha (some examples: strangers touching her hair, being mistaken for Harriet Tubman(!?), Oh, and getting hit on by a dude with the confederate flag in his online dating profile). But!! It’s also so, so funny. The sisters’ banter and delivery injects such comedy into some truly cringey stories. You’ll learn something, but you’ll stay laughing too.

Book Club Bonus: Have you been a Lacey, or have you been the person with your paws all up in Lacey’s hair? Share your experience with the group, both on the giving and receiving ends.

Calgon, Take Me Away!

For the book club that appreciates 90’s TV commercial references, or that’s in the mood for a love story with some characters to dissect, I recently loved:

Beach Read by Emily Henry

January is a successful romance novelist who always believed in love and happy endings. That was until her dad died and she learned that he was unfaithful to her mother for years. Broke, grief-stricken, and on a deadline, she goes to stay at her dad’s Lake Michigan beach house for the summer to clear the house out and hopefully bang out an overdue book. She’s less than pleased to learn that Gus, a Very Serious literary fiction author and her college rival, lives in the house next door. Their reunion is… less than pleasant, but they also can’t seem to stay away from each other. When they both reveal that they have writer’s block, January and Gus come up with a plan: they’ll swap genres for the summer (and try not to fall in love).

Book Club Bonus: Both January and Gus are bringing some baggage to the table and are processing some grief, grief that colors their interaction and more than once leads to miscommunication. Discuss examples of similar patterns in your own lives if it feels right in the moment, orrrrrr you can talk about how romance has helped you heal in your life like it did for January. Embrace the feels! Share the feels! Get all up in those feels.

Where is My Spaceship? I’m Out.

For the book club that wants just a few hours of solid, fantastical escapism and maybe likes snarky animal companions, I absolutely love:

cover image of Sabriel by Garth Nix

Sabriel by Garth Nix

Sabriel has spent most of her life at a boarding school outside the walls of the Old Kingdom, where the line between the living and the dead is blurred. During her final semester at the school, her father, the Abhorsen—the guardian of the border between life and death—goes missing. Though most presume him dead, Sabriel is convinced he’s still alive, so she journeys into the Old Kingdom to find him. Along for the ride are two companions: Touchstone, a young Charter Mage long imprisoned by magic, and Mogget, a talking cat who’s forever mood is “grumpy AF.” As the trio travels deep into the Old Kingdom, they encounter threats of all sorts (most of them dead); every step brings them closer to a battle between the forces of life and death, one that brings Sabriel face-to-face with her own hidden destiny.

Book Club Bonus: I love books where a well-meaning person or group tries to protect a “chosen one” type by keeping information from them (or removing them from a situation entirely) in the name of protecting that person, only to sort of have it all blow up in their face. Discuss the Abhorsen’s decision to send Sabriel to Ancelstierre. Did he do the right thing?

Suggestion Section

Duchess Camilla is kicking off her new book club with Where the Crawdads Sing. That book, I tell ya. It will outlast the cockroaches.

Tor.com’s discussion of Terry Pratchett’s Wyrd Sisters continues.

Padmasree Warrior, the former CTO of Motorola and Cisco, recently unveiled her new startup called Fable, a social media app for book lovers.


Thanks for hanging with me today! Shoot me an email at vanessa@riotnewmedia.com 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. 

Vanessa 

Categories
In The Club

In the Club 01/13/21

Welcome to In The Club, a newsletter of resources to keep your book group well-met, well-read, and well-fed. I don’t know about you, but to quote Luvvie Ajayi, I miss precedented times. Or if someone in the sky is taking orders for the types of unprecedented times we’d like to see next, I’d really prefer an elimination of the gender pay gap, reparations, an efficient vaccine rollout, a foolproof solution for adult acne… I have more ideas for the suggestion box if anyone needs ’em!

Let’s take a moment for ourselves to talk about books, shall we? To the club!!


Nibbles and Sips

A thing I actually said out loud last week while peering at the contents of my fridge: “What dish pairs best with news of an attempted coup?” I don’t know, but I can vouch for this snack hack I saw on TikTok when I gave up on cooking and ordered takeout instead.

Now listen: this seems like a thing we should have all figured out a long time ago. Perhaps some of you did! Go with me here anyway because it is rather delightful in its simplicity. Use a knife or kitchen scissors to make one slit in a wrap or tortilla from its center to the edge (me, an intellectual: a radius slit), then place a different topping/ingredient in each of the four quarters of the wrap. To finish it off, fold the quarters over one another (see the video in the link I provided above) and then toast it off in a panini press or a preheated pan. Here are some of the combos I’ve now tried successfully:

  • fig jam, brie, applies, arugula
  • spinach, shredded chicken, buffalo sauce, cheese
  • tomato, hummus, spinach & feta, grilled chicken
  • salami, mozzarella, arugula, pesto
  • avocado, bacon, spinach, tomato

Have Y’all…. Read Orwell?

If you’ve been online at all this week, you’re likely painfully aware of two facts: most people’s grasp of the First Amendment is shaky at best, and the Venn diagram of people who call a thing Orwellian and those who’ve actually read and understand Orwell is two circles that do not touch. Whew. Orwell’s books (including the oft incorrectly cited 1984) were a warning on the dangers of totalitarian rule—the guy even went to Spain to fight in the Civil War against fascists!

That brings me to today’s book club suggestions. As a lot of my very smart internet book friends pointed out in the past couple of days (and years), there is another writer who’s work we should be talking about right now, one whose books aren’t just eerily prescient, but terrifyingly so. I’m breaking a little with my regular format and highlighting just these two books; I’m challenging you all to read them in book club and discuss what we’ll just call the fascism playbook. Without further ado, I bring you Octava E. Butler’s Earthseed series.

parable of the sower

Parable of the Sower

It’s the 2020s (yeah, you read that right) and climate change has made basic resources scarce (gulp), and most find themselves at the mercy of the few corporations who have jobs and money to offer (well that’s just great!). Fifteen-year-old Lauren Olamina lives in Los Angeles inside a gated community with her preacher father, family, and neighbors where they’re all sheltered from the goings on of the outside world—for a while. As the anarchy grows and her world falls apart, Lauren struggles to make her voice heard while trying to protect her loved ones the imminent doom her small, insular community stubbornly insists on ignoring (screams in relatable dread). Making matters more complicated: she suffers from hyperempathy, a debilitating sensitivity to other people’s emotions.

cover image of Parable of the Talents by Octavia E. Butler

Parable of the Talents

Full disclosure: I have not read these books myself and will remedy that this year. I bring this up in order to tell you that my eyes went the size of quarters when I learned that this second book takes place after the election of—wait for it—an ultra-conservative president who vows to “make America great again.” I’m sorry… make America QUE?!?! It’s now 2032 and Lauren is living in and leading Acorn, her vision of a peaceful community in northern California that lives by the Earthseed faith. This subversive community provides refuge for those persecuted in the wake of the election and is led by a Black woman, so… you know what that means: the prezzy and his MAGA folk put a target on her back.

Suggestion Section

The DC Public Library has launched the Love in Color Book Club featuring romance by authors of color. Love this!

Does your book club love some Sally Rooney? Mark your calendars, her third novel is coming!

Lily Marotta and Steven Phillips-Horst are launching a podcast called Celebrity Book Club on January 13. In each episode, the pair will read celebrity memoirs then come together to discuss “the juicy—and often unhinged—details.” (Side note that made me chuckle: Phillips-Hort’s name on Twitter is “cancela lansbury.”)

The Mary Sue Book Club’s January theme: Goddesses, Romcoms, and Dazzling Space Operas

Read with Jenna’s January book club pick is super high on my TBR.


Thanks for hanging with me today! Shoot me an email at vanessa@riotnewmedia.com 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. 

Vanessa 

Categories
In The Club

In the Club 1/7/21

Welcome to In The Club, a newsletter of resources to keep your book group well-met, well-read, and well-fed. It’s our first club gathering of the year and you know what that means: time to remind everyone of my propensity for terrible bookish song remixes!

Go, go, go, go go, go, go, shawty
It’s a new year
The pandemic’s still going, but it’s a new year
We’re gonna get vaccinated in the new year
And we gon’ talk about some books up in this new year!!

You can find us in the club… at home, snug as a bug
Look buddy we’re curling up with blankets and warm mugs
We read diverse books from both big and indie pubs…
So you wanna join this club?
Let’s talk about books and grub.

To the club!!


Nibbles and Sips

In my family, the holidays aren’t officially over over until el Día de Los Reyes, also known as Three Kings’ Day or Epiphany. We (normally) gather on January 6th and share a Rosca de Reyes, a wreath-shaped bread/cake situation that typically consists of flour, eggs, butter, and candied fruit (you may know it as Kings’ Bread or King cake). Inside there are one or more plastic baby figures that represent—you guessed it—lil’ baby Jesus. Whoever gets the plastic baby in their slice has to host a meal or party on February 2nd, also knows as Candelaria Day.

Religious element aside, I love the tradition of la rosca for bringing people together. So why not do a bookish version? For those book clubs made up of quaranteams, or clubs who meet in safe, socially distanced settings, share a version of a rosca. Stuff it with one or more plastic figurines (you can buy these online and get creative if the baby thing creeps you out), then have the person(s) who get the figurine host your next gathering. Maybe they can also pick your next book!

If you want to make a traditional bread, here are a few recipes for Rosca de Reyes, Epiphany cake, and King Cake.

How I Spent My Holiday Vacation

The curse that put me in a reading slump this year seems to have been lifted over my much-needed two weeks off. Twas glorious, I think I read 10 books in two weeks! Three of them stuck out to me as having great book cub potential.

The Secret History by Donna Tartt

This book was my big white whale, a book I’ve picked up and put down several times and finally tackled in the final days of 2020. At an elite college tucked away in Vermont, a group of eclectic misfits opt to study Ancient Greek—and only Ancient Greek—under the tutelage of a charismatic and unconventional professor. We learn right away that the narrator and his friends have committed a murder, then slowly come to understand how the bubble of a world they’ve crafted for themselves may have facilitated the crime, one where the self-importance runs high and the boundaries of ethics and morality are blurred. This is me putting it very, very simply so that you might experience the entirety of this beautiful mess for yourself.

Book Club Bonus: This is a little longer than I’d normally suggest for book club, and many of you may have already conquered it. I’m tossing it in anyway because it’s a polarizing read rich with book club potential. I really was not a fan of The Goldfinch and was scared Donna Tartt may just not be for me, especially since there are some definite similarities in pace and the characters’ drug, drink, and angst-filled ennui. But the slow revelation of each character’s background and motivation in The Secret History was both maddening and ingenious to me, plus the searing critique of elitist institutions. You may agree or want to chuck this book at the wall—discuss!

Tiny Pretty Things by Dhonielle Clayton and Sona Charaipotra

TW: eating disorders and body stuff (not quite body horror, per se, but think the physical toll of dancing on the body).

Gigi, Bette, and June are three young ballerinas at the intensely competitive American Ballet Conservatory in New York City. Kind and lighthearted Gigi is the only Black girl at the school and just wants to dance, but the act could literally kill her. Privileged New Yorker Bette is a piece of work (!!!) dancing in the shadow of her ballet-star sister, and she’ll stop at nothing to end up on top. June is a dangerous perfectionist who has to land a lead role this year to keep her mother from pulling her from the school, and she too is ready to do so by any means necessary. Feathers are ruffled (understatement!) when Gigi is chosen for the role of Sugar Plum Fairy in the school’s Nutracker performance, and an absolute mess of a scandal ensues. I caught myself holding my breath over and over while reading this book and gripping it with white knuckles. What a ride!

Book Club Bonus: There’s plenty to discuss about the competitive nature of ballet and all the related pressures, body issues, disordered eating, etc. But also dive into the motivations of the less palatable characters (hurt people hurt people!): none of their dysfunctions exist in a vacuum.

Brave, Not Perfect by Reshma Saujani

I hope to internalize and put the ideas in this book into practice more in 2021. Reshma Saujani is the founder and CEO of Girls Who Code and starts off by telling us about the time she quit her stable and lucrative career for a disastrous run for political office. She not only lost, she lost hard. The hardest! That moment was a turning point in Saujani’s life and a hell of an epiphany: women are taught to chase perfection since childhood, and that pattern ends up holding us back in adulthood. Through a combo of personal anecdotes and some in-your-face statistics and studies, Saujani challenges readers, especially women, to embrace imperfection and live a bolder life.

Book Club Bonus: You know how bad I am at reading self-help, but this book resonated with me tons and gave me some Year of Yes vibes. Share the ways in which you have and continue to hold yourself back (whether you identify as a woman or not) in the name of perfection. On the flip side, examine how teaching boys to be always be brave and not perfect could be problematic, too.

Suggestion Section

January Book Club picks from PBS and Vox.

In case you missed it over the holidays: Reese Witherspoon’s Hello Sunshine Book Club and Literati partnered to delivered 11,000 books to kids in the LA area

Barnes & Noble announces its January book club pick: Better Luck Next Time by Julia Claiborne Johnson.


Thanks for hanging with me today! Shoot me an email at vanessa@riotnewmedia.com 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. 

Vanessa 

Categories
In The Club

In the Club 12/23/20

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

We made it, friends. It’s (almost) the end of the year and our final In the Club newsletter of 2020! I would be remiss if I didn’t take the time to thank you all for rocking with me for another year of book clubbing, even if said year did look very, very different than any of us predicted it would back in January. I’d like to wrap up the year with a few brief observations and pieces of advice that I hope we can all take with us as we move into 2021.

Happy Holidays, everyone! Stay safe, hydrated, moisturized, and snackified. I will talk to you all in January when the club resumes with more nibbles, sips, and tips.

To the club!!


Wisdom from the Club

The Club Goes Online

The pandemic rained on just about everyone’s parade as far as gatherings are involved, but book clubs persisted. Some kept things safe with a tiny, socially distanced quaranteam, but lots of you took the club chatter online (hellooo Zoom!). I think many of us have wavered in our capacity to Zoom/Facetime, etc, but I’ve found I still look forward to those chats when they feel low-stakes. If you’re still Zooming, try to create a casual and welcoming environment, the kind where it’s cool if someone didn’t finish or even read the book and just wants to spend some time with fellow book people.

If you don’t have an established book club, find one! If online clubs from celebrities (Reese Witherspoon, Bellerist, the OG Oprah) or news outlets and media companies (Today, Good Morning America, LA Times, Bustle), aren’t your thing, try Instagram book clubs with other “regular” book people. or apps like MeetUp to find locals. Check out these and other tips here.

image of a laptop screen showing a group video call https://unsplash.com/photos/fRGoTJFQAHM

Libraries and Bookstores Save the Day

Speaking of online book clubs, our favorite institutions went above and beyond to create online spaces for book lovers. Not being able to host in-person groups was surely a bummer, but they made do with a robust offering of online book clubs. If you haven’t tried one out, give it a go! Check out the online events calendar for your local indie, library, or chain bookstore—I for one have my eye on Lovin’ at Loyalty Book Club, a monthly romance book club run by Loyalty Book Store where author Alyssa Cole is a regular! I participated in a few of these and it helped me feel less isolated while living alone in a city that’s still pretty new to me.

Take A Little Space

Another lesson I learned during this wild, wild year is that the act of reading itself was touch and go for a lot of us. Some readers finished more books this year than they have in years, or ever! Some of us DNFed every other book, read at a snail’s pace, or had a tough time picking up books at all. If you haven’t already embraced this idea, let me be the one to say it: it’s okay to change the frequency of book club, to skip a month, or to just bow out of book clubs until you’re ready. As readers, we often feel pressured to always stay reading, but news flash: it’s okay if you can’t.

Variety is the Spice of Life

This is a simple concept, but one that you may not have thought to incorporate: change up the types of books you usually read in book club if your members feel like they’re in a rut. If you usually stick to litfic, try a mystery or a romance. Take a break from nonfiction and pick up a comic or graphic novel. Try some kids books if you haven’t read those in awhile! Mix it up however you see fit.

Switch It Up

Remember how I said some of us have had trouble reading? Here’s a secret: it’s okay to rebrand book club! Maybe use your book club time to try painting or knitting as a group, or have a cocktails and craft night. Bring back my favorite cooking night idea and make a dish together over Zoom. Do whatever feels good; the books will always be there when you’re ready to come back to them.


And that’s a wrap! Shoot me an email at vanessa@riotnewmedia.com 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. 

Vanessa 

Categories
In The Club

In the Club 12/16/20

Welcome to In The Club, a newsletter of resources to keep your book group well-met, well-read, and well-fed. Last week I hit you with a quick list of my picks for the best book club books of 2020 and promised to have a follow-up list for you this week. I hath delivered! Let’s dive right in because I got a wee bit excited.

To the club!!


Nibbles and Sips

The quaranteam and I had our Friendmas gathering this weekend and I made this ridiculously delicious burrata with lemon pepper salami. It’s SO simple, I’m talking 10 minutes tops with a whopping five minutes of actual “cooking.” The key is definitely to bring the burrata to room temp (do not skip this step!), drizzle the infused oil on top while warm, and use a good salami (I recommend Calabrese for some kick). Scoop up some of the gooey cheese with a crusty piece of bread and a slice of salami, then luxuriate in that creamy, salty, spicy, lemony bite. Your taste buds with do the conga, trust.

More Best, A Little Less Buzz

A quick interwebs search for the best book club books of 2020 will almost surely contain the books I shared with you last week as well as titles like Caste by Isabel Wilkerson, Deacon King Kong by James McBride, Luster by Raven Leilani, and tons of anti-racist lit. I don’t want to take anything away from those books, all of which come highly recommended, and anti-racist reads 100% need to be an ongoing part of our conversations and not just a trendy flash in the pan. With that being said, this week I’m focusing on the slightly less buzzy titles worthy of book club inclusion. You may recognize some or all of these titles as folks who engage with the online book community, but they aren’t necessarily getting as much attention, especially in this helluva year, as they should.

The Lost Book of Adana Moreau by Michael Zapata

This novel opens in in 1929 in New Orleans. Adana Moreau has written a work of science fiction about a young Dominican immigrant in search of a lost city, a young woman not unlike herself. The book is a success, so Adana begins to write a sequel only to destroy it when she suddenly becomes ill. Decades later in Chicago, Saul is cleaning out the home of his recently deceased grandfather when he finds the not-so-destroyed-after-all manuscript of Adana’s sequel. How and why does this manuscript exist? Why does his grandfather have it? Saul finds himself in New Orleans in the thick of Katrina in search of answers.

Sharks in the Time of Saviors by Kawai Strong Washburn

More than a few of my book friends have named this as one of their favorite books of the year. Book Riot’s own Amanda Nelson described it as a “groundbreaking debut novel that folds the legends of Hawaiian gods into an engrossing family saga; a story of exile and the pursuit of salvation.” This might have to be one of my holiday break reads.

A Children’s Bible by Lydia Millet

This novel is a searing commentary on climate change with some major Lord of the Flies vibes. A group of kids and teens are spending the summer at a lakeside mansion where their parents largely ignore them in their booze, drugs, and sex-induced stupor. When a massive storm descends on the estate, the kids—led by ringleader and narrator Eve—run away into the apocalyptic chaos outside, one of them with a children’s bible in tow. As they seek refuge in an abandoned farm house, the events in the pages of the bible begin to bleed into real life.

Disfigured: On Fairy Tales, Disability, and Making Space by Amanda Leduc

You, like me, might kinda think you already know that the fairy tales of the West have major ableist tones, but reading this book really just circles all that’s wrong with those depictions in bright red ink. Able-bodied privilege has kept many of us from thinking critically about the implications of ableist messaging in these beloved stories, from Brothers Grimm to Hans Christian Andersen to the Disney machine. Think about it. The villains are either disfigured in some way or disability is their punishment for being evil. The princesses and princes who find love aren’t ever disabled, or if they are, it’s only after their hideous disfigurement has been shaken off that they find love. Are you cringing? You should be cringing. This #ownvoices book is one I wish I could hand out on the streets.

Never Look Back by Lilliam Rivera

Never Look Back is a YA retelling of the Orpheus and Eurydice myth by my beloved Lilliam Rivera, the author who won me all the way over in Dealing in Dreams when she named the girl gang in the book “Las Malcriadas.” This reimagining is set in the Bronx and features a cast of Afro-Latinx characters. If you like Pri-de by Iii Zoboi or mythology remixes in general, this book will be right up your alley.

All Boys Aren’t Blue: A Memoir- Manifesto by George M. Johnson

George M. Johnson is a journalist and LGBTQIA+ activist and this is his young-adult memoir. It chronicles his childhood, adulthood, and college years in New Jersey and Virginia while examining gender identity, toxic masculinity, brotherhood, family, structural marginalization, consent, and—this is so important—Black joy. It’s meant to be both a primer for teens who want to be allies and a testimony for young queer men of color. As I’ve said before, toxic masculinity exists in all kinds of communities and I wish more people would take a moment to examine that reality.

Winter Counts cover image

Winter Counts by David Heska Wanbli Weiden

This thriller follows Virgil Wounded Horse, a vigilante enforcer on the Rosebud Indian Reservation in South Dakota. When the legal system fails to bring justice to his community, Virgil takes matters into his own hands. His mission gets even more personal when heroin infiltrates the reservation and finds Virgil’s nephew.

Confession: I thought that was a giant rat on the cover wearing a fur coat, like maybe the Rat King from the Nutcracker or something? Wow, Diaz: when you’re wrong, you’re the most wrong. I’m so ashamed!

Blacktop Wasteland by S.A. Cosby

This thriller is a big time Book Riot favorite and has started to make a lot of the “best of” lists, but I’m still including it because it’s a debut and I want to keep that momentum going. Bug is a family man doing his best to provide for his wife and kids, but life hasn’t exactly dealt him a lucky hand: his garage is struggling, he’s not making ends meet, and now his elderly mother is facing eviction from her nursing home. In a bid for some fast cash, he steps back into a familiar role as a getaway driver, a job he left a long time ago. He goes into it with that “just one more job!” mentality we’ve heard before, pero… ya know. I’ve lost count of how many people have told me that a particular car chase scene in this book is one of the most thrilling and intense scenes they’ve read in a long time.

Hurricane Season by Fernanda Melchor, translated by Sophie Hughes

I always preface this recommendation with the disclaimer that this book is not for the faint of heart. Real talk: I had to put it down because it just contains all the triggers. For those who can handle a darker read and are looking for fic in translation, I want to keep spreading the word about this rising star in Mexican literature. After the death of the town witch in a small Mexican village, the investigation that follows reveals some dark truths about the unreliable inhabitants of its community. Fernanda Melchor isn’t here to mince words; she’s here to shine a white hot light on the ways this community, much like very real communities in Mexico, has been ravaged by drug abuse, poverty, alcoholism, homophobia, and misogyny.

If I Had Your Face by Frances Cha

This story set in contemporary Seoul tells the connected stories of four women: one whose many cosmetic procedures have landed her a job at one of Seoul’s “room salons” where wealthy men seek drink and the entertainment of women; a New York art school graduate who’s returned to Seoul and now has a super rich Korean boyfriend; a hair stylist obsessed with K-pop and her best friend’s plans for some pretty extreme cosmetic surgery; and a newlywed struggling to conceive who’s actually unsure if she can really afford to raise a child. Class issues, patriarchy, inequality, crippling beauty standards: what I’m saying is there’s lots to discuss.

A Phoenix First Must Burn: Sixteen Stories of Black Girl Magic, Resistance, and Hope edited by Patrice Caldwell

Patrice Caldwell took a whole bunch of Black girl magic and bottled it all up in one convenient and beautiful volume. This stellar list of contributors includes Elizabeth Acevedo, Dhonielle Clayton, L.L. McKinney, Ibi Zoboi, and Justina Ireland. Their gorgeous stories center Black women and gender nonconforming individuals through tales of fantasy, science fiction, and magic.

The Five: The Untold Lives of the Women Killed by Jack the Ripper by Hallie Rubenhold

True crime and I have an uneasy relationship: there is definitely such a thing as thoughtful examination of crime, but a lot of what I encounter when the murder of women is involved feels to me more like gross sensationalizing and trauma porn. That’s why I love the premise of this book, which chooses to focus less on the killer (Jack the Ripper, you may have heard of him) and instead gives the victims a voice. It tells their stories rather than just reducing them to a pile of bodies, an angle I am very here for.


That’s all for today! See you all next week. Can you believe this is the second to last In the Club newsletter of 2020?! Shoot me an email at vanessa@riotnewmedia.com 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. 

Vanessa