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Welcome to Read This Book, a newsletter where I recommend one book that you should add to your TBR pile or nightstand or hidden stack under the bed, right away!

When I was younger, I often used to tell my mom that I wanted to be a journalist when I grew up. My mom used to dismiss it as another one of my pursuits, along with dragon hunter and marine biologist. But, just for one split second, a look of terror would gloss over her eyes. Having grown up in Pakistan and then living in the Middle East, she had seen the price free press had to pay and it seemed too high to be fair.

With the news centering around Afghanistan for the past weeks, I have thought of that look often and then thought of the bravery that goes with telling a story, your story, and all the journalists and reporters who risk everything to bring us those stories. That is what inspired my latest pick for you all today.

Book Cover

Our Women on the Ground by Zahra Hankir

This collection is a series of essays from nineteen ‘sahafiyat’ [Arabic word female journalists] telling their own stories through the stories of others that they have told over time.

With an enlightening foreword by Christiane Amanpour, these essays by the featured female reporters recount the harassment experienced when walking on the streets of Cairo, to the difficulty of not being able to walk by themselves in the streets of Yemen.

But they also tell the stories that no male reporter has been able to tell. Having been granted the privilege of going into spaces occupied by females alone, these female journalists have been able to add context to a history which often forgets the impact events have on fifty percent of its population.

Apart from the resonant themes of bravery these journalists display, this collection also puts on display the culture of the Middle East. The catch-all term it has become doesn’t do justice to each of the individual countries that make up the region. 

Each of the stories in this collection is eye-opening and a transformational experience of its own. If you have read stories like Girls of Riyadh and want more, this is for you.


Happy Reading!
Nusrah

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Read This Book

Read This Book…

Welcome to Read This Book, a newsletter where I recommend one book that should absolutely be put at the top of your TBR pile. Recommended books will vary across genre and age category and include shiny new books, older books you may have missed, and some classics I suggest finally getting around to. Make space for another pile of books on your floor because here we go!

Today’s pick is a moving memoir-manifesto by an author who walks us through his journey of finding himself, finding community, coming out, and being seen.

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

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

In the intro, the author tells us that he wants this book to be truthful and that he will be sharing some very heavy things that people don’t necessarily talk about. He went through some very hard things as a child and young adult and likewise, many young adults are going through hard things right now. That is Johnson’s point in telling things truthfully. He wishes that when he was a young adult, he had stories to turn to such as this so he’s hoping that his story can help some young people today. Yes, it’s YA, but it’s a memoir that offers multiple places for connection for a variety of readers.

I would be lying if I didn’t say I was biased, myself a Black & queer person (as is the author). So much of his story resonated with me. His family, like mine, aren’t necessarily academics when it comes to queer history but they were loving always. I couldn’t help but cry every time I read about his close relationship with his grandmother. It’s just so full of unconditional, active love. I found it extra hilarious that he didn’t learn his first name until he was around six because his family and school called him by his middle name because I have the same story.

What I love about this book is that yes, the author tells his story but it is only partly memoir. It is also a manifesto. He starts right off with telling the story of the day he was born and then leaps into how we have gender projected on us as infants or even as fetuses as well as the other societal projections and expectations which, for many people, are way off the mark. He talks about how all of this adds to the struggles of queer kids.

The author shares not only the traumas that can occur as a queer person or a Black person but at the intersection of being Black and queer. This book is such a wonderful addition to the growing collection of queer Black literature.

Content warnings for sexual assault including molestation, homophobia, racism including anti-Blackness, cancer, and death.

That’s it for now, book-lovers!

Patricia

Find me on Book Riot, the All the Books podcast, and Twitter.

Find more books by subscribing to Book Riot Newsletters.

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Read This Book

Read This Book…

Welcome to Read This Book, a newsletter where I recommend one book that I think you absolutely must read. The books will vary across genre and age category to include new releases, backlist titles, and classics. If you’re ready to explode your TBR, buckle up!

This week’s pick is a great YA/adult crossover thriller that I really loved, and read in probably two sittings! Content warning for discussion of assault, violence, and child abuse.

cover of The Girls I've Been

The Girls I’ve Been by Tess Sharpe

Nora is the daughter of a con woman, and she’s been living a lie her entire life. The latest lie is that she lives with her big sister in a small town, and that nothing about her is unusual in any way. The truth? Nora isn’t her real name, her mom is in prison, and Nora put her there. She’s mostly happy, until the day that she and her new girlfriend Iris and ex-boyfriend Wes have to go to the bank together to deposit money from a fundraiser. What should just be an awkward ten minutes turns into a nightmare when the bank is held up by two gunmen, and Nora, Iris, and Wes are all taken hostage. Nora has a sense that this whole thing could go very, very wrong, so she pulls upon all of the tricks she learned in a lifetime of subterfuge in order to get out alive with the two people she cares about, but doing so also means directly confronting a traumatic past.

I love books that (mostly) take place over the course of a single day or event, because I think it really heightens tension and it takes a talented writer to pull it off. Sharpe does this brilliantly here, alternating between present action scenes and flashbacks from all the different girls that Nora has had to become over the years to survive. This demonstrates her struggles with being genuine, and her inability to know who she even is after all of the identities she’s impersonated. I loved that Sharpe really explores what it is to have morals and be ethical when you’ve lived a life of deception, and Sharpe illuminates how Nora makes sense of her experiences and decides what she’s going to stand up for. This rich emotional landscape is contrasted against a really thrilling plot of Nora outwitting the bank robbers at every turn, balancing her many secrets, and also maintaining her platonic and romantic relationships—which force her to be brutally honest in a way she’s always avoided before. It’s a story that requires a deft hand in its telling and lots of balancing between the emotional moments and high-powered action, but Sharpe absolutely nails it!

Bonus: This book is in development to become a Netflix movie starring Millie Bobbie Brown, so definitely pick it up before it hits the streaming service!


Happy reading!
Tirzah

Find me on Book Riot, the Insiders Read Harder podcast, All the Books, and Twitter. If someone forwarded this newsletter to you, click here to subscribe.

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Read This Book

Read This Book…

Welcome to Read This Book, a newsletter where I recommend one book that you should add to your TBR pile or nightstand or hidden stack under the bed, right away!

If you, like me, want to hang onto that fleeting moment of joy you felt when summer came and you thought it would last forever, before it all went from warm to scorching, then I have the book for you.

The Enchanted April book cover

The Enchanted April by Elizabeth Von Arnim

If you have so far lived your life without either hearing about or reading The Enchanted April, then you are in for a delight.

This is the story of four women, who are complete strangers to each other, pooling their money together to retreat to a castle in a small Italian village.

As the story unfolds, you learn more about each of these women and what brings them to the village. You watch as reunions happen, realizations about life come to light, and everlasting friendships form, all the while surrounded by the blooming flowers and lush landscapes the Italian seaside has to offer.

What Elizabeth Von Arnim succeeds in doing is showcasing the extra in the ordinary. She is one of the first few authors who made me see that, and the meandering contemporary literature heralded today was pioneered by such works in my opinion.

That’s really all there is to it. In a world where it feels like events happen before you can catch up to them, it’s a nice feeling to hold onto, of being able to find joy in the ordinary, in the everyday.

If you have enjoyed works like I Capture the Castle and Excellent Women, then this is for you!

BonusL this book is available for free through Project Gutenberg, and you can start reading as soon as you finish reading this newsletter!


Come tell me what you thought of this read if you do pick it up on Twitter @JavedNusrah.

Happy Reading!
Nusrah

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Read This Book

Read This Book…

Welcome to Read This Book, a newsletter where I recommend one book that should absolutely be put at the top of your TBR pile. Recommended books will vary across genre and age category and include shiny new books, older books you may have missed, and some classics I suggest finally getting around to. Make space for another pile of books on your floor because here we go!

Today’s pick is a lovely middle grade fantasy that is an unexpected, yet very appreciated, retelling of Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables and it is also a 2021 Newbery Honor book.

A Wish in the Dark by Christina Soontornvat

A Wish in the Dark by Christina Soontornvat

The city of Chattana is a city of canals and light. There are many different colored orbs that serve as power sources to light everything, power the boats, heat the stoves, etc. They are all full of light created by one person: The Governor. The Governor appeared in Chattana after the Great Fire and saved it from ruin. He brought light and prosperity, though it is clear that the brightest and most powerful lights (and related prosperity) only bless the upper class.

This story starts in Chattana, specifically in Namwon Prison. It’s a women’s prison, though if a child is born in the prison they stay there too, even if their mother dies. So it’s not only a women’s prison, but a prison of orphans. We meet two of the main characters here in Namwon Prison: Pong and Somkit, two boys who were born in the prison. Their mothers are no longer alive so they are prisoners until they are released when they turn 13. Everyone at Namwon Prison is tattooed with a symbol that gets crossed out when they are released. That way, it’s easy to tell 1) who has ever been in that prison and 2) who has escaped.

The opportunity to escape arises for Pong and he takes it. He ends up at a monastery that takes him in. Pong is allowed to stay at the monastery and remains under the tutelage and protection of Father Cham for years. One day, the family of the Namwon Prison warden visits the monastery. The warden’s daughter, Nok, recognizes Pong as the escapee. She is very eager to prove herself and thus the pursuit begins.

Pong escapes and is reunited with Somkit but that is far from the end. Remember, this is a fantasy so while it’s loosely a Les Mis retelling, it is in a world of magic all its own.

That’s it for now, book-lovers!

Patricia

Find me on Book Riot, the All the Books podcast, and Twitter.

Find more books by subscribing to Book Riot Newsletters.

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Read This Book

Read This Book…

Welcome to Read This Book, a newsletter where I recommend one book that I think you absolutely must read. The books will vary across genre and age category to include new releases, backlist titles, and classics. If you’re ready to explode your TBR, buckle up!

This week’s pick is technically a YA book, but one that I think a lot of adults will dig because it’s got a twisty plot, fascinating history, and a great heroine who is motivated to figure out what tore her family apart! Content warning: Discussion of human trafficking, violence towards women, poisoning.

cover image of The Forest of Stolen Girls

The Forest of Stolen Girls by June Hur

When Hwani and her sister Maewol were children, they went missing in the forest only to be found hours later yards away from a grisly murder scene. Hwani remembers nothing of that day, and shortly after her family was torn apart. But years later their father, Detective Min, hears that thirteen other girls have gone missing in that same forest and decides to investigate…only to vanish without a trace himself. Hwani decides that if anyone is going to figure out the forest’s secrets and discover where her father went, she must face the past…and her estranged sister, Maewol.

This novel is set in the early 15th century, on Jeju Island, and it provides a fascinating history of the island and the politics of the time, alongside a riveting family story. The tension between the sisters provides plenty of drama, as Maewol hasn’t forgiven Hwani for leaving, and Hwani has her own conflicted feelings about their shared dark history and separation. As much as Hwani wants to solve the disappearance of her father and unravel the island’s secrets, she must come to terms with the fact that she needs her sister, and that in order for them to solve the (many!) mysteries of the island, they need to work together. This adds some challenges to Hwani’s mission, and the plot is a tightly wound mystery that will keep you turning the pages.

I also really enjoyed the complex community that Hur depicts, and how even though Hwani spent her childhood there, she comes to it as an outsider, searching for clues. Maewol stayed behind and has expert insight, but in many ways she’s too close to the community to see the full picture. The greater politics of the region also play a close role in the mystery, even if it isn’t obvious the girls at the very beginning. The climactic scene had me literally holding my breath—it was that tense! If you love historical fiction, want something that gives you a glimpse into a non-European region, and provides an excellent mystery, June Hur really delivers!

Bonus: I also loved Hur’s first book, another historical mystery called The Silence of Bones!


Happy reading!
Tirzah

Find me on Book Riot, the Insiders Read Harder podcast, All the Books, and Twitter. If someone forwarded this newsletter to you, click here to subscribe.

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Read This Book…

Welcome to Read This Book, a newsletter where I recommend one book that you should add to your TBR pile or nightstand or hidden stack under the bed, right away!

In honor of Women in Translation Month, the pick I have for you all is an eccentric story collection, translated from Japanese to English. As someone who is always complaining about not being fond of short stories, I do recommend short stories a lot, huh? It’s just when I come across one that captivates me from the first page, the first story, I want to shout about it at the top of my lungs.

book cover of Where the Wild Ladies are by Aoko Matsuda

Where the Wild Ladies are by Aoko Matsuda

This story collection is a mix of horror and fantasy, but the kind that is deeply rooted in real life. There are ghosts, lingering spirits, and creatures of the night, but all never doing more damage than the living do to themselves. Each of these stories draws from Japanese folklore and mythology and towards the end of the collection, which folk tale it draws inspiration from is mentioned. It is reminiscent of the collection, His Hideous Heart, edited by Dahlia Adler, which features stories that put a spin on Edgar Allan Poe and his short stories.

The first story in the collection begins with a woman getting her laser hair removal treatment done, and the observations in the story were so sharp, that I who was actually reading the story while waiting at Laser Away considered canceling my appointment. None of the stories get too heavy-handed though, there is such a fine balance of quirk thrown in, that it will win your heart. If stories like Her Body and Other Parties and Angela Carter’s The Bloody Chamber have left holes in your heart, then this is for you.

From cynical to heartwarming in the lapse of a story, we witness stories set in a world populated by wild women, who happen to be ghosts. It’s a discovery reading these stories, and one I think you should not deprive yourself of.  


Come tell me what you thought of this read if you do pick it up on Twitter @JavedNusrah.

Happy Reading!
Nusrah

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Read This Book

Read This Book…

Welcome to Read This Book, a newsletter where I recommend one book that should absolutely be put at the top of your TBR pile. Recommended books will vary across genre and age category and include shiny new books, older books you may have missed, and some classics I suggest finally getting around to. Make space for another pile of books on your floor because here we go!

Today’s pick is a nonfiction comic that truly lives up to its title. It has been an invaluable educational tool for me and I’ve probably given away at least a half dozen copies.

A Quick and Easy Guide to Queer and Trans Identities by Mady G and Jules Zuckerberg

A Quick & Easy Guide to Queer & Trans Identities by Mady G. and Jules Zuckerberg

This lovely little comic is a super beginner’s guide for both people who are figuring out their own queer and/or trans identity as well as the people who are in their support network who want to learn more about queer and trans identities. By no means is the information in this book exhaustive as it’s small enough to fit into a large pocket. It manages to cover the basics of some really common questions without being overwhelming or academic.

The main characters are snails and some adorable non-humanoid creatures. It’s clear the authors don’t want you to assign gender to the characters, which is a really good thing to practice.

It’s written in a format where each little section is titled by a question, then some discussion about the answer or answers. It begins with “What is queer?” which is wonderful because that’s a question that a lot of people have. Many people who aren’t under the LGBTQ+ umbrella can be confused by it. The truth is that queer can mean different things to different people. Some people are also concerned that it used to be a slur and this book addresses that as well.

The book also offers simplified information on the definitions of and differences between gender, sex, sexual orientation or attraction, and gender expression. There’s also a section in this book that caught me by surprise but not in a bad way because it totally belongs here, and that is a section on relationship basics and what some signs of healthy relationships are and also what are some red flags. The thing is, a lot of us as teens learn about relationships from what is modeled in our life and what we see in the media. It’s rare that any of us, especially those of us in the LGBTQIA+ crowd, are given a resource before mistakes are made.

I love that this book exists. It can help alleviate some of the emotional labor involved in educating people about queer and trans identities and do so in a way that is thoughtful and fun.

That’s it for now, book-lovers!

Patricia

Find me on Book Riot, the All the Books podcast, and Twitter.

Find more books by subscribing to Book Riot Newsletters.

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Read This Book

Read This Book…

Welcome to Read This Book, a newsletter where I recommend one book that I think you absolutely must read. The books will vary across genre and age category to include new releases, backlist titles, and classics. If you’re ready to explode your TBR, buckle up!

This week’s pick is a super fun book that I just happened to pick up on a whim on a trip to Barnes & Noble (bookstores reopening has been glorious for my TBR, devastating for my wallet!) and I loved it a lot! It’s got a lot of those buzzy tropes that people love, but also queer! In space! And it’s a funny book about some heavy stuff, which I always appreciate.

Content warning: Domestic abuse and physical abuse, mostly in the back story but some (not graphic) depicted on the page. Also, there is some psychological torture.

Winter's Orbit cover

Winter’s Orbit by Everina Maxwell

Prince Kiem is the most disappointing of the emperor’s grandchildren, so when he finds himself summoned to her presence, he’s not quite sure why he’s in trouble. Turns out, he’s not…but there is something the emperor wants, or rather, demands: for Kiem to marry Count Jainan, the representative of his tiny planet to the Galactic Empire. Kiem knows a publicity stunt when he sees one, but there’s no way wiggling out of it, so he goes along with the ploy. But it turns out that Count Jainan is quiet, withdrawn, and grieving the death of his first husband…whom he is suspected of murdering in an “accident.” As the political intrigue heightens, Kiem and Jainan must figure out a way to work together and solve a few mysteries in order to save the empire.

This book ticks a lot of my boxes: Space opera, queer couple, banter, marriage of convenience, murder mystery, political intrigue, and (I don’t think it’s a spoiler to say!) romance! One thing I really loved about this book is that queer characters are the norm and aren’t persecuted in any way, and gender expression is very intentional—i.e. people don’t just assume gender based on biology, it is an intentional expression that varies across cultures, and even still can be confusing and nonbinary. I love books that reimagine cool ways of personal expression that are open, accepting, and nuanced.

The world building is exciting, but of course it’s not all progressive paradise. The empire rules all, and the smaller planets aren’t always happy about this. Political alliances are complicated, and the future of everyone in the empire hangs in the balance. That all provides an interesting backdrop for the story of Kiem and Jainan, two seemingly opposites who are thrown together rather awkwardly at first, but quickly learn that they care for one another. It’s not always clear if they’re just doing their duties, or if there’s something more brewing, which is another great source of tension. Communication is a big barrier for them, but I appreciate that Maxwell always does a great job at showing the legitimate reasons why they struggle to connect at times rather than making it a convenient excuse. Kiem is self-deprecating, personable, funny, and a bit of a goofball. Jainan is focused and intelligent, but reserved and not always very self-confident. Their personalities don’t seem like a perfect match, but when they’re together they just work, and it was a joy to read about them connecting. The romance is a bit of a slow burn, but always an enjoyable one, and their dynamic had me laughing and swooning in equal measure!

The other perk to this book? It’s a standalone novel, so if you have series fatigue this is the perfect book for you! (Although, be warned that it’s so delightful you’ll want more of Kiem and Jainan! Lucky for us, Maxwell is working on another book set in the same universe!)

Happy reading!
Tirzah

Find me on Book Riot, the Insiders Read Harder podcast, All the Books, and Twitter. If someone forwarded this newsletter to you, click here to subscribe.

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Read This Book

Read This Book

Welcome to Read This Book, a newsletter where I recommend one book that you should add to your TBR pile or nightstand or hidden stack under the bed, right away!

When shelter-in-place orders went into effect in my then-home state, Oregon, I was a fairly new mom emerging from my post-partum haze. The world was slowly opening up for me when all of a sudden it shut down on me again.

To cope with this recurring sense of isolation, I developed a ritual. Calling it a ritual might come off as a bit of a hyperbole, but that’s what it felt like to me – sacred. During this time, I would put my little baby in her stroller and take a 30-minute walk along my block. I lived in deep suburbia so my block was a mix of hills, climbs, and plains. While out on this walk I always had an audiobook on, and I remember each and every one of the audiobooks I listened to during this time. I think of them fondly and every time I see them mentioned, I feel a sensation similar to when you return home, to your safe space. It is one of these books that I want to share with you today.

Life Among the Savages by Shirley Jackson

Many of you know Shirley Jackson from her famous works like The Haunting of Hill House and her short story The Lottery. But, what a lot of you might be missing out on are her memoirs.

I have been reading up on a lot of biographies of Shirley Jackson and a lot of them talk about how her nonfiction writing reflects her troubled domestic life. But, what they fail to mention is Jackson’s humor that sparkles in these writings.

Her memoir Life Among the Savages starts off with her moving to Vermont with her and her family, and right from the start, she narrates the debacle in the most hilarious of ways. It is in Vermont that the Hymans settle down to make baby after baby, and to count out their nickels and dimes, with Shirley commenting on her colorful neighbors and her own colorful inability to fit in anywhere properly.

Describing her wonderful home, she says,“Our house is old and noisy, and full. When we moved into it we had two children and about five thousand books; I expect that when we finally overflow and move out again we will have perhaps twenty children and easily half a million books…” Who wouldn’t want to live in such a house (minus the twenty children)?

On describing a gentle moment of parenting she says, “I looked at the clock with the faint unconscious hope common to all mothers that time will somehow have passed magically away and the next time you look it will be bedtime.

At one point when she is about to have a baby, she talks about looking forward to having two days away from home for her delivery and being able to catch up on her mysteries, and I felt that.

You don’t need to read too much between the lines of this memoir, but if you do, you will see the brilliant mind of Shirley Jackson shining through, and this is a glimpse you won’t want to miss.


Come tell me what you thought of this read if you do pick it up on Twitter @JavedNusrah.

Happy Reading!
Nusrah