Don’t worry readers, there won’t be any £75 book here. Who has that type of money in a pantene pro v, anyway?! Madness.
For those who have been readers of Literal Hotties since its debut back in February – thank you, by the way – you’re accustomed to a certain lack of grace and decorum when screaming about a book I am obsessed with. Unfortunately, because you know, I have a full time job, I can’t do that for every title I read that month. I also don’t wanna’ break my editor’s brain by making her read thirty reviews a month to publish. Also, and this is the most important, I know you readers have a life.
Despite this fact, 2021 has not been short of debuts and titles by Black writers and writers of colour that have taken the online hemisphere by storm. Countless writers in this category have an avid follower in me, and others are rediscovered classics that shaped my entire perception of literature in the first place.
As a special holiday gift this December – ‘cause I’m Muslim, babes – I have collated a list of some of the best books of 2021 that I didn’t get already review in the column this year. So, without making you read anymore of my bullshit, here they are!
I Know What You’ve Done, Dorothy Koomson
Koomson is, in my personal opinion, the queen of crime and thriller. Koomson’s 2021 release fed me everything I love from the genre. Don’t we all love a story about suburban wives minding other people’s business, and discovering things that they shouldn’t have? Koomson turns this theme on its head, when a nosy neighbour ends up being murdered for discovering a secret that was best left alone. Cleverly recorded in her diary – it’s left to our protagonist Rae to discover who killed her neighbour, and what other secrets are kept in that godforsaken diary. As she’s also known as the Queen of the Big Reveal, you won’t be disappointed by the end!
What if all of your neighbours’ secrets landed in a diary on your doorstep? What if the woman who gave it to you was murdered by one of the people mentioned in the diary? Would you hand over the book of secrets or would you try to find out what everyone had done?
The Khan, Saima Mir
Is it another thriller? Yes, but this is my column so sit there and eat your food. Saima Mir’s debut is one for the books. How often are Muslim women portrayed with such agency and pure badassery? Rarely, which is why Mir and this book deserve a big budget screen adaptation. It’s bloody, it’s complicated, and with the action comes an incredibly balanced exploration of nuance in Mir’s characters. The exploration of organised crime is one that I have seldom seen, and fans of works such as The Godfather and Legend are sure to find this entertaining, as long as you don’t hate women or Muslims. In which case, suck your mum.
Successful London lawyer Jia Khan is a long way from the grubby Northern streets she knew as a child, where her father, Akbar Khan, led the Pakistani community and ran the local organised crime syndicate. Often his Jirga rule – the old way – was violent and bloody, but it was always justice of a kind.
Now, with her father murdered, Jia must return to take his place. The police have always relied on the Khan to maintain the fragile order of the streets. But a bloody power struggle has broken out among warring communities and nobody is safe. Justice needs to be restored, and Jia is about to discover that justice always comes at a cost.
Who’s Loving You, edited by Sareeta Domingo
Obviously there was going to be something romantic on this list. The legend that is the author Sareeta Domingo – who’s previous titles include the bangers that are Love, Secret Santa and If I Don’t Have You – delivers a collection of love stories written by women of colour that warm your heart, soul and mind. Collecting these authors like infinity stones was a power move by Domingo, and features incredible talent such as Sara Jafari, Amna Saleem, Danielle DASH and Kelechi Okafor.
Two souls come together and are torn apart, lifetime after lifetime. A seed of hope begins to grow out of the ashes of grief, heartbreak and loss. Romance sparks in the most unexpected of places. And an unbreakable bond is formed that transcends countries, continents and even the boundaries of time. In this extraordinary collection, ten writers explore the full spectrum of love in all its messy, joyful, agonising and exhilarating forms. Celebrating and centring romance, passion and desire, these stories burn with an intensity and longing that lingers long after the final page.
The Book of Ramallah, edited by Maya Abu Al-Hayat
Both moving and extremely inventive, this was a collection of stories that I bent my own rules for. Some of the writers are male, though this is an exception I was willing to make due to the work Palestinian author and editor, Maya Abu Al-Hayat, clearly put into providing Palestinian authors with a platform and the space to speak and create. The themes and plots of each short story contrast each other in a way that is only a strength. With Ramallah and its people’s identities and freedom consistently pulled apart, this collection offers both humour, tender affection and a patience that is rarely made available.
Unlike most other Palestinian cities, Ramallah is a relatively new town, a de facto capital of the West Bank allowed to thrive after the Oslo Peace Accords, but just as quickly hemmed in and suffocated by the Occupation as the Accords have failed.
Perched along the top of a mountainous ridge, it plays host to many contradictions: traditional Palestinian architecture jostling against aspirational developments and cultural initiatives, a thriving nightlife in one district, with much more conservative, religious attitudes in the next. Most striking however – as these stories show – is the quiet dignity, resilience and humour of its people; citizens who take their lives into their hands every time they travel from one place to the next, who continue to live through countless sieges, and yet still find the time, and resourcefulness, to create.
Keisha the Sket, Jade LB
Those who get it, get it. Those who don’t, don’t. For the former of this category, you’ll remember sticking your face to your Sony Ericsson to read chapters from the legendary fic Keisha Da Sket – which has been published for the first time in print this year. It introduced us to a lot; a new understanding of sex, slut shaming, and a vulnerable type of love and affection that I wasn’t aware could be shared between two people. Miss you, Ricardo. Jade LB collated a collection of chapters that utilised the early 2000’s London and Black online vernacular that hadn’t existed outside of MSN, Bebo or Myspace. Through the publication of Keisha The Sket, both the book and Jade LB legitimised its language as canon to English literature. We stan legends here.
Keisha is a girl from the ends, sharp, feisty and ambitious. She’s been labelled ‘top sket’ but she’s making it work. When childhood crush and long-time admirer, Ricardo, finally wins her over, Keisha has it all – power, a love life and the chance for stability. But trauma comes knocking and with it a whirlwind of choices that will define what kind of a woman she truly wants to be.
Keep the Receipts, Tolani Shoneye; Milena Sanchez; Audrey Indome
This year on my Spotify Wrapped, this trio of babes obviously took the number one spot for most listened to podcast. Third year in a row, I might add. A book was a long time coming, one I had been ACHING for because I am shamelessly needy. Tolly, Milena and Audrey give readers their receipts, something listeners have been asking for for years. From sharing their most personal heartbreaks and experiences, successes and revelations that your three favourite baddies have experienced in that perfect whip smart and humorous voices that they’ve perfected on the podcast.
This book is all the conversations and advice you’ve had in the club toilet, finally in one place. Crying over that situationship and needing someone to remind you you’re a bad bitch? In a dilemma with your friends and not sure the best way forward? Can’t figure out how to dump the boyfriend who has never made you orgasm?
Join your girls Tolly, Audrey and Milena as they get super honest about their life experiences and lessons. From their different approaches to love to their wise advice on building strong friendships; from those conversations about sex we never have, to how to enjoy life as a Black woman or a woman of colour, The Receipts girls always keep it real, authentic and fiercely funny. This is the sisterhood you’ve always wanted to be a part of.
Sista Sister, Candice Braithwaite
Few writers have a voice as compelling and magnetic as Braithwaite’s on the page, and her second book forces those feelings to re-emerge within readers as they pick it up. Like her debut, Braithwaite has made it clear that her words and pages are for Black women; a warm, humorous and safe space to instill in them the things she had wished she learned when she was younger. This is a gem of a book – I hope she goes into fiction!
The bestselling author of I Am Not Your Baby Mother returns with an anticipated follow up: a compilation of essays about all the things she wishes someone had talked to her about when she was a young Black girl growing up in London. Expect chapters on family, money, Black hair and fashion, as well as sex and friendships between people of different races in Brathwaite’s frank and warm tone.
Dear Senthuran: A Black Spirit Memoir, Akwaeke Emezi
Not to be dramatic but wow. Honestly, fucking wow. Shamefully this was my first experience with Akwaeke Emezi, whose works include three fiction novels, with a fourth publishing next year. Their writing is both naked and searing, the type of writing that has me on my knees because it has rocked something so deep within me I stumble in thinking clearly. Their memoir is written as a series of letters to friends and family, and it was with this description that I was immediately taken to the idea. Because of these letters, addressed to people important to them, this book succeeds in carving out a space in your mind forever.
In letters addressed to their friends, to members of their family – both biological and chosen – and to fellow storytellers, Akwaeke describes the shape of a life lived in overlapping realities. Through heartbreak, chronic pain, intimacy with death, becoming a beast, this is embodiment as a nonhuman: outside the boundaries imposed by expectations and legibility.
This book is an account of the grueling work of realignment and remaking necessary to carve out a future for oneself. The result is a Black spirit memoir: a powerful, raw unfolding of identity.
Cut From The Same Cloth?, edited by Sabeena Akhtar
I love a good collection of essays or short stories, but especially when the contributors are meticulously picked by a stellar editor and writer. Even in the hellish year of 2021 there has been little nuance when publishing the writing of Muslim women. Our autonomy is rarely given a second glance, and unless falling into very specific categories that have been made for us, then you are essentially voiceless. Editor and writer Sabeena Akhtar sought to help dismantle that in her collection, bringing together some of the most brilliant Muslim writers in the writing world today.
From modern pop culture to anti-Blackness, faith and family, politics, education, creativity and working life; this anthology gives visibly Muslim women a space to speak.
Spoiler alert: we won’t be answering the usual questions!
Whilst perceived as the visual representation of Islam, hijab-wearing Muslim women are rarely afforded a platform on their own terms. Harangued by awkward questions, radical commentators sensationalising our existence, non-Muslims and non-hijabis making assumptions, men speaking on our behalf, or stereotypical norms being perpetuated by the same old faces, hijabis are tired.
Cut from the Same Cloth? seeks to tip the balance back in our favour. Here, twenty-one women of all ages and races look beyond the tired tropes, exploring the breadth of our experience and spirituality. It’s time we, as a society, stop with the hijab-splaining and make space for the women who know.
Hani & Ishu’s Guide to Fake Dating, Adiba Jaigirdar
Need I say more when a title is that delicious? Not every author is capable of writing a fake-dating romance where your favourite leads develop palpable, tangible feelings, and the lines between fake and real become blurred. It’s this type of trope, alongside enemies to lovers, that I’d happily inject into my veins. Jaigirdar delivers this in spades, and with Hani and Ishu becoming so dear to my heart, I’m eager to read future titles Jaigirdar releases.
Everyone likes Humaira “Hani” Khan—she’s easy going and one of the most popular girls at school. But when she comes out to her friends as bisexual, they invalidate her identity, saying she can’t be bi if she’s only dated guys. Panicked, Hani blurts out that she’s in a relationship…with a girl her friends absolutely hate—Ishita “Ishu” Dey. Ishu is the complete opposite of Hani. She’s an academic overachiever who hopes that becoming head girl will set her on the right track for college. But Ishita agrees to help Hani, if Hani will help her become more popular so that she stands a chance of being elected head girl.
Despite their mutually beneficial pact, they start developing real feelings for each other. But relationships are complicated, and some people will do anything to stop two Bengali girls from achieving happily ever after.
Witches Steeped In Gold, Ciannon Smart
Do you know which publisher has been consistently banging out excellent YA? HOT KEY BOOKS! So it should come as no surprise that one of the YA fantasy debuts completely blew me away. Though there was no shortage of high-fantasy released in YA this year, all of which were very good, this book really is a banger. An intense battle for a throne, mixed with witchcraft in an Jamaican inspired world offers a plethora of stunningly vivid descriptions, character development with the nuance of what makes a villain and a hero, and the start to an incredible story. When I hear ‘witches’ and ‘revenge’ in the same sentence, I am GOING to be signed all the way up!
Iraya has spent her life in a cell, but every day brings her closer to freedom – and vengeance. Jazmyne is the Queen’s daughter, but unlike her sister before her, she has no intention of dying to strengthen her mother’s power.
Sworn enemies, these two witches enter a precarious alliance to take down a mutual threat. But power is intoxicating, revenge is a bloody pursuit, and nothing is certain – except the lengths they will go to win this game.
Not Here To Be Liked, Michelle Quach
BRUV! I READ THIS ON HOLIDAY, AND IT MADE MY ENTIRE WEEK! Like I’ve said before, enemies to lovers is a theme in fiction that I can absolutely never get enough of. If I was only allowed to read it for the rest of my life I wouldn’t be mad about it. Quach’s debut is an excellent and delicious addition to the genre, with her characters being opposite in a way that perfectly balances them out. If you follow me online, you’ll know that I compared our leads Eliza and Len to my favourite on screen couple from Sex Education, Ruby and Otis. It’s with GOOD reason, because having the smart, assertive person both soften and be softened by their quieter partner gives me butterflies.
Eliza Quan is the perfect candidate for Editor-in-Chief of her school paper. That is, until ex-jock Len DiMartile decides on a whim to run against her. Suddenly her vast qualifications mean squat because inexperienced Len — who is tall, handsome, and male — just seems more like a leader.
When Eliza’s frustration spills out in a viral essay, she finds herself inspiring a feminist movement she never meant to start, caught between those who believe she’s a gender equality champion and others who think she’s simply crying misogyny.
Amid this growing tension, the school asks Eliza and Len to work side by side to demonstrate civility. But as they get to know one another, Eliza feels increasingly trapped by a horrifying realization — she just might be falling for the face of the patriarchy himself.
Grown: The Black Girls’ Guide to Glowing Up, Melissa Cummings-Quarry; Natalie A. Carter
Your favourite Black Girls Book Club founders only went and published a book! This is a collaboration which brings together some incredible Black women who are dominating in their respective fields. With a collection of essays, guides and lists that has been carefully curated by author duo Melissa and Natalie, they’re bringing to the fore a book that has never been previously available to young Black girls across the country. With a foreword by THEE Mel B too!!! It’s an incredible piece of work that lays the foundations and tools for Black girls and women to thrive and prosper in their lives.
Grown. It’s a mood, it’s a mindset, it’s a mantra.and it’s a lifestyle. It embodies everything that makes us who we are.
Being a teenager and trying to understand who you are and what you stand for is hard. Period. But if you’re a Black girl and don’t always see yourself represented in the books you read, the films you watch, the adverts you see or the history you’re taught, it can be even tougher. Grown: The Black Girls’ Guide to Glowing Up was written with one thing in mind: you.
Grown has got your back. Melissa and Natalie share stories – the wins and the Ls – and offer honest, practical advice that will show you how to own your choices. To live your truth without fear. To be grown on your own terms without limits or apologies.
Soraya Bouazzaoui is Aurelia’s Literal Hotties columnist which whilst never giving too much away, focuses on reviews and recommendations of titles by women of colour, both fiction and non-fiction. @halalltakeaway
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