New year, same garbage me, but a new list of gloriously hot people to read. It’s not brand new information that the year is stacked with stellar debuts and releases by Black authors and authors of colour, all of whom have made it to my pre-order list in eager excitement. Reading their synopsis’ has left me almost starving to devour the pages that they’ve written on. I know when I’m done I’ll be screaming ‘MhMMmmmM the flavours are melting on my tongue!’
(If you don’t get that reference, then I’m sad to say you don’t know my brand well enough.)
From non-fiction, YA and adult fiction comes a plethora of engaging, heart-felt and undoubtedly hilarious talent across the board. So, without further wasting your time in this depressing January, here’s a list of titles to look forward to.
THESE IMPOSSIBLE THINGS, Salma El-Wardany
If you’re as familiar with this babe as I am, then her fiction debut has felt like her natural next step. Not likely to have lost a drop of El-Wardany’s signature humour and irreverent style found in her non-fiction work, I’m excited to see how she translates this into fictional characters.
These Impossible Things charts the dreams and disappointments of a group of British Muslim women; Jenna, Kees and Malak. They have been friends for years: the three of them together against the world.
Yet one night changes everything between them and they are left adrift, marooned from each other as their lives take different paths. Without the support of each other, nothing seems to go quite right and in the wake of heartbreaks, marriages, new careers and new beginnings, they need each other more than ever. Will they be able to forgive each other in time?
PORTRAIT OF A THIEF, Grace D. Li
Hodder & Stoughton
A heist book about a group of Chinese American students taking back artefacts that colonisers stole? Are you mad?! LOAD IT THE FUCK UP!!! TAKE MY MONEY!!!
Will Chen, a Chinese American art history student at Harvard, has spent most of his life learning about the West – its art, its culture, all that it has taken and called its own. He believes art belongs with its creators, so when a Chinese corporation offers him a (highly illegal) chance to reclaim five priceless sculptures, it’s surprisingly easy to say yes.
Will’s crew, fellow students chosen out of his boundless optimism for their skills and loyalty, aren’t exactly experienced criminals. Irene is a public policy major at Duke who can talk her way out of anything. Daniel is pre-med with steady hands and dreams of being a surgeon. Lily is an engineering student who races cars in her spare time, and Will is relying on Alex, an MIT dropout turned software engineer, to hack her way in and out of each museum they must rob.
Each student has their own complicated relationship with China and the identities they’ve cultivated as Chinese Americans, but one thing soon becomes certain: they won’t say no.
THE HIVE, Scarlett Brade
BITCH!!! A REVENGE THRILLER WHERE MURDER HAPPENS AT THE BEGINNING?! The heart palpitations that have skyrocketed in excitement when I heard about this. All you crime and thriller babes are EATING with this debut!
SHOULD HE LIVE OR DIE? YOU DECIDE.
Charlotte Goodwin looks directly at the camera and reveals a chilling truth to the thousands watching her Instagram live broadcast. She has killed her ex-boyfriend’s new partner in cold blood. But she is not finished yet. With bloodied hands she takes a calm sip of tea before continuing. Lincoln Jackson will now make his confession, then the viewers must vote to decide whether he should live or die.
The public display sends shockwaves rippling through the online community and the numbers of viewers skyrockets. But as Lincoln’s past is revealed, how will he be judged?
Bonded by mutual tragedy, Charlotte’s three best friends have supported each other through the soaring highs and devastating lows of their lives. Now, in Charlotte’s hour of need, her friends also face a choice, whether to help her get away with murder.
BEASTS OF A LITTLE LAND, Juhea Kim
Someone said I’d love this if I loved PACHINKO, so naturally it’s been bumped up to the top of my list. I’m a sucker for a historical novel that’s explored through family and relationships, so I know this one is gonna have me by the neck.
It’s 1917, and Korea is yet to be divided into north and south. With the threat of famine looming, a young girl named Jade is sold by her family to Miss Silver’s courtesan school in cosmopolitan Pyongyang, an act of desperation that will cement her place in the lowest social status. But the city’s days as a haven are numbered.
Jade flees to Seoul where she forms a deep friendship with an orphan boy called JungHo, who scrapes together a living begging on the streets. As Jade becomes a sought-after performer with unexpected romantic prospects, JungHo is swept up in the revolutionary fight for independence. Soon Jade must decide between following her own ambitions, or risking everything for the one she loves.
From the perfumed chambers of the courtesan school to the glamorous cafes of a modernising Seoul, the unforgettable characters of Beasts of a Little Land unveil a world where friends become enemies and enemies become saviours, where heroes are persecuted and beasts take many shapes.
HONEY & SPICE, Bolu Babalola
Surprise!! Thee queen of romcom is here, and it’s truly felt TOO long since the release of her glittering and perfect anthology LOVE IN COLOUR. It should come as no surprise to readers that I’m already in my feelings about this new title. Especially with protagonists as undoubtedly perfect for each other as Kiki and Malakai.
The sharp-tongued (and secretly soft-hearted) Kiki Banjo is an expert in relationship-evasion, and likes to keep her feelings close to her chest. As the host of the popular student radio show, Brown Sugar, it is her mission to make sure the women who make up the Afro-Caribbean Society at Whitewell University also do not fall into the mess of ‘situationships’, players and heartbreak.
But when Kiki meets the distressingly handsome and charming newcomer Malakai Korede – who she has publicly denounced as ‘The Wasteman of Whitewell’ – her defences are weakened and her heart is compromised. A clash embroils them in a fake relationship to salvage both their reputations and save their futures, and soon she finds herself in danger of falling for the very man she warned her girls about.
LOVE, WINE AND OTHER HIGHS, Lauren Rae
The book babes of ALL book babes is finally granting us a full-length memoir. After selling out a short memoir on a limited print run, and giving us one of the best newsletters to date, readers will once again be invited into the world of writer Lauren Rae to join her on the journey that is adolescents into adulthood. Carrie Bradshaw is the Walmart version of Lauren Rae.
Lauren Rae thought she had it all sussed out. Leaving her awkward teenage years in the past, the future was hers for the taking. Why shouldn’t she have it all? Dream job, beautiful home, perfect man, great friends…Like Whitney said, ‘I’m Every Woman’―and that’s just who Lauren would be too.
But growing up a young black woman in the early noughties wasn’t quite the dream Lauren had envisioned. Unpaid internships, disappointing men and lying friends challenged her mental strength and pushed her towards the wine bottle. But with a nagging sound that might have been depression ringing in her ears, Lauren picked up her pen and made it her mightiest weapon.
Set to the soundtrack of the new millennium, with Sex and the City on TV and Amy Winehouse on the radio, Lauren Rae’s frank, funny and sometimes heartbreaking memoir will ring more than a few bells for anyone who’s questioned whether they’ll ever find success and happiness.
UGLY, Anita Bhagwandas
Admittedly, because my self-esteem is fragile, I steer away from books that explore the beauty of women. Though with UGLY, I am eager to read about the constrictions and toxicity of eurocentric beauty standards and its impact on brown women – especially when they are young and impressionable.
We’ve all had those moments. The ones where you look in the mirror and nothing feels ok looking back at you. For Anita Bhagwandas, this started when she was a child growing up in South Wales, and it created an enduring internal torment about her looks.
We’re all told that this sadness is just part of ‘being a woman’. We’re encouraged to obsess over it and go to any length to change it, but we’re also ordered to ‘just love ourselves’ from every corner of the internet. But what if there was another way out of the beauty myth? In Ugly, Anita uncovers where these beauty standards started, unpicks why they’ve been perpetuated and unmasks how they’re still being upheld.
It is time to finally break free from those limiting beauty standards, because feeling ugly has nothing to do with us.
EAST SIDE VOICES, edited by Helena Lee
You know the drill. I’m obsessed with anthology and essay collections. I’m even more obsessed to see an incredible list of British East & South East Asian writers being given a platform to not only write about themselves, but to show the world their exceptional writing. It’s not a very apparent fact that there aren’t enough British writers from this demographic being published, so I’m EXPECTING publishing to change that this year.
In this bold, first-of-its kind collection, East Side Voices invites us to explore a dazzling spectrum of experience from the East and Southeast Asian diaspora living in Britain today.
Showcasing original essays and poetry from well-known celebrities, prize-winning literary stars and exciting new writers, East Side Voices takes us many places: from the frontlines of the NHS in the midst of the Covid pandemic, to the set of a Harry Potter film, from a bustling London restaurant to a spirit festival in Myanmar. In the process we navigate the legacies of family history, racial identity, assimilation and difference.
SEX BOMB, Sadia Azmat
The name in itself is reason enough for me to want this on my pre-order list, but the incredibly comedic Sadia Azmat seals the deal. Those familiar with her work are aware of how side-splittingly hilarious this babe is, so if you don’t know, get to know!
Sadia Azmat has many different sides to her, she is the good Muslim sister and the loud and proud comedian, she is the quiet and loving friend and the horny and outspoken one. So why does everyone put her in a box and expect her to choose between one or the other?
In a life of ups and downs, swings and roundabouts, Sadia has learnt the hard way that she can embrace her sexuality and be a proud British-Indian Muslim. From discovering her sexual identity after seeing a copy of Asian Babes on the shelf in the corner shop to rejecting an arranged marriage and feeling distanced from her culture; from her experience dating white and Asian men to her tumultuous relationship with her headscarf, Sadia is unafraid to spill the honest truth.
Sadia finds the funny in every experience she has and this book explodes with personality, warmth and joy. This book is for anyone who has ever felt different or alone; allow this book to fill you up and propel you forward, because we all deserve to feel like a Sex Bomb.
THE INTERPRETER’S DAUGHTER, Teresa Lim
Penguin Random House
For fans of the book WILD SWANS – pass it over, pls. Described as a multi-generational memoir that takes readers across 19th Century China to modern day Singapore, the journey is inspired by a family photograph of Teresa Lim’s, pushing her to discover why one member in particular is left out of the stories told. I will be crying, and I will be happy about it.
In the last years of her life, Teresa Lim’s mother, Violet Chang, had copies of a cherished family photograph made for those in the portrait who were still alive. The photo is mounted on a cream card with the name of the studio stamped at the bottom in Chinese characters.
The place and date on the back: Hong Kong, 1935.
Teresa would often look at this photograph, enticed by the fierceness and beauty of her great-aunt Fanny looking back at her. But Fanny never seemed to feature in the told and retold family stories. Why? she wondered.
This photograph set Teresa on a journey to uncover her family’s remarkable history. Through detective work, serendipity, and the kindness of strangers, she was guided to the fascinating, ordinary, extraordinary life of her great-aunt and her world of sworn spinsters, ghost husbands and the working-class feminists of 19th century south China. But to recover her great-aunt’s past, we first must get to know Fanny’s family, the times and circumstances in which they lived, and the momentous yet forgotten conflicts that would lead to war in Singapore and, ultimately, a long-buried family tragedy.
BLOOD TO POISON, Mary Watson
Shamefully, this will be the first time I’ve read Mary Watson. The South African fantasy novel is inspired by Watson’s upbringing in South Africa during the apartheid, and is all about angry women. As I’ve said before, the subgenre of women indulging their rage is one of my favourites, so it comes as no surprise that this is the top of my YA list.
Seventeen-year-old Savannah is cursed. It’s a sinister family heirloom; passed down through the bloodline for hundreds of years, with one woman in every generation destined to die young. The family call them Hella’s girls, named for their ancestor Hella; the enslaved woman with whom it all began. Hella’s girls are always angry, especially in the months before they die.
The anger is bursting from Savannah – at the men who cat call her in the street, at her mother’s disingenuous fiancé, even at her own loving family. Each fit of rage is bringing her closer to the edge and now Savannah has to act to save herself. Or die trying. Because the key to survival lies in the underbelly of Cape Town, where the sinister veil witches are waiting for just such a girl. Blood to Poison is a furious and mesmerising story about discovering magic, historical rage and love in all its guises.
THE BALLOON THIEF, Aneesa Murufu
I always say people who aren’t Muslim or don’t intimately know the lore of Jinn are mad, because they don’t know what they’re playing with. Which is why when someone who does know – like our debut author Aneesa – I am always eager to see how they’ve transitioned this into their story in a way that feels organic and authentic.
For Khadija, the only escape from her father’s arranged betrothal is the sky. When she spots a rogue hot air balloon fighting against its ropes, she leaps at the chance for adventure.
Khadija soon finds an unlikely ally in a poor glass maker’s apprentice, Jacob. But Jacob is a hari, and Khadija a Ghadaean. The hari are oppressed and restless – their infamous terrorist group, the Hareef, have a new fearsome leader. And the ruling Ghadaeans are brutal in their repression. Soon, a deadly revolution threatens their friendship and their world. The Hareef use forbidden magic, summoning jinn – wicked spirits made of fire – to enact their revenge, forcing Jacob and Khadija to choose what kind of a world they want to save…
THE IVORY KEY, Akshaya Raman
Hot Key Books
A sibling rivalry, an Indian inspired fantasy world, and a beautiful cover! I was instantaneously sold the day it was revealed, and I am aching to get stuck into this. Seldom do I feel obsessively taken with a high-fantasy YA to the point of obsession – real ones will remember how hard I rode for AN EMBER IN THE ASHES – and my literal hotties senses are going mad for this one.
Four siblings. A country in ruin. One quest to save them all.
Vira is desperate to get out of her mother’s shadow and establish her legacy as a revered queen of Ashoka. But with the country’s only quarry running out of magic – a precious resource that has kept Ashoka safe from conflict – she can barely protect her citizens from the looming threat of war. And if her enemies discover this, they’ll stop at nothing to seize the last of the magic.
Vira’s only hope is to find a mysterious object of legend: the Ivory Key, rumoured to unlock a new source of magic. But in order to infiltrate enemy territory and retrieve it, she must reunite with her siblings, torn apart by broken relationships and the different paths their lives have taken. Each of them has something to gain from finding the Ivory Key – and even more to lose if they fail.
Ronak plans to sell it to the highest bidder in exchange for escape from his impending political and unwanted marriage. Kaleb, falsely accused of assassinating the former maharani, needs it to clear his name. And Riya, the runaway sibling who cut all family ties, wants the Key to prove her loyalty to the rebels who took her in. They must work together to survive the treacherous journey. But with each sibling harbouring secrets and their own conflicting agendas, the very thing that brought them together could tear apart their family – and their world – for good.
CONFESSIONS OF AN ALLEGED GOOD GIRL, Joya Goffney
Hot Key Books
Obviously I saved my best for last, and I don’t care if that’s favouritism. We all know how much I loved EXCUSE ME IF I UGLY CRY – the spectacular debut romcom for hottie and bad bitch Joya Goffney – with its endearing characters and plethora of personal and romantic growth. It was the type of romcom that makes you want to hug the book once you’re done, and I have no doubt that Goffney’s follow up will elicit the same emotions.
Monique lives a perfect life – a preacher’s daughter and the girlfriend of the town’s golden boy. But it’s not that simple. She’s torn between her parents who want the pure virginal daughter, and her boyfriend, Dom, who wants to explore the more intimate side of their relationship.
Tired of waiting, her boyfriend breaks up with her, spurring Monique to discover she has a medical condition that makes her far from perfect and she concocts a plan to fix her body and win him back. With the help of her frenemy, Sasha, the overly zealous church girl Monique’s mum pushes her to hang out with, and Reggie, the town’s not-so-good boy, Monique must go on trips to unknown and uncomfortable places to find the treatment that will help her. But in doing so, she must face some home truths: maybe she shouldn’t be fixing her body to please a boy, maybe Sasha is the friend she needed all along, and maybe Reggie isn’t so bad after all.
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