Curious what the NetGalley team is reading? Wish you could steal a peek at our bookshelves? You’ve come to the right place. Check out the books we’re recommending this month, and share your favorite recent reads in the comments!
Finding Joy by Adriana Herrera
Adriana Herrera is back with a romance that captures the joy found in being seen as you are. Desta, a Dominican-American emergency relief worker, finds himself confronting the loss of his father and the ways he’s attempted to live up to his memory when he returns to Ethiopia for work. It’s there he meets Elias, his Ethiopian coworker with a smile (and eyebrows) he can’t get enough of. I read Finding Joy in a single sitting, not wanting to leave Desta and Elias for a second. A central theme in the romance genre is being seen and loved for who you are, and Herrera explores that in multiple ways here—from Elias coming out to his family, to Desta sharing his dreams for his own life with his mother. Herrera beautifully explores the nuances around living a life you’re proud of through characters who are both learning to seek happiness for themselves, rather than following a path their loved ones want for them. In the author’s note, Herrera calls Finding Joy a love letter to Ethiopia and it truly is. Through Desta’s eyes, she guides the reader through the scenery, food, coffee, and culture of Ethiopia—sharing the incredible beauty and kindness found there, as well as the harsh realities that queer people living there face. This book celebrates the fact that everyone deserves a happily ever after, while also examining the fact that it isn’t yet safe for some people to live their lives as they truly are. On shelves now, Finding Joy is another winner from Herrera—a stunning must-read for readers who enjoyed her other books, and a great place to start for newbies.
You Should See Me in a Crown by Leah Johnson
Leah Johnson’s debut YA novel follows high schooler Liz Lighty, who is hoping to secure a scholarship through her school’s prom queen competition. The last thing Liz expects is that the journey to the crown will reconnect her with an old friend, change her relationship with another, and ultimately introduce her to the girl who might steal her heart. I loved everything about this book. Liz is a character who worries so much about her loved ones and about how she presents herself to the world around her, and it was fantastic to read along as she learned to go after what she really wanted and to forget about who might be watching and judging. Her family and friends all know that she’s queer, but she doesn’t think she has a shot at winning if her small-town school found out. Her relationship with Mack, the new girl in school who is also competing to be queen, perfectly captured how fun, exhilarating, and nerve-wracking a new crush can be. Mack wanted to understand and support Liz, but also knew when to draw her own limits in how she was willing to be treated when it came to Liz wanting to hide their relationship. The way things came together for these two in the end was perfect. I also loved the special attention Johnson played to friendships in this book—specifically how at that age they can shift and change in the blink of an eye, but that true friends are always there for each other. I listened to the audiobook and the narrator, Alaska Jackson, does a really fantastic job of expressing Liz’s sarcasm and wry humor. If you’re looking for your next audiobook, I’d recommend this YA gem.
Shuri, Vol. 1: The Search For Black Panther by Nnedi Okorafor, illustrated by Leonardo Romero
This year I started wading into the world of comics—which can be really intimidating! I love graphic novels and they’ve become a fantastic entry point to this medium, but superhero comics in particular often interconnect stories in complex ways that aren’t always obvious to new readers. Shuri felt like a great place to start since she was my favorite character from Black Panther, and while this installment works as a puzzle piece in a greater comics story, it still felt really accessible from the POV of a reader who has seen (but doesn’t obsess over) Marvel movies. The story kicks off with a space mission that leads to T’Challa going missing, and Shuri being called upon to step up by not just Wakanda but all of Africa. Shuri is most comfortable in her lab, but soon finds strength in herself to pave her own path, one that allows her to serve her people without being in her brother’s shadow. Earlier this year, my book club read the Binti series by Nnedi Okorafor, and I loved getting to see Okorafor bring her voice and imagination to the world of Wakanda. This is the first of two volumes, and I cannot wait to see what happens next.
The Boyfriend Project by Farrah Rochon
The Boyfriend Project is the first in a new contemporary romance series. The story kicks off with a viral tweet that leads Samiah to the discovery that her boyfriend has been seeing other women. The women involved become fast friends, and provide Samiah with the support she needs to start actively going after her dreams. The three swear off men while they focus on their own goals, but Samiah soon finds herself drawn to her very cute new coworker. Samiah isn’t sure about entering into an office romance, but Daniel is keeping a secret, one that means a romance between them is technically forbidden. I loved reading along as they fought their feelings and finally gave in, and especially appreciated the way female friendship is a vital part of this story. The cherry on top of the reading experience was getting to interview Rochon to learn more about the inspiration behind The Boyfriend Project. I’m already looking forward to the second installment!
Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson
Just Mercy is the account of a lawyer who takes on clients who have received unjust sentences, for example, people on death row who had no real defense offered on their behalf, the innocent who were very obviously falsely accused (or evidence illegally suppressed), children housed in adult prisons, or children sentenced to life in prison. Excellently written, this book reads like a novel, which was a pleasant surprise considering how many legal matters were discussed. It revealed a stunning amount of injustice within our country’s legal system, and showed the overwhelming amount of overt racism at work—from the police officers to the judges to the prison guards. But this was not a book without hope. It also showed the power of one man standing up against the system, standing up for what is right and insisting over and over again that the truth needed to be heard. Enlightening, educational, heartbreaking, and inspirational— Just Mercy is the sort of book that motivates readers to step up and ask what they can do to stop injustice.
The Deep by Rivers Solomon with Daveed Diggs, William Hutson, Jonathan Snipes
The Deep is one of the most interesting fantasy books I’ve read in a long time. It’s inspired by the Hugo Award-nominated song “The Deep” from Daveed Diggs’ rap group clipping., which blends the horrific history of enslaved Africans being thrown overboard during the transatlantic slave trade with a folklore narrative of their children surviving and living underwater. Their descendants are mermaids, wajinru, who have the ability to pass down their memories through generations. The beauty of this book is in the way Rivers Solomon conveys shared trauma and experiences through Yetu, who is the history keeper and holds the “remembrance.” In some ways, this felt like akin to The Giver by Lois Lowry, but so much more powerful because of the metaphor it holds about the Black experience. Yetu has a really beautiful relationship with a human woman she meets and the discussions of gender were fantastic. The writing in this short novella is gorgeous and compelling as Solomon digs deep into themes of pain and otherness. Daveed Diggs is the narrator of the audiobook and does an amazing job of picking up the poetic beats of Solomon’s writing. The audiobook also included a really cool interview about how his group’s song inspired this book.
Rebel by Beverly Jenkins
I just read my first Beverly Jenkins and it was fantastic. Rebel takes place in New Orleans in the aftermath of the Civil War. The heroine Valinda is from New York and has moved to the South to start a school. When a racist group targets her and her school, she’s saved by Captain Drake LeVeq, a stand-up gentleman trying to make the city he loves a better place. I absolutely adored the whole LeVeq family, who made this book feel so warm and comforting to read. Valinda was a great heroine who cared deeply for others, and Drake was so swoony. He knew from the get-go that Valinda was his girl. If you’re an alpha hero fan, but want him to be a stand-up guy, then Drake is your man. I can’t wait to read another of Beverly Jenkins’ books!
Clap When You Land by Elizabeth Acevedo
Elizabeth Acevedo is definitely a new favorite author for me. Clap When You Land is a beautiful novel-in-verse following two teen girls: Yahaira, who lives in New York City, and Camino, who lives in the Dominican Republic. The two have never met but their lives are upended after they learn their father has died in a plane crash, leading to the revelation that the man they looked up to kept these two sisters apart. Acevedo is an incredibly powerful writer and her verse is gorgeously lyrical. I listened to this as an audiobook and loved that Acevedo narrates one of the points of view. The other narrator, Melania-Luisa Marte, actually sounds a lot like Acevedo, which was really perfect for this story about sisters. Clap When You Land deals with themes of grief, poverty, disconnect from one’s cultural heritage, sexual harassment and trafficking, and cheating. As a reader, you feel connected to both of these girls and their individual struggles, even when they’re directly in conflict with each other. I definitely shed tears at the end of this book, but like the story my tears were complex—filled with both grief and hope.
Forbidden Promises by Synithia Williams
If you’re in the mood for a soapy and dramatic romance, I’ve got the perfect rec for you! Synithia Williams’ Forbidden Promises was so much fun. It follows India Robidoux, who has spent several years abroad in a traveling philharmonic orchestra and comes home to her wealthy family to find her brother is running for office. There she meets his best friend, Travis, who just so happens to be her sister’s ex-husband and, of course, India’s had a crush on him for forever. Forbidden Promises takes the brother’s best friend trope and makes the stakes even higher. It’s so juicy and fueled with tension. I couldn’t put it down. If you’re looking for over-the-top family drama (think Dynasty) with set up for future family members’ books, this is a must-read!
Frankie Manning: Ambassador of Lindy Hop by Frankie Manning and Cynthia R. Millman
When most people think about swing dancing they envision a fast, high-energy dance, with big smiles and a dancer getting tossed in the air. Frankie Manning was one of the great originators of Lindy Hop, a uniquely American dance born out of Harlem. He rubbed shoulders with Ella Fitzgerald and Chick Webb, among others, and is the originator of the ‘air step’ (search “Hellzapoppin'” for a video of his most famous choreography). Though he achieved success in film and on stage, Manning started out as a kid social dancing in the ballrooms of Harlem. This memoir takes us from his birth in 1914, through his humble upbringing during the Great Depression and the Harlem Renaissance, and into the early 2000s when he came out of retirement to teach a whole new batch of swing dancers. This book will transport you to the legendary Savoy Ballroom, a racially integrated ballroom in Harlem, and all around the world. Lindy Hop is alive and well, and Frankie Manning is one major reason for it.