Let’s read books by Black authors!

I made the spur of the moment decision to compile a list of the books I have reviewed by Black authors in a handy masterpost for Black History Month. I have a vague recollection of doing something similar for Pride month years ago when I was still operating primarily on Tumblr, and this seems like as good a time as any to pick that idea up again. The reviews will be (mostly) in order from oldest to newest, with that “mostly” being that I will be lumping reviews together if they’re books by the same author.

1. An Anthology of Fiction by Trans Woman of Color edited by Ellyn Peña and Jamie Berrout

I first reviewed this book back in April 2016 and fell head over heels in love with it. At the time it was only published as an ebook on Gumroad by the Trans Women Writers Collective. Sadly, the collective is no long active. It was forced to shutter in the middle of publishing an expanded edition of the anthology under the new name “Nameless Women: An Anthology of Fiction by Trans Woman of Color.” Despite the shuttering of the collective you can still find “Nameless Women” in hardcopy through Amazon’s self publishing service. As of November 2018, editor Jamie Berrout reported than any remaining royalties and sales would be donated to organizations supporting trans women of color.

2. Falling in Love with Hominids by Nalo Hopkinson

Nalo Hopkinson is a Jamaican-born Canadian writer. I acquired this book as part of a Humble Bundle of LGBTQ fiction, again, back in 2016 and it is honestly one of my favorite books from that collection. A short story anthology, “Falling in Love with Hominids” is a beautiful blend of urban fantasy, queer identity and more. I found it to be an incredibly refreshing read and it definitely revitalized my interest in the fantasy genre. While the aforementioned book bundle has long since ended, you can get a copy of the “Falling in Love with Hominids” here.

3 + 4. StreetSlam: Wishes of a Broken Time and StarLion: Thieves of the Red Night by Leon Langford

“StreetSlam” was the debut novel of author Leon Langford. It is an action packed sci-fi/superhero story with fight scenes right out of a Final Fantasy game. Another review from 2016, it was self published as an ebook, but I’m not sure that it’s available anymore.

We aren’t at too much of a loss however, because “StarLion” came out just last year and it is absolutely riveting. A superhero academy novel, it is the first novel of a series and I, for one, will be watching excitedly for the next book. If you’re looking for a YA novel with a complex and passionate Black protagonist, I cannot recommend this book highly enough. You can find it at Barnes & Noble, Amazon or Bookshop.org.

5. The Opal Charm series by Miri Castor

There are four books in this series so far. I first began reviewing these books with “Path to Dawn” in 2016, followed by “Hope in Nautical Dusk” in 2017; then came the prequel novel, “The Path to Dusk,” in 2019; and, most recently, “Melody of Astronomical Dusk” in 2021. The “Opal Charm” series is a unique take on the “inherited powers emerge at puberty” trope that deals heavily in family legacy and the very real consequences of child heroes through the protagonist’s (our titular Opal) journey to save both her world and the world of her ancestor. The books can be found on Amazon.

6. The Known World by Edward P. Jones

Another review from 2016, this book was brought to my attention during a college course I took on early slave narratives. “The Known World” is a novel set in antebellum Virginia that explores the story of a Black slave owner and the slaves he owns. A beautifully written book, it shows a part of history that isn’t often seen when it comes to popular modern media about the history of slavery. Jones noted, in the Q&A he gave to our class, that he had been inspired by a single footnote about Black slave owners in an old textbook. Definitely worthwhile if this is a time period you are interested in reading about.

7. Bingo Love by Tee Franklin

Now writing for DC, my first introduction to Tee Franklin was through her graphic novel “Bingo Love,” which tells the story of two women of color who fell in love as teenagers, were separated and then reconnected and fell back in love as older women. It’s a wonderful, heartfelt story and, I think, much needed representation for queer individuals who came into their own at an older age. I first reviewed this in 2018 and there are now three editions, with various levels of bonus content. All three editions can be found here.

8. Black on Both Sides: A Racial History of Trans Identity by C. Riley Snorton

“Black on Both Sides” is an excellent and much needed exploration of how race and transgender identity has overlapped in history. Providing a solid theoretical frame work, the book takes us from mid-nineteenth century slave narratives to present day narratives of race and gender. I said it before and I’ll say it again, the discussions of the Brenden Teena archive and the Christine Jorgensen narrative are some of my absolute favorite. I would highly recommend it to anyone studying the history of gender and queerness. Pick up a copy here.

A few honorable mentions:

The following books are all short story/comic anthologies, which I was able to confirm contain stories by Black creators, though not every story is, for which reason I did not want to put them in the same list as the above books.

  1. The Dates anthologies, edited by Zora Gilbert and Cat Parra
    • Of Arms and the Man I Sing written by Paige S. Allen
    • Lulu and Diana by Joamette Gil
  2. Wayward Sisters: An Anthology of Monstrous Women, edited by Allison O’Toole
    • Solid Shadows written by Rachel Simon with art by K. Guillory
    • Cold Call written and illustrated by Xia Gordon
  3. 99% Chance of Magic: Stories of Hope and Strength for Transgender Kids from Heartspark Press
    • The Sisters from the Stars and Melody Song & the Hymns of the Infinate Sadness written by Amy Heart and illustrated by Wriply M. Bennet

Opal Charm: Melody of Astronomical Dusk by Miri Castor

Snapchat of the cover of Opal Charm: Melody of Astronomical Dusk. Opal and her brother Jermaine are being attacked by pillars of blue ice shards. Opal, is controlling two glowing golden fists to punch the ice while Jermaine is wielding a rope of golden water.

Above the scene in soft blue outline is the figure of Samael, the novel's primary antagonist, arms raised like he's controlling the scene. 

A grey bar across the cover indicates the book is "Not for Resale" owing to the fact that it is an advanced reader copy.

The snapchat caption reads: Can we just talk about this cover art? Like... this series has always had top of the line cover art, but this is next level and I'm in love.

Not spoiler free.

This is my new favorite installment in the Opal Charm saga. Everything from cover to the final page left me absolutely thrilled. 

We pick up where we left off at the end of “Hope in Nautical Dusk.” Anza is gone—though she lives on in a way inside of Opal—and Opal is still working as a spy in Samael’s palace as Upala Valora. Our large cast of queer side characters returns, with my personal favorite, trans man Hinata, getting quite a bit of attention—we learn about his motivation and reasons for working for Samael and he gets a bit more sympathetic as far as a guy on the bad side of things goes. 

Now before we get into the plot I would just like to recommend that if it’s been a while since you read “Hope in Nautical Dusk” you should revisit it, because “Melody of Astronomical Dusk” drops you right back into the middle of the action, and oh boy the action.

Excerpt from the novel: "She found Iman standing in front of the band with a bejeweled blade pressed against her cheek. The man with the lump on his back had her pressed to his one side and Ngoc on the other, the smiling boy far too carefree despite being held hostage. His smile remained unchanged as the blade sliced across Iman's cheek."

The Snapchat caption: "Oh boy, page 5 and things are already popping off."

At the top of the page, the page number is circled in blue.

Opal’s relationships have always been in important throughout the series, but they carry particular weight in this book as they become more complicated. We see Opal struggling with her interactions with her co-workers as Valora, because while these people are working for the man who has tried to kill her and her family, working alongside them means that she is exposed to them as people with all the associated complexities as opposed to simply monsters complicit in a cruel and oppressive regime. 

We also see Opal’s personal life become more and more entangled in her work on Athre with JAEL. A mild reveal is that Opal’s grandmother inherited the family’s power of Twilight, which she uses to cultivate a luscious garden. A less mild reveal is that Opal and Jermaine’s cousin Gabriel, who has been mentioned throughout the books as having gone missing, is embroiled in Samael’s schemes. That reveal was absolutely stunning and had me gasping. I won’t spoil more there, as it’s far to delicious a reveal to spoil in its entirety. 

Novel quote: "Pebbles rained from beneath the chunk of the ground Mira stood on. She leaned up and plucked the ripe mangos from the branches, dropping them into her basket. When the tree was free of ripe mangos, she brought her golden platform to the ground, gently shaking the earth again. 'We have a lot to talk about, don't we?'"

Snapchat captain: "GRANDMA'S GOT MAGIC POWERS"

Crucially to Opal’s development with her powers of Twlight, she learns more and finally figures out how to connect with Philomenos, her great-great-grandfather and the source of their powers, after she, Jermaine and Addy travel to Philomenos’ home country of Thesan to determine if the leaders of Thesan have sided with Samael and get a much more complicated and detailed answer than they bargained for (in a good way though). It’s an important step for Opal, who has been struggling for a while with how the revelation of Twilight and her family’s legacy has impacted her sense of identity. 

“Melody of Astronomical Dusk” was released on April 2nd and can be purchased in ebook and paperback format through Amazon. 

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Opal Charm: The Path to Dusk by Miri Castor

Opal Charm: The Path to Dusk by Miri Castor

Despite being the third book published in the “Opal Charm” series, “Opal Charm: The Path to Dusk” is actually a prequel that follows Opal’s older brother Jermaine as he comes into the power called Twilight that runs in the Charm family. 

However, just because this book is a prequel, it doesn’t neccessarily mean that you need to read this book first, if you haven’t already read the other two books in the series, “Opal Charm: The Path to Dawn” and “Opal Charm: Hope in Nautical Dusk.” It became a situation, in my opinion, similar to the “Redwall” books. There are multiple different ways you could read them. You could read them in the order published (“Path to Dawn” —> “Hope in Nautical Dusk” —> “Path to Dusk”),  you could read them chronologically (“Path to Dusk” —> “Path to Dawn” —> “Hope in Nautical Dusk”), or you could start with “Path to Dawn,” bounce back in time and read “Path to Dusk” and then move on to “Hope in Nautical Dusk.” Ultimately the choice is up to you.

Having read the books in the order published myself,  it’s was really great to see how the characters were different in “The Path to Dusk.” They’re younger, they haven’t experience the pain of losing a sibling and child. As the third installment, it’s retrospectively showing us the character development and personality shifts that happen following a tragedy. It was also really nice to see Jermaine and how he fit into the family dynamic, as in the other two books we only really see him as part of the other world, Athre, that he nearly died trying to save.

Another thing that I find indescribably enjoyable is the ability to catch little bits of foreshadowing, because I’ve already read the other two books, I know what the ultimate outcome of this book has to be. 

On a  structural level, I really loved how the book flowed. While it’s not a book you can really zoom through, it’s pacing is excellent and the chapters, while varying in length, never feel unmanageably long. The chapters encapsulate what they need to, without dragging into the unnecessary. 

Furthermore, LGBTQ characters abound as always. Adaeze who first appeared in “Path to Dawn” is asexual and we meet her girlfriend, Lavanda, in “Path to Dusk”! Additionally, Limbani, a disabled trans girl who first appears in “Hope in Nautical Dusk,” also makes an appearance!

If you’ve read the other books you’ll know Adaeze and Lavanda are no longer together and I have to say there was a very small part of me that was worried Lavanda was going to die, but she didn’t! They do break up but there are no buried gays.

The only warnings I can really think of at the moment are for general fantasy violence, but nothing you wouldn’t expect from this kind of young adult novel. 

“Opal Charm: The Path to Dusk” will be released on September 3rd and can be preordered here!

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Opal Charm: Hope in Nautical Dusk by Miri Castor

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[Edit: Originally published March 4, 2017]

This is not a spoiler free review.

Opal Charm is back with a new adventure! Actually it’s not new per say, but it’s a new segment of her ongoing quest. We get to see Opal working with her powers a lot more than we did in the first book, how she develops and strengthens them. We also get to her her develop alongside her brother Jermaine, who for a large portion of the last book was presumed to be dead. I think Jermaine and Opal’s relationship is probably my favorite familial relationship in the book.

We also get a lot of really excellent world and language building for Athre. Opal ends up working (undercover) in a political/bureaucratic place within the government that they’re working to overthrow. Through this and several other events the politics of this world slowly gets more and more revealed to us. The same happens with language. We get snippets of the Athrenian language and culture through Opal learning them, and they get used again and again after they’re introduced. I always love it when fantasy stories have a language that’s been created for it.

Friendship is such an important theme in Hope in Nautical Dusk, just as much as it was in The Path to Dawn. Aaron and Anza/Hope continue to be these fundamental forces of friendship for Opal, but are also a source of conflict. The friendship between Aaron and Opal and Anza and Opal or crucial to the story both in character development and driving plot and it’s beautifully done.

Queer characters abound! Opal starts figuring out her sexuality (she’s bisexual), Adaeze is asexual and her former romantic partner was a girl. We’ve got two, I repeat, Two trans characters, Hinata and Limbani. Hinata’s a trans man and Limbani is a trans woman. I was super excited about that. I love them both so much.

The only big warning I’d give for this book is that there is pretty major character death. Some of this is reversed by time manipulation but some isn’t.

This book is available for preorder here. It comes out officially March 19th.

Related Reviews: Opal Charm: The Path to Dawn

@miricastor

Opal Charm: The Path to Dawn by Miri Castor

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[Edit: Originally published October 23, 2016]

Opal Charm is my favorite kind of unreliable narrator. We only know what Opal gives us and through her own biased lens. She’s dealing with so much emotionally that it screws with her perception of things. Her overcoming that is actually a major point in the story which I thought was absolutely fantastic. Her growth from beginning to end was incredible and wonderfully written.

Opal Charm just wants to get through eighth grade. She’s isolated and miserable and her home life leaves a lot to be desired. But then the new girl at school turns here whole world upside down. And what’s this power she’s supposed to have?

The Path to Dawn revolves around Opal and where she stands in her life, we get a lot of the inside of Opal’s head in relation to how she’s dealing with things, like a messy home life, dealing with her brother’s death three years past, and being the proclaimed savior of an alternate universe. The flashbacks are wonderfully placed and wonderfully executed.   

The Path to Dawn is a little bit of a slow read. (Though that’s not why it took me a million years to finish reading it.) The action takes place over a long period of time and the build up to the action involves a lot of decision making and more subtle events. Most of the really big climactic action, takes place within a single chapter. This is not to say that it’s boring, but it’s a book that demands you take your time with it.

Warnings:

I’m not going to lie Opal’s parents, her mother in particular, read as abusive to me. Part of that may be due to Opal’s unreliable narration, but not all of it. Opal’s mother is constantly assuming that she’s lying/doing drugs/etc., and she belittles Opal’s grief in light of her own. Some of this comes from Opal’s parents own poor ways of dealing with things, though that doesn’t make their actions any better. A lot of what pings as abusive to me is stuff I’ve experienced in my own life. Tread cautiously if you think that a situation like that might affect you aversely. I certainly know there were scenes with Opal’s parents that I had trouble reading. 

Illness (spoiler alert): A major plot point is that the water in their town gets poisoned leaving a lot of people sick. There are a couple scenes in the hospital and a lot of worry about the illness and characters dying.

All in all, I loved the book and the teaser for book two provided at the end of The Path to Dawn has me on the edge of my seat waiting for more.

You can find the book on Amazon here.

Related Reviews: Opal Charm: Hope in Nautical Dusk