7 Great Books By Writers of Color From the First Half of 2020

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Always books. Never boring.

This is a guest post from Jennifer Hillier. She is the author of six psychological thrillers, including Jar of Hearts (ITW Thriller Award winner for Best Hardcover Novel 2019) and the recently released Little Secrets. Born and raised in Toronto, she spent eight years in Seattle, which is where all her books are set. You can find her on Twitter at @JenniferHillier.

During these first couple of months of lockdown, I’ve had a hard time focusing on anything other than the pandemic and homeschooling my 5-year-old. Between anxiety over the state of the world, the health of everyone I care about, trying to get my kindergarten-age son to do the school assignments we receive without crying (me, not him), and a book launch (my sixth thriller, Little Secrets, released on April 21), it’s been a challenge to find the energy to read at the pace I used to.

But I am still reading, just a little slower than before. My quarantine reading list features seven books that are a mix of new titles I’m excited about, and recent favorites I’m looking forward to reading again. The one thing they all share, though, is they’re books by writers whose voices I’m always happy to amplify: they’re all written by authors of color, like me.

Miracle Creek by Angie Kim

I didn’t need this book’s new paperback release as an excuse to reread Kim’s Edgar-winning debut novel, but there’s no better time to pick it up again. At its core, this is the painful story of a mother on trial for the murder of her own son, but it’s so much more than that: it’s also about the Korean immigrant family who owned and operated the experimental medical chamber that exploded, killing two people; the challenges of parents raising children on the Autism spectrum who allow their kids to participate in these treatments; the outrage of protesters who don’t believe the treatments are safe; the judgement of the small town where it all takes place. This brave and powerful novel is full of timely issues that can be difficult to talk about, wrapped up in a riveting legal thriller.

Out now from Farrar, Strauss, and Giroux

Coyote_SongsCoyote Songs by Gabino Iglesias

It’s nearly impossible to dial this book—described as barrio noir by the author himself—down to a few sentences, so I won’t even try. On the surface, this is a novel about the desperation and hope of those who live along the U.S.-Mexican border, but each chapter can stand on its own as a compelling, fully realized short story. I first read Coyote Songs right when it was released, but there is so much magic in Iglesias’s writing that I’m compelled to dive back in. Will my favorite chapter of the book, titled “The Coyote,” rip my heart out a second time? I’m betting it will, and I’m both yearning and terrified to feel it all over again.

Out now from Broken River Books

cover image: lots of fog with a city landscape at the top and at the bottom a bridge and forestThe Lost Ones (Book #1 of the Nora Watts series) by Sheena Kamal

I’m embarrassed to admit that Kamal is a new-to-me author, even though she and I both live in the Toronto area and travel in similar book circles. But the silver lining to discovering someone who’s not actually new is that I get to catch up on all the fantastic books she’s written, all at once. Kamal’s first book in her Nora Watts series stars a homeless biracial protagonist who grew up in the foster system and learns that the daughter she gave up for adoption is now missing. I certainly didn’t need Roxane Gay, a fan of Kamal’s, to endorse this series to make me want to read it—I just finished reading Kamal’s YA novel, Fight Like a Girl, and loved it—but Gay’s enthusiasm only makes me more excited.

Out now from William Morrow

The Chai Factor by Farah Heron

As a thriller writer, the perfect antidote for getting myself out of my own dark head space is something fresh and funny, so I’m eager to dive into this recent release by Heron, another Toronto-based author like myself. Described as a laugh-out-loud romance, it stars Amira Khan, a Muslim Canadian who’s on the verge of finishing her master’s thesis when she falls for Duncan, a member of the barbershop quartet now renting her grandmother’s basement. Differing cultures and racial intolerances promise to keep this romcom grounded in reality, and I expect that Heron won’t shy away from exploring the very real challenges of being in a mixed race relationship, which something I can personally relate to.

Out now from Harper Collins

The Deep by Alma Katsu

I’m a sucker for a gorgeous cover, and the hardcover jacket for Katsu’s newest historical thriller is as haunting as its premise. This eerie and unsettling novel stars Annie, a nurse who survived the sinking of the Titanic. She’s now working as a nurse on its sister ship, the Britannic, when she comes across an unconscious patient who was also on the Titanic with her years earlier…except he died back then. Didn’t he? Katsu has a knack for taking the history lessons we all thought we learned and crafting an even more twisted story out of them, making this book one of my most highly anticipated reads for 2020.

Out now from G.P. Putnam’s Sons

The Wife by Alafair Burke

Burke, already a powerhouse writer with an impressive career, wrote three of my favorite thrillers of the past three years: The Ex, The Wife, and The Better Sister. They’re all excellent, but the one I most want to reread is The Wife, my favorite-favorite. Angela is married to economics professor and now bestselling author Jason, who’s been accused of sexual harassment at the height of his career, allegations he strongly denies. When one of his accusers disappears, Angela—with an interesting, tragic past of her own—must decide whether she believes her husband or believes the women. This book kept me twisting and turning the entire way through the first time, and I’m looking forward to the ride all over again.

Out now from Harper Collins

Blacktop Wasteland by S.A. Cosby

I was lucky to get an early copy of Cosby’s hotly anticipated novel in my grabby little hands a few months back, and while it’s not out until the summer, it’s not too early to tell every single person I know about it so they can preorder it. The story centers around Bug, a hardworking mechanic and loving family man who thought he’d left a life of crime behind him until he gets pulled back in to be the getaway driver in a jewelry store heist. As a reader, it was a special kind of angst to root for a character who refuses to root for himself, and this story is bleak, gritty, and emotional in all the best ways. By the end I was utterly spent, and it was utterly worth it.

Coming July 2020 from Flatiron Books.