My favorite reads in Q3 2021

by Gigi Griffis
Books on tablet

Happy October! The month of pumpkins and spook is finally upon us, which means the third quarter of the year has slipped through our respective grasps. As usual, I’ve been reading and keeping track of my favorite books. So if you’re looking for a compelling new YA sci-fi to lose yourself in or a thoughtful piece of non-fiction, I’ve got you covered.

This quarter I read 23(ish) manuscripts, including a nonfiction re-read that I skimmed for info (thus the ish). I also DNFed (did not finish) 10 books after reading at least a couple chapters. 

Here’s this quarter’s recommendations:

(Please note that links below are affiliate links, which means if you click through and purchase something, I get a small commission at no extra cost to you.)

(Books marked with an * were written by a writer from a marginalized group. By supporting these authors, you’re telling publishers we want more books from underrepresented authors. Yet another win-win situation.)

The Weight of Our Sky*

Why I loved it: WOW. First off, this is the most accurate representation of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) I’ve ever seen on the page. Second, this is a piece of history I knew nothing about and I was on the edge of my seat – by turns sick, sad, angry, and terrified for the main character. This book is incredibly well-written and compelling. 

Keep in mind that the book deals with racist violence, loss/grief, and other heavy topics. Go into it with the right headspace.

Description: Melati Ahmad looks like your typical movie-going, Beatles-obsessed sixteen-year-old. Unlike most other sixteen-year-olds though, Mel also believes that she harbors a djinn inside her, one who threatens her with horrific images of her mother’s death unless she adheres to an elaborate ritual of counting and tapping to keep him satisfied.

A trip to the movies after school turns into a nightmare when the city erupts into violent race riots between the Chinese and the Malay. When gangsters come into the theater and hold movie-goers hostage, Mel, a Malay, is saved by a Chinese woman, but has to leave her best friend behind to die.

On their journey through town, Mel sees for herself the devastation caused by the riots. In her village, a neighbor tells her that her mother, a nurse, was called in to help with the many bodies piling up at the hospital. Mel must survive on her own, with the help of a few kind strangers, until she finds her mother. But the djinn in her mind threatens her ability to cope.

The Ones We’re Meant to Find*

Why I loved it: Do humans deserve to survive a planet-destroying climate crisis we created? This is the question at the heart of this gorgeously-written, well-plotted YA novel. Set in the future, it follows two sisters as one tries to find her way back to the other and the other tries to find out what has happened to the first – all against the backdrop of a world rendered nearly uninhabitable.

Description: Cee awoke on an abandoned island three years ago. With no idea of how she was marooned, she only has a rickety house, an old android, and a single memory: She has a sister, and Cee needs to find her.

STEM prodigy Kasey wants escape from the science and home she once trusted. The Metropolis – Earth’s last unpolluted place – is meant to be sanctuary for those committed to planetary protection, but it’s populated by people willing to do anything for refuge, even lie. Now, she’ll have to decide if she’s ready to use science to help humanity, even though it failed the people who mattered most.

The Girls I’ve Been*

Why I loved it: When three teens are held hostage by bank robbers, they’ll need to outsmart their captors if they want to survive. On its face, that’s what this book is about, but as the layers of the teens’ histories are revealed, the story digs deeper. It’s really a book about abuse. Survival. Coming to terms with yourself.

I loved the storytelling. I resonated strongly with the deeper storyline. And I adored the characters, every single one of them worth fighting for. 

Description: Nora O’Malley’s been a lot of girls. As the daughter of a con-artist who targets criminal men, she grew up as her mother’s protégé. But when her mom fell for the mark instead of conning him, Nora pulled the ultimate con: escape. 

For five years Nora’s been playing at normal. But she needs to dust off the skills she ditched because she has three problems:

#1: Her ex walked in on her with her girlfriend. Even though they’re all friends, Wes didn’t know about her and Iris.

#2: The morning after Wes finds them kissing, they all have to meet to deposit the fundraiser money they raised at the bank. It’s a nightmare that goes from awkward to deadly, because:

#3: Right after they enter the bank, two guys start robbing it. 

The bank robbers may be trouble, but Nora’s something else entirely. They have no idea who they’re really holding hostage….

Minor Feelings: An Asian-American Reckoning*

Why I loved it: This smart, thoughtful non-fiction book reads like memoir and think piece wrapped up together. It inspired a thoughtful conversation or two with friends and was well worth the read.

Description: Poet and essayist Cathy Park Hong fearlessly and provocatively blends memoir, cultural criticism, and history to expose fresh truths about racialized consciousness in America. Part memoir and part cultural criticism, this collection is vulnerable, humorous, and provocative – and its relentless and riveting pursuit of vital questions around family and friendship, art and politics, identity and individuality, will change the way you think about our world.

Binding these essays together is Hong’s theory of “minor feelings”. As the daughter of Korean immigrants, Cathy Park Hong grew up steeped in shame, suspicion, and melancholy. She would later understand that these “minor feelings” occur when American optimism contradicts your own reality – when you believe the lies you’re told about your own racial identity. Minor feelings are not small, they’re dissonant – and in their tension Hong finds the key to the questions that haunt her. 

Confident Women: Swindlers, Grifters, and Shapeshifters of the Feminine Persuasion

Why I loved it: Y’all know I’m a history nerd, especially when that history focuses in on women. So you probably already know that I was destined to enjoy this book of lady con artists. If you’re looking for some fun, educational non-fiction, this is the pick. 

Description: From Elizabeth Holmes and Anna Delvey to Frank Abagnale and Charles Ponzi, audacious scams and charismatic scammers continue to intrigue us as a culture. As Tori Telfer reveals in Confident Women, the art of the con has a long and venerable tradition, and its female practitioners are some of the best – or worst.

In the 1700s in Paris, Jeanne de Saint-Rémy scammed the royal jewelers out of a necklace made from 647 diamonds by pretending she was best friends with Queen Marie Antoinette.

In the mid-1800s, sisters Kate and Maggie Fox began pretending they could speak to spirits and accidentally started a religious movement that was soon crawling with female con artists. A gal calling herself Loreta Janeta Velasquez claimed to be a soldier and convinced people she worked for the Confederacy – or the Union, depending on who she was talking to. Meanwhile, Cassie Chadwick was forging paperwork and getting banks to loan her upward of $40,000 by telling people she was Andrew Carnegie’s illegitimate daughter.

In the 1900s, a 40-something woman named Margaret Lydia Burton embezzled money all over the country and stole upward of 40 prized show dogs, while a few decades later, a teenager named Roxie Ann Rice scammed the entire NFL. And since the death of the Romanovs, women claiming to be Anastasia have been selling their stories to magazines. What about today? Spoiler alert: These “artists” are still conning.

What have you been reading lately?

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