Black History Month may be over in the UK but it’s always a good time to celebrate black British authors and stories.
I keep a list of books I intend on reading next but I don’t always stick to it and usually end up reading whatever I feel like at the time. I read some dope books in October, mostly by black British authors, and wanted to share my thoughts on them below. Let’s support and celebrate black British authors all year round; not only in October.
Thank you to Joelyn at Hachette UK for sending me a physical copy of the Little Black Book (see feature image) and to everyone involved in creating it. The Little Black Book is a guide to black British events, businesses, booksellers and more. Check out #HachetteBHM19 on Twitter to see Black History Month book recommendations by Hachette UK’s THRIVE network.
The Vacation Lodge by D.J. Walters
Raven, an accountant from London, goes on holiday to Jamaica where she stays at a hotel called the Vacation Lodge. When she meets handsome and charming hotel worker Nelson, there’s an instant, undeniable attraction between them and Raven is about to experience a holiday she’ll never forget. The Vacation Lodge is the first book in Walters’ “erotically thrilling” series.
I was very fond of Raven, the protagonist. She made me laugh and I resonated with her a lot. One of my favourite things about The Vacation Lodge was the way Raven talks about Jamaica – the sights, sounds, smells, tastes and people. Her vivid descriptions made me fall in love with the island even though I’ve never been there.
The sex scenes in this book are hot. Walters has a way of taking her readers’ imagination to unexpected places (in a good way!). There’s a laundry room scene in the first half of the book that I enjoyed so much, I had to re-read it three times.
The pacing of the story is excellent. It didn’t drag at any point and there were a few plot twists that I didn’t see coming. The Vacation Lodge is a well-written, steamy and tantalising story that keeps you turning the page and on the edge of your seat.
My rating: 8/10
The Vacation Lodge II: Between a Rock and a Hard Place by D.J. Walters
Raven returns to Jamaica to tie the knot with her fiancé, about a year after her holiday romance with Nelson. Like her previous trip to Jamaica, this one is also unforgettable but not necessarily for the right reasons. Perhaps inevitably, she ends up crossing paths with Nelson once again. The circumstances that bring them together this time, however, are quite different to the last time they saw each other.
Walters did an amazing job with the plot because again, I could not put this book down. This one was more gripping, contained more shocking twists and is also darker than the first book. There seemed to be fewer sex scenes but they were just as vivid and felt more sensual this time around. One of my favourite things about The Vacation Lodge II was Raven and Nelson’s individual characters arcs and seeing how their relationship develops throughout the story. I felt like I got to know the characters on a deeper level, which made it even better.
My rating: 9/10
I’m loving this book series and am impatiently waiting for The Vacation Lodge III. Walters is a gifted writer who knows how to hook her readers from the first page, build up suspense and write sensational sex scenes. For a memorable read that’s full of sun, sand, cocktails and LOTS of orgasms, check out this brilliant series by D.J. Walters.
The Vacation Lodge III: The Final Destination eBook is out on 29 November 2019. All books in this series are available via the author’s website.
Palette: The Beauty Bible for Women of Colour by Funmi Fetto
I’ve been looking forward to this book for what feels like forever. I’m happy to say it exceeded my expectations. Fetto, who is the Executive Editor and Beauty Director of Glamour magazine, draws on her experience as a beauty journalist to recommend the best products around for black women. The book is split into three sections, skincare, makeup and haircare, and features gorgeous illustrations by Spiros Halaris.
Fetto’s voice is warm and conversational yet authoritative. She shares honest thoughts on every product in the book, even mentioning aspects where some of them fall short. I love that she included products to suit a range of needs and budgets, from affordable to high end. I don’t wear makeup often and am more interested in skin and hair care, and I LOVE Palette. The book lists classic products that black women have adored for yonks (think MAC’s Chestnut lip pencil and Sunny Isle Jamaican Black Castor Oil) and some newer and lesser-known products. It’s great to finally have a coffee table book that proudly centres the needs and interests of people who have been an afterthought within the beauty industry for far too long.
To say that Fetto is a beauty expert worth her salt would be a severe understatement. When she speaks, I’m always ready to listen.
My rating: 9/10
Palette: The Beauty Bible for Women of Colour by Funmi Fetto is published by Coronet Books / Hodder & Stoughton
Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo
Bernardine Evaristo’s eighth novel Girl, Woman, Other recently won the 2019 Booker Prize. Evaristo is the first black woman to win this prestigious literary award. The novel is focused on twelve people in the UK, predominantly black womxn, whose lives are interconnected in some way. The 12 characters are of different ages, sexualities, gender identities and ethnicities.
Girl, Woman, Other is the first Bernardine Evaristo novel I’ve read. The characterisation in it is brilliant. Each person in the book feels distinct and layered, and some are more likeable than others. Readers get a true sense of who each person is and what makes them tick. I loved how different each character was, it kept the story interesting.
I listened to the audiobook of Girl, Woman, Other and didn’t feel lost or confused at any point. It was compelling from start to finish. I haven’t read a novel like Girl, Woman, Other before. Evaristo’s ability to weave so many characters and stories together in a way that’s so seamless and perfect makes this book outstanding for me. The book addresses many topics, but a common theme that runs throughout it is what it means to be a non-white person, especially a non-white woman, in the UK. Evaristo portrays the beauty and complexities of black womanhood and black Britishness so well and her writing is exceptional.
My rating: 9/10
Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo is published by Hamish Hamilton
The Windrush Betrayal: Exposing the Hostile Environment by Amelia Gentleman
Since late 2017, the Guardian has published a series of articles detailing the immigration struggles of long-term UK residents who have lived in Britain almost their entire lives. In what is now known as the Windrush scandal, large numbers of retirement-age Caribbean people have been wrongfully classified as illegal immigrants by the Home Office. Most of these people legally travelled to the UK from Caribbean commonwealth countries as children and perhaps more importantly, as British subjects before 1973.
The Windrush Betrayal: Exposing the Hostile Environment is Gentleman’s account of her investigation into the scandal and an examination of how Theresa May’s so-called hostile environment immigration policy created the conditions for this scandal to occur in the first place. The book shares stories of several Windrush victims that Gentleman has interviewed in the past couple of years. They talk about the devastating effect the scandal has had on their lives and the horrendous, brutal treatment the Home Office subjected them to. It’s a deeply-upsetting and rage-inducing read.
The book explores many issues such as precarious public attitudes towards immigration, Britain’s colonial history and institutional racism. This scandal is a complex topic but Gentleman discusses the issues surrounding it in a concise, engaging way that is easy to digest. I liked her thoughtful approach to the book. She speaks candidly about the difficulties she encountered throughout her investigation and critiques the so-called hostile environment. My favourite chapters were ‘Deportations’, ‘Whistleblowers’ and ‘A Political Explosion’.
The Windrush Betrayal: Exposing the Hostile Environment is an eye-opening, moving and important book. It centres the voices of those most affected by the Windrush scandal and reminds us of the power of journalism to spark change.
My rating: 10/10
*I was kindly given an advanced copy of this book shortly before publication. The Windrush Betrayal: Exposing the Hostile Environment by Amelia Gentleman is published by Guardian Faber.
Belly Full: Caribbean Food in the UK by Riaz Phillips
I’ve owned this book for about two years now but I’ve only sat down and read it properly in the past few weeks. When I read about Phillips’ mission to document Afro-Caribbean food across the UK, I immediately backed his Kickstarter campaign to self-publish Belly Full.
Belly Full is a collection of personal histories and anecdotes from the owners and chefs of Caribbean eateries around the country. Phillips showcases a vast selection of Afro-Caribbean food businesses across the UK, including places such as Leeds, Birmingham, Yorkshire, Oxford and of course, London.
The book contains three sections: Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner. It’s not a series of food/restaurant reviews or a cookbook. The book’s focus is the people and histories behind these businesses. Phillips’ writing conveys the individual personalities and collective zeal of those featured in the book incredibly well. They share stories about family, culture, community, entrepreneurship, home and belonging. The places listed in the book are much more than just food establishments. The value they bring to their communities extends way beyond the contents of their menus and shelves.
Belly Full beautifully explores the full breadth and rich history of Caribbean cuisine (and the preservation of Caribbean culture more broadly), complete with stunning portraits and mouth-watering food photography. It’s a wonderful book for foodies, and those interested in Caribbean culture in the UK.
Belly Full: Caribbean Food in the UK is published by Tezeta Press. Hardback copies are currently sold out but you can still purchase the digital version.
My rating: 10/10
I’d love to know what books you like to read during Black History Month. Are there any books by black British authors that you’ve enjoyed recently? Let me know in the comments or feel free to tweet me @misstenelle!