Hello everyone and welcome to one of our most popular monthly posts: Book of the Month At A Glance. Its a post where we share our breakdown of Book of the Month’s monthly selections and add ons. We pour over countless reviews, read excerpts and explore the themes of each pick in order to help you better decide the right pick(s) for you. That way, you can spend less time researching and more time reading.
This months picks had a lot more commercial fiction than usual, but for some that might not be a negative thing! It was also a month of debuts and solid genre picks, though we’re left wishing they had included a fantasy or sci-fi choice.
As always, if there is anything we am leaving out of these posts, let us know and we will do our best to include it. Regardless, we hope our post gets you excited for this month’s selections and that you find something you know you’ll love!
Black Cake by Charmaine Wilkerson (Contemporary Fiction)Black Cake by Charmaine Wilkerson
Published by Ballantine Books on February 1, 2022
In this moving debut novel, two estranged siblings must set aside their differences to deal with their mother's death and her hidden past--a journey of discovery that takes them from the Caribbean to London to California and ends with her famous black cake.
We can't choose what we inherit. But can we choose who we become?In present-day California, Eleanor Bennett's death leaves behind a puzzling inheritance for her two children, Byron and Benny: a traditional Caribbean black cake, made from a family recipe with a long history, and a voice recording. In her message, Eleanor shares a tumultuous story about a headstrong young swimmer who escapes her island home under suspicion of murder. The heartbreaking tale Eleanor unfolds, the secrets she still holds back, and the mystery of a long-lost child, challenge everything the siblings thought they knew about their lineage, and themselves.
Can Byron and Benny reclaim their once-close relationship, piece together Eleanor's true history, and fulfill her final request to "share the black cake when the time is right"? Will their mother's revelations bring them back together or leave them feeling more lost than ever?
Charmaine Wilkerson's debut novel is a story of how the inheritance of betrayals, secrets, memories, and even names, can shape relationships and history. Deeply evocative and beautifully written, Black Cake is an extraordinary journey through the life of a family changed forever by the choices of its matriarch.
With comparisons to tons of previous Book of the Month selections as well as plenty of themes that Book of the Month likes to highlight, Black Cake is a contemporary fiction novel that fits right home among previous picks. The publisher has compared this one to novels like The Vanishing Half, The Girl With the Louding Voice, Ask Again Yes, and Searching for Sylvie Lee. It’s a debut about two estranged siblings who set aside their differences and come together when their mother dies. Together, they uncover the truth about their deceased parent and set out on a journey that takes them from the Caribbean all the way to London and it all begins with a strange and rather esoteric inheritance: a black cake. Combining themes of family, secrets, love, and identity, Black Cake is a novel global in scope and heart warming in its delivery. For the most part, reviewers seem to love this family saga but some took issue with the pacing and the way the narrative frequently jumped around and felt scattered. But if you are looking for a longer fiction novel, you’ll definitely want to pick this one up.
The Magnolia Palace by Fiona Davis (Historical Fiction)The Magnolia Palace by Fiona Davis
Published by Dutton on January 25, 2022
Fiona Davis, New York Times bestselling author of The Lions of Fifth Avenue, returns with a tantalizing novel about the secrets, betrayal, and murder within one of New York City’s most impressive Gilded Age mansions.
Eight months since losing her mother in the Spanish flu outbreak of 1919, twenty-one-year-old Lillian Carter’s life has completely fallen apart. For the past six years, under the moniker Angelica, Lillian was one of the most sought-after artists’ models in New York City, with statues based on her figure gracing landmarks from the Plaza Hotel to the Brooklyn Bridge. But with her mother gone, a grieving Lillian is rudderless and desperate—the work has dried up and a looming scandal has left her entirely without a safe haven. So when she stumbles upon an employment opportunity at the Frick mansion—a building that, ironically, bears her own visage—Lillian jumps at the chance. But the longer she works as a private secretary to the imperious and demanding Helen Frick, the daughter and heiress of industrialist and art patron Henry Clay Frick, the more deeply her life gets intertwined with that of the family—pulling her into a tangled web of romantic trysts, stolen jewels, and family drama that runs so deep, the stakes just may be life or death.
Nearly fifty years later, mod English model Veronica Weber has her own chance to make her career—and with it, earn the money she needs to support her family back home—within the walls of the former Frick residence, now converted into one of New York City’s most impressive museums. But when she—along with a charming intern/budding art curator named Joshua—is dismissed from the Vogue shoot taking place at the Frick Collection, she chances upon a series of hidden messages in the museum: messages that will lead her and Joshua on a hunt that could not only solve Veronica’s financial woes, but could finally reveal the truth behind a decades-old murder in the infamous Frick family.
Reminsicent of previous historical fiction picks like The Lost Apothecary and Clockmaker’s Daughter, The Magnolia Palace is a historical novel with a mystery at it’s heart. Eight months since losing her mother in the Spanish Flu outbreak of 1919, twenty-one-year-old Lillian Carter’s life has completely fallen apart. For the past six years, under the moniker Angelica, Lillian was one of the most sought after artists’ models in New York City, with statues based on her figure gracing landmarks from the Plaza Hotel to the Brooklyn Bridge. But with her mother gone, a grieving Lillian is rudderless and desperate. So when she stumbles upon an employment opportunity at the Frick mansion, Lillian jumps at the chance. But the longer she works as a private secretary to Helen Frick, the daughter and heiress of industrialist and art patron Henry Clay Frick, the more deeply her life gets intertwined with that of the family. Nearly fifty years later, mod English model Veronica Weber has her own chance to make her career at the former Frick residence, now converted into one of New York City’s most impressive museums. But when she—along with a charming intern/budding art curator named Joshua—is dismissed from the Vogue shoot taking place at the Frick Collection, she chances upon a series of hidden messages in the museum: messages that will lead her and Joshua on a hunt that could solve all their problems and solve a decades old murder committed so long ago. Told in two alternating timelines, The Magnolia Palace promises historical fiction at its finest and reviewers cannot get enough of it. The only complaint I could find was some reviewers’ struggle to connect with the main characters, but these qualms were few. I’m definitely hoping to read more out of my comfort zone this year and that’s why I added Magnolia Palace to my box!
Reckless Girls by Rachel Hawkins (Thriller)Reckless Girls by Rachel Hawkins
Published by St. Martin's Press on January 4, 2022
From the New York Times bestselling author of The Wife Upstairs comes a deliciously wicked gothic suspense, set on an isolated Pacific island with a dark history, for fans of Lucy Foley and Ruth Ware.
When Lux McAllister and her boyfriend, Nico, are hired to sail two women to a remote island in the South Pacific, it seems like the opportunity of a lifetime. Stuck in a dead-end job in Hawaii, and longing to travel the world after a family tragedy, Lux is eager to climb on board The Susannah and set out on an adventure. She’s also quick to bond with their passengers, college best friends Brittany and Amma. The two women say they want to travel off the beaten path. But like Lux, they may have other reasons to be seeking an escape.
Shimmering on the horizon after days at sea, Meroe Island is every bit the paradise the foursome expects, despite a mysterious history of shipwrecks, cannibalism, and even rumors of murder. But what they don’t expect is to discover another boat already anchored off Meroe’s sandy beaches. The owners of the Azure Sky, Jake and Eliza, are a true golden couple: gorgeous, laidback, and if their sleek catamaran and well-stocked bar are any indication, rich. Now a party of six, the new friends settle in to experience life on an exotic island, and the serenity of being completely off the grid. Lux hasn’t felt like she truly belonged anywhere in years, yet here on Meroe, with these fellow free spirits, she finally has a sense of peace.
But with the arrival of a skeevy stranger sailing alone in pursuit of a darker kind of good time, the balance of the group is disrupted. Soon, cracks begin to emerge: it seems that Brittany and Amma haven’t been completely honest with Lux about their pasts––and perhaps not even with each other. And though Jake and Eliza seem like the perfect pair, the rocky history of their relationship begins to resurface, and their reasons for sailing to Meroe might not be as innocent as they first appeared.
When it becomes clear that the group is even more cut off from civilization than they initially thought, it starts to feel like the island itself is closing in on them. And when one person goes missing, and another turns up dead, Lux begins to wonder if any of them are going to make it off the island alive.
This breezy thriller might just be the perfect read to transport you from a cold snowy day. Set on a remote island in the Pacific ocean, shrouded in rumors and urban legends, six visitors arrive with hopes to escape and plenty of secrets. A locked room mystery in the vein of Ruth Ware and Agatha Christie, people begin to go missing, the friends begin to suspect that there’s more to them being there than just a paradisiacal getaway. With all the trademarks of a survival thriller- cut off from the rest of the world, group dynamics quickly deteriorating, and a killer on the lose. A reimagining of Christie’s classic And Then There Were None will send you to a world of white sand beaches and palm trees. The biggest complaint I can find about Reckless Girls is that the reveals in the third act are a little crazy. But if you want a solid thriller to start the New Year or, like me, you adored The Wife Upstairs, you won’t want to skip on this title.
Fiona and Jane by Jean Chen Ho (Short Stories)Fiona and Jane by Jean Chen Ho
Published by Viking on January 4, 2022
A witty, warm, and irreverent book that traces the lives of two young Taiwanese American women as they navigate friendship, sexuality, identity, and heartbreak over two decades.
Best friends since second grade, Fiona Lin and Jane Shen explore the lonely freeways and seedy bars of Los Angeles together through their teenage years, surviving unfulfilling romantic encounters, and carrying with them the scars of their families' tumultuous pasts. Fiona was always destined to leave, her effortless beauty burnished by fierce ambition--qualities that Jane admired and feared in equal measure. When Fiona moves to New York and cares for a sick friend through a breakup with an opportunistic boyfriend, Jane remains in California and grieves her estranged father's sudden death, in the process alienating an overzealous girlfriend. Strained by distance and unintended betrayals, the women float in and out of each other's lives, their friendship both a beacon of home and a reminder of all they've lost.
In stories told in alternating voices, Jean Chen Ho's debut collection peels back the layers of female friendship--the intensity, resentment, and boundless love--to probe the beating hearts of young women coming to terms with themselves, and each other, in light of the insecurities and shame that holds them back.
Spanning countries and selves, Fiona and Jane is an intimate portrait of a friendship, a deep dive into the universal perplexities of being young and alive, and a bracingly honest account of two Asian women who dare to stake a claim on joy in a changing, contemporary America.
I have to confess that I had an inside scoop on this one so I’m almost certain this will be a pick. It wasn’t on my radar but the more I read about it the more it sounds like a Book of the Month pick. With comparisons to previous nonfiction selections like The Office of Historical Corrections and Lot, this short story collection peels back the layers of female friendship in the alternating voices of fictional characters Fiona and Jane. Friends since second grade, the girls grow up together in Los Angeles, only to be separated in early adulthood by circumstances and life changes. Fiona and Jane tells the stories of their lives as they navigate grief, loss and growing up Asian and female in a male-dominated and inherently racist world. I think fans of short story collections will enjoy this one, while those who were expecting a more cohesive narrative were left wanting. I would be curious to hear other thoughts and opinions.
Love & Other Disasters by Anita Kelly (Romance)Love & Other Disasters by Anita Kelly
Published by Forever on January 18, 2022
The first openly nonbinary contestant on America’s favorite cooking show falls for their clumsy competitor in this delicious romantic comedy debut “that is both fantastically fun and crack your heart wide open vulnerable.” (Rosie Danan, author of The Roommate)
Recently divorced and on the verge of bankruptcy, Dahlia Woodson is ready to reinvent herself on the popular reality competition show Chef’s Special. Too bad the first memorable move she makes is falling flat on her face, sending fish tacos flying—not quite the fresh start she was hoping for. Still, she's focused on winning, until she meets someone she might want a future with more than she needs the prize money.
After announcing their pronouns on national television, London Parker has enough on their mind without worrying about the klutzy competitor stationed in front of them. They’re there to prove the trolls—including a fellow contestant and their dad—wrong, and falling in love was never part of the plan.
As London and Dahlia get closer, reality starts to fall away. Goodbye, guilt about divorce, anxiety about uncertain futures, and stress from transphobia. Hello, hilarious shenanigans on set, wedding crashing, and spontaneous dips into the Pacific. But as the finale draws near, Dahlia and London’s steamy relationship starts to feel the heat both in and outside the kitchen—and they must figure out if they have the right ingredients for a happily ever after.
With comparisons to authors I adore like Casey McQuiston and Helen Hoang, it promises to be absolutely amazing. Love & Other Disasters features non-binary protagonist London Parker, who has recently announced their pronouns on national television and finds themselves competing opposite, or behind, a recently divorced nearly bankrupt woman named Dahlia Woodson. Set on the reality cooking show known as Chef’s Special, the two begin to fall in love, the reality of the reality show they are on- see what I did there?- and the potential for a real world relationship adds the kind of stress that their new relationship might not survive. It seems that those coming to Kelly’s novel looking for something like altering or groundbreaking, you might be a little disappointed. But, if you are looking for a fun, cute and queer story; look no further!
Yinka, Where Is Your Huzband? By Lizzie Damilola Blackburn (Contemporary Fiction)Yinka, Where Is Your Huzband? by Lizzie Damilola Blackburn
Published by Pamela Dorman Books on January 18, 2022
Meet Yinka: a thirty-something, Oxford-educated, British Nigerian woman with a well-paid job, good friends, and a mother whose constant refrain is "Yinka, where is your huzband?"
Yinka's Nigerian aunties frequently pray for her delivery from singledom, her work friends think she's too traditional (she's saving herself for marriage!), her girlfriends think she needs to get over her ex already, and the men in her life...well, that's a whole other story. But Yinka herself has always believed that true love will find her when the time is right. Still, when her cousin gets engaged, Yinka commences Operation Find-A-Date for Rachel's Wedding. Aided by a spreadsheet and her best friend, Yinka is determined to succeed. Will Yinka find herself a huzband? And what if the thing she really needs to find is herself?
Yinka, Where is Your Huzband? brilliantly subverts the traditional romantic comedy with an unconventional heroine who bravely asks the questions we all have about love. Wry, acerbic, moving, this is a love story that makes you smile but also makes you think--and explores what it means to find your way between two cultures, both of which are yours.
This funny and feel good contemporary has comparisons to other contemporary selections like Queenie and In Five Years and follows Yinka: a thirty-something, Oxford-educated, British Nigerian woman with a well-paid job, good friends, and a mother whose constant refrain is “Yinka, where is your huzband?” Yinka’s Nigerian aunties frequently pray for her delivery from singledom, her work friends think she’s too traditional (she’s saving herself for marriage!), her girlfriends think she needs to get over her ex already, and the men in her life are in a category all their own. But Yinka herself has always believed that true love will find her when the time is right. Still, when her cousin gets engaged, Yinka commences Operation Find-A-Date for Rachel’s Wedding. Aided by a spreadsheet and her best friend, Yinka is determined to succeed. Blackburn’s novel brilliantly subverts the traditional romantic comedy with an unconventional heroine who bravely asks the questions we all have about love. Wry, acerbic, and moving, this is a love story that makes you smile but also makes you think—and explores what it means to find your way between two very different, but equally relevant cultures. I have been excited about this one since it began popping up on various Most Anticipated lists for 2022. Not only is it a diverse novel featuring an underrepresented heroine, but like Jasmine Guillory and Helen Hoang it features a very capable, goal oriented heroine. I love a competent, independent woman myself! Readers appreciated the author’s Nigerian touch while other found the romance side of the story a bit grating and some of the characters annoying. I for one, add this one to my box because I’m always looking for a good diverse contemporary.
The Maid by Nita Prose (Cozy Mystery)The Maid by Nita Prose
Published by Ballantine Books on January 4, 2022
An alternative cover edition for this ISBN can be found here.
Molly Gray is not like everyone else. She struggles with social skills and misreads the intentions of others. Her gran used to interpret the world for her, codifying it into simple rules that Molly could live by.
Since Gran died a few months ago, twenty-five-year-old Molly has been navigating life’s complexities all by herself. No matter—she throws herself with gusto into her work as a hotel maid. Her unique character, along with her obsessive love of cleaning and proper etiquette, make her an ideal fit for the job. She delights in donning her crisp uniform each morning, stocking her cart with miniature soaps and bottles, and returning guest rooms at the Regency Grand Hotel to a state of perfection.
But Molly’s orderly life is upended the day she enters the suite of the infamous and wealthy Charles Black, only to find it in a state of disarray and Mr. Black himself dead in his bed. Before she knows what’s happening, Molly’s unusual demeanor has the police targeting her as their lead suspect. She quickly finds herself caught in a web of deception, one she has no idea how to untangle. Fortunately for Molly, friends she never knew she had unite with her in a search for clues to what really happened to Mr. Black—but will they be able to find the real killer before it’s too late?
A Clue-like, locked-room mystery and a heartwarming journey of the spirit, The Maid explores what it means to be the same as everyone else and yet entirely different—and reveals that all mysteries can be solved through connection to the human heart.
I am kind of mad that this one didn’t make it on my predictions post. In hindsight, I shouldn’t have passed it up. This cozy mystery features Molly Gray, a twenty something who struggles with social skills and misreads the intentions of others. Upon the death of her grandmother she throws herself into her work as a hotel maid. Her unique character, along with her obsessive love of cleaning and proper etiquette, make her an ideal fit for the job. But Molly’s orderly life is upended the day she enters the suite of the infamous and wealthy Charles Black, only to find it in a state of disarray and Mr. Black himself very dead in his bed. Before she knows what’s happening, Molly’s unusual demeanor has the police targeting her as their lead suspect. She quickly finds herself caught in a web of deception, one she has no idea how to untangle. A Clue-like, locked-room mystery and a heartwarming journey of the spirit, The Maid explores what it means to be the same as everyone else and yet entirely different—and reveals that all mysteries can be solved through connection and community. While negative reviews are few and far between, the most repeated refrain deals with the authors attempt to pack too much into the story where social issues are concerned. Honestly though, I think you’ll have to pick up this one and decide for yourself. Let us know what you think!
An impressive show for debut novels and female authors. I was thrilled to see an LGBTQIA+ romance (finally!) But think that they missed an opportunity to feature more authors of color.
- Authors of Color: 3/7 – 43%
- Female Authors: 7/7 – 100%
- LGBTQIA+: 1/7 – 14%
- Repeat Authors: 1/7 – 14%
- Debut Novels: 5/7- 72%
In Our Boxes This Month
Box 1 (Haley)
Box 2 (Haley)
Box 1 (Emily)
What About You?
What did you add to your box this month? What do you think of our picks? What books might you add to your box next month? Let us know in the comments!