Written by: Andrea Marks-Joseph
This month’s anticipated reads list has some thrilling adventures, many of them inspired by international folklore. We’ve got a mermaid who defied an ancient decree by saving someone’s life; a man who finds himself involved in a hidden magical society by way of an administrative mistake, and seven hotel employees being interviewed about a failed assassination attempt.
November’s most exciting releases include a romantic comedy where a teenager swaps a fashion internship for a flower arranging contest; a yacht stewardess completing a bucket list with her nieces; a highly-trained Ghanaian assassin on a revenge mission, and a girl who just discovered that she can speak to her dead boyfriend when she calls his phone.
I’m really looking forward to reading the non-judgmental disability representation included in many of the stories shared here. You’ll find disabled characters in love stories, political science fiction, and gruesome folktales in this list— all of which promise to be inclusive and challenge stereotypes.
1 - Tahira in Bloom by Farah Heron (1 November — Young Adult Contemporary)
When seventeen-year-old aspiring designer Tahira’s fashion internship falls through, her parents send her to get work experience at her aunt’s boutique for the summer. She moves to the flower capital of Ontario, where her next-door neighbour is both rude and dresses in a way she hates. He’s also frustratingly good-looking, and the exact kind of botantically-talented “garden-nerd” she needs help from to win the flower-arranging contest that will gain her clout with the fashion industry people she needs to impress.
Everything about this coming-of-age romantic comedy feels fresh and exciting to me: Set in Ontario, with an ambitious Muslim protagonist, and focus on the local floral industry. I can’t wait to read about these flower arranging teens and watch as “in the middle of nowhere, Tahira is just beginning to bloom.”
2 - Her Name is Knight by Yasmin Angoe (1 November — Action Thriller)
Her Name is Knight is about a highly trained assassin for The Tribe, “a clandestine international organization dedicated to the protection and advancement of the peoples and countries of Africa around the world.” It’s told in a dual timeline as Nena Knight, now based in Miami, fights for revenge after the loss and trauma she faced as a teenager in Ghana.
This novel has been described as intense, violent, and unforgettable. It’s a story about losing innocence and being driven by retribution. The comment I’ve seen most from reviewers who have read the book is that they were “blown away” by it, so we can be sure this novel is something special —and there’s already been news of a series adaptation on its way!
3 - Skin of the Sea by Natasha Bowen (2 November — Young Adult Fantasy)
“Children of Blood and Bone meets The Little Mermaid, in which a mermaid takes on the gods themselves.” Skin of the Sea is a story inspired by West African mythology, and the protagonist is a Black mermaid! She’s radiant and powerful on this unforgettable cover.
Simi collects the souls of those who die at sea, blessing their journeys back home. But when a living boy is thrown overboard, Simi does the unthinkable —she saves his life. By doing this, she’s gone against an ancient decree. And punishment from vengeful gods awaits those who dare to defy it. So, she goes on a dangerous journey to make amends with the supreme beings. On the way, she notices many things aren’t as they seem, including the boy she saved, who knows much more than he should.
4 - A Marvellous Light by Freya Marske (2 November — Historical Fiction)
Robin Blyth already has more than enough bother in his life; then one day an administrative mistake sees him named the civil service liaison to a hidden magical society. If this lush book cover didn’t already draw me in, that surprising turn of events certainly would!
Also, it turns out that Robin’s predecessor has disappeared, and uncovering the mystery of what happened to him, alongside a very prickly counterpart at the magical society, reveals unsettling truths. The author describes this novel as “a queer historical fantasy about magicians, murder and manor house parties in Edwardian England.” It’s all very reminiscent of The Magicians —complete with the magical bureaucracy, compelling worldbuilding, and an excruciating deadly curse that comes with alarming visions of the future.
5 - The Reckless Kind by Carly Heath (2 November — Historical Fiction)
A story where a young woman says no to the domestic life and marriage planned for her, moves in with her best friend and his secret boyfriend, and together they strive to win the local horse race because that’s the only way they’ll earn enough money to go out and live on their own terms? Sign me up!
The Reckless Kind is set in rural Norway in 1904, and all the main characters in this story are queer and disabled! These disabilities include single-sided deafness, and a young man who recently lost his arm and suffers depression because of it. There is so much chosen family goodness in here, I’m already rooting for these characters. I can’t wait to meet them!
6 - You've Reached Sam by Dustin Thao (9 November — Young Adult Fantasy)
This book is gonna be a seriously emotional read! Julie has her future all planned out—move out of her small town with her boyfriend Sam, attend college in the city, spend a summer in Japan. But then Sam dies. And everything changes. Desperate to hear his voice one more time, Julie calls Sam’s cellphone just to listen to his voicemail. And Sam answers the phone!!!
In a miraculous turn of events, Julie’s been given a second chance at goodbye. But of course, hearing Sam’s voice makes it harder to let him go. And should she tell his family about the calls so that they can have a reprieve from their suffering, too? I cannot imagine what I would do in this situation, and I can’t wait to have my heart broken and put back together again by Dustin Thao.
7 - Noor by Nnedi Okorafor (9 November — Science Fiction)
Nnedi Okorafor’s latest is a vast, complex Africanfuturist novel that confronts topics of artificial intelligence, colonialism, government overreach, and capitalist corporations.
I’m most intrigued by the main character, who goes by AO. She’s been labelled as “freakish” and “unnatural” the way she was born, and later a car accident has disabled her further, resulting in major body augmentations. But she doesn’t view her body the way the world does; She embraces all that she is. Then one day she goes to her local market and everything goes wrong, and she has to go on the run.
In her escape, she meets a Fulani herdsman named DNA and they race against time across the deserts of Northern Nigeria. Together they come to realize that they might be on the brink of a war, and that AO's enhancements have given her abilities beyond imagination. “In a world where all things are streamed, everyone is watching the reckoning of the murderess and the terrorist and the saga of the wicked woman and mad man unfold.”
8 - Love, Lists, and Fancy Ships by Sarah Grunder Ruiz (23 November — Contemporary Romance)
I’m a sucker for bucket list romances! And the combination of this sweet, fun title and a beautiful cover where you can almost feel the ocean air in your face has me even more excited to read this book.
Yacht stewardess Jo Walker has been attempting to complete a bucket list of thirty things she wants to accomplish by her birthday. Then a family tragedy turns her life upside down, and the list falls by the wayside. When her two nieces show up unannounced with plans to stay for the summer, they discover her list and insist on helping Jo finish it. Number five, ‘kiss a stranger’, leads her to a romance with Alex, a single dad and chef on a fancy boat; but their adventures also lead Jo through an exploration of processing grief. The remaining eight items on her list are the biggest reasons I can’t wait to see where the book goes: They include running a marathon, visiting ten countries, and sleeping in a castle —and she only has twelve weeks to complete them!
9 - The Sister Who Ate Her Brothers: And Other Gruesome Tales by Jen Campbell (23 November — Middle Grade, Horror, Anthology)
In The Sister Who Ate Her Brothers, Jen Campbell has taken scary stories and folktales from various cultures all over the globe and retold them in her magical, lyrical, eerie prose. While this is beautifully illustrated and aimed at a middle-grade audience, they’re absolutely unusual, frightening, and captivating enough for an audience of any age —I mean, the title story is a Korean tale of a carnivorous child!
Most fairytales were originally way more gruesome than we remember, and Jen Campbell is a fairytale historian of the best kind; She loves to dive into that creepiness. The stories include gore and gothic horror vibes, and they exclude problematic stereotypes. The diverse characters in this book include a princess with hairloss, a gay merman, and a man with a hearing aid. You can also be sure that with this author, no disfigurement will be used as a scare tactic or to villainize someone based on their looks. If you’d like a sneak peek, you can listen to Jen reading the fantastic title story here.
10 - Seven Down by David Whitton (30 November — General Fiction)
Written as though the novel itself is an intelligence report, this is a character-driven mystery following seven hotel employees —sleeper agents— as they are interviewed to puzzle together a failed assassination attempt.
They’ve waited years for a code word that will spring this attempt into action, and yet the moment it came, it was a disaster. The transcripts we read enlighten us to the sinister workings of an invisible organisation, the minds of each of its pawns, and the absurdity of human failings. I especially love that the author describes his novel as “thrilleresque maybe, although heavily loaded with references to 90s rock gods, online ephemera, and French Marxists.”
Andrea Marks-Joseph is a South African freelance writer and book reviewer. She can be found on Goodreads, Twitter @stargirlriots, and at stargirlriots.com.