It’s that time of year again. In most parts of the world, the sun is out and it’s not going anywhere. The beach has become most people’s best friends and books? Ooh, we’re all finding our way back to them.
This summer, we would like to share an eclectic selection of captivating books carefully curated for our vibrant community of readers. The books have nothing to do with each other and most of them have nothing to do with summer BUT they are so good, there’s no other perfect time to read them. These books are all handpicked and vetted (by yours truly) to make your summer an unforgettable journey of imagination, inspiration and a little bit of love. We have books for our sapphic audience *wink**wink* and also for our sisters who walk that straight line. (do we or do we not have the perfect summer reads!?)
So, grab your favourite iced beverage, settle into a comfortable spot, and embark on a literary adventure like no other. Let the pages turn and the stories unfold as you explore the top picks exclusively brought to you by 21 Mag. Happy reading!
The Sex Lives of African Women by Nana Darkoa Sekyiamah
A conversation starter like Three Women but centering the experiences of women of color: a mellifluous chorus celebrating the liberation, individuality, and joy of African women’s multifaceted sexuality.
Thanks to her blog, Adventures from the Bedrooms of African Women, Nana Darkoa Sekyiamah has spent decades talking openly and intimately to African women around the world about sex. For this book, she spoke to over thirty African women across the globe while chronicling her own journey toward sexual freedom.
We meet Yami, a pansexual Canadian of Malawian heritage, who describes negotiating the line between family dynamics and sexuality. There’s Esther, a cisgender hetero woman studying in America by way of Cameroon and Kenya, who talks of how a childhood rape has made her rebellious and estranged from her missionary parents. And Tsitsi, an HIV-positive Zimbabwean woman who is raising a healthy, HIV-free baby.
Across a queer community in Egypt, polyamorous life in Senegal, and a reflection on the intersection of religion and pleasure in Cameroon, Sekyiamah explores the many layers of love and desire, its expression, and how it forms who we are.
In these confessional pages, women control their own bodies and pleasure and assert their sexual power. Capturing the rich tapestry of sex positivity, The Sex Lives of African Women is a singular and subversive book that celebrates the liberation, individuality, and joy of African women’s multifaceted sexuality.
Why It’s On Our List
This book is at the very top of this list because I am currently obsessed! I’ve been reading it since June because I didn’t want it to end. I have a few stories left and I am holding on to them like they are my prized jewels. You know how growing up and even now, as adults, people, like to act like sex, doesn’t exist? How no one wants to talk about it or educate young people on the topic because it’s uncomfortable? Or because they’ve decided it’s wrong and ‘women shouldn’t be talking about such things’, especially in this part of the world. Well, this book said, I’m about to tell you sex is real, sex is good and sex can be and mean anything you want it to. From the first word to where I am now, this book has made me laugh, scream, get a little mad and made me go “ouu, that’s interesting. I’d like to try that”.
The stories Sekiyamah chose to share were soaked in honesty, and some would say lewdness and a complete and utter lack of judgment. It’s about black women owning their sexuality and all that it entails. It’s a great read for any woman looking to explore what it means to be an African woman with desires many would call ungodly (Having and wanting sex isn’t ungodly. It’s completely natural).
Last Night At The Telegraph Club by Malinda Lo
A story of love and duty set in San Francisco’s Chinatown during the Red Scare.
“That book. It was about two women, and they fell in love with each other.” And then Lily asked the question that had taken root in her, that was even now unfurling its leaves and demanding to be shown the sun: “Have you ever heard of such a thing?”
Seventeen-year-old Lily Hu can’t remember exactly when the question took root, but the answer was in full bloom the moment she and Kathleen Miller walked under the flashing neon sign of a lesbian bar called the Telegraph Club.
America in 1954 is not a safe place for two girls to fall in love, especially not in Chinatown. Red-Scare paranoia threatens everyone, including Chinese Americans like Lily. With deportation looming over her father—despite his hard-won citizenship—Lily and Kath risk everything to let their love see the light of day.
Why It’s On Our List
This is a very soft read. There are a lot of heavy themes like the realities and impact of a world war, what it was like for Asians living in the United States during the Red Scare and what it meant to be a woman who loved women at that time. However, to me, it still felt incredibly soft and gentle. This book is on our list because of the important topics it dissects but also because it’s perfect for people who prefer a slow read. If you love stories that take their time and you love watching things expand and grow in their own time then this book is perfect for you.
Under The Udala Trees by Chinelo Okparanta
Inspired by Nigeria’s folktales and its war, Under the Udala Trees is a deeply searching, powerful debut about the dangers of living and loving openly.
Ijeoma comes of age as her nation does; born before independence, she is eleven when civil war breaks out in the young republic of Nigeria. Sent away to safety, she meets another displaced child and they, star-crossed, fall in love. They are from different ethnic communities and are also both girls.
When their love is discovered, Ijeoma learns that she will have to hide this part of herself. But there is a cost to living inside a lie.
As Edwidge Danticat has made personal the legacy of Haiti’s political coming of age, Okparanta’s Under the Udala Trees uses one woman’s lifetime to examine the ways in which Nigerians continue to struggle toward selfhood. Even as their nation contends with and recovers from the effects of war and division, Nigerian lives are also wrecked and lost from taboo and prejudice. This story offers a glimmer of hope — a future where a woman might just be able to shape her life around truth and love.
Acclaimed by Vogue, the Financial Times, and many others, Chinelo Okparanta continues to distill “experience into something crystalline, stark but lustrous” (New York Times Book Review). Under the Udala Trees marks the further rise of a star whose “tales will break your heart open” (New York Daily News).
Why It’s On Our List
I read this book while writing my dissertation for my undergrad degree. I expected to like it. I didn’t think I’d fall headfirst in love with it! Back then I hadn’t explored Nigerian and African literature so much, so I didn’t have much expectations when it came to our books. However, I’m glad to say I wasn’t disappointed and I have come to expect great things from African literature.
This is a heavy heavy book. It isn’t for everyone. There are themes of abuse on levels most people cannot comprehend. Okparanta tells a tale that shows the realities of war and hatred for queer people. It also shows that no matter how hard you try (I’m speaking to African parents now) you cannot change something that was never a choice.
The Seven Husbands Of Evelyn Hugo By Taylor Jenkins Reid
Aging and reclusive Hollywood movie icon Evelyn Hugo is finally ready to tell the truth about her glamorous and scandalous life. But when she chooses unknown magazine reporter Monique Grant for the job, no one is more astounded than Monique herself. Why her? Why now?
Monique is not exactly on top of the world. Her husband has left her, and her professional life is going nowhere. Regardless of why Evelyn has selected her to write her biography, Monique is determined to use this opportunity to jumpstart her career.
Summoned to Evelyn’s luxurious apartment, Monique listens in fascination as the actress tells her story. From making her way to Los Angeles in the 1950s to her decision to leave show business in the ‘80s, and, of course, the seven husbands along the way. Evelyn unspools a tale of ruthless ambition, unexpected friendship, and a great forbidden love. Monique begins to feel a very real connection to the legendary star, but as Evelyn’s story nears its conclusion, it becomes clear that her life intersects with Monique’s own in tragic and irreversible ways.
Why It’s On our List
I still can’t believe it took me years to read this book. I’ve known about it since 2018 but could never find the inspiration to read. When I had to for an article, I read it in one sitting. I literally couldn’t put it down. I’m a huge sucker for historical fiction and stories about the film industry. This book gave me all of that and a little secret romance hidden beneath seven public ones. I adored every second of it!
The Invisible Life Of Addie La Rue By V. E. Schwab
France, 1714: in a moment of desperation, a young woman makes a Faustian bargain to live forever and is cursed to be forgotten by everyone she meets.
Thus begins the extraordinary life of Addie LaRue, and a dazzling adventure that will play out across centuries and continents, across history and art, as a young woman learns how far she will go to leave her mark on the world.
But everything changes when, after nearly 300 years, Addie stumbles across a young man in a hidden bookstore and he remembers her name.
Why It’s On Our List
This isn’t a book for everyone. I didn’t even think it was for me at first but if you love poetry and a slow-read, this book will take you on an adventure you never thought you could possibly go on. You will get sucked in by the characters, the history, the magic. If you’re patient enough to let the story start going, I don’t think you’ll ever want it to end.
Heart Bones by Colleen Hoover
Life and a dismal last name are the only two things Beyah Grim’s parents ever gave her. After carving her path all on her own, Beyah is well on her way to bigger and better things, thanks to no one but herself.
With only two short months separating her from the future she’s built and the past she desperately wants to leave behind, an unexpected death leaves Beyah with no place to go during the interim. Forced to reach out to her last resort, Beyah has to spend the remainder of her summer on a peninsula in Texas with a father she barely knows. Beyah’s plan is to keep her head down and let the summer slip by seamlessly, but her new neighbor Samson throws a wrench in that plan.
Samson and Beyah have nothing in common on the surface.
She comes from a life of poverty and neglect; he comes from a family of wealth and privilege. But one thing they do have in common is that they are both drawn to sad things. Which means they are drawn to each other. With an almost immediate connection too intense for them to continue denying, Beyah and Samson agree to stay in the shallow end of a summer fling. What Beyah doesn’t realize is that a rip current is coming, and it’s about to drag her heart out to sea.
Why It’s On Our List
Colleen Hoover, is one of the greatest romance writers of recent times. She is so good and known that there’s a whole mini-war going on, on TikTok. Many love her, many hate her. Though I haven’t read this particular book, I’ve read many of her books and I believe she’s worth the hype she’s given. I have never loved an author so much, I actively go out of my way to read all her books. I didn’t even do this for JK Rowling (Massive letterhead here!). I know almost nothing about this book but if you love sweet romance novels, she’s the perfect author to explore. Besides, what’s a summer without a little simple romance?
The Notebook by Nicholas Sparks
Set amid the austere beauty of the North Carolina coast begins the story of Noah Calhoun, a rural Southerner recently returned from the Second World War. Noah is restoring a plantation home to its former glory, and he is haunted by images of the beautiful girl he met fourteen years earlier, a girl he loved like no other. Unable to find her, yet unwilling to forget the summer they spent together, Noah is content to live with only memories…until she unexpectedly returns to his town to see him once again.
Like a puzzle within a puzzle, the story of Noah and Allie is just the beginning. As it unfolds, their tale miraculously becomes something different, with much higher stakes. The result is a deeply moving portrait of love itself, the tender moments and the fundamental changes that affect us all. It is a story of miracles and emotions that will stay with you forever.
Why It’s On Our List
Last but definitely not least, we have The Notebook; an oldie but a goodie! This story was mostly set during the summer and many say it’s one of the greatest love stories ever told. I’ve seen the movie multiple times but I’ve never actually read the book (part of the reason it’s on this list). It’s packed with so much passion and intensity, most people find the story (movie/book) deeply emotional.
Disclaimer: All synopsis were gotten from Goodreads *