Top 10 Romances by Authors of Color (A Personal List)

Another year, and once again we have more proof how little the romance industry has progressed, first with the release of The Ripped Bodice third annual State of Racial Diversity in Romance survey, and more recently with the release of the RITA finalists, which are, once again overwhelmingly white, and while there are a couple finalists of color, Black authors in particular are once again snubbed. And, as is often the case when race comes up, while some are compassionate allies, others are…not. Claiming not to be racist, they say such things like “I don’t see color,” and I don’t care if someone  is black, red, blue, purple, etc.” (I greatly appreciate Eva Leigh’s takedown of the latter defense in particular).

Therefore, wanting to write about this whole situation, but being aware that I may not have a lot of the information, due to a lot of it being insider Romance Writers of America organizational stuff that I am only getting snippets of secondhand, I made a compromise and decided to shout out my favorite books by authors of color.

So, without further ado, and not (entirely) in any particular order, here are my favorite reads by authors of color:

  1. The Kiss Quotient by Helen Hoang (2018): Obviously, this one would be on the list. And Helen Hoang said on Twitter that she didn’t enter, due to her awareness of the  broken RITAs judging system, and how it favored some POC over others. But regardless, it is still my (and many others’, I’m sure) personal favorite of last year. Despite having a premise that could have easily put me off, it captured the perfect balance of steamy and sweet for me, and Michael and Stella have one of the healthiest, most nurturing relationships in romance I’ve ever read.
  2. Once Ghosted, Twice Shy by Alyssa Cole (2019): I’ve been dying to read more f/f, and despite it being only a novella, this satisfied my craving completely. While the main Reluctant Royals books have fallen a little short of expectations for me, this one was beautiful, and hit all the right notes as a second chance love story.
  3. The Proposal by Jasmine Guillory (2018): I had some issues with the element of miscommunication in her prior book, but The Proposal hit it out of the park for me. I loved the emotional journey that Nik goes on toward letting herself be loved, especially after being with a partner who was emotionally abusive,  and Carlos for being such a great, supportive hero from the beginning.
  4. Her Perfect Affair by Priscilla Oliveras (2018): I was psyched when Priscilla’s first book double finaled last year, and that was part of why I ended up checking out her work. But I personally feel like this one is better than the first, although I may be biased due to the librarian heroine and the adorable hero. It has a situation that I did not expect to love, but
  5. Forbidden by Beverly Jenkins (2016): My first Beverly Jenkins book and my personal favorite of her Old West/“Rhine Trilogy,” I loved Forbidden for its captivating romance while dealing with difficult topics like race relations and Passing.
  6. Let’s Talk About Love by Claire Kann (2018): Asexual representation is lacking, particularly in traditional publishing, and I was glad to see this one get some love last year, especially since I first heard about it through author Mackenzi Lee’s Pride Month recommendations video. I love how it deals  with navigating how to have a relationship as a asexual person, as well as touching on the pressures that Black people in America face, having to work twice as hard to prove themselves academically and professionally.
  7. I Believe in a Thing Called Love by Maurene Goo (2017): This is  an adorable book that put a fun spin on a premise that’s been done before: using tips from Korean dramas to impress the guy you like. And while the romance was cute, “flailures” and all, the best part about this (and a Maurene Goo book, in general) is seeing the parent-child relationships she crafts. The heroine and her father becoming closer through their shared love of K-Dramas is so sweet.  
  8. Pride by Ibi Zoboi (2018): While I’ve seen mixed reviews of this YA Pride and Prejudice retelling, I enjoyed this one. My criteria for an Austen retelling is a mix of capturing the spirit of the book, while adding something new, and Ibi Zoboi does so in transplanting the story to present-day Brooklyn, and discussing the issue of gentrification.
  9. The Forbidden Hearts series by Alisha Rai (2017-18): This series was life changing in the best way. I’m not normally a fan of super-steamy books, but I loved the way the romance in these books was just as much about the characters’ emotional bond with one another as it was about their sexual desire. And the series also beautifully develops family relationships that I could get invested in just as much as the love relationships, and while I can sometimes find that some authors focus too much on one and leave something wanting with the author, I felt Alisha Rai captured the perfect balance of the two here.
  10. The Loyal League series by Alyssa Cole (2016-19): I admit, I’m cheating on this one, as I haven’t read book 3 yet, and I don’t know for sure when I’ll get to it. But the first two books are amazing, and I love the beautiful relationships that arise between the two couples from working together in high-pressure situations.

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Review of “Pride” by Ibi Zoboi

Zoboi, Ibi. Pride. New York: Balzer + Bray, 2018. 

Hardcover | 17.99 USD | | ISBN-13; 978-0062564047 | 289 pages | YA Contemporary Romance

4.5 stars

Pride is a lovely Austen retelling, capturing the right balance of feeling close enough to the original while also providing a new spin that justifies its existence. It’s wonderful to see yet again how flexible some of the characters and scenarios Austen wrote still are today from a completely fresh perspective, which captures the essence of class and race struggles in such a beautiful way.

Zuri is a sympathetic character, although I don’t think her perspective will be understandable unless you are familiar with Elizabeth Bennet, and know that the whole point of that character is that she’s hypocritical in having issues with others while not seeing her own flaws and the ways she needs to grow as a person. This is conveyed wonderfully, not only through her evolving relationship with Darius, but the connection she has to her home, culminating in a powerful college entrance essay she writes about her pride in her roots and how that connects to what she feels the school is for her.

In terms of the secondary characters and translation of major plot elements, I thought these were all more or less pretty well done as well. While I did kind of want more from the Ainsley/Janae relationship than the way it’s just casually brought up that they’re worki, ng things out at the end, I guess it was the only way for it work with the perspective confined to Zuri.

I would recommend this to fans of Austen retellings, primarily. As I said before, basic familiarity might help in terms of understanding character motivations and references, but considering I’m something of “purist” myself, I’m unsure of whether all fans of Austen will also be fans of this.

Review of “American Street” by Ibi Zoboi

Zoboi, Ibi. American Street. New York: Balzer + Bray, 2018. 

Hardcover | $17.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0062473042 | 324 pages | YA Fiction

4 stars

While waiting to get my hands on Ibi Zoboi’s recent release, Pride, I decided to check out her previous book, American Street. While not within the scope of what I typically read at all, I was intrigued, especially at the idea that it would discuss real-world issues, while also containing elements of magical realism. And while I wasn’t massively blown away by this book, it is pretty good, and Ibi Zoboi shows a lot of promise as a storyteller.

Despite not having been been in the situations described, I could empathize with Fabiola and the struggles she deals with at various points. She’s like many people in immigrant families that you might hear about who want to make a better life for themselves and have this grandiose idea of the American Dream, but once arriving, they end up with a sense of disillusionment, due to the fact that life in America is hard. Zoboi portrays this perfectly through Fabiola’s many hardships, from being separated from her mother to struggling to fit in at school to dealing with the violent atmosphere on the streets of Detroit, including references to drug abuse, domestic abuse, and crime.

I would recommend this to fans of street literature.