The independent student news site of San Marcos, California

The Cougar Chronicle

The independent student news site of San Marcos, California

The Cougar Chronicle

The independent student news site of San Marcos, California

The Cougar Chronicle

Your Reading List for Black History Month


February is Black History Month, a period dedicated to celebrating the Black community and their many contributions to our society. The curated list below offers you a roadmap to diversify your reading and serves as the starting point for a continuous journey of discovery. You will find a mixture of well-known books as well as more obscure ones. Genres ranging from Fiction to Fantasy, and even some of this year’s most anticipated upcoming releases. Happy reading!

Contemporary Fiction

Such a Fun Age”, a debut novel that delves into issues of race and privilege, is centered around Alix Chamberlain, a confident woman known for her success-driven brand. When her black babysitter, Emira Tucker, is unjustly accused of kidnapping while watching Alix’s child, a series of events unfolds that brings their lives into unexpected conflict. Alix is determined to rectify the situation, but Emira is wary and uncertain about accepting help. As the story unfolds, it explores the complexities of transactional relationships, the blurred lines of family dynamics, and the challenges of adulthood. With empathy and sharp social commentary, Such a Fun Age navigates the intricacies of race and privilege in a compelling narrative that will resonate with readers. This debut is a thought-provoking exploration of contemporary issues, offering a fresh perspective on the dynamics of human connection and self-discovery.


Black Buck” is a satirical novel, perfect for fans of “Sorry to Bother You” and “The Wolf of Wall Street.” Darren, a laid-back 22-year-old, gets an unexpected shot at stardom as the lone Black salesman at Sumwun, a mysterious and wildly successful tech startup. Through a series of transformative events, Darren, now known as “Buck,” navigates the cutthroat world of sales, leading to a hilarious and razor-sharp exploration of ambition and race. These propulsive novel challenges traditional notions of the American dream, delivering a gripping and thought-provoking narrative.



Yasmen and Josiah Wade’s once unbreakable love faces the harsh realities of life’s challenges in “Before I Let Go”. Despite their failed marriage, they’ve found a new balance in co-parenting and running a successful business together. Yet, the magnetic pull between them sparks a question – are they truly ready to let go? As stolen kisses reignite passion, old wounds resurface, forcing them to confront the possibility of a second chance forever. In this scorching novel by award-winning author Kennedy Ryan, discover a tale of hope, healing, and the enduring meaning of love.


In this heartwarming romance, “The Neighbor Favor,” Lily Greene, a shy bookworm yearning for love, enlists her charming neighbor, Nick Brown, to help her find a date for her sister’s wedding. Unbeknownst to Lily, Nick is the same obscure fantasy author she’s been corresponding with, creating a delightful twist in their evolving connection. As they navigate their feelings and secrets, the simple favor becomes a complex dance of emotions, weaving a tale of love, self-discovery, and unexpected connections.


Historical Fiction

In “The Vanishing Half,” Brit Bennett explores the lives of Vignes twin sisters who, after escaping their small Southern black community at sixteen, take divergent paths. One lives with her black daughter in the town she fled, while the other passes for white, hiding her past from her white husband. Spanning decades and locations, Bennett weaves a poignant family tale that delves into the complexities of racial identity, family bonds, and the far-reaching impact of personal choices. Beyond race, the narrative probes the enduring influence of history on decisions and aspirations, offering a captivating exploration of the multifaceted reasons people may choose to live apart from their origins.



Inspired by true events, “Take My Hand” explores the fine line between help and control, love and smothering, as 23-year-old nurse Civil Townsend navigates her role in administering birth control shots to the Williams family in 1973 Montgomery, Alabama. When she discovers the girls are sterilized without consent, Civil, now a doctor in 2016, grapples with guilt and fights for justice. This gripping novel sheds light on the dark history of forced sterilization, offering a mature perspective on complex characters and societal issues, set against the vivid backdrop of 1970s Montgomery.



Fantasy & Science Fiction

In this short novella, Binti, the first Himba person offered a place at the prestigious Oomza University, faces a difficult choice: sacrifice her family and customs for knowledge. However, her stellar journey to the university puts her in peril as she enters a world marked by a longstanding conflict with the menacing Meduse. To survive and navigate the legacy of a war she didn’t create, Binti must rely on her people’s gifts and the wisdom of the University. Yet, reaching there alive proves to be her first formidable challenge.



Chain-Gang All-Stars” thrusts readers into the brutal world of CAPE (Criminal Action Penal Entertainment), America’s profit-driven private prison system. Loretta Thurwar and Hamara “Hurricane Staxxx” Stacker, gladiator lovers, fight for freedom in death-matches, challenging the unholy alliance of systemic racism, unchecked capitalism, and mass incarceration. As Thurwar aims to break free, CAPE’s corporate owners fiercely protect their status quo, revealing the devastating consequences of a depraved entertainment system masquerading as justice.



In 1915 America, demons in white hoods, fueled by The Birth of a Nation’s spell, plan to unleash Hell on Earth through the Klan. Maryse Boudreaux and her resistance fighters, armed with blade, bullet, and bomb, stand in their way. As they hunt Klan demons, a brewing darkness in Macon threatens to escalate the war on Hell. PDC’s novella, “Ring Shout,” brilliantly blends Lovecraftian horror with an urgent exploration of historical atrocities, offering a powerful commentary on the current state of the world. With intense body horror and profound subtext, it’s a gripping under-200-page read that leaves an impact. In an era of heightened polarization, “Ring Shout” provides a fantastical yet relevant lens to examine the monstrous consequences of hatred and the enduring fight for justice.


In a predominantly white Rust Belt town, Liz Rocher reluctantly returns for her best friend’s wedding. When the bride’s daughter, Caroline, goes missing in the woods, Liz realizes it’s not the first time. A pattern emerges: Black girls disappearing during summer nights in the woods. Digging into the town’s dark history, Liz unveils a horrifying secret. As the evil in the forest closes in, Liz must find Caroline or succumb to the darkness. This chilling tale confronts fear, racism, and real-life monsters hiding behind shadows. The riveting storyline and thought-provoking narrative make “Jackal” a unique masterpiece, shedding light on societal issues through a haunting exploration of horror and racism.

Mystery & Thriller

In “Harlem Shuffle,” Colson Whitehead presents a captivating tale set in 1960s Harlem. Ray Carney, a seemingly upright furniture salesman with a hidden lineage of hoods, gets entangled in a heist gone wrong, thrusting him into a world of shady characters. Balancing his double life, Ray must navigate Harlem’s underworld, facing perilous situations and questioning who truly controls the neighborhood. Whitehead’s ingenious narrative blends crime, family saga, humor, and social commentary, creating a delightful homage to Harlem in the early ’60s. This novel is another remarkable work from the Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award-winning author.


In “All Her Little Secrets,” Wanda M. Morris delivers a gripping thriller as Ellice Littlejohn, a black lawyer, navigates corporate secrets and her own dark past after her boss’s sudden death. As Ellice grapples with her boss Michael’s mysterious death, she is thrust into a web of gossip, suspicion, and unexpected promotion, becoming the company’s lone black attorney. Uncovering shady dealings, she faces an ethical dilemma, realizing the true threat lies within the company’s own darkness. Morris crafts a pulse-pounding narrative that challenges norms, making this story a riveting and thought-provoking read.


In “Pomegranate,” Ranita Atwater, a queer Black woman, strives for healing, redemption, and love after her release from prison. Almost completing her sentence for opiate possession, Ranita, with three years of sobriety, is determined to stay clean and regain custody of her children. As she confronts the weight of her past, Ranita, with a fierce and sometimes funny voice, navigates the rocky path to wellness, addressing old wounds and steering clear of temptations. In this gripping novel, Helen Elaine Lee paints a humane and unflinching portrait of the devastating effects of incarceration and addiction, offering a complex portrayal of queer Black womanhood and resilience.


The Prophets” explores the forbidden love between two enslaved young men on a Deep South plantation. Isaiah and Samuel find refuge in each other’s arms in a world ruled by vicious masters. However, when an older slave seeks favor by preaching the master’s gospel, their love is deemed sinful, putting their existence at risk. With Toni Morrison-esque lyricism, Robert Jones, Jr. weaves a tale that summons the voices of both oppressors and the oppressed, revealing the pain of inheritance while illuminating the heroic power of love in the face of oppression.


Short Story Collections 

In “The Office of Historical Corrections,” Danielle Evans explores race, grief, apology, and American history through seven brilliant stories. With sly and prescient narratives, Evans delves into the complexities of modern society, tackling issues like racial injustice, generational pain, and the whitewashing of history. Her characters navigate the challenges of love, grief, and societal expectations, providing a nuanced reflection of a changing world. The collection is an emotional rollercoaster, offering jaw-dropping surprises and thought-provoking moments that linger in the mind, showcasing Evans as a masterful storyteller.


The Secret Lives of Church Ladies” delves into the complex spaces where Black women navigate desires, seeking moments of liberation amid the church’s expectations. Across nine stories spanning four generations, characters grapple with identity, caught between the church’s standards and their own passions. From a teenage crush to midlife self-discovery and forbidden affairs, these church ladies reveal their secret longings and vulnerabilities, portraying a seductive, unfaithful, and ultimately freeing exploration of their lives. With lyrical prose, Deesha Philyaw crafts a poignant narrative that captures the unapologetic essence of these women’s journeys.


Melania Luisa Marte’s debut poetry collection, “Plantains and Our Becoming,” passionately explores Afro-Latina identity, challenging stereotypes and celebrating the Black diasporic experience. From New York to Texas to the Dominican Republic and Haiti, Marte delves into themes of self-love, displacement, generational trauma, and ancestral knowledge, offering a joyous vision for Black identity. This collection serves as a powerful “war cry” and a call for recognition, beautifully navigating the complexities of home, belonging, and cultural pride.


From spoken word poet Jasmine Mans comes an unforgettable poetry collection about race, feminism, and queer identity. Mans writes to call herself—and us—home. Each poem explores what it means to be a daughter of Newark and America–and the painful, joyous path to adulthood as a young, queer Black woman. “Black Girl, Call Home is a love letter to the wandering Black girl and a vital companion to any woman on a journey to find truth, belonging, and healing.


2024 Anticipated Books:

In “Long After We Are Gone,” the Solomon siblings reunite to save their ancestral home and land from a development company aiming to turn it into a luxury resort. As they fight for the Kingdom, they confront their own secrets, including hidden loves, explosive tempers, embezzlement, and a yearning for acceptance. Alternating viewpoints reveal the crumbling facades of the Solomon family, exploring the power of family, the consequences of miscommunication, and the legacies passed on to the next generation. Publication: May 14, 2024


In “While We Were Burning” a scorching debut reminiscent of Parasite and Such a Fun Age, Elizabeth Smith’s life unravels after her best friend’s death. Hiring Brianna as a personal assistant, Elizabeth discovers that Brianna, investigating the police killing of her Black son, is entangled in the same web of secrets surrounding her friend’s demise. The intersection of race, class, and female friendship propels them toward a gripping showdown, blurring the lines between employer and friend as they unveil the devastating consequences of their actions. Publication: April 16, 2024


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