February is Black History Month—a time to celebrate Black motherhood, honor the many ground-breaking Black women like Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson who continue to shatter ceilings, and add some incredibly talented Black authors to your book shelf. From suspenseful murder-mysteries to sexy love stories, we’ve rounded up 21 must-read books by Black authors for your next book club, nap time reading escape, or even just those 20 minutes of quiet you get waiting in car line. Whenever you score a few blessed moments of getting lost in a book, we know you want it to be good. So we’ve got you covered.

Related: 26 picture books to read with your kids during Black History Month (and every month of the year)

And while there are a few classics that show up on most “books you must read in your lifetime” lists, like “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings”, “Their Eyes Were Watching God”, and “The Color Purple” (and yes, you should absolutely read those and all the other classics that are solidified in American literature canon), we decided to round up more contemporary books that have been published within the last few years. But don’t worry—this list has crime fiction, light-hearted beach reads, and historical fiction that will leave you both gutted and inspired all at the same time. Whatever genre you’re looking for, it’s here.

Related: The most anticipated books to read in 2023

Add these books by Black authors to your reading list:

Anywhere You Run

Anywhere You Run by Wanda M. Morris

Set against the backdrop of the Civil Rights Movement, “Anywhere You Run” is part historical fiction, part riveting suspense—this tale has it all. You’ll follow the stories of two sisters on the run—for different reasons—and you won’t be able to put this book down until the end.

The Davenports

The Davenports by Krystal Marquis

Fans of Bridgerton and Downton Abbey (or any other high-society family searching for romance) will love The Davenports—a wealthy family in 1910 who have loads of money and a habit of falling in love with the wrong people. Lots of drama, love and heartbreak in this one!

Highly Suspicious and Unfairly Cute

Highly Suspicious and Unfairly Cute by Talia Hibbert

Attention beach-readers! This one’s for you. Bradley Graeme is, well, exactly what someone with the name Bradley Graeme would be like—good looking, athletic… you know the type. And Celine Bangura is his former bestie (who feels like he ditched her for cooler friends). “Highly Suspicious and Unfairly Cute” is a laugh-out-loud rom-com about how friendships can either die off completely or sometimes turn into something new (wink).

(Pssst! Another great beach read by Talia Hibbert is “Get a Life, Chloe Brown.”)

The Missing American

The Missing American (An Emma Djan Investigation) by Kwei Quartey

Emma Djan is a private investigator in Accra, Ghana. Derek is searching for his missing father, an American who ended up across the world in Africa. The two pair up in the search and find themselves immersed in a world where people are willing to kill to protect their secrets. “The Missing American” is only part 1 of a 3-book series, so prepare to get hooked!

Black Cake

Black Cake by Charmaine Wilkerson

Upon her death, Eleanor Bennett leaves behind a puzzling inheritance for her two children, Byron and Benny: a black cake, made from a family recipe with a long history, and a voice recording. Except part of her odd “gift” includes the story of a murder—unleashing a string of secrets and betrayals that will force this family to question everything they knew about Eleanor.

Good Morning, Love

Good Morning, Love by Ashley M. Coleman

Rom-com readers will love this one! Musician and song-writer Carli Henton is trying to “make it big” in the music industry, but when her path crosses with Tau Anderson, a rising star himself, her plan is turned upside down. “Good Morning, Love” is both a story of romance and a tale of what it’s like trying to chase a dream (and survive) in a world that’s not always kind to ambitious women.

Queenie: Godmother of Harlem

Queenie: Godmother of Harlem by Elizabeth Colomba and Aurelie Levy

“Queenie: Godmother of Harlem” is a graphic novel that tells the true story of Stephanie Saint-Clair, infamous criminal and Harlem legend from the 1930s. Living through Prohibition, the Great Depression, and a nation plagued by systemic racism and sexism, Saint-Clair fears nothing, and no one. Standing up to Italian mobsters (and anyone else who got in her way), she solidified her place as the one of the fiercest Black women in American history.

The Vanishing Half

The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett

Named one of the best books of the year by The New York Times, Washington Post, NPR, People, Time Magazine, Vanity Fair and Glamour, “The Vanishing Half” has been a favorite among readers, book clubs, and library and book store display shelves everywhere for the past couple years. Spanning five decades, this story of identical twins reflects on the many ways that race impacts society, including the experience of Black Americans who passed as white.

Perish by Latoya Watkins

Perish by Latoya Watkins

“Perish” tells the story of a Black Texan family called home to say goodbye to their matriarch who is on her deathbed. The reader quickly learns, however, of each character’s complicated past and how inherited trauma and intergenerational violence can either bond family members together or drive them apart for good.

Deacon King Kong

Deacon King Kong by James McBride

It’s 1969 in Brooklyn, New York when a church deacon known as Sportcoat shoots a drug dealer at point-blank range. “Deacon King Kong” tells what happens next—to the Black and Latinx witnesses to this crime, to the white neighbors, to the cops investigating, and to the members of the church who had been led by Sportcoat, and how all of their lives overlap in unexpected ways.

Parable of the Sower

Parable of the Sower by Octavia E. Butler

If you enjoy a good apocalyptic novel that’s seems eerily close to being true when you look at the state of the world, “Parable of the Sower” is your next read. Global climate change, water shortages, and economic crises have caused social chaos in the 2020s (hmmm sounds familiar) and 15-year-old Lauren Olamina, who suffers from debilitating hyperempathy, is just trying to survive.

The Love You Save

The Love You Save by Goldie Taylor

“The Love You Save” is a heart wrenching story of endurance under the most unimaginable of circumstances. Abandoned by her mother, Goldie Taylor lives in extreme poverty with her aunt but is able to cope with the challenges life hands her through the love of a nurturing teacher who helps foster Goldie’s passion for reading.

Driving the Green Book

Driving the Green Book by Alvin Hall

Throughout the Jim Crow era, Black Americans across the country relied on “The Negro Motorist Green Book,” which was a guide to businesses that were safe for resting, eating, or sleeping. “Driving the Green Book” is the story of Alvin Hall, who travels the nation with the Green Book as his guide. Hall visits establishments, tours cultural landmarks, and tells an important piece of American history that is also a story of Black resilience and resistance.

Real Men Knit

Real Men Knit by Kwana Jackson

Four brothers are suddenly tasked with the decision to either keep their late mother’s beloved Harlem knitting shop open or close its doors forever. That’s where Kerry Fuller comes in—she’s one of the shop’s part-time employees, and she has a crush on one of the brothers. As the two of them work together to keep Strong Knits afloat and in business, their relationship grows stronger too, and Kerry is about to find out if “real men knit” after all.

The Girl I Am, Was, and Never Will Be

The Girl I Am, Was, and Never Will Be: A Speculative Memoir of Transracial Adoption by Shannon Gibney

“The Girl I Am, Was, and Never Will Be” is part true-story, part fiction, and includes the author’s real adoption documents, letters, photographs, interviews, and essays that tell the realities of her transracial adoption experience and what it was like growing up as a Black child adopted by white parents.

Conjure Women

Conjure Women by Atakora Afia

A story that brings the deep South pre and post Civil War to life, “Conjure Women” is about three remarkable women—Miss May Belle, a healing woman, her daughter Rue, and their master’s daughter Varina. The bonds these women share are tested as war breaks out and an accursed child terrifies the town, threatening the freedom May Belle and her daughter are just getting a taste of for the first time.

find her. keep her.

find her. keep her. by Renaada Williams

It will feel like poet Renaada Williams has given you access to her most private diary with this beautiful book of poems that reflect her experiences as a queer Black woman in America. This emotional and raw take on her journey to acceptance as she explores her own sexuality and place in this world make “find her. keep her.” a must-read.

Daughter in Exile

Daughter in Exile by Bisi Adjapon

Lola is a successful writer, thriving in Senegal with a great job, apartment, and social life. But when she meets and falls in love with Armand, an American marine, everything changes and suddenly she is bound for the states, where she’ll struggle as an undocumented immigrant. Faced with an unbearable choice—stay in the U.S. or return to her home country, Lola must be strong and resilient as both options require sacrifice and heartache.

The Fifth Season

The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin

Fantasy readers, this one’s for you! “The Fifth Season” is book 1 of an apocalyptic trilogy about a mother’s quest to find her kidnapped daughter. The last of the human race exists on one unstable continent called the Stillness, where spewing ash has completing blotted out the sun, making the end of the world seem imminent. This one has all the pieces of a page-turner you won’t want to put down.

My Sister, the Serial Killer

My Sister, the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite

A book like no other, “My Sister, the Serial Killer” is a dark comedy (very dark) that tests a sister’s loyalty and just far she is willing to go to protect her sibling (a sibling whose boyfriends keep ending up dead). When a handsome doctor comes between them, their normally unbreakable bond is truly tested for the first time.

Seven Days in June

Seven Days in June by Tia Williams

Want a hot and sexy romance novel? We got you. “Seven Days in June” is funny, romantic, and retable too—the main character is an overworked single mom who has found herself unexpectedly reconnected with a former flame (and trust us, that flame was hot). Will she get a second chance at love?

nightcrawling book

Nightcrawling by Leila Mottley

An Oprah book club pick and one of the bestselling novels of the year, “Nightcrawling” tells the vulnerable story of Kiara, a sister trying to make ends meet for her brother and the little boy next door who’s been abandoned, no matter what lengths she has to go to.

A version of this post was published January 24, 2023. It has been updated.