Hello, fellow bookworms!

I’m not sure what’s in the air lately — besides the summer sunshine (finally!) — but I’ve found myself getting extra lucky with the books I’ve been picking up. Over the years, I’ve gotten pretty good at picking out books that I think I’ll really like, but of course, they can’t all be winners. However, in the past weeks, I’ve found myself reading book after book that impressed me, fascinated me, and made me think, “I’m so glad I picked this up!” Here are just a few of the books that I enjoyed in the last couple of months:

Credit: Courtesy

Starting us off, we have The Gulf by Rachel Cochran, a tangled web of secrets and complicated relationships set in a 1970s Texas town still recovering from a ravaging earthquake and the Vietnam War. Twenty-nine-year-old Lou, still mourning her older brother’s death in Vietnam, has taken a job renovating a historic mansion owned by Miss Kate, an older woman who has always been a surrogate mother to her. But when Miss Kate is found dead and her daughter, Joanna, who was Lou’s first love, arrives back in town to settle her mother’s affairs, long-buried secrets come to light, and no one will be the same.

This book may be marketed as a mystery/thriller, but I found it much more enjoyable through the lens of historical fiction (to me, as a millennial, the ’70s are historic). Cochran immerses the reader in the times that Lou grows up in, and her experience as a closeted lesbian, half Black and half white, being raised by her Mexican aunt. Family — both found and biological, and all the complications that come with it — features as a central theme, and I found it to be the most touching and impactful aspect of the book. Lou’s search for her own identity, as well as the right people who will accept her, is something I’m sure will resonate with many readers.

Credit: Courtesy

It’s easy to become fascinated by other people’s stories. But when true crime is involved, the lines can get very blurred. In Alice Slater’s Death of a Bookseller, we are introduced two young women who work in the same bookshop in London: Roach, a true-crime junkie who embraces the darker, uglier side of life even as she desperately tries to fit in with her peers; and Laura, a kind, charismatic poet who would prefer to keep her traumatic history in the past. When Roach discovers that Laura is also interested in true crime, she becomes obsessed with developing a friendship between them, without considering that Laura’s reasons are very different from her own.

True crime is fascinating, but it’s so important to maintain healthy boundaries between one’s interest and the real people whose lives have been affected. Death of a Bookseller perfectly captures the way the current trendiness of true crime can cross the lines between interest, caring, and speculation into disrespect and treating real tragedies as a spectacle. I particularly loved Slater’s writing style; every scene felt so vivid, and I found myself reading just a few chapters at a time to properly savor the story.

I’ve already been recommending this one to friends who also consume true-crime content, and they’ve been enjoying it too! I’m definitely keeping an eye on Alice Slater for any future releases.

Credit: Courtesy

You’ve heard of some of American history’s most famous women, such as Harriet Tubman, Amelia Earhart, Rosa Parks, and Susan B. Anthony. But have you heard of “Reindeer Mary” Antisarlook, who became Alaska’s first self-made female millionaire through her reindeer herds, while also finding time to take in more than fifteen orphaned kids; Aida Overton Walker, who redefined expectations of Black women in stage performances with her grace and incredible dance talents; or “Poker” Alice Tubbs, who thrived in the men’s world of the Wild West as a card player who once made the modern equivalent of $165,000 in one night? Therese Oneill’s Unbecoming a Lady: The Forgotten Sluts and Shrews Who Shaped America unveils a cast of characters ranging from the righteous to the rowdy who all left their mark on history.

If you like your history with plenty of feminism and a splash of humor, you’ll find this book as enjoyable as I did. With chapter headings such as “Daring Drama Queens of Dubious Renown” and “Dames Who Took a Perfectly Good Thing and Made It Better,” this book gives each woman her historical laurels while including the much-appreciated “what were they thinking?” humor at the outdated conventions surrounding women.

From the ball-busting businesswomen to the shrillest shrews with something to say, Oneill introduces the reader to a cast of characters I wish I would’ve heard about in history class.

Credit: Courtesy

In the 1940s, with a civil war raging through China, the wealthy Ang family seems to have it all, except for an heir. Eldest daughter Hai grows up witnessing her mother being abused by her elders for failing to have a male child, while she and her sisters are undervalued. But when the elders of the family including Hai’s father, flee to Taiwan to escape the oncoming Communist army, Hai and her mother and sisters are left behind to fend for themselves. With forged travel permits in hand, they embark on a journey from Shandong to Qingdao to British Hong Kong and, finally, to Taiwan, armed with their own intelligence, strength, and resourcefulness to see themselves through.

Daughters of Shandong by Eve J. Chung may be historical fiction, but, as Chung writes in her Author’s Note, it is heavily based off of her grandmother’s story as a refugee during the Communist Revolution. The subject matter and themes may remind the reader of Amy Tan — relationships between mothers and daughters; women paving the way for future generations — but Chung’s style is all her own.

I found myself completely drawn in by Hai’s story, from the highs to the lows, in all the forms they come in. Daughters of Shandong is an incredible story of resilience, hope, and the strength of the human spirit.

Clearly, I was on a bit of a history/historical fiction kick. Have you read any of these books, or do you have any history recommendations for me? Let me know, and I hope you’re all taking advantage of this weather to read outside. Happy reading!

—Tessa, allbooked@independent.com


Below, you will find a few bookish events coming up in Santa Barbara. If you are hosting a bookish event in Santa Barbara, be sure to submit the event to our online events calendar.

El Encanto Literary Club with Annie Barrows
Tuesday, July 2, noon | El Encanto, A Belmond Hotel

Wiggly Storytime
Friday, July 5, 10:15 a.m. | Central Library

Baby & Me Storytime
Friday, July 5, 10:30 a.m. | Goleta Valley Library

Book Swap at Sunkissed Pantry
Saturday, July 6, 11 a.m. | Sunkissed Pantry

Preschool Story Time
Monday, July 8, 10 a.m. | Carpinteria Community Library

Bilingual Songs & Stories for Kids
Wednesday, July 10, 11 a.m. | Franklin Elementary School

Romance Book Club
Wednesday, July 10, 5:30 p.m. | Virtual

Book Talk and Signing: Robin Norwood
Wednesday, July 10, 6 p.m. | Chaucer’s Books

Wiggly Storytime
Friday, July 12, 10:15 a.m. | Central Library

McCartney Afternoon Tea with Ivor Davis
Saturday, July 13, 3 p.m. | The Museum of Ventura County

Preschool Story Time
Monday, July 15, 10 a.m. | Carpinteria Community Library


We at the Independent get many books sent to us by local authors, sometimes too many! It’s practically impossible for us to read and review them all, but just because we are busy bees does not mean that they aren’t worth the attention. In an attempt to not completely drop the ball, we have compiled a list of books here that have a local spin. They are all either written by a local author, feature someone in our community, or have another tie to Santa Barbara. I urge you to look through this list. Perhaps you will find your new favorite read!

The following are the most recent titles that have been sent to us. Click here for a more comprehensive list.

Wildlife Crossings of Hope: Connecting Creatures Around the Globe by Teddi Lynn Chichester

The Butterfly Tree: An Extraordinary Saga of Seven Generations by Woody Woodburn

Trust and Confidence: Inside the Battle Between the Secret Service and Ken Starr by Jim Lichtman

As Time Goes By by W. Royce Adams

Perfect Eloquence: An Appreciation of Vin Scully, edited by Tom Hoffarth

If you are a local author and would like us to feature your book in this section, please email allbooked@independent.com with the subject line “Local Author Spotlight.”

Book Reviews Courtesy of CALIFORNIA REVIEW OF BOOKS*

Thanks to the generous contributions of David Starkey, Brian Tanguay and their team of reviewers at California Review of Books, we are able to provide a steady stream of book reviews via our content partnership. Recent reviews at Independent.com include:

Sea People: The Puzzle of Polynesia by Christina Thompson; review by David Starkey

And Then? And Then? What Else? by Daniel Handler, a k a Lemony Snicket; review by George Yatchisin

*At the present time, all of the Independent’s book reviews are provided in collaboration with California Review of Books (calirb.com).

Premier Events

Get News in Your Inbox


Please note this login is to submit events or press releases. Use this page here to login for your Independent subscription

Not a member? Sign up here.