#AMonthofFaves 2021: Popular Books Worth the Hype

Today’s prompt is pretty self-evident, so let’s get into it.

Book #1 – The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett

The hype:

#1 NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER

ONE OF BARACK OBAMA’S FAVORITE BOOKS OF THE YEAR

NAMED A BEST BOOK OF 2020 BY THE NEW YORK TIMES * THE WASHINGTON POST * NPR * PEOPLE * TIME MAGAZINE* VANITY FAIR * GLAMOUR 

2021 WOMEN’S PRIZE FINALIST

Penguin Random House

My review:

The Vanishing HalfThe Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Well, this was just awesome. I loved the narrative voice, the seamless transitions from past to present, and the characterization. That Stella is something else, but I think Bennett deftly shows how though her world seems larger, it’s actually just as small–if not smaller–than Desiree’s. I also appreciated the skewering of moderate racist White people.

All the characters here are sympathetic, and this just further proves my point that fiction can be a better entry point into anti-racist teaching than nonfiction. Also, as always, all Black lives matter and the reminder that “unimportant men were killed to make the point that they were unimportant–that they were not even men” (179) was as true in the 1960s as it is now.

The title works on ~levels~ and I am here for it.

View all my reviews

Book #2 – Milk and Honey by Rupi Kuar

The hype:

“Rupi Kaur is the Writer of the Decade.” – The New Republic

#1 New York Times bestseller 

Andrews McMeels Publishing

Also, there was just a lot of buzz about it in the blogosphere.

My review:

Milk and HoneyMilk and Honey by Rupi Kaur
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

So, the thing about this collection is that on a soul level I really enjoyed it. The emotionality of it does not miss, and that’s what makes it enjoyable.

However, as someone who teaches poetry, at some point I found myself thinking, “Yes, yes, these are some nice pithy bon mots, but where is the imagery?”

As a collection, this is pretty powerful, but so many of these poems–especially in the healing section–would not stand on their own. I mean, they make fine stand alone quotes and are empowering (e.g., “you must want to spend the rest of your life with yourself first” [190]), but I wouldn’t call them poetry.

Also, I like that Kaur explains the formatting choice because it also helped me understand a lot of the choices Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni made in The Mistress of Spices as well.

3.5 stars, rounding up

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Book #3 – Good Talk by Mira Jacob

The hype:

NAMED ONE OF THE TEN BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR BY Chicago Tribune • The New York Public Library • Publishers Weekly AND ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR BY The New York Times Book Review • Time • BuzzFeed • Esquire • Library Journal • Kirkus Reviews

Penguin Random House

My review:

Good Talk: A Memoir in ConversationsGood Talk: A Memoir in Conversations by Mira Jacob
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

So, this book is…interesting. There’s a lot I like about it. I love the conceit of the book: Mira Jacob shows key moments of her life through a series of conversations with family and friends, toggling between 2016 and moments from the past.

I like the idea of the artwork…most of the time. The style seems to be hand-drawn paper dolls placed on tops of photographs of specific backgrounds. I thought that was very cool, in general. My only problem was that the characters’ facial expressions don’t change, which is sometimes used to great effect (like Jacob’s husband being a detached white dude for many of their exchanges about race) but at other times, like when they’re talking about their son, it’s just weird and doesn’t seem to fit.

The other issue with this book I had is that at some point, it turned into a straight bathroom book and I was uninterested in reading it outside of those very short chunks. I don’t know if it’s because the topics covered were heavy or if I just wasn’t that interested in the book itself. And I also found myself wondering why I wasn’t finished with the book yet, which is never a good sign.

All in all, though, I liked it and found it a worthwhile read and would recommend it, especially if you’re interested in unconventionally told narratives.


View all my reviews

Book #4 – Daisy Jones & The Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid

The hype:

NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER

REESE’S BOOK CLUB PICK • IN DEVELOPMENT AS AN ORIGINAL STREAMING SERIES EXECUTIVE PRODUCED BY REESE WITHERSPOON

NAMED ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR BY NPR • The Washington Post • Esquire • Glamour • Real Simple • Good Housekeeping • Marie Claire • Parade • Paste • Shelf Awareness • BookRiot

Penguin Random House

Also, several of my friends said it was a must read.

My review:

Daisy Jones & The SixDaisy Jones & The Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Believe the hype. This book is phenomenal.

Fun fact: I started this as an audiobook but couldn’t stand the Daisy Jones narration but ultimately that’s what I heard every time Daisy Jones spoke in the book. So what I’m saying is: the voice Jennifer Beals picked absolutely fit the narrative (and is exactly how Daisy’s voice is described); I just couldn’t get into it even though I love a full-cast audio.

So anyway, yes, I loved this mostly because it’s a great character study and I love character studies. My favorite character is probably Pete (who doesn’t even do any narration)–(view spoiler)–and my second favorite is Warren because they are legit the only ones that are all, “I mean, I’m just here to play music.”

I had so much to say when I first read this, but I don’t want to say too much to ruin the experience of reading it for anyone else. I will say, though, that this is a very different kind of love story, and I really liked the exploration of what love can look like and that it is not always a fairytale. I also am super into oral histories and since this is in the style of an oral history, it 100% worked for me. Also also also, I love the cover because it looks like an album cover and perfectly captures the mood of the entire story.

I also love Karen, but you knew that already. And Camila was also awesome. Okay, I loved all the female characters except Daisy–except that’s not even true. Daisy is a great character. I just wouldn’t want to be her friend is all. (I also wouldn’t want to be any of the guys’ friends except maybe Warren.)

View all my reviews

Book #5 – The Black Kids by Christina Hammonds Reed

The hype:

New York Times bestseller

A William C. Morris Award Finalist

Simon & Schuster

Another one with a lot of bloggy buzz.

My review:

The Black KidsThe Black Kids by Christina Hammonds Reed
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Let this book serve as your daily reminder that Black people are not a monolith and there is no one African American experience.

It took me a while to warm up to this story, but I wound up really liking this book. I liked the backdrop of the 1992 LA riots and how Reed used them because it’s such a great reminder that when history is happening, teenagers are still very much just…going to school and dealing with the immediate dramas that make up their lives even as they’re aware that Big Stuff is going on in the world. I also liked that Ashley–unlike her sister and even some of her other peers–didn’t know exactly what to do in part because her feelings were so big that she wasn’t even sure how to process them so she just kept on going to school and trying to sort out her friendships. And isn’t that just the way it is?

This is very much regular stories about regular teens, which is a thing I am very much into. There’s a lot of female friendship stuff layered in here as well as sister relationships with a hint of family secrets. Also, this is very realistic in the way that Insecure can be, which makes it painful to read at times because of the realism. But there’s humor and heart, and Ashley wound up worming her way into my heart.

I should also note that I was annoyed by the title at first on GP, but it makes perfect sense and totally fits the story, so I was wrong to hate it on sight. I like it now!

View all my reviews

Book #6 – The Midnight Library by Matt Haig

The hype:

The New York Times bestselling WORLDWIDE phenomenon

Winner of the Goodreads Choice Award for Fiction | A Good Morning America Book Club Pick | Independent (London) Ten Best Books of the Year

Penguin Random House

This is another book that seemed to be everywhere — so much so that I nominated it for my book club (and it won!).

My review:

The Midnight LibraryThe Midnight Library by Matt Haig
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I think I would have liked this book more if I had read it with my eyeballs instead of my ears because the narrator had some affectations and reading habits that I didn’t quite care for (whispering lines that didn’t need it for one) and because I knew where I wanted the story to end, but I wanted to hurry up and get there. I’m a faster reader than listener, so that last one is more a me thing than the book, but still.

Overall, I liked this story. I like anything that causes the reader to think about their own place in the world, and since this story was basically designed to make one consider whether or not they are living their best life, it had me at hello. The characters were specific and interesting and though I found Nora frustrating at times, I was rooting for her to figure it all out.

My only real complaint is that this type of story can become repetitive really quickly if the character feels really stuck, and I did feel that way at some points in the middle. Yes, yes, we know, Nora is going to jump into a life that she thinks she likes but doesn’t really etc etc etc. Thankfully, there was just enough forward momentum in Nora’s thinking to keep the story moving along.

I would describe this as a cross between It’s A Wonderful Life, Sliders, and Quantum Leap with a little bit of something that’s about a person staring out the window watching the world go by.

3.5 stars

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Book #7 – Anna in the Tropics by Nilo Cruz

The hype:

This play won the 2003 Pulitzer Prize. I read it because the local theater is putting on a production of it in the spring, and I was considering teaching it in my spring lit classes and now that I’ve read it, I definitely will be.

My review:

Anna in the TropicsAnna in the Tropics by Nilo Cruz
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

It’s a play about the importance of stories and storytellings. These are a few of my favorite things.

View all my reviews

Book #8 – You by Caroline Kepnes

The hype:

NOW A HIT NETFLIX SERIES

NEW YORK TIMES AND USA TODAY BESTSELLER

Simon & Schuster

I have no interest in watching this show, but I know it’s very popular. This was a book club pick when the theme of the month was Netflix and Chill (anything on Netflix based on a book).

My review:

You (You, #1)You by Caroline Kepnes
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book is really well-written but, you know, it’s from the point of view of a psychotic serial killer, so.

My favorite thing about this book is that Kepnes really drives home how casually and cavalierly we use terms like “crazy” and “stalker” because Joe is…yikes. Also, this line is something else because, again Kepnes skillfully highlights how emotional (esp in women) usually equates to crazy:

Anyone who walked in here right now would think you’re nuts, Beck. Anyone would try and protect me and as you to lower your voice as you assault me with accusations.


And you probably won’t be surprised to know that Joe gets most of his best moves from rom-coms. Make of that what you will.

I also have to point out that the version I read is the original hardcover, which has a Rorschach inkblot in blood red, and it is creepy and perfect.

4.5 stars, rounding up

View all my reviews

Book #9 – Far From the Tree by Robin Benway

The hype:

National Book Award Winner, PEN America Award Winner, and New York Times Bestseller!

HarperCollins

My review:

Far from the TreeFar from the Tree by Robin Benway
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Hey, so this book has everything I love about realistic YA fiction. It’s compulsively readable (I think this is the fastest I’ve finished a book post-move and since school started), and the characters are fully drawn and believable. There are a lot of small moments here with big feelings, but there are also some really big moments here that are given the care and attention they deserve. I also appreciate that, though the characters have boyfriends and girlfriends, this is very much about family and Benway doesn’t allow those romantic relationships to hijack the narrative as so often happens in other YA novels. The novel is very much about Grace, Maya, and Joaquin and how they feel and think about family the whole way through.

4.5 stars, rounding up

View all my reviews

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