#AMonthofFaves 2022: Popular Books Worth the Hype

Self-evident topic is self-evident. Let’s get into it.

Book #1 – Teaching to Transgress by bell hooks

The hype:

I do not think I can articulate how big a deal this is in the academic travels I circle in. Just to give you a hint, my division had a working group called “Teachers Who Transgress.”

My review:

Teaching to Transgress: Education as the Practice of FreedomTeaching to Transgress: Education as the Practice of Freedom by bell hooks
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Did you know that this is an available as an audiobook read by none other than Robin Miles? I did not either until I stumbled upon said audio when I looked to see if I had logged what page I stopped at the first time I tried to read this in 2020. I did not, but the library extension showed me there was an audiobook version, so I had to check it out.

Miles’s narration is flawless as usual, and hooks’s writing is accessible. What I liked the most is that even though the book was apparently first published in 1994 (!), it feels and reads very current. The issues hooks discusses are issues we still deal with in the classroom. I wish hooks had community college experience because I would have loved to see how she tackled a lot of these ideas when working at a school where teaching IS the priority.

I seriously cannot believe I waited so long to read/finish this, but I am so glad that I finally did.

View all my reviews

Book #2 – Black Cake by Charmaine Wilkerson

The hype:

NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • READ WITH JENNA BOOK CLUB PICK AS FEATURED ON TODAY

In development as a Hulu original series produced by Marissa Jo Cerar, Oprah Winfrey (Harpo Films), and Kapital Entertainment

ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR: Oprah Daily, NPR, PopSugar

Penguin Random House

Also, a woman at my book club said it was excellent when we did our “what are you reading” round-up.

My review:

Black CakeBlack Cake by Charmaine Wilkerson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I listened to the audio, and it really is masterful. The narrator (narrators???) did the accents and the whole deal. It almost felt full cast.

As for the story itself, I liked it well enough. I liked that it went back and forth in time and that it was a slow uncovering of secrets the whole way through. It made me think of how we never really know our parents or grandparents beyond what they tell us or the family tells us and how there is definitely A Story that we believe based on that which may or may not be the truth.

I found Benny a bit insufferable and overwrought but that may just be because I’m more of a Byron. Still, though, I just wanted her to get it together or to show just a touch more awareness.

While I think almost everything was wrapped up, I still had questions about Byron’s relationship with his ex that I didn’t think were fully resolved but that I thought were important to the story. I also thought there was a slight pacing issue at the end, but that may have been because I was listening to the book and knew I would have been finished already if I were reading it with my eyeballs.

I liked the look at island life and especially the influx of Chinese immigration in the Caribbean. The first time I saw a travel special on Chinese Jamaican cuisine I almost lost my mind because of how incongruous to me the Jamaican accent was coupled with Chinese people, but that’s just my limited American knowledge/experience showing there.

All and all, a solid read.

View all my reviews

Book #3 – The Violin Conspiracy by Brandon Slocumb

A Good Morning America GMA Book Club Pick! • ONE OF THE WASHINGTON POST‘S BEST MYSTERY BOOKS OF THE YEAR • A Best Book of the Year: NPR, GOODREADS

The Seattle Times’s Most Anticipated Books of the Year • Goodreads: Most Anticipated Mysteries and Thrillers • Medium: The Most Exciting Book Releases of the Year • Pop Sugar: 35 Must-Read Thrillers and Mystery Books to Keep You Chasing Clues • The Millions: Most Anticipated Books of the Year • A Publishers Weekly Top Ten Mystery/Thriller • Book Riot: The 15 Best New Mystery Books

Penguin Random House

My review:

The Violin ConspiracyThe Violin Conspiracy by Brendan Slocumb
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I liked the beginning of this more than the end, though I loved the premise. I appreciated the look at the orchestra world, but there was so much I didn’t understand (why didn’t his mother like him? why didn’t he have a relationship with his younger siblings? just how much money does he make? etc). It honestly became distracting, especially because by himself he…wasn’t that interesting. I mean, the violin was the point, but…yeah.

I did figure out who did it but not exactly how, so that was good. And I was invested enough to finish it, so there is also that.

I will add that the audiobook was recommended to me, but I couldn’t rock with it because I didn’t like the way the narrator did the girlfriend’s voice. Do with that as you will.

View all my reviews

Also, I recognize that my review sounds very meh, but I liked the book in general and think other people will like it and not even notice most of the things I pointed out.

Book #4 – The Secret Lives of Church Ladies by Deesha Philyaw

The hype:

2020 National Book Award Finalist, Fiction
2021 PEN/Faulkner Winner
2020 Story Prize Winner
2020 L.A. Times Book Prize: Art Seidenbaum Award for First Fiction Winner

West Virginia University Press

Also, my friend said that it was so good that it made her mad at how good it was.

My review:

The Secret Lives of Church LadiesThe Secret Lives of Church Ladies by Deesha Philyaw
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book is “I read it in one day” levels of amazing. If you’ve ever considered, confronted, or contended with the church and especially what it says about gender and sexuality, this book may be of interest to you. If you are looking for a book with next level writing, this book is definitely for you.

In my creative writing class, I usually give my students free rein to choose whichever short story collection they want to read, but this book is honestly making me want to reconsider that.

View all my reviews

Book #5 – Sea of Tranquility by Emily St. John Mandel

The hype:

NEW YORK TIMES BEST SELLER • Longlisted for the 2023 Andrew Carnegie Medals for Excellence in Fiction

Penguin Random House

My review:

Sea of TranquilitySea of Tranquility by Emily St. John Mandel
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I read this in a day.

I do not know whether or not the (view spoiler)[time travel (hide spoiler)] reveal counts as a spoiler or not because I cannot remember at which point in the novel I read it since the whole thing read so quickly for me. I will say that when it did happen, it felt very satisfying as if it were something I knew all along that had been confirmed–much like the way all the plot threads came together in the end. I also was not annoyed by it, which is a big deal because–as a general rule–I do not like (view spoiler)[time travel (hide spoiler)] stories.

I love that this book revisits other characters from St. John Mandel’s other books without playing a game of gotcha to explain that which was unexplained before. It was also fun to read a story that hints at what St. John Mandel must have experienced as a writer who wrote a book about a pandemic only to live through a pandemic. This is just such a lovely, thoughtful book that distills such a grandiose idea into intimate character detail.

Also, Zoey is clearly my favorite character because one thing about me is that I will stan a competent, intelligent woman.

There’s a suggested reading list at the back, which I also appreciated.

View all my reviews

Book #6 – The Circular Staircase by Mary Roberts Rinehart

The hype:

Mary Roberts Rinehart’s The Circular Staircase is credited with creating the “Had I But Known” genre of detective fiction.

Goodreads

Also, see my review for why I read the book.

My review:

The Circular StaircaseThe Circular Staircase by Mary Roberts Rinehart
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I picked this up because the library had an online display/feature about the author and how she is often called the American Agatha Christie. I went in with a bit of trepidation because, you know, racism, and while there is a bit of casual racism directed toward the Black characters (and Indians for some reason even though there are none in the book), there are also a ton of shots taken at the white servants since the narrator believes herself to be smarter than them, AND the one victim that’s a character of color is the only victim that anyone in the book actually mourns or cares for, so I dunno. It’s a wash, I guess, in terms of representation. It definitely could be better but it’s not as horrible as I thought it would be, but we all know that bar is in hell, so do with that as you will.

As for the rest of the story, it’s fast paced and the narrator is quite funny at times. There are a lot of details to keep track of, and they’re all tied up nicely at the end. I did enjoy Rachel’s relationship with Liddy as well as her kids. Her reasoning for staying in a seemingly haunted house was sound (she had already paid the rent, basically, and her house was undergoing intensive repairs), which I think was the biggest hurdle of believability for the story to overcome.

As a person who teaches a mystery lit class, I’m glad to have filled in this gap in my knowledge of the canon, but I’m not sure if I’ll be seeking more of Rinehart’s books out just yet.

View all my reviews

Book #7 – A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness

The hype:

Darkly mischievous and painfully funny, A Monster Calls is an extraordinarily moving novel of coming to terms with loss from two of our finest writers for young adults, and the only book to win both the Carnegie and Kate Greenaway Medal.

Patrick Ness

Also blogosphere buzz, also friends

My review:

A Monster CallsA Monster Calls by Patrick Ness
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I’m trying to remember why I didn’t read this book when my book club read it many years ago and am failing. I was probably just overwhelmed with work.

All that to say I wish I hadn’t skipped it then. I love the premise and, like all good middle grade, it is both age appropriate and wise beyond its years.

(I say middle grade, but honestly, it could appeal up in age, which is I guess why it was shelved as YA in my library. Why not both dot gif?)

Conor’s dad can kick rocks.

4.5 stars

View all my reviews

Book #8 – Legendborn by Tracy Deonn

The hype:

Kentucky Bluegrass Award Master List
Georgia Peach Book Award for Teen Readers Nominee
Pennsylvania Young Reader’s Choice Award Master List
Kansas NEA Reading Circle List High School Title
Capital Choices Noteworthy Books for Children’s and Teens (DC)
Blue Hen Book Award Nominee (DE)
Black-Eyed Susan Book Award Nominee (MD)
High School Sequoyah Book award Master List (OK)
Green Mountain Book Award Master List (VT)
ALA/YALSA Best Fiction for Young Adults – Top Ten
Amazing Audiobooks for Young Adults – TOP TEN
TAYSHAS Reading List Top Ten Title (TX)
Cybils Award Finalist
ALA/YALSA Teens’ Top Ten List
Isinglass Award Nominee
Arkansas Teen Book Award Master list
New York Public Library 50 Best Books for Teens
ALA Coretta Scott King John Steptoe Award for New Talent
North Star YA Award Finalist (ME)
ALA/YALSA Amazing Audiobooks for Young Adults, Top Ten
Garden State Teen Book Award (NJ)

Simon & Schuster

Also, a friend recommended it to me (twice!) and have you SEEN the bookstagram buzz around book two? I mean.

My review:

Legendborn (Legendborn, #1)Legendborn by Tracy Deonn
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This ended exactly the way I knew it would, but I was never sure how Deonn was going to get me there, so props for that.

There is this trend where the main character has a best friend, learns about magic or whatever, then said best friend drops out of the narrative until the end. I HATE IT. So, anyway, there’s some of that in this book and while it’s resolved better than most, I still don’t care for it.

I also wish there had been more POC in general, but that’s not the story Deonn wanted to tell, so I get it. And do young people who appear white say that they pass (e.g., a character says, “I pass so…” instead of “I can pass” or “People think I’m white”). Basically, I had more questions about the real world than the fantasy world, so take that as you will.

This was an engaging read and those are minor quibbles in the end.

3.5 stars, rounding up

View all my reviews

Book #9 – The Final Girl Support Group by Grady Hendrix

The hype:

THE INSTANT NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER

VOTED GOODREADS CHOICE AWARD BEST HORROR NOVEL OF 2021

A Good Morning America Buzz Pick

A can’t-miss summer read, selected by The New York Times, Oprah Daily, Time, USA Today, The Philadelphia Inquirer, CNN, LitHub, BookRiot, Bustle, Popsugar and the New York Public Library

Penguin Random House

My review:

The Final Girl Support GroupThe Final Girl Support Group by Grady Hendrix
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This was a fast read for me, in that I burned through about half of it in one day. The premise is basically “What if horror movies were real? What happens to those final girls after their movies are over?” The short answer is that they would form a support group. The long answer is that the horror is never truly over for them for a variety of reasons.

This is a horror book that critiques horror books, so, on the one hand, a lot of the commentary was on point, but on the other hand, I found myself wishing at times that it wasn’t a *horror* book so that the point could be made in other ways, but that’s not really the point of the book. As much as it is about movie monsters, it’s also about real life monsters and the impact they have on the women (and children) they harm and what the glorification of movie monsters means. So, basically, it’s like Scream but with a feminist bent.

I thought Lynnette was an interesting choice of a main character for many reasons, but one of the big ones is that she’s not a “true” final girl because she didn’t kill her monster like the other women did, and she also has the smallest life and is the most paranoid. I think there was a missed opportunity for Hendrix to get into WHY the other women made different choices because it almost seems like he’s saying Lynnette made the right choice, which I don’t necessarily agree with. There also should have been way more female friendship stuff in here, but it is there so I can’t complain too much.

Those are relatively minor quibbles, though. I liked the book overall and thought it was smart and engaging. I wasn’t sure at first how I felt about the ending, especially who the real life monster turned out to be, but the more I think about it, the more I like and appreciate it, so there’s also that.

Some quotes:
Does this ever end? Will there always be someone out there turning little boys into monsters? Will we always be final girls? Will there always be monsters killing us?


I won’t let messed-up parents keep making monsters, and I won’t let these boys keep making more final girls. It’s not some profound and ancient ritual. It’s just a waste of life.


All in all, I would recommend it, especially if you’re a fan of horror movies and/or badass women.

View all my reviews

One thought on “#AMonthofFaves 2022: Popular Books Worth the Hype

  1. All these! I’ve rea about half of them and loved! The other half are on my reading list. And A Monster Calls – that one tugged at my heat strings. Every kid going through grief should be given this book.

    Like

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