15. The Book of Delights by Ross Gay
Ross Gay decided to write an essay every day about something that delighted him starting on his birthday and ending on his next birthday. This book contains a selection of those essays. Some delights are straightforward and some begin as a seed that twists and grows into a greater story or reflection. One might expect that the book might be treacly or try to be inspirational, but it’s really neither of those things and some of the essays wind up pretty heavy even as they spring from a delight. Gay is a fantastic writer that really has a way with words and expressing things. Although the book is not meant to inspire anyone to do anything, it has made me to start noticing those small delights in my everyday life too. I give it a 9 out of 10.
6. Harlem Shuffle by Colson Whitehead
I know this book was on every best of list of 2021, but I just could not get into it. Colson Whitehead is a good writer. I just don’t care about what he is writing about. He does an excellent job at setting the scene. I could very much picture the setting and the characters he described, but I could not get into the story he was telling. I did not care about the capers or the crimes or any of it. I give it a 5 out of 10.
104. The Other Black Girl by Zakiya Dalila Harris
Nella is an assistant to an editor at a publishing company who is hoping to work her way up. As the only Black woman working at the company, she is thrilled when they finally hire Hazel as another assistant. However, after a series of events in which Hazel starts seemingly pushing her out and then she starts receiving mysterious notes telling her to leave her job, Nella is wonders if there is room for more than one Black girl at the office. The book then turns into this weird actual conspiracy involving hair moisturizer and it just lost me. Some people I’m sure will find this an interesting way to provide commentary on racial relations in the workplace, but it was definitely not for me. With about a hundred pages left in the book I came really close to quitting, but since I was so close to the end decided to go ahead and finish. I give it a 5 out of 10.
69. The End of Men by Christina Sweeney-Baird
Although it’s being released in 2021, apparently this book was written prior to the coronavirus. It’s obviously very different reading a book about a pandemic that kills most of the men in the world than it would have been to read it had we not currently been living through a pandemic. I can certainly say at this point this book is a work of fiction because when they developed a vaccine in the book people actually took it and ended the plague.
I started reading the book without actually knowing what it was about, but it was obviously well written enough that I kept reading despite topic because I never would have started reading it had I known what the book was about. The book is told from the perspective a bunch of different characters over a number of years. I get what the author was trying to do in representing a broad swath of experiences and highlighting various issues and obvious changes that would occur with almost all men having gone extinct. However, it did make it difficult to really connect with any of the characters even the few main characters that are centered in the book. To some degree they all felt a little one note and not easily differentiated from each other. It definitely was an interesting premise. I’m not sure if it made me feel better or worse to think about how much worse things could be than they currently are given what happens based on the pandemic in this book. I give it a 7 out of 10.
59. Comeback Season: My Unlikely Story of Friendship with the Greatest Living Negro League Baseball Players by Cam Perron
As a young boy Cam Perron got super into collecting and eventually became obsessed with collecting autographs from Negro League baseball players. By the time he was in middle school his attempts at obtaining autographs through letters and phone calls resulted in friendships with some of the players and other collectors and researchers. Ultimately it led to this young white boy from Massachusetts becoming deeply involved in working to get Negro League players pensions from the MLB, helping create reunions to bring the players back together, and establishing a Negro League museum in Birmingham. It was a very sweet story about friendships forged in the most unlikeliest of places. I give it a 7 out of 10.
47. Next Stop Love by Rachel Stockbridge
This romance had potential. There was some good banter, but there were also a lot of weird melodramatic things that happened that just seemed out of place in the story. There was a plot surrounding a gang of some sort that just seemed ridiculous and the villain in the story seemed to have no real motivation for what he did. I give it a 4 out of 10.
44. While We Were Dating by Jasmine Guillory
Ben is a an ad exec in charge of his first big campaign starring movie star Anna Gardiner. They’re instantly attracted to each other, but both have their reasons for wanting to keep things strictly professional. However, their relationship takes a turn when Ben helps Anna out with a family emergency that brings them closer together. Then he agrees to play her fake boyfriend to help her get some good publicity in front of some roles she is trying to snag. Will their fake relationship finally help them admit the real feelings they already have for each other? This was a fine romance novel. I didn’t love it as much as some of Guillory’s other books that I’ve read. It’s fun and flirty, but I think I felt like some of the situations that the characters were put in were a little too ridiculous including the reason they wind up growing closer in the first place. I give it a 6 out of 10.
43. One Two Three by Laurie Frankel
Seventeen years ago things were looking up for the town of Bourne. A new factory was moving in and bringing what they thought would be lots of good jobs. Instead it left the town poisoned. Now pretty much everyone who could leave has and there isn’t much left in the town for those who are still there, most of whom still suffer health problems. Now the son of the factory’s original owner has returned to the town with his family with aims to reopen the plant. The story centers around the Mitchell triplets. Mab is the one who was born without any health issues. Monday has presumably some sort of autistic disorder, though it’s never specified. Mirabel is smarter than anyone, but is extremely physically disabled. Their mother is still looking for the evidence needed to hold the company accountable for the destruction they caused during their first run in the town and is now determined to stop the factory from reopening and causing even more damage to the town. The story is told in successive chapters starting with Mab, then Monday, and then Mirabel in repetitive order. I thought it was a very clever set-up and it was interesting to see how each of the triplets processed what was happening. Definitely a very engaging story. I give it an 8 out of 10.
42. When the Apricots Bloom by Gina Wilkinson
It’s shortly before the U.S. invasion of Iraq in the early 2000s. Huda is a secretary at the Australian embassy who has been forced by the Iraqi secret police to befriend the ambassador’s wife Ally and report back to them any information she finds out. She has to comply or she puts her son’s life in jeopardy. Meanwhile, her estranged childhood friend, Rania, is also under the thumb of Saddam’s regime and trying to protect her daughter. The three women’s lives intersect trying to protect their families and their secrets.
I thought it was an excellent look at the lives that ordinary people lived during that period in Iraq and brought up many questions of what you would be willing to do in order to protect your family. I give it an 8 out of 10.
2. The People We Keep by Allison Larkin
April is a teenager living pretty much by herself in a rundown motorhome after being abandoned by her mother as a young child and her father now mostly off living with his girlfriend. She hates school and has dreams of becoming a musical star, so when she sees the chance she takes off to get out of her small, oppressive town in upstate New York. I really liked this book. This was one of those books where I felt like the author was really good about setting the scene. I could really picture the places where April was throughout the book and put myself into her life and feelings. I give it an 8 out of 10.