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Hello, friends! Today I’m doing my first ever book tag on this blog: the Mid-Year Book Freakout Tag! I love seeing others do this tag, so I thought I’d try it myself. Let me know if you add any of these to your TBR and share your answers if you have any suggestions for what I should add to mine!
Before we get into my answers, I wanted to share a couple of notes for how I’ll be answering these questions. First, I generally consider non-fiction separate from fiction when it comes to any qualitative evaluation. So, for each (applicable) question, I gave one answer for fiction and one for non-fiction. Second, my responses are pooled from books I finished before June 30, 2021 (a.k.a. the midpoint (ish) of the year). Third, just to keep it interesting, I tried my best not to repeat any answers. It wasn’t always possible, but I did try! Fourth, this post is a long one, so you might want to grab a snack before diving in!
And that’s it! So, without further ado, here is my 2021 edition of the Mid-Year Book Freakout Tag!
1. What is the best book you’ve read so far this year?
Son of the Storm by Suyi Davies Okungbowa
I rated Son of the Storm 5 out of 5 stars. You can read more of my thoughts in my May 2021 Wrap-Up.
About the Book: Son of the Storm is Suyi Davies Okungbowa’s newest release: an adult fantasy set in a world inspired by Western Africa. The story follows Danso Habba, a university student already on a short leash with his school (and girlfriend). Shortly after we meet him, Danso becomes a fugitive of the law. On the run with a powerful sorceress from a nation he thought had been extinct for ages, Danso must choose between country, humanity, and power.
Why it Fits: Son of the Storm is the best (fiction) book I’ve read this year because it had everything I love in fantasy! The world-building was unique and fleshed out. The characters were well-developed and consistent while still finding ways to surprise me. And, of course, the story was unlike anything I’ve read before. I initially rated Son of the Storm 4.5 out of 5 stars because I thought the pacing dragged a little in the middle. However, after simmering on the book for a bit, I realized the middle section included some crucial character development and relationship building; and I can’t fault the book for that.
Support a local bookstore by purchasing Son of the Storm on Bookshop.org.
Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race by Reni Eddo-Lodge
About the Book: Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race is Reni Eddo-Lodge’s 2017 book based on her 2014 blog post of the same name. It is both a personal and empathetic examination of the ways white people fail to understand their contributions to the structures of racism. Whether that failure is willful or accidental, Reni examines not only how the problem manifests but how it can be prevented.
Why it Fits: Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race is the best (non-fiction) book I’ve read this year. Not only was it well-written, but it also spoke to me on a personal level while teaching me new things. As a woman of color, I obviously (and unfortunately) share many experiences with the book’s author, also a woman of color. However, the book taught me a lot about racism’s history in Britain. Being American, this was a history I was less familiar with. I really appreciated how intersectional the book was. I also liked that Reni wasn’t afraid to confront her own biases to help the reader do the same.
Support a local bookstore by purchasing Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race on Bookshop.org.
2. What is the best sequel you’ve read so far this year?
The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R. Tolkien
I rated The Fellowship of the Ring 4.0 out of 5 stars. You can read more of my thoughts in my June 2021 Wrap-Up.
About the Book: I’m sure The Fellowship of the Ring needs no introduction, but just for posterity, I’ll include one. This first installment in the Lord of the Rings saga chronicles the beginning of Frodo’s journey to destroy the One Ring. This book focuses a lot more on laying the foundation for the Fellowship’s cause and fleshing out the world of Middle Earth, with Frodo’s journey taking off in the third act.
Why it Fits: Full disclosure, I’ve actually only read one sequel this year, so Fellowship is kind of only here by default. Even including Fellowship as a sequel is still a bit of a stretch. While it is the first book in the Lord of the Rings trilogy, it is still a follow-up to The Hobbit. I had to have something here, though, and I feel no qualms about taking any chance I get to gush about Middle Earth. The only thing that stopped me from giving this book five stars was that I felt the book was a little longer than necessary. That said, I’ll repeat what I mentioned in my Goodreads review. When slow pacing means we get to spend more time in Tolkien’s world with Tolkien’s characters, slow pacing is hardly a real complaint.
Support a local bookstore by purchasing The Fellowship of the Ring on Bookshop.org.
3. What is a new release you haven’t read yet but want to?
The Push by Ashley Audrain
About the Book: Ashley Audrain’s 2021 psychological thriller, The Push, is a book I have seen everywhere lately and has definitely piqued my interest. The book follows a new mother, Blythe, after the birth of her daughter, Violet. Blythe feels unsettled by Violet’s behavior but is talked out of these doubts by her husband, Fox. When her second child is born, Blythe experiences the mother-child connection she never had with Violet. But when, as the jacket copy says, “life as they know it is changed in an instant,” Blythe is forced to face the truth about herself, her family, and her children.
Why it Fits: To be honest, I rarely read new releases. I have way too many books on my shelves as it is, and I don’t have the budget to be buying new hardcovers the second they come out. But The Push comes to my TBR highly recommended by online and IRL friends alike, so this is definitely something I’m looking forward to reading sooner than later.
Support a local bookstore by purchasing The Push on Bookshop.org.
Empire of Pain: The Secret History of the Sackler Dynasty by Patrick Radden Keefe
About the Book: Patrick Radden Keefe’s 2021 release is a deep dive into the family that much of America blames for the opioid epidemic. Empire of Pain aims to tell the story of three generations of the Sacklers, an uber-wealthy family once known for their contributions to furthering global arts and sciences. The Sacklers are now perhaps most well-known for their involvement in the widespread use of OxyContin, a prescription drug responsible for the deaths of over 750,000 people.
Why it Fits: As I mentioned when discussing The Push, I rarely read new releases. This is even more true for non-fiction, which I only really started reading about a year ago. I don’t have many auto-buy authors yet, so I tend to add non-fiction books to my TBR when there’s a specific topic I’m interested in. That said, I really like Patrick Radden Keefe’s journalistic voice, and I enjoyed Say Nothing quite a bit for knowing almost nothing about the topic. So I’m looking forward to seeing what PRK can teach me in Empire of Pain.
Support a local bookstore by purchasing Empire of Pain on Bookshop.org.
4. What is your most anticipated release for the second half of 2021?
Shards of Earth by Adrian Tchaikovsky
About the Book: Thanks to Goodreads Giveaway alerts, I recently discovered that Adrian Tchaikovsky has a new book coming out in August 2021. Shards of Earth is set to be the first book in his new trilogy, The Final Architects. The story follows Idris, a man-made “enhanced human,” and his crew as they discover an artifact of their long gone, nonhuman foes, The Architects, abandoned in space. Whether it is an ancient relic or a sign of their enemies’ return remains to be seen…
Why it Fits: Based on the blurb, Tchaikovsky seems to be returning to the “humanity on the brink of extinction” trope from his Children of Time duology. Children of Time remains one of the most original, well-realized, and emotionally compelling works of modern science-fiction that I’ve ever read. So to see Tchaikovsky returning to a similar concept with what sounds like an equally original story has me — as the kids would say — hype AF.
Support a local bookstore by purchasing Shards of Earth on Bookshop.org.
Against White Feminism: Notes on Disruption by Rafia Zakaria
About the Book: Against White Feminism is due out in August 2021. Zakaria’s book examines how white supremacy has made itself intrinsic to a movement that claims to be for everyone but is, in fact, primarily for white women. Zakaria’s book is described as “a counter-manifesto to white feminism’s global, long-standing affinity with colonial, patriarchal, and white supremacist ideals.” The jacket copy alone was enough to get me very interested in this book.
Why it Fits: Once again, I repeat that I don’t usually read new releases due to the ever-expanding nature of my existing TBR pile. That said, Against White Feminism has already become a must-read for me next year. I don’t know much about the author, but I’m always looking for new, multicultural voices to read and learn from. Against White Feminism seems poised to be a great addition to the “how to be a better human” course materials for the 2022 school year.
Support a local bookstore by purchasing Against White Feminism on Bookshop.org.
5. What is the most disappointing book you’ve read so far in 2021?
Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro
I rated Never Let Me Go 2.5 out of 5 stars. You can read more of my thoughts in my May 2021 Wrap-Up.
About the Book: Never Let Me Go is Kazuo Ishiguro’s 2005 novel about three students at a secretive boarding school in the English countryside called Hailsham. The story is a collection of seemingly disparate memories that the narrator, Kathy, shared with her two closest friends during and after their time at Hailsham. Because Never Let Me Go is primarily a character-driven narrative, it’s hard to say more without talking spoilers. I do believe you can enjoy this book even if you have specific details spoiled for you. However, I think you also have to like introspective, stream-of-consciousness narratives, in general, to get much out of it.
Why it Fits: The operative word in this question is “disappointing.” Never Let Me Go is not a bad book. Going in, I had the misconception that it was a science-fiction book. As it turns out, Never Let Me Go is, chiefly, a work of literary fiction with a very faint dystopian backdrop. Ishiguro himself has satiated that he was “less interested” in the dystopian aspects of his story than he was in the literary elements. I certainly figured out certain “twists” well before they were officially revealed, and it didn’t necessarily hinder my reading experience. That said, you might enjoy the book more than I did if you have the right expectations going in. Knowing that Never Let Me Go is not a science-fiction novel might allow you to be more interested in narrative. I still struggled to connect with the characters, and particular aspects of the writing style really bugged me. However, I probably still would have liked it better if I had more accurate expectations.
Support a local bookstore by purchasing Never Let Me Go on Bookshop.org.
Say Nothing: A True Story of Murder and Memory in Northern Ireland by Patrick Radden Keefe
About the Book: Say Nothing is Patrick Radden Keefe’s 2018 bestseller about The Troubles in Northern Ireland. Say Nothing uses the kidnapping and eventual murder of Jean McConville as a framing device for a comprehensive look at key players on both sides of the fight for Irish independence.
Why it Fits: Once again, “disappointing” is the operative word in this scenario. Say Nothing is brilliantly written but suffers from poor marketing and, as a result, a feeling of disorganization. As I mentioned above, the book uses Jean McConville’s murder as a framing device for its comprehensive exploration of The Troubles. The problem is that this framing device, in practice, feels more like an afterthought than a guiding principle for the whole narrative. While I definitely enjoyed Say Nothing quite a bit, I couldn’t help but feel a little let down by the presentation. Jean’s story was only brought up every handful of chapters; then, it was quickly wrapped up and used in a big plot-twist-type reveal for someone else’s story. The writing was brilliant, though, and is probably the main reason I’m still looking forward to reading Patrick Radden Keefe’s next book, Empire of Pain. I just hope it has a more accurate blurb than Say Nothing.
Support a local bookstore by purchasing Say Nothing on Bookshop.org.
6. What is the most surprising book you’ve read so far this year?
The Only Good Indians by Stephen Graham Jones
I rated The Only Good Indians 4 out of 5 stars. You can read more of my thoughts in my May 2021 Wrap-Up.
About the Book: The Only Good Indians is Stephen Graham Jones’s 2020 horror novel about a supernatural entity terrorizing four Native American men tied together by a shared, traumatic secret from their childhood. And that’s pretty much all I can say without ruining things that you’re much better off experiencing for yourself.
Why it Fits: The Only Good Indians is the most surprising (fiction) book I’ve read this year. It is full of twists and turns, and Stephen Graham Jones displays an incredible depth of storytelling. I was pleasantly surprised by the layers this story had. The themes of trauma, tradition, and family leave so much to unpack, dissect, and meditate on. I believe a truly great book gives you lots to ponder even after the reading experience is over. Dear reader, I have not stopped thinking about The Only Good Indians since I put it down.
Support a local bookstore by purchasing The Only Good Indians on Bookshop.org.
The Body is Not An Apology: The Power of Radical Self-Love by Sonya Renee Taylor
I rated The Body is Not An Apology 5 out of 5 stars. You can read more of my thoughts in my February 2021 Wrap-Up.
About the Book: The Body is Not An Apology is a hard book to describe. It’s a combination of so many things and yet such an original perspective that it almost defies definition. So, apologies for repeating myself, but I’ll just reuse my pitch from my February Wrap-Up. The Body is Not An Apology is one part feminist manifesto, one part social just call-to-arms, and one part self-help book. That is if self-help was Sonya grabbing you by the shoulders, shaking you violently (yet lovingly), and telling you to shut up and love yourself, dammit! It is a profoundly encouraging and deeply intersectional tutorial in radical self-love.
Why it Fits: The Body is Not An Apology is the most surprising (non-fiction) book I’ve read this year. It defied my expectations in the best way possible. I knew I might get some important life lessons from this book. I never expected them to speak so personally and profoundly to my own experiences. It’s also more than just hypothetical advice for how to love yourself more. The Body is Not An Apology gives us actionable steps for loving ourselves on a more authentic level. It shows us the tangible outcomes of bringing that radical love out into the world.
Support a local bookstore by purchasing The Body is Not An Apology on Bookshop.org.
7. What is a new favorite author you have discovered this year?
Marlon James, author of Black Leopard, Red Wolf
I rated Black Leopard, Red Wolf 4 out of 5 stars. You can read more of my thoughts in my February 2021 Wrap-Up.
About the Book: Black Leopard, Red Wolf is the first installment in Marlon James’s ongoing and upcoming Dark Star Trilogy. This book follows Tracker and a rag-tag group of mercenaries hired to find a missing boy. This boy, it turns out, is being sought by several influential people. However, the reason the child is coveted remains a mystery for some time. Black Leopard, Red Wolf is a richly imagined Africa-inspired adult fantasy that deals with themes such as family, tradition, destiny, power, and, above all, truth.
Why it Fits: Black Leopard, Red Wolf and Son of the Storm could have easily swapped places on this list. But, as I mentioned in the introduction to this post, I’m trying really hard not to repeat myself. Regardless, this is definitely among the top (fiction) books I’ve read this year. It had all the grittiness I want in a grown-up, adult fantasy book while not feeling like those adult themes were forced in. Marlon James has an incredible way with words and perfectly nailed the folklore/oral history tone the book was going for. I will definitely be pre-ordering the sequel as soon as the link is live!
Support a local bookstore by purchasing Black Leopard, Red Wolf on Bookshop.org.
Masha Gessen, author of The Future is History: How Totalitarianism Reclaimed Russia
I rated The Future is History 4.5 out of 5 stars. You can read more of my thoughts in my April 2021 Wrap-Up.
About the Book: Masha Gessen’s The Future is History is a comprehensive analysis of, as the title suggests, how the Russian populace established, removed, and reinstated totalitarian regime(s) both at the beginning of the Cold War and at the end of it. Gessen tells the life stories of four people born at the outset of an age that promised to be the birth of democracy in their nation and how these promises actually unfolded.
Why it Fits: Russia, its history, and its politics have always been a source of fascination for me. Last year, I read and loved Simon Sebag Montefiore’s The Romanovs. I was hoping to find a broad overview of Russia in the twentieth century before diving into something more current. In the end, indecision took over. I couldn’t decide which twentieth-century history book I wanted to read, so I jumped straight into Masha Gessen’s The Future is History. I regret nothing. Their book takes a multidisciplinary approach to address its thesis. It applies psychology, sociology, history, and statistics to dissect how Russia ended up under totalitarian rule — again. Gessen does all this without ever losing sight of the human beings whose stories are the vehicle for that exploration.
Support a local bookstore by purchasing The Future is History on Bookshop.org.
8. Who is your newest fictional crush?
Serapio and Xiala from Black Sun by Rebecca Roanhorse
I rated Black Sun 4 out of 5 stars. You can read more of my thoughts in my May 2021 Wrap-Up.
The Book in a Nutshell: Black Sun is the first installment in Rebecca Roanhorse’s ongoing and upcoming Between Earth and Sky series. Black Sun is an adult fantasy set in a world inspired by Indigenous cultures. The story follows three principal characters whose narratives eventually intertwine: Naranpa is a Sun Priest at the Celestial Tower; Xiala is a master mariner and Teek, whose song can calm the sea; and Serapio is a blind man whose mother’s final words told him that he would be a god.
Why it Fits: You read that right; my newest fictional crush is both Serapio and Xiala. If you’ve read the book, I think you’ll understand why I lump them together. If you haven’t read it, allow me to sell you on it for a second. Serapio is mysterious and moody but emotionally intelligent and highly sensitive. Xiala starts out as a selfish, money-motivated sailor type but grows into a caring, determined woman who goes to all lengths to do the right thing for those she cares about. And the way the two of these characters play off each other is beautiful.
Support a local bookstore by purchasing Black Sun on Bookshop.org.
9. Who is your newest favorite character?
Danso Habba from Son of the Storm by Suyi Davies Okungbowa
Why it Fits: Okay, I know I said I wasn’t going to repeat answers, but since I already used Black Sun for a character-related response and technically, the Lord of the Rings characters aren’t new to me, I decided it was worth a repeat if I got to gush a little more about Son of the Storm. I really enjoyed Danso as a character. A critical aspect of his personality is that he’s highly intelligent. However, Suyi Davies avoids the pitfall of making Danso a super flawless genius hero that other, less original fantasy writers would have succumbed to. Danso’s natural curiosity and blind trust in his government frequently get the better of him. While he is reluctant to be proven wrong, he is eager to learn the truth and learn even more. That kind of flawed character who makes mistakes but stays true to the core of who they are is something I think we need more in epic fantasy.
Support a local bookstore by purchasing Son of the Storm on Bookshop.org.
10. What book have you read so far this year that made you cry?
The Only Good Indians by Stephen Graham Jones
Why it Fits: Wow, I’m breaking my own rules on two questions in a row. The thing is, I don’t cry very often when reading books. I even hesitate to say I cried at this book. But I did get a little misty-eyed toward the end, and that’s probably as close as we’ll get. The reasons I say this book surprised me are the same reasons it had the emotional effect it did. I was expecting a creepy supernatural horror story, not a profoundly universal tale about family, tradition, trauma, and guilt. The ending was very touching, and it stuck with me for days after I finished reading.
Support a local bookstore by purchasing The Only Good Indians on Bookshop.org.
11. What book have you read so far this year that made you happy?
The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien
I rated The Hobbit 4 out of 5 stars. You can read more of my thoughts in my January 2021 Wrap-Up.
About the Book: Much like its successor, The Fellowship of the Ring, I am sure The Hobbit needs no introduction. The very first entry in the Middle Earth saga follows Bilbo Baggins as he embarks on an adventure. Adventuring, it bears repeating, is a very un-Hobbit-like thing to do. Bilbo has been recruited by a band of dwarves to steal the treasure from a dangerous and deadly dragon: Smaug the Magnificent. Along the way, he meets a pitiful but terrifying creature called Gollum. After a battle of wills with this creature, Bilbo acquires a ring that will change more lives than his own.
Why it Fits: I have always loved the Lord of the Rings movies (The Hobbit trilogy less so), but this year is my first attempt at reading some of the books. Naturally, I started with The Hobbit. I thought I might like it well enough but knew it was a children’s story, so I made sure to manage my expectations going in. Well, add The Hobbit into the “pleasant surprises of 2021” column because I actually really loved it! Sure, it’s quite a simple story, and the characters aren’t the most complex. However, the monster-of-the-week format and the silly, lighthearted writing style felt thoroughly enjoyable without lowering the stakes or making the storytelling feel immature. I think The Hobbit has become a new comfort read for me, and I’m already looking forward to the next time I pick this one up.
Support a local bookstore by purchasing The Hobbit on Bookshop.org.
12. What is the most beautiful book you’ve bought or received so far this year?
To Sleep in a Sea of Stars by Christopher Paolini
About the Book: To Sleep in a Sea of Stars is Christopher Paolini’s 2020-released adult science-fiction novel. It follows Kira Navárez after she discovers an alien relic on a faraway, uncolonized planet. The plot unfolds as Kira and the rest of the human race fight not just for their own lives but for the lives of their entire species.
Why it Fits: Another cover I purchased this year that I’m very much in love with is Black Sun. But I’m still determined to repeat myself as infrequently as possible, so here we are. This cover is gorgeous, though, so I’m not mad about it. The use of negative space is so satisfying, and the overall design is beautiful. Something the digital version of the cover doesn’t get across is that the hardcover version is reflective. It’s gorgeous, shimmering, and shiny and, to top it off, blue is my favorite color. So yeah, I repeat: I’m not mad about it.
Support a local bookstore by purchasing To Sleep in a Sea of Stars on Bookshop.org.
13. What books are you most looking forward to for the rest of the year?
The Poppy War by R.F. Kuang
About the Book: The Poppy War is the first book in R.F. Kuang’s trilogy of the same name. It is a historical fantasy following a young peasant girl named Rin. Rin surprises everyone when she gets accepted to the most elite military school in her country. In addition to fighting her social status as an outcast at school, Rin learns she harbors shamanic powers that she must learn to control. If she doesn’t maintain these powers, it could mean life or death for her people. Whether the bigger threat comes from the impending war or a much more powerful entity is, as yet, undetermined…
Why it Fits: I have some severe FOMO about having not read this book series yet, but I am attempting to resolve that this year! I own all three books in the trilogy, so they’re locked, loaded, and waiting for their moment. Fantasy has always been my favorite genre, and I have been absolutely loving the diverse fantasies I’ve been reading lately. I don’t think I’ve ever read a fantasy book inspired by East/Southeast Asian cultures. I’m very much looking forward to picking up The Poppy War.
Support a local bookstore by purchasing The Poppy War on Bookshop.org.
Wrapping Up the 2021 Mid-Year Book Freakout Tag
Whew, that was a long one, eh? I had fun writing this post, though, and I hope you had fun reading it. Let me know if you’ve read any of these or if you plan to do so. Also, let me know some of your answers to these questions; I’d love to add a few more titles to my TBR.
With that, I’m signing off here, and I’ll be back next week with my July 2021 Wrap-Up. I’m so excited to get back to regular posting next month. Thanks for sticking around in the meantime, and I’ll catch you in the next one!
As always, thanks for reading!