LINDA HOLMES, HOST:
Once again, NPR's Books We Love project has rounded up hundreds of book recommendations from critics, writers and NPR journalists to try to give you just the read you're looking for. Today, we're going to talk about one of my personal favorite classes of books, the love story. I'm Linda Holmes. And today, we're talking about Books We Love about love on POP CULTURE HAPPY HOUR from NPR.
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HOLMES: Joining me today is Lauren Migaki. She's a producer for NPR Ed. And a while back - you know this if you go back with us a long way - she was a very early producer for POP CULTURE HAPPY HOUR. Hey, Lauren. Welcome back.
LAUREN MIGAKI, BYLINE: Hey, Linda.
HOLMES: We've all grown so much.
HOLMES: We'll have to play some sentimental graduation songs.
HOLMES: So NPR's Books We Love project used to be called the Book Concierge. But whatever you call it, it is a great way to find a book for any occasion, any reader, any set of tastes and interests. It is a labor of love and literacy put together by a wonderful team, dedicated this year to our dear friend and colleague, NPR books editor Petra Mayer, who died in November. And one of the tags they use to help you find books is called Love Stories. You probably know what those are. Lauren, you are a producer after my own heart.
HOLMES: You picked several books from this category. Tell me about your first pick.
MIGAKI: Yeah, it was a big romance year for me. So to kick us off, I'm going to give you a book called "A Lot Like Adios" by Alexis Daria. It tells the story of two childhood besties, Michelle and Gabe. They were next-door neighbors. And as teens, they wrote fan fiction of this Latinx sci-fi show over AOL Instant Messenger.
HOLMES: Oh, wow.
MIGAKI: And so one night after high school graduation, you know, the two finally start to hook up. It looks like they might finally get together until as they're hooking up, Michelle discovers a plane ticket in Gabe's pocket.
MIGAKI: She learns that he is leaving for college across the country, which is a total betrayal. And they have this, like, huge blowout fight and don't speak for years. So then the book takes us to the present day, where as adults, they reconnect because the gym that Gabe owns is looking for marketing work, and they hire Michelle to work on this rebranding campaign. And when they get back together, let's just say they collaborate on a little more than marketing.
HOLMES: Sounds like a romance.
MIGAKI: It's hot. It's sexy. It's fun. But it also touches on some heavier issues. They talk a little bit about workplace burnout, which is probably a familiar concept to a lot of folks.
HOLMES: Never heard of it.
MIGAKI: They also talk about, you know, finding a way to navigate your family and keeping boundaries that allow you to be yourself and still loved within your family. A couple things I really like about this - I love Daria's approach to characters. They're diverse. They're mixed race but in a way that doesn't feel like an after-school special. It feels clear that she's speaking about people she knows and loves from her community. And she also weaves in a lot of Spanish dialogue really naturally. It's totally OK if you don't know Spanish. You can still understand the book, but it feels like she really knows the audience that she's writing for.
HOLMES: Sounds like a - one with a nice amount of specificity, which is something I also respond to. So that is "A Lot Like Adios" by Alexis Daria. All right. I like the title of your second one, Lauren. What is your second pick?
MIGAKI: Yeah. So it is a book called "Accidentally Engaged." It's by Farah Heron. It's the story of Reena Manji, who is this excellent baker. You know, she makes a mean sourdough, but the rest of her life is kind of a hot mess. And then one night after, like, a particularly crappy day at work, she ends up getting very drunk with her hot, new British neighbor, Nadim, you know, as you do when you have a hot, new British neighbor (laughter). And the two end up filming a submission to a reality baking contest. Of course, the only flaw here is that the contest is for couples only.
MIGAKI: And naturally, the only solution is to just pretend that they're a couple.
HOLMES: Pretend relationship. A classic.
MIGAKI: Bingo. Right. Of course, shenanigans ensue as they try to win this contest. As a side note, I got to say, like, I can't endorse it in real life, but I love when characters in books get a little drunk because it's, like, vicarious bad decision-making. You know, you get to live on the wild side with no hangover or consequence.
HOLMES: Sure, sure.
MIGAKI: And to be honest, like, this book is doing a lot. At times it's a little extra, but it's done with this sense of, like, fun and joy. And so it makes it really easy to kind of ditch the eye roll and just go with it. Sure. And then there's, like, a couple moments in this book that I think are really sweet snapshots. Like, there's this one scene where Reena goes away for a few days, and she asks her fake fiance to take care of her sourdough starter.
MIGAKI: I don't know a lot about bread making, but I know you have to feed it...
HOLMES: You do.
MIGAKI: ...With water and flour.
HOLMES: It's intimate.
MIGAKI: (Laughter) Yes. And you have to trust someone to do it. And so you're supposed to, like, throw away some of it as it grows. But Nadim can't bear to do this, so he, you know, keeps it all. And by the time she comes home, there's, like, 20 jars of sourdough starter. And I just think it's, like, this really specific, weird but so loving thing to do. I just - I don't know. It just warmed my cold heart.
HOLMES: Yeah, sounds like a good one. And, you know, it's interesting because I see a connection between second pick and third pick.
MIGAKI: This year was the ultimate year of comfort reading, and that involves a lot of food scenes. So the next one here is called "Rosaline Palmer Takes The Cake" by Alexis Hall. And it's perfect for folks who, like me, might have spent a lot of last winter, maybe this winter cuddled up in some blankets, watching British folks whip up some delicate pastries in the countryside.
HOLMES: Definitely, definitely.
MIGAKI: So the premise is that single mom Rosaline Palmer enters, you know, a reality show that is very similar to "The Great British Bake Off." And she's really hoping to use the show to change her and her daughter's life. You know, there's some prize money involved. She would like to get some financial independence from her parents. She's definitely not looking for love, but she just might find it along the way. And the book kind of follows her through the taping of the show. We meet her fellow contestants, and they're fantastic. If you watch "The Great British Bake Off," you will recognize every single archetype. You've got, you know, the grandmotherly baker...
MIGAKI: ...You know, the sassy, hot, young baker, that rigid dude whose bakes are, like, technically great but pretty soulless. And one of my favorites is a contestant who is an electrician. He's from more of, like, this working class background, really great baker. But the judges kind of turn their noses up at him. And I think that's the thing that you see on the actual "Great British Bake Off." So I kind of appreciated that gentle criticism.
MIGAKI: And in general, I think Alexis Hall has a lot of great points to make about class and, like, who gets to be good at things and smart and an expert and kind of gently challenges those notions.
HOLMES: Yeah. Not only have you chosen three love stories, but you're choosing the very, like, cozy...
HOLMES: ...Ones that have, like, extra coziness, whether it's because it's baking or...
HOLMES: You know, you're sort of going for those real comforting love stories. It's a good time for it, you know?
MIGAKI: Yeah. And all of these kind of have this idea of, you know, upending what we might think about folks. You know, with Alexis Hall's Rosaline Palmer, you know, he is a really great writer at portraying folks who exist on a spectrum of queerness. And this book kind of fits that. And so, you know, there's a lot going on. It's not just romance. There's a lot of other things that these authors tackle.
HOLMES: Yeah. A lot of my favorite romances are a combination of the familiar and the challenging and interesting. And...
HOLMES: ...Sounds like that's sort of what you have here, too. So that one is "Rosaline Palmer Takes The Cake" by Alexis Hall. We also had "Accidentally Engaged" by Farah Heron and "A Lot Like Adios" by Alexis Daria, just in case you wanted that list one more time. And if you want to discover even more books NPR loved in 2021, visit npr.org/bestbooks. There's a nifty little tag called Love Stories that will help you discover even more great books like this. That brings us to the end of our show. Thank you for coming back to be with us, Lauren.
MIGAKI: Oh, it was such a pleasure. Thanks, Linda.
HOLMES: And, of course, thank you for listening to POP CULTURE HAPPY HOUR from NPR. We will see you all tomorrow.
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