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LINDA HOLMES, HOST:
Every year, NPR brings together some of the best books of the year in a searchable, explorable guide called the Book Concierge. It can help you find exactly the read you're looking for, whether it's for yourself or for someone who's on your gift list. I'm Linda Holmes. Today on POP CULTURE HAPPY HOUR from NPR, we're talking about, ooh, one of my favorite things, some of the love stories that show up in this year's guide. So don't go away.
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HOLMES: Welcome back. Joining us from El Cerrito, Calif., is Anjuli Sastry. Anjuli is a producer for NPR's It's Been A Minute. Welcome.
ANJULI SASTRY, BYLINE: Hey, Linda.
HOLMES: It's so good to have you here. You're here to talk about one of my favorite kinds of books, which is love stories. You've brought a couple. I'm going to mention one that I wrote about for the Concierge this year. All right. Why don't you start us off? The first one you're going to talk about is one that I also have been very curious about. So tell me about that one.
SASTRY: Yes, yes. OK. So this year, I was really looking for books where I could just kind of escape. And romance novels, they are just the best way to do that. And so "Beach Read" by Emily Henry is my first pick that I wrote up for the Concierge. And you know, it's about this couple who are reunited. They don't have a relationship - like, a standing relationship before, but they have a past, and they're reunited in a small town, a small beach town. It's Augustus and January. And even in their names, there's a little bit of a cutesy relationship there.
HOLMES: Sure, sure.
SASTRY: (Laughter) Yeah. And so, you know, they have a shared history, like a little bit of a past, some conflict there. And they reunite in a small town. Both of them are really famous writers, but they're having a little bit of writer's block. And so they run into each other in a kind of meet cute reunion moment. And there's like a will-they, won't-they sort of situation going on. And the book is just kind of them finding their way into each other's lives and inspiring each other with some fun challenges to fix their writer's block, so to speak.
HOLMES: Yeah. What did you like about this one?
SASTRY: You know, I think it's just, like, an easy, smooth read. And the name says it all. It's a beach read. But really, I think the relationship between the two main characters and the way that the author really writes - like, describes the relationship and what they're going through and - it's not all smooth sailing. Like, there are some dark elements in either of their pasts that they have to overcome. And, you know, it's, like, a wonderful romantic novel, but, like, also getting deep into those character histories. I just loved reading that. And it - like I said, it was just an escapist book for me for 2020.
HOLMES: All right, excellent. "Beach Read" by Emily Henry.
So I heard a lot about that one this year. And one of the other ones that was recommended to me several times before I actually read it and really enjoyed it is called "One To Watch." It's by Kate Stayman-London. She writes about a woman named Bea, who is a plus-size fashion blogger. And she follows this show on television that's very much - very similar to "The Bachelorette" and writes a lot about the show and how she feels about it. You know - and like I said, she's kind of like a very popular blogger who both writes about television and writes about fashion and plus-size stuff. And she finds herself recruited to be the next - essentially, the next Bachelorette.
And it winds up being a book that I very much appreciated the fact that it's really wise about culture and television. It's really wise, I think, about weight and bodies and dealing with kind of being a plus-size person and clothes and confidence and how those things do interact. But it's not entirely about that. Like, it's not a whole book about how much she doesn't like herself and wishes she was skinny. It's not that.
As I think you talked about with "Beach Read," it has, like, some elements that are that are quite serious.
SASTRY: It's real.
HOLMES: Yeah, it's real. It feels real. But it also has an element of just optimism, I think, which is sort of surprising for a book that takes place essentially on the set of "The Bachelorette."
But it's - and it's definitely not as scathing about those kinds of shows as, like, say, "Unreal" on Lifetime was. I just enjoyed it a whole lot. It felt - she felt very knowledgeable about that world and about all the different things she was talking about. I enjoyed it a lot. Again, that's called "One To Watch" by Kate Stayman-London.
You have one more that you want to talk about. Tell me about the other one.
SASTRY: Yeah, I do have another book, actually. It's called "Recipe For Persuasion" by Sonali Dev. It's about a chef named Ashna Raje who's really struggling, trying to bring her late dad's restaurant back to life. And, you know, she's trying to find her way. She's not the greatest cook. And like in "Beach Read," she's actually reunited with a former flame. This is the second book, actually, in her series called "The Rajes."
And what I really love about Sonali's writing is she's writing about the South Asian characters without the explanatory comma. So, like, whether you're talking about saris or jaljeera, you know, Sonali doesn't have to explain what these things are. And people are still reading the books and really love them and enjoy reading them.
And the other thing, too, is that, you know, Ashna comes from a very privileged, wealthy family. They're basically the royals - like, South Asian royalty. And I was reading the book like, these people, they don't have any problems. Then I took a step back. And I was like, wow, this is one of the first books I've, you know, read about a South Asian family who's royalty and centered like this.
SASTRY: And I was like, dang (laughter). I was like, dang, I'm glad to be reading this and really happy to see this kind of representation because I hadn't really read about it before.
HOLMES: Yeah. I read the first book in this series. "Pride, Prejudice, And Other Flavors," I read.
SASTRY: I did like that one better, actually.
HOLMES: I liked it a lot. I haven't read this one yet, but I think that's also a great book. And I'm not surprised at all to hear that you very much enjoyed this one 'cause that was another one that like - it can be difficult for these kinds of romances in what they consider commercial women's fiction. It can be difficult for those things to kind of bubble up 'cause they are produced kind of in quantity.
HOLMES: And you have to really keep your ear open to find the ones that are really, you know, particularly good to seek out.
SASTRY: Yeah. And some of them are formulaic, too, right? Like, there's the meeting set-up, and then there's the conflict. And then, you know they're going to end up together at the end, but what is something unique that the author's going to do? And you know what I love about books like Sonali's or Jasmine Guillory's or Helen Hoang is that they're, like, relating back or they're referencing older characters. So you're developing this relationship with characters in all of their books, and, like, that's a little sweet shoutout. And I think it's just a unique way of writing that - and I'm glad to see this representation of these authors in this romance novel genre.
HOLMES: Yeah. And I think, you know, sometimes people assume that people who read romance don't want to read kind of heavier elements, but very often that's not true. Lots of really wonderful love stories have really sad, you know, elements and moments. And that's part of sometimes what makes the parts of them that are happy feel so earned and fun and special.
HOLMES: So I liked that one, too. I'm excited to read this one 'cause, like I said, I really, really liked the first one. So that's a "Recipe For Persuasion." I recommended "One To Watch." And you also recommended "Beach Read."
You can find these books, lots more books in the Book Concierge. We want to know what you think about your favorite romances or love stories of the year. Find us at facebook.com/pchh and on Twitter @PCHH. Again, you can find the Book Concierge at npr.org/bestbooks.
That brings us to the end of our show. Anjuli, thank you so much for being here.
SASTRY: Thank you, Linda. Appreciate it.
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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