WSIRN Ep 253: A whole bunch of book recs, from our team of readers to you

WSIRN Ep 253: A whole bunch of book recs, from our team of readers to you

Hey readers! Get your TBRs ready, because today’s episode contains a TON of book titles for a wide array of reading tastes, from a few voices which might sound familiar if you’ve been a long-time WSIRN listener.

A few weeks ago, we asked the Modern Mrs Darcy and What Should I Read Next team to share their own summer reading recaps for a special Patreon bonus episode. Today, as we honor the change of the seasons (or perhaps cling fiercely to our page-turning beach reads), we’re sharing the full audio of that bonus episode here. And if you’re a Patreon member who’s already listened—well, first of all, thank you! And KEEP LISTENING, because today you’ll hear Brenna and I share some of our favorite summer reads as well, which we didn’t do in the original bonus episode. 

I hope you enjoy hearing more about the team of readers behind the podcast, and also the blog, and that you come away with some fabulous book recommendations. 

Let’s get to it!

Anne with WSIRN producer Brenna Frederick

We share bonus episodes like this one every week on Patreon – there’s over 20 hours of bonus audio waiting for you. Our community members get those regular extra doses of book talk, plus bonus content like our printable Summer Reading Guide and our new Fall Book Preview digital magazine, PLUS our video Unboxing events and member-only Ask Us Anything sessions. We’d love to have you join our community of avid readers:  Become a member today!


ANNE: Hey readers. I’m Anne Bogel, and this is What Should I Read Next? Episode 253.

Welcome to the show that’s dedicated to answering the question that plagues every reader: What should I read next?

We don’t get bossy on this show: What we WILL do here is give you the information you need to choose your next read and in today’s special episode, we have a slew of recommendations coming your way from the team that brings you this show. So get your to be reads ready because today’s episode contains a ton of book titles for a wide array of reading tastes.

A few weeks ago, we asked the Modern Mrs Darcy and What Should I Read Next teams to share their own summer reading recap for a special Patreon bonus episode. Well today as we honor the change of the seasons, or perhaps, cling fiercely to our page turning beach reads, we’re sharing the full audio of that bonus episode here. And if you’re a patreon member who’s already listened, well, first of all, thank you for supporting the show in that way, and also stay tuned because today you’ll hear Brenna and I share some our favorite summer reads as well, something we haven’t yet done.

We share bonus episodes like this one every week on Patreon. As of today, there’s over 20 hours of bonus audio waiting for you there. Our community members get those regular extra doses of book talk plus bonus content like our printable summer reading guide, our new fall book preview digital magazine, plus our video unboxing events and member-only ask us anything sessions. They also get access to our super secret spreadsheet vault. This is the tool I turn to all the time to figure out what book was recommended in which particular episode. We’d love to have you join our community of avid readers. Become a member today or simply find out more at patreon.com/whatshouldireadnext

Today you’ll hear a lot of voices from our team. Some of which might sound familiar if you’ve been a long time What Should I Read Next listener. I hope you enjoy hearing more about the team of readers behind the podcast and also the blog and that you come away with some fabulous book recommendations.

Let’s get to it.

ANNE: This will be a new voice to most of you unless you’re part of our Modern Mrs Darcy book club. Ginger is the community manager for our book club, so if you’re a member, you’re probably chatted with her on the forums, noticed her name in your email inbox, or seen her on pretty much all of our live events, but she’s never been on What Should I Read Next until now.

[00:02:26]

GINGER: Hi, patreons. I’m Ginger Horton. My summer reading typically looks a little different than most people that consider themselves bookish readers. I traditionally have a giant slump in the summer and I’m not exactly sure why that is. I have some theories, but I’ve been tracking my reading long enough to know that it usually hits a little dip in the summer months. That has been saved in the last few years by the Modern Mrs Darcy Summer Reading Guide. I’m so thankful for that. But that is unusual for me. Typically I like to pack in the beach bag a big, thick, meaty classic, which is so empathetic to most people how they read, but I like to sink into something and so typically I’m reading fewer books during the summer. That has been true for this summer because my husband and I are in the middle of a move, and just, I think we’re all still in the middle of a global pandemic, and our contingent spans are a little shorter. So I am finally getting my reading mojo back so this has been maybe the best month of my year so far reading.

So I want to talk about two books that I just read this summer that I sunk into and loved deeply about them. One fiction and one nonfiction. I typically am reading more than one book at a time, sometimes more than five or six books at a time. But these books I just could not put down. I blew through them much faster than I typically read a book because I wanted to be reading them all the time. So I’ll start with the fiction. The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo and I actually listened to this on audio. It was so fantastic in that method. She reads the text herself and because it is a teenage poet, you get some of that language and you really feel like you’re in the mind of this young girl who lives in Harlem. She’s a poet. Nothing in common with my life, but I so resonated with everything that she went through with her mother. Her complicated relationship with religion. It was just really fantastic. In fact, I pushed this into my best friend's hands because of that. She pushed it into her brother’s hands, so we had this little chain of love for The Poet X going now.

[00:04:35]

The second book is the nonfiction book and that is called Joyful. It is by Ingrid Fetell Lee and you might know her from her really popular TED talk about joy. I love color and I’m a maximalist. This book was just right up my alley. She talks about the actual scientific ways that we could bring more joy into our life. Things like why the circle is such a pleasing shape. The best thing I got out of this book is I buy light bulbs differently now because of this book. She told you exactly the most joyful shade of light bulbs to buy, so if you see me standing in the Target alley reading the back of light bulb boxes, it is because of Ingrid Fetell Lee. She is my genius. [LAUGHS] I follow her now. Her blog and her instagram account have become favorites. She’s a really joyful person, and she’s bringing more joy into my life because of that.

What I am planning on reading next is another nonfiction pick. I’m really leaning hard into the nonfiction that is story driven lately. Once I found out that was even a genre, I was here for that. So that is called The Invention of Nature and it’s by Andrea Wulf. She is the greatest living expert apparently on a 19th century scientist called Alexander von Humboldt. He really made nature kinda come alive for that time period. He really talked about that you have to get, you know, emotions wrapped up and it can’t just be a scientifically minded pursuit when you’re out in nature, that you really have to love it and care for it.

I am a self-professed indoor girl. So I’m going to be living a little bit vicariously through Andrea Wulf, but I’m taking a class later this month on science and poetry. And so I just really am soaking in anything I can learn about science, nature, psychics, that sort of thing in preparation for that class. So taking in a bit of a different turn for me, but a science book feels right for the middle of the summer.

What I’m in the middle of is The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett. I loved The Mothers. That was her debut, and I loved it so much combined with the love of the author and all the hype The Vanishing Half is getting, I gotta tell you, I’m not quite there yet. I’m about halfway through and I am a reckless book abandoner. I have no problem leaving a book that’s just not working for me on the shelf, but in this case, I trust the author enough that I’m going to stick with her. I’ve had good trusted friends tell me she’s taking you someplace, so I’m not quite there yet. It’s not living up to the hype for me yet but I have full confidence that if anyone can bring me there, it’s Brit Bennett.

[00:07:05]

ANNE: Leigh Kramer is our Modern Mrs Darcy editor and social media manager. You may not know that she does things like manage our What Should I Read Next reader recs like we do on our Instagram account and our DMs over there. She’s also a wonderful collaborator when it comes to creating posts and content and just getting great book recommendations. Leigh has been on What Should I Read Next next twice. The first time way back in episode 9, “the reality of bookworm problems,” and she came on the show again to lend her expertise in reading through grief in episode 137, “bibliotherapy for the toughest times.”

LEIGH: Hi, my name is Leigh Kramer. My summer reading usually looks about the same as about the rest of the year. Cause summer is just a season. A season I enjoy, but doesn’t change my reading life. But I do enjoy doing The Ripped Bodice’s summer romance bingo, which they’ve done the past few years. There are so many great books that I’ve enjoyed this summer. The first one I’d like to talk about is You Should See Me In A Crown by Leah Johnson. It’s a remarkably YA debut about a Black closeted queer teen in small town Indiana who has to run for prom court so she can get a much needed scholarship for college. This book made me so, so happy.

My next book is Equivalent Exchange by Christina C. Jones and it’s my favorite book by her so far. It’s a contemporary romance, super satisfying. It’s about Keris and Laken who meet at the bar that he owns and a simple fling turns into something much more. They’re dealing with real issues, domestic violence, an ectopic pregnancy for her. His dad has health issues and he’s still dealing with the death of his brother several years ago. But despite all that, it has a really great sense of humor and it was just a great read through and through. This book is open door. Very steamy. Christina C. Jones tends to write steamy romance, which I’m all about.

Another one that I enjoyed is another contemporary romance. This one is 40 Love by Olivia Dade. This is an open door romance. It made me laugh so much. It’s about a 40 year old high school vice principal who meets a 26 year old former tennis pro while she’s on vacation. The story just felt like a warm hug.

This book I’m really excited to tell you about. It’s Boyfriend Material by Alexis Hall. This is my new favorite by Alexis Hall. His books are always funny, but this is his first actual romcom and it is brilliant to see him with this style of book. Made me laugh out loud so much. It’s a male/male contemporary romance with the fake dating trope, and I could not have loved Luc and Oliver more. And this has a distinction of being a closed door romance, which is different for Alexis Hall and I don’t actually read a lot of closed door romance, but this is great.

One book that I’m really excited to read this summer is called White Negros by Lauren Michele Jackson. It’s all about culture appropriation. It’s been on my TBR since before it released, but nonfiction has been really hard for me the last few months for obvious reasons, but Traci at The Stacks mentioned that it’s good on audio, so I put it on hold from the library and I plan on listening to it while I work on a puzzle.

[00:10:20]

ANNE: Up next is our event manager Shannon who planned my Don’t Overthink It book tour, which sounds really funny now considering how things went down. The stay at home book tour and the stay at home book retreat and so much more bookish fun that is on the horizon. You might remember her voice from episode 197, “life is short and my TBR is way too long,” or the first time she interviewed me about Don’t Overthink It during our live episode 222, “ordinary lives make extraordinary books.”

SHANNON: Hi. I’m Shannon Malone. Before Anne Bogel came into my life, I didn’t know there was such a thing as summer reading. Then I was introduced to the Summer Reading Guide and my summer reading became the books that she recommended which were not exactly all right for me. I didn’t know that at the time. Last year when I was on What Should I Read Next, she helped me figure out what I needed to be reading fiction wise. So this year, I selected five picks from the Summer Reading Guide that I was really excited about. They were like heck yeah I want to read that. And for those of you who were wondering if they were from the books about books lists, those five. My summer reading plans are going to pace right now except the book I was most interested in, The Lions of Fifth Avenue by Fiona Davis was expected to release July 21st and it’s not going to release until August 4th. Bummer. I know that’s hardly a delay, but it still feels like one.

I think it’s worth mentioning that my episode with Anne has helped me realize that I can and should not finish books. It’s given me that permission and I haven’t finished one and probably should not have finished another, but I preserved. I am not finishing books all over the place.

I’ve read eight books so far which is a little more than I read normally and I tend to read only two or three books per month. Two books that have elicited book hangovers this summer are Rodham by Curtis Sittenfeld, which takes a look at Hillary Rodham Clinton’s life if she had not married Bill Clinton. I have a natural interest for road not taken and alternate realities stories, so when I read that premise, I immediately placed a hold on it at my library and it was truly, truly fascinating.

The second book that I’ve really enjoyed is Born A Crime by Trevor Noah. A lot of the community may know this already, but I do not do audiobooks, but this is the very first book I have ever completed on audio and it was so good. Ginger, our book club community manager loaned it to me and I learned so much about racism and social economics and apartheid in South Africa. I’ve been on the hunt for something similar, although a lot of the community has told me that Trevor Noah’s audiobook is probably one of the best out there. So I am looking.

[00:13:26]

I’m really looking forward to reading my Summer Reading Guide pick, The Lions of Fifth Avenue, that will come out in August. I am also in the middle of Charlie Lovett’s new book that is going to release September 22nd entitled Escaping Dreamland. I’m not in it enough to say whether I like it or not, but I will read anything that Charlie writes.

***

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***

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***

ANNE: Next you’ll hear from Chelsey, one of our editors from Modern Mrs Darcy and my current collaborator for our book school series we’re doing in the Modern Mrs Darcy book club. Chelsey joined me on What Should I Read Next along with her husband Curtis on episode 164. It’s called “the couple that reads together needs to find books they’ll both love.” That one was so fun.

[00:16:19]

CHELSEY: Hi, patrons. My name is Chelsey. Summer reading for me is usually a mix of beachy reads, some fun young adult novels, mystery and thrillers and a lot of romance. And I’m reading all of those things, but this summer weirdly literary fiction is keeping my attention better than anything. I think I might need Anne’s help to figure that out, but any literary fiction novel with a really strong voice has pulled me in better than the breeziest beach read can this summer.

So two of my favorite reads have come from the Summer Reading Guide this year, The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett was just absolutely stunning. It’ll be hard to top that one actually for one of my favorite books of the whole entire year. I read this shortly after reading Passing by Nella Larsen and I think that reading those two books in combination with each other made for such a rich reading experience. And then The City We Became by N.K. Jemisin, which is technically sci-fi/fantasy, but in my opinion it also merits literary status because her writing and her use of allegory is so incredible. N.K. Jemisin is amazing and I’m looking forward to picking up more of her work.

And then I’m currently reading and loving We Ride Upon Sticks by Quan Barry which is giving me flashbacks to my high school field hockey days but also has a really unique voice and form of storytelling and I’m really enjoying the ‘80s nostalgia, despite not going to high school in the ‘80s. [LAUGHS] I also loved Take A Hint, Dani Brown by Talia Hibbert. This was a super fun British romcom and I’ve been recommending that one a lot.

So thinking about what I would like to pick up next. I feel like I could use some memoir this summer. I’ve been leaning on fiction. I could go for a little nonfiction in my life. Recently I read Anne’s review of Nobody Will Tell You This But Me by Bess Kalb on the blog for her quick lit series and I have it on my shelf, so I’m really looking forward to picking that one up. I’ve heard that it is tender and funny and unputdownable and so I’m really looking forward to that one.

And then I think that I’ll also In the Country We Love: My Family Divided by Diane Guerrero, which has been on my TBR list for a really long time. It’s a celebrity memoir but she has a really moving backstory and I am looking forward to dipping my toes into nonfiction again after reading a lot of fiction in a row. So I am really looking forward to those memoirs and digging into more literary fiction. I’m just going to lean into it since that is what’s keeping my focus lately, and I’m really enjoying it.

[00:19:34]

ANNE: We call Donna our “spreadsheet guru”, helping behind the scenes to understand all kinds of data about what we’re doing and if people like it. Being more of a writer than a spreadsheet guru myself, I love seeing how she makes a bunch of numbers tell a story. You’ll remember Donna from episode 83, when I helped her plan an epic birthday bookstore roadtrip, and maybe her patreon bonus episode where she filled us in on how that road trip went and what she read next.

DONNA: Hi, everyone. I’m Donna Hetchler, and I tend to read a bunch of different genres … You know, if I’m totally honest I read a lot of different things every season, so I’m actually not that much of a seasonal reader, but this summer there’s no question about it, I have been reading on an escapist theme, which is not too surprising I’m sure a lot of us are. So I really want to highlight two books that I have loved reading this summer that are in that theme and then I have two more books that I plan to read that are also in that theme.

[00:20:40]

So the first book I want to highlight is called Shuri, that’s S-H-U-R-I, by Nic Stone. You’re probably familiar with that author. She’s written multiple books including Dear Martin. I’ll also note there’s a follow up to that coming out in September called Dear Justyce, so I’m excited for that. This is a middle grade book and I would say that all ages would enjoy it. Shuri of course is a character from the Marvel movie Black Panther. If you’ve seen that, she plays the sister who is the tech expert. She’s one of my favorite characters I’ve ever come across. She’s very, very smart and funny and gives her brother a bad time, which I can identify with. I like this book on multiple levels. I like that it was a female front and center. I liked that there was such adventure to it. Again going back to that escapist theme, it’s laugh out of loud funny but it also has depth to it. Kinda like the movie. The villain isn’t really straight forward and they bring some valid viewpoints to the table. So I think that there’s some interesting elements to it you may not expect.

One side note I have to make on this is the audiobook was incredible. The narrator is Anika Noni Rose and you may recognize her as being the voice of the princess in The Princess and The Frog movie. So I keep telling my friends all about this because I’m like this is the Disney Marvel mashup that you need in your life. So I hope people will check it out.

The second book that I want to highlight is A Court of Thorn and Roses by Sarah J. Maas. This is actually a trilogy. I definitely enjoyed the first book. The second book is off the charts amazing and then I’m currently reading the third one. This series is a YA fantasy/romance and okay, I have to make a note on that because there’s a couple chapters that get very steamy so you know, that’s either your content warning or your encouragement to read it. But to be honest I haven’t read a lot of YA fantasy but a good friend of mine who I trust recommended it and I’m so glad because I love it. I am not getting enough sleep because I could not put these books down. It’s like a mashup of The Hunger Games, Beauty and the Beast, and Twilight. I think that’s either going to get people rushing to read it or saying that’s just not for me. But I hope people will pick it up because I’m really enjoying it and it definitely fits within that escapist theme.

So the two books that I plan to read next. One of them is called Miles Morales, it’s by Jason Reynolds, and this is also based on a Marvel movie. I just have such a good time reading Shuri, I have to pick up another one. This is based on the Spider-Man character that’s highlighted in Into the Spiderverse, which I loved that movie, so I’m very excited to pick that up. And then the second, this is a new release. It’s Malorie by Josh Malerman. This is a follow up to Birdbox and I’m not a huge fan of scary books, but I absolutely loved Birdbox. I thought it was so innovative. I loved the movie as much as I loved the book and I’m just very curious how they’re going to do the sequel. I’m looking forward to having a book that just keeps me on the edge of my seat. So those are the two that I’ll be reading next.

[00:24:29]

ANNE: Next is my husband Will, who I may actually talk to about my reading life more than anyone else in my life because when I’m reading, he is often there. You may not know that he’s also one of our show producers. It’s because of him that the audio I record when I sit down with a guest or when I’m talking into my microphone right now goes from the creation stage all the way, finished product, into your earbuds. He’s been handling that for a long time. Funny thing, if you’ve listened to his episodes, you’ve heard me tell this story before, he was my guinea pig when we took the What Should I Read Next format out for a test drive in the mountains of Pennsylvania in October 2015 when I had the idea and I wanted to record a fake episode to see if it would really work. We decided it did. Now the episodes you may have heard with Will were episodes 61. It’s called “when the plot comes full circle,” and then more recently on episode 214, “deconstructing your best reading year yet.” Earlier this summer, Will and I also did a patreon bonus together where we answered a frequent question we get from members: “what do you BOTH like reading?” That was a lot of fun, and here is his talking about his books today.

WILL: Hello, readers. This is Will, and obviously around here summer reading is a big deal, but I don’t actually read quite as much in the summer. In the fall and winter, I’m happy to curl up with a book and hunker down, you know, for an evening, really get immersed in summer, and in summer just doing a lot of things. I’d rather be outside. I’m doing a lot of stuff around the house and don’t always commit the same way to a book. Now if we’re at the pool, going to the beach, I take a book with me because of course that’s what Anne's doing, and I definitely do plenty of reading, it’s just not as the rest of the year for me. And it’s a little bit different. I like a lot of the literary type novels that Anne will recommend and I pick up some of those things. But that tends to seem more like a fall or even a winter reading experience. And in the summer I pick up more things that can keep my attention and maybe move a little more fast paced or I guess what I would think of as more fun reading, and that might just be because I’m not doing as much of it. I want to get through the stuff as quick as I can. And so in the past, things like Chris Pavone. Couple of his books are perfect for summer. You know, they’re action packed, spy type thrillers, but also just some off-the-wall stuff like Where is Joe Merchant? Or the Ballad of the Whiskey Robber. Both of those are fast and almost mad-capped stories.

So this summer I’ve actually been reading even less than I typically do. And I think that’s just a state of being at the moment. So the books I’ve gotten into, or through a little quicker have mostly been recommendations from my kids, which has been great. But then I tried reading Paulette Jiles’ Simon the Fiddler, which was one of the Summer Reading Guide picks. I read one of her books earlier in the year and really enjoyed it, and Anne suggested this one as a follow up. And though I did like it, it definitely had more of that literary feel to it that I think I might have gotten through it quicker had the seasons been different.

[00:27:45]

So up next I’m not exactly sure. If I can find something that’s mad-capped, I might dive into that. But also looking to get back into The Cork O'Connor mystery series by William Kent Krueger and I’ve read four of those already this year, and that’s a very comfortable fast paced, kinda exciting, definitely outdoors sense of place focused stories. So might jump into those next. That description also reminds me of a book I’m looking forward to. David Joy has a book coming out in August, When These Mountains Burn and he’s also very grounded in place, these are western, North Carolina/Appalachian stories. I think this is his fourth novel. I read the other three just a couple of weeks within each other because I enjoyed them so much, but really gritty. I don’t know if they’d qualify as mysteries, but there’s a mystery element to them, so there’s some puzzling out there but a little bit of small town, everybody knows each other’s business, and like I said, very rooted in these mountain communities. So that’s what I’m looking forward to, and hopefully, I can patch together a couple of Cork O’Connor mysteries and then be ready for David Joy when that comes out in August.

***

ANNE: Readers, I know I’m not the only one combatting decision fatigue lately - you know that feeling when your brain is so tired you can’t even decide what to eat for lunch? Or what to wear in the morning? Well one of my favorite ways to make my daily decisions easier is to create a uniform. In the fall, this usually means a great pair of jeans, a cardigan sweater, and a favorite pair of cute AND comfortable shoes I can wear all day long.

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***

ANNE: Sarah is our Visual Designer here for the team. From the Summer Reading Guide, to monthly Patreon printables, to Instagram graphics to downloadable bookmarks, Sarah makes Modern Mrs Darcy and What Should I Read Next beautiful to look at, comfortable to read, functional for your reading life, and she’s doing this all while busy pursuing her degree in library science!

[00:30:35]

SARAH: Hi, readers. My name is Sarah Choate. As a student, some of you may feel me on this one, my reading is definitely down this year, and the summer specifically. Whenever I think back to my summer reading in years’ past, I always go back to thinking back to what I was like in high school and the kinds of books I liked to read then. I remember a few summers where I was reading the Harry Potter series and I specifically remember being at the beach with my family and reading the seventh Harry Potter book and not even wanting to come out of the hotel because I was just holed up in there, tearing through that book. And what I love the most about that and what has stuck with me for all these summers since then is just how immersive those stories are.

So whenever it comes to summer time and reading, I want to immersive myself in the stories.

And the summers I’m not a student, I typically read a lot more in the summer than I would in other months. There’s more free time. I get to spend a little bit more time in those immersive fictions, so all that said, the book that I have enjoyed most this summer kinda wasn’t the summer, was kinda late spring, but I’m going to count it anyway and the book I liked the most was Darius The Great is Not Okay by Abid Khorram. And it is a young adult fiction about a Persian American boy getting to kinda meet one of his first real friends for the first time and he visits his family overseas, and what I loved about this book is it was immersive for me. It transported me to a different place, and it transported me to the mind of a teenage boy. This teenage boy was very kind and tender and sensitive and I haven’t seen that in a lot of young adult novels. I always see kinda like mean boys, so I was really touched by that story.

Looking forward this summer one book that I’m reading right now that I’ve been really looking forward to is A Beautifully Foolish Endeavor by Hank Green. It is the sequel to his young adult novel by the name of An Absolutely Remarkable Thing that he released a while ago. So I’m in the middle of it right now, listening to the audiobook. So far so good. I’m enjoying it quite a lot.

One other book that I’m hoping to dive into very soon either at the end of the summer or maybe moving into fall is The Secret History by Donna Tart, and I think it’s going to give me that immersive quality where I can really get lost in the story, from what I heard.

[00:32:54]

ANNE: Brenna is What Should I Read Next’s producer and Patreon community manager, doing everything from keeping the show on schedule, editing audio, soothing guest nerves, patreon bonus interviews, co-hosting livestreams… and she’s also been on What Should I Read Next several times for special episodes like episode 149, “Ask Anne Anything,” and episode 185, “what should you read this summer?”

BRENNA: Hi this is Brenna. This summer I found it really difficult to read between stress and illness. It felt really impossible to focus on the words on the page, so I went through a huge reading dry spell until Anne mentioned the novella Upright Women Wanted on the show. It was short and I loved one of Gailey’s other books, so I decided to just buckle down and read no matter what it took. I put on noise cancelling headphones and found some old western movie soundtracks on Spotify, and I read through the whole thing in one sitting. I loved the book so, so much.

It’s a totally original neo-western/dystopian spy thriller, coming-of-age story with fantastic characters you can practically smell the dust and sweat and the horses. And the concept of a reading soundtrack was kinda a revelation for me ‘cause it blocked out all the noise of the world and it enhanced the emotions on the page and it felt so good to just be lost in a totally transportive story where the characters were relatable, but like they were far, far, far away from the current reality.

So I decided to try the reading soundtrack thing again and I picked up a longer book Into the Drowning Deep by Mira Grant and it was another total hit. I picked it with an album with violin instrumentals backed by ocean sounds and it set the perfect tone. It’s this oceanic sci-fi thriller set in the not too distant future. Here’s the setup: Years ago a boat called The Atargatis went way out into the Pacific Ocean to the Mariana Trench to film a mockumentary about mythical sea creatures, specifically mermaids, but once they reached the trench, the boat went dark. Nobody heard from the crew again. When people went to sorta rescue them, the boat was found empty. No signs of life, but they did find film footage on the deck and it indicated that something from the depths might have been responsible or maybe it was all a hoax. People are kinda split. They don’t know what to think.

So years later, the story picks back up with a handful of characters preparing for another trip to the Mariana Trench to solve the mystery of The Atargatis disappearance. And it’s a seriously brilliant cast of characters. There’s Doctor Toth, a scientist who’s staked her career on the existence of real life mermaids. There’s Victoria, a graduate student studying acoustic marine biology and her sister was lost on the original Atargatis voyage, so she has unfinished business out there on the Pacific. There’s Olivia, she’s sorta glamorous, autistic, news personality hired to make sure the trip gets good press. There’s Deaf, identical twins, Heather and Holly. They specialize in deep sea exploration. They want to explore the challenger deep and their surmisable. And this voyage is a way to accomplish that.

There’s a couple wild game hunters who hope they’ll get to add a new species to their kill list, and we even get to spend some time in the heads of a pod of trained dolphins. And I did say this was a thriller so you should know not going in that not everyone is going to make it out alive, but it’s such a good book. I can’t recommend it enough if you want to sorta mentally escape thousands of miles away from your everyday life. I don’t remember where I first heard about the concept of a reading soundtrack but it totally saved my reading life this summer and I think it will be part of my routine from now on.

[00:37:07]

ANNE: Lastly, I wanted to share two of my own favorite reads from this past summer. You may know that my own reading in this season falls into a predictable pattern that’s heavily influenced by two things. The first is the Summer Reading Guide. Every year I read piles and piles of that year’s new summer and spring releases for potential inclusion in that Summer Reading Guide that comes out mid May. That means I do the bulk of that reading from September to late April, a little bit early May. So by the time it’s actually summer, I am more than ready to read a heavier percentage of backlist titles which is ironic because the two books I want to share with you today are new for 2020.

The second big factor that shapes my reading life over the summer months is our travel plans. My whole family heads to the beach for a week each summer. We’ve done this for more than a decade, and we take our reading for this time away very, very seriously. There are six of us in my family, so we pack a whole milk crate full of books and before we go we spend a lot of time lovingly choosing what books will go to the beach with us. But readers, not this year. When Covid cancelled our travel plans, something Will and I really wanted to do was find some ways to recreate that “I took a milk crate of books on vacation and I’m going to finish them every single day” experience but we had to do it at home or closer to home. We ended up doing two things that worked pretty well for us.

We scheduled a little staycation here at home where I got to do things like read on the front porch for an hour with my coffee on a weekday when I’d usually be working and that is where and when I ended up reading the first book I want to tell you about today.

[00:38:37]

It’s called She Come By It Natural: Dolly Parton and the Women Who Lived Her Songs by Kansas based journalist Sarah Smarsh, who you may know from her award winning 2018 memoir Heartland, a memoir of working hard and being broke in the richest country on earth. This book comes out October 13th, but i read it in July and many of you have already heard me discuss it in a Patreon bonus episode and in our recent fall book preview. It looked interesting to me. Maybe in part because my dad loved bluegrass music. My mom listened to country when I was growing up. That’s what she played on the radio when we drove around town. My family went to Opryland every year when I was a young child. I thought I’d liked this book. I mean I hoped I would, but I didn’t expect to love it the way that I did.

So in some ways, this is a scholarly look at Dolly Parton’s life and music and I really enjoyed that aspect of it. I love a good behind-the-scenes story and this book was great on that account. I appreciated the personal angel Smarsh brought to this unusual book because it’s not just about Dolly, it’s about, as the subtitle says, the women who lived her songs and to Smarsh, that meant writing about the women of her family. What she does here is interweave her own family story, specifically the stories of the women of her family with Dolly’s songs. I love that personal angle, and how she thought Dolly’s music and even her life embodied what Smarsh wanted to say, what she’d been thinking about, about class, gender, and the women of her family. The thing I loved about this book and also really wasn’t expecting was the strong undercurrent of I don’t have a better word for it than grace that ran throughout.

Smarsh takes a hard look here at Dolly’s career, where she is now, the choices she made to get there, the life that underpinned it going back to her roots growing up in east Tennessee. She also looks at her resurgence. What accounts for it, and why is it happening now. There’s a lot I knew about Dolly Parton, but there’s a lot I didn’t, and I was fascinated by Smarsh’s account of how Dolly never forgot where she came from or the people she came from and she deconstructs all kinds of aspects of Dolly’s life to show the reader how true this is, from her deliberate choice of clothing or costume as Dolly thinks of it, to her song lyrics to her stage performances to Dollywood, and I mean, as readers care about, The Imagination Library. This isn’t a 100% glowing, raving account though it largely is and just reading about the evolution of Dolly Parton in the eyes of popular culture. I mean I didn’t know it, but it was exactly what I wanted and what I needed to read right now. This is a slim book. It’s small format. It’s just over 200 pages, so I think I did finish it on the porch with my coffee on a staycation day morning. It was perfect, and I’m so excited for more of you to read it when it comes out in October.

[00:41:25]

I told you about our staycation. Something else we did around here to try and build in some of that dedicated reading time ‘cause nothing says leisure or vacation to me like uninterrupted time with a book that I don’t necessarily need to be reading. I’m just reading because I want to. So something we did is we went camping more. I don’t know if we have ever been camping in the summer, but we did even when it was really, really hot out here in Kentucky. I think I picked up the perfect book for my Kentucky almost not quite Mountain setting for one of our hot, hot trips also in July. It’s a book that a fellow writer told me I needed to read before it came out and I just didn’t get to it. But you better believe that when a fellow writer I really respect says oh my gosh, the writing in this book is amazing, I sit up, I take notice, and I get to it eventually. So this is Shiner by Amy Jo Burns, which is not set in Kentucky, but it is set in the Appalachian mountains not terribly far away.

The first line of this novel is, “Making good moonshine isn’t that different from telling a good story and no one tells a story like a woman.” So I read this this summer. It’s certain to land on my best of the year list. At the center of the story is a young girl named Wren who lives in the mountains with her family. She lives with her snake handler father who scares and also enraptures the town with his preaching and his serpents. And her mother who only ever wanted to get off the mountain with her best friend. They made a pact but it didn’t work out because her parents made her to marry instead.

So when Ivy stumbles into the fire, there’s a terrible accident and Wren’s father performs a seemingly miraculous healing. It sets in motion this chain of events that has devastating consequences for all. I found the writing to be gorgeous and lush and the characters to be beautifully sympathetic and I read this in one sitting. I read it in the woods. And when I read it, it was so hot that I read it with my feet in the cool creek. This is something I never, ever do, but I just cannot tell you how hot it was. And even though I was reading a book about snake handlers, I could see across the creek, this little, I’m sure it was harmless, but this little snake poking its head up to like say hello, and what are you reading? And I do not like snakes, but it was so hot I left my feet there anyway. I just kept a close eye on it the whole time.

This was a really well put together literary novel that I would definitely recommend for fans of Jaber Crow. I know that the description I just gave you doesn’t hint at the similarities, but tone, writing, and theme, if you like the works of Wendell Berry, I would recommend giving this one a try, and I definitely want to see what else Amy Jo Burns writes.

[00:44:02]

I’ve also listened to a ton of audiobooks this summer. More than usual I think, and so I need to sneak one in as a summer favorite. I’ve enjoyed several of Tiffany D. Jackon’s books in the past, but Let Me Hear a Rhyme that came out last year was the first one I listened to on audio. It was excellent in that format. There’s such a muscality to her writing and it sounded so fantastic narrated by a full cast. This is a story about a group of friends who after one of their friends is tragically shot and killed, they discover that he has recorded these amazing musical tracks. He's a talented rapper. They didn’t realize the extent of it, and they make this plan to release them under a new rapper’s name. They’re going to honor his memory by turning him into the artist he wanted to be. That means they gotta convince an agent. There’s a new artist who of course has to be living who’s waiting to be discovered. I love this story of friendship and music and there’s also a page turning puzzle in here and the ending was so, so satisfying.

Next up for me, would you believe I’m reading upcoming winter and even spring 2021 releases right now? Just downloaded egalleys for the new Sally Hepworth novel coming out in April. I can’t wait to read it. I loved her last one The Mother in Law. And I just downloaded The Committed by Viet Thanh Nguyen coming out in March. But next I’m reading a book from the fall book preview by Japanese novelist Toshikazu Kawaguchi. It’s called Before the Coffee Gets Cold. This is a story I’ve been looking forward to for a long time. It’s the premise that hooked me on the story, and it goes like this. There’s a cafe and a back alley in Tokyo where if you order a coffee and sit in a certain seat, you can go back in time but only until the coffee gets cold. I can’t wait to read it. I’ll keep you posted.

I’ve got plenty of more books on my ereader and on my stacks, and you know you’ll be hearing about them regularly on What Should I Read Next and also in these patreon bonus episodes. Something I frequently do is spend ten minutes talking about a recent book that I’ve read and loved but hasn’t been published yet. We love to help our readers feel in the know but adding a book to their TBR, putting on their library request lists, getting their preorder in before it’s even out yet, and I look forward to sharing more of those titles with you in the near future.

[CHEERFUL OUTRO MUSIC]

ANNE: Hey readers, I hope you enjoyed hearing from the team today. We’d all love to hear what you thought about our summer reading and if you have any ideas on what we should read next. Do that at whatshouldireadnextpodcast.com/253. That’s also where you’ll find the full and very long list of titles we talked about today.

Readers, if you like today’s episode and want to hear more bonus episodes, including guest follow ups, fun mashups like this one, or those one great bonuses where I tell you all about one great book that I love that hasn’t been released yet or maybe I haven’t found the exact reader yet to recommend it to on the show yet, you can get all that and more in our patreon community. To find out more or sign up today, visit patreon.com/whatshouldireadnext. That’s P-A-T-R-E-O-N.com/whatshouldireadnext

If you’re on twitter, I am there @AnneBogel. That is Anne with an E, B as in books -O-G-E-L. Tag us on instagram to share what YOU are reading. I’m there at annebogel and at whatshouldireadnext. That’s our all books, all the time account. Our newsletter subscribers are the first to know all our news and happenings; if you’re not on the list whatshouldireadnextpodcast.com/newsletter is where you go to sign up and get yours today.

Special thanks today to ALL the people who make this show and all that we do happen!

What Should I Read Next is produced by Brenna Frederick, with sound design by Kellen Pechacek.

Readers, that’s it for this episode. Thanks so much for listening.

And as Rainer Maria Rilke said, “ah, how good it is to be among people who are reading.” Happy reading, everyone.

Books mentioned in this episode:

Some links are affiliate links. More details here.

Ginger recommends: 
The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo
Joyful: The Surprising Power of Ordinary Things to Create Extraordinary Happiness by Ingrid Fetell Lee
The Invention of Nature: Alexander von Humboldt’s New World by Andrea Wulf
The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett
The Mothers by Brit Bennett

Leigh recommends
You Should See Me In a Crown by Leah Johnson
Equivalent Exchange by Christina C. Jones
40 Love by Olivia Dade
Boyfriend Material by Alexis Hall
White Negros: When Cornrows Were in Vogue … and Other Thoughts on Cultural Appropriation by Lauren Michele Jackson
The Ripped Bodice, a romance bookstore

Shannan recommends: 
The Lions of Fifth Avenue by Fiona Davis
Rodham by Curtis Sittenfeld
Born a Crime by Trevor Noah
Escaping Dreamland by Charlie Lovett

Chelsey recommends: 
The Vanishing Half by Britt Bennett
Passing by Nella Larsen
The City We Became by N.K. Jemisin
We Ride Upon Sticks by Quan Barry
Take a Hint, Dani Brown by Talia Hibbert
Nobody Will Tell You This But Me: A True (as Told to Me) Story by Bess Kalb
In the Country We Love: My Family Divided by Diane Guerrero

Donna recommends: 
Shuri by Nic Stone
Dear Martin by Nic Stone
Dear Justyce by Nic Stone
A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J. Maas
Miles Morales by Jason Reynolds
Malorie by Josh Malerman
Birdbox by Josh Malerman

Will recommends: 
• Author Chris Pavone (try The Expats)
Where is Joe Merchant by Jimmy Buffett
Ballad of the Whiskey Robber: A True Story of Bank Heists, Ice Hockey, Transylvanian Pelt Smuggling, Moonlighting Detectives, and Broken Hearts by Julian Rubinstein
Simon the Fiddler by Paulette Jiles
• The Cork O’Connor series by William Kent Krueger
When These Mountains Burn by David Joy

Sarah recommends
Darius the Great Is Not Okay by Abid Khorram
A Beautifully Foolish Endeavor by Hank Green
An Absolutely Remarkable Thing by Hank Green
The Secret History by Donna Tart

Brenna recommends: 
Upright Women Wanted by Sarah Gailey
Into the Drowning Deep by Mira Grant

Anne recommends: 
She Come By It Natural: Dolly Parton and the Women Who Lived Her Songs by Sarah Smarsh
Heartland: A Memoir of Working Hard and Being Broke in the Richest Country on Earth by Sarah Smarsh
Shiner by Amy Jo Burns
Let Me Hear a Rhyme by Tiffany D. Jackson
The Good Sister by Sally Hepworth
The Mother In Law by Sally Hepworth
The Committed by Viet Thanh Nguyen
Before the Coffee Gets Cold by by Toshikazu Kawaguchi

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What were YOUR favorite books from this summer?
Let us know in the comments!

5 comments | Comment

5 comments

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  1. Jennifer Geisler says:

    I just finished Robert Galbraith’s 5th book in the excellent Comoran Strike series; so disappointing. For the second time, the author has relied on a storyline where a serial killer is key. The amount of horrific detail about his torture of young women is appalling. Other than that, the details were over the top, including pages of astrological detail. I don’t recommend it….better to go back and read the first three books in the series.

  2. Sue Baum says:

    I read so many great biography / memoir books this year that I LOVED:
    – Becoming Mrs. Lewis by Patty Callahan
    – Crescendo by Alan Cheney (Anne, you MUST read this! A true story about a legendary music genius from Thomasville, GA)
    – Shoe Dog by Phil Knight
    – The Making of a Miracle by Mike Eruzione
    Fave fiction was Nothing to See Here by Kevin Wilson

  3. Susan says:

    Oh, how to pare it down? I read 31 books from June 1 to Aug 31. Let’s say: Ordinary Grace (5 stars!), My Dark Vanessa, The Secret Life of Bees, The Vanishing Half, American Dirt, Eight Perfect Murders, and surprisingly, American Royals!

  4. Kate says:

    I loved Into the Drowning Deep which surprised me because I had tried to read Mira Grant’s zombie novel Feed and couldn’t get past about 20 pages. Mira Grant is one of Seanan McGuire’s pen names though and I’ve enjoyed her Wayward Children books and InCryptid short stories (available free on her website). My reading has been all over the place this summer, but highlights include Kindred by Octavia Butler on audio, A Wizard’s Guide to Defensive Baking by T Kingfisher (middle grade), Hatchet by Gary Paulsen (middle grade), The Boys from Brazil by Ira Levin, and the Lockwood & Co series by Jonathan Stroud (middle grade/YA). Clearly I am leaning toward adventure and the supernatural these days!

  5. Carol Gallman says:

    I was excited to hear that Anne loved She Come by It Natural which I have requested at our library when it is ready for check out. If you plan to read this book, I highly recommend the podcast Dolly Parton’s America, an excellent series of episodes about more than just Dolly.

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