Today I’m talking with Valencia Taylor, a self-proclaimed book-pusher from Greensboro, NC. I met Valencia in Winston-Salem and was immediately charmed by her book talk and sense of humor. In today’s episode, Valencia shares personal stories of determination and resilience (like rappelling from a helicopter!) and recent reads that fall on the line between just-spooky-enough and way-too-scary.
Valencia is looking for compelling stories that teach her something new about the world, as well as more spine-tingling reads, a category that is definitely new to her. She’s also looking for a way to keep track of her reading life. As a fellow book-pusher, I have plenty of recommendations and practical tips to share—in fact, I couldn’t help but share a few extra titles that I think Valencia will love.
Let’s get to it!
VALENCIA: There was one time when I was listening to it and I was getting ready to go to bed and it got a little creepy, and I said you know what, I’m just gonna pick this up tomorrow. [BOTH LAUGH] ‘Cause I don’t need my walls to be doing anything weird while I’m sleeping. [ANNE LAUGHS]
[CHEERFUL INTRO MUSIC]
ANNE: Hey readers. I’m Anne Bogel, and this is What Should I Read Next? Episode 255.
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. Every week we’ll talk all things books and reading, and do a little literary matchmaking with one guest.
Today I’m talking with Valencia Taylor, a self-proclaimed book-pusher from Greensboro, North Carolina. I met Valencia in her state last year and was immediately charmed by her book talk and sense of humor. In today’s episode, Valencia shares personal stories of determination and resilience (like rappelling from a helicopter!) and recent reads that fall on the line between just-spooky-enough and way-too-scary.
Valencia is looking for compelling stories that teach her something new about the world, as well as more spine-tingling reads, a category that is definitely new to her. As a fellow book-pusher, I have plenty of recommendations and practical tips to share—in fact, I couldn’t help but share a few extra titles that I think Valencia will love.
Let’s get to it.
Valencia, welcome to the show.
VALENCIA: Thank you, Anne.
ANNE: Well last time we got to talk books, it was in person. It’s a delight to do it virtually today. This conversation was prompted by you talking about some of your favorite books on the Internet, and I’m so glad you did.
VALENCIA: Oh, yes, it’s been a wonderful reading experience and time.
ANNE: We met in Winston-Salem. We talked books but, you know, readers are multidimensional beings and I have to say in advance of talking today, we always ask our guests to tell us a little bit about yourself. Your CV went places I was not expecting. [VALENCIA LAUGHS] Including my home state of Kentucky.
VALENCIA: That’s right. I served three years in the military and Fort Campbell, Kentucky was my assigned duty station that I spent most of the three years for while I was in service. So it was a little town called Hopkinsville, and then like a few minutes away was Clarksville, Tennessee. My military occupation or MOS was multichannel communications equipment operator and so what we would do, let’s say we’d send a truck to Nashville, and then one from Memphis and we would be triangulating conversation and the communication between those two trucks and the commander.
And also Fort Campbell is an air assault so I did sign up for air assault training. Ten day course. Now I am 4’11 and a half. That barely got me to the military. When I had to do my first qualification, the first day of air assault training, the last two bars of the ladder were my height apart. So there was no jumping up. There was no just grabbing it.
ANNE: Oh my gosh.
VALENCIA: I had to shimmy up the side of the pole, the side of the ladder and then get to that top part and then we had to practice rappelling, your body makes you stop and then the drill sergeant started yelling at me. He said you can do it, come on down here, and I rappelled and I knew I screamed the entire way down, but I did it.
ANNE: This is rappelling from like helicopters.
VALENCIA: Yes. Yes.
ANNE: Ooh, wow. [BOTH LAUGHS]
VALENCIA: We first start off the side of a tall wall and then yes, we did have a night mission where we had to stand up and rappel out of a helicopter and the last day was a twelve mile rough march. Then it was the ‘90s and I was all out to prove that it doesn’t matter how short I am or if I’m a female, I can do the same thing that you all can do. I did my twelve miles. I didn’t have to repeat the ten day training and I also had a dog at the time. It was the company dog. His name was Boonie, and my office people and Boonie met me at the end of the march. So it was great. I learned a lot. I love it. [LAUGHS]
ANNE: And these days on the job you engage in what you call creative destruction. I love that description.
VALENCIA: [LAUGHS] Yes, I am a software tester. I’ve been doing that a long time, but I just love when you come out with a new application or whatever, just trying to figure out how it can be broken and how it can get the best quality out of the application once we release it to the public for use.
ANNE: What kind of skills or proclivities or mindset does it take to do well in that profession?
VALENCIA: Well to me, relationships first. Especially between the testers and the developers. We’re not here to prove that the developer did something wrong. We’re here to get the best quality product. It’s a lot of analyzing, working logically through an application and what can and cannot be done with that particular application, and then being able to communicate what we’re seeing and what’s wrong because you have to be able to talk to a business person, you know, who said that I just want to pencil. They didn’t say it was a mechanical or not. You have to talk to the developer who is at a development code level and you have to tell him what this store procedure did not call or this type of thing to help them figure out what the issue may be if there is one. So the best thing is when we shake out everything early and we can move on to production and we have a clean product.
ANNE: That’s so interesting. I thought you were going to immediately say something like to be good at puzzles, to have a problem solving brain, and instead you started talking about relationships. Is it weird that made me think of every editing relationship I had about a different kind of product?
VALENCIA: [LAUGHS] Well yes, I mean, I do agree with you. It is solving a puzzle, being very intentional, very procedural because you can’t just start anywhere because you’re not gonna find ... Just like people say you should clean from the top down. You can’t just start anywhere. It has to be a logical procession of ideas. Thinking outside the box is oh, what if I do that? Or what if somebody did this? That’s the fun part. When you hit something and it goes bonkers. [BOTH LAUGH] And you’re like yay! I found one. [LAUGHS]
ANNE: Well I know you enjoy mystery novels.
ANNE: Are those two things connected or am I wanting to see something that’s not there?
VALENCIA: Well it is a mystery when you learn the application so you have the application in front of you for the first time. Just think about the first time you used Microsoft Word, okay. You’re wanting to figure out, okay, how do I do this? How do I do that? You’re trying to figure out what the ends and out of that particular software or application, so yes, it can be a mystery. What are we going to build to satisfy this customer need?
ANNE: So October’s the time for spooky reads, but it’s also breast cancer awareness month, and you mention that you had a recent experience that you thought would be worth sharing with our listeners.
VALENCIA: That’s right, Anne. Back in August I did find a lump while I was performing my monthly breast check. I was quickly seen by the doctor. Confirmed it was a lump and at first I was thinking okay, well this was just something I’m going to have to keep an eye on, and I’m good with that. Then I got the call back that it was Stage I cancer.
Since August I’ve been living this new reality and realizing how more than ever is important. Don’t be afraid to notify the doctor if you see something that’s not right, and I’m so glad this experience has brought me closer to my family. People have reached out. I don’t feel like I’m alone and I just think it’s really important to catch these things early, and I did catch it early. So I have a very positive prognosis. I am looking forward to taking this journey one day at a time. It’s teaching me patience.
ANNE: I have to say you’ve described yourself as a book pusher. I really appreciate the way that you’re very clearly sharing the things that matter to you and that you value people that need to hear them. And we kinda laugh about need when we talk about favorite mystery novels, [VALENCIA LAUGHS] but come on. We’re readers. Like we think that there’s people in our lives who need to know these things. Thank you for sharing this as well and for being open with that and with our listeners. I’m glad that you were able to get such quick care. I hope that made the process easier and less emotionally difficult ‘cause I can only imagine what that must feel like, and it’s also been clear from your emails with our team how much your sense of humor has been evidence how about.
VALENCIA: [LAUGHS] It has been helping me ‘cause you all need to laugh. What I decided to do is I named the lump. I named him Louie. There were also some calcification removed as well, so we changed the name to the band name Louie and the Calcs. [ANNE LAUGHS] So Louie and the Calcs were on their final farewell tour and they have retired as of just a few days ago. Things like that have helped me deal with my situation, and have helped me find the joy in this journey. I tell the doctors and everybody we came up with a band name and it was just … been the greatest ice breaker and putting people at ease, so. [BOTH LAUGH]
ANNE: That’s so funny. I hadn’t thought about that aspect of it.
VALENCIA: Yeah. Yup yup because when you mention the word cancer, you know, your mind goes completely left and so what I have learned is you just have to take one thing at a time and try to get through it with laughter. That’s the best thing.
ANNE: Well I’m so glad you are. Thanks for taking a moment to share that with our listeners.
VALENCIA: You’re welcome.
ANNE: Valencia. there’s so much I want to cover today and I think we want to do through it the lens of what you enjoy reading and also what you don’t. I’m really looking forward to hearing about that. Are you ready to jump in and talk about your books?
VALENCIA: I am.
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ANNE: Well you know how this works. You’re going to tell me three books you love, one book you don’t, and what you've been reading lately and we’ll talk about what you may enjoy reading next. And a whole lot of other stuff besides. How did you choose these today?
VALENCIA: Well I went and just looked at the titles to see what stuck with me. The books that I keep pushing on people. [ANNE LAUGHS] And also I think like if I wanted to listen to this book again and every time, I know I have listened to at least them twice and then I wanted to have a variety to sorta give more of an idea of the types of books I read.
ANNE: Well I’m excited to hear. What’s book one?
VALENCIA: So book one is Born A Crime by Trevor Noah. I read this on audio and he reads the audio for that. This was my first foray into nonfiction. It had been suggested as a place to start with nonfiction and his story is so compelling. He has taken a very difficult time in his life, Apartheid, and have it apply and show you how it works through his lens and his life, and that I really appreciated learning. Also appreciated how resilient Trevor is, and he … because of his skin color he didn’t fit with the Blacks in South Africa and he wasn’t really … He was considered colored, he wasn’t considered Caucasian or white. So he had to always through humor, jokes, and knowing a lot of languages, that was his bridge to connect with people because he didn’t fit in any group or situation.
ANNE: What made you pick this up?
VALENCIA: Well I like Trevor Noah. I think he’s funny. [BOTH LAUGH] And then with him being from South Africa was interesting, and then this subject of Apartheid, I thought that was something I wanted to know more about. And I felt like he handled that without … It was a rough time, but there wasn’t a lot of focus on how horrible things were, but he was just explaining the ramifications of Apartheid and how it affected his family and his community. And that gave me insight without being so I guess angry, upset over the injustice part of Apartheid, so that’s what made me pick that book up.
ANNE: And what did you think of the audio version?
VALENCIA: Loved it. Loved it. I highly, highly recommend audio because he does all of the pronunciations of names and he does different languages too so it’s like you’re sitting down talking to him and he’s telling you a story, so and I’m sure people who have read it remember Fufi, so [LAUGHS] His little dog. I resonated with him because we’ve all felt like we didn’t fit somewhere or we’ve had a rough time or something of the other, and I recommended it to a friend at work who was getting into reading. I said you have to listen to this. Even he came back to me and he said, wow. He said I’m not even from Africa but I can identify with everything he said, and that’s the way I’ve made so many friends with this book and everything like that too. [BOTH LAUGH]
ANNE: So you mentioned that you were a book pusher.
ANNE: Okay. So this is one you felt compelled to share.
VALENCIA: Mmhmm. It was.
ANNE: You mentioned that this was your first foray into nonfiction, and listeners, if you are looking to maybe take your first steps into the world of audiobooks, I think this could be a really good one as well. For Shannan Malone, who’s a team member for Modern Mrs Darcy and What Should I Read Next and also a past podcast guest, she said I don’t do audiobooks. But then she got talked into trying Trevor Noah on audio and it served to be a wonderful gateway book. I just remember reading this myself how he could have you laughing and crying within like I don’t know, three seconds of each other.
VALENCIA: Exactly. Exactly. And the relationship between him and his mother Patricia, I feel as though, well just in my experience when they talk about Trevor Noah’s book, they don’t mention the deep religious spirituality of his mother. She was the original rebel, but she had this unbreakable faith throughout even when the worst things happened to her. She just had this unbreakable faith and it just made me want to operate in that level of faith as well, but I do agree. He will have you laughing one minute, especially when he was talking about growing up and being a teenager.
ANNE: Oh my gosh. [LAUGHS]
VALENCIA: And his first prom and all, I was like oh bless your heart. [BOTH LAUGH] Oh my goodness. My sister Greensboro chose Trevor Noah’s Born A Crime as their one city, one book and we started a postcard campaign to try to get Trevor Noah to come and speak. But as you know he is extremely busy. See I think that was the second or third time I had listened to it, and I hear something new every time.
ANNE: Valencia, what did you choose for your second book?
VALENCIA: So my second book was … It’s part of a trilogy, so I did kind of cheat.
ANNE: We’ll allow that.
VALENCIA: [LAUGHS] The first book was The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden. This book I first listened to this in the winter time as part of my winter survival. Winter is my least favorite time of the year. From a much admired blogger named Anne, I picked up some new [LAUGHS] I picked up some new things that I do just in the winter time including puzzles, yes. You did that, Anne.
ANNE: Oh. [LAUGHS] So I’m the puzzle pusher.
VALENCIA: You’re the puzzle pusher. And then while I was doing that, I was listening to The Bear and the Nightingale and this book talks about medieval Russia, this young lady named Vasilisa Petrovna and because you listen to the audio, you heard all of the pronunciations and how she felt trapped in her life and she has this special gift and that she’s really a rebel. She doesn’t out really look beautiful but her confidence is what brings to the forefront, and then having the author describe the living conditions and the hearth, it really had me going to Google and looking up Russian house spirits and what did a hearth look like and how people lived during that time. I loved that. And then on top of it, it was this wonderful story and it was full of her growing up and taking charge of who she is and then it also had some political intrigue behind it. Then it had fantasy on top of that. So I’m walking around the house after I finish it going Vasilisa Petrovna, Vasochka. [LAUGHS]
ANNE: What did you just tell us?
VALENCIA: I was saying Vasilsa’s name, but also as part of Russian culture you get a nickname, and that’s the term of endearment. And at the end of this the author goes and explains the myths and how Russians relate to each other and the different kinds of names. It took a little minute to understand first, but then when you started becoming one with the book, it’s a very wonderful experience. Now whenever I pack, I’m going to go somewhere, I do a little minute of house sitting quietly to make sure my domovoi is happy. [LAUGHS] The domovoi is a little house spirit that’s supposed to take care of your house, according to folklore, so learning all about that is just amazing.
ANNE: And it clearly stuck with you and you stuck with it for the whole trilogy.
VALENCIA: Yes. Yes, I did.
ANNE: Did you have a favorite book in that series?
VALENCIA: It still is The Bear and the Nightingale because that’s where it starts off, and I guess maybe as a close second would be the last book in the series because she really comes into who she is and she’s making her own path. There’s discussion about women’s roles during medieval Russia, father would deem defy the woman or his daughters a mate and a marriage would be arranged and it was about alliances. The daughters were important at that point but once you got married you were you know part of your husband, your job was to bear children and take care. And Vasisilla, she didn’t want that. She made a lot of comments about being stuck in her life, but she also has some magical gifts that really come into fruition and help her, so I just love her. [LAUGHS] I just love her.
ANNE: And what did you choose to complete your favorites list?
VALENCIA: [LAUGHS] My third book was The Sun Down Motel.
ANNE: Simone St. James.
VALENCIA: Simone St. James and that is the book that I have been pushing on …
ANNE: [LAUGHS] Book pushing will never stop being funny.
VALENCIA: And giggling about. So this is about a young girl who goes to find out what happened to her aunt Viv. She goes back to Fell, New York because they think that her aunt passed on. So Carly’s going to Felll to figure out what happened to her aunt. Carly believes her aunt has been killed, and she wants to find out the reasonings behind that and try to solve this mystery. This has been a mystery within her family since she was little.
Carly’s lost her mother to cancer and that changed her perspective on life, so finally she felt like she needed to find an answer to this. And that brings to her Fell working on the exact same hotel the Sundown as her aunt Viv. When she starts to work there, the hotel wakes up. Doors start opening and closing by themselves. She can smell cigarette smoke. She can hear somebody walking and at first she thinks she’s crazy until she runs into someone else that’s been staying at the Sun Down. It’s almost like you come up with these questions: why did Carly go back? Okay we know she went back to find her aunt Viv. What happened to her aunt? Why is she hearing these strange things in the hotel? Why is everything so just creepy in Fell?
And after finishing that book, you know, Fell is the perfect name for that city because it pretty much fell off the map. They barely have cell communication. Everyone still uses the library. Everybody in the book is stuck in a certain way. The ghosts are stuck. The people she meets are stuck. And it has a little bit of commentary on because these girls have gone missing and it has a commentary on well if you’re pretty, then you get more attention if you’re missing, but if you’re not pretty or if you’ve had maybe a side relationship or something like that, then you got what you deserved. So the things that happened to these young ladies in Fell, they become this cautionary tale. No one wants to seem to find out you know what led up to them being attacked or killed. They must have brought it upon themselves. That’s what it is.
It just keeps going and going and every time the motel would wake up and the doors and stuff would start opening and things would happen, I would be in my room listening, going hehehehe. So chilly. [BOTH LAUGHS]
ANNE: But that sounds like a happy kinda …
VALENCIA: Yes, yes, yes. I could not stop listening to it so that was my first foray into Simone St. James and that type of book which then opened the floodgates. I did read her other book The Broken Girls. Just as good. And I pushed that one onto my friend Jennifer too, I said we’re going to read this together. [LAUGHS] And so we would call each other or text and be like oh it’s so creepy. It’s so creepy! And we’d be having a good time. [LAUGHS]
ANNE: Is the creepy stuff usually your reading vibe or is this new?
VALENCIA: This is new because I’ve stayed away from horror you know, blood, guts, gore, and things happening in your mind psychologically that recalls me having to sleep with the lights on and you know, I have two cats so the horror people love to use cats as a warning of something bad coming. I didn’t know they had this little part, I don’t know if it’s a subgenre or something or subject matter where it’s spooky but not like horroringly scary. That did it for me. Mm. And The Sun Down Motel, it has a dual timeline and a mystery and a little bit of spooky. Mm. Just right. [LAUGHS]
ANNE: I’m making notes. Dual timeline. Mystery, and a little bit of spooky.
VALENCIA: The time goes back to the ‘80s and then in 2017. So Carly’s in 2017 and her aunt Viv was in the 1980s. That was also a nice throwback to the ‘80s and I was thinking about my acid wash jeans and all the things that go along with the ‘80s.
ANNE: Which are trendy again. Can you believe that?
VALENCIA: And how about mom jeans. Now mom jeans are fashionable again, really? So us moms, we started the trend, but we were just a little bit too early. [BOTH LAUGH]
ANNE: Oh. I will just say that going into the stores back when we went into the stores, I just could not believe what was for sale at what price points.
VALENCIA: I was the same way.
ANNE: Acid wash mom jeans. I mean I just did not see that coming. Maybe that the Harbinger of 2020.
VALENCIA: Maybe so. [LAUGHS]
ANNE: Speaking of scary. [VALENCIA LAUGHS] So I know you like mysteries ‘cause we talked about Louise Penny. Ooh, and I want to say the cigarette smoke freaked me out in this book which I read because I don’t think you meant to necessarily push this on me ‘cause we weren’t having a conversation we were talking on the Internet and I thought you know what, I’ve had that book downloaded for a long time and I’m finally going to read it and that’s why I did, so you know, put a little mark in your column. But oh, the cigarette smoke. That creeped me out.
VALENCIA: The book that I read that I had to sleep with the lights on and people you know, every book is not for everybody of course, we know that. In college, we read all female authors and we read The Interview with the Vampire and no. I could not go into a room with the lights off for several weeks.
ANNE: I haven’t read that. Okay. So what tipped that into horrifyingly scary?
VALENCIA: The book is about vampires and some of the things that the vampires had to do, and so that’s what made it scary. Of course they like the dark, so they’re hiding in the dark, and then someone comes in the room and rawr there they are. [BOTH LAUGH] I’m like I can’t take it. I can distinctly remember having a flashlight with me, inching around the corner just turning a light on in the room, no. When I was in the army, I tried to be all brave and watch Hell Razor. Couldn’t sleep for two weeks.
ANNE: That is a long time to not sleep.
VALENCIA: Never again. Lights were on, couldn’t do it. You know, when I see horror I’m like I can’t go back to that place. [LAUGHS]
ANNE: Okay. No vampire books for you. No Hell Razor like anything. [VALENCIA LAUGHS] Duly noted.
VALENCIA: Please and thank you, no. [LAUGHS] But I have a question for you, Anne.
ANNE: i’m ready.
VALENCIA: Have you watched Get Out yet?
ANNE: [GASPS] No, but you know I want to.
VALENCIA: Yes. My youngest daughter Victoria, she wanted to see it. It looked like it was gonna be scary, but not maybe. So of course because I’m on the mom, I’m going to try to be all brave and go with her and I’m sitting there in the seat with everything clenched, but it was so good. The concepts and the things that are happening in that movie are horrifying, but it’s not like a lot of violence and chasing people and things like that, but when you figure out what’s really going on, that is horrifying, and so you’re like what. I can’t believe it. And it’s a lot of social commentary in there as well. My daughter, she’s in college, and it’s like I just can see this movie on so many different levels. I was like look at you, college girl. [BOTH LAUGH] It was quite enjoyable.
ANNE: Well okay, you could handle it.
VALENCIA: I could handle it, yes.
ANNE: Okay. ‘Cause I want to, but I’m kinda scared but one of the reasons I want to hints at what you just said, like I’ve heard lots of people say it’s great but also specifically my writer friends say oh my gosh, that movie takes you to plot school.
ANNE: I’m definitely intrigued by that.
VALENCIA: Well my suggestion would be to pick a bright sunny day when it was daylight [ANNE LAUGHS] and earlier in the day, like just after lunch, so you have plenty of time to forget about it before bed. But I really don’t think it will stay with you like that. That’s my suggestion though. ‘Cause I do want to be sensitive to people who may be a little scared.
ANNE: Mm-hmm. I think I can do it. My seventeen year old watched it for film studies in school, which and I thought okay, if they’re saying hey classroom full of teenagers, this is assigned viewing, then like … He says I can handle it.
VALENCIA: Yeah. You can handle it.
ANNE: Okay. Valencia, we talked about the books you loved. Now tell me about a book that did not work for you.
VALENCIA: So Anne, the book that did not work for me was Girl on the Train. Everyone was so excited about it, and I wanted to be a part of the movement.
ANNE: I’m not usually a bandwagon girl, but I do remember downloading this for kindle after hearing about it feeling like I just, I had to. This was maybe five or six years ago.
VALENCIA: Yeah, yeah.
VALENCIA: I wanted to be a part of what everyone was talking about, and then when I got finished reading the book, I was like what? Why are people excited about this? [BOTH LAUGH] And I was like because I kept waiting for something to happen and just never did. And the main character and her struggles did not resonate with me because my life has been, you know, if something’s going wrong in your life, you figure out a way to fix it. That character, she just kept doing the same things over and over again. I just wanted to shake her and say stop it.
ANNE: [LAUGHS] Which you did not find to be a satisfying reading experience. It sounds like you found that to be irritating.
VALENCIA: No. Right. And then when you get to the end and you find out what’s really happening, and I still was unhappy. I’m like really? And you know the books that came out around the time, if a book has a blurb that says if you like Girl on the Train or in the vein, I won’t even go anywhere near it. Isn’t that awful? I won’t go mhm, cause I don’t want to relive that.
ANNE: Part of me wants to be like but - but - but leave the door open, Valencia, and part of me wants to be like eh, you gotta decide somehow. There’s so many books to read.
VALENCIA: [LAUGHS] I would be interested in reading her other books as well. That doesn’t take me away from reading the author’s work. As I’ve learned in book club, that just wasn’t the book for me.
ANNE: Valencia, what have you been reading lately?
VALENCIA: Lately I’ve been reading Mexican Gothic, which I’m still on a book hangover from.
ANNE: Ooh. I mean, I’m sorry about that, but that’s a great sign.
VALENCIA: And then I’ve been reading A House of Salt and Sorrow, which is a little bit of a YA rift on the twelve dancing princesses. For book club, I read The Poet X. Read and listened to The Poet X. So Mexican Gothic, when I saw gothic I was like yes. October, fall and winter, yes, give me all the gothic because Rebecca was good. [LAUGHS] But then when you figure out what’s going on in Mexican Gothic, you’re like oh my goodness. [LAUGHS] I just, mhm. The setting. The house was a character in that book and the setting, the things that you’re trying to figure out what is going on? And I loved that feeling of when I’m reading, going asking myself, what is happening? [LAUGHS] What exactly is happening?
ANNE: I don’t remember which major outlet ran this review but it was someplace like Library Journal or Publishers Weekly that said oh my, this book is delightfully bonkers. [LAUGHS] I thought oh, that’s a great way to describe that.
VALENCIA: Mmhmm. Some of them, when you find out what’s really been going on, too, that, I can see why they named it horror because to me, it’s psychologically horrible.
ANNE: But not horrifyingly scary.
VALENCIA: No. No, it’s not horrifyingly scary. There was one time when I was listening to it and I was getting ready to go to bed and it got a little creepy, and I said you know what, I’m just gonna pick this up tomorrow. [BOTH LAUGH] ‘Cause I don’t need my walls to be doing anything weird while I’m sleeping. [LAUGHS] And that’s all I can think of, I was laughing at myself.
ANNE: I wouldn’t want to deposit some of the things that happen in that book, which I also nearly didn’t read because it’s labelled gothic horror, the horror part scared me but I really enjoyed it, and yet yeah, I don’t want to have dreams about the walls moving.
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ANNE: Okay. So Valencia, you loved Born A Crime by Trevor Noah, The Bear and the Nightingale and the whole Winter Night trilogy by Katherine Arden, and The Sun Down Motel by Simone St. James.
VALENCIA: [WHISPERS] Yes.
ANNE: The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins was not for you. Lately Mexican Gothic, which is giving you quite a book hangover by Silvia Moreno-Garcia, House of Salt and Sorrows by Erin Craig, and The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo. Okay as we think about what you want to read next, what are you looking for right now in your reading life? What do you want more of?
VALENCIA: More books where I continue to learn things about other cultures. That was one of the things I enjoyed about Born A Crime and The Bear and the Nightingale, and then for the third book, The Sun Down you know, I’m always on the lookout for those types of books and I’m not the best person, Anne, at keeping track of what I read. I get this thing where I finish a book and I have thoughts about it and then I want somewhere to write them, and I end up with three or four notebooks with book stuff in it. [LAUGHS] I write.
ANNE: Uh-huh. That is … it’s not just you.
VALENCIA: Okay. [LAUGHS] That’s good. But something like that comes with practice. I mean, the book club as some great videos, classes on that, and I revisit those every now and again. I’ve gotten better at cataloguing in Goodreads, but I want to do more, what did Ginger call it? Pithy book talk?
ANNE: Oh yeah.
VALENCIA: [LAUGHS] When they have you write the review, I want to be able to speak on it. I’m pretty good at selling the book to other people.
ANNE: Apparently. [VALENCIA LAUGHS] So is that the kind of stuff you’d like to capture somewhere whether it’s a journal or Goodreads or a spreadsheet, something like that?
VALENCIA: Right, and then when I start to realize what’s really going on in any other themes that may be happening within the book, I just kinda like to keep a record of that. How my reactions after I finish reading it. When we’re talking about The Sun Down, how Fell is the perfect name because that city is just, it’s left in frozen, it’s fell off the map. How they made those girls cautionary tales but no one seems to be interested in helping them. That’s what I got from … So those kinds of things, just be more diligent about writing my reaction to books when I finish reading them.
ANNE: Okay. It’s October. The end of the year is in sight, how do you feel about New Years and fresh starts? Does that matter to you at all?
VALENCIA: Like from the point of making resolutions?
ANNE: Ah, resolutions is a big word.
VALENCIA: [LAUGHS] Because I don’t really …
ANNE: It hasn’t really been that same Fell idea. You can just fall right off that … [VALENCIA LAUGHS] I was just thinking that if you do like the idea of restarting, like now can be a great time to think and explore and then you can start … There’s nothing magical about January 1st and yet I do know that we’ll be talking about here on the podcast, on Modern Mrs Darcy, and in our Modern Mrs Darcy book club about these kinds of things as we do turn to the new year. I would love to see you find a system though, not necessarily because everyone needs a system although readers, I really do think you’ll benefit by capturing someplace just the title and author of everything you read. Maybe the dates. I think it’ll serve you well.
VALENCIA: I have at least done that. A title and author.
ANNE: I know that it’s easy for me to tell myself stories about my reading life or not discern patterns ‘cause I never remember everything I’ve read ....
ANNE: … Which is why I write it down and then you can look back and see it. But since you’ve said this is something I know I want in my reading life, and I want to find a way to make it happen, then I want that for you. So you have four different notebooks.
VALENCIA: [LAUGHS] Yes.
ANNE: I wasn’t trying to be funny. [BOTH LAUGH] Or mean for the record. Is this … Is this a stationary geek issue where you just love all the different notebooks? Is this not having the right notebook handy with you at the right time?
VALENCIA: You hit it right on the middle of the head. It’s like maybe this one will work. Well I don’t know. Maybe I’m overthinking it. [LAUGHS]
ANNE: That’s a real thing too.
VALENCIA: But as far as like New Years, new start, in December I like to assess what’s happened, revisit what’s happened in the current year and then think about some of the things I want to do in the new year, and just sorta spread them out. Everything doesn’t have to be started in January, so you can say by March I want to do this thing and picking one thing to work on per month has helped. Of course, not this year because it’s all about survival but ... [LAUGHS]
ANNE: Funny ‘cause it’s true.
VALENCIA: [LAUGHS] Yeah. Every new month to me is a beginning, you know?
ANNE: Yeah. Well and the strong argument for not waiting until the new year to start is that I feel like that can put a lot of pressure on it, like I’m starting a system now and it’s gotta be the way it’s gonna be. It’s not perfect necessarily but I have a plan, and then as soon as we you know forget to write down the theme of a book or we lose the dates, the books end up out of order in the journal, then we’re like well forget that. That didn’t work. The end. [VALENCIA LAUGHS] And I don’t want that to happen to you to or anybody else.
VALENCIA: Yes, and I will admit to being a perfectionist, so. But the most important thing is just start somewhere. Done is better than perfect.
ANNE: This is very true. This is very true. [VALENCIA LAUGHS] What I would think about doing in the next month or two, tell me how this strikes you is just start experimenting with writing things down, like write down what you notice about Fell and write down what you notice about the characters, maybe capture a favorite quote. This is not a checklist. These are ideas.
ANNE: Write about how the book struck you. Write about what you’ve been thinking about and then as you do like to review the end of the month, the end of the year, look back in a few weeks or even a couple of months and say okay, what makes sense to me in hindsight? Like did I capture these in a way I can actually use and what do I like? Keep doing that. Forget the rest, and we’re going to be talking a lot about reading intentions for the new year coming up here on the podcast and in other places.
VALENCIA: Yes. I’m here for it.
ANNE: Well I’m glad to know this is something that’s useful to readers. I mean, goodness knows I need it in my own life. [VALENCIA LAUGHS] But well, you know, we’re always saying when it comes to anything in the reading life, it’s never just you.
VALENCIA: [LAUGHS] It’s been the most comfort to know it’s not just me.
ANNE: Okay. As far as actual book content, what are you on the lookout for? What would you be excited to discover?
VALENCIA: I guess I would say learning something or going somewhere new, seeing that place through the eyes of the author or the storyteller or the narrator. I’m going to always love mystery, so if some mystery in there, if there’s something I need to figure out, that’s good too. Compelling story and maybe not one of an area I’ve heard of before because Mexican Gothic, you don’t hear about those types of things happening in Mexico. So that was cool to me. And of course with The Bear and the Nightingale, oh my goodness, I just learned so much about medieval Russia and folklore and things. That was very cool.
VALENCIA: And I got a story on top of it. [BOTH LAUGH]
ANNE: So the books that take you other places, so is travel content something that you enjoy?
VALENCIA: Yes. Some of the favorite books we’ve read in book club travel and food, let me just be completely open and honest with you. [BOTH LAUGH] The Stationary Shop had me searching for Persian food in my area, okay. I love that and I love learning about Tehran in that time, that did it.
ANNE: You know how we talked about not being alone? Oh my gosh, I hear you on the Persian food. [VALENCIA LAUGHS] So, so much. All right, Valencia, I have ideas. So we are looking for books that can take you to other places, other time periods, other cultures. You love a good mystery. Spooky but not horrifyingly scary is something that we’re going for as well. Let’s start with oh, okay, first of all. There’s so many good ones to choose from, especially when we start thinking about the mystery element. [VALENCIA LAUGHS] But something that’s unique to The Sun Down Motel and The Bear and The Nightingale that isn’t present in every story is that fairytale, folkloric, ghosty kind of element, so instead of like a psychological thriller, like a woman disappears and what will she do next ‘cause that’s totally a book you might enjoy, I’m going to be keeping an eye out for those elements.
ANNE: Let me first say if you haven’t read The Snow Child.
VALENCIA: I have not.
ANNE: Oh. It is also based on a Russian folktale. It is not the same one I don’t think, but this is a book by Eowyn Ivey. it’s about ten years old and in Ivey’s hands, it’s the story of a couple who move from I think the New England area to Alaska in 1920 to become homesteaders, and it is a hard place to be especially because they desperately wanted to have children and that has never happened for them. And it has been so hard to scratch out an existence in this absolutely brutal and hospitable landscape.
But then one winter time, it might even have been Christmas Eve, maybe I’m misremembering that, [VALENCIA LAUGHS] but on one night you know these people serious, stayed, older homesteaders build a child out of snow. I mean, they make a snow man except it’s a snow child and they put a scarf on it and they go to sleep and the next morning they wake up and the snow child is gone, but there’s this blonde child in the woods with a scarf and they go watch just happened but they
VALENCIA: Oh wow.
ANNE: take her in and raise her as their daughter, but it’s a fairytale and that’s not the end of the story, but it’s a heck of a premise. Yeah?
VALENCIA: Oh my goodness. That sounds juicy. [LAUGHS]
ANNE: I think you may really enjoy this and what I like about it is it’s not the same as The Bear and the Nightingale, that was a great story. You don’t need you know, like a spinoff of that, but it’s along the same veins but in a different authors’ hands, it feels different but it still feels ooh, I think it’s got those elements that you may enjoy.
VALENCIA: Okay, sounds great.
ANNE: Okay so that was the Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey. Now okay, this is different. So some people read Jennifer McMahon’s books and they say that was everything I ever wanted and some people read Jennifer McMahon’s books and think oh, juicy premise, but I don’t know if that was for me. But because the premise is so good, I want to make sure that these books are on your radar and we’re going to go for it. Although if you think you like the sound of her generally creepy psychologically intense stories [VALENCIA LAUGHS] that often have an element of the supernatural like that’s what’s drawing me to this.
ANNE: See what looks good to you, but the one I have in mind is Don’t Breathe A Word. This is also about ten years old, Google it. Look at the cover. It’s a young girl’s face staring at the camera off the cover and her eyes are intense. This is a good unsettling cover for this book. Another reason that I think this specific book could be a good one for you is because it’s got a dual timeline, a mystery, and maybe more than a little bit of spooky.
VALENCIA: You’re checking all of my boxes, Anne.
ANNE: I don’t think this is horrifyingly scary based on what we talked about. I really hope I’m not wrong. Okay, so years ago in Vermont on a summer night, a twelve year old girl said she was going to run off with the king of the fairies and she did. She went into the woods behind the house, no one ever saw her again. That’s the beginning of this story. She was going to become his queen and live happily ever after. This of course has been haunting her family for many years.
Flash forward fifteen years, her little brother has grown up, is getting married, and all of a sudden these spooky things start happening. Unexplained, at first they think they might be coincidences, but there are these perhaps supernatural occurrences that are creeping them out and are really unsettling for the brother who has always thought the king of the fairies, come on, what really happened to my sister. [VALENCIA LAUGHS] And then they find this book that apparently Lisa used as a guide to disappearing and running away and starting her new magical fairytale existence.
VALENCIA: Oh boy.
ANNE: Some people find the ending frustrating. Some people think the premise. I think based on what you’ve enjoyed a little bit of ambivalence might be okay with you.
ANNE: And I think the general world that this story is wading into could be checking your boxes. Don’t Breathe A Word. Jennifer McMahon.
VALENCIA: I have not heard of that author or that book, so that’s good.
ANNE: Happy to … not push it upon you but offer it to you. [VALENCIA LAUGHS] How’s that?
VALENCIA: Okay, Anne. That is great.
ANNE: Okay. Next up, have you ever read anything by Kate Morton?
VALENCIA: No, I haven’t.
ANNE: This is a gothic mystery. It again is seriously spooky in some places, but I would not say it is scary. It is not horror. But it’s got the sisters locked in the crumbling castle and the cold British rain kind of vibe, and this is another one with dual timelines and mystery and it’s eerie and unsettling, but there are no vampires in Kate Morton books. [VALENCIA LAUGHS] She has a new one coming out this summer that better remain true. I would like to put that request out to the universe but it’s probably too late.
So it’s a letter that kicks the story into gear and it insights a contemporary woman, that contemporary timeline here is set in the 1990s to visit Milderhurst castle. That would be the crumbling castle in England where there are three sisters who have lived alone, spinsters. They’ve lived there for a long time, and the connection between the ‘90s and the past is that the woman who ends up being like the mystery unraveler, fifty years before her mother lived in London during the blitz and was sent to safety in the countryside and she lived in this castle. There are two older sisters who are twins. They’re the responsible ones and for most of their life, they’ve been responsible for tending to and caring for their youngest sister and she was cruelly jilted way back in 1941 and it affected her deeply in every possible way.
This contemporary woman gets to the castle and starts to fill in the blanks on what she didn’t know about her mother’s history and then she begins to realize as she begins to investigates there is more going on than she had suspected. And an important thing here is much of the mystery has to do with her favorite novel. It’s called The True History of the Mudman, but it’s a famous children’s story book. She loved it dearly. It’s totally a novel. It’s completely made up, but she starts investigating the history of this book The True History of the Mudman which involves if I remember a scary, muddy dude climbing the outside wall of the castle.
VALENCIA: Of course.
VALENCIA: Of course.
ANNE: So it’s totally made up, but then she starts to learn more about the history and thinks wait, hang on, there’s more going on here and she’s going to find out what it is and she’s going to do it in a moody gothic unsettling but not horrifying setting. How does that sound?
VALENCIA: Any book that has a mudman climbing up the side of a gothic house [ANNE LAUGHS] I mean … [LAUGHS]
ANNE: I never thought that’d make me say that’s music to my ears, but it absolutely is.
VALENCIA: [LAUGHS] I’m here for that.
ANNE: Okay, that was The Distant Hours by Kate Morton. [VALENCIA LAUGHS] So we did the spooky but now I really want to take you around the world a little bit and also to a different timeline. For better or for worse, this one does not go back and forth. Can we try it anyway?
VALENCIA: You can try it anyway. Yes.
ANNE: Okay. This was actually a newer release. It just came out September 1st. It's a debut from Asha Lemmie. It’s called Fifty Words For Rain. is this a book that you’re familiar with yet?
VALENCIA: Oh my goodness, Anne.
ANNE: What, what?
VALENCIA: I’m familiar with it, yes. I have it on hold at the library. I had heard Fiona Davis talk about that book when she was talking about her book Lions of New York, and I heard her mention it, I wrote it down. My local bookmarks had authors, and she was one of the authors that we did a little bit of pre-read about that book so yes.
ANNE: That makes me so happy.
VALENCIA: It’s very different ‘cause I think she is African-American and she ends up in Korea, I think. But that whole premise is something I haven’t experienced before, so yes.
ANNE: Well and it’s something I was also thinking of when you were talking about Trevor Noah’s book, which is obviously like that’s a memoir. That’s a story that was more contemporary in South Africa and this is set in Kyoto in 1948. Let me tell you a little bit about it. When the book opens, there’s an eight year old girl. Her name is Noriko, but everybody calls her Nori. She is standing on the street with her mother with a suitcase and her mom gives her a note and she says, go knock on the door. This is your grandparents’ house. I know you’ve never met them. Give them the note. I’m going to leave now. You’re going to live with them. So that’s how the story opens. An eight year old girl introducing herself to her grandparents.
What you slowly begin to realize though not that slowly I wouldn’t say we’re in spoiler territory, is that this girl’s unknown to her grandparents because her mother was shunned and that’s because though she was the child of a Japanese aristocrat, I mean, a very wealthy, influential, ruling family in post-World War II Japan, her mother left her husband and had an affair with an African-America G.I. and so Nori is a bastard child, which is absolutely the phrase they use, and she’s also … They always refer to her hair, how her hair doesn’t lay smooth, like a true Japanese child would.
VALENCIA: Right, right.
ANNE: So they’re always referring to her hair but also her skin is dark, like in the beginning of the book her grandmother saying I ordered another treatment. I ordered another treatment. They’re trying to lighten her skin.
VALENCIA: Lighten her skin?
ANNE: And at first I thought oh, this is like they want her look like …
VALENCIA: More like them.
ANNE: And it’s not okay on several levels with her really oppressive grandparents who are terrible to her. They basically lock her in the attic for a couple years and everything changes when her half brother comes to live with her because he’s the legitimate child. He can do whatever he wants and Nori really takes to him, and starts following him around everyone. They call her the puppy or the shadow. When he starts saying like hey, get my sister some ice cream, everybody listens.
But what this story does from 1948 when Nori is eight to her adulthood twenty years later is show her devastating twisty, constantly surprising, seriously head shaking, what were we saying about delightful bonkers with Mexican Gothic, this is just bonkers. There’s not delightful about it unless you want a really absorbing reading experience. That part might be delightful, but for Nori nothing is delightful except that ice cream and that doesn’t last.
But it’s this really interesting family saga set in a place in time that I think may be delightfully new to you and also have this cultural elements like introduce you to a new way of being in a new place and time. So when Fiona Davis started talking about it, were there other elements that made you think oh yeah, that book’s for me?
VALENCIA: When she was mentioning the location and the sister how she is biracial, that piqued my attention as well. When you see the title Fifty Words for Rain, when I read that book I want to understand why the author named the book Fifty Words for Rain. Like I’m going to look for that the entire time I’m reading. Yes, I was like okay. I’m writing that down. [LAUGHS]
ANNE: It is a good title. And it is in the text. You will find it there.
ANNE: Okay, you mentioned that maybe some YA novels would be fun.
ANNE: So can I just pile on?
VALENCIA: Of course you can.
ANNE: Okay, well there’s two completely different ones I’m thinking of.
VALENCIA: Who says no to Anne Bogel? Tell me.
ANNE: [BOTH LAUGH] I understand that it was your job, so maybe it’s not as fascinating and riveting but you talked about rappelling out of helicopters and you mentioned that you were interested in reading YA and so I was thinking about YA historicals like Flygirl by Sherri L. Smith. This is about a young woman, her father was a pilot. She always wanted to be a pilot. She’s not allowed to be a pilot because she’s Black, but she’s light enough to pass and she decides to do it so that she can fulfill her dream. This is a YA novel but so many adults have read it and loved this and I wanted to make sure it was on your radar.
This is also … We’re just camping out squarely in like the 2010 give or take a year timeline for these recommendations with the exception of that new one. It’s shortish, it’s less than 300 pages and it’s about a young girl doing hard things, really interesting. So many people have no idea what the rules and requirements were for young people then, for what you could and couldn’t do ‘cause you were a woman and what you couldn’t do because of your race. This book gently but firmly addresses all of that. Flygirl by Sherri Smith.
VALENCIA: That sounds great.
ANNE: And then it really stuck with me, Valencia, that you said you had a travel goal to go to Valencia, Spain.
ANNE: Tell me about that.
VALENCIA: My father told me how he named me, why he named me Valencia when he happened to be flying over. I have wanted to go there because it’s my namesake. It’s just been something that I’ve wanted to experience. It’s like the ultimate bucket list thing for me. Go to Spain and eat the food and see the beautiful land, the countryside, have a museum of arts and science and see a flamenco performance. Wonderful. So I just continually even through these COVID times, I continually am finding little travel videos and information about Spain and I just want to experience what this … I have never been overseas, so it’s one thing I would really love to do and just absorb the culture and understand the history and those kinds of things.
ANNE: Well I hope it’s good to have something to look forward to.
ANNE: The book I have in mind, it is not set in Valencia. There are novels set in Valencia, but I don’t know a lot about them. Like there’s a novel called A Death In Valencia and that’s by Jason Webster, and then I think The Perfume Garden is set in Valencia. That’s by Kate Lord Brown, but the one I’m thinking of is a YA historical novel. It has two timelines, but it doesn’t alternate back and forth. This is called The Fountains of Silence. It’s by Ruta Sepetys, a well known YA historical fiction writer. This one is set in Madrid, not in Valencia. They don’t really travel outside the city much, but it is set in Spain in 1957 while the fascist dictator Franco is in charge. That’s a backdrop in which this story happens but the main characters are two teenagers.
There’s an eighteen year old visiting from Texas, his name is Daniel. He’s the son of an oil tycoon. He has a big belt buckle and cowboy boots and he’s a photographer so he loves to sneak around the city. Well not sneak, but he loves to travel around the city taking photographs. Through those photographs, and also because she’s in the hotel working, he meets Anya, a young girl who he hits it off with right away although that causes kinda problems because though her family was once influential, they have the wrong politics to keep that influence because of the civil war and because of Franco, but I think the plot itself is really well done. Lots of enjoyment there for the reader, but just the setting and the culture and the details I think could be really, could be really fun for you.
VALENCIA: That sounds like something I would be willing to try.
ANNE: Ooh, and you know what, you love audiobooks. Something I really liked about this one audio is that there’s oral history commentary you know, I never looked up if they’re authentic, but there are authentic sounding media broadcasts from the era embedded in the audiobook just giving you context for this story and I really enjoyed that detail.
VALENCIA: That is so cool. Yes, I get to travel somewhere and I learn … Oh, yes, yes. Tick, tick, tick. [LAUGHS]
ANNE: I’m glad to hear it. That was Fountains of Silence by Ruta Sepetys. All right, Valencia, I snuck in a few extras on you today but we talked about The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey, briefly Don’t Breathe A Word by Jennifer McMahon, The Distant Hours by Kate Morton, also Flygirl by Sherri Smith and The Fountains of Silence by Ruta Sepetys. and Fifty Words for Rain by Asha Lemmie. Now circumstances being what they are, I may have an idea thanks to your library, but of those what do you think you’ll pick up next?
VALENCIA: Oh, boy. I am going to go for Fifty Words for Rain.
ANNE: I’m excited to hear it.
ANNE: And I can’t wait to hear what you think.
VALENCIA: I have the other ones written down so I’m set. [LAUGHS]
ANNE: I mean it is the time of year for spooky reads, so.
VALENCIA: Oh, yes. Oh, yes, oh yes.
ANNE: Gotta get it while the creepiness is there. [LAUGHS]
VALENCIA: But a close second would be The Snow Child.
ANNE: It does sound right up your alley, and I hope you enjoy them all. Valencia, thank you so much for talking books with me today.
VALENCIA: Thank you, Anne. This has been fun.
[CHEERFUL OUTRO MUSIC]
ANNE: Hey readers, I hope you enjoyed my discussion with Valencia, and I’d love to hear what YOU think she should read next. That page is at whatshouldireadnextpodcast.com/255 and it’s where you’ll find the full list of titles we talked about today.
Subscribe now so you don’t miss next week’s episode, in Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify, and more. We will see you next week!
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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.
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Books mentioned in this episode:
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♥ Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood by Trevor Noah
♥ The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden
♥ The Sun Down Motel by Simone St. James
• The Broken Girls by Simone St. James
• Author Louise Penny (start with Still Life)
• Interview with the Vampire by Anne Rice
△ The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins
• Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno Garcia
• House of Salt and Sorrow by Erin A Craig
• The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo
• Rebecca by Daphne DuMaurier
• The Stationery Shop by Marjan Kamali
• The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey
• Don’t Breathe a Word by Jennifer McMahon
• The Distant Hours by Kate Morton
• Fifty Words for Rain by Asha Lemmie
• Flygirl by Sherri L. Smith
• The Fountains of Silence by Ruta Sepetys
• WSIRN Ep 179: Life is short & my TBR is way too long, w/Shannan Malone
• Get Out (2017)
• Modern Mrs Darcy Book Club
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What are your favorite scary books for fall?
(Or… what scary books are you totally afraid to pick up?)