WSIRN Ep 257: Let’s build your holiday book list

Readers, our annual holiday recommendations episode is one of my favorite traditions here at WSIRN. A few weeks ago, you called us with your bookish gift buying questions and dilemmas. 

Today I’m answering those questions with Beth Buss, the general bookstore manager at Bookmarks, a literary arts nonprofit in downtown Winston-Salem North Carolina. I love the work Beth and her team do at Bookmarks, and I’m thrilled that Beth is here to help us with our many gift-buying queries. Plus, you should know that Beth is one of my personal favorite sources for wonderful reading recommendations, so of course I had to ask her to share a few upcoming titles that she’s had on her bookseller radar. 

Today we’re ready to help listeners find just the right gifts for their loved ones of all ages and reading tastes, from classic kid lit to science fiction… and everything in between.

Let’s get to it!

What Should I Read Next #257: Let’s build your holiday book list with Beth Buss

Learn more about Bookmarks, including the Book Build project Beth mentions, on their website. If none of our recommendations fit the reader in your life their Signed First Editions Club or their Kids’ Club would also make great gifts. And keep an eye on their events page as they continue to have great online events and are looking forward to the next Bookmarks Festival–a bookish bucket list event.

ANNE: Hey readers. I’m Anne Bogel, and this is What Should I Read Next? Episode 257.

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’s episode releases on election day here in the United States. But no matter where you live, there’s still time to vote for the Goodreads Choice Awards. There are a lot of books we’ve recommended here on the show on this list including some of my favorites of the year, and my book Don’t Overthink It is up for best non-fiction book of 2020.

I’m thrilled so many of you have enjoyed it and learned something from Don’t Overthink It. I didn’t write this book with a global pandemic in mind, but its message has proven to be especially on point and helpful during these stressful times.

If you’ve read it, please vote for Don’t Overthink It for your Goodreads Choice non-fiction book of the year. And if you haven’t, go on and add it to your TBR, want to read shelf, or order it up from your local library or bookstore.

And don’t forget to check out all of the wonderful titles up for an award this year. Voting is open now through November 11.

Readers, our annual holiday recommendations episode is one of my favorite traditions here at What Should I Read Next and one of yours as well. A few weeks ago, you called us with your bookish gift buying questions and dilemmas and we are ready to answer and today I’m doing that with Beth Buss, the general bookstore manager at Bookmarks, a literary arts nonprofit in downtown Winston-Salem, North Carolina.

I love the work Beth and her team do at Bookmarks, and I’m thrilled that Beth is here to help us with our many gift-buying queries. Plus, you should know that Beth is one of my personal favorite sources for wonderful reading recommendations, so of course I had to ask her to share a few upcoming titles that she’s had on her bookseller radar.

Today we are ready to help listeners find just the right gifts for their loved ones of all ages and reading tastes (and one or two, or twenty, titles for their own wishlists, as well!).

We do mention a TON of titles today, from classic kid lit to science fiction, and everything in between. Don’t worry about writing it all down: we share the FULL list of every title in today’s episode in our show notes as we always do. That’s at

Let’s get to it.

Beth, welcome to the show.

BETH: Thank you so much. I’m excited to be here.

ANNE: Well I am so excited you’re here. We have done these episodes for many years now where we have someone who recommends books for a living come on the show and recommends books to our listeners, so thank you for playing bookseller to our listeners and not just the lovely readers of Bookmarks NC.

BETH: I’m really excited to be here. I listen every year, so this is a real treat this year to be on the other side.

ANNE: Well I have been wanting to have you on for a good long time. In part I will confess because I have gotten some of my best reads of 2020 from you. Okay, before we get started, would you tell us a little bit about what you do in your day job in Winston-Salem?

BETH: Okay, so I am the general bookstore manager at Bookmarks. Bookmarks is a literary arts nonprofit in downtown Winston-Salem, North Carolina. Our team is passionate about igniting the love of reading by connecting our community with books and authors and we really believe in the power of books with purpose. I, as my day to day, get to work with our entire team. We have a great team of booksellers who man our nonprofit independent bookstore here in our headquarters. I get to work with our youth and schools coordinator and our inventory manager, all of the different components of Bookmarks to work on community outreach in our neighborhood.

ANNE: It has really been a joy for me to learn more about what you all do, so I visited for the first time for the Bookmarks festival in September, which couldn’t happen in 2020.

BETH: It's so sad.

ANNE: It’s so sad. But I went there for I’d Rather Be Reading and I really didn’t know much about you all or your mission before I went there, but I found out how much you all do to put books in schools and put them in the libraries in underserved communities and bringing authors in the city to come get kids excited about reading in the classroom. And I know I’ve talked on this podcast before about how like you brought Dave Caulkin and he signed books for eight hours for every single kid who came to see him in the big stadium.

The store also, I gotta tell you, readers, it is gorgeous. It’s huge but not overwhelmingly so. You have so many windows and light and when I was there last, I guess last October with Charlie Lovett for an event that we recorded and put on the podcast, so you may have heard that episode. I hope you have if not, please go back and listen now that you know it was recorded here with Beth who introduced us and it was so much fun to see you. I had my shopping list and I asked all your booksellers, like, hey, I’ve got to find some YA stuff and some middle grade stuff. What are you excited about reading now and luckily that was a driving trip for me, not a flying trip, and I could just throw it all in the trunk and not worry about going overweight on my bags.

BETH: They’re amazing, aren’t they? Like every time I go in the store ...

ANNE: So good. Stuff I would have never picked up or gravitated to.

BETH: Yeah. Every day. I could just buy more books because there’s so many good stories that they’re sharing with all of our community, but sharing with me too and making recommendations for things that weren’t on my radar. We’re really proud that we are finishing the final stages of Book Build. So Book Build was a three year initiative, focused on infusing the school’s libraries with current culturally relevant books. Many students only have access through their school library and we wanted to help offer young readers a realistic mirror of their own lives and experiences with books that are readily available for them. So we are so thankful for our community support and finishing this project. We have volunteers coming in masked up helping us prep the books and deliver them and hope to have that done by the end of the year.

ANNE: I want the t-shirt that says Book Build. Can I say that’s … That’s amazing work that you all are doing but also I want that t-shirt.

BETH: Okay. I’m going to pass that along to our team. [ANNE LAUGHS] We need a Book Build shirt, y’all.

ANNE: Well I am really excited to see what you all continue to do and I’m so excited to get back there in person when that happens again in Winston-Salem.

BETH: Ah. You have to come back.

ANNE: It’s happening. And in the meantime you’ll have such a lovely user friendly website and so many great online events that you are continuing to do.

BETH: Thank you.

ANNE: Thanks for what you’re doing. I know it’s not easy right now, but readers are grateful.

BETH: We are grateful for reader support.

ANNE: It’s just a big fuzzy warm book family. [BETH LAUGHS] So Beth, here’s what we’re going to do. We asked our listeners to share their book buying, not necessarily dilemmas, they could just be seeking information, but we said tell us who you’re shopping for, who you would like book gifts for, but you’re stumped or you just want a fresh perspective and so I’m going to share those requests with you today and we are going to load them up with some books. How does that sound?

BETH: It sounds like a lot of fun.

ANNE: All right. I think so too.

BETH: Let’s do it.

ANNE: Okay, this first one is from Sarah.

SARAH: Hi. This is Sarah Aeder. I’m calling for book recommendations for my husband who has never been a big reader but happily during Covid has picked up reading. He’s really loved a bunch of science fiction books, The Martian, The Remembrance of Earth’s Past trilogy by Liu Cixin. He’s now reading Red Mars, so definitely that’s a safe genre. I would stay away from anything weird and literary that I might like, Lincoln in the Bardo type of book. I think that it needs to be some sort of easy access because he is new to it and I want to keep encouraging it, so any suggestions would be really helpful. Thank you.

ANNE: Beth, this is a theme that we’re going to hear a little more today men who love sci-fi.

BETH: That is amazing because at Bookmarks, men and women, love sci-fi and fantasy. I think it is the genre that we all read, so we have lots of recommendations today to share with everybody.

ANNE: Straight from Bookmarks, what’re you thinking?

BETH: First The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet by Becky Chambers. It’s the first book in The Wayfarers series and it’s another favorite that we love to recommend because Becky has come to our book festival before. We love these stories. This space opera reminds me of a little bit of the television series Firefly. We’re following a crew of characters on their adventure through space, although this crew is made up of humans, aliens and A.I.s. Chamber develops such a detailed cast of characters and I really love the way that she seamlessly wove all the elements of the diverse cast together. It’s a long book but it’s a page turner and a really fun read.

My second recommendation is All Systems Red by Martha Wells, the first book in the Murderbot series. These are shorter novels. They’re really action-packed science fiction about a self-hacking robot who really wants humans to leave him alone long enough to figure out what he really is. The Bookmarks team has really fallen for this series in 2020. It is the perfect distraction that we all needed this year.

And then we have Binti by Nnedi Okorafor. It’s the first in the trilogy of novellas that focuses on the title character Binti. She’s the first of her people to be offered a spot in an exclusive higher learning institution. She runs away to go to school and on the transport there finds herself for the first time in her life surrounded by strangers that don’t understand the customs and traditions. And on the journey it becomes even more fraught when her ship is boarded by a species of violent aliens.

ANNE: Those all sound so fun. This is one from Emily. She says, “I need help finding books for my 9 year old daughter. She’s a little advanced in reading ability, but very sensitive, so finding books that challenge her (or at least take longer than 20 minutes!) but aren’t too frightening is a challenge. Some of her favorite books have been Harry Potter (up to book 6), the first of the Story Thieves series, Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library, Rump, and all Roald Dahl books except The Witches and The BFG, which she is too scared to read. She rotates between series about girls who are slightly mischievous, like Ivy + Bean, Amelia Bedelia. She likes some mysteries, but there are others I think she would love that she refuses to read, like The Mysterious Benedict Society.”

[SIGHS] Oh. I think many bookish parents have been there, Emily. Okay. This is so fun especially because I have kids who are reading in this age range, so I can see firsthand the difference between books that sound really good to grown ups and the books that my kids actually get excited about. So the ones that came to mind immediately for me were first of all the Framed! series by James Ponti. This is a mystery series, but it’s friendly. It’s not at all scary. It’s kinda a caper story, the tone is fun and quirky. So for your daughter this has great characters, excellent writing, and there’s a puzzle of a mystery to solve. This book also focuses heavily on friendships. Great story, great characters, and it is a series.

And just for something about kids and girls who are slightly mischievous, The Lemonade War series is a lot of fun. This is a story feuding siblings. Evan is a fourth grader who finds out that his younger sister is skipping third grade and joining his class and he is not happy. Because of this, they end up duking it out with their respective lemonade stands. I mean, channeling all their anger into this business battle. I think it’s a five book series, so if you enjoy the first one, it’s just so nice to know that if they can finish a book in two hours, there are more where that came from and a logical next read. And this is a lot of fun, but these kids are also dealing with very real, relatable issues.

BETH: I love this question because my niece is about this age and we are going through the same challenge, finding her the perfect read. Where the Mountain Meets the Moon by Grace Lin is a beautiful book. It has two companion stories to it, but this first book is the story of Minli who lives in a hut with her parents and listens to folktales at night about the old man of the moon who knows all the answers to life’s questions. So Minli sets off on a journey to find the old man and ask him how to change her family fortune. And much like Wizard of Oz, she meets different characters and creatures along the way including an amazing dragon. I love that the stories are based on Chinese folklore. Grace Lin is such a storyteller that you’re going to want to read them right along with your daughter.

And then my final recommendation is Caterpillar Summer by Gillian McDunn. This is the perfect family story, a sudden change of plans leads Caterpillar and her brother Chicken to spend the summer with their grandparents that they’ve never met in coastal Carolina. What could have been a disaster turns into a summer to remember as Caterpillar breaks out of her shell and gets to make new friends, learns how to fish, gets to spend time and connect with her grandparents. Eat a lot of ice cream. And also learn more about her mother’s childhood. It’s a really heartwarming story that’s perfect for any time of year.

ANNE: Aw. That sounds lovely.

BETH: It’s really good.

ANNE: Next we have a request from Nora. She says: “My husband Jay is a big reader, mostly fiction. From what he’s told me and with some help from Goodreads, I know some of his favorites this year were The Goldfinch, Eli the Good, and The Green Mile. He seems to enjoy historical fiction a lot right now with well developed characters and some grit. I know he is a bit burnt out on any detective and procedural books or hard boiled crimes.” What comes to mind for you, Beth?

BETH: Well I went to our team for this. That’s the nice thing about working at Bookmarks, we have a big team that has lots of reading taste and suggestions. So our floor manager Kate loves to recommend Little by Edward Carey, which she said is gritty and a little weird, but it’s about the story of a young woman who grows up to be Madame Tussaud, so it’s set during the French revolution, which Little lives through before she eventually opens a wax museum. Kate calls it the perfect combination of delightfully charming and a little macabre. [BOTH LAUGHS]

Caleb, our inventory manager, recommends How Much of These Hills Are Gold by C Pam Zhang. It is this story of two orphan children on a journey through the California hills in the middle of the gold rush. This book is on multiple best of 2020 lists at Bookmarks. Caleb said “the novel seamlessly weaves myth, adventure, history, and the Chinese immigrant experience into a book bursting with deep resonate emotion and stunning passages I found myself reading over and over.” I have not read this yet, but it is on my to read list because it sounds so amazing.
ANNE: I love that this reader highlighted the Kentucky writer Silas House, and that your husband picked up a YA novel and that’s Eli the Good. I would say don’t miss out on more Silas House. His most recent adult novel is called Southernmost. It’s a beautiful book with oceany colors on the front and it’s also slim. He could read it really quickly in case you’re afraid of plunking a Goldfinch size reading time investment on him.

Southernmost begins in rural Tennessee and ends in Key West and it’s about a man who reaches a crisis point and feels he has to do something which involves breaking his custody agreement and taking his son way down south to go look for his estranged brother. To the southernmost point of the country, Key West, that’s where the title comes from. I think that would be a lot … I don’t know if fun is the right word but I think that could be a really absorbing reading experience for your husband.

Also riffing a little bit on that regional theme, Shiner is a book that I love so much that I don’t feel like has gotten the attention it deserved. But this is a new literary novel that is set in the Appalachian mountains and it’s historical fiction. It’s … Well, it’s not set that long ago, but it feels historical because it’s about this family that lives in the mountains in a world completely unlike most people’s because they’ve chosen to isolate themselves to such a degree.

So at the center of the story or at least at the center of the first half of the story is a young woman named Wren. She lives in the Appalachians with her family, which consists of her snake handler father who scares and enraptures the town both with her preaching and handling of serpents which is what he calls it. He’s not a snake handler ‘cause that would be impolite.

So when her best friend Ivy stumbles into a fire and Wren’s father performs what everyone thinks is a miraculous healing, it sets in motion this chain of events that has devastating consequences for everyone. I know that sounds really sad and it is, though it does have its redemptive threads but I like it for this reader because the prose is gorgeous and lush and it’s written with such compassion and sympathy. I don’t know if your husband is looking for a lovely reading experience, but I think it has a lot of those same things that he enjoyed.

Okay this one’s from Julie.

JULIE: My name is Julie, I’m calling from Okinawa, Japan and I would love gift recommendations for my son who is 12, almost 13 years old. He reads a lot! Some of his favorite authors are Gary D Schmidt, Katherine Applegate, he loved Fish in a Tree. He also loves something with smart humor like Ungifted or The Untouchables by Gordon Korman. He’s reading Hatchet right now for school and is definitely not a fan. He loves classics. So, I’m just always on the lookout for something he will enjoy. He also recently read his first Alan Gratz book Grenade, which he can be sensitive, but I think because it took place in Okinawa, which is where we live, he really enjoyed that book. So any recommendations you have would be most appreciated.

ANNE: Well based on what this young reader enjoyed I’m really noting that he loves classics and I think a lot of times in contemporary books we feel that same kind of tone and pacing that we encounter in the classic books, so I’m thinking of that, and also I’m wondering about going historical for him. If he has not yet read The War That Saved My Life and The War I Finally Won by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley, about a young girl who is moved out of the path of danger during the London blitz into the country with a woman she does not know who seems a little stiff and starchy at first, but of course is exactly the kind of person she needs in her life to help her overcome her traumatic family history but also live through a very difficult time. I think those two books have a lot of parallels to books he’s enjoyed.

Those are contemporary novels but genuine historical fiction like Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry by Millard Taylor I think could be really wonderful. It’s been exciting to me to see so many young readers picking this up now. Not just because it’s a classic book. It won the Newberry. It’s continuing to be read and plucked off the Newberry shelf on school libraries, but also Angie Thomas has said all over the place that this was one of her favorites as a child and still is. So this is a story of young Cassie Logan, an African American teenager coming of age in poverty in Mississippi in 1930s America. I think that could be an excellent pick for this young reader.

I’m also wondering about anything by E. L. Konigsburg. I think what’s the one set in Met, Beth?

BETH: Oh, From the Mixed-up Files of …

ANNE: Yes! Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler. That or The View from Saturday would be so fun for this reader, or more contemporary historical fiction like I think Stella by Starlight by Sharon Draper would be especially good.


ANNE: Okay. This is from Alice: “The love of my life is a naturalized U.S. citizen originally from the Philippines who grew up in San Francisco and currently teaches U.S. history survey courses in a community college. His academic background is in social history, but he does NOT enjoy reading anything directly related to his profession in his spare time. He seems to avoid nonfiction altogether, as well as historical fiction set in the United States. Instead, he loves the fictional detective Bernie Gunther, created by Philip Kerr; the fictional detective Harry Hole, created by Jo Nesbo; and all the spies inhabiting the many novels of John le Carre. He also loves John Irving, Julian Barnes, Haruki Murakami, William Boyd, and Ian McEwan. Our reading tastes do not overlap, and I am completely lost here. What do you think Ramon might enjoy reading this year?”

BETH: I am never going to skip a chance to profess my love for Tana French’s Dublin Murder Squad series. They are some of my favorites and since Alice did not mention them here, I wanted to talk about them a little bit. The series starts with In the Woods and it follows detectives Rob Ryan and Cassie Maddox and their murder investigation of body found in the woods. What I like most about the series though is that the detectives shift between the books, so you’re always seeing characters from the previous books but meeting new characters are well, so book two centers on Cassie Maddox and Frank Mackey, and then book three features Frank Mackey, you get the idea. But the writing is so spectacular and the cases are really gripping and I’m dying for the next one to come out. I highly, highly recommend them.

And then I also wanted to recommend American Spy by Lauren Wilkinson. It’s one of my favorite spy novels because it features a Black female spy who goes undercover in Africa during the cold war. The story starts with a bang when former spy Marie Mitchell wakes up to find an assassin in her house trying to kill her with her children there, and then we travel back in time to [INAUDIBLE] who’s an intelligent officer in the FBI and her eventually assignment to undermine the revolutionary president of Burkina Faso who is an individual who she secretly admired. It’s inspired by true events. It’s part thriller. It’s part family story. It’s part literary spy novel. It is the perfect crossover and I think this could be a hit with your husband.

ANNE: IF you think he might enjoy reading something newer there’s a fast paced novel out from Rachel Howzell. It just came out this fall, it’s called And Now She’s Gone. This is a fast-paced twisty mystery that weaves two women’s stories together alternating between past and present. So we follow private investigator Grayson Sykes, that name is important, you’ll find out why in the story, and she’s searching for a missing woman named Isabelle Lincoln, but with every new clue that Grayson picks up, she realizes that this is not the simple missing person’s case she had been presented with and that she and this victim might have a lot in common. It’s full of jaw dropping moments. The format is really interesting and in addition to the page turning investigation, this is a survival story. But readers, this story involves domestic abuse and seriously heavy themes so think about that for yourself or for the readers in your life before you pick it up.

This next request is from Rochelle.

ROCHELLE: Hi Anne. My name is Rochelle, and I’m from Montreal. I’m looking for book recommendations for my girlfriend Taylor, the genre she reads most often are memoirs, fiction, and YA. She’s especially interested in LGBT books, books about mental health, and occasionally books with an element about music. Some books she really liked are Just Kids by Patti Smith, The Hate You Give by Angie Thomas, Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman and Save Yourself by Cameron Esposito. Some books she hated are The Road by Cormac McCarthy, and The Wives of Bath by Susan Swan. She really heavily dislikes historical fiction, so I think it would be best to avoid that genre.

ANNE: Beth, what sounds good to you for this reader?

BETH: As soon as I heard their question I knew I wanted to recommend Here for It by R. Eric Thomas. Kate, our floor manager at Bookmarks, loves this book so much and I just have to quote her because I can’t do it better justice. “The memoir and essays is an utter delight. R. Eric Thomas brings the hilarity of his daily humor column at to introspective reflections on growing up Black, gay, and Christian. Whether comparing Kanye West to Beethoven or describing his struggle of depression and self loathing, Thomas’s essays range from witty and wise cracking to heartfelt and deeply profound.” So I feel like this checks a lot of boxes. We have kinda the memoir, LGBTQ, books about mental health, and a little element of music.

Since Taylor enjoyed The Hate You Give, and we also have the musical element, I wanted to recommend Grown by Tiffany D. Jackson. Enchanted Jones wants more than anything to be a star. And when a much older R&B artist sets her sight on her, think R. Kelly, it quickly becomes apparent to everybody but Enchanted that something isn’t right. Grown is a difficult, necessary YA novel. It paints an all too real picture of what happens when Black teenage girls aren’t listened to in our society. I have always loved Tiffany’s writing and this feels like a really personal novel. It is a page turner, but it is also a difficult novel so I think it’s important, kinda want everybody to read it, but I do say that with just a little caveat of I think you have to be in the right place at the right time.

ANNE: Okay. You mentioned Grown by Tiffany D. Jackson, and that puts me in mind of another story by hers that’s another fun and it’s all about music. That is Let Me Hear A Rhyme. It’s about two friends, well more than two friends, but it’s about two friends that are determined to give their friend Steph the legacy he deserves after he is shot and killed. So with the help of Steph’s sister they take his amazing music they don’t discover until after he’s died and they come up with a plan to release them under a new rapper’s name. They create an image. They dub him The Architect. They find an agent. Everybody has their own secrets. Everybody has their own mission. They are desperate to create a legacy for their friend and the way it comes about is so fun. I listened to this on audio, that may be a little harder to gift, although you can always give a Libro.FM membership which is easy enough and make this recommendation, but there’s a lot of rapping and musicality in the book and that was so fun to hear in my ears.

But for something totally different, I just want to throw in a wild card pick, and that is a new buzzy book for fall called Plain Bad Heroines. This is a horror novel. I’ve seen headlines that say things like “the lesbian horror novel you didn’t know you were missing in your life,” and I will say there’s a historical element here. It goes back and forth in time. It begins in 1902 at the Brookhants School for Girls, make a big deal of the fact that like haunt, haunting, they should’ve known something bad was going to happen.

There are all kinds of students including Flo and Clara who are deeply in love and it’s troubling everyone involved, the parents, the teachers, everyone. They are obsessed with this young writer named Mary MacLane. She wrote the scandalous bestselling memoir and the girls are taking her words in this book very, very seriously. When these girls meet in a nearby apple orchard, things go terribly, horribly wrong. There’s some literal bad apples. There’s some yellow jackets. That whole scene ends in devastating tragedy and rumor is that the place has been haunted ever since.

Okay so flash forward more than a hundred years, and I thought the modern storyline is so much more fun and that’s what I think your girlfriend may enjoy here. In the modern era, we have a … this is seriously what they say in the book … is a lesbian influencer, the author of the Definitive Story of Mary MacLane and a young actress tapped for a role that she doesn’t feel sufficient for who not only are making a film about what happened at Brookhants back in the day, but unbeknownst to two of the three of them, they’re also creating a documentary about what it’s like to film at a supposedly haunted and cursed gilded aged institution, so you can imagine things go terribly, horribly wrong and those terribly, horribly wrong things make for really entertaining reading. So I have to say after finishing this book I would never think about yellow jackets in the same way. Ew.

BETH: I have this on my bedside table so now I have to start it because that sounds great.

ANNE: I think that could just be the book that a lot of readers are looking for this year. All right. Next up we’re hearing from Diane.

DIANE: Hi Anne, I’m hoping you can help me find a book for my daughter. She’s 27 years old and she loves reading about wildlife and the environment. That is her favorite. She has enjoyed books like Not One Drop by Riki Ott and The American Buffalo by Steven Rinella, but she also enjoys historical fiction like The Nightingale. But then she throws a wrench in it and has been raving about My Antonia by Willa Cather. So if you have any suggestions, I would so appreciate it. Thank you.

ANNE: When I looked into these books I thought you know what we can have here as a theme, we could have books outside magazine correspondence, but we are devoted subscribers. We’ve gotten some good recommendations from the pages, so this puts me in mind of the work of Peter Heller, who sets many of his books in the outdoors or they have a strong nature component. Because she loves historical fiction and The Nightingale, which has so many family themes, especially wondering of Celine, a story that he modeled the protagonist of on his mother who is an artist and a private investigator, eighty years old, lived in Manhattan and solved other people’s real life mysteries. So in this novel, she goes to Yellowstone to investigate the long ago mysterious disappearance of a young woman’s father. And of course things did not go down exactly like anyone expected.

Also the really lovely, luminous historical novel The Snow Child based on a Russian fairytale set long, long ago in the frontier of Alaska. Might have an interesting crossover in a whole different setting for this reader. What do you think, Beth?

BETH: Well I’ve had water on the brain since last night at Bookmarks we hosted environmental activist Erin Brockovich online. I highly recommend her new book Superman’s Not Coming and it examines where we are with water in our country and in the world, but she focuses down on the communities and shows how we can take action to make changes before it’s too late, and I think since your daughter really likes to learn through reading that this would be a great pick for her.

My second recommendation is also about water. Said it was on the brain today. [ANNE LAUGHS] I think she would enjoy Miracle Country by Kendra Atleework, is a powerful blend of environmental routine and family memoir. So I grew up on the Ohio river and water was never an issue and this author meditates on the dry drought ridden lands of the Sierra Nevadas and it was so kinda in contrast to everything I grew up with that I felt immediately transported to the west and watching community members struggle with their homes swelling, victims to fires, struggling to not have enough water for crops, not have enough water in their homes and the effect on nature. So it’s really interesting to see I think if you read Superman’s Not Coming and then follow up with a memoir about how that’s affecting the real people in our country.

ANNE: That sounds fascinating. The next question is from Beth. She says, “I’m looking for book gift recommendations for my daughter, Sophie, who will be one right before Christmas. And [ANNE LAUGHS] since she can’t read, the gift will also be for myself, my husband and her posse of readers. When we were a waiting adoptive family, I dreamed of the day that our child would arrive and I could read all of the books to her. Books can teach her so much about language, expose her to different people and their stories and provide comfort and escape. We love books that rhyme or are a little silly like The Wonky Donkey has elicited giggles, books that are empowering and diverse and also as an adoptive family we love stories that present adoption in a positive light. Please give us some recommendations for Sophie that can be put in both her and mine book journal as 5-star reads.” What do you think, Beth?

BETH: I love this question, so happy early birthday to Sophie. We love board books at Bookmarks, so yesterday I went and sat in the children’s section. It’s really hard to narrow it down to just a few, so I’m going to try. Anti-Racist Baby by Ibram X. Kendi, author of Stamped From The Beginning, on how to be anti-racist. It presents nine easy steps to building a more equitable world, and A is for Activist by Innosanto Nagara. It’s an ABC book that includes everything from civil rights to environmental justice to LGBTQ rights. It’s the perfect baby bundle to put on your shelf together.

My niece Elisa just turned one and she has been loving There’s A Dragon in Your Book and There’s a Monster In Your Book by Tom Fletcher. They’re so much fun to read because they’re interactive, so you can shake the book, tap the balloon, and do lots of other things that make story time really, really fun.

And then finally because you asked for a book about adoption, congratulations by the way, I wanted to include The Family Book by Todd Parr. It’s a really bright, colorful book that celebrates families of all kinds. Adoptive families, families with two moms or two dads, families who live by themselves or might live with others. Messy families and neat families and it’s a beautiful reminder that we’re all unique and yet we’re all the same, a really great story that’s available both as a board book and as a picture book.

ANNE: Those sound lovely. I love the question, and I’m so glad Beth knows that yeah, these books are totally for you as well and that is just fine. Okay. I think that a really fun book for you, maybe not for Sophie quite yet, but golly she’s close, is a picture book called Sophie’s Squash because she shares the name of the protagonist, and this is about a little girl who goes to the farmer’s market with her parents. She’s supposed to pick out a butternut squash for dinner, but instead she adopts it as her baby basically or her new best friend. She takes care of it. Her mom one time is like, I think we’re having that for dinner, and Sophie’s like her name is Bernice, and her mom oh, I guess I’ll make something else. But this is just a really sweet seasonal story. I think this would be a fun one to have on your bookshelves.

Also for books that you both may enjoy together that are classically children’s books, I would like to point you toward the cozy classic board book series. These are so fun. The tagline at the top of their site is from Vulture, I think it says, “these are so adorable, it makes our hearts hurt.” They take classic stories that you know that you maybe have never read from literature like War and Peace, Moby Dick, and also Pride and Prejudice, and a whole lot of Dickens. And they turn them into to 12 word stories one per page and the idea is that you get to riff the theme and fill in the blanks and become your own storyteller to your child in whatever way is age appropriate and fits into their life. Just their website is so precious. Take a look.

Also I’d encourage you to pick up not just picture books but also chapter books that you love or maybe loved as a child, never too early to be reading aloud, so this holiday season could be a great reason in case you needed one to add a few titles to your collection.

Okay. Now we have an email from Kate: “My 15 year old has been reading James R. Benn’s Billy Boyle World War II mystery series for the past year and loves it. He’s running out of books though. He is a history and poli sci buff. He isn’t into dystopia (but WWII is okay, go figure) and hates animal cruelty. He’s a mature kid with the ability to understand grown-up themes. I’m looking for something he can sink his teeth into while he waits from the next Billy Boyle.”

The book that comes to mind for this reader is by M. T. Anderson. It’s called Symphony for the City of the Dead: Dimitri Shostakovich and the Siege of Leningrad. This is the true story of how the Leningrad symphony played a surprising role on the path to allied victory in World War II, and it’s written for this reader’s level. It’s not really a young reader’s edition, but it is aimed at high school level. It’s a really interesting and I believe untold until before now true story. From 1941 to 1945, Hitler’s Wehrmacht surrounded Leningrad and laid siege to the city and prevented supplies from getting in or out. And during those three years as you can imagine the destruction was horrific. There were over a million deaths. The poverty was horrifying.

So Shostakovich, who was trapped with these people, and also inspired by them, wrote the Leningrad Symphony while he was there, and this is the story of the music and the backdrop of which it was composed. If you listen to the audiobook version, I’ve heard that includes snippets of the music as you listen so you get that layered experience.

This one’s from Jennie:

JENNIE: Hi Anne, this is Jennie in Charleston, South Carolina. I’m reaching out for your gift giving help for my dad. Growing up I remember my father as a voracious reader, he could take down a Tom Clancy novel in what seemed like one sitting. He fell out of a regular reading rhythm until about a year ago and now he’s back at it more prolific than ever, what sparked this reading Renaissance? Outlander! My parents started watching the show, while my mom had been a fan of the books for years, it was new to my dad. He has since torn through the entire series and all the John Gray spin offs, and is starting over from the beginning. And in addition to the Outlander series, my dad is a huge fan of Pat Conroy and Tom Clancy. I think he loves stories with a strong sense of place. Although it seems like he knows everything, or maybe I just feel that way because my dad, he’s not a huge nonfiction fan, preferring the escape of novels. He’s fine with suspense, but not supernatural scary stuff, and like many of us, he’s burnt out on politics. Would love your help. Thanks.

ANNE: All right, Beth, take it away.

BETH: Jennie, can I just say that I love your request. I would love to sit and talk about Outlander with your dad so much. I think that is fabulous. I was hoping today that I would get to recommend my favorite book of the year and now is the moment. I 100% think that your dad will love The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by V. E. Schwab. The book starts in 1741 France when a young woman makes a faustian bargain to live forever and is cursed to be forgotten by everyone she meets. We as the reader get to travel through the years with Addie on a glorious trip through history and art and culture and we wind up in modern times when for the first time in 300 years, somebody remembers her name. Gives me goosebumps right now to talk about it.

Every detail of this book feels exquisitely placed. Addie’s story is brought to life in such a bittersweet, tragic, timeless way. As soon as I finished it, I wanted to start over from the beginning, but I didn’t want to leave this world behind which is exactly how I felt the first time I read Outlander.

And then our floor manager Kate wanted me to recommend The Queen of the Night by Alexander Chee which is one of her favorite books. She said that “reading this book is like going to the opera, but better! The attention to detail is as exquisite as one of Lilliet’s gowns.” Since your dad enjoys a strong sense of place, she thinks he would love immersing himself in the drama of 19th century French opera.

ANNE: Jennie, for your dad, I would recommend the series that begins with The Lost Queen by Signe Pike. Love the description I was told before I picked it up, which is it’s Outlander meets Camelot. This has lots of Scottish history like Outlander does, but it also draws heavily from the King Arthur legends. So the first book of the series is called The Lost Queen. The second one just came out this fall, it’s called The Forgotten Kingdom, and the next one we’re going to have wait a little bit for.

But these novels are set in 6th century Celtic Britain, and the main character is the sister of the man who will become Merlin. So there’s love and war and battle and intrigue and we’ll call it deep magic and religion. It’s a really unusual take on a period of history that we don’t see as much of in fiction as we might like, but I think your dad may really enjoy it.

Next we have this request from Gina. She says: “My daughter Sara is an active reader even though she is still in grad school. Our taste differs so it would be great to have some help in picking out a few titles to give her for the holidays. She loved Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo, White Teeth by Zadie Smith and Long Live the Tribe of Fatherless Girls by T Kira Madden. She read The Lager Queen of Minnesota by J Ryan Stradal (a gift from me!) and found it too saccharine. She prefers female authors with a bit of an edge.” What do you think for this one, Beth?

BETH: Well I asked our team for some help with this question. We have Queenie by Candice McCarty Williams, has been described as Bridget Jones’ Diary meets Americanah. After a messy breakup with her longtime boyfriend, Queenie seeks comfort in all the wrong places, constantly questions her decisions, and what she wants from her life. Her story and her journey are anything uneasy, but they are very, very real and I found myself routing for Queenie every step along the way.

Our second recommendation is Woman is No Man by Etaf Rum. It tells the story of three generations of Palestinian-American women struggling to express their individual desires in the wake of shocking intimate violence in their community. And then finally You Have To Make Your Own Fun Around Here by Francis Macken. [ANNE LAUGHS] Isn’t that a great title? It’s an exploration of female friendship but also female rivalry. The story captures the story of yearning for something bigger and the story takes place in a tiny Irish town that’s loaded with unforgettable characters and really smart dialogue.

ANNE: Female characters with a bit of an edge. I’m wondering about the new book from Asha Lemmie called Fifty Words for Rain. In the opening pages, a young girl named Nori is dropped at her aristocratic grandparents’ doorstep with a small suitcase and a note. Her mother was a princess once upon a time, truly a Japanese princess, but when she had a fling out of marriage with an African American G.I., her parents disowned her and Nori was never accepted because she was viewed as illegitimate by her grandparents.

Their treatment of her is appalling. She’s rarely allowed out of her room but then one day her half brother comes to live on their estate. He is the golden son who will be heir, and when he shows Nori the faintest glimmer of … I mean, I was going to say love and friendship, but it might even be tolerance, but that was enough for her solitary world to begin to crack open. But then we watch her grow into young womanhood and it does not go the way you’re expecting, reader.

So this is a heartbreaking and beautiful coming of age story similar in some ways to the books that your daughter really enjoyed but may be different enough to help her find something new and enticing.

This one is from Francisca. She says she’s writing all the way from Portugal. “I would like to have some book recommendations for my friend Leonor. She’s a very eclectic reader which makes it a lot harder.” I think we get that.

BETH: We get that. Yes. [LAUGHS]

ANNE: So, Leonor, “she’s a lawyer, has two kids, a great sense of humor, and she’s pretty much into girl power. She loves Deborah Levy autobiographical books. Her guilty pleasure are really dark stories. She was the one who told me I had to read We Should Talk About Kevin. She doesn’t like fantasy novels or that sort of poetic prose kind of writing.”

BETH: I am going to go with The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires by Grady Hendrix, and this is going to sound like a stretch, but it has been such a knockout hit at Bookmarks this year and I am surprised at the wide range of readers who really, really loved it. When a mysterious stranger moves to a Southern suburb, strange things start happening, and who better to solve the mystery than a book club of middle age women.

And then I’m also recommending a book that comes out in November, We Keep the Dead Close: a Murder at Harvard and a Half Century of Silence by Becky Cooper. I don’t typically read a lot of true crime, but I read this one over the course of a week earlier this year along with a colleague and was engrossed in the story of a decade’s long coverup of the murder of a Harvard student in 1969. So the book alternates between Cooper’s quest to uncover the truth, looking at her research into the past, and it brings into call some important questions about the challenges and barriers women face in academia. It is a dark and engrossing read.

ANNE: Ooh. That sounds intriguing.

BETH: It’s good.


ANNE: Okay, this is from Stacy: “My 9 year old John is obsessed with Wimpy Kid books and Big Nate books. We’ve exposed him to many other books through audiobooks and read alouds like Percy Jackson and books by Carl Hiasson, Roald Dahl & Louis Sacher. He’s enjoyed listening to other titles, but for his own reading, he exclusively chooses a Wimpy Kid or Big Nate book. I’d love to put a book in his hand that brings him as much delight as Greg Heffley and Nate Wright!”

Okay, I think that earlier in this episode we discussed some titles that would be really great for him. I’m thinking about The Loot series by Jude Watson and The Lemonade War series, but just for some other quick series references, graphic novels Mac B Kid Spy and Nathan Hale’s Hazardous Tales have enormous crossover potential for Wimpy Kid and Big Nate. There’s a wonderful series by Gene Yuen Yang called Secret Coders, which is lots of fun. I think there’s six books right now. There’s also the series that begins with My Life as a Book that has been a lot of fun for readers who are branching out from the two book series that you mentioned.

Okay, Beth, next up we have an email from Rebecca. She says, “my best friend Rachel reads a LOT of books in a lot of genres, and also loves this show. I’m looking for books that make you care intensely about the characters, a really good, fast-paced story, and well-written romance is always welcome but not required. And, honestly, if the book is going on her shelf, it should have a pretty cover, right? She recently loved Ask Again, Yes, Normal People, and The Silent Patient. She did not like Where the Crawdads Sing.” Beth, what do you think?

BETH: Well I know we say we can’t judge a book by its cover, but I promise all three of these books have beautiful covers. I love that request. My first is The Orphan of Salt Winds by Elizabeth Brooks. It’s such a beautiful story that crosses genres. It’s equal part mystery, part family drama, and historical fiction. The book starts at the end of 2015 when 86 year old Virginia has taken a sign from her past that she should end her life. A strange woman appears at her door making her reconsider everything and revisit her past. Everything came together perfectly for me in this book, the setting, the characters, the timing of the flashbacks, and it really created a charming story that I loved sharing and rereading myself.

And I love romance, so I really wanted to share a romance recommendation with you. One of my favorites this year is You Had Me at Hola, a smart sexy story by Alexis Daria, Fresh off the breakup that made all the tabloid covers, Jasmine makes a leading lady plan focusing on developing her screen career. After his telenovela character was killed off, Ashton is worried about the fate of his career. When they’re both cast in a new streaming romance comedy, Jasmine and Ashton realize they need to work together to make the show a success, but one thing leads to another and soon there are sparks both on and off screen. I love that this is two romances in one because you get the story of Jasmine and Ashton, but you also get the romance of the characters in the romantic comedy, so it is a win-win.

ANNE: I really enjoyed that one on audio.

BETH: It’s fun.

ANNE: This one’s from Carol. She writes, “My son will be 17 soon and rarely reads & the Decatur Book Festival - our annual tradition since he was three didn’t happen this year.” So I imagine that put a wrench in their reading lives. “He’s loved hearing authors speak and then buying their books. While he mainly listens to YA authors, we still go to some of the middle grade authors’ sessions. He loves Angie Thomas and Jason Reynolds books. He loved James Patterson’s middle grade books. He is a Life Scout in Boy Scouts and loves drama and music - including oldies. He’s never been a big sci-fi fan.”

Okay, it sounds like your son hasn’t yet discovered Lamar Giles, who’s written YA and middle grade and I would like to make the introduction. His most recent book came out this summer. It’s called Not So Pure and Simple. This is a YA story that reads as fast as fun, but at the same time, he’s delving into these serious topics of friendship, dating, family struggles, and toxic masculinity. That’s a lot to take on, but Giles always tackles his topics with such compassion and sensitivity and warmth.

So this is about a boy named Del. He’s been in love with the same girl since kindergarten, but he can’t bring himself to tell her. To complicate things, he’s built this reputation as a player and he’s not sure how to admit that there’s nothing to that rumor. And his parents are sending him decidedly mixed messages about sex and dating. His mom is currently dragging him to learn from the fiery preacher at her church, and his dad is dishing manly, but unhelpfully vague advice, and manly, picture the big air quotes there. So he’s really struggling to figure out how to navigate the world when no one around him, not the kids, not the adults, are willing to talk about what relationships are really like.

As an adult reader, I really enjoyed Del’s candor and cluelessness when it came to girls and his classmates, but perhaps because I’m not a teenager anymore, my favorite character is the big sister who’s learn to engage and educate on timely issues on her exploding YouTube channel, that whole plotline was a lot of fun for me. I’m sure your son will enjoy this for different reasons, but I think it’s a promising pick for him. Beth, what comes to mind for you?

BETH: I loved Punching the Air by Ibi Zoboi and Yusef Salaam.

ANNE: It’s on my stack, but I haven’t read it yet.

BETH: Oh, Anne. I will say it’s one of my favorite books of this year. It is so powerful. Punching the Air by author Ibi Zoboi and Yusef Salaam, who’s a prison reform activist of the exonerated five, so written in some powerful and precise prose, Punching the Air grabbed me on the first page and tugged something deep inside me through the last page. Amal may be a fictional character, but his story represents one that is all too true for countless Black teens in our country. This is a book that I would love everyone to read this year. It is timely and powerful and I think perfect for readers for all ages.

Another novel in verse that I highly recommend is Black Flamingo by Dean Atta. This is such a beautiful work of art. Every word jumps from the page celebrating Michael’s journey from a young child who wanted a barbie doll for his birthday to a college age student who finds his place and amazing talent as a drag queen. I had the pleasure of meeting Dean at Winter Institute this year when booksellers and publishers get together, and he was such a vibrant, joyful person, and that joy jumps from the pages of this debut novel.

ANNE: This next one’s from Caylee, here’s what she has to say.

CAYLEE: Hi. This is Caylee, and I’m looking for a book recommendation for my husband. He’s not a huge reader, and when he does read it’s usually nonfiction, personal growth, self improvement type books. But lately he’s been wanting to read more fiction! The titles that I’ve been recommending to him haven’t really seemed to stick. The ones he did like were Dark Matter and Recursion by Blake Crouch. He has read Devil in the White City and he liked that. I know that’s not fiction, but that was a title that he liked. I convinced him to read Station Eleven, and although I think he liked the story, he had trouble getting into the book because of the alternating timelines and perspectives. He also tried reading The Passage by Justin Cronin, and I think he had a hard time getting into that. He’s mentioned that he thinks he needs a page turner in a fiction book to really get into it.

ANNE: What do you think, Beth?

BETH: I think that I would recommend Leave the World Behind by Rumaan Alam, it is … It is so dark and so creepy. So we have a family who’s vacationing in their rental house and in the middle of the night, somebody knocks on the door and it is the couple who owns the house. They say there’s a blackout on the east coast. They just wanted to come stay there, that’s where they felt safe. It just gets creepy from there. It is not horror, but it is terrifying in its own way, and I think this book perfectly captures that feeling of feeling connected to these strangers yet wondering why things are happening and how they’re happening.

ANNE: I didn’t expect to talk about this book today, but when I was thinking about Dark Matter and Recursion and Devil in the White City, they’re brain bending kinda puzzles, although clearly the sci-fi books do it in a slightly different way than the historical, but still there’s a twisty mystery happening and figuring it out is a large part of the fun. And that takes me to a new release from Aimee Molloy called Goodnight Beautiful.

I know we’re talking about a lot of new books today, when you’re recommending books to readers, it’s often easier to go new than old, but we love the backlist. I’ve seen Bookmarks NC. You all dig into the backlist. This isn’t a value judgment we’re making here when we’re talking so many new books. Also our archives are amazing for What Should I Read Next gift giving episodes and you should go listen.

Okay, so this is a new release. Goodnight Beautiful by Aimee Molloy. And what I liked about this book is the way that it keeps the reader guessing and she employs twists and turns and yet in an era like the past five, six, seven years where so many books were pitched as like oh, a twist you can’t believe! And it kinda gets old, somehow this felt fresh and new and fun. There are several points of this book where Molloy very shiftly alters the perspective, and you go wait, what? And you have to think through everything that just happened because she’s told you that things were not what you thought you were, and she manages to do it without making you feel manipulated or annoyed. That is hard to pull off.

This is about two newlyweds, Doctor Sam Statler and his wife Annie Potter. They’d been married fifteen weeks and yes, there’s some raised eyebrows during the story, like are you talking about a baby? Fifteen weeks? Like that’s not how most people count. So they’ve moved out of the city. They’ve decided, or maybe Doctor Sam decided, that he wants to establish a psychology practice in the small community he grew up in in upstate New York. This is a story where for once, it’s not the wife who disappears under suspicious circumstances, it’s the husband. And all is not as it seems.

It turns out that someone has been listening to every word of his sessions because the office space Sam has chosen to rent is the first floor of someone else’s second floor residence, so that ends up being important to the plot, so you get to listen in on all these therapy sessions, which is really fun. But it’s a twisty mystery and I think might have that wait, what? enjoyment factor.

This next voicemail is from Tracy:

TRACY: Hi Anne, my name is Tracy, and I’m looking for a book recommendation for my mother. She’s been a big reader her whole life but about four years ago she developed some health problems that made reading, concentration, and following stories more difficult. She tried audiobooks and enjoyed the Maisie Dobbs series, but now has trouble running the technology. This summer we read Crossing to Safety by Wallace Stegner aloud over the phone. I loved it, but she said it was too hopeless. That seemed to boost her confidence though, and now she’s surprised us all by returning to reading on her own. She’s been enjoying The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series by Alexander McCall Smith, especially. She likes the straightforward and not scary or gory mystery, the humor and being transported to a different place. I would love a gift recommendation for her for some uplifting, easy to follow books that are available in large print in Canada.

ANNE: I think Tracy’s mom would really enjoy The Thursday Murder Club by Richard Ossman. This is a story about four 70-somethings living in a retirement community in England and they get together once a week for the purpose of solving cold cases. They’ve solved a bunch. They haven’t gotten the police to listen to them much, but this is what they enjoy doing. This is what they do instead of crossword puzzles basically. It stimulates the mind. It’s a reason to get together. It's a connection point. They usually get a couple bottles of wine on a lunch time in their retirement community. They put a sign on the door that says Japanese Opera Club because that’s how they know no one will ever crash their murder party, but then all of a sudden it hits a little too close to home when there is an actual murder in their actual community, and they have a real life murder to solve.

The sense of humor in this book is just so fun. It starts at the very beginning with a 20-something PC from the station downtown who comes to the retirement community and she’s like yeah, yeah, yeah I get a little bit of leave, I get to leave the office and get off my usual routine which is policing to her to go speak about safety at a retirement community, but then they start peppering her with questions. They’re like no, no, no, we don’t want to talk about window locks. We’re not going to answer those like spammy emails that say just give me your credit card number and I’ll send you the inheritance you have.

But Donna says I have to talk to you for at least 45 minutes if you don’t want to talk about window locks, or I don’t get the time off, and they don’t pay for my lunch. And so members of the Thursday Murder club are saying let’s talk about institutional sexism in the police force. Ooh, let’s talk about the illegal shooting that happened last month sanctioned by the state, and she’s like ah, this was perfectly delightful. So she ends up being their link between the actual police who can do something with their quote-unquote “solved murders,” and their current or soon to be current investigation into the murder into their own community.

It reminds me a lot of Murder She Wrote and I think it’s going to be a lot of fun for a lot of readers. What do you think, Beth?

BETH: I’m going to recommend the Flavia de Luce series by Canadian author Alan Bradley. The first book is the Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie. Our key character Flavia is an aspiring chemist and girl detective who can’t help but investigate a series of unlikely events that unfold around her. They are charming and innocent, so they’re definitely not going to be gory or too violent. And they have the bonus of transporting you to the English countryside in the 1950s. So these are very popular with our Bookmarks readers and I think your mom would love them.

ANNE: That sounds delightful. Beth, do you have any parting thoughts to share with readers who are shopping for books for the people they love?

BETH: Yes. So I would recommend that you visit your local independent bookstore and have a conversation with the bookstore team and the booksellers there just like the questions have been asked today, share information about what the person likes to read, maybe what they don’t like to read, and then try to dig deep and you can completely honest with booksellers and say I only want paperbacks or I’m shopping for a new release because you know, maybe they read a lot or they like audiobooks and I promise that you will walk away with amazing recommendations for the readers in your life.

ANNE: And if you wanted to pick up a few recommendations for yourself while you were there, we wouldn’t blame you a bit.

BETH: We never blame you a bit. We are happy to help you find the perfect book for yourself too.

ANNE: Well Beth, thank you for helping so many readers find the perfect books for the readers in their lives today. This has been such a delight and I can’t wait to check out [LAUGHS] I must admit I just jotted at least a half dozen titles down on my personal to be read list and I know I won’t be the only one.

BETH: I did too, it was such a treat today, thank you for inviting me.


ANNE: Hey readers, I hope you enjoyed my discussion with Beth, and I’d love to hear which books you plan on giving this year. That page is at That’s where you’ll find the full list of titles we talked about today.

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If you enjoy this podcast and want to support it in a tangible way, we would love that. Please pick up a copy of my new book Don’t Overthink It or my essay collection on the reading life I’d Rather Be Reading, and please help us share the book love. Share this podcast with a friend, leave a review on Apple Podcasts, we would really appreciate it.

And thanks to the people who make this show 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:

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The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet by Becky Chambers
All Systems Red by Martha Wells
Binti by Nnedi Okorafor

Framed! by James Ponti
The Lemonade War by Jacqueline Davies
Where the Mountain Meets the Moon by Grace Lin
Caterpillar Summer by Gillian McDunn

Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry by Mildred Taylor
From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankeweiler by E.L. Konigsburg
The View from Saturday by E.L. Konigsburg
Stella by Starlight by Sharon Draper

Little by Edward Carey
How Much of These Hills is Gold by C. Pam Zhang
Eli the Good by Silas House
Southernmost by Silas House
Shiner by Amy Jo Burns

In the Woods by Tana French
The Likeness by Tana French
Faithful Place by Tana French
American Spy by Lauren Wilkinson
And Now She’s Gone by Rachel Howzell Hall

Here for It; Or, How to Save Your Soul in America by R. Eric Thomas
Grown by Tiffany D. Jackson
Let Me Hear a Rhyme by Tiffany D. Jackson
Plain Bad Heroines by Emily M. Danforth

Celine by Peter Heller
The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivy
Superman’s Not Coming: Our National Water Crisis and What We the People Can Do about It by Erin Brokovich
Miracle Country by Kendra Atleework

Antiracist Baby by Ibram X. Kendi
A is for Activist by Innosanto Nagara
There’s a Dragon in Your Book by Tom Fletcher
There’s a Monster in Your Book by Tom Fletcher
The Family Book by Todd Parr
Sophie’s Squash by Pat Zietlow Miller
Cozy Classics Board Books

Symphony for the City of the Dead: Dmitri Shostakovich and the Siege of Leningrad by M.T. Anderson

The Invisible Life of Addie Larue by V. E. Schwab
The Queen of the Night by Alexander Chee
The Lost Queen by Signe Pike

Queenie by Candice Carty-Williams
A Woman is No Man by Etaf Rum
You Have to Make Your Own Fun Around Here by Frances Macken
Fifty Words for Rain by Asha Lemmie

The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires by Gray Hendrix
We Keep the Dead Close: A Murder at Harvard and a Half Century of Silence by Becky Cooper

Loot by Jude Watson
Mac Undercover by Mac Barnett
One Dead Spy by Nathan Hale
Secret Coders by Gene Luen Yang
My Life as a Book by Janet Tashjian

The Orphan of Salt Winds by Elizabeth Brooks
You Had Me at Hola by Alexis Daria

Not So Pure and Simple by Lamar Giles
Punching the Air by Ibi Zoboi and Yusef Salaam
Black Flamingo by Dean Atta

Leave the World Behind by Rumaan Alam
Goodnight Beautiful by Aimee Molloy

The Thursday Murder Club by Richard Osman
The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley

Also mentioned:
WSIRN Ep 208: The underappreciated art of literary forgery w/Charlie Lovett
Book Build


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  1. Katie says:

    To Carol,
    I’m also a teen living in Decatur, so your request caught my interest. If you still want recommendations after theirs, I would recommend a Blade So Black by L.L. McKinney. It takes place in Atlanta, and it’s about a young black girl who learns to navigate a modern version of Wonderland while dealing with the traumas and pressures of real life. It’s interesting because Wonderland reflects the terrors of the real world: what appears frightening on Earth takes on new forms in Wonderland. It’s a great read because it addresses issues of racism, family, and general teenage problems through a fantastical lens. (Also, Angie Thomas gave it the thumbs up, so that’s a plus).

  2. Kate says:

    I love these annual episodes for filling my own TBR and getting me in the spirit.
    Thanks so much for the recommendation for my son, Anne!!! Symphony for the City of the Dead is going under the tree for sure (and I’ll read it when he’s done so bonus for me!)

  3. Greg says:

    Strongly recommend the Murderbot Diaries by Martha Wells. I have read all four novellas and the full length novel. I relate to Murderbot / SecUnit so much.

    • Elly says:

      Not sure if you get notified of this, but I was going to get this for my nephew as it sounded perfect, but turns out he’s already read it. Is there anything similar that you liked?

    • Stephanie says:

      Emma, I agree! I found the script-reading to be quite distracting. It made me miss Holland from Novel Neighbor who, if I remember correctly, sounded more naturally conversational.

  4. Rachelle says:

    Thank you so much for the recommendations! I’m going to buy Here For It by R. Eric Thomas for Taylor for Christmas, that one sounds the most up her alley. (I’m listed as Rochelle in show notes and in the transcript, but my name is Rachelle!)

  5. Julie says:

    Anne, thanks SO much for the recommendations for my 12 year old who loves classics and is getting into historical fiction. He has read ‘The War That Saved My Life’ and loved it, so you are definitely on the right track. 🙂 It’s so funny that you recommended ‘The Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler’… we just started that last night as our next family read-aloud! 🙂 We will definitely check out the other titles you mentioned. Thanks again!!!

  6. Catherine says:

    I love these episodes! Similarly to the final query, I am also looking for books for my 81 year old mother — she enjoys good writing and characterization as well as good story-line, but nothing racy or with LGBTQ topics. She has loved the Ladies No 1 Detective Agency and I have previously recommended Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie. I have now just ordered The Thursday Murder Club for her. Does anyone else have recommendations? Perhaps books that their older mothers have enjoyed? It doesn’t have to be in the mystery genre. She does read mostly literary fiction, occasionally memoir.

    • Suzanne C says:

      Catherine, both of my parents (and I!) enjoyed the late Anne George’s Southern Sisters Mysteries. They’re mysteries, but they focus more on the hilarious relationship between two sisters living in Birmingham, AL, one retired from teaching and one retired from marrying older rich men. 😄 Both the sisters and the books are delightful.

    • Joanie says:

      Hi Catherine,
      My mom’s reading tastes sound similar to your mom’s. Has you mom read the Miss Julia series by Ann Ross? These are my mom’s favorites and she will read them over and over. I also wonder if your mom might enjoy the Harmony series by Phillip Gulley (Home from Harmony is the first in that series).

    • Adrienne says:

      Hi Catherine! Your mother might like the Maggie Hope series by Susan Elia MacNeal; the first one is ‘Mr. Churchill’s Secretary.’ They are a blend of historical fiction and mystery, and I don’t think they are racy or touch on LGBT topics at all. I send books to my mom (she’s 87), mainly historical fiction, and she sends them back with a post-it note inside each book detailing her thoughts and review of the book. One book she loved recently was ‘The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared.’ She said it was hilarious. Happy reading!

      • Catherine says:

        Thank you for the additional recommendations!! I know my mom enjoys historical fiction, too. And I love that your mom reviews the books! How much fun!

    • Jenny says:

      James Herriot. His books are pure delight. Plus a television series based upon his stories is coming to PBS–might be fun to read and watch.

  7. Tracey says:

    Hi Catherine, it’s Tracey. I sent in that request for my mom and am also planning to order Thursday Murder Club for her (thanks Anne!). I think she’s read some Alan Bradley but I’m going to check with her about revisiting that series! And Southern Sisters sounds good too, Suzanne! Great recommendations! Catherine, has your mom read any of the Maisie Dobbs books by Jacqueline Winspear? My mom loved those! Has she read Maeve Binchy?

    • Catherine says:

      I just read the first of the Maisie Dobbs books last month as I was thinking of my mom and mother-in-law.. another good possibility. Their generation is so isolated right now. I keep trying to think of ways to brighten up their days! A few years ago, my mother-in-law really enjoyed the book “Same Kind of Different as Me”. Are you familiar with that one?

  8. Lisa Rainey says:

    Anne, I believe it was in this episode that you mentioned a beautiful set of Anne of Green Gables books that you were able to find with a Canadian book seller. Can you share your source? Thank you!

    • Megan says:

      I think it might be I followed this link in one of her recent posts to find Songs for the End of the World because it isn’t available in the U.S yet. There are a lot of lovely Anne books available through the site. Hope this helps!

  9. Dayna says:

    This is one of my favorite podcast episodes of the year! I want to give a shoutout to the “Keeper of the Lost Cities” series by Shannon Messenger. All of the tweens/teens in my life have thoroughly enjoyed it, especially my 13-year-old daughter who is borderline obsessed. These are long books and currently 8 in the series with the newest one coming out this month. Highly recommend!

  10. Alice says:

    Thank you so much for including us in this discussion! And for helping me nudge my guy toward, ahem, some titles written by women . . . something which has been bothering me about his reading life for awhile, but which I had no idea how to go about solving! American Spy looks beyond perfect for him, but I’ll probably wind up getting everything on the list. A thousand thanks, once again!

    • Mary Beth says:

      The Selection series is so good and difficult to follow. Here are some authors that she might find interesting that my teen daughter and I both enjoyed: Rebecca Ross, Rae Carson, CJ Redwine, Erin Summerhill and Jennifer Nielsen.

  11. June Nezamis says:

    Gosh – I wish I would have ask for my family! I am going to do a hike themed Christmas this year. There are 4 of us – kids are 22 and 25. We had just started doing Christmas experiences the last few years since what to you get adult children! I am looking for suggestion of good books about hiking – even a good picture book! We have “A Walk in the Woods”. I want to have books to wrap in addition to the socks, backpacks, maps, etc. Thanks so much!

    • Tina Rhodes says:

      For hiking based reads, I would suggest “The Sun is a Compass: A 4,000 Mile Journey into the Alaskan Wilds” by Caroline Van Hemert. I just finished this on Audible—inspiring and beautiful descriptions of nature (she is a bird expert) and her relationship with her husband who was her partner in this journey. I enjoyed everything about this read!

  12. For the readers who liked The Martian and Dark Matter / Recursion, a great backlist title is All Our Wrong Todays by Elan Mastai. It’s a time travel/alternate timelines science fiction novel that’s been described as “if Back to the Future and Dark Matter had a baby.” Fun!

  13. Jennifer says:

    Antiracist Baby and A is for Activism for a one year old were not where my head was going when the new mom of an adopted baby asked for suggestions. Visitor for bear is lovely and Shoe Baby is just so fun for parents and kids to read. I am feeling animated just thinking of the different voices one could use to make those reads so fun. Also any book by Nancy Tillman such as the Wonder of you, the Spirit of Christmas, or Your Here for a Reason will bless that baby and any family member reading with great love. God Bless you, my heart is overfilled thinking of this special reading time.

  14. Christy says:

    Framed was a huge hit with my son, who finished it in a day – and he’s not typically a reader. Thanks for the recommendation!

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