WSIRN Ep 268: Our team’s best books of the year

WSIRN Ep 268: Our team’s best books of the year

Readers, a few weeks ago we hosted a virtual book party in the Modern Mrs. Darcy Book Club to celebrate our favorite books of the year. Our team shared their top one…or two…or three best books of 2020, and we all walked away with a longer To Be Read list.

Our team is made up of a bunch of bookworms with very different reading tastes, but that doesn’t stop us from swapping book recommendations all the time. We recorded that event, and WSIRN producer Brenna worked her editing magic to create a full episode for you. Download episode 268 in your favorite podcast app and get to know our team of readers a little better (plus get some amazing book recommendations for yourself).

The Modern Mrs. Darcy team photo collage. From top left: Chelsey, Leigh, Kellen, Ginger, Donna, Will, Shannan, and Brenna.

If you’d like to see us talk about these books, the video recording of this event is available in the Modern Mrs. Darcy Book Club, our member community devoted to bookish community, classes, and conversation. In addition to events like these and classes on the reading life, every month we read one main book together and meet to discuss it on video—often with the author—including recent book club discussions with Anne Mah, Elizabeth Acevedo, Tayari Jones. 

Christina says, “I love how this group has helped me expand the genres I read and how awesome it is to learn there are people who love reading as much as I do. There are more kindred spirits in this world than I thought.”

This winter, we’re learning how to take the temperature of our reading lives, set better reading intentions, streamline our TBR lists, and declutter our shelves. I teach these classes live, but we always post the video recording for members to view whenever they want. The same goes for our author chats, where I sit down to discuss our book club pick with the author, and members get to ask questions.

In the Modern Mrs. Darcy community, we talk books AND the reading life, providing space for reflection, conversation, and skill-building as we learn to read better, together. We’d love for you to join us. Our new winter sessions, along with our extensive library of classes and events like the one you heard today, are included with your Book Club membership (you can see one of our classes on this page).

A screenshot of our Zoom event, with six book club members smiling and excited to talk about books.

ANNE: Hey readers. I’m Anne Bogel, and this is What Should I Read Next? Episode 268.

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

We don’t get bossy on this show: What we WILL do here is give you the information you need to choose your next read. And we have a special episode today, giving you lots of options to choose from.

Readers, a few weeks ago, we hosted a virtual book party in the Modern Mrs. Darcy Book Club to celebrate our favorite books of the year. Our team shared their very favorite book, or it ended up being two, or three top books of 2020, and we all walked away with a longer To Be Read list.

Our team is made up of a bunch of bookworms with very different reading tastes, but that doesn’t stop us from swapping book recommendations all the time. You’ll get a taste of that today, plus you’ll get to know our team of readers behind the podcast and the blog a little better. And also get some amazing book recommendations for yourself.

If you’d like to see us talk about these books, the video recording of this event is available in the Modern Mrs. Darcy Book Club. This is our member community devoted to bookish community, classes, and conversation. In addition to events like these and classes on the reading life, every month we read one main book together and meet to discuss it on video, often with the author, including recent book club discussions with Anne Mah, Elizabeth Acevedo, Tayari Jones.

To find out more about the Modern Mrs. Darcy Book Club, go to members.modernmrsdarcy.com. And stay tuned at the end of this episode for a peek at our winter book club classes. That’s members.modernmrsdarcy.com.

Readers, we have a ton of great books to recommend, so let’s get to it.

ANNE: Hey, everyone, welcome to book club. We’re so glad you’re here. We’re doing something new. We’ve never done anything like this before. I don’t even think for the retreat we had this many team members on screen. Will, I don’t know that you’ve been on screen for book club. Y’all, we have a man in the house who isn’t an author. This is a milestone. Thank you, William, for making that happen. Welcome to our book party. We are so glad that you are here, and we are really looking forward to doing this today.

This is exactly what it sounds like: our team members by video and here in the room are going to share some of our best books in the year with you. I mean, we’re all big readers. This is an authentic operation by people who love books for people who love books, and we’re just really excited to do this today. If you have been to 67 book club events, we are so glad you are here. We really thought that this time of year, it would be fun and festive as we go into the new year to have a healthy portion of our team here live and we are going to be listening in and taking notes while we’re all talking just like you are.

We have done a couple things similar to today’s event in the past, so if you like the feel of this, there is more where that came from. We have Patreon bonus episodes 67 that Brenna produced, it’s called “what our team has been reading this summer.” We also did our winter book preview digital magazine where if you haven’t looked at that or if you have and now you’re going to be seeing it with new eyes, you can see where each of our team members shared a superlative read from 2020 so far. So please go check that out.

Okay, so now we are going to take turns introducing ourselves. I am Anne. You may be putting a voice to a face for a first time or maybe you’ve seen me around on the socials. Okay, Ginger Horton, it’s your turn.

[00:03:31]

GINGER: Hi, everyone. So if you are new around here, I am Ginger Horton, the book club community manager, so that means I get to hang out all day in the forums and chat with people about books which is just a dream, so if you have any questions, ever any problems, anything like that, you will probably email me. So glad to be here and very excited to talk books with you, new and old friends.

[00:03:54]

ANNE: Ginger is fantastic at what she does for our community and if you’re old here, you know what I’m talking about. Shannan, you’re up.

SHANNAN: Hi, I’m Shannan, and I’m the event manager here at Modern Mrs Darcy, so that means I help put on things like this.

ANNE: Thank you. And Brenna, it’s your turn. Now Brenna, you have been to some crossover events before, but this is not where we usually get to see you, and we’re so glad that we get to do that today.

BRENNA: That’s right. Normally you might see me behind the scenes of What Should I Read Next. I’m the producer, so I do a lot of editing and a lot of chatting with guests, and I’m also the community manager at Patreon, so that’s why I’m at the crossover events.

ANNE: We’re glad you could be here today. Thank you. And she also made some extra magic happen to hear from voices we don’t often, maybe ever get to hear from, and Donna is in chat, but she’s not joining us live. Donna is our spreadsheet guru and now, Chelsey, it’s your turn.

CHELSEY: Hi. My official job title around here is an editor, but I’m known as our resident English professor and every now and then I pop in for the extra nerdy stuff in book club. [LAUGHS]

ANNE: [LAUGHS] I feel like that should work into your job title somehow.

CHELSEY: [LAUGHS] Yes.

ANNE: All right, Will, it’s you. Guys, at team meetings we often do things alphabetically, so Will is always, always last.

WILL: That is fine. I … We’re doing titles? I think my title is like the behind the scenes guy because I don’t come to the stuff.

ANNE: Joining us live from our library. I’m in the office, and he’s in the library. Okay, everybody, it’s time to share our favorite books. I don’t know what you all are going to be sharing, and I’m really excited to find out. Who gets to go first?

GINGER: I’m so anxious to talk about books. I’ve been really excited this week, but I’m holding mine back until I tell you a little bit of set up. So sometime in my early 30s someone gave me a piece of bookish advice that said pick a book that you’re going to read every year for the rest of your life. Well my early 30s came and went because that is a lot of pressure. What do you want to read 30, 40, 50 more times? You know Lord willing and the creek don’t rise as my grandma would say. It’s a lot of pressure to pick a book like that. I thought about it and I thought about it and I considered Jane Eyre, which a lot of you know is a favorite, but I’m a rather slow reader, and so just percentage wise, that would have taken a lot of my time, but this year I found the book.

So I felt like this definitely deserves the title of my best book of the year and that is Till We Have Faces by C. S. Lewis. So no major shock that C. S. Lewis could be a best book, but one of the things that really added to my reading experience of this was that I read this as a community pick with the book club and so those readers helped me to really take a hard look at this. I saw how much fruit this book has to offer. There’s more juice in this fruit. So I know I can read this year after year after year because I saw things I wouldn’t have seen ‘cause my fellow readers pointed them out.

I love mythology, and then sorta an extra little tidbit that really pushed it over the edge for me this year was that we had a stay-at-home book tour with Patti Henry, and she said that Joy Davidman, C. S. Lewis’s beloved wife, was really a co-author. She should have been listed as a co-author on this book and I really felt that in the reading. I’ve read a lot of Lewis, and I really felt the feminine touch in this book, and so I just know that this book has more to offer me through the years. I cannot wait to revisit it, but I’m hoping to find some different versions. I intend next year to listen to it on audio to give myself a different reading experience, and so that is my best book of the year.

I think I’m supposed to pass it off now to Shannan, and as Shannan said she didn’t give herself quite enough credit. She says she helps put events like this on and that is true, but she does a lot more than that. I’ll let her tell you a bit more about her reading life, but if you’ve been to an event, she’s probably keeping the clocks running on time, the trains running on time, and all those things behind the scenes, so. Shannan and I talk books a lot, and I can’t wait to hear what she has to say.

[00:08:02]

SHANNAN: Hi, guys, I’m Shannan, and I read about the same number of books this year as I did last year, which was very surprising to me. I read a lot of good fiction and I’m not going to discuss it today because The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue and The Ten Thousand Doors of January have been discussed ad nauseum here, so I’m going to go a different direction with my picks. I’m going to tell you about the memoirs that I read this year that have made an impression on me.

Let me start by explaining why I read memoir. I read memoir to learn about other people. Their thoughts and their lessons that they have learned in their life, which will hopefully benefit me. I tend to read memoir that has to do with people whose life position is decidedly different from my own. If I’m not learning a little bit in my reading experience, I’m doing it wrong. So the first book is I think I’ve talked about this one, Born a Crime, Trevor Noah. This was my first book on audio. It was great. You can hear me talk about that more in some of our past events. But I learned so much about racism, social economics, South African apartheid. Things I thought I really knew about, I didn’t. Great book. Five stars.

My next one is a tad bit controversial, y’all. It elicits a slew of reactions among people and it did ellicit some pretty strong reactions in me, but after the year we’ve had and seeing the venom of human nature of some of my countrymens response to George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Barack Obama and his memoir, I’m learning to pay attention to things that upset me and to really examine why they’re upsetting me and why I’m mad in the first place. I really want to go a little bit deeper and find out why my hackles are rising, why I’m becoming defensive and why am I crying, and this book made me cry. It is Untamed by Glennon Doyle. I read this book twice this year.

The second time I read it I took it very, very slowly, and I journaled through the specific passages that elicited the most response from me. I learned so many things. One thing that Glennon says in here, and I have to read it because I’m going to get it wrong. “The truth is that it matters not at all what you think about my life.” This is Glennon Doyle speaking. “But it matters supremely what you think of your own. Judgment is just another cage we live in, so we don’t have to feel to know and to imagine. Judgment is essentially self abandonment. You are here to decide if your life, relationships, and your world are true and beautiful enough for you.” I will probably read this again. Five stars, even though some of it made me a little upset. She talks about everything in here.

Being a part of Modern Mrs Darcy, I can not have just one. So my next book is Our Lady of Perpetual Hunger by Lisa Donovan. I was introduced to this by Mary Laura Philpott, she was the author of I Miss You When I Blink. I haven’t seen this on anyone’s radar, and I had to actually make a purchase suggestion for my library and you see they did and I was the first one to get it, yay! Mary Laura describes it, and she does it so much better than I do as a journey about Lisa as a shelf and you learn about a being a shelf and a woman, I’m telling you. But there’s so many other things to learn in this book. And I’m going to quote Mary Laura now. “More than anything, this book is about love and life, the stubborn unquenchable flame within us that demands us to survive and to thrive.” I don’t know about you guys, but 2020 was more about surviving than thriving, yet there is something inside of me that wants to, that cries out to thrive, like don’t just survive, I want to be free. I want to be untamed actually, and memoir shared this wealth of experience with me so that I don’t have to make the mistakes that they made if I learn from them, and that’s the point of the memoir, to share a writer’s experience with the hope that it would be helpful to someone else. All three of these books did that for me this year. Back to you, Anne.

[00:12:32]

ANNE: Shannan, thank you so much for sharing those. I have not read either of those books but I, can you see that’s - that’s Untamed right there on the middle shelf, but Our Lady of Perpetual Hunger is just right on the bookshelf right next to it, and I haven’t even opened it ‘cause y’all, I get a lot of books in the mail and I’m so glad you said that, I am making notes. The chat wants you to know that the quotes you pulled were amazing.

***

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***

ANNE: Okay, so our next team member you’ll be hearing from is someone who if you listen to the podcast and if you’ve listened to the end, you have heard me talk about a lot. At the end of every episode I say 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, but you never hear from Kellen. You just hear what Kellen creates, but today you get to hear from Kellen, and I’m really excited to share this with you, and I have no idea what he’s going to tell us about, but I am really excited to listen.

[00:14:32]

KELLEN: Hello, readers, I’m Kellen, I’m the sound designer for What Should I Read Next, and you’ve probably never seen me, you’ve probably never heard my voice. I’m usually just completely behind the scenes in everything, but today we get to meet each other and talk about some of our favorite books of 2020. One of mine that is at the very top is The Magicians. This along with the entire series, there’s a trilogy of these, are going to be on my rereads list for years. The Magicians is a story about Quentin Coldwater who is a depressed, just going into college, stage magic nerd, socially awkward, that kind of - that kind of a personality. And he longs for magic to be real and he gets his wish in the first chapter. Him and his best friend Julia go to Brakebills, which is a magic college and they take an entrance exam to get in and I would liken it most to The Chronicles of Narnia.

What I loved about this book is the writing and the pacing and honestly just the characters themselves. Every single one of them you kinda understand who they are, what their motivations are, why they’re doing what they’re doing. That’s one of the things I like the most, even though it’s fantasy, the characters and their personalities and their decisions are grounded in reality, you know, it’s what you or I would do in these situations. And I love that in a book. If you do choose to continue through the series, I would say look online for some trigger warnings. The series doesn’t shy away from [LAUGHS] graphic descriptions of violence and other things, and the second book has a pretty graphic scene that’s very easily skippable, you’re not gonna miss any information, but you should know that going into it.

My second book is Into the Drowning Deep. Now some of you might recognize this from another one of our episodes where us on the What Should I Read Next team gave some of our favorite books. This was one of Brenna’s favorite books and once she was done with it, she shoved this into my hands and said I think you’ll love this book. It’s got science. It’s got suspense. It’s got everything for you. And she was pretty much right. I do typically like to read a lot of real world articles on physics and astronomy and this one also hit on one of my other passions. The main character is Victoria Stewart, and she is a sonar specialist. Because you know it’s audio, it has to do with reflections and acoustics and all that kind of stuff, I love that. I nerd out about it as you can probably tell by me doing sound design for What Should I Read Next.

But the basis of this book is that an expedition Marianas Trench put on by this media company who’s very famous for their documentary style films proving the existence of various cryptids, you know, they’re proving aliens exist and BigFoot and all these other creatures and they went out to go prove that mermaids existed. Well, the ship was found with nobody on it and cameras seeming to show mermaids attacking the crew.

Victoria’s sister was on this boat, everybody was lost. She’s looking for answers, and so she decides to go on the next expedition to try to find out what happened to the Atargatis, and also the company’s very interested in proving that mermaids exist. I grew up reading thrillers and this to me got that itch back for me. [LAUGHS] I closed this book and I turned to Brenna and I said, I need to read more thrillers. To me it took me back to my childhood staying up till 1 AM in the morning reading whatever the latest thriller was. I read a lot of Frank Peretti and Ted Dekker at that point. Those are my two favorite books for this year. I hope you have a happy New Year, and happy reading.

[00:18:32]

ANNE: Your y’alls comments cracked me up. He is real. Yes indeed, and thank goodness because I don’t know what we would do without him. We haven’t always had Kellen as our audio engineer, but I think our audio engineering got a lot better when he came on the team, and I’m so glad you all got to meet him. You’re about to hear Brenna Frederick. It’s my voice you hear each week on the show, but it’s Brenna, our What Should I Read Next producer who makes those conversations run so smoothly and sound so good.

BRENNA: If anyone is confused I am married to our audio engineer. We’re a married audio team. So I had a very difficult time choosing what my favorite reads were for this year because somehow in this chaotic, difficult year I actually read a lot of things that I really enjoyed and actually more books than I’ve read in the last two years. Good escapism I guess. The first one I want to talk about I read last week over Christmas break for me, and it was recommended by, I believe, Emily Van Ark in her What Should I Read Next and it was The Wayfarer series by Becky Chambers. I read two of these books in a week and I could not put them down, and they brought me so much joy and now all I want to do is read more sci-fi. I used to read a lot of sci-fi, and I kinda got away from it and now I’m just gonna dive way back in.

The first book in the series is The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet. I grew up watching Star Trek, especially Next Generation, and the first book in the series scratches that really specific itch of marathoning a really good TV show where there’s like an overarching plot, but there’s also these little mini plots that just keep you going. That’s what reading this book felt like. The first book is about sorta a ragtag band of human and alien characters and they all have different secrets, and there’s a couple like, whoa, what - what’s happening moments that were really satisfying and really took me out of my world right now which I needed over break.

The second book in the series is actually my favorite for the year. It’s called A Closed and Common Orbit, and it’s a lot different than the first one. It’s not as like episodic. It mostly focuses on two main characters. Usually it’s very difficult for me to envision physical spaces described in books but Chambers had me visualizing like bustling streets on a foreign planet and futuristic tech shops and bars that needed to accommodate different species’ butts basically, like their bodies, their anatomy’s just different so they just need different kinds of chairs, and she had me imagining that. And it was so delightful.

I read this in 24 hours, and it really made me a Becky Chambers convert like I will read anything that she puts out because I love sci-fi that makes you think about existence and choices and what it means to be a conscious and exist in the universe, and this book does it in a really beautiful way. It’s a story of an A.I. who recently habited an artificial body which is illegal, and learning to survive in this world that isn’t built for her, and the friend who makes space for that learning curve.

The way Chambers built this world is obviously not human. Humans are not the center of this universe. If anything they’re sorta recently added to the party, but the series is so humane. It’s so interesting seeing the different alien cultures that she’s created and it feels kind, like this is kind sci-fi. Difficult things happen, there’s cruelty. There’s death. But I felt cared for as a reader and that was a really wonderful feeling this year, so not only was it a beautiful story, but I came away feeling better and thinking about ways that I wanted to live my life better and it had maybe more of an emotional, psychological impact than nonfiction I’ve ever read has, so I have the third book on my nightstand right now. I’ve got the fourth one that’s coming out in 2021 preordered, and I’ll buy anything that Becky Chambers writes.

And then real quick another series that really made me smile this year, this is A Heartstoppers series by Alice Oseman, it’s a YA sorta romantic YA graphic novel series. It started as a webcomic but there’s three combined volumes so far, and another coming in 2021 and it’s this really, really sweet, very like age appropriate love story between this sorta high strong, anxious but very like gentle and sweet gay teenager, Charlie, and then Nick, who’s this sorta cheerful, rugby player who does not know yet that he’s bi, and it’s absolutely beautiful. It reminded me of being a teenager. It’s well paced, like nothing goes too fast. I think she nails the feeling of being a teen, having really confusing first crushes, feeling things you didn’t expect to feel, things you wanted to feel, not feeling the way you thought they would when you get them and it’s gentle, it’s lovingly written. I was proud of everyone in the series. By the end it transported me away from my problems for a couple days. I couldn’t stop smiling while I was reading it, so those are my favorites.

[00:23:28]

ANNE: Brenna, thank you so much for sharing those, and I feel like there’s a Becky Chambers conspiracy afoot. This feels like a real thing. You have a lot of control over our podcast guests, so I already have her on my shortlist of authors I wanna read, and then y’all, I read what Brenna tells me to. Like this is a life rule that has served me well, and she’s also recommended books to my kids that they’ve loved and adored, so yeah, I see what’s happening here. I also have Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up with Me, was that your winter book preview book?

BRENNA: It was.

ANNE: Well it is halfway between Untamed and Our Lady of Perpetual Hunger on my stack situation back there. Okay, next up we have another video from Leigh Kramer, who many of you’ll know as your go-to romance expert and she was here for our summer stay-at-home book retreat that we did, so I’m excited for all of you to get to see her today. Okay, here we go.

LEIGH: Hey, everyone, I’m Leigh Kramer and I am the editor and social media manager at Modern Mrs Darcy, so I do a little bit of everything behind the scenes. First The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by N.K. Jemisin. This is the first time I’ve read N.K. Jemisin. I meant to read her for years and within a few pages I immediately understood why she has gotten all of the awards and accolades, they are so richly deserved. I inhaled this book. [LAUGHS] I could not put it down. I also was reading it with friends, and buddy reads have really saved me this year. I haven’t had a hard time reading, but having the discussion and just the rhythm of reading a book with other people and getting to go deeper with it which everyone at book club already knows and appreciates, that’s just really made such a difference in my reading life this year, and so discussing what happened in this book in particular is really great.

It’s a really well developed fantasy world. I really wanted to see what was going to happen to Yeine as she named the heiress to the King and has to deal with all of these really complex and vicious power dynamics. She also gets to know these gods who have been enslaved by the people in this kingdom, I’m just wrapping your head around how can gods become enslaved and why did it happen, how did it happen, should it have happened? There’s also a little romance between Yeine and Nahadoth, who is one of the more troubling gods I should say, but I was very into that development and I just … Yeah, I couldn’t put it down. I needed to know what happened next and could not recommend it more highly. Definitely looking forward to reading the rest of this trilogy.

Next Touch of Stone and Snow by Milla Vane. This is the second book in her Gathering of Dragons series. This is a barbarian romance, on the gritty violent side, definitely check out the content warnings if you’re concerned, but this one I would say is not as violent as the others. [LAUGHS] If that helps or not, I don’t know, but it’s immersive. It’s a childhood friends to lovers, second chance romance between Aerax and Lizzan. They have not seen each other for years. Lizzan would prefer to keep it that way. She thinks that Aerax’s betrayed her, but he was not, but he also did not do things as well as he could have. So it’s really, they have massive external conflicts. Their feelings haven’t changed, and so it’s just kinda them dealing with the external conflicts and also the fact that a goddess has told Lizzann that she’s going to die when the first snowfall comes. So it is a romance. There is a happy ... [LAUGHS] a happily ever after, but this is the kind of romance that really rips your heart out and this is my favorite kind of romance. [LAUGHS] So I loved this one. Could not get enough of it. This is open door. There is sexual tension for days.

And just gonna cram one more in real quickly. So this is Fingersmith by Sarah Waters. It’s gothic literary fiction. It was described to me as lesbian Oliver Twist and it’s not a retelling, but it definitely has Dickensian vibes. The first act was a little slow for me, but once I got through that, I tore through the last 400 pages. I just really, really needed to know what was going to happen next. It’s about an orphan named Sue and she’s trying to con this girl named Maud, and like [LAUGHS] again no spoilers, but there are so many twists and turns and just like twists that really made me gasp out loud and I just had to know what happened, so definitely want to read more of Sarah Waters. So that’s me. Those are my best books of the year.

[00:28:13]

ANNE: I love the way that she said if you just love books that rip your heart out and stomp on it, those are my favorite kind. It reminds me of, like, Jamie Golden in early What Should I Read Next episode. It might be episode 1, you know, I just want a book that has me, like, curled up crying on the floor in the fetal position like that’s my favorite kind of book.

***

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***

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***

ANNE: Okay, next up is Will sharing his favorite books. Y’all, we have been talking about this all week what he is going to share, and I’m not entirely sure that I know where he landed.

[00:31:12]

WILL: Well, you should know at least one of the books because I included this in the winter book preview. We all got to throw a book in, and so my first one is Before Familiar Woods. If nothing else, I’m sure you can get the trees out of that. One of the things I love about this book is just like the serendipity of getting. It’s a debut author that I have never heard of, obviously we get a lot of books in the mail, and this one just showed up and as soon as it landed on the counter, you know, came out of the package, I was like oh, I think I might read that. It’s got trees. It was blurbed, the hardcover that we got, the blurb on the front cover by David Joy, who I’ve enjoyed a lot. It’s very similar to a lot of things that I’ve read by David Joy.

So this was a gritty small town with secrets story, which I think is all I’m going to tell you about the story. It definitely has some pretty tough themes in it. It opens with the town being sorta traumatized, two kids have died several years ago. And so that’s sorta the backdrop and then things are unfolding where two men, their fathers, disappear, but you come to find out over the book that there are a lot more secrets in the town and as it unfolds in a small town life everybody knows each other, the cast of characters there, so that was Before Familiar Woods, and I read that fairly early on, but like I said I just loved it. You never know where your next great reads gonna come from.

My next one though, I read this this summer. It’s called On the Burning Edge. This is by Kyle Dickman. This has been on my to be read list probably before I had a to be read. Just something I knew about. It was an Outside magazine article he wrote probably going on seven years ago or something like that about the Yarnell hill fire outside of, I think Prescott, so this summer as we were dealing with wildfires once again, that cropped up as I should finally get around to reading that and it was amazing. I read the magazine piece. It was very long and well done and the book is also long, but reads just as a great story of these guys, their summer, how they all came to join the team and hotshot crews are very, it’s basically part-time work, you only work seasonally and most of it’s hourly and not particularly well paid, and so how they all came together and then they go on a couple of runs before the Yarnell Hill Fire which was the largest hotshot casualty event in 50 years or something like that. So the book sorta ends kinda at that point in like July or something, but you trace them through the season up to that point. Really well done like on the ground reporting, Kyle Dickman was a hotshot for a couple years before he wrote that.

And if we’re allowed to put in one more book, I wasn’t sure if that was allowed, but I heard Leigh was doing it. So William Kent Krueger was here, was that last December did he joined book club? So I read Iron Lake. I was looking at my reading journal, and I read this is the first book in the Cork O’Connor series by William Kent Krueger and I read nine of these books this year, and I don’t remember the format, but Anne, I think you teased me at one point in a bonus episode or Instagram or something like that about not liking series ‘cause I said something about not reading them all at once. I said no, I like to have them there in case, and this year I needed a book in case ‘cause I just … ‘Cause I couldn’t decide and then I try and pick something up ‘cause I thought I wanted to or should read or whatever and just couldn’t get into stuff, and apparently I could get into that ‘cause looking at it, I read nine of them this year. So, that’s the Cork O’Connor series.

[00:34:42]

ANNE: Thank you. And yes, I was saying in chat that our official team policy is basically you can always squeeze in just one more title. Next up we have Donna Hetchler. Donna is our numbers guru and residence spreadsheet whisperer.

DONNA: I’m so excited to be here. I picked two books that I loved in 2020, and they kinda have a similar theme, so number one they’re both really fun escapist reads. Number two, they both surprised me, and I will explain, and number three, I haven’t seen Anne ever talk about these books or authors. I haven’t seen them on What Should I Read Next, so I’m hoping they might be a couple new ones for people.

First one, Burn for Me by Ilona Andrews, and Ilona Andrews is actually a husband and wife writing team. I don’t know if you can see that cover very well, but it’s, you know, a couple kinda in an embrace and the man frankly is not wearing a shirt. [LAUGHS] So, I’ve been reading a lot of steamy romances this year. That’s why I got this book. However here’s what surprised me about it. This book had the best action sequences that I read all year long. I was so on the edge of my seat reading this book. It really reminded me of, like, watching a Marvel movie or an X-Men movie, which is not what you get from this cover. [LAUGHS] It’s very misleading.

It’s actually a fantasy series. This is the first, and the fifth book just recently came out. I read all five books back to back and loved them. The basic premise of it is you have a bunch of different families who are kinda at war with each other. They all have different magical powers so the main woman that we’re following, her name is Nevada Baylor. She’s a private investigator and her magical power is that she can tell when people are lying to her, which comes in very handy if you’re an investigator. [LAUGHS] Now she may have some other powers, you’ll find out as you read it. If you want something filled with action, fantastic dialogue, her extended family is so funny. She has a grandmother that is a total hoot. I laughed out loud reading this book and there is also some romance. Not that steamy though, I would say two and a half out of five on the steaminess factor, but really fun book.

My second book is called The Tourist Attraction. Look at how cute that cover is. Honestly I got it because of the cute little dog [LAUGHS] on the cover. I could not resist it. The author is Sarah Morgenthaler, and I think this is the first book that she wrote. This is more like a typical rom com, but here’s what surprised me about it. I feel like I read a fair amount of rom coms ‘cause I love rom com movies, but I don’t usually laugh that much. Like they’re supposed to be funny. I don’t find them that funny. This book literally had me laughing out loud and maybe even snorting a couple of times [LAUGHS] when I was reading it. It takes place in a fictional town in Alaska called Moose Springs. It follows this woman Zoey, she is on a two week vacation into this town and she meets up with her friend and they meet some local people including Graham, who is kinda a little bit of a curmudgeon. If you’ve watched the Gilmore Girls, he really reminded me of Luke. They definitely have that kind of vibe going on. Great dialogue, and I love the fact that it was set in Alaska because there were Alaskan-related adventures that they go on, which I thought was a fun element to it. I just had fun reading this book.

This is actually also kinda a series. She just came out with a follow up called Mistletoe and Mr. Right, there’s that cute dog again. [LAUGHS] I have not read this one yet. I’m kinda saving it to be my last book of the year, so those are my two books. I enjoyed them so much and I hope others will as well.

[00:39:08]

ANNE: Here we have Chelsey Feder, Chelsey is our resident English professor and an extraordinary editor who does a lot of the behind the scenes post-production work on the show.

CHELSEY: Okay, I’m going to start with my favorite audiobook of the year. I listened to a lot of audiobooks because I did a ton of hiking this year. My favorite was Transcendent Kingdom. Here’s my LibroFM app, I don’t have a copy of the book, so that will have to suffice as a visual. I specifically wanted to highlight the audiobook because Bahni Turpin narrates it, and she is fabulous. So the book is about Gifty, and Gifty is exploring faith and science and really grappling with some things that have happened in her family. I won’t go too much further into it because it’s one of the buzziest books of the year. But I just really wanted to highlight Bahni Turpin’s audiobook narration because the book was so good on audio, and I learned through listening to this one on audio that I really like listening to introspective literary fiction. If you enjoy listening to memoir and listening to people narrate their own stories, if you can find a first person literary fiction book that you maybe think you might not pick up, try it in audio format if you like memoir on audio, and it might really work for you. I found that to be the case with several books this year, but especially Transcendent Kingdom. I just think Yaa Gyasi is such a great storyteller and Baini Turpin’s voice was amazing with that book.

And then another introspective literary fiction book that I loved was Writers & Lovers by Lily King. This one was on the Summer Reading Guide, but I didn’t get to it until a couple of weeks ago and I think I read it in three sittings. I loved this book so much. It’s about Casey, and Casey is a struggling writer. She is working on her book. She’s trying to get it sent out for publishing and in the meantime she is waiting tables at a fancy restaurant. She is in a little bit of a love triangle, and I just found Lily King’s writing to be so completely absorbing and I think that I’m going to make Lily King’s backlist a project for 2021 for my reading life. So I’m really excited to read more from her.

And then I read a lot of romance this year, so I had to pick a really fun romance novel to share. Leigh, our resident romance expert, has recommended Olivia Dade to me a few times and I finally got around to reading an Olivia Dade book. This one is Spoiler Alert. It’s really fun. So okay, it’s about Marcus and April, and Marcus is the star of this really, really popular TV series that kinda resembles Game of Thrones and you can kinda catch a lot of snarky references to Game of Thrones throughout the book, but he is not the biggest fan of the way that the show is going. Especially in the last season he just thinks the direction for his character’s not great and it’s not as good as the books that it was based on, so he secretly writes fanfiction about the show that he stars in. And he has a best friend on the fanfiction site, April. They don’t know each other's real names, so when April through a Twitter incident ends up going on a date with Marcus, they don’t know that they are actually best friends on the fanfiction website but they start to fall for each other. So of course that secret’s going to have to come out somehow.

I thought that one of the most fun parts of this book is the structure in between chapters you get excerpts of their fanfiction, the excerpts of their fanfiction sorta move the plot along and sorta highlight things about what’s happening in the story. There are also text excerpts and samples of the scripts from some of the movies and shows that Marcus has been in before and just is hilarious and fun and I really enjoyed it. It is steamy. I think that if you read Jasmine Guillory and you find that steam level is okay for you, this is probably right at the same level, maybe a little bit spicier than Jasmine Guillory, but easy to skip those open door scenes. So Spoiler Alert by Olivia Dade. Such a fun romance.

[00:43:42]

ANNE: Thank you, Chelsey. Also I really love the way that you got there. I love this genre this year and therefore I had to choose a book that represented it. Okay, now it’s my turn. I really wanted to share a book with you that I hadn’t already written about on the blog and that I hadn’t already shared in the winter book preview. Luckily, I’ve been reading a lot. So here’s what I’ve got. Just last week I picked up a book off my shelf that I have had for like a year and I really ended up loving it and first let me tell you when I found that this season when I am feeling a little overwhelmed by not knowing what to read next, which is more an indication of my state of mental fatigue and not the state of my bookshelves, that turning to nonfiction has served me well, this is something that has happened in the past. Also historically I read books about urban planning, and other kind of niche interests during this time of year because that’s something that I’m doing just for me. It’s not work because I just read because I’m interested in it. Not because I’m ever gonna talk about it in book club, and yet here we go.

So the book that I just read is Walking One Step at a Time. It’s in translation from, I think, Norwegian. It’s by Erling Kagge, and this is a somewhat philosophical meditation on walking. I know that some of you love to reread or read romance, cozy mysteries when you want comfort reading. I like to read nonfiction about the physical world and especially about stuff like sidewalks and walking in the woods, so that’s why I picked this one up when I did, and I loved it so much. And I took a ridiculous number of notes in my book journal. Can you see? Here’s the book journal. Typical entry, typical entry, typical entry, there’s a quote, but look, this is Walking. It goes here and then it goes forward 20 pages. It just keeps going with the quotes because I just couldn’t stop writing stuff down.

Also I think that the mark of a great book are ones that hit me in a different way is when I can’t stop reading it out loud to the people in my family, but I just love the way he talked about something that I find really brings me peace of mind and makes me feel like myself and that is walking, but the way he turned it into a philosophical treatise. He’s a little over the top sometimes like why do we ever get into the car? And I thought I don’t know, I have some ideas.

But the way he talked about how walking is grounding and expansive and why and then he tells some stories about some meaningful walks that he has experienced whether that’s walking to work or literally walking to the South Pole ‘cause he wanted a trip that inspired a book that I want to read next. I just really love it, and I know that many of you know that the books that really make for an exceptional reading experience for me often include an element of surprise and I was just really surprised at how fascinating and delightful this book was. I really enjoyed it.

[00:46:30]

Okay, I have shared so many upcoming books I’m excited about in the winter book preview, and on the blog, but I really wanted to share something new with you and then I thought, oh of course, I know exactly what I want to talk about, and some of you I’ve already attempted to talk your ear off about this book. I’ve talked about it to my real life friends. I really can’t wait for it to come out because I would have given this book ten times at least for Christmas and birthdays if I could have between when I read it in October and now. It’s called Laundry Love, and it is about laundry. This is also total comfort reading for me. It’s uh ... the subtitle is finding joy in a common chore. It’s by Patric Richardson and Karin Miller. I highlighted this thing to pieces on my Kindle, and I refer to it all the time.

I think another mark of a good book is does it change my life? And I know that laundry may seem boring, but he writes about it with such soul and humor and fascinating and this definitely has that surprise factor as well that I just … I love the reading experience and also I went to stare at my washing machine and looked at the manual and changed the way I do things. I ordered a different washing powder. I ordered detergents. I changed the way I wash darks. I changed the way I wash sweaters. I turn everything inside out now.

But he tells these fascinating stories from his tailoring and costuming days. He also grew up in Kentucky, not the same part where I am, but I did enjoy that connection. He would tell stories about how like once he received an emergency call at work that said a bride’s niece had run up to her with open arms to tell her how beautiful she looked in her wedding gown with a sharpie in her hand, and could he come save the day? And he could! And he tells you how and how he thought about it and it was just, it was like a mystery novel in that sense with family drama, stain intrigue, it was just so fascinating. It comes out March 30th from Flat Iron, I was floored to find out that Flat Iron was publishing a laundry book, but seriously, I can’t wait. I can’t wait.

He runs laundry camps at the Mall of America or at least he did pre-Covid, and I would actually to love nothing more than to spend three hours on a Saturday morning at laundry camp with Patric Richardson ‘cause it’s just so obvious from the writing, he’s a character, he tells good stories, you wanna have dinner with him like every Thursday for the rest of your life.

But also let me tell you because I know our theme around here is always room for one more. A stand out book, and I don’t know that it was clear from the winter book preview, I really did love and adore The Survivors by Jane Harper. Family story, past tragedy, present turmoil, it’s a murder mystery as well, but the setting in the caves where if you go in when the tide’s out, and the tide comes in, you’re not coming out. Ooh. It made me claustrophobic in the same way that Into the Drowning Deep made me claustrophobic in a really wow, I’m amazed at the emotions that this author can evoke in me experience. I loved it. This is coming February.

[00:49:25]

And I just reread two books that I thoroughly enjoyed. The first is Ann Patchett’s The Getaway Car. I know we have a lot of aspiring writers in this group. If you identify as such and you have not read The Getaway Car, I highly recommend it. The reason I picked this up for the first time since like 2012 or something like that is because I listened to the Best of Me by David Sedaris, and there’s a little interview at the end which is great and he was asked for writing advice, and he said well sit down and write. How come nobody ever tries that? Also read The Getaway Car by Ann Patchett because she says everything you could want to know. And [ … ] reflected in my mind and when Chelsey was talking about Lovers & Writers and I thought oh my gosh, those books go so great together, they’d be amazing.

And also I reread Maybe You Should Talk to Someone by Lorri Gottlieb. I think two years ago, this was the very last book we added to the 2019 Summer Reading Guide, and the reason I read it while traveling [ … ] and finalized that I loved it so much that we just had to make room for it. And we did because it was important.

If you think you miss this one by Ann Patchett I think the reason is probably [ … ] only been published in that format and it’s not in print. You will never find it. And it’s short. It’s maybe a hundred pages, and that’s it for my books. I don’t really wanna say goodbye because it’s so fun to see everybody on screen. So thank you all for joining us as we learn to read better. Freshen up those TBRs and happy reading, everyone.

Readers, have you been reflecting on your reading life in the new year? In the Modern Mrs. Darcy Book Club, we’re learning how to reflect on our reading lives in order to cultivate habits, tips and tricks for our best reading year ever. With classes, virtual events, and discussion forums, our book club community fosters great conversations about all things books and reading.

Christina says, “I love how this group has helped me expand the genres I read and how awesome it is to learn there are people who love reading as much as I do. There are more kindred spirits in this world than I thought.”

This winter, we’re learning how to take the temperature of our reading lives, set better reading intentions, streamline our TBR lists, and declutter our shelves. I teach these classes live, but we always post the video recording for members to view whenever they want. The same goes for our author chats, where I sit down to discuss our book club pick with the author, and members get to ask questions.

In the Modern Mrs. Darcy community, we talk books AND the reading life, providing space for reflection, conversation, and skill-building as we learn to read better, together. We’d love for you to join us. Our new winter sessions, along with our extensive library of classes and events like the one you heard today, are included with your Book Club membership.

Go to members.modernmrsdarcy.com to sign up today. That’s members.modernmrsdarcy.com.

[CHEERFUL OUTRO MUSIC]

Hey readers, I hope you enjoyed our whole team’s book recommendations today, and I know they’d love to hear what YOU think they should read next. That page is at whatshouldireadnextpodcast.com/268 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!

If you’re on twitter, I’m there @AnneBogel. That’s Anne with an E, B as in books -O-G-E-L. Tag us on instagram to share what YOU are reading. I’m there at annebogel and at whatshouldireadnext. Our newsletter subscribers are the first to know all the What Should I Read Next news and happenings; if you’re not on the list just go to whatshouldireadnextpodcast.com/newsletter to sign up for our free weekly delivery.

If you enjoy this podcast and want to support it in a tangible way, we would love for you to become a supporter in our Patreon community. This is the place where you can financially support the show and in exchange to make it attractive, we give you perks like bonus episodes and peaks behind the scenes. You can also purchase one of my books I’d Rather Be Reading or Don’t Overthink It for yourself or a friend. We’d also love it if you’d share the show with a friend or if you left a review on Apple Podcasts. All those things help other readers find the show.

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:

Some links are affiliate links. More details here.

Ginger recommends:
• Till We Have Faces: A Myth Retold by C.S. Lewis

Shannan recommends:
• The Invisible Life of Addie Larue by V. E. Schwab
• The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix E. Harrow
• Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood by Trevor Noah
• Untamed by Glennon Doyle
• Our Lady of Perpetual Hunger: A Memoir by Lisa Donovan

Kellen recommends:
• The Magicians by Lev Grossman
• Into the Drowning Deep by Mira Grant

Brenna recommends:
• The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet by Becky Chambers
• A Closed and Common Orbit by Becky Chambers
• Heartstopper, Vol. 1 by Alice Oseman
• Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up With Me by Mariko Tamaki

Leigh recommends:
• The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by N.K. Jemisin
• A Touch of Stone and Snow (A Gathering of Dragons #2) by Milla Vane
• Fingersmith by Sarah Waters

Will recommends:
• Before Familiar Woods by Ian Pisarcik
• On the Burning Edge: A Fateful Fire and the Men Who Fought It by Kyle Dickman
• Iron Lake (Cork O’Connor Mysteries #1) by William Kent Krueger

Donna recommends:
• Burn for Me (Hidden Legacy #1) by Ilona Andrews
• The Tourist Attraction by Sarah Morgenthaler

Chelsey recommends:
Transcendent Kingdom by Yaa Gyasi
Writers & Lovers by Lily King
• Spoiler Alert by Olivia Dade

Anne recommends:
Walking: One Step at a Time by Erling Kagge
• Laundry Love: Finding Joy in a Common Chore by Patric Richardson and Karin B. Miller
• The Survivors by Jane Harper
• The Getaway Car by Ann Patchett
• Maybe You Should Talk to Someone by Lori Gottlieb

Also mentioned:
•Ep 253: A whole bunch of book recs, from our team of readers to you
• Our Winter Book Preview digital magazine is available on Patreon or in the Modern Mrs. Darcy Book Community.

Thanks to this week’s sponsors:

Betabrand Dress Pant Yoga Pants look like stylish dress pants, but they’re super comfortable – without any zippers or buttons that dig in. Discover what it’s like to be comfortable and confident all the time. Betabrand is offering WSIRN listeners 30% off of your order.

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17 comments | Comment

17 comments

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  1. Janna says:

    I started 2020 with Before We Were Yours and The Kitchen House, which quickly became all-time favorites. Where The Crawdads Sing was another favorite.

  2. Sue Duronio says:

    Did this episode already play recently? I could have sworn I already listened to the team’s favorites? Am I imagining this? 🙂

  3. Emily says:

    I love these kinds of episodes! They destroy my TBR in the best possible way:)
    The House on the Cerulean Sea was one of my surprise favorites this year. I also LOVED Long Way to a Small Angry Planet. I was in the middle of reading this book that takes place on a spaceship that has a mixed species crew and they were describing how humanity (barely) made it to the point of joining the greater galactic community without destroying each other or their planet. For about 2 seconds I was flooded with a feeling of relief, that “whew, we made it!” before coming back to reality and remembering that the book is fiction. So, great world building, great escape.

  4. Kate says:

    My highlights of 2020 were the books that rescued me from several reading slumps through the year: The Lockwood & Co series by Jonathan Stroud, The Wizard’s Guide to Defensive Baking by T. Kingfisher, and Bleak House by Charles Dickens.
    Into the Drowning Deep was one of my 2018 favorites and I recommend it to anyone who likes Michael Crichton.

  5. Melissa Johns says:

    Thank you Shannan! I read (and will read) everything you recommend! Your picks are exactly what I’m looking for and you help me discover new favorites.
    Thank you! ❤️

  6. Maya says:

    Can you do an episode interviewing Donna? I loved listening to her discuss her book choices. Everyone was great TBH. Donna was a delight simply because she had so much joy in her voice.

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