WSIRN Ep 291: The best books of summer (so far)

Behind the scenes at What Should I Read Next? and Modern Mrs. Darcy, we have a team of readers who are bursting with bookish enthusiasm. We can’t help ourselves: whether we’re in a team meeting, sending messages in our online workspace, or hosting a literary event, our team members love sharing book recommendations, current reading habits, and exciting publishing news with each other.

For a special summer podcast episode, What Should I Read Next? producer Brenna paired us up in our virtual recording studio, matching team members you’ve never heard discuss books together on the show. Our reading tastes are vastly different, but we quickly discovered that talking about books creates instant connections—even when reading preferences don’t seem to match up at all. 

We had the best time discussing what summer reading means to us, what we’ve read and loved lately, and what we hope to read next before the season is over.

We recommend a mix of everything from complicated family sagas to reliable romance to page-turning nonfiction to sci-fi that feels like a warm hug. Today, we’re sharing a curated list of those titles for you to browse before, during, or after you listen to the episode.

You can listen on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or your preferred podcast app—or scroll down to press play and listen right in your web browser. No matter how you listen, I hope you walk away with some amazing book recommendations that sound just right for YOU.

A few of our favorite summer reads:

A Psalm for the Wild-Built

A Psalm for the Wild-Built

From Shannan: Chambers dedicates this novella to anyone “who needs a break.” I definitely was in need of a break when I read it, and it was a balm to my weary soul. The intriguing premise involves a nonbinary tea monk who embarks on a personal quest and meets a robot, the likes of which haven’t been seen by humans for a few hundred years. If you would like to escape to a quieter and gentler world, this is the pick for you. One of my favorite quotes was “it is enough to exist in the world and marvel at it. You don’t need to justify that or earn it. You are allowed to live.” I'm so glad this is the first in a series; I cannot wait for the next iteration. More info →
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God Spare the Girls

God Spare the Girls

From Anne: I couldn't resist this new release after Anne Helen Peterson mentioned it in Episode 284: I need an irresistible read this summer. I'd describe it as The Book of Essie meets Olympus, Texas. McKinney's debut novel is set in the insular small town of Hope, Texas where evangelical megachurch pastor Luke Nolan is both revered pastor and local celebrity. But this is really the story of his daughters, Abigail and Caroline, who find themselves at a crossroads when information about their father comes to light and throws their core beliefs into question. Part coming of age story, part family drama, this modern story of community and identity completely drew me in. More info →
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Olympus, Texas: A Novel

Olympus, Texas: A Novel

From Ginger: When Will and I recorded our conversation, this Summer Reading Guide selection was next on my TBR list. Now that I’ve read it, it moved lists from my TBR to my top books of the year. I know the year is only half over, but I’d have to read some awfully good books for this to get booted. When I mentioned that it cracked my top ten to a friend earlier this week, she said to me, “so that means I should not read it, right?” She knows her own reading life well. I replied with a resounding “don’t touch it” in her case because if you’re not in the mood for a big messy family story, steer clear. Love is complicated in this web of siblings, marriages, neighbors. I’ll take my own "real life" relationships nice and simple please, but I’ll take my novels nice and complex. More info →
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Sing Anyway

Sing Anyway

From Leigh: Do you ever start a debut and think to yourself, “where has this been all my life” and then you get real excited to see where an author’s career goes from there? That is exactly how I felt from the start of this contemporary romance novella, featuring Sam, a nonbinary history professor, and Lily, a veterinary receptionist, who meet at a karaoke bar. I was immediately swept away into Sam's karaoke experience when their friends don’t show up for their usual night out. But this turns out to be Sam’s gain because it means their only focus is on Lily, another regular who knows how to rock a song and can make a killer dress that suits her fat body perfectly. The way the chemistry built between these two! The scenes—the characters—felt so alive to me. I wanted to put Sam and Lily in my pocket or go on stage and join them in a song or two. Note: this one is open door (and really packs some steam!). More info →
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Keeper of the Lost Cities

Keeper of the Lost Cities

From Donna: I’m obsessed with this series. The first book focuses on a twelve year old girl, Sophie, who learns she’s actually an elf. When taken by elves to another world full of creatures, she realizes her history is quite complicated, and she’s got magical powers to wield. Featuring a ton of action, adventure, and edge-of-your-seat-excitement, this series also has a lot of emotional heft. The kids at Sophie’s new magical school deal with stress, anxiety, grief, and relationships making for a layered page-turner. I recently heard these books might also be adapted for the screen, as directed by Ben Affleck. I've devoured each one in a couple of days and can't wait to see what comes next for the characters. More info →
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Crow Lake

Crow Lake

From Will: I judged a book by its cover (and the first line of the jacket description), and I was rewarded. That first line: "Here is a gorgeous, slow-burning story set in the rural 'badlands' of northern Ontario, where heartbreak and hardship are mirrored in the landscape." Most of the action takes place in a small farming community where the Morrison siblings discover their love of zoology and the world around them—and the surrounding farm families deal with tragic events. Great nature writing and a slow building tension made this story of a broken family not only one of my favorites of the summer but the whole year. More info →
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The Summer Book

The Summer Book

From Chelsey: If, like me, your reading taste is on the moody, contemplative side this season, add Tove Jansson's short novel in translation to your TBR list. In a series of short vignettes, we follow Grandmother and her young granddaughter Sophia as they live on a small island in the Gulf of Finland. Some scenes are hilarious (when Grandmother says a bad word in front of Sophia simply to distract her) and some scenes are dark and poignant (when Sophia questions Grandmother about life, death, and grief after losing her mother). Jansson's vivid nature descriptions of the island in the summertime swept me away; the charming and oh so real characters will linger with me for the rest of the year. More info →
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My Side of the Mountain

My Side of the Mountain

From Brenna: I've enjoyed revisiting formative books from my childhood this season, and most of them have held up surprisingly well for me as an adult! This Newbery Honor Book follows Sam Gribley, a boy who's tired of living in New York City and wants an adventure. When he declares he's running away from home, his father shrugs it off, but after reading survival books at the library, Sam journeys all the way up to the Catskill mountains. Relying on his knowledge and instincts, he lives in a hollowed-out stump, learns how to forage and fish, and spends an entire year living alone in nature. I put on nature sounds for ambience and read this charming novel cover to cover in one sitting. I can't wait to pick up the rest of the series soon. More info →
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ANNE: Hey readers. I’m Anne Bogel, and this is What Should I Read Next? Episode 291.

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.

Readers, you know each week we point you to our website to see a full list of the books we talk about in that episode. That’s because we know you all add titles to your to be read lists week in and week out.

I have a new reading journal coming out this September and it’s the perfect place both to collect your thoughts about what you have read and to jot down those To Be Read titles. I’ve been encouraging readers to keep a reading journal for years and over that time I’ve refined my recommendations on what makes a fun, useful book journal.

Now, I’m so excited to share my own journal, with all of those things I’ve learned incorporated into the journal pages.

In addition to all of the journaling page the journal includes seasonal book lists, inspirational quotes, and tips and reflections on the reading life.

Right now if you preorder the journal you can get a sneak peek at some of those reading lists and a bookmark that doubles as a reading tracker that you can use to capture titles until your journal arrives September 21st. Order your copy of My Reading Life: A Book Journal wherever you buy books and then head to to claim your bonuses.


Readers, every week, you hear me discuss books and reading with our guest—but the book talk doesn’t stop there. Behind the scenes at What Should I Read Next and Modern Mrs. Darcy, we have a team of readers who are bursting with bookish enthusiasm. We can’t help ourselves: whether we’re in a team meeting, sending messages in our online workspace, or hosting a literary event, our team members love sharing book recommendations, current reading habits, and exciting publishing news with each other.

Today, you get to sit in on some of those conversations.

Our What Should I Read Next producer Brenna paired us up in our virtual recording studio, matching team members you’ve never heard discuss books together on the show. Our reading tastes are vastly different, but we quickly discovered that talking about books creates instant connections—even when reading preferences don’t seem to match up at all.

We had the best time discussing what summer reading means to us, what we’ve read and loved lately, and what we hope to read before the season is over.

We hope our collection of bookish conversations inspires you to ask your coworkers, friends, or family members what books they’ve loved recently. And, of course, we hope you find your next great read among the abundance of titles we talk about today.

We share a mix of everything from complicated family sagas to reliable romance to page-turning nonfiction to sci fi that feels like a warm hug—but don’t worry about writing all of these titles down. We’ve got a full list in show notes for you at

Our first conversation is between me and Leigh Kramer, our editor and social media manager, and renowned romance lover. I could fill a library with the books and authors Leigh has told me to check out over the years. She is an endless fountain of strong bookish opinions, adding so much color and variety to my reading life, and today I hope yours as well.

LEIGH: Hi Anne. [LAUGHS] How are you?


ANNE: Hi Leigh. We talk books all the time but we don't usually do it while we're being recorded, at least not recorded by anything other than boxer.

LEIGH: Right, this is very unusual for us, but I like giving people the chance to listen in. [LAUGHS]

ANNE: We were just saying that you had opinions and you don't mind sharing them.

LEIGH: True. On anything really. I'm always willing to share.

ANNE: Leigh, I know what you do for the Modern Mrs Darcy and What Should I Read Next universe. Wow, that sounds like we're Marvel movies. We are not that. [LEIGH LAUGHS] But I know what you do around here, but would you tell the listeners?

LEIGH: Sure. I am the editor and social media manager and that means I just do a little bit of everything behind the scenes. And I've also been on the podcast a few times.

ANNE: That's right. You're in the repeat club.

LEIGH: Yes. [LAUGHS] So I was on episode 9 "the reality of bookworm problems" way back in the day, and then I came back for episode 137 "bibliotherapy for the toughest times" and that was when my novel came out.

ANNE: A storied life, and y'all should go look that up right now.

LEIGH: Oh, and then for Patreon, I did a bonus episode on romance. That was a bonus episode 86.

ANNE: I'm so glad you mentioned that. And it had a great title, what was it?

LEIGH: “A guided tour of the romance genre.”

ANNE: Ahh. I love that. That's a tour I'd like to take right now. And then you and I are working together on some blog posts for later this summer and early fall that I ... Well I really enjoy doing that with you and I'm excited for our listeners to get to read them when the time arrives.

LEIGH: Fun stuff ahead.

ANNE: You know, we talk a lot about what we've been reading lately, but I don't know that we've had the global conversation that goes, what does summer reading mean to you? Especially in 2021, I feel like these past few years have each been very distinct and have had their own personalities summer wise, you know, like 2019, and then 2020 was a whole different landscape and 2021 feels very different to me. What's your summer reading life right now?


LEIGH: Well it's interesting because summer reading is generally year round reading to me. I don't get time off in the summer unless I actually schedule a vacation, [LAUGHS] so it's pretty much the same.

ANNE: You might need to find a new job.

LEIGH: [LAUGHS] I think this year, this summer, I will probably read less because I can actually see friends and we'll see what it ends up looking like. What about you?

ANNE: My summer reading ... I mean, it definitely feels different than it did last year with what I'm choosing to pick up just 'cause I'm at a different point in my life, but it does have a definite rhythm to it, and that is I finished the summer reading guide, reading, and then it's a backlist bananza for me. But then I start getting kinda antsy about all the fall books coming out that I haven't started reading yet [LEIGH LAUGHS] and so I start picking those up and there's so many good ones. It looks like fall's going to be a really good season, but right now I'm still making myself sit in the backlist. It's not a chore. I just mean I have to remind myself. This is actually what you want. Don't get distracted by that shiny stuff on the horizon.

LEIGH: There's so many distractions.

ANNE: Always, and I think it's good for readers. I mean, I just had this conversation this morning with another reader for another podcast. Not What Should I Read Next that it's good to remind yourself what you want from your reading life right now, and I know that this is what I want, and as soon as I pick up an old book and start reading it, I think like oh, that's right. I've been waiting for this. I mean, even if I don't like it, I'm still glad that I gave it a try 'cause I know that's what I like to do in June, July, and August. We're about to take a camping trip. I'm a reluctant camper, but I did figure out that when you go into the woods, it's kinda the same as going to the beach, and I could read a book a day. But now it's just air conditioned reading or front porch reading if it's nice out.

LEIGH: Yeah, I just got some furniture for my balcony, and so I've been able to read outside on my balcony, which is nice.


ANNE: I am so curious to hear if I've heard about your recent favorite reads that you want to share with our listeners yet. What did you choose? What have you loved so far this summer?

LEIGH: This one for sure you've not heard about because I've been saving it for this conversation.

ANNE: Oh, yay!

LEIGH: I'm so excited. It's called Sing Anyway by Anita Kelly. It is a contemporary romance novella. It's about Sam and Lily who are regulars at a queer karaoke bar, and Sam's friends don't show up one night, and when Lily sees them sitting alone while she's singing on stage, she suddenly gets this burst of confidence and goes up to Sam and strikes up a conversation and the rest is history. And it was just super fun and steamy and delightful and you have to look at the cover because Lily is fat and so she makes her own clothes and she's just wearing this really striking dress and it turns out to be a connection point for Sam who is nonbinary and still figuring out what clothes best express them. It's just such a delight to read. I just love this one, and I keep gushing about it to everyone, except for you because I knew we were going to talk about it. [BOTH LAUGH]

ANNE: That's so fun! Okay, you know that feeling when you discover an author and you want to read everything they've ever written?

LEIGH: Mmhm.

ANNE: I feel like you're doing something [LAUGHS] not like that at all, but kinda akin, like you haven't even found their first novel. This is the novella that has you excited about the book that’s coming out and then looking forward to more on the way. I just love how you're getting in on the ground floor of all this bookish anticipation.

Okay, the book I want to tell you about, which I haven't been holding out on for very long because I just read in a weekend, which was a delightful experience, is God Spare the Girls by Kelsey McKinney. I haven't seen this anywhere. I've only heard about it from our podcast guest, journalist Anne Helen Peterson that was on What Should I Read Next in May.

LEIGH: Oh. Okay. I was thinking it sounded vaguely familiar.

ANNE: Yeah, yeah, yeah. Well maybe that's why. This is McKinney's first book and she is also a journalist and I didn't ask Anne Helen if that was the connection but of course I was wondering, but this sounded like a little bit The Book of Essie and a little bit Olympus, Texas although that's really only for the small town Texas setting but since I read that earlier this spring and loved it, I think that was fresh on my mind. I was thinking like oh, another Texas novel. I love that book. Please give me more. This is a messy family drama [LEIGH LAUGHS] and you know how I feel about those.


LEIGH: Your favorite. [LAUGHS]

ANNE: It's about the Nolan family and it is set in this small town in Texas and it centers on two daughters in the family of Luke Nolan. He is the head Evangelical preacher in the tiny town of Hope, Texas, and he has actually made his name and become like a celebrity preacher personality largely based on his inspiring speeches asking teens to take this purity pledge, right? And his daughter Caroline, his eldest daughter has always been key to his ministry and also part of the purity pledge thing. She actually writes and researches a good portion of his sermons, so there's like this little thread throughout where if Luke writes it himself, it's just not that good.

Younger daughter Caroline is eighteen. She's always lived in her sister's shadow. She's in this notorious family that everybody's looking to as the model for how to be, and she's kinda had it with the whole daughter of the Evangelical preacher thing. Caroline's about to get married. Caroline's about to go to college. Everybody's kinda at a tipping point in their lives and then it comes out that Luke has had an affair and the girls are called in to help do crisis management. Things go from bad to worse, and everybody's dealing with their own junk and the way it all comes together and the way the girls are called to be a part of this is just really interesting. I ate it up.

LEIGH: But that's actually a really great segue to the next book I want to talk about, so.

ANNE: Ooh.

LEIGH: [LAUGHS] Because ...

ANNE: Tell me, tell me.

LEIGH: It's totally different except it also takes on the patriarchy and the corruption of religion, so [LAUGHS] it feels like a good tie in. The Jasmine Throne by Tasha Suri. Have you read Tasha Suri? I feel like I've told you to read her.

ANNE: That's possible, but I could fill pages with the authors you've told me to read.


LEIGH: That's true. This one is an Indian inspired sapphic fantasy about an imprisoned princess and a maid who is secretly a powerful princess, and Princess Malini’s emperor brother is basically trying to kill her and she's trying to orchestrate a coup behind the scenes. Priya is the key to getting her out of the temple, but she has her own concerns so there is a love story, but it's secondary to the plot. There's a lot of action. There is going to be a sequel. I don't know how many books in the series, but at least one more. Just super fascinating and really looks at who are the real monsters and murder princess, like you just, you can't go wrong with murder princess. [ANNE LAUGHS] So I gobbled it up.

ANNE: I'll start like page 7 in my journal of authors Leigh tells me to read. I'm making progress. Now I really want your take on a book that I'm looking forward to reading this summer, maybe kinda.


ANNE: So in Louisville, Kentucky there's this awesome book sale every year. It's called the Locust Grove book sale. Will and I went recently and I have more books than I know what to do with right now, so of course we went to buy more.

LEIGH: [LAUGHS] Of course.

ANNE: And I've been thinking lately that I want to read more Pat Conroy. I haven't read him in years.


ANNE: And they had The Great Santini, so I grabbed it and I picked it up and I brought it home and I looked it up on Goodreads where I thought, huh. I think Leigh might talk me out of this, and I've been meaning to ask you about it but I've forgotten up til this minute but now's my chance. I don't put a lot of stock in reviews but there's so much Pat Conroy to read I just wanted to get an idea, is this the one to start with?

LEIGH: Gosh. It's been a while since I've read that one, so I don't really remember what I thought about it except that I didn't like it. [LAUGHS] So I don't know if that's helpful or not. I will say that it has been a long time since I've read anything by him, but Beach Music is my favorite of his.

ANNE: I'll let you know how it strikes me now. And listeners, like I want to read some Pat Conroy, you can tell me in the show notes what I should read next.


LEIGH: And I do know people that love The Great Santini so it could definitely meet your need for messy families if you're in a mood where you don't need to root for anyone, it could definitely fill that void.

ANNE: I have no doubt of that. Leigh, what's on your summer TBR?

LEIGH: So this is a little bit of a cheat because I'm already in the middle of it but I want everyone to know about it. It's called What Fresh Hell is This? [LAUGHS] Which is such a great title. The subtitle is Perimenopause, Menopause, Other Indignities, and You, and it's by Heather Corinna. So I'm in my early 40s and the release of this book feels pretty timely. [LAUGHS] So I've been learning a lot. It's just really reassuring to hear about what to expect and it's really inclusive. Corinna is a queer nonbinary sex educator and just has a really conversational style. They do swear a fair amount, so if people are not as into swearing as I am, they may want to try something else, but for me it's been a really great fit and it reads really easily.

ANNE: Okay, so you told me you were reading this, but you didn't tell me the title and now I'm laughing. [LEIGH LAUGHS] Google books says this book feels like your best friend talking to you over drinks if your best friend is a patrirachy smashing, intersectionality feminist professor of the history of reproductive medicine and also an endocrinologist with a side hustle as a comedian.

LEIGH: That's a really great summary. [BOTH LAUGH]

ANNE: I hate to follow up that with this but I also picked up a Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra at the youth book sale which has been on my TBR for a million years and I've never read. And then this morning I started ... See, I'm going to cheat too. I started The Arsonists’ City [LEIGH LAUGHS] by Hala Alyan. Not that long ago on What Should I Read Next I recommended Salt Houses to a reader and mentioned, oh, you know, this new book came out in the spring, but I haven't read it yet. It sounds really good and I basically talked myself into reading it, so [LEIGH LAUGHS] I'm only at 10% but I'm really enjoying it so far. It has so many of those features that I loved in Salt Houses.

I hate to say it, but it's a complicated family saga [LEIGH LAUGHS] set across time and space and continents. That's totally my cup of tea. The narration is also really good. I'm listening to Leila Buck’s narration and really enjoying it so far. It's a lot longer than her previous one which I didn't realize when I picked it up. If the story is good, I am happy to give it room to roam. Also I just started the new Lucy Parker last night, but you already know that.


LEIGH: But you haven't finished so I don't ... I don't even know when it comes out.

ANNE: It comes out in August and I'm at 20% and we're still definitely heavily in exposition.

LEIGH: I do have two other romances coming out in August that I'm looking forward to.

ANNE: What are they?

LEIGH: The Dating Playbook by Farrah Rochon, which I believe you're looking forward to as well.

ANNE: I believe it's on my Kindle right now.

LEIGH: Okay. [LAUGHS] So that's the second book in The Boyfriend Project series and this one has the fake relationship trope, so that should be fun. I'm really looking forward to that one, and then the other one is For The Love of April French by Penny Aimes. This is a debut by a trans author and it has a trans heroine. Super looking forward to that.

ANNE: I can't wait to hear what you think. Thanks for talking books with me.

LEIGH: Anytime. This is fun.

ANNE: Next we get to hear our team members Donna Hetchler and Shannan Malone talk about their summer reading plans. Donna is our metrics whiz. Her work gives us insight into what you, the listeners, are enjoying and how we can keep improving the show. Shannan makes all sorts of things possible with her planning expertise — everything from getting What Should I Read Next recordings on my calendar to organizing our big events like our author chats we host over at Modern Mrs Darcy book club and one day pretty soon she'll once again be planning our live events. Donna and Shannon are book buddies outside of their work, too, but we've never heard them chat on the record like this before. Let's listen in.

SHANNAN: Hi, Donna.

DONNA: Hey, Shannan. You and I talk books all the time, which of course I love.


DONNA: I just think it's very funny that it's being recorded. [BOTH LAUGH] Like I don't know. I just feel like such a celebrity, but we talk books all the time, which is wonderful, and we've done some buddy reads, too, which I think will also come up.

SHANNAN: Oh yes, for sure. For sure. One of my books is as the result of buddy reads we've done. Now what do you at team Modern Mrs Darcy for our listeners who may not be aware?

DONNA: I am the quote-unquote "spreadsheet guru" because I do a lot around data and metrics and I know a lot of listeners already know you, but for those who don't.

SHANNAN: Yes, I'm the event manager. I'm also the book manager. That’s a title I gave myself and I was first on episode 179 "life is too short and my TBR is way too long."


DONNA: And I was on episode 83 where I talked about my epic birthday bookstore roadtrip.

SHANNAN: Which was the catalyst for me to start visiting one bookstore in every new city that I went to. I do that because of your episode, Donna.

DONNA: Oh, I love that. That makes me so happy. [SHANNAN LAUGHS] Okay now it's your turn, Shannan. What does summer reading mean for you?

SHANNAN: I'm in Huntsville, Alabama and it is hot and humid here, but I don't necessarily like to read hot and humid beachy, warm kinda books. For me, summer reading is quick, it's pleasant, and fun.

DONNA: Yeah, I would actually say the same thing for me. I don't know if I've read that much differently during the summer. I really like escapist reads, but I like them all year long so I guess the only difference is I probably read inside more under air conditioning. I'm in Palm Springs so it's like 115 degrees here.

SHANNAN: Mm, yes. I was going to say that my book that I've chosen though, I don't know if people will consider that the quintessential summer read, but it's coming out this summer so it counts. And it meets the criteria that I’ve just stipulated.

DONNA: Let's hear it. What's your first pick?

SHANNAN: Well my first pick is The Psalm for the Wild-Built by Becky Chambers and I believe team MMD is already aware of this. I have not stopped talking about it. I like to think that as the book manager, I single handedly am responsible for this book being included in the summer reading guide. Now Anne might say something different. [DONNA LAUGHS] But since she's not here to argue with me, I'm going to take it. [LAUGHS]

DONNA: I like it.

SHANNAN: Now this released July 13th. It is a sci-fi and the premise is that it's about a nonbinary tea monk who has the life they imagined for themselves but they are not happy. The monk makes a trip to discover why and meets a robot who may have some of those answers. I've never read anything like this before.


DONNA: That sounds very interesting. Well you know I'm a Becky Chambers fan because we've read some of The Wayfarers series together, so.

SHANNAN: Brenna introduced us to Becky Chambers during Teen Best Books of 2020, right?

DONNA: Yes she did.

SHANNAN: So I saw this title come across Anne's desk and procured a digital arc for myself. It's described as a soft hug of a book and the book lets you know that it's okay if you're not okay right now, and I gotta say 2020 and 2021 [LAUGHS] I have not been okay.

DONNA: We need this book. We need it.

SHANNAN: One of my favorite quotes was “it is enough to exist in the world and marvel at it. You don't need to justify that or earn it. You are allowed to live.”

DONNA: Okay. I'm all in. [BOTH LAUGH]

SHANNAN: I hope so. [LAUGHS]

DONNA: Alright, shall I go with my first pick?

SHANNAN: Sure, sure. I'm excited. Whatcha got?

DONNA: This is actually a series. It's a middle grade fantasy series. The first book is called Keeper of the Lost Cities by Shannon Messenger. There's actually eight and a half books out. I don't know yet why one of them is a half of a book. I haven't gotten there. I've read the first seven. Shannan, I am obsessed with this series. I love it so much. [SHANNAN LAUGHS]

Basically it focuses on this 12 year old girl Sophie and she is raised by humans, thinks she's a human. She's actually an elf. She gets taken by some other elves back into this other world where there are elves and other creatures and she realizes she has a pretty complicated history. She's got a bunch of magical powers. The other people she meets at school also have different magical powers and here's what I really love about it. First of all, a ton of action, adventure, I mean, really on the edge of your seat, very, very exciting.

SHANNAN: Yes, I know you love that.


DONNA: I do love that. I love a page turner. These are long books but I just, I go through them in a couple of days. But here's the other thing. They really have a lot of emotional heft to them where the kids are having to deal with some pretty difficult topics. It could be stress, anxiety. It could be grief. It could be, you know, coming to terms with the magic that they have, their relationships with each other, friendships vs. you know, at some point, maybe she has something a little bit more with a couple of the boys, so it just has a lot of different layers to it, but it's also totally a page turner, and I think it's going to be adapted and Ben Affleck is supposed to direct, which I'm sorta intrigued by that. I could not recommend it more, Keeper of the Lost Cities by Shannon Messenger. What's your second pick?

SHANNAN: My second pick is The Other Black Girl by Zakiya Dalila Harris. All I can say about this one is wow. I will have to probably form some coherent and articulate feelings because we're planning a Patreon bonus but it was definitely a page turner, which screams summer read to me and that's all I'll say about that.

DONNA: Well sounds really good. I saw that one in the summer reading guide and immediately put it on my TBR.

SHANNAN: Yes. It would be fun to talk about it.

DONNA: For sure. Okay, my second pick is The Network Effect by Martha Wells. This is the fifth book in the Murderbot sci-fi series. Okay, I hardly ever say this but you can read these out of order. Specifically why I'm picking the fifth book. It's the only one that's a full length book and I enjoy these books so much, the others are novellas, I enjoy them so much that I get a little bit sad when they end so quickly. [LAUGHS] So that's number one why I like it but also this one in particular is a bit of a murder mystery so to me to have sci-fi along with a murder mystery, that just checks all my boxes.

So Murderbot is a robot. It is a security unit that has kinda gone rogue. It kinda is able to override its programming so it has its own independent thoughts and it's very sarcastic. Very, very funny. It doesn't really like humans. You know, it's kinda introverted and it likes to binge watch TV shows and I'm like Murderbot, I see you. [SHANNAN LAUGHS] Maybe a little too much. So much fun. It's such an interesting character, and then in this book they find a dead body right away and then try to figure out why they were killed and who killed them. Alright, so what are you looking forward to reading?

SHANNAN: I just stumbled across another one called Light from Uncommon Stars by Ryka Aoki. It is described as Good Omens meets The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet by Becky Chambers!


DONNA: Ahh. Very interesting. I haven't heard about this one at all.

SHANNAN: No, no, this doesn't come out until September 28th. I have the digital arc, but it's also described as defiantly joyful. Are you picking up a theme?! [BOTH LAUGH]

DONNA: I like it.

SHANNAN: That's the one I'm most looking forward to. I didn't think I was going to say that before Friday, but yeah.

DONNA: That one sounds really good. Okay. I'm going to do something a little bit different rather than talk about a couple of books. I'm going to talk about a little book project that I have going on over the summer. So a couple weeks ago I heard this woman in a chat, she was making summer book baskets for her kids and if they've read all the books in their basket in the summer then she was going to give them a prize at the end, so of course, immediately, I'm like I want a summer book basket and I want a prize.

So [LAUGHS] I commandeered this idea for myself and it's just so much fun because number one, I'm always trying to read books off my shelf because I get distracted by what's coming up in my library holds. It was fun to pick the books. It was fun to think about what the prize would be. It was fun to pick the basket. All of it was a lot of fun so I would be reading the six books that I picked for my summer book basket.

SHANNAN: Where can we find where those are?

DONNA: I actually posted something on my website IAmYourRabbit, if people want to see a picture of it. It'll be on there.

SHANNAN: Well you have to give us one title that's in the basket.

DONNA: I have is The Guncle by Steven Rowley. I'm very intrigued by it because it takes place here in Palm Springs.


DONNA: That'll be a good one. Another one that I'm intrigued to read that I have in the basket is From a Certain Point of View and it's actually a set of 40 stories from 40 different authors and it's about the original Star Wars movie. Each story takes place from the viewpoint of a minor character in a scene from that original movie, so maybe it's from the point of view of a Jawa. Even the sea creature or monster in the trash contractor, so I think it's very clever and I am a huge Star Wars fan.


SHANNAN: You're going to have to tell me how that one is.

DONNA: I know.

SHANNAN: That one does sound very interesting. [LAUGHS]

DONNA: Something different.

SHANNAN: Oh yeah.

DONNA: Well, Shannan, I think our summer reading is just going to be fantastic and I'm excited to continue talking about it with you all summer long.

SHANNAN: I am too. Happy reading.

DONNA: Me too. Bye.

ANNE: Readers, if you put together your own summer book basket inspired by Donna, tag us, send us pictures, we want to see. And of course we want to hear what prize you choose for yourself too.

Our next pairing is two favorite past podcast guests. My husband Will Bogel and our beloved Modern Mrs Darcy book community manager Ginger Horton. I mentioned during my conversation with Leigh that I picked up a few books at our favorite local book sale. Well you're about to hear Will talk about that same book sale. He also picked up a handful of titles for his own summer reading while we were reading there together. Let's hear which books he's taking on our upcoming vacation and which recent reads Ginger can't stop gushing about.

GINGER: Hey, Will. I get to talk to you all the time but very rarely about books.

WILL: Yeah. We talk about all kinds of things but mostly like technical behind the scenes stuff.


GINGER: A little less fun, although behind the scenes details are fun. A little less fun than books.

WILL: I find them fun, but yes. It's not as fun as us all sitting around talking about our books. So I work on the show every week. That's a big part of what I do behind the scenes as we say, but you don't actually have either on the mic or with the work, don't have a lot to do with What Should I Read Next.

GINGER: Unabashedly I'm still a fangirl over there. I've listened to every episode and I always will.

WILL: And we know as a last ditch quality control that you are listening every week [LAUGHS] and so if we put something out there we know that you're going to listen first thing and tell us like uh oh, guys, did you notice ... ? So.

GINGER: I exist in the primarily in the book club space which is what my more recent episode was about and summer reading in there, and so this is one of our big seasons and so all the books, all the time.

WILL: All the time. Well let's talk about summer reading.

GINGER: Okay. Sounds good.

WILL: What is your summer normally like?

GINGER: You know, it looks different every year. We move around a lot. In fact, we moved last summer, and then this summer I'm spending the majority of my year at my family's house in Kentucky which is where I'm from. My parents are selling their house and moving away, so I'm spending a good chunk of my summer there helping them get ready and pack up and get out and I feel kinda like old school child, you know, where you get to just sit on the front porch, very few responsibilities. Mom brings you something to drink. Some of this is flashing me back. My dad and I just talked earlier over lunch over the Book It program at Pizza Hut, you know?

WILL: Right.

GINGER: And I said do you think I could still get a pizza as an adult, [WILL LAUGHS] so I feel like I'm really reverting back to that summer vibe of just luxurious reading and so no complaints about how my summer is shaping up this year.

WILL: That's funny. Do you normally read a lot in the summer?


GINGER: I usually don't. I usually have a big summer slump and I think that's because summers do tend to be busier with travel and with, you know, fun stuff. There's always something going on in the summer. I tend to kinda retreat in the winter and it's cold and I just want to be in the house, but in the summer there's always like activities and jazz concerts in the park and cookouts with family and so I always have a big summer slump but I'm determined to not make that happen this year.

WILL: It's funny that you and I would get paired together because that's similar for me. I wouldn't call it a slump but I just ... Slump seems like [GINGER LAUGHS] I just can't get into my reading, you know, but I just don't feel like I have time. It's light out longer. There's stuff to do. I'm outside more and I just don't have that same hunker down like you said sorta fall and winter curl up on the couch and read for a long time. So I do read a ton, both when we're on vacation and like when we go camping, so we are headed off to both of those here shortly this summer, and so I would get plenty of reading in but in a typical week I'm not quite putting in the time in the same way.

GINGER: Well what's in your camping bag?

WILL: Anne says well I'll just take a kindle, I have tons of stuff on the Kindle, and I think well okay, that's not really fair, so I have to like plan it out and make sure I have not only the right number of books, but then also the right thing. What is it I want to be reading when I'm like sitting outside, and I can get involved in something but also there's a ton of stuff going on with kids and you know, if we go with friends. There's always people around and so you can't just sit down and be like leave me alone, I'm going to read. You know, it's gotta be something that I can kinda dip in and out of and all that stuff.

We went to a used book sale, first one in a year and a half or something like that, and and I picked up a book that I thought would probably be great for camping called Crow Lake by Mary Lawson. So I'm looking forward to it. I've just kinda held onto it 'cause I've thought this would be a good one to take on vacation or while we were camping. Apparently it was a New York Times and Washington Post best book of the year in 2002. I have not heard of Mary Lawson or Crow Lake but the back cover said here is a gorgeous slow burning story set in the wild terrain of northern Ontario where heartbreak and hardship are mirrored in the landscape, and I thought you know what, I'll give that a try.

GINGER: That sounds like a good camping book.


WILL: So I don't keep like a real ... I guess I do have a TBR that I keep in my journal but it is very like aspirational, not like the next book I'm going to read, [LAUGHS] so we have enough books in our house I can usually just grab something and set it aside and be like yes, I'll probably want to read that later, but one came in a little while ago. We've had it a little while called Missionaries by Phil Klay. Again, someone I do not know, but apparently he won a National Book Award for short story collection, but the cover just jumped out at me. It's this bright yellow cover. So it's a formation of what appear to be fighter jets but then the top, the lead formation is actually a bird, so I don't entirely know what that means, but it's a fictional account of U.S. Special Forces in I believe Colombia. I'm on record of reading sorta more history memoir on vacation so this is not that, but probably falls in the same sorta pacing and style as some of those, so I'll probably take that with me on vacation.

GINGER: I like how you judged a book by a cover though, I mean.

WILL: The books that show up in the mail, you know, you gotta pick some way, and I've not heard of a bunch of them. I’ve picked up a number of books that just sorta caught my eye that I was able to pass on to Anne, like hey, you might actually want to read this thing 'cause you know, she can't read everything that shows up on our doorstep.

GINGER: Yeah, you're responsible for sure. I just said we don't talk books as often as I'd like but you are definitely responsible for a few of my favorites. You're the one who passed Anne some Chris Cleave

WILL: A few?

GINGER: Yes. I know you are inspired the Chris Cleave.

WILL: My contribution to the summer reading guide this year was Chasing the Thrill.

GINGER: That's on my list, yeah.

WILL: Yes. So I loved that book. It's a great summer read about the search for a real life treasure that had been buried in the Rockies, so that I read that as soon as we could get our hands on it so I could tell Anne like you should put this in the guide, and it would be a great one this summer. So what have you been reading?

GINGER: Phew. I have been reading Revival Season. It is about a Revival preacher. They travel around in his family. I'm not quite done with it yet but that is quite a coming of age tale and you really feel how this young girl I think she's probably 15 or 16, you really feel the heat. You really feel all of the angst that she's going through, kinda watching her spiritual life and her relational life with her family implode I guess. That may be too strong of a word, but I think it's apt. So that's what I'm currently reading.

Very recent in my reads is Who is Maud Dixon which was on the summer reading guide and I just cannot stop talking about this one. I know it doesn't really need any love from me, but I can't stop talking about it. So atmospheric. I was obsessed and couple of nonfiction. Again I'm on record as saying I actually read a lot of maybe deeper, darker things in the summer.

I don't typically have that summer reading life, and the reason for me is when I am reading, I think you're onto something, Will, about the days are longer. I really want to sink into something. I don't necessarily want to just read short, light, poppy things 'cause the world feels light and poppy to me, so I really want to read some things that I do not want to pick up in February 'cause they can be a little darker, so read Think Again by Adam Grant. So a couple of nonfiction things that really made me think. I prefer those in the summer, a little bit of an oddball there, but that's what I've been reading lately.


WILL: Interesting. I do some nonfiction in the summer too.

GINGER: I found nonfiction surprisingly page turner-y. That's not an adverb.

WILL: Page turner-y? Yes you can use that. We'll allow it, Ginger. [GINGER LAUGHS] Well I just finished a page turner as well. Olympus, Texas that was in the summer reading guide, Anne suggested ...


WILL: Yes?

GINGER: This is ... It came on my Libby today. This was one that was going to say on my list.

WILL: Today?

GINGER: It came on my libby today. I was so excited. So tell me ...

WILL: Allow me to recommend it.

GINGER: Please do. [LAUGHS]


WILL: So of course it's been recommended to me by the summer reading guide. I picked it up, I think a couple of weeks ago. Again, don't read super fast in the summer, and I was a little slow to get going. There were a lot of characters. This is a very big family with all kinds of problems, but Anne I think off handedly mentioned that the whole thing takes place in four days, and somehow that just sorta reframed it for me as like oh, this is probably a really quick read and so I was just able to just kinda real fast figure out I do need to pay attention to all these relationships and who are these people.

For some reason I get really hung up on names at the beginning of books and I just can't remember who's who, so there's too many characters too fast. I just can't keep track, but knowing that it was going to happen that quickly in real time really pushed me to kinda get moving and it was great. There are some hard relationships in this book, but yeah, really interesting small town life, big family in a small town and yeah, I can't wait to hear what you think about it.

GINGER: LIterally next on my list, and any book with the word Texas in it, that feels like a summer read.

WILL: Yeah, interesting.

GINGER: I don't know why. Texas feels like a summer state to me.

WILL: There is some real sense of place to it. It's not quite like reading The Dry and feeling like the Australian heat, you know, it's not quite like that but there is definitely some real sense of this small town that's sorta isolated just way on the outside of Houston and everybody in the town knows everybody and everybody's business.

GINGER: You're speaking our language. Messy families and sense of place, sold.

WILL: Excellent. Well thanks for talking books with me, Ginger. We ...

GINGER: This is fun.

WILL: That's right. We do have some shared books from probably when we all talk books but we don't get to sit down and do this much.

GINGER: Do it again soon.

WILL: We'll get to see you soon.


GINGER: I think we will. [LAUGHS]

ANNE: Last but not least, What Should I Read Next producer Brenna Frederick is talking summer books with our editor and resident English teacher Chelsey Feder. Despite working behind the scenes together, Brenna and Chelsey have never swapped book recommendations one on one before, but after everything they've covered in this conversation, I have a feeling they'll be checking in with each other again soon.

BRENNA: Hi Chelsey.

CHELSEY: Hi, Brenna. I'm so excited to talk books with you today because I don't think we've ever done this together.

BRENNA: I don't think so either. [LAUGHS]


CHELSEY: It's going to be so fun.

BRENNA: So I don't know if we have anything in common with what we read other than what like I've heard from you on the show. Listeners, you might remember, Chelsey's voice from episode 164 "the couple that reads together needs to find books that they'll both love" or from your podcast, Chelsey, He Read She Read.

CHELSEY: Yeah. He Read She Read has been on hiatus for a little while, but I have been working on Novel Pairings with my friend Sara, so still podcasting. Still having fun with it. And meanwhile Curtis is still reading. One of the books that I'm going to tell you about today, I read and then handed to him right away, and he read it, so we get to talk about it probably later this afternoon.

BRENNA: So He and She are still reading. [LAUGHS]

CHELSEY: Still reading together. Don't worry. [BOTH LAUGH] Exactly.

BRENNA: So what's summer reading usually like for you?

CHELSEY: I am figuring out what it means to me now because this summer and last summer were the first summers that I wasn't teaching or wasn't a student myself so I have just sorta swiveled a little bit career wise. I am just trying to figure out what summer reading means when I'm not on summer break. It's very different.

When I think back to like my best summer of reading ever it was the year after my first year of teaching which any teachers will know that's often a rough year and so I knew that I was going to just focus on refreshing myself over the summer, so I probably read a book every single day that summer and that's all I did. All summer. [LAUGHS] And it was the best. That's not what summer looks like now, so I'm still figuring out exactly what it looks like, but I still like reading a lot of the same things. I love having a fast paced mystery in the mix. Just kinda try something new over summer. I read romance all year long, so the books that I read aren't all that different, but the seasons feels a little bit different for me. But what about you, Brenna?

BRENNA: I don't think there's ever been a regular pattern to my reading in the summer. My reading life is very sporadic, like I'll go two months without reading a book, and then I'll go another month and I'll read 30 books that month. It's just kinda all over the place every year for me, but this year, I've been rereading a lot of childhood favorites. I'm sorta like checking in on the things that really I remember they impressed themselves on me. We were just talking in patreon and on Neil's recent episode about formative books, books that like made an impact and the ones that I've picked up this month, The School Story by Andrew Clements and My Side of the Mountain by Jean Craighead George. Jacob Have I Loved by Katherine Paterson. Those books have held up for me, like I enjoyed all three of those reading experiences and I'm just very impressed by my reading taste as a child. [BOTH LAUGHS]

The School Story was my absolute favorite as a kid. I read it easily once a week for probably a couple years. Rereading it as an adult was really strange because I could recognize every single page, like I didn't remember the full story, but each letter felt like it was slotting into place in my brain, like I know this book, and that was a really interesting experience 'cause I don't do much book rereading as an adult but as an child I was obsessively rereading all the time. So it was ... I don't know. It's a good book. I think it holds up. I think it's good for adults, and I recommend people read it. [LAUGHS]


CHELSEY: Oh, I love that. You are not the first reading friend that I've heard from who's just been reading all of their favorite childhood classics and books that they've loved when they were a kid or a teen, so it seems to be a pretty common pattern lately for a lot of people.

BRENNA: Yeah. There's definitely a comfort element to it. The last year and a half has been incredibly difficult for me personally. I've experienced a lot of loss and a lot of stress and trauma and going back to something that I remember brought me comfort back when I was little just really hit this year. I don't know. [LAUGHS]

CHELSEY: Yeah, totally.

BRENNA: So what have you been reading this summer? What are some standout books?

CHELSEY: Okay, so the last three books that I've read in a row are maybe going to be my favorites of the summer. I wasn't expecting that and they all sorta connect to first of all, they're very summer-y, like the atmosphere of each book is set in summer, feels very of this season, but all of them deal with grief and loss, but like not in the heaviest way. Either lighthearted way or in sorta this like balance between melancholy and just this beautiful empathy or joy and so they're all like a little bit darker than my typical summer reads, but it just, that seems to be the mood that I'm in this summer.

So the first one is The Summer Book by Tove Jansson. This is a book in translation. It was translated from Swedish, but I believe that Tove Jansson lived in Finland. So I picked this one up actually to discuss on Novel Pairings. I don't think I would have picked it up or known about it otherwise, but it takes place over summer or several summers on an island in the gulf of Finland, and it is about a grandmother who is probably the main character. I feel like we're in her point of view most often. A little girl named Sophia who is her granddaughter, and Sophia's father is kinda like hanging out in the background. He's mentioned but really it's about the grandmother and Sophia, and Sophia recently lost her mother.

A lot of the moments between the grandmother and Sophia involve the grandmother sorta helping Sophia through her grief. In a way that is just so touching because she's talking to a six year old, and a six year old like has questions about heaven and questions about life after death and the grandmother just handles them the best that she can. But that's not the whole book.

They also have these little adventures all over the island just like these beautiful moments with breaktaking nature descriptions. Each chapter is a vignette, so it's almost like reading a little mini scene or a short story, and so with that structure, it really propelled me forward because my focus has been off this summer and so just having those short chapters really helped me keep turning the pages so I just really, really liked it and I'll be recommending it to people as a summer read or an anytime read.


BRENNA: This sounds like it's in that niche of like comforting summer reading.

CHELSEY: So one of the other books that I loved is definitely in that vein. I read The Guncle by Steven Rowley and absolutely adored it. I thought that it was so much fun. It is about the kids call him Gup for Gay Uncle Patrick. [LAUGHS] His sister in law died of cancer. His brother needs to deal with some things of his own and he basically says hey, Patrick, you take the kids for the summer. [BRENNA LAUGHS] and Patrick is like um, excuse me, what?! I live in Palm Springs. I live in this oasis. I'm a fading TV actor. Like you're not going to just have me parent your kids because I have no idea how to do that but he takes them on and as you can imagine, it's just like this really sweet, funny story.

I really loved watching him learn how to parent particularly as someone who's going to be a parent soon and I haven't been reading parenting books. Like it's just been ... I don't know. That's not appealing to me but I love seeing people parent in fiction, particularly in nontraditional ways, and so The Guncle was so charming and sweet, but like I also teared up. I think maybe that's the theme of the summer for me [BRENNA LAUGHS] like books that make me laugh but also made me cry just a tiny little bit, just not too much. [LAUGHS]


BRENNA: I might need to read that. One of the childhood favorites that I reread was My Side of the Mountain by Jean Craighead George, which is like the '90s kids classic. The first book is just about this boy who he's just kinda worn down and not in sync with living in the city and so he runs away from home and his dad is like okay, every kid has to run away from home once. [CHELSEY LAUGHS] Like you'll be back, but he doesn't come back. He goes up into the mountains. He reads up a bunch at the library about how to survive and he builds a home in a stump. He learns to like forage and fish and starts living his best Daniel Boone life, and you follow a year of his life up on the mountain.

CHELSEY: It sounds familiar to me, like I very may well have read it. I don't remember a lot of the books that I read back then.

BRENNA: It might wake something up for you if you were to pick it up now.


BRENNA: I loved rereading it. I read it in two hours 'cause it's just so charming and I put on like nature sounds like when I read it


BRENNA: And then I immediately went and ordered the rest of the books in the series 'cause I want to own them and reread them again in the future.

CHELSEY: I love an experience where you sit down for a couple of hours and read the book cover to cover. I'm always chasing that. So do you think that you will continue the trend of reading your favorite kidlit over summer or do you have a different mix on your TBR list?

BRENNA: I'm definitely going to keep doing it. One that I'm really looking forward to because one moment of it is so stuck in my mind is The Supernaturalist by Eoin Colfer, who wrote the Artemis Fowl series. I've talked about it on the show or on patreon before. Huge, huge, huge fan of that series. It holds up. The new series that he started with Artemis Fowl's younger twin brothers also holds up. I read the first one last month. It's totally in the vein of the old series and it's worth reading.

Anyway. The Supernaturalist. So I had a bad back injury when I was 15 and when I read The Supernaturalist was very shortly after I read that and there's a little section in it where one of the adult characters also sustains an injury, deals with the pain by looking at the white hot center of the pain, and that section in that book has come back to me over and over and over during the years.

But I don't remember almost anything about the book. I just remember that one paragraph that taught me about dealing with pain in a very specific way. I remember it's like dystopian and the main character’s an orphan and maybe there's some sort of fantasy drag racing or something in it and that's all I remember but it's Eoin Colfer, so it's going to be a wild ride.

But as far as adult books. Megan Abbott has a new book coming up called The Turnout. She writes thriller mystery, usually crime is involved fiction, and The Turnout is set in the world of ballet. Really looking forward to it. It's coming out in August. What are you looking forward to?


CHELSEY: Oh, gosh. So I have a couple of books that are pretty high on my priority list. I feel like my TBR bookshelf could topple over and smoosh me because [BRENNA LAUGHS] there's just so much that I want to read. Not to mention just what I want to read from exclusively the summer reading guide, but a couple of books that I'm really looking forward to because they either play with a unique structure or with genre which is something that I've been really fascinated by and into over the last year.

One of them is Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo. This is told in interconnected stories and features I think 12 characters who are Black and British and LGBTQ+ and they are just all interconnected in some way and so over the course of reading this book that is sorta structured in poem form, but is also prose. It's just got a really unique structure to it. You see how they're all connected, and I love books that connect like that, or are told in interconnected short stories.

And then another one that I'm really excited about is Seven Days in June by Tia Williams which is a romance and the main characters are writers so Eva writes this romance series. I think it's like a vampire romance series, and Shane writes literary fiction. They knew each other like way back when and have always had this real fondness for each other, so they meet up at a publishing event and they reconnect, and it turns out that they've been secretly like writing to each other in their books. Eva based a character on Shane, and Shane has been sorta writing to her as well in his books, and so they just kinda relight this spark when they get together and I think that just sounds so appealing to me, and it's the title Seven Days in June, it is told over the course of the one week that they sorta get back together.


BRENNA: That cover is really pretty.

CHELSEY: Isn't it gorgeous? It's stunning. And Shane also deals with either chronic pain or chronic migraines. So does the author, just from what I've heard. It's really well written into the book. You know, it's a significant part of the character’s life, so an important part of the story representation was really important to the author.

BRENNA: That sounds even better now. [LAUGHS]


BRENNA: Thanks for putting that on my radar.

CHELSEY: No problem. That is the fun of getting to talk books together.

BRENNA: So I've been here for the recording of all these different segments you've heard today, listeners, and it's been really interesting because I tried to pair people who we haven't heard books together on the show before and I don't think it would have mattered who I paired anybody with, I think everybody would have found some sorta common ground with other people. I think it's really a testament to what we talk about on the show all the time which is that books can bring people together and books can create a way to connect with people that would be a lot harder to get to otherwise, but if you talk about books pretty quickly be able to narrow down to what you have in common in that part of your life. That's been really fun to watch unfold with other people, and it was really fun to discover with you.

CHELSEY: Oh, I love that. I can't wait to listen to the full episode and hear everyone's conversations but I know I had such a great time talking with you today. Thank you so much for setting this up.

BRENNA: It was so good talking to you, Chelsey.


ANNE: Readers, I had a giant smile on my face the entire time I was listening to this episode; I hope you enjoyed it, too—and enjoyed this glimpse into our respective reading lives here on our team! I just think the world of these incredible people I get to work with, and who bring you amazing book content, week in and week out. I hope you can hear the joy we take in our work, and in working—and talking books—with each other. And I hope you walked away with some amazing book recommendations that sound just right for YOU.


We’d love to hear what you’ve been reading this summer. Pop over to and leave us a comment there.

Again, that page is at and that’s where you’ll find the full list of titles our team talked about today.

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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.

Full list of books mentioned in this episode:

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Anne & Leigh

A Storied Life by Leigh Kramer
Sing Anyway: A Moonlighters Novella by Anita Kelly
Love & Other Disasters by Anita Kelly
God Spare the Girls by Kelsey McKinney
The Jasmine Throne by Tasha Suri
The Great Santini by Pat Conroy
Beach Music by Pat Conroy
What Fresh Hell is This? Perimenopause, Menopause, Other Indignities, and You by Heather Corinna
A Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra
The Arsonists’ City by Hala Alyan
Salt Houses by Hala Alyan
Battle Royal by Lucy Parker
The Dating Playbook by Farrah Rochon
For the Love of April French by Penny Aimes

Donna & Shannan

A Psalm for the Wild Built by Becky Chambers
•Wayfarer series (#1 The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet) by Becky Chambers
Keeper of the Lost Cities by Shannon Messenger 
The Other Black Girl by Zakiya Dalila Harris
The Network Effect: A Murderbot Novel by Martha Wells
Light from Uncommon Stars by Ryka Aoki
The Guncle by Stephen Rowley
From a Certain Point of View by Renée Andieh, Pierce Brown, Meg Cabot, et al.

Ginger & Will

Crow Lake by Mary Lawson
Missionaries by Phil Klay
•Chris Cleave (try Everyone Brave is Forgiven)
Chasing the Thrill: Obsession, Death, and Glory in America’s Most Extraordinary Treasure Hunt by Daniel Barbarisi
Revival Season by Monica West
Who is Maud Dixon? by Alexandra Andrews
Think Again: The Power of Knowing What You Don’t Know by Adam Grant
Olympus, Texas by Stacey Swann
The Dry by Jane Harper

Brenna & Chelsey

The School Story by Andrew Clements
My Side of the Mountain by Jean Craighead George
Jacob Have I Loved by Katherine Paterson
Frindle by Andrew Clements
The Summer Book by Tove Jansson 
The Moomins by Tove Jansson
•Mary Oliver (try A Thousand Mornings)
The Guncle by Stephen Rowley
The Supernaturalist by Eoin Colfer
Artemis Fowl by Eoin Colfer
The Fowl Twins by Eoin Colfer
The Turnout by Megan Abbott
Girl, Woman, Other by Bernadine Evaristo
Seven Days in June by Tia Williams

Also mentioned:

WSIRN Episode 9: The reality of bookworm problems with Leigh Kramer
WSIRN Episode 137: Bibliotherapy for the toughest times with Leigh Kramer
WSIRN Patreon Bonus Episode 86: A Guided Tour of the Romance Genre
WSIRN Episode 284: I need an irresistible read this summer with Anne Helen Peterson
The Locust Grove Book Sale
WSIRN Episode 179: Life is short and my TBR list is way too long with Shannan Malone
WSIRN Episode 83: An epic birthday bookstore roadtrip with Donna Hetchler
WSIRN Episode 268: Our team’s best books of the year
Donna’s summer book basket
WSIRN Episode 61: When the plot comes full circle with Will Bogel
WSIRN Episode 283: Don’t save the good stuff with Ginger Horton
Pizza Hut’s Book It Program
WSIRN Episode 164: The couple that reads together…needs to find books they’ll both love with Chelsey and Curtis
He Read She Read
Novel Pairings
WSIRN Episode 289: A ridiculous plan to read more books with Neil Pasricha
Alone (The History Channel)


Leave A Comment
    • Kate Dillingham says:

      I read Beach Music in June and loved it. It’s a very messy family drama, with some ties to the Holocaust. A lot of the story takes place in Rome, which made me swoon.

  1. Tracie says:

    I haven’t even listened to the episode yet, but I’m already hyped just from reading this post and the lists of books! I searched for Sing Already, found out it was $2.99, and promptly downloaded to my Kobo!! This episode could be bad for my TBR and my plan to read my unread bookshelf. 🙂

  2. Jane Wrenn says:

    Finally, my all time favorite author. PAT CONROY! I met him. And if I ever gather up nerve and put in my submission to be a guest, boy do I have a story for you. Read Beach Music first, then The Prince of Tides. I read and listened to both. His writing is so descriptive, he filled all my senses with Italy’s piazzas, wine, and food to the SC coastal marshes and wildlife. I feel like many Southern authors are missing from Modern Mrs Darcy. Anne, you complete my reading life.

  3. Marcia says:

    I loved Donna’s idea of a book basket, and I am already gathering ideas to create book baskets for my daughters’ kids for next summer. Four daughters, 3 children each = 4 baskets with books for a variety of ages. It should be fun coming up with the books for the different ages.

  4. Brandon says:

    Star Wars: From a Certain Point of View is great, and so is its sequel. I would recommend reading the stories out of order. Otherwise, it is easy to get burned out by too many stories in a row with cantina aliens, Death Star officers, or Rebels at Yavin.

  5. W says:

    This will not be a popular or politically correct comment, however I’ve noticed recently that almost every episode seems to be highly focused on gay/queer/trans book suggestions and while that is the new bandwagon everyone is jumping on and it almost seems you cannot publish without a token character of the sort,, it’s not fair to those readers looking for cleaner options having nothing to do with sexual orientation. I don’t have a problem with choices people make but don’t always feel in the mood to read about it in every story. Please consider a few episodes with guests who have more conservative taste if nothing else simply for balance.
    I also appreciate language warnings. Thanks in advance.

    • Rachel Allison says:

      I also agree. Well-said. It’s not hard to find the books with a gay/queer/trans agenda — they are all the trendy ones pushed by our libraries right now. I’m interested in the good, wholesome stories not on the forefront of every library display.

      • Donna Hampton says:

        I admit that there are more books being written about and including LGBTQ characters but I feel it is due more to the broader changes in today’s society with a greater acceptance of LGBTQ rights rather than a “trend” to improve book sales or push hidden agendas. Are you suggesting that a book with an LGBTQ character is NOT good or is NOT wholesome?

        We have phenomenal books with strong independent female characters that were less likely to be written prior to the social changes brought on by the acceptance of women’s rights. I honestly see this as no different.

    • Anne says:

      Hi W-
      I’m going to take this at face value and assume you’re genuinely asking for variety and not just complaining. (Although not putting your name and this being your first comment in this space does have me wondering.)

      I hear you saying that you feel like we’re focusing on one specific experience. I am surprised that you feel like you need a “few” episodes that are for straight people “for balance.” When you review our catalog I think you’ll notice we have featured what you say you’re looking for in abundance. We’ve hosted ample straight people and discussed stacks and stacks of books that sound like they’d be up your alley and featured scores of readers who would describe themselves as conservative (including several team members in this very episode). Due to its very nature, the titles we cover in each episode vary widely—but today’s episode alone offers copious options.

      I encourage you to do the work: you’ll find plenty of the kinds of books you’re looking for on the show, but I hope you’ll also consider how your language is hurtful to others, e.g., “clean” presumes the other option is “dirty.” I don’t always get it right, and we don’t always get our words right on the show, but we do strive to be careful and gentle with our language in our quest to welcome all readers and help those readers find books they love.

      • Ruth says:

        Thank you for your thoughtful response to W’s comment. I truly appreciate all you do to keep the MMD and WSIRN community discussions inclusive.

      • Beverly Wells says:

        I normally love this podcast, but was also surprised at how many of the books mentioned here featured “non-binary “ characters. I understand wanting to occasionally mention these books for those who are interested, but this episode seemed very heavily leaning in that direction, and it was disappointing for someone not interested in that genre.

      • cc says:

        Anne –
        I also thank you for your thoughtful response. Although I appreciate that people felt comfortable expressing this opinion here, it also made me feel a bit disheartened that the common sentiment being expressed is that books about “these type of people” is not for me or are unwholesome material. Although I truly hope the intent was not to imply that non-binary or genderdiverse people are NOT wholesome, I would echo your suggestion that all of us to be cautious about the language we use in a public forum as we never know how it might affect someone. Personally, I enjoy reading books about people who are different from me because it increases my understanding and empathy for their experience in our world. It also validates them as people whose stories need to be heard. As we create a more accepting and inviting world, we are seeing more people feel confident and safe sharing who they actually are instead of hiding it. As someone who actually works in the book industry, yes, there is a growing number of titles that reflect a wide variety of lived experiences that have been neglected in the past alongside normalizing it as not a bad or shameful thing. For example, I am also seeing an increasing number of books that highlight experiences and lives of neurodiverse people and differently abled people – other groups who have lacked representation in literature as well. I’ll hop off my soapbox after one last thought. If you are used to seeing images and books people that remind you of yourself, pause for a minute and reflect on how it might feel when that rarely happens. In a way, you are saying this happened to you with this and other recent episodes. Now. Think how that might feel if YOUR every day lived experience is one where you struggle to find stories about people like yourself. Let’s try to celebrate the every growing richness of the literature we have and how it is increasingly reflecting the diversity of ALL the humans who live on this earth.

  6. Beth Klepar says:

    I’m listening while waiting to pick up from camp and Keeper of the Lost Cities I’d my daughters favorite series. She has read it 4 times, loaned the books out to tons of friends and just loves it!
    Her and her friends are excited for the movie adaptation! MMD needs a YA group!
    Loving thus episode!

  7. Tara Sypien says:

    I too have been leaning heavy into Kid Lit and Middle Grade. My favorite books this summer have been Alone, a novel in verse where a 12 year old girl ends up abandoned in her town, LOVED IT! Also loved Willa of the Wood and the sequel. Like Brenna now I want to revisit some childhood favorites, just picked up Sign of the Beaver, Julie of the Wolves, Witch of Blackbird Pond, and Betsy Tacy from the library. Can’t wait! Will definitely get to My Side of the Mountain again too.

  8. Kim Jacobson says:

    So excited you talked about Pat Conroy! Don’t know that there’s one of his books that you should start with over another, but I’ve read Prince of Tides, Beach Music, The Water is Wide (I really think you’d like this one – based on the year he spent teaching underprivileged kids on a small island off of the South Carolina coast), The Lords of Discipline, and My Reading Life. Really liked them all!

  9. Tracie says:

    After listening to the episode, I’m excited to add two more picks from Leigh (I already bought Sing Anyway!) For the Love of April French and What in the Fresh Hell is This both sound great! I am psyched to read my first (as far as I know) romance written by a trans author. I read a lot of queer romance, but don’t often see books by trans and non-binary authors, so those two of Leigh’s choices were perfect! I also really want to read Becky Chambers, so maybe I’ll start with her newest and then work my way through her backlist. And Jasmine Throne is sitting on my table right now, a library book that’s due by the end of July! So many books — it’s a good problem to have. Thanks for a great episode.

  10. Kae says:

    This is probably a small thing, but…. I have noticed that none of the podcasts or blog posts have a date on them anymore. Is there a reason for that? I feel adrift, not knowing what date you posted…

  11. Suzanne C says:

    In terms of Pat Conroy, you might want to start with Beach Music and go from there if you enjoy it. To me, it’s the most accessible of his books, with the widest audience appeal. His other, semi-autobiographical books have some very heavy themes; Beach Music would be a good introduction to his writing style and let you know if you want to take on a weightier book.

  12. Indiana Gigi says:

    ** Spoiler Alert for Pat Conroy books! ** I absolutely love Pat Conroy, but want to caution readers that most of his books need trigger warnings. Prince of Tides is magnificent, but readers need beware of VERY traumatic things happening to children and themes of suicide. I mention this because Anne talked about feeling blindsided by a recent bestseller with “dealbreaker moments”. Lords of Discipline deals extensively with hazing and torture, specifically against a character of color. The Great Santini inspired by Conroy’s own military father, contains a main character who is abusive towards his children. Beach Music deals extensively with the way suicide affects a family. I do not mention this to dissuade anyone from reading Conroy, but in order to caution anyone who would be traumatized by these themes. My absolute favorite of his books is the nonfiction My Reading Life, and also his memoir, The Water is Wide, based on Conroy’s work as a teacher with impoverished children on an island in South Carolina.

  13. Tracy says:

    The Great Santini will stay with me always. Such a loss we had when Pat Conroy passed.

    What Fresh Hell Is This… hated this book. As someone who went through premature menopause (which was indeed hell), I found this
    an immature approach.

  14. Sarah says:

    Great episode! I love Beach Music but it is a huge novel, over 700 pages, so quite the commitment. I also really liked South of Broad, which is set in dreamy Charleston and isn’t nearly as long. I had a hard time with the abuse in The Great Santini and was never able to finish it but I know some folks really enjoy it.

  15. Angela S says:

    Shannan please recommend your favorite independent bookstore in Huntsville ! I will be there all week next week while
    My son is at Space Academy and would love to support a local bookstore while
    I’m hanging around !

  16. Jennifer Harveland says:

    Just a note regarding God Spare the Girls – you refer to both of the daughters as Caroline. Slightly confusing. Also, many thanks for your thoughtful reply regarding books featuring queer characters. So nice to see the variety of those books in a space that literally had almost no representation in mainstream lit just a short time ago.

    • Anne says:

      Whoops, so sorry about not getting the daughters’ names right! (When we tell you we speak off the cuff about the books we love around here, we are not kidding 😂)

  17. Lee says:

    W must be feeling thoroughly chastised for expressing this opinion, but I actually agree with W, although I would use different language. I’ve been listening to this podcast for years and enjoying the heck out of it, even though my TBR is already out of control. So many books lately about trans and non-binary characters! It has been a bit much.

  18. Karen Heath says:

    Your reference to Pat Conroy perked up my ears! I have been on a Libby rabbit hole with him and the other southern writers that he writes about for over a year now. I just started with whatever I could get my ears on because I read almost exclusively by ear these days. The great Santini is not my favorite but necessary to the whole Conroy story. I loved South of Broad. LOVED. But my favorites this summer have been My Reading Life and A Low Country Heart. Both are essays, beautifully written which often refer back to his books which in turn might help you decide which of the memoirs you want to read. Then of course you will want to reacquaint yourself with the other writers he write about, including his last wife. Water is Wide will be my first eye read in a long time. I’m sure it will be worth it. My heart just explodes when I think about his books . I would invite him to my 5 people you would have dinner with, and invite him to cook as well.

  19. Lauren says:

    Such a fun episode! I really enjoy these cornucopia-style episodes, I guess I like eavesdropping on others’ reading lives.
    Maybe I missed it, but what was Chelsey’s third summer read? I got The Summer Book and The Guncle but I didn’t hear her mention a third.
    Thanks for your help and for the work you all do putting together such enjoyable content. 🙂

  20. Mandi says:

    One of my favorite books is the Lords of Discipline by Pat Conroy. In my opinion, his best work! I think you should read it

  21. Sue Baum says:

    Anne, Pat Conroy to me is like Jane Austen is to you!!! And like Jane, he didn’t write many titles so it’s pretty easy to read all of his titles. My top 3 are The Prince of Tides, Beach Music, and The Lords of Discipline. But I also loved The Great Santini, My Losing Season, and even South of Broad. I was very disappointed that James Mustich did not include him in his book 1,000 Books to Read Before You Die (I actually wrote him a complaint tweet!) Happy reading!

  22. Erin Abler says:

    This is for GINGER!!
    I started a Book It for grownups this summer! Instead of pizza there are a bunch of other cool prizes. Message me on instagram at erinisreadingagain if you want to join up!

  23. Catherine says:

    Please read Murderbot, but please don’t read it out of order! I love Murderbot – these are some of my favourite books ever and the suggestion to read in any order is…not good advice. This is my first comment ever because I was so aghast lol.

  24. Cori says:

    I hopped on here to weigh in on Pat Conroy and then got sidetracked by the comments of people asking for less books about people different from them and ended up writing about that. Anyway. He is (sigh, was) a BRILLIANT writer. I recommend starting with Beach Music. It really is a masterpiece of Southern literature, friendship, and messy families. From there, I would move to Prince of Tides and then on to the Lords of Discipline.

  25. Katie Toungette says:

    I am behind on my podcast listening, but I just finished South of Broad by Pat Conroy that had been on my bedside table for at least five years and I LOVED IT. Oh please… Try it.

  26. Mary Jo Jo Durivage says:

    Pat Conroy – YES – one of my favorite authors. I remember listening to BEACH MUSIC and really enjoying it. But i noticed that it did not always flow well. To my horror, I realized I was reading an abridged version. I never did go back to it but I may some day. So glad Anne mentioned it.

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