Readers, today’s guest knows that she’s overlooked some amazing books over the last ten years, but she needs a little help to figure out which ones to add to her reading list today.
Amber Burns loves books as a means of discovery – whether that means learning something new about herself, dipping a toe into historical romance, or enjoying a fantasy story with impeccable world-building.
When she’s not reading in the best coffee shops of her beloved Philadelphia or exploring the city’s vibrant used bookstore scene, Amber works as a content creator and hosts her podcast, Thank You For Asking.
Listen as Amber and I talk about the struggles of being a mood reader, her strong feelings about reading YA, what makes the enemies to lovers trope work for her, and how to find more books that will keep her up reading until 3 a.m. I also suggest some backlist books that Amber can pair with her favorite breakfast sandwiches.
If you’re looking for a mind-blowing book that keeps you up late turning the pages, I hope you’ll find some suggestions in my conversation with Amber.
ANNE: And also I’ll now be recommending, I don’t know, 37 books.
AMBER: [LAUGHS] That’s fine for me. [ANNE LAUGHS]
[CHEERFUL INTRO MUSIC]
ANNE: Hey readers. I’m Anne Bogel, and this is What Should I Read Next? Episode 296.
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.
In today’s episode we talk about how some books on our to be read lists can be intimidating. Today’s guest found that joining a reading group helped motivate her to finally pick up that daunting read – and she ended up loving it! If this sounds inspiring to you, we’d love to invite you to join the Modern Mrs. Darcy Book Club, where our members enjoy reading and talking books together.
We read together every month, discuss books with their authors, and host live classes and events designed to help you get more out of your reading life. We record all our author events and classes so you can join the conversation at your own pace, on your own schedule. And you don’t need social media to participate and get to know fellow readers.
Join us in the Modern Mrs Darcy Book Club this fall, as we go back to Book School, discuss our favorite titles in our forums, and revisit old favorites with our Backlist Book Club. Go to members.modernmrsdarcy.com to sign up now. That’s members.modernmrsdarcy.com
Readers, today’s guest knows that she has overlooked some amazing books over the last ten years, but she needs a little help to figure out which ones will feel relevant to her today. Amber Burns loves books as a means of discovery – whether that means learning something new about herself, dipping a toe into historical romance, or enjoying a fantasy with impeccable world-building.
When she’s not reading in the best coffee shops of her beloved Philadelphia or exploring the city’s vibrant used bookstore scene, Amber works as a content creator and hosts her podcast, Thank You For Asking.
She loves stories filled with believable tension and humor, and she’s looking for backlist books to pair with her favorite breakfast sandwiches as you will hear. I sure hope my picks deliver. If you’re looking for a mind-blowing book that keeps you up late turning the pages, I hope you’ll find some suggestions in my conversation with Amber today.
Let’s get to it.
Amber, welcome to the show.
AMBER: Thank you so much for having me.
ANNE: Oh, I’ve really been looking forward to this. So I got to go on your podcast Thank You For Asking not that long ago, and thank you so much for paying a return visit to What Should I Read Next.
AMBER: Happy to. We were so excited to have you on the show, so thank you for doing that.
ANNE: And it’s always fun to talk to another podcaster.
ANNE: I mean, we love talking to all our guest listeners, but [AMBER LAUGHS] it’s always fun.
AMBER: It’s two people who love to talk talking to each other, so it makes sense.
ANNE: [LAUGHS] Well, like, that is very true about me and yet I’m a huge introvert.
ANNE: That’s what I was going to ask you.
ANNE: Okay, tell me more about podcasting as an introvert ’cause that’s a surprise to a lot of people that we would be doing this.
AMBER: You know, as someone who’s just been making content on the Internet in general for so long I think a lot of people assume that I’m more extroverted than I am, but I always tell people the gem behind making things on the Internet is that you get to hide behind the screen, [ANNE LAUGHS] like I get to do all of the interacting with none of that like person to person energy transfer. So I can talk as long as I want. I can post as long as I want, but I’m never doing like the same amount of draining socializing that I would be doing if I were like at a cocktail party or something, so as a podcaster, I love it because I get to have these really, really awesome conversations that you would normally only get to have if you’re out in a public space with a bunch of people, but from the comfort of my home, surrounded by my books and like a very comfortable sweatshirt that no one can see.
ANNE: [LAUGHS] Yes, you get to talk and talk and talk and then turn it off.
AMBER: Yeah, the off switch is the most important part.
ANNE: Well I feel like I’m always telling people like introvert and extrovert are also verbs, and it’s really fun to extrovert in this way.
AMBER: It is, yeah.
ANNE: And then go introvert later.
AMBER: Oh, I love that you classify this as extroverting, too. I would definitely agree.
ANNE: Amber, tell our listeners a little bit about yourself.
AMBER: Oh my gosh. You would think I would be better answering this question by now.
ANNE: It’s the hardest question, right?
AMBER: Every time I get it it’s like the first time anyone’s asked me about myself. [ANNE LAUGHS] Because it’s like where should I start? Like 1993 or like 2000 … I don’t know. [LAUGHS] But I am a content creator and marketer. I live in Philly. Love this city, and I’ve been a huge book nerd for as long as I can remember. My first like big bookish memory is going to the Scholastic Book Fair in like third grade [ANNE LAUGHS] and a school administrator wouldn’t let me buy Anne of Green Gables because it wasn’t my reading level and I was like ugh, I’m buying this book anyway and I’m going to read it and love it just so I can say I did it and I’ve been just nerding out for books ever since, and so much of the stuff that I’ve done like my content, my podcast, my youtube, all that stuff, has been centered around like how books have become a form of just self care and escape for me.
ANNE: I’d like to go back to that school administrator.
AMBER: I know, right?
ANNE: If you could go back now and tell that school administrator, Amber Burns circa 2021?
AMBER: I would say even if a student buys a book and never reads it, that is perfectly fine and should be encouraged because there are way worse things than third graders could be buying. [ANNE LAUGHS] And I would say that I did read the book in third grade and I didn’t even like it and that’s my business. [LAUGHS]
ANNE: But would you have ever told him that? I don’t know that I would have ever told him that.
AMBER: Probably not. I think for me it was just proving a point that like I got a no and did it anyway.
ANNE: Tell me more about Philadelphia. Are you from there or did you land there?
AMBER: I landed here. So I’m originally from New Jersey but I went to college here, I went to Temple, and just fell in love with the city. I always say like Philly does not get enough book street credit. It’s such a nice bookish city because it just has so much old charm, like you don’t get a lot of big cities like this that are so historic that have actually done the work to maintain that historic feel, like you can walk down streets and like really feel like you are transported to different parts of history, which I feel like if you are a bookish person, like you have that kind of tendency to just want to be able to escape to different places while you’re still in the same place, so I love it here. It’s like a great big city with little small town charm, so you get the best of both worlds and yeah, I’ve been here since I was a freshman in college in 2011. So ten years.
ANNE: If a book lover were to land in Philly, what should they do? And I’m just asking purely selfishly, I think we talked about on your podcast I’ve been to Philadelphia multiple times, but only for medical stuff, like never for fun [AMBER LAUGHS] and I am ready to go and eat and play and go to bookstores and you know, see the sights. But as a book lover, what joys await me?
AMBER: Oh my gosh, well first there are so many really good used bookstores, and I feel like we always talk about like indie bookstores or like the big ones but the used bookstores for me are the gyms because a book that’s already been read and loved by someone else has such, like another layer of story to it. I love a book where someone was like gifted it, so there’s like a little note written in the front cover or just like something that shows you how much personality a book has. So there is a really good bookstore on I think it’s on like 22nd and Fairmount if you’re coming to Philly, you meet these locations. It’s called Book Friends.
Another thing about the used bookstores in Philly is none of them do a great job of displaying the store name, like a lot of them literally just have signs that say books, [ANNE LAUGHS] but that’s all you really need if you’re trying to buy some books. If they tell you there’s books there, you’re going to get them. There’s another really good massive used bookstore in old city, on like Third and Market, and it’s like three stories of books, like stacked floor to ceiling, piles and piles of books. I always find a really good random book that I didn’t know I needed or wanted, but I’m so glad that I got because you could literally spend a whole day there just digging through piles of books.
ANNE: Tell me about a memorable used bookstore find.
AMBER: I found this collection of Oscar Wilde. I’d never seen this cover before. I’m a sucker for a good cover, who isn’t. But it was just like a small collection of Oscar Wilde and I was like walking around, it was like a random summer day and I just sat outside of a coffee shop and like drank a cup of coffee and read this book and it’s just so fun because, you know, you don’t really think of I’m going to go pick up a book and read it with a coffee, it’s not like a newspaper. But I literally had that same experience and I just love little book moments like that.
ANNE: Okay, speaking of book moments, I believe that you, like myself and many of our listeners, have enjoyed many book moments in coffee shops.
AMBER: Oh yeah.
ANNE: Tell us about a Philly favorite. This is now the travel and reading podcast.
AMBER: I’m here for that. [ANNE LAUGHS] I mean, you know, Philadelphia like everyone says Philly is a city of meds and eds because we have all these colleges and all these hospitals, which is true, but I’m like we also have a huge, like, coffee scene.
ANNE: I didn’t know this.
AMBER: Also a big distillery scene, so if you’re coming to drink you can do that as well, but there’s a huge coffee scene here. I’ll just say two of my favorites where I can like spend hours, literally hours. One is Bower Cafe, it’s on Tenth and Spruce. It is Black owned. It’s just amazing. It’s so cozy. They also have great food. Do yourself a favor and get a Belgian waffle with whatever coffee or tea drink you order ’cause it’s so amazing.
ANNE: Oh my gosh.
AMBER: But like it’s just so bright in there. It’s very cozy. They have a nice little patio on the back if you want to sit outside, you know, when it’s not five hundred degrees outside. They also have books, like all around, like you’ll see little stacks of books in like the little dining area and like along the coffee part area, so it’s super cozy. Great place to just hold up and read for a few hours, and then the Menagerie Coffee which is on Third street between Market and Chestnut. It’s like the best latte in the city first of all.
It’s also the best breakfast sandwich and no one knows about this sandwich I feel, and it’s so good. [LAUGHS] It’s on an English muffin. It has eggs and like turkey bacon, but then they have this spicy maple syrup that goes on, so you get like this spicy and the sweet. It’s amazing. Just like trust me if you are there, you want it, but also super cozy, a lot of really good natural light to get your reading done. It’s literally around the corner from that used bookstore that I was mentioning so you could literally go get your book and then go sit and have your coffee.
ANNE: Oh. That’s the dream. I have to tell you my post-pandemic cannot wait, when can this happen, way up on my priority list is I want to read a book in a coffee shop with a latte that I didn’t make in a mug.
ANNE: It’s that mug step that we’re still waiting for here.
AMBER: After the pandemic quite frankly, I never want another to go coffee cup again. [BOTH LAUGH] I don’t. I don’t want another drive thru experience like I just want to sit inside of establishments as many times as I can.
ANNE: So here’s what we know about your reading life so far. You defy the school administrators over Anne of Green Gables [AMBER LAUGHS] in third grade. You love used bookstores. You like to pair books with breakfast sandwiches. I guess you didn’t say that precisely but strongly implied.
AMBER: I would say it’s accurate. [LAUGHS]
ANNE: Tell us more about your reading life.
AMBER: Well, and I think we talked about this when you were on the podcast, I had that experience that I’m sure is very familiar where you go to college and then you don’t read anything that’s not assigned, and then you graduate and it’s like oh yeah, what do I actually like to do when I have full anatomy over my time? And so I was like a big reader of my whole life and then there was just that four year period where I wasn’t really reading anything. And so I graduated and I found like Book of the Month and I realized I lived pretty close to a Barnes and Noble and just kinda started rediscovering books again, and I just refell in love again with fiction, like I remember how much I loved all genres, like I really got into romance at that point in my life, like rediscovered fantasy. I started reading middle grade, like I just love how easy it was to kinda switch worlds by switching the books that I was reading.
ANNE: And you are so right, I mean, I’m sure you’ve talked to other people too but we hear from listeners all the time that so many people have a gap when they graduate from college and you’re either burned out or you realize like nobody’s telling me what to read anymore and I’m not quite sure how to proceed.
AMBER: Exactly. And even when you’re a reader in your younger years, I would say that is so like defined by proximity like I remember when everyone at my school was reading like the same three books because that was like the three books that we were all reading in high school or middle school, like we had the Twilight years, the Harry Potter years. There was this one young adult book, I think it was called Flipped.
ANNE: Oh, I don’t know this.
AMBER: It’s like a book about a young couple and you literally like you flip the book to get his perspective and then her perspective, but we were all reading it because everyone was just reading it, so after you graduate college, it’s like you have less of that proximity to other people who are being encouraged to read, so you really are just kinda on your own to figure out what you even like to read, where the books are, who you can talk about the books with. It’s a really interesting experience.
ANNE: What advice would you give your younger self? I’m wondering if you have regrets about that fall off period or if you learn something really important about yourself from those years of not reading.
AMBER: If I could go back in time I wish I could have gotten my younger self in a better reading pattern during that fall off period ’cause I think that I’ve come to learn so much more about myself through reading because all of these different characters reflect different pieces of very common experiences that we all have, and I do feel like you can learn so much from reading all kinds of books, not just nonfiction books, and I put a lot of pressure on myself when I did read for leisure like in college to read nonfiction because it’s like you’re here to build a career and build a life, so you should be reading the books that are gonna help you do that, but in reality like I would have gotten so much value out of rereading like Bridget Jones’ Diary. [BOTH LAUGH] Because they’re so much to take away as a young woman trying to figure herself out than reading about this young woman who’s literally in the funniest way possible trying to figure herself out, so if I could go back in time I definitely would have tried to figured out a way to just close that gap with when I stopped reading as much fiction.
ANNE: I hadn’t thought before about how when you are in school, everyone around you is reading …
TOGETHER IN UNISON: All the time.
ANNE: Yeah. And so there’s that contagion factor with reading.
AMBER: Completely. I don’t think they do it anymore but I remember we were in like elementary and middle school having like library days. Like there were literally assigned days where everyone had to go to the library.
ANNE: So a common book lover request from adults is why can’t we have Scholastic Book Fairs too?
AMBER: I agree with this.
ANNE: And I think we should add library days to that list.
AMBER: Yeah! We take way too many of our like childish joys away in adulthood. They don’t all have to be just child exclusive I don’t think.
ANNE: No. I don’t think so either. Amber, what is it that gets you excited about reading these days?
AMBER: I’m very excited by just the fact that there are so many books. I’m also overwhelmed by that fact, [ANNE LAUGHS] but it’s so exciting that I’m always going to have so many options. I try to tamper with the overwhelm with the fact that like I get to fill my house and my life with all these great books and I can dive into anything at anytime, like there’s really nothing that would hold me back from reading a book, like you know, you can’t go to your favorite city on a wham because maybe there’s a pandemic but you can always grab your favorite book from the shelf, so I just love the possibility of reading.
ANNE: Yes, I hear that. Especially now but I would have said the same thing in 2016.
ANNE: How do you choose what to read next?
AMBER: I’m such a mood reader. I’m wondering if you could relate to this as someone who also talks about books a lot. I hate when I share with people like, I’m about to start this book and then I go to start that book and I’m like I’m not in the mood for this book. [ANNE LAUGHS] I have to start a different book, and now I feel like why couldn’t I just commit to the book that I told people I was going to commit to? There are just sometimes where I am like I need to read a romance. I need to read a fantasy. I need to read a middle grade, and I think especially last year with quarantine and everything, I was really just reaching for books that were going to keep me as distracted as possible, so that when I had to maintain focus I could, and then when I needed to not doom scroll and read the news for an hour too long, I could kinda just know that book was going to hold my attention and keep me from doing that.
ANNE: Yeah, you need a book enticing enough to make you put down the phone.
ANNE: Do you like being a mood reader?
AMBER: I don’t.
ANNE: That’s not what I expected you to say.
AMBER: [LAUGHS] I know. I admire the people who can be like these are the five books that I’m going to read this month and then they just read those five books and they’re like okay, especially people who review books because I think like there’s so much pressure if you get an advanced readers copies especially to be like okay, these are the six books releasing in the next two months that I’m going to read and I’m always like I can’t do that. Like I can’t guarantee that just because a book is coming out in three or six months that I’m going to read it as soon as I get it because if I’m not in the mood for it, I literally cannot get through it. Like it will take me months to read a book that would typically take me days to read. So I kinda wish I could have a little bit of that just like I’m going to pull a book off a shelf and that is the book I’m going to read, but I also think if you’re not enjoying a book, what’s the point of sticking it out?
ANNE: So this is more a wouldn’t it be nice observation than a need a step-by-step plan to get there.
ANNE: Well I’m really excited to get into your books and see actual titles that represent what you do love to read and what you get excited about.
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ANNE: Amber, you know how this works. You’re going to tell me three books you love, one book you don’t, and what you’re reading now and we will talk about what you may enjoy reading next. I’m so curious to hear how you chose these books.
AMBER: Yeah, so I try to choose books that I either recommend the most often or that I think about the most often, like even if they’re ones that I haven’t gone back to, or even ones that I necessarily dish out as recommendations, they’re the books that like if someone had to ask me like tell me three books that are your favorites, like literally, you ask me to tell you three books that were my favorite, these were like instantly the ones that I knew I would talk about.
ANNE: Alright, tell me about your first favorite book.
AMBER: Okay, so this first favorite is one, a brilliant book, but also has so much sentimental value because this is one of the first books that I read in that period where I was falling back in love with reading, and that’s The Mothers by Brit Bennett. I honestly have reread this book once every year and every time I reread it, I find something new in it to love.
ANNE: That is really high praise. And also thank you Brit Bennett for helping readers fall back in love with reading.
AMBER: Brit Bennett is like at this point anything, she could literally write a grocery list on the back of a napkin and I would buy it. [LAUGHS]
ANNE: Oh, I would love to see what my favorite authors buy at the store. I mean, that’s not quite what you meant, but it’s also true. It’s also true.
AMBER: But still. [LAUGHS]
ANNE: What was it that hooked you?
AMBER: So it’s interesting, the book follows our main character who’s kinda just like in this dark period of her life. She just lost her mother. She’s living with her father who’s also grieving and doesn’t really know how to connect with her, and she’s sorta spiraling. She gets into this relationship that’s not good for her. She ends up with an unwanted pregnancy, like they’re just a lot of things that are happening to her and she feels like she’s not really in control of her life. I think I related to a lot of those aspects and so The Mothers, the title of the book, is a reference to like the mothers of the church that she and her father attend like the church in their local community, and I feel like that is also just a very common and communal Black experience. If you’ve ever gone to a Black church, you know who the mothers are. Everyone has met or had the mothers in their life, and so I just thought that that as a shadow character almost, which is so well done and so smart and I couldn’t not put it down. And also like I love a messy book. I love when people are just doing things. Everyone’s a little morally gray. You don’t really know who to root for and almost every character in this book is morally gray. [LAUGHS]
ANNE: Usually I don’t feel I need to say this as a confession, but I’ve only read this once.
ANNE: But you make me want to go pull it off my shelf and read it again. Yup, really. Only once when it first came out.
AMBER: The second time I reread it, I remember thinking like how did I miss all this stuff?
ANNE: I love it when a book does that.
AMBER: I know!
ANNE: And I do love the experience of, you know, I wonder if we’re going to hear this reflected in your reading life, but I personally love combining new and old in my reading life.
ANNE: This could be a good one to slip in between the new releases.
AMBER: Highly recommend revisiting it.
ANNE: Okay, that was The Mothers by Brit Bennett. What did you choose for your second favorite book, which I feel like is relegating it to second place, you know we don’t mean that.
AMBER: No. It’s definitely not second place, but … So it’s The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin. It’s a fantasy novel. It’s like uh, I guess it’s more like fantasy sci-fi, it’s like a mix of both, probably a bit leaning sci-fi? Which is not a genre that I typically reach for, and it’s also the first book in a series. It’s a trilogy, and I had this book on my bookshelf for probably three or four years and I wanted to read it so badly but was so intimidated because it’s just kinda a thick book. It’s very complex world building but then when quarantine happened, there was a group of other like bookish people on Instagram and we all read it together as like a group read, and we were sharing our thoughts in real time, like in this group chat and we all agree, like this is probably one of the smartest books I’ve ever read.
The level of world building, the attention to detail, the complexities in this book are intense, like there is times where I would have to reread a section twice to make sure I was like getting what happened, but once you finally lock in to like where you are, what this world is, every time you turn a page, your mind is blown. [ANNE LAUGHS] Like it’s the kind of book that you’re not going to be able to put down. You will be reading until three o’clock in the morning because you don’t want to fall off the momentum of what is happening in this story. But it’s also the book that you will never be able to give like a quick synopsis to, like I could not give you like the fifteen second pitch of this book, it’s just … She’s a very good complex sci-fi, that’s as much as I can do. [LAUGHS]
ANNE: I don’t think you have to give a complex explanation of the plot when instead you can say every page will blow your mind.
AMBER: Literally every page. I was just like [GASP] like at least every four pages. [LAUGHS]
ANNE: Mmhm. Now I’ve read this one and I totally see what you’re saying, but I haven’t read the rest of the trilogy. Have you gone there yet?
AMBER: I haven’t either, I have them all and I definitely want to read them all, but I feel like this also took like a big brain commitment, like you have to be willing to kinda sit in this book and I haven’t had the space I think to continue the series. But I want to.
ANNE: I don’t want to force things upon your reading life but I hope that the mood strikes you soonish.
AMBER: Yeah, me too. I have been feeling like itching for a big fantasy or sci-fi, so maybe it’s coming up.
ANNE: Yeah, it sounds like that’s in your regular rotation. Okay, on that note, tell us about your third favorite.
AMBER: My third favorite, now I’m not ranking any of these because it’s impossible, but I cheated because I literally listed a trilogy here instead of just one book. It’s the Arc of Scythe series by Neal Schusterman. I read these three books I think in April, so we were a month into quarantine. I read all three within the course of six days.
ANNE: Oh, wow!
AMBER: And I read the last book which I think is over 600 pages in like 32 hours. [ANNE LAUGHS] I could not … [LAUGHS] I was up at four o’clock in the morning with coffee, exhausted, like I just have to know how we’re ending this. This is another book that will have you gasping a lot. I threw the book several times because I could not believe what was happening. At one point, I didn’t have the third book, so I like got the ebook and the audiobook while I was waiting for my physical copy to come, like it was very intense.
And so it’s a fantasy dystopian novel and it’s set in this world where humans have conquered death and disease, so it’s kinda like a utopia situation kinda. And so because humans don’t naturally die, there are these class of people called Scythes and it’s their job to maintain population control, and we follow these two characters who are training to become a Scythe. I just thought this was so creative, the world building is incredible. The pacing is excellent because you are literally hooked from page one. And you cannot stop. Literally you cannot even stop after the book, like you’re going to go from book to book to book, and I feel confident that everyone who I recommended this too has had the same experience where they read all three books in like a week span.
ANNE: Okay, how unusual is a four o’clock in the morning last page for you.
AMBER: It has to be a good one. It’s not a every book occurrence at all. Like [LAUGHS] I’m not that self-destructive, but there’s only been a few instances where I’m like I have to stay up and read this book and this trilogy did it to me.
ANNE: I mean, to have a reading experience that where you just can’t put it down.
ANNE: That’s phenomenal. Amber, do I recall properly that you have strong feelings about YA fiction?
AMBER: I do have strong feelings about YA fiction.
ANNE: This is the place for those.
AMBER: [LAUGHS] This seems like a safe space for strong feelings. [BOTH LAUGH] Well one I think it gets a bad rep as just being kinda like seen as immature or seen as something that it’s weird for adults to like. I think publishing has changed a lot, and there is a lot of YA fiction that’s honestly really marketed toward adults anyway. So there’s a lot of value and substance to be found in it. When it comes to the YA fiction that I’m drawn to, I like a hard hitting YA contemporary. I like a YA fantasy. I’m not big on YA romance just because it’s not the romance that I relate to, but I love YA stories, and I think in the past year or so, most of my favorite YAs have probably been those hard hitting contemporaries or the fantasy genre.
ANNE: Okay. We’ll see if that pops up when we start looking for books for you to read next today.
ANNE: Now for something different. Tell me about a book that wasn’t right for you.
AMBER: Oh, yeah. [BOTH LAUGH] I will say I feel like I’m at a point in my reading life where I can tell relatively easily before I even start a book if it’s going to be a book for me or not. Like there’s not many books that I read and have like a terrible experience with, which I think just happens like as you read, you just get more comfortable with what you’re reading with being a reader, with knowing what kinda authors and genres do it for you, so there’s not a ton of books that I would say I have strong negative feelings about. And the book that I’m going to mention, I feel like I’m doing this long, like, preamble because I know so many people love this book. [LAUGHS] But The Hating Game by Sally Throne just did not do it for me.
It’s a romance book and it’s an enemies-to-lovers trope, and enemies-to-lovers is my favorite. All of my favorite romance books I feel like fall into that category, and this one, I just felt like the pacing was so bizarre, it was like they hated each other on page one, but by page three, they’re like fantasizing about each other, and by page eight they’re like in a relationship. But they also still hate each other but they’re in love. It was just so weird and it actually took me two or three different tries to get through it ’cause it’s so hyped up and so popular I’m like I’m being too critical, like maybe I’m thinking too much. I need to suspend a bit of disbelief but when I finally finished it I was like that can’t be it. [LAUGHS]
ANNE: This might be impossible to answer but I’m going to ask you anyway. What is it about the enemies-to-lovers trope that you find so fun? I mean, that’s really great to know about yourself when you’re looking for what romance novel you want to read next when you’re in the mood for that, but …
AMBER: I think, and I don’t think I realized what it is that I like about it until I … I had Christina Lauren on my podcast and we were talking about it because one of my favorite enemies-to-lovers is one of theirs. It’s called Dating You, Hating You, and it’s like so good, but we were talking about it and they mentioned like having hate for someone else and eventually it’s going to turn into love leads so much room for you to have funny moments. Like people are just doing funny, ridiculous things because they’re fueled by this like ridiculous relentless hatred that’s really actually just passion and it just leads for so many funny and relatable moments and I think that’s what does it for me, like you know what it’s like when someone just annoys you so much that you always just like wanna like get under their skin because they’re getting under your skin and that back and forth. I think that just builds a kinda tension in romance that I look for.
ANNE: Okay, that makes so much sense, but it’s not anything I’d ever thought about. [AMBER LAUGHS] And how fun that you go to do an episode with one of your favorite romance writers.
AMBER: I know. They were amazing.
ANNE: Amber, what are you reading now?
AMBER: I’m not currently reading anything because I think the last book that I read hit me with like a reading hangover.
ANNE: What was it?
AMBER: I just read The Royal We and I was obsessed with it. [LAUGHS] And I didn’t think I was going to be that obsessed with it, and it starts off a little slow, and I will say for like the first like hundred or so pages I was like this is just going to be okay, it’s probably going to take me longer to read it. I just felt like I wasn’t invested, like it wasn’t a page turner, but then around like page 200, it became like my obsession. I was like I have to take a call to … If I take this call, we end at this time, I can get another fifteen pages in, like read the last 200 pages so fast. I know there’s book two. I’m strategically waiting until the paperback is out so I can have a matching set. [ANNE LAUGHS] But I can’t wait to get to the next book. I had plans to start another book and instead of starting this other book, but I don’t know, I’m like in this wake of The Royal We.
ANNE: I’m assuming that you’re no stranger to the book hangover. Is that right?
AMBER: Not at all. Not at all. [LAUGHS]
ANNE: So what do you typically like to do when you find yourself in such a place?
AMBER: It depends. Sometimes it helps to just go for something that’s like the low hanging fruit, like usually this is when I would reach for a middle grade because those are a little bit faster to get through, and it just gets me back in the habit of like picking up a book consistently again. But sometimes I just have to wait it out and just wait until I feel drawn to a book again and then I’m like okay, this is something I can dive back into.
ANNE: And I wonder if there’s not a part of you that doesn’t want to move on, like if you love that reading experience, maybe like a lot of readers just like to sit with that.
AMBER: Completely. Really process all the things that just happened in those 460 some odd pages.
ANNE: I’d love to hear a little bit what it was like to read The Royal We in 2021 ’cause I read that when it first came out years ago now, four or five years. Everything was in a very different place with the British Royals.
ANNE: I’m just wondering how it read to you now.
AMBER: Yeah, I think if I would have read it when it first released, I don’t know if I would have had as much fun with it, to be honest because there is so many scenes where I’m like is this foreshadowing the actual future? And in terms of like my relationship to the royals, I love it. Like there was a period in quarantine where I was exclusively like watching these like hour long documentaries on the royal family. I’ve seen Diana in her own words about 500 times like I am very much like in it to win it on that family, so rereading that and knowing that it was supposed to be focused on Will and Kate at one very specific point in history but now all these other things have happened, they’re just so many other things that I’m sure when they were writing it, they couldn’t have known it would be interpreted this way, but I’m like ooh, that’s kinda like a foreshadow of this, a telling of this, like a sign of this, so it was so much more fun. It was so fun to have that experience of knowing all these things have happened and still seeing kinda where we were in 2007.
ANNE: Okay, well I hope that you find that paperback to be well worth the wait.
AMBER: I do too.
ANNE: Alright, Amber, we’re getting to the point where I have to make some decisions. [LAUGHS]
AMBER: I’m so excited. It’s like the warmup is over. It’s game time. [LAUGHS]
ANNE: So this is the hard part, so I’m just going to procrastinate it as long as possible. [AMBER LAUGHS] No, I’m kidding, I’m kidding. Tell me truly, what do you want to be different in your reading life?
AMBER: The thing that I’m itching for the most and I kinda talked about this earlier when I said there’s just so many books, every year I just feel like so many books come out that I know I’m never going to get to, no matter how interesting they are to me. I want to have a better relationship and system of tracking like the backlist books that I want to read. Especially the books that have come out before 2010 because I think that now there’s so many ways to find new books and we’ve done a good job of like getting them in the hands of reviewers and Instagramers and youtubers, so it’s easier to kinda find and keep up with those books, but there’s so many incredible books I know that have come out in the last 20 years that are still so relevant and still rich and I’m like how do I even like where do I even start to look them up?
ANNE: Have you found any success with this so far in your reading life, finding old books?
AMBER: The only successful tactic I have for this so far is just taking the authors that I love now who have been writing for a long time and reading their catalog, which is easy to do I feel with romance, but a little bit harder in like the YA or even the literary fiction genre especially in fantasy because you can get a book series where the books are eight years apart. [ANNE LAUGHS] So … And it seems like it should be so easy because there’s Goodreads and there’s Google, like there’s so many ways to find books, but I don’t know. It still just doesn’t seem like neat and tidy enough for me.
ANNE: Well there’s also just an overwhelming quantity.
ANNE: So I can see how the problem isn’t like finding any titles to read but finding the titles to read.
AMBER: Right, that’s what it is. It’s … There’s so many ways to find books but how do I find the book?
ANNE: What is it about 2010 specifically?
AMBER: I think in my mind that was kinda the last year I was in high school and also the last year that I remember having leisure reading time, so I feel like that’s where my disconnect with books kinda started, and when I came back into reading, it’s so easy to find new books, I wasn’t even looking for backlist books, so that’s kinda where the gap begins.
ANNE: Okay. So you want to see what you missed.
ANNE: Okay, so as we look for some backlist books to add to your list, is there anything you’re on the hunt for in your reading life?
AMBER: I think I’m always looking to just diversify my reading as a whole. I think we all are. I would love to read more queer authors. I would love to read more authors who aren’t from the United States or the U.K. [LAUGHS] Which is also a little harder to do. Yeah, just checking out other cultural experiences through my reading. I loved the fact that reading introduces me to soo many different people, places, and things, and I would love to just like, you know, explore the other corners of the world through my reading that I haven’t had a chance to do yet.
ANNE: I like the sound of that. And also I will now be recommending, I don’t know, 37 books.
AMBER: [LAUGHS] That’s fine for me. [ANNE LAUGHS] I’ll just put a calendar block on after this to go straight to the bookstore. [LAUGHS]
ANNE: Oh, that sounds perfect.
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ANNE: Okay, Amber, here’s what we’ve got. You love The Mothers by Brit Bennett, The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin, and The Arc of Scythe trilogy by Neal Schusterman. Not for you was The Hating Game by Sally Throne. You love enemies-to-lovers, but you want a gentler arc.
AMBER: Yeah. I need the tension, that believable tension.
ANNE: And lately, well right now, you have a massive book hangover from The Royal We by Heather Cocks and Jessica Morgan.
ANNE: You know what you love. You love fantasy, you love romance. You love the literary fiction. You love books that show you something about yourself that let you see an aspect of your own experience and you read a lot of different genres.
AMBER: I do. [LAUGHS]
ANNE: Which is really fun. Okay. I’m going to start with the one that I didn’t expect would come up in today’s conversation. Maybe you’ve already read it because it ticks so many of your boxes. It’s not pre-2010, but I think you will forgive it for that. It’s a more recent Lamar Giles novel. Have you read anything by him?
AMBER: I haven’t. I’ve never even heard of this author.
ANNE: So he’s actually a past What Should I Read Next guest, so you could go listen to him in his own voice talk about writing books. He talks about books as windows and books as mirrors, and he also talks about his role in the founding of We Need Diverse Books. This book I have in mind today popped into my mind when you started talking about The Mothers and the church community and how those mothers are in the Black church and how you were like yes. [AMBER LAUGHS] Not So Pure And Simple also takes place in a church setting and there are finger waggin’ mothers and fathers and pastors that are you know, kinda ganging up on the kids and trying to keep them in line, and it only kinda works because this is a YA novel and that is how it goes.
AMBER: Ooh, I love this.
ANNE: You know, it’s a story that just reads as fast and fun and you want to see what happens and you’re liking the characters and it also delves into really serious topics of friendship, dating, family struggles, and toxic masculinity is a huge theme in this book. Our protagonist’s name is Del and he’s been in love with the same girl since kindergarten, but he can’t bring himself to tell her. This issue he’s dealing with is that he has already developed a reputation as a player, but it’s based on absolutely nothing, and he’s not sure how to admit to anyone that it’s completely unfounded and he’s just kinda gone along with the rumors and he feels stuck, especially when all the adults around him are very well aware of his reputation and are assuming things about him and of course his peers are as well.
His parents are sending him all these mixed messages about sex and dating. His mom is dragging him into church services to learn from the fiery preacher and his dad has this manly but “manly” should go in massive air quotes there [LAUGHS] but like really unhelpfully vague advice to his teenage boy’s way of thinking and he’s just like how in the world am I supposed to figure anything out [AMBER LAUGHS] when no one will talk about what relationships are really like?
AMBER: Ugh, relatable.
ANNE: Yes! So his candor is really winning as is his cluelessness, and it was so fun to watch him learning to navigate. I think because as an adult you’re like oh, gosh, I remember that where teens are probably going oh gosh, uh-huh, right now.
AMBER: Exactly, yeah. That’s what I love about YA because you can relate to the memory but also like as an adult having to now guide and mentor another generation, it’s like oh this is what you’re thinking. This is what you’re doing.
ANNE: Yes. I am an adult. and perhaps that’s why my favorite character in this book is his big sister [AMBER LAUGHS] that he really looks up to. She’s finding a platform on YouTube, like her channel is exploding and she’s learning how to engage and educate on timely issues in a really like beneficial and impactful but also really entertaining way and I just loved it whenever she showed up on the page.
AMBER: Ah, that … Okay, that honestly does it for me. That sounds super interesting.
ANNE: The big sister is the clincher?
ANNE: I won’t complain about that. That is Not So Pure And Simple by Lamar Giles.
ANNE: Okay, I know you love fantasy. I know you want to read old. I mean there’s just so many different directions we could go.
AMBER: I know, and this is why it’s so hard. [LAUGHS]
ANNE: I’m going to prioritize going old, how do you feel about that?
AMBER: Yeah. Especially old fantasy.
ANNE: I feel like I might need to apologize because I have Octavia Butler on the brain. We haven’t talked about her in a while though on the podcast. Have you read any Octavia Butler?
AMBER: I have read Kindred and that is it. And I read Kindred for school, which is an interesting reading experience. [LAUGHS]
ANNE: I’m jealous. Wait, tell me about what made that interesting reading experience in school.
AMBER: It was in my freshman English class in college and we read it, just like as part of our like our standard syllabus. Obviously there are other books that have kinda more of a magical realism side to them that I read as assigned reading but this was the first time that I had read a book that I would classify as true like science fiction fantasy for academic purposes and that was interesting to read a fantasy that closely and pick it apart at that level.
ANNE: Okay. I wasn’t sure if that was an eyebrow arched interesting.
AMBER: Oh, no.
AMBER: It was just … Yeah, a different interesting.
ANNE: I never got to read that in school but I loved reading it just a few years ago as an adult. I did not know what I was missing out on.
ANNE: The book that I have in mind is a great next step that’s a little I mean it’s still realistic fiction but so much of Kindred reads as historical and it’s that time travel element where the science is not explained that Kindred has. Parable of the Sower is one that I think has a lot of elements that you would really enjoy. It was published in 1993 so we beat that 2010-cut off with time to spare. So sometimes this is called mundane science-fiction. I don’t know if that’s Octavia Butler’s term or the critics, but much of this book is very realistic. I mean, it’s dystopian and you never wanted to be your world but you can see how it would be your world but for the drug that’s fueling this massive epidemic and raging arsons across southern California and also the trait of the main character, her name is Lauren, she is a mega empath. She’s literally feels other people’s pain and the way Octavia Butler writes that on the page because poor Lauren is going through a world where people are feeling lots of pain. It’s fascinating. It’s fascinating to read and it’s a really interesting device.
But this 1993 novel feels so modern, like you won’t believe that it was 30 years old. It’s set in California 2026 which was pretty far in the future when she was writing and is not so far off now. There’s a teenager named Lauren. She’s Black, and she is struggling for survival in a world that is just gone to pieces that is literally burning down around her. Absolutely ravaged by climate change and drug abuse, that epidemic that we talked about that’s causing all the arsons because of the nature of the drug and what it does to you.
AMBER: Oh my goodness, this sounds like predictive fiction. [LAUGHS]
ANNE: It’s reminiscent of The Road. Everything is burning down and they’ve got to try to find safety, so she hits the road and leaves everything she loves behind, heads north. And on the road she bands together with a group of fellow travelers ’cause they’ve heard that things are safer up north. They might even go all the way to Canada, but something that happens in this book and this is called The Earthseed … I almost said trilogy because it was a planned trilogy at one point, but there’s just two books. The second is Parable of the Talents, but Lauren is developing this philosophy, this religion called Earthseed, and at the beginning of every chapter you get an excerpt the way she thinks is best to be a person in the world basically and you can see her version for how everyone could live together in harmony, not like utopia, but could peaceably live together if they held to these tenets.
AMBER: Ah, this definitely sounds up my alley.
ANNE: I was going to say, it might sound a little philosophical but this totally a page turner, like oh my gosh, what is going to happen to her? Is she going to be okay? What’s going to happen next? Like people are hiding from robbers and hiding in the woods and running off the road, and it’s – it’s exciting.
AMBER: I’ve known about it forever and have wanted to read it forever but there’s just so many books so this is definitely giving me the nudge to bump it up in my to read next list.
ANNE: That was Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler. I would really love to find you an enemies-to-lovers romance. Tell me about the subgenres, like I’m wondering if there’s a historical that you may really enjoy, but I’m not sure if that’s a direction that you would want to go.
AMBER: Yeah. My intro to historical romance has been slow but now that I find I have a toe in the water, I’m liking it. I recently read maybe a few weeks ago a romance, historical romance by Beverly Jenkins I wanna say is her last name is and loved it.
ANNE: The Godmother of …
AMBER: Yes! And I think that’s how I literally googled like Black romance authors, 1999 or something and all of her catalogue came up. So historical would definitely work for me.
ANNE: First, I feel like I need to put a book on your radar but I’m not sure it’s going to be quite right for you knowing that you didn’t enjoy The Hating Game by Sally Throne. But do you know The Ex-Talk by Rachel Lynn Solomon?
AMBER: I have not read anything by her. I’m seeing this book everywhere and it’s the podcast element of it definitely has, like, piqued my interest.
ANNE: That is 100% why I brought it up to you. [AMBER LAUGHS] It is a novel about podcasting. It’s set in Seattle and the world of public radio and it’s enemies-to-lovers. They never actually dated but they start the show called the ex-talk where they’re basically undoing the post-mortem on their relationship like what went wrong.
AMBER: Pretending to be exes.
ANNE: But nothing happened. Like nothing went wrong. It didn’t exist.
AMBER: That’s funny. It’s funny. It’s like the opposite of like the marriage of convenience, it’s like the breakup of convenience. [BOTH LAUGH]
ANNE: Exactly. So I think there are lots of reasons to read and enjoy a book and I’m not quite sure about the parabola of their relationship for you, but I do think that the podcasting aspect might make it worth your while to give it a try. But the one I have in mind is something really different and the reason I think it might be good for you is you said that what you love about an enemies-to-lovers story is that there’s so much opportunity for humor and you really love that. I think you may enjoy Mia Vincy’s whole series. This book is the first one in the series. It’s called A Wicked Kind of Husband. There are three books in the series so far.
ANNE: And there’s going to be a fourth coming out but this is a regency romance and that is not I mean it doesn’t matter what I like. We’re talking about what you like, but I have to say, I don’t read historical romance and a friend said you should give this a try and I am so glad I did because I didn’t think I wanted to read romances set 200 years ago but I was wrong. [AMBER LAUGHS] So this plot revolves around a marriage of convenience which, you know, another common trope in the romance genre. This woman named Cassandra has seen her husband only once on their wedding day. Her father made the arrangement. It was his final request to like his mentee who adored him, you know, marry my daughter and take care of her in this way and he said sure. But she hasn’t seen him since though years have gone by and husband and wife are both perfectly pleased with this arrangement. Like you don’t need to feel bad for her. This is what she wants.
They live separate lives in separate towns but then when she goes to London, they meet on the street socially in the company of others. Their friends notice, like wait, you don’t even recognize each other. [AMBER LAUGHS] What is happening? So they play it off as a joke but then they’re forced to get to know each other for the sake of keeping up appearances. They hate each other’s guts and really resent the fact that they are stuck pretending to actually be in each other’s lives and be known to each other, but that doesn’t last because that’s what kinda book you’re in. They are hysterical. So much banter, and it’s so much fun. But even when like the passion they’re feeling isn’t like I despise you but like swoldering, they’re still like making cracks at each other and it’s hysterical.
AMBER: That is 100% up my alley. I can’t believe I didn’t think to talk about these books but I was sick when Bridgerton first came out on Netflix. Watched it, loved it. Watched it a million more times, and then I was like I have to read the books. I think from the way that you’re describing this book, not every book in the Bridgerton series, but you would enjoy several of those books. [LAUGHS]
ANNE: I’ve never read those but I do love the snappy banter. Okay, Amber, of the books we talked about today, they were Not So Pure and Simple by Lamar Giles, Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler, and A Wicked Kind of Husband by Mia Vincy. Now I know you’re going to read when the mood strikes, but what do you think you might read next?
AMBER: I feel like I need to pick up A Wicked Kind of Husband tonight, like that one really just it’s pulling at me. I think if I do dip into that fantasy dystopian kinda mood, Parable of the Sower definitely is at the top of my list right now.
ANNE: That sounds good to me. I can’t wait to hear what you think. Amber, this has been a pleasure. Thank you so much for talking books with me.
AMBER: Thank you for talking books with me. This was a joy.
[CHEERFUL OUTRO MUSIC]
ANNE: Hey readers, I hope you enjoyed my discussion with Amber, and I’d love to hear what YOU think she should read next. That page is at whatshouldireadnextpodcast.com/296 and it’s where you’ll find the full list of titles we talked about today.
Check out Amber’s podcast Thank You For Asking to hear our conversation in episode 10, and follow her show on Instagram @TFYApodcast.
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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.
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•Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery
•Oscar Wilde (try The Collected Works of Oscar Wilde)
•Flipped by Wendelin Van Draanen
•Bridget Jones’s Diary by Helen Fielding
The Mothers by Brit Bennett
The Fifth Season by NK Jemisin
The Arc of a Scythe Trilogy by Neil Shusterman
△ The Hating Game by Sally Thorne
•Dating You / Hating You by Christina Lauren
•The Royal We by Heather Cocks and Jessica Morgan
•Not So Pure and Simple By Lamar Giles
•Kindred by Octavia E. Butler
•Parable of the Sower by Octavia E. Butler
•The Road by Cormac McCarthy
•Parable of the Talents by Octavia Butler
•Rebel by Beverley Jenkins
•The Ex Talk by Rachel Lynn Solomon
•A Wicked Kind of Husband by Mia Vincy
•Bridgertons Series (#1 The Duke and I) by Julia Quinn
•Book Friends (on 22 & Fairmont in Philadelphia)
•The Book Trader (3rd and Market, Old City in Philadelphia)
•More used bookstores in Philly
•Thank You For Asking Episode 11: Two is Better Than One with Christina Lauren
•WSIRN Ep 238: Windows, Mirrors, and Why We Need Diverse Books with Lamar Giles
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