Podcast: 4 Diverse Books to Explore Now

During this episode of the Booklovers Podcast, we discuss four books that have diverse authors and characters.

Diverse books

Andrea: [00:00:00] Welcome to book lovers podcast. I’m Andrea and I’m joined today by Laura and Shayna. And we are going to talk about diverse reads. So Laura, do you want to take it away and start us off? You always have a list!

Book cover for Victories Greater Than Death
Victories Greater Than Death by Charlie Jane Anders

Victories Greater Than Death by Charlie Jane Anders

Laura: [00:00:14] Yes, I always come extra, extra prepared. So, my first diverse book is called Victories Greater than Death by Charlie Jane Anders.

And I loved Charlie Jane’s first adult novel, All the Birds in the Sky, which was an award winner. So, I had crazy high expectations about her young adult science fiction debut. And Victories Greater than Death did not disappoint. This book takes the chosen one trope and gives it a twist..

So, Tina has known her entire life that she’s an alien. She has been hidden away on earth until it’s time for her to lead the fight against interstellar bad guys, the Compassion. Ironic because they’re anything but.

Ready Player One by Ernest Clines

In the spirit of Ready, Player One, Tina leads a group that includes her BFF as well as some of the smartest, most capable human teens from earth, along with a group of aliens, determined to defeat the Compassion.

Tina discovers that being the chosen one doesn’t mean you have all of the answers. And it doesn’t make you immune to loss or to heartache. I will just say, do not read this and expect to not have tears. There are some punch you in the feels moments in this book.

So as with her adult novels, Charlie Jane Anders writes about self-discovery, self-acceptance, and finding the family of your heart. She has an incredibly inclusive, diverse, non-binary, LGBTQ cast of characters, and it’s very skillfully done.

Andrea: [00:01:51] Good. So you said it’s adult fiction, right?

Laura: [00:01:55] It’s young adult fiction.

Andrea: [00:02:09] I thought, well, maybe she just said adult fiction, but based on just the style of the book sounded like young adult, but then also you said for fans of ready player one, which is actually classified as adult, right?

Laura: [00:02:24] Her first few books have been adult, so this is her first YA.  

Andrea: [00:02:31] Got to reach that greater audience.

Laura: [00:02:33] Right. And the cover is gorgeous. I can’t wait for people to be able to see it

Andrea: [00:02:38] Cool. Thank you for sharing. So Shayna, what’s on your list.

One to Watch by Kate Stayman-London

One to Watch by Kate Stayman-London

Shayna: [00:02:43] Well first I just want to say, leave it to Laura for a Diverse Podcasts to have a book with an alien. I was not expecting that, but I love it. So, my first diverse book is called One to Watch by Kate Stayman-London. Yeah, it’s a good one.

It’s adult fiction. It’s just a great chick-lit and it’s full of fun diversity.

Bea Shoemaker is a styled plus sized fashion blogger who is madly and hopelessly in love with her close guy friend, Ray, who shows interest in Bea and then deserts her twice. Oh, and he’s also engaged to another woman.

It’s safe to say that Bea has a big list of followers on Instagram and an even bigger broken heart. Before Bea swears off dating altogether, she gets a call from America’s most popular reality TV show, Main Squeeze, and they want Bea to be the show’s next star. 25 men will compete to win Bea’s heart, but Bea isn’t interested in finding love.

As a plus size woman living in a fat shaming world, she wants to show women of all ages that anybody can find true love, no matter their size. As soon as the cameras start rolling and Bea begins to find herself falling for some of these very sweet and (very attractive men), things get way more complicated than she anticipated.

Body Positivity

 I really loved this book. I really enjoyed that the main character is plus size. The average jean size in America for women is like 14 or 16. That’s an average build. So, it was nice to read about a character that you can really relate to in terms of like, you know, sometimes you’re rocking it. You’re having good days. You love your body. And then you’re insecure.

And so Bea definitely experiences that, especially when she gets on this show because there’s a couple of guys, when they see her, they’re like, “Oh, I’m not interested…”, you know as if she looks bad and she doesn’t she’s just plus-sized and so there were parts where, cause you know, she has an Instagram blog and so there were parts where I was thinking, “You know you’re such a strong woman! Why are you letting these men and their opinion affect you so much?”. I wanted her to just say to them, “You know what? Screw it. I don’t care how I look!”

So yes, she does end up finding true love, but it kind of takes twists and turns. So, it was a really good debut by this author.  And even some of the guys that are on the show they were very diverse. So, there were people of different colors, different cultures, and that was fun to see cause Bea…she accepted all of them.

And then there was one guy on there who was plus size for a man. And, you know, there’s a big deal about it in the book where Bea tells the TV producers, “Why would you just have one?”. You know?! Like that’s not as diverse as she thought it would be, but the book was written really interesting.

Including Tweets and chat room transcripts

I love how the author did it because she included tweets or magazine articles or podcasts scripts, because people talk about this television show. So, it’s kind of like The Bachelor or The Bachelorette. So, it was really, really neat and I just, I really liked it!

Andrea: [00:06:01] That’s always fun when they do that, where they add in that like current moment, like, I can’t think of the book where the girl said similar thing, the blogger, and she goes, she gets asked to be in her friend’s wedding and it’s sorta like, she’s the fall guy for it, but there’s email exchanges in there that you’re reading along.

So it moves the story along with those little exchanges.

Shayna: [00:06:19] Yeah, it’s very trendy too. Like I think, because you know, social media is a big part of a lot of people’s lives right now. And so, it was very on trend and fun. It made it more fun rather than just chapters.

Andrea: [00:06:31] Right. And I guess because long gone are the days that people are calling up each other, these main characters on the phone and having conversations, that’s pretty much not.

Reality these days, we are texting we’re using social media or whatever it is, but it’s not the telephone.

Laura: [00:06:47] Right. It was a nice way to show that people were talking about her and the show without actually interacting with her. It was nice to give just those little snippets of people’s conversations in their chat rooms or their texts with each other without actually having to introduce more characters. Because it already felt it was a very large cast of characters.

Captain America

Shayna: [00:07:08] Yeah. Especially because you know, there’s 25 men on the show, which you don’t get to know all 25. And then it was fun to read especially the tweets because @chrisevans would tweet to Bea and would say that he was a big fan of the show, I guess, in this book. And obviously it’s fictional.  But that was funny because some of her friends will say like, “Chris Evans is into you, you know?!” And I’m like, huh, Captain America…

Laura: [00:07:34] I choose to think that in the real world, Chris Evans would totally be into the show. He’s such a nice guy. He’d never be mean to anybody.

Shayna: [00:07:46] Right? I really liked it too, that he was thrown in there because you know, he is a real celebrity. And so that made it feel more like in with the times and trending. And I don’t know, it just made me think to myself, does the author have a secret celebrity crush on Chris Evans? Because of all the actors to pick, I just thought that was funny.

Andrea: [00:08:06] That brings up a curious question. If the publisher or the author, they have to get permission to sign off on it. I don’t know because, you know, can you just talk about this fiction? So you can just say it’s fiction, but it includes reference to a real person because you know what, if he wasn’t nice to the contestant?

Laura: [00:08:27] No, sorry. I’m not imagining that world.

Andrea: [00:08:30] No, I know I shouldn’t have gone there. It’s kinda like when I’ll read and they won’t mention like, you know, picked up a soda or a pop, but they actually name it. And it makes me think, I guess, from having a marketing background, that that’s is that product placement that we’re seeing and reading in these books when they do that kind of stuff, or is it just really they are a fan?

I don’t know. Those are the things I think about while I’m reading

Shayna: [00:08:55] Me too. I’m trying to remember…I don’t know if it was. I don’t have Twitter so I don’t know if his Twitter name is actually @chrisevans. Maybe in the book she added like an underscore or a number to make it not like his actual Twitter. But I don’t know. Yeah. I didn’t think about that

Andrea: [00:09:20] So that’s some good stuff. You already have anything else

Book cover: The Chosen and the Beautiful
The Chosen and the Beautiful by Nghi Vo

The Chosen and the Beautiful by Nghi Vo

Laura: [00:09:24] I do. Well, I’d like to second Shayna’s recommendation because that was a super fun book.

And I want Kate Stayman-London to write another book.

Laura: [00:09:49] We are going to take a very sharp turn with this next one. It’s a kind of alternate history and fantasy. It’s called The Chosen and the Beautiful by Nghi Vo. It’s a retelling of The Great Gatsby.

After writing critically acclaimed fantasy novellas, The Chosen and the Beautiful is Nigh Vo’s debut novell.

It dazzles with its luxuriously louche writing, giving us a 1920s with flappers as well as magical elixirs and infernal bargains. It’s told from Jordan Baker’s point of view, she was kind of a periphery character in The Great Gatsby.

Outsider as narrator

We get The Other/Outsider as narrator for the privileged, white world of wealth, where having your lineage known can open or close society’s doors.

Jordan is Vietnamese. She was adopted as a very small child by a wealthy, white missionary and brought back to the United States. So she’s grown up with wealth and privilege.

You get the extraordinarily outrageous parties, the speakeasies, the cocktails, and the decadence of the original story. But now we have added excitement of demonic deals and magic elixirs.

The writing is lush and decadent. It is heady and effervescent like champagne. But she doesn’t just dazzle. She makes you look at class inequality, misogyny and racism, and the wrongs committed because of the protection of wealth and white privilege.

So like there’s a point where she’s figuring out that the woman who adopted her just basically kidnapped her. She had a family and this woman just thought she was super adorable and that she would just take her back home. Because who doesn’t do that with little Vietnamese babies. Right? I mean, you see it, you want it , you take it.

Andrea: [00:12:00] you said she’s a wealthy missionary?

Laura: [00:12:05] She’s been adopted into a very privileged, extraordinarily wealthy family.

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

The Great Gatsby

So you don’t have to be familiar with the source material. If you haven’t read The Great Gatsby, it’s not going to change your appreciation of the story.

Andrea: [00:12:29] Did you like The Great Gatsby?

Laura: [00:12:36] I didn’t hate reading it. But I can’t say that it was one of my most favorite things to read. I mean, spoiled, wealthy people.

Andrea: [00:12:52] Right.

Laura: [00:12:53] But I have to say that even knowing how this was going to end, I got very involved with the characters and I wanted it to be very, very, very different. but it was beautiful storytelling.

And I don’t know, but demons, infernal bargains, magic elixirs all seem to fit into my vision of the 1920s.

Andrea: [00:13:18] And what’s the title and author

Laura: [00:13:20] The Chosen and the Beautiful by Nghi Vo.

Andrea: [00:13:26] And then we’ll do show notes, but I just want to throw that in.

Pronouncing names

Laura: [00:13:31] I would have had no idea how to pronounce it, but I was attending a virtual event by the publisher. So I heard how to correctly say her name.

Andrea: [00:13:45] Well, it’s hard. Just like we were talking about the character and Shayna’s book until you hear someone say the name in your head, you can call them anything you want or pronounce it any which way, or, you know, we’ve had that conversation with people for a lot of us who are readers before we had a bigger vocabulary and you see words like Penelope and you don’t.

You phonetically say that word. When you hear someone say, you say Penelope and you’re like, oh, that’s not what I was saying.

A Court of Thorns and Roses

Shayna: [00:14:16] I was very disappointed the other day, because one of my favorite series that I have binge read is A Court of Thorns and Roses series by Sarah J. Maas. And the fourth one just came out a couple months ago.

And so that’s when I found this out. So that’s how deep I am. And she’s actually got two more on good reads, they don’t have titles or covers yet or publication dates, but I’m just like, yesss. So anyway, one of the characters it’s spelled R H Y S. So, when I was reading it, because I didn’t listen to the audio. I read that as “Rise”. That’s how I read it. Well, then I saw something on Instagram, a recording of her talking and it’s pronounced Reese and I’m like, no… And so then I got the fourth book and I tried really hard to get my brain to read “It’s Reese, it’s Reese!” and my brain would not do it like, no, it’s Rise.I tried and I was very upset with myself. Isn’t that the worst?

cover for An Ember in the Ashes
An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir

Shayna: [00:15:18] I was so mad. And then another good series that I read, An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir, I think that’s her last name? The character, her name is spelled H E L E N E, Helene. Well, I heard it again on something where the author was talking in interview and it’s “Hel-Lien” and I’m like, I just butchered it.

I thought it was Helene this whole time. And then the one character, his name is Elias, but she pronounced it “Eel-E-Us”

Shayna: [00:15:46] I was very upset because I read the whole series in my mind wrong.

Andrea: [00:15:49] This is not, does that you are introduced to these, these things and other things. I mean, the fun of reading is learning all this stuff too.

So don’t be so hard on yourself.

Laura: [00:16:01] Definitely, don’t be hard on yourself.

Andrea: [00:16:02] because we’ve all read characters. I mean, there’s probably characters. We continue to read wrong, but because no one we’ve never had the opportunity to be on a webinar with the author, the publisher to hear it.

Laura: [00:16:14] Well, and I think sometimes when they’re not made up names, you just read it and you think, oh, well it’s this.

I mean, how many of us thought that it was Hermione and not Hermione until we actually heard somebody say it? I had no idea that that’s how you say it. And I was a Pen-a-lope, not a Penelope reader too.

Andrea: [00:16:57] It does happen. But you know, while we’re talking about diverse reads I said diverse, but other people would say diverse.

So it’s just how you pronounce it. But yeah. How you meet people? Cause my name’s Andrea, but people will call. Andrea, Andrea other names, you know, it’s, and it depends on their background and how they pronounce that spelling.

One Last Stop by Casey McQuiston

One Last Stop by Casey McQuiston

Andrea: [00:00:00] So next up, Shayna, do you have something else on your list to share with us?

Shayna: [00:00:04] Yes, this one is probably one of my favorite books right now because I read a lot. So, my favorite books change. It is very new. It was just recently published.  It’s also available as an audio book on Hoopla and an e-book and on Overdrive and Libby.

Which that’s how I listened to it. I listened to the audio book on Hoopla, so it doesn’t have any holds. So, it is One Last Stop by Casey McQuiston, which Laura…did Laura read this one too? So yeah, it’s, it’s just full of the wildest characters and just magic and like, the impossible made possible and love and just quirkiness. And I just loved every second of it. So, let me start with the summary.

August doesn’t believe in much. She doesn’t believe in psychics or easily forged friendships or finding the kind of love they make movies about. And she certainly doesn’t believe that her new job at a 24-hour pancake diner in New York City or her daily (boring) subway commute will change that.

But then she meets Jane. Jane…beautiful, impossible Jane. All hard edges with a soft smile and swoopy hair rocking a leather jacket, ripped jeans and bright red converse. Jane, the person August looks forward to seeing on the train every day, Jane, the person August finds herself opening up to. Jane, the person August starts to have a huge crush on. After spending more time with Jane, only on the subway, August begins to realize some peculiar things about her…

She is always wearing the same outfit. She isn’t familiar with any current music and the only music she does listen to are popular songs from the seventies. She never agrees to hang out with August off of the subway. In fact, she seems displaced on the subway. Well, that is because she.

Somehow Jane is lost in time from the 1970s and trapped on the subway. August makes it her mission to help Jane escape this endless subway time loop that Jane is trapped in, but she starts to fall for Jane during the process.

Red, White & Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston

Red, White & Royal Blue

Andrea: [00:02:11] love it. it’s on my reading list because. Red white and Royal Blue. Let me get the title, right?

Shayna: [00:02:18] So Red, White & Royal Blue is Casey McQuiston’s debut. I believe it is her first novel and it is about Alex and Henry. So, Alex is the son of the President of the United States of America, which is a woman.

So that’s kind of cool. And then Henry is the prince of, is it England?

Laura: [00:02:39] Oh, because Henry was very much modeled on Prince Harry. A bit of fanfic about the Royal family.

Shayna: [00:02:49] Yes. And so, Alex and Henry they’re enemies and they go to the royal wedding and Alex gets really drunk and confronts Henry. Cause in reality, Alex likes Henry. He doesn’t know he likes him yet. And it’s kind of interesting cause Alex figures out throughout the book that he’s bisexual. So, he likes Henry and Henry’s a prince, so he’s all proper. And he’s like, “Leave me alone!” Well they end up falling and crashing into the royal wedding cake.

And so, then the president and, you know, the Royal family, they’re like, “Oh my gosh, this is bad for the press! They think the two countries hate each other!” so they’re like, you’re going to pretend to be BFFs. And that’s how they fall in love, in a nutshell.

Laura: [00:03:31] Well, enemies to lovers, forced proximity, knocking down with the wedding cake who doesn’t love that?

That was one of my favorite books the year I read it. It’s such a heartwarming, beautiful story. And there’s a lot of funny stuff.

Shayna: [00:03:47] Yeah. Because they’re young, they’re like in their early twenties. So, they’re still kind of silly, not truly adulting yet, especially because of their family, you know, their backgrounds. And they’re wealthy.

And so, I really liked that one because they kind of fall in love over their emails. They write poems to each other. Because they’re so far away. But then there were parts where Alex is like, “I’m on a plane, I’m coming!”. Like they couldn’t stand to be apart from each other and it was just sweet.

Back to One Last Stop

Andrea: [00:04:14] back to One Last Stop, now that we’ve given, you’re getting a two for one here. So then what a fun and the fun concept of this book that she’s trapped in the seventies. Yeah.

Shayna: [00:04:28] So Jane, she’s queer and it was interesting to read about, you know, someone who is queer from the 1970s. And she doesn’t know that it’s, you know, the future. She doesn’t realize she’s trapped in time until she meets August. August is also queer and she’s like the puzzle piece in this whole time-loop, subway trapping for Jane. So other people don’t see Jane, unless August is around.

If August tells her friends, “Yeah. She’s the girl in the leather jacket on the subway”, and they go there by themselves they’re like, “We didn’t see her, you know…” and August it’s like, “No, she’s there!”. So then when August goes with them to see Jane, then they do see her. So, for some reason, August is like her connection and you find out why. There’s all these little details.

Like the 24-hour pancake diner that August works at Jane used to work there too back in the seventies.  It was just really cool to read about it. Cause Jane, being gay from the seventies, when her and August share a kiss and someone just looks over she’s immediately like very defensive and August is like, “It’s okay. This is okay now.”, you know?  That was kind of heartwarming to see, but also, a little sad. But I liked it because that community…they’ve kind of paved the way for the LGBTQ+ community, I think. So, I think the author is shining a light on that.

Being seen

Andrea: [00:05:56] I think, you know, that part about the friends, not seeing her until she’s with someone else’s that people don’t feel seen.

They’ve been in our society and they have something that makes them different. And they don’t feel seen by other people and that happens, gosh, you know, whatever that is, it’s the color of your skin. It’s your sexual orientation. It’s something else. And that, that the author can use that to weave that into fiction and then present that to us and have us think about it in a different way.

Laura: [00:06:25] Well, Jane’s not seen in multiple ways. She’s a queer woman, but she’s also Asian American. So I think there’s that part of not being seen.

There are parts where she’s talking to August and remembering, going to some of the riots and the protests.

And not only was she dealing with society, thinking she was not okay, but her family too. So, it’s not just people who you don’t know, not accepting you. But the people who are supposed to be there for you and love you the most are not accepting who you are.

I do have to say it has a happy ending.

Happy ending

Shayna: [00:07:02] It does have a happy ending and talking about the, like, you know, people not accepting it. It was really nice to see Jane fall in love with August because August, you know, she moves to New York city alone. And she ends up getting these roommates and they’re all just so wild and chaotic and quirky.

One of them is a psychic. The other one went to school for like electrical engineering, but that’s not her job. Like, they’re just very. eclectic but they’re very supportive of August and they believe her 100% when she’s like, “I think she’s stuck in time on the subway!”, and they’re like, “Let’s investigate this!”.

Like, they don’t even question like, you’re crazy. You know? And so, I, I think that was nice to see too, like, especially because August is 23, I think the book said, so that’s young. You know, it’s nice to have a support system behind you, especially if you are a queer woman like August and Jane. And so, Jane sees that with August and her friends and it just makes her fall in love with August even more, I think.

And so, it was just really sweet. I don’t want to give anything away, but this book, it just felt very warm and it just made like…confetti burst in my veins, I guess. Like, it was just magical and the whole time I was reading it, I was just like in a trance. I was like, oh my god… you know? So definitely, definitely check it out.

Definitely read Casey McQuiston. She’s a good one.

Andrea: [00:08:25] I’d keep an eye out for what she’s putting out is good stuff.

Laura: [00:08:28] So, she could have just done another version of Red, White, and Royal Blue, because it was on the best seller list and got lots of critical acclaim.

And the fact that she chose to go in a completely different direction is great. I mean, it’s even hard to describe the book. It’s a queer romance, but it’s got a little science fiction.

Shayna: [00:08:50] It’s super natural. Yeah. It’s a good time travel. Like, I’ve read books before where they have time travel and I didn’t even finish them because I got so confused.

Like…I think when people hear time travel, they’re like, oh gosh, you know, that’s confusing or frustrating, but this is not like that. It’s not like that at all.

Laura: [00:09:11] So it’s delightful, very heart warming. I love the found family. That’s one of my favorite tropes. August’s family is just a delight in that party scene on the subway. Every party’s better with drag Queens and glitter is all I’m going to say.

In conclusion

Andrea: [00:09:33] Well, it could have been glittering your veins, but Shayna had confetti in hers so either way it’s a great feeling. All right. Well, like I said earlier, we will have show notes on the website and you can get the authors and titles of the diverse books that Laura and Shayna have shared with us today.

And that is it for this edition of the Booklovers Podcast. Check out the website clermontlibrary.org.

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