Podcast: Our Favorites of 2020

Podcast: Our Favorites of 2020

Laura: [00:00:00] Welcome to Clermont County Public Library’s Booklovers Podcast. I’m your host, Laura. And today I’m joined by Shayna and Jordan. In this episode, we’re going to share some of our favorites of 2020. You’ll find links to all of the books we talk about below.

Shayna’s up with our first favorite of 2020.

Favorites of 2020

The Midnight Library
The Midnight Library by Matt Haig

The Midnight Library by Matt Haig

Shayna: [00:00:33] Yes. So this book it, wasn’t originally part of my top 2020, but then I read it. And I’m like, I have to add that to the list. It was so, so good. So my first book is The Midnight Library by Matt Haig. And I’ll just jump right into the summary.

Summary of The Midnight Library

Somewhere out beyond the edge of the universe, there is a library that contains an infinite number of books.

Each one, the story of another reality. One tells the story of your life as it is along with another book for the other life, you could have lived if you had made a different choice at any point in your life. While we all wonder how our lives might have been, what if you had the chance to go to the library and see for yourself, would any of these other lives truly be better?

Nora Seed finds herself faced with this decision, faced with the possibility of changing her life for a new one, following a different career, un-doing old breakups, realizing her dreams of becoming a glaciologist or a professional Olympic swimmer. She must search within herself as she travels through the midnight library to decide what is truly fulfilling in life and what makes it worth living in the first place.

Laura: [00:01:53] What an interesting concept for a book. I love it.

Why Shayna loved The Midnight Library

Shayna: [00:01:56] So this book, if you want to read a book to feel all the feelings I highly recommend reading this book. It’s just really, really, really good and a fun fact about myself. I rate books. If a book just really touches me and I just really enjoy it, I will say, man, I wish I had written this book because that is how close I feel to this book.

It’s almost like, Oh, I wish I had wrote this. So that book made the list of “books I wish I had written”. It’s just a funny list I have. Yes. And so like, you know, it was just so good and like it shines a light on mental illness and it just…It’s just really, really good.

And so just to go into a little more detail, and before I do that, I do just want to say this book does talk about some sensitive subjects. So if you are prone to being triggered or anything like that, don’t want to hear that, you know, you may want to mute or skip ahead as I go into detail.

So Nora, the main character, at the very beginning of the book, attempts to end her life after she just has a really bad day. Her cat dies, she gets fired. And so she makes a decision to end her life. Then she wakes up and she’s in this library and it’s full of books and none of the books have titles on the spines.

She’s very confused and, you know, lost and scared. And there’s a librarian in there, and the librarian tells her all of these books are different lives you could have had. And there’s just an infinite amount of them because every day we make so many little decisions. Even if it’s a decision of what time you eat your lunch, you know, there are just so many different lives.

And so she’s like, pick a new life. If you want, you can go in, pick a book, read it. If you like that life, you can stay there. And if you don’t like it, you can come back and pick another life. And so Nora, that’s what she does. So as the summary said, she goes and sees, well, what would, what would my life have been like if I had pursued glaciology?

And so she goes to that life and she almost gets killed by a polar bear. In another, she becomes an Olympic swimmer. She becomes a rock star. She just does all these different things. And slowly throughout the book, it was really fun to walk along her journey with her mental health. Cause she suffers from depression and anxiety.

And so it was just really neat to see her, like basically she figures out that you can’t have happiness without unhappiness. Like the two will not exist without the other. And so she figures that out as she goes along, trying out these different lives and some are like really amazing. Some are boring, some are just weird.

Like she just, you know and she figures out that there’s a reason for her decisions because in some of the lives, her choices affect other people who she cares about. And so like there’s one life she goes to and someone very important to her they’re no longer living in that life because of her decisions.

And so she’s like, no, you know, this life is perfect, but I don’t want to live in a world without them. So it was just really good and it was just beautiful and meaningful and I just really, really enjoyed it. I follow the author on Instagram actually, and he is just so inspiring and he’s, he’s been talking about writing another book.

And so I really hope he does because I really enjoyed this book.

Laura: [00:05:49] It’s on my to be read pile. I think I’m going to have to bump it up.

Shayna: [00:05:53] Yeah. You’re going to have to.

Jordan: [00:05:56] I read it a couple months ago it was. A really interesting concept. And it’s such a quick read too, which I really liked because I have so many books on my reading list.

If I see something that’s just a nice, quick read and really engaging read, I’m like, all right, move that one up. Not one list. But yeah, I really liked the concept of that one. I did a lot of people have been checking it out and enjoying

Shayna: [00:06:22] It’s really popular right now.

The Midnight Library is available as a:

mexican gothic book cover
Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

Laura: [00:06:25] So Jordan, you have one of my favorite books from last year that you’re going to talk about next.

We like Mexican Gothic’s cover

Jordan: [00:06:30] Yes. And it’s, it’s been a while since I’ve read it, but I’m planning on reading it again this year. I actually enjoyed it so much when I checked it out from the library that I bought it. Like I just had to have it. I had to own it and look at it every day.

Laura: [00:06:46] Gorgeous cover. Some of her previously published books are being re-released with new covers.

Jordan: [00:06:54] Oh well,

Laura: [00:06:55] I’m hoping that she’ll get more readers because the cover for Mexican Gothic certainly influenced me into picking it up. I’m sure it has other people too. So I’m hoping repackaging her older books gets her more readers.

Jordan: [00:07:08] Yeah. I get a lot of people who haven’t worked in a library who are like, Oh, you know, I bet you hate it when people, you know, judge a book by its cover, and I’m like, we all do it. I do

Laura: [00:07:24] Publishing companies spend a lot of money to have those covers designed so that you do gravitate towards them. And you want to pick it up. And in this era of Bookstagram, publishers would be bonkers not to invest a lot of care in how the covers look.

Shayna: [00:07:44] Yeah, my husband will tease me because like, we’ll be shopping well, not lately, but we’ll be shopping and I’ll see some books and I’ll be like, no, that I don’t like that cover. He’ll be like, it could be a really good book and I’m like, I get that, but I don’t like the cover. And I’ll say to him, it is no different than seeing food, like watching a commercial for a restaurant.

Like, Olive Garden! They show those like pasta dishes and it’s like, yeah, they make it look that good so people will come in and buy their food. It’s the same thing with a book cover.

Jordan: [00:08:15] That was definitely what drew me to this book. And I’m glad that it did. So I really loved it and I have the synopsis right here.

Summary of Mexican Gothic

Hopefully I don’t butcher both pronunciation too much.  This is Mexican Gothic by Sylvia Moreno-Garcia:

After receiving a frantic letter from her newlywed cousin, begging for someone to save her from a mysterious doom, Noemi Taboada heads to High Place, a distant house in the Mexican County countryside. She’s not sure what she will find–her cousin’s husband handsome Englishman, is a stranger, and Noemi knows little about the region.

Noemi is an unlikely rescuer. She’s a glamorous debutante and her chic gowns and perfect red lipstick are more suited for cocktail parties than amateur sleuthing. But she’s also tough and smart within the indomitable will and she is not afraid: not of her cousin’s new husband who was both menacing and alluring; not of his father, the ancient patriarch, who seems to be fascinated by Noemi; and not even the house itself, which begins to invade Noemi’s dreams with visions of blood and doom.

Her only ally in this inhospitable abode is the family’s youngest son. Shy and gentle, he seems to want to help her, but might also be hiding dark knowledge of his family’s past. For there are many secrets behind the walls of High Place. The family’s once colossal wealth and faded mining empire kept them from prying eyes, but as Noemi digs deeper, she unearths stories of violence and madness.

And Noemi, mesmerized by the terrifying it seductive world of High Place, may soon find it impossible to ever leave this enigmatic house behind.

Why Jordan likes Mexican Gothic

I definitely recommend if you’re a fan of Gothic literature in general. I know I am, like Bram Stoker, Daphne du Maurier. Which are a lot of more classic authors from like the 19th century.

So we don’t really see a whole lot of traditional Gothic writing nowadays. So, when I came across this and I opened it up and start reading it like, “Oh, yes, this is the stuff I like and nobody writes it anymore,” so it just really pulled me in. And my main things that I read are fantasy and horror.

So I’m really into kind of the nuances of those genres, and I would say that I would classify this as a horror novel. I have a blog outside of work where I write about horror films and horror novels. I did a best horror novels of 2020 post, and this was one of them. There are just enough scares in it that even got to me and like, my tolerance is pretty high.

Laura: [00:11:05] So I follow her (Silvia Moreno-Garcia) on Twitter, she is very adamant that it is a horror novel, that it is not fantasy. I thought it was interesting. She actually based the town. near that creepy old house, on a real place in Mexico. There’s an actual mining town that English people came over and settled. With Mexicans, native people, to do the mining part. I think she even posted some photos on her Twitter.

Gothic literature

Jordan: [00:11:43] Yeah. One of the things I love about Gothic literature is just like how the setting becomes like another character. And I think she really nailed that. Because High Place isn’t very nice. Shayna and I have talked about it. You have read it recently, right?

Shayna: [00:12:00] Yeah, I did. It made me feel icky

Laura: [00:12:06] I’m surprised you read it!

Shayna: [00:12:10] I was so disgusted with the house and I didn’t have room for fear. I was like, this is gross.

Jordan: [00:12:16] So the big thing in this book is mushrooms. And at first, you know, before I read this book, I was like, “Oh, mushrooms, you know, whatever.”

I didn’t really think about it, but the way that they appear and the role they play in the book, I’m just like,

Shayna: [00:12:33]Yeah, it’s like totally normal for Noemi in her bedroom. There’s like black mold on the wall and she’s just like “Oh, the black mold, that’s gross looking…” and I’m like, I would not sleep in there.

Laura: [00:12:49] Definitely!

Watch-alike Crimson Peak

Jordan: [00:12:49] Usually in Gothic literature, like the setting represents like what’s going on with the characters or the family, you know, like it’s just deteriorating and it’s not what it used to be. And also it just occurred to me rereading the synopsis: this has a lot of similar elements to Crimson Peak by Guillermo del Toro, which is also one of the few Gothic pieces that have come out in the last, however many decades, that are mainstream, at least. I’m sure there are a lot more that I would like to learn about.

 If you’re a fan of Crimson Peak, which also had the mining. Which was a big similarity and then like the house and the family and the secrets and all that stuff. Definitely pick up Mexican Gothic. It’s very similar. But definitely like its own thing going on as well.

Mexican Gothic is available as a:

Spoiler Alert
Spoiler Alert by Olivia Dade

Spoiler Alert by Olivia Dade

Laura: [00:13:39] All right, I’m going to lighten the tone up. My first pick is Spoiler Alert by Olivia Dade. This is an absolute love letter to nerds.

Summary of Spoiler Alert

Two people who write fanfic become writing buddies. And then friends when they bond over their love for a Game of Thrones-type television show. So what April, the woman, doesn’t know is that her online friend is actually Marcos the star of the TV show.

He uses his fanfic to write what he wishes the writers from the show were writing for his character. But he can’t let anybody know who he is because that would violate his contract. And he’d get fired.

April posts, a photo of herself cosplaying one of the show’s characters. She doesn’t tell people that she does cosplay because she’s plus size and she’s afraid that she’ll get a lot of. mean responses. So it blows up on social media and yes, there are lots of body positive go girl kinds of comments, but she does get a fair amount of rolling. And Marcus sees that.

He invites her on a date. Basically, he asks her out for dinner and she’s like, Oh, it’s probably a publicity stunt, but why the heck not? He’s gorgeous. He’s the actor on the show that she loves. Well, while they’re at dinner, he figures out she’s his writing buddy. And now he’s like, Oh, no. If I tell her, what if it gets out that I’ve been writing all this really critical stuff about the show, I’ll lose my job. My career will be over, but he really likes her.

And he’s like, I feel like I can’t keep this part of my life hidden from her. So it’s all the, what do you do? When does he tell her, does he ever tell her plus. Because he’s in this role, that’s very physical. He’s very into a strict diet and lots of exercising and she’s not.

He says things like I’m going to go for a run. Do you want to come with me? And he’s doing it just to be nice. And she’s like, Oh, is the implication that I’m fat and you need me to run so that I get skinny and he’s like, no, that’s not what I meant. So it’s interesting to watch that dialogue and the interplay between the two of them.

Why Laura likes Spoiler Alert

So, lots of funny moments. I mean, if you’re in the cons cause playing fanfic, it’s a lot of fun and I cannot wait for her second book to come out later this year. I’m really, really looking well. It’s I have to say is a romance reader. Nice to see more plus size women. 

Jordan: [00:16:19] As you were talking, I just added it to my to-read list because I’ve been trying to diversify, like the kind of stuff that I read just to try something new. Because usually when I try a read stuff I don’t normally read, I end up really loving it.

So why not give it a try? That sounds like something I’d like, because I love like, you know, like fandoms and the creativity that is inspired by different fandoms and shows and books and stuff like that. So I think that’s one I would enjoy.

Laura: [00:16:54] Well, and if you’re a Game of Thrones fan, you can tell that the author really has some strong opinions about what the writers on that show. She makes it very evident, how she feels by the fanfic and some of the other things that happen.

Jordan: [00:17:11] Cool.

Laura: [00:17:12] And there’s also a little bit of rock nerdery because April is a geologist.

Shayna: [00:17:35] And I agree with you. It’s nice to read stuff that shows diversity for couples, you know, romance because it’s not cookie-cutter in real life. So why would a book, personify it that way?

Laura: [00:17:31] It’s a lot of fun. And I’m looking forward to seeing what she does next.

Shayna: [00:17:35] And I agree with you. It’s nice to read stuff that show diversity for couples, you know, romance because it’s not cookie cutter in real life. So why would a book, personify it that way?

Laura: [00:17:48] I love that he’s the one that’s very wrapped up in maintaining his appearance because that’s his livelihood, right. He has to care and we get. the man being the one about, Oh man, I got to worry about my skincare routine and how my goats and Oh, am I going gray? Oops. So it was a lot of fun.

Spoiler Alert is available as a:

Take a Hint, Dani Brown
Take a Hint, Dani Brown by Talia Hibbert

Take a Hint, Dani Brown by Talia Hibbert

Laura: I think your next one, is it the second one in the series?

Shayna: [00:18:09] Yes. It’s the Brown sisters by Talia Hibbert and we got a good flow going here. Cause it also shows diversity in couples and just in characters in general. Talia Hibbert, that is like her biggest thing when she writes her romances. Which I really love about her.

And I love her characters. So yes, my next one is Take a Hint, Dani Brown by Talia Hibbert. And it is the second one.

Laura: [00:18:38] The first one. Sorry, I just interrupted.

Brown Sisters series

book cover for Get a Life Chloe Brown
Get a Life, Chloe Brown by Talia Hibbert
act your age, eve brown
Act Your Age, Eve Brown by Talia Hibbert

Shayna: [00:18:40] No, no, no, no. I love the first one. The first one, actually is Get a Life, Chloe Brown and it got me into reading romance this past year because yes, it was the first one I read because I saw the cover and I was like, you know, that looks lighthearted and fun. With everything going on, I just needed a happy ending and sure enough, it was, and it’s such a great book. There are great characters. And I was so excited to read Dani’s story.

And then the third one just came out, which is Act Your Age, Eve Brown. So she’s the third Brown sister and that’ll be the end of the Brown sisters. But you don’t have to read them in order. So it’s not one of those book series, you can read in any order you want.

Summary of Take a Hint, Dani Brown

So…Dani Brown knows what she wants. Professional success, academic renown, and an occasional roll in the hay to relieve all of that career-driven tension. But romance? Been there, done that burned the t-shirt. Dani seeks out the universe itself to find her the perfect friend with benefits with absolutely no love and romance.

The universe gives Danny what she asked for…or did it? When the grumpy and mysterious ex rugby player, Zafir, rescues Dani from a workplace fire drill gone wrong, Dani pays attention to what the universe has dropped right into her lap. But the universe likes to play its games.

When a video of Zafir carrying Dani out of a burning building goes viral the world becomes highly interested in the cute couple. #DrRugbae starts to trend and Zafir begs Dani to play along, to help his sports charity for kids earn some nice publicity, and he doesn’t mind the company of miss Dani Brown.

Dani agrees to be his pretend girlfriend with conditions. Fake a relationship in public, seduce one another behind the scenes. The trouble is Zafir is secretly a hopeless romantic, and he is determined to not let Dani slip from his grasp. Suddenly Dani starts to feel things for Zafir and their relationship becomes more complex than she planned for. Has her wish to the universe backfired or is the universe just waiting for her to take a hint?

I love the summary.

Laura: [00:21:03] a lot of fun.

Inclusivity and breaking stereotypes

Shayna: [00:21:04] It was a lot of fun and what I love about Dani…So she is bisexual and so it was nice to see like a character that, they date men, they date women.

So she ends up dating Zafir. And Dani is so anti-romance, it’s almost like she’s allergic to it. Zafir is this tall, muscular buff ex-rugby player. And he reads romance novels. Like he loves romance novels. So, you know, they end up in this relationship.

Why Shayna likes Take a Hint, Dani Brown

And the thing I love about Talia Hibbert’s novels as well, not only does she show diversity, but she also shines a light on like illnesses or disabilities. So Dani suffers from anxiety and you wouldn’t know that because she comes off as this like strong, independent woman vibe and she just doesn’t give a crap. but she does struggle with it and she struggles with opening up and it was nice to see, like, rather than them like fighting, cause you know, sometimes you think like that’s a bad thing to have anxiety. Zafir, like he comforts her and they talk it out and they’re just very open with each other in their relationship. So it was just kind of nice to read something that’s…it just feels like more real life because everyone has problems.

And when you are in a relationship with somebody, your problems are going to mingle and rather than letting it blow up, talk about it. I mean, it can blow up too, right. It’s life. And her characters, the three Brown sisters, they are not like cookie cutter. And for one, they’re black women.

So they’ve got this like strong, you know, persona and they were raised by a strong grandmother. So grandma’s rule. Yeah. And Dani, like she has short hair and she dyes it a different color, like every day. So like Talia Hibbert’s books are just very, very diversified and I love it.

Laura: [00:23:06] Yeah, can’t wait for it.

Take a Hint, Dani Brown is available as a:

Piranesi
Piranesi by Susanna Clarke

Piranesi by Susanna Clarke

Laura: [00:00:00] Okay, Jordan, you’re up next. What do you have for us?

Jordan: [00:00:03] So the second book I picked out I believe was pronounced “Peer-uh-neh-see” by Susanna Clark.

This one’s more in the fantasy category. It’s one of those books I think is more of an experience reading it than just a straight story, if that makes sense. But I have the summary right here. So…

Summary of Piranesi

Piranesi’s house is no ordinary building: its rooms are infinite, its corridors endless, its walls are lined with thousands upon thousands of statues, each one different from all the others. Within the labyrinth of halls, an ocean is imprisoned; waves thunder up staircases, rooms are flooded in an instant. Piranesi is not afraid. He understands the tides as he understands the pattern of the labyrinth itself. He lives to explore the house.

There is one other person in the house, a man called The Other, who visits Piranesi twice a week and asks for help with research into A Great and Secret Knowledge (that’s an all caps, proper nouns). But as Piranesi explores, evidence emerges of another person, and a terrible truth begins to unravel, revealing a world beyond the one Piranesi has always known.

I was drawn to this book, again, amazing cover, and it was actually a very simple cover, but it just really, really stood out to me.

Mythological aspects

But I’ve always been a fan of different types of mythology. Whether Greek, Norse mythology, all different kinds. I’m finding out more and more with reading different books, how much mythology is actually out there. It really had that vibe. So, if you’re really into Greek mythology and the stories associated with that, it was such a great one and it surprisingly had some disturbing elements to it by the end of it, which I of course did not dislike cause that’s kind of my thing.

But it was just, it was such an interesting book and it’s like, you think you know, what’s going on. But it’s not. And then you think you have it figured out, and then there’s more. So I know we’ve talked about Gillian Flynn before, how she kind of does that with her books. Totally differential genre, but it’s one of those things like you get to a certain point or like, Oh, I have it figured out. No, I’m good. I got this figured out and then just at the very end they throw something else in there and you’re not ready. So it’s one of those books. So I really, really enjoyed it.

And that’s another one I plan to read again.

Laura: [00:02:37] Well, that one, isn’t it fairly short compared to her first book.

Jordan: [00:02:43] I haven’t read any of her other books actually, this, so this is my introduction to this author as well. But yeah, again, it’s a, it’s a quick read. It’s just, it’s very different.

Piranesi is just a really, really fun character. If we’re looking at Greek mythology, he’s kind of like the Hermes character, very enthusiastic and just kind of bopping around and helping everybody. And yeah, he’s a great character. It’s just a very interesting book to read and experience and, you know, like no matter what genre you’re really into, I think there’s something for everyone.

circe
Circe by Madeline Miller
cover for strange the dreamer
Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor

Readalikes for Piranesi

Shayna: [00:03:21] Cool. So when you first said the title, I haven’t read it yet, so you said Piranesi. I was like, I thought of Circe by Madeline Miller. And so then when I heard you say “he”, I thought already, oh this sounds good, you know?

Jordan: [00:03:40] Yeah, and I love Madeline Miller. I’ve now read everything that she’s ever published and now I’m just waiting until she publishes more. I love modern mythology. I know we have a few new books coming in right now that are kind of based on that. And I love it.

Shayna: [00:03:57] I really liked that about a young adult fiction book, Strange the Dreamer, which I told Jordan to read. Since she’s our floater she was here a lot when I read that and I was like, you have to read this Jordan like, Oh my God. And that one had a lot of like the mythology aspect and I love it. I love those books.

Jordan: [00:04:18] Yeah.

Laura: [00:04:18] Laini Taylor is an amazing writer.

Shayna: [00:04:21] Laini Taylor. I wish I was her. She’s so good.

Piranesi is available as a:

The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue
The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by VE Schwab

The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by VE Schwab

Laura: [00:04:24] So my next pick is The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by VE Schwab. It’s got a gorgeous cover. I will not be afraid to admit that. Yes, the cover is part of what drew me to it.

But I’ve read a lot of her previous books. She also writes under her real first name, Victoria. She writes young adult books. So I’ve read several of those and really enjoy her writing.

the archived
The Archived by Victoria Schwab

Summary of The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue

So this starts in the 18th century, rural France. Addie’s grandmother has warned her about the Darkness and not to let it in. And definitely do not make bargains with it.

But as an impetuous, young woman, she doesn’t listen. And when the Darkness offers her immortality, she takes it. What she hadn’t counted on was no one being able to remember her. She goes home after she makes this bargain and her own parents don’t recognize her. Her grandmother doesn’t recognize her.

The townspeople don’t recognize her. So as soon as she is out of sight or if somebody closes their eyes or she walks around a corner, people totally forget about her. She can’t even leave her mark on things. Anything she writes disappears. At one point, there’s a scene where she spills a bottle of red wine across a white tablecloth. And even as she watches, it disappears.

Nobody remembers her. The Darkness keeps coming to her and asking if she’s ready to end it, to die. This is a terrible existence and you don’t want it. And she’s bound and determined that she’s not going to let him win. So she refuses.

Then in current day, she’s in a bookstore and she steals things because nobody remembers her. So that’s how she exists. She’ll walk in, grab things, and then leave. And as soon as she’s out the door, they have no idea.

So she goes into a book store and she’s going to steal books and the guy sees her and talks to her and she’s like, no big deal. I’m out the door and he’s not going to call the cops. I’ll forget about me.

She goes back in a week later and he’s like, you were the one who came in to steal. Addie was dumbfounded.

Shayna: [00:06:35] This is me.

Jordan: [00:06:37] Of course, Prince charming.

Laura: [00:06:41] So there she is. And the Darkness has been courting her over the centuries because now she’s strong-willed enough that he finds her defiance kind of attractive. You always want what you can’t have.

Laura’s thoughts about The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue

How do you have a relationship when you’re used to people constantly forgetting? And now what -now, that somebody remembers you?

So good book. It has been all over Instagram. And I think it’s interesting that people either are like, yes, I love it. Or, Oh my gosh, the pacing in this is too slow and I hate it. So I think depending on if you’re willing to give it a little bit of time, because it’s a lot of mood right in the beginning. Not a lot of super huge action scenes. When what you’re doing is thinking about how it would feel to never leave your mark anywhere. And for nobody to remember you, I liked it. Thought it was a lot of fun.

Jordan: [00:07:40] Yeah, everyone I know who’s read it, they were just raving about it. So I may have to give it a try.

Laura: [00:07:47] I love it. And Schwab writes such beautiful things. There’s a fantasy element to it because Addy’s living forever, but that’s it. I mean, it’s not like there’s magic in it. Her other books tend to be a lot more traditional fantasy, but even those, she breaks stereotypes all the time and you get a lot of morally ambiguous characters.

I’m just a super big fan of the writer.

The Secret Life of Addie LaRue is available as a:

Trying to read everything all at once

Shayna: [00:08:14] Yeah. That one’s been on my list. That’s another one. I was early on the hold list because I. Overestimated my reading capability and I didn’t have time to get to it when it, when it was in someone else wanted it. So I didn’t have time and I’ve tried to put it on hold on Libby.

And I’ve been waiting to get my hands on that one.

Laura: [00:08:33] Okay. I’ll check something out and I’m like, I’ll get to this. And then I don’t. And if I know other people want it, I’m like, Oh, I feel such guilt. I must return it.

Shayna: [00:08:44] I know.

Jordan: [00:08:45] And all of my holds, whether in the branches or on Libby or Overdrive, they all come in at once. I don’t have time. I wish I did.

Shayna: [00:08:58] So I have to like, pick and choose basically by book cover, which one do I really like?

Jordan: [00:09:05] There you go.

Laura: [00:09:05] Or sometimes I’m like, wow, this has so many pages. I’ll pick the shorter one and then maybe I can get back to the longer one.

Shayna: [00:09:12] Yeah, I do that too. that one sounds amazing.

And like, I remember it by the title, but I honestly did not remember like the summary. Yeah. So you saying it I’m sitting here? Like, I didn’t remember that. It sounds so, so cool. Like all over again.

book cover for The Once and Future Witches
The Once and Future Witches by Alix E. Harrow

The Once and Future Witches by Alix E. Harrow

Laura: [00:09:32] Okay. So Shayna, your last book was also one of my most favorite reads of last year.

Shayna: [00:09:39] Yes, Alex E. Harrow, queen. Yeah, so her most recent book my last pick is The Once and Future Witches, which is such a cool title. And the cover on this one was just gorgeous.

the ten thousand doors of january
The Ten Thousand Doors of January by
Alix E. Harrow

What drew me to her first book, The Ten Thousand Doors of January, was the cover. I’m so glad I picked it up because that was a book where like The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue, either people loved it or they hated it.

Again, it was the pacing because that book too was kind of a little slow to get to action parts, and that’s kind of how this one is. But I loved it.

Summary of The Once and Future Witches

So here is the summary… In 1893 there’s no such thing as witches. There used to be in the wild dark days before the burnings began, but now witching is nothing but tidy charms and nursery rhymes passed from mother to daughter, hidden workings and small tricks.

If the modern woman wants any measure of power, she must find it at the ballot box. But when the Eastwood sisters, Juniper, Agnes and Bella join the suffragist’s of new Salem, they begin to pursue the forgotten words in ways that might turn the women’s movement into the witches movement.

Stalked by shadows and sickness, hunted by forces who will not suffer a witch to vote. And perhaps not even to live, the sisters will need to delve into the oldest magics, draw new alliances and heal the bond between them if they want to survive.

Why Shayna likes The Once and Future Witches

So, I love this book. What Alex Harrow did was she took the, you know, the concept of witches in Salem.

And then she mixed that with, before women had the right to vote. And so when women were going on marches and having, riots with their signs and everything, like we want to vote, you’re going to hear us. Our opinions, but then add some witches into that. Okay. And they’re not, they’re not like, you know, like the wicked witch in the Wizard of Oz. They’re not the pretty one with the pink poofy dress. I forget her name, but they’re not that type. They’re not like a fairy godmother type of witch either, they are witches. And so it was really good. I was just rooting for the three sisters.

Different points of view

One of the things I love about books is when each chapter is told from a different character. So it has multiple points of view. And so each chapter was told from a different sister and each sister has their own stuff going on. They had like a rough childhood and so they were like separated and, you know, had old wounds and traumas that they hadn’t addressed yet. And then they come together and address that throughout the book together. And so they each have their own strengths. They each have their own attitudes and personalities and it was interesting how each chapter that just really came across. I read books before where yes, the chapter is a different character, but it doesn’t feel like it. So this one was really good. Alex Harrow did an amazing job on that aspect.

Laura: [00:12:48] You could even read those chapters and you wouldn’t have to see the chapter heading to know which sister’s chapter it was. And you’d still know she was good at crafting such a, an obvious voice for each one of them.

Shayna likes Juniper best

Shayna: [00:13:08] Yeah. And so like Juniper, she was my favorite sister and like, I love how Alex Harrow writes. She just writes…It’s almost like she’s singing a song when she writes. I mean, it’s just lyrical. It’s so beautiful.

And so like, there were parts for Juniper where it was like, Juniper walked into the room and her hair was wild and witchcraft was oozing out of her. I’m not describing it as good as Alex Harrow does, but so, so good. And it just made you feel as a woman, it just made me feel like, yes, like get it girls.

And I am looking forward to more books from Alex Harrow. I’ve been reading a lot of her short stories that she wrote and would publish in magazines. So like they don’t have physical books, but she is, she’s a top author, in my opinion. So, yeah, definitely.

Women’s Suffrage in the book

Laura: [00:13:57] I also love that she worked civil rights into the once and future, which is that the white women and the black women, even though they’re both fighting for a lot of the same thing, there’s still some tussling and you know, how do you honor traditions? And so I thought that was a nice app because goodness knows.

Women’s suffrage and, you know, not being burned because you’re a, which those are pretty heavy topics in and of themselves. So I was amazed that she managed to work that into, and yet I never felt like it was a I’m writing this as a cause. I mean, it never lost the entertainment factor.

Shayna: [00:14:36] Right.

Ugly cry ending

Laura: [00:14:38] And that ending, I don’t know about you, but it made me cry.

Jordan: [00:14:42] Tore my heart out and just ripped it to pieces. Yeah. Just such a great book. I’m like you said, I love, she had all the aspects of just a good for her story. She hit like every nail on the head. She had race, suffrage, you know, women’s rights. And she even had a little bit of like sexuality survival, just, you know, one of the sisters, she kind of has it a little rougher and she still, every day she just, she goes to work.

She’s a survivor. And there was even some homophobia in there. I mean, she just really shines a light on so many different things in her books and I love it and love it.

No new Alix E. Harrow novel in 2021

Laura: [00:15:20] I’m sorry, she’s not going to have a novel coming out this year, but there is no in the fall she’s doing a retelling of, I think it’s Sleeping Beauty, right?

Jordan: [00:15:32] A Spindle Splinter.

Shayna: [00:15:33] Yes. I think it’s going to be a novella maybe. So I think it will have multiple fairytale retellings. So, gosh, she’s so good.

Jordan: [00:15:41] yeah. I read The Once and Future Witches around Halloween last year. And I agree. she has so many elements happening, but she blends them all so well.

And one of the things I love about the way she wrote the characters was actually even just in the first few chapters where she would introduce the sister and say she was born in this place on this type of weather. Like from the very beginning, we get some kind of abstract sense of who they are.

Why women’s clothes don’t have pockets

Shayna: [00:16:13] And their witchcraft, you know, like, cause they all have it in them. All women do is what I love about this book. It was like, there was a point in the book where they’re trying to track down like a very particular spell. And so they find out it’s in the nursery rhymes that our mothers and grandmothers sang to us.

So, she’s just…that creativity, like who can come up with that? That’s so creative.

Laura: [00:16:37] Well in her reasoning for why women’s clothing doesn’t have pockets, which I know I’ve cursed about. You know, why do dresses not have pockets? It was men who did that so that women couldn’t have the workings for witchcraft. So pockets are a slap in the face of the patriarchy and I’m here for that.

Shayna: [00:16:58] Yes. It was so cool in the book. Like, cause they do have pockets the sisters and like when they’re getting ready to do a spell, they’ll have like, I don’t know a piece of this soul and send them in and they’ll like crush it in their pocket and then they’ll do their spell.

And I was just, I was entranced the entire book. It was just beautiful.

The Once and Future Witches is available as a:

Ghosts of Harvard
Ghosts of Harvard by Francesca Serritella

Ghosts of Harvard by Francesca Serritella

Laura: [00:17:18] Yes. All right, Jordan, what’s your left pick for us?

Jordan: [00:17:23] All right, so my last one is called Ghosts of Harvard by Francesca Serritella. This book also dealt with some sensitive topics that do get kind of dark in the book. But overall I think it was handled very well and respectfully in the story. So, I have the synopsis:

Summary of Ghosts of Harvard

Cadence Archer arrives on Harvard’s campus desperate to understand why her brother, Eric, a genius who developed paranoid schizophrenia, took his own life there the year before. Losing Eric has left a black hole in Cady’s life, and while her decision to follow in her brother’s footsteps threatens to break her family apart, she is haunted by questions of what she might have missed. And there’s only one place to find answers.

As Cady struggles under the enormous pressure at Harvard, she investigates her brother’s final year, armed only with a blue notebook of Eric’s cryptic scribblings. She knew he had been struggling with paranoia, delusions, and illusory enemies, but what tipped him over the edge? With her suspicions mounting, Cady herself begins to hear voices, seemingly belonging to three ghosts who walked the university’s hallowed halls—or huddled in its slave quarters. Among them is a person whose name has been buried for centuries and another whose named mankind will never forget.

Does she share Eric’s illness, or is she tapping into something else? Cady doesn’t know how or why these ghosts are contacting her, but as she is drawn deeper into their world, she believes they’re moving her closer to the truth about Eric, even as keeping them secret, isolates her further. Will listening to these voices lead her to one voice she craves–her brother’s–or will she follow them down a path to her own destruction?

Why Jordan likes Ghosts of Harvard

So, what drew me to this book initially: it had “ghosts” in the title. So, you know, that drew me in and also just like reading about it. And then reading the actual book and confirming this it just reminds me so much of the college town where I lived for four years.

I finished up my bachelor’s degree and went straight through and got my master’s degree at Ohio University in Athens, which is about two and a half hours from Clermont County. I haven’t been there in over a year because of the pandemic and the lockdowns, so reading this book and you know, it’s her first semester at college and all the collegiate

buildings and the bricks and the local coffee shops and the library. And it was like, oh, I miss it. So I really enjoyed it. In fact, one of Ohio University’s nicknames is “Harvard on the Hocking.” The author Francesca Serritella, she graduated from Harvard, so she’s recounting her experience there.

Dark Academia

It’s another one of those stories where the setting is so important and the characters’ interaction with the setting is so important. It’s very well-written, really great control over the, the narrative and keeping the story going. Dark academia has been a big thing recently, like A Deadly Education by Naomi Novik.

Laura: [00:20:41] Or The Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo.

Jordan: [00:20:43] Yeah, absolutely. Even like television, there’s been some dark academia, so I know that’s a big thing right now. So if you’re into that, if you want to learn some more, read some more stories kind of in that vein, this is a really good one to check out.

Or, if you just enjoy historical fiction, mystery, and/or ghost stories, this has a lot of that. And that’s another thing about this book. It has so many layers, like you get the personal difficulties that Cady has returning to this place that has such a negative history with her family. And she’s trying to not only learn what happened to her brother when they had no answers at the time and for such a long time afterward, but she’s also, you know, trying to be a college student and do her own thing and figure out what she wants to do. And now she has ghosts talking to her and now there’s some conspiracy on campus, so there are so many layers to the story and it was so engaging.

Signs of an engaging book

I would finish a chapter or I’d be in the middle of a chapter and say, okay, when I finish this. I’m going to put it down and go do something else. And then as soon as I finished it was like, nah, one more, maybe two.

Laura: [00:21:59] Well, that’s great. That’s a sign of a really engaging book. I think when you put it down, even though, you know, you should go to bed or, wash the dishes or whatever, but the fact that you do that whole internal bargaining with yourself, I’m just going to read to the end of this chapter. No, wait, maybe just one more chapter.

Shayna: [00:22:16] Yeah, I always find myself whenever I’m reading a good book, I’ll be like laying in bed reading. And my eyes, like I’m not even reading any more, but I just want to keep going. And like, my eyes are like screaming at me. Like we’re going to shut and fall asleep on you. So I have to like force myself to put the book down.

Laura: [00:22:34] I love books like that.

Jordan: [00:22:35] Yeah. And it was funny like this book’s actually a pretty hefty book, but you don’t really notice it because the writing is very natural. It’s very engaging. She meets a lot of different characters and they all are real and unique. So just overall, really great book. It doesn’t go all-in on the ghost thing if anyone’s concerned about that. It’s just, it’s one of the many, many layers of this story that brings it all together.

Ghosts of Harvard is available as a:

The House in the Cerulean Sea
The House in the Cerulean Sea by TJ Klune

The House in the Cerulean Sea by TJ Klune

Laura: [00:23:03] sounds good. So my last favorite of 2020 is The House in the Cerulean Sea by TJ Klune.

And I’ve been encouraging other people to read it by describing it as the book equivalent of a soft, warm cashmere blanket. It just envelops you in warmth and happiness. It was the perfect book to read during a pandemic. Lots of feel-good stuff in it.

Summary of The House in the Cerulean Sea

So the main character Linus leads a very quiet life with his cantankerous cat and his record collection. That’s how he goes wild. Listening to records.

He works for the government as a caseworker, as the department in charge of magical youth. That is the only true fantasy aspect is that some people are born with magic and the government in his country is not having that. So when children are found to be magical, they’re taken away from their parents and they’re set to live in these homes.

Linus inspects the homes wherethe children with magical powers are placed in. And because of his diligence, he receives a special assignment. He’s sent to visit an island and observe both the magical children being kept there and their keeper, Arthur Parnassus. So this is all of the kids who are super magical, that the government fears.

They stay on this very remote island. When Linus gets there and it’s not exactly what he thought it was going to be. His first introduction to one of the very magical children is a gnome and she’s very into gardening. She tells him all about the exciting things about her shovel and how the seed catalogs are coming in. She’s quite excited about it.

And he’s like, maybe these aren’t the terrible, awful magical creatures. I thought they were going to be. Although he does rethink that because one of them is an eight-year-old antichrist. Who talks about all the bad thoughts he has in his head.

Why Laura likes The House in the Cerulean Sea

And sometimes that makes Linus a little wary, but there’s a lot of humor in it. A lot of found family. And because the children are magical, the people in the nearby town are super afraid of them. Linus and Arthur get the kids together for an outing and with ice cream. And some of the townspeople are throwing rocks at them and just being terrible.

This makes Linus question, boy, have I really been doing this awful thing? Is the government really terrible? Maybe magical people aren’t so bad after all.

Anyway, it’s got a delightful, happy ending. So, you know, upfront there will be no having your heart ripped out.

Jordan: [00:25:46] Yeah, my copy of the e-book just came in yesterday, so, yeah, I know what I’m doing this weekend!

Shayna: [00:25:55] Yeah, I’m still waiting.

Laura: [00:25:59] I even suggested this one to my mom who usually reads mysteries and literary fiction. And she enjoyed it.

Shayna: [00:26:13] Whoa. Now is that one…that’s not a Juvenile Fiction, is it?

Laura: [00:26:17] I don’t think so. I know he writes some young adult books.

Shayna: [00:26:21] When I saw the cover, it just to me, it looked like a juvenile cover. And then when I looked it up, I was like, Oh, I love that cover.

Laura: [00:26:30] I love it too. Although, to be honest, there isn’t anything in it that, depending on a kid’s grade level,  there isn’t anything objectionable. Depending on their grade level, they might struggle a bit with some of the vocabulary.

The House in the Cerulean Sea is available as a:

In conclusion about our favorites of 2020

So thank you both for sharing some of your favorites of 2020 with our audience and me.

I love that we overlap in some areas and some areas, you pick books that I never would have picked, but I love hearing about them.

Thank you to our listeners and our viewers for joining us. Listeners, remember to hit that subscribe button so you don’t miss any upcoming episodes of the Booklovers Podcast. Viewers, subscribe to the Clermont Library YouTube channel for this and other great library content.

Thank you for joining us and happy reading!

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