4 Bookish Podcasts for Your Reading Life

Aside from being an avid reader, I also love listening to podcasts. Naturally, I gravitate toward a lot of bookish pods. I started in podcasts with Welcome to Nightvale and Lore, but soon expanded from audio dramas to topical shows. My foray into the bookish podcast world started with Book Riot, and it’s only gotten better ever since. Here are my favorite reading and book podcasts (in no particular order), and what value they add to my reading life.

Book Riot

I started by reading the articles, and then delved into the audio side of the media brand. I can’t recall anymore how I stumbled upon them. It was probably through Tumblr, but regardless, this podcast about books, publishing, and the world of reading just hit all the right notes.

It incorporates everything I love about that world, from discussion of news from the publishing and book retail world to analyses of the most recent branding weirdness that Barnes & Noble does. Hosts Jeff and Rebecca cover a wide range of reading topics that can appeal to any type of book lover. Whether you’re a professional in the business side of the industry, an aspiring writer, or an avid consumer of stories, this show has something to tickle your funny bone.

Get Booked

While Book Riot is the main brand of the media group, its many other shows offer readers of all kinds just what they’re looking for. Get Booked is my other favorite podcast from BR because it appeals to my particular addiction of adding to my ridiculously large to-be-read (TBR) pile.

The hosts, Amanda and Jenn, create a fun and energetic banter while answering reader requests for book recommendations. The way this show works is listeners send in their questions for books to read, whether it’s for gifts for someone else or book club or just to find out what they should read next. Get Booked offers listeners a more interactive experience. I actually sent a request and got it answered during the very next episode, which felt so nice to hear, because it made it all that much more real.

The other part I love about this podcast is that there are often questions and backstories from listeners that may be similar to something you’ve been looking for, so once they get recommendations, you do too. Recently, they started incorporating listener feedback, in which listeners can send in their own recommendations to previous questions asked on the last episode. It makes it all feel like a community.

Overdue

Hosts Andrew and Craig make for a hilarious duo in discussing backlist “books that you’ve been meaning to read.” Each week one host reads a book and tells the other about its plot, characters, and his thoughts on the story. What I like so much about this podcast is that it sounds like my best friend and I talking about our latest reads. It’s smart, but not academic and dry, perfect for the average reader who wants to discuss themes and symbolism, but still wants to make jokes and puns to lighten the tension on those tough reads.

The most fun part are the episodes in which Andrew and Craig embark on a choose your own adventure book. The hosts will do about seven different paths, depending on how each one ends, all while getting through fits of giggles and making character voices that just absolutely make a long work commute worth the time in traffic.

Eclectic Readers

I can’t very well talk about bookish podcasts without mentioning the Eclectic Readers. Disclaimer: my cousin is on this podcast, so there may be a bit of a bias.

With this podcast, hosts Jeannette, Tara, Susan, and Meredith rotate between episodes, sometimes with all four discussing that month’s read or just a select few. They call themselves the Eclectic Readers because their tastes vary in range, reading across the board, from Pachinko to The Last Black Unicorn. They started as an in-real-life book club/virtual book club until these four hosts eventually developed a podcast for their group.

My favorite part of this podcast (aside from my cousin) is hearing their pre-show discussion of their latest non-book club reads. It feels like sitting down with friends and catching up on mutual bookish interests. Plus, there always seems to be some kind of reading or book event happening that one of them is attending, so it’s always fun to hear about those.

Listening to books and reading podcasts has only enhanced my life as a reader, whether it’s by increasing the TBR, knowing there are others like me who care about reading as much as I do, or getting the insider scoop on the publishing industry. What bookish podcasts do you recommend? Why do you like them? Let me know in the comments.

What to Do About the DNF Guilt

What is it about not finishing a book that gives us so much guilt? Find out in my latest blog post!

I’ve spoken before about that awful feeling with the DNF pile in your reading list. You can check out that post here. Quick definition for those that aren’t familiar, DNF stands for “did not finish.”

I know, it’s hard to imagine not finishing a book when you really consider yourself a reader. When you identify so strongly with the label reader that it’s just a core part of who you are as a person, the sick feeling of not finishing a book feels like a betrayal somehow.

I was listening to my cousin’s podcast recently (Eclectic Readers – check them out!) and they discussed that guilty feeling with the DNF pile. That got me thinking about the association of guilt with leaving a book unread.

The word itself means a sense of remorse for some wrongdoing, like breaking a law or committing a moral offense. Lord knows there’s nothing illegal about leaving a book unfinished. There’s nothing even immoral about it. Seriously, it’s a totally neutral action, of which there are no consequences. So, why do we feel the DNF guilt?

As I began to really think about it, I’ve come to believe the feeling stems from a sense of “cutting your losses.” Sure, it’s not the same as running a business and spending millions of dollars on a project that turned out to be a lost cause. It’s probably at most a $25 + tax loss on a brand new hard cover from Barnes & Noble.

It’s still a loss though. It’s a loss of money spent to purchase the damn thing. It’s a loss of shelf space that could have gone to more worthy contenders. It’s a loss of time and energy, as you’ve already spent both on starting and getting through some portion of the book, so you might as well finish, right?

The guilt we feel from not finishing a book comes from a sense of loss, and in my experience, people sure hate to lose. For me personally, that monetary loss cuts deep. Sure, one book is at most $25, but what if I bought 10 books that I didn’t end up finishing? That’s $250! Maybe that still doesn’t sound like a lot to some people, but for those who prefer to save money wherever they can, that’s a dent in the wallet that makes them wince.

This also reveals another deeper problem: the need to stop buying so many books. It’s so easy to get caught up and swept in by the love at first sight feeling when you see that gorgeous cover on the shelf and just want to take it home. Looks can be deceiving. Even words can lead you astray. That back cover description of fascinating worlds and characters just sucks you right in and entices you with, more often than not, sweet nothings.

That’s why this year, I’m resolved to exercise restraint to reduce the DNF guilt and the feeling of having wasted money and minimize time spent on books I don’t enjoy to avoid that feeling of money, time, and energy lost. That means less trips to Barnes & Noble to browse the aisles. I often go to the cafe to write, and when I’m done with that, I think to myself, “Let me just take a quick peak.” I have to physically force myself out the door, because I know a quick peak will devolve into “just a book or two.”

I’m also going to use my library more to find books I want to read. Granted, that’s a bit harder, because many of the books I want to read are independently or self-published, which means they don’t get picked up by most libraries. My library especially can be a bit lackluster with its selections. Unless it’s The Girl on the Train or Gone Girl or The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo or whatever iteration of Girl we’re on these days, the chances of finding the book I want from my local library are slim.

I will make every effort to find the books I want to read through the libary first. When that fails, I’ll look into second-hand options to try to find them for much cheaper than retail prices. Heck, I’m even making the effort to borrow books from friends more often. Buying brand new from a big-name chain bookstore is my last resort this year.

Also, I already started making the executive decision to just nix some titles off my TBR altogether. If I can’t find it for a reasonable price anywhere, I take the Marie Kondo approach. If it doesn’t spark joy, I let it go and click delete on my Goodreads “Want to Read” list.

What are your thoughts on the DNF guilt? How do you avoid the guilt altogether? Let me know in the comments!

The Problem With My Problematic Fave

I read a few Michael Connelly mystery books and other similar novels throughout college. I’m currently working through another hard-boiled mystery, Privileged Lives, the first in the Vincent Cardozo novels by Edward Stewart. I love the gritty, dirty mood and feel these novels provide. I like rough around the edges detectives who are kind of jerks, especially to bad guys, but deep down they’re really passionate about their job of protecting people and finding justice, even if they are a bit jaded after decades on the job. I love skeevy settings and shady characters. I love the down in the dirt crimes and seeing the worst of humanity. It’s a weird wheelhouse, but I know I’m not alone.

What I don’t love about most of these books though, is that they also come with a healthy helping of sexism, misogyny, homophobia, and racism. There’s something about the hard-boiled detective that makes writers turn to tropes of womanizing, prejudice, and “just being honest.” I get it. These novels are made for a hypermasculine audience. That’s their appeal.

And yet, the more I read them, the less and less I can stomach dialogue that blatantly uses slurs and stereotypes to convey the image of hardened police officers who are just macho men. That’s just what these detectives do. They rough up criminals, drink straight Scotch, and spend too much introspection time on pondering the length of a broad’s legs and the attractive shape of her waist to hip ratio.

I guess what I’m getting at here is recommendations from fellow readers. For those like me who love the gritty, hard-boiled mystery but without the bigotry, I’d like to invite you all to tell me what some of your favorites are. I’m still all for the gruff detective who won’t let go of the case that haunts his nightmares, and in the end gets the girl. I just want less of that man’s man mentality that leads to toxic masculinity. I’d really like a female detective lead that has those same qualities that a male character is allowed to have, and still be loved by the reader.

You could say I’m looking for Jessica Jones read-alikes. I think that’s what really appealed to me about that character and show. She was a flawed and terrible protagonist who acted like she didn’t care about anyone, but she still did the P.I. job because the truth was she did care. It’s probably the only time I’ve seen a female anti-hero that fans love and want more of her story.

Though I’m a big fan of the character and the show, I don’t just want to read J. Jones comic books. I want other novels and mysteries in that vein that give me the seedy side of humanity without the outright prejudice. I know that sounds contradictory, but it’s clearly possible if the creators of Jessica Jones could make it happen.

So if anyone out there has suggestions to help me get my fix of the hard-boiled detective mystery without bigotry, I’d greatly appreciate it. Let me know your recommendations in the comments!

Meagan Reads YA Fantasy: The Exiled Queen by Cinda Williams Chima

This is the sequel to The Demon King from the Seven Realms series. Possible spoilers ahead, so if you plan on reading these books, proceed with caution.

from Goodreads

In the continuation of this series, Raisa makes it to Oden’s Ford with her childhood friend and complicated love interest Amon Byrne, after having fled the Fells to avoid an arranged marriage to the wizard Micah Bayar, which would have set off a civil war among the clans and the Vale people. Meanwhile, Han Alister and his childhood best friend Dancer make it to Oden’s Ford after fleeing Marisa Pines after the death of Han’s mom and sister.

Though the two stories diverged at the end of the first book and remained as separate lines throughout most of this one, they eventually meet up again. This time though, Raisa, unable to be with Amon, falls for Han after agreeing to tutor him in the ways of the nobility. In their separate lives, Raisa continues to play the part of a noble lady named Rebecca Morley, while Han juggles various extracurricular training sessions in wizardry from the dean of the magic school and a mysterious tutor who only meets with him in a different dimension.

Needless to say, there is a whole mess of complex stories and characters going on in this book. And yet, the reader never loses track of who’s who and what events have occurred or how they relate. It’s actually really impressive how deftly Chima maps out the people, places, and events in a way that’s rich and layered, and yet never confusing. These books feel like Game of Thrones, but written by Tamora Pierce.

I think what helped the most with this though, is that Chima used the first chapter in the book to essentially act as the recap, like TV shows that use “Previously on…” Personally, I think series like these, especially in the fantasy realm, could use more of that structure. After all, they’re written in such an episodic way it just makes sense to give the reader a refresher on what came before (especially readers like me who read books with so much time in between). Maybe we can just create a website for that kind of thing.

The other element I really appreciate about these books, especially The Exiled Queen, is how the plot points mix with the every day issues, and that those issues act as parallels to our own real-world problems. For example, the dynamic between Cat Tyburn and Dancer shows how even those who come from marginalized communities (Cat is a Southern Isle native from the streets, but raised in the Vale) can still display prejudice and bigotry toward other marginalized communities (Dancer is clanborn).

I’d say one of the bigger flaws of the series is the rampant heteronormativity. There’s only one instance of LGBTQ+ representation, but it isn’t fleshed out and comes off as an afterthought. Two of Raisa’s cadet friends, Talia and Pearlie, are girlfriends. It’s mentioned that “women who prefer other women” are known as moonspinners. While I really like that new terminology for lesbians, this particular story point is brought up momentarily and immediately set aside. Presumably it’s because they aren’t main characters, but in the end, I felt like I could have gotten the same ending story without their inclusion, and that doesn’t make for true diversity and inclusion.

Overall, I really liked this sequel and I’m definitely looking forward to reading the continuation of this story. It’s complex enough to be intriguing, but not so much so as to overwhelm. Has anyone else read these books? What are your thoughts on the series? Let me know in the comments!

Meagan Reads YA Fantasy: Queen of Air and Darkness by Cassandra Clare

My last read of 2018 and first review of 2019. This is the third and final installment in Cassandra Clare’s The Dark Artifices series, another story set in the Shadowhunter world. I want to start by saying that Clare is one of my favorite authors. I adore her Shadowhunter world. It wasn’t until just a couple of months ago that I realized that what’s called urban fantasy was my all time favorite genre.

For those who plan on reading the books and haven’t gotten this far, beware! Spoilers for book two, Lord of Shadows, ahead.

qoaad_blogIn Queen of Air and Darkness, the Blackthorns, Emma, and Shadowhunter community as a whole are reeling from the events at the end of the last book, in which Livvy Blackthorn is killed, as well as the Inquisitor Robert Lightwood, Alec’s father (he’s a major character in The Mortal Instruments series, FYI). With the grief of losing his baby sister and the impending doom that is set to happen to him and his parabatai because they’ve fallen in love, it’s too much for Julian to handle. He decides to have his emotions magically muted, which leads him to become a different person that makes cold, calculating decisions, but not in the name of family and love, instead for the sake of militaristic strategy.

Battles in fairy lead to Emma and Julian traveling through a portal to another dimension called Thule, where the Dark War from the Mortal Instruments series went terribly wrong and Sebastian lived and ruled the land. Suffice it to say, this is not the kind of book you can read casually and pick up as a stand alone. You absolutely have to read at least the two previous books, and the other Shadowhunter series’ books. While it gives just enough detail to fill in those gaps to anyone who might be new to the world, it’s definitely written for die hard fans of Clare’s world.

Taking this book into consideration with the rest of the series, I have to say it wasn’t my favorite. It started off really strong and I was hooked and tormented all the way through the adventures in Thule. The events that unfold after that didn’t quite keep my attention in the same way. It’s not to say that I didn’t like how the story unraveled, but I definitely felt much of it could have been condensed.

There were a lot of moments that were meant to be character development, which is absolutely crucial to any story, but when it comes to the stories that Clare writes, that development must also carry the story forward. I didn’t feel like every detail written for the sake of developing characters did that. As a fan of the people and the world, I loved reading these details into each individual’s personality and thoughts, but as a reader of a novel as a whole, I thought many scenes bogged down the story that wanted to keep going. There was a lot that could have been saved as more “behind the scenes” tidbits, which is something the author likes to post on her social media. In short, it felt like much of the content in Queen of Air and Darkness was dedicated too much to fanservice, which hurt the overall story.

That said, I want to reiterate that I loved learning more about the characters. Specifically, I adored seeing the development of certain relationships between different character sets. Clare has a true talent for putting into words the complexity of human emotions and how those are influenced by and affect the ties that bind. The relationship that broke my heart the most was between Ty and Kit.

After the death of his twin Livvy, Ty leans on Kit for support in his insane endeavors to bring her back from the dead. Kit knows it’s a bad idea, but wants so desperately to please and help Ty because of the love that’s grown that he goes along with the bad idea. The way things end between them left me wanting to cry, but I’m hoping that that particular dynamic has more to come, and it seems like there’s room for growth with the way Clare wrote their ending.

I’m looking forward to reading about Kit’s story in future books and seeing how his story fits in with the rest of the Shadowhunter world. Have any of you read the books in this world and/or series? What are your thoughts on the Shadowhunters? Let me know in the comments!

Meagan Reads Fiction: The Book of Speculation by Erika Swyler

This is my second to last read for the MadLibs 2018 reading challenge that I was supposed to finish officially back in June, but whatever, there’s still some time left in the year.

The Book of Speculation tells a story across generations of Simon, the protagonist’s, family. His is a family of circus performers, but more than that, one of “dangerous” women who suffer from undiagnosed mental illness.

Image from Goodreads

When a man named Churchwarry, a book collector, sends Simon a mysterious book that is somehow connected to his family, Simon finds himself obsessed with the discovery that all the women in his family have drowned on the same day. Truly, a mystery as all these women were “mermaids.” They were carnival performers who swam in tanks on display because they could hold their breath for an inordinate amount of time, a talent Simon and his sister have inherited.

When his sister Enola, who works the circuit as a Tarot card reader, comes home frazzled and displaying acute anxiety, and the date of July 24th approaches, Simon becomes desperate to break the curse that already took his mother, and in turn, his father.

The entire time I read this book, I couldn’t help but think of the movie Big Fish. Perhaps it was the cast of circus characters that I found a connection to, but I think it was more than that. It was how much like the protagonist in that movie, Simon tried to stay removed from his family’s history but found himself nearly drowned in it until he stopped resisting.

There’s also the element of magical realism that felt like the two stories were connected. In fact, if this book were ever made into a movie or Netflix series, I could see it having much the same directorial qualities as Big Fish. As the story delves back and forth between past and present, slowly unraveling the twisted web created by generations of lies and secrets, I found myself enthralled and engaged in the mystery of this family, spanning across Vissers, Rhyzkovas, Peabodys, and more.

I think what was also so striking, especially toward the end, is how artifacts and history can have such a strong pull that even generations and various degrees of separation later, certain bloodlines and people can still find their way back to each other. It left me wondering if the curse and magic were real, or if it was all just a matter of chance and coincidence. Although the book falls pretty firmly on the magic side of this thought, it still leaves it just vague enough to let the readers decide for themselves.

Who else has read this book? What are your thoughts and feelings on this story? Let me know in the comments!

Three and a Half Years of Reading in Spanish

I picked up a book in Spain over three years ago because it looked interesting. I thought, “I’m proficient enough in Spanish, and this sounds like a fun action-thriller that will be a breeze.” It was not a breeze. I am not that proficient in Spanish (though my father said he didn’t think it was a very good translation, so perhaps that didn’t do me any favors). But I persisted, and I finally finished reading David Golemon’s Leyenda, translated by Ester Mendía Picazo.

leyenda
Source: Goodreads

I can’t quite give a thorough review, because since I was so focused on understanding the language, it was easy to get lost in what characters were who and who did what, though I think that may have just been the nature of the book. There was such an extensive ensemble and multiple converging storylines that it was all a dizzying swirl of action and adventure. What I can say is that it reminded me of a cross between National Treasure and The Da Vinci Code, so it was a fun read to be sure.

But this post isn’t about giving a review. It’s about relishing in my accomplishment of finishing my first ever book entirely in Spanish. It’s not my first language, so to say that I read 415 pages in my second tongue, especially when it heavily dealt with a topic of which the vocabulary was completely new to me, is something to be proud of.

I had moments where I thought about quitting and just saying that I can’t read in Spanish. But I didn’t do that. Instead, I took my time. I read voraciously some nights, as I was enthralled by the story. And other nights I read one paragraph or one page. That’s okay. There was no pressing need to finish the book in a timely manner (clearly). It took three and a half years, but I finished.

I think it’s important that I took on this endeavor, because it taught me an important life lesson. It may take many years and more time than anticipated, but it’s possible to finish something that seems impossible. Weirdly enough, completing this challenge I set for myself, even three years later, has renewed my energy to finish my next challenge (which I’ve also been working on for four years now): writing my first novel.

I’ve been working on writing my book on and off, writing when I have time. For the last four years it’s felt like a hobby that I’m doing to pass the time, and like it’s something that I’ll never finish. Sometimes I write a chapter and think, “Okay, that’s the next chapter. Who knows when this will be done.” But reading a whole book in Spanish and getting to the end taught me that, yes, an end does come, even if it takes more time than thought. I don’t just feel like I’m writing for writing’s sake now. I finished Leyenda, so that means I can finish writing my book.

This all also coincides with the impending end of my master’s program. In just eight more weeks, I’ll be done and officially have my MBA. I see the end of each of these adventures as the closing of chapters in my own book, but not as the end of my story. Some chapters are longer than others and take more time, but they do come to an end. And that just means I know I can accomplish these things and feel rejuvenated to start the next one.

I thought being a reader had taught me all it can at this point, but it turns out there’s still so much more that being a reader can teach me.