Unabridged: Best of 2023…So Far with Lupita Aquino, Liberty Hardy, and Greta Johnsen – Transcript

Here by popular demand is our first Unabridged mid-year best-so-far episode, featuring a trio of our favorite bookish friends – Book Riot’s Liberty Hardy, Lupita Aquino (aka Lupita Reads) and Nerdette’s Greta Johnsen. We list and discuss the books we’ve read and loved so far this year, the best backlist book titles, and a few picks we’re looking forward to for the rest of 2023.

*This episode is exclusive to members of The Stacks Pack on patreon. To join this community, get inside access to the show, and listen now, click the link below.


*Due to the nature of podcast advertising, these timestamps are not 100% accurate and will vary.

Traci Thomas 0:11
All right, everybody. We’re here with The Stacks Unabridged. I asked you earlier this year, what kind of episodes you wanted to hear. And what I heard overwhelmingly is that you wanted a middle of the year best books of the year like we do at the end of the year. So I have rounded up the bookish troops, my favorite book bullies on the planet, my bookish people. And we’re going to talk about the best book so far of 2023 the things we’re most looking forward to for the second half of the year, and we’re gonna give you a backlist book that we’ve loved because we love old books around here. So without further ado, I will introduce my three book bully accomplices starting with Greta Johnsen, who you all know host of The Nerdette podcast friend of the podcast and my personal human antithesis, Greta, welcome back.

Greta Johnsen 0:58
So excited to be here. You know, Traci, we have agreed on a couple different books lately. I just want to say that on the record for the public.

Traci Thomas 1:05
I know and I feel weird about it.

Greta Johnsen 1:06
It is weird. I think it’s exciting.

Traci Thomas 1:07
I feel sick. I’ve felt sick ever since.

Lupita Aquino 1:10
I feel like I don’t want to do this anymore if you guys are agreeing.

Traci Thomas 1:15
Don’t worry, we won’t agree for real. No, that voice you just heard is Lupita Aquino, our dear friend of the pod, repeat guest. She’s the reader behind Lupita Reads. She’s a book influencer who hates being called a book influencer Lupita, Hi.

Lupita Aquino 1:30
Oh, yes, I do. I do.

Traci Thomas 1:32
Why do you hate it?

Lupita Aquino 1:33
So, oh, I don’t know because I think that big box influencers is such a cringe place and it’s not that I don’t want to be an influencer. But I don’t think that what I do specifically would be considered influencing, and I feel like yeah, maybe literally, but at the same time, like we’re just a community giving each other book recommendations right. So if you’re gonna- if you’re gonna call me an influencer, call me an influential reader is what I prefer.

Traci Thomas 2:01
That’s very sweet. But you are an influencer. And I don’t care what you say on it. Enjoy it, your emotions are you influenced? And our third and final guest is new to the Stacks universe. It’s a Liberty Hardy host of book writes all the books and reader of approximately 500 to 600 books a year. Liberty? How are you? And how do you read so many books?

Liberty Hardy 2:29
Um, well, I don’t have children. So that’s usually a help right there. Although my cats are very badly behaved. I don’t really do much else. You know, I don’t sleep. I sleep like two to four hours a night which is really bad for you don’t try this at home.

Greta Johnsen 2:44
That explains it because I’m also childless. But I like nine to 10 hours of sleep a night, so there it is.

Liberty Hardy 2:49
No, I actively fight sleep. I still do like I still to this day, even though I’m like 78 years old. I still fight sleep. It’s like I can be reading a book.

Lupita Aquino 2:59
I had no idea.

Traci Thomas 3:00
I don’t know how you do it. I have children now. But I never got close to 500 or 600 bucks before I had children because I like gret. Apparently, we’re agreeing a lot. I need approximately 12 hours of sleep. I don’t know I can barely do any less. Okay, I have gathered this meeting of the book sitters book club to discuss the best things we’ve read so far from 2023. So I’ve asked you all to bring like two or three of your favorite reads so far this year. And then we’ll also toss in our favorite back list book that we read this year. And in no particular order, we’re gonna start with Liberty. What’s your first favorite so far of the year?

Liberty Hardy 3:43
I think that Greta also read this one. So she’ll probably say that she hates it. But it’s the Dog of the North by Elizabeth McKenzie.

Greta Johnsen 3:53
I haven’t read it.

Liberty Hardy 3:54
I thought you did. Ok, whew!

Greta Johnsen 3:58
I’ve never heard of it.

Liberty Hardy 4:00
Really? I thought you said you were going to read it. But oh, titles go by all the time. So I loved this book. And I will say I loved Elizabeth McKenzie’s first novel, which was The Portable Veblen which was nominated for the National Book Award. And I was doubly excited about this one because Charles Portis is one of my very favorite authors. He died in 2020. He wrote a book called The dog of the South. And this is an homage to that it’s this weird comedic roadtrip novel. That’s also like really heartfelt and and we’ll also like get you right in the field. And it’s about this woman named Penny, who is having like this crisis in her life, her husband is cheating on her and she decides that the way to solve this is to leave him leave her town leave her job like leave everything. She has grandparents who live in California who have some issues that need taken care of and she’s been avoiding it. She also meets a her grandmother’s accountant who has a medical emergency on the first night that she’s there and now she doesn’t have any place to De so she’s gonna sleep in his van, which is called the dog of the North, like all kinds of wacky things are going to happen. But we also know like it was written all of this that her parents live in Australia, her and they went missing five years ago they got in a in a van to go exploring because they love nature and science. And no one’s ever seen them since. And so now she’s thinking about going to Australia to go look for her parents again. It’s this like, really funny, weird book about grief. And like, how everyone relates to family differently. And it’s just dark humor, and I loved it so, so, so much.

Traci Thomas 5:40
How long is this book?

Liberty Hardy 5:42
Why did I talk about it too long?

Traci Thomas 5:44
No, no, I’m just wondering because it literally has like 1000 plot points.

Liberty Hardy 5:51
It’s like, I don’t know. 320, maybe.

Traci Thomas 5:54
Oh, so it’s just like very fast paced.

Liberty Hardy 5:56
Oh, yeah. It’s slapstick.

Traci Thomas 5:58
It’s wacky- got it. Yeah. Yeah. Got it. Got it. I don’t know. You know what some of these people say they’re doing comedy, and then they be giving you a 600 page book. And I’m like, nothing’s funny for 600 pages.

Liberty Hardy 6:10
Yeah, no, it’s perfect for people who love Kevin Wilson.

Traci Thomas 6:14
Okay. Okay. Got it. Greta. You like that? Kevin Wilson.

Greta Johnsen 6:17
I love Kevin Wilson. You know what, as you were describing it Liberty, I remember I did start that one and I couldn’t get into it, but I couldn’t tell you exactly why.

Traci Thomas 6:27
See? The anti- the queen of anti. Ssince she’s already spoken Greta, why don’t you go next? Let’s see if your book’s any good. We’ll be the judge of that.

Greta Johnsen 6:39
I love this. So antagonistic. Okay, so I promise this isn’t just going to be a giant plug for Nerdette book club. But I want to like at least shout out a couple of titles of books we’ve had so far this year, because I thought they were really great and really different and like part of a bigger, compelling conversation. One is our main selection, which is Take what you need by Aedra Novi. I thought it was beautiful. We just recorded the discussion for that today. And it was just so good. Also Better the blood by Michael Bennett which Liberty turned me on to is a detective novel that takes place in New Zealand. And it’s very much about like generational trauma and the history of colonialism. And it is also very much not propaganda and it’s but it’s still like a thrilling propulsive mystery novel, which I loved. But I would love to spend a couple more minutes talking about the Adventures of Amina Alsarafi because that’s our June book club pick. It’s by Shannon Chakraborty. It is not her first book, she also did a more fantasy series called The first one was called City of brass. But this one is historical fantasy, and it’s about a Muslim lady pirate, and it is so much fucking fun. I can’t wait to talk about it for book club. It’s just like, it’s just a romp. You know, it’s one of those like, they’re all these mythical creatures. And she’s this really sassy lady who still really honors her faith, which I think is such an interesting topic that you know, especially to see it historically is just really fascinating. And it’s an adventure story, which is just such a treat, I think, especially in the summer, you know.

Traci Thomas 8:13
I love it. I love an adventure story. I love plots. So I pre-approve this book. Never heard of it.

Greta Johnsen 8:19
Yeah, it’s really fun. I think you’d like it.

Traci Thomas 8:21
Well, we’ll see. It’s so rare that I like a book. I can’t imagine that I would possibly like something. Okay, Lupita What do you have for us?

Lupita Aquino 8:32
I’m laughing extra hard, because any time I recommend a fiction book to Traci now, her first one of her first questions is always like, how long is it? Does it have a plot?

Traci Thomas 8:42
Those are my two questions.

Lupita Aquino 8:45
And I’m always like, Ooh, I don’t know. Because I’m not a plot person.

Traci Thomas 8:48
Yeah, that’s why I asked you that. I don’t ask everyone that. But I ask you because you like vibes. As a plot device.

Lupita Aquino 8:57
I like vibes. I really do, you know, I’m gonna own it. But my pick is that speaking of influencing is actually one of my favorite books of this year was your fault, Traci. Um, you text me as you were reading it, and you were like, have you read this book?

Traci Thomas 9:16
It’s on my list for today too, but I just took it off. Now I won’t say it is one of my favorites. But it’s on my list we’re talking about today. Go ahead. Sorry to interrupt.

Lupita Aquino 9:24
We can love on it together. We can live on it together. So yeah. You said have you read it? I said no. And it’s her job, but it’s a memoir. By Lima. Lamya H.

Lamya, yeah.

Ah, and I thought it was just so beautifully done. I honestly, you know, it’s about different aspects of her life coming of age and she weaves in, like, you know, Muslim, like her Muslim identity and her queerness in a way that I feel like I have Never seen done before with anything, you know. And I’m just fresh off coming off of this podcast on which I talked about what it was like growing up Catholic, which is like there’s a whole podcast idea of theirs is dedicated to talking about growing up Catholic and I just never really thought much about it, and how it impacts like who you are and you know how you show up in the world. And so I feel like this book is that and I just was like, so obsessed with it. I’m still obsessed with it. And it also challenged me. And so I love when a book challenges me or I’m not 100% Like, Oh, I agree with what you’re saying. But I’m like thinking and I’m like growing, you know, and learning more about why it is that certain thing that, you know, they wrote about in their memoir might have made me want to reevaluate something. So talk about vibes. This was all the vibes this like was so good. Thank you, Traci.

Traci Thomas 10:56
You’re welcome. I love being called an influencer. So I am honored. I love this book so much. I put it on my list, because I wasn’t sure if you would mention it. And if you didn’t, I was gonna make it my final pick. But everyone who’s listening who’s like part of the stacks pack, they already know that I love this book. We did an episode with Lamya. They’re fantastic. The book is fantastic. If you have not read it. I think it’s got to be one of the memoirs of the year and I read a lot of memoir and it definitely sticks out as like a really well done inventive and smart way of writing memoir. Okay, I’ll go for my pick. I don’t think anyone’s gonna say this button me but it also will come as zero surprise on my listeners. So far. It’s my number one book of the year. It’s called We were once a family by Roxana Asgarian. It’s the story of the Hart family murders, which I think people will be familiar with for a lot from a lot of different places. But the story is of these two white women who adopted six black children. And then in 2018, they drove them off of a cliff, their entire family. Yeah, it was like there was a podcast about it. Yeah, it was in the news. There was a podcast, it was like a fictionalization was a episode of Atlanta. Anyways, this journalist Roxanna Asgarian basically flips the story and focuses entirely or almost entirely on the birth families of the six children and explains like the history of family separation, specifically in Texas, because both sets of the children it was two separate families, three children from one family, three children from another who were both sets were adopted. But both sets were adopted out of Houston, or the Houston area. So she delves really deep into like Texas family separation and family welfare and talks about the families that were left behind. And, and you know, she talks about what happened in the crime and the two women who murdered those children. But she does it in a way that doesn’t make them like the victims, which is how it’s been presented in the public as like they were these overwhelmed moms. And it’s much more nefarious than that. It’s a much darker story. I love dark books, as people know. But this book, even for me, I’ve read it in about 36 hours, because I literally was like, I can’t sit with this story for too long. Like I was like, I just have to just push through. So I love it. I think it’s one of the best books I’ve read this year. I think it’s just fantastic. It’s like a kind of a perversion of maybe a subversion of the true crime genre, because of course, it’s a true crime story, but it’s not treated that way. So I just loved it. Highly, highly, highly recommend for those of you who like a little darkness with your

Lupita Aquino 13:45
Did you listen to it on audio?

Traci Thomas 13:47
Oh, no. I just read it just off the page. Yeah, I don’t think I could listen to it. I think it would make me too sad.

Greta Johnsen 13:52
That sounds really hard. Yeah.

Lupita Aquino 13:55
Yeah, I want it. I have like- I have chills listening to talk about it. And I feel like I need it. But physical? Audio? I’m torn.

Traci Thomas 14:03
Well, I don’t know. I know people did it on audio. I just for me, I prefer these kinds of books that are like to be off the page. I because I like to go my own speed. I feel like with audio, you have to kind of be locked in for the ride. You know, like the reader is reading it, how they’re reading it. But for me for these kinds of books, I like to go a little on my own my own whatever cadence. Okay, we’re going to do reverse draft on the way back. So Lupita you’re up again, I guess to actually know I’m up again. Okay, I have to go twice. I’m up again. Okay. Um, I’m gonna go with a book that we haven’t done on the stacks, but that I really loved which was Rough sleepers by Tracy Kidder. And he wrote the book Mountains Beyond Mountains, about Paul Farmer, and he basically like embeds with these like, guys, these Doctor guys. And then he talks about them. So this one is about Boston’s homeless community who sleeps on the streets and they’re referred to colloquially Leah’s rough sleepers. And this Dr. Jim O’Connell, who follows them fall or takes care of them and tracks them and provides like this health clinic to them. And it’s all about just like homelessness. And it’s just like a really deep dive investigative journalism thing, like Tracy Kidder is with Jim O’Connell for years, like reporting on this story. And while there are things that I didn’t love about the book, like, I think that there’s opportunity for to have a slightly more political opinion from both Jim O’Connell and Tracy Kidder, I still just thought it was really well written. And, and like a glint, like kind of like those slice of life books where it’s like, you get to see a subculture that maybe you’d never have access to, or be able to, like, understand, and entries, you could, there’s just a fantastic writer and storyteller. So I love this one, sort of my sort of didn’t want to tell you all the same books that I always tell you. So this is sort of like a book that I love, but I haven’t been screaming about, but I really, really liked it. Okay, Lupita, you’re up?

Lupita Aquino 16:06
Well, I’m gonna keep screaming about the same books all the time. Only because I feel like some of the books that I scream about just don’t get enough buzz. And I don’t know what else to do, but keep screaming. Boy, I’m like, people read this book. And Traci, I did actually tell you that this one might be something that you would be interested in. So it’s the people who report more stress. You all have heard me mentioned this before, Alejandro Valera. And the reason I think you would be interested, Traci is because he has a background in public health. And he embeds that within this short story collection, but also his like, previous novel, his debut novel. But this collection is just so different. It’s like one of those short story collections you read that feels just so unique, you’re like, This is something special. And he basically writes about, like, literally, like, the title implies that people who report more stress, which generally have to be people who not have to be but generally are people who live, you know, on the margins, like queer folks, black folks, Latinx, folks, and how they, like, you know, transverse the world. So he’s got one story in there about being a queer parent. And like, you know, trying to kind of be friends with the other parents in the group, which are like, the majority of them are white. And so, you know, being followed around by the white parent and asked if everything’s okay, and then being like, Okay, well, maybe I need to take, maybe I just need to drink more, because I’m, he’s making me really anxious following me around, right? And then he’s like, Oh, no, I can’t drink more, because then I’m going to be the bad queer parent that drinks too much. And as a lash, it was like, just the way he writes about that, like, it just inability, just the transverse like transversing that is just so funny. And they’re funny. And they’re, you can read them like together, you can read them separately. You don’t need to read it as a whole. But it’s very clear. It’s very gay. And it’s one of my favorite short story collections. I would say that I’ve read in a long time.

Traci Thomas 18:07
Yeah, I know, you did tell me that. I need to read it. I need to get myself a copy.

Lupita Aquino 18:12
I will send you a copy. I will send you a copy. I will do what Liberty said she would do previously. And I will call you and read to you.

Traci Thomas 18:20
Nobody’s reading to me. I don’t want to be read to by you all. I want a professional audio book reader to read to me. I will do it myself. Thank you for the offer. Ladies, I appreciate it. Leave me alone. I’m gonna report you as harassment.

Lupita Aquino 18:35
But you don’t know the people on booktok and tiktok- I’m their influencer. And they love my reading voice and they say I should be a professional reader. So yeah, I think I can do this.

Traci Thomas 18:46
I think you should read to them. And I think you should leave me alone. Okay, thank you. Okay, Greta, what do you have?

Greta Johnsen 18:55
Is this my last chance to talk?

Traci Thomas 18:57
I haven’t decided yet, okay. Treat it like it might be.

Greta Johnsen 19:02
Okay, I’m gonna choose Going Zero because this is a book that I haven’t talked about much, but I really enjoyed it. I speak in professional narrators actually picked up the audiobook solely because of who narrated it, which is Marine Ireland. And she’s one of my favorite audiobook narrators. And it is about it’s sort of like near future high tech time, where, Gosh, I really should have prepped this description before I set it into a microphone. But here we go. There’s like a secret national competition where 10 people have applied to try to be completely on trackable, and if they win, then they win a bunch of money. And it’s partly because there’s like this upstart company that’s trying to partner with like the NSA and everybody to prove that they have like the most sophisticated surveillance techniques ever. And this is all pretty much tech that already exists, which is pretty alarming. This is a book that like alternates points of view between many of the different contests Since though one is definitely like the main character, this is full of surprises, there are a lot of really interesting twists that I did not expect at all, which is, I think one of the most pleasant things about reading when you’re just like, Oh, holy shit, I did not see that coming, what a treat. And it’s just super petty. And it’s, I think offers some pretty interesting stuff that like, I try not to think about most of the time around like, oh, yeah, if someone wanted to know where I was at any given moment, they could find out very easily. Like it’s just out there, you know, which is something that we probably all should be thinking about a lot more frankly.

Traci Thomas 20:37
Okay, have you heard of this nonfiction book called Bottoms up and the Devil laughs by Carrie Halle?

Greta Johnsen 20:42

Traci Thomas 20:43
So that is like a probably a perfect pairing for this book, because it’s about the deep state and the NSA and like, whistleblower-y people.

Greta Johnsen 20:51
Yeah, it’s wild. I’ll have to check that one out. Because yeah, it is. Yeah, it’s fascinating. It’s also extremely disturbing.

Traci Thomas 21:00
It sounds like that sounds like something I might like, I’ve discovered that maybe I’m into like, dystopian speculative?

Greta Johnsen 21:07
Well, the other thing about him that I didn’t realize when I picked it up is that he’s a screenwriter. He’s an Australian screenwriter. So I think it I think that often helps with like, real plot propulsion, you know, because there’s just nothing. It’s it’s spare enough language that you just like, keep cruisin.

Traci Thomas 21:25
Yeah. Okay, Liberty, you’re up.

Liberty Hardy 21:29
Okay. So I’m cheating a little bit, because I’m not entirely certain when this episode is coming out. But I love this book. And I feel like it needs more attention. It’s coming out on May 30. So it may or may not be out when this episode-

Traci Thomas 21:41
I think it will be not quite out. But we’ll allow it because we love to break a rule. Yeah, I won’t be out quite yet. But you know what? This is good. This is good. I love respect this about you. Go ahead.

Liberty Hardy 21:54
Thank you. And this I love this book. It’s I’m recommending it for everyone except for Greta. It’s called deep as the sky. Read is the sea by Rita Chang Epig. And this is another badass historical pirate lady tale.

Traci Thomas 22:07
I was just gonna say this one looks great.

Liberty Hardy 22:10
Yeah, it is great. So it’s about a pirate name’s Jack Young. She’s a Chinese pirate in the South China Seas. And at the very beginning, like literally in the first paragraph, her husband is killed in a fight with some Portuguese sailors. And she’s feeling kind of conflicted about this because on the one hand, he was her captor, he bought her from the flower boats, which is a code for horrible brothels, sex work, but then she also gets his power. She’s his right hand is which is unheard of, for a woman to be in any kind of control. So he’s killed. And so now, she’s been told she can have half asleep, but the other half goes to his second in command. She doesn’t know what to do. Like she trusts this other guy. What should she do? So her plan that she comes up with to help keep him from like killing her and everyone who’s loyal to her and taking all her stuff? Is she offers to marry him and give him an air and he agrees to this. She’s also looking at her life, like, what is going on I have become the thing that destroyed my life. When she was younger pirates stormed the boat that she and her family were working on. They they took everything that they wanted, they killed people, they sold her to the flower boats where she stayed for several years. And now she kills people and captures people just like they did. It is full of swashbuckling and adventure and pirate violence. Like stabby stab and splashy splash. And it’s just so fun to stop

Lupita Aquino 23:38
They should have you do the blurb for that.

Traci Thomas 23:44
That should that should be a new genre of the book- Oh, it’s sort of like pirates and stabby stab, you know like?

Liberty Hardy 23:54
That’s not the noise that they make when they-?

Traci Thomas 23:57
You know what, I’ve never been stopped by a pirate but I definitely think it does go stabby stab for sure.

Liberty Hardy 24:02
Yeah. So it’s just it’s basically like nonstop action but also like lots of horrific violence because it is pirates and you know, there’s you know, enslaved people and forced sex work and you know, there’s all this horrific stuff going on as well. But it’s it’s fantastic. It’s deep as the sky read as the sea by Rita Chang. Epic. That’s my bookie book recommendation.

Traci Thomas 24:24
I love it. Okay, I think that we have time to do one more 2023 book we love but we have to do speed round so everyone has to do like okay like two sentences. Okay, okay. And Liberty you’re back on in 3-2-1, action.

Liberty Hardy 24:39
Ok, so Lucky Red by Claudia Cravens comes out June 20th. Set in 18-

Traci Thomas 24:43
No, no, no, no, no, no, no. Nope. Too far ahead. Keep it in May.

Liberty Hardy 24:47
Oh, no, I couldn’t think of another one right now. All right.

Traci Thomas 24:50
Okay, skip.

Liberty Hardy 24:52
I can only work from my notes. Okay.

Greta Johnsen 24:55
My another one that I really loved from 2023 is one that Liberty recommended. it because Liberty, I love your recommendations to be clear. I can’t live without them. Please keep recommending books to me. This one’s called Big Swiss. And it’s by Jan Bogan. And this, you’ve probably seen the cover. It’s kind of amazing. The reason Liberty I think the reason Liberty told me about this book is because the main character is named Greta. Which like is a name that doesn’t come up that often. So I’m always kind of thrilled and liberty loves sending me things like she wants me to baby goat named Greta and she sent me a picture of liberty, I love you. But this book is about Greta, who is a, she transcribes sex therapy sessions. So this is definitely like this is an extremely horny novel. It also has a really interesting overlap of being like, completely over everything and like super snarky, but also somehow still also really vulnerable and earnest, which I think is a really tough combination to pull off. And when it’s done well. I find it thrilling. So that’s big Swiss, and it’s great.

Traci Thomas 26:02
That sounds fantastic. Okay, okay, well go back to liberty to liberty, then we’ll go back to Lupita. Okay.

Liberty Hardy 26:09
So, the night flowers by Sarah Hirschenrother it’s a mystery about a cold case detective and a breast cancer survivor who teamed up to solve the identity of three victims that were found in barrels in the woods. 30 years previous.

Traci Thomas 26:27
Whoa, okay, thrilling. Lupita Go ahead.

Lupita Aquino 26:32
I’m going backlist, baby.

Traci Thomas 26:33
No, no not Yeah, you got to do a 2023. Backlist is next. You guys are terrible at following directions.

Greta Johnsen 26:40
I understood the rules.

Traci Thomas 26:43
Truly Greta again. We’re agreeing. Rule followers.

Lupita Aquino 26:46
Okay, okay. I will own that. Oh, you’re right. I did two new ones. I did Hijab and-

Traci Thomas 26:55
I said two to three. I thought I thought I was being generous by giving everyone an extra book. Because last time-

Lupita Aquino 27:04
I’m ready. I’m ready. I’m ready. I can do it. I can do it. I can do it. So I just finished River mouth by Alejandra Olivia. It was it’s out in June. It’s coming out in June. Is that okay?

Traci Thomas 27:18
No, it’s not. But we’re here now. So.

Lupita Aquino 27:20
No, no, no, no, it’s okay. It’s okay. It’s okay. It’s okay.

Traci Thomas 27:24
Our speed round has devolved into- Okay, I will go Lupita. And I will give you a second to think I’m going to pick a book that has come out already in 2023 that I have read and enjoyed, who did not think this was gonna be hard. But here we go. I’m gonna do A living remedy by Nicole Chang, another memoir. It is a grief memoir. It is about the healthcare system. It is about her parents, both of whom died within about a two and a half, three year span. And it’s her memoir about that experience. And it’s fantastic. And I think she writes about grief brilliantly. And I loved it my credit on page 29 What more do you need to know? Lupita? Go ahead. I pray for you.

Lupita Aquino 28:11
I love that. Okay, I know. Thank you for your prayers and your thoughts. I’m here. Ready? I’m prepared now. I blanked. I blanked like any good like reader, you know, when you get asked what your favorite books are, so I had a moment okay, but we’ve all been there. Okay. Promises of gold. Yes. Jose Olivarez which you had him on the podcast, I was so jealous you had you asked such wonderful questions, because I would have asked all the same things plus more. I often don’t see like, I get poetry, but sometimes I just don’t get it. And I felt like in his poetry I just always find home. And his poems are just speak to me on a different level. And I laughed, and you know, some of them I was just like, Yeah, this is so real, you know, and I love I love this collection.

Greta Johnsen 28:59
He’s a Chicago guy.

Lupita Aquino 29:00
I love it so much that I’m gifting it to my brothers. There’s a specific poem in there that I want to highlight for them. And so that’s it. I love it, gifting it to them.

Traci Thomas 29:10
I love it. I love it. I love it super. Okay, we’re gonna do reverse of our most current order. So I’m really fucking with you guys. Lupita you’re up for your backless book that you did read this year. So you had to have read it in 2023. But it’s a backlist title written before 2023.

Lupita Aquino 29:29
Listen, I understood you.

Traci Thomas 29:32
I don’t know that you did. Okay, so I’m being expressly clear at this point. Go ahead.

Lupita Aquino 29:38
Okay, the backlist books that I read this year that I went through and absolutely loved-

Traci Thomas 29:44
It’s one book. One book.

Lupita Aquino 29:46
Okay well they have to be together. I’m breaking the rules. I don’t even know if I’ve actually said her name on the podcast before but Angie Cruz is a genius. I am part of the Angie Cruz fan club. I’m not number one. My wife is she’s the one that made me read these two her backlist, which is Soledad and Let it rain coffee. And now I’m obsessed, like obsessed to the point where I am drawing like universe, like just the map of the universe. That is Angie Cruz and her characters and her stories. It is amazing. And you all need to read Angie Cruz. I’m done.

Traci Thomas 30:20
You did great. 1000 points for Lupita. Okay, I guess that means it’s me. I struggled to decide which which backless to pick only because I’ve been talking about a few of these multiple times. But I think I’m gonna go with My government means to kill me by Rashid Newson. It’s only just came out last year. So it’s a recent backlist book. But it is satirical fiction. Which when done well, it turns out I really like satire, because it has a lot of plot, but it also has like cultural commentary, which I appreciate. When it’s done bad. I want to throw the book across the room and find the author and talk shit to them to their face. I’ve never done that. But you know what it’s sometimes it makes me feel like really my meanest self. But anyways, this book is really good. I’ve been calling it the black gay Forrest Gump. Because the main character is it’s set in 19, the 1980s. He’s a trust fund kid, he leaves his family. He goes to New York City during 1986, like during the the worst days of the AIDS crisis. And he basically meets every single gay person and every single person that hated gay people, famously in the 1980s. So he’s in the bath houses with Bayard Rustin. He does a rent strike against Fred Trump. He joins act up with Larry Kramer, he is like working at like the famous hospital that is dealing with, like all the AIDS patients like it’s just like a who’s who of the 1980s New York City queer scene, and he’s just bumping up against all these people. And it’s funny, and it’s smart. And it’s like a little mini history lesson and I loved it. Liberty.

Liberty Hardy 32:02
So, I really said this year, the only backlist that I’ve been reading are entire series of things that I’d already read. So I picked I picked the like, like the murder bot series and Gideon- And so I picked the one book that I had read that I hadn’t read before that was backlist. And I think it’s perfect for Traci because it’s all plot-driven. It’s 139 pages, and oh my gosh, it’s mostly pictures. It’s called The bad guys by Erin Bladly.

Traci Thomas 32:30
I love it’s mostly pictures also, because you know that I love a picture.

Liberty Hardy 32:36
It’s a children’s book, they made it into a movie. There’s 16 of them, I read all 16 of them. They’re about these like there’s like a shark and a wolf and a fish. And like a spider. They’re all like, they’re the bad guys, but they want to be good guys. And every time they try to do good things everybody’s like or what they try to excuse me when they tried to do bad things. Everybody’s like, look at those good guys doing these things. They’re like, No, we were trying to be bad.

Traci Thomas 33:01
What age level is it for? Besides me, besides 36 year olds?

Liberty Hardy 33:05
Like, six, six to nine, I think? I don’t know I love them because or maybe older because I read the whole series. And I don’t know if any of you were Buffy fans, but it gets into some serious dark Willow stuff. Well, the snake like later on that goes on for like several books were like the snake is like the dark snake now and is like, yeah, it’s it was pretty impressive. They’re just really cute to look at. And I like to scrub my brain with them.

Traci Thomas 33:35
I love that I listen, I’m I have kids now. So I have to think about what kind of things they’re going to be reading in the future. And I don’t want them just to be reading the new books. I want them to go back and read the old books too. So once I read the whole series and love it, then I’m gonna be like, let me save these for you small humans. Yeah.

Liberty Hardy 33:50
And if you’ve seen the movie with the movie, like Sam Rockwell does, like the voice of the wolf. It’s just inflict theory. It’s like they barely use this idea and like change so much about it. So like you don’t know these stories.

Traci Thomas 34:04
I love it. Okay, Greta, what’s your backlist fav?

Greta Johnsen 34:08
So I recently had the great pleasure of doing a live event with Emily St. John Mandel. Who is just like one of my favorite writers ever. And her brain is just so fascinating speaking Lupita of that idea of like mapping the universe of authors characters, like what she’s doing with intertwined, everybody is so cool. So I listened to all six of her books before interviewing or I had read three of them before, one of which, of course, famously is Station Eleven. And that’s the one I would like to recommend. It might be super obvious. I know a lot of people are probably turned off by the idea of a novel about a pandemic given our current circumstances. But it really is about art kind of overcoming everything. And it’s such a fascinating exploration of what a world would look like without the tech that we all take for granted these days. And it’s just a really Beautiful again well applauded book and the way it is ends up interweaving with especially her other two most recent books, the glass hotel, and oh my god and Sea of Tranquility is just like so perfect.

Traci Thomas 35:15
I love Station Eleven. I think of it as also being a book about what we will save, what matters, especially when it comes to art. Yes. I just I mean, and I’m a Shakespeare fan. So I also loved the Shakespeare of it all.

Greta Johnsen 35:33
Yeah, she just is- I just really love her brain.

Traci Thomas 35:36
Yeah, yeah, I still haven’t read the other two, I need to I know I have them. I know, I haven’t done it.

Greta Johnsen 35:42
It’s funny, because I had read both of them as they came out. And I liked them. But I, you know, it was like, Oh, they’re not as good as Station 11. And partly, it was such a pleasure to read kind of all six more or less in a row, because it made me appreciate so many more things about both of the two newer ones, especially that I was just like, Wait, they’re saying, Wait, there are six total. But her first three are like pretty much on like they were very small publisher when they first came out. And nobody really paid attention to them. And then station 11 Just like exploded.

Traci Thomas 36:12
Are they connected? The first three?

Greta Johnsen 36:13
There are characters in the first three that are in the next three as well. So it’s fun. You know, I think if you’re, I would say the first three aren’t as good as the next three. But if you are like a super fan, like they’re all in that PRH audio app, Traci, just go wild.

Traci Thomas 36:29
Thank you. I appreciate you. Okay, here’s the last segment we’re covering. And it is the books that you are looking forward to that come out in 2023. June or later. That no and that you didn’t talk about on Greta, this episode of nerd debt because I want everyone who’s listening here to go listen to that, where we talked about a bunch of books that we’re excited about for the second half of the year. So I don’t want to have to do like too many repeats because I want folks to go listen to that and enjoy it and not feel like they are listening to the same exact conversation because secretly you are but we’re trying to make it not feel like so. So it’s books for the second half of this year, June. Well, I guess June is technically the first half but for June on 2023 books that you’re excited about reading or maybe you’ve read them if your liberty and or Lupita and not things we said before. Oh, who feels like they want to start an answer. Okay, go ahead. Liberty.

Liberty Hardy 37:32
Alright. So there’s a book coming out June 20. It’s called Lucky Red By Claudia Cravens, and it’s a queer Western set in 1887. About a young woman named Bridget Bridget grows up motherless and her father when she’s like 15 years old Gamble’s their house away so they’re forced to move, and they’re going to go look for a new place to live. But as they’re crossing the harsh prairie, her father gets very sick and dies. So she Oh no, he does get very sick. He gets bit by a rattlesnake. Not long ago. I read this if you get bit by a rattlesnake. Yeah, not coming back from that. So she ends up in Dodge City alone, with nothing to her name but a half dead mule. And it is like she’s starving. She has a little bit of money on her because she sells for Mulan everything that she does. But then like she runs out of money, and a young woman convinces her that maybe she should come try her luck making money as a sex worker at a place called the buffalo queen. And it turns out that they call she calls it being a sporting woman or being a sporting woman suits Bridget. She suddenly has money. She has fancy clothes. She has three meals a day she has a place to live and she even finds the job tolerable. Like there is no there’s no shaming in this book. The Buffalo queen has the highest end clientele in town, thanks to the protections afforded to them by the town sheriff. And the town sheriff has taken a shine to Bridget. But when Bridget falls first for one of the other girls and then for a woman gunslinger it’s a chain of events that have explosive risks.

Traci Thomas 39:08
Woohoo. Okay, Bridget, my girl, we talked with Bridget. Okay.

Liberty Hardy 39:15
I want to talk. So I want to say something about this book like, because if you read the description on this book, you’re going to be like what is happening? The events that are described in the blurb on the jacket, do not start until literally more than 70% of the way into a book that drives. I don’t even want to see what it is because like, what’s going on, but it’s really just this exploration of Bridget’s freedom and longing and identity and the reality is for women living at this time period in the West, and if you’ve never read a Western, I think it’s a really great place to start. And yeah, or if you want me to, like, sum it up like the other one. It’s like Bang Bang smoochy smooch.

Traci Thomas 39:59
We love bang bang smooch smooth. Love it. Okay. Lupita Why don’t you go next?

Lupita Aquino 40:08
Ok, hopefully I’m following the rules correctly.

Traci Thomas 40:11
I hope so.

Lupita Aquino 40:16
You make me seem so terrible at this.

Traci Thomas 40:18
No, I’m just making fun of you. As you know, I love them all humans, go ahead.

Lupita Aquino 40:25
This book is out in December. So, way, way, way, way, way out there. I’m really excited to read it. I have a copy of it. I’m actually like, I might just read it this week. But it’s FLOTUS and Miss Paula by Melissa Rivero. So I have read a book by Melissa Rivera before her first debut novel was the affairs of funkiness. It was really extraordinary. For this one, I’m really interested in it because apparently, it’s centers a millennial daughter and her Peruvian immigrant mother. And so I don’t know if y’all know this, but I have an immigrant mother womb that I am actively trying to heal and love on and so when I read Angie Cruz’s how not to drown in a glass of water last year, that just kind of opened up a lot of like, if we’re gonna sum it in liberties, like blurb it a lot of wow. Wow, I Boohoo. So I want another book to do that to me. And I want to really explore more the dynamics between an immigrant mother and an immigrant daughter and trying to find each other which is what this book is about. I love my wife.

Greta Johnsen 41:39
It was gonna say that reminds me of cry face emoji heart emoji Traci, which was something you came up with on Nerdette a couple years ago.

Traci Thomas 41:46
Oh, yeah, with MJ.

Greta Johnsen 41:48

Traci Thomas 41:50
Okay, I’m gonna go Greta. You’re gonna go last because you’re my you’re my nemesis. Great, because I got like my show. Well, I think we’ll see. We’ll see how we do on time. Okay, I’m gonna do there’s a real obvious one that I’m just going to quickly say, but my real pick is totally random. My obvious one is the new Jasmine Ward that’s coming. I mean, who’s not excited.

Liberty Hardy 42:10
That’s the other one I wrote down, Yeah.

Traci Thomas 42:12
Oh, yeah. I mean, we’re all excited. It’s Jasmine Ward.

Lupita Aquino 42:16
and you’re already have a copy don’t, you?

Traci Thomas 42:17
I sure do. Okay, But here is my here’s my weird random book that I’m super excited about. This is this should throw everyone for a loop. It’s called More is more. It’s by Molly baz. And it’s her second cookbook, and I fucking love Molly baz. She’s one of my favorite online cooks. She’s really she has this like crispy Chicky um, I got the name of it. It’s like crispy Chicky Chicky. Bread with greens. And it’s like, I don’t know she’s got she loves an abbreviation, which I kind of find annoying. Like she calls Caesar salad. C-Sal, which I’m just like, just it’s fucking Caesar salad. But her food is delicious. She has a salad that I love. She has a chicken that I love. I just like her. And I’m really excited about it. It’s like a bright, bold book. And I bet you didn’t see that coming. Losers.

Lupita Aquino 43:12
I really didn’t. I could never. First it was the hot dogs. And now it’s cookbooks.

Liberty Hardy 43:17
I was gonna say, we went 48 minutes without mentioning hot dogs.

Traci Thomas 43:20
Well, so I read the hot dog book. And it was a huge disappointment, which is why I haven’t mentioned it because I’m still wounded by the trauma of being so up on a book and then having to come so far down.

Greta Johnsen 43:33
But the expectations are so brutal, you know?

Traci Thomas 43:35
Yeah, high expectations. It really I mean, but honestly, I gotta be honest about the hotdog book. Even if I had very low expectations. It was not it was not what I was expecting or what I wanted. That being said, Molly basses cookbook. I feel great about it. I can’t wait. I’m very excited. I hope that it might be Molly Baz. I don’t know it’s Baz. Who knows how to say it? We’ll find out soon. But But I think it’s bad. Yeah. Anyways, I love her. And I’m really excited about it. And books are books. Okay, great. Go ahead.

Greta Johnsen 44:10
Okay, so, Ann Patchett has a new book coming out in August called Tom Lake haven’t read it yet. A friend of mine today said they thought it was her best work and it made them very happy to be alive. And I was like, Oh my god. So that one I mood just moved up to the top of my list. Other ones that I’m really excited about. VE Schwab has a new book. She writes really great fantasy, so I can’t wait for that. And I don’t know, speaking of westerns, if y’all read how much of these hills was gold a couple of years ago, but see, Pam Jiang has a new book coming out that’s like, takes place in modern day and it’s about a chef and that’s literally all I know. And that’s literally-

Traci Thomas 44:47
It’s about a chef in a pandemic. Like in a might not be a pandemic it might be like a food scarcity situation, but there’s some issue with food and the main character is a private chef, like to the wealthy.

Greta Johnsen 45:02
Interesting, I can’t wait to read that that comes out September 26. And the Schwab also is the 26th. So those ones are I’m like, I can’t wait.

Traci Thomas 45:10
September is such a juicy book month. I feel like it’s like, I feel like May is usually really juicy. And September. Is that sometimes June?

Greta Johnsen 45:20
Do you think that’s because as we talked about when y’all came on Nerdette, like we’re just not beach read people. And so the stuff that they’re pushing out in the summer, we’re sort of like, oh,

Traci Thomas 45:27
No, I think they push out a lot of books that they have high expectations for in May and June so that people will read them over the summer. And then I think they push out a lot of juicy stuff in September, leading up to awards and end of year like gift buying and stuff that makes so I think those are like particularly good times for books. But I always get really overwhelmed when I look at my like spreadsheet for May and June and like for September, I’m just like, holy shit.

Greta Johnsen 45:53
I know. You got to start now.

Traci Thomas 45:57
Yeah. Since Greta went over and did extra, which I don’t hate. I don’t hate it. I love extra. Either of you. Two more things. Yeah, go ahead.

Liberty Hardy 46:05
I have one more. I actually had picked you I was gonna do the Jasmine Ward. But also, I picked Blackouts by Justin Torres, which comes out October 10. I haven’t read it yet. But I love we the animals, which was his first novel, which came out many years ago, I would say maybe to a movie I have not watched. But this sounds like like one of those books that I’m going to read and love so much. And then I’m going to need someone smarter than me to explain it to me like fever dream because it sounds so trippy and mind bending and kind of like a queer period. Nisi it’s like about a book within a book in the book is called Sex Variants A study in homosexual patterns. And there’s a place called the The Palace, which has like a named narrators, and one of them is dying. And the other one is telling them the story of the person who wrote this book within the book. I don’t know. Like I said, it’s I couldn’t even understand the description, but I’m just so excited.

Lupita Aquino 46:59
I love he told me it was a puzzle. He told me it was a puzzle. And he helps I still love it because I definitely was like, I can’t wait for your book. Yeah. And before I jump off, I want to add in company’s stories by Shannon Sanders. So you know, I love short stories. You know, I love a short story. This is blurbed by all the phenomenal short story people you can think of Daniel Evans blurb this, but also we are friends on Twitter somehow. And we both live in the DMV area, which I had no idea. So not trying to be biased, but like, yeah, I’m excited for that.

Traci Thomas 47:32
I love it. Okay, I’m gonna throw in my last two, and then we’ll go. Lupita, I can’t believe you didn’t say this book. But I’m really excited about Creep by Miriam Gruba. I thought you were going to that’s why I didn’t say it. But I’m really excited about it. It’s essay collections. I don’t even know I think they’re like cultural criticism, essay collections, about like, the things that creep into the cultural consciousness. That’s my understanding. But I might have made that up. And then the other one I’m excited about is a super Traci book, which is called the Great White Bard by Bara Kareem Cooper. And it’s about white myths and Shakespeare. So I’m super hyped about that. Because as you all know, Shakespeare Hello. I’m really excited. I have it. I got to just get to it. That’s my fucking problem was I have all these books that I’m like, oh, I want to read everything. And then I’m like, Okay, I have to wait a few months because it’s coming out later. But this was awesome. It was so much. Thank you all so much. I am obsessed with all three of you for different reasons. Mostly because Stabby stabby smooch smooch, bang, bang, wah wah. But, you know, you all can find everyone here. I’m going to link to everyone’s like socials and everything in the shownotes. I will link to every book we talked about in the shownotes. I will link to the episode on Nerdette in the shownotes. So you all can find everything that we’ve talked about. And here’s what I’m going to just say to people listening. Don’t fucking blame us. If you want to read all these books. That’s not our problem. Stop telling me, uh, wah wah, You’re making it hard for me. I want to read all these books. You’re welcome. Okay, I’m tired of the complaining. And we have to be inundated with books. So do okay? I’m tired of it. I’m tired. Why do we think? Well, I’m antagonistic to everyone, not just you, Greta.

Greta Johnsen 49:30
It does make me feel better, actually.

Traci Thomas 49:35
Everyone, thank you so much for being here. And we will see you in The Stacks.

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