Every week, host Adam Sockel interviews a popular member of the literary world about their passions beyond what they're known for. These longform, relaxed conversations show listeners a new side of some of their favorite content creators as well as provide insight into the things that inspire their work.
Bonus book recommendations with Amy Clark from Mom Advice!
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Surprise! It’s a bonus episode absolutely loaded with book recommendations! Adam is joined by his good pal, Amy Clark from momadvice.com and the fabulous Book Gang podcast to offer up some book recommendations just in time for your holiday travel season.
These recommendations span every genre so there is definitely something for everybody.
Enjoy and thanks for all the support in the first few months of Passions & Prologues!
You are listening to Passions & Prologues, a literary podcast where usually, each week, I interview an author about a thing they love and how it inspires their work. I’m your host, Adam Sockel. And the reason I said usually is because we’re doing something different today that we’re going to start every couple of months.
So a few months back, I was on a wonderful podcast called Book Gang with Amy Clark, and we talked about sad books, which is, as I said, very much my jam. But Amy and I had such a good time doing book recommendations that I immediately said after we got done recording, “We should do this more often. Let’s figure out a way.” So I talked to my podcast network and said, “This isn’t what I do every week for the podcast, but I want to do a bonus episode every couple months where we do book recommendations,” and they said, “Absolutely.” So this is all building up to say, I am super excited because my guest today is Amy Clark from MomAdvice.com, from the Book Gang podcast, and a couple of other things I’m going to let her talk about. But before I do that, Amy, thank you so much for joining me today.
Amy Allen Clark:
Thank you so much for having me. I love that I get to be the guest instead of the host. This is kind of nice. I’ll try to not talk over you and be annoying like that.
No, you’re totally fine. We actually joked about that when I was on your show and you were asking me questions, and it was like all I could do to not return serve and ask you questions about things. But I think we should be okay because we’re just going to be ping-ponging book recommendations back and forth. But before I do that, tell everyone where they can find all of the various things, because you have quickly become my favorite follow on all of social media and all over the place. So tell everyone all the things and then we’ll get into our book recommendations here.
Amy Allen Clark:
Yeah. So I’ve been a content creator since 2004. I started MomAdvice.com. It was basically a site for good living on a small budget and teaching people how to live a good life for less. That’s basically the whole goal of the site. And I did craft food and DIY, so you’ll see a lot of projects like that on the site.
But I faced some health challenges around the age of 38. I got diagnosed with a rare condition called Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome, and basically, it made motor movement very challenging for me, and my job became very difficult to do with the physical element of content creation. And so I have always been really passionate about books and sharing that on our website, but I needed to learn how to pivot into my new chapter of my own life, and so one of the things that I decided to do was talking through with my physical therapist how are some ways that I can pivot my career, still do things that I’m passionate about, but definitely work with my new challenges.
And she kept talking about getting more voice-driven, doing things that are more voice-driven, and of course, I remembered that at one point, I had done podcasting and I had been doing it, actually, for a network, for a big company you might know called Walmart. They had hired me as a content creator to do basically podcasts that were just little informational things with things they were promoting, whether that was books or products that they were trying to design for their particular customer. And so I had a little bit of a background, but I think at that point, I was pretty much doing it on my phone. This was like 2008. I had Skype. I had no idea what I was doing. And so while I was a little bit bedridden and struggling through all of this PT, I decided I would go to the number one resource for all information, which is YouTube, and teach myself how to get back in the podcasting game.
And so my podcast is just a year old now. It’s called the Book Gang, and we celebrate under-the-radar books, backlist books, and I have a deep affection for debut novelists. So that’s what our show is about, and that community has just grown from there. We have a Patreon where people can interact with books and do really fun, unique opportunities with authors. And so that is a bonus feature for a book club that I run called MomAdvice Book Club as well as for the Book Gang podcast.
Yeah. And so I will just tell everyone, anywhere, you search MomAdvice. You can find it on Instagram, there’s the Facebook page, on Twitter. But check out the podcast. Amy and I were joking after we got done recording. I don’t think people understand how much goes into building out each and every one of these episodes of every podcast you listen to. If you’re listening to a podcast and you don’t find yourself saying like, “Oh, the audio was awful,” or, “It felt like they were rambling,” that’s because of all the editing and all of the focus and hours that go into stuff. So if you have enjoyed listening to my podcast and my interviews, check out Amy’s because I just love the way…
I feel like we are kindred spirits in how we talk about books. And in fact, if people go back and listen to my episode of your podcast, the reason we’re doing this today is because… We didn’t plan on doing this. We each prepped a few books for that, and then what would end up happening is Amy would talk about a book and I would be like, “Oh, have you read this book? It’s very similar,” and she would do the same thing for my recommendations. And so that’s what bore this out, and so I will say, my tentative plan is to do this every couple of months. I don’t want to overwhelm Amy with additional. She’s doing so much on her own. But yeah, I just figured every couple months, we come together and say, “Here’s some book recommendations.” And also, from a selfish standpoint, it gives me a chance to talk to Amy about books in a way that we can both use in a productive way.
So with all that in mind, we each have six books, right? That was what we planned out, I believe?
Amy Allen Clark:
Yeah, that’s what I planned, too. I had emailed Amy a while back about this, and that’s what I thought. But you are the guest, so I will let you go first with your first recommendation, and we are just going to go back and forth. I will let everyone know in advance, we’ll have the books in the show notes so that you can find them. You don’t have to furiously write them down. But the floor is yours. What is your first book recommendation?
Amy Allen Clark:
So I’m going to talk about a book that I have been thinking about lately, mainly because the movie adaptation just came out. This book was published in 2012. It is called My Policeman. I don’t know if anybody has seen the film yet, but I got the opportunity to see it when it kind of sneak peeked at our theater. So the book itself, though, is why I wanted to see the movie, and, of course, the leading actor is Harry Styles, so anyone who is a fan of Harry Styles, get in line behind me.
There are two covers, though, of this book that are floating around, one that kind of looks like erotica literature. It’s got a bare chest, it’s black and white, and it looks like a different kind of story than really what it is. And then some bookstagrammer posted a photo from her local Barnes & Noble, and there was this book that I saw called My Policeman and I’m like, “What is that?” And it had a cover with like very artsy, like three people, looks like a period piece, swimming on the cover, and I’m like, “I didn’t pick it up the first time because of the marketing from the first adventure.” So I just want to say, regardless of what cover version you get, it is a beautiful story.
And I also want to say that this is a great one to read before you watch, because the movie was just as fantastic. I could totally see Harry Styles winning an award for this. It was absolutely gorgeous. I will say the two differences between the book and the movie are that the movie is very much open door with the love scenes and the book is very much fade to black. So that may bring in two different audiences or you may not care about that element, but I do want to point that out.
And I also want to say that the movie didn’t really give us a lot of historical context of the story, and I had hoped that maybe there would be more about it. But basically, this is a love story inspired by E. M. Forster. And if you want to learn about the muse, The Guardian did a really great piece on it.
In context to the book though, this is a slow burn romance that is inspired by the life of E. M. Forster and a relationship that he had with a police officer named Bob Buckingham. It’s set in 1950s Brighton. There is a love triangle. It’s about two people who love one policeman, his wife and his secret lover. And this tragic story explores the quiet love that is shared between these two men and what it would be like if speaking your truth resulted in your arrest and also the destruction of your life. And the story utilizes journal entries from his lover and a manuscript from his wife that outlined his confessions, allowing the reader to explore the story from different points of view and also varying timelines in the love story.
It’s really beautiful. It’s emotional. It also translated so beautifully on film. And if you are a music fan, I just have to say that the soundtrack is also amazing. So if you love a heart-wrenching historical fiction story with a good love triangle, definitely pick up My Policeman. It’s written by Bethan Roberts.
I need you to know, while you were talking about this book, because I had not yet heard of this book, I did an image search on Google, and Amy is not kidding. There are two wildly different… Like literally, one of them looks like a Fifty Shades of Grey type of cover and the other one looks like a nostalgic, like you said, three people swimming off the pier. And you’re absolutely right, one of these, I probably wouldn’t pick up, the other one, I would probably pick up straight away. Oh my God, that’s so funny. Oh, that sounds so, so good.
Okay, so my first one I want to recommend is… I am like Amy. I love talking about midlist and backlist books, but I do have a couple that are frontlist and were bestselling books, but I still love them.
So With Teeth by Kristen Arnett is the first book I’m going to talk about. Kristen Arnett kind of blew up on the scene in 2019 with Mostly Dead Things, which was a phenomenal book all about a person whose family does taxidermy and she has to go home and deal with a whole bunch of different family aspects. And then With Teeth is something I’ll talk about in a moment. It’s what a friend of mine, Mallory O’Meara, would describe as a Florida book, and it’s very much a Florida book. But basically, it’s the story of two women who are in relationship, and they have a son named Sammie. I’m sorry, Sammie Lucas is scared of her son. And the son’s name is Samson, so kind of named after Sammie.
And Samson is, it’s kind of this classic story of a withdrawn, unknowable dark child and you are left wondering throughout most of the book like, “Is there like a demon in this child? Is there something wrong? Is there something beyond the pale going on here?” But it’s basically the story of the two of them where Sammie spends all of her time working from home and in really close quarters with her son, who just they do not get along and he’s constantly being just awful. And she’s trying her best. She’s driving, she’s cleaning, she’s cooking, she’s trying to get him to finish all his projects. Meanwhile, her wife, Monica, is doing basically sort of like a globe-traveling, working away all the time, and she only sees the good aspects of their son, and so she’s growing more and more resentful of her wife. And then something happens when her son’s hostility kind of spills over and she and her son bites her mother, Sammie, in the car. And what happens after that, her response to it, just blows the whole book into a completely different direction.
It is this story of, again, like you’re wondering at the surface like, “Is this like a demonic like, ‘We need to talk about Kevin,’ type of a book?” But it’s really, at the heart, it’s like the story of this struggling family and their relationships, and everyone on the podcast has heard me saying, I know Amy has heard me say I love stories about families, like small stories with big emotions. This one has massive emotions and this delicate fabric of family and the ways that it can be torn apart by ways that are unexpected. So With Teeth by Kristen Arnett, phenomenal book. A little dark, but I highly, highly recommend it.
Amy Allen Clark:
Okay, so this is the first time I’ve heard the phrase Florida book. What does that mean, a Florida book?
Yeah. So Mallory, who is the cohost of the Reading Glasses podcast, she describes a Florida book as like… First off, this is set in Florida, so it is quite literally a Florida book. But there are a lot of things in here, and I’m not trying to stereotype people, but I’m stealing Mallory’s thing, so I guess I sort of am. It’s like people drinking in the back of like a trailer park or just like where they’re incessantly talking about the heat and humidity that they are surrounded by and the fact that they have swamp land around them. So Florida is, while not a character, it is like an ever-present aspect of this book.
Amy Allen Clark:
So she likes to just qualify all of these things as a Florida book. And her co-host, Brea, is from Texas and she likes to qualify books that talk about like high school football and the searing heat of summer. She’s like, “That’s a Texas book.” So With Teeth is a Florida book, yeah.
Amy Allen Clark:
Okay. I love it. Well, I like dark books, so I’m game for that one, too.
You’ll like this.
Amy Allen Clark:
I’ll continue on the dark theme. I have a book called Bad Habits. It’s written by Amy Gentry. Our guests do a bonus called The Real Bookworm Challenge, which I had you do, Adam. At the end of our show, we asked them to come on and we asked them a rapid fire kind of game show experience about their reading life, and one of my favorite episodes that we did was one with Ashley Winstead. She wrote a book called In My Dreams I Hold a Knife. She’s also written The Last Housewife. It’s her latest book. And she wrote a debut romance called Fool Me Once. And she brought this book as her under-the-radar gem, and it inspired me so much that I had to pick it up, because Ashley basically said, “This is what I aspire to be as a writer.”
So anyways, Ashley decided to bring this one because she said this is the dark academia book that she believes deserved way more attention, and I just want to co-sign on this recommendation. And I read it through Scribd. If you have Scribd, it’s available on there. This is a dark and introspective novel that I just sunk my teeth into every evening. It transported me somewhere else. And one author called the ending diabolical and I just want to agree with it. The ending is very diabolical. The final paragraph just deserved a read aloud. I actually read it out loud to my husband because I needed him to be involved with this plot, too.
So in the story, we have two old friends meeting in a bar as our mystery begins. Claire and Gwen are both just successful in their own ways. One is a successful professor and the other is set to marry a successful Hollywood filmmaker. They know nothing about each other. And the reader gets to follow along as they share a drink or five in a hotel bar where they discover they’re both staying.
So they started out as high school friends that find each other and just a shared deep appreciation for artsy films, which was also kind of fun to experience as a reader along with them. But unfortunately they’re not the same in other ways. One is given a silver spoon in her life and the other’s family just can’t pay their bills. And these two differences really act in sharp contrast while the reader is rooting for an underdog. But despite their circumstances, they both end up getting accepted in a rigorous and prestigious elite graduate program. But only one gets to move on into a life-changing fellowship, and the two will stop at nothing to garner a prize. And as they become entangled with faculty, they have to decide how far are they going to go to get a coveted spot and what does it mean for their friendship.
This delivers on a really well-developed mystery. We have fleshed out characters, gorgeous descriptive language. Honestly, I’ll just be honest, this book is for an academic. There was a lot that I had to use my dictionary for or Wikipedia, and I actually enjoyed that as a reader. But it is very long and there are a lot of descriptive words that was, maybe for some, not falling into a popcorn thriller audience. And the way it had been marketed, again, this is one of those marketing things where I think the people that it didn’t appeal to, it’s because they wanted that popcorn thriller. They didn’t want this well-developed mystery. And I was completely captivated by it.
I will say, if you were a fan of my brilliant friend, I felt like it was very similar. I was never bored, but it was a week-long commitment. It was over 350 pages but slower kind of reading. So if you can adjust your typical thriller expectations, appreciate good rivalry, I’m going to recommend this specifically for anyone who likes dark academic settings, slower plot lines, character-driven stories. The title of that is Bad Habits by Amy Gentry, which I’ve never heard anyone talk about.
Honestly, the moment you said Ashley Winstead recommended it, I was in there. I’m glad you talked about the book itself. In My Dreams I Hold a Knife is such a phenomenal book, and for Ashley, as the author of that, to say, “This is the type of book I wish I wrote,” I was like, “Oh my god.” Yeah, I was in from the jump. That sounds fantastic.
Amy Allen Clark:
Yeah, so good.
So my next one is… I tried to do some different genres here just because, like I said, this is Amy and I getting our feet wet doing recommendations together. So as we go throughout these over a few months here and there, we might hone in on specifics, but this one, I should have clarified at the beginning, this is both of us just sort of going all over the map with stuff that we just want to talk about.
So my next one is The Witch’s Heart by Genevieve Gornichec. This is fantasy, it’s also a little dark, but it is perfect for fans of Madeline Miller’s Circe, which I think that book has now hit like a million copies sold, so clearly, Circe is for very many people. But this is similar to Circe. This is a story of a character from Norse mythology who isn’t talked about very much, and Genevieve basically took that story and fleshed it out much further.
So the main character’s name is Angrboda, and if you are familiar with Norse mythology, she is the mother of Loki’s three children. And so what this story does is it starts from the beginning of Angrboda’s story, which is where most witches tales end, with a burning. She basically is burned as a punishment from Odin for refusing to provide him knowledge of the future. She can basically see everything that’s going to happen in the future, and she refuses to tell Odin all about it. This is stuff that you can find. That first aspect is stuff you can find if you read like Neil Gaiman’s Norse Mythology, where he basically goes from the beginning of Norse mythology all the way to the end. I’m not saying that’s the end all, be all way to do it, but I know a lot of people like to look at like Stephen Fry’s Mythos. He did the same thing with Greek mythology. So you can learn about Angrboda a little bit in those, but this fleshes out her story so much more.
So basically, what happens, she gets burned and she is kind of banished to the farthest reaches of a remote forest, which works out well for her because she’s no longer under Odin’s eye and she can sort of rebuild a life. She’s a goddess, so she’s basically immortal, and so this story goes over years and years and years. And she eventually is found by this man who reveals himself to be Loki. At first, she distrusts him, and it turns into this hatred, then friendship, and then love, and they produce these three very, very unusual children, and each of them have a secret destiny.
Again, I don’t want to give anything away about the different parts of the family because that is stuff that you can find out in Norse mythology, but I really recommend reading this first. But she slowly recovers her powers to see the future and she learns like, “Actually, maybe I should look into the future,” and she ends up seeing basically all of this stuff that she’s been enjoying for decades now is in danger. And so she has to choose like if she is going to accept the fate that the universe has given her or is she going to try and change things, and it goes from there.
I had read Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman before this, but you do not need to. And I will say in fact, similar to how Circe is a really great jumping off point for people who want to read more Greek and Roman mythology retellings, The Witch’s Heart by Genevieve Gornichec is a great jumping off point for Norse mythology. And I know it’s weird to say vikings are having a moment, but I feel like over the past five years, between the different TV shows that have come out and the different books, vikings are kind of having a moment. And so if you are one of those people who seeks out viking-related things or you just like a fantasy with a morally gray but really fun and funny lead female character, The Witch’s Heart by Genevieve Gornichec is a phenomenal book.
Amy Allen Clark:
I feel like I’m the last person on Earth to read, seriously. I have not read it yet. It’s on my bucket list, but I have not really got into any of the Greek mythology books, even though they’re very popular on BookTok, I’m completely aware of all of them, and I feel like part of the reason is, with a podcast you have to be the discovery aspect of your show sometimes, and so I miss some of the bigger books that are so popular.
So full disclosure, I interviewed Genevieve. This was her debut, and I interviewed her before it came out and it ended up being a New York Times Best Seller, which was amazing for Genevieve. And the same thing with Madeline Miller. She was on the podcast that I previously co-hosted and we interviewed her. I actually interviewed her twice, one about Circe and Song of Achilles before they became… They were kind of picking up steam again, but they’ve been out for a little while, but it was nowhere near what it was now. So yeah, I have a special place in my heart for both of those authors. But I will say, Circe really does… There is a reason it has sold like a million copies. It really is just a phenomenally written book. So I’m not going to tell you to bump it up, because I know you have, I’m sure, a [inaudible 00:23:12] list longer than anyone can imagine, but it’s a wonderful book.
Amy Allen Clark:
Well, I can’t wait to read it. And I want to talk about a book that you actually brought to the Ugly Cry episode on my show. It’s The One Hundred Years of Lenni and Margot by Marianne Cronin. So when we had talked about it, I believe that I falsely said I have read this book, because I was off-track on my notes when we were talking. So I just want to tell you, when I said that, I was a liar and I had not read it.
So in our book club, there are three readers’ choice selections that people vote on. We do a poll every year and then whoever’s book gets to the top of the stack, that’s what ends up getting slated for the year. This was a readers’ choice, and so I like to save those and read them with everyone. I do have to read a tiny bit ahead because of some of the things we do within the book club, but I had not read it, and I just have to co-sign that this is a beautiful and heart-wrenching book that I loved, and I want to pitch it to anyone who has not read it because it’s also a bigger book. I think it’s done really well for a debut. But you may not have read it.
It is a story of an unlikely friendship that blossoms between a 17-year-old girl named Lenni and an 83-yea- old woman named Margot. Now, their age difference may seem a little unusual, but Lenni has found it challenging to make friends her own age at the Glasgow Princess Royal Hospital. And the two of them decide to take advantage of an arts and crafts room and they begin a unique project together when they discover that their combined age is 100 years old, and they will create 100 paintings that tell the story of their lives and find joy and comfort in sharing the stories that they’ve never spoken aloud.
For me, Margot’s story in particular, it was really beautiful because she reveals some really deeply hidden truths that really brought tears to my eyes. And I feel like this author did a really good job giving the spotlight to Margot in many places because she had lots more years to reflect on, but Lenni’s storyline shines as she’s questioning faith and God and striking up an unlikely friendship with the hospital’s patient chaplain.
This book is truly a perfect book club selection, and it reminds me really how vital it is that readers get to help choose some of the books for our group. I loved finding like the hidden book treasures about this book club, but discussing books that are more familiar and have been well-loved throughout their reading year is also really essential. This is really life-affirming and uplifting, even in its sad moments. And it really was an impressive debut. It was almost five stars for me. I’m pretty stingy with my five-star rating, but it was really, really close. And I saw that she had been working on it since like 2014 when it finally got published, I believe, in 2021, and so you can tell that a lot of love and attention went into this story. And again, that is The One Hundred Years of Lenni and Margot by Marianne Cronin.
Ah. I was so excited when I saw your list that you’re bringing this. It is so good and, like you said, it is so life-affirming, even in its sadness, and it’s just, I love this book so, so very much.
And I do want to say, speaking of books that we talked about on our previous discussion, I mentioned a book previously. This isn’t in my recommendation here, but I just want to say, by Anne Griffin, I was talking about Still Listening, and you told me I needed to read When All Is Said, which I have since read, and I can’t believe I didn’t just reach out and tell you how I loved it so much. It’s about an 84-year-old man in an Irish bar who basically raises his glass five times to do five toasts throughout his life. It’s similar in the vein that it has that nostalgia-like sadness but joy of looking back on your life. And so this is just me, A, co-signing Lenni and Margot and saying, if you read Lenni and Margot and you like it, check out When All Is Said by Anne Griffin, because Amy, you were so right about that one as well.
Amy Allen Clark:
Well, when we get done recording, I am going to send you my playlist for this book because I set the whole book to music and I go chapter by chapter, so you can see like the whole journey of Lenni and Margot, and since you’ve already read it, I don’t feel like there’ll be any spoilers in the music. But it was really fun to narrate this one. All the artsy elements of it really came together well in other mediums, too.
That’s amazing. I’m really looking forward to that. Yeah, Lenni and Margot, a beautiful, beautiful book.
We’ll be back with more Passions & Prologues after this break.
And now, back to Passions & Prologues.
Okay, so my next one is The Angel of Crows by Katherine Addison. I’m just realizing now I did two, maybe three fantasy books, which is not like me. So I fell in love with Katherine Addison’s writing because she wrote a book called The Goblin Emperor. And a long, long time ago, I interviewed Holly Black, who is, I jokingly called her the Queen of Fay Writing. All of Holly Black’s books that she writes about fairies, elves, and witches, they’re just beautiful. And after she and I got done recording, we were talking and I was just like, “I literally just kind of compare every fay-type novel to anything you write,” and she goes, “Well, I worship at the throne of this book by Katherine Addison called The Goblin Emperor.” And so I read that, and the best way to describe it is like a goblin version of Game of Thrones. It’s political, intriguing, all these different things, but it’s set in this dark goblin world.
So I read that and then I saw that Katherine Addison had written this big, meaty fantasy historical novel called The Angel of Crows. It came out in 2020, and it is long. It’s 450 pages, so just like you’re going to be in for a little bit of a longer ride.
But it is an alternate 1880s London, and it’s a time where killers stalk throughout the city, like Jack the Ripper is stalking the streets of London during this time, but there’s also angels, werewolves, and vampires that are all also in this 1880s London. And so the werewolves, human beings, and vampires kind of have this unspoken truth where they tend to leave each other alone but they all know each other exists. But then there’s these serial killers that are running amok and like, “Are they good? Are they bad? Are they vampires? Are they humans? What are they?” but there’s also angels that stay that are a part of each town. So there is quite literally an angel of London, an angel of New York City, and then there’s one that’s known as the Angel of Crows, who’s our main character. And when an angel falls, it is like a nuclear bomb. Like literally, when an angel “falls” and goes to the dark side, it basically explodes and it causes a huge riff and destruction and all these different things. And so the main character is this Angel of Crows, and they are violent.
It’s just such a phenomenal, strange, and eerie book, and if you’re a fan, I know we’re just getting done with the Halloween season when we’re recording this, but if you are a fan of dark mysteries, I would say, not to bring Neil Gaiman back, but if you are a fan of Neil Gaiman’s darker comic book writing and a lot of his stuff, like I think Neverwhere was the name of the book that he wrote about like an alternate London, this is right up that same alley. It’s like this perfect combination of these monsters that you’re used to in all of the different context that we get throughout the fall year, but there’s none other tropes that you would expect [inaudible 00:31:06]. So again, it’s big, it’s beefy, it’s 450 pages, but The Angel of Crow is by Katherine Addison. It’s just a wonderful, dark, gothic creepy book.
Amy Allen Clark:
Oh my gosh, this sounds so imaginative. I love the idea of it being like a nuclear bomb when the angels fall, and all of these ideas around it sound really fantastical, actually.
It’s so great. And I will say, so Katherine Addison, The Goblin Emperor, the book that I mentioned first, that is very, again, it’s like political intrigue but set in a goblin court, basically. And so if you read that first, then you go into this understanding like, “Okay, she’s going to have a lot of intricate details about things.” So if you haven’t read anything by The Goblin Emperor before, just prepare yourself for a little bit of world building that you might not be expecting, but again, highly worth just diving in and enjoying it.
Amy Allen Clark:
I love it.
Well, I’m going to switch gears a little bit. I’m going to go with romance for our next category. I have to give a shout out to my co-host, Larry Hoffer, who does our little Patreon bonus show, because he reads like 400 books a year and he brings his top 10 to our show, and this was his recommendation. So I cannot take full credit for where this came from. I think it’s really important to cite your sources. But it’s called The Charm Offensive. It’s written by Alison Cochrun. And I, in particular, always remember whatever I’m reading on vacation. For some reason, it just solidifies whatever the reading experience was. And last Thanksgiving, this was my book. So I thought it would be fun to bring today because I think this should be your Thanksgiving book, and it is absolutely delightful. This is an escape if you need to escape all of the holiday preparation, and I will say, it is one of my favorite romances that delivers on a meteor plotline than it was expected.
So in our story, Dev is charged with scripting love stories for a reality series. It’s called Ever After. So think of any reality show that you’ve ever watched, it’s pretty much like that. But in this year’s season, he’s given one of his biggest writing challenges ever because his lead is only doing this job really to rehabilitate his image and he happens to be the most awkward person. Think of the most awkward moments in your life. This is what he’s giving, but he’s giving it on camera. Charlie is dashing. I mean, he’s intelligent. He just doesn’t know how to navigate the dating world, and he’s awful on camera, like awful on camera. So as sparks are awkwardly flying between Dev and Charlie, he starts to realize that Charlie actually has a pretty compelling backstory, and it’s better than anything that he could ever scriptwrite.
So it’s the kind of romance that just leaves a big goofy grin on your face. I think that Cochrun really shined with witty banter and effectively delivering on exposing kind of that hidden underbelly of reality television. So Cochrun writes really witty banter and she delivers on exposing some also hidden underbellies of reality television that’s meant to toy with the contestants’ lives and their emotions as well as the viewers. This is going to satisfy any itch you have for reality TV. And it’s a fast page-turner. They also weave in scripts, too, so it’s kind of fun in that aspect, too, if you like a little bit more interactive experience within your books. It’s also great if you’re short on a reading challenge, because I know we’re getting towards the end of the year and some of us are trying to hit a goal. This will be a perfect goal-setting book. And again, that is The Charm Offensive by Alison Cochrun, and thank you to Larry for giving this book to me.
I’m really glad that you brought a Thanksgiving rec. So I have three more books. My last two are very much holiday reads. They’re two books that I read at the end of every year, and I was going to say like, “These are perfect for holidays,” so that me makes really happy that you also are doing that.
So my next one is called Deacon King Kong by James McBride. This came out in 2020, and James McBride is a National Book Award winner. He won for The Good Lord Bird, which was phenomenal.
Deacon King Kong is a story. It is a group of people that are all living in a housing project in South Brooklyn. It’s in the late 1960s, and the book opens with this old, cranky kind of a boozehound type church deacon. He’s known as Sportcoat, and he walks into the courtyard of this housing project and, in front of everybody, shoots a drug dealer at point-blank range. And it’s such an interesting opening. Again, this is not a spoiler, like it’s in the first chapter of the book. I think it’s in the first sentence of the description of the book, so you will see this.
But it’s like you have no idea why he did this. And then what ends up happening is the story unfolds into the stories and the lives of these different people throughout the housing project and also how they interact with each other. And so you learn about the African American and Latin residents of the neighborhood who witnessed it, you learn about their white neighbors, you learn about like the local cops that are assigned to investigate, you learn about the different members of the church where Sportcoat is a deacon, and then you also learn about the Italian mobsters that were the people that were doing the drug-running.
And it’s just this like, if you’re a fan of… Like Harlem Shuffle by Colson Whitehead is a good experience, like a good one to compare this to. It’s that inner section of all of these different cultures within a melting pot that is an area of New York, but you also see how these relationships are kind of very, very intricate. And so you just learn about different people that are connected directly or indirectly to this shooting and why Sportcoat did it, and it’s just so good. Again, it’s a very character and relationship-driven book, which you would think that it would be plot-driven, seeing as how to be like a driver-
Amy Allen Clark:
It opens like that?
Yeah, it opens with like this main driving thing, but it really is character-driven and it also just has incredible character development because it’s one of these books where you meet all these people, you instantly form an opinion based on their introduction to the story, and you learn that there’s just so much more to all of them.
So James McBride is a phenomenal writer, but I was blown away by Deacon King Kong when I read it a couple years ago. And like I said, I know it became a bestseller, but it’s been a couple years old. So in case you miss this when it came out, yeah, Deacon King Kong by James McBride is phenomenal.
Amy Allen Clark:
This is where I tell you that it’s on my Kindle and I just have not read it. Because I actually own this book, and so I’m glad that you described it because sometimes, I just need a motivator to move it back up. I believe it was like a Kindle deal and I grabbed it because it was like 3.99, and everyone kept talking about it and so I’m like, “Yeah, I should definitely read that.” But it somehow shifted all the way to the bottom on the pool, so I’m really glad that you talked about that one today, because I actually own it.
Yeah. I’m shocked this is the first time this has happened that one of us has said that to each other, because I feel like on our first recording, we’ve said a couple times like, “Oh, that’s actually on my list,” or, “Oh, that’s on my Kindle.” So shocked it took this long.
Amy Allen Clark:
Well, today, I also want to bring a nonfiction November selection because it is Nonfiction November and I know a lot of us are using that as a prompt. But I wanted to talk about a memoir that I don’t hear anybody talk about, and it’s just this really great under-the-radar gem. It’s called Glorious Rock Bottom, written by Bryony Gordon. So this is a super fast page-turner. It would be perfect for Nonfiction November. Many people I know gravitate towards celebrity memoirs when we think about memoirs, and I do appreciate sometimes celebrity memoirs. But I will say that I am more in the vein that I love to learn stories about people that I’ve never known about or didn’t know anything about.
Bryony is someone who might be well-known to some, but she was not known to me. She’s a respected journalist. She worked at The Telegraph, she was also a bestselling author, she launched an award-winning mental health campaign. She’s so well-known that when I found her podcast, I discovered her very first episode on mental health was with Prince Harry, of all people, who came on to talk about mental health. So I’m like, “She’s new to me, so she’s probably a celebrity to other people,” but to me, I didn’t know anything about her.
So all of that is going on in her life, all those wonderful, lovely achievements, but what people didn’t know was that she was secretly battling a 20-year addiction to drugs and alcohol that had spiraled out of control, threatened her life, her marriage, her motherhood journey, and this memoir documents her recovery process, and it is honestly the best memoir I’ve ever read on recovery.
Now, I feel like with recovery stories, they usually end with the person goes through something, they have a rehabilitation, and then it ends like that. But this story is documenting some really critical lessons from the challenges of like sober holidays every year to replacing addictions with different addictions, even healthy ones. Let’s say running is your addiction. Even running, because I know I’m talking to you. I know.
I feel so called out right now.
Amy Allen Clark:
No. But I think there was, at one point, she really did get passionate about running, but it got to an unhealthy thing because I think that sometimes, when we replace our unhealthy habits, we go gung-ho on something else, and that is really why this one became so compelling. And I will say, too, just in my own showing up authentically, I transformed my relationship with alcohol this year, which might be why some of those moments really felt profound to me, and I think quit lit can be really helpful if you are also trying to cut down.
And just as an aside, I do want to recommend, there is a really great app called the Sunnyside drinking tracking app that you can look up if you are trying to also break up with your nightly wine crutch, like I was. But you don’t need a complicated relationship with alcohol to appreciate it. I would recommend this to any reader who needs a memoir that just leaves some feeling inspired, or for more empathy for someone else who’s recovering from an alcohol addiction. This transformation was really beautiful to read about, and I think everyone should pick it up. It’s called Glorious Rock Bottom. It’s written by Bryony Gordon.
Oh, that sounds so good. I am absolutely going to grab that. That sounds fantastic.
Okay, so the first of my last two, these are two books that I read every single year, and longtime listeners of me doing book recommendations, I apologize, but I have talked about them both. So the first one is Hiddensee by Gregory Maguire. This is basically his story of a retelling of The Nutcracker, but focusing on Drosselmeier, who is the toy maker.
I mean, it’s not really like a Christmassy book, but I will say, obviously because it’s about Drosselmeier, if you are familiar with the ballet or the music of The Nutcracker, you’ll get those kind of warm and fuzzies. But Gregory Maguire wrote Wicked, which is something that people are obviously very, very aware of. He also wrote After Alice, so that was his Wonderland version of this type of thing.
So Hiddensee tells a story of how Drosselmeier kind of came to be. So in The Nutcracker, the actual ballet, you really only meet him as the person who brings all of these wonderful toys to everyone, but you don’t really get to know much about him. This story starts when he is a young child in the black forests of Bavaria, and he grows up with these people who he thinks are his parents, not entirely sure. But basically, he ends up leaving that forest. It was, for a long time, they were the only people he had ever known. And he gets kind of connected with this. There’s a little bit of magical realism in the sense of like he has this cane that he’s walking with and, at the top of it, it has almost like… Honestly, I guess you could say a goblin again. And it kind of talks to him and he is able to sort of talk to these animals.
But basically, it tells the story of him growing up and going on this long journey, like going from different place to place, where he works in a church for a while and then he takes a message from the leader of that church off to a different land, where basically, the priest is like, “I need help with my church, and can you just take this message someplace?” And he has to travel a long way to get there, and he ends up working in this new town that he goes to and he helps raise some children, and then he moves on from there and he meets this family that he becomes friends with, and he basically, at a certain point, starts carving toys and he opens his own toy shop and he gets better and better at it. And then when he grows old, he goes back and actually sees the priest that he never was able to pass on his message to.
But it’s just this really beautifully told, wonderful, mysterious tale as to how this character who we really only see in the ballet like a snapshot of it’s just this person who brings toys and then kind of disappears until the end of the ballet. It’s just this wonderful unfolding of all of the different things that his life led to and became. And again, I read this every single year because I’m a nostalgic holiday person, but you can read at any time of the year, but November, December is the perfect time for Hiddensee by Gregory Maguire.
Amy Allen Clark:
So the only Gregory Maguire book I have read is Wicked, which is obviously the most familiar, but I will say that I needed like a Nutcracker recovery process after going every year to my daughter’s ballet, because she did it every single year, that was the show, and so I feel like I’m pretty familiar with The Nutcracker, and it might be nice now that she’s done with that ballet and I’m not spending every winter season sitting in the audience of that show. I can actually appreciate the story again and come back to it.
Yeah. That’s very fair. I will say, if you are the mother or father of a-
Amy Allen Clark:
… person, a ballerina who is doing this every single year, you might get a little twitchy. But it’s so beautiful and I highly recommend it. It’s so good.
Amy Allen Clark:
Well, I picked a book that is not sitting in the winter setting. It’s actually sitting in the summer setting. But sometimes, in the winter, I like to read a summer read, and I wanted to end with a book that didn’t make it for our book club but I feel like it was so on the cusp of being on there. But I think it’s a special audience that will appreciate it. It’s called Landslide, It’s written by Susan Conley. This is a very moving, powerful, unforgettable short read where she paints a literary portrait of a family in a remote fishing village in Maine.
So there’s this fishing accident that happens. It leaves Jill’s husband hospitalized, and she has to figure out how she’s going to manage the home and her family alone in this location. And dealing with this under normal conditions would be manageable, but the family relies upon this father’s job for both income and just their livelihood. It all exists and hinges on his success. She also discovers that her son is posting some Instagram photos with a joint, and she also has begun to suspect that her husband may be having an affair.
So this is very much a character-driven story. It’s written in really sparse and gentle prose and it brings in that challenging remote setting that also adds a mood to the book. But more than anything, I found it to be a really relatable read on mothering teens. The author makes some really fun observations and, frankly, real observations on motherhood, and I just have to quote this one line where she said, “Being a mother isn’t anything like I thought it would be. It’s harder, better, more confusing, shorter, longer.” And another passage that I highlighted was, “But no matter what, no one will love you more or be meaner to you then your own kids.”
So if motherhood doesn’t grab you, there’s also some really keen observations on marriage. I ended up highlighting another powerful line about marriage that said, “I thought of marriage as two people who know each other entirely and will always know each other, but what if they’re just two people who share an idea of what life could be and then one of them changes their idea?” So I felt really seen by the truth in it. I felt a little less alone in challenging with raising teens. I have a 20-year-old and a 16-year-old. If character-driven stories aren’t for you, this might not be for you, but if this sounds like a read for you, check out Landslide by Susan Conley.
I’m going to make my sister read this. She has four kids and the oldest is 15. This feels like a good time for her to check this out.
Amy Allen Clark:
Yes, it is. Absolutely.
Okay, my last one is, and I might have mentioned this on your show as well, but Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk by Kathleen Rooney. It is my end-of-year book that I read every single year. Lillian Boxfish was born… The story starts in 1984. She is 85 years old, but she’s always lied about her age because she didn’t want anyone to know she was born in 1899. To her, that felt just like a bridge too far. She didn’t want to accept she was born in the 1800s.
So what it is is it’s New Year’s Eve and she decides she’s going to go for a walk. Normally, on New Year’s Eve, she goes to a restaurant in New York City where she lives called Grimaldi’s, which, side note, I was walking around in New York City earlier this year, I was there for work, and I literally walked past Grimaldi’s and stopped in my tracks because I did not know it was a real place, and I was like, "Oh my God, that’s the place that Kathleen Rooney writes about.
So Lillian Boxfish decides she’s going to walk, she’s going to take a walk to the place instead of driving. And so as she’s walking to dinner, and then past dinner, she decides just to walk throughout the city, she looks back on her 84 years of life, but more specifically on her life in New York City, which was from the 1930s through present day. And she was the highest-paid woman in all of advertising. She worked for R.H. Macy. This is a fictional story. But she worked for R.H. Macy writing ad copy, and it just kind of tells the story of everything as she’s moving throughout her life. And it goes from the Jazz Age, to the onset of the AIDS pandemic, to the Great Depression, to the birth of hip hop, and she does this beautiful nostalgic look back of everything that’s going on.
And also, the way that Kathleen Rooney writes, basically, the ad copy that Lillian Boxfish uses throughout her career is just so beautiful and it makes me kind of harken, like I want to be in that timeframe. I feel like life moves so fast now and like the way that we are advertised at is either two seconds on TikTok or it’s… There’s no time for reading a three-paragraph, playfully-written promotion of an ice box or a desk. And so it just makes me, like I always think I was born in the wrong timeframe, and this makes me nostalgic for a time I never knew. But it’s so beautiful and she has all these interactions with people in the present day, and then it goes back to times that she’s talking about in her past. And it’s just so beautiful. It’s a perfect book for the end of year, as you’re thinking back throughout all the stuff that you accomplished in the year before and all the stuff you want to do in the next year. So that’s Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk by Kathleen Rooney.
Amy Allen Clark:
I love your old soul, Adam. I really appreciate that. I have a child that has an old soul. Even when he was born, he was already worried about the world. And I think that people like you are really important in our reading lives, and I’m so glad you brought this. I definitely want to check it out.
Well, thank you so much. I definitely am an old soul, 100%.
Okay, so I want to tell everybody, if you enjoyed this, first off, first and foremost, most importantly, follow Amy on all the social media platforms, check out the Book Gang podcast. It’s so great. It’s a must-listen. Check out her Patreon and do all of the things you can to support Amy.
And also, if you enjoyed this, just shoot me an email as well at [email protected]. My hope is to do this every couple of months. Again, I don’t want to tax Amy too, too much, but it’s just, I feel like we get along very well when it comes to book recommending, and it’s something that I love doing and I know that Amy loves doing as well. So if you guys enjoyed this, let us both know. I would love to hear from everybody.
Amy, any kind of parting words or places that you want to make sure people check out before we sign off?
Amy Allen Clark:
Yeah. December 1st, we will announce our new 2023 MomAdvice Book Club year. If you want to find me on Facebook, you can also find me on MomAdvice Book Club on there and join the free club. You’ll see all the events listed there for the year. And we make our big announcement. We’ll have 12 really beautiful selections, a lot of under-the-radar books that you probably haven’t checked out yet that I’m really excited to acquaint you with.
That sounds so amazing. Well, thank you everyone for listening, and most especially, Amy, thank you so much for joining me today.
Amy Allen Clark:
Passions & Prologues is proud to be in Evergreen Podcasts and was created by Adam Sockel. It was produced by Adam Sockel and Sean Rule-Hoffman. If you are interested in this podcast and any other Evergreen podcast, you can go to evergreenpodcasts.com to discover all the different stories we have to tell.