Season 1 Episode 44

Briana O’Neal lives in the world of books professionally and personally. She’s a college Dean by day, a Ph.D. candidate by night, and a hardcore bookworm in the twilight hours. She fills her free time with live music, old movies and traveling. In the few months I’ve been following her online, she has opened up my reading life. Today, she joined me to talk about the joys of used books, Scholastic Book Fairs, and why “Legendborn” by Tracy Deonn is the Best Book Ever.

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Host: Julie Strauss
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Guest: Briana O’Neal
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Episode Sponsor: Books2Read Pocket Garden 
Books2Read has curated a selection of feel-good springtime reads from across the publishing spectrum. From humorous fiction to romantic comedies, heart-warming literature, to feel-good nonfiction. There’s even a selection of “happy pocket garden covers” because just looking at those beautiful covers will make you feel the spring sunshine on your face.

Books discussed in this episode:
Legendborn by Tracy Deonn
The Source of Self-Regard: Selected Essays, Speeches, and Meditations by Toni Morrison
Beloved by Toni Morrison
Jazz by Toni Morrison
The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison
Tar Baby by Toni Morrison
Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison
The View from the Cherry Tree by Willo Davis Roberts
I Know What You Did Last Summer by Lois Duncan
The Girl with the Silver Eyes by Willo Davis Roberts
Machinehood by S.B. Divya
 The B2Weird Bookclub on Instagram
The City We Became by NK Jemisin
The Dream Blood Duology: The Killing Moon and The Shadowed Sun by NK Jemison
The Inheritance Trilogy by NK Jemison
The Broken Earth Trilogy by NK Jemison (The first book in this series, The Fifth Season, is Briana’s favorite Jemison book.)
While Justice Sleeps by Stacey Abrams
From Blood and Ash by Jennifer L. Armentrout

Discussed in our Patreon Conversation
Rosewater (Book 1 in the The Wormwood Trilogy) by Tade Thompson
I can understand why Briana bought these books based on the covers alone – they are gorgeous!
The Rosewater Insurrection by Tade Thompson
The Rosewater Redemption by Tade Thompson

(Note: If you shop using my affiliate links, a portion of your purchase will go to me, at no extra expense to you. Thank you for supporting indie bookstores and for helping to keep the Best Book Ever Podcast in business!)

BRIANA O’NEAL ON “LEGENDBORN” BY TRACY DEONN

Hello, Bookworms welcome to the Best Book Ever, The podcast where we talk about your favorite books. I’m your host, Julie Strauss, and today I’m so pleased to talk to the wonderful Briana O’Neal. Briana lives in the world of books, professionally and personally. She’s a college dean by day, a Ph.D. candidate by night, and a hardcore bookworm in the twilight hours. In addition to all that, she’s also currently hosting a year long Toni Morrison Readalong from her bookish Instagram account, where she posts thoughtful and challenging reviews. One of the greatest benefits of this podcast is that I’m introduced to books that I wouldn’t have picked up on my own. In the case of today’s episode, it’s a YA fantasy book. I had such a fun time talking with Briana about why “Legendborn” by Tracy Deonn is the Best Book Ever.

This episode is sponsored by our good friends over at Books2Read, a book listing service with inclusive links to all of the online retail sites where your favorite digital books can be found. Books to read has curated a selection of springtime reads from humorous fiction to romantic comedies, heartwarming literature, and feel good non-fiction. You’ll find several of my personal all-time favorite books on this list, including “The Nest” by Cynthia Sweeney, “The Storied Life of AJ Fickry” by Gabrielle Zevin and the utterly sublime “Act Your Age, Eve Brown” by Talia Hibbert. Plus, there are so many others I am dying to read, like “The Midnight Library” by Matt Hague and “The Authenticity Project” by Claire Pooley. It’s a fantastic roundup of books that will make you feel like you have the spring sunshine on your face, no matter the weather outside your door. So check out the selection over at bit.ly/bookgarden. Now, back to the show.

Julie Strauss: Hi, Briana. Welcome to the Best Book Ever podcast.

Briana O’Neal: Hi, thank you so much for having me. I’m really excited to be here. 

JS: I’m excited to have you. You have done something on Instagram that has opened up my horrible pandemic year into a wonderful reading life. I want to start there with this wonderful program that you’ve started called the Toni21 Readalong. Can you tell my listeners what that is?

BON: Absolutely. The Toni21 Readalong is this little project idea that I had to read all of Toni Morrison’s books. I’d been collecting them over the years and I read one or two in college, but I hadn’t actually dived into her whole canon. And my bookstagram was like my little pandemic project. And I thought, Oh, there’s this little space on social media where folks are talking about books and I’m not able to physically go to book club, like I used to. So I thought it would be a really cool idea. I connected with a few folks, made a few followers. And I threw something into my Instagram story that just like a little poll that said, Hey, I’m thinking about reading all of Toni Morrison’s books, would anyone be interested in joining? And I think like eight or nine people responded yes to the poll. And I was like, okay, cool. I’ve seen people do buddy reads on Instagram. This’ll be a cool little buddy read. We’ll have an instant, like DM chat going as we read. And the next thing I know, there’s over 200 folks across the entire globe, different time zones, different countries, everything, who have signed on. We are reading one Toni Morrison book a month, and we’re reading them in publication order. We’ve got a text chat going on the Discord app for folks to communicate with each other as they read. And then I host a Zoom call at the end of each month for us to just hop on face-to-face and chat about what we’re feeling and what we’re experiencing, and just, you know, marvel at the wonder that is Toni Morrison.

JS: You chose publication order. Did you have a reason for that? 

BON: I did not have any reason for that. It just seemed like a good approach. I think it’s been a really good choice because we are seeing how Toni’s work evolves over time. And then the last book in the sequence is “The Source of Self Regard,” which is actually a collection of essays that she’s written. I haven’t read it yet, but I’ve heard that there’s some essays in there where she actually reflects on her own writing. So I think that’s going to be a really awesome experience in December to have read through everything in publication order, and then to read one of the last things that she wrote, where she’s actually reflecting on her own writing career. I read Beloved and Jazz as course requirements in college, but outside of that, I had not read any other Toni. So I’m experiencing this for the first time with a lot of other folks. 

JS: Do you go into the Zoom group chats with a set of questions or a set of things that you’re asking people to talk about? Or do you just open it up and say, let’s share.

BON: It’s an open space. One of the really things that was really important to me about this space was that I didn’t want to own it. I wanted it to be a community space where everyone felt like they had a say in what was happening. And we were coming to a general consensus about kind of how we wanted this community to function, and how we wanted folks to interact with each other. So it really is just a free and open dialogue space. When folks are in the chat, they’re able to talk with each other, whether or not I’m online. When we’re having the zoom calls, I actually run the meetings, uh, kind of popcorn style. If anyone is in education, you might use that technique in the classroom. 

JS: What does that mean? 

BON: Essentially, you pick someone to speak and then they can call on someone else to speak. Or if someone has a comment, they can raise their virtual hand in the Zoom room and, and add to the conversation. It’s very loosely structured. I actually probably would say it’s an unstructured  space. And I think we actually get more out of the conversation that way, because then folks are able to interact authentically, and they’re not coming into this space with these very academic, prepared responses to discussion questions. They’re able to just kind of have authentic conversations about how did this book make you feel? What did this book make you think about? Does it relate to your real life? Did you learn something from it? Do you have questions about it? It allows folks to talk about what’s on their mind, as opposed to me prescribing any type of question.

JS: When I read Toni Morrison in college, it was taught by white professors to me, a white woman. And it is really a different experience to read it in this format. And it is wonderful. 

BON: It’s so funny that you bring that up. I actually read Toni two books for two different college classes. Both of them were taught by white women. And I actually had a really uncomfortable experience in one of my college classes where my professor chose to read a passage out loud, and then she got to the N-word. And she paused and looked directly at me and asked if it was okay for her to read the text as is because I was the only Black student in the classroom. That really kind of scared me. It stuck with me. And I’ll be honest, I really thought about how I wanted to structure the space and I wasn’t sure. I waffled on whether I wanted this book club to be for Black women or if I wanted it to be an open book club. Ultimately, I decided for it to just be an open space where anyone who was on Instagram, who saw the ad, or had a friend that told them about it, could join. I was very intentional in creating community rules and in that very first meeting, like going over what is and isn’t acceptable, and who this space is for, and who’s a guest in this space. I’ve been so pleasantly surprised by how respectful everyone has been and how well folks have gotten along. And how folks have really been reflective on some of their comments and what they’ve said. I’ve had folks DM me after the phone calls and say, you know, I made this comment. I’m not sure it went over. Well, I want to make amends? People are being very thoughtful in this space. And it really has been a joy to watch it grow and see how people are engaging with one another. 

JS: And aside from the community, just the gift of being able to read Toni Morrison – she’s an author that I tend to, you know, I have her books on my shelf and I look at them a lot and think, I really need to reread those because it’s been since college, I think. Except for Beloved, which I’ve re-read a couple of times, but the rest I don’t think I have. And my God, I forgot what that woman can do.

BON: And you know, Toni really demands a second and third read. I think we actually did talk about this in our call last month. The first read through was really just for the plot. And the second read through is for all the little nuggets and breadcrumbs that she leaves in there for us. She’s a master of symbolism. She’s a master of metaphor. She’s a master at so many things. I’ve had folks who have read Toni before, who are in this book club, tell me that they’re still picking up on things for the first time. You know, they’ve read The Bluest Eye two and three times, and they’re just now recognizing this literary moment. She’s amazing. I’ve been told that every time you read Toni, you find something new. 

JS: What is the April book? 

BON: The April book is Tar Baby

JS: Oh, I’ve never read that one. 

BON: I have not either, actually. I just bought a copy. I found a used one. So I will be diving into that this weekend. 

JS: Does it have markings in it from the previous owner?

BON: You know, it does. And those are my favorite. 

JS: Mine too.

BON: My copy of Song of Solomon is also a used copy and I think a high school student owned it based on, you know, just me reading what the student had written in the margins. It felt like a student was preparing for a high school essay. It was just a really fun thing to see someone else’s thoughts as I’m reading the book for the first time.

JS: Yeah. Some people really hate that. I love it. And I underline in the books I read. I love it. Cause I just feel like it’s so fascinating to see what caught someone else’s eye versus what catches my eye. And it always makes me think about it differently. 

BON: No. I agree. 

JS: So were you always a reader? Tell me about your reading life.

BON: Yes. I have always been a reader. Those are some of my earliest memories as a kid, I think. I don’t know if you remember Scholastic Book Fairs?

JS: Of course! 

BON: One year for Christmas, my mom gave me this little red Velcro wallet that had my name on it. And that was where I saved all of my money for the Scholastic Book Fair. They would give us the magazines in the class, and the fair would come. And I would just spend hours poring over the pages and circling books I was interested in and rank ordering them because I only had $15. As long as I can remember, I’ve always been a reader. Like it’s really just been my favorite thing to do. My mom tells me stories all the time about how she used to use going outside as a punishment, because I always wanted to read the book. She’d say, put the book down, go outside and play. And I never wanted to go outside and play. I wanted to read one more chapter.

JS: What types of books did you read when you were young? What were you into. 

BON: That’s such a great question. I actually did kind of a throwback on my Instagram stories because I came across The View from the Cherry Tree, which is a Willo Davis Roberts book. It was written in like the 1970s. It’s a mystery book for kids. And the elementary school that I went to, I discovered in, in reflecting, did not have an updated library. So all of my favorite books as a kid were written in like the 1970s, I read a lot of Willo Davis Roberts, all of her mysteries. I read all of Lois Duncan thrillers. I Know What You Did Last Summer, The Girl With the Silver Eyes. Those are the very first books that I remember loving. And then I kind of transitioned from mystery more into fantasy and sci-fi, and that’s kinda where my heart has been ever since. But I read everything, to be honest with you. I read thrillers fantasy, literary fiction, historical fiction. If it’s well-written, I’ll read it. I’ll read it and I’ll rave about it. 

JS: And now you’re a Ph.D. student, correct? Is that in the literary world? 

BON: It is not in the literary world. My master’s degree and my Ph.D. are in Higher Education Policy.

JS: Okay. So reading is very much your escapism then, or relaxation. 

BON: That is fair to say. 

JS: What is it like to be a student in a pandemic? Has it deepened your academic life, or do you feel disconnected from it? 

BON: I would say I feel more or disconnected from it and that may just have to do with where I am in the process. I’m working on my dissertation right now, which I think just in general is a pretty lonely process. It’s just you and a stack of peer reviewed articles, just reading and writing and revising. I think I probably would have felt a little more disconnected from my student identity either way. I’ve got friends who are still in coursework and courses are still happening. They’re just happening in the virtual space. So, I think they’re, they’re still feeling like their student status is a very salient part of their identity, and for me less so. I think that’s also complicated by the fact that I also work full time. So being a student comes second to my job very often. 

JS: First of all, how do you have time to read? Because you read a lot. I follow you on Instagram and you post your books there and you read a lot. 

BON: I mean, I say that I have been reading a lot more this past year, since the pandemic started. And in the year prior to that, I didn’t read half as many books as I read in 2020. I think the pandemic has slowed me down a lot. I wasn’t going out; we were all hunkering down at home. And so all of that free time that used to be spent on brunches and, being out and about with friends was now spent on reading. And then I discovered Bookstagram. And once I created my Bookstagram account, my reading pace totally took off. I love being in community with folks. I was getting so many good book recommendations. I’m like, no, I can’t go out. I don’t want to do Zoom happy hours with you. I just want to read this book that I saw on Instagram so I can reply to this comment. 

JS: And has being on Bookstagram changed what you read at all? 

BON: I wouldn’t say that it changed what I read. I’m still reading the same genres,  primarily sci-fi, fantasy, and literary fiction. I have discovered more independent authors on Bookstagram. That’s been a really cool thing. Prior to that, my book experience was just walking into Barnes and Noble and picking up whatever looks interesting. Those are all the big names. But I didn’t have much exposure to Independent authors or authors who went through a smaller publisher and I’ve read more of those recently. 

JS: So tell me, how did you find this book that we’re discussing today? Legendborn

BON: I think this was an Instagram find for me actually. Another good thing to come out of social media! I saw someone post a cover of the book. Bree’s on the cover and she’s got her hairs all out and she just looks gorgeous and she’s got, you know, the ether around both of her arms. I was like, I don’t know what this is, but I absolutely need this book. So I looked it up and I realized that the publication date was September, which is when my birthday is. So I instantly pre-ordered it. Happy birthday to me. Then I read the synopsis and I knew right away it was going to be a winner. The main character was a Black girl who’s navigating some magic. And it’s set at UNC Chapel Hill, which is actually where I got my undergraduate degree from. And then the main character’s name is Bree, and my name is Briana. So I was like, if there ever was a sign from the universe that I should read a book, this is the one.

JS: Will you give a plot outline to our listeners? I feel like this book is all over Instagram, but maybe our listeners haven’t heard of it.

BON: Legendborn is a young adult fantasy novel that follows the journey of Bree Matthews, who’s our main character. She’s 16 years old, and she is at the University of North Carolina doing this early college program. So she’s an advanced student in her high school studies. And so she’s able to take some college classes on the campus of UNC. And while she is there, she uncovers this secret society that exists on UNC campus that is tied to the descendants of King Arthur. The rest of the story, I don’t want to give away any spoilers because it’s an amazing reading experience, and I want everyone to feel what I felt. But the rest of the story kind of chronicles Bree’s journey uncovering the truth about the secret society. She’s got some suspicions that the society might be related somehow to her mother’s recent passing. And it covers a lot of relevant social topics like racism and microaggressions and identity and grief and family and loss. That sounds like a lot, but Tracy Deonn just ties it all together so well. I can’t say enough good things about this book. 

JS: Tell me why this book affected you so much? You read, you said, a lot of sci-fi and fantasy. So why this one? 

BON: Like I said, I read a lot of sci-fi and fantasy. Coming up. I never saw myself represented in sci-fi and fantasy. All of my favorite characters have had fiery red hair or icy blue eyes. They were white. They were very clearly white and I just never saw myself in the genre. And I kind of resigned myself to, I probably never will. But amazing things still happen in these stories, so I’ll continue to read them. And so to say that this was the most pleasant of surprises and just very needed is an understatement. I saw a young Black girl who was doing what really well academically. Like academically gifted, advanced, that was me as a high school student. I was in an IB program. I, you know, took all the honors and all the AP classes. I saw her at an institution that I attended, and I saw her navigating some of the social challenges that I also navigated, you know, being the only Black student in an all-white classroom. I saw her trying to make friends with white folks, but also navigating that they’re microaggressing you at the dinner table. I loved that in this book, Bree was strong, but she was also vulnerable and that was really important for me too. I think we don’t get those narratives enough. We don’t get Black girls as whole people. We get Black girls as strong and fierce, but we don’t get them as vulnerable. We don’t have scenes of them crying. We don’t get to see them overcome challenges. A lot of times when you see them in sci-fi/fantasy, they’re secondary characters, and they’re used as tools to advance the plot, but they’re not fully developed. And so I loved everything about this book, that she was front and center and a full, complex, brilliant person.

JS: I love that you said that because I was thinking about the Black women that you see in action movies. And they are always sort of robocops aren’t they? Which is great. Like we want, I want my kids to see strong Black women on the screen. But also, she’s very much a little girl. She’s 16. Who lost her mom. And I just thought it was so she was so layered, and that she could also just be a girl who lost her mom, which is such a complex and sad event. And the author did not ignore that. 

BON: Not at all. I read the author’s note at the end and she talks about how Bree’s journey was actually inspired by her own experience with grief and loss at a young age. She lost her mother at a young age as well. And I think again, I’m going to avoid spoilers, but there is a section in the book called “Roots,” and what she does with history and family is absolutely breathtaking. I don’t know how to talk about this without spoiling. You can do a spoiler episode later and we can read it. That was my favorite section of the book.

JS: I think you probably got a lot more out of it than me for many reasons, but one of them being that you’re also a really big fantasy reader, which I’m not. And I went into it with almost no understanding of Arthurian legend. I just kind of have never, – and I was so impressed at the way she meshed that with the cultural aspects of this Black family and created something entirely new and so fascinating and so beautiful. 

BON: Yeah, the world-building was just really phenomenal. And it’s not your traditional Arthurian legend. Like she, she makes it her own. I would say you don’t even have to be well-versed Arthurian legend to enjoy this book.

JS: As someone who reads a lot of fantasy, did you feel like there was a lot of – I would think you got a lot more out of the fantasy elements of it than I did.

BON: I loved it. I absolutely loved it. And you know, I think so there’s that classic experience in fantasy where the first 50 pages, you’re like, what the hell is going on? There are some rules in this world that I don’t understand. Um, and that’s typical with any fantasy books. So I knew, I was like, well, let me just push past. That’s my own personal rule, is the first 50. Like, if you can make it pass the first 50 pages, then, then you’re good to go. I give myself the first 50 to read it a little more slowly, and to really kind of break apart, sometimes I take notes and I’m like, wait a minute. There’s a lot of terminology in this book too. And you know, most fantasy books have a glossary in the back. That was something that –  I’m grabbing my book now because I am showing you – there is no glossary in the back whatsoever. And I was dying for a glossary because there were a lot of – I was like, Kingsmage and all of the, I can’t even remember all the terms right now, but there are a lot of terms. Normally, I am flipping back and forth to the glossary in those first 50 pages to try to understand. And I wasn’t able to do that. So that was, that was a little bit, um, if I had to make one critique of this book was like, Tracy, she could have given us a glossary. But I made my best friend read it and she was reading it and she’s texting me and she’s like, what is this? And I’m like, it will all become clear.

JS: You know, that’s, that’s where I think I struggle with fantasy books. A lot of times, I get very logical at the beginning. It takes me a long time, and I tend to get frustrated and go, Oh, it’s, there’s too much talk of this magic system. So what’s the trick for you fantasy lovers? Like you just turn off your logic right off the bat and just know that the story’s coming? How do you get through that phase? 

BON: Yeah. I just trust that understanding will come. You know, with fantasy, you already know you’re going to have to suspend disbelief to some degree. And there are some books I’ve read where I read a page and I’m like, I have no idea what happened. And then I reread the page and I’m like, I still don’t think I understand. I’m just going to continue and hope that the blanks will backfill as I read on. More often than not, they do.

JS: Tell me some other fantasies or sci-fi that you like. That’s another one I don’t read a lot of. 

BON: I definitely read much more fantasy than I do sci-fi. I just finished reading Machinehood by SB Divya, which is a sci-fi book. I’m a part of a book club that I actually found on Bookstagram. It’s a virtual book club that reads sci-fi and fantasy by authors of color. It’s called @2Bweird. We read sci-fi and fantasy by authors of color, and Machinehood was the March book. That was a pretty cool experience. Sci-fi, for me, is a little bit trickier because there are a lot of rules and jargon, right? Like with fantasy, if you’re telling me that a bowl magically appeared on the table, I don’t need to know how it got there. I’m just going to trust that it’s there. But with sci-fi, like there is science, and there are rules to the science. And if I don’t understand the science, then I’m probably not going to get what I need to get out of the book. But in Machinehood, I really enjoyed it. So the premise of that book is it’s a futuristic setting. 2095. AIs have advanced far enough that they are pretty much dominating the workforce. People don’t really have steady employment because humans, on their own, are not as competitive as AI. So humans are making their money in the gig economy and robots essentially are doing all of the big jobs. And there are pills that have been manufactured that can enhance your speed, your physical speed and your cognitive abilities, just enough for you to possibly compete for certain positions in the workforce. And there is this machine rights activist group that wants to stop the production of pills and is advocating for the rights of AIs in society. They feel like machines are being taken advantage of and oppressed and forced into these jobs, and has anyone asked the machines what they think. There was just a lot of science. Like, there are chapters that talk about like the creation of pills and there are chapters that talk about like the creation of robots. I was like, all of this is beyond me. But I’m here for the plot. I want to know what happens next. And so sometimes I will admit, sci-fi does go over my head a bit more than fantasy does. It’s not an easy thing to read. 

JS: And did you like the book and like the plot made it worth it? 

BON: Absolutely. Absolutely interesting. I feel like a bit of a fraud, but I will say that sometimes I’ve read sci-fi and I didn’t totally understand what happened, but I followed the plot well enough to know that I liked it.

JS: Have you read N.K. Jemisin’s The City We Became?

BON: I have everything of hers. I’m such an N.K. Jemisin fan. I have an entire shelf that’s all her. Like The Dreamblood Duology, The Inheritance Trilogy, The Broken Earth Trilogy, The City We Became. I’ve got it all right here. 

JS: Okay. I’m so glad to hear you say that because I got The City We Became, it came up on my library list a couple months ago. And honestly, I was just too intimidated to read it. I just kind of went, I’m not a sci-fi gal. So I sent it back without reading it. I just got it back and I’m looking at it like, come on, stop being so dumb, just read the book. So I should read it then. Right? 

BON: Is this your first introduction to NK or have you read her? 

JS: I haven’t read anything, but this one has been recommended to me so much. 

BON: It’s actually my least favorite Jemison book. And, you know, what’s funny, the book club that I mentioned, we read that as a book club and we were split almost 50/50. Like half of us loved it, and half of us were like, this is not our favorite Jemison. 

JS: Interesting. So which one is your favorite of hers? 

BON: My favorite is The Broken Earth trilogy. The first book in that series is The Fifth Season. And I would recommend starting there instead of starting with The City We Became. 

JS: Even for me, who’s not a normally sci-fi reader, that’s a good place to start? So why is The City We Became – it’s just popular then? It’s not necessarily her best, it’s just her most popular?

BON: That’s my personal opinion. Like I said, I was in a book club with folks who loved it. Absolutely loved it and they’re ready and waiting for the second one. So that’s just Briana’s take. 

JS: That’s really good to know. Legendborn is going to have a sequel, right? 

BON: Yes. 

JS: Do we know for sure if it’s just two or is it going to be more than two? 

BON: I don’t know. I don’t know if there’s going to be more than two, but I know that a sequel is coming and I have decided that there was a love triangle at the end, and I have very strong feelings about how I’d like that to turn out. So I’m highly anticipating the sequel. 

JS: Has she written anything else? 

BON: This was her debut, I believe so.

JS: Gawd almighty.

BON: Isn’t that incredible? 

JS: It feels like the work of a really, really practiced author. 

BON: It really does. It really does. 

JS: I can’t wait to see what she does next. 

BON: I think she’s going to do big things. I think she’s going to be somebody we’re talking about for a long time. 

JS: I think you’re right. We can’t close this without mentioning the fan art. It is magnificent. I had so much fun just looking at what her fans have done with these characters. It’s incredible.

BON: I follow her on Instagram and I lurk her page so much that anytime she posts to her story, it comes up first in my life. So I get to, yeah, I’m stalking it all the time. All the fan art, all of the covers. Have you seen folks doing recreations of the cover art? It’s magical. 

JS: Oh my gosh. Have you ever done that? 

BON: No, I’m not creative. And I love it when people do it. It’s just so wonderful. I can’t even figure out how to make a real and have the sound come through. I’m leaving that to the real influencers. 

JS: Briana, tell me, what are you reading right now? 

BON: Oh, that’s a good question. I just got an advanced copy in the mail of While Justice Sleeps by Stacey Abrams. It’s a thriller that comes out next month. I got this, and I told myself I was going to read it and I read the first chapter. Then I caved to Bookstagram peer pressure about From Blood and Ash. Have you read this? 

JS: I have not. I love that cover so much though. 

BON: It’s a beautiful cover. I don’t know anything about it, but I keep seeing all of these memes all over Instagram about Poppy and Hawke. And I’m like, I don’t know who these people are, but everybody is laughing at these memes. Everybody has very strong feelings about Hawke, and I need to know what’s going on. I put down While Justice Sleeps and I’m reading From Blood and Ash right now. I might read at the same time, which I don’t typically do. Bookstagram is teaching me how to do that. 

JS: Yeah? So what’s the secret?

BON: It’s a mood thing, is what I’ve been told. Like, when you feel yourself slowing down with one book, then just pick up another. I typically, when I read, I just pushed myself through from start to finish. I don’t like to hold multiple storylines in my head. But I’m working on that. It works better if I’m reading two different genres. 

JS: So then you’re not confusing the two storylines?

BON: Right. I could never read two fantasy or two sci-fi books at the same time, but like a thriller and a fantasy, I can definitely do. 

JS: Briana, thank you so much for joining me today and introducing me to this book. Will you tell my listeners where they can find you online? 

BON: Yes, you can find me on Instagram. My handle is @ibingebooks

JS: I love it. And if people want to join the Toni 21 Readalong, they still can, right? 

JS: Yep. Just send me a DM on Instagram and I’ll get you connected with the group. 

JS: And if they wanted to join now, a quarter into the year, or whenever they listen to this podcast, do they have to catch up and read all the past books? Or can they just start with whatever month you’re on? 

BON: They can just start with whatever month we’re on. I have some folks who are just joining us from April forward. And I have some folks who are joining, but they want to catch up. And so we have a Discord chat that is open. And the dialogue continues even though the Zoom call has come and gone. If you’re reading The Bluest Eye for the first time in April, you can still access The Bluest Eye chat and we can still discuss it that way. 

JS: Fantastic. Well, thank you so much for joining me today. This has been so fun. 

BON: Thank you for having me. This has been a great time. 

Thanks for listening, Bookworms. For more information on this episode and links to all the books we discussed, please go to our website BestBookEverPodcast.com, or follow the podcast on Instagram @BestBookEverPodcast. I’m your host, Julie Strauss, and you can find me everywhere as @JulieWroteABook. Remember, when you’re doing your book shopping, please help support indie bookstores and this podcast by using my affiliate link at www.Bookshop.org/Bestbookever

Thank you for joining me today and I will see you at the library.

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