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193: Get Reading Momentum Going with Our Favorite Fantasy and Dystopian Series Recs

In this Unabridged podcast episode, Ashley, Jen, and Sara talk about one of our favorite topics - we share book series we've loved reading. We're focusing on young adult literature fantasy and dystopian series, and although there are tons of great recommendations in this category, we narrow it down to Marie Lu, Dhonielle Clayton, and S.A. Chakraborty. Check it out, and find us on the socials to share your favorites with us!

Bookish Check-in

Ashley - Toshikazu Kawaguchi’s Before the Coffee Gets Cold (Amazon |

Jen - Riley Sager’s Survive the Night (Amazon |

Sara - Diane Chamberlain’s Big Lies in a Small Town (Amazon |

Our Fantasy and Dystopian Series Recs

Ashley - Marie Lu’s Legend series (Amazon |

Jen - S.A. Chakraborty’s The Daevabad Trilogy - Book 1: The City of Brass (Amazon |

Sara - Dhonielle Clayton’s The Belles (Amazon |

Other Mentions

S.A. Chakraborty's The Kingdom of Copper (Amazon |

S.A. Chakraborty's The Empire of Gold (Amazon |

Dhonielle Clayton's The Everlasting Rose (Amazon | (not available))

Marie Lu's Prodigy (Amazon |

Marie Lu's Champion (Amazon |

Marie Lu's Rebel (Amazon |

Give Me One - How Your Shelves Are Organized

Listen in to hear how we organize (or don't organize) our shelves, and hop over to @unabridgedpod on Instagram on Monday to share your favorite on our Give Me One post!

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Bookish Check-in

Book cover of Big Lies in a Small Town by Diane Chamberlain

Sara said, "I am reading—I just started for my book club—my in-real-life book club—Diane Chamberlain's Big Lies in a Small Town. I actually have never read one of her books. My mom and my sister both love her books, but I just had never read them. But then my book club chose this one. So now I'm reading my first Diane Chamberlain. She's a pretty prolific author. She has a lot of published titles. This is written in alternating perspectives and in alternating timelines. So the first timeline is 2018, North Carolina. Morgan is the main character—she has been in prison for a year for an accident that occurred. But as a reader, we don't know what that is. That's part of the unfurling that's going to happen as the narrative moves forward. She is approached by two women that come to visit her in prison; she served her minimum sentence, and the two women offer her a way to get out and be on parole. She can be free if she restores this painting of this famous artist who has passed away. In his will, he has left instructions that in order for the rest of his wealth to be distributed, she has to restore this painting in this two month time span by this artist named Anna. So, that's the 2018. Then we're in North Carolina in 1940, and we are with Anna, the artist who was commissioned for this mural that in 2018, Morgan has been hired to restore and we're learning her story. So, like I said I'm just in the beginning. Anna has just won a national competition to create a mural for a post office in North Carolina. She's from New Jersey, she's just lost her mom, and we're just starting to learn about her life. And you know, I know there's going to be a lot of intersection in the two stories. We're going to learn about these women and then see what happens. And I think there's going to be a mystery, but I'm not 100% sure. Like I said, I'm only about four chapters in so far. It has my attention, and I'm enjoying it. So, hopefully I will enjoy the experience of reading my first Diane Chamberlain. So that is Diane Chamberlain's Big Lies in a Small Town."

Book cover of Before the Coffee Gets Cold by Toshikazu Kawaguchi

Ashley shared, "So one of the ones I'm reading right now is Before the Coffee Gets Cold by Toshikazu Kawaguchi. This is a work in translation. So, it is written in Japanese, and Geoffrey Trousselot as the translator into English, and I am absolutely captivated by this story. I'm almost finished. The premise is that there is a small cafe in Tokyo where people go and they get brewed coffee, but also they have this opportunity to travel back in time. The way that that happens involves a series of rules, and the rules are pretty cumbersome for the person who wants to do the time travel. Because of that people are aware of the legend, but most people don't bother to take the opportunity because they can't change the present. There's all these other limitations. It's very complicated to do, and so because of that, it's more like folklore than active time travel. In the story, we follow the lives of four different people who do take the opportunity to deal with all the rules and make the time travel. It's just really well done. I love the way we get to know the people who work in the cafe. So there are a handful of people who always work there, and of course, they're familiar with this process and aware that some people occasionally who come in do want to time travel and not just drink a cup of coffee. So there's that that's happening, and then it also explores the idea of what it's worth to learn something about the people you love that you really want to know. So a lot of it is about looking for closure and recognizing that you can't change the way things are but wanting to come to terms with how they are. So there's a lot of that, and it's explored through these different people's lives. So I am really loving it. I think it's fascinating, and I found out just recently, there is a sequel, and I'll definitely read that one as well. And oh, in the title is because you have to drink the coffee before it gets cold to come back to the present, so that's why it's like a very limited window that they can take this travel with all these rules and stipulations. So it's just fascinating. And again, that is Toshikazu Kawaguchi's Before the Coffee Gets Cold."

Book cover of Survive the Night by Riley Sager

Jen stated, "So, I'm reading Riley Sager's Survive the Night. I have read all of Sager's books, and I think that they just keep getting better and better. This one, the premise I think is so intriguing. So, spoilers are a danger here, and I've reached the point where there's one thing I can't say, so I'm going to tread very carefully. This is technically historical fiction. It takes place in November 1991. The premise is really intriguing. So, Charlie is a college student, and she is preparing to drop out of college. Basically, her roommate Maddie was murdered, and Charlie has suffered a lot of loss in her life. Her parents were both killed in a car accident when Charlie was a teenager, and she's been living with her grandmother ever since. Maddie is her best friend, and they went out one evening to a club to hear a cover band, and basically Charlie felt like Maddie was hooking up with this guy and was ignoring Charlie, so she starts to go home. Maddie follows her out the door of the club. They have a big fight, and the last words that Charlie says to Mattie are curse words. Tthen that's the last time she sees her, and she is just having a horrible time recovering. She feels like she just can't be at school anymore. So she goes to the ride board listing at a college and puts up an ad that says she's looking for a ride home. It's the middle of the week, and she just feels like she has to leave that day. But she also realizes that not a lot of people are going home in the middle of the week. While she's standing at the ride board, this guy comes up and they strike up a conversation, and he is getting ready to leave the college and drive, and her stop is on the way to where he's going. So he calls her that evening, and they work out a deal. They're going to leave at 9pm. And yeah, it seems it seems great.

"Well, ever since Maddie died, there have been all of these connections. It's clear that Maddie is the third girl who's been murdered by the same killer they call the Campus Killer, and there have been all these warnings about things you shouldn't do. One of them is, of course, getting in the car with a stranger, and Charlie's very aware of this, but she also just really feels like she needs to leave. So she says goodbye to her boyfriend, Robbie, and gets in the car with this guy. Right away, all of these little red flags start going up, and she's convinced that she's just being paranoid because of course, her her roommate was just murdered. But the longer they're in the car together, the weirder she starts to feel. Okay, so there are two other important things to know, and then I'm going to stop because I don't want to spoil anything. One important thing to know is, because it's 1991, there are no cell phones. So, the only way she can get in touch with anyone is if they stop is if she can get to a payphone. Before she got in the car, Robbie kind of joked, and he was like, you know, if anything goes wrong, you can just call me and just say, and they have this phrase worked out, and it's all this big joke, but she's like, hmm, do I need to call Robbie? But again, she thinks she's being paranoid. The other important thing to know is ever since her parents died, movies have been her coping mechanism. So when her parents died, and she went live with her grandmother, she and her grandmother would just watch these classic movies, Hitchcock movie after Hitchcock movie. They would just . . . that was their way to kind of escape from the world. After Maddie died, she went into these movies so much that sometimes she loses connection with reality and starts to see the world around her as a movie periodically. So she's never quite sure whether what she's seeing or experiencing is real. Or is it just this, maybe this playing in her head, and in a minute, she's going to kind of wake up from it. So, that makes her think she's being paranoid even more. That's where I'm going to stop. It is so, so good. Yeah, it's just it's an amazing suspenseful book."

Main Discussion—Favorite Fantasy or Dystopian Series

Book Cover of Legend by Marie Lu

Ashley said, "The one I want to share is actually one that has a recent addition. So that was really fun. It's Marie Lu's Legend series. So originally this was a trilogy, and it includes Legend, Prodigy and Champion. But recently, almost 10 years after the first three came out, she released Rebel, and it is set in a different place but has a lot of the same characters and is built in the same world, so that was super fun. So, I think part of why I want to share it is that I really enjoyed that experience. So it has that nice blend of it's been out a while, but also it has that fresh part that if you are looking for new books. Also, Rebel hasn't been out very long and is a great addition to the original series. So, this one is about Day and June, and it has alternating perspectives. I have to be careful with these that I don't spoil things. It's always hard to talk about series without saying too much. So, I want to be careful for people who haven't read the first book that I don't give away anything that you might not want to know going in. But basically, you have these two main characters, and their perspectives alternate. So what you see is this really tight government control, and a state that is working to protect its citizens from this deadly plague. It's clear that there's been a lot of tumult, and so like a lot of dystopian novels, there's been tumult, and then the government is working to regain stability in society in order to help everybody live more comfortably after these bad things have happened in the past. So you really see that in the beginning, and I think what I really love is that both Day and June are amazing characters who want to do the right thing and who want to take care of their families and who want to help and do good, but we see up front the ways that we understand the world colors what we think is right and wrong. I really love that. I think that Marie Lu explores that so well and shows how somebody can be a good character and yet make choices that are bad because of the way that they understand the world and how that's really shaped by their upbringing, I think all of that is just really masterfully done. Then also, I think Marie Lu does a really great job of giving commentary on poverty and privilege and how money brings about privilege, so you see a lot of that, and in the Legend series as well, the way that education and money are tied together and how those things bring about opportunity and privilege. I just think all of that commentary on society and the way that it works is really brilliant. So, I love that series. I love Marie Lu, and I think if you haven't read any of her stuff, the Legend series is a great place to start."

Book cover of The Belles by Dhonielle Clayton

Sara shared, "My pick is Dhonielle Clayton's The Belles series. Ashley recommended the first one, and like you said, Ashley, it was that feeling of reading The Belles and then being able to go right to The Everlasting Rose to finish the duology. I'm hoping that she makes it a trilogy because I really do love this world. What I love about The Belles is there is a ton of social commentary layered in this fantasy world. Dhonielle Clayton's world-building skills are just amazing. This follows Camilla Beauregard. She is a belle, and belles are women, young women, who are able to make people beautiful, but the beauty wears off after a while, and everyone in the area where they are, they will be grey if the belles don't perform their beauty work for them. It becomes a lot of commentary about classism because only the very wealthy are able to afford the work that the belles do. So, there's tons on class. There is a lot of commentary on race and what it means to be different and to not be financially wealthy. I mean there's just a ton layered in, and I love that. But my favorite is the way that she builds the world. It is totally unique. I mean, there are so many cool things that she creates—like teacup monkeys and teacup elephants. It's all it just, even those things are this commentary on taking these, these huge beasts and sizing them down for the kind of the fodder of the wealthy. I mean, so even those things, I just think it's just brilliantly done. It is fast paced. It is a page turner, and you really want to find out what happens. I mean, immediately after I finished the first one, I downloaded the second one to listen to. I listened to the whole thing in one day while I was doing chores and exercising and all the things. So, I just think it's a great series. I think students will love it because it's just so interesting, and I think it provides a lot of opportunity for discussion about things that are serious, but it comes in a very palatable package where you're entertained, and you can move through it. Then you can discuss the things that Clayton's commenting on in the book. So, I love this series. I thought it was awesome. And that is The Belles series. It's a duology by Dhonielle Clayton."

Book cover of The City of Brass by S. A. Chakraborty

Jen stated, "So this is S.A. Chakraborty's The Daevabad Trilogy. The first book is The City of Brass, it is all out now—the other books are The Kingdom of Copper and The Empire of Gold. I read The City of Brass pretty early, and then the next book was not yet published, so I just waited until the next two books were out and read them back to back. They are pretty long. So that's one thing. This is not a YA trilogy. I was thinking about this. I think it would be fine for teenagers. I do think it's pretty dense with the world building, and they are longer books. So that's one thing to consider. But these begin with one character, Nahri, who is a thief in 18th century Cairo. She is an unusually adept thief. Sometimes things just sort of work out for her, and she doesn't really know how they work out, but she is just glad because she is living in poverty. That is her only way to basically survive is to steal, so she is in the streets of Cairo one day, and she inadvertently summons a djinn, and that is where the fantasy part starts. So, we see that she actually has magical abilities that she didn't know she had. She and the djinn are transported into this fantasy realm, and they go to The City of Brass, and the world building is incredibly complex. So, I cannot possibly convey everything that is in these books here.

"But what I really love about this series is first of all, they're shifting perception. So, we start very solidly in our perspective. But then eventually, we get the perspective of the djinn and of the ruling class in The City of Brass, and we see that there's this deep history behind the way things are now. There are these cycles of violence and of oppression that at different times in the history, different classes, different races, different groups have risen and fallen, and then always when they're in power, something happens, and they start oppressing other people. So it's—I just really appreciated that historical lens. I think that's one thing I love about fantasy and dystopian, both. I think we all talked about class difficulties and poverty and race, and I think sometimes that distance gives authors the ability to talk about things like history and violence and power structures with a little distance that maybe makes them more acceptable to readers. I just thought this one was brilliant, and the way it used history, placed it in this fantasy realm, to ask really deep questions about who has power and why do they have power and once they get it, what do they do with it. I don't want to give any spoilers, so I'm going to remain vague. But through the whole trilogy, you see people who are trying to do the right thing, and then through one miscommunication or one misstep, they end up perpetuating a system that they are trying to fight against, or they go back into their past and they get wrapped up in the wrongs that were done to them and forget about the rights that they're trying to do. I think it's just very much about human nature. The world building is amazing. The covers of the books are so gorgeous, if you can look them up on the computer, they are beautiful, and they are intricate, and I felt like in many ways that represented the books themselves that they are intricate and beautiful and complicated. But it is a world that is definitely worth diving into. I will say it's great that the trilogy is finished because that was a big challenge between book one and book two, because everything was so intricate. It is one of those books that has a glossary of the different groups who have ruled over time because it was a lot. So I felt like I had to study before I started to read it again, but it is well worth it. It's one of those that's so rewarding. I would put the book down and kind of forget that I was in the real world for a few minutes. So that'sThe Daevabad Trilogy, and it starts with The City of Brass."

Give Me One - How Your Shelves Are Organized

Listen in to hear how we organize (or don't organize) our shelves, and hop over to @unabridgedpod on Instagram on Monday to share your favorite on our Give Me One post!


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