Behind The Scenes pt 1 August

It is mid-August, which means it is time for a new deal and another peak behind the scenes! Our Art Director Scott Borchert sat down with Jenn to talk about what exactly it looks like to be in the design trenches for Book Riot. But first, your exclusive Insiders deal of the month:

Get $25 off any purchase of $100 or more, using code BIGDEALINSIDE!

collage of items from the Book Riot store including a Read Or Die hoodie, a But First Books tshirt, some socks, and a tote


Jenn: I heard a rumor that your cat has appeared in more than one Book Riot campaign. Care to confirm?

Scott: The rumor is true. My cat, Danzig, has been my best friend since I found him in the bushes 14 years ago. We have been through a heck of a lot over the years, but it does not change one cold, hard truth: my cat is a freeloader. One day I sat down with him and tried to explain to him the concept of money; how all the things that he enjoys in life, furminators, refrigerated cat food, the couch he sleeps on, are not free and that I have to pay money for them. We came to an understanding that he was going to do more to pitch in and the resulting agreement was that I could use his likeness to promote goods and products for Book Riot and he could continue to do what he does best: sleep and be awesome.

promotions that include Scott's cat

Jenn: Give us an idea of what your day-to-day is like. Is there such a thing as a normal day in the design world?

Scott: No, not really. And I guess that is what I like most about what I do. There is very little redundancy from day to day as far as design is concerned at least. But most days start out something like this: I hop on the Q train at 57th/7th Avenue and head towards Downtown Brooklyn. I can usually squeeze in about a half hour of reading there. The office is a shared workspace type deal, that I share with our web developer Alex. An obscene amount of coffee is made and consumed whilst checking through Slack and catching up on any emails. Then it is on to Asana, the task management system that we use here at Book Riot to dole out tasks to one another. Let’s see what’s on the docket today…

a screenshot of Scott's to do list for the day: QA Search Results scrolling bug; Logo Concept; finalize Behind the Scenes interview; Aug-Sept Insiders store deal; $20 tees, free pouch OOP promo creative; Creative for All the Backlist; September Insiders Creative; Social images for Recommended; resize tote-pouch creative from OOP

Jenn: What’s your all-time favorite book?

Scott: Sort of inspired by this post on Book Riot, I was looking for something daunting to read on my phone during my commutes. I didn’t really know anything about Don Quixote other than 1. It’s long and 2. It’s old. I figured that this would make for a slog of a read, full of difficult, antiquated prose and that it would defeat me within a single train ride. I was wrong. I was hooked from the beginning and subsequently found myself laughing out loud during my commute. I didn’t, however, read the whole thing on my phone, so I guess it did defeat me in that regard. I think there is something to be said for the distance something has to travel between your original expectation and where it winds up to become an all-time favorite.

Jenn: What’s been the hardest design project you’ve worked on for Book Riot, and why?

Scott: Probably the New Release Index. We had never tackled something like that before and it was a pretty monumental undertaking for myself and Alex. There were so many decisions that had to be made on such a micro level to try create a seamless and intuitive user experience. You also learn with projects like this that just because you think you have come up with an elegant design solution, it is not always feasible from a programmatic standpoint. So there is give and take and constantly trying to find a middle ground that everyone is comfortable with. That was the hardest project based on size and scope, but there are other, smaller projects that can be challenging as well. Design is a funny thing and you can’t control where or when creativity or inspiration will hit you. There are projects where I know instantly what direction I want to take something, and others where I am flailing around helplessly in Photoshop for hours on end trying to make pieces fit together. I much prefer the former.

Jenn: Related, do you have an all-time favorite?

Scott: Book Riot Live – The Sequel. I thought the direction that we took achieved what I had set out to do, which was marry the excitement and energy of the event and that of NYC while staying playful and fun. It’s challenging but rewarding to take a concept and see it across so many different mediums, whether it’s a website, banner ads, t-shirts, posters, to an actual frickin’ giant custom neon sign. Who knew that you could get so much mileage out a pigeon wearing a bowler hat? Speaking of which, if anyone is interested giving a home to said neon sign, you can drop me a line here. It’s been living under my bed in my apartment since BRL and it’s looking for a new home.

Jenn: You work on everything from logo designs for podcasts, to site layout, to ad campaigns, to font choices for social images, to t-shirt and merchandise designs (and I’m probably missing some things in there). Is the design process different for each thing, or are there some things that are the same no matter what the end product is?

Scott: The process for each is pretty unique. Each has its own set of guidelines and limitations that must be adhered to. Creating a design for a t-shirt and designing a website are entirely different ends with different intended results. But there are common threads that tie all of them together. The way I try to look at it is like this: Book Riot is a company. It has a unique set of values and principles at its core that make it what it is. So long as in everything that I do, I can look at and see that it points back to those principles in some way, then I know that I am on the right track.


Get Epic! New Spots Open TODAY!

Hey, Novel subscribers! Ready to join us at the Insiders Forum to banter about books with your fellow Insiders and chat with Book Riot staff and contributors? You’ve got first dibs: get your Epic spot now!


Behind The Scenes: Little Red Wagon

Happy end of July, folks. Congratulations go to Amy and Joan, our respective monthly Novel and Epic mailbag winners! And without further ado, here’s a look at the development of a new product courtesy of Rebecca.

I’m writing to y’all today from a lake house in the middle of Virginia, where my husband, my parents, and my sister and her family are celebrating my parents’ recent retirement. I’m working half-days, checking email and setting up sales in the Book Riot Store and taking conference calls in between rounds of floating in the lake and tubing with my nephew. (If you’ve never had the pleasure of accompanying a six-year-old on his first tubing excursion, I can’t recommend it enough. Very high on the delight factor.) It’s the kind of integration of work and “real life” that a job like this affords, and it’s one of the benefits I think people have in mind when they tell me they envy my job. I can’t complain; it is pretty great.

But the gig isn’t all fancy working vacations and glamour (LOL forever at the idea of that). In fact — as with many jobs, I’m sure — a lot of what goes on behind the scenes to make the site and all the things you think of as Book Riot involve a jillion moving parts and sometimes-annoying tasks, and doing it from home adds a whole ‘nother layer of adventure. The Pigeon pilot we’re running right now is a perfect example.

Like many Book Riot projects, this one was born on a phone call. “This might be Bad Idea Committee,” I said to Jeff, “but I’ve been having shower thoughts about a personalized book rec service, and I kiiiiiiinda think we should try it out this summer.” We kicked it around a bit and decided it wasn’t obviously Bad Idea Committee, so we made a few lists and picked out some dates, and a pilot program was born. We can get book pricing and shipping info and packaging costs pretty easily, so the big question we’re trying to answer with the test is: how much time does it take to generate the recommendations for Pigeon participants? And if we developed it into a formal program, could we charge enough for the service to justify the expense without making it too pricy? Basically, there’s a sweet spot somewhere, and we’re trying to figure out if we can build a house there.

As we say around the Riot office, this pilot is my little red wagon to pull, so I knew that volunteering to run it myself meant that I’d be turning my house into a temporary book warehouse and shipping center. After all, how much space could a hundred books and some boxes possibly take up? So we put out the call for willing Insiders, randomly selected the participants, sent out the surveys, and then divvied up the responses. Jenn and I set to work reading participants’ forms, picking out books, and writing notes to accompany them, all the while noting our every move with time tracking software.

On the fly, we decided how many times we were allowed to recommend the same title (three, based on the Get Booked rule), what to do with requests for YA (limit to one book in order to keep the value proposition of the box high), and what date to set as a cutoff for new titles to be included. We worked through the frustration of reallllllly wanting to recommend a certain book for a participant, but the book was in hardcover and they ordered paperbacks (or vice-versa), double-checked our lists, and called it done. So off I went to order three books each for 34 people. I knew on some level that a hundred-ish books is a lot of books, but I looked around the stacks in my office and shrugged it off.

And then my mailman delivered the first round.

a tower of boxes piled on Rebecca's front step

I printed out the master list of books and got to sorting, matching each person’s books into a pile labeled with their names on the floor of my office. Spoiler: thirty small stacks of books take up…a lot of space. And speaking of glamour, I share my office with my husband’s closet system. (The chair is from IKEA, I know you’re wondering.)

small stacks of books all over Rebecca's hardwood floor

When I got totally surrounded by stacks of books, my canine assistant — Millie, the 11-year-old basset hound — came to visit, sniffed a couple piles, then plopped down for a nap right between me and the door. Regular quality assurance checks are critical to success.

With the books in my office, it was time to get the boxes set up. The simple brown boxes I ordered came flat, so first I had to assemble them, and then find somewhere to put them. Enter the dining room table. I printed out the book rec letters, hand wrote note cards and address labels, and established my shipping center. And yes, I can tell you exactly how long it takes me to assemble, pack, label, and note-card the average box.

a large dining room table covered in cardboard boxes, mailing lablels, and bubble wrap

First round complete (I decided to do these in three rounds in order to give myself an opportunity to refine the process), I recruited my husband to help me load the boxes into my SUV, folded up the portable hand truck I’ve been holding onto from a previous job, and headed to the post office, where I prayed to every deity I could think of that I wouldn’t ruin someone’s day and/or get laughed out of line. And then I sent the first group (flock? colony?) of Pigeons out into the world!

Back in the office, the basset hound trampled a few of the recommendation letters for the second round, necessitating a reprint. One book showed up damaged. Two more showed up in paperback when I was expecting hardcover. And my internet went out for the entire last day before this vacation! Like the mythical work-life balance or the idea of actually relaxing on a family vacation, no new project is ever perfect, or perfectly what you expect it to be. This time around, there are questions and answers and new questions with no answers yet, and for me, there’s so much fun in the process. For you, well, there might be a few stray dog hairs in with your next delivery of reading material.



Behind The Scenes: That’s When Things Got Interesting

Greetings and felicitations, Insiders! Today’s look behind the curtain is from Rebecca Schinsky, our Executive Director of Product & e-Commerce and professional Wearer of Many Hats. But before we get into that, congratulations to Kara, winner of our monthly Novel-level mailbag. Remember Novel folks, as long as you’ve updated your Watchlist in the last three weeks, you’re eligible for the drawing. And how about a new store deal?

Buy any adult tee, get a water bottle for $5. Use code DOGDAYSINSIDE at checkout.

collage of t-shirts and water bottles

Ten years ago this month, shortly after moving to Richmond, VA, I walked into a Barnes & Noble and got the first job that would change my life.

That wasn’t my goal at the time. My goal back then, fresh from dropping out of grad school and moving across the country, was to have a part-time gig that would give me space to “find myself” (oh, to be 24 again) and figure out my next “real” career move. I talked about some books I loved, exaggerated my previous retail experience, said I was willing to learn how to make lattes, and I was hired. For six months, I manned the cash register, sold membership cards, learned the finer points of shelving, and perfected the art of figuring out what a customer was really looking for when they asked for “this book about a tiger, I think it has a blue cover?” (Life of Pi, natch). Then the community relations manager (CRM) quit and I got a promotion that came with an office, a computer, and a door that closed! And that’s when things got interesting.

One of my duties as CRM was to plan author events and handle local author signings, so when an author came in one day asking if she could arrange a signing, I took her info and told her I’d get back to her. The press release she included with her book looked pretty standard, but it had something I’d never seen before: a quote from a blogger! I wanted to see if this author was legit, so I googled the blog, and behold: it was just a normal person sharing her thoughts about books. She wasn’t a professional book reviewer–the blog wasn’t even her job–she was just there for fun. For fun! And there were people reading and commenting on her posts! Now, I know this might sound quaint to you since you’re reading this as a newsletter from Book Riot, but ten years ago, it was staggering. That blog led me to others, which led me to LibraryThing, which led me to still other blogs, and you could have knocked me over with a feather. In one trip down the internet rabbit hole, I discovered that anyone–literally any Tom, Dick, or Harry–could just get a website and share their thoughts with the world, and if you were lucky, people would read them and talk to you. Amazing!

So I did it.

One bored summer afternoon (July 1, 2008, to be precise), I closed my office door, got a WordPress domain, and started reviewing books. I read and commented on other blogs. I later joined Twitter. Through a combination of luck, timing, and being unafraid of cursing in a book review, I built a readership, a reputation, and some relationships in publishing. I changed jobs a couple times, and I kept on blogging. Always on the side, always as a hobby, but always wishing and hoping and dreaming of the day it could maybe be a job.

Then in the summer of 2011, something called Book Riot followed me on Twitter. Eventually, I found out that Jeff O’Neal, whom I knew from his blog The Reading Ape, was one of the founders, and after a series of events that is now a crazy blur, I got hired to run social media for, I think, 10 hours a week. Which I did for definitely more than 10 hours each week, in the early-early morning before my barista shifts at a local Starbucks and late at night after finishing my other freelance projects. I worked a lot and slept not so much. It was exciting and terrifying and weirdly kind of liberating; you can do a lot of things when you’re new and nobody is watching. So Book Riot was irreverent and a little snarky, and it tweeted a lot of hip hop lyrics. Here in 2017, that sounds like Amy Poehler trying to convince you that she’s a ~cool mom, but it actually was new and different and, yes I’m going to say it, disruptive for the bookish internet of six years ago. I tweeted and Facebooked and moderated comments, and every day, I crossed my fingers that we’d make it to 2500 pageviews. (Which, for scale, is about what we do in an hour now.)

animated GIF of Amy Poehler from Mean Girls saying

After a few months, my quarter-time job turned to half-time (let’s be real, it was a startup, so I was really already working full-time), and then in May 2012, we made it official. Book Riot had survived its first six months and was Not An Immediate Failure, and I was a full-time editor and community manager. I tweeted and Facebooked and moderated comments, and now I also checked posts for typos, changed titles to be snappier, handled giveaways, answered reader emails, helped on some sales calls, and pitched in on whatever else needed to be done. That’s the thing about a startup: if the bathrooms need to be cleaned, you better grab the scrubber because the janitor doesn’t exist. Whatever the digital equivalent of scrubbing the toilets is, I did it alongside Jeff and co-founder Clint Kabler (who runs the operations and keeps the books balanced and the lights on) and, after not too long, Amanda Nelson.

Book Riot continued to grow. We ran some t-shirt campaigns and a successful Kickstarter. We launched a sub-domain for book trailers and a new site around food writing, which were, well, not successful. (RIP, Food Riot.) We made a practice of trying new things, and because you simply can’t succeed at everything, we learned how to get comfortable with failure.

In Sister Act 2, Sister Mary Clarence (Whoopi Goldberg) tells her class: “If you wanna be somebody, if you wanna go somewhere, you better wake up and pay attention.” To that, I say amen, but also: you better keep moving forward. So then there was Book Riot News and Book Riot Deals, which didn’t work as sub-domains but found new life as newsletters. There are podcasts! So many podcasts. Book subscription boxes. A sister site about comics (RIP, Panels.) Multiple attempts at read-alongs. The Read Harder Challenge. Book Riot Live. Insiders. Annotated. Many things I don’t even remember anymore. And now, the Pigeon pilot.

They won’t all work out. They can’t. But some of them will! And after these successes and failures, there will be more attempts and more unknowns and always, always more lessons to learn. It’s something of a joke among Book Riot staff that launch day is never a big deal because by the time a thing launches, we’re too busy working on the thing that comes after it to throw any confetti. But it’s true. The daily, unglamorous, bit-by-bit work is the thing. One new reader. One more underrepresented author given a well-deserved platform. One more risk.

I’m here because ten years ago, I said yes to the niggling voice in my head that suggested I had something to say that people would want to read. And then I kept saying yes, even, and especially, when it was scary. Book Riot is here because Jeff, Clint, and the group of friends and family who provided the startup funding said yes to trying something new and maybe (probably) losing money. Then a dozen bloggers said yes to writing for a new site. Then readers said yes to thinking about books and literary coverage in a new way. Day by day, bit by bit, people took notice and the bookish internet changed.

Eleven full-time staff, 120ish contributors, and millions of pageviews later, Book Riot is here because you are here.

Okay. What’s next?

animated GIF of Martin Sheen as Jed Bartlet on the West Wing saying,



Behind the Scenes Jeff pt 2

Happy end of June, folks! Today we’ve got Jeff talking about his latest big project. But first, our regularly scheduled housekeeping:

– There’s now a Lit Fic chat for the Insiders Forum! Check out the updated schedule here.

– We’ve pushed out an update to the New Release Index, aimed at making all the bells and whistles (the month selector, the Watchlist ribbon, etc.) work better, smoother, faster. Give it a whirl and let us know how we did!

– Congrats to our Epic mailbag winner of this month, Nicole H.! We’ll let you know the Novel-level winner next round; make sure to keep your New Release Index updated each month to be entered.

I remember the day I became a podcast fan. It was seven years ago, and I was re-painting a bedroom for our yet-to-be-born son. And I hate painting, so in effort to make the day more palatable, I downloaded a bunch of episodes of this radio show that my friend had recommended, This American Life.

I wouldn’t say I was head-over-heels, but I enjoyed the 10 episodes I listened to that day and was interested to see what else was out there. I ran through the now-usual suspects next: RadioLab, Planet Money, etc. I also finally pulled the trigger on listening to some of the talk show-format podcasts that writers I liked were doing (Bill Simmons, John Gruber). And that was it. Podcasts became a part of my everyday life.

It was a few years later after Book Riot had been around awhile that I heard a show called The Frequency on Dan Benjamin’s 5by5 podcast network, which hosted and still hosts the podcast that has meant more to me than almost any other, Back to Work with Benjamin and Merlin Mann.

The Frequency is a weekly rundown of interesting stories from the world of technology. It’s informal, zany, and geeky. And I realized that I wanted to do a show like that, but for books. So Rebecca and I got some USB mics, convinced my brother Kyle to edit the shows for us, and as of today we are 215 episodes into the Book Riot podcast. And then came All the Books, Reading Lives (RIP), Dear Book Nerd (RIP), Get Booked, Read or Dead, and SFF Yeah!

The connection we made with the Book Riot audience through podcasts has been the biggest surprise in this whole BR experiment. Our podcast listeners are the most engaged, vocal, and frankly valuable part of our audience. It’s impossible now to imagine doing what we do without these shows, both in terms of the revenue the advertising brings in, and how much the connection with people matters and keeps us going.

But I kept thinking about how I got into podcasts in the first place. The audio-documentary format that uses the medium of personal audio to create a strange intimacy between the subjects, hosts, and listeners. What would it take to do something like that with books? It’s been on my mind for years.

And so this week sees the premiere of episode #1 of Annotated. It’s a short-form documentary podcast series about books, reading, and language. This first episode, “Is it 1984 yet?,” is about the resurgence of interest in George Orwell’s 1984 and the story of how 1984 came to be.

There will be five more episodes in this first season, with a new episode coming out every two weeks through the first week in September. It’s been a dream of mine to try and it’s been tough, and nerve-wracking, and exciting. We’ve got some great stories coming out, so I hope you will give it a chance. I’d love to hear what people think–we’re learning as we go and want to get better and tell more interesting, fun, and thought-provoking stories (email me at

My great friend and writer Jeremy Desmon agreed to help with with structuring the stories and figuring out if my nerdy story ideas were decent (most weren’t), and my brother Kyle continues to be up for anything we throw at him. The folks at Hachette took a flyer on being the exclusive sponsor of this limited run show, and I am really humbled that they agreed with nothing more than a Google doc to go on.

Toni Morrison said you’ve got to write the book you want to see in the world, so this is the podcast version of that for me. I am not sure if it will work or be sustainable as part of the business, but I couldn’t not try.

I’ve remembered in the course of this that there are so many amazing stories out there about these books we love, the authors who have written them, and the librarians and editors and booksellers and teachers and advocates for reading who have been out there making the reading world as we know it. We hope to do them justice.

If you like the show, do pass it along to other who might like it. And if you have an extra moment to rate and review it, especially on Apple Podcasts, that goes along way toward finding a large enough audience to support more shows.

Happy listening,


Behind The Scenes: Scrapping And Stretching And Getting It Done

Hello Insiders! We’ve got a look at the founding and evolution of Book Riot from our CEO Jeff O’Neal below, but before you dive into that we’ve got a few announcements. The first is that your subscriptions have gotten even better, because we added some perks! There’s now a monthly mailbag giveaway for both Novel and Epic-level subscribers, plus commentary from Liberty on some of her favorite books in the New Release Index. You can get the full breakdown right here in the shiny new News section (make sure you’re logged in to see it!).

And so you don’t miss it, we’re moving this month’s store deal up to, well, right here. This month you can buy 2 pint glasses and get coasters free! Use code JUSTCOASTIN at checkout.

image of two pint glasses and assorted coasters

Read on, friends.

Last week, I got keys to an office. It’s not huge or fancy. It doesn’t have a kitchen or ping-pong tables or catered, company-paid for lunches. It is four walls, some windows, a few electrical outlets, and decent wi-fi.

But after working on Book Riot for six years out of closets and my bedroom and coffee shops and libraries, it feels like something. I’ve recorded podcasts at midnight, worked on pitch decks while bottle-feeding my kids, and taken conference calls in the bathroom because I couldn’t get reception anywhere else.

Jeff and baby daughter Rowan working on Book Riot together

When we started working on Book Riot, I had a newborn son and was juggling multiple teaching gigs. We had barely enough money to get the URL designed and running, and it would be awhile before Clint and I got paid anything at all. We knew going in it would be tough and the most likely result would be failure.

So when I unfolded the coffee table and sorted the USB jungle that is my computer set-up and sat down with my coffee for the first time in this new quiet, simple space, it occurred to me to exhale for a moment.

I’ve learned to take a moment to appreciate making progress. A small step after another small step. If you are smart and work hard and are lucky, you might make it to the next part. And then maybe again to the next part after that. The scramble can be all-consuming, so I have learned that if you can see a moment to notice the progress, to see the change that has happened, you’ve got to take it.

I don’t have anything else to compare it to, but building Book Riot has been and continues to be about figuring it out. Making do. Holding it together. Scrapping and stretching and getting it done. Solving one problem so that if you are lucky the next problem you have to solve will be slightly more interesting.

When you are starting something new it is natural to dream about what it could be, and that’s fun. I’ve done it, and still do it now and again. But I am not sure that realizing any of those daydreams would ever be as satisfying as getting to work with people you trust on something you care about. I’ve been fortunate to do that for almost six years now, and I’m busting my ass to continue doing so.

But right now, I have a fresh cup of coffee and a full email inbox and four walls do get to work in.

— Jeff

a very bare room with a large window, a desk, and a laptop -- no chair yet -- that will serve as the new Portland Book Riot office



A Super-Secret Pilot Program for Insiders Only!

Hello Insiders,

We’re coming to you today with your first chance to help Book Riot explore a new project! (Now with a link for the form below, if it doesn’t load in your inbox!)  For about as long as we can remember, we’ve wanted to offer readers a custom-recommendations book mail service — think of it as a Stitch Fix for books. Basically, you would tell us what you like to read and what you’re looking for, and we’d send you 3 handpicked books (or book recommendations) we think you’d love, along with a note about why we chose them.

We have a lot of ideas about how this could work, but we have a lot of questions too. That’s where you come in!

As part of our research, we’re offering 25 lucky Insiders the chance to participate in a one-time pilot program.

Here’s what you get:

Level 1: An email containing 3 custom book recommendations for $10

Level 2: A shipment of 3 custom-recommended paperback books for $50

Level 3: A shipment of 3 custom-recommended hardcover books for $75

Shipping is included in the above pricing.

25 participants will be randomly selected and notified by email. If you get into the pilot, you’ll receive a link to purchase the one-time pilot product and a survey about what you’re looking for. Then we’ll send you your picks in July!

Here’s what we need: If you are selected to participate in the pilot, we’ll be asking you to let us know when your books arrive and to give feedback on the process, the selections, and your interest in subscribing to an ongoing book-rec mailing service.

The fine print: The book-mailing portions of this pilot are open to US residents only, BUT we want to hear from those of you outside the US as well so that we know how to gauge interest and plan for the future. Additionally, we’re still figuring out how sales tax will work, so some states may be ineligible.

Complete this form by June 20th, and cross your fingers! We’ll notify the winners June 21st and send your books out in July.


Get An Epic Spot Today ?

Hello, Novel folks! We’ve got another round of Epic spots open, and as usual you get first crack at them. They open up today, Monday the 12th, at 9am Eastern — have at ’em!

In case you weren’t sure, in addition to the perks you enjoy already Epic subscribers get:
– Access to the Insiders-only Forum, limited to 250 spots! Come hang out with us!
– A special Monthly Mailbag drawing, because free books are the best books.

Just head to My Account on, click “Manage My Subscription,” and grab your Epic spot. Ready, set, click!

screenshot of the logged-in My Account screen with three orange arrows pointing to Manage My Subscription Plan, located towards the bottom of the screen


Kelly Recommends: 5 Backlist Books

Hello, Insiders! We’re delighted to introduce our second monthly Behind the Scenes email, a new regular feature in which our staffer of the month shares some of their favorite picks for your reading enjoyment. Ready for your TBR stack to get even higher?

It’s great to read the new and the shiny but I find reading backlist — those books more than a year old — to be as, if not even more, satisfying sometimes. Here are five young adult backlist titles totally worth tracking down and reading. — Kelly Jensen, associate editor and community manager

Since You Asked by Maureen GooSince You Asked by Maurene Goo

Want a light-hearted, sometimes over-the-top story about a girl who accidentally finds herself writing columns for her high school paper? This is your book. Holly is a Korean-American girl in a Los Angeles area suburb navigating what it’s like to be expected to follow traditional cultural beliefs while also finding her own way as an American teenager. It’s funny and Holly finds herself in a lot of ridiculous situations, thanks in part to that column she never meant to write.

Peas and Carrots by Tanita S DavisPeas and Carrots by Tanita S. Davis

What happens when a middle class black family fosters a white girl the same age as their teenage daughter? Well, the two of them go together like peas and carrots (SEE WHAT I DID THERE? Or really what Tanita S. Davis did there?). This book alternates chapters between the two perspectives, giving a look at how Dessa navigates being in a new foster family while her mother is incarcerated and how Hope forges a relationship with her new sister. A story about what family means, rather than what it looks like — with some excellent exploration of racial and body politics.

Kiffe Kiffe Tomorrow by Faiza GueneKiffe Kiffe Tomorrow by Faïza Guène

Had this book been published a few years later than it did, it would have easily been a YA title. Therefore, I am including it here because this is a book that exemplifies an excellent YA voice. Doria is a 15-year-old growing up in the projects outside of Paris, France. She’s dealing with her father ditching her and her mother, who is illiterate, as he heads back to Morocco in order to attempt marrying a woman who can sire him a son (that’s all that matters in his culture). It deals with urban issues in a way that’s cross-cultural, about the challenges of growing up between cultures, and what it means to figure out who you are and what you do when your world’s been blown apart. It also looks at what happens when the people you’ve come to know and rely on for certain things — their always being there, their always NOT being there — change and mold into their own lives and new paths, too.

Frost by Marianna BaerFrost by Marianna Baer

I can’t say a lot about this one except it’s realistic horror about a girl who finally gets to live in the school-owned private house her senior year and A Lot Of Shit Goes Down. There’s a scene here with bugs covering a bed and a scene with a small wooden owl that I will never, ever forget (his name is Cubby). Enough said.


Lovestruck Summer by Melissa WalkerLovestruck Summer by Melissa Walker

This now super-cheap, in-ebook-only story is a sweet summer romance set in Austin, Texas. Quinn just graduated high school and has been itching to make her way to Austin, where she knows she’ll be able to indulge in her love of all things music and bands. When she scores an internship with her favorite record company, the itch is scratched and she moves in with her cousin Penny. There’s immediate friction between the cousins and things only get a little more contentious when boys enter the picture. This one is for readers who want a love story with heart and well-drawn characters operating within a well-drawn city. Prepare to plow through it in your hammock in an afternoon.


Get Epic on Wednesday!

Howdy Novel folks! A few Epic spots have opened up and, as promised, you are the first ones to hear about it. They’ll be available starting this Wednesday, May 24, at 10 a.m. Eastern and we expect them to go fast.

Ready to upgrade and get access to the Insiders Forum on Slack? Just head to My Account on on May 24, click “Manage My Subscription,” and grab your Epic spot!

screenshot of the logged-in My Account screen with three orange arrows pointing to Manage My Subscription Plan, located towards the bottom of the screen