A seasonal list of the favorite books of Southern indie booksellers, for your reading pleasure!
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Raft of Stars by Andrew J. Graff

A Winter 2021 Read This Next! Title

Raft of Stars by Andrew J. Graff
Ecco, March

This book was just what I, a somewhat jaded bookseller, needed right now. Many thanks to all who brought it to life. The character development is just about perfect. These are people whom we meet, come to know, come to care for, and eventually cheer for. I can’t say it’s the most original plot, but it was the most satisfying version of “kids in peril” that I can remember. The adults come together in surprising ways, each on his or her own Hero’s Journey, and end up becoming their best selves for the benefit of the boys. It’s a lot for a first novel, but it just works–it comes across as so earnest and good-hearted, completely un-ironic in the best way. The river is both a plot device and a metaphor, as the kids barrel toward their doom. It makes this character-driven novel a real page-turner. I will be an evangelist for this book.

— Angela Schroeder, Sunrise Books in High Point, NC

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Red Island House by Andrea Lee

A Winter 2021 Read This Next! Title

Red Island House by Andrea Lee
Scribner, March

Beautiful, evocative writing propels a familial narrative through a journey of self-discovery and identity. The book follows Shay and her complicated relationship with her husband as they build and vacation in a sprawling estate in Madagascar over several decades. It is a novel of betrayal and class and colonialism, of race and culture and the social dynamics that underpin and threaten their marriage (and human society as a whole). As the clash of cultures and identity careens closer to Shay, she can no longer avoid making a choice about who she is and wants to be. With tinges of A Woman Destroyed, this is a story of finding your own foundational dignity in life’s wreckage.

– Miranda Sanchez, Epilogue Books Chocolate Brews in Chapel Hill, NC

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Act Your Age, Eve Brown by Talia Hibbert

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Act Your Age, Eve Brown by Talia Hibbert
Avon, March

Talia Hibbert is the queen of cozy, sexy, hate-to-love romance and I want to soak in the Brown sisters’ stories forever. Eve, the youngest sister, finally gets the spotlight as her journey for self-actualization leads her to an adorable B&B, whereupon she immediately hits her love interest with her car. Eve is the definition of chaotic good and her entanglement with the very LAWFUL good Jacob is squee-worthy and hot as hell.

— Sami Thomason-Fyke, Square Books in Oxford, MS

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The Lost Apothecary by Sarah Penner

A Winter 2021 Read This Next! Title

The Lost Apothecary by Sarah Penner
Park Row, March

I inhaled this book. The plot sucked me in and I couldn’t wait to see how everything unfolded. It checked so many boxes for me–mudlarking (on my bucket list), forgotten women-centric history, botanical poisons, revenge against men behaving badly, and of course, secret apothecaries.

— Candice Conner, The Haunted Bookshop in Mobile, AL

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The Girl from the Channel Islands by Jenny Lecoat

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The Girl from the Channel Islands by Jenny Lecoat
Graydon House, February

This was such an enjoyable novel for me. Ms. Lecoat does an excellent job of blending fact and fiction in her first book. The journey of the two main characters from subjugated and master to equal lovers is one that keeps you on the edge of your seat. I would recommend this book to anyone who enjoyed Hannah’s The Nightingale, Doerr’s All the Light We Cannot See, and Jenoff’s The Kommandant’s Girl.

— Annie Childress, E. Shaver, bookseller in Savannah, GA

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The Project by Courtney Summers

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The Project by Courtney Summers
Wednesday Books, February

Courtney Summers is back with another electric gut punch of a novel and I couldn’t be more thrilled to have once again found myself a quivering mass of emotion after turning the last page of The Project. Only Courtney can perfectly encapsulate the dueling states of fragility & ferocity that exist within young women when they find themselves alone in a world that isn’t designed to protect them from harm. I dare you to pick up this brilliant novel about two sisters and a mysterious cult–you won’t be able to set it down again.

— Cristina Russell, Books & Books in Coral Gables, FL

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The Merciful by Jon Sealy

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The Merciful by Jon Sealy
Haywire Books, January

First: Every book club needs to put The Merciful at the top of their “next to read” list. For me, reading is for the most part a private personal experience. I love to read and immerse myself in the story. This book doesn’t let me do that. I can’t wait for my friends to read this one so we can intellectually deconstruct it. Bottom line; this book forces you to think and to see a story from disparate and various perspectives.

The book tells the story of a tragic incident where a young woman riding her bike down a country road late at night is struck and killed in a hit-and-run “accident.” Days later, after procuring an attorney, a local man comes forward thinking he “might” have been responsible. Like a rock thrown into a still pond, the incident ripples and radiates in all directions and this book conveys a thoughtful and compelling story of just how the accident affects not only the victim and the perpetrator, but also those close to them and those in the legal system who are responsible for trying the case.

Jon Sealy does a masterful job of painting the lives of these characters and exposing the flaws and foibles that make us all human. I highly recommend this thought-provoking and compelling novel.

— Brent Bunnell, Fiction Addiction in Greenville, SC

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Remote Control by Nnedi Okorafor

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Remote Control by Nnedi Okorafor
Tordotcom, January

Remote Control is a slow-paced meditation–think The Hobbit meets The Prey of Gods–about a young girl who calls down the supernatural and must come to terms with those consequences. Eye-catching prose weaves with vivid scenes make this a novella a must-read for Afrofuturism shelves. All hail Nnedi Okorafor, queen of the short form.

Lizy Coale, Copperfish Books in Punta Gorda, FL

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The House on Vesper Sands by Paraic O’Donnell

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The House on Vesper Sands by Paraic O’Donnell
Tin House, January

A sooty and shadow-filled Victorian London acts as a sentient backdrop to the sinister, dark, clever (and somehow even hilarious at times), detective mystery that is The House on Vesper Sands. As a reader, there were just so many sensory details and perfect moments of tension that made the world feel all the more real, and the discovery all the more haunting.

– Cat Chapman, Oxford Exchange in Tampa, FL

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Happily Ever Afters by Elise Bryant

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Happily Ever Afters by Elise Bryant
Balzer + Bray, January

I loved HAPPILY EVER AFTERS. It’s one of those wonderful reads that leaves it’s readers nose-wrinkling happy. It’s a wonderful exploration of new and old best friends, family dynamics, and the pressure we put on ourselves and on living up to the expectations of others that can sometimes lead to paralysis. This book is absolutely lovely, and I’d easily pick it up to read it again.

– Brittany Bunzey, Read With Me: A Childrens Book & Art Shop in Raleigh, NC

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Outlawed by Anna North

A Winter 2021 Read This Next! Title

Outlawed by Anna North
Bloomsbury Publishing, January

Anna North has taken the traditional Western and flipped it on its head with a feminist twist for a very refreshing and timely novel about self worth. Taking place in an alternate past, Ada marries at 17, but after a year of trying, can’t conceive a child. She is kicked out by her husband’s family and accused of witchcraft by the town she grew up in, forcing her to flee. She ends up with an atypical group of outlaws by way of a convent and begins to learn to survive on the outside of traditional society. Intimate and exciting, this is a very fun book!

– Carl Kranz, Fountain Bookstore in Richmond, VA

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The Fortunate Ones by Ed Tarkington

A Winter 2021 Read This Next! Title

The Fortunate Ones by Ed Tarkington
Algonquin Books, January

When a poor boy gets the opportunity to live among Nashville’s elite, he takes it—and what follows is a compelling tale of relationships, money, facade, and good old Southern grandeur. With tight, effective prose, Ed Tarkington illuminates the dark side of generosity and so-called good fortune.

– Talia Smart, Flyleaf Books in Chapel Hill, NC.

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The Prophets by Robert Jones, Jr.

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The Prophets by Robert Jones, Jr.
G.P. Putnam’s Sons, January

An incredible debut novel filled love, light, suffering, pain, and deep beauty – sure to be one of the year’s best. Jones has penned an astoundingly well-written debut about a relationship between two enslaved young men in the American Deep South. With beautiful, vivid prose and a narrative that keeps expanding and surprising, The Prophets is a truly special novel and one that will long have a place on my shelf.

Caleb Masters Bookmarks Winston-Salem, North Carolina

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The Push by Ashley Audrain

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The Push by Ashley Audrain
Pamela Dorman Books, January

Blythe cannot connect with her daughter Violet since birth. Her husband tells her she’s imagining the dislike from her daughter but when she has her son Sam, motherhood is everything she imagined. Tragedy strikes in their family and leaves Blyther wondering everything: Are the women in her family cursed? Is she imagining and being dramatic about Violet? Or is her husband not being a listening partner? This book will suck you in about the beauty and ugly of being a mother. It shook me to my core!

–Deanna Bailey, Story on the Square, McDonough, GA.

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