A seasonal list of the favorite books of Southern indie booksellers, for your reading pleasure!
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Summer Sons by Lee Mandelo

“Barely visible, Riley knelt up in his seat to drape his arms around it, flashing white teeth at Andrew. He made for an iconic, hungry gleam in the settling dark beneath tree shadows and open sky, more animal than boy. It was dumb, deliciously reckless, and that compelling energy struck Andrew with the force of a punch.” Imagine FAST AND FURIOUS as a book, but make it a Southern Gothic, give it a hefty dose of dark academia, and make every character queer. Oh, and also have them haunted by ghosts who may be trying to kill them. That is Lee Mandelo’s Summer Sons, a queer horror that sneaks up on you and then tries to possess your body, forcing you to see truths you’d rather ignore. My only complaint is this group would never let me join their pack. Content warnings for general horror, possession, death, drug and alcohol abuse, racism, discussions of past mistreatment of enslaved persons, death of a loved one

Summer Sons by Lee Mandelo, (List Price: 26.99, Tordotcom, 9781250790286, September 2021)

Reviewed by Faith Parke-Dodge, Page 158 Books in Wake Forest, North Carolina

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Matrix by Lauren Groff

Lauren Groff shows us women’s desires in an entirely new way and in a place where desire, especially women’s desire is considered sin. The strength of Matrix lies in its voice and perspective. Groff builds a world where the men are periphery, yet the patriarchal structures and subservience to men’s wills rooted in the women who drive this novel are still palpable. It is a fine line to walk for any woman who dares to go against the grain, and Groff walks that line beautifully through Marie. Pick up this book at the first chance you get! It is sure to be one everyone will be talking about!.

Matrix by Lauren Groff, (List Price: 28, Riverhead Books, 9781594634499, September 2021)

Reviewed by Kelsey Jagneaux, Tombolo Books in St. Petersburg, Florida

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King of Ragtime by Stephen Costanza

Gloriously illustrated, this glimpse into the South during Reconstruction made me hear my childhood piano lessons and the syncopations of Scott Joplin’s ragtime melodies. There is so much detail in the multimedia illustrations which include single measures of actual sheet music clippings. It makes me want to pull out my album of The Sting (I know it’s anachronistic, but I love it!).

King of Ragtime by Stephen Costanza, (List Price: 17.99, Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 9781534410367, August 2021)

Reviewed by Lisa Yee Swope, Bookmarks in Winston-Salem, North Carolina

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Afterparties by Anthony Veasna So

While the ghosts of genocide lurk in the heart of many of the characters in Anthony Veasna So’s Afterparties, what comes through in this beautiful collection is the liveliness, humor, love, and tenderness in every character navigating growing up, sex, loss, and family. A wonderful portrait of being a queer child of immigrants, bearing the weight of history, while trying to carve out a new way of life. Each and every story is a joy to read.

Afterparties by Anthony Veasna So, (List Price: 27.99, Ecco, 9780063049901, August 2021)

Reviewed by Luis Correa, Avid Bookshop in Athens, Georgia

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The River Has Teeth by Erica Waters

Eerie and chilling to the bone, The River Has Teeth is a razor-sharp novel that had me devouring its secrets late into the night. Unique magic and two girls set on their own quests for vengeance will keep readers turning these pages – and looking over their shoulder for any monsters in the night.

The River Has Teeth by Erica Waters, (List Price: 17.99, HarperTeen, 9780062894250, June 2021)

Reviewed by Brad Sells, Parnassus Books in Nashville, Tennessee

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My Mistress’ Eyes are Raven Black by Terry Roberts

Creating a “page-turner” has always seemed to me to require something beyond writing. An author may be an excellent wordsmith, have brilliant ideas, and yet never achieve the deep understanding of human psychology or the precise timing and rhythm that is needed to hook a reader. My Mistress’ Eyes Are Raven Black is a true page-turner. It took me only two sittings to course through its pages.

Author Terry Roberts sets his propulsive historical murder mystery on Ellis Island in 1920, amid American nativism and White Christian supremacy culture. On the surface is the disappearance of a young white Irish woman with connections in high places, connections who want her found. Stephen Robbins, from Hot Springs, NC, is contracted by a nameless man to solve the woman’s disappearance. It seems that she is not the only person to have gone missing from Island 3, the location of the isolation hospital for immigrants who arrive sick or pregnant at Ellis Island, presenting a potentially contagious situation. At the hospital, Robbins meets Lucy Paul, an undercover nurse who is investigating the high rates of patient death and disappearance. Roberts creates a spookily atmospheric setting in the creepy and mysterious hospital, and Robbins and Paul make a gutsy detective duo. But Roberts offers more than a compelling atmosphere.

My Mistress’ Eyes explores what brings humans to predicate superiority based on genetic expression. What is behind the belief that this assumed superiority excuses the right to commit violence? Roberts intersperses original texts from “scholars” of the time who espoused the superiority of White Christian Americans and proclaimed the dangers of letting immigrants into the United States. These lend credibility to the story, yet never detract from Roberts’ gift for spinning a wonderful yarn-filled humor, romance, intrigue, passion–and murder.

My Mistress’ Eyes are Raven Black by Terry Roberts, (List Price: 31.99, Turner, 9781684426959, July 2021)

Reviewed by Erin Fowler, Malaprops Bookstore/Cafe in Asheville, North Carolina

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The Past Is Red by Catherynne M. Valente

Tetley Abednego lives on a floating patch of trash (much like the Great Pacific Garbage Patch that exists here and now), the only solid ground left on a flooded earth. Tetley’s not alone but she is the only one who knows the simple, vital, and lifesaving truth that Garbagetown is the most wonderful place in the world. The Past Is Red is an electrifying parable for this era of climate change, as bitterly optimistic and cheerfully furious as this dire hour demands. All that, and its hilarious and heroic protagonist is sure to steal that gorgeous garbage patch in your chest you call a heart.

The Past Is Red by Catherynne M. Valente, (List Price: 20.99, Tordotcom, 9781250301130, 2021-07-20)

Reviewed by Megan Bell, Underground Books in Carrollton, Georgia

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Bring Your Baggage and Don’t Pack Light by Helen Ellis

I’m going to start a change.org petition to force Helen Ellis to write books that are 400 pages or more. Her latest collection deals with topics as wide-ranging as aging and loss to poker and garage sales with her signature wit, warmth, and southern sass. The thing about Helen Ellis is you can feel her delight in her friends, her husband, and the world at large with every sentence. Everything she writes is worth reading and Bring Your Baggage and Don’t Pack Light might be her best yet. Do yourself a favor and pick this up, but be prepared to want more when you finish!

Bring Your Baggage and Don’t Pack Light by Helen Ellis, (List Price: 23, Doubleday, 9780385546157, July 2021)

Reviewed by Chelsea Bauer, Union Ave Books in Knoxville, Tennessee

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Such a Quiet Place by Megan Miranda

You can’t always believe what you see. Megan Miranda brings the reader to an idyllic neighborhood, but it’s what all the porch cameras don’t show that makes this story the heart pounding thriller it is. Ruby returns to the neighborhood that helped convict her of the murder of a neighborhood couple, and she’s there to expose Hollow’s Edge darkest secrets. When another murder occurs, it seems no one is safe.

Such a Quiet Place by Megan Miranda, (List Price: 26.99, Simon & Schuster, 9781982147280, July 2021)

Reviewed by Kate Towery, Fountain Bookstore in Richmond, Virginia

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The Forest of Vanishing Stars by Kristin Harmel

The Forest of Vanishing Stars is about a young girl kidnapped from her wealthy German parents and raised in the forests of Eastern Europe. From her earliest years, she is taught to survive in the woods. When her captor dies, she is alone until she comes upon a group of Jewish people fleeing from the Nazis. She decides to do whatever she can to protect them until a family secret threatens everything. Atmospheric with hints of fairy tale, The Forest of Vanishing Stars is a stand out in WWII Historical Fiction 

The Forest of Vanishing Stars by Kristin Harmel, (List Price: 28, Gallery Books, 9781982158934, July 2021)

Reviewed by Jessica Nock, Main Street Books in Davidson, NC

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The Way She Feels by Courtney Cook

When I picked up Courtney Cook’s book, I immediately read from start to finish. Cook’s personality is bright and poppy, friendly and relatable, and somehow this book maintains a level of kindness and vulnerability even when talking about the scary parts of living with Borderline personality disorder, from self-harm to crippling anxiety and depression, obsessive behavior, and more. Although there are 4 million people in the US that are diagnosed, Borderline personality disorder is still so stigmatized, even as people are starting to recognize and normalize mental illness at large. The Way She Feels is the representation of BPD–from confusing and distressing, to joyful and funny–that is needed right now.

The Way She Feels by Courtney Cook, (List Price: 18.95, Tin House Books, 9781951142599, 2021-06-29)

Reviewed by Cat Chapman, Oxford Exchange in Tampa, Florida

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Hell of a Book by Jason Mott

Mott’s latest is no joke. Charlie Kauffman-esque in its surrealism that devolves into almost fever dream with the most unreliable narrator I’ve ever read. Fantastic writing, and meaning, and it should be read by the masses. ‘Memory and death are countries that know no geography.’

Hell of a Book by Jason Mott, (List Price: 27, Dutton, 9780593330968, July 2021)

Reviewed by Amber Brown from Quail Ridge Books in Raleigh, NC

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This Poison Heart by Kalynn Bayron

A queer, Black book inspired by The Secret Garden and Little Shop of Horrors with a flower-powerful, badass girl at the center trying to unravel a family mystery. I simply can’t love it more. It’s amazing and you need it in your life.

This Poison Heart by Kalynn Bayron, (List Price: 18.99, Bloomsbury YA, 9781547603909, July 2021)

Reviewed by Rayna Nielsen, Garden District Book Shop in New Orleans, Louisiana

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The Love Hypothesis by Ali Hazelwood

A Summer Read This Next! Selection!

If, like me, your catnip is the taciturn, brainy, hot hero who is secretly a big squishy marshmallow at heart, you can look nor further than this awesome debut! It’s also sexy, witty, and features a well-rounded cast of characters in a STEM environment.

The Love Hypothesis by Ali Hazelwood, (List Price: 16, Berkley, 9780593336823, September 2021)

Reviewed by Angela Trigg, The Haunted Book Shop in Mobile, Alabama

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The Final Girl Support Group by Grady Hendrix

It turns out all those hours I spent watching 1980s (and beyond) horror films weren’t wasted. From the detritus of popular culture and our own obsession with nostalgia comes up a blistering horror novel that savages society with the same precision and bloodletting as the killers savage their victims. Hendrix’s fans will be ecstatic, and we all will enjoy puzzling out who these final girls are! (Julia and Dani were the easiest, and I’m still puzzling out some references)

The Final Girl Support Group by Grady Hendrix, (List Price: 26, Berkley, 9780593201237, July 2021)

Reviewed by Tracie Harris, The Book House in Mableton, Georgia

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