The books Southern indie booksellers are recommending to readers everywhere!

Read This Now!

Pumpkin by Julie Murphy

Waylon can’t wait to start his post-high school life. Being a fat, gay teen in a small Texas town has been tough, but he’s always had his best friend slash sister to help him through it. So when he gets dumped and also finds out that his sister is bailing on their college plans to go to a school in Georgia, he’s upset, to say the least. But after he’s disappointed with the ending of his favorite reality tv show about drag queens, when the fat queen is once again snubbed, he makes his own video to send in. But when the video gets spread around school, he thinks his life is over. Little does he know…Julie Murphy, how do you keep doing this to me? Every single book ends and I just feel uplifted and happy! Every bit of goodness in the world is packed into a Julie Murphy book and if you don’t read them, you’re missing out.

Pumpkin by Julie Murphy (List Price: $17.99, Balzer + Bray, 9780062880451, 5/25/2021)

Reviewed by Jennifer Jones, Bookmiser, Inc. in Marietta, Georgia

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Bress ‘n’ Nyam by Matthew Raiford, Amy Paige Condon

Chef and sixth-generation farmer Matthew Raiford presents us with a deeply personal and refreshingly practical cookbook, with recipes rooted in his Gullah Geechee heritage and uniquely honed by his world travels and formal culinary education. Chef Raiford includes classic low-country dishes such as Shrimp and Red Gravy (served with grits, of course) and Chicken ’n’ Dumplings as well as his own takes on jerk goat, naan, and gelato. He also offers advice on hosting an oyster roast, and how to cook a whole pig for Georgia-style barbecue. Bress ’n’ Nyam (“bless and eat” in the Gullah Geechee language) finds the perfect balance between great Southern storytelling and recipes that are both accessible and mouth-watering.

Bress ‘n’ Nyam by Matthew Raiford, Amy Paige Condon (List Price: $30, Countryman Press, 9781682686041, 5/11/2021)

Reviewed by Anne Peck, Righton Books in St Simons Island, Georgia

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Rabbit Island by Elvira Navarro, Christina MacSweeney (Trans.)

We are undoubtedly experiencing a golden age of surreal fiction, much of it translated, and the best of it written by women. For short story junkies like myself it is a particularly good time to be stuck at home avoiding other humans. Each story in this amazing collection connects with me viscerally, yet each one connects differently, like a smell, a taste, or a texture. Some are mysterious and subtle while others are brazen and bold, grotesque even. Each one is exquisitely crafted and exhilarating to read!

Rabbit Island by Elvira Navarro, Christina MacSweeney (Trans (List Price: $19.95, Two Lines Press, 9781949641097, 2/9/2021)

Reviewed by Tony Peltier, Flyleaf Books in Chapel Hill, North Carolina

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The Chosen and the Beautiful by Nghi Vo

If you’re wondering which Great Gatsby adaptation to read this summer, look no further. I read it in one day because leaving it unfinished for even one night felt like a crime; it surpasses “unputdownable.” This is the Great Gatsby we need, narrated by a queer, Viet Jordan Baker who is both outside of society yet more connected in society than everyone else around her. The slightest touches of magic bring The Chosen and the Beautiful to life, displaying a world where not all that glitters is gold, yet firm anchors to the original make every line sing true. I truly love this book.

The Chosen and the Beautiful by Nghi Vo (List Price: $26.99, Tordotcom, 9781250784780, 6/1/2021)

Reviewed by Lizy Coale, Copperfish Books in Punta Gorda, Florida

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Brat by Andrew McCarthy

As I tore through this book, I kept wondering why I couldn’t put it down, couldn’t stop thinking about it. I mean, I even met Andrew McCarthy once (at ABA, when he was releasing his middle-grades book) and wasn’t particularly star-struck. It’s very well-written, and his voice is vulnerable and likable and humble and honest. He comes across as a bit bewildered by his success, and captures his 20-something self perfectly. I wasn’t surprised that, in the acknowledgments, he admitted that he’d “almost” written the book a long time ago. I guess he captured those days when they were still fresh. But, ultimately, McCarthy himself explained why I was so caught up in it. “…in the memory of those movies exists a touchstone of youth, of when life was all ahead, when the future was a blank slate, when anything was possible.” I have no idea if this book will resonate with anyone who is not as firmly Gen X as me (class of 1985!), but I’ll stock it and give it a lot of hand-selling. Because it’s my store and I loved it.

Brat by Andrew McCarthy (List Price: $28, Grand Central Publishing, 9781538754276, 5/11/2021)

Reviewed by Angela Schroeder, Sunrise Books in High Point, North Carolina

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Olympus, Texas by Stacey Swann

Stacey Swann spawns a unique cast of characters that erupts on the opening page: the prodigal son returns to town after a cooling-off period, but two years has not cooled his lust for his brother’s wife nor his brother’s rage at their affair. If that weren’t enough powder-keg tension, there’s an “accidental murder” a few pages later. These events set this family adrift as they scatter, then return in unfamiliar patterns. Swann takes her impetus from the Bible, but more so from Greek mythology, as the title teases. June (Juno) is married to Peter (Zeus) and abides his philandering to the point of treating his illegitimate adult twins as her own. Part of the enjoyment of reading Olympus, Texas, is guessing which character has a match in the mythology. However, familiarity with the myths is not a necessity; the story stands by itself. Olympus, Texas is an entertaining and engaging read.

Olympus, Texas by Stacey Swann (List Price: $26.95, Doubleday, 9780385545211, 5/4/2021)

Reviewed by Jeannette Brown, union ave books in Knoxville, Tennessee

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Son of the Storm by Suyi Davies Okungbowa

You say you want liberty, but you can never be free alone. None of us are free until all of us are. To be free of Bassa requires power– power in service of us all. Not for you to derive joy from controlling a beast.

In Son of the Storm, Suyi Davies Okungbowa introduces readers to a complex and fascinating new world. One with a complex cast system in which power is isolated in the bloated elite, the truth is hidden even from scholars, and anyone who looks different is exiled to the dangerous fringes of the continent. As a secret power from the time of a mad emperor reemerges and a sunken nation reappears, a young scholar and his intended follow two very different paths to save themselves and their people. I was completely entranced by this story. While he pulls no punches, Okungbowa does not need to lean into the grotesque to make his world compelling. I yelled, I cheered, I felt conflicted about my loyalties, and I absolutely cannot wait to find out what happens next. Content warnings for harm to children and pregnancy in addition to violent fantasy elements.

Son of the Storm by Suyi Davies Okungbowa (List Price: $16.99, Orbit, 9780316428941, 5/11/2021)

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

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Pop Song by Larissa Pham

In its best moments, Pop Song makes deeply resonant connections between works of art, the lives of artists and the author’s own experience as an extremely online person trying to find healing and community in the isolating wasteland that is late capitalism’s information economy. There were certainly times where I felt like I was too old for this book; the break-up that anchors the denouement did not feel as sharply observed to me as the relationship’s tender beginnings and what they shook loose. But overall this is a strong effort by a writer I have long admired. And if you came of age on Tumblr this book will probably feel like slipping on a glove.

Pop Song by Larissa Pham (List Price: $26, Catapult, 9781646220267, 5/4/2021)

Reviewed by Steve Haruch, Parnassus Books in Nashville, Tennessee

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Dial A for Aunties by Jesse Q. Sutanto

Think Weekend at Bernie’s but filled with hilarious, amazing, and brazen Chinese-Indonesian Aunties. I LOVED this book. Like, deep love. Like help dispose of a body and cover up a murder love. Dial A for Aunties is funny and outrageous and, surprisingly, romantic. If your family drives you crazy, but would also drive with a dead body in their trunk for you, then maybe you should cut them some slack and appreciate them. 😉

Dial A for Aunties by Jesse Q. Sutanto (List Price: $26, Berkley, 9780593336731, 4/27/2021)

Reviewed by Kate Towery, Fountain Bookstore in Richmond, Virginia

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Hot Stew by Fiona Mozley

An old building housing a brothel stands in the middle of Soho. The young millionaire who owns the property wants to turn it into luxury condos. Unfortunately, the tenants aren’t going to leave without a fight. A riveting tale about wealth, class, gentrification, power, and gender, this story shows readers just how unjust the world can be, but in the most entertaining and amusing way possible. (And just look at that cover!) A 2021 must-read!

Hot Stew by Fiona Mozley (List Price: $26.95, Algonquin Books, 9781643751559, 4/20/2021)

Reviewed by Jen Minor, Flyleaf Books in Chapel Hill, North Carolina

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Popisho by Leone Ross

Popisho is pure magic. While it’s clear that Ross pulls influence from Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Toni Morrison among others, the beautifully rendered setting and fully-realized characters (and their magical powers) are unique and wholly refreshing. The musical language makes this novel sing—a song of lost love, fate-determining meals, political intrigue, winged drugs, and lots of sex and strange occurrences. Popisho is sparkling and saucy and sensual, and readers will find themselves hankering for its food, crying at its heartbreaks, and laughing (oh, there will be a lot of laughing) at its sly wit.

Popisho by Leone Ross (List Price: $28, Farrar Straus and Giroux, 9780374602451, 4/20/2021)

Reviewed by Hannah DeCamp, Avid Bookshop in Athens, Georgia

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Clues to the Universe by Christina Li

Benji is a comic-book-loving artist whose dad abruptly left his family. Ro is a list-making rocket scientist whose father tragically died in a car accident. When they team up to build a rocket for Science Fair and Ro becomes determined to track down Benji’s father, the two become friends. I love how one main character is artistic and the other scientific. Lots of fun space science facts in Ro’s chapters. It’s a good blend of personalities and disciplines. The two deal with grief left by their fathers, bullying, and what it means to be a friend to others as well as yourself. I also really enjoyed the plot/character thread of the kids developing a deeper understanding and friendship with a neighbor, Mr. Voltz, who suffers from PTSD as a veteran from WWII & Korean War.Lots of good stuff in this heart-warming story, including Ro embracing her Chinese heritage as a half Chinese, quarter Scottish, quarter Irish, as she describes herself.

Clues to the Universe by Christina Li (List Price: $17.99, Quill Tree Books, 9780063008885, 1/12/2021)

Reviewed by Candice Conner, The Haunted Book Shop in Mobile, Alabama

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In Other Lands by Sarah Rees Brennan

The chosen one goes off to magic school and heroically fights in an epic battle. You’ve heard that story a million times before. But have you ever wanted the snarky take, the irreverent, self-aware version that flips these tropes upside down and lovingly pokes holes in some of the logical gaps in the genre’s conventions? Clever, refreshing, and full of heart, this hilarious adventure full of pesky magical creatures, golden boy warriors, angsty nerds, and elfin knights will leave you thinking that you might be perfectly alright living in this (mermaidless) land.

In Other Lands by Sarah Rees Brennan (List Price: $16, Big Mouth House, 9781618731661, 8/6/2019)

Reviewed by Julie Jarema, Avid Bookshop in Athens, Georgia

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Women and Other Monsters by Jess Zimmerman

What can I say about Women and Other Monsters other than READ THIS NOW!? I picked this book up with full-blown curiosity, ignited by my love of mythology and strong belief in the women’s rights movement. Jess Zimmerman uses her own life experiences, mingled with monsters of ancient myth, to bring light to the ugly truth of what it means to be a woman. We are monsters–for our individuality, determination, free spirits, desires and ambitions, and our less-than-perfect bodies. At least that’s what the world wants us to believe. I found pieces of myself in every chapter, and discovered just how much I wanted that to change. I highly recommend this book to women of all colors and ages, trans women, non-binary gentlefolk, and those looking for insight.

Women and Other Monsters by Jess Zimmerman (List Price: $25.95, Beacon Press, 9780807054932, 5/11/2021)

Reviewed by Sophie Giroir, Cavalier House Books in Denham Springs, Louisiana

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Sparrow Envy by J. Drew Lanham

I found myself underlining something on nearly every page of this slim volume—Lanham’s distinctive voice sings with awe of the natural world and clear-eyed candor of the obstacles a Black man faces in engaging this awe. Here is a writer who can perfectly express the emotive effect of a wood thrush’s 3-part song, someone who finds joy the exuberance of wrens, someone who finds solace in (and solidarity with) winged beings. This is a beautiful, necessary book.

Sparrow Envy by J. Drew Lanham (List Price: $16, Hub City Press, 9781938235818, 4/13/2021)

Reviewed by Hannah DeCamp, Avid Bookshop in Athens, Georgia

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The Dangers of Smoking in Bed by Mariana Enriquez, Megan McDowell (Trans.)

A gloriously unsettling collection of the weird and macabre, The Dangers of Smoking in Bed is as enthralling as it is disturbing and will envelop readers in a loving and nightmarish embrace.Perfect for fans of Samanta Schweblin, Carmen Maria Machado, and Abbey Mei Otis.

The Dangers of Smoking in Bed by Mariana Enriquez, Megan McDowell (Trans.) (List Price: $27, Hogarth, 9780593134078, 1/12/2021)

Reviewed by Zach Claypole White, Flyleaf Books in Chapel Hill, North Carolina

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Filthy Animals by Brandon Taylor

Brandon Taylor’s book of short stories, Filthy Animals, is a bright shining explosion of beautiful writing. Six of the eleven stories are linked and dipping back and forth into Lionel’s relationship with two dancers, Sophie and Charles, which is hypnotic. These stories about human relationships range from those between lovers, friends, and family. How is it that Taylor can write so that we can see the interior crevices of these character’s souls?

Filthy Animals by Brandon Taylor (List Price: $26, Riverhead Books, 9780525538912, 6/22/2021)

Reviewed by Rachel Watkins, Avid Bookshop in Athens, Georgia

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Bubbles . . . Up! by Jacqueline Davies, Sonia Sánchez (Illus.)

A love poem to water and the many things one can do with it, this fun title screams of summer and sun and fun but also of Self-confidence and empowerment. This picture book from “Lemonade War” author Davies is an absolute must for summer reading.

Bubbles . . . Up! by Jacqueline Davies, Sonia Sánchez (Illus.) (List Price: $17.99, Katherine Tegen Books, 9780062836618, 5/4/2021)

Reviewed by Angie Tally, The Country Bookshop in Southern Pines, North Carolina

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The Haunting of Alma Fielding by Kate Summerscale

The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher was my introduction to Kate Summerscale’s irresistible recounting of fascinating events often lost to history. In The Haunting of Alma Fielding she weaves the true story of a London housewife whose experiences of the supernatural capture the imagination of pre-WWII London, and of the ghost hunter who investigates the poltergeist and discovers a stranger, darker tale. Surrounding Alma, we get a vivid picture of a public captivated by the allure of the supernatural and simultaneously filled with growing anxiety over the prospect of a global conflict. A masterful combination of fact, propulsive storytelling, and atmosphere.

The Haunting of Alma Fielding by Kate Summerscale (List Price: $28, Penguin Press, 9780525557920, 4/27/2021)

Reviewed by Clara Boza, Malaprop’s in Asheville, North Carolina

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Whereabouts by Jhumpa Lahiri

The unnamed protagonist in Jhumpa Lahiri’s Whereabouts reflects on moments of a life lived in solitude, understanding what it means to observe the world around her, and find herself in the context of any given part of it. Even though hers is a mild life with subtle joys, walking the piazza or sitting in cafés when not in the classroom, there are still moments when being alone feels more lonely, enveloping her no matter where she goes. Whereabouts is a contemplative and beautiful story for the introverted, the blissfully isolated, or at the very least, those who, when alone, are able to truly find themselves.

Whereabouts by Jhumpa Lahiri (List Price: $24, Knopf, 9780593318317, 4/27/2021)

Reviewed by Cat Chapman, Oxford Exchange in Tampa, Florida

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The Barbizon by Paulina Bren

These are the true stories of the friendships, frustrations, successes, struggles, identity, and reinventions of the women made is possible for today’s women to shatter the glass ceiling! When my now 86 year old mother moved from her tiny hometown in Kentucky to a bigger town in South Carolina for her first job as a professional young lady she lived at the YWCA with other professional young ladies beginning their careers. She always refers to it as “my version of the Barbizon Hotel” so I felt a connection to this book immediately. Like my mother moving to the big city to become a “career girl”, young ladies from across the country moved to New York and lived at the Barbizon to do the same thing. The rules for young, white, well off ladies were clear. Behave, have fun, and become successful. The Barbizon provided a safe living arrangement for ladies who went on the become famous, like Sylvia Plath, Grace Kelly, Ali McGraw and others who weren’t so famous.The book traces the history of the hotel, focusing on the relationship with Mademoiselle magazine. Combining excellent research with a fun side of gossipy sleep over energy. The Barbizon is a great read that captures and time and place in the professional lives of women and their place in a changing society.

The Barbizon by Paulina Bren (List Price: $27, Simon & Schuster, 9781982123895, 3/2/2021)

Reviewed by Susan Williams, M Judson, Booksellers and Storytellers in Greenville, South Carolina

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Klara and the Sun by Kazuo Ishiguro

A true continuation of Ishiguro’s question posed by Never Let Me Go: what does it mean to be human? Klara and the Sun uses a different futuristic device more common these days, humanoid companion AIs, in this Brave New World meets Black Mirror-esque narrative. With vague and growing details in the Ishiguro style he perfected in The Buried Giant, your discovery of the ultimate human question arrives in a moment of horror confronting the relationship between Klara (the AI), Josie (the child under this AIs care), and a portraitist with a strange mission. Josie is positioned as a sickly child in a mess of parental control over educational outcomes and the harsh world of the ethical implications when we long to hold on to the people in our lives just a little bit longer than nature allows. In beautiful simplistic prose, we converge on an intimate and fractured family holding on to the hope of a very scary and unknown world, daring to test the bounds of what it means to be human. This understated sci-fi drama will again change the way you view AIs and their place in the human paradigm, all the while falling in love with Klara and her concerted effort to simply comprehend humanity.

Klara and the Sun by Kazuo Ishiguro (List Price: $28, Knopf, 9780593318171, 3/2/2021)

Reviewed by Davis Shoulders, union ave books in knoxville, Tennessee

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Legendborn by Tracy Deonn

An original take on a classic legend that explores magic, race, grief and the ideas surrounding who gets to be a hero in a very nuanced and thoughtful way. A modern fantasy story for all the young black girls who need one.

Legendborn by Tracy Deonn (List Price: $12.99, Margaret K. McElderry Books, 9781534441613, 9/28/2020)

Reviewed by Asia Harden, Square Books in Oxford, Mississippi

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The Last Bookshop in London by Madeline Martin

Well, this was beyond lovely. I thoroughly enjoyed this story with it’s loveable cast of characters and the SIDE LOVE STORY. How refreshing that the love story, though present and beautiful, was mentioned, I think, about five times? Even so, I’m still swooning over George. SWOONING. Booksellers will adore this novel of a reader discovering her passion for books. Readers will love this novel for the tender descriptions of loving a book. And I love this novel for it’s honest, harsh descriptions of life during war. The losses great and small (which are often the ones that discourage most.) I can’t wait to shove this book into the hands of my customers. I cannot wait!

The Last Bookshop in London by Madeline Martin (List Price: $16.99, Hanover Square Press, 9781335284808, 4/6/2021)

Reviewed by Annie Childress, E. Shaver, bookseller in Savannah, Georgia

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Creatures of Passage by Morowa Yejidé

A fantastic new novel from an incredible writer. I loved every moment of Creatures of Passage and was hooked from the first page. Full of myth and mysticism, this is a complex web of stories that intersect in a way that slowly and gracefully unfolds. Complicated family relationships, systemic poverty and privilege, the transformative destruction of abuse, all of these themes and more create a beautiful and tragic look at the Anacostia neighborhood of DC.

Creatures of Passage by Morowa Yejidé (List Price: $25, Akashic Books, 9781617758768, 3/16/2021)

Reviewed by Jamie Southern, Bookmarks in Winston-Salem, North Carolina

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Cece Rios and the Desert of Souls by Kaela Rivera

CECE RIOS is a beautiful story about finding your inner strength and standing up for what you believe in. Cece witnesses the kidnapping of her older sister, Juana, and vows to rescue her from the realm where dark criaturas live. But it’s discouraging when her entire village thinks she’s cursed with a spirit like Water, in a place where Fire is preferred. Rivera’s world-building is marvelous and her writing hits straight to your heart. As someone who was told “You’re too sensitive,” growing up, this story is so important. Cece loves and feels deeply, she cries when she’s upset, and she is strong because of all of these things. Being fearful doesn’t make you weak, nor does being angry make you strong.

Cece Rios and the Desert of Souls by Kaela Rivera (List Price: $16.99, HarperCollins, 9780062947550, 4/13/2021)

Reviewed by Miriam Meeks, Lemuria Books in Jackson, Mississippi

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Mother May I by Joshilyn Jackson

Set in Atlanta, Joshilyn Jackson’s newest novel Mother May I is a domestic mystery, filled with kidnapping, mothers’ angst, revenge, and youthful caprice, but the most compelling theme revolves around the parameters of sexual assault, the divergent definitions of such an assault, and the trauma’s lifelong, negative effects on the victim. The novel’s intricate plot commences with a baby kidnapping in Chapter 2, but the heart of the piece slowly, painstakingly unwinds into a decades-old rape that truncated the trajectory of myriad lives, including those of the participants. The characterizations of the protagonists could have morphed into mere stereotypes in the hands of a less skilled wordsmith. However, Jackson molds and shapes her characters into believable human beings. The dramatic lengths to which all of the mothers rabidly pursue their ultimate devotion, loyalty, and unconditional love for their respective offspring are inspirational. Each mother feels justified in her unorthodox, violent, vengeful actions even if the reader, the police, and the legal system may disagree. The plot of Mother May I moves swiftly, employing cunning twists and turns that whet the reader’s appetite for the truth and for an equitable resolution of the plethora of conflicts. The novel is thought-provoking and timely in the #MeToo era. 

Mother May I by Joshilyn Jackson (List Price: $27.99, William Morrow, 9780062855343, 4/6/2021)

Beth O’Brochta, Book No Further in Roanoke, Virginia

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Jungle Night by Sandra Boynton, Yo-Yo Ma

Nighttime in the Jungle is such a peaceful time. With the Chee chee taaahhh of the Cheetah, the chatter choo of the monkeys and the wheee grunt of the red river hogs, all the animals are sleeping soundly until….. Full of Boynton signature silliness this bedtime book is sure to have young ones calling Again! Again!

Jungle Night by Sandra Boynton, Yo-Yo Ma (List Price: $7.95, Workman Publishing Company, 9781523513604, 3/23/2021)

Reviewed by Angie Tally, The Country Bookshop in Southern Pines, North Carolina

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You Look Like a Thing and I Love You by Janelle Shane

Admittedly, I am a robot-fearing Luddite human who tried to buy a flip phone last year. This book quelled my fears about any imminent robot revolution, while also informing me of a different set of fears I should have regarding AI. Through this humorous and accessible book, research scientist Janelle Shane presents the weird experiments humans create and even weirder solutions robots find with pure nerdy enthusiasm that made me laugh many times. While being entertaining and informative, this book also critically points out the harm in programming AI and beliefs surrounding its capabilities. When your robot isn’t falling over or doing the can-can, perhaps you can program it to read this book to you (but you’ll probably still have to turn the pages yourself).

You Look Like a Thing and I Love You by Janelle Shane (List Price: $17.99, Voracious, 9780316525220, 3/23/2021)

Reviewed by Julie Jarema, Avid Bookshop in Athens, Georgia

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Gold Diggers by Sanjena Sathian

Inside the shimmering cover of this book is a fascinating modern look at the golden promise of the American Dream, and its dark underpinnings. Neeraj Narayan (or Neil, as he’s known in his Atlanta suburb) feels inferior to his over-achieving Asian American peers and unequipped to meet the expectations of his parents. So, when a magical solution presents itself in the form of a potion concocted by his neighbors, he’s all too willing to try it. This quick-fix has tragic consequences that continue to haunt him a decade later when he’s trying to find his footing in Silicon Valley as a graduate student writing his dissertation on the Gold Rush. This is a fascinating novel about history, ambition, addiction, and the question his sister and friends had to try and answer while competing in the Miss Teen India pageant: “What does it mean to be both Indian and American?”

Gold Diggers by Sanjena Sathian (List Price: $27, Penguin Press, 9781984882035, 4/6/2021)

Reviewed by Lady Smith, The Snail on the Wall in Huntsville, Alabama

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A Mariner’s Tale by Joe Palmer

From the publisher who introduced us to JC Sassser’s Gradle Bird and Rebecca Dwight Bruff’s Trouble the Water, this is another evocative Southern tale, set on the Florida coast. Lauded by other Southern gems including Cassandra King Conroy and Nicole Seitz, I was obviously intrigued, and journalist-turned-debut-novelist Joe Palmer delivers. Love the interaction between a crotchety old sailor and the crime-bound kid he takes under his wing. In a world often gone mad, this book was a great reminder that among storms and strife there is genuine humanity.

A Mariner’s Tale by Joe Palmer (List Price: $17.99, Koehler Books, 9781646631452, 10/25/2020)

Reviewed by Shari Stauch, Main Street Reads in Summerville, South Carolina

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Lobizona by Romina Garber

Inspired by Argentinian myth, this coming-of-age tale is packed with magic, friendship, and adventure as Manu tries to find her place in a world where she has always felt unwanted only to stumble into a new one altogether. Intriguing from the very start, Garber writes a story comprised of lovable characters, relevant social commentary, and just enough mystery to always keep you guessing.

Lobizona by Romina Garber (List Price: $18.99, Wednesday Books, 9781250239129, 8/4/2020)

Reviewed by Asia Harden, Square Books in Oxford, Mississippi

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Girl, 11 by Amy Suiter Clarke

A book that combines my two favorite things–true crime podcasts and a page turning thriller! Season Three is going to be huge for podcaster Elle, she’s taking on The Countdown Killer years after he stopped killing. Cops think he’s dead, but Elle knows in her bones that he’s still out there. When the murders start up again, Elle must help determine if it’s the work of a copy cat, or if The Countdown Killer is back to finish his job. And when the killer draws her into his twisted game, Elle decides to play by her own rules.

Girl, 11 by Amy Suiter Clarke (List Price: $25, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 9780358418931, 4/20/2021)

Reviewed by Kate Towery, Fountain Bookstore in Richmond, Virginia

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One Last Stop by Casey McQuiston

This book isn’t insightful, it is affirmative. This book isn’t an echo, it is a cave. It is an experience. Damn near the true story of every queer romance. Casey McQuinston somehow finds a way to once again tell a dauntingly fierce, honest story! With so much detail, presence, and inertia, McQuinston gives us such a fun and crucial experience of love in the queer communities of NYC. A spot on, pleasurable book!

One Last Stop by Casey McQuiston (List Price: $16.99, St. Martin’s Griffin, 9781250244499, 6/1/2021)

Reviewed by Amya Franklin, Square Books in Oxford, Mississippi

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Realm Breaker by Victoria Aveyard

Victoria Aveyard, author of the popular Red Queen series, is back with a new fantasy series. Odd things are happening in Allward. When a battle with Elders and mortals alike is lost, leaving only two survivors, they know they’re in over their heads, but everyone in power is reluctant to help. Instead, Dom, an Elder, decides to head out on his own to solve the problem. He gets help from an assassin, a pirate’s daughter, and a squire along the way, forming a cadre with a forger, a bounty hunter, and a witch. But the road to victory is hard and they don’t know who to trust.

Realm Breaker by Victoria Aveyard (List Price: $19.99, HarperTeen, 9780062872623, 5/4/2021)

Reviewed by Jennifer Jones, Bookmiser, Inc. in Marietta, Georgia

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Fugitive Telemetry by Martha Wells

If Martha Wells wrote a Murderbot book every week, I would read a Murderbot book every week. Honestly, I’m pretty sure this series is what got me through 2020. Fugitive Telemetry (#6) can be read as a stand-alone or in order. It doesn’t matter. Our solitude-seeking killer robot protagonist is forced to solve the murder of a human on a planet. (He hates planets AND talking to humans! Why won’t everyone leave him alone so he can stream his media in peace?) Anyone who loves noir detective fiction will love this as well as sci fi fans. Just read it!!!

Fugitive Telemetry by Martha Wells (List Price: $19.99, Tordotcom, 9781250765376, 4/27/2021)

Reviewed by Kelly Justice, Fountain Bookstore in Richmond, Virginia

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Memory Jars by Vera Brosgol

When Freda learns how to capture the flavor of summer by making blueberry jam with her grandmother, she wonders what else she can preserve to save for later. Her collecting gets out of control, though, and soon she can’t enjoy any of her favorite things because they are all in jars. Memory Jars is a cute story about living for the day and celebrating the things we have.

Memory Jars by Vera Brosgol (List Price: $18.99, Roaring Brook Press, 9781250314871, 5/11/2021)

Reviewed by Beth Seufer Buss, Bookmarks in Winston-Salem, North Carolina

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The Sky Above Us by Natalie Lund

This fast-moving and well-written book tells the story of three girls, and how they dealt with the three boys in their lives (one’s twin brother, one’s ex-boyfriend, and one’s crush). After the boys die in a freak plane accident where they were the pilots, the girls work together to figure out what really happened. This book also dives into the deeper themes of the pressures put on high school students when it comes to grades and athletics, mental health, and the social image that a student is trying to uphold.

The Sky Above Us by Natalie Lund (List Price: $18.99, Philomel Books, 9780525518037, 4/13/2021)

Reviewed by Angie Tally, The Country Bookshop in Southern Pines, North Carolina

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Animals by Will Staples

Riveting! This eco-thriller is made all the more terrifying by the research behind the work and just how much of the narrative is based in fact. He sought counsel from the likes of Jane Goodall and Leonardo DiCaprio and feels like this could be the next Blood Diamond, following how animal poaching and trafficking is a global practice, and a bigger global threat.

The book features an extensive cast of characters including an Asian police officer, a South African militant and anti-poacher, an exotic animal insurance agent and a CIA operative looking for a terrorist connection. They each are forced to juggle their self interests against those of the animals they’re meant to protect, from rhinos and elephants to tigers and more.

Animals by Will Staples (List Price: $27.99, Blackstone Publishing, 9781094065885, 3/30/2021)

Reviewed by Shari Stauch, Main Street Reads in Summerville, South Carolina

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Shaking the Gates of Hell by John Archibald

Alabama — not to mention the South at large — is a complicated place with a complicated history, so we’re grateful for the likes of John Archibald, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist who’s chosen to stay in his home state and shine the light on dark secrets many would prefer to avoid. His new book, Shaking the Gates of Hell, turns the beam on his own family, particularly his father, a third-generation Methodist minister who held prominent pulpits in Birmingham and other large Alabama churches for decades. This is a deeply personal memoir, and Archibald’s love and respect for his dad is clear. He was a man of moral authority who taught right from wrong, a minister who emphasized grace and compassion, and an engaged dad who encouraged his kids to leave every campsite better than they found it. But, his youngest son wonders, did his father do enough to leave his community better off than he found it? In examining his father’s sermons at key moments in local history — just after the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church bombing, for example — Archibald sets out to determine whether Martin Luther King Jr.’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” was right in claiming that “the white ministers, priests and rabbis of the South . . . have been more cautious than courageous and have remained silent behind the anesthetizing security of stained glass windows.” Why, Archibald wonders, did his father largely remain silent on the matters that mattered most? Why do other religious leaders, then and now, not say more, do more? John Archibald is an incredible writer who lures you in with stories about fishing and family gatherings, but by the end he has us all asking ourselves, why do we not also say more, do more?

Shaking the Gates of Hell by John Archibald (List Price: $28, Knopf, 9780525658115, 3/9/2021)

Reviewed by Lady Smith, The Snail on the Wall in Huntsville, Alabama

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The House Uptown by Melissa Ginsburg

Ava moves from Iowa to New Orleans to live with her artist grandmother (who’s suffering from memory loss) after her mother dies. Not having been in each other’s lives, this is a beautiful story about family, finding out who they are, and forging a path together.

The House Uptown by Melissa Ginsburg (List Price: $26.99, Flatiron Books, 9781250784186, 3/16/2021)

Reviewed by Marcia Albert, Parnassus Books in Nashville, Tennessee

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Mister Jiu’s in Chinatown by Brandon Jew, Tienlon Ho

This very readable cookbook details the history of Chinese food in the United States, and weaves fascinating stories about the author’s lifetime experiences in San Francisco’s Chinatown around authentic, and often accessible, Chinese and Chinese-American recipes.

Mister Jiu’s in Chinatown by Brandon Jew, Tienlon Ho (List Price: $40, Ten Speed Press, 9781984856500, 3/9/2021)

Reviewed by Anne Peck, Righton Books in St Simons Island, Georgia

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Lala’s Words by Gracy Zhang

Lala’s kind words, patience, and maybe just a little bit of magic make a tiny patch of dirt into a beautiful place in this delightful picture book that celebrates kindness, fortitude and gentleness. Perfect for Earth Day or every day, Lala’s Words will inspire young readers to plant seeds of kindness wherever they go.

Lala’s Words by Gracy Zhang (List Price: $18.99, Scholastic Inc., 9781338648232, 4/6/2021)

Reviewed by Angie Tally, The Country Bookshop in Southern Pines, North Carolina

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Measuring Up by Lily LaMotte, Ann Xu (Illus.)

My daughter and I loved this graphic novel about a girl who moves to Seattle from Taiwan. Like many immigrant stories, this one had multiple examples of the prejudices immigrant children can experience. Cici made friends, but there were times they thought they needed to speak slowly to her (they didn’t), that her lunch was gross (because it wasn’t “American”), and there were multiple times when people referred to her as Chinese and didn’t bother to remember her correction to “Taiwanese.” Cici’s struggles to both fit in as well as maintain her delight in her culture came through in the pages. My daughter, six, loved the cooking aspects and the story segued into a good discussion about culture and identity.

Measuring Up by Lily LaMotte, Ann Xu (Illus.) (List Price: $12.99, HarperAlley, 9780062973863, 10/27/2020)

Reviewed by Jenny Luper, Page 158 Books in Wake Forest, North Carolina

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The Committed by Viet Thanh Nguyen

After the stunning and beloved debut of The Sympathizer, expectations were somehow surpassed with Viet Thanh Nguyen’s sequel. We are dropped right back into the two minds whose razor sharp criticism and empathy are now directed at the French. In a country that is often depicted as being devoid of contemporary racism, The Committed shines an unforgiving light on centuries of colonialist hypocrisy. A story of the dangers of ideology and the crucial role of humor in revolution, The Committed is everything I didn’t even know I wanted in a sequel.

The Committed by Viet Thanh Nguyen (List Price: $27, Grove Press, 9780802157065, 3/2/2021)

Reviewed by Lucia Drinkwalter, Flyleaf Books in Chapel Hill, North Carolina

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The Hare by Melanie Finn

The Hare hits all the notes for a great novel you will read obsessively. Melanie Finn has written the breathtaking story of the life of Rose Monroe whose entire trajectory was determined at age eighteen by a chance (?) meeting with an older man at MOMA. However, Bennett isn’t who he claims to be. Because of this, despite this, Rose grows into a powerful woman who isn’t diminished by her dire circumstances. She is a survivor. This brilliant book contains a subtext involving dark, abhorrent behavior.

The Hare by Melanie Finn (List Price: $16.99, Two Dollar Radio, 9781937512972, 1/26/2021)

Reviewed by Rachel Watkins, Avid Bookshop in Athens, Georgia

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Cool for the Summer by Dahlia Adler

Lara has been crushing on Chase since she was a little girl. Now it’s senior year and he’s finally noticing her. But on the first day of school, in walks Lara’s summer friend/romance Jasmine–in town to stay. Lara’s into Chase, but she also can’t forget about Jasmine. What’s she going to do now? I loved how we not only get a questioning bi-romance, but also get some good friendship dynamics in Cool for the Summer. If you’re looking for a light summer read that also manages some heavy emotions in a Grease vibe, look no further!

Cool for the Summer by Dahlia Adler (List Price: $18.99, Wednesday Books, 9781250765826, 5/11/2021)

Reviewed by Jennifer Jones, Bookmiser in Marietta, Georgia

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Tea Time by Beth Ferry, Dana Wulfekotte (Illus.)

Frannie and Grandy have a special day planned together but a punny misunderstanding threatens to ruin their day! Young readers and their adults will delight in this adorable book.

Tea Time by Beth Ferry, Dana Wulfekotte (Illus.) (List Price: $17.99, G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers, 9781524741082, 6/1/2021)

Reviewed by Kate Storhoff, Bookmarks in Winston-Salem, North Carolina

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Concrete Rose by Angie Thomas

I have been waiting for this book since it was announced and I have to say–it is even better than I was hoping it would be. This follow up to The Hate U Give tells the story of Maverick Carter in his teenage years. Starting when he finds out he’s a father and going until just before Starr’s birth, Thomas takes us back to the Garden and once again shows us how to walk in someone else’s shoes. Mav is trying to be the best man and father he can be. He finds a “straight” job at a local store to get away from the world of drug sales and gangs but the money isn’t enough to support him and his growing family. Will he be able to get out from under the thumb of King, his friend turned leader of the King Lords and provide for his family? You won’t be able to put this down until you see how it ends and even then you will wish for more stories from this universe.

Concrete Rose by Angie Thomas (List Price: $19.99, Balzer +Bray, 9780062846716, 1/12/2021)

Reviewed by Andrea Richardson, Fountain Bookstore in Richmond, Virginia

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Mother May I by Joshilyn Jackson

Trey and Bree on paper are the perfect couple. 2.5 children, happy, comfortable and living a nice life. But is Bree losing her mind or is there a “witch” stalking her? Who stole her infant? Joshilyn Jackson invokes her trademark humor and her fierce voice for justice in this thrilling new book. Not one to shy away from social issues they are present here in a story ringing true to today’s issues. Fast-paced with a great storyline, this is one for a road trip and the beach!

Mother May I by Joshilyn Jackson (List Price: $27.99, William Morrow, 9780062855343, 4/6/2021)

Reviewed by Suzanne Lucey, Page 158 Books in Wake Forest, North Carolina

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Rent a Boyfriend by Gloria Chao

I really really enjoyed this book! It’s perfect fans of To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before and Frankly in Love! There’s fake dating, and you will absolutely love it! I couldn’t get enough of this book!

Rent a Boyfriend by Gloria Chao (List Price: $18.99, Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 9781534462458, 11/10/2020)

Reviewed by Brittany Bunzey, Read With Me, A Childrens Book & Art Shop in Raleigh, North Carolina

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King of Ragtime by Stephen Costanza, Stephen Costanza (Illus.)

This book about Scott Joplin is beautifully written and even more beautifully illustrated. I loved the historic details, like the inclusion of the real 1911 sheet music cover of “Maple Leaf Rag”! Scott Joplin is an iconic part of American music history and every child deserves to know his story.

King of Ragtime by Stephen Costanza, Stephen Costanza (Illus.) (List Price: $17.99, Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 9781534410367, 8/24/2021)

Reviewed by Kate Storhoff, Bookmarks in Winston-Salem, North Carolina

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The Uncollected Stories of Allan Gurganus by Allan Gurganus

This book makes living right here and right now all worth it. Here’s a real writer: style and heart and wit and depth–nothing’s missing. His great talent: reminding you and me of joy. These stories, collected from The New Yorker and Harper’s and more, describe fathers and sons, country doctors, rural cops, and miracles, and once you read one, you’ll re-read it in your mind forever. The Uncollected Stories of Allan Gurganus is a true beauty from one of our greatest writers.

The Uncollected Stories of Allan Gurganus by Allan Gurganus (List Price: $25.95, Liveright, 9780871403780, 1/12/2021)

Reviewed by Erica Eisdorfer, Flyleaf Books in Chapel Hill, North Carolina

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Mary Jane: A Novel by Jessica Anya Blau

Calling Mary Jane a coming of age novel would be a vast understatement. It is the summer of 1975, and 14-year-old Mary Jane has the opportunity to nanny for the little girl of a family completely the opposite of her own family. Where her family is quiet and orderly, the Cone family is loud and chaotic. At home she learns Black and Jewish folks need to “know their place” in their upper class Baltimore neighborhood, while through the eyes of the Cone family everyone is equal and no judgments are passed. Not only is this a beautiful novel about a young girl realizing her place in the world and finding out who she is, it is an amazingly fun ‘70s music throwback with lyrics on almost every page.

Mary Jane: A Novel by Jessica Anya Blau (List Price: $27.99, Custom House, 9780063052291, 5/11/2021)

Reviewed by Ashley Bohinc, Main Street Reads in Summerville, South Carolina

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Prison by Any Other Name by Victoria Law and Maya Schenwar

When I read Prison By Any Other Name, I knew that it was one of the most important books of 2020. In fact, if you read only one work of nonfiction this year, please consider this brilliant exploration of “alternatives” to policing and incarceration! It’s a meticulously researched exploration of popular reforms that centers the stories of real people to craft a highly readable but utterly devastating critique. Importantly, it also offers transformative, community-based solutions.

Prison by Any Other Name by Victoria Law and Maya Schenwar (List Price: $26.99, New Press, 9781620973103, 7/20/2020)

Reviewed by Libertie Valance, Firestorm Books & Coffee in Asheville, North Carolina

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Lycanthropy and Other Chronic Illnesses by Kristen O’Neal

Priya has moved all the way across the country from New Jersey to Stanford to pursue her dream of becoming a doctor. But when she gets Lyme disease from a tick, everything is out on hold while she moves back home to deal with her chronic disease. She’s in pain most of the time, bit ends up finding solace in those with similar conditions online. She discovers one friend in particular, Brigid, lives only about an hour away and when Brigid disappears from the group and stops answering texts, Priya steals the family car to visit her. However, she instead of Brigid, Priya finds an enormous dog/wolf-like animal locked in the basement. She accidentally lets it out, but locks it in the bathroom and calls animal control. But all they find in the bathroom…is Brigid. This was a fun story that also shed a light on how hard it is for people who have a chronic illness, but also the great friendships you can find if you’re open to it.

Lycanthropy and Other Chronic Illnesses by Kristen O’Neal (List Price: $18.99, Quirk Books, 9781683692348, 4/27/2021)

Reviewed by Jennifer Jones, Bookmiser, Inc. in Marietta, Georgia

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The First Day of Spring by Nancy Tucker

This was pretty intense. Right from the get-go, you’re plunged into the life of a very troubled 8 year girl who manipulates, steals, and cheats her way through life until she is sent off to reform school until she’s 18. Now she’s trying to put here life together. She has a young girl of her own who she loves her with a passion her own mother never felt but forces are conspiring against her, her past rising to trip her up unless she fights back with all her will. This is a real knuckle-biter!

The First Day of Spring by Nancy Tucker (List Price: $27, Riverhead Books, 9780593191569, 5/18/2021)

Reviewed by Pete Mock, McIntyre’s Fine Books in Pittsboro, North Carolina

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The Consequences of Fear by Jacqueline Winspear

It’s 1941, and Britain continues to be bombed by Nazi Germany. This is good news for fans of Maisie Dobbs, as she truly shines when she is thrown into a stressful wartime situation. This is a tricky mystery with a satisfying conclusion… and also features some welcome progress in Maisie’s social life.

The Consequences of Fear by Jacqueline Winspear (List Price: $27.99, Harper, 9780062868022, 3/23/2021)

Reviewed by Anne Peck, Righton Books in St Simons Island, Georgia

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New Year’s Kiss by Lee Matthews

I really enjoyed this read! I blew through it and actually read most of it on New Years Eve! What a perfect way to ring in the new year! This is perfect for your younger readers who are reading up, and honestly it can be enjoyed any time of the year!

New Year’s Kiss by Lee Matthews (List Price: $9.99, Underlined, 9780593179857, 12/1/2020)

Reviewed by Brittany Bunzey, Read With Me, A Children’s Book & Art Shop in Raleigh, North Carolina

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The Last Rabbit by Shelley Moore Thomas

The Last Rabbit has the heart of The Velveteen Rabbit with the mischief of Peter Rabbit. It is sure to be a new classic for children of all ages! This is the beautifully told story about a little rabbit, the last of four sisters, trying to find her path in life while realizing family is all around.

The Last Rabbit by Shelley Moore Thomas (List Price: $16.99, Wendy Lamb Books, 9780593173534, 2/9/2021)

Reviewed by Olivia Schaffer, The Bookshelf in Thomasville, Georgia

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Illicit Intent by Debbie Baldwin

I read for the Valentine’s Day potential and wow, what an elevated experience! Well drawn characters combine with an impossibly intricate plot to keep you turning pages. And it’s got it all, hot romance, an art heist based on a true crime mystery, high finance, murder, hidden identities. This is the second in a series and I’m looking forward to more in the Bishop Security series; I can see where minor but intriguing characters will no doubt be brought to the foreground in future installments.

Illicit Intent by Debbie Baldwin (List Price: $27.99, Gatekeeper Press, 9781662908781, 1/1/21)

Reviewed by Shari Stauch, Main Street Reads in Summerville, SC

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My Two Border Towns by David Bowles, Erika Meza (Illus.)

I loved that this picture book introduces young readers to the refugee crisis at the Mexico-US border in a friendly and colorful story. The story doesn’t hide the unfairness, but it ends on an optimistic note.

My Two Border Towns by David Bowles, Erika Meza (Illus.) (List Price: $17.99, Kokila, 9780593111048, 8/24/2021)

Reviewed by Kate Storhoff, Bookmarks in Winston-Salem, North Carolina

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The Chestnut Man by Søren Sveistrup

Perfect for fans of Scandinavian crime fiction and gritty detective fiction, this story of a Danish serial killer was my favorite mystery of 2019! Beware–not for the faint of heart–this book is quite graphic. If you find one, he’s already found you!

The Chestnut Man by Søren Sveistrup (List Price: $16.99, Harper Paperbacks, 9780062895370, 9/8/2020)

Reviewed by Jen Minor, Flyleaf Books in Chapel Hill, North Carolina

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Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo

I finally had the privilege to read this legendary trilogy while forced into quarantine, and I’m sorry I waited this long. The world of the Grisha, the characters, and the villain was amazing and immersive. It only made me want to dive into the rest of the novels set in this world.

Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo (List Price: $10.99, Square Fish, 9781250027436, 5/7/2013)

Reviewed by Katlin Kerrison, Story on the Square in McDonough, Georgia

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What’s the Difference? by Brette Warshaw

Many culinary items are similar, but do you know their differences? Such as what is the difference between corned beef and pastrami, or grits and hominy? Told in short chapters, this is a book you can put down and pick back up over and over, and a perfect gift for the foodie in your life.

What’s the Difference? by Brette Warshaw (List Price: $27.99, HarperWave, 9780062996190, June 2021)

Reviewed by Beth Carpenter, The Country Bookshop in Southern Pines, North Carolina

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The Wife Upstairs by Rachel Hawkins

Rachel Hawkins proves just how timeless the Jane Eyre story is, by putting the madwoman in the attic of a modern-day mansion in an Alabama suburb. The dark story is easy to devour, and the characters are people you might have met before — maybe while walking the dog in your own neighborhood. Everyone is keeping secrets, from Jane, the young dog-walker, to Eddie Rochester, the recently widowed homeowner. You’ll love teasing out the secret of what happened to the glamorous Bea, whose body was never found after a boating accident at Smith Lake.

The Wife Upstairs by Rachel Hawkins (List Price: $16.99, St. Martin’s Griffin, 9781250245502, 11/2/2021)

Reviewed by Lady Smith, The Snail on the Wall in Huntsville, Alabama

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The Book of Difficult Fruit by Kate Lebo

Lovers of early Diane Ackerman, Michael Pollan, and possibly Ruth Reichl will enjoy this collection of alphabetically saluted fruits! Essayist, poet, and pie lady Kate Lebo expertly blends the culinary, medical, and personal in a book of essays, accompanied by recipes that you will probably never use but are fascinating to read! Lebo’s chops both literary and gustatory are fully exercised in this fascinating collection. It’s full of surprises! One page you’ll be drooling and the next will make you nauseous, even fearful for our intrepid explorer of all things fruit. Much of the book is personal and shares some common ground with Cheryl Strayed. Great gift for a young chef, plant lover, or poet!

The Book of Difficult Fruit by Kate Lebo (List Price: $28, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 9780374110321, 4/6/2021)

Reviewed by Kelly Justice, Fountain Bookstore in Richmond, Virginia

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The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett

Brit Bennett is a master storyteller who has created an intergenerational tale full of place, relevant commentary, the complexities of human nature, and life’s unexpected turns. I was sucked into the story from the beginning and absolutely loved how the idea of a “vanishing half” kept presenting itself in the storyline. Wow, this was just so smart and effortlessly crafted. I didn’t want my reading experience to end!

The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett (List Price: $27, Riverhead Books, 9780525536291, 6/2/2020)

Reviewed by Asia Harden, Square Books in Oxford, Mississippi

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Astrid Sees All by Natalie Standiford

A fresh-faced Baltimore native initially enters New York City trying to emulate her cool uptown NYC native friend from college. Ultimately it is through loyalty to the memories and movies of her childhood that she becomes “Astrid,” the in-house fortune teller at the hottest club in town. The beat of the Lower East Side in the 1980s leaps off the page as “Astrid” bounces through friends, drugs, fun and danger.

Astrid Sees All by Natalie Standiford (List Price: $27, Atria Books, 9781982153656, 4/6/2021)

Reviewed by Kimberly Daniels, The Country Bookshop in Southern Pines, North Carolina

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The Killing Hills by Chris Offutt

Returning to his hometown on military leave, Mick walks into a whole slew of family problems that he initially attempts to avoid, secluded in a cabin and chock-full of bourbon. Being called on to assist in tracking down a murderer puts him hesitantly back on his feet. It’s a distraction and we immediately see that he’s equally brilliant and broken enough to solve (kinda sorta) the mystery with ease. But even with a name like The Killing Hills and a body discovered in the first few pages, I still look back on the murder mystery as the book’s B-plot. Chris Offutt paints Appalachia so brilliantly, that, though pleasantly so, it’s distracting. The towns in which growth just means a larger hospital, diners exchanged for faster food, a new prison and improved state roads that aid travelers in quickly passing through without noticing much more than the aforementioned. Populated for generations by a handful of families who in turn depopulate via hard living and occasional vengeance. Driven by conflicting nostalgia, ill-defined chivalry and a hangover, Mick’s story is either one of a farewell visit or a return towards retirement

The Killing Hills by Chris Offutt (List Price: $26, Grove Press, 9780802158413, 6/15/2021)

Reviewed by Ian McCord, Avid Bookshop in Athens, Georgia

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All of Us by Kathryn Erskine, Alexandra Boiger (Illus)

This book would make a great bedtime story! I loved the pictures and the simple message of appreciating everyone’s unique contribution to the world.

All of Us by Kathryn Erskine, Alexandra Boiger (Illus) (List Price: $17.99, Philomel Books, 9780593204696, 5/18/2021)

Reviewed by Kate Storhoff, Bookmarks in Winston-Salem, North Carolina

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Unsettled by Reem Faruqi

I love a good novel-in-verse! This book is perfect for any young reader who has arrived at a new school and does not fit in with their new classmates. Nurah’s family has moved from Pakistan to Peachtree City, Georgia, so we get to see her tackle her culture shock and overcome her shyness in order to stand up not only for herself but for others in need.

Unsettled by Reem Faruqi (List Price: $16.99, HarperCollins, 9780063044708, 5/11/2021)

Reviewed by Kate Storhoff, Bookmarks in Winston-Salem, North Carolina

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Not Our Summer by Casie Bazay

Becca and KJ are cousins, both about to graduate from high school. But because their mothers are estranged, they don’t know each other at all. When their maternal grandfather dies, they have to come together for the reading of his will. In it, their grandfather has given both of the girls and both of their mothers a nice sum of money. The only catch is that the girls must complete a five-part bucket list before they get the money. The list is a set of things the grandfather always wanted to do, but his mounting agoraphobia wouldn’t let him. I LOVE that we have a story that, at its root, is about friendship. And while there’s a smidge of romance, it’s FAR from the main plot. It took me a moment to warm up to the two girls, but in the end, I enjoyed them, flaws and all.

Not Our Summer by Casie Bazay (List Price: $17.99, Running Press Kids, 9780762472291, 5/11/2021)

Reviewed by Jennifer Jones, Bookmiser, Inc. in Marietta, Georgia

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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, 7/20/2021)

Reviewed by Megan Bell, Underground Books in Carrollton, Georgia

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Infinite Country by Patricia Engel

Patricia Engel’s new book is a true gem. A family story where each voice is equally interesting and dynamic. A great examination on the brutish nature of the US towards people traveling stateside looking for opportunity. Your heart breaks and mends and breaks all over again for this family. In fewer than 200 pages, Engel works magic.

Infinite Country by Patricia Engel (List Price: $25, Avid Reader Press/Simon & Schuster, 9781982159467, 3/2/2021)

Reviewed by James Harrod, Malaprop’s Bookstore/Cafe in Asheville, North Carolina

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The Office of Historical Corrections by Danielle Evans

I find that I’m very hit or miss with short story collections but The Office of Historical Collections is a total gem. It’s full of captivating stories and characters; there wasn’t a single story that didn’t suck me in! Evans tackles topics like race, womanhood, and the human condition with nuance and grace. So good!

The Office of Historical Corrections by Danielle Evans (List Price: $27, Riverhead Books, 9781594487330, 11/10/2020)

Reviewed by Asia Harden, Square Books in Oxford, Mississippi

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The Baddest Girl on the Planet by Heather Frese

From the publisher: “Until now, Outer Banks native Evie Austin has been the baddest girl on the planet. What comes next?”

I really enjoyed this novel–the pacing is good, the characters’ stories are compelling, and the small beach town setting is so well-described I can picture it clearly.

The Baddest Girl on the Planet by Heather Frese (List Price: $25.95, Blair, 9781949467161, 3/2/2021)

Reviewed by Janet Geddis, Avid Bookshop in Athens, Georgia

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Madeline Finn and the Therapy Dog by Lisa Papp

With beautiful illustrations and a sweet message about patience and caring, Madeline Finn and the Therapy Dog is an awesome picture book for kids 4-8 years old. This is the third “Madeline Finn” book (previous were the Library Dog and the Shelter Dog). In this one, little Madeline helps her dog train to visit nursing home residents and learns that some people need more time to make friends.

Madeline Finn and the Therapy Dog by Lisa Papp (List Price: $17.99, Peachtree Publishing Company, 9781682631492, 9/1/2020)

Reviewed by Serena Wyckoff, Copperfish Books in Punta Gorda, Florida

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The Plot by Jean Hanff

What a fascinating and eclectic novel this is! It starts out as a sardonic look at the writing life, the trials and tribulations that all but the biggest best sellers face. Our guide is Jake Bonner, erstwhile golden, now a down on his luck teacher at a third rate MFA program. That is until he meets a student who has an idea that will storm the literary world. An idea that dies with the student shortly after until Jake resurrects it and changes his life forever. From there it morphs into thriller land while exploring such themes as cultural appropriation, the ethics of borrowing, and what is an idea and who does it belong too, as whiffs of Stephen King (Misery), John Boyne (A Ladder to the Sky) trail through the pages while she name drops Marilynne Robinson and others. This is going to be a fun one to talk with others about and I can’t wait.

The Plot by Jean Hanff (List Price: $39.99, Celadon Books, 9781250790767, 5/11/2021)

Reviewed by Pete Mock, McIntyre’s Fine Books in Pittsboro, North Carolina

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The Secret Lives of Church Ladies by Deesha Philyaw

Having grown up in a Mississippi Southern Baptist church, it wasn’t until I was a teenager that I saw the secret double lives of some of us. Rebelling against the submit-to-authority messages on Saturday night, but sitting pious and submissive come Sunday morning services was de rigueur. Deesha Philyaw’s book The Secret Lives of Church Ladies gives voice to secret lives that I know for sure are lived and true. The need for acceptance, for absolution, for grace is ever-present in familiar relationships as well as those in the church. These short stories are divine.

The Secret Lives of Church Ladies by Deesha Philyaw (List Price: $18.99, West Virginia University Press, 9781949199734, 9/1/2020)

Reviewed by Rachel Watkins, Avid Bookshop in Athens, Georgia

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Ground Zero by Alan Gratz

Alan Gratz, historical fiction go-to for middle school, has moved from WWII to more contemporary times with his newest novel Ground Zero. Told from the viewpoint of two teens on opposite sides of the globe, Gratz reframes the 9/11 story for the eyes and ears of young readers. This one is sure to be an instant bestseller.

Ground Zero by Alan Gratz (List Price: $17.99, Scholastic Press, 9781338245752, 2/2/2021)

Reviewed by Angie Tally, The Country Bookshop in Southern Pines, North Carolina

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Excuse Me While I Ugly Cry by Joya Goffney

I adored this fun and impressive debut! Quinn is one of the few black students at a prestigious private school; she finds refuge in writing and making lists in her journal. Her journal goes missing and someone begins to blackmail her with her deepest and darkest secrets. Quinn freaks out, and has to begin working with Carter, a fellow black student who she has never gotten along with. Soon, the hate the hate they had for one another dissolves as they connect to retrieve her journal while being forced by Quinn’s blackmailer to complete Quinn’s lists. This book is about facing your fears, being honest, and falling in love.

Excuse Me While I Ugly Cry by Joya Goffney (List Price: $17.99, HarperTeen, 9780063024793, 5/4/2021)

Reviewed by Deanna Bailey, Story on the Square in McDonough, Georgia

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How to Order the Universe by María José Ferrada

This book haunts me. I can’t stop thinking about it! “M” is a seven year old girl in Chile growing up with a father “D” who is a traveling salesman who sells hardware. Her mother is chronically depressed and, while loving, incapable of looking after her daughter much of the time. Told from M’s perspective, we go with her and D from place to place when he takes her out of school to go on his sales trips without her mother’s knowledge. She’s sort of his “buddy” and “junior salesman” traveling companion and it’s disturbing to see this child smoke and drink coffee in companionship with the other salesmen in the book. Ghosts of Pinochet’s Desaparecidos appear and disappear between the pages. It’s a book that will stay with you long after you close the cover.

How to Order the Universe by María José Ferrada, Elizabeth Bryer (Trans.) (List Price: $19.95, Tin House Books, 9781951142308, 2/16/2021)

Reviewed by Kelly Justice, Fountain Bookstore in Richmond, Virginia

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Kalamata’s Kitchen by Sarah Thomas, Derek Wallace, Jo Kosmides Edwards (Illus)

Super cute and imaginative read! Kalamata is afraid to start school, but she takes a trip through a magical world of food with her alligator pal Al Dente where she finds her bravery admits the aromas and flavors she loves. It’s adorable and will make you hungry!

Kalamata’s Kitchen by Sarah Thomas, Derek Wallace, Jo Kosmides Edwards (Illus) (List Price: $17.99, Random House Books for Young Readers, 9780593307915, 7/6/2021)

Reviewed by Kate Storhoff, Bookmarks in Winston-Salem, North Carolina

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The Souvenir Museum by Elizabeth McCracken

Each of these twelve stories felt like a gift. Elizabeth McCracken has such insight into our ugliest, most deep-seated emotions that she dresses up with just a touch of delightful weirdness. Highlights include a story of a distraught mother finding comfort in challah bread that reminds her of her dead children; interconnected stories about a young couple working through various family baggage; and a story about two men confronting their fears of commitment and fatherhood during a day trip to Schlitterbahn (the iconic Texan German-themed waterpark, for those who don’t know). I tried to savor every story, but I couldn’t resist reading more than one every time I picked up this book!

The Souvenir Museum by Elizabeth McCracken (List Price: $26.99, Ecco, 9780062971289, 4/13/2021)

Reviewed by Kate Storhoff, Bookmarks in Winston-Salem, North Carolina

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Parachutes by Kelly Yand

Parachutes is a story I won’t soon forget. This coming-of-age tale is told from the perspectives of teenagers Dani and Claire as they find their worlds turned upside down. Claire is ripped from her wealthy life in Shanghai to attend a high school in California where Dani is her new host sister. Claire finds herself quickly immersed in a new group of friends as she tries to adjust to her new life. But debate star Dani De La Cruz has problems of her own, and the two don’t exactly hit it off. However, they eventually find themselves leaning on one another as they tackle situations too big to handle alone.

Parachutes by Kelly Yand (List Price: $18.99, Katherine Tegen Books, 9780062941084, 5/26/2020)

Reviewed by Asia Harden, Square Books in Oxford, Mississippi

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Temple Alley Summer by Sachiko Kashiwaba, Avery Fischer Udagawa (Trans.), Miho Satake (Illus.)

It’s summer break! There’s time for fun and friends, but Kazu has decided to investigate a paranormal occurrence tied to the history of his street, Temple Alley. As Kazu and his friends discover new clues about the past by talking to family members, nagging neighbors, and even reading ancient magazines, they realize that they might have to rely on their peculiar neighbor, Ms. Minakami, to solve the mystery. Complete with a story within a story, this summertime sleuth is mischievous and magical.

Temple Alley Summer by Sachiko Kashiwaba, Avery Fischer Udagawa (Trans.), Miho Satake (Illus.) (List Price: $18, Restless Books, 9781632063038, 7/6/2021)

Reviewed by Cat Chapman, Oxford Exchange in Tampa, Florida

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The Gun by Fuminori Nakamura, Allison Markin Powell (trans.)

Imagine Edgar Allen Poe and Will Christopher Baer teaming up across space and time to rewrite Catcher in the Rye, but in Japan. What you’d get is The Gun. This one-sitting read is darkly engrossing, lyrically captivating, and a stunning debut from a now well-established author. Wow.

The Gun by Fuminori Nakamura, Allison Markin Powell (trans.) (List Price: $14.95, Soho Crime, 9781616957681, 1/24/2017)

Reviewed by Lizy Coale, Copperfish Books in Punta Gorda, Florida

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