The books Southern indie booksellers are recommending to readers everywhere!

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Stiff by Mary Roach

I absolutely love Mary Roach – the way she breaks down complex topics is second to none. I borrowed a copy from a friend and was done with it in two days. I love the way she can take a really complex and delicate topic, and break it down from a variety of perspectives to come to a wonderfully fascinating conclusion.

Stiff by Mary Roach, (List Price: 16.95, W. W. Norton & Company, 9780393324822, May 2004)

Reviewed by Kate Wilder, Story On the Square in McDonough, Georgia

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Trejo by Danny Trejo

Having been slightly familiar with Danny Trejo as an actor and enjoying some of his films, I picked this book up as a lark and I ended up being utterly fascinated. His personal story is heart-wrenching at times, but it is filled with redemption at the highest level. Composed in a conversational tone by fellow actor Donal Logue, Trejo recounts growing up in LA during the 50’s/60’s and doing several stints in notorious prisons like Soledad, San Quentin, and Folsom. He is brutally honest about his faults, regrets, and crimes…but he also explains how it led to him being a fixture in the drug & alcohol rehabilitation community after he became sober. The actor’s newfound vocation of helping other addicts stay clean eventually led to his film career through an unforeseeable stroke of luck. Now a cultural icon for the city of LA and the Mexican American community, this book shows the reader it’s never too late to make a positive change in one’s life.

Trejo by Danny Trejo, (List Price: 27, Atria Books, 9781982150822, July 2021)

Reviewed by Stuart McCommon, Novel. in Memphis, Tennessee

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The Therapist by B. A. Paris

This book stressed me out in the worst yet best possible way; I don’t know how to explain that I hated yet loved the anxiety it gave me! Alice and Leo have moved into a new home and host a housewarming party. An unknown man appears at the party, and a few days later he reappears with a revelation about the new home and neighborhood she just moved into. Alice becomes determined to discover the truth about her home and what her neighbors are hiding. This was a wild ride that I truly enjoyed.

The Therapist by B. A. Paris, (List Price: 27.99, St. Martin’s Press, 9781250274120, July 2021)

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

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Seek You by Kristen Radtke

Like many other people, I’ve spent the last year questioning how we differentiate between loneliness and aloneness. Kristen Radtke’s SEEK YOU is a gorgeous fully-illustrated meditation on the often stigmatized epidemic of loneliness and an investigation into how we form bonds with others. Not since Olivia Laing’s LONELY CITY have I felt such kinship with an author. I’m so grateful that this book exists.

Seek You by Kristen Radtke, (List Price: 30, Pantheon, 9781524748067, July 2021)

Reviewed by Lindsay Lynch, Parnassus Books in Nashville, Tennessee

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Listen by Gabi Snyder

The message of LISTEN is one for all ages – when all you hear is noise, stop, close your eyes, and listen to everything waiting to be heard. Gabi Snyder’s lesson starts on a busy city street but goes beyond just noisy times to remind us the importance of listening for feelings like our friends’ emotions and how we are feeling inside. Stephanie Graegin’s illustrations are a gentle, perfect accompaniment to the text. This would make the perfect book for a storytime or lesson centered on mindfulness.

Listen by Gabi Snyder, (List Price: 17.99, Simon & Schuster/Paula Wiseman Books, 9781534461895, July 2021)

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

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The Taking of Jake Livingston by Ryan Douglass

Fans of GET OUT and SAWKILL GIRLS, prepare to meet Jake Livingston. Ryan Douglass’s debut is gritty and extremely tough to read at times, but with social issues at the forefront and a hero worth rooting for, THE TAKING OF JAKE LIVINGSTON is a deep novel that holds back no punches. Queer, eerie, and heart-wrenching, Douglass takes his readers on an emotional rollercoaster through these horror events – both paranormal and real-life.

The Taking of Jake Livingston by Ryan Douglass, (List Price: 17.99, G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers, 9781984812537, July 2021)

Reviewed by Brad Sells, Parnassus Books in Nashville, Tennessee

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The Startup Wife by Tahmima Anam

Finally the book you have been waiting for. This last year has been tough and we have needed this light hilarious book that needs to be shared with all your friends. Full of stellar observations of life and how people function you will finish and open to the beginning to visit with old friends.

The Startup Wife by Tahmima Anam, (List Price: 26, Scribner, 9781982156183, July 2021)

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

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A Passage North by Anuk Arudpragasam

Award-winning Sri Lankan author Anuk Arudpragasam’s second novel is a profound meditation on love, desire, war, mortality, and the human condition. Krishan, an NGO worker based in the capital Colombo, receives an email out of the blue from a former girlfriend, on the same day he learns that his grandmother’s former carer has died. The journey that follows – through the heart of a country still recovering from a decades-long civil war – is as much through the mind as it is physical. Highly recommended.

A Passage North by Anuk Arudpragasam, (List Price: 27, Hogarth, 9780593230701, July 2021)

Reviewed by Jude Burke-Lewis, Square Books in Oxford, Mississippi

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Six Crimson Cranes by Elizabeth Lim

An exiled princess, a deathly curse, dragons, and magic come together to make Six Crimson Cranes a breathtaking fantasy that had me hooked from the very first chapter. Elizabeth Lim’s world-building is lush and dreamy, the fantasy spin makes this story dark and vivid, and Shiori and her brothers quickly began to feel like old friends to me. If you love fantasy and books that feel like a fairytale, I dare you to pick up Six Crimson Cranes and try to set it down – prepare to be addicted.

Six Crimson Cranes by Elizabeth Lim, (List Price: 18.99, Knopf Books for Young Readers, 9780593300916, July 2021)

Reviewed by Brad Sells, Parnassus Books in Nashville, Tennessee

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City Problems by Steve Goble

Ed Runyan is an ex-NYPD detective who left the big apple for the relative quiet of rural Ohio after a particularly gruesome case involving the brutal murder of a young woman. Now it seems his past has caught up with him when he finds himself in a case of another missing young woman on his own turf in the quiet fields of Ohio. The girl, Megan Beemer was reported missing from the Columbus area and was last seen at a party where a high school band from Ed’s area was performing. Between the band and the local kids who were or may have been at the same event, and with the help of a woman detective from Columbus, Ed has to unfold the story of who was at the party and how they might have interacted with Megan. When Megan’s body is found in a local creek, Ed has to struggle with his past and the demons that have stayed with him from the earlier murder in NY which has been the center of his nightmares for years. Ed Runyon is a damaged character, but one who shows his human side in his empathy and depth of commitment to solve this crime and find justice for the victim. We can only hope we’ll see more of Ed Runyon. This one was a great read!

City Problems by Steve Goble, (List Price: 26.95, Oceanview Publishing, 9781608094431, July 2021)

Reviewed by Brent Bunnell, Fiction Addiction in Greenville, South Carolina

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Books Promiscuously Read by Heather Cass White

Because I work in the book world, sometimes I forget that not every person is a reading-obsessed nerd. This book put into words what I’ve never been able to: reading takes you to another place. Reading changes your entire world in a literal way and in figurative ways. I loved reading quotes from my favorite writers about how reading transformed their worlds.

Books Promiscuously Read by Heather Cass White, (List Price: 25, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 9780374115265, July 2021)

Reviewed by Sissy Gardner, Parnassus Books in Nashville, Tennessee

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Kiki Kallira Breaks a Kingdom by Sangu Mandanna

This is it! My favorite middle-grade book of 2021. Full of adventure, humor, and friendship, Kiki’s story had me hooked from start to finish. I laughed, cried, and audibly gasped as the story unfolded through the lens of her vivid imagination. I particularly liked the handling and validation of Kiki’s struggles with anxiety. Great for fans of Aru Shah, Inkheart, or anything by Rick Riordan- Kiki Kallira Breaks a Kingdom is not to be missed!

Kiki Kallira Breaks a Kingdom by Sangu Mandanna, (List Price: 17.99, Viking Books for Young Readers, 9780593206973, July 2021)

Reviewed by Mary Louise Callaghan, Bookmarks in Winston-Salem, North Carolina

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Razorblade Tears by S. A. Cosby

S.E Crosby is the real deal. He is rejuvenating the mystery scene in a way not seen since Elmore Leonard during his prime. And his new novel is the perfect example of how. This story of two ex-cons, fathers, seeking answers to the murders of their married sons has it all. Fast-paced and relentless, it is an excellent look at our culture wars through the eyes of a parent who can’t understand his child’s choices. Super smart, incredibly entertaining, and all-around satisfying this is a book no one should skip!

Razorblade Tears by S. A. Cosby (List Price: $26.99, Flatiron Books, 9781250252708, 7/6/2021)

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

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On the Day the Horse Got Out by Audrey Helen Weber

On the Day the Horse Got Out is one of those books that feels like a classic—it’s got the rhythm and nonsensical vibe of a nursery rhyme, and beautifully rendered illustrations that recall Tomie dePaola, Sergio Ruzzier, and Carson Ellis. Perfect for reading aloud, especially at bedtime—it’s a recipe for dreams filled with beribboned comets, giant flowers, and horses leaping through starry, cloud-puffed skies.

On the Day the Horse Got Out by Audrey Helen Weber, (List Price: 18.99, Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 9780316459846, June 2021)

Reviewed by Hannah DeCamp, Avid Bookshop in Athens, Georgia

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The Tiger Mom’s Tale by Lyn Liao Butler

Part mystery, part family drama, with a dash of romance, The Tiger Mom’s Tale is a story of two times. Lexa is grieving the death of her biological father, whom she only met once as a teen in Taiwan. Told through flashbacks of that ill-fated meeting, we revisit with Lexa the days spent meeting her father, biological sister, stepmother, and extended family, and the impact it had not only on her life but those closest to her. An impactful story about the power of family and connections.

The Tiger Mom’s Tale by Lyn Liao Butler, (List Price: 17, Berkley, 9780593198728, July 2021)

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

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How to Break an Evil Curse by Laura Morrison

The idea of a twisted fairy tale is nothing new, but this book’s “dear reader” style and the changes it chooses to make to the traditional format are absolutely fantastic. I absolutely devoured this book. I was laughing one minute, and holding my breath in terror the next! If you like modern interpretations of classic stories, with curses, ghosts, princesses, with a healthy dose of laughter in between – read this book now!

How to Break an Evil Curse by Laura Morrison, (List Price: 18.95, Black Spot Books, 9781733599481, July 2021)

Reviewed by Kate Wilder, Story on the Square in McDonough, Georgia

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Everyone in This Room Will Someday Be Dead by Emily Austin

I started off laughing out loud at Gilda’s inner monologue. The clever writing matches her state of mind and drew me in right away. It took me maybe a third of the book to realize that she was going to get a lot worse. She might lose her mind entirely. I was a little ticked off that this sweet, funny girl was going to be sacrificed to the literary fiction gods for the sake of seriousness. But, then, she wasn’t. I loved this book, then worried for it, then loved it all over again. It’s such a great illustration of what happens to members of a family where all hurts are stuffed, all bad things swept under the rug. Austin weaves the larger narrative into Gilda’s particular story so well that I wasn’t even aware of what she was doing. When that damn cat shows up under the steps, I nearly cheered. Bravo! This may not be an easy hand-sell, but I’m going to give my best shot.

Everyone in This Room Will Someday Be Dead by Emily Austin, (List Price: 26, Atria Books, 9781982167356, July 2021)

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

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The Cruelty Is the Point by Adam Serwer

I’ve followed Serwer’s articles in the Atlantic for several years. In this collection of his most moving pieces, he’s added a short introduction to each one with new insights and background. Bonus – Kevin Kruse blurbed it.

The Cruelty Is the Point by Adam Serwer, (List Price: 28, One World, 9780593230800, July 2021)

Reviewed by Sissy Gardner, Parnassus Books in Nashville, Tennessee

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Nightbitch by Rachel Yoder

Rachel Yoder’s bark is just as good as her bite with her wholly unique voice and razor-sharp sense of humor. At once weird, darkly funny, moving, relatable and deliciously f*cked up, Nightbitch is a rallying howl to women, and especially mothers, everywhere.

Nightbitch by Rachel Yoder, (List Price: 26, Doubleday, 9780385546812, June 2021)

Reviewed by Danielle Raub, Itinerant Literate Books in North Charleston, South Carolina

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Willie Nelson’s Letters to America by Willie Nelson

I didn’t want these letters to end so I read only a few pages every day. Willie Nelson shares stories of his life and his music but oh, so much more. The world would be a kinder and more loving and sensible place if we could all follow Willie’s advice on how to get through difficult times and take care of each other. Jokes and laughter fill every page and you will find yourself laughing any crying at his sage advice and hilarious life observations.

Willie Nelson’s Letters to America by Willie Nelson, (List Price: 27.99, Harper Horizon, 9780785241546, June 2021)

Reviewed by Nancy Pierce, Bookmiser in Marietta, Georgia

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These Hollow Vows by Lexi Ryan

For fans of love triangles and fierce heroines that kick butt, These Hollow Vows is a dark fantasy full of twists and betrayals. I found it a delightful story that I couldn’t help but tear through. The author’s writing is engaging as much as it is enchanting and I have a feeling that Brie is going to charm many readers. I can’t wait for the next installment!

These Hollow Vows by Lexi Ryan, (List Price: 17.99, HMH Books for Young Readers, 9780358386575, July 2021)

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

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The Book of Accidents by Chuck Wendig

This is one freaky book, scary as all get out, and really, really, hard to put down! I was reading late the night (3pm) and the story was cresting on one of the many waves that keep the plot roiling when out of the corner of my eye I saw my bedroom door slowly begin to creak mournfully open. Needless to say I thought I was going to have a heart attack. Turns out it was just my cat stretching out but that incident just shows how immersed I got into this creepy good book.

The Book of Accidents by Chuck Wendig, (List Price: 28.99, Del Rey, 9780399182136, July 2021)

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

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If the World Were 100 People by Jackie McCann

Really large numbers are difficult for us (including adults!) to understand, so I loved the way this book broke down statistics about the world as if it only had 100 people. The global village concept is really neat. Not only is this easier to visualize the differences and inequalities in our world, but it also makes the world seem a little less large, and a little bit more like a village.

If the World Were 100 People by Jackie McCann, (List Price: 17.99, Crown Books for Young Readers, 9780593310700, July 2021)

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

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Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe by Fannie Flagg

This has been one of my favorite movies for years, so I decided to finally read the book. So glad I did. Much more character development and more storylines. The relationship between Ruth and Idgie is a true love story in the book and it is beautiful how the town accepts it as completely natural. What a bold writing for Ms. Flagg in 1986. I loved how the book included Sipsey’s recipes in the back and the Afterward was lovely.

Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe by Fannie Flagg, (List Price: 18, Ballantine, 9780449911358, March,1993)

Reviewed by Helen Adkins, Story On the Square in McDonough, Georgia

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The Okay Witch and the Hungry Shadow by Emma Steinkellner

What an awesome sequel! So much of the first was about Moth learning her history, but this new installment is more about learning herself, which I adore. Her mom’s romantic subplot is also a great addition, and the added strength of the three Hush women is a sight to behold.

The Okay Witch and the Hungry Shadow by Emma Steinkellner (List Price: $12.99, Aladdin, 9781534431485, 7/6/2021)

Reviewed by Amber Brown, Quail Ridge Books in Raleigh, North Carolina

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Give My Love to the Savages by Chris Stuck

Stories built on foundations of unbalanced karma, the self identifying itself and male douchebaggery where (oftentimes) the inner pessimistic optimist lets the outer optimistic pessimist’s joy really bum him out, only to then retaliate with focused blind passion. I was introduced to the term “get your poops in a group” in this collection, and that, in a nutshell, is the goal of its protagonists, though some poops do get lost here and there.

Give My Love to the Savages by Chris Stuck (List Price: $25.99, Amistad, 9780063029972, 7/6/2021)

Reviewed by Ian McCord, Avid Bookshop in Athens, Georgia

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The Sweetness of Water by Nathan Harris

Georgia in the days immediately following the Emancipation Proclamation, Harris’ characters display the best and the worst responses to the new order. Brutal yet hopeful, this one’s a slow burn until you realize you’re so caught up in the story you can’t possibly stop reading.

The Sweetness of Water by Nathan Harris, (List Price: 28, Little, Brown and Company, 9780316461276, 2021-06-15)

Reviewed by Jamie Fiocco, Flyleaf Books in Chapel Hill, North Carolina

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Blood Like Magic by Liselle Sambury

In a near-futuristic Toronto, blood contains enough genetic material to determine people’s career, their success, and even love life–and for Voya and her family, it also contains an ancestral link to powerful magic. Until, possibly, Voya. As her bloodline hangs in the balance, Voya has to come to terms with who she is, where she comes from, and who she really loves to become the witch she’s always wanted to be. This futuristic fantasy is POWERFUL, to say the least.

Blood Like Magic by Liselle Sambury, (List Price: 19.99, Margaret K. McElderry Books, 9781534465282, June, 2021)

Reviewed by Cat Chapman, Oxford Exchange in Tampa, Florida

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The Tangleroot Palace: Stories by Marjorie Liu

I hadn’t read anything by Marjorie Liu prior to the Monstress series, but with how much I love that, combined with the stunning cover by Sana Takeda, how could I resist her short story collection? A sweet sapphic Sleeping Beauty retelling, a runaway princess finds a new quirky family, an apprentice using dolls to seek revenge on her teacher, a villain’s shot at redemption. Liu’s stories gave me goosebumps, made me swoon, and at times cracked me up. This definitely a collection to have.

The Tangleroot Palace: Stories by Marjorie Liu, (List Price: 16.95, Tachyon Publications, 9781616963521, June 2021)

Reviewed by Amber Brown, Quail Ridge Books in Raleigh, North Carolina

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Nowhere Girl by Cheryl Diamond

The moment I cracked this memoir, I knew I should fasten my seatbelt–what a jaw-dropping ride it was! The unconventional childhood of Cheryl Diamond took her and her family all over the world, fleeing INTERPOL from place to place, losing and gaining identities, following highly rehearsed rules to protect their cover, and never quite finding a place to belong. The pages are filled with adventure, humor, and deep sadness. Nowhere Girl is so gorgeously written and impossible to put down. It is truly a tribute to human resilience.

Nowhere Girl by Cheryl Diamond, (List Price: 27.95, Algonquin Books, 9781616208202, June, 2021)

Reviewed by Damita Nocton, The Country Bookshop in Southern Pines, North Carolina

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The Last Fallen Star (A Gifted Clans Novel) by Graci Kim

Korean American witches! Bulgogi tacos and boba tea portals! This RRP grabbed my attention with the clans of Korean witches and kept it with the strong sister bond and Riley choosing kindness as her strength. There was lots of betrayal and twists and action that made this a fast and exciting read–but it never got overwhelming. The whole cast is great, the world-building is awesome, complex-but-understandable, and the food sounds delicious (I’m REALLY wanting to try bulgogi tacos.) I totally guessed wrong on what the last fallen star was so it was fun that the ending wasn’t predictable. There is a sequel so it ends in a way that makes you want to read the next one, but for the most part, everything is resolved in a way you don’t want to throw the book across the room after the last page.

The Last Fallen Star (A Gifted Clans Novel) by Graci Kim, (List Price: 16.99, Rick Riordan Presents, 9781368059633, May, 2021)

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

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Dear Senthuran by Awaeke Emezi

A dazzling and devastating look into the life of one of the most unique voices of modern lit. Read to learn how an Ogbanje navigates the highs and lows of success. You may have more in common with a god than you think. (would ‘spirit’ be a better substitute for ‘god’ here? I can’t recall if they refer to themselves as ‘god’ or ‘godly’ throughout) Emezi paints their world with a set of custom brushes. No matter the angle of your view, the picture comes to life in this book. Although these letters are personal and specific, the messages relayed will resonate with a wide audience. The prose, as always, is visceral, raw, and unflinching. The words center around heartbreak and personhood, destruction and growth. A sibling book to their astounding debut, Freshwater.

Dear Senthuran by Akwaeke Emezi (List Price: $27.00, Riverhead Books, 9780593329191, 5/11/2021)

Reviewed by Caroline Bergeron, Garden District Bookshop in New Orleans, Louisiana

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Swimming Back to Trout River by Linda Rui Feng

Linda Rui Feng pulls you in with the intertwined stories of four individuals starting during China’s Cultural Revolution in the 60’s and ending up in America in the 80’s. You will love these characters and be moved by the storytelling in this engrossing debut.

Swimming Back to Trout River by Linda Rui Feng (List Price: $26, Simon Schuster, 9781982129392, 5/11/2021)
Reviewed by Karen Hayes, Parnassus Books in Nashville, Tennessee

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Becoming Vanessa by Vanessa Brantley-Newton

That first day of school can be hard on anyone, but especially if your name is looonnng, AND has two s’s, and if your style is a little more colorful than your new classmates. But no matter what, it is important to be yourself. Stunning illustrations reminiscent of the brilliant Molly Bang bring this important ‘first day of school” book to life This one is a Must-have for rising kindergartners.

Becoming Vanessa by Vanessa Brantley-Newton (List Price: $17.99, Knopf Books for Young Readers, 9780525582120, 6/15/2021)

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

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We Can’t Keep Meeting Like This by Rachel Lynn Solomon

This was my first time reading Rachel Lynn Solomon’s YA, and now I want to go back and read everything she’s written. I loved the representation in this book: not only are the characters racially diverse, but there is also great LGBTQ representation, plus the main character has OCD and a side character has depression. It is great to see so many different kinds of characters in one book. The set-up is perfect for a sweet romance: Quinn Berkowitz is the daughter of wedding-planner parents, and she’s expected to join the family business officially after college. But Quinn feels jaded about romance and wants to pursue her own dreams. A great book about finding yourself!


We Can’t Keep Meeting Like This by Rachel Lynn Solomon (List Price: $19.99, Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 9781534440272, 6/1/2021)

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

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Stranger Care by Sarah Sentilles

As a child advocate for the family court system, I have a pretty good idea of what foster care is like. Sarah Sentilles is spot on in her memoir about her and her husband’s experience training and becoming foster parents. Sentilles accurately portrays the emotions of the parents, foster parents, social workers, and children involved. She uses examples from animals and plants to show techniques of care in the natural world. But even after they accumulate this knowledge, Sarah and her husband underestimate the pull on their heartstrings at the possibility of a child’s loss from their lives.

Stranger Care by Sarah Sentilles (List Price: $28, Random House, 9780593230039, 5/4/2021)

Reviewed by Linda Hodges, Fiction Addiction in Greenville, South Carolina

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The Marvelous by Claire Kann

Jewel Van Hanen created a video diary app several years ago called Golden Rule. Since then, she’s held 9 weekend retreats on her estate for a very select few group of users. But a year ago, she dropped out of the public eye. Now she’s back with a new weekend, but this one’s different. It will be a weekend filled with puzzles and games and at the end, two winners will receive a big cash prize. Told through the POV of three of the six competitors, The Marvelous will keep you on your toes with nonstop riddles and action.

The Marvelous by Claire Kann (List Price: $18.99, Swoon Reads, 9781250192691, 6/8/2021)

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

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With Teeth by Kristen Arnett

Sometimes it’s the mundane that’s the most fascinating. Kristen Arnett’s novel With Teeth takes the everyday marriage challenges of staying in love, being faithful, having patience with an unknowable child, and figuring out what to make for supper, tosses that with a dose of bizarre behavior which gives us what becomes to one queer family’s happily ever after. Arnett’s characters are infuriating and I think you’ll puzzle over Sammie, Monika, and Samson well after you finish the last page.

With Teeth by Kristen Arnett (List Price: $27, Riverhead Books, 9780593191507, 6/1/2021)

Reviewed by Rachel Watkins, Avid Bookshop in Athens, Georgia

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What Will You Be? by Yamile Saied Méndez, Kate Alizadeh (Illus.)

What Will You Be? is the story of a young girl who asks her abuela what she will be when she grows up. Told through vibrant illustrations that capture her grandmother’s love for painting, the little girl dreams of all the things she might be. I love when she dreams of different careers, like a builder or a healer, she also recognizes all the good that she could bring to world. A must-read for career storytimes!

What Will You Be? by Yamile Saied Méndez, Kate Alizadeh (Illus.) (List Price: $17.99, HarperCollins, 9780062839954, 5/4/2021)

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

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The Secret Lives of Church Ladies by Deesha Philyaw

This collection is sharp, strong, and emotional. I found myself incredibly moved by these stories about Black women who refuse to settle for lives dictated by insecurity, family tradition, or religious dogma. And despite being a white woman who will never truly understand the depicted experiences, I saw pieces of my own story reflected in the characters’ struggles to make their own space within and outside of an overbearing religious community, in the yearning for a love that defied familial expectations, and in teenage heartbreak. I saw glimpses of people I’ve known. That personal connection took this book from good to great for me – it got me totally invested. The women in these pages are vibrant and magnetic – they immerse us in their stories and make us feel the pulse of their lives. They also remind us that we have to truly see each other – that making the effort to connect and understand each other is vital to changing the national and global narrative of “everyone for themselves.”

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

Reviewed by Rachel Derise, Friendly City Books in Columbus, Mississippi

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There’s No Such Thing as an Easy Job by Kikuko Tsumura

A young woman who has burned out after 14 years in her chosen career takes on a series of short contract jobs through an employment agency. The jobs are somewhat unusual, but plausible… But as each contract goes on and she becomes more invested in her ‘easy’ job, the stranger each job becomes. Light surreal/confabulist touches plus the occasional meditation on work and meaning tie her various job adventures into an enjoyable read.

There’s No Such Thing as an Easy Job by Kikuko Tsumura (List Price: $18, Bloomsbury Publishing, 9781635576917, 3/23/2021)

Reviewed by Ginger Kautz, Quail Ridge Books in Raleigh, North Carolina

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The Road Trip by Beth O’Leary

The Road Trip vividly tells the story of Addie and Dylan; they fell hard for each other and their relationship ended in horrible terms. Now somehow after not speaking to each other for awhile, they are stuck in a car together for a long trip to a mutual friend’s wedding. Told from both of their perspectives and present and past tense, Beth O’Leary can somehow take a simple idea and make it deep, funny, endearing and entertaining.

The Road Trip by Beth O’Leary (List Price: $17, Berkley, 9780593335024, 6/1/2021)

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

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Like a Dandelion by Huy Voun Lee, Huy Voun Lee (Illus.)

Like a Dandelion is a beautiful story of a young girl immigrating to a new country. Based on the author’s personal immigration story, the journey is told in likeness to the life of a dandelion, with the first seeds being planted in unfamiliar soil to the autumn winds that bring new seeds to the neighbor. The bright illustrations bring the story to life! A beautiful book to share with children who have immigrated to a new place and their new friends so they might better understand their new friend’s journey.

Like a Dandelion by Huy Voun Lee, Huy Voun Lee (Illus.) (List Price: $17.99, Balzer + Bray, 9780062993731, 5/18/2021)

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

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The Galaxy, and the Ground Within by Becky Chambers

Thank you for your patience. We are all in this together.” Becky Chambers’ The Galaxy, and the Ground Within is a delightful ending to her Wayfarer’s series. In it five characters find themselves stuck together at the Five-Hop-One-Stop (a cross between a truck stop and a Bed and Breakfast) when the planet’s satellite system comes crashing down. As they get to know one another the characters must contend with issues of identity, the legacy of colonialism, sexuality, and family, with a few deadly crises along the way. After a year in various levels of lockdown, this book at times felt far too familiar, but with the lightness and comfort only a Becky Chambers novel can bring. I’m sad to see this series end, but it’s nice to be reminded that bureaucracy will lean on unwanted camaraderie no matter where one finds oneself.

The Galaxy, and the Ground Within by Becky Chambers (List Price: $16.99, Harper Voyager, 9780062936042, 4/20/2021)

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

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The One Hundred Years of Lenni and Margot by Marianne Cronin

“When people say ‘terminal’, I think of the airport. . . . They’ve started to say ‘life-limiting instead now”. Thus, Marianne Cronin initiates her heart-wrenching, wise-cracking, delightful debut novel in which terminally ill, 17-year-old Lenni forges an unbreakable bond with 83-year-old, avant-garde rebel Margot. Even though each is quite ill, both display a joie de vivre, living life to its fullest, acting mischievously, searching for life’s meaning in the May Ward at Glasgow Princess Royal Hospital. With the help of several caring nurses and the hospital chaplain, the protagonists decide to paint their way through their combined ages: 100 years. This legacy will also include Margot’s most life-defining stories, beginning with WWII, written by Lenni who writes more deftly than she paints. Cronin’s book inspires the reader through Lenni’s and Margot’s courageous life-affirming behaviors and escapades. Yes, Lenni’s diagnosis is sad, but she propels the reader into a realistic world of joy and sorrow, constantly questioning everyone to discover as much as she can about life. Margot’s tales delineate her many difficulties but also her accomplishments throughout her lengthy existence and her myriad loves, particularly her love for her son and for her friend and lover Meena. The history of the decades proves fascinating as do the Scottish cultural and social mores of the period. This beautifully written novel is an excellent antidote for present-day travails. Lenni and Margot prevail amidst dire medical circumstances and radiate a beacon of light and hope for all readers. This unusual friendship demonstrates the power of healing across age, nationality, socioeconomics, and health. A rich, inspiring piece of writing!

The One Hundred Years of Lenni and Margot by Marianne Cronin (List Price: $17, Harper Perennial, 9780063017504, 6/1/2021)

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

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Bewilderness by Karen Tucker

Tucker spins a beautiful tale of addiction, love, friendship, and survival in this stunning debut set in rural North Carolina. Irene spends her days slinging drinks at the local watering hole. There, she befriends magnetic Luce and the two start down a dark path of drugs and crime, all the while wishing for escape. Things change when Luce meets a young soldier who wants to help her get clean. Irene is torn between the need to keep her friend close and the desire for Luce to have the best life possible. it’s a story of doing what you think is best and living with the consequences. This book broke my heart in the most beautiful way.

Bewilderness by Karen Tucker (List Price: $26, Catapult, 9781646220243, 6/1/2021)

Reviewed by Andrea Richardson, Fountain Bookstore in Richmond, Virginia

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Spin by Peter Zheutlin

Spin is a thrilling story that will keep the reader breathless until the end. This mostly true story begins with a bored housewife and mother in the 1890’s who takes a wager to circle the world on a bicycle. The reader gets to ride along with Annie as she meets the most famous people of the day and finds love and adventure in every long mile. This tale will stay with you long after Annie’s last ride.

Spin by Peter Zheutlin (List Price: $25.95, Pegasus Books, 9781643137520, 6/1/2021)

Reviewed by Nancy Pierce, Bookmiser, Inc. in Marietta, Georgia

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Ace of Spades by Faridah Abike-Iyimide

At the start of senior year, Devon and Chiamaka are two high-achieving students–prefects, in fact–with promising futures. But soon, mass text messages start going around the school telling their darkest secrets, and start to drive their friendships and all of the hard work they’ve done over the past four years apart. Are Chiamaka and Devon only coincidentally victims of Aces? Or does the anonymous bully targeting the only two Black students at Niveus Academy have a deeper, more disturbing motive? Àbíké-Íyímídé’s thriller brings the psychological subterfuge and toxic relationships of high school social life to light, as two seniors attempt to figure out whether or not their downfall is their own, or a result of a sinister conspiracy.

Ace of Spades by Faridah Abike-Iyimide (List Price: $18.99, Feiwel & Friends, 9781250800817, 6/1/2021)

Reviewed by Cat Chapman, Oxford Exchange in Tampa, Florida

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Small Knight and the Anxiety Monster by Manka Kasha

Small Knight’s parents want her to be a princess, but that is the opposite of what she wants, which is to be a knight who goes on adventures. Small Knight worries about telling her parents the truth, and finds that the worry she keeps inside has grown into a dark monster who follows her everywhere. During a quest to find the truth about the monster, Small Knight realizes she has to look inside herself to fight the monster, and although it may never fully go away, she is in control of her destiny and dreams. SMALL KNIGHT AND THE ANXIETY MONSTER is an honest and important book for children.

Small Knight and the Anxiety Monster by Manka Kasha (List Price: $18.99, Feiwel & Friends, 9781250618795, 6/1/2021)

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

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Love in Color by Bolu Babalola

Bolu Babalola’s prose had me enraptured from the very first page! The artful way that she rewove and spun myths from around the world was absolutely masterful, and I enjoyed reading fresh takes on stories that I knew, while also having the opportunity to encounter stories that I wasn’t familiar with at all. LOVE IN COLOR is for anyone who is constantly in awe of the power of love, and also for anyone who may need to be reminded of it.

Love in Color by Bolu Babalola (List Price: $25.99, William Morrow, 9780063078499, 4/13/2021)

Reviewed by Lucy Perkins-Wagel, Copperfish Books in Punta Gorda, Florida

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The Ride of Her Life by Elizabeth Letts

One Friday in early November 1954, sixth three year-Old Annie Wilkins left Minot, Maine in with her little dachshund mix Depeche Toi, her Morgan horse Tarzan, a few dollars, and not much more than the clothes on her back. But what Annie had that no one could see was pluck. Pluck and determination and a plan, to walk with Depeche Toi and Tarzan all the way to California to fulfill the dream her mother never got to see realized. This absolutely delightful story of Annie’s journey will no doubt make readers laugh, shake their heads in disbelief, cringe with worry, and stir up a bit of both horse love and wanderlust. This is THE Feel-good book of the summer, and i can’t wait to put it in the hands of my customers.

The Ride of Her Life by Elizabeth Letts (List Price: $28, Ballantine Books, 9780525619321, 6/1/2021)

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

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The Lost Village by Camilla Sten, Alexandra Fleming (Trans)

The Lost Village is a mystery, a survival story, and a dark homage to haunting – not just the haunting of abandoned mining village Silvertjärn, nestled deep in the forest of Sweden, but also how we find ourselves haunted by the past, our ancestors, and our own minds.

Alice, a filmmaker whose single goal is to solve the mystery of Silvertjärn, brings a documentary crew to the village to try and discover why all the residents disappeared in 1959. They quickly realize they aren’t alone and end up fighting for their lives against evil forces that still lie in wait.

The haunted house/haunted town idea isn’t new, but Camilla Sten makes it feel fresh. Strong characters with complex inner lives drive the story – the weight and context of their individual histories creates wonderfully compelling tension between them. As we learn why each crew member came to Silvertjärn, we also see the mystery unfold piece by piece as the story alternates between past and present until both converge in a horrifying face-off. I actually yelled out loud at the big reveal, which is all I want from a good horror story.

In fact, the buildup of tension was one of the best parts of the whole experience. Slowly but surely you’re pulled into the village, pulled into the mystery, pulled into the characters’ secrets and fears and nightmares until suddenly your heart races as you run with them from danger, run to escape the village, and instead find yourself face to face with the horror of Silvertjärn. I couldn’t put it down! It made me feel things. It creeped me out. I yelled in public (the highest praise I can give). Grab a copy and see if you can survive The Lost Village!

The Lost Village Camilla Sten, Alexandra Fleming (Trans.) (List Price: $26.99, Minotaur Books, 978125024925, 3/23/2021)

Reviewed by Rachel Derise, Friendly City Books in Columbus, Mississippi

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The Dark Half by Stephen King

Thad Beaumont is an author whose most popular work was written by someone else. Or was it? Nightmares of his life destroyed, mysterious headaches, a horrifying revelation from his childhood, and the appearance of someone who knows Thad better than he knows himself all lead to a choice between saving his family and the life Thad has built for himself, or giving in to his darkest impulses. An electrifying exploration of the love of (and sometimes obsession with) writing, The Dark Half held me captive. I ached and feared and rejoiced with Thad as he faced his worst fears supernaturally made manifest. I read nonstop, unwilling to break the story’s rising tension. This book absolutely wrung me out in the best way. At one point, I sat through three pages of Thad trying to accomplish a task in the midst of sheer panic and it felt so real I found myself shaking. That’s how immersive the story is, “[d]own here in Endsville, where all rail service terminates.”

The Dark Half by Stephen King (List Price: $18.00, Gallery Books, 9781501144196, 2/2016)

Reviewed by Rachel Derise, Friendly City Books in Columbus, Mississippi

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Vampires Never Get Old: Tales with Fresh Bite by Zoraida Cordova, Natalie C. Parker

These stories are well-written, fresh, and compelling – they explore what it means to consider and consent to becoming a vampire; how human bodies, with all their imperfections and different abilities, are and aren’t changed by vampire magic; and how individual identity might be enhanced or overridden by the new identity of Vampire. I think the introduction says it best:

“Of the vampires in our collective imagination, which is admittedly Western-focused, nearly all resided in stories about power. Despite rampant queer subtext and outstanding nonwhite examples like Jewelle Gomez’s The Gilda Stories, the vampires were predominantly men, white, cisgender, straight, and able-bodied, and we were ready for stories that reimagined that default.”

This collection doesn’t seek to negate the appeal and influence of classic vampire stories – I think, instead, it reworks some of those ideas with sharper, more politically and socially aware eyes. And the book as a whole feels like the beloved creation of people who just love vampires – love the idea of them, love the lore, love the good and bad of them, the romantic and the frightening. To me, the sheer joy of everyone involved just shines through each page.

Vampires Never Get Old : Tales with Fresh Bite by Zoraida Cordova, Natalie C. Parker (List Price: $17.99, Imprint/Macmillan, 9781949199734, 9/22/2020)

Reviewed by Rachel Derise, Friendly City Books in Columbus, Mississippi

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The Secret Lives of Church Ladies by Deesha Philyaw

This collection is sharp, strong, and emotional. I found myself incredibly moved by these stories about Black women who refuse to settle for lives dictated by insecurity, family tradition, or religious dogma. And despite being a white woman who will never truly understand the depicted experiences, I saw pieces of my own story reflected in the characters’ struggles to make their own space within and outside of an overbearing religious community, in the yearning for a love that defied familial expectations, and in teenage heartbreak. I saw glimpses of people I’ve known. That personal connection took this book from good to great for me – it got me totally invested. The women in these pages are vibrant and magnetic – they immerse us in their stories and make us feel the pulse of their lives. They also remind us that we have to truly see each other – that making the effort to connect and understand each other is vital to changing the national and global narrative of “everyone for themselves.”

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

Reviewed by Rachel Derise, Friendly City Books in Columbus, Mississippi

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Caul Baby by Morgan Jerkins

This was a beautiful book of magic, secrets, betrayal and race in America. I can’t put into words what I just read (in a good way) because the characters are so intertwined with one another and they don’t even know it, which was riveting to read. Sometimes I read so many books that I forget characters names and little innate details, but this is a gripping story that I will never forget. I was so happy about the climax and ending, this is going to be a lot of readers Best Reads of 2021!

Caul Baby by Morgan Jerkins (List Price: $27.99, Harper, 9780062873088, 4/6/2021)

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

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Edie Richter is Not Alone by Rebecca Handler

I’ve never finished a book and immediately started rereading it, but this is how I read Edie Richter is Not Alone. I’m dazzled by the way Rebecca Handler channels so much noticing and emotion into her carefully curated (sometimes sparse) prose. Handler has written Edie’s interior monologue so that seeing a spider in a church, hearing possums on a roof, or regarding a cockroach in the grass makes you inhabit Edie’s brain. This is a book about the loss of a parent to Alzheimer’s disease that is funny and sad and extremely entertaining.

Edie Richter is Not Alone by Rebecca Handler (List Price: $23, The Unnamed Press, 9781951213176, 3/9/2021)

Reviewed by Rachel Watkins, Avid Bookshop in Athens, Georgia

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Kafka and the Doll by Larissa Theule, Rebecca Green (Illus.)

Based on a true story, this book will melt your heart! Kafka meets a girl who lost her doll and proceeds to tell her that the doll is simply traveling. For three weeks, Kafka writes letters to the girl from her doll. Absolutely precious with a heartwrenching ending.

Kafka and the Doll by Larissa Theule, Rebecca Green (Illus.) (List Price: $17.99, Viking Books for Young Readers, 9780593116326, 3/9/2021)

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

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Finding Freedom by Erin French

Foodies rejoice!!! This sophisticated memoir will have your mouth watering to know more about this amazing author. I love the restaurant. The harder it is to get in the more determined people will be to get a reservation. Determination, grit, and talent take this book well into place as my favorite nonfiction book of the year.

Finding Freedom by Erin French (List Price: $28, Celadon Books, 9781250312341, 4/6/2021)

Reviewed by Jean Lewis, Copperfish Books in Punta Gorda, Florida

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Low Country by J. Nicole Jones

I am choosing the stories from the mouths of women, some painted and some bare, and as far as I am concerned, their words are all the truer for the color. I am also putting off what I cannot bear to lose for good, and like a hurricane, I will change tack without warning.

Reading Low Country was in so many ways like coming home. The narrative follows a largely chronological path as it tracks Jones’ family history. Interwoven in her history are ghost stories and family lore, which adds a richness that cannot be rushed. Jones’ words must be savored, and are best enjoyed over time when you can watch her build a gothic, humid, wild landscape that can only be found in the American South.

Low Country by J. Nicole Jones (List Price: $26, Catapult, 9781948226868, 4/13/2021)

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

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The Secret to Superhuman Strength by Alison Bechdel

Fans of Fun Home and Are You My Mother will not be disappointed by The Secret to Superhuman Strength! While Alison Bechdel’s previous two books mix her own memories with her parents’ stories, her newest book is all her own, told through her relationship to exercise and the outdoors. It would not be a Bechdel book without bringing in philosophers; in this case, Bechdel touches on Jack Kerouac, the transcendentalists, Buddhist thinkers, and more. I was particularly drawn to the vibrancy of the coloring in this book. I tried to only read one section of this book at a time to make it last longer, but I couldn’t resist consuming it in two sittings!

The Secret to Superhuman Strength by Alison Bechdel (List Price: $24, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 9780544387652, 5/4/2021)

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

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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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Crying in H Mart by Michelle Zauner

With Crying in H Mart, Michelle Zauner has established herself as not just a musical talent but as an astounding writer to be reckoned with. In her beautifully realized and heartbreakingly open memoir, she recounts her mother’s battle with cancer and her death while looking keenly at her Korean heritage, the way food plays a role in her identity, and the loss of cultural connection that can come with the death of an immigrant parent. All of this adds up to a wonderfully rich ode of a memoir, a tribute to Zauner’s mother, a celebration of Korean food, and one of the best books of 2021.

Crying in H Mart by Michelle Zauner (List Price: $26.95, Knopf, 9780525657743, 4/20/2021)

Reviewed by Caleb Masters, Bookmarks in Winston-Salem, North Carolina

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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