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Yellow Wife by Sadeqa Johnson

Many of our favorite historical fiction novels move us to tears, compel us to turn pages, and tie us in knots over the fate of characters. All of these emotions are in play as we read Yellow Wife, based on the notorious Richmond slave jail known as the Devil’s Half Acre and its cruel master. We follow Pheby’s life, from her earliest years as a plantation slave, her journey to the jail, and her years as mistress and slave to the master of the jail and mother to their children. We watch as her desperate choices and will to survive and protect those she loves draws her evermore into dangerous situations. Her dreams of freedom, passed down to her by her mother, drive her and at times sustain her while living in such close proximity to the jail where she was witness to the depths of human cruelty. A powerful story not soon forgotten.

Yellow Wife by Sadeqa Johnson (List Price: $26, Simon & Schuster, 9781982149109, 1/12/2021)

Reviewed by Mary Patterson, The Little Bookshop in Midlothian, Virginia

The Beak Book by Robin Page

I love a book that takes an impossibly large topic (in this case: birds) and simplifies it in a way that allows a young reader to meet several different examples through one method of comparison (in this case: beaks). Each bird’s beak is introduced by explaining what the bird uses it for. It’s a great way to find out how birds are different from each other while still being super accessible. The illustrations are gorgeous and the two-page spread in the back that shows where each bird lives is a nice touch!

The Beak Book by Robin Page, Robin Page (Illus) (List Price: $17.99, Beach Lane Books, 9781534460416, January, 2021)

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

Better Luck Next Time by Julia Claiborne Johnson

First of all, the premise–Depression-era divorce ranches for wealthy women to wait out their divorces in Reno–is just wild. Second, Julia Claiborne Johnson’s voice is just so dang funny, and her characters are spot on. I love it!

Better Luck Next Time by Julia Claiborne Johnson (List Price: $28.99, Custom House, 9780062916365, 1/5/2021)

Reviewed by Itinerant Literate, Itinerant Literate Books, LLC in North Charleston, South Carolina

Charming as a Verb by Ben Philippe

Henri relies on his charm in all aspects of his life, but that charm doesn’t extend to his classmate Corinne Troy. When she uncovers Henri’s less-than-honorable dog-walking business, she blackmails him into extending some of that charm into helping her social life. Philippe has once again written a cast of characters that readers will love and puts them in realistic dilemmas that will make readers laugh and cringe in solidarity.

Charming as a Verb by Ben Philippe (List Price: $18.99, Balzer + Bray, 9780062824141, 9/8/2020)

Reviewed by Chelsea Stringfield, Parnassus Books in Nashville, Tennessee

Second First Impressions by Sally Thorne

Fans of The Hating Game, rejoice! Thorne’s third novel lives up to the promise of her first with dizzying dialogue, undeniable chemistry, and some legitimate tear-jerking moments. Second First Impressions has characters you will love, from sheltered protagonist Ruthie to cackling biddies Renata and Aggie. Goofy hero Teddy is different from your average dreamboat, and his burgeoning relationship with Ruthie has all the bliss and heartache of true love. This is a cozy, cuddle-up-on-the-couch comfort read that’s sure to become as popular as its predecessors.

Second First Impressions by Sally Thorne (List Price: $15.99, William Morrow Paperbacks, 9780062912855, 4/13/2021)

Reviewed by Sami Thomason, Square Books in Oxford, Mississippi

The Bible With and Without Jesus by Amy-Jill Levine, Marc Zvi Brettler

Scholarly and insightful, these esteemed professors break down how Jews and Christians can look at the same texts and come to wildly different conclusions. It’s often a matter of linguistic translation, theological emphasis, traditional interpretation. By showing how “polemic can be turned to possibility,” they’ve penned a bold thesis for understanding and empathy between Jews and Christians, as well as those of any faith and culture.

The Bible With and Without Jesus by Amy-Jill Levine, Marc Zvi Brettler (List Price: $34.99, HarperOne, 9780062560155, 10/27/2020)

Reviewed by Ben Groner, Parnassus Books in Nashville, Tennessee

Death and the Maiden by Samantha Norman, Ariana Franklin

This series is one of my absolute favorites and I am so happy that Franklin’s daughter has written this final installment. As Adelia ages, her daughter Allie is beginning to come into her birthright and take over the healing and mystery solving that made her mother famous. In 1100s England, being a medical examiner is difficult enough without adding in the complication of being a woman. But when several young women go missing and turn up dead, Allie has no choice but to risk her own safety to solve the horrible crimes. I am sad that this story has to finally end, but am very happy with the way it is concluded.

Death and the Maiden by Samantha Norman, Ariana Franklin (List Price: $27.99, William Morrow, 9780062562388, 10/20/2020)

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

Into the Real by Z Brewer

Into the Real deserves its own genre of gender queer science fiction. Main character Quinn’s life gets split into thirds after a run-in with the always present Coe in their post apocalyptic town. From leader of the resistance to a patient at a conversion therapy camp, Quinn finds themself in different situations but still with the same town, people, and questions. With each different life, they must decide what’s more important–living true to themself or blending in. With a revealing truth at the end, Quinn realizes what really happened to her hometown.

Into the Real by Z Brewer (List Price: $17.99, Quill Tree Books, 9780062691385, October, 2020)

Reviewed by Nannette Matthews, Story on the Square in McDonough, Georgia

Act Your Age, Eve Brown by Talia Hibbert

Talia Hibbert’s Brown sisters books just keep getting better and better! Although I related the most to Dani Brown, I think I loved Eve Brown the most, even though she literally hits someone with her car in the opening of this book. As far as meet-cutes go, it’s not the most opportune! The picturesque bed and breakfast in the Lake District was the perfect setting for this sweet romance.

Act Your Age, Eve Brown by Talia Hibbert (List Price: $15.99, Avon, 9780062941275, 3/9/2021)

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

Rosie’s Travelling Tea Shop by Rebecca Raisin

Rosie has an impressive job as a sous chef at a Michelin starred restaurant and a husband she loves. But it all comes crashing down when her husband dumps her for someone else…on her birthday, no less! Rosie looks at her life and realizes that her job doesn’t actually make her happy. So the morning after a bit too much to drink, Rosie wakes up to discover that she’s bought a travel camper. She then decides to give the nomad life a try as she travels around in her new, mobile tea shop.

Rosie’s Travelling Tea Shop by Rebecca Raisin (List Price: $16.99, HQ, 9780008414207, 2/16/2021)

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

A Cat Story by Ursula Murray Husted

This graphic novel follows two strays as they journey to find a utopian garden for cats. A quiet garden where all cats are welcome, there’s enough food for all, and the humans are kind. I also want to find that garden, honestly. The moral of the middle grade is that home and happiness are wherever you make it. It’s both sweet and optimistic. Kids will love the devotion between the two “catagonists,” and I enjoyed the art.

A Cat Story by Ursula Murray Husted (List Price: $12.99, Quill Tree Books, 9780062932044, 10/6/2020)

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

Game Changer by Neal Shusterman

Ash is a typical white All-American football-playing teen. Then he gets tackled into another dimension, and has to confront issues he’s never directly faced before. From homophobia to racism, sexism to privilege, Ash gets a crash course on every hard-hitting issue we face today. This is an important and timeless tale about perceiving a world beyond your own.

Game Changer by Neal Shusterman (List Price: $17.95, Quill Tree Books, 9780061998676, 2/9/2021)

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

Thesaurus Has a Secret by Anya Glazer, Anya Glazer (Illus.)

Young readers will savor, relish, treasure and adore this charming book about a dinosaur who, well, loves books. All Thesaurus needs to make him happy is a good book, a comfy spot and some peace and quiet. He makes books look so interesting, the other dinosaurs just might join him! This one’s sure to become a bedtime favorite.

Thesaurus Has a Secret by Anya Glazer, Anya Glazer (Illus.) (List Price: $17.99, Katherine Tegen Books, 9780062916051, 10/6/2020)

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

Plain Bad Heroines by Emily M. Danforth, Sara Lautman (Illus.)

A fun, spooky gothic horror that spans years and so, so many lesbians. You’ll always flinch at yellow jackets after this read.

Plain Bad Heroines by Emily M. Danforth, Sara Lautman (Illus.) (List Price: $27.99, William Morrow, 9780062942852, 10/20/2020)

Reviewed by Jenny Luper, Page 158 Books in Wake Forest, NC

We Keep the Dead Close by Becky Cooper

Wow. It is easy to understand how Becky Cooper became enthralled with Jane Britton’s story, as this book continues to linger in my mind long after I have finished it. If you are a student, a teacher, a staff member, a mentor, or a parent: this is an absolute must-read. Please read this book in honor of all of the aspiring young women you impact. In her immersive, personal investigation, Cooper gave a voice to the fears I experienced as an undergraduate student and continue to feel and see around me as I enter graduate school. The story of Jane and her murder is fascinating alone, but the ability to relate to Jane, Cooper, and every other woman affected by this story kept me reading late into the night. Women can no longer be silenced in academia when brilliant voices like Becky Cooper’s are rising from the ashes of their broken systems. This is beyond a great true crime. This is the perfect non-fiction book.

We Keep the Dead Close by Becky Cooper (List Price: $29.00, Grand Central Publishing, 9781538746837, November, 2020)

Reviewed by Karyn Cumming, Fountain Bookstore in Richmond, Virginia

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