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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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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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A Little Devil in America: Notes in Praise of Black Performance by Hanif Abdurraqib

A Spring 2021 Read This Next! Title

A Little Devil in America: Notes in Praise of Black Performance by Hanif Abdurraqib
Random House, April

Anything new by Hanif Abdurraqib is something to celebrate. He’s quickly become one of my favorite writers. This book, which highlights some of the many, many black performers in American history, is my favorite so far. It made me laugh, it made me angry, it made me think, and it made me look up old clips from Soul Train on YouTube. I am grateful that his book made me do all of those things. Hanif Abdurraqib is a writer I feel evangelical about. I cannot wait to press a copy of this into people’s hands.

– Chelsea Bauer, Union Ave Books in Knoxville, TN

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The Prettiest Star by Carter Sickels

2021 Southern Book Prize Winner!

Carter Sickels has written a gorgeous and heartbreaking book. Brian comes home to rural Ohio after contracting AIDS in New York. As he searches for something like peace we also watch his family and their complicated love for not only him but each other. I absolutely loved this, it was tender and humane, and a glimpse of a shamefully almost-forgotten time in American history. I haven’t stopped thinking about Brian since I finished the novel, and I can tell I won’t stop thinking of him for a long time.

The Prettiest Star by Carter Sickels (List Price: $26.00, Hub City Press, 9781938235627, May 2020)

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

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A Thousand Ships by Natalie Haynes

A Thousand Ships gives voices to the wide swath of women effected by the events of the Trojan War. The list includes women who have been excluded from other feminist revisions of The Illiad: Helen herself, the patient and loyal Penelope, even Calliope, the muse that Homer demanded a song from. Goddesses, wives, victims, survivors, murderers–most of the women in this story are some combination of these roles and all of their stories are worth telling.

A Thousand Ships by Natalie Haynes (List Price: $27.99, Harper, 9780063065390, 1/26/2021)

Reviewed by Chelsea Bauer, union ave books in Knoxville, Tennessee

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Outlawed by Anna North

A Winter 2021 Read This Next! Title

I inhaled this propulsive and inventive story of a reimagined American West in the late 1800s. Ada, a midwife who finds herself unable to get pregnant is facing expulsion (or worse) in her village. She falls in with a charismatic outlaw named Kid and is whisked into a gang filled with autonomous women. Escapades ensue. Great writing, strong characters and a plot that moves along in a book that comes in just under 300 pages. Very impressive! I definitely recommend this genderbent Hole in the Wall Gang reimagining!

Outlawed by Anna North (List Price: $26, Bloomsbury Publishing, 9781635575422, 1/5/2021)

Reviewed by Chelsea Bauer, union ave books in knoxville, Tennessee

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