The Southern Bookseller Review Newsletter
It is never to late to seek the truth.
“This is not just a piece of investigative journalism, it is some A+ storytelling” –Wiley Cash
Jerry Mitchell has been a reporter in Mississippi since 1986. The founder of the Mississippi Center for Investigative Reporting, much of his career has been devoted to pursuing unsolved crimes from the Civil Rights era, and it was his work that ultimately led to the prosecution of man who murdered Medgar Evers thirty years after the crime had been committed.
The Evers assassination was a high-profile case, but Mitchell has also investigated cold cases of less well known crimes, such as that of Vernon Dahmer, who managed to save his family when the Klan set fire to his house in 1966, but who died himself from injuries he sustained that night. “What made these crimes so terrible,” Mitchell says in an interview with Greg Iles, “was not just that these Klansmen got away with murder — it was the fact that everybody knew these Klansmen got away with murder. These were injustices at their height. That’s what drove me as a young reporter, and that’s what continues to drive me today.”
Last month Mitchell spoke to Wiley Cash about Race Against Time, his account of some of the cold case investigations he undertook into unsolved crimes from the Civil Rights era as part of the Reader Meet Writer Author Series:
More bookseller reviews at SBR:
In this issue:
Bookseller Buzz: Milk Blood Heat by Dantiel W. Moniz
Reviews of The Baddest Girl on the Planet by Heather Frese, The Office of Historical Corrections by Danielle Evans, Kalamata’s Kitchen by Sarah Thomas, Derek Wallace, Jo Kosmides Edwards (Illus), Infinite Country by Patricia Engel, What’s the Difference? by Brette Warshaw, and The Lost Apothecary by Sarah Penner.
The White Mouse
“I swore I would never write about World War II”
Ariel Lawhon is a bestselling author who is known for her historical novels featuring women whom history has obscured or overlooked: the women of the household of a missing New York City judge, the stewardess and flight crew of the doomed Hindenburg, the story of the disturbed young woman who claimed to be Russian royalty. But World War II was an era she always avoided: “I thought all the amazing stories had already been told,” Lawhon says to Wiley Cash in her appearance on the Reader Meet Writer Author Series.
Of course, anyone who reads history knows there are always more stories to be told. One day Lawhon was sitting in a hotel on book tour, when she received an email from the mother of a dear friend that basically demanded she write a book about Nancy Wake, an Australian war hero. “If you don’t,” the email said, “we can no longer be friends.”
That email started Lawhon on the trail of Nancy Wake, aka “The White Mouse” — journalist, nurse, spy, resistance fighter, and the most decorated woman in WWII and the only one to actually lead troops in combat. “She killed a soldier with her bare hands,” Lawhon says, “how do you go from being a nurse to someone who can do that?”
What booksellers have to say about Code Name Hélène:
“This is a powerful and well-written story about a brave and gutsy woman who was totally amazing. I loved this fabulous historical fiction novel about spy Nancy Wake.” — Mary Patterson from The Little Bookshop in Midlothian, VA
“They say truth is stranger than fiction. In this novel about Nancy Wake, a socialite who became a leader of the French Resistance, it’s also more thrilling. A propulsive, action-packed rendering that captures the courage, intelligence, and heart of a hero who should be a household name. I can’t stop thinking about this book.” –Erin Cox from Parnassus Books in Nashville, TN
More bookseller reviews at SBR:
In this issue:
Bookseller Buzz: Klara and the Sun by Kazuo Ishiguro
Reviews of The Souvenir Museum by Elizabeth McCracken, Parachutes by Kelly Yand, The Well-Gardened Mind by Sue Stuart-Smith, Temple Alley Summer by Sachiko Kashiwaba, Avery Fischer Udagawa (Trans.), Miho Satake (Illus.), The Gun by Fuminori Nakamura, Allison Markin Powell (trans.), and Red Island House by Andrea Lee.
The Southern Book Prize
In what has become an annual Valentine’s gift to readers, announced the winners of the 2021 Southern Book Prize on Sunday, February 14th. The Prize, representing southern bookseller favorites from 2020, is awarded to “the best Southern book of the year” as nominated by Southern indie booksellers and voted on by their customers. Winners were chosen by popular vote from a ballot of favorite bookseller “hand sells” in fiction, nonfiction, and children’s literature, making each Southern Book Prize winner a true Southern reader favorite.
2021 SBP Children’s Winner:
I Am Every Good Thing, by Derrick Barnes and Gordon C. James (Illus.)
Nancy Paulsen Books, September 2020
“This book is exactly what we need in the world right now. Uplifting black boys that they are beautiful and can be anything they want to be! A wonderful book!” –Deanna Bailey, Story on the Square, McDonough, GA
2021 SBP Fiction Winner: The Prettiest Star by Carter Sickels
Hub City Press, May 2020
“Intimate and, at times, heartbreaking, Sickels has written a powerful novel that turns the wonderful trick of creating unique characters and telling under represented stories to delve into the universal themes of family, of coming home, of what it means to simply be.” –Land Arnold, Letters Bookshop, Durham, NC
2021 SBP Nonfiction Winner: Memorial Drive by Natasha Trethewey
Ecco, July 2020
“This is an incredibly personal and obviously painful story but it is also one that is well crafted, beautifully written, and unforgettable. Trethewey demonstrates once again that she is a fierce and fearless writer who is one of the best we have working today.” –Cody Morrison, Square Books, Oxford, MS
The Southern Book Prize, formerly known as the SIBA Book Award, has been awarded annually since 1999. SIBA launched the public ballot in 2019 to encourage stores to engage their customers in the important question of what books deserve to be called “the best Southern book of the year.” For more information, visit the Southern Book Prize home at The Southern Bookseller Review
In this issue:
Bookseller Buzz: The Survivors by Jane Harper
Reviews of American Delirium by Betina González, Heather Cleary (Trans.), Trouble Is What I Do by Walter Mosley, Good Apple by Elizabeth Passarella, The Bright & the Pale by Jessica Rubinkowski, Brave as a Mouse by Nicolo Carlozzi, and Remote Control by Nnedi Okorafor.
Recommended reading from Tom H.
Local bookstores rarely make national news, and certainly don’t end up with one of those often hilarious mini-cinematic productions called “commercials” that many people prefer to watch instead of the game during the Super Bowl. But talk show host Stephen Colbert decided to rectify that omission this week and created a post-game commercial for Foggy Pine Books in Boone, North Carolina.
Yes, that is the voice of Sam Elliott that you hear advising you to “visit The Pine.” But of course, what any book lover really wants to know is what to read next. Here are the books that customer “Tom H.” was waving around in front of the camera:
The Good Shepherd by C.S. Forester
War: How Conflict Shaped Us by Margaret MacMillan
1939: The Lost World of the Fair by David Gelernter
Swan Song 1945: A Collective Diary of the Last Days of the Third Reich by Walter Kempowski
Foggy Pine Books posted to their Facebook page last week that they need to sell 1350 books a month to keep the doors open. They fell short in January. Thanks to Colbert, Sam Elliot, and Tom H. they are ahead of the game this month. Visit foggypinebooks.com to order some the books Tom likes to read.
Or, because your own local bookshop also has a magic number of books they have to sell to stay in business, visit them instead.
In this issue:
Bookseller Buzz: The Secret Lives of Church Ladies by Deesha Philyaw
Reviews of My Year Abroad by Chang-Rae Lee, Four Lost Cities by Annalee Newitz, Just Our Luck by Julia Walton, What Could Be Saved by Liese O’Halloran Schwarz, Winterkeep by Kristin Cashore, and The Project by Courtney Summers.
What to read if you are a Bridgerton fanatic.
One of the greatest pleasures of being a book lover is talking to friends about what they are reading, and — let’s be honest — trying your best to convince them to pick up what you’ve been reading. But this is a pleasure that is hard to come by in our new socially-distant reality. Yes, emails and impromptu video chats and exchanges on Facebook and Instagram can fill some of those gaps, but lets be honest, sometimes you really want a real conversation.
Thank heavens for book podcasts. Conversational, quirky, spontaneous and often whimsical, book podcasts provide a little more depth, a little more of the excitement we love to hear in the voices of friends who are pushing their latest favorite book in your hands.
Annie Butterworth Jones, the owner of The Bookshelf in Thomasville, Georgia, is a dedicated book podcaster. Thomasville is not a large community, and it is not the kind of place likely to get writers coming through on book tours. So Jones decided to do a podcast to reach her customers, which she calls “From the Front Porch.” Listen to her latest episode, which offers a reading list for fans of the Netflix series, Bridgerton:
There is a nice long book list (always a danger to the pocketbook of the book podcast lover!). Here are few of the books mentioned:
To Have and To Hoax by Martha Waters
A Well-Behaved Woman by Therese Anne Fowler
A League of Extraordinary Women series by Evie Dunmore:
Bringing Down the Duke | A Rogue of One’s Own | Portrait of a Scotsman
In this issue:
Bookseller Buzz: Milk Fed by Melissa Broder
Reviews of The Girl from the Channel Islands by Jenny Lecoat, Bear Island by Matthew Cordell, The War Widow by Tara Moss, Aftershocks by Nadia Owusu, Sleep Well, My Lady by Kwei Quartey, and TThe Center of Everything by Jamie Harrison.
5 more days.
The Southern Book Prize ballot will close on February 1st. Your vote enters you into a raffle to receive a full set of the SBP Finalists–fifteen books in all! Cast your ballot at www.southernbookprize.com.
Can you guess which SBP Finalist books these bookseller reviews are about?
Civil and political history, culture, and legend combine to create a fantastical and horrifying story set in 1922 Southern United States, where a monstrous movement is spreading. This book was so compellingly vivid, thrilling, and powerful, and I’m so excited to pass along to readers. –Cat Chapman, Oxford Exchange, Tampa, FL
If Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil and Confederates in the Attic had a literary love child that somehow managed to be more strange than both of them put together, it would be this book. –Kelly Justice, Fountain Books, Richmond, VA
This might be my new favorite picture book! A wonderfully weird and completely hilarious story about the power of art and squids. –Zach Claypole White, Flyleaf Books, Chapel Hill, NC
This book was terrifying and vividly capturing. I had to put it down between chapters just to remind myself where I was. It’s also hysterical; I laughed so hard I scared my neighbor’s dog more than once. –Lizy Coale, Copperfish Books, Punta Gorda, FL
A story of racial and cultural divide that is brilliantly narrated in a collective voice with the feel of a Greek chorus. This important and competently crafted tale will provide fodder for book clubs and community discussions for years to come. –Damita Nocton, The Country Bookshop, Southern Pines, SC
This is totally the queer Grease retelling you didn’t know you needed in your life. This book gave me all the feels…I laughed, I cried, I was angry… I very much recommend. –Jennifer Jones, Bookmiser, Roswell, GA
In this issue:
Bookseller Buzz: A Place to Hang the Moon by Kate Albus
Reviews of Tales from the Hinterland by Melissa Albert, Marsha Is Magnetic by Beth Ferry, Lorena Alvarez (Illus.), Roman and Jewel by Dana L. Davis, Hades, Argentina by Daniel Loedel, A Swim in a Pond in the Rain by George Saunders, and The Prophets by Robert Jones, Jr.
In praise of all the evil villain’s henchmen.
Last week’s appearance on Reader Meet Writer with David Zucchino is now available to view. In Wilmington’s Lie he provides some deep but important context for recent events.
Also available is Allan Gurganus’s talk with Wiley Cash about his latest book, The Uncollected Stories. Gurganus is thoughtful and empathetic about the writing life and the forces that drive him to tell the kinds of stories he tells. Every person’s inner storyteller — and we all have one — will find inspiration in what he has to say.
There are also only 12 more days to place your vote for the books you think deserve to be called “The Best Southern Book of the Year.” Voting allows you to enter into a raffle to win a complete set of the finalist books — all fifteen of them. That is enough books to keep any reader happy for at least a couple weeks! Cast your ballot at www.southernbookprize.com.
In this issue:
Bookseller Buzz: Hench by Natalie Zina Walschot
Reviews of Burnt Sugar by Anvi Doshi, The Sea in Winter by Christine Day, The Forever Girl by Jill Shalvis, Last Night at the Telegraph Club by Malinda Lo, To Be Honest by Michael Leviton, and The Merciful by Jon Sealy
Looking to the past to understand the present.
Anyone who turned on a television over the last week would have been hard pressed to avoid seeing the news coverage of the riot in the Capitol.
The first question anyone asks after such an event is “how could this happen?” Journalists scrambled to understand and provide some context for the mobs of angry people breaking into the Capitol Building, and one of the historical precedents they found was The Wilmington Race Riot of 1898. Pictures of that event may be familiar they appeared on news stations and news website articles.
The Wilmington Race Riot, also known as the Wilmington Massacre and cited as the only successful coup d’etat in the history of the United States, was an armed insurrection by white supremacists that violently overthrew a duly elected government and drove almost a third of the black population of the city out of town. Buildings were burned, and hundreds of people were killed.
As it happens, this week’s Reader Meet Writer event features the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist David Zucchino, whose book about the 1898 insurrection, Wilmington’s Lie, has just been released in paperback.
Here is what Rosemary at Malaprop’s Bookstore/Cafe in Asheville, NC has to say about Wilmington’s Lie:
Further reading about the 1898 Wilmington Race Riot:
In this issue:
Bookseller Buzz: Where the Wild Ladies Are by Aoko Matsuda
Reviews of The Yellow Wife by Sadeqa Johnson, The Beak Book by Robin Page, Better Luck Next Time by Julia Claiborne Johnson, The Friendly Vegan Cookbook by Michelle Cehn & Toni Okamoto, Into the Real by Z Brewer, and The House on Vesper Sands by Paraic O’Donnell
What to read next.
A feminist Western? A thriller about motherhood? A novel that combines the best of poisons and mudlarking? Every season, southern booksellers choose a generous dozen or so of new and forthcoming books they are especially looking forward to convincing all their customers to read. The Winter 2021 Read This Next! list has just been announced, a selection of winter new releases generating extra excitement from Southern independent booksellers. Each of its fifteen titles will publish between January and March of 2021, and has received multiple high ratings and enthusiastic reviews from southern booksellers, marking them as hand-sell favorites for the forthcoming season. They reflect the wide range of reading tastes of booksellers from across the entire Southeast. Put one of these at the top of your TBR stack, because you will want to read these next!
In this issue: Bookseller Buzz: Spotlight on We Keep the Dead Close by Becky Cooper
Reviews of The Children’s Train by Viola Ardone, The Love Curse of Melody McIntyre by Robin Talley, The Narrowboat Summer by Anne Youngson, Black, White, and The Grey by Mashama Bailey & John O. Morisano, Consent by Annabel Lyon, and Outlawed by Anna North
Re-envisioning Jane Eyre, and the writer’s dread of the second book.
Some stories take hold of us and refuse to let us go. Not satisfied with having read them, we rewrite them in a hundred variations and permutations, each in its own way a tribute to the original that has lodged itself within our hearts. Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre is such a book. Romance, mystery, Gothic ghost story, feminist morality tale, Jane Eyre is a story we never tire of re-telling.
The latest incarnation of Jane comes to us in Rachel Hawkins’ new novel, The Wife Upstairs. “A modern Jane Eyre set in Alabama? Sign me up!” says Amanda Gawthorpe of Page 158 Books in Wake Forest, North Carolina. “This was a fun read. A gripping, smart, and engaging retelling with enough nods to the original to make you feel smart.”
Jane Eyre fans have a chance to meet Rachel Hawkins online in the next edition of the Reader Meet Writer Author Series.
Also in this edition of SBR, read how Amiee Molloy overcame the dreaded “second book syndrome” that haunts every debut author.
In this issue: Bookseller Buzz:
Spotlight on Goodnight Beautiful by Amiee Molloy
If you could change the past, would you?
Welcome to our second issue of The Southern Bookseller Review. It is, oddly enough, the first issue to actually land in anybody’s inbox. (You can read the first issue here).
The inspiration for SBR came from reading the many reviews, shelf talkers, and “staff picks” that booksellers post about their favorite books in their stores and newsletters, and on their websites. Many of these are also sent to the Southern Independent Booksellers Alliance — the organization that publishes The Southern Bookseller Review. There are over 500 independent bookstores in the Southeast that are members of SIBA. In 2020 they wrote nearly 6000 reviews and recommendations of books they shared with their customers and colleagues.
SBR highlights reviews from bookstores all across the south– Kentucky to Florida, Louisiana to Virginia and all points between. It also demonstrates the wide range of books they read and love. Yes, Southerners love Southern literature. But they are readers, so they love all kinds of literature. The book in this week’s Bookseller Buzz is a collection of intertwined stories about time travel translated this year from the Japanese, that booksellers called “gorgeous” and “beautiful.”
In this issue: Bookseller Buzz:
Spotlight on Before the Coffee Gets Cold by Toshikazu Kawaguchi
Designed to showcase the beautiful breadth and range of literary and book culture in the South, the heart of SBR is in its book reviews from Southern independent booksellers. Independent booksellers put their reputations on the line when they recommend a book — their customers are not screen names or avatars, but neighbors and friends. Of the hundreds of books on their store shelves, these books are the ones booksellers have chosen to write about, to talk about and to put into the hands of those same neighbors and friends.
Featured Reviews: The Thirty Names of Night by Zeyn Joukhadar, The Good Girls by Claire Eliza Bartlett, Happily Ever Afters by Elise Bryant
Bookseller Buzz: Spotlight on Bryan Washington’s Memorial