The Southern Bookseller Review 11/7/23

The Southern Bookseller Review Newsletter for the week of November 7, 2023

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The Southern Bookseller Review: A Book for Every Reader

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The week of November 7, 2023

Votes are pouring in for the Southern Book Prize!

2024 Southern Book Prize A ballot readers are happy to cast!

On this Election Day we’re happy to say that the response to last week’s announcement of the Southern Book Prize finalists, and the opening of the ballot for voting, has been wildly enthusiastic.

The 2024 Southern Book Prize Ballot
See the 2024 Southern Book Prize Finalists

Within the first week of voting, the tally is already approaching 1000 ballots, representing reader/customers of over 125 Southern indie bookstores. It is far too early to make any predictions, but one thing is clear — readers love their local authors. Cities and towns with ties to one of the finalists all show surges in votes for their hometown writer.

Readers also love their local bookshops! The last question on the ballot is "Say something nice about your local bookstore." The things people have written have been utterly charming:

"My local bookstore has the friendliest staff and the sweetest bookstore cats!" (E. Shaver, Bookseller in Savannah, GA)

"Warm, lovely people who know the area and the authors." (Flyleaf Books in Chapel Hill, NC)

"They have hilarious magnets and puppets!" (Poor Richard’s Books in Frankfurt, KY)


From now until voting ends on February 1, 2024, SBR will run bookseller reviews of each of the eighteen finalist books. Look for the Southern Book Prize logo with each review, such as the one for Chaos Theory by Nic Stone below. And don’t forget to Voice Your Choice.

Read This Now | Read This Next | Book Buzz | The Bookseller Directory

Read This Now!

Recommended by Southern indies…

The Berry Pickers by Amanda Peters


The Berry Pickers by Amanda Peters
Catapult / October 2023

More Reviews from Avid Bookshop

The Berry Pickers is the debut novel from indigenous author Amanda Peters. When four-year-old Ruthie goes missing, the youngest of five in a Mi’kmaq family from Nova Scotia, her older brother Joe is despondent and the loss of Ruthie haunts the family for fifty years. Meanwhile, a white family in Maine is raising a child named Norma with overbearing and almost suffocating familial love. Norma’s faint memories and dreams of her missing life are confusing until they almost vanish. The Berry Pickers considers lost lives, second chances, and the power of forgiveness.

Reviewed by Rachel Watkins, Avid Bookshop in Athens, Georgia

Bookseller Buzz


Spotlight on: Last Girl Breathing by Court Stevens

Court Stevens, photo credit the author

I read and write young adult fiction for the same reason people go to high school reunions — there’s something about figuring out how to be a person that begs us to return. Fiction is a natural place to explore those beautiful themes.

The first time we loved, lost, were heartbroken, broke hearts, made mistakes, had success, won trophies, came in last, found freedom, felt contained by adults, broke rules, were punished, got away with something, cared about people, cared about the world, etc. The first time. That’s the key. You don’t have to read young adult to know that formative experiences are vital understanding humanity on the whole and self-identity. We don’t ask people about the third or fourth time they fell in love. We ask them about the first time so we’ll understand their starting point. If every person is a road map with a marked journey; we want to put a pin in the place they began. Young adult fiction is that pin.
― Court Stevens, Interview, Musings, Parnassus Books

What booksellers are saying about Last Girl Breathing

Last Girl Breathing by Court Stevens
  • am so excited that Court Stevens is back with another small town thriller! Her exploration of family, grief, and truth, all with underlying simmering suspense, is the hallmark of a Stevens novel, and Last Girl Breathing has it in spades. If you loved The June Boys and We Were Kings, don’t miss Court’s newest!
      ― Sarah Arnold, Parnassus Books in Nashville, TN | Buy from Parnassus

  • Once again, Court Stevens has delivered an enthralling thriller. On its surface Last Girl Breathing is a murder mystery, but – as is often the case with Stevens’ novels – the story goes much deeper. This is a book about trauma and grief and family – about the wounds that shape us and the people who help us bear them. All of these themes are masterfully rooted in a sense of place. Stevens deftly paints her Kentucky setting, giving the town and its people a southern vibrancy and authenticity that never once slips into the realm of stereotype.
      ― Kate Snyder from Plaid Elephant in Danville, KY | Buy from Plaid Elephant Books

About Court Stevens

Court Stevens grew up among rivers, cornfields, churches, and gossip in the small-town South. She is a former adjunct professor, youth minister, and Olympic torchbearer. These days she writes coming-of-truth fiction and is the director of Warren County Public Library in Kentucky. She has a pet whale named Herman, a bandsaw named Rex, and several novels with her name on the spine: The June Boys, Faking Normal, The Lies About Truth, the e-novella The Blue-Haired Boy, Dress Codes for Small Towns, and Four Three Two One. Find Court online at; Instagram: @quartland; Facebook: @CourtneyCStevens; Twitter: @quartland.

System Collapse by Martha Wells


System Collapse by Martha Wells
Tordotcom / November 2023

More Reviews from The Haunted Book Shop

Read This Next!

If you already love Murderbot, you’ll continue to love it. This newest installation still has the wonderful mix of snark, action, and Murderbot struggling with being a construct of free will. This book in particular, Murderbot is processing the trauma and learning to deal with its own extreme emotional responses. My only criticism of the book is that I wish I would have reread Network Effect before I read this one, because this book takes places immediately after and heavily leans on events that happened in that book. Overall, though, I loved it!

Reviewed by Kelly McLeod, The Haunted Book Shop in Mobile, Alabama

The Farmer’s Wife by Helen Rebanks


The Farmer’s Wife by Helen Rebanks
 Harper Horizon / September 2023

More Reviews from Main Street Books

Jointly, The Farmer’s Wife and The Shepherd’s Life (written by Helen’s husband James), provide a unique look at both the travails of small farm life and married life. On its own, The Farmer’s Wife reminded me of Laurie Colwin with deep insights into daily life and the joys of cooking good food. Thoughtful, challenging with delicious recipes and beautifully illustrated, this will be a go-to gift book for me.

Reviewed by Jan Blodgett, Main Street Books in Davidson, North Carolina

Chaos Theory by Nic Stone


Chaos Theory by Nic Stone
Crown Books for Young Readers / February 2023

More Reviews from Fiction Addiction

Southern Book Prize Finalist

2024 Southern Book Prize Finalist
See all | Vote Now!

Shelbi has resisted making friends at her new school since she’s had bad experiences in the past. But when she witnesses Andy at a low point, she can’t help but reach out to let him know she knows what it’s like. And like that, despite Shelbi’s best efforts, a friendship is born. But both Shelbi and Andy have demons, Shelbi’s in the form of bipolar disorder that has impacted relationships in her past, and Andy’s in the form of alcoholism that started after his sister died. This is a moving story of two teens, both together and individually, as Shelbi learns the maybe she can rely on other people, and Andy learns to prioritize himself and his mental health.

Reviewed by Melissa Oates, Fiction Addiction in Greenville, South Carolina

The Apartment House on Poppy Hill by Nina LaCour


The Apartment House on Poppy Hill by Nina LaCour
Chronicle Books / November 2023

More Reviews from Plenty on Spring

Fans of Ramona Quimby will love Ella, the unofficial ambassador of Poppy Hill. She’s lived in the building her whole life and knows the ropes, so she’s happy to help new neighbors Cleo and Leo when they move in. This darling book is full of quirky characters and is LGBTQ-positive and really heartwarming. I am already looking forward to more in the series!

Reviewed by Ashley Michael, Plenty on Spring in Cookeville, Tennessee

Duel by Jessixa Bagley


Duel by Jessixa Bagley
Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers / November 2023

More Reviews from Angel Wings Bookstore

I loved the creativity in the book. I really like how they included other kids of people in the story. It shows that you have to have courage to do something even if you don’t win. I enjoyed the mostly black-and-white illustrations in the book. I love graphic novels. Overall I really liked this book and recommend it!

Reviewed by Mandy Harris, Angel Wings Bookstore in Stem, North Carolina

Decide for Yourself

Books that appear on PEN America’s list of challenged books.

I Kissed Alice by Anna Birchl


I Kissed Alice by Anna Birch
Square Fish / May 2021

More Reviews from Flyleaf Books

This is a true enemies-to-lovers read. Both faced with pressures unknown to the other, these art school students battle it out for a life-altering scholarship, while their online personalities collaborate on a webcomic (unknowingly duh). What made this book feel so raw for me, was that both characters had valid reasons for hating the other, reasons that cannot be easily resolved.

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

Southern Bestsellers

What’s popular this week with Southern Readers.

The Starling House Sisterhood: The Secret History of Women at the CIA All the Light We Cannot See
American Midnight If I Was a HOrse

[ See the full list ]

Parting Thought

“Reading and writing, like everything else, improve with practice. And, of course, if there are no young readers and writers, there will shortly be no older ones. Literacy will be dead, and democracy – which many believe goes hand in hand with it – will be dead as well.”
— Margaret Atwood

Publisher: The Southern Independent Booksellers Alliance /
Editor: Nicki Leone /
Advertising: Linda-Marie Barrett /
The Southern Bookseller Review is a project of the Southern Independent Booksellers Alliance, in support of independent bookstores in the South | SIBA | 51 Pleasant Ridge Drive | Asheville, NC 28805

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