The Southern Bookseller Review 5/30/23

The Southern Bookseller Review Newsletter for the week of May 30, 2023

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The Southern Bookseller Review: A Book for Every Reader

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The week of May 30, 2023

One Hundred and Fifty Weeks of Great Books!

Fireworks illustration credit Turac Novruzova

This week’s edition of the Southern Bookseller Review is a milestone, our 150th issue! 150 weeks of great suggested reading for every kind of reader.

The newsletter was founded on the conviction that indie booksellers are one of the most trustworthy sources for discovering new books. Not only are they some of the most avid readers you will ever meet, every review they write comes from someone who not only loves to read, but also wants to put that book into the hands of other readers. Indie booksellers have made a calling of "You’ve got to read this!"

Readers who have received the newsletter since its inception in December 2020 have received over 1000 book recommendations across dozens of genres — from literary fiction to graphic novels, romance to children’s books. To mark this happy milestone, SBR is making a change in its format. "Read This Next!" — just-released books receiving exceptional buzz from booksellers — will no longer be at the end of SBR, but highlighted in the main body of the newsletter. 

And we have added a new listing: "Decide for Yourself" — featuring a review by an indie bookseller of a book that is listed as banned or challenged according to the PEN America Index of Banned Books. Sadly, that is a long, long list. But indie booksellers are among the most fierce defenders of every person’s right to read. Readers can trust what they say, because unlike many of the challenges that have been made against these books, indie booksellers read the books they choose to talk about. If you want an honest opinion, ask your local independent bookseller. 

Banned Books Reviewed at SBR

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

Read This Now!

Recommended by Southern indies…

Everything’s Fine by Cecilia Rabess


Everything’s Fine by Cecilia Rabess
Simon & Schuster / June 2023

More Reviews from Flyleaf Books

This one’s complicated. I picked it up with the expectation that I’d read just enough to confirm my guess that it’d be too cringey to stomach – because it’s about a liberal Black woman and a moderate-to-conservative white man who fall in love. But I quickly found that this book is NOT a romance, at least not in any genre sense. There’s romance in it, and certainly some heady chemistry, but it’s way more nuanced than that. Through the lens of this problematic relationship (which will spike your blood pressure and keep it high, I promise), Rabess interrogates identity–both individual and in-group–in a really brilliant, intensely readable, morally complex way.

The big question here is: can someone’s care for you as an individual outweigh their lack of understanding/care for you as a member of an identity group? How does complicity in systems of power–the main character works in finance–play a role in that determination? It’s extremely tangled, and Rabess doesn’t provide answers. Just really adept storytelling.

Reviewed by Talia Smart, Flyleaf Books in Chapel Hill, North Carolina

Bookseller Buzz


Spotlight on: The Covenant of Water by Abraham Verghese


Abraham Verghese photo credit J Henry

I think titles, by their very nature, should be a bit mysterious. Every reader takes away what they think the title means. For me, the final interpretation of a book is never my interpretation. It’s a collaborative act between reader and writer that should create a movie playing out in the reader’s head. If you write a novel set in Kerala, water is inescapable; it is the prevailing metaphor for everything. We’re talking about a land with forty-four rivers, countless lagoons, lakes, streams, back waters, fingerlike projections into the sea. Water is the great beating heart of the state. It affects the commerce, the industry, their metaphors, their way of being. ― Abraham Verghese, Interview, Poets & Writers Magazine

What booksellers are saying about The Covenant of Water

The Covenant of Water by Abraham Verghese
  • We’ve waited a long time for a new novel from the incredibly talented Abraham Verghese and this was worth the wait! The Covenant of Water is a captivating, sweeping epic that follows three generations of a family in coastal India. In his stunning prose, Verghese weaves a tapestry of secrets and sacrifices these remarkable characters make throughout their lives, all in an effort to understand and escape the inexplicable affliction that has plagued their family tree – mysterious drownings. Lyrical, moving and unforgettable!
      ― Anderson McKean from Page & Palette in Fairhope, AL | Buy from Page & Palette

  • Do not be daunted by the size of this book! It’s such a great read and you will learn, very quickly, to care about the people in the generations of this story. From the accepted caste system; the emotional crises that families experience; the phenomenal progression of science and medicine; the abiding love that continues to hold these generations together…all are beautifully intertwined in this amazing book!
      ―Karen Solar from Copperfish Books in Punta Gorda, FL | Buy from Copperfish Books

  • Abraham Verghese has done it again with an epic story that takes the reader from 1990 through the 1970’s in rural India. It’s the tale of one woman, Big Ammachi, her family’s curse, and the doctor that comes to India to learn medicine, but finds himself. Lovable characters who create a family and a deep sense of community make this book a must read. .
      ―Monie Henderson from Square Books in Oxford, MS | Buy from Square Books

  • Fans of Cutting For Stone (and there are many, including me), will be thrilled with Dr. Verghese’s first novel in 10 years. The Covenant of Water is a sweeping family saga with Verghese’s beautiful prose. The story of Big Ammachi and her children and grandchildren will captivate and enthrall. Despite it’s length (700 pages), I devoured this book! Both heartbreaking and uplifting, the story has unexpected twists and turns and is not to be missed!
    ―Lynne Phillips from Wordsworth Books in Little Rock, AR | Buy from Wordsworth Books

About Abraham Verghese

Abraham Verghese is a graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and the author of the NBCC Award finalist My Own Country and the New York Times Notable Book The Tennis Partner. His most recent book, Cutting for Stone, spent 107 weeks on the New York Times bestseller list and sold more than 1.5 million copies in the U.S. alone. It was translated into more than twenty languages and is being adapted for film by Anonymous Content. Verghese was awarded the National Humanities Medal in 2016, has received five honorary degrees, and is an elected member of the National Academy of Medicine and the American Academy of Arts & Sciences. He lives and practices medicine in Stanford, California where he is the Linda R. Meier and Joan F. Lane Provostial Professor and Vice Chair of the Department of Medicine at the Stanford University School of Medicine. A decade in the making, The Covenant of Water is his first book since Cutting for Stone.

Yellowface by R. F. Kuang


Yellowface by R. F. Kuang
 William Morrow / June 2023

More Reviews from Epilogue Books

Read This Next!

A May 2023 Read This Next! Title

A dark, satirical mindfuck of discourse and cancellation. Yellowface is cutting and incisive, and Kuang did an excellent job of establishing a contemptible main character (in first person POV, no less) who you still hoped, sickeningly, would find her way out of the situation she put herself in. The last 15% or so bordered on psychological horror, and I found myself genuinely freaked by some of Kuang’s imagery. A doomed, twisted ride.

Reviewed by Gaby Iori, Epilogue Books Chocolate Brews in Chapel Hill, North Carolina

White House by the Sea by Kate Storey


White House by the Sea by Kate Storey
Scribner / June 2023

More Reviews from The Book House

This book is very well written, and does a great job explaining the Kennedy’s family century-long ties to Hyannis Port. The story does a wonderful job exploring the family’s ties to the beach town along with how Hyannis Port helped shape the Kennedy image. Her insights into other residents are beautifully done and some of my favorite bits of the book.

Reviewed by Tracie Harris, The Book House in Mableton, Georgia

Someone Is Always Watching by Kelley Armstrong


Someone Is Always Watching by Kelley Armstrong
Tundra Books / April 2023

More Reviews from The Haunted Book Shop

This book was full of twists and turns and had a bit of a science-fiction vibe, which is a refreshing take on a thriller. It reminded me of Catriona Ward’s Sundial and Delilah S. Dawson’s The Violence where you have children being brainwashed in the literal sense where they no longer remember their past and are raised to be completely different people and when those repressed memories eventually start to come through, violence happens.

When I started this audiobook, I was immediately hooked when Gabby flipped out and smashed a faculty member’s head in at school. I also loved that all of the kids were able to grow as characters because they were able to confront their past lives and accept that they are who they were and are now.

I also enjoyed the mystery. I was guessing and guessing who the person was that was sending the threatening emails. I can typically guess correctly, but this book threw me for a loop!

Reviewed by Kait Layton, The Haunted Book Shop in Mobile, Alabama

Monster Camp by Sarah Henning


Monster Camp by Sarah Henning
Margaret K. McElderry Books / May 2023

More Reviews from The Country Bookshop

Ghost stories around the fire are almost requisite activities at most summer camps, but what if you realized that the monsters at your camp were actually your fellow campers? That’s just what happens to Sylvie in this hilarious slightly spooky summer sleepaway tale that’s the perfect read for a long summer night.

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

My Special One, Vol. 2 by Momoko Koda


My Special One, Vol. 2 by Momoko Koda
VIZ Media LLC / May 2023

More Reviews from E. Shaver, bookseller

How heartwarming!! I love how this manga doesn’t use melodrama and shallow angst to delay the characters from finally dating. These two are people with their own quirks and problems that slowly come to understand what they want and how they feel for one another, and it is so so cute.

Reviewed by Lana Repic, E. Shaver, bookseller in Savanna, Georgia

Decide for Yourself

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

Wishtree by Katherine Applegate


Wishtree by Katherine Applegate
 Square Fish. / March 2023

More Reviews from Blue Cypress Books

A beautiful book that made my heart ache in the best ways. Another masterpiece from Applegate that teaches us a little about ourselves while weaving a tree and the community where it lives.

Reviewed by Rayna Nielsen, Blue Cypress Books in New Orleans, Louisiana

Southern Bestsellers

What’s popular this week with Southern Readers.

Yellowface King, A Life When Women Were Dragons
The Color of Water When Stars are Scattered

[ See the full list ]

Parting Thought

“Shakespeare wrote about love. I write about love. Shakespeare wrote about gang warfare, family feuds and revenge. I write about all the same things.”
— Sister Souljah

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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