The books Southern indie booksellers are recommending to readers everywhere!

Adult Fiction

The Sweetness of Water by Nathan Harris

Georgia in the days immediately following the Emancipation Proclamation, Harris’ characters display the best and the worst responses to the new order. Brutal yet hopeful, this one’s a slow burn until you realize you’re so caught up in the story you can’t possibly stop reading.

The Sweetness of Water by Nathan Harris, (List Price: 28, Little, Brown and Company, 9780316461276, 2021-06-15)

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

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The Tangleroot Palace: Stories by Marjorie Liu

I hadn’t read anything by Marjorie Liu prior to the Monstress series, but with how much I love that, combined with the stunning cover by Sana Takeda, how could I resist her short story collection? A sweet sapphic Sleeping Beauty retelling, a runaway princess finds a new quirky family, an apprentice using dolls to seek revenge on her teacher, a villain’s shot at redemption. Liu’s stories gave me goosebumps, made me swoon, and at times cracked me up. This definitely a collection to have.

The Tangleroot Palace: Stories by Marjorie Liu, (List Price: 16.95, Tachyon Publications, 9781616963521, June 2021)

Reviewed by Amber Brown, Quail Ridge Books in Raleigh, North Carolina

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Swimming Back to Trout River by Linda Rui Feng

Linda Rui Feng pulls you in with the intertwined stories of four individuals starting during China’s Cultural Revolution in the 60’s and ending up in America in the 80’s. You will love these characters and be moved by the storytelling in this engrossing debut.

Swimming Back to Trout River by Linda Rui Feng (List Price: $26, Simon Schuster, 9781982129392, 5/11/2021)
Reviewed by Karen Hayes, Parnassus Books in Nashville, Tennessee

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With Teeth by Kristen Arnett

Sometimes it’s the mundane that’s the most fascinating. Kristen Arnett’s novel With Teeth takes the everyday marriage challenges of staying in love, being faithful, having patience with an unknowable child, and figuring out what to make for supper, tosses that with a dose of bizarre behavior which gives us what becomes to one queer family’s happily ever after. Arnett’s characters are infuriating and I think you’ll puzzle over Sammie, Monika, and Samson well after you finish the last page.

With Teeth by Kristen Arnett (List Price: $27, Riverhead Books, 9780593191507, 6/1/2021)

Reviewed by Rachel Watkins, Avid Bookshop in Athens, Georgia

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The Secret Lives of Church Ladies by Deesha Philyaw

This collection is sharp, strong, and emotional. I found myself incredibly moved by these stories about Black women who refuse to settle for lives dictated by insecurity, family tradition, or religious dogma. And despite being a white woman who will never truly understand the depicted experiences, I saw pieces of my own story reflected in the characters’ struggles to make their own space within and outside of an overbearing religious community, in the yearning for a love that defied familial expectations, and in teenage heartbreak. I saw glimpses of people I’ve known. That personal connection took this book from good to great for me – it got me totally invested. The women in these pages are vibrant and magnetic – they immerse us in their stories and make us feel the pulse of their lives. They also remind us that we have to truly see each other – that making the effort to connect and understand each other is vital to changing the national and global narrative of “everyone for themselves.”

The Secret Lives of Church Ladies by Deesha Philyaw (List Price: $18.99, West Virginia University Press, 9781949199734, 9/2020)

Reviewed by Rachel Derise, Friendly City Books in Columbus, Mississippi

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There’s No Such Thing as an Easy Job by Kikuko Tsumura

A young woman who has burned out after 14 years in her chosen career takes on a series of short contract jobs through an employment agency. The jobs are somewhat unusual, but plausible… But as each contract goes on and she becomes more invested in her ‘easy’ job, the stranger each job becomes. Light surreal/confabulist touches plus the occasional meditation on work and meaning tie her various job adventures into an enjoyable read.

There’s No Such Thing as an Easy Job by Kikuko Tsumura (List Price: $18, Bloomsbury Publishing, 9781635576917, 3/23/2021)

Reviewed by Ginger Kautz, Quail Ridge Books in Raleigh, North Carolina

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The Road Trip by Beth O’Leary

The Road Trip vividly tells the story of Addie and Dylan; they fell hard for each other and their relationship ended in horrible terms. Now somehow after not speaking to each other for awhile, they are stuck in a car together for a long trip to a mutual friend’s wedding. Told from both of their perspectives and present and past tense, Beth O’Leary can somehow take a simple idea and make it deep, funny, endearing and entertaining.

The Road Trip by Beth O’Leary (List Price: $17, Berkley, 9780593335024, 6/1/2021)

Reviewed by Deanna Bailey, Story on the Square in McDonough, Georgia

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The Galaxy, and the Ground Within by Becky Chambers

Thank you for your patience. We are all in this together.” Becky Chambers’ The Galaxy, and the Ground Within is a delightful ending to her Wayfarer’s series. In it five characters find themselves stuck together at the Five-Hop-One-Stop (a cross between a truck stop and a Bed and Breakfast) when the planet’s satellite system comes crashing down. As they get to know one another the characters must contend with issues of identity, the legacy of colonialism, sexuality, and family, with a few deadly crises along the way. After a year in various levels of lockdown, this book at times felt far too familiar, but with the lightness and comfort only a Becky Chambers novel can bring. I’m sad to see this series end, but it’s nice to be reminded that bureaucracy will lean on unwanted camaraderie no matter where one finds oneself.

The Galaxy, and the Ground Within by Becky Chambers (List Price: $16.99, Harper Voyager, 9780062936042, 4/20/2021)

Reviewed by Faith Parke-Dodge, Page 158 Books in Wake Forest, North Carolina

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The One Hundred Years of Lenni and Margot by Marianne Cronin

“When people say ‘terminal’, I think of the airport. . . . They’ve started to say ‘life-limiting instead now”. Thus, Marianne Cronin initiates her heart-wrenching, wise-cracking, delightful debut novel in which terminally ill, 17-year-old Lenni forges an unbreakable bond with 83-year-old, avant-garde rebel Margot. Even though each is quite ill, both display a joie de vivre, living life to its fullest, acting mischievously, searching for life’s meaning in the May Ward at Glasgow Princess Royal Hospital. With the help of several caring nurses and the hospital chaplain, the protagonists decide to paint their way through their combined ages: 100 years. This legacy will also include Margot’s most life-defining stories, beginning with WWII, written by Lenni who writes more deftly than she paints. Cronin’s book inspires the reader through Lenni’s and Margot’s courageous life-affirming behaviors and escapades. Yes, Lenni’s diagnosis is sad, but she propels the reader into a realistic world of joy and sorrow, constantly questioning everyone to discover as much as she can about life. Margot’s tales delineate her many difficulties but also her accomplishments throughout her lengthy existence and her myriad loves, particularly her love for her son and for her friend and lover Meena. The history of the decades proves fascinating as do the Scottish cultural and social mores of the period. This beautifully written novel is an excellent antidote for present-day travails. Lenni and Margot prevail amidst dire medical circumstances and radiate a beacon of light and hope for all readers. This unusual friendship demonstrates the power of healing across age, nationality, socioeconomics, and health. A rich, inspiring piece of writing!

The One Hundred Years of Lenni and Margot by Marianne Cronin (List Price: $17, Harper Perennial, 9780063017504, 6/1/2021)

Reviewed by Beth O’Brochta, Book No Further in Roanoke, Virginia

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Bewilderness by Karen Tucker

Tucker spins a beautiful tale of addiction, love, friendship, and survival in this stunning debut set in rural North Carolina. Irene spends her days slinging drinks at the local watering hole. There, she befriends magnetic Luce and the two start down a dark path of drugs and crime, all the while wishing for escape. Things change when Luce meets a young soldier who wants to help her get clean. Irene is torn between the need to keep her friend close and the desire for Luce to have the best life possible. it’s a story of doing what you think is best and living with the consequences. This book broke my heart in the most beautiful way.

Bewilderness by Karen Tucker (List Price: $26, Catapult, 9781646220243, 6/1/2021)

Reviewed by Andrea Richardson, Fountain Bookstore in Richmond, Virginia

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Spin by Peter Zheutlin

Spin is a thrilling story that will keep the reader breathless until the end. This mostly true story begins with a bored housewife and mother in the 1890’s who takes a wager to circle the world on a bicycle. The reader gets to ride along with Annie as she meets the most famous people of the day and finds love and adventure in every long mile. This tale will stay with you long after Annie’s last ride.

Spin by Peter Zheutlin (List Price: $25.95, Pegasus Books, 9781643137520, 6/1/2021)

Reviewed by Nancy Pierce, Bookmiser, Inc. in Marietta, Georgia

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Love in Color by Bolu Babalola

Bolu Babalola’s prose had me enraptured from the very first page! The artful way that she rewove and spun myths from around the world was absolutely masterful, and I enjoyed reading fresh takes on stories that I knew, while also having the opportunity to encounter stories that I wasn’t familiar with at all. LOVE IN COLOR is for anyone who is constantly in awe of the power of love, and also for anyone who may need to be reminded of it.

Love in Color by Bolu Babalola (List Price: $25.99, William Morrow, 9780063078499, 4/13/2021)

Reviewed by Lucy Perkins-Wagel, Copperfish Books in Punta Gorda, Florida

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The Lost Village by Camilla Sten, Alexandra Fleming (Trans)

The Lost Village is a mystery, a survival story, and a dark homage to haunting – not just the haunting of abandoned mining village Silvertjärn, nestled deep in the forest of Sweden, but also how we find ourselves haunted by the past, our ancestors, and our own minds.

Alice, a filmmaker whose single goal is to solve the mystery of Silvertjärn, brings a documentary crew to the village to try and discover why all the residents disappeared in 1959. They quickly realize they aren’t alone and end up fighting for their lives against evil forces that still lie in wait.

The haunted house/haunted town idea isn’t new, but Camilla Sten makes it feel fresh. Strong characters with complex inner lives drive the story – the weight and context of their individual histories creates wonderfully compelling tension between them. As we learn why each crew member came to Silvertjärn, we also see the mystery unfold piece by piece as the story alternates between past and present until both converge in a horrifying face-off. I actually yelled out loud at the big reveal, which is all I want from a good horror story.

In fact, the buildup of tension was one of the best parts of the whole experience. Slowly but surely you’re pulled into the village, pulled into the mystery, pulled into the characters’ secrets and fears and nightmares until suddenly your heart races as you run with them from danger, run to escape the village, and instead find yourself face to face with the horror of Silvertjärn. I couldn’t put it down! It made me feel things. It creeped me out. I yelled in public (the highest praise I can give). Grab a copy and see if you can survive The Lost Village!

The Lost Village Camilla Sten, Alexandra Fleming (Trans.) (List Price: $26.99, Minotaur Books, 978125024925, 3/23/2021)

Reviewed by Rachel Derise, Friendly City Books in Columbus, Mississippi

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The Dark Half by Stephen King

Thad Beaumont is an author whose most popular work was written by someone else. Or was it? Nightmares of his life destroyed, mysterious headaches, a horrifying revelation from his childhood, and the appearance of someone who knows Thad better than he knows himself all lead to a choice between saving his family and the life Thad has built for himself, or giving in to his darkest impulses. An electrifying exploration of the love of (and sometimes obsession with) writing, The Dark Half held me captive. I ached and feared and rejoiced with Thad as he faced his worst fears supernaturally made manifest. I read nonstop, unwilling to break the story’s rising tension. This book absolutely wrung me out in the best way. At one point, I sat through three pages of Thad trying to accomplish a task in the midst of sheer panic and it felt so real I found myself shaking. That’s how immersive the story is, “[d]own here in Endsville, where all rail service terminates.”

The Dark Half by Stephen King (List Price: $18.00, Gallery Books, 9781501144196, 2/2016)

Reviewed by Rachel Derise, Friendly City Books in Columbus, Mississippi

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The Secret Lives of Church Ladies by Deesha Philyaw

This collection is sharp, strong, and emotional. I found myself incredibly moved by these stories about Black women who refuse to settle for lives dictated by insecurity, family tradition, or religious dogma. And despite being a white woman who will never truly understand the depicted experiences, I saw pieces of my own story reflected in the characters’ struggles to make their own space within and outside of an overbearing religious community, in the yearning for a love that defied familial expectations, and in teenage heartbreak. I saw glimpses of people I’ve known. That personal connection took this book from good to great for me – it got me totally invested. The women in these pages are vibrant and magnetic – they immerse us in their stories and make us feel the pulse of their lives. They also remind us that we have to truly see each other – that making the effort to connect and understand each other is vital to changing the national and global narrative of “everyone for themselves.”

The Secret Lives of Church Ladies by Deesha Philyaw (List Price: $18.99, West Virginia University Press, 9781949199734, 9/2020)

Reviewed by Rachel Derise, Friendly City Books in Columbus, Mississippi

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Caul Baby by Morgan Jerkins

This was a beautiful book of magic, secrets, betrayal and race in America. I can’t put into words what I just read (in a good way) because the characters are so intertwined with one another and they don’t even know it, which was riveting to read. Sometimes I read so many books that I forget characters names and little innate details, but this is a gripping story that I will never forget. I was so happy about the climax and ending, this is going to be a lot of readers Best Reads of 2021!

Caul Baby by Morgan Jerkins (List Price: $27.99, Harper, 9780062873088, 4/6/2021)

Reviewed by Deanna Bailey, Story on the Square in McDonough, Georgia

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Edie Richter is Not Alone by Rebecca Handler

I’ve never finished a book and immediately started rereading it, but this is how I read Edie Richter is Not Alone. I’m dazzled by the way Rebecca Handler channels so much noticing and emotion into her carefully curated (sometimes sparse) prose. Handler has written Edie’s interior monologue so that seeing a spider in a church, hearing possums on a roof, or regarding a cockroach in the grass makes you inhabit Edie’s brain. This is a book about the loss of a parent to Alzheimer’s disease that is funny and sad and extremely entertaining.

Edie Richter is Not Alone by Rebecca Handler (List Price: $23, The Unnamed Press, 9781951213176, 3/9/2021)

Reviewed by Rachel Watkins, Avid Bookshop in Athens, Georgia

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Spotlight on Heaven by Mieko Kawakami

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Mieko Kawakami

Last year, the English translation of Mieko Kawakami’s novel Breasts and Eggs received so much indie bookseller excitement and praise that the “buzz” was more like a swarm. But her work has been highly acclaimed in Japan for decades. Haruki Murakami has called her his favorite young novelist — and it was Kawakami who did a series of interviews with him over two years where she pointedly grilled him on on the misogyny in his novels.

The receiption for Heaven, Kawakami’s latest novel to be translated into English, has been just as enthusiastic. Heaven explores the meaning and experience of violence and the consolations of friendship. Bullied because of his lazy eye, Kawakami’s protagonist suffers in silence. His only respite comes thanks to his friendship with a girl who is also the victim of relentless teasing. But what is the nature of a friendship if your shared bond is terror?

“I try to write from the child’s perspective—how they see the world.” says the author, “Coming to the realization you’re alive is such a shock. One day, we’re thrown into life without warning.”

Heaven

What booksellers are saying about Heaven

  • From the bestselling author of Breasts and Eggs comes this new novel that is once again storytelling at its best. Real, raw and revelatory, Heaven shares the story of two young people who are joined at a broken place and investigates the power of human kindness and friendship to help them move forward. — Angie Tally, The Country Bookshop, Southern Pines, NC
    Buy from The Country Bookshop
  • If you thought Breasts and Eggs was good (and I did), Heaven will be a fierce competitor. It’s a fascinating mental examination into how one is to survive under terrible circumstances and how far one would go to break free from it. — Easty Lambert-Brown, Ernest & Hadley Booksellers, Tuscaloosa, AL
    Buy from Ernest & Hadley Books.
  • What I appreciate so much about Kawakami is the strength of her voice, and her ability to convey the most basic aspects of human nature in a complex and thoughtful way. Pick up this book and then share it with everyone! -Kelsey Jagneaux, Tombolo Books, St. Petersburg, FL
    Buy from Tombolo Books
  • Heaven by Mieko Kawakami offers a blend of devastation and hope, exploring both the desolation of lonely adolescence and the beauty of friendship. — Alex Brown, Quail Ridge Books, Raleigh, NC
    Buy from Quail Ridge Books

About Mieko Kawakami

Mieko Kawakami is the author of the internationally best-selling novel, Breasts and Eggs, a New York Times Notable Book of the Year and one of TIME’s Best 10 Books of 2020. Born in Osaka, Kawakami made her literary debut as a poet in 2006, and published her first novella, My Ego, My Teeth, and the World, in 2007. Her writing is known for its poetic qualities and its insights into the female body, ethical questions, and the dilemmas of modern society. She has received numerous prestigious literary awards in Japan, including the Akutagawa Prize, the Tanizaki Prize, and the Murasaki Shikibu Prize. Kawakami lives in Tokyo, Japan.

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Rabbit Island by Elvira Navarro, Christina MacSweeney (Trans.)

We are undoubtedly experiencing a golden age of surreal fiction, much of it translated, and the best of it written by women. For short story junkies like myself it is a particularly good time to be stuck at home avoiding other humans. Each story in this amazing collection connects with me viscerally, yet each one connects differently, like a smell, a taste, or a texture. Some are mysterious and subtle while others are brazen and bold, grotesque even. Each one is exquisitely crafted and exhilarating to read!

Rabbit Island by Elvira Navarro, Christina MacSweeney (Trans (List Price: $19.95, Two Lines Press, 9781949641097, 2/9/2021)

Reviewed by Tony Peltier, Flyleaf Books in Chapel Hill, North Carolina

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The Chosen and the Beautiful by Nghi Vo

If you’re wondering which Great Gatsby adaptation to read this summer, look no further. I read it in one day because leaving it unfinished for even one night felt like a crime; it surpasses “unputdownable.” This is the Great Gatsby we need, narrated by a queer, Viet Jordan Baker who is both outside of society yet more connected in society than everyone else around her. The slightest touches of magic bring The Chosen and the Beautiful to life, displaying a world where not all that glitters is gold, yet firm anchors to the original make every line sing true. I truly love this book.

The Chosen and the Beautiful by Nghi Vo (List Price: $26.99, Tordotcom, 9781250784780, 6/1/2021)

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

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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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Son of the Storm by Suyi Davies Okungbowa

You say you want liberty, but you can never be free alone. None of us are free until all of us are. To be free of Bassa requires power– power in service of us all. Not for you to derive joy from controlling a beast.

In Son of the Storm, Suyi Davies Okungbowa introduces readers to a complex and fascinating new world. One with a complex cast system in which power is isolated in the bloated elite, the truth is hidden even from scholars, and anyone who looks different is exiled to the dangerous fringes of the continent. As a secret power from the time of a mad emperor reemerges and a sunken nation reappears, a young scholar and his intended follow two very different paths to save themselves and their people. I was completely entranced by this story. While he pulls no punches, Okungbowa does not need to lean into the grotesque to make his world compelling. I yelled, I cheered, I felt conflicted about my loyalties, and I absolutely cannot wait to find out what happens next. Content warnings for harm to children and pregnancy in addition to violent fantasy elements.

Son of the Storm by Suyi Davies Okungbowa (List Price: $16.99, Orbit, 9780316428941, 5/11/2021)

Reviewed by Faith Parke-Dodge, Page 158 Books in Wake Forest, North Carolina

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Dial A for Aunties by Jesse Q. Sutanto

Think Weekend at Bernie’s but filled with hilarious, amazing, and brazen Chinese-Indonesian Aunties. I LOVED this book. Like, deep love. Like help dispose of a body and cover up a murder love. Dial A for Aunties is funny and outrageous and, surprisingly, romantic. If your family drives you crazy, but would also drive with a dead body in their trunk for you, then maybe you should cut them some slack and appreciate them. 😉

Dial A for Aunties by Jesse Q. Sutanto (List Price: $26, Berkley, 9780593336731, 4/27/2021)

Reviewed by Kate Towery, Fountain Bookstore in Richmond, Virginia

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Hot Stew by Fiona Mozley

An old building housing a brothel stands in the middle of Soho. The young millionaire who owns the property wants to turn it into luxury condos. Unfortunately, the tenants aren’t going to leave without a fight. A riveting tale about wealth, class, gentrification, power, and gender, this story shows readers just how unjust the world can be, but in the most entertaining and amusing way possible. (And just look at that cover!) A 2021 must-read!

Hot Stew by Fiona Mozley (List Price: $26.95, Algonquin Books, 9781643751559, 4/20/2021)

Reviewed by Jen Minor, Flyleaf Books in Chapel Hill, North Carolina

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Popisho by Leone Ross

Popisho is pure magic. While it’s clear that Ross pulls influence from Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Toni Morrison among others, the beautifully rendered setting and fully-realized characters (and their magical powers) are unique and wholly refreshing. The musical language makes this novel sing—a song of lost love, fate-determining meals, political intrigue, winged drugs, and lots of sex and strange occurrences. Popisho is sparkling and saucy and sensual, and readers will find themselves hankering for its food, crying at its heartbreaks, and laughing (oh, there will be a lot of laughing) at its sly wit.

Popisho by Leone Ross (List Price: $28, Farrar Straus and Giroux, 9780374602451, 4/20/2021)

Reviewed by Hannah DeCamp, Avid Bookshop in Athens, Georgia

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In Other Lands by Sarah Rees Brennan

The chosen one goes off to magic school and heroically fights in an epic battle. You’ve heard that story a million times before. But have you ever wanted the snarky take, the irreverent, self-aware version that flips these tropes upside down and lovingly pokes holes in some of the logical gaps in the genre’s conventions? Clever, refreshing, and full of heart, this hilarious adventure full of pesky magical creatures, golden boy warriors, angsty nerds, and elfin knights will leave you thinking that you might be perfectly alright living in this (mermaidless) land.

In Other Lands by Sarah Rees Brennan (List Price: $16, Big Mouth House, 9781618731661, 8/6/2019)

Reviewed by Julie Jarema, Avid Bookshop in Athens, Georgia

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The Dangers of Smoking in Bed by Mariana Enriquez, Megan McDowell (Trans.)

A gloriously unsettling collection of the weird and macabre, The Dangers of Smoking in Bed is as enthralling as it is disturbing and will envelop readers in a loving and nightmarish embrace.Perfect for fans of Samanta Schweblin, Carmen Maria Machado, and Abbey Mei Otis.

The Dangers of Smoking in Bed by Mariana Enriquez, Megan McDowell (Trans.) (List Price: $27, Hogarth, 9780593134078, 1/12/2021)

Reviewed by Zach Claypole White, Flyleaf Books in Chapel Hill, North Carolina

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Filthy Animals by Brandon Taylor

Brandon Taylor’s book of short stories, Filthy Animals, is a bright shining explosion of beautiful writing. Six of the eleven stories are linked and dipping back and forth into Lionel’s relationship with two dancers, Sophie and Charles, which is hypnotic. These stories about human relationships range from those between lovers, friends, and family. How is it that Taylor can write so that we can see the interior crevices of these character’s souls?

Filthy Animals by Brandon Taylor (List Price: $26, Riverhead Books, 9780525538912, 6/22/2021)

Reviewed by Rachel Watkins, Avid Bookshop in Athens, Georgia

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Whereabouts by Jhumpa Lahiri

The unnamed protagonist in Jhumpa Lahiri’s Whereabouts reflects on moments of a life lived in solitude, understanding what it means to observe the world around her, and find herself in the context of any given part of it. Even though hers is a mild life with subtle joys, walking the piazza or sitting in cafés when not in the classroom, there are still moments when being alone feels more lonely, enveloping her no matter where she goes. Whereabouts is a contemplative and beautiful story for the introverted, the blissfully isolated, or at the very least, those who, when alone, are able to truly find themselves.

Whereabouts by Jhumpa Lahiri (List Price: $24, Knopf, 9780593318317, 4/27/2021)

Reviewed by Cat Chapman, Oxford Exchange in Tampa, Florida

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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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The Last Bookshop in London by Madeline Martin

Well, this was beyond lovely. I thoroughly enjoyed this story with it’s loveable cast of characters and the SIDE LOVE STORY. How refreshing that the love story, though present and beautiful, was mentioned, I think, about five times? Even so, I’m still swooning over George. SWOONING. Booksellers will adore this novel of a reader discovering her passion for books. Readers will love this novel for the tender descriptions of loving a book. And I love this novel for it’s honest, harsh descriptions of life during war. The losses great and small (which are often the ones that discourage most.) I can’t wait to shove this book into the hands of my customers. I cannot wait!

The Last Bookshop in London by Madeline Martin (List Price: $16.99, Hanover Square Press, 9781335284808, 4/6/2021)

Reviewed by Annie Childress, E. Shaver, bookseller in Savannah, Georgia

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Creatures of Passage by Morowa Yejidé

A fantastic new novel from an incredible writer. I loved every moment of Creatures of Passage and was hooked from the first page. Full of myth and mysticism, this is a complex web of stories that intersect in a way that slowly and gracefully unfolds. Complicated family relationships, systemic poverty and privilege, the transformative destruction of abuse, all of these themes and more create a beautiful and tragic look at the Anacostia neighborhood of DC.

Creatures of Passage by Morowa Yejidé (List Price: $25, Akashic Books, 9781617758768, 3/16/2021)

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

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Morningside Heights by Joshua Henkin

A Spring 2021 Read This Next! Title

Morningside Heights by Joshua Henkin
Pantheon, June

Joshua Henkin has issued an invitation to view the timeline of an American marriage. Columbia University professor, Spence Robin, was a young hotshot Shakespearean expert, capable of filling lecture halls with enraptured students. Pru Steiner was one of them. The attraction and love was immediate, the marriage secure and long-lasting. However, while only in his fifties, Spence receives the horrifying diagnosis of early-onset Alzheimer’s disease. Their daughter is grown and gone and his son from a previous marriage has always been sporadically estranged; leaving Pru alone as Spence declines and she navigates the changes and loss of a great man. Morningside Heights is poignant, honest, thoughtfully observant, and skillfully wrought.

–Damita Nocton from The Country Bookshop in Southern Pines, NC

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The Killing Hills by Chris Offutt

A Spring 2021 Read This Next! Title

The Killing Hills by Chris Offutt
Grove, June

This was a blast! Hill country Kentucky noir with characters that both repulse and endear. A tough combo that works well with the plot of familial vengeance that piles up the bodies without understanding the cause that makes the blood boil so hot. Superb.

–Pete Mock from McIntyre’s Books in Pittsboro, NC

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One Last Stop by Casey McQuiston

A Spring 2021 Read This Next! Title

One Last Stop by Casey McQuiston
Griffin, June

August has grown up believing that being alone is best. Then she moves to New York and gets caught up with her new wacky roommates, who drag her out of her comfort zone. And she meets Jane, a girl on the subway she has an instant connection with. The only problem is…Jane is literally stuck on the train, displaced somehow from her life in the 1970s. So August makes it her mission to solve the mystery of Jane and fix it so she can be where and when she belongs, even though August wants Jane to belong with her more than anything. If The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue were a rom-com, this would be it. McQuiston has written a big-hearted, laugh-out-loud funny, and tender novel that will speak to readers about love and connection and friendship and family.

– Melissa Oates from Fiction Addiction in Greenville, SC

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Malibu Rising by Taylor Jenkins Reid

A Spring 2021 Read This Next! Title

Malibu Rising by Taylor Jenkins Reid
Ballantine, June

How good was this? So good I read it in one night. Reid Jenkins carefully crafts a multi-generational saga drenched in the sun of 20th century Malibu that made me love, empathize with, and occasionally want to shake all of the characters. This book almost serves to form a trilogy with Reid Jenkins’ previous novels-Evelyn Hugo and Daisy Jones. I certainly started rereading both after finishing Malibu.

– Tracie Harris from The Book House in Mableton, GA

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While Justice Sleeps by Stacey Abrams

A Spring 2021 Read This Next! Title

While Justice Sleeps by Stacey Abrams
Doubleday, May

Stacey Abrams shows us her genius in yet another way with this heart-pounding political thriller. I was hooked from page one when Avery Keene, a brilliant Supreme Court law clerk is named legal guardian and power of attorney for her difficult, enigmatic boss, Justice Howard Wynn after he slips into a coma. Lives, political careers, and billions of dollars are at stake as Avery works to figure out the clues that Justice Wynn left for her to figure out regarding one of the most controversial cases ever to come before the US Supreme Court. I was sitting on the edge of my seat for this one.

– Jessica Nock from Main Street Books in Davidson, NC

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Secrets of Happiness by Joan Silber

A Spring 2021 Read This Next! Title

Secrets of Happiness by Joan Silber
Counterpoint, May

The characters in Joan Silber’s big-hearted new novel find happiness in mostly small and incremental ways that feel entirely true and resonate with the quiet power of relationship. I was immediately invested in the lives of this extended family-of-sorts, starting and ending with Ethan, a gay lawyer whose father is discovered to have a second family, acquired during his business travels to Asia. In between we meet people whose lives loosely intersect as they travel, figuratively and literally, towards their own versions of joy. Silber’s craft in linking her characters and her themes—connection, openheartedness, money—is seamless, but it’s her great gift for empathy that is sure to make this one of my favorite reads of this year.

– Clara Boza from Malaprop’s Bookstore/Cafe in Asheville, NC

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The Newcomer by Mary Kay Andrews

A Spring 2021 Read This Next! Title

The Newcomer by Mary Kay Andrews
St. Martin’s Press, May

Is there anything MKA can’t write? Her mix of characters- strangers who become friends and even family; a story of two sisters who couldn’t be more different; the desperate attempt to hide an innocent child from her mother’s possible killer (or killers?) .. and the familiar coastal Florida setting all combine in a completely different nail-biter of a novel that will satisfy every reader- whether they prefer mysteries, romance, humor, thriller or beach reads. The Newcomer has it ALL and will be our FIRST pick for this summer’s beach bag!

– Jamie Anderson from Downtown Books in Manteo, NC

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Of Women and Salt by Gabriela Garcia

A Spring 2021 Read This Next! Title

Of Women and Salt by Gabriela Garcia
Flatiron Books, April

A testament to the enduring bonds of struggle and love that tie us together beyond generations and borders. Truly the work of a measured poet, as Garcia shows the power of form, language, and structure in creating enduring scenes and images that I will carry with me for a long time. As these characters face heart-first the most dire concerns of our time—misogyny, xenophobia, hegemony, addiction—what comes to light is the beauty of the moments they share when they think about birds with claws, the ocean air, and the joy of being told a good story. Truly lovely and, ultimately, fortifying.

– Luis Correa, Avid Bookshop in Athens, GA

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Malice by Heather Walter

A Spring 2021 Read This Next! Title

Malice by Heather Walter
Del Rey, April

Maleficent is one of the ‘villains’ of literature who has seen the most retellings in pop culture but I can confidently say that this is my favorite thus far. There is so much to love about this feminist, sapphic take on the Sleeping Beauty fairy tale. Alyce & Aurora are glorious, nuanced characters and their romance is a darkly glittering thing of beauty. This one is perfect for fans of Naomi Novik’s retellings & Holly Black’s Folk of the Air books.

– Cristina Russell, Books & Books in Coral Gables, FL

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Mother May I by Joshilyn Jackson

A Spring 2021 Read This Next! Title

Mother May I by Joshilyn Jackson
William Morrow, April

I was not expecting to get sucked into this book so thoroughly, but sure enough, I blinked and my Sunday was gone and I had read the entire thing. This is an engrossing mystery that will have you biting your nails and possibly yelling at the characters, or maybe that was just me. Am I a little more paranoid now about leaving my child unattended? Yep. Am I making sure all my blinds are closed in our house? You betcha. Thanks a lot, Joshilyn Jackson, for giving me terrible nightmares. And a terrific day of reading.

– Jamie Rogers Southern, Bookmarks in Winston-Salem, NC

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Mother May I by Joshilyn Jackson

Set in Atlanta, Joshilyn Jackson’s newest novel Mother May I is a domestic mystery, filled with kidnapping, mothers’ angst, revenge, and youthful caprice, but the most compelling theme revolves around the parameters of sexual assault, the divergent definitions of such an assault, and the trauma’s lifelong, negative effects on the victim. The novel’s intricate plot commences with a baby kidnapping in Chapter 2, but the heart of the piece slowly, painstakingly unwinds into a decades-old rape that truncated the trajectory of myriad lives, including those of the participants. The characterizations of the protagonists could have morphed into mere stereotypes in the hands of a less skilled wordsmith. However, Jackson molds and shapes her characters into believable human beings. The dramatic lengths to which all of the mothers rabidly pursue their ultimate devotion, loyalty, and unconditional love for their respective offspring are inspirational. Each mother feels justified in her unorthodox, violent, vengeful actions even if the reader, the police, and the legal system may disagree. The plot of Mother May I moves swiftly, employing cunning twists and turns that whet the reader’s appetite for the truth and for an equitable resolution of the plethora of conflicts. The novel is thought-provoking and timely in the #MeToo era. 

Mother May I by Joshilyn Jackson (List Price: $27.99, William Morrow, 9780062855343, 4/6/2021)

Beth O’Brochta, Book No Further in Roanoke, Virginia

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Gold Diggers by Sanjena Sathian

Inside the shimmering cover of this book is a fascinating modern look at the golden promise of the American Dream, and its dark underpinnings. Neeraj Narayan (or Neil, as he’s known in his Atlanta suburb) feels inferior to his over-achieving Asian American peers and unequipped to meet the expectations of his parents. So, when a magical solution presents itself in the form of a potion concocted by his neighbors, he’s all too willing to try it. This quick-fix has tragic consequences that continue to haunt him a decade later when he’s trying to find his footing in Silicon Valley as a graduate student writing his dissertation on the Gold Rush. This is a fascinating novel about history, ambition, addiction, and the question his sister and friends had to try and answer while competing in the Miss Teen India pageant: “What does it mean to be both Indian and American?”

Gold Diggers by Sanjena Sathian (List Price: $27, Penguin Press, 9781984882035, 4/6/2021)

Reviewed by Lady Smith, The Snail on the Wall in Huntsville, Alabama

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A Mariner’s Tale by Joe Palmer

From the publisher who introduced us to JC Sassser’s Gradle Bird and Rebecca Dwight Bruff’s Trouble the Water, this is another evocative Southern tale, set on the Florida coast. Lauded by other Southern gems including Cassandra King Conroy and Nicole Seitz, I was obviously intrigued, and journalist-turned-debut-novelist Joe Palmer delivers. Love the interaction between a crotchety old sailor and the crime-bound kid he takes under his wing. In a world often gone mad, this book was a great reminder that among storms and strife there is genuine humanity.

A Mariner’s Tale by Joe Palmer (List Price: $17.99, Koehler Books, 9781646631452, 10/25/2020)

Reviewed by Shari Stauch, Main Street Reads in Summerville, South Carolina

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Girl, 11 by Amy Suiter Clarke

A book that combines my two favorite things–true crime podcasts and a page turning thriller! Season Three is going to be huge for podcaster Elle, she’s taking on The Countdown Killer years after he stopped killing. Cops think he’s dead, but Elle knows in her bones that he’s still out there. When the murders start up again, Elle must help determine if it’s the work of a copy cat, or if The Countdown Killer is back to finish his job. And when the killer draws her into his twisted game, Elle decides to play by her own rules.

Girl, 11 by Amy Suiter Clarke (List Price: $25, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 9780358418931, 4/20/2021)

Reviewed by Kate Towery, Fountain Bookstore in Richmond, Virginia

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One Last Stop by Casey McQuiston

This book isn’t insightful, it is affirmative. This book isn’t an echo, it is a cave. It is an experience. Damn near the true story of every queer romance. Casey McQuinston somehow finds a way to once again tell a dauntingly fierce, honest story! With so much detail, presence, and inertia, McQuinston gives us such a fun and crucial experience of love in the queer communities of NYC. A spot on, pleasurable book!

One Last Stop by Casey McQuiston (List Price: $16.99, St. Martin’s Griffin, 9781250244499, 6/1/2021)

Reviewed by Amya Franklin, Square Books in Oxford, Mississippi

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Fugitive Telemetry by Martha Wells

If Martha Wells wrote a Murderbot book every week, I would read a Murderbot book every week. Honestly, I’m pretty sure this series is what got me through 2020. Fugitive Telemetry (#6) can be read as a stand-alone or in order. It doesn’t matter. Our solitude-seeking killer robot protagonist is forced to solve the murder of a human on a planet. (He hates planets AND talking to humans! Why won’t everyone leave him alone so he can stream his media in peace?) Anyone who loves noir detective fiction will love this as well as sci fi fans. Just read it!!!

Fugitive Telemetry by Martha Wells (List Price: $19.99, Tordotcom, 9781250765376, 4/27/2021)

Reviewed by Kelly Justice, Fountain Bookstore in Richmond, Virginia

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Animals by Will Staples

Riveting! This eco-thriller is made all the more terrifying by the research behind the work and just how much of the narrative is based in fact. He sought counsel from the likes of Jane Goodall and Leonardo DiCaprio and feels like this could be the next Blood Diamond, following how animal poaching and trafficking is a global practice, and a bigger global threat.

The book features an extensive cast of characters including an Asian police officer, a South African militant and anti-poacher, an exotic animal insurance agent and a CIA operative looking for a terrorist connection. They each are forced to juggle their self interests against those of the animals they’re meant to protect, from rhinos and elephants to tigers and more.

Animals by Will Staples (List Price: $27.99, Blackstone Publishing, 9781094065885, 3/30/2021)

Reviewed by Shari Stauch, Main Street Reads in Summerville, South Carolina

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The House Uptown by Melissa Ginsburg

Ava moves from Iowa to New Orleans to live with her artist grandmother (who’s suffering from memory loss) after her mother dies. Not having been in each other’s lives, this is a beautiful story about family, finding out who they are, and forging a path together.

The House Uptown by Melissa Ginsburg (List Price: $26.99, Flatiron Books, 9781250784186, 3/16/2021)

Reviewed by Marcia Albert, Parnassus Books in Nashville, Tennessee

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The Committed by Viet Thanh Nguyen

After the stunning and beloved debut of The Sympathizer, expectations were somehow surpassed with Viet Thanh Nguyen’s sequel. We are dropped right back into the two minds whose razor sharp criticism and empathy are now directed at the French. In a country that is often depicted as being devoid of contemporary racism, The Committed shines an unforgiving light on centuries of colonialist hypocrisy. A story of the dangers of ideology and the crucial role of humor in revolution, The Committed is everything I didn’t even know I wanted in a sequel.

The Committed by Viet Thanh Nguyen (List Price: $27, Grove Press, 9780802157065, 3/2/2021)

Reviewed by Lucia Drinkwalter, Flyleaf Books in Chapel Hill, North Carolina

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The Hare by Melanie Finn

The Hare hits all the notes for a great novel you will read obsessively. Melanie Finn has written the breathtaking story of the life of Rose Monroe whose entire trajectory was determined at age eighteen by a chance (?) meeting with an older man at MOMA. However, Bennett isn’t who he claims to be. Because of this, despite this, Rose grows into a powerful woman who isn’t diminished by her dire circumstances. She is a survivor. This brilliant book contains a subtext involving dark, abhorrent behavior.

The Hare by Melanie Finn (List Price: $16.99, Two Dollar Radio, 9781937512972, 1/26/2021)

Reviewed by Rachel Watkins, Avid Bookshop in Athens, Georgia

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Mother May I by Joshilyn Jackson

Trey and Bree on paper are the perfect couple. 2.5 children, happy, comfortable and living a nice life. But is Bree losing her mind or is there a “witch” stalking her? Who stole her infant? Joshilyn Jackson invokes her trademark humor and her fierce voice for justice in this thrilling new book. Not one to shy away from social issues they are present here in a story ringing true to today’s issues. Fast-paced with a great storyline, this is one for a road trip and the beach!

Mother May I by Joshilyn Jackson (List Price: $27.99, William Morrow, 9780062855343, 4/6/2021)

Reviewed by Suzanne Lucey, Page 158 Books in Wake Forest, North Carolina

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The Uncollected Stories of Allan Gurganus by Allan Gurganus

This book makes living right here and right now all worth it. Here’s a real writer: style and heart and wit and depth–nothing’s missing. His great talent: reminding you and me of joy. These stories, collected from The New Yorker and Harper’s and more, describe fathers and sons, country doctors, rural cops, and miracles, and once you read one, you’ll re-read it in your mind forever. The Uncollected Stories of Allan Gurganus is a true beauty from one of our greatest writers.

The Uncollected Stories of Allan Gurganus by Allan Gurganus (List Price: $25.95, Liveright, 9780871403780, 1/12/2021)

Reviewed by Erica Eisdorfer, Flyleaf Books in Chapel Hill, North Carolina

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Mary Jane: A Novel by Jessica Anya Blau

Calling Mary Jane a coming of age novel would be a vast understatement. It is the summer of 1975, and 14-year-old Mary Jane has the opportunity to nanny for the little girl of a family completely the opposite of her own family. Where her family is quiet and orderly, the Cone family is loud and chaotic. At home she learns Black and Jewish folks need to “know their place” in their upper class Baltimore neighborhood, while through the eyes of the Cone family everyone is equal and no judgments are passed. Not only is this a beautiful novel about a young girl realizing her place in the world and finding out who she is, it is an amazingly fun ‘70s music throwback with lyrics on almost every page.

Mary Jane: A Novel by Jessica Anya Blau (List Price: $27.99, Custom House, 9780063052291, 5/11/2021)

Reviewed by Ashley Bohinc, Main Street Reads in Summerville, South Carolina

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The First Day of Spring by Nancy Tucker

This was pretty intense. Right from the get-go, you’re plunged into the life of a very troubled 8 year girl who manipulates, steals, and cheats her way through life until she is sent off to reform school until she’s 18. Now she’s trying to put here life together. She has a young girl of her own who she loves her with a passion her own mother never felt but forces are conspiring against her, her past rising to trip her up unless she fights back with all her will. This is a real knuckle-biter!

The First Day of Spring by Nancy Tucker (List Price: $27, Riverhead Books, 9780593191569, 5/18/2021)

Reviewed by Pete Mock, McIntyre’s Fine Books in Pittsboro, North Carolina

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The Consequences of Fear by Jacqueline Winspear

It’s 1941, and Britain continues to be bombed by Nazi Germany. This is good news for fans of Maisie Dobbs, as she truly shines when she is thrown into a stressful wartime situation. This is a tricky mystery with a satisfying conclusion… and also features some welcome progress in Maisie’s social life.

The Consequences of Fear by Jacqueline Winspear (List Price: $27.99, Harper, 9780062868022, 3/23/2021)

Reviewed by Anne Peck, Righton Books in St Simons Island, Georgia

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Illicit Intent by Debbie Baldwin

I read for the Valentine’s Day potential and wow, what an elevated experience! Well drawn characters combine with an impossibly intricate plot to keep you turning pages. And it’s got it all, hot romance, an art heist based on a true crime mystery, high finance, murder, hidden identities. This is the second in a series and I’m looking forward to more in the Bishop Security series; I can see where minor but intriguing characters will no doubt be brought to the foreground in future installments.

Illicit Intent by Debbie Baldwin (List Price: $27.99, Gatekeeper Press, 9781662908781, 1/1/21)

Reviewed by Shari Stauch, Main Street Reads in Summerville, SC

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The Chestnut Man by Søren Sveistrup

Perfect for fans of Scandinavian crime fiction and gritty detective fiction, this story of a Danish serial killer was my favorite mystery of 2019! Beware–not for the faint of heart–this book is quite graphic. If you find one, he’s already found you!

The Chestnut Man by Søren Sveistrup (List Price: $16.99, Harper Paperbacks, 9780062895370, 9/8/2020)

Reviewed by Jen Minor, Flyleaf Books in Chapel Hill, North Carolina

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The Rose Code by Kate Quinn

You know those books that you start reading and Cannot. Put. Down?? This is definitely one. With so many WWII books out there, Kate Quinn manages to put a fresh spin on the war with The Rose Code and makes you feel like you’re reading something new. The writing is amazing, the characters relatable, and the story fast-paced, heartbreaking, jubilant, and redemptive all at the same time. This historical fiction about the codebreakers of Bletchley Park will be one of your favorite reads of 2021.

The Rose Code by Kate Quinn (List Price: $17.99, William Morrow Paperbacks, 9780062943477, 3/9/2021)

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

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The Wife Upstairs by Rachel Hawkins

Rachel Hawkins proves just how timeless the Jane Eyre story is, by putting the madwoman in the attic of a modern-day mansion in an Alabama suburb. The dark story is easy to devour, and the characters are people you might have met before — maybe while walking the dog in your own neighborhood. Everyone is keeping secrets, from Jane, the young dog-walker, to Eddie Rochester, the recently widowed homeowner. You’ll love teasing out the secret of what happened to the glamorous Bea, whose body was never found after a boating accident at Smith Lake.

The Wife Upstairs by Rachel Hawkins (List Price: $16.99, St. Martin’s Griffin, 9781250245502, 11/2/2021)

Reviewed by Lady Smith, The Snail on the Wall in Huntsville, Alabama

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The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett

Brit Bennett is a master storyteller who has created an intergenerational tale full of place, relevant commentary, the complexities of human nature, and life’s unexpected turns. I was sucked into the story from the beginning and absolutely loved how the idea of a “vanishing half” kept presenting itself in the storyline. Wow, this was just so smart and effortlessly crafted. I didn’t want my reading experience to end!

The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett (List Price: $27, Riverhead Books, 9780525536291, 6/2/2020)

Reviewed by Asia Harden, Square Books in Oxford, Mississippi

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Astrid Sees All by Natalie Standiford

A fresh-faced Baltimore native initially enters New York City trying to emulate her cool uptown NYC native friend from college. Ultimately it is through loyalty to the memories and movies of her childhood that she becomes “Astrid,” the in-house fortune teller at the hottest club in town. The beat of the Lower East Side in the 1980s leaps off the page as “Astrid” bounces through friends, drugs, fun and danger.

Astrid Sees All by Natalie Standiford (List Price: $27, Atria Books, 9781982153656, 4/6/2021)

Reviewed by Kimberly Daniels, The Country Bookshop in Southern Pines, North Carolina

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The Killing Hills by Chris Offutt

Returning to his hometown on military leave, Mick walks into a whole slew of family problems that he initially attempts to avoid, secluded in a cabin and chock-full of bourbon. Being called on to assist in tracking down a murderer puts him hesitantly back on his feet. It’s a distraction and we immediately see that he’s equally brilliant and broken enough to solve (kinda sorta) the mystery with ease. But even with a name like The Killing Hills and a body discovered in the first few pages, I still look back on the murder mystery as the book’s B-plot. Chris Offutt paints Appalachia so brilliantly, that, though pleasantly so, it’s distracting. The towns in which growth just means a larger hospital, diners exchanged for faster food, a new prison and improved state roads that aid travelers in quickly passing through without noticing much more than the aforementioned. Populated for generations by a handful of families who in turn depopulate via hard living and occasional vengeance. Driven by conflicting nostalgia, ill-defined chivalry and a hangover, Mick’s story is either one of a farewell visit or a return towards retirement

The Killing Hills by Chris Offutt (List Price: $26, Grove Press, 9780802158413, 6/15/2021)

Reviewed by Ian McCord, Avid Bookshop in Athens, Georgia

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The Past Is Red by Catherynne M. Valente

Tetley Abednego lives on a floating patch of trash (much like the Great Pacific Garbage Patch that exists here and now), the only solid ground left on a flooded earth. Tetley’s not alone but she is the only one who knows the simple, vital, and lifesaving truth that Garbagetown is the most wonderful place in the world. The Past Is Red is an electrifying parable for this era of climate change, as bitterly optimistic and cheerfully furious as this dire hour demands. All that, and its hilarious and heroic protagonist is sure to steal that gorgeous garbage patch in your chest you call a heart.

The Past Is Red by Catherynne M. Valente (List Price: $20.99, Tordotcom, 9781250301130, 7/20/2021)

Reviewed by Megan Bell, Underground Books in Carrollton, Georgia

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The Killing Hills by Chris Offutt

This was a blast! Hill-country Kentucky noir with characters that both repulse and endear. A tough combo that works well with the plot of familial vengeance that piles up the bodies without understanding the cause that makes the blood boil so hot. Superb.

The Killing Hills by Chris Offutt (List Price: $26, Grove Press, 9780802158413, 6/15/2021)

Reviewed by Pete Mock, McIntyre’s Fine Books in Pittsboro, North Carolina

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Infinite Country by Patricia Engel

Patricia Engel’s new book is a true gem. A family story where each voice is equally interesting and dynamic. A great examination on the brutish nature of the US towards people traveling stateside looking for opportunity. Your heart breaks and mends and breaks all over again for this family. In fewer than 200 pages, Engel works magic.

Infinite Country by Patricia Engel (List Price: $25, Avid Reader Press/Simon & Schuster, 9781982159467, 3/2/2021)

Reviewed by James Harrod, Malaprop’s Bookstore/Cafe in Asheville, North Carolina

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The Office of Historical Corrections by Danielle Evans

I find that I’m very hit or miss with short story collections but The Office of Historical Collections is a total gem. It’s full of captivating stories and characters; there wasn’t a single story that didn’t suck me in! Evans tackles topics like race, womanhood, and the human condition with nuance and grace. So good!

The Office of Historical Corrections by Danielle Evans (List Price: $27, Riverhead Books, 9781594487330, 11/10/2020)

Reviewed by Asia Harden, Square Books in Oxford, Mississippi

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The Baddest Girl on the Planet by Heather Frese

From the publisher: “Until now, Outer Banks native Evie Austin has been the baddest girl on the planet. What comes next?”

I really enjoyed this novel–the pacing is good, the characters’ stories are compelling, and the small beach town setting is so well-described I can picture it clearly.

The Baddest Girl on the Planet by Heather Frese (List Price: $25.95, Blair, 9781949467161, 3/2/2021)

Reviewed by Janet Geddis, Avid Bookshop in Athens, Georgia

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The Plot by Jean Hanff

What a fascinating and eclectic novel this is! It starts out as a sardonic look at the writing life, the trials and tribulations that all but the biggest best sellers face. Our guide is Jake Bonner, erstwhile golden, now a down on his luck teacher at a third rate MFA program. That is until he meets a student who has an idea that will storm the literary world. An idea that dies with the student shortly after until Jake resurrects it and changes his life forever. From there it morphs into thriller land while exploring such themes as cultural appropriation, the ethics of borrowing, and what is an idea and who does it belong too, as whiffs of Stephen King (Misery), John Boyne (A Ladder to the Sky) trail through the pages while she name drops Marilynne Robinson and others. This is going to be a fun one to talk with others about and I can’t wait.

The Plot by Jean Hanff (List Price: $39.99, Celadon Books, 9781250790767, 5/11/2021)

Reviewed by Pete Mock, McIntyre’s Fine Books in Pittsboro, North Carolina

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The Secret Lives of Church Ladies by Deesha Philyaw

Having grown up in a Mississippi Southern Baptist church, it wasn’t until I was a teenager that I saw the secret double lives of some of us. Rebelling against the submit-to-authority messages on Saturday night, but sitting pious and submissive come Sunday morning services was de rigueur. Deesha Philyaw’s book The Secret Lives of Church Ladies gives voice to secret lives that I know for sure are lived and true. The need for acceptance, for absolution, for grace is ever-present in familiar relationships as well as those in the church. These short stories are divine.

The Secret Lives of Church Ladies by Deesha Philyaw (List Price: $18.99, West Virginia University Press, 9781949199734, 9/1/2020)

Reviewed by Rachel Watkins, Avid Bookshop in Athens, Georgia

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How to Order the Universe by María José Ferrada

This book haunts me. I can’t stop thinking about it! “M” is a seven year old girl in Chile growing up with a father “D” who is a traveling salesman who sells hardware. Her mother is chronically depressed and, while loving, incapable of looking after her daughter much of the time. Told from M’s perspective, we go with her and D from place to place when he takes her out of school to go on his sales trips without her mother’s knowledge. She’s sort of his “buddy” and “junior salesman” traveling companion and it’s disturbing to see this child smoke and drink coffee in companionship with the other salesmen in the book. Ghosts of Pinochet’s Desaparecidos appear and disappear between the pages. It’s a book that will stay with you long after you close the cover.

How to Order the Universe by María José Ferrada, Elizabeth Bryer (Trans.) (List Price: $19.95, Tin House Books, 9781951142308, 2/16/2021)

Reviewed by Kelly Justice, Fountain Bookstore in Richmond, Virginia

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The Souvenir Museum by Elizabeth McCracken

Each of these twelve stories felt like a gift. Elizabeth McCracken has such insight into our ugliest, most deep-seated emotions that she dresses up with just a touch of delightful weirdness. Highlights include a story of a distraught mother finding comfort in challah bread that reminds her of her dead children; interconnected stories about a young couple working through various family baggage; and a story about two men confronting their fears of commitment and fatherhood during a day trip to Schlitterbahn (the iconic Texan German-themed waterpark, for those who don’t know). I tried to savor every story, but I couldn’t resist reading more than one every time I picked up this book!

The Souvenir Museum by Elizabeth McCracken (List Price: $26.99, Ecco, 9780062971289, 4/13/2021)

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

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The Gun by Fuminori Nakamura, Allison Markin Powell (trans.)

Imagine Edgar Allen Poe and Will Christopher Baer teaming up across space and time to rewrite Catcher in the Rye, but in Japan. What you’d get is The Gun. This one-sitting read is darkly engrossing, lyrically captivating, and a stunning debut from a now well-established author. Wow.

The Gun by Fuminori Nakamura, Allison Markin Powell (trans.) (List Price: $14.95, Soho Crime, 9781616957681, 1/24/2017)

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

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The Bookshop of Second Chances by Jackie Fraser

Thea is having a terrible Valentine’s day. She and her husband are splitting up because he’s been cheating on her…with one of her friends. And she’s just been let go from her job. So when an uncle she doesn’t remember dies and leaves her his estate in Scotland, she decides to head up there and sort it all out, with a plan to sell. But once she gets there, she decides that she’ll stay awhile. She gets a job with the grumpy bookstore owner while she takes her time in sorting out the estate.

The Bookshop of Second Chances by Jackie Fraser (List Price: $17, Ballantine Books, 9780593355657, 5/4/2021)

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

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Of Women and Salt by Gabriela Garcia

In this story that spans five generations of women in Cuba, Texas and Florida, you come away with a rather complex picture of immigration plights and political and social pressures. The recurring theme is a book—an aptly named book— that unites the women in a beautifully written, heart-wrenching story. It reminds us that every woman is created with multiple layers whether she knows it or not.

Of Women and Salt by Gabriela Garcia (List Price: $26.99, Flatiron Books, 9781250776686, March 2021)

Reviewed by Easty Lambert-Brown, Ernest & Hadley Booksellers in Tuscaloosa, Alabama

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The Lost Apothecary by Sarah Penner

With modern and 18th century London as the setting for this book, a conflicted woman who finds a mysterious bottle becomes obsessed with discovering its origins, leading her to a 1700s female apothecary who helps other women of the dark time “dispense” of bad men. Incredibly atmospheric, I didn’t want to climb out of this one. A dark yet hopeful portrait of female fears and female empowerment both then and now.

The Lost Apothecary by Sarah Penner (List Price: $27.99, Park Row, 9780778311010, March 2021)

Reviewed by Shari Stauch, Main Street Reads, in Summerville, South Carolina

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Raft of Stars by Andrew J. Graff

An absolute pleasure to read! Fish and Bread are so lovable. The way they feel like the very embodiment of childhood makes you want to be them; the grief and sorrow they experience makes you want to hug them. The writing brings you right into this small town of Claypot, Wisconsin and you instantly fall in love with these troubled characters. Lose yourself in the isolated woods with these boys and run away with them on this adventure. This book is like a cool, stormy night spent curled up in a warm bed.

Find You First by Linwood Barclay (List Price: $27.99, William Morrow, 9780063031906, April 2021)

Reviewed by Hannah Rose Summers, Main Street Reads, in Summerville, South Carolina

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Heaven by Mieko Kawakami

How are two Japanese 14-year-olds to deal with continuous bullying by their classmates and still have the presence of mind to genuinely care about others and question their place in their community? This is more than a story about bullying—it delves into the raw and moral relationships that most people don’t experience until they are adults. Beautiful to read, thoughtful in intent, and worthy of remembering.

Heaven by Mieko Kawakami, Sam Bett (Trans.) (List Price: $23.00, Europa Editions, 9781609456214, May 2021)

Reviewed by Easty Lambert-Brown, Ernest & Hadley Booksellers in Winston-Salem, North Carolina

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People We Meet On Vacation by Emily Henry

It’s hard to follow up a book that was as good as Beach Read, yet Emily Henry has done it again! She really knows how to suck you in with her characters and get emotionally involved. If you enjoy the opposites attract, friends-to-lovers and slow burn romance, you will definitely enjoy this!

People We Meet On Vacation by Emily Henry (List Price: $16, Berkley, 9781984806758, 5/11/2021)

Reviewed by Deanna Bailey, Story on the Square in McDonough, Georgia

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A Tip for the Hangman by Allison Epstein

The 16th century meets the 21st in Allison Epstein’s thrilling debut novel, A Tip for the Hangman. It’s 1585, and aspiring playwright Christopher Marlowe is recruited as a spy while still an impoverished Cambridge scholar. His task: to help foil an alleged Catholic plot to overthrow Queen Elizabeth I. Blending fact and fiction, and period detail with modern sensibilities, Epstein deftly creates a heady mix of intrigue, drama and romance in this captivating page-turner.

A Tip for the Hangman by Allison Epstein (List Price: $26.95, Doubleday, 9780385546713, 2/9/2021)

Reviewed by Jude Burke-Lewis, Square Books in Oxford, Mississippi

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The Rain Heron by Robbie Arnott

Arnott’s writing evokes the deep anxiety that can only be touched by the power and quiet, terrifying fury of nature. The Rain Heron is a contemporary mythos and environmental dystopian, with talons.

The Rain Heron by Robbie Arnott (List Price: $16, FSG Originals, 9780374539306, 2/9/2021)

Reviewed by Cat Chapman, Oxford Exchange in Tampa, Florida

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The Paris Library by Janet Skeslien Charles

We have always known that librarians are heroes, and this book is based on the true story of the amazing women working at the American Library in Paris, as they join the Resistance after World War II breaks out. On a different timeline, a teenage girl interviews her older neighbor, who is one of the French librarians, and discovers her bravery… but also her complicated past.

The Paris Library by Janet Skeslien Charles (List Price: $28, Atria Books, 9781982134198, 2/9/2021)

Reviewed by Anne Peck, Righton Books in St. Simons Island, South Carolina

The Baddest Girl on the Planet by Heather Frese

Whenever my family vacationed in the Outer Banks, I always wondered what living at the beach was like for the locals. I imagined a nice small town with endless trips to the beach. As a kid, though, I never imagined how suffocating it could be. Growing up on Hatteras Island, Evie Austin has the world’s greatest imagination. Though she makes the most of her childhood, she falls into the small town traps of adulthood, yet without a real desire to leave the island. Her life becomes as tumultuous as the waves, relatable to any young adult, and readers get a front row seat to her misadventures as she finds ways to repair herself. Vivid, funny, and heartwarming, Heather Frese has written the baddest coming-of-age story on the planet!

The Baddest Girl on the Planet by Heather Frese (List Price: $25.95, Blair, 9781949467161, 3/2/2021)

Reviewed by Karyn Cumming, Fountain Bookstore in Richmond, Virginia

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The Prettiest Star by Carter Sickels

2021 Southern Book Prize Winner!

This beautiful, elegaic novel gives us a family of voices over the course of a last homecoming to rural Ohio for Brian, dying of AIDS at the height of the 1980s epidemic. Told with empathy and heart, as well as a pitch-perfect sense of time and place, The Prettiest Star is a deeply affecting story about what it means to understand each other and where we come from, even when our lives have taken us light years away.

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

Reviewed by Ashley Warlick, M. Judson booksellers and storytellers in Greenville, South Carolina

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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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Remote Control by Nnedi Okorafor

A Winter 2021 Read This Next! Title

How unsettled do you want to feel? Double it and that’s Remote Control. Okorafore’s prose is stunning as she constructs a world in which the unknown walks among us, delivering the mercy or vengeance of death where she wishes and simply traveling at other times. Sankofa’s search for answers does not come to a neat and tidy end, but isn’t that the true nature of things? Nothing will ever be completely understood.

Remote Control by Nnedi Okorafor (List Price: $19.99, Tordotcom, 9781250772800, 1/19/2021)

Reviewed by Faith Parke-Dodge, Page 158 Books in Wake Forest, North Carolina

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Migrations by Charlotte McConaghy

Migrations is for the lovers, the wanderers, and those who are drawn to the beauty of the earth. The main character, Franny Stone, might be the focus of the novel…but the ocean, the birds in the sky, and the arctic are all equally important. Franny convinces a fishing crew to let her hitch a ride on their ship in the North Atlantic so that she can conduct an individual study on Arctic Terns and their migration. The fish are in short supply, the crew is a band of misfits, and Franny has an ulterior motive stemming from a troubled past. Little by little, all of the truths revealed are colored by the settings of Galway, Ireland and Scotland, Newfoundland/Greenland and ultimately the Antarctic continent. For me, there are two stories in this book: 1) The wanderlust that exists in many of us looking for a place (or a person) to call home. And though we may find it, the need for exploration never ceases. And 2) The conservation of the natural world and all of it occupants should not be discarded by humanity. All in all, the writing was excellent; the settings were majestic; the epilogue was magnificent.

Migrations by Charlotte McConaghy (List price: $26.99, Flatiron Books), recommended by novel., Memphis, TN.

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Smoke by Joe Ide

Dodson’s back. Back again. Dodson’s back. Tell a friend. Or two. Or ten. My apologies to Eminem and to you, dear reader, for the possible ear worm I may have just planted but, THANK YOU Joe Ide! I’ve not laughed that loud, while reading, in some time. Truth be told, my wife tired quickly of me barging into her reading time to say, “Honey, wait until you have hear this bit”. Yeah, too much coffee and great writing so that to me. I’ve enjoyed all of the IQ series and, if I’m being honest, I was fairly sure this would be another solid run of the series but, probably not exceptional. Wrong. Just. Plain. Wrong. I love where Joe is taking us. The depth of the characters continues to develop at a wicked pace. The plot lines are becoming even more ferocious. And IQ keeps getting… smarter? Yep. And the ending? YIKES. Book six Mr. Ide? Bring. It. ON!

Smoke by Joe Ide (List Price: $28, Mulholland Books, 9780316531061, 2/23/2021)

Reviewed by Berkley McDaniel, Fountain Bookstore in Richmond, Virginia

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Winter’s Orbit by Everina Maxwell

I couldn’t put this book down! (I stayed up until 6 AM to finish it.)I thoroughly enjoyed these two lost souls thrust into an arranged marriage as well as interplanetary politics and intrigue, mixed with an intriguing dose of cultural anthropology (the deft touches of cultural differences amongst the different planets). Crossover appeal for Romance readers, for sure

Winter’s Orbit by Everina Maxwell (List Price: $17.99, Tor Books, 9781250758835, 2/2/2021)

Reviewed by Angela Trigg, The Haunted Bookshop in Mobile, Alabama

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The Windsor Knot by SJ Bennett

A charming twist on the British murder mystery with insight into the potential daily life of Queen Elizabeth, which is fascinating in and of itself, but also a fun mystery as the Queen’s able sidekick does the legwork and together she and the Queen push the facts towards the official investigators to get the puzzle solved. Enjoyable and I look forward to the next in the series. Also a very good audiobook.

The Windsor Knot by SJ Bennett (List Price: $27.99, William Morrow, 9780063050006, 3/9/2021)

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

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Who is Maud Dixon? by Alexandra Andrews

For those who loved Social Creature and Gone Girl: Florence Darrow, our desperately dark protagonist, has been fired from her editing job and taken on the position of an assistant to the infamously anonymous Maud Dixon. What should be a privileged position turns into something completely the opposite after a horrible work trip to Morocco. Who is Maud Dixon? will keep you guessing ’til the end and even after you’ll still be asking questions (in the absolute best way possible).

Who is Maud Dixon? by Alexandra Andrews (List Price: $28, Little, Brown and Company, 9780316500319, 3/2/2021)

Reviewed by Olivia Schaffer, The Bookshelf in Thomasville, Georgia

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