The books Southern indie booksellers are recommending to readers everywhere!

Adult Fiction

The Forever Girl by Jill Shalvis

Cat is getting married and she wants her two foster sisters and foster brother to be there. But they haven’t really kept up with each other, so she devises a plan to get them all back and connecting again. It might work, it might blow up in her face. But it’s sure to be entertaining!

The Forever Girl by Jill Shalvis (List Price: $16.99, William Morrow Paperbacks, 9780062897855, 1/12/2021)

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

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The War Widow by Tara Moss

The War Widow was an intriguing mystery, an interesting and informative look at post war Australia in 1946 and an overall totally delightful read. Ms. Billie Walker has returned home after being a war correspondent in Europe to take over the Private Inquiry Agency of her late father. She is a fun, elegant, feisty and determined character who investigates the “old-fashioned” way: no internet, no cell phones, no data bases. The book is filled with intrigue, nasty criminals, beautiful fashions and lots of daring moves by Ms. Walker. I cannot wait to see what kind of trouble Ms. Walker finds herself in next.

The War Widow by Tara Moss (List Price: $26, Dutton, 9780593182659, 12/29/2020)

Reviewed by Nancy McFarlane, Fiction Addiction in Greenville, South Carolina

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The Liar’s Dictionary by Eley Williams

A quirky, clever novel about words: the words we create to describe our world and the words we use to define ourselves. The entertaining story alternates between lexicographer Peter Winceworth in 1899 who spends his time placing mountweasels into Swansby’s New Encyclopaedic Dictionary and Mallory, the young intern who is tasked with finding these words a century later.

The Liar’s Dictionary by Eley Williams (List Price: $26.95, Doubleday, 9780385546775, 1/5/2021)

Reviewed by Kelley Barnes, Page 158 Books in Wake Forest, North Carolina

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Outlawed by Anna North

A Winter 2021 Read This Next! Title

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

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

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

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The House on Vesper Sands by Paraic O’Donnell

Read This Next A Winter 2021 Read This Next! Title

Paraic O’Donnell’s The House on Vesper Sands is a whip-smart Victorian murder mystery featuring a remarkable cast of characters. Young girls are going missing and Inspector Cutter’s on the case with the help of a fake police officer (Cambridge drop out Gideon Bliss) and a young female journalist determined to write more than society pages. The disappearances seem to have a spiritual element to them and the first death scene is puzzling and compelling. O’Donnell’s 1893 London is so brilliantly written you’ll find yourself shivering instinctively.

The House on Vesper Sands by Paraic O’Donnell (List Price: $26.95, Tin House Books, 9781951142247, 1/12/2021)

Reviewed by Rachel Watkins, Avid Bookshop in Athens, Georgia

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Love Songs for Skeptics by Christina Pishiris

Zoe has her dream job from when she was a kid. She’s the editor of her favorite music magazine. The only problem is that it’s 2020 and print media is struggling. To save the magazine her plan is to score an interview with the super reclusive Marcie Tyler, who has been off the radar for 10 years. Unfortunately, to do that, she has to give lip service to the latest bit band, which is not on brand for the magazine in the least. And to deal with both, she has to work with the jerk publicist, Nick. But all isn’t bad. Her best friend and crush Simon is back in London and here to stay.

Love Songs for Skeptics by Christina Pishiris (List Price: $16.99, Sourcebooks Landmark, 9781728217604, 1/5/2021)

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

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Picnic In the Ruins by Todd Robert Petersen

What a great away to start the new year! Take a dollop of Hiaasen, add some Hillerman, grind it all up with a Craig Child pestle (my favorite naturalist writer and historian), and you end up with a great metaphysical mishmash of cultures, places, of history and who does it belong too, all under the wide open Southwestern skies and the stoic remains of a people long since disappeared. I can’t wait to share this utterly entertaining novel with people!

Picnic In the Ruins by Todd Robert Petersen (List Price: $16.95, Counterpoint, 9781640093225, 1/5/2021)

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

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The Fortunate Ones by Ed Tarkington

A Winter 2021 Read This Next Title!

I just finished The Fortunate Ones and am a little breathless with it. Part political intrigue, part A Separate Peace, the novel spans decades across elite boarding schools and the halls of Washington, but what captures the reader is Charlie, the narrator at the book’s heart. I fell in love with Charlie’s voice and story, and it’s him I kept turning the page for. I loved this book.

The Fortunate Ones by Ed Tarkington (List Price: $26.95, Algonquin Books, 9781616206802, 1/5/2021)

Reviewed by Annie Jones, The Bookshelf in Thomasville, Georgia

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The Mystery of Mrs. Christie by Marie Benedict

Agatha Christie went missing for 11 days in 1926, and this novel tells Christie’s story, building the events of her life and her disappearance to a crescendo right at the end of the book. This is an amazing story of one woman who subjugated herself to the benefit of her husband and the detriment of herself and her daughter, but eventually stood up for herself to the benefit of all who read her novels. I loved this book.

The Mystery of Mrs. Christie by Marie Benedict (List Price: $26.99, Sourcebooks Landmark, 9781492682721, 1/12/2021)

Reviewed by Beth Carpenter, The Country Bookshop in Southern Pines, North Carolina

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The Children’s Blizzard by Melanie Benjamin

Melanie Benjamin is at her best in this historical fiction account of the terrifying blizzard of 1888. It seemingly came out of nowhere and caught the residents of the Midwest by surprise, especially the children and teachers who were preparing to go home for the day. Benjamin looks at the lives of two sisters–both teachers at different schools–and how their decisions that day meant life or death for their students. I spent several late nights on this one!

The Children’s Blizzard by Melanie Benjamin (List Price: $28, Delacorte Press, 9780399182280, 1/12/2021)

Reviewed by Linda Hodges, Fiction Addiction in Greenville, South Carolina

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Nick by Michael Farris Smith

Author Michael Farris Smith has pulled off a tremendous literary feat. His latest novel, Nick, can play two roles. The first, a magnificent stand alone novel for readers unfamiliar with Fitzgerald’s classic, The Great Gatsby. The second, Gatsby fans will have a deeply satisfying lens to observe the life of narrator, Nick Carraway, and the events that formed one of literature’s most beloved voices.

Nick by Michael Farris Smith (List Price: $27, Little, Brown and Company, 9780316529761, 1/5/2021)

Reviewed by Damita Nocton, The Country Bookshop in Southern Pines, North Carolina

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Yellow Wife by Sadeqa Johnson

Many of our favorite historical fiction novels move us to tears, compel us to turn pages, and tie us in knots over the fate of characters. All of these emotions are in play as we read Yellow Wife, based on the notorious Richmond slave jail known as the Devil’s Half Acre and its cruel master. We follow Pheby’s life, from her earliest years as a plantation slave, her journey to the jail, and her years as mistress and slave to the master of the jail and mother to their children. We watch as her desperate choices and will to survive and protect those she loves draws her evermore into dangerous situations. Her dreams of freedom, passed down to her by her mother, drive her and at times sustain her while living in such close proximity to the jail where she was witness to the depths of human cruelty. A powerful story not soon forgotten.

Yellow Wife by Sadeqa Johnson (List Price: $26, Simon & Schuster, 9781982149109, 1/12/2021)

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

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Better Luck Next Time by Julia Claiborne Johnson

First of all, the premise–Depression-era divorce ranches for wealthy women to wait out their divorces in Reno–is just wild. Second, Julia Claiborne Johnson’s voice is just so dang funny, and her characters are spot on. I love it!

Better Luck Next Time by Julia Claiborne Johnson (List Price: $28.99, Custom House, 9780062916365, 1/5/2021)

Reviewed by Itinerant Literate, Itinerant Literate Books, LLC in North Charleston, South Carolina

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Second First Impressions by Sally Thorne

Fans of The Hating Game, rejoice! Thorne’s third novel lives up to the promise of her first with dizzying dialogue, undeniable chemistry, and some legitimate tear-jerking moments. Second First Impressions has characters you will love, from sheltered protagonist Ruthie to cackling biddies Renata and Aggie. Goofy hero Teddy is different from your average dreamboat, and his burgeoning relationship with Ruthie has all the bliss and heartache of true love. This is a cozy, cuddle-up-on-the-couch comfort read that’s sure to become as popular as its predecessors.

Second First Impressions by Sally Thorne (List Price: $15.99, William Morrow Paperbacks, 9780062912855, 4/13/2021)

Reviewed by Sami Thomason, Square Books in Oxford, Mississippi

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The Push by Ashley Audrain

The Push, a debut novel, is a psychological thriller that tells the tales of three generations of women who have been abused and are passing on their traumas to each other. The unsettling reality that Blythe finds herself in is her inability to know what a good mother is or how to become a good mother. She doesn’t have the confidence to trust her instincts.  So, when she finally had her daughter, Violet, nothing seems to be the way it should, but how can she truly know. This book makes you think about how fragile mother-daughter relationships are and where struggles between them originated. 

Blythe is trying to change the abuse sequences, but her husband is dismissive and provides no support. Thankfully she has a clue what it means to be a loving mother by her relationship with a neighbor growing up who could see her for the beautiful child she was.  Kirkus Review wrote, “A finely wrought psychological study of motherhood and inherited trauma…not for the faint of heart; it offers no easy answers.”  All I can say is that it has been a long time since the very last paragraph changed the entire book for me.  I read this book in one sitting. 

The Push by Ashley Audrain (List Price: $26.oo, Pamela Dorman Books, 9781984881663, January 5, 2021)

Reviewed by Lauren Zimmerman, Writers Block Bookstore in Winter Park, Florida

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Death and the Maiden by Samantha Norman, Ariana Franklin

This series is one of my absolute favorites and I am so happy that Franklin’s daughter has written this final installment. As Adelia ages, her daughter Allie is beginning to come into her birthright and take over the healing and mystery solving that made her mother famous. In 1100s England, being a medical examiner is difficult enough without adding in the complication of being a woman. But when several young women go missing and turn up dead, Allie has no choice but to risk her own safety to solve the horrible crimes. I am sad that this story has to finally end, but am very happy with the way it is concluded.

Death and the Maiden by Samantha Norman, Ariana Franklin (List Price: $27.99, William Morrow, 9780062562388, 10/20/2020)

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

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Act Your Age, Eve Brown by Talia Hibbert

Talia Hibbert’s Brown sisters books just keep getting better and better! Although I related the most to Dani Brown, I think I loved Eve Brown the most, even though she literally hits someone with her car in the opening of this book. As far as meet-cutes go, it’s not the most opportune! The picturesque bed and breakfast in the Lake District was the perfect setting for this sweet romance.

Act Your Age, Eve Brown by Talia Hibbert (List Price: $15.99, Avon, 9780062941275, 3/9/2021)

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

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Rosie’s Travelling Tea Shop by Rebecca Raisin

Rosie has an impressive job as a sous chef at a Michelin starred restaurant and a husband she loves. But it all comes crashing down when her husband dumps her for someone else…on her birthday, no less! Rosie looks at her life and realizes that her job doesn’t actually make her happy. So the morning after a bit too much to drink, Rosie wakes up to discover that she’s bought a travel camper. She then decides to give the nomad life a try as she travels around in her new, mobile tea shop.

Rosie’s Travelling Tea Shop by Rebecca Raisin (List Price: $16.99, HQ, 9780008414207, 2/16/2021)

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

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Plain Bad Heroines by Emily M. Danforth, Sara Lautman (Illus.)

A fun, spooky gothic horror that spans years and so, so many lesbians. You’ll always flinch at yellow jackets after this read.

Plain Bad Heroines by Emily M. Danforth, Sara Lautman (Illus.) (List Price: $27.99, William Morrow, 9780062942852, 10/20/2020)

Reviewed by Jenny Luper, Page 158 Books in Wake Forest, NC

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Consent by Annabel Lyon

In Vancouver, two women are innately connected by the sources of their grief. What at first begins as separate family tableaus–of Sara’s and Saskia’s parents and young adulthood and strife in defining themselves as individuals beside their siblings–slowly and masterfully braids into a mystery led by these two protagonists, haunted by the apparitions and very memories of those for whom they cared. Peppered with the lush descriptions of decadent textures, jewel-like alcohols and olfactory notes so accurate you can almost sense them, Consent is a sensual and sophisticated-yet-blunt story of grief and retribution that I couldn’t put down.

Consent by Annabel Lyon (List Price: $25.95, Knopf, 9780593318003, January, 2021)

Reviewed by Cat Chapman, Oxford Exchange in Tampa, Florida

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The Cold Millions by Jess Walter

It is 1909 in Spokane, WA, and orphaned brothers Gig and Rye Dolan are barely surviving day to day…taking odd jobs where they can find them and hopping trains to get from place to place. When older brother Gig gets involved in the IWW union and gets himself in trouble, 16-year-old Rye picks up where he left off and finds himself deeply entangled in the dirty business of brutal police, deal-making, and shady businessmen. You really do become invested in the characters as you’re drawn deeper into their stories of desperation, hard times, and brotherhood. If you liked Jennifer Egan’s Manhattan Beach or Paulette Jiles’s News of the World, this book is for you!

The Cold Millions by Jess Walter (List Price: $28.99, Harper, 9780062868084, 10/27/2020)

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

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Our Darkest Night by Jennifer Robson

Nina, an Italian Jew, pretends to be the wife of an Italian Christian farmer to survive the war. Robson has written a believable story of some of the horrors of the Nazi regime and how they affected the lives of ordinary people.

Our Darkest Night by Jennifer Robson (List Price: $17.99, William Morrow Paperbacks, 9780062674975, 1/5/2021)

Reviewed by Beth Carpenter, The Country Bookshop in Southern Pines, NC

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Raft of Stars by Andrew J. Graff

A Winter 2021 Read This Next! Title

Raft of Stars by Andrew J. Graff
Ecco, March

This book was just what I, a somewhat jaded bookseller, needed right now. Many thanks to all who brought it to life. The character development is just about perfect. These are people whom we meet, come to know, come to care for, and eventually cheer for. I can’t say it’s the most original plot, but it was the most satisfying version of “kids in peril” that I can remember. The adults come together in surprising ways, each on his or her own Hero’s Journey, and end up becoming their best selves for the benefit of the boys. It’s a lot for a first novel, but it just works–it comes across as so earnest and good-hearted, completely un-ironic in the best way. The river is both a plot device and a metaphor, as the kids barrel toward their doom. It makes this character-driven novel a real page-turner. I will be an evangelist for this book.

— Angela Schroeder, Sunrise Books in High Point, NC

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Red Island House by Andrea Lee

A Winter 2021 Read This Next! Title

Red Island House by Andrea Lee
Scribner, March

Beautiful, evocative writing propels a familial narrative through a journey of self-discovery and identity. The book follows Shay and her complicated relationship with her husband as they build and vacation in a sprawling estate in Madagascar over several decades. It is a novel of betrayal and class and colonialism, of race and culture and the social dynamics that underpin and threaten their marriage (and human society as a whole). As the clash of cultures and identity careens closer to Shay, she can no longer avoid making a choice about who she is and wants to be. With tinges of A Woman Destroyed, this is a story of finding your own foundational dignity in life’s wreckage.

– Miranda Sanchez, Epilogue Books Chocolate Brews in Chapel Hill, NC

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Act Your Age, Eve Brown by Talia Hibbert

A Winter 2021 Read This Next! Title

Act Your Age, Eve Brown by Talia Hibbert
Avon, March

Talia Hibbert is the queen of cozy, sexy, hate-to-love romance and I want to soak in the Brown sisters’ stories forever. Eve, the youngest sister, finally gets the spotlight as her journey for self-actualization leads her to an adorable B&B, whereupon she immediately hits her love interest with her car. Eve is the definition of chaotic good and her entanglement with the very LAWFUL good Jacob is squee-worthy and hot as hell.

— Sami Thomason-Fyke, Square Books in Oxford, MS

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The Lost Apothecary by Sarah Penner

A Winter 2021 Read This Next! Title

The Lost Apothecary by Sarah Penner
Park Row, March

I inhaled this book. The plot sucked me in and I couldn’t wait to see how everything unfolded. It checked so many boxes for me–mudlarking (on my bucket list), forgotten women-centric history, botanical poisons, revenge against men behaving badly, and of course, secret apothecaries.

— Candice Conner, The Haunted Bookshop in Mobile, AL

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The Girl from the Channel Islands by Jenny Lecoat

A Winter 2021 Read This Next! Title

The Girl from the Channel Islands by Jenny Lecoat
Graydon House, February

This was such an enjoyable novel for me. Ms. Lecoat does an excellent job of blending fact and fiction in her first book. The journey of the two main characters from subjugated and master to equal lovers is one that keeps you on the edge of your seat. I would recommend this book to anyone who enjoyed Hannah’s The Nightingale, Doerr’s All the Light We Cannot See, and Jenoff’s The Kommandant’s Girl.

— Annie Childress, E. Shaver, bookseller in Savannah, GA

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The Merciful by Jon Sealy

A Winter 2021 Read This Next! Title

The Merciful by Jon Sealy
Haywire Books, January

First: Every book club needs to put The Merciful at the top of their “next to read” list. For me, reading is for the most part a private personal experience. I love to read and immerse myself in the story. This book doesn’t let me do that. I can’t wait for my friends to read this one so we can intellectually deconstruct it. Bottom line; this book forces you to think and to see a story from disparate and various perspectives.

The book tells the story of a tragic incident where a young woman riding her bike down a country road late at night is struck and killed in a hit-and-run “accident.” Days later, after procuring an attorney, a local man comes forward thinking he “might” have been responsible. Like a rock thrown into a still pond, the incident ripples and radiates in all directions and this book conveys a thoughtful and compelling story of just how the accident affects not only the victim and the perpetrator, but also those close to them and those in the legal system who are responsible for trying the case.

Jon Sealy does a masterful job of painting the lives of these characters and exposing the flaws and foibles that make us all human. I highly recommend this thought-provoking and compelling novel.

— Brent Bunnell, Fiction Addiction in Greenville, SC

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Remote Control by Nnedi Okorafor

A Winter 2021 Read This Next! Title

Remote Control by Nnedi Okorafor
Tordotcom, January

Remote Control is a slow-paced meditation–think The Hobbit meets The Prey of Gods–about a young girl who calls down the supernatural and must come to terms with those consequences. Eye-catching prose weaves with vivid scenes make this a novella a must-read for Afrofuturism shelves. All hail Nnedi Okorafor, queen of the short form.

Lizy Coale, Copperfish Books in Punta Gorda, FL

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The House on Vesper Sands by Paraic O’Donnell

A Winter 2021 Read This Next! Title

The House on Vesper Sands by Paraic O’Donnell
Tin House, January

A sooty and shadow-filled Victorian London acts as a sentient backdrop to the sinister, dark, clever (and somehow even hilarious at times), detective mystery that is The House on Vesper Sands. As a reader, there were just so many sensory details and perfect moments of tension that made the world feel all the more real, and the discovery all the more haunting.

– Cat Chapman, Oxford Exchange in Tampa, FL

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Outlawed by Anna North

A Winter 2021 Read This Next! Title

Outlawed by Anna North
Bloomsbury Publishing, January

Anna North has taken the traditional Western and flipped it on its head with a feminist twist for a very refreshing and timely novel about self worth. Taking place in an alternate past, Ada marries at 17, but after a year of trying, can’t conceive a child. She is kicked out by her husband’s family and accused of witchcraft by the town she grew up in, forcing her to flee. She ends up with an atypical group of outlaws by way of a convent and begins to learn to survive on the outside of traditional society. Intimate and exciting, this is a very fun book!

– Carl Kranz, Fountain Bookstore in Richmond, VA

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The Fortunate Ones by Ed Tarkington

A Winter 2021 Read This Next! Title

The Fortunate Ones by Ed Tarkington
Algonquin Books, January

When a poor boy gets the opportunity to live among Nashville’s elite, he takes it—and what follows is a compelling tale of relationships, money, facade, and good old Southern grandeur. With tight, effective prose, Ed Tarkington illuminates the dark side of generosity and so-called good fortune.

– Talia Smart, Flyleaf Books in Chapel Hill, NC.

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The Prophets by Robert Jones, Jr.

A Winter 2021 Read This Next! Title

The Prophets by Robert Jones, Jr.
G.P. Putnam’s Sons, January

An incredible debut novel filled love, light, suffering, pain, and deep beauty – sure to be one of the year’s best. Jones has penned an astoundingly well-written debut about a relationship between two enslaved young men in the American Deep South. With beautiful, vivid prose and a narrative that keeps expanding and surprising, The Prophets is a truly special novel and one that will long have a place on my shelf.

Caleb Masters Bookmarks Winston-Salem, North Carolina

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The Push by Ashley Audrain

A Winter 2021 Read This Next! Title

The Push by Ashley Audrain
Pamela Dorman Books, January

Blythe cannot connect with her daughter Violet since birth. Her husband tells her she’s imagining the dislike from her daughter but when she has her son Sam, motherhood is everything she imagined. Tragedy strikes in their family and leaves Blyther wondering everything: Are the women in her family cursed? Is she imagining and being dramatic about Violet? Or is her husband not being a listening partner? This book will suck you in about the beauty and ugly of being a mother. It shook me to my core!

–Deanna Bailey, Story on the Square, McDonough, GA.

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The Push by Ashley Audrain

A Winter 2021 Read This Next! Title

Blythe cannot connect with her daughter Violet since birth. Her husband tells her she’s imagining the dislike from her daughter but when she has her son Sam, motherhood is everything she imagined. Tragedy strikes in their family and leaves Blyther wondering everything: Are the women in her family cursed? Is she imagining and being dramatic about Violet? Or is her husband not being a listening partner? This book will suck you in about the beauty and ugly of being a mother. It shook me to my core!

The Push by Ashley Audrain (List Price: $26.oo, Pamela Dorman Books, 9781984881663, January 5, 2021)

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

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The Children’s Train by Viola Ardone

Amerigo is a child in southern Italy sent north with other children to escape the deprived conditions after WWII. Choosing to stay with his adoptive family he lives a good life. Going home fifty years later for his mother’s funeral causes him to rethink his life and what a family really means. A great book that will provoke good book club discussions.

The Children’s Train by Viola Ardone, Clarissa Botsford (Trans.) (List Price: $16.99, HarperVia, 9780062940513, January 2021)

Reviewed by Beth Carpenter, The Country Bookshop in Southern Pines, North Carolina

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Leave the World Behind by Rumaan Alam

Leave The World Behind is an interesting take on how people react in the case of an emergency surrounded by unknown causes. Amanda and Clay leave Manhattan with their children to escape to a secluded Airbnb on Long Island for vacation. Late in the evening of their first night, an elderly couple claiming to be the owners of the house knock on the door and ask to stay because of a blackout in the city. And more weird things continue to happen…thousands of deer trek pass the house… a sonic boom of sorts cracks all the windows…live flamingos start showing up in the backyard pool…and Amanda and Clay’s son becomes violently ill with no explanation. This book took me a while to get into because the first few chapters are incredibly dense with metaphors and adjectives. I’m glad I stuck with it though, because once you start getting the internal dialogue of the characters…tension and suspicion abound due to the differences of race/social class between the two families. And the scariest part of the novel isn’t necessarily all the natural phenomena, it’s the fear of not knowing why things happen as they do and what kind of darkness that ignorance might bring out of our human nature.

Leave the World Behind by Rumaan Alam (List Price: $27.99, Ecco, 9780062667632, 10/6/2020)

Reviewed by Stuart McCommon, novel. in Memphis, TN.

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All About Us by Tom Ellen

Tom Ellen has written the perfect Christmas novel! All About Us is the cross between It’s a Wonderful Life and Love, Actually that we didn’t know we needed. Ben’s marriage is on rocky ground this holiday season. When his ex Alice reaches out, he can’t help but wonder if he chose the right girl that December years ago. But when a mysterious man sells him a watch with the hands frozen at one minute to midnight, he finds himself on the fateful day where he chose his current wife and left Alice. For many, this year’s holidays are filled with sadness or uncertainty. This novel captures those emotions and shows the hope that lies under the season. After the year we have had, this is a wonderful book to get into the Christmas spirit!

All About Us by Tom Ellen (List Price: $15.99, HQ, 9780008402679, 10/13/2020)

Reviewed by Karyn Cumming, Fountain Bookstore in Richmond, Virginia

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Before the Coffee Gets Cold by Toshikazu Kawaguchi

This is the perfect book to curl up with a blanket and a warm drink! Toshikazu Kawaguchi’s beautiful story and setting is the epitome of cozy. Each character feels so real, with universal problems surrounding love, family, and growing older. The magic of time travel, and the magic of getting to say what they really feel, makes this a soul-satisfying story. The desire to make things right with our loved ones is a universal impulse. Everything about Before the Coffee Gets Cold is fun and true.

Before the Coffee Gets Cold by Toshikazu Kawaguchi (List price: $19.99, Hanover Square Press, 9781335430991, November 2020).

Reviewed by Karyn Cumming, Fountain Bookstore, Richmond, VA

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When the Tiger Came Down the Mountain by Nghi Vo

This is an impressive sophomore novella that breathes new life into campfire stories and oral history. In a mystical world of tiger shifters and deadly mammoths, one cleric must bargain for their life with a folk tale. When the Tiger Came Down the Mountain is a story of cultural exchange and a question of who pens history. It’s powerful, compelling, and downright enchanting.

When the Tiger Came Down the Mountain by Nghi Vo (List price: $15.99, Tordotcom, 9781250786135, December 2020), recommended by Lizy Coale, Copperfish Books, Punta Gorda, FL.

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Do Not Disturb by Claire Douglas

It’s a new start for this family, after experiencing a near tragedy. They’ve now moved from London to Wales and have remodeled an old rectory, making it into a guesthouse. But the old rectory has secrets, and the village has secrets, and this little family has secrets. And where there are secrets, there are lies. And when a death occurs in the B&B, the police are not satisfied that it’s an accident. Too many suspects crowd this B&B and no one knows who to trust. A captivating, but complex plot, this thriller will grab you on the first page and keep you reading until its last, shocking page. It’s fast-paced, with lots of twists and turns, a bit dark at times, and full of suspense. And you’ll never expect this surprise ending!!

Do Not Disturb by Claire Douglas (List price: $26.99, Harper, 9780063037410, November 2020), recommended by Nancy Humphreys, Fiction Addiction, Greenville, SC.

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How to Catch a Queen by Alyssa Cole

This engaging and poignant story is full of delicious romance and emotional growth, and I adored following Shanti and Sanyu as they learned how to love each other, and how to be the best leaders they could be for their kingdom. Cole does a fantastic job of centering mental health and open communication in this story in an approachable way, and I cannot wait to see what other stories she brings to life in this series!

How to Catch a Queen by Alyssa Cole (List Price: $7.99, Avon, 9780062933966 December, 2020).

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

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Big Girl, Small Town by Michelle Gallen

A slice of life tale from Northern Ireland featuring a bold, unusual, but very relatable protagonist. Definitely good for a few laughs, but above all else, a very engaging novel that manages to transport the reader to another place (unless you happen to be from a border town called Aghybogey).

Big Girl, Small Town by Michelle Gallen (List Price: $16.95, Algonquin Books, 9781643750897 December 2020).

Reviewed by Billy McCormick, McIntyre’s Fine Books in Pittsboro, NC.

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The Wife Upstairs by Rachel Hawkins

A Winter 2021 Read This Next! Title

What a great story. This is one of those books that you can’t wait to get back to so you can figure out what is happening. The end will keep you guessing and make you wonder what happened in the end.

The Wife Upstairs by Rachel Hawkins (List Price: $27.99, St. Martins Press, 9781250245496 January, 2021).

Reviewed by Amy McNabb, Reading Rock Books in Dickson, TN

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The House on Vesper Sands by Paraic O’Donnell

A sooty and shadow-filled Victorian London acts as a sentient backdrop to the sinister, dark, clever (and somehow even hilarious at times), detective mystery that is The House on Vesper Sands. As a reader, there were just so many sensory details and perfect moments of tension that made the world feel all the more real, and the discovery all the more haunting.

The House on Vesper Sands by Paraic O’Donnell (List Price: $26.95, Tin House Books, 9781951142247, January, 2021).

Reviewed by Cat Chapman, Oxford Exchange in Tampa, FL

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The Narrowboat Summer by Anne Youngson

This delightful book is the perfect antidote to what was a difficult year for so many–the perfect book to begin a new year with. Eve and Sally are both looking for an escape from their everyday life. They meet while rescuing a dog from a barge–who turns out not to need rescuing after all–and promptly meet the owner of the dog and the barge, who needs both somewhere to stay and someone to take care of her boat. So Eve and Sally set off down the canals in their borrowed boat, discovering new friends and learning new skills along the way. Their first time taking the boat through a tunnel is literally some of the most riveting writing I’ve read in ages. I loved this book and can’t wait to share it with readers looking for their own escape!

The Narrowboat Summer by Anne Youngson (List Price: $26.99, Flatiron Books, 9781250764614, January, 2021).

Reviewed by Kate Storhoff, Bookmarks in Winston-Salem, NC

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A Certain Hunger by Chelsea G. Summers

I am obsessed with A Certain Hunger. This is one of those books where the story and characters are so deep and complex, but you cannot help but become engrossed in their messiness and forget to put the book down. Dorothy Daniels is a wild and witty character. While it is dark, Dorothy’s outlook on her life and actions produce laugh out loud moments in this highly original story. The philosophical insights into life, love, and lust are only more profound with Chelsea G. Summers’s lyrical writing. Readers will want to devour the writing as much as the duck confit! Her rage is refreshing and oh so satisfying.

A Certain Hunger by Chelsea G. Summers (List Price: $26.00, The Unnamed Press, December, 2020).

Reviewed by Karyn Cumming, Fountain Bookstore in Richmond, VA

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The Thirty Names of Night by Zeyn Joukhadar

Enormous in scope and theme, this book is a force. Weaving past and present into a lyrical world, Joukhadar uses a multi-generational cast to explore what it means to belong to a society, a community, and to oneself. It’s in this narrowing of belonging that the novel truly soars, literal ghosts and the ghosts of self-populating the story of a young trans boy as he sheds the confines of his traditional community-at-large and finds himself in the immigrant, working-class, LGBTQ, artists’ underground of NYC. The characters are imperfectly human. They experience everything from grief to joy, their lives full of loss and love, of heartbreak and the comfort of others, of seeing their world anew, and of being seen for who they are. This isn’t a novel about suffering; this is a novel about being in the world.

The Thirty Names of Night by Zeyn Joukhadar
(List Price: $27, Atria Books, November, 2020)

Recommended by Miranda Sanchez, Epilogue Books|Chocolate|Brews, Chapel Hill, NC

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Chasing Lucky by Jenn Bennett

A Fall 2020 Read This Next! Title
Simon Pulse | 9781534425170
November 10, 2020

In this coming-of-age romance perfect for fans of Jenny Han and Sarah Dessen, scandal and romance collide when an ambitious teen returns to her hometown only to have her plans interrupted after falling for the town’s “bad boy”—a.k.a. her childhood best friend.

Sometimes to find the good, you have to embrace the bad.

Budding photographer Josie Saint-Martin has spent half her life with her single mother, moving from city to city. When they return to her historical New England hometown years later to run the family bookstore, Josie knows it’s not forever. Her dreams are on the opposite coast, and she has a plan to get there.

What she doesn’t plan for is a run-in with the town bad boy, Lucky Karras. Outsider, rebel…and her former childhood best friend. Lucky makes it clear he wants nothing to do with the newly returned Josie. But everything changes after a disastrous pool party, and a poorly executed act of revenge lands Josie in some big-time trouble—with Lucky unexpectedly taking the blame.

Determined to understand why Lucky was so quick to cover for her, Josie discovers that both of them have changed, and that the good boy she once knew now has a dark sense of humor and a smile that makes her heart race. And maybe, just maybe, he’s not quite the brooding bad boy everyone thinks he is…

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Crazy Stupid Bromance by Lyssa Kay Adams

A Fall 2020 Read This Next! Title
Berkley | 9781984806130
October 27, 2020

A hacktavist and a cat cafe owner have love written into their future in this new novel in The Bromance Book Club series.

Alexis Carlisle and her cat cafe have shot to fame after she came forward as the vicitm of sexual harrassment at the hands of a celebrity chef. ToeBeans has become a Nashville hotspot for the curious, the furious, and the grateful. Women regularly come in to share their stories with her and thank her for coming forward. So when a young woman becomes a quiet regular at her cafe, Alexis assumes she’s just working up the courage to approach her about her own experience. The last thing Alexis expects is for the woman to blurt out that they’re sisters.

Known around Nashville as the hacker to the stars, Noah Parsons has built impenetrable servers for some of country music’s most famous faces. But after using his old hacking skills to help the Bromance Book Club bring down Royce Preston, he’s itching to get back to using his gifts for the greater good. When Alexis asks him to help investigate a girl’s claims that she and Alexis are sisters, he doesn’t hesitate.

But while investigating together, the greatest secret Alexis and Noah uncover is that they have feelings for each other…

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Ring Shout by P. Djèlí Clark

A Fall 2020 Read This Next! Title
Tordotcom | 9781250767028
October 13, 2020

Nebula, Locus, and Alex Award-winner P. Djèlí Clark returns with Ring Shout, a dark fantasy historical novella that gives a supernatural twist to the Ku Klux Klan’s reign of terror

IN AMERICA, DEMONS WEAR WHITE HOODS.

In 1915, The Birth of a Nation cast a spell across America, swelling the Klan’s ranks and drinking deep from the darkest thoughts of white folk. All across the nation they ride, spreading fear and violence among the vulnerable. They plan to bring Hell to Earth. But even Ku Kluxes can die.

Standing in their way is Maryse Boudreaux and her fellow resistance fighters, a foul-mouthed sharpshooter and a Harlem Hellfighter. Armed with blade, bullet, and bomb, they hunt their hunters and send the Klan’s demons straight to Hell. But something awful’s brewing in Macon, and the war on Hell is about to heat up.

Can Maryse stop the Klan before it ends the world?

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How Fire Runs by Charles Dodd White

A Fall 2020 Read This Next! Title
Swallow Press | 9780804012287
October 13, 2020

Set in rural Appalachia and told through the voices of three different present-day narrators, this harrowing novel about white supremacists attempting to take over a small town focuses an unflinching eye on America’s ongoing, fraught relationship with racial and political injustice.

A chilling, timely reminder of the moral and human costs of racial hatred.

What happens when a delusional white supremacist and his army of followers decide to create a racially pure “Little Europe” within a rural Tennessee community? As the town’s residents grapple with their new reality, minor skirmishes escalate and dirty politics, scandals, and a cataclysmic chain of violence follows. In this uncanny reflection of our time, award-winning novelist Charles Dodd White asks whether Americans can save themselves from their worst impulses and considers the consequences when this salvation comes too late.

Set in rural Appalachia and told through the voices of three different present-day narrators, this harrowing novel about white supremacists attempting to take over a small town focuses an unflinching eye on America’s ongoing, fraught relationship with racial and political injustice.

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Moonflower Murders by Anthony Horowitz

Another great mystery-within-a mystery from Horowitz! A real page turner, clever and entertaining with twists. The novel within the novel was a surprise, and made it even harder to try to guess “who done it.” A perfect distraction read, engrossing in all the best ways.

Moonflower Murders by Anthony Horowitz
(List Price: $28.99, Harper, 11/10/2020)
Recommended by Jamie Fiocco, Flyleaf Books in Chapel Hill, North Carolina

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The Everlasting by Katy Simpson Smith

 

Four stories wheelbarrowed down a potholed pathway of flawed love ’round the fecund pond in history’s horribly funded public park. The cartoon-strength attitudes of the four (or five) wonderfully constructed main characters gave me the strength to accept each of their fates with que sera and a sigh.

The Everlasting by Katy Simpson Smith (List price: $28.99, Harper), recommended by Avid Bookshop, Athens, GA.

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The Faceless Old Woman Who Secretly Lives in Your Home by Joseph Fink, Jeffrey Cranor

Night Vale fans rejoice! Here is the latest offering from the talented offbeat minds of Jeffrey Cranor and Joseph Fink – creators of the popular podcast Welcome to Night Vale. I don’t want to give anything away because that would spoil your enjoyment of this book. However, I will say this much: If you are already listening to Welcome to Night Vale, get this book. If you aren’t already listening, you need to start listening!! While being a fan definitely helps, it is not ultimately a bar to reading and enjoying this book. It might even get you to start listening!

The Faceless Old Woman Who Secretly Lives in Your Home by Joseph Fink, Jeffrey Cranor (List price: $21.99, Harper Perennial), recommended by Quail Ridge Books, Raleigh, NC.

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Goodnight Beautiful by Aimee Molloy

He mounts the porch steps and hands me the mail addressed to me as I give him his glass. ‘What shall we toast to tonight?’ He looks up at the house. ‘How about to a new life for the Lawrence House?’

‘Yes, that’s perfect.’ I clink my glass against his. But I avert my gaze, tipping back my head to take a long sip, wondering if he can sense it, too. The wrongness of this place.

Goodnight Beautiful opens with the disappearance of Sam Statler, a therapist who has just moved back to his small New York town with his wife Annie to be near his ailing mother. The narrative then flashes back to earlier that summer, soon after the couple has moved to town and Sam has begun work. What follows feels like a rather straight forward domestic thriller, but nothing and no one is what they seem. Molloy has crafted a novel takes the unreliable narrator and turns the volume up to eleven. Her writing will appeal to both those familiar to the genre as well as novices. Readers may want to avoid learning too much in advance, but even when one knows the twist is coming, watching Molloy execute it is just as compelling.

Goodnight Beautiful by Aimee Molloy (List Price: $27.99, Harper, 9780062881922, 10/13/2020)

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

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Goodnight Beautiful by Aimee Molloy

A good looking couple from New York City move upstate for a slower lifestyle but things quickly takes a turn when the husband goes missing. Sam Statler is a therapist with a range of diverse clients and when he doesn’t come home, his wife Annie is desperate to find him and suspects one of his clients. As secrets and twists unravel, Molloy keeps the reader excited and engaged in this intriguing thriller.

Goodnight Beautiful by Aimee Molloy (List Price: $27.99, Harper, 9780062881922, 10/13/2020)

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

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Flyaway by Kathleen Jennings

A beautifully dark and lush novella about family and the secrets we keep. Set in rural (and slightly fantastical) Queensland, Flyaway is evocatively written, full of razor sharp edges and lonely, dusty roads. Jenning’s writing has a unique lyrical rhythm to it that immediately grabbed me and her gorgeous hand-cut illustrations that accompany every chapter sealed the deal. An entrancing and unforgettable debut.

Flyaway by Kathleen Jennings (List price: $19.99, TOR), recommended by Bookmarks, Winston-Salem, NC.

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Cuyahoga by Pete Beatty

A Fall 2020 Read This Next! Title
Scribner | 9781982155551
October 6, 2020

One of The Millions and BuzzFeed‘s Most Anticipated Books

A spectacularly inventive debut novel that reinvents the tall tale for our times—”Cuyahoga defies all modest description…[it] is ten feet tall if it’s an inch, and it’s a ramshackle joy from start to finish” (Brian Phillips, author of Impossible Owls).

Big Son is a spirit of the times—the times being 1837. Behind his broad shoulders, shiny hair, and church-organ laugh, Big Son practically made Ohio City all by himself. The feats of this proto-superhero have earned him wonder and whiskey toasts but very little in the way of fortune. And without money, Big cannot become an honest husband to his beloved Cloe (who may or may not want to be his wife, honestly).

In pursuit of a steady wage, our hero hits the (dirt) streets of Ohio City and Cleveland, the twin towns racing to become the first great metropolis of the West. Their rivalry reaches a boil over the building of a bridge across the Cuyahoga River—and Big stumbles right into the kettle. The resulting misadventures involve elderly terrorists, infrastructure collapse, steamboat races, wild pigs, and multiple ruined weddings.

Narrating this “deliriously fun” (Brian Phillips) tale is Medium Son—known as Meed—apprentice coffin maker, almanac author, orphan, and the younger brother of Big. Meed finds himself swept up in the action, and he is forced to choose between brotherly love and his own ambitions. His uncanny voice—plain but profound, colloquial but surprisingly poetic—elevates a slapstick frontier tale into a screwball origin myth for the Rust Belt.

In Cuyahoga, tragedy and farce jumble together in a riotously original voice. Evoking the Greek classics and the Bible alongside nods to Looney Tunes, Charles Portis, and Flannery O’Connor, Pete Beatty has written a rollicking revisionist (mid)Western with universal themes of family and fate—an old, weird America that feels brand new.

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Confessions on the 7:45 by Lisa Unger

A Fall 2020 Read This Next! Title
Park Row | 9780778310150
October 6, 2020

Bestselling and award-winning author Lisa Unger returns with her best novel yet. Reminiscent of the classic Strangers on a Train, Confessions on the 7:45 is a riveting psychological thriller that begins with a chance encounter on a commuter train and shows why you should never, ever make conversation with strangers.

Be careful who you tell your darkest secrets…

Selena Murphy is commuting home from her job in the city when the train stalls out on the tracks. She strikes up a conversation with a beautiful stranger in the next seat, and their connection is fast and easy. The woman introduces herself as Martha and confesses that she’s been stuck in an affair with her boss. Selena, in turn, confesses that she suspects her husband is sleeping with the nanny. When the train arrives at Selena’s station, the two women part ways, presumably never to meet again.

But days later, Selena’s nanny disappears.

Soon Selena finds her once-perfect life upended. As she is pulled into the mystery of the missing nanny, and as the fractures in her marriage grow deeper, Selena begins to wonder, who was Martha really? But she is hardly prepared for what she’ll discover.

Expertly plotted and reminiscent of the timeless classic Strangers on a Train, Confessions on the 7:45 is a stunning web of lies and deceit, and a gripping thriller about the delicate facades we create around our lives.

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The City We Became by N. K. Jemison

The newest from three-time Hugo Award winner N. K. Jemisin is an epic tribute to New York City that runs on pure adrenaline with a Lovecraftian back story and a hip hop backbeat. Five New Yorkers, some born to the city and others only recently arrived, find themselves the sudden manifestations of the soul of the Big Apple and the only ones standing between the city and its total destruction at the tendrils and tentacles of an eldritch city-eating horror. A big departure from The Broken Earth trilogy, but with its powerful political commentary, The City We Became is sure to please Jemisin fans, all while embracing superhero and horror fans.

The City We Became by N. K. Jemison (List price: $28.00, Orbit), recommended by Underground Books, Carrollton, GA.

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The House in the Cerulean Sea by TJ Klune

Our differences should never be hidden as a means of conformity, but fully embraced for their powerful ability to make us unique individuals. It’s a simple sentiment, if not a tired one, but TJ Klune has a magical power that allows him to breathe new, exhilarating life into that simplicity. With The House in the Cerulean Sea, he has skillfully crafted a contemporary fable filled with humor, wit, overwhelming delight, and some of the most colorfully drawn characters I’ve ever had the privilege of meeting in a book. Positively queer and heartfelt, you’ll find that TJ Klune is a brilliant writer and a masterful storyteller.

The House in the Cerulean Sea by TJ Klune (List price: $18.99, Tor Books), recommended by Flyleaf Books, Chapel Hill, NC.

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If I Never Met You by Mhairi McFarlane

Laurie has been with her partner for 18 years. He’s been her first and only and she’s still just as much in love with him now. So she’s shocked one evening when he gets home and he tells her that he doesn’t want to have kids and he feels trapped. He wants to break up. Laurie is heartbroken and since they work together, she has to see him all the time. It gets worse when he immediately starts dating someone else. And then his new girlfriend is pregnant. Laurie is destroyed, but when she gets trapped in an elevator with Jaime, the office Lothario. They soon concoct a fake romance. She makes her ex jealous and he shows he’s more serious to his bosses so he can hopefully snag a promotion. This is a fun romance. Laurie and Jaime are hilarious and fun together. This my first read from this author, but I hope to read many more now!

If I Never Met You by Mhairi McFarlane (List price: $15.99, William Morrow & Company), recommended by Bookmiser, Roswell, GA.

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The Keeper by Jessica Moor

Katie Straw worked at a women’s shelter. She was really good at her job because seemed to understand how the residents were feeling as they hide out from, and attempted to recover from their abusive situations. Then Katie is found dead, an apparent suicide, or so the police believe, until they discover that she was NOT who she claimed to be. Told in the voice of “then” and “now” Katie tells her story leading up to her death, and the lead police detective tells his as the investigation continues. This debut novel by Jessica Moor is a challenging read at times as the varying themes of abuse are brought to light and you come to fear that Katie’s killer may just get away with murder!

The Keeper by Jessica Moor (List price: $16.00, Penguin Books), recommended by Sunrise Bookshop, High Point, NC.

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The Orphan Collector: A Heroic Novel of Survival During the 1918 Influenza Pandemic by Ellen Marie Wiseman

Wiseman takes the sad story of the 1918 flu epidemic in Philadelphia and gives it a face with the tale of Pia Lange, a young daughter of German immigrants who goes out to search for food after her mother dies from the flu and comes back to find her twin infant brothers gone. This is a great story that reveals both the best and the worst in people.

The Orphan Collector: A Heroic Novel of Survival During the 1918 Influenza Pandemic by Ellen Marie Wiseman (List price: $16.99, Kensington), recommended by The Country Bookshop, Southern Pines, NC.

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Luster by Raven Leilani

Painter Edie–black, twenty-something, and precariously employed as an editorial coordinator for a children’s imprint–is in a new relationship with Eric, an archivist whose wife has recently issued guidelines for how to appropriately open their marriage. Emotionally enfeebled by a toxic and lonely childhood and anchored only by her art, Edie veers frequently between genius levels of self-awareness and a stubborn tendency to make the optimally self-destructive choice in spite of that. Luster is sad, sexy, and hypnotically paced, better binged than nibbled. There’s a stream-of-consciousness quality to Edie’s narration that made me linger too long in a no-longer-warm bath, turning page after page, not to outpace cliffhanging chapters, but to absorb her complete thoughts, scrape up every last bit of observational savvy, to go back and check one more time to be sure I didn’t overlook any emotional clues in Edie’s self-portrait. Luster is a best-of-show caliber debut.

Luster by Raven Leilani (List price: $26.00, Farrar, Straus and Giroux), recommended by novel., Memphis, TN.

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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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Then the Fish Swallowed Him by Amir Ahmadi Arian

Then The Fish Swallowed him is an amazing debut for Iranian author, Amir Ahmadi Arian. The novel is set in modern Tehran and follows bus-driver Yunus from a weekly book club, to a bus-drivers’ union strike, to an unexpected arrest, and finally to solitary confinement in prison, peppered with days of brutal interrogation. Yunus replays his life in his mind while imprisoned to figure out how he ended up in this position, and even develops a mild version of Stockholm-syndrome as he ends up wanting to please his interrogator, Hajj Saeed. This book is blistering and unforgiving, but it’s also incredibly beautiful in describing the struggle of an everyday citizen in Tehran. It’s a great read to spur discussion for those looking for book-club picks.

Then the Fish Swallowed Him by Amir Ahmadi Arian (List price: $25.99, HarperVia), recommended by .novel, Memphis, TN.

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