The books Southern indie booksellers are recommending to readers everywhere!

Adult Nonfiction

Smile by Sarah Ruhl

When she is struck with Bell’s palsy after giving birth to twins and suffers from complete paralysis of the left side of her face, Sarah Ruhl realizes the importance of a smile…and the struggle to convey emotions without one. Being a playwright, she recounts her 10-year experience with this mysterious condition through beautiful words, drawing on art and literature to help make sense of her condition. Through unflagging support from her husband and many years of trying a myriad of therapies/treatments, she perseveres through this oftentimes depressing and frustrating condition and offers her readers a raw, emotional look into her story.

Smile by Sarah Ruhl, (List Price: $27, Simon & Schuster, 9781982150945, October, 2021)

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


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Girly Drinks by Mallory O’Meara

What an absolute blast of a book! I love these sort of scientific/sociological looks at oft-overlooked parts of everyday life, and Girly Drinks fits the bill perfectly! The author succinctly and hilariously tells the story of how women were originally in charge of the production and distribution of alcohol. She then details how women lost that power and social cache, and ends the book on a hopeful note about modern women who are making big strides towards equality in the new era. I learned about so many interesting, powerful, influential women that I had never heard of before, but I wish I had! I also really appreciated the author’s use of correct terminology – namely, distinguishing biological sex from gender. She takes the time to specifically say that she is referencing cisgender or AFAB (assigned female at birth) women, and even mentions the contributions of trans women! I would highly recommend Girly Drinks to anyone who’s ever been even a little bit interested in the history of alcohol or the gendered constructs surrounding it. Fantastic!

Girly Drinks by Mallory O’Meara, (List Price: $27.99, Hanover Square Press, 9781335282408, October 2021)

Reviewed by Kate Wilder, Story on the Square in McDonough, Georgia


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Shelf Life by Nadia Wassef

Blame it on naivete or my newbie bookseller status, but I did not realize that, culturally, bookselling can vary drastically from country to country, but it can and it does, and thanks to Nadia Wassef, we get to hear first hand how three women got a wildly successful independent bookstore off the ground in Cairo, Egypt, when societal norms suggested that women weren’t meant to open small businesses. A remarkable story!

Shelf Life by Nadia Wassef, (List Price: $27, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 9780374600181, October 2021)

Reviewed by Jill Naylor, Novel. in Memphis, Tennessee


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Orwell’s Roses by Rebecca Solnit

A Fall Read This Next! Selection

Jumping off from a mention in a 1946 essay by George Orwell about fruit trees and roses he had planted ten years earlier, Solnit begins a meandering path through a garden of antifascism, art, and the ways in which they intertwined in Orwell’s life. In the span of about 270 pages, coal mining and climate change, mass rose production in Columbia and the invisibility of capitalism’s machinations, Orwell’s involvement in the Spanish Civil War, and his ancestral connection to the slave trade are all explored deftly and, in the ususal Solnit style, with lines beautifully drawn to our current condition. Whether you are deeply interested in Orwell and his milieu or just a fan of Solnit’s incisive writing, you will find this biography/essay collection bears flowers scented with hope, resistance, and pleasure.

Orwell’s Roses by Rebecca Solnit, (List Price: $28, Viking, 9780593083369, October 2021)

Reviewed by Hannah DeCamp, Avid Bookshop in Athens, Georgia


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The Boys by Ron Howard

A Fall Read This Next! Selection

The Boys felt like you were listening in at an extended family reunion of the Howards as Ron and Clint held court, retelling some of their favorite family anecdotes from years gone by, occasionally interruping each other with interjections and sometimes just telling the same story from the other lens. I could not put it down, but now I have an enormous list of classics to rewatch and bit parts (and B-movies) to look up and cameos to watch for.


The Boys by Ron Howard, (List Price: $28.99, William Morrow, 9780063065246, October 2021)

Reviewed by Lisa Yee Swope, Bookmarks in Winston-Salem, North Carolina

 

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All of the Marvels by Douglas Wolk

Review courtesy of my husband, Tim! In this book, Douglas Wolk does something very few would attempt, much less complete: read literally all the marvels. At the beginning, the book seems to be presented as a tour that recaps the last 60 years and a way for new readers to jump in. I don’t think it worked. I think you need to be pretty well versed with at least the characters if not the events to enjoy this tour. But as an insightful look at the various neighborhoods of the marvelverse, it is brilliant! It provides some history for sure, but Wolk finds the heart of what makes each team, family, and character work in storytelling. The only downsides to me were the sometimes incomprehensible jumping around the timeline. Not unlike some marvel stories. And the lack of pictures to go along with his description of the artwork.

All of the Marvels by Douglas Wolk, (List Price: 28, Penguin Press, 9780735222168, October 2021)

Reviewed by Melissa Taylor, E. Shaver, bookseller in Savannah, Georgia


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On Animals by Susan Orlean

On Animals is absolutely hilarious at times and a little heartbreaking at times, but it is mainly filled with love for animals of all kinds. It’s a collection of several of Orlean’s articles that were written for The New Yorker and Smithsonian magazine over the last few decades. She covers backyard chickens, racing pigeons, Moroccan donkeys, and even a real-life Lion Whisperer. If you enjoy animals and conservation, you’ll highly enjoy this love letter to the natural world.

On Animals by Susan Orlean, (List Price: $28, Avid Reader Press, Simon & Schuster, 9781982181536, October 2021)

Reviewed by Stuart McCommon, Novel. in Memphis, Tennessee


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My Darling from the Lions by Rachel Long

These poems were enchanting and brilliant, forcing you to think and interact with the stories being told. Once you sit down with this book, you won’t be able to get back up until you’ve closed it and long after, too consumed with every single word. Carefully crafted, and perfectly balanced, this book of poetry is perfect for newcomers to poetry, or those well versed in it.

My Darling from the Lions by Rachel Long, (List Price: 16.95, Tin House Books, 9781951142711, September 2021)

Reviewed by Caitlyn Vanorder, Bookmarks in Winston-Salem, North Carolina

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Mennonite Valley Girl by Carla Funk

After reading the very first page, I knew I’d love this book. Funk’s language is poetic, and the humor is soft and subtle. I braced myself for trauma, but was so delighted to find the interior life of a young girl who wants more out of life than what she sees around her. Universal, old as time, yet fresh and gripping. I saw myself in every page.

Mennonite Valley Girl by Carla Funk, (List Price: 27.95, Greystone Books, 9781771645157, September 2021)

Reviewed by Sissy Gardner, Parnassus Books in Nashville, Tennessee

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The Icepick Surgeon by Sam Kean

This is an absolutely fascinating, if sometimes harrowing, look into the history of science. Fans of Mary Roach will appreciate the unflinching look at the sometimes devastating human cost of scientific progress. The author raises several interesting questions about the use or validity of poorly performed scientific experiments. Particularly, Kean questions whether the knowledge gained from unethical experimentation is valid and what we should do with this information moving forward. I particularly enjoyed his focus on how these actions have affected marginalized communities. I also appreciated his repeated entreaties that we cannot simply wag our fingers at the mistakes of the past and pretend we are blameless and more morally pure than those who came before us. We must constantly remain vigilant and ensure that we are mindful of the ethical and long-term consequences of our actions in the present, lest we repeat our sins in the name of scientific progress.

The Icepick Surgeon by Sam Kean, (List Price: $40, Little, Brown & Company, 9780316496506, August 2021)

Reviewed by Kate Wilder, Story on the Square in McDonough, Georgia

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Three Girls from Bronzeville by Dawn Turner

This beautifully written memoir features the intertwined lives of the author, her sister and childhood friend. Written in fresh, understated prose, the author explores how their lives diverge – in ways heartbreaking and hopeful, despairing and redemptive. Three Girls is one of the best books I’ve read this year and I hope it gets the attention and awards it deserves.

Three Girls from Bronzeville by Dawn Turner, (List Price: 26.99, Simon & Schuster, 9781982107703, September 2021)

Reviewed by Lia Lent, Wordsworth Books in Little Rock, Arkansas

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Beautiful Country by Qian Julie Wang

Qian Julie Wang opens her heart and bares her soul in this striking memoir about an illegal Chinese immigrant family. Wang does a fine job describing the poverty and sweatshops of Chinatown, her parents’ fear of getting deported, and her determination to make something of herself in Mei Guo, America, the beautiful country. The poverty and prejudice her family faced as well as her parents’ marital difficulties created trauma that Wang today is still determined to break through.

Beautiful Country by Qian Julie Wang, (List Price: 28.95, Doubleday, 9780385547215, September 2021)

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

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Four Thousand Weeks by Oliver Burkeman

An absolutely incredible, insightful, and clear-eyed look at our limited time on this earth and the ways we use it. I’m not much one for self-help books but Burkeman weaves seamlessly weaves together wisdom from philosophy, spirituality, and science to make the argument that you’ll never have time to do “everything you want or need to” and life is more about choosing what to spend your four thousand weeks on Funny and brilliantly wise, Burkeman has fundamentally shifted the way I think about my to-do list, my aspirations, my “busyness”, my guilt for not doing the things I should have done, and my brief, brief time on this planet. I cannot recommend Four Thousand Weeks highly enough.

Four Thousand Weeks by Oliver Burkeman, (List Price: 27, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 9780374159122, August 2021)

Reviewed by Caleb Masters, Bookmarks in Winston-Salem, North Carolina

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Names for Light by Thirii Myo Kyaw Myint

Names for Light is a beautiful book, astonishing and profound. Despite some of its heaviness — war, colonialism, racism, death — there is such openness and grace. Even in displacement — or perhaps through it — Myint creates a rich sense of all the places that help form the story of her family, however imperfectly. Almost like an elegant procession of prose poems, Names for Light is often at its most powerful when exploring these imperfections — the memories that cannot be reconstructed, the words that cannot be translated, the ghosts that cannot be conjured or dispelled. This book is an achievement and a gift.

Names for Light by Thirii Myo Kyaw Myint, (List Price: 16, Graywolf Press, 9781644450611, August 2021)

Reviewed by Steve Haruch, Parnassus Books in Nashville, Tennessee

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Maiden Voyages by Siân Evans

Millions of women crisscrossed the Atlantic via ocean liners during the first half of the 20th century— glamorous actresses, émigrés seeking new beginnings, and female crewmembers navigating everything from outrageous passenger demands to sinking ships. This witty and engaging social history sails the reader into the golden age of transatlantic travel with portraits of the women whose journeys helped reshape society on both sides of the ocean.

Maiden Voyages by Siân Evans, (List Price: 28.99, St. Martin’s Press, 9781250246462, August 2021)

Reviewed by Erin Cox, Parnassus Books in Nashville, Tennessee

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Made in China by Anna Qu

A young Chinese immigrant calls Child Services on her mother. Like the threads whirling through her mother and stepfather’s New York City sweatshop where she was forced to work as a girl, Anna Qu’s debut memoir is full of the fragments of a traumatic childhood and the challenges of piecing together the truth—about trauma and the generational pattern of cruelty, about immigration and identity, labor and self-worth, and ultimately, the love we deserve, awaiting us.

Made in China by Anna Qu, (List Price: 26, Catapult, 9781646220342, August 2021)

Reviewed by Megan Bell, Underground Books in Carrollton, Georgia

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Other People’s Comfort Keeps Me Up At Night by Morgan Parker

I loved Morgan Parker’s collections There are More Beautiful Things Than Beyonce and Magical Negro so I was excited to go back and read her debut collection in its new re-released form. It comes with a lovely foreword by Danez Smith, whose observations enhanced my reading experience. From her other two collections, I knew I loved the way Parker combines poetry and music; I loved seeing in this collection how she brings the visual arts into her world, too.

Other People’s Comfort Keeps Me Up At Night by Morgan Parker, (List Price: 16.95, Tin House Books, 9781951142568, July, 2021)

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

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Stiff by Mary Roach

I absolutely love Mary Roach – the way she breaks down complex topics is second to none. I borrowed a copy from a friend and was done with it in two days. I love the way she can take a really complex and delicate topic, and break it down from a variety of perspectives to come to a wonderfully fascinating conclusion.

Stiff by Mary Roach, (List Price: 16.95, W. W. Norton & Company, 9780393324822, May 2004)

Reviewed by Kate Wilder, Story On the Square in McDonough, Georgia

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Trejo by Danny Trejo

Having been slightly familiar with Danny Trejo as an actor and enjoying some of his films, I picked this book up as a lark and I ended up being utterly fascinated. His personal story is heart-wrenching at times, but it is filled with redemption at the highest level. Composed in a conversational tone by fellow actor Donal Logue, Trejo recounts growing up in LA during the 50’s/60’s and doing several stints in notorious prisons like Soledad, San Quentin, and Folsom. He is brutally honest about his faults, regrets, and crimes…but he also explains how it led to him being a fixture in the drug & alcohol rehabilitation community after he became sober. The actor’s newfound vocation of helping other addicts stay clean eventually led to his film career through an unforeseeable stroke of luck. Now a cultural icon for the city of LA and the Mexican American community, this book shows the reader it’s never too late to make a positive change in one’s life.

Trejo by Danny Trejo, (List Price: 27, Atria Books, 9781982150822, July 2021)

Reviewed by Stuart McCommon, Novel. in Memphis, Tennessee

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Other People’s Comfort Keeps Me Up At Night by Morgan Parker

I loved Morgan Parker’s collections THERE ARE MORE BEAUTIFUL THINGS THAN BEYONCE and MAGICAL NEGRO so I was excited to go back and read her debut collection in its new re-released form. It comes with a lovely foreword by Danez Smith, whose observations enhanced my reading experience. From her other two collections, I knew I loved the way Parker combines poetry and music; I loved seeing in this collection how she brings the visual arts into her world, too.

Other People’s Comfort Keeps Me Up At Night by Morgan Parker, (List Price: 16.95, Tin House Books, 9781951142568, July 2021)

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

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Seek You by Kristen Radtke

Like many other people, I’ve spent the last year questioning how we differentiate between loneliness and aloneness. Kristen Radtke’s SEEK YOU is a gorgeous fully-illustrated meditation on the often stigmatized epidemic of loneliness and an investigation into how we form bonds with others. Not since Olivia Laing’s LONELY CITY have I felt such kinship with an author. I’m so grateful that this book exists.

Seek You by Kristen Radtke, (List Price: 30, Pantheon, 9781524748067, July 2021)

Reviewed by Lindsay Lynch, Parnassus Books in Nashville, Tennessee

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Books Promiscuously Read by Heather Cass White

Because I work in the book world, sometimes I forget that not every person is a reading-obsessed nerd. This book put into words what I’ve never been able to: reading takes you to another place. Reading changes your entire world in a literal way and in figurative ways. I loved reading quotes from my favorite writers about how reading transformed their worlds.

Books Promiscuously Read by Heather Cass White, (List Price: 25, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 9780374115265, July 2021)

Reviewed by Sissy Gardner, Parnassus Books in Nashville, Tennessee

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The Cruelty Is the Point by Adam Serwer

I’ve followed Serwer’s articles in the Atlantic for several years. In this collection of his most moving pieces, he’s added a short introduction to each one with new insights and background. Bonus – Kevin Kruse blurbed it.

The Cruelty Is the Point by Adam Serwer, (List Price: 28, One World, 9780593230800, July 2021)

Reviewed by Sissy Gardner, Parnassus Books in Nashville, Tennessee

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Bring Your Baggage and Don’t Pack Light by Helen Ellis

I’m going to start a change.org petition to force Helen Ellis to write books that are 400 pages or more. Her latest collection deals with topics as wide-ranging as aging and loss to poker and garage sales with her signature wit, warmth, and southern sass. The thing about Helen Ellis is you can feel her delight in her friends, her husband, and the world at large with every sentence. Everything she writes is worth reading and Bring Your Baggage and Don’t Pack Light might be her best yet. Do yourself a favor and pick this up, but be prepared to want more when you finish!

Bring Your Baggage and Don’t Pack Light by Helen Ellis, (List Price: 23, Doubleday, 9780385546157, July 2021)

Reviewed by Chelsea Bauer, Union Ave Books in Knoxville, Tennessee

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The Way She Feels by Courtney Cook

When I picked up Courtney Cook’s book, I immediately read from start to finish. Cook’s personality is bright and poppy, friendly and relatable, and somehow this book maintains a level of kindness and vulnerability even when talking about the scary parts of living with Borderline personality disorder, from self-harm to crippling anxiety and depression, obsessive behavior, and more. Although there are 4 million people in the US that are diagnosed, Borderline personality disorder is still so stigmatized, even as people are starting to recognize and normalize mental illness at large. The Way She Feels is the representation of BPD–from confusing and distressing, to joyful and funny–that is needed right now.

The Way She Feels by Courtney Cook, (List Price: 18.95, Tin House Books, 9781951142599, 2021-06-29)

Reviewed by Cat Chapman, Oxford Exchange in Tampa, Florida

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Willie Nelson’s Letters to America by Willie Nelson

I didn’t want these letters to end so I read only a few pages every day. Willie Nelson shares stories of his life and his music but oh, so much more. The world would be a kinder and more loving and sensible place if we could all follow Willie’s advice on how to get through difficult times and take care of each other. Jokes and laughter fill every page and you will find yourself laughing any crying at his sage advice and hilarious life observations.

Willie Nelson’s Letters to America by Willie Nelson, (List Price: 27.99, Harper Horizon, 9780785241546, June 2021)

Reviewed by Nancy Pierce, Bookmiser in Marietta, Georgia

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Nowhere Girl by Cheryl Diamond

The moment I cracked this memoir, I knew I should fasten my seatbelt–what a jaw-dropping ride it was! The unconventional childhood of Cheryl Diamond took her and her family all over the world, fleeing INTERPOL from place to place, losing and gaining identities, following highly rehearsed rules to protect their cover, and never quite finding a place to belong. The pages are filled with adventure, humor, and deep sadness. Nowhere Girl is so gorgeously written and impossible to put down. It is truly a tribute to human resilience.

Nowhere Girl by Cheryl Diamond, (List Price: 27.95, Algonquin Books, 9781616208202, June, 2021)

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

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Dear Senthuran by Awaeke Emezi

A dazzling and devastating look into the life of one of the most unique voices of modern lit. Read to learn how an Ogbanje navigates the highs and lows of success. You may have more in common with a god than you think. (would ‘spirit’ be a better substitute for ‘god’ here? I can’t recall if they refer to themselves as ‘god’ or ‘godly’ throughout) Emezi paints their world with a set of custom brushes. No matter the angle of your view, the picture comes to life in this book. Although these letters are personal and specific, the messages relayed will resonate with a wide audience. The prose, as always, is visceral, raw, and unflinching. The words center around heartbreak and personhood, destruction and growth. A sibling book to their astounding debut, Freshwater.

Dear Senthuran by Akwaeke Emezi (List Price: $27.00, Riverhead Books, 9780593329191, 5/11/2021)

Reviewed by Caroline Bergeron, Garden District Bookshop in New Orleans, Louisiana

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Stranger Care by Sarah Sentilles

As a child advocate for the family court system, I have a pretty good idea of what foster care is like. Sarah Sentilles is spot on in her memoir about her and her husband’s experience training and becoming foster parents. Sentilles accurately portrays the emotions of the parents, foster parents, social workers, and children involved. She uses examples from animals and plants to show techniques of care in the natural world. But even after they accumulate this knowledge, Sarah and her husband underestimate the pull on their heartstrings at the possibility of a child’s loss from their lives.

Stranger Care by Sarah Sentilles (List Price: $28, Random House, 9780593230039, 5/4/2021)

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

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The Ride of Her Life by Elizabeth Letts

One Friday in early November 1954, sixth three year-Old Annie Wilkins left Minot, Maine in with her little dachshund mix Depeche Toi, her Morgan horse Tarzan, a few dollars, and not much more than the clothes on her back. But what Annie had that no one could see was pluck. Pluck and determination and a plan, to walk with Depeche Toi and Tarzan all the way to California to fulfill the dream her mother never got to see realized. This absolutely delightful story of Annie’s journey will no doubt make readers laugh, shake their heads in disbelief, cringe with worry, and stir up a bit of both horse love and wanderlust. This is THE Feel-good book of the summer, and i can’t wait to put it in the hands of my customers.

The Ride of Her Life by Elizabeth Letts (List Price: $28, Ballantine Books, 9780525619321, 6/1/2021)

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

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Finding Freedom by Erin French

Foodies rejoice!!! This sophisticated memoir will have your mouth watering to know more about this amazing author. I love the restaurant. The harder it is to get in the more determined people will be to get a reservation. Determination, grit, and talent take this book well into place as my favorite nonfiction book of the year.

Finding Freedom by Erin French (List Price: $28, Celadon Books, 9781250312341, 4/6/2021)

Reviewed by Jean Lewis, Copperfish Books in Punta Gorda, Florida

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Low Country by J. Nicole Jones

I am choosing the stories from the mouths of women, some painted and some bare, and as far as I am concerned, their words are all the truer for the color. I am also putting off what I cannot bear to lose for good, and like a hurricane, I will change tack without warning.

Reading Low Country was in so many ways like coming home. The narrative follows a largely chronological path as it tracks Jones’ family history. Interwoven in her history are ghost stories and family lore, which adds a richness that cannot be rushed. Jones’ words must be savored, and are best enjoyed over time when you can watch her build a gothic, humid, wild landscape that can only be found in the American South.

Low Country by J. Nicole Jones (List Price: $26, Catapult, 9781948226868, 4/13/2021)

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

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The Secret to Superhuman Strength by Alison Bechdel

Fans of Fun Home and Are You My Mother will not be disappointed by The Secret to Superhuman Strength! While Alison Bechdel’s previous two books mix her own memories with her parents’ stories, her newest book is all her own, told through her relationship to exercise and the outdoors. It would not be a Bechdel book without bringing in philosophers; in this case, Bechdel touches on Jack Kerouac, the transcendentalists, Buddhist thinkers, and more. I was particularly drawn to the vibrancy of the coloring in this book. I tried to only read one section of this book at a time to make it last longer, but I couldn’t resist consuming it in two sittings!

The Secret to Superhuman Strength by Alison Bechdel (List Price: $24, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 9780544387652, 5/4/2021)

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

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Bress ‘n’ Nyam by Matthew Raiford, Amy Paige Condon

Chef and sixth-generation farmer Matthew Raiford presents us with a deeply personal and refreshingly practical cookbook, with recipes rooted in his Gullah Geechee heritage and uniquely honed by his world travels and formal culinary education. Chef Raiford includes classic low-country dishes such as Shrimp and Red Gravy (served with grits, of course) and Chicken ’n’ Dumplings as well as his own takes on jerk goat, naan, and gelato. He also offers advice on hosting an oyster roast, and how to cook a whole pig for Georgia-style barbecue. Bress ’n’ Nyam (“bless and eat” in the Gullah Geechee language) finds the perfect balance between great Southern storytelling and recipes that are both accessible and mouth-watering.

Bress ‘n’ Nyam by Matthew Raiford, Amy Paige Condon (List Price: $30, Countryman Press, 9781682686041, 5/11/2021)

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

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Brat by Andrew McCarthy

As I tore through this book, I kept wondering why I couldn’t put it down, couldn’t stop thinking about it. I mean, I even met Andrew McCarthy once (at ABA, when he was releasing his middle-grades book) and wasn’t particularly star-struck. It’s very well-written, and his voice is vulnerable and likable and humble and honest. He comes across as a bit bewildered by his success, and captures his 20-something self perfectly. I wasn’t surprised that, in the acknowledgments, he admitted that he’d “almost” written the book a long time ago. I guess he captured those days when they were still fresh. But, ultimately, McCarthy himself explained why I was so caught up in it. “…in the memory of those movies exists a touchstone of youth, of when life was all ahead, when the future was a blank slate, when anything was possible.” I have no idea if this book will resonate with anyone who is not as firmly Gen X as me (class of 1985!), but I’ll stock it and give it a lot of hand-selling. Because it’s my store and I loved it.

Brat by Andrew McCarthy (List Price: $28, Grand Central Publishing, 9781538754276, 5/11/2021)

Reviewed by Angela Schroeder, Sunrise Books in High Point, North Carolina

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Pop Song by Larissa Pham

In its best moments, Pop Song makes deeply resonant connections between works of art, the lives of artists and the author’s own experience as an extremely online person trying to find healing and community in the isolating wasteland that is late capitalism’s information economy. There were certainly times where I felt like I was too old for this book; the break-up that anchors the denouement did not feel as sharply observed to me as the relationship’s tender beginnings and what they shook loose. But overall this is a strong effort by a writer I have long admired. And if you came of age on Tumblr this book will probably feel like slipping on a glove.

Pop Song by Larissa Pham (List Price: $26, Catapult, 9781646220267, 5/4/2021)

Reviewed by Steve Haruch, Parnassus Books in Nashville, Tennessee

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Women and Other Monsters by Jess Zimmerman

What can I say about Women and Other Monsters other than READ THIS NOW!? I picked this book up with full-blown curiosity, ignited by my love of mythology and strong belief in the women’s rights movement. Jess Zimmerman uses her own life experiences, mingled with monsters of ancient myth, to bring light to the ugly truth of what it means to be a woman. We are monsters–for our individuality, determination, free spirits, desires and ambitions, and our less-than-perfect bodies. At least that’s what the world wants us to believe. I found pieces of myself in every chapter, and discovered just how much I wanted that to change. I highly recommend this book to women of all colors and ages, trans women, non-binary gentlefolk, and those looking for insight.

Women and Other Monsters by Jess Zimmerman (List Price: $25.95, Beacon Press, 9780807054932, 5/11/2021)

Reviewed by Sophie Giroir, Cavalier House Books in Denham Springs, Louisiana

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Sparrow Envy by J. Drew Lanham

I found myself underlining something on nearly every page of this slim volume—Lanham’s distinctive voice sings with awe of the natural world and clear-eyed candor of the obstacles a Black man faces in engaging this awe. Here is a writer who can perfectly express the emotive effect of a wood thrush’s 3-part song, someone who finds joy the exuberance of wrens, someone who finds solace in (and solidarity with) winged beings. This is a beautiful, necessary book.

Sparrow Envy by J. Drew Lanham (List Price: $16, Hub City Press, 9781938235818, 4/13/2021)

Reviewed by Hannah DeCamp, Avid Bookshop in Athens, Georgia

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The Haunting of Alma Fielding by Kate Summerscale

The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher was my introduction to Kate Summerscale’s irresistible recounting of fascinating events often lost to history. In The Haunting of Alma Fielding she weaves the true story of a London housewife whose experiences of the supernatural capture the imagination of pre-WWII London, and of the ghost hunter who investigates the poltergeist and discovers a stranger, darker tale. Surrounding Alma, we get a vivid picture of a public captivated by the allure of the supernatural and simultaneously filled with growing anxiety over the prospect of a global conflict. A masterful combination of fact, propulsive storytelling, and atmosphere.

The Haunting of Alma Fielding by Kate Summerscale (List Price: $28, Penguin Press, 9780525557920, 4/27/2021)

Reviewed by Clara Boza, Malaprop’s in Asheville, North Carolina

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Crying in H Mart by Michelle Zauner

With Crying in H Mart, Michelle Zauner has established herself as not just a musical talent but as an astounding writer to be reckoned with. In her beautifully realized and heartbreakingly open memoir, she recounts her mother’s battle with cancer and her death while looking keenly at her Korean heritage, the way food plays a role in her identity, and the loss of cultural connection that can come with the death of an immigrant parent. All of this adds up to a wonderfully rich ode of a memoir, a tribute to Zauner’s mother, a celebration of Korean food, and one of the best books of 2021.

Crying in H Mart by Michelle Zauner (List Price: $26.95, Knopf, 9780525657743, 4/20/2021)

Reviewed by Caleb Masters, Bookmarks in Winston-Salem, North Carolina

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The Barbizon by Paulina Bren

These are the true stories of the friendships, frustrations, successes, struggles, identity, and reinventions of the women made is possible for today’s women to shatter the glass ceiling! When my now 86 year old mother moved from her tiny hometown in Kentucky to a bigger town in South Carolina for her first job as a professional young lady she lived at the YWCA with other professional young ladies beginning their careers. She always refers to it as “my version of the Barbizon Hotel” so I felt a connection to this book immediately. Like my mother moving to the big city to become a “career girl”, young ladies from across the country moved to New York and lived at the Barbizon to do the same thing. The rules for young, white, well off ladies were clear. Behave, have fun, and become successful. The Barbizon provided a safe living arrangement for ladies who went on the become famous, like Sylvia Plath, Grace Kelly, Ali McGraw and others who weren’t so famous.The book traces the history of the hotel, focusing on the relationship with Mademoiselle magazine. Combining excellent research with a fun side of gossipy sleep over energy. The Barbizon is a great read that captures and time and place in the professional lives of women and their place in a changing society.

The Barbizon by Paulina Bren (List Price: $27, Simon & Schuster, 9781982123895, 3/2/2021)

Reviewed by Susan Williams, M Judson, Booksellers and Storytellers in Greenville, South Carolina

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House of Sticks by Ly Tran

A Spring 2021 Read This Next! Title

House of Sticks by Ly Tran
Scribner, June

With a delicate simplicity to her poetic prose, Ly Tran has crafted a spellbinding memoir perfect for fans of Tara Westover, Celeste Ng, and Jeanette Walls. Ly Tran’s story reached into the depths of my heart and soul, and filled me with overwhelming hope. I can’t wait for readers to be introduced to the singular beauty of her vivid voice. 

– Gennifer Eccles from Flyleaf Books in Chapel Hill, NC

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Crying in H Mart by Michelle Zauner

A Spring 2021 Read This Next! Title

Crying in H Mart by Michelle Zauner
Knopf, May

Being Korean American and already a fan of Michelle Zauner’s music under the Japanese Breakfast moniker, I was predisposed to love this book. Having read the title essay in the New Yorker I was predisposed to love this book. Even so, I was struck by just how much I loved it. I’m so grateful for this book — for how it walks through grief not as a way to leave it behind, but as a way to remember its exact shape. I’m grateful for its funny, self-deprecating and wise observations, and for its difficult beauty.

– Steve Haruch from Parnassus Books in Nashville, TN

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A Little Devil in America: Notes in Praise of Black Performance by Hanif Abdurraqib

A Spring 2021 Read This Next! Title

A Little Devil in America: Notes in Praise of Black Performance by Hanif Abdurraqib
Random House, April

Anything new by Hanif Abdurraqib is something to celebrate. He’s quickly become one of my favorite writers. This book, which highlights some of the many, many black performers in American history, is my favorite so far. It made me laugh, it made me angry, it made me think, and it made me look up old clips from Soul Train on YouTube. I am grateful that his book made me do all of those things. Hanif Abdurraqib is a writer I feel evangelical about. I cannot wait to press a copy of this into people’s hands.

– Chelsea Bauer, Union Ave Books in Knoxville, TN

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You Look Like a Thing and I Love You by Janelle Shane

Admittedly, I am a robot-fearing Luddite human who tried to buy a flip phone last year. This book quelled my fears about any imminent robot revolution, while also informing me of a different set of fears I should have regarding AI. Through this humorous and accessible book, research scientist Janelle Shane presents the weird experiments humans create and even weirder solutions robots find with pure nerdy enthusiasm that made me laugh many times. While being entertaining and informative, this book also critically points out the harm in programming AI and beliefs surrounding its capabilities. When your robot isn’t falling over or doing the can-can, perhaps you can program it to read this book to you (but you’ll probably still have to turn the pages yourself).

You Look Like a Thing and I Love You by Janelle Shane (List Price: $17.99, Voracious, 9780316525220, 3/23/2021)

Reviewed by Julie Jarema, Avid Bookshop in Athens, Georgia

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Shaking the Gates of Hell by John Archibald

Alabama — not to mention the South at large — is a complicated place with a complicated history, so we’re grateful for the likes of John Archibald, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist who’s chosen to stay in his home state and shine the light on dark secrets many would prefer to avoid. His new book, Shaking the Gates of Hell, turns the beam on his own family, particularly his father, a third-generation Methodist minister who held prominent pulpits in Birmingham and other large Alabama churches for decades. This is a deeply personal memoir, and Archibald’s love and respect for his dad is clear. He was a man of moral authority who taught right from wrong, a minister who emphasized grace and compassion, and an engaged dad who encouraged his kids to leave every campsite better than they found it. But, his youngest son wonders, did his father do enough to leave his community better off than he found it? In examining his father’s sermons at key moments in local history — just after the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church bombing, for example — Archibald sets out to determine whether Martin Luther King Jr.’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” was right in claiming that “the white ministers, priests and rabbis of the South . . . have been more cautious than courageous and have remained silent behind the anesthetizing security of stained glass windows.” Why, Archibald wonders, did his father largely remain silent on the matters that mattered most? Why do other religious leaders, then and now, not say more, do more? John Archibald is an incredible writer who lures you in with stories about fishing and family gatherings, but by the end he has us all asking ourselves, why do we not also say more, do more?

Shaking the Gates of Hell by John Archibald (List Price: $28, Knopf, 9780525658115, 3/9/2021)

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

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Mister Jiu’s in Chinatown by Brandon Jew, Tienlon Ho

This very readable cookbook details the history of Chinese food in the United States, and weaves fascinating stories about the author’s lifetime experiences in San Francisco’s Chinatown around authentic, and often accessible, Chinese and Chinese-American recipes.

Mister Jiu’s in Chinatown by Brandon Jew, Tienlon Ho (List Price: $40, Ten Speed Press, 9781984856500, 3/9/2021)

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

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Prison by Any Other Name by Victoria Law and Maya Schenwar

When I read Prison By Any Other Name, I knew that it was one of the most important books of 2020. In fact, if you read only one work of nonfiction this year, please consider this brilliant exploration of “alternatives” to policing and incarceration! It’s a meticulously researched exploration of popular reforms that centers the stories of real people to craft a highly readable but utterly devastating critique. Importantly, it also offers transformative, community-based solutions.

Prison by Any Other Name by Victoria Law and Maya Schenwar (List Price: $26.99, New Press, 9781620973103, 7/20/2020)

Reviewed by Libertie Valance, Firestorm Books & Coffee in Asheville, North Carolina

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What’s the Difference? by Brette Warshaw

Many culinary items are similar, but do you know their differences? Such as what is the difference between corned beef and pastrami, or grits and hominy? Told in short chapters, this is a book you can put down and pick back up over and over, and a perfect gift for the foodie in your life.

What’s the Difference? by Brette Warshaw (List Price: $27.99, HarperWave, 9780062996190, June 2021)

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

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The Book of Difficult Fruit by Kate Lebo

Lovers of early Diane Ackerman, Michael Pollan, and possibly Ruth Reichl will enjoy this collection of alphabetically saluted fruits! Essayist, poet, and pie lady Kate Lebo expertly blends the culinary, medical, and personal in a book of essays, accompanied by recipes that you will probably never use but are fascinating to read! Lebo’s chops both literary and gustatory are fully exercised in this fascinating collection. It’s full of surprises! One page you’ll be drooling and the next will make you nauseous, even fearful for our intrepid explorer of all things fruit. Much of the book is personal and shares some common ground with Cheryl Strayed. Great gift for a young chef, plant lover, or poet!

The Book of Difficult Fruit by Kate Lebo (List Price: $28, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 9780374110321, 4/6/2021)

Reviewed by Kelly Justice, Fountain Bookstore in Richmond, Virginia

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The Well-Gardened Mind by Sue Stuart-Smith

I listened to this on audio (from libro.fm/avidbookshop) and really loved it. I’m a longtime lover of being outdoors, but it wasn’t until the pandemic hit that I started growing potted plants on my own in earnest. This book highlights the ways in which gardening, in all its forms, has a demonstrably positive impact on your mind, your body, your relationships, and the world. Just a lovely tome no matter if you’re never planning to take care of plants or if you’re a master gardener.

The Well-Gardened Mind by Sue Stuart-Smith (List Price: $28, Scribner, 9781476794464, 7/7/2020)

Reviewed by Janet Geddis, Avid Bookshop in Athens, Georgia

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The Case of the Murderous Dr. Cream: The Hunt for a Victorian Era Serial Killer by Dean Jobb

Jobb captures the hypocrisy, class differences, and gender inequality of the times in an extensively researched non-fiction telling of the forgotten nineteenth century serial killer Dr. Thomas Neill Cream. Jobb takes his research of Dr. Cream’s life, court appearances, and death and turns it into an account that reads like a crime novel that is both grim and hard to put down.

The Case of the Murderous Dr. Cream: The Hunt for a Victorian Era Serial Killer by Dean Jobb (List Price: $27.95, Algonquin Books, 9781616206895, June 2021)

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

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Crying in H Mart by Michelle Zauner

Being Korean American and already a fan of Michelle Zauner’s music under the Japanese Breakfast moniker, I was predisposed to love this book. Having read the title essay in the New Yorker I was predisposed to love this book. Even so, I was struck by just how much I loved it. I’m so grateful for this book — for how it walks through grief not as a way to leave it behind, but as a way to remember its exact shape. I’m grateful for its funny, self-deprecating and wise observations, and for its difficult beauty.

Crying in H Mart by Michelle Zauner (List Price: $26.95, Knopf, 9780525657743, 4/20/2021)

Reviewed by Steve Haruch, Parnassus Books in Nashville, Tennessee

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A Little Devil in America by Hanif Abdurraqib

Hanif Abdurraqib’s exploration of Black performance in America is a cultural keystone that is chillingly relevant. Whether discussing the fact that a knowing look or advice on a route from a cashier is a form of a living Green Book that still exists because there are places Black people are not safe, to the origin of the card game spades or the difference between showing out or showing off, at the heart A Little Devil in America circles back to the fact that Black Americans have been forced to survive in places they were not welcome. The section on Black funerals pierced my heart. This book needs to be read, taught, underlined and discussed.

A Little Devil in America by Hanif Abdurraqib (List Price: $27, Random House, 9781984801197, 3/30/2021)

Reviewed by Rachel Watkins, Avid Bookshop in Athens, Georgia

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Memorial Drive by Natasha Trethewey

2021 Southern Book Prize Winner!

Heartfelt and vulnerable memoir of a daughter searching for meaning in her mother’s life that was cut too short. Trethewey is looking for closure and trying to piece together her memories as she looks back through the years at a difficult and transient childhood, at abuse and the many ways it can manifest itself, and trying to heal. It’s a beautiful story of love.

Memorial Drive by Natasha Trethewey (List Price: $27.99, Ecco, 9780062248572, July 2020)

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

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Broken (in the best possible way) by Jenny Lawson

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, Jenny Lawson is a genius. She can make me sob uncontrollably from both laughter and the heartbreakingly honest way she talks about mental illness. She takes the worst things in life and finds a way to laugh through them. Her ability to bring people together in a celebration of human awkwardness is just beautiful. This book provided much needed relief and escape from the divisiveness of the world.

Broken (in the best possible way) by Jenny Lawson (List Price: $27.99, Henry Holt and Co., 9781250077035, 4/6/2021)

Reviewed by Melissa Taylor, E. Shaver, bookseller in Savannah, Georgia

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Four Lost Cities by Annalee Newitz

I know Annalee Newitz from their excellent work in speculative fiction and have been a fan for ages. They now take to the page with this delightful work of nonfiction exploring the deaths of four historic civilizations. If you enjoy the works of the late Tony Horowitz, Eric Larson, and Karen Abbott, you will love this book! Traveling to the ruins of these lost urban mega-cities, Newitz explores how they were founded, how they developed and what caused their demise. From Pompeii to Cahokia, located near present-day Saint Louis, we see how every day people lived and died and what caused their civilizations to collapse. The tone of the book is light and anecdotal with a touch of whimsy without shying away from the darker aspects of ancient history. Ultimately hopeful, the author shows us what we can learn from the lessons of the past to avoid making the same mistakes as these doomed urban peoples without being preachy or sounding superior. Even if you don’t read much history, I can highly recommend this book as just a fabulous read!

Four Lost Cities by Annalee Newitz (List Price: $26.95, W.W. Norton & Company, 9780393652666, 2/2/2021)

Reviewed by Kelly Justice, Fountain Bookstore in Richmond, Virginia

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Good Apple by Elizabeth Passarella

This warm, wonderful memoir in essays by Southern writer Elizabeth Passarella comes on the scene just when we need it most. In a series of funny, honest, personal stories, she breaks down stereotypes and misconceptions about Southerners, New Yorkers, Christians, Democrats, parents, and more in a way that will appeal to pretty much everyone, whether you fit into one of those groups or not. In reading about her ice maker, her child’s crib in the closet, her belief in thank-you notes, or her memories of her late father, I bet you’ll absolutely relate to Elizabeth Passarella’s stories about what it really means to find a home in the world.

Good Apple by Elizabeth Passarella (List Price: $25.99, Thomas Nelson, 9781400218578, 1/19/2021)

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

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Aftershocks by Nadia Owusu

Nadia Owusu was born to a Ghanaian father and an Armenian-American mother who abandoned her when she was two. Growing up in parts of Africa as well as Europe before moving to the United States, she has spent much of her life feeling without a mother, home, nationality or racial identity only to be overwhelmed by the abundance of these things she possesses at other times. Part memoir and part cultural history, Owusu has crafted an incredibly powerful force of a book, one that I have learned more from than any other in a long time.

Aftershocks by Nadia Owusu (List Price: $26, Simon & Schuster, 9781982111229, 1/12/2021)

Reviewed by Carl Kranz, Fountain Bookstore in Richmond, Virginia

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This One Wild and Precious Life by Sarah Wilson

Part memoir, part philosophical reflection, Sarah Wilson delves deep into the global issues that have caused a sense of general unease that has encroached on us as of late. With her open and approachable voice, she takes a conversational approach to topics–climate change, capitalism, and social consciousness & activism, to name a few–that sometimes seem to serious and daunting to talk about, especially when we are constantly reminded of the circumstances that have created these “unprecedented times”. For readers of Glennon Doyle’s Untamed and Katherine May’s Wintering, this is yet another reflective and encouraging guide to a life that right now seems so uncertain.

This One Wild and Precious Life by Sarah Wilson (List Price: $26.99, Dey Street Books, 9780062962973, 12/29/2020)

Reviewed by Cat Chapman, Oxford Exchange in Tampa, Florida

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To Be Honest by Michael Leviton

Michael Leviton grew up in what he describes as an “honesty cult.” His parents had little patience for half-truths, believing that absolutely nothing should be omitted, especially the details that make most people uncomfortable. As a consequence, Michael struggled to make friends, hold a job, or feel welcomed by others for most of his life. Eventually, heartbreak led him to question his honesty policy, and he began to explore what it would feel like to prioritize others’ feelings over the painful truth. Here, Michael narrates his story with humor, self-awareness, and–of course–honesty.

To Be Honest by Michael Leviton (List Price: $26, Abrams Press, 9781419743054, 1/5/2021)

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

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The Friendly Vegan Cookbook by Michelle Cehn & Toni Okamoto

The Friendly Vegan is far and away my favorite cookbook of 2020! The recipes combine easy-to-find ingredients with simple instructions for page after page of go-to recipes every vegan should have in their kitchen repertoire. I have been making tofu scramble for years, and this morning tried The Friendly Vegan recipe, and my husband immediately recognized the elevated flavor combinations. I can’t wait to cook my way through this cookbook!

The Friendly Vegan by Michelle Cehn & Toni Okamoto (List Price: $22.95, BenBella Books, 9781950665365, October, 2020)

Reviewed by Beth Seufer Buss, Bookmarks in Winston-Salem, North Carolina

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A Swim in a Pond in the Rain by George Saunders

Communication is a key ingredient to our daily life. Even choosing to avoid it says multiple somethings about us. Be the relationship cave painter and archaeologist or mother and son, down to the nanosecond most of us (speaker and auditor) repeatedly fudge it up. In that last sentence, for example, the subject choices and use of the word “fudge” paint both a true-ish and false-like picture of this reviewer. But this isn’t about me (or is it?). [Ahem] Through a panoply of pitch-perfect analogies, George Saunders puts the writer/reader at the reader/writer’s La-Z-Boy/typewriter. With hang-out-sesh tonality, he weighs the beauty in misunderstanding against how utterly frustrating it can be to simply get what you’re being told. Fans of Understanding Comics or How to Read Nancy might enjoy placing turn-of-the-century Russian masterpieces under the microscope. It’s been over a week since I finished A Swim… (“not about me,” eh, me?) and like a kid home from camp, not a day has gone by without a few thoughts of this deep moment or that fond element. All that’s missing from that analogy is me repeatedly checking the mailbox to see if George wrote me a postcard, but that would be a downer of an ending to this wonderful book’s review (not to be confused with a wonderful book review), so it’ll surely be edited out.

A Swim in a Pond in the Rain by George Saunders (List Price: $28, Random House, 9781984856029, 1/12/2021)

Reviewed by Ian McCord, Avid Bookshop in Athens, Georgia

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The Bible With and Without Jesus by Amy-Jill Levine, Marc Zvi Brettler

Scholarly and insightful, these esteemed professors break down how Jews and Christians can look at the same texts and come to wildly different conclusions. It’s often a matter of linguistic translation, theological emphasis, traditional interpretation. By showing how “polemic can be turned to possibility,” they’ve penned a bold thesis for understanding and empathy between Jews and Christians, as well as those of any faith and culture.

The Bible With and Without Jesus by Amy-Jill Levine, Marc Zvi Brettler (List Price: $34.99, HarperOne, 9780062560155, 10/27/2020)

Reviewed by Ben Groner, Parnassus Books in Nashville, Tennessee

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We Keep the Dead Close by Becky Cooper

Wow. It is easy to understand how Becky Cooper became enthralled with Jane Britton’s story, as this book continues to linger in my mind long after I have finished it. If you are a student, a teacher, a staff member, a mentor, or a parent: this is an absolute must-read. Please read this book in honor of all of the aspiring young women you impact. In her immersive, personal investigation, Cooper gave a voice to the fears I experienced as an undergraduate student and continue to feel and see around me as I enter graduate school. The story of Jane and her murder is fascinating alone, but the ability to relate to Jane, Cooper, and every other woman affected by this story kept me reading late into the night. Women can no longer be silenced in academia when brilliant voices like Becky Cooper’s are rising from the ashes of their broken systems. This is beyond a great true crime. This is the perfect non-fiction book.

We Keep the Dead Close by Becky Cooper (List Price: $29.00, Grand Central Publishing, 9781538746837, November, 2020)

Reviewed by Karyn Cumming, Fountain Bookstore in Richmond, Virginia

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Black, White, and The Grey by Mashama Bailey & John O. Morisano

Living in Savannah and being a huge fan of The Grey, I was really excited for this book. I’m so glad its presented with both Mashama and John O.’s perspectives. I found Mashama’s parts especially to be very reflective and an important contribution to the discussion of race in this country and, specifically, in the south. The recipes are an excellent addition.

Black, White, and The Grey by Mashama Bailey & John O. Morisano (List Price: $28.00, Lorena Jones Books, 9781984856203, January, 2021)

Reviewed by Melissa Taylor, E. Shaver, bookseller in Savannah, Georgia

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Walking with Ghosts by Gabriel Byrne

Walking With Ghosts is unlike any other memoir I’ve read. All of the typical biographical points are in there: place of birth, parental history, childhood experiences, and anything/everything you need to know about Gabriel Byrne’s origin. However, the exceptional writing style and the language he uses makes this book stand out from the standard celebrity tell-all. Byrne uses a stream of consciousness to connect his adult experiences to growing up in Ireland. And no one is left out: his first childhood crush, the town alcoholics, the prevalence of organized religion, and even the local artists/musicians who struggle with anxiety and depression (long before those things were discussed openly or understood on a social level). He writes as if you’re with him experiencing everything in real time. Extreme traumas are revealed, but he expresses sentimentality in several of his memories. Aside from his personal life, his career is a highway that starts with stage theatre and moves to working with the actors of the “Golden Age” of Hollywood before it arrives to the modern era of filmmaking. The mark of a good memoir is that it’s a great book even if you have no idea of the author’s work or fame. This is that book. I recommend this as an incredible piece of nonfiction…it’s not just another celebrity bio.

Walking with Ghosts by Gabriel Byrne (List Price: $26, Grove Press, 9780802157126, 1/12/2021)

Reviewed by Stuart McCommon, novel. in Memphis, Tennessee

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Diamond Doris by Doris Payne

Doris was a badass and she knew it. You’re a fly on the wall as she cases and steals from the most luxurious jewelry retailers in the world using social cues and expectations to her advantage. Part Pam Grier, part 007, she led an unbelievably brazen life of crime and writes about it very well. A real page-turner. And a great audiobook as well!

Diamond Doris by Doris Payne (List Price: $16.99, Amistad, 9780062918000, 10/6/2020)

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

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No Surrender by Christopher Edmonds

Chris Edmonds tells the story of his father Roddie who served in WWII and spent time as a POW in Germany. Standing up to his German captors, Roddie saved the lives of 200 Jewish American POWs and almost 1,300 total American POWs. This is a powerful story of a man who chose to do the right thing and changed the lives of countless others.

No Surrender by Christopher Edmonds, Douglas Century (List Price: $17.99, HarperOne, 9780062905024, 10/20/2020)

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

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Make Me Rain: Poems & Prose by Nikki Giovanni

A Read This Next! Fall 2020 Title

I would not call myself a poetry reader, but there is something about Nikki Giovanni’s poetry that speaks to me so deeply. Sentimental and comforting, Make Me Rain covers a wide range of topics from quilts and rising bread to the social change we so desperately need in our world. Giovanni’s wisdom and understanding once again prove why she is such a poetic powerhouse – and leave the reader wanting to explore her past work again, too.

Make Me Rain: Poems & Prose by Nikki Giovanni (List price: $24.99, William Morrow, 9780062995285, October 2020), recommended by Beth Seufer Buss, Bookmarks, Winston-Salem, NC

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Walking with Ghosts by Gabriel Byrne

Walking With Ghosts is unlike any other memoir I’ve read. All of the typical biographical points are in there: place of birth, parental history, childhood experiences, and anything/everything you need to know about Gabriel Byrne’s origin. However, the exceptional writing style and the language he uses makes this book stand out from the standard celebrity tell-all. Byrne uses a stream of consciousness to connect his adult experiences to growing up in Ireland. And no one is left out: his first childhood crush, the town alcoholics, the prevalence of organized religion, and even the local artists/musicians who struggle with anxiety and depression (long before those things were discussed openly or understood on a social level).

He writes as if you’re with him experiencing everything in real-time. Extreme traumas are revealed, but he expresses sentimentality in several of his memories. Aside from his personal life, his career is a highway that starts with stage theatre and moves to working with the actors of the “Golden Age” of Hollywood before it arrives to the modern era of filmmaking. The mark of a good memoir is that it’s a great book even if you have no idea of the author’s work or fame. This is that book. I recommend this as an incredible piece of nonfiction… it’s not just another celebrity bio.

Walking with Ghosts by Gabriel Byrne (List Price: $26, Grove Press, 9780802157126, January, 2021).

Reviewed by Stuart McCommon, novel. in Memphis, TN

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She Come By It Natural by Sarah Smarsh

A Fall 2020 read This Next! Title
Scribner | 9781982157289
October 13, 2020

The National Book Award finalist and New York Times bestselling author of Heartland focuses her laser-sharp insights on a working-class icon and one of the most unifying figures in American culture: Dolly Parton.

Growing up amid Kansas wheat fields and airplane factories, Sarah Smarsh witnessed firsthand the particular vulnerabilities—and strengths—of women in working poverty. Meanwhile, country songs by female artists played in the background, telling powerful stories about life, men, hard times, and surviving. In her family, she writes, “country music was foremost a language among women. It’s how we talked to each other in a place where feelings aren’t discussed.” And no one provided that language better than Dolly Parton.

Smarsh challenged a typically male vision of the rural working class with her first book, Heartland, starring the bold, hard-luck women who raised her. Now, in She Come By It Natural, originally published in a four-part series for The Journal of Roots Music, No Depression, Smarsh explores the overlooked contributions to social progress by such women—including those averse to the term “feminism”—as exemplified by Dolly Parton’s life and art.

Far beyond the recently resurrected “Jolene” or quintessential “9 to 5,” Parton’s songs for decades have validated women who go unheard: the poor woman, the pregnant teenager, the struggling mother disparaged as “trailer trash.” Parton’s broader career—from singing on the front porch of her family’s cabin in the Great Smoky Mountains to achieving stardom in Nashville and Hollywood, from “girl singer” managed by powerful men to leader of a self-made business and philanthropy empire—offers a springboard to examining the intersections of gender, class, and culture.

Infused with Smarsh’s trademark insight, intelligence, and humanity, She Come By It Natural is a sympathetic tribute to the icon Dolly Parton and—call it whatever you like—the organic feminism she embodies.

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A Measure of Belonging: Twenty-One Writers of Color on the New American South edited by Cinelle Barnes

A Fall 2020 Read This Next! Title
Hub City Press | 9781938235719
October 6, 2020

This fierce collection celebrates the incredible diversity in the contemporary South by featuring essays by twenty-one of the finest young writers of color living and working in the region today, who all address a central question: Who is welcome?

Kiese Laymon navigates the racial politics of publishing while recording his audiobook in Mississippi. Regina Bradley moves to Indiana and grapples with a landscape devoid of her Southern cultural touchstones, like Popeyes and OutKast. Aruni Kashyap apartment hunts in Athens and encounters a minefield of invasive questions. Frederick McKindra delves into the particularly Southern history of Beyonce’s black majorettes.

Assembled by editor and essayist Cinelle Barnes, essays in A Measure of Belonging: Twenty-One Writers of Color on the New American South acknowledge that from the DMV to the college basketball court to doctors’ offices, there are no shortage of places of tension in the American South. Urgent, necessary, funny, and poignant, these essays from new and established voices confront the complexities of the South’s relationship with race, uncovering the particular difficulties and profound joys of being a Southerner in the 21st century.

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Down Along with That Devil’s Bones by Connor Towne O’Neill

A Fall 2020 Read This Next! Title
Algonquin Books / 9781616209100
Publication Date: September 29, 2020

“We can no longer see ourselves as minor spectators or weary watchers of history a­fter finishing this astonishing work of nonfiction.” —Kiese Laymon, author of Heavy

In Down Along with That Devil’s Bones, journalist Connor Towne O’Neill takes a deep dive into American history, exposing the still-raging battles over monuments dedicated to one of the most notorious Confederate generals, Nathan Bedford Forrest. Through the lens of these conflicts, O’Neill examines the legacy of white supremacy in America, in a sobering and fascinating work sure to resonate with readers of Tony Horwitz, Timothy B. Tyson, and Robin DiAngelo.

When O’Neill first moved to Alabama, as a white Northerner, he felt somewhat removed from the racism Confederate monuments represented. Then one day in Selma, he stumbled across a group of citizens protecting a monument to Forrest, the officer who became the first Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan and whom William Tecumseh Sherman referred to as “that devil.” O’Neill sets off to visit other disputed memorials to Forrest across the South, talking with men and women who believe they are protecting their heritage, and those who have a different view of the man’s poisonous history.

O’Neill’s reporting and thoughtful, deeply personal analysis make it clear that white supremacy is not a regional affliction but is in fact coded into the DNA of the entire country. Down Along with That Devil’s Bones presents an important and eye-opening account of how we got from Appomattox to Charlottesville, and where, if we can truly understand and transcend our past, we could be headed next.

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Hill Women by Cassie Chambers

As someone raised in West Virginia, Hill Women struck a particular chord with me. Cassie Chambers delivers an honest narrative about the challenges of life in one of the poorest regions of the country while giving voices to the women who lifted up her life and the lives of those around her. Highlighting their unwavering work ethic, generosity, and fight for the younger generations, Chambers shows how growing up with the influence of these women in her family helped formed the person she became, eventually being educated at an Ivy League school and returning to the region to help provide legal assistance to the very communities in which she was raised. Highly recommended for anyone wanting to learn more about the Appalachian region and for readers who enjoy insightful biographies like Educated.

Hill Women by Cassie Chambers ($27.00, Ballantine Books), recommended by Bookmarks, Winston-Salem, NC.

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The Third Rainbow Girl by Emma Copley Eisenberg

“You cannot treat women only for a disease of which men are the main carriers. Nor, I knew, could you punish every man who fell ill.” ~ Emma Copley Eisenberg

The Third Rainbow Girl is part true crime, part memoir, and fully compelling. On the frame of the unsolved Rainbow Murders, Eisenberg hangs a discussion of Appalachian life and the complicated history its people have with one another, their history, and the rest of the nation. Traditional true crime reads may find the structure off-putting at first, but the alternating of past and present day events give a richer picture of a community defined by the murder of outsiders. Content warning for discussions of violence, bigotry, alcohol and drug use, and sexual assault.

The Third Rainbow Girl by Emma Copley Eisenberg
(List price: $27.00, Hachette Books)
Recommended by Page 158 Books, Wake Forest, NC.

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Wine Girl by Victoria James

This is an intriguing and touching memoir of James’s struggles early in life and how she rose to career highs with hard work and motivation. She suffered abuse as a young woman and throughout her work life simply because she was a female and the way she shook it all off is inspiring. This book really shows the rewards of dedication to one’s craft and that you don’t need formal schooling to make something of yourself. I am so impressed at her strength and intellect and would love to hear more of her story.

Wine Girl: The Obstacles, Humiliations, and Triumphs of America’s Youngest Sommelier by Victoria James (List price: $26.99, Ecco), recommended by Fountain Bookstore, Richmond, VA.

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Vesper Flights by Helen Macdonald

H is for Hawk made a searing impression on me, so I leapt at the chance to read Vesper Flights. It’s a collection of Macdonald’s  essays and musings about human interrelationship with the non-human natural world. From childhood, she loved all wildlife, particularly birds. This woman has trudged through muck and mire, briars and brambles, in every possible weather condition – all for the chance to observe and learn and marvel. Each essay reveals some remarkable experience, but underlying all of them  is a persistent fear for the survival of our planet as the ecosystem she cherishes. Macdonald is a scientist who is willing to expose her emotions and vulnerability: her humanity. Every essay is a breathtaking illumination of life.

Recommended by Quail Ridge Books, Raleigh, NC.

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The Perfect Father by John Glatt

I practically grew up on murder stories–from lurid true crime magazines, to the heyday of Court TV, and my ongoing love for Forensic Files. But rarely does a true crime book affect me like The Perfect Father did. Glatt offers a balanced look into the marriage of Chris and Shannan Watts, their strengths, their flaws, and their love. In our Instragram-able world, ever curated to show perfection, it’s no surprise that the murder of such a vibrant pregnant mother and two beautiful little girls would capture the nation’s attention. This story is heartbreaking, and Glatt shows the devastation not just of their families and friends, but on the first responders and the cops who investigated the murder. It’s a tough read. Four beloved souls are forever gone, and countless lives left wrecked, but The Perfect Father is a cautionary tale for our society as it explores the coldness that lurks beneath an online persona.

The Perfect Father: The True Story of Chris Watts, His All-American Family, and a Shocking Murder by John Glatt (List price: $28.99, St. Martin’s Press), recommended by Fountain Bookstore, Richmond, VA.

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The Book of Atlantis Black by Betsy Bonner

In 2008, Betsy Bonner’s sister is found dead on the floor of a hotel in Tijuana. Is is suicide, or overdose? Is it even her sister? A talented musician and performer who changed her name to Atlantis Black, her sister had always lived on the edge. Bonner’s love for her sister is apparent as she relays their overlapping stories and tries to unravel the mysteries of her sister’s life.

The Book of Atlantis Black by Betsy Bonner (List price: $26.95, Tin House Books), recommended by Parnassus Books, Nashville, TN.

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How to Be Fine: What We Learned from Living by the Rules of 50 Self-Help Books by Jolenta Greenberg, Kristen Meinzer

How to Be Fine is self-help book guide to reading self-help books. But also just a self-help book for the modern world. Jolenta Greenberg and Kristen Meinzer have done the heavy lifting of reading and living by popular self-help books and then distilled them down into what worked, what didn’t, and what they wished would be addressed more. Readers can use this as a stand alone self-help or a guide to finding more, but anyone with a desire to better themselves will be served by giving this a read. The authors frequently emphasize that “Only you are an expert in you,” and that is a message we can all stand to hear more often.

How to Be Fine: What We Learned from Living by the Rules of 50 Self-Help Books by Jolenta Greenberg, Kristen Meinzer (List price: $25.99, William Morrow), recommended by Page 158 Books, Wake Forest, NC.

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Ava’s Man by Rick Bragg

This book was written as a lasting legacy of the grandfather that author Rick Bragg never knew. Charlie Bundrum was a hard-working, bootlegging carpenter and roofer who loved one woman, raised a passel of children and grandchildren, and even took in a battered misfit for decades. He lived a remarkable life, evading the law and surviving misfortune. What a beautiful work – a grandson discovering his grandfather through tales from his mother, grandmother, aunts, uncles, cousins, and friends. The writing is vivid and the character descriptions witty. As Southerners, we embrace the uniqueness of our people. To that end, this book is a winner.

Ava’s Man by Rick Bragg, (List Price: 16.95, Vintage, 9780375724442, 2002)

Reviewed by Helen Adkins, Story On the Square in McDonough, Georgia

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