The books Southern indie booksellers are recommending to readers everywhere!

Adult Nonfiction

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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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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