The books Southern indie booksellers are recommending to readers everywhere!

Biography & Memoir

MonsterMind: Dealing With Anxiety & Self-Doubt by Alfonso Casas

Casas’ most recent graphic novel is a wonderful, poignant dive into living with mental health issues. Creating monsters out of feelings, Casas gives a visual representation of how trauma, anxiety, fear, and other pests affect daily life, especially in the midst of a pandemic. I really appreciated the hopeful but realistic ending of this. It’s a reminder that though these things will always live with us, there are ways to fight them.

MonsterMind: Dealing With Anxiety & Self-Doubt by Alfonso Casas, (List Price: $19.99, Ablaze, 9781950912476, January 2022)

Reviewed by Grace Quinn, Foggy Pine Books in Boone, North Carolina

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

King of Ragtime by Stephen Costanza, Stephen Costanza (Illus.)

This book about Scott Joplin is beautifully written and even more beautifully illustrated. I loved the historic details, like the inclusion of the real 1911 sheet music cover of “Maple Leaf Rag”! Scott Joplin is an iconic part of American music history and every child deserves to know his story.

King of Ragtime by Stephen Costanza, Stephen Costanza (Illus.) (List Price: $17.99, Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 9781534410367, 8/24/2021)

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

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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