The books Southern indie booksellers are recommending to readers everywhere!

Coming of Age

A Mariner’s Tale by Joe Palmer

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

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

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

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The House Uptown by Melissa Ginsburg

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

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

Reviewed by Marcia Albert, Parnassus Books in Nashville, Tennessee

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The Hare by Melanie Finn

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

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

Reviewed by Rachel Watkins, Avid Bookshop in Athens, Georgia

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Mary Jane: A Novel by Jessica Anya Blau

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

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

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

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New Year’s Kiss by Lee Matthews

I really enjoyed this read! I blew through it and actually read most of it on New Years Eve! What a perfect way to ring in the new year! This is perfect for your younger readers who are reading up, and honestly it can be enjoyed any time of the year!

New Year’s Kiss by Lee Matthews (List Price: $9.99, Underlined, 9780593179857, 12/1/2020)

Reviewed by Brittany Bunzey, Read With Me, A Children’s Book & Art Shop in Raleigh, North Carolina

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The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett

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

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

Reviewed by Asia Harden, Square Books in Oxford, Mississippi

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Not Our Summer by Casie Bazay

Becca and KJ are cousins, both about to graduate from high school. But because their mothers are estranged, they don’t know each other at all. When their maternal grandfather dies, they have to come together for the reading of his will. In it, their grandfather has given both of the girls and both of their mothers a nice sum of money. The only catch is that the girls must complete a five-part bucket list before they get the money. The list is a set of things the grandfather always wanted to do, but his mounting agoraphobia wouldn’t let him. I LOVE that we have a story that, at its root, is about friendship. And while there’s a smidge of romance, it’s FAR from the main plot. It took me a moment to warm up to the two girls, but in the end, I enjoyed them, flaws and all.

Not Our Summer by Casie Bazay (List Price: $17.99, Running Press Kids, 9780762472291, 5/11/2021)

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

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How to Order the Universe by María José Ferrada

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

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

Reviewed by Kelly Justice, Fountain Bookstore in Richmond, Virginia

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Heaven by Mieko Kawakami

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

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

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

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The Truants by Kate Weinburg

Kate Weinberg’s debut novel of suspense weaves a tale of obsession, deception, and misguided love. Jess Walker is a young woman who enters an uninspiring university in East Anglia for the sole purpose of being a student of the charismatic professor of literature, Lorna Clay, who seems to have taken the position under a cloud of suspicion from her past. Clay will be conducting studies on the life and work of Agatha Christie, with an underlying theme, “People disappear when they most want to be seen.”

Jess not only falls under her thrall, but also that of her three new friends who introduce her to a lifestyle of excess and awakenings, with tragic and life-altering consequences.This is a moody, mesmerizing, and literary read.

The Truants by Kate Weinburg (List price: $17.00, G.P. Putnam’s Sons), recommended by The Country Bookshop, Southern Pines, NC.

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The Fortunate Ones by Ed Tarkington

A Winter 2021 Read This Next Title!

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

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

Reviewed by Annie Jones, The Bookshelf in Thomasville, Georgia

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You Have a Match by Emma Lord

What’s starts off as a light and cheery coming-of-age story, quickly turns as unexpected sisters and family drama are tossed in. Abby Day is a relatable teen struggling with boy problems and AP Lit, when she suddenly learns that she has a sister! As she and her influencer sister try to uncover the mystery of their separation, they learn to appreciate each other not just as friends, but as sisters. Emma Lord’s story is unique and modern, detailing the trials of family, making careers out of passions, and navigating friendships, making it all I could think about for the last few days. Though, all Abby’s family drama makes me grateful the worst thing my sister ever did was go see Harry Styles without me!

You Have a Match by Emma Lord (List Price: $18.99, Wednesday Books, 9781250237309, 1/5/2021)

Reviewed by Silky Hou, Fountain Bookstore in Richmond, Virginia

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Raft of Stars by Andrew J. Graff

A Winter 2021 Read This Next! Title

Raft of Stars by Andrew J. Graff
Ecco, March

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

— Angela Schroeder, Sunrise Books in High Point, NC

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Big Girl, Small Town by Michelle Gallen

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

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

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

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The Thirty Names of Night by Zeyn Joukhadar

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

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

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

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