The books Southern indie booksellers are recommending to readers everywhere!

Historical Fiction

Murder Under Her Skin by Stephen Spotswood

A Fall Read This Next! Selection I was already a fan of the series at the first book but this second really sold me on it. Great character development and originality make for a fun read. Murder Under Her Skin by Stephen Spotswood, (List Price: $27, Doubleday, 9780385547123, December 2021) Reviewed by Jamie Fiocco, Flyleaf Books in Chapel Hill, North Carolina
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The Show Girl by Nicola Harrison

OH how I loved this book. I am a (proud!!) member of the Slow Readers Club and when I devour a book as fast as I did The Show Girl, it’s a good sign. And this was a GREAT book. I loved City of Girls by Elizabeth Gilbert, and the minute I saw this cover & tagline I knew I had to read this book too. The Show Girl was phenomenal, and I had NO idea where it was going to go, which I liked. If I have one complaint, it would be that the tagline is a little misleading to what ultimately becomes the central conflict of the book. She ultimately knows what she wants in the decision of performing vs marriage to Archie (granted this ultimatum is a source of some conflict but in my opinion is not the ultimate breaking point), the issue becomes whether or not to tell him about something about her past that will affect their marriage and plans for the future. Now, granted, the tagline is what got me to read the book, so I understand why it is what it is, but it just felt a tad misleading. Outside of that, this book was the most wonderful trip to a New York on the cusp of the Great Depression, an exploration of the Broadway of Ziegfeld, a story full of rich imagery and stellar characters. And best of all, it has a real, true, genuine happy ending that wasn’t predictable. I loved it.

The Show Girl by Nicola Harrison, (List Price: 27.99, St. Martin’s Press, 9781250200150, August, 2021)

Reviewed by Olivia Gacka, Novel. in Memphis, Tennessee

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Sisters in Arms by Kaia Alderson

Sisters in Arms is the previously untold story of the 6888th Central Postal Directory Battalion, the only all-Black battalion of the Women’s Army Corps, originated from the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps (WAAC), and the first Black women allowed to serve. This is a much-needed novel, perfect for fans of not just World War II fiction but all historical fiction. It would make the perfect selection for book clubs this fall!

Sisters in Arms by Kaia Alderson, (List Price: 16.99, William Morrow Paperbacks, 9780062964588, August 2021)

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

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My Mistress’ Eyes are Raven Black by Terry Roberts

Creating a “page-turner” has always seemed to me to require something beyond writing. An author may be an excellent wordsmith, have brilliant ideas, and yet never achieve the deep understanding of human psychology or the precise timing and rhythm that is needed to hook a reader. My Mistress’ Eyes Are Raven Black is a true page-turner. It took me only two sittings to course through its pages.

Author Terry Roberts sets his propulsive historical murder mystery on Ellis Island in 1920, amid American nativism and White Christian supremacy culture. On the surface is the disappearance of a young white Irish woman with connections in high places, connections who want her found. Stephen Robbins, from Hot Springs, NC, is contracted by a nameless man to solve the woman’s disappearance. It seems that she is not the only person to have gone missing from Island 3, the location of the isolation hospital for immigrants who arrive sick or pregnant at Ellis Island, presenting a potentially contagious situation. At the hospital, Robbins meets Lucy Paul, an undercover nurse who is investigating the high rates of patient death and disappearance. Roberts creates a spookily atmospheric setting in the creepy and mysterious hospital, and Robbins and Paul make a gutsy detective duo. But Roberts offers more than a compelling atmosphere.

My Mistress’ Eyes explores what brings humans to predicate superiority based on genetic expression. What is behind the belief that this assumed superiority excuses the right to commit violence? Roberts intersperses original texts from “scholars” of the time who espoused the superiority of White Christian Americans and proclaimed the dangers of letting immigrants into the United States. These lend credibility to the story, yet never detract from Roberts’ gift for spinning a wonderful yarn-filled humor, romance, intrigue, passion–and murder.

My Mistress’ Eyes are Raven Black by Terry Roberts, (List Price: 31.99, Turner, 9781684426959, July 2021)

Reviewed by Erin Fowler, Malaprops Bookstore/Cafe in Asheville, North Carolina

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The Forest of Vanishing Stars by Kristin Harmel

The Forest of Vanishing Stars is about a young girl kidnapped from her wealthy German parents and raised in the forests of Eastern Europe. From her earliest years, she is taught to survive in the woods. When her captor dies, she is alone until she comes upon a group of Jewish people fleeing from the Nazis. She decides to do whatever she can to protect them until a family secret threatens everything. Atmospheric with hints of fairy tale, The Forest of Vanishing Stars is a stand out in WWII Historical Fiction 

The Forest of Vanishing Stars by Kristin Harmel, (List Price: 28, Gallery Books, 9781982158934, July 2021)

Reviewed by Jessica Nock, Main Street Books in Davidson, NC

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The Chosen and the Beautiful by Nghi Vo

If you’re wondering which Great Gatsby adaptation to read this summer, look no further. I read it in one day because leaving it unfinished for even one night felt like a crime; it surpasses “unputdownable.” This is the Great Gatsby we need, narrated by a queer, Viet Jordan Baker who is both outside of society yet more connected in society than everyone else around her. The slightest touches of magic bring The Chosen and the Beautiful to life, displaying a world where not all that glitters is gold, yet firm anchors to the original make every line sing true. I truly love this book.

The Chosen and the Beautiful by Nghi Vo (List Price: $26.99, Tordotcom, 9781250784780, 6/1/2021)

Reviewed by Lizy Coale, Copperfish Books in Punta Gorda, Florida

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The Last Bookshop in London by Madeline Martin

Well, this was beyond lovely. I thoroughly enjoyed this story with it’s loveable cast of characters and the SIDE LOVE STORY. How refreshing that the love story, though present and beautiful, was mentioned, I think, about five times? Even so, I’m still swooning over George. SWOONING. Booksellers will adore this novel of a reader discovering her passion for books. Readers will love this novel for the tender descriptions of loving a book. And I love this novel for it’s honest, harsh descriptions of life during war. The losses great and small (which are often the ones that discourage most.) I can’t wait to shove this book into the hands of my customers. I cannot wait!

The Last Bookshop in London by Madeline Martin (List Price: $16.99, Hanover Square Press, 9781335284808, 4/6/2021)

Reviewed by Annie Childress, E. Shaver, bookseller in Savannah, 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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The Consequences of Fear by Jacqueline Winspear

It’s 1941, and Britain continues to be bombed by Nazi Germany. This is good news for fans of Maisie Dobbs, as she truly shines when she is thrown into a stressful wartime situation. This is a tricky mystery with a satisfying conclusion… and also features some welcome progress in Maisie’s social life.

The Consequences of Fear by Jacqueline Winspear (List Price: $27.99, Harper, 9780062868022, 3/23/2021)

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

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The Rose Code by Kate Quinn

You know those books that you start reading and Cannot. Put. Down?? This is definitely one. With so many WWII books out there, Kate Quinn manages to put a fresh spin on the war with The Rose Code and makes you feel like you’re reading something new. The writing is amazing, the characters relatable, and the story fast-paced, heartbreaking, jubilant, and redemptive all at the same time. This historical fiction about the codebreakers of Bletchley Park will be one of your favorite reads of 2021.

The Rose Code by Kate Quinn (List Price: $17.99, William Morrow Paperbacks, 9780062943477, 3/9/2021)

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

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Astrid Sees All by Natalie Standiford

A fresh-faced Baltimore native initially enters New York City trying to emulate her cool uptown NYC native friend from college. Ultimately it is through loyalty to the memories and movies of her childhood that she becomes “Astrid,” the in-house fortune teller at the hottest club in town. The beat of the Lower East Side in the 1980s leaps off the page as “Astrid” bounces through friends, drugs, fun and danger.

Astrid Sees All by Natalie Standiford (List Price: $27, Atria Books, 9781982153656, 4/6/2021)

Reviewed by Kimberly Daniels, The Country Bookshop in Southern Pines, North Carolina

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The Lost Apothecary by Sarah Penner

With modern and 18th century London as the setting for this book, a conflicted woman who finds a mysterious bottle becomes obsessed with discovering its origins, leading her to a 1700s female apothecary who helps other women of the dark time “dispense” of bad men. Incredibly atmospheric, I didn’t want to climb out of this one. A dark yet hopeful portrait of female fears and female empowerment both then and now.

The Lost Apothecary by Sarah Penner (List Price: $27.99, Park Row, 9780778311010, March 2021)

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

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A Tip for the Hangman by Allison Epstein

The 16th century meets the 21st in Allison Epstein’s thrilling debut novel, A Tip for the Hangman. It’s 1585, and aspiring playwright Christopher Marlowe is recruited as a spy while still an impoverished Cambridge scholar. His task: to help foil an alleged Catholic plot to overthrow Queen Elizabeth I. Blending fact and fiction, and period detail with modern sensibilities, Epstein deftly creates a heady mix of intrigue, drama and romance in this captivating page-turner.

A Tip for the Hangman by Allison Epstein (List Price: $26.95, Doubleday, 9780385546713, 2/9/2021)

Reviewed by Jude Burke-Lewis, Square Books in Oxford, Mississippi

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The Paris Library by Janet Skeslien Charles

We have always known that librarians are heroes, and this book is based on the true story of the amazing women working at the American Library in Paris, as they join the Resistance after World War II breaks out. On a different timeline, a teenage girl interviews her older neighbor, who is one of the French librarians, and discovers her bravery… but also her complicated past.

The Paris Library by Janet Skeslien Charles (List Price: $28, Atria Books, 9781982134198, 2/9/2021)

Reviewed by Anne Peck, Righton Books in St. Simons Island, South Carolina

A Place to Hang the Moon by Kate Albus

A deep and delightful story of what it means to be part of a family. William, Edmund, and Anna discover enemies, friends, compassion, and the power of books are all part of their search for a forever home. Like cocoa on a winter day, this book will leave you cozy and smiling.

A Place to Hang the Moon by Kate Albus (List Price: $17.99, Margaret Ferguson Books, 9780823447053, 2/2/2021)

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

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An Extravagant Death by Charles Finch

Another entertaining addition to one of Righton Books’ favorite mystery series. Charles Lenox travels to the United States and becomes swept up in high society Newport, Rhode Island, where a beautiful young woman has died a suspicious death.

An Extravagant Death by Charles Finch (List Price: $27.99, Minotaur Books, 9781250767134, February 2021)

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

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The Four Winds by Kristin Hannah

A stunning tale of perseverance, family, friendship, and hope, The Four Winds absolutely blew me away. Kristin Hannah describes a time in American history that is often overlooked through the eyes of characters so human I’m amazed they aren’t real people. Hannah weaves the struggles of the time seamlessly with ones any mother can relate to: working ten hours a day for mere pennies and a son who gets into fights at school; using a rope to guide her to the barn because the dust in the air is so thick she can’t see, then coming inside to an obstinate teenage daughter who just wants her dad. The reader can relate to Elsa enough that they can easily see themselves even in her most dire circumstances. The Four Winds tells the story of an American dream that isn’t meant for everyone, and how those left behind can band together to make that dream work for them. It’s one I will not soon forget.

The Four Winds by Kristin Hannah (List Price: $28.99, St. Martin’s Press, 9781250178602, 2/2/2021)

Reviewed by Tia at Quail Ridge Books in Raleigh, North Carolina

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Trouble Is What I Do by Walter Mosley

I loved this short but intense detective novel. For me, it doesn’t get better than Leonid McGill for a P.I. protagonist. Morally ambiguous, wily and cunning, he is instantly likable and someone I hope to see in future Mosley books.

Trouble Is What I Do by Walter Mosley (List price: $24.00, Mulholland Books, January 2021)

Reviewed by Jamie Southern Bookmarks, Winston-Salem, NC.

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Wild Rain by Beverly Jenkins

Wild Rain is great historically representative, slow burn romance between a lady rancher and a city slicker reporter. I loved seeing the diversity of the West as it really was, and the chemistry between the two leads sizzled. When can I get more of this series?

Wild Rain by Beverly Jenkins (List Price: $7.99, Avon, 9780062861719, 2/9/2021)

Reviewed by Lizy Coale, Copperfish Books in Punta Gorda, Florida

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The Good Doctor of Warsaw by Elisabeth Gifford

Janusz Korczak ran an orphanage for Jewish children in Warsaw, where conditions became increasingly harsh during WWII. Gifford tells with great detail of their daily lives–struggling to find food to eat and to not be killed by the Nazis. Over 95% of the 350,000 Jews in Warsaw did not survive the war. A sad story to read but one we must not forget.

The Good Doctor of Warsaw by Elisabeth Gifford (List Price: $25.95, Pegasus Books, 9781643136363, 1/5/2021)

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

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The Rib King by Ladee Hubbard

A brilliant exploration of class, race, and exploitation in early 20th century New Orleans. Mr. Sitwell runs the house in all but name. Like all great houses, there are many secrets inside and all of Hubbard’s characters are well-drawn with complex pasts. Hubbard studied under Toni Morrison and you can really tell with the way she treats her characters–normal people with complicated lives — drawing you as a reader deep into their minds and feelings. It’s a fantastic book and I’m so excited to share it.

The Rib King by Ladee Hubbard (List Price: $27.99, Amistad, 9780062979063, 1/19/2021)

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

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The Last Garden in England by Julia Kelly

Inspired by early female garden designers, this is a tale of the gardens in an estate and the three generations of women who live and work in them–from the design of the gardens, to their use during WWII, and to their restoration after years of neglect. An easy read and one that makes you want to visit the gardens of England.

The Last Garden in England by Julia Kelly (List Price: $28, Gallery Books, 9781982107826, 1/12/2021)

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

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The Princess and the Rogue by Kate Bateman

I love a secretly royal romance, and The Princess and the Rogue nails it. There’s dangerous intrigue, a rake turned servant of the Crown, boiling sexual tension, and an ice cold heroine who proves herself more than capable of taking on anything.

The Princess and the Rogue by Kate Bateman (List Price: $7.99, St. Martin’s Paperbacks, 9781250306098, 12/29/2020)

Reviewed by Sami Thomason, Square Books in Oxford, Mississippi

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The War Widow by Tara Moss

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

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

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

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The Liar’s Dictionary by Eley Williams

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

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

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

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Outlawed by Anna North

A Winter 2021 Read This Next! Title

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

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

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

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The House on Vesper Sands by Paraic O’Donnell

Read This Next A Winter 2021 Read This Next! Title

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

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

Reviewed by Rachel Watkins, Avid Bookshop in Athens, Georgia

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The Mystery of Mrs. Christie by Marie Benedict

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

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

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

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The Children’s Blizzard by Melanie Benjamin

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

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

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

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Nick by Michael Farris Smith

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

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

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

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Yellow Wife by Sadeqa Johnson

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

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

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

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Death and the Maiden by Samantha Norman, Ariana Franklin

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Cold Millions by Jess Walter

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

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

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

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Our Darkest Night by Jennifer Robson

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

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

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

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The Lost Apothecary by Sarah Penner

A Winter 2021 Read This Next! Title

The Lost Apothecary by Sarah Penner
Park Row, March

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

— Candice Conner, The Haunted Bookshop in Mobile, AL

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The Girl from the Channel Islands by Jenny Lecoat

A Winter 2021 Read This Next! Title

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

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

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

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The House on Vesper Sands by Paraic O’Donnell

A Winter 2021 Read This Next! Title

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

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

– Cat Chapman, Oxford Exchange in Tampa, FL

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The Children’s Train by Viola Ardone

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

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

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

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Root Magic by Eden Royce

Root Magic is an own-voices magical realism story about two Gullah Geechee twins, Jezebel and Jay, who start to learn rootwork from their uncle after their grandmother’s passing in 1963. A perfect blend of historical fiction, supernatural fantasy, and a classic story of family and friendship, ROOT MAGIC will capture readers, teleporting them to the mysterious marsh inhabited by supernatural beings. Scarier than hags, though, is a local white police officer who has taken to threatening the Turner family. Luckily, Jezebel’s growing affinity for rootwork may save the day. This magical book is sure to be one of my favorites for young readers!

Root Magic by Eden Royce (List Price: $16.99, Walden Pond Press, 9780062899576, 1/5/2021)

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

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The House on Vesper Sands by Paraic O’Donnell

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

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

Reviewed by Cat Chapman, Oxford Exchange in Tampa, FL

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Blue Skies by Anne Bustard

It’s 1949 in Gladiola, Texas. Everyone in town is excited about the Merci train full of gifts rolling through from France as a thank you for America’s help in WWII. Glory Bea is expecting a special gift to arrive on the train, her father. No one can stop her from believing in this miracle, not her mom’s new boyfriend or the grownups who thwart her railroad scouting mission. Blue Skies is perfect for fans of heartfelt middle grade with a twist of humor.

Blue Skies by Anne Bustard (List price: $17.99, Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers), recommended by Parnassus Books, Nashville, TN.

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The Everlasting by Katy Simpson Smith

 

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

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

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Cuyahoga by Pete Beatty

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

One of The Millions and BuzzFeed‘s Most Anticipated Books

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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