The books Southern indie booksellers are recommending to readers everywhere!

LGBTQ

Hot Stew by Fiona Mozley

An old building housing a brothel stands in the middle of Soho. The young millionaire who owns the property wants to turn it into luxury condos. Unfortunately, the tenants aren’t going to leave without a fight. A riveting tale about wealth, class, gentrification, power, and gender, this story shows readers just how unjust the world can be, but in the most entertaining and amusing way possible. (And just look at that cover!) A 2021 must-read!

Hot Stew by Fiona Mozley (List Price: $26.95, Algonquin Books, 9781643751559, 4/20/2021)

Reviewed by Jen Minor, Flyleaf Books in Chapel Hill, North Carolina

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Filthy Animals by Brandon Taylor

Brandon Taylor’s book of short stories, Filthy Animals, is a bright shining explosion of beautiful writing. Six of the eleven stories are linked and dipping back and forth into Lionel’s relationship with two dancers, Sophie and Charles, which is hypnotic. These stories about human relationships range from those between lovers, friends, and family. How is it that Taylor can write so that we can see the interior crevices of these character’s souls?

Filthy Animals by Brandon Taylor (List Price: $26, Riverhead Books, 9780525538912, 6/22/2021)

Reviewed by Rachel Watkins, Avid Bookshop in Athens, Georgia

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Cool for the Summer by Dahlia Adler

Lara has been crushing on Chase since she was a little girl. Now it’s senior year and he’s finally noticing her. But on the first day of school, in walks Lara’s summer friend/romance Jasmine–in town to stay. Lara’s into Chase, but she also can’t forget about Jasmine. What’s she going to do now? I loved how we not only get a questioning bi-romance, but also get some good friendship dynamics in Cool for the Summer. If you’re looking for a light summer read that also manages some heavy emotions in a Grease vibe, look no further!

Cool for the Summer by Dahlia Adler (List Price: $18.99, Wednesday Books, 9781250765826, 5/11/2021)

Reviewed by Jennifer Jones, Bookmiser in Marietta, Georgia

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The Prettiest Star by Carter Sickels

2021 Southern Book Prize Winner!

This beautiful, elegaic novel gives us a family of voices over the course of a last homecoming to rural Ohio for Brian, dying of AIDS at the height of the 1980s epidemic. Told with empathy and heart, as well as a pitch-perfect sense of time and place, The Prettiest Star is a deeply affecting story about what it means to understand each other and where we come from, even when our lives have taken us light years away.

The Prettiest Star by Carter Sickels (List Price: $26.00, Hub City Press, 9781938235627, May 2020)

Reviewed by Ashley Warlick, M. Judson booksellers and storytellers in Greenville, South Carolina

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The Prettiest Star by Carter Sickels

2021 Southern Book Prize Winner!

Carter Sickels has written a gorgeous and heartbreaking book. Brian comes home to rural Ohio after contracting AIDS in New York. As he searches for something like peace we also watch his family and their complicated love for not only him but each other. I absolutely loved this, it was tender and humane, and a glimpse of a shamefully almost-forgotten time in American history. I haven’t stopped thinking about Brian since I finished the novel, and I can tell I won’t stop thinking of him for a long time.

The Prettiest Star by Carter Sickels (List Price: $26.00, Hub City Press, 9781938235627, May 2020)

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

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Winterkeep by Kristin Cashore

Kristin Cashore is one of the most gifted fantasy writers of our time. When this book opened from the perspective of a many-tentacled sea creature at the bottom of the ocean, I was surprised and delighted to find myself completely comfortable knowing that this chapter would fit with the larger story so very satisfyingly. And I was right, of course. I am overwhelmed by my love for the Graceling realm and the brilliant way that Cashore has expanded on the world with each of the novels, building such strong, full characters and gorgeous wrought lore along the way. And now there are telepathic blue foxes! And silbercows! And The Keeper! And they all feel more real than my own world, having finished this novel so recently. I hold WINTERKEEP and Lovisa just as close to my heart as I do GRACELING, FIRE & BITTERBLUE and I really will read anything that Kristin Cashore writes.

Winterkeep by Kristin Cashore (List Price: $19.99, Dial Press, 9780803741508, January 2021)

Reviewed by Cristina Russell, Books & Books in Coral Gables, Florida

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Be Dazzled by Ryan La Sala

Raffy LOVES cosplay. So, he’s been furiously working on an entry for a local convention with his friend May. But he has several obstacles, not the least of which is an unsupportive mother and his ex, Luca, who has entered with one of their other friends. But Raffy is a natural with a sequin and he’s sure he can pull this one off. This delightful romance-meets-cosplay book from Ryan La Sala is perfect timing for those of us with the blues from missing our favorite conventions this year.

Be Dazzled by Ryan La Sala (List Price: $17.99, Sourcebooks Fire, 9781492682691, 1/5/2021)

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

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Over the Shop by JonArno Lawson, Qin Leng (Illus)

This beautiful picture book without words tells a story of welcoming and acceptance. I love that the absence of text allows the reader to make up any story or dialogue they want. The pictures provide so much to talk about, and it would be easy to become so absorbed in this book that the time just passes by.

Over the Shop by JonArno Lawson, Qin Leng (Illus) (List Price: $16.99, Candlewick, 9781536201475, 1/5/2021)

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

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Pumpkin by Julie Murphy

Julie Murphy’s Pumpkin is a delight. I was so happy to return to Clover City and meet brand new characters–twins Waylon and Clementine–and see a bunch of familiar faces, including previous protagonists Willowdean and Millie. Fans of Dumplin’ and Puddin’ will not be disappointed!

Pumpkin by Julie Murphy (List Price: $17.99, Balzer + Bray, 9780062880451, 5/25/2021)

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

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Last Night at the Telegraph Club by Malinda Lo

In Last Night at the Telegraph Club, Lily Hu and Kath Miller are gorgeously rendered against the glittering backdrop of San Francisco, escaping into the night for The Telegraph Club where they find themselves staring down a sort of freedom that they know they cannot leave behind. From the very first page, this is a novel that feels so incredibly full and rich with historical details and simmers with yearning and tension I simply could not put it down. Delving into the realities of 1950’s Chinese America identity, queer culture, McCarthyism & women in STEM, Lo has crafted a historical fiction novel of the absolute highest caliber.

Last Night at the Telegraph Club by Malinda Lo (List Price: $18.99, Dutton Books for Young Readers, 9780525555254, 1/19/2021)

Reviewed by Cristina Russell, Books & Books in Coral Gables, Florida

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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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Into the Real by Z Brewer

Into the Real deserves its own genre of gender queer science fiction. Main character Quinn’s life gets split into thirds after a run-in with the always present Coe in their post apocalyptic town. From leader of the resistance to a patient at a conversion therapy camp, Quinn finds themself in different situations but still with the same town, people, and questions. With each different life, they must decide what’s more important–living true to themself or blending in. With a revealing truth at the end, Quinn realizes what really happened to her hometown.

Into the Real by Z Brewer (List Price: $17.99, Quill Tree Books, 9780062691385, October, 2020)

Reviewed by Nannette Matthews, Story on the Square in McDonough, Georgia

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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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Outlawed by Anna North

A Winter 2021 Read This Next! Title

Outlawed by Anna North
Bloomsbury Publishing, January

Anna North has taken the traditional Western and flipped it on its head with a feminist twist for a very refreshing and timely novel about self worth. Taking place in an alternate past, Ada marries at 17, but after a year of trying, can’t conceive a child. She is kicked out by her husband’s family and accused of witchcraft by the town she grew up in, forcing her to flee. She ends up with an atypical group of outlaws by way of a convent and begins to learn to survive on the outside of traditional society. Intimate and exciting, this is a very fun book!

– Carl Kranz, Fountain Bookstore in Richmond, VA

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The Love Curse of Melody McIntyre by Robin Talley

Melody is in her junior year of high school and all her dreams have come true. She finally gets to be the stage manager of her high school’s production of Romeo and Juliet. But the theatre is riddled with superstition. Every new play has a new superstition and a counter-curse for that superstition. So, when Melody’s love life causes problems with their current play the stage kids decide that when Melody is in love, that’s when things go wrong. The superstition for the spring musical is going to be that Melody doesn’t fall in love. Melody is on board with the plan. But that’s before their local celebrity, Odile Rose, comes back from filming a TV show and is cast in the musical. Everyone thought Odile was snobby and standoffish, but she’s not that way with Melody…

The Love Curse of Melody McIntyre by Robin Talley (List Price: $17.99, HarperTeen, 9780062409263, 12/1/2020)
Reviewed by Jennifer Jones, Bookmiser, Inc. in Roswell, Georgia

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When the Tiger Came Down the Mountain by Nghi Vo

This is an impressive sophomore novella that breathes new life into campfire stories and oral history. In a mystical world of tiger shifters and deadly mammoths, one cleric must bargain for their life with a folk tale. When the Tiger Came Down the Mountain is a story of cultural exchange and a question of who pens history. It’s powerful, compelling, and downright enchanting.

When the Tiger Came Down the Mountain by Nghi Vo (List price: $15.99, Tordotcom, 9781250786135, December 2020), recommended by Lizy Coale, Copperfish Books, Punta Gorda, FL.

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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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The House in the Cerulean Sea by TJ Klune

Our differences should never be hidden as a means of conformity, but fully embraced for their powerful ability to make us unique individuals. It’s a simple sentiment, if not a tired one, but TJ Klune has a magical power that allows him to breathe new, exhilarating life into that simplicity. With The House in the Cerulean Sea, he has skillfully crafted a contemporary fable filled with humor, wit, overwhelming delight, and some of the most colorfully drawn characters I’ve ever had the privilege of meeting in a book. Positively queer and heartfelt, you’ll find that TJ Klune is a brilliant writer and a masterful storyteller.

The House in the Cerulean Sea by TJ Klune (List price: $18.99, Tor Books), recommended by Flyleaf Books, Chapel Hill, NC.

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