The books Southern indie booksellers are recommending to readers everywhere!

Literary Fiction

Everything Calls for Salvation by Daniele Mencarelli

Over seven days in a psychiatric ward in 1994 in Italy, the main character Daniele Mancarelli (who shares the author’s name and some life experiences) documents his involuntary committal. We spend most of our time on the ward itself with occasional flashbacks of the six patients’ and staff’s pasts. Mencarelli (author and character) is also a poet, and the language is beautiful and delicately translated by Wendy Weathly. While not dismissing the need for the truly suffering or dangerous to be treated, the author presents much to be considered about the way society categorizes those who are simply different or passing through a difficult phase of life.

Everything Calls for Salvation by Daniele Mencarelli, (List Price: $22, Europa Editions, 9781609458065, January 2023)

Reviewed by Kelly Justice, Fountain Bookstore in Richmond, Virginia

Age of Vice by Deepti Kapoor

A January 2023 Read This Next! Title

This novel will rob you of hours from your life, it will rob you of the need for food or company or sleep. Time the reading of the first pages wisely; you’ll have a sudden need to find a comfy spot where you can commune with these characters and their lush stories of pleasure and pain. A mashup of American Psycho, Scarface and The Great Gatsby but set in contemporary India, it’s all but impossible to look away from this dazzling train wreck orchestrated by Deepti Kapoor. I was consumed by this novel.

Age of Vice by Deepti Kapoor (List Price: $30, Riverhead Books, 9780593328798, January 2023)

Reviewed by Jamie Fiocco, Flyleaf Books in Chapel Hill, North Carolina

Spotlight on: Cursed Bunny: Stories by Bora Chung

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I think urban legends, myths and folktales constantly tell us that what you know is not all, and you shouldn’t be arrogant enough to think that what your five senses can sense is all there is to feel and perceive and think.” ―Bora Chung, Interview, The Korea Herald

 

Cursed Bunny: Stories by Bora Chung

What booksellers are saying about Cursed Bunny: Stories

  • Cursed Bunny is a fantastically weird and thought-provoking collection of horror, sci-fi, and fantasy stories that had me ruminating long after I had finished them. Bora Chung takes the bases of human nature (and a lot of the worst ones) and puts them on display like an open wound for the reader. Along with covering individual issues like greed, despair, or love… the stories also tackle societal issues regarding feminism and poverty as well. This book is perfect for horror fans that also enjoy literary fiction.
      ―Stuart McCommon from Novel in Memphis, TN | Buy from Novel.

  • A fantastic, Korean story collection that includes nightmarish tales you won’t be able to put down. Bora Chung is bringing a new depth of not only gore and terror to traditional horror but also something more provocative as well. Tales that range from heads emerging from toilets, body horror that you’ll remember for days, and even some more sci-fi elements as well, this story collection is not for the faint of heart. An unforgettable book that’ll keep you thinking for days.
      ―Grace Sullivan from Fountain Books in Richmond, VA | Buy from Fountain Bookstore

  • Delightfully gruesome, disarmingly weird, and incredibly sharp; Bora Chung’s debut collection Cursed Bunny is an incredibly memorable trip into the mind of an amazing new voice. From a head growing out of a toilet wanting to be free, a snared fox that bleeds gold, or the titular cursed bunny; each of Chung’s amazing stories reads like a dark fable that would give the Grimm brothers a run for their money. With themes of gender, greed, and technology, Cursed Bunny is a must read for those who take their humor black and their ideas big. So very good!
      ―Caleb Masters from Bookmarks in Winston-Salem, NC | Buy from Bookmarks

About Bora Chung

Bora Chung has written three novels and three collections of short stories. She has an MA in Russian and East European area studies from Yale University and a PhD in Slavic literature from Indiana University. She has taught Russian language and literature and science fiction studies at Yonsei University and translates modern literary works from Russian and Polish into Korean.

Anton Hur was born in Stockholm, Sweden. He won a PEN Translates award for Kang Kyeong-ae’s The Underground Village and his translation of Sang Young Park’s Love in the Big City was longlisted for the Booker International Prize in 2022. He lives in Seoul.

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Spotlight on: The Light Pirate by Lily Brooks-Dalton

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I think that re-wilding is an extraordinary thing, desirable perhaps, to see nature reclaiming itself. Southern Florida was and would like to be a swamp, you know? And yet we’ve dredged it and drained it and built on top of that. And so much of city management in a place like Miami is trying to keep that boundary between what the landscape wants to do and what the city wants the land to do – bridge it. And so to me, the idea of softening that boundary and trying to be a little harmonious is a good thing.” ―Lily Brooks-Dalton, Interview, Texas Public Radio

 

The Light Pirate by Lily Brooks-Dalton

What booksellers are saying about The Light Pirate

  • Wanda is born in the middle of a devastating hurricane that claims two of her family members and frays the edges of a fragile environment. Set in Florida, we see Wanda grow into a young adult while the only place she has ever known as home becomes a victim of climate change. Brooks-Dalton shows us the crumbling of civilization and the strength of one person’s determination to find beauty in the loss. Wanda’s story asks us to see both magic and hope in an uncertain future.
      ―Mary Jane Michels from Fiction Addiction in Greenville, SC | Buy from Fiction Addiction

  • Ethereal and haunting, The Light Pirate tells the story of Wanda, who is born on the day that the hurricane that she was named after rips through Florida, leaving devastation in its wake. A meditation of what’s to become of our landscape and livelihood, and how we survive when everything is stripped away. I can’t wait to recommend The Light Pirate to fans of Emily St John Mandel, Lydia Millet, and Climate Fiction readers.
      ―Jessica Nock from Main Street Books in Davidson, NC | Buy from Main Street Books

  • An essential read, especially for those of us making our home in Florida. Tragic but hopeful and completely enthralling. highly recommends.
      ―Emily Berg from Books & Books in Coral Gables, FL | Buy from Books and Books

  • In a novel that mirrors the latest news about the urgency of our environment, Lily Brooks-Dalton takes the reader to a terrible end place. Kirby Lowe and his heavily pregnant wife and two sons are about to be hit by another hurricane in their small town in Florida. Wanda is born into this weather crisis, and we watch her whole life as weather patterns and rising sea levels take away the life we all have known. Bioluminescence plays a part as large as Phyllis—the survivalist who finds she was right all along. This novel will leave the reader breathless, turning pages while hoping life and love will survive.
      ―Nancy Pierce from Bookmiser, Inc. in Marietta, GA | Buy from Bookmiser

About Lily Brooks-Dalton

Lily Brooks-Dalton’s novel, Good Morning, Midnight (Random House, 2016), has been translated into 17 languages and is the inspiration for the film adaptation, The Midnight Sky. Her memoir, Motorcycles I’ve Loved (Riverhead, 2014), was a finalist for the Oregon Book Award. She currently lives in Los Angeles.

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The Passenger by Cormac McCarthy

I have never really felt like the target reader for Cormac McCarthy, but this one really spoke to me. Alternating perspectives between two siblings in the past and present, The Passenger is the story of Bobby Western, a deep sea diver overcome with grief by the death of his sister whom he carried romantic feelings for. Many chapters flesh out in a very dialogue-heavy interview style with an eccentric cast of characters, some more likable than others. Experts in quantum mechanics such as Dirac, Einstein, and Oppenheimer (who worked alongside Western’s father) take on roles as symbols, legacies, and even characters unto themselves. All the while, Western gets wrapped up in a conspiracy he doesn’t know the questions to let alone the answers. McCarthy writes beautifully of the alchemic fires of devotion and the beyond, and I suspect this is a novel I will be returning to throughout my life.

The Passenger by Cormac McCarthy (List Price: $30.00, Knopf, 9780307268990, October 2022)

Reviewed by Amanda Depperschmidt, Fountain Bookstore in Richmond, Virginia

Spotlight on: Seven Empty Houses by Samanta Schweblin

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I started this book in Argentina many years ago, knowing I would move to Europe soon, and finished it during my first couple of years living in Berlin. So for me it works as a bridge between two very different worlds and lives. I couldn’t see that during the writing process, but these stories are full of moving boxes, abandoned clothes, lost objects, people feeling nostalgic and lost or out of place, even when the plots have little to do with that. How tricky fiction can be…I thought I had hidden my private life behind these stories, but it doesn’t matter what I am writing about, I’m always working with material taken from my own life and experience.” ―Samanta Schweblin, Interview, Words Without Borders, National Book Awards

 

Seven Empty Houses by Samanta Schweblin

What booksellers are saying about Seven Empty Houses

  • At the root of a “good” nightmare is prime comedy and just like the dash of cinnamon to chili enhances the spicy without tasting like a seasonal cookie, a pinch of humor enriches the story’s scary without reading like a seasonal cookie. Each entry for this year’s Samanta Schweblin Chili Cookoff is wonderfully all over the flavor map, which makes for a enjoyably quick read. Always leave ‘em wanting more!
      ―Ian McCord from Avid Bookshop in Athens, GA | Buy from Avid Bookshop

  • Seven Empty Houses finds Samanta Schweblin in top form. Each story is imbued with a striking precision, as the author is funny, ominous, heartfelt, and brutal often in quick succession. Many of the scenes in this collection feature characters that aren’t often the focal point of any given story, Schweblin gives us a glimpse into their worlds and the results are stunning.
      ―James Harrod from Malaprop’s in Asheville, NC | Buy from Malaprop’s Bookstore/Cafe

  • Short Stories are always an odd thing to get into because they tend to drop you in a story quite in the middle of them and unceremoniously eject you before the story is truly complete. They are more snapshot than feature film. Schweblin’s snapshot stories are unsettling and comforting all at once. They speak to the tender strangeness of family and the simultaneous fear/desire for death. I want to give this book to someone as a book hangover cure for Sue Rainsford’s Follow Me to Ground.
      ―Annie Childress from E. Shaver, bookseller in Savannah, GA | Buy from E. Shaver, bookseller

About Samanta Schweblin

Samanta Schweblin is the author of the novel Fever Dream, a finalist for the International Booker Prize, and the novel Little Eyes and story collection A Mouthful of Birds, longlisted for the same prize. Chosen by Granta as one of the twenty-two best writers in Spanish under the age of thirty-five, she has won numerous prestigious awards around the world. Her books have been translated into twenty-five languages, and her work has appeared in English in The New Yorker and Harper’s Magazine. Originally from Buenos Aires, Schweblin lives in Berlin.

Megan McDowell has translated books by many contemporary South American and Spanish authors; her translations have been published in The New Yorker, Harper’s, The Paris Review, McSweeney’s, Words Without Borders, and Vice, among other publications.

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Offended Sensibilities by Ganieva Alisa

A novel that takes place in a Russian town where officials are dropping dead after a recent law that stifled forms of expression has been passed, following the real-life events of a Pussy Riot church protest. The neo-noir feel that envelopes this political yet humorous novel fits perfectly and makes this a fantastic and original read. Though this deals with conversations on nationalism, religion, and sexuality among others, the light humor and prose kept this novel more digestible and entertaining.

Offended Sensibilities by Ganieva Alisa (List Price: $16.95, Deep Vellum Publishing, 9781646052233, November 2022)

Reviewed by Grace Sullivan, Fountain Bookstore in Richmond, Virginia

Spotlight on: Mr. Wilder and Me by Jonathan Coe

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I suppose it’s typical of me that I zoom in on Billy Wilder in one of the most melancholy moments of his life, just when his star is on the wane and he’s trying to find a gracious way of becoming an elder statesman. I think it is more interesting to approach an artist through one of their flawed films, because a masterpiece speaks for itself. Whereas you watch Fedora and you think: ‘How did this film come to be? It is so peculiar, there must be a story there.” ―Jonathan Coe, Interview, The Guardian

 

Mr. Wilder and Me by Jonathan Coe

What booksellers are saying about Mr. Wilder and Me

  • Told alongside a young woman’s coming of age as a film worker, this novella is a portrait of late-career Billy Wilder, after he’s made all the films you know and now worries that he’s out of touch – he remains haunted by the Holocaust, while his peers seemingly have moved on and are making movies that explore human pain and suffering instead of trying to alleviate them. It’s a gorgeously written and well-researched book, simultaneously a love letter to film and life’s pleasures and a compassionate warning about the dangers of nostalgia and the moral convictions that come with age.
      ―Akil Guruparan from Fountain Bookstore in Richmond, Virginia | Buy from Fountain Bookstore

  • Calista is a young Greek girl hired by Billy Wilder as an interpreter while he is filming the movie Fedora in 1977 Europe. This is a coming of age story along with a tribute to Wilder, his movies, and his screenwriter friend Iz Diamond. I loved the book!  ―Beth Carpenter from The Country Bookshop in Southern Pines, North Carolina | Buy from The Country Bookshop

  • Last night, I was listening to an old episode of This American Life, one in which a reporter goes on the road with the then-92-year-old George Burns. Immediately I thought of Mr. Wilder and Me. As in that radio story, the protagonist in Jonathan Coe’s novel is a young woman who has the rare opportunity to spend long stretches of time with an aging entertainment legend who is, more than likely, in the midst of his last big project. Mr. Wilder and Me invites us to examine notions of creativity, relevance, and fame as well as our irresistible tendency to re-examine our lives, wondering what small shifts might have changed everything.  ―Janet Geddis from Avid Bookshop in Athens, Georgia | Buy from Avid Bookshop

About Jonathan Coe

Jonathan Coe was born in 1961 in Lickey, a suburb of south-west Birmingham. His first novel, The Accidental Woman was published in 1987. His best-selling novels include What a Carve Up! and The Rotters’ Club (2001). He is the recipient of many prizes and awards, including both Costa Novel of the Year and Prix du Livre Européen. He won France’s Prix Médicis for The House of Sleep and Italy’s Premio Flaiano and Premio Bauer-Ca’ Foscari.

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Hester by Laurie Lico Albanese

Absolutely one of the best books I have read this year. I love the way the author wove Nathaniel Hawthorne’s story of Hester and The Scarlet Letter perfectly into this novel about a woman in the 1800s who embroiders but has synesthesia where she associates certain colors with letters. I love the way she portrayed Isobel as a strong woman- but to men she could be seen as a temptress. A beautifully woven (pun intended) story.

Hester by Laurie Lico Albanese, (List Price: $27.99, St. Martin’s Press, 9781250278555, October 2022)

Reviewed by Olivia Meletes-Morris, Litchfield Books in Pawleys Island , South Carolina

Spotlight on: Shrines of Gaiety by Kate Atkinson

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People often ask how much of myself is in a book. Generally I say all of me and none of me. It’s dangerous to associate authors with their work. It’s fiction but the more you are engaged with your writing the more the readers are also involved. I think a reader needs the author to be invested wholly in the writing, otherwise it feels a bit like cheating, in a way.

I tend to get emotional towards the end of writing a book, because so much is coming together and the story feels as though it is going to work and do what I wanted it to do. I love endings – beginnings and endings are what I like most in fiction. ” ―Kate Atkinson, Interview, Women’s Prize for Fiction

 

Shrines of Gaiety by Kate Atkinson

What booksellers are saying about Shrines of Gaiety

  • Kate Atkinson has a wonderful way with words, combining laugh-out-loud wit with unexpected pathos. I gobbled up Shrines of Gaiety – which features a motley crew of characters in 1920s London, including a nightclub boss, a chief inspector intent on weeding out corruption in the police, a teenage runaway in search of fame, and a former WW1 nurse in search of said missing teenager – in just a couple of days.
      ―Jude Burke-Lewis from Square Books in Oxford, Mississippi | Buy from Square Books

  • Atkinson’s latest novel sparkles with all her brilliance. Featuring deft character studies and a lack of sentimentality, this clever timepiece set in the roaring ’20s has an atmospheric mix of criminal and cop, ingenue and madame. Seedy SoHo has been the playground for the infamous Coker family for many years, and they must now defend their nightclub empire from attack by mysterious forces. Witty & wise, moving but never mawkish, this is Atkinson at the top of her game.  ―Maggi Robe from Flyleaf Books in Chapel Hill, North Carolina | Buy from Flyleaf Books

  • Ma Coker, queen of London’s night club scene, is released from jail, at the beginning of this novel set against a London full of missing girls, many of whom worked at Coker’s clubs. Told from the point of view of Coker and her endless family members; as well as a librarian who works with a police officer to find the girls; and some of the girls themselves. Kate Atkinson is at her most imaginative in this thriller that’s almost as wild as the roaring 20s themselves..  ―Anne Peck from Righton Books in St. Simons Island, Georgia | Buy from Righton Books

About Kate Atkinson

Kate Atkinson won the Whitbread (now Costa) Book of the Year prize with her first novel, Behind the Scenes at the Museum. Her 2013 novel Life After Life was shortlisted for the Women’s Prize for Fiction and voted Book of the Year for the independent booksellers associations on both sides of the Atlantic. It also won the Costa Novel Award, as did her subsequent novel, A God in Ruins (2015), and was adapted into a critically acclaimed television series in 2022. Her bestselling novels featuring former detective Jackson Brodie became the BBC television series Case Histories, starring Jason Isaacs. She has written twelve groundbreaking, bestselling books and lives in Edinburgh, Scotland.

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Spotlight on: Which Side Are You On? by Ryan Lee Wong

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More and more I believe that in the face of a political situation or in the face of an emergency, you have to ask the questions, ‘Which side are you on? Where do I stand in relation to this?’And at the exact same time, ultimately, there are no sides.” ―Ryan Lee Wong, Interview, Los Angeles Times

 

Which Side Are You On? by Ryan Lee Wong

What booksellers are saying about Which Side Are You On?

  • A son returns home to LA for his grandmother’s last few days, and opens up to learn of his parents’ history as activists. He compares his own experiences with theirs as he struggles to figure out his future as a college student and self-proclaimed radical. Perfect for this moment, when so many of us are studying history to blaze new trails forward. I found this book very thought-provoking, and the family’s story refreshing.
      ―Alissa Redmond from South Main Book Co. in Salisbury, North Carolin | Buy from South Main Book Co.

  • Ryan Lee Wong packed so much into fewer than 200 pages! I loved the story of his family and how everything was revealed to him. I walked away still thinking of how Reed, the protagonist, learned that we have to allow stories to change us, not just to reinforce our own opinions. As someone who also lived in Los Angeles, I could envision exact places the author was describing; this also felt like a love story to his hometown.  ―Amber Taylor from One More Page Books in Arlington, Virginia | Buy from One More Page

  • Ryan Lee Wong’s debut Which Side Are You On is something special. This is a serious book with funny moments that centers around a young college student’s relationship with his mom. Reed is a young Asian American activist working to confront racism in America but he’s been shielded from the roles his parents played in the Korean-Black coalition in L.A. When he comes home from college in a life crisis, Reed’s mother pushes him to truly examine what he is doing to change the world.  ―Rachel Watkins from Avid Bookshop in Athens, Georgia | Buy from Avid Bookshop

About Ryan Lee Wong

Ryan Lee Wong was born and raised in Los Angeles, lived for two years at Ancestral Heart Zen Temple, and currently lives in Brooklyn, where he is the administrative director of Brooklyn Zen Center. Previously, he served as program director for the Asian American Writers’ Workshop and managing director of Kundiman. He has organized exhibitions and written extensively on the Asian American movements of the 1970s. He holds an MFA in fiction from Rutgers University–Newark. Which Side Are You On is his first book.

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Signal Fires by Dani Shapiro

The story of family and how lives intersect over time, Signal Fires is a quiet portrait of neighbors who lived near a 500-year-old oak tree during a large chunk of their lives. How those in the two families live and people chose to intersect or not to, choose to acknowledge weakness or tragedy- or do not- as they move through lives stages and across the country are central to this novel.

Signal Fires by Dani Shapiro, (List Price: $28, Knopf, 9780593534724, October 2022)

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

The Rabbit Hutch by Tessa Gunty

The Rabbit Hutch is about 18 year old Blandine Watkins, who has recently aged out of the foster care system and hopes soon to escape her earthly body like the female mystics who obsess her. It’s also about a dying Midwestern town, formerly home to an automobile manufacturer with a cultishly devoted customer base whose bankruptcy left the town in financial ruin and poisoned by toxic chemicals. And The Rabbit Hutch is also about the Rabbit Hutch, a low-income housing experiment full of residents living lives of varying degrees of quiet desperation, all of whom are brought sharply to life by Tess Gunty’s intricate, precise, dishy prose. It’s dark, but funny. It’s tragic, but affirming. And I didn’t want to skim over a single sentence, the writing is just that good. I will read anything Gunty publishes in the future.

The Rabbit Hutch by Tessa Gunty, (List Price: $28.00, Knopf, 9780593534663, August 2022)

Reviewed by Kat Leache, Novel in Memphis, Tennessee

Spotlight on: Lucy By the Sea by Elizabeth Strout

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One of the biggest conundrums was to get the sense of time,” Strout said of the grocery-washing era of 2020, when calendars went blank and sinister. “It’s like time just imploded. The sense of a day was strange and the sense of a week was even stranger, because what was a week? I wanted to get that down on the page somehow.” ―Elizabeth Strout, Interview,New York Times

 

Lucy By the Sea by Elizabeth Strout

What booksellers are saying about Lucy By the Sea

  • This is a story of loss, and coming to terms with it, and realizing that we are all just trying to do the best we can and get through it all. Another fabulous Elizabeth Strout novel!―Beth Carpenter from The Country Bookshop in Southern Pines, North Carolina | Buy from this store

  • I don’t think I’ll ever get tired of Lucy Barton! Set in the early days of the COVID pandemic, Elizabeth Strout puts Lucy and her ex-husband (and still close friend) William together in a cabin in Maine. William is “saving Lucy’s life” by getting her out of Manhattan. For her part, Lucy doesn’t know what the big deal is. The two of them navigate this new world, and we are drawn back to that uncertain time when so much was unknown. In Lucy’s singular voice, Strout continues Lucy’s story with a keen eye and sharp prose.
      ―Lynne Phillips from Wordsworth Books in Little Rock, Arkansas | Buy from this store

  • “I could not stop feeling that life as I had known it was gone. Because it was. I knew this was true.” Lucy Barton feels this as the global pandemic took over all our lives… and didn’t we all feel this? Reading Lucy by the Sea leads the reader through the horrors and hopes of this strangest and most horrifying time of our collective lives. The unknown was with us every minute of lockdown and, as all our lives changed, we changed forever.  ―Nancy Pierce from Bookmiser in Marietta, Georgia | Buy from this store

  • Strout explores grief in a new way in this pandemic-era novel. ‘Lucy By the Sea’ centers around the outbreak of COVID and everything that followed during the year after. I instantly fell deeply immersed in this story because I (and we all) lived through that year. I felt emotionally involved with Lucy and her world. I struggled with Lucy while she came to grips of the new reality that was COVID, my heart broke as her relationship with her daughters changed, and I rolled my eyes along with her at William. You are not invisible Lucy, we see you.  ―Jenny Gilroy from E. Shaver, bookseller in Savannah, Georgia | Buy from this store

  • Elizabeth Strout brings her character, Lucy, back just as the world is shut down by the pandemic. Lucy finds herself quarantining with her ex-husband William in a small town in Maine and begins to see him from a different point of view. Lucy’s fresh outlook extends to her two daughters and their own life challenges. Told in Lucy’s clear, no-nonsense voice, the lockdown provides the backdrop for how to deal with a world in turmoil without losing hope.  ―Mary Jane Michels from Fiction Addiction in Greenville, South Carolina | Buy from this store

About Elizabeth Strout

Elizabeth Strout is the #1 New York Times bestselling author of Oh William!; Olive, Again; Anything Is Possible, winner of the Story Prize; My Name Is Lucy Barton; The Burgess Boys; Olive Kitteridge, winner of the Pulitzer Prize; Abide with Me; and Amy and Isabelle, winner of the Los Angeles Times Art Seidenbaum Award and the Chicago Tribune Heartland Prize. She has also been a finalist for the PEN/Faulkner Award and the Orange Prize in London. She lives in Maine.

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Mad Honey by Jodi Picoult

A thought-provoking and riveting look at the difference between keeping things secret and keeping things private. Mad Honey is told in alternating voices and timelines by Olivia, the mother of Asher, and Lily, Asher’s new to town girlfriend. Both Olivia and Lily are familiar with starting over. Olivia by leaving an abusive husband and Lily by moving for her last year of high school. When Lily is found dead, all eyes focus on Asher as a likely suspect. The layers of both Lily and Olivia’s lives are revealed as the investigation and trial bring long-held secrets to light. This is a page-turner that will leave you wondering how far you would go to protect yourself and your loved ones.

Mad Honey by Jodi Picoult, (List Price: $29.99, Ballantine Books, 9781984818386, October 2022)

Reviewed by Mary Jane Michels, Fiction Addiction in Greenville, South Carolina

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