The books Southern indie booksellers are recommending to readers everywhere!

Literary Fiction

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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Popisho by Leone Ross

Popisho is pure magic. While it’s clear that Ross pulls influence from Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Toni Morrison among others, the beautifully rendered setting and fully-realized characters (and their magical powers) are unique and wholly refreshing. The musical language makes this novel sing—a song of lost love, fate-determining meals, political intrigue, winged drugs, and lots of sex and strange occurrences. Popisho is sparkling and saucy and sensual, and readers will find themselves hankering for its food, crying at its heartbreaks, and laughing (oh, there will be a lot of laughing) at its sly wit.

Popisho by Leone Ross (List Price: $28, Farrar Straus and Giroux, 9780374602451, 4/20/2021)

Reviewed by Hannah DeCamp, Avid Bookshop in Athens, Georgia

Popisho by Leone Ross

Popisho is pure magic. While it’s clear that Ross pulls influence from Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Toni Morrison among others, the beautifully rendered setting and fully-realized characters (and their magical powers) are unique and wholly refreshing. The musical language makes this novel sing—a song of lost love, fate-determining meals, political intrigue, winged drugs, and lots of sex and strange occurrences. Popisho is sparkling and saucy and sensual, and readers will find themselves hankering for its food, crying at its heartbreaks, and laughing (oh, there will be a lot of laughing) at its sly wit.

Popisho by Leone Ross (List Price: $28, Farrar Straus and Giroux, 9780374602451, 4/20/2021)
Reviewed by Hannah DeCamp, Avid Bookshop in Athens, Georgia

9780374602451.jpg
https://avidbookshop.com/book/9780374602451

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The Dangers of Smoking in Bed by Mariana Enriquez, Megan McDowell (Trans.)

A gloriously unsettling collection of the weird and macabre, The Dangers of Smoking in Bed is as enthralling as it is disturbing and will envelop readers in a loving and nightmarish embrace.Perfect for fans of Samanta Schweblin, Carmen Maria Machado, and Abbey Mei Otis.

The Dangers of Smoking in Bed by Mariana Enriquez, Megan McDowell (Trans.) (List Price: $27, Hogarth, 9780593134078, 1/12/2021)

Reviewed by Zach Claypole White, Flyleaf Books in Chapel Hill, North Carolina

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Whereabouts by Jhumpa Lahiri

The unnamed protagonist in Jhumpa Lahiri’s Whereabouts reflects on moments of a life lived in solitude, understanding what it means to observe the world around her, and find herself in the context of any given part of it. Even though hers is a mild life with subtle joys, walking the piazza or sitting in cafés when not in the classroom, there are still moments when being alone feels more lonely, enveloping her no matter where she goes. Whereabouts is a contemplative and beautiful story for the introverted, the blissfully isolated, or at the very least, those who, when alone, are able to truly find themselves.

Whereabouts by Jhumpa Lahiri (List Price: $24, Knopf, 9780593318317, 4/27/2021)

Reviewed by Cat Chapman, Oxford Exchange in Tampa, Florida

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Klara and the Sun by Kazuo Ishiguro

A true continuation of Ishiguro’s question posed by Never Let Me Go: what does it mean to be human? Klara and the Sun uses a different futuristic device more common these days, humanoid companion AIs, in this Brave New World meets Black Mirror-esque narrative. With vague and growing details in the Ishiguro style he perfected in The Buried Giant, your discovery of the ultimate human question arrives in a moment of horror confronting the relationship between Klara (the AI), Josie (the child under this AIs care), and a portraitist with a strange mission. Josie is positioned as a sickly child in a mess of parental control over educational outcomes and the harsh world of the ethical implications when we long to hold on to the people in our lives just a little bit longer than nature allows. In beautiful simplistic prose, we converge on an intimate and fractured family holding on to the hope of a very scary and unknown world, daring to test the bounds of what it means to be human. This understated sci-fi drama will again change the way you view AIs and their place in the human paradigm, all the while falling in love with Klara and her concerted effort to simply comprehend humanity.

Klara and the Sun by Kazuo Ishiguro (List Price: $28, Knopf, 9780593318171, 3/2/2021)

Reviewed by Davis Shoulders, union ave books in knoxville, Tennessee

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Creatures of Passage by Morowa Yejidé

A fantastic new novel from an incredible writer. I loved every moment of Creatures of Passage and was hooked from the first page. Full of myth and mysticism, this is a complex web of stories that intersect in a way that slowly and gracefully unfolds. Complicated family relationships, systemic poverty and privilege, the transformative destruction of abuse, all of these themes and more create a beautiful and tragic look at the Anacostia neighborhood of DC.

Creatures of Passage by Morowa Yejidé (List Price: $25, Akashic Books, 9781617758768, 3/16/2021)

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

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The Killing Hills by Chris Offutt

A Spring 2021 Read This Next! Title

The Killing Hills by Chris Offutt
Grove, June

This was a blast! Hill country Kentucky noir with characters that both repulse and endear. A tough combo that works well with the plot of familial vengeance that piles up the bodies without understanding the cause that makes the blood boil so hot. Superb.

–Pete Mock from McIntyre’s Books in Pittsboro, NC

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Malibu Rising by Taylor Jenkins Reid

A Spring 2021 Read This Next! Title

Malibu Rising by Taylor Jenkins Reid
Ballantine, June

How good was this? So good I read it in one night. Reid Jenkins carefully crafts a multi-generational saga drenched in the sun of 20th century Malibu that made me love, empathize with, and occasionally want to shake all of the characters. This book almost serves to form a trilogy with Reid Jenkins’ previous novels-Evelyn Hugo and Daisy Jones. I certainly started rereading both after finishing Malibu.

– Tracie Harris from The Book House in Mableton, GA

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Of Women and Salt by Gabriela Garcia

A Spring 2021 Read This Next! Title

Of Women and Salt by Gabriela Garcia
Flatiron Books, April

A testament to the enduring bonds of struggle and love that tie us together beyond generations and borders. Truly the work of a measured poet, as Garcia shows the power of form, language, and structure in creating enduring scenes and images that I will carry with me for a long time. As these characters face heart-first the most dire concerns of our time—misogyny, xenophobia, hegemony, addiction—what comes to light is the beauty of the moments they share when they think about birds with claws, the ocean air, and the joy of being told a good story. Truly lovely and, ultimately, fortifying.

– Luis Correa, Avid Bookshop in Athens, GA

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Gold Diggers by Sanjena Sathian

Inside the shimmering cover of this book is a fascinating modern look at the golden promise of the American Dream, and its dark underpinnings. Neeraj Narayan (or Neil, as he’s known in his Atlanta suburb) feels inferior to his over-achieving Asian American peers and unequipped to meet the expectations of his parents. So, when a magical solution presents itself in the form of a potion concocted by his neighbors, he’s all too willing to try it. This quick-fix has tragic consequences that continue to haunt him a decade later when he’s trying to find his footing in Silicon Valley as a graduate student writing his dissertation on the Gold Rush. This is a fascinating novel about history, ambition, addiction, and the question his sister and friends had to try and answer while competing in the Miss Teen India pageant: “What does it mean to be both Indian and American?”

Gold Diggers by Sanjena Sathian (List Price: $27, Penguin Press, 9781984882035, 4/6/2021)

Reviewed by Lady Smith, The Snail on the Wall in Huntsville, Alabama

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The Committed by Viet Thanh Nguyen

After the stunning and beloved debut of The Sympathizer, expectations were somehow surpassed with Viet Thanh Nguyen’s sequel. We are dropped right back into the two minds whose razor sharp criticism and empathy are now directed at the French. In a country that is often depicted as being devoid of contemporary racism, The Committed shines an unforgiving light on centuries of colonialist hypocrisy. A story of the dangers of ideology and the crucial role of humor in revolution, The Committed is everything I didn’t even know I wanted in a sequel.

The Committed by Viet Thanh Nguyen (List Price: $27, Grove Press, 9780802157065, 3/2/2021)

Reviewed by Lucia Drinkwalter, Flyleaf Books in Chapel Hill, North Carolina

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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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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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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 Killing Hills by Chris Offutt

Returning to his hometown on military leave, Mick walks into a whole slew of family problems that he initially attempts to avoid, secluded in a cabin and chock-full of bourbon. Being called on to assist in tracking down a murderer puts him hesitantly back on his feet. It’s a distraction and we immediately see that he’s equally brilliant and broken enough to solve (kinda sorta) the mystery with ease. But even with a name like The Killing Hills and a body discovered in the first few pages, I still look back on the murder mystery as the book’s B-plot. Chris Offutt paints Appalachia so brilliantly, that, though pleasantly so, it’s distracting. The towns in which growth just means a larger hospital, diners exchanged for faster food, a new prison and improved state roads that aid travelers in quickly passing through without noticing much more than the aforementioned. Populated for generations by a handful of families who in turn depopulate via hard living and occasional vengeance. Driven by conflicting nostalgia, ill-defined chivalry and a hangover, Mick’s story is either one of a farewell visit or a return towards retirement

The Killing Hills by Chris Offutt (List Price: $26, Grove Press, 9780802158413, 6/15/2021)

Reviewed by Ian McCord, Avid Bookshop in Athens, Georgia

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The Killing Hills by Chris Offutt

This was a blast! Hill-country Kentucky noir with characters that both repulse and endear. A tough combo that works well with the plot of familial vengeance that piles up the bodies without understanding the cause that makes the blood boil so hot. Superb.

The Killing Hills by Chris Offutt (List Price: $26, Grove Press, 9780802158413, 6/15/2021)

Reviewed by Pete Mock, McIntyre’s Fine Books in Pittsboro, North Carolina

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Infinite Country by Patricia Engel

Patricia Engel’s new book is a true gem. A family story where each voice is equally interesting and dynamic. A great examination on the brutish nature of the US towards people traveling stateside looking for opportunity. Your heart breaks and mends and breaks all over again for this family. In fewer than 200 pages, Engel works magic.

Infinite Country by Patricia Engel (List Price: $25, Avid Reader Press/Simon & Schuster, 9781982159467, 3/2/2021)

Reviewed by James Harrod, Malaprop’s Bookstore/Cafe in Asheville, North Carolina

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The Office of Historical Corrections by Danielle Evans

I find that I’m very hit or miss with short story collections but The Office of Historical Collections is a total gem. It’s full of captivating stories and characters; there wasn’t a single story that didn’t suck me in! Evans tackles topics like race, womanhood, and the human condition with nuance and grace. So good!

The Office of Historical Corrections by Danielle Evans (List Price: $27, Riverhead Books, 9781594487330, 11/10/2020)

Reviewed by Asia Harden, Square Books in Oxford, Mississippi

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The Baddest Girl on the Planet by Heather Frese

From the publisher: “Until now, Outer Banks native Evie Austin has been the baddest girl on the planet. What comes next?”

I really enjoyed this novel–the pacing is good, the characters’ stories are compelling, and the small beach town setting is so well-described I can picture it clearly.

The Baddest Girl on the Planet by Heather Frese (List Price: $25.95, Blair, 9781949467161, 3/2/2021)

Reviewed by Janet Geddis, Avid Bookshop in Athens, Georgia

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The Secret Lives of Church Ladies by Deesha Philyaw

Having grown up in a Mississippi Southern Baptist church, it wasn’t until I was a teenager that I saw the secret double lives of some of us. Rebelling against the submit-to-authority messages on Saturday night, but sitting pious and submissive come Sunday morning services was de rigueur. Deesha Philyaw’s book The Secret Lives of Church Ladies gives voice to secret lives that I know for sure are lived and true. The need for acceptance, for absolution, for grace is ever-present in familiar relationships as well as those in the church. These short stories are divine.

The Secret Lives of Church Ladies by Deesha Philyaw (List Price: $18.99, West Virginia University Press, 9781949199734, 9/1/2020)

Reviewed by Rachel Watkins, Avid Bookshop in Athens, Georgia

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The Gun by Fuminori Nakamura, Allison Markin Powell (trans.)

Imagine Edgar Allen Poe and Will Christopher Baer teaming up across space and time to rewrite Catcher in the Rye, but in Japan. What you’d get is The Gun. This one-sitting read is darkly engrossing, lyrically captivating, and a stunning debut from a now well-established author. Wow.

The Gun by Fuminori Nakamura, Allison Markin Powell (trans.) (List Price: $14.95, Soho Crime, 9781616957681, 1/24/2017)

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

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Of Women and Salt by Gabriela Garcia

In this story that spans five generations of women in Cuba, Texas and Florida, you come away with a rather complex picture of immigration plights and political and social pressures. The recurring theme is a book—an aptly named book— that unites the women in a beautifully written, heart-wrenching story. It reminds us that every woman is created with multiple layers whether she knows it or not.

Of Women and Salt by Gabriela Garcia (List Price: $26.99, Flatiron Books, 9781250776686, March 2021)

Reviewed by Easty Lambert-Brown, Ernest & Hadley Booksellers in Tuscaloosa, Alabama

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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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Raft of Stars by Andrew J. Graff

An absolute pleasure to read! Fish and Bread are so lovable. The way they feel like the very embodiment of childhood makes you want to be them; the grief and sorrow they experience makes you want to hug them. The writing brings you right into this small town of Claypot, Wisconsin and you instantly fall in love with these troubled characters. Lose yourself in the isolated woods with these boys and run away with them on this adventure. This book is like a cool, stormy night spent curled up in a warm bed.

Find You First by Linwood Barclay (List Price: $27.99, William Morrow, 9780063031906, April 2021)

Reviewed by Hannah Rose Summers, Main Street Reads, in Summerville, South Carolina

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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 Rain Heron by Robbie Arnott

Arnott’s writing evokes the deep anxiety that can only be touched by the power and quiet, terrifying fury of nature. The Rain Heron is a contemporary mythos and environmental dystopian, with talons.

The Rain Heron by Robbie Arnott (List Price: $16, FSG Originals, 9780374539306, 2/9/2021)

Reviewed by Cat Chapman, Oxford Exchange in Tampa, Florida

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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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How the One-Armed Sister Sweeps Her House by Cherie Jones

A debut novel set in a tropical paradise, this story looks at race, class, gender, and privilege from many viewpoints. I look forward to reading what comes next from Cherie Jones.

How the One-Armed Sister Sweeps Her House by Cherie Jones (List Price: $27, Little, Brown and Company, 9780316536981, 2/2/2021)

Reviewed by Jamie Southern, Bookmarks 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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What Could Be Saved by Liese O’Halloran Schwarz

I devoured the majority of What Could Be Saved in a single day, and I haven’t stopped thinking about it since. As the oldest of four children, I’ve always been drawn to family dramas, and nothing strikes my core deeper than imagining the loss of a sibling, which is exactly what drives this novel. Liese O’Halloran Schwarz has created a heartbreakingly beautiful story told through alternating timelines from before and after the Preston family’s only son goes missing while they are living in 1970s Thailand to his sisters’ shocking discovery that he may still be alive in 2019. This is an emotional, meditative story about reconciling and accepting the life we have while making peace with the loss of the life that could have been. The perfect recommendation for readers who enjoy family stories like The Dutch House and The Last Romantics, I know for certain What Could Be Saved will be on my best of 2021 list.

What Could Be Saved by Liese O’Halloran Schwarz (List Price: $27, Atria Books, 9781982150617, 1/12/2021)

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

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A Thousand Ships by Natalie Haynes

A Thousand Ships gives voices to the wide swath of women effected by the events of the Trojan War. The list includes women who have been excluded from other feminist revisions of The Illiad: Helen herself, the patient and loyal Penelope, even Calliope, the muse that Homer demanded a song from. Goddesses, wives, victims, survivors, murderers–most of the women in this story are some combination of these roles and all of their stories are worth telling.

A Thousand Ships by Natalie Haynes (List Price: $27.99, Harper, 9780063065390, 1/26/2021)

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

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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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Zorrie by Laird Hunt

I was completely enamored with this incredibly moving novel. Zorrie, like its main character, is full of heart. It is a stunning achievement and a testament to a singular life–that of Zorrie Underwood, a midwestern girl who is orphaned at a young age and forced to reinvent herself over and over again as she overcomes hardship and tragedy to find joy, heartbreak, wonder, family, love, and loss during the course of a good long life. In under 200 pages, Hunt masterfully portrays her and her world with a deep and resounding richness which reflects the power and beauty of our own humanity.  

Zorrie by Laird Hunt (List Price: $26.00, Bloomsbury Publishing, 9781635575361, 2/9/2021)

Reviewed by Cody Morrison, Square Books in Oxford, Mississippi

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The Center of Everything by Jamie Harrison

Alternating between Montana in 2002 after Polly has banged her head pretty badly and a local girl has disappeared on the Yellowstone River, and the consequential 1968 of Polly’s lush, swirling childhood on Long Island, Harrison shows us how the past and present intertwine and mirror each other. The stories and secrets tucked throughout generations emerge, reminding us how the loyal bonds of family are often inexpressible and revelatory.

The Center of Everything by Jamie Harrison (List Price: $26, Counterpoint, 9781640092341, 1/12/2021)

Reviewed by Ben Groner, Parnassus Books in Nashville, Tennessee

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Hades, Argentina by Daniel Loedel

What Loedel accomplishes in this astonishing debut is truly powerful. There’s a clear sense that a lot of time and care was taken in coming to this story–apparently inspired by the author’s actual half-sister Isabel. It’s this time and careful construction that helps Loedel achieve what fiction is best at doing when it’s done well–telling us truths about our own condition. The themes of grief, regret, loss, self-doubt, and betrayal are explored in a gripping plot that makes the book un-put-down-able. The story slips in and out of the irreal in a way that harkens to the greats of the post-Boom Argentinian literary landscape. There are clear notes of Borges, Cortázar, Schweblin, Heker and Harwicz, while maintaining a singular voice, and an indefinably North American sensibility. The result is a really satisfying marriage of the two literary traditions, lived out in a book that lingers inside you long after it’s done.

Hades, Argentina by Daniel Loedel (List Price: $27, Riverhead Books, 9780593188644, 1/12/2021)

Reviewed by Charles Lee, Malaprop’s Bookstore/Cafe in Asheville, North Carolina

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Burnt Sugar by Avni Doshi

Anvi Doshi’s debut novel is brilliantly discomforting. Her wit and the unique life of protagonist Antara creates an unforgettable story that is so difficult to put down. The pain and anger Antara feels while reflecting on her and her mother’s past is so raw and real, providing a truthful look at the nuances of family. It feels a bit like reading the diary of a friend. Burnt Sugar is incredibly deserving of its spot on the Booker shortlist.

Burnt Sugar by Avni Doshi (List Price: $26, The Overlook Press, 9781419752926, 1/26/2021)

Reviewed by Karyn Cumming, Fountain Bookstore in Richmond, Virginia.

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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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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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Better Luck Next Time by Julia Claiborne Johnson

First of all, the premise–Depression-era divorce ranches for wealthy women to wait out their divorces in Reno–is just wild. Second, Julia Claiborne Johnson’s voice is just so dang funny, and her characters are spot on. I love it!

Better Luck Next Time by Julia Claiborne Johnson (List Price: $28.99, Custom House, 9780062916365, 1/5/2021)

Reviewed by Itinerant Literate, Itinerant Literate Books, LLC in North Charleston, South Carolina

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Consent by Annabel Lyon

In Vancouver, two women are innately connected by the sources of their grief. What at first begins as separate family tableaus–of Sara’s and Saskia’s parents and young adulthood and strife in defining themselves as individuals beside their siblings–slowly and masterfully braids into a mystery led by these two protagonists, haunted by the apparitions and very memories of those for whom they cared. Peppered with the lush descriptions of decadent textures, jewel-like alcohols and olfactory notes so accurate you can almost sense them, Consent is a sensual and sophisticated-yet-blunt story of grief and retribution that I couldn’t put down.

Consent by Annabel Lyon (List Price: $25.95, Knopf, 9780593318003, January, 2021)

Reviewed by Cat Chapman, Oxford Exchange in Tampa, Florida

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Leave the World Behind by Rumaan Alam

Leave The World Behind is an interesting take on how people react in the case of an emergency surrounded by unknown causes. Amanda and Clay leave Manhattan with their children to escape to a secluded Airbnb on Long Island for vacation. Late in the evening of their first night, an elderly couple claiming to be the owners of the house knock on the door and ask to stay because of a blackout in the city. And more weird things continue to happen…thousands of deer trek pass the house… a sonic boom of sorts cracks all the windows…live flamingos start showing up in the backyard pool…and Amanda and Clay’s son becomes violently ill with no explanation. This book took me a while to get into because the first few chapters are incredibly dense with metaphors and adjectives. I’m glad I stuck with it though, because once you start getting the internal dialogue of the characters…tension and suspicion abound due to the differences of race/social class between the two families. And the scariest part of the novel isn’t necessarily all the natural phenomena, it’s the fear of not knowing why things happen as they do and what kind of darkness that ignorance might bring out of our human nature.

Leave the World Behind by Rumaan Alam (List Price: $27.99, Ecco, 9780062667632, 10/6/2020)

Reviewed by Stuart McCommon, novel. in Memphis, TN.

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The Narrowboat Summer by Anne Youngson

This delightful book is the perfect antidote to what was a difficult year for so many–the perfect book to begin a new year with. Eve and Sally are both looking for an escape from their everyday life. They meet while rescuing a dog from a barge–who turns out not to need rescuing after all–and promptly meet the owner of the dog and the barge, who needs both somewhere to stay and someone to take care of her boat. So Eve and Sally set off down the canals in their borrowed boat, discovering new friends and learning new skills along the way. Their first time taking the boat through a tunnel is literally some of the most riveting writing I’ve read in ages. I loved this book and can’t wait to share it with readers looking for their own escape!

The Narrowboat Summer by Anne Youngson (List Price: $26.99, Flatiron Books, 9781250764614, January, 2021).

Reviewed by Kate Storhoff, Bookmarks in Winston-Salem, NC

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A Certain Hunger by Chelsea G. Summers

I am obsessed with A Certain Hunger. This is one of those books where the story and characters are so deep and complex, but you cannot help but become engrossed in their messiness and forget to put the book down. Dorothy Daniels is a wild and witty character. While it is dark, Dorothy’s outlook on her life and actions produce laugh out loud moments in this highly original story. The philosophical insights into life, love, and lust are only more profound with Chelsea G. Summers’s lyrical writing. Readers will want to devour the writing as much as the duck confit! Her rage is refreshing and oh so satisfying.

A Certain Hunger by Chelsea G. Summers (List Price: $26.00, The Unnamed Press, December, 2020).

Reviewed by Karyn Cumming, Fountain Bookstore in Richmond, VA

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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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Luster by Raven Leilani

Painter Edie–black, twenty-something, and precariously employed as an editorial coordinator for a children’s imprint–is in a new relationship with Eric, an archivist whose wife has recently issued guidelines for how to appropriately open their marriage. Emotionally enfeebled by a toxic and lonely childhood and anchored only by her art, Edie veers frequently between genius levels of self-awareness and a stubborn tendency to make the optimally self-destructive choice in spite of that. Luster is sad, sexy, and hypnotically paced, better binged than nibbled. There’s a stream-of-consciousness quality to Edie’s narration that made me linger too long in a no-longer-warm bath, turning page after page, not to outpace cliffhanging chapters, but to absorb her complete thoughts, scrape up every last bit of observational savvy, to go back and check one more time to be sure I didn’t overlook any emotional clues in Edie’s self-portrait. Luster is a best-of-show caliber debut.

Luster by Raven Leilani (List price: $26.00, Farrar, Straus and Giroux), recommended by novel., Memphis, TN.

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