The books Southern indie booksellers are recommending to readers everywhere!

Literary Fiction

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

Shrines of Gaiety by Kate Atkinson

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. Recommended.

Shrines of Gaiety by Kate Atkinson, (List Price: $29, Doubleday, 9780385547970, September 2022)

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

Jollof Rice and Other Revolutions by Omolola Ijeoma Ogunyemi

This intertwined collection of short stories is a powerful and engrossing American debut from Omolola Ijeoma Ogunyemi. The stories travel from 1920’s Nigeria to modern day New York and back again, following multiple characters all interconnected by strong women whose choices echo on for generations. Very well paced and structured, each story moves quickly and seamlessly into the next. Romance, power struggles, day-in-the-life: this novel has something for everyone.

Jollof Rice and Other Revolutions by Omolola Ijeoma Ogunyemi, (List Price: $27.99, Amistad, 9780063117044, September 2022)

Reviewed by Alex Einhorn, Fountain Bookstore in Richmond, Virginia

Spotlight on: How Not to Drown in a Glass of Water by Angie Cruz

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Angie Cruz Photo Credit Erika Morillo

In this moment of despair, while I was waiting on a crowded subway platform – I saw this woman in her late 50s teaching herself English. She held this kind of handbook and reminded me so much of my tías, my grandmother – all these women in my life who were laid off during the Great Recession in 2007. After working in the same factory for over 25 years, they were supposed to start over again. They had a lot to offer, but to go on a job interview is something they’d never done before. Thinking about this compelled me to go online and look up the most popular interview questions. I downloaded interview questions, and Cara Romero came to life. I heard her say, “You want to know something about my life? I’ll tell you about my life. I came to this country because my husband wanted to kill me.” ―Angie Cruz, Interview,Dominican Writers

 

How Not to Drown in a Glass of Water by Angie Cruz

What booksellers are saying about How Not to Drown in a Glass of Water

  • Cara Romero wants to work. She is drawing unemployment but must check in with a job counselor and at each of her meetings she tells of the issues she had and is having in her life which keep her from getting a job. She is truly a good person and helps her neighbors any time she is needed. Stay with this book and Cara’s stories because the end is worth it!―Beth Carpenter from The Country Bookshop in Southern Pines, North Carolina
    Buy from The Country Bookshop

  • Cara Romero wants to work on everything and everyone but herself. She is strident, self-aware, and always always always focused on survival, trusting herself above any other human. She loves hard and takes care of the people she thinks are worse off than herself, often at her own expense. Sbe embodies what it is to live within layers of self-protection, every layer as loving as it is hard, and be confronted with the shortcomings of such an existence. Told in a series of interviews and reproductions of various paperwork (job applications, job openings, aptitude tests, etc), Cruz has created an emotional wringer of a book as unwavering as its protagonist. With an exquisite voice that is hilarious, bleak, and absolutely formidable, How Not to Drown in a Glass of Water is an expertly woven character study so bigger than itself.
      ―Miranda Sanchez from Epilogue Books Chocolate Brews in Chapel Hill, North Carolina
    Buy from Epilogue Books Chocolate Brews

  • I would not have thought Angie Cruz could outdo herself, but I was completely wrong. I loved Dominicana and felt so connected to the protagonist. She’s done it again with a woman in a similar situation but a completely different stage of life. Told through a set of interviews as an aging woman desperately seeks work, this is a story so full of heart you will not be able to walk away unaffected. In parts funny and tragic, this is a gorgeous portrait of life in America.  ―Jamie Southern from Bookmarks in Winston-Salem, North Carolina
    Buy from Bookmarks

About Angie Cruz

Angie Cruz is the author of the novels Soledad, Let It Rain Coffee, and Dominicana, which was shortlisted for the Women’s Prize and a Good Morning America Book Club pick. She is founder and editor in chief of Aster(ix), a literary and arts journal, and is an associate professor of English at the University of Pittsburgh.

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On the Rooftop by Margaret Wilkerson Sexton

Vivian tries to live her dream of becoming a star through her three daughters, who’ve become a local sensation as a singing trio. She’s spent years training them vigorously on the roof top of her home and booking performances at nearby venues, when one day she gets a promising offer that could change their lives. But the girls have dreams of their own, and one by one each unfolds, threatening the vision Vivian has built for them all. At the same time, and the neighborhood is about to change as developers descend on Vivian’s community to buy up homes and business properties. Set in 1950’s San Francisco, I enjoyed this family drama and each member’s search for individual fulfillment, in the midst of their collective struggle to keep their community together. Intimate, emotional – a pleasure to read!

On the Rooftop by Margaret Wilkerson Sexton, (List Price: $28.99, Ecco, 9780063139961, September 2022)

Reviewed by Cathy Graham, Copperfish Books in Punta Gorda, Florida

Afterlives by Abdulrazak Gurnah

Here’s how you take a great sin–maybe The great sin–and particularize it so that our minds can grasp it. The Germans and the British and the Portuguese and the Dutch (and now, of course, the US and China and ad nauseam)–all of these governments have, at one time or another, wanted to get their hands on Africa–really get in there–all the way in–and do what they want to it. Gurnah and his magical Nobel Prize-winning pen tells us the story of a family battered by the complexities of colonialism and their risings and fallings and re-risings. Deep, satisfying, horrifying, wonderful.

Afterlives by Abdulrazak Gurnah, (List Price: $28, Riverhead Books, 9780593541883, August 2022)

Reviewed by Erica Eisdorfer, Flyleaf Books in Chapel Hill, North Carolina

Spotlight on: The Poet’s House by Jean Thompson

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Jean Thompson

I think there’s a lot of ignorance, or perhaps a mystique, about how writers live their lives. We aren’t in Entertainment Weekly. Nobody is sending out photographers to photograph our messy houses. We don’t have beautiful swimming pools with a guest cottage. We don’t hire interior decorators.” –Jean Thompson, interview, NewcityLit

 

 

The Poet's House by Jean Thompson

What booksellers are saying about The Poet’s House

  • TWe follow a young woman, unsure of who she is and her place in the world, as she observes an older woman who is very much settled and has made peace with her own life. A touching story with poetry as a through-line- how it can be both salve to the soul and a commercial commodity. ―Jamie Fiocco from Flyleaf Books in Chapel Hill, NC
    Buy from Bookmarks

  • Carla is a beautiful young landscaper who has always felt hindered by her learning disability. She serendipitously falls into a circle of poets led by the charismatic and venerable Viridian. Through their interactions, Carla discovers that poetry has a profound effect on her in ways that words never before had. Set in the dusty, fire-riddled hills of California, this novel is lovely, humorous, and warm tale of self-discovery   ―Damita Nocton from The Country Bookshop in Southern Pines, NC
    Buy from The Country Bookshop

  • THE POET’S HOUSE is a captivating novel about art and those who create it, following the story of Carla, an aspiring poet trying to find her voice. Jean Thompson masterfully delivers a thought-provoking story that celebrates writers, artists and the power of the written word.   ―Anderson McKean from Page & Palette in Fairhope, AL
    Buy from Page & Palette

About Jean Thompson

Jean Thompson is the author of fourteen books of fiction, including the National Book Award finalist Who Do You Love, the NYT bestseller The Year We Left Home, and the NYT Notable Book Wide Blue Yonder. Her work has been published in the New Yorker, as well as dozens of other magazines, and anthologized in The Best American Short Stories and the Pushcart Prize. She has been the recipient of Guggenheim and National Endowment for the Arts fellowships, among other accolades, and has taught creative writing at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, Reed College, Northwestern University, and many other colleges and universities.

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Spotlight on: Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow by Gabrielle Zevin

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Gabrielle Zevin

Gaming is really another form of storytelling. When I talk about the first generation of people to game their whole lives, I’m talking about the fact that there are people that have experienced gaming as a primary storytelling experience. I think that the book is just as much about a career in the arts over many many decades as it is about particularly games.” –Gabrielle Zevin, interview, Bookweb

 

 

Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow by Gabrielle Zevin

What booksellers are saying about Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow

  • This is ultimately an unforgettable tale of lives finding love and connection in this high tech age and the collaboration in building the worlds of video games. ―Nancy Pierce from Bookmiser, Inc. in Marietta, GA
    Buy from Bookmiser

  • Sadie and Sam make video games, but this book is not about the games, it is about their friendship and love and working with your best friend through good times and bad. I loved this book   ―Beth Carpenter from The Country Bookshop in Southern Pines, NC
    Buy from The Country Bookshop

  • Aaaaaahhhh, this book wrecked me! It is a love letter to gaming, friendship, and collaboration. It’s messy, sad, brilliant, and beautiful. It made me laugh, it made me weep, it really made me want to play Donkey Kong in a pizza place.   ―Melissa Taylor from E. Shaver, bookseller in Savannah, GA
    Buy from E. Shaver, bookseller

  • A sweeping, heart-ache inducing, glorious novel of friendship and creativity. I miss the characters and I miss the games. I will never be over this beautiful novel.   ―Cristina Russell from Books & Books in Coral Gables, FL
    Buy from Books & Books

About Gabrielle Zevin

Gabrielle Zevin is the New York Times and internationally best-selling author of several critically acclaimed novels, including The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry, which won the Southern California Independent Booksellers Award and the Japan Booksellers’ Award among other honors, and Young Jane Young, which won the Southern Book Prize. Her novels have been translated into thirty-nine languages. She has also written books for young readers, including the award-winning Elsewhere. She lives in Los Angeles.

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Acts of Violet by Margarita Montimore

Subatomic super particles, string theory, parallel worlds, metaphysical, OBE—out-of-body-experience and different dimensions…. not many authors take their readers on such a tale as this paranormal story of a magician disappearing during a performance. Violet Volk disappeared a decade ago right in front of her audience and hasn’t been seen since. Her sister Sasha and Violet’s followers are still looking for answers. Is she alive? Was she really a psychic spy for the CIA? Does she exist in another dimension? Readers will not be able to put down this book as they read about the family situations and the magic that entwines this story.

Acts of Violet by Margarita Montimore, (List Price: $27.99, Flatiron Books, 9781250815064, July 2022)

Reviewed by Nancy Pierce, Bookmiser in Marietta, Georgia

Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow by Gabrielle Zevin

Gabrielle Zevin has written a novel about amazing game developers who the reader will come to know over thirty years. When Sam Masur and Sadie Green meet as children, they become fast intimate friends when playing video games, and as young adults they craft the game Ichigo. Besides seeing the artistry and genius built into designing these intricate and captivating games, we live their lives as they grow and experience loneliness and love, pain and comfort, success and devastating pain and loss. This is ultimately an unforgettable tale of lives finding love and connection in this high tech age and the collaboration in building the worlds of video games.

Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow by Gabrielle Zevin, (List Price: 28, Knopf, 9780593321201, July 2022)

Reviewed by Nancy Pierce, Booksmiser in Marietta, Georgia

Any Other Family by Eleanor Brown

Eleanor Brown writes beautifully and compassionately about adoption and infertility in her novel Any Other Family. Three couples, who have adopted siblings from the same birth mom and dad, decide to vacation together in Aspen for two weeks. Each couple comes harboring secrets and soon realize that what they have in common might tear them apart. When the birth mom ends up getting pregnant again, each adoptive family must face whether they want to take on the new baby or if they will choose the new adoptive parents. As an adoptive parent myself, I found this novel hard to put down and marveled at Brown’s ability to get all the emotions surrounding adoption just right. But the focus on family and what it really means will appeal to all readers of women’s fiction.

Any Other Family by Eleanor Brown, (List Price: 27, G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 9780593328545, July 2022)

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

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