The books Southern indie booksellers are recommending to readers everywhere!

Literary Fiction

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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