The books Southern indie booksellers are recommending to readers everywhere!

Literary Fiction

What Comes After by JoAnne Tompkins

Set in the Pacific Northwest, What Comes After, is brimming with emotion. A tiny town is rocked by the murder/suicide of two teenage boys who had been lifelong friends and next-door neighbors. As their families attempt to piece together the events leading up to the tragedy, a homeless pregnant girl appears. Author JoAnne Tompkins has created a study of human nature: What elements in life her characters recognize and choose to know, and what lies deeply embedded. This is a beautifully crafted novel, nuanced with suspense.

What Comes After by JoAnne Tompkins (List Price: $28, Riverhead Books, 9780593085998, 4/13/2021)

Reviewed by Damita Nocton, The Country Bookshop in Southern Pines, North Carolina

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

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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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

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

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

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

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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