The books Southern indie booksellers are recommending to readers everywhere!

Literary

Take My Hand by Dolen Perkins-Valdez

I loved the characters in this book especially Civil Townsend. She was my hero! I remember reading about the true story this book is based on and feeling what a tragedy that something like this could happen. This story brought to life the real-life trauma of the two young girls the story is based on. I loved the way Civil championed their cause, and I felt her pain when things would go sideways. I recommend reading this book to anyone who is interested in justice.

Take My Hand by Dolen Perkins-Valdez, (List Price: $27.00, Penguin Random House, 9780593337691, April 2022)

Reviewed by Cheryl Lafaye Lee, 44th & 3rd Bookseller in Atlanta, Georgia

Our Missing Hearts by Celeste Ng

An October 2022 Read This Next! Title

Oh, I hope and pray this is the runaway blockbuster of the year, as it deserves to be. Dystopian, centered around concept the US government can re-home children on the basis of anonymous reports of seditious parental behavior. One woman uses poetry to combat this, and the rampant anti-Asian hate that is taking over society. With hero librarians behind the scenes attempting to keep fractured family ties documented – SO MUCH LOVE FOR THIS. ALL OF THIS. I AM SO HERE FOR IT. Celeste Ng is now officially a literary force. I’m calling Our Missing Hearts my one and only official book recommendation of 2022 – no others will come close.

Our Missing Hearts by Celeste Ng, (List Price: $29, Penguin Press, 9780593492543, October 2022)

Reviewed by Alissa Redmond, South Main Book Company in Salisbury, North Carolina

Ithaca by Claire North

Ithaca takes place in a time while Odysseus is away, and is narrated by Hera, the goddess of women. Many suitors have arrived to try and take the hand of a could-be widow. It’s up to Penelope and her band of women to hold things together, not just for her, but for the sake of the entire kingdom. From unexpected visitors, suspenseful skirmishes, and a lust for power, this is the story of the not so quickly told, unsung protectors of Ithaca. What an amazing, gorgeous take on what was going on while Odysseus has been gone. Spoken from the viewpoint of Hera, this captivating story brings up many people that are usually left by the wayside as far as Greek mythology is concerned. There were a lot of characters, and at first it was a bit difficult to remember which person was which. For the most part, North solves this by giving insight into what each one of them is doing whenever mentioned. From traitors of the kingdom, to a coming of manhood for my personal favorite character, Telemachus, the suspense and build up never failed. The marathon of the middle was exactly that for me, but that is North’s beautiful attention to detail, pulp, and background building that I love from her writing. The ending was a shot out of nowhere. Wondering who would come out on top at the end was something I questioned during the entire read. All I know is, like with almost all of her books, the last five or six chapters tie everything together and are somehow always better than the rest of the book, if that’s even possible. All of my questions, answered. All loose ends, tied.Six stars out of five; I suggest everyone grab this book when it comes out if you are a fan of Greek Mythology, fiction, suspense, and all around good writing. This is the setup of a series, and it was extremely captivating the way North went out of her way to have all the geography, gods, and goddesses of ancient Greece historically accurate. She definitely showed the conflict between them and how some, if not all, are more “humanly” than I had considered when I went through school learning about Greece. It was really nice to have a change of pace from North’s usual writing, but this had her style all over it. Will be grabbing a physical copy in September, to add to my collection of Claire North books and I cannot wait to see what happens next in the story of Penelope.

Ithaca by Claire North, (List Price: $28, Redhook, 9780316422963, September 2022)

Reviewed by Doloris Vest, Book No Further in Roanoke, Virginia

If I Survive You by Jonathan Escoffery

A September 2022 Read This Next! Title

Jonathan Escoffery’s debut If I Survive You chronicles an American immigration story full of hope, heartbreak, promises broken, and most importantly the constant struggle. Told in interconnected stories, If I Survive You addresses class, race, and economic disparity but is also funny. Mark my words, Escoffery is a rising literary star.

If I Survive You by Jonathan Escoffery, (List Price: $27.00, MCD, 9780374605988, September 2022)

Reviewed by Rachel Watkins, Avid Bookshop in Athens, Georgia

Delphi by Clare Pollard

Beautiful at the sentence level, Pollard’s Delphi deftly captured the weird, stagnant time of the early covid-19 pandemic through the first year. Her depiction of the strangeness of everyday life is lovely: the fear but especially the monotony. The main character had been researching divination methods of the ancient world prior to the pandemic; various forms of divination, ancient and modern, frame the short chapters. The methods are sometimes directly discussed or even used by the character to gain some semblance of control, but at other times, the chapter header appears only in an oblique nod: a flight of birds, a television unwatched. Taking a wider lens, the story is largely interior and for large stretches very little happens (though in an interesting way). The main character, her husband, and her son tackle isolation and conflict and the pressure to just go along with extended family’s risk assessments (whether stricter or looser); they take risks to connect with friends and coworkers that often turn out fine. There’s a flurry of the high-stakes plot near the end – even foreshadowed, the introduction of the conflict felt rather sudden, and the resolution arrived so abruptly that I turned the page expecting a denouement to find the acknowledgments page instead. But I’m sure I’ll be thinking about this book for a while.

Delphi by Clare Pollard, (List Price: $26.00, Avid Reader Press, 9781982197896, August 2022)

Reviewed by Ginger Kautz, Quail Ridge Books in Raleigh, North Carolina

The English Understand Wool by Helen DeWitt

A tight, Talented Mr. Ripley-esque mini-thriller where the thrill is in the revelation of the narrator’s psyche through her circumstances. And it has a biting critique of the publishing industry! Helen DeWitt runs away with this priceless gem: a literary thriller that is as exciting as it is intelligent and can be read in an afternoon.

The English Understand Wool by Helen DeWitt, (List Price: $17.95, New Directions, 9780811230070, August 2022)

Reviewed by Conor Hultman, Square Books in Oxford, Mississippi

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

Dele Weds Destiny by Tomi Obaro

Three women have shared a bond for decades. When they are reunited for one of their daughter’s weddings, the past comes back in a rush. The story is told in flashbacks and present day in a way that helps them reconcile where they have ended up and where they once dreamed they’d go. A timeless examination of all the dreams you hold for yourself, the dreams your parents and others have for you, and how much you are able to follow your heart.

Dele Weds Destiny by Tomi Obaro, (List Price: $27, Knopf, 9780593320297, June 2022)

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

Girls They Write Songs About by Carlene Bauer

It’s so hard to pin down exactly how I feel about this one. Safe to say, though, to start: I loved reading every page, so there is that! I think part of what makes me feel confused is how close to the bone it could have cut given a few of the similarities between me and Rose and Charlotte. But I was never ambitious. Never really tried to make a go of it as a writer. I was never of New York or the region. Girls They Write Songs About is brilliant, deliciously wry, not afraid to proceed to its destination. It pulls zero punches. It’s mature in a way that is hard to describe. It respects its characters and the reader enough to stay the course on its own terms. And that is a little difficult to accept at times, like real life. I loved it and will have no trouble recommending it to customers. But I’m going to spend between now and June refining my elevator pitch.

Girls They Write Songs About by Carlene Bauer, (List Price: $27, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 9780374282264, June 2022)

Reviewed by Kat Leache, Novel in Memphis, Tennessee

Lapvona by Ottessa Moshfegh

A June Read This Next! Title!

Whew, what a ride. If you are an Ottessa Moshfegh fan, you will love this propulsive and constantly shocking story. The inequality of the medieval fiefdom that serves as the setting and the characters that populate this book are both utterly alien and depressingly familiar. In Lapnova, Moshfegh continues to do what she does best: illustrate unvarnished humanity in all its beauty and depravity.

Lapvona by Ottessa Moshfegh, (List Price: 27, Penguin Press, 9780593300268, June 2022)

Reviewed by Chelsea Bauer, Union Ave Books in Knoxville, Tennessee

Woman of Light by Kali Fajardo-Anstine

A June 2022 Read This Next! Title!

I get that the term "transportive" is overused in blurbs, but I don’t know how else to describe this gorgeous novel from Kali Fajardo-Anstine. I was swept away by Woman of Light, which follows five generations of the Lopez family from the nineteenth century into the 1930s, spanning across the Western territories of America. In beautiful, decadent prose, Fajardo-Anstine shows us everything from traveling circus acts and fortune tellers, to turn of the century Denver nightlife, house parties and wedding festivities. This is a love letter to the American West that was left out of the classic cowboy films, to the Indigenous and Latinx communities who have lived there for centuries. I loved every word.

Woman of Light by Kali Fajardo-Anstine, (List Price: 28, One World, 9780525511328, June 2022)

Reviewed by Lindsay Lynch, Parnassus Books in Nashville, Tennessee

The Evening Hero by Marie Myung-Ok Lee

Dr. Yungman Kwak, a small-town OBGYN, is one of the most endearing characters I’ve come across in a long time, and I was so invested in the future he faces–when modernity and capitalism sweep in to disrupt his entire existence. Partially a story following Dr. Kwak’s new role as a boutique medicine provider under the tutelage of his ambitious son, and partially a story following Yungman’s Korean upbringing, this book was beautiful and heartwrenching. Marie Myung-Ok Lee will wrap you around her finger with these characters and take you on a journey through time, family, and the future of American healthcare.

The Evening Hero by Marie Myung-Ok Lee, (List Price: $16.99, William Morrow Paperbacks, 9781476735078, June 2022)

Reviewed by Sarah Catherine Richardson, The Snail on the Wall in Huntsville, Alabama

Search by Michelle Huneven

A novel written as a memoir of Dana Potowski (who is also a restaurant critic) chosen as one of eight members of her church’s search committee for a new senior minister. This is a wonderful story of diverse ages and personalities striving to reach a decision that adheres to their mission and is best for all, regardless of their personal opinions – and each of the members has an opinion. I loved this book and stayed up way past my bedtime reading it because I couldn’t put it down.

Search by Michelle Huneven, (List Price: $27, Penguin Press, 9780593300053, April 2022)

Reviewed by Beth Carpenter, The Country Bookshop in Southern Pines, North Carolina

Four Treasures of the Sky by Jenny Tinghui Zhang

Bold and breathtaking, Four Treasures of the Sky redefines the American Western novel. Jenny Tinghui Zhang’s debut spans from China to Idaho, following the journey of Daiyu, a young Chinese girl kidnapped from her home and sent overseas to America. In Daiyu, Zhang has given us one of the most memorable narrators I’ve ever come across–even as Daiyu endures the racism and brutality of the American West, she speaks with resilience and grace. Daiyu’s story might be set in the nineteenth century, but it resonates so strongly with today’s world. This is the kind of historical fiction that prompts us to reevaluate what we know of this country’s history and leaves us better for having done so. I can’t wait to see what Jenny Tinghui Zhang does next.

Four Treasures of the Sky by Jenny Tinghui Zhang, (List Price: $27.99, Flatiron Books, 9781250811783,  April 2022)

Reviewed by Lindsay Lynch from Parnassus Books in Nashville, Tennessee

Memphis by Tara M. Stringfellow

An April Read This Next! Book

Memphis is a wonderful, intriguing book about a family of black women in Memphis. Primarily centering on two sisters, both with much tragedy but amazing resilience, and one of their daughters. They carry on the strong tradition of their mother. Skipping around between different years and various characters, it weaves what undoubtedly is the story of so many black women in Memphis. Beautifully written.

Memphis by Tara M. Stringfellow, (List Price: $27, The Dial Press, 9780593230480,  April 2022)

Reviewed by Lynne Phillips, Wordsworth Books in Little Rock, Arkansas

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