The books Southern indie booksellers are recommending to readers everywhere!

Literary

The End of Drum-Time by Hanna Pylväinen

Fascinating setting and wonderful characters. This place – where Sweden, Finland, and Russia converge – is defined by the intensely cold climate. The church is converting indigenous Sapmi families, the government is imposing its colonizing laws, and this ensemble cast of characters is wrestling with who they are and how they fit in as change slowly sweeps through. Great writing, wonderful characters, and I learned so much about the cultures and some of the politics of this place during this era.

The End of Drum-Time by Hanna Pylväinen, (List Price: $28.99, Henry Holt and Co., 9781250822901, January 2023)

Reviewed by Adah Fitzgerald, Main Street Books in Davidson, North Carolina

Moonrise Over New Jessup by Jamila Minnicks

A January 2023 Read This Next! Title

Romantic love, familial love, and the love of place play out against the background of late 1950s – early 1960s civil rights era. After the loss of her last family member, Alice flees her former home and the overt racial and sexualized violence by the landowner. She disembarks by chance in an entirely Black town – and what is meant to be a brief stop on her way north becomes a new home. New Jessup rose back up from the swamp and from the ashes of a white race riot, and the town carefully maintains a very public anti-integration stance to protect itself from attention from the white side of town. When Alice falls for the son of a town founder, she slowly learns that her Raymond been involved in the civil rights actions in Montgomery – and his affiliation with a group that works towards desegregation elsewhere creates tensions within their love story. A beautifully written exploration of just some of the variety of opinions within the civil rights era Black community on freedom, equality, and safety.

Moonrise Over New Jessup by Jamila Minnicks (List Price: $28, Algonquin Books, 9781643752464, January 2023)

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

The Bandit Queens by Parini Shroff

It is an accomplishment when a novel can take on heartbreaking situations and also contain so much humor as well. Geeta’s husband left without a trace five years ago. All the villagers think she has murdered him. So when her women’s business loan group members start having problems with their drinking, abusive husbands, they naturally go to her to enlist her help in murdering them. A fun story about the ability of women friends to stick together and the joys of motherhood (not really). I will highly recommend this one.

The Bandit Queens by Parini Shroff (List Price: $28.00, Ballantine Books, 9780593498958, January 2023)

Reviewed by Kathy Clemmons, Sundog Books in Santa Rosa Beach, Florida

Dinosaurs by Lydia Millet

After reading (and loving) A Children’s Bible, I was not expecting Dinosaurs to be so gentle, so earnest, so attuned to its characters’ flaws and traumas while being even more attuned to the ways their pain has strengthened them with empathy and circumspection. This is a brief and generous novel that begins with our hero’s 2,500-mile journey on foot from NYC to Phoenix and ends with him getting cactus barbs torn out of his back with pliers, with so much good stuff sandwiched in the middle there.

Dinosaurs by Lydia Millet (List Price: $26.95, W. W. Norton & Company, 9781324021469, October 2022)

Reviewed by Kat Leache, Novel. in Memphis, Tennessee

Animal Life by Auður Ava Ólafsdóttir

Olafdottir takes us to Iceland a few days before Christmas where a midwife, Domhildur, has just delivered her 1,922nd baby. She comes from a long line of midwives on her mother’s side and her father’s family work as undertakers. Her family deals with beginnings and endings, life and death, and sunlight and darkness. “I have come to the conclusion that the one who calls himself the master of all creatures is in fact the most vulnerable of all animals…the most fragile of the fragile on the planet.” These words, written by Domhildur’s great-aunt, are discovered in some manuscripts left in a closet after her death. Domhildur reads her great-aunt’s reflections on humans, life, and loves, while a storm is moving into Reykjavik. Will the prediction in these pages come to be reality? Will mankind be “the most short-lived species on earth”?

Animal Life by Auður Ava Ólafsdóttir (List Price: $17, Grove Press, Black Cat, 9780802160164, December 2022)

Reviewed by Nancy Pierce, Bookmiser in Marietta, Georgia

The Light Pirate by Lily Brooks-Dalton

A 2022 December Read This Next! Title

What happens when nature isn’t natural? When in the end, Climate Change is unstoppable? Lily Brooks-Dalton renders a shockingly real depiction of this possibility in the harrowing and beautiful novel, The Light Pirate. Florida’s struggle with the aftermath of violent weather has always been a reality, but in this story, the rapidly changing landscape overwhelms the will and stamina of most human beings. Wanda, who was born during, and named after, a particularly vicious hurricane, frequently navigates a new, storm-carved home as the Florida coast shifts and neighborhoods are swallowed by wind, water, and human dereliction. Wanda adapts as nature does, to a strange new world–one dependent not on human infrastructure–but on that which matters most in the end: humility, kindness and bravery. This story is important. This story could happen. This story is happening. A must-read.

The Light Pirate by Lily Brooks-Dalton (List Price: $28, Grand Central Publishing, 9781538708279, December 2022)

Reviewed by Laura Simcox, Sunrise Books in High Point, North Carolina

The Sorcerer of Pyongyang by Marcel Theroux

Jun-su, a young boy living through the brutality of the North Korean Famine, comes across a copy of the Dungeons and Dragons Dungeon Master’s Guide and falls deeply in love with the worlds he can now create, enormously different from the life he’s used to under Kim Jong-il. The strange book’s cover and themes land him in a brutal prison camp where he has to fight to stay alive and try to hold on to himself in the face of totalitarianism. A well-researched, well-written and beautifully told portrait of a kid growing up different in 1990s North Korea trying to do more than survive.

The Sorcerer of Pyongyang by Marcel Theroux (List Price: $26.99, Atria Books, 9781668002667, November 2022)

Reviewed by Colin Sneed, Flyleaf Books in Chapel Hill, North Carolina

Case Study by Graeme Macrae Burnet

Fab. a. suspenseful page-turner; b. hilariously cringey; c. who doesn’t need therapy including your therapist? d. elegantly creepy; e. a novel perfect for these times but set in those times.

Case Study by Graeme Macrae Burnet, (List Price: $17.95, Biblioasis, 9781771965200, November 2022)

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

The Night Ship by Jess Kidd

An enthralling tale of imaginary monsters, human devils, and two children navigating life’s horrors 360 years apart. In turn harrowing, tender, and hopeful, the adventure follows a fearless Dutch girl in 1628 aboard the Batavia, which ultimately wrecks near an island off Australia. In 1989, a sensitive boy goes to live on that same island with his gruff grandfather after his mother’s death. There, he learns how to be himself and discovers a magical connection with the girl from the past.

The Night Ship by Jess Kidd, (List Price: $28, Atria Books, 9781982180812, October 2022)

Reviewed by Suzanne Carnes, Copperfish Books in Punta Gorda, Florida

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

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