Read our latest staff reviews and recommendations featured in the The Southern Bookseller Review.

I don’t typically read sci-fi but on a recommendation from a fellow team member on the podcast What Should I Read Next, I read “A Long Way to a Dark Angry Planet”. With this title, I believe that I will read anything Becky Chambers’ writes. This novella was WONDERFUL! It was just what I needed this weekend; engaging but comforting. I cried at the end; it was the release I didn’t know I needed. Al of my friends need to read this because, as the dedication says, it’s “for everyone who needs a break”, and after the year we have had, we all need this break.

A Psalm for the Wild-Built by Becky Chambers, (List Price: 20.99, Tordotcom, 9781250236210, July 2021)

Reviewed by Shannan Malone, The Snail On the Wall in Huntsville, Alabama

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Inside the shimmering cover of this book is a fascinating modern look at the golden promise of the American Dream, and its dark underpinnings. Neeraj Narayan (or Neil, as he’s known in his Atlanta suburb) feels inferior to his over-achieving Asian American peers and unequipped to meet the expectations of his parents. So, when a magical solution presents itself in the form of a potion concocted by his neighbors, he’s all too willing to try it. This quick-fix has tragic consequences that continue to haunt him a decade later when he’s trying to find his footing in Silicon Valley as a graduate student writing his dissertation on the Gold Rush. This is a fascinating novel about history, ambition, addiction, and the question his sister and friends had to try and answer while competing in the Miss Teen India pageant: “What does it mean to be both Indian and American?”

Gold Diggers by Sanjena Sathian (List Price: $27, Penguin Press, 9781984882035, 4/6/2021)

Reviewed by Lady Smith, The Snail on the Wall in Huntsville, Alabama

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Alabama — not to mention the South at large — is a complicated place with a complicated history, so we’re grateful for the likes of John Archibald, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist who’s chosen to stay in his home state and shine the light on dark secrets many would prefer to avoid. His new book, Shaking the Gates of Hell, turns the beam on his own family, particularly his father, a third-generation Methodist minister who held prominent pulpits in Birmingham and other large Alabama churches for decades. This is a deeply personal memoir, and Archibald’s love and respect for his dad is clear. He was a man of moral authority who taught right from wrong, a minister who emphasized grace and compassion, and an engaged dad who encouraged his kids to leave every campsite better than they found it. But, his youngest son wonders, did his father do enough to leave his community better off than he found it? In examining his father’s sermons at key moments in local history — just after the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church bombing, for example — Archibald sets out to determine whether Martin Luther King Jr.’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” was right in claiming that “the white ministers, priests and rabbis of the South . . . have been more cautious than courageous and have remained silent behind the anesthetizing security of stained glass windows.” Why, Archibald wonders, did his father largely remain silent on the matters that mattered most? Why do other religious leaders, then and now, not say more, do more? John Archibald is an incredible writer who lures you in with stories about fishing and family gatherings, but by the end he has us all asking ourselves, why do we not also say more, do more?

Shaking the Gates of Hell by John Archibald (List Price: $28, Knopf, 9780525658115, 3/9/2021)

Reviewed by Lady Smith, The Snail on the Wall in Huntsville, Alabama

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Rachel Hawkins proves just how timeless the Jane Eyre story is, by putting the madwoman in the attic of a modern-day mansion in an Alabama suburb. The dark story is easy to devour, and the characters are people you might have met before — maybe while walking the dog in your own neighborhood. Everyone is keeping secrets, from Jane, the young dog-walker, to Eddie Rochester, the recently widowed homeowner. You’ll love teasing out the secret of what happened to the glamorous Bea, whose body was never found after a boating accident at Smith Lake.

The Wife Upstairs by Rachel Hawkins (List Price: $16.99, St. Martin’s Griffin, 9781250245502, 11/2/2021)

Reviewed by Lady Smith, The Snail on the Wall in Huntsville, Alabama

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I opened this book’s beautiful cover to sample one story from the collection, but I couldn’t stop until I had read them all. Each piece packs a different sort of power, examining the subtleties of relationships—between friends, parents and children, husbands and wives, mothers and unborn children. The writing is raw and visceral, just as the title “Milk Blood Heat” suggests, and the characters’ feelings and bodies often can’t be contained, no matter how hard they might try. This collection will dazzle and unsettle you at the same time, and I highly recommend it!

Milk Blood Heat by Dantiel W. Moniz (List Price: $25, Grove Press, 9780802158154, 2/2/2021)

Reviewed by Lady Smith, The Snail on the Wall in Huntsville, Alabama

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