Read This Now
What if there were an army of indie booksellers enthusiastically reading and reviewing practically every new book coming out in the next year, and what if the books they were the most excited about, the books they couldn't wait to push into their customers' hands with a breathless "You've GOT to read this!" (virtually or otherwise), the ones with all the nine- and ten-star ratings were carefully curated and collected in a handy list? Well, all we can say is...KEEP READING!
RECENT RECOMMENDATIONS FROM SOUTHERN INDIES...
When Linda Holmes announced on the Pop Culture Happy Hour podcast that she was writing a book I squealed with delight, made a note, and stalked pre-order and review pages until I could find a copy. Anyone who has spent time reading her work as a contributor to NPR will recognize the way in which one can almost hear her smile in her writing. The story of Evvie is compelling, and the fact that it is a romance novel feels secondary to the story of these characters and how they deal with the losses that have brought them together. I cannot wait to see what Holmes does next.
Evvie Drake Starts Over by Linda Holmes ($26.00*, Ballantine Books), recommended by Page 158 Books, Wake Forest, NC.
Kate Atkinson's beloved and often beleaguered detective, Jackson Brodie, is back in another twisty and darkly comic literary mystery. Jackson is bumming around Yorkshire with his teenage son and a dog while his former partner Julia shoots her TV show. He stumbles into the dark underbelly of the town and helps to mete out some much-needed justice. Part of the joy of reading Kate Atkinson is her ability to fit so much in few words. Brodie's reflections on the state of the world will make you laugh while breaking your heart. I absolutely loved this and cannot recommend it highly enough.
Big Sky by Kate Atkinson ($28.00*, Little, Brown and Company), recommended by Union Ave Books, Knoxville, TN.
For those who have not yet caught on to the magic that is Antoine Laurain, Vintage 1954 is a lovely introduction. His trademark uniqueness is on full display here as he weaves a tale of wine, time-travel, UFOs, and international cooperation that becomes remarkably believable the more you read. Through many celebrity cameos and subtle descriptive flourishes, the world of Paris in 1954 leaps off the page. Grab a good glass of wine and a comfy chair and immerse yourself in the quirky creativity that is Antoine Laurain.
Vintage 1954 by Antoine Laurain ($14.95*, Gallic Books), recommended by Square Books, Oxford, MS.
I finished this book weeks ago and am still processing the ride. I think I've finally got it. Imagine The Wizard of Oz through a filter of Anthony Burgess and Hunter S. Thompson. It's an ultraviolent road trip with characters you can empathize with fully. The future is gross and polluted: environmentally, morally, and every other way imaginable. The journey of our hero and his band of merry misfits is classic and heartwarming. This fully realized future is a marvelous adventure. I loved every footnote and sidetrack. This is a big-hearted book for the reader with a strong stomach and a passion for stories of the underdog.
FKA USA by Reed King ($27.99*, Flatiron Books), recommended by Fountain Books, Richmond, VA.
Toby Fleishman is in trouble. Rachel Fleishman is in trouble. This is a story about that trouble: their marriage and divorce and life (and sex) after marriage, their kids and their nervous breakdowns. It’s a novel so specific and funny and playful that it at first belies just how big and ambitious it really is. Don’t be fooled. It is big and ambitious and has things to say about marriage and friendship and being a woman and a person in the world. It surprises you over and over again with how smart and insightful and empathetic it is until you are not surprised anymore, just grateful it exists and you get to read it.
Fleishman Is in Trouble by Taffy Brodesser-Akner ($27.00*, Random House), recommended by Avid Bookshop, Athens, GA.
Watching the events and lives of one family intertwined come together so beautifully in one novel is an absolute treat, and Regina Porter does not disappoint. The Travelers builds and weaves the story of family, strife, love, and frustration and encapsulates what it means to become and to remain a family. This story is absolutely gorgeous as it moves through time and experience and leaves its reader feeling like a part of the family rather than just an observer.
The Travelers by Regina Porter ($27.00*, Hogarth), recommended by Bookmarks, Winston-Salem, NC.
There are all sorts of things that need to be fixed in Georgie Castle’s life: her stalled business as a birthday clown, her newly purchased but rundown house, and perhaps most important: her family’s inability to see her as anything but the baby of the family. When injured baseball player Travis Ford returns to town with a reputation and career that both need to be fixed, their attraction is immediate, which turns everything in Georgie’s life on end. A fun, sexy summer read that kicks off a new series from romance author Tessa Bailey!
Fix Her Up by Tessa Bailey ($14.99*, Avon), recommended by Bookmarks, Winston-Salem, NC.
With his last book (the wonderful Dynastic, Bombastic, Fantastic) Jason Turbow made me a fan of the Oakland A's, a team for which I had no opinion whatsoever. Now with They Bled Blue, the author has made me appreciate the history of a team I actively dislike, maybe even hate. The Dodgers of the late 70's and early 80's were an interesting bunch and Turbow's new book is expertly told and really gives you an entire picture of LA in 1981: the drugs, the celebrities, Fernandomania, the MLB strike of 1981 and the hugely impactful MLBPA victory, the contracts and the inner workings and of course the baseball. Jason Turbow once again strikes gold--or perhaps Dodger blue--with the must-read sports book of the summer.
They Bled Blue by Jason Turbow ($26.00*, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt), recommended by Flyleaf Books, Chapel Hill, NC.
It is a truth universally acknowledged that those of us who love books, are especially enamored with books ABOUT books and this novel is a very special one of those. Action-packed and romantic, Sorcery of Thorns is a tale of ink-tears, girls with swords, boys summoning storms and volume upon volume of living leather bound books, some of whom behave rather badly. It’s a book about majestic, revered libraries equipped with their own small armies of librarians and sword-wielding wardens. It’s a book about demonic energy and sorcery. It’s a book about brave people with vastly varied strengths and skills, all worthy in their own right, fighting the good fight. Darker, larger in scope but just as brilliantly crafted as her first novel, Margaret Rogerson has captured me once again. I love this book!
Sorcery of Thorns by Margaret Rogerson ($17.99*, Margaret K. McElderry Books), recommended by Books & Books, Coral Gables, FL.
The international search for a sister gone missing is the basis of Searching for Sylvie Lee, a mysterious drama by Jean Kwok. When Amy finds out her sister never returned home from a trip to visit a dying family member in the Netherlands, it sets off a chain of events that uncovers long lost secrets about her family, her parents’ immigration, and secret relationships. Amy’s quest to find Sylvie takes her across the ocean, where she meets an entire family she’s never know who played a fundamental part in her family’s life. Dark, complicated, and engrossing, this literary thriller will capture your emotions and keep you turning pages long after dark.
Searching for Sylvie Lee by Jean Kwok ($26.99*, William Morrow), recommended by Bookmarks, Winston-Salem, NC.
Tan France's autobiographical memoir outlines his life growing up, coming out, fashion, and of course, getting cast in Queer Eye. Anyone who has watched this show needs to read this right now, and even if you haven't, you should still pick it up. It is a very thoughtful memoir that is honest about race, perception, bullying, love, marriage, and fashion. He is very-real, very-direct addressing of these topics to be eye-opening while also showing a vulnerable side of him that we don't often experience on the show.
Even some of the remarks that he makes quickly in the book and doesn't elaborate on in great detail (i.e. "brown people cannot run through an airport even if we are late for a flight") will leave an imprint on you. It is personal, real, and even those who tend to shy away from this genre, will find themselves interested in the conversational and captivating story of Tan France.
Naturally Tan by Tan France ($27.99*, St. Martin's Press), recommended by Fountain Books, Richmond, VA.
Knot is a strong and independent woman in a rural town in North Carolina. She likes her liquor and she will always speak her mind and regrets none of it. She is one of many members of the community of West Mills that we get to know over the course of 40 years in De'Shawn Charles Winslow's beautiful and feisty book about the love of family, friends and neighbors. Though not always perfect and with a fair share of secrets, they always try to do what they believe is best for the ones they love.
In West Mills by De'Shawn Charles Winslow ($26.00*, Bloomsbury Publishing), recommended by Fountain Books, Richmond, VA.
16-year-old Grace has just had a baby. After going through the pregnancy and choosing adoptive parents for her daughter, she now feels unmoored from her life before and wants to find her own biological family. That's how her biological siblings, Maya and Joaquin, come into the picture. Maya, set apart from her adoptive family in looks and temperament, struggles with the fallout of her adoptive mom's secrets coming to light. And Joaquin, in foster care his whole life, struggles with the idea of being worthy of someone's love. All of them grapple with their sense of belonging, but now that they have each other, maybe that will be easier. Benway has written a touching, sometimes humorous, compulsively readable book that will resonate with anyone searching for their place in the world, showing that sometimes where you are is exactly where you belong.
Far from the Tree by Robin Benway ($9.99*, HarperTeen), recommended by Fiction Addiction, Greenville, SC.
I remained unsure where Elizabeth Gilbert was taking me throughout the nearly 500 pages of City of Girls, but now that I've finished the final chapter, I'm glad I trusted her expert hand. I adored seeing the world through Vivian's eyes; her coming-of-age is, perhaps more than anything else, a love story, a tribute to the theatre and to New York City. Every one of Gilbert's characters is flawed and complicated (sometimes even downright awful), but somehow she's made every one of them likable and determined to grow, making for a compelling story I couldn't put down.
City of Girls by Elizabeth Gilbert ($28.00*, Riverhead Books), recommended by The Bookshelf, Thomasville, GA.
Ayesha At Last is a completely lovely Pride and Prejudice re-telling that does not shy away from depth. Jalaluddin delves into the subjects of racism, religion, and gender with deft and care and manages to retain the sense of romance and charm all the while. I'd say this skill makes her a perfect choice for Austen retellings. I'd consider this novel a great "what next?" recommendation for fans of The Kiss Quotient or The Wedding Date.
Ayesha At Last by Uzma Jalaluddin ($16.00*, Berkley), recommended by Books & Books, Coral Gables, FL.
While Ollie sticks to graphite grey in her drawings, Tucker's debut vibrates with vivid color in its strong sense of place and well-sketched characters. It has that timeless quintessence that evokes such classic New York City adventures as Harriet the Spy and The Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankenweiler, and it is sure to delight fans of Rebecca Stead and Laura Marx.
All the Greys on Greene Street by Laura Tucker ($17.99*, Viking Books for Young Readers), recommended by Avid Bookshop, Athens, GA.
I realize that this book is, in large part, about sisterhood. Unfortunately, I don't have a sister or a similar relationship to measure against. I loved Emma and Jessie anyway, and found them credible characters in their own right. Emma's struggle to find a nourishing relationship is deeply touching. The dynamics between the two of them and between Laurel and Jessie are written with honesty and affection.
But what grabbed me by the heart and wouldn't let go was Witsell's descriptions of parenting and motherhood. It's unflinching in a way that I haven't read before without someone being written as a monster. Laurel isn't a monster; She's just not cut out for motherhood. She's a flawed person whose flaws are particularly incompatible with mothering. God, I sympathized with her. Early motherhood was frequently intolerable for me as well, and I found a sort of weird validation from reading someone else who wasn't very good at it. However, I also loved Sarah's character. She wasn't any more perfect than Laurel was imperfect.
I especially applaud Witsell's commitment to Laurel's integrity. Laurel never "rises above" or adopts the proper level of selflessness. It would have been pretty but dishonest to do otherwise. Even when her intentions are good, as with baby Liza, she manages to get it all wrong.
Everything about this book feels real, genuine, and honest. It it were written as memoir, I would believe it, but I think it somehow points to even larger truths by being written as fiction.
Give by Erica C. Witsell ($19.95*, BQB Publishing), recommended by Sunrise Books, High Point, NC.
Anthony Horowitz keeps getting better and better. A continuation on the clever conceit he initiates in The Word Is Murder, Horowitz once again finds himself as a character in his own detective novel. He begrudgingly teams up with Hawthorne in order to solve not one, but three suspicious deaths.
Horowitz has developed a unique storytelling method and I hope this is not the last one we see.
The Sentence Is Death by Anthony Horowitz ($27.99*, Harper), recommended by Bookmarks, Winston-Salem, NC.
Sure, the premise of The Flatshare requires you to suspend some disbelief, but that's true of the very best romantic comedies, isn't it? Beth O'Leary has created a feel-good page turner with characters you'll actually care about. Perfect for summer reading, and begging to be translated onscreen.
The Flatshare by Beth O'Leary ($26.99*, Flatiron Books), recommended by The Bookshelf, Thomasville, GA.
Look. Listen. This is the best book about people talking about their obsession with true crime and pets. Also, their anxiety, therapy, cults, addictions, feminism, and how an overheard story about murder at a party led to a long, coffee-drenched lunch that then led to the My Favorite Murder Podcast and the Murderino Empire (it's an empire if I say it's an empire). It's not a cult, so no need to call your dad...unless he's interested in true crime. Everything you love about the podcast, although Kilgariff and Hardstark dive deeper and share more than ever.
Warning: May result in screaming "Stay Sexy and Don't Get Murdered!" to friends, family, and the occasional stranger. But seriously, SSGDM, readers!
Stay Sexy & Don't Get Murdered by Karen Kilgariff, Georgia Hardstark ($24.99*, Forge Books), recommended by Fountain Books, Richmond, VA.
Author Domenica Ruta builds a wonderful and complex narrative around the fictional holiday of Last Day, a superstitious holiday of cleansing celebrated every year on the supposed eve of the apocalypse.
Last Day follows a collection of misguided characters as they navigate their relationships and the events leading up to the next Last Day celebration. Ruta builds dynamic characters who are always capable of surprising you, no matter how wrong they seem to be about everything.
Last Day by Domenica Ruta ($27.00*, Spiegal & Grau), recommended by Fountain Books, Richmond, VA.