The Southern Bookseller Review Newsletter for the week of March 23, 2021

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March 23, 2021sbr logo

The delicate art of choosing a book for your book club

Book Club

"Book Club" is not a designated tag on SBR, but it is an important part of the culture of readers, book lovers, and independent bookstores. Booksellers are frequently asked for advice from local book clubs, and have become experts in a kind of matchmaking between book and club.

It isn't as straightforward as it sounds. Think of how hard it can be to pick out a book for a friend, and multiply that by 5 or even 10 people. Books have to be very well written (naturally), rewarding to read, but also rewarding to talk about. Nothing kills a discussion faster than a book that everyone likes.

Here are just some of the books reviewed on SBR that booksellers say would be good for book clubs:

Then the Fish Swallowed Him

Then the Fish Swallowed Him by Amir Ahmadi Arian
-recommended by Novel in Memphis, TN

"...incredibly beautiful in describing the struggle of an everyday citizen in Tehran. It’s a great read to spur discussion for those looking for book-club picks."

The Children's Train

The Children’s Train by Viola Ardone
-recommended by Beth Carpenter, The Country Bookshop in Southern Pines, NC

"Going home fifty years later for his mother’s funeral causes Amerigo to rethink his life and what a family really means. A great book that will provoke good book club discussions."

The Merciful

The Merciful by Jon Sealy
— Brent Bunnell, Fiction Addiction in Greenville, SC

"Every book club needs to put The Merciful at the top of their “next to read” list this book forces you to think and to see a story from disparate and various perspectives."

Read This Now | Read This Next | The Bookseller Directory

Coming up on the Reader Meet Writer Author Series:

A Town Called SolaceA Town Called Solace with Mary Lawson
Tue Mar 30th 6:00pm - 7:00pm | REGISTER

Mary Lawson was born and brought up in a small farming community in Ontario. She is the author of three previous nationally and internationally bestselling novels, Crow LakeThe Other Side of the Bridge, and Road EndsCrow Lake was a New York Times bestseller and was chosen as a Book of the Year by The New York Times and The Washington Post, among others. The Other Side of the Bridge was longlisted for the Man Booker Prize. Lawson lives in England but returns to Canada frequently.

Wild Women and the BluesWild Women and the Blues with Denny S. Bryce
Thu Apr 1st 7:00pm - 8:00pm | REGISTER

DENNY S. BRYCE is an award-winning author and three-time RWA Golden Heart® finalist, including twice for Wild Women and the Blues. In addition to writing for NPR Books and FROLIC Media, the former professional dancer is a public relations professional who has spent over two decades running her own marketing and event management firm. A member of the Historical Novel Society, Women’s Fiction Writers Association, and Novelists, Inc., she is a frequent speaker at author events. Originally from Chicago, she now lives in Savannah, Georgia. Visit her online at

Read This Now!

Recommended by Southern indies...

Shaking the Gates of Hell


Shaking the Gates of Hell by John Archibald
Knopf / March 2021

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More Reviews from Snail on the Wall

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?

--Lady Smith, The Snail on the Wall in Huntsville, Alabama

Bookseller Buzz


Spotlight on The Kitchen Front by Jennifer Ryan

Jennifer Ryan

Jennifer Ryan admits that she gained a few pounds doing the research for her novel about England's home front during World War II. Which she says is funny, since the novel centers around the struggles of women trying to make do in the midst of rationing and food shortages. The Kitchen Front begins with a BBC cooking show competition where women compete using all the tricks they have learned or invented to make a decent meal for their families when staples like sugar, oil, butter, cheese, eggs, milk, and even tea are in short supply. The story follows four women, each of whom is desperate to win the contest (and become the show's new co-host).

The Kitchen Front does contain recipes (Ryan especially loved the Homity Pie invented by the Land Girls and taken into the fields to eat for lunch), but the story is as much about resilience as it is about rationing.

The Kitchen Front

What booksellers are saying about The Kitchen Front

  • A powerful story of resilience, creativity, and love in the most unlikely places. A wonderful story of life in WWII and the strength of women under pressure. --Jackie Willey,  Fiction Addiction in Greenville, SC

  • A BBC cooking contest is the backdrop for this WWII home front story about friendship, forgiveness, and resilience. -- Rae Ann Parker, Parnassus Books, Nashville, TN

  • Four women vie in a cooking contest for a chance to work on the radio show The Kitchen Front during WWII in England. With ingredients scarce, the contestants must use their imagination and skill to win. How women coped and how they fed their families during those hard times made for an interesting story. --Beth Carpenter, The Country Bookshop in Southern Pines, NC

About Jennifer Ryan

Jennifer Ryan is the author of The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir and The Spies of Shilling Lane. She was previously a nonfiction book editor. Originally from Kent and then London, she lives in the Washington, D.C., area with her husband and two children.



Libertie by Kaitlyn Greenidge
Algonquin Books / March 2021

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More Reviews from Quail Ridge Books

Kaitlyn Greenidge’s new novel, Libertie, captured me from the first scene. A young girl, Libertie Sampson, watches as a casket is opened and her mother brings the man inside back from the dead. Or so it appears! The story line, which follows Libertie from childhood as a freeborn slave growing up in Brooklyn to college in Ohio to her adulthood and marriage, touches on many of the issues that have continually challenged people of color since the end of the Civil War. Libertie’s conflicts with her mother, contemporaries, and eventually her husband make for an engaging story throughout. Because of its complexity and beautiful, lyrical writing, this book is an excellent choice for book clubs.

--Mamie Potter, Quail Ridge Books in Raleigh, North Carolina

The Little Devil in America


A Little Devil in America by Hanif Abdurraqib
Random House / March 2021

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More Reviews from Avid Bookshop

Hanif Abdurraqib’s exploration of Black performance in America is a cultural keystone that is chillingly relevant. Whether discussing the fact that a knowing look or advice on a route from a cashier is a form of a living Green Book that still exists because there are places Black people are not safe, to the origin of the card game spades or the difference between showing out or showing off, at the heart A Little Devil in America circles back to the fact that Black Americans have been forced to survive in places they were not welcome. The section on Black funerals pierced my heart. This book needs to be read, taught, underlined and discussed.

--Rachel Watkins, Avid Bookshop in Athens, Georgia

The House Uptown


The House Uptown by Melissa Ginsburg
Flatiron Books / March, 2021

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More Reviews from Parnassus Books

Ava moves from Iowa to New Orleans to live with her artist grandmother (who’s suffering from memory loss) after her mother dies. Not having been in each other’s lives, this is a beautiful story about family, finding out who they are, and forging a path together.

--Marcia Albert, Parnassus Books in Nashville, Tennessee

A Busy Year


A Busy Year by Leo Lionni
Knopf Books for Young Readers / January, 2021

More Reviews from The Country Bookshop

Winnie and Willie and Woody are friends. First, as January snow falls on Woody’s branches, later as her branches bloom and even later as her leaves begin to fall, the friends experience all a year has to offer. A fun way to learn about the seasons while also zeroing in on the qualities of a good friend, A Busy Year is a classic that deserves a spot on every child’s bookshelf.

--Angie Tally, The Country Bookshop in Southern Pines, North Carolina

Read This Next!

Books on the horizon: Winter 2021 favorites from Southern indies...

The Fortunate Ones


The Fortunate Ones by Ed Tarkington
Algonquin Books / January, 2021

More Reviews from Flyleaf Books

A Winter 2021 Read This Next! Title

When a poor boy gets the opportunity to live among Nashville’s elite, he takes it—and what follows is a compelling tale of relationships, money, facade, and good old Southern grandeur. With tight, effective prose, Ed Tarkington illuminates the dark side of generosity and so-called good fortune.

– Talia Smart, Flyleaf Books in Chapel Hill, North Carolina

Southern Bestsellers

What's popular this week with Southern Readers.

Klara and the Sun The Barbizon Deacon King Kong
Running with Sherman The Gilded Ones

[ See the full list ]

lady banks bookshelf

Parting Thought

"Sometimes, because we use the same words, we assume we mean the same thing" ~ Ahdaf Soueif The Map of Love

Publisher: The Southern Independent Booksellers Alliance /
Editor: Nicki Leone /
Advertising: Linda-Marie Barrett /
The Southern Bookseller Review is a project of the Southern Independent Booksellers Alliance, in support of independent bookstores in the South | SIBA | 51 Pleasant Ridge Drive | Asheville, NC 28805

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