Rachel is the operations and events director at Avid Bookshop. She fell in love with reading and books because of the mindful introduction to literature her parents gave her starting at age 3, when her father read her the entire Chronicles of Narnia by C. S. Lewis. He read the entire series to her again at age 7. She listens to audiobooks via Libro.fm while tending to her chickens and yard. Reading in the hammock with her dog, Dolly Parton, is pretty great too.
Sequoia Nagamatsu's How High We Go in the Dark is the fascinating and terrifying story of what happens to the Earth after the arrival of a climate plague. Spanning thousands of years, Nagamatsu's debut celebrates the malleability of humans while also challenging the norms of death, memory, and grief. This book is a bonkers adventure that includes a talking pig, space travel, Euthanasia theme parks, and a pile of souls stacked on top of each other to save a child. This is a fantastic book.
My Monticello is Jocelyn Nicole Johnson's debut and the word to describe this book is WOW. The 5 short stories and 1 novella contained within will wreck you. Each piece exposes a different element of belonging, ancestors, and legacy with brilliant prose. Johnson is a new voice to be celebrated.
Mina Seçkin's debut, The Four Humors, examines the care we give (or don't give) ourselves and others. This intergenerational immigrant story takes place in Istanbul as Sibel is spending the summer with her grandmother in declining health. The death of Sibel's father is a constant presence. Her plans to study for the MCAT give way to obsessing over the four humors to soothe her constant headache, witnessing her boyfriend fall in love with her country, and avoiding her father's grave. There's also her grandmother constantly feeding her and consuming many hours of Turkish soap operas. Don't be lulled into thinking this is just a millennial narrative. Once a dark family secret is revealed, you'll rethink entire swathes of this story. This is such a complicated and interesting book, bravo!
Chibundu Onuzo's Sankofa is the story of Anna, an African British woman who never knew her father. Anna discovers clues to her African father's identity only after her mother dies. This is fortuitous. What follows as Anna acknowledges and accepts her father, a man with a vast reputation and many secrets, is the healing and melding of Anna's two identities and a new beginning. A master storyteller, Onuzo's third novel is an epic story of belonging and identity.
Colson Whitehead's Harlem Shuffle is a historical fiction mystery set in 1960s Harlem. A furniture salesman playing both sides, Ray occasionally gets rid of his cousin Freddie's stolen goods. When Freddie involves him in a heist that goes south, Ray's life turns upside down. Harlem Shuffle shows the changing landscape of Harlem with a side of gangsters, extortion, crooked cops, and the everyday struggle of a Black business owner. This book is suspenseful and funny but also examines race and power in the ways Whitehead writes so masterfully.
I tore through Leave the World Behind, a breath-taking stunner that slyly becomes a heart-thumping thriller. Alam examines race, class, and family relationships subtly and this is where his storytelling shines. 5 of 5 stars!
Sometimes you may just want to think about anything other than human beings. Pick up On Animals by Susan Orlean and you'll find yourself delighting in the fascinating world of donkeys, orca whales, dogs, and pigeons. A lifelong animal lover, Orlean's essays are beautifully written and frankly quite delightful.
Brandon Taylor's book of short stories, Filthy Animals, is a bright shining explosion of beautiful writing. Six of the eleven stories are linked and dipping back and forth into Lionel's relationship with two dancers, Sophie and Charles, is hypnotic. These stories about human relationships range from those between lovers, friends, and family. How is it that Taylor can write so that we can see the interior crevices of these character's souls? Brilliantly done.
Fresh Water for Flowers encompasses so much in each lovely short chapter. Valérie Perrin has written what could be called the perfect novel. At first glance, Violette Toussaint lives an uncomplicated life as the caretaker of a cemetery in a small town in Burgundy. Just as you relax into the luscious descriptions of the gardens, of the tombstone inscriptions, of the fascinating visitors, several love stories hidden in a mystery or two reveal that there are more than funerals at the heart of this book. Perfection!
It may seem odd to the English village of Inkbourne that the adult children Jeanie and Julius Seeder never left home. With their mother Dot, the three of them have lived a meager life for over fifty years. An unexpected death starts a series of events that blindside the twins. Beautifully immersive, Claire Fuller’s Unsettled Ground explores the consequences of decisions and secrets adults make when their children have no agency. This is a captivating, suspenseful book that will end with you deeply wanting to have a conversation with Dot.
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 there were not welcome. The section on Black funerals pierced my heart. This book needs to be read, taught, underlined and discussed.
I've never finished a book and immediately started rereading it, but this is how I read Edie Richter is Not Alone. I'm dazzled by the way Rebecca Handler channels so much noticing and emotion into her carefully curated (sometimes sparse) prose. Handler has written Edie's interior monologue so that seeing a spider in a church, hearing possums on a roof, or regarding a cockroach in the grass makes you inhabit Edie's brain. This is a book about the loss of a parent to Alzheimer's disease that is funny and sad and extremely entertaining.
The Hare hits all the notes for a great novel you will read obsessively. Melanie Finn has written the breathtaking story of the life of Rose Monroe whose entire trajectory was determined at age eighteen by a chance (?) meeting with an older man at MOMA. However, Bennett isn’t who he claims to be. Because of this, despite this, Rose grows into a powerful woman who isn’t diminished by her dire circumstances. She is a survivor. This brilliant book contains a subtext involving dark abhorrent behavior.
Having grown up in a Mississippi Southern Baptist church, it wasn't until I was a teenager that I saw the secret double lives of some of us. Rebelling against the submit to authority messages on Saturday night, but sitting pious and submissive come Sunday morning services was de rigueur. Deesha Philyaw's book The Secret Lives of Church Ladies gives voice to secret lives that I know for sure are lived and true. The need for acceptance, for absolution, for grace is ever-present in familiar relationships as well as those in the church. These short stories are divine.