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's a fig farmer who listens to audiobooks via Libro.fm while tending to her chicken flock. Reading in the hammock with her dog, Dolly Parton, is pretty great too.
It's human nature to look for validation of oneself in the art we consume, and It Came From the Closet is a collection of essays by queer and trans authors on their interpretations and interactions with horror films. Edited by Joe Vallese, these essays are tender and funny, vulnerable and courageous. It Came From the Closet will make you see movies you've watched numerous times in a different light and that is a spectacular point of view.
What a joy to read the beautiful Watermelon and Red Birds cookbook cover to cover, dog-earing pages of recipes! The latest cookbook from local author and uber-talented Nicole Taylor is a must-read for those who want to know more about Juneteenth and for those who get excited about fresh takes on old standards. Watermelon and Red Birds will be published on the first anniversary of Juneteenth being made a national holiday and Taylor's recipes are the real deal. Make sure you check out the Fig Vinegar BBQ Sauce inspired by my homegrown Normaltown figs Nicole loves. Linger slowly and enjoy Taylor's essays as she's sharing her story as a Black American in one of the most personal ways one can: by talking about how she feeds her family, her friends, and her soul.
Emma Starling comes home to a small village in New Hampshire because her father Clive is dying and she really should check on her brother Auggie after his second stay in rehab. She's been astray for a while and living back in Everton with her family seems wise. Once there she finds that her high school best friend is missing and the only person looking for her is her retired poetry professor father. Because of the opioid crisis, the two police officers don't feel it's worth their time. The book's narrators in the Maple Street Cemetery are practically omniscient and their commentary lets you in on the village's secrets while also witnessing the longings of the dead. In Unlikely Animals, Harnett has done what she does best: create a brilliant cast of messy human beings that you don't want to leave. With a hand-drawn map, a menagerie of animals (a fox, a dog, a goat), and beautiful prose, this book is perfect.
CJ Hauser's The Crane Wife: A Memoir in Essays is unlike anything I've read and it blew my mind. At its core, the interconnected essays are about love. Hauser uses both personal and family history to dissect parts of her life that give her pause. Hauser's technique for performing autopsies on her previous loves include deep introspection of the impact of specific works on her analysis such as du Maurier's Rebecca and Baum's Oz. Deep inquiry into Mulder and Scully's relationship or the gender dynamics in the 1940 film adaptation of The Philadelphia Story provides a very relatable setting for a reader to also scrutinize romantic choices. Hauser's writing is smart and razor-honest as she peels back layers. What a brilliant process to witness. Nineteen different passages sung so clearly to me, they are underlined, highlighted, dog-eared.
Marcy Dermansky's Hurricane Girl is terrifying, hilarious, and supremely entertaining. Allison just wants to stop making poor choices when it comes to men and spend as much time as possible swimming. An unexpected tv interview after a hurricane leads her from one crisis to another. Some of these disasters are of Allison's own making, but in the moment her choices don't seem so bad. Dermansky has written a book that is a total escape from reality that took me places I never expected.
Having myself been a teenager in a small insular southern town that felt a few years behind the times, Kevin Wilson's protagonist Frankie felt familiar. Now is Not the Time to Panic uncovers the mystery of a moral panic that starts small but becomes a world-famous cultural event. Frankie's dad has left, her triplet brothers are a whirlwind, and Frankie wants something (anything) to happen this summer. Making friends with a new kid in town who also has a father issue is life-changing as they recognize themselves in each other: friendless socially awkward creatives who are desperate just to be seen. This is a story with a great big heart that will not disappoint.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
Having read Amy Bloom's writing for years, I expected this book to be smart, funny, and impeccably honest. She did not disappoint. In Love shares how Amy's husband chose to end his life rather than slip away slowly due to early-onset Alzheimer's. It was a feat to find Dignitas in Switzerland as well as fulfill the interviews, paperwork, and documentation required while both Amy and Brian actively mourned his inevitable passing. This is a breath-taking love and death story.