The best new books this month chosen by us and other
independent booksellers across the country.

This Month's #1 Indie Next List Pick...

On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous

By Ocean Vuong

(Penguin Press, 9780525562023, $26)

"Alright 2019, this is the novel to beat. On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous is the rare novel that makes you experience reading in a slightly different way and shows you that, no matter how many books you've read, something new and uniquely beautiful can still be found. The novel takes the form of a letter written by the main character, Little Dog, to his mother--an immigrant from Vietnam who cannot read. The power of Vuong's poetic writing shimmers with every paragraph, and each phrase is a carefully considered, emotional journey. Grappling with themes of identity, sexuality, addiction, violence, and finding your place in a world where you feel you don't belong, this book already feels like a modern classic, destined to be read and talked about for years to come."
--Caleb Masters, Bookmarks, Winston-Salem, NC

This Month's #1 Indie Next List Pick Author Interview

photo: Tom Hines

Booksellers across the nation have chosen On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous, the debut novel by poet Ocean Vuong (Penguin Press, June 4), as their number-one pick for the June Indie Next List.

On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous, which received starred reviews in Kirkus, Booklist, and Library Journal, is a portrait of a family, first love, and the power of storytelling and an exploration of the American stories of race, class, masculinity, immigration, as well as of addiction, violence, and trauma.

The novel's format is a letter from a son to a mother who cannot read, in which 20-something Little Dog unearths his family's history that began before he was born in Vietnam. On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous is about the power to tell one's own story and, on the other end, the tragedy of silence. 

Vuong is the author of the critically acclaimed poetry collection Night Sky With Exit Wounds, winner of the Whiting Award and the T.S. Eliot Prize. His writing has been featured in The AtlanticHarper'sThe NationNew RepublicThe New Yorker, and The New York Times. Born in Saigon, Vietnam, he currently lives in Northampton, Massachusetts, where he serves as an assistant professor in the MFA Program for Poets and Writers at Umass-Amherst.

Here, the poet discusses his debut novel. 

How did you come up with the idea for this book?

It was an experiment. I wrote a book of poems [Night Sky With Exit Wounds] and, well, with any book, you have a certain amount of questions you ask. In Night Sky I ask mostly, what is an American identity when it has to reckon with American violence? That violence is a part of this country's self-knowledge and we don't have to sugarcoat it. We can look at it as the result of why we are who we are and why we're here--violence as a means of self-knowledge.

So all of a sudden you write a book of poems and it takes off in ways you don't imagine, and all your peers and editors and friends say, well, alright, now you have to do another one and you've got to do something different. That's our culture--that's the capitalistic anxiety, to produce a fresh new product, to do a 180 now. But I didn't feel like I was done asking about American identity, particularly as it relates to the immigrant and refugee experience. And I thought, well, I don't know if 85 pages of poems in paperback can really contain or solve these questions, so what if I took the same questions into a different form, the novel? What would happen? And that was the experiment. And I told myself, if nothing happens, if I'm just repeating myself, I'll put it away and go back to poems. So it was an experiment. It wasn't as courageous or bold as you would like the origin story of a novel to be.

What was the writing process like for this novel compared to your process for writing poems?

It was drastically different, mostly because of the circumstances of our world at the time. I was teaching undergrads at NYU while I was writing this book and I wrote it by hand, the first draft at least--it would go through 12 drafts. Meanwhile, the election cycle was happening, all of which would lead to Trump's election, and every day there was a new nightmare in the news and I would have to show up to these students and convince them that writing mattered and sometimes I couldn't do it. Sometimes I felt like I didn't know if it mattered myself, so I would go home and write this book and for some reason I was so... scared, is just the frank word of it all, because we were so scared at the time. I cleared out the closet in my apartment, I put a lamp in there, and I closed the door (the irony is not lost on me, I literally went back in the closet, but that was how it was done). When I went in there, everything fell away, the world fell away, and I could go back in time, go back in 2003 and 2004 (a lot of this book takes place in the Bush era). It was kind of like this cockpit I went into every day. And that was the first time I understood what a lot of writers say. A lot of times we say writing is my refuge, and we say that sometimes in an abstract sense, but for the first time in my life it was a true refuge. At the end of the day I looked forward to closing the closet door, holding the notebook, turning on the lamp, making a cup of tea, and crouching down in there, sliding back into that world. I really escaped into the past. It was like a fever dream.

So do you feel like you were able to convince yourself of what you were trying to convince your students of, that writing matters?

That was the inquiry. Yes, I don't know if I'll ever answer that question, but that was sort of the allegory that I fell on. Because Little Dog is a son writing to a mother who can't read, there is an innate futility in the act, and the innate crisis that I was negotiating with my students was, does this matter? When our brothers and sisters and our friends are being deported, when children are being held prisoner at the border, when we're still bombing the Middle East, does this matter? And I suppose the whole book attempts an architecture to explore that. I wouldn't say the whole book answers that, I don't know if I answered it myself, but parallel to that question, even if a mother can't read, does it matter to say it? Does it mean anything to put the sentence down as an object and put the thought inside the sentence? Ultimately, I would say yes, but to what extent that it satisfies us, I'm not sure.

How did you decide on the format of the narratorLittle Dogwriting a letter to his mother?

I struggled with the form. There were a lot of dead ends, but in the end I was reading two books that really solidified it. I live in New England and teach at UMass, and Herman Melville lived about an hour away so I visited his house--it's kind of the obligatory pilgrimage--and I figured while I'm living up here I might as well reread Moby-Dick. People rarely think about this but that's an autobiographical novel. It's almost absurd to think because it's so ecstatic and eclectic and wild, but Herman Melville lived that life, he lived on the ship, he hunted the whales, he did all that, and on top of that, what I loved about that book was that the novel became a method of essayistic exploration. In other words, it allowed every detour imaginable; it had chapters on how to identify whale humps, whole chapters on how to harvest spermaceti. It was an essay, a manual, a novel, a thriller. And it was interesting, that he as a writer never had to make those decisions; he said I'm going to go for the jugular, I'm going to put everything in this book. I knew this was what I was hoping for, but I also knew I didn't want to write 600 pages. So I had to find the form to do it.

And then I fell on this little book by Franz Kafka; it's actually a letter to his father published as a book. It's 60 pages, called Dearest Father, but it was just a private letter that was published later on and he never sent, so that's also like Little Dog. For Kafka it was that he just didn't have the audacity to confront his father who was such a large-looming figure to him. I thought, my goodness, what an incredible concept: writing a letter that can't be sent. And then in the letter, he detoured, he went on philosophical tangents--he made his own testimony of why he chose to be a writer instead of lawyer like his father wanted. Kafka's letter was a method of inquiry, and I thought, there it is. The added power to that is knowing that to read this novel you have to eavesdrop on an Asian American speaking to another Asian American and that concept was so alluring and powerful to me: an American story in which whiteness has to sort of eavesdrop on the dialogue, to be on the sidelines. That felt very subversive and powerful to me as a way to negotiate the western canon we are always inundated by.

Why did you choose to deeply explore the background stories of the women in Little Dog's life, his mother and grandmother?

I think that no matter who we are in America, if we ask about our grandparents, we arrive at a lineage of war. Whether they were in the Holocaust, World War II, the Korean War, eventually we arrive at a geopolitical rupture. This is true for people of color, but especially for white folks, because we are told that whiteness is sort of nothing, it's self-generating, but in fact if we ask where do we come from, what happened in Europe, we find war, we find bombings. We arrive at a very similar space, and we find that American identity is made of war, whether it is on this soil or overseas. And what we rarely see as worthy of literature with a capital L are the stories of the women who lived in the aftermath, the women who had to live and bear it and clean up after the men who have PTSD, who are violent, literally clean up the countries that are decimated. I wanted these women, working class/borderline poverty women of color and white folks, to be central in a book and to make a statement that these lives are inspiring, that they are worthy of literature with a capital L.

Who are some poets or other writers who have influenced you or whose work you admire?

Emily Dickinson, Natalie Diaz, Eduardo C. Corral, Richard Siken. There are so many: Lorca, Maggie Nelson, Claudia Rankine. I love hybrid texts, Anne Carson's Autobiography of Red, Marilynne Robinson's Gilead, Marguerite Duras' The Lover, Faulkner's The Sound and the Fury, which is an incredible epic about American failure. Up until then no author had really reckoned with what it means for the American dream to fall apart, and he was one of the first. I also loved what that book did with form and fracture and fragmentation. --Liz Button

More Indie Next List Great Reads

Ask Again, Yes

By Mary Beth Keane

(Scribner, 9781982106980, $27)

"Ask Again, Yes is a compelling, heartbreaking, yet ultimately hopeful novel. Mary Beth Keane is incredibly talented; she does not sugar coat, instead giving readers a compulsively readable family drama. I did not expect to become so completely engrossed in these characters' stories--two families whose lives become inextricably linked by young love and personal tragedy. Their myriad mistakes and attempts to atone beautifully demonstrate the power and grace found in forgiveness."

--Anderson McKean, Page and Palette, Fairhope, AL

Red, White & Royal Blue

By Casey McQuiston

(St. Martin's Griffin, 9781250316776, $16.99, trade paper)

"Fresh, irreverent, and funny, Red, White & Royal Blue is a delight and a treasure. With subtle jabs, Casey McQuiston pokes fun at both the public face of the British monarchy as well as the back-door politicking that dominates the U.S. political scene. The story follows the self-centered Alex Claremont-Diaz (America's First Son) and his interactions with British Prince Henry of Wales. As hostility increases between two political scions forced into a sham friendship, we see the framework of political destiny and duty begin to fray. Little by little, hostility turns to something else entirely. This is a story about happiness--and, more importantly, honesty--for those who live their lives in the public eye."

--Todd Ketcham, The Book Cellar, Lake Worth, FL

The Confessions of Frannie Langton

By Sara Collins

(Harper, 9780062851895, $26.99)

"Drawing on her experiences of growing up in the Cayman Islands, attending university in London, and practicing law, outstanding debut author Sara Collins has drawn a character one will not soon forget. Told with evocative language, Frannie Langton's confession is a life story not to be missed. Raised on a sugar plantation in Jamaica, then transported to a life of servitude in London, Frannie lives a life of twists and turns of love and betrayal that will both shock and intrigue you. I was as tense as she was waiting for the verdict to be handed down. Thank you, Sara Collins!"

--Mary Mollman, Booked, Evanston, IL

Underland: A Deep Time Journey

By Robert MacFarlane

(W. W. Norton & Company, 9780393242140, $27.95)

"I don't think there is a square mile of ground on this planet where Robert Macfarlane couldn't dig up a new, wondrous story. Underland continues the tradition of profound storytelling, reflection, and, quite simply, gorgeous writing we have come to expect from him. Macfarlane's ventures into the underworlds of our planet, both mythical and literal, may amount to his finest work yet, and not just because these are the places that have captivated me most throughout my life. I feel fortunate to be living at the same time as him, knowing that as long as he is writing, there is something to look forward to."

--Chris La Tray, Fact & Fiction Downtown, Missoula, MT

Recursion

By Blake Crouch

(Crown, 9781524759780, $27)

"As soon as I saw Blake Crouch's name, I scooped this book up. As a huge fan of Dark Matter, I knew I was in for a treat. In his newest, Crouch quickly reveals the cause of the 'fake memories' that are plaguing the population, but the twists and thrills just keep coming. I haven't been this satisfied with a book in a long time. Hitting and exceeding all of my expectations, this one will be hard to beat as my favorite book of the year."

--Mary Salazar, The Country Bookshop, Southern Pines, NC

Magic for Liars

By Sarah Gailey

(Tor Books, 9781250174611, $25.99)

"When Ivy was a child, her sister went off to a school for mages, leaving her feeling abandoned in the non-magical world. So when her sister's boss turns up at Ivy's detective practice a couple of decades later and asks her to solve a murder, she's less than enthused. Mixing noir tropes with the classic setting of a school for practitioners of magic, Magic for Liars is by turns intriguing and unsettling. I was on the edge of my seat the whole way as Ivy attempted to comb through the lies and resist her own temptation to get too deeply embroiled in the mystery."

--Shelby Daniel-Wayman, Fair Isle Books, Washington Island, WI

Bunny

By Mona Awad

(Viking, 9780525559733, $26)

"Mona Awad tells a harrowing story of a writer trying to overcome her writer's block while simultaneously refusing to look deeper into herself or acknowledge her own needs or desires. This lack of self-knowledge leads her to a friendship with a group of young MFA students who are always 'workshopping'... with disastrous consequences. The writing feels cinematic at times, moody and illustrative. Home, identity, love (both romantic and platonic), inner (and outer) demons, and academic elitism all play a part in this spectacle of creation and destruction. Awad creates a kind of magic that changes with the wind, a contemporary Prometheus tale."

--Katrina Feraco, The Toadstool Bookshop, Keene, NH

Stay Sexy & Don't Get Murdered: The Definitive How-To Guide

By Karen Kilgariff and Georgia Hardstark

(Forge Books, 9781250178954, $24.99)

"Karen Kilgariff and Georgia Hardstark bring the breeziness of their popular podcast My Favorite Murder to print in this collection of life hacks and true confessions. Alternately hilarious and wise, the two play off each other with the abandon of old college buddies. Fans of The Life-Changing Magic of Not Giving a F*ck will find much to enjoy here. While the book will leave you in stitches, the advice the pair doles out is solid and bankable. The book should be in every college freshman's backpack as they leave for school."

--Grace Harper, Mac's Backs, Cleveland Heights, OH

Indies Introduce -- outstanding debuts as selected by independent booksellers

City of Girls

By Elizabeth Gilbert

(Riverhead Books, 9781594634734, $28)

"City of Girls is a champagne cocktail, a tonic for anything that ails you, and the summer read you can't miss! Vivian Morris, an upper-class, 19-year-old college dropout, finds herself in the chaotic New York City theater world of the 1940s. What ensues is a story full of sex, glamour, and witty one-liners that spans decades. All those who led a heedless youth or wish they had will fall for this book about growing into the person you've always wanted to be. Gilbert has written a glittering piece of fiction that subtly delivers wisdom about the nature of human connection and leaves the reader braver, freer, and, at least for the moment, happier."

--Caroline McGregor, Books & Books, Coral Gables, FL

How Not to Die Alone

By Richard Roper

(G.P. Putnam's Sons, 9780525539889, $26)

"Richard Roper's debut is utterly delightful. I was spellbound from the very first page. Andrew's job is a sensitive one: when someone dies at home alone, he is called to literally dig through personal effects--scraps of paper or old holiday cards--and determine if there are any next of kin. Andrew's daily experience with the dearly departed, combined with his model train obsession, dysfunctional office mates, and an estranged sister, result in a compelling read. Funny, smart, and sad, Roper's How Not to Die Alone is just wonderful."

--Rachel Watkins, Avid Bookshop, Athens, GA

In West Mills

By De'Shawn Charles Winslow

(Bloomsbury Publishing, 9781635573404, $26)

"In West Mills is a beautiful and cohesive debut. Reminiscent of Janie Crawford in Their Eyes Were Watching God, Winslow has written the character of Knot Centre, a woman who speaks her mind--for better or for worse--and who is passionate, intelligent, and stubborn to a fault. The events of the novel take place from the 1940s to the 1980s, allowing readers to watch as fateful decisions and their consequences play out for the city's citizens. In such a small town, secrets weigh heavy and threaten to tear people apart, but Winslow's writing is exuberant and full of life. His characters are never fully taken under by their sorrows--a rarity in literature today."

--Margaret Leonard, Dotters Books, Eau Claire, WI

Mrs. Everything

By Jennifer Weiner

(Atria Books, 9781501133480, $28)

"Mrs. Everything is a magnificent look at the myriad societal changes for women that occurred in a short span of decades, wrapped up in a compelling novel of two sisters. While I've loved reading all of Jennifer Weiner's work over the years, I believe THIS is her legacy novel--the book that will be read generations from now! It filled my heart."

--Caitlin Doggart, Where the Sidewalk Ends, Chatham, MA

The Unhoneymooners

By Christina Lauren

(Gallery Books, 9781501128035, $16, trade paper)

"This is a delightful rom-com story with an enemies-to-lovers plotline and the requisite off-the-wall situation that forces the bickering lead characters into close quarters. With its Maui resort setting, charismatic characters, swoon-worthy romance, and sense of humor, this story pulled me in and took me along for a thoroughly enjoyable escape."
--Sandy Scott, The Galaxy Bookshop, Hardwick, VT

Mostly Dead Things

By Kristen Arnett

(Tin House Books, 9781947793309, $24.95)

"After her father commits suicide, Jessa is tasked with saving her family's taxidermy business from going bankrupt. She also has to take care of her family's strange problems--including her mother's affinity for turning their taxidermy into risqué works of art. Mostly Dead Things is a fun, eccentric book with a steamy lesbian romance, ongoing sibling rivalry, and dark confessions of a family that is willing to go the mile in order to make ends meet. Stuffed with humor, heartfelt moments, and some gritty bits, Arnett's writing will make you laugh, cry, and wonder how an author's first novel can be so engaging and well-written!"

--Sage Cristal, UC San Diego Bookstore, La Jolla, CA

The Night Before

By Wendy Walker

(St. Martin's Press, 9781250198679, $26.99)

"Laura has gone missing after going out on a first date with someone she met on a dating site... at least her older sister, Rosie, thinks she is missing. The Night Before is told from Laura's point of view from the night before and from Rosie's the morning after. Wendy Walker's latest is filled with psychological trauma and even a series of sessions with a psychologist, which adds believability and gives insight into who Laura is. As usual, I couldn't stop reading and was surprised more than once. With a heavy dose of psychology, The Night Before is a true thriller you won't want to miss."
--Nancy McFarlane, Fiction Addiction, Greenville, SC

The Scent Keeper

By Erica Bauermeister

(St. Martin's Press, 9781250200136, $26.99)

"When you pick up Erica Bauermeister's latest novel, you must take a deep breath, and then another. The Scent Keeper is a unique coming-of-age story told with prose that is vivid, fragrant, and alive. Everything Emmeline knows from her idyllic childhood spent on a remote island in the Pacific Northwest is challenged when she discovers that her father's fantastical explanations and stories aren't true--at least not in a literal sense. Her journey is at times devastating but always evocative. A sensational read."

--Anika Miller, Phinney Books, Seattle, WA

The Sentence Is Death

By Anthony Horowitz

(Harper, 9780062676832, $27.99)

"I really love this series by Anthony Horowitz. The mystery behind the murders is so expertly plotted and layered that you could make a case for any suspect. In this book, a divorce lawyer is found dead in his home after being beaten over the head with a VERY expensive bottle of wine, and the number 182 is painted on his wall. When Private Investigator Daniel Hawthorne drives onto the set of Horowitz's TV show shoot, Horowitz has no choice but to follow his lead and write about the case. As always, I'm anxiously awaiting the next in this series."

--Nichole Cousins, White Birch Books, North Conway, NH

The History of Living Forever

By Jake Wolff

(Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 9780374170660, $27)

"Jake Wolff takes as many risks within the narrative of The History of Living Forever as his characters. The author's daring success can be measured in the feverish beat of his readers' pulse as they are captivated, challenged, surprised, and moved. This tale of the alchemy of immortality, of the quest for an elixir of life, is powerfully driven by a tension between the desire to transmute the nature of life versus a reductive drive to prolong it. The mutability of time and character suffuse the story, making 16-year-old Conrad's coming of age unexpectedly multi-layered and complex. If ever a book invited looking into the future, it is The History of Living Forever. I predict that it will have a long and glorious life."

--Kenny Brechner, Devaney, Doak & Garrett Booksellers, Farmington, ME

Resistance Women

By Jennifer Chiaverini

(William Morrow, 9780062841100, $26.99)

"Mildred Harnack, an American woman, moves with her husband to Germany, but while they're building their life together, the Nazi party is rising to power. Mildred and her friends can't stand by and watch their communities be torn apart, so they conspire to resist. The women work together to provide information about the Germans to the American forces, but when their resistance cell is exposed, everyone is at risk. Beautifully written and heavily researched, Chiaverini brings Mildred and her compatriots to life on the page with a vividness that kept me up all night reading."

--Mary Ruthless, Foggy Pine Books, Boone, NC

The Female Persuasion

By Meg Wolitzer

(Riverhead Books, 9780399573231, $17)

"I never could have anticipated this book, and now I can't imagine a world without it. The Female Persuasion follows the ambitious but shy Greer Kadetsky, her boyfriend, her best friend, and the feminist icon who launches her into the world. Through these vivid, complex, and lovable characters, Wolitzer explores both the principle and reality of feminism, as well as the desire to become our fullest selves and the twists and turns that journey can take. The Female Persuasion is powerful, generous, smart, and deeply kind; I can't wait for the world to meet it."
--Megan Bell, Underground Books, Carrollton, GA

Florida: Stories

By Lauren Groff

(Riverhead Books, 9781594634529, $16)

"After wowing readers (former President Barack Obama included) with 2015's Fates and Furies, Lauren Groff returns with a collection of stories just as wise and meticulously constructed. Within the sun-kissed, palmetto-strewn swampland of Groff's Florida, we encounter a pair of abandoned sisters, anxious mothers, and a woman being pushed to the edge. Groff examines the lives of her characters with a surveyor's eye, capturing the sense of dread and desire that pervades their existence. Florida is an exploration of time and place, both sensual and terrifying, and seems to me both timely and timeless."

--Uriel Perez, BookPeople, Austin, TX

Fruit of the Drunken Tree

By Ingrid Rojas Contreras

(Anchor, 9780525434313, $16)

"Fruit of the Drunken Tree made me cry at the airport. I was impressed by the small kingdom of women Contreras builds, with violence always threatening to creep in, all seen through the eyes of Chula, the youngest daughter. Contreras made her perspective believably cloistered while masterfully writing all the people around Chula in ways that made them feel real. This novel is a dynamic exploration of what is known and, sometimes willfully, what is left unknown."

--Lillian Li, Literati Bookstore, Ann Arbor, MI

The Great Believers

By Rebecca Makkai

(Penguin Books, 9780735223530, $16)

"This flawlessly written and lovingly told story depicts the immediate toll AIDS took on the Chicago gay community in the '80s and the long-term impact on survivors and their families. Makkai threads it all compellingly together with art world intrigue and institutional drama. The Great Believers brought to my mind several of my favorite contemporary novels: A Little Life, Three Junes, and The Goldfinch. Rebecca Makkai, in my opinion, has launched herself into a whole new category of literary achievement with this."

--Becky Dayton, The Vermont Book Shop, Middlebury, VT

His Favorites

By Kate Walbert

(Scribner, 9781476799407, $15)

"Kate Walbert is one of my favorite writers and she continues to create memorable novels, as evidenced by this new one. There's something about the way she tells her story of a young girl struggling to balance a wild energy with a soft heart who is preyed upon by a charismatic and overbearing teacher that makes the novel both sing and pierce the heart simultaneously. I read this in one evening and was completely overtaken by it. It is excellent."

--Sheryl Cotleur, Copperfield's Books, Sebastopol, CA

Invitation to a Bonfire

By Adrienne Celt

(Bloomsbury Publishing, 9781635571530, $17)

"Adrienne Celt's Invitation to a Bonfire is a propulsive literary thriller masterfully constructed and written with an extraordinary, raw urgency that will leave readers breathless. Inspired by the marriage of Vladimir and Vera Nabokov, Celt explores the love and ambition of two strong-willed women who compete for the passions and artistic control of a literary icon. The novel's characters are original and vividly drawn, with all the complexity and contradictions of their emotions and intensions fully realized. This is a story that you will not be able to put down, and certainly one of the most memorable and satisfying reads of the year. Adrienne Celt is a writer to watch."

--Lori Feathers, Interabang Books, Dallas, TX

Lake Success

By Gary Shteyngart

(Random House Trade Paperbacks, 9780812987201, $18)

"When Barry Cohen's marriage and hedge fund company begin to crumble, he hops a Greyhound bus to El Paso, hoping to find himself among the 'real Americans' of the Trump era. Meanwhile, the wife he left behind struggles to build a solo life among the one percent. Together, their stories are a biting portrait of a country unimproved by the best of intentions. Equal parts Sense and Sensibility, A Confederacy of Dunces, and Bonfire of the Vanities, Lake Success is a wickedly funny satire and a rollicking good story for tough times."

--David Enyeart, Common Good Books, St. Paul, MN

The Lost Family

By Jenna Blum

(Harper Paperbacks, 9780062742179, $16.99)

"The characters in Jenna Blum's The Lost Family are deeply real and unforgettable: a man and a woman both trying to compensate for the losses of their previous families by creating a new family, and the daughter who grows up with them, feeling equally lost. Blum gets so many things effortlessly right: the terror of Nazi Germany; the fluctuating zeitgeist of New York in the 1960s, '70s, and '80s; the way the foodie father, the dieting wife, and the eating-disordered daughter all express themselves through their relationship with food. I would recommend it for Meg Wolitzer fans, though Blum's style is definitely her own."

--Nina Barrett, Bookends & Beginnings, Evanston, IL

Number One Chinese Restaurant

By Lillian Li

(Picador, 9781250229328, $17)

"Growing up in a small town in the '60s, my first experience of Chinese food served tableside in a grand manner was on our annual vacation to visit family. The Empress restaurant--near the White House!--boasted about its Peking duck, just like the suburban D.C. Duck House in Number One Chinese Restaurant. The Duck House connects three generations of a restaurant dynasty and three star-crossed pairs of lovers, who are about to find out that, like a good stir fry, timing is everything. This is a masterful debut. I came for the fun Chinese restaurant setting, but I stayed for the characters."

--Carla Bayha, Literati Bookstore, Ann Arbor, MI

Ohio

By Stephen Markley

(Simon & Schuster, 9781501174483, $16.99)

"Stephen Markley's powerful debut plumbs the depths of the cruel trick played on small-town America during the recession, war, and political and cultural hostility of the last 15 years and delivers us the gift of surprising and exquisite beauty and hope. In this story of four former classmates and one summer night in 2013, Markley gives us insightful and gorgeous prose revealing the humanity that continues to carry on in the broken center of America. I hope to read this author's keen writing for many years to come."

--Beth Albrecht, The Magic Tree Bookstore, Oak Park, IL

Providence

By Caroline Kepnes

(Random House Trade Paperbacks, 9780399591457, $17)

"Providence, a novel for the Stranger Things audience, is a fun and interesting blend of light fantasy and soft horror themes. I am a huge Lovecraft fan and devour fan fiction or books that reference Lovecraft, and author Caroline Kepnes does a nice job creating a weird and entertaining ride while explaining Lovecraft and The Dunwich Horror to those who may not be familiar. Overall, I found this book to be exactly what I needed: a nice escape from the confines of the horror genre. I'm also happy to see more female writers bringing their own voices to horror in new and interesting ways."

--Guy Lopez, Vroman's Bookstore, Pasadena, CA

The Summer Wives

By Beatriz Williams

(William Morrow Paperbacks, 9780062660350, $16.99)

"When her mother marries one of the wealthy summer residents in 1951, 18-year-old Miranda enters the exclusive world of Winthrop Island. A perfect summer beach read, the story moves from 1930 to 1951 to 1969, when Miranda returns to the island. The year-round residents and the summer people don't mix much, but long-buried secrets won't stay buried forever. Love, scandal, murder, jealousy--The Summer Wives has it all!"

--Susan Taylor, Book House of Stuyvesant Plaza, Albany, NY