The best new books this month chosen by us and other
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This Month's #1 Indie Next List Pick...

The Paris Library

By Janet Skeslien Charles

(Atria Books, 9781982134198, $28)

"I can't think of a more perfect novel to recommend to book lovers than The Paris Library! Not only does it bring to life the true story of the heroic librarians of the American Library in Nazi-occupied Paris, its interwoven narrative of a bereft teenager in 1980s Montana who finds a kindred spirit in her mysterious, reclusive, and book-loving French neighbor is a feat of extraordinary storytelling. The Paris Library is a testament to the everlasting power of literature and literary places to bring people together and be a home for everyone, even during our darkest, most hopeless, and divided times."

--Alyssa Raymond, Copper Dog Books, Beverly, MA

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

(photo: Richard Beban)

Independent booksellers across the country have chosen The Paris Library by Janet Skeslien Charles (Atria Books) as their top pick for the February 2021 Indie Next List.

Based on the true story of librarians at the American Library in Paris during World War II, this novel follows Odile in 1939 and Lily in 1983 as they navigate the nature of consequence, love, and friendship.

Charles is the award-winning author of Moonlight in Odessa, which was published in 10 languages. Her shorter work has appeared in revues such as Slice and Montana Noir. She first became interested in the true story of the librarians who stood up to the Nazi "Book Protector" when she worked as the program manager at the American Library in Paris.

Here, Charles discusses Paris, history, and crafting a novel.

Where did the idea for this story come from?

I was 10 years old when I started thinking about elements of this novel. I always wanted to write about a war bride. Growing up in rural Montana, I was fascinated by my neighbor, a French war bride. She left her family, her friends, and even her language behind in order to marry a G.I. she didn't know very well. She was incredibly brave.

She inspired my interest in France. I later got a job at the American Library in Paris and learned about the courageous librarians who defied the Nazis in order to deliver books to Jewish readers. The storylines and settings came together.

My first novel, Moonlight in Odessa, is about an email-order bride. The Paris Library is about a war bride. In both, I explore themes of culture shock and the challenges of starting over in a new country. This is because my friends and I have had to navigate language and cultural differences, and work to reinvent ourselves in a new place.

This book centers on Odile and her young neighbor in Montana, Lily. How did you craft their characters?

I based my character Odile on Odile Hellier, a Parisian bookseller, for her kindness and her love of English and American literature. Physically, when I thought of my character, I thought of Hellier, with her auburn bob and excellent posture.

An early reader called my character "a blend of Yoda and Oprah." I struggled to get Odile down on paper the way I saw her. What I had in my head wasn't appearing on the page, and that was frustrating.

For Lily, I reached into my past and remembered what it felt like to want to leave town. For people in Froid, I remembered all of the wonderful people I know, friends and family, former teachers and bosses. These days, I miss Montana.

Why did you choose to set this story in both WWII-era France and Montana in the 1980s?

I wanted to talk about the people, events, and choices that make us who we are, as well as the impact we have on each other. One of the important themes of my book is the transmission of stories so that loved ones continue to live on through us. We keep their stories and their ideas safe. Odile used expressions from her colleagues and family with Lily--"Put yourself in someone else's skin," for example. By the end of the book, Lily has internalized their ideas and thoughts, though she has never met them.

What was your research process like?

Writing is a solitary process, but my research allowed me to get to know several amazing people. I corresponded with the children, grandchildren, and nephews of my real-life characters. A highlight was meeting Boris' son and daughter. Both had spent time in the Library, and it was important to have their impressions. I reached out to librarians in France, Idaho, Rhode Island, Maryland, Illinois, and Washington, D.C., to track down information about my characters. I interviewed three French women who lived during the occupation: my student Madame Nathan, my husband's grandmother, and a dear neighbor.

I wrote and researched in the Bibliothèque Nationale de France. The research section is a vast sub-basement. It felt like being in a bunker. But they have an incredible collection. I read several years of Library Journal magazine as well as the Paris edition of the Herald Tribune to learn more about the news, preoccupations, and fashion of 1939 Paris.

Books are at the heart of this story--not only do they bring people together, they give Odile a sense of purpose. Why put the focus on books during WWII?

I am in awe of the librarians who stayed in France during the war. Most people left Paris as the Nazis got closer, but the director, Dorothy Reeder, remained at her beloved library.

Most streets in Paris are named after men. Most people mentioned in history books are men. I chose this time period because I want the world to know about Dorothy Reeder's courage, her passion for the library, and her belief in books as bridges. 

In your author's note, you mention that some of the characters we meet in the American Public Library are based on real people. What was your experience with fictionalizing them?

I loved speaking to the family members of the real-life characters. This is how I learned of Boris' experience of the Russian Revolution and his family life. Interviewing them brought home the importance of one of the themes of my book: the transmission of stories. Keeping loved ones alive through talking about them and remembering their stories.

Fictionalizing the real-life characters was challenging because I was hesitant to put words in their mouths. I felt a great reverence for these characters, and worked hard to get them right. I read hundreds of pages of correspondence. I scrutinized photos and became an obsessive Googler because I saw that archives were adding documents every day. I bought photos of Dorothy Reeder and Clara de Chambrun on eBay. It still surprises me that our history is for sale on the internet.

The best review I could hope to receive came from Boris' son Oleg. In 2015, he wrote that he read the manuscript in four days, though it was 400 pages and in English, and that I had captured his father and the atmosphere of the library.

One theme explored in this story is the consequence of choice--Odile's own choices, as well as those of her father and fiancé, haunt her. What drew you to this particular idea?

We all make mistakes; we all hurt other people. I was drawn to this idea because when a loved one did something to hurt me, instead of apologizing, she said, "I'm sorry you're upset." These days, many people don't seem able to take responsibility for their actions. I started to wonder why it has become so hard to say sorry.

What is the significance of indie bookstores in your life?

Here in Paris, independent bookstores like Shakespeare & Co. and The Red Wheelbarrow are community centers that bring people together to celebrate life and the written word. I need these bookstores like I need air. For several years, I led a writing workshop in the upstairs library of Shakespeare & Co. It was an incredible experience to begin class as the bells of Notre Dame chimed. Recently, I became an investor in The Red Wheelbarrow. It is my favorite bookshop. The owner, Penelope Fletcher, tells the best stories and recommends just the right book at just the right time. Walking into her bookshop feels like coming home.

I wrote this novel as a love letter to libraries, to bookstores, and to book people. In these difficult days, we need the sanctuaries of bookshops and libraries more than ever.

More Indie Next List Great Reads

The Four Winds

By Kristin Hannah

(St. Martin's Press, 9781250178602, $28.99)

"A brilliantly woven narrative set during the Dust Bowl years on the High Plains of Texas, The Four Winds is a story of survival that inspires us to persist. Hannah extensively researched the devastation of this climatic and agricultural phenomenon and its toll on communities, which seamlessly informs the deftly woven narrative of the life of Elsa, a woman who finds that she has more tenacity and resourcefulness than she had been raised to believe--and then some."

--Claudia Maceo, The Twig Book Shop, San Antonio, TX

The Survivors

By Jane Harper

(Flatiron Books, 9781250232427, $27.99)

"Jane Harper returns with another atmospheric psychological suspense novel, this time set on the Tasmanian coast. Harper's landscapes are tangible, exquisitely drawn, and as important to her stories as any character. The laid back and beautiful--but slightly run-down--beach town of Evelyn Bay is the star. Though there is a new body and an old mystery here, the novel focuses more on the inner conflicts, guilt, and secrets of its characters--a close group of lovers, friends, and family who are all holding back parts of their past. Reading the book was like watching the waves lap at the mouths of dark caves from a Tasmanian beach. An excellent escape!"

--Debra Ginsberg, DIESEL, A Bookstore, Santa Monica, CA

Milk Fed

By Melissa Broder

(Scribner, 9781982142490, $26)

"Titillating and hilarious, this book is Broder's crowning achievement (so far). Calorie-obsessed Rachel is an unlikely but irresistible heroine, and when she meets Miriam at the yogurt shop, sparks (and sprinkles!) fly. Each must reckon with her Jewish identity as well as her heart’s deepest, lushest desires, while the intense scrutiny of the mother figure looms large. This story is unflinchingly honest, unexpectedly moving, and a brilliant checkmate to shame, both carnal and spiritual. I couldn't put it down."

--Kristen Iskandrian, Thank You Books, Birmingham, AL

Milk Blood Heat: Stories

By Dantiel W. Moniz

(Grove Press, 9780802158154, $25)

"Milk Blood Heat grabbed me and wouldn't let go. The prose blisters with a beauty so raw and intense it borders on horrifying. With widely differing characters, voices, and settings, each story makes its own unique contribution to the collection, yet each propels the reader onward in turn. Dantiel W. Moniz is a jaw-dropping new star on the literary stage."

--Audrey Beatty, River Bend Bookshop, Glastonbury, CT

Fake Accounts

By Lauren Oyler

(Catapult, 9781948226929, $26)

"This novel about our technological age is subversive from the very start. Its dense, wordy paragraphs seem the opposite of the endless bite-sized chunks of information we consume online. Yet within its density, it also mimics the internet experience through the stream-of-consciousness voice of its not-always-reliable narrator. It's a fun story with lots to say about the incessant self-branding and impossible unreliability of our lives spent increasingly online."

--Edward Newton, The Literate Lizard, Sedona, AZ

The Kindest Lie

By Nancy Johnson

(William Morrow, 9780063005631, $27.99)

"You know you are in the hands of a natural storyteller from the very first pages of The Kindest Lie, a story of unlikely friendships, difficult choices, and the untold burden of our past. Ruth is compelled to return to the hometown she fled to pursue her dreams. Midnight is a boy broken and in search of a safe port amidst the stormy seas of his young life. Both have been impacted by the brutal politics of race and class in modern America, and both must find a way to heal their broken hearts. A moving story of the compassion and strength needed to move past fear and distrust and begin to hope for a better future."

--Luisa Smith, Book Passage, Corte Madera, CA

The Unwilling

By John Hart

(St. Martin's Press, 9781250167729, $27.99)

"It's been too long since I let life go by because a book pulled me into its world, but The Unwilling stole my weekend. Set in the Vietnam War era, it wasn't an easy read. The cost to a French family, just one of so many broken by overwhelming sadness, destruction, and evil, reminded me of how little we learn and how high the price is for ourselves and future generations when we don't face our history and tell our stories honestly."

--Nancy McCarty, Otto Bookstore, Williamsport, PA

The Removed

By Brandon Hobson

(Ecco, 9780062997548, $26.99)

"In telling the story of a Native family in Oklahoma who lost a teenage son to a shooting, The Removed examines the power of inherited trauma and the strength of family to keep people together. The book is told in the voices of the various family members left after the death of their son/brother and explores the effects on their lives of their Cherokee ancestors who walked the Trail of Tears. Mixing several points of view along with Native myth, Hobson brings a powerful story to light where the reader really steps into the shoes of each character. The loss, sadness, and despair are palpable, but so are hope and healing, by the end. A truly beautiful book about something everyone should read more about."

--Izzy Stringham, Bookbinders Basalt, Basalt, CO

Send for Me

By Lauren Fox

(Knopf, 9781101947807, $26.95)

"I was deeply moved by this beautifully written and fascinating novel about four generations of Jewish women, based on a series of letters written by Fox's great-grandmother in Germany to her grandmother in Milwaukee between 1938 and 1941. Annelise leaves Germany with her husband and child at the cusp of World War II and emigrates to Milwaukee, where a new life awaits. But she leaves behind her parents, who desperately wait for visas to join her. Memories play a deep part in the novel, as do the (sometimes) rocky relationships between mothers and daughters. I'm sure that this excellent novel will find a place on many reading group lists."

--Ken Favell, Books & Company, Oconomowoc, WI

Zorrie

By Laird Hunt

(Bloomsbury Publishing, 9781635575361, $26)

"Zorrie's life was not an extraordinary one for a woman of her generation. She experienced the trials of the Depression and loss brought by war. Most of her years were spent tending a farm in rural Indiana. Her quiet life, with its disappointments and possibilities, heartbreaks and hopes, is held before the reader unadorned until, in its simplicity, one comes to see a nearly sacred beauty. This is a stunning work, and one that I believe will hold an important place in American literature."

--Janis Herbert, Face in a Book, El Dorado Hills, CA

Love Is an Ex-Country: A Memoir

By Randa Jarrar

(Catapult, 9781948226585, $26)

"Randa Jarrar's intimate memoir is nothing short of monumental. Intelligent, tender, and lacerating in equal measure, Love Is an Ex-Country takes readers on a journey across the U.S., probing what it means to live fully in a hostile environment and contemplate survival in the face of erasure. Jarrar navigates the profound with a light touch and infuses every page with humor, insight, and defiance. Above all, this is a story of being: being corporeal, being of many places and no place, and being joyful--triumphantly."

--Nika Jonas, Books Are Magic, Brooklyn, NY

The Bad Muslim Discount

By Syed M. Masood

(Doubleday, 9780385545259, $26.95)

"I loved The Bad Muslim Discount so much I read the acknowledgements just so it wouldn't end--and they were great, too! This is an insightful and funny novel about faith, family, and being a Muslim American today. Masood offers us a sharp perspective, a seamless style, and unforgettable characters, leaving the reader enriched for the experience."

--Claire Benedict, Bear Pond Books, Montpelier, VT

Remote Control

By Nnedi Okorafor

(Tor.com, 9781250772800, $19.99)

"I have absolutely loved everything Nnedi Okorafor has ever written, and this latest book from her is no exception! Her amazing ability to blend traditional African stories and themes with hardcore science fiction is spectacular. While Sankofa cannot remember her name, she does remember her past as she travels from town to town. Even as a child, she demands respect from the townspeople she interacts with, for she is the Adopted Child of Death. Or is she? Was it an alien device that changed her when she was just a child? Sankofa knows. But she isn't sharing. This mind-blowing science fiction fantasy novella is absolutely glorious, and I can't wait to give it to everyone I know!"

--Annie Carl, The Neverending Bookshop, Edmonds, WA

A Thousand Ships

By Natalie Haynes

(Harper, 9780063065390, $27.99)

"From The Aeneid to The Iliad and The Odyssey, classic stories of the Trojan War are implicitly reliant on the role of women, however reticent they are portrayed. Finally--finally!--we have a retelling that does women, girls, and goddesses justice. Through the perspective of women in various places and times during the war, Natalie Haynes constructs an epic collage that follows the warriors, refugees, oracles, muses, wives, and daughters of Troy, Greece, and beyond in one of the most famous conflicts in world history."

--Cat Chapman, The Oxford Exchange, Tampa, FL

Beneath the Keep: A Novel of the Tearling

By Erika Johansen

(Dutton, 9781524742720, $27)

"Centuries after the Crossing, the Tearling has fallen far from William Tear's dream of utopia. The gap between classes is wide and citizens at the bottom lead dark, brutal lives. A rebel uprising brings hope for change along with a prophecy about the coming of a True Queen. Readers just discovering the Tearling will be intrigued by the complex world-building. Those familiar with the original trilogy will delight in reading beloved characters' backstories in this ambitious prequel."

--Tarah Jennings, Mitzi's Books, Rapid City, SD

Land of Big Numbers: Stories

By Te-Ping Chen

(Mariner Books, 9780358272557, $15.99, trade paper)

"I loved this stunning debut collection of stories. Chen digs deep and uses her experience as a foreign correspondent to portray the voices and lives of people living in modern China. These stories will stay with you long after you've finished reading the book. Highly recommended."

--Cody Morrison, Square Books, Oxford, MS

The Girl From the Channel Islands

By Jenny Lecoat

(Graydon House, 9781525806414, $17.99, trade paper)

"A beautiful love story unfolds between a German officer and a Jewish woman amidst the horror and atrocities of WWII. Set in Jersey in the Channel Islands, this historical novel, with its many twists and turns, will keep you on edge. Secrets and lies become the norm for survival along with crafty plans to evade discovery. The bravery of the characters keeps the reader focused on the triumph of the human spirit against all odds. Lecoat has turned a personal connection and a family history into an engaging, touching novel!"

--Diane McGuire, Valley Bookseller, Stillwater, MN

We Run the Tides

By Vendela Vida

(Ecco, 9780062936233, $26.99)

"Wow, this book was hard to put down! The story feels so familiar, yet full of unexpected twists and turns. I was immersed in the beautiful and tumultuous world of these girls on the brink of adulthood. A fun, mysterious, compelling, and ultimately profound novel about power, truth, and growing up."

--Sarah Fischer, Downbound Books, Cincinnati, OH

Made in China: A Prisoner, an SOS Letter, and the Hidden Cost of America’s Cheap Goods

By Amelia Pang

(Algonquin Books, 9781616209179, $27.95)

"This powerful story arises from an improbable source: a crude, hand-written note slipped into Halloween merchandise made in China, a note that leads Pang on a search for its author and introduces her to the nightmare life of Chinese prison labor, so-called re-education camps, the worst horrors of living in a police state, and lives destroyed just for being an independent thinker. The toll on individuals is foregrounded here and summons us to be humane to all.”

--Susan Thurin, Bookends On Main, Menomonie, WI

Super Host

By Kate Russo

(G.P. Putnam's Sons, 9780593187708, $27)

"What a delightful surprise! Instead of the usual woe-is-me, angsty, life's-got-me-down book, we have a fusty, recently divorced, middle-aged British artist who's forced to rent his house out on an Airbnb equivalent to make ends meet. But instead of feeling sorry for himself, he takes time to reassess things and slowly turns his life around. Told with great empathy and nice, droll humor, this is one we need for these crazy times."

--Pete Mock, McIntyre's Fine Books, Pittsboro, NC

Apeirogon

By Colum McCann

(Random House Trade Paperbacks, 9780812981933, $18)

"This is a towering, breathtaking, sweeping work of poetic and technical brilliance. Although much of Apeirogon resides in the current and past state of Israeli-Palestinian relations, the novel demonstrates how each person, each story, in this ultimately small section of the world represents but one point of an infinitely sided shape--how between all of us, even those locked in seemingly irreconcilable conflict, there pulses a vital connectivity, a path to understanding, forgiveness, and compassion." 

--Ben Newgard, Flyleaf Books, Chapel Hill, NC

Deacon King Kong

By James McBride

(Riverhead Books, 9780735216730, $17)

"Deacon King Kong is a quintessential New York story. Set in the Brooklyn projects in 1969, a perpetually inebriated deacon called Sportcoat aims a gun at the neighborhood's main drug dealer in the public plaza and pulls the trigger. Incredibly well-constructed and hilarious at times, McBride's story entwines a number of storylines that are kickstarted by this central event. The local Italian gangster, the veteran cop, the meddling churchgoers, and the drug pushers all have their own agendas, hopes, and dreams that are affected. And though Sportcoat doesn't remember his actions and is always under the influence of gut-rot moonshine, I couldn't help but root for him as I was reading this. His delightful ineptitude and absence of clarity made this book impossible for me to put down. If you've never read McBride before, this is a great introduction."

--Stuart McCommon, Novel., Memphis, TN

Dear Edward

By Ann Napolitano

(Dial Press, 9781984854803, $18)

"A stunning portrayal of what it means to be a survivor and the fine balance between surviving and actually finding the will to move forward from the shattered remains of your life. This is what 12-year-old Eddie--now known as Edward--must deal with as the sole survivor of a plane crash in which 191 people, including his immediate family, perished. Dear Edward is a novel that pierces you to the core with its depiction of grief, guilt, loneliness, and remorse, but through glimpses of hope, friendship, and kindness, shows how Edward slowly mends."

--Maxwell Gregory, Lake Forest Book Store, Lake Forest, IL

Eight Perfect Murders

By Peter Swanson

(William Morrow Paperbacks, 9780062838193, $16.99)

"Malcolm Kershaw is an unassuming bookseller who once wrote a list of the eight most perfect literary murders. He is surprised when the FBI shows up at his door and explains that someone is using this list and recreating the murders. With perfect pacing and shocking twists, this is a murder mystery with a classic feel that will leave you questioning how well you can know anyone. It will also add eight more books to your to-be-read pile as you will immediately need to read all the books on the perfect murder list!"

--Carrie Deming, The Dog Eared Book, Palmyra, NY

Greenwood

By Michael Christie

(Hogarth, 9781984822017, $18)

"Trees: They provide shelter, sustenance, and sanctuary for vast numbers of creatures. They create the very air we breathe. And they are under threat. For generations, the Greenwood family lives with, destroys, fights for, and monetizes these gentle giants until their very existence is absorbed into the class system designed and upheld by the one percent. This is a sweeping arboreal saga full of blood, greed, heart, and humanity. Greenwood will fell readers worldwide."
--Bex Petterson, Bloomsbury Books, Ashland, OR

Grown Ups

By Emma Jane Unsworth

(Gallery/Scout Press, 9781982141943, $16.99)

"Grown Ups is told with humor and angst (both causing laughter and anxiety) in traditional prose supplemented with emails, texts, and social media columns and comments--much like our lives today. Jenny is living in London and tethered to her Instagram as her real life is slightly falling apart. This book is filled with fantastic writing and insights relevant to the modern balance of social media life with real life. I don't want to say too much more, other than I will miss Jenny now that I've finished reading." 

--Melissa Summers, Main Street Books, Davidson, NC

My Autobiography of Carson McCullers: A Memoir

By Jenn Shapland

(Tin House Books, 9781951142292, $16.95)

"This look into the hidden life of Carson McCullers is a brilliant mix of biography and personal memoir. Shapland depicts the life of one of our most beloved and least-known authors in a search for the ultimate meaning of love. It will make you ask yourself difficult questions and delve into the complexities of your own heart. Looking at Carson, Jenn Shapland makes us all vulnerable, more human, more open."

--Pepper Parker, Vintage Books, Vancouver, WA

My Dark Vanessa

By Kate Elizabeth Russell

(William Morrow Paperbacks, 9780062941510, $17.99)

"In this gripping debut novel, a teenage girl falls into an affair with her English teacher, who is 30 years her senior. The voice of Vanessa, the narrator, is unparalleled in its honesty, and her emotions are fiercely conveyed with unrelenting realness. This novel is a timely and important read, sometimes difficult, but ultimately an unforgettable experience. You will be left astonished and transformed. Vanessa is formidable and so is her story; you won't be able to put down this powerhouse of a novel."

--Luisa Barbano, Oblong Books and Music, Millerton, NY

The Secret Lives of Baba Segi's Wives

By Lola Shoneyin

(Avon, 9780063072329, $16.99)

"There is nothing quite so tantalizing as a glimpse into another culture. With disarming wit and grace, Shoneyin tells the story of a modern Nigerian man and his four wives, the latest of whom, Bolanle, is causing no end of disruption in the household. Deeply political without being corrosive, this is an intimate and compassionate view of social life in Nigeria. Lola Shoneyin has penned a splendid first novel!" 
--Jennie Turner-Collins, Joseph-Beth Booksellers, Cincinnati, OH

Verge: Stories

By Lidia Yuknavitch

(Riverhead Books, 9780525534884, $16)

"A powerful and visceral collection from one of today's most unique voices that will take you out of your comfort zone. Yuknavitch focuses on the subject of the body: bodies trying to find comfort, bodies trying to become whole, bodies destroyed, bodies as an object, how they are connected to one another, how they can be broken, and how much they are worth. To dive into this collection is to let a cinderblock tied to your leg drag you down into unknown watery depths and instead of trying to loosen the knot, holding tight and letting the waters consume you."

--Anthony Piacentini, Books Are Magic, Brooklyn, NY

Vita Nostra

By Sergey and Marina Dyachenko

(Harper Voyager, 9780063054158, $17.99)

"One part coming-of-age parable and one part psychological horror, this book combines dark fantasy with contemporary magical realism, and I can't stop thinking about the resulting magnificence weeks after finishing it. Beautifully translated from its original Russian, Vita Nostra brilliantly explores the period in early adulthood where we consider the price we're willing to pay to discover our full potential, and how we make ourselves vulnerable when we strive for outside approval."

--Ilana Darrant, Bookshop Santa Cruz, Santa Cruz, CA

Weather

By Jenny Offill

(Vintage, 9780345806901, $16)

"Brief and brilliant, Jenny Offill's Weather doesn't need page after page to trap us inside. Tearing through precision-crafted paragraphs, we willingly follow a Brooklyn librarian down a doomsday rabbit hole as she tries to limit the world's damage to those she loves. On the express bus to the demise of civilization, find a seat next to Lizzie for a wild and witty ride through the storm raging across America. An astute and satisfying read."

--Ann Woodbeck, Excelsior Bay Books, Excelsior, MN