Our Favorite Reads of 2021

From Charlotte Lit’s faculty and staff, here’s a list of our favorite reads this year — most new, but some older favorites, too. Enjoy!

Poetry

Bright Dead Things, by Ada Limón — Paul Reali

Come Hither Honeycomb, by Erin Belieu — Lisa Zerkle

Facts about the Moon, by Dorianne Laux — Kathie Collins

Indigo, by Ellen Bass — Jessica Jacobs

What Pecan Light, by Hannah Vanderhart — Dannye Romine Powell

Essay Collections

Let Me Tell You What I Mean, by Joan Didion — Elizabeth West

One Long River of Song, by Brian Doyle — Irene Honeycutt

Southbound: Essays on Identity, Inheritance, and Social Change, by Anjali Enjeti — Patrice Gopo 

Symbol, Myth, and Culture: Essays and Lectures of Ernst Cassirer, 1935-1945, by Ernst Cassirer — David Radavich

Fiction

A Piece of the Moon, by Chris Fabry — Landis Wade

Annie John, by Jamaica Kincaid — Caroline Langerman

Autumn, by Ali Smith — Jessica Jacobs

Hamnet, by Maggie O’Farrell — Kristin Sherman 

Harrow, by Joy Williams — Jeff Jackson

I Wished, by Dennis Cooper — Jeff Jackson 

Manhattan Beach, by Jennifer Egan — Paul Reali

Martita, I Remember You, by Sandra Cisneros — Judy Goldman 

Miss Benson’s Beetle, by Rachel Joyce — Betsy Thorpe 

One Kind Favor, by Kevin McIlvoy — Kathryn Schwille 

Plainsong, by Kent Haruf — Bryn Chancellor 

Severance, by Ling Ma — Megan Rich 

Song of Achilles, by Madeleine Miller — Kathie Collins

The Black Kids, by Christina Hammonds Reed — Patrice Gopo 

The Henna Artist, by Alka Joshi — Surabhi Kaushik

The Outline Trilogy, by Rachel Cusk — John Amen

The Overstory, by Richard Powers — Martin Settle

The Postscript Murders, by Elly Griffiths — Cathy Pickens 

The Sweetness of Water, by Nathan Harris — Kristin Sherman 

There There, by Tommy Orange — David Poston

Under the Mercy Trees, by Heather Newton — Kim Wright 

Tender Is the Night, by F. Scott Fitzgerald — Sarah VanderWood

Memoir

A Rip in Heaven, by Jeanine Cummins — Amy Paturel

Blow Your House Down: Family, Feminism, and Treason, by Gina Frangello — Ashley Memory

Carry: A Memoir of Survival on …, by Toni Jensen — Bryn Chancellor 

Greenlights, by Matthew McConaughey — Jennifer Halls

Stray: A Memoir, by Stephanie Danler — Caroline Langerman

Nonfiction

Chasing the Thrill, by Daniel Barbarisi — Cathy Pickens 

How the Word Is Passed…, by Clint Smith — Paula Martinac 

The Peregrine, by J.A. Baker — Charles Israel, Jr.

Zero Fail: The Rise and Fall…, by Carol Leonnig — Jennifer Halls

Short Stories

If I Had Two Wings, by Randall Kenan — George Hovis

Palm of the Hand Stories, by Yasunari Kawavata — Lola Haskins

The Office of Historical Corrections, by Danielle Evans — Kathryn Schwille

The Souvenir Museum, by Elizabeth McCracken — Lisa Zerkle

Celebrate the Twelve Days of Editing

Ashley MemoryFirst Day: Alone in your cozy writing nook, a partridge in a pear tree, you love every word of your new essay. It’s just perfect. Then you realize you’re 500 words over the limit for the contest you want to enter. Yikes!

Second Day: Like those two turtle doves, your initial love for your essay has migrated to sub-Saharan Africa for the winter, maybe forever. You hate your essay now. As you read over it, you realize it’s not very good at all. Is there anything worth keeping?

Third Day: Absolument! Your three French hens remind you of the virtues of faith, hope, and charity. Give yourself a break. Besides, there’s no time to start anything new.

Fourth Day: Or is there? The four “calling birds” in your backyard clamor for a new tune. Start over, the blackbirds sing. Start over! Start over! START OVER!

Fifth Day: You have no energy to begin something new. Your five golden rings may be just brass, but your essay is the best you’ve got, so you decide to polish it up the best you can.

Sixth Day: Okay, so you won’t actually cut anything. You’ll just trim the hedge a teeny bit, taking care not to disturb the six Canada Geese-a-laying. You gently prune a few words here and a few words there. But is it enough?

Seventh Day: It is not. However, you refuse to cut the most precious part of your essay. Even if they say that all writers eventually “murder their swans.” Well, that’s for other people to do. Their swans are not as precious as your swans.

Eighth Day: Your cereal milk has soured, and doubt sets in. Wallow in your pity for a while and then get back to the barn with the other maids. You’ve got serious work to do.

Ninth Day: Cutting is actually easier than you thought. The delete key clicks like Ginger Rogers’ heels, and your heart dances with delight. You don’t miss those swans at all.

Tenth Day: Your essay isn’t the same. Now you fear it’s terrible. Ten lords leap in and take it away. You’re happy to see it go.

Eleventh Day: The pipers bring your essay back, and they’re not playing a dirge. When you read your essay again with fresh eyes, you realize it may actually may be better. Leaner, more concise, and more compelling. Hurray!

Twelfth Day: Take a deep breath and submit your revised essay. The world may not love it, but who cares? You do. In your mind, it’s just perfect. And in the end, that’s all that matters. After all, new ideas drum on and on….


ABOUT ASHLEY: Ashley Memory lives in the wilds of the southwestern Randolph County where the pileated woodpecker, chickadees and titmice serve as her “calling birds.” She has written for Poets & Writers, The Independent, and Wired. She serves as a critique editor and judge for the Women on Writing quarterly fiction and nonfiction contests, and writes a blog at ashley-memory.com.


GET OUT OF THE SLUSH WITH ASHLEY: Join Ashley for The Art of Submission: From the “Slush” Pile to the “Rush” Pile on January 11, 2022, 6-8 p.m. online via Zoom. Technology makes submitting for publication easier than ever. Though as more writers offer their work, competition for space becomes fiercer. But take heart. In this class, we’ll cover the art behind successful submissions and how to move from the “slush” pile to the pile editors rush to accept. More information is here.

Why Keep a Personal Journal?

Melinda FergusonHave you ever wanted to keep a journal but didn’t know how to begin? Perhaps you’ve asked yourself, “Why should I believe for a minute I have anything at all interesting to say?” Have you ever abandoned a journal out of boredom or dismissed personal writing as a waste of time?

More than sixteen million blank journals are sold annually in stores and on the internet.* As technology threatens to replace traditional forms of communication, there appears to be an opposite impulse to slow down and talk to ourselves. Here’s the catch: While vast numbers of blank books are purchased, few are ever fully used. Would-be journal writers often give up before realizing journaling’s many benefits.

There’s good science from psychologists and medical clinicians claiming personal writing improves your health. Physically, the act of simply sitting down in comfortable surroundings, picking up a pen, and writing your thoughts and feelings almost immediately lowers your blood pressure, reduces your heart rate, and increases the production of T-cells that pump up your body’s immunity system.Writing helps keep your mind sharp by expanding your observational skills and memory. As a spiritual practice, writing strengthens your faith. Professional writers and artists have long used journals to develop ideas, break through writer’s block, and practice their craft. In your journal, you are likely to discover a never-before recognized source of creativity within yourself.

How Journal Writing has Helped Me: A Short List

  1. Increased my reverence and gratitude for my life and Life
  2. Helped me identify what I need to be happy
  3. Provided a safe place to unlock and understand my feelings, explore my emotional life, and recognize my moods and what caused them
  4. Helped me appreciate my childhood
  5. Led me to realize that I am a creative and imaginative person
  6. Boosted my critical thinking and writing skills
  7. Enhanced my self-confidence and given me a greater sense of peace
  8. Brought me to a place closer to self-acceptance and serenity

Journal writing is a path to inner peace. As a consequence, I believe I have brought a little peace into the lives of my family, friends, and colleagues.  Perhaps this is too much of a stretch, but imagine: If, as the title of physicist Conrad Lorenz’s paper on chaos theory suggests, the flap of a butterfly’s wings in Brazil might set off a tornado in Texas, isn’t it possible that one person’s journal writing might contribute to world peace? Isn’t it a joy to think so?

 

*Estimates compiled from Leaving a Trace, The Art of transforming a Life into Stories by Alexandra Johnson. Little, Brown and Company, 2001.           


ABOUT MELINDA: Melinda L. Ferguson grew up in Lima, Ohio, graduated from Miami University, and moved to New York City to earn and MA from Columbia University before embarking on a career in Manhattan as an editor for major book companies. After her family moved to Long Island, Ferguson taught English classes at Suffolk County Community College, English as a Second Language at the Smithtown Adult Education Program and facilitated memoir writing workshops at community libraries. In 2016, Melinda received an MA degree in Creative Writing & Literature from Stony Brook/Southampton University. Melinda moved to Charlotte in 2016 to be near family.

Historical Fiction

Paula Martinac

Paula Martinac is the author of the forthcoming historical novel Dear Miss Cushman.

The Past Comes Alive on the Page

The task facing the historical fiction writer is to bring research to life. In a journal article or history book, you might read that 19th-century American theaters were rowdy places in which audiences frequently booed actors off the stage. In contrast, a historical novel would take you into the boxes and “parquet,” or orchestra seating, and show the repercussions of a poor performance. This excerpt from my forthcoming novel, Dear Miss Cushman, set in the New York City theater world in 1852, demonstrates this idea.

 

When the audience began hissing, I knew Othello wasn’t going to end well. The response jolted me. We weren’t at the Bowery Theatre, where the audience in the pit tossed apples and vegetables onto the stage if a performance didn’t please them. The Prince Theatre was one of New York City’s finest establishments, catering to the upper ten.

Worse, the actor they hissed at was my father.

I was attending my first theatrical performance. Incredible, given that my father was a renowned leading actor, but Mama maintained that theater wasn’t a place for young ladies. For my eighteenth birthday, she gave in to my pleading and permitted Uncle James to accompany me to my father’s performance of the Moor, one of his most acclaimed roles. Mama insisted I have a new dress, and my sister Maude oohed and aahed over the sky blue taffeta until I wanted to take it off and give it to her. I myself put little stock in puffy lady things, especially in pastel hues. Plus, the heavy horsehair crinoline the skirt required for shape made beads of sweat trickle down my stomach.

Still, I could abide these discomforts if it meant I got to sit beside my dapper uncle in his lushly adorned box, draped with red and gold silk, and marvel at the glistening gas-jet chandelier that lit the space. Best of all, I got to watch my father tread the boards as I’d imagined him doing, in full costume and makeup for the Moor and sporting his prize sword.

We were barely one act in when Pa dropped a few lines. Then more—even the ones I ran with him that morning “for good measure,” as he’d urged. He’d appeared in Othello dozens of times, but now the role appeared to baffle him. Although the movement made my stays pinch, I leaned forward, mouthing the words, willing them into his memory.

Taunts rose slowly through the cavernous parquet. Pa squinted toward the footlights in bewilderment….

The audience response crescendoed into boos. Uncle James colored crimson. “We’re leaving,” he announced, spittle collecting at the corners of his lips. He tugged me to my feet. “Now, Georgiana.”


Paula Martinac is the author of the forthcoming historical novel Dear Miss Cushman (Bywater Books, December 2021), and six others, including Testimony; Clio Rising, Gold Medalist, Northeast Region, 2020 Independent Publisher Book Awards; and The Ada Decades, a finalist for the 2018 Ferro-Grumley Award in LGBTQ Fiction. Out of Time, her debut novel, won a Lambda Literary Award. She has received fellowships from North Carolina Arts Council and the Arts and Science Council and teaches in the creative writing program at UNC Charlotte.


EXPLORE HISTORICAL FICTION WITH PAULA: Join Paula for Writing Historical Fiction online. Historical fiction has the power to bring people and places from the past to life. If you’re drawn to this genre (or one of its sub-genres, like historical mystery or romance), this class will provide you with motivation and skills to start writing. By the end of the class, you will have a scene or chapter for a work-in-progress or an outline and character biographies that give you a solid path forward. This class meets on three Tuesdays, November 30, December 7 and 14, 6:00-8:00 p.m. More information here.

Book Recommendations from Our Members

At our 2020 holiday party, we asked our members what books they’d recommend as gifts or for next year’s book clubs. Here’s the list, with purchase links to our friends Park Road Books. Enjoy!

Future Home of the Living God, Louise Erdrich | Hardcover | Paperback

The Ten Thousand Doors of January, Alix E. Harrow | Hardcover | Paperback

Nothing to See Here, Kevin Wilson | Hardcover | Paperback

Book of Delights, Ross Gay | Hardcover

The Splendid and the Vile, Erik Larson | Hardcover

Hillbilly Elegy, J.D. Vance | Hardcover | Paperback

CREATE! Developing Your Own Creative Process, Cathy Pickens | Paperback

The Cost of These Dreams: Sports Stories and Other Serious Business, Wright Thompson | Paperback

Little Bee, Chris Cleave | Paperback

The Henna Artist, Alka Joshi | Hardcover | Paperback

Excerpt from “The Skin Artist” by George Hovis

George Hovis

George Hovis

The needles burned worse than last time. But today he was sober. Bill watched the artist’s eyes. The eyes alone seemed to will the tattoo gun’s movement as it trenched the skin of Bill’s forearm, burying its seed of ink. Maybe it was better not to try to make conversation. Just get this over with. But he needed to talk, needed to hear Niall talk, to establish something human between them.

“I never knew tattooing went so far back.” Bill raised his voice over the metallic buzz of the tattoo gun, wanting to distract the artist, but afraid to distract him.

“At one point in history,” Niall said, his gaze still focused on Bill’s tender skin, “tattooing was taken very seriously, as well it should be. It’s strong magic and not simply about marketing oneself at the club.”

Bill looked away from the pain, closed his eyes, and focused on slowing his breath.  Though he hadn’t known at the time, the first tattoo had been for Maddie, a drunkard’s selfish gambit. He had hoped to conjure new life into their marriage by shocking her into acknowledging him, his body, if only to laugh.

“There are very few artists left,” Niall went on, “few human beings, who practice magic,” “as long as you don’t count crap like Wicca, which isn’t magic. It’s just mass-produced garbage designed to elevate somebody to the top of a social circle.”

Bill forced a laugh. “Wicca sounds a lot like corporate America.” His cushy corporate job had gone the way of his wife and the gated community, leaving Bill here half dressed, huffing air thick with solvent, at the mercy of this con artist and his interminable recitations, which Bill was starting to crave as much as he craved this cutting of his skin.

“Thousands of years ago in early mystical cultures,” Niall continued to drone, “they all believed the same things: there are certain marks you don’t make unless you are ready to move mountains. The skin is a protective barrier in every way. When you start opening the skin, you can do ten times the magic work.”

Bill looked again at the spreading blood. “So, what if the tattooist is just some grease ball named Pork Chop—”

“—who specializes in rebel flags and Harley Davidson emblems?” Niall smirked.

“It still has an effect?”

“Of course it does. Even if the artist isn’t actively engaging in a ritual at the time, a tattoo can still act on a metaphysical plane and alter someone’s reality for good or bad.”

“But with less predictability?”

“Usually the result is utter chaos.” Niall switched off the power supply and lay the gun on the counter. Bill noticed again the delicate hands. Their precision reminded him of Maddie’s hands, how he still craved their touch.

“I’m very careful in my work,” the artist said, “and even I have accidentally ruined lives. And sometimes not accidentally.”


LEARN WITH GEORGE HOVIS: George leads a new Charlotte Lit class, Making it Strange, Making it Real: Writing Literary Fantasy, Thursday, October 1, 6-7:30 p.m. More info

ABOUT GEORGE: George Hovis grew up in rural Gaston County, North Carolina. His debut novel, The Skin Artist — nominated for the 2019 Sir Walter Raleigh Award and a Finalist for the Eric Hoffer Award — tells the story of Charlotte’s emergence in the 90s as a “world-class city,” one with deep and often tortured connections to the surrounding hinterlands. George’s stories and essays have appeared widely in anthologies and journals, including The Carolina Quarterly, Southern Cultures, New Madrid, and The North Carolina Literary Review. He is a professor of English at SUNY Oneonta, where he was awarded the 2017 SUNY Chancellor’s Award for Excellence in Teaching. georgehovis.net

What I’m Reading This Summer

Editor’s Note: This is the latest installment of summer reading picks from Charlotte Lit staff. Here, Charlotte Lit col-founder Paul Reali shares what he’ll be reading this summer.


Each time I pick up my iPad with the Kindle app, or pick through the stack on my nightstand, my different selves do battle. Which Paul is doing the reading tonight?

This summer, my selves will be battling over these titles. This is not be a traditional summer reading list, because nothing here has anything to do with summer, most are not new, and there are no beach reads here (well, maybe one). Summer for me is the time to trim my stack, not add to it.

For the Writer: The Anatomy of Story, by John Truby. One of the bibles of writing. Authors Lab coach Kim Wright uses the author as a verb, as in: “Did you Truby the manuscript?”

For the Reader (and Writer) of Mysteries: When Will There Be Good News, by Kate Atkinson, the third Jackson Brodie mystery. Atkinson writes mysteries that read like literature.

For the Reader of Literature: Ghost Wall, by Sarah Moss. I’m one day into this and I think it wins the daily battle until I get to the end. Charlotte Lit co-founder Kathie Collins called this the book she’d wished she’d written.

For the Reader of Local Writers: Clio Rising, by Paula Martinac. Charlotte Lit teacher and Authors Lab coach has written another winner with distinct voices and memorable characters. I defy you to ever forget Livvie Bliss or Clio Hartt.

For the Editor: I’ll be reading my own mystery novel in progress, which is going through one (I swear just one) last (absolutely last) final (absolutely dead final) revision to get that word count down to 80K.

For the Parent of Teenagers: Untangled: Guiding Girls Through the Seven Transitions into Adulthood, by Lisa Damour Ph.D. The subtitle says it all. A fascinating and sometimes frightening read.

For the Runner: Run Less, Run Faster, by Bill Pierce, Scott Murr, and Ray Ross. The perfect book for running like a 40-year old on 50-something legs.

For the Fun-Lover: Good Omens, by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman. A 30-year old one-off collaboration by two fantastic writers, and that has had an active fandom ever since. Read this beforeyou watch the new Amazon mini-series and you’ll appreciate it all the more.

Summer Reading Picks by Lisa Zerkle

Editor’s Note: This is the latest installment of summer reading picks from Charlotte Lit staff. Here, Lisa Zerkle, curator of the 4X4CLT poetry and art poster series, shares her choices for top books.


Just finished

The Wall, by John LancesterThis near-future dystopia plays out in a country that could be Great Britain where young people are conscripted into two-year deployments as guards along a vast border wall. They’re tasked with preventing incursions by Others, desperate refugees who have left their home countries for a slim chance of getting past the Wall. Fast-paced and disturbingly plausible.

I’m a huge fan of short story collections for their brevity and variety. I heartily recommend these two remarkable, recently released short story collections, both of which are worth reading for their skilled construction alone.

Sing to It, by Amy Hempel is written in a Lydia Davis-style compression. “I leave a lot out when I tell the truth. The same when I write a story,” Hempel has said of her stories. I imagine her sliding words out of her drafts Jenga-style to see if the center still holds. The first two “stories” of ‘Sing to It” are so brief and rich they could double as prose poems. I found her risk-taking style thrilling and entertaining.

Your Duck is My Duck, by Deborah Eisenberg. A recent New York Times review called this collection “cannily constructed, and so instantly absorbing that it feels like an abduction.” Her skill at spoofing a celebrity adjacent tell all in the second story, “Taj Mahal,” is a wonder.

Reading now

The Book of Delights, by Ross Gay began as a practice in the daily appreciation of delight. Beginning on his birthday, Gay pledged to write a brief essay about some experience of delight. I love Gay’s poetry and couldn’t pass up this new book of essays. They are delightful, but not puffery alone. He takes on difficult topics but addresses them with his signature faith in humanity.

Evicted, by Matthew Desmond. A heart-wrenching and clear-eyed look at the affordable housing crisis. True stories of tenants and landlords stuck in challenging circumstances, many of which are caused by thorny, systemic problems. It’s an unflinching, difficult portrayal of families for whom an unexpected $100 expense can mean homelessness. I’d put this one in the hands of every banker bro in Charlotte if I could.

The History of Anonymity and Some Say the Lark, two collections of poetry by Jennifer Chang, who is Charlotte Lit’s featured poet for the September 4X4CLT. Chang is a lyrical poet who draws on themes of family and the natural world.

Up next

Normal People, Sally Rooney. The second foray from the “it” novelist of the millennial generation

A Gentleman in Moscow, by Amor Towles. I thought I was the only one who’d not read this novel that came out in 2016, but the public library currently has 91 hold requests on its 40 copies.

The Overstory, by Richard Powers. Everyone I know who read this book, a 2019 Pulitzer Prize winner, loved it. Ann Patchett calls “the best novel ever written about trees.” I’ve dragged my feet so long on this one it’s now available in paperback (sustainably sourced, of course).

Summer Reading Picks by Tamela Rich

Editor’s Note: Charlotte Lit’s staff is using the summer months to catch up on our reading and we thought we’d share our lists with you. First up—program coordinator and all-around, can-do woman, Tamela Rich’s selections for both pleasure reads and writing research.


If I had a nickel for every book I own and have started but not finished…I’d buy more books!

I picked up two new titles at Park Road Books and laughed with the bookseller about my habit of buying new books when I haven’t finished others. He said, “When you buy a book, you’re buying the promise of time to read it.” That resonates. Buying a book does feel like I’m buying the time to read it. Buying time…what a concept.

I bought:

Prairie Fever, by Michael Parker

I studied with Michael last year at the The Appalachian Writers’ Workshop at Hindman Settlement School, where he told us about this, his sixth novel, based in family lore.

Furious Hours: Murder, Fraud, and the Last Trial of Harper Lee, by Casey Cep

I read the New York Times Book Review each week. That’s where I learned about the mystery surrounding Harper Lee’s first and only work of nonfiction, and the shocking true crimes at the center of it.

I’m reading:

Clio Rising, by Paula Martinac

A book set in the literary world of New York in the 1980s is doubly fun for this reader-writer. The protagonist hails from western North Carolina, and tells her story in witty first person. Paula is my Authors Lab mentor, which is why I bought Clio, but the fabulous writing is why I’m enthusiastically reading it!

Together: A Memoir of a Marriage and a Medical Mishap, by Judy Goldman

Judy is a masterful memoirist who teaches the craft at Charlotte Lit. My husband and I are reading Together together.

Research Reads:

My novel-in-progress follows a teenage girl from a Kentucky coal camp up the “Hillbilly Highway” to Detroit in 1943 where she hopes to make enough money to support her family back home. She encounters a world far beyond her understanding, including the country’s sexist and racist public health response to the syphilis epidemic that raged in the final years before antibiotics. These are terrific books that have helped me flesh out mine (working title, The Varney Girls).

The World According to Fannie Davis: My Mother’s Life in the Detroit Numbers, by Bridgett M. Davis

Arc of Justice: A Saga of Race, Civil Rights, and Murder in the Jazz Age, by Kevin Boyle

Black Detroit: A People’s History of Self-Determination, by Herb Boyd

The Trials of Nina McCall: Sex, Surveillance, and the Decades-Long Government Plan to Imprison ‘Promiscuous’ Women,’ by Scott. W. Stern

Top Summer Reads from Park Road Books

Oh, how we writers love our independent book stores. They host our readings, sell our books, and provide jobs for our friends and neighbors. Besides, they’re some of the only people who love books as much as we do. In this post, the marvelous book sellers at Park Road Books have winnowed down their favorite reads for summer. The only thing left to choose? Poolside or beachside.

Sally:

In West Mills by De’Shawn Charles Winslow (June 4)

Azalea “Knot” Centre is determined to live life as she pleases. Let the people of West Mills say what they will; the neighbors’ gossip won’t keep Knot from what she loves best: cheap moonshine, nineteenth-century literature, and the company of men. And yet, Knot is starting to learn that her freedom comes at a high price. Alone in her one-room shack, ostracized from her relatives and cut off from her hometown, Knot turns to her neighbor, Otis Lee Loving, in search of some semblance of family and home.

Otis Lee is eager to help. A lifelong fixer, Otis Lee is determined to steer his friends and family away from decisions that will cause them heartache and ridicule. After his failed attempt as a teenager to help his older sister, Otis Lee discovers a possible path to redemption in the chaos Knot brings to his doorstep. But while he’s busy trying to fix Knot’s life, Otis Lee finds himself powerless to repair the many troubles within his own family, as the long-buried secrets of his troubled past begin to come to light.

Set in an African American community in rural North Carolina from 1941 to 1987, In West Mills is a magnificent, big-hearted small-town story about family, friendship, storytelling, and the redemptive power of love

Substitution Order by Martin Clark (July 9)

Kevin Moore, once a high-flying Virginia attorney, hits rock bottom after an inexplicably tumultuous summer leaves him disbarred and separated from his wife. Short on cash and looking for work, he lands in the middle of nowhere with a job at SUBstitution, the world’s saddest sandwich shop. His closest confidants: a rambunctious rescue puppy and the twenty-year-old computer whiz manning the restaurant counter beside him. He’s determined to set his life right again, but the troubles keep coming. And when a bizarre, mysterious stranger wanders into the shop armed with a threatening “invitation” to join a multimillion-dollar scam, Kevin will need every bit of his legal savvy just to stay out of prison.

A remarkable tour of the law’s tricks and hidden trapdoors, The Substitution Order is both wise and ingenious, a wildly entertaining novel that will keep you guessing—and rooting for its tenacious hero—until the very last page.

Shauna:

Red, White, & Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston (May 14)

Casey McQuiston’s debut is a fun, quirky romance set in an alternate reality that boasts a more beautiful world after November 2016, in which the First Son falls for the Prince of Wales. With an enemies-to-lovers romance between the First Son and the Prince of Wales, an intricate and well-developed familial bond, and a hopeful political landscape, this book is salve on an open wound.

Natalie Tan’s Book of Luck & Fortune by Roselle Lim (June 11)

When Natalie Tan returns to her home in Chinatown following her mother’s death, she finds that the neighborhood she grew up in is in danger of being sold off and gentrified. Using her grandmother’s cookbook, she re-creates recipes meant to heal the wounds of the neighborhood in order to save it. Roselle Lim’s debut is a delightful, cultural novel with recipes, magic dumplings, and a touch of romance.

We Hunt the Flame by Hafsah Faizal (May 14)

This whirlwind Arabian-inspired fantasy by debut author Hafsah Faisal is filled with heart-stopping twists, tight-knit and unbreakable friendships, a slow burn romance, and bright, lyrical prose that left me breathless. Readers of fantasy novels such as Children of Blood and Bone and City of Brass will devour this tale that left me drawn into the story long after it was over.

James:

The Never Game by Jeffrey Deaver (May 14)

Deaver is back! This time with an intriguing new protagonist by the name of Colter Shaw. Raised by a bi-polar survivalist, Shaw becomes a “tracker” who finds missing people. On his current case Shaw finds himself in the world of computer gamers and the intrigue of Silicon Valley. This is a “can’t put it down” thriller.

Recursion by Blake Crouch (June 11)

I liked Crouch’s previous novel, I loved this one. Straddling a fine line between being science fiction and a thriller, Recursion explores the ideas of memory, perception, identity, and reality. At its core, this page-turner explores the concept of a technology that can be used to capture memories and let its user experience them again.

Megan:

Broken Things by Lauren Oliver (YA)

This fantastic book is like reading a mix of Pretty Little Liars, The Slender Man and Bridge to Terabithia. A page turning, gripping thriller about three friends, a secret, and a mystery.

Pride by Ibi Zoboi (YA)

A beautiful take on Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. Set in Brooklyn, Pride deals with gentrification, class struggles while still staying remarkably true to its roots.

The Ancient Nine by Ian K. Smith

This book is a suspense thriller that takes you deep inside one of our country’s elite Ivy League universities and its secret societies. Based on real life events, Ian K. Smith weaves a tale that will keep you on the edge of your seat until the last page.

Molly:

My Sister the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite

Wickedly funny and dark, Braithwaite tells the story of how far a woman is willing to go to protect her sister, who has a nasty habit of killing her boyfriends. She soon finds herself second guessing her protective stance when a friend of hers is poised to be the next victim.

Alice isn’t Dead by Joseph Fink

In this perfectly creepy road trip mystery from the author of Welcome to Night Vale, Keisha takes up a job as a cross country truck driver to locate her missing wife, Alice, who she keeps seeing in the background of national news stories. Supernatural mysteries follow her on her journey, including a dangerous, man-eating, cryptid who knows too much of Alice for Keisha’s liking.


Charlotte Lit it grateful to Park Road Books for sending us their top picks for summer reads. Be sure to check their events calendar for upcoming readings by local authors. Follow them on Facebook and Instagram, and visit them in person at the Park Road Shopping Center.