Our favorite books of 2022

As one would expect, our staff spends a lot of our free time reading. And we rounded up our favorite books we dove into this year for you to enjoy!

Nettle and Bone by T. Kingfisher

How dare you (me) ask me to pick a favorite book out of the many many great ones I read this year?! I will go with my gut feeling of Nettle and Bone, which surprised me, made me laugh, and felt familiar and new all at once. In this fairy-tale-esque story, Marra must go on a quest to save her sister from her husband, a prince. Joining her are a heartwarming cast of characters: a witch (and her possessed chicken), an ex-soldier, her fairy godmother, and of course a dog made of bones.

– Ellen Whitfield, vice president

A Rover’s Story by Jasmine Warga

This book reminded me why I fell in love with reading at such a young age! Imaginative and chock full of learning, this educationally entertaining middle grade novel is one that will be in classrooms everywhere for years to come! An instant classic!

– Elysse Wagner, campaign strategist

Somebody Feed Phil the Book: Untold Stories, Behind-the-Scenes Photos and Favorite Recipes: A Cookbook by Phil Rosenthal

Somebody Feed Phil is hands down one of my favorite shows on Netflix, so I was so excited when I heard that Phil Rosenthal was coming out with a book in October. He has such a colorful, effervescent personality on his show, and that shines through in his book as well. I can’t wait to cook my way through the recipes — and hopefully use this book for travel inspiration in 2023!

– Angelle Barbazon, lead publicist

Us Against You by Fredrik Backman

It’s kind of unfair to every other great book I’ve read this year, but when I read a new Backman book, it’s always five stars and it’s always one I’ll recommend to people for years to come. Continuing the story from where Beartown left off, Backman’s writing about the icy, troubled hockey town is — as always — beautiful and heartwrenching and funny and insightful. And yes, I am putting off reading The Winners until next year…so I think I can already see what my fav book of 2023 might be.

– Jenn Vance, publicist and digital marketing strategist

Salvage the Bones by Jesmyn Ward

I recently moved from New Orleans back up north to be closer to my family, but I read Salvage the Bones while I was visiting New Orleans in April. The story details a Mississippi family’s experience with hurricane Katrina in which Jesmyn weaves a visceral, raw, and beautiful account of family, place, and heritage. If you’re looking for a book to punch you right in the gut, then you’re absolutely going to want to pick this one up. 

– Layne Mandros, publicist

Call Me By Your Name by André Aciman

Have you ever seen a movie adaptation before reading the book it was based on? That’s what happened to me with CMBYN. I loved the movie and finally got around to reading André Aciman’s masterpiece of a novel, which had me in tears at the end. This is easily in the running for best love story ever written, and no I will not explain because my words won’t do it justice. You’ll have to read it and experience it for yourself.

– Jackie Karneth, publicist

The House In The Cerulean Sea by TJ Klune

This was my first time reading Klune’s work, and I adored his writing style. It was also my first time reading fantasy in awhile, so discovering the characters and their magical skills was so much fun. This book is so cozy and has a great message: “You can have the life you want, you just have to go out and find it!”

– Corrine Pritchett, publicist and digital marketing strategist

Kaikeyi by Vaishnavi Patel

This is the incredible retelling of the famous Ramayana tale, but instead of focusing on the main character, Rama, it focuses on the tale’s villain, Kaikyei, the wicked stepmother. But in this tale, Kaikeyi is a woman of her circumstance, and with the use of her magic and willpower, Kaikeyi creates the future she’s always imagined as a diplomat, a queen, and a revolutionary. Of course, that future isn’t without its turmoils and Kaikeyi must fight to continue the great work she’s doing or face losing her family all together.

– Simone Jung, publicist

Before You Go by Tommy Butler

This book was a surprise for me in the best possible way. I knew nothing about this book going into it, (saw it on a bookshelf and liked the cover) but was immediately sucked in on the first page. A speculative literary fiction novel that weaves together the life of a man named Elliot Chance struggling with mental health and the meaning of life with the imaginings of the Before and After. As someone who has struggled with mental health myself, this book was relatable and moving. Heartwarming and heartwrenching in equal parts, this story and these characters will stick with you and may have you looking at life with a new perspective. 

– Rachel Hutchings, publicist and digital marketing strategist

Book Lovers by Emily Henry 

I’ve been a big fan of Emily Henry for awhile now, but this book became an instant favorite as soon as I started it. I saw such a large piece of myself in Nora and I couldn’t help falling in love with Charlie as well. This book also made me think about book publishing and press as a job, which introduced me to Books Forward! For that, it will always have a piece of my heart. 

– Rachel Lachney, intern

Fun fantasy book recommendations for fans of Willow

One of my absolute favorite things is when a fantasy book sweeps me away and makes me laugh, and I’m really excited for the premiere of Willow at the end of November, because it feels right up that alley. If you’ve watched and want some more books that give the same feeling, check these out – they’ll take you on a journey filled with danger, adventures, and new friends who make you laugh!

The Art of Prophecy by Wesley Chu: So many stories begin the same way: With a prophecy. A chosen one. And the inevitable quest to slay a villain, save the kingdom, and fulfill a grand destiny.

But this is not that kind of story.

It does begin with a prophecy: A child will rise to defeat the Eternal Khan, a cruel immortal god-king, and save the kingdom.

And that prophecy did anoint a hero, Jian, raised since birth in luxury and splendor, and celebrated before he has won a single battle.

But that’s when the story hits its first twist: The prophecy is wrong.

What follows is a story more wondrous than any prophecy could foresee, and with many unexpected heroes: Taishi, an older woman who is the greatest grandmaster of magical martial arts in the kingdom but who thought her adventuring days were all behind her; Sali, a straitlaced warrior who learns the rules may no longer apply when the leader to whom she pledged her life is gone; and Qisami, a chaotic assassin who takes a little too much pleasure in the kill.

And Jian himself, who has to find a way to become what he no longer believes he can be–a hero after all.

The Blacktongue Thief by Christopher Buehlman: Kinch Na Shannack owes the Takers Guild a small fortune for his education as a thief, which includes (but is not limited to) lock-picking, knife-fighting, wall-scaling, fall-breaking, lie-weaving, trap-making, plus a few small magics. His debt has driven him to lie in wait by the old forest road, planning to rob the next traveler that crosses his path.

But today, Kinch Na Shannack has picked the wrong mark.

Galva is a knight, a survivor of the brutal goblin wars, and handmaiden of the goddess of death. She is searching for her queen, missing since a distant northern city fell to giants.

Unsuccessful in his robbery and lucky to escape with his life, Kinch now finds his fate entangled with Galva’s. Common enemies and uncommon dangers force thief and knight on an epic journey where goblins hunger for human flesh, krakens hunt in dark waters, and honor is a luxury few can afford.

In the Shadow of Lightning by Brian McClellan: Demir Grappo is an outcast–he fled a life of wealth and power, abandoning his responsibilities as a general, a governor, and a son. Now he will live out his days as a grifter, rootless, and alone. But when his mother is brutally murdered, Demir must return from exile to claim his seat at the head of the family and uncover the truth that got her killed: the very power that keeps civilization turning, godglass, is running out.

Now, Demir must find allies, old friends and rivals alike, confront the powerful guild-families who are only interested in making the most of the scraps left at the table and uncover the invisible hand that threatens the Empire. A war is coming, a war unlike any other. And Demir and his ragtag group of outcasts are the only thing that stands in the way of the end of life as the world knows it.

The Princess Bride by William Goldman: This tale of true love, high adventure, pirates, princesses, giants, miracles, fencing, and a frightening assortment of wild beasts was unforgettably depicted in the 1987 film directed by Rob Reiner and starring Fred Savage, Robin Wright, and others. But, rich in character and satire, the novel boasts even more layers of ingenious storytelling. Set in 1941 and framed cleverly as an “abridged” retelling of a centuries-old tale set in the fabled country of Florin, home to “Beasts of all natures and descriptions. Pain. Death. Brave men. Coward men. Strongest men. Chases. Escapes. Lies. Truths. Passions.”

Nettle and Bone by T. Kingfisher: Marra never wanted to be a hero.

As the shy, convent-raised, third-born daughter, she escaped the traditional fate of princesses, to be married away for the sake of an uncaring throne. But her sister wasn’t so fortunate—and after years of silence, Marra is done watching her suffer at the hands of a powerful and abusive prince.

Seeking help for her rescue mission, Marra is offered the tools she needs, but only if she can complete three seemingly impossible tasks:

—build a dog of bones

—sew a cloak of nettles

—capture moonlight in a jar

But, as is the way in tales of princes and witches, doing the impossible is only the beginning.

Hero or not—now joined by a disgraced ex-knight, a reluctant fairy godmother, an enigmatic  gravewitch and her fowl familiar—Marra might finally have the courage to save her sister, and topple a throne.

The Prey of Gods by Nicky Drayden: In South Africa, the future looks promising. Personal robots are making life easier for the working class. The government is harnessing renewable energy to provide infrastructure for the poor. And in the bustling coastal town of Port Elizabeth, the economy is booming thanks to the genetic engineering industry which has found a welcome home there. Yes–the days to come are looking very good for South Africans. That is, if they can survive the present challenges:

A new hallucinogenic drug sweeping the country . . .

An emerging AI uprising . . .

And an ancient demigoddess hellbent on regaining her former status by preying on the blood and sweat (but mostly blood) of every human she encounters.

It’s up to a young Zulu girl powerful enough to destroy her entire township, a queer teen plagued with the ability to control minds, a pop diva with serious daddy issues, and a politician with even more serious mommy issues to band together to ensure there’s a future left to worry about.

The Blacksmith Queen by G.A. Aiken: With the demise of the Old King, there’s a prophesy that a queen will ascend to the throne of the Black Hills. Bad news for the king’s sons, who are prepared to defend their birthright against all comers. But for blacksmith Keeley Smythe, war is great for business. Until it looks like the chosen queen will be Beatrix, her younger sister. Now it’s all Keeley can do to protect her family from the enraged royals.

Luckily, Keeley doesn’t have to fight alone. Because thundering to her aid comes a clan of kilt-wearing mountain warriors called the Amichai. Not the most socially adept group, but soldiers have never bothered Keeley, and rough, gruff Caid, actually seems to respect her. A good thing because the fierce warrior will be by her side for a much longer ride than any prophesy ever envisioned …

The Broken Kingdoms by N.K. Jemisin: In the city of Shadow, beneath the World Tree, alleyways shimmer with magic and godlings live hidden among mortalkind. Oree Shoth, a blind artist, takes in a strange homeless man on an impulse. This act of kindness engulfs Oree in a nightmarish conspiracy. Someone, somehow, is murdering godlings, leaving their desecrated bodies all over the city. And Oree’s guest is at the heart of it. . .

Discworld by Terry Pratchett: Imagine, if you will . . . a flat world sitting on the backs of four elephants who hurtle through space balanced on a giant turtle. In truth, the Discworld is not so different from our own. Yet, at the same time, very different . . . but not so much.

In this, the maiden voyage through Terry Pratchett’s divinely and recognizably twisted alternate dimension, the well-meaning but remarkably inept wizard Rincewind encounters something hitherto unknown in the Discworld: a tourist! Twoflower has arrived, Luggage by his side, to take in the sights and, unfortunately, has cast his lot with a most inappropriate tour guide–a decision that could result in Twoflower’s becoming not only Discworld’s first visitor from elsewhere . . . but quite possibly, portentously, its very last. And, of course, he’s brought Luggage along, which has a mind of its own. And teeth.

A Stranger in Olondria by Sofia Samatar: A Stranger in Olondria

Jevick, the pepper merchant’s son, has been raised on stories of Olondria, a distant land where books are as common as they are rare in his home. When his father dies and Jevick takes his place on the yearly selling trip to Olondria, Jevick’s life is as close to perfect as he can imagine. But just as he revels in Olondria’s Rabelaisian Feast of Birds, he is pulled drastically off course and becomes haunted by the ghost of an illiterate young girl.

In desperation, Jevick seeks the aid of Olondrian priests and quickly becomes a pawn in the struggle between the empire’s two most powerful cults. Yet even as the country simmers on the cusp of war, he must face his ghost and learn her story before he has any chance of becoming free: an ordeal that challenges his understanding of art and life, home and exile, and the limits of that seductive necromancy, reading.

Cozy mysteries to curl up with this winter

I am personally a huge fan of the winter – it gives me an excuse to stay indoors and curl up with a good book without feeling like I’m missing out on too much. Cozy blankets, warm drinks and a roaring fire is my idea of a good time. I find myself gravitating toward mysteries in the winter, the cozier the better, and with that in mind, here are a few series you might want to check out!

Dial A For Aunties by Jesse Q. Sutano

When Meddelin Chan ends up accidentally killing her blind date, her meddlesome mother calls for her even more meddlesome aunties to help get rid of the body. Unfortunately, a dead body proves to be a lot more challenging to dispose of than one might anticipate. Especially when it is inadvertently shipped in a cake cooler to the over-the-top billionaire wedding where Meddy, her Ma, and aunties are working at an island resort on the California coastline. It’s the biggest job yet for the family wedding business–Don’t leave your big day to chance, leave it to the Chans!–and nothing, not even an unsavory corpse, will get in the way of her auntie’s perfect buttercream flowers.

But things go from inconvenient to downright torturous when Meddy’s great college love–and biggest heartbreak–makes a surprise appearance amid the wedding chaos. Is it possible to escape murder charges, charm her ex back into her life, and pull off a stunning wedding all in one weekend?

Murder in G Major by Alexia Gordon

With few other options, African-American classical musician Gethsemane Brown accepts a less-than-ideal position turning a group of rowdy schoolboys into an award-winning orchestra. Stranded without luggage or money in the Irish countryside, she figures any job is better than none. The perk? Housesitting a lovely cliffside cottage. The catch? The ghost of the cottage’s murdered owner haunts the place. Falsely accused of killing his wife (and himself), he begs Gethsemane to clear his name so he can rest in peace.

Gethsemane’s reluctant investigation provokes a dormant killer and she soon finds herself in grave danger. As Gethsemane races to prevent a deadly encore, will she uncover the truth or star in her own farewell performance?

Arsenic and Adobo by Mia P. Manansala

When Lila Macapagal moves back home to recover from a horrible breakup, her life seems to be following all the typical rom-com tropes. She’s tasked with saving her Tita Rosie’s failing restaurant, and she has to deal with a group of matchmaking aunties who shower her with love and judgment. But when a notoriously nasty food critic (who happens to be her ex-boyfriend) drops dead moments after a confrontation with Lila, her life quickly swerves from a Nora Ephron romp to an Agatha Christie case.

With the cops treating her like she’s the one and only suspect, and the shady landlord looking to finally kick the Macapagal family out and resell the storefront, Lila’s left with no choice but to conduct her own investigation. Armed with the nosy auntie network, her barista best bud, and her trusted Dachshund, Longanisa, Lila takes on this tasty, twisted case and soon finds her own neck on the chopping block…

Death By Dumpling by Vivien Chien

The last place Lana Lee thought she would ever end up is back at her family’s restaurant. But after a brutal break-up and a dramatic workplace walk-out, she figures that helping wait tables is her best option for putting her life back together. Even if that means having to put up with her mother, who is dead-set on finding her a husband.

Lana’s love life soon becomes yesterday’s news once the restaurant’s property manager, Mr. Feng, turns up dead–after a delivery of shrimp dumplings from Ho-Lee. But how could this have happened when everyone on staff knew about Mr. Feng’s severe, life-threatening shellfish allergy? Now, with the whole restaurant under suspicion for murder and the local media in a feeding frenzy–to say nothing of the gorgeous police detective who keeps turning up for take-out–it’s up to Lana to find out who is behind Feng’s killer order. . . before her own number is up.

The Plot Is Murder by V M Burns

Samantha Washington has dreamed of owning her own mystery bookstore for as long as she can remember. And as she prepares for the store’s grand opening, she’s also realizing another dream–penning a cozy mystery set in England between the wars. While Samantha hires employees and fills the shelves with the latest mysteries, quick-witted Lady Penelope Marsh, long-overshadowed by her beautiful sister Daphne, refuses to lose the besotted Victor Carlston to her sibling’s charms. When one of Daphne’s suitors is murdered in a maze, Penelope steps in to solve the labyrinthine puzzle and win Victor.

But as Samantha indulges her imagination, the unimaginable happens in real life. A shady realtor turns up dead in her backyard, and the police suspect her–after all, the owner of a mystery bookstore might know a thing or two about murder. Aided by her feisty grandmother and an enthusiastic ensemble of colorful retirees, Samantha is determined to close the case before she opens her store. But will she live to conclude her own story when the killer has a revised ending in mind for her?

Shady Hollow by Juneau Black

Reporter Vera Vixen is a relative newcomer to Shady Hollow. The fox has a nose for news, so when she catches wind that the death might be a murder, she resolves to get to the bottom of the case, no matter where it leads. As she stirs up still waters, the fox exposes more than one mystery, and discovers that additional lives are in jeopardy.

Vera finds more to this town than she ever suspected. It seems someone in the Hollow will do anything to keep her from solving the murder, and soon it will take all of Vera’s cunning and quickness to crack the case.

Hollywood Homicide Kellye Garrett

Actress Dayna Anderson’s Deadly New Role: Homicide Detective

Dayna Anderson doesn’t set out to solve a murder. All the semi famous, mega-broke actress wants is to help her parents keep their house. So after witnessing a deadly hit-and-run, she pursues the fifteen grand reward. But Dayna soon finds herself doing a full-on investigation, wanting more than just money–she wants justice for the victim. She chases down leads at paparazzi hot spots, celeb homes, and movie premieres, loving every second of it–until someone tries to kill her. And there are no second takes in real life.

The Unexpected Inheritance of Inspector Chopra by Vaseem Khan

On the day he retires, Inspector Ashwin Chopra inherits two unexpected mysteries.

The first is the case of a drowned boy, whose suspicious death no one seems to want solved. And the second is a baby elephant.

As his search for clues takes him across the teeming city of Mumbai, from its grand high rises to its sprawling slums and deep into its murky underworld, Chopra begins to suspect that there may be a great deal more to both his last case and his new ward than he thought.

The Accidental Alchemist by Gigi Pandian

A chance for a new beginning in Portland, Oregon. A stowaway from Paris who needs help deciphering an ancient book. And an alchemical mystery neither can refuse.

Unpacking her belongings in her new fixer-upper house, alchemist Zoe Faust can’t help but notice she’s picked up a stowaway. Dorian Robert-Houdin is a living, breathing gargoyle―not to mention a master of French cuisine―and he needs Zoe’s expertise to unlock the secrets of a centuries-old text. Zoe, who’s trying to put her old life behind her, isn’t so sure she wants to reopen her alchemical past…until a crime committed on her front porch leaves her no choice.

Mimi Lee Gets A Clue by Jennifer J. Chow

Mimi Lee is in over her head. There’s her new Los Angeles pet grooming shop to run, her matchmaking mother to thwart, her talking cat Marshmallow to tend to–oh, and the murder of a local breeder to solve…now if only Mimi hadn’t landed herself on top of the suspect list.

Mimi Lee hoped to give Los Angeles animal lovers something to talk about with her pet grooming shop, Hollywoof. She never imagined that the first cat she said hello to would talk back or be quite so, well, catty–especially about those disastrous dates Mimi’s mother keeps setting up.

When Marshmallow exposes local breeder Russ Nolan for mistreating Chihuahuas, Mimi steals some of her cat’s attitude to tell Russ off. The next day the police show up at Hollywoof. Russ has been found dead, and Mimi’s shouting match with him has secured her top billing as the main suspect.

Hoping to clear her name and save the pups Russ left behind, Mimi enlists help from her dreamy lawyer neighbor Josh. But even with Josh on board, it’ll take Mimi and Marshmallow a lot of sleuthing and more than a little sass to get back to the pet-grooming life–and off the murder scene.

An interview with Vanessa Deubler of Madison Street Books

What’s your favorite area of your bookstore?

My favorite area of the bookstore is our staff pick wall. There’s such a variety of books on there, all well-recommended by my coworkers, and it’s right by our front windows.

What’s the coolest book cover that you like to have facing out on the shelves?

The Grip of It by Jac Jemc has my favorite cover ever. The design is striking and creepy, but there are also these little faces throughout that you can only really see when they reflect the light. It’s great for a display.

If you had a staff pick for a recent new release, what would it be? Backlist pick?

A recent new release I read and loved is Bliss Montage by Ling Ma. It’s only the second book of short stories I’ve ever read! For a backlist pick, I can’t decide between The Grip of It by Jac Jemc and A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles.

Do you have a strange customer story?

So, so many. Recently at an event I had a customer ask me about the color of my sweater and then make arguments for both sides about whether it was pink or purple. He was nice, it was just funny.

What author have you been starstruck to meet, or have you gotten to host a fun virtual event?

We’ve had a lot of really cool events, and some with really big authors, but my favorite event so far was the book launch for Shirlene Obuobi, MD, who wrote On Rotation! We had a lot of people show up and there were cake and giveaways. It was really fun and everyone was so friendly! I also really enjoy the poetry events.

What are some misconceptions people have about working in a bookstore?

We don’t wear aprons, contrary to what Joe from You will have you believe. Besides that, I don’t know! I think it might be a little romanticized. It’s not all discussing poetry while dust floats through shafts of light. There is some of that, but you also lift a lot of boxes, shelve a lot of books, and carry a lot of chairs.

What is your least favorite bookstore task? Favorite part about working in a bookstore?

I love having events but setting up for them and putting everything away is not my favorite. Other than that, I don’t really mind anything in particular unless there’s a lot of it, which can get tiring. But the best parts, by far, are getting to talk about books all day, picking books out for our bespoke subscription recipients, and recommending books to customers, especially when we have similar reading tastes.

Can you recommend an underrated readalike book for one of the store’s top titles?

I’d recommend Dear Child by Romy Hausmann for anyone who read and liked The Silent Patient by Alex Michaelides. Also The Grip of It by Jac Jemc is another great haunted house story for the folks who love Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson.

What’s the best dedication or first line of a book that you can remember?

That’s a really good question! I can think of a few, but my favorite line ever is actually the last line of The Book Thief by Markus Zusak which, after a book that takes place over the course of World War II, ends with Death saying, “I am haunted by humans.”

What’s YOUR favorite indie bookstore that you’ve visited, besides your own!

I recently went to Unabridged Bookstore in Chicago and loved it! It’s definitely strange being a bookseller in a bookstore that isn’t your own. I turned around every time the phone rang. I’m also dying to go to Dog Eared Books Valencia in San Francisco, just as a side note.

Vanessa Deubler is a bookseller at Madison Street Books in Chicago.

An interview with Aaron Jackson of Bookworks

What’s your favorite area of your bookstore?

Well considering I am a poet I have to go with the poetry section. I really love our poetry section because Albuquerque has such a wonderful poetic community. We have so many great local authors who have works in our section and I have been told that former United States Poet Laureate Joy Harjo used to live across the street from the store.

What’s the coolest book cover that you like to have facing out on the shelves?

I would say Gwelf: The Survival Guide. It is this super cool fantasy book that reminds me of a book about gnomes that I had as a child. It is the kind of cover that compels you to pick the book up and flip through it.

If you had a staff pick for a recent new release, what would it be? Backlist pick?

I am going to say Mayor Good Boy Goes Hollywood which is a graphic novel for elementary school age readers. For kids who are fans of the Dog Man and Captain Underpants series it is a hit. As a dad I am probably more likely to have read something in the kid lit range than the adult lit range and my daughter loves all things Mayor Good Boy. For a backlist pick I would suggest anything by John Steinbeck who is my all time favorite writer. Also, The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss is in my opinion one of the greatest fantasy novels ever written.

Do you have a strange customer story?

I am an east coast transplant. My family moved to Albuquerque a little over two years ago. Well, one day while working in the store the Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland, who is from New Mexico, came in the store to do some shopping. She had a couple of Secret Service agents with her who were very quiet and just observing. I began to talk to a customer who was also a New York transplant and we were discussing memories of the city when one of the Secret Service agents who hadn’t said a word walked over and said, “you know Brooklyn is always in the house” and then he went right back to his post and didn’t say another word. I thought that was pretty cool.

What author have you been starstruck to meet, or have you gotten to host a fun virtual event?

I mentioned Joy Harjo above. She came into our store and I thought it was her but wasn’t sure because of the covid mask. She came to the counter with a copy of her book Poet Warrior and when she went to pay I could see the tattoo on her hand which is very distinct. I blurted out “this is you” entirely too loudly to which she nodded and I awkwardly rang her up. She is a very polite person.

What are some misconceptions people have about working in a bookstore?

As much as we wish we could, we can’t read every book in the store. Everyone who works here has their own tastes and likes. So although we might not be able to recommend a book in a particular genre we can certainly steer you to an employee who can. For my part, I am happy to help with poetry suggestions, kids book suggestions and books about dogs.

What is your least favorite bookstore task? Favorite part about working in a bookstore?

My least favorite task is telling an author we can’t carry their book in the store. As a writer, I know how hard it is to get a book placed prominently in a store and I wish we could take in every title. Unfortunately, we have limited space so we cannot. I just feel bad because I wish we could give every author a chance to shine.

My favorite part about working in a bookstore is certainly getting someone to read a book that I love and having them love it as well. Every time I sell a copy of Merle’s Door or The Name of the Wind to an adult or a copy of The Phantom Tollbooth to a child I feel such a sense of accomplishment.

Can you recommend an underrated readalike book for one of the store’s top titles?

Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain is always a big seller for us but I think Medium Raw is actually his best work, so I am always trying to steer customers in that direction.

What’s the best dedication or first line of a book that you can remember?
I am gonna be super biased here and go with the dedication from the book For One Day of Freedom. It is a book written by my father Blyden B. Jackson Jr. and posthumously published nine years after his death. The book is dedicated to my sister and I which makes it super meaningful.

What’s YOUR favorite indie bookstore that you’ve visited, besides your own!

Since I worked there for ten years as the Director of Visual Merchandising and in many ways it was my second home and family, I have to say the Strand in New York City. I can’t quantify how much I learned in my time there and I certainly have a lifetime of memories, it was such a great job for me at that time in my life.

Aaron Jackson is the store manager at Bookworks in Albuquerque.

Books paired with Dolly Parton songs to celebrate Diamonds & Rhinestones’ release

We don’t need a new Dolly Parton album as an excuse to listen to her songs and compile a reading list, but we are excited for her new greatest hits album, so you know we couldn’t help ourselves. Once you’ve settled in with some of these books, check out our Dolly Parton-inspired playlist and stream Diamonds & Rhinestones: The Greatest Hits Collection, available now!

I Will Always Love You + The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller
Achilles, son of the cruel sea goddess Thetis and the legendary king Peleus, is strong, swift, and beautiful, irresistible to all who meet him. Patroclus is an awkward young prince, exiled from his homeland after an act of shocking violence. Brought together by chance, they forge an inseparable bond, despite risking the gods’ wrath. They are trained by the centaur Chiron in the arts of war and medicine, but when word comes that Helen of Sparta has been kidnapped, all the heroes of Greece are called upon to lay siege to Troy in her name. Seduced by the promise of a glorious destiny, Achilles joins their cause, and torn between love and fear for his friend, Patroclus follows. Little do they know that the cruel Fates will test them both as never before and demand a terrible sacrifice.

Eagle When She Flies + Becoming by Michelle Obama
In her memoir, a work of deep reflection and mesmerizing storytelling, Michelle Obama invites readers into her world, chronicling the experiences that have shaped her — from her childhood on the South Side of Chicago to her years as an executive balancing the demands of motherhood and work, to her time spent at the world’s most famous address. With unerring honesty and lively wit, she describes her triumphs and her disappointments, both public and private, telling her full story as she has lived it — in her own words and on her own terms. Warm, wise, and revelatory, Becoming is the deeply personal reckoning of a woman of soul and substance who has steadily defied expectations — and whose story inspires us to do the same.

9 to 5 + Notes on a Nervous Planet by Matt Haig
The societies we live in are increasingly making our minds ill, making it feel as though the way we live is engineered to make us unhappy. When Matt Haig developed panic disorder, anxiety, and depression as an adult, it took him a long time to work out the ways the external world could impact his mental health in both positive and negative ways. Notes on a Nervous Planet collects his observations, taking a look at how the various social, commercial and technological “advancements” that have created the world we now live in can actually hinder our happiness. Haig examines everything from broader phenomena like inequality, social media, and the news; to things closer to our daily lives, like how we sleep, how we exercise, and even the distinction we draw between our minds and our bodies.

Coat of Many Colors + Where the Line Bleeds by Jesmyn Ward
Joshua and Christophe are twins, raised by a blind grandmother and a large extended family in rural Bois Sauvage, on Mississippi’s Gulf Coast. They’ve just finished high school and need to find jobs, but after Katrina, it’s not easy. Joshua gets work on the docks, but Christophe’s not so lucky and starts to sell drugs. Christophe’s downward spiral is accelerated first by crack, then by the reappearance of the twins’ parents: Cille, who left for a better job, and Sandman, a dangerous addict. Sandman taunts Christophe, eventually provoking a shocking confrontation that will ultimately damn or save both twins.

Jolene + My Husband’s Wife by Jane Corry
When young lawyer Lily marries Ed, she’s determined to make a fresh start and leave the secrets of the past behind. But then she takes on her first murder case and meets Joe, a convicted murderer to whom Lily is strangely drawn — and for whom she will soon be willing to risk almost anything. But Lily is not the only one with secrets. Her next-door neighbor Carla may be only nine, but she has already learned that secrets are powerful things. That they can get her whatever she wants. When Lily finds Carla on her doorstep twelve years later, a chain of events is set in motion that can end only one way.

Islands in the Stream + All That’s Left in the World by Erik J. Brown
When Andrew stumbles upon Jamie’s house, he’s injured, starved, and has nothing left to lose. A deadly pathogen has killed off most of the world’s population, including everyone both boys have ever loved. After danger breaches their shelter, they flee south in search of civilization. But something isn’t adding up about Andrew’s story, and it could cost them everything. And Jamie has a secret, too. He’s starting to feel something more than friendship for Andrew, adding another layer of fear and confusion to an already tumultuous journey. The road ahead of them is long, and to survive, they’ll have to shed their secrets, face the consequences of their actions, and find the courage to fight for the future they desire, together. Only one thing feels certain: all that’s left in their world is the undeniable pull they have toward each other.

Little Sparrow + Dead Dead Girls by Nekesa Afia
Harlem, 1926. Young Black women like Louise Lloyd are ending up dead. Following a harrowing kidnapping ordeal when she was in her teens, Louise is doing everything she can to maintain a normal life. She spends her days working at Maggie’s Café and her nights at the Zodiac, Harlem’s hottest speakeasy. Louise’s friends, especially her girlfriend, Rosa Maria Moreno, might say she’s running from her past and the notoriety that still stalks her, but don’t tell her that.

When a girl turns up dead in front of the café, Louise is forced to confront something she’s been trying to ignore — two other local Black girls have been murdered in the past few weeks. After an altercation with a police officer gets her arrested, Louise is given an ultimatum: She can either help solve the case or wind up in a jail cell. Louise has no choice but to investigate and soon finds herself toe-to-toe with a murderous mastermind hell-bent on taking more lives, maybe even her own….

My Tennessee Mountain Home + Truth or Beard by Penny Reid (plus all the other books in the Winston Brothers series)
Identical twins Beau and Duane Winston might share the same devastatingly handsome face, but where Beau is outgoing and sociable, Duane is broody and reserved. This is why Jessica James has been in naïve and unhealthy infatuation with Beau Winston for most of her life. His friendly smiles make her tongue-tied and weak-kneed, and she’s never been able to move beyond her childhood crush. Whereas Duane and Jessica have always been adversaries. She can’t stand him, and she’s pretty sure he can’t stand the sight of her… But after a case of mistaken identity, Jessica finds herself in a massive confusion kerfuffle. Not helping Jessica’s muddled mind and good girl sensibilities, Duane seems to have gotten himself in trouble with the local biker gang. Certainly, Beau’s magic spell is broken. Yet when Jessica finds herself drawn to the man who was always her adversary, now more dangerous than ever, how much of her level-head heart is she willing to risk?

Here You Come Again + Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
When Elizabeth Bennet first meets eligible bachelor Fitzwilliam Darcy, she thinks him arrogant and conceited; he is indifferent to her good looks and lively mind. When she later discovers that Darcy has involved himself in the troubled relationship between his friend Bingley and her beloved sister Jane, she is determined to dislike him more than ever. In the sparkling comedy of manners that follows, Jane Austen shows us the folly of judging by first impressions and superbly evokes the friendships, gossip and snobberies of provincial middle-class life.

Hard Candy Christmas + You’re a Mean One, Matthew Prince by Timothy Janovsky
Matthew Prince is young, rich, thoroughly spoiled and on top of the world. But one major PR misstep later, and Matthew is cut off and shipped away to spend the holidays in his grandparents’ charming small town hellscape. It’s bad enough he’s stuck in some festive winter wonderland — it’s even worse that he has to share space with Hector Martinez, an obnoxiously attractive local who’s unimpressed with anything and everything Matthew does. Just when it looks like the holiday season is bringing nothing but heated squabbles, the charity gala loses its coordinator and Matthew steps in as a saintly act to get home early on good behavior…with Hector as his maddening plus-one.

An interview with Holly Dowell of WORD Bookstore – Brooklyn

What’s your favorite area of your bookstore?

I love our staff pick section and our themed window displays! Our staff has such varied tastes and I enjoy seeing them all side-by-side. We also swap out the front window seasonally to match the heritage months and other bookish celebrations like Banned Books Week. Often people find new books by seeing the featured selections there.  

What’s the coolest book cover that you like to have facing out on the shelves?

I’m a sucker for beautiful, creative covers that also perfectly align with the book. Briefly, A Delicious Life by Nell Stevens fit this excellently with 19th-century pastels of oranges concealing a pale face. I also swooned over the hardcover editions of Infinite Country by Patricia Engel (opalescent folklore!) and Transcendent Kingdom by Yaa Gyasi (the strong dichotomy of pink and black is stunning). They’re all good books, to boot!  

If you had a staff pick for a recent new release, what would it be? Backlist pick?

Two recent new releases I’ve adored have been The Strange Inheritance of Leah Fern by Rita Zoey Chin and Acceptance by Emi Nietfeld. Chin’s debut novel is enchanting and tender, mixing all of my favorite elements – a road trip, scavenger hunts, and a young woman searching for answers. Nietfeld’s memoir is a must-read. She candidly describes her childhood in and out of foster care & institutionalization. 

As for backlist, I have to show some love for my favorite author Anthony Marra. His book A Constellation of Vital Phenomena left me forever changed, offering a deeply human perspective on the Chechen Wars. In the nonfiction realm, I cannot quit recommending It’s What I Do by Lynsey Addario. She writes of her time as a war reporter with such conviction and honesty. 

Do you have a strange customer story?

I have no shortage, haha. One that comes to mind is a customer who came and asked for our help remembering a title she’d read about recently but couldn’t remember. She was confident it was nonfiction nature writing, recently reviewed in a major publication, and had something to do with birds. We racked our brains and used all our Googling techniques but came up empty-handed. She thanked us for our efforts and left, convinced that her partner would remember. A few hours later she came back, exuberant. The book? Where the Crawdads Sing.

What author have you been starstruck to meet?

This is one of the coolest parts of working for an indie shop in New York City. I’ve had a number of such instances, but particularly notable was getting to host the First Lady of Iceland to celebrate her book, Secrets of the Sprakkar. The event was even recorded for C-SPAN!

What are some misconceptions people have about working in a bookstore?

Honestly, I could write a book about this! A common misconception is that I know about every book ever written. I wish that was true, but thousands of books come out every month! I couldn’t possibly keep them all cataloged in my brain. Another misconception is that we get to read on the job, but there’s just far too much to do with a lean staff. That said, it is accurate that we spend a whole lot of time chatting about books.

What is your least favorite bookstore task? Favorite part about working in a bookstore? 

Least favorite? Shelving. It’s the dishes of the bookstore – it always feels like you just did it! My favorite part is making recommendations, whether it’s in-person, on our Instagram stories, or for our WORD To Your Mailbox subscription service. I love learning the nuances of people’s preferences and helping direct them to the perfect read.

Can you recommend an underrated readalike book for one of the store’s top titles? 

Can I make a few? If you liked Pachinko, I suggest We Measure The Earth With Our Bodies by Tsering Yangzom Lama. For readers of Sally Rooney’s Beautiful World, Where Are You, try Happy Hour by Marlowe Granados. And if you picked up bell hooks’s All About Love, follow me right this way to See No Stranger by Valerie Kaur.

Holly Dowell is a Bookseller & Social Media Manager at WORD Bookstore – Brooklyn.

Books Forward BFFs November Influencer Newsletter

Check out the latest newsletter for our Books Forward Friends. This issue features highlights of our BFFs, fun titles available for review, and special opportunities for our friends.

Download the November 2022 newsletter here!

Ask an Expert: How to Make the Most of Your IngramSpark Listing

If you’ve published with IngramSpark, or if you’re considering it, you may be wondering how to capitalize on this publishing method to your advantage. Today on the blog, IngramSpark representative Deon McAdoo is giving us the answers. Deon promotes growth to the IngramSpark platform by educating independent authors and publishers on how best to utilize Ingram’s Print-On-Demand services for bringing a new book to market and maximizing global sales. Today’s he’s sharing that insight with us!

What are ways authors can make the most of their IngramSpark listing, both free and paid?

Making sure you have the most robust metadata will help boost an author’s discoverability. Also, investing in Facebook, Google, and Amazon ads will increase traffic to your listing.

What’s the most common mistake debut authors and new publishers make in setting up their publishing account?            

Setting their returns status. Many authors will set their books as returnable without fully understanding that they are responsible for paying back Ingram for the wholesale cost of their book.  Also, they forget there is an additional $3 per book delivery charge if the book is set as return-deliver. 

What if I’m an author just wanting to publish a story for family and friends–is there anything I should do differently or perhaps consider skipping when it comes to publishing?

You can use IngramSpark as a printer to print the necessary copies you need for your family and friends. This option allows the author to make more money by selling directly to their consumers.

What are some new developments at IngramSpark that authors should know about and get excited for?

Our new reporting suite has been a long time coming, and we’re almost ready to release our new dashboard to all IngramSpark users. The updated dashboard includes new dynamic graphs, an IngramSpark Subject Sales Rank, heat map by region, and so much more.

Can I set up my print book with IngramSpark and other Self-Publishing services?

IngramSpark has a non-exclusive contract. You can publish your book through IngramSpark where we print and sell it through our global distribution network. Also, you can publish your book with any other self-publishing platform as long as you own your ISBN.

An interview with Danielle King of Left Bank Books

1. What’s your favorite area of your bookstore?

It has always been the basement lol. Under normal circumstances – we’re undergoing some downstairs construction and renovation due to some recent flooding – Left Bank is a two-story bookstore, with a robust and lively upstairs, and a quieter downstairs area that houses our used book department and the science fiction/fantasy collection. SFF takes up ⅔ of the longest wall in the room, and I have spent hours, as both customer and employee of Left Bank, perusing the shelves. It feels like you’ve found something a little secret the first time you walk downstairs, and you are immediately confronted with our graphic novel section, which presents an apt visual transition to the fantastic worlds depicted on the covers in the sci-fi/fantasy section. There’s usually a table with some chairs adjacent to the section, so you are welcomed to sit with those covers, to open them, to take a glimpse at a possible future.

2. What’s the coolest book cover that you like to have facing out on the shelves?

I genuinely try to get away with facing out every single book by (MacArthur Genius) NK Jemisin, and I love that our backlist buyer/merchandiser Randy is so willing to let me get away with it. The art is so striking, and often a bit gothic, and gives you somehow not very much but also a tremendous amount about the story it represents. I also am nothing short of obsessed with the cover of They Can’t Kill Us Until They Kill Us by (MacArthur Genius) Hanif Abdurraqib. I mean, it’s a wolf in a track suit and a chain, somehow both approachable and containing a warning, and I can’t think of a better visual metaphor for the wonderful and devastating prose that the book contains.

3. If you had a staff pick for a recent new release, what would it be? Backlist pick?

God’s Children Are Little Broken Things (Arinze Ifeakandu) is this remarkable, heart-rending collection of short stories about (mostly) queer men in modern urban Nigeria, and it broke my heart with characters who are desperate for acceptance, but willing to take so much less.

White Teeth (Zadie Smith) & The Secret History (Donna Tartt) are often, in my mind, vying for the role of my Favorite Book. It’s never entirely clear who’s winning that battle. If you feel the need to slip into the classic “dark academia” text, Donna Tartt’s first novel is a bildungsroman and thinly veiled autobiographical account of her own time at the somewhat infamous Bennington College. If you’d rather be swept into one of the great family dramas of the modern age, a young Zadie Smith is flexing her considerable linguistic muscles in this wonderful unpacking of the role of the ones who love you in the quest for a fulfilling sense of identity, and no one is left behind on the ride.

4. Do you have a strange customer story?

I once had a customer who tried to order a book that had no release date several days in a row. She called every day, pretty close to when we would close, and would ask if I would be able to order the illustrated edition of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. And every time she called, I told her that they’d only released the first few books, and that it probably takes a good bit of time for them to produce. And every time, she would respond, with a morose, “Oh, ok, I just would have figured that book would be out by now.”

5. What author have you been starstruck to meet, or have you gotten to host a fun virtual event?

Bernardine Evaristo was a genuine delight to host. She was exactly the right mix of self-inspired and self-demanding as a creator, and her curious and remarkably generous attitude kept me on my toes throughout the interview. I had already held her in tremendous esteem, but there’s something about being told to get to work on your novel by such an accomplished and down-to-earth artist that really sticks with you.

6. What are some misconceptions people have about working in a bookstore?

I think a lot of folks attach a romantic notion of casually reading and browsing shelves aimlessly to working in a bookstore. But it’s actually quite a lot of work to keep up with inventory, to maintain order on the shelves, to keep up with the various tasks that make it possible for us to point folks towards their next favorite read.

7. What is your least favorite bookstore task? Favorite part about working in a bookstore?

My least favorite task, in the bookstore and in life, is probably cleaning the bathroom. My personal favorites are probably pulling returns or doing inventory details, as they’re opportunities to see all the books that we have to offer our customers. I add so many things to my to-be-read pile whenever I’m doing a task that involves any degree of close shelf reading.

8. Can you recommend an underrated readalike book for one of the store’s top titles? (For example: If your store sells a lot of The Song of Achilles, you might recommend Tin Man.)

We sell a TON of Stuart Turton’s The 7 ½ Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle and our customers are constantly thrilled by the twisty, perspective-shifting mystery story. To me, a classic version of the locked-room (locked-building?) mystery that I think people have forgotten about is The Westing Game (Ellen Raskin). While technically a middle-grade book, I’ve returned to it maybe a dozen times, and it never fails to deliver, and is great for kids and adults alike. A more adult-oriented suggestion would probably be The Starless Sea (Erin Morgenstern); though not a genre mystery, the layers of understanding that unfurl before your eyes going through this book are as stunning a magic trick as I’ve ever seen.

assistant manager/used book buyer/IT specialist