With summer in full swing, book enthusiasts are looking for poolside reads and plane trip entertainment.
Authors from St. Louis and elsewhere in Missouri have written dozens of books released this year by major publishing houses. To learn about some of the most popular local reads, we turned to Left Bank Books, which celebrates its 50th anniversary this year.
“St. Louis has a wealth of fantastic authors,” said Shane Mullen, who brings area authors to the indie bookstore for signings and readings.
“Local talent has really kind of exploded in all directions. We have some really fantastic local mystery authors. We have some really fantastic local history authors. And then the kids department,” Mullen said.
Here are his picks for some of the most exciting books by local authors or set in the area.
"The View From Flyover Country: Dispatches From The Forgotten America," by Sarah Kendzior
This collection of reported essays critiques labor exploitation, race relations, gentrification and political conflicts of modern America. A St. Louis-based journalist, Kendzior is sometimes credited for being one of the first to publicly predict Donald Trump’s victory in the 2016 presidential election. Kendzior released the collection several years ago, but in 2018 published an updated version with fresh information tying the essay collection to Trump’s presidency.
“When she comes in to sign, we can barely keep her book on the shelves,” Mullen said.
"Library of Small Catastrophes," by Alison Rollins
Rollins’ debut book explores loss and tragedy through lyric poetry. The collection explores history, race, sexuality, spirituality, violence and American culture. Critics have compared the collection to the work of Argentine magical realist Jorge Luis Borges.
Mullen has heard Rollins perform pieces from the collection. “She works at a library now. And she wrote it all kind of while working as a librarian and trying to be very literary in her poetry,” he said. “When she reads, it's just pointed, and it feels very methodical. It's beautiful.”
"The Stranger Inside," by Laura Benedict
In this thriller, Kimber Hannon returns from a vacation to discover a stranger living in her house. She doesn’t know why he’s there, but he won’t leave. Hannon must discover what he wants and push him out of her life, before he takes it over.
Mullen called the book a “really intense, dark, psychological mystery.” Benedict, who’s a southern Illinois native, also “captures how St. Louis feels,” Mullen said.
"The Ugly Truth: A Riley Ellison Mystery," by Jill Orr
Former library assistant, now junior reporter, Riley Ellison investigates a double murder in Tuttle Corner, Virginia. “The Ugly Truth” is the third in a mystery series that centers on suspense, humor and small-town drama.
Orr describes the book as “millennial mysteries,” said Mullen, who enjoyed the first two entires in the series. “They’re delightful kind of pop mysteries.”
"The Wolf Wants In: A Novel," by Laura McHugh
McHugh takes readers to the rural Blackwater, Kansas, where a small-town police department keeps finding children’s bones in the woods. Sadie Keller just wants to know how her brother died; Henley Pettit just wants to escape Blackwater before her family traps her there. Both women must grapple with Blackwater’s dark secrets.
The book has been compared to Gillian Flynn’s "Sharp Objects" and the podcast "S-Town." Mullen said that fans of Netflix’s "Ozark" might enjoy it: “The new book has the drug, opium epidemic going on, as a subplot. So there is a lot of feeling from 'Ozark,' kind of dark and gritty.”
"Mascot," by Antony John
Four months after the car accident that paralyzed Noah Savino and killed his father, he is tired, frustrated and scared. He also misses baseball. But with the help of family and friends, he’ll start to overcome his fears and leave the sidelines, where he feels stuck.
“It’s really beautiful,” Mullen said. “It reminded me a lot of 'Wonder.' Happy moments, very sad moments, but really incredible.”
"The Memory of Forgotten Things," by Kat Zhang
Sophia Wallace has two sets of memories: One, where her mother died when Sophia was 6. Another, where she didn’t. After a school research project, Sophia becomes convinced that an upcoming solar eclipse will help her step into the alternate world where her mother never died, and enlists two misfit boys for help.
“For readers that like a little bit otherwordly,” Mullen said, “that’s a really good recommendation.”
"The Raven Tower," by Ann Leckie
The warrior Mawat is next in line to rule Iraden through a contract with a god known as the Raven. But when Mawat and his aide Eolo respond to an urgent summons, they find Mawat’s throne usurped. As Eolo attempts to help Mawat reclaim his city, they discover that the Raven and its tower hold a secret lost to the annals of history.
“She won all the major awards for her first book in the 'Ancillary Justice' series,” Mullen said, “so she’s just wonderful for science-fiction and fantasy authors.”
"We Can’t Breathe: On Black Lives, White Lies, and the Art of Survival," by Jabari Asim
Asim’s essays celebrate the art, community and resilience of black culture that has persisted through centuries of racism and trauma. Across eight essays, he explores the importance of black fathers to the community, the significance of black storytellers and life after the presidency of Barack Obama. The collection aims to upend historical narratives that dwell on oppression but ignore black joy and black voices.
“It’s really touching on a lot of subjects that a lot of St. Louis people can identify with,” Mullen said.
"Avery Colt Is a Snake, a Thief, a Liar," by Ron Austin
St. Louis native Ron Austin’s debut is a semi-autobiographical short-story collection that follows Avery Colt through his youth in north St. Louis. The book compiles tales of Colt and his family as he learns to slaughter a goat and rebuild the family corner market. The collection grapples with themes of inheritance and loss as the characters work to overcome various crises.
“It is centered on a lot of African American issues. So he talks a lot about the black experience,” Mullen said. “It’s really incredible, and I think it’s going to be a really great thing for St. Louis.”
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