Lady Banks Bookshelf

Lady Banks Pick of the Week


Read This Now: The Index

What if there were an army of indie booksellers enthusiastically reading and reviewing practically every new book coming out in the next year, and what if the books they were the most excited about, the books they couldn't wait to push into their customers' hands with a breathless "You've GOT to read this!" (virtually or otherwise), the ones with all the nine- and ten-star ratings were carefully curated and collected in a handy list? Well, all we can say is...KEEP READING!

Browse the whole list!


  • The Glass Palace by Amitav Ghosh

    The Glass PalaceTo read a novel by the masterful Amitav Ghosh is to be swept along in a sea of facts, linguistic oddities, and almost fantastical characters on a grand scale. Elephants with anthrax! Exiled royalty! The teak forests of Burma, the rubber plantations of Malaysia, WWII, photography, love, trade, nationalism, family. A page-turning epic.

    The Glass Palace by Amitav Ghosh (Random House). Recommended by Elese at Flyleaf Books, Chapel Hill, NC.

  • Free Men by Katy Simpson Smith

    I loved Katy Simpson Smith's Free Men (Harper $26.99), a novel set in 1788, in what will become Alabama, and based on the true story of an escaped slave, a white orphan, and a Creek Indian who are on the run together after committing a serious crime. As in Smith's first novel, The Story of Land and Sea (Harper $15.99), set on the NC coast during the Revolution, and which I also loved, she demonstrates a remarkable ability to fully immerse the reader in a bygone era. Free Men is part crime thriller and part meditation on freedom and the personal cost of clashing societies in a new world. Joseph Ellis has called Smith "the most sophisticated historical novelist of her generation."

    Free Men by Katy Simpson Smith (Harper), recommended by Sarah at Quail Ridge Books | Raleigh, NC.

  • My Name Is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout

    Everyone else can stop writing sentences and paragraphs and even books now, because it’s impossible to beat these. Compared to this perfectly distilled little novel, bigger books seem waterlogged. If you’re a human with a family, read it. 

    My Name Is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout (Random House) Recommended by Mary Laura Philpott at Parnassus Books Nashville TN

  • How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia by Mohsin Hamid

    As in The Reluctant Fundamentalist, Hamid ingenuously uses the 2nd person to bring you straight into the characters' lives.

    This is the story of a boy, born poor, who wants more.

    His road to wealth and love is messy, morally ambiguous and long. This is a carefully, intelligently, appealingly written story of universal truths. Do seek out interviews with Hamid, he is fascinating and learning his thought processes made me appreciate his writing even more.

    How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia by Mohsin Hamid (Riverhead) Recommended by Rene at Quail Ridge Books Raleigh NC

  • The Guest Room by Chris Bohjalian

    If you enjoy a book with unexpected twists and turns, Chris Bohjalian is an author you will want to read.

    His latest book is about the consequences of a good family man's decision to host a bachelor party for his wilder, younger brother. The story keeps us guessing but also leads us to think about important issues.

    The Guest Room by Chris Bohjalian (Doubleday) Recommended by Rene at Quail Ridge Books Raleigh NC

  • The Japanese Lover by Isabel Allende

    A beautiful novel of a special relationship between a Jewish woman and Japanese man that continues for years.

    Allende's brilliant prose brings the novel to life and expertly describes a relationship that is at times scandalous and forbidden but always enduring.

    The surprises at the end help make it a novel well-worth reading.

    The Japanese Lover by Isabel Allende (Atria Books) Recommended by Linda at Fiction Addiction Greenville SC

  • Bream Gives Me Hiccups by Jesse Eisenberg

    Taking its title from a group of stories that begin the book, this collection moves from contemporary L.A. to the dorm rooms of an American college to ancient Pompeii, throwing the reader into a universe of social misfits, re-imagined scenes from history, and ridiculous overreactions.

    Existential food critics. Awkward romances. These and more await in the debut novel by actor Jesse Eisenberg, who manages to create a brilliant snapshot of life in the digital age in this collection of short stories.

    Witty and amusingly gloomy, Eisenberg introduces the reader to an eclectic variety of characters and situations you won’t soon forget, especially the chapter on postmodern dating.

    Bream Gives Me Hiccups by Jesse Eisenberg (Grove Press) Recommended by Andrew at Square Books Oxford MS

     

  • God's Kingdom by Howard Frank Mosher

    When I started reading God's Kingdom by Howard Frank Mosher I fell into a kind of reverie, induced by his mesmerizing descriptions of the northeast corner of Vermont, the beauty and simplicity of the language he uses, and the compelling story he tells.

    Told from the viewpoint of 14 year-old Jim Kennison in the 1950's, it's a coming-of-age story, a morality play, and an adventure story, full of events and people that are horrible and wonderful and sometimes very funny.

    God's Kingdom is one of those rare books, like To Kill a Mockingbird, that should become an American classic for all ages for many years to come.

    God's Kingdom by Howard Frank Mosher (St. Martin's Press) Recommended by Sarah at Quail Ridge Books Raleigh NC

  • Where Women Are Kings by Christie Watson

    This stunning novel falls into the category of so tragically sad but so true and beautiful that everyone ought to read it, kind of like Little Bee or What is the What.

    It's story of seven-year-old Elijah who, after being taken from his Nigerian immigrant mother, bounces around London from foster home to foster home. When he lands with Nikki and Obi, a couple deeply committed to being Elijah's forever family, things seem hopeful. But as they delve further into Elijah's troubled past, and into the deeply rooted beliefs his mother has left him with, the success of the match and the safety of the family falls into question.

    Watson gracefully walks the line between storytelling and tackling the difficult issues, and while she never comes off as preachy you walk away from this book with a deeper understanding of culture, race, and their possible implications on adoption.

    Where Women Are Kings by Christie Watson (Other Press), recommended by Amanda at Inkwood Books Tampa FL.

  • Fishbowl by Bradley Somer

    Ian the Goldfish - narrator of this unique novel - is about to take a plunge from his watery prison on the 27th floor balcony of an apartment complex.

    The Seville on Roxy houses a cross section of humanity that includes a pregnant lady on bed rest fantasizing about ice cream sandwiches, a home-schooled boy who thinks he’s a time traveler and a shut in with a penchant for quiche and dirty talk.

    If you loved Garth Stein's Art of Racing in the Rain you will fall in love with Ian. He's able to move unobtrusively through his neighbor’s apartments telling their stories and ultimately helping them take risks beyond their wildest dreams.

    Do not be fooled by the cover (looks a little like a kids' book) or my inability to express how a goldfish can tell a GREAT story. TWO FINS WAY UP!

    Fishbowl by Bradley Somer (St. Martin's Press) Recommended by Stefani at Inkwood Books Tampa FL

  • Kitchens of the Great Midwest by J. Ryan Stradal

    Rarely do we get a triple recommendation so quickly. There must be something to this!

    Donovan: This novel is sometimes spicy and sometimes sweet, but always well-done. Requisite food pun aside, Stradal crafts an array of characters that are vividly real and human and petty and just flat-out fun to read more and more about as the pages blow by...This is one of the most natural and fluid and evocative narratives I’ve read in a long time, and it far surpasses any simple plot summarization. This book is for anyone that enjoys the power of good writing and great story-telling...

    Amanda: Stradal’s debut shines like a beacon of warm-hearted hope. Kitchens is the tale of Eva Thorvald, a young woman with a prodigious talent and otherwordly palate. We watch Eva grow from a girl who cultivates chocolate habanero peppers in her closet to the architect of the most exclusive pop-up dining experience in the world. A different character and a different dish narrate each chapter, and we are left with a beautiful image of food, culture, and family. Kitchens of the Great Midwest is the book I’ve been looking for.

    Stefani: What Donavan and Amanda said. I just make the peanut butter bars…..and they are FREAKIN’ AWESOME!!!

    Kitchens of the Great Midwest by J. Ryan Stradal (Pamela Dorman Books) Recommended by Donovan, Amanda, and Stefani at Inkwood Books Tampa FL

  • Mothers, Tell Your Daughters by Bonnie Jo Campbell

    In her latest collection, Bonnie Jo Campbell taps into the lives of working class women to reveal truths that are raw and inspiring.

    The women in these stories are victims, survivors, fighters, dreamers, providers and drifters. All of them vulnerable but incredibly tough, they navigate the complex and often baffling territory of relationships with men and with one another.

    Touching but never sentimental, these stories are Campbell at her best.

    Mothers, Tell Your Daughters by Bonnie Jo Campbell (W. W. Norton & Company) Recommended by CF at Square Books Oxford MS

  • The Blue Guitar by John Banville

    From the Booker Prize-winning author of The Sea and Ancient Light, a new novel about the intricacies of artistic creation and theft, and about the ways in which we learn to possess one another, and to hold on to ourselves.

    Equally self-aggrandizing and self-deprecating, our narrator, Oliver Otway Orme, is a painter of some renown, and a petty thief who does not steal for profit. But he’s pushing fifty, feels like a hundred, and things have not been going so well lately.

    Few contemporary English-speaking writers can match Banville’s style and brilliance. The way that complex emotions are revealed by such fluid, easy-going language is uncanny.

    The Blue Guitar by John Banville (Knopf) Recommended by Square BooksOxford MS

     

  • The Visiting Privilege by Joy Williams

    Joy Williams has been writing the very finest stories for 42 years.

    Carver called her simply "a wonder." Brodkey said she is "the most gifted writer of her generation." Bret Easton Ellis says she is "The rightful heir to the mastery, genius, and poetry of Flannery O’Connor," and Jim Harrison calls her stories, "chillingly astute."

    I can’t add more to that, except to say that the publication of this collection is a major American literary event. Gathered here are 33 of her earlier stories, and 13 kick-ass new ones. They are all stunning, and because she deals with the most fundamental human themes--the old verities--as they are wrangled by seemingly ordinary characters, her work never seems dated, holding up powerfully against any writer on the scene now.

    Don’t miss this one--as they say, destined to become a classic.

    The Visiting Privilege: New and Collected Stories by Joy Williams (Knopf) Recommended by LH at Square Books Oxford MS

  • Purity by Jonathan Franzen

    Purity is a big novel that will support the existing view that one of our finest novelists is Jonathan Franzen.

    The title character, Purity (Pip) Tyler, is a young woman of our time, a recent college graduate with no serious job prospects and a heap of debt. She becomes increasingly disturbed by not knowing who her father is, and signs up for an internship with The Sunlight Project, an internet outfit whose mission is to expose all sorts of secrets, because she thinks that TSP also might help locate her father.

    The group is run by Andreas Wolf, who was born in Cold War East Germany, and his family relationships might seem to make Pip’s look like the Cleavers, but hers are not at all simple, either.

    Psychological, political, and sexual constructs are formed by both state and personal dramas, and how they unravel forms a story with the sort of meaning one hopes for but does not often find in the modern novel.

    Purity by Jonathan Franzen (Farrar Straus Giroux) Recommended by RH at Square Books Oxford MS

  • The Crossing by Cormac McCarthy

    In an age when the once romantic American Southwest is beginning to fall victim to the same capitalization as the rest of the country, young and starry-eyed Billy Boyd embarks on a quest of Greek proportions across the unclaimed landscape.

    The Crossing is the second book in McCarthy's Border Trilogy stands on its own beautifully, but rises to an entirely more transcendent level
    when read with the other two books (All the Pretty Horses and Cities of the Plain).

    With his beautiful imagery, deeply sympathetic characters, and haunting social commentary, Cormac McCarthy shines as one of the greatest writers of all time.

    But this book is not for the faint of heart—it will literally change your life.

    The Crossing by Cormac McCarthy (Vintage) Recommended by Kate at Quail Ridge Books Raleigh NC

  • When the Doves Disappeared by Sofi Oksanen

    Edgar, aka Eggert Furst, aka Comrade Parts, is one of the most intriguing and pathetic villains I've come across.

    Okasanen's latest novel, like her international best-seller Purge, delves into the political tumult of little-known Estonia, where the overly ambitious Edgar adopts a new identity, while selling out his friends and colleagues, with each regime swing between the Red Army and the Nazis.

    His total lack of conscience and increasing paranoia of exposure by the two people who know him – his alcoholic estranged wife and his freedom-fighting cousin Roland – add just the right hint of dark comedy.

    When the Doves Disappeared by Sofi Oksanen (Knopf Publishing Group) Recommended by Vicki at Quail Ridge Books Raleigh NC

  • The Last Flight of Poxl West by Daniel Torday

    This utterly compelling, often heartbreaking story of war and lost love is told through a fascinating dual viewpoint.

    We see Poxl West through the eyes of his fifteen-year-old nephew, Eli Goldstein, in 1986, and through Poxl's own memoir of World War II. Eli is in thrall to the romantic war hero that comes alive in his uncle's pages, but soon finds that the complexities of one person's life may hold more than one truth. Torday has crafted a remarkable tale that shines a light on nothing less than storytelling itself.

    The Last Flight of Poxl West by Daniel Torday (St. Martin's Press) Recommended by Tony at Quail Ridge BooksRaleigh NC

  • Lost & Found by Brooke Davis

    Seven year old Millie Bird meets Karl, Agatha and Manny as she goes on a journey to find her mom.

    After Millie’s father passes away, her mom leaves her in the ladies underwear department of a department store; that’s how she meets Karl (87) and Manny (misunderstood). Agatha (82) lives across the street from Millie and once she realizes that Millie’s mom has left her, she decides to join the three of them in the search to find her.

    The four of them get into trouble along the way, making for a humorous and sometimes disappointing journey.

    Lost & Found by Brooke Davis (Dutton) Recommended by Christina at Blue Ridge Books Waynesville NC

  • Street of Thieves by Mathias Enard

    In this haunting coming of age story, we meet a young Moroccan named Lakhdar who spends his days in Tangier watching girls, reading French detective novels, and gazing across the water at the elusive lights of Spain.

    When he is kicked out of his house for an improper relationship with his cousin, he begins a journey that takes him from the streets of Tangier to the Straits of Gibraltar, and finally to Barcelona, where he finally finds some semblance of a home despite the squalor and chaos of his surroundings. 

    Set against the backdrop of the Arab Spring and the collapse of the European economy, Street of Thieves is a dark and beautiful portrait of a boy's fateful path to manhood.

    Street of Thieves by Mathias Enard (Open Letter Books) Recommended by Tony at Quail Ridge Books Raleigh NC

  • A God in Ruins by Kate Atkinson

    In this companion novel to Atkinson's bestseller Life After Life she tells the story of Ursula's brother Teddy, the favorite of his mother, his sisters - and, I have to believe, most readers.

    Teddy's story is no less moving than Ursula's, skipping backward and forward in time from his dotage to his childhood and times in-between. The heart of the story is WWII and Teddy's years as an RAF pilot, making forays deep into German territory, an experience that will color the rest of his long life.

    A wonderful novel that totally immerses you in a different world and at the same time makes you question many things about your own world.

    A God in Ruins by Kate Atkinson (Little, Brown and Company) Recommended by Sarah at Quail Ridge Books Raleigh NC

  • A Sport and a Pastime by James Salter

    Salter writes sex sans sentimentality and his breakthrough novel will make you blush and book a flight to France. Following an affair between a Yale dropout and young French woman, Sport avoids the sappy story trap through sparse, seductive prose.

    Buy this book and read it when no one is watching. Literature has rarely been this lusty.

    A Sport and a Pastime by James Salter (Farrar, Straus and Giroux) Recommended by Everett at Square Books Oxford MS

  • I Am Radar By Reif Larsen

    A strange, beautiful book about science, art, identity, war, and storytelling itself, I am Radar stretches its tendrils across continents and generations, and into some pretty ambitious narrative territory.

    When Radar is born with black skin to his pale white parents, a chain of events begins that entangles the particles of the universe from New Jersey to Norway, from Cambodia to the Congo. What happens when a radical Norwegian puppet collective meets the Colonel Kurtz of library books? Mr. Larsen's wild ride of a novel is mind expanding indeed.

    I Am Radar By Reif Larsen (Penguin Press) Recommended by Tony at Quail Ridge Books Raleigh NC

  • Dreaming in Cuban by Cristina Garcia

    Fans of magical realism and international literature will love Cristina Garcia's Dreaming In Cuban.

    Following the lives of three generations of women, her story shows how culture, family, and spirituality shape who we are and the place we choose to call home. Garcia pulls from Santeria, using the religion's relationship with color to create vivid imagery that mirrors the characters' lives. This book is truly entertaining and readers of all ages are sure to find a heroine.

    Dreaming in Cuban by Cristina Garcia (Ballantine Books) Recommended by Emily Catherine at Quail Ridge Books Raleigh NC

  • Sweetland by Michael Crummey

    Michael Crummey takes you into the heart of the insular fishing community of Chance Cove, Sweetland Island, Newfoundland.

    68-year-old Moses Sweetland's family goes back to the founding of the island. He is the only holdout when the government offers the residents a generous cash settlement to relocate, but only if everyone signs on. Told in sparse, beautiful prose, with generous helpings of the local dialect, the characters and story are reminiscent of Annie Proulx's The Shipping News, where conversations give hints of the tangled history and relationships of family and friends who have known each other for generations.

    Sweetland is a requiem for the intimate knowledge of place that a transient society can just barely remember.

    Sweetland By Michael Crummey (Liveright Publishing) Recommended by Sarah at Quail Ridge Books Raleigh NC

  • The Marrying of Chani Kaufman by Eve Harris

    A hearty thank you to the Booker Prize committee for bringing this remarkable novel by an unknown author and independent Scottish publisher into the literary limelight!

    Harris opens with a wedding between a terrified bride and groom, practically strangers, and immediately captivates her audience with this restrictive orthodox Jewish community and characters that leap off the page with a vitality that will squeeze your heart while making you laugh out loud.

    The Marrying of Chani Kaufman by Eve Harris ($16.99, Grove Press), recommended by Vicki at Quail Ridge Books Raleigh NC 

  • All That Is Solid Melts Into Air by Darragh McKeon

    This surprising new Russian novel by an Irish theater director knocked my socks off!

    With a maturity beyond his years, McKeon exposes the Chernobyl disaster through a luminous cast of characters – the teenage farm boy living 10 km from the reactor, the brilliant and conscientious young surgeon recruited to the scene, and the estranged wife and former journalist suppressed into an assembly line factory job – in this rare glimpse at a waning empire behind the Iron Curtain.

    All That Is Solid Melts Into Air By Darragh McKeon ($14.99, Harper Perennial), recommended by Vicki at Quail Ridge Books, Raleigh NC.

  • Dancing Lessons for the Advanced in Age by Bohumil Hrabal

    The world is a beautiful place, don't you think? Not because it is, but because I see it that way.

    The title is the first thing I noticed about this book, but it definitely wasn't what kept me reading it--the writing itself took care of that.

    This entire novel is ONE sentence. This is a book meant to be devoured in one sitting--you may not stop to catch your breath. Hrabal is a master and he does something really special here. 

    Dancing Lessons for the Advanced in Age By Bohumil Hrabal ($14, NYRB Classics) Recommended by O.B. at Scuppernong Books Greensboro NC

  • Lila by Marilynne Robinson

    Lila is a good reminder of why I love Marilynne Robinson's rich writing.

    The main character, Lila, becomes the wife of the Reverend Ames (a wonderfully gentle and sympathetic man who appears in Robinson's other two books set in Gilead). When we first meet Lila, she is an untamed creature, but through the love of her rescuer, Doll, and Ames, she matures and finds a sense of security.

    Lila By Marilynne Robinson ($26, Farrar, Straus and Giroux), recommended by Mamie at Quail Ridge Books Raleigh NC.

  • The Possibility of an Island by Michel Houellebecq

    A legitimate masterpiece, mixing antiseptic, dystopian sci-fi with reflections on aging, love and lonlieness.

    Hoeullebecq's genius is on full display, switching between philosophical musings and caustic misanthropy while somehow retaining a lowkey humanity. A singular bit of fiction.

    The Possibility of an Island by Michel Houellebecq, Gavin Bowd ($16, Vintage Books USA), recommended by Justin, Malaprop's Bookstore/Cafe, Asheville, NC.

  • Happy Death by Albert Camus

    His first book and my favorite.

    I admit, although I don't like how he portrays most women in this book, I appreciate his descriptions, his words, how real and raw many parts are, how I can feel a moment described.

    I pick up this book every year at different seasons because it feels changed to me depending on the time of the year, my age in life. It's hard to describe a book I always go back to, to attempt an explanation on why I love it, I just do.

    Happy Death By Albert Camus ($15, Vintage), recommended by Erin, Malaprop's Bookstore/Cafe, Asheville, NC.

  • Boy, Snow, Bird by Helen Oyeyemi

    In 1953, Boy Novak runs away from her home on the Lower East Side of New York and ends up in a small town in Massachusetts.

    She marries Arturo Whitman, a widower with an adored daughter named Snow, and the three live happily until the birth of Bird, whose dark skin exposes the Whitmans as African-Americans passing for white.

    Oyeyemi is a stunning talent who examines the disparity in how we perceive ourselves and how we allow others to perceive us. Boy, Snow, Bird is a bewitching and beguiling tale with unforgettable characters.

    Boy, Snow, Bird by Helen Oyeyemi ($27.95, Riverhead Books), recommended by Amanda, Inkwood Books Tampa, FL.

  • Where I'm Calling From: Selected Stories by Raymond Carver

    Carver is where I go for stories of the working class.

    The subject matter might be hard-edged, but it's also full of a human tenderness that leaves me a few moments where I'm unable to move on to anything else.

    This is an essential read in realist short fiction. Fans of Mary Miller or Barry Hannah will like this.

    Where I'm Calling From: Selected Stories by Raymond Carver (Vintage) Recommended by Dottie at Square Books Oxford MS.

  • Want Not by Jonathan Miles

    From the critically acclaimed author of Dear American Airlines, a compulsively readable, deeply human novel that charts the course of three intersecting lives—a freegan couple living off the grid in Manhattan, a once prominent linguist struggling with midlife, and a New Jersey debt-collection magnate with a new family and a second chance at getting things right—in a thoroughly contemporary examination of that most basic and unquenchable emotion: want. 

    Want Not By Jonathan Miles (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt), recommended by Lynne Marie at Fountain Bookstore, Richmond VA.