44 Amazing Book Recommendations From Our Favorite Indie Bookstores
We asked our favorite indie booksellers about the books they're loving these days.
It's spring break season — and if you're the kind of person who sees a week off as a week to read, then we've got you covered. BuzzFeed Books talked to some of our favorite independent bookstores and asked for their staff recommendations.
"The Grief Keeper is a gorgeously written and thought-provoking story about two sisters, Marisol and Gabi, who flee their country to escape death threats. Waiting for asylum that will most likely be denied, Marisol jumps at an opportunity in the form of an experiment in which she carries the grief of another — the sci-fi element of the story, though I wouldn't call the book sci-fi. This book touches on so many important topics and does it so seamlessly — the anti-immigration sentiment so prevalent today, the thoughtless exploitation of brown bodies, the ways in which society negatively effects the psyches of those who do not fit the heterosexual 'norm'. It's not an easy read. It breaks your heart (and could be triggering for some) but the heart of these characters puts you back together again and leaves you with hope. This book is a hidden gem — and it's actually our current Mujerx Book Club book." —owner Rosaura "Chawa" Magaña
Get it from Palabras Bilingual Bookstore for $17.99.
"Natalie Diaz isn't just an internationally recognized artist, she's also a local luminary. We at the store are huge fans, and her new collection Postcolonial Love Poem is already a staff favorite. It is an anthem and a revolt. It pulsates with sensuality and passion, anger and pain. It's a celebration of indigenous history, the sacred, desire and thirst. With these poems Diaz proves language has no limits and bends words to tell her story — a story that as an Arizona native felt like home. The heat radiates on the page and to me there is nothing more Arizona than heat and need." —book buyer Michelle Malonzo
Get it from Changing Hands for $16.
"As the epicenter for Beat literature on the West Coast, City Lights is the place to pick up a copy of Kerouac’s classic On the Road, but for a contemporary road trip novel, I recommend Valeria Luiselli’s fantastic and powerful Lost Children Archive, which juxtaposes a family’s journey across the US with an examination of a humanitarian crisis right on our doorstep: children refugees on the Mexican-American border. Smart, compassionate, and beautifully written, Lost Children Archive is a masterpiece destined to be a classic." —floor manager Christopher Phipps
Get it from City Lights for $16.95+.
"Ever feel like you're drowning of loneliness amidst a sea of people? Read Sweet Days of Discipline! Jaeggy traces the inner island of alienation wrought by one-sided love in this short novel that joins the ranks of other boarding school tales such as Denton Welch's In Youth is Pleasure and Robert Musil's Confusions of Young Törless." —former employee Tulasi Johnson
"Rebecca Solnit is a staff favorite here, and always sells well with our customers, especially Men Explain Things To Me. We love her books on San Francisco — like Hollow City: The Siege of San Francisco and the Crisis of American Urbanism — and A Field Guide to Getting Lost." —general manager Matt Henriksen
6. Skylight Books (LA) recommends Occult Features of Anarchism: With Attention to the Conspiracy of Kings and the Conspiracy of the Peoples by Erica Lagalisse
"Lagalisse bravely and concisely clarifies the complex intersections between the occult, Western radicalism, and conspiracy theories with a strong feminist argument against the hidden patriarchal tendencies in Western culture and politics that she traces all the way back to St. Augustine and the ancient Hermetic tradition." —book buyer Charles Hauther
Get it from Skylight for $15.95, free media mail shipping.
7. Word After Word (Truckee, California) recommends Tahoe Beneath the Surface: The Hidden Stories of America's Largest Mountain Lake by Scott Lankfort
"The Soviet science fiction classic Roadside Picnic by Arkady and Boris Strugatsky is a must read for fans of SF. It's a unique take on the aftermath of alien visitation, with a seedy atmosphere and beautiful prose. It is also the basis for the film Stalker, which in our opinion is one of the greatest science fiction films on par with films such as 2001." —owner Jean-Paul Garnier
9. Verbatim Books (San Diego) recommends This Is the End of Something But it's Not the End of You by Adam Gnade
"Adam Gnade is a San Diego native and a big favorite with the locals. His latest novel follows the semi-autobiographical James Bozic as he grows up in the San Diego beach town of Pacific Beach — a place many spring breakers may be familiar with! As James encounters the many dreams and despairs of young adulthood, his experiences are shaped by his environment — San Diego, with its glaring sunlight, salty breezes, hole-in-the-wall taco shops and endless highways. The setting is immediately familiar to San Diegans and illuminating to others. Gnade's characters navigate a homey, authentic side of San Diego the tourists rarely get to experience. His book is a must-read for those who want to experience San Diego from a local's perspective." —owner Justine Epstein
"On a tidally locked planet where humans struggle to survive, one hemisphere burns in perpetual light, and the other is a frozen hellscape where there be monsters. But the 'monsters' in the dark are an ancient, indigenous culture, and as protagonist Sophie knows too well, the real monsters are us. When Sophie, from the night side, falls in love with Bianca, she’ll risk everything for a battle that isn't her own, and she must decide if their stolen world deserves to exist at all. It's a tale of environmental crisis, the borders that divide us, and the horrors perpetrated on the 'alien' due to cultural blinders. Hope lies in facing our fears and ugly ambitions, to create a world in balance, diverse and whole. One of the best SF novels I’ve read in years!" —staffer R. J. Crowther, Jr.
Get it from Mysterious Galaxy for $18.99+ — free shipping coming soon!
"Sabrina & Corina is a stunning short story collection featuring Latina women of Indigenous descent living in Denver. This is one of BookBar's bestselling books, and an all-around staff and customer favorite." —marketing and events coordinator Christine Bollow
Get it from BookBar for $17+, free shipping.
"This is the first authoritative biography of the Dalai Lama, and his life story reads like an adventure! Travel with him from an isolated Tibetan village in his childhood to worldwide standing as a spiritual and political leader of one of the world’s most profound and complex cultural traditions. This book is fascinating and blends history, politics, and spirituality in the most surprising ways. Norman convinces us that the Dalai Lama’s spiritual practice, rooted in magic, vision, and prophecy, makes him one of the most radical, charismatic, and beloved world leaders. An amazing read!" —events and marketing director Cristina Nosti
Get it from Books & Book for $30.
13. Pyramid Books (Boynton Beach, Florida) recommends It Was All a Dream: A New Generation Confronts the Broken Promise to Black America by Reniqua Allen
"In It Was All a Dream, Reniqua Allen tells the stories of Black millennials searching for a better future in spite of racist policies that have closed off traditional versions of success. Many watched their parents and grandparents play by the rules, only to sink deeper and deeper into debt. They witnessed their elders fight to escape cycles of oppression for more promising prospects, largely to no avail. Today, in this post-Obama era, they face a critical turning point." —bookseller De'Vonte Watson
Get it from Pyramid Books for $28.
"In a global pandemic that infects only humans, how would our pets and other captive animals survive? How would nature remake our environments? Remake us? Hilarious, fantastical, inspiring, and at times heartbreaking, this work could change the way you look at life around you. At the very least, you'll fall in love with the crow protagonist and narrator, S.T." —owner Melanie Cade
"Southern Gothic fun! An African-American cis male ghost befriends a living, white, genderfluid drag queen. In Mississippi. It's a quirky story about friendship, finding similarities among our differences, and shutting up long enough to learn something. The exploration of race, gender, and life in the South makes it a great book club book. And, of course, you get to try to puzzle out who killed Buster Sparkle as the novel unfolds. Go on, lose yourself in Mississippi for a while; become part of building a better South." —owner Kendra Lee
"Atlanta author favorites, Becky Albertalli and Aisha Saeed, have teamed up to write this new young adult novel about local activism, politics, and cross-cultural relationships. In these difficult political times, we love books that show us the power of love and activism combined, this timely book is full of humor, romance, and hope. And if you've read Becky's first book, Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda, Charis is the bookstore Simon goes to visit!" —co-owner Sara Luce Look
Get it from Charis Books & More for $17.99, plus flat-rate $1 shipping.
"The notion of Hawaiʻi as paradise in Western popular imagination is the basis of colonial and settler violence against Native Hawaiians. Detours flips the idea of a travel guide on its head by offering essays, stories, maps, artwork, and personal narratives told from indigenous and local perspectives. The guide is a must read for those who come to our Islands seeking sun, surf, and sea. Not everything here is meant for everyone for visits." —project manager Josh Tengan
Get it from Nā Mea for $29.95.
"This novel was Faulkner’s first. It was the book that introduced us to one of America's greatest novelists, while happily subverting the writer’s dream of becoming a poet. It was written in 1920s New Orleans, in the bohemian French Quarter, in the very room that is now our bookshop. Like so many other stories at the time, it’s about a soldier coming home, about the world he comes home to — which makes it deeply relevant even today, nearly a century after its publication. We are, like Faulkner, quietly aware of a far-off war and the soldiers it sends home, often broken and lost. Faulkner’s soldier is Donald Mahon, who returns to his small Georgia town after World War I, to a place where 'time and space had stood still.' He is scarred — both figuratively and literally (his face mangled by machine-gun fire). The town’s characters — all vividly drawn, with that exquisite independence of voice and perspective and voice that became Faulkner’s trademark — are jolted by Donald’s return. They had mourned him as dead, and moved on — even his own father. We see them in the midst of their wants and needs and hopes and dreams, a menagerie of paths consistently misaligned. Like all of Faulkner’s great novels of the postbellum South, Soldiers’ Pay is at heart a story about bitterness and disappointment in the wake of war and change, told through the stale intimacies of ordinary lives." —co-owner Devereaux Bell
"This Southern Gothic saga follows Adele LeMoyne, a young adult growing up in the French Quarter who has just returned home from three months in Paris after a mandatory hurricane evacuation. At first, in the wake of the storm's devastation, she doesn't notice the supernatural events happening around her — but once she discovers that she accidentally broke a curse cast by her ancestor in the 1800s, the race is on to find all of the descendants of her ancestor's coven, so they can recast the curse and keep the murder rate from soaring. The Casquette Girls series is a local favorite loved by both teens and adults alike, featuring vampires, witches, magic, and ghosts from different local urban legends. Recommended for fans of both Anne Rice and Sabrina the Teenage Witch." —owner Candice Huber
"I devoured this book in one day, and it has rocketed to the top of my All Time Favorite Books list. Red and Blue are agents on opposite sides of the Time War, trying to nudge the arc of the universe into curving one way or the other, and braiding together different strands of time until the other side can't get in. They are both good and loyal soldiers — until one of them leaves a letter for the other to find. Told through vignettes and letters, this book is beautiful, and funny, and heartbreaking. An instant classic." —lead bookseller Katherine N.
Get it from Trident Booksellers for $19.99, free shipping (use code MARCHSHIP).
"McCormick takes three people — Ruben, a young intellect radically fixated on the Armenian genocide; Avo, Ruben’s brother and complement/foil; and Mina, a remarkably lucky and skilled backgammon player and Ruben’s rival — and asks, how many different configurations can three people take on in each others’ lives? McCormick lovingly, skillfully, shows us, tracking them from Armenia to Europe to America, while they all grapple with the permanence of their actions on themselves and each other. It's a history lesson, a testament to brotherhood, an inquiry into radicalized minds and culture, a tracking of the Armenian diaspora, a love story, and a drive-by past the world of professional wrestling." —inventory manager Charlotte Bruell
"This novel pulled me in so, so wholeheartedly. Told in alternating perspectives, this novel is also very much about the imprints that characters leave on each other, a deeply meaningful exploration of the ways in which the lives of human beings are intertwined. With beautiful writing and engaging storytelling, The Gimmicks is not to be missed." —inventory manager Kelsey O'Rourke
Get it from Literati for $27.99.
22. Pages Bookshop (Detroit) recommends The World According to Fannie Davis: My Mother's Life in the Detroit Numbers by Bridgett Davis
"Fannie Davis was a young, black mother in 1958 Detroit with a family to support and children to raise. With a mountain of obstacles that limited options for her to succeed, she did just that. Beginning as a numbers runner to earn money, she turned that illegal, but somewhat legitimate business, into a life-long career. She was the family's provider, bought and sold houses, educated her children, and welcomed her neighbors into her home. This is an inspiring story — told by her daughter — of self-sufficiency, endurance, and the brilliance of a resilient mother. It's also a history lesson of race and gender roles, and policies that marginalized black communities." —owner Susan Murphy
Get it from Pages Bookshop for $16.99+, free shipping.
"We find it hard to classify this extraordinary book — should we shelve it in science, art history, feminism, LGBTQ+, biography? It is all of these and more. Weaving a cast of often overlooked people throughout history, Popova sheds light on their life's work, personal tribulations, overlapping relationships — and the barriers they broke. It is a narrative of discovery and will perhaps spark strength and inspiration in you." —bookseller Gena
Get it from Subterranean Books for $18+, plus flat-rate $2 shipping.
"Who are we after the ones we love are gone? Antonia Vega's husband's death and her sister's disappearance have made her emerge from the world of stories in her mind to a very real and very demanding new world around her. When a young and pregnant undocumented immigrant finds her way to her doorstep, Antonia is pulled into unfamiliar territory and faces her grief for her husband, her family, and her lost world. This timely novel explores how we are all responsible for the world we live in and how our lives can and must begin again." —events coordinator Shane P. Mullen
Get it from Left Bank Books for $25.95, free shipping.
"When customers ask me for a recommendation — particularly if it’s a cold ask, and I know almost nothing about them — I recommend Mrs. Caliban by Rachel Ingalls, one of my favorite reads from the last few years. Originally published in the 1980s, it was reissued by New Directions a few years ago. The plot involves a lonely housewife falling in love with a fugitive, sentient, and rather sexy sea monster. It’s admirably short, crisply written, funny. It’s devastating, and yet its sadness is the vehicle for a weird optimism. Anyone with a heart (most people!) will love this book." —co-owner Drew Cohen
Get it from The Writer's Block for $13.95.
"Grace Paley was a badass, in life and on the page. This year, my goal is to inhabit every part of my life fully, and to use my whole self always. If this all sounds a bit lofty, well, it’s a good time to be lofty, but also, these stories are the opposite of lofty. They are life —funny, sad, and full of righteous anger and kitchen sinks. You will love her." —owner and author Emma Straub
Get it from Books Are Magic for $18.
"This lush fairy tale takes place in Jazz Age Mexico, dealing with Death Gods and dancing. Its mix of romance, intrigue, and mythology makes this read impossible to put down — you'll want to read it again and again." —events coordinator Christian Vega
Get it from Astoria Bookshop for $16+, plus flat-rate $2 shipping.
"Being Numerous acknowledges that fascisms are, like Virilio’s accidents, baked in from the start. And so, of course, we have to look out for and act against those fascisms. According to this collection of incisive essays, doing so can be thrilling." —store clerk and Instagram curator Mark Trecka
"What happens when a by-the-book caseworker investigates a magical orphanage full of children who could, potentially, destroy the world? Chaos, accidents, and — just maybe — a change of mind and heart. The House in the Cerulean Sea is a gem of a book. Both heartwarming and delightful, T.J. Klune's new fantasy will bring you genuine joy in a world that can forget the importance of kindness. It's especially great for fans of Good Omens and Seanan McGuire's Wayward Children series. I can't wait to read it again!" —floor manager Nicole Brinkley
Pre-order from Oblong Books for $26.99, free shipping.
"Black Mountain College was one of the great instigators of 20th century art, craft and design. Having been located about 15 minutes outside of Asheville in the small town of Black Mountain, the influence and importance of what BMC produced has long impressed me, and the depth of talent that studied and taught there has produced a mountain of books. The first anthology of its poets, Black Mountain Poems, is a wonderful place to wade in as an introduction. It has all the major names — Charles Olson, Robert Creeley, Robert Duncan — but also includes lesser known poets like Hilda Morley, or surprises, like verse from Josef Albers and John Cage. A fascinating and nimble collection of world class poetry that grew in our own backyard." —senior book buyer and manager Justin Souther
Get it from Malaprop's for $16.95.
"Wilkes, fellow Kentucky Colonel and frontman for rockabilly band The Legendary Shack Shakers, seems to be good at everything, especially spinning together a perfect southern gothic tale. The Vine That Ate the South follows two western Kentuckians on a hunt for the haunted Kudzu House, whose vines swallowed an elderly couple whole. If you love folklore, this one is a must. As a bonus, publisher Two Dollar Radio is headquartered just a few blocks away." —marketing manager Gary Lovely
Get it from The Book Loft for $15.19.
“This is a heartbreaking memoir of an abusive relationship and the person who enters, lives, and leaves the experience. Machado tells her story in short pieces that play with different forms and genres, which serves to capture the dizzying feeling of trying to make sense of abuse as it’s happening, and to understand its ramifications as a survivor. It’s a beautiful, devastating, and hopeful book that broke me open and built new chambers in my heart.” —bookseller Michelle C.
Get it from Powell's for $26.
"Brian was a long-time customer favorite here. He wrote many books — novels, essays, short stories — and read here several dozen times. One Long River of Song is a posthumously published collection of his essays that display his delightful sense of wonder about the sanctity of everyday things, and about love and connection in all their forms: spiritual love, brotherly love, romantic love, and even the love of a nine-foot sturgeon. Sadly, Brian passed away in May 2017 at the age of 60." —co-owners Sally McPherson and Kim Bissell
Get it from Broadway Books for $27.
"Deep River is a multi-generational saga about a Finnish immigrant family in the Pacific Northwest striving to grapple with a new culture in southern Washington. It spans two centuries, but focuses on the first half of the 20th — a time of logger barons, the messy early labor movement, World War I, and the very real challenges that family, love, ambition, and a vision for a better life press upon the complex, strong characters that Karl Marlantes brings to life. It is captivating in its description of the dangers of logging giant trees, and brutally portrays conditions in the early logging camps. Marlantes's description of these primitive and unhealthy camps illuminates why early labor strikes centered on demands for simple improvements. The characters struggle to adapt and define their future as the momentous elements of history draw them in." —co-owners Maureen Dooley-Sroufe and Deb Merserseau
"If one of the Breakfast Club kids never left detention that day, it would a little like this book — there are characters drawn with insight, complicated histories, and social politics, but also murder. McManus, a veritable master of misdirection, plots a whodunit so deftly that it transcends the YA label. Its sequel One of Us is Next was released in January and a television show is impending." —manager Sara Peck
"Conroy was a wonderful Low Country writer and this novel about the darker side of the military academy, known as Charleston's Citadel, is a powerful read. The book has great character development, along with realistic situations and redemption at its end." —owner Vicki Baty
"The past is never truly past, and we must reckon with decisions made by those in the generations before us. This lesson is especially evident in Louise Erdrich’s The Night Watchman, inspired by her own grandfather and the legal battles he and so many other Native peoples fought. The book encompasses so much of what Native tribes have experienced in the wake of white European settlement. I couldn’t help but root for Thomas Wazhashk, Patrice, Wood Mountain, and all the other characters in the Turtle Mountain Reservation. But more importantly, this is a story that is not finished. The battles Erdrich’s grandfather fought and the legislation pitted against Native tribes are not a thing of the past. And here we can learn from those who came before what it means to strive for justice, even if we know it is an uphill battle." —inventory manager Catherine Bock
Get it from Parnassus for $28.99.
"My Autobiography of Carson McCullers is a soft, intimate, deep heart work of nonfiction about the writer Carson McCullers, the writer Jenn Shapland, and their relationships with identity and language. So effective was this pairing of biography, cultural/literary history, and personal memoir, it had me wondering why all biographies aren't written with so many of the biography writer's questions, motivations, and personal stakes interwoven throughout as much of the forefront as the subject's birthplace and major contributions. Shapland focuses on all the areas I care about in trying to get at the heart of a person — who they loved, why they loved them, whether that love was successful. What did they wear? How would you categorize their style and how did it reflect other truths of their life? (In this case, a large collection of dressing gowns speaks to McCullers's chronic illness; a love for vests an early indicator of her queer identity.) Who in their circle is to be trusted and who, from the facts, seems like a bad egg? Pulsing amicably throughout is a self-identified obsession on Shapland's behalf to find out whether or not Carson McCullers was a lesbian. (It's important to note that Shapland dissects this 'need to know,' identifying that the way we write about queer identity now is very different from how it was written about in the 'then' of her studies). A mystery, a love story, a biography, several hearts on the page — I so loved this generous offering." —inventory manager Molly Moore
Get it from BookPeople for $22.95.
"This book is a rare example of a crime novel all of us here at Murder By The Book agreed was fantastic! It topped many of my staff's Best of 2019, and was my favorite book of last year as well. Clare is a literature teacher at a British school, where she specializes in Gothic fiction, including the story 'The Stranger' by R. M. Holland. When one of Clare's colleagues is found dead — with a line from that particular story left near the body — Clare gets wrapped up in the investigation. Things take an even darker turn when she receives a mysterious message. This book has the perfect blend of compelling voice, suspense, tight plotting, gothic overtones, creepy scenes, and a page-turning story — in other words, something for everyone." —owner McKenna Jordan
Get it from Murder by the Book for $15.99+.
"We are lucky enough to claim Jack as a true local, and he's a frequent visitor to our store — both for shopping and for hosting signings for his thriller series. These books are the owner's top pick, and he cannot wait for the third installment, Savage Son, to come out this April. If you're looking for an adrenaline filled ride, look no further!" —book buyer Michaela Smith
Get The Terminal List from Dolly's Bookstore for $9.99+.
"Gift From the Sea is as fresh as a salt-tinged gust off the water, even 50 years after it was first published. Follow this amazing woman to a house by the sea as she reflects on her personal relationships, professional journeys, and the roles she’s chosen to play in each. If you only know Lindbergh from the historical kidnapping case or her famous aviator husband, then you may be surprised to learn that she was an accomplished aviator and writer, as well as a wife and mother.
"Lindbergh draws inspiration from a variety of shells collected along the shore and draws insightful comparisons to their forms and functions. The similarities to today's issues with which women grapple will cause you to consider the timeless universality of these most essential questions. Bonus content in The Anniversary Edition includes reflections by Lindbergh herself, 20 years after the first printing and an introduction by her daughter Reeve Lindbergh." —owner Kristin Hildum
"It's a sweetly fun book about love, family, believing in yourself and taking chances — beginning locally in Seattle, then taking off on a well intentioned humanitarian adventure around the globe. And, of course, it's about bees. The main character Mia will take you on a trip you won't forget!" —owner Laurie Raisys
Get it from Island Books for $16.99.
"Set in the fictitious African American community of Dickens on the outskirts of Los Angeles, The Sellout is probably the most outrageous, uproarious, provocative satire of the past decade. You may think you are ready, but we promise you, reader, you are not." —co-owner Kyle Burk
"It's her last book, coming after her far better known masterpiece Middlemarch. Eliot's broad, sympathetic intelligence and stunning emotional intensity make her writing like nobody else's. This isn't a sprawling canvas like its predecessor but a frighteningly intimate portrait of a woman in crisis, as well as — surprisingly — a humanistic and personal history of the idealistic beginnings of the Zionist movement. Like most of her work, it is part heartwarming love story and part thriller — and her wisdom can't help but rub off on you. She was the smartest person ever to lift a pen." —owner Grant Cogswell
This post has been updated to include any shipping deals bookstores are offering during recommended social distancing.
Island Books is on Mercer Island, Washington. A previous version of this post misstated its location.