Indie Next List for April 2020

The best new books this month chosen by us and other
independent booksellers across the country.

This Month's #1 Indie Next List Pick...

The Glass Hotel

By Emily St. John Mandel

(Knopf 9780525521143, $26.95)

"In this ghostly story of ignoring what's right in front of you, a group of characters try to grapple with what seems like inevitable choices. Mandel's book is like the glass in the title: her language glitters while offering clarity and reflection, and her characters are like broken shards, mesmerizing in one light and dangerously ordinary in another. Combining the humanity and structure of Station Eleven with the brutal realism of her earlier works, The Glass Hotel is an exceptional novel."
--Marika McCoola, Porter Square Books, Cambridge, MA

This Month's #1 Indie Next List Pick Author Interview

(photo: Sarah Shatz)

Independent booksellers across the country have chosen The Glass Hotel (Knopf) by Emily St. John Mandel as their number-one pick for the April 2020 Indie Next List.

Mandel's novel follows a cast of characters over the course of their lives, as they work in the service industry and international shipping, go to underground electronica clubs, come into extraordinary wealth, and weather the extended aftermath of a collapsed international Ponzi scheme, all while being inexplicably haunted by their pasts.

Where did the idea for The Glass Hotel come from?

The starting point for the book was that I was fascinated by the Bernie Madoff Ponzi scheme. I didn't find the actual people involved in that crime particularly interesting--if you read interviews with Bernie Madoff, he just seems like a garden variety narcissistic sociopath. But the crime was fascinating to me. At the time the story broke, I was an administrative assistant at a cancer research lab, and I really adored my coworkers. I started to find myself thinking about the kind of camaraderie you have with any group of people, particularly coworkers, and how much more intense that camaraderie would be if you were showing up to work on Monday to perpetuate a massive crime. Who are those people? Who would perpetuate a crime like that?

The first chapter of The Glass Hotel that I wrote was actually the chapter about the Ponzi scheme staffers, which starts, "We crossed a line." There's some really interesting stuff in there about collective guilt--I think it's easier to say "we crossed a line" than "I crossed a line." There's something about the group that provides cover.

It was originally just going to be a novel about white-collar crime and people caught up in this massive fraud. But I don't write from an outline. That has definite positives and negatives. It means my first draft is actually kind of a mess, but it also means there's a real possibility of surprise. Sometimes the book can take an unexpected direction for me, and that was definitely the case here. As I started writing the book and going through round after round after round of revisions, it morphed into a ghost story where the financial crime was only one element. So, I would say the starting point was actually quite different from where the book ended up.

This book is set in many different places, but the main setting doesn't seem to be a physical place at all. It's an idea that Vincent makes a reference to--money as "its own country." Why did you decide to center the story on wealth?

I think it came from the starting point of the Ponzi scheme. If you're writing about a financial crime, then you're automatically writing about money, and money is something we think about all the time but don't always talk about. In terms of this idea of money being its own country, that's something I've been thinking about for a while. It's this idea that money can lend this sameness of experience across multiple geographic locations. It can kind of feel like its own space that you enter into.

Back in October, I had a couple of trips to Los Angeles because I was working on a TV project, and I have a crazy number of miles on Delta from all the touring I did for Station Eleven. On two occasions, I used the miles to upgrade to Delta One, which is their highest class of service. And what that experience did in practical terms is I would leave Los Angeles at 10:30 p.m., take a five-hour nap in a lay-flat bed, and wake up in a plane landed in New York. Both times I did that, it was like the luxury rendered the distance unconvincing. I would wake up from a five-hour nap and sometimes I wouldn't really believe that I was in a different city. It was like the luxury of the experience made the travel so frictionless that it didn't really feel like travel. I think if you live in a bubble of extreme wealth, your life probably doesn't feel very different in Singapore than it would in London or New York. I think to some extent, changing location could feel like a change of backdrop.

While Paul isn't exactly the main character of the story, he provides a point of access and is the first character we get to know. Why did you start with him?

He's a bit of a red herring, isn't he? He was actually a really late addition to the book, but I was writing toward him through a lot of the drafts. There were early drafts of the book where Jonathon Alkaitis had a son who was very much like Paul--a little bit derelict, first-world problems. But part of Paul for me was filling in Vincent's backstory. He was also an interesting avenue for me to write about ghosts, which was something I was thinking about while writing this book. I lived in Toronto in the late '90s and I remember the club scene there. I was never into drugs myself, but I certainly knew people who were, and I remember these periodic waves of bad ecstasy pills going around. I guess it haunted me a bit, and I liked the idea of telling a ghost story around that with Paul.

In this book, ghosts aren't just the dead--they're also the past. What made you want to explore this idea?

To be honest, I don't really remember the moment I was like, wait a minute, let's have Alkaitis see ghosts, which, from there, balloons out to all the ghosts that you see in the novel. But I found it interesting to think about different kinds of hauntedness. When we use the phrase "ghost story," we tend to think about it in the classical sense, the spectral hooded figure glowing down the hallway. But it can be interesting to think of different ways of being haunted. There are "classical ghosts" in the book, like the figures Alkaitis sees, or the way Paul might or might not be seeing that kid Charlie who died at the club. But I feel like all of us are probably haunted by bad decisions that we made earlier in our lives, things that we shouldn't have said, moments that we weren't kind. That can be a kind of haunting, the way those things preoccupy your life. An idea that I find really interesting that I go into pretty deeply in the chapters about Alkaitis in prison is this idea of the counterlife, the life he didn't live. I like this sinking notion of a life being haunted by a life you didn't live. So, when Alkaitis is having these sort of dreams or visions in prison where he actually got away with it and is in Dubai, I liked the idea of it becoming less and less clear that those are just dreams. It was really interesting for me to write about different ways of being haunted.

After deciding to pose as Alkaitis' wife, Vincent finds a friend in Mirella. Their friendship is in many ways one of the more honest ones in the book. How did you craft their dynamic?

I saw them as not quite having a shared secret, but they have a shared knowledge because they both grew up without money. And here they are as almost interlopers in the country of money. They're relationship is kind of like being in a foreign country and finding a fellow New Yorker. They're compatriots, and while Vincent is literally an immigrant from Canada, they're both sort of immigrants from the world of no money. I saw them as having a close bond partly based on that. But what I was also thinking about with them was the way a close friendship can have an element of romance, not necessarily in a sexual way, but the way you can be in love with someone in the sense that you absolutely adore having them as a friend and want to spend time with them. That was one of my favorite relationships in the book.

Can you tell readers what you're working on next?

I just started a new novel that I'm not far into at all. I've also been working on a television adaptation of The Glass Hotel. Right now, I'm working on the pilot script for that, and it's been fun. I love writing novels, but after five novels it's fun to try something different.

More Indie Next List Great Reads

Chosen Ones

By Veronica Roth

(John Joseph Adams/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt 9780358164081, $26.99)

"Two men and three women meet the odd criteria set for the Chosen Ones, who will save the world from the Dark One--whether they want to or not. Years after successfully completing their assignment, three of them are hijacked to a parallel universe to repeat their performance. They are not very happy. Roth's world-building is exquisite, as is her construction of parallel universe mechanics. And did I mention the maddening, flawed, and entertaining characters? Roth's first adult sci-fi is a resounding triumph! I'm ready for more."

--Kay Wosewick, Boswell Book Company, Milwaukee, WI


By Chelsea Bieker

(Catapult 9781948226486, $26)

"Within the first chapter of Godshot, you can hear Chelsea Bieker's fist swinging toward you, but it still won't prepare you for the punch to the gut this book delivers. Lacey springs off the page in her first moments and takes you along with her on her dust-torn, glitter-stained, bloodied journey. Sometimes I get tired of being reminded how dangerous it is to be a woman (because, dammit, I KNOW!), but Bieker's prose is so beautifully consuming I found myself whipping through words that twisted my insides. What a resounding book."

--Amy Van Keuren, Savoy Bookshop & Café, Westerly, RI

The Prettiest Star

By Carter Sickels

(Hub City Press 9781938235627, $26)

"This beautiful, elegiac novel tells the story of the last homecoming to rural Ohio for Brian, who is dying of AIDS at the height of the 1980s epidemic. Told with empathy and heart, complemented by a pitch-perfect sense of time and place, The Prettiest Star is a deeply affecting story about what it means to understand each other and where we come from, even when our lives have taken us light years away."

--Ashley Warlick, M. Judson Booksellers & Storytellers, Greenville, SC

Darling Rose Gold

By Stephanie Wrobel

(Berkley 9780593100066, $26)

"Rose Gold's mother is being released from prison and has asked her daughter for temporary shelter. Despite having been the target of her mother's abuse, Rose Gold decides to give it a try. Has she really forgiven her mother for past crimes? This is a roller coaster of a story! Loved it!"

--Marcia Vanderford, Vanderford's Books & Office Products, Sandpoint, ID


By TaraShea Nesbit

(Bloomsbury Publishing 9781635573220, $26)

"Beheld is a story of the Pilgrims and Puritans, the beginning of the Plymouth colony, and the first murder that occurred there. It's a fascinating look at family, love, the importance of friendship, corruption, and human behavior. I have not read many books that take place during this time period but this one, which is primarily told from the voices of two women, is just fantastic!"

--Kathy Morrison, Newtown Bookshop, Newtown, PA

The City We Became

By N.K. Jemisin

(Orbit 9780316509848, $28)

"I love N.K. Jemisin's books, I love New York City, and I love this book about the soul and personification of New York. The City We Became might just be my favorite book to be published in 2020. This story is filled with tension, humor, and great characters, with a guest appearance near and dear to me. While this book is the beginning of a trilogy, it is completely satisfying as a stand-alone novel. Read it and be happy."

--Doug Chase, Powell's Books, Portland, OR

The Roxy Letters

By Mary Pauline Lowry

(Simon & Schuster 9781982121433, $26)

"Move over Bridget Jones, Roxy is here to stay! Thank goddess! I loved every sentence of The Roxy Letters; I found myself laughing out loud at some of her wacky antics. I also loved the quirky cast of characters that danced across the pages, and I think Roxy is the perfect antihero for the new millennium. I can't wait to see where Mary Pauline Lowry's career is headed!"
--Kathleen Caldwell, A Great Good Place for Books, Oakland, CA

The Honey-Don't List

By Christina Lauren

(Gallery Books 9781982145217, hardcover, $28; 9781982123918, trade paper, $16)

"A famous rom-com duo takes on HGTV in their latest surefire hit. Underpaid and overworked assistants Carey and James didn't intend to be in charge of keeping together a reality TV couple's marriage, but here they are. They also didn't intend to fall for each other, but as they try to fix the crumbling marriage of Melissa and Rusty Tripp, they find common ground. Equal parts sweet and steamy, with a story about finding your spine and self-worth."

--Sami Thomason, Square Books, Oxford, MS

The Address Book: What Street Addresses Reveal About Identity, Race, Wealth, and Power

By Deirdre Mask

(St. Martin's Press 9781250134769, $26.99)

"An intriguing, in-depth look at a phenomenon that seldom penetrates the human mind or the political discourse. Filled with historical insights and rich examples, this book transports the reader into real places and events, and identifies their import for current affairs."
--Lloyd Richardson, ShenValley Books 'n Things, Harrisonburg, VA

The Unseen

By Roy Jacobsen

Don Shaw and Don Bartlett (Transl.)

(Biblioasis 9781771963190, $16.95, trade paper)

"Never has a novel so utterly simple left me with such deep contemplation. I know Ingrid will linger in the back of my mind for a long while, continuing to grow, discover, and dig into her island with unique grit. Jacobsen has left me tossing in a boat at sea, filled with the determination of the Barrøys to make their tiny Norwegian island more than is possible and, at the same time, torn by nagging questions of what else life might offer."
--Carrie Koepke, Skylark Bookshop, Columbia, MO

Sin Eater

By Megan Campisi

(Atria Books 9781982124106, $27)

"Oh my. Megan Campisi's Sin Eater completely took me by surprise. It is a wholly unique combination of fantasy, mystery, and historical fiction. Filled with intriguing characters and vivid imagery, this inventive tale will immerse readers in the deceit and intrigue of the royal court. Campisi's narrator is what really sets this novel apart--the sin eater, a woman called to hear the sins of the dying and consume the foods that represent them. A dark, thrilling read!"

--Anderson McKean, Page and Palette, Fairhope, AL

How Much of These Hills Is Gold

By C Pam Zhang

(Riverhead Books 9780525537205, $26)

"In the most inventive and fresh language I've seen in a long time, C Pam Zhang's How Much of These Hills Is Gold, set during the American gold rush, tells the story of siblings Lucy and Sam as they wander the western expanse to give their father a proper burial. Zhang transforms the mythology of the American West and reclaims it through the eyes of first-generation Asian-Americans, tackling themes of race, immigration, and gender and creating a new narrative of a voice and people often left out of this pivotal historical period. Strange and surreal, this is a novel to read with care and gratitude."
--Chris Alonso, Books & Books, Coral Gables, FL

Indies Introduce -- outstanding debuts as selected by independent booksellers

Three Hours in Paris

By Cara Black

(Soho Crime 9781641290418, $27.95)

"I couldn't put down this well-written and fast-paced thriller. This is the story of Kate Rees, an American female spy, and her tragedies and triumphs during WWII. Cara creates a captivating story around Hitler's three-hour visit to Paris, to which he never returned again, and takes you on a wild ride through the city that day. Each piece of the timeline is expertly stitched together, and I found myself completely involved! Cara Black, you have a new fan!"
--Lisa Valentino, Ink Fish Books, Warren, RI


By Peter Geye

(Knopf 9780525655756, $26.95)

"Shakespeare wrote, 'What's past is prologue.' Through Geye's lyrical prose, we are reminded of the importance of where we come from and what we leave for those after us. Northernmost illustrates the power of true adventure--adventure through risking life and limb in the Arctic, adventure through loss, adventure through love, and adventure through the most powerful self-discovery. This book will leave an imprint on your heart."
--Kristen Sandstrom, Apostle Islands Booksellers, Bayfield, WI


By Julia Alvarez

(Algonquin Books 9781643750255, $25.95)

"Most people would make sour milk out of the lemons Antonia has been given, but she finds herself more resilient than she knew she was. When her husband passes away the same day she retires and the problems keep adding up, she must decide what to do. Julia Alvarez writes like she painted a picture you need to sit beside. Breathless and cinematic, this book is one to share with friends and the one we should be talking about in 2020."

--Suzanne Lucey, Page 158 Books, Wake Forest, NC

Enter the Aardvark

By Jessica Anthony

(Little, Brown and Company 9780316536158, $26)

"I've never read a novel quite like this one. The story connects two storylines, one revolving around the stuffing of an aardvark and the other around a repressed, Reagan-obsessed, Republican millennial congressman. What I loved most about this novel is that it's kind of ridiculous (in a great way!) but it is also very poignant and leaves the reader changed by the end. Bravo, Jessica Anthony!"
--John McManus, Main Point Books, Wayne, PA

The Southern Book Club's Guide to Slaying Vampires

By Grady Hendrix

(Quirk Books 9781683691433, $22.99)

"Grady Hendrix somehow makes horror charming. His style of writing--unrelenting humanity in the face of real terror, of both the supernatural and everyday varieties--is in top form here. He's one of a handful of authors whose new work I devour as soon as I get my hands on it. Hendrix knows how to terrify you, but more importantly, he knows how to make you feel like you can potentially overcome the thing that scares you the most."
--Colin Sneed, Flyleaf Books, Chapel Hill, NC

The House in the Cerulean Sea

By TJ Klune

(Tor Books 9781250217288, $26.99)

"The House in the Cerulean Sea is a heart-swelling wave of sweetness and hope. Mild-mannered government caseworker Linus Baker is sent on a secret assignment to an island orphanage he's never even heard of. The astonishing inhabitants he gets to know there will change his life and make him reassess everything he thought he knew. This book will leave you believing in the good in everyone--even those society has given up on--and contemplating how huge changes have to start somewhere."
--Haley Stocking, Phinney Books, Seattle, WA


By Elizabeth Wetmore

(Harper 9780062913265, $26.99)

"Before starting this book, you should block out the next 24 hours on your calendar because you will not be able to do anything else. Valentine is reminiscent of Disappearing Earth in its multi-voice portrayal of the vulnerability, resilience, solidarity, fury, and tenacity of girls and women in the man's world of oil-booming West Texas in the 1970s. These unforgettable characters are the spiritual sisters of Tami Taylor from Friday Night Lights. I was haunted by them, I rooted for them, I've been them, and I won't forget them."
--Rebekah Shoaf, Boogie Down Books, Bronx, NY

Mrs. Everything

By Jennifer Weiner

(Washington Square Press 9781501133497, $17)

"Mrs. Everything is a magnificent look at the myriad societal changes for women that occurred in a short span of decades, wrapped up in a compelling novel of two sisters. While I've loved reading all of Jennifer Weiner's work over the years, I believe THIS is her legacy novel--the book that will be read generations from now! It filled my heart."

--Caitlin Doggart, Where the Sidewalk Ends, Chatham, MA

Miracle Creek

By Angie Kim

(Picador 9781250251305, $17)

"Miracle Creek is a courtroom drama with impeccable pacing, an original plot, and stellar writing. It's also a remarkably empathetic book, exploring the ripple effects of causality and the urgent need to do right by each other in big and small ways, recognizing that even the best of us will fail once in a while. It is a lovely reminder that even when doing the right thing feels like swimming upstream, we never know what harm may be prevented and what good might come from our actions. A great read that deserves broad success."

--Sara Hinckley, Hudson Booksellers, Marietta, GA

Lost and Wanted

By Nell Freudenberger

(Vintage 9780804170963, $16.95)

"Helen is a successful physicist and a single mother, but when her best friend, Charlie, dies, she must confront the limitations of love and science. As in her previous novel, The Newlyweds, Freudenberger writes with understated authority about grief, motherhood, and coming to terms with the decisions you make throughout your life. Everyone in Helen's orbit is touched by Charlie's death, and their grief is as mysterious as the scientific questions Helen grapples with in her work. This is a powerfully beautiful novel."

--Tyler Goodson, Avid Bookshop, Athens, GA

I Miss You When I Blink: Essays

By Mary Laura Philpott

(Atria Books 9781982102814, $16.99)

"Mary Laura Philpott writes about today's American woman in her marvelously frank and witty book of essays. Women of all ages will nod their heads when reading about the decision to have babies (or not), the pitfalls of volunteering, the difficulty of getting a cat out from under the bed, the reward of crossing things off 'the list,' the challenge of finding time for relaxation, and, above all, the acceleration of time as we age. Philpott shares pivotal moments from her life in such a relatable way that, through both laughter and tears, readers will exclaim, 'Yes, yes, this is ME!' Don't miss this gem!"

--Nancy Simpson-Brice, Book Vault, Oskaloosa, IA

The Honey Bus: A Memoir of Loss, Courage and a Girl Saved by Bees

By Meredith May

(Park Row 9780778309758, $16.99)

"I loved this perfect memoir so much that I read it twice and already know that it will be one of my favorites of the year. Meredith May learns to withstand pain, loss, and grief through the lessons her beloved grandfather teaches her. After her mother moves the family away from her father and shuts down emotionally, Grandpa shows May and her brother love, patience, and understanding using honeybees as an example of how to survive and thrive in a confusing world. I cannot wait to put this moving, emotionally compelling memoir into many hands this spring!"

--Diane Grumhaus, Lake Forest Book Store, Lake Forest, IL

The Gone Dead

By Chanelle Benz

(Ecco 9780062490735, $16.99)

"Billie James travels to the Mississippi Delta from Philly for the first time since her father's mysterious death, some 30 years before. Although she was there that night, she has no recollection of the events that occurred, but learns later that she went missing afterwards. This new detail causes her to start digging into what really happened, which gets her into trouble with people who want the past to remain buried. An emotional and tense novel about racism, justice, family, and the truth, Benz's debut has so much edge to it that I could not stop reading!"

--Carl Kranz, The Fountain Bookstore, Richmond, VA

The End of the End of the Earth: Essays

By Jonathan Franzen

(Picador 9781250234896, $17)

"Franzen on the state of the environment from Africa to Antarctica and questions his role as a privileged Westerner in a world of vast inequality. Using birds as his moral compass, Franzen evokes the deep joy they bring and delivers heartbreaking accounts of ruined habitats, wanton slaughter of songbirds, and the devastating toll of industrial fishing on seabirds. No less tragic are the stories of impoverished people who live among these birds, and Franzen questions the ethics of worrying about avian suffering in the midst of so much human suffering. Ultimately as hopeful as it is anguished, Franzen's book takes biodiversity as its guiding principle: there's no one way to save the world, just as there's no single set of rules governing how to live in it."

--Laurie Greer, Politics and Prose Bookstore, Washington, DC

Disappearing Earth

By Julia Phillips

(Vintage 9780525436225, $16.95)

"Julia Phillips is an author to watch. She beautifully transports us to a region of the world that I had never heard of and now can't stop thinking about. The stories of the women there--their family dynamics, their hopes and fears, the economic and cultural divide of various communities--tell a moving story about this place in a moment in time, but ultimately about the universal struggle of women living with the expectations placed on them. A remarkable debut."

--Casey Coonerty, Bookshop Santa Cruz, Santa Cruz, CA

City of Girls

By Elizabeth Gilbert

(Riverhead Books 9781594634741, $17)

"City of Girls is a champagne cocktail, a tonic for anything that ails you, and the summer read you can't miss! Vivian Morris, an upper-class, 19-year-old college dropout, finds herself in the chaotic New York City theater world of the 1940s. What ensues is a story full of sex, glamour, and witty one-liners that spans decades. All those who led a heedless youth or wish they had will fall for this book about growing into the person you've always wanted to be. Gilbert has written a glittering piece of fiction that subtly delivers wisdom about the nature of human connection and leaves the reader braver, freer, and, at least for the moment, happier."
--Caroline McGregor, Books & Books, Coral Gables, FL


By Scott Brown

(Ember 9781524766276, $9.99)

"Growing up is tough, no matter what! But it doesn't make it any easier if you are a boy and barely five feet tall going into high school. You just want to be normal, average, and have a friend or two. Will Daughty has a stepbrother, who is also his best friend, and Monica, a girl he secretly loves. But Will is not average. He doesn't feel normal. Until he starts to grow. And grow. And grow. And soon Will is towering over everyone. And here begins another set of problems. XL is a fun and fascinating story about growing up--literally."

--Marilyn Robbins, BookBar, Denver, CO


By Laurie Halse Anderson

(Penguin Books 9780142422205, $10.99)

"Laurie Halse Anderson invites readers not to speak but to shout in her new poetry memoir, a long-awaited follow-up to her bestselling YA novel Speak, which centers around a survivor of sexual assault. In SHOUT, Anderson shares memories from her young adulthood when she herself was raped and how she found the strength to keep going. Between autobiographical poems lie fierce rants about rape culture and censorship, as well as love letters and encouragement to survivors of sexual assault. SHOUT is a fist raised to the sky, arriving on the heels of #MeToo and urging readers to never be silenced. A must-read."
--Mary Wahlmeier, Raven Book Store, Lawrence, KS

Opposite of Always

By Justin A. Reynolds

(Katherine Tegen Books 9780062748386, $11.99)

"Was there ever one moment in your life that you'd want to do over? How about four or five chances? That's what Jack gets: multiple chances to have the girl of his dreams and his friends happy and healthy, but he needs every chance he can get. This debut is a must-read for fans of John Green or anyone who wants a wonderful love story with hilarity, honesty, and one of the best friendship trifectas I've ever read."

--Nichole Cousins, White Birch Books, North Conway, NH

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