Indies First + Our Book-Shopping Recommendations

As many of you may know, tomorrow – the Saturday after Thanksgiving – has been deemed Small Business Saturday, a day to patronize the local businesses that make our communities so special. While there are great reasons to support your local independent bookstore all year round, many authors (including me!) are volunteering as guest booksellers tomorrow to show our support for Indies First.  (You can find out whether there are any special programs in your area here.) All of the members of Corsets, Cutlasses, & Candlesticks agree that books make fabulous presents, so we want to recommend some of our favorite titles of 2014 to you — and give a shoutout to our favorite local indies!

I really loved COMPLICIT by Stephanie Kuehn. Jamie and his sister Cate were orphaned as children and adopted by the wealthy Henrys. When they’re teenagers, there’s a suspicious fire and Cate is sent to juvie for it. Jamie develops a weird paralysis in his hands, but it’s under control until Cate gets out of juvie and Jamie starts remembering more and more about the arson that put Cate there and what really happened to their mother. It’s absolutely page-turny and the end is pitch-perfect.

Also, GIRLS LIKE US by Gail Giles. Biddy and Quincy are “speddies” – special education students who’ve graduated from their program and have been assigned an apartment to share and jobs to do. Biddy cleans for Elizabeth, an elderly widow, and Quincy has a job at a grocery store – until a disgruntled co-worker decides to target her. They share the same concerns as all newly-independent young adults; how to get along with a roommate, how to navigate the world, how to build relationships. Biddy and Quincy were beautifully drawn and well-rounded, a perfect example of how to allow characters we don’t see often in fiction to be the stars of their own story.

I’d like to give a shoutout to my local indie bookstore, Third Place Books. It’s a beautiful, welcoming place with knowledgeable, friendly staff and ridiculously good customer service. Love it!

I very much enjoyed reading THE MAGICIAN’S BOOK: A Skeptic’s Adventures in Narnia, by Laura Miller. ​Like me (and you?), Laura Miller read and reread the CHRONICLES OF NARNIA over and over again as a child, each time coming away with something new. As an adult, convinced that “the first book you fall in love with shapes us every bit as much as the first person we fall in love with,” she goes back into Narnia, and finds that her relationship with the books has yet again changed. I loved reading about C.S. Lewis and his robust walks in the countryside discussing books and religion with his dear friend J.R.R. Tolkien. It was a pleasure and a challenge to revisit these most beloved books of my childhood.

And for middle grade readers, RAIN REIGN, by Ann M. Martin, was my favorite book (so far) of 2014. (But my TBR pile is still towering!) Narrator Rose is someone other people–her single father, her classmates, her teacher– find difficult to relate to, or even to like. She’s obsessed with homonyms and prime numbers and rules. When her dog goes missing in a terrible storm, she goes out into the world and leaves behind everything that makes her feel safe. The story is exciting and layered and true-feeling. I learned a lot about what it must feel like to be a child on the Autism Spectrum. I think this is a book that makes a difference for its being in the world.

My local bookstore, Powell’s, is so vast it’s hard to believe it’s an indie. It’s not called Powell’s City of Books for nothing. A landmark, and an experience no visitor to Portland should miss.

Hands down, the best book I’ve read this year is Jandy Nelson’s I’LL GIVE YOU THE SUN.  Every once in a while, a book comes along that makes me want to say, “That’s it, I’m quitting now.”  And this is one of them.  Gorgeous writing, awesome imagery and breathtaking emotion, with characters who feel so real you can touch them.

I also loved Donna Cooner’s CAN’T LOOK AWAY, about a girl trying to survive the death of her sister while in the spotlight of Internet notoriety.  A beautiful book that makes you take a closer look at seeking those 15 minutes in the age of social media.

My wonderful local indie is the Avid Reader in Davis, California.  They’ve got an amazing variety of books for any number of interests in a small area, plus a loft for middle grade readers who just want to stick their noses in a book while parents browse.  They host author and book events every month, from picture books to political investigation.

JENNIFER MCGOWAN is on deadline — but isn’t too busy to celebrate her local bookstores!
There are three Indie bookstores in the Cincinnati area that I’d like to give thanks for: Joseph-Beth, in Cincinnati, Ohio is an amazing destination for booklovers, and they do a tremendous amount to give back to the community, including staging Books By The Banks, a literary festival that grows every year. A relative newcomer to Cincinnati is The Booksellers on Fountain Square, who are doing a fabulous job of bringing books back to the thriving downtown area (woot!). And finally, Blue Marble Books in Fort Thomas, KY has been a staunch and enthusiastic supporter of YA fiction locally–just absolutely wonderful people.


My favorite YA was POINTE by Brandy Colbert.  I’m a sucker for anything ballet, and this story does not disappoint.  The main character, Theo, wants to be among the few elite African-American ballet dancers but her past comes back to haunt her.  Her best friend, Donovan, was abducted years ago by a man she considered her boyfriend, and when he suddenly returns, Theo has to decide if she can testify against the kidnapper and maybe damage her budding career.

My hands down favorite was Diana Gabaldon’s long-awaited latest installment to her Outlander series, WRITTEN IN MY OWN HEART’S BLOOD. I got to help Diana a little bit with some chicken info in the story and she thanked me in the acknowledgements, which is basically a dream come true for me!

The last independent bookstore in my area closed earlier in the year, leaving only an assortment of used bookstores, an antiquarian bookstore, and a Barnes & Noble (which has been wonderful to me). There are two indies in Chicago that I love.  One is the Book Stall at Chestnut Court in Winnetka, Illinois and the other is Anderson’s Bookshop in Naperville, Illinois.  Both are highly supportive of YA authors and work to bring authors, educators, librarians, and readers together.


I’m woefully behind on keeping up with 2014 releases, but my favorite of the ones I’ve had a chance to read is Heidi Schulz’s entertaining middle-grade adventure, HOOK’S REVENGE. Normally I’m not a huge fan of books written as sequels of sorts to long-gone classic authors’ works, but Schulz created such a delightful, hilarious, heartbreaking heroine in young Jocelyn Hook that I wholeheartedly went along for the adventure.
Thank you to two local indie bookstores who go all out in promoting my books: Powell’s Books in Portland, OR, and Jacobsen’s Books in Hillsboro, OR. Bonus points go to FoxTale Book Shoppe in Woodstock, GA, for hand selling an astounding number of my books, as if I’m a local, even though I haven’t yet gotten a chance to step inside their doors.

My favorite book of the year is Marie Rutkowski’s THE WINNER’S CURSE. I was blown away by this incredible fantasy. The world-building, reminiscent of ancient Rome, is utterly engrossing, but never slows down the pace.  The romance between Kestrel and Arin feels as heartbreakingly impossible as it is swoon-worthy. They are both ruthless when they need to be, and while I wouldn’t call either of them exactly “nice,” they’re fascinating. I can’t wait to read the sequel, THE WINNER’S CRIME!

As for my favorite indie, I can’t pick just one! I’ll be guest bookselling tomorrow at local giant Politics & Prose, which is a gorgeous store and a DC institution which hosts lots of fantastic author events. But I also love One More Page in Arlington, VA, where the booksellers are always ready with a personal recommendation and are incredibly supportive of local authors. They also sell wine and chocolates (and delicious gourmet s’mores)! In recent years, President Obama has visited both stores with his daughters Sasha and Malia!

What about you, dear readers? What’s your favorite bookstore? What books are you giving thanks for this year?


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