Best Books of 2021: Southern California’s independent booksellers recommend holiday gifts – Long Beach Press Telegram

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At Chevalier’s Books in the Larchmont neighborhood of Los Angeles, the supply chain woes that have affected everything from computer chips to cat food have been felt, bookstore manager Katie Orphan says.
But not too badly.
“For most the part, we’re OK,” Orphan says. “There are unexpected titles that have been hard to get ahold of. We were pretty well prepared in terms of new releases, but there are some backlist titles that we should have known, but didn’t know.
“Like ‘Dune Messiah,’” she says of the second book in Frank Herbert’s sci-fi series. “We had a lot of copies of ‘Dune,’ but we’re not expecting to have ‘Dune Messiah’ back in stock until early December.”
At Cellar Door Bookstore in Riverside, owner Linda Sherman-Nurick said she’s experienced similar ripples in the arrival of some inventory, though she’s not too concerned.
“We just did reorders and some of them are done, they’re not going to come,” she says. “But my feeling, what I keep telling my customers, there are so many books sitting here in this store that if you can’t find the one you came in for, I guarantee that there are 10 others that will fill that gap and do beautifully.”
It’s true that there are so many excellent books published each year that if you want to buy a book this holiday season you can certainly find something great. But an experts’ recommendation is always helpful.
So as we’ve done in recent years, we once more reached out to local independent booksellers around Southern California to find out what their favorite reads were this year (even if some weren’t published this year – or this century).

“The Sentence” is the new novel from Louise Erdrich. (Image courtesy of HarperCollins)

“Gastro Obscura: A Food Adventurer’s Guide” is the new food-travel-history book by Cecily Wong and Dylan Thuras. (Image courtesy of Workman Publishing Company)

“Dream Street” is the new picture book by writer Tricia Elam Walker and illustrator Ekua Holmes. (Image courtesy of Random House/Anne Schwartz Books)

“The Prophets” is a new novel by Robert Jones Jr. (Image courtesy of PenguinRandomHouse)

“Pony” is a new novel from R.J. Palacio. (Image courtesy of Random House Children’s Books)

“Cruelly Yours, Elvira: Memoirs of the Mistress of the Dark,” is the new memoir from Cassandra Peterson, also known as the TV personality Elvira. (Image courtesy of Hachette Books)

“The Case For Rage” is a new non-fiction book by Myisha Cherry. (Image courtesy of Oxford University Press)

“Crying In H Mart” is the memoir by Michelle Zauner, the musician who performs as Japanese Breakfast. (Image courtesy of Alfred A. Knopf)

“Weird Kid” is a new children’s novel by Greg van Eekhout. (Image courtesy of HarperCollins)

“Anxious People” is the new novel by the Swedish writer Fredrik Backman. (Image courtesy of Simon & Schuster)

“Mel Fell” is a new picture book by Corey R. Tabor. (Image courtesy of HarperCollins/Balzer + Bray)

“Frankie & Bug” is the new children’s novel by Gayle Forman. (Image courtesy of Simon & Schuster)

“The Daughters of Yalta” is a new history by Catherine Grace Katz. (Image courtesy of Mariner Books)

“Wishes” is a new picture book from writer Muon Thi Van and illustrator Victo Ngai. (Image courtesy of Scholastic Inc.)

These are some of the new or recent books recommended by independent booksellers in Southern California for 2021. (Images courtesy of the publishers)

Here’s what they said:
“The Sentence,” by Louise Erdrich
Why you should read it: “It’s not every day that one of the great living American writers sets a book in a bookstore. Erdrich owns a bookshop in Minneapolis, and so her new novel is about a bookstore that is haunted by the store’s most annoying customer. It’s a ghost story for the holidays just like Dickens used to write.”
and
“Yours Cruelly, Elvira,” by Cassandra Peterson
Why you should read it: “Everyone who loves horror, who loves camp, obviously loves Elvira. It’s a great memoir and she’s a fascinating human being. And we’re lucky enough to be her local bookstore.”
Recommended by: Katie Orphan, general manager, Chevalier’s Books, 133 N. Larchmont Blvd., Los Angeles, 323-465-1334. Chevaliersbooks.com.
RelatedRead our interview with Elvira about the book

“The Guide,” by Peter Heller
Why you should read it: “Jack is a newly arrived fishing guide at the exclusive Kingfisher Lodge in Colorado. Jack’s plans to relax on the river with clients are soon forgotten as he starts to investigate what happened to the previous guide, and that the fishing retreat may be hiding something sinister. The beautiful descriptions of the outdoors and the underlying mystery make this an entirely satisfying read.”
Related: Read our interview with Peter Heller about “The Guide”
and
“Finding Freedom,” by Erin French
Why you should read it: “Erin French, the chef of the highly lauded Lost Kitchen in Freedom, Maine recounts her struggles to secure her place in the kitchen and raise her son in her highly readable memoir. French’s story is inspiring and heartfelt, you’ll be pulling for her from the first page and find yourself wanting to visit Maine if only to try and secure an elusive reservation at The Lost Kitchen.”
Recommended by: Sherri Gallentine, head book buyer, Vroman’s Bookstore, 695 E. Colorado Blvd., Pasadena, 626-449-5320, www.vromansbookstore.com.

“Pony,” by R.J. Palacio
Why you should read it: “It is an amazing book, heartfelt. A surprise ending, no way you could have guessed. It takes place in the Wild West, and I don’t generally read that kind of book, but it’s historical fiction. A magical book, it’s got a paranormal thread that runs through it. It’s a book we’ve hand-sold to everyone who comes through the door.”
Recommended by: Letitia Gamez, owner, Sandpiper Books, 4665 Torrance Blvd, Torrance, 310-371-2002, www.sandpiperbooks.net.

“The 1619 Project: A New Origin Story,” by Nikole Hannah-Jones
Why you should read it: “The book is a big expansion of the original (New York Times project). It’s over 500 pages and it’s very good.”
and
“Spike,” by Spike Lee, with photographs by David Lee
Why you should read it: “It’s a big photo book, by Spike Lee and his brother, who’s a still photographer on all of his movies. It goes all the way back to the one even I’ve never seen, “Joe’s Bed-Stuy Barbershop,” and it covers all of his films.”
and also
“The Matter of Black Lives: Writing from the New Yorker,” edited by Jelani Cobb and David Remnick
Why you should read it: “It’s a collection of essays and articles that were published in the New Yorker magazine. I just thought it was a great collection. I really like the essays.”
Recommended by: James Fugate, co-owner, Eso Won Books, 4327 Degnan Blvd., Los Angeles, 323-290-1048, Esowonbookstore.com
Related: Read our interview with James Fugate about Eso Won Books

“Anxious People,” Fredrik Backman
Why you should read it: “He’s a Swedish novelist and it is just a very, very human story imbued with a ton of humor. It’s got a very clever little plot twist as well. I read it earlier in the year, we were very much shut down, and it was just what the doctor ordered, in terms of a distraction.”
and
“The Postman Always Rings Twice,” James M. Cain
Why you should read it: One of the great noir novels and a sort of quintessentially Southern California story, too. You get a real sense of how Los Angeles and Southern California have changed in not very much time at all.”
Recommended by: Brad Johnson, owner, The Book Shop, 134 N Citrus Ave., Covina, 626-967-1888, www.johnsonrarebooks.com.

“The Lincoln Highway,” by Amor Towles
Why you should read it: “A deserved instant bestseller, ‘The Lincoln Highway’ by Amor Towles is a great read for virtually anyone. A perfect gift book, he is a generous writer, raconteur, tale-spinner. This is an adventure story set over 10 eventful days in the 1950s.  A road novel, a brother novel, with crime, friendship, and adventure, this is a delightful romp of a story.”
And
“Earthkeeper: Reflections on the American Land,” by N. Scott Momaday
Why you should read it: “Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist, poet and writer Momaday has generously given us this beautiful gift book. Elegantly designed and illustrated, it is a spiritual autobiography of his intimate and powerful connections with the land. Great for nature-lovers as well as thoughtful, soulful folks, it is good for everyone’s heart and mind.”
And also
“Small Things Like These,” by Claire Keegan
Why you should read it: “A beautiful, short inspiring story about bravery and the wonders and challenges of everyday life and the profundities that arise in our lives. Rave reviews by writers and readers alike, this is a special book, written with masterful skill.”
Recommended by: John Evans, owner, Diesel, a Bookstore, inside the Brentwood Country Mart, 225 26th St., Suite #33, Santa Monica, 310-576-9960, www.dieselbookstore.com.

“Weird Kid,” by Greg van Eekhout
Why you should read it: “It’s about this kid who is an alien shapeshifter and he has fallen to earth. And he’s trying to start middle school but not let anyone know he’s an alien. It’s just a really fun book.”
and
‘Dream Street,” by Tricia Elam Walker
Why you should read it: This one is beautiful. The art is a collage of different fabrics and papers. It almost looks like a quilt in the way it’s put together. It’s talking about this street called Dream Street, and just little snapshots of different people. Just little vignettes of all the people who live there.”
Recommended by: Jessica Palacios, manager and buyer, Once Upon a Time, 2207 Honolulu Ave., Montrose, 818-248-9668, www.shoponceuponatime.com

Various, by Agatha Christie, et al.
Why you should read it: “I’ve been reading a lot of Agatha Christie lately and she’s been a delight. I’m trying to read all of her novels in order. We’ve gotten a lot of requests for ‘Crying in H Mart” by Michelle Zauner. Haruki Murakami’s evergreen. People always want to buy him. ‘Dune’ has been super-popular lately because of the movie.
Recommended by: Mary Dixon, bookseller, Gatsby Books, 5535 E. Spring St., Long Beach, 562-208-5862, www.gatsbybooks.com.
Related: Read our interview with Japanese Breakfast’s Michelle Zauner about her book and music
“Gastro Obscura: A Food Adventurer’s Guide,” by Cecily Wong and Dylan Thuras
Why you should read it: “This gorgeous book views history through food. Select a region or pick a page and you will not only want to try dishes you might never have heard of and also learn a thing or two in the process.  A visual delight!”
and
“Renegades,” by Barack Obama and Bruce Springsteen
Why you should read it: “This masterpiece is filled with conversations with Bruce Springsteen and Barack Obama about all aspects of life — from the shortcomings of life, raising their families in their prominent roles in the United States to what it means to be an American. No matter what the topic of these conversations, honesty and humor prevail and it includes over 350 iconic photos. Very personal and intimate.”
and also
“Interrupting Chicken for Breakfast,” by David Ezra Stein
Why you should read it: “Do cookies make for good breakfasts? There just might be a difference of opinion between our chicken main character and his father. A perfect and hilarious selection for 4-8 year olds.”
Recommended by: Lisa Childers, manager, Laguna Beach Books, 1200 S. Coast Highway, Laguna Beach, 949-494-4779, Lagunabeachbooks.com.

“Just Thieves,” by Gregory Galloway
Why you should read it: “Galloway’s book deals with thieves but not ordinary ones — people place orders and they steal it and deliver. They have a good thing going until one of them takes something that appears worthless but appeals to him. That and a car accident are the beginning of the end and they don’t understand why.”
And
“Panic Attack,” Dennis Palumbo
Why you should read it: “He’s always good, but this is exceptional. You live the tension created as you read.”
and also
“The Girls Who Stepped Out of Line: Untold Stories of the Women Who Changed the Course of World War II,” by Mari K. Eder
Why you should read it: “First, I was impressed that a woman had become a major general in the Army, retired at that rank, and decided to write a book about many women (in and out of uniform) who made a difference in WWII. Each woman is a chapter, so it reads like short stories. Couldn’t put it down.”
Recommended by: Anne Saller, owner, Book Carnival, 348 S. Tustin St., Orange, 714-538-3210, www.annesbookcarnival.com.
“The Prophets,” by Robert Jones Jr.
Why you should read it: “It is a book about two men who are enslaved, and they find the courage to fall in love, and have a relationship within the context of slavery. You know things are not going to go well, because nothing went well under those circumstances, but somehow they found the courage to do that. And that courage and the love they have for each other gave strength to the people around them. It’s tragic but it’s incredible, too.”
and
“The Case For Rage: Why Anger Is Essential to Anti-Racist Struggle,” by Myisha Cherry
“A lot of people are reading ‘White Fragility and ‘How To Be An Anti-Racist,’ and it’s almost as if they’re reading it for other people. But this book is about reading for yourself. This is the book that will help you understand your own inclinations in this struggle, and help to figure out how to use them to the benefit of more people.”
And also
“Frankie & Bug,” by Gayle Forman
Why you should read it: “It’s a book about two kids in Venice Beach. It’s the ’80s during the AIDS crisis, and it’s about these two kids: Bug just wants to hang out at the beach, and Frankie comes to visit his uncle who lives upstairs. It’s their story.”
Recommended by: Linda Sherman-Nurick, owner, Cellar Door Bookstore, 5225 Canyon Crest Drive, #30A, Riverside, 951-787-7807, www.cellardoorbookstore.com

“The Daughters of Yalta,” by Catherine Grace Katz
Why you should read it: “It’s a nonfiction book, a history concerning the Yalta Conference and the Second World War. It takes three women — Sarah Churchill, Kathleen Harriman, who was the daughter of the ambassador to the Soviet Union, Averill Harriman, and Eleanor Roosevelt. Each of them accompanied the leaders, Churchill, Roosevelt, and Stalin to the conference. It’s what they said, how they influenced, and their effect on the conference.”
Recommended by: Ron Chalmers, owner, Cameron Books, 2920 E Florida Ave # 108, Hemet, 951-925-6477, www.facebook.com/cameronbooks.
“Mel Fell,” by author-illustrator Corey R Tabor
Why you should read it: “My No. 1 recommendation, this one is an adorable picture book about a kingfisher and her first flight. The clever thing about this book is that it’s already a wonderful story, the pictures are charming, but it has another clever thing in that you turn it 90 degrees as you read, as you’re reading, you rotate the book.”
And
“Wishes,” by author Muon Thi Van and illustrator Victo Ngai
Why you should read it: It’s a very simple story. It’s about immigration, and each page is just a sentence that begins, “I wish ..” It’s very thought-provoking. Makes you think about kind of everything a child, a refugee or immigrant would be going through from their perspective.”
Recommended by: Erin Rivera, owner, The Frugal Frigate, A Children’s Bookstore, 9 N. Sixth St., Redlands, 909-793-0740, www.frugalfrigate.com.
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