The most popular #BookTok books in every state

TikTok’s book community “#BookTok” was recently referred to by The New York Times as a “best seller machine.” In this community, creators post literary content to the app, ranging from book recommendations to their emotional reactions during pivotal plot points. 

This content has catapulted sales for a select few books, and major book retailers such as Barnes & Noble are recognizing the community’s power.

These days, it takes one viral TikTok for a book to become a bestseller. #BookTok reaches readers across the world, and a nation’s most popular books can tell us a lot about its language and culture. So which books are actually selling, and what do they have in common? 

Using Barnes & Noble, Goodreads, and Google search interest data, we conducted an analysis of the titles rising in popularity due to TikTok. Our report ranks the most popular books and authors, determines which are favored in each state, and even highlights the older books making a comeback due to TikTok. 

Key findings

The most popular #BookTok books and authors

For BookTok community members, reading is all about finding stories that captivate their audience’s emotions – particularly their sense of romance. The top-five best-selling books due to TikTok are nearly all romances, and two of them share the same author.

The five most popular #BookTok books are:

  • It Ends with Us by Colleen Hoover (romance)
  • The Summer I Turned Pretty by Jenny Han (romance)
  • Ugly Love by Colleen Hoover (romance)
  • The Wedding Date by Jasmine Guillory (romance)
  • The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins (young adult)

#BookTok has popularized the romance genre with Gen Z readers. Romance tropes such as “enemies to lovers” and “fake dating” allow readers to enjoy fun, lighthearted stories with satisfying emotional endings across many different books with unique characters. 

In fact, of the top 55 books analyzed, 24 were in the romance genre, according to Goodreads classifications. Fantasy books took up 12 slots, with young adult (8), thriller (6), and historical fiction (4) genres following.

With two books in the top three slots, Colleen Hoover is the standout author on #BookTok. Her titles Verity and It Starts With Us are also in the top 25 #BookTok books. A romance author with one thriller title (Verity), Hoover is active on TikTok and Instagram, engaging with the community with her humorous personality. She clearly has a strong sense of what’s popular in online reading communities. 

Jennifer L. Armentrout also has four titles gaining significant traction on TikTok. A prolific fantasy and romance writer, books from her Blood and Ash, Harbinger and Dark Elements series have each been heavily promoted by the #BookTok community. 

Other popular #BookTok authors include Alice Oseman, Casey McQuiston, Elle Kennedy and Emily Henry, each with three books on the top #BookTok book list.

The most popular #BookTok books by state

A nation’s most popular books can tell us a lot about its culture, and the same is true for individual states. We analyzed the list of over 170 popular #BookTok books using local search data to determine the most popular #BookTok bestseller in every state and created a map to display each state’s favorite title.

With 41 books represented, there are a wide variety of popular books in the U.S. right now, thanks to TikTok. The books most popular on a state-by-state level include:

  • Ugly Love (4 states)
  • Book of Night (3 states)
  • A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder (2 states)
  • One Last Stop (2 states)
  • The Spanish Love Deception (2 states)
  • The Summer I Turned Pretty (2 states)
  • Written in the Stars (2 states)

The books making a comeback thanks to #BookTok

Finally, some books published well over a decade ago are seeing a resurgence in popularity thanks to TikTok. We removed books that have movie adaptations or are part of popular franchises such as Twilight or The Hunger Games

Here are the lesser-known titles that #BookTok is giving a comeback:

  • I Am Number Four (published 2009)
  • Anna and the French Kiss (published 2010)
  • The Song of Achilles (published 2011)
  • Throne of Glass (published 2012)
  • Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe (published 2012)

Conclusion

Books open up our worlds and minds. Simple stories that follow traditional narrative arcs can also be effective language learning tools. Whether your recommendation comes from #BookTok or The New York Times, discover a new title and learn about a different culture, place, or time. 

Methodology: Using a list of 170+ popular #BookTok titles compiled by Barnes & Noble, we used Google search data to conduct this analysis. Genre data compiled using Goodreads.

The Patron Saint of Second Chances

is village sadly slipping away, self-appointed mayor and radiator repairman Signor Speranza listens in horror as a water commission official tells him that the water pipes must be replaced or the commission will shut the village’s water supply off — making Prometto uninhabitable.

The cost to fix it? Seventy thousand euros — an exorbitant sum for a village of 212 residents, most of whom are just barely getting by.

But Speranza has a plan — not a good plan or even a mediocre one, but at least it’s something. He decides to start a rumor that famed movie star Dante Rinaldi is filming his next mega hit in Prometto. If tourists think that Rinaldi will be readily available, Speranza believes that tourists will descend upon Prometto. After all, when there was a rumor that George Clooney would be filming in a neighboring town, it was a madhouse. And it looks like it will be so once again.

Soon tourists arrive with plenty of money to spend. But it isn’t just tourists. The locals go crazy with the idea of being in a film, almost any film. The butcher wants Speranza to find roles for all 15 of his overlarge sons, offering Speranza money if he makes it happen. Even Speranza’s daughter gets movie fever.

“The plan works a little too well, however, and he soon finds that in order to keep up the ruse, he will have to make the movie for real,” said Christine Simon, the author of “The Patron Saint of Second Chances” (Atria 2022; $23.70 on Amazon).

Simon says her plot was inspired by news articles she ran across that talked about how shrinking Italian villages were offering homes for a dollar.

“These stories usually have at their core some enterprising mayor trying to drag their village back from the brink of extinction,” she said. “This flash of inspiration was, therefore, triply rewarding for me, because it gave me my setting, my main character, and my main character’s mission, all in one fell swoop. Everyone should be so lucky.”

It also has origins in the Italian village where Simon’s grandparents grew up.

“My grandparents came to the United States via Canada in the early 1950s, trading their tiny village of Ferruzzano for Cliffside Park, New Jersey,” she said. “I grew up going to parties in their backyard — sprawling gatherings with dozens of people, many of them also from the village, sitting at long tables in lawn chairs and eating, eating, eating. When I began working on this story, at first I felt intimidated because I’ve never been to Ferruzzano in real life, but as I was researching the setting, and looking at family photos and even Google map images of the village, I was startled to find that the two places — my grandparents’ backyard in Cliffside, and their mountain village of Ferruzzano — looked astonishingly similar. I don’t know how they did it, but they managed to bring their village with them when they came here, and that’s the flavor that I hope I’ve incorporated into the fictional village of Prometto.”

Simon loved authoring this book, which she did just after the quarantine started.

“It was wonderful escaping reality each day to see what Signor Speranza and his zany crew would get up to next,” she said.

Now Simon says she’s devoted to comedy and small-town antics.

“I guess you can say we know what to expect from my next book,” she said.

Printers Row Lit Fest

FULL PROGRAM SCHEDULE ANNOUNCED FOR PRINTERS ROW LIT FEST, THE MIDWEST’S LARGEST LITERARY CELEBRATION, SEPTEMBER 10 & 11

Pulitzer Prize winner and Poet Laureate Natasha Trethewey joins over 100 authors including national bestsellers Jamie Ford, Marie Myung-OK Lee, and Danyel Smith in a jam-packed weekend of free programming

This year’s festival highlights Chicago stories and offers fun for all ages, with a poetry tent organized by The Poetry Foundation; a rare presentation from satire writers at The Onion; interactive programs for youth and families; and more

The 37th annual Printers Row Lit Fest, presented by the Near South Planning Board, is pleased to announce the full schedule of participating authors and programs. Printers Row Lit Fest is one of the three largest and oldest literary festivals in the U.S. and stretches across five blocks, along South Dearborn Street from Ida B. Wells Drive to Polk Street and on Polk Street from State to Clark, in Chicago’s historic Printers Row neighborhood. The outdoor event is accessible via public transportation and takes place rain or shine from Saturday – Sunday, September 10 – 11, from 10:00 a.m. – 6:00 p.m.

The festival kicks off with Evanston-based Pulitzer Prize winner and two-term United States Poet Laureate Natasha Trethewey, who will be awarded with this year’s prestigious Harold Washington Literary Award. Chicago authors and stories will be presented during the Printers Row Lit Fest including dozens of new books and anthologies focused on Chicago. From columnist Neil Steinberg’s Every Goddamn Day: A Highly Selective, Definitely Opinionated, and Alternatingly Humorous and Heartbreaking Historical Tour of Chicago and Ray Long’s The House that Madigan Built: The Record Run of Illinois’ Velvet Hammer to fictions set in Chicago neighborhoods such as Toya Wolfe’s Last Summer on State Street, Joe Meno’s Book of Extraordinary Tragediesand One Book One Chicago author Eric Charles May’s Bedrock Faith, Chicago is a leading character in today’s literary zeitgeist.  

Printers Row Lit Fest’s dynamic lineup offers fun for book lovers of all kinds, from poetry and romance to satire and spoken word. Highlights of this year’s festival include a conversation with Danyel Smith, the first Black editor of Billboard magazine, on her recent book Shine Bright: A Very Personal History of Black Women in PopJamie Ford discussing his current New York Times bestseller The Many Daughters of Afong May; and celebrated author of The Evening Hero, Marie Myung-OK Lee.

Poetry Tent

New to this year’s festival is a dedicated poetry tent curated by The Poetry Foundation with a lineup of award-winning and emerging poets. Also new to the festival is the laugh-out-loud Literary Death Match, whichpits four local authors against each other in front of a panel of all-star judges, and the Chicago-based, national satirical news site The Onion will present a rare, behind-the-scenes look at the article production process of “America’s Finest News Source” with a post-apocalyptic twist. Visitors can participate in a spoken word workshop and open mic led by EmceeSkool, and The Moth will showcase recent winners from their popular StorySLAM live storytelling competition.

The Printers Row Lit Fest will present powerful voices in social and environmental justice and activism with a series of panels hosted by reporters from Chicago Sun-Times and personalities from WBEZ. The fest includes a timely discussion reflecting on two years of the COVID-19 pandemic with a conversation between Dr. David Ansell, author of The Death Gap: How Inequality Kills, and Dr. Thomas Fisher, author of The Emergency: A Year of Healing and Heartbreak in a Chicago E.R. In addition, the Chicago Public Library will host Voices for Justice: Natalie Moore’s “The Billboard” including a staged reading of excerpts from the award-winning play.

This year marks the return of children and family-focused programming at Printers Row Lit Fest. Programs include Theatre on the Hill’s Choose Your Own Once Upon a Time, an opportunity for children to decide the fates of their favorite fairy tale characters in a live, interactive theatrical event, and Carlos Theatre Productions which will present a Latin American puppet show for children in Spanish and English. Parents can hear Dr. Dana Suskind in conversation with former Chicago Tribune columnist Heidi Stevens about her recent book Parent Nation: Unlocking Every Child’s Potential, Fulfilling Society’s Promise. 

Programs are organized by Printers Row Lit Fest Program Director Amy Danzer, assistant director of graduate programs at Northwestern University School of Professional Studies and Board President of the Chicago Literary Hall of Fame.

Including Sandmeyer’s Books and The Book CellarPrinters Row Lit Fest hosts over 100 booksellers in airy outdoor tents, inviting visitors to peacefully peruse everything from the rare to ‘hot off the press,’ newly published works. All programming, includingfeature presentations by myriad authors, spoken word artists, journalists, comedians, and poets,is 100% free of charge.

Printers Row Lit Fest 2022 Schedule

SATURDAY, SEPTEMBER 10

10:00 a.m.

Center Stage – Children’s Programming – Theatre on the Hill Presents Choose Your Own Once Upon A Time

Poetry Foundation – Children’s Programming – A bilingual reading of Pablo Neruda’s Book of Questions, Selections/Libro de Preguntas, Selecciones (Enchanted Lion Books, 2022) by translator, Sara Lissa Paulson.

Main Stage – Welcome by Near South Planning Board Chairman Steven Smutny, Chicago Public Library Commissioner Chris Brown, and First Lady Amy Eshleman. Program to follow featuring Natasha Trethewey, Harold Washington Literary Award Winner in conversation with Donna Seaman, Booklist. Program introduced by Natalie Moore, Harold Washington Literary Award Selection Committee Chair.

731 S. Plymouth Ct. – The Deep Creativity of Translation: A Reading and Discussion with Izidora Angel, Mary Hawley, and Alta L. Price. Moderated by Irina Ruvinsky. Presented by Another Chicago Magazine and the Third Coast Translators Collective.

Grace Place (2nd Floor) – Big Shoulders Press Presents Virus City: Chicago 2020-2021. Reading and Discussion featuring Amy Do,  Robin Hoecker, Emily Richards, Oscar Sanchez, and Frank Tempone. Moderated by Rebecca Johns Trissler.

Grace Place (1st Floor) – Children’s Programming -10:15am – Doors. 10:30am – Miss Friendship Ambassador 2022 Susan Liu to tell the story of the Moon Festival Presented by the Chicago Chinatown Chamber of Commerce. 10:45am – Moon Festival Parade to depart Grace Place.

11:00 a.m.

Center Stage – Welcome by Alderman King One Book One Chicago – Thomas Dyja, The Third Coast and Eric Charles May, Bedrock Faith with Judy Rivera-Van Schage

Poetry Foundation – Children’s Programming – Reading by Julian Randall, Pilar Ramirez and the Escape from Zafa. Emceed by Stefania Gomez. 

Main Stage – (11:30 a.m.) WBEZ Presents Adriana Herrera, A Caribbean Heiress in Paris, and Sarah MacLean, Heartbreaker: A Hell’s Belles Novel in conversation with WBEZ’s Greta Johnsen, host of Nerdette

731 S. Plymouth Ct. – Ray Long, The House That Madigan Built: The Record Run of Illinois’ Velvet Hammer in conversation with Joan Esposito

Grace Place (2nd Floor) – Unlocking Memories and Uncovering Stories: Bindy Bitterman, Skiddly Diddly Skat (children’s book) and Sharon Kramer, Time for Bubbe (children’s book) in conversation with Chicago author Beth Finke 

Grace Place (1st Floor) – Patricia Carlos Dominguez Presents Yo Luchadora (bilingual children’s book) followed by a workshop

Saturday Afternoon

12:00 p.m.

Center Stage – Erika L. Sanchez, Crying in the Bathroom: A Memoir in conversation with Juan Martinez

Poetry Foundation – – The Chicago Poetry Center – Readings by Mayda del Valle, Aricka Foreman, Tim Stafford, Natasha Mijares, C. Russell Price, and Viola Lee. Emceed by Marty McConnell.

Main Stage – (12:30 p.m) WBEZ Presents Danyel Smith, Shine Bright: A Very Personal History of Black Women in Pop in Conversation with WBEZ’s Natalie Moore

731 S. Plymouth Ct. – Deborah Cohen, Last Call at the Hotel Imperial: The Reporters Who Took On a World at War in conversation with Peter Slevin

Grace Place (2nd Floor) – Crises: The All Ages Show – Dan Chaon, Sleepwalk and Jean Thompson, The Poet’s House in conversation with Eileen Favorite

Grace Place (1st Floor) – Writing Overwhelming Realities – Readings by Julia Fine, Dionne Irving, Ananda Lima, Jami Nakamura Lin, and Jeffrey Wolf. Emceed by Ananda Lima.

1:00 p.m.

Center Stage – Debut Fiction: Jessamine Chan, The School for Good Mothers and Shelby Van Pelt, Remarkably Bright Creatures in conversation with Rebecca Makkai 

Main Stage – (1:30 p.m.) Chicago Sun-Times Presents The Environmental Justice Exchange: A tribute to Hazel Johnson, the Mother of Environmental Justice. Host: Brett Chase. Guests: Cheryl Johnson, Hazel’s daughter and executive director of People for Community Recovery; Tarnynon Onumonu, poet and author of “Greetings from the Moon, the Sacrificial Side”; Luis Carranza, poet and author of “Viva la Resistencia”. 

731 S. Plymouth Ct. – M. Chris Fabricant, Junk Science and the American Criminal Justice System in conversation with Rob Warden

Grace Place (2nd Floor) – Sourcebooks Presents – How Books Are Made: Authors Discuss the Publishing Process. Julie Clark, The Last Flight and The Lies I Tell; Ann Dávila Cardinal, The Storyteller’s Death; Iman Hariri-Kia, A Hundred Other Girls. Moderated by Kate Roddy, Associate Editor at Sourcebooks.

2:00 p.m.

Center Stage – Title IX, 50 years later: Women writers, women’s sports – Corin Adams, Tiny Setbacks, Major Comebacks, Julie DiCaro, Sidelined: Sports, Culture, and Being a Woman in America, and Melissa Isaacson, State: A Team, a Triumph, a Transformation in conversation with Jeanie Chung

Poetry Foundation – Chicago Literary Hall of Fame, Wherever I’m At: An Anthology of Chicago Poetry – Readings by Daniel Bortzutzky, Ugochi Nwaogwugwu, Elise Paschen, and Sara Salgado. Emceed by Carlo Rotella.

Main Stage – Chicago Sun-Times Presents Social Justice in Chicago: The Mexican community’s fight to stay in the city. Host: Elvia Malagon. Guest: Mike Amezcua, author of Making Mexican Chicago: From Postwar Settlement to the Age of Gentrification

731 S. Plymouth Ct. – Dr. David Ansell, The Death Gap: How Inequality Kills and Dr. Thomas Fisher, The Emergency: A Year of Healing and Heartbreak in a Chicago ER with Katherine Davis, Crain’s

Grace Place (2nd Floor) – Elizabeth Crane, This Story Will Change: After the Happily Ever After with Kim Brooks 

Grace Place (1st Floor) – The Onion: America’s Finest News Source In The Post-Apocalypse featuring Skyler Higley and Sammi Skolmosk

3:00 p.m.

Center Stage – PHENOM & EmceeSkool (Open Mic) 

Main Stage – (3:30 p.m. ) Joe Meno, Book of Extraordinary Tragedies with Gint Aras

731 S. Plymouth Ct. – Beth Macy, Raising Lazarus: Hope, Justice, and the Future of America’s Overdose Crisis with Alex McLevy

Grace Place (2nd Floor) – Leslie Bow, Racist Love: Asian Abstraction and the Pleasures of Fantasy with Michelle Huang.

Grace Place (1st Floor) – Rebuilding a Life – Ann McGlinn, Ride On, See You; Alex Poppe, Jinwar and Other Stories; Lynn Sloan, Midstream with Rachel Swearingen

4:00 p.m.

Center Stage – The Chicago Public Library and16th Street Theatre Present The Billboard by Natalie Moore – Staged Reading featuring Ti Nicole Danridge and Felisha McNeal followed by conversation between Natalie Moore, The BillBoard and Kathy Hey, Third Coast Review

Poetry Foundation – RHINO Poetry – Readings by April Gibson, Kathleen Rooney, Jessica Walsh, E. Hughes, Faisal Mohyuddin, Kenyatta Rogers, Jacob Saenz, Maja Teref & Steven Teref. Emceed by Naoko Fujimoto and Elizabeth O-Connell Thompson.

Main Stage – (4:30 p.m.) – Literary Death Match – Presented by StoryStudio Chicago and Near South Planning Board. All-star judges: David Cerda, Julia Morales, and Luis Urrea. Readers: Shannon Cason, Elizabeth Gomez, Mikki Kendall, and Diana Slickman. Emceed by Adrian Todd Zuniga. 

731 S. Plymouth Ct. – Resistance, Resilience and Surviving the Sex Trade: – Brenda Myers-Powell, Leaving Breezy Street: A Memoir and Hannah Sward, Strip in conversation with Anne Ream, The Voices and Faces Project

5:00 p.m.

Center Stage – The Guild Complex Presents Exhibit B – Reading by CM Burroughs, Ruth Margraff, and Nami Mun. Emceed by James Stewart III

731 S. Plymouth Ct. – Ramzi Fawaz, Queer Forms in conersation with Chicago LGBT Hall of Famer Owen Keehnen 

SUNDAY, SEPTEMBER 11

10:00 a.m.

Center Stage –  Representation in Children’s Books: Reading and Conversation featuring Sam Kirk, The Meaning of Pride; Mrs. Yuka Layme, Co-Producer of Drag Queen Story Hour; Katie Schenkel, Cardboard Kingdom with Barbara Egel 

Poetry Foundation – A Poetry Reading featuring Jennifer Steele, 826 Chiand Chris Aldana, Luya Poetry

Main Stage – Pirates, Ghosts, and Loss – Sara Connell, Ghost House and Michael Zapata, The Lost Book of Adana Moreau with Paula Carter

731 S. Plymouth Ct. – Kori Rumore and Marianne Mather (authors of), and Rick Kogan (prelude to) He Had It Coming: Four Murderous Women and the Reporter Who Immortalized Their Stories with Mary Wisniewski

11:00 a.m.

Center Stage – Chicago Graphic Novelists – Markisan Naso, By the Horns and Michael Moreci, Wasted Space in conversation with Terry Gant, Third Coast Comics

Poetry Foundation – Chris Abani, Smoking the Bible – Reading followed by conversation with Parneshia Jones 

Main Stage – Jamie Ford, The Many Daughters of Afong Moy in conversation with Carey Cranston, President of the American Writers Museum

731 S. Plymouth Ct. – Victor Ray, On Critical Race Theory: Why It Matters & Why You Should Care with Cassandra West, Crain’s

Grace Place (2nd Floor) – – Rev. Amity Carrubba in conversation with Tom Montgomery Fate, The Long Way Home: Detours and Discoveries

Sunday Afternoon

12:00 p.m.

Center Stage – NU Press Reading, Growing Up Chicago – Second to None: Chicago Stories – Readings by Anne Calcagno, Shelley Conner, and Jessie Ann Foley. Emceed by David Schaafsma 

Poetry Foundation – Roger Reeves, Best Barbarian – Reading followed by conversation with Simone Muench. Musical accompaniment, Mai Sugimoto.

Main Stage – Girlhood in Chicago – Illinois Poet Laureate Angela Jackson, More Than Meat and Raiment and Debut Novelist Toya Wolfe, Last Summer on State Street in conversation with Amina Gautier

731 S. Plymouth Ct. – Dana Suskind, Parent Nation: Unlocking Every Child’s Potential, Fulfilling Society’s Promise in conversation with Heidi Stevens

1:00 p.m.

Center Stage – City in a Garden of Books: Literary Fellowship Among Independent Publishers and Booksellers – Parneshia Jones, NU Press; Dr. Haki Madhubuti, Third World Press Foundation; Doug Seibold, Agate Publishing with Jeff Deutsch, In Praise of Good Bookstore

Main Stage – Secrets – Bradeigh Godfrey, Imposter and Marie Myung-Ok Lee, The Evening Hero with Kate Wisel

731 S. Plymouth Ct. – Kevin Boyle, The Shattering: America in the 1960s in conversation with Elizabeth Taylor

2:00 p.m.

Center Stage – Adam Levin, Mount Chicago in conversation with Jarrett Neal

Poetry Foundation – Young Chicago Authors – Reading featuring The Roots Crew, hosted by E’mon Lauren

Main Stage – The Moth: 25 Years of Live Storytelling featuring Grace Topinka, Melissa Earley, Archy Jamjun, and Jacoby Cochran

731 S. Plymouth Ct. – Neil Steinberg, Every Goddamn Day: A Highly Selective, Definitely Opinionated, and Alternatingly Humorous and Heartbreaking Historical Tour of Chicago in conversation with Shermann Dilla Thomas (“6figga_dilla”)

3:00 p.m.

Center Stage – Reading and Conversation featuring Ana Castillo, My Book of the Dead: New Poems with Yolanda Nieves

Main Stage – Romance Panel: Legacy and Love – Ali Brady, The Beach Trap and Natalie Caña, A Proposal They Can’t Refuse with Tanya Lane

731 S. Plymouth Ct. – The Insidiousness of Hatred – Adam Langer, Cyclorama and Jerry Stahl, Nein, Nein, Nein!: One Man’s Tale of Depression, Psychic Torment, and a Bus Tour of the Holocaust in conversation with Ben Tanzer

4:00 p.m.

Center Stage – The Crisis in American Democracy – Dick Simpson, Democracy’s Rebirth: The View from Chicago and Michael Dorf, Clear It with Sid!: Sidney R. Yates and Fifty Years of Presidents, Pragmatism, and Public Service with Gerry Plecki, President of The Society of Midland Authors

Poetry Foundation – Reading and Conversation featuring Tara Betts, Refuse to Disappear and Keli Stewart, Small Altars. Moderated by Rachel Jamison Webster

Main Stage – Chloé Cooper Jones, Easy Beauty: A Memoir with Gina Frangello

731 S. Plymouth Ct. – Sarah Kendzior, They Knew: How a Culture of Conspiracy Keeps America Complacent – with Rick Perlstein, Crain’s

5:00 p.m.

Center Stage – Blue Heron Press, Open Heart Chicago: An Anthology of Chicago Writing – Readings by Dorothy Frey, Lorena Ornelas, Joe Peterson, and Sandi Wisenberg. Emceed by Editor Vincent Francone.

Main Stage – Debut YA Fiction – Giano Cromley, The Prince of Infinite Space and Skyler Schrempp, Three Strike Summer with Michelle Falkof

731 S. Plymouth Ct. – A Visual Read of the City – Lee Bey, Chicago Sun-Times architecture critic; Blair Kamin, former Chicago Tribune architect critic; Dennis Rodkin, Crain’s with Gerald Butters\

First Born by Will Dean

Two identical twins as different as can be. Molly, anxious and reserved, lives a quiet, contained life in London. Katie, gregarious and fun-loving, is now attending school in New York where she has a great apartment, lots of friends and a handsome, athletic boyfriend.

Molly feels betrayed and jealous — until she gets a call from her parents who are visiting in New York. Katie is dead.

And so, Molly, forced to leave the safe confines of the cocoon she has enveloped herself in, flies to New York to comfort her parents and to take on the task of discovering her sister’s killer. But this isn’t a simple story of a twin forced to grow beyond the safe confines of her life. In “First Born,” author Will Dean takes us on a twisting path of family secrets, dark deceits and the slow recognition that even those we love aren’t who we think they are.

Katie, Molly discovers, has earned her admission to the prestigious school program not just because of her academic successes but also because of her relationship with a rich playboy philanthropist who jets around the world with an entourage of pretty young women.

“Molly soon realizes she never knew her twin as well as she thought she did,” said Dean, who was born in England, studied law at the London School of Economics and now lives in a remote area of Sweden. “Molly grows in confidence in New York. She starts to piece together the puzzle of Katie’s life. She finds those who wronged her. And then she goes about seeking revenge.”

Remember, we said it wasn’t simple, and as Molly attends Katie’s cremation ceremony with her parents, we learn of her own involvement in Katie’s death. And yet she still seeks vengeance for all those who wronged Katie.

Dean says the inspiration for his book came to him one night a few years ago.

“I imagined identical twins who had been treated differently from early childhood,” he said. “I was curious how being labeled ‘the fun one’ and ‘the serious one’ might manifest in later life. I’m also intrigued how we all think we know our partners, siblings, parents, children, etc well. But we never know them quite as well as we think we do.”

This article originally appeared in the Northwest Indiana Times.

Straight Bourbon: Distilling the Industry’s Heritage by Carol Peachee

“Bourbon is a legacy of blue grass, water and Kentucky limestone,” Carol Peachee tells me when I ask what makes Kentucky bourbon so prized.

Limestone? Water? Bluegrass? What’s that have to do with fine bourbon?

Turns out it’s quite simple. According to Peachee, the limestone filters the iron out of the water as it flows through the rock, producing a sweet-tasting mineral water perfect for making the greatest tasting liquor. Limestone, with its heavy calcium deposits, also is credited with the lush blue grass the state’s prize-winning horses gaze upon — making their bones strong.

It’s been a long time since I took geology in college, but I do like the taste of good bourbon and the sight of stately horses grazing in beautiful pastures and the more I can learn about it all, the better. Which is why I love Peachee’s entrancing photographs.

Carol Peachee

I first met Peachee, an award-winning professional photographer, when she was autographing copies of her latest book, Straight Bourbon: Distilling the Industry’s Heritage (Indiana University Press 2017; $28). Creating beauty as well as a sense of yearning, her books, including The Birth of Bourbon: A Photographic Tour of Early Distilleries, take us on a wanderlust journey of lost distilleries and those now re-emerging from the wreckage of Prohibition. At one time, Kentucky had over two hundred commercial distilleries, but only sixty-one reopened after the repeal of Prohibition in 1933. Now, as Kentucky bourbon becomes a driving force throughout the world, once barely remembered and long closed distilleries are being restored and revamped and are opening again for business.

Using a photographic technique known as high-dynamic-range imaging ― a process that produces rich saturation, intensely clarified details, and a full spectrum of light ― Peachee hauntingly showcases the vibrancy still lingering in artifacts such as antique tools, worn cypress fermenting tubs, ornate copper stills some turning slightly green with oxidation and age, gears and levers —things we would never typically think of as lovely and compelling.

Traveling with the Book

Keeping copies of her books in my car when I travel to Kentucky, I love visiting some of the places and sites she’s photographed.

Her passion for bourbon may also have come about, in part, because she lives in Lexington, Kentucky which is rich in the history of bourbon making (and, we should say, sipping).

To get a taste of how bourbon connects to the land, when in Lexington, Peachee suggests a stop at the Barrel House Distilling Co. including the Elkhorn Tavern located in the old James B. Pepper barrel plant. It’s part of Lexington’s happening Distillery District. But fine bourbon doesn’t just stop in Lexington.

“There are so many bourbon distilleries now,” she says, noting that the heritage of good bourbon making is more than the equipment and the water.

“The cultural heritage of distilling also lays in the human culture,” she writes in the Acknowledgements section of her latest book, “the people who learned the crafts of milling, copper welding and design, barrel making and warehouse construction and then passed them on through the generations down to today’s workers and owners.”

And now Peachee has passed them down to us so we can fully appreciate the art of distilling

Town Branch Bourbon Bramble

  • 2oz Bourbon
  • 3/4oz Fresh squeeze lemons
  • 3/4oz Simple syrup
  • 5 Fresh blackberries muddled

Shake with ice, strain and pour over fresh ice in rock glass with blackberry garnish.

Town Branch Bourbon Mint Julep

  • 2 oz Bourbon
  • 8 mint leaves
  • 1/4oz simple syrup
  • Dash of bitters

Muddle ingredients.

Add crushed ice with mint garnish and straw.

The above recipes are courtesy of the Lexington Brewing & Distilling Company.

The Verifiers by Jane Pek

Her brother is on the fast track to a successful career in finance and has plans for his sister to follow along. But in Jane Pek’s debut novel, “The Verifiers,” Claudia Lin secretly drops out of the corporate rat race without telling her siblings or mother and takes a job at Veracity, a new start-up that uses algorithms along with good old detective techniques to determine whether online suitors are real or not.

Claudia, a queer Asian American, really isn’t a computer geek. The reason she was chosen for the job by the company’s founder is her passion for reading, particularly the works about a fictitious crime solver named Detective Yuan.

Once she is hired, the firm becomes a three-person endeavor, with Claudia spending her time cyberstalking (the modern way to dig up dirt) and real life stalking, like they do in the crime novels Claudia consumes.

When Iris Lettriste comes in wanting them to investigate the men she’s met online, it at first seems like a simple case. But, of course, they never are. Lettriste is a no-show for her last appointment, and later is found dead of what looks like an accidental overdose of a prescription drug she’s taking.

Claudia’s bosses want to move on from Iris, but she thinks there’s more, particularly after all the online accounts belonging to Iris disappear and the real Iris shows up, saying that her sister has been impersonating her.

That’s enough for Claudia to start sleuthing on her own. Soon she’s fired from her job and almost involved in a fatal bicycle accident because someone has rigged her bike. On the home front, her gorgeous older sister is having relationship problems, and Claudia takes it upon herself to do some detecting to see what’s he’s up to.

Her brother is appalled and disappointed in her when he finds out she has quit the stellar and potentially very lucrative job he arranged for her.

Pek, who has an undergraduate degree from Yale, a law degree from New York University and an MFA in fiction from Brooklyn College and works as an attorney in New York for an international investment company, says she began the book by asking herself what if there was an online dating detective service, and from there began assembling the story line.

“I liked that Claudia would actually draw her detective rules from this obviously silly murder mystery series,” said Pek who is working on a sequel, “but that every now and then it would actually work out for her.”

The article originally appeared in the Northwest Indiana Times.

%d bloggers like this: