Summer Reading List
The best beach reads, mysteries, chick lit & new releases from down South.
Susan Rebecca White
Billed as the next book club pick by author of The Help Kathryn Stockett, Susan Rebecca White’s follow up to Bound South spans nearly two decades in the lives of Atlanta sisters Ruthie and Julia. After their parents die in a place crash on their way to see the Grand Canyon, the girls must deal with the emotions of resentment, anger and jealousy while healing from the loss, searching for love and beginning their careers. Their journey will take them from their familiar home in Atlanta to bohemian San Francisco, a mountain town in Virginia, the campus of Berkeley and lofts in Brooklyn, until another shocking accident changes everything once again.
If you read Joshilyn Jackson’s gods in Alabama, you’ll remember the character of Rose Mae Lolley. She was supposed to be just a minor girlfriend, but ended up taking on a life of her own and is now the star of Backseat Saints, which comes out this month. Rose Mae, now Ro Grandee, is a Texas housewife with a husband who’s as abusive as her father. But when a gypsy’s cards reveal that her husband’s going to kill her, Ro hightails it out of Texas on a mission to find her long-missing mother and escape the man who will never let her go. We’ve fallen in love with Jackson’s writing and asked her if she’d answer a few questions about being a Southern writer, telling stories and who she’s reading now. Click here for the interview.
“There shouldn’t be a Citrus County. Teenage romance should be difficult, but not this difficult. Boys like Toby should cause trouble but not this much. The moon should glow gently over children safe in their beds. Uncles in their rockers should be kind. Teachers should guide and inspire. Manatees should laze and palm trees sway and snakes keep to their shady spots under the azalea thickets. The air shouldn’t smell like a swamp. The stars should twinkle. Shelby should be her own hero, the first hero of Citrus County.” So goes the poetic description from McSweeney’s July release, which follows Gulf Coast native John Brandon’s 2008 debut, Arkansas.
The latest in the Sookie Stackhouse Southern Vampire Mysteries (now the HBO hit show True Blood), Dead In The Family chronicles Sookie’s recovery after the Fae War and deaths of her loved ones in Bon Temps, Louisiana. Sookie is hurt and angry, but the bright spot in her life is the love she thinks she feels for vampire Eric Northman. Filled with the vampires, Shifters and Weres readers have come to love from Arkansan Charlaine Harris, the entertainment, paranormal politics and engaging subplots continue in book 10 and should hold fans over until Season 3 of True Blood starts on HBO June 13. Want to read the entire series from the beginning? Get started with book No. 1, Dead Until Dark.
Beginning with a narrator so desperate for a playmate that she acts out both the parts of Helen Keller and Anne Sullivan up in her room, Ferris Beach’s Katie Burns is thrilled when Misty Rhodes moves in across the street. Misty and her bohemian parents come from Ferris Beach, South Carolina, and represent everything Katie wants her family to be: daring, outrageous, fun. The two girls become inseparable until one fateful Fourth of July weekend reveals that families aren’t always as perfect as they seem and there’s a lot more that goes on behind closed doors than meets the eye.
An electrifying account of two men—one the first to escape from maximum-security Jefferson City Penitentiary in Missouri and the other a courageous leader of the Civil Rights Movement—and the devastating moment in a Memphis hotel when they come together. A native of Memphis, Hampton Sides was a child when Martin Luther King Jr. was killed by James Earl Ray. He says he wrote Hellhound on His Trail to find out more about the event, and assassin, that turned his hometown upside down.
Dorothea Benton Frank
In the sequel to Plantation, Dorothea Benton Frank takes us back to the family home of Caroline Wembley Levine in the South Carolina lowcountry as she tries to deal with a colorful cast of characters. There’s her son who’s shacking up with an older single mom, a drunk and disorderly sister in law, four nieces from hell, a pig-farmer boyfriend and her crush on the local sheriff, not to mention her dead but not forgotten mother. To be released June 15.
Flying into Austin, Texas, Kevin Quinn obsesses about the recent terrorist attacks in Europe and the fact that a bomber could look just like him. He’s distracted from his reverie when he notices his Asian seatmate reading Amy Tan’s The Joy Luck Club. His obsession quickly transfers to her, as he impulsively takes off after her through the streets of Austin in a journey that evokes scenes from his dodgy love life and dysfunctional family, leading him to an office tower where he confronts a shocking reality about himself.
Author Nicole Seitz lives near Charleston, South Carolina, and calls her work “Southern fiction for the soul.” And the description on the back of her fourth book, Saving Cicadas, is enough to grab a reader and pull them in: “It was about four years ago, the last trip we ever took together—my mother, sister, grandparents and me. Course, we didn’t know it at the time. You never know something like that, like it’s the last one you’ll ever get, till it’s just a memory, hanging like mist. This is what happened that summer, true as I can tell it. Not a one of us was ever the same.”
Miami Herald columnist Carl Hiaasen has been turning Florida’s colorful characters, unpredictable weather and landscape into mystery fiction since the 1980s. We don’t have to tell you these are great beach reads with titles like Stormy Weather, Skinny Dip and Tourist Season. His latest tale, Star Island, is set in South Beach and features an actress, crazed paparazzo and a former governor, and is due out July 27. In 2002, Hiaasen started writing fiction for teens, and his ecological thrillers involving middle-schoolers, teachers and endangered animals are also a joy to read for adults. His latest young adult novel, Scat, came out in April and tells the story of a biology teacher who didn’t return from a field trip to Black Vine Swamp.
From the consummate Southerner who brought us The Prince of Tides and Beach Music, Pat Conroy’s latest novel has been described as a love letter to the city of Charleston, South Carolina. With a narrator who is the son of a loving high school teacher father, a far cry from Conroy’s past depictions of characters based on his own abusive father, South of Broad deals with the themes of suicide, friendship and “a town so pretty it makes your eyes ache with pleasure just to walk down its spellbinding, narrow streets.”
Birmingham native Anne George threw her sister sleuths Patricia Anne and Mary Alice into mysterious adventures with the gusto of Nancy Drew. Murder Gets A Life begins with a discussion of a deviled-egg dish and eventually leads the sisters to a trailer park full of in-laws and a dead body. In Murder Boogies with Elvis, the sisters attend a benefit to restore Birmingham’s Vulcan monument and witness the murder of a sequined Elvis impersonator. And in Murder Makes Waves, the sisters go sleuthing in Florida. While George passed away in 2001, her books remain entertaining reading on a hot, summer day.
After Little Altars Everywhere and Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood, we hoped Central Louisiana native Rebecca Wells would continue to deliver, and she has. Her latest book is set in the piney wood river town of La Luna, Louisiana, where Calla Lily’s mother, M’Dear, cuts and curls hair and teaches the Cajun two-step with her Papa. Calla Lily’s journey eventually takes her to New Orleans to find her destiny.
Mary Kay Andrews
With a spread in this month’s Better Homes and Gardens on her Tybee Island cottage, author Mary Kay Andrews is know for her Georgia-specific lit. Her latest novel, The Fixer Upper, is “about one woman’s quest to redo an old house, and her life,” she tells the magazine. After losing her job, lobbyist Dempsey Joe Killebrew moves to Guthrie, Georgia, to help her father refurbish the Victorian mansion he’s recently inherited. Of course, the project ends up taking more than just fresh paint and TLC.
James Lee Burke
James Lee Burke’s eagerly awaited new novel in his Dave Robicheaux series releases July 13. It finds the detective back in New Iberia, Louisiana, embroiled in the most harrowing and dangerous case of his career. Based on the real-life, still-unsolved case of the Jeff Davis Parish serial killer, Burke throws in the death of a high school honor student who doesn’t fit the profile of the killer’s seven other victims. Once Robicheaux and his best friend, Clete Purcel, confront a notorious pimp and crack dealer, the case takes an ugly turn when the dealer turns up dead.
Louisiana creative writing professor Tim Gautreaux’s last novel, The Clearing, was called “the finest American novel in a long, long time” by Annie Proulx, so of course his next book, The Missing, was much anticipated. After a little girl disappears from a department store, main character Sam Simoneaux joins her parents on a downriver journey from New Orleans to Arkansas aboard a Mississippi riverboat to try and find out what happened to her. Recommended by Austin, Texas, reader Lisa J. Gouveia, who advises to stick with the book through its slow beginning, because “when the main abduction story kicks in, you can’t put it down.”
Set in 1960s Mississippi, Gwin’s debut novel examines race in the style of To Kill A Mockingbird through the character of young Florence Forrest and her relationship with her grandparents’ black maid, Zenie. With a Klansmen father and mother who drinks too much, Florence retreats to her grandparents’ house and the black section of town, called Shake Rag. The more time she spends in Shake Rag, the more she recognizes the racial divide in her town of Millwood, especially when Zenie’s niece, Eva, comes to stay for the summer.
David Valdes Greenwood
Sweet Potato Queen Jill Conner Browne proclaims on the cover: “Y’all will LOVE this book, trust me!” And everybody knows if “the queen” said it, it must be so. The Rhinestone Sisterhood takes us deep into the world of small-town festival queens to capture the true story of four “sisters of the sash”—the Frog, Fur, Cotton and Cattle Queens of Louisiana—and their quest to win the ultimate crown. Need we say more?
It’s 1931 in the coal mining town of Carbon Hill, Alabama, and 9-year-old Tess Moore has witnessed a woman toss a baby down a well. In her first book, Phillips contrasts the darker side of Alabama’s mining communities, where racial tensions, poverty and a life of dangerous work blended with the pleasures of sweet tea, feather beds and lightening bugs. With an introduction by Fannie Flagg, The Well and the Mine has been compared to a Gee’s Bend quilter because of Phillips ability to “stitch tradition, color, and necessity into every sentence.” Recommended by reader Perre Coleman Magness of Memphis.
Orange Beach’s Ryan Anderson blends local spots like the Pensacola airport, where Russian mail order bride Tatiana fails to arrive in Undelivered, with faraway tropical locales for a tale of kidnapping in her 2009 novel. The prologue begins with the line: “The shells were everywhere. Some broken, some intact, they glistened in the sun, just waiting for someone to pick them up and carry them home.” Such is the scene before the water’s edge reveals the hand of a dead woman. If you’re headed to the Alabama coast this summer, check out the Orange Beach Library’s signed copy of Undelivered or get a copy from Anderson herself at her San Roc Cay shop, Treasure Chest.
From Our Readers:
Tanya Greer Breese in Daleville, Virginia: “I just started the Miss Julia series and I’ve read Joshilyn Jackson’s gods in Alabama and Between Georgia, liked both of them. I lived right next to Between so was excited to read that!”
Ed Stoudenmeier: “Anything by James Lee Burke. He brings New Orleans to life in some really good mysteries.”
Bonnie B. Latino in Alabama: Playing With the Enemy by Gary W. Moore is Atmore, AL’s 2010 Summer Reading Initiative. Great!”
Steff Childs in Omaha, Nebraska & Virginia Willis in Atlanta: “I hope Kim Severson’s Spoon Fed is on your list!” (It’s not, because Severson is from the Midwest and lives in New York, but the book includes profiles of Southern chefs Leah Chase and Edna Lewis.)