24 new releases, including several author debuts and a few classics, that span from mystery to memoir, spiritual to historical and romantic to coming of age.
A Prayer Journal
by Flannery O’Connor, edited by W.A. Sessions
“I would like to write a beautiful prayer,” writes the young Flannery O’Connor in this deeply spiritual journal, recently discovered among her papers in Georgia. Written between 1946 and 1947 while O’Connor was a student at the University of Iowa, “A Prayer Journal” is a rare portal into the interior life of the great writer. Not only does it map O’Connor’s singular relationship with the divine, but it shows how entwined her literary desire was with her yearning for God. “Please help me dear God to be a good writer and to get something else accepted,” she writes. As W. A. Sessions, who knew O’Connor, writes in his introduction, it was no coincidence that she began writing the stories that would become her first novel, “Wise Blood,” during the years when she wrote these singularly imaginative meditations. Read our review here.
The All-Girl Filling Station’s Last Reunion
by Fannie Flagg
The beloved Fannie Flagg is back with a new comic mystery novel about two women who are forced to reimagine who they are and what they are capable of. Mrs. Sookie Poole of Point Clear, Alabama, has just married off the last of her three daughters and is looking forward to relaxing and perhaps traveling with her husband, Earle. The only thing left to contend with now is her mother, the formidable and imposing Lenore Simmons Krackenberry — never an easy task. Lenore may be a lot of fun for other people but is an overbearing presence for her daughter. Then one day, quite by accident, Sookie discovers a shocking secret about her mother’s past that knocks her for a loop and suddenly calls into question everything she ever thought she knew about herself, her family and her future.
The Blood of Heaven
by Kent Wascom
Called one of the most powerful and impressive debuts Grove/Atlantic has ever published, this first novel by 26-year-old Kent Wascom tells the story of Angel Woolsack, a preacher’s son who flees the hardscrabble life of his itinerant father, falls in with a charismatic highwayman and then settles with his adopted brothers on the rough frontier of West Florida. The novel moves from the bordellos of Natchez, where Angel meets his love Red Kate, to the Mississippi River plantations, where the brutal system of slave labor is creating fantastic wealth along with terrible suffering, and finally to the back rooms of New Orleans among schemers, dreamers, and would-be revolutionaries plotting to break away from the young United States and create a new country under the leadership of the renegade founding father Aaron Burr. Meet Wascom’s creepy cast of characters here.
by Donna Tartt
Best-selling author of “The Little Friend” and “The Secret History,” Mississippi native Donna Tartt returns after an 11-year break with a beautiful and chilling journey into the extremes of the art world. Theo Decker, a young boy in New York City, is taken in by an elite family following the death of his mother and rejection of his father. Lost in this new level of society, Theo grows more and more dependent on the sole object his mother left behind: a mysterious painting. “The Goldfinch” follows Theo through adulthood as he struggles between those who don’t understand him, the highs and lows of the art world and his own unsettling love life. Compared to “The Secret History,” this is a story of extremes and enduring as one who must survive in the lonely in-between. Though not set in the South, Southerners won’t want to miss this much-awaited novel from a native author.
Guests on Earth
by Lee Smith
A troubled, yet brilliant, young pianist, Evalina Toussaint, finds herself in the midst of a kaleidoscope of characters, including Jazz Age icon Zelda Fitzgerald, estranged wife of F. Scott, in North Carolina author Lee Smith’s latest novel. The orphaned child of an exotic dancer in New Orleans, Evalina is just 13 when she is admitted to Highland Hospital in Asheville. She meets Zelda as accompanist for the hospital’s musical programs and is eventually swept into a cascading series of events leading up to the tragic fire of 1948 that killed nine women, including Zelda, in a locked ward on the top floor. Evalina offers a solution for the still-unsolved mystery of that fire, as well as her own ideas about the very thin line between sanity and insanity.
The House on Coliseum Street
by Shirley Ann Grau
The Louisiana Book Festival’s One Book, One Festival is reading New Orleans author Shirley Ann Grau’s timeless novel about 21-year-old Joan Mitchell. Joan has lived her entire life in the stately New Orleans house on Coliseum Street, where her mother and half sister have steadily undermined her self-regard. A brief affair with professor Michael Kern eases her boredom but leads to an unwanted pregnancy and Joan’s eventual withdrawal into a numbed existence. Only a growing obsession with Michael and a yearning to fill her cavernous loneliness spur Joan to any premeditated action. Read our interview with Grau here.
Love and Lament
by John Milliken Thompson
Set in rural North Carolina between the late 1800s and World War I, “Love and Lament” chronicles the Hartsoe family’s extraordinary hardships and misfortunes. Mary Bet, the youngest of eight children, was born the same year the first railroad arrived in the county. As she comes of age during the South’s reconstruction and industrialization, she must learn to overcome her family’s curse, including the death of her mother and multiple siblings, her father’s growing insanity and rejection of God, and dark family secrets that threaten her stability. Virginia author John Milliken Thompson transports the reader back in time through memorable characters, meticulous detail, and a voice that brings the past to vivid life.
The Maid’s Version
by Daniel Woodrell
Following the success of 2007’s “Winter’s Bone,” Daniel Woodrell explores the lives and secrets of a small community. Taking place in 1920s Missouri, the town of West Table is set ablaze, both literally and metaphorically, by a dancehall fire. One of the 42 lost is the sister of Alma DeGeer Dunahew, a maid for the local, wealthy elite and mother to three boys. Alma believes she knows who started the fire, and in telling the tale to her grandson in hopes that the truth will eventually find light. In the telling of this tale, “The Maid’s Version” is both a compelling mystery and a daring look into the secrets and struggles, the glories and the defeats of a family stretched across a generation.
Men We Reaped
by Jesmyn Ward
In five years, National Book Award winner Jesmyn Ward lost five young men in her life — to drugs, accidents, suicide and the bad luck that can follow people who live in poverty, particularly black men. As she began to write about the experience of living through all the dying, she realized the truth: her brother and her friends all died because of who they were and where they were from, because they lived with a history of racism and economic struggle that fostered drug addiction and the dissolution of family and relationships. In this memoir, she writes powerfully about the pressures on the men who can do no right and the women who stand in for family in a society where the men are often absent.
Mother of Rain
by Karen Spears Zacharias
“Like a handcrafted wedding quilt, Zacharias’s prose weaves the tangle of hardscrabble lives into old-fashioned Appalachia storytelling,” says Ann Hite about this author’s debut work of fiction. Maizee Hurd moved upriver at the age of 10 after tragedy struck and was sent off to be raised by a childless aunt and her doctor husband. Shortly after Maizee’s arrival in the rural mountain community of Christian Bend, the young girl began hearing voices. The tender love of her husband, Zeb, and their shared passion for the Appalachian hills and rivers of East Tennessee helped quiet the voices, but as Zeb prepares for deployment, Maizee’s life is rocked by the ripples of World War II and the demons in her head.
Mrs. Lincoln’s Dressmaker
by Jennifer Chiaverini
New York Times bestselling author Jennifer Chiaverini returns with a historical novel spotlighting one of the unsung characters of the Lincoln administration. Elizabeth Hobbs Keckley, born a slave but making her way to the White House through her skill with a needle, becomes one of Mary Todd Lincoln’s closest and most trusted friends. Sweeping through the tumultuous years of the Civil War, “Mrs. Lincoln’s Dressmaker” embraces a wide swath of history, from the Lincolns’ rise to White House glory, the president’s assassination and end of Mary Todd’s troubled life, while keeping true to the struggles and relationships stitched together by one woman.
by Lynn Cullen
It is 1845, and Frances Osgood is desperately trying to make a living as a writer in New York. As she tries to sell her work, she finds that editors are only interested in writing similar to that of the new renegade literary sensation Edgar Allan Poe, whose poem, “The Raven” has struck a public nerve. She meets the handsome and mysterious Poe at a literary party, and the two have an immediate connection. Poe wants Frances to meet with his wife since she claims to be an admirer of her poems, and Frances is curious to see the woman Edgar married. As Frances spends more and more time with the intriguing couple, her intense attraction for Edgar brings her into dangerous territory.
by Diane Chamberlain
Fifteen-year old Ivy Hart is thrust into adulthood after losing her parents. Left to care for her ailing grandmother, her mentally ill sister and a small tobacco farm, Ivy is quick to learn the trials and responsibilities of her new life. But she isn’t alone for long. Jane Forrester, a new social worker in Grace County, North Carolina, takes on Ivy’s case and soon becomes more invested in the young girl’s life than she had ever planned. The more she learns about the family and their small farm, the more secrets surface, and Jane realizes she’ll have to make a decision to abandon the girls or give up a part of herself. Set in the 1960s rural South, “Necessary Lies” is a powerful novel based on harrowing true events from our not-too-distant past.
by Charles McNair
“Charles McNair has crammed the whole history of the South into one man’s epic lifetime adventure,” says Mark Childress about this long-awaited second novel. Busting out of an Alabama retirement home, 114-year-old Threadgill Pickett, who believes himself to be the only living Civil War veteran, barrels his way northward on a mission to kill the last living Union soldier. Along the way, he runs into a raccoon collector, a trio of Ku Klux Klan members, brothers building a time machine and various other characters who not only redefine the South, but redefine history itself. Through one improbable adventure after another, Threadgill finds himself forced to reexamine the notions of valor and vengeance he holds so fiercely. Read our review here.
by Jason Mott
What would you do if a lost loved one mysteriously returned one day? That’s what happens to Harold and Lucille Hargrave, who settle into old age after losing their son, Jacob, on his eighth birthday. Still an 8-year old boy, Jacob returns to their lives bringing with him wonder and joy, but also confusion and disbelief. He can’t possibly be their son. Or can he? And the Hargrave’s aren’t alone. All over the world, those who had been lost are returning and no one knows why. This miraculous scenario for North Carolina author Jason Mott’s debut novel is both spirited and original, yet harkens back to universal questions of love, faith and morality.
Rivers: A Novel
by Michael Farris Smith
Hurricanes on the Gulf Coast. It’s a theme many of us are familiar with, but taken to the extreme by Michael Farris Smith in his debut novel. In this speculative look into a not-so-distant future, the entire Gulf Coast has been devastated by countless hurricanes. As a result, the government has sacrificed all of the land 90 miles north of the coast, leaving it populated only by the wild, the unstable and a man named Cohen who can’t leave the memory of his wife and unborn child behind. Struggling for survival, he encounters a deluge of obstacles, including Aggie, a snake-obsessed preacher determined to reclaim the wilderness. Just as a Gulf hurricane brings about the violent, the strange and the unexpected, so does Smith’s latest exploration into a land that someday could become reality. Read our interview with Smith here.
The Secrets She Carried
by Barbara Davis
North Carolina author Barbara Davis makes her literary debut in this stunning story about a woman’s journey of discovery into her family’s long-buried past. Living on Peak Plantation, Leslie Nichols is plagued by the death of her mother, her father’s disgrace and an unhappy childhood. When her grandmother, Maggie, dies, Leslie isn’t the only one who was left with the property. Jay Davenport also has claim to the plantation as its caretaker. Before Maggie died, she told Jay about a terrible secret about a lady who came to the plantation in the 1930s and died there. When Leslie finds a cryptically marked grave on the property, both she and Jay discover shocking secrets.
The Silence of Bonaventure Arrow
by Rita Leganski
In 1950s New Orleans, a boy is born without a sound. In fact, as he grows, he continues to live in a world of silence and his own creation. Bonaventure Arrow may not speak, but he listens. At the age of 5, he can hear flowers grow and the storms raging within a raindrop. Yet his gift does not come without consequence. Bonaventure also hears the voice of his dead father, urging him to explore the mystery of his murder and the secrets of their family that reveal themselves as Bonaventure digs deeper and deeper into the past. Rita Leganski’s debut novel is one filled with magic, wonder and a unique exploration into the ties that bind even the most peculiar of families. Slipping by us for last year’s list, this book is a must-read for Southerners. Read our interview with Leganski here.
Someone Else’s Love Story
by Joshilyn Jackson
Science and love have always gotten along, right? This classic dichotomy is at work in Joshilyn Jackson’s latest novel, featuring a young mother, Shandi Pierce, who is juggling college, an extremely bright 3-year-old son and her parent’s divorce. Somehow, in the midst of her own tangled web, Shandi manages to find herself in the middle of a robbery and a sizzling romance with a blond-haired geneticist. William is a scientist who believes that destiny is about choices, and this novel is one that beautifully depicts the many choices in our lives and what they can reveal when we least expect it. Described as “Joshilyn Jackson at her best” by Susan Rebecca White, this book is an honest and profound study of the connections in our lives and how destiny can, whether we believe in it or not, often throw us in a totally unexpected direction. Read our review here.
Southern as a Second Language
by Lisa Patton
Patton’s Southern belle character Leelee Satterfield is back in Memphis and enjoying a new relationship with the gorgeous Peter, or as her friends like to call him, Yankee Doodle Dixie, the namesake of Patton’s previous novel. Leelee is also opening up The Peach Blossom Inn, her new restaurant with Peter, who is not only devilishly handsome but also a phenomenal chef. But it all proves harder than Leelee originally anticipated, especially when her unpredictable best friends are involved and she and Peter, a born-and-raised Vermonter, don’t see eye-to-eye on certain social mores of the South.
by Ann Hite
“The Storycatcher transports you high atop rural Black Mountain, NC, smack in the middle of a gothic tale so haunting and with characters and voices so authentic you’d swear you were living amongst them,” says author Lisa Patton about Ann Hite’s latest novel. Shelly Parker, a 16-year-old servant who works for the tyrannical Pastor Dobbins and his family, has had the gift of sight for as long as she can remember. She’s grown accustomed to coexisting with the spirits of the dead who roam Black Mountain, telling Shelly their stories and warning her of the dangers that surround her. When the ghost of Arleen Brown, a poor woman who died on the mountain during childbirth five years earlier, begins to pursue the Pastor’s daughter Faith — hell-bent on revealing a terrible secret that she took to her grave — Shelly is the only person that can help her. Read our interview with Hite here.
This Dark Road to Mercy
by Wiley Cash
In his second novel, Wiley Cash continues to explore the themes of family and survival in a grimly-painted backdrop of the American South. Two sisters, Easter and Ruby Quillby, are faced with life in an orphanage when their mother passes away. But before they know it, their prodigal father, Wade, returns through their bedroom window, whisking them away to Myrtle Beach and a seemingly fresh start. But Wade is a wanted man, not only by the police but a mysterious man in dark sunglasses who has a score to settle with the ex-minor league baseball pitcher. Also on the trail is Brady Weller, the girls’ legal guardian who seeks to not only find them, but quiet his own demons as well. “This Dark Road to Mercy” has all the aspects of a classic Faulkner novel: multiple narrators, a troubled family brimming with secrets and the heart of a thrilling mystery. Read our interview with Cash here.
The Tilted World
by Beth Ann Fennelly and Tom Franklin
The water’s rising in husband and wife team Tom Franklin and Beth Ann Fennelly’s latest novel. Set in the midst of the 1927 raging, Mississippi River Flood, “The Tilted World” follows two federal agents, Ted Ingersoll and Ham Johnson, as they arrive in a small town on the trail of two missing agents. Yet what they find instead, alone in the heart of moonshine country, is a young boy. This discovery is the impetus for a chain of events as unpredictable as the river itself, leading to Dixie Clay Holliver, a young woman who is drawn to Ingersoll and may be even more intimately connected to the disappearance of the agents. A novel of connections where they are least expected, this is hopefully not the last collaboration by University of Mississippi professors Franklin and Fennelly.
Twelve Years a Slave
by Solomon Northup, audiobook read by Louis Gossett Jr.
The classic autobiography returns, read by Academy Award-winner Louis Gossett Jr. in a new audiobook version. “12 Years a Slave” is the epic account of Solomon Northup’s kidnapping from his home in the North and his subsequent 12 of slavery, which played a pivotal role in the abolition movement. First published in 1853, Northup’s story debuted on the heels of Harriett Beecher Stowe’s “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” and aided the growing support against slavery. In this remarkable firsthand account, Northup takes the reader on an astonishing journey from his peaceful home in New York to the slave markets in Washington, D.C., to the vast, Louisiana plantations. With the writing of a novel and the honest voice of an autobiography, “12 Years a Slave” is a must-read before the movie comes out October 18. Read about the woman behind “12 Years a Slave” here.