31 of the best beach reads, mysteries, romances and debut novels from the South.
by Mary Kay Andrews
Greer Hennessy’s career as a movie location scout could be better. She was blamed for the crew’s fiasco at the last location and with one shot left at finding the perfect undiscovered beach town for a big budget movie, she can’t let anything get in her way. Fortunately, she spots a pristine Florida town that’s ideal for the movie. Unfortunately, she finds formidable resistance from Mayor Eben Thibadeaux, who is extremely protective of his town and its residents. As Greer and Eben struggle to see eye to eye, they begin to realize that love really can blossom anywhere.
by Kristy Woodson Harvey
Frances “Khaki” Mason has it all: a great interior design career, a loving husband and son and two homes. She has everything except the second child she’s always wanted. When Khaki learns that her husband’s teenaged cousin Jodi is fresh out of rehab, pregnant and alone, she encourages the girl to keep the baby. As Khaki helps her through her pregnancy, Jodi struggles to be the mother her daughter deserves and reaches out to Khaki for the ultimate favor. Written to baby Carolina by both her birth mother and her adoptive one, this debut novel proves that families aren’t born, they’re made.
by Michael McDowell
After an unexpected event at the funeral of matriarch Marian Savage, the McCray and Savage families are looking forward to a relaxing summer at Beldame. There, three Victorian houses watch over the Gulf Coast beach. Two of the houses are habitable, but the third is slowly being buried under an enormous sand dune. The third house isn’t empty though. Something that has terrified Luker McCray and Dauphin Savage since they were kids still lurks there and may be responsible for several terrible deaths in the past. Is the house ready to kill again? Brought back into print by Valancourt Press, rediscover the Alabama author Stephen King called “the finest writer of paperback originals in America.”
The Happy Hour Choir
by Sally Kilpatrick
Life hasn’t been kind to Beulah Land. Being named after a hymn is tough enough, but a teenaged pregnancy estranged her from her family and a tragedy caused her to lose what little faith she had left. The wayward daughter of a Baptist deacon, Beulah spends her nights playing piano at The Fountain, a honky-tonk located across the street from County Line Methodist. When she learns that a friend’s dying wish is for her to take over as the church’s piano player, Beulah has to face the music. She butts heads with Luke Daniels, the new pastor who staunchly clings to tradition. Unfazed, Beulah gathers a rag tag band of patrons from The Fountain to form the Happy Hour Choir.
In Every Way
by Nic Brown
Maria is a 19-year-old Chapel Hill college student who just found out she’s pregnant and her mom has cancer. Recovering from the shock, Maria decides to give her daughter up for adoption. When Maria’s mom suggests a trip to the coastal town of Beaufort, the same one that the adoptive couple lives in, she agrees to go. After arriving in the town, Maria takes a job as a nanny with the couple who adopted her daughter. She ingratiates herself into the family and the longer she spends with them, the more Maria displays the heartbroken and self-destructive fervor of a mother separated from her child.
Jam on the Vine
by LaShonda Katrice Barnett
Called “a wonder of a first novel” by Amy Greene, Jam on the Vine is a dynamic tale of triumph against the odds and the compelling story of one woman’s struggle for equality. Ivoe Williams, the precocious daughter of a Muslim cook and a metalsmith from central-east Texas, first ignites her lifelong obsession with journalism when she steals a newspaper from her mother’s white employer. She earns a scholarship to the prestigious Willetson College in Austin, only to return overqualified to the menial labor offered by her hometown’s racially biased employers. Ivoe eventually flees the Jim Crow South with her family and settles in Kansas City, where she and her former teacher and lover, Ona, found the first female-run African American newspaper, Jam on the Vine.
by Tom Cooper
After the BP oil spill destroys the Gulf Coast, those who depended on shrimping to make a living find themselves without work. For the outcasts and lowlifes in the working class bayou town of Jeannette, these circumstances push them to undertake whatever risky schemes they can to get rich quick. Gus Lindquist, a pill-popping, one-armed treasure hunter, is at the center of it all. His goal is to find the lost treasure of pirate Jean Lafitte, a quest that will bring him into contact with many strange, memorable characters, some who won’t live to see the end. “That his book is smart and funny and dazzling in its prose is obvious. He also can tell a hell of a story. Tom Cooper is a newly-minted American literary treasure,’ says Robert Olen Butler.
Million Dollar Road
by Amy Conner
Eighteen-year-old Lireinne Hooten can’t sink any lower in anyone’s estimation. She was abandoned by her mom and now lives with her stepdad in a trailer on Million Dollar Road. Every day she makes the mile-long trek to her job at the world’s largest alligator farm, where she seems to have bonded with Snowball, a giant white gator. While working, Lireinne manages to catch the eye of her boss, Con Costello, a man who’s used to getting exactly what he wants. Though Lireinne makes it clear she isn’t interested, Con’s obsession with her only grows until Lireinne gets an unexpected chance to redefine herself far away from her past and Million Dollar Road.
by James McTeer
A small boy who is forced to undertake an incredible journey, Minnow must try and save his dying father from a mysterious illness. His mother sends him to a local druggist in their coastal town, but the boy unexpectedly takes a dark journey deep into the ancient Sea Islands. He seeks the grave dust of a long-dead hoodoo man to buy a cure, but with only a half-feral dog by his side, Minnow’s trek is haunted. There’s Sorry George, a witch doctor who brought a fever that killed 52 men. Then there’s a tempest out at sea that threatens to destroy the coastal way of life. “Minnow is an urgent novel, as stark and wild as the fairy tale deep in its bones,” says Lauren Groff.
by Nell Zink
A sharply observed, mordantly funny and startlingly original novel from an exciting, unconventional new voic about the making and unmaking of the American family that lays bare all of our assumptions about race and racism, sexuality and desire. Stillwater College in Virginia, 1966. Freshman Peggy, an ingénue with literary pretensions, falls under the spell of Lee, a blue-blooded poet and professor, and they begin an ill-advised affair that results in an unplanned pregnancy and marriage. he two are mismatched from the start — she’s a lesbian, he’s gay — but it takes a decade of emotional erosion before Peggy runs off with their 3-year-old daughter, leaving their 9-year-old son behind.
My Sunshine Away
by M.O. Walsh
Set in a Baton Rouge neighborhood in the summer of 1989, Walsh’s debut novel explores the power of memory, forgiveness and the meaning of family. The sleepy suburb he creates is best known for its extravagant cookouts, love of football and perfectly spicy crawfish. However, this idyllic facade is shattered when 15-year-old Lindy Simpson experiences a horrific crime near her home. The author cleverly sets the innocence of childhood against a chilling crime to create a gripping page-turner. Read our interview with M.O. Walsh here.
The One That Got Away
by Bethany Chase
Sarina Mahler has it all together. Her architecture practice in Austin, Texas, is growing, and she’s certain that her wonderful boyfriend Noah is going to propose soon. Things start to change for Sarina when Noah leaves on a temporary assignment abroad and her former flame, retired Olympic swimmer Eamon Roy, moves back to town. Eamon hires Sarina to renovate his fixer-upper, and she’s immediately reminded of all the reasons she was first drawn to him. “Love can be complicated, and in The One That Got Away, Bethany Chase captures every nuanced beat of a conflicted heart,” says Patti Callahan Henry.
by Kirker Butler
Miranda Miller is the ultimate stage mother. Her only goal in life is to see her 9-year-old daughter, Bailey, as one of the most successful child pageant contestants in the Southern U.S. But Bailey wants to retire, and she’s been binge eating to make herself “unpageantable.” On top of that, the reality show Miranda’s been trying to snag has gone to their biggest rival. Miranda plans to make a comeback with her fourth child. Seven months pregnant with a girl, she is going to make sure this baby is successful. While Miranda schemes to conquer the pageant world, her pill-popping husband Ray starts taking desperate measures to find peace in the middle of ever-growing troubles. “Pretty Ugly is everything you’d want in a novel: funny, poignant, exceedingly well-written. I look forward to reading it,” says Stephen Colbert.
by Jamie Kornegay
Jay Mize finally convinces his wife Sandy to move their family to a beautiful plot of rural land, where their 6-year-old son can spend his days running free instead of cooped up inside. Meanwhile, Jay begins to break ground on a farm, planning to fulfill his dream of practicing progressive agriculture. Unfortunately, events go from bad to worse. First there was the flood and the pestilence. Then, his wife and son left him. Now, there’s a corpse on his property. Convinced he’s being framed for murder, Jay doesn’t report the body and instead hides it on his property. Can Jay keep his wits about him, or will he finally give in to his paranoia for good? Read our interview with Jamie Kornegay here.
The Sound of Glass
by Karen White
Merritt Heyward’s husband, Cal, has been dead for two years when she receives the unexpected news that his family home in Beaufort, South Carolina, now belongs to her. Merritt leaves her home in Maine to travel South, where the secrets of Cal’s unspoken past remain. Merritt knew her life would change when she moved, but she didn’t expect the arrival of her too-young stepmother and 10-year-old half brother. Now, in a house of strangers, Merritt must unravel the Heyward family past — which involves a long ago plane crash and history of domestic violence — as she faces her own fears.
The Summer’s End
by Mary Alice Monroe
The Summer’s End is the powerful conclusion to Monroe’s bestselling Lowcountry Summer trilogy and returns to Sullivan’s Island, South Carolina, and the Muir family. Three half sisters bound by love for their grandmother and the Carolina lowcountry prepare to spend their last summer at Sea Breeze before it is sold. Harper intended to stay only a weekend, but a rift with her wealthy, influential mother left her without a home. Free from her mother’s tyranny, she must recognize her newfound strengths and accept the love of Mamaw, Carson, Dora and, most of all, former Marine Taylor McClellan, the wounded warrior who has claimed her heart.
by Chris Cander
Myrthen Bergmann is playing tug-of-war with her twin sister in the West Virginia town of Verra when tragedy strikes. Wracked with guilt, Myrthen begins a haunted life devoted to God. Meanwhile, her neighbor Alta Korl longs to be an artist, despite her days filled with caring for her widowed father and younger siblings. Everything changes when Myrthen marries the man Alta loves. Fourteen years later, we meet Lidia, a teenaged girl who carries a shameful secret and her precocious son Gabriel. When Gabriel begins telling eerily prescient stories that hint at the town’s secrets, people begin to think the child is harboring evil spirits. Myrthen’s obsession with salvation entices her to enter the fray and her life becomes entangled with both Alta and Lidia.
OUT IN JUNE
The Heart is a Lonely Hunter
by Carson McCullers
Published in 1940 when McCullers was just 23 years old, this literary classic tells the story of Mick Kelly, a strange young girl who searches for meaning in a small Southern town. She meets a cast of characters, including close friends John Singer and Spiros Antonapoulous, who represent mostly the rejected, the voiceless and the damned. Some of these characters battle their loneliness through violence or depravity, others with sex or drink. In the midst of it all, Mick, though to be an autobiographical depiction of McCullers herself, searches for beauty to quench her own loneliness. Join us in a readalong of McCullers beloved novel this month as we celebrate its 50th anniversary. More details here.
Let Me Die In His Footsteps
(available June 2)
by Lori Roy
There’s a certain kind of evil that can never be vanquished, not by time, not by generations, not even by the intense aroma of Kentucky lavender fields. Annie Holleran has the blight that has long haunted the women in her family. She knows it’s a curse, not a gift, and she also knows about the rift between the Hollerans and the Baines. A silence of almost 16 years has loomed over the lavender fields that separate the two families, and it’s been that way since her aunt Juna Crowley played a part in the 1936 death of Joseph Carl Baine. Annie’s greatest fear is that Juna will one day come back to finish what she started, and it looks like she may be on her way.
All the Single Ladies
(available June 9)
by Dorothea Benton Frank
Readers will venture deep into the Carolina lowcountry to meet three middle-aged women bound together by another woman’s death. Through their shared loss these women forge a deep friendship, asking critical questions. Who was their friend and what did her life mean? Are they living the lives they imagined for themselves? How will they maximize their happiness and, ultimately, their own legacies? The ladies form a plan and set it into motion during one sweltering summer on the Isle of Palms. Without ever fully realizing how close they were to the edge, they finally triumph amid laughter and maybe even newfound love.
The Truth According To Us
(available June 9)
by Annie Barrows
In the summer of 1938, Layla Beck’s father cuts off her allowance and insists that she get a job through the Federal Writers’ Project. Reluctantly, Layla finds herself assigned to cover the history of Macedonia, a small West Virginia mill town. She gets a room in the home of the Romeyn family and meets charming town pariah Felix Romeyn. Layla’s arrival causes the family’s facade to go up in flames and reveals hidden secrets, especially as curious 12-year-old Willa Romeyn brings to light a questionable business that occupies her father and the reason her beloved aunt Jottie remains unmarried.
Irrepressible: The Jazz Age Life of Henrietta Bingham
(available June 16)
by Emily Bingham
Intrigued by her family’s past, biographer and historian Emily Bingham sets out to discover who her great-aunt was and why her story was buried for so long. Henrietta Bingham was raised like a princess in one of the most powerful families in the American South. She was offered the legacy of a publishing empire, but she rejected it in favor of the infamous Jazz Age party scenes. Henrietta wandered from New York to Louisville and London, driving men and women wild with desire. But after a youth steeped in sex and drugs, Henrietta suffered from the toxicity of society’s judgment and her own anxieties. Her story reveals an essential chapter in America’s 20th century that is rarely explored.
The Idea of Love
(available June 23)
by Patti Callahan Henry
Ella is young and beautiful, and she’s reeling from her husband’s tragic death. At least, that’s the story she wants everyone to believe, especially Hunter. Disguising himself as a travel writer, Hunter treks down to sleepy Watersend, South Carolina, in search of a woman with a love story beautiful enough to translate into big screen success. In Ella, Hunter finds the perfect love story, while Ella finds possibility, but one lie leads to another, and Hunter and Ella find themselves caught in a web of deception. Can two people come together for all the wrong reasons and still make it right?
The Witch of Bourbon Street
(available June 30)
by Suzanne Palmieri
The Sorrow Estate, once the lovely bayou home to the Sorrow family, is in ruins. A series of murders in 1902 shocked the community and left the ghosts of girls in white dresses to haunt the mansion. When Frances Green Sorrow is born, she has all the “signs” of the chosen one. Her family thinks that she will bring back the family name and restore it to its former glory, but Frances is no savior. She flees to New Orleans only to end up married too young and returns home shortly after having a son. When her son disappears, Frances is forced to re-enter the remote bayous of Tivoli Parish and learn a hard lesson about forgiveness.
OUT IN JULY
The New Neighbor
(available July 7)
by Leah Stewart
Ninety-year old Margaret Riley is content to remain hidden from the world. She rarely leaves the Tennessee mountaintop where she lives and finds comfort in the mystery novels she reads, at least until she spots a woman who’s moved into the long-empty house across the pond. Jennifer Young also wants to hide. On the run from her past life, she and her 4-year-old son Milo have moved to a quiet town where no one can find her. But Margaret has other plans. In Jennifer, Margaret sees both a potential companion in her loneliness and a mystery to be solved.
Center of Gravity
(available July 14)
by Laura McNeill
When Mitchell Carson sweeps into Ava’s life with his adorable son, the ready-made family seems like a dream come true. In the blink of an eye, Ava is married, has a new baby and life is wonderful. Or is it? When her picture-perfect marriage begins unraveling at the seams, Ava convinces herself she can fix it. It’s temporary, it’s the stress, it’s Mitchell’s tragic history of loss. But Mitchell is no longer the charming, thoughtful man she married. He grows more controlling by the day, revealing a violent jealous streak. Before she can fit the pieces together, Mitchell files for divorce and demands full custody of their boys. Fueled by fierce love for her children, Ava takes matters into her own hands, digging deep into the past and attempting to beat Mitchell at his own game.
Go Set a Watchman
(available July 14)
by Harper Lee
Originally written in the mid-1950s, Harper Lee’s newly discovered novel continues the story of the characters from To Kill a Mockingbird. Jean Louise Finch, better known as Scout, returns home to Maycomb to visit her father. While there, she struggles with personal and political issues, involving Atticus, society and the Alabama town that helped shape her. Go Set a Watchman explores how the characters in To Kill a Mockingbird are adjusting to the turbulent events that are changing the 1950s and is one of the most talked about books of the summer.
by Gretchen Archer
(available July 21)
The latest Davis Way crime caper from Gretchen Archer, Double Mint is set at Biloxi, Mississippi’s grand Bellissimo Resort & Casino, where events manager Holder Darby has gone missing after a wedding brawl. Other crazy events involve $4 million missing from the casino’s vault and the disappearance of an important guest. As Davis steps into Holder’s shoes, she must wrangle 500 bankers for an Alabama Bankers Convention and a screeching yellow cat. To make matters worse, Davis and her husband Bradley have been forced to move into a voodoo-themed haunted apartment on the top floor of the casino, taking the story from “seriously funny to wickedly entertaining” in the words of Janet Evanovich.
(available July 21)
by Tiffany Quay Tyson
Melody Mahaffey has been on the road for three years, touring with an awful Christian pop band she can’t stand. When her mom calls to tell her about a bad situation at home, Melody is relieved to go back to the defunct Three Rivers Farm. However, when she gets there, Melody learns that her father is dying and that her mom has abandoned the family. She is now the caretaker of her father and brain-damaged brother. To make matters worse, a storm is brewing and an epic flood threatens the Mississippi Delta. Amy Franklin-Willis says this debut novel has “all the necessary ingredients for a grand Southern tale — complicated families … epic weather, and a spiritual quest.”
OUT IN AUGUST
The Curse of Crow Hollow
(available August 4)
by Billy Coffey
Alvaretta Graves, the old widow who lives in the mountain, has made a name for herself in Crow Hollow. Many of the residents call her a witch, others believe she’s insane. They all agree that the vengeance that Alvaretta swore at her husband Stu’s death haunts them all. That vengeance awakens when teenagers stumble upon Alvaretta’s cabin, incurring her curse. Now a sickness moves through the hollow, and rumors run rampant that Stu Graves has returned for revenge. The people of Crow Hollow are left to confront the rising darkness on the mountain and the darkness that lives within themselves.
(available August 11)
by Julia Heaberlin
At 17 years old, Tessa Cartwright was found in a Texas field, barely alive amid a scattering of bones and with only fragments of memory as to how she got there. The press has since pursued her as the lone surviving “Black-Eyed Susan,” the nickname given to the murder victims because of the wildflowers that covered their shared grave. Tessa’s testimony put a man on death row. Almost two decades later, she is an artist and single mom haunted by fragmented memories. When she finds a freshly planted patch of black-eyed susans outside her bedroom window, she reaches out to the team of lawyers trying to exonerate the man she put in prison, not so certain he’s guilty anymore.