Thirty-four books to get you through the lazy months ahead.
We get pretty excited about our Summer Reading List each year, but this list feels like the best yet. Staples from beach read masters like Mary Kay Andrews, Karen White and Wendy Wax are here but so are some excellent debuts from first-time authors, new works of literary fiction, thrillers, a young adult novel and a short story collection. We even have a few books tackling some serious social issues that will make you think while lying in that lounge chair.
Socialites in Houston beating the heat with too many glasses of champagne. A re-imagining of Alabama Gov. George Wallace’s last campaign. A female sheriff battling local legends in a small Tennessee town. A tortured father trapped in the afterlife. Families with buried secrets. Three friends diving for lost treasure. A man living in a world where slavery still exists. And a baton-twirling contestant in the Little Miss Central Florida Tire competition. You’ll meet all these characters and more in this year’s list — and hopefully fall in love with some of them or at least appreciate the quality and breadth of fiction with ties to the South being published these days.
Books are listed according to their release dates, and we have titles through August. You can view our Twitter chat schedule here, but chats scheduled with authors are noted in the book descriptions. You can also look forward to giveaways, author interviews, book reviews, cocktail pairings, playlists and more fun content all summer long. Now, dive in!
A Lowcountry Wedding by Mary Alice Monroe
Nothing could be more enchanting than a summer wedding — or two — in Charleston’s lowcountry. Set against the backdrop of a centuries-old plantation, avenue of ancient oaks dripping with moss, storied ballroom and sand dune at sunset, Mary Alice Monroe’s latest has a long-held family secret possibly silencing the bells ringing for the Muir sisters. Scandals surface, family bonds are questioned and promises are broken and renewed as Monroe delves into the heart of marriage, commitment and family ties. (Get two cocktail recipes to pair with this book here.)
The After Party by Anton DiSclafani
The author of the bestselling Yonahlossee Riding Camp For Girls returns with what Adriana Trigiani calls “a literary gin and tonic.” Immersing readers in the sun-drenched world of 1950s Texas, DiSclafani tells a tale of two socialites who share a friendship as obsessive, euphoric and consuming as any romance. Joan Fortier is the epitome of Texas glamour, while Cece Buchanan is either her chaperone or her partner in crime. Cece and Joan have grown up together like sisters, but when Joan starts to drift out of reach and act out, Cece considers it her responsibility to reign her back in. As Joan’s radical behavior escalates, Cece’s perspective begins to realize that she’s only skimmed the surface that is Joan.
All the Governor’s Men by Katherine Clark
Including the last foreword that Pat Conroy wrote for his Story River Books imprint, the second novel in Clark’s “Mountain Brook” series is a political satire that reimagines Gov. George Wallace’s last campaign. Voters face a clear choice between the infamous segregationist, now a crippled old man in a wheelchair, and his progressive young opponent Aaron Osgood. Twenty-one-year-old Harvard grad Daniel Dobbs joins the campaign against Wallace, while also trying to gain the favor of his girlfriend’s wealthy Alabama family. During the course of a summer, Daniel must untangle his complicated personal life, decide whether to enter law school or launch his own political career and help Osgood defeat Wallace in a close and dirty race.
The Book of Harlan by Bernice L. McFadden
A moving epic that follows the life of one man, Harlan Elliott, The Book of Harlan weaves real-life characters from McFadden’s own life into a fictionalized story about the treatment of black people during the Holocaust. Harlan’s tale begins in Macon, Georgia, in 1917, and readers follow him up north to New York during the Harlem Renaissance, across the country as a traveling musician, and to Montmartre as it falls under Nazi occupation. When Harlan and his best friend Lizard are interned by the Nazis in Buchenwald concentration camp, the course of Harlan’s life is forever changed.
Burying the Honeysuckle Girls by Emily Carpenter
Althea Bell is still heartbroken by her mother’s tragic, premature death—and tormented by the last, frantic words she whispered into young Althea’s ear: Wait for her. For the honeysuckle girl. She’ll find you, I think, but if she doesn’t, you find her. Now fresh out of rehab and returning to her family home in Mobile, Alabama, she is determined to reconnect with her estranged, ailing father. While Althea doesn’t expect him, or her politically ambitious brother, to welcome her with open arms, she’s not prepared for the chilling revelation of a grim, long-buried family secret. Drawn deeper into her ancestors’ lives, Althea begins to unearth their disturbing history … and the part she’s meant to play in it.
Dimestore by Lee Smith
In her first work of nonfiction, Lee Smith looks inward to tell her own heartwarming story, from growing up in the small coal-mining town of Grundy, Virginia, to becoming a writer and raising her own family in North Carolina. Set deep in the Appalachian Mountains, Smith loved every aspect of her hometown — from the Ben Franklin dime store her father owned to the music played down by the river bank. In telling the story of her childhood, she reveals the mental illness that courses through her family tree, shares her mother’s long-cherished recipes and introduces readers to relatives, local characters and the people who shaped her life.
Echoes of Mercy by Kim Boykin
How can you make up for something that you did as a kid that was both so stupid and so terrible, 40 years later it still follows you like a pack of lost dogs? For Billie Warren, it means doing good for the community as the police chief of her lowcountry hometown, trying to be the best mother of a teen mom and daughter to her mom with Alzheimer’s. But Billie’s fragile life is thrown into turmoil when the target of her biggest regret, Crazy Sadie, shows up claiming to have witnessed the only murder in the town’s history. As Billie uncovers the terrible truth of bone-chilling corruption, she will have to risk everything when powerful people are prepared to do anything to keep their secrets buried.
Fate Ball by Adam W. Jones
What would you do for love? For Able Curran, the answer is “anything.” Meeting Ava Dubose is the best thing to ever happen in Able’s young life — and the worst. Her wild, daring spirit captivates innocent Able, and the two quickly become inseparable. When Ava’s behavior becomes reckless, spurred on by her addictive personality, Able’s love for Ava blinds him, even when she leaves him. But love forever links their lives, whether they live thousands of miles away from each other or just across town. Fate Ball begins as the perfect love story, but soon turns into Able’s tortured quest to save his first love from herself and the dark demons that rule her from within.
For A Little While by Rick Bass
In this definitive collection of 25 stories from “national treasure” Rick Bass, according to Carl Hiaasen, we find characters struggling against fate and time. A volunteer firefighter finds peace of mind in his dangerous profession rather than in his marriage. An unlucky-in-love woman’s only solace is to continue seeing the man who could have saved her fiance from his death. A young boy waters a giant fish to keep it alive and discovers an ancient timepiece inside it. Joyce Carol Oates says about Bass: “Grace has always been the great, elusive subject of his short fiction, and the extraordinary, transcendent stories collected in For A Little While pursue it in myriad and seamless ways.”
Lies and Other Acts of Love by Kristy Woodson Harvey
A touching look into the lifetimes of love, heartbreak and resilience of a grandmother and her granddaughter, Kristy Woodson Harvey’s second novel offers insight into the complexities of bonds. After 60 years of marriage and five daughters, Lynn “Lovey” White knows that all of us, from time to time, need to tell a little white lie. But her granddaughter, Annabelle, is as truthful as they come and always does the right thing — until she dumps her fiancé and marries a musician she has known for three days. When Annabelle’s world starts to collapse, she discovers that nothing about her picture-perfect family is as it seems, and Lovey must decide whether one more lie will make or break her. (Read our interview with Kristy Woodson Harvey here.)
Nitro Mountain by Lee Clay Johnson
Called “perturbingly good, hazardous, addictive, harrowing and hilarious” by Joy Williams, Lee Clay Johnson’s literary debut is set in a bitterly benighted, mine-polluted corner of Virginia. Nitro Mountain follows a group of people bound together by alcohol, small-time crime and music. There’s Leon, a hapless bass player, his would-be girlfriend, Jennifer, who’s living with Arnett, the town’s most dangerous thug and a charming psychopath for the ages. His mirror image, a singer-songwriter named Jones, has his own moral issues as he tries to be a good man. The bright if battered soul who pulls us through this story is Jennifer, a vulnerable woman struggling heroically to survive the hopelessness and violence that have surrounded her since birth.
Over The Plain Houses by Julia Franks
It’s 1939, and the federal government has sent USDA agent and modern woman Virginia Furman into the North Carolina mountains. Her mission: to ease hard-living rural homemakers into the 20th century. Amongst the bonnets and the bakers, Virginia meets Irenie, the shy and shuffling wife of a local preacher. As their friendship becomes more and more dangerous and Irenie’s husband, Brodis, more and more fearful of the government and God himself, Irenie takes to rambling through the woods at night. But Brodis is convinced that Irenie is consorting with the devil, and their strained marriage threatens to explode in this haunting debut.
Prayers the Devil Answers by Sharon McCrumb
The author of The Ballad of Tom Dooley combines historical research and folklore in her latest novel. Suddenly thrust into the role of primary caretaker for her family following the tragic death of her husband, Ellie Robbins is appointed to serve out his term as sheriff of their rural Tennessee mountain town. Ellie has proven she can handle herself, but when dark secrets come to light, she must grapple with small town superstitions and the tenuous ties she shares with a condemned killer as she carves out a place for herself in an uncertain future.
Raymie Nightingale by Kate DiCamillo
Raymie Clarke has come to realize that absolutely everything depends on her. If Raymie can win the Little Miss Central Florida Tire competition, then her father, who left town two days ago with a dental hygienist, will see Raymie’s picture in the paper and come home. To win, not only does Raymie have to do good deeds and learn how to twirl a baton; she also has to contend with the wispy, frequently fainting Louisiana Elefante and the fiery, stubborn Beverly Tapinski, who’s determined to sabotage the contest. But as the competition approaches, loneliness, loss and unanswerable questions draw the three girls into an unlikely friendship and challenge each of them to come to the rescue in unexpected ways.
Sister Dear by Laura McNeill
Convicted of a crime she didn’t commit, Allie Marshall watched a decade of her life vanish. Now, out on parole, Allie is determined to clear her name and reconnect with the daughter she barely knows. But Allie’s return to Brunswick, Georgia, sends earthquakes through the small, coastal community. Even her daughter Caroline, now a teenager, challenges Allie’s claims of innocence. Refusing defeat, a stronger, smarter Allie launches a campaign for the truth, digging deep into the past. Her investigation threatens her parole status, her own safety and the already-fragile bond with her family. What Allie uncovers is far worse than she imagined. Her own sister has been hiding a dark secret — one that holds the key to Allie’s freedom. (Read our interview with Laura McNeill and chat with her on Twitter June 3.)
Solemn by Kalisha Buckhanon
Solemn Redvine is a precocious Mississippi girl who senses a baby may be her half-sibling and the outcome of her father’s mistakes with a married woman who lives in their trailer park. After Solemn witnesses a man throw the baby down a community well, she struggles to understand the event, leaving her forever changed. As Solemn finds refuge in fantasies of stardom, the ill-fated baby’s doomed mother disappears without a trace. When her father’s next mistake, a robbery, lands Solemn in a group home for troubled girls, she must face the truth about who she really is and what she is really made of. (Chat with Kalisha Buckhanon on Twitter June 17.)
There Will Be Stars by Billy Coffey
Julie Cantrell calls Billy Coffey “one of the most lyrical writers of our time,” and he doesn’t disappoint as he confronts heaven, hell and the space between in his latest novel. When alcoholic Bobby Barnes takes his twin sons for a ride into the black and winding Virginia bluffs one Saturday night, a sharp curve and blinding headlights are all it takes to result in a devastating accident. Bobby’s final thought: There will be stars. Instead of death, Bobby is returned to the day he’s just lived and trapped with six other people. As the world around them begins to crumble, their escape leads some to greater life, others to endless death … and Bobby to understand the deepest nature of love.
Tru & Nelle by G. Neri
Based on the real-life friendship of Truman Capote and Nelle Harper Lee, who grew up together in Alabama, this fictionalized account of their time together combines wonderful storytelling with small town hijinks. Catch a glimpse of both Capote and Lee before they went on to become two of the most influential writers of the 20th century, as Neri recounts days spent playing pirates, solving mysteries a la Sherlock Holmes and building a treehouse. “If you’ve ever wanted to run through the backyards of dusty old Maycomb, Alabama, in search of high adventure and mystery, just like Scout, Dill, and Jem, then this is your chance,” says Mockingbird author Charles J. Shields.
The Weekenders by Mary Kay Andrews
Mary Kay Andrews keeps her title of “Queen of the Beach Read” with her latest set on the idyllic island of Belle Isle, North Carolina. Some people stay on Belle Isle all summer long, others come only on weekends. When Riley Griggs is waiting for her husband to arrive at the ferry one Friday afternoon, she is instead served with papers informing her that her island home is being foreclosed. With her husband nowhere to be found, Riley turns to friends and family — each hiding their own dark secrets. Cocktail parties and crab boils aside, Riley must find a way to investigate the husband she didn’t really know and the mystery hiding on Belle Isle. (Get 7 Tips for Summer Survival from the book here.)
OUT MAY 31
Flight Patterns by Karen White
Traveling from the hillside of France to New Orleans and Florida, White’s latest beach read tells the story of Georgia Chambers, an expert in antique china hired by James Graf to identify and appraise a set of obscure Limoges adorned with an elegant pattern of honeybees. Believing that she has seen a similar piece at her own childhood home where her elderly grandfather still tends his beehives, Georgia makes the difficult decision to return to her estranged family to investigate. Only when the captivating mystery of the Limoges china untangles through the revelation of a series of family secrets do the characters begin to let go of what has damaged them — and begin to change.
All Summer Long by Dorothea Benton Frank
Prominent interior designer Olivia Ritchie and her husband, Nicholas Seymour, an English professor and true southern gentleman, are polar opposites, yet magnetically drawn together and in love for more than 14 years. As they prepare to relocate to Charleston, Olivia, the ultimate New Yorker, has reservations about the promise she made to retire in the lowcountry. She can’t let Nick know that their monetary reserves are dwindling and that house she picked out on Sullivan’s Island needs too much work. As they find themselves pondering the next step of their lives, Olivia and Nick travel with her billionaire clients and explore the globe with a cast of zany eccentrics over one tumultuous, hot summer.
OUT IN JUNE
Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi (June 7)
Born in Ghana and raised in Huntsville, Alabama, Yaa Gyasi traces 300 hundred years from her native home to the plantations of the South and the Civil War, to the jazz clubs and dope houses of 20th century Harlem, right up through present day. At the heart of her story are two half-sisters, Effia and Esi, born into different villages in 18th century Ghana. Effia is married to an Englishman and lives in comfort, while Esi is sold with thousands of others into the Gold Coast’s booming slave trade and shipped off to America. One thread of Homegoing follows Effia’s descendants through centuries of warfare in Ghana; the other follows Esi and her children into America as Gyasi sets the fate of the individual against the obliterating movements of time.
Sunshine Beach by Wendy Wax (June 21)
The fifth novel in Wendy Wax’s “Ten Beach Road” series, Sunshine Beach was inspired by The Rellim Hotel in St. Peterburg, Florida. As close friends Maddie, Avery and Nikki struggle to move forward after losing their life savings in a Ponzi scheme and losing control over their reality TV show “Do Over,” a once magnificent beachfront hotel in need of renovation appears. The ladies decide to shoot their own show on their terms, but everything seems to go wrong — with the cameras rolling. Even the Sunshine Hotel seems to be against them. When the renovation uncovers a decades-old unsolved murder, their lives just might come tumbling down again.
A Thousand Miles From Nowhere by John Gregory Brown (June 28)
Called “a new kind of road novel for a new South” by Elisa Albert, John Gregory Brown brings us protagonist Henry Garrett, who is fleeing post-Katrina New Orleans. He has lost his career and his marriage as well as just witnessed his hometown’s submersion via a television at a roadside motel in rural Virginia. Alone and adrift, Henry begins an unexpected journey toward understanding why, as Brown writes, “He’d had everything and then, poof, in a magician’s cloud of manufactured smoke, he had nothing.”
All The Missing Girls by Megan Miranda (June 28)
Debut novelist Megan Miranda unravels her psychological thriller backwards as two young women disappear in a small North Carolina town a decade apart. Nicolette Farrell left her hometown of Cooley Ridge after her best friend, Corinne, disappeared without a trace. When a mysterious note arrives from Nic’s ailing father, she reluctantly sublets her apartment in Philadelphia and returns home to care for him. Within days of her return, another girl goes missing and Nic is plunged into a new drama that reawakens Corinne’s case and breaks open old wounds she’s worked hard to forget. Told in reverse — Day 15 to Day 1 — All The Missing Girls asks the question: How far would you go to protect the people you love? (Chat with Megan Miranda on Twitter July 22.)
OUT IN JULY
Absalom’s Daughters by Suzanne Feldman (July 5)
In a nod to Faulkner’s Absalom, Absalom!, Suzanne Feldman offers up a woman’s perspective on his work through a pair of impoverished young girls. One black, one white, Cassie and Judith discover that they have the same white father, who has abandoned his family to pursue a long-lost inheritance. They set out after him in an old junk car with nothing but a frying pan, a ham and a few dollars hidden in a shoe. Traversing through a beautiful landscape bedeviled by racial strife and violence, Cassie and Judith come to realize the true value of their family legacy and the importance of their shared history.
Listen To Me by Hannah Pittard (July 5)
Mark and Maggie’s annual drive east to visit Mark’s parents in Virginia gets off to a rocky start. By the time they’re on the road, it’s late, a storm is brewing, and they are no longer speaking to one another. Recently mugged at gunpoint, Maggie is lately not herself, and Mark is at a loss about what to make of the stranger he calls his wife. Forced to stop for the night at a remote inn, completely without power, Maggie’s paranoia reaches an all-time high. But when Mark finds himself threatened in a dark parking lot, it’s Maggie who takes control. (Chat with Hannah Pittard on Twitter July 5.)
Underground Airlines by Ben H. Winters (July 5)
What if the Civil War never happened and slavery still exists? That’s the premise of Underground Airlines, a thriller with an alt-history bent and a deeply complicated protagonist who calls himself Victor. A good man pushed to do bad work, Victor is caught up in a corrupt system where slavery exists in what’s known as the “Hard Four” states. Elsewhere, the rest of the country lives with the guilt that their t-shirts may have been sewn by indentured hands in South Carolina. As Victor moves through this strange alternate dimension, Winters explores deeper themes of slavery and racism’s bitter legacy.
The Heavenly Table by Donald Ray Pollock (July 12)
In 1917 in the sliver of borderland that divides Georgia from Alabama, dispossessed farmer Pearl Jewett drops dead, leaving his three young sons to eke out a hardscrabble existence on their own. The eldest and most intelligent Cane, slow and short Cob and the ill-tempered youngest Chimney set out on horseback to pillage their way to wealth and infamy inspired by a lurid dimestore novel. Several hundred miles away in southern Ohio, another farmer named Ellsworth Fiddler is swindled out of his family’s fortune. His life is put on an unpredictable trajectory that will lead him to cross paths with the Jewett boys as rural mayhem and unlikely salvation ensue.
Miss Jane by Brad Watson (July 12)
Inspired by the true story of his own great-aunt, Brad Watson explores the life of Miss Jane Chisolm, born in rural, early 20th century Mississippi with a genital birth defect. From the country doctor who adopts Jane to the hard tactile labor of farm life, the world of Jane Chisolm is anything but barren as it was expected to be for a woman in that time and place. Free to satisfy only herself, Miss Jane mesmerizes those around her, exerting an unearthly fascination that lives beyond her still.
OUT IN AUGUST
The Fire This Time edited by Jesmyn Ward (August 2)
Jesmyn Ward takes James Baldwin’s 1963 examination of race in America as a jumping off point for this groundbreaking collection of essays and poems about race from the most important voices of her generation and our time. Contributors include Jericho Brown, Kima Jones, Kiese Laymon, Emily Raboteau, Claudia Rankine, Natasha Trethewey and Kevin Young with 18 pieces hat shine a light on the darkest corners of our history, wrestle with our current predicament and envision a better future.
The French War Bride by Robin Wells (August 2)
In the second installment of Robin Wells’ “Wedding Tree” series anchored in a picturesque Louisiana town, World War II and one French woman will force army doctor Jack O’Connor to choose between his high school sweetheart and a promise made to a friend who saved his life on the battlefield. Fast-forward 70 years, Kat Morgan has never fully recovered from being abandoned by her first love Jack, who returned home from the war with a French bride and a baby. Fearing she has little time left to learn the truth, Kat travels back to Wedding Tree to confront the other woman and find out what really happened in France.
The Last Treasure by Erika Marks (August 2)
As students with a shared passion for shipwrecks, Liv, Sam and Whit formed a close bond searching for the mysterious Patriot, a schooner that disappeared off the Carolina coast in 1812 with Aaron Burr’s daughter Theodosia aboard. But as the elusive ship drew them together, love brought them even closer and ultimately tore them apart. It’s been nine years since Liv left Sam to be with Whit, but when a diary of Theodosia’s is discovered in a collector’s estate, she is pulled back into the world of the Patriot. When she and Whit reunite with Sam for one last salvage in North Carolina’s Outer Banks, buried romantic tensions begin to resurface and Liv must again choose between two men with very different hearts.
Mississippi Noir edited by Tom Franklin (August 2)
Ace Atkins. Michael Farris Smith. Megan Abbott. Jack Pendarvis. Mary Miller. William Boyle. All your favorite writers are there in the latest noir anthology from Akashic Books, many of them presenting brand-new stories. Each story is set in a distinct neighborhood or location of Mississippi, and among the 16 pieces you’ll find seasoned noir writers but also first-time published authors. Book editor Tom Franklin writes in the introduction: “This isn’t, and hasn’t ever been, a land purely of moonlight and magnolias. Because in that moonlight, terrible things happen.”
Tammy / June 7, 2016
I always look forward to your reading lists! I always find some great reads I didn’t know about.