Thirty-four of the latest mysteries, literary fiction, family dramas, short story compilations and more books to add to your pile as the days get darker.
Annie Laura’s Triumph by Milinda Jay
Living just across the bay from Panama City, Florida, in 1915, Viola Lee is living a good life. Her adoptive mother Annie Laura runs a successful dry goods store, and Viola’s adoptive father is wrapped around Viola’s finger. A week away from her dream wedding, things are looking bright for Viola, that is, until James, her fiancé, fails to return from his lumber camp deep in the woods of North Florida. Life gets even more chaotic when a stranger interrupts Viola’s highly awaited reunion with her adopted mother, revealing secrets that could threaten her happy future.
Commonwealth by Ann Patchett
With a storyline spanning five decades, Ann Patchett’s Commonwealth explores how one encounter changed the lives of two families—the Cousinses and Keatings—who otherwise would have remained on separate paths. When Bert Cousins shows up uninvited to Franny Keating’s christening celebration, he kisses her mother, Beverly, setting up not only the downfall of their marriages, but the beginning of a new family bond. Decades later, Franny has an affair with author Leon Posen, but when her past becomes the basis for his successful book, Franny and her family are forced to come to terms with everything they have experienced, including the losses and guilts and connections that belong to only them.
The Curse of the Bridal Chamber by Hunter Murphy
During a family vacation at a Florida mermaid convention, senior sleuth Imogene and her Alabama family find themselves at the center of a crime. When they encounter a dead body floating in the freshwater springs beneath their boat, the local police immediately arrest a family member. Imogene must clear her family name, which proves to be tricky when it means having to find the real killer. With the addition of an old curse that has now set its sights on the Alabama clan, Imogene’s task to find the real culprit becomes more pressing with each passing moment. Read our review of Imogene in New Orleans, Murphy’s first book in his “Imogene and the Boys” series.
Darktown by Thomas Mullen
Award-winning author Thomas Mullen’s Darktown explores heavy topics of race, law enforcement and justice in this historical crime novel set in 1948 Atlanta. The Atlanta Police Department is forced to hire their first black officers, Lucius Boggs and Tommy Smith. These new officers are met with hostility and strict regulations; they mustn’t arrest white suspects, drive squad cars or set foot in the police headquarters. On top of this in-department oppression, Boggs and Smith become suspicious of a black woman’s death. Their investigation sets them up against a brutal white cop, and they may have to risk their jobs, as well as their lives, in their attempts find the truth.
In the City of Falling Stars by Chris Tusa
Dead birds are falling from the sky, and Maurice Delahoussaye begins to think that New Orleans is becoming unsafe. All kinds of theories for the bird situation are considered: killed by temperature changes, poisoned, terrorism, bird flu, West Nile virus, high levels of mold spores, and Maurice becomes more and more fearful that the government is hiding a secret. When he starts getting strange dreams suggesting that his wife is pregnant with the next coming of Jesus Christ, he begins to think these birds are a sign from God. Set in the early months of 2006, against the backdrop of Hurricane Katrina and the Iraq War, In the City of Falling Stars is a tragicomedy as well as a commentary on the devastating psychological scars that the storm left on the city of New Orleans.
Lightningstruck by Ashley Mace Havird
Ashley Mace Havird makes her debut with this book that Tim O’Brien called “an engrossing and enchanting story.” In May of 1964, 11-year-old Etta McDaniel’s horse, Troy, is struck by lightning, seemingly dead and gone as if the walking disaster had never come in the first place. Etta is shocked to find that Troy, though gruesomely scarred, not only survives this catastrophe, but has come out of it with supernatural powers. Etta decides she wants to use these new powers to her advantage, hoping a find of the sort her hero Heinrich Schliemann unearthed at ancient Troy will fix everything suddenly gone wrong in her life. Half-blind and crippled, the horse does lead Etta to treasure but also initiates her into a world of “action and liability” as the Civil Rights Movement takes hold in her rural South.
Murder in the Bayou by Ethan Brown
A real-life Southern Gothic story, Murder in the Bayou uncovers what became one of the most suspenseful and mysterious investigations of the decade. After the bodies of eight women were discovered in the canals and crawfish ponds of Jeff Davis Parish, Louisiana, law enforcement officials quickly assumed it was the work of a serial killer. Media stations latched onto this theory, even giving the group victims a name: the “Jeff Davis 8.” However, not all was as it seemed. Some suggested that this was not the work of one serial killer, but was instead the brutal fallout of a sex and drug trade. Through Brown’s investigative journalism that led to his review of pages upon pages of previously unseen homicide files, could the dark secrets of this crumbling small community be revealed? Read our interview with Ethan Brown.
The Orphan Mother by Robert Hicks
Mariah Reddick, former slave to the “Widow of the South” Carrie McGavock, has quietly built a life for herself as a midwife in Franklin, Tennessee, but when her ambitious son Theopolis is murdered, she once again finds her life in shambles. With many questions, Mariah’s journey to discover the truth of this tragedy forces her to confront the truth of her own past. No stranger to American historical fiction, Robert Hicks, author of A Separate Country and The Widow of the South, shows his master storytelling ability to bring research to life in his account of one woman’s search for justice in the face of adversity.
Razor Girl by Carl Hiaasen
Bestselling author of books like Skinny Dip, Bad Monkey and Hoot, Carl Hiaasen is back with another Southern masterpiece. On the way to the Florida Keys, Lane Coolman’s car is hit by Merry Mansfield—commonly referred to as Razor Girl—and while originally assumed to be an ordinary accident, this is only the beginning of a series of events that spiral out of control. With Hiaasen’s most wild ensemble yet, including a New York City mafia capo, a Wisconsin accordionist and a drug-addicted lawyer, Razor Girl just might be the key to solving a high-profile murder that will make or break the future for this ragtag group. Read our 2014 interview with Hiaasen.
The Risen by Ron Rash
On a hot Sunday in 1969, 16-year-old Eugene and his older brother Bill meet the ravishing Daytona Beach redhead, Ligeia, who has been banished to their small North Carolina town until autumn. Enchanted by her free spirit, Eugene falls for her charm, and by default, falls for the counterculture movement while it’s at its peak. His immersion pulls him further and further away from his cautious brother, a rift that remains as strong as ever years and years later. When a reminder of the past makes a surprising entrance, Eugene is dragged back into that first summer, and the deeper he dives into his memories, the closer he comes to finding the real truth of the past. Read our 15-minute interview with Ron Rash.
The Secret Ingredient of Wishes by Susan Bishop Crispell
Rachel Monroe has a secret: She can make wishes come true and, often, the consequences are disastrous. When she accidentally grants an extraordinary wish for the first time in years, she flees, hoping to leave her hometown and her past behind for good. Out of gas, she finds herself in Nowhere, North Carolina, pegged the town of “Lost and Found,” where she’s taken in by a woman who has her own unusual gift—she can bind secrets by baking them into pies. Rachel hopes to hide her own secrets in this small town, but wishes begin piling up and threaten to ruin the life she’s begun to build. A story of second chances, magic and a little charm, Susan Bishop Crispell’s debut novel is bound to impress readers who are hungry for something enchanting.
Sleeping Above Chaos by Ann Hite
Ann Hite is back with another installment of her Black Mountain novels, continuing to deliver engaging storytelling as the reader travels alongside her characters. Buster and Lee Wright are the sons of the sheriff of Swannanoa Gap—a small town at the bottom of Black Mountain—but with two personalities that couldn’t be more opposite, conflicts arise that might not ever be resolved. When her mama runs off with another man, Ella Ruth Allen, born on Black Mountain, is left behind with her father, but he soon leaves her to be raised by Grandmother Allen, who isn’t pleased with the actions of her runaway daughter-in-law. One day, Ella Ruth follows a ghost into the woods near Grandmother Allen’s farm and discovers some family history. When this leads to her to cross paths with Buster and Lee, life becomes more explosive than the three could ever imagine. Ann Hite guest posts about her ghost stories here.
The Things We Wish Were True by Marybeth Mayhew Whalen
Sycamore Glen, North Carolina, looks picture perfect, with its white picket fences, but behind those symmetrical walls are webs of secrets. Behind closed doors, neighbors quietly bear the weight of their pasts. That is, until an accident at the community pool upsets the equilibrium that’s been holding everything together for so long. When a woman previously on a self-imposed banishment returns to Sycamore Glen, the tangle of the secretly intertwined lives unravels, piece by piece. The neighbors learn that it’s impossible to fully know those around us, but the real question is whether it’s possible to still love and forgive.
Among the Living by Jonathan Rabb (October 4)
The summer that Yitzhak Goldah, a Holocaust survivor, arrives in Savannah, Georgia, to live with his only remaining relatives, everything changes. Accustomed to the life he knew before, Yitzhak has trouble adjusting upon learning that Reform and Conservative Jews live distinct lives, a distinction that is absolutely meaningless after what he’s lived through. To make things even more complicated, he begins to falls in love with a Reformed widow named Eva. Already grappling with questions of identity and belonging, when a war-shattered woman from Yitzhak’s past appears, he must make a choice between the dark familiarity of a fractured world or the opportunity for a bright new life.
El Paso by Winston Groom (October 4)
Best known for the novel turned movie phenomenon Forrest Gump, Winston Groom is back, binding together history and heroism in this saga on the often forgotten Mexican Revolution. A Boston railroad tycoon called “the Colonel” is suddenly dragged into the drama of the war when his Chihuahua ranch is raided. Oblivious to the reality of the war, he and his family quickly head to Mexico only to make a nasty discovery: The prominent Pancho Villa has not only stolen their cattle, but has murdered their ranch manager. Days later, with wounds still raw, Villa’s henchmen abduct the Colonel’s grandchildren in a daring raid, leaving the Colonel and his adopted son with no choice but to head to El Paso, hoping to find some cowboys that will help them hunt down the general. From there, a rollicking work of historical fiction combined with Groom’s talent for storytelling unfurls.
The Guineveres by Sarah Domet (October 4)
Author of 90 Days to Your Novel, Sarah Domet debuts into the world of fiction with The Guineveres, a piece of prose that captures the wonder and troubles of being a young woman and what happens in the transition to adulthood. First brought together by their names, four girls named Guinevere—Vere, Gwen, Ginny and Win—band together at the Sisters of Supreme Adoration convent until their lives are tied up in deep friendship. They are taught by the nuns that faith is all about waiting, but the Guineveres are tired of waiting. So when four comatose soldiers arrive at the convent, the girls see it as their ticket out and into the real world.
Nicotine by Nell Zink (October 4)
The only conventional member of her family, recent business school graduate Penny Baker has always rebelled against her eccentric parents. But when Penny’s father dies and she inherits his New Jersey childhood home, everything changes. After investigating the property of the home, rather than finding it an abandoned mess, she discovers it occupied by a group of anarchist squatters who’ve renamed it “Nicotine” in defense of smokers’ rights. Having missed this kind of fervor and community in her life, Penny befriends the group. On one eventful night, things come to an abrupt halt when Penny finds herself in the middle of a confrontation between the family she never fit in with and the one with whom she finally found a home.
A Question of Mercy by Elizabeth Cox (October 4)
When Jess Booker’s mentally disabled stepbrother Adam is found dead in the French Broad River, the police and her family seek her out for questioning. On the run, Jess leaves the comfort of her home near Asheville, North Carolina, to challenge individual freedoms against a world running on questionable practices for the treatment of the mentally disabled. Hitchhiking all the way to a boarding house in Lula, Alabama, Jess is haunted by family memories of her mother’s death, her father’s marriage to Adam’s mother, her loving bond with Adam and the troubling letters from her boyfriend, who is right in the thick of combat in the Korean War. She finds respite with other outsiders, a refuge that ultimately gives her strength to head home. A Question of Mercy utilizes its earthly settings to share a story of displaying love and humanity when society challenges us to do otherwise.
Two By Two by Nicholas Sparks (October 4)
Nearly 20 years to the day of his fir novel The Notebook, Nicholas Sparks will release his 20th book about the real challenges people face in life and love. At 32, Russell Green has it all: a stunning wife, a lovable six-year-old daughter and a successful career and expansive home in Charlotte, North Carolina. He is living the dream, but underneath the shiny surface, fault lines are beginning to appear. No one is more surprised than Russ when he finds every aspect of the life he took for granted turned upside down. Without a job or wife, Russ throws himself into the wilderness of single parenting and embarks on a journey that will test his abilities and his emotional resources.
The Witch House of Persimmon Point by Suzanne Palmieri (October 11)
In 1890, Nan, the Amore family matriarch, was sent away to America with little more than a baby and a rocking chair, quickly finding work on the sprawling estate of the wildly eccentric Green family. This new life is one she wanted: loving and free with a family that understands and shares in her magic. But when tragedy strikes, destroying the mansion and the precious lives inside, Nan is left alone and pregnant with Reginald Green’s child. With nothing more than the deed to the property, she builds a house from the rubble and a new, pragmatic life. It would become a haunted life that would lead to other haunted lives. When Byrd Whalen returns to her family’s ancestral home, she gets more than she bargained for. Over the course of one harrowing weekend, the dark haunted histories of the Amore women reveal themselves, leading Byrd to question everything she’s ever believed about herself. Read our interview with Suzanne Palmieri about The Witch of Belladonna Bay.
Inheriting Edith by Zoe Fishman (October 18)
In this novel about two women whose lives unexpectedly cross in moments of grief, Atlanta author Zoe Fishman draws us in with a story of secrets, precious moments and unexpected friendships. When 82-year-old Edith, recently diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, discovers that her daughter Liza has committed suicide, she expects to be left on her own to pick up the pieces. Instead, she finds Maggie, a struggling single mother who has inherited a portion of Liza’s will, which includes not only Liza’s beautiful Sag Harbor home, but also Edith herself. Determined to make this strange situation work, Maggie offers to transcribe Edith’s life before Alzheimer’s takes away her moments.
The Education of Dixie Dupree by Donna Everhart (October 25)
Described as having a narrative style similar to that of The Secret Life of Bees, this debut by Donna Everhart is a story about mothers and daughters, generations and truths. An 11-year-old in 1969, Dixie Dupree is an expert liar; sometimes the lies are for the sake of her mama, Evie, and sometimes they are to keep Dixie and her brother at their home in Alabama, as their mama wants to leave her unhappy marriage and return to New Hampshire. As unimaginable events begin to unfold, including her parents’ fights, her father’s drinking and sudden departure, and the arrival of her uncle, it’s not until Dixie needs help and receives the “Boy Who Cried Wolf” response that she realizes the damage of all her lies, damage that only courage, a newfound openness and forgiveness can repair.
Identical twins Haylee and Kaylee Blossom Fitzgerald grew up with their mother insisting that everything about them be identical—their toys, their friends, their clothes and even their praises and punishments. When the girls attend a real high school for the first time after years of homeschooling, they struggle to highlight their own differences. Then Haylee begins to date. Unexpectedly, Haylee and Kaylee enter into a world their perfectionist mother never prepared for, and the one difference between these girls could mean the difference between life and a fate even worse than death. The start of a new series credited to the Virginia author best known for Flowers in the Attic, The Mirror Sisters continues V. C. Andrews tradition of family drama.
The Survivor’s Guide to Family Happiness by Maddie Dawson (October 25)
Nina Popkin has spent her life looking into strangers’ faces, wholly hoping they were related to her. She has always been on a search for her birth mother, but newly orphaned, recently divorced and now 35, she wants answers more than ever. Determined to reassemble the family she never had, she tracks down two women—her supposed sister Lindy McIntyre and Phoebe Mullen—neither of who are interested in helping Nina. As the three gradually share secrets and stories, Nina starts to discover that together, they are building a family nothing like the one she pictured in her head for all these years, ultimately piecing together a realization that a family is not just DNA.
The Whistler by John Grisham (October 25)
John Grisham’s latest thriller investigates just what happens when a judge bends and breaks the very laws he wants others to keep. Lacy Stoltz, an investigator in charge of responding to complaints about judicial misconduct, one day comes in contact with a complaint unlike all the rest. The complaint comes from a man named Greg Myers, a previously disbarred lawyer back in business, and he claims to know of a Florida judge who has stolen more money than all crooked judges throughout U.S. history combined. Spreading this information. which includes the judge being involved with the construction of a casino funded by the Coast Mafia, Greg wants to put a stop to it. When Lacy comes across this case, her suspicions rise until she concludes that this complaint isn’t like the others. This is corruption, and corruption within the very system meant to keep the community running could mean a brand new kind of danger.
Hank by Mark Ribowsky (November 22)
After he died in the backseat of a Cadillac at the age of 29, Hank Williams instantly morphed into country music’s first tragic martyr. The genre’s first real star, Williams hit the heights with simple songs of despair, depression and tainted love. In death, he became a template for the rock generation to follow. Six decades later, Mark Ribowsky weaves together the first fully realized biography of Hank Williams. Examining his music while also recreating days and nights choked in booze and desperation, Ribowsky traces the miraculous rise of this music legend—from the dirt roads of rural Alabama to the Grand Ole Opry and finally to a sad, lonely end on New Year’s Day in 1953.
Love, Alice by Barbara Davis (December 6)
One year ago, Dovie Larkin’s fiance committed suicide only weeks before their wedding. Grief stricken and heartbroken, Dovie spends her time visiting the cemetery daily and hopelessly waiting for answers. That is, until she comes across an old woman who leaves a letter on a nearby grave, a letter pleading for forgiveness from her deceased daughter. Immediately intrigued, Dovie wants to know the rest of the story. She dives deeper, and with the help of a collection of letters from the cemetery’s lost and found, she begins to unravel a mystery involving one of Charleston’s wealthiest families. As she starts to find answers to questions about another’s past, she may just uncover the answer to embracing her own future.
The Marriage Lie by Kimberly Belle (December 27)
Iris and Will’s nearly perfect seven-year marriage comes to a halt when Iris receives the startling news that Will, supposedly away on a business trip to Florida, was one of the passengers killed on a flight to Seattle. Grief stricken and confused, Iris is convinced it must all be a huge misunderstanding. But as time passes and there is no sign of her husband, Iris embarks on a journey to discover what other secrets Will was keeping from her. In this thrilling novel, Kimberly Belle skillfully spins a tale that exposes the dark side of marriage. Read our interview with Belle about her book The Last Breath.
Always Happy Hour by Mary Miller (January 10)
Author of The Last Days of California and a short story collection Big World, this Mississippi native is back with another short story collection, one that grapples with finding understanding in the most unlikely of places—a foster home lacking love, a trailer park laden with bad decisions and an empty dream home, among others. Described as a collection capable of evoking gritty comfort found in bad habits, Always Happy Hour once again shows Miller’s mastery of organic American fiction.
Signals by Tim Gautreaux (January 17)
Twenty selected stories, both new and old, are gathered together in this collection about faith, tight-knit communities and matters of the heart. With settings in places like Louisiana, the Mississippi River and North Carolina, Signals tells of the experiences of an assortment of working class characters as their lives lead to the ridiculous or terrifying or the sublime, some striving for good, some losing their humanity along the way, and all with a story to tell.
A Harvest of Thorns by Corban Addison (January 24)
A garment factory in Bangladesh burns to the ground, killing hundreds of workers. During this horrifying moment, a bystander captures a breathtaking photograph of a teenaged girl lying in the dirt, and covering her mouth is fabric that bears the label of one of America’s largest retailers: Presto Omnishops Corp. When the photo goes viral and opens up old wounds on the controversy over sweatshops and labor rights, Cameron Alexander, at Presto’s headquarters 8,000 miles away in Virginia, launches an investigation into the disaster that could threaten everything he has left. And the tension only builds when a former Washington, D.C. journalist receives information about Presto that could expose the company for good.
Perfect Little World by Kevin Wilson (January 24)
Just when Isabelle Poole is out of options—recently graduated from high school and pregnant with her art teacher’s baby—she meets Dr. Preston Grind, who offers her a space in The Infinite Family Project. In addition to Izzy, nine couples are included in this project that will allow them to raise their children as one extended family, with Dr. Grind hoping to prove his hypothesis that the more parental love a child receives, the better off they’ll be. At first, the project seems promising. But before too long, the equilibrium starts to shift, the project’s funding falters, resentments between couples arise, and Izzy starts to question why she participated in this experiment at all. Kevin Wilson’s Perfect Little World, with its quirks and compassion, ultimately expresses one sentiment: The best families needn’t always be the ones we were born in, but the ones we make the choice to create.
Desperation Road by Michael Farris Smith (February 7)
After his 11-year sentence for manslaughter is complete, Russell Gaines is faced with Larry and Walt, the older brothers of the man Russell killed—and they are out for revenge. On the same day, a homeless woman, Maben, and her daughter end up running away holding a pistol, a dead deputy left on the pavement. When Russell shows up later, law enforcement officials of the rough Mississippi town can’t help but be suspicious of this man who should have learned his lesson. A story of troubled individuals, ones with secrets, regrets and consequences, Desperation Road‘s Michael Farris Smith uses strong, lyrical prose to reveal a dark and dangerous reality. Read our interview with Smith about his previous book Rivers.
One Good Mama Bone by Bren McClain (February 14)
It’s the 1950s in rural South Carolina, and Sarah Creamer is left to care for the resulting child of an affair between her best friend and her husband. When Sarah’s husband drinks himself to death, she needs to find a way for her and young Emerson to survive. When she reads in the local paper that a boy won $680 with his Grand Champion steer at the recent cattle show, she sees an opportunity for financial salvation. Inspired by an act of love between a calf that is reunited with its mother, Sarah thinks she could learn a thing or two about motherhood and find her good “mama bone.” But she’ll have to content with Luther Dobbins, the man who sold her the steer and also has his sights set on winning. Emboldened by her budding mama bone, Sarah is committed to victory until she learns the winning steer’s ultimate fate.
Featured illustration by Paige Raley.