30 of the latest beach reads, mysteries, Southern fiction and more to read as temperatures rise.
by Mary Miller
Mississippi author Mary Miller tells a wry tale of middle age and the unexpected turns a life can take in her latest novel. She slyly transports readers to her unapologetic corner of the South—this time, Biloxi, home to 63-year-old Louis McDonald Jr. His wife of 37 years left him, his father has passed, and he has impulsively retired from his job in anticipation of an inheritance check that may not come. In the meantime, he watches reality television, sips beer and avoids his ex-wife and daughter. One day, he stops at a house advertising free dogs and meets overweight mixed-breed Layla. Unexpectedly, Louis takes her, and, newly invigorated, begins investigating local dog parks and buying extra bologna. Miller presents an unlikeable character who will quickly endear himself to readers in Biloxi. Listen to her NPR interview to find out more.
THE BOOK WOMAN OF TROUBLESOME CREEK
by Kim Michele Richardson
Kim Michele Richardson’s latest novel is a testament to the power of the written word. Set in 1930s Kentucky, heroine Cussy Mary Carter is the last of her blue-skinned ancestry. Taking a job as a traveling librarian, Cussy faces a dangerous and challenging adventure across the Kentucky mountains. Inspired by the true Kentucky Pack Horse Library Project and blue-skinned people of Kentucky, Richardson creates a novel about courage, determination and hope. The New York Times calls this book, “a lush love letter to the redemptive power of books.”
AT BRIARWOOD SCHOOL FOR GIRLS
by Michael Knight
When Disney decides to build a new theme park right up the road from her school in Prince William County, Virginia, Lenore Littlefield’s world is shaken. The impending theme park intrudes into the lives of everyone in the neighborhood, digging up old ground and new secrets, including Lenore’s pregnancy. Through an interesting and memorable cast of characters, Knight weaves a clever, unique coming-of-age tale. Read our review here.
THE FIREBALL BROTHERS
by M. David Hornbuckle
In 1959, two teenage brothers in rural Alabama are swimming in a pond when a fireball falls from the sky and lands in the water near them. When they come out, they are fused together, but nobody can figure out the cause. A doctor in New Orleans claims he can help them. To raise money for the surgery, they travel throughout the Southeast playing music. A wily reporter from Tupelo named Munford Coldwater follows their story as they meet snake oil salesmen and carnival barkers who try to take advantage of them. Filled with atmospheric music and setting, this novel mixes love, family, race and political intrigue.
by Casey Cep
In the book that everyone is talking about, Casey Cep unravels the mystery surrounding Harper Lee’s first and only work of nonfiction—and the shocking true crimes at the center of it. Reverend Willie Maxwell was a rural preacher accused of murdering five of his family members for insurance money in the 1970s. With the help of a savvy lawyer, he escaped justice for years until a relative shot him dead at the funeral of his last victim. Despite hundreds of witnesses, Maxwell’s murderer was acquitted–thanks to the same attorney who had previously defended the reverend. Sitting in the audience during the trial was Harper Lee, who had traveled from New York City to her native Alabama with the idea of writing her own In Cold Blood.
MY EX-BEST FRIEND’S WEDDING
by Wendy Wax
Prized and stored away for safekeeping, the ivory wedding dress sits gently folded in its box, whispering of happily ever afters. To Kendra, Brianna and Lauren it’s a reminder of what could have been, the promise of a fairy tale—and a friendship torn apart. But as Kendra knows firsthand: it wasn’t the dress’s fault. Once closer than sisters, Lauren and Bree have grown up and grown apart, allowing broken promises and unfulfilled dreams to destroy their friendship. A successful author, Lauren returns home to the Outer Banks to claim the dress she never thought she’d wear, while Bree, a bookstore owner, grapples with the realities of life after you marry the handsome prince. As the former best friends wrestle with their uncertain futures, they learn that some betrayals can never be forgiven.
ORANGE WORLD AND OTHER STORIES
by Karen Russell
After Karen Russell’s Vampires in the Lemon Grove, you might think that her new collection would have a citrusy element, but instead it’s code for all the domestic hazards threatening newborns. Yet household dangers are the least of the fears plaguing Rae during a precarious pregnancy, and late one night her cries for help summon the devil. He doesn’t want her soul in exchange for saving her baby; instead, it wants to be breastfed. Their grotesque pact is one of an array of shocking pairings in this ingenious, reality-warping, darkly funny and exquisitely composed story collection rooted in myth and horror.
by Dorothea Benton Frank
When searching for self-discovery, what could be more tranquil than the ocean waves on a small Carolina island? Such were the thoughts of Holly McNee Kenson, who moves to Sullivans Island, South Carolina. Armed with her new hobby of beekeeping and working at the local library, Kenson creates a world of her own. That is, until her drama-filled sister, quirky mother and intriguing neighbor join the scene. Through drama, humor and love, Frank creates a witty tale of worlds colliding that reminds us of the importance of friendship, love and enchanting islands.
by Evan Williams
An idyllic mountain hamlet sounds like an enchanting place to reside. Ben Bramley, former resident of such a place, might disagree, as he is burdened with weighty secrets and complex decisions regarding his hometown. In Williams’ debut novel, he weaves a fascinating story about hypocrisy, inner conflict and confronting one’s past. As Faulkner would say, “The past isn’t dead. It isn’t even past.”
THE SHAMAN OF TURTLE VALLEY
by Clifford Garstang
Clifford Garstang’s impressive debut novel spans generations and continents, moving from Virginia to South Korea and back again. Aiken Alexander, while stationed in Seoul, gets a Korean teenager named Soon-hee pregnant. When the couple moves to the Alexander family home in rural Virginia, social, racial and cultural tensions threaten the marriage. Told using alternating perspectives of the Alexander family and Soon-hee herself, The Shaman of Turtle Valley deftly interweaves themes of displacement, familial conflict and the aftermath of war.
THE SOUTHERN SIDE OF PARADISE
by Kristy Woodson Harvey
Life is going well for the Murphy family; Ansley Murphey and her three daughters (Caroline, Sloan and Emerson) are all happy and successful. Their happiness, however, is threatened when two women come to town. Bringing secrets and drama, these two new women challenge to destroy the Murphys’ entire lives, including their own love for family. In Harvey’s latest novel, the Murphy women must decide where the lines of family truly lie.
SPYING ON THE SOUTH
by Tony Horwitz
Inspired by Frederick Law Olmsted’s undercover trek across Southern America, the late Tony Horwitz sets off on an adventure to understand the United States today. Taking on Appalachia, the bayou, the Mexican border and lots in-between, the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist seeks to understand the American landscape and possibly gain insight into the current polarization of our country. Horwitz, who recently passed away unexpectedly, is best known for Confederates in the Attic and leaves behind this novel as a follow-up.
by Mary Kay Andrews
It wouldn’t be summertime without this beach read queen. Her latest novel set in St. Petersburg, Florida, doesn’t disappoint. After losing her mother and the ability to kiteboard, Drue Campbell has only a ramshackle beach bungalow on Sunset Beach left. She takes a job at her father’s law firm out of desperation, but when her attention is caught by a suspicious murder case she finds herself entangled in a decades-old mystery.
WHERE WE COME FROM
by Oscar Casares
After his mother dies, Orly is sent to live with his godmother, Nina, in the Mexican-American border town of Brownsville. Nina, having lived her whole life with the dangers of Brownsville, has secrets. Daniel, a young immigrant who Nina is providing refuge to, is one of those secrets. Through this deeply human and intensely powerful story of identity and family, Casares beautifully explores American immigration and the power of compassion.
THE FAVORITE DAUGHTER
by Patti Callahan Henry
Out June 4
In her latest novel, Patti Callahan Henry delves into the complexities of family and the question of what is home. Drawn home by her father’s failing health, Lena Donohue returns to Watersend, South Carolina, for the first time in a decade. Her arrival spurs old grudges and hard feelings with her sister and brother, but the siblings face new truths, difficult emotions and tough decisions about what is truly most important to hold onto. Read an excerpt from the novel here.
IN WEST MILLS
by De’Shawn Charles Winslow
Out June 4
Azalea “Knot” Centre lives life by her own rules, her own way. Not everyone in her community can understand her quirky behavior and her love of moonshine, 19th-century lit and men. Cut off from her family and community, though, Knot begins to question her ways. Enter Otis Lee Loving, a concerned neighbor with some troubles of his own, who is determined to help guide Knot on the right path. Together, the pair traverse their Southern African-American community, blazing a beautiful trail of friendship, family and love.
CALL YOUR DAUGHTER HOME
by Deb Spera
Out June 11
It’s 1924, and these women seem to have nothing in common. Gertrude is a mother of four faced with impossible decisions to ensure her children’s health and safety. Rhetta is a first-generation freed slave employed by the Coles, who once owned her family. Annie is the matriarch of the Coles. However, as their lives begin to intertwine, the three women find strength as they fight injustices together. Told in rotating narratives, Deb Spera, in her debut novel, creates a mesmerizing story of motherhood and womanhood. If you need another reason to read this novel, here’s the opening line: “It’s easier to kill a man than a gator, but it takes the same kind of wait.”
THE SUMMER GUESTS
by Mary Alice Monroe
Out June 11
Hurricane season is here. Grace and Charles Phillips’ farm in North Carolina gets hit. Not with the weather, but rather with an eclectic cast of characters fleeing the coast. Sitting safely inland, the Phillips invite a group of friends in danger to ride out the storm at their farm. Most not knowing one another, a mix-matched group of people converge. Each stressed and stuck, the group must face their troubles with each other and within themselves. One must wonder what will remain of their homes or themselves after the skies are clear. Read our review here.
THE EMANCIPATION OF EVAN WALLS
by Jeffrey Blount
Out June 15
Anxious about the life his future child may encounter, Evan Walls recounts his own life as a boy in 1968 Virginia to his expecting wife. As the Civil Rights Movement is winding down, young Walls, the smartest kid in class, endures racism from white students as the schools are integrated. Faced with hatred and constant challenges as he attempts to dream and grow outside of his small town, Walls asks the question, “Am I black enough?”
ONE NIGHT IN GEORGIA
by Celeste O. Norfleet
Out June 18
At the end of a sweltering summer shaped by the tragic assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr., and Bobby Kennedy, race riots, political protests and the heightened prominence of the Black Power movement, three coeds from New York City—Zelda Livingston, Veronica Cook and Daphne Brooks—pack into Veronica’s new Ford Fairlane convertible, bound for Atlanta and their last year together at Spelman College. Though they are young and carefree, the girls aren’t foolish. They rely on the Motorist Green Book and Daniel, a not-so-welcome family friend, to travel safely. But when they hit Washington, D.C., trouble begins. Further South, their journey turns terrifying—and deadly. When the car breaks down in Georgia, they find themselves caught up in a racially hostile situation that leaves a white person dead and one of the girls holding the gun.
by Kimberly Belle
Out June 25
A master of suspense, Kimberly Belle’s latest work will keep readers enthralled from the start. Dear Wife centers around a woman named Beth, on the run from an abusive, violent husband. At the same time, readers encounter another narrator, Jeffrey, the prime suspect in the disappearance of his own wife, Sabine. A local detective is determined to answer these questions: What happened to Sabine? Who is Beth? And who is lying?
THE GONE DEAD
by Chanelle Benz
Out June 25
Chanelle Benz debuts into American fiction with power and grace. The Gone Dead centers around Billie James, who has returned to her father’s home in the Mississippi Delta after 30 years; a home where her father, a renowned black poet, died when she was four. Not having any memory of the day he died, James enters into a journey of mystery and family that could become dangerous. This novel, a “rich, arresting exploration of racial injustice and the long shadows cast by family legacy” establishes Benz’s place in Southern literature and American literature as a whole.
GONE TOO LONG
by Lori Roy
Out June 25
Gone Too Long is an intense, chilling read that grips its readers from the first page and doesn’t let up until its conclusion. Ten-year-old Beth is kidnapped from her home in Simmonsville, Georgia. Seven years later, Imogene Coulter attends the funeral of her estranged father, a Klan leader. While clearing out his living space, Imogene discovers a child in her father’s basement, behind a door that only locks from the outside. Beautifully written and heart-wrenching, Lori Roy’s new novel explores the dark underbelly of family ties, deeply-rooted racism and self-sacrifice.
by S.J. Rozan
Out July 2
In the latest Lydia Chin/Bill Smith novel, Chin travels into the Deep South with her partner. For Chin, an American-born Chinese detective from New York City, the Mississippi Delta is not her usual terrain. Attempting to find the truth behind a crime involving one of her relatives, Chin learns nothing is quite as she expected down here. Rozan “paints with the full palette of the human heart,” according to author Robert Crais, and Lydia Chin’s return is sure to not disappoint.
THE LAST LIST OF MISS JUDITH KRATT
by Andrea Bobotis
Out July 9
Judith inherited all the Kratt family had to offer—the pie safe, the copper clock, the murder no one talks about. For decades, she’s been the keeper of the family house, safeguarding its valuables and its secrets. But Rosemarie, her wayward younger sister, suddenly returns home, sparking Judith to write an inventory of all that belongs to them. As Judith writes, she finds that cataloging the family heirlooms can’t suppress their histories, not when Rosemarie is determined to expose what Judith had planned to take to her grave. Interweaving the present with chilling flashbacks from one fateful evening in 1929, Judith pieces together a list of what matters, an undertaking that reveals the very inheritance she’d hoped to forget.
STARS OF ALABAMA
by Sean Dietrich
Out July 9
Set during the height of the Great Depression, Sean Dietrich’s newest work is ideal for those readers who appreciate a dash of magical realism in their historical fiction. Marigold, a 15-year-old girl, loses her newborn baby in a forest and soon discovers she has developed a terrifying, inexplicable power. Meanwhile, two migrant workers find an abandoned infant nearby and decide to raise the child themselves. Simultaneously, a child preacher carrying thousands of stolen dollars is on the run to Alabama. Throughout the novel, these stories intertwine in mysterious and dazzling ways.
by Allen Cheney and Julie Cantrell
Out July 16
During the Great Depression, Fred Allen is born poor and hungry in the shadow of rural Georgia’s infamous cotton mills. By the time Fred is three years old, he can play hymns on the piano without missing a note. In kindergarten, he amazes adults with Chopin. Terrified that Fred’s genius is proof of a curse, his parents lock away the piano. Cut off from his only source of joy, little Fred sinks into the chasms of neglect, depression and hunger. Then Eleanor, a woman just released from prison for attempted murder, rents a room in his family’s deteriorating home. Under her fierce eye, Fred is protected, fed and loved. Fred undertakes an arduous but miraculous journey through the Juilliard School in New York City, Union Theological Seminary, Columbia University and eventually the professional music scene. Novelist Julie Cantrell and Allen Cheney of Mountview Creative team up to tell this inspiring true story.
THE NICKEL BOYS
by Colson Whitehead
Out July 16
In this follow-up to the National Book Award-winning bestseller The Underground Railroad, Colson Whitehead brilliantly dramatizes another strand of American history through the story of two boys sentenced to a hellish reform school in Jim Crow-era Florida. Abandoned by his parents but kept on the straight and narrow by his grandmother, Elwood Curtis is about to enroll in the local black college. But for a black boy in the Jim Crow South of the early 1960s, one innocent mistake is enough to destroy the future. Elwood is sentenced to a juvenile reformatory called the Nickel Academy, whose mission statement says it provides “physical, intellectual and moral training.” In reality, the Nickel Academy is a grotesque chamber of horrors. Based on the real story of a reform school in Florida that operated for 111 years and warped the lives of thousands of children.
THE DARK ABOVE
by Jeremy Finley
Out July 23
In the sequel to last year’s The Darkest Time of Night, Jeremy Finley returns with another thriller full of aliens and government coverups. For most of his life, William Chance has been the living proof that his grandmother and her fellow researchers into missing people were right all along about the terror from the stars. Now, he’s avoiding the limelight and hiding out from everyone, including his family. He knows he can avoid everything, except for the nightmares. When he’s suddenly exposed, he finds that the media, government operatives and renegade true believers are desperate to find him, but he has another mission. Joined by a girl with terrifying abilities, he begins a desperate journey across the United States to find the others who share his dreams and stop what could be the final days of the world.
NEVER HAVE I EVER
by Joshilyn Jackson
Out July 30
Southern favorite Joshilyn Jackson is back with a deliciously addictive tale of dark suspense. Amy Whey is proud of her ordinary life and the simple pleasures that come with it: teaching diving lessons, baking cookies for new neighbors, helping her best friend, Charlotte, run their local book club. Her greatest joy is her family, which consists of her devoted professor husband, her spirited 15-year-old stepdaughter and her adorable infant son. But Amy’s sweet, uncomplicated life begins to unravel when the mysterious and alluring Angelica Roux arrives on her doorstep one book club night. Roux keeps the wine flowing and lures them into a game of spilling secrets. Everyone thinks it’s naughty, harmless fun. Only Amy knows better. Something wicked has come her way—a she-devil in a pricey red sports car who seems to know the terrible truth about who she is and what she once did. When they’re alone, Roux tells her that if she doesn’t give her what she asks for, what she deserves, she’s going to make Amy pay for her sins. One way or another.