28 of the latest beach reads, mysteries, memoirs and short story collections from the South.
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The Book Of Lost Friends by Lisa Wingate
Lisa Wingate’s latest novel follows the journey of three women searching for a new life in the post-Civil War South. Hannie, a freed slave, hopes to find her mother and siblings, while Lavinia, heir to a now worthless plantation, and her Creole half-sister Juneau Jane, search for financial relief. The novel also follows first-year teacher Benedetta Silva in a tiny town in Louisiana in 1987. Benedetta feels disconnected from her poverty-stricken students, but soon uncovers the history of the three women and realizes their story provides a vital link to her students’ lives. Wingate brings to life a new and exciting historical drama from real “Lost Friends” advertisements, which freed slaves used after the Civil War to find the loved ones separated from them.
Boys Of Alabama by Genevieve Hudson
Max, a teenager from Germany with a hidden supernatural power, arrives in Alabama and adjusts to his new life by joining his school’s football team. The team welcomes him into their ranks, and Max finds himself partying and drinking with the kids from school. Then he meets Pan, an outsider, and the school “witch,” and feels seen in a way he doesn’t with his teammates. The two boys struggle with their identities in this novel that “brilliantly reinvents the Southern Gothic, mapping queer love in a land where God, guns, and football are king,” says author Leni Zumas..
Feels Like Falling by Kristy Woodson Harvey
Summer in North Carolina is off to a gloomy start for Gray Howard. She recently lost her mother to cancer, her sister to an extremist husband, and her husband to his executive assistant. Diana Harrington, a stranger to Gray, gets fired from her job at the local pharmacy, breaks up with her boyfriend and sleeps in her run-down Impala. The two women meet by chance, and Gray offers Diana a place to stay. They form an unlikely friendship and support each other in this beach read for fans of Mary Kay Andrews and Mary Alice Monroe. Read our interview with Harvey about her second novel here.
Hard Cash Valley by Brian Panowich
Dane Kirby is an ex-arson investigator for McFalls County who gets called in to consult on the brutal murder of Arnie Blackwell in Jacksonville, Florida. Arnie’s murder is only the tip of the iceberg in the investigation; Arnie’s younger brother, who suffers from Asperger’s Syndrome, has skills with numbers that could make a lot of money, which is why some of the most dangerous people alive are looking to exploit him. Dane and his FBI counterpart, Special Agent Roselita Velasquez, follow the bloody trail of victims across the Southeast, searching for Arnie’s brother and the killer in an investigation involving the Filipino mafia and hardened Southern outlaws.
Hello, Summer by Mary Kay Andrews
It’s the season for small-town scandals and big-time secrets in Mary Kay Andrews’ latest beach read. This book’s main character is journalist Conley Hawkins, who returns home to Florida from her Atlanta Journal-Constitution job to work at her family’s newspaper The Silver Bay Beacon. Conley loves the thrill of chasing a story (just as much as Andrews did in her former life as a journalist) and stumbles upon a scandal involving the death of a local congressman. She decides to stick around Silver Bay to investigate and also keep an eye on her grandmother, while spending the summer at the family’s ramshackle beach house.
How To Bury Your Brother by Lindsey Rogers Cook
Alice’s brother, Rob, ran away when he was 15. She always thought she would see him again, but he died before he ever returned home. After his funeral, Alice clears out their childhood home in Georgia, where she finds an autopsy report and unsent letters from Rob addressed to members of their family. She delivers the letters, which leads her to question her family’s dark past and her own role in it. The letter Rob addressed to his final home in New Orleans might just tear her apart. Patti Callahan Henry calls this one “a book…[which] will grab your heart and not let go even after the very last page.”
Little Tea by Claire Fullerton
Celia Wakefield reunites with her childhood friends Renny and Ava for a weekend at Renny’s lake house in Heber Springs, Arkansas. This trip, along with the arrival of her ex-boyfriend, forces Celia to reckon with the past she tried to outrun by moving to California. Entwined with the narrative of their reunion are flashbacks from Celia’s upbringing in Como, Mississippi, which include her family, Renny and Ava, as well as her other best friend, Little Tea, the daughter of her family’s black housekeeper. Celia realizes there is no better place to accept her own story than in this circle of friends.
On Ocean Boulevard by Mary Alice Monroe
In this latest addition to her Beach House series, Mary Alice Monroe returns to the shores of South Carolina and the Rutledge family. After sixteen years away, Cara Rutledge arrives in Charleston, preparing for her second wedding. Her niece, Linnea, returns to Sullivan’s Island to start a new career and an unexpected relationship, while Linnea’s parents hope to build a new home after surviving bankruptcy. Amidst the excitement over the house and the wedding, illness strikes the family, putting plans in disarray and forcing three generations of the Rutledge family to come together to weather the storm.
Old Lovegood Girls by Gail Godwin
Old Lovegood Girls follows Feron Hood and Merry Jellicoe, two women whose friendship spans decades. Paired together as roommates in 1958 at Lovegood Junior College for Girls, Feron and Merry become fast friends, united by secrets and the school’s traditions. Merry loses everything though, and the girls are torn apart. Ten years later, they haven’t spoken since college, but unexpected events have the women yearning for their former connection. Godwin has crafted a novel about “those rare friendships that fade for long periods of time only to rekindle in an instant when the conditions are right again,” according to The Washington Post. Read a guest post from Godwin about her previous novel here.
Pale by Edward A. Farmer
In the burning summer of 1966, Bernice, a single black woman, agrees to join her brother Floyd as a servant on a cotton plantation in Mississippi. The house hides many secrets, but the silence enveloping them breaks with the arrival of brothers Jesse and Fletcher on the plantation as cotton pickers. Peace is further disrupted when the missus of the house begins flirting with Jesse and reveals a vindictive streak that could put all the workers at risk. Bernice uses her close relationship with her boss to learn her secrets and protect those around her.
Roll The Stone Away by Ann Hite
This is the true story that influenced Ann Hite’s award-winning Black Mountain novel series. In her signature storytelling mode, Hite envisions a sack of stones poised to hang around her neck the moment she is born and added to throughout her childhood by her grandmother and mother. Each stone represents a family story that forms who Hite becomes as an adult. Generations of abuse, racism, adultery and lies populate this sordid family history, yet in the midst of Hite’s telling are strong, flawed women who show that survival and success in the worst scenarios are not always lost. Read some of Hite’s ghost stories here.
Shiner by Amy Jo Burns
Fifteen-year-old Wren Bird lives in a mountain cabin with her parents an hour from the nearest town in West Virginia. Her father delivers long-winded sermons and handles snakes every Sunday in an abandoned gas station. When he performs a miracle that turns to tragedy, Wren uncovers the truth of her power and her mother’s history. Shiner tells the story of two generations’ worth of mystery and heartbreak in the oft-forgotten Appalachia.
Sorry For Your Trouble by Richard Ford
Richard Ford presents a collection of short stories with heartbroken, troubled characters. The stories are mostly set in the South–a young man from Mississippi copes with his father’s death, a lawyer from New Orleans is barely getting by after his wife’s death, and a man and woman have a chance meeting in the French Quarter after 20 years. The protagonists are connected by universal threads of memory, love and death, as Ford reminds us of the fragility of relationships and life, narrative after narrative.
The Southern Book Club’s Guide To Slaying Vampires by Grady Hendrix
Patricia Campbell has a book club, consisting of some Charleston women connected by their love of crime novels. After a meeting, she is viciously attacked by an elderly neighbor, bringing the neighbor’s handsome nephew, James Harris, into her life. James is well-traveled, well-read and makes Patricia feel things she hasn’t felt in years. But when children on the other side of town go missing, their deaths written off by local police, Patricia has reason to believe James Harris is more of a Bundy than a Brad Pitt. The real problem? James is a monster of a different kind—and Patricia has already invited him in.
Teddy Spaghetti by Dorothea Benton Frank
This wouldn’t be a summer reading list without the inclusion of Dorothea Benton Frank, who passed away earlier this year. She leaves readers with a children’s book based on her daughter and co-author Victoria’s son Teddy, her first grandchild. Teddy really, really loves spaghetti, but he doesn’t love getting teased at school. When he takes his favorite food to lunch, a bully gives him a not-so-nice nickname. Will Teddy let his new nickname prevent him from enjoying what he loves most?
The Summer House by Lauren K. Denton (June 2)
Lily Bishop wakes up one morning to find a goodbye note and divorce papers from her husband on the kitchen counter. She’s devastated, but when she sees a flyer for a position as a hairstylist in a local retirement community, Lily finds herself in an unexpected refuge. Rose Carrigan, who built the Safe Harbor community years ago, runs a tight ship and keeps everyone around her at arm’s length. Lily’s arrival breaks down some of Rose’s walls, and the two form an unlikely friendship. Meanwhile, the salon becomes the community’s place to share gossip and secrets. Will the two women find summer love as well? Read an interview with Denton about her previous novel here.
Hieroglyphics by Jill McCorkle (June 9)
Lil and Frank married young, bonding over how they both lost a parent. Over the years, their marriage only grew stronger. Now, after living in Boston, they’ve returned to North Carolina in their retirement. Lil is going through old letters and diaries, wanting to leave a history for her children, while Frank is consumed with curiosity about what might still be in his childhood home. Shelley is a single mother living in Frank’s former house, attempting to give her son a normal life. Frank’s repeated visits trigger memories of Shelley’s own parents, who she’d rather forget. Publishers Weekly says, “McCorkle finds an elegant mix of wistfulness and appreciation for life … [weaving] a powerful narrative web.”
Stranger In The Lake by Kimberly Belle (June 9)
Charlotte marries wealthy widower Paul, and their marriage starts the rumor mill in their small lake town. Then, Charlotte discovers a young woman’s body floating under the dock in the same spot where Paul’s first wife drowned. Only a day earlier, Charlotte saw Paul talking to this woman. He lies to her and to the police, claiming the woman was a stranger he’d never met. Desperate to find out the truth about the man she married, Charlotte uncovers lies and secrets Paul never intended her to know. Is Charlotte in danger? Will she succumb to the same fate as the two women before her? Read an interview with Kimberly Belle about mystery writing here.
The Girl From Widow Hills by Megan Miranda (June 23)
Everyone knows the story of “the girl from Widow Hills.” Arden Maynor was just a child when she was swept away while sleepwalking during a rainstorm and went missing for days. Against all odds, she was found alive, clinging to a storm drain. The girl from Widow Hills was a living miracle. Arden’s mother wrote a book, and fame followed. It all became too much. As soon as she was old enough, Arden changed her name and disappeared from the public eye. Now a young woman living hundreds of miles away, Arden goes by Olivia, but the 20th anniversary of her rescue could make her the center of the story once again. Find out how Megan Miranda wrote a novel backwards here.
The Good Luck Stone by Heather Bell Adams (July 7)
Determined to maintain her independence, 90-year-old Audrey Thorpe lives in a historic mansion in Savannah. When her health begins to fail, Audrey’s family assigns her a caretaker, Laurel. Audrey and Laurel seem to be bonding, but then Audrey vanishes. The narrative shifts between the war-torn Philippines, where Audrey served as a nurse in World War II, and modern-day Savannah, testing both new and old friendships. Audrey soon realizes that the secret she’s kept for 70 years won’t stay hidden forever. Read a guest post about setting by Adams here.
The Lord’s Acre by David Armand (July 15)
Twelve-year-old Eli Woodbine watches as his parents slowly succumb to their own paranoia, leading them to a charismatic local church leader. After placing all their faith in him, helping him build a secret compound in the woods, the man they know as “Father” disappears. Eli and his parents must deal with the destruction this man left in his wake. In the process, they might just uncover some of the hope they’ve been looking for. Read an interview with Armand here.
The Book Of Lost Names by Kristin Harmel (July 21)
Eva Traube Abrams is a semi-retired librarian in Florida. One day while shelving books, a photograph in a magazine catches her eye. It’s of a book she hasn’t seen in 65 years: The Book of Lost Names. The accompanying article is about Nazis looting libraries across Europe during World War II, an event that Eva remembers all too well. As a graduate student, she was forced to flee Paris after her father, a Polish Jew, was arrested in 1942. She then began forging documents for children fleeing to neutral Switzerland but struggled with changing the identities of children too young to remember their real names. She decided to keep records in The Book of Lost Names. In the present day, researchers discover that the book contains some sort of code, but can’t pinpoint its origin or meaning. Eva is the only one who can interpret the code.
He Started It by Samantha Downing (July 21)
It’s been years since the Morgan siblings have been together. But when their grandfather dies, leaving behind a cryptic message, Beth, Portia and Eddie Morgan, and their spouses, band together and go on a cross-country road trip to fulfill their grandfather’s final wish and, more importantly, secure their inheritance. This road trip is unlike any other: there’s a missing person, a black truck following them, one of them is a killer, and there’s a dead body in the trunk. This is a family reunion you can’t miss.
Memorial Drive by Natasha Trethewey (July 28)
In this memoir, poet Natasha Trethewey recounts the horrific incident in which her stepfather brutally murdered her mother in 1985 on Memorial Drive in Atlanta. Only 19 at the time, Trethewey descended into a spiral of grief and trauma. She details her mother’s history, as well as her own experiences growing up in the South as a “child of miscegenation.” Trethewey brilliantly explores how her upbringing and her mother’s murder shaped her into the artist she is today.
Every Bone a Prayer by Ashley Blooms (August 4)
Misty is pretty tough for a 10-year-old. Her sister, Penny, sees strange objects outside their trailer home in the Appalachian mountains. Adults mutter about sins and punishment, but Misty doesn’t quiver like other kids would. That was until her neighbor William cornered her in a barn, and Misty lost that bold, outspoken persona. In this tale of a young girl fighting to regain her confidence, “Ashley Blooms sings in an authentic mountain voice … Like a hawk over a hollow,” says author Andy Duncan.
In The Valley by Ron Rash (August 4)
Over the span of 10 stories, Ron Rash spins a haunting allegory of the times we live in: rampant capitalism, the severing of ties to the natural world in the relentless hunt for profit, and the destruction of body and soul with pills meant to mute our pain. Rash balances the darkness with illuminating acts of human decency and heroism. The collection also contains a novella that continues the story of the protagonist from his New York Times bestselling novel Serena. Read an interview with Ron Rash here.
A Little Bit of Grace by Phoebe Fox (August 11)
Grace Adams McHale has no one left. Her mother died, her father left, her husband found someone new, and she cannot have children of her own. When a woman from Florida contacts Grace claiming to be a relative she never knew, Grace sets off on a journey to meet her. This eccentric, welcoming woman holds a family secret hidden for 50 years. As Grace copes with the loss of her loved ones, her relative teaches her the importance of being herself and forces her to question whether she can forgive the unforgivable.
When These Mountains Burn by David Joy (August 18)
Raymond Mathis is bailing out his addict son, in trouble with his dealer, for the last time. The slow pace and limitations of the law frustrate him, so he takes matters into his own hands. Denny Rattler is out of a job after a workplace accident and has spent years looking for his next high. He’s avoided jail by following strict rules that keep him below law enforcement’s radar. He finds himself having to make choices that change his life. Then, there’s the DEA that’s tracking down a drug supply somewhere in the mountains. However, an agent gets a lead that can help him crack the case, but he’ll need the help of someone unexpected.
Juanita Whisenant / May 22, 2020
A few of these are on my wish list.
Mia Fishler / May 24, 2020
Great list, thank you!