HomeBooksFall/Winter Reading List 2020-21

Fall/Winter Reading List 2020-21

26 of the latest mysteries, ghost stories and fiction from Southern authors, including M.O. Walsh and Bobbie Ann Mason.




The Big Door Prize by M.O. Walsh

When the shopkeepers, teachers and nurses of Deerfield, Louisiana, are offered a once-in-a-lifetime chance to see their lives’ potential, they jump at it. The DNAMIX, an unimpressive looking machine that requires only a cheek swab and $2 to tell you what you could have been, appears in the local grocery store and it’s only a matter of time before the townspeople are changing their lives. Douglas and Cherilyn Hubbard are two such people, and they believed they had everything they wanted until the DNAMIX told them they were allowed to believe otherwise. The Big Door Prize is M.O. Walsh’s long-awaited second novel and a captivating analysis of human nature, ambition, and how we chase our dreams while honoring our relationships and commitments. Read our 2015 interview with him here.


Comanche by Brett Riley

When the Piney Woods Kid was gunned downed by vigilantes in Comanche, Texas, the whole town rejoiced. But reports of an 1800s gunslinger committing murders in the town start circulating almost 130 years later, and many are wondering if the Piney Woods Kid is seeking revenge against the people of Comanche. Investigators from New Orleans come to town determined to find the culprit, despite resistance from the locals. And their pursuit for the truth leads them right into the killer’s clutches.


Dear Ann by Bobbie Ann Mason

Ann Workman is a smart, yet innocent graduate student from Kentucky during the 1960s. While at school, she yearns for a fairytale love and just like magic, she finds it. Jimmy is her polar opposite: a rebel from Chicago that rejects and questions the same things Ann clings to. But as Ann and Jimmy grow closer, a quickly approaching war threatens their worlds and their relationship. Years later, Ann looks back on her feelings for Jimmy and her own naivety as another crisis looms. She seeks refuge in the what-ifs. What if she hadn’t gone to that small state school? What if she had given in to her mentor’s urging and gone to Stanford? What would her life be now? Bobbie Ann Mason explores youth and nostalgia in what Kirkus describes as “a beautifully written homage to the 1960s.”


The Fear Of Everything: Stories by Jon McNally

If you want some short stories full of twists and turns that send shivers down your spine, look no further than John McNally’s The Fear of Everything. This critically acclaimed book paints a vivid picture of the bizarre and unpredictable world we live in, with stories that will make you laugh, cry and doubt every assumption you’ve ever made.


Lifelike Creatures by Rebecca Baum

Tara’s had to grow up quick. Her mother is an alcoholic and a drug addict, and Tara’s forced to hold their fragile lives together. And her life gets a whole lot harder when Tara and her mother suddenly find themselves homeless due to a sinkhole in their town. But this cloud might have a silver lining in the form of a massive settlement for the entire town. But when her mother goes off the rails again, she needs to decide whether to secure her own future or protect her mother.


The Madwoman of Preacher’s Cove by Joy Ross Davis

Lucy Addams has had a tough life. Not only did a fire leave her atrociously disfigured, but it claimed the lives of her family as well. After the incident, the grief-stricken widow opens up a workshop with her sister Libby, where she sculpts replicas of the children in Preacher’s Cove. But when several people get struck by lightning, Lucy, Libby and an investigative reporter work together to solve the mystery of their untimely deaths.

Mountain Laurel by Lori Benton

It’s 1793, and Ian Cameron has already job hopped from a cabinetmaker to a trapper. Now he’s hoping to become the heir to his uncle’s North Carolina plantation, as uncomfortable as the thought of owning slaves makes him. But before long he falls in love with an artist, who happens to be a slave on his uncle’s plantation. As their love grows deeper, he realizes he can’t follow in his uncle’s footsteps and sets a series of changes in motion that will change his family forever.


Somewhere In The Dark by R.J. Jacobs



After a childhood marred by neglect, Jessie Duval’s finally got it together. With an apartment in Nashville and a job with a catering company, she’s thriving. But all that changes when Jessie works an event where the one person from her past she must avoid at all costs will be in attendance: singer Shelly James. One summer, she followed Shelly’s tour everywhere, only Shelly wasn’t flattered. She was terrified by Jessie’s devotion, especially after Jessie was arrested. But after a year of therapy, Jessie understands what happened. She’s not the same person anymore, but when Shelly is found dead, Jessie’s troubled past comes tumbling out and she quickly becomes a suspect in the high-profile murder.



Squeeze Me by Carl Hiassen



Palm Beach charity ball season is an excuse for Floridian elites to dress up in their finest and pretend to care more about an arbitrary cause than the ravenous nature of their lofty society. But this year, a dowager goes missing during a gala and when she’s found dead hours later, chaos ensues. Kiki Pew was known for more than just her money: She was the founder of the POTUSSIES, an all-female group of staunch supporters of the President— and a devoted member at that. The President immediately declares her death a direct result of raving immigrants, but the truth might be related to the shocking discovery that halted the First Lady’s motorcade. And when Angie Armstrong is called onto the island to handle a mystery invasion of pythons, she might uncover more than she bargained for in Carl Hiaasen‘s latest beautiful, hilarious, irreverent read.



Transcendent Kingdom by Yaa Gyasi



Gifty is surrounded by suffering. A sixth-year Ph.D. candidate in neuroscience at Stanford University School of Medicine, she investigates the way depression and addiction affect the brains of mice. Prompted by her brother’s overdose and her suicidal mother, she wants to find the key to the pain she’s been so intimately exposed to. But alongside her research, she also discovers a revived longing for her childhood faith, a confused struggle with the church she was raised in and a fear of the promises she’s not sure they’ll keep. Yaa Gyasi writes a stunning tale of a Ghanaian family devastated by mental illness and the breathtaking way science, faith and love intertwine in her followup to Homegoing.



We Are All the Same in the Dark by Julia Heaberlin



When a lost girl appears in Wyatt Branson’s life, he sees her as the key to solving the 10-year-old mystery of what happened to his sister. Trumanell Branson disappeared with only a bloody handprint left behind and Wyatt is still searching for answers. For new cop Odette Tucker, this girl is a warning. With the old case cracked wide open and a new one brewing, Odette must work to solve them both by saving the girl she could and finding the truth about the one she couldn’t. Julia Heaberlin weaves a fascinating tale that Observer describes as “a thriller to make you remember why you love thrillers.” Read our 2015 interview with her here.



You Want More: Selected Stories by George Singleton



Southern author George Singleton is known for his powers of observation and witty humor. Singleton’s style is reminiscent of literary greats like Raymond Carver and Lewis Nordan. You Want More is a collection of Singleton’s hilarious, award-winning works of fiction. Not only are these stories funny, but they’re mysterious, romantic, and they capture the complex nature of interpersonal relationships.





Purple Lotus by Veena Rao (Sept. 29)



Tara is three miserable years into an arranged marriage in Atlanta with a man named Sanjay, a tech executive. As she’s ignored and mistreated, her mental health spirals out of control until she finally decides to leave Sanjay, much to her community’s chagrin, and enters into a relationship with her old flame Cyrus. But when her past trauma comes knocking at her door again, Tara must learn to overcome her fears to save her relationship.






Millicent Glenn’s Last Wish by Tori Whitaker (Oct. 1)



Millicent Glenn was living the perfect life, with a loving husband, the ideal job, a daughter she adored and another baby coming. But, as Millie learned the hard way, a single moment can change everything and reshape the future she thought was definite. Sixty years later, Millie’s 91st birthday is drawing near and with it brings her pregnant granddaughter and Jane, the girl’s mother and Millie’s estranged daughter, back to town. All Millie wants is for Jane to forgive her, but first, she must be fully honest and tell the truth about what really happened all those years ago.



Boop and Eve’s Road Trip by Mary Helen Sheriff (Oct. 6)



Eve Prince’s life isn’t what she expected. Her dreams of fashion design are dead, and she’s given up on her mother and men. Now her friend is missing, and she takes it upon herself to go search for her. But she’s not alone on her journey, as her grandmother, Boop, decides to tag along in hopes of turning her granddaughter’s depression around. Boop knows just the way to help her granddaughter, but it might just tear down the entire life she’s built.



Confessions on the 7:45 by Lisa Unger (Oct. 6)



Lisa Unger’s new mystery is reminiscent of the iconic Strangers on a Train. When Selena Murphy’s train stalls on her commute home from her city job, she strikes up a conversation with the stranger in the next seat. Her name is Martha and before long they’re spilling their secrets. Martha is having an affair with her boss and Selena suspects her husband of being unfaithful with the nanny. When they part ways, Selena has no reason to think she’ll ever see the beautiful stranger again. But then, her nanny goes missing and Selena’s life is turned on its head. As the mystery begins to consume her and her already cracked marriage, she must answer the overarching question: Who is Martha?



Memorial by Bryan Washington (Oct. 6)



Benson, a Black daycare teacher, and Mike, a Japanese American chef, have spent some happy years together, but, despite their love for each other, it seems the sparks in their relationship have stopped flying. But when Mike goes to Osaka, Japan, to visit his dying father, the two men begin to grow and develop on their own. Will the distance between them make them better people, or will it destroy the foundation they worked so hard to build? Read our interview with Ernest Gaines Award winner Bryan Washington here.



Never Turn Back by Christopher Swann (Oct. 6)



A precocious son. A mischievous, brilliant daughter. A veteran father. An overworked mother. Ethan Faulkner’s family is far from perfect, but it’s his. So when a young woman arrives on their doorstep begging for help, and the man who is chasing her murders Ethan’s parents, he is devastated. Years later, he has a stable job and a growing relationship, but an unfulfilled promise haunts him: Before his father died, he made Ethan swear to look out for his sister. But Susannah is a difficult person to look out for, and old resentments mean that Ethan doesn’t really want to try. When a new murder occurs, this time with Ethan as the prime suspect, he must reconcile his past with his present and finally move on. Read our 2017 interview with Swann here.



THE GHOST VARIATIONS: One Hundred Stories by Kevin Brockmeier (New release date is March 2021; preorder now)



As Benjamin Percy says, “there may be a hundred stories in this collection, but there are a million reasons to love Kevin Brockmeier.” The Ghost Variations is a poetic collection of haunting tales ranging from the spirit who reappears in a law firm to relive the moment she lost her chance at love with the man haunted by the trees that he built his house from. There are poltergeists and parakeets and a hardly reasonable number of ghosts in Brockmeier’s “haunted jukebox sparkling in the shadows.”



Other Fires by Lenore H. Gay (Oct. 20)



Lenore H. Gay weaves a tale of tragedy through Joss and Phil, a struggling couple that is threatened even further when Phil is injured in a fire. As a result, he suffers from Capgras delusion—a disorder leaving him convinced that Joss isn’t really his wife, but an impostor. With a husband who doesn’t recognize her and surfacing secrets that only complicate things, Joss wonders if she should give up trying to save her marriage. Her two young daughters, book deadline and an attractive new man only make things even more difficult as she decides how to go on.



Reviving the Hawthorn Sisters by Emily Carpenter (Oct. 20)



Eve Candler is living a lie. Her deceased grandmother, Dove Jarrod, was known as a faith healer, and it’s Eve’s job to uphold her legacy. However, only Eve knows Dove was a fraud. But when a stranger informs Eve that her grandmother was involved in a murder, they set out to reveal the truth together. But will doing so absolve Eve of her guilt, or will it only tear her life to pieces? Read our 2018 interview with Carpenter here.



The Wonder Boy of Whistle Stop by Fannie Flagg (Oct. 27)



The once bustling small town of Whistle Stop, Alabama, is nothing but a shell of its former self. All the railroads that helped support local businesses have shut down, leaving boarded-up windows and abandoned buildings in its wake. Bud Threadgoode, who used to run the Whistle Stop Cafe with his aunt and mother, decides to pay his old hometown a visit. In doing so, he finds new friends, learns about his aunt’s life and touches lives, including his daughter, Ruthie’s. In this new heartwarming novel, Fannie Flagg illustrates how magical seemingly ordinary lives can be.



Where I Come From: Stories From the Deep South by Rick Bragg (Oct. 27)



You can’t get much more Southern than Where I Come from: Stories from the Deep South. Pulitzer Prize winner Rick Bragg shares his love for the region in this compilation of his most beloved columns, which were previously published in Southern Living and Garden & Gun. Bragg tackles pedestrian, homey topics like the best methods to get rid of fire ants and how pickup trucks have transformed over the years. Read our 2016 interview with Bragg here.






The Fortunate Ones by Ed Tarkington (Jan. 5)



Charlie Boykin’s life with his single mother was perfectly enough for him. But when he starts going to boarding school with Nashville’s richest of the rich, he begins to fall victim to money’s notorious allure. His new friendship with Arch Creigh only draws him deeper into the dangerous ambition present at Belle Meade. Through college and afterward, Charlie helps Arch to grab the Senate seat Arch covets so much, and he learns just how little morals have to do with the power games of the wealthy. Ed Tarkington explores class differences and how they affect us as people. as well as how we interact with those around us in this powerful novel.



The Merciful by John Sealy (Jan. 21)



Overlook, South Carolina, is a dreamy, quiet coastal town, but when teenager Samantha Jones is killed in a hit and run on her way home from work, madness takes over. The whole town is eager to condemn Daniel Hayward, the prime suspect, but it’s not that simple. Everyone from the media to Samantha’s family to Daniel himself has a different version of events, and the subsequent court case isn’t as straightforward as everyone would like it to be. Jon Sealy explores the nature of human error and justice vs. mercy in this compelling tale of the aftermath of a moment that sent a whole town into upheaval.



Tropic of Stupid by Tim Dorsey (Jan. 26)



History lover Serge Storms decides to investigate his own through a DNA service and tracks it all the way to a deranged serial killer that’s been notoriously tormenting Florida for 20 years. He’s delighted to find that he may be related to the maniac, so he enlists his companion, Coleman, on a search for a relative who will help him track the murderer down. Little does he know an investigator from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement is also trying to find the serial killer. Then Serge meets a park ranger who wants to find his own family and though their friendship blooms quickly, the things Serge doesn’t know may turn out to be deadly.


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