28 of the latest beach reads, author debuts, mysteries and story collections from down South.
Family Law by Gin Phillips
Lucia, a practicing lawyer in 1980s Alabama, is an uncommon example of feminine success. Despite the threats regarding her work and the societal displeasure with her chosen path, she dedicates her career to assisting women and children with the lengthy legal requirements for escaping a troubled relationship. This is how she meets Rachel, a teenager whose mother is undergoing a divorce. As the case progresses and Rachel and Lucia grow closer, Rachel begins to look up to the lawyer and rebel against the rules of femininity set by her mother. But when someone follows through on an idle threat, therefore putting Rachel at risk, Lucia has to decide what she’s willing to sacrifice to move forward.
The Girls in the Stilt House by Kelly Mustian
Ada promised herself she would never go back to the Trace, to her hard life on the swamp and her harsh father. But now, after running away to Baton Rouge and briefly knowing a different kind of life, she finds herself with nowhere to go but back home. And she knows there will be a price to pay with her father. Matilda, daughter of a sharecropper, is from the other side of the Trace. Doing what she can to protect her family from the whims and demands of some particularly callous locals is an ongoing struggle. She forms a plan to go North, to pack up the secrets she’s holding about her life in the South and hang them on the line for all to see in Ohio. As the two girls are drawn deeper into a dangerous world of bootleggers and moral corruption, they must come to terms with the complexities of their tenuous bond and a hidden past that links them in ways that could cost them their lives.
The Hunting Wives by May Cobb
The “Hunting Wives” share more than target practice, martinis and bad behavior in this novel of obsession, seduction and murder. Sophie O’Neill left behind an envy-inspiring career and the stressful, competitive life of big-city Chicago to settle down with her husband and young son in a small Texas town. It seems like the perfect life, but Sophie soon realizes that life is now too quiet, and she’s feeling bored and restless. Then she meets Margot Banks, an alluring socialite who is part of an elite clique secretly known as the Hunting Wives. Sophie finds herself completely drawn to Margot and swept into her mysterious world of late-night target practice and dangerous partying. As Sophie’s curiosity gives way to full-blown obsession, she slips farther away from the safety of her family and deeper into this nest of vipers. When the body of a teenage girl is discovered in the woods where the Hunting Wives meet, Sophie finds herself in the middle of a murder investigation and her life spiraling out of control.
Learning to Speak Southern by Lindsey Rogers Cook
A searing Southern story about confronting the difference between the family you’re born into and the family you choose, from the acclaimed author of How to Bury Your Brother. Lex fled Memphis years ago, making ends meet with odd jobs teaching English around the world. She only returns when her godmother presents her with a bargain she can’t refuse. Lex has never understood her mother, who died tragically right before Lex’s college graduation, but now she’s got a chance to read her journals, to try and figure out what sent her mother spiraling all those years ago. But the Memphis that Lex inhabits is more bourbon and BBQ joint than sweet tea on front porches, and as she pieces together the Memphis her mother knew, she must confront more of her own past and the people she left behind. Once all is laid bare, Lex must decide for herself: What is the true meaning of family?
Leda and the Swan by Anna Caritj
Anna Caritj’s Leda and the Swan, about a female college student who wakes after a wild Halloween frat party to find she isn’t exactly sure what happened with the guy she went home with—and can’t recall the last words she spoke to the classmate who now seems to be missing—is said to have elements of Prep and The Secret History. A novel about infatuation, sex, consent, risk, regret, power and one woman’s search for answers about her future with a setting inspired by the University of Virginia.
Mother May I by Joshilyn Jackson
Bree Cabbat certainly rose in life. Despite her mother’s ample warnings during her childhood in rural Georgia, Bree’s marriage brought power, wealth and a beautiful family. However, when she awakens to see a woman dressed in all black who disappears into the night, and the witch’s second appearance coincides with the disappearance of her son, things start to twist into mystery. Bree would sacrifice anything to retrieve her child, so she’s willing when the woman assigns a small task. However, how will she reconcile the threat of the disastrous consequences and emerging secrets when to save her family, she may have destroyed it?
The Newcomer by Mary Kay Andrews
Letty Carnahan thinks she knows exactly who killed her sister, which sends her on the run from New York City with her four-year-old niece, Maya, by her side. “If anything bad ever happens to me—it’s Eli. Promise me you’ll take Maya and run. Promise me,” Letty’s sister, Tanya, insisted about her ex. And so Letty did. But she ran before she thought, and now she’s not sure what comes next. However, with the police and Eli following her tracks, she follows her only clue: a magazine story for a motel called The Murmuring Surf, ripe with the Florida rush of retirees and snowbirds. As Letty tries to help Maya recover from her trauma and settle into her own new life—attractive detective with questionable motives and all—her sister’s past bubbles to the surface and her connection to the motel is revealed.
Olympus, Texas by Stacey Swann
The Briscoe family is once again the talk of their small town when March returns to East Texas two years after he was caught having an affair with his brother’s wife. His mother, June, hardly welcomes him back with open arms. Her husband’s own past affairs have made her tired of being the long-suffering spouse. Is it, perhaps, time for a change? Within days of March’s arrival, someone is dead, marriages are upended and even the strongest of alliances are shattered. In the end, the ties that hold them together might be exactly what drag them all down in this powerful debut described as “The Iliad meets ‘Friday Night Lights’.”
Reunion Beach by Elin Hilderbrand, Adriana Trigiani, Patti Callahan & Mary Alice Monroe
In this warm and moving anthology, a group of bestselling authors and writers pay tribute to legendary, larger-than-life New York Times bestselling author Dorothea Benton Frank and her literary legacy. Inspired by the title Dorothea Benton Frank planned for her next book—Reunion Beach—these close friends and colleagues channeled their creativity, admiration and grief into stories and poems that celebrate this remarkable woman and her abiding love for the Lowcountry of her native South Carolina—a land of beauty, history, charm and Gullah magic she so brilliantly brought to life in her acclaimed novels.
The Summer of Lost and Found by Mary Alice Monroe
The coming of spring usually means renewal, but for Linnea Rutledge, spring 2020 threatens stagnation. Linnea faces another layoff, this time from the aquarium she adores. For her—and her family—finances, emotions and health teeter at the brink. To complicate matters, her new love interest, Gordon, struggles to return to the Isle of Palms from England. Meanwhile, her old flame, John, turns up from California and is quarantining next door. She tries to ignore him, but when he sends her plaintive notes in the form of paper airplanes, old sparks ignite. When Gordon at last reaches the island, Linnea wonders—is it possible to love two men at the same time.
Things We Lost To The Water by Eric Nguyen
Huong arrives in New Orleans filled with apprehension: she is unemployed, homeless, caring for her two young sons and worried about her husband and the father of her boys, Cong. As she and her children begin to adapt to life in America, she continues to send messages back to Vietnam, hoping against all hope that one day he will return to her. But soon, she realizes that Cong is gone for good and as she comes to terms with what feels like a whole new type of loss, her sons, Tuan and Binh ,grow up haunted by the absence of their father. As the years go on, each changes to try to fit into their own skin: Huong meets a Vietnamese car salesman; Tuan attempts to familiarize himself with his heritage through a Vietnamese gang; and Binh goes by Ben, embracing the only home he’s ever known and coming to terms with his sexuality. Their individual searches and what remains to be found threatens the foundation of their family, but when disaster strikes, they must come together in a way they never have before.
Under The Magnolias by T.I. Lowe
Austin Foster is barely a teenager when her mama dies giving birth to twins, leaving her to pick up the pieces while holding her six siblings together and doing her best to stop her daddy from retreating into his personal darkness. Scratching out a living on the family’s tobacco farm is as tough as it gets. When a few random acts of kindness help to ease the Fosters’ hardships, Austin finds herself relying upon some of Magnolia’s most colorful citizens for friendship and more. But it’s next to impossible to hide the truth about the goings-on at Nolia Farms, and Austin’s desperate attempts to save face all but break her. Just when it seems she might have something more waiting for her―with the son of a wealthy local family who she’s crushed on for years―her father makes a choice that will crack wide-open the family’s secrets and lead to a public reckoning.
Under the Southern Sky by Kristy Woodson Harvey
Recently separated Amelia Buxton, a dedicated journalist, never expected that uncovering the biggest story of her career would become deeply personal. But when she discovers that a cluster of embryos belonging to her childhood friend Parker and his late wife Greer have been deemed “abandoned,” she’s put in the unenviable position of telling Parker—and dredging up old wounds in the process.
Coming in June
The Essence of Nathan Biddle by J. William Lewis (June 1)
The Essence of Nathan Biddle is a timeless coming-of-age tale that, as novelist David Armstrong observed, “is like discovering The Catcher in the Rye all over again.” Protagonist Kit Biddle is a rising prep school senior who finds himself tangled in a web of spiritual quandaries and intellectual absurdities. Kit’s angst is compounded by a unique psychological burden he is forced to carry: his intelligent but unstable Uncle Nat has committed an unspeakable act on what, according to the uncle’s deranged account, were direct orders from God. The tragedy haunting his family follows Kit like a dark and foreboding cloud, exacerbating his already compulsive struggle with existential questions about the meaning of his life. When the brilliant, perhaps phantasmic, Anna dismisses him, Kit quickly spirals into despair and self-destruction.
John and Mary Margaret by Susan Cushman (June 8)
We first meet Susan Cushman’s characters, John and Mary Margaret, in her short story collection, Friends of the Library. In her second novel and seventh book, Cushman fleshes out their stories, covering over 50 years of their lives in Mississippi and Memphis against the backdrop of the Civil Rights Movement and continuing through current-day events. John and Mary Margaret is an insider’s look into the white privilege bubble of a young girl growing up in Jackson, Mississippi, and participating in sorority life on the ‘Ole Miss campus in the late 1960s. But it’s also a candid portrayal of a young Black boy from Memphis who follows his dream to study law at a predominately white university. What happens when their shared love for literature blossoms into an ill-fated romance? Set squarely in the center of decades of historical events in Mississippi and Memphis, here their story brings those events to life.
River, Sing Out by James Wade (June 8)
Jonah Hargrove is celebrating his 13th birthday by avoiding his abusive father, when a girl named River stumbles into his yard, injured and alone. The teenager has stolen thousands of dollars’ worth of meth from her murderous, drug-dealing boyfriend, but lost it somewhere in the Neches River bottoms during her escape. Jonah agrees to help her find and sell the drugs so she can flee East Texas. Chasing after them is John Curtis, a local drug kingpin and dog fighter, as well as River’s boyfriend, the dangerous Dakota Cade. Each person is keeping secrets from the others—deadly secrets that will be exposed in violent fashion as all are forced to come to terms with their choices, their circumstances, and their own definition of God.
The Killing Hills by Chris Offutt (June 15)
Mick Hardin, a combat veteran now working as an Army CID agent, is home on a leave that is almost done. His wife is about to give birth, but they aren’t getting along. His sister, newly risen to sheriff, has just landed her first murder case, and local politicians are pushing for city police or the FBI to take the case. Are they convinced she can’t handle it, or is there something else at work? She calls on Mick who, with his homicide investigation experience and familiarity with the terrain, is well-suited to staying under the radar. As he delves into the investigation, he dodges his commanding officer’s increasingly urgent calls while attempting to head off further murders. And he needs to talk to his wife.
Ivory Shoals by John Brandon (June 29)
Twelve-year-old Gussie Dwyer—audacious, resilient, determined to adhere to the morals his mother instilled in him—undertakes a trek across the sumptuous yet perilous peninsula of post-Civil War Florida in search of his father, a man who has no idea of his son’s existence. Gussie’s journey sees him cross paths with hardened Floridians of every stripe, from the brave and noble to a bevy of cutthroat villains, none worse than his amoral shark of a half brother. Will he survive his quest, and at what cost?
Coming in July
A Cup of Silver Linings by Karen Hawkins (July 6)
Ava Dove—the sixth of the seven famed Dove sisters and owner of Ava Dove’s Landscaping and Specialty Teas—is frantic. Just as her fabulous new tearoom is about to open, her herbal teas have gone wonky. Suddenly, her sleep-inducing tea is startling her clients awake with vivid dreams, her romance-kindling tea is causing people to blurt out their darkest secrets, and her anti-anxiety tea is making them spend hours staring into mirrors. Ava is desperate for a remedy, but her search leads her into dangerous territory, as she is forced to face a dark secret she’s been hiding for over a decade.
The One You’re With by Lauren K. Denton (July 6)
High-school sweethearts Mac and Edie Swan lead a seemingly picture-perfect life in the sleepy-sweet community of Oak Hill, near Mobile, Alabama. Edie is a respected interior designer, Mac is a beloved pediatrician, and they have two great kids and a historic home on tree-lined Linden Avenue. From the outside, the Swan family is the definition of “the good life.” And life is good—mostly. Until a young woman walks into Mac’s office one day. A young woman whose very existence threatens all Mac and Edie have built and all they think they know about each other.
Such A Quiet Place by Megan Miranda (July 13)
Until the murder of Brandon and Fiona Truett, Hollow’s Edge was an idyllic neighborhood. But a year an a half later, the residents are trapped and when the alleged murderer, Ruby Fletcher, returns, resentment and suspicion starts to spread. Harper Nash used to think of Ruby as a little sister, so what can she do when, despite the severity of her supposed crime, Ruby has nowhere else to go? As suspicion sneaks through the quiet houses of Hollow’s Edge, it starts to become clear that there is still plenty left to be discovered about the night of the Truett’s murders and when Harper starts to find threatening notes, she realizes that she must uncover the truth before the killer strikes again.
For Your Own Good by Samantha Downing (July 20)
Teddy Crutcher has one priority: pushing his students at the prestigious Belmont Academy to be the best and the brightest they can be. After all, he has won “Teacher of the Year” and according to him, his wife is thrilled—although, why hasn’t anyone seen her in so long? But who has or hasn’t seen whose wife is none of Teddy’s concern, and neither are the mysterious deaths on campus that look suspiciously intentional or the student who’s working too hard to uncover the secrets of his private life. As stated before: Teddy Crutcher only cares to motivate his kids to fulfill their potential, no matter how steep the cost.
All the Little Hopes by Leah Weiss (July 27)
North Carolina is too small for 13-year-old Lucy Brown, and she’s itching for something bigger. An adventure of her own, ideally, just like her idol, Nancy Drew. So when Allie Bert Tucker shows up—an outcast with a past whose puzzle pieces don’t quite fit together—she figures that if adventure is going to come, Allie is who she wants by her side. Soon, a man disappears, a woman mysteriously becomes mute and another outcast gives Lucy and Allie something big to solve: a mystery that’s fit for a novel. But World War II is bursting at the boundaries and as more men go missing, their home becomes the haven of a Nazi prisoner-of-war camp. Now, it’s not just a local mystery: it’s bigger and raises a more important query for the girls to solve. How do we know who the enemy is?
The Love Songs Of W.E.B. Du Bois by Honoree Fanonne Jeffers (July 27)
Inspired by the words of W.E.B. Du Bois, Ailey Pearl Garfield has explored what it is to belong since childhood. She fights against hovering trauma and for the whispers of Black Americans in history, both those she’s descended from and those she’s named for. However, to do so, she must dig her way through her family’s past, discovering shocking tales from ancestors of all races and learn to embrace herself and her heritage: both the aspects of strength and weakness, warrior and oppressor.
Coming in August
When the Reckoning Comes by LaTanya McQueen (August 3)
It’s been a decade since Mira abandoned Kipsen and all the segregated Southern town represented, and now she’s back. It’s her childhood best friend, Celine’s, wedding, and as she arrives, memories start to return: the ridicule Celine underwent for befriending a black girl; the day the subject of her secret infatuation, Jesse, almost got arrested; and above all, the haunting legends about the Woodsman Plantation, which has been renovated and will host Celine’s wedding. However, the fancy new exterior does nothing to erase its ugly history. As the ghosts of tortured slaves begin to take revenge on the guests, Celine, Mira and Jesse must acknowledge the sins of the past and amend them as best they can.
In All Good Faith by Liza Nash Taylor (August 10)
It’s the summer of 1932 and, like most of the rest of the country, two women are struggling. Virginian May Marshall fights to keep her family afloat among new business endeavors, and teenaged Dorrit Sykes from Boston, fraught with severe anxiety, begins to question the religion she was raised to believe. When Dorrit’s father, a veteran, joins a march to demand financial support from the government, she leaves behind her refuge of the public library and joins him. As they journey to the rest of the veterans in Washington D.C., she begins to come out of her shell, and when her path and May Marshall’s overlap, she will find herself, her faith and success.
The Age of Discovery and other stories by Becky Hagenston (August 11 )
Becky Hagenston’s fourth collection allows space for both the real and the fictional, combining mundane characters and fantastical details in this collection of stories. The characters range from parents to babysitters, students to teachers, even a sex-toy seller or two! Each of these characters will confront conflicting, difficult emotions and will find joy twined somewhere in the painful mix. Hagenston’s collection uses fun storylines to convey what people–plain old boring people–are capable of.
Dark and Shallow Lies by Ginny Myers Sain (New Release Date: September 7)
La Cachette, Louisiana, is the worst place to be if you have something to hide. This tiny town, where 17-year-old Grey spends her summers, is the self-proclaimed Psychic Capital of the World—and the place where Elora Pellerin, Grey’s best friend, disappeared six months earlier. Grey can’t believe that Elora vanished into thin air any more than she can believe that nobody in a town full of psychics knows what happened. But as she digs into the night that Elora went missing, she begins to realize that everybody in town is hiding something—her grandmother Honey; her childhood crush Hart; and even her late mother, whose secrets continue to call to Grey from beyond the grave. When a mysterious stranger emerges from the bayou, Grey realizes that La Cachette’s past is far more present and dangerous than she’d ever understood.
Kristy Woodson Harvey / June 8, 2021
Thank you so much for including Under the Southern Sky!!
Liza Nash Taylor / June 9, 2021
What a fabulous list. Thank you for including In All Good Faith!