HomeBooksFall/Winter Reading List 2022-23

Fall/Winter Reading List 2022-23

25 of the latest mysteries, debut fiction, short story collections and young adult novels representing the South.

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Dark Roux by Toby LeBlanc

Toby Leblanc’s Dark Roux is a portrait of the Mouton family as they fight to preserve their culture and family bonds through changing times. The novel infuses some of Leblanc’s personal experiences as a child in South Louisiana with a story of self-sacrificing women and the struggles of Cajun culture to survive Americanization. In an interview with The Writing District, Leblanc says, “In this piece I tried to highlight the intersection between Cajun culture, including the behaviors it deems necessary to be a good mother, wife, and woman, and the need a woman (or any person) would have for true connection and support.” For those new to Toby Leblanc’s work, you can read his 2018 short story “The End of the World Bar” in Deep South here.

 

Haints On Black Mountain: A Haunted Story Collection by Ann Hite

Ann Hite takes her readers back to Black Mountain with this haunted short story collection. An array of new characters on the mountain experience ghostly encounters and spirits intervene in the spookiest of ways. “Wrinkle in the Air” features Black Mountain’s Polly Murphy, a young Cherokee woman, who sees her future in the well’s water. Readers also encounter relatives of Polly as the stories move through time. “The Root Cellar” introduces Polly’s great-grandson, who tends to be a little too frugal with his money until a tornado and Polly’s spirit pay the mountain a visit. In “The Beginning, the Middle, and the End,” readers meet Gifted Lark on an excessively frigid January day. This story moves back and forth between 1942 and 1986 telling Gifted and her grandmother Anna’s story. Read some of Hite’s ghost stories in Deep South here.

 

If I Survive You by Jonathan Escoffery

A major debut, blazing with style and heart, that follows a Jamaican family striving for more in Miami, and introduces a generational storyteller. In the 1970s, Topper and Sanya flee to Miami as political violence consumes their native Kingston. But America, as the couple and their two children learn, is far from the promised land. Excluded from society as Black immigrants, the family pushes on first through Hurricane Andrew and later the 2008 recession, living in a house so cursed that the pet fish launches itself out of its own tank rather than stay. Ann Patchett called it “a hurricane of a book that sweeps the past, present and future together.”

 

Island of Spies by Sheila Turnage

From the Newbery Award-winning author of Three Times Lucky comes a middle-grade WWII spy mystery with as much humor and heart as high stakes. Twelve-year-old Stick Lawson lives on Hatteras Island, North Carolina, where life moves steady as the tides and mysteries abound as long as you look really hard for them. Stick and her friends Rain and Neb, who call themselves the Dime Novel Kids, are good at looking hard. And the only thing Stick wants more than a paying case for them to solve is the respect that comes with it. But on Hatteras, the tides are changing. World War II looms and curious newcomers have appeared on the small island. The Dimes are about to face more mysteries than they ever could have wished for—and risk more than they ever could have imagined.

 

Lark Ascending by Silas House

Kentuckian Silas House’s seventh novel Lark Ascending is the story of a grim, not-too-distant future where fires devastate many parts of the United States and political extremism overruns nearly every country across the globe. The novel follows its protagonist, Lark, as he struggles to survive and maintain hope in this unforgiving future. In Lark Ascending, Silas House balances a dystopic tale of grief and pain with hope, beauty and a tender romance between two men faced with intolerance.

 

On the Rooftop by Margaret Wilkerson Sexton

A current Reese’s Book Club pick, with echoes of Fiddler on the Roof, Margaret Wilkerson Sexton’s latest novel is a moving family portrait. Ruth, Esther and Chloe have been singing and dancing in harmony since they could speak. Thanks to the rigorous direction of their mother, Vivian, they’ve become a bonafide girl group whose shows are the talk of Jazz-era San Francisco. As Vivian gets a big break for the girls, the neighborhood begins gentrifying around them. “The people in this neighborhood would be as connected and devoted to each other, but their stories would be told through my own New Orleans-born, Bay Area-dwelling, African American lens,” says Sexton. She intended this story to carry its readers and their woes elsewhere. What more could you ask for in a novel?

 

The Orchid Tattoo by Carla Damron

Social worker Georgia Thayer can balance her own mental illness with the demands of an impossible job. Mostly. But when her sister vanishes in the dead of night, her desperate quest to find Peyton takes her into the tentacles of a human trafficking network where she encounters a young victim called “Kitten.” Kitten is determined to escape. She won’t be trapped like the others, and she won’t sell her soul like Lillian, victim-turned-madam, feeding the dark appetites of international business moguls and government leaders. But the kingpin won’t let her out of its lethal grip, and her attempts at freedom threaten her very life.

 

Perish by LaToya Watkins

From a stunning new voice comes a powerful debut novel about a Black Texas family exploring the effects of inherited trauma and intergenerational violence as they come together to say goodbye to their matriarch on her deathbed. Bear it or perish yourself. Those are the words Helen Jean hears that fateful night in her cousin’s outhouse that change the trajectory of her life. Spanning decades, Perish tracks the choices Helen—the Turner family matriarch—makes and the way those choices have rippled across generations, from her children to her grandchildren and beyond.

 

The Two Lives of Sara by Catherine Adel West 

Sara King has nothing, save for her secrets and the baby in her belly, as she boards the bus to Memphis, hoping to outrun her past in 1960s Chicago. She is welcomed with open arms by Mama Sugar, a kindly matriarch and owner of the popular boardinghouse The Scarlet Poplar. Sara finds herself drawn in by conversations of education, politics and a brighter tomorrow with Jonas, a local schoolteacher. Romance blooms between them, but secrets from Mama Sugar’s past threaten their newfound happiness.

 

Valley of Shadows by Rudy Ruiz

Solitario Cisneros thought his life was over long ago. He lost his wife, his family, even his country in the late 1870s when the Rio Grande shifted course, stranding the Mexican town of Olvido on the Texas side of the border. He’d made his brooding peace with retiring his gun and badge, hiding out on his ranch and communing with horses and ghosts. But when a gruesome string of murders and kidnappings ravages the town, pushing its volatile mix of Anglo, Mexican and Apache settlers to the brink of self-destruction, he feels reluctantly compelled to confront both life, and the much more likely possibility of death, yet again.

 

Winter’s Reckoning by Adele Holmes, M.D.

Adele Holme’s debut novel tells a harrowing tale of the struggle for social justice in the early 1900s, touching on racial issues, education and women’s rights. In 1917 rural Appalachia, Maddie Fairbanks provides herbal remedies for managing flu, broken bones and childbirth complications to her community. Open-minded and outspoken, Maddie lets the townspeople know how she feels about their misogyny and bigotry, and there are grumbles about her, especially when she walks the streets with her Black apprentice. Along with the chill of cold weather, a charismatic stranger arrives to fill the empty post of preacher and the white townspeople fall under his spell. He ignites racial tensions by reviving the long-dormant KKK and accusing Maddie of witchcraft.

 

OCTOBER

A Place to Land by Lauren K. Denton (October 4)

A hidden past isn’t past at all. Violet Figg and her sister Trudy have lived a quiet life in Sugar Bend ever since a night 40 years ago stole Trudy’s voice and cemented Violet’s role as Trudy’s fierce and loyal protector. Now, Trudy spends her days making sculptures from found objects and speaking via notes written on scraps of paper, while Violet runs their art shop, monitors the bird activity up and down the water, and tries not to think of her one great love she gave up in order to keep her sister safe. Read a 2019 interview with Lauren K. Denton here.

 

The Strange Inheritance of Leah Fern by Rita Zoey Chin (October 4)

A luminous and coming-of-age story about a fiercely lonely young woman’s quest to uncover the truth behind her mother’s disappearance. Born in a carnival trailer, Leah Fern begins her life as the “The Youngest and Very Best Fortuneteller in the World.” Her mother Jeannie Starr is a captivating magician, but not always attentive, and when Leah is six, Jeannie upends their carnival life with an unexpected exit. With little fanfare and no explanation, she leaves her daughter at the home of Edward Murphy, a kindly older man with whom Leah shares one fierce wish: that Jeannie Starr will return to them. After 15 years as a small-town outcast , Leah decides to end her life on the occasion of her 21st birthday. But the intricate death ritual she has devised is interrupted by a surprise knock on her door.

 

Beasts Of The Earth by James Wade (October 11)

Beasts of the Earth tells the story of Harlen LeBlanc, a dependable if quiet employee of the Carter Hills High School’s grounds department, whose carefully maintained routine is overthrown by an act of violence. As the town searches for answers, Harlen strikes out on his own to exonerate a friend, while drawing the eyes of the law to himself and fending off unwelcome voices that call for a sterner form of justice.

 

Daughters of the New Year by E.M. Tran (October 11)

In present-day New Orleans, Xuan Trung, former beauty queen turned refugee after the fall of Saigon, is obsessed with divining her daughters’ fates through their Vietnamese zodiac signs. But Trac, Nhi and Trieu diverge completely from their immigrant parents’ expectations. Successful lawyer Trac hides her sexuality from her family; Nhi competes as the only woman of color on a Bachelor-esque reality TV show; and Trieu, a budding writer, is determined to learn more about her familial and cultural past. Called a “haunted story of resilience and survival,” Daughters of the New Year is an addictive, high-wire act of storytelling that illuminates an entire lineage of extraordinary women fighting to reclaim the power they’ve been stripped of for centuries.

 

You Are My Sunshine by Sean Dietrich (October 11)

A laugh-out-loud story of a loving relationship, a grand adventure and a promise kept. In this true-life tale, master storyteller Sean Dietrich—also known as the columnist and creator of the blog and podcast “Sean of the South“—shares the hilarious, touching and sometimes terrifying story of the long bike ride to conquer The Great Allegheny Passage and the C&O Canal Towpath trail. As you laugh through every hard-won mile and lose yourself in his signature poignancy, you’ll experience a great adventure that, in the end, will remind you of what’s most important in life: the value of keeping your promises and the importance of connection in your most treasured relationships. 

 

Demon Copperhead by Barbara Kingsolver (October 18)

A return for master Barbara Kingsolver, Demon Copperhead is set in the mountains of southern Appalachia. It’s the story of a boy born to a teenaged single mother in a single-wide trailer, with no assets beyond his dead father’s good looks and copper-colored hair, a caustic wit and a fierce talent for survival. In a plot that never pauses for breath, relayed in his own unsparing voice, he braves the modern perils of foster care, child labor, derelict schools, athletic success, addiction, disastrous loves and crushing losses. Through all of it, he reckons with his own invisibility in a popular culture where even the superheroes have abandoned rural people in favor of cities.

 

The Passenger by Cormac McCarthy (October 25)

1980, Pass Christian, Mississippi: It is three in the morning when Bobby Western zips the jacket of his wet suit and plunges from the Coast Guard tender into darkness. His dive light illuminates the sunken jet, nine bodies still buckled in their seats, hair floating, eyes devoid of speculation. Missing from the crash site are the pilot’s flight bag, the plane’s black box and the tenth passenger. But how? A collateral witness to machinations that can only bring him harm, Western is shadowed in body and spirit—by men with badges; by the ghost of his father, inventor of the bomb that melted glass and flesh in Hiroshima; and by his sister, the love and ruin of his soul.

 

NOVEMBER

The Magic Kingdom by Russell Banks (November 8)

A dazzling tapestry of love and faith, memory and imagination, The Magic Kingdom questions what it means to look back and accept one’s place in history. With an expert eye and stunning vision, Russell Banks delivers a wholly captivating portrait of a man navigating Americana and the passage of time. According to Margaret Atwood on Twitter, “Russell Banks’s new novel is eerily timely. Can what’s gone wrong in the past offer keys to the future? The Magic Kingdom confronts our longings for Paradise; also the inner serpents that are to be found in all such enchanted gardens.”

 

Now is Not the Time to Panic by Kevin Wilson (November 8)

A bold coming-of-age story, written with Kevin Wilson’s trademark wit and blazing prose, Now Is Not the Time to Panic is a nuanced exploration of young love, identity and the power of art. Sixteen-year-old Frankie Budge—aspiring writer, indifferent student, offbeat loner—is determined to make it through yet another summer in Coalfield, Tennessee, when she meets Zeke, a talented artist who has just moved into his grandmother’s house. Romantic and creative sparks begin to fly, and when the two jointly make an unsigned poster, shot through with an enigmatic phrase, it becomes unforgettable to anyone who sees it.

 

DECEMBER

The Light Pirate by Lily Brooks-Dalton (December 6)

Told in four parts—power, water, light, and time—The Light Pirate mirrors the rhythms of the elements and the sometimes quick, sometimes slow dissolution of the world as we know it. Florida is slipping away. As devastating weather patterns and rising sea levels wreak gradual havoc on the state’s infrastructure, a powerful hurricane approaches a small town on the southeastern coast. Kirby Lowe, an electrical line worker, his pregnant wife, Frida, and their two sons, Flip and Lucas, prepare for the worst. When the boys go missing just before the hurricane hits, Kirby heads out into the high winds in search of his children. Left alone, Frida goes into premature labor and gives birth to an unusual child, Wanda, whom she names after the catastrophic storm that ushers her into a society closer to collapse than ever before.

 

JANUARY

Night Wherever We Go by Tracey Rose Peyton (January 3)

On a struggling Texas plantation, six enslaved women slip from their sleeping quarters and gather in the woods under the cover of night. The Lucys—as they call the plantation owners, after Lucifer himself—have decided to turn around the farm’s bleak financial prospects by making the women bear children. They have hired a “stockman” to impregnate them, but the women are determined to protect themselves. Unflinching in her portrayal of America’s gravest injustices, while also deeply attentive to the transcendence, love and solidarity of women whose interior lives have been underexplored, Tracey Rose Peyton creates a story of unforgettable power.

 

The Kudzu Queen by Mimi Herman (January 10)

Fifteen-year-old Mattie Lee Watson dreams of men, not boys. So when James T. Cullowee, the Kudzu King, arrives in Cooper County, North Carolina, in 1941 to spread the gospel of kudzu—claiming that it will improve the soil, feed cattle at almost no cost, even cure headaches—Mattie is ready. Mr. Cullowee is determined to sell the entire county on the future of kudzu and organizes a kudzu festival, complete with a beauty pageant. Mattie is determined to be crowned Kudzu Queen and capture the attentions of the Kudzu King—but she may have to bring down Cullowee first.

 

The Nightmare Man by James Markert (January 10)

T. Kingfisher meets Cassandra Khaw in Kentucky writer J.H. Markert’s chilling horror novel that illustrates the fine line between humanity and monstrosity. Blackwood mansion looms, surrounded by nightmare pines, atop the hill over the small town of New Haven. Ben Bookman, bestselling novelist and heir to the Blackwood estate, spent a weekend at the ancestral home to finish writing his latest horror novel, The Scarecrow. Now, on the eve of the book’s release, the terrible story within begins to unfold in real life.

 

Decent People by De’Shawn Charles Winslow (January 17)

A followup to In West Mills, Decent People is a novel about shame, race, money and the reckoning required to heal a fractured community. In the still-segregated town of West Mills, North Carolina, in 1976, siblings Marian, Marva and Lazarus Harmon are found shot to death in their home. The people of West Mills—on both sides of the canal that serves as the town’s color line—are in a frenzy of finger-pointing, gossip and wonder. The crime is the first reported murder in the area in decades, but the white authorities don’t seem to care or have any interest in solving the case. Fortunately, Jo Wright has just moved back to West Mills from New York City to retire and sets out on a manhunt to find the killer.

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