21 of the latest mysteries, family dramas, horror, short stories and nonfiction from the South.
The Caretaker by Ron Rash
It’s 1951 in Blowing Rock, North Carolina. Blackburn Gant, his life irrevocably altered by a childhood case of polio, seems condemned to spend his life among the dead as the sole caretaker of a hilltop cemetery. The inexplicable occurrences that happen from time to time rattle him less than interaction with the living. But when his best and only friend, the kind but impulsive Jacob Hampton, is conscripted to serve overseas, Blackburn is charged with caring for Jacob’s wife, Naomi, as well.
Sixteen-year-old Naomi Clarke is an outcast in Blowing Rock who works as a seasonal maid in the town’s most elegant hotel. When Naomi eloped with Jacob a few months after her arrival, the marriage scandalized the community. Shunned by the townsfolk for their differences and equally fearful that Jacob may never come home, Blackburn and Naomi grow closer and closer until a shattering development derails numerous lives.
Coleman Hill by Kim Coleman Foote
in 1916, during the early days of the Great Migration, Celia Coleman and Lucy Grimes flee the racism and poverty of their homes in the post-Civil War South for the “Promise Land” of Vauxhall, New Jersey. But the North possesses its own challenges and bigotries that will shape the fates of the women and their families over the next 70 years.
Within 10 years of arriving in Vauxhall, both Celia and Lucy’s husbands are dead, and they turn to one another for support in raising their children far from home. Encouraged by their mothers’ friendship, their children’s lives become enmeshed as well. As the children grow into adolescence, two are caught in an impulsive act of impropriety, and Celia and Lucy find themselves at irreconcilable odds over who’s to blame. The ensuing fallout has dire consequences that reverberate through the next two generations of their families.
The Girl from the Red Rose Motel by Susan Beckham Zurenda
Impoverished high school junior Hazel Smalls and affluent senior Sterling Lovell would never ordinarily meet. But when both are punished with in-school suspension, Sterling finds himself drawn to the gorgeous, studious girl seated nearby, and an unlikely relationship begins. Set in 2012 South Carolina, the novel interlaces the stories of Hazel, living with her homeless family in the rundown Red Rose Motel; Sterling, yearning to break free from the expectations of his wealthy parents; and recently widowed Angela Wilmore, their stern but compassionate English teacher.
Hazel hides her homelessness from Sterling until he discovers her cleaning the motel’s office one morning. Angela, who has her own struggles in a budding romance with the divorced principal, offers Hazel the support her family can’t provide. Navigating between privilege and poverty, all three must confront what they need from themselves and each other.
Glory Be by Danielle Arceneaux
It’s a hot and sticky Sunday in Lafayette, Louisiana, and Glory has settled into her usual after-church routine, meeting gamblers at the local coffee shop, where she works as a small-time bookie. Sitting at her corner table, Glory hears that her best friend—a nun beloved by the community—has been found dead in her apartment. When police declare the mysterious death a suicide, Glory is convinced that there must be more to the story. With her reluctant daughter, who has troubles of her own, in tow, Glory launches a shadow investigation into Lafayette’s oil tycoons, church gossips, a rumored voodoo priestess, nosey neighbors and longtime ne’er do-wells.
As a Black woman of a certain age who grew up in a segregated Louisiana, Glory is used to being minimized and overlooked. But she’s determined to make her presence known as the case leads her deep into a web of intrigue she never realized Louisiana could harbor.
A Haunting in Hialeah Gardens by Raul Palma
Hugo Contreras’s world in Miami has shrunk. Since his wife died, Hugo’s debt from her medical bills has become insurmountable. He shuffles between his efficiency apartment, La Carreta (his favorite place for a cafecito), and a botanica in a strip mall where he works as the resident babaláwo.
One day, Hugo’s nemesis calls. Alexi Ramirez is a debt collector who has been hounding Hugo for years, and Hugo assumes this call is just more of the same. Except this time Alexi is calling because he needs spiritual help. His house is haunted. Alexi proposes a deal: If Hugo can successfully cleanse his home before Nocha Buena, Alexi will forgive Hugo’s debt. Hugo reluctantly accepts, but there’s one issue: despite being a babaláwo, he doesn’t believe in spirits. Hugo plans to do what he’s done with dozens of clients before: use sleight of hand and amateur psychology to convince Alexi the spirits have departed. But when the job turns out to be more than Hugo bargained for, Hugo’s old tricks don’t work.
Midnight is the Darkest Hour by Ashley Winstead
In her small hometown, librarian Ruth Cornier has always felt like an outsider, even as her beloved father rains fire-and-brimstone warnings from the pulpit at Holy Fire Baptist. Unfortunately for Ruth, the only things the townspeople fear more than the god and the devil are the myths that haunt the area, like the story of the Low Man, a vampiric figure said to steal into sinners’ bedrooms and kill them on moonless nights.
When a skull is found deep in the swamp next to mysterious carved symbols, Bottom Springs is thrown into uproar, and Ruth realizes only she and Everett, an old friend with a dark past, have the power to comb the town’s secret underbelly in search of true evil. A dark and powerful novel, Midnight is the Darkest Hour is an examination of the ways we’ve come to expect love, religion and stories to save us, and the monstrous work of being a girl in this world.
Mr. Texas by Lawrence Wright
Sonny Lamb is an affable, if floundering, rancher with the unfortunate habit of becoming a punchline in his Texas hometown. Most recently, to everyone’s head-shaking amusement, he bought his own bull at an auction. But when a fire breaks out at a neighbor’s farm, Sonny makes headlines in another way: Not waiting for help, he bolts to the farm where his heroic actions make the evening news.
Almost immediately, and seemingly out of nowhere, a handsomely dressed lobbyist from Austin arrives at his ranch door and asks if he’d like to run for his west Texas district’s seat in the state legislature. Though Sonny has zero experience and doesn’t consider himself political at all, the fate of his ranch—and perhaps his marriage to the lovely “cowgirl” Lola—hangs in the balance. With seemingly no other choice, Sonny decides to throw his hat in the ring. As he navigates life in politics, from running a campaign to negotiating in the capitol, Sonny must learn the ropes, weighing his own ethics and environmental concerns against the pressures of veteran politicians, savvy lobbyists and his own party.
Night Watch by Jayne Anne Phillips
“Jayne Anne Phillips is a wonderfully gifted storyteller, and few contemporary writers can match the lyricism of her prose, but in this marvelous new novel, largely set in a factual nineteenth-century asylum, she achieves even more: history and imagination merge, and she gives the past a living pulse,” says Ron Rash about Night Watch.
In 1874, 12-year-old ConaLee, the adult in her family for as long as she can remember, finds herself on a buckboard journey with her mother, Eliza, who hasn’t spoken in more than a year. They arrive at the Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum in West Virginia, delivered to the hospital’s entrance by a war veteran who has forced himself into their world. There, far from family, a beloved neighbor and the mountain home they knew, they try to reclaim their lives. ConaLee pretends to be her mother’s maid; Eliza responds slowly to treatment. They get swept up in the life of the facility—the mysterious man they call the Night Watch; the orphan child called Weed; the fearsome woman who runs the kitchen; the remarkable doctor at the head of the institution.
Once These Hills by Chris McGinley
It’s 1898. Up on Black Boar Mountain in eastern Kentucky, life is quiet for the small settlement of farmers who work the land around their cabins. But when 10-year-old Lydia King unearths an ancient, preserved body on the seep bog, a curse is let loose. At least that’s what some people believe.
Down in the valley, the railroad uses convict labor to lay track, hell-bent on timbering all of the hillside. Problem is, a trio of violent prisoners feel the work ain’t exactly to their liking. Behind their ring leader Burr Hollis, a predatory, sadistic man whose name inspires fear among the hardest of criminals, they take to the hills and leave a wake of their own. In the years following, Lydia falls in love and marries a mountain boy, but when Burr Hollis returns for a reckoning with her, she’ll need all of her huntress skills just to stay alive.
One Blood by Denene Millner
Raised by her beloved grandmother in tension-filled, post-segregation Virginia, Grace is barely a teenager when she loses her grandmother. Shellshocked, she is shipped up North to live with her formidably ambitious Aunt Hattie, a woman who firmly left behind her Southern roots in pursuit of upward mobility. Feeling like a fish out of water in the high society world filled with fancy teas and coveted debutante balls, Grace’s only place of comfort is with the smart, handsome son of one of the society’s grand dames.
Intelligent and fierce, Delores, a.k.a. Lolo, has never had it easy. Once she makes it north, she puts aside her dream of being a model to do what she has to do to survive as a woman with little money and no mooring: get married and have a family of her own. When secrets start to spill out and she and her family slowly begin to unravel, Lolo is willing to do whatever it takes to keep her dream intact and those she loves together.
Snakes of St. Augustine by Ginger Pinholster
The theft of Trina Leigh Dean’s beloved snakes— including a rare Eastern indigo named Unicorn; Banana Splits, the yellow ball python; and Bandit, the banded king snake—coincides with the disappearance of a troubled young man named Gethin Jacobs.
While his sister, Serena, searches for him, she gains an unlikely accomplice, Jazz, a homeless community college student. Meanwhile, Trina’s friend Fletch, a burnt-out cope, scours St. Augustine, Florida, for the stolen snakes. His quest puts Fletch on a dangerous collision course with Gethin, raising questions about community, family and the power of compassion.
“In Snakes of St. Augustine, an engaging novel about desperate love and pilfered snakes, Ginger Pinholster writes about neurodiversity with empathy and clarity. Her Florida reflects both the weirdness and beauty of her unforgettable characters,” says Mickey Dubrow, author of American Judas.
Starling House by Alix E. Harrow
“This book has everything you could possibly want this fall … a cursed town, a haunted house, a vivid and eerie setting—plus, characters willing to risk everything,” says Reese Witherspoon about her book club’s October pick. Starling House features Opal, an orphan, high school dropout, full-time cynic and part-time cashier. Above all, she’s determined to find a better life for her younger brother Jasper. One that gets them out of Eden, Kentucky, a town remarkable for only two things: bad luck and E. Starling, the reclusive 19th-century author of The Underland, who disappeared over a hundred years ago.
Opal has been obsessed with the book, and the mansion Starling left behind, since she was a child. When she gets the chance to step inside Starling House—and make some extra cash for her brother’s escape fund—she can’t resist. But sinister forces are digging deeper into the buried secrets of Starling House. As Eden itself seems to be drowning in its own ghosts, Opal realizes that she might finally have found a reason to stick around.
The Unsettled by Ayana Mathis
From the moment Ava Carson and her 10-year-old son, Toussaint, arrive at the Glenn Avenue family shelter in Philadelphia 1985, Ava is already plotting a way out. She has been estranged from her own mother, Dutchess, since she left Alabama barely out of her teens. Despite her estrangement and the thousand miles between them, mother and daughter are deeply entwined, but Ava can’t forgive her sharp-tongued, larger-than-life mother. Ava wants to love her son differently, better. But when Toussaint’s father, Cass, reappears, she is swept off course by his charisma and the intoxicating power of his radical vision to destroy racial injustice through a bold new way of communal living.
Meanwhile in Alabama, Dutchess struggles to keep Bonaparte, once a beacon of Black freedom and self-determination, in the hands of its last five Black residents. As Ava becomes more enmeshed with Cass, Toussaint senses the danger simmering all around him and begins to dream of Dutchess and Bonaparte, his home and birthright, if only he can find his way there.
For anyone who’s ever picked an apple fresh from the tree or enjoyed a glass of cider, writer and orchardist Diane Flynt offers a new history of the fruit and how it changed the South and the nation. Flynt shares surprising stories of a fruit that was central to the region for over 200 years. She shows how Southern apples, ranging from Northern varieties that found fame on Southern soil to hyper-local apples grown by a single family, have a history beyond the region, from Queen Victoria’s court to the Oregon Trail. Flynt also tells us the darker side of the story, detailing how apples were entwined with slavery and the theft of Indigenous land. She relates the ways Southerners lost their rich apple culture in less than the lifetime of a tree and offers a tentatively hopeful future.
Alongside unexpected apple history, Flynt traces the arc of her own journey as a pioneering farmer in the Southern Appalachians who founded the first modern cidery in the South and threads her own story with archival research and interviews. The result is not only the definitive story of apples in the South, but also a new way to challenge our notions of history.
Family Meal by Bryan Washington (October 10)
Cam is living in Los Angeles and falling apart after the love of his life has died. Kai’s ghost won’t leave Cam alone; his spectral visits wild, tender and unexpected. When Cam returns to his hometown of Houston, he crashes back into the orbit of his former best friend, TJ, and TJ’s family bakery. TJ’s not sure how to navigate this changed Cam, impenetrably cool and self-destructing, or their charged estrangement. Can they find a way past all that has been said—and left unsaid—to save each other? Could they find a way back to being OK again, or maybe for the first time?
When secrets and wounds become so insurmountable that they devour us from within, hope and sustenance and friendship can come from the most unlikely source. Spanning Los Angeles, Houston and Osaka, Family Meal is a story about how the people who know us the longest can hurt us the most—but how they also set the standard for love.
Homeward by Angela Jackson-Brown (October 10)
Rose Perkins Bourdon returns home to Parsons, Georgia, in 1962 without her husband and pregnant with another man’s baby. After tragedy strikes her husband in the war overseas, a numb Rose is left with pieces of who she used to be and is forced to figure out what she is going to do with the rest of her life.
Her sister introduces her to members of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee—young people who are taking risks and fighting battles Rose has only seen on television. Feeling emotions for the first time in what feels like forever, the excited and frightened Rose finds herself becoming increasingly involved in the resistance efforts. And, of course, there is also the young man, Isaac Weinberg, whose passion for activism stirs something in her she didn’t think she would ever feel again.
“This is a harrowing novel about the push and pull of fidelity, family, and faith under the crush of history,” says Wiley Cash.
Letting In Air And Light by Teresa Tumminello Brader (October 10)
From a double shotgun house in New Orleans comes a true story larger than life. Teresa Tumminello Brader, niece of the convicted art forger William Toye, retells her family’s experience as she discovers her uncle’s misdeeds after decades of secrecy. Personal reflections and newspaper records alternate with a fictionalized reimagining of Toye’s complicated life in Tumminello Brader’s debut novel.
On both sides of the story, what emerges is an attempt to honor Louisiana artist Clementine Hunter’s legacy without flinching from the painful realities that come from reckoning with family bonds. Empathetic and honest, Letting in Air and Light will inspire you to look more closely at your own history and wonder what else you might have missed.
Let Us Descend by Jesmyn Ward (October 24)
In a reimagining of American slavery, Let Us Descend is searching, harrowing and replete with transcendent love following a journey from the rice fields of the Carolinas to the slave markets of New Orleans and into the fearsome heart of a Louisiana sugar plantation.
Annis, sold South by the white enslaver who fathered her, is the reader’s guide through this hellscape. As she struggles through the miles-long march, Annis turns inward, seeking comfort from memories of her mother and stories of her African warrior grandmother. Throughout, she opens herself to a world beyond this world, one teeming with spirits: of earth and water, of myth and history; spirits who nurture and give, and those who manipulate and take.
The Reformatory by Tananarive Due (October 31)
In June 1950, 12-year-old Robbie Stephens Jr., is sentenced to six months at the Gracetown School for Boys, a reformatory, for kicking the son of the largest landowner in town in defense of his older sister, Gloria. So begins Robbie’s journey further into the terrors of the Jim Crow South and the very real horror of the school they call “The Reformatory.”
Robbie has a talent for seeing ghosts, or haints. But what was once a comfort to him after the loss of his mother has become a window to the truth of what happens at The Teformatory. Boys forced to work to remediate their so-called crimes have gone missing, but the haints Robbie sees hint at worse things. Through his friends, Redbone and Blue, Robbie is learning not just the rules but how to survive. Meanwhile, Gloria is rallying every family member and connection in Florida to find a way to get Robbie out before it’s too late.
Daughters of Muscadine by Monic Ductan (November 4)
Two events tie together the nine stories in Monic Ductan’s gorgeous debut: the 1920s lynching of Ida Pearl Crawley and the 1980s drowning of a high school basketball player, Lucy Boudreaux. Both forever shape the people and the place of Muscadine, Georgia, in the foothills of Appalachia.
The daughters of Muscadine are Black Southern women who are, at times, outcasts due to their race and are also estranged from those they love. A remorseful woman tries to connect with the child she gave up for adoption; another, immersed in loneliness, attempts to connect with a violent felon. Two sisters love each other deeply even when they cannot understand one another. A little girl witnessing her father’s slow death realizes her own power and lack thereof. A single woman weathers the excitement—and rigors—of online dating.
Covering the last 100 years, these are stories of people whose voices have been suppressed and erased for too long: Black women, rural women, Appalachian women and working-class women.
The Gardins of Edin by Rosey Lee
The four women of the Gardin family live side-by-side in Edin, Georgia, but residing in tight proximity doesn’t mean everything is picture-perfect. Ruth runs the family’s multimillion-dollar peanut business, a legacy of the Gardins’ formerly enslaved ancestors. But tensions have intensified since the death of her husband, Beau, and she feels like an outsider in the very place she wishes to belong.
Sisters Mary and Martha fuel the family tension. Martha’s unfounded mistrust of Ruth causes her to constantly seek ways to undermine Ruth’s decisions with the business, while Mary, trying to focus on her new restaurant that serves healthy comfort food, is dragged into the family fray by Martha.
For years, Naomi, the matriarch who raised the sisters after their parents’ death and supported Ruth in her grief, has played peacemaker. But as she decides to take a step back, hidden truths, life-and-death circumstances and escalating clashes finally force the Gardin women to grapple with what it means to be a family.