The latest reads by authors like Jill McCorkle and Chris Cander, plus a few debuts and new studies of Southern literary stars Flannery O’Connor and Carson McCullers.
Blue Ridge by Peter Malone Elliott (out now)
What would you do if you were planning to kill your brother, but someone beat you to it?
After former Olympic contender turned burnout horse trainer Cillian Clarke is framed for the murder of his identical twin Christopher—a rising-star Virginia politician—Cillian is forced to go on the run. But when someone from Christopher’s past emerges and offers Cillian the chance to clear his name, Cillian is plunged headfirst into a sinister conspiracy that not only threatens the sanctity of democracy, but also promises to expose the devastating secret intertwining the brothers forever—the truth behind the death of a woman they both loved.
Eli Harpo’s Adventure To The Afterlife by Eric Schlich (out now)
When Eli Harpo was four, he underwent emergency open-heart surgery, flatlined on the operating table and, for a brief time, went to heaven and met Jesus. Or at least that’s what his father, a loving but devout Baptist minister, has raised him to believe.
Nine years later, Eli isn’t so sure. Between his sex dreams about Jesus and his mother’s terminal breast cancer diagnosis, Eli feels further from heaven than ever. But when the famous televangelist Charlie Gideon shows up with a proposal to create a new attraction based on Eli’s trip to the afterlife at his Bible-themed park, Eli isn’t able to say no. The Harpos head off on a rollicking road trip from Kentucky to Bible World in Orlando, as Eli grapples with not just his faith and his sexuality, but also his own parents’ messy humanity.
Flannery O’Connor’s Why Do the Heathen Rage: A Behind-The-Scenes Look At A Work In Progress by Jessica Hooten Wilson (out now)
When celebrated American novelist and short story writer Flannery O’Connor died at the age of 39 in 1964, she left behind an unfinished third novel. Scholarly experts uncovered and studied the material, deeming it unpublishable. It stayed that way for more than 50 years— until now.
For the past 10-plus years, award-winning author Jessica Hooten Wilson has explored the 378 pages of typed and handwritten material of the novel to provide a glimpse into what O’Connor might have planned to publish. In this book, she introduces O’Connor’s novel to the public for the first time and imagines themes and directions O’Connor’s work might have taken, ultimately revealing that we have much to learn from what the Georgia writer left behind.
Old Crimes by Jill McCorkle (out now)
Old Crimes delves into the lives of characters who hold their secrets and misdeeds close, even as the past continues to reverberate across generations. And despite the character’s yearnings for connection, they can’t seem to tell the whole truth.
A woman uses her hearing impairment as a way to guard herself from her husband’s commentary. A telephone lineman strains to communicate with his family even as he feels pushed aside in a digital world. A young couple buys a confessional booth for fun, only to discover the cost of honesty. Throughout, Jill McCorkle takes us deep into these conflicted and sympathetic characters, puzzling to figure out the meaning of their own lives.
Only If You’re Lucky by Stacy Willingham (out now)
Lucy Sharpe is larger than life. Magnetic, addictive, bold and dangerous. Especially for Margot, who meets Lucy at the end of their freshman year at college in South Carolina. Margot is the shy one, always the sidekick and never the center of attention. But when Lucy singles her out at the end of the year and asks her to room together, something in Margot can’t say no.
And so Margot finds herself living in an off-campus house with three other girls: Lucy, the ringleader; Sloane, the sarcastic one; and Nicole, the nice one. It’s a year that finds Margot finally coming out of the shell she’s been in since the end of high school, when her best friend Eliza died three weeks after graduation. Margot and Lucy have become the closest of friends, but by the middle of their sophomore year, one of the fraternity boys from the house next door has been brutally murdered … and Lucy Sharpe is missing.
The American Queen by Vanessa Miller (out now)
Over the 24 years she’d been enslaved on the Montgomery Plantation, Louella learned to feel one thing: hate. Hate for the man who sold her mother. Hate for the overseer who left her daddy to hang from a noose. Hate so powerful there’s no room in her heart for love, not even for the honorable Rev. William, whom she likes and respects enough to marry.
But when William finally listens to Louella’s pleas and leads the formerly enslaved people out of their plantation, Louella begins to replace her hate with hope. Soon, William and Louella become the appointed king and queen of their self-proclaimed “Kingdom of the Happy Land.” And though they are still surrounded by opposition, they continue to share a message of joy and goodness—and fight for the freedom and dignity of all.
The Young of Other Animals by Chris Cander (out now)
Mayree and Paula are a mother and daughter drifting apart, separated by grief and more, after the death of Mayree’s husband. Mayree faces a future with no income, career or social life. Even ties with her best friend have been severed. Paula, feeling abandoned by the father she loved, is left with only a bitter mother. When Paula reveals that she narrowly escaped a violent assault, Mayree’s initial reaction is dismissal and disbelief. But as details unfold, it’s clear that it was real and not just one random night gone horribly wrong.
With each new threat from Paula’s assailant, harrowing family secrets reemerge that force the mother and daughter to confront the shared traumas of their pasts.
Everywhere the Undrowned by Stephanie Clare Smith (February 13)
Holding on is all 14-year-old Stephanie Clare Smith can do when she’s left home alone in New Orleans during the summer of 1973. As she seeks to ease her solitude through her summer school algebra class, wandering in the city and her friendship with a streetcar operator, adults—particularly men—fail her again and again.
Dreamlike and beautifully paced, this debut memoir traces the events of one harrowing summer and its repercussions throughout Stephanie’s life, including her work with families in crisis and as a caregiver for the mother who abandoned her all those years ago. Through a mosaic of trauma and transcendence, she reveals how she built connections in and to a world that had largely left her behind.
Thick With Trouble by Amber McBride (February 13)
Award-winning poet Amber McBride interrogates if being “trouble”—difficult, unruly, fearsome, defiant—is ultimately a weakness or an incomparable source of strength. Steeped in the hoodoo spiritual tradition and organized via reimagined tarot cards, this collection becomes a chorus of unapologetic women who laugh, cry, mesmerize and bring outsiders to their knees.
Summoning the supernatural to examine death, rebirth and life outside the male gaze, Amber McBride has crafted a haunting, spellbinding and strikingly original collection of poems that reckon with the force and complexity of Black womanhood.
The American Daughters by Maurice Carlos Ruffin (February 27)
Ady, a curious, sharp-witted girl, and her fierce mother, Sanite, are inseparable. Enslaved to a businessman in the French Quarter of New Orleans, the pair spend their days dreaming of a loving future and reminiscing about their family’s rebellious and storied history. When mother and daughter are separated, Ady is left hopeless and directionless until she stumbles into the Mockingbird Inn and meets Lenore, a free Black woman with whom she becomes fast friends. Lenore invites Ady to join a clandestine society of spies called the Daughters.
With the courage instilled in her by Sanite—and with help from these strong women—Ady learns how to put herself first. So begins her journey toward liberation and imagining a new future in the latest novel from New Orleans native Maurice Carlos Ruffin.
Carson McCullers: A Life by Mary V. Dearborn (February 27)
She was born Lula Carson Smith in Columbus, Georgia. Her dream was to become a concert pianist, though she’d been writing since she was 16, and the influence of music was evident throughout her work. As a child, she said she’d been “born a man.” At 20, she married Reeves McCullers, a fellow Southerner, ex-soldier and aspiring writer. They had a fraught, tumultuous marriage lasting 12 and ending with his suicide in 1953. Her first novel, The Heart is a Lonely Hunter, was published in 1940, when she was 23—and overnight, Carson McCullers became the most widely talked about writer of the time.
While McCullers’s literary stature continues to endure, her private life has remained enigmatic and largely unexamined. Now, Mary Dearborn gives us the first full picture of this brilliant, complex artist who was decades ahead of her time.
The Girls We Sent Away by Meagan Church (March 5)
It’s the 1960s and Lorraine Delford has it all: an upstanding family, a perfect boyfriend and a white picket fence home in North Carolina. Yet every time she looks through her father’s telescope, she dreams of the stars. It’s ambitious, but Lorraine has always been exceptional. When this darling girl-next-door gets pregnant, she’s forced to learn firsthand the realities that keep women grounded.
To hide their daughter’s secret shame, the Delfords send Lorraine to a maternity home for wayward girls. But this is no safe haven—it’s a house with dark secrets and suffocating rules. As Lorraine begins to piece together a new vision for her life, she must decide if she can fight against the powers that aim to take her child or submit to the rules of a society she once admired.