Southern Bookseller Recommended Reads
Commonwealth by Ann Patchett
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"It's no surprise Ann Patchett's latest is at the top of my list of books to read this fall. Commonwealth begins with a kiss, and that kiss sets in motion a sweeping, multi-generational story as two families come together and fall apart. I love nothing better than a well-composed dysfunctional family, and Commonwealth provides that and more. Fans of this summer's The Nest will love this one."
My Best Friend's Exorcism by Grady Hendrix
"My favorite book of the year, hands-down, is Grady Hendrix's My Best Friend's Exorcism—think Mean Girls with demonic possession, set in 1988 Charleston. It's funny, it's heart-wrenching, it's even a little spiritual, in a very strange way. And it's a spot-on depiction of growing up in the South in the 80s. Hendrix does a great job of building the six-year friendship between Gretchen and Abby (they meet as fourth graders when Gretchen is the only one to show up at Abby's E.T.-themed rollerskating birthday). The true horror in the novel is not blood and gore but seeing the friends torn apart. We slowly realize that Gretchen, now in high school, has been possessed by a demon—one that must be exorcised by a Christian bodybuilder and the eternal, cleansing music of the Go-Gos."
Miss Jane by Brad Watson
"One of the first contemporary Southern novels I was excited about sharing as a new bookseller was Brad Watson's The Heaven of Mercury, and it has stayed on my favorites shelf for 15 years. I may love his newest even more. In Miss Jane, we are taken again to the fictional Mississippi town of Mercury that manages to be both ethereal and familiar. The titular character, Miss Jane, is born with a birth defect that leads her to a moving understanding of the world and her place in it. Based on an actual aunt of the author, Jane reminds us to reflect lovingly on those we remember and ourselves."
Perfume River by Robert Olen Butler
"Having come of age during the tumultuous sixties, during America's pre-9/11 ‘Long National Nightmare,' then sweating out the first draft lottery on TV in the basement of the frat house and travelling by bus from Oxford to Memphis for my draft physical, the Vietnam Conflict remains a tender, unhealed wound. Robert Olen Butler's elegant new novel, Perfume River, examines a family torn apart by the war, one brother who enlists to win his father's approval and the younger brother who cuts all ties with his family when he flees to Canada to avoid the draft. As the family is drawn back together by the father's decline, Butler beautifully weaves together 50 years of family history."
The Risen by Ron Rash
"Ron Rash's new book, The Risen, is a stark exploration of family's ability to damage or protect—and sometimes do both at the same time. It is the tale of two brothers whose lives take drastically different paths after meeting a ‘mermaid' in a North Carolina creek. Growing up in the South, I was in those woods and in those creeks. Rash takes me right back to an afternoon of floating on my back down Spanish moss-draped shores. Rash writes of Appalachia and its often idyllic, sometimes ruthless, existence with ease and confidence. If you're not from the South and can't picture what it might have been like to grow up there—this is authentic."
Darktown by Thomas Mullen
"In 1948, the city of Atlanta begins a program that puts African Americans into uniform as police officers. Given that this is the South, these police officers are not given squad cars, nor even the power to arrest white criminals. Smith and Boggs, two of these unique officers, take it unto themselves to solve the murder of an African American girl which the white officers will not follow up on. Mullen develops their story alongside that of a white officer named Rakestraw who is more liberal than his fellow police. When the investigation pits Smith, Boggs, and Rakestraw against the establishment, only cunning, guile, and a bit of luck will help them survive. Mullen captures the vileness of Jim Crow in his story and provides an illuminating approach to fighting for what is right despite circumstances—a moving and unforgettable work about a dark time that is still very relevant to the world of today."
The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead
"In his new novel, Colson Whitehead has re-imagined the Underground Railroad and created a story in which it is a physical railroad transporting slaves from South to North. Cora and those she meets as she flees are beautifully heart-wrenching characters, and the narrative of her trip out of the South, filled with constant fear and pain, is an important addition to Civil War-era fiction. This book is wonderful for fans of Colson Whitehead's other books, but is also a great read for those just learning about his work—he will be a writer to watch for decades to come."
Redemption Road by John Hart
"Redemption Road, the latest Southern gothic mystery by John Hart, kept me up at night to keep reading ... one more chapter and then another and another. [It's] filled with imperfect people dealing with horrific crimes and brutality who still manage to keep their humanity and hope. It took me to a place I did not expect."
American Housewife by Helen Ellis
"Full of murderous housewives, ghostly doormen, pageant princesses on the lam, and the best bra fitter south of the Mason-Dixon, American Housewife by Helen Ellis is a demented delight of a story collection. Its pages crackle with Ellis' wicked wit as she leads us on a comical and disturbing trip through American domesticity, from a bizarre book club initiation to a hilariously spot-on translation for ‘Southern Lady Code.' I cackled more times than I could count while reading this book, and it's definitely one of my favorites of 2016!"
The Raven King (The Raven Cycle Book 4) by Maggie Stiefvater
"The Raven Cycle is an elegantly plotted, masterfully written quartet filled with vibrant characters, each on their own seemingly doomed personal journey, whether it be to escape the small Virginia town of Henrietta, to escape their own skin, or to escape death. Their lives are woven together in the search for a dead Welsh king, leading them through mystical forests, haunted caves, and across the ley lines of the Shenandoah Valley. Stiefvater blends romance, humor, angst, mythology, and magical realism to create a unique story that comes to a crescendo with the fourth and final book, The Raven King."
Let the Devil Out by Bill Loehfelm
"Let the Devil Out is the fourth in the Maureen Coughlin series set in New Orleans. Having been suspended from her job on the police force for a time, Maureen starts her own vigilante patrolling. It seems forces in and around the city and the department are still watching her closely and targeting her for interference. Loehfelm gets the tone of the city just right, and one does not necessarily have to start with the first in this series to fall in love with Coughlin."