The books Southern indie booksellers are recommending to readers everywhere!

Southern

The Kingdoms of Savannah by George Dawes Green

A July 2022 Read This Next! Title

I loved The Kingdoms of Savannah. It read like a dark, gothic Conroy novel, concerned as much with the grit of the city as the moonlight and magnolias. The Musgrove family are some rare birds. I really hope Mr. Green is planning to bring them back for more.

The Kingdoms of Savannah by George Dawes Green, (List Price: $27.99, Celadon Books, 9781250767448, July 2022)

Reviewed by Ashley Warlick from M Judson, Booksellers in Greenville, SC

Bewilderness by Karen Tucker

Tucker spins a beautiful tale of addiction, love, friendship, and survival in this stunning debut set in rural North Carolina. Irene spends her days slinging drinks at the local watering hole. There, she befriends magnetic Luce and the two start down a dark path of drugs and crime, all the while wishing for escape. Things change when Luce meets a young soldier who wants to help her get clean. Irene is torn between the need to keep her friend close and the desire for Luce to have the best life possible. it’s a story of doing what you think is best and living with the consequences. This book broke my heart in the most beautiful way.

Bewilderness by Karen Tucker (List Price: $26, Catapult, 9781646220243, 6/1/2021)

Reviewed by Andrea Richardson, Fountain Bookstore in Richmond, Virginia

Low Country by J. Nicole Jones

I am choosing the stories from the mouths of women, some painted and some bare, and as far as I am concerned, their words are all the truer for the color. I am also putting off what I cannot bear to lose for good, and like a hurricane, I will change tack without warning.

Reading Low Country was in so many ways like coming home. The narrative follows a largely chronological path as it tracks Jones’ family history. Interwoven in her history are ghost stories and family lore, which adds a richness that cannot be rushed. Jones’ words must be savored, and are best enjoyed over time when you can watch her build a gothic, humid, wild landscape that can only be found in the American South.

Low Country by J. Nicole Jones (List Price: $26, Catapult, 9781948226868, 4/13/2021)

Reviewed by Faith Parke-Dodge, Page 158 Books in Wake Forest, North Carolina

Bress ‘n’ Nyam by Matthew Raiford, Amy Paige Condon

Chef and sixth-generation farmer Matthew Raiford presents us with a deeply personal and refreshingly practical cookbook, with recipes rooted in his Gullah Geechee heritage and uniquely honed by his world travels and formal culinary education. Chef Raiford includes classic low-country dishes such as Shrimp and Red Gravy (served with grits, of course) and Chicken ’n’ Dumplings as well as his own takes on jerk goat, naan, and gelato. He also offers advice on hosting an oyster roast, and how to cook a whole pig for Georgia-style barbecue. Bress ’n’ Nyam (“bless and eat” in the Gullah Geechee language) finds the perfect balance between great Southern storytelling and recipes that are both accessible and mouth-watering.

Bress ‘n’ Nyam by Matthew Raiford, Amy Paige Condon (List Price: $30, Countryman Press, 9781682686041, 5/11/2021)

Reviewed by Anne Peck, Righton Books in St Simons Island, Georgia

A Mariner’s Tale by Joe Palmer

From the publisher who introduced us to JC Sassser’s Gradle Bird and Rebecca Dwight Bruff’s Trouble the Water, this is another evocative Southern tale, set on the Florida coast. Lauded by other Southern gems including Cassandra King Conroy and Nicole Seitz, I was obviously intrigued, and journalist-turned-debut-novelist Joe Palmer delivers. Love the interaction between a crotchety old sailor and the crime-bound kid he takes under his wing. In a world often gone mad, this book was a great reminder that among storms and strife there is genuine humanity.

A Mariner’s Tale by Joe Palmer (List Price: $17.99, Koehler Books, 9781646631452, 10/25/2020)

Reviewed by Shari Stauch, Main Street Reads in Summerville, South Carolina

Shaking the Gates of Hell by John Archibald

Alabama — not to mention the South at large — is a complicated place with a complicated history, so we’re grateful for the likes of John Archibald, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist who’s chosen to stay in his home state and shine the light on dark secrets many would prefer to avoid. His new book, Shaking the Gates of Hell, turns the beam on his own family, particularly his father, a third-generation Methodist minister who held prominent pulpits in Birmingham and other large Alabama churches for decades. This is a deeply personal memoir, and Archibald’s love and respect for his dad is clear. He was a man of moral authority who taught right from wrong, a minister who emphasized grace and compassion, and an engaged dad who encouraged his kids to leave every campsite better than they found it. But, his youngest son wonders, did his father do enough to leave his community better off than he found it? In examining his father’s sermons at key moments in local history — just after the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church bombing, for example — Archibald sets out to determine whether Martin Luther King Jr.’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” was right in claiming that “the white ministers, priests and rabbis of the South . . . have been more cautious than courageous and have remained silent behind the anesthetizing security of stained glass windows.” Why, Archibald wonders, did his father largely remain silent on the matters that mattered most? Why do other religious leaders, then and now, not say more, do more? John Archibald is an incredible writer who lures you in with stories about fishing and family gatherings, but by the end he has us all asking ourselves, why do we not also say more, do more?

Shaking the Gates of Hell by John Archibald (List Price: $28, Knopf, 9780525658115, 3/9/2021)

Reviewed by Lady Smith, The Snail on the Wall in Huntsville, Alabama

The House Uptown by Melissa Ginsburg

Ava moves from Iowa to New Orleans to live with her artist grandmother (who’s suffering from memory loss) after her mother dies. Not having been in each other’s lives, this is a beautiful story about family, finding out who they are, and forging a path together.

The House Uptown by Melissa Ginsburg (List Price: $26.99, Flatiron Books, 9781250784186, 3/16/2021)

Reviewed by Marcia Albert, Parnassus Books in Nashville, Tennessee

The Wife Upstairs by Rachel Hawkins

Rachel Hawkins proves just how timeless the Jane Eyre story is, by putting the madwoman in the attic of a modern-day mansion in an Alabama suburb. The dark story is easy to devour, and the characters are people you might have met before — maybe while walking the dog in your own neighborhood. Everyone is keeping secrets, from Jane, the young dog-walker, to Eddie Rochester, the recently widowed homeowner. You’ll love teasing out the secret of what happened to the glamorous Bea, whose body was never found after a boating accident at Smith Lake.

The Wife Upstairs by Rachel Hawkins (List Price: $16.99, St. Martin’s Griffin, 9781250245502, 11/2/2021)

Reviewed by Lady Smith, The Snail on the Wall in Huntsville, Alabama

The Killing Hills by Chris Offutt

Returning to his hometown on military leave, Mick walks into a whole slew of family problems that he initially attempts to avoid, secluded in a cabin and chock-full of bourbon. Being called on to assist in tracking down a murderer puts him hesitantly back on his feet. It’s a distraction and we immediately see that he’s equally brilliant and broken enough to solve (kinda sorta) the mystery with ease. But even with a name like The Killing Hills and a body discovered in the first few pages, I still look back on the murder mystery as the book’s B-plot. Chris Offutt paints Appalachia so brilliantly, that, though pleasantly so, it’s distracting. The towns in which growth just means a larger hospital, diners exchanged for faster food, a new prison and improved state roads that aid travelers in quickly passing through without noticing much more than the aforementioned. Populated for generations by a handful of families who in turn depopulate via hard living and occasional vengeance. Driven by conflicting nostalgia, ill-defined chivalry and a hangover, Mick’s story is either one of a farewell visit or a return towards retirement

The Killing Hills by Chris Offutt (List Price: $26, Grove Press, 9780802158413, 6/15/2021)

Reviewed by Ian McCord, Avid Bookshop in Athens, Georgia

The Killing Hills by Chris Offutt

This was a blast! Hill-country Kentucky noir with characters that both repulse and endear. A tough combo that works well with the plot of familial vengeance that piles up the bodies without understanding the cause that makes the blood boil so hot. Superb.

The Killing Hills by Chris Offutt (List Price: $26, Grove Press, 9780802158413, 6/15/2021)

Reviewed by Pete Mock, McIntyre’s Fine Books in Pittsboro, North Carolina

The Baddest Girl on the Planet by Heather Frese

From the publisher: “Until now, Outer Banks native Evie Austin has been the baddest girl on the planet. What comes next?”

I really enjoyed this novel–the pacing is good, the characters’ stories are compelling, and the small beach town setting is so well-described I can picture it clearly.

The Baddest Girl on the Planet by Heather Frese (List Price: $25.95, Blair, 9781949467161, 3/2/2021)

Reviewed by Janet Geddis, Avid Bookshop in Athens, Georgia

The Baddest Girl on the Planet by Heather Frese

Whenever my family vacationed in the Outer Banks, I always wondered what living at the beach was like for the locals. I imagined a nice small town with endless trips to the beach. As a kid, though, I never imagined how suffocating it could be. Growing up on Hatteras Island, Evie Austin has the world’s greatest imagination. Though she makes the most of her childhood, she falls into the small town traps of adulthood, yet without a real desire to leave the island. Her life becomes as tumultuous as the waves, relatable to any young adult, and readers get a front row seat to her misadventures as she finds ways to repair herself. Vivid, funny, and heartwarming, Heather Frese has written the baddest coming-of-age story on the planet!

The Baddest Girl on the Planet by Heather Frese (List Price: $25.95, Blair, 9781949467161, 3/2/2021)

Reviewed by Karyn Cumming, Fountain Bookstore in Richmond, Virginia

Milk Blood Heat by Dantiel W. Moniz

I opened this book’s beautiful cover to sample one story from the collection, but I couldn’t stop until I had read them all. Each piece packs a different sort of power, examining the subtleties of relationships—between friends, parents and children, husbands and wives, mothers and unborn children. The writing is raw and visceral, just as the title “Milk Blood Heat” suggests, and the characters’ feelings and bodies often can’t be contained, no matter how hard they might try. This collection will dazzle and unsettle you at the same time, and I highly recommend it!

Milk Blood Heat by Dantiel W. Moniz (List Price: $25, Grove Press, 9780802158154, 2/2/2021)

Reviewed by Lady Smith, The Snail on the Wall in Huntsville, Alabama

The Prophets by Robert Jones, Jr.

Lyrical prose, a love story too long untold, and exquisitely rendered characters too long ignored make for a haunting debut. The forbidden love story between Isaiah and Samuel pierces every page, their lives reverberating across the plantation, through the ancestors, and history itself. Infused with agony and love and joy and rage, every character’s story within these testaments acts as a spark, a collection of embers that sets fire to historical record and ignites a more complex history of enslavement and the Deep South.

The Prophets by Robert Jones, Jr. (List Price: $27.00, G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 9780593085684, 1/5/2021)

Reviewed by Miranda Sanchez, Epilogue Books Chocolate Brews in Chapel Hill, North Carolina

The Rib King by Ladee Hubbard

A brilliant exploration of class, race, and exploitation in early 20th century New Orleans. Mr. Sitwell runs the house in all but name. Like all great houses, there are many secrets inside and all of Hubbard’s characters are well-drawn with complex pasts. Hubbard studied under Toni Morrison and you can really tell with the way she treats her characters–normal people with complicated lives — drawing you as a reader deep into their minds and feelings. It’s a fantastic book and I’m so excited to share it.

The Rib King by Ladee Hubbard (List Price: $27.99, Amistad, 9780062979063, 1/19/2021)

Reviewed by Jamie Southern, Bookmarks in Winston-Salem, North Carolina

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