The books Southern indie booksellers are recommending to readers everywhere!

Southern

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

 Share:

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

 Share:

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

 Share:

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

 Share:

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

 Share:

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

 Share:

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

 Share:

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

 Share:

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

 Share:

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

 Share:

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

 Share:

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

 Share:

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

 Share:

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

 Share:

The Fortunate Ones by Ed Tarkington

A Winter 2021 Read This Next Title!

I just finished The Fortunate Ones and am a little breathless with it. Part political intrigue, part A Separate Peace, the novel spans decades across elite boarding schools and the halls of Washington, but what captures the reader is Charlie, the narrator at the book’s heart. I fell in love with Charlie’s voice and story, and it’s him I kept turning the page for. I loved this book.

The Fortunate Ones by Ed Tarkington (List Price: $26.95, Algonquin Books, 9781616206802, 1/5/2021)

Reviewed by Annie Jones, The Bookshelf in Thomasville, Georgia

 Share:

Yellow Wife by Sadeqa Johnson

Many of our favorite historical fiction novels move us to tears, compel us to turn pages, and tie us in knots over the fate of characters. All of these emotions are in play as we read Yellow Wife, based on the notorious Richmond slave jail known as the Devil’s Half Acre and its cruel master. We follow Pheby’s life, from her earliest years as a plantation slave, her journey to the jail, and her years as mistress and slave to the master of the jail and mother to their children. We watch as her desperate choices and will to survive and protect those she loves draws her evermore into dangerous situations. Her dreams of freedom, passed down to her by her mother, drive her and at times sustain her while living in such close proximity to the jail where she was witness to the depths of human cruelty. A powerful story not soon forgotten.

Yellow Wife by Sadeqa Johnson (List Price: $26, Simon & Schuster, 9781982149109, 1/12/2021)

Reviewed by Mary Patterson, The Little Bookshop in Midlothian, Virginia

 Share:

The Merciful by Jon Sealy

A Winter 2021 Read This Next! Title

The Merciful by Jon Sealy
Haywire Books, January

First: Every book club needs to put The Merciful at the top of their “next to read” list. For me, reading is for the most part a private personal experience. I love to read and immerse myself in the story. This book doesn’t let me do that. I can’t wait for my friends to read this one so we can intellectually deconstruct it. Bottom line; this book forces you to think and to see a story from disparate and various perspectives.

The book tells the story of a tragic incident where a young woman riding her bike down a country road late at night is struck and killed in a hit-and-run “accident.” Days later, after procuring an attorney, a local man comes forward thinking he “might” have been responsible. Like a rock thrown into a still pond, the incident ripples and radiates in all directions and this book conveys a thoughtful and compelling story of just how the accident affects not only the victim and the perpetrator, but also those close to them and those in the legal system who are responsible for trying the case.

Jon Sealy does a masterful job of painting the lives of these characters and exposing the flaws and foibles that make us all human. I highly recommend this thought-provoking and compelling novel.

— Brent Bunnell, Fiction Addiction in Greenville, SC

 Share:

The Fortunate Ones by Ed Tarkington

A Winter 2021 Read This Next! Title

The Fortunate Ones by Ed Tarkington
Algonquin Books, January

When a poor boy gets the opportunity to live among Nashville’s elite, he takes it—and what follows is a compelling tale of relationships, money, facade, and good old Southern grandeur. With tight, effective prose, Ed Tarkington illuminates the dark side of generosity and so-called good fortune.

– Talia Smart, Flyleaf Books in Chapel Hill, NC.

 Share:

The Prophets by Robert Jones, Jr.

A Winter 2021 Read This Next! Title

The Prophets by Robert Jones, Jr.
G.P. Putnam’s Sons, January

An incredible debut novel filled love, light, suffering, pain, and deep beauty – sure to be one of the year’s best. Jones has penned an astoundingly well-written debut about a relationship between two enslaved young men in the American Deep South. With beautiful, vivid prose and a narrative that keeps expanding and surprising, The Prophets is a truly special novel and one that will long have a place on my shelf.

Caleb Masters Bookmarks Winston-Salem, North Carolina

 Share:

Crazy Stupid Bromance by Lyssa Kay Adams

A Fall 2020 Read This Next! Title
Berkley | 9781984806130
October 27, 2020

A hacktavist and a cat cafe owner have love written into their future in this new novel in The Bromance Book Club series.

Alexis Carlisle and her cat cafe have shot to fame after she came forward as the vicitm of sexual harrassment at the hands of a celebrity chef. ToeBeans has become a Nashville hotspot for the curious, the furious, and the grateful. Women regularly come in to share their stories with her and thank her for coming forward. So when a young woman becomes a quiet regular at her cafe, Alexis assumes she’s just working up the courage to approach her about her own experience. The last thing Alexis expects is for the woman to blurt out that they’re sisters.

Known around Nashville as the hacker to the stars, Noah Parsons has built impenetrable servers for some of country music’s most famous faces. But after using his old hacking skills to help the Bromance Book Club bring down Royce Preston, he’s itching to get back to using his gifts for the greater good. When Alexis asks him to help investigate a girl’s claims that she and Alexis are sisters, he doesn’t hesitate.

But while investigating together, the greatest secret Alexis and Noah uncover is that they have feelings for each other…

 Share:

She Come By It Natural by Sarah Smarsh

A Fall 2020 read This Next! Title
Scribner | 9781982157289
October 13, 2020

The National Book Award finalist and New York Times bestselling author of Heartland focuses her laser-sharp insights on a working-class icon and one of the most unifying figures in American culture: Dolly Parton.

Growing up amid Kansas wheat fields and airplane factories, Sarah Smarsh witnessed firsthand the particular vulnerabilities—and strengths—of women in working poverty. Meanwhile, country songs by female artists played in the background, telling powerful stories about life, men, hard times, and surviving. In her family, she writes, “country music was foremost a language among women. It’s how we talked to each other in a place where feelings aren’t discussed.” And no one provided that language better than Dolly Parton.

Smarsh challenged a typically male vision of the rural working class with her first book, Heartland, starring the bold, hard-luck women who raised her. Now, in She Come By It Natural, originally published in a four-part series for The Journal of Roots Music, No Depression, Smarsh explores the overlooked contributions to social progress by such women—including those averse to the term “feminism”—as exemplified by Dolly Parton’s life and art.

Far beyond the recently resurrected “Jolene” or quintessential “9 to 5,” Parton’s songs for decades have validated women who go unheard: the poor woman, the pregnant teenager, the struggling mother disparaged as “trailer trash.” Parton’s broader career—from singing on the front porch of her family’s cabin in the Great Smoky Mountains to achieving stardom in Nashville and Hollywood, from “girl singer” managed by powerful men to leader of a self-made business and philanthropy empire—offers a springboard to examining the intersections of gender, class, and culture.

Infused with Smarsh’s trademark insight, intelligence, and humanity, She Come By It Natural is a sympathetic tribute to the icon Dolly Parton and—call it whatever you like—the organic feminism she embodies.

 Share:

How Fire Runs by Charles Dodd White

A Fall 2020 Read This Next! Title
Swallow Press | 9780804012287
October 13, 2020

Set in rural Appalachia and told through the voices of three different present-day narrators, this harrowing novel about white supremacists attempting to take over a small town focuses an unflinching eye on America’s ongoing, fraught relationship with racial and political injustice.

A chilling, timely reminder of the moral and human costs of racial hatred.

What happens when a delusional white supremacist and his army of followers decide to create a racially pure “Little Europe” within a rural Tennessee community? As the town’s residents grapple with their new reality, minor skirmishes escalate and dirty politics, scandals, and a cataclysmic chain of violence follows. In this uncanny reflection of our time, award-winning novelist Charles Dodd White asks whether Americans can save themselves from their worst impulses and considers the consequences when this salvation comes too late.

Set in rural Appalachia and told through the voices of three different present-day narrators, this harrowing novel about white supremacists attempting to take over a small town focuses an unflinching eye on America’s ongoing, fraught relationship with racial and political injustice.

 Share:

A Measure of Belonging: Twenty-One Writers of Color on the New American South edited by Cinelle Barnes

A Fall 2020 Read This Next! Title
Hub City Press | 9781938235719
October 6, 2020

This fierce collection celebrates the incredible diversity in the contemporary South by featuring essays by twenty-one of the finest young writers of color living and working in the region today, who all address a central question: Who is welcome?

Kiese Laymon navigates the racial politics of publishing while recording his audiobook in Mississippi. Regina Bradley moves to Indiana and grapples with a landscape devoid of her Southern cultural touchstones, like Popeyes and OutKast. Aruni Kashyap apartment hunts in Athens and encounters a minefield of invasive questions. Frederick McKindra delves into the particularly Southern history of Beyonce’s black majorettes.

Assembled by editor and essayist Cinelle Barnes, essays in A Measure of Belonging: Twenty-One Writers of Color on the New American South acknowledge that from the DMV to the college basketball court to doctors’ offices, there are no shortage of places of tension in the American South. Urgent, necessary, funny, and poignant, these essays from new and established voices confront the complexities of the South’s relationship with race, uncovering the particular difficulties and profound joys of being a Southerner in the 21st century.

 Share:

Down Along with That Devil’s Bones by Connor Towne O’Neill

A Fall 2020 Read This Next! Title
Algonquin Books / 9781616209100
Publication Date: September 29, 2020

“We can no longer see ourselves as minor spectators or weary watchers of history a­fter finishing this astonishing work of nonfiction.” —Kiese Laymon, author of Heavy

In Down Along with That Devil’s Bones, journalist Connor Towne O’Neill takes a deep dive into American history, exposing the still-raging battles over monuments dedicated to one of the most notorious Confederate generals, Nathan Bedford Forrest. Through the lens of these conflicts, O’Neill examines the legacy of white supremacy in America, in a sobering and fascinating work sure to resonate with readers of Tony Horwitz, Timothy B. Tyson, and Robin DiAngelo.

When O’Neill first moved to Alabama, as a white Northerner, he felt somewhat removed from the racism Confederate monuments represented. Then one day in Selma, he stumbled across a group of citizens protecting a monument to Forrest, the officer who became the first Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan and whom William Tecumseh Sherman referred to as “that devil.” O’Neill sets off to visit other disputed memorials to Forrest across the South, talking with men and women who believe they are protecting their heritage, and those who have a different view of the man’s poisonous history.

O’Neill’s reporting and thoughtful, deeply personal analysis make it clear that white supremacy is not a regional affliction but is in fact coded into the DNA of the entire country. Down Along with That Devil’s Bones presents an important and eye-opening account of how we got from Appomattox to Charlottesville, and where, if we can truly understand and transcend our past, we could be headed next.

 Share:

Hill Women by Cassie Chambers

As someone raised in West Virginia, Hill Women struck a particular chord with me. Cassie Chambers delivers an honest narrative about the challenges of life in one of the poorest regions of the country while giving voices to the women who lifted up her life and the lives of those around her. Highlighting their unwavering work ethic, generosity, and fight for the younger generations, Chambers shows how growing up with the influence of these women in her family helped formed the person she became, eventually being educated at an Ivy League school and returning to the region to help provide legal assistance to the very communities in which she was raised. Highly recommended for anyone wanting to learn more about the Appalachian region and for readers who enjoy insightful biographies like Educated.

Hill Women by Cassie Chambers ($27.00, Ballantine Books), recommended by Bookmarks, Winston-Salem, NC.

 Share:

The Third Rainbow Girl by Emma Copley Eisenberg

“You cannot treat women only for a disease of which men are the main carriers. Nor, I knew, could you punish every man who fell ill.” ~ Emma Copley Eisenberg

The Third Rainbow Girl is part true crime, part memoir, and fully compelling. On the frame of the unsolved Rainbow Murders, Eisenberg hangs a discussion of Appalachian life and the complicated history its people have with one another, their history, and the rest of the nation. Traditional true crime reads may find the structure off-putting at first, but the alternating of past and present day events give a richer picture of a community defined by the murder of outsiders. Content warning for discussions of violence, bigotry, alcohol and drug use, and sexual assault.

The Third Rainbow Girl by Emma Copley Eisenberg
(List price: $27.00, Hachette Books)
Recommended by Page 158 Books, Wake Forest, NC.

 Share:
Scroll to Top