Patti Callahan Henry: Coming Up for Air
This author recently moved to Birmingham, and she’s already made lots of friends. It wasn’t hard; her bestselling books preceded her. Besides, she’s a really fun and intriguing person. Her newest book, set on the Alabama coast, is about marriage and motherhood and one woman’s desire to become the person she really wants to be. Ellie Calvin has her hands full already when her controlling mother dies and she runs into her ex-boyfriend at the funeral. The old boyfriend is making a documentary on Ellie’s late mother and has questions only Ellie can answer—with the help of a long-forgotten diary. (*****)
Hillary Jordan: When She Woke
Hillary Jordan’s debut novel, Mudbound (winner of the 2006 Bellwether Prize for fiction), was an international literary hit. That one was set firmly in the rich soil of a Mississippi Delta farm in the mid 1940s. When She Woke, on the other hand, is futuristic and quite chilling. Here’s an America that we won’t recognize completely but might well be able to imagine. The book begins: “When she woke, she was red. Not flushed, not sunburned, but the solid, declarative red of a stop sign.” Hannah Payne wakes up in a bare room wearing only a paper gown. She has been turned into a “chrome.” Chromes are criminals whose skin color has been genetically altered to reflect their crimes. Murderers are red. There are hints of The Scarlet Letter here in this nightmare world where politics and religion come together in a mighty scary way. (*****)
Susan Haltom: One Writer's Garden: Eudora Welty's Home Place
Oh, this is a lovely book with great photos of the famous writer and her family and neighbors. But the real gems are the colorful photographs of the garden Welty tended with her mother. Chestina Welty designed their modest garden and taught her daughter well. Welty, of course, is known for weaving Southern flora into her writing; much of her knowledge came from time spent in her own garden. Near the end of her life Welty still resided in her family home, but the garden had become neglected. Co-author Susan Haltom is a garden designer, and she offered to help preserve the garden and spent a decade doing that. This beautiful book, organized by seasons and decades, contains previously unpublished writings, including literary passages and excerpts from Welty’s private correspondence about her garden. (*****)
Susan Rebecca White: A Soft Place to Land: A Novel
This is a book about sisterhood and the often-complicated love that go along with it. When their parents die in an airplane accident, 13-year-old Ruthie and 16-year-old Julia are sent away from their Atlanta home to live separately in distant parts of the country—in drastically different cultures. The story spans nearly two decades and follows the sisters from this familiar Southern home to bohemian San Francisco, a Virginia mountain town, the campus of Berkley and the lofts in Brooklyn. Once close, the sisters grow up and apart and their relationship becomes complicated by anger, resentment and jealousy. But then another shocking accident changes their lives once again. White is the author of the critically acclaimed Bound South, in which she writes lovingly and insightfully about Atlanta, where she was born and raised.
Frances Mayes: Every Day in Tuscany: Seasons of an Italian Life
Celebrated travel writer and bestselling author Frances Mayes (Under the Tuscan Sun and Bella Tuscany) is back and continuing her decades-long love affair with Tuscany’s people, art, cuisine and lifestyle. This is a deeply personal account of her present-day life in Tuscany, detailing the changes she has experienced since the success of her first two books and her reflections on the unchanging beauty and simple pleasure of Italian life.
Robin Lane Fox: Travelling Heroes: In the Epic Age of Homer (Vintage)
The myths of the ancient Greeks have inspired us for thousands of years. But where did these stories come from? How did they spread around the world? Fox draws upon the latest archaeological evidence, his own travels and his vast knowledge of the ancient world to answer these questions. He explores how the Mediterranean seafarers of 8th-century B.C. Greece encountered volcanic mountains, vaporous springs, huge prehistoric bones and more and then weaved them into their legends of gods, monsters and heroes.
David Ebershoff: The 19th Wife: A Novel
My bookgroup is reading this one right now. This book combines historical fiction with a murder mystery, and my bookgroup is reading this one right now. One story line, set in 1875, involves Ann Eliza Young, who has recently separated from her powerful husband, Brigham Young, prophet and leader of the Mormon Church. Ann Eliza begins a crusade to end polygamy in the United States. A rich account of a family’s polygamous history is revealed, including how a young woman became a plural wife. A second story is the tale of murder involving a polygamist family in present-day Utah. Jordan Scott, a young man who was thrown out of his fundamentalist sect years earlier, must reenter the world that cast him aside in order to discover the truth behind his father’s death. Both narrative intertwine to create a larger story of love and faith.