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AJC Bookshelf: What local authors are reading during the pandemic

Mary Kay Andrews
Mary Kay Andrews

Books range from Stephen King’s ‘The Stand’ to Hilary Mantel’s ‘Wolf Hall’

Reading is one of the few pleasures the COVID-19 pandemic has not taken from us as we continue to shelter in place for the foreseeable future. In fact, this is the perfect time to double down on the to-be-read stack on your nightstand. If you need some fresh material, local independent bookstores including A Cappella BooksEagle Eye Book Shop and Charis Books are taking orders and delivering the goods to your doorstep.

For recommendations of what to read next, I checked in with some local authors to see what they’re reading while in captivity.

Karin Slaughter knows what she likes, and she sticks with it. The master of crime fiction, who has sold more than 35 million books in 120 countries, is currently reading "The Stranger Inside," a crime thriller from 2019 by Lisa Unger.

“An investigative journalist turned stay-at-home mom gets drawn back into the story that almost ended her career,” said Slaughter. “As she hunts for the truth about a vigilante killer, she has to face her own past and confront the danger that’s closer to home than she thinks.”

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Slaughter describes the book as a “dark, twisty, deep dive,” a description that also applies to her own prolific output of crime thrillers. Her next book, “The Silent Wife,” is another in the Will Trent series featuring Sara Linton coming out July 28. Meanwhile, Slaughter’s 2018 book “Pieces of Her” is currently in development as a limited series for Netflix.

North Georgia crime fiction writer Brian Panowich, whose "Hard Cash Valley" comes out May 5, is reading an advance copy of "Every Last Fear" by fellow Minotaur Books author Alex Finlay, which doesn't come out until next year. But that's not all.

Brian Panowich
Brian Panowich

“I’ve also taken in a good share of children’s books, like ‘The Runaway Alien’ and ‘Sea Turtles in Danger,’ as well as a revisiting Shakespeare’s ‘Romeo And Juliet,’ due to the home learning I’ve been doing every day with my 10-year-old son and my 16-year-old daughter,” he said. “We are also reading a chapter a night of Stephen King’s ‘The Stand’ as a family just to keep ourselves informed on the ‘worst-case scenario.’ I don’t think the TV has been turned on once in two weeks.”

Queen of the summer beach read, Mary Kay Andrews, whose "Hello Summer" comes out May 5, is juggling several books, too.

Mary Kay Andrews
Mary Kay Andrews

Credit: Jennifer Brett

Credit: Jennifer Brett

“Anxiety and distraction are my twin pillars of emotions these days. But the comfort of books, especially ones written by old friends, are a welcome relief,” said the New York Times bestselling author. “When I need just a small dose of comfort I read one of the essays from ‘My Life as a Villainess’ by Laura Lippman. Like me, Laura is a recovering journalist, who worked at The Baltimore Sun. We met when we both started out writing mysteries in the 1990s … The essays, covering her school years, work as a reporter and a novelist, as well as life as what she calls an ‘Old Mom,’ facing motherhood at the age of 51, are smart, funny and dead-on. The perfect palate cleanser during commercials while I binge-watch Rachel Maddow.”

Andrews is also reading Lisa Wingate’s new book, “The Book of Lost Friends.”

“It’s historic fiction, with interwoven narratives from a former slave girl, cast adrift after the end of the Civil War, seeking the family she was torn from during Reconstruction, and a rudderless school teacher who, in 1987, finds herself trying to unearth the secrets of a small Louisiana town and the decaying plantation, which once formed the hub of the community,” she said.

Inspired by the recent release of "The Mirror & the Light," Hilary Mantel's latest historical novel in her Thomas Cromwell trilogy, Daren Wang decided to start at the beginning of the Man Booker Prize-winning series.

“With Mantel bringing her Cromwell trilogy to an end, I decided it’s the perfect time to dig into the trilogy and start at the very beginning, with ‘Wolf Hall,’” said the author of “The Hidden Light of Northern Fires.”

Daren Wang
Daren Wang

“Of course, it’s marvelously written. You can always tell a Mantel book. But there’s a type of escapism that the subject matter brings that I’m really enjoying,” he said. “Fifteenth-century England doesn’t feel remote from our current anxieties, and don’t we all need that right now? I’m only a couple hundred pages in, and I’m glad to know that I have a good long journey ahead of me.”

Jessica Handler, author of the historical novel "The Magnetic Girl," recently finished Carter Sickels' "The Prettiest Star."

Author Jessica Handler
Author Jessica Handler

“It’s an unforgettable, emotional powerhouse of a novel about one man’s returning to his hometown in Appalachia during the 1980s AIDS crisis as he prepares to die. The book is filled with love, which we need right now,” she said.

In addition, “now’s the time to tackle massive books I’ve meant to read and haven’t yet, so I’m spending time with the 1,400-page ‘Gotham: A History of New York City to 1898,’ by Edwin Burrows and Mike Wallace. The book won the Pulitzer Prize for history in 1999. I have been meaning to read it probably since then.”

Meanwhile, she’s eagerly awaiting delivery of two more titles. “Julia Phillips’ ‘Disappearing Earth’ and Emma Copley Eisenberg’s ‘The Third Rainbow Girl’ are on deck,” she said.

Suzanne Van Atten is a book critic and contributing editor for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. svanatten@ajc.com