12 Southern-centric books to read in 2013

Right about this time of year I turn into a stalker.

Not to worry. It’s one of the best parts of my job: obsessing over a bunch of books that haven’t even been published yet, skimming advance copies and poring over catalogs, circling blurbs and starred previews, checking out literary gossip to see what’s hot.

The results are in: Six months of outstanding new titles by your favorite authors plus some emerging writers you won’t want to miss. Save this list as a reminder as these titles are released — and enjoy!


“The Twelve Tribes of Hattie,” Ayana Mathis

The Great Migration comes to life in 15-year-old Hattie’s exodus from Georgia to Philadelphia in 1923, and in the stories told by her nine children of lives scarred by their mother’s hard decisions as she chose survival over love and protection over tenderness. It’s an Oprah Book Club 2.0 pick, not surprisingly. (Knopf)

“Tenth of December: Stories,” George Saunders

If you agree that realism never really describes reality, then Saunders is your man. His first story collection in six years adds some surprisingly accessible pieces to his usual surreal, dark comedy, especially the affecting title story, in which a cancer patient reluctantly interrupts his carefully planned suicide to rescue a bumbling teenage misfit. (Random House)


“Nothing Gold Can Stay: Stories,” Ron Rash

This is why we can’t have nice things: Rash transmutes lead to gold in these heart-wrenching tales of men and women always on the lookout for a leg over the steep walls of rural poverty and ignorance. Both 19th and 20th-century characters gamble everything for the promise of freedom, including each other — but even the drowned linger here, and fate, meth and revenge take care of the rest. Hope glimmers, but barely. (Ecco)

“The House Girl,” Tara Conklin

Art and slavery make unexpected bedfellows in this debut novel narrated by two women separated by 150 years: an ambitious young attorney who must find a lead plaintiff for a slavery reparations case and a “house girl” in antebellum Virginia whose paintings of plantation life are the only link to her descendants. (William Morrow)

“Vampires in the Lemon Grove,” Karen Russell

Fans of Russell’s spooky, mystical “Swamplandia!” won’t be disappointed with the off-kilter landscapes of these new stories, in which former presidents of the United States are reincarnated as horses, a teenager reads messages from the universe in objects he finds in a seagull’s nest, and, in the title story, a vampire and his lover discover they can live off lemons and withstand sunlight. (Knopf)


“Life After Life,” Jill McCorkle

McCorkle sets her first novel in 17 years in the anything-but-dreary Pine Haven Retirement Center, a small village of characters who grow on the reader: A retired lawyer faking dementia to force his son toward independence; a 12-year-old girl who finds Pine Haven less lonely than home; a suicide survivor who now faithfully attends the dying; and many more with plenty to teach each other in the time they have left. (Algonquin)

“A Long Day at the End of the World,” Brent Hendricks

Remember February 2002, when hundreds of decaying bodies were discovered in the woods surrounding the Tri-State Crematory in rural Georgia? Hendricks, a poet, was more than usually affected by the news — his father was among the dead. En route to claim the body, Hendricks ponders themes of burial, rebirth, identity, the apocalypse, and even alchemy through his relationship with his father, the South and the unreadable figure of crematory owner Brent Marsh. (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)

“Damage Control,” Amber Dermont

The daintily dressed debutante pouring tea in white lace gloves (but wait, is that a tattoo on her arm?) on the cover perfectly describes the shrewd, skewed take on class and privilege Dermont displayed in her first novel, "The Starboard Sea." Now, 14 short stories detour into lives not always so entitled: a nouveau riche Korean family not far removed from a hut with a dirt floor, a down-on-her-luck ballerina rents herself to elderly women as an escort, and a young woman who once partied with the Prince of Thailand now cleans houses. (St. Martin's Press)


“Where You Can Find Me,” Sheri Joseph

Abducted and missing for three years, a 14-year-old boy returns home to a media whirlwind so relentless that his mother flees with him and his sister to Costa Rica, to live safely out of the public eye. But the boy’s former life is closer than anyone knows. Pushcart Prize nominee Joseph (“Stray,” “Bear Me Safely Over”) never sentimentalizes her subject matter, instead creating a complex portrait of a family reeling from the loss of identity and control. (Thomas Dunne Books)


“The Kings and Queens of Roam,” Daniel Wallace

From the author of “Big Fish,” comes his first novel in six years, a modern fairy tale about two sisters and the dark legacy and magical town that entangle them. Rumor has it the novel combines “ghosts, steam-punk industrialists, silk-traders, wild dogs, and mysterious lumberjacks,” as well as “curses, caves, even a haunted wood.” Sign me up. (Touchstone)

“The Feud: The All-American, No-Holds-Barred, Blood-and-Guts Story of the Hatfields and McCoys,” Dean King

And you thought your neighbors were bad. This notorious vendetta involved landowners who intermarried, worked together, and got along for decades — then along came the Civil War. Richmond, Va.-based writer King's well-researched account of the longest-held, bloodiest family feud in Appalachia backtracks to clarify how and why things went so cotton-pickin' crazy. (Little, Brown)


“The Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls,” Anton DiSclafani

Emory grad DiSclafani sets her debut novel during the Depression era at an equestrian boarding school for Southern debutantes in Blue Ridge, N.C. It’s where rebellious 15-year-old Thea Atwell, following a scandal in which she played no small part, finds herself exiled by her wealthy Florida family. (Riverhead)