9 new books for your summer reading list

Courtesy of MacMillan/Penguin Random House/W.W. Norton

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Courtesy of MacMillan/Penguin Random House/W.W. Norton

Climate change, slavery, rape and murder are among the heavy topics this season.

Perhaps it’s a reflection of our troubled times, but the usual beach read books aside, this summer’s crop of new books dwell on some pretty heavy topics. So be prepared to travel back in history, contemplate an uncertain future, learn something new and see things from a different perspective. Here are nine new Southern books the AJC recommends reading this summer.

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Courtesy of Island Press

Credit: Handout

Courtesy of Island Press

Credit: Handout

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Courtesy of Island Press

Credit: Handout

Credit: Handout

“A Road Running Southward”

“(P)art lyrical travelogue, part investigative journalism and part jeremiad, all shot through with droll humor” is how AJC book critic Candice Dyer describes Dan Chapman’s book about retracing naturalist John Muir’s 1867 trek from Kentucky to Florida. Chapman, a former AJC staff writer who now writes about conservation for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, has crafted a highly entertaining meditation on Muir and the unparalleled beauty of the Southern landscape that also serves as a wakeup call about our vanishing wilderness and the toll climate change is having on the region. (Available now, Island Press, $28)

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Courtesy of Penguin Random House

Credit: Penguin Random House

Courtesy of Penguin Random House

Credit: Penguin Random House

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Courtesy of Penguin Random House

Credit: Penguin Random House

Credit: Penguin Random House

“Wastelands”

Bestselling novelist and attorney Corban Addison turns to nonfiction to tell this harrowing story of a large-scale, industrial hog farm with a long history of polluting a community on the coast of North Carolina and the heroic efforts individuals in the community — including a hog farmer, a riverkeeper, an epidemiologist and a lawyer, among others — go to in order to halt the corporation’s harmful practices. Deeply researched and crafted like a legal thriller, “Wastelands” includes a foreword by another attorney author, John Grisham. (June 7, Penguin Random House, $30)

“The Scent of Burnt Flowers”

Decatur-based artist and filmmaker Blitz Bazawule, who’s currently directing the big screen adaptation of “The Color Purple” musical, has made his literary debut with this novel about Melvin and Bernadette, a young Black couple that flees 1960s Alabama for Ghana, where Melvin’s good friend is president. But what they thought would be a refuge unravels into political unrest and a competition for Bernadette’s affections when they meet Kwesi, Ghana’s most beloved musician. The book has already been optioned by FX for a six-episode limited series. (June 28, Penguin Random House, $27)

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Courtesy of HarperCollins

Credit: William Morrow

Courtesy of HarperCollins

Credit: William Morrow

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Courtesy of HarperCollins

Credit: William Morrow

Credit: William Morrow

“Sister Mother Warrior”

Atlanta-based historical romance writer Vanessa Riley made a big splash last year with “Island Queen,” a historical novel about Dorothy Kirwan Thomas, a woman born into slavery who buys her freedom and goes on to be one of the largest landowners in the West Indies. Nominated for a Georgia Author of the Year Award, it got a rave review in The New York Times and landed on NPR’s Best Books of 2021. Her follow-up promises to deliver as well. “Sister Mother Warrior” tells the story of the Haitian revolution through the eyes of two women: Empress of Haiti Marie-Claire Bonheur and Gran Toya, a warrior who leads the effort to oust the French and end slavery. (July 6, HarperCollins, $27.99)

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Courtesy of Dzanc Books

Credit: Dzanc Books

Courtesy of Dzanc Books

Credit: Dzanc Books

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Courtesy of Dzanc Books

Credit: Dzanc Books

Credit: Dzanc Books

“Stories from the Attic”

The son of a sharecropper who grew up without electricity in rural Tennessee, William Gay wrote eloquent stories about roughhewn country folk similar in vein to that of Mississippi’s Larry Brown. A carpenter by trade, he started writing as a teen but didn’t get published until his late 50s. Several of his stories spawned films, including “That Evening Sun” starring Hal Holbrook and Ray McKinnon in 2009 and “Bloodworth” in 2010, starring Val Kilmer. Gay died in 2012 in his early 70s, leaving behind a large cache of unpublished work, which has been collected here. Among the selection are short stories, short pieces of memoir and fragments of novels. (July 17, Dzanc Books, $26.95)

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Courtesy of MacMillan

Credit: MacMillan

Courtesy of MacMillan

Credit: MacMillan

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Courtesy of MacMillan

Credit: MacMillan

Credit: MacMillan

“The Sewing Girl’s Tale”

University of North Carolina history professor John Wood Sweet provides a gripping narrative nonfiction account of a Revolutionary era date rape in New York City that resulted in the first criminal rape trial in American history. After being attacked in a backroom of a brothel, 17-year-old seamstress Lanah Sawyer faced her wealthy attacker and his six high-powered attorneys — including Alexander Hamilton — in court for a trial that gripped the country. This is a story of sex, power, double standards, privilege and courage. (July 19, MacMillan, 29.99)

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Courtesy of Penguin Random House

Credit: Penguin Random House

Courtesy of Penguin Random House

Credit: Penguin Random House

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Courtesy of Penguin Random House

Credit: Penguin Random House

Credit: Penguin Random House

“Deer Creek Drive”

When Memphis native Beverly Lowry isn’t writing biographies about people like Harriet Tubman and entrepreneur C.J. Madam, she writes about true crime. Her latest falls into the latter category. Combining elements of memoir and journalism, this deeply reported, well-crafted account tells the story of the brutal stabbing death of a “society matron” in the Mississippi Delta in 1948. Her socialite daughter claims to have witnessed an unknown Black man fleeing the scene, but she would go on to be convicted for the crime herself, only to be released under public pressure six years later. Lowery was 10 years old, living the next town over, when the crime occurred and recalls its impact on the community. (Aug. 2, Penguin Random House, $29)

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Courtesy of Penguin Random House

Credit: Penguin Random House

Courtesy of Penguin Random House

Credit: Penguin Random House

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Courtesy of Penguin Random House

Credit: Penguin Random House

Credit: Penguin Random House

“Walking Gentry Home”

Nashville-based Alora Young is an accomplished teenage poet who’s penned a heart-wrenching memoir of nine generations of women in her family, from slavery to the present, in verse. As she says in her introduction, it’s “a story about girlhood and how the world scoffs at the way Black women come of age. It is an American story that persists, and we persist in ignoring it. The innocence and adolescence of Black girls are stories that are desperately needed because Black girls begin being called women far before they know what women really are. This for them — and me.” (Aug. 2, Hogarth, $17.99)

“Black Folk Could Fly”

Having described himself as “rich in identity – Black, Southern, Queer,” Randall Kenan explored all three and much more in his broad body of work, that includes novels, short stories and essays. His 2020 short story collection, “If I Had Two Wings,” was nominated for a National Book Award for fiction three weeks after he died at age 57. This posthumous publication of essays on Southern food, Black identity, religion and popular culture range in form from memoir to cultural criticism to inspirational essays. Atlanta author Tayari Jones provides the introduction. (Aug. 9, W.W. Norton, $35.95)