Hot new Southern books put the sizzle in summer 2021

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Perhaps it’s the sign of the times. This time of year, the publishing industry typically floods the market with fun, fast reads suitable for binge-reading on airplanes and while on vacation in sunny locales. But this summer marks the release of several heavy-hitters that grapple with some weighty issues such as race, guns and politics. But there’s plenty of fun fare, too. That’s the beauty of the summer publishing season. The output is so robust, there really is something for everyone. Here are 10 Southern books we’re eager to read this summer.

Courtesy of Doubleday
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Courtesy of Doubleday

‘While Justice Sleeps.’ It’s not Stacey Abrams’ first novel, but it’s the first one published under her name instead of a pen name. And just like everything Abrams does, it speaks truth to power and centers around a Black heroine. When Supreme Court Justice Howard Wynn slips into a coma, law clerk Avery Keene discovers she has been named his legal guardian. While managing his affairs, she discovers Wynn has been secretly investigating a controversial case before the court that involves the merger of a biotech company and a genetics firm. His findings suggest a conspiracy among Washington’s power elite, and Avery is determined to get to the bottom of it, a decision that leads her into danger. (Doubleday, $28, out now)

ExploreThrillers dominate summer beach reads in 2021
Courtesy of Viking
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Courtesy of Viking

‘Family Law.’ Set in 1980s Montgomery, Alabama, Gin Phillips’ new novel explores the mentor-mentee relationship between Lucia, a lawyer who specializes in women’s rights, and Rachel, the 13-year-old daughter of a prospective client. Rachel is dazzled by Lucia’s forthright feminism, her happy marriage, her home filled with books. The attorney represents life choices Rachel never imagined possible for women. But Lucia has a target on her back, and Rachel is in danger of being collateral damage. Told in alternating points of view, this character-driven story explores women’s battle for equality and the rewards to be gained when women help lift each other up. (Viking, $26, out now)

Courtesy of Harper Collins
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Courtesy of Harper Collins

‘How Lucky.’ Athens-based journalist Will Leitch makes his fiction debut with this contemporary thriller featuring a “Rear Window” twist. Twenty-six-year-old Daniel has spinal muscular atrophy, a genetic condition that severely limits his mobility. Despite being homebound, he has a full life with a job in customer service and friends who pay regular visits. He is also a creature of habit who adheres to a regular schedule. That’s why he knows exactly what time his neighbor, who is later reported missing, was last seen getting into a tan Camaro with a man wearing an Atlanta Thrashers hat. Daniel is such a likable character that the reader happily cheers him on as he tries to solve the mystery in this story told with much humor and humanity. (Harper Collins, $25.99, out now)

Courtesy of Bloomsbury
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Courtesy of Bloomsbury

‘The Second.’ Emory professor Carol Anderson, whose 2016 book “White Rage: The Unspoken Truth of Our Racial Divide” won the National Book Critics Circle Award for criticism, tackles the Second Amendment in her new book subtitled “Race and Guns in a Fatally Unequal America.” Says author Heather Cox Richardson, Anderson “traces America’s racist history of gun laws from the 1639 Virginia colony’s prohibition on Africans carrying guns to the recent police (killings) of Breonna Taylor and Emantic Bradford Jr., showing how calls for ‘law and order’ have concentrated guns in the hands of white people while defining Black gun ownership as a threat to society.” (Bloomsbury, $28, June 1)

Courtesy of W.W. Norton
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Courtesy of W.W. Norton

‘A Night at the Sweet Gum Head.’ Local journalist Martin Padgett charts the historic heyday of gay nightlife in Atlanta through the ’70s, an especially hedonistic era following the 1969 Stonewall uprising in New York and before the emergence of AIDS in the early ’80s. Padgett centers his story on Sweet Gum Head, a gay bar with a popular drag show on Cheshire Bridge Road. The book focuses on John Greenwell, whose drag persona Rachel was the star of Sweet Gum Head, and gay activist Bill Smith, who led the Georgia Gay Liberation Front, ran a free gay newspaper and was instrumental in Atlanta’s first Gay Pride Day demonstrations. Lots of other familiar faces from Atlanta’s drag scene pop up, too, including Ru Paul, Charlie Brown and Diamond Lil. (W.W. Norton, $20, June 1)

Courtesy of Penguin Random House
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Courtesy of Penguin Random House

‘With Teeth.’ What happens when the reality of motherhood looks nothing like the Hallmark card one imagined? What if there was added societal pressure to project a perfect family because the family has two moms? In Kristen Arnett’s bold novel, Florida mom Sammie Lucas struggles with the challenges of raising a child who grows increasingly more hostile the older he gets. Compounding the situation is the absence of Sammie’s wife, Monika. Author Jennifer Weiner describes “With Teeth” as “a darkly funny, brutally honest story about a woman undone by motherhood. Kristen Arnett grapples with the big questions: Is any child essentially unlovable? What does a happy ending look like?” (Penguin Random House, $27, June 1)

Courtesy of Penguin Random House
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Courtesy of Penguin Random House

‘All That She Carried.’ Harvard professor Tiya Miles traces the faint archival history of two women through slavery using as her compass a simple object that was passed down from mother to daughter in a desperate act of love. The object was a cotton sack containing a dress, some pecans and a braid of hair given by Rose as a parting gift to her daughter Ashley, who was sold into slavery at age 9. Mother and daughter never saw each other again. The sack would remain in Ashley’s family, though. In 1921, Ashley’s granddaughter Ruth embroidered the story onto the sack, and today it resides in the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C. (Penguin Random House, $28, June 8)

Courtesy of Penguin Random House
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Courtesy of Penguin Random House

‘The Outlier.’ Subtitled “The Unfinished Presidency of Jimmy Carter,” this biography by Pulitzer Prize-winning author Kai Bird is the latest in a recent spate of books and documentaries that reexamine the Carter presidency and cast it in a new light. The author draws on interviews with Carter and his administration as well as recently declassified documents to provide an insightful look into the Georgia peanut farmer’s controversial single term as president. (Penguin Random House, $38, June 15)

Courtesy of Harper Collins
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Courtesy of Harper Collins

‘The Love Songs of W.E.B. DuBois.’ Poet Honorée Fanonne Jeffers, a native of Durham, North Carolina, who grew up in Atlanta, makes her fiction debut with this epic tale of Ailey Pearl Garfield’s deep dive into her family history. Tracing her heritage across generations and races, from plantations to universities, Ailey discovers a legacy of slavery, oppression and cruelty, but also strength, love and resilience. In a letter to her readers, Jeffers explains that the book grew out of stories she heard during childhood visits with her grandmother in Eatonton. “I first learned of slavery and lynching and the difficult history of this country not from books but from eavesdropping on old Black folks,” she writes. Those stories proved to be seeds that found fertile ground in Jeffers’ young mind. (Harper Collins, $28.99, July 27)

Courtesy of Little, Brown
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Courtesy of Little, Brown

‘Midnight Atlanta.’ Racial tensions mount as Decatur author Thomas Mullen’s latest in the Darktown series of historical fiction about Atlanta’s Black police precinct enters the civil rights era. Working with the precinct’s only white officer, Lucius Boggs investigates the murder of the editor of Atlanta’s leading Black newspaper. In the process, Boggs tries to prove his former law enforcement partner who’s now a journalist didn’t do it. The action is set against the backdrop of the Montgomery bus boycott and the rising influence of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. (Little, Brown, $26.99, Aug. 24)