By the Book: New novels would suit for self, as gifts

It’s the season to flop on the couch in front of the fire and cozy up with a great book. Lucky you. There are a number of engaging new books to add to your holiday reading list or give as gifts.


Beloved Southern author Fannie Flagg of Fried Green Tomatoes fame serves up a new novel called the The Whole Town’s Talking (Random House, $28).The story unfolds in 1889 in the town of Elmwood Springs, Mo., with its founding member Lordor Nordstrom who takes on a Swedish mail-order bride. Over the years the town grows but something peculiar is going on in Still Meadows, the cemetery. The dead, instead of resting in peace, are talking amongst themselves. Despite the paranormal twist, this novel isn’t remotely spooky. Instead it’s more of a love letter to the inhabitants of rural America.


The small shrimping community of McClellanville, S.C., is the setting for Mary Alice Monroe’s A Lowcountry Christmas (Gallery Books, $19.99). Taylor McClellan is a PTSD sufferer who leaves Afghanistan and returns to his beloved Lowcountry. The war veteran suffers from depression and nightmares and seeks comfort in too many bottles of bourbon. Enter Thor, a service dog from the Wounded Warrior Project, who helps Taylor and delivers a happy ending when the former Marine needs it most. Quotes from the The Christmas Carol and themes of redemption and family solidarity make this novel a heart-tugging holiday read.

If you can’t get enough of the Lowcountry, you’ll also savor A Lowcountry Heart: Reflections on the Writing Life (Nan A. Talese, $25) by the late Pat Conroy. His wife, novelist, Cassandra King, writes the introduction of this homage to her husband’s life. It contains interviews, magazine articles, speeches, and letters from his long literary career, many of them addressing his readers with a friendly, “Hey, out there.”

The collection concludes with shared memories from friends and family and a eulogy. A must-have for fans of one of the masters of Southern fiction.

Not long ago, the world lost Arnold Palmer, and the game of golf will never be the same. Shortly after his death, his swan song was released in the form of a book: A Life Well Played: My Stories. (St. Martin’s, $22.95).

Inside there are dozens of colorful details about the man who inspired a fervent group of fans called “Arnie’s Army.” For instance, Palmer never cottoned to his nickname “The King,” and he was very devoted to his late wife Winnie, whom he called Win. There are 75 short stories on a wide range of topics from his 87 years under the headings of golf, life and business. Pour yourself an Arnold Palmer, claim an armchair and peruse this volume that briefly brings back to life one of golf’s greats.

Fans of The Secret Lives of Bees will likely enjoy The Education of Dixie Dupree (Kensington, $9.99) by Raleigh author Donna Everhart.

The year is 1969, and pre-teen Dixie keeps a diary of the turmoil in her young existence: her mother’s quick temper, her daddy’s drinking and the arrival of a shadowy character, Uncle Ray.

The novel, set in Perry County, Ala., evokes sultry summer evenings and pine-scented breezes, but dark secrets also pulse in Dixie’s life.

Unfortunately she has a reputation as a fibber, and not everyone believes her when she’s desperately crying for help. The novel seals with gritty topics but is ultimately hopeful.

Do you have local literary news? Email it to By the Book is published monthly on last Sundays.



Pop Rocks: Augusta, my Christmas wish list has one thing

My family often accuses me of being a difficult person to Christmas shop for. While it is true that my tastes run toward the particular and tend to lean heavily on easy-to-wrap standards such as books and records, I believe that as I get older, I’m less concerned with the item than the idea. Give me something I believe you have thought about and carefully considered, and I’m happy. The present clearly purchased at the drug store the day before is met with considerably less enthusiasm.

Read more