As summer vacation time nears, don’t forget to leave room in your beach bag for these page-turners by writers based in Atlanta.
RENDER by Collin Kelley (Sibling Rivalry Press)
To render is to interpret, and with the perceptive lens of the antique camera pictured on the cover of his second collection of poetry, Kelley reminiscences about crushes and early sexual experiences (“First Gay Crush,” “Physical Education,” “Sex in My Parents’ House,” “Detour”), as well as pop culture from a Gen X childhood (“Wonder Woman,” “Barney Rubble Saves Our Lives,” “To Margot Kidder With Love,” “Mr. Rogers Made Me Fat”).
An ode to renowned photographer Sally Mann, Render develops latent memories into visible, vibrant images of love, family and youth. With honesty and wit, it plays like a mix tape for the wonder years and reads like subtitles for the feel-good ABC after-school specials of yesteryear.
“Members Only” evokes teenage existential angst of the 1980s, fraught with cliques, stringent standards for popularity and the required uniform for campus mobility:
It’s a playground Sophie’s Choice,
but always go for the jacket
to absorb the flack your feet will take,
nine dollar K-marts, zig-zaggy stripe
only passing for real a mile away.
Keep their eyes above the waist line
To that embroidered calling card hanging
off the pocket, a key to junior high kingdom.
Walk faster, make your feet blur.
ACCIDENTS OF PROVIDENCE by Stacia M. Brown (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)
Brown’s debut novel captures the politics of martyrdom, the complications of social class and the fallacy of religion in a tight, suspenseful narrative replete with gripping courtroom scenes of an infant-murder trial and a shocking twist.
It opens in 17th-century England after the enactment of “An Act to Prevent the Destroying and Murdering of Bastard Children.” When an infant girl is found buried in the woods, unmarried glovemaker Rachel Lockyer, involved in a secret affair, is arrested for her murder. Neighborhood gossip fuels witness testimony, the law has a flaw, and political tension abounds in the aftermath of King Charles’ beheading. Although Rachel admits that the child belonged to her, and that she buried her, the essential question remains: was the child born alive?
Rachel had discovered she was with child on the morning of her brother’s execution. She was standing in a sea green dress at the edge of a crowd when the revelation came. She was watching the soldiers circling, the way they breathed and blew like eager little gods, creating clouds that mingled with the mist and clung to the churchyard grounds…. Conception is a strange word. One conceives in different ways. An idea can be conceived. So can a plan for a cathedral. A philosophy student conceives a way through a logic problem. A spider conceives a web. Conceiving is creation, but before it is creation it is mischief. And before it is mischief it is faith.
PLAGUE by H.W. “Buzz” Bernard (Bell Bridge Books)
A lethal airborne Ebola virus spreads like a cold in an Atlanta day care center. While CDC virologist Dwight Butler investigates the origin of what could be an apocalyptic health crisis, Richard Wainwright, the new chief executive officer of Atlanta biotech firm BioDawn, investigates the purpose of a strange building near his office.
Wainwright’s discovery leads him on a hunt for a bioterrorist, who threatens to launch a second, greater dissemination of Ebola that could wipe out the entire population of Atlanta in a few days’ time. Inspired by Richard Preston’s The Hot Zone, Bernard’s second novel grapples with the complexity of disease, the crisis of contagion and the catastrophic danger of bioterrorism.
Richard stood, keeping his hand on the SIG and jamming the weapon more firmly into the waistband of his khakis. His heart hammered at the same rate as the furious Zydeco beat from across the street. His shirt, saturated with perspiration, clung to him like a wet dishrag. Not cut out for this…. Richard, understanding he was deep in enemy territory, decided to burrow even deeper. Hiding in plain sight.
THE FAMILY MANSION by Anthony C. Winkler (Akashic Books)
Set in the19th century, the Jamaican-born author’s lyrical and engaging novel transports readers to his native country’s sugar cane plantations in the tumultuous years before the abolition of slavery. The Family Mansion tells the story of Hartley Fudges, the cocky, pampered second son of an English duke.
After his plot to kill his older brother to inherit his family’s wealth fails, Hartley moves to Jamaica to seek his fortune. His aristocratic, rigidly stratified life doesn’t prepare him for revolts, disease and his love for a slave girl named Phibba:
From the beginning, it was obvious that this was no ordinary affair of the flesh between a black woman and white man on the plantation, with all of the lopsidedness of a relationship between master and slave. It was obvious because the lovers did not hit and run, did not jump up in postcoital embarrassment and flee the scene of lovemaking. Instead, they lingered in each other’s arms talking quietly. And afterward, civility and playfulness existed between them as they walked away holding hands like they were bonded together with ties of domesticity.
THE TIME BETWEEN by Karen White (Penguin/New American Library; release date June 4)
At age 34, Eleanor Murray can’t seem to get her act together. She drinks too much, hangs out with the wrong men and is stuck living in her childhood home with her arthritic mother, her older sister Eve and Eve’s husband Glen, whom Eleanor has secretly loved for half her life.
But what troubles Eleanor most is the guilt she harbors from a terrible accident she believes she caused when she was 17, which almost killed her and left Eve paralyzed from the waist down:
The first time I died was the summer I turned seventeen. I remember the air being so hot you could smell the pluff mud baking in the sun, the scent sulfur-sweet and strong enough to curl your toes, the tall stems of sweetgrass listless, their tips bowed into submission. Blood sat like melted copper in my open mouth as I rose above my broken body, splayed like a rag doll beside the dirt road…. I watched, suspended between this world and the next, as my mother bent over Eve’s body, my sister’s legs bent in ways they shouldn’t have been.
When a friendship blossoms between Eleanor and Helena Szarka, a grieving elderly woman who escaped with her sister Bernadette from Hungary during World War II, Eleanor realizes that it might not be too late to mend her relationship with Eve.
Set in South Carolina’s idyllic Lowcountry against the bittersweet notes of a piano in mourning and a prophecy spoken in Gullah, The Time Between weaves a story as intricate and sturdy as a sweetgrass basket, with the fresh, magnetic voices of its headstrong characters.
UNSEEN by Karin Slaughter (Delacorte Press; release date July 2)
Georgia Bureau of Investigation special agent Will Trent goes undercover in Macon disguised as Bill Black, a violent ex-convict, to investigate the shooting of police Officer Jared Long. But Trent’s case becomes more complicated at every turn. Long is the stepson of Dr. Sara Linton, the woman Trent loves. And Sara is hell-bent on proving that Jared’s wife, troubled detective Lena Adams, is responsible not just for his shooting but for Sara’s husband Jeffrey’s death five years earlier:
Sara’s voice shook with rage. She could barely restrain herself. “I was the one who told Jeffrey to hire you. I was the one who told him to promote you. I was the one who thought you could do your goddamn job and keep him safe.” … Lena was backed against the window. Sara loomed over her. She couldn’t remember moving, couldn’t understand how her finger had jammed into Lena’s chest or how her hand had clutched into a fist…. Sara couldn’t let Lena win. Not this time. Not like this.
The eighth book in Slaughter’s best-selling Will Trent series pits Trent against Sara, and Sara against Lena, in an electrifying race to find Jared’s would-be killer and expose Macon’s dirty cops.