Each year, hundreds of booksellers and readers across the South vote on the books they have most enjoyed selling, recommending, and reading. These are the books they couldn’t stop talking about: books by Southern writers, or with a Southern perspective, or both. Voting began November 10, 2018 and lasted until February 1, 2019. Winners were announced on February 14, 2019.

  • A Well-Behaved Woman by Therese Anne Fowler

    A Well-Behaved Woman by Therese Anne Fowler

    The riveting novel of iron-willed Alva Vanderbilt and her illustrious family as they rule Gilded-Age New York, from the New York Times bestselling author of Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald.

    Alva Smith, her southern family destitute after the Civil War, married into one of America’s great Gilded Age dynasties: the newly wealthy but socially shunned Vanderbilts. Ignored by New York’s old-money circles and determined to win respect, she designed and built nine mansions, hosted grand balls, and arranged for her daughter to marry a duke. But Alva also defied convention for women of her time, asserting power within her marriage and becoming a leader in the women's suffrage movement.

    With a nod to Jane Austen and Edith Wharton, in A Well-Behaved Woman, Therese Anne Fowler paints a glittering world of enormous wealth contrasted against desperate poverty, of social ambition and social scorn, of friendship and betrayal, and an unforgettable story of a remarkable woman. Meet Alva Smith Vanderbilt Belmont, living proof that history is made by those who know the rules—and how to break them.

    A Well-Behaved Woman by Therese Anne Fowler (St. Martin’s Press)

     2019 Southern Book Prize Finalist in Fiction

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  • An American Marriage by Tayari Jones

    An American Marriage by Tayari JonesNewlyweds Celestial and Roy are the embodiment of both the American Dream and the New South. He is a young executive, and she is an artist on the brink of an exciting career. But as they settle into the routine of their life together, they are ripped apart by circumstances neither could have imagined. Roy is arrested and sentenced to twelve years for a crime Celestial knows he didn’t commit. Though fiercely independent, Celestial finds herself bereft and unmoored, taking comfort in Andre, her childhood friend, and best man at their wedding. As Roy’s time in prison passes, she is unable to hold on to the love that has been her center. After five years, Roy’s conviction is suddenly overturned, and he returns to Atlanta ready to resume their life together.

    This stirring love story is a profoundly insightful look into the hearts and minds of three people who are at once bound and separated by forces beyond their control. An American Marriage is a masterpiece of storytelling, an intimate look deep into the souls of people who must reckon with the past while moving forward—with hope and pain—into the future.

    An American Marriage by Tayari Jones (Algonquin Books)

     2019 Southern Book Prize Finalist in Fiction

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  • Florida: Stories by Lauren Groff

    Florida: Stories by Lauren Groff

    In her thrilling new book, Lauren Groff brings the reader into a physical world that is at once domestic and wild—a place where the hazards of the natural world lie waiting to pounce, yet the greatest threats and mysteries are still of an emotional, psychological nature. A family retreat can be derailed by a prowling panther, or by a sexual secret. Among those navigating this place are a resourceful pair of abandoned sisters; a lonely boy, grown up; a restless, childless couple, a searching, homeless woman; and an unforgettable, recurring character—a steely and conflicted wife and mother.

    The stories in this collection span characters, towns, decades, even centuries, but Florida—its landscape, climate, history, and state of mind—becomes its gravitational center: an energy, a mood, as much as a place of residence. Groff transports the reader, then jolts us alert with a crackle of wit, a wave of sadness, a flash of cruelty, as she writes about loneliness, rage, family, and the passage of time. With shocking accuracy and effect, she pinpoints the moments and decisions and connections behind human pleasure and pain, hope and despair, love and fury—the moments that make us alive. Startling, precise, and affecting, Florida is a magnificent achievement.

    Florida: Stories by Lauren Groff (Riverhead Books)

     2019 Southern Book Prize Finalist in Fiction

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  • Ghost Boys by Jewell Parker Rhodes

    Ghost Boys by Jewell Parker Rhodes

    A heartbreaking and powerful story about a black boy killed by a police officer, drawing connections through history, from award-winning author Jewell Parker Rhodes.

    Only the living can make the world better. Live and make it better.

    Twelve-year-old Jerome is shot by a police officer who mistakes his toy gun for a real threat. As a ghost, he observes the devastation that's been unleashed on his family and community in the wake of what they see as an unjust and brutal killing.

    Soon Jerome meets another ghost: Emmett Till, a boy from a very different time but similar circumstances. Emmett helps Jerome process what has happened, on a journey towards recognizing how historical racism may have led to the events that ended his life. Jerome also meets Sarah, the daughter of the police officer, who grapples with her father's actions.

    Once again Jewell Parker Rhodes deftly weaves historical and socio-political layers into a gripping and poignant story about how children and families face the complexities of today's world, and how one boy grows to understand American blackness in the aftermath of his own death.

    Ghost Boys by Jewell Parker Rhodes (Little Brown Books for Young Readers)

     2019 Southern Book Prize Finalist in Children & Young Adult

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  • Gods of Howl Mountain by Taylor Brown

    Gods of Howl Mountain by Taylor Brown

    In Gods of Howl Mountain, award-winning author Taylor Brown explores a world of folk healers, whiskey-runners, and dark family secrets in the high country of 1950s North Carolina.

    Bootlegger Rory Docherty has returned home to the fabled mountain of his childhood - a misty wilderness that holds its secrets close and keeps the outside world at gunpoint. Slowed by a wooden leg and haunted by memories of the Korean War, Rory runs bootleg whiskey for a powerful mountain clan in a retro-fitted '40 Ford coupe. Between deliveries to roadhouses, brothels, and private clients, he lives with his formidable grandmother, evades federal agents, and stokes the wrath of a rival runner.

    In the mill town at the foot of the mountains - a hotbed of violence, moonshine, and the burgeoning sport of stock-car racing--Rory is bewitched by the mysterious daughter of a snake-handling preacher. His grandmother, Maybelline “Granny May” Docherty, opposes this match for her own reasons, believing that "some things are best left buried." A folk healer whose powers are rumored to rival those of a wood witch, she concocts potions and cures for the people of the mountains while harboring an explosive secret about Rory’s mother - the truth behind her long confinement in a mental hospital, during which time she has not spoken one word. When Rory's life is threatened, Granny must decide whether to reveal what she knows...or protect her only grandson from the past.

    With gritty and atmospheric prose, Taylor Brown brings to life a perilous mountain and the family who rules it.

    Gods of Howl Mountain by Taylor Brown (St. Martin’s Press)

     2019 Southern Book Prize Finalist in Fiction

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  • Grim Lovelies by Megan Shepherd

    Grim Lovelies by Megan Shepherd

    Seventeen-year-old Anouk envies the human world, where people known as Pretties lavish themselves in fast cars, high fashion, and have the freedom to fall in love. But Anouk can never have those things, because she is not really human. Enchanted from animal to human girl and forbidden to venture beyond her familiar Parisian prison, Anouk is a Beastie: destined for a life surrounded by dust bunnies and cinders serving Mada Vittora, the evil witch who spelled her into existence. That is, until one day she finds her mistress murdered in a pool of blood—and Anouk is accused of the crime.

    Now, the world she always dreamed of is rife with danger. Pursued through Paris by the underground magical society known as the Haute, Anouk and her fellow Beasties only have three days to find the real killer before the spell keeping them human fades away. If they fail, they will lose the only lives they’ve ever known…but if they succeed, they could be more powerful than anyone ever bargained for.

    From New York Times bestselling author Megan Shepherd, Grim Lovelies is the glittering first book in a new, epic YA fantasy series. Prepare to be spellbound by the world of Grim Lovelies, where secrets have been long buried, friends can become enemies, and everything—especially humanity—comes at a price.

    Grim Lovelies by Megan Shepherd (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Books for Young Readers)

     2019 Southern Book Prize Finalist in Children & Young Adult

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  • I Felt a Funeral, in My Brain by Will Walton

    I Felt a Funeral, in My Brain by Will Walton

    How do you deal with a hole in your life?

    Do you turn to poets and pop songs?

    Do you dream?

    Do you try on love just to see how it fits?

    Do you grieve?

    If you're Avery, you do all of these things. And you write it all down in an attempt to understand what's happened--and is happening--to you.

    I Felt a Funeral, in My Brain is an astonishing novel about navigating death and navigating life, at a time when the only map you have is the one you can draw for yourself.

    I Felt a Funeral, in My Brain by Will Walton (Push)

     2019 Southern Book Prize Finalist in Children & Young Adult

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  • Lions & Liars by Kate Beasley, Dan Santat (Illustrator)

    Lions & Liars by Kate Beasley, Dan Santat (Illustrator)

    Frederick Frederickson has a food-chain theory about life. There are lions, like the school bully. Gazelles, like the bullied kids. There are meerkats, and the fleas that live on the butts of meerkats. Frederick's a flea.

    Fifth grade is off to a terrible start when Frederick is sent to a disciplinary camp for troublesome boys. His fellow troop mates—Nosebleed, Specs, The Professor, and little-yet-lethal Ant Bite—are terrifying. But in between trust-building exercises and midnight escape attempts, a tenuous friendship grows between them. Which is lucky, because a Category 5 hurricane is coming and everyone will have to work together—lions and fleas alike—to survive!

    Kate Beasley outdoes herself in this hilarious, whip-smart tale of brotherhood, survival, and what it really means to be a friend.

    Lions & Liars by Kate Beasley, Dan Santat (Illustrator) (Farrar, Straus & Giroux Books for Young Readers)

     2019 Southern Book Prize Finalist in Children & Young Adult

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  • Louisiana’s Way Home by Kate DiCamillo

    Louisiana’s Way Home by Kate DiCamillo

    From two-time Newbery Medalist Kate DiCamillo comes a story of discovering who you are--and deciding who you want to be.

    When Louisiana Elefante’s granny wakes her up in the middle of the night to tell her that the day of reckoning has arrived and they have to leave home immediately, Louisiana isn’t overly worried. After all, Granny has many middle-of-the-night ideas. But this time, things are different. This time, Granny intends for them never to return. Separated from her best friends, Raymie and Beverly, Louisiana struggles to oppose the winds of fate (and Granny) and find a way home. But as Louisiana’s life becomes entwined with the lives of the people of a small Georgia town — including a surly motel owner, a walrus-like minister, and a mysterious boy with a crow on his shoulder — she starts to worry that she is destined only for good-byes. (Which could be due to the curse on Louisiana's and Granny’s heads. But that is a story for another time.)

    Called "one of DiCamillo’s most singular and arresting creations" by The New York Times Book Review, the heartbreakingly irresistible Louisiana Elefante was introduced to readers in Raymie Nightingale and now, with humor and tenderness, Kate DiCamillo returns to tell her story.

    Louisiana’s Way Home by Kate DiCamillo (Candlewick)

     2019 Southern Book Prize Finalist in Children & Young Adult

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  • One Person, No Vote by Carol Anderson

    One Person, No Vote by Carol Anderson

    From the award-winning, New York Times bestselling author of White Rage, the startling--and timely--history of voter suppression in America, with a foreword by Senator Dick Durbin.

    In her New York Times bestseller White Rage, Carol Anderson laid bare an insidious history of policies that have systematically impeded black progress in America, from 1865 to our combustible present. With One Person, No Vote, she chronicles a related history: the rollbacks to African American participation in the vote since the 2013 Supreme Court decision that eviscerated the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Known as the Shelby ruling, this decision effectively allowed districts with a demonstrated history of racial discrimination to change voting requirements without approval from the Department of Justice.

    Focusing on the aftermath of Shelby, Anderson follows the astonishing story of government-dictated racial discrimination unfolding before our very eyes as more and more states adopt voter suppression laws. In gripping, enlightening detail she explains how voter suppression works, from photo ID requirements to gerrymandering to poll closures. And with vivid characters, she explores the resistance: the organizing, activism, and court battles to restore the basic right to vote to all Americans.

    One Person, No Vote by Carol Anderson (Bloomsbury Publishing)

     2019 Southern Book Prize Finalist in Nonfiction

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  • Scribe by Alyson Hagy

    Scribe by Alyson Hagy

    A haunting, evocative tale about the power of storytelling...

    A brutal civil war has ravaged the country, and contagious fevers have decimated the population. Abandoned farmhouses litter the isolated mountain valleys and shady hollows. The economy has been reduced to barter and trade.

    In this craggy, unwelcoming world, the central character of Scribe ekes out a lonely living on the family farmstead where she was raised and where her sister met an untimely end. She lets a migrant group known as the Uninvited set up temporary camps on her land, and maintains an uneasy peace with her cagey neighbors and the local enforcer. She has learned how to make paper and ink, and she has become known for her letter-writing skills, which she exchanges for tobacco, firewood, and other scarce resources. An unusual request for a letter from a man with hidden motivations unleashes the ghosts of her troubled past and sets off a series of increasingly calamitous events that culminate in a harrowing journey to a crossroads.

    Drawing on traditional folktales and the history and culture of Appalachia, Alyson Hagy has crafted a gripping, swiftly plotted novel that touches on pressing issues of our time—migration, pandemic disease, the rise of authoritarianism—and makes a compelling case for the power of stories to both show us the world and transform it.

    Scribe by Alyson Hagy (Graywolf Press)

     2019 Southern Book Prize Finalist in Fiction

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  • Smack Dab in the Middle of Maybe by Jo Watson Hackl

    Smack Dab in the Middle of Maybe by Jo Watson Hackl

     2019 Southern Book Prize Winner: Children's

    How far would you go to find something that might not even exist?

    All her life, Cricket's mama has told her stories about a secret room painted by a mysterious artist. Now Mama's run off, and Cricket thinks the room might be the answer to getting her to come back. If it exists. And if she can find it.

    Cricket's only clue is a coin from a grown-over ghost town in the woods. So with her daddy's old guidebook and a coat full of snacks stolen from the Cash 'n' Carry, Cricket runs away to find the room. Surviving in the woods isn't easy. While Cricket camps out in an old tree house and looks for clues, she meets the last resident of the ghost town, encounters a poetry-loving dog (who just might hold a key to part of the puzzle), and discovers that sometimes you have to get a little lost...to really find your way.

    Smack Dab in the Middle of Maybe by Jo Watson Hackl (Random House Books for Young Readers)

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  • Southern Discomfort by Tena Clark

    Southern Discomfort by Tena Clark

    For readers of beloved memoirs like Educated and The Glass Castle, a riveting and profoundly moving memoir set in rural Mississippi during the Civil Rights era about a white girl coming of age in a repressive society and the woman who gave her the strength to forge her own path—the black nanny who cared for her.

    Tena Clark was born in 1953 in a tiny Mississippi town close to the Alabama border, where the legacy of slavery and racial injustice still permeated every aspect of life. On the outside, Tena’s childhood looked like a fairytale. Her father was one of the richest men in the state; her mother was a regal beauty. The family lived on a sprawling farm and had the only swimming pool in town; Tena was given her first car—a royal blue Camaro—at twelve.

    But behind closed doors, Tena’s life was deeply lonely, and chaotic. By the time she was three, her parents’ marriage had dissolved into a swamp of alcohol, rampant infidelity, and guns. Adding to the turmoil, Tena understood from a very young age that she was different from her three older sisters, all of whom had been beauty queens and majorettes. Tena knew she didn’t want to be a majorette—she wanted to marry one.

    On Tena’s tenth birthday, her mother, emboldened by alcoholism and enraged by her husband’s incessant cheating, walked out for good, instantly becoming an outcast in society. Tena was left in the care of her black nanny, Virgie, who became Tena’s surrogate mother and confidante—even though she was raising nine of her own children and was not allowed to eat from the family’s plates or use their bathroom. It was Virgie’s acceptance and unconditional love that gave Tena the courage to stand up to her domineering father, the faith to believe in her mother’s love, and the strength to be her true self.

    Combining the spirit of poignant coming-of-age memoirs such as The Glass Castle and vivid, evocative Southern fiction like Fried Green Tomatoes, Southern Discomfort is about the people and places that shape who we are—and is destined to become a new classic.

    Southern Discomfort by Tena Clark (Touchstone)

     2019 Southern Book Prize Finalist in Nonfiction

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  • The Best Cook in the World: Tales from My Momma’s Table by Rick Bragg

    The Best Cook in the World: Tales from My Momma’s Table by Rick Bragg

     2019 Southern Book Prize Winner: Nonfiction

    From the beloved, best-selling author of All Over but the Shoutin', a delectable, rollicking food memoir, cookbook, and loving tribute to a region, a vanishing history, a family, and, especially, to his mother. Including seventy-four mouthwatering Bragg family recipes for classic southern dishes passed down through generations.

    Margaret Bragg does not own a single cookbook. She measures in "dabs" and "smidgens" and "tads" and "you know, hon, just some." She cannot be pinned down on how long to bake corn bread ("about 15 to 20 minutes, depending on the mysteries of your oven"). Her notion of farm-to-table is a flatbed truck. But she can tell you the secrets to perfect mashed potatoes, corn pudding, redeye gravy, pinto beans and hambone, stewed cabbage, short ribs, chicken and dressing, biscuits and butter rolls. Many of her recipes, recorded here for the first time, pre-date the Civil War, handed down skillet by skillet, from one generation of Braggs to the next. In The Best Cook in the World, Rick Bragg finally preserves his heritage by telling the stories that framed his mother's cooking and education, from childhood into old age. Because good food always has a good story, and a recipe, writes Bragg, is a story like anything else.

    The Best Cook in the World: Tales from My Momma’s Table by Rick Bragg (Knopf)

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  • The Line that Held Us by David Joy

    The Line that Held Us by David Joy

     2019 Southern Book Prize Winner: Fiction

    From critically acclaimed author David Joy comes a remarkable novel about the cover-up of an accidental death, and the dark consequences that reverberate through the lives of four people who will never be the same again.

    When Darl Moody went hunting after a monster buck he's chased for years, he never expected he'd accidentally shoot a man digging ginseng. Worse yet, he's killed a Brewer, a family notorious for vengeance and violence. With nowhere to turn, Darl calls on the help of the only man he knows will answer, his best friend, Calvin Hooper. But when Dwayne Brewer comes looking for his missing brother and stumbles onto a blood trail leading straight back to Darl and Calvin, a nightmare of revenge rips apart their world.

    The Line That Held Us is a story of friendship and family, a tale balanced between destruction and redemption, where the only hope is to hold on tight, clenching to those you love. What will you do for the people who mean the most, and what will you grasp to when all that you have is gone? The only certainty in a place so shredded is that no one will get away unscathed.

    The Line that Held Us by David Joy (G. P. Putnam’s Sons)

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