[TOP FIVE FICTION]
Criminal by Karin Slaughter (Delacorte Press)
Slaughter churns out bestselling crime novels with such frightening frequency, it’s easy to take for granted how talented she is.
ONE GREAT PASSAGE “Lucy’s tongue swelled in her mouth. Her vision blurred. It was useless. There was no air left for her lungs. No oxygen going to her brain. She felt herself start to give, her muscles releasing. The back of her head hit pavement. She stared up. The sky was impossibly black, pinholes of stars barely visible. The man stared down at her, the same concerned look in his eyes. Only this time, he was smiling.”
Elza’s Kitchen by Marc Fitten (Bloomsbury)
Fitten’s second stylish Hungarian folktale captures the dreaded ennui of a forty-eight-year-old divorcée and restaurateur who wakes up missing something she can’t quite identify.
ONE GREAT PASSAGE “She shook her head at her reflection again. Her skin was sallow and her temples, gray. Her eyes looked sunken in. Her breasts sagged like plastic shopping bags. She tried to force a smile. She pulled her hair back and stuck out her chin. She remembered the younger woman she had been. She thought to herself, I know I am in there. Somewhere. I know I am still here!”
A Grown-Up Kind of Pretty by Joshilyn Jackson (Grand Central Publishing)
In a murder mystery that only Jackson could write—smart, funny, a little twisted—three generations of women cope with the fallout of a sloppily buried secret in Gulf Coast, Mississippi.
ONE GREAT PASSAGE “My daughter, Liza, put her heart in a silver box and buried it under the willow tree in our backyard. Or as close to under that tree as she could anyway. The thick web of roots shunted her off to the side, to the place where the willow’s long fingers trailed down. They swept back and forth across the troubled earth, helping Liza smooth away the dig marks.”
The Starboard Sea by Amber Dermont (St. Martin’s Press)
In this sparkling debut novel, an associate professor at Agnes Scott College guides her immensely likable teenage protagonist—the Dickensian-named Jason Prosper—through a perfectly rendered world of boarding schools and sailboats.
One Great Passage “What Cal liked best was to spot waves during an upcoming squall. We both understood that it was always best to sail directly into a storm. Never away. When riding into colder water we could feel the surface air cool, the wind slow and back down. Together we’d calibrate the rise, as gale forces cause the edges of crest to break into spindrift.”
A True History of the Captivation, Transport to Strange Lands & Deliverance of Hannah Guttentag by Josh Russell (Dzanc Books)
In this wickedly funny send-up of Puritan-era captivity narratives, scholar Hannah Guttentag lives out her own “captivity”—and redemption—in early-1990s academia.
ONE GREAT PASSAGE “Buttery September sun slanted into the basement cafe. I listened to Joanie and Sam and Nat say smart, snide things about TV shows and books and movies and professors, and it became clear to me it would be at times like this . . . that I would live the life of the mind I’d imagined living when I first got the letter from Cornell.”
[TOP FIVE NONFICTION]
Must Win: A Season of Survival for a Town and Its Team by Drew Jubera (St. Martin’s Press)
Veteran journalist Jubera mines storytelling gold in this beautifully crafted book about what high school football can mean to a town. His magnificent portraits of the people of Valdosta are more compelling than anything that happens on the gridiron.
ONE GREAT PASSAGE “Beyond a chain-link fence on the other side of the field, a murmuring chorus of parents, retirees, and ex-players idly fingering their championship rings looked on from low wooden bleachers—all of them bunching up and drifting off and then resettling again, like mockingbirds trying to get cozy on a telephone wire.”
My Cross to Bear by Gregg Allman (William Morrow)
The surviving Allman brother relives the glory days and the backstage realities of an enduring rock ’n’ roll band in this frank and unfussy autobiography. Allman is at his best when he’s writing about his one true
ONE GREAT PASSAGE “When you get down to it, I was, and probably still am, the least accomplished musician in the band. By accomplished, I mean as far as theory goes, and scoring and reading music—I do none of those. The other guys in the band know more than I do about that stuff, but most of them don’t know shit about singing.”
The Seed Underground: A Growing Revolution to Save Food by Janisse Ray (Chelsea Green Publishing)
The author of Ecology of a Cracker Childhood returns to her farming roots with a sweet-hearted vengeance in this exuberant, impassioned call to save our heritage through saving seeds. This book is part memoir, part political manifesto, part botany textbook, and pure Ray.
ONE GREAT PASSAGE “On that same farm, the one I roamed as a child eating crabapples and muscadines, pomegranates and sand pears, now the story is Roundup-resistant pigweed growing among rows of genetically modified (GM) soybeans in fields leased to chemical cultivators . . . The sassafras tree my grandfather so carefully skirted with his harrows is dead
Strom Thurmond’s America by Joseph Crespino (Hill and Wang)
Emory University historian Crespino has accomplished something remarkable with this fascinating biography of a despicable political leader (1902–2003). Rather than dismissing Thurmond as a relic, Crespino argues that the late senator was a seminal figure in the rise of modern conservatives.
ONE GREAT PASSAGE “[Thurmond] remains today one of the great American hypocrites, yet there is more than just hypocrisy to his story. And the hypocrisies that exist were not just his or the white South’s alone; they were also America’s. Staring these facts in the face is uncomfortable, yet it is what makes our looking all the more essential.”
The World of the Salt Marsh: Appreciating and Protecting the Tidal Marshes of the Southeastern Atlantic Coast by Charles Seabrook (University of Georgia Press)
In a mesmerizing blend of reporting and memoir, longtime environmental journalist Seabrook captures the poetry and the science behind the marshes that he has loved since his childhood on Johns Island, South Carolina.
ONE GREAT PASSAGE “These teeming multitudes can make swimming in a tidal creek slightly unpleasant. Scores of shrimp constantly run into you, their sharp tails and spines pricking your skin like so many little stickpins. If you swim at night, their little red eyes surround you, thousands of tiny points of light darting about like tiny little spooks.”
This article originally appeared in our December 2012 issue.