By Gina Webb
With the holidays just around the corner, we’ve sorted through this year’s titles with a Southern-style Christmas in mind. Whether your taste runs to mystery, memoirs or miracles, here’s an assortment we’re sure will be welcome under the tree.
Many of us look forward to epic family gatherings during the holidays, and in “Christmas Mourning” (Grand Central, $25.99), the 16th book in Margaret Maron’s popular series, Judge Deborah Knott is no exception. But just as the sprawling Knott tribe convenes in Colleton, N.C., for the holidays, a popular local high school girl dies in a suspicious car crash, followed by the shooting deaths of two teenage brothers. Family and friends play a central role in solving this mystery, as Knott and her chief deputy husband gather clues.
Nothing says Merry Christmas quite like your husband’s ex waltzing into your life during the holidays. Amateur sleuth-herb shop owner China Bayles is readying for another holiday season in Pecan Springs, Texas, despite the flagging economy, in Susan Wittig Albert’s “Holly Blues” (Huntington Press, $24.95). First, Sally-the-Psycho-Ex shows up begging for a place to stay, then a stalker shows up, looking for Sally. When Sally’s sister turns up dead, China and her PI husband team up to keep their blue Christmas from turning blood-red.
The retail blues continue in “A Piggly Wiggly Christmas” (Putnam, $24.95), the third installment in Robert Dalby’s quirky, happy-ever-after series. The holiday spirit is under attack in Second Creek, Miss. First of all, the new MegaMart is stealing business away from the historic town square shops. Next, only weeks before Christmas a fire rips through the square, destroying its beautiful old buildings. To revitalize downtown at this point would take a miracle — of the Piggly Wiggly variety, of course.
If you’re a struggling musician, chances are this wish tops your Christmas list: After years of playing anonymous bars and clubs for peanuts, you write “The Perfect Love Song” (Vanguard Press, $15.95), make piles of money, and sit back as the world falls at your feet. In Georgian Patti Callahan Henry’s latest, brothers Jimmy and Jack Sullivan have been on the road forever with their aptly named band, the Unknown Souls. But when the song Jimmy writes for a new girlfriend turns into a smash hit, his overnight success tests his love and loyalties — right at Christmas, too!
In January 2009, award-winning columnist Rheta Grimsley Johnson began writing what she envisioned as a Christmas book — each chapter anchored by the holiday, beginning with her childhood in Alabama and Georgia. Two months later, Johnson’s husband died of a heart attack, and she wondered if she’d ever celebrate the season again. Luckily, she kept writing, turning “Enchanted Evening Barbie and the Second Coming” (NewSouth Books, $24.95) into a year-round treasure about growing up in the South, her life as a reporter, the challenging years she spent as an AJC columnist, a later-in-life romance with her second husband — and all the Christmases in between.
South Carolina native and former University of Georgia English professor James Kilgo’s 1999 memoir “The Hand-Carved Creche and Other Christmas Memories” (University of South Carolina, $19.95) has been reissued in paperback just in time for Christmas. In lean but eloquent prose, Kilgo writes of long-ago Christmas wishes, the transformative power of a family’s love, and the true meaning of the Nativity.
In “Sacred Light: Holy Places in Louisiana” (University Press of Mississippi, $35), renowned photographer A.J. Meek takes readers on an inspired visual journey to the many magnificent and long-standing churches and synagogues in south Louisiana. This perfect complement to the season also includes striking photos taken after Hurricane Katrina.
Ah, fruitcake. You either love it or hate it — kind of the way a lot of people felt about enfant terrible Truman Capote. “Fruitcake: Heirloom Recipes and Memories of Truman Capote and Cousin Sook” (University of North Carolina Press, $15) by Marie Rudisill is a captivating collection of kitchen wisdom, baking tips and family reminiscences, along with 23 fruitcake recipes selected from the farm journal of Sook Faulk, the gentle elderly cousin in Capote’s childhood story “A Christmas Memory.”
For kids age 5 and up: Decatur resident Elizabeth Dulemba illustrated “The Twelve Days of Christmas in Georgia” (Sterling, $12.95) by Susan Rosson Spain, the story of two cousins who set off on a merry holiday romp through the Peach State.
Jerdine Nolen of Mississippi and Barry Moser of Tennessee teamed up for “Christmas in the Time of Billy Lee” (Hyperion, $16.99) for kids ages 4-8. Ellie’s parents say her magical friend Billy Lee is make-believe, but when he tells her “there is magic in believing something good with all your heart, ” Ellie takes his advice. Lo and behold, the first snow falls in town in 50 years, broken tree lights twinkle again and mysterious angels appear.