Each month, we feature new reading suggestions from book lovers across Atlanta’s arts and culture landscape. This month’s list includes a young boy’s search by Chris Negron, a historical thriller by Kim Taylor Blakemore, a feminist perspective on Greek mythology by Jennifer Saint and much more.
I’ll admit that since I have a particular affinity for children’s books, a new novel for adults has the potential to languish in the pile on my nightstand for an embarrassing amount of time before I get to it. However, Ariadne (Flatiron Books, 308 pages) by first-time author Jennifer Saint, made it out of to-be-read purgatory recently, and I’m so glad it did (the siren song of the beautiful cover art lured me in). It covers the familiar territory of Greek mythology but with a refreshingly feminist perspective. It tells the story of Princess Ariadne of Crete, daughter of tyrannical King Minos and sister of the Minotaur, as well as Ariadne’s sister Phaedra.
This book reads like an adult version of D’Aulaires’ Book of Greek Myths, mixed with the family drama of The Thorn Birds. The saga is compelling as it unfolds, but what drives this novel even more is the theme of sisterhood, both literal and figurative, as it becomes apparent who pays the price inherent in all mythological heroism (hint: it’s not the men). It illuminates the complexity of relationships, particularly motherhood, in a way that is both sad and joyful, and still manages to be just plain too good to put down. At first this book comes across as well–done historical fiction, but the gods are not only fervently believed in, they are literally real and very flawed — as are the human characters.
Fans of Madeline Miller’s Circe, in particular, will enjoy this female–forward rendition of events and the way that fiction can feel (enragingly, at moments) so full of truth.
— Marcy Cornell is a former bookseller and now cohosts The Newbery Tart Podcast, on which she reviews Newbery Medal and honor books, and interviews authors, illustrators and other influential figures in children’s literature.
In Kim Taylor Blakemore’s historical thriller, After Alice Fell (Lake Union Publishing, 287 pages), Marion Abbott arrives at Brawders House asylum to collect the body of her sister, Alice.
Alice’s four-story fall from the asylum’s roof is officially deemed an accident, while Marion is informed by hospital administrators that her sister committed suicide. Marion is not convinced, believing Alice has been murdered. Marion, recently widowed, returns to her family home, where she takes up residence with her brother and his wife. Unsuccessful at managing her grief and her suspicions surrounding Alice’s death, she grows increasingly frustrated. Her attempt to find answers seems futile until a stranger whispers to Marion, “I saw her fall.” Now, Marion will risk her own life to find answers and unearth long–buried secrets.
With impeccable pacing, Blakemore confines the reader to dark, claustrophobic places, leaving us breathless in this eerie, gothic thriller. This is the perfect summer escape.
— Robert Gwaltney is the author of The Cicada Tree (Moonshine Cove Publishing, 350 pages), his debut novel to be released this winter. He is fiction editor for The Blue Mountain Review. By day, he serves as vice president of the nonprofit Easter Seals North Georgia.
Katie Farris chronicles her cancer diagnosis and mastectomy in A Net to Catch My Body in Its Weaving (Beloit Poetry Journal, 40 pages), the winner of the 2021 Chad Walsh Chapbook Prize.
These short, clear-eyed poems are both harrowing and beautiful in their intensity. But there’s also grittiness and unexpected humor as Farris details surgeries, chemotherapy, the hyper-awareness of her own changing body and the tender, unwavering love of a partner.
It’s often said that words are survival and Farris — an associate professor of creative writing at Georgia Tech — is thrillingly alive and present even as she faces her mortality in this lyrical collection.
— The latest poetry collection by Collin Kelley is Midnight in a Perfect World (Sibling Rivalry Press, 288 pages). He is co-editor of Mother Mary Comes to Me: A Pop Culture Poetry Anthology (Madville Publishing, 128 pages).
Chris Negron, author of Dan, Unmasked, is back for another round of fun.
The Last Super Chef (HarperCollins, 416 pages) follows Curtis Pith, a young boy who is remarkably adept in the kitchen, and who believes his long–lost father is celebrity chef Lucas Taylor, host of the hit show Super Chef. When Taylor announces the show will end with one last round, Curtis makes it his goal to make the show, win and reunite with his father. That is, if everything goes according to plan.
One part Willy Wonka, one part MasterChef Junior, The Last Super Chef is a whirlwind of a story in the hands of a master storyteller. From the precise descriptions of cooking techniques to the dishes and ingredients the young chef manages, readers will be drawn into the culinary world as if they had never been elsewhere. You don’t need to be a fan of cooking to enjoy this heartfelt tale of a young boy trying to find himself, but in the hands of Negron, young readers will find more than enough reason to wonder if they, too, could be the Last Super Chef. For kids and adults alike, this is a “must have” on your shelf.
— Zachary Steele is the founder and executive director of Broadleaf Writers and the author of three novels, including The Weight of Ashes (The Story Plant, 256 pages). He has been featured in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Publishers Weekly, Writer’s Magazine, Shelf Awareness and City Lights with Lois Reitzes on WABE-FM.
Story collections seldom get as much attention as novels, but Milk Blood Heat (Grove Press, 202 pages) by Dantiel W. Moniz appeared in many “Books to Read This Summer” lists, and for good reason. This debut collection of 11 stories set predominantly in Florida is exceptional. Moniz’s characters are accessible, complicated and often slightly dangerous. Their physical bodies (hence the title) both create and undercut their longing. Adolescent girls explore the boundaries of friendship as they confront sexuality and the finality of death. Couples struggle to stay connected amid serious illness and unplanned pregnancy. Young women, sometimes full of rage, ward off the guises of misogyny, from bruises delivered by school bullies to the wandering hands of pastors who pass on laws from “blue-eyed, man-dreamt heaven” and raise boys “to be hateful and scared.”
Though her gaze is sharp and wide — race, for example, is a subtle, unflinching trope — Moniz is most comfortable and most effective in her rendering of the mother/daughter relationship, a defining theme. As one narrator says of her wayward mother, “She couldn’t ask me for forgiveness. She was too herself to apologize for her nature.” Though nothing about these stories suggests that either role of mother or daughter is easy or knowable or pure, Moniz can always find the necessary, if not sometimes missing, honesty in the relationship. And it doesn’t hurt that her language is often startling and always precise.
— Anna Schachner is the author of the novel You and I and Someone Else (Mercer University Press, 320 pages) and has published short fiction and nonfiction in many journals and magazines. For 10 years, she edited The Chattahoochee Review and was the Director of the Townsend Prize for Fiction. She is on the board of directors of Reforming Arts and teaches creative writing in the Georgia women’s prison system.