Happy New Year! Here’s what I brought to WBRC Fox 6 on January 1. Let’s the year off right with some advice on gracious living then move on to a gritty novel, a gripping thriller and an unusual memoir.
Whiskey in a Teacup by Reese Witherspoon is subtitled What Growing Up in the South Taught Me About Life, Love and Baking Biscuits. And this breezy book is about all that and more. The biscuit recipe is in the chapter that celebrates Easter, and there is an accompanying playlist (April in Paris by Billie Holiday is featured). The recipes alone are worth the price of admission. Dorothea’s Brined and Battered Fried Chicken is a combination of a 1940s recipe and several others written in Witherspoon’s grandmother’s own hand. The baked Brie is starring at my next party, and the shrimp and grits will enter our dinner rotation next week. There are ideas on entertaining—from a Kentucky Derby party to a Full Moon Midnight BBQ Barn Party. There’s a funny, clever Southern pronunciation key, a list of must-read books by Southern writers and ideas for decorating. Just pick a holiday. The book was inspired by Witherspoon’s grandmother who always said “it was a combination of beauty and strength that made Southern women ‘whiskey in a teacup.’”
Sugar Run by Mesha Maren (on sale Jan. 8) is a debut novel set in rural West Virginia that explores dreams and love amongst broken people living in a damaged landscape. That said, it’s a beautifully written book. Jodi McCarty was 17 when she went to prison for manslaughter. Upon her release 18 years later, she returns to the Appalachian mountains of her youth. She meets and falls in love with Miranda, and the two try to make a fresh start in a place that refuses to change. The book also is about the stark realities of post-prison life in our country. Maren writes what she knows. She says, “There is a federal prison in the town where I was born … and both my parents were involved in the prison in various ways (this is the same prison where Martha Stewart and Billie Holiday were held).” Prison activism is a big part of Maren’s life; her parents met working at the prison, and her father would take her along when he visited inmates. In her adult life she has taught creative writing classes to male inmates in Iowa City and Beckley, West Virginia.
Pieces of Her by Karin Slaughter is a highly descriptive thriller that asks: How well do we know anyone, really? Andrea Oliver thought she knew her mother, Laura. But when Laura quite calmly faces down a murderer (and kills him in the process), Andrea is forced to question lots of things. It turns out that Laura was a very different person before she had Andrea. And for 30 years she has tried to be someone else—a caring mother; a beloved speech therapist; a quiet person in a sleepy, beachside town. After the violence that involved a teenaged shooter who was the son of Georgia law enforcement “royalty,” Laura’s past is exposed and nothing will ever be the same. To save her mother, Andrea first needs to figure out exactly who she is. The trail she follows will change them both.
Future Perfect: A Skeptic’s Search for an Honest Mystic by Victoria Loustalot grew from the breakup of a long-term relationship and a traumatic year of mass shootings; terrorist attacks; Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria; racial unrest; and political chaos. Loustalot found herself questioning nearly everything and looking for answers in unexpected places—namely with psychics, astrologers and shamans. She begins examining the layers of mysticism—interviewing a New Jersey teen who “sees dead people,” an astrological poet in Indonesia, a psychic in Montreal, a Hawaiian empathy-intuitive and a California grandmother who might be clairvoyant. Along the way, she visits a voodoo museum in New Orleans (I think I’ve been there), takes a virtual class in astrology and becomes friends with an oracle card designer in Manhattan (hey, someone has to make them). Readers follow her down various rabbit holes as she tries to figure out what’s real, what’s not and why it even matters in the first place.