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Okra Picks are a dozen (sometimes a baker's dozen) fresh titles chosen each season that we and fellow indie booksellers across the South are excited to present to our customers. Okra Picks are Southern in nature and cover any genre and subject. For Spring 2017, discover great reads in literary fiction, food and culture, mysteries and thrillers, essays and stories, history and more. We know our readers love regional writers, and we want to be the first you a strong seasonal selection of not-to-be-missed Southern titles. Come in and browse, or order online.

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Ballantine Books
9780425284681
$26
READ THE FIRST CHAPTER

Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate

Two families, generations apart, are forever changed by a heartbreaking injustice in this poignant novel, inspired by a true story, for readers of Orphan Train and The Nightingale.

Memphis, 1939. Twelve-year-old Rill Foss and her four younger siblings live a magical life aboard their family's Mississippi River shantyboat. But when their father must rush their mother to the hospital one stormy night, Rill is left in charge--until strangers arrive in force. Wrenched from all that is familiar and thrown into a Tennessee Children's Home Society orphanage, the Foss children are assured that they will soon be returned to their parents--but they quickly realize that the truth is much darker. At the mercy of the facility's cruel director, Rill fights to keep her sisters and brother together--in a world of danger and uncertainty.

Aiken, South Carolina, present day. Born into wealth and privilege, Avery Stafford seems to have it all: a successful career as a federal prosecutor, a handsome fiancé, and a lavish wedding on the horizon. But when Avery returns home to help her father weather a health crisis, a chance encounter leaves her with uncomfortable questions--and compels her to take a journey through her family's long-hidden history, on a path that will ultimately lead either to devastation...or redemption.

Based on one of America's most notorious real-life scandals--in which Georgia Tann, director of a Memphis-based adoption organization, kidnapped and sold poor children to wealthy families all over the country--Wingate's riveting, wrenching, and ultimately uplifting tale reminds us how, even though the paths we take can lead to many places, the heart never forgets where we belong.


Candlewick Press
9780763690342
$12

Between Two Skies by Joanne O'Sullivan

Hurricane Katrina sets a teenage girl adrift. But a new life--and the promise of love--emerges in this rich, highly readable debut.

Bayou Perdu, a tiny fishing town way, way down in Louisiana, is home to sixteen-year-old Evangeline Riley. She has her best friends, Kendra and Danielle; her wise, beloved Mamere; and back-to-back titles in the under-sixteen fishing rodeo. But, dearest to her heart, she has the peace that only comes when she takes her skiff out to where there is nothing but sky and air and water and wings. It's a small life, but it is Evangeline's. And then the storm comes, and everything changes. Amid the chaos and pain and destruction comes Tru--a fellow refugee, a budding bluesman, a balm for Evangeline's aching heart.

Told in a strong, steady voice, with a keen sense of place and a vivid cast of characters, here is a novel that asks compelling questions about class and politics, exile and belonging, and the pain of being cast out of your home. But above all, this remarkable debut tells a gently woven love story, difficult to put down, impossible to forget.


Tyrus Books
9781507203385
$24.99
READ THE FIRST CHAPTER

Small Treasons by Mark Powell

In this thrilling new novel for fans of Adam Johnson's Fortune Smiles and Denise Johnson's The Laughing Monsters, four people's lives converge as they are consumed by the dangers of the world, both real and imagined.

Tess is a stay-at-home mother who has developed an odd obsession: watching terrorist ransom videos online. She's become fixated on one in particular--an American journalist being held by ISIS. Her husband, John, is more distant than ever, and in her isolation Tess finds an eerie resonance between the journalist's captivity and her own.

John is haunted by his past: dead wife, an estranged daughter, a murky career path. Now employed at a small college in Georgia, he is rattled when a former associate, James Stone, approaches him with a favor--or rather, a demand. John's colleague, Professor Edward Hadawi, is being investigated by the FBI for his involvement with an extremist religious group, and if John doesn't turn over files from their shared hard drive, he may finally face repercussions for his own questionable work at Site Nine years earlier.

James is looking for Hadawi and Reed Sharma, a young man who has fallen under his spell. Tormented by the part he's played in entrapping countless youth on the edge, James will stop at nothing to find the boy and assuage his conscience.

Beautifully written and featuring authentic characters, this is an astonishing and powerful novel about the search for meaning in an increasingly violent and divided world.


St. Martin's Press
9781250118455
$25.99

Extraordinary Adventures by Daniel Wallace

A large-hearted and optimistic novel, Extraordinary Adventures is the latest from the New York Times bestselling Daniel Wallace.

Edsel Bronfman works as a junior executive shipping clerk for an importer of Korean flatware. He lives in a seedy neighborhood and spends his free time with his spirited mother. Things happen to other people, and Bronfman knows it. Until, that is, he gets a call from operator 61217 telling him that he's won a free weekend at a beachfront condo in Destin, Florida. But there's a catch: the offer is intended for a couple, and Bronfman has only seventy-nine days to find someone to take with him.

The phone call jolts Bronfman into motion, initiating a series of truly extraordinary adventures as he sets out to find a companion for his weekend getaway. Open at last to the possibilities of life, Bronfman now believes that anything can happen. And it does.


Hub City Press
9781938235283
$16.95

Flight Path: A Search for Roots Beneath the World's Busiest Airport by Hannah Palmer

In the months leading up to the birth of her first child, Hannah Palmer discovers that all three of her childhood houses have been wiped out by the expansion of Atlanta's Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport. Having uprooted herself from a promising career in publishing in her adopted Brooklyn, Palmer embarks on a quest to determine the fate of her lost homes--and of a community that has been erased by unchecked Southern progress.

Palmer's journey takes her from the ruins of kudzu-covered, airport-owned ghost towns to carefully preserved cemeteries wedged between the runways; into awkward confrontations with airport planners, developers, and even her own parents. Along the way, Palmer becomes an amateur detective, an urban historian, and a mother.

Lyrically chronicling the overlooked devastation and beauty along the airport's fringe communities in the tradition of John Jeremiah Sullivan and Leslie Jamison, Palmer unearths the startling narratives about race, power, and place that continue to shape American cities.

Part memoir, part urban history, Flight Path: A Search for Roots beneath the World's Busiest Airport is a riveting account of one young mother's attempt at making a home where there's little home left.


Koelher Books
9781633932630
$26
READ THE FIRST CHAPTER

Gradle Bird by J.C. Sasser

Sixteen-year-old Gradle Bird has lived her entire life with her Grandpa, Leonard, at a seedy motel and truck stop off Georgia's I-16. But when Leonard moves her to a crumbling old house rumored to be haunted by the ghost of Ms. Annalee Spivey, Gradle is plunged into a lush, magical world much stranger and more dangerous than from the one she came.

Here she meets Sonny Joe Stitch, a Siamese Fighting Fish connoisseur overdosed on testosterone, a crippled, Bible-thumping hobo named Ceif "Tadpole" Walker, and the only true friend she will ever know, a schizophrenic genius, music-man, and professional dumpster-diver, D-5 Delvis Miles.

As Gradle falls deeper into Delvis's imaginary and fantastical world, unsettling dangers lurk, and when surfaced Gradle discovers unforeseen depths in herself and the people she loves the most.

Gradle Bird is an unusual tale of self-discovery and redemption that explores the infirmities of fatherly love, the complexities of human cruelty, and the consequences of guilt, proving they are possible to overcome no matter how dark and horrible the cause.


Bloomsbury US
9781632867049
$27
READ THE FIRST CHAPTER

Grief Cottage by Gail Godwin

The haunting tale of a desolate cottage, and the hair-thin junction between this life and the next, from bestselling National Book Award finalist Gail Godwin.

After his mother's death, eleven-year-old Marcus is sent to live on a small South Carolina island with his great aunt, a reclusive painter with a haunted past. Aunt Charlotte, otherwise a woman of few words, points out a ruined cottage, telling Marcus she had visited it regularly after she'd moved there thirty years ago because it matched the ruin of her own life. Eventually she was inspired to take up painting so she could capture its utter desolation.

The islanders call it "Grief Cottage," because a boy and his parents disappeared from it during a hurricane fifty years before. Their bodies were never found and the cottage has stood empty ever since. During his lonely hours while Aunt Charlotte is in her studio painting and keeping her demons at bay, Marcus visits the cottage daily, building up his courage by coming ever closer, even after the ghost of the boy who died seems to reveal himself. Full of curiosity and open to the unfamiliar and uncanny given the recent upending of his life, he courts the ghost boy, never certain whether the ghost is friendly or follows some sinister agenda.

Grief Cottage is the best sort of ghost story, but it is far more than that--an investigation of grief, remorse, and the memories that haunt us. The power and beauty of this artful novel wash over the reader like the waves on a South Carolina beach.


Liveright Publishing Corporation
9781631492372
$26
READ THE FIRST CHAPTER

He Calls Me by Lightning by S. Jonathan Bass

A heroic reconstruction of the forgotten life of a wrongfully convicted man whose story becomes an historic portrait of the Jim Crow South.

Caliph Washington's life was never supposed to matter. As a black teenager from the vice-ridden city of Bessemer, Alabama, Washington was wrongfully convicted of killing an Alabama policeman in 1957. Sentenced to death, he came within minutes of the electric chair-nearly a dozen times. A Kafka-esque legal odyssey in which Washington's original conviction was overturned three times before he was finally released in 1972, his story is the kind that pervades the history of American justice. Here, in the hands of historian S. Jonathan Bass, Washington's ordeal and life are rescued from anonymity and become a moving parable of one man's survival and perseverance in a hellish system.

He Calls Me by Lightning is both a compelling legal drama and a fierce depiction of the Jim Crow South that forces us to take account of the lives cast away by systemic racism.


Ecco Press
9780062472984
$26.99

No One Is Coming to Save Us by Stephanie Powell Watts

Named one of the most anticipated books of 2017 by Entertainment Weekly, Nylon, Elle, and The Chicago Review of Books.

JJ Ferguson has returned home to Pinewood, North Carolina, to build his dream house and to pursue his high school sweetheart, Ava. But as he reenters his former world, where factories are in decline and the legacy of Jim Crow is still felt, he's startled to find that the people he once knew and loved have changed just as much as he has. Ava is now married and desperate for a baby, though she can't seem to carry one to term. Her husband, Henry, has grown distant, frustrated by the demise of the furniture industry, which has outsourced to China and stripped the area of jobs. Ava's mother, Sylvia, caters to and meddles with the lives of those around her, trying to fill the void left by her absent son. And Don, Sylvia's unworthy but charming husband, just won't stop hanging around.

JJ's return--and his plans to build a huge mansion overlooking Pinewood and woo Ava--not only unsettles their family, but stirs up the entire town. The ostentatious wealth that JJ has attained forces everyone to consider the cards they've been dealt, what more they want and deserve, and how they might go about getting it. Can they reorient their lives to align with their wishes rather than their current realities? Or are they all already resigned to the rhythms of the particular lives they lead?

No One Is Coming to Save Us is a revelatory debut from an insightful voice; with echoes of The Great Gatsby, it is an arresting and powerful novel about an extended African American family and their colliding visions of the American Dream. In evocative prose, Stephanie Powell Watts has crafted a full and stunning portrait that combines a universally resonant story with an intimate glimpse into the hearts of one family.


Jump at the Sun
9781484799239
$12.99
READ THE FIRST CHAPTER

Skin Again by bell hooks; Chris Raschka

"The skin I'm in is just a covering. It cannot tell my story. The skin I'm in is just a covering. If you want to know who I am, you have got to come inside and open your heart way wide."

Celebrating all that makes us unique and different, Skin Again offers new ways to talk about race and identity. Race matters, but only so much--what's most important is who we are on the inside. Looking beyond skin, going straight to the heart, we find in each other the treasures stored down deep. Learning to cherish those treasures, to be all we imagine ourselves to be, makes us free.

This award-winning book, with its myriad faces, introduces a strong message of loving yourself and others that will appeal to parents of our youngest readers.


Harper Perennial
9780062434876
$16.99

Sunshine State: Essays by Sarah Gerard

A Chicago Tribune Exciting Book for 2017 • A Buzzfeed Most Exciting Book for 2017 • A The Millions Great 2017 Preview Pick • A Huffington Post 2017 Preview Pick • A PW Spring 2017 Top 10 Pick in Essays & Literary Criticism

"Brave, keenly observational, and humanitarian... Gerard's collection leaves an indelible impression."--Publishers Weekly, starred review

"These large-hearted, meticulous essays offer an uncanny x-ray of our national psyche... showing us both the grand beauty of our American dreams and the heartbreaking devastation they wreak." -- Garth Greenwell, author of What Belongs to You

Sarah Gerard follows her breakout novel, Binary Star, with the dynamic essay collection Sunshine State, which explores Florida as a microcosm of the most pressing economic and environmental perils haunting our society.

In the collection's title essay, Gerard volunteers at the Suncoast Seabird Sanctuary, a world renowned bird refuge. There she meets its founder, who once modeled with a pelican on his arm for a Dewar's Scotch campaign but has since declined into a pit of fraud and madness. He becomes our embezzling protagonist whose tales about the birds he "rescues" never quite add up. Gerard's personal stories are no less eerie or poignant: An essay that begins as a look at Gerard's first relationship becomes a heart-wrenching exploration of acquaintance rape and consent. An account of intimate female friendship pivots midway through, morphing into a meditation on jealousy and class.

With the personal insight of The Empathy Exams, the societal exposal of Nickel and Dimed, and the stylistic innovation and intensity of her own break-out debut novel Binary Star, Sarah Gerard's Sunshine State uses the intimately personal to unearth the deep reservoirs of humanity buried in the corners of our world often hardest to face.


Penguin Press
9781594206559
$28

The Potlikker Papers by John T. Edge

The Potlikker Papers tells the story of food and politics in the South over the last half century. Beginning with the pivotal role of cooks in the Civil Rights movement, noted authority John T. Edge narrates the South's journey from racist backwater to a hotbed of American immigration. In so doing, he traces how the food of the poorest Southerners has become the signature trend of modern American haute cuisine. This is a people's history of the modern South told through the lens of food.

Food was a battleground in the Civil Rights movement. Access to food and ownership of culinary tradition was a central part of the long march to racial equality. The Potlikker Papers begins in 1955 as black cooks and maids fed and supported the Montgomery Bus Boycott and it concludes in 2015 as a Newer South came to be, enriched by the arrival of immigrants from Lebanon to Vietnam to all points in between.

Along the way, The Potlikker Papers tracks many different evolutions of Southern identity --first in the 1970s, from the back-to-the-land movement that began in the Tennessee hills to the rise of fast and convenience foods modeled on Southern staples. Edge narrates the gentrification that gained traction in North Carolina and Louisiana restaurants of the 1980s and the artisanal renaissance that reconnected farmers and cooks in the 1990s and in the 00s. He profiles some of the most extraordinary and fascinating figures in Southern food, including Fannie Lou Hamer, Colonel Sanders, Edna Lewis, Paul Prudhomme, Craig Claiborne, Sean Brock, and many others.

Like many great provincial dishes around the world, potlikker is a salvage food. During the antebellum era, masters ate the greens from the pot and set aside the left-over potlikker broth for their slaves, unaware that the broth, not the greens, was nutrient-rich. After slavery, potlikker sustained the working poor, black and white. In the rapidly gentrifying South of today, potlikker has taken on new meanings as chefs have reclaimed the dish.

Over the last two generations, wrenching changes have transformed the South. The Potlikker Papers tells the story of that change--and reveals how Southern food has become a shared culinary language for the nation.


W.W. Norton & Company
9780393239416
$25.95

Thunder in the Mountains by Daniel J. Sharfstein

The epic clash of two American legends-their brutal war and a battle of ideas that defined America after Reconstruction.

Oliver Otis Howard thought he was a man of destiny. Chosen to lead the Freedmen's Bureau after the Civil War, the Union Army general was entrusted with the era's most crucial task: helping millions of former slaves claim the rights of citizens. He was energized by the belief that abolition and Reconstruction, the country's great struggles for liberty and equality, were God's plan for himself and the nation. To honor his righteous commitment to a new American freedom, Howard University was named for him.

But as the nation's politics curdled in the 1870s, General Howard exiled himself from Washington, D.C., rejoined the army, and was sent across the continent to command forces in the Pacific Northwest. Shattered by Reconstruction's collapse, he assumed a new mission: forcing Native Americans to become Christian farmers on government reservations.

Howard's plans for redemption in the West ran headlong into the resistance of Chief Joseph, a young Nez Perce leader in northeastern Oregon who refused to leave his ancestral land. Claiming equal rights for Native Americans, Joseph was determined to find his way to the center of American power and convince the government to acknowledge his people's humanity and capacity for citizenship. Although his words echoed the very ideas about liberty and equality that Howard had championed during Reconstruction, in the summer of 1877 the general and his troops ruthlessly pursued hundreds of Nez Perce families through the stark and unforgiving Northern Rockies. An odyssey and a tragedy, their devastating war transfixed the nation and immortalized Chief Joseph as a hero to generations of Americans.

Recreating the Nez Perce War through the voices of its survivors, Daniel J. Sharfstein's visionary history of the West casts Howard's turn away from civil rights alongside the nation's rejection of racial equality and embrace of empire. The conflict becomes a pivotal struggle over who gets to claim the American dream: a battle of ideas about the meaning of freedom and equality, the mechanics of American power, and the limits of what the government can and should do for its people. The war that Howard and Joseph fought is one that Americans continue to fight today.

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