Lady Banks Bookshelf

Lady Banks Pick of the Week


Each year, hundreds of booksellers and readers across the South vote on the books they have most enjoyed selling, recommending, and reading. These are the books they couldn’t stop talking about: books by Southern writers, or with a Southern perspective, or both. Voting is between November 8, 2019 and February 1, 2020, and winners announced on February 14, 2020.

Past Book Prize Winners

  • The Dutch House by Ann Patchett

    The Dutch House

    The Southern Book Prize:
    Finalist in Fiction

    From the New York Times bestselling author of Commonwealth and State of Wonder, comes Ann Patchett's most powerful novel to date: a richly moving story that explores the indelible bond between two siblings, the house of their childhood, and a past that will not let them go. The Dutch House is the story of a paradise lost, a tour de force that digs deeply into questions of inheritance, love and forgiveness, of how we want to see ourselves and of who we really are.

    At the end of the Second World War, Cyril Conroy combines luck and a single canny investment to begin an enormous real estate empire, propelling his family from poverty to enormous wealth. His first order of business is to buy the Dutch House, a lavish estate in the suburbs outside of Philadelphia. Meant as a surprise for his wife, the house sets in motion the undoing of everyone he loves.

    The story is told by Cyril's son Danny, as he and his older sister, the brilliantly acerbic and self-assured Maeve, are exiled from the house where they grew up by their stepmother. The two wealthy siblings are thrown back into the poverty their parents had escaped from and find that all they have to count on is one another. It is this unshakeable bond between them that both saves their lives and thwarts their futures.

    "Ann Patchett is one of our best storytellers, and in her hands, this is a novel of beauty and heartbreak, imbued with the mystical power of family and home."

    ~ Avid Bookshop, Athens, GA

    Set over the course of five decades, The Dutch House is a dark fairy tale about two smart people who cannot overcome their past. Despite every outward sign of success, Danny and Maeve are only truly comfortable when they're together. Throughout their lives they return to the well-worn story of what they've lost with humor and rage. But when at last they're forced to confront the people who left them behind, the relationship between an indulged brother and his ever-protective sister is finally tested.

    The Dutch House by Ann Patchett (List price: $27.99, Harper)

  • The Magnetic Girl by Jessica Handler

    The Dutch House

    The Southern Book Prize:
    Finalist in Fiction

    Wall Street Journal's Ten Books You'll Want to Read This Spring Indie Next Pick, April 2019 Spring Okra Pick from the Southern Independent Booksellers Alliance

    In rural north Georgia two decades after the Civil War, thirteen-year-old Lulu Hurst reaches high into her father's bookshelf and pulls out an obscure book, The Truth of Mesmeric Influence. Deemed gangly and undesirable, Lulu wants more than a lifetime of caring for her disabled baby brother, Leo, with whom she shares a profound and supernatural mental connection.

    "I only wanted to be Lulu Hurst, the girl who captivated her brother until he could walk and talk and stand tall on his own. Then I would be the girl who could leave."

    Lulu begins to "captivate" her friends and family, controlling their thoughts and actions for brief moments at a time. After Lulu convinces a cousin she conducts electricity with her touch, her father sees a unique opportunity. He grooms his tall and indelicate daughter into an electrifying new woman: The Magnetic Girl. Lulu travels the Eastern seaboard, captivating enthusiastic crowds by lifting grown men in parlor chairs and throwing them across the stage with her "electrical charge."

    While adjusting to life on the vaudeville stage, Lulu harbors a secret belief that she can use her newfound gifts, as well as her growing notoriety, to heal her brother. As she delves into the mysterious book's pages, she discovers keys to her father's past and her own future--but how will she harness its secrets to heal her family?

    "This is richly made historical fiction, electrifying a time and temper in the Reconstruction South when the possibility of magic still had real pull. It made me realize how few stories are set in this time."

    ~ M Judson Booksellers & Storytellers, Greenville, SC

    Gorgeously envisioned, The Magnetic Girl is set at a time when the emerging presence of electricity raised suspicions about the other-worldly gospel of Spiritualism, and when women's desire for political, cultural, and sexual presence electrified the country. Squarely in the realm of Emma Donoghue's The Wonder and Leslie Parry's Church of Marvels, The Magnetic Girl is a unique portrait of a forgotten period in history, seen through the story of one young woman's power over her family, her community, and ultimately, herself.

    The Magnetic Girl by Jessica Handler (List price: $27.00, Hub City Press)

  • Never Have I Ever by Joshilyn Jackson

    Newver Have I Ever

    The Southern Book Prize:
    Finalist in Fiction

    From New York Times bestselling author Joshilyn Jackson, a twisting novel of domestic suspense in which a group of women play a harmless drinking game that escalates into a war of dark pasts

    In this game, even winning can be deadly...

    Amy Whey is proud of her ordinary life and the simple pleasures that come with it—teaching diving lessons, baking cookies for new neighbors, helping her best friend, Charlotte, run their local book club. Her greatest joy is her family: her devoted professor husband, her spirited fifteen-year-old stepdaughter, her adorable infant son. And, of course, the steadfast and supportive Charlotte. But Amy's sweet, uncomplicated life begins to unravel when the mysterious and alluring Angelica Roux arrives on her doorstep one book club night.

    Sultry and magnetic, Roux beguiles the group with her feral charm. She keeps the wine flowing and lures them into a game of spilling secrets. Everyone thinks it's naughty, harmless fun. Only Amy knows better. Something wicked has come her way—a she-devil in a pricey red sports car who seems to know the terrible truth about who she is and what she once did.

    When they're alone, Roux tells her that if she doesn't give her what she asks for, what she deserves, she's going to make Amy pay for her sins. One way or another.

    "A relentless, carefully crafted page turner! Joshilyn Jackson's foray into psychological thriller genre fiction perfectly balances the literary voice and complex female characters of her previous books with the artful playfulness of an accomplished writer experimenting with something new."

    ~ Underground Books, Carrollton, GA

    To protect herself and her family and save the life she's built, Amy must beat the devil at her own clever game, matching wits with Roux in an escalating war of hidden pasts and unearthed secrets. Amy knows the consequences if she can't beat Roux. What terrifies her is everything she could lose if she wins.

    A diabolically entertaining tale of betrayal, deception, temptation, and love filled with dark twists leavened by Joshilyn Jackson's trademark humor, Never Have I Ever explores what happens when the transgressions of our past come back with a vengeance.

    Never Have I Ever by Joshilyn Jackson (List price: $26.99, William Morrow)

  • The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead

    The Nickel Boys

    The Southern Book Prize:
    Finalist in Fiction

    In this bravura follow-up to the Pulitzer Prize, and National Book Award-winning #1 New York Times bestseller The Underground Railroad, Colson Whitehead brilliantly dramatizes another strand of American history through the story of two boys sentenced to a hellish reform school in Jim Crow-era Florida.

    As the Civil Rights movement begins to reach the black enclave of Frenchtown in segregated Tallahassee, Elwood Curtis takes the words of Dr. Martin Luther King to heart: He is "as good as anyone." Abandoned by his parents, but kept on the straight and narrow by his grandmother, Elwood is about to enroll in the local black college. But for a black boy in the Jim Crow South of the early 1960s, one innocent mistake is enough to destroy the future. Elwood is sentenced to a juvenile reformatory called the Nickel Academy, whose mission statement says it provides "physical, intellectual and moral training" so the delinquent boys in their charge can become "honorable and honest men."

    In reality, the Nickel Academy is a grotesque chamber of horrors where the sadistic staff beats and sexually abuses the students, corrupt officials and locals steal food and supplies, and any boy who resists is likely to disappear "out back." Stunned to find himself in such a vicious environment, Elwood tries to hold onto Dr. King's ringing assertion "Throw us in jail and we will still love you." His friend Turner thinks Elwood is worse than naive, that the world is crooked, and that the only way to survive is to scheme and avoid trouble.

    "Fiction has this way, I think, of tearing down barriers, of bringing truth to light, of forcing us to step inside someone else's skin. What Colson Whitehead has done (again) is utterly remarkable."

    ~ The Bookshelf, Thomasville, GA

    The tension between Elwood's ideals and Turner's skepticism leads to a decision whose repercussions will echo down the decades. Formed in the crucible of the evils Jim Crow wrought, the boys' fates will be determined by what they endured at the Nickel Academy.

    Based on the real story of a reform school in Florida that operated for one hundred and eleven years and warped the lives of thousands of children, The Nickel Boys is a devastating, driven narrative that showcases a great American novelist writing at the height of his powers.

    The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead (List price: $24.95, Doubleday)

  • Nothing to See Here by Kevin Wilson

    Nothing to See Here

    The Southern Book Prize:
    Finalist in Fiction

    From the New York Times bestselling author of The Family Fang, a moving and uproarious novel about a woman who finds meaning in her life when she begins caring for two children with a remarkable ability.

    Lillian and Madison were unlikely roommates and yet inseparable friends at their elite boarding school. But then Lillian had to leave the school unexpectedly in the wake of a scandal and they've barely spoken since. Until now, when Lillian gets a letter from Madison pleading for her help.

    Madison's twin stepkids are moving in with her family and she wants Lillian to be their caretaker. However, there's a catch: the twins spontaneously combust when they get agitated, flames igniting from their skin in a startling but beautiful way. Lillian is convinced Madison is pulling her leg, but it's the truth.

    Thinking of her dead-end life at home, the life that has consistently disappointed her, Lillian figures she has nothing to lose. Over the course of one humid, demanding summer, Lillian and the twins learn to trust each other—and stay cool—while also staying out of the way of Madison's buttoned-up politician husband.

    sbp logo"...Kevin Wilson manages to make the combustibility of the children seem almost normal, while creating a surprisingly sweet story about friendship, family and belonging."

    ~ Wordsworth Books, Little Rock, AR

    Surprised by her own ingenuity yet unused to the intense feelings of protectiveness she feels for them, Lillian ultimately begins to accept that she needs these strange children as much as they need her—urgently and fiercely. Couldn't this be the start of the amazing life she'd always hoped for?

    With white-hot wit and a big, tender heart, Kevin Wilson has written his best book yet—a most unusual story of parental love.

    Nothing to See Here by Kevin Wilson (List price: $26.99, Ecco)

  • This Tender Land by William Kent Krueger

    This Tender Land

    The Southern Book Prize:
    Finalist in Fiction

    A magnificent novel about four orphans on a life-changing odyssey during the Great Depression, from the bestselling author of Ordinary Grace.

    1932, Minnesota—the Lincoln School is a pitiless place where hundreds of Native American children, forcibly separated from their parents, are sent to be educated. It is also home to an orphan named Odie O'Banion, a lively boy whose exploits earn him the superintendent's wrath. Forced to flee, he and his brother Albert, their best friend Mose, and a brokenhearted little girl named Emmy steal away in a canoe, heading for the mighty Mississippi and a place to call their own.

    Over the course of one unforgettable summer, these four orphans will journey into the unknown and cross paths with others who are adrift, from struggling farmers and traveling faith healers to displaced families and lost souls of all kinds. 

    sbp logo"Huckleberry Finn meets the Odyssey meets The Nickel Boys meets Stars of Alabama meets The Grapes of Wrath..."

    ~ The Bookshelf, Thomasville, GA

    With the feel of a modern classic, This Tender Land is an en­thralling, big-hearted epic that shows how the magnificent American landscape connects us all, haunts our dreams, and makes us whole.

    This Tender Land by William Kent Krueger (List price: $27.00, Atria Books)

  • Furious Hours by Casey Cep

    Furious Hours

    The Southern Book Prize:
    Finalist in Nonfiction

    Reverend Willie Maxwell was a rural preacher accused of murdering five of his family members for insurance money in the 1970s. With the help of a savvy lawyer, he escaped justice for years until a relative shot him dead at the funeral of his last victim. Despite hundreds of witnesses, Maxwell's murderer was acquitted—thanks to the same attorney who had previously defended the Reverend.
     
    Sitting in the audience during the vigilante's trial was Harper Lee, who had traveled from New York City to her native Alabama with the idea of writing her own In Cold Blood, the true-crime classic she had helped her friend Truman Capote research seventeen years earlier. Lee spent a year in town reporting, and many more years working on her own version of the case. 

    Now Casey Cep brings this story to life, from the shocking murders to the courtroom drama to the racial politics of the Deep South. At the same time, she offers a deeply moving portrait of one of the country's most beloved writers and her struggle with fame, success, and the mystery of artistic creativity.

    sbp logo"Absolutely fascinating and a perfect juxtaposition of true crime and biography, giving us a picture of the South in the 70's that often is overlooked because of the immensity of the 60's. Bravura!"

    ~ The Bookshelf, Thomasville, GA

    Furious Hours: Murder, Fraud, and the Last Trial of Harper Lee by Casey Cep (List price: $26.95, Knopf)