Whether you’re lounging poolside, at the beach or sitting on the front porch, summer is a great time to catch up on your reading — and learn a bit about your town.
Style talked to several Richmonders who know plenty about books with local connections: Novelist and book reviewer Susann Cokal, journalist Robin Farmer, Fountain Bookstore owner Kelly Justice, Life in 10 Minutes founder and writer Valley Haggard, BBGB’s Juliana Hall, Candela Books and Gallery owner Gordon Stettinius and Chop Suey Books owner Ward Tefft.
Here are their picks.
Nonfiction and History
Kelly Justice recommends University of Richmond professor and journalist Stephen Nash’s 2014 “Virginia Climate Fever,” published by the University of Virginia Press and newly out in paperback. As the title suggests, this book is about the effects of global warming on the state, particularly in the Chesapeake Bay. Recently, President Donald Trump assured Tangier Island’s mayor that his island won’t disappear. That remains an open question, say others.
Ward Tefft suggests the late city planner — and namesake of the new pedestrian bridge — T. Tyler Potterfield’s “Nonesuch Place,” a history of Richmond’s landscape. And Gordon Stettinius says his favorite book by a local writer is Dean King’s 2005 “Skeletons on the Zahara,” the true story of a dozen American sailors who were shipwrecked in Africa in 1815 and were forced to cross the Sahara Desert.
Memoir and Biography
The much-anticipated “Patrick Henry: Champion of Liberty” came out July 4. Author historian Jon Kukla, a Richmonder also has written about Thomas Jefferson and the Louisiana Purchase. Published by Simon & Schuster, “Champion of Liberty” examines Henry’s role in the creation of the United States Constitution, which he originally opposed because he felt it would give too much power to the federal government.
Joy Harris’ biography and family memoir of her grandmother, the late gospel singer Maggie Ingram, comes recommended by Robin Farmer. “Singin’ Ain’t Enough,” released earlier this year, tells the often harrowing stories behind the Ingram matriarch’s glorious vocals.
Valley Haggard suggests “Writing Our Way Out: Memoirs from Jail,” edited by David Coogan, and “Overcoming Bias,” by married authors Tiffany Jana and Matthew Freeman. The latter isn’t exactly a memoir, but it’s full of stories that deal with the timely subject of implicit bias and how it affects relationships.
Fiction for Teens and Tweens
For younger readers — or young at heart — Justice suggests Gwen Cole’s “Cold Summer,” a teen time-travel romance that skips between the current year and World War II.
“River City Secrets,” 24 short stories about “spies, ghosts, time travel, river adventures and magic,” is edited by Lana Krumwiede and comes from Chop Suey’s publishing branch. Each story is set in a different Richmond neighborhood.
Tefft also suggests “Sway,” by Kat Spears, which he calls “a modern-day Cyrano de Bergerac for young adult readers. Set in a high school, this novel about an amoral teenage boy and the girl that he ends up falling in love with is perfect for reluctant readers.”
Haggard says that “Claiming Georgia Tate,” Gigi Amateau’s debut novel, “changed me,” while Susann Cokal says that every elementary school in the country should teach “Come August, Come Freedom,” the story of the 1800 slave uprising in the Richmond area led by Gabriel. “There’s no better picture of what Richmond would have been like in the early years,” she says, “and the characters are vital and intense, showing hope and determination despite cruel circumstances.”
Going back in time, Cokal suggests “The Hidden Window Mystery,” a Nancy Drew whodunit from 1956 that involves St. John’s Church and a shouting peacock, and “The Sheltered Life,” written in 1932, by Pulitzer Prize-winning author Ellen Glasgow, who lived in Richmond until her death in 1945.
Meg Medina’s works are highly recommended by many on our reading panel, including her novel, “Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass,” about school bullies. Also, BBGB’s Juliana Hall suggests that young readers look up Steven K. Smith, A.B. (Anne) Westrick, illustrator Sarah Bartley and Mary Lou Hall.
Fiction for Adults
Justice suggests two recent releases: “The Unprotected,” Norfolk author Kelly Sokol’s debut novel that’s set in Richmond. “[It’s] a nail-biter of a thriller [about] the stresses of infertility and postpartum depression that explores the idea of being careful what you wish for,” she says. Her second recommendation is “Unreliable,” by Lee Irby, a book about a failed writer returning home to Richmond for his mother’s wedding to a much younger man.
Farmer points readers to Sadeqa Johnson’s new novel about a marriage going through rough times, “And Then There Was Me.” On June 30, Howard Owen’s “The Devil’s Triangle,” his latest Richmond-set murder mystery, was released and events are scheduled at Chop Suey on July 12 and Fountain Bookstore on Aug. 3.
Cokal recommends Gretchen Comba’s short-story anthology, “The Stillness of the Picture,” and she — and several others on our panel — also think readers would enjoy Katy Resch George’s “Exposure,” a collection of flash fiction and longer works.
And most everyone on our panel raves about Appomattox Regional Governor’s School teacher Patricia Smith’s “The Year of Needy Girls,” a novel set in a New England town at a private girls’ school. There’s murder and scandal, and Cokal says this book “will break your heart and kick your ass.” S