Charlotte Reader’s Guide: Recently released books by Charlotte-area authors

By Mark I. West

December 21, 2020

Although 2020 has been difficult in many regards, it has been good for Charlotte-area authors, who have had books published. Many of these books are great for last-minute gift ideas and can provide readers with an enjoyable way to spend their holiday vacation. Listed below are ten fiction, non-fiction, and poetry books from local authors that are fantastic shelf additions for yourself or someone special. 


Goddess in the Machine by Lora Beth Johnson

In this YA science fiction novel, Lora Beth Johnson explores the intersections of science and religion. The central character, a seventeen-year-old girl named Andra, sleeps for 1,000 years while she travels across the galaxy. When she wakes up from her cryogenic sleep, she finds herself on a planet where the residents associate technology with magic. They see her as a goddess and expect her to work miracles, but her attempts to communicate with the residents of the planet are complicated. 

‘Goddess in the Machine’ by Lora Beth Johnson. Razorbill, 2020.

All God’s Children: A Novel of the American West by Aaron Gwyn

Aaron Gwyn is a creative writing professor in UNC Charlotte’s English Department, but he grew up on a ranch in Oklahoma. His familiarity with the American Southwest is reflected in his new novel, All God’s Children: A Novel of the American West. Set largely in Texas between 1827 and 1847, All God’s Children braids together the stories of three characters: Duncan Lammons, an adventurer from Kentucky; Cecelia, an African American woman who grew up as a slave in Virginia; and Sam Fisk, a frontiersman from Arkansas. These three characters come together on the Texas frontier, where they form a complex relationship. Their lives are shaped by the transformation of Texas from a province of Mexico to an independent republic to becoming the 28th state in 1845. All God’s Children came out in October, but reviewers are already praising it for its portrayal of the American West. A reviewer for Publishers Weekly calls the book “a masterpiece of Western fiction.”  

Sunflower Dog: Dancing the Flathead Shuffle by Kevin Winchester 

Kevin Winchester lives in Waxhaw and earned his MFA in creative writing from Queens University in Charlotte. He draws on his familiarity with the Charlotte region in his debut novel, Sunflower Dog: Dancing the Flathead Shuffle. This humorous crime story is set in a small town outside of Charlotte and features a cast of quirky characters, including a small-town entrepreneur, an aspiring reality TV star and her doting but tough-as-nails grandmother, a young couple, several inept weed growers, a college professor and, of course, a dog. 

‘Sunflower Dog: Dancing the Flathead Shuffle’ by Kevin Winchester. Southern Fried Karma, 2020.


Classic Black: The Basalt Sculpture of Wedgwood and His Contemporaries by Brian D. Gallagher

This book functions as a catalog for the Mint Museum’s current “Classic Black” exhibit, which can be seen at the museum’s Randolph Road location. The book also functions as a stand-alone celebration of black basalt sculptures and ornamental wares. Classic Black includes 254 color illustrations of busts, statues, vases, cameos, and other works created out of black basalt. Brian Gallagher, the primary author of this book, is the Curator of Decorative Arts at the Mint Museum. He draws on his expertise on the decorative arts in this lavishly illustrated volume.

Sidelines and Bloodlines: A Father, His Sons, and Our Life in College Football by Ryan McGee, Jerry McGee and Sam McGee 

Ryan McGee of ESPN fame, is a Charlotte-based writer who shares a passion for college football with his father, Jerry, and his brother, Sam. In this family memoir, McGee teams up with his family to reflect on the role that college football has played in their lives. Jerry worked for many years as a referee at college football games, and many of the anecdotes deal with the trials and tribulations associated with football officiating. At its core, however, Sidelines and Bloodlines is about the relationship between a father and his sons.  

‘Sidelines and Bloodlines: A Father, His Sons, and Our Life in College Football’ by Ryan McGee, Jerry McGee and Sam McGee. Triumph Books, 2020.

In the Key of New York City: A Memoir in Essays by Rebecca McClanahan

In this unconventional memoir, Charlotte writer Rebecca McClanahan reflects on the time that she and her husband lived in Manhattan. They moved there from Charlotte in the late 1990s with the plan of living in New York for two years, but ended up staying for over a decade. Rather than simply record her years in New York, the author writes focused essays in which she delves into particular experiences she had while living in New York. The topics of these essays range from 9/11 to riding in the subway. All of the essays are rich in detail and convey McClanahan’s deep emotions of big city life.

Anne Neilson’s Angels by Anne Herring Neilson

Released in November, Anne Neilson’s Angels features 40 full-color reproductions of Neilson’s well-known angel paintings. Often described as “ethereal,” these oil paintings reflect her skill in playing with light, color, and texture. The wings on her angels are usually created by the thick application of oil paints, and this technique gives the angel wings a three-dimensional quality. The book includes “inspirational devotions” in keeping with Neilson’s Christian religious beliefs. Neilson is a Charlotte-based artist and owner of Anne Neilson Fine Art gallery.

‘Anne Neilson’s Angels’ by Anne Herring Neilson. Thomas Nelson, 2020.


Swale by Allison Hutchcraft 

Charlotte poet Allison Hutchcraft is nationally known for her poetry about nature and the complex relationship that humans have with the natural world  In this collection, she writes about places where water and land mix, such as coastlines and riverbanks. She also writes about the animals who inhabit these spaces, including extinct animals. The poetry in this collection grew out of her experiences as a resident at the Sitka Center for Art and Ecology on the Oregon coast.

Just Like Me by Vanessa Brantley-Newton 

Vanessa Brantley-Newton is an acclaimed children’s author and illustrator who calls Charlotte home. In Just Like Me, she writes and illustrates a series of girl-centered poems dealing with identity, family, and friendship. The illustrations perfectly match the poems’ emotional tones and the book was recently nominated for the Goodreads Choice Awards Best Picture Books. Publishers Weekly calls this book “thoughtful, inclusive, and celebratory.”   

‘Just Like Me’ by Vanessa Brantley-Newton. Knopf Books for Young Readers, 2020.

Dark Side of North by Anthony S. Abbott 

Anthony “Tony” S. Abbott died on October 3, 2020. During his 37 years as an English professor at Davidson College, he taught countless students about literature and drama, and continued to teach occasional classes after his retirement in 2001. Over the course of his long career, he published seven books of poetry, two novels, and several works of literary criticism. However, before his death, he had finished writing Dark Side of North, and Press 53 had accepted this poetry collection for publication. The poems in this final collection grow out of his experiences of aging and dealing with declining health that, despite their subject matter, have a playful quality that reflect Abbott’s exuberant approach to life. 

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