The best books set in New Orleans

The Books I Picked & Why

A Free Man of Color

By Barbara Hambly

A Free Man of Color

Why this book?

This first book in the Benjamin January mystery series got me hooked for life. Author Barbara Hambly takes us deep into the culture of free people of color in 1830s New Orleans with this well-researched mystery series. A musician by trade and a physician by training, January is well-positioned as an amateur investigator. He sees and hears everything as a musician, but his medical training gives him expertise that white sheriff Abishag Shaw lacks — and is more than happy to draw on. This first book involves a murder at one of the infamous quadroon balls, where January happens to have been playing piano and will draw you in from the very beginning.


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Gods of New Orleans

By AJ Sikes

Gods of New Orleans

Why this book?

In a complete departure from the previous book, Gods of New Orleans is a dieselpunk science fiction adventure. Emma Farnsworth, her saxophone-playing boyfriend Eddie Collins, and the Conroy family have escaped from Chicago City and are going to start life again in New Orleans. However, everything they think they know about New Orleans is turned on its ear.

People of color are in charge. White people are expected to keep their eyes averted, refer to people of color as "sir" or "ma'am" ... and mixed ethnicity couples like Emma and Eddie are eyed askance. White people are also expected to carry a little tin badge with them if they're "working out" -- which is what slaves who were allowed to "sleep out" in New Orleans during the 19th C. were required to do. In short: Sikes has turned the typical examination of racism on its ear with this book. 

I loved this book not only for the adventure tale but also for its thought-provoking management of racial inequality.


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Color Blind

By Sheila Sobel

Color Blind

Why this book?

This time, let’s have a look at a young adult novel. In Color Blind, April Lockhart's dad has passed away, and since she's only 17 years old she has to go live with her aunt in New Orleans. To say that April is unhappy about this is to greatly understate the situation. She meets Miles Baptiste when she decides to take a cemetery and voodoo tour ... and that's when she meets Marguerite, as well.

The voodoo priestess seems to know a good many things about April. The book proceeds through April's misadventures, taking the reader on a tour of New Orleans that touches not only the tourist spots but also the Lower Nine and more hard-hit areas yet to recover after Hurricane Katrina. We see April go on a journey of maturation and self-discovery as well.

What I loved about this book was its examination of New Orleans from the perspective of a younger person. The mild supernatural elements were also entertaining. Voodoo is part and parcel of New Orleans culture; it only makes sense to touch on it.


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Rescued by a Kiss: The New Orleans Go Cup Chronicles Series

By Colleen Mooney

Rescued by a Kiss: The New Orleans Go Cup Chronicles Series

Why this book?

Schnauzer rescuer Brandy Alexander is tired of living with her parents, not sure what's going on in her relationship with her boyfriend, Dante, and is looking for a little fun. She gets way more than she bargained for when she kisses a handsome stranger during a Mardi Gras parade ... as he's shot in front of her and pretty soon it seems like the New Orleans gangsters are after her, too. This is a super-cute cozy mystery featuring dogs, intrigue, fun characters, and the Big Easy. What more could you ask for?


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Fanny Newcomb and the Irish Channel Ripper

By Ana Brazil

Fanny Newcomb and the Irish Channel Ripper

Why this book?

Fanny Newcomb is the daughter of a New Orleans lawyer. Having shunned a marriage proposal from her late father's partner, she comes to work at the Settlement House. There, she teaches reading, accounting, and other skills to young immigrant women in Crescent City. When her most promising student is murdered, Fanny starts looking into matters herself. Why?

One of the other women at Wisdom House, Olive Giddings, is a physician -- she was first on the scene and knows that Nora was strangled. Soon, though, the papers are claiming that Nora is the victim of the Irish Channel Ripper. And then, the House's German carpenter is arrested for the crime. So, Fanny has a vested interest in finding the real assailant and proving Karl innocent.

What I love about this book is the rich historical detail. We not only get a look at women’s roles but also at New Orleans’ own Gilded Age. Brazil’s detailed end-notes show us which characters were real people and give additional insight into the political and social scene of the Crescent City


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