The best books set in Memphis Tennessee

1 authors have picked their favorite books about Memphis Tennessee and why they recommend each book.

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Respect Yourself

By Robert Gordon,

Book cover of Respect Yourself: Stax Records and the Soul Explosion

Growing up in Memphis, I heard a lot about Elvis Presley. From there, it was just a side step to Sun Studio and Carl Perkins, Johnny Cash, and Jerry Lee Lewis. But there was this place across town — Stax. It was in a place called Soulsville, and it was magical. An old movie theater where Blacks and whites came together in the 1960s and ‘70s to make some of the best music anywhere — soul music. Not the polished sounds of Motown, but gritty, stirring music from the gut. In my writing a fictional world of music, the very real world of Otis Redding, Carla Thomas, Booker T. & the MG’s, and so many others provided inspiration against a backdrop of exultation, innovation, beauty, and tragedy. 


Who am I?

I was born in 1970. From my earliest memory there was music. But it’s never been just about the music, I have a natural curiosity for the people who make that music. The artist on the album cover, but also the side musicians, the producers, engineers, and promoters. I’m also fascinated by the roadmap from blues to rock to Laurel Canyon to disco to punk and on and on. Real music infuses and informs the fiction I write — by reading real-life accounts and listening to the songs, I’m put in the world from which it was all born.


I wrote...

Five Night Stand

By Richard J. Alley,

Book cover of Five Night Stand

What is my book about?

Legendary jazz pianist Oliver Pleasant finds himself alone at the end of his career, playing his last five shows, hoping the music will reunite his estranged family. Journalist Frank Severs, middle-aged, out-of-work, is at a crossroads as hope and marriage grind to a standstill. And piano prodigy Agnes Cassady grasps a dream before a debilitating disease wrenches control from her trembling fingers.

When Frank and Agnes visit New York, the force of Oliver’s music pulls them together. Over the course of five nights, they reflect on their triumphs and sorrows: family, regret, secrets. Their shared search for meaning and direction creates a bond that just might help them make sense of the past, find peace in the present, and muster the courage to face the future.

Blue Dahlia

By Nora Roberts,

Book cover of Blue Dahlia

One of many of “the queen’s” paranormal/magical series, these novelsBlue Dahlia, Black Rose, and Red Lilyalso date back nearly two decades. I was especially drawn by the historical mystery, featuring the mournful ghost of a woman who’s been haunting a family home for centuries. Roberts skillfully draws the intrigue through the series featuring three strong women tied together by a gardening business. In the first book, Blue Dahlia, we meet determined, successful Roz Harper, who owns the family business, and her new employees. Stella is a young widow and Hayley a single, expectant mother. As their stories weave throughout the trilogy, we’re treated to romances and the linking thread of the spooky, historical mystery. 


Who am I?

Besides a passion for vintage fashion, in writing Divine Vintage I was influenced by mixed-genre books wrapping around “soft” paranormal elements. No vampires, demons, or shifters. Just dashes of ghosts, magic, witches, and special abilities entwined with romance, history, and mystery. These books are meant to charm and enchant with a lyrical touch. I’ve listed a few faves below, ranging from bestsellers I read years ago, to a sister 2022 debut, to an author I just discovered and loved. One of the novels even encompasses my vintage fashion muse. My collection fills a small bedroom, and I always deck out in fun garments for my book presentations and signings. 


I wrote...

Divine Vintage

By Sandra L. Young,

Book cover of Divine Vintage

What is my book about?

Tess Burton is always up for an adventure, and she’s risked her inheritance to open Divine Vintage boutique. While modeling an elegant gown from an Edwardian trousseau, her mind is opened to a century-old crime of passion. Visions—seen through the eyes of the murdered bride—dispute local lore claiming the bridegroom committed the crime. 

Trey Dunmore doesn’t share her enthusiasm for mind-blowing visions, yet the appeal to clear his family’s tainted legacy compels him to join her in exploring the past. Aided by the dead woman’s clothing and diary, they discover pursuing love in 1913 was just as thorny as modern day. As the list of murder suspects grows, the couple fears past emotions are influencing, and may ultimately derail, their own blossoming intimacy.

The American Plague

By Molly Caldwell Crosby,

Book cover of The American Plague: The Untold Story of Yellow Fever, the Epidemic That Shaped Our History

Yellow fever, like many feared diseases, conjures up an image of faraway, steamy rain forests. At one time, yellow fever really was found there. But the disease—and the mosquito that carries it—didn't stay there. I was surprised to learn how prominent and feared yellow fever was in early Colonial America and that it persisted in the United States through the early 20th Century. Crosby provides background on the disease from Africa, its path to the Americas, and routine epidemics in New Orleans, but the book's primary focus is the account of the Yellow Fever Epidemic of 1878 that decimated Memphis, Tennessee, and other towns along the Mississippi River.  I liked this book for filling in the blanks in my awareness and understanding of this American plague. 


Who am I?

I am not a historian. I am a retired entomologist with a love for history. My first real experience with history was as a child, reading about Ernest Shackleton's Antarctic adventure on the Endurance—a story I must have re-read 50 times. I have come to recognize that much of the history I learned growing up was either incomplete or was just plain wrong. I am drawn to the arcane aspects of historical events, or that illustrate history from a different angle—which is shown in my list of books. The Silken Thread tells about the history that occurred because of, or was impacted by, just five insects.


I wrote...

The Silken Thread: Five Insects and Their Impacts on Human History

By Robert N. Wiedenmann, J. Ray Fisher,

Book cover of The Silken Thread: Five Insects and Their Impacts on Human History

What is my book about?

The Silken Thread shows how five insects—just five—have impacted human history. This is not a science book; it is a history book. These five insects have caused sharp turns in history in ways that are usually ignored or unknown. Everyone knows about the plague, and that it was caused by rats and fleas. Except it wasn't that simple. They did not completely play the roles that we learned—or taught in our classes. And that is just one example. All five insects intersected with humans in multiple ways, and our telling of their tales reminds us that it really is the little things that run the world.

Groundswell

By Stephanie Gilmore,

Book cover of Groundswell: Grassroots Feminist Activism in Postwar America

By looking at three local NOW chapters around the country, Gilmore shows that the leading organization of 1960s feminism wasn’t nearly as centralized as people think. Memphis NOW, for example, was a radical feminist group simply by being a feminist group in the South. San Francisco NOW, by contrast, made coalitions with many more radical groups as they worked together to make change. A great read and an important insight into how NOW actually worked as an organization.


Who am I?

I have loved history since I was a girl, visiting my grandparents in Virginia and reading American Girl books. I began to focus on women’s history when I learned in college just how much the women’s movement of the generation before mine had made my life possible. So much changed for American women in the ten years before I was born, and I wanted to know how that happened and how it fit into the broader political changes. That connection, between women making change and the bigger political scene, remains the core of my research. I have a B.A. in history and English from the University of Kentucky, and a Ph.D. in American history from the University of Virginia.


I wrote...

Revolutionizing Expectations: Women's Organizations, Feminism, and American Politics, 1965-1980

By Melissa Estes Blair,

Book cover of Revolutionizing Expectations: Women's Organizations, Feminism, and American Politics, 1965-1980

What is my book about?

In the 1970s the women’s movement created tremendous changes in the lives of women throughout the United States. Millions of women participated in a movement that fundamentally altered the country’s ideas about how women could and should contribute to American society.

Revolutionizing Expectations tells the story of some of those women, many of whom took part in the movement in unexpected ways. By looking at feminist activism in Durham, Denver, and Indianapolis, Melissa Estes Blair uncovers not only the work of local NOW chapters but also the feminist activism of Leagues of Women Voters and of women’s religious groups in those pivotal cities.

It Came from Memphis

By Robert Gordon,

Book cover of It Came from Memphis

In Memphis during the 1950s, there was Black and there was White, but the two rarely met. One of the few places where they did was in clubs and recording studios, and the sparks they struck started a fire that came to be called rock ’n’ roll. 

In this wonderfully rich stew of a book, author and filmmaker Robert Gordon walks the streets of Memphis, exploring the sights and sounds and smells of a unique, endlessly fascinating world. 

As Gordon’s publisher says, “This is a book about the weirdos, winos, and midget wrestlers who forged the rock ’n’ roll spirit.” As Rolling Stone says, “If you haven’t read this book, do it now.”


Who am I?

From my earliest days I was surrounded by music, from Friday night family band to our musical Christmas card on a bright red record to trumpet trios played with my dad and brother. I went to the University of Southern California on a trumpet scholarship, then took a detour from music and tried writing. I liked it. To this day, one of my favorite things is combining these two interests to create novels, stories, and plays about music. Since moving to Nashville, I’ve immersed myself in American popular music and have loved returning to my roots. 


I wrote...

Lord of the Mountain

By Ronald Kidd,

Book cover of Lord of the Mountain

What is my book about?

This is the story of a fictional character, thirteen-year-old Nate Owens, who witnesses one of the seminal events in American music, a series of 1927 recording sessions in Bristol, Tennessee, where the Carter Family, Jimmie Rodgers, and other mothers and fathers of country music were first discovered. 

Nate’s family has a secret, and it’s wrapped up in a song. But his preacher father hates music, and when he catches Nate in Bristol with the Carters, he comes down hard on him. So Nate sets out in search of himself and the song he thinks will heal his family. Set during the “big bang” of country music, Nate’s journey of self-discovery parallels that of a region finding its voice for the first time.

Sometimes You Have to Lie

By Leslie Brody,

Book cover of Sometimes You Have to Lie: The Life and Times of Louise Fitzhugh, Renegade Author of Harriet the Spy

As a native New Yorker and lifelong fan of Harriet the Spy (one among legions) reading the product of Leslie Brody’s detective work into the life of her creator is a special pleasure. Born in 1928, Fitzhugh was the product of a high society Memphis marriage that ended in scandal. She went on to live a vibrant, turbulent life in the queer artist and writers scene in New York. It makes total sense that someone who straddled so many different worlds had such a deep understanding of the multiple lives we all lead, and such a keen ability to perceive other people, all of which she poured into her characters. I also recommend her other incredible YA novel, Nobody’s Family Is Going to Change, which tackles race, children’s rights, and the profound beauty of tap dancing.


Who am I?

I spent my childhood reading for pleasure, for escapism, for humor, for reassurance, for different views of the world, and even out of sheer boredom sometimes when there was nothing else to do. I have no doubt it’s what made me into a writer. In retrospect, it makes total sense that my first book was about the history and power of a children’s series. When I found myself immersed in not just my old Nancy Drews but the fascinating stories of the people and times that produced her, it was like being back in my childhood bedroom again, only this time with the experience to understand how what I read fit into the larger story of America, feminism, and literature. I hope the books I’ve recommended will inspire you to revisit your old favorites with a new eye.


I wrote...

Girl Sleuth: Nancy Drew and the Women Who Created Her

By Melanie Rehak,

Book cover of Girl Sleuth: Nancy Drew and the Women Who Created Her

What is my book about?

A plucky “titian-haired” sleuth solved her first mystery in 1930. Eighty million books later, Nancy Drew has survived the Depression, World War II, and the sixties (when she was taken up with a vengeance by women’s libbers) to enter the pantheon of American girlhood. As beloved by girls today as she was by their grandmothers, Nancy Drew has both inspired and reflected the changes in her readers’ lives. Here, in a narrative with all the vivid energy and page-turning pace of Nancy’s adventures, Melanie Rehak solves an enduring literary mystery: Who created Nancy Drew? And how did she go from pulp heroine to icon?  
 
The brainchild of children’s book mogul Edward Stratemeyer, Nancy was brought to life by two women: Mildred Wirt Benson, a pioneering journalist from Iowa, and Harriet Stratemeyer Adams, a well-bred wife and mother who took over as CEO after her father died. In this century-spanning story, Rehak traces their roles—and Nancy’s—in forging the modern American woman.

Before We Were Yours

By Lisa Wingate,

Book cover of Before We Were Yours

It’s hard to write a book this riveting and wrenching and raw without resorting to baser language and situations, but Wingate does so beautifully as she takes readers back to a fictionalized version of a real-life adoption agency in the 1930s that kidnapped and sold children to wealthy families. This split-time book also has a compelling touch of mystery, which appealed to the suspense writer in me. But mostly, it’s about resilience, determination, and the strength of family ties even in adversity and across time and distance—which is why I found this book uplifting despite the hard subject matter.


Who am I?

Long before I earned a degree in psychology, I was fascinated by human relationships and motivations. Since reading novels is an excellent way to delve into the minds of a variety of people, the library became my second home. I well remember my first binge-read—Nancy Drew. I devoured the entire series sitting under a catalpa tree in my grandfather’s backyard. So it’s probably not surprising that I’m now the author of 60+ novels in the romantic suspense and contemporary romance genres—none of which include sex, swear words, or gratuitous violence. Because as suspense superstar Mary Higgins Clark once said, you don’t need any of those to tell a compelling story. 

I wrote...

Labyrinth of Lies

By Irene Hannon,

Book cover of Labyrinth of Lies

What is my book about?

When the daughter of a high-profile businessman disappears from an exclusive girls’ boarding school, police detective Cate Reilly is tapped for an undercover assignment. It doesn’t take her long to realize that beneath its veneer of polish and wealth, Ivy Hill Academy harbors dark and deadly secrets. But the biggest shock of all? The only man she ever loved is also working at the school. Zeke Sloan has never forgotten Cate, but now isn’t the best time for their paths to cross again. When their two seemingly disparate agendas begin to intertwine and startling connections emerge among the players, the danger escalates significantly. But who is the mastermind behind the elaborate ruse? And how far will they go to protect their house of cards?

Last Train to Memphis

By Peter Guralnick,

Book cover of Last Train to Memphis: The Rise of Elvis Presley

When my wife and I moved to Nashville, I was stunned to realize that most forms of American popular music had been born within 500 miles of our new home, in an arc from New Orleans (jazz) to the Mississippi Delta (blues) to Memphis (rock ’n’ roll) to Nashville (bluegrass) to Bristol (country). 

I began reading eagerly about American popular music, and my reading led to writing—most recently my novel about the birth of country music, Lord of the Mountain. This list gives you some of my favorite books.

The best of these is also one of my favorite biographies of any kind, Peter Guralnick’s magnificent Last Train to Memphis, the first volume of his essential two-volume story of Elvis Presley and the birth of rock ’n’ roll.


Who am I?

From my earliest days I was surrounded by music, from Friday night family band to our musical Christmas card on a bright red record to trumpet trios played with my dad and brother. I went to the University of Southern California on a trumpet scholarship, then took a detour from music and tried writing. I liked it. To this day, one of my favorite things is combining these two interests to create novels, stories, and plays about music. Since moving to Nashville, I’ve immersed myself in American popular music and have loved returning to my roots. 


I wrote...

Lord of the Mountain

By Ronald Kidd,

Book cover of Lord of the Mountain

What is my book about?

This is the story of a fictional character, thirteen-year-old Nate Owens, who witnesses one of the seminal events in American music, a series of 1927 recording sessions in Bristol, Tennessee, where the Carter Family, Jimmie Rodgers, and other mothers and fathers of country music were first discovered. 

Nate’s family has a secret, and it’s wrapped up in a song. But his preacher father hates music, and when he catches Nate in Bristol with the Carters, he comes down hard on him. So Nate sets out in search of himself and the song he thinks will heal his family. Set during the “big bang” of country music, Nate’s journey of self-discovery parallels that of a region finding its voice for the first time.

Me and a Guy Named Elvis

By Jerry Schilling, Chuck Crisafulli,

Book cover of Me and a Guy Named Elvis: My Lifelong Friendship with Elvis Presley

Me and a Guy Named Elvis is a book I couldn’t put down. My sister and I took a road trip to Graceland years ago and ever since we’ve been a bit fascinated by Elvis. Jerry is a regular guy who happens to meet Elvis right before he becomes a star. Jerry is several years younger, but that doesn’t matter. What ensues is a decades-long friendship that takes Jerry on many adventures -- some out of this world and some heartbreaking. It’s an inside look at Elvis the superstar as well as Elvis the “regular guy.”


Who am I?

I’ve always been fascinated by the intensity of friendships, whether they last a few months or a lifetime. For me, unlikely friendships have always been the most interesting, whether it be differences in class, age, hobbies, etc. I think all people can find common ground if they just listen to one another and talk for a minute. I love books featuring unlikely duos and almost always include them in my own novels. I hope you enjoy these books as much as I do, and they remind you of the best friends you’ve ever had.


I wrote...

One Night

By Deanna Cabinian,

Book cover of One Night

What is my book about?

One Night is a contemporary YA romance novel about teen angst, unrequited love, and self-discovery set to the beat of Elvis Presley's music.

Thompson is miserable. Even though Caroline broke his heart, he wants her back. With his mind on her, his life takes an unexpected turn. Johnny Lee Young, Hawaii’s Favorite Elvis Impersonator, gives him a job. Thompson knows nothing about celebrity impersonators, but he does know social media. Will he get Caroline back and find his true love? One Night is a delightful coming-of-age tale perfect for fans of John Green and Maureen Johnson. It’s an unforgettable story of friendship and finding yourself, of heartache and healing, and of the remarkable turns a life can take in One Night.

Her Darkest Secret

By Jessica R. Patch,

Book cover of Her Darkest Secret

Jessica Patch is putting on her crown as the master of psychological creepy and she has made her mark with this novel. As an avid fan of the television show Criminal Minds, this book delivered all of that intrigue, creep, serial killer, and shivers while also merging it with faith and solid relationships. I thoroughly enjoy Jessica Patch, but definitely leave a light on!


Who am I?

I adore suspense, mystery, and romance, but more so, I love books that inspire me and also aren’t necessarily easy to figure out. I’m a published and Christy award-winning author in this genre myself, but I have been reading this genre for over thirty-three years. I would definitely have to say my qualifications as a reader of suspense and mystery far outweigh those of an author. When I read suspense and romance, I look for two key elements: hard-to-figure out suspense and believable romance. I’m not out for bells and whistles as a reader, but instead look for well-crafted stories that are more like a puzzle that must be solved. 


I wrote...

The Souls of Lost Lake

By Jaime Jo Wright,

Book cover of The Souls of Lost Lake

What is my book about?

Wren Blythe has long enjoyed living in the Northwoods of Wisconsin. But when a little girl in the area goes missing, an all-out search ensues, reviving the decades-old campfire story of Ava Coons, the murderess who is believed to still roam the forest. Joining the search, Wren stumbles upon the Coonses' cabin ruins and a sinister mystery she is determined to unearth.

In 1930, Ava Coons has spent the last several years carrying the mantle of mystery since the day she emerged from the woods as a thirteen-year-old girl, spattered with blood, dragging a logger's ax. She has accepted she will never remember what happened to her family. After a member of the town is murdered, and another goes missing, rumors spread that Ava's secret is perhaps more malicious than previously imagined.

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