Book Reviews

Each month Book Reviews Online features reviews of books by Alabama authors, books about our state, and books by local publishers. Simply click the book's title to read the complete review.
  • Go Set a Watchman

    By Harper Lee
    HarperCollins Publishers, 2015
    $27.99, Hardcover

    Fiction

    Reviewed by Nancy Grisham Anderson

    The wait is over. Since the announcement from HarperCollins on 3 February 2015 of a second novel by Harper Lee, anticipation has been building as has the controversy. HarperCollins Senior Vice President described the forthcoming publication as “a remarkable literary event.”

    Immediately after the announcement, concerns about Lee’s health and state of mind were voiced, with anonymous charges of elder and financial abuse brought to the attention of the state. Authorities investigated and dismissed the case, ruling that the author knew exactly what was going on and wanted the book published. Read the complete review

  • Overheard in a Drug Store: And Other Poems

    By Andrew Glaze
    NewSouth Books, 2015
    $21.95, Paper

    Poetry

    Reviewed by Barry S. Marks

    Can you blame me for approaching Andrew Glaze’s Overheard in a Drugstore: And Other Poems with a sense of trepidation? The latest book by Alabama’s 95-year-old Alabama Poet Laureate opens with a copy of a 1956 letter from no less than Robert Frost and a photograph of Glaze, Frost, Wallace Stegner, and others at the 1946 Bread Loaf Writers Conference.

    As if that is not daunting enough, the first poem, “Mr. Frost,” recounts a meeting between the Great Poet and a 100-year-old man ruminating on the meaning of life and the value of whiskey. Read the complete review

  • American Evita

    By Janice Law
    Eakin Press, 2015
    $19.95, Paper

    Nonfiction

    Reviewed by Ashley Justice

    Janice Law’s expert penning of American Evita: Lurleen Wallace is a unique look at two women, distanced in both time and geography. Law points out common threads in the lives of Eva Duarte, Argentinean radio actress turned politician and philanthropist, and Lurleen Burroughs Burns Wallace, dime-store clerk turned governor of Alabama.

    Read the complete review

  • Better Than Them: The Unmaking of an Alabama Racist

    By S. McEachin Otts; Foreword by Frye Gaillard
    NewSouth Books
    $23.95, Paper

    Nonfiction

    Reviewed by Norman McMillan

    The central event of S. McEachin (Mac) Otts’s Better than Them: The Unmaking of an Alabama Racist is a voting rights march to the Hale County Courthouse in Greensboro on July 16, 1965. The march received some coverage, even by the national press, but, after the massive national attention to events in Selma four months earlier, very few people seem to have paid much attention to the Greensboro march. And yet for some people, this march had a far greater direct impact than did the events in Selma. Read the complete review

  • Driving the King

    By Ravi Howard
    HarperCollins, 2015
    $25.99, hardcover

    Fiction

    Reviewed by Don Noble

    A slow and meticulous fiction writer, Howard took years to complete his first novel, Like Trees Walking (2007), the fictional retelling of the 1981 lynching of Michael Donald in Mobile. But “Trees” brought Howard the Ernest J. Gaines award, was a finalist for the Hemingway Foundation/Pen Award and brought him support from the NEA, the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, the Hurston-Wright Foundation and the New Jersey Council on the Arts.

    Driving the King has taken him seven years and I don’t doubt it will bring critical acclaim, literary prizes, if not wide readership. It seems lately the best-seller list has little to no room for thoughtful, ruminative prose, and Driving the King is literary fiction without apology.

    Read the complete review

  • Hotel Monte Sano

    By Charles Farley
    The Ardent Writer Press, 2015
    $17.95, Paper

    Fiction

    Reviewed by Don Noble

    Huntsville author Charles Farley, retired after a long career as teacher and librarian, is now the author of five books. His biography of singer Bobby “Blue” Bland appeared from the University Press of Mississippi in 2010 and since then he has completed his Secrets of Florida trilogy. His protagonist is old Doc Berber, GP, practicing in Port St. Joe, who finds himself turning detective. Doc Berber solves murders in Secrets of San Blas, 2011, Secrets of St. Vincent, 2012, and Secrets of St. Joe, 2014.

    Farley’s newest novel, The Hotel Monte Sano, is a stand-alone, but again a story of murder and revenge.

    Read the complete review

  • Journey to the Wilderness

    By Frye Gaillard
    NewSouth Books, 2015
    $23.95, Hardcover

    Nonfiction

    Reviewed by Michael Thomason

    “The past is never dead, it’s not even past” William Faulkner

    The familiar quote is at the heart of this book. In the South the past lives on in so many ways and is remembered in just as many different ways. The American Civil War is the lynchpin of the region’s history and self-image and its memory runs like a river through the century and a half since it ended in the Spring of 1865. Americans from other parts of this nation often wonder why its memory is so alive here. Historians have written countless books about every aspect of the conflict, but we still struggle to understand it. What did the War mean, after all? Of course there is no single answer to this question, but Journey to the Wilderness offers a thoughtful and compelling response. It is not a big book, but once read its message is impossible to forget.

    Read the complete review

  • Lost Capitals of Alabama

    By Herbert James Lewis
    The History Press, 2014
    $19.99, Paper

    Nonfiction

    Reviewed by Don Noble

    Montgomery, chosen over competing bids from Tuscaloosa, Wetumpka, Mobile, Marion, Statesville, Selma and Huntsville, has been the state capital since 1846, indeed was the capital of the Confederacy for three months in 1861 before that was moved to Richmond, but it was not always so. Montgomery is our fifth capital; the other four “lost” capitals are the subject of Lewis’ brief, informative book.

    Read the complete review

  • Marcus Aurelius Strong: Secret Service (Ret.)

    By David T. Morgan

    CreateSpace Independent Publishing, 2015
    $12.50, Paper; $2.99, eBook

    Fiction

    Reviewed by Norman McMillan

    Marcus Aurelius Strong, a widower who has retired after a thirty-year career with the Secret Service, is well-known for his bravery and intelligence, having actually saved the life of a president he was charged with protecting. But now he is bored and looking for something to recapture some of the excitement of his old job and at the same time defend the weak and mistreated victims of evildoers. As it happens, there has been a series of robberies at rest stops on Interstate 95 near his home in Maryland, and none of them has been solved. He determines, as vigilantes are given to do, that law enforcement has higher priorities and thus is not moving fast enough in solving these crimes. Thus he will intervene.

    Read the complete review

  • Millennial Teeth

    By Dan Albergotti
    Southern Illinois University Press, 2014
    $15.95, Paper; $15.95, eBook

    Poetry

    Reviewed by Mark Dawson

    It is easy to see why Dan Albergotti’s 45-poem book, Millennial Teeth, won the 2013 Crab Orchard Series in Poetry, selected by final judge Rodney Jones.
    These poems are ambitious, and broad in theme, and a tour de force in form. In a time when some poetry books are based on delicate epiphanies (or "epuffanies" in some cases), Albergotti’s voice is direct as he explores both inner and outer themes.

    Read the complete review

  • Pasture Art

    By Marlin Barton
    Hub City Press, 2015
    $16.95, Paper

    Fiction

    Reviewed by Don Noble

    Pasture Art is Marlin Barton’s fifth volume of fiction—there have been two novels and two collections of stories—but this book stands a good chance to be his break-out book. The stories are more insightful, more psychologically complex than any of his previous work. As a story writer, he has arrived.

    Like many another Southern fiction writers Barton has his home territory, his own postage stamp of soil which seems to supply him with all the materials he needs. Coincidentally Barton’s patch is the same patch cultivated by the brilliant short story writer Mary Ward Brown—the area around Forkland, Marion, and Demopolis, Alabama—but Brown chose a different slice of the local population. Her people were often professional people, like the judge in “Amaryllis,” or associated with the plantation, the big house, as in the story “New Dresses.” No longer truly wealthy, her white characters are likely members of the local Episcopal church. People of goodwill, not Klan members, they are nevertheless rooted in tradition and distressed by the changes around them, often in the arena of race.

    Read the complete review

  • Southern Sanctuary

    By Marian Lewis
    University of Alabama Press, 2015
    $39.95, Hardcover

    Nonfiction

    Reviewed by Dr. Sue Brannan Walker

    Meet Marian Lewis. Think “sanctuary”: And thank you Marian Lewis! "Sanctuary" is not a word we hear much anymore—not before toast and tea on an ordinary April morning after a week of rain. Perhaps we do not believe that there is such a place—a sanctuary—in our too busy, often too-frenzied world of meetings, assorted appointments, and daily to-do lists: call the Critter Getters; there’s a coon in the attic. But wait! Stop! "Sanctuary" is a word synonymous with "Marian Lewis" – who has just written a gorgeous book titled Southern Sanctuary: A Naturalist’s Walk Through the Seasons published in 2015 by the University of Alabama Press. The walk begins in April—but here we are—or rather, here I am at my computer—and I haven’t yet had my cup of tea.

    Read the complete review

  • What Stands in a Storm: Three Days in the Worst Superstorm to Hit the South's Tornado Alley

    By Kim Cross; Foreword by Rick Bragg
    Atria Books, 2015
    $25.00, Hardcover

    Nonfiction

    Reviewed by Don Noble

    After taking the BA and the MA in journalism at the U of A, Kim Cross honed her skills working as editor-at-large at Southern Living and writing articles for outdoor and sport magazines such as Bicycling and Runner’s World and several newspapers, including USA Today. What Stands in a Storm is her first book, released March 10th, and it has every chance of being a best seller.

    Read the complete review

  • The Negro Southern League: A Baseball History, 1920-1951

    By William J. "Bill" Plott
    McFarland and Company, 2015
    $39.95, Paper

    Nonfiction

    Reviewed by William "Bill" Cobb

    This immensely entertaining book fills a void in the story of American baseball. The Negro Southern League was a minor league feeding into the Negro American League and the Negro National League, two “major” African-American leagues that have received—especially in recent years—due documentation, as they provided a richly talented group of players to the Major Leagues after Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in 1947. Read the complete review

  • The Cartoon Introduction to Philosophy

    By Michael Patton and Kevin Cannon
    Hill and Wang/Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2015
    $17.95, Paper

    Nonfiction

    Reviewed by Lindsay Hodgens

    Formerly regarded as childish and borderline dangerous, comics have undergone a rehabilitation of sorts. Texts such as Art Spiegelman's Maus and Alison Bechdel's Fun Home have made their way into classrooms, where they are taught alongside traditional prose narratives. Even so, the majority of textbooks are dominated by prose, including only the images that are absolutely necessary to illustrate concepts. Although graphic narrative is gradually being recognized as a medium capable of producing mature, serious work, prose is still the go-to means of communicating information. With that in mind, Michael Patton and Kevin Cannon's book The Cartoon Introduction to Philosophy is something of an oddity. Read the complete review