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.

  • Rich Man's Son: Poems

    by Ron Self
    Brick Road Poetry Press, 2013
    $15.95, Paper

    Reviewed by Julia Oliver

    This compact paperback printing of seventy-five lyric poems has an attractive cover with a fresco painting by Michelangelo, which forms part of the Sistine Chapel ceiling, painted circa 1511-1512. The collection offers three titled sections: Part 1: As Nature Made Him; Part 2: Family Business; and Part 3: Make It Dance. Read the complete review

  • Come Landfall

    By Roy Hoffman
    The University of Alabama Press, 2014
    $29.95, Hardcover; $29.95, eBook

    Fiction

    Reviewed by Linda Busby Parker

    Fiction isn’t spawned totally from the imagination—it’s generally hatched from an inkling of truth that is combined with inspiration and a flight of fancy. Such can be said of Roy Hoffman’s latest novel, Come Landfall. For Hoffman, the inkling of truth was the loss of his uncle, Major Roy Robinton, U.S. Marine Corps, World War II. Major Robinton was captured and held on Japanese “Hellship” and disappeared with no record of his final days. The story of this lost uncle—Hoffman’s namesake—has become part of Hoffman family history, and via Come Landfall, Hoffman allows readers to share part of this history. Read the complete review

  • What He Would Call Them

    By Harry Moore
    Finishing Line Press , 2013
    $14, Paper

    Poetry

    Reviewed by Norman McMillan

    As I read the seventeen poems in Harry Moore’s chapbook, What He Would Call Them, I thought almost immediately of Auden’s oft-quoted pronouncement: “Art is our chief means of breaking bread with the dead.” With a clear understanding of the importance of family relationships across generations, Moore celebrates his forebears in most of the poems in this collection. But things do not stop there. He brings his readers forcibly back to the present, connecting his current life with previous lives, his own and those of his parents and grandparents. Read the complete review

  • Pickett’s Charge: A Novel

    By Charles McNair
    Livingston Press, 2013
    $30, Hardcover; $18.95, Paper

    Fiction

    Reviewed by Julia Oliver

    This interesting, adventure-filled novel utilizes two time frames a century apart. In 1964, the 114-year–old protagonist, Threadgill Pickett, a Civil War veteran languishing in a Mobile retirement home, is obsessed with the belief that something really bad happened to him on his boyhood journey to join the Confederate Army. Read the complete review

  • New Releases—Poetry

    These poetry titles were recently released by Alabama authors or publishers, or they cover subjects related to our state. Simply click a book’s title to learn more. View the complete list

  • New Releases—Young Adult

    These young adult titles were recently released by Alabama authors or publishers, or they cover subjects related to our state. Simply click a book’s title to learn more. View the complete list

  • New Releases—Fiction

    These fiction titles were recently released by Alabama authors or publishers, or they cover subjects related to our state. Simply click a book’s title to learn more. View the complete list

  • New Releases—Nonfiction

    These nonfiction titles were recently released by Alabama authors or publishers, or they cover subjects related to our state. Simply click a book’s title to learn more. View the complete list

  • Legend of the Tallassee Carbine: A Civil War Mystery

    By Larry Williamson
    The Ardent Writer Press, 2013
    $19.95, Paper

    Fiction

    Reviewed by Carroll Dale Short

    If the springtime of 1864 was not the darkest moment for the Confederacy in the waning days of the U.S. Civil War, it was definitely high in contention. The South's iconic general Stonewall Jackson had died of war injuries, and Union forces were setting their sights on Richmond, Virginia, for its significance as a stronghold of armories and gun manufacturing. Read the complete review

  • A Powerful Blessing: The Life of Charles Colcock Jones Carpenter, Sr. 1899-1969, Sixth Episcopal Bishop of Alabama, 1938-1968

    By Douglas M. Carpenter
    TransAmerica Printing, 2012
    $24.99, Paper

    Nonfiction

    Reviewed by Julia Oliver

    In A Powerful Blessing, an absorbing, affectionate, and scholarly biographical narrative about his father, the Reverend Douglas Carpenter notes that his sources were "letters, diaries, notes, and clippings saved at the time of the events, scrapbooks, conversations with people on site, and [his] own memory, which extends back to the summer of 1936, when [his] family moved to Birmingham from Savannah." Read the complete review

  • The Fountain of St. James Court; Or, Portrait of the Artist as an Old Woman

    By Sena Jeter Naslund
    William Morrow, 2013
    $26.99, Hardcover; $14.39, Paper; $12.74, eBook

    Fiction

    Reviewed by Elaine Hughes

    Sena Jeter Naslund first received international acclaim in 1999 for her novel Ahab’s Wife; Or, The Star-Gazer, which some critics called the feminist version of Melville’s Moby-Dick. She was lauded for her extensive research and her mastery of eloquent language in creating this piece of historical fiction. Again, in Abundance (2006), her penetrating portrayal of the period of the French Revolution and of the enigmatic Marie Antoinette earned her praise and a following of loyal fans. Readers will have much to celebrate with her ninth novel, The Fountain of St. James Court; Or, Portrait of the Artist as an Old Woman, in which she portrays two strong women, driven by their passion for their art and haunted by their failures as wives and mothers. Read the complete review

  • Jacob's Robe

    By Bob Whetstone
    Lulu Enterprises, 2013
    $40.93, Hardcover; $12, Paper
    Fiction
    Reviewed by Pam Kingsbury

    Bob Whetstone, familiar to many readers for his career at Birmingham-Southern College and his work with the Alabama Humanities Foundation and arts organizations, has written five historical novels prior to Jacob's Robe. Set partially in the mountains near Asheville, North Carolina, Jacob's Robe uses local history, folklore, and storytelling to lure readers into the love-story—turned-mystery of Jim Dean and Rachel Palmer. Read the complete review

  • Kuponya: Healing in the Heart of Africa

    By Henrietta MacGuire;
    Photography by Katie Faulk
    Mockingbird Publishing, 2012
    $12, Paper

    Nonfiction

    Reviewed by Julia Oliver

    This impeccably produced book from Ashley Gordon’s relatively new Fairhope, Alabama, press is a triumphant journal/account about Montgomery author and editor Henrietta MacGuire’s stint as a volunteer worker in an orphanage in Nairobi, Kenya, in the summer of 2010. The text is enhanced by a plethora of wonderful color photographs, taken by fellow traveler and volunteer Katie Faulk of Memphis. Read the complete review

  • Weaving the Unraveling

    By Heidi A. Eckert
    Sand Island Publishing, 2013
    $12.99 Paper; $6.99, eBook

    Fiction

    Reviewed by Dee Jordan

    Heidi Eckert has penned a riveting novel with all of the elements of good storytelling: romance, a haunting past, a doubtful future, and an unforeseen present. The author uses a unique technique by referring to her protagonist as only “she,” “her,” and “hers” rather than naming her. This nomenclature normally would have been a difficult task, but Eckert writes in such beautiful language, that the reader is able to follow the protagonist. She is both invisible and visible in Eckert’s poignant words. Read the complete review

  • College Mascot Series

    Big Al's Game Day
    Aubie's Game Day Rules
    Big Al Teaches the Alphabet
    Counting With Big Al

    By Sherri Graves Smith
    Mascot Books, 2012
    $14.95, Hardcover

    Children’s

    Reviewed by Pam Kingsbury

    Sherri Graves Smith, a native of Tuscumbia, loves football, reading, and her home state of Alabama. Having grown up in a family of readers and sports fans, when cancer forced her into early retirement she decided to pursue her lifelong desire to encourage reading in children the same way that her parents encouraged her to read. The resulting books—a series devoted to Game Days at various colleges around the country—teach the invaluable lessons of good manners, good sportsmanship, and the importance of healthy rivalry. Read the complete review

  • The Joker: A Memoir

    By Andrew Hudgins
    Simon & Schuster, 2013
    $25, Hardcover

    Nonfiction

    Reviewed by Norman McMillan

    I have known of chess players who can remember every move they made in championship games over many years. When it comes to jokes, I’d say Andrew Hudgins is in that league. He seems to remember every joke he ever heard. He knows elephant jokes, Helen Keller jokes, dead baby jokes, knock-knock jokes, cruelty jokes, racial jokes, poop jokes, sex jokes, fart jokes, Little Moron jokes, Pollack jokes, parrot jokes, and, of course, Alabama jokes and Auburn jokes. And this is just a partial list. Read the complete review

  • Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald

    By Therese Anne Fowler
    St. Martin’s Press, 2013
    $25.99, Hardcover; $12.99, eBook

    Fiction

    Reviewed by Katherine Henderson

    "It was all so wonderful, at first," says Zelda Fitzgerald about Hollywood, but the same could just as easily be said about her tumultuous relationship with F. Scott Fitzgerald. Anyone who knows much at all about the pair already knows that, but what may be missing are the details. Details, albeit highly fictionalized, abound in Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald by Therese Anne Fowler. In the novel, Fowler brings the famous pair to life, along with a cast of supporting characters that is a veritable who's who of early twentieth century literature and popular culture. But Fowler doesn’t just bring them to life; she stirs controversy, too: What sort of relationship do Scott and Hemingway have, anyway? Just how culpable is Scott for driving Zelda over the edge? And how much credit does Scott deserve for the work published under his own name? As Zelda tells her story—because she’s the narrator and this is her story, not Scott’s or one with Scott’s name where hers should be—the answers are revealed. Read the complete review

  • The Kings and Queens of Roam

    By Daniel Wallace
    Touchstone Books, 2013

    $24, Hardcover

    Fiction

    Reviewed by Don Noble

    Here in his fifth novel Daniel Wallace has returned to many of the concerns and techniques of Big Fish, his first and most widely admired novel. As readers and viewers of the Tim Burton movie production of Big Fish well know, Wallace’s fiction is never tied too tightly to reality. Here again, in Roam, we are in the land of the tall tale, the fable, fantasy, and fairy tale—and not the tooth fairy kind where there is no down side, just the delivery of a silver coin in the night, but the Brothers Grimm variety, laced with darkness, anxiety, bad behavior, guilt, envy, and pain. Read the complete review

  • Darkroom: a memoir in black & white

    By Lila Quintero Weaver
    The University of Alabama Press, 2012
    $24.95, Paper; $24.95 eBook

    Nonfiction

    Reviewed by Lindsay Hodgens

    After going through the Alabama public school system, I was sure that I had a pretty good grasp on Alabama’s involvement in the Civil Rights Movement—that it was a terrible dark spot on our history that involved the cruel treatment of African Americans—but Lila Quintero Weaver’s debut graphic memoir has made me question how much I actually know about the subject. Darkroom: a memoir in black & white tells the story of Weaver’s family, who immigrated from Buenos Aires. Several aspects of the family’s history are explored, such as the father’s complicated and storied ethnicity and the speaker’s own feelings of displacement in American public schools, but it was the speaker’s fresh perspective on the Civil Rights Movement that pulled me in. Read the complete review

  • Sounding

    By Barry Marks
    NegativeCapability Press, 2012
    $15.95, Paper

    Poetry

    Reviewed by Carey Scott Wilkerson

    On page 22 of Barry Marks’s Sounding, there is a poem titled “Father’s Day.” Below this title lies a blank page, a sweep of terminal white that drifts beyond the margins and into secret velocities of imagining. A silent withdrawal from the space of language and argumentation, it is but one of the many complex, heartbreaking, and luminous moments in this book. Written in the shadow of a father’s grief, this book is not only a Kaddish and encomium for his precious daughter, who died just after her seventeenth birthday, but also a gift of transfiguration and hope. Sounding is a study in the topology of loss and the exigent forces that make art possible when the world seems to collapse around us. Read the complete review

  • Southern Bound: A Gulf Coast Journalist on Books, Writers, and Literary Pilgrimages of the Heart

    By John Sledge
    University of South Carolina Press, 2013
    $24.95, Paper; $24.95, eBook

    Nonfiction

    Reviewed by Jim Fraiser

    Mobile author John Sledge harbors great passion for his Southland, and he shares those sentiments with the same vibrant prose he imbued in his hundreds of Mobile Press Register book reviews and four tomes covering Mobile’s architecture and history. In Southern Bound, Sledge offers past reviews of books ranging from novels that inspired the movies Shane and True Grit, to Winston Groom’s Civil War history, Vicksburg, 1863, and classics such as Joseph Conrad’s Typhoon and Plato’s Dialogues. He also presents exquisite mediations on diverse subjects such as the connection between Oxford, Mississippi, and her many famed authors from Faulkner to Grisham; Greenville’s literary history involving the Percys, Footes, and Carters; and the relationship between Savannah and John Berendt’s novel, Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. Read the complete review

  • The Life and Death of Poetry

    By Kelly Cherry
    LSU Press, 2013
    $19.95, Paper

    Poetry

    Reviewed by Pam Kingsbury

    The Life and Death of Poetry, Kelly Cherry's ninth full-length collection of poetry, is the 2013 winner of the L.E. Phillabaum Prize for Poetry. Like Cherry's memoir, Writing the World, and her essay collection, Girl in a Library, the book takes writing, language, and communication as central themes. Divided into three sections—Learning the Language, Welsh Table Talk (A Sequence), and What the Poet Wishes to Say—the poems move from silence and the sounds of animals to a father, his daughter, and non-related, yet intertwined friends, attempting to find— not always successfully—the words to bridge the distances between them, until finally reaching the joy of language, and the pleasures of the ordinary word. Dedicated "For my students, then and now," The Life and Death of Poetry is in the tradition of Ars Poetica and John Keats' negative capability. Read the complete review

  • Nothing Fancy About Kathryn & Charlie

    By Kerry Madden;
    Illustrated by Lucy Madden-Lunsford
    Mockingbird Publishing, 2013
    $12.59, Paper

    Children’s

    Reviewed by Lindsay Hodgens

    When Kerry and Lucy Madden-Lunsford say there’s nothing fancy about Kathryn (Tucker Windham) and Charlie (Lucas), they are only half-telling the truth. On one hand, the authors spin a wonderful tale about two friends, bonded together by their love of simple things like tomato sandwiches and turning combs into homemade musical instruments, which indeed establishes the two as people who do not feel the need to surround themselves with fancy things. Kathryn and Charlie come across as individuals who are as eccentric as they are down-to-earth, so I can definitely see how there is nothing fancy about the pair. Read the complete review

  • I Left My Heart in Shanghi, Alabama: Essays on Home and Place

    By Carroll Dale Short
    NewSouth Books Classics, 2012
    $15.95, Paper

    Nonfiction

    Reviewed by Bebe Barefoot

    Dale Short introduced the 1988 edition of I Left My Heart in Shanghi, Alabama, with humble wonder, marveling at his good fortune and comparing his childhood home to the Garden of Eden. He opens the twenty-fifth anniversary edition with wistful mourning: “I put off going home as long as I could, because home is gone.” Read the complete review

  • Opening the Doors: The Desegregation of the University of Alabama and the Fight for Civil Rights in Tuscaloosa

    By B.J. Hollars
    The University of Alabama Press, 2013
    $29.95, Hardcover

    Nonfiction

    Reviewed by Don Noble

    Alabama Governor George Wallace’s infamous stand in the schoolhouse door took place nearly fifty years ago on June 11, 1963, at Foster Auditorium. B. J. Hollars, who took the MFA in writing at the University of Alabama and taught there for three years, is perfectly familiar with the work of E. Culpepper “Cully” Clark, whose The Schoolhouse Door: Segregation’s Last Stand at the University of Alabama was published in 1995. He acknowledges Clark’s work and covers this central event expeditiously. Read the complete review