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.

  • All the Way to Memphis and Other Stories

    By Suzanne Hudson
    River’s Edge Media, 2014
    $16, Paper

    Fiction

    Reviewed by Don Noble

    Suzanne Hudson is the author of three novels, In a Temple of Trees, In the Dark of the Moon, and Second Sluthood, but her career was launched when judges, including Toni Morrison and Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., chose the story “LaPrade” as the winner of the 1976 Penthouse fiction contest. She has published stories regularly ever since, with one previous collection, Opposable Thumbs. This volume, All the Way to Memphis, contains nine stories previously published and one brand-new, “The Good Sister.” Some of these tales are hilarious, if bizarre. Read the complete review

  • Jerry Lee Lewis: His Own Story

    By Rick Bragg
    HarperCollins Publishers, 2014
    $27.99, Hardcover

    Nonfiction

    Reviewed by
    Don Noble

    Over two summers, Rick Bragg sat by Jerry Lee Lewis’ bed, where Lewis, in his late seventies, was mostly immobile, in pain, suffering from shingles, systemic infections, pneumonia, a compound fracture of the leg that wouldn’t heal, and crippling arthritis, tended to by his seventh wife, Judith. After a lifetime of alcohol, barbiturates, amphetamines, and thousands of one-night stands with his band and strange women, it was a wonder he was alive at all, but The Killer, a nickname earned in the sixth grade, his last year of schooling, was surviving and unrepentant. Read the complete review

  • Men We Reaped: A Memoir

    By Jesmyn Ward
    Bloomsbury, 2014
    $26, Hardcover

    Nonfiction

    Reviewed by Don Noble

    Jesmyn Ward’s first novel, Where the Line Bleeds (2008), is the story of twin brothers. Her second, Salvage the Bones (2011), published while she was teaching at the University of South Alabama, won the National Book Award even though it had just been released, there had been no reviews, and the reading public had barely seen it. The judges were rightly amazed. Candid, but in lyrical imagery, Bones captures the life of a poor black family as Hurricane Katrina looms, then strikes. Now we have this painful, raw memoir, and it is not the story of literary and financial success, the rising out of difficult circumstances, that one expected. Read the complete review

  • The All-Girl Filling Station’s Last Reunion

    By Fannie Flagg
    Random House, 2014
    $15, Paper

    Fiction

    Reviewed by Don Noble

    The All Girls Filling Station’s Last Reunion is Harper Lee Award recipient Fannie Flagg’s ninth novel and her fans are going to love it. Descriptions of this novel by reviewers and by Flagg’s friends Mark Childress, Pat Conroy, and Carol Burnett include “funny,” “quirky,” “charming,” “kind,” “entertaining,” “page-turner,” “sunny,” “witty,” “warm-hearted,” and, of course, “heartwarming.” And it’s true. This novel is a confection, cotton candy. It is highly readable and enjoyable. To complain about a lack of gravitas would be churlish. Read the complete review

  • The Jumper: A Novel

    By Tim Parrish
    Texas Review Press, 2013
    $26.95, Paper

    Fiction

    Reviewed by Don Noble

    Raised in blue-collar Baton Rouge, after LSU and an MFA in fiction writing at Alabama, Tim Parrish has had his teaching career at Southern Connecticut State University. But in his writing, Parrish has never left the neighborhood in Baton Rouge where he was raised. Through three books in three genres he has returned to this seething, rather toxic place. Red Stick Men, his volume of stories, tells of his childhood and adolescence in the 1960s. Recently, his memoir, Fear and What Follows: The Violent Education of a Christian Racist, recalls the anger and frustration among lower middle class whites as the civil rights movement gained power and teenage boys were inspired to violence by the rhetoric of resistance. With The Jumper, winner of the George Garrett Fiction Prize, Parrish has returned again to the same few blocks of run-down, sad little wooden houses at the edge of the industrial “park.” Read the complete review

  • The Meaning of Human Existence

    By Edward O. Wilson
    Liveright Publishing Company, a division of W. W. Norton & Co., 2014
    $23.95, Hardcover

    Nonfiction

    Reviewed by Don Noble

    What writer/thinker would have the expertise, the wisdom, the confidence, and the courage to write a book titled The Meaning of Human Existence? The subject is infinite and eternal, not to mention wildly controversial. Luckily, there is such a person: E. O. Wilson, Harvard Professor of Biology Emeritus, two-time winner of the Pulitzer Prize, author of over twenty books, inventor, one might say, of sociobiology, expert on ants and superorganisms of all kinds, premier ecologist, and, one could argue, the Francis Bacon, the Charles Darwin, of our time. Read the complete review

  • The Professor: A Legal Thriller

    By Robert Bailey, 2014
    Exhibit A, 2014
    $14.99, Paper

    Fiction

    Reviewed by Don Noble

    Robert Bailey, in practice as a civil defense trial lawyer in Huntsville for the past thirteen years, has now joined the legion of Alabama attorneys to try their hand at fiction. And it’s not a bad start at all. The Professor has believable, interesting characters and, most importantly, pace. Set in Tuscaloosa, at the UA Law School, with references to the City Café in Northport, in Faunsdale at the crawfish festival, on Route 82 halfway between Tuscaloosa and Montgomery, and with Alabama demi-gods as supporting cast, The Professor is rich, even over the top, in its desire to please an Alabama readership. Read the complete review

  • Time's Fool: Love Poems

    By Harry Moore
    Mule on a Ferris Wheel Press, 2014
    $14, Paper

    Poetry

    Reviewed by Penne J. Laubenthal

    Time's Fool, Harry Moore's second chapbook, consists of twenty-four beautifully crafted poems that are both confessional and conversational. As a poet and a scholar, Moore acknowledges his literary predecessors, among them John Donne whose life has much in common with Moore’s own. Moore pays homage in his dedication, as well as in the title of his collection, to Shakespeare, the book of Psalms, and to his wife Cassandra, their children, and grandchildren. Grippingly honest and deeply moving, the poems in Time's Fool are by no means dark. They are celebratory and full of light, held together by hope, joy, faith, and always by love which "beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things." Read the complete review

  • Tinsley Harrison, MD: A Teacher at Heart

    By James Pittman Jr., MD
    NewSouth Books, 2014
    $45, Hardcover

    Nonfiction

    Reviewed by Irene Wong

    As the mother of two children who became medical doctors, I have often wondered how both siblings from our long family line (on both sides) of humanities teachers instead chose medicine for their career. As they made their way through elementary, junior high, and high school, I did not foresee that goal. Some friends teased me about being a “tiger mom,” in the spirit of author Amy Chua (Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother). The only similarity is simply that we both saw potential in our kids and we needed to convince them that if they would apply themselves they might be amazed at what they could do. In view of all this, I just read with much interest the new biography, Tinsley Harrison, MD: Teacher of Medicine by James A. Pittman Jr., MD. It answers many questions about the appeal of the profession of medicine. Read the complete review

  • Travel for Agoraphobics

    By Allen Berry
    Aldrich Press, 2014
    $14, Paper

    Poetry

    Reviewed by Jennifer Horne

    Since the 1920s, poets have been taking their inspiration from the rhythms and moods of jazz. Allen Berry now follows in that tradition, connecting past and present: Chet Baker “raises the sash, / a swan takes flight” in Amsterdam in 1988, and the speaker of “Look for the Silver Lining” says, “I don’t meet him / until Spring 2000. . .” [sitting] “cross-legged / on Stacey’s floor / assembling a CD rack . . . .” The lyric and the mundane are always bumping up against each other in Berry’s poems, and that’s a great part of their pleasure, the romantic aesthetic grounded by the motions of daily life. Read the complete review