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By Angela Jackson-Brown
Thomas Nelson, 2021
Paperback: $17.95
Genre: Fiction; Novel
Review by Kwoya Fagin Maples

Though I was intrigued by the synopsis of the novel, I began reading it skeptically. When Stars Rain Down is set in the summer of 1936 in Parsons, Georgia. The main character is Opal, a seventeen-year-old who longs to be a “typical” carefree teenager. Abandoned by her mother, Opal is raised by her Granny within the protective embrace of her family and community. Both Opal and her grandmother cook and clean for a white widow named Miss Peggy and her mentally ill daughter, Miss Corinne. This novel would offer the first time I’d seen a story told from Opal’s unique point of view: a teenage domestic worker.

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By Francis X. Walter
NewSouth Books, 2021
Hardcover: $28.95
Genre: Nonfiction; Memoir
Review by Edward Journey

When asked to review Francis X. Walter’s new book about his role as a pastor and activist in the Civil Rights Movement, I hesitated, knowing that Black civil rights activists are justifiably resistant to the narrative of the “white savior.” I needn’t have worried. The humility that permeates Francis X. Walter’s book, From Preaching to Meddling: A White Minister in the Civil Rights Movement, makes any apologia unnecessary. Walter is a modest, Mobile-born, Jesuit-educated Episcopal priest analyzing his role in addressing the wrongs of his predecessors and contemporaries. The memoir is about one man’s path through life and the many epiphanies he encounters along the way as he hones a fervent belief in equal justice and racial equity.

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By Robert McKean
Livingston Press, 2020
Hardcover: $25.95; paperback: $18.95; e-book: $16.95
Genre: Short Fiction
Review by Edward Journey

The Appalachian foothill towns of western Pennsylvania were made mythic in Michael Cimino’s 1978 film, The Deer Hunter. Robert McKean’s collection of short stories, I’ll Be Here for You: Diary of a Town, brings the mythic down to earth again with intertwined stories of the more prosaic lives of Ganaego, Pennsylvania, his fictional and fading former steel town. I’ll Be Here for You is the 2019 winner of the Tartt Fiction Award, awarded by Livingston Press for a first collection of short fiction.

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By Blake Ells
The History Press, 2020
Paperback: $21.99
Genre: History; Nonfiction
Review by Edward Journey

House-hunting for a move back to Birmingham in the spring, I passed the Southtown Court projects going toward the Expressway underpass on the way to look at a place in Highland Park. Just before the underpass, the Nick still stood in its converted convenience store location (“B’ham’s Finest Qwik Mart,” the sign used to say). My young realtor was waiting at the condo when I pulled up. “It’s good to know the Nick still rocks,” I said in greeting.

“Yeah, I’ve spent some time at the Nick,” he responded.

“So have I,” I said, and realized that my nights at the Nick predate my realtor’s birth.
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By Mike Bunn
NewSouth Books, 2020
Hardcover: $28.95
Genre: History; Nonfiction
Review by Edward Journey

Fourteenth Colony is a well-documented and researched exploration of British West Florida and its significance during the American Revolution. Bunn acknowledges in the Preface that “there are technically multiple competitors for the title of Britain’s fourteenth American colony, ranging from neighboring East Florida to several concurrent holdings in Canada.” His choice of West Florida, however, emphasizes the strategic value of the region and the many missteps the British made when they controlled the colony from 1763 to 1783.
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By Patti Callahan
Berkley, 2021
Hardcover $26.00
Genre: Fiction
Review by H.M. Cotton

Savannah, Georgia is a city filled with so much grace and Southern charm, the type of place with perfectly manicured front lawns and – quite literally – secrets in the attic: the perfect Southern gothic setting. For as much beauty and history as the city has, there’s also a sense of sadness and mystery tucked along its streets. Patty Callahan’s Surviving Savannah captures the lush and rich setting of Savannah, but doesn’t overlook that the city has a past filled with sorrow and pain. One traumatic event in particular – the tragedy of the steamship Pulaski – provides the backbone of Callahan’s narratives and leaves readers to question, “How will we survive the surviving?”
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By Rick Bragg
Alfred A. Knopf, 2020
Hardcover $26.95; paperback: $17.00
Genre: Personal Essays
Review by Edward Journey

Not long ago, a food writer friend from “Up North,” who now lives in Atlanta, told me that, thanks to my online journal and Rick Bragg, she feels “less a Northern fish out of water.” I was flattered to be included in the company of Mr. Bragg, but felt unworthy. I also feared that Bragg, if he ever came across my journal, might scoff that I was one of “the posers, talkin’ about Roy Acuff with gelato on their breath.”
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By John Archibald
Alfred A. Knopf, 2021
Hardcover $28.00
Genre: Nonfiction, Memoir
Review by Edward Journey

“Are we going to play around with our own little pettiness, prejudice and pride until it is too late to understand the significant things that are happening in the world?” Rev. Robert L. Archibald Jr. grappled with that question from the pulpit of Monte Sano Methodist Church in Huntsville, Alabama, in a sermon entitled “Too Late,” on the morning of September 15, 1963. Rev. Archibald would not have known that, as he was speaking those words, Birmingham’s Sixteenth Street Baptist Church was reeling in the aftermath of a bombing by members of the Ku Klux Klan. That bombing killed four young girls, injured twenty-two other churchgoers, and forever altered the narrative trajectory of the Civil Rights Movement.
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By Ben Raines
Foreword by E.O. Wilson
NewSouth Books, 2020
Hardcover $35.00
Genre: Nonfiction, Nature
Review by H.M. Cotton

Anyone who has spent any considerable amount of time in Alabama can attest to its breath-taking natural beauty. Those of us blessed enough to live here know that just a few steps from the front door, a scrawling wilderness of landscape and waterways teems with life. But what Ben Raines captures in Saving America’s Amazon: The Threat to Our Nation’s Most Biodiverse River System is the undervalued gem that is Alabama’s biodiversity and how close we are to losing this treasure.
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By Frye Gaillard
Negative Capability Press, 2020
Hardcover $21.99
Genre: Nonfiction, Biographical Memoir
Review by Edward Journey

My favorite passage in Frye Gaillard’s book, Live as if … A Teacher’s Love Story , sums up his wife Nancy Gaillard’s fearless and inquisitive approach to life. Nancy and Frye are on a trip to the city of Baku (in what is now Azerbaijan), which is under Soviet control at the time. Nancy impulsively leads Frye into the headquarters of Muslim radicals plotting the overthrow of Soviet control of their homeland. “Maybe we can learn about what’s going on,” she says. After the two are delayed from leaving for several hours, Frye tells Nancy, hopefully, “This will be a great story if we survive.”
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By Lana K. Austin
West Virginia Univeristy Press, 2020
Paperback $21.99
Genre: Fiction, Novel
Review by Edward Journey

On the surface, Like Light, Like Music, the unique debut novel by Lana K.W. Austin, is a printed text, but within it runs its own evocative, suggested soundtrack. The story is a mystery, of sorts, but no concrete answers are discovered; the mysteries only compound as the narrative of this tightly spun novel, set in Kentucky in 1999, unfolds. Austin draws from Kentucky and southern Appalachian folk traditions to create a strong sense of place and intrigue. The novel exhibits a prodigious knowledge of music from start to finish.
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By Yaa Gyasi
Knopf, 2020
Hardcover $27.95
Genre: Fiction, Novel
Review by Laura Lilly Cotten

During what now feels like the early days of the pandemic, I read an advance copy of Yaa Gyasi’s Transcendent Kingdom. I hadn’t been sleeping much and was in a reading rut, so my business partner handed me Transcendent Kingdom saying, “It reads like a prayer.” She was right. Transcendent Kingdom is a novel-length meditation on not knowing.
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By Randall Horton
Univeresity of Kentucky Press, 2020
Hardcover $29.95, Paperback $19.95
Genre: Poetry
Review by Zanice Bond

{#289-128} is the fourth collection of poetry by Birmingham, Alabama, native Dr. Randall Horton. It contains forty-six poems and is divided into three sections: PROPERTY OF THE STATE, PO-ET IN RESIDENCE, and POET IN NEW YORK. At first glance, these sections might be deceiv-ing, suggesting perhaps that the collection is autobiographical or focuses on Horton and his move from a 20-year-old college student with seven felonies to a tenured university professor with a Ph.D.
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The Age of Phillis
By Honorée Fanonne Jeffers
Wesleyan, 2020
Hardcover $26.95
Genre: Poetry
Review by Jacqueline Allen Trimble

Phillis Wheatley Peters (aka Phillis Wheatley) is an iconic 18th century American poet, often lauded for her genius which challenged notions of black and female inferiority, sometimes dismissed for her alleged assimilationist bent. Much of what is known about her comes from two sources that may not be as reliable as previously thought, or so argues Honorée Fanonne Jeffers in The Age of Phillis, a beautifully rendered collection of poems which rescues Peters from the mythologies that have shaped our notions about her.
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COVID19 SUTRAS
By Hank Lazer
Lavender Ink, 2020
Paperback: $18.95
Genre: Poetry
Review by Edward Journey

In this autumn of the 2020 pandemic, one would be hard-pressed to find a more “of the moment” volume of poetry than Hank Lazer’s COVID19 SUTRAS. Comprised of sutras composed between March 1 and June 13 of 2020, Lazer’s poems provide contemplative meditation and real-life scenarios in a frequently startling and vibrant book of images from a most exceptional year in each of our lives. The classic sutras of Hinduism and Buddhism are collections of phrases leading to enlightenment; Lazer adapts the format for our specific time by providing glimpses of nature, compassion, and “normal” life amidst the despair and confusion of global disease and unrest.
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