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The Age of Phillis
By Honorée Fannone 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.

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.

Boys of Alabama
By Genevieve Hudson
Liveright, 2020
Hardcover: $26.95
Genre: Fiction
Review by Carla Jean Whitley

Max is new to Alabama. He and his parents arrive by plane and are greeted by some of the state’s most obvious symbols: sweet tea (“served in Styrofoam cups so big [Max] had to hold his with both hands”), the University of Alabama’s iconic A and stifling heat. The German family has relocated to America for Max’s father’s job at a car plant, and they find Alabama unusual, with its Confederate flags, streets named after football coaches, and private Christian schools. Regardless of talent, boys are welcomed to the school’s football team. It’s Alabama, after all, and football is the center of social life for most of the students.

Furious Hours
By Casey Cep
Knopf, 2019
Hardcover: $26.95
Genre: Nonfiction
Review by Katie Lamar Jackson

Sometimes it takes an outsider to help us understand our own history, which is just what Casey Cep did for me, and I suspect many of my fellow Alabamians, in the pages of her first (and I suspect, not her last) best-selling book, Furious Hours: Murder, Fraud, and the Last Trial of Harper Lee.

Happy Like This
By Ashley Wurzbacher
University of Iowa Press, 2019
Paperback: $17.00
Genre: Fiction, Short Fiction
Review by Laura Lilly Cotten

In Virginia Woolf’s 1927 novel To the Lighthouse, Lily Briscoe is a minor character, a painter who almost never paints. Mrs. Ramsay, the novel’s subject, is a mother and match-maker. She is such a force that even after she dies, Lily is pondering and reacting to advice she had given a decade earlier. Only after Mrs. Ramsay’s death is Lily finally able to paint the portrait of her that Lily has imagined for a decade, to make Mrs. Ramsay into an object. Lily delights at the thought of informing Mrs. Ramsay that those she tried to influence haven’t listened: “It has all gone against your wishes. They’re happy like that; I’m happy like this.”

By Reginald Dwayne Betts
W.W. Norton, 2019
Hardcover: $26.95; Trade Paperback or E-Book: $16.95
Genre: Poetry
Review by James E. Cherry


In the mouths of white Americans, the word drips with humiliation, degradation and death. But when African Americans use it among themselves, however right or wrong, it’s an attempt to lessen the pain of a century’s old weapon and can even, as twisted as it may sound, become a term of endearment.

Shining Man
​​​​​​​By Todd Dills
Livingston Press, 2019
Hardcover: $26.95; Trade Paperback or E-Book: $16.95
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Review by Edward Journey

The new novel, Shining Man, by Todd Dills, begins with six pages of “Dramatis Personae” that include the names of actual characters in the novel along with about three pages of names of characters mentioned once, maybe twice, in the book. The “Dramatis Personae” is followed by a cryptic “Prologue.” These preliminaries, however, become superfluous. By the time Chapter 1 and a rather ragged plot emerges on page 9, the reader has been plied with a great deal of information that does not necessarily encourage initial engagement. Read more...

The Story of Alabama in Fourteen Foods
By Emily Blejwas
University of Alabama Press, 2019
Hardcover $25.99, Paperback $15.95
Genre: Children's Book
Reviewed by Carla Jean Whitley

Though my childhood memories take the form of Mrs. Winner’s on Parkway East in Birmingham and Popeye’s in a Florida suburb, the homemade chicken Emily Blejwas describes in The Story of Alabama in Fourteen Foods makes my mouth water. The crispy crust. The tender meat that crust gives way to. (I always preferred dark meat.) It’s simple but, in my mind, it’s a symbol of family gathering. Read more...

A Superhero for God
By Rosemary Broadway
Archway Publishing, 2014
Hardcover $25.99, Paperback $15.95
Genre: Children's Book
Reviewed by Jan White

Rosemary Broadway has written a children’s book based on a true story about one of her grandsons. The story teaches an inspirational lesson for all ages, reminding readers of God’s love, forgiveness, and mission for each of us. Read more...

Alabama Noir
Edited By Don Noble
Akashic Books, 2020
Paperback $15.95
Genre: Short Fiction
Reviewed by Philip Shirley
Sixteen new short stories covering 255 pages in Alabama Noir send a message that short fiction is alive and well in Alabama. The compelling stories collected here by Don Noble are set in Alabama by well-established, and a couple of emerging, writers. Read Full Review...

The Fireball Brothers
By M. David Hornbuckle
Livingston Press, 2019
Paperback $16.95
Genre: Fiction
Reviewed by Edward Journey

In the brief first chapter of M. David Hornbuckle’s novel, The Fireball Brothers, an aging couple in present-day Birmingham is exploring their blossoming romance in a bedroom in a Redmont Park mansion overlooking the city. The woman is a jazz and opera enthusiast while the man leans toward roots music. Such small talk leads to the man launching into a story of his family and a life-changing adventure in the late-1950s. Read Full Review...

Once You Know This
By Emily Blejwas
Random House/Delacorte Press, 2017
Hardcover $16.99
Genre: Young Adult Fiction
Reviewed by Katie Lamar Jackson

Knowledge is power, especially when you feel powerless.

That’s one of many empowering insights that middle-grade readers — readers of any age, actually — can find in the pages of Emily Blejwas’s unflinchingly truthful, yet unerringly optimistic, debut novel, Once You Know This. Read Full Review...

Late Migrations: A Natural History of Love and Loss
By Margaret Renkl
Hardcover, $24
Milkweed Editions, 2019
Reviewed by Carla Jean Whitley

“I was just calling to tell you I’m going to be fine. I love you, baby.”

The rest of that conversation is fuzzy now. I believe my father and I spent a half hour or so talking about football—the college season would kick off a week later—and rock music, both among our favorite topics since I was a teenager. I sat on my balcony during that phone call, enjoying a pleasant, late-summer Sunday in Birmingham while my father was confined to an intensive care unit in Florida. I don’t think we discussed much of significance, beyond briefly touching on the unexpected surgery he would undergo the next day.

But I know for certain he ended that call, as he always did, by reminding me of his love.

It was the last time I would hear his voice. Read full review...

Selected Poems
By Dennis Sampson
Homestead Lighthouse Press, Inc., 2019
Hardcover $24.95; Paperback $14.54
Genre: Poetry
Reviewed by Claire Hamner Matturo

The poems in Dennis Sampson’s eloquent collection, Selected Poems (Homestead Lighthouse Press 2019), are haunted with a wrenching tenderness, as well as gentle grace and certain beauty. These are lovely, lonely poems that resonate with humanity, easily assessable to readers, fueled by an inquisitive mind, and filled with rich, lush language.  Read full review...

This is the Story of His Life
By T.J. Beitelman
Black Lawrence Press, 2018
Hardcover $15.95
Genre: Poetry
Reviewed by Robert Bullard

T.J. Beitelman’s book of poetry takes on the task of transformation. He looks at how lives can be changed at the linguistic as well as the personal level. Throughout this process, his poems confront shifts of perspective and character of the lyric I, often through the medium of physical objects. His best poems are playful and ironic. They view topics such as flight, language, or spiritual rebirth with an impressive freewheeling wit. Read full review...

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