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Land of Grace
By Mike Burrell
Livingston Press, 2018
Paperback $14.95
Genre: Elvis Fiction
Reviewed by Anita Garner

Since December 3, 2018, was the 50th anniversary of Elvis Presley’s television “comeback special” when Elvis’ dead career arose like a black leather clad phoenix from ashes reborn; and since NBC plans a two-hour primetime special tribute to the 1968 special sometime in the first half of 2019, now seems like the perfect time to take another look at mid-century modern Elvis. to discover some of the newer Elvis fan fiction. Mark Childress’ Tender is a great place to start to pique one’s interest, and Mike Burrell’s Land of Grace would have to come next.

First of all, the book is a wry, fun read, a burlesque novel that begins as a picaresque. Burrell claims the idea for the novel came years ago when the host of a party asked him to drive home a female guest whose ride had deserted her. Burrell says he drove until he felt sure he would be lost, trying to find his way back to civilization, and once they arrived at the woman’s home, she invited Burrell to come inside. After seeing many pictures of Elvis on the walls and a three-foot-tall Elvis statue with votive candles lit in front of it, Burrell tried to make polite conversation about Elvis’ death. The woman’s reply was to scream “Elvis is not dead!” The detail never left Burrell’s memory.

To tell the plot of even the first fifty pages of Land of Grace is somewhat of a spoiler, and anyway seeing the story unfold through Doyle Brisendine’s eyes is the greatest delight of many in the novel’s first half. Doyle is a self-styled Elvis impersonator from San Angelo, Texas – a man with no family to speak of but decent good looks and a voice too much like Elvis’ to be a big success otherwise in the music industry. And as good as Doyle is at impersonating Elvis, his fan base is growing older and his work van is perhaps the only thing keeping Doyle from being homeless. When he gets an offer of six thousand dollars to perform at the AMVETS in Willow Dean, Alabama, Doyle shows up and gives the audience a solid performance. Even the reader most casually aware of the facts of Elvis’ life will begin to recognize eerie details. The man who shows up to manage the stage details is named Parker, Colonel Parker, in fact. As Doyle falls down the rabbit hole, we become aware that the part of North Alabama between Birmingham and the Tennessee River is the perfect place to hide a many-thousand acre Elvis-era Brigadoon.

Without revealing too many plot details, I simply will say that the reader has some hilarious burlesque characters to look forward to, not the least of whom is Mama, a woman who looks like Vestal Goodman in a housedress but can preach to her mega-church on Sundays like a fired-up Joyce Meyer—and she can write like a good imitation of one of the Apostles in a King James translation voice. We do not get Mama’s back story until several chapters after her introduction, but she is not the simple Gladys Presley wannabe she appears to be upon first glance.

And of course, for those of us steeped in Christianity Alabama-style, Burrell has not been unobservant of the multiplicity of Alabama religions. The mega-church, the Sunbeam Sunday school class, the Good News, the resurrection, the Ceremony of the Scarves, the King, God’s promise to unite the Children and take away all their sins: Burrell’s mash-up of New World Christianity and pop culture will keep the reader turning from one page to the next. The final third of the novel may offer some surprising directions, but the burlesque-cheesy quality never waivers. There is never a scene in which characters remove clothing that the reader will not be thinking, Please, please, keep it on.

By the end of the novel, you will understand a little bit more about this insane ruined beautiful bizarre illogical place called Land of Grace (and, by extension, what makes much of the State of Alabama tick.) This is a meta Elvis novel you will want to read and then share.

Anita Garner is Professor Emeritus of English and Creative Writing at the U of N Alabama and serves as Fiction Editor at MindBridge Press in Florence, Alabama.

The Marriage Pact
by Michelle Richmond
Bantam, 2017
$27 Hardcover
Genre: Fiction
Reviewed by: Anita Miller Garner

Followers of Michelle Richmond’s career will be happy to discover this latest novel by the author has a good chance of being made into a film. All the more reason to read the book now so that you can make up your own mind about its mysteries, its plot twists, and mainly envision your favorite ending.

Like the author, the female lead character of the novel, Alice, is a native of Alabama who has left the Deep South for California. But unlike the narrators in most of Richmond’s earlier work, this time the narrator is not the female but rather her husband Jake, a rather dull psychoanalyst whose main purpose in life is to eat French toast, drink hot chocolate, and adore his brilliant, striking, high-powered, hot, attorney wife who was once an up-and-coming rock star and now has many lingering adoring fans. Awkwardly, Alice also has a lingering adoring song-writing partner from the now defunct band, a temperamental man but one with whom Alice still shares the creative ability to synch souls and write exquisite songs, such as deeply moving love song duets. What Alice shares with her husband Jake is something quite different: the Pact, sometimes which manifests itself as just a small blue P in the corner of their cell phone screens. The Pact is the marriage police Big Brother. Like the omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent God, the Pact can detect when one is even thinking about adultery before the adultery even happens. And what happens to adulterers of the first degree in The Pact, one does not even wish to imagine.

How Alice and Jake get tangled up with this cult is part of the appeal. They were in California and were not paying attention. It seemed like a good idea at the time. Around the date of Alice and Jake’s wedding, Alice had handled a case involving a famous Irish musician and song writer. This celebrity in an offhand remark said he loved weddings, and Alice handed him a spur-of-the-moment invitation. The celebrity and his wife showed up, and the wedding was an afternoon of love united forever and happy golden California sunshine moments—and of course a mystery gift from the celebrity couple, a puzzle box of sorts that when the purpose is revealed—to strengthen Alice and Jake’s marriage and make it everlasting—the young bride and groom sign on the dotted line. Alice and Jake then receive a rulebook the size and thickness of the old paper San Francisco phone book. Alice is an attorney and Jake has a PhD and even they cannot make it through that document.

But as anyone who has ever been married or observed a marriage can tell you, the offenses expressly forbidden by the Pact start building for Jake and Alice at an alarming rate. Jake forgets what the date is and realizes too late that he did not buy Alice a thoughtful gift that calendar month. And he also runs into an old acquaintance from college at the first Pact dinner party Alice and Jake attend. Jake and JoAnne had had classes and job assignments together in graduate school, so when JoAnne finds him at the party to tell him she wishes she could have warned him never to join the Pact, Jake and Alice suddenly get a very bad feeling about what they have signed up for, and the alarms that had already been ringing in the backs of their minds take on a more ominous tone.

Part of the fun of reading The Marriage Pact is of course playing in one’s mind the dialogue for each character through which Hollywood actor you would like to see play that part. (I will say that Orla, the grande dame and inventor of The Pact, is a small role that would be deliciously ironic played by Jane Fonda or best ever played by Vanessa Redgrave.) Richmond’s writing style also engages the reader as she uses that same type of realism laced with the surreal that, in manner, lulls the reader into perceiving stories such as Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery” and certain stories by Shirley Ann Grau as straight realism before the real world starts sliding off the icy road like a car into a dangerous ravine. Richmond’s expertise as a short story writer carries over to the plot of this novel with no extraneous details and gratuitous side plots, no unplanned characters popping up late in the action, those details having been so meticulously planted early on that we are not even aware. And Richmond fans who loved the way coffee became part of one of her previous novels will love the way facts about marriage (of course!) thematically grow the plot of this one. Did you realize that the third year of marriage is statistically the happiest? Jake and Alice have not made it six months in, and you will question if they will still be alive come their third year.

The sad truth is that when Alice and Jake are spied upon so easily via their cell phones and when every small detail of their lives is available for dissection, speculation, and punishment, this does not even seem an exaggeration of what we now accept as reality in our own day-to-day lives. If The Marriage Pact does nothing else, it forces us to realize that, yes, marriage is hard, but also wonder if marriage is even harder today with all of the 21-century’s relentless technology and obsession with staying plugged in. Richmond does symbolism very very well. You will be thinking about this one for a while—or at least until the cast is chosen for the movie version and the ending they choose is not the one you had imagined.

Anita Miller Garner is professor emeritus of English and Creative Writing at the University of North Alabama, publishes short fiction, and edits fiction and nonfiction at Mindbridge Press.

The Witches of Moonlight Ridge
by Ramey Channell
St. Leonard’s Field, 2016
$12.95, Paperback, $1.99 Kindle Edition

Southern Fiction

Reviewed by Chervis Isom

Ramey Channell has written the most delightful story I’ve read in many years. The story is set in a mountain community in central Alabama and features Lily Claire, the most precocious young girl you would ever want to meet. She is the narrator of this tale and also the protagonist. Her cousin, Willie T, who is the same age as Lily Claire, is her playmate and co-conspirator. I would judge them to be about 10 or 11 years of age. Their curiosity for the unknown leads them to explore parts of Moonlight Ridge that their parents would have forbidden, and, in fact, they did forbid, but curiosity had taken over and urged them on.

The dialect of these two kids from perhaps the 1960s rings true to me, as I too originated in the Alabama hill country. While the dialect of the Alabama hill country folk is Southern, because it originates in the South, it is not the syrupy ”Gone with the Wind” Southern accent normally associated with the South. The accent is more Appalachian in character. And it is a pleasure to hear these kids talk as they go from one adventure to another, oftentimes accompanied by their schoolteacher, the curious and inquisitive Erskine Batson.

At first, their adventures on Moonlight Ridge were innocent enough. There was some indication that there might be witches somewhere on the mountain, though that seemed far-fetched. But then the reader learns about Moor’s Gap Road on the mountain where at one time long ago, a man owned an inn at the stagecoach stopping place. That inn had been closed for many years and was thought by many locals who lived on the mountain to be a haunted house, because of the murder by a posse of lawmen of a highwayman who had come to visit the innkeeper’s daughter, in a chilling story reminiscent of Alfred Noyes poem, “The Highwayman.” The famous poem written over a hundred years ago was well known to local people who recognized the connection. An interesting aspect of the tale was the ethnic background of the innkeeper, and his daughter. They were thought to be Moors, a dark people from the north of Africa, who conquered the most of Spain some seven hundred years ago.

The children cannot stay away from the ruins of the old inn which they believed was haunted by the innkeeper’s daughter who was in love with the highwayman. The story comes to an end, and some aspects of the mysteries were solved, but the big question remains: Was there a witch, and, if so, was she truly a witch or was she an angel. Some mysteries are never solved, and in a novel, the mystery must remain.
This is a delightful tale of adventuresome children, but there are more serious aspects as well, including racial prejudice and the efforts of some in the face of prejudice to live by the Golden Rule.
Ramey Channell has done a fine job of drawing and defining her characters, particularly the children. I recommend this book for adolescents and for adults alike.

Chervis Isom is a lawyer in Birmingham, Alabama, and is the author of The Newspaper Boy: Coming of Age in Birmingham, AL, During the Civil Rights Era, a memoir in which he tells stories of his emergence from the narrow world view of the Jim Crow South through the leadership of a kind couple on his newspaper route.

By Brad Watson
W. W. Norton, 2016
$25.95, Hardcover

Reviewed by Don Noble

It was 1996 when Brad Watson published Last Days of the Dog-Men, which won the Sue Kaufman Award; 2002 for his novel, The Heaven of Mercury, runner-up for the National Book Award; and 2010 for the story collection Aliens in the Prime of their Lives, a finalist for the 2011 PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction—an average of seven years between books. William Styron’s books, such as The Confessions of Nat Turner and Sophie’s Choice, are spaced about the same way. Although this is not how a writer becomes a household name, Watson doesn’t let them go until they are right. There should be more of this. Read the complete review

By Rex Burwell
Livingston Press, 2015
$17.95, Paper; $30,Hardcover,

Fiction

Reviewed by Ed Reynolds

With a title like Capone, the Cobbs, and Me, (and featuring photos of Al Capone, Ty Cobb, and Cobb’s drop-dead gorgeous wife Charlene on the cover), the reader is intrigued right off the bat. The story told within doesn’t disappoint, either. The “Me” hanging out with Capone, his thugs, and the Cobbs is a Chicago White Sox catcher named Mort Hart who quickly falls in love with Cobb’s wife. Hart is second in hitting percentage in the Roaring ’20s when a knee injury places him on the disabled list. Hart also happens to be the only major leaguer with a law degree. The ballplayer’s life suddenly catapults into spellbinding adventure when Baseball Commissioner Kennesaw Mountain Landis needs someone special to investigate Capone’s fixing outcomes of ballgames using Cobb. Read the complete review

By T.K. Thorne
Cappuccino Books, 2015
$22.50, Hardcover; $7.99 eBook

Fiction

Reviewed by Don Noble

T.K. Thorne’s last novel, Noah’s Wife, published in 2011, is set in northern Turkey, near the Black Sea in 5500 BCE. The book is the story of Na’amah, a young woman with unusual powers. Thorne has done, once again, a prodigious amount of research in Jewish and Islamic texts. The novel convincingly recreates the dwellings, utensils, food, business practices, and religious beliefs of the age. Although based on a few Bible verses people are familiar with, this tale is fully imagined and takes great liberties with the Bible story. Lot, for example, is not the virtuous fellow Genesis makes him out to be, not at all. Read the complete review

By Katherine Clark, with a Foreword by Pat Conroy
University of South Carolina Press: Story River Books
$29.95, Hardcover; $9.99 eBook

Fiction

Reviewed by Don Noble

Katherine Clark has, most unusually, even unbelievably, written a quartet of novels set not in exotic Alexandria, as were Lawrence Durrell’s, but in Mountain Brook, Alabama. The first of these, The Headmaster’s Darlings, is just out and is first-rate. Clark, a native of that enclave of privilege, attended the Altamont School, here called the Brook-Haven School (and later Harvard), and was clearly paying close attention. Read the complete review

By Dana Gynther
Gallery Books, 2015
$16, Paper; $11.99, eBook

Fiction

Reviewed by Don Noble

Like many another in the recent craze we can, I think, trace to Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris, Dana Gynther is fascinated by Paris between the wars. This novel is a biofiction, perhaps to coin a term. The real Lee Miller was a woman of breathtaking beauty. Born in 1907 and raised in Poughkeepsie, New York, she was a supermodel for Vogue magazine and photographed by the best in the business. The gorgeous Miller is more than sexually liberated; she is charming, tireless, ambitious, endlessly curious, adventurous, and unfaithful without much conscience. Read the complete review

By Pat Mayer
Livingston Press, The University of West Alabama, 2015
$30, Hardcover; $17.95, Paper

Fiction

Reviewed by Don Noble

As many will recognize, the title Two Legs Bad comes from George Orwell’s Animal Farm. In that parable of revolution, when the livestock take over, they adopt this slogan, referring to their previous masters: humans. The humans in Pat Mayer’s three books of fiction are not all “bad,” but many are incomplete or damaged. Read the complete review

By Michael Martone and Bryan Furuness, eds.
Indiana University Press, 2015
$17, Paper; $11.81, eBook

Fiction

Reviewed by Don Noble

In 1919 Sherwood Anderson published Winesburg, Ohio, a collection of connected stories set in fictional Winesburg, based on the real Clyde, Ohio. Considered a masterpiece, Winesburg inspired a new sub-genre: “The Revolt from the Village.” i>Winesburg, Indiana, is Michael Martone’s 2015 version of Winesburg, Ohio, but with some differences. Martone and co-editor Bryan Furuness asked twenty-eight authors to contribute stories to this collection, which contains forty-one pieces, each in a different voice. This is not a parody of Anderson. It might be considered an updated report on conditions in flyover country, 100 years later. Read the complete review

By Carolyn Haines
St. Martin’s-Minotaur Books, 2015
$25.99, Hardcover

Fiction

Reviewed by Don Noble

Carolyn Haines’ Bones books have moved now from a mystery series to a mystery serial. When Haines’ last novel, Booty Bones, set on Dauphin Island, concluded, the hurricane passed, the pirate treasure found, the innocent freed, the guilty locked up, Graf Milieu, Sarah Booth’s fiancé, learns he has a long-lost daughter and goes to California to be a dad. The heartbroken Sarah Booth reluctantly attends the fundraiser gala her friend Tinkie has arranged in New Orleans. The novel closes at 10 P.M. on Halloween at a Monteleone-like hotel. The final lines are: “maybe sometime in the future, I would love again.” Bone To Be Wild opens about four hours later, around two a.m., the party in full swing, our heroine in an Armani gown, the band, Bad to the Bone, headed up by the sexy blues singer Scott Hampton, an ex-lover of Sarah Booth. Hampton still yearns for Sarah Booth, but understands she will need time. Jitty, her ghost advisor, suggests “Love the One You’re With.” Read the complete review

By Kirk Curnutt
River City Publishing, 2015
$26.95, Hardcover; $4.90 eBook

Fiction

Reviewed by Don Noble

Vance Seagrove, PhD, the hero of Raising Aphrodite, however, is divorced, raising daughter Chloe as a single dad. Deb, Chloe’s mom, skipped out when Chloe was a baby. It is a difficult situation. Seagrove is as conscientious a dad as the world could imagine. He worries; he sacrifices; he communicates. But, alas, the novel opens with these lines: “My daughter, Chloe, celebrated her sixteenth birthday by having sex with her boyfriend.” Read the complete review

By Ace Atkins
G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 2015
$26.95, Hardcover; $12.99 eBook

Fiction

Reviewed by Don Noble

The Redeemers is the fifth Colson novel, and I can tell you with absolute certainty it is a fine beach read. I just read in on the beach at Dauphin Island. But the Colson novels are about more than crime. They really are fictional explorations of contemporary Mississippi life, not exactly Jane Austen, but broader than is usual in crime fiction—more like James Lee Burke. Read the complete review

By C.J. Hatch
Dagger Books, Second Wind Publishers, July 2015
$12.20, Paper

Fiction

Reviewed by Gretchen McCullough

C.J. Hatch’s first novel, Hurricane Ron, a thriller published by Dagger Books, offers insight into the nasty, secret world of motorcycle gangs who recruit soldiers returning from war. Hatch is no stranger himself to war zones. Heavily decorated and widely travelled, Hatch served in Operation Desert Storm in Saudi Arabia and Sarajevo in Operation Provide Promise as a military journalist. A native of Mobile, Hatch writes about a rural setting he knows well, peppering his novel with a cast of colorful characters. Read the complete review

By Steve Tomasula
The University of Alabama Press, 2013
$22.95, Paper; $19.95 eBook

Fiction

Reviewed by Carroll Dale Short

To call the short stories in Tomasula's new collection "non-traditional" is an understatement. With paragraphs and pages randomly set in various typestyles, font colors, margins, interspersed with Web addresses and binary code of zeroes/ones, and with illustrations relevant to each narrative, the effect is a hybrid of conventional storytelling mixed with elements of the graphic novel. Read the complete review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

by Jennifer Horne
The University of Alabama Press, 2014
$29.95, Hardcover; $29.95, eBook

Fiction

Reviewed by Mary Katherine Calderini

Tell the World You’re a Wildflower by Jennifer Horne offers a delightful medley of women from all over the South. Horne has produced a book of stories as varied and unique as a real woman. Her stories range through ages and locations, but all of Horne’s women possess a genuine truth to them that will transport readers into the innermost workings of the characters’ thoughts and lives. Read the complete review

By B. J. Leggett
Livingston Press, 2014
$32, Hardcover; $18.95 Paper; $7.95 Kindle

Fiction

Reviewed by Mollie Smith Waters

B. J. Leggett has written extensively about academic subjects such as authors A. E. Housman, Philip Larkin, and Wallace Stevens. His latest novel, Prosperity, is only his second fictional book. In Prosperity, Leggett introduces readers to a world of crime and a corrupt police force. Read the complete review

By Judith Richards
River’s Edge Media, 2014
$19, Paper

Fiction

Reviewed by Bebe Barefoot Lloyd

When the masses latch on to a culture, what makes it unique can quickly become cliché, and nowhere is this more apparent than in New Orleans. Scratch the surface of the garish, exploitative caricatures that are Bourbon Street and Jackson Square, and you will find an intricately woven intersection of musical, culinary, religious, and mystical traditions, their history lying just beneath the touristy surface. If you stop, seek, and listen, they will breathe life into two-dimensional misrepresentations, taking you through sides streets and neighborhoods, then into churches and juke joints, and, finally, into the hearts and souls that make up the city’s true essence. In Judith Richards’ novel, Thelonious Rising, this beautifully aged and tattered tapestry is symbolized by an unlikely protagonist, nine-year-old Thelonious Monk DeCay. Read the complete review

By William Cobb
SixFinger Publishing, 2014
$18.99, Paper

Fiction

Reviewed by Don Noble

William Cobb is one of the Old Masters of Alabama literature and his eight volumes of fiction have won a mantlepiecefull of prizes, including the Harper Lee Award. It would be understandable if this veteran writer continued to mine the material he is best known for—examinations of racial tensions in the South (especially his home place, Demopolis), coming of age stories, satire of cultural morés, often gothic or even surrealistic in style. His characters have often been struggling blue-collar families or Black Belt aristocrats gone to seed. But, in fact, with A Time To Reap Cobb has chosen to strike out in, what are for him, some bold new directions. Read the complete review

By Tom Franklin and Beth Ann Fennelly
William Morrow, 2014
$25.99, Hardcover

Fiction

Reviewed by Don Noble

In Oxford, Mississippi, Tom Franklin and Beth Ann Fennelly both write and teach writing at Ole Miss. Tom, a novelist, is best known for Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter, Hell at the Breech, and other works of fiction containing considerable violence and cruelty. Beth Ann is a lyric poet, mother of their three children, but almost as well known for Great with Child, her tender letters to a friend who was expecting. They decided to write The Tilted World together. All marital projects are perilous, from raising children to choosing wallpaper, but writing a novel? Read the complete review

By Betty Jean Tucker
Livingston Press, 2014
$17.95, Paper

Fiction

Reviewed by Don Noble

These are stories of desperate poverty. The characters are not just making do with last year’s coat, they are constantly hungry, even starving. Sometimes, people who have only a little are willing to share—a romantic mythology we like to impose on hard times. Usually, a Darwinian ferocity takes over and the weak fall. Often, the characters’ hunger and despair leave deep psychological scars. READ MORE…

By Donald Brown
Borgo Publishing, 2014
$10.95, Paper

Fiction

Reviewed by Don Noble

Well known to Alabamians as a nonfiction writer, Donald Brown has been executive editor of both the Florence Times-Daily and the Tuscaloosa News, and he has written histories of Tuscaloosa’s First United Methodist Church, The Tuscaloosa Rotary Club, and of his alma mater, Birmingham-Southern College. As he explains in an afterword, Brown, as a reporter for the Birmingham News, covered this crime in southwest Alabama. He had not covered the first trial, in which the conviction was reversed on a technicality, but was assigned to cover trials two and three of the same killing. READ MORE…

By Joe Formichella
River’s Edge Media, 2014
$16, Paper

Fiction

Reviewed by Don Noble

Joe Formichella has had considerable success with a book on a black baseball league in Pritchard, Alabama, Here’s to You, Jackie Robinson, and a first novel, The Wreck of the Twilight Limited, nearly a true-life novel about the catastrophic 1993 Amtrak train wreck on a bridge over Bayou Canot north of Mobile. His true crime book Murder Creek and the story of a basketball coach, Staying Ahead of the Posse, were less successful, but now, after some time, Formichella is back with a much more structurally complex novel. Waffle House Rules is ambitious and is, surely, Formichella’s best work to date. Read the complete review

By Carolyn Haines
Minotaur Books, 2014
$24.99, Hardcover
Fiction

Reviewed by Don Noble

Harper Lee Award recipient Carolyn Haynes has now published fourteen Sarah Booth Delaney “Bones” mysteries over the past fifteen years. What started as a series set at Dahlia House, in Sunflower County, Zinnia, in the Mississippi Delta, has done some travelling.

At home, Sarah Booth is aided by her gang: Madame Tomeeka, the psychic; Cece, the transsexual journalist; Millie, who picks up gossip in her café; and always her fiery detective partner, Tinkie. Some of these characters have even helped Sarah Booth solve crime in Costa Rica.

At first, Jitty, the antebellum slave ghost of Dahlia House, did not travel but, in Booty Bones, Jitty and Tinkie are with Sarah Booth, and even the hound Sweetie Pie and cat Pluto lend active assistance. The others help by phone. Read the complete review

By Lachlan Smith
The Mysterious Press: An Imprint of Grove Press-Atlantic, 2014
$24, Hardcover

Fiction

Reviewed by Don Noble

Just last year, Lachlan Smith, a Birmingham attorney practicing civil rights and employment law, published his debut thriller, Bear Is Broken. Smith was well prepared to write that novel, having studied writing at Stanford and Cornell and then getting a law degree from UC Berkeley in 2009.

In the opening scene of Bear Is Broken, Leo Maxwell is having lunch with his older brother Teddy Maxwell, famous San Francisco defense attorney, when a hired gun enters the restaurant and shoots Teddy in the head. When Lion Plays Rough opens, Teddy, having survived the shooting, has had some rehab, fallen in love with a brain-damaged girl, and is learning to walk and talk. He will almost certainly never practice law again, but might be able to live independently. Read the complete review

By Philip Shirley
Mindbridge Press, 2014
$15.95, Paper

Fiction

Reviewed By Mary Beth Mobley-Bussell

When we first meet advertising executive Peter Brantley he is not having a good day. Depressed over the drug related death of his brother, unable to focus at work, and on the verge of losing his wife, Peter suddenly finds being violently carjacked at gunpoint by a ponytailed fugitive with a gym bag full of cocaine among his growing list of troubles. Read the complete review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By Joy Ross Davis
Ecanus Publishing, 2013
$13.99, Paper; $6.50, eBook

Fiction

Reviewed by Kathleen M. Rodgers

For two days I've been living with the charming setting and cast of characters in Joy Ross Davis' debut novel, Countenance. Although the Playhouse Inn exists only in the pages of this well-written novel, the author's lyrical style and storytelling ability had me roaming through the rooms (like an invisible guest) in this beautiful old bed and breakfast located in the hills of Tennessee. Read the complete review

By Dana Gynther
Gallery Books, 2012
$15, Paper

Fiction

Reviewed by Judith Nunn

Walking with the crowd to board the maiden passage of the Paris, Constance Stone is startled by a photographer's flash which makes the two women nearest her, a petite redhead and an older woman to the side, pause as well. Unknown to each other and separated by years and station, the three primary characters of Dana Gynther's first novel begin their five-day journey of choices and change. Read the complete review

By Robert J. Norrell
NewSouth Books, 2012
$27.95, Hardcover

Fiction

Reviewed by Ruth Autrey Gynther

The story of Eden Rise revolves around Tom, the 19-year-old son, returning from his freshman year at Duke University where he became fast friends with Jackie, a black Duke basketball player. Alma, an attractive though obnoxious student activist, has persuaded Jackie to join her teaching at a Freedom School in Alabama, and Tom offers them a ride. Read the complete review

By Sharman Burson Ramsey
Mercer University Press, 2012
$26, Hardcover

Fiction

Reviewed by Mollie Smith Waters

An author writing historical fiction faces the challenge of balancing the realities of a period with the story he or she introduces into that world. Attempting to create that balance in Swimming with Serpents, Sharman Ramsey delves into the midst of Alabama’s 1813-1814 Creek Indian Wars through the adventures of her primary characters, Cade Kincaid and Lysistrata “Lyssa” Rendel. Read the complete review

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

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

By R.B. Chesterton (aka Carolyn Haines)
Pegasus Crime, 2013
$24.95, Hardcover

Fiction

Reviewed by Frye Gaillard

Throughout her remarkably successful career, Carolyn Haines has long been a master of the page-turning mystery. Her latest novel, The Darkling, which is, incredibly, one of more than sixty she has written, is no exception. This supernatural, white-knuckling whodunit, written under the pseudonym of R.B. Chesterton, is set in the fishing village of Coden, Alabama, where the wealthy members of the Henderson family have moved into an estate called Belle Fleur. As recent arrivals from California, the Hendersons are seeking the peace and quiet promised by the languid beauty of the coast. What they find instead are heartache and terror, intensified and made more mysterious by the haunting unfamiliarity of the place. Read the complete review

By May Lamar
The Donnell Group, 2012
$22.95, Hardcover

Fiction

Reviewed by Julia Oliver

The author states on the flyleaf of this spirited first novel, “Brother Sid is a work of fiction primarily based on letters to and from Macon [Georgia]-born artist Sidney Lanier.” The protagonist is the 19th century poet whose real life fame is legendary in Montgomery, Alabama, where a prominent high school memorializes his name. The jacket cover art combines a photograph of the subject with his flute, musical notation, and other colorful symbols of his life, such as a tiger lily (which, capitalized, is the title of his novel), and a Confederate flag. Except for the Prologue and Afterword, the chapters are numbered and interestingly (and rather contemporarily) arranged to convey the life story in juxtaposed order. This dynamically luminous narrative is well-executed in the tradition of inspired fiction about real people who contributed outstandingly to a place and time. Read the complete review

By Bram Riddlebarger
Livingston Press, 2012
$28, Hardcover; $16.95, Paper

Fiction

Reviewed by Lindsay Hodgens, 2012

If you are looking for a novel that is absolutely appropriate for the times, Bram Riddlebarger’s Earplugs may be exactly what you want. Set in a small Appalachian town, the story follows its main character—who is never named—as he interacts with his quickly modernizing community and deals with the loss of both his best friend and his girlfriend. Then again, “interacts” may be the wrong word for it, as the protagonist responds to the changes by locating and then constantly wearing a set of earplugs. In an age of ever-increasing connectivity, this action makes a loud statement that is as salient in the real world as it is in the novel. Read the complete review

By Walter Bennett
Fuze Publishing, 2012
$16.95, Paper

Fiction

Reviewed by Don Noble

A novel called Leaving Tuscaloosa is simply irresistible to a resident, past or present, of Tuscaloosa. Bennett, who grew up in Tuscaloosa and has had a long career as a lawyer, law professor, and judge, now lives in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, and has studied fiction writing with Lee Smith, among others.

He begins the novel, his first, with a map of Tuscaloosa so the reader can follow the action, from University Boulevard (which he calls Main Street) to 15th Street, to Hackberry to Queen City. Some action takes place in what he calls the Red Elephant restaurant on 10th Ave.—not yet Bryant Blvd.—which was The Corner. Kids neck in the cemetery down the street. The railroad tracks play a large part, and the black section of town, called Cherrytown, south across the tracks, is the center of the action. Read the complete review

By Carolyn Haines
Minotaur Books, 2012
$24.99, Hardcover

Fiction

Reviewed by Don Noble

Bonefire of the Vanities is Carolyn Haines’ twelfth mystery in her Bones series. Sarah Booth Delaney, living in Dahlia House in Zinnia, Sunflower County, Mississippi, began her detective agency in Them Bones.

Haines assembled, right from the start, the ensemble cast that has served her well. Sarah Booth has been assisted in her investigations by her friend Tinkie, the transgendered society columnist Cece Dee Falcon, her psychic friend Madame Tomeeka, and the local sheriff— but especially by the resident ghost at Dahlia House, Jitty, who had been the slave/companion to Sarah Booth’s great-great grandmother. Jitty appears when she feels like it, often in costume, and urges Sarah Booth to find a man and procreate. Read the complete review

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

By Ron Meszaros
Southern Oaks Publishing, 2012
$15.99, Paper; $5.99 eBook

Fiction

Reviewed by Jule Moon

Set in Fairhope, Alabama, this fascinating novel, The Secret Life of David Goens, fulfills the definition of the root word: new, unusual, strange. This is the first novel of intriguing woven patterns of characters and events by an instinctive, meticulous, extensively knowledgeable writer. Read the complete review

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

By Skip Tucker
NewSouth Books, 2012
$27.95, Hardcover

Fiction

Reviewed by Julia Oliver

A former reporter, editor, and assistant publisher of Jasper’s Daily Mountain Eagle, Skip Tucker has been press secretary for a governor of Alabama and media director for an Alabama Supreme Court chief justice campaign. Described in the jacket text as a “rare espionage thriller set in the Civil War,” this novel—presumably his first published fiction—combines contemporary plot mechanics with historic characters and setting. Read the complete review

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

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

By B.J. Hollars, ed.
Pressgang, 2012
$14, Paper

Fiction

Reviewed by Gregory L. Reece

Monsters come in all shapes in sizes. Some are frightening, eliciting blood curdling screams and pounding hearts from even the most stalwart among us. Some are sad, tearfully, fearfully sad. They make us weep for their deformities, their brokenness, their inability to walk among us without causing a scene, their never-ending quest to find true love in a world to which they do not belong. B.J. Hollars’ collection of short stories offers both these sorts of monsters, the frightening and the sad, as well as some fine examples of some of their monstrous cousins, like the funny and the mystifying. Read the complete review

These fiction titles were recently released by Alabama authors or publishers, or they cover subjects related to our state. View the complete list

By David T. Morgan
CreateSpace, 2012
$10.95, Paper; $2.99, eBook
Fiction
Reviewed by John W. Crum

David T. Morgan’s latest novel, Ireland, Poor Ireland: A Dangerous Man and the Woman He Adored, is a tale of deep love set against the turbulent struggle of Ireland to gain self-rule. It spans the years from 1846 to success in 1922. All the twists and turns are here, from the significant American connection to the tenant farmers’ struggles against Captain Boycott, which added a new word to the English language, to the ill-fated Easter uprising in 1916. The Irish Question, as it was called, became one of the factors forcing the British Parliament to modernize its procedures in 1911 when the House of Lords was stripped of its powers. Earlier, the House of Commons passed a Home Rule Bill for Ireland, only to see it fail in the House of Lords, 419-41. Read the complete review

These fiction titles were recently released by Alabama authors or publishers, or they cover subjects related to our state. View the complete list

By Vallie Lynn Watson
Luminis Books, 2012
$17.95, Paper
Fiction
Reviewed by Foster Dickson

Referring to Vallie Lynn Watson’s new book, A River So Long, as a “novel” puts the term in its truest context: a work very new and modern in style and content. Relatively slim in total and narrated in imagistic vignette-like chapters, the novel allows the reader to glimpse into the life of Veronica, a barely married traveling businesswoman whose emotional baggage and illicit affairs are scattered all over the continental United States, with pieces of her life languishing in Phoenix, New Orleans, New York, Boston, Wilmington, and Memphis, and in the Birmingham of her past. Read the complete review

By Jesmyn Ward
Bloomsbury, 2011
$24, Hardcover
Fiction
Reviewed by Don Noble

Salvage the Bones was released in September 2011, declared a finalist for the National Book Award for fiction in October, and awarded the prize in November, before hardly anyone had reviewed it or read it. The five judges of the NBA chose it from a field of 315 novels submitted. And they were probably right. This is a smart, powerful novel and makes, I think, a permanent impression on the reader. Read the complete review

By Taylor M. Polites
Simon & Schuster, 2012
$25, Hardcover
Fiction
Reviewed by Julia Oliver

This debut novel is a very readable blend of historically detailed narrative and a finely honed, contemporary style of writing. It’s told in first-person/present tense by the main character, Augusta (“Gus”) Branson, who was born into Southern aristocracy before the Civil War did away with the family fortune. Her husband, Eli, who dies horrifically of a blood disease plague in the opening chapter, had been a helpful advocate to newly freed slaves, including those who remained in the household and are like family to Gus. The cast of characters includes both races. Read the complete review

By Gin Phillips
Riverhead Books, 2012
$26.95, Hardcover
Fiction
Reviewed by Julia Oliver

Gin Phillips, who has roots in Montgomery and lives in Birmingham, received a Barnes and Noble award for her first novel, The Well and the Mine. Her new book of fiction, which also has a lilting, five-word title, is filled with mesmerizing imagery and lovely prose. There is not much evidence of narrative tension or mystery; the artistry is the hook. Read the complete review

By Philip Cioffari
Livingston Press, 2011
$18.95, Paper
Fiction
Reviewed by Jeremy Dunn

With a host of colorful characters forming its backbone, Philip Cioffari’s Jesusville explores those difficult and dark corners of the human experience: loneliness, self-doubt, and lust. All the book’s characters, similarly locked in desperate searches for some form of redemption, find themselves in a lonely patch of desert darkened by the shadow of the ruins of the Holy Land, a failed Christian theme park, its facades now eerily defaced. This desolate desert setting takes on a character of its own, and it is in this bleak, ghostly place that the characters of Jesusville must confront inner demons and very real external threats. Read the complete review

By Teddy Porter
Lyons Hart Press, 2011
$12.50, Paper
Fiction
Reviewed by Dee Jordan

Teddy Porter tells an intriguing story about Calvin Huckabee’s becoming a man. Huck, at age seventeen, is still a virgin. He is torn between what he was taught by his dad, a pastor, and what his body screams in hormonal overdrive. Unlike many coming of age stories about boys in which they have no conscience, the protagonist in this one is different. His friend Ringo is a lady’s man who uses girls for sex. This bothers Huck. Read the complete review

By Michael Martone
The University of Alabama Press, 2011
$16.50, Paper

Fiction

Reviewed by Don Noble

An innocent browser in a bookstore who picks up Michael Martone’s latest might well be a little confused. This volume declares itself to be fiction, and yet many of the individual pieces seem to be simple descriptions of a restaurant or a kind of railroad car or bits of memoir from Martone’s own life, especially his childhood. Furthermore, all the pieces come in sets of four. In fact on the cover there are four strips of photos, four to a strip, of Martone himself in a coin-operated photography booth. Thus the title, Four for a Quarter. Read the complete review

These fiction titles were recently released by Alabama authors or publishers, or they cover subjects related to our state. View the complete list

By Frederick W. Bassett
All Things that Matter Press, 2010
$16.99, Paper

Fiction

Reviewed by Jim Buford

Fred Bassett’s debut novel is the story of young Barsh Roberts, who navigates the rites of passage through adolescence in a small Alabama community during the late 1940s. Bassett writes in the tradition of Ferroll Sams, whose semi-autobiographical Porter Osburne Jr. comes of age in rural Georgia in an earlier time. To me, Barsh is especially evocative of Porter in The Whisper of the River, an enduring classic of Southern literature. Read the complete review

by Marlin Barton
Frederic C. Beil, Publisher, 2011
$24.95, Hardcover

Fiction

Reviewed by Kirk Curnutt

Marlin “Bart” Barton’s fourth book in ten years returns us to the west Alabama environs that are his “little postage stamp of native soil,” to borrow Faulkner’s well-known phrase. The Cross Garden is a testament to the beautiful solemnities of place where roots both nourish and restrict growth. In precise prose and lyrical cadences, Barton limns the riverbanks and ironwork bridges, the camphouse lean-tos and cinder-block dives, the turkey-tail-clogged woodland trails and the ornate small-town architecture with such vivid density that Greene County comes alive as a landscape of both unbearable stasis and uncomfortable intensity. Read the complete review

These books were recently released by Alabama authors or publishers, or they cover subjects related to our state. View the complete list

By Clare Datnow
Media Mint Publishing, 2011
$16.50, Paper

Fiction

Reviewed by Perle Champion

Clare Datnow’s novel, The Nine Inheritors, reads very much like a biography of ten generations as told by a keen-eyed on-the-scene observer. I enjoyed her omniscient point-of-view because I could journey with the characters as they each moved through their part of history. Read the complete review

By Carolyn Haines
St. Martin’s Publishing Group, Minotaur Books, 2011
$24.99, Hardcover

Fiction

Reviewed by Don Noble

Carolyn Haines of Semmes, Alabama, has now published eighteen novels and is the winner of both the Harper Lee Award and the Richard Wright Award. Things are going well. Bones of a Feather is the tenth in her very popular Bones series. Sarah Booth Delaney’s home place is Dahlia House, Zinnia, Sunflower County, in the Mississippi Delta. But Haines cannot set all her mysteries there or the population would be, literally, decimated, so Bones of a Feather is set in historic Natchez. Read the complete review

By K.T. Archer
iUniverse, 2011
$27.95, Hardcover; $17.95, Paper; $9.99, eBook

Fiction

Reviewed by Marianne Moates Weber

When Alabama author K.T. Archer completed her first novel, The Silver Spoon, she knew she had created a character in Lizzy Wallace that would have many more adventures. The latest for the protagonist is in Kismet, where Lizzy focuses on rebuilding her own life rather than being swamped by the family drama in The Silver Spoon. Read the complete review

By http://www.aceatkins.com/>Ace Atkins
G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 2011
$25.95, Hardcover; $12.99, eBook

Fiction

Reviewed by Don Noble

The Ranger is the first of the Quinn Colson books. The protagonist, Colson, has been an Army ranger for ten years, since before 9/11, and served with distinction in Afghanistan and Iraq. Stationed now in Fort Benning, Georgia, Colson is called back to the bleak, depressed town of Jericho in Tibbehah County in northeast Mississippi for the funeral of his sheriff uncle. Hampton Beckett, Quinn is told, committed suicide. Well, readers know this will be questioned. Uncle Hamp wasn’t the type. Read the complete review

By Gretchen McCullough; Translation by Mohamed Metwalli and Gretchen McCullough
Afaq Bookshop and Publishing House, 2011
$12, Paper

Fiction

Reviewed by Don Noble

Gretchen McCullough is a true WT, a world traveler. Not cloistered in a comfortable Midwestern college, McCullough, now fluent in Arabic, is a writer with a lot of life experiences and material for her fiction, much of it exotic, even fantastic. This is the world of 1001 Arabian Nights, where not everything is what it seems. These three stories, all set in Cairo, make use of some of these experiences and exude a sense of the magical. Read the complete review

By Bob Whetstone
Lulu Enterprises, 2011
$35, Hardcover

Fiction

Reviewed by Bill Plott

Bob Whetstone, professor emeritus at Birmingham-Southern College, came from an environment far, far away from academia. He grew up in a cotton mill village near Alexander City, a childhood that generated this book. Cotton Mary is the life story of Mary Christine Tarley Stone, a young girl growing up with an abusive father, forced into backbreaking labor in the cotton fields and orphaned and pregnant as a young teenager. Life is a roller-coaster ride of exhilarating highs and stomach-aching lows for Mary. Read the complete review

By Brewster Milton Robertson
Mangus Hollow Books, 2011
$24, Paper; $4.99, eBook

Fiction

Book Noted

From the publisher: Gone to Graveyards, an epic novel of the Korean War, has an immediate relevance today, over a half-century after the Korean truce was signed. Incredibly the daily headlines portend the ominous threat of North Korea’s nuclear ambition while UN troops still anxiously patrol the Demilitarized Zone at the 38th Parallel. Pundits have variously called the Korean War "a black hole of history" and "The Forgotten War." Most of the meager legacy of written history about the so-called “Forgotten War” would have current and future generations believe the Korean War began on June 25, 1950, when the North Koreans crossed the 38th Parallel into Seoul and ended slightly over one year later on July 10, 1951, the date both sides sat down at negotiating tables at Panmunjom, a village a few miles north of Seoul. This is the farthest thing from the truth. Read the complete review

By David Morgan
Book Noted

From the publisher: This is a fable* about a small public university in a little southern town—a town tucked away from the world, a little off the beaten path…. For the most part its history has been free of wrangling and controversy, but that ends when a young, articulate president takes the helm determined to enhance the school's image and elevate it to what might be called junior-Ivy-League status. After a while the college community is asking itself if this boy wonder is promoting the school or himself….Read the complete review...

By Barry Hannah
Reviewed by Don Noble

At 464 pages, this volume of new and selected stories is a large, generous gathering of Barry Hannah’s best short fiction. Hannah had, in addition to eight novels, four volumes of stories. There is no announced editor but the Publisher’s Note acknowledges advice from Brad Watson, Jack Pendarvis, Richard Howarth, and others, and they are the best, most knowledgeable people to ask. Until the Library of America or someone else publishes Hannah’s complete stories, this collection will serve admirably.Read the complete review...

By Keith Thomson
Reviewed by Julia Oliver

Hard on the heels of Birmingham author Keith Thomson’s critically acclaimed first novel, Once a Spy, this aptly-named sequel smoothly propels the cast forward as though it’s the second season of a popular thriller-TV series. The main characters are a father-son duo. The elder of this pair, Drummond Clark, has been an undercover agent of the CIA for thirty years, in charge of a unit that sells nuclear weapons concealed inside washing machines to terrorist groups. When a sale is made, the terrorists are arrested, and no harm is done. Charlie Clark, whose main occupation heretofore has been gambling, has only recently learned that his Alzheimer’s-addled father is not an appliance salesman. Some of the one-liner humor is built around Drummond Clark’s memory problems, but in spite of that hurdle, he comes across as heroic and capable enough to save the day.

Read the complete review...

By Mark Childress
Reviewed by Perle Champion

In his latest novel, Georgia Bottoms, Mark Childress introduces readers to a southern belle who makes Scarlet O’Hara seem tame by comparison. Georgia is the sole support of her family, and she tries always to put her best foot forward to maintain the family image of genteel wealth. That’s hard to do with a no-account brother who’s rarely employed in anything legal and an elderly mother who is losing touch with reality and who daily rails against that “evil Rosa Parks” whom she blames for everything wrong with this new South of 2001.

Read the complete review...

By Scott Ely

Fiction

Reviewed by John Wendel

The eleven stories in Scott Ely’s Dream Fishing are on the dreamy and bizarre side. His characters are prosperous folks who know how to spend their leisure time and lead comfortable lives. His men and women make love to one another not out of frustration, but as genuine acts of tenderness. Yet, they are a mystery to each other. In the most straight forward prose—never ponderous or self-consciously philosophical—Ely illuminates our troubles in connecting and relating to people, even in the best of times.

By Nadia Kalman

Fiction

Reviewed by Caroline McLean

The Cosmopolitans is Nadia Kalman’s intelligent and entertaining debut novel. Drawing from her own immigrant experience, Kalman explores the dynamics of the fictional Molochniks, a Russian-Jewish family from the former Soviet Union, as they assimilate to life in Stamford, Connecticut. The novel’s eight sections each begin with a chart tracking the changes the family undergoes as each daughter explores love and marriage. If readers resist the urge to skip ahead to glance at the next chart, they will be rewarded with brief, witty insights into the lives of the characters.

By Fannie Flagg

Fiction

Reviewed by Julia Oliver

The first sentence on the jacket flap describes Fannie Flagg’s latest—actually, her sixth—novel as "a comic mystery romp through the streets of Birmingham, Alabama, past, present, and future." I would not put "comic" in the lead place there. Since the landslide success thirteen years ago of her novel Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe, luminous, light-hearted humor has been a key factor in Flagg’s style of writing. This time around, the light is more sepia-toned.

By Miles DeMott

Fiction

Reviewed by Julia Oliver

This enterprising first-time novelist has created an intriguing, imaginative saga with characters some readers in Montgomery, Alabama, where the author holds forth, may think they recognize. DeMott says they don’t, though; it’s all fiction.

By: Ramey Channell
Reviewed by: Perle Champion

In Sweet Music on Moonlight Ridge, Ramey Channell doesn’t narrate as Lily Claire, she is Lily Claire. For those of you who’ve had no children, and/or have forgotten what it’s like to be one, buckle up. This is not a slow walk of a book. Lily Claire’s breathless detailed telling of just about everything that happens in her small world is told as if it was the most important thing in all the world, and you should know it.

By: Jim Buford
Reviewed by: Jay Lamar

“Luminous fiction.” “A master magician.” “Impressive.” “Superb.” These are the words of a handful of readers of Auburn-based writer Jim Buford’s latest book, The House Across the Road and Other Stories. They are also testimonials from those who know what they are talking about: writers and scholars, professionals in their fields who are not easily impressed.

By: William Cobb
Reviewed by: John H. Hafner

William Cobb’s latest novel, The Last Queen of the Gypsies, is a terrific story about two wanderers: Minnie, a young woman abandoned by her Gypsy family at age eleven because she has one blue eye and one green eye and is therefore unlucky; Lester Ray Holsomback, a young man who runs away from his abusive, alcoholic father at age fourteen, accompanied by an elderly woman (Mrs. Mack); and a fourteen-year-old girl named Virgin Mary Duck. The novel is hilariously funny yet sometimes very sad, raunchy at times yet wholesome in its search for family and community, about love but also about cruelty and murder, full of delicious detail yet fast-paced and impossible to put down.

By: Sena Jeter Naslund
Reviewed by: Julia Oliver

It should not come as a surprise to anyone who’s read Ahab’s Wife, Four Spirits, and Abundance that Alabama native Sena Jeter Naslund has produced another powerful, full-of-grace literary epic. As the title implies, this novel has its roots in the biblical Book of Genesis, which most readers will know is taken literally by conservative religious groups, and is assumed to be apocryphal by others. The opposing credos of evolution and creationism are also a major theme in Adam & Eve.

By Tom Franklin

Fiction

Reviewed by Julia Oliver

We know that our region of the country has produced more highly gifted, motivated fiction writers over the last hundred years or so than any other, and we concede that, yes, there probably is something in the water. It has become customary, perhaps to the point of being trite, for reviewers in the South to render tribute to an outstanding, living writer by linking him or her to a famous counterpart from a previous era in the same neck of the woods. Tom Franklin, of Oxford, Mississippi, and before that Dickinson, Alabama, does not need such puffery. He has reached the top of the ladder with his previous novels, Smonk and Hell at the Breech, and the story collection Poachers. But a thought that reoccurred to me as I read this latest work is that Franklin appears to have channeled Faulkner’s passion, spirit, and insight, without exhibiting any sign of the latter’s occasional affectation.

By: Ruby Pearl Saffire
Reviewed by: Beth Wilder

Ruby Pearl Saffire is a true patriot, as evidenced by her bejeweled red, white, and blue name. And like any true patriot (as opposed to the impostor who simply waves or wears a flag— symbolism and substance are two very different things according to Ruby), she has penned a manifesto. Ruby’s manifesto is not for the faint-of-heart, for it has less to do with politics and sociological theories and more to do with sex (XXX sex, to be exact).

By: Michael Knight
Reviewed by: A. M. Garner

For readers, this first person account of a military typist from Mobile as he experiences General MacArthur’s post-World War II occupation of Japan is immediate and compelling. “Van” Vancleave expects a routine tour of duty, but life hands him something quite different when his roommate turns out to be a shyster who weaves the unsuspecting Van into his schemes. Then, to complicate matters even further, Van’s wife sends disconcerting news from home, leading Van to examine his life and the circumstances around him. The Typist, set convincingly at the mid-point of the twentieth century, underscores the fact that the problems of war know no century.

By: Stacia Saint Owens
Reviewed by: Colin Crews

Any one of Stacia Saint Owens’ female protagonists could be the title character of The Doors song “L.A. Woman.” However, Auto-Erotica is more than motels, money, murder, and madness. The winner of the prestigious Tartt First Fiction Award is also brutal, funny, sexy, and consistently compelling. Spanning thirteen tautly written short stories, Saint Owens recalibrates Hollywood’s soft filter focus into stark high definition and reveals the flaws and scars that can only be seen at pointblank range.

By: Mark Twain; Foreword by Alan Gribben
Reviewed by: Elaine Hughes

Few Americans will admit to not having read The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, a classic tale of childhood by Mark Twain, literary icon. And though decades may have passed since readers discovered Twain’s characters, they still can recall vividly the memorable fence-whitewashing scene, the witnessing of a murder by Tom and his friend Huck, the fear of Tom and Becky Thatcher while lost in the cave where the murderer is hiding. Published in 1876, Twain’s depiction of the adventures of childhood—both fantasy and real-life—has become much more than “a book for boys, pure & simple,” as he had planned. The story has survived as a tribute to the innocence of childhood, as a reflection on the pains of growing up, as a recollection of the rural and small-town life of a now-distant past. The Big Read: Alabama Edition of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer invites all Alabamians, young and old, to rediscover and to revisit this treasure of American literature.

By: Joyce Scarbrough
Reviewed by: Delores Jordan

Joyce Scarbrough is the author of three books, True Blue Forever, Different Roads, and now this best of the three, Symmetry. One can see her skill as an author in the manner that she puts the reader into each scene and shows the dynamics of a marriage going sour but with both people truly loving each other.

By Edie Hand with Jeffery Addison

Reviewed by Julia Oliver

This compact family saga in the Ride series from North Carolina’s Parkway Publishers is beautifully packaged. The cover art looks like a tranquil Christmas card, with its fir-green background, snow-white lettering, and touches of gilt. But the lyrical subtitle, The Miracle of Lights, is somewhat of a misnomer for the angst-ridden narrative that lies in wait inside the covers.

By Kirk Curnutt

Reviewed by John Wendel

Kirk Curnutt’s Dixie Noir is a hard boiled mystery set in the mean streets of Montgomery, Alabama. References to magnolias, crepe myrtles, and oft rhapsodized Deep-South niceties serve only to draw the reader’s attention to the hot and humid August setting. Narrator Ennis Skinner sweats buckets between decaying old town and creepy McMansion sprawl looking for a young lady named Dixie. His search gets him tangled up in a web of murder, mayhem, and Alabama racial politics with a direct line back to the Montgomery bus boycott.

Ennis encounters a variety of rich characters and wild situations. High C, a meth cook turned book publisher, is one of the more engaging scoundrels you are likely to run across since Shakespeare gave us Falstaff. Reese Justice, known in town as the “Kudzu Ann Coulter,” manages her incumbent father’s mayoral race. Her down and dirty deeds give the likes of Karl Rove and Jack Abramoff a run for their money. Thugs and would-be great men intermingle in the state capital, highlighting what a strange and contrary, but fascinating place Alabama can be.

Ennis Skinner is a disgraced former Crimson Tide football hero who spent one decade in a methamphetamine haze, and another in Kilby Prison. He is a man looking to make amends, and hopefully find a little redemption. His journey involves dealing with some dark corners of his life, and Curnutt doesn’t shy away from graphic scenes, specifically in flashbacks to Ennis’ drugged out days with his ex-lover Faye (Dixie’s dead mother). Fortunately, he neither romanticizes their degradation, nor does he simply rub the reader’s nose in a lot of nastiness. He sets the record straight, which means recording nasty events in clear and stark language. Ennis knows all too well our capacity to sentimentalize, if not mythologize, unhealthy people and episodes in our lives. Only when he replays those memories without the fog of drugs or sentiment does he stand a chance at that redemption he so desperately craves.

The memory of the civil rights movement also looms large. It haunts and burdens characters close to Ennis and those he’s forced to deal with. Ennis’ daddy, Quentin, and black mayoral candidate, Walk Compson, remind us of how all-too-human former movement heroes can be. And sometimes memories from that past are just cold factors in the cynical machinations of dirty southern politics.

Dixie Noir twists and turns with plenty of action. You’ll race toward each plot point, but ultimately the characters own this story. The last few pages reveal a little too much, and too suddenly, of who did what to whom, but wit and intelligence abound in this dark entertainment. Dec 2009

John Wendel teaches English as a foreign language for Dongguk University in Kyeongju City, South Korea.

By: Catfish Karkowsky
Reviewed by: Edward Reynolds

It’s not surprising that someone named “Catfish” serves up fiction marinated in a curious, surreal concoction loaded with chunks of oddball characters, with occasional naive misfits sprinkled in for good measure. Catfish Karkowsky’s new book Literture is a collection of brief vignettes offering twisted tales of stalkers, teenage soda jerks, a kid with no arms and legs named Seal, a father abusing his robot infant, and the occasional schizophrenic.

By: Sonny Brewer
Reviewed by; Kevin Wilder

Sonny Brewer has delivered a fourth book, The Widow and the Tree. Rarely do storytellers like Brewer emerge, capable of presenting tender narratives possessing tremendous power. Each page of the story is filled with carefully-crafted sentences, making up concise chapters that sweep like elegant poetry.

By Lisa Patton

Fiction

Reviewed by Julia Oliver

This debut novel combines deep-South, heart-warming, chick-lit style with a chill-out setting way north of the Mason-Dixon Line. Leelee Satterfield is happily and generationally entrenched in Memphis, Tennessee; she and her husband Baker, whom she’s adored since they were in the tenth grade, have two small daughters. Life is idyllic, until that husband talks her into leaving their comfort zone to become inn-keepers in Vermont. Leelee’s three best-friends-forever think she’s lost her mind.

By: T.K. Thorne
Reviewed by: Perle Champion

In Noah’s Wife, consummate storyteller T.K. (Teresa) Thorne takes us back to 5500 BCE. Here we meet Noah’s future wife. Born to a mother who dies giving her life, Na’amah is a beautiful girl with peculiarities. She sees the colors and patterns of words overlaid with the color of their truth.

By: James Braziel
Reviewed by: Andrew McNamara

Abandon all hope ye who enter here.

At once the recognizable inscription marking the entrance gate of hell in the Inferno, Dante’s warning is equally appropriate for the apocalyptic vision of America depicted in James Braziel’s haunting new novel Snakeskin Road. Set in 2044, Braziel’s dystopian world is plagued by government corruption, and the southern United States—or more appropriately, what’s left of it—is ravaged by harsh, inhospitable deserts created by gaping holes in the earth’s ozone layer.

By: Christine Hale
Reviewed by: Kevin Wilder

Basil’s Dream is a suspenseful, absorbing tale juggling multiple themes of love, politics, and race relations. The Bermuda of Christine Hale’s first novel is far from the oversimplified island of postcards and popular lore (though vivid imagery of craggy pink beaches, motor scooters, and Rastafarians are all there). Hale’s descriptions of the British overseas territory are particularly interesting and unique, as they draw attention to the post-9/11 social unrest and political strife the region has faced. Also, there’s enough island background to whet any history-lovers’ appetites.

By: Joyce Norman and Joy Collins
Reviewed by: Perle Champion

It’s said that many first novels are, at least in part, autobiographical. In this instance, it is true. The core of Coming Together is a true story. Birmingham writer Joyce Norman lived it. With her friend Joy Collins acting as foil and prod, Norman tells us her story of a single woman traversing the hostile bureaucratic maze of the foreign adoption process in 1980s Brazil. She seamlessly weaves every minute detail of that intriguing slice of her life between the pages of an entertaining love story that never was.

By: N.L. Snowden (Delores Jordan)
Reviewed by: Colin Crews

“Madness made me restless,” N. L. Snowden writes in her courageous debut novel In and Out of Madness. The relentless mind of protagonist Lee Thames storms through Snowden’s engrossing story. The semi-autobiographical work is a raw and painful clinic on mental illness, adultery, and addiction.

By: Ruby Pearl Saffire
Reviewed by: Beth Wilder

Ruby Pearl Saffire is a true patriot, as evidenced by her bejeweled red, white, and blue name. And like any true patriot (as opposed to the impostor who simply waves or wears a flag— symbolism and substance are two very different things according to Ruby), she has penned a manifesto. Ruby’s manifesto is not for the faint-of-heart, for it has less to do with politics and sociological theories and more to do with sex (XXX sex, to be exact).

By: Pat Mayer
Reviewed by: Jill Deaver

From the opening pages of Pat Mayer’s novel The Cannibals Said Grace, it’s clear that something is amiss. “It’s in the nature of the place and its people to coat and cover,” he writes. The place is Benedict, Alabama, and what the quirky townspeople have been coating and covering is their appetite for corruption.

By Edie Hand with Jeffery Addison

Reviewed by Julia Oliver

Labeled "A Novella" and subtitled Inspiration from Desperation, this attractively packaged book has the look and heft of the Young Adult genre. However, as noted on the marketing insert in the review copy, it’s one of a series geared to "Women 35 plus" from a collaborative duo of Alabama authors.

By Margaret Fenton

Reviewed by Julia Oliver

The author lives in Birmingham, the city that provides the locales for this compelling first novel. In crisp, camera’s-eye style, Margaret Fenton has placed her first-person narrator, Claire Conover, at the helm of a horrific enigma: Michael, a little boy she knows well, has been murdered. As the child’s caseworker with the Department of Mental Services, Claire had recommended he be returned from a stint in foster care to his mother, Ashley Hennessy. Aided by Claire’s guidance and encouragement, Ashley had cleaned up her act, and regained custody of her son. Now Claire learns that Michael has died in Ashley’s apartment from drug-poisoned orange juice in a “sippy cup,” and the single mom has been arrested by the police.

By Mitch Wieland

Reviewed by Julia Oliver

Each of the ten titled chapters in this book first appeared as a short story in The Sewanee, Southern, Yale, or Kenyon Reviews, TriQuarterly, Shenandoah, StoryQuarterly, or Prairie Schooner. That the author has a significant presence in elite literary circles is borne out by dust jacket blurbs from Melanie Rae Thon, Anthony Doerr, Brad Watson, George Core, Richard Ford, Lee K. Abbott, and Alan Cheuse.

By: R.A. Riekki
Reviewed by: Edward Reynold

Auburn University English professor R. A. Riekki has wowed critics with his novel U.P., drawing speculative praise from one fellow writer who is convinced that Kurt Vonnegut would love the book if only Vonnegut were alive to read it. Vonnegut must have had a stronger stomach than I. According to the book’s cover summary, U.P. is a “complex tale of friendship and brutality.” Complex and brutal? That’s one heck of an understatement. Rather, Riekki slaps the reader in the face with a stark, disturbing portrayal of teen angst in the frozen northern peninsula of Michigan.

By Kathryn Stockett

Reviewed by Julia Oliver

The ingenuous title of this new bestseller clarifies it on the jacket cover as “a novel,” but these 400-plus pages are as convincing as fine journalism. It’s the summer of 1962, in Jackson, Mississippi, the author’s hometown. In The Help, Stockett, who has a degree in creative writing from the University of Alabama, has reproduced perfectly pitched speech patterns and description of a time and place that belonged to her mother’s generation.

By: Chris Tusa
Reviewed by: Beth Wilder

In his debut novel Dirty Little Angels, Louisiana writer Chris Tusa explores the dirty little world of the New Orleans slums and the downtrodden people who stumble through the bad side of town among crack houses, drug dealers, and rampant poverty. This raw and gritty story sucks the reader in to the dangerous, hopeless lives of two urban teenagers, Hailey Trosclair and her brother Cyrus, as she desperately tries to save her dysfunctional family from ruin.

By: Nanci Kinkaid
Reviewed by: Beth Thames

Courtney and Truely Noonan, brother and sister, sit across the kitchen table from each other in their Mississippi childhood home, a southern table loaded with their mother’s fried chicken and skillets of cornbread. Nice kids, they are growing up as expected. But expected comes to a halt when Courtney announces she is moving to California to pursue her dreams, whatever they might be. She imagines it to be "a place generously littered with dreams and dreamers," but her parents wonder what’s gotten into her, and what’s wrong with chasing your dreams in Hinds County, Mississippi? When little brother Truely follows a few years later, the parents puzzle over what they did wrong. The answer, of course, is nothing at all.

By: Sue McDougald Watson
Reviewed by: Liz Reed

There’s an inherent problem in starting a new book at bedtime: If it’s a good read, 3:00 a.m. comes quickly regardless the hour set for the next day’s beginning. Such was the case with Jane Ellen’s Path. From the first chapter, author Sue McDougald Watson “mourned the lack of control that seemed the birthright of all females.” McDougald’s first novel follows Jane Ellen from pre-school through retirement and presents a picture of Alabama women of the 1950s woven with the familiar threads of racism, classism, misogyny, and fear.

By: Erin McGraw
Reviewed by: Jody Kamins Harper

When Nell Platt first meets the domineering woman who will employ her to sew costumes for Hollywood actors, she sells herself with these words: “I know that details are important. Details create illusions. I never forget that people are trying to escape their own lives.” This revelatory statement is also a metaphor for a novelist’s ambitions, creating detail within the seam of a story that gives readers a well-wrought tale to escape into. Erin McGraw’s novel, The Seamstress of Hollywood Boulevard, has a precise stitching of language and a sturdy plotting pressing on like a needle through daunting fabric.

By: Don Noble, ed.
Reviewed by: Norman McMillan

The twenty-one stories in the collection, all by post-World War II Alabama authors, run from the traditional to the experimental. Arranged according to birth order of the writers, the collection leads off with “The Byzantine Riddle,” the comic masterpiece of Eugene Walter, whom some have called the funniest man in Alabama. The greatest appeal of the story to me is Walter’s ability to reproduce with unfailing accuracy the speech of a group of Mobile women who well understand that language is not simply a utilitarian instrument, but, equally important, a means of entertaining one’s listeners.

By: William Borden
Reviewed by: David Wyman

William Borden’s novel, Dancing With Bears, is a very odd book about the extremely odd business of living. The publisher’s Web site informs us that Livingston Press is hot on the trail of the quirky and odd, always on the hunt for "offbeat literature." Well, Livingston bagged a stuffed and mounted trophy loony-toon with this one, and you just might like it.

By: William H. Drinkard
Reviewed by: Kirk Hardesty

Who is the Creator? What is the Creator’s plan? In William H. Drinkard’s first novel, he explores these universal questions. Writing in the science-fiction genre, which is ideally suited for the examination of society and civilization, the author takes his readers on an epic journey where the principal characters are challenged with the possible extinction of their race. In facing this challenge, the characters get an unprecedented backstage look at the forces affecting the evolution of their people and the social structure that drives their cultural progression on Elom, a planet near the center of the
galaxy.

By Val L. McGee

Reviewed by Julia Oliver

From the opening sentences, you know you’re in the hands of a good storyteller. Dale County retired district judge Val McGee, who has served as president of both the Alabama Historical Association and the Friends of the Alabama Archives, is the author of several books of history. His ambitious, impressively researched first novel is set in and around the town of Selma just before, during, and after the Civil War.

By: Jimmy Buffett; Illustrated by Helen Bransford
Reviewed by: Don Alexander

Imagine, if you will, a mom that’s a former Opryland Hotel cook but now a pastry chef in a four star New York hotel, twelve-year-old twins—a soccer whiz son and an aspiring fashion designer daughter—a screenplay writing absentee dad who’s in Iceland, a cat that is typically draped on a twin’s shoulders, and a potbellied pig named Rumpy that can read (but can’t Google) and disguises herself in a dog costume.

No, this is not a Rod Serling introduction to an episode of The Twilight Zone. This is Jimmy Buffett’s most recent novel, Swine Not? A Novel Pig Tale.

By: John Pritchard
Reviewed by: H. F. Lippincott

John Pritchard has followed his first novel Junior Ray (2005) with the further adventures of his eponymous hero in The Yazoo Blues. The place is the Mississippi Delta, south of Memphis, along Route 61—a place of levees, oxbows, and now casinos built over water. The charming but foul-mouthed hillbilly hero, retired as sheriff’s deputy—he insists he’s a “law-enforcement professional”—now works parking security at a casino. Gone is the unsuccessful search for a shell-shocked veteran of World War II of the first book, along with the somewhat tedious excerpts from the soldier’s diary. Now the picaresque adventures are more wide-ranging, exploring the sexual peccadilloes of modern Mississippi and Memphis residents.

By: Lafie Crum
Reviewed by: John Wendel

Bill is a young daddy from the hills of East Kentucky who has just been laid off from a construction job. He and his wife Martha are whisked away to a party, out next to an old abandoned mine, by smarmy cousin Andy who has shown up from Ohio flush with cash, booze, and pills. The buzz they catch offers a bit of relief on a bad news day. Things get fuzzy in the course of just a couple of paragraphs, setting the tone for a world of hurt poignantly explored in Only Son, Lafie Crum’s debut novel.

By: J. Patrick Travis
Reviewed by: Chris Bouier

In Pitching In the Dark, J. Patrick Travis has crafted an insightful glimpse of the effects of mental illness on a typical American family and the consequences of both the denial of these effects and the journey that accompanies the affected individuals’ decisions to face the reality of their situation. It is a tale of compassion and a tale of apathy illustrating how each of these emotions is itself as much of a burden on the sane as the disease is a burden upon its victim.

By: Scott Ely
Reviewed by: Katherine Henderson

When Pender Hartwell returns to Egypt Ridge, Mississippi, after a tour of Vietnam, he receives no warm hero’s welcome. Instead, he is greeted with thinly veiled hostility which quickly turns into death threats. Scott Ely’s The Dream of the Red Road finds Pender largely unconcerned about these displays of the town’s animosity, however, preferring to spend his time remembering a girl, or as he phrases it, “studying love in my dreams.”

By: Carolyn Haines
Reviewed by: Jody Kamins Harper

Any southern girl worth her salt knows a double first name is iconic in this region, so why not dual vocations as well? Sarah Booth Delaney, as narrator and protagonist, lives out concurrent roles as private investigator and actress in Wishbones, the latest in the series of light-hearted mysteries by Carolyn Haines. Leaving her happily haunted house in Zinnia, Mississippi, and unsure if she can withstand homesickness and lovesickness, the protagonist plunges into the sexy leading role in a remake of Body Heat.

By: Ellen Gilchrist
Reviewed by: Anita Garner

A Dangerous Age is Ellen Gilchrist’s twenty-second book of prose, so we who have followed her career for the last thirty years recognize her distinctive voice and finely crafted sentences. The time of the novel spans from the bombing of the World Trade Center to the eve of Hurricane Katrina, indeed a dangerous age. Yet this book is a brave step: a novel that explores a political hot-button issue, released in the heat of an election year.

By: William Cobb; With a Preface and Afterword by Don Noble
Reviewed by: Kirk Curnutt

First published in 1984, William Cobb’s Coming of Age at the Y is a reminder of a type of bawdy, rollicking novel that only Christopher Buckley seems to write anymore. From the late 1960s through the mid-80s, writers who came of age in the Eisenhower era tended to parody America’s kitschy commercialism and newfound sexual freedoms, almost always satirically but not always with the metaphysical preoccupations of Joseph Heller, Thomas Pynchon, or Philip Roth. Instead, several comic authors aimed only to capture the lunacy of contemporary life in all its gaudy, gauche silliness. To read Livingston Press’s reprint of Cobb’s Southern delight is thus a bittersweet experience....

By: Jim Herod
Reviewed by: Katherine Henderson

Thanks to his grandfather’s secret DNA experiments, Wesley Stone has fathered a new and improved version of the human race—a strain of humanity mysterious government forces are determined to destroy. Driven into hiding, members of this new race, most of whom have never met Wesley, desire to learn about their founding father, “the new Adam,” and bond together to ensure the survival of the species. In Jim Herod’s Gathering Moss, Thomas Stone, Wesley’s son, though not by blood, has collected scattered pieces of Wesley’s life story in order to help his family understand their father and the responsibility they share as his descendents.

By: Michelle Richmond
Reviewed by: Anita Garner

Mobile native Michelle Richmond has already shown in her first three books that she can artfully cast a spell on readers, drawing them into her stories with subtleties of voice, style, nuance, and plot. From her prize-winning collection of short fiction through her first two novels, she has gained growth and maturity as a writer. Now with the latest novel No One You Know coming right on the heels of last year’s successful The Year of Fog, one might wonder if she has been able to sustain the pace. What Richmond has written is a perfectly paced novel that will appeal to many levels of readers.

By: Xunjun Eberlein
Reviewed by: Treasure Ingels-Thompson

The claim is made often that people are the same wherever you go. This statement seems trite in the shadow cast by Xujun Eberlein’s first short fiction collection, Apologies Forthcoming. Set in China during and after the Cultural Revolution, this book proves that our human similarities are strengthened or negated by personal experiences.

By: Carol Manley
Reviewed by: Treasure Ingels-Thompson

In her collection of short stories aptly titled Church Booty, Carol Manley leads her readers on an excursion through the most exotic American landscape. The route she chooses meanders through the Bible Belt, a praying place that punctuates error with lashing tongues and caustic looks. And the natives she introduces may be as white as a Sunday dinner apron or as black as the dirt of our own Black Belt soil.

By Howard Bahr

Reviewed by Julia Oliver

Master novelist Howard Bahr...has moved on in time from his triumvirate of Civil War fiction (The Black Flower, The Year of Jubilo, and The Judas Field) to almost the midpoint of the twentieth century. The elegiac tone of those novels has carried over into this brilliant, often visceral narrative about men who worked on or around trains in the great era of American railroads.

By Andrew Lytle

Reviewed by Julia Oliver

Originally published in 1936, this is the classic first novel of one of the twelve Fugitive Poets who were founders of the Southern Agrarian literary movement at Vanderbilt University. The group also included Robert Penn Warren, Allen Tate, John Crowe Ransom, and Frank Owsley, who later became chairman of the University of Alabama History Department. Lytle begins his narrative with a letter of acknowledgment to Owsley, who had told him the true story on which the book is based. The reprint edition’s Introduction by the professor’s son, Frank L. Owsley Jr., also adds interesting credibility to the aspect that this impassioned, colorful tale is not entirely fictional.

By: Michael Morris
Reviewed by: Elizabeth Via Brown

“Like a mosquito gone mad,” the steel needle of the sewing machine in the Haggar factory pounds into Erma Lee Jacobs’ index finger. Oozing out with the blood is thirty years of fearing her husband’s angry fist. She has already lost her daughter, Suzette, to drugs, prison, and a low-life husband, and when there’s no sympathy from even her mother, long a battered wife herself, Erma Lee knows it’s up to her to save her thirteen-year-old granddaughter from repeating history.

By: Richard Matturro
Reviewed by: R. Garth

Richard Matturro has produced an interesting novel in his latest, Leslie. Interesting in that it combines Greek and Roman allusions surrounding the life of a forty-three-year-old librarian heading out for her own “Odyssey” from “Troy” with her dog “Argos.” Homer might not be amused, but his beautiful marriage quote (Odyssey VI, 180-185) is cryptically (written in Greek) paid respect to in the novel’s opening. Leslie is Matturro’s third novel and the second of a trilogy; it stands, however, well on its own.

By: Homer Hickam
Reviewed by: Edward Reynolds

While Hickam’s last work was an historical adventure novel set in World War II in the Pacific, in Red Helmet Hickam depends more on humor as he paints an Appalachian setting that is simple yet rife with backstabbing, crime, murder, and outside corporate meddling.

By: Bill Goodson
Reviewed by: Dee Jordan

Bill Goodson takes a tired plot and adds a fresh twist to it in his book Scherib. The novel, though set mainly in the state of Tennessee, takes the reader around the world, even to the Vatican.

By: Jennifer Youngblood and Sandra Poole
Reviewed by: Jody Kamins Harper

Investigating the violent death of her father, a determined young woman risks her life for answers, finding faith and romance amidst the dangerous truth in a small North Alabama town. A sawmill rife with fatal accidents is the site of trouble in the fictional town of Stoney Creek, a place full of misgivings for protagonist and reader alike, but for different reasons.

By: R. Garth
Reviewed by: Veronica Kennedy

R. Garth’s novella is part stream-of-conscious, part horror tale—and somewhat confusing....  Garth apparently uses his real-life return home to Athens, Alabama, as the frame for the story of Sarah, a four-year-old kidnapped by a sexual predator and eventually "purchased" by a bitter couple for $60.

By: Joshilyn Jackson
Reviewed by: Elizabeth Via Brown

Just who is the girl who stops swimming? The first few pages of Joshilyn Jackson’s new novel reveal that Molly, a neighbor’s child, is the girl found floating face down in the Hawthornes’ backyard pool, but as the story unfolds, it seems that everyone is drowning in their own sea of secrets.

By: Frank Turner Hollon
Reviewed by: Treasure Ingels-Thompson

Frank Turner Hollon’s latest novel, The Wait, is a heartbreaking journey through the life of a single man that explores the shortcomings of humanity as it exposes the inner workings of James Early Winwood’s mind. This cerebral setting is uncomfortable even for Early, yet from the very beginning the entire tale is grounded there. Angsty, angry, confused, and fractured, Early’s mind ticks first like a clock in relatively orderly succession as he processes the questions whose answers define the individual and then like a time bomb as he progresses toward his own destruction, choosing paths, solutions, and alternatives that lead him further into the darkest recesses of human thought.

By: Gin Phillips
Reviewed by: Beth H. Wilder

The opening paragraph of Gin Phillip’s debut novel, The Well and the Mine, is only two sentences long, but those two sentences hook readers immediately and pull them into an unforgettable tale of small-town southern lif

By: Tony Crunk; art by Peter Wilm
Reviewed by: Linda A. McQueen

Interesting, thought provoking, and eye-opening—all of these adjectives add up to Stories from Real Life, a collection of short fiction by poet and children’s writer Tony Crunk with artwork by Peter Wilm.

By: Joe Taylor, Debbie Davis, Tina Jones, Tricia Taylor, eds.
Reviewed by: Tony Crunk

Tartt’s Three is an anthology culled from the manuscripts submitted to the third annual First Fiction Contest, which awarded publication to two short story collections by writers who had not previously published such a work. Given the competition’s lack of editorial agenda, these twenty-three stories amply suggest the broad range of subjects, styles, and voices that contemporary American fiction so vitally encompasses.

By: Philip Cioffari
Reviewed by: Treasure Ingels-Thompson

Through Catholic Boys, Philip Cioffari offers a lens to peek into a dismal space—the place where innocence is lost and humanity is challenged—to share the pain and heartache that surrounds the death of a child and to inspire his reader "to seek the light amid the darkness."

By: Rex Burwell
Reviewed by: Treasure Ingels-Thompson

On the surface, Desade II: A Brown Recluse Romance may seem a traditional romantic mystery as its title misleads the reader. Within the thin cover of this book lie mysteries as esoteric as the origin of humanity and as practical as the human need for companionship and continuance. 

By: M. Wilhoit
Reviewed by: Catherine Alexander

“Who am I?” The quest for self-knowledge has provided authors and readers the opportunity to ponder this question through literature.  This deceptively simple question propels M. Wilhoit’s novel Hadleyville Nights, which is comprised of a collection of Internet postings written by the protagonist, Heathcliff Vanlandingham, to understand how his life has become what it is and to explore the meaning of life through the Internet, specifically in chat rooms and blogs.  

By: Joyce Sterling Scarbrough
Reviewed by: Delores Jordan

Joyce Sterling Scarbrough creates an atypical Southern character in her book Different Roads. The novel, set in Tampa, exposes the power of money in making or breaking a person’s life. Scarbrough takes us on a disturbing journey as the conflict of the book pits the rich against the poor.

By: Tito Perdue
Reviewed by: B.J. Hollars

We are first introduced to Leland Pefley—the crotchety, perpetually dissatisfied protagonist of Tito Perdue’s debut novel Lee in 1991—in his final days on earth.  In many instances, the novel, recently reissued in paperback, reads like a “shame on you” to society—blasting money and materialism as cardinal sins—while Lee himself prefers the simplicities of reading. Yet in many ways, Lee feels like a mere stepping stone to help us arrive at Perdue’s powerful sequel, Fields of Asphodel.

By: Dennis McFarland
Reviewed by: Julia Oliver

The bestselling author of School for the Blind and The Music Room returns to his Alabama roots for the setting of his seventh novel.  The writing in this domestic drama is sophisticated, textured, and introspective. With the exception of one amazing, hair-raising epiphany, the storyline is pretty much sedentary.

By: Philip Shirley
Reviewed by: Kirk Curnutt

Oh Don’t You Cry for Me is Philip Shirley’s first book of fiction, and some readers will inevitably look for hints of his prestigious career in this nine-story collection. Those hints won’t be found in the content, which tends toward the dark, sad, and twisted. Rather, the influence is in the craft. These are precise, sharply structured tales with plenty of what admen say it takes to break through the clutter and arrest a reader’s attention. Put simply, Mr. Shirley’s got hook.

By: Jennifer S. Davis
Reviewed by: Treasure Ingels-Thompson

Jennifer S. Davis, whose first collection of short stories, Her Kind of Want, won the Iowa Short Fiction Award, melds a deep understanding of southern culture, an affinity for the human spirit, and a poignant if cynical insight into the universal truths of the human condition in her newest collection, Our Former Lives in Art.

By: David T. Morgan
Reviewed by: David Wyman

When is a long-form work of prose fiction not a novel? When it’s a Socratic dialogue, and its title is About Euthanasia and the Religious Right. I can’t remember the last time I encountered a fictional book so un-“novelish,” and yet so useful and necessary.

By: Kirk Curnutt
Reviewed by: Julia Oliver

This latest book by Alabama writer and college professor Kirk Curnutt is a brilliant example of how a novel can be an artistic medium which connects the reader to the creative process that went into it. The mystically evocative title comes from the epic poem The Faerie Queene by Edmund Spenser. Although most chapters (all of which have titles) are in third person limited perspective, some are in first person. At times, the narrative takes on a baroquely omniscient quality which seems fitting, as a universal lamentation runs through this prose like a river of grief...

By: Jay Atkinson
Reviewed by: Karen Pirnie

New England writer Jay Atkinson may seem a strange choice for Livingston Press, but his City in Amber could easily be set in Alabama. Social change and cultural conflicts plague a town with a long history and a defunct textile mill. The accent is different, but the issues confronting Lawrence, Massachusetts, affect towns across Alabama.

By: Bob Whetstone
Reviewed by: Wayne Greenhaw

Bob Whetstone’s first novel is a page-turner. From the first sentence, “My life took a turn toward Hell that spring day Dock Turley returned my runaway sister to the house on a mule’s back,” to the final quote years later, Grave Dancin’ captures the reader and carries him through Hell and upward.

By: Carter Martin
Reviewed by: Penne J. Laubenthal

Carter Martin’s debut novel Kelbrn is the story of a modern day Odysseus, Miles Kelley, whose wanderings take him not only through the first fifty years of twentieth century America but also across the country itself from Wisconsin to New York to North Carolina and finally to California. Miles’ journey parallels the movement of modern America from rural to industrial from dairy farms to textile mills from East to West from idealism to disillusionment.

By: Michael Knight
Reviewed by: Anita Miller Garner

Anyone having recently survived the holidays will be charmed by Michael Knight’s sleek prose and quirky, stunning selection of details in this look at contemporary life on the Alabama Gulf Coast. Spanning the emotional minefield from Thanksgiving to New Year’s, these two novellas showcase Knight’s mastery using a form in which we could have predicted his expertise.

By: Sonny Brewer
Reviewed by: Catherine Alexander

Sonny Brewer’s third novel departs from his previous forays into fiction. The events that unfold are not merely musings on a scenario, but based on real-life experiences surrounding the disappearance of Cormac, the Brewers’ much beloved family dog, and the ensuing search that becomes a quest. With a surprising mix of complicated situations, intrigue, loss, hope, and immediacy, the text engages the reader beyond mere interest. 

By: Brad Vice
Reviewed by: Joey Kennedy

Before ever getting to the ten stories in this collection from Tuscaloosa native Brad Vice, we must deal with the nastiness. In this instance, that’s the plagiarism. Or, according to some critics, the multiple plagiarisms that spoiled Vice’s debut and, more importantly, Vice’s literary reputation.... Except it was all a terrible mistake, a horrible misunderstanding.

By: D.W. Hunt
Reviewed by: Van Newell

The novel The White Squirrel, written by D.W. Hunt, is the first piece of narrative fiction I have ever read that is reminiscent of a Roger Corman film. The book feels low-budget, salacious, campy, and eventually macabre.

By: Daniel Wallace
Reviewed by: Treasure Ingels-Thompson

Exploring Faustian pacts, Daniel Wallace’s Mr. Sebastian and the Negro Magician rips the fabric of reality, slices the underbelly of American culture, and leaves the reader with few answers and numerous new questions.

By: Shelley Fraser Mickle
Reviewed by: Liz Reed

The Assigned Visit contrasts lives lived in the North and South. As a born and bred Southerner, I find Shelly Fraser Mickle’s descriptions of family, food, and foibles so familiar they elicit memories of my own experiences as a child, teenager, and adult.  Having never spent more than a week at a time up North, I find her descriptions of New England customs, cuisine, and characters intriguing, but unfamiliar.  To me the essence of a good novel lies in the believability of its characters.  Mickle’s descriptions and dialogue are so familiar they seem like friends, and sometimes relatives, of my own.
    

By: Phillip Cioffari
Reviewed by: Van Newell

Phillip Cioffari, author of A History of Things Lost or Broken, manages to cut his own little sliver of New York City, and in a refreshing twist he goes not to Wall Street, Greenwich Village, or Central Park but instead to the swamps of the 1950s and 1960s Bronx, filled with debris, both human and not. It reminds me of Phillip Roth’s Newark: working class, ethnic, and it reminds me not of New York City but of the American “every city.”

By: Carolyn Haines
Reviewed by: Linda Busby Parker

Ham Bones is Carolyn Haines seventh novel in her Southern Belle Mystery Series.  To date all of the previous six novels have had Bones in the title:  Hallowed Bones, Crossed Bones, Them Bones, Splintered Bones, Buried Bones, Bones to Pick, and now Ham Bones.  The Southern Belle Series falls in the genre of cozy mystery.  The cozy generally has a female protagonist—a good girl with down-home values, a sharp wit, and a reasonably well-tuned ability to add up clues and solve a mystery, be that mystery great or small.  Cozy fans are most often female readers who like a good beach read or a fun read on a rainy Saturday.

By: Irene Steele
Reviewed by: Foster Dickson

Irene Steele’s debut novel, Some Glad Morning, tells the tale of Mildred Johnson, a young African American woman living in Chicago with her Aunt Rose. Mildred is the reluctant good girl who facetious refers to herself as “Unstained Mildred Johnson,” a stark contrast to the woman that her aunt tells her she was named for: Mildred Walker.

By: Gerald Duff
Reviewed by: Kirk Curnutt

The author of Memphis Ribs and Coasters returns with fifteen stories that are both geographically and temporally diverse, ranging from Texas to Baltimore and the nineteenth century to the twenty-first. Duff is that rare writer that can conjure up Dixie eccentricities without demeaning his characters.

By: Daniel Alarcón
Reviewed by: David Wyman

Please don’t take it as a sign of disapproval when I say that this is a very weird book. Set in a mythical South American capital that bears a parallel-universe resemblance to Mexico City, Lost City Radio is part science fiction, part death-comedy political satire, and, overall, a sweeping indictment of betrayal as the central element of the human psyche all rolled into one.

By: Joe Taylor with Debbie Davis, Gerald Jones, and Tina Jones, eds.
Reviewed by: Kirk Curnutt

Having had the good fortune a few years back to be selected for an anthology of emerging writers (Full disclosure: it, too, was published by Livingston Press), I can heartily testify to both the fun and fear that comes with belonging to the sort of virtual community that a collection like this one creates. In essence, anthologies provide writers a peer group against whose themes, styles, and motifs they can measure their individual interests and begin firming up their own literary outlook and values. The downside is that seeing your name among better-known folks can be intimidating; even worse is happening on a story you doubt you yourself could have written.

By: Homer Hickam
Reviewed by: Edward Reynolds

When I saw the title of #1 New York Times best-selling author Homer Hickam’s latest novel The Far Reaches, I anticipated a story of astronauts onboard sleek spaceships flying through the universe in search of strange life forms in otherworldly environs. Hickam, who penned the bestseller Rocket Boys, the basis for the film October Sky, and the novel Back to the Moon, did indeed take me on an adventure to another world, though it was a journey to lush islands in the South Pacific rather than some strange planet in a distant galaxy.

By: Robert Ely
Reviewed by: Edward Reynolds

With his wickedly funny, satirical tale of notorious political dramas portrayed by Alabama rascals, Robert Ely pens to life unforgettable characters that include governors, bureaucrats, legislators, hero attorneys, and the little people—the salt of the earth, common folk of the state. Ely tells the story of an attorney determined to break the shackles of demagoguery that threaten the state’s social and safety welfare.   

By: Ravi Howard
Reviewed by: Todd Dills

Roy Deacon is turning forty, and the weather’s perfect for a jubilee. On a beach on Mobile Bay’s eastern side, he waits for the stunned sea creatures to arrive, tools in hand to snare the beasts and bide the time—chief among them a fifth of Crown Royal from which he pours a swallow into the sand to commemorate all those who’ve come before him, those who couldn’t be here this fine night.
    

By: Cassandra King
Reviewed by: Norman McMillan

In Queen of Broken Hearts, novelist Cassandra King has written a very perceptive modern-day novel of manners.  Set in Fairhope, Alabama, the book paints an excellent picture of the town’s upper crust—people who sip Dom Perignon, eat candied ginger, inhabit beautiful interiors, and dance the tango.  But King, building her narrative around the central theme of marriage and divorce, delves far beneath this surface sophistication to expose the faults and failures of a number of Fairhope’s finest.    

By: Michelle Richmond
Reviewed by: Anita Garner

The dilemma with Michelle Richmond’s newest novel is this:  the plot is so compelling you can’t read fast enough, but the writing is so crisp and exact you want to savor every word.  Richmond’s 2000 short story collection, remember—The Girl in the Fall-Away Dress—won the Associated Writing Programs Award and has continued to be used in college literary and writing courses.  This second novel surpasses her debut novel Dream of the Blue Room.
    

By: John Sims Jeter
Reviewed by: Elaine Hughes

In his first novel, John Sims Jeter succeeds in weaving a narrative that melds together varied art forms—classical music, poetry, architecture, blues, baseball—into a symphony of nature that resonates with the lyrical voices of his characters. Jeter, a recently retired mathematician, professional engineer, and native of Birmingham, combines his love of music with his insights into “humanness” in creating a novel about the maturation of a Southern boy...    

By Mark Ethridge
Reviewed by Julia Oliver

Probably not at all surprisingly to those who know him, North Carolina writer Mark Ethridge has made the crossover from award-winning, third-generation newspaperman to first-time novelist with grace and aplomb. Credited as having directed the Charlotte Observer’s Pulitzer Prize-winning investigations of the textile industry and the PTL/Jim Bakker scandal, Ethridge studied as a Nieman Fellow at Harvard and has written for many publications.

    

By: Todd Dills
Reviewed by: Jim Murphy

Billy Jones, the central character in Todd Dills’ debut novel Sons of the Rapture, is a son of South Carolina, the progeny of a fractured idealism embodied in his father Johnny, and heir to a staggeringly heavy weight regarding community and responsibility that has dogged him all the way to Chicago.

    

By: Jimmy Carl Harris
Reviewed by: Sue Walker

To read this book of short fiction is to think of Flannery O’Connor, who was known for her ability to write powerful tales of truth and terror that cut to the core of being uniquely human, often flawed, and in need of grace. As O’Connor says, "When the poor hold sacred history in common, they have concrete ties to the universal and the holy which allow the meaning of their every action to be heightened and seen under the aspect of eternity..." Or as Harris puts it: "Church doors are open to saints and sinners alike."

    

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