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Wildcrafting: And Other Stories I Share Only with My Friends
By Jerry L. Hurley
Mid-Atlantic Highlands; Publisher's Place, 2017
Paperback $14.95
Genre: Memoir; Appalachia
Reviewed by Jennifer A. Sheffield

Jerry L. Hurley starts his book about a personal Appalachia—Wildcrafting: And Other Stories I Share Only with My Friends—by penning a love letter to the men, and women still listening in on the what the neighbors have to say in his hometown of Mammoth, West Virginia. He then prepares an uncanny trip to exhume bodies left behind when he left the places where his family’s roots “spread deep in the mountain soil.” He wants us to not only laugh about strange things that take place within these pages, but to be wrapped in the warmth of his relatives while becoming more in tune with the natural worlds we almost can touch at the close of this collection of memories.

Hurley’s young life in Mammoth was innocent – like a fly on a cracker, and his unapologetic accounts of growing up are accelerated by boyhood hijinks and packed with unmuted tales of crazy uncles and his great granny, brewed in an aged barrel of folksy wisdom. But it is the hard work of wildcrafting—defined as a walk in the woods to seek and gather plants for food or medicinal purposes—that forms the maternal bonds that truly define this upbringing bound to a landscape.

The first selection he unpacks begins with a frontispiece poem, about a morel mushroom, entitled, “Molly Moochers.”

xv

We carefully picked them, each a treasure indeed,
and we took what we needed with no thought of greed.

These golden fried treasures fit for a king
are a succulent herald of what Spring can bring.

His prose shows us what gets hidden in the “deep, shaded places” of his twilight mind serves a purpose for the picker where everyone gets by on meager means and children are tattered with cuts and scrapes resulting from the fun and games they’ll live to tell about. Hurley sets the tone for mischief to ensue throughout each chapter, in which he captures lessons learned on the countryside of life, carefully contained inside a capsule of a child-like mind.

He compares the 1930’s and 1960’s as historical times that hadn’t changed in desperate coal mining towns; where one dollar got him a trip to the pool and a soda pop. This is where unlikely friendships crossed socially acceptable race divides and railroad tracks as his family moved him back and forth from Cleveland, Ohio, before settling again in the familiar hollows of his obscure heritage. Planted there once more, his epic tales of a drunken cow, Halloween pranks, plus exploding frogs, deftly compliment grown-up musings on prejudice, mental illness, the 1945 attack on Pearl Harbor, and homespun religious miracles.

Hurley’s “family quilt” is stitched with intimate moments recording birth and death, and a mother’s yarns. The beauty of Hurley’s rhymes and riddles is how he writes about raising eight kids on a moonshine budget with the same grain of salt as he would a road trip in a beat-up car. The hardest lesson learned is as satirical as it is serious. According to Hurley, you have to bury bodies of fresh frogs if you want to eat the legs. In other words, get the worst over with; then, savor what’s good. “I’d eat them again…whenever I had the chance,” he writes, “…even if I had to bury more bodies.” It’s another poem, near the end of the book, about his Aunt May’s weathered feelings for her late husbands that sums up this sentiment.

150

I like ‘em close so as to put flowers on their graves,
without causin’ too much trouble at my age.

Wipe your feet good and come in
while I put on some coffee.

Ultimately, Hurley’s prose is an invitation for readers to join a journey back through moments both “poignant and jubilant.” Here is vivid picture of a bygone era through the lens of youth, spent under the watchful eye of both forest critters and the memorable characters of a small mining town. Hurley shows us how nature’s bounties provide for those seeking God, and lets us experience revival-sized amounts of amazing grace by letting us into the growing up he did. His pungent description of cooked mushrooms—but also how blackberries get picked in spring and ginseng dug in the fall—becomes a guidebook to all of life as a great adventure.

Just as we must be born to be able to die, the seeds we sow and shots we take go with us, as if we are just passing through. Hurley believes that the secret is not to forget how the forest floor feels under your feet, because without it how else would a person have stories worthy of sharing with her friends. He ends one particular story about blocking the road on a Halloween night, “Oh, we all went our separate ways soon enough, and chose various paths in life.” “But,” Hurley says, “I recall things done in my youth with friends that I will always remember fondly and with good reason.”

Jennifer A. Sheffield studied journalism at Boston University after obtaining a BA degree in Anthropology from Skidmore College. Florida Sportsman, The Chronicle of the Horse, The Albany Times Union, and the Apalachicola Times, have published her stories. She lives in Alabama where she writes an entertainment column for The Eufaula Tribune.

Borrowed Light
By Jennifer Horne
Mule on a Ferris Wheel, 2019
By Paperback $15.00
Genre: Poetry
Reviewed by Caitlin Rae Taylor

Alabama Poet Laureate Jennifer Horne’s Borrowed Light is a collection of invented happiness, of scrounged-for peace, of borrowed hope and simple solace. It is a balm for a humankind that is no stranger to pain and self-flagellation, for a womanhood that is weary and pinioned. The collection’s entire conceit rests on the titular architectural term: “borrowed light,” light which spills into an otherwise unlit room or passageway from an adjoining, windowed space. Some form of light, literal or metaphorical, finds its way into each of Horne’s poems. It is the simplicity and clearness of this imagery that helps these poems shine, despite the darkness which surrounds them.

The collection begins with a door opening “quietly / so as not to wake the dogs,” a soft, inviting, domestic welcome. Familiar, comforting, but a small thrill, a curiosity for what we may find behind said door. “Morning Gift” acts as a response to Robert Frost’s “Two Look at Two,” the last line of which serves as the opening poem’s epigraph. Horne has played with the structure of her poem here, dividing it not only into couplets but also into two separate numbered sections to denote the stillness and violence of witness. This structure also provides a reminder that a human relationship is a joining of two separate entities who can never fully merge. In Frost’s “Two Look at Two,” a hiking couple are met with their human limitations: “a tumbled wall / With barbed-wire binding.” Yet, for their patience and resistance against their instincts to overcome nature, earth rewards them with the sighting of a doe and buck. In Horne’s “Morning Gift,” the speaker greets a lake on the other side of her door, and what she witnesses there is “Bird…Long neck, gimlet eye, fancy feathered hat.” The speaker is still, witnessing, eating her breakfast and drinking her coffee. Her lack of interference is rewarded as “Two Belted Kingfishers [ratchet] by.” But it is the silence before, the small moment of peace, that our speaker acknowledges as the light in this poem, a light that could not exist without those Kingfishers acting as “disturbers of the peace.”

The second part of “Morning Gift” acknowledges Frost’s poem directly as the speaker’s significant other is revealed as the second witness, the one to read the poem within the poem aloud, to revel in the kismet of their similarities. “Morning Gift,” is itself a gift, reminding Horne’s readers that the smallness and stillness of a domestic life can breed both happiness and surprise, if we let it.

The collection’s first few poems flirt with a similar sort of easiness. They are stillness broken by simple reverie. They give the illusion that the collection’s whole will be the serenity of a quiet life. Until we reach the simmering rage of “Domestic Lessons,” aptly placed as the collection’s fourth poem. Its first section is homey, instructional, a treatise on how to properly make the bed, dust the furniture, fold the laundry. There is little sign of percolating anger until the sixth stanza: “And always, especially to the children / and the man you love, say yes. / It is unwomanly not to yield.” The first section ends, and suddenly we are with the speaker in an art gallery considering a sculpture of “loosely woven white web.” Light pouring in from a window acts epiphanically, urging the speaker, “[before] endless acquiescence / becomes a cage of your own making…it is up to you, / once in a while, / to close the door / and be alone / with your own thoughts.” For femme- and feminine-identifying people, this idea of domestic, womanly imprisonment is familiar, but “Domestic Lessons” wrests away the conceit that the woman, our speaker, is agentless. The poem urges a personal definition of womanhood, a plea for our speaker to recognize her own power and the power of her language: “If you say you are the pillow, / you are the pillow. / If you say you’re the sky, / you are the sky.”

The following few poems, “Simplicity,” “Wick,” “Family Story,” are love letters to women, to feminine spaces, to socially-defined “feminine” arts. They praise female rage and extoll the Biblical Eve, always with the shortest lines, the fewest words, tightly-knit creations that can be held in the hand, their stitches clear, purposeful, economical. One of the collection’s later poems, “Present,” makes a case for Horne’s entire thesis: “When I say that at times in my life / I’ve been saved from despair / by one particular bird, tree, rock, sky, / that’s what I mean by God.” The small, still beauty of nature, but also the vast, jarring indifference of it, the inevitability of death, is proof of life, and that alone acts as deliverance from grief. And the persistence of the soul among that grief to witness the forward march of time is, itself, a miracle: “Each detail is a shading-in / of something hugely necessary. / And here am I: / small, quite small, but present.”

“guest house” follows “Present” as a plea wrapped in giddy play on sound. The long-vowel assonance and soft sibilance of lines such as “two crows harry a hawk, / robins arrive at the end / of the second month / woods’ edge warblers / inhabit this house / its good bones” elicit a quiet, happy reverence, as if the reader is watching the scene unfold alongside Horne. The deliberateness makes for delightful, out-loud read, but the poem ends with another of the collection’s main points: “...the day will come / of leaving and goodbyes, / make your art now.”

Borrowed Light saves much of its mourning for its last few pages. We have been given so many gifts before we reach the speaker of “Cemetery Mailbox,” devising a letter to her passed loved ones. Or the speaker of “Monument,” who recounts her miscarriages. Or the speaker of “Tell,” who lists all the moments she has contemplated suicide. “Voice” closes Horne’s collection, and though its speaker “[wakes] to sunlight, the smell of last night’s bonfire in [her] hair,” this last poem is far from the still wonder of the collection’s earlier poems. The Biblical miracles of the burning bush and Ten Commandment tablets are reduced to a “smoking stump” and “tattered notebook.” The beloved is gone, the speaker wondering if the beloved can be attained again. There is darkness here, the heavy feeling of disappointment, the fog of smoke and rain obscuring the light Horne’s collection has promised. But the titular ideology here comes in the form of a call to action, both to the speaker and to Horne’s readers: “I resolve to do as you urged: / begin my true life, start now.” With the beloved’s voice ringing in our ears: “‘You’re not afraid of not liking it…You’re afraid you’ll like it so much it will change you, / demand a life as big as you can imagine, / a voice to match.’”

Horne leaves us there to question our own lives. To look around at our circumstances, our reactions to those circumstances, and ask ourselves if we have let the darkness envelope us so completely that we are no longer living. She urges us to swallow that darkness, as heavy as it might have become, and create our own light in a world that, though indifferent to our survival, is ripe with wonders that can keep us going if we stop to savor them. Borrowed Light is a peaceful book that reckons with its own sorrow, accepts its sadness, and fights to pull itself through that sadness, into another room, where, perhaps, the light is brighter. Where maybe it casts a shorter shadow.

Ernestine’s Milky Way
By Kerry Madden-Lunsford and Emily Sutton
Penguin Random House, 2016
Hardcover $17.99
Genre: Children’s Literature
Reviewed by: Samantha Bonner

Kerry Madden-Lunsford and Emily Sutton have written a story that I greatly enjoyed reading to my soon-to-be five year old daughter. The story is set in the Great Smoky Mountains during the 1940s. Written from a third person point of view, the tale is about a five year old girl and her pregnant mother working hard to maintain their family farm while the father is away at war.  The young girl, Ernestine, is a hard-working, very determined little girl, who enjoys working alongside her very pregnant mother.  Each time she faces a challenge, she says, “I can do it, Mama. I’m five years old and a big girl.” As a parent, those words symbolize a child’s transition from baby to big kid. In this delightful tale, Ernestine is shown milking the family cow and basking in the glory of a successful milking. Her mother, who understands the struggles of maintaining a family farm alone, volunteers to contribute milk to one of their neighbors. The young girl is charged with the task of carrying two jars of milk to her neighbor. Slightly intimidated by the distance, this brave girl is up for the challenge. As she embarks on the lengthy journey, she reminds her mother that she is five years old and a big girl. Thus begins the major narrative of the story.

Using the planets as her guide, this tenacious young lady embarks on her journey.  Along the way, young Ernestine hears an seemingly ill-fated noise in the bushes and naturally assumes the worst. However, she meets this obstacle with bravery, reminding herself that she is strong and capable.  As she descends deeper into the woods, she continues to hear very unsettling sounds, causing her to scurry. Fortunately, each unsettling sound proves to be nothing more than calm, docile animals. Confident of her abilities, she continues on the journey but, eventually, she accidentally drops one of the milk-filled mason jars. Feelings of disappointment overtake young Ernestine as she arrives at her destination. Ever so understanding, Mrs. Ramsay, welcomes young Ernestine and basks in the gift of a neighbor's milk.  As the family celebrates this luxury, they thank young Ernestine and, soon enough, send her home. This young girl is able to prove that she is indeed a 'big girl.'

The infusion of figurative language brings to life each element young Ernestine experiences on her journey. For example, "She carried the jars in an old feed sack close to her heart while the mountains slept like giant elephants under a scattering of stars.”  Madden's personification of the mountains as sleeping elephants further illustrates the sense of calm and quiet Ernestine experiences on her quest. Another example is the use of onomatopoeia to depict the sounds of the forest: “...she heard a fearsome grunta-grunta-grunta,” and, “...she heard a snuffa-snuffa- snuffa along the path.” The realistic sounds that you can make as you are reading further create a more compelling and immersive reading atmosphere.

In addition to the colorful language, vivid descriptions, and realistic depiction of life in the 1940s, the motivation to keep trying stands out. Even though Ernestine was faced with a difficult task to complete, she perseveres, even at her young age.  My “soon-to-be" five year old daughter thoroughly enjoyed joining me in saying, “I’m five years old. I am a big girl!”   She immediately found a connection with our main character.  When selecting books to read to my young child I hope that she can make a connection to the text in a positive way. This book definitely provided me with that.

Ernestine’s Milky Way is a phenomenal, realistic depiction of a young heroine surviving her world with tenacity and determination. The young girl, Ernestine, demonstrates traits that kids of any age can relate to. Kerry Madden-Lunsford and Emily Sutton were able to infuse various educational and character building lessons in this carefully written book. Ernestine’s Milky Way will be a hit in any elementary school classroom.

Nobody Knows How It Got This Good
By Amos Jasper Wright IV
Livingston Press, 2018
Paperback $8.95 or Hardcover $13.95
Genre: Short Fiction
Reviewed by Andrew Mollenkof

In his debut collection of short stories, Nobody Knows How It Got This Good, Amos Jasper Wright explores the complications of existence in his home state, Alabama. No matter where you travel, every place has a cadence, a rhythm and melody interwoven with the sights, sounds, and people. Alabama, The Heart of Dixie, is a place of incredible soulfulness entangled with bondages, past and present, and Wright’s collection captures that. A Birmingham native, Wright shows readers the South as he sees it, from Walmart parking lots to Jaguar dealerships, suburbs to trailers, the book gives us a taste of what the South looks like today. In the telling of everyday moments captured with a careful eye, Wright reveals the funny, the absurd, the horrific, the human.

This is not a collection that is concerned with the absolution or salvation of a city with a disturbing legacy, but rather investigates what it is to be a city with a disturbing legacy. Wright tackles corruption, financial desperation, environmental disaster, the long shadow of Jim Crow and a host of other issues throughout the sixteen stories in the collection. The narration of all the stories but one are in the first person giving readers a wealth of perspectives. A black man with an Albino son struggles to raise him in an unwelcoming suburb. A chef making meals for the death row condemned grapples with spiritual epiphanies and loss. A city boy runs away from his past, taking up residence on an old rundown plantation that his sister attempts to rescue him from. All of the characters are untamed in some way, each of them an oddity born of the South.

One of the strongest stories in the collection, embodying the collection’s overall themes, “Birmingham Goddamn” centers around a man obsessed with the Civil Rights era. Having taken part in the violence against black folks, the former fireman becomes driven by a monomania to understand the philosophical and historical implications of the Civil Rights movement. The protagonist hopes to make a discovery about humanity. He longs to know that mankind is better than his worst mistakes, that others would have been stronger, would have chosen something different.

Wright relates the sixteen stories in Nobody Knows How It Got This Good with language that is soaring and grandiose. There is hardly anything about his writing that is quiet. In one particularly charged moment, he writes: “He uncapped the bottle of peroxide, dousing it on his holocaust chest, the words GOD HATES FAGS whitely working up a froth as his screams rose like lead balloons in the treetops and a mephitic smoke of birds poured from the branches.” Wright rarely uses a five letter word if he could use one with eight. This expansiveness of language breaths into his descriptions, giving the prose a deep sense of place. Throughout the book the language prompts readers to feel that they actually are somewhere, not just reading about being somewhere.

Wright set out to do something challenging and ambitious by taking on so many varied Southern issues and viewpoints. His writing is at times overwrought, failing to recognize the difference between when a word is necessary and when it is simply self-important. This isn’t because Wright is bombastic, rather he clearly wants his stories to be as full and deep as the people and places he’s writing about. Yet the frequent use of overly complicated words like “sanguinolency”, “anthropophagus”, and “borborygmus”, and phrases like “the echolalia of the fustilarian” at times take away from moments of real candor and warmth of the book. The diction of Nobody Knows How It Got This Good is full of risks, it’s just too bad not all of them paid off. It’s the work of an author still coming into his own, and its proof of a writer going someplace.

Andrew Mollenkof is a first-year fiction MFA candidate at The University of Alabama.

dark//thing
By Ashley M. Jones
Pleiades Press, 2019
Paperback $17.95
Genre: Poetry
Reviewed by Alina Stefanescu

I want this country to inhabit the poetic splendor and formal innovation of Ashley M. Jones' dark // thing. I want everyone and their mother to read it, and no child left behind. But first, I want to thank the author, herself, for poeming the difficult space between blackness, americanism, and power, sparing herself no vulnerability, and clearing the landscape of ennobling lies we tuck into postcards and lullabies.

The poems in this collection are inhabited, lived from within the flesh, situated in the state of Alabama, as Ashley makes clear in "Red Dirt Suite":  

             "I was born in starry Alabama--
             the night mixed me up a blue so sweet
             I swallowed it whole."

She writes Birmingham as only the lover can write the beloved--from inside the space of intimate questioning. The poems circle around the power of stereotype to fossilize into known histories and received wisdoms.

The first poem, "Slurret," begins by listing racial slurs, and revealing their relationship to commercial culture:

             "You a spade, a spook, an open-mouthed
             black pickaninny. Ashy Aunt Jemima,
             Americoon, you blue-gummed Beluga.
             you cotton-picking jigaboo."

The poet's role in speaking to the past is often nostalgic, and Ashley does not abandon this role entirely. In the section entitled, "Side A: 3rd Grade Birthday Party" (a part of the poem "Slurret"), the poet positions her adult mind alongside her child mind with the memory of "that Blond Birthday Party in the suburbs". This juxtaposition of child and woman recurs in several poems and enriches the texture of remembered events by speaking the lived past into the present where Birmingham zip codes are still "chewed like a wad of gum" to establish one's personhood.

To nostalgia, Ashley adds the poet's crucial role in holding a mirror that enables us to see the parts of ourselves we overlook--like the mess in a room we know well. It is this reflective role of poetry that matters more in a world of clickbait, hot takes, and hashtag prayer chains. And it is this lens that feels so imminently personal and challenging, as in "Sunken Place Sestina", where she explores the price of gentrification "at the hipster food hall that fills Birmingham with gentrified spice", and concludes:

             "We add spice--call integration equality; call gentrification progress,
             reduce our brothers to pixelated dust, turn heartache into wine,
             sink further and further beyond a blindingly bright sky."

Many poems probe the difficult, inhumane options offered to black, citizened persons, whether to assume the role of monster or clown ("maybe we're all just shucking and jiving until our time to die") in the limited repertoire of received roles.

Ashley invigorates the ekphrastic form by placing the poet's eye on archival postcards. "Uncle Remus Syrup Commemorative Lynching Postcard #25" examines the once-popular southern past-time of the public lynching by recreating the scene in a chilling layered collage of language and voices. To read it is to know the monstrous depth of our state's socialization, and to grapple with our shared commitment to celebrate a history that teaches us to dehumanize of black men.

dark // thing's greatest contribution to poetics is not an aesthetic or a lyricism or a memorable love-bite--it is the use of poetry to unmask and reveal stereotypes. By  harnessing language to experience in such a richly-textured way, the poet makes clear  the power of stereotypes in authoring history, in normalizing oppression with "harmless" dehumanizations that limit what black Americans can imagine of themselves, or expect of their role as citizens.

"(Black) Hair" plays with the sonnet corona in a prose form that weaves through the poet's personal history with black hair, and ends on an encouraging note of self-acceptance. "Recitation" brings magic to the prose poem form by using its density and heft to offer an embodied experience of dressing as Harriet Tubman for a school poetry recitation. Ashley leads us through the cosseted feel of a body that struggles with adenoids and allergies, a throat whose breath betrays in sudden wheezes, a body she must believe but cannot entirely trust.  "Imitation of Life" explores how we cannot avoid the tiny terrors, the minute complicities, the tangles of careless reactions that lead to the wreck.

For the poet, perhaps nothing signifies as much as what we do to the bodies of the dead, what we put in the mouths of those who can no longer speak for themselves, or raise their voices to refute us. Although I've found no quick formula for honoring other voices when asking them to speak inside a poem, I am inspired by the way Ashley enables the persons that she personifies and subjects to speak through epigraphs.  The lengthy epigraphs quoting Harriet Tubman in "Harriet Tubman Crosses the Mason Dixon for the First Time" and "Avian Abecedarian" position the poems to speak with Tubman rather than for her.

In speaking alongside, or after, Walt Whitman, "Song of My Muhammad" is an absolutely beautiful, fiery testament to the black American experience, as sensed through the black body of Muhammad Ali. It is a hymn that subverts the harm of white supremacy. It is a paean not to the strength of the state or the nation but to the single human being who stands in a ring and readies his gloves.

At her reading in the Birmingham Museum of Art, Ashley prefaced the Harriet Tubman poems by addressing the ghosts in the room. She promised to read "in the spirit of powerful women." In this promise, one holds the spirit and legacy that infuses this collection. In chaos, poetry remains resilient as a source of truth and possibility. A poem is an algorithm of resistance against despair. This book is its pulse.

Alina Stefanescu was born in Romania and lives in Alabama. Her poems and prose are recent or forthcoming in DIAGRAM, New South, Mantis, VOLT, Cloudbank, Prairie Schooner, NELLE, and others. She serves as Poetry Editor of Pidgeonholes, President of the Alabama State Poetry Society, Publicity Chair of AWC, and co-founder of the Magic City Poetry Festival. Her first poetry chapbook, Objects in Vases (Anchor & Plume Press, 2016) won the ASPS Poetry Book of the Year Award. Her first poetry collection, Stories to Read Aloud to Your Fetus (Finishing Line Press, 2017) included Pushcart-nominated poems. Her debut fiction collection, Every Mask I Tried On, won the Brighthorse Books Prize and was published in May 2018. More online at www.alinastefanescuwriter.com or @aliner.

The Graceland Conspiracy
By Philip Shirley
Mindbridge Press, 2019
Paperback $17.99
Genre: Fiction
Reviewed by Kirk Curnutt

Thirty years after Mojo Nixon’s “Elvis is Everywhere” commemorated the tenth anniversary of the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll’s sad demise, the Big E is as ubiquitous as ever. In 2018 two stellar documentaries challenged stereotypes about his career and cultural relevance, Thom Zimny’s The Searcher and Eugene Jarecki’s The King. NBC recently aired an all-star tribute for the fiftieth anniversary of the still-electric’68 Comeback Special, and the latest RCA compilation, Where No One Stands Alone, proves the artist was as important to gospel as to the devil’s music.

In Alabama we’ve enjoyed not one but now two Elvis-centric novels. Following Mike Burrell’s Land of Grace, comes Philip Shirley’s The Graceland Conspiracy, an ingenious mystery that pirouettes between “Elvis is Alive” myths to the nefarious machinations of a government agency called the National Security Enforcement Office. NESO is as ominously Nixonian as an acronym can sound, conjuring up images of the espionage paranoia of James Grady and Richard Condon popular when the last two hits the Pelvis enjoyed in his lifetime, “Moody Blue” and “Way Down,” were gyrating (somewhat arthritically) up the charts. You could almost call this taut ricochet through Watergate-era conspiracy history Six Days of the 50,000,000 Elvis Fans Can’t Be Wrong.

As Presleyites might suspect, Shirley’s starting point is that bizarre Oval Office meeting between Elvis and Nixon in December 1970 (itself the subject of a recent movie). News of that intersection of politics and pop culture didn’t filter out for a couple of years (as the novel notes), and it was even longer—the mid-1980s—before the iconic photo of the odd couple was ever viewed, much less reprinted endlessly on T-shirts and postcards. For Shirley, Elvis’s ambition to be a DEA narc inveigles him with that other pivotal 1970s’ fascination, the mafia, ultimately putting him in the sights, literally, of NESO. “Who Killed Elvis?” was one of the great parlor games of the Carter/Reagan age, and the favorite answer was, “Nobody … because he ain’t really dead.” Shirley has clearly done his research into the far reaches of the Spotted-at-the-Kalamazoo-Burger-King urban legends that diminished the King’s reputation for decades: one of the joys of the novel is its reference to Gail Brewer Giorgio, the godmother of the Elvis-Still-Walks-Among-Us movement. Her bizarre 1978 sci-fi novel Orion first proposed that the King faked his death and led to a kooky bibliography of kitsch titles like The Elvis Files.

Not that The Graceland Conspiracy is a Woodward-and-Bernstein throwback. It’s set circa 1997, with a disgruntled Gen X’er, Matt Boykin, untangling the involvement of both his and his erstwhile girlfriend Kristine’s Howard-and-Dorothy-Hunt-esque parents in Elvis’s death. The timeframe makes for a double dose of nostalgia, taking us back to the early days of Googling, when people still used Yahoo and DVDs. And while Shirley masterfully weaves readers through Birmingham landmarks, large chunks of the book stretch convincingly to Mexico and Italy.

To pinch a line from Paul Simon, fans of thrillers and Elvis alike can have reason to believe their expectations will be well-received in The Graceland Conspiracy.

Trilogy: Kenosis
By Jake Berry
Small Press Distribution, 2018
Paperback $16.95
Genre: Poetry
Carey Scott Wilkerson

Let me propose here that Jake Berry’s new collection of poems, Trilogy: Kenosis, is both an eloquent argument for what remains possible on the page and a splendid exemplar of that very possibility. As ever, Berry’s essential project braids together philosophical sophistication, linguistic invention, and an old-fashioned delight in the work of poetry itself.

The first of three sections, “Scale,” is a kind of formal mediation on the spiritual poetics of postmodernity. At once theological, archaeological, and musicological, these seven gestures open an inquiry into the secret nature of our poetics. Like the poems of its brilliant dedicatee, Gregory Vincent St. Thomasino, “Scale” searches for, excavates, and claims (in the name of goodness and deep truth) certain unmapped spaces of hermetic lyricism. Berry’s capacity for poetic utterance is admirable indeed not least for the way in which it transmutes the received tropes of self-disclosure and torques the language of epiphany:

4

out from – sheltering
as the lungs
across the bed
toward zero (face to face)
This is our habitation

to visit
along the way

dust on our

     rags

5

[discovered]
a femur
a pelvis

a shoulder blade
     upon which
     inscribed in Greek
     (as was the Orphic inclination):

     body σῶμα soma
     water ὕδωρ hudor
     spirit πνεῦμα pneuma

an octave apart

a spike in the earth

There is, of course, an urgent human narrative here and indeed in the entire collection. Death and its attendant transfigurations haunt this book. We feel it as much in the line breaks and internal stresses as in the declarative aspects of the poems, which are nonetheless arresting:

7

The word
has shaken
us free

with an essential,
forbidden
summoning

more than knowledge
more than life

a music
one step beyond

“A Second Octave” stages a further modulation of Berry’s philosophical-spiritual exploration. And if the turn here is more inward, it is perhaps also more emotionally explicit. It is among this fine book’s many high achievements that the confessional is never conventional but, rather, always framed inside the dual expressive motifs of a searching mind and a singing heart. I find here, a discernible invocation of Charles Olson’s lines “As the dead prey upon us / they are the dead in ourselves.” And as these are inscribed for yet another extraordinary dedicatee (and an important Olson scholar), I might point as well to the complexity and range of reference in Berry’s poems. Folks, here is a book informed by an architecture of formal design and the architectonics of metaphysical unity:

2

Easter
  for Jack Foley

Out of death –
 such abundant nothingness –
 a fire is lit
 in the imagination
 (who understands this mysterious capacity?)
 Even the seeds we do not want
 spring to life

 We wept
 when he was taken from us
 even though we did not know
 who or what he was

 All those dead
 taken away
 But our sorrow
 cannot prevent spring arriving

“Kenosis,” the titular and final section, is, in some sense not only the center out of which the whole book spins but also the singularity to which it finally returns. Dedicated to yet a third essential artist, David Thomas Roberts, the language here fuses the energies of the previous sections in a dramatic synthesis of stentorian pronouncement and oracular vision:

To surrender completely, utterly
To be broken
  as the earth is broken
  as the seed is broken
  and surrenders its spirit
  so the sky is broken
  and the rain pours down

We have every reason to celebrate the courage implicit in the title’s meaning for contemporary poetics and the vanguard of postmodern spirituality. Moreover, we might also envy Berry’s willingness to investigate those originary forces and the ways they animate his work. I do not know what we must surrender or how, but my own intellect and faith tell me that Berry is showing us something we need to see. Withal, Kenosis is an elegant, daring, and beautifully honest work. Berry says that “memory is the past made sacred.” I believe this book does the same for the presence of language itself.
   
Carey Scott Wilkerson—a dramatist, Pushcart Prize-nominated poet, and author of four opera libretti—is Assistant Professor Creative Writing at Columbus State University.

Closed Ranks: The Whitehurst Case in Post-Civil Rights Montgomery
By Foster Dickson
NewSouth Books, 2018
Paperback $23.95
Genre: Nonfiction
Reviewed by Kimberley Carter Spivey

Closed Ranks is a powerful and methodical memoir that captures a wrongful historical account of the untold murder of Bernard Whitehurst Jr., an African American man who was senselessly killed on December 2, 1975 by a white officer on the Montgomery police force.

Foster Dickson brilliantly presents the institutional corruption that had become entrenched in the South during a time that is now seared in our nation’s memory. His personal narrative reveals the countless acts of deception orchestrated by the Montgomery Police Department to mask police brutality towards an innocent and unarmed man mistaken for a robbery suspect.  

During the period immediately following the peak of the Civil Rights Movement, several political antics occurred amongst the City of Montgomery councilmen, and within the purview of local law enforcement. Substantial evidence pertaining to the convoluted case was prohibited and never voluntarily disseminated to the Whitehurst family, which in retrospect, created a difficult time for the family to put in perspective.  

Within this captivating narrative, Dickson illustrates the ways in which this controversial case came to be a conundrum of sorts, as he delves deeper into his research through interviews, police reports, and judicial documents. Through a laborious pursuit of the truth, Dickson meticulously uncovers the sobering, untold story on behalf of the Whitehurst family. 

This astounding work recalls a time in history when racially charged comments and actions were far more prominent than today, and appallingly, taken as a matter of course in daily life. The Whitehurst family was at a disadvantage, to say the least, to seek justice against the perpetrator who left their guiltless loved one lifeless.

In addition, the family faced a further legal difficulty, that many citizens at the time considered unconstitutional. During the 1970’s, a law was permitted, the “fleeing felon rule,” allowing police officers to open fire on a “fleeing felon.” Protected by the judicial system, Donald Foster was never demoted, fired, or charged with a crime. 

Bernard Whitehurst Jr., a husband and father of four, never received lawful justice, nor did his family receive compensation from the scandalous bloodshed that took place over four decades ago. The family finally received a formal and long-overdue apology in the summer of 2012. Despite the darkness and despair endured from such an inconceivable event, this gripping saga closes with the celebratory tribute that took place in 2016 to honor the life and legacy of Bernard Whitehurst Jr.

Throughout his text, Dickson vividly recaptures the shocking event, paying homage to the Whitehurst family. His unique and image-rich style will impel readers of all races and creeds to take an intimate look into a period of notorious inequality. Dickson delivers his content precisely, leaving the reader with a clear and well-organized interpretation of the events as they took place. The structure of the text itself allows the reader to easily follow the storyline of the case.

Potentially, the vast collection of political names and dates during the political period may confuse and overwhelm readers, possibly diverting from the narrative itself. However, Dickson is keen to present hard facts, and all “secondary” or supplemental materials is never less than helpful in clarifying this often-complex case.  

Closed Ranks is an engaging and fascinating read thanks to Dickson’s meticulous research which incorporates a vast backlog of legal documents and reports. His resourcefulness and the care with which he handles his material goes to considerable, and admirable, lengths in affording Bernard Whitehurst Jr. the justice he did not receive during his life.

Mend
By Kwoya Fagin Maples
University Press of Kentucky, 2018
Paperback $19.95
Genre: Poetry
Reviewed by Rachel Nix

Mend is history – as with all history, the harshest aspects are either untold or fibbed about by the profiteer. Few moments of America’s past were recorded properly – especially in terms of effect on women, particularly black women. While Maples uses persona poetry to give voice to women in this collection, the tellings aren’t overdone or in any way fictionalized for excess. Instead, they are humanized and shown for more than bodies afflicted by fistula.

The women who speak in these poems were slaves who had their bodies loaned to Dr. James Marion Sims of Mt. Meigs, Alabama in the years between 1845 and 1849 for gynecological experimentation in an attempt to cure vaginal tears. They did not give their consent and of the eleven bodies which underwent wildly invasive and unethical surgical experiments, only three of the women in Sims’ autobiography, “The Story of My Life,” were named: Anarcha, Betsey, and Lucy. Maples allows their perspectives to be told with careful respect for detail and clear mining of any historical accuracy which could be researched. She delivers their memories in simple language that is colloquially true to the location and time period, as in “Mt. Meigs Arrival,” but also with a lyrical vibrancy that at times soothes before urging the reader to be enraged.

“It’s the most city I’ve ever seen.
When we ride up to the big-house,
the land has all the things I know:
honeysuckles, pines
unseen crickets off somewhere,
and the air is the same sweet I’ve known my whole life.”

Mingled in between poems are a few direct quotes by way of Sims’ autobiography; interestingly enough, they’re the only bits which seem molded for purpose. They work well in juxtaposition to the poems that follow.

”[…] and of course, her life was one of suffering and disgust. Death would have been preferable. But patients of this kind never die; they must live and suffer.” - Dr. Sims

Maples follows his coldness with the poem, “A Thousand Cats” – cats, a south Alabama slang used for ‘vagina’. The delivery of this poem hits at a needed time early in Mend, showing the women possess not only resilience, but that they also see the doctor for what he is: less interested in curing their ailments, but eager for the title he’ll receive for doing so.

One of the most interesting aspects of the book is Maples’ choice to write in voices that are under the influence of opium – given to the women for pain management, but also caused both confusion and memory loss. This manifests believably in the sequenced sonnets, aptly titled “What Yields.”

“We nod off like pine trees as you
stitch. Always sighing, you hover

over us. Fool, we know you will never
be done, […]”

It would prove difficult to point to favorite pieces in Mend, as all are important and build upon each other phenomenally; however, I’ll say I was most drawn to the sonnets. These occupy the purest reflections of Anarcha, whose straightforward but stunning language give the collection its fiercest strength. Lines such as “Bodies above virtue are never black” jarred me and have stayed with me long after finishing Mend.

Rotting fruit is the take-away image in these poems. Referenced several times across the book, it’s a pertinent way to see the flawed value these women held to science; they were to be used for a white man’s professional sustenance, rather than willing contributors to a broader understanding.

“We are rotting fruit, yet our bodies yield.
How easily we yield to you, for you.
We slide into our poses, blossoming.
You examine our stalks for blight, mildew
and rust. One morning your eyes examine
the field and we are ripe.”

Maples ends the above poem with Anarcha saying, “We must yield, even if you lie to reap.” The calm reserve, layered with pre-implied anger and trauma, amplifies that which the women know they can’t escape but will survive. Before the book leaves you to your thinking, the notion of joy as resistance appears: a reminder that not everything can be taken for another’s use.

With Mend, Kwoya Fagin Maples is equal parts teacher and poet: releasing a part of history that needed to be told, she’s brought dignity and light to the women of Mt. Meigs; further, she’s urging readers to learn and listen, to not repeat the ugliness hidden in our white-washed past. This is a must-read book for anyone, timeless and worth any praise Maples may yet garner for it.

Rachel Nix is a poet in north Alabama and serves as an editor for cahoodaloodaling, Hobo Camp Review, and Screen Door Review.

Alabama Rivers: A Celebration and Challenge
by William G. Deutsch
MindBridge Press, 2018
Paperback $27.00
Genre: Nonfiction
Reviewed by Mark Kelly

Alabama is a river state. That simple statement becomes abundantly clear in showing how Alabama’s history, ancient to modern, connects our rivers to who we are and where we are going. Forces of nature and human activities have profoundly shaped our rivers, and whether or not we appreciate it, our rivers are now shaping us.

So declares author Bill Deutsch, near the beginning of the enchanting — and, to anyone who professes to love Alabama, downright essential — Alabama Rivers: A Celebration and Challenge. Retired from a long career as a teacher, aquatic ecologist and professional proponent of the economic and cultural value of Alabama’s most ubiquitous resource, Deutsch knows whereof he speaks.

In hands less intimately engaged in the subject matter and a voice less engrossingly knowledgeable, this book might have been a pedestrian recitation of facts and statistics, dressed up with a sprinkling of anecdotal garnish. But Deutsch places Alabama’s rivers in compelling context as the point of connection for every aspect of the state’s history and development, from the arrival of the first humans more than 12,000 years ago to the present day. His joyously-earned expertise, along with a deep and abiding love of his home state, infuses the book’s every sentence.

And it’s not just history. Alabama Rivers takes in the geography, geology, topography, hydrology and biodiversity of the state’s major river basins — the Alabama, Black Warrior, Cahaba, Chattahoochee, Coosa, Tallapoosa, Tennessee and Tombigbee, the Coastal Plain and the Mobile Delta — which comprise nearly five dozen rivers and well over 300 creeks, forks, prongs, branches, bayous and bogues.

Nor does Deutsch neglect the tremendous economic and cultural significance of Alabama’s rivers. People divide, water connects, he writes, culminating an overview of the role of rivers in the evolution of commercial activities, population growth, flood control and the development of hydropower, recreation and tourism and public health.

On the cultural side, Deutsch notes that “[Alabama’s] art, music, and folklore depict rivers in a variety of ways, from transporting goods to being baptized.” In the section of the book titled “Celebrating Alabama’s Rivers,” he singles out “native sons and daughters” who have distinguished themselves nationally and internationally, including civil rights icon Rosa Parks, renowned biologist and conservationist Edward O. Wilson, baseball legend Willie Mays and a host of others, from Helen Keller to Hank Williams.

Finally, Deutsch writes compellingly of the environmental and ecological challenges, both natural and manmade, affecting the present and future of the state’s waterways. Documenting the necessary interactions of government, the free market and civil society, and the positive and negative impacts of those interactions on politics and policies affecting Alabama rivers, he strongly encourages readers to become personally involved in river-related work, which he divides into the categories of awareness and education, protection and restoration, and advocacy and policy.

The economic benefits of Alabama’s rivers are growing, Deutsch asserts. The challenge is to keep rivers healthy by protecting water quality and quantity for both humans and aquatic organisms.

Ultimately, the thread that ties together the impressive breadth of subject matter in Alabama Rivers — that keeps the current of information and entertainment flowing, so to speak — is the author himself. Deutsch has a companionable style that draws the reader in and allows the writer to casually deliver facts of sometimes startling import. To wit: 

• Alabama is the most biodiverse state east of the Mississippi River, and leads the nation in the most species of fish, turtles, mussels, freshwater snails, crayfish and caddisflies.

• Up to 250,000 Native Americans may have been living in Alabama prior to the decimation of as much as 90 percent of the population by diseases — measles, smallpox, chickenpox and various forms of influenza — introduced by explorers and early settlers.

• Alabama receives the third-most annual rainfall in the continental United States.

• All seats of state government in Alabama history have been in river towns: St. Stephens (Tombigbee), Huntsville (Tennessee), Cahawba (Cahaba), Tuscaloosa (Black Warrior) and Montgomery (Alabama).

And those are just for starters. For anyone who wants to know more about Alabama, and especially for those who care about its human and natural resources, its past, present and future, Bill Deutsch’s Alabama Rivers is a treasure and a delight. 

Mark Kelly is a Birmingham-based writer whose latest book, Back to Nature: A History of Birmingham’s Ruffner Mountain, will be published early in 2019. 

Grandeur of the Everyday: The Paintings of Dale Kennington
Edited by Daniel White, et al
Trade Cloth $29.95, E-Book $29.95
Genre: Art
Reviewed by Jason Gordy Walker

In Grandeur of the Everyday, contemporary realist Dale Kennington captures transformative moments within seemingly mundane scenes, giving her audience access to the overlooked intimacies of daily living. The book covers the major works of her career and features an introduction to the artist by Daniel White, a lively interview by Kristen Miller Zohn detailing Kennington's idiosyncratic process, and an engaging essay by Rebecca Brantley discussing this American master's background, her greatest motifs, and inspirations, such as Parisian café culture and modern architecture. Kennington paints human subjects with an objective yet sympathetic eye, aiming for the accuracy of photography while simultaneously inserting her own subjectivity. Many of her works, especially those depicting one or two human subjects or an unoccupied space, recall the atmospherically lit scenes of Edward Hopper. Indeed, like Hopper, Kennington presents the mysteries of the quotidian without falling into banality, and her success relies as much on her love of local and global communities as it does on her technical prowess.

One of Kennington's best paintings, Passing Ships, presents a vision of the ideal café, one where everyone shares the same physical space despite the fact that each person is on a different path in life. The painting presents a life-affirming frame around the stories that each of these café people represent. The emotion in their faces and their postures suggests the possibility of rich inner lives. Kennington conveys a lightness in tone as she accurately paints rays of sunlight over the tops of a table, a beam, a chair. However, the artist lets the viewer decide what each café person represents; it is such fruitful ambiguity that helps Kennington persuade her viewers to finish the painting, so to speak, for her. Admirers of Passing Ships will also find similarities of theme and tone in A Little Time and Space, which considers the pleasure of privately reading while sharing space in public with a stranger.

Kennington's passion for painting public scenes reaches its zenith with Friends and Neighbors, a photorealistic piece showing the Ku Klux Klan in full uniform during the daytime. The artist's use of light is telling; the effect being that many of these terrifying racists are otherwise so-called normal people, perhaps the neighbors we greet at church on Sunday morning or the teenager who walks our dog to earn cash for the weekend. By showing with honesty the racism present in her time, Kennington directs us to consider the destructive impact that racism has had on our current version of America, forcing even the most casual viewer to feel a flurry of emotions including anger, grief, outrage, or sorrow.

In her later period, Kennington began painting with oil on large wooden panels, juxtaposing quiet architectural scenes on the verso with busy, human-filled pictures on the recto. For example, in Ritual for the Dead, the viewer experiences the foreboding silence of an empty, snowy graveyard on the verso before they are lost in the crowd of well-dressed funeral attendees on the recto. Beware of the Dog continues this ironic approach as it presents a lone black dog who seems to be immersed in the art on the wall of an upper-tier museum; meanwhile, on the other side of the frame, a large crowd mingles at the museum's entrance. The whole piece acts as a critique on art culture, suggesting with a wink that an innocent dog knows more about art than the beautiful people do.

In Grandeur of the Everyday, Kennington's major works speak for themselves. Her knowledge of place--the Deep South, as well as Europe, particularly France--informs her every creation. She produces accessible and refined art, juxtaposing interior and exterior spaces to produce myriad tones and undertones. Many of her paintings are based off of her own photographs, and any serious fan of realism ought to find something to admire in them. Her attention to anatomy is astonishing, too, as exemplified in the few nudes included in the book, not to mention the imaginative portraits scattered throughout the volume. Likewise, no detail is spared when she paints objects such as lamps, posters, tables, chairs, towels, vehicles, and so on. The state of Alabama is lucky to have Kennington as a model artist--and, with this book, her legacy is confirmed.

Jason Gordy Walker's poems and stories have been published in Measure, Confrontation, Monkeybicycle, Poetry South, Hawaii Pacific Review, Broad River Review, Town Creek Poetry, and others. Recently, he received scholarships from the West Chester Poetry Conference and Poetry by the Sea: A Global Conference.

Hard Rain: America in the 1960s, Our Decade of Hope, Possibility, and Innocence
By Frye Gaillard
NewSouth Books, 2018
$35.00 Hardcover
Genre: American Studies
Reviewed by Foster Dickson

Published in the year that constituted the fiftieth anniversary of the deaths of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy, Frye Gaillard’s Hard Rain takes a voluminous approach to the jam-packed decade that brought both men to prominence. Loaded with facts, insights, and anecdotes, which are presented in a smooth-flowing narrative style, Gaillard’s look-back at the 1960s, comprised of seventy-two chapters separate into three sections, offers readers a thick but not overwhelming mixture of the well-known and lesser-known events and people that changed America.

Considering that a gracious plenty of qualified writers, journalists, and historians have written whole books on just one aspect of this turbulent decade – one politician or one movement – Hard Rain’s prospectus is a daunting one: to cover America in the ’60s. Looking at the physical object – the book itself – before I began reading, I could see that the author had certainly tried. Also before reading, its sheer heft caused me to do what most folks would do: I flipped to the end to see how many pages this one had— the actual text ends on 625, followed by sixty more pages of end notes and index. Yet, my initial apprehension about its length was eased when I started reading and found this goal in the preface: “As future generations debate the meaning (I also seek to do some of that here), I hope to offer a sense of how it felt.” If this book were a dense, heavily cited, academic work of the same size and scope, the slog through it could have been unpleasantly slow and arduous; but that isn’t what Frye Gaillard has done here. This one, by contrast, has humanity and warmth, two qualities that augment the historical substance and allow for smoother reading.

The first of Hard Rain’s three parts is titled “Possibilities” and covers 1960 through 1963. Gaillard begins with a somewhat inauspicious name, Franklin McCain, who, along with three other student-activists, staged the first sit-in in North Carolina. It then goes from zero to sixty in a matter of moments, shifting our attention next to James Lawson and the protests in Nashville, then in chapter two to the music of Sam Cooke, Elvis Presley, and Joan Baez, and the groundbreaking book Black Like Me by John Howard Griffin. In the chapter three, John F. Kennedy comes on stage, led by a brief discussion of Lillian Smith’s Killers of the Dream. Chapter four then describes the FDA’s approval of the “the pill,” Timothy Leary’s endorsement of LSD, Barry Goldwater’s insistence on conservatism, and the Supreme Court’s ruling on desegregating interstate travel. And yet, there are fourteen more chapters in Part I—which cover such dizzyingly diverse subjects as the Freedom Rides, the Cuban Missile Crisis, the suicide by fire of Thich Quang Duc, the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church bombing, and the publication of The Feminine Mystique. Of course, the ending demarcation for this period of “possibilities” is the assassination of John F. Kennedy in Dallas, on November 22, 1963.

The second section of Hard Rain is governed by Lyndon Johnson and titled “Inspiration/Loss.” I began Part II with a deep breath, after reading the years on the title page: 1964 through 1968. Then Frye Gaillard’s words carried me through them like a panoramic guided tour. On the political front, the heart of the decade brought two distinctly different Southerners into national prominence – Texas’s Lyndon Johnson and Alabama’s George Wallace. On the musical front, the nation got Motown and The Beatles, as well as Nina Simone’s “Mississippi Goddam” and Johnny Cash’s “Ballad of Ira Hayes,” songs that Gaillard writes are “part of a musical canon in America intended to call attention to our flaws.” This was a time when the Civil Rights movement matured even further, resulting in 1964’s Freedom Summer and 1965’s Selma-to-Montgomery March, two events that foreshadowed landmark federal legislation those same years. Page by page, Gaillard introduces us to activists Fannie Lou Hamer and Allan Lowenstein, Conservative Phyllis Schlafly, author Alex Haley, martyrs Malcolm X and Jimmie Lee Jackson, evangelist Billy Graham, and communist leader Ho Chi Minh. As the narrative rolls on, Hard Rain apprises us of the complicated escalation in Vietnam, the resonance of The Sound of Music, the ascent of Robert F. Kennedy, and the emergence of Black Power. It was during these years when stark contrasts dominate, in the voices of educator Jonathon Kozol and TV personality Fred Rogers, in the imagery from the musical Hair and the film In the Heat of the Night. This middle section of the book is the most substantial and comprehensive, containing more than forty chapters, and with good reason: there’s a lot to talk about.

By the final section of Hard Rain, the narrative enters the Nixon presidency, and this shortest section of the book carries us out through the banner year: 1969. The opening chapter, titled simply, “President Nixon,” begins with his inauguration and includes this statement on the second page: “It was an ugly time in America, and the ugliest part was the war that felt like a nightmare with no end.” After nine years of protests, killings, experimentation, consequences, backlash, and war, Vietnam was raging, Black Power and feminist activists were speaking out, and the Stonewall Riots went down. There was the peace and love of Woodstock on the one hand, and the murderous lunacy of Charles Manson on the other. And who could forget the moon landing?

Though he does interject his own asides periodically throughout the book, Gaillard ends Hard Rain on a personal note, in the chapter titled “Redemption.” Here, he discusses his own journalistic work with Nashville’s Race Relations Information Center, where he volunteered to work with Native Americans. And as the main text of the book reaches its end, the author shares this, for modern readers to ponder: “History did not stop as the 1960s came to an end, nor did the great American schizophrenia, that cleavage in our national heart and soul that had come so painfully into sharper focus.”

Hard Rain articulates a great deal about the “decade of hope, possibility, and innocence lost” by framing this massive narrative within the experience of one young man who was raised as the son of judge in Mobile, attended Vanderbilt in Nashville, and became a journalist and author himself. The book’s holistic treatment does provide readers with a sense of “how it felt” to live through such an invigorating and exhausting decade. In the spirit of the Pete Seeger tune, “Turn, Turn, Turn,” which is discussed in chapter 31, there is a time for everything, and Hard Rain indicates that this must be Frye Gaillard’s time for reflection.

Foster Dickson is a writer, editor, and award-winning teacher in Montgomery, Alabama. His new book Closed Ranks: The Whitehurst Case in Post-Civil Rights Montgomery was published by NewSouth Books in 2018.

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 Ruth, 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.

Known by Salt
by Tina Mozelle Braziel
Anhinga Press, 2019
Paperback $20.00
Genre: Poetry
Reviewed by Claire Matturro

With a grace that honors her roots, yet soars beyond, Tina Mozelle Braziel has written a singularly beautiful, intelligent, and accessible collection of poems in Known by Salt (Anhinga Press 2019). It’s no wonder she won the prestigious 2017 Philip Levine Prize for Poetry for the collection.

The poems are rich with images that speak of her native South—“the bottom where I once grew collards,” “glasses of tea sweat on the blue Formica,” “black-eyed peas and okra,” and “the clothes line between hickory and house.” While many poets use everyday images, hers resonate with a wholesome crispness that refreshes, like the simplicity of William Carlos Williams’ “plums that were in the ice box.” Yet Braziel’s images—like Williams’—speak volumes about human experience and evoke themes of loss, growth, bravery, and transcendence.

Braziel’s poems excel with their vivid images, but the language also shines with powerful verbs utilized in a manner which creates something unique out of the ordinary. For example, Braziel’s “cornbread exhales its golden brown,” her “wheels bloomed with rust,” and the scent of money is “musk muddled by thousands of hands.”
In “Housekeeping, a poem reminiscent in tone and sheer beauty to James Wright’s “Lying in a Hammock at William Duffy’s Farm in Pine Island, Minnesota,” Braziel writes gloriously:

Each morning, a hummingbird

whirrs to the window to watch

the glass bloom with its likeness.

And I recognize the house is not kept

by sweeping straw across floor-planks

and rubbing rags over shelves.

I’d do better to lie in the hammock all day,

lifting a finger to the breeze

sieved through screen,

listening to the cat purr as he strolls

from corner to corner, smudging

the house with his thrum.

With a narrative flow from poem to poem, Braziel tells a story about transcending limits in which the poet goes from being a child trapped in a trailer park to a young woman building her own home. Initially, in “Beneath the Trailer,” the poet, “wearing only Underoos/and clutching a near-empty bag of Wonder Bread,” is thwarted by the underpinning of a house trailer which

… kept me out and was meant to

                        keep me from dreaming my way west,

           from circling the trailers each night.

From this trapped child, with the “trailer park chip on my shoulder” referenced in “Trash,” the poet in “All Our Things are Resurrections,” writes of reclaiming “retired telephone poles,” “old church glass,” and “tongue and groove heart-pine ceiling” in building a new home with her husband. She concludes:

All our things are everyday

calling for me to wake

like water roused to wine,

like sand rousted into glass.

Yet as moving as the home building poems are, perhaps the most powerful and poignant poem in the collection is “Tornado Sermon.” Given that Braziel grew up in Dixie Alley, an area of the Deep South prone to violent tornadoes, she probably experienced first-hand the terror of a tornado. If not, she certainly writes with a precision that speaks of a personal acquaintance with the destruction.

        For three days now we have cleared rubble,

boarded windows, carried each other so no one sits

        like Job in the ashes of what was.

We’ve searched fallen oak and briers

            for chickens, littered fields for photographs.

We’ve seen ourselves in that mirror.

            Now we’ve got to search ourselves

like we searched broken planks

              and fallen chimneys for moan and movement

for someone we might save.

Braziel’s lyrical, captivating voice will no doubt only get richer and stronger as she continues to write. Yet, the young voice she has now is so fine, lovely, true, and strong. Readers can only begin to imagine what might come next from this rising star of modern poetry.

My Exaggerated Life: Pat Conroy
As Told to Katherine Clark
University of South Carolina Press , 2018
Hardcover $29.99
Genre: Biography
Reviewed by Alan L. Samry

Pat Conroy is blunt, beyond candid, and bordering on bombastic, and if you’re a Conroy fan already, My Exaggerated Life, an oral biography told to Katherine Clark, is a deep and honest look inside the man behind the persona of some of the south’s best autobiographic fiction.

Oral biographer and Alabama’s own, Katherine Clark, conducted more than 200 hours of conversations, mostly phone calls, before Conroy died in 2016. In My Exaggerated Life, Clark has masterfully culled Conroy’s tales of surviving childhood abuse, attempted suicides, and his lack of self-esteem into a voice, that arrives through the act of writing and years of therapy, with a greater sense of self. For Conroy this was a chance to let readers know the importance of telling his story, not letting other people censor his life and stories, and to tell stories that help writers.

Surprisingly, Conroy published his own first book, The Boo, through a vanity press. Even back then he was driven to tell his story, and it also helps him learn the ins and outs of publishing for his next book. Telling his story wasn’t easy, especially early on. The only time the beatings from The Great Santini stopped was when the military called. “I loved it when dad was called overseas...Carol (sister) and I used to pray for war every year,” is how Conroy tells it.

Only someone stricken with fear, shame, and low self-worth can write, “Emotion more than thought has ruled my life, and this is how I have screwed up my life.” Somehow he casts some of that fear and shame out with each book. Despite, or because of all these forces working against him, Conroy found and developed his writing voice, and Clark’s book is his exclamation point.

From his book The Water is Wide, or from his actual life, the lines are often blurred in this oral approach, he mentions the letter to Superintendent Trammel regarding the African American students he was teaching on Daufuskie Island, South Carolina. “You told me their schools were separate but equal. It’s the biggest lie ever told in the South,” Conroy points out, later adding he was fired for, “supporting black people and liking black people.”

As for The Lords of Discipline, or in other words, his time at The Citadel, he harshly concludes, “It was institutional brutality, a complete anarchy of abuse.”

Throughout the book he peppers readers and writers not to censor their stories or to be censored by others. Don’t be afraid, he says. “Everything is working against writers fully letting themselves flower unto themselves.” In other words, be brave. Or this gem about a letter he wrote to The New York Times, “If you make it better, you’re a good editor. If you make it worse you’re a bad editor. If you take out stuff that’s important, you’re a censor.”

Conroy started out as poet, but he became a novelist and unashamedly, an author of biographical fiction, memoir, and even autofiction. Yet he remained a champion of all writing, especially the screenwriter. “I think it’s good for a writer to do a screenplay, because you learn a lot.” In Conroy’s case, he earned a lot, not just writing screenplays but selling the movie rights for The Water is Wide and The Great Santini allowed him to continue to write more novels.

Conroy, the reader learns, was impressed with Clark’s two earlier oral biographies on Mobilian Eugene Walter and Alabama midwife, Onnie Lee Logan. Clark takes the elements of Conroy’s free-flowing and revealing narratives and effectively compresses all the drama in his life, the mad, sad, funny, shameful way he led his life, so readers discover an honest, compelling life with cursing and humor, mostly the self-deprecating type.

Readers, much like this reviewer, may wonder where Clark’s Conroy recordings will end up. Mostly likely, they will be archived at the University of South Carolina, with the rest of his papers. Since listening is the new reading for many, perhaps an audio version of the “fat rhinoceros-like man” is forthcoming so everyone can share Clark’s experience of listening to the stories of a mostly southern life, as only Conroy’s inimitable voice can tell us.

Whether or not an audio version emerges, we’ve not read the last of Clark, as she’s become adept in her genre. By capturing Conroy’s stories, she’s a resurrectionist, of sorts. Of shifting from a teaching career to writing, Conroy writes, “By not teaching, I lost something from my life.” Thanks to Clark, and unbeknownst to Conroy, readers and writers can still learn a lot from one literary man’s exaggerated life.

Southern Writers on Writing
Edited by: Susan Cushman
University Press of Mississippi, 2018
Hardcover
Genre: Nonfiction Anthology
Reviewed by Donna Estill

Southern Writers on Writing, edited by Susan Cushman, addresses the ever-present question of what it means to be a writer, and more specifically, what it means to be a Southern writer. The complex relationship of writer to place is further complicated in the South by its history of racial tensions and by the ghosts of literary giants like William Faulkner, Flannery O’Connor, and Harper Lee. The twenty-six essays in this book are divided into six broad categories: “Becoming a Writer”; “Becoming a Southern Writer”; “Place, Politics, People”; “Writing About Race”; “On the Craft of Writing”; and “A Little Help from My Friends.” Writers as diverse as the South itself take readers through the familiar and the strange in the way that Southerners like best: storytelling.  The glue that holds this collection together is love, sometimes unwillingly, for the South and writing—not a wide-eyed innocent crush, but a very grown-up love that acknowledges the problems yet is still committed to the relationship.

The dual nature of the South threads through the entire anthology.  For some, like Joe Formichella in “Consider Kudzu” and Sally Palmer Thomason in “How I Became a Southerner,” it means immigrating to the South from other parts of the country and discovering a land that is very different than frequently depicted in television and news. For others, it’s the challenge of living with a personal heritage; as W. Ralph Eubanks says in “The Past Is Just Another Name for Today”: “My lived experience has taught me that turning away from one’s personal history is a way of denying yourself and your very existence...it is the way Mississippi continues to embrace its myths that troubles me, yet it is the deception and denial of history that also propels my writing.”.

Writing, like the South itself, can be a bittersweet experience. Cassandra King describes her family’s ambivalence about writing as a career even as she herself is both immersed in it and fascinated by it in “The Ghost of Josiah King.” Jennifer Horne sees writing as a separation from the world, a way to view the South that is both beautiful and challenging from the sanctity of her space in “Where I Write.” On the other hand, Corey Mesler sees writing as an entry into a world from which he is isolated in “The Agoraphobic Writer.” For Wendy Reed, in “Lyrical Acts,” writing is the ultimate aphrodisiac, while for others, it is intimidating. Editor Susan Cushman shares how a group of supportive women writers helped her overcome her insecurity about writing in “Hard Labor: The Birth of a Novelist.”  In “A Woman Explains How Learning Poetry Is Poetry and Not Magic Made Her a Poet,” Jacqueline Allen Trimble finds that poetry isn’t magic but is hard work: “Most writers are not geniuses, and most of those who appear to be have created that illusion by the steady, consistent application of enormous sweat equity.” Suzanne Hudson, writing in part as her biting alter-ego RP Saffire in “That’s What She Said: The Sordid Business of Writing,” illustrates the divide between writing and the world of publishing and marketing.

The literary heritage that provides a strong backdrop for many of the authors in the collection provides both an entry into literature and a hurdle to overcome, as Katherine Clark’s “The Burden of Southern Literature” illustrates in trying to find her voice that is not “professional Southern,” as one of her professors puts it. The source of this literary heritage is, by consensus, the storytelling culture of the South.  John M. Floyd, in “In the Land of Cotton,” credits both the problems of race and politics and the storytelling culture that allows the South to deal with its problems. In “Dirt, Death, and the Divine: The Roots of Southern Writing,” River Jordan finds the strong elements of religion and storytelling as the source of Southern literature: “Southerners draw from a well that is a mystical blend of raw earth and our peopled history. From the storytellers that bore us because all those that came before us were storytellers.” Claude Wilkinson’s “All That ‘Southern’ Jazz” also acknowledges the storytelling ability of Southerners: “Now about the South, even the boys in my community who had never heard of a creative writing class, nor who were ever promoted as far as high school for that matter, were still master storytellers in their own right.”

For all the conflict, writing is the one act that allows the South to deal with its history and present.  Lee Smith shows in “A Life in Books, from Dimestore: A Writer’s Life” that writing “gives us the chance to express what is present but mute, or unvoiced in our personalities.” Julie Cantrell’s “Southern Fiction: A Tool to Stretch the Soul and Soften the Heart” looks at the beauty and ugliness of her native Louisiana and reflects: “When reading a nonfiction account of another person’s experiences, we tend to enter that story with our defenses high. We may think to ourselves, ‘Oh, I’d never do that.’…It’s easy for us to separate the real person’s life from our own, and therefore we convince ourselves we could never end up in the trouble they’re in…[F]iction tears down those walls…we enter the story with an understanding that is no threat to us because this situation is not real…Fiction builds empathy. Fiction is the truth teller. Fiction is the peacemaker.”

Southern Writers on Writing ends with a bit of advice for those who strive to be Southern writers. Clyde Edgerton’s “Three ‘One Things’: An Essay on Writing Fiction,” identifies three specific tactics for editing: look for one single most important identifying characteristic of a character or place; keep each character in a separate paragraph when possible; and let the characters’ dialog give information rather than using exposition when possible. Niles Reddick recommends in “Capturing the Essence of Difference” exploiting differences to open up perception. And the book ends, fittingly, with the most profound advice of all, urging perseverance as one pursues a writing career, in Michael Farris Smith’s aptly titled “Keep Truckin’.”

The South’s contradictory nature may be challenging, but in the end, for these authors it’s home.  Trimble expresses it, as all good Southerners do, with a story:  “A professor once said to me, ‘Southerners don’t transplant well.’ He was right. I lived outside the South for two years and hated every minute of it…When I re-entered Alabama after that long absence, I stopped my car, got out and kissed the ground…My poetry comes out of my quarrel with myself as I grapple with the dualities of my feelings about the South, my home, my lovely, dysfunctional home—pride and shame; joy and sadness—the place from which comes both the love and rage that undergird my work.” Telling stories in the beautiful language of the South transcends the everyday ugliness and provides hope. This soft melody of Southern voices rises from the page, saying, as Sonja Livingston suggests in “Stardust: An Essay on Voice in Four Parts”: Listen. Here I am. We are together now.

Hello the House
by Rupert Fike
Snake Nation Press, 2018
Paperback $15.00
Genre: Poetry
Reviewed by Michael Blanchard

If poetry is a compass for us as readers to find our place in the world, it is necessary for the poet first to get his or her bearings in time and place. And, that is exactly what Rupert Fike undertakes to do in his newest collection, Hello the House (Snake∼Nation∼Press). The poems here are rich with memory, rumination, and images evocative of a particular place and culture. And, Fike’s imagination drifts easily and dreamily between past and present, flowing inexorably to insights gained or wisdom to share.

In highly accessible poems that are conversational in both tone and diction, Fike serves as an engaging tour guide through a region he calls home. Geographically, that land is a swath of the American South close to the Georgia/Tennessee line. Culturally, it is a world of AM-radio preachers; fried grits, grilled cheese sandwiches, and chicken cooked in bacon grease; and early-morning hunts for “rabbits, /doves, anything with a beating heart.” It is a world also where neighbors are served “a coke-cola on ice complete with tatted glass-holders.” And where family is close and death as familiar as the corpse of a “great aunt laid out/on the dining room table.”

More important than Fike’s eye for telling detail and gift for story-telling, though, is his moral/ethical compass, which guides him in staking claim to a territory all his own in this world, even if doing so lands him on the other side of the metaphorical fence from family and neighbors.

A literal fence figures in the collection’s title poem, a reminiscence about a youthful hunting trip with a hard-drinking father figure. The fence to be crossed here is a “three-strand” one of barbed wire. Symbolically, it marks a key divide in the poet’s coming of age:

He has waited too long to bring me out here.
I’m citified, beyond reclamation.
I will see the rabbit’s side of things
when it comes bounding past with great leaps.

“The Old Man. So Alone. Out in the Cold” provides another example of the poet’s moral awakening. Through memory, he feels a connection to an aging poet who struggled during the public reading of a poem against wind, cold, and glaring sun. The poet was Robert Frost; the setting, the inauguration of John F. Kennedy:

Years later I will have cataracts myself,
but that moment on the store floor was when
I first learned to feel sorry for someone.
For the old man. So alone. Out in the cold.
Who no one would help. And I felt sorry.
Mother wanted to move on, but I dug in.

“Georgia/Tennessee Line, Sunday” provides yet another example. In response to the message delivered by AM-radio preachers of the day, the poet concludes:

Even as a boy I couldn’t buy this,
though I could tell she really believed it.
Here was the first fault line I had noticed
in the great church of grown-up wisdom.
Not that I became a boy atheist,
it’s just that this was when I first knew
I’d have to figure things out all by myself.

If the 47 poems in Hello the House are a true indicator, it appears Rupert Fike has done a lot of figuring things out. And, for that, we are fortunate to have him as our guide.

Hello the House is the winner of the 2017 Violet Reed Haas Prize for Poetry. Fike’s previous collection, Lotus Buffet (Brick Road Poetry Press, 2011), earned him recognition as a finalist for the Georgia Author of the Year Award, the oldest literary prize in the southeast.

Small Crimes
by Andrea Jurjevic
Anhinga Press, 2015
Paperback $20.00
Genre: Poetry
Winner of the Philip Levine Prize for Poetry
Reviewed by Mary Jane Ryals

Even the cover photo of Small Crimes tells a story--a homunculus clinging to an unclothed woman. The homunculus is a monstrous form used to express postwar anxieties about refugees, persecution of minorities in war and the adoption of minorities into a big world.

Yet this gritty and tender collection by native Croatian Andrea Jurjevic tells an intimate and personal story of survival in a brutal war that occurred in Europe only two-plus decades ago. Named the Croatian Revolution, a million people were counted in the dead, missing, imprisoned and displaced just across the Adriatic from Italy.

Jurjevic focuses, rather than on historical facts, on how the quotidian of regular people’s lives managed to help them keep their humanity in the midst of bombs, firing squads and loss. In “Sarajevo Cycle: 1992 to 1996” the visuals tell the death toll in ironically beautiful language:

past the fast-clacks through debris, clutched loaves of bread,
more Run or RIP signs nailed to posts, the cyclist not heeding

the sickle-shape of a couple’s legs on the sidewalk, or the child in a fuchsia
duffel coat with fingers curled in the red drool under her mouth...

In the poem “Small Crimes,” in contrast, longing, tenderness, and grace through the body come to two people in a car at a roadside shrine of the black Madonna:

I’d leaned towards you behind the wheel.

You stirred, semi-vigilant as I snapped the white buttons
on your shirt, undid the equator of your belt,

ducked from the eyes of people pushing cars
filled with cured lamb, corn on Styrofoam, cellophaned rye

And as the last sprays of sunlight slid down
the hood of the sky, you shielded my black hair,

your hands familiar with churned earth,
and what it takes in the tucked back of a parking lot

to absolve a peopled afternoon of a small crime
and keep it hidden, keep it safe.

In the last section of the book, “Americana: Threshold,” the book’s final poem, “Threshold,” the narrator describes cleaning a “Strange place I resist calling home.”

The descriptions of everyday domestics are angled by the vision of someone who’s seen too much: “Four blistered black mailboxes,” “faded geraniums...like spent debutantes,” and “I try to removed time from the worn carpet, / restore something in this house...”

Yet the mere fact that survival occurs seems a miracle as the end of the poem approaches:
...I think of how right now
someplace boats are leaving their docks,

how easily they move--like the lifting
of eyelids, the sound of dawn, like breathing.

This book of poems certainly earned the 2015 Philip Levine Prize for Poetry that it won, through voice, story, detail, scrutiny, understatement and love of language.

Blue Etiquette
by Kathleen Driskell
Red Hen Press, 2016
Paperback $17.95
Genre: Poetry
Reviewed by Tina Mozelle Braziel

If you have ever smarted from a condescending boss or a dehumanizing job requirement or someone acting as if they are better than you, read Kathleen Driskell’s Blue Etiquette. Like me, you will revel in how Kathleen Driskell takes up class—a topic Americans loathe to examine—and how clearly she represents the emotional labor and social costs it exacts. As she says in “Oyster Fork” “what {she’s} after / is…/ an honest presentation— / for once— / of what it is / and what it wants.” In this well-crafted collection she does exactly that by introducing us to the service required of parlor maids, nursing home attendants, drivers, maitre d’s and others.

Driskell’s poems are georgic in how they emphasize the hard knowledge born from labor. Yet they complicate the georgic tradition by questioning the necessity of some work. For example, in “The Oak Room,” waiters are required to hold up a table cloth “curtain” around a heart-attack victim so other diners can enjoy their meals undisturbed. As Driskell leads us “down the dark tunnel of truth,” we come to realize that it is more nuanced than simply indicting the powerful. Instead, we are prompted to consider how many times we used etiquette to veil others (and ourselves) from the struggles of our fellow human-beings.

For me, the poem that hit closest to home is “Evolution.” It begins:

Aspiring to college
I set out
to evolve more quickly
than the finches
and tortoises
I’d read about and more
quickly than the coal miners
and factory workers
I’d come from

As a first generation college student, I am delighted by this surprising comparison that elevates the speaker’s position. As the poem continues, I identify with her, her work as a waitress, and why she would treat the beautiful young women dining with older men with “haughty distain.” When the poem makes its final turn, when it concedes that that these young women were also determined to evolve, I’m again surprised, shocked, in fact, into recognizing how easily I slipped into a similar elitism. This is the genius of Blue Etiquette, how it works to keep all of us honest. In time when the chasm between the haves and the have-nots seems to grow ever wider, this collection is all the more necessary.

Tina Mozelle Braziel, winner of the 2017 Philip Levine Prize for Poetry, directs the Ada Long Creative Writing Workshop for high school students at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. Her collection, Known by Salt, will be published by Anhinga Press in 2019. Her chapbook, Rooted by Thirst, was published by Porkbelly Press in 2016. She and her husband, novelist James Braziel, live and write in a glass cabin that they are building by hand on Hydrangea Ridge.

How It Is: Selected Poems
by Neil Shepard
Salmon Poetry, 2018
Genre: Poetry
Reviewed by: Claire Matturro

Reading Neil Shepard’s How It Is: Selected Poems (Salmon Poetry 2018) is akin to a meditative walk through the lush inner terrain of a man who sees and senses all too much. Vivid, evocative, and varied, the individual poems cross time lines and geographic divides to form a compelling whole. The aggregate impact shows Shepard is not only well traveled, but also fascinated by just about everything—as a great poet should be.
The poems in How It Is include works previously published in books ranging from 1993’s Scavenging the Country for a Heartbeat to Shepard’s most recent 2015 Hominid Up. Given this span, How It Is offers readers a quarter of a century of Shepard’s writings to be savored.

And savored these poems should be. Shepard is an exceptional and emphatic writer, with a sharp eye for the telling detail, a deft hand at conveying truth, and a musician’s gift for hearing the melody in words. His images and language can startle our senses and wake us to mystery, as he does in “The Bell Bird.”

I smell lemon everywhere,
lemon-air and lemon-earth and lemon-trees
and long-leafed eucalyptus. When I arrive
at the canyon’s rim and peer down a thousand
feet to the dusk-silent canopy of trees,
suddenly the Bell Bird sings,
its song almost human, a glissando
across the empty space. It wavers
on the edge of sunset, circling
along the rim or far down
in the gloom or far above
in the temperate air—it’s impossible
to tell where the song comes from.

While some reviewers have compared him to Robert Frost, perhaps because of shared geography as well as their quiet genius, Shepard stands on his own as a valued and singular voice. His rhythmic phrases and the sheer grace of his poetic acumen mark him as an American treasure. He also appears to be having fun with his words, as illustrated in the opening lines from “Oh! on an April Morning.”

Oh! on an April Morning
I’m ready to murder the flowers.
The all-night word-fest left me
in some indeterminate schwa
of sleeplessness, neither long on yawns
nor persnickety and testy,
but stunned, stoned, seemingly
systematically taken apart
by human sounds—

While the collection offers richly textured works of homage, personal insights, and social commentary as well as a poetic travel guide, Shepard truly shines in his nature poems. A Vermonter, Shepard divides his time between New York City and his native state. Yet his lush “Atchafalaya November,” set in a Louisiana swamp, is as true and vivid as if he had been born and raised a Cajun.

We quiet the motor,
loop rope around a cypress stump,
and drift in the pirogue.
Snowy egrets circle out at dawn,
widening the compass of the known,

Soon we must give in
to the butterflies, like roses pinned to darkness,
landing on your hair and mine, give in
to the small tongues and tendrils
of the world that prey on us
with such tenderness.
Then we will look North
and hear it coming,
and not be afraid.

Shepard’s poems not only traverse from Atchafalaya to Corfu and beyond, but they range from when he was “twenty, ripped jeans, rucksack, cervezas and chasers” to being “of late middle age.” The daughter that was “centered in a cradle” in “Birth Announcement” is now “singing Madonna in the shower.” Thus, in this fine collection, readers are invited to join Shepard in his journey and in the maturation of his vision. Thank you, Neil Shepard for inviting us along. It’s a great, glorious trip to take.

Out of Speech
by Adam Vines
Louisiana State University Press, 2018
Paperback: $16.95 Kindle: $9.95
Genre: Poetry
Reviewed by Barry Marks

The Dancer and the Dance:

A Review of Out of Speech by Adam Vines

It is easy to dismiss ekphrastic poetry. Long favored by middle school creative writing classes and poetry workshop challenges, it is tempting to exile the ekphrastic poem to the ignoble and ignorable province of light verse.

Then someone mentions Auden’s “Musee de Beaux Arts”, Keats’s “Ode on a Grecian Urn” or William Carlos Williams’ “Landscape with the Fall of Icarus.” We remember that in poetry, as much as any art form, the chasm between the pedestrian and the brilliant is wide but there is room for both.

At its best, an ekphrastic poem does much more than tell us about a painting. It zeroes in on what the artist was doing (perhaps unintentionally) and through that, may tell us even more about the world and ourselves than the original work alone. This often requires the poet to get very personal with the artwork.

In his artful and often surprising volume of poetry, Out of Speech, Adam Vines comes at his subjects from a variety of angles and often achieves the most we could ask of ekphrasis. In fact, these poems beg to be read on a standalone basis, without first viewing the subject works. To do otherwise might cause the reader to underappreciate the poignancy of lines like

I, too, see the pages left blank
in the books I left open
the night before.

I, too, can’t bear my foot
toeing into the light.

or the cleverness of
The buses exhaust

themselves on the curb
noses sliming
the windows like slugs

The visual art on which the poems are based ranges from the familiar (Wyeth’s Christina’s World) to the more obscure (Tanguy’s Les Vues) to the unexpected (the statue of Rocky outside the Philadelphia Spectrum). Vines’s subjects are primarily 20th Century paintings, including those by Rothko, Picasso, Rauschenberg and Warhol. These works, some of which represent the psyche rather than visual objects, lend themselves to the varied approaches he takes.

While some poems describe and interpret specific works, others use the work as a touchstone for poems that, if no painting were mentioned, would satisfy. Resort to the visual inspiration only heightens the effect, as the reader sees that Vines is giving us at once his personal interpretation and following the direction of the artist to something universal.

Still others use the reactions of viewers to delve into the meaning of the painting. “The Iconoclasts” uses the reaction of four boys at a museum to Indiana’s “American Dream #1” to amplify exactly the view of America the painter had in mind. Unimpressed with Rauschenberg’s Rebus the boys take out their frustration and boredom by pretending to “dump banana clips and drum/ magazines” into the bullseye-like icons on Indiana’s painting. The recent flood of school shootings make this poem almost unbearably timely and true.

Some of the best poems blend the personal and confessional with the subject, as when the poet describes himself as a viewer. Responding to Hopper’s evocative Cape Cod Evening, Vines begins with pure description, but places himself in the poem by simply noting “but as I move closer/he isn’t….” This brief first person interaction with both the painting and reader becomes meaningful when we see what the speaker sees on closer inspection, ending with the observation:

…She will not
talk tonight. He hasn’t
talked for years.

Mr. Vines is an assistant professor at UAB and editor of The Birmingham Poetry Review. Out of Speech is the rare work that should satisfy both the demanding academic and the avid reader of poetry. While it may not make the reader a fan of ekphrasis, it is an example of what can be done when remembering to include the viewer in what is being viewed.

Barry Marks is a Birmingham attorney, a past President of the Alabama State Poetry Society and a member of the Board of Directors of the Alabama Writers Forum.

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 Myth of Water
by Jeanie Thompson
University of Alabama Press, 2016
Paperback $19.99
Genre: Poetry
Reviewed by Melissa Dickson Jackson

With her recent collection, Jeanie Thompson has attempted something both ambitious and historic: to bring alive the interior monologues and musings of an international hero, Helen Keller.

In The Myth of Water, the complicated thoughts of an ordinary woman thrust into extraordinary circumstances amplify and resound as Thompson wrestles with her own inevitable formal challenges. How, for instance, does one wield the unique tools of poetry when one’s speaker can neither see nor hear. All the luscious skills of sound, all the descriptive and imagistic prowess of the poet at labor must be subsumed by an integrity to subject and cause. Fortunately for Thompson, Keller, with her remarkable capacity to shape language, often operates as a co-creator through her letters, journals, and published works that sometimes serve as found poems or found lines, and more often give Thompson unique insight to Keller’s private voice.
Indeed, readers find here a Helen Keller who is not whole, crystallized and enrobed in the cultural myth that glorifies and, perhaps, diminishes her, but one who is broken by a keen self-awareness, tragic losses, loneliness, doubt, and fear. Thompson’s splendid chronicle of Keller’s life brings the mythic Alabama native down to earth while reminding readers that her journey was even more complicated and angst-ridden then they might have realized.

Thompson’s exemplary research and commitment to a poetic but fact-based narrative frame the document. She begins with a brief essay describing the project and then laboriously cites the facts and events of Keller’s life with a seven-page detailed chronology. Readers are frequently reminded that the poems emerge from a life closely studied as Thompson also includes notes at the bottom of several poems documenting and explaining the poems’ origin stories. Thompson has made every effort to put Keller first with a reverential and respectful thoroughness that sometimes threatens to interrupt the narrative and poetic flow. It is a sacrifice that readers are compelled to respect.

While imagined and fictionalized, the poems strive to create a genuine presence reflective of Keller. Just as the speaker in “Prologue” determines not to “overtax [her] listeners,” Thompson seems determined not to over-poeticize her subject. The voice of Keller remains pragmatic, sensible, compassionate, and careful. She knows doubt, but it’s not simply the existential doubt of navel-gazing elites. It’s also the doubt that speaks to a fear of failure to serve, failure to communicate, or failure to fulfill one’s essential mission. And there is also a yearning to find liberation from the bonds of her disabilities, her gender, her era, her earthliness. In “At Wrentham,” the speaker bemoans a world that “scatters like leaves/torn by storm from the trees” but “believe[s] a woman could be free at Wrentham.” Just as Keller emerges from the chaos of her early silence, Thompson’s speaker emerges from the chaos of her body’s betrayal, from the desolation of a lover’s abandonment, and from the recurring motif of mortality.

It is, however, the death of Anne Sullivan Macy that most grieves Thompson’s Keller. In “First Entry, After Midnight,” the speaker confesses a “sorrow” that “cannot be/ shaped into a metaphor as [she] tries cheating sharp grief.” By the end of the poem “[w]ords crumble into chaotic sticks. That place before a word taught” Keller “to know” Sullivan, and through Sullivan to know a world she loved deeply and people she internalized through her own fingertips and theirs. Sullivan is not simply her mentor and teacher but the figure that brought language, meaning, knowledge, and humanity to a child who had only known an inner primal silence before Sullivan’s diligent attentions. In the poems that follow, readers find an emergent Keller essaying into the world with her own words “explod[ing]/like river birds.”

If Thompson’s task was to “give a sense of Keller’s simple humanity and great heart,” as she states in the introduction, she’s overshot the mark with a document that serves to re-examine the life of an extraordinary person while creatively expanding the miraculous and globally influential persona of Helen Keller. Thompson’s poems never overtake Keller, but respectfully underscore and elevate the humanity of a woman too-often lost in myth.

Melissa Dickson is a poet and mother of four. Her work has appeared in Shenandoah, North American Review, Southern Humanities Review, Literary Mama, and Southern Women's Review. She holds an MFA in Visual Arts from SVA and an MFA in poetry from Converse College and teaches at the University of West Georgia.

American Happiness
by Jacqueline Trimble
New South Books, 2016
Paperback $21.94, Kindle Edition $9.99
Genre: Poetry
Reviewed by Foster Dickson

The experience of Jacqueline Allen Trimble’s recent poetry collection, American Happiness, begins not with the poems, nor with the prose preface, not even with the table of contents. It begins with that bright yellow cover, headed by its handwriting-font scrawl of the title and below its elementary-style graphics that mimic cut-outs: on a gingham tablecloth, we have a red flowerpot supporting a black plant with a large black bloom whose blue interior petals show the author in various stages of youth. However, I got the sense, the first time I saw it, that the stark and unsmiling little girl in the flower’s yellow center was the one I was not to ignore.

And it is that stoic-looking who we first meet, in Trimble’s preface: “How My Mother Taught Me to Write Poems.” In it, Trimble describes how her mother, “who was actually [her] stepmother,” raised her in the late 1960s with a strong sense of both civil rights and irony— both of which appear as running themes in the collection. By juxtaposing social justice with sarcasm, Trimble makes her point that the idea of happiness, that much sought-after ephemera, might have as many definitions as there are people who seek it.

American Happiness is divided into three sections of relatively equal length, with twelve, ten, and twelve poems, respectively, making for a slim volume to hold in one’s hands. Ironically, we begin with “Closure,” whose opening poem, “Everybody in America Hate the South,” declares to us the poet’s comprehension of the complex scenario in our native region, while also making sure that we understand her sense of humor about the whole thing, by juxtaposing the “ghosts of lunched boys” with “crazy Aunt Hazel who runs naked / through a house full of company shouting / all the foolish things we think but can’t say.” The section continues with equal dimension, reminiscing on the death of her father and the passing of time, while also wondering out loud about our abilities and inabilities in “Did Jean Paul Sartre Ever Ask Simone de Beauvoir to Go to the Winn Dixie?” Trimble navigates the surly world of “Church Women” and deciphers the difficult emotions in an enigmatic image in “Family Photograph: A Conjugation.”

In section two, “The Geography of Passion,” the tone . . . shifts slightly, not into light-ness but perhaps further into humor, further into the longest-known realities of life, further into what we seek by going further into what we struggle against. (After all, the word from which we derive our English word passion means “to suffer.”) Here, we start with Cinderella entering a third, comfortable marriage and soon we glimpse Ingmar Bergman in Cleveland, Ohio. Following those culturally rich, allusive poems are more, as in “So Much That Fascinates Is the Blood,” in which the fate of Julius Caesar is likened to that of the here-nameless Michael Donald, a 1981 lynching victim in Mobile, Alabama. Trimble reaches into our human geography, into those spiritual places that we only dare to finger gingerly. In the Langston Hughes-like rumination, “A Woman Explains the World to Her Children,” she writes:
The world does not owe you
indigo, the quiet charm
of purple love. Lie down and see.
Manna will not fall
to fill your anxious bellow.
and ends with: “Go on and sing while you’re at it. / Might as well.”

In the final section, Jacqueline Allen Trimble addresses present and recent past. We recognize the subjects these sometimes-long titles, which reference the Klan and Selma, No Child Left Behind, even Barbie. Here, Trimble shows us to ourselves, and it is impossible to be pleased or flattered. With a wry sense of humor, the poet’s deft sense of nuance and irony puts together a jagged portrait of “American Happiness,” using media clips, modern slang, and current events as her raw materials. We see the mistreatment of African Americans and of women then and now, and we survey the cultural significance of oft-played imagery that has resulted in the racial profiling of young black men, a gas-station shooting prompted by loud music, the violent abuse of black students in schools, and re-imagined Barbie dolls too buxom for their packaging. These poems drop the pretense of politeness and say what is necessary to say.

The lack of heft in the physical book, American Happiness, may belie its depth of content. As with all good poetry, what is held within it supersedes the physical object. Jacqueline Allen Trimble’s book is well worth the time it takes to engage the poems in side. I read once that “travel is the only thing you buy that makes you richer.” I disagree. Poems like Trimble’s do that, too.

Foster Dickson is a writer, editor, and teacher who lives in Montgomery, Alabama. Foster’s work has centered mainly on subjects related to the American South, the arts & humanities, education, and social justice. His most recent book, Children of the Changing South, was published by McFarland & Co. in 2011. This edited collection (with Foster’s introduction) contains memoirs by eighteen writers and historians who grew up in the South during and after the civil rights movement. The Alabama Writers Forum’s review of the book stated, “Besides being a great read, this collection provides a valuable new perspective on Southern history. ”His book about the Whitehurst Case, a police-shooting controversy in Montgomery, Alabama in the mid-1970s, is forthcoming from NewSouth Books in the summer of 2018.

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

Meteor Shower
by Anne Whitehouse, 2016
Dos Madres Press, 2016

$17, Paper
Genre: Poetry
Reviewed by John Vanderslice

For several years now, through a series of thoughtful and quietly beautiful books, Anne Whitehouse has proven herself to be among the most astute and substantial poets working in the United States. It is difficult to think of another writer who is able to combine delicate, pitch-perfect lyricism with such urgent personal material. Whitehouse’s talents and her gentle wisdom are on full display in her latest collection Meteor Shower, a book that may be her most personal yet—and her most affecting.

Throughout Meteor Shower, Anne Whitehouse proves herself to be that rare poet who is unafraid to be emotionally straightforward, who eschews the glitter of fashionable wordplay for something far more necessary and more lasting: a connection to herself and to the reader. It is as if, in her later years, Whitehouse does not feel she has time to resort to the kind of opaque gimmickry of which younger poets have long been fond. Her material is far too pressing for that. And she wants too badly to do justice to that material. By no means does this result in a poetry that does not sparkle on the page. Whitehouse’s poetry not only sparkles but it illuminates; and not only does it illuminate but it evokes wonder. It is difficult to count the number of lines in this book that will bring a reader to a dead, whispery stop, repeating the lines to himself, relishing their power and their turns of phrase.

In the book’s opening section, Whitehouse revisits herself at younger periods in her life; demonstrating not so much skepticism as fascination and profound acceptance. Indeed, often what she emphasizes is how much of the past is not even past—to paraphrase Faulkner—but eternal. In the title poem of the section she says, with appreciation and even awe,

I was a girl who fell in love with an island.
Each time I’ve left here,
something of that quiet, introspective girl
has lingered behind and never left.
On visits when I come across her
she has never gotten any older.

This slurring of past and present is apparent in other poems too, notably “An Afternoon Nap,” which starts as a harmless rendition of the writer sliding into sleep while vacationing by the sea. Unexpectedly she hears a voice calling out “Mama,” directly to her, “through the green summer, / “across the long years.” Instantaneously, she is thrown upon her life’s history as a mother, its struggles and its delights. The poem finally resolves with the confidence that, however fraught an experience motherhood might have been for her, the speaker can move on now, content that she did her best. The last lines ring with an unavoidable double meaning.

In contentment I lay, not wanting to rouse,
in delicious reverie, as if drunk from lovemaking,
languorous and mellow, ready for the fall.

In other sections, Whitehouse reveals that her past does not always, or even usually, bring to mind sensations of sweetness. Indeed, she suggests a variety of extended traumas: the failure of a friend's marriage, and the charged atmosphere of her childhood home, one ruled by an embittered, isolated father. At the end of the poem “A Backward Glance,” in which the speaker has been reviewing old family photographs, she admits that she finds the photographs not reassuring but frankly misleading:

In these captured moments
everyone is always smiling,
and yet I want to weep
for what will happen to us,
for what has happened already.

And yet, the clear project of the book for Whitehouse is the working through of exactly all that “has happened,” the admitting to it all, both good and bad, and in the process to relieve herself and us of the burden of that past, neutralizing its sting. As she urges in “Delete, Delete”:

Delete the urge to suffer
that twisted me in knots,
delete the need to be right,
to have the last word,
to have my own way.
Knowing that I cannot choose
the way my life will end.

Readers will be comforted to know that Meteor Shower ends with the assertion that the struggles of her past have done Whitehouse and the world and her poetry good. Similarly, it can only do a reader good to pick up this eloquent and nourishing book, to read it slowly, to appreciate its wisdom, and to linger over its delicious lines.

John Vanderslice teaches in the MFA program at the University of Central Arkansas. His historical novel The Last Days of Oscar Wilde is forthcoming in 2018 from Burlesque Press.

by Brad Watson
W. W. Norton, 2016
$25.95, Hardcover
Genre: Fiction
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

Awakening to Holes in the Arc of Sun
by Carey Link
Mule on a Ferris Wheel Press, 2016
$14, Paper
Genre: Poetry
Reviewed by Harry Moore

A Fairer House Than Prose

I dwell in Possibility—
a fairer House than Prose
—.

—Emily Dickinson

The thirty-eight free-verse lyrics of Carey Link’s Awakening to Holes in the Arc of Sun probe a world of ambiguity, tension, struggle, and pervasive beauty. Beyond all else, the poems affirm and celebrate the transforming power of poetic imagination. Read the complete review

By Lee Smith
Algonquin, 2016
$24.95, Hardcover

Nonfiction/Memoir

Reviewed by Anita Miller Garner

Lee Smith published her first novel The Last Day the Dogbushes Bloomed forty-seven years ago. Since, she has published thirteen novels—more than one making the NYT bestsellers list—and four collections of short fiction. The fifteen concise, artful essays in Dimestore are her first book-length collection of nonfiction, and the glimpses they give us into her life, the writing process, and the American South are in turn artful and funny, poignant and prophetic. Read the complete review

By Willie G. Moseley

The Nautilus Publishing Company, 2015

$19.95, Paper

Reviewed by Ed Reynolds

Nonfiction

Willie G. Moseley, senior writer for Vintage Guitar Magazine, has recently written an excellent history of Peavey guitars. In Peavey Guitars: The Authorized American History, Moseley presents guitar aficionados with a detailed study of the evolution of the Peavey Electronics Corporation, focusing primarily on the company’s line of guitars and bass instruments. With a background working in his father’s music store in Meridian, Mississippi, in the 1950s (his father did not like electric guitars, instead preferring acoustic instruments) and playing guitar in local combos, Hartley Peavey began his company with an $8,000 loan from his dad after graduating from Mississippi State with a business degree in 1965. Peavey earlier attended Ross Collins Vocational School before entering seventh grade, receiving an age-waiver because his great-uncle—the fellow who invented hydraulic lifts for automobiles though failing to get it patented, thus missing out on a fortune—was an instructor. The kid studied mechanical drawing, radio repair, and how to operate milling machines and lathes. Read the complete review

By Lauren Goodwin Slaughter, 2015
The National Poetry Review Press, 2015
$17.95, Paper

Poetry

Reviewed by Tina Mozelle Braziel

Reading Lauren Goodwin Slaughter’s a lesson in smallness reminds me of Jane Hirshfield’s statement about poetry: “…true poems, like true love, undo us, and un-island. Contrary, sensual, subversive, they elude our customary allegiance to surface reality, purpose, and will.” The poetry in this lovely debut collection are true poems of this sort. They immerse the reader in stunning water imagery and thrill her with peeks (three poems!) inside the life of the Barefoot Contessa. More significantly, this collection raises essential questions about the nature of our personal lives: Who are we within them? How do we reconcile our expectations for our lives with what we find to be our reality? It is the examination of these questions that reveal Slaughter’s poems to be as emotionally astute as they are beautifully crafted. Read the complete review

By Monte Burke, 2015
Simon & Schuster, 2015
$27, Hardcover
Reviewed by Don Noble

Nonfiction

There is a good case to be made for not writing biographies until the subject is dead. Feelings are inevitably hurt. The subject’s family and friends may learn things they don’t need to know. Coach Nick Saban may not like being the subject of this book, but the question most asked about Saban is “What is he really like and how did he get that way?’’ and Monte Burke’s book makes the best attempt yet to answer the question and in a pretty responsible way. Saban did not authorize this book and sit for hours of interviews, but neither, it seems, did he actively try to squelch it. Read the complete review

by TJ Beitelman
Black Lawrence Press, 2015
$13.95, Paper

Poetry

Reviewed by Jim Murphy

“Why do I love such a city / as this?” asks the observant and bemused speaker of TJ Beitelman’s “Why I Love a City” from the Birmingham author’s just-published second book of poems, Americana. The thought continues: “Do mosquitoes have thumbs? They / should. Where is Carl Sandburg when you / need him? Who are my hog butchers?” Here, and in so many ingenious and surprising places in the volume, Beitelman carefully observes and good-naturedly questions the dreams and realities of Americans and their lore, mindfully engaging all the earnestness and kitsch of the culture in the best traditions of America’s great city poets. Walt Whitman, Frank O’Hara, Elizabeth Bishop, Kenneth Koch—and of course, Carl Sandburg—are all present here one way or another, and their collective influence is put to fine use in conversation with Beitelman’s own distinct, contemporary voice. 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 Gin Phillips
The Penguin Press, Dial Books for Young Readers, 2015
$16.99, Paper; $10.99 eBook

Young Adult

Reviewed by Don Noble

Birmingham writer Kerry Madden is fond of saying, in fiction for young people the writer should run her protagonist up a tree and then throw rocks at her. One assumes none of these rocks will hit her in the head and kill her. Gin Phillips follows this pattern. Her heroine, the eleven-year-old Olivia, has just moved with her mom from their home in Charleston, South Carolina, to downtown Birmingham where they moved in with Gram in her condo. Read the complete review

By Watt Key;
Illustrations by Kelan Mercer
The University of Alabama Press, 2015
$29.95, Hardcover; $20.65 eBook

Nonfiction

Reviewed by Don Noble

Among the Swamp People is a combination of memoir, nature writing and personal essay. Key, raised in Point Clear on Mobile Bay, writes of his nearly life-long fascination with the Mobile-Tensaw Delta at the north end of the bay. This is the Lower Delta, not to be confused with the Upper Delta. The Upper, he tells us, has more high ground and taller trees. The Lower is swamp. If you are thrown from your boat, or capsize—and you might as there are numerous stumps, submerged logs, and boats with no lights—or are lost overnight, “it will be almost impossible not to come across an alligator or, worst of all, a cottonmouth…cottonmouths are aggressive and extremely poisonous snakes. There are thousands of them….” 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 Monique Laney
Yale University Press, 2015
$35, Hardcover; eBook, $16.99

Nonfiction

Reviewed by Don Noble

German Rocketeers was published by Yale University Press. Monique Laney, raised in Tuscaloosa and Germany, is now an assistant professor of history at Auburn and this book was her PhD dissertation at the University of Kansas, but do not be afraid. This book is accessible, clearly written with an easily forgivable amount of jargon, and should be of considerable interest to citizens of Alabama. Read the complete review

By Steve Flowers
NewSouth Books, 2015
$29.95, Hardcover; $9.99 eBook

Nonfiction

Reviewed by Don Noble

There can be few Alabamians better situated to write this book than Steve Flowers. In this political memoir Flowers devotes chapters to the major figures of Alabama politics—elected officials such as Wallace, Folsom, Richard Shelby and powerful forces such as Paul Hubbard and Judge Frank Johnson Jr. —and sketches the story of his own life in politics. Read the complete review

By Wade H. Hall
NewSouth Books, 2015
$12.95, Paper; $9.99, eBook

Nonfiction

Reviewed by Don Noble

“The Shortest Book in the World” is a venerable genre: Career Management by Charlie Sheen; Secrets to a Successful Marriage by Tiger Woods.

At eighty-nine pages, Wade Hall’s study of Southern Civil War humor is definitely in this category. Considering that the war was a four-year bloodbath with, sometimes, tens of thousands dying on the same day, it may even be an oxymoron. It wasn’t a naturally funny subject. But there was, of course, humor, and veteran commentator Wade Hall, way back in a section of his doctoral dissertation in 1961, had found and classified that humor and explained its uses for Southern soldiers, civilians on the home front, even the African-American slaves left behind. Now, for the Sesquicentennial, NewSouth has made this available. Read the complete review

By James Miller Robinson
Mule on a Ferris Wheel Press, 2014
$14, Paper

Poetry

Reviewed by Harry Moore

The speaker in James Miller Robinson’s chapbook The Caterpillars at Saint Bernard is on a quest. From the naïve hitchhiker in the first poem, who hears as he is stranded on the roadside “the distinguishable voice / of [his] own particular life / whispering its promises / murmuring its warnings,” to the seasoned pilgrim in the last poem bringing home an entire monastery on his back, the poet is looking for something. Read the complete review

By Floyd McGowin
NewSouth Books, 2015
Price: $27.95, Paper; $9.99 eBook

Nonfiction

Reviewed by Don Noble

Floyd McGowin, of the Chapman, Alabama, McGowins, the owners of the W.T. Smith Lumber Company, was born in 1931 and died in 2010, but this memoir takes his story basically up to 1966. At that time, the W.T. Smith Company was sold and McGowin started the Rocky Creek Logging Company and ran it for forty-two years, covered here in an epilogue of only six pages. The Forest and the Trees is the story of his life, but it is also a social history of the times, including race and class relations, a corporate history, and an informed, extensive commentary on developments in private aviation. 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 William Cobb
The University of Alabama Press, 2015
$34.94, Hardcover; $34.95 eBook

Nonfiction

Reviewed by Kirk Curnutt

William Cobb’s memoir, Captain Billy’s Troopers, begins with a scene common to many of these narratives. It is July 21, 1984, and the author has hit rock bottom. Knowing he may die if he doesn’t get help, he desperately seeks admittance to Brookwood Hospital in Birmingham, dreading the withdrawal symptoms but also terrified of coping with life’s inevitable disappointments without Scotch to blot the depression. “A drunk grows old alone and dies alone,” Cobb writes, “all alone, because all he wants is his booze and his booze seals him off from everything he values and loves.” In many ways, Captain Billy’s Troopers is the author’s way of reaching out from the abyss of the false romance of the drinking life to understand how alcohol went from a diversion to something that threatened his marriage to fellow writer Loretta Cobb (the couple recently celebrated their fiftieth anniversary) and his relationship with his beautiful daughter, Meredith. 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 Andrew Glaze
NewSouth Books, 2015
$21.95, Paper

Poetry

Reviewed by Barry S. Marks

Can you blame me for approaching Andrew Glaze’s Overheard in a Drugstore: And Other Poems with a sense of trepidation? The latest book by Alabama’s 95-year-old Alabama Poet Laureate opens with a copy of a 1956 letter from no less than Robert Frost and a photograph of Glaze, Frost, Wallace Stegner, and others at the 1946 Bread Loaf Writers Conference.

As if that is not daunting enough, the first poem, “Mr. Frost,” recounts a meeting between the Great Poet and a 100-year-old man ruminating on the meaning of life and the value of whiskey. Read the complete review

By Janice Law
Eakin Press, 2015
$19.95, Paper

Nonfiction

Reviewed by Ashley Justice

Janice Law’s expert penning of American Evita: Lurleen Wallace is a unique look at two women, distanced in both time and geography. Law points out common threads in the lives of Eva Duarte, Argentinean radio actress turned politician and philanthropist, and Lurleen Burroughs Burns Wallace, dime-store clerk turned governor of Alabama.

Read the complete review

By S. McEachin Otts; Foreword by Frye Gaillard
NewSouth Books
$23.95, Paper

Nonfiction

Reviewed by Norman McMillan

The central event of S. McEachin (Mac) Otts’s Better than Them: The Unmaking of an Alabama Racist is a voting rights march to the Hale County Courthouse in Greensboro on July 16, 1965. The march received some coverage, even by the national press, but, after the massive national attention to events in Selma four months earlier, very few people seem to have paid much attention to the Greensboro march. And yet for some people, this march had a far greater direct impact than did the events in Selma. 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 Frye Gaillard
NewSouth Books, 2015
$23.95, Hardcover

Nonfiction

Reviewed by Michael Thomason

“The past is never dead, it’s not even past” William Faulkner

The familiar quote is at the heart of this book. In the South the past lives on in so many ways and is remembered in just as many different ways. The American Civil War is the lynchpin of the region’s history and self-image and its memory runs like a river through the century and a half since it ended in the Spring of 1865. Americans from other parts of this nation often wonder why its memory is so alive here. Historians have written countless books about every aspect of the conflict, but we still struggle to understand it. What did the War mean, after all? Of course there is no single answer to this question, but Journey to the Wilderness offers a thoughtful and compelling response. It is not a big book, but once read its message is impossible to forget.

Read the complete review

By Herbert James Lewis
The History Press, 2014
$19.99, Paper

Nonfiction

Reviewed by Don Noble

Montgomery, chosen over competing bids from Tuscaloosa, Wetumpka, Mobile, Marion, Statesville, Selma and Huntsville, has been the state capital since 1846, indeed was the capital of the Confederacy for three months in 1861 before that was moved to Richmond, but it was not always so. Montgomery is our fifth capital; the other four “lost” capitals are the subject of Lewis’ brief, informative book.

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 Dan Albergotti
Southern Illinois University Press, 2014
$15.95, Paper; $15.95, eBook

Poetry

Reviewed by Mark Dawson

It is easy to see why Dan Albergotti’s 45-poem book, Millennial Teeth, won the 2013 Crab Orchard Series in Poetry, selected by final judge Rodney Jones.
These poems are ambitious, and broad in theme, and a tour de force in form. In a time when some poetry books are based on delicate epiphanies (or "epuffanies" in some cases), Albergotti’s voice is direct as he explores both inner and outer themes.

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 Marian Lewis
University of Alabama Press, 2015
$39.95, Hardcover

Nonfiction

Reviewed by Dr. Sue Brannan Walker

Meet Marian Lewis. Think “sanctuary”: And thank you Marian Lewis! "Sanctuary" is not a word we hear much anymore—not before toast and tea on an ordinary April morning after a week of rain. Perhaps we do not believe that there is such a place—a sanctuary—in our too busy, often too-frenzied world of meetings, assorted appointments, and daily to-do lists: call the Critter Getters; there’s a coon in the attic. But wait! Stop! "Sanctuary" is a word synonymous with "Marian Lewis" – who has just written a gorgeous book titled Southern Sanctuary: A Naturalist’s Walk Through the Seasons published in 2015 by the University of Alabama Press. The walk begins in April—but here we are—or rather, here I am at my computer—and I haven’t yet had my cup of tea.

Read the complete review

By Kim Cross; Foreword by Rick Bragg
Atria Books, 2015
$25.00, Hardcover

Nonfiction

Reviewed by Don Noble

After taking the BA and the MA in journalism at the U of A, Kim Cross honed her skills working as editor-at-large at Southern Living and writing articles for outdoor and sport magazines such as Bicycling and Runner’s World and several newspapers, including USA Today. What Stands in a Storm is her first book, released March 10th, and it has every chance of being a best seller.

Read the complete review

By William J. "Bill" Plott
McFarland and Company, 2015
$39.95, Paper

Nonfiction

Reviewed by William "Bill" Cobb

This immensely entertaining book fills a void in the story of American baseball. The Negro Southern League was a minor league feeding into the Negro American League and the Negro National League, two “major” African-American leagues that have received—especially in recent years—due documentation, as they provided a richly talented group of players to the Major Leagues after Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in 1947. Read the complete review

By Michael Patton and Kevin Cannon
Hill and Wang/Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2015
$17.95, Paper

Nonfiction

Reviewed by Lindsay Hodgens

Formerly regarded as childish and borderline dangerous, comics have undergone a rehabilitation of sorts. Texts such as Art Spiegelman's Maus and Alison Bechdel's Fun Home have made their way into classrooms, where they are taught alongside traditional prose narratives. Even so, the majority of textbooks are dominated by prose, including only the images that are absolutely necessary to illustrate concepts. Although graphic narrative is gradually being recognized as a medium capable of producing mature, serious work, prose is still the go-to means of communicating information. With that in mind, Michael Patton and Kevin Cannon's book The Cartoon Introduction to Philosophy is something of an oddity. 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 Rick Bragg
HarperCollins Publishers, 2014
$27.99, Hardcover

Nonfiction

Reviewed by
Don Noble

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

By Jesmyn Ward
Bloomsbury, 2014
$26, Hardcover

Nonfiction

Reviewed by Don Noble

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

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

Nonfiction

Reviewed by Don Noble

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

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

Poetry

Reviewed by Penne J. Laubenthal

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

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

Nonfiction

Reviewed by Irene Wong

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

By Allen Berry
Aldrich Press, 2014
$14, Paper

Poetry

Reviewed by Jennifer Horne

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

By Frye Gaillard
and Kathryn Scheldt
Solomon & George, 2012
Paper, $19.95

Nonfiction

Reviewed by Edward Reynolds

Alabama lays claim to an amazing array of musical talent, from the “Father of the Blues,” W. C. Handy, to premier country music icon Hank Williams Sr. In Frye Gaillard and Kathryn Scheldt’s The Quilt and the Poetry of Alabama Music, stories of the rich and famous are shared alongside those of songwriters and musicians who never saw their names in lights. Regardless, the state’s obscure musical talent proudly carries on the beloved tradition of songwriting as brilliantly as that of the stars who inspired them. Read the complete review

By Hank Lazer
Little Red Leaves, Textile Series, 2014
$10, Paper, textile art book, designed and sewn by Dawn Pendergast with artwork by Marilyn MacGregor

Poetry

Reviewed by Carey Scott Wilkerson

Hank Lazer’s new book, N24, continues his fascinating investigation into the relationship between poetry and philosophy. By turns—puzzling and revelatory, now contemplative, now celebratory—this slender volume is both a disciplined re-reading of Merleau-Ponty’s core texts and a visionary re-enchantment of the written page itself. Read the complete review

By Davis Raines
CD Baby, 2014
$9.99, Compact Disk

Music

Reviewed by Katie Jackson

How in the world does one write well about an exceptional piece of writing?

That was the dilemma faced by Davis Raines and Frye Gaillard when they agreed to pen a song about the book To Kill a Mockingbird. It was also the quandary I faced when trying to write a review of Mockingbird, the album that song inspired. 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 Marja Mills
The Penguin Press, 2014
$27.95 Hardcover

Nonfiction

Reviewed by Nancy Grisham Anderson

In a June [2014] issue of The New York Times Book Review, two writers for the Bookends section respond to the question “When we read fiction, how relevant is the author’s biography?” This question has been asked about Harper Lee, the author of To Kill a Mockingbird, since the author withdrew from public view within a few years of the release of her novel in July of 1960. Several biographies in recent years, a number of them for young readers, have been published without the approval or involvement of the author herself.

Now The Mockingbird Next Door: Life with Harper Lee by Marja Mills, identified as “a memoir,” is an effort to fill some of the voids left by the earlier biographies. Read the complete review

By Jim Murphy
NegativeCapability Press, 2014
$15.95, Paper
Poetry
Reviewed by Jennifer Horne

University of Montevallo English professor Jim Murphy’s third collection of poetry takes its title from the first poem in the book, “The Uniform House of Dixie,” which sounds like a Walker Evans photograph and presents images congruent with Evans’ work. 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 Irene Latham
Blue Rooster Press, 2014
$14.95, Paper
Poetry

Reviewed by Foster Dickson

Irene Latham’s slim new poetry collection, The Sky Between Us, caught my attention with its title. Latham, an award-winning poet and young-adult novelist, throws the browsing reader a poetic curveball: the sky is above us, not between us. She is inviting us to open it and read. 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 Kathryn Tucker Windham and Margaret Gillis Figh, with a new Afterword by Dilsy Windham Hilley and Ben Windham
The University of Alabama Press, 2014
$29.95, Hardcover

Reviewed by Don Noble

In 1964 The Strode Publishers of Huntsville, Alabama, released Treasured Alabama Recipes by Kathryn Tucker Windham. A great success, the book’s recipes were accompanied by stories that caught the public imagination. Strode was eager to have another book by Windham, stories this time, no recipes needed. She chose to write up ghost stories from around Alabama. 13 Alabama Ghosts was a hit, too, Read the complete review

By Todd Keith
Trafalgar Square Publishing, 2014
Price: $19.95, Hardcover

Nonfiction

Reviewed by Don Noble

Todd Keith, the author of Insider’s Guide to Birmingham, has collected dozens of photographs, the earliest of which seem to be about 1905, and, restricting himself to the old city limits and early suburbs, matched them up with contemporary shots of the same church, office building, street, park, athletic field, or monument. The photos, combined with brief commentaries, make for a pleasing visual trip through Birmingham’s architectural past. Read the complete review

By Philip D. Beidler
The University of Alabama Press, 2014
$34.95, Hardcover

Nonfiction

Reviewed by Don Noble

Over a long career, Phil Beidler has written analyses of early American and Alabama literature, sweeping commentaries of the literature of World War II and Vietnam, a number of powerful personal essays based on his experiences as a lieutenant in Vietnam and, most lately, in American Wars, American Peace (2007), savage, outraged appraisals of American political leadership and foreign policy. To all this he brings considerable skill as a cultural critic, usually of the U.S. But here the subject is Cuba. Read the complete review

By Carla Jean Whitley
The History Press, 2014
$19.99, Paper

Nonfiction

Reviewed by Don Noble

Through fresh interviews with musicians and considerable research online and in newspaper files, Carla Jean Whitley has generated this compact history. Admittedly most appealing to aficionados, this book will teach any reader a good deal about a section of Alabama often overlooked. Read the complete review

By Kelly Kazek & Wil Elrick
The History Press, 2014
$19.99; Paper

Nonfiction

Reviewed by Don Noble

Alabama Scoundrels is a short book, 122 pages, of brief sketches of twenty-two Alabama miscreants. Most of the scoundrels of the title are criminals, usually killers of some type and usually nineteenth century, although a few go back further, to before statehood in 1819, when Alabama was part of the Mississippi Territory. READ MORE…

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 Faye Gibbons
NewSouth Books, 2014
$21.95, Hardcover

Young Adult Fiction

Reviewed by Don Noble

Faye Gibbons is an old pro at children’s and Young Adult writing. An Auburn graduate and author of more than a dozen books, she won the Georgia Author of the Year award in 1983 for Some Glad Morning and the Alabama Author Award, given by the Alabama Library Association, for Night in the Barn in 1998. Although she lives in Alabama now, Gibbons was raised in the hills of northwest Georgia and sets most of her fiction there. Her characters are generally rural and poor, struggling to get by but holding together, only by virtue of family, sharing, love, church, neighbors. READ MORE…

By Kevin Waltman
Cinco Puntos Press, 2013
$16.95, Hardcover; $11.95, Paper

Young Adult Fiction

Reviewed by Don Noble

Sports fans know that what football is to Alabama culture, basketball is to Indiana culture: passion, obsession, madness, religion. The young adult novelist Kevin Waltman grew up in Indiana, played high school basketball and attended Depauw University. Waltman, now an Alabamian, took the MFA in creative writing at the University of Alabama, and stayed on to teach in the English Department. In Next, Waltman’s third novel, he has created a more accurate picture of Hoosier basketball and done so with considerable elegance and authority and without stereotypes. READ MORE…

By Mike Mahan
with Norman McMillan
NewSouth Books in Cooperation with The Cahaba Trace Commission, 2014
$27.95, Hardcover

Nonfiction

Reviewed by Danny Gamble

Complete disclosure: A Montevallo resident, this reviewer is acquainted with both Dr. Mike Mahan and Dr. Norman McMillan.

Not every Southern boy has a spring-fed swimming hole at the end of his street, a woman’s liberal arts college—known as the Angel Farm—at the other end, and Frog Holler—once a place for illegal horse races, boxing matches, Battle Royals (last black man standing won the pot while the white men stood by & bet), and cock fights, but much later “a perfect playground”—in the middle. Local boy Mike Mahan had all of this and more, and he writes extensively about it in this new memoir No Hill Too High for a Stepper: Memories of Montevallo, Alabama. Read the complete review

By Joe Formichella, ed.
River’s Edge Media, 2014
$34.95, Hardcover with CD

Fiction/Spoken Word/Music

Reviewed by Don Noble

The Shoe Burnin’: Stories of Southern Soul. The title has a story behind it and the subtitle is a pun. The story is simple. On a winter’s night near Brewton, Alabama, a group of kindred spirits were talking, singing, drinking of course, and rather than making a trip to the woodpile, they burned, one at a time, a box of old shoes. This became a ritualized event held around a Fairhope bonfire, the idea being that each shoe burned had a story to tell, or be told about it. At that bonfire last year one young woman happily announced she was finally making a living as a singer and burned her white waitress shoes.Read the complete review

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 Tim Parrish
University Press of Mississippi: Willie Morris Books in Memoir and Biography, 2014
$28, Hardcover

Nonfiction

Reviewed by Don Noble

A river of books has come out of the civil rights moment: large-scale general histories like Taylor Branch’s three volume America in the King Years and more focused studies such as Diane McWhorter’s investigation of the Movement in Birmingham, Carry Me Home. Likewise there are memoirs by famous activists such as John Lewis and by many minor figures who have contributed their small pieces to the historical picture.

Up until now we have had almost no reports from the other side of these ’60s and ’70s battlefields. What were the violent racists, brutal policemen and troopers, Klansmen, thinking? Why did they behave as they did? What beliefs, emotions, one might one say misguided principles, caused them to act in vicious, cruel, and finally futile and stupid ways? There is now a trickle of memoirs from those individuals, “recovering” racists, the most articulate of whom attempt to explain why they acted as they did. 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 Nimrod T. Frazer; Introduction by Edwin C. Bridges.
The University of Alabama Press, 2014
$34.95, Hardcover; $34.95, eBook

Nonfiction

Reviewed by Julia Oliver

The awe-inspiring sculpture of a World War I soldier carrying a wounded comrade was the perfect choice for the cover of this book. As the text on the jacket points out: "The book borrows its title from a speech by American General Edward H. Plummer, who commanded the young men during the inauspicious early days of their service.... Impressed with their ferocity and esprit de corps but exasperated by their rambunctiousness, Plummer reportedly exclaimed: "In time of war, send me all the Alabamians you can get, but in time of peace, for Lord's sake, send them to somebody else!" The time was 1918; the event was The Battle of Croix Rouge. Read the complete review

Stanislavski in Ireland: Focus at Fifty
By Brian McAvera and Steven Dedalus Burch, eds.
Carysfort Press, 2013
$27, Paper

Breaking Boundaries: An Anthology of Original Plays from the Focus Theatre
Steven Dedalus Burch, ed.
Carysfort Press, 2013
$27, Paper

Nonfiction

Reviewed by Nicholas Helms

Founded in 1963 by the Irish American actor Deirdre O’Connell, the Focus Theatre of Dublin brought Stanislavskian method acting to Ireland and challenged the country’s parochial preconceptions about theatre. Two recent works chronicle the life of Focus Theatre: Stanislavski in Ireland: Focus at Fifty, a collection of essays that serve as biography of the Focus Theatre and of its talented and eccentric founder, Deirdre O’Connell, edited by Brian McAvera and University of Alabama theatre professor Steven Dedalus Burch; and Breaking Boundaries: An Anthology of Original Plays from the Focus Theatre, a collection of Focus Theatre’s work, edited by Steven Dedalus Burch. Together, these volumes put a microscope to the theatre of Dublin in the 20th and early 21st centuries, charting the type of regional theatre work that, despite its far-reaching influence, so often goes unrecorded. Together they sketch a lively narrative of a theatre that produced high quality work for fifty years while scraping by economically and struggling against the established theatres of Dublin. O’Connell’s Focus Theatre revolutionized Irish theatrical practice, and these two volumes chronicle the far-reaching—and often unremarked—effects that a small theatre on the fringe of the mainstream can have. Read the complete review

By Chervis Isom
The Working Writer Discovery Group, 2013
$27.95, Hardcover

Nonfiction

Reviewed by Jim Buford

In the first chapter of The Newspaper Boy, Chervis Isom, age about 26, makes a visit to an office on the fourteenth floor of the Empire Building in Birmingham. Possibly he remembered learning as a child that it was one of four tall buildings erected between 1902 and 1912 anchoring the intersection of 20th Street and 1st Avenue North. Though not so tall by later standards, these buildings were skyscrapers of the time and the intersection became known as the “Heaviest Corner on Earth.” The buildings represented Birmingham’s sudden emergence as center of industry and commerce and portended a bright future for the city. And, except for the years when the whole country experienced the Great Depression, that’s about the way things turned out. In 1943, which was the year of Isom’s first memoir essay, the wartime demand for steel had returned the city to prosperity, which continued through the postwar building boom. And even as late as the mid 1950s, Birmingham competed with Atlanta, Memphis and New Orleans as one of the premier cities of the south. 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 Ron Self
Brick Road Poetry Press, 2013
$15.95, Paper

Reviewed by Julia Oliver

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

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 Harry Moore
Finishing Line Press , 2013
$14, Paper

Poetry

Reviewed by Norman McMillan

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

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

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

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

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

Nonfiction

Reviewed by Julia Oliver

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

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

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

Children’s

Reviewed by Pam Kingsbury

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

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

Nonfiction

Reviewed by Julia Oliver

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

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 Vanessa A. Jackson Austin
WestBow Press, 2012
$11.99, Paper

Nonfiction

Reviewed by Danny Gamble

Cancer runs in Vanessa Austin’s family. Her mother and brother—to whom Austin dedicates her book—both died from various types of the disease. Her sister survived breast cancer. On June 1, 2009, Austin heard from her biopsy—malignant. Cries In the Wind chronicles her battle with breast cancer, a battle she eventually won with medical attention, family support, and—above all—her Judeo-Christian faith.
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 Lila Quintero Weaver
The University of Alabama Press, 2012
$24.95, Paper; $24.95 eBook

Nonfiction

Reviewed by Lindsay Hodgens

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

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

Nonfiction

Reviewed by Bebe Barefoot

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

My Bright Abyss: Meditation of a Modern Believer

By Christian Wiman
Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2013
$24, Hardcover

Nonfiction

Reviewed by Sue Scalf

I have just finished reading Christian Wiman’s autobiographical quest and was shaken by it to say the least. It was difficult to read for several reasons. The author—an intellectual, poet, and Christian existentialist—although I am not sure of this since Christian existentialists are so hard to pin down—is dying of terminal cancer. He is young and at the very top of his literary powers as editor of Poetry magazine, and he has just fallen in love, married and had twin daughters while he undergoes the crisis of his life. Read the complete review

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

Children’s

Reviewed by Lindsay Hodgens

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

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

Nonfiction

Reviewed by Don Noble

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

By Winston Groom
National Geographic, 2012
$30, Hardcover; $14.99, eBook

Nonfiction

Reviewed by Julia Oliver

The author of Vicksburg, 1863 proves himself once again to be an expressive literary chronicler of the American Civil War. His subject this time is the Battle of Shiloh (or Shiloh Creek, as it’s also known), which took place near Pittsburgh Landing, Tennessee, in early April 1862, the beginning of the second year of the four-year conflict that has also been called The War Between the States. Each of the seventeen chapters has a descriptive title on the Contents Page. Beginning with April Is the Cruelest Month, these include: From Failure to Fortune; He looked Like an Old Viking King; All the Furies of Hell Broke Loose; My God, My God, It Is Too Late!; and An Exalted Distinction. Read the complete review

By Barry Marks
NegativeCapability Press, 2012
$15.95, Paper

Poetry

Reviewed by Carey Scott Wilkerson

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

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

Nonfiction

Reviewed by Jim Fraiser

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

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 Andrew Hudgins
Simon & Schuster, 2013
$25, Hardcover

Nonfiction

Reviewed by Norman McMillan

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

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 Kelly Cherry
LSU Press, 2013
$19.95, Paper

Poetry

Reviewed by Pam Kingsbury

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

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 Wendy Reed
NewSouth Books, 2013
$24.95, Hardcover

Mixed Genre

Reviewed by Kirk Curnutt

Nonfiction isn’t a simple matter of telling true stories. The art of the genre lies in the motifs through which the narrative is staged. Scores of writers have attempted to share their experiences only to discover that facts alone fail them. The memoirs that mean the most, by contrast, are about words as much as events. They dramatize the act of making meaning, often by resorting to what may seem the most unrelated of symbols and metaphors. By any measure, Wendy Reed has a compelling story to share. On May 28, 1996, her Mitsubishi Montero hydroplaned off I-65 at mile marker 251.7, striking an oncoming 1988 Camry. 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 Frye Gaillard
NewSouth Books, 2013
$27.95, Hardcover; $9.99 eBook

Nonfiction

Reviewed by Don Noble

Frye Gaillard, author of some twenty volumes and winner of both the Lillian Smith Award and the Clarence Cason Award, is solidly in this latter tradition, writing here with insight and feeling about the books that mattered.

The book offers “eleven essays featuring thirty-odd books.” He understands the list is “deeply personal and purely my own.” Such lists always are. Considering that Gaillard’s work has usually been concerned with questions of civil rights—integration, mandatory school busing—with occasional side trips into the world of country music and NASCAR and that his lifelong heroes are Senator Robert F. Kennedy and President Jimmy Carter, most of his choices are not too surprising. Read the complete review

By Elizabeth Benedict, ed.
Algonquin Books, 2013
$15.95, Paper; 8.77, eBook

Anthology

Reviewed by Julia Oliver

A sub-title, Thirty-One Women on the Gifts That Mattered Most, provides dimensional definition to this collection of specially commissioned essays. The contributors, all well-known journalists and/or fiction writers, include Montgomery native Judith Hillman Paterson, who is scheduled to present a program at the 2013 Alabama Book Festival on Saturday, April 20. Among highly recognizable bylines are those of Ann Hood, Mary Gordon, Rita Dove, Marge Piercy, Joyce Carol Oates, Lisa See, and the book’s editor, Elizabeth Benedict. Although it’s logical to assume publication was timed to come out near Mother’s Day, each of the thirty-one authors has risen to the occasion of writing eloquently on-theme without over-sentimentalizing. Read the complete review

By Willie James King
Tebot Bach, 2013
$16, Paper

Poetry

Reviewed by Tony Crunk

Willie James King’s fourth collection of poetry admirably continues the hallmarks of his previous work. He doesn’t just integrate the public and the personal, the political and the contemplative, but explores the myriad ways in which these dichotomies reflect and inform each other. Read the complete review

By Kathleen Driskell
Illustrated by AJ Reinhart
Fleur-de-Lis Explorations, 2012
$8, Paper

Poetry

Reviewed by Lindsay Hodgens

Thanks to the recent superhero movie craze, comics are big again. There are entire conferences devoted to comics scholarship, and comics (or, alternatively, “graphic novels”) have become a popular subject for English courses. What Kathleen Driskell brings to the table is a spin on the image-driven genre we are already familiar with. Simply put, it ain’t your grandma’s comic book. Interestingly enough, Driskell’s Peck and Pock: A Graphic Poem comes in the form of an elongated, slim booklet reminiscent of a comic book. The cover art—droplets of rain highlighted against a windowpane—is powered by hues of white, gray, and black. This dark theme continues into the rest of the book’s paratext. Stark black dominates the title and credit pages and acts as the background for the area between and behind panels, otherwise known as the gutter. This sets an excellent mood for Driskell’s dark and hypnotic poetry. Driskell’s writing shines its brightest when it is fixated on the smallest details, like rotten apples being swept along in a current and young faces pressed against windows. While reading, I had the constant sense of being taken aback by these small, strange pieces of beauty. Read the complete review

By Carey Scott Wilkerson
New Plains Press, 2012
$16.95, Paper

Poetry

Reviewed by Aaron Sanders

Such a collection as Ars Minotaurica flies so close to the sun that its poetic parts don’t melt as much as dissolve. The poet, Carey Scott Wilkerson, then recycles what’s left over into more poems, and the reader gets the sense that the poet would be content repeating this process ad infinitum. 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 Bert Hitchcock, ed.
Solomon & George Publishers, 2012
$20, Paper

Anthology

Reviewed by Don Noble

At a time when independent bookstores are going out of business all over America, the Gnu’s Room –it’s a pun—in Auburn, Alabama, makes a lot of sense. It is organized as a nonprofit bookstore, mainly used books, and as a local center for the arts: literary, visual, and performing. As part of its mission, the Gnu Arts has established a nonprofit imprint, Solomon and George Publishers, named in honor of Olivia Pienezza Solomon, short story writer and folklorist, and Anne Carroll George, poet and, perhaps more famously, the author of the highly successful mystery/cozies The Southern Sisters series. Ms. Solomon and Ms. George graduated from UA, but Solomon taught at Auburn, and the papers of both writers are now in the Auburn library. This anthology, the Solomon and George Publishers debut volume, is, appropriately, devoted to writings by people with an Auburn or east Alabama connection and all seem to be set in Auburn or, at least, not discernibly elsewhere.
http://www.writersforum.org/news_and_reviews/review_archives.html/article/2013/03/11/chinaberries-crows-an-anthology/813845

By Derrick Harriell, 2010
Aquarius Press-Willow Books, 2010
http://willowbookspoetry.homestead.com/
$13.45, Paper

Poetry

Reviewed by Carey Scott Wilkerson

In his perceptive introduction to Derrick Harriell’s Cotton, Frank X Walker prepares us for the staging of a narrative that speaks to and through the experience of Black America: “Cotton whispers what it means to transcend our collective ignorance, to be raised right and to never forget our roots.” This is an ambitious program, to be sure, but Harriell’s aesthetic commitments are precisely those that permit him to move between epic vision and close observation. That Harriell traces always an elegant arc between these two is the prevailing strength of these fine poems. Read the complete review

By Frank “Doc” Adams and Burgin Mathews
The University of Alabama Press, 2012
$34.95, Hardcover & eBook

Nonfiction

Reviewed by Edward Reynolds

Birmingham’s Frank “Doc” Adams has led an extraordinary musical life. As a teen, he played saxophone with Sun Ra’s early orchestra and later worked with Duke Ellington’s band. In Doc: The Story of a Birmingham Jazz Man, the 85-year-old Adams shares an intimately in-depth narrative of his life-long love affair playing and teaching music. Loaded with barely restrained enthusiasm, his voice leaps off the page with wonder and exhilaration as he tells of pursuing and finding his dream. As a storyteller, he’s every bit as entertaining as the magnificent notes he coaxes from his sax and clarinet. 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 John W. Short and Daniel D. Spaulding
The University of Alabama Press, 2012
$39.95, Paper

Nonfiction

Reviewed by Phillip Oliver

It has been almost fifty years since a book about ferns in Alabama was published. Blanche Dean’s Ferns of Alabama and Fern Allies first appeared in 1964 and was revised in 1969. A new book on the subject is certainly welcome and authors John W. Short and Daniel P. Spaulding have written an admirable study that corrects past technical inaccuracies and provides detailed distribution coverage of ferns growing in the state. Read the complete review

By Rodney Jones
Houghton Mifflin, 2011
$22, Hardcover

Poetry

Reviewed by Jennifer Horne

Rodney Jones’ 2006 collection Salvation Blues: 100 Poems, 1985-2005 is more than the now-standard late-mid-career new-and-collected; it’s a book you can browse through, read start to finish, dip into, or perhaps even open a page at random and point at a line blindfolded and still hit pay dirt, essence of Rodney Jones.

His new book, Imaginary Logic, is Jones’ ninth book of poetry. In it one finds again his signature combination of the vernacular particular and the highfalutin’ abstract, a mix that often surprises, as though your plumber were to begin quoting St. Augustine while buried under your kitchen sink. Read the complete review

By H. Brandt Ayers
NewSouth Books, 2013
$29.95, Hardcover; $9.99 eBook

Nonfiction

Reviewed by Bill Plott

H. Brandt Ayers, longtime editor and publisher at The Anniston Star, has written a memoir with a unique perspective on his beloved Southland. Writing with historical perception, political awareness, and abiding sensitivity, he has given a history of the South’s painful road from Civil War to the latest New South, a land of culture and prosperity, one in being with the nation yet still maintaining some semblance of the gentle, polite past. His narrative brings us through the hard scrabble years of the Great Depression, the tumult of the civil rights era, and the Republican takeover. Read the complete review

By Stephen P. Brown
The University of Alabama Press, 2012
$39.95, Hardcover & eBook

Nonfiction

Reviewed by Pam Kingsbury

Though many Alabamans may be familiar with John Archibald Campbell and Hugo Black’s appointments to the Supreme Court, Alabama had a third, lesser known appointee, John McKinley.

McKinley’s acumen, paired with his legal expertise and social connections, allowed him to achieve immense success is a very short time. He was elected to the state legislature three times, serving as both a representative and a senator, before becoming a Supreme Court Justice in 1837. His first four years as a justice were spent “circuit riding,” presiding over the recently created Ninth Circuit, which covered the newly created south western frontier of Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana, and Mississippi. 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 Ronald Rice and Booksellers Across America, ed.
Introduction by Richard Russo
Illustrations by Leif Parsons
Black Dog & Leventhal Publishers, Inc., 2012
$23.95, Hardcover

Nonfiction

Reviewed by Don Noble

There is a wave of justified anxiety moving among the bookstore owners and patrons of America; the number of independent bookstores has been declining steadily since the 1990s.

There has been a slight up-tick lately, from 1,400 members of the Booksellers Association in 2009 to 1,900 in 2011, but the opening of a new independent is news. The December 2012 issue of The Atlantic Monthly carries an article by the novelist Ann Patchett about her new store, Parnassus Books, in Nashville. The Athens of the South had no bookstore at all. Borders had closed and Davis-Kidd was not profitable enough. Still, writers and many readers love independent bookstores. This volume gives eighty-four writers a chance to praise their personal favorite. Read the complete review

By Anne Whitehouse
Dos Madres Press, 2012
$16, Paper
Poetry
Reviewed by Mary Kaiser
Describing an aging woman, Anne Whitehouse writes, “to go on living / she would have to give up / who she was until this season.” This eloquent statement of loss and adaptation could be an epigraph to Anne Whitehouse’s latest collection, The Refrain, poems that locate moments of transformation when the old life mutates irrevocably into a new form, moments of terror and confusion followed by clarity and the possibility of a new beginning. A house struck by lightning, a bed-bug infestation, the onset of dementia, a bird trapped in a house, a child trapped inside her parents’ squabbles—all of these moments effect a mysterious change, a new and clearer vision. Like novelists Virginia Woolf and Laurie Colwin, Whitehouse scans quotidian detail for her metaphors, and like them, she always selects the resonant image that, without commentary, gives meaning to the whole. Read the complete review

Tohopeka: Rethinking the Creek War and the War of 1812
By Kathyrn E. Holland Braund, ed.
A Pebble Hill Book by the University of Alabama Press, 2012
34.95, Paper; $29.95 eBook

Nonfiction

Reviewed by Pam Kingsbury

The Battle of Horseshoe Bend, also known as the Battle of Tohopeka, was a turning point in Creek (Muskogee), Alabama, and American History. Set within the larger context of a newly established America, continuing clashes between the settlers and the tribes for land, and the War of 1812, the Battle at Tohopeka made Andrew Jackson a national hero with both military and political clout. Tohopeka: Rethinking the Creek War and the War of 1812 offers multiple viewpoints on the history, archaeology, and preservation of Horseshoe Bend. 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

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

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

By David C. Kopaska-Merkel; Illustrated by Valerie Bodell
Sam’s Dot Publishing, 2012
$8, Paper

Children

Reviewed by Jonathan Rutan

Making a valiant effort to follow in the footsteps of Dr. Seuss, The Edible Zoo by David C. Kopaska-Merkel is a family friendly romp through the fantastic. In his book, Merkel uses a unique—yet hilarious—approach when he decides to discuss some of the many different animals that live in our world. His interest in them, however, is not one in which he wants to talk about how they might look, but rather how they might taste as he illuminates the many different aspects of devouring a horse—or a crocodile—before moving on to imagine how delicious an aardvark—or a woodchuck—might be. Read the complete review

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

By Michael Rosenwald, ed.
Walker & Company, 2010
$16, Paper

Nonfiction

Reviewed by Don Noble

Readers today may think of Gay Talese as the immersion journalist who hung out with the Bonnano Mafia family and published Honor Thy Father or the writer who explored America’s sexual mores and reported back in Thy Neighbor’s Wife or the historian of the New York Times in The Kingdom and the Power.

It is easy to forget that Talese started out as a sports reporter and has been writing about football, boxing, basketball, golf, even soccer throughout his long career. Read the complete review

By Joy Harjo
W.W. Norton and Company, 2012
$24.95, Hardcover

Nonfiction

Reviewed by Pam Kingsbury

When most Alabama readers think of Alabama writers, Native American—or American Indian as Joy Harjo calls herself—aren't the first writers who come to mind, yet Joy Harjo attributes what she considers to be three of the most important traits of her artistry—the need for perpetuating family storytelling, the quest for justice, and the return to and fusing of tribal music with poetry in her more recent works—to her Alabama heritage. In much of her poetry, and, more recently, her memoir, Crazy Brave, Harjo has written about her family's Alabama memories, the juncture of past and present, weaving them throughout a narrative that connects her life and work to the family lore that has been passed down for over seven generations. Read the complete review

By Irene Latham; Illustrated by Stephanie Graegin
Roaring Brook Press, 2012
$15.99, Hardcover

Children’s Literature

Reviewed by Peter Huggins

Who wouldn't want to live at the zoo? Eleven-year-old Whit, apparently, the central character in Irene Latham's new middle grade novel, Don't Feed the Boy. Whit is dissatisfied with life at the Meadowbrook Zoo in Alabama, dissatisfied with his busy parents who always seem to put their jobs at the zoo— vet and head elephant keeper—ahead of him, dissatisfied with having no friends since he is homeschooled by the capable and calm Ms. Connie. All of this changes when Whit meets a girl (of course!), Stella, aka the Bird Girl because she draws birds at the zoo and uses the zoo as a refuge from a difficult situation at home. 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 nonfiction titles were recently released by Alabama authors or publishers, or they cover subjects related to our state. Simply click a book’s title to learn more. View the complete list

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

By Willie G. Moseley
Acclaim Press, 2011
$24.95, Hardcover

Nonfiction

Reviewed by Edward Reynolds

Currently a senior writer for Vintage Guitar Magazine and editor/columnist/photographer for The Tallassee Tribune, Willie G. Moseley has written an entertaining and informative biography on the life of astronaut Stu Roosa in Smoke Jumper, Moon Pilot, Moseley’s eighth book. Stuart Roosa was a colorful, adventurous character whose life experiences ranged from a summer as a smoke jumper, parachuting into isolated areas to fight fires for the U.S. Forest Service, to orbiting the Moon in 1971. In between those jobs he was a fighter pilot for the Air Force. Read the complete review

By Stephanie Lawton
Ink Spell Publishing, 2012
$14.99, Paper; $4.99, eBook

Young Adult

Reviewed by Eleanor Inge Baker

Young Adult Readers and Readers Young at Heart:

If you’re looking for a steamy and emotionally taut read, give Mobile writer, Stephanie Lawton’s debut Young Adult (YA) novel, Want, a try. You will not find vampires or futuristic sci-fi villains between these pages, but a string of nail biting conflicts all the same. Set in Mobile and centered around a family steeped in the dark and secretive traditions of Mardi Gras, the reader learns that things are not always as they seem. Read the complete review

By Carey Link
Finishing Line Press , 2011
$14, Paper

Poetry

Reviewed by Melissa Dickson

There is always Music amongst the trees in the Garden, but our hearts must be very quiet to hear it. —Minnie Aumonier

One need not be quiet to hear the heart or the music of Carey Link’s tree-climbing verses. In her debut collection, What It Means To Climb a Tree, Link has composed an ambitious sequence of lyrical poems celebrating and interrogating the arboreal heights. The chapbook, published by Finishing Line Press, also features stylistically naïve but charming illustrations and cover art by Emily Lynn and Patricia Hart Eldridge, respectively. Read the complete review

By Lilly Ledbetter with Lanier Scott Isom
Crown Archetype, 2012
$25, Hardcover

Nonfiction

Reviewed by Pam Kingsbury

Lilly Ledbetter did not set out to change the workplace; she just wanted to help contribute to her family’s finances, help provide more for her children, and achieve financial stability.

Like many Alabamians of her generation, she was born in a small town (Possum Trot, Alabama) and lived in a house without electricity and running water, amenities that are now taken for granted. She married her husband Charles at seventeen, they had two children within three years of one another, and, like many couples, then and now, found that trying to live on one paycheck was not enough. Going against her husband, Lilly went out and found a job at H&R Block where she eventually worked her way up to managing the office. 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 nonfiction titles were recently released by Alabama authors or publishers, or they cover subjects related to our state. Simply click a book’s title to learn more. View the complete list

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

These young adult titles were recently released by Alabama authors or publishers, or they cover subjects related to our state. 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

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

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

These children’s literature 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 Edythe Scott Bagley with Joe Hilley
The University of Alabama Press, 2012
$34.95, Hardcover; $27.95, eBook

Nonfiction

Reviewed by Julia Oliver

The late author of this beautifully written, well- organized biography was the older sister of the subject. As noted in the Preface, the project began several decades ago, at Coretta Scott King’s request. On Thursday morning, April 4, 1968, Edythe Scott Bagley put an initial draft in the mail to a publisher. Later that day, her brother-in-law and the husband of Coretta, Martin Luther King Jr., was shot and killed. Publication of the manuscript was delayed, and eventually canceled. Many years later, in 2004, Coretta asked Edythe to take up the project again. Read the complete review

By Gregory L. Reece
I.B. Tauris, 2012
$17, Paper

Nonfiction

Reviewed by B.J. Hollars

Gregory Reece knows what it means to be afraid. He, like so many of us, has experienced firsthand the heart-pounding terror that so often accompanies scary stories read by flashlight. Though unlike the hoards of horror-obsessed, monster-magazine-reading pre-teens we likely envision, Reece’s own interest in the supernatural—quite thankfully—far transcended his youth. In a society set on stifling the imagination, Reece seems somehow to have eluded capture, and this—coupled with his keen scholar’s eye—makes him the ideal writer for this highly engaging subject. Read the complete review

Photography by Jerry Siegel; text by Julian Cox & Dennis Harper
The University of Alabama Press / Jule Collins Smith Museum of Fine Art at Auburn University, 2012
$29.95, Hardcover

Nonfiction

Reviewed by Julia Oliver

This handsomely produced, table-size book is a collection of photographic portraiture by Selma photographer Jerry Siegel. The subjects are a hundred of the South’s most celebrated artists. Each portrait is accompanied by a brief paragraph of biography. Essays by curators Julian Cox, of the de Young Museum in San Francisco and formerly at the High Museum of Art in Atlanta, and Dennis Harper of the Jule Collins Smith Museum also provide interesting, thought-provoking preludes to the photographic content. Read the complete review

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

By Paul Devlin, ed.
Afterword by Phil Schaap
University of Minnesota Press, 2011
$18.95, Paper

Nonfiction

Reviewed by Jim Buford

Jo Jones, who came to be known as “Papa Jo,” was one of the most important and influential drummers of all time. After growing up in Alabama, Jones worked as a drummer and tap-dancer with carnival shows and later with bands, including Walter Page's Blue Devils in Oklahoma City and Lloyd Hunter's band in Nebraska. His big break came in 1936 when he joined Count Basie's band in Kansas City where he developed his innovative style using brushes on drums and shifting the role of timekeeping from the bass drum to the hi-hat symbol. In Rifftide Papa Jo tells us a lot more, although he never got around to writing his autobiography. Rather, he said to his friend, writer Albert Murray, “This is my last hoo-rah. I will not give this wealth of information to nobody else because they don’t know how to handle it.” Read the complete review

By Melissa Dickson, Johnny Summerfield, Sue Brannan Walker, and Carey Scott Wilkerson
The Halawaukee School for the Exegetical Arts, 2012
$10, Paper

Poetry

Reviewed by Aaron Sanders

Let’s just say it: Gore Vidal was not being complimentary when he wrote this about Carson McCullers: “Of all the Southern writers, she is the most apt to endure.” Nor is USA Today celebrating the breadth and depth of Southern writing in its review of New Stories from the South: “For those sons and daughters of the South who yearn for fiction that eschews the moonlight-and-magnolias claptrap.” Talk about backhanded compliments. Talk about condescension. Go on: talk about it. Thankfully, folks down here have heard it all before, and they’re not listening. Exhibit A: the new book, Table 5. Read the complete review

By Harvey H. Jackson III
University of Georgia Press, 2012
$28.95, Hardcover; $28.95, eBook

Nonfiction

Reviewed by Don Noble

Jacksonville University Eminent Scholar in History Hardy Jackson brings to this job all the right tools. The author of several scholarly volumes, Jackson has also shown in Alabama : A Personal History of My State that he can personalize history, narrate history, in a highly readable fashion and commit sociology in the best possible way, from personal experience and keen observation. 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 Sue Scalf
Blue Rooster Press, 2012
$16.95, Paper
Poetry
Reviewed by Kathleen Thompson

The poems in each section of Almost Home welter (to borrow one of the poet’s verbs) with a longing and searching for home, either physical or metaphorical. The irony of the title is set up in the sweeping dedication to the people of not just one, but two home states: Kentucky and Alabama.Read the complete review

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

By Hank Lazer
Singing Horse Press, 2012
$15, Paper
Poetry
Reviewed by Carey Scott Wilkerson

Let me be unambiguous: Hank Lazer’s new collection of hand-written poems, N18 (Complete) is a singularly dazzling work of purest art, both textually charming and intellectually rigorous. To read these lovely, swirling, torquing, intorsional, gyroscopically involuted poem/commentaries and lyrico-philosophical objects is to experience nothing less than “The New” of Ezra Pound’s historic directive. And it is an astonishing achievement indeed. Read the complete review

By C. Terry Cline Jr.
MacAdam-Cage, 2012
$17, Hardcover
Nonfiction
Reviewed by Julia Oliver

Unless the reader is a sitting duck for a suspend-the-belief book, the most interesting part of the narrative is in the Foreword. Terry Cline Jr. explains that he has spent a “fifty year odyssey in search of Edgar Cayce, the so-called sleeping prophet…. Lying on his couch in a hypnotic trance, Mr. Cayce extracted information during life readings that covered a person’s karma from past incarnations.” Among the famous people who supposedly consulted Cayce back then were Woodrow Wilson, George Gershwin, Irving Berlin, and Thomas Edison. Read the complete review

by Rheta Grimsley Johnson
NewSouth Books, 2012
$24.95, Hardcover; $9.99, eBook
Nonfiction
Reviewed by Edward Reynolds

When I saw the title of longtime syndicated newspaper columnist and author Rheta Grimsley Johnson’s latest book, Hank Hung the Moon and Warmed Our Cold, Cold Hearts, I wondered why anyone would want to write about Williams Sr. The singer has been thoroughly-documented; I couldn’t imagine another biography.

Johnson, of course, has been warming hearts for years with her hilarious, heartfelt, and melancholy observations of everyday people who add color to the world. In Hank Hung the Moon, she does reveal a few new tidbits about “Ol’ Hank,” as she lovingly refers to him, but more importantly, she invites the reader to look at the different styles of music that defined the ups and downs in her life, though she admits that Hank will always be her favorite. 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

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

By Anne Whitehouse
Finishing Line Press , 2011
$14, Paper
Poetry
Reviewed by Mary Kaiser

In her latest chapbook, Anne Whitehouse’s clear-eyed poetic vision uncovers mysteries beneath the calm surfaces of modern life. “This is my life,” she affirms in “Rites of Spring,” “finding one thing in another.” Unclouded by assumptions, Whitehouse’s lyrical voice moves from one carefully observed, imagistic stanza to another, introducing concise narratives that accumulate metaphorical power by juxtaposition, like a chain of haiku. Read the complete review

By Amanda Walker
Walker World Press, 2011
$19.99, Paper
Nonfiction
Reviewed by Julia Oliver

After reading this collection of essays by an acclaimed columnist with the newspaper Wilcox Progressive Era in Camden, Alabama, I concur with the back cover observation: “She weaves and dances along the heartstrings through us all. She can be quite opinionated and delightfully humorous.” At thirty-nine, Amanda Walker is too young to be called an old soul, but philosophically, that’s her bent, if not her beat. Read the complete review

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 Ted M. Dunagan
Junebug Books , 2011
$21.95, Hardcover; $9.99, eBook
Young Adult
Reviewed by Tony Crunk

Trouble on the Tombigbee is the third of Ted Dunagan’s Young Adult novels to chronicle the adventures and deepening relationship between two adolescent boys, Ted and Poudlum, one black and one white, in the southwest Alabama of the late 1940s. As with the two previous novels, A Yellow Watermelon and Secret of the Satilfa, the adventures are frequently harrowing, the boys infinitely resourceful, and the suspense finely honed, all resulting in a satisfying, page-turning read.
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By Wendy Reed and Jennifer Horne, eds.
The University of Alabama Press, 2012
$29.95, Hardcover; $23.95, eBook
Nonfiction
Reviewed by Bebe Barefoot

If titles received awards, Circling Faith: Southern Women on Spirituality might take top prize. The book itself forms a literary and philosophical circle composed of smaller circles, capturing in form and content the complexity of Southern women’s Christ-haunted wrestles with trust in the unknowable. Jennifer Horne’s and Wendy Reed’s skilled editing crafts intricate links to form an enclosed sacred space that steps cautiously around itself. The beginning meets not an end but instead a promise of renewal. 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 Ralph F. Voss
The University of Alabama Press, 2011
$34.95, Hardcover; $14.99, eBook
Nonfiction
Reviewed by Marianne Moates Weber

Just when you think nothing new could possibly be added to the volumes of literary criticism written about In Cold Blood, a book emerges that is as compelling as Capote’s original crime novel. The author, retired University of Alabama English professor Ralph Voss, brings a unique perspective to his subject: Truman Capote and the legacy of in cold blood. Read the complete review

By Foster Dickson, ed.
McFarland, 2011
$35, Paperback
Nonfiction
Reviewed by Bruce Elliot Alford

This is not a boring high-school textbook. Nevertheless, you might think it is. Children of the Changing South: Accounts of Growing Up During and After Integration has that lengthy dissertation-like title and the sort of cover photograph that says, “You’re in for a long day of schooling.” The photograph shows a loosely-spaced group of teen-aged girls and an older black man with an umbrella lolling down a street in Selma.

After that, is a preface and then a 21,000-word academic introduction by the book’s editor, Foster Dickson. (Unless one is a scholar, it might all seem daunting and dry.) But after the introduction—Wow! Suddenly, you’re climbing out of a sand pit near Pascagoula, Mississippi. It’s the late fifties, and you feel the desert-like sun burning your neck. After crawling out of that pit, there’s nowhere to go but up. Read the complete review

By Anne Markham Bailey
The Friends of Julian, Norwich, UK, 2011
£7, Paper
Poetry
Reviewed by Russ Kesler

In Cold Stone, White Lily Anne Markham Bailey gives us poems in the voice of a character she has imagined, a fourteenth-century English anchoress named Anne Wyngfield, who lived in an East Anglican village. The poems are careful to include allusions to specific historical events such as the growing influence of the English vernacular on society and the subsequent controversy over Wycliffe’s translation of the Bible into English, allowing the speaker to be both observer and participant in the times. Read the complete review

By Fairhope Writers Group
Southern Oaks Publishing, 2011
$11.95, Paper
Anthology
Reviewed by Linda Busby Parker

Fairhope Anthology is a delightful collection of stories—both fiction and nonfiction—set on Mobile’s Eastern Shore. Contributors to the anthology include Mary Ardis, Vicki Armitage, Karen Bonvillain Bull, Roger Bull, Robert Glennon, Ken James, Ron Meszaros, Jule Moon, and Joe Worley. The beautiful idyllic communities along Mobile Bay—Fairhope, Point Clear, Daphne, Montrose—conjure feelings of charm and beauty, but most importantly, these lovely locales conjure stories. Read the complete review

By Anne Chancey Dalton
Seacoast Publishing, 2012
$7.95, Paper
Children’s
Reviewed by Julia Oliver

This 104-page book is part of the Alabama Roots series, a joint venture of Seacoast Publishing, Inc., and Will Publishing, Inc., both of Birmingham. The purpose is to provide historically accurate and interesting biographies of famous people from Alabama for students in middle grades. Read the complete review

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

By Jason McCall
Main Street Rag Publishing Company, 2012
$15, Paper
Poetry
Reviewed by Bruce Elliot Alford

If you happened to see the 2011 fantasy/adventure film Thor, starring Chris Hemsworth and Natalie Portman, then you would probably be astonished at how easily you could notice and understand the vaguest allusions to Norse mythology in Jason McCall’s poetry collection, Silver. Read the complete review

By Jim Fraiser; Photography by Pat Caldwell
Pelican Publishing Company, 2012
$24, Hardcover
Nonfiction—Photo Collection
Reviewed by Julia Oliver

As coffee table books go, this one is really stand-out impressive. The relatively compact size is good for hand-held perusal and reading, and gorgeous photography on the front and back of the jacket bids you to venture inside the covers. John Sledge notes in his eloquent foreword that such a book “has long been overdue…. Locals and visitors have always known about Mobile’s rich architectural legacy, of course…but until now there hasn’t been a suitably attractive and accessible volume communicating that to take home, display, and thumb through with such pleasure.” Read the complete review

By Fred Bassett
Salt Marsh Cottage Books, 2010
$12, Paper; $5.99 eBook
Poetry
Reviewed by Jennifer Horne

Fred Bassett’s third book of poems is subtitled “a life in poems,” and this book reads very much like a memoir, satisfyingly so.

A native of Roanoke, Alabama, who now makes his home in South Carolina, Bassett has structured his book chronologically in three sections: The Boy, The Man, and The Old Man. True to the meandering ways of memory, however, the poems in all three sections often move around in time as the speaker remembers old neighbors, long-ago tragedies, and childhood questions. Read the complete review

By Lt. Col. James D. Lawrence, USAF (ret.)
Deeds Publishing, 2011
$24.95, Paper
Nonfiction
Reviewed by Julia Oliver

The author of this well-written and impressively organized autobiography spent twenty-seven years in the service of his country. Jim Lawrence, who grew up in Opp, Alabama, recalls that during his pilot training in 1970-71 “[t]here was great intensity and a lot of pressure to learn and apply a new skill each and every day.” After completing service in Air Training Command in 1974, he underwent training in Arkansas before “heading to Okinawa.” Among the twelve titled chapters are: “Iranian Hostage Rescue Attempt (Eagle Claw)”; “Honduras on the Fly”; “Air Commando History Revisited”; and, what would most certainly appeal to older-timers, “Our Greatest Generation—My Boyhood Heroes.” Read the complete review

By Gabriel Gadfly
1889 Labs, 2011
$7.99, Paper
Poetry
Reviewed by Carey Scott Wilkerson

In this parlous time, no serious artist can avoid the question of the relationship between aesthetic commitments and the complexities of an increasingly-political daily discourse. My own solution, for instance, has been to deny politics, particularly war, any real place in my work. However, I fully understand the impulse, and I am always pleased to find someone who wields this sensibility, and its attendant forces, with invention and insight. Gabriel Gadfly’s collection Bone Fragments exemplifies precisely that fragile mechanism in which horror and humanity are held in the transformative flux of poetic vision. 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 C.S. Fuqua
The History Press, 2011
$19.99, Paper
Nonfiction
Reviewed by Danny Gamble

Arriving in time for 2011’s Year of Alabama Music celebration, C.S. Fuqua’s Alabama Musicians: Musical Heritage from the Heart of Dixie is an encyclopedic journey through the cotton fields, church houses, and roadhouses of Alabama. All of the biggies are here—Hank Williams, Emmylou Harris, Erskine Hawkins, three-fifths of the Temptations, Sam Phillips—with extensive biographies detailing their lives and work. Other, lesser-known artists are also included—Azure Ray (Maria Taylor and Orenda Fink), Coot Grant, Ray Reach, Ray “Dr. Hook” Sawyer. The book also includes biographies of two-thirds of Alabama’s American Idol winners/runner-up. More on that later. Read the complete review

By Larry Dane Brimner
Blue Slip Media, 2011
$16.95, Hardcover

Young Adult

Reviewed by Don Noble

Black and White is a capsule history, in plain but not simplistic language, of the events in Anniston and Birmingham–the rallies and boycotts, the arrests, the Klan violence at the Greyhound station, the marches, Shuttlesworth’s attempts to integrate Phillips High School. During one attempt, with policemen watching, Shuttlesworth was beaten unconscious on the street and his wife was stabbed in the hip. Brimner has written this as a battle between two great foes: the fiery preacher who led the protests, Fred Shuttlesworth, and his absolutely stubborn antagonist, Eugene “Bull” Connor. Brimner has cast them not as equals—a number of times Commissioner of Public Safety Connor is characterized as hateful and evil—but rather as classically epic foes, each one necessary to the other in a battle of the darkness and the light. Read the complete review

By Sam Hodges, ed.
The University of Alabama Press, 2011
$18.95, Paper

Nonfiction

Reviewed by Bill Plott

I have never written a review that was so highly personal and painful. Ron Casey and Bailey Thomson were friends and colleagues at The Birmingham News and The Tuscaloosa News, respectively. They were bright, dedicated men who died far too soon—Casey at fifty-four and Thomson at forty-eight. There is pain in that loss per se and also pain in what has not changed since their untimely deaths. Many of the problems they explored so eloquently still linger in our state. 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

By Jane DeNeefe
The History Press, 2011
$19.99, Paper

Nonfiction

Reviewed by Edward Reynolds

No one should be surprised that the most progressive city in Alabama in the 1960s had a rock and roll scene that shook Huntsville with vibrations rivaling the ground-shaking test-firings of the Saturn V rocket engines built at the town’s Marshall Space Flight Center. While NASA rocketeers aimed for the Moon, rock and soul bands aimed for stardom. After years of interviewing local musicians, longtime Huntsville resident and musicologist Jane DeNeefe has thoroughly documented the city’s musical vista in Rocket City Rock & Soul, while also sharing a history of the town’s societal and economic evolution. (DeNeefe also coauthored Alabama’s Civil Rights Trail: An Illustrated Guide to the Cradle of Freedom.) Read the complete review

By Kathryn Tucker Windham
NewSouth Books, 2011
$20, Hardcover

Nonfiction

Reviewed by Don Noble

She contains a variety of reminiscences of the recent and distant past, but it mainly concerns the changes involved in aging. Kathryn Tucker Windham was, enviably, ninety when this became a problem. That was when the alter ego “She” came into the picture and took over her life. Windham writes, “I can’t recall when I became aware that an old woman was nudging her way into my life.” The arrival of this old woman caused problems. “She disrupts my plans, demands my attention, shames me into completing abandoned projects, requires nutritious meals…hides things from me, makes my handwriting less legible….” And so it goes. Read the complete review

By Donald Goodman & Thomas Head, eds.
The University of North Carolina Press, 2011
$30, Hardcover

Nonfiction

Reviewed by Don Noble

At the time of his death in 1998, Mobile author and Renaissance man Eugene Walter had filing cabinets full of recipes he had collected and a number of different writing projects under way. In addition to several volumes of fiction, poetry, and translations, Walter had already published American Cooking: Southern Style (1971), a very successful cookbook for the Time-Life Foods of the World series, Delectable Dishes from Termite Hall: Rare and Unusual Recipes (1989) and Hints and Pinches: A Concise Compendium of Herbs, Spices, and Aromatics with Illustrative Recipes and Asides on Relishes, Chutneys, and Other Such Concerns. One could say he was a well-seasoned cookbook writer.

Now, Donald Goodman, Walter’s heir and literary executor, has, with the help of Thomas Head, a D.C.-based food writer, completed and edited a volume of recipes under way at the time of Walter’s death, every one of which includes some kind of alcoholic spirits. The first section is, appropriately enough, forty recipes for drinks. The title is “The Cocktail, Or, I Feel Better Already.” Included are punches, juleps, and eggnog sipped and eaten with a spoon, all southern style. No recipes for Manhattans or appletinis. Read the complete review

By Joseph P. Wood
CW Books, 2010
$18, Paper

Poetry

Reviewed by Alan May

The poems in I & We are confessional (in the poem “I Was a Finalist,” the speaker claims he was contending “for wife ignorer of the year”); grotesque (one poem begins “If I were a lesion[…]”); and often political (see the poem titled “Supreme Court Makes Pact to Lose Virginity by the End of December 2002”). Most of these poems find firm footing in the mundane and the base (see “Middle Class Syphilis” and “The Punch”—which is literally about a punch); however, the everyday is sometimes given an almost mythic or heroic rendering. The best example of this can be found in the poem “Total: A Biography.” The speaker in this poem gives the reader the opportunity to experience his Uncle Hymie’s sciatica. Read the complete review

By Rupert Fike
Brick Road Poetry Press, 2010
$15.95, Paper

Poetry

Reviewed by Bruce Elliot Alford

A “lotus buffet” evokes the image of a long table filled with various dishes from India. Just as easily, however, the phrase conjures up a scene in which someone is hit repeatedly with a large aquatic plant. Either image would work for this collection, which is both full and hilarious. Read the complete review

By Mark D. Hersey
University of Georgia Press, 2011
$24.95, Paper

Nonfiction

Reviewed by Don Noble

Mark D. Hersey’s focus on George Washington Carver’s career at Tuskegee is not the story we are familiar with. An eccentric fellow, with no intellectual peer at Tuskegee, Carver was not a popular faculty member. He wore a flower in his lapel each day, ate edible weeds from the countryside if he didn’t like the cafeteria food, and sometimes made his own clothes. As one might guess, he and the principal, Booker T. Washington, had a difficult relationship. Read the complete review

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

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

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

By Dot Moore
NewSouth Books, 2011
$24.95, Hardcover

Nonfiction

Reviewed by Julia Oliver

The first question that comes to mind is: Why did the author decide to take on this project? The 1948 murder trial and execution via electric chair of prominent businessman John Wallace in Coweta County, Georgia, for killing a man with whom he'd been involved in the moonshining business, had already been the topic of Margaret Ann Barnes's 1976 prize-winning, still in print best-seller, Murder in Coweta County, which Johnny Cash made into a 1983 TV movie. Read the complete review

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

By William Todd Schultz
Oxford University Press, Inc., 2011
$17.95, Hardcover

Nonfiction

Reviewed by Marianne Moates Weber

What I found particularly interesting about Tiny Terror is that the author defines Truman Capote’s personality perfectly: he was a tiny terror (short but ferocious) with lifelong attachment issues that afflicted everything he wrote. He was a brilliant, precocious youth that his relatives did not know how to manage, and he quickly learned that as an only child abandoned by his mother, he could have his way by manipulation, tantrums, or simply by being adorable. But why stop there? His adult life was marked by these same traits. He partied, drank heavily, took drugs, and wrote about all of it in his quest for fame, mental peace, and acceptance. Read the complete review

By Tantra Bensko
Naissance, 2010
$10, Paper

Mixed Genre

Reviewed by Bebe Barefoot

Tantra Bensko describes her work as “experimental literary fiction that looks behind the eyelids,” but to anchor yourself as you join her on a journey through the universe of the sub-conscious, you need only look behind her name.

“Tantra,” or tantric practice, aligns microcosm with macrocosm and makes the ordinary the transportation of choice for reaching an extraordinary that was always already there. Like her experimental forefather, William Blake, Bensko sees “…the world in a grain of sand / and heaven in a wildflower.” Read the complete review

By Mark J. Hainds
The University of Alabama Press, 2011
$16.95, Paper; $13.56, eBook

Nonfiction

Reviewed by Edward Reynolds

Even academics relish the thrill of the kill. Auburn University forestry researcher Mark J. Hainds, whose published work includes “Distribution of Native Legumes in Frequently Burned Longleaf Pine-Wiregrass Ecosystems” in the American Journal of Botany, is an authority on vegetative habitats, in particular, the longleaf pine. He’s also quite familiar with feral pigs and the damage they inflict on agricultural fields and other ecosystems, which is thoroughly documented in his book Year of the Pig. Read the complete review

By Edward Pattillo
NewSouth Books, 2011
$50, Hardcover

Nonfiction

Reviewed by Julia Oliver

Well-known throughout the South as an art, antiquities, and estate appraiser, Edward “Eddie” Pattillo has compiled and written this impressive history of several pioneer families who made the trek from the Carolinas into early Alabama. Subtitled The Spencer-Robeson-McKenzie Family Papers, the handsomely produced book, which has been published via a grant from the Blount Foundation, contains photographs and well-organized documentation. At the heart of it is a really interesting, at times almost cinematically described narrative. Read the complete review

By Winston Groom
Alfred A. Knopf, 2011
$27.95, Hardcover

Nonfiction

Reviewed by Julia Oliver

Kearny's March is a masterful blend of scholarly research, colorful description, and a confident, enthusiastic style of narrative writing that adds freshness and immediacy to a true-adventure saga from an era that decisively formed our country. In 1846, after Congress had voted to annex Texas and Mexico had declared war on the United States, President James K. Polk, whose mentor was Andrew Jackson, sent General Stephen Watts Kearny from Ft. Leavenworth, Kansas, to California with an army of 2,000 cavalrymen to occupy Mexican territory. The expedition included a caravan of wagons bearing settlers and families, frontiersmen, and explorers. When it ended a year later, the country had doubled in size and expanded from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific. 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 Russ Kesler
Wind Publications, 2011
$15, Paper

Poetry

Reviewed by Jennifer Horne

Russ Kesler’s second book is filled with poems of quiet, steady observation. This alone is pleasing. The poems move beyond attentiveness, however, and into meditation. The “as if” phrase of the title poem appears in three other poems as well, establishing a mode of approach that joins nature with tropes of nature, reality with what’s imagined, the mind with the world. Read the complete review

By Richard E. Creel and Grace B. Lebo, eds.; Phillip E. Levin, Editor in Chief
Gulf Coast Writers Association, 2011
$11.95, Paper

Anthology

Reviewed by Sue Scalf

After having read a number of very long novels recently, your reviewer was surprised anew by the enjoyment of reading a collection of short stories, especially one whose guidelines were “fictional stories with Southern themes, Southern locations, and Southern characters.” The panel who chose these stories, did, however, include a few nonfiction stories and five poems. 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 B.J. Hollars
The University of Alabama Press
$24.95, Hardcover; $19.96, eBook

Nonfiction

Reviewed by Ravi Howard

Today, I cannot walk past an oak or a camphor tree without wondering what sordid history might be tied to those branches.

B.J. Hollars shares this revelation in Thirteen Loops: Race, Violence, and the Last Lynching in America, an insightful analysis of how the residual effects of a violent racial history contributed to a 1981 lynching in Alabama. Read the complete review

By Guild of Professional Writers for Children;
Illustrations by Sue Blackshear
Look Again Press, LLC, 2011
$23.95, Hardcover; $16.95, Paper

Children

Reviewed by Linda A. McQueen

Tuskaloosa Tales Stories of Tuscaloosa and Its People is an interesting collection of short stories for children that examines the diverse heritage of Tuscaloosa, Alabama. There are true stories as well as fictional stories of people, places, and events of the past. These stories from the past have developed to form Tuscaloosa’s future. Read the complete review

By Anne Whitehouse
Finishing Line Press, 2010
$14, Paper

Poetry

Reviewed by P.T. Paul

Down the left side of the front cover of Anne Whitehouse’s book Bear In Mind is a black, orange, and yellow strip of artwork titled “Transit of Venus: Ingress.” Down the right side of the back cover is the reverse image “Transit of Venus: Egress.” At first glance, one might wonder what, exactly, is the significance of this particular choice of artwork. And one might wonder exactly what one is supposed to “bear in mind.” However, within the pages of this book, one might find more questions than answers, as well as poetry that will make one momentarily forget their original questions. Read the complete review

By Claire Klein Datnow
Media Mint Publishing, 2011
$14.25, Paper; $8.25, eBook

Nonfiction

Reviewed by Bill Plott

To say that growing up in South Africa in the 1950s and 1960s was like growing up in the segregated American South would be preposterous. Yet, there were parallels in the two cultures based on unapologetic white domination of subjugated black people. Perhaps the most striking thing about Claire Klein Datnow’s memoir is the isolation of the whites in both cultures. 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

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