Don Noble

Program Host: Book Reviews

Dr. Noble is the host of APR's book review series as well as host of BOOKMARK which airs on Alabama Public Television.  A widely published scholar specializing in American and Southern literature, Dr. Noble received the Eugene Current-Garcia Award as Alabama's distinguished literary scholar for the year 2000 and was nominated for a Regional Emmy Award in 2006 and 2011.  In addition he is on the planning committee of several literary conferences.

Dr. Noble's book reviews air during Morning Edition and feature works primarily by Alabama writers.  His reviews focus on why these writers are concerned with their particular subjects and how they succeed or fail  in addressing issues of concern to Alabama readers.

“The Vain Conversation: A Novel”

Author: Anthony Grooms 

Publisher: The University of South Carolina Press, Story River Books

Pages: 256

Price: $27.99 (Hardcover)

Calloustown

Author: George Singleton 

Publisher: Dzanc Books

Pages: 261

Price: $15.95 (Paperback)

Before there was “Lincoln in the Bardo,” George Saunders had achieved national fame with his volumes of short stories. In America, where the novel rules, this was unusual.

Another veteran short-story writer, George Singleton, has now published seven volumes and still has not received the acclaim he deserves.

“The Risen”

Author: Ron Rash  

Publisher: ECCO (HarperCollins)

Pages: 253

Price: $25.99 (Hardcover)

When Ron Rash's first novel, “One Foot in Eden,” won the Novello Literary Award in 2002, he already had in print two volumes of stories, three of poetry and a children’s book. Since that time there have been other volumes of poetry and stories and six more novels, including “Serena,” a best-seller and a finalist for the PEN/Faulkner Award.

“Hidden Figures”

Author: Margot Lee Shetterly

Publisher: William Morris 

Pages: 368

Price: $27.99 (Hardcover) 

“Hidden Figures” has an extended and explanatory subtitle: "The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race." The life stories of these black women were so immediately compelling the movie was produced about simultaneously with the book.

Shetterly writes that many readers have asked how these stories remained hidden for so long. She writes they were not "so much hidden as unseen."

“The Underground Railroad”

Author: Colson Whitehead 

Publisher: Doubleday

Pages: 306

Price: $26.95 (Cloth)

Colson Whitehead has already won a Guggenheim Grant, the MacArthur Prize, and is the author of six previous novels and a volume of essays. He has been a finalist for the Pulitzer, and “The Underground Railroad” won the 2017 Pulitzer Prize for fiction.

This novel is a masterpiece, an action/adventure story, a historical novel, and a highly imagined fiction, peopled with unforgettable characters.

Driving Truman Capote 

Author: Theron Montgomery  

Publisher: Boat Shop Press

Pages: 63

Price: $11.00 (Paper)

When we want to know the life story of one our favorite authors, we usually go to the full-length biography. In the case of Truman Capote, that would be Gerald Clark or the composite biography that George Plimpton assembled by interviewing about 170 people who knew Capote in Monroeville, New York City, Hollywood or elsewhere and creating a kind of biographical montage of their impressions and recollections.

“1865 Alabama: From Civil War to Uncivil Peace”

Author: Christopher Lyle McIlwain, Sr.   

Publisher: University of Alabama Press  

Pages: 276

Price: $59.95 (Cloth)

Christopher McIlwain, a practicing Tuscaloosa attorney, has been researching Alabama in the Civil War for over 25 years.

He has gone deeply into such primary sources as letters, diaries, drafts of legislation before the Alabama legislature and, especially, the editorial pages of the many Alabama newspapers during the years 1861-1865.

“The Ambulance Drivers: Hemingway, Dos Passos, and a Friendship Made and Lost in War”

Author: James McGrath Morris 

Publisher: Da Capo Press

Pages: 312

Price: $27.00 (Hardcover)

When WWI began in Europe in 1914 the French army was woefully short of ambulances and drivers. The United States was not yet in the war, but some Americans living in Paris volunteered in an informal, unorganized way.

“Quicks”

Author: Kevin Waltman  

Publisher: Cinco Puntos Press

Pages: 292

Price: $ 11.95 (Paper)

Kevin Waltman teaches at UA in Tuscaloosa now but played his high school basketball in Hoosierland, the center of basketball madness in America.

“Quicks” is the fourth and final young adult novel in the series “D-Bow High School Hoops.”

“Being Elvis: A Lonely Life”

Author: Ray Connolly   

Publisher: Liveright Publishing Corporation

Pages: 362

Price: $27.95 (Hardcover)

Peter Guralnick is considered by many to be the best commentator on American popular music, with books on Sam Phillips, Sam Cooke, Robert Johnson and others.

“Sing, Unburied, Sing”

Author: Jesmyn Ward   

Publisher: Scribner

Pages: 285

Price: $26.00 (Hardcover)

I might have said in this review that “Sing, Unburied, Sing” was a powerful novel which will surely win awards. This turns out not to be necessary. While I was reading “Sing,” it was announced that Ward, who won the National Book Award in 2011 with “Salvage the Bones,” has won again with “Sing.”

“False Friend”

Author: Andrew Grant   

Publisher: Ballantine Books

Pages: 282

Price: $27.00 (Hardcover)

“Tru and Nelle: A Christmas Tale”

Author: G. Neri    

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Pages: 336

Price: $16.99 (Hardcover)

Only a year ago, G. Neri had a nice success with “Tru and Nelle,” a novel based on real and imagined events in the childhood friendship of Truman Capote and Nelle Harper Lee in Monroeville.

The two were friends, played word games, wrote stories together, and solved a mystery together, with young Truman taking the role of Sherlock.

“The Handmaid’s Tale”

Author: Margaret Atwood  

Publisher: Random House

Pages: 311

Price: $15.95

“The Handmaid’s Tale,” published originally in 1985, was more than a successful novel, winning several prizes and short-listed for the rest; it was and continues to be a phenomenon.

There have been a feature film (1990), a radio play, a stage play, an opera and a ballet based on the book, and the first season of the TV adaptation, ten episodes, won an Emmy.

“These Rugged Days: Alabama in the Civil War”

Author: John S. Sledge   

Publisher: The University of Alabama Press

Pages: 296

Price: $34.95 (Cloth)

There is surely no subject more written about than the American Civil War, so it is perfectly sensible to ask whether this book is needed. The answer is an unequivocal yes, and I learned a lot.

“Fierce Kingdom”

Author: Gin Phillips   

Publisher: Viking

Pages: 274

Price: $ 25.00 (Hardcover)

“Fierce Kingdom” is Birmingham novelist Gin Phillips’ third novel and it is heartening to see the way this Birmingham writer has shaped a fine career with three very different novels, never repeating herself.

“The Well and the Mine,” 2007, was set northwest of Birmingham in a coal mining town in 1931. This novel is gritty/realistic—a family struggles to survive in hard times.

“No Saints in Kansas”

Author: Amy Brashear    

Publisher: Soho Teen

Pages: 320

Price: $18.99 (Hardcover)

For the last few years there have been any number of books which are, in some fashion or other, about other books.

There are retellings of Jane Austen novels and fictionalizations of the lives of humans connected with novels. See “The Paris Wife” about Hadley Hemingway, or “Z”, a novel based on Zelda’s life, or, more to the point, the novel “Capote in Kansas.”

“The Eastern Shore”

Author: Ward Just  

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Pages: 200

Price: $ 25.00 (Hardcover)

“Wolf’s Revenge: A Leo Maxwell Novel”

Author: Lachlan Smith         

Publisher: The Mysterious Press New York

Pages: 256

Price: $25.00 (Hardcover)

Lachlan Smith is an attorney practicing in Birmingham. I do not hear much talk about the Leo Maxwell series around Alabama, perhaps because these novels are set in the Bay Area of California.

But, since the first in the series, “Bear Is Broken,” won the Shamus Award for best first P.I. Novel and this is the fifth, be assured there is a substantial and well-deserved readership.

“Here We May Rest: Alabama Immigrants in the Age of HB 56”

Author: Silvia Giagnoni   

Publisher: NewSouth Books

Pages: 276

Price: $29.95 (Trade paper)

Silvia Giagnoni is an associate professor in the Department of Communication and Theatre at AUM. She moved to the U.S. from Italy, at the age of 26, with a B.A. and an M.A. in hand, to attend graduate school in Florida. Her first book was “Fields of Resistance: The Struggle of Florida’s Farmworkers for Justice.”

“We Now Return to Regular Life”

Author: Martin Wilson     

Publisher: Dial Books

Pages: 370

Price: $17.95 (Hardcover)

Martin Wilson, raised in Tuscaloosa, now a literary publicist in New York City, has published his second Young Adult novel. The subject once again is the difficulty, for many teens, of growing up in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, or for that matter, anywhere.

In his first novel, “What They Always Tell Us,” a pair of brothers, Alex and James, are moving through their last years at Central High in the late 1980s.

“Man in the Blue Moon”

Author: Michael Morris   

Publisher: Tyndale House Publishers

Pages: 377

Price: $13.99 (Paperback)

Michael Morris, who now lives in Birmingham, is a fifth-generation native of Perry, Florida, and it is there, in the Panhandle, that “Man in the Blue Moon” is set, in a little fictional town called Dead Lakes, just outside of Apalachicola, during 1917 and 1918. WWI is raging, but at a distance.

“The Axeman of New Orleans: The True Story”

Author: Miriam G. Davis   

Publisher: Chicago Review Press

Pages: 320

Price: $26.99 (Hardcover)

Perhaps the most famous serial killer of all time was Jack the Ripper, who terrorized the Whitechapel District of London in 1888.

That deranged killer attacked prostitutes, stabbed the women, slashed their throats and sometimes partially disemboweled them.

The city of New Orleans, in the years between 1910 and 1920, was likewise terrorized by some kind of madman, dubbed “The Axeman.”

“Mike Denny: The Shadow of a Single Man”

Author: Delbert Reed     

Publisher: Paul W. Bryant Museum

Pages: 325

Price: $24.95 (Hardcover)

“The Marriage Pact”

Author: Michelle Richmond   

Publisher: Bantam

Pages: 414

Price: $27.00 (Hardcover)

Michelle Richmond’s fifth novel, “The Marriage Pact,” arrives in a flurry of well-deserved excitement. The talk is that the movie rights have already been sold and the novel is being translated into the known languages.

I hope all this is true; “The Marriage Pact” is a fast-paced, intelligent book and deserves all the success it will get.

The story begins simply.

A nice young-ish couple, Alice and Jake, get married.

“Southside: Eufaula’s Cotton Mill Village and Its People, 1890-1945”

Author: David E. Alsobrook

Publisher: Mercer University Press Macon GA

Pages: 221

Price: $29.00 (Hardback)

I will begin by admitting I never thought I would read an entire volume on the history of one SECTION of Eufaula, Alabama.

But I have and I’m glad I did.

David Alsobrook, now living in Mobile, was the perfect, maybe the only person, to write this history.

“Gone Again: A Jack Swyteck Novel”

Author: James Grippando     

Publisher: HarperCollins

Pages: 400

Price: $26.99 (Hardcover)

Each year the UA School of Law and the ABA Journal sponsor the Harper Lee Prize for Legal Fiction, given to a book which “features the role of lawyers in society and their power to effect change.” This year’s finalists have been announced and I thought it might be fun to review the three novels. You too may want to read them and then vote for a winner at abajournal.gov. Voting closes June 30.

“Once in a Blue Moon”  

Author: Vicki Covington    

Publisher: John F. Blair

Pages: 201

Price: $26.95 (Hardcover)

“High Notes: Selected Writings”

Author: Gay Talese, with an Introduction by Lee Gutkind   

Publisher: Bloomsbury USA

Pages: 288

Price: $20.00 (Trade paperback)

Lee Gutkind, the founder and editor of the magazine “Creative Nonfiction,” is arguably the guru of this subgenre.

“The Weight of This World”

Author: David Joy   

Publisher: G. P. Putnam’s Sons

Pages: 260

Price: $27.00 (Hardcover)

David Joy dreamed he would be able to make a living writing about fly fishing in the cold, clear waters of the Blue Ridge. It is his passion. In fact, he began his writing career with a memoir structured around fly fishing, “Growing Gills: A Fly Fisherman’s Journey” (2011).

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