Don Noble Book Reviews

“Whistling Dixie”

Author: Sean Dietrich (“Sean of the South”)  

Publisher: Amazon

Pages: 198

Price: $12.99 (paper)

I learned in March that a featured speaker at the Alabama Writers Symposium in Monroeville in April would be the writer who calls himself “Sean of the South.”

This annual gathering is to celebrate Southern, especially Alabama literature, about which it is thought I know something.

I had never heard of Sean Dietrich and here he was, a headliner.

“Charmed Bones: A Sarah Booth Delaney Mystery”

Author: Carolyn Haines  

Publisher: Minotaur Books

Pages: 368

Price: $25.90 (Hardcover)

Readers were astonished when Sue Grafton undertook to write a series of mysteries beginning with "A Is for Alibi." The series was projected to be 26 volumes long!

“Pomp and Circumstance”

Author: William Cobb  

Publisher: Livingston Press 

Pages: 215

Price: $23.95 (Hardcover); $14.95 (paper)

William Cobb, long-time writer-in-residence at Montevallo, now retired, has had a long and distinguished career as a fiction writer. Cobb has won the Fiction Book of the Year Award from the Alabama Library Association and the Harper Lee Award as Alabama's Distinguished Writer.

“Murder on Shades Mountain: The Legal Lynching of Willie Peterson and the Struggle for Justice in Jim Crow Alabama”

Author: Melanie S. Morrison 

Publisher: Duke University Press

Pages: 280

Price: $26.95 (Paperback) 

Although the title may suggest a fictional thriller, "Murder on Shades Mountain" is a straightforward, thoroughly researched nonfiction account of yet another disgraceful episode in Alabama racial history.

“Country Dark”

Author: Chris Offutt   

Publisher: Grove Press

Pages: 231

Price: $24.00 (Hardcover)

Chris Offutt has been writing for a while and has a considerable reputation as a chronicler of life in eastern Kentucky.

His story collections “Kentucky Straight” and “Out of the Woods” appeared in 1992 and 1999; his latest memoir, the very odd "My Father the Pornographer" was published in 2016.

"On the Rocks; A Novella" By Theodora Bishop

Apr 9, 2018

“On the Rocks; A Novella”

Author: Theodora Bishop  

Publisher: Texas Review Press

Houston, TX

2018

Pages: 138

Price: $14.95

“Love & Death in the Great War”

Author: Andrew J. Huebner  

Publisher: Oxford University Press

New York, 2018

Pages: 390

Price: $35.00 (Hardcover)

The question arises all too often; how do we get citizens to enlist in the armed forces and fight our wars? How do we motivate the conscripted to give their utmost? How do we, as a society, convince the mothers, fathers, siblings and spouses of warriors that sending their loved one into battle is the right thing to do?

“The Best Cook in the World: Tales from My Momma's Table”

Author: Rick Bragg  

Publisher: Alfred A. Knopf

Pages: 528

Price: $28.95 (Hardcover)

Rick Bragg's fans can't get enough of his family stories and they won't this time either, although at 528 pages, this is Bragg's longest book.

“The Hurting Part: Evolution of an American Play”

Author: Silas House  

Publisher: Motes Books

Louisville KY

2008

Price: $12.00 (Paperback)

Pages: 119

Readers love a literary origin story. Did the gigantic Thomas Wolfe really write using the top of the refrigerator for a desk? Did Erskine Caldwell really buy 30-day Greyhound passes and write and live in the back of the bus?

“My Exaggerated Life”

Author: Pat Conroy, As Told to Katherine Clark  

Publisher: The University of South Carolina Press

Pages: 352

Price: $29.99 (Hardcover)

On March 4, 2016, author Pat Conroy died in Beaufort, South Carolina, and the literary world lost a generous, talented writer and raconteur. Fortunately for all of us, his voice is still available to us in his books and, vividly, in this extraordinary oral memoir.

“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.

"A Piece of the World" By: Christina Baker Kline

Oct 2, 2017

“A Piece of the World”

Author: Christina Baker Kline  

Publisher: HarperCollins, 2017

Pages: 309

Price: $27.99 (Hardcover)

In 2014, Christina Baker Kline, who had four previously published and well-received novels, became a household name with “Orphan Train.” This novel was based on the lives of a few of the thousands of homeless, orphaned, and/or unwanted children, infants to teenagers, gathered up from the streets of New York City, mainly the Lower East Side, in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

Pages