Don Noble Book Reviews

“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.

“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.

"The Admiral's Baths" By: Dana Gynther

Aug 7, 2017

“The Admiral’s Baths”

Author: Dana Gynther

Publisher: CreateSpace

Pages: 351

Price: $16.00 (Paperback)

There seems to be evolving a book we can call a Dana Gynther novel.

The protagonist will be a female, or several females. She or they will face difficulties, and, to some to degree or other, prevail.

The Birmingham novelist Kerry Madden explains that she first makes the reader fond of the heroine, then puts her up a tree and throws rocks at her.

It’s like that.

“Mockingbird Songs: My Friendship with Harper Lee”

Author: Wayne Flynt    

Publisher: HarperCollins

Pages: 240

Price: $25.99 (Hardcover)

Because the author of “To Kill a Mockingbird” was, to say the least, a very private person, her millions of fans are perpetually thirsty for biographical information. They are understandably curious. What was she really like?

She refused interviews after about 1964, and lived in Manhattan, only moving back to Alabama when her health required her to.

"A Slice of Life: Life Stories" By: Thom Gossom Jr.

Jul 24, 2017

“A Slice of Life: Life Stories”

Author: Thom Gossom, Jr. 

Publisher: Aquarius Press

Pages: 106

Price: $19.95 (Paperback)

Thom Gossom, originally of the Rosalind Heights neighborhood in Birmingham, has already had success in several different fields.

Gossom played football at John Carroll High, then at Auburn where he was a freshman in 1970 and in 1975 became the first black athlete to graduate from that university.

"Girl from Soldier Creek" By: Patricia Foster

Jul 17, 2017

“Girl from Soldier Creek”

Author: Patricia Foster  

Publisher: Stephen F. Austin State University Press

Pages: 269

Price: $18.00 (Paperback)

“The Ex-suicide: A Mountain Brook Novel”

Author: Katherine Clark   

Publisher: University of South Carolina Press, Story River Books

Pages: 240

Price: $27.99 (Hardcover)

“The Ex-suicide” is the fourth and final novel in Katherine Clark’s Mountain Brook series, books which were among the first in the late Pat Conroy’s imprint Story River Books.

"Grief Cottage" By: Gail Godwin

Jul 3, 2017

“Grief Cottage”

Author: Gail Godwin  

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Pages: 336

Price: $20.00 (Hardcover)

Because Gail Godwin lived for a good while in Asheville, North Carolina and has lived in Woodstock, New York since 1976, it is easy to forget she is an Alabama woman, raised in Birmingham.

Godwin had huge early successes with the novels “A Southern Family” and” A Mother and Two Daughters” which has sold over a million and a half copies.

"Extraordinary Adventures" By: Daniel Wallace

Jun 26, 2017

“Extraordinary Adventures”

Author: Daniel Wallace   

Publisher: St. Martin’s Press

Pages: 328

Price: $25.99 (Hardcover)

Daniel Wallace’s new novel opens with a scene familiar to all. Edsel Bronfman is at home when the phone rings. Poor, naïve Edsel—and who would name a child Edsel, the most sensational failure in American automotive history?—answers, fearing it is bad news. Perhaps his mother is ill or he is being fired from his job. Edsel is not an optimistic fellow.

“The Trouble with Reality: A Rumination on Moral Panic in Our Time”

Author: Brooke Gladstone  

Publisher: Workman Publishing

$8.95 (Paperback)

Pages: 92

Brooke Gladstone, as National Public Radio listeners know, is the co-host, with Bob Garfield, of “On the Media.”

On that show, the hosts give some news, but more often, talk with journalists and others who discuss how the news is gathered, sorted, delivered. What methods are changing? Is the media doing its best? What aspects of media need improving? What sources are trustworthy?

"Small Great Things" By: Jodi Picoult

Jun 12, 2017

“Small Great Things”

Author: Jodi Picoult   

Publisher: Ballantine Books

Pages: 464

Price: $28.99 (Hardcover)

This is the third of the three finalists for the Harper Lee Prize for Legal Fiction, given to a novel which “features the role of lawyers in society and their power to effect change.” Read all three and cast your vote at abajournal.com by June 30.

Jodi Picoult is a terrifically successful author of popular novels, many of which have been best sellers, the most popular of which may be “Leaving Time.”

"Last Days of Night" By: Graham Moore

Jun 5, 2017

“Last Days of Night”

Author: Graham Moore    

Publisher: Random House

Pages: 357

Price: $28.00 (Hardcover)

Last week I reviewed “Gone Again,” the first of the three finalists for the Harper Lee Prize for Legal Fiction. This is the second; next week I will talk about the third.

Anyone interested may read all three novels and cast a vote for the winner at www.abajournal.com. The deadline is June 30th.

“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).

“Writer, Sailor, Soldier, Spy: Ernest Hemingway’s Secret Adventures, 1935-1961”

Author: Nicholas Reynolds   

Publisher: William Morrow

Pages: 267

Price: $27.99 (Hardcover)

In the beginning, everybody loved Ernest Hemingway and Hemingway’s fiction. He had best-selling novels and was one of the most recognized people in the country, imitated in his personal habits and his prose style. And he won the Nobel Prize for literature.

"Echolocation: A Novel" By Mark Powell

May 8, 2017

“Echolocation: A Novel”

Author: Mark Powell   

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Pages: 336

Price: $24.99 (Hardcover)

Southern fiction is continually evolving, the characters and settings changing with the times. What began with raw East Alabama frontier characters in “The Adventures of Simon Suggs,” then “Huckleberry Finn,” then Erskine Caldwell’s pellagra-ridden creatures on” Tobacco Road,” moved to Faulkner’s plantations, Welty’s and Thomas Wolfe’s small cities.

Walker Percy set a lot of his fiction at the country club.

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