Don Noble's Book Reviews

Mondays at 7:45 a.m and 4:44 p.m.

Now a retired English professor at The University of Alabama, Dr. Noble's specialties are Southern and American literature.  He also hosts Bookmark on Alabama Public Television.

Don Noble's reviews can be heard most Mondays at 7:45am and 4:44pm.  and have been made possible in part through grants from the Alabama State Council for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities.

To listen to the audio version of Dr. Noble's reviews, just click on the book title to be taken to the full page.  Audio is found either at the very beginning of the transcript or at the bottom of the page.

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Credit Alabama State Council on the Arts

Dr. Noble's Book Reviews are made possible in part with a grant from The Alabama State Council on the Arts, with the support of The University of Alabama, and from the generous support from our listeners.  Thank you!

The Nickel Boys
Amazon

“The Nickel Boys”

Author: Colson Whitehead

Publisher: Doubleday

Pages: 210

Price: $24.95 (Hardcover)

Years ago I met a man who had made a success in Hollywood writing ethnic wedding scenes, a narrow specialty indeed.  This man wrote the extraordinary wedding scenes for the first “Godfather” movie, Italian Roman Catholic, and “The Deer Hunter,” Russian Orthodox.

If Hollywood should develop a need for a specialist to write scenes of savage beatings, Colson Whitehead is their man.

Year-Round Trouble: 14 Cozy Holiday Mysteries
Amazon

“Year-Round Trouble: 14 Cozy Holiday Mysteries”

Editor: Susan Y. Tanner

Publisher: Kalioka Press

Pages: 463

Price: $16.99

A reminder: a cozy is a mystery with little or no onstage violence, little blood, profanity or sex. The problem may be murder, but may be theft or even a misunderstanding. Most cozies have small-town settings, and the detective, the problem-solver, usually an amateur, almost always female, is assisted by a quirky friend or friends.

Night Boat to Tangier
Amazon

“Night Boat to Tangier”

Author: Kevin Barry

Publisher: Doubleday

Pages: 255

Price: $25.95 (Cloth)

The population of Ireland is 4.8 million. Alabama is also 4.8 million.

Another factor in common: these two relatively small places have given the world a wildly disproportionate number of writers.

In the early twentieth century the most influential poet in the world was William Butler Yeats, James Joyce was the wellspring of modernist fiction and Sean O’Casey arguably the leading dramatist in the west.

The Andean Cross: A Novel
Amazon

“The Andean Cross: A Novel”

Author: Lawrence Clayton

Publisher: Westwood Books Publishing LLC

Pages: 216

Price: $14.99 (Hardback)

Lawrence Clayton, retired professor of Latin American history, has written his debut novel. Appropriately enough, it is set in Central and South America and reflects his expertise in these areas.

The novel opens on the Pacific coast of Panama, in 1544. There has been a catastrophe.

Mobile Under Siege: Surviving the Union Blockade
Amazon.com

Mobile Under Siege: Surviving the Union Blockade

Author: Paula Lenor Webb

Publisher: History Press

Pages: 142

Price: $ 21.99 (Paper)

When I commenced reading “Mobile Under Siege,” I believed it would be the story of the Port City during most of the Civil War, under Union naval blockade, with plucky blockade runners dashing out in the fog with contraband cotton bound for the mills of England by way of Havana, Cuba, and dashing in with a fresh load of fine wine and cigars.

It is not.

Debris Cloud
Amazon

“Debris Cloud”

Author: James Ezell

Publisher: Author House

Pages: 290

Price: $20.99 (Paper)

It is no surprise that a cataclysm like the 2011 tornado in Tuscaloosa would spawn a lot of written responses, in several genres.

Bay Boy
Amazon

“Bay Boy: Stories of a Childhood in Point Clear, Alabama”

Author: Watt Key

Publisher: University of Alabama Press

Pages: 136

Price: $24.95 (Cloth)

The Paris Husband
Amazon

“The Paris Husband: How It Really Was Between Ernest & Hadley Hemingway”

Author: Scott Donaldson

Publisher: Simply Charlie

Pages: 139

Price: $11.99

Ernest Hemingway lived in Italy, in France, in Key West and in Cuba, was a prodigious drinker, loved hunting birds and big game, went to WWI as an ambulance driver and The Spanish Civil War and WWII as a correspondent. As a young man, he loved fishing for trout and later, in the Gulf, for marlin. It was undeniably an exciting life.

Amazon

“The Story of Alabama in Fourteen Foods”

Author: Emily Blejwas

Publisher: University of Alabama Press

Price: $39.95 (Hardback)

Pages: 325

There are recipes in this book, even one for Sunday School punch, which is iced tea, muscatel and rum, but this not a cookbook.

Amazon.com

  

“Agent Running in the Field”

Author: John Le Carré

Publisher: Viking

Pages: 281

Price: $29.00 (Hardcover)

 

 

When the Berlin Wall came down in 1989, presumably ending the Cold War, readers and critics feared for the careers of spy novelists like John Le Carré. What would these fellows write about now?

No problem, really.

There is always plenty of crime, rottenness and misery in the world.

Brooding: Arias, Choruses, Lullabies, Dirges, and a Duet
Amazon

“Brooding: Arias, Choruses, Lullabies, Dirges, and a Duet”

Author: Michael Martone

Publisher: The University of Georgia Press

Pages: 191

Price: $24.95 (Paper)

Michael Martone, just finishing a career teaching at the U of A, is the author of a shelf of books, nonfiction, generally speaking, essays on every imaginable subject.

Maya Angelou turned every experience, every day, into memoir.

“Robert B. Parker’s Angel Eyes”

Author: Ace Atkins

Publisher: G. P. Putnam’s Sons

Pages: 320

Price: $27.00 (Hardcover)

“L’Chaim and Lamentations”

Author: Craig Darch

Publisher: NewSouth Books

Pages: 158

Price: $ 24.95 (Hardcover)

As readers surely know, my mandate here is to discuss Alabama-related books, and for the last many months, during this bicentennial year especially, I have read a string of histories of early Alabama and Selma and Birmingham and Mobile Bay.

However, my mandate also extends to books by Alabama authors, and Craig Darch, who has taught at Auburn for over thirty years, qualifies as such an Alabama author.

“The Gulf of Mexico; A Maritime History”

Author: John S. Sledge

Publisher: The University of South Carolina Press

Pages: 264

Price: $ 29.99 (Hardcover)

John Sledge, architectural historian for the city of Mobile, began publishing books with a rather narrow focus. He wrote on subjects such as Mobile cemeteries and Mobile ironworks. More recently he published a collection of literary columns from the “Mobile Press Register,” a study of the Mobile River and now, a history of the Gulf of Mexico and a summary of all that has happened in, on and around it.

“Tell Me a Story: My Life with Pat Conroy”

Author: Cassandra King Conroy

Publisher: William Morrow

Pages: 400

Price: $24.99 (Hardcover)

When Eugene O’Neill finished his masterpiece, “Long Day’s Journey into Night,” the painful dramatization of his tormented family, he gave his wife, Carlotta, the manuscript with this dedication:

“Dearest, I give you the original script of this play … written in tears and blood.”

“Selma: A Bicentennial History”

Author: Alston Fitts III

Publisher: University of Alabama Press

Pages: 360

$39.95 (Cloth)

Alston Fitts, originally from Tuscaloosa, has lived and worked in Selma since the early 1970s. A trained scholar with a PhD from the University of Chicago, Fitts is an excellent choice for this one-volume, richly illustrated history of Selma.

“Ghostly Demarcations: Stories”

Author: Joe Taylor

Publisher: Sagging Meniscus Press

2019

Pages: 215

Price: $19.95

Joe Taylor has been for 25 years the director of The Livingston Press at the University of West Alabama, where he is also a professor of English.

Taylor has edited a dozen volumes for the press and written six volumes of fiction of his own.

Livingston Press books feature the off-beat, experimental, and Taylor’s own work such as “Pineapple: A Comic Novel in Verse” is certainly that.

“Weathering Life”

Author: James Spann

Publisher: Crest Publishers, LLC

Pages not numbered

Price: $19.95 (Paper)

“Chasing the Bear: How Bear Bryant and Nick Saban Made Alabama the Greatest College Football Program of All Time”

Author: Lars Anderson

Publisher: Grand Central Publishing

Pages: 304

Price: $28.00 (Hardcover)

Only three years ago Monte Burke published a pretty good biography, “Nick Saban: The Making of a Coach.” Coach Bryant’s life has been done in detail by Allan Barra in “The Last Coach” (2006) and by many others including Keith Dunnavant (1996) and, earlier, John Underwood (1975) in cooperation with Bryant himself.

“The Old Federal Road in Alabama”

Authors: Kathryn H. Braund, Gregory A. Waselkov, and Raven M. Christopher

Publisher: The University of Alabama Press

Pages: 232

Price: $24.95 (Paper)

The Alabama Bicentennial has seen the publication of many new books on our state: general histories, histories of particular periods, especially the Civil War, a number of biographies of notable men and women, several histories of individual cities—Mobile, Huntsville, Tuscaloosa, Selma—and now we have a volume devoted to a road.

“House of Rose: A Magic City Story”

Author: T. K. Thorne

Publisher: Camel Press

Pages: 235

Price: $16.95 (Paper)

T. K. Thorne’s second book, “Last Chance for Justice: How Relentless Investigators Uncovered New Evidence Convicting the Birmingham Church Bombers,” in 2013, made perfect sense.

Thorne after all had retired after 22 years of service as the first female captain ever in the Birmingham Police Department.

Crime and punishment was her natural subject.

“Barracoon: The Story of the Last ‘Black Cargo’”

Author: Zora Neale Hurston

Edited by Deborah G. Plant

Foreword by Alice Walker

Publisher: Amistad (HarperCollins Publishers)

Pages: 171

Price: $24.99 (Hardcover)

There was a time when Zora Neale Hurston and her writings were, indeed, nearly forgotten. In her remarkable article in “Ms.” magazine in 1975, “Looking for Zora,” Alice Walker brought attention to Hurston’s life and work, and attention has been paid, pretty steadily, ever since.

“Time for Bed”

Author: Wendy Rawlings

Publisher: LSU Press

Pages: 155

Price: $24.95 (Paper)

Wendy Rawlings teaches fiction writing at UA and is the recipient of grants and prizes and the author of two previous volumes of stories. These 13 lightly interlinked stories were first published in such periodicals as “Kenyon Review,” “Indiana Review,” “Southern Review” and others. She is, in short, a professional, and these stories are artful and polished.

“Never Have I Ever”

Author: Joshilyn Jackson

Publisher: William Morrow

Pages: 337

Price: $26.99 (Hardcover)

Once in a while a book reviewer gets a chance to make everybody happy—the reviewer himself, the author, agent, bookseller, publisher, everybody. “Never Have I Ever” provides just this opportunity.

“Redbirds, Roses, and Ghosts: A Memoir”

Author: Gayle Young

Publisher: Bluewater Publications

Pages: 188

Price: $18.95 (paper)

Gayle Young has subtitled her book “A Memoir” and it is that, in part.

Young, in her sixties, in the middle of an ordinary July, retires after years of working as an assistant and typist in a law office. She enjoyed the work but, like so many, she had always dreamed of being a writer.

Murder at Royale Court
Amazon

“Murder at Royale Court”

Author: G. P. Gardner

Publisher: Lyrical Underground, Kensington Publishing Corp.

Pages: 226

Price: $15.95 (Paper)

Only this spring I reviewed G. P. Gardner’s debut mystery, “Murder at Harbor Village,” and found it a satisfying, pleasing cozy, complete with cats.

We met Cleo Mack, who retires from an academic position as sociology professor in Atlanta, and takes over as administrator of this Fairhope retirement complex.

Still attractive, Cleo is being courted by several men, some creepy, some not.

“Zora and Langston: A Story of Friendship and Betrayal”

Author: Yuval Taylor

Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company

Pages: 302

Price: $27.95

This study of the relationship of African American writers Zora Neale Hurston and Langston Hughes is, happily, much more about friendship than betrayal.

The “betrayal” part is an organizing dramatic device, used especially well in Scott Donaldson’s “Hemingway vs. Fitzgerald: The Rise and Fall of a Literary Friendship.” It combines a dual biography with a focus on a particular period of time.

“The Shameless”

Author: Ace Atkins

Publisher: G. P. Putnam’s Sons

Pages: 464

Price: $27.00 (Hardcover)

“The Shameless” is the ninth in Atkins’ Quinn Colson series, and it may be the best. Here is your action novel for the beach, filled with distressingly realistic dialogue and wonderful characters, from Fannie Hathcock, brothel madam, to middle-school boys playing JV football.

"Eleven Miles to Oshkosh"
Author: Jim Guhl
Publisher: The University of Wisconsin Press
Pages: 303
Price: $24.95 (Hardcover)

“Eleven Miles to Oshkosh” is a young adult novel, set in the fall of 1972, during the Nixon-McGovern campaign. Set in Winnebago County, Eastern Wisconsin, it is not the kind of book that I normally review.

Most of this novel, allowing for weather and food choices, could happen anywhere, but there is a special connection to Alabama.

The protagonist, 15-year-old Delmar Finwick, is going through a very rough patch.

“Beloved Mother”

Author: Laura Hunter 

Publisher: Bluewater Publications

Pages: 294

Price: $18.95 (Paper)

“Beloved Mother” is as genuinely Appalachian as a novel could be. The action begins in 1923 in the mountains west of Boone, North Carolina, and continues there until up into the 1960s.

The descriptions of food, dress, furniture, folkways and the dialects used are entirely convincing and one assumes accurate without the feeling that recipes or idioms have been looked up.

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