Don Noble's Book Reviews

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

Recently retired as 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!

"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.

“Our Prince of Scribes: Writers Remember Pat Conroy”

Editors: Nicole Seitz and Jonathan Haupt  

Publisher: University of Georgia Press

Pages: 285

Price: $29.95 (Hardcover)

Volumes like this one, designed to remember and honor a beloved figure, often a writer, have happily, become more frequent of late.

Here in Alabama Rebecca Barrett and Carolyn Haines put together “Moments with Eugene,” in which about 70 contributors wrote up their memories of Eugene Walter, from his childhood in Mobile through his last days.

“Tuscaloosa Stories”

Authors: Tuscaloosa Writers and Illustrators Guild  

Publisher: Borgo Publishing

Pages: 111

$21.99 (Hardcover)

This collection of 16 stories, each about six pages long, and each illustrated with pleasing watercolors by Sharron Stough Rudowski, is described as “historical fiction” written for young people, I would guess from 8-12 years old.

I enjoyed them anyway.

Most of the entries are dramatized scenes from Tuscaloosa’s past, allowing for a good deal of creative license.

“Furious Hours: Murder, Fraud, and the Last Trial of Harper Lee”

Author: Casey Cep  

Publisher: Alfred A. Knopf

Pages: 314

Price: $ 26.95 (Hardback)

Readers believing this to be a book about Harper Lee will be disappointed—for a while.

Except for a mention in the two-page prologue, Lee does not appear until page 147. Those first 147 pages, however, are the best in the book.

“Staff Picks”

Author: George Singleton  

Publisher: LSU Press

Pages: 200

Price: $22.50 (Paperback)

George Singleton has two novels, it is true, but his reputation as a writer rests on his eight volumes of short stories. And it is a fine reputation. Singleton is a writer’s writer, a member of the Fellowship of Southern Writers and the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship, among other honors.

Making a career in the short story these days is a struggle, but a few, like George Saunders and Singleton, carry on.

“Camino Island”

Author: John Grisham  

Publisher: Bantam

Pages: 336

Price: $17.00 (Paperback)

Ordinarily, I would not review a novel by John Grisham. He is a known quantity, a master of his craft, and every book is a best-seller.

But this novel intrigued me with its connection to the literary world, and there is even a tenuous Alabama connection.

“Game of Bones”

Author: Carolyn Haines 

Publisher: Minotaur Books

Pages: 384

Price: $26.00 (Hardcover)

“Game of Bones” is, unbelievably, the twentieth in Haines’ “Bones” series, starring Sarah Booth Delaney, private detective. With each novel, using the same set of characters, Haines must cook up a new crime, a new venue and if possible a new method of killing. And she has.

In this novel, we learn there is an archaeological dig happening, in the Mississippi Delta, but some distance from the river.

"My Year in the Middle" By: Lila Quintero Weaver

Jun 26, 2019

“My Year in the Middle”

Author: Lila Quintero Weaver  

Publisher: Candlewick Press

New York

2019

Price: $15.99 (Hardcover)

Pages: 268

Lila Quintero Weaver made her publishing debut with a most unusual book, “Darkroom: A Memoir in Black and White,” a graphic memoir in 500 drawings with sparse texts that told of her childhood years growing up in Marion, Alabama, during the Civil Rights era. “Darkroom” was a considerable success, winning a number of prizes and translated, so far, into French and Swedish.

“Treeborne”

Author: Caleb Johnson   

Publisher: Picador

New York

2018

Price: $26.00 (Hardcover)

Pages: 320

“Treeborne” is an amazing debut novel that has arrived on the scene with considerable fanfare. Advance praise comes from Daniel Wallace, Jill McCorkle, Brad Watson, and many others.

Caleb Johnson, a native of tiny Arley, Alabama, graduated from the university, then took the MFA in Laramie, at The University of Wyoming, to study with Brad Watson.

“At Briarwood School for Girls”

Author: Michael Knight  

Publisher: Atlantic Monthly Press

Pages: 221

Price: $26.00 (Hardcover)

After publishing his stunning collection of stories, “Eveningland,” in 2017, it would be understandable if Michael Knight lay fallow for a season.

But he is back with a new novel.

“Eveningland” was set, like most of Knight’s fiction, in his home place, around Mobile Bay.

“Southern Lady Code: Essays”

Author: Helen Ellis  

Publisher: Doubleday

Pages: 203

Price: $22.00 (Hardcover)

Helen Ellis, raised in Tuscaloosa, has been, through two previous volumes, a very funny writer. Her novel "Eating the Cheshire Cat," set on the UA campus, is a delight and her short story collection, "American Housewife" is a treat.

“Murder at Harbor Village”

Author: G. P. Gardner  

Publisher: Kensington Publishing Co.

Pages: 215

Price: $15.00 (Paper)

Cozies are springing up all over.

Just a few weeks ago a new series, The Sarah Blair Mysteries by Debra Goldstein, was launched in Birmingham; now the first in a new series is out in Fairhope, Alabama.

In the opening pages of “Murder at Harbor Village,” we meet Cleo Mack, our heroine and narrator. Dr. Mack lives in Atlanta where she is a professor of social work and chair of the department.

“Tuscaloosa: 200 Years in the Making”

Author: G. Ward Hubbs  

Publisher: University of Alabama Press

Pages: 204

Price: $24.95 (Paper)

This year marks the bicentennial for the state and, as it happens, for the city of Tuscaloosa. There has been a stream of fine books summarizing, explaining, examining Alabama’s past 200 years. Guy Ward Hubbs was the perfect choice to write of his home place.

“The Graceland Conspiracy”

Author: Philip Shirley  

Publisher: Mindbridge Press

Pages: 271

Price: $17.99 (Paper)

“To Dance With the White Dog”

Author: Terry Kay  

Publisher: Peachtree Publishers

Pages: 178

Price: $15.00

From time to time in this space I consider a book that is not brand new. Not too long ago, for example, I talked about “The Keepers of the House” by Shirley Ann Grau, which had won the Pulitzer Prize.

“The Fireball Brothers”

Author: M. David Hornbuckle  

Publisher: The Livingston Press

Pages: 194.

Price: $16.95 (Paper)

David Hornbuckle’s third novel opens in early June of 1959 on a farm in Pickens County near the Mississippi state line. Two boys are swimming, happily, in a small pond when a fireball—meteorite? space debris? or, perhaps, “the smoldering remains of a failed alien visitor”—splashes down at the other end of the pond, some 50 yards away.

“Hank: The Short Life and Long Country Road of Hank Williams”

Author: Mark Ribowsky  

Publisher: Liveright Publishing Corp.

Price: $29.95 (Hardcover)

Pages: 496

“Undefeated: From Basketball to Battle: West Point’s Perfect Season 1944”

Author: Jim Noles  

Publisher: Casemate Books

Pages: 272

Price: $29.95 (Hardcover)

Birmingham attorney Jim Noles is also the author of a string of books.

His “Pocketful of History,” which explains the images on the new set of United States quarters, state by state, was such a needed and useful project it causes consternation: Why didn’t I think of that!

His other books, however, have military subjects.

“A Mind to Stay: White Plantation, Black Homeland”

Author: Sydney Nathans  

Publisher: Harvard University Press

Pages: 344

Price: $29.95 (Hardcover)

Readers of Isabel Wilkerson’s brilliant, Pulitzer Prize–winning study, “The Warmth of Other Suns,” learned how millions of African-Americans left the South seeking greater personal freedom and a chance at a better job and a better life in the industrial cities of the north and in California.

“A Thousand Thirsty Beaches: Smuggling Alcohol from Cuba to the South During Prohibition”

Author: Lisa Lindquist Dorr  

Publisher: University of North Carolina Press

Pages: 299

Price: $39.95 (Hardcover)

Lisa Dorr’s study of bootlegging from Havana to the American South is serious and scholarly, thoroughly researched from government records and loads of correspondence of those involved, but do not be dismayed. It is also entirely readable and in its own way, playful.

“The Cistern” 

Author: James N. Ezell  

Publisher: Authorhouse, 2017

Pages: 266

Price: $18.99 (Paper)

James Ezell, of Tuscaloosa, has chosen in this debut novel not to write a coming-of-age story of his youth in Sumter County but instead a murder mystery.

“One Taste Too Many: A Sarah Blair Mystery”

Author: Debra H. Goldstein  

Publisher: Kensington Books

Pages: 326

Price: $7.99 (Paper)

Debra Goldstein, an administrative law judge in Birmingham can, at this point, also be considered a veteran mystery writer.

Goldstein attended The University of Michigan and set her 2011 debut novel, “Maze in Blue” on that campus. “Maze in Blue” was a relatively hard-edged murder mystery. Since that time, she has published “Should Have Played Poker” in the Carrie Martin and the Mah Jongg Players mystery series.

“American Pop: A Novel”

Author: Snowden Wright 

Publisher: William Morrow

Pages: 376

Price: $26.99 (Hardcover)

“American Pop” is in the tradition of the Edna Ferber multi-generational novel, like “Giant,” that lets us follow a cluster of characters, usually one extended family, from their origins, through the rise in fortunes and, oftentimes, their decline.

In “Giant,” set in Texas, the liquid that made the family fortune was oil. In “American Pop,” set largely in the Mississippi Delta, the liquid is coke—soda or pop if you are a Yankee.

“The Shakespeare Requirement”

Author: Julie Schumacher  

Publisher: Doubleday

Pages: 306

Price: $25.95 (Hardcover)

Truly funny novels are a treasure, hard to find.

“The Shakespeare Requirement” is a delight, a sequel to “Dear Committee Members,” Schumacher’s comic novel comprised of letters of recommendation, some straightforward, some facetious, some subversive, written for his students by Professor Jason T. Fitger of Payne University, a nondescript midwestern school.

“The Million-Dollar Man Who Helped Kill a President”

Author: Christopher Lyle McIlwain, Sr.  

Publisher: Savis Beatie

Pages: 266

Price: $32.95

Chris McIlwain has been practicing law in Tuscaloosa for over thirty years—in the daytime—and researching nineteenth-century Alabama history evenings and weekends.

“Southern Brothers: A Collection of Stories”

Authors: Dick Mullins and Ed Mullins  

Foreword by Rick Bragg

Pages: 286

Price: $17.00 (Paper)

Ed Mullins and his brother, Dick, are real Alabama boys, mostly raised in Enterprise and both educated at first in Alabama. Ed, the older, attended the University, then after a Ph.D. from Chapel Hill, had a career first as a newspaper reporter and editor and then here at UA as a teacher of editing, and, for many years, Dean of the College of Communication.

"Hercule Poirot's Christmas" By: Agatha Christie

Feb 11, 2019

“Hercule Poirot’s Christmas”

Author: Agatha Christie  

Publisher: HarperCollins

Pages: 243

Price: $14.99

Just about every year an Alabama writer publishes a Christmas book and, in the season, I review it here.

Over the past few years we have had “The Holiday Season” by Michael Knight, “The Christmas Letter” by Lee Smith and “A Redbird Christmas” by Fannie Flagg. All of these are good reads.

I had one this season too—“A Gift of Bones” by Carolyn Haines—but I foolishly reviewed it prematurely in November and none arrived to take its place.

“My Lai: Vietnam, 1968, and the Descent into Darkness”

Author: Howard Jones    

Publisher: Oxford University Press

Pages: 504

Price: $34.95 (Hardcover)

There have been, over the years, many books and articles written about the My Lai Massacre and Lieutenant William Calley, from the earliest coverage by Seymour Hersch and Alabama writer Wayne Greenhaw through dozens of others, narrow or broad.

After this astonishing, brilliant treatment, there will never need to be another study of My Lai. There can be little more to learn.

“Lake Success: A Novel”

Author: Gary Shteyngart

Publisher: Random House   

Pages: 335

Price: $28.00 (Hardcover)

There is a kind of book, sometimes fiction, sometimes not, we can call “In Search of America.” Steinbeck’s “Travels with Charlie” is such a book. So is “On the Road,” by Jack Kerouac.

The protagonist leaves his usual place, travels, mixes with so-called ordinary people, exposes himself to situations he is not used to, listens and, we hope, learns what is going on in our enormous and enormously varied country.

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