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Afternoons with Harper Lee
By Wayne Flynt
NewSouth/University of Georgia Press, 2022
Hardcover: $24.95
Genre: Biography/Autobiography
​​​​​​​Reviewed by Jim Buford

Thanks to Auburn Villager for permission to reprint this review.

I have long been an admirer of Auburn University historian Wayne Flynt’s work, and with his incisive biography of Nelle Harper Lee, he has outdone himself. His prose is described by Patti Callahan Henry as flowing “gracefully as the rivers of Alabama, clear and lyrical” and he is called “the great Talmudic scholar of Alabama” by Diane McWhorter. I could not agree more with the assessments of these noted writers. Read more…

It Falls Gently All Around and Other Stories
By Ramona Reeves
University of Pittsburgh Press; 2022
Cloth: $23.00
Genre: Short Fiction
Reviewed by Edward Journey

It Falls Gently All Around and Other Stories is the triumphant debut collection of short fiction by Ramona Reeves. These eleven intertwined stories, featuring denizens of Mobile, Alabama, beckon us to consider a world of flawed and damaged people trying to do their best in stories that are sometimes as gritty as an oyster shell parking lot. The roads to redemption are tricky and full of hazards, and Reeves bestows these stories with hardy and sensitive renderings of people who will seem familiar to many readers – from the church, the truck stop, the country club, a bar. One of Reeves’s characters realizes that “life was not Southern Living. It was People magazine …” Read more…

The Last Checkmate
By Gabriella Saab
William Morrow, 2021
Paperback $16.99, Kindle Edition $11.99
Genre: Historical Fiction
Review by Brianna Carnley

Gabriella Saab’s The Last Checkmate opens in April 1945. An escaped prisoner from Auschwitz, Maria Florkowska, returns to the cold camp to battle the camp’s former deputy in a final chess match. The first few lines immediately set the tone of the novel: “Three months ago, I escaped the prison that held my body, but I haven’t found freedom from the one that holds my soul. It’s as if I never shed the blue-and-gray-striped uniform or set foot beyond the electrified barbed-wire fences. The liberation I seek requires escape of a different sort, one I can achieve only now that I’ve returned.” Despite the brutality of the setting, the main character, Maria, is able to relight the flicker of hope burning in her chest. Read more... Read more…

The Promise of the Pelican
Roy Hoffman
Arcade, 2022
Hardcover: $27.00
Genre: Fiction; Literary Crime Fiction
Review by Laura Platas-Scott

In Roy Hoffman’s The Promise of the Pelican, a murder may be central to the story, but this literary crime novel is more about richly diverse characters than the crime itself. It gripped me from beginning to end.

Hank Weinberg is eighty-three years old, a retired criminal defense attorney, who starts his mornings at the Fairhope Fishing Pier, casting his net, chatting with friends, then heading home to care for his young grandson while his lawyer daughter is in rehab. Hoffman draws the reader into Hank’s world right away with prose sparse yet eloquent, evoking a strong sense of place as he describes Hank’s walk to the fishing pier. “Down the lane where magnolias canopied creole cottages, by the porch where the rocker sat empty…” A native of Mobile and a resident of Fairhope, Hoffman’s love of the landscape is obvious in the vivid images he brings to life in his writing. Read more...

Reckless Girls
Rachel Hawkins
St. Martin’s Press, 2022
Hardcover: $27.99
312 pages
Genre: Fiction, Mystery
Review by Linda Henry Dean

The title Reckless Girls blazes boldly across the flower-splashed bright yellow book jacket, as carefree as a tropical shirt. The jacket promises, “Six stunning twentysomethings are about to embark on a blissful, free-spirited journey—one filled with sun-drenched days and intoxicating nights.” Read more...

Yazoo Clay
By Schuyler Dickson
Livingston Press; 2022
Paperback: $18.95
Genre: Short Fiction
Reviewed by Edward Journey

Yazoo Clay, the first story collection by Schuyler Dickson, features discrete variations of narrative style, structure, and voice. The best of these eleven stories haunt the imagination long after the page is turned while others require abundant patience and indulgence on the part of the reader. These stories are about characters on the edge – sometimes literally – and it is to the writer’s credit that he frequently exercises the judgment and restraint to end the story just before that edge is breached. Read more...

The Treasure of Moonlight Ridge
By Ramey Channell
St. Leonard’s Field, 2021
Paperback $12.95, Kindle Edition $1.99
Genre: Southern Fiction
Reviewed by Meridith Beretta

Ramey Channell is a rural-raised and rural-grown Alabama poet and fiction writer whose latest book is The Treasure of Moonlight Ridge. As the third installment of Channell’s Moonlight Ridge Series, followers of the tales are well acquainted with Channell’s protagonist, Lily C. Nash, and her cousin Willie T. Nock, along with their shenanigans in the small Alabama town of Eden—well east of Eden—where our fictional Alabama ridge is located.


Don't Blow Yourself Up: The Further True Adventures and Travails of the Rocket Boy of October Sky
By Homer Hickam
Post Hill Press, 2021
Hardcover: $27.00
Genre: Memoir
By Edward Journey

I suppose author Homer Hickam has earned a degree of braggadocio after a life of risk and accomplishment, and it is on full display in his memoir, Don’t Blow Yourself Up: The Further True Adventures and Travails of the Rocket Boy of October Sky. Hickam is, of course, the author of the best-selling self-described “classic” Rocket Boys and the principal character in October Sky, the enduringly popular film adaptation of that book about a group of teenagers who, spearheaded by “Sonny” Hickam, become obsessed with rockets after the Russians launch Sputnik in 1957. Don’t Blow Yourself Up is the continuation of Hickam’s story, beginning around the time of his high school graduation.


Edited by Kathryn H. Braund
University of Alabama Press, 2022
Hardcover: $54.95; Kindle: $52.20
Genre: Nonfiction; Nature Writing; Essays
By Jace Rose Malmquist

Some of the authors in The Attention of a Traveller are interested in the historical and political contexts of the time, place and space that Bartram existed in; others follow the obvious thrills of his wild encounters with alligators or the more subtle ones, from the comforting shape of the serpentine lines he drew (Athens 148) and his signature technique of “hatching in small patterns” (Fry 122) to the pure joy of seeing one of his lovely drawings for the first time, like Bartram’s celestial lily: the Ixea caelestina (119). Taken as a whole, the collection feels cohesive and complete with one voice answering back or running parallel with the one preceding, or another that joined after. The book is like a long and unhurried evening conversation with each person holding a drink; it’s about Bartram—his discoveries and storytelling—but it's also about what it means to be a person faced with divisive times and changing environments.

By Imani Perry
Ecco / Harper Collins, 2022
Hardcover: $28.99
Genre: Nonfiction; History; Travel
By Edward Journey

Imani Perry’s South to America: A Journey below the Mason-Dixon to Understand the Soul of a Nation is an important and timely book. I savored most everything about it, but one passage stands out as my favorite: At a dinner, Perry has a conversation with Howell Raines, former executive editor at The New York Times and author of My Soul Is Rested, an oral history of the Civil Rights Movement. She tells him she’s writing a book about the South and he asks her where she’s from. When she responds that she’s originally from Birmingham, he asks what neighborhood. She says, “Ensley.” She writes that Raines’s “eyes widened, then glistened.” His response: “I’m from Ensley, too.”

By Maria Kuznetsova
Random House, 2021
Hardcover: $27.00; Kindle Edition: $7.99
Genre: Fiction; Novel
Review by Rachel Houghton

Maria Kuznetsova’s Something Unbelievable is a multi-faceted tale that spans continents and generations. It is layered with themes of family, grief, loyalty, and identity. The narrative bounces between Larissa, an eighty-year-old matriarch who lives in Kiev, and Natasha, Larissa’s only granddaughter who lives with her husband and new baby in Manhattan. During their weekly Skype dates, Larissa tells Natasha the story of how her family survived relocating to the Ural Mountains during the WWII Nazi invasion of Ukraine. Larissa also begins to suspect that all is not right with Natasha’s transition to motherhood. In the end, this concern, and Natasha’s invitation to see her new one-woman play, convince Larissa to travel across the world to check up on her beloved granddaughter and meet her new great granddaughter.

By James Seay Brown Jr.
The University of Alabama Press, 2022
Hardcover: $39.95; E Book: $39.95
Genre: Nonfiction; Natural History; Folklore
Review by Edward Journey

Distracted by Alabama: Tangled Threads of Natural History, Local History, and Folklore is James Seay Brown Jr.’s enthusiastic and detailed examination of twelve topics that make Alabama special to him. Along the way, he interviews and profiles a multitude of colorful and exuberant personalities who have taught him about these places and things, other crafts, and life itself. Brown, a retired Professor Emeritus of History from Samford University, is a committed teacher with the desire to share the knowledge he has gained over a lifetime.

By Christopher Shaffer
Hellgate Press, 2021
Paperback: $12.95
Genre: Nonfiction; Memoir
Review by Edward Journey

Since I embrace the concept of “serendipity,” I felt like I had encountered a kindred soul when I read the first sentence of Christopher Shaffer’s engrossing Moon over Sasova: One American’s Experience Teaching in Post-Cold War Slovakia. Shaffer writes, “I owe my Slovakia experience largely to serendipity.” That experience began when Shaffer, an undergraduate at Auburn University, spent the summer of 1991 in Mannheim, Germany, for a study abroad program. Admitting that his plan was “to study some, but travel more,” the summer became a transformative experience for the undergraduate abroad. A visit to Prague dispels his “grey and drab” illusion of what the former Soviet Eastern Bloc was like. His lushly entertaining descriptions of Prague and its abundance of Dixieland jazz bands make me want to visit, see, and hear those sights and sounds for myself. We are fortunate to have the opportunity to live the experience vicariously through Shaffer’s detailed and incisive memories.

By Frye Gaillard and Cynthia Tucker
NewSouth Books, 2022
Hardcover: $22.00
Genre: Nonfiction; History
Review by Steve Hubbard

Like many of us who, in our politics, lean liberal to progressive, journalists Frye Gaillard and Cynthia Tucker often felt anxious during the Trump presidency about the future of American democracy. Evidently, so did Randall Williams, Editor-in-Chief of Montgomery-based NewSouth Books. Williams was thinking about a book, The Americanization of Dixie: The Southernization of America, that the late journalist John Egerton published in 1974, shortly before the Watergate investigation forced President Nixon to resign in disgrace. He considered possible connections between Egerton’s observations and reflections and the current moment in our nation’s history. He then approached Gaillard, who has published several books with NewSouth, about writing a sequel to The Americanization of Dixie. Gaillard, liking the idea, invited his University of South Alabama colleague and friend Cynthia Tucker to co-write the book with him (Gaillard is Writer in Residence there, and Tucker is Journalist in Residence). Tucker accepted Gaillard’s invitation, and the project began.

By Ashley M. Jones
Hub City Press, 2021
Paperback: $16.00
Genre: Poetry
Review by Lisa Hase-Jackson

In her latest collection, Reparations Now!, newly appointed Alabama Poet Laureate, Ashley M. Jones, braids the interpersonal with the political to record a family’s legacy within the context of American history, where liberty has always been reserved for specific individuals. It is at once tender and steady as it lays open, like a scrapbook of photographs and postcards, familial relationships and harsh realities that exemplify the racial inequities persisting in our country today.


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