Fox 6 Books: March

These are the books I took to WBRC Fox 6 in March. All are brand new and all are well worth your reading time.

Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid is a Reese Witherspoon book club pick, and it’s a page-turning, witty, satirical commentary on race and privilege and transactional relationships. Alix (pronounced uh-leeks in the French way, although Alix is not French) Chamberlain, a blogger, speaker and lifestyle guru, hires Emira Tucker, a young black woman, to be a babysitter for her toddler. While at the nearby high-end grocery one evening, Emira is accused of kidnapping 3-year-old Briar. Of course, the encounter with the store’s security guard is filmed by a bystander; of course, that video will eventually go viral. Alix, who considers herself “woke,” resolves to make everything right, but it turns out that the person who filmed the incident is someone from Alix’s past—and that person will connect the two women in ways they didn’t expect. Some readers will find this book funny, others will discover it makes them uncomfortable. Either way, it’s worth reading. 

Yellow Bird:  Oil, Murder, and a Woman’s Search for Justice in Indian Country by Sierra Crane Murdoch is a work of literary journalism based on a true story. Lissa Yellow Bird is released from prison in 2009 and returns home to the Fort Berthold Indian Reservation in North Dakota to find it drastically altered by an oil boom. Her tribe is forever changed by its newfound wealth yet struggles with violence and addiction. The non-native oilmen who come to work there are mostly down on their luck, just seeking employment after the recession. Then one of these men, Kristopher “KC” Clarke, goes missing from his reservation worksite. While no one else seems too concerned, Lissa becomes obsessed with finding him. Her search for justice becomes a pursuit of her own redemption for her crimes and offers an unflinching look at generations of trauma. The book is the result of eight years of immersive investigation that included Lissa’s extensive email, Facebook and text messages; photographs and audio recordings; and interviews with more than 200 people.

The Antidote for Everything by Kimmery Martin is the second novel by ER doctor-turned-author, and it is inspired by the real-life experience of a fellow physician. Writing with both a sense of humor and a deep understanding of her settings and subjects, this is a story about the power of friendship (not romance) and the dangers of intolerance and the wrongness of medical discrimination. Georgia Brown and Jonah Tsukada are best friends and co-workers at a Charleston hospital. There is humor and drama in their day-to-day:  attending a fainting passenger on an airplane, an undercover ops-style investigation into the hospital’s practices. But then Jonah is called out for providing care for transgender patients, and the hospital plans to fire him. The two friends come up with a plan to get the hospital to reverse its decision, but that plan spirals out of control, putting careers, friendships and patients’ rights at risk.

Saint X by Alexis Schaitkin is a a debut novel that is attracting a lot of buzz right now. Claire Thomas is 7 years old when her college-age sister, Alison, goes missing on the last night of the family’s vacation at a resort on a Caribbean island called Saint X. Alison is found several days later in a nearby cay, and two local men who work at the resort are arrested. But there is little evidence, so they are soon released and the mystery of what happened to Alison is unresolved. Years later in New York, Claire happens to see Clive Richardson, one of the men accused of murdering her sister, and she sets out to uncover exactly what happened to Alison that terrible night. Her search also becomes an obsession to understand the sister she never really had a chance to get to know.  

I link to Amazon to show you exactly what book I’m talking about, but I love to shop locally at Church Street Coffee and BooksThe Alabama Booksmith, Little Professor Book Center, and I often visit my local library.

Fox 6 Books: February

These are the books I took to WBRC Fox 6 in February. Timely page turners include a picture book to celebrate Black History Month (and our state), a novel about words, another about food and a survival guide that will make a great guy gift.

The Slave Who Went to Congressby Marti Rosner and Frye Gaillard with illustrations by Jordana Haggard, is a timely way to celebrate Black History Month and the bicentennial of our state. This picture book celebrates the remarkable story of Benjamin Turner, who spent the first 40 years of his life as a slave in Selma before being elected to the U.S. Congress in 1870. Turner, who taught himself to read, was the first black Congressman from Alabama and among the very first in the House of Representatives after Emancipation. An amazing man of strength, determination and compassion, he rejected the idea of punishing his white neighbors who had fought for the Confederacy, and he supported racially mixed schools and the right to vote for former slaves. Turner also argued that land should be set aside for former slaves so they could create new lives for themselves. Written in the first person and beautifully illustrated, this book for young readers makes Benjamin Turner’s story come alive.

The Grammarians by Cathleen Schine is about Laurel and Daphne Wolfe, identical and inseparable twins who love words. As toddlers, they had their own twin speak; as adults, they make their livings with words. But their shared love (and obsession) of words is driving them apart. Daphne, a grammar columnist, is devoted to preserving the elegance—and rules—of Standard English. Laurel, a poet, approaches language in a decidedly less-structured way. Their differences take a really bad turn when they begin to fight over custody of their prized, shared family heirloom—Merriam Webster’s New International Dictionary, Second Edition. This super-smart novel is a fun and enjoyable celebration of language as well as an exploration of self. It has a great bookgroup guide, too.

The Last Chinese Chef by Nicole Mones is a story of friendship, self-discovery, love and food. Lots of really good food. Widowed American food writer Maggie McElroy learns of a paternity claim against her late husband’s estate and heads to Beijing to sort it all out. It’s a working trip—her magazine editor asks for a profile on rising culinary star Sam Liang. Turns out, Sam is the grandson of a chef who cooked for the Emperor and in 1925 wrote The Last Chinese Chef, which became a food classic. In China, Maggie finds out more about her husband than she expected, of course. But, with Sam as her guide, she also discovers more than she expected about a cuisine rooted in centuries of history. It’s this discovery that’s most transforming for Maggie who finds herself easily drawn into Sam’s delicious world—especially its family of cooks and customers.

While looking for a Valentine’s Day gift for my guy, I was reminded of How to Stay Alive in the Woods by Bradford Angier. It’s already in our home library, so my gift search continues. Your search might stop here. This is a  fun and informative 320-page book is full of practical advice for “roughing it” in the woods, where, as the author says, “every necessity is free.” Of course, it’s important to know what you need and don’t need. In these pages, you’ll learn how to build a shelter, how to make a soup hole (in the ground), how to fish with your bare hands, how to make a fire with just a spark, how and when to steal food from a bear, how to signal for help and what kind of plants you can (and can’t) eat. Or how to play it safer:  Avoid mushrooms altogether; the risks outweigh the gain. A few quick takeaways:  Ice is never safe. Wolves are not to be feared. Spruce-needle tea has as much vitamin C as fresh orange juice. All birds are edible.

I link to Amazon to show you exactly what book I’m talking about, but I love to shop locally at Church Street Coffee and BooksThe Alabama Booksmith, Little Professor Book Center, and I often visit my local library.

Fox 6 Books: January 2020

These are the books I took to WBRC Fox 6 in January. A great way to start the reading year!

How to Walk is by Thich Nhat Hanh, one of the best-known Zen teachers in the world today. IMG_6341In this little book, he shows how the everyday act of walking (walking!) can offer opportunities to realize and express gratitude. I usually walk with a friend or, if alone, listen to the podcast Stuff You Should Know. But this book, which I first saw at Ten Thousand Waves spa in Santa Fe, New Mexico, this past summer, kept calling for my attention. It’s tiny, but filled with Hanh’s practices, meditations and touching stories. Each one shows how each step has the impact to increase our concentration, insight and joy. He makes it sound easy: “When you walk, arrive with every step. That’s walking meditation. There’s nothing else to it.” Of course, there’s more to it. But Hanh’s gentle guidance is there every step of the way to help readers become more aware of each step and of their breathing. Jason DeAntonis’s pen-and-ink drawings are the perfect playful accompaniment. Hanh, a Vietnamese Buddhist Monk, has been teaching mindfulness for more than 70 years, and he has written scores of books including the other tiny, tip-filled books:  How to See, How to Eat, How to Relax and How to Love.

I should have already read Just Mercy by Brian Stevenson. I think everyone in the entire state of Alabama should read this book. IMG_6338That it should be taught in high schools. I’ve heard Stevenson speak (he’s amazing) and this book has been on my shortlist for a while, but the new movie out now made me finally get to it. It is, as the subtitle says, a “story of justice and redemption.” It also is about the sweet, overwhelming power of mercy. Stevenson, one of the most influential lawyers of our time, founded the Equal Justice Initiative in Montgomery, a legal practice dedicated to defending the poor, wrongly condemned and those underserved (or just flat-out forsaken) by our criminal justice system. One of his first cases was that of Walter McMillian who was sentenced to die for a murder he didn’t commit. The story, I’m sure, is transitioning to the big screen quite well. It’s one of political dealings, legal wrangling and tangled conspiracies—and a black man accused of killing a young white girl in south Alabama in the 1980s. But Walter’s is just one of several cases detailed here that, together, have made Stevenson a champion for justice and mercy.

Under Stevenson’s leadership, EJI has won major legal challenges eliminating excessive and unfair sentencing, exonerating innocent death row prisoners, confronting abuse of the incarcerated and the mentally ill and aiding children prosecuted as adults. He led the creation of EJI’s highly acclaimed cultural sites, the Legacy Museum and the National Memorial for Peace and Justice, which opened in 2018. Stevenson’s work has won him numerous awards, including 40 honorary doctorates, the MacArthur Foundation “Genius” Prize, and the ABA Medal, the American Bar Association’s highest honor.

The Silent Patient by Alex Michaelides promises a thrilling twist, and it delivers. IMG_6343I never saw it coming in the day and a half it took me to devour this book. Alicia Berenson was living a lovely life as a famous painter married to a famous fashion photographer—until she shot her husband five times in the face and then stopped taking. She refused to talk—to try to explain her actions—and that made Alicia even more famous. She ends up housed at a secure psychiatric unit in North London. And criminal psychotherapist Theo Faber is determined to unlock her silence and figure out why exactly she shot her husband. This therapist-turned-detective is very good at uncovering clues, and he ends up finding out more than he ever expected.

Dreyer’s English is by Benjamin Dreyer, the copy chief at Random House, and in this book, he champions clarity in a way that is informative, interesting and even entertaining. IMG_6339We are not all writers, but yet, we are. We all write all the time:  emails, texts, more texts, blogs, online reviews, more emails. In his book, Dreyer shares much of what he has learned in his more than two decades of professional life. And it’s a playful, useful guide for writers of any sort who want to simply write better.  He offers lessons on punctuation—from the underappreciated semicolon to the en dash. He explains the basic rules of grammar; “Only godless savages,” he says, “eschew the series comma.” He advises against what my kids’ elementary school teachers called “dead words” like “very” and “actually.” And he says it’s OK to start a sentence with And (thank goodness!) and But (even better!).

I link to Amazon to show you exactly what book I’m talking about, but I love to shop locally at Church Street Coffee and BooksThe Alabama Booksmith, Little Professor Book Center, and I often visit my local library.

Fox 6 Books: December

Thrilling distractions. These are some of the year’s best books.  They all are well-written, thrilling works of fiction that will offer the perfect distraction during a busy season.

 Never Have I Ever by Joshilyn Jackson shows why you need to stay on topic during your book club discussion. Amy Whey, a loving wife and mother, lives a pretty ordinary life and runs a fairly conventional book club with her best friend, Charlotte. But then the mysterious and alluring Angelica Roux arrives one night for the book discussion. Angelica charms the group and lures them into a game of telling secrets. It seems like harmless fun, but Amy knows it is not. And somehow, Angelica knows the truth about who Amy really is and what she once did. To protect her family and save the life she’s built, Amy must match wits with Angelica in a war of best-forgotten pasts and treacherous secrets. The book is full of dark twists and Jackson’s trademark humor. Jackson is the New York Times bestselling author of eight novels. A former actor, she also is an award-winning audiobook narrator. She lives in Decatur, Georgia, and enjoys a huge following here in Birmingham.

Cemetery Road is by Greg Iles, who spent most of his life in Mississippi and writes what he knows. This book, set in a small Mississippi town on the edge of economic ruin, is about powerful families and dangerous secrets. Marshall McEwan is a successful journalist in Washington, DC, but he returns to his Mississippi home (something he swore he’d never do) where his father is terminally ill. Bienville is not the town he remembered. His family’s 150-year-old newspaper is failing; his former lover has married into a powerful, connected family. A small group of patriarchs, who rule the town, are planning a deal with a billion-dollar Chinese paper mill, but then that turns deadly. So Marshall joins forces with his former lover and begins doing what he does best:  investigating to uncover hard truths. Iles has written 16 New York Times bestsellers. His novels have been made into films and published in more than 35 countries.

Fun fact:  Iles is part of the lit-rock group The Rock Bottom Remainders. The band is made up of some pretty famous folks including Dave Barry, Mitch Albom, Roy Blount Jr., Stephen King, Amy Tan and Matt Groening.

The Last Widow by Karin Slaughter will thrill her fans because this is another novel with medical examiner Sara Linton and her partner, Will Trent, an investigator with the Georgia Bureau of Investigation. Bad things are happening in Atlanta:  A scientist from the Centers for Disease Control is kidnapped in a shopping center parking lot. A month later, an explosion rocks one of the city’s most important neighborhoods—the location of Emory University, two hospitals, an FBI field office and the CDC. Sara and Will quickly discover a conspiracy that threatens thousands of lives. When Sara is abducted by the assailants they are seeking, Will has to go undercover to save her and prevent a massacre. A native of Georgia, Slaughter lives in Atlanta. She has been published in 120 countries with more than 35 million books sold worldwide.

The Huntress by Kate Quinn is a thrilling work of historical fiction where lives and nations collide. Nina Markova grew up in Soviet Russia, and when war came to her homeland, she joined the infamous Night Witches, an all-female night bomber regiment attacking Hitler’s eastern front. But then she’s downed behind enemy lines and encounters a Nazi murderess known as the Huntress. Ian Graham is a British war correspondent who leaves journalism to become a Nazi hunter. One target eludes him:  the Huntress. So he joins forces with Nina, the only person who has ever escaped from the Huntress. Jordan McBride, 17, grows up in post-World War II Boston. When her long-widowed father brings home a fiancée, she’s sure the quiet-spoken German widow is hiding something. But uncovering her new stepmother’s past also uncovers secrets in Jordan’s own family. Quinn, a life-long history buff, is a New York Times bestselling author of seven historical novels, including the wildly popular novel The Alice Network.

I link to Amazon to show you exactly what book I’m talking about, but I love to shop locally at Church Street Coffee and BooksThe Alabama Booksmith, Little Professor Book Center, and I often visit my local library.

Fox 6 Books: November

It’s not too early to think about gift giving. And when you give the gift of a book, it just keeps on giving. All these are worth wrapping, and I brought them with me to WBRC Fox 6 on November 5.

 Inland is the latest book by Tea Obreht, and it’s awesome. Two remarkable lives intersect in the lawless, drought-ridden Arizona Territory in 1893. Nora is a tough frontierswoman awaiting the return of her husband who has gone in search of water. Her two elder sons have vanished after an argument, and Nora waits with youngest son, who is convinced that a mysterious beast is stalking them.

The other main character, Lurie, is a former outlaw and a man haunted by ghosts. He sets out on a momentous expedition across the West with camels! The way in which Lurie’s death-defying trek intersects with Nora’s plight is the surprise and suspense in this great book by the New York Times bestselling author of The Tiger’s Wife, which I also loved.

Ordinary Girls:  A Memoir by Jaquira Diaz is a Barnes & Nobel Discover Great New Writers Fall 2019 selection. These selections are pretty much always spot on. Jaquira Diaz has won two Pushcart Prizes and has been published in the New York Times, Rolling Stone and the Guardian. This shining life surely seemed unlikely when she was growing up a black sheep in housing projects in Miami and Puerto Rico. She will tell you she was a juvenile delinquent—arrested over and over, a street fighter, a runaway, a high school drop out and a suicide risk. She always longed for love and security and a family and a home. This incredibly candid and beautiful and powerful memoir is a true story of survival and more. Diaz says she was a kid who loved to read. “You could say that books saved me.” But as much as she loved books, she didn’t see people like herself in the pages. “I wrote Ordinary Girlsfor girls and women who are like the girl I was, like the woman I am now. For those who never saw themselves in books.”

God Save the Queens:  The Essential History of Women in Hip-Hop by Kathy Iandoli recognizes that the history of hip-hop has, for far too long, revolved around men. But women have always been incredibly important to this musical movement. From rap’s earliest moments, they have been out front and keeping pace with their male counterparts. These “queens” have paved the way for Nicki Minaj and Cardi B and those who will top the charts after them. Music journalist Kathy Iandoli offers a fast-paced, heavily researched history of ambition and spirit and attitude and girl power. She tackles issues of gender, sexuality, violence, body image and objectification and more in this feminist history of hip-hop.

The Ryman Remembers with a foreword written by Will Campbell is a hybrid kind of cookbook that traces the colorful history of a building and those who played within its walls and ties it in with easy-to-follow recipes for foods from all over– just like the people who have played here.

Readers might be surprised to know just who has been on the beloved stage of Nashville’s Ryman Auditorium. Long before bluegrass and country music legends played here, orchestras and symphonies from New York, Boston and Chicago played the Ryman. Isadora Duncan, Martha Graham and Nijinski and the Ballet Russe all danced on its wooden stage. Charlie Chaplin, Katherine Hepburn and American explorer Robert Edwin Peary appeared here, too. Then, of course, there was the Grand Ole Opry, which made its home at the Ryman beginning in 1943. Over the next 30 years, the greats of country music played here—from Hank Williams to Loretta Lynn to Johnny Cash and Elvis and more. After falling into disrepair, the Ryman has been restored and is once again a thriving theater. It is, in fact, Nashville’s most revered venue.

The recipes here make this book extra special and trace a Southern heritage of favorite foods associated with famous names who have played this stage—ranging from Amy Grant’s Buttermilk Fudge to Nashville Symphony conductor Kenneth Schermerhorn’s Soul Pasta to John T. Hall’s favorite Hot Water Cornbread to Dolly Parton’s Beefy Cowboy Beans.

I link to Amazon to show you exactly what book I’m talking about, but I love to shop locally at Church Street Coffee and BooksThe Alabama Booksmith, Little Professor Book Center, and I often visit my local library.

Fox 6 Books: October

Let’s get cooking! It’s not too early to think about holiday dinners with friends and family. A new batch of cookbooks is just what we need right now. I brought these with me to WBRC Fox 6 on October 1.

Seeking the South:  Finding Inspired Regional Cuisines by Rob Newton with Jamie Feldman is part inspiring travelogue, part user-friendly cooking guide. “There’s no genre of American cuisine as storied as Southern,” Newton writes. “It has the longest history, most distinct terroir, and the most pronounced traditions of any food in the country, built largely by enslaved Africans and their descendants. For these reasons and more, Southern food can be a tricky topic, with a tendency to rile people up both in and out of the geographic boundaries of the South itself.”

Newton, born in Arkansas, is the executive chef at Gray & Dudley in Nashville. This new book, with lovely photos of foods and places, showcases a new kind of South that draws from all corners of the world for its modern cuisine. Consider Hot Potlikker (a Chinese-style hot pot from Mississippi made with potlikker from cooking greens); boiled peanuts with lemongrass, star anise and lime; heirloom tomatoes with peanut chaat; charred okra with Sichuan pepper, garlic and green onions. Familiar recipes here include buttermilk biscuits, deviled eggs, BBQ Gulf snapper and fried chicken. But then there are lots of favorite foods prepared in a brand new way:  Raw collards with coconut and grapefruit; fried bologna sandwiches with chow chow; turnip and potato pancakes  with yogurt, dill and dillybeans.

The book is divided into five chapters representing different regions of the South—Upper South, Deep South, Gulf Coast, Coastal Plains and Piedmont, and Low Country and Southeast Coast. “I wanted to tell the story of the Southern food that I knew and loved:  dishes that went beyond the clichés and illustrated the diverse bounty across its many distinct regions,” Newton writes. Each chapter features appetizers, salads, entrees and desserts that define each region in beautiful, delicious ways.

Kindness & Salt:  Recipes for the Care & Feeding of Your Friends and Neighbors by Ryan Angulo and Doug Crowell features food and hospitality advice and prep techniques and tips especially for the home cook. Ryan Angulo and Doug Crowell are the owners of Buttermilk Channel and French Louie in Brooklyn. The book, with a fun retro cover, features 100 recipes for the foods and drinks that draw their passionate customers from around the corner as well as across the globe. They believe that every great meal starts with two essential elements:  kindness and salt. “Kindness,” they write, “is the spirit of warmth and hospitality that underlies every meal at their restaurants. Salt is shorthand for cooking carefully and brining out the best in your ingredients.” There are 21 foundational recipes from a chapter called Pantry that include aioli, parsley pistou, oven-dried tomatoes and hollandaise sauce. These are everyday items to elevate your dishes.  From there, you’ll find hundreds more for salads and veggies (radishes with butter and black olive salt), fish and shellfish (mussels Normande), birds and beasts (cast iron-roasted chicken) as well as baked things (cornbread with chile-lime butter). There’s an entire chapter devoted to cocktails and another for brunch dishes, reflecting the full range of what makes their restaurants popular. But everything is carefully explained, tips are given freely and techniques are detailed so the home cook can easily re-create this bistro cuisine, which is, after all, inspired by home cooking.

The Sioux Chef’s Indigenous Kitchen by Sean Sherman with Beth Dooley is a cleverly named James Beard Foundation Book Award winner that is all about real food. Namely, indigenous American fruits and vegetables, wild and foraged grains, game and fish. “Locally sourced” takes on a whole new meaning in this breakout cookbook by Sean Sherman, the Oglala Lakota chef and founder of The Sioux Chef, a group of people—from chefs to growers to food truckers and food lovers—committed to revitalizing Native American cuisine.  There’s no fry bread here. It does not rely upon European staples such as wheat flour, sugar and dairy products. The dishes are indigenous to the Dakota and Minnesota territories, but home cooks can find most of these ingredients quite easily. (There’s a list of suppliers at if you have difficulties.) A short guide to using this book lists straightforward techniques and simple tools such as a cast-iron skillet and a deep stockpot and essential ingredients including salt, honey, sumac and herbs. Each chapter features a short essay to explain the foods and food traditions of the recipes that follow. You’ll learn about and how to cook crispy bean cakes, deviled duck eggs, rabbit braised with apples and mint, autumn harvest cookies and real wild rice. Sherman shares space in the book with other chefs he met at the Native American Culinary Association’s “Native Chef’s Symposium.” You’ll find recipes like Chef Lois Ellen Frank’s Coriander-Cured Elk with Dried Chokecherry Sauce and Felicia Cocotzin Ruiz’s Two-Fruit Jam Scattered with Seeds. All in all, this book is a beautiful, thoughtful celebration of truly homegrown culinary traditions.

Buttermilk & Bourbon:  New Orleans Recipes with a Modern Flair is a new cookbook by Jason Santos, a Hell’s Kitchen runner-up and an expert on Bar Rescue. Turns out, a birthday trip to New Orleans inspired Santos to open his Boston restaurant Buttermilk & Bourbon. “I love everything about that city,” he writes, “the food, the people and the passion!”  In his restaurant and in this book, he relies upon food that is authentic in flavor and prepared in inventive, surprising ways. Consider Buffalo Duck Wings, New Orleans BBQ Shrimp with Jalapeno Grits and Flamin’ Hot Cheeto Mac & Cheese. The chapter on adult beverages is particularly fun with a Boston-Nola Hurricane; a Who Dat? made with chocolate-mole bitters and rye; a rum-fueled Lagniappe; and a Cajun Bloody Mary, of course.

I link to Amazon to show you exactly what book I’m talking about, but I love to shop locally at Church Street Coffee and BooksThe Alabama Booksmith, Little Professor Book Center, and I often visit my local library.

Fox 6 Books: September

Let’s explore what I brought to WBRC Fox 6 on September 3. School has started so a trip might not be possible, but you still can explore close to home and far away.

In Back to Nature:  A History of Birmingham’s Ruffner Mountain, by Mark Kelly, photographs by Bob Farley, design by Melanie Colvin, Birmingham’s past, present and future come together in the most satisfying, family-friendly way on Ruffner Mountain, just minutes from anywhere in our metro area. This new book explores the mountain’s geological formation, its part in Birmingham’s industrial history as a center for mining and the ongoing efforts to preserve this special place.

Ruffner Mountain is, in fact, one of the largest urban forests in the entire country, and it’s right here in our own backyard! Ruffner’s beautiful and varied terrain, crisscrossed with well-maintained trails and marked with remains of mining sites and equipment, has drawn generations of nature lovers.  Hikers can visit incredible views at the overlooks and literally walk through eons of earth’s history in the quarry. The Nature Center informs and entertains people of all ages. The annual plant sales, with native plants large and small dug straight from the land, attract hundreds of visitors and have spread some of the best parts of Ruffner all over Alabama.

This gorgeous book celebrates the beauty and the importance of this unique and awesome place.  Kelly writes: “Every aspect of Birmingham’s existence—geological, anthropological, social, economic, political, technological—is encapsulated in the Ruffner story.”

You can hear some of this story from Kelly and get a signed copy of this book tomorrow (Wednesday, September 4) from 5 to 6 p.m. at the Alabama Booksmith. There’s another opportunity to hear from the author and photographer at Ruffner Mountain on Thursday, September 19 from 5 to 7 p.m.  Go to for more info.

With Morag and the Land of Tir Na Nog, local writer Marie Pridgen (who was born and raised in Ireland) has written a delightful little book about fairies for young readers. Pridgen says her childhood was filled with wonder and imagination and stories of wee people told by her mother and passed down from her grandmother. And so she shares some of that culture and folklore and love here with a story of a beautiful fairy who ventured into the mortal world. This book, told in that same continuing story-telling style, is clearly the first of several. Pridgen says she wrote this book to “bring happiness to all who read it and to let you escape to a world of fae, magic and innocence.”

The Tattooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris is a New York Times bestseller based on a true story of love and courage and survival in one of the darkest times in human history. In April 1942, Lale Sokolov, a Slovakian Jew, is transported to the concentration camps at Auschwitz-Birkenau. An educated man who speaks several languages (including fluent German), he becomes the tattooist, putting the permanent numbers on his fellow prisoners. One day, he inks the number 34902 onto a scared young woman, but something is different this time. Lale vows to survive the camp in order to live the rest of his life with Gita. But in order to do that, he has to get creative in this place of unimaginable brutality. So he risks his own life trading jewels and money found in the clothing of those who died for food for his fellow prisoners. In the process, he helps countless people survive. Lale told his story to Heather Morris years after escaping, and she shares it in a way that is powerful, heartbreakingly sad and yet incredibly hopeful.

Lady in the Lake is a new novel by Laura Lippman, the New York Times bestselling author of Sunburn. Lady in the Lake is a psychological thriller set in 1960s Baltimore. Madeline “Maddie” Schwartz leaves the comfort of her married life to make her own way and make a difference. When her own closely held secrets help the police find a murdered girl, that leads to a job at the city’s afternoon newspaper and another murdered young woman. Cleo Sherwood was found in a fountain in a city park, and no one seems to know or care why she was killed—except for Maddie. And she is determined to find the truth. But that truth might come at a tremendous personal cost to Maddie and to those she loves.

I link to Amazon to show you exactly what book I’m talking about, but I love to shop locally at Church Street Coffee and BooksThe Alabama Booksmith, Little Professor Book Center, and I often visit my local library.

Fox 6 Books: August

Here’s what I brought to WBRC Fox 6 on August 6, and there’s truly something for everyone–a memoir (with recipes and a link to much more), a surprisingly awesome book about grammar, mesmerizing short stories and a romp of a novel. Enjoy!

From Scratch is a memoir from actress Tembi Locke. It’s also a love story with recipes. Tembi married a man from Sicily (it was love at first sight when Tembi met Saro, who was an apprentice chef, in Florence, Italy). But his family was not happy with their son marrying a black woman from America. When Saro died of cancer, Tembi and their adopted daughter sought solace in Sicily … at her mother-in-law’s kitchen table. The close-knit community; the simple, fresh food at the table; and her memories of a great love gave Locke the strength to heal her heart. Now she’s paying that forward. Read the book, and also check out

“This is a modern take on the age-old kitchen table conversation—an inspirational online platform dedicated to raising awareness about how we can support each other through times of illness and grief,” Locke says. “Here we reclaim the lost art of comforting the soul. We do it around delicious food.” You’ll find advice on dealing with grief, information for caregivers and healthy recipes.

Semicolon, by Cecelia Watson, is brand-new nonfiction, and it’s creating a buzz. This book about “The Past, Present, and Future of a Misunderstood Mark” is both funny and informative. It’s about language rules, sure, but it’s also about the love of language and a celebration of creativity. The semicolon was invented in the 15thcentury; by the 1800s, it was “downright trendy,” Watson writes. Today, some people love the punctuation mark; others loathe it. It was designed to create clarity; misused, it creates confusion. Watson considers how the semicolon has impacted society and law as well as literature. She says it can do more, too. When she finished researching and writing this book, Watson says:  “Not only did I become a better and more sensitive reader and a more capable teacher, I also became a better person. Perhaps that sounds like a fancifully hyperbolic claim—can changing our relationship with grammar really make us better human beings? … I hope to persuade you that reconsidering grammar rules will do exactly that, by refocusing us on the deepest, most primary value and purpose of language:  true communication and openness to others.”

Orange World is the newest collection of short stories from Karen Russell, the bestselling author of the Pulitzer Prize-finalist Swamplandia! (which I’ve talked about before; also, I brought Russell’s Vampires in the Lemon Grove to Fox 6 last time). I just love this writer, who never ceases to amaze me with her imagination and her way with words. This is her most recent collection of short stories, and, as expected, they are cleverly funny and a little bit creepy. In “Bog Girl:  A Romance,” a young man falls in love with a 2000-year-old girl he unearthed in a northern European peat bog. In “The Prospectors,” two young, idealistic, Depression-era girls head out West in search of a new life and find themselves fighting for their lives when they end up at the wrong party. In “The Bad Graft,” a Joshua tree makes a “Leap” into the consciousness of a woman. August is busy; find an hour or so for yourself to spend with these stories.

Who Are You, Calvin Bledsoe? by Brock Clarke is a delightful novel. Calvin Bledsoe is an ordinary man destined for an extraordinary adventure. After his mother, a theologian and bestselling author, dies in an explosion, Calvin’s world is changed forever. At the funeral, a mysterious woman, claiming to be Calvin’s aunt, shows up and insists he accompany her to Europe. Right now. For Calvin, who has never ventured far from his small hometown in Maine, this is not easy. Then danger ensues:  Calvin encounters antiquities thieves, spies, religious fanatics and his ex-wife who is stalking him. By the time Calvin realizes he’s been kidnapped, he has to figure out how to escape and how to live the life he’s meant to live. (This book goes on sale August 27.)

I link to Amazon to show you exactly what book I’m talking about, but I love to shop locally at Church Street Coffee and BooksThe Alabama Booksmith, Little Professor Book Center, and I often visit my local library.

Fox 6 Books: July

Here’s what I brought to WBRC Fox 6  on July 2. These vacation-ready must-reads include a LOL trip around the world, a thriller from Down Under, an important story of self-invention and some easy-to-pick-up, easy-to-pick-up-later short stories.

Less by Andrew Sean Greer is laugh-out-loud funny and poignant and important all at the same time. This Pulitzer Prize-winning novel is about Arthur Less, a not-so-successful novelist about to turn 50 who is not at all happy with his life. He’s alone, but even worse, his boyfriend of nearly a decade is about to be married to someone else. When the wedding invitation arrives, Less realizes he needs to leave—for anywhere else. So he cobbles together a trip around the world—courtesy of a bunch of half-baked literary events and what little savings he has left. The jaunt takes the novelist to Mexico, Italy, Germany, Morocco, India and Japan—all far, far away from the everyday life he doesn’t want to face. It’s a love story and a satire of an American abroad and a whole lot of fun to read.

The Van Apfel Girls are Gone is an impressive debut novel by Felicity McLean. Tikka Malloy remembers the hot summer of 1992 for two reasons:  all the ongoing debate about the exoneration of Lindy (“dingo took my baby”) Chamberlain, and that was when Tikka’s best friends disappeared. The Van Apfel sisters—Ruth, Hannah and Cordelia—simply vanished. Were they taken? Did they run away from their strict, evangelical parents? Their disappearance shook their small town and left lasting trauma. Tikka and her older sister know something of what happened, and when Tikka returns home years later, she’s confronted with questions. This is a thrilling, at times darkly comic, coming-of-age story about childhood memories, female friendships and unexpected consequences. It’s scary good and was named a Barnes & Noble Summer 2019 Discover Great New Writers Selection.

Educated by Tara Westover is one of the most moving memoirs I’ve ever read. Tara Westover was 17 years old before she ever set foot in a classroom. She grew up in the mountains of Idaho with a survivalist father and a mother who was a midwife and healer. Isolated from all of mainstream society, she never even saw a doctor and there was no one to intervene and protect her from family violence. When one of her brothers got himself into college and returned home talking about the outside world, Tara decided she wanted that life, too. So she taught herself enough math, grammar and science to take the ACT and was admitted to Brigham Young University. It opened her mind and her heart and her entire world. She learned for the first time about psychology and philosophy about the Civil Rights Movement and the Holocaust. Her self-invention and thirst for knowledge transformed her and took her to Harvard and to Cambridge University. This memoir is about truly finding oneself and the absolute pricelessness of an education. It’s also about family loyalty and the price of severing ties with those you love.

Vampires in the Lemon Grove is by Karen Russell, the bestselling author of Swamplandia! (yes, I’ve talked about this Pulitzer Prize finalist before). In this book, she offers a selection of short stories that I think are vacay-perfect for a couple of reasons:  They are highly entertaining, and they can be picked up and picked up again later as your day dictates. Summer is made for short stories! Russell writes beautiful prose with a definite dark edge. A group of boys finds a militated scarecrow that looks a lot like a missing classmate. A community of girls held captive in a Japanese silk factory transmute into silkworms and plot a revolution. And in the title story, two vampires in a lemon grove try to slake their thirst for blood as they consider their immortal relationship. You won’t soon forget any of these pieces.

I link to Amazon to show you exactly what book I’m talking about, but I love to shop locally at Church Street Coffee and BooksThe Alabama Booksmith, Little Professor Book Center, and I often visit my local library.

Fox 6 Books: June

Here’s what I brought to WBRC Fox 6  on June 5. These beach-ready reads include some inventive historical fiction and all will inform and entertain and take you places you didn’t expect—from the marshes of the North Carolina coast to the Oklahoma prairie, from Victorian-era London to frontier Illinois in the 1800s.

Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens is what just about every bookgroup I know is reading right now. The library wait list is long, long, long, and it is, at this moment, #1 on Amazon’s bestseller list.

Kya is only six when her family begins abandoning her one by one—beginning with her mother. She ends up raising herself in the marshes off the North Carolina coast, befriending gulls and living off the land and sea. But she longs for friendship and love. Two young men from the nearby town are intrigued by her, and slowly, she lets herself dream of a different life. But then something terrible happens. The story goes back and forth in time—from Kya’s days as a child surviving on the mussels she collects and sells to people in the black community (who are exceedingly kind to her) to the possible murder of the local town’s favorite son 17 years later. If you liked Karen Russell’s Swamplandia, you’ll love this one.

Prairie Fever by Michael Parker is a literary novel that is as lovely as it is intriguing. The book is set in the unforgiving landscape of Oklahoma in the early 1900s. The Stewart sisters couldn’t be more different—Lorena is practical, Elise often gets lost in her own imaginations of adventure. But they share an intense emotional bond that supersedes everything else. Then Gus McQueen arrives in Lone Wolf as a first-time teacher, and the dynamic between the sisters shifts. When a rash decision traps Elise and her horse in a devastating blizzard on the prairie, McQueen helps Lorena find and rescue her sister, and everything changes forever between the young women. Parker describes Prairie Fever as “about the sacrifices and settlements we make with ourselves and others as we attempt to navigate romantic and familial relationships.”

This is great brand-new fiction from the author of The Watery Part of the World, which I also loved.

The Darwin Affair by award-winning playwright Tim Mason is highly visual and makes Victorian-era London come alive. The inventive literary thriller is centered on the real-life events that followed the controversial publication of Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species. Chief Detective Inspector Charles Field is tasked with protecting the royal family. This becomes complicated after an attempted assassination of Queen Victoria and the discovery of a murder nearby. Field knows that these two violent acts are somehow connected to the Queen’s nomination of Darwin for knighthood. He ends up chasing a serial killer through England, and his investigation uncovers secrets and conspiracies that threaten some very powerful people.

When writing this novel, Mason relied upon Queen Victoria’s journal entries, which were put online and open to the public for the first time in 2012 during Elizabeth’s Diamond Jubilee year. The mix of historical and fictional characters makes this a wild ride of a read.

Courting Mr. Lincoln by Louis Bayard is a look at Abraham Lincoln’s early life, before he realized his potential. When Mary Todd first met Lincoln, he was a country lawyer living above a dry-goods store. Mary was a clever, self-possessed debutante with an interest in politics. Lincoln had no manners or money but he did possess an amazing gift for oratory.  Mary is intrigued and tells Lincoln’s roommate, Joshua Speed, “I can only hope that his waters being so very still, they also run deep.” This historical novel, told in the alternating voices of Mary and Speed, is many things:  a wonderful portrait of Mary (perhaps the most telling to date), a moving story of the complex and deep connection between Lincoln and Speed and a look at the unformed man who would become one of our nation’s most beloved presidents.

Bayard knows how to write compelling historical fiction:  He has been shortlisted for both the Edgar and Dagger awards for his historical thrillers, which include The Pale Blue Eye and Mr. Timothy.