Fox 6 Books: October

Fall for these great reads! Here are the books I brought to WBRC Fox 6 this month.

The Lost Man by Jane Harper

I read this stand-alone novel by Jane Harper while waiting for her book, The Dry, which is part of a series. Not only is The Lost Man well written, but it’s also compelling from the very first pages when two brothers meet for the first time in months on the edges of their adjoining properties in the vast Australian outback to identify the body of their third brother. Cameron, the middle son who ran the family homestead, appears to have walked away from a working truck full of water and supplies; he died within 24 hours under the unrelenting sun. Why he did it is a mystery. But there are other mysteries here, too, and they quickly unfold when Nathan and Bub and Nathan’s son return to Cameron’s ranch and those he left behind—their mother, Cameron’s wife and two young daughters, a long-time employee and two new seasonal workers. This is a family full of secrets, and these secrets come to light in a clever, twisty plot. Harper’s setting is just as intriguing as the characters. When your nearest neighbor is a three-hour drive away and you herd cattle with helicopters, just reading about how people live here is absolutely fascinating. 

Behind the Magic Curtain:  Secrets, Spies, and Unsung White Allies of Birmingham’s Civil Rights Days by T.K. Thorne

A lot has been written, of course, about Birmingham and its role in the Civil Rights moment that changed our city, our country, and the world. This new book by Birmingham writer T.K. Thorne, and published by NewSouth Books, goes beyond what we know to reveal little-known or never-told stories of progressive members of the Jewish, Christian, and educational communities. The book is filled with firsthand recollections of a newspaper reporter who embedded with law enforcement and witnessed secret wiretapping and intelligence operations. Thorne understands this perspective:  She served for more than two decades in the Birmingham police force, retiring as a precinct captain. She was the executive director of City Action Partnership (CAP) before retiring to write full time. This book about intrigue and courage offers a look at The Magic City that most of us haven’t seen before. 

Fix-It and Forget-It Mediterranean Diet Cookbook:  7-Ingredient Healthy Instant Pot and Slow Cooker Recipes by Hope Comerford

Easy? Check! Healthy? Yes! This book is full of good-for-you recipes that don’t take a lot of hands-on cooking time. With healthy, low-fat Greek and Italian meals and dishes from other Mediterranean countries, this cookbook part of the New York Times bestselling Fix-It and Forget-It series. The Mediterranean Diet is known for its health benefits—lowering cholesterol and improving heart health and increasing longevity.  Studies show this type cuisine of has anti-inflammatory benefits and helps with weight loss and weight maintenance. And good, clean food gives you more energy, too. The 127 recipes here require only a handful of ingredients and very little prep time when you use an Instant Pot or slow cooker or other multicooker. There’s something for every time of day—breakfast, lunch and dinner, even snacks—and for every taste. You’ll find recipes for Fresh Veggie Lasagna, Chicken and Chickpea Stew, Italian Frittata, Garlic and Lemon Chicken, Moroccan Spiced Stew, Zucchini Chocolate Chip Bars and more. 

100 Years of the Best American Short Stories by Lorrie Moore and Heidi Pitlor

So much in one book! This anthology features 100 years of the very best in American storytelling from masters including Ernest Hemingway, Flannery O’Connor, James Baldwin and more. To celebrate the centennial of this annual series, Lorrie Moore (herself a master storyteller) has chosen 40 stories from the more than 2,000 that have been published in previous editions.  Series editor, Heidi Pitlor, offers behind-the-scenes anecdotes (William Faulkner admitted in his biographical note that he began to write “as an aid to love-making.”). And she looks at writing and reading trends decade by decade. Ernest Hemingway’s first published story is here. Nancy Hale writes about the far-reaching effects of the Holocaust; Tillie Olsen writes about the desperate struggles of a single mother; James Baldwin depicts the bonds of brotherhood and music. From Charles Baxter and Jamaica Kincaid to Junot Díaz, Mary Gaitskill, ZZ Packer and Sherman Alexie, this is a carefully curated guided examination in stories of what it means to be American. 

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 our local libraries in person and online.

Fox 6 Books: September

Local flavor, y’all! Reading close to home with books by Alabama writers and another about a worldwide, homegrown topic. Here are the books I brought to WBRC Fox 6 this month.

The Speckled Beauty (on sale September 21) by Rick Bragg

Rick Bragg has the amazing ability to tell stories that touch our hearts. He always has.  His books like All Over but the Shoutin’ and the more recent Best Cook in the World draw the reader in with just the right mix of tenderness and toughness and honest humor. He tempers sorrow with laughter, and somehow, we’re different and better when we put down his books. He’s back with a book about a dog, and it’s another winner. The Speckled Beauty:  A Dog and his People, Lost and Found goes on sale September 21. It’s a warm and laugh-out-loud funny story about how Bragg’s life was changed by a poorly behaved, half-blind stray dog “an illegitimate Australian shepherd” who wandered onto his rural property. He named the dog Speck. It seems Speck, who likes mayonnaise sandwiches and chasing all livestock, showed up exactly when Bragg needed … something. And so, this is the story of two damaged creatures who help each other heal.

Sweet Potatoes:  Roasted, Loaded, Fried, and Made into Pie by Mary-Frances Heck

Oh, the humble sweet potato! Is there nothing it can’t do? Apparently not, as Mary-Frances Heck, senior food editor at Food & Wine, shows us. Sweet Potato Ice Cream? Yes. Sweet Potato Galette with a just-cooked egg on top? Consider it done. Sweet Potato Leaf and Fava Bean Stew? Why not?

Some 60 bold and delicious recipes take us from appetizers to sides to dinner to dessert—and the flavors are from all over the world. Shrimp and Sweet Potato Kakiage is a Japanese dish; Huevos Rotos is Spanish; there’s Irish Fish Pie with a topping of sweet potato puree; Thai-Style Noodle Curry is an exotic way to up your sweet potato game. (A trip to the farmers’ market AND the fabulous markets on Green Springs Highway is in order; you’ll find everything you’ll need.) Some dishes will be more familiar.  There are sweet potato fries here and sweet potato chips and sweet potato biscuits. There’s even a sweet potato “Big Mac.” What’s more, Mary-Frances guides cooks in a conversational way that is comforting even before you put your comfort food on the table. 

Family Law by Gin Phillips

I’ve followed Gin Phillips for years now. Her first novel, The Well and the Mine, remains one of my favorites. It won the 2009 Barnes & Nobel Discover Award. And once, in a train station in Germany, I saw a poster for her book Fierce Kingdom, and I was just so immensely proud of this Birmingham writer! Her latest novel, Family Law, is just as well written and compelling as the others. It’s set in Alabama in the 1980s and follows the career of a young lawyer named Lucia who is making a name for herself at a time when women were more likely to be the ones represented—not the ones doing the representing. Lucia spends her days helping women and children get free of troubling relationships, and her work is not without its perils; she receives plenty of threats. One day, a teenage girl named Rachel, whose mother is divorcing, comes into Lucia’s office. Rachel is captivated by Lucia and her ability to successfully move in what is essentially a man’s world. The young girl sees a path for herself in what Lucia is doing with her life. But then the violence of a threat made good puts Rachel in danger, and Lucia has to decide exactly how much her work means to her. (The novel is inspired by the real-life career of a highly successful woman attorney from Birmingham.)

The Unlikely World of the Montgomery Bus Boycott:  Solidarity Across Alabama, the United Kingdom, and South Africa By Cole S. Manley

I spoke to Ambassador Andrew Young a few months ago, and he told me a story. He said he had told Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., during the movement, “We probably will die before we are 40. But if we don’t, it’s up to us to change the world.” This book, published by the Montgomery-based NewSouth Books, looks at the global influences and lasting impact of the 1955-56 mass protest in Montgomery that many historians consider to be the start of the 20th-century civil rights movement. Cole Manley is a PhD student in History at the University of California, and he takes a world view of a movement that started here. He researches how the Black Montgomery boycotters thought about their movement as it relates to international struggles—from the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa to the anti-color bar battles in the United Kingdom. Because what happened in Montgomery reverberated throughout the world. The Montgomery bus boycott was about much more than fair seating, of course. It remains an example of the power of protest and still inspires people in the ongoing struggles for racial and economic and social justice.

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

Let’s hit the books! A learning frame of mind is a great place to be, and we’re never too old for it! Here are the books I brought to WBRC Fox 6 this month–a great work of historical fiction, a cookbook designed for young people headed off to college, a guide to meditation and a thoughtful work of fiction. 

The Four Winds by Kristin Hannah

This beautiful work of historical fiction from Kristin Hannah is absolutely heartbreaking, and it’s timely in an alarming way.  So I think it’s a must-read. Set in Texas and then California during the years of the devastating Dust Bowl era, the story follows Elsa Wolcott who marries a man she hardly knows and ends up living with him and his parents on the family farm. It’s 1921 in Texas, and the bounty of the land is plentiful. By 1934, though, things are different. Millions are out of work; a drought has left the farm in ruins; dust storms pummel the plains; and Elsa’s husband, Rafe, just walks away. Elsa, in an effort to simply keep her children alive, heads to California with its promise of jobs and security. It’s a false promise, but Elsa—facing challenges she never imagined—finds an inner strength she never knew existed.  In the end, The Four Winds is a lovely tribute to the indomitable spirit of women of The Greatest Generation and how they held their families together in the most dangerous and dire circumstances. This is not an easy book to read. Hannah’s WWII-era The Nightingale was more of a page-turner. I say read both. 

The 5-Ingredient College Cookbook:  Easy, Healthy Recipes for the Next Four Years & Beyond by Pamela Ellgen

Most college students are short on time, money and counter space. This cookbook with more than 100 easy-to-follow recipes—requiring five or fewer affordable ingredients and taking about 30 minutes to cook—can help instill healthy eating habits and hone lifelong kitchen skills. The recipes are varied—classic French toast, vegan enchiladas, Greek pita sandwiches, Thai chicken ramen and more. Young cooks can brush up on fundamental cooking skills with tips and techniques things like on knife safety and food storage. What’s more, most of these student-approved recipes include alternate versions to accommodate a variety of tastes and diet requirements. 

Practicing Mindfulness:  75 Essential Meditations to Reduce Stress, Improve Mental Health and Find Peace in the Everyday by Matthew Sockolov

In these continually stressful times, mindfulness is more important than ever. Mindfulness is an evidence-based way to reduce stress, enhance resilience and maintain mental well-being. So why aren’t we all practicing it? All the time? This book gets you past any excuses with gentle, practical guidance. The 75 mediations are of various lengths; some meditations are designed for specific situations or emotions, and Sockolov also offers tips on how to handle wandering thoughts and mental blocks. The early meditations here take just five minutes (science shows us that even short meditations can turn a day around). Then the exercises grow with the reader’s experience, building on previous lessons to cultivate a regular and transformative mindfulness practice for a calmer, more balanced life. 

Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro

This is a powerful work of fiction about knowledge and lose and the fragility of innocence. Kathy, Ruth and Tommy grew up at Hailsham, an exclusive and secluded boarding school in the English countryside, where they were constantly reminded of how special they are. Now, several years later, Kathy is a young woman, and her work reconnects her to Ruth and Tommy. This stirs memories of old hurts as well as moments of happiness—and they begin to realize the horror of what it is exactly that makes them special. Ishiguro is the winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature and the author of the Booker Prize-winning novel The Remains of the Day. His newest work, Klara and the Sun, reminded me how much I enjoy his stories. 

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

Summer is far from over! Here’s a book of poetry by a local father-son team, a perfect beach read, a summer-ready cookbook and an informative book about food for kids. I featured these today on WBRC-Fox 6.

Illusions:  Poetry & Art for the Young at Heart

by Charles Ghigna with illustrations by Chip Ghigna

Charles Ghigna, our own beloved Alabama author who often goes by the name “Father Goose,” teamed up with his artist son, Chip, for an especially beautiful book of poetry. Through thoughtful words and fanciful black and white images, they create a dream world that is anything but black and white. The poems and pictures blur the lines between imagination and reality in a way that is inspirational and heartwarming and even funny. 

Art

Art is undefinable,

A mystery of creation

Inspired by a pigment

Of your imagination.

The father-son collaboration is magical—sort of like how family members can harmonize better and more naturally than singers who are not related.  Charles’s poetry is accessible, as always, which I enjoy. There’s truth in his poems. And Chip’s illustrations are spare, yet thought-provoking. A perfect pairing. 

The Rosie Project

by Graeme Simsion

I’m a little late to the Rosie situation. The Rosie Project was published in 2013 and there have been two other installments since then:  The Rosie Effect and The Rosie Result. I must say, I thought there would be a film before any sequels; The Rosie Project is a very visual read. This international bestselling rom-com of a book is about a genetics profession named Don Tillman who is absolutely brilliant but socially challenged. He’s looking for love and approaching it as a scientific project. He designs The Wife Project, complete with an exhaustive, 16-page questionnaire, that he hopes will lead him to a life partner. Smokers, drinkers and late arrivers need not apply. Then, by chance, he meets Rosie Jarman who has all three of these “flaws.” Don quickly disqualifies Rosie for The Wife Project but is intrigued by her quest to discover her biological father. So, he embarks upon The Father Project, and his world is quickly turned upside down by the unpredictable Rosie.  The book is laugh-out-loud funny and heartwarming and just plain fun. Don discovers that sometimes, despite the most diligent search for love, it sometimes finds you.

Summer, a Cookbook:  Inspired Recipes for Lazy Days and Magical Nights

by Marnie Hanel and Jen Stevenson

Americans are ready to share dinner and drinks and lunches and brunches with friends and family. No doubt about that. This brand-new cookbook offers delicious, easy-to-follow instructions on how to do that. More than 100 seasonal recipes here advocate going with the flow (and not turning on the oven if it’s just too darn hot out). Even though the spotlight is on ease, the ideas are inspiring. Consider Spicy Pineapple Spears and Landlubber’s Lobster Rolls for your next beach picnic. Gather at the lake for Grilled Shrimp Louie salad. Host a paella party. There are tiki cocktails here as well as a Five-Minute Frosé. And you’ll even find tips on building a beach firepit. Welcome to the rest of your delicious and fun summer!

There’s No Ham in Hamburger:  Facts and Folklore About our Favorite Foods

by Kim Zachman with illustrations by Peter Donnelly

This new book is about the history, science and geography behind lots of foods beloved by kids (of all ages). That said, this book is written especially for young readers ages 8-12. Burgers and fries, chocolate and chicken, peanut butter and ice cream and cold cereal, Chicken McNuggets and hotdogs. They are all addressed here in a way that’s playful and informative. 

Author Kim Zachman, from Roswell, GA, is a history buff and an advocate for kids reading for pleasure. 

“I wanted to write history for kids, and I wanted it to be really fun,” she told The Associated Press. “I was trying to think of ideas, and I was out walking my dog one day, and I was like, why is there no ham in hamburgers? I’d always kind of wondered that. That’s when I found so many great origin stories.” Even something as everyday as vanilla and chocolate are not so straightforward:

  • It takes four years for a young vanilla plant to produce a flower, and the flower lasts for just one day. 
  • The tropical trees grown for chocolate can’t handle direct sunlight, need rain year-round and take three to four years to produce blossoms that can only be pollinated by tiny flies called midges. Out of 1,000 flowers, just three or four will be pollinated and grow into seed pods, which take about six months to ripen.
  • Cacao seeds were so valuable that the Aztecs used them as money.

This hands-on history lesson includes some simple recipes and one science experiment—learn how to extract iron from fortified cold cereal. 

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

Let’s go back to the future! We’ll travel forward and backward this month with compelling fiction for all agesthis first one is a prose poem narrative for young readers written by a local writer.

D-39 a Robodog’s Journey by Irene Latham

This dystopian, yet heartwarming, novel-in-verse is by local writer Irene Latham. It’s a fable set in a civil war-torn future U.S. in an imaginary place called Worselands, and things are pretty awful there. Real pet dogs have been outlawed, freedoms are being taken away, too, and violence is everywhere. One day, 12-year-old Klynt Tovis is restoring artifacts in her Museum of Fond Memories when an intriguing antique shows up—a D-39 robodog (the Dog Alive™ company named it that because dogs have 39 chromosomes).  As the war makes its way closer, Klynt and D-39 must undertake an epic journey to survive. 

Irene says, “When I started this book it was in free verse, with jagged lines. But as I kept tinkering with the story—the same way main character Klynt likes to tinker with the objects in her Museum of Fond Memories, (which was named after the iconic Reed Books in downtown Birmingham). I wasn’t satisfied. I could hear the story whispering to me to try something different … and when the poems settled themselves into prose poems, I knew it was exactly what the book needed!” She adds, “Writing this book was FUN. Poetry is a playground, and this book allowed me to explore. And I got to make up words… A LOT of words! Like greenseason (spring), deathstretch (war), joyslammed (happy) and quirkface (smile). There’s a Glossary at the end of the book, but you probably won’t need it, as context reveals their meanings.”

In addition to being an accomplished poet, Irene is a fantastic teacher. She offers these activities for her young readers:  Explore the Discussion Guide that includes activities across the curriculum—and “Poem-Friends” for D-39! Invent Your Own Robodog Activity Sheet, Create Your Own D-39 Junk Journal and Invent Your Own Words Activity Sheet.

Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir

This is the brand-new, New York Times bestseller by the author of The Martian (which was made into a 2015 movie starring Matt Damon). In Project Hail Mary, a junior high school science teacher becomes an unlikely hero when Earth is threatened by a microscopic lifeform that is draining the Sun of its energy. Dr. Ryland Grace awakens from a medically induced coma lightyears from home—he’s alone on a spaceship except for the corpses of his two crewmates. As his memories slowly return, Dr. Grace realizes that the fate of his planet depends solely on him  … or does it? He soon discovers he has company in deep space. Full of cool facts and fun science, this page-turner of an interstellar adventure novel ultimately is a story of friendship and courage and redemption.

The Lost Apothecary by Sarah Penner

This highly anticipated new novel did not disappoint. With three heroines and two timelines, this is a tale of poison and empowerment. In the twisted alleys of 18th century London, a dark apothecary shop caters to a certain clientele—women who need to get rid of the abusive, oppressive men in their lives. A shadowy figure named Neila compounds what they want—poisons of all sorts. Her business is steady and stealthy until her newest client—a precocious 12-year-old girl makes a grave mistake. Meanwhile, in the present day, an aspiring historian named Caroline is spending her 10th wedding anniversary alone in London, having discovered her husband was cheating on her. While looking for artifacts along the River Thames one day, she stumbles onto a clue to the unsolved apothecary murders that took place in the city 200 years ago. Suddenly ,her life and those of the two women from long ago are intertwined in ways she never could have imagined.

Sweet Lamb of Heaven by Lydia Millet

This is an older novel (2016), but it reads like it was written last year. Told in intimate first person, it’s a creepy, apocalyptic story of a young mother named Anna who is fleeing her cold and controlling and unfaithful husband, a successful businessman who is now running for public office. Ned chases Anna and their six-year-old daughter from Alaska to a dingy motel in Maine so the three can appear as a normal, happy family for his campaign. But not much is normal here—certainly not Ned, who becomes more and more threatening, and unpredictable, not the other motel guests who are united by more than their desire for a relaxing seaside vacation, and not even Anna who has a history of hearing voices. When Ned’s efforts go from creepy to criminal, Anna begins to lose her grip on reality. The kindness of strangers is the only thing that will ultimately save her and her daughter. Millet is the bestselling author of a dozen award-winning books including A Children’s Bible.

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.

(Grand) Mothers and Suns and Stars

Here’s what I shared on WBRC Fox 6 this month. A hot-now cookbook that celebrates grandmothers, brand-new fiction, an older but important book to read right now and a new children’s book about stars. It’s a lot!

In Bibi’s Kitchen by Hawa Hassan with Julia Turshen

The subtitle of this cookbook—The recipes and Stories of Grandmothers from the Eight African Countries that Touch the Indian Ocean—tells readers we are in for a lot of tasty treats and some armchair travel with a side helping of enduring wisdom. Hassan is a Somali chef, and together with renowned food writer Turshen, she gives us 75 home-style recipes and engaging stories gathered from bibis (grandmothers) from Eritrea, Somalia, Kenya, Tanzania, Mozambique, South Africa, Madagascar and Comoros. With personal narratives and beautiful photos shot on location in their homes (some still live in Africa; others left during difficult times and now live in the U.S.), these women share recipes (and the stories behind them) that have been handed down through generations. The easy-to-follow recipes for things like kicha (Eritrean flatbread), matoke (stewed plantains with beans and beef), kachumbari (tomato, cucumber and onion salad) and even straightforward mango chile sauce will expand your culinary horizons, and these women and their stories will touch your heart. 

Klara and the Sun by Kazuo Ishiguro

This brand-new book is the eighth novel published by the Nobel Prize-winning British author of The Remains of the Day. It’s set in a dystopian future where some children are genetically engineered (“lifted”) to excel academically. All learning is online, so to provide social interactions, wealthy parents buy their children an Artificial Friend (AF). This story is narrated by one such AF, Klara, who becomes a friend for a girl named Josie. Klara is very observant and intelligent even though her worldly experience has been limited to what she could see outside the store window. As a solar-powered machine, Klara is always aware of the sun (which she refers to as He and considers a living, conscious entity with the ability to heal). When she realizes that the lifting process is a dangerous one (Josie’s sister, Sal, died and Josie herself is quite sick), Klara decides to enlist the sun’s help to heal her friend. This book is profoundly moving. And it ultimately asks the important questions, “What does it mean to be human?” and “What does it mean to love?” The answers might surprise you. 

The Warmth of Other Suns:  The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration by Isabel Wilkerson

Isabel Wilkson also is the author of the No. 1 bestselling book Caste:  The Origins of our Discounts. In this older (2010), beautifully written and equally important book, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author chronicles the decades-long migration of Black Americans who fled the South for northern and western cities in search of a better life for themselves and their families. From 1915 to 1970, nearly six million people made this journey, and this exodus changed the social and economic face of America. Wilkerson interviewed more than 1,000 people, researched official records and mined new data to bring this important part of our history to light in a way that is dramatic and hard to put down. The story is told, with stunningly intimate detail, through the lives of three people:  Ida Mae Gladney, who left sharecropping in Mississippi in the 1930s for Chicago; George Starling, who in 1945 fled the orange groves of a horrifyingly violent Florida for Harlem; and Robert Foster, who, in the early 1950s, left Louisiana for California to pursue a successful medical career (he was the personal physician to Ray Charles. Wilkerson traces their exhausting, frightening journeys across the country and then their lives where they landed—where they and other transplants like them changed those cities with their culture, food, faith, hard work and personal drive for a better life.

The Secret Life of Stars (on sale today, May 4!) by Lisa Harvey-Smith with illustrations by Eirian Chapman

The stars, they are just like us! Stars, nebulae and other deep-space phenomena take on personalities and human-like emotions and frailties in this new book for young readers. The author easily explains, in a fun and engaging way, why the sun produces heat and light, what happens when a star blows up and even the secrets of black holes. It’s astrophysics for everyone; and that’s the book’s subtitle. As Harvey-Smith, an award-winning astronomer, writes, “… we see stable dwarf stars, unpredictable giants and many in between. We see kind stars, devious stars, selfish and just plain weird stars. … Some live in families … yet many destroy their relationships. … During a midlife crisis, a star can disappear completely, or reincarnate in a colorful cloud of gas. Stars are born and they age, just like us, before slowly succumbing to the inevitable, their ashes returned to the cosmos.” 

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 April

Let’s get wrapped up in a great novel. Here’s what I shared on WBRC Fox 6 this month. Fiction, brand-new and older, that will captivate you from page one.

In the Company of Men by Veronique Tadjo

This book draws on the terrible facts of the widespread 2014-2016 Ebola outbreak in West Africa, and it’s a fable about the strength and the fragility of humans. Of course, it’s especially timely right now during the pandemic. The story (only 160 pages) is told from the point of view of villagers, traditional healers, nurses, doctors, patients as well as the baobab tree, a bat and the Ebola virus itself. Tadjo weaves conversational narrative with poetry and traditional songs and day-to-day life before and during a frightening and devastating period. It’s difficult to read at times, but it’s beautifully written. A few voices stand out:  the grandmother who took in an orphaned boy; the young girl sent away from her dying village; the man in charge of the disinfecting spray; and the insidious virus, which is chillingly pragmatic. But the ancient and wise baobab, who mourns the state of the earth where man increasingly encroaches on the forest, has seen all this before. And he’s the one who ultimately, sees the strength of those suffering and offers hope for the future.  

Stoner by John Williams

This might be the best American novel you haven’t yet read. Stoner was written in 1965 but reissued a few times since then and it’s received a surge of popularity since it was republished in 2006 by New York Review Books Classics. It Set on a college campus in the Midwest, it’s the story of William Stoner and his undistinguished career as an assistant professor, his troubled marriage to his wife Edith, a short affair with a colleague and his lifelong love of literature. That said, it is absolutely riveting. Born on a small farm in 1891, Stoner goes to the University of Missouri on scholarship to study agriculture and, in his sophomore year, during the required survey course in English, he falls in love with literary studies. And he never leaves. Decades pass. Stoner teaches through two world wars (at times brilliantly); marries an absolutely hateful woman who uses their daughter, Grace, (Stoner’s single joy) as a weapon; navigates cutthroat academic politics made more complicated by a vicious enemy on the staff; and finds love for a short time with a colleague, Katherine. The book is about a quiet life—an unremarkable life, really—but it is beautifully written and will stay with you for a long, long time.

Summerwater by Sarah Moss

This brand-new novel is told in various voices of people staying at a collection of vacation cabins on a Scottish loch. They rarely talk to each other, but they always notice what the others are doing.  And most have noticed that one family does not seem to belong. The story begins early in the morning when a young mother goes on a solitary run. We join an older couple lamenting the changes that have come to their family vacation place. We see a young woman trying to find a little time away from her attentive boyfriend, a young boy escaping the scrutiny of his family when he takes a canoe too far out on loch, a small group of children playing where they shouldn’t. In the course of this single rainy day, they’ll go from being strangers to allies. Against the awe-inspiring beauty of the natural world, there’s a subtle (and building) sense of menace throughout the narrative, so when something terrible happens, the reader is not really surprised. But what exactly happens is surprising in this short, twisty novel.

The Dutch House by Ann Patchett

Named one of the best books of 2019, this Pulitzer Prize finalist has been on my list for a while. It’s the story of a remarkable house, the siblings who lived there and lost it and the hold it has over them for their entire lives. At the end of WWII, Cyril Conroy parlayed a single good investment into a real estate empire and suddenly his poor family is enormously wealthy. So, he buys a house—The Dutch House—on a huge estate outside Philadelphia. The house is meant as a surprise for his wife, but it eventually tears the family apart. The story is told by Cyril’s son, Danny, who with his older sister, Maeve, lived in the house with their father after their mother left them. Cyril eventually remarries and after his untimely death, the stepmother exiles the siblings from the house and sells the business. Danny and Maeve are suddenly poor again, but they have each other. The story plays out over five decades, with the siblings returning again and again to sit in Maeve’s car outside the house and talk (with humor as well as anger) about their lives past and present and all that they lost. When their mother reenters the picture, their relationship is finally tested, and forgiveness is the only way forward from a past they won’t easily let go. 

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 March

Let’s celebrate Women’s History Month! These are the books I featured on WBRC Fox 6 this month. I shared a great book for young readers about global and personal perseverance, a memoir by RBG, a collection of timely and funny essays about feminism in the modern world and a beloved book worth revisiting. 

Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson

This powerful story of an African American girl’s journey through adolescence is told through poetry. Growing up in South Carolina and New York, she experienced both the remnants of Jim Crow and the promise of the Civil Rights Movement. Her eloquent poetry is a celebration of spirit and life and perseverance—in the larger world and personally. The author overcame childhood struggles with reading and found the amazing power of words, and they changed her life. This book is for ages 10 to 14 (but adults will enjoy it, too). It’s a National Book Award winner as well as the winner of the Newbery Honor and the Coretta Scott King Award. And it was a pick in President Obama’s O Book Club.

My Own Words by Ruth Bader Ginsburg

The late RBG, certainly one of the most influential women in American history, had so much wisdom to share! In this collection of essays, she touches on everything from her early career to, of course, her time on the Supreme Court. She writes about gender equality, the inner workings of the Supreme Court, interpreting the U.S. Constitution, being Jewish and being a woman. The pieces in this book were chosen by Justice Ginsburg and her authorized biographers, Mary Harnett and Wendy W. Williams, who introduce each chapter with biographical context and quotes from the hundreds of interviews they conducted with Justice Ginsburg.

Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay

This New York Times bestselling book about feminism in the modern world is thought-provoking and, at times, laugh-out-loud funny. Writer, activist and cultural critic Roxane Gay writes about gender, race, body image, politics and more. “These essays are political, and they are personal,” she writes in the introduction of Bad Feminist. “They are, like feminism, flawed, but they come from a genuine place.” The book also is a look at how the culture we consume—everything from Sweet Valley High to The Help to Django in Chains—shapes who we are. This book was named Best Book of the Year at NPR.

The Diary of a Young Girl  by Anne Frank

The haunting story of Anne Frank still resonates in today’s world—even though it was first published more than 70 years ago. Anne, of course, kept a diary during the two years she spent in hiding with her family (and another family) during the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands. The family was captured in 1944, and Anne died (probably of typhus) in the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in 1945, just weeks before it was liberated. Anne didn’t just keep a diary, she wrote stories—including fairy tales she made up—and, after the war, planned to publish a book about her time in the Secret Annex. She also had a Book of Beautiful Sentences filled with sentences and passages copied from books she read in the Annex. The diary and Anne’s notebooks were found and kept by one of the family’s helpers Miep Gies, who later gave them to Anne’s father, Otto Frank, the only member of the family who survived. He was the one who fulfilled Anne’s wish to share her words. The diary has been published in more than 70 languages. It is perhaps the single most compelling account of the Holocaust. It remains one of the most read and most inspiring books in the world.

Head’s up: The Hill We Climb and Other Poemsby Presidential Inaugural Poet (and first-ever U.S. Youth Poet Laureate) Amanda Gorman is available for pre-order (delivery Sept. 21).

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

Let’s celebrate Black History Month! These are the books I featured on WBRC Fox 6 this month. There’s something significant and timely in these pages for readers of all ages and all backgrounds. Also, one of these books is by a Birmingham writer.

Angel of Greenwood by Randi Pink

Birmingham author Randi Pink (who wrote Into White) brings us Angel of Greenwood, a young adult historical novel (for ages 12-17) that takes place during the Greenwood Massacre of 1921 in the area of Tulsa, OK, known as “Black Wall Street.” (This has been called the single worst incident of racial violence in U.S. history.) The book is about 17-year-old Isaiah Wilson, a young man who hides his poetic side behind a tough-guy façade and believes Black people need to rise up and take their place as equals, and 16-year-old Angel Hill, a studious young woman who follows the teachings of Booker T. Washington, who advocated education and nonviolent means toward equality. They hardly know each other when their English teacher offers them a job on the mobile library (a three-wheel, two-seater bike). When an angry, violent white mob storms the Greenwood community on May 31, 1921—leaving the town destroyed, dozens dead and hundreds injured—their lives are forever changed. 

It’s In the Action:  Memories of a Nonviolent Warrior (Available March 9) by C.T. Vivian with Steve Fiffer and a foreword by Andrew Young

NewSouth Books, based in Montgomery, collaborated with the Vivian family and the C. T. Vivian Library to publish It’s In the Action, the memoir of legendary, late civil rights activist C.T. Vivian, whom Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., called “the greatest preacher to ever live.” 

(The book will be released on March 9.) Vivian’s nine decades of service and wisdom inform this book about his life and time in the movement. Vivian helped John Lewis and others integrate Nashville in the 1960s. He was imprisoned and beaten during the Freedom Rides. He helped lead the integration and voting rights campaigns in Birmingham, St. Augustine and Selma. Over the next half century, he became internationally known for his work for education and civil and human rights and against racism, hatred, and economic inequality. In 2013, President Barack Obama awarded him the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Vivian passed away peacefully in Atlanta last July. The late civil rights leader’s inspiring stories from a lifetime of nonviolent activism come just in time for a new generation of activists who are responding to systems of injustice, violence and oppression. The memoir is an important addition to civil rights history and to the understanding of movement principles and strategies.

All Are Welcome by Alexandra Penfold with illustrations by Suzanne Kaufman

This book is a lovely lesson in diversity and inclusion for very young readers ages 4-8. 

In our classroom safe and sound.
Fears are lost and hope is found.


Discover a school where all young children have a place, have a space, and are loved and appreciated. Readers will follow a group of children through a day in their school—a place where everyone is welcomed with open arms. In this school, where all young children from various backgrounds enjoy a safe space, they learn from each other and celebrate each other’s traditions. It’s a fictional school, yes, but also perhaps a microcosm of the world as we’d want it to be.

This Book is Anti-Racist:  20 Lessons on How to Wake Up, Take Action, and Do the Work by Tiffany Jewell with illustrations by Aurélia Durand

What is racism? Why does it exist? What can you do to disrupt it? In this practical how-to for ages 10-17, author Tiffany Jewell, an anti-bias, anti-racist educator and activist, offers a book that empowers young readers to thoughtful action. (The book is a No. 1 New York Times bestseller and recommended by Oprah.) The chapters invite introspection as Jewell presents the history of racism and anti-racist movements, teaches about social identities, and shares inspiring stories of strength and hope. Jewell also offers real-world solutions to difficult situations young people face in today’s society such as what to say to a racist adult and how to speak up for yourself and others. There’s also a companion This Book is Anit-Racist Journal, which offers more than 50 guided activities to support your anti-racism journey.

Head’s up: The Hill We Climb and Other Poems by Presidential Inaugural Poet (and first-ever U.S. Youth Poet Laureate) Amanda Gorman is available for pre-order (delivery Sept. 21).

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: A Fresh Start

Here we go! A new year, a new year of great books! These are the books I featured on WBRC Fox 6 this month. Let’s escape with a strange and beautiful debut novel set in Columbia, train our brains with some expert advice and then learn some new stuff.

The Anthill by Julianne Pachico

This debut novel is set in Medellin, Columbia, and the vivid setting will satisfy armchair travelers. The writing—honest and beautiful and, at times, brutal—will satisfy lovers of literature. The tale, a ghost story, really, is thrilling and told by an unreliable narrator, which makes it even spookier and quite hard to put down. Lina has come home to Columbia after being away for 20 years in England where she grew up, and she’s looking for her childhood friend Matty—and for answers to her hazy early memories. Matty runs a day-care refuge called The Anthill for Medellin’s street children, and Lina begins volunteering there. But she doesn’t really recognize her city, which has become a tourist destination; Matty isn’t the friend she remembers; and there’s something sinister about The Anthill—especially the mysterious small, dirty boy with the pointy teeth. As Lina comes to terms with what happened when she and Matty were very young children, the city’s bloody and traumatic history is the backdrop for a novel about privilege, racism and redemption.

Keep Sharp:  Build a Better Brain at Any Age by Sanjay Gupta, M.D.

The television commentator and practicing neurosurgeon shares a 12-week program designed to keep our brains healthy and elastic with new nerve growth and wiring. As a child, Dr. Gupta watched his grandfather struggle with Alzheimer’s, so his lifelong dedication to understanding the brain is personal. The ideas he puts forward in this science-driven book are practical and easy to incorporate into daily life. First, exercise. Aim for moderate movement every single day, and change your habits to incorporate more movement (take the stairs instead of an escalator or elevator; park farther away from the door of the grocery). Eat healthy: less meat and processed foods, more fresh veggies and fruits; berries are especially good for the brain, he says. Try to get a good night’s sleep because that’s when the brain refreshes itself by removing toxins and sorting experiences into memories. Take up a new hobby. Crossword puzzles are fine, but learning something new is especially good for the brain. Challenge yourself every day. For example, if you are right-handed, eat dinner with your left hand. Finally, turn to family and friends as much as you can right now. Social interaction is critically important. “We are social creatures,” he told an interviewer recently. “We know that there are certain neurochemicals that are released when we actually have touch and look someone directly in the eye.”  In short, a brisk walk with a friend when you spend time talking out problems (exercising and exercising empathy) checks a lot of boxes for a healthy mind and body. 

What It’s Like to Be a Bird by David Allen Sibley

How about birding for a new hobby this year? It really takes little more than an interest to get started, since birds are everywhere. A new book by bird expert David Sibley is perfect for birders and non-birders alike, because it’s a guide to what birds do and why they do it. Sibley answers some frequently asked questions like, “Can birds smell?” “Do robins ‘hear’ worms?” while sharing information about how birds nest, fly, sing and eat and delving deeper into how birds adapt to environmental changes. The large-format book covers more than 200 species of birds and features some 300 illustrations by the author (many of them life-sized). The focus here is on backyard birds like cardinals, nuthatches, chickadees and robins, but other easily observable birds like shorebirds at the beach are included, too. Sibley is the celebrated author and illustrator of several guides to nature including The Sibley Guide to Birds.

The Complete Air Fryer Cookbook by Linda Larsen

This book is not new, but since air fryers are the new Instant Pot (judging from holiday sales), there’s tons of interest and lots to learn. This cookbook shows you how to not just fry, but also bake, grill and roast with your new versatile kitchen tool. There are 101 recipes here ranging from mixed-berry muffins to spicy Thai beef stir-fry. They are easily identifiable as “fast,” “vegetarian,” “family friendly” and “meat-centered.” You’ll also learn air-fryer basics about cooking temperatures, oil options and more.

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.