Ramblings and Recommendations

Hello all!

I love to read.  And, I find myself often talking about reading and books and making recommendations to my friends and neighbors (both solicited and unsolicited).  I also enjoy writing, but mostly of the stream-of-conscience brand.  So, here are my ramblings about books and reading and my recommendations.  I hope you enjoy.


Never Have I Ever – Joshilyn Jackson

Countdown to the Decatur Book Festival: A Baker’s Dozen of Literary Treats


As a longtime fan of Joshilyn Jackson, I was both excited and a little wary when I saw that she had a new novel coming out (the former) and that it would be in the mystery genre (the latter).  Never Have I Ever has Jackson’s signature cast of female characters who have clever and biting personalities.  In other words, women I’d like to befriend.  But unlike her previous novels, character development and family entanglements take a backseat to a propelling plot.  And, it’s a joyride! Jackson takes on the current trendy psychological thriller novel rather than a procedural mystery. Jackson, it should be remembered, is pretty darn good at handing out a good twist whether or not a mystery is at the core of the plot or not. Never Have I Ever, ultimately, is a page-turner with feisty female characters and some unexpected twists that made me gasp and cheer with equal relish.

Meet Joshilyn Jackson at the Decatur Book Festival.


I received an advanced copy of this novel from the publisher via LIbraryThing’s Early Reviewers Program in exchange for an honest review.  Thanks!

Furious Hours – Casey Cep

Countdown to the Decatur Book Festival: A Baker’s Dozen of Literary Treats


Harper Lee, the author of To Kill A Mockingbird, served as a research assistant to her friend, Truman Capote as he researched the Cutter Family murders.  These murders were the subject of Capote’s seminal work, In Cold Blood, often touted as the book that transformed non-fiction into a literary genre. Lee’s work was crucial in the publication of Capote’s book, and planted a seed that she would like to write a “true crime novel” of her own, correcting what she perceived as the flaws in Capote’s work, most notably those elements that Capote might call flourishes and Lee would call falsehoods.

In the late 1970s, Lee began to research a series of murders that took place in Alabama. Willie Maxwell, a traveling Baptist preacher, appeared to have murdered several family members. Reverend Maxwell was charged with the murder of his wife, but was acquitted, in great part due to the prowess of his attorney, Tom Radney.  Gaining confidence, other family members died under suspicious circumstances.  These deaths didn’t yield enough evidence to bring a formal criminal accusation, but despite formal criminal charges, most folks in that small town had a solid believe that Reverend Maxwell was responsible for these deaths.

The Reverand’s last alledged murder was of his stepdaughter.  At her funeral, Robert Burns shot Maxwell point blank, killing him. Although over 300 people witnessed the shooting, Burns was acquitted of all charges.  In the eyes of the townspeople, this was justice come full circle. No doubt Burns’ result stemmed from his excellent legal council by none other than Tom Radney, naturally.

Harper Lee couldn’t resist the pull of this fabulous story and researched the trials and other potential crimes of Reverend Maxwell.  She took her research back to New York to begin writing, but, of course, no book was ever published.  Casey Cep, undertook her own investigation tracing Harper Lee’s steps and looking into possible reasons the book was never written.

This account, rather than being the book that Harper Lee might have written, follows it’s own, creative and satisfying framework.  The first part of the book discusses Willie Maxwell, his crimes and motives; the second introduces his attorney, Tom Radney, his history and his defense of Robert Burns for killing his former client.  Finally, the third and most meaty portion of her book is dedicated to following the career of Harper Lee and trying to uncover why her intended book was never published.

One of the most satisfying reads of 2019, Cep was able to accomplish what her subject was not: writing a riveting and literary non-fiction investigative story that soars even when all the answers are not readily available and even when loose ends don’t necessarily have a bow.

Check out Casey Cep at the Decatur Book Festival!

Savage Conversations – LeAnne Howe

Countdown to the Decatur Book Festival: A Baker’s Dozen of Literary Treats


In Savage Conversations, LeAnne Howe takes two seemingly unrelated historical events and creates a fever-dream-mashup of a novel. In 1862, President Lincoln ordered the mass execution of 38 Native Americans of the Dakota tribe.  And, in 1875, ten years following her husband’s assassination, Mary Todd Lincoln was judged to be insane and committed to Bellevue asylum.

This short novel imagines conversations that Mary Todd Lincoln might have had (or hallucinated) with the ghost of one of the victims of the 1862 slaughter during her stay at Bellevue, where she was heavily medicated.  Each night, the Dakota man enters Mr. Lincoln’s room, scalps her and cuts her face.  After these ritual nocturnal attacks, the two discuss the hypocrisy and contradiction of rhetoric and actions of the American government.

The style and creativity of the idea, narrative, and writing defy pithy explanation. (Believe me, folks have tried.  Notably, author Susan Power described this novel as a hybrid of The Rocky Horror Picture Show and War and Peace). Savage Conversations is a genius take on two seemingly disparate historical events that provokes a great deal of curiosity.

Check out LeAnne Howe at the Decatur Book Festival.

Correspondents – Tim Murphy

Countdown to the Decatur Book Festival: A Baker’s Dozen of Literary Treats


Correspondents introduces Rita Khoruy, an American journalist, reporting from Iraq following 9/11. Khoury hails from a culturally mixed family: her father is Lebanese and her mother, Irish.  She speaks Arabic but still requires the services of Nabil, a local guide and translator. Nabil helps Rita with logistics, culture and local dialect and becomes the target of violence in part because of his employment by and friendship with Americans.  The trials of war and the lives of war correspondents are on display in Technicolor. Strongly driven by beautifully and fully drawn characters, Murphy’s novel highlights both the grace of empathy that comes from knowing others and the failure of empathy that occurs in the chaos and propaganda of war.

Check out Tim Murphy at the Decatur Book Festival.


I received an advanced copy of this novel from the publishers via netgalley in exchange for an honest review.  Thanks!


The Atlas of Reds and Blues – Devi S. Laskar

Countdown to the Decatur Book Festival: A Baker’s Dozen of Literary Treats


The Atlas of Reds and Blues is the debut novel by poet Devi S. Laskar.  And, like many poets turned novelists, Laskar has the ability to beautifully set a scene with an economy of words.  The novel as a whole consists of short sections of memory fragments answering questions that arise during the opening scene.  We meet the main character, referred to only as “Mother” as she lies in her driveway in Georgia, bleeding from a gunshot wound. The rest of the novel consists of scene snapshots that change abruptly like rooms in a funhouse. The overall effect is dreamlike, with the snippets creating strong feelings that linger long after the final page.  From Mother’s upbringing as an Indian immigrant in the American south, to her career as a journalist;  from her middle child’s suffering from racial bulling, to her white male husband’s dismissal of their experiences; the story ultimately comes together to form a revelatory picture of the experience of racism in modern America.

Check out Devi S. Laskar at the Decatur Book Festival!


Like Lions – Brian Panowich

Countdown to the Decatur Book Festival: A Baker’s Dozen of Literary Treats


In 2015, I attended the Decatur Book Festival and noticed a session titled “Mountain Vengence”. Seriously, how could I possibly resist? This panel featuring Brian Panowich (with his debut Bull Mountain) and Julie Keller (author of the Belle Elkins series) was one of the best author talks I have ever attended. This firefighter in a cowboy hat and Harvard educated middle-aged woman from West Virginia had the most delightful conversation about writing, Marvel vs. DC comics, and when to go low and when to go high (brow, that is).  I immediately picked up their books and Bull Mountain was one of the most surprising and delightful books I’ve ever read.  It’s a mystery of the “grit lit” variety, but it is also literary and speaks to the push and pull of family in such a remarkable way.  Needless to say, everyone on my holiday list got a copy that year and I’ve been waiting ever since for Panowich’s next book.   And,  . . . <drum roll, please> . . . HERE IT IS!!!

Like Lions takes place in the same world as Panowich’s debut.  You could read this as a stand alone, but it would spoil a few plot points of Bull Mountain, and since you will fall in love with Panowich and want to read it too, I would suggest starting there!  Like Lions takes the conclusion of Bull Mountain (not just the conclusion of the mystery, but also of the resolution of the questions that it asks about family, community and boundaries) and immediately stirs up the pot.   Once again, Panowich’s writing does not disappoint.  It’s literary and Southern and the plot is spot on.  Panowich fills the plot with twists and turns, often several in a single scene.  It was a fabulous County-Fair-joy-ride of a book and one I highly recommend.  But, if you are on my Christmas list, hold off . . . you might get it as a gift this year!

Check out Brian Panowich at this year’s Decatur Book Festival! 


I received an advanced copy of this novel from the publishers via netgalley in exchange for an honest review.  Thanks!


One Person, No Vote – Carol Anderson

Countdown to the Decatur Book Festival: A Baker’s Dozen of Literary Treats


Carol Anderson’s 2016 book, White Rage, opened my eyes to a swath of American history that I had little knowledge or understanding about.  Similarly, One Person, No Vote, begins with a dive into the history of African American voter suppression that discusses Jim Crow laws back to their very origin.  The meat of this volume, however, details the concerted efforts, since 2013, to institute laws to blatantly and systemically curtail the African-American vote. Unraveling the myth of voter fraud (it’s virtually non-existent), and the misinformation campaigns launched to bolster the support of voter purging and other voter suppression measures, Anderson never equivocates about the facts she presents.  Professor Anderson packs a lot of information and analysis into her books but in a readable and accessible format.  One Person, No Vote is a timely and important book.

Ready to do something about the issues raised in One Person, No Vote?  Join the fight at Fair Fight Action!

Check out Professor Carol Anderson at this year’s Decatur Book Festival.