August Books of Special Note


Made from Scratch: Finding Success Without a Recipe (R.H. Boyd Publishing, 2023), an autobiography by entrepreneur Mignon Francois, tells the first-hand story of Francois as she turns her budget for a modest meal into a multi-million-dollar bakery brand. A New Orleans native, François is the descendant of enslaved people on a sugar cane plantation—and sugar is now one of the main ingredients of her Cupcake Collection. Despite having no prior business experience, Francois built her successful business with the philosophy that “All you have is all you need.” Made from Scratch is published by the historic Black press, R. H. Boyd Publishing, and the publisher’s note in the foreword sets the tone with its observation that: “Southern roots are often tied to both sweetness and struggle.” Well written, with touches of humor and faith, the book is an inspirational look at overcoming much to find success.


William Levi Dawson: American Music Educator (University Press of Mississippi 2023) by Mark Hugh Malone is an impeccably well researched biography of a man who should be a household name, but somehow isn’t. Written by a long-time university professor and musician, the book details the positive impact William Levi Dawson (1899-1990) had on education, particularly music. A one-time director of the School of Music at the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama, Dawson directed the famed Tuskegee Choir, leading it to national recognition, including their singing at Radio City Music Hall and performing for presidents Herbert Hoover and Franklin D. Roosevelt. Owing to Dawson’s talents and his arrangements of spirituals as the traditional music of the antebellum South, spirituals became a much sought-after work. The biography, while primarily focused on Dawson’s impact on music and education, delves into Dawson’s personal life also, including his upbringing in Alabama’s Jim Crow era. The book makes excellent and thoughtful use of author Malone’s interviews, as well as the personal memories and photographs of Dawson, his family, and peers to round out the person and the times. The biography tells an important story. (SLR associate-editor Claire Hamner Matturro helped edit an early manuscript).


Falling Stars (56 Mountain Press 2023) by Julie Rogers puts a surprisingly tender domestic drama spin into a vampire story. Think Jodi Picoult meets Stephenie Meyer. The strong, loving bond between mother and child—in this case Tommy Lucas, a young tween battling a vicious leukemia—is the living, breathing heart of the story, though mysticism, suspense, and the host of well-drawn characters also contribute to the intricate fabric of the story. Tommy’s mother happens to be an oncologist. She decides to head home to Eureka Springs, Arkansas, for family support, where she and Tommy soon meet Callan Masters, a famed local artist with a startling backstory. Callen charms both Tommy and his mother in short order. Callen is romantically attracted to Tommy’s mother, though he understands the grave risks to all as the relationship develops. Tommy believes his disease is a curse on his blood line, relative to vampires in his gene pool. The story is captivating and emotionally moving on several levels as it weaves the urban legend of Viscount Claudius Fallon, a vampire, into the plot, as well as the marginal but engrossing plot of the journalists writing the viscount’s story. Author Julie Rogers has a gift, no doubt, and her writing is often lyrical, but she also manages to meander a bit during the story. Fortunately, these off-plot asides are usually interesting. All in all, an entertaining tale with a tenderness which should keep readers turning pages. Written in multiple points of views, the segments in the voice of young tween Tommy particularly shine with his youth-speak words, his resilience, and his quirky nature. This is a lad who sleeps in a casket, after all, though one well equipped with Wi-Fi and the latest in technology.

The Traitor Beside Her (Poisoned Pen Press 2023) by Mary Anna Evans is a compelling and compulsively readable sequel to The Physicist’s Daughter, and like that novel, blends WWII historical fiction with spy thriller suspense and a sweet sprinkle of nascent romance. Set among the historically accurate code-breakers working at Arlington Hall near Washington, D.C., the novel takes Justine Byrne, the brilliant young woman readers met in The Physicist’s Daughter, once more into dangerous territory. This time she is barely trained to be a spy and her distinctive red/orange hair is bleached white blond, but her acute, scientifically oriented mind is as sharp as ever. Her task is to discover who among a host of code-breakers has betrayed the United States and already caused the death of soldiers and allies—and is no doubt posed to do so again. Justine is joined by Jerry, Paul, and Georgette—all characters from The Physicist’s Daughter. There are a multitude of potential suspects, and much to Evans’ credit, she creates each character with enough distinction to ease the readers through the crowded cast. The plot is intellectually rather than actively driven, which adds to its quality while reducing the violence. There’s action, of course, and plenty of edge-of-your-seat suspense, but the novel focuses more on a thinking person’s puzzle to solve. Meticulously researched, written with Evans’ characteristic crisp, engaging style, the history is accurate and the setting authentic. As always, Evans puts her readers right smack in the story. All in all, an excellent novel by a writer who continues to shine, book after book, with ever more power and reach.


Talking Me Off the Roof (Kelsay Books 2022) by poet, teacher, and film producer Laurie Kuntz is an elegant, touching collection of poems. These are accessible poems which readers should relate to quickly and which will resonate in all the best ways. From topical poems (including “To Do: When in Quarantine” with its final line “and certainly fill the vase with something in bloom”) to several about the yin and yang of a long marriage to some truly tenderhearted ones about her son and his father (including, “Father and Son with Shovel”), these poems are sensitive, moving, insightful, and carefully crafted gems. The title of this remarkable collection comes from a song by Alabama’s own Jason Isbell, which Kuntz makes grand use of in a poem titled “The Way You Talk Me off the Roof” and with its line: “I asked you to learn a love song with a sad chorus.” Like the best of poets, Kuntz takes her readers into the little miracles of everyday life and shows us how to find beauty and meaning even in the mundane. As she writes in the poem “Every Possum in the Neighborhood,” “So, leave the entryways open, / invite the useful guest in, / for we never know / just what will save us.”

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