Local Authors Book Review: ALABAMA NOIR

A heart-felt goal of the Haunted Bookshop is to be a place that brings together literary Mobile. One casualty of COVID19 is our book signing with local authors for the new anthology, Alabama Noir, out this past week. Since we can’t be together to celebrate this collection’s release, we’re coming together here instead.

Alabama Noir will appeal to fans of mystery and detective stories, as well as Southern gothic. As editor Don Noble says in the book’s introduction:

In Alabama Noir, we encounter “troubles and foibles” galore, darkness in many forms. The stories range from the deadly grim to some that are actually mildly humorous. We see desperate behavior on the banks of the Tennessee River, in the neighborhoods of Birmingham, in the affluent suburbs of Mobile, in a cemetery in Montgomery, and even on the deceptively pleasant beaches of the Gulf of Mexico.

The collection is divided into “our troubled troubadour” Hank Williams’ songs as title sections—Cold, Cold Heart; Your Cheatin’ Heart; I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry; and The Angel of Death. Each section has short stories with the location the story and author represents.

From our part of the state along the Gulf coast, we have Carolyn Haines’s story set in Downtown Mobile. “The Price of Indulgence” follows a Mobile Register reporter with a moonshine business on the side. The reporter is given a crime story to cover but as she chases the smoke, realizes, like all things in the South, this one twines deep into her own past as well. It has a shady pastor, a dug-up grave, a ghostly Angel in White, and a junkie-dancer past redemption but out to set the truth free. Everything you expect in a Carolyn Haines story that drips Spanish moss and justice.

In West Mobile, Michelle Richmond’s “What Brings You Back Home” is a beautifully written, gut-wrenching story about a mother out to avenge her family, coming back to Mobile to do so. To a “hot, humid slice of the Southern dream” which differs from the American dream as it’s “friendlier, and with more mayonnaise.” The sweet, sickly scent of gardenias, pecan pie, gun rights, and pompous senators permeates this story.

Across the bay, Winston Groom infuses humor in his story “Murder at the Grand Hotel” set in Point Clear. Things go awry when a disgruntled river delta guide boat captain, hit by unknown-to-him entertainment taxes that will bankrupt his business, goes after the head of the Alabama Department of Revenue. With his quail dog, he digs a punji pit, filled with heat-tempered bamboo stakes, at the eleventh hole of the Lakewood golf course. The story is filled with his trials and errors, and of all things, a lady dwarf, to create a story of comical Southern grotesque the way only Winston Groom can write it.

In Gulf Shores, Brad Watson’s story, “Laughing Boy, Crooked Girl” opens up in a memorable way as the main character feeds an ancient alligator whole chickens stuffed with her aunt’s possessions. No coastal story would be complete without an approaching hurricane and this Southern gothic is seasoned nicely with poisoned eggs, a Creek Indian mummy, and a bent and forgotten protagonist.

With sixteen stories representing all parts of Alabama, readers of noir and Southern gothic will be sure to find something to entertain and chill their spine. And perhaps be secretly glad this social distancing thing is keeping the neighbors away and in their own homes.

Pick up your copy of Alabama Noir from our no-contact curb. Or have it delivered, porch-side in select neighborhoods or shipped.

Out Today – New Anne Tyler, Lisa Wingate, and more!

This week’s new releases! Lots of great reads from IN THE WAVES (about hunting for the CSS Hunley) to new novels by Anne Tyler and Lisa Wingate, a humorous horror by Grady Hendrix THE SOUTHERN BOOK CLUB’S GUIDE TO SLAYING VANPIRES, a fun YA that I adored (BEST LAID PLANS) as well as a new romance that I also loved, YOU DESERVE EACH OTHER, great for fans of The Hating Game and a whole lot more!

Shop on our website: thehauntedbookshopmobile.com and choose either curbside pickup, delivery, or shipping!

Virtually Meet Grady Hendrix tomorrow at 2 PM, author of The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires

Reader Meet WriterOkra Picks

Company’s coming. Let us bring authors to your living room.  Our first author in the Okra Pick series is Grady Hendrix.  You may have read Grady’s earlier works: We Sold Our SoulsMy Best Friend’s Exorcismand Horrorstor. Grady will be talking with us about his newest book The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires. and answering your questions.  Grady is one of many authors we’ll be bringing to your living room.

Grady Hendrix has cemented his place as a literary luminary…cancel your plans and lock your doors, you won’t be able to stop reading this one until the very end. — Sarah Gailey, author of Magic for Liars

Here are the details you need:

Date: Tuesday, April 7, 2020
Time: 2 PM CST
RSVP here

Attendance is limited.

If you elect to attend, we will email you on Tuesday morning the link & password to attend this virtual event, plus the link to purchase books.  Happy Reading!

The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires

Steel Magnolias meets Dracula in this ’90s-set horror novel about a women’s book club that must do battle with a mysterious newcomer to their small Southern town, perfect for murderinos and fans of Stephen King.

Patricia Campbell’s life has never felt smaller. Her husband is a workaholic, her teenage kids have their own lives, her senile mother-in-law needs constant care, and she’s always a step behind on her endless to-do list. The only thing keeping her sane is her book club, a close-knit group of Charleston women united by their love of true crime. At these meetings they’re as likely to talk about the Manson family as they are about their own families.

One evening after book club, Patricia is viciously attacked by an elderly neighbor, bringing the neighbor’s handsome nephew, James Harris, into her life. James is well traveled and well read, and he makes Patricia feel things she hasn’t felt in years. But when children on the other side of town go missing, their deaths written off by local police, Patricia has reason to believe James Harris is more of a Bundy than a Brad Pitt. The real problem? James is a monster of a different kind—and Patricia has already invited him in.

Little by little, James will insinuate himself into Patricia’s life and try to take everything she took for granted—including the book club—but she won’t surrender without a fight in this blood-soaked tale of neighborly kindness gone wrong.

Contributor Bio(s):
Grady Hendrix is a novelist and screenwriter based in New York City. He is the author of Horrorstör, My Best Friend’s Exorcism, Paperbacks from Hell, and We Sold Our Souls, all of which received critical praise from outlets including NPR, the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal, Los Angeles Times, the A.V. Club, Paste, Buzzfeed, and more. He has contributed to Playboy, The Village Voice, and Variety.

New Releases – Week of March 24th

We have new releases in the store today! Since you can’t come inside, we’re now putting them in our window display for you! Patti Callahan Henry has a new historical fiction out today, Becoming Mrs. Lewis, and the second book in The Legends of Condor Heroes is out as well. Emily St. John Mandel who brought us Station Eleven now has The Glass Hotel and, not pictured (I guess shipping delays because of Coronavirus??) is N.K. Jemisin’s fantastic new Urban Fantasy series, book one of which is out today, The City We Became. Also, a kids new Middle Grade, a new Horror novel, and a new WWII biography and more!

Book Geek-out: Legend of the Condor Heroes

One of the perks of this job is getting access to ARCs. I get to see stuff that may not be out for months yet and try it to see if I like it. It gives me an incentive to try things I never would have on my own, and there’s no better case of this than A Hero Born, the first part of Legend of the Condor Heroes. 

I had no idea what it was when I got hold of it, but doing some research on all-knowing Google filled me in on the basics. Legend of the Condor Heroes is a Chinese novel written in 1957 by Jin Yong, the pen name of one Louis Cha. It was originally serialized in a newspaper, and it’s been called–and not inaccurately–the Chinese equivalent to Lord of the Rings; Condor Heroes has proved enduringly popular in Asia, and spawned countless adaptations in various other media, and a major influence on following works, putting a mark on an entire genre of fiction. In this case, that genre is wuxia.

Yeah, it’s not one we really have in the west. But here’s the deal: wuxia is a genre where martial artists go on journeys, learn more and improve their skills, and right wrongs along the way. The action is very frequently over-the-top, with master martial artists capable of feats of strength, control, and athleticism that are straight-up superhuman. Fight scenes can resemble Crouching Dragon, Hidden Tiger wire-fu, rendered in print. It’s fantasy, but instead of outright magic they usually have really good kung fu.

Now that we know what the genre even is, we can talk about this in particular. Legend of the Condor Heroes hasn’t, as near as I can tell, ever really been officially translated and published in the US until now. It’s probably always been seen as too culturally Chinese to fly over here. It’s a shame because it’s been a fun read thus far.

Yes, I’m not done reading it yet. Condor Heroes is, like Lord of the Rings, a very long work being published in chunks. A Hero Born is the first part, and we got an ARC about five months before it came out and I thought the cover looked interesting and tried it. The second part, A Bond Undone comes out today, and there’s two more parts forthcoming.

Y’all. Put it like this. This book is so good I had a complete copy of it, for free, and I still bought it when it came out. It’s been a ride and one I’m thoroughly enjoying.

Condor Heroes happens in the 1200s during the Jin-Song War, when China was split into north and south empires. As the book portrays it, the northern side, the Jin, was a more mountainous, less hospitable land than the fertile south and didn’t have nearly the population of the southern Song empire, but the Song court and government in general was corrupt and the military leadership was weak, while the Jin had some extremely sharp princes and leaders, giving both sides a parity that led into an extremely long stalemate.

I’d never really heard about this before, and it’s not only explained but it’s what sets the plot in motion and shapes the world these characters live in. In the beginning, a hotheaded martial arts master has vigilante-killed a Song official for taking Jin bribes to let the Jin do what they want in his area–in fact, the master killed the official and most of the Jin he was dealing with (see above regarding ‘hotheaded’), and he flees through the winter snows. He passes through a remote village, where he gets invited in by the hospitable locals, gets in a brief fight with one of them (hotheaded, remember?), and then makes friends with his opponent and his opponent’s best friend. 

A black-and-white drawing of two men fighting in the snow. A man and a woman look on in the background, and one of the fighters has slapped a spear from the grip of the other, who is dismayed at being disarmed.
There’s lovely illustrations every chapter.

The two men are descended from famous Song patriots and they’re both married, with children on the way. The master proposes that when the children are born, in the fullness of time, he’ll come and train the children in the ways of kung fu, and even suggests names for them: Guo Jing and Yang Kang, the two main characters of the novel. 

That’s right. This novel starts before the main characters are even born. For all it sounds like a slow start, it really moves rather briskly–I think it’s a result of its original publication. A serialized work has to have something interesting happen in every chunk to keep the reader’s interest from part to part. The sequence I described up there isn’t even the entirety of the first chapter.

A Hero Born features Guo Jing’s origins, his childhood and early training, and him setting out when he’s 18 to see the world and fulfill a promise made. 

A Bond Undone, the second part of the novel, is Guo on his journey and finding out about the world and this is where he starts to really come together as a person: He gets more advanced training, learns more about himself, does some good, and starts to show flashes of insight and ability that people don’t expect from him

Yeah, that’s another thing. Guo Jing is canonically, officially dense and a very slow learner. He’s not stupid, precisely, but he’s not a swift thinker. I didn’t quite expect that.

The book has made me confront my own biases: I, in my ignorance, flat-out didn’t think I’d see a Chinese novel written in 1957 have a female lead character as strong as Lotus Huang–she’s as swift-thinking and intuitive and imaginative as Guo isn’t, and they make a strong pair. In fact, she’s the one responsible for a lot of Guo’s upskilling–they meet a martial arts master, a true master with some profound and powerful techniques to offer, who’s irascible and eccentric but he’s also a gourmand, and Lotus’s education, provided by her polymath father, has included a good deal of fine cuisine. She bribes him with a different exquisitely made dish every meal time in exchange for lessons for both herself and Guo Jing. This master is legit and he teaches them things that never stop being useful in a fight.

Yeah, Lotus is a good martial artist in her own right, too. She just doesn’t want to be the absolute best like some other characters, and this is presented as a valid choice. 

Also in my ignorance, I did not expect to see a sympathetic portrayal of the Mongols, either, but they’re portrayed as…well, a lot. They’re fierce adversaries while also being some fearsome allies and friends. And yes, the book goes to Mongolia. It goes to lots of places. 

So let’s talk writing. This book wasn’t written in English, and it shows. It’s not a bad thing, it’s just different, especially when it comes to writing about action. The book tends to baldly state what someone did and leave it to you to get excited. Further, it’ll say a martial artist performed a specific named move, like Push Back the Mountain or Wind Parts The Clouds, but it won’t tell you what that move looks like, it’ll just leave it to your imagination and whatever imagery or motion is suggested by the name.

There are also some translation conventions happening here. The translators, rightly or wrongly, seem to assume that some western readers won’t be able to cope with the straight Chinese names of most characters. Guo Jing gets off easy, but other characters are often given a title or a straight-up western-style name to replace one of their names–Sha Tongtian becomes Hector Sha, for example–and characters who share a name might have one switched. There’s already a Ke Zhen’e in the book, so a later character, Ouyang Ke, becomes Gallant Ouyang. I’m not going to judge one way or another, but it is something jarring if you’re not expecting it and it might bother some people.

As you might guess, I’m enchanted with these books. They’re great, and gave me something I never knew I wanted. There’s adventure, romance, history, action, and even illustrations! They’re also so beloved and fondly regarded that there’s a statue of the author on Peach Blossom Island, a real place that’s a major location in Condor Heroes.

A courtyard statue of Jin Yong, a middle-age bald Asian man, sitting on a rock with a book and pen in his lap, smiling benevolently in front of a red-painted temple.
The man himself.

If you’re interested in some new in action, fantasy, or history, I give these my utmost recommendation. Now I’m going to go back to reading them

Purchase options:

A Hero Born

In-Store (for delivery) | To Have it Shipped | eBook | Audio

A Bond Undone

In-Store (for delivery) | To Have it Shipped | eBook | Audio