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Mississippi Books and Writers

2004

Note: Prices listed below reflect the publisher's suggested list price. They are subject to change without notice.

Prisoners of WarPrisoners of War

By Steve Yarbrough

Knopf (Hardcover, $23.00, ISBN: 0375414789)

Publication date: January 2004

Description from Publishers Weekly:

Set in the same small Mississippi town as Yarbrough’s critically acclaimed Visible Spirits, this complex WWII-era novel explores questions of morality and social inequity in the rural South when a group of German POWs are quartered at a local camp and sent to work as day laborers on nearby farms. The novel opens with the uncomfortable friendship between young Dan Timms, who drives one of his enterprising Uncle Alvin’s “rolling stores” (old school buses boasting all the necessities of country life: sodas, coal-oil lamps, radios), and L.C. Stevens, the black employee who drives the other. While L.C. vainly struggles to make his work partner see the “parallel universe” in which black Americans are trapped, Dan yearns to join the army and escape the fresh memory of his father’s recent suicide and his suspicions about his mother’s past. But Dan’s friend Marty Stark shows him another side of war when he returns damaged and changed from the German theater and is reassigned to help guard the town’s German POWs. The story shifts subtly when a Polish prisoner informs Dan of an escape planned by several other prisoners, setting in motion a chain of events that eventually brings Marty’s troubled war memories to the surface. Meanwhile, L.C. suffers a beating by an older, powerful white man who, after losing his own son in the war, uses his influence to ensure that the young black man is drafted. The multiple subplots slow the novel’s pace, but Yarbrough’s warm, measured voice, clean prose and rich character studies make this an unusually tender and accomplished study of the reverberations of war on the home front.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

The Last Juror

By John Grisham

Doubleday (Hardcover, $27.95, ISBN: 0385510438)

Publication date: February 2004

Description from Publishers Weekly:

Grisham has spent the last few years stretching his creative muscles through a number of genres: his usual legal thrillers (The Summons, The King of Torts, etc.), a literary novel (The Painted House), a Christmas book (Skipping Christmas) and a high school football elegy (Bleachers). This experimentation seems to have imbued his writing with a new strength, giving exuberant life to this compassionate, compulsively readable story of a young man’s growth from callowness to something approaching wisdom.

Willie Traynor, 23 and a college dropout, is working as a reporter on a small-town newspaper, the Ford County Times, in Clanton, Miss. When the paper goes bankrupt, Willie turns to his wealthy grandmother, who loans him $50,000 to buy it. Backed by a stalwart staff, Willie labors to bring the newspaper back to health. A month after his first issue, he gets the story of a lifetime, the murder of beautiful young widow Rhoda Kasselaw. After being raped and knifed, the nude Rhoda staggered next door and whispered to her neighbor as she was dying, “Danny Padgitt. It was Danny Padgitt.”

The killer belongs to an infamous clan of crooked highway contractors, killers and drug smugglers who live on impregnable Padgitt Island. Willie splashes the murder all over the Times, making him both an instant success and a marked man. The town is up in arms, demanding Danny’s head. After a near miss (the Padgitts are known for buying themselves out of trouble), Danny is convicted and sentenced to life in prison. As he’s dragged out of the courtroom, he vows revenge on the jurors. Willie finds, to his consternation, that in Mississippi life doesn’t necessarily mean life, so in nine years Danny is back out — and jurors begin to die.

Around and through this plot Grisham tells the sad, heroic, moving stories of the eccentric inhabitants of Clanton, a small town balanced between the pleasures and perils of the old and the new South. The novel is heartfelt, wise, suspenseful and funny, one of the best Grishams ever.

—Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

High Country

By Nevada Barr

Putnam (Hardcover, $24.95, ISBN: 0399151443)

Publication date: February 2004

Description from Publishers Weekly :

The serene snow country suddenly turns deadly for Anna Pigeon in Barr’s riveting 12th novel to feature the intrepid National Park Service ranger (after 2003’s Flashback). On assignment to locate four young park employees who went missing in a fierce storm, the 50ish Anna is working undercover as a waitress at Yosemite’s Ahwahnee Hotel, where she must deal not only with an exacting supervisor and a surly head chef but also share a dorm with 20-something roommates. Evoking the stunning beauty of the park in winter, Barr contrasts the relative safety of Yosemite Valley with the surrounding Sierra Nevada mountains into which Anna treks in search of the missing kids. Danger crackles like ice on the frozen lake where she finds a partially submerged plane loaded with drugs. Attacked by vicious poachers, Anna flees into the absolute, terrifying darkness for an ordeal that will keep readers eagerly turning the pages. So well done is this nail-biting sequence that the resolution can come only as something of a letdown. Barr has a true gift for outdoor writing, using the lush snow as natural cover for the violent life in the wild as well as among the park’s human custodians. Anyone contemplating a nice winter hike will think twice after entering the wilderness with Anna, but her fans always come back for more.

—Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

Flashback

By Nevada Barr

Berkley (Paperback, $7.99, ISBN: 0425194493)

Publication date: February 2004

Description from Publishers Weekly :

When it comes to a vibrant sense of place, Barr has few equals, as deliciously demonstrated in her 11th Anna Pigeon novel (after 2002’s Hunting Season), set in little-known Dry Tortugas National Park, 70 miles off Key West in the Gulf of Mexico. Anna takes up her new post on Garden Key, home to Fort Jefferson, a notorious Union prison during the Civil War, after fleeing a marriage proposal from just-divorced Sheriff Paul Davidson. As she goes about her duties, Anna quickly becomes ensnared in one life-threatening situation after another. Anna’s fans expect no less; all her postings somehow turn dangerous. Indeed, the contrast between the natural beauty of the landscapes and the human evils within them is a recurring theme. But this one has an added twist: a mystery concerning alleged Lincoln assassination conspirator Dr. Samuel Mudd interweaves with current crimes. In a coincidence best left unscrutinized, Anna’s great-great-great-aunt was the wife of the fort’s commanding officer, and her letters, relating a story of intrigue and murder, have surfaced. The two stories are told in alternating chapters, and only Barr’s skill keeps this familiar device fresh. The pitch-perfect 19th-century phrasing in the letters makes it easy to forgive the occasional over-the-top prose in the modern scenes. But this is a quibble. Those who already admire the doughty National Park ranger will rejoice in this double-layered story with its remarkable setting, passionately rendered; new readers have a treat in store.

—Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc.

Music from Apartment 8: New and Selected PoemsMusic from Apartment 8: New and Selected Poems

By John Stone

LSU Press (Hardcover, $28.95, ISBN: 0-8071-2953-4; Paperback, $18.95, ISBN: 0-8071-2954-2)

Publication date: April 2004

Description from the publisher:

Poet and cardiologist John Stone is a man of many voices. A gifted verse maker, he exhibits in his writing the qualities of a compassionate physician, a musician, linguist, naturalist, and down-to-earth yet whimsical grandfather, son, husband, and brother. Selections from four previous books together with twenty-two new works compose this exquisite volume, a “best of the best” sampling from a beloved poet.

Stone’s new poems include humorous and sometimes tough adventures with his ninety-five-year-old mother (she makes the music that wafts from Apartment 8), an exciting sequence drawn from a felicitous yet daunting trip to the Middle East, and reflections on growing up in Mississippi and Texas that begin with puberty and end in a Paris amusement park. Earlier works show Stone immersed in his sons’ soccer practice; teaching, from Atlanta to Oxford; attending at the bedside of patients; and sometimes simply turning his attention toward the everyday. He hears the music of Mozart, sees the light in a Hopper painting, and experiences a joy that inspires his own work. “Like the voyages of Columbus,” he writes, “poetry consists less of finding / what you set out to find, than in learning to live / with what you've stumbled across.”

The inimitable voices of John Stone resound in Music from Apartment 8. Whether listening by phone to his gurgling baby granddaughter a thousand miles away or to his mother’s plan for her “whole new life,” he is a poet who hears, and speaks every language of the heart.

Seeking Enlightenment ... Hat to HatSeeking Enlightenment … Hat to Hat: A Skeptic’s Path to Religion

By Nevada Barr

Barkley (Paperback, $13.00, ISBN: 0425196038)

Publication date: June 2004

Description from Publishers Weekly :

“A life ago,” Barr writes, “I was depressed, broke, homeless, unemployed and divorced.” One evening she wandered into an Episcopal church, primarily because it was unlocked. Desperation, not interest in religion, had brought her there, but warmly accepting parishioners kept her, and soon she wanted to be confirmed. “I went to the priest and asked him if it would be okay considering I didn’t accept Jesus Christ as my personal savior, didn’t believe the Bible was divinely inspired and wasn’t entirely sure about the whole God thing. Fortunately Father Andrew had been tending his flock long enough to recognize a lost lamb when one came bleating into his office and put no obstacles in my way.” It was a turning point for Barr, who here describes the resulting changes in her life and thinking over the last six years. Readers of Barr’s bestselling mystery series featuring park ranger Anna Pigeon might have hoped for a whole book full of enlightenment about Anna’s creator. However, apart from the introduction and occasional anecdotes throughout, her first nonfiction work is more a collection of personal essays than spiritual memoir. In more than 40 short chapters, she looks at topics as varied as forgiveness, girlfriends, being ordinary, Halloween and of course hats, usually saying more about how she thinks life should be lived than about how she actually lives hers. Nevertheless, Barr’s sassy style, self-deprecating sense of humor and trenchant observations make for a good-and, yes, enlightening-read.
—Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.

BleachersBleachers

By John Grisham

Dell (Paperback, $19.95, ISBN: 0440242002)

Publication date: June 2004

Description from Publishers Weekly:

Grisham demonstrated he could produce bestsellers without legal aid with The Painted House and Skipping Christmas, and he'll undoubtedly do so again with this slight but likable novel of high school football, a legendary coach and the perils of too early fame. Fifteen years after graduation, Neely Crenshaw, one-time star quarterback of the Messina Spartans, returns home on hearing news of the impending death of tough-as-nails coach Eddie Rake.

Neely knows the score: “When you’re famous at eighteen, you spend the rest of your life fading away.” It’s a lesson he’s learned the hard way after destroying his knee playing college ball and drifting through life in an ever-downward spiral. He and his former teammates sit in the bleachers at the high school stadium waiting for Rake to die, drinking beer and reminiscing. There is a mystery involving the legendary ’87 championship, and Neely has unfinished business with an old high school sweetheart, but neither story line comes to much.

Readers will guess the solution to the mystery, as does the town police chief when it’s divulged to him (“ ‘We sorta figured it out,’ said Mal”) and Neely’s former girlfriend doesn’t want to have anything to do with his protestations of love (“You’ll get over it. Takes about ten years”). The stirring funeral scene may elicit a few tears, but Neely’s eulogy falls curiously flat. After living through four hard days in Messina, the lessons Neely learns are unremarkable (“Those days are gone now”). Many readers will come away having enjoyed the time spent, but wishing there had been a more sympathetic lead character, more originality, more pages, more story and more depth. —Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.

Elroy Nights

By Frederick Barthelme

Counterpoint Press (Paperback, $15.95, ISBN: 1582433194)

Publication date: September 2004

Description from Publishers Weekly:

This slight story of midlife crisis and fantasy romance follows Barthelme’s familiar path along the southern Gulf Coast. Elroy Nights is a 50-something art professor at a small, third-rate Mississippi university. Amicably separated from his wife, Clare, he fills his otherwise solitary life with occasional visits or dinner at Clare’s when her grown daughter Winter is there. When Winter brings home Freddie, a free spirit of a girl who will be Elroy’s student in the coming term, Elroy is instantly smitten. But the affair into which they casually fall leads to tragedy for their friends and near disaster for them. As Elroy ambles along, attempting to rediscover his youth by hanging out with his students, drinking and smoking again, taking impromptu road trips and listening to collegiate wisdom, he narrates his adventures, such as they are, but remains little more than a hazy collection of half-formed impressions. None of the other characters ever quite emerges as three-dimensional, either. The story is too precious and whimsical by half; no events-be they deaths, shootings or divorce talks-leave much of a mark. Through it all, Elroy observes and questions (“I thought it would be great to be inside somebody else’s head for a while, to hear the noise in there,” he thinks about Freddie), striving halfheartedly to regain his bearings. Barthelme’s 13th work of fiction-with its slight romance and unexceptional protagonist-may disappoint fans of his earlier work.

Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.

Caribou Rising: Defending the Porcupine Herd, Gwich-’in Culture, and the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge

By Rick Bass

Sierra Club Books (Hardcover, $19.95, ISBN: 1578051142)

Publication date: October 2004

Description from Publishers Weekly:

In this poetic cri de coeur, Bass (The Book of Yaak) turns his focus to the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. He visited there to join the Gwich-’in tribe in its annual hunt for the life-sustaining caribou—as the Bush administration pressured Congress to open the herd’s traditional calving grounds to oil drilling. This bittersweet account of his stay conveys a profound appreciation for the immense, unblemished majesty of one of the few almost untouched landscapes on Earth; an eye-opening understanding of the intimate spiritual and physical connection, stretching back as much as 10,000 years, between the scattered Gwich-’in tribes and the migrant caribou; and an unexpected respect for how tribal elders and a young generation of activists in Arctic Village (pop. 150) have developed a media-savvy offense against “predatory” Alaskan politicians desperate to drill for a few months’ worth of petroleum. Bass is no starry-eyed optimist arguing abstractly for the environment; he concludes his emotional defense of the Gwich-’in uncertain that the preservation of a precious, ancient way of life is possible. But this eloquent narrative holds out hope.

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

Falling From Grace in Texas: A Literary Response to the Demise of Paradise

Edited by Rick Bass and Paul Christensen

Wings Press (Paperback, $16.95, ISBN: 0930324579)

Publication date: October 2004

Description from Publishers Weekly:

The Texas landscape, famous both for its mythic extent and the epic scale on which it has been despoiled, is the subject of this appealing but uneven protest anthology of environmentalist writings by associates of the Texas Institute of Letters. While the collection includes poetry and stories, it is dominated by short, sometimes perfunctory, essays. These include diatribes against the corrupt collusion between state environmental officials and developers, impressionistic surveys of ravaged oilfields and many pieces bemoaning the engulfment of pristine vistas and quaint old towns by polluted, sterile megalopolises. The best pieces, like Peter A.Y. Gunter’s elegiac retrospective on his family’s farm, evoke the land’s vanished abundance. Sometimes, though, the contributors’ exaltation of open space (Steven G. Kellman contends that “everyone needs an unpaved acre or two to think,” while Bass, from his wilderness home in Montana, insists that ”to know a deeper peace, I required the experience of tens or even hundreds of thousands of acres”) nears a knee-jerk anti-urbanism; the writers never reflect that their longing to escape the city and live close to nature is what drives the leading edge of the exurban sprawl they deplore. The result is a mix of the mournful, the angry, the hopeful—sharp glimpses into personal feelings, but few clear insights into environmental issues.

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

The Servant Leader: How to Build a Creative Team, Develop Great Morale, and Improve Bottom-Line Performance

By James A. Autry

Three Rivers Press (Paperback, $13.95, ISBN: 1400054737)

Publication date: November 2004

Description from Publishers Weekly:

For some people, the word “retirement” evokes images of farewell parties, vacations, golf games and, at long last, real progress on oft-postponed household projects. But according to Autry (Love and Profit), who once served as the president of a large corporation and is now a public speaker and consultant, the initial euphoria soon wears off, leaving the retiree with a hard realization: “For the first time in my life I don’t have a job.” In this compact, inspiring book, Autry insists that retirement is actually an opportunity for people to “stop doing and concentrate on being.” To that end, he shares stories about retirees who made successful transitions to retirement and juxtaposes these anecdotes with questions and exercises for readers. Retirement is a time for changing one’s approach to life, reinvigorating friendships, serving the community, finding nature and expressing one’s inner creativity, explains the author, and his book—alternately pragmatic and spiritual—should serve disillusioned retirees well.

—Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc.

ASalty Piece of Land

A Novel by Jimmy Buffett

Little, Brown (Hardcover, $27.95, ISBN: 0316908452)

Publication date: November 2004

Description from Publishers Weekly:

There’s a Condé Nast Traveler article fighting to get out of bestseller Buffett’s first new novel in a decade, a groovily laid-back, ramblingly anecdotal, sun-soaked bit of Caribbean escapism that his Parrothead fans will relish like another chorus of “Margaritaville.” Tully Mars, a 40-ish ex-cowboy turned guide at the Lost Boys Fishing Lodge island resort, undertakes various sojourns around the Caribbean, to Mayan ruins, a jungle safari camp, a spring break bacchanal in Belize. Nothing much happens—“That day, we spent the rest of the daylight hours on the shallow waters of Ascension Bay and the lagoon amid incredible natural beauty unlike anything I had ever seen before” is about as busy as it gets—except that Tully meets a parade of colorful natives and expatriates, including a Mayan medicine man, a British commando and a 103-year-old woman who skippers a sailing schooner and wants to restore a historic lighthouse on Cayo Loco, the titular island. The characters are all hospitality entrepreneurs, and Buffett (A Pirate Looks at Fifty) also gives them shaggy-dog anecdotes, tidbits of Caribbean history and desultory life lessons to relate. There are glimmers of plot—bounty hunters, loves lost and found—but mostly Tully has little to do but savor the accommodations and atmospherics of tourist locales while the sea washes him with waves of love, happiness and maturity as infallibly as the tides. This book is as cheery and tropical as Buffet’s music.

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

The Last JurorThe Last Juror

By John Grisham

Doubleday (Paperback, $7.99, ISBN: 044024157X)

Publication date: December 2004

Description from Publishers Weekly:

Grisham has spent the last few years stretching his creative muscles through a number of genres: his usual legal thrillers (The Summons, The King of Torts, etc.), a literary novel (The Painted House), a Christmas book (Skipping Christmas) and a high school football elegy (Bleachers). This experimentation seems to have imbued his writing with a new strength, giving exuberant life to this compassionate, compulsively readable story of a young man’s growth from callowness to something approaching wisdom.

Willie Traynor, 23 and a college dropout, is working as a reporter on a small-town newspaper, the Ford County Times, in Clanton, Miss. When the paper goes bankrupt, Willie turns to his wealthy grandmother, who loans him $50,000 to buy it. Backed by a stalwart staff, Willie labors to bring the newspaper back to health. A month after his first issue, he gets the story of a lifetime, the murder of beautiful young widow Rhoda Kasselaw. After being raped and knifed, the nude Rhoda staggered next door and whispered to her neighbor as she was dying, “Danny Padgitt. It was Danny Padgitt.”

The killer belongs to an infamous clan of crooked highway contractors, killers and drug smugglers who live on impregnable Padgitt Island. Willie splashes the murder all over the Times, making him both an instant success and a marked man. The town is up in arms, demanding Danny’s head. After a near miss (the Padgitts are known for buying themselves out of trouble), Danny is convicted and sentenced to life in prison. As he’s dragged out of the courtroom, he vows revenge on the jurors. Willie finds, to his consternation, that in Mississippi life doesn’t necessarily mean life, so in nine years Danny is back out — and jurors begin to die.

Around and through this plot Grisham tells the sad, heroic, moving stories of the eccentric inhabitants of Clanton, a small town balanced between the pleasures and perils of the old and the new South. The novel is heartfelt, wise, suspenseful and funny, one of the best Grishams ever.
—Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.


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