alison noir

Alison Buckholtz:

H is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald

“Humans don’t deserve this book,” I told a friend, imploring her to read H is for Hawk. “It’s too good for us.” Here’s what I was trying to say: this memoir, which recounts the author’s efforts to train a dangerous bird of prey, weaves in the grief of losing a parent and the agony of trying to find a fulfilling career so artfully that words transcend the page. I read some passages over and over simply because they were so sensitive and beautiful that I found it hard to believe that someone in our world could have accomplished such a feat. The book exceeds expectations for how a memoir about an experience so specific to one person can reach and touch readers.


Witness: Lessons from Elie Wiesel’s Classroom by Ariel Burger

Many years ago I had the honor of briefly meeting Elie Wiesel, the Nobel Peace Prize winner, Holocaust survivor, and humanitarian who devoted himself to righting injustices around the world. Reading Witness, which offers the experience of being in his classroom at Boston University, where he taught until he died in 2016, allowed me to become his student. This book, written by Wiesel’s former teaching assistant and longtime friend, gathers together Wiesel’s thoughts on literature, history, and the importance of memory in a moral education. Along the way, it inspires readers to see the world a little differently—and to make a difference as well.


Educated: A Memoir by Tara Westover

This memoir by the youngest of seven children in a survivalist family of Mormons lands readers in territory few knew existed. Westover’s understated voice delivers the tale of a girl born in 1986 who grows up in Idaho without friends, without school, without medical attention, without money, and without a birth certificate or any paperwork to prove she exists. Her parents and most of her older siblings willfully neglect her most basic needs, abuse her physically, and routinely place her in great physical peril. Despite grinding poverty and social alienation, she finds a way to college, where academic mentors recognize her intellectual gifts. She lands a Gates Cambridge Scholarship and earns her PhD in history at Cambridge University. Family dysfunction follows her and few of her family ties survive—but she does. And she flourishes. Long after the last page, it’s impossible to leave this minutely rendered landscape of the soul and spirit.


Alison Buckholtz is the author of  STANDING BY: THE MAKING OF AN AMERICAN MILITARY FAMILY IN A TIME OF WAR. She is co-editor of the Military Spouse Book Review.


Lisa Houlihan Stice:


Lies by Doireann Ní Ghríofa (Dedalus Press, 2018)

This is a bilingual collection with the Irish Gaelic version of each poem accompanied by the English translation (translation by the author). Through her poems, Doireann Ní Ghríofa confronts the lies of memory and of how one would like to imagine youth, parenthood, break-ups, and life’s other raw experiences.


Now All Roads Lead to France: A Life of Edward Thomas by Matthew Hollis (W.W. Norton, 20011)

Part biography, part poetry analysis, part historical account, Now All Roads Lead to France follows Edward Thomas through the literal seasons of time and the figurative seasons of his life and writing. If you love Thomas’ poetry, this will help you understand it more; if you haven’t read much of Thomas, this will make you want to seek out his poetry.


Words for War: New Poems from Ukraine edited by Oksana Maksymchuk and Max Rosochinsky (Academic Studies Press, 2017)

These poems confront the conflicts in Ukraine from varying perspectives: young, old, female, male, soldier, civilian, witness, refugee. Some poems are translated by the authors, and some are translated by others. All poems are human voices sounding out the complexities of war.

Lisa Stice is the author of the poetry collections UNIFORM and PERMANENT CHANGE OF STATION. She is poetry editor of the Military Spouse Book Review.  


Mary Doyle:

Washington Black, by Esi Edugyan – I was standing in my kitchen with my kindle when I downloaded this book. I read the first page and it took me a long while to realize I was standing in my kitchen. Not only did the story consume me completely, it clung to me like tar; sticky, dark and impossible to wipe off.

A twelve-year-old slave, George Washington Black, is on a cruel sugar plantation that makes short lives of its chattel. When the master’s brother Christopher takes a liking to Washington Black, we hope he is saved, but we soon learn Christopher’s privilege is just as damaging as the master’s whip. Heart wrenching and beautifully written. I wish I had such mastery of words.


The Naturalist by Andrew Mayne – I love a good mystery and this is, by far, the most unusual accidental sleuth I’ve ever read. Dr. Theo Cray is a computational biologist.

A computational what now?

This dude sees patterns and details everyone else misses. When he tries to use scientific conclusions to help solve a murder, he is dismissed and forced to do things on his own. For such a super intelligent guy, there are times when you want to kick him in the pants for doing stupid stuff, but you’re also amazed at how he pulls the facts together. Loved it. I’ve downloaded, Looking Glass, the second book in the mystery series.


So You Want To Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo. I’ve been black all my life and all my life I’ve struggled to explain things to people who aren’t black Americans. How do you explain the issues about race in this country? How did we get to this point? Why didn’t having a black president make racism go away? And what about slavery? I learned so much from Oluo. Her wisdom and simple, nonjudgmental explanations were magical to me.

When white nationalism and hate crimes are on the rise and, well … Trump, this book was like a buoy that helped keep me afloat through this turbulent year. A white woman friend suggested it to me and now I recommend it to anyone who wants to have this conversation. Thanks again Jerri Bell!


I review my top ten books of the year on my blog at

Mary Doyle is the author of several books, including I’m Still Standing: From Captive Soldier to free citizen—my journey home (2010, Touchstone); the Sergeant Harper Mystery Series, and an adult romance series of four novellas called Limited Partnerships


Jerri Bell:

Fiction – The Sympathizer, by Viet Thanh Nguyen. I was so taken by the protagonist’s voice. He’s a character I shouldn’t love: he was a spy for North Vietnam; he betrays, he tortures, and he murders. But he’s so sympathetic, so richly drawn, and so real that I just didn’t want his story to end.
Nonfiction – The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration, by Isabel WilkersonI read this as background for a research/writing project on the Golden Fourteen – the first African American women to serve officially in the armed forces (US Navy, World War I); several of them came to Washington, DC, from Mississippi in the earliest trickle of the Great Migration. Both the human stories and Wilkerson’s storytelling skills drew me in so deeply that I had to go back through the book again to retrieve the historical information I’d been seeking.
Military Nonfiction – Beyond the Call: Three Women on the Front Lines in Afghanistan, by Eileen Rivers. One of the best books about military women’s experiences I’ve read since Tracy and I finished our research. Rivers is an editor for USA Today and a former Army linguist; she tells the women’s stories skillfully, and without resorting to the unidimensional stereotypes of military women as “she-roes” or “victims” that are still too common.



Jerri Bell is a retired naval officer and the managing editor of O-Dark-Thirty, the literary journal of the Veterans Writing Project. She is co-author, with Tracy Crow, of It’s My Country, Too!: Women’s Military Stories from the American Revolution to Afghanistan.