Stars of Alabama

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date: 01 Sep 2019

Member Reviews

This story was full of colorful characters, but I particularly enjoyed Marigold’s and Ruth’s story the most. This was a different read for me and on the whole it was average.  The healings and revivals definitely kept my interest throughout.  Thank you Netgalley for an ARC in exchange for my honest review.
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STARS OF ALABAMA by Sean Dietrich is a beautifully-written and moving story of unlikely friendships and unusual “families” beginning during the Depression era.  Alternating between the points of view of the wonderfully-portrayed characters, their difficult lives and significant challenges are revealed with honesty, empathy and compassion.  When they all eventually make their way to Alabama, we finally see how their lives are interwoven.  The writing is vivid and evocative.  I felt like I was right there with all of the memorable characters.  The dialogue was perfectly authentic and drew me right in.  I will not soon forget this compelling and uplifting story with its kind-hearted characters and message of hope in the face of adversity and I highly recommend it! Thank you to the author, publisher and NetGalley for the complimentary early copy of this book. The opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.
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The best way to describe this book is that it is a menagerie of stories following the lives of multiple characters. Coot is the first one we meet, a child prodigy spiritual speaker, his buddy Blake and then Joe. Intertwine the story of Marigold, a young girl disgraced and abandoned by her family due to a pregnancy when she was only 15, and how she struggles through life. Lastly, we spend time with Paul, Vern and Ruth, before and after they adopt a down and out family consisting of two small children and an ailing mother.  
Sometimes I felt it was hard to stay up with this large cast of characters. I do feel the author did a nice wrap up in the final chapters when finally pulling all the characters together. Unfortunately, I found this as a so-so book, I just did not feel fully connected to any of the characters. I admired Paul and Vern for their generosity and compassion in helping the unfortunate, they were two old guys with really big hearts and a love for dogs. 
This was not a bad book; it just wasn’t a great book.
This one comes in with 3***’s. I thank Thomas Nelson and Net Galley for allowing me the privilege of reading this book for my honest review.
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The cover and the title of this one caught my attention, especially since I live in Alabama. The story has a classic literature feel, set in the era of the Great Depression and leading up to World War II. The characters are endearing: a homeless mother in search of her missing child, a child prodigy in search of a real family and people he can trust, and a “famous” preacher that seems as though he could have been based somewhat loosely on Billy Sunday, especially when he reveals his background in baseball before he became a tent revivalist.

One of my favorite things about the book was the narrative that takes place as one of the characters dies. Though I’ve read hundreds of books, I don’t remember reading about someone dying quite like that. Although the narrative takes place in third person, it seemed personal and real. Almost as though it was in first person. That is a great example of the talented writing that is evident in spots throughout the story.

One thing that helped to hide the talented writing is the choppy layout of the story. The book is about 350 pages and it has exactly 100 chapters, which means that the chapters are very short and there is a lot of back and forth between the two story lines. Too much back and forth, really. I’d prefer longer chapters and maybe double up the length of them so that the overall story is easier to follow. The book could easily be 50 chapters just by combining every other chapter.

In general, this particular plot seems worn out, almost to the point of being cliche. It’s a book about the South during the Great Depression. All the stereotypes are there. And everyone is just trying to survive, in different ways. Some need love. Some need money. There’s good vs. evil, and sometimes the lines between the two are blurred. Overall, the book is average. It’s not bad, but it’s also not great. Changing the chapter layouts as described above could easily move it up from 3 stars to 4 stars.

I received a complimentary copy of this book. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.
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Set during the Great Depression, this story follows a hodgepodge of diverse characters (a 15 yo pregnant homeless girl, two men-one black, one white, who in wandering to find jobs also find and raise a “lost” baby, two itinerant preachers-one good, one not-so-good and a child preacher-on his own at 14). They take disparate paths, searching for different things (jobs, food, a home, a family, love, acceptance) but above all simply trying to survive through a dark period in history. And in surviving, their disparate paths lead to the same destination.

I wanted to like this more than I actually did, and I’m not quite sure why I didn’t. The writing was fine. I had some annoying moments when the narrative skipped over years, and I couldn’t keep track of time/ages. And I found parts of it very slow going. 

In the end, as a whole, I think it’s just that I’ve read better stories based both in the South and during this period. 

Thanks to #NetGalley and #ThomasNelson for providing me the ARC. The opinions are strictly my own.
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Every once in awhile, a book comes along that moves you down to your soul. It doesn't happen often, but when it does you know that story will stay with you for a lifetime. Stars of Alabama is one of those books. 

Covering the trials of living in rural America during the depression, WWII, and the post-war boom, Sean Dietrich has written a mesmerizing, lyrical tale about the lives of several seemingly unconnected people in early 20th century Alabama. Each chapter bounces between the varying storylines before coming to its beautiful and dramatic conclusion. 

While everyone in this strongly character driven book were utterly delightful, it was really the relationship between the makeshift family of Paul, Vern and their adopted kids that moved me the most. Following their lives filled my heart nearly to the bursting point. Sometimes when you think things couldn't get any harder or ever change, a chance meeting completely upends and shifts the direction of your life so much for the better. For those of us who have had to forge our own families and way in life, this really strikes a chord. 

Once I began reading this powerful story, I couldn't put it down. I simply fell into the pages, swept up in its beautiful rhythm. That is, until I had to force myself to stop because I wasn't ready to say goodbye to all these wonderful characters yet. This was my first time reading anything by Sean Deitrich, but he will definitely be an author I will keep an eye on because his latest book has instantly earned itself a place on my favourites shelf. Thank you so much to NetGalley, the author, and the publisher for putting this wonderful book out into the world.
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I received a digital copy of this book for free through Netgalley. All options expressed are my own. 
I so wanted to like this book. I tried time and time again to get into it, but it just wasn’t for me. 
There are different “groups” of people and the book jumps around between them. Unfortunately it was a DNF for me. I got a little over half way through and the groups still seemed like they had nothing to do with each other. It was like reading 3 separate stories. Very confusing. 
I’m giving it 3 stars because the writing itself was well done.
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I know nothing of Sean Dietrich - or Sean of the South as I've gathered he's called - except for the fact that he wrote a lovely rambling story here with characters worthy of investing in. A great read peppered with humor and beauty as well as real life suckiness. 

Thanks to Netgalley for the free read in exchange for an honest review.
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Stars of Alabama - I was drawn to this book by the title (I lived most of my life in Alabama) and the author. I have read much of Mr. Dietrich's work.  As his writing typically does, the descriptive language draws you in and then you become so attached to the characters that you can't choose a favorite. I wondered how on earth we would get all these people together. From country folk and faith healers, hound dogs and babies, grown men and strict southern women - this story has it all.  I finished the book in front of a campfire while tent camping in Greer's Ferry, AR. It was the perfect setting for reading this book. I received a complimentary copy of this book. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.
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Sean Dietrich has hit a home run with Stars of Alabama. With characters as rich as warm pound cake and a storyline that grips the reader by the heartstrings, Stars of Alabama is Southern Gothic at its very finest.
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This review has been submitted to Southern Literary Review, and when it appears I will post the link. 

Stars on Alabama
By Sean Dietrich

Reviewed by Claire Hamner Matturro

•	Hardcover: 352 pages
•	Publisher: Thomas Nelson (July 9, 2019)
•	Language: English
•	ISBN-10: 0785226370
•	ISBN-13: 978-0785226376

Stars on Alabama (Thomas Nelson July 10, 2019) by Sean Dietrich is a beautiful novel, mesmerizing with its riches of complex characters, lush settings, and lyrical language. It is, quite simply, Southern Literature at its finest. Written with wisdom, insight, and with a captivating way with words, it is poignant and hopeful, engaging and vivid, and filled with people who might have died along the way except for the helping hands of others. Compassion is a dominant theme.

Dietrich’s dedication reveals something of the tone and the author. “I’d like to dedicate this book to the people of Alabama because it is about them. I hereby submit this work to the gnarled Alabama family tree, which I find myself a part of.”

The stories in Stars on Alabama focus on a diverse group of people moving toward each other, though their journeys will meander for years before coalescing on the shores of Mobile Bay in Alabama. While the story lines are initially distinct, they are linked by compassion and hope as the characters travel toward their common destiny. 

 Beginning in the Great Depression in the Deep South, the book opens with Paul, his dog Louisville, and Paul’s sidekick and best friend, Vern, “the tallest black man Paul had ever known,” hearing a cry in the woods. The dog tracks the sound and Paul and Vern find a violet-eyed, redhaired girl infant alone among the trees. They fall in love with the child at once.

Meanwhile, Marigold, the child’s poverty-stricken and forsaken mother, is arrested in town trying to steal food. She and her baby are starving, but the law is not kindly toward her. Many people are hungry in the Deep South at the time. She fears her baby will die alone in the woods while she is in jail—and but for Paul and Vern, the child probably would have. 

Sweeping westward, the story then focuses on 14-year-old Coot, an orphan boy in the clutches of an unsavory and abusive tent-revivalist fake preacher. Coot, who has been preaching since he was seven, is the star attraction in the tent revival in the dry plains of Kansas, where the people often suffer from dust pneumonia. 

The author has a great talent for capturing the times, the mood of the people, and locale, and he does so in his description of Kansas and the people who visit the tent revival, seeking some measure of hope.

"[Coot had] spent enough time on stages to know what his people were thinking. They were scared. That’s what was at the core of these people. There were terrified of the dust that hovered above the world. They drank the dust, ate the dust. The dust suffocated their children and wilted their food."

Moving back and forth between the stories and the main characters with beautifully choreographed organization, the story leaps from one set of down-and-out people to the next. Along the way, Paul and Vern, now the adopted parents of the redhaired baby, a child they name Ruth, also take in a widow and her two young children. Together, Paul, Vern, Ruth and the additional three become a family—not at once, but as they travel and work together, while taking care of each other they form the bonds of love and loyalty any blood family would envy. Their lives are hard, but they find work on farms in the South as they migrate. 

Released from jail, Marigold finds her baby gone but doesn’t know the infant is safe thanks to the kindness of Paul and Vern. Ill and starving, Marigold is rescued by a group of prostitutes, but she never becomes a harlot, working instead as their maid. 

Marigold discovers she has a rare and genuine gift, which brings her into grave danger near the climax of the story. Coot runs away from the abusive fake-preacher who holds him captive, and makes his way slowly toward a destiny with the other travelers in the book. He is trusting and naïve, which brings him into danger also. Paul and Vern and their family also face a life and death situation as they seek shelter on the road to keep from freezing to death and are accosted by armed locals. Thus, there is action and adventure in the book, though the true focus is more on the characters, than the action.

While the plot and the characters are engaging and profoundly well done, the writing itself is a star attraction in Stars on Alabama. Sean Dietrich can turn a phrase like nobody’s business, and his words sing with sharp images and telling details. Consider these sentences: “[T]he old thing started burning oil and making strange noises that sounded like someone was hiding beneath the hood with a short-barrel shotgun.” Or, a series of sentences that captures the true love on the newly married: “He was handsome, yes. But he was more than that. He was the rest of her life.”

Thomas Nelson, the publisher, is the Christian arm of HarperCollins. And the Christian themes of love, compassion, hope and caring for each other ring strong in the book, though it is not a preachy book by any means. There is an evil fake preacher balanced by a genuine good preacher, but it isn’t the preachers themselves which support the theology of the book. Rather, it is Paul and Vern saving a starving baby, then adopting a whole family of lost and hunger when they are on the brink of starvation themselves. It’s Marigold with her rare gift, using it for good to help lonely, scared people instead of seeking a profit from it. And it’s Coot, opening his heart to the reality of love and goodness when his childhood nearly lead him down a jaded, criminal path instead. 

In the end, this is a fine, fine story about compassion. Well worth reading, it is a book that will inspire hope. 

The author, Sean Dietrich, is a columnist, novelist, and creator of the blog, podcast, and radio show “Sean of the South.” His essays and articles have appeared in Southern Living, The Good Grit, South Magazine, the Bitter Southerner, ALFA Alabama Farmer's Magazine, Alabama Living, and several Southern newspapers. He is also the author of seven books.
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Started out as a very promising book. Found myself bored in the last third. The conclusion was very contrived.  I received a complimentary copy of this book. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.
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I love Sean Dietrich's blog posts. They are insightful, touching, and well worth reading, so I was excited to be able to preview this upcoming release. It's typical for his style of writing. While it is a full book, it reads a lot like his blog posts. It's written from the omniscient point of view, which works for this type of book. It holds with the realism one expects from Mr. Dietrich. Not everything wraps up into a happy ending. Not everyone gets a trophy. It's a little gritty in some areas, a little tear-jerking in some, and suspends belief in a couple of places, but that's all good. It works.
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What a wonderful, magical read.  It is the quintessential Southern novel and I know my patrons will waiting for it to arrive.  As with so many wonderful titles, one can see themselves as little parts of all the characters.  The way it stretches across time and place has a way of making us feel home at the same time.  It is a beautiful read and I hope Sean will continue to explore his talents in the fiction genre.
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Sean Dietrich is well known in the South as a gifted writer and story teller.  Many folks follow his podcast, Sean of the South, read his daily blog online and snatch up one of his many books that share short pieces that touch the heart.  I am one of those folks and like to think I am his biggest fan. when I found out he had a new novel hitting the shelves I pre-ordered and found a way to get an advanced reader copy so I could have a head start.

I was not disappointed one bit.  Not one tiny bit. Mr. Dietrich's writing is memorable and his words soon become embedded into my soul and allow me to view the world with a little bit more hope than when I first started reading Stars of Alabama.

The story is set around 1932 and in the style that we have come to know and love from this author that is warm, folksy and descriptive.  The phrases that stuck in my head long after the story is finished include several but my favorite is the phrase "Quit your sorryin'."   The characters are real and down to earth and the salt of earth as they endure a difficult life in Kansas during the time of the Dust Bowl.  Most of them find their way eventually to Alabama and thanks to some wonderful storytelling we find out how their lives are all intertwined.

I loved reading about the times and especially the evangelists and revivals that were front and center during this time.  While the characters were many and varied they all shared one thing in common thanks to Mr. Dietrich.  They were multi - dimensional and their personalities poured out of the pages of this wonderfully written novel.

I will long remember Marigold, Baby Ruth, Paul, Vern, Coot and the many others who popped off the pages.   Naturally there were a couple of hound dogs (it is Sean Dietrich after all) who contributed to this tale of Southern living and I will never forget Louisville and Stringbean.  

I absolutely loved this book and will be re-reading it when my copy arrives upon publication.  It's that good.  It is a story that is tough to read in some places but ultimately hope wins out and we are reminded that we are not alone in this big old world. There is something (Someone) much larger who is keeping an eye on things.

A very special thanks to NetGalley and Thomas Nelson- Fiction for an ARC.  I was thrilled and honored to review an advance copy.  This is my honest review.
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Sean Dietrich is a columnist, podcaster, speaker, and novelist, known for his commentary on life in the American South. He has also written several volumes of short stories and several novels. All of them are “finger-lickin’ good.”

If you are in the mood for solid, compelling characters, which includes both people and dogs, mixed with positive values, then you will want to visit the Mobile, Alabama area with Sean Dietrich as your guide in this feel-good southern-living story.

You will never forget “Marigold the Magnificent”, Paul, Vern, Baby Ruth and other beautiful humans and then there’s the two bloodhounds- Louisville and Stringbean. These vivid folks, and several other memorable preachers, grifters, and hookers will captivate you with their southern world in the 1930’s. 

We tend to think of the rural south before World War II as a simpler time and place. But life wasn’t simple or easy at all for our friends. The Dust Bowl storms were terrorizing the Plains, the Depression destroyed jobs and families who needed them. Church tent revivals were another phenomenon. Many times, our sturdy friends worked long back-breaking hours when they could even find a job. More often, they slept outside, and went hungry. But as one of them would say, “Quit your sorryin”.

Somehow, most of them make it to the promise land of Mobile Alabama, with its beautiful Gulf, and you will enjoy their journey. Written in a readable, folksy style similar to his blog posts, each characters’ heart and hopes shine forth. Life is tough, and unfair, but people are so sweet and strong. Here is a book to love!

Thanks to NetGalley and Thomas Nelson- Fiction for an ARC. This is my honest review.
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A well written book that explores home and family and the complexities of both . I loved the characters and just felt overall that this is a soy book
Thanks to Netgalley and the publisher for letting me review this book
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This is the first book I've read by Sean Dietrich, but it won't be the last! I loved Mr. Dietrich’s writing style and the characters in this book. Told from the point of view of several different characters, you get to know each of them and their personal struggles. There’s Marigold, a young teen mom raising her baby in the forest because her family has rejected her. Coot, a child preacher, tired of living life on the road doing tent revivals and being physically and verbally abused by his father, the “famous” preacher E.P. Willard. Vern and Paul who are migrant workers, who happen upon a baby girl, crying and alone in the woods. When no one comes forward to claim her they take her on the road with them, figuring out how to care for her along the way.

As you’ll see in this story, sometimes the people you call your family may not necessarily be related to you. Family are the people that love you through thick and thin, are always there when you need them, and accept you just as you are…flaws and all.  I highly recommend this book!!!
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This book has it all, it is funny, sweet, sad. A cast of differing characters all intertwine. It is a story of hope and seeing the stars that we might not always look for
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What a lovely, lovely read!  How refreshing to read about people who, in the midst of struggling to overcome their own problems, are ever mindful of the needs of others.  In spite of the setting in the dismal years of the Great Depression and the struggling economy in the following decade, this was a very uplifting and encouraging tale.

The story opens in about 1932 and focuses on 4 different groups of people in 4 different geographic areas of America.  The author gives us an excellent bird’s eye view into the difficulties each area and each person were encountering.  We had the horrific dust storms in the Midwest where adults and children were dying from dust induced pneumonia.  We had the shysters out to make a buck any way they could.  We had women in brothels because they were well fed and housed and well dressed there.

But all in all our characters are kind hearted and well meaning and very, very hard working.  We encounter people generous to a fault, but not with money as few had any money.  We encounter a lot of poverty and starvation, prevalent at the time – especially in the South.  And we encounter the wiliness of people as they sought to preserve themselves or their loved ones.

And of course, the stories all dovetail bringing all these disparate parts together for a very satisfactory ending.

I am very thankful to NetGalley and the publisher, Thomas Nelson, for an ARC of this wonderful book and for the introduction to this [new-to-me] author.  I will definitely seek out more books from Sean Dietrich.
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