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April 2019 Reviews

April 2019 Reviews


Ernestine’s Milky Way by Kerry Madden-Lunsford. New York: Schwartz & Wade/Penguin Random House, 2019. 32 un-numbered pages, illustrated by Emily Sutton. 9.25” X 11.25” hardback in dust jacket, $17.99.

This beautifully illustrated book is set in the 1940s when five-year-old Ernestine’s father is off fighting in World War II, and Ernestine and her mother are tending their Maggie Valley farm. It tells the story of Ernestine’s journey to deliver milk to a neighbor. "This delicious period story with its warmly inviting illustrations has some surprises that get us right into the heart of the story. And what a good heart it is!” -Jane Yolen. Kerry Madden-Lunsford directs the creative writing program at the University of Alabama-Birmingham. She is the author of a trilogy of youth novels also set in Maggie Valley as well as another youth novel, another picture book, and a book about the writing process for young people.



Daughters of Northern Shores by Joanne Bischof. Nashville, Tennessee: Thomas Nelson, 2019. 351 pages. Trade paperback, $15.99.        

The title does not connect very well with Appalachian literature, but this actually is a sequel to the more appropriately titled Sons of Blackbird Mountain.  It continues the story of Aven Norgaard, an Irish immigrant to the Virginia mountains after the Civil War who weds a deaf Norwegian immigrant but whose life is complicated by the strengths and weaknesses of his younger brother. Joanne Bischof is a prolific and distinguished author of Christian historical romances who lives in Southern California.  She won the San Diego Christian Writers Guild Novel of the Year Award in 2014.


Country Dark by Chris Offutt. New York: Grove Press, a 2019 paperback edition of a 2018 release. 231 pages. Trade paperback, $16.00

Yes, this is only the second novel in Chris Offutt’s illustrious literary career which has included two story collections, two autobiographical works, and a biography of his father as well as distinguished writing for television, magazines, and the theatre.  Offutt grew up in Haldeman, Kentucky, a small town in the Eastern Kentucky mountains. The setting for this novel is rural Eastern Kentucky from the Korean War until 1970. The protagonist, Tucker, returns home from the war and goes to work for the local bootlegger, falls in love, marries, and starts a family. When his family is threatened, he reacts with the kind of violence that has surrounded him all his life. “Offutt impressively inhabits this impoverished, fiercely private world without condescension or romance, fashioning a lean, atmospheric story that moves fluidly between the extremes of violence and love . . . Offutt is such a measured and unexcitable stylist that the story never wallows in the grotesque . . . [A] fine homage to a pocket of the country that’s as beautiful as it is prone to tragedy.”―Wall Street Journal. “If Tucker is a man of few words neither are there wasted words in Chris Offutt’s bang-bang second novel, Country Dark . . . [Offutt is] a refined, versatile writer, sometimes impish, always ecumenical, never snobbish . . . He scatters little halos of earthy metaphor … locates dark prophecy in shades of detail . . . [and] has a great ear for humorous rural chatter.”―Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Country Dark is grim and funny and touching. It’s a crime story, a novel of backwoods manners, and a family saga. It’s many things at once, all of them great. Masterful descriptions of the natural world bump up against scenes of shocking violence, and you’re left in awe, wondering how the hell Chris Offutt managed to pull this book off.” ―Richard Lange.


Gone Like a Candle in the Wind by William Roy Pipes. Murphy, North Carolina: self-published, 2018. 318 pages. Trade paperback, $14.95.

This is Roy Pipes’s tenth novel.  Now in his seventies, and retired from a career as a teacher and principal in the Cherokee County, North Carolina, schools, Dr. Pipes grew up in the Peachtree Community there and lives on a nearby farm that his grandfather once owned. This novel begins as three friends from different backgrounds graduate from high school. It continues as William and Elizabeth decide to try to find Edward after losing contact with him for seven years. 


Staff Picks by George Singleton. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2019. 201 pages. Trade paperback, $22.50.

George Singleton holds an endowed chair at Wofford College in Spartanburg, South Carolina, and has taught writing for years at the South Carolina Governor’s School in Greenville. He is a popular writing workshop leader and has achieved numerous literary awards including membership in the Fellowship of Southern Writers.  This is his seventh short story collection to go with two novels and a non-fiction book of writing advice. “George Singleton is the quintessential Southern writer of today. He writes the way we live―reckless, fearless, and wild, ready to love and laugh with abandon. I read everything he writes. Everybody should.”―Chris Offutt. “George Singleton’s talent as a humorist is on full display in Staff Picks but don’t let your laughter distract you from the fact that he is also a sly, insightful witness to life in the American South and one of the most dexterous short story writers anywhere. He knows our hurts and fears, our desires and disappointments. He understands better than just about anybody that life can be sublime and heartbreaking and absurd all at once and he holds nothing back in his best collection yet.”―Michael Knight. “What a pleasure these stories are! Singleton’s kooky, endearing characters are grotesquely original and at the same time next-door familiar. They are forever attempting to connect with the people around them, but somehow, too often, keep missing. If there’s redemption here, it lies in the fact that they keep trying. And always, beneath the humor and the word play and the fun-house distortion, these stories simmer with frustration at the South’s most absurd paradoxes and entrenched injustices.”―Julia Franks.



Lonely Planet Great Smoky Mountains National Park by Amy C. Balfour, Kevin Raub, Regis St. Louis, and Greg Ward. Oakland, California: Lonely Planet Global Limited, 2019. 223 pages with lots of color maps and color photographs. Trade paperback, $19.99.

Covering the Smoky Mountain Region from Atlanta to Chattanooga to Knoxville, this guide book emphasizes breath over depth, but still introduces the reader to restaurants, breweries, bed and breakfasts, and even wilderness hikes. For metropolitan areas, small towns, and parks, it zonks in on Drinking, Eating, Sleeping, Shopping, Entertainment, Tours, Activities, Sights, Nightlife, Festivals, Biking, Hiking, and Getting There and Away.  For a quick overview, it meets the needs of many a traveler.  The co-authors are all prolific guide-book writers, most having contributed to more than 50 guidebooks.


The Terra Incognita Reader: Early Writings from the Great Smoky Mountains edited by Anne Bridges, Russell Clement, and Ken Wise. Knoxville: The University of Tennessee Press, 2019. 447 pages. Trade paperback, $49.95.

What an important work this is!  The editors started by producing an annotated bibliography, Terra Incognita: An Annotated Bibliography of the Great Smoky Mountains, 1544-1934, published by UT Press in 2013. In the meantime they have read and pondered their selections and have come up with what they consider the most significant accounts of the Smokies before the National Park was established. The earliest is Alexander Longe’s “A Small Postscript on the Ways and Maners of the Indians called Charikees” (1725).  Only three are by natives: Wayne Williams’ “After Bruin in the Great Smokies” (1923), Samuel Hunnicutt’s excerpt from his Twenty Years of Hunting and Fishing in the Great Smoky Mountains (1926) and John W. Oliver’s “From Cades Cove to Indian Gap.” (1931).  On each topic, the readings are arranged in chronological order, and the topics range from the Cherokees to the Civil War to fiction to Moonshine to Bear Hunting to Natural History to Tourism to Education to Religion to History to Culture to Exploration. All three editor are current or retired academic librarians.


Beyond the Good Earth: Transnational Perspectives on Pearl Buck edited by Jay Cole and John R. Haddad. Morgantown: West Virginia University Press, 2019. 197 pages with an index and notes after each essay. Trade paperback, $24.99.

Pearl Buck is renowned for her best-selling and important novel, The Good Earth (1931) based on her experience living in China with missionary parents. For her work she was awarded both a Pulitzer and a Nobel Prize!  It is not well known that she was born in Hillsboro, West Virginia and also wrote biographies of both of her West Virginia parents or that she was an activist for human rights. This book of essays is an attempt to familiarize readers with all aspects of Pearl Buck’s career. Notably, it includes two essays by Chinese scholars, as well as essays from American experts in many of the fields where Pearl Buck contributed. “The strength of this collection lies in the breadth and variety of the subjects discussed, from US foreign policy to literary and political controversies in China to Pearl Buck’s accomplishments and influence as a writer and as a social and political activist. Taken collectively, these essays provide a rewarding survey.” - Peter Conn. Jay Cole is a member of the Board of Directors of the Pearl S. Buck Birthplace Foundation and works as a senior advisor to the President of West Virginia University. John R. Haddad chairs the American studies program at Penn State Harrisburg. This is his third book dealing with the relationship between America and China.

Wildflowers and Ferns of Red River Gorge and the Greater Red River Basin by Dan and Judy Dourson. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 2019. 477 pages replete with color photographs and a Glossary, Bibliography, Species List, Index of Common Names, Index of Scientific Names, and Safety Tips while in the Woods. Flexible plastic cover, $39.95.

I reckon if these days they can sell jeans for more if they are pre-washed and a little scruffy, you can put out a brand-new book that looks like it is worn out, too. Nothing against what is inside the covers of this book, of course, but I’m not a fan of this gimmick.  The title actually sells this book short. The book itself acknowledges help from people in a variety of disciplines and starts with “Prehistoric History,” “Cultural History,” and “Geology” and has chapters on slime molds, algae, quillworts, trees, rushes, and lots of Red River Gorge life beyond the ferns and wildflowers of the title. "In Wildflowers and Ferns of Red River Gorge and the Greater Red River Basin, Dan and Judy Dourson provide an in-depth review of botanical diversity in this fascinating region of eastern Kentucky. With its stunning photography, interesting text, and clear explanations, this book will appeal to naturalists of all backgrounds. Beginners will enjoy identifying plants they've discovered. Experienced naturalists will appreciate coverage of little-known species, several of which are specialties of the Red River region."―Robert Naczi. "The most noteworthy feature of this book is the photography―the images are outstanding, even breathtaking, in their clarity and detail and, together with the line drawings, are among the best illustrations ever published on the flora of the eastern United States. With modern nomenclature and up-to-date information on the status of the plant life (as well as comments on fungi, lichens, algae, and mosses), this book is a most welcome addition to the literature on the flora of Kentucky."―Ronald L. Jones. Dan Dourson is the author of ten books. He worked for the US Forest Service in the Red River Gorge. His wife, Judy, is an educator, researcher, and editor.



What Penelope Chooses by Jeanne Larsen. San Diego, California: Cider Press Review, 2019. 86 pages. Trade paperback, $17.95.

This poetry book is Jeanne Larsen’s retirement present to herself and all of us, celebrating what she has learned and contributed throughout her distinguished career as a professor at Hollins University on the far edge (her literal and figurative comfort zone) of Roanoke, Virginia. Yes, the Penelope in the title is the Penelope in Homer’s Odyssey, but Larsen’s poetic muses about this character view Penelope as a universal persona who is relevant to other times and places. "What Penelope Chooses is an 'intertextual gabfest' that gives us astonishing new commentary on one of the most hallowed texts in all of Western literature, the Odyssey. Larsen fills the absence at the center of the traditional text--Penelope's patient, wifely waiting--with a third wave, pussy-hatted, female hero for our time who is royally pissed off and woke: 'A few more centuries & she'd / have played the god / -damn lyre [herself !]' A fantastic linguistic and literary feat." -Kate Daniels. "How does a 21st-century woman read Homer? Jeanne Larsen's What Penelope Chooses shows you how it's done. Her magnificent confabulation of jazzy sonnets turns Homer on his head and gives him some back chat, high fives, dream talk, and rewrites along with showing just what the English language is capable of. The collection is a tour de force poetic exploration of the modern text in a thoroughly modern voice. Brava!" --Barbara Hamby. Jeanne Larsen is the author of two other poetry books, four novels and two translations of poetry by women of China’s Tang Dynasty (618-907).


Coal Town Photograph: Poems by Pauletta Hansel. Loveland, Ohio: Dos Madres Press, 2019. 60 pages. Trade paperback, $17.00.

Pauletta Hansel grew up in Jackson, Kentucky, in the Eastern Kentucky coalfields. Although she has lived most of her adult life in the Cincinnati area, she has maintained her ties to Appalachia through the Southern Appalachian Writers Cooperative, Pine Mountain Sand and Gravel, and other regional literary enterprises. This is her seventh poetry collection. “Pauletta Hansel prizes memory for the resource that it is. Throughout, this book dives into the challenge of the past as place. Its journey is from underground-darkness to a state of earned brightness.” – Roy Bentley. “There is a constancy of underlying comfort in these unvarnished poems even when they address difficult matters including broken-heartedness. It would not be surprising if you found, as I did, meaningful echoes of your own life, your own people, in the tender narratives of Pauletta’s latest book.” -  Susan F. Glassmeyer. “When I read poetry, I love the fresh responses and insights to life’s episodes, images that hold the chin of my attention in their light hands, nostalgia for the past, understanding of what it is to be here on this planet and in this world with the changing landscapes of body. I have found all of these needs met in Pauletta Hansel’s work, and especially in her new Coal Town Photograph collection” - Ron Houchin.


Taste of Change by Wesley D. Sims. Oak Ridge, Tennessee: Iris Books, 2019. 47 pages. Trade paperback, $12.00.

Yes, the poet, Wesley D. Sims, is a naturalist, and his poems illuminate the changes in nature’s plants and animals and ecology, but he also dips into the changes affecting humans who exist in this natural world. "A pair of common house sparrows" proclaiming "their trust in the future" to battling king snake and copperhead to man scanning across generations proclaiming memories and mortality, each poem in Taste of Change, a chapbook by Wes Sims, works like a striking documentary photograph. These poems record the change of seasons and shift of shadows, both of earth and the body. Beautiful images, dodged and burned, give us a potent and compelling contrast, record an alluring feast of struggle and sustenance.” - Darnell Arnoult. “Like the heron, Wes Sims has honed his patience, giving us with these poems about the mountains and the lakes, their birds and their people. Each poem in Taste of Change reads like a prayer, like the deepest of meditations, or like ‘secret whispers of star-struck lovers.’” - Denton Loving. Wesley D. Sims is a private person who lives in East Tennessee.



Aim by Joyce Moyer Hostetter. Honesdale, Pennsylvania: Calkins Creek/Highlights, a 2019 paperback reprints of a 2016 release. 288 pages. Trade paperback, $9.95. 

This is the third book in the Baker’s Mountain Series by an author who lives in Hickory, North Carolina, near a real Baker’s Mountain. The year is 1941, and the protagonist, Junior Bledsoe,  lives with his grandfather and mother now that his abusive father has died. Junior’s friend Catfish is full of ideas, but they aren’t always very helpful. "In this pre-World War II companion to the novels Blue (2006) and Comfort (2009), 14-year-old Junior Bledsoe fights personal battles at home as America's entry into the war grows imminent.... Hostetter creates a vivid sense of time and place in her early-1940s rural North Carolina setting and a fully realized, sympathetic character in Junior.... An absorbing, well-crafted coming-of-age story with finely detailed historical background." - Kirkus Reviews. "A boy grappling with life-changing decisions, unlikely friendships, and what it means to be a man is at the soul of this story... The year is 1941, and news of World War II simmers in the background... Hostetter's well-crafted turn of phrase and timely humor all add to the richness of the era. A must-have for historical fiction collections." - School Library Journal. The author is a former special education teacher.