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April 2021 Reviews

April 2021 Reviews


Death in Mud Lick: A Coal Country Fight against the Drug Companies That Delivered the Opioid Epidemic by Eric Eyre. New York: Scribner/Simon & Schuster, a 2021 paperback edition of a 2020 hardback release. 288 pages with an Index and notes.  Trade paperback.

This book is one of the most important books on Appalachia published so far this century. It is virtually unprecedented in its powerful expose of one of the greatest tragedies in American history masterminded by millionaires who had our politicians paid off directly or indirectly. No wonder the New York Times named it a best book of the year and the Washington Post called it “a product of one reporter’s sustained outrage: a searing spotlight on the scope and human cost of corruption and negligence.” The Preface to this book by the author begins, “In two years, out-of-state drug companies shipped nearly 9 million opioid pills to Kermit, West Virginia, a town of 382 people.” Then he proceeds to explain how rich the legal drug dealers got from the top of the chain of command to its bottom and how many died, and how many are still suffering, and how complicit all of us who did not squeal were. “With searing storytelling and deep investigative reporting, Eric Eyre has written an indispensable book that you won’t be able to put down.” Anna Sale. The author, Eric Eyre, won a Pulitzer Prize for his reporting for the Charleston, West Virginia, Gazette, and then used the knowledge he gained reporting the crisis to craft this book.

Remaking Appalachia: Ecosocialism, Ecofeminism, and Law by Nicholas F. Stump. Morgantown: West Virginia University Press, 2021. 317 pages with an Index, forty pages of Notes, and a twenty-page Bibliography. Trade paperback.

Nicholas Stump is a professor at the West Virginia University School of Law. I can imagine people who would love this book and relish its critique of the Appalachian status quo and its prescriptions for our future. Although I actually pretty much agree with its analysis of what’s wrong with Appalachia and what’s wrong with proposed neoliberal solutions and its suggestions for more thoroughgoing transformations, but I cannot handle its writing style. This book lavishes leftist rhetorical flourishes upon long sentences that are as abstruse as mainstream legal discourse. I don’t understand how someone can identify with left alternatives in every other respect without seeking alternatives to mainstream legal written discourse. I have heard of Ecofeminism, a term used in this book’s sub-title, although I’m still not sure what it means, but I have not heard of Ecosocialsm, though I can guess at its meaning. The last word in this book is Capitalocene, yes, capitalized at the end of a sentence, not in a title. Apparently, using this word recognizes that the most recent time-period that we live in is an era of the ascendency of capitalism. When reading, I prefer to grasp the meaning of a sentence easily without having to google the jargon used. “Remaking Appalachia offers a thorough critical account of Appalachia through a law and political economy lens, and makes a persuasive case for what the region needs today: a hopeful vision for a new future rooted in transformative, bottom-up change.” Ann M. Eisenberg.

Southbound: Essays on Identity, Inheritance, and Social Change by Anjali Enjeti. Athens: The University of Georgia Press, 2021. 230 pages with notes. Trade paperback.

When she was ten-years-old, in 1984, Anjali Enjeti moved from a Detroit suburb to Chattanooga.  The twenty essays in this collection illuminate both personal and universal experiences that jolted her as her growing awareness of social issues coincided with her experience of life in the South from the perspective of having lived in the North and also often spending summers with relatives in India. Her essays address a plethora of topics including the AIDS epidemic, guns, evangelical Christianity, racism, and voter suppression. Since 2006, she has lived in the Atlanta suburbs and now teaches creative writing in the MFA program at Reinhardt University. She has been active recently in efforts to encourage immigrant populations to vote in Georgia.
“This is a book I hope every American reads.” -- Porochista Khakpour.  “Southbound is required reading for these times.”--Jessica Handler.  “Southbound is a potent tonic for our times―ambitious in its scope and refreshing in its candor. These are fiercely intelligent essays that examine the complexities of how power works on, through, and maybe even for us. Recommended reading.” -- Lacy M. Johnson. “In 20 essays that combine the literary tools of memoir, reportage, poetry, and non-linear storytelling, the author works to reclaim her identity on her own terms.” -- Chris Moody.

Waterfalls of the Blue Ridge: A Guide to the Natural Wonders of the Blue Ridge Mountains by Johnny Molloy. Birmingham, Alabama: Menasha Ridge Press, the 2021 5th edition of a 1994 release. 228 pages with Index, maps, and color photographs. Trade paperback.

Good news – author Johnny Molloy has a four-minute video to promote this book that simply takes you with him on his hike to Hunt Fish Falls via Gragg Prong. I love it.

It is in Pisgah National Forest in Caldwell County, North Carolina. Johnny Molloy is basically the father of Appalachian outdoor guidebooks, having written about 75 of them over the last thirty years while based out of Johnson City, Tennessee. The Blue Ridge focus of this waterfall book means it includes the states of Virginia and North Carolina and takes you to more than 140 waterfalls ranging from 10 to 500 feet high that are located in three national parks, three wilderness areas, four national forests, eight state parks and beyond. The waterfalls are arranged by geographical proximity and the descriptions include the kind of helpful detail that has made Molloy the standard in the guide book field. This fifth edition of this book includes 20 more waterfalls than were included in previous editions. These waterfalls can be found either right on a road or on hikes of up to ten miles round trip.



Bridlewood (Forgive Me Father, for You Have Sinned) by C. Frederick Long. Santa Fe, New Mexico, Sunstone Press, 2021. 121 pages with a Reader’s Guide. Trade paperback.

In this novel, a Catholic priest, Father Richard, from New York City, settles into a new parish, Our Lady of Damascus, in the North Carolina Mountains. A married couple, Janet and Curtis, become his closest friends. Can Father Richard and Janet keep their love affair a secret? The author, a practicing Catholic, lives in Appalachia and has degrees from Emory & Henry College and East Tennessee State University.

Fatal Scores: A Blackman Agency Investigation by Mark de Castrique.  Napierville, Illinois: Poisoned Pen Press, 2021. 252 pages. Trade paperback.

Sam Blackman, a white man, and Nakayla Robertson, also white, are partners in the Blackman Agency, a private investigation firm out of Asheville, North Carolina. They are hired by the widow of an environmentalist who died while monitoring water quality in the Pigeon River, downstream from paper mills. Two days earlier, Sam had watched an altercation between the husband of his client and Luke and Ted Kirkpatrick, the heir to and owner of a papermill. "Solid eighth mystery... the complex plot builds to a satisfying conclusion. Series fans will be pleased." - Publishers Weekly. “A vivid gallery of suspects, lively dialogue, and an attractive pair of sleuths.” – Kirkus Reviews. This is the 8th mystery in this series and de Castrique’s 20th book. He was born in Hendersonville, North Carolina, the son of a funeral director there, but spent his career in Washington, D. C. in the broadcast and film business. He now lives in Charlotte.

Hope Between the Pages by Pepper Basham. Uhrichville, Ohio: Barbour Publishing, 2021. 252 pages. Trade paperback.

This is a double-whammy Christian Romance novel that portrays the contemporary romance of Clara Blackwell who works with her mother in a one-hundred-year-old Asheville bookstore along with the romance of Clara’s great-great-grandmother who was a housekeeper assigned to the library of the Biltmore Estate. Both women love books as well as their suitors. “Enchanting from the first page, readers will be swept along on a journey that proves true love isn’t just a fairy tale to be found in books. Romance and charm are around every corner as two people find that differences mean nothing when they share the same heart.”  
–J’nell Ciesielski. “A hauntingly beautiful dual-time story laced with the elegance of the Vanderbilts and the lure of a cozy bookstore. Pepper Basham entrances readers with a love story that will linger long after they tuck the book gently back onto their shelf. This is a story of love, of challenge, and most of all, legacy.” –Jaime Jo Wright. “An amiable escape into the beloved world of books. Splitting time between the present and the past, Basham creates vivid historical landscapes to transport the reader to the age of the Great War and to the lavish world of the famed Vanderbilts’ mansion. Paired with modern-day jaunts from a storied bookshop to the famed Asheville estate and the charm of the English countryside.”–Kristy Cambron.  The author, Pepper Basham, grew up in the Blue Ridge Mountains where her family has resided for generations. She is a speech pathologist and the mother of five children who has been writing Christian romances since 2015.

A Piece of the Moon by Chris Fabry. Carol Stream, Illinois: Tyndale House, 2021. 400 pages. Trade paperback.

Emmaus, West Virginia, is over-run with treasure seekers when it becomes known that a local millionaire has responded to the death of his wife in 1974 and to a later divine revelation by hiding gold, silver, cash, and perhaps other treasures in the nearby hills.  At first, T.D. Lovett, who works for the local country music station, is more concerned with sparking Pidge Bledsoe, a local junkyard proprietor with an adopted son. But Lovett does end up getting into the treasure hunt. “Wonderful! Full of believable characters, forgiveness, redemption, suspense, a great sense of ‘place’ ―not to mention a great playlist and quotable wisdom. All I could hope for in a great escape!” -- Jeff Taylor. “The best novel I’ve read in ages.” – Liz Curtis Higgs. “If you are looking for fun and you like country, this is the story for you.” – Don Reid. The author, Chris Fabry, is a West Virginia native and a Marshall graduate. He is a prolific writer of Christian fiction who was inducted in 2018 into the Christy award Hall of Fame. Of this book, he wrote: “All my stories are prayers from a wounded heart. As you enter each one, I hope you'll sense that struggle and pain and questions are not just part of life but part of how you can be drawn deeper into it. A Piece of the Moon is the book I've waited more than 40 years to write. It combines my love for radio with a quirky cast of characters who need a second chance in a world that judges and marginalizes. There's also a faith angle to the story that leads to a mystery to solve. I hope it sings in your soul.”

The Wife Upstairs by Rachel Hawkins. New York: St. Martin’s, 2021. 290 pages. Hardback in dust jacket.

This novel was a Book of the Month Club selection, a “most anticipated book of 2021” selection on at least five lists, and a best of the month selection on at least another five lists. It consciously follows the story line of the novel, Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte and sets it in Birmingham, Alabama, where the author lives. This is the first trade novel by Rachel Hawkins after ten very successful years as a Young Adult novelist creating books she characterizes as “paranormals and romances.”  She calls The Wife Upstairs, a “thriller.” The protagonist is a young lady named, yes, Jane, who is a dog-walker from the wrong side of the tracks whose clientele comes from Thornfield Estates, a fancy gated community. One of her clients is Eddie Rochester whose wife, Bea, a rags-to-riches legend, recently perished in a boating accident.   "A Southern Gothic twist on Jane Eyre that’s full of suspense, twists and turns...the story of this twisted love triangle will have you on the edge of your seat all the way until the end." ––CNN. “A delightfully surprising and suspenseful twist on Jane Eyre."––Newsweek. “Read to find out whether either of them can ever escape their secrets, or if their forbidden tryst is doomed to failure.” ––Good Housekeeping. "With an even darker twist, this novel delivers a one-of-a-kind take on a well-known gothic tale. In addition to the suspenseful story line, the distorted love triangle and the impassivity of the Thornfield residents will have readers feeling simultaneously discombobulated and fulfilled."––Library Journal. The Wife Upstairs is everything I’d hoped--sharp, smart, tricky and fast-paced. Rachel Hawkins’ debut thriller puts you in the steps of an outsider, an insider, and an imposter, but which is which? You won’t know til you’re up way too late turning the final pages." ––Kelly Harms.



Back to the Light by George Ella Lyon. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 2021. 105 pages. Trade paperback.

I am not sure whether George Ella believes that she – or we – are destined to go “back to the light.” I think these poems more likely indicate that, to the extent that “the light” exists, it is transitory, not back or forward. Mostly, I think George Ella likes to get us to think about it. The title poem actually takes place underground, a place known for being bereft of light – of course she sets it there -  she’s George Ella, and she plays with her words and plays with us. Yes, that poem does end with her and her late mother walking “back to the light,” providing more food for thought.  George Ella has always been up-front with us. And these, frankly, are senior citizen poems since George Ella is not about to hide from us the fact that she has lived and learned for a long time and now does some old woman things, like look back on her sources of inspiration. She also still does the kind of things she has done all her life ever since she was a little girl growing up in Harlan, Kentucky, and ever since she was middle-aged living in Lexington, Kentucky, where she still resides. Like before, these poems help us realize what is truly important and give us some deep thoughts to consider. She’s in double figures now with poetry collections, as well as the children’s books she mostly wrote when she and her husband had a couple of their own children at their home. George Ella was a Kentucky Poet Laureate which was perfect because she has always been an ambassador for poetry. "This work is as strong and fine as anything I have read, and I would hope to write such poems myself. Back to the Light will be welcomed by many kinds of readers. It is visionary, highly accessible, and highly teachable."―Diane Gilliam. "Back to the Light is a girl's song, is a big loud woman's song, is a country girl who has seen the blood of many things high note, is a woman who foolishly buys shoes she can't run in elegy, is a growling great mother's dirt road aria, is a terrified 5 year old's courageous chant to the world. George Ella reminds us, in elegant George Ella style, how the country located just below the nose and just above the chin of a woman's face is a sparkling cave of galaxies."―Nikky Finney.

Lock Her Up by Tina Parker. Lexington, Kentucky: Accents Publishing, 2021. 59 pages. Trade paperback.

Wow. This is heavy stuff. I cannot read the words in the title without hearing them ring through a huge crowd of people with a political enemy stoked by men who had themselves committed crimes beyond what she never envisioned, let alone committed. Empathy – that precious trait of those we admire most – jumps out at me when I pick up this book because I know Tina Parker as a sweet mother and housewife very different – except in the very most elemental ways - from those she memorializes in this collection. Yet Tina knows that in a patriarchal society, men have the power to lock up women who are not obedient, and she empathizes with those who “there, but for fortune, may go you or I” – an old saying made into one of Phil Ochs’ great song lyrics and then made famous by Joan Baez’s compelling voice. Tina Parker researched this book in the archives of the Southwestern Lunatic Asylum in Virginia, not far from where she grew up. And when I think about the state of Virginia and punished purported lunacy, what springs right into my mind is Virginia’s hero – Patrick Henry – who shackled his wife in his basement, and assigned one of the enslaved women on his plantation the task of watching her, both imprisoned by his arbitrary, pernicious, power. These poems are, oh, such an important reminder of ill-begotten power and the way it can tarnish, even destroy, minds and bodies of real people who matter.  “Tina Parker’s haunting new collection Lock Her Up is a tribute, a beautifully rendered defense of women who throughout the late 1800’s and mid-1900’s were admitted into the Southwestern Lunatic Asylum in Virginia. It is an examination of the platitudes, misdiagnosis and treatments administered to women who needed succor not restraint, understanding not punishment; women who had been set aside by their families or bored husbands, were abused, widowed or their children dead or taken from them. This poet has done her research. The day they came for me/ I cartwheeled into the sea/ And sang open the snow. Reader, you will wince, you will curse, you will weep.”— Kari Gunter-Seymour. “Parker’s haunting poems unlock and venerate our foremothers who were ‘right troublesome and at times excited’ so that we can all be reminded: ‘See I am here / Please tell them / I was here.’” – Marianne Worthington.

Masked Man, Black: Pandemic & Protest Poems by Frank X Walker. Lexington, Accents Publishing, 2020. 75 pages with an Introduction by Shauna M. Morgan. Trade paperback.

Of course, as Frank X Walker was conceiving of this collection, he thought of the poem by Paul Lawrence Dunbar, whose parents were enslaved in Kentucky, entitled, “We Wear the Mask.”  Walker dedicated his title poem to Dunbar. He ends that poem with the emphatic and stirring words, “Peal off mask       no grins      no lies.”  Of course, Walker does not mean to peal off the mask protecting us from the pandemic, but the mask that Dunbar refers to, the mask that privileges survival, leading to actions that submit to racist stereotypes. Walker is the master of the last line, like when his poem, “To the Ten Year Old Kid on the Ventilator,” ends with “I can’t help but feel like we failed you somehow.” After all the poems that unflinchingly explore the realities of this last year, Walker ends this collection with “Corona Love,” a celebration of how his previously busy family going off in all directions was able, thanks to Corona, to relax and enjoy being home together. “Walker’s daily offerings calm us, inflame us, inspire us, and offer up a clarifying lens through which to examine the world anew. Now polished and collected into this volume, they continue to sustain us as we move forward into an uncertain world.” -- Kris Yohe.  “Our Professor X reads our minds and speaks to our hearts. Catharsis and metamorphosis are experienced simultaneously for the reader.” Willard C. Watson, III. A former Kentucky Poet Laureate, Frank X Walker, a professor at the University of Kentucky, is a mesmerizing spoken poet, a transformational written poet, and an award-winning author of ten poetry books. He coined the term “Affrilachian” and gathered together poets who took that name at the University of Kentucky, establishing that henceforth Appalachia was no longer “Mountain Whites” as the Library of Congress had categorized us in their catalogs.

Milky Way Accent & Selected Work by Bob Snyder. Loveland, Ohio: Dos Madres Press, 2020. 93 pages with a Foreword by Yvonne Snyder Farley and a Preface by Peter Laska, and a few photographs. Trade paperback.

Bob Snyder (1937-1995) was an erudite West Virginia son of the working class who inspired a passel of followers devoted to poetry. Throughout most of the 1970s he was the Director of Antioch College/Appalachia located in Beckley, West Virginia. Those who knew him kept thinking, after he moved to Boston and after he died, that his spirit and work needed to be resurrected because they felt sorry for those who had not been inspired by him. So his sister, Yvonne Snyder Farley, and West Virginia poets Kirk Judd and Edwina Pendarvis, and Pauletta Hansel, one of The Soupbean Poets, his inner circle, and his widow, Peggy, with help from a few others, brought this book together. The Soupbean Poets and Bob’s periodical, What’s a Nice Hillbilly Like You . . . ?, brought poetry readings and an anthology to the hinterlands. Bob’s best unpublished poetry is presented here along with some poems published in rare and obscure books and periodicals. “Indeed, these are the finest love poems to my people and their way of being that I have ever known. Bob Snyder has given me back my own life here in West Virginia – the working class lives of my family and so many others . . .  Bob’s rhythms, voices, and music get to the heart of us like no other writer of our time.” Jack Spadaro.