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August 2017 - Reviews

August 2017 - Reviews

NON-FICTION

Abingdon by Donna Gayle Akers. Charleston, South Carolina: Arcadia Press, 1917. 95 pages with a Bibliography and lots of color pictures throughout along with black-and-whites. Trade paperback, $22.95

Part of the Images of Modern America series, these photos and captions are from the 1950s through the 1980s, but the feel of the book is decidedly ‘50s, with virtually nothing here that reminds me of the ‘60s or ‘70s. The author, Donna Gayle Akers, is a ninth generation descendant of early residents and the author of four previous Arcadia books about the area.

 

The Floyd Collins Tragedy at Sand Cave by John Benton, Bill Napper, and Bob Thompson. Charleston, South Carolina: Arcadia Publishing, 2017. 127 pages, profusely illustrated with numerous photos. Trade paperback, $21.99.

In the winter of 1925, when Floyd Collins was trapped by a rock fall for two weeks in a tiny passageway in Sand Cave, he was already very well known locally and also nationally among spelunkers as one of the most knowledgeable and courageous cave explorers. During his ordeal and the rescue efforts that all failed leading to his death, he became a virtually universal celebrity fostering dozens of spur-of-the-moment, yet often lasting, businesses to meeting the public’s voracious curiosity. The pictures in this book well illustrate the tragedy and its life as a public attraction. The captions flow together to provide a clear run-down of what happened when. Sand Cave is now preserved inside Mammoth Cave National Park in Kentucky, but this book will show you how this drama captured national attention for decades.

 

James Madison University by Hannah Berge & Joseph D’Arezzo. Charleston, South Carolina: Arcadia Press, 2017. 126 pages with lots of photos. Trade paperback, $21.99

Part of The Campus History Series, but with little historical emphasis, this book could use more casual pictures and fewer pictures of buildings.

 

River of Cliffs: A Linville Gorge History by Christopher Blake, ed. Charleston, South Carolina: Arcaia Press, 2017. 251 pages with Works Cited, Recommended Reading, and photos. Trade paperback, $21.99.

Linville Gorge was the first Wilderness Area in the East, and today is best known for its beautiful waterfall, an easy hike from a Blue Ridge Parkway parking area in Western North Carolina between Spruce Pine and Boone. This unusual essay collection is not a standard collection of articles by historians, nor does it consist of documents that illuminate the area’s history. Remarkably, the Table of Contents does not list the authors of the thirty-three essays included. I assume the reason is that these entries are from grass-roots individuals, most no longer or never well known, who relate how they experienced the Linville Gorge. They show the reader how the Linville Gorge has made people feel over the last three centuries. And the “history” does come in prominently because the essays are in chronological order. It is quite an innovative work that falls somewhere between social history and environmental history, and has nothing to do with politics or economics. Those familiar with regional literature will recognize names like Lyman C. Draper, Ora Blackmun, Andre Michaux, Alberta Pierson Hannum, Shepherd M. Dugger, Margaret W. Morley, and Jonathan Williams, but they will also come to appreciate the perspectives of many lesser-known informants as well. The editor, Christopher Blake, is a retired English Professor and the head of Friends of Linville Gorge.

 

Tennessee’s Great Copper Basin by Harriet Frye. Charleston, South Carolina: Arcadia Press, 2017. 127 pages with a bibliography and photos on practically every page. Trade paperback, $21.95

Author Harriet Frye was born and raised in Ducktown in the heart of Southeastern Tennessee’s Copper Basin and currently serves as secretary of the Ducktown Basin Museum Board of Directors. Unless readers realize it from other sources, they would never guess from this book that over 50 square miles – 32,000 acres - were completely denuded of all vegetation by the copper smelting process in the Copper Basin in one of history’s worst environmental disasters. This book only refers to this reality in three passages. “ In 1889 . . . sulfur fumes from years of open smelting had already turned the surrounding hills into an eroded landscape of red clay” (14). “The process produced a dense sulfurous smoke that soon destroyed the surrounding vegetation” (21). “In the postcard image below . . . the once-barren landscape is punctuated with trees. . . “(75). Much has been written about the environmental devastation and disastrous health impacts here, and some of the photos do show denuded hillsides, but the captions and the four entries in the Bibliography do not highlight this dramatic dimension of the area’s heritage.

 

Charlottesville Beer: Brewing in Jefferson’s Shadow by Lee Graves. Charleston, South Carolina: American Palate/The History Press, 2017. 172 pages with both black-and-white and full color photos, an Index, Bibliography, and Appendix. Trade paperback, $21.99.

The second chapter of this book is entitled, “The Work of Women and Slaves,” and the rest of the book continues to be inclusive. This story is told in chronological order offering a fascinating historical perspective. Yet it also pays careful attention to the present, as well, including the “Brew Ridge Trail” through the shadows of the Blue Ridge Mountains! Perfect for those who enjoy their beer through their eye balls and brain as well as through their lips and tummies. Lee Graves, the author, is well qualified to write this book. Beginning in 1996, he wrote a weekly column about beer for the Richmond Times-Dispatch which was syndicated for several years. He is also the author of a book about Richmond beer.

 

Written in Blood: Courage and Corruption in the Appalachian War of Extraction edited by Wess Harris. Oakland, California: PM Press 2017. 252 pages with an index and color and black-and-white photos. Trade paperback, $19.95.

The heart of this book is two articles that were published first in the Summer 2011 issue of Appalachian Heritage when I was serving as its editor. “Esau in the Coal Fields” by Michael Kline exposes a horrendous practice at the Whipple Company Store near Oak Hill, West Virginia. When a coal miner living in their company town would be killed in the mines, his family would be evicted from their home unless the widow agreed to work as a prostitute upstairs in the Company Store. “Victory on Blair Mountain” by Wess Harris argues that the militant miners who fought the Battle of Blair Mountain in 1921 in West Virginia against the coal operators and the local, state, and federal governments did gain significant victories then and there. Before I published each of these articles I carefully edited them, with the consent of the authors, to be sure that the content was unassailable, and I checked with my supervisors at Berea College who publish Appalachian Heritage to make sure that publishing these articles would not result in any liabilities on their part. Written in Blood begins with all of the articles in Truth Be Told edited and published by Wess Harris in 2015 plus one poem. These essays include the two articles mentioned above and three articles presenting collaborating evidence that the practices at the Whipple Company Store were widespread as well as were other ways of sexually exploiting the women of the coal fields. The new book also includes 13 of the 14 articles in Dead Ringers: Why Miners March edited and published by Harris in 2012In addition, the new book includes interviews by Michael and Carrie Kline with two courageous defenders of coalfield workers, Tony Oppegard and Jack Spadero. It ends with three articles, not found elsewhere, by Nathan J. Fetty, Carrie Kline, and Wess Harris that bring coal field struggles up to date and provide both inspiration and concrete suggestions for constructive participation in rectifying past abuses and building a more just future. The result is that you need Written in Blood even if you have the two earlier books, but if you have Written in Blood, there is little need for either of the two previous books.

 

The Long Civil War in the North Georgia Mountains: Confederate Nationalism, Sectionalism, and White Supremacy in Bartow County, Georgia by Keith S. Hebert. Knoxville: The University of Tennessee Press, 2017. 282 pages with and Index, Notes, Appendix, tables, and maps. Hardback with pictorial cover, $50.

The length of the Civil War in Bartow County, Georgia, is very real to the author because he grew up white in Bartow County amidst an unrelenting exaltation of the “Lost Cause” of the Confederacy. He dedicates this book to his wife and to Kenneth W. Noe, the professor who first acquainted him with the complexities of Civil War history, especially at the edges of the Southern Mountains. Hebert is now a history professor at Auburn having previously worked for the state of Georgia in Historic Preservation. He beings this book with a chapter on ante-bellum Bartow County from 1830-1860, and follows chapters on the War with chapters on Reconstruction. “Keith Hebert has thoroughly mined the primary source record in one Georgia county to uncover a complex story of divided community identities, shifting economic tides, wartime destruction, and deep social change. Even more, Hebert has helped clarify the difference between the Appalachian and Southern Civil War experiences.” – Aaron Astor.

 

Yeager Airport and Charleston Aviation by Nicholas Keller. Charleston, South Carolina: Arcadia Press, 2017. 127 pages with photos on practically every page. Trade paperback, $21.99.

Part of the Images of Aviation Series, this is one of the most outstanding picture books published by Arcadia. It has amazing pictures of when the Kanawha River afforded the only place in Kanawha County where planes could land, the flattening of a mountain to build a new airport after the previous one was rendered unusable when the building of a rubber plant blocked its runways, and even the aviation program at West Virginia State College when it was an HBCU without the H. Most of the pictures here had never been previously published. The author, Nicholas Keller, is the Assistant Director of Yeager Airport.

 

. . . because of the little school up the creek: A Tribute to Francis Creek Elementary School Year 1965-66 by Carol M. Lucas. Huntington, West Virginia: Mid-Atlantic Highlands/Publishers Place, 2017. 189 pages with photos. Trade paperback with a cover that has flaps like a dust jacket, $15.

In 1965, Lincoln County, West Virginia, could not find a teacher for its one-room school on Francis Creek. A couple of weeks after the beginning of the school year, Carol Lucas who had grown up about ten miles from there, agreed to interrupt her college career at Marshall University and take the job. The school had 18 students, a coal-burning stove, a well with a pump, and an out-house. This book tells about this school year from the perspective of the teacher and also follows up on the lives of the students since that time.

 

The Works of James Agee, Volume 5 - Complete Film Criticism: Reviews, Essays, and Manuscripts edited by Charles Maland. Knoxville: The University of Tennessee Press, 2017. 1037 pages with an Index, Selected Bibliography, and Appendix. Hardback in dust jacket, $99.

No, that is not a typo. This tome has 1037, count ‘em, pages! The title does say it is the complete film criticism of James Agee (1909-1955), doesn’t it? Included are all his reviews that appeared in The Nation and Time as well as other publications and many previously unpublished reviews from his manuscripts. Agee was considered one of the most influential film critics of his time. He became Time’s book review editor in 1939, and in 1941 became Time’s film critic. From 1942-1948 he was a film critic for The Nation. Agee remains the only Southern Appalachian author to have garnered a Pulitzer Prize in the novel. It was awarded posthumously, for A Death in the Family in 1958. That novel was set in Knoxville, Tennessee, where Agee grew up. “With substantial introductory materials and an impressive effort to comprehensibly identify Agee’s Time reviews originally published anonymously, Complete Film Criticism is a more definitive work on Agee’s film writing than any other book to date” – John Belton. The author, Charles Maland is an English professor at the University of Tennessee.

 

Legends, Secrets and Mysteries of Asheville by Marla Hardee Milling. Charleston, South Carolina: The History Press, 2017. 172 pages with an index, bibliography, and many photos. Trade paperback, $21.99

The author, Marla Hardee Milling, is life-long Asheville resident who served as Director of Communications at Mars Hill College (now University) and as a news producer at Asheville’s CBS television station before becoming a full-time free lance writer. This book is not only very well researched, but also quite an enjoyable read. It will tell you Asheville's connection to Elvis Presley, the Hope Diamond, and Amelia Earhart.

 

One Foot in the Gravy, Hooked on the Sauce: Recipes You’ll Relish by Cat Pleska. Charleston, West Virginia: Mountain State Press, 2017. 102 pages with photos. Trade paperback, $10.00

Cat Pleska, a 7th generation West Virginian is very well known as a supporter of West Virginia literary efforts, as well as an editor, publisher, storyteller, book reviewer, and professor. The twenty-five people who have contributed recipes for this book thus reflect the state’s literary landscape as well as its diverse foodways. And Cat Pleska is not content to merely give you recipes without context. No, when her recipe-suppliers don’t provide background information on their grandparents or whatever stories their recipes conjure up, Pleska rises to the occasion with her own short essays that celebrate good food and fun-filled living.

 

Plott Hound Tales: Legendary People & Places behind the Breed by Bob Plott. Charleston, South Carolina: The History Press, 2017. 192 page with a bibliography and photos. Trade paperback, $21.99.

The author, Bob Plott, is a third great-grandson of George Plott who first brought Plott bear hounds to America in the mid-eighteenth century and a great-great grand-nephew of Henry Plott who introduced the breed to the Great Smoky Mountains in the early 1800s. This is his fifth History Press book. He provided the Plott hounds for the movie version of Ron Rash’s novel, The World Made Straight. The sub-title of this book is very descriptive. The majority of the chapters focus in on a single man who hunted with Plott hounds. And these men were among the most “colorful” characters the Smokies ever produced! Those who wish to know the Smokies from the perspective of those living there in the last couple hundred years cannot do without this book.

 

Fountain Inn by Caroline Smith Sherman and Dianne Gault Bailey. Charleston, South Carolina: Arcadia Press, 2017. 127 pages with lots of photos. Trade paperback, $21.99

Fountain Inn, South Carolina is a growing town of approximately 8,000 people within the Greenville Metropolitan Statistical Area. Its name came from the fact that an inn was established there around 1830 at a stagecoach stop notable for a spring that gushed up so strongly that it appeared to be a fountain. Part of the Images of America series, this book is based on photos with captions, but it has a decidedly historical perspective, and the photos proceed in chronological order. Co-author Caroline Smith Sherman is a Fountain Inn native, and Dianne Gault Bailey is a resident and the owner of Bookquest Used and Rare Books in Fountain Inn.

 

Nantahala National Forest: A History by Marci Spencer. Charleston, South Carolina: The History Press, 2017. 254 pages with both color and black-and-white photos, a Bibliography, an Appendix, a Foreword by George Ellison, A Commentary by James G. Lewis, and a Letter from a District Ranger by Lewis Kearney. Trade paperback, $21.99.

The Nantahala National Forest comprises half a million acres in far Western North Carolina, including over 30,000 acres of virgin forest and the highest waterfall in Eastern North America. In his Foreword, George Ellison, who is widely known as a foremost expert on this area, exudes enthusiasm for Marci Spencer’s book, “I must admit that I had supposed I knew all the stories about the region and had already written something about most of them. Wrong. I see now that I had only scratched the surface.” Quite an accolade from a locally renowned source.

 

A Brief History of Easley by R. Chad Stewart. Charleston, South Carolina: The History Press, 2017. 157 pages with photos, an Index, Notes, and appendices. Trade paperback, $21.99.

Easley, South Carolina, is a growing city of approximately 20,000 located in Pickens and Anderson Counties and within the Greenville Metropolitan Statistical Area. It sprung up after the Civil War when William Easley, a local attorney, persuaded a railroad line to come through his small settlement and establish a railroad station. Throughout the twentieth century, the proximity to cotton fields led to its becoming a center for the textile industry. As textiles waned, other industry arrived. The author is the seventh generation of his family to live in the area and a graduate student in history at Clemson University nearby.

 

NOVELS

Maranatha Road by Heather Bell Adams. Morgantown: Vandalia Press/West Virginia University Press, 2017. 367 pages with discussion questions. Trade Paperback, $18.99.

“It is a special pleasure to welcome this novel of kinship, loss, and love, set in the mountains of North Carolina. Heather Adams is an exciting new voice in Appalachian fiction.” – Robert Morgan. “Maranatha Road is an ode to beauty and suffering, grief and hope, in a small mountain town. Within its pages, Heather Bell Adams brings to vivid life two strong southern women, at odds yet bound by love’s saving grace.” – Amy Greene. “In prose as pure and clear and resonant as a mountain ballad, Adams takes us directly into the hearts of her characters.” – Kim Church.  This novel is set in a town like Hendersonville, North Carolina, where the author grew up. The stage is set for the drama as Sadie is grieving for the absence of her son, Mark, and Tinsley arrives claiming that Mark got her pregnant, betraying his fiancé.

           

Savage by James W. Cameron III. Nashville, Tennessee: self-published, 2017. 388 pages. Trade paperback, $13.95.

The author, James W. Cameron, graduated from the University of the South in Sewanee, Tennessee, with an English major and received his law degree from Vanderbilt. He now practices law in Nashville. This is the third novel in his Sewanee Series of books set in the Cumberland Plateau of southern Tennessee. The Savage Gulf is a wilderness area comprising 20,000 acres that includes virgin forest that was not logged because of its rough topography. This novel imagines a beast that is running wild in the Savage Gulf and those who seek to contain this threat.

 

Tapestry: A Hymn for the Cherokee by James W. Cameron III. Nashville, Tennessee: self-published, 2017. 316 pages. Trade paperback. $11.95

In this novel, the State of Georgia sues the State of Tennessee, claiming an 1818 survey falsely deprived Georgia of access to Nickajack Lake on the Tennessee River near the Georgia line. Then two lawyers for the Cherokee Nation get involved to argue that neither state has a true claim to this area.

 

These Healing Hills by Ann H. Gabhart. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Revell/Baker Publishing Group, 2017. 360 pages. Trade paperback, $15.99

“Reading These Healing Hills is like wrapping up in a beloved quilt and stepping back in time. Ann H. Gabhart captures a fascinating slice of Appalachian history in this tale of a mountain midwife and a soldier, bringing it to life as only a native Kentuckian can.” – Laura Frantz. “These Healing Hills is a beautifully written, heartwarming story of life in the Appalachian Mountains at the end of the Second World War.” – Amanda Cabot. Ann Gabhart is a very successful author of many novels, and was inspired to write this one by the work of the Frontier Nursing Service headquartered in Leslie County, Kentucky.

 

Little One by Timothy G. Huguenin. Bartow, West Virginia: self-published, 2017. 233 pages. Trade paperback, $11.95.

Timothy Huguenin grew up in the Canaan Valley of West Virginia, and now lives about an hour and a half drive from there over windy roads in Bartow, West Virginia a town of 111 residents in the 2010 census. This novel finds its protagonist, Kelsea Stone, relocating from Los Angeles to a haunted house her dead parents have willed to her in the Canaan Valley. “Little One is a frostbitten chiller that takes the traditional haunted house tale into fresh and intriguing territory. Bundle up and dig in!” – Mark Carver. “Little One is an absolutely wonderful book, totally captivating and gripping. One of the very best ghost stories I’ve ever read. Very highly recommended!” – John R. Little. “Little One is a charmingly quiet tale of the supernatural in which the human heart prevails over darkness, human beings matter when other things cannot, and we truly care about the protagonist. Huguenin is a writer to watch.” – Bruce McAllister.

 

Appalachian Star by Lori Landis. Surprise, Arizona: Winged Publications, 2017. 74 pages. Trade paperback, $5.95.

This is a short novel about a romance between a Star City, West Virginia, bistro owner and a professor at a “nearby” university. The author has worked as a registered nurse and in law enforcement. She lives in Ohio.         

Patches, Stay Put! Adventures of a Spunky Stray Cockatiel by Carol Mazurek. Huntington, West Virginia: Mid-Atlantic Highlands/Publishers Place, 2017. 152 pages, illustrated by the author. Trade paperback, $12.50.

The author, Carol Mazurek, has a masters in pastoral ministry and resides in West Virginia. This book is intended for both children and adults.

 

Liar’s Winter: An Appalachian Novel by Cindy K. Sproles. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Kregel Publications. 246 pages. Trade paperback, $14.99.

The author, Cindy K. Sproles, publishes devotions in newspapers and teaches at Christian writers conferences. She lives in East Tennessee, where this novel is set. However, the setting of the novel is not contemporary, but the nineteenth-century, and the protagonist is born with a red-wine birthmark which some consider the mark of the devil. “Cindy writes from the heart about the people she knows, in the place where she lives, all on journeys of faith and ultimately redemption.” – Adriana Trigiani.

 

Child’s Play by Nancy Swing. Pacific Grove, California: Park Place Publications, 2017. 275 pages. Trade paperback, $12.95.

The author, Nancy Swing, returns to her West Virginia roots for this novel after setting her first mystery in the Mekong Delta where she has also lived. The two protagonists of this novel are thirteen-year-old Eden Jones and fifty-year-old Bethanne Swanson. They collaborate because Eden’s best friend who is Bethanne’s sister, is found dead in a yellow Mercedes at the bottom of a nearby lake.

 

POETRY

Dear All by Maggie Anderson. New York: Four Way, 2017. 75 pages with Notes. Trade paperback, $15.95.

Maggie Anderson was honored at the 23rd annual Appalachian Literary Festival at Emory & Henry College. Her family has strong West Virginia ties, and she started her undergraduate work at West Virginia Wesleyan and finished it with high honors at West Virginia University where she also received both an M.A. in creative writing and an M.S.W. She started her career in social work, but in 1979 she published her first of many poetry books, The Great Horned Owl, and began working as a poet-in-residence in schools, correctional facilities, and libraries. She continued that work for ten years when she became a professor at Kent State University until her retirement in 2009. She now lives in Asheville, North Carolina. The title poem, Dear All, begins with a litany of ways she has known people throughout her life and ends with an assurance that “I have remained steadfast here/ I have remembered you wholly into this day.” Maurice Manning comments of this collection, “I love how this book moves from the personal to the public, from the private room of the heart where losses are conferred, to the world’s stage of mindless, unaccountable war. The two realms are inseparable, and despite the difference of scale, each deepens the other. . . The vulnerability in these poems is real, but so is the hope.” “Dear All brims with art and with danger, with elegance and with horror, brought forth by Anderson’s intense, persistent, and almost unimaginable attention to suffering—both local and global. These is such courage and much beauty in this book. . . . It is a darkly ravishing achievement.” – Lynn Emanuel.

 

ANTHOLOGIES

Eyes Glowing at the Edge of the Woods: Fiction and Poetry from West Virginia edited by Laura Long and Doug Van Gundy. Morgantown: Vandalia Press/West Virginia University Press, 2017. 319 pages. Trade paperback, $32.99.

This book provides an indispensable window into contemporary West Virginia writing. Each of the 63 authors here present work completed in this 21st Century. They include not only very well-established, highly acclaimed, authors like Jayne Anne Phillips, Pinckney Benedict, Maggie Anderson, Marc Harshman, Ann Pancake, Jeff Mann, Meredith Sue Willis, and the late Lee Maynard, but also up-and-coming writers already gaining national recognition like Jonathan Corcoran, Crystal Good, Matthew Neill Null, Marie Manilla, and Glen Taylor. “A rumination on what it means to be of a mountain place in this day and time. In vivid, fresh language West Virginians explore place, identity, family and so much more.” – Crystal Wilkinson. “Never sentimental or clichéd, this essential collection captures the complexity and richness of West Virginia today. Revealing a deep, sometimes uneasy connection to home, these stories and poems carry us into the coalfields, and hollers, cities, and small towns across West Virginia, and take surprising turns along the way to illuminate its beauty, darkness, violence, and grace” – Carter Sickels.   

Anthology of Appalachian Writers: Charles Frazier, Volume IX edited by Sylvia Bailey Shurbutt. Shepherdsville, West Virginia: Shepherd University, 2017. 261 pages with photos. Trade paperback, $ 20.00.

For almost a dozen years, Shepherd University, under the leadership of Sylvia Shurbutt, an English Professor there, has hosted an annual Appalachian Heritage Festival. Each year this festival features a regional writer, and last year that honor went to Charles Frazier who grew up in Andrews, North Carolina. He is the author of Cold Mountain, which won the National Book Award for 1997 and sold over three million copies worldwide. In 2003 it was adopted into an Academy Award-winning film by the same name. Subsequently, Frazier has published two additional novels, Thirteen Moons and Nightwoods. Frazier’s presence in this anthology is limited to an excerpt from Cold Mountain and an interview. Most of this volume consists essentially of a literary magazine with photographic art, poems, short stories, and a one-act play. Among the contributors are numerous relatively unknown regional writers along with West Virginia Poet Laureate, Marc Harshman, former North Carolina poet laureate, Joseph Barthanti, and other well-recognized authors including Jesse Graves, Darnell Arnoult and Gretchen Moran Laskas.

 

CHILDRENS AND YOUTH BOOKS

Mysteries in the History: Stories of Mystery by 3rd Grade Students at Lewisburg Elementary. Lewisburg, West Virginia: Turtle Shell Publishing, 2017. 30 pages. Trade paperback , $5.00.

This little book includes stories by seven third-graders at Lewisburg Elementary School. The stories deal with haunted houses, Halloween, and other scary stuff.