Bearwallow: A Personal History of a Mountain Homeland by Jeremy B. Jones. Durham, North Carolina: Blair, a 2021 paperback edition of a 2014 hardback release. 251 pages. Trade paperback.
This book won the Gold Award in memoir from the Independent Publishers. Bearwallow is the name of the mountain that rises above the small Henderson County, North Carolina, community of Edneyville. Jeremy B. Jones was raised there and returned, newly married, to teach at the elementary school he had attended as a child. "'Me in place and the place in me,' Seamus Heaney declares in his poem 'A Herbal.' That idea is at the core of this deeply satisfying memoir of one man's exile from and return to his Appalachian homeland. Jeremy Jones shows the complexity of a region and a people too often reduced to the crudest of stereotypes, and by doing so gains even greater self-awareness. Bearwallow is a book to be savored." ―Ron Rash. "Bearwallow is a thoughtful reflection on what it means to be a particular kind of southerner―one who went away and returned to see his homeplace anew through fresh eyes. Jeremy B. Jones revels in what many have known for years―that there is not now and never has been a singular Appalachian experience. Jones’s writing is clear-eyed, curious, and reverent. This memoir is a pure pleasure to read."―Beth Macy. "Bearwallow is a marvel of a book―intricate and wise. Jones folds the past in with the present―his ancestors’ stories in with his own and those of the new generations of immigrants―tales told in beautiful, meditative prose that stack up like the mountain ridges, one on top of another in a seamless continuum." ―Mesha Maren. "In prose vivid and fresh, Jeremy Jones gives us an intimate and in-depth study of contrasting worlds―Latin America, the Blue Ridge Mountains, old families, new Hispanic arrivals, the pull of home, and the need to escape. . . . It is a story of both teaching and learning, of roots, and of unexpected discovery. Bearwallow is a delight to read." ―Robert Morgan. The author, Jeremy B. Jones, now teaches at Western Carolina University.
50 Hikes in the Carolina Mountains by Johnny Molloy. New York: Countryman Press/ W. W. Norton, 2021. 255 pages replete with full-color photos and maps. Trade paperback.
When you combine the know-how of a prestigious New York publishing house with the overwhelming experience and acumen of guidebook guru Johnny Molloy, you get a truly superlative and beautiful hiking guide to arguably an unsurpassed wonderland of hiking trails. Molloy has hiked hundreds of trails in the Carolina Blue Ridge, so you gotta respect the 50 he picks out for this guide. Each includes one to four color pictures, a topographical map, directions, hiking time, a descriptive itinerary, elevation, difficulty and other essential information.
Lonely Planet Great Smoky Mountains National Park by Amy C. Balfour, Kevin Raub, Regis St. Louis, and Greg Ward. Wilson, Wyoming: Lonely Planet Global, Inc., a 2021 revised second edition of a 2019 release. 223 pages with color photos and maps. 5” X 7.75” trade paperback.
No, this is not a guide to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. It is a guide to Atlanta and North Georgia, East Tennessee, and Western North Carolina for the conventional tourist. Only about fifty pages deal with the Park. Mostly, it is a guide to where to spend money in categories like “drinking,” “shopping,” “eating,” “entertainment,” “tours,” “sleeping,” etc.
Otto Wood The Bandit: The Freighthopping, Thief, Bootlegger, and Convicted Murderer behind the Appalachian Ballads by Trevor McKenzie. Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 2021. 160 pages with a Foreword by David Holt, an Index, Notes, and Suggested Readings on Appalachian Crime and Music. Trade paperback.
Forgive me, but one tune keeps coming into my head as I think about this book and Trevor McKenzie – “I polished up that handle so carefully that now I am the ruler of the queen’s navy.” Trevor McKenzie has been working diligently for years with Fred J. Hay at the W. L. Eury Special Appalachian Collection in the Belk Library at Appalachian State University. Now, in August 2021 he has been selected to be the new Director of the region’s most celebrated Appalachian Center there at Appalachian State and he has published a book with the region’s most prestigious university press. Otto Wood (1893-1930) was best known for having escaped from five state penitentiaries eleven times! Notorious in his own time, his legend only grew as Doc Watson popularized a ballad that told his story. “Trevor McKenzie has crafted a fascinating history of Otto Wood, a complex and outlandish North Carolinian. Not only is this an engrossing tale of Wood's short yet eventful life; it also provides a great window into early twentieth-century North Carolina.”-- Daniel Pierce. “An exciting and deeply absorbing saga of the charismatic and complex outlaw Otto Wood--a self-styled Appalachian Jesse James. Who better than insightful historian, killer storyteller, and native son of the Blue Ridge Trevor McKenzie to tackle a question that has bedeviled southerners for almost a century: 'Otto, why didn't you run?'”--Sarah Bryan. Of course, David Holt, the four-time Grammy Award-winning bluegrass musician and expert on Appalachian music and lore, wrote the Foreword.
A Sweet Spot Called Home: Oakvale, W.V.: How We Lived and Why It Matters by Carl Boggess Honaker. Charleston, South Carolina: Palmetto Publishing, 2021. 193 pages with photos and preliminary essays by Randolph Honaker and Susie Honaker Wirzbicki. Trade paperback.
When he died in 2000, Carl Boggess Honaker asked his brother and daughter to see if they could publish the memoir he had written. Twenty years later, the pandemic provided the time and solitude that his daughter, Susie Honaker Wirzbicki and his brother, Randolph, needed to get the job done. This is not the story of how Carl Honaker became a scientist and professor. It is the story of his home town and the institutions there that formed not just him, but his kinfolks and neighbors in the 1930s.
Across the Broken Bridge by Jordan R. Samuel. Camerton, North Carolina: self-published, 2021. 681 pages. Trade paperback.
Jordan R. Samuel is the pen name of Dixie Abernathy, a town commissioner in Camerton, North Carolina, a Charlotte suburb and a former teacher and administrator in the Gaston County Schools who is now a professor at Queens University in Charlotte. This novel is set in the area around Chimney Rock and Lake Lure in the North Carolina mountains where Abernathy has frequently visited. Across the Broken Bridge is the second novel in a trilogy which began with On the Eighteenth of May, which the author described as a “sad sweet love story” which involved considerable research on her part to carefully depict its connections with the Cherokee people. Across the Broken Bridge takes place primarily in the 1940 and 1950s. The protagonist, Burana, experiences trauma as a girl, and faces the very human challenge of deciding whether to turn her back on the broken bridges of her past or to try to cross them.
Blue Line Down by Maris Lawyer. Spartanburg, South Carolina: Hub City Press, 2021. 216 pages. Trade paperback.
Every other year, the South Carolina Arts Commission holds a contest to discover the best unpublished novel that has come out of their state in the last two years. What makes for a huge and impressive number of contestants is that the prize consists of a guarantee of publication by Spartanburg’s Hub City Press, one of the country’s most outstanding publishing houses located outside New York City. The Blue Line Down tells the story of Jude Washer, a working class West Virginian who comes of age during the turbulent 1920s a time of great labor unrest. He and his buddy, Harvey, naively join the Baldwin-Felts Agency, a violent private police force hired by the coal industry to bust the union. When they realize what they have gotten into, they let the blue line down and take off, landing in the South Carolina Blue Ridge amidst a gang of bootleggers. "The Blue Line Down never lets up. Maris Lawyer has spun a tale of violent grace and surprising warmth that moves at the pace of a thunderbolt, carrying the reader right into the troubled heart of the Appalachian coal wars and Carolina bootlegging days." —Taylor Brown. “The Blue Line Down is an exhilarating tale of family lost and family found. Jude Washer’s fight to heal his past as he makes his way through the turbulent world of 1920s coal mining and bootlegging is unforgettable." —Jessica Handler. “This is rugged writing with a moral compass and a tarnished hero slowly trying to come clean. Stripped-down language and propulsive storytelling keep these pages turning.” —Kirkus Reviews, starred review. This is Maris Lawyer’s first book. She is a native of the South Carolina Blue Ridge who graduated from nearby Anderson University and now lives in Easley, South Carolina.
The Endling by Deborah Maxey. Birmingham, Alabama: Firefly Southern Fiction, 2021. 290 pages. Trade paperback.
Emerson Grace Coffee is the endling in this Christian novel because she is the last surviving member of a Native American tribe. She was home-schooled by her grandfather, Edward Two Eagles, who left her a stone cabin in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia. Shortly after she moves there as a young adult from New York City, the FBI invites her to join their witness protection program because a notorious New York gang has ordered a hit on her. She refuses, vowing to depend on her knowledge of the mountains. Her decision-making becomes more challenging when three innocent children living in an artist colony nearby are caught up in her drama. "Dive into a world of enchanting characters from the small Virginia mountain town of Colony Row. You'll fall in love with Emerson Grace as she unravels the last secret her grandfather, Edward Two Eagles, left for her to solve. The mystery twists into powerful suspense that leads Emerson back to herself and gives her the wit and strength to stop the sinister plot to her own murder. Powerful." --Linda Evans Shepherd. The author, Deborah Maxey, is a psychotherapist and painter as well as a debut novelist.
Hunter’s Moon: The Drownings at Pickerin Hollow by J. Kyle Johnson. Knoxville, Tennessee: Ex-Pats Ink, 2020. 171 pages. Trade paperback.
Fictional Pickerin Hollow is in Bell County, Kentucky, where the author was born before being raised in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. This novel is the second in the Firedamp Trilogy set in 1930s Eastern Kentucky with Deputy Sheriff Sam Garrett serving as the protagonist for all three. In this novel Garrett becomes the enemy of a local moonshiner who resents the fact that Garrett has ordered his children removed from their home for alleged abuse. The author, J. Kyle Johnson, is now retired from a thirty-year career in science and technology.
The Last of the Swindlers by Peter Loewer. Asheville, North Carolina: Pisgah Press, 2021. Trade paperback.
This is a murder mystery set in a small town in the North Carolina Blue Ridge. There, Oliver Swindler, a New York book editor, has returned to his home town to become the local newspaper editor. As soon as he arrives, he discovers murder, fraud, deceit, and corruption. How can he respond? The author, Peter Loewer, is a New Yorker who has written more than thirty non-fiction books, including The Wild Gardener. After moving to Asheville, he hosted, for many years, a monthly call-in radio show on public radio to answer gardening questions. He is also a print-maker and artist.
Lost in the Shadows: One Memory, Two Loves by Alan M. Oberdeck. Bloomington, Indiana: LifeRich Publishing, 2020. 163 pages. Trade paperback.
What is lost in the shadows is John’s memory, a result of a car accident on Mystery Mountain in West Virginia. By the time he starts to recover his memory, he has begun a love affair with a nurse named Susan. As the sub-title reveals, he then begins to be aware that Susan is not the only love interest in his life. Uh, oh. The author, Alan M. Oberdeck, is a retired traveling salesman who has published half a dozen books, including three on deer-hunting.
Lost River by J. Todd Scott. New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons: a 2021 first paperback edition of a 2020 hardback release by the same publisher. 496 pages. Trade paperback.
This is a novel of the drug epidemic set in fictional Angel, Kentucky, and told in three voices. Trey is a local studying to be a medic. Casey is a Drug Enforcement Agent (DEA) who sees herself as independent of local law enforcement. Paul Mayfield is a former police chief whose own young wife has succumbed to addiction. "Scott, a 25-year veteran of the DEA, writes with authority about the drug crisis.” -- Publishers Weekly. “This grim, gritty novel captures the feeling of hopelessness that the opioid epidemic brings… Well-told but raw as an open wound and not for the squeamish.”—Kirkus Reviews. “Scott pushes his narrative to its wild conclusion in rich, organic prose.”—Booklist. This is the fourth novel by J. Todd Scott who is a Kentucky native and has had a DEA career of more than twenty years.
Murder Creek: A Hanging at Bloody Harlan by J. Kyle Johnson. Knoxville: Tennessee: Ex-Pats Ink, 2021. 170 pages. Trade paperback.
This is the third and final book in the Firedamp Trilogy of three novels published over the last three years. The protagonist is 1930s Bell County, Kentucky, Deputy Sheriff, Sam Garrett. He continues to have trouble with his brother, “Tick,” but his greatest crisis occurs when the FBI asks him to report back on the conflict between coal miners and coal companies in neighboring Harlan County. The author, J. Kyle Johnson, was born in Bell County, but raised in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. He is retired from a thirty-year careen in science and technology.
The New Wine Transportation Company by Heather Norman Smith. Greeneville, South Carolina: Ambassador International, 2021. 185 pages. Trade paperback.
The New Wine Transportation Company is organized by Pastor Daniel Whitefield in the little town of Springville in the foothills of the North Carolina Blue Ridge to provide safe passage home for those who have been drinking at the new bar that just opened up in town. Many of his congregants in the Springville Community Christian Church want to close the bar down, not serve its patrons. The author, Heather Norman Smith lives outside Winston-Salem with her husband and four children. She is involved in youth ministry and cherishes singing about Jesus. This is her fourth book, including a book of devotionals.
Presence: The Story of Adel by Lana Wetzel. Morning Song Press, 2021. 299 pages. Trade paperback.
When Adel Davis inherits her grandparent’s farm in the Georgia Blue Ridge, she and her son, Noah move there from her home in San Francisco. What about the Georgia men who are interested in her? After all, this is a Christian romance, and Nathan Shepherd seems to be the front-runner. This is the first book by Lana Wetzel, a resident of the northeastern Georgia mountains. She homeschools her four kids.
Refuge by Dot Jackson. New York: Diversion Books, a 2021 paperback reprint of a 2006 release. 339 pages. Trade paperback.
Refuge won the Weatherford Award in Fiction and Poetry in 2006 when that award was more respected than it is now. The protagonist, Mary Seneca Steele, leaves her abusive husband in Charleston, South Carolina, and takes her son and daughter to the South Carolina Blue Ridge where she has roots. “Refuge is a wonderful story about the need to find one’s place in the world―and the price paid to remain there. With her narrative gift and keen ear for Appalachian speech, Dot Jackson gives her readers a beautifully rendered portrait of a lost time and place.” ―Ron Rash. “Refuge is an intensely readable novel of the complexity of family ties―the struggle of a strong woman through the odyssey back to her roots. Dot Jackson is a true Southern voice, a master storyteller and an Appalachian treasure.”―Dori Sanders. “Exceptionally well-written, Refuge is very strongly recommended for the readers seeking a vivid tale of love, intimacy, fate, and an evocative mystery.”―Midwest Book Review. “What a glorious event is the publication of this beautiful novel by Dot Jackson, one of the most gifted souls who ever breathed the sweet air of Appalachia. In Refuge she confirms the verity that the love we give, whether to place, people or other creatures, is all the shelter we need.” ―Jerry Bledsoe. Dot Jackson (1932-2016) was a columnist for the Charlotte Observer from Ashe County, North Carolina, who campaigned against the New River Dam that was never built. She retired to the South Carolina Blue Ridge where she was raised and wrote this one book which thoroughly demonstrated her superior story-telling art.
Half-Life by Jane Ann Fuller. Russell, Kentucky: Sheila-Na-Gig Editions, 2021. 92 pages. Trade paperback.
A half-life is a life led without the other half, and this collection is understandably, from start to finish, obsessed with a husband’s suicide. Even the poem, “Strawberry Pie” is about a woman dying of cancer. Yet, redemption also resides here, mostly in the life of nurtured plants. “These poems originate in pain, yet they radiate light through their intense music and color . . .However harrowing the questions, Fuller asks them with a rare and original grace.” – Hillary Sideris.
Pandemic Evolution, Days 1-100: Poets Respond to the Art of Matthew Wolfe edited by Hayley Haugen. Russell, Kentucky: Sheila-Na-Gig Editions, 2021. 305 pages with color photos. 8.5” X 8.5” trade paperback.
For 100 days of the pandemic, Matthew Wolfe, a West Virginia writer, musician, and artist, took pictures of random knickknacks and keepsakes he kept on a hutch and posted them on the internet. Then Hayley Haugen asked poets to send her poems inspired by the photos of the objects. 44 responded, and the result is this book. Hayley Mitchell Haugen is an English professor at Ohio University, Southern, in Ironton, Ohio.