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December 2017 - Reviews

December 2017 - Reviews



Policies, Preservation & Promotion: Connemara & Appalachia: A Comparative Study of Two Intangible Heritage Cultures, Connemara, Ireland and Appalachia, U. S. A.  by Anna Aspell. Beau Bassin, Mauritius; LAP Lambert Academic Publishing, 2017. 60 pages with a bibliography and appendices. Trade paperback, $42.00

This book consists of the dissertation submitted by Anna Aspell for a degree at Galway-Mayo Institute of Technology in her native Ireland. Aspell studied at Western Carolina University as well as Galway-Mayo and limited her study to the story-telling and music traditions of Jackson County, North Carolina and the Connemara District in Western Ireland. At the end of the dissertation she includes an interview with Leo Hallisay, the Director of the Connemara Environmental Educational and Cultural Center in Letterfrack, Ireland, and Scott Philyaw, the Director of the Mountain Heritage Center in Cullowhee, North Carolina, along with the late Jim Wayne Miller’s poem, “The Mountaineer Losing Touch with his Traditions.”


Trials of a Scold: The Incredible True Story of Writer Anne Royall by Jeff Biggers. New York: Thomas Dunne/St. Martins, 2017. 260 pages with an Index, Bibliography, and Notes. Hardback in dust jacket, $26.99

A scold is a woman who nags or grumbles constantly, and Anne Royall (1769-1854) really was tried and convicted in 1829 of being a “common scold”! Why? Because she was arguably America’s first professional female journalist and she dared to raise a stink about the need for separation of church and state. Called a “literary wildcat from the backwoods,” by a competing male editor, Royall was born Anne Newport in Baltimore but grew up on the western frontier of Pennsylvania and western Virginia. She and her widowed mother were employed as servants when she was 16 in the home of William Royall in Sweet Springs, Virginia, now Monroe County, West Virginia. Twelve years later, after educating herself in Royall’s extensive library, Anne married him, much to the chagrin of his family. After his death fifteen years later, she traveled to Alabama and began her career as a travel writer. In 1831, she established a newspaper in Washington, D.C. that exposed political corruption and fraud. She continued as an independent newspaperwoman there until her death at the age of 85 in 1854. Lee Smith called Anne Royall, “the most interesting woman I had never heard of” and the Biggers biography, a story that “holds reverberations and implications for us today.” Dorothy Allison reacted by suggesting, “a contemporary of Alexander Hamilton, Anne Royall deserves her own musical. Short of that, we have Jeff Biggers’ wonderful exploration of what made her the most despised woman of her time . . . as well as a role model for those of us living in the age of Trump. Jeff Biggers is a wonderful writer and almost as brave as his role model—the incomparable Anne Royall.” Publishers Weekly gave this book a coveted starred review adding, “A lively and witty chronicler, Biggers covers Royall’s trial as well as her upbringing in the woods of Appalachia. Captivating and thoroughly researched.” The life of Jeff Biggers was transformed when Appalachian activist, Don West (1906-1992) picked him up hitch hiking in West Virginia. Biggers’ first book pays homage to West - No Lonesome Road: The Prose and Poetry of Don West (2004), a book he and I co-edited. It won an American Book Award. Since then he has written another tribute to our region: The United States of Appalachia, How Mountaineers Brought Independence, Culture and Enlightenment to America (2007), Reckoning at Eagle Creek: The Secret Legacy of Coal in the Heartland (2010)set near where he lived as a boy in Southern Illinois, State Out of the Union: Arizona and the Final Showdown Over the American Dream (2012) which deals with the state where he lived as a young man, and In the Sierra Madre (2006) about one of his favorite travel destinations.. Biggers presently teaches at the University of Iowa.


James Wright: A Life in Poetry by Jonathan Blunk. New York: Farrar, Straus, & Giroux/Macmillan, 2017. 496 pages with an index, notes and photos. Hardback in dust jacket. $40.00.

James Wright (1927-1980) was a Pulitzer Prize winning poet who grew up in a working class family in Martins Ferry, Ohio, across the river from West Virginia. This biography is exceptional in its depth. Jonathan Blunk was writing a thesis at Cornell on Wright at the time of Wright’s death in 1980. Ten years later he began recording more than 300 hours of interviews with people close to Wright, and in 2002 he began to work seriously on this biography, authorized by Wright’s family that providing access to a plethora of letters and other intimate materials. “How did James Wright become one of the great poets of his time, a deep seeker of what he called ‘the pure clear word’? Blunk’s definitive, perceptive, and compassionate biography tells the full story of a representative and necessary maker. A sustaining achievement.” – Edward Hirsch. “[Wright’s] life reads like something out of a Greek myth or Puccini opera: poverty, self-destruction, drunkenness, doubt, loving friends, illicit romance, broken marriage, wondrous success, and possible madness all circling around a seemingly endless and singular devotion to the art of poetry. Poet and critic Blunk has done a commendable job in telling Wright’s story.” Blunk is a graduate of the Warren Wilson College MFA program and was a researcher at the Institute of Jazz Studies of Rutgers University. He has produced a regular radio program and additional important programs on reggae and jazz.


The News Untold: Community Journalism and the Failure to Confront Poverty in Appalachia by Michael Clay Carey. Morgantown: West Virginia University Press, 2017. 242 pages with an Index, Bibliography and Notes. Trade paperback, $26.95.

The author, Michael Clay Carey, worked as a newspaper reporter and editor for ten years before becoming a journalism professor at Samford University in Birmingham. This book zonks in on three small Appalachian communities with local newspapers to examine not only how the newspapers both covered and ignored regional poverty but also how local residents responded. The final appendix provides suggestions for local journalists. “A compassionate and thoughtful exploration of an important topic. Carey draws on his skills as a journalist to create an intimate portrait of these three communities, while using his training as a scholar and social scientist to give us a rigorously researched book.” – John Hatcher.


In the House of the Serpent Handler: A Story of Faith and Fleeting Fame in the Age of Social Media by Julia C. Duin. Knoxville: The University of Tennessee Press, 2017. 227 pages with an Index, Bibliography, and photos. Trade paperback, $24.95,

This book reports on six serpent-handling churches in five states, including two whose pastors died from serpent bites, then it focuses in on one young Cocke County, Tennessee, preacher. “Fearless and talented religion writer Julia Duin takes the reader to the inner sanctum of an East Tennessee serpent-handling community led by young, media-savvy preacher Andrew Hamblin, who uses social media tools to build his brand and sustain his flock. Duin chronicles Hamblin’s journey from his highs in raising up a growing worship community and burgeoning fame from reality television to his lows at the collapse of his serpent-handling community and the dissolution of his family.”—David Arant. This is the sixth book on American religion published by the author, Julia C. Duin. She lives in Seattle where she has been the religion editor of the Washington Times.


Phantoms of the South Fork: Captain McNeill and His Rangers by Steve French. Kent, Ohio: Kent State University Press, 2017. 294 pages with an Index, Bibliography, Notes, maps and photos. Hardback with dust jacket, $39.95.

The South Fork in the title is the South Fork of the Potomac River. It situates this Civil War history in the general area where West Virginia, Virginia, and Maryland converge. “Steve French has mined a trove of fresh primary sources to produce the definitive account of the overlooked but fascinating exploits of Captain John Hansen McNeill’s company of Confederate partisan rangers.” – Robert J. Wynstra. “Phantoms of the South Fork is a great contribution to a growing body of literature studying so-called “irregular” conflicts in the Civil War. . . . McNeill’s Rangers can be seen here planning raids, kidnapping Union generals, defending mountain gaps, and bushwhacking the Union Army.” – Joseph M. Beilein, Jr. This is the third Civil War book of Steve French, a former middle school history teacher.


Holler, Heaven and Home: A Journey of Faith by Mary Jenkins. Bloomington, Indiana: West Bow/Thomas Nelson & Zondervan, 2017. 140 pages. Trade paperback, $13.95.

This is the autobiography of Mary Jenkins who was born in rural Bell County, Kentucky, in the mid-1950s, the youngest of seven siblings. Her story is augmented by the words to songs and hymns that express her experiences and reactions along the way. She is now a retired elementary teacher and resides in Pineville, Kentucky, the seat of her native Bell County.


Hillbillies to Heroes: A True Story: The Memoir of James Quinton Kelley as told to S. L. Kelley. Farmingdale, New York: Outstanding Literature Publishers: 2017. 649 pages with photos and a map. Hardback in dust jacket. $36.00.

S.L. Kelley, interviewed her father, James Quinton Kelley (1922-2015), extensively to prepare this huge book that tells a fascinating story. Mr. Kelley grew up in the Coker Creek community in the mountains of Monroe County, Tennessee. He left there to serve in World War II and then returned for the rest of his life. S L. Kelley is a video producer and writer.


Foothills Voices: Echoes of Southern Appalachia edited by Brennan LeQuire, Nancy McEntee and Jennifter W. Spirko. Maryville, Tennessee: Friends of the Blount County Public Library, 2017. 273 pages with an index and photos. Oversized trade paperback, $14.95.

Twelve local authors share their stories in this book. Although they all concern the Blount County area, some take the form of creative non-fiction, while others are biography or autobiography. More than one is a scholarly historical essay complete with endnotes and a bibliography. They convey the experiences of Native Americans and African-Americans as well as those of mountaineers descended from European families. This is a beautiful example of the kind of creative programming possible for Friends of the Library groups. The creation of this book was part of a year-long Southern Appalachian Studies speaker series at the Blount County Public Library and a writing course in creative non-fiction led by author and historian Nancy McEntee. Her co-editors for this book are Brennan LeQuire, an Information Services Librarian and local genealogists and Jennifer W. Spirko, the Youth Services Manager of the Blount County Library.


The Asheville Bee Charmer Cookbook by Carrie Schloss. Chicago: Surrey/Agate, 2017. 207 pages with an index, appendices, and color photos, some full-page. Hardback with pictorial cover, $21.95.

In 2014, Jillian Kelly and Kim Allen opened the Asheville Bee Charmer, the kind of store that is quintessentially contemporary Asheville. For some reason they use the adjective, “varietal” as a noun to designate the varieties of honey they sell. They infuse some of the honey with herbs and spices to create blends, and they also sell honey-based beauty products and bee-themed accessories, like jewelry. When Kim Allen was in college, she and Carrie Schloss became life-long friends, and when Schloss embarked on a career as a personal chef and culinary consultant, working from her Illinois home, she became a natural to write a book of recipes using the different varieties and blends of honey available at the Asheville Bee Charmer. “A truly original cookbook with inventive and delicious recipes that will expand any cook’s repertoire. An added bonus for the modern cook is the table that shows which recipes are dairy free, gluten free, and vegetarian. The variety of the honey-based recipes is beautifully matched to the range of honey blends and varietals available at the shop itself.” —Peggy Ryan


Explore Asheville Outdoors by John Verhovshek. Birmingham, Alabama: Menasha Ridge Press, 2018. 22 pages. A pocket-sized, spiral-bound paperback, $9.95.

This little book is easy to carry in a pocket and simply gives twenty one-page run-downs of cool places to hike, bike, paddle, and zipline outdoors in and near Asheville, North Carolina. The last page suggests which of the twenty places are best for kids, dogs, plants, wheelchairs, views, hot days, and proximity to downtown Asheville. The author, John Verhovshek, lives in Weaverville, North Carolina, and works in health care policy education and training.



Some Small Magic by Billy Coffey. Nashville, Tennessee: Thomas Nelson, 2017. 402 pages. Trade paperback, $15.99.

This is the eighth novel by Billy Coffey, all set in Mattingly, Virginia, a fictional community located in the Shenandoah Valley, the author’s home as well. In this book, the protagonist, Abel Shifflet is a bullied schoolboy who leaves his single mother, a waitress, in search of his father. “on one level, this novel continues a long line of appealing road books . . . But Some Small Magic is also a tale of a journey from doubt to faith, and from hardscrabble despair to the highest form of hope. It’s a vivid and compelling read.” – Stephen Kiernan.


Welcome to Possum Crossing: A Tale of Place in West Virginia by Leigh Anne Cooper. Bloomington, Indiana: AuthorHouse, 2017. 128 pages. Trade paperback. $13.99.

This unabashedly chauvinistic novel, written in dialect, makes up for a paucity of plot with a heap of humor while harking back to a supposedly greater time when small town positive values ruled. No biographical information on the author is provided.


Hidden Scars: A Sam Blackman Mystery by Mark de Castrique. Scottsdale, Arizona: Poisoned Pen Press, 2017. 246 pages. Trade paperback, $15.95

Mark de Castrique grew up in Western North Carolina. After a career in film and television promotion, he retired to Charlotte and has subsequently published more than a dozen mysteries. This novel is one of several featuring Sam Blackman, an Asheville private eye. In this book Blackman reluctantly takes on the case of the murder of a student at Black Mountain College back in the 1940s. Contemporary murders related to the case follow.


The Boardinghouse by Carol Ervin. St. James City, Florida: self-published, 2017. 234 pages. Trade paperback, $14.99

This is book five in the author’s “Mountain Women” Series inspired by reading Roy B. Clarkson’s Tumult on the Mountain, a non-fiction book that tells of early West Virginia logging operations. In this book, the protagonist, May Rose, achieves a dream of having a boarding house to run and a family to love in the early 1900s, but faces many unexpected challenges in the process and as a result. The author, Carol Ervin, lives with her husband on a hillside farm in West Virginia.


Kith and Kin by Carol Ervin. St. James City, Florida, self-published, 2017. 275 pages. Trade paperback. $14.99.

The sixth in the authors “Mountain Women” Series, this book follows the protagonist of earlier novels, May Rose, into the spring of 1920. Her kinfolks provide not only support but also challenges that affect her relationships with her half-brothers, her step-daughter, and her step-granddaughter.


Visions by Kat Holladay. North Charleston, South Carolina: CreateSpace, 2016. 136 pages. Trade paperback, $8.99.

At the beginning of this novel, the protagonist, Ruby Lynn Fortson, is a fourteen-year-old single mother living in Cumberland Gap, Tennessee. In the emotional fervor of a local tent revival, she discovers that she is clairvoyant. That gift changes her life and eventually brings her to Arkansas following a vision of a missing girl there. Kat Holladay, the author, has lived in Arkansas for over 40 years and is a retired speech teacher.


Blue Ridge Sunrise by Denise Hunter. Nashville, Tennessee: Thomas Nelson, 2017. 329 pages. Trade paperback, $15.99.

In less than 20 years, Denise Hunter, who lives in Indiana, has published more than 30 romances, set in locales as diverse as Nantucket, Kansas, and Montana. Two of her books have been made into Hallmark movies; she has appeared on the 700 Club, and she has won many awards in her genre. Blue Ridge Sunrise is set in the fictional North Georgia community of Copper Creek. The plot takes off as the protagonist, Zoe Collins, unexpectedly returns to her home community after a five-year absence with her boy friend, Kyle and her daughter, Gracie. Her grandmother has died and left her the family peach orchard. Complications arise because Cruz Huntley is still in Copper Creek and has feelings beyond the betrayal he felt when Zoe cheated on him. “Hunter's latest is sure to please her fans, as well as readers seeking an immersive romance, well-drawn characters, and a satisfying ending.” - Library Journal.


Madam’s Creek by Betsy Reeder. Sarasota, Florida: Canterbury House, 2017. 220 pages. Trade paperback, $14.95.

This historical novel centers on a romance between Maylene Farley and Marcus Lilly, childhood companions in West Virginia near where Madam’s Creek flows into the New River. Their relationship blossoms into romance only to be torn asunder by the conscription of Marcus into the Confederate Army. New challenges arise as they attempt to resume their romance after the war.  “Madam's Creek explores the power of love and the sting of betrayal in a land shattered by war. The magnificent landscape of the New River serves as a backdrop for the tender love story of Marcus and Maylene, fully human characters sure to win your hearts." - Donna Meredith. The author, Betsy Reeder, grew up in rural Maryland but now lives in West Virginia and works as a biologist and writer.



In These Mountains: Select Poems by Sarah McHatton. Cosby, Tennessee: self-published, 2017. 56 pages. Trade paperback, $7.99.

This is the eighth book and fourth poetry collection that Sarah McHatton has published in the last three years. She grew up in Cosby, Tennessee, at the edge of the Great Smoky Mountains Park in Cocke County. The poems here center on the poet’s reflections on the few months recently in which both her grandmother and mother died.



Pure Heart: A Spirited Tale of Grace, Grit, and Whiskey by Troy Ball with Bret Witter. New York: Dey Street/William Morrow/HarperCollins, a 2017 paperback reprint of a 2017 release. 267 pages. Trade paperback, $15.99.

Troy Ball is a woman who exemplifies grace and grit, but it wasn’t until after she and her husband moved to Asheville, North Carolina, and raised their children that she got into whiskey – in a big way. She is the founder and principal owner of Asheville Distilling Company that makes Troy and Sons Platinum whiskey, Troy and Sons Oak Reserve, and Blonde Whiskey. “Ball’s Southern charm shines in her memoir as she shares her family’s successes and failures. She never asks for sympathy for the choices they made that led to their financial demise and ultimate perseverance. The histories of Asheville and distilling are woven throughout and add depth to her memoir.” – Publishers Weekly. “The first woman ever licensed to distill hard liquor in North Carolina uncorks an emotionally charged memoir about traversing family heartache to become the “moonshine mama” of the South. . . A heart-stirring life story.” Kirkus Reviews


Christy by Catherine Marshall. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Evergreen Farm/Giliad, 2017, a 50th Anniversary hardback of a 1967 release. 506 pages, Hardback in dust jacket, $24.99.

Christianity Today ranked Christy as 27th on its list of the 50 books published after World War II that most influenced evangelical Christians. It has enjoyed a much wider audience, becoming a best seller and even emerging as a CBS television series by the same name in 1994 and 1995. In 2000 and 2001, three additional made-for-television Christy movies were aired. All were released on DVD in 2007 and showed again on television in 2009. The novel was inspired by the experiences of the author’s mother, Leonora Whitaker, who left her affluent Asheville family in 1912 as a young single woman to teach in a one-room school near what became the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in Cocke County, Tennessee. Not surprisingly, the novel has been criticized for emphasizing moonshining, superstitions, and folk medicine. The fact that there was more to this local area than stereotypical mountaineers is well established by the fact that at the time when the novel is set, May Justus (1898-1989) was a teenager living nearby. She became a teacher and a renowned author of children’s books as well as a strong supporter of progressive causes. Also in 1898 Grace Moore (1898-1947) a famous operatic soprano and actress was born nearby though she moved to Knoxville when she was two and then on to Jellico, Tennessee, Catherine Marshall (1914-1983), the author of Christy, was born in Johnson City, Tennessee, and raised in Keyser, West Virginia. She wrote and edited more than 30 books that have sold over 15 million copies.



Late Night, Early Morning: Stories by Allen Wier. Knoxville: The University of Tennessee Press, 2017. 247 pages. Trade paperback. $24.95.

The Fellowship of Southern Writers honored Allen Wier with their Robert Penn Warren Award. He is Professor Emeritus from the University of Tennessee, but also has served on the faculties of Longwood and Hollins in Virginia and the University of Alabama at Huntsville.  He and his wife live in northeastern Alabama overlooking Guntersville Lake, a Tennessee River reservoir. This is his second short story collection, and he is the author of four novels. “These stories are beautiful and various and deeply satisfying . . .The prose sings; the people are vivid and alive as one’s own personal memories.” - Richard Bausch. “This is a powerful, evocative book filled with the contradictions of loving things you will one day have to leave behind: a place, a person, a mood, a memory, a word. It is full of all things that we look for and return to in our literature: subtle fire, poignant humor, clear-eyed sadness, and layered love.”—Scott Blackwood. “His is an enduring and important voice, illuminating our struggles for connection, for meaning.” - Robert Olen Butler.