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December 2018 Reviews

December 2018 Reviews


I Am Loved: A Poetry Collection by Nikki Giovanni. New York: Antheneum Books for Young Readers/Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing Division, 2018. 24 unnumbered pages illustrated by Ashley Bryan. 8” X 10” hardback in dust jacket, $17.99.

Ashley Bryan, a Newbery Award honoree chose a dozen poems by National Book Award winning poet, Nikki Giovanni, that celebrate love to go with his bright, luscious, drawings. The last page has a built-in mirror, so the reader will know for sure who, exactly, is loved! “Bryan paints African-American men, women, and children in thick, swirling compositions suggestive of stained glass” – Publishers Weekly. “Iconic, award-winning American poet Giovanni has long crafted verses that have been considered radical, sensual, and even revolutionary in their depiction of the power of love. This picture-book poetry collection for children contains a selection of her work that celebrates all manner of love, and it is beautifully illustrated by the equally renown Bryan. . . . Bryan’s stylized tempera-paint-and-watercolor illustrations are full of whimsy and smiling faces, providing the perfect complement to Giovanni’s work.” — Amina Chaudhri. “The two masters together deliver another powerful addition to their separate, award-winning catalogs. A small but mighty collection sure to remind readers that love, again, can prevail over all if given the chance.”  - Kirkus Reviews. Nikki Giovanni was born in Knoxville, Tennessee, and spent summers there with her grandparents while staying with her parents in Cincinnati most school years, though she graduated from Austin High School in Knoxville. From there she attended Fisk University until she was expelled for her participation in Civil Rights activity. Later reinstated, she graduated from Fisk and moved to New York City where she was involved in the Black Arts Movement. Her first poetry was self-published, but soon picked up by major publishers. In 2011, she read a poem at the dedication of the Martin Luther King Memorial in Washington, D. C., and she has been named Woman of the Year by four women’s magazines. She has received nineteen honorary degrees. Her classes at Virginia Tech sit in a circle, and when I attended one, she introduced me to each of her students conveying impressive knowledge of the backgrounds and interests of each. Ashley Bryan was born in Harlem and raised in the Bronx. When he studied at Cooper Union Art School, he was the only African-American student there. As a World War II soldier he served in a segregated unit, landing on Omaha Beach on D-Day. He was the first African-American to publish a children’s book as both an author and illustrator. He retired as Professor Emeritus from Dartmouth in 1988.




Blight by Alexandra Duncan. New York: Greenwillow/HarperCollins, 2018. 390 pages. Hardback in dust jacket. $17.99.

Hopefully this is science fiction - purely for entertainment, no chance of this dystopian novel becoming reality. But it is set in North Georgia on a farm, called AgraStar that produces food from genetically modified seeds. So there is a measure of plausibility here. The protagonist, seventeen-year-old Tempest Torres, was found outside the gates of the farm when she was five and is working there as a guard to keep the scavengers who steal food from the farm at bay. The title of the novel comes from a blight that is released as a result of an explosion on the farm. Tempest Torres and a young scavenger boy, Alder, do survive to face additional life-or-death challenges. “Duncan’s knack for character development shines through as Tempest is steadily exposed to the darker side of AgraStar...well-paced and intelligently written...A thoughtful and sensitive exploration of corrupt powers and personal responsibility, especially in today’s stormy political climate.” - Kirkus Reviews. The author, Alexandra Duncan lives with her husband and cats in the Western North Carolina mountains.


Pinecone Trail by T. L. Haddix. London, Kentucky: Streetlight Graphics, 2018. 279 pages. Trade paperback, 12.99.

This is the fifteenth book in the Firefly Hollow series, published in the last six years. It is set in London, Kentucky, in 1872. Abigail Muncy arrives in London, Kentucky, escaping a past, and Phillip Wells is a local man who feels ready to settle down after the death of his wife.  Haddix describes herself as an “author of women’s fiction romance touched with traditional Appalachian folklore.”  She is also the author of three additional series of books. She lives in Eastern Kentucky.


On Magnolia Lane by Denise Hunter. Nashville, Tennessee: Thomas Nelson, 2018. 310 pages with Discussion Questions. Trade paperback. $15.99.

This is the last in Hunter’s Blue Ridge Romance series. Daisy Pendleton works in her family’s small town flower shop in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Georgia and has been having regular counseling sessions with her pastor, Jack McReady for a couple of years. Jack is falling in love with her but hasn’t mustered up the courage to admit it. Meanwhile Daisy has embarked upon on-line dating, and Jack’s friend creates a site for him that intrigues Daisy. What could go wrong?  Denise Hunter has published over 30 books, two of which became Hallmark Hall of Fame movies. The winner of four of the most revered awards in the Christian romance novel category, she lives in Indiana with her husband now that their four children have left them with an empty nest.


Welcome the Little Children: A Mystery Novel by Lynda McDaniel. Santa Rosa, California: Lynda McDaniel Books, 2018. 317 pages plus an excerpt from Book One in the Appalachian Mountain Mysteries Trilogy: A Life for a Life. Trade paperback. 11.95.

This is the third book in a trilogy set in the North Carolina mountains. The plot of this book centers around the disappearance of a little girl from the isolated log cabin where she lives. "McDaniel's mystery novel delivers a pair of unforgettable crime-solving characters. Using her keen knowledge of the charm of life in the North Carolina mountains, she lured me into her story and kept me there." --Virginia McCullough. The author, Lynda McDaniel, is a native of Cleveland, and says she got her writing start working as a publicist for the John C. Campbell Folk School in Brasstown, North Carolina.


Small Treasures by Mark Powell. New York: Gallery/Simon & Schuster, a 2018 paperback reprint of a 2017 release. 382 pages. Trade paperback. $16.99.

This is Mark Powell's fifth novel. What I admire most about Mark Powell's writing is his dialogue. I find myself, over and over again, thinking - "Oh, my god, that is exactly what she would say in response to that!" Degrees from the Citadel and Yale? Yes, that's Mark!  He's been kinda sailing under the radar, admired by aficionados of Appalachian Literature, but not widely known beyond. This may well be his breakthrough book. It is the story of a marriage in a small North Georgia town, but it is also a story about the impact of foreign wars on this generation of young parents. “A brilliant novelist at the top of his game. [This book] achieves that rare balance between complexity and pacing, a story rich and intricate, propulsive and satisfying. Mark Powell has been the South’s best-kept secret for far too long.” - David Joy. "An excellent, suspenseful ride... Powell digs deeply into some heavy themes, exploring pervasive violence and the startling path to radicalization that disaffected teens can find themselves on. In this well-constructed and believable story, there’s no easy way out for any of the characters. Readers will be eager to find out how these lyrical and tense stories entwine, and they eventually do, with surprising but inevitable results." - Publishers Weekly. “There is no doubt about it, Powell has established himself as a voice not only of Appalachia, but of all contemporary American literature." —Southern Literary Review. And for those of you who are awed by the trajectory of Appalachian Literature and how it parallels our region's economic history - Mary Murfree at Montvale Springs and Beersheeba Springs and then John Fox, Jr., following his brother's coal mine towns - now here is Mark Powell, whose dad is a realtor in South Carolina's Blue Ridge where Mark was raised. Mark Powell now teaches at Appalachian State University.


The Sourwood Tree by Jeanne Shannon. Silver City, New Mexico: Mercury HeartLink, 2018. 80 pages. 5.5” X 7” trade paperback, $15.00.

This short novel is the sad, sad fictioinal life story of Anna Mae Osborne Fletcher (1925-1999) who lived in the southwestern tip of Virginia. She first became pregnant by her step-father, and then by a man who left her when she became pregnant, and then she married and had three sons and a daughter. Those four were the only ones who survived her. The author, Jeanne Shannon, herself grew up in Southwestern Virginia without electricity or telephone, graduated from Radford in 1956, and now lives in New Mexico. This is her 9th book.




The Thin Light of Freedom: The Civil War and Emancipation in the Heart of America by Edward L. Ayers. New York: W. W. Norton, a 2018 paperback reprint of a 2017 release. 576 pages with an Index, Notes, Manuscript Collections Consulted, ten maps, and thirty illustrations. Trade paperback, $18.95.

The title of this book refers to the emancipation of American slaves. The unique perspective that this book provides is the consideration of emancipation in the context of the last two years of the Civil War. The author, Edward L. Ayers, was instrumental in the creation of a digital archive, called the Valley of the Shadow. His first book to utilize this resource of diaries, newspapers, Freedmen’s Bureau Reports, and other documents was In the Presence of Mine Enemies. It covered the years 1859-1863. This book takes up where that left off. It considers the impact of the Civil War and Reconstruction throughout the Shenandoah Valley, but it zonks in on Augusta County, Virginia and Franklin County, Pennsylvania, to tell the story in very human terms. “Ayers’s splendid book… employs both a wide angle and zoom lens, interspersing fascinating individual stories with insightful historical context.… A seasoned historian… [and] a compelling writer. [Ayers] orchestrates many different voices into a steady rhythm, with a tempo that is fast-paced.”- Ronald C. White, New York Times Book Review. “Ayers set out to re-create the lived experience of the Civil War―for Northerners and Southerners, blacks and whites, men and women, soldiers and civilians―without losing sight of the political turmoil and destructive violence that affected all of them. In that he has succeeded brilliantly.”- James Oakes, Washington Post. “It’s through these individual stories that Ayers’s book achieves its most gripping reading stretches, dramatizing as few recent books have done the dual, entwined wars taking place in the years it chronicles―one a war of soldiers and battlefields, the other a war of social justice and the fight to enlarge the promise of liberty.… The Thin Light of Freedom gathers the stories of all these different aspects of the war’s final years and transmutes them into a dark and oddly uplifting tale of the forging of modern America.”- Steve Donoghue, Christian Science Monitor. President Obama bestowed the Presidential Humanities Medal on the author, Edward L. Ayers, and his historical studies have received the Bancroft Prize and the Avery O. Craven Award. This book received the Lincoln Prize. He taught at the University of Virginia from 1980 until 2007 when he became President of the University of Richmond which he served until 2015. Among his previous ten books have been a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize and a National Book Award Finalist. He was born and raised in Asheville, North Carolina where his father was a car salesman and his mother a teacher. He did his undergraduate work at the University of Tennessee and his masters and doctorate at Yale.


Hillbilly Drug Baby: The Story by Andrea Brunais. Christiansburg, Virginia: WriteLife Publishing, 2018. 250 pages. Trade paperback, $17.00.

This is a memoir of about six months when the author and her husband, Hal Gibson, took time each day to try to help nineteen-year-old Jesse-Ray Lewis recover from a life born into drug addiction and drug dealing. It takes place in Bluefield, West Virginia, where Jesse-Ray arrived  from Southwest Virginia to the Bluefield Union Mission as an aged-out foster child. Each chapter begins with one of Jesse-Ray’s poems – collected in Hillbilly Drug Baby: The Poems published in May of this year – and ends with the author’s essay on one of the issues raised by the events and conversations in the chapter. This innovative book provides an important and quite readable window into drug abuse and many related problems that perplex and challenge our region. It also illuminates the agencies that have been created to deal with them. The author, Andrea Brunais, is a journalist and the author of five previous books, including a memoir of growing up in a small Michigan town.


Wonderful Weeds and Various Varmints: The Natural World in Our Backyards and Beyond by Bob Collier. Knoxville: The University of Tennessee Press, 2018. 341 pages with an Index, Bibliography, Suggested Reading, an Introduction by Bill Nickle, and illustrations by Gale Hinton. Trade paperback. $26.00.

This is a collection of articles that Bob Collier has written for East Tennessee’s Shopper News. The book is divided into sections that follow the four seasons, each depicting joyful jaunts from Collier’s own four seasons of life. Here Collier explores spring gardening with his grandmother, summer fireflies, fall colors from trees and vegetables, and winter’s chilly outdoor adventures. Collier is retired from practicing general surgery at St. Mary’s Hospital in Knoxville. His column was initially on bird watching but expanded to encompass all of nature. 


Enchanted Ground: The Spirit Room of Jonathan Koons by Sharon Hatfield. Athens, Ohio: Swallow Press/Ohio University Press, 2018. 342 pages with an Index, Bibliography, Notes, photos and maps. Hardback in dust jacket. $28.95.

Jonathan Koons (1811-1893) was a farmer outside Athens, Ohio, who became deeply involved in the ambiguous edges of spiritualist thinking. In the 1850s he presided over a spirit room where he invited the public to communicate with their dead loved ones. Hundreds, perhaps thousands, came. Some went away transformed and grateful while others were more skeptical. This book is the first comprehensive study of the life of Jonathan Koons and provides a thorough look at the context of his spiritual journey. “This is a marvelous book. It reads like a novel or a screenplay but also functions as a prism that opens up into dozens of other important aspects of nineteenth-century American religion: spiritualism, Johnny Appleseed, Swedenborgianism, atheism, social reform, women’s rights, psychometry, and so on. Perhaps most significantly of all, the author’s rare combination of humanistic sympathy, intellectual generosity, and healthy doubt is a model of what this kind of historiography can be.”—Jeffrey J. Kripal. “By an evocative rendition of his story, Hatfield neatly dispels the view that Koons’s ‘spirit room’ was just one more trivial example of the public’s fascination with nineteenth century spiritualism. Instead, her explanation of Koons’s influence in Ohio and the Midwest clearly establishes his significance as one of the most important mediums of the era.”—Nancy Rubin Stuart. The author, Sharon Hatfield, grew up in Pound, Virginia, and graduated from Lincoln Memorial University. She earned her masters at Ohio University in Athens, Ohio, where she has resided for most of her adult life. She is the author of Never Seen the Moon: The Trials of Edith Maxwell and co-editor of An American Vein: Critical Readings in Appalachian Literature.


The Making of an American: The Autobiography of a Hungarian Immigrant, Appalachian Entrepreneur, and OSS Officer by Martin Himler, edited by Cathy Cassady Corbin. Knoxville: The University of Tennessee Press, 2018. 298 pages with an Index, Notes, Appendix, maps, photos, an Introduction by Doug Cantrell, and a Foreword by Charles Fenyvesi. Trade paperback. $34.95.

What a fascinating story!  Martin Himler (1889-1961) immigrated from Hungary to America at the age of 18 in 1907 with only nine cents in his pocket. He found work as a coal miner in Thacker, and later Gary, West Virginia, and in Pennsylvania. Then he became a peddler in coal camps in West Virginia and Virginia. In 1913 he published the first issue of a weekly newspaper, The Hungarian Miners Journal, that became self-supporting within five months with as many as 60,000 subscribers. He opened his first mine in Ajax, West Virginia, in 1917, and in 1919 he bought coal lands in Martin County, Kentucky, and created a workers’ cooperative owned by shareholders who were required to live in his company town of Himlerville. Much of the town and the mine were destroyed in a flood in June of 1928, and the enterprise was abandoned, but Himler continued to publish his newspaper until he retired in 1957. During World War II Himler served in the Office of Strategic Services (which became the Central Intelligence Agency) as a Colonel, and in that role, after the war, he interrogated Nazi war criminals. Himler’s autobiographical manuscript was passed down to family members after his death and finally landed at the Martin County Historical and Genealogical Society which made it available to Cathy Cassady Corbin, a retired English teacher, to edit.


Wednesday’s Children: Memoirs of a Nurse-Turned Social Worker in Appalachia by Kathryn Anne Michaels. Charleston, South Carolina: Monkeypaw Press,  a 2018 reprint of a 2013 release.189 pages, $12.99.

“Wednesday’s child is full of woe” was first printed as part of a days-of-the-week nursery rhyme in 1744 in England. It was first published in 1780 in America in a Mother Goose nursery rhyme book. As a social worker in Western North Carolina, Kathryn Anne Michaels was charged with the responsibility of dealing with abused children. Please do not open up this book until you have plenty of tissues ready and time to read the entire book without interruptions. The 189 pages are likely to go pretty fast, since you may well really get into it. The tissues are for both the heart-wrenching abuse that some parents get away with, but also the occasional happy endings for both the kids and their parents. Michaels does not sugar-coat. The f-word pops up occasionally from the mouths of abusive parents, but even once from the author’s own lips addressing the defense lawyer for a child abuser. She has even less sympathy for judges who side with abusers. There is plenty of social work drama and more drama as she occasionally covers her rescue squad work and her relationship with her husband. The fact that she is white doesn’t keep the Ku Klux Klan from burning her house down. The passage that covers her being taken hostage at gun-point by an accused abuser makes the car-wreck passage appear pretty tame.


River of Death – The Chickamauga Campaign. Volume 1: The Fall of Chattanooga by William Glenn Robertson. Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 2018. 696 pages with an Index, Bibliography, over 100 pages of Notes, an Order of Battle Appendix, 8 maps and 15 photos. Hardback in dust jacket. $45.

Did you get that? Almost 700 pages, over 100 of which are notes. “There have been other accounts of the Chickamauga Campaign, but this book is in a class by itself. The wealth of information here is astonishing.” – Stephen E. Woodworth. The Battle of Chickamauga was the only Confederate victory in the western theater of the Civil War, and the third bloodiest of the entire conflict – over 34,500 casualties. This book is the first of two volumes. The second is forthcoming. Robertson begins the story following the armies, the decisions of their commanders, and the role of railroads throughout East Tennessee beginning in July of 1863 all the way through to September 9th when Union General Braxton Bragg decided to abandon Chattanooga. “Robertson's long-anticipated work is certain to become the ‘must read’ book on the Chickamauga campaign. Based on decades of research and fieldwork, it is the most thoroughly investigated study of the most dramatic campaign of the Western theater.” --Earl Hess. William Glenn Robertson received his doctorate at U. Va. in 1975. His academic career at several universities culminated as the Director of the Combat Studies Institute at the Army Command and General Staff College. He retired in 2011. This is his sixth Civil War book.


Appalachian Mushrooms: A Field Guide by Walter E. Sturgeon. Athens: Ohio University Press, 2018. 496 pages with two indexes, References, a Glossary and color photographs every few pages. 10” X 7” trade paperback. $36.00

Frankly, the main difference between this book and last year’s Mushrooms of the Georgia Piedmont and Southern Appalachians by Mary L. Woehrel & William H. Light seems to me to be that this book is a paperback and last year’s is a hardback. This one is about an inch wider and an inch higher – not much difference there. I do think this book is more dazzling with its plethora of photographs. I reckon most people either don’t care about the subject or are so enthralled by it that they would want both books. “A significant contribution … because the photos are the very best I have ever seen in an American field guide, this book will find readers and users well beyond the limits of its geographic range.” - Gary Lincoff. “This may well be the most accurate guide I have seen. Appalachian Mushrooms is unquestionably the work of someone who has spent a lifetime studying and mastering identification of the mushrooms that occur here. It is the most current and up-to-date book on the fungi of Appalachia.”—John Plischke. The author, Walt Sturgeon, lives in East Palestine, Ohio, and is the son of a mushroom hunter. He has received the North American Mycological Association Award for Contributions to Amateur Mycology. He has co-authored two mushroom books, and this is his third as a single author.