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December 2020 Reviews

December 2020 Reviews


The Cul-de-Sac War by Melissa Ferguson. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2020. 336 pages with discussion questions. Trade paperback.

This cul-de-sac is located in Abingdon, Virginia, and the protagonist of this Christian romance, Bree Leake, lives there as does her nemesis, Chip McBride. So, she devises pranks designed to force him to move, only to find that he is more inclined to fight back in kind than to retreat. And, what do you know, their enmity turns to affection, making for a funny romantic comedy. The author, Melissa Ferguson, lives in Bristol, Tennessee. This is her second book.

Of Fire and Time by Larry Alderman. Nashville: self-published. 2020. 128 pages. Trade paperback.

Larry Alderman arrived in Nashville from Mt. Airy, North Carolina, at the age of 19 in 2007 and parlayed his way with words into a career as one of Nashville’s most successful songwriters. Then he became a performer and in 2020 began his career as an author by publishing first a memoir, and then a novel, and now this, his third book in his first year in the business! His way with words clearly works in more than one genre. Alderman’s first novel portrayed his protagonist as a teen. This novel finds him at middle age, a veteran of World War I, revisiting a cave he haunted as a youth and finding himself traveling back in time and eventually joining the native peoples of a bygone era.


On Borrowed Crime by Kate Young. New York: Crooked Lane, 2020. 311 pages. Hardback in dust jacket.

The protagonist of this mystery novel is Lyla Moody is a receptionist at her uncle’s private investigating business in little Sweet Mountain, Georgia. When the body of a friend turns up in a suitcase at her doorstep and her best friend becomes the prime suspect, Lyla is determined to discover the real killer, but that involves the danger that a murderer will object to what she is doing.  The author, Lyla Moody, lives in a small Georgia town. This is her 8th book.


Sounds Like Titanic: A Memoir by Jessica Chiccehitto Hindman. New York: W. W. Norton, a 2020 trade paperback edition of a 1919 release. 250 pages with a reading group guide. Trade paperback.

This book was a finalist for the 2019 National Book Critics Circle Award in autobiography. The first seventy or so pages go back and forth often to her upbringing in West Virginia and Western Virginia, but the rest of the book mainly focuses on her career performing around the country, hired to play her violin in front of a dead mike while the audience listened to a recording! The author has a great sense of humor, calling the act “Milli Violini,” for example. “It’s difficult to write a funny, angry book. It’s even harder to write a merciless, empathetic book. But here comes Jessica Hindman, doing the impossible with a funny, angry, merciless, empathetic book that’s not only a hugely entertaining memoir, but an insightful meditation on a time in our nation’s recent history whose strange and ominous influence grows more apparent by the day.”
- Tom Bissell. “An evocative portrait of America’s literal and figurative landscapes, an incisive look at class and gender, and an examination of what authenticity means.”- Justin St. Germain. The author, Jessica Hindman, has degrees in Middle Eastern Studies and Creative Nonfiction from Columbia and a PhD in English from North Texas State. She teaches at Northern Kentucky University.



Blood Runs Coal: The Yablonski Murders and the Battle for the United Mine Workers of America by Mark A. Bradley. New York: W. W. Norton, 2020. 333 pages with an Index, Notes, A Note on Sources, and photos. Hardback in dust jacket.

It is true that Yablonski was from Clarksville, Pennsylvania, but the men who murdered him and his family were from Campbell County, Tennessee, in United Mine Workers (UMW) District 19, and those who carried on his reformist cause in the UMW were West Virginians from UMW District 17 led by Arnold Miller. They had learned activism from their successful effort to obtain compensation for Black Lung Disease from national legislation in 1972. "One of the most shocking episodes in organized labor’s blood-soaked history.... Bradley reconstructs the crime and the coalfield uprising it inspired in his meticulously researched book."- Steve Halvonik. "Masterful.... An absorbing narrative of pride, greed, arrogance, and retribution that will find a place in history and true crime collections."- Library Journal, starred review. "An absorbing, brilliant account of one of the most tragic murder stories in modern labor history, Blood Runs Coal judiciously uncovers the hidden layers of a brutal crime in the last moments of the tumultuous decade of the 1960s, and recovers the legacy of the heroic movement for democracy in the coal fields that remains an urgent, powerful, and hopeful cautionary tale for today."- Jeff Biggers. The author has been a U. S. Department of Justice lawyer, and CIA agent, and now works for the National Archives.


The Civil War Diaries of Cassie Fennell: A Young Confederate Woman in North Alabama, 1859-1865 by Whitney A. Snow. Knoxville: The University of Tennessee Press, 2020. 337 pages with an Index, Notes, Bibliography and illustrations. Hardback with Pictorial Cover.

Ms Fennell lived about 90 miles southwest of Chattanooga in Guntersville, Alabama. Her diaries give a clear picture of the impact of the Civil War upon privileged white families. Chapter sub-titles illuminate her trials: “Burned Cotton and Profound Sorrow,” “Prices, Shortages, and Stresses on the Home Front.” And “The Death of a Father and Capture of Two Brothers.” What a toll the defense of slavery took on even the most privileged. The author is an associate professor of history at Midwestern State University. This is her third book.


A Doctor for Rural America: The Reforms of Frances Sage Bradley by Barbara Barksdale Clowse. Lexington: The University Press of Kentucky, 2020. 254 pages, with an Index, Bibliography, Notes, and photos. Hardback with pictorial cover.

The subject of this biography, Frances Sage Bradley (1862-1949) was born near Columbus, Georgia, and became one of the first female graduates of the Cornell University School of Medicine. Although a great deal of her work served in North Georgia and Appalachia, she also worked extensively in Montana and Arkansas. She exemplified the spirit of the Progressive Era and was instrumental in demonstrating the need for the Maternity and Infancy Protection Act that passed in 1921. The author taught at UNC-Greensboro and North Carolina A. & T. and is now retired and living in Chapel Hill.


Family Hiking in the Smokies: Time Well Spent: Fifth Edition by Hal Hubbs, Charles Maynard, and David Morris. Knoxville: The University of Tennessee Press, a 2020 fifth edition of a 1991 release. 133 pages with Hike Index, Resources, Mileage Chart, maps and photos. Trade paperback.

This book divides the Great Smoky Mountains National Park into 8 venues and provides from two to a dozen hikes at each general location. Each listing is simple and enticing, broken down only into three parts: What age groups of kids can enjoy it; how to get there, and a description of the hike. There are neat text boxes throughout that give background, for example, on Tsali, the CCC, and what’s wrong with feeding bears. No wonder this book has had the appeal to justify five editions. The authors are long-time residents of East Tennessee who have hiked extensively with their families in the Smokies and have done volunteer work for the Park.


The Primary that Made a President: John F. Kennedy and West Virginia by Robert Rupp. Knoxville: The University of Tennessee Press, 2020. 234 pages with an Index, Notes, Selected Bibliography and photos. Hardback with pictorial cover.

This book provides not just a close look at the 1960 West Virginia Primary between Catholic John F. Kennedy and Protestant Hubert Humphrey, but examines its impact upon the diminishment of prejudice against Catholics in politics, the rise of the importance of primary elections, and both poverty and Appalachia as national foci of attention. The author is a West Virginia Wesleyan professor often featured on West Virginia Public Radio and on the pages of the Charleston Gazette.


Rediscovering Fort Sanders: The American Civil War and Its Impact on Knoxville’s Cultural Landscape by Terry Faulkner & Charles Faulkner. Knoxville: The University of Tennessee Press, 2020. 391 pages with an Index, References Cited, maps, and illustrations. Hardback with a pictorial cover.

In the Fall of 1863 the Union Army occupied Knoxville, Tennessee. The most extensive defensive structure they constructed was an earthwork on a hill protecting the city from the west. It was dubbed Fort Sanders. Today, a residential neighborhood lies on that hill just north of the University of Tennessee. This book illuminates the role that hill played, both as a fortress and as a neighborhood, not only on Civil War history, but on the subsequent history of Knoxville. The co-authors are a married couple. Charles is professor emeritus in the Department of Anthropology at the University of Tennessee and the author of several books.


She Come By It Natural:  Dolly Parton and the Women Who Lived Her Songs by Sarah Smarsh. New York: Scribner, 2020. 187 pages. Hardback in dust jacket

Some books tell the life of a famous person. Others tell the life and historical times. This book, based on lived experience, not scholarship, tells essentially the life and sociological times of Dolly Parton. Sarah Smarsh, the author, grew up working class in Kansas and her memoir of that experience, Heartland: A Memoir of Working Hard and Being Broke in the Richest Country in the World was a finalist for the National Book Award because – like this book – it put a life in the context of class and culture. "Affectionate and astute ... Smarsh’s luminescent prose and briskly tempered storytelling make for an illuminating take on a one-of-a-kind artist."—Publishers Weekly, starred review. "Combining tribute, memoir and social commentary, Smarsh analyzes how Dolly Parton’s songs—and success—have embodied feminism for working-class women.People. "She Come By It Natural is a praise song for the cultural icon, but what emerges from an examination of Parton's life and work is just how much relevance her lyrics have had -- for Smarsh and for other women -- and why so much of the book is so deeply personal. . . . The fruit of that devotion is a tribute to the woman who continues to demonstrate that feminism comes in coats of many colors." Los Angeles Times. "Smarsh and Parton are a perfect pairing for the kind of in-depth examination into gender and class and what it means to be a woman and a working-class hero that feels particularly important right now.” Refinery29. "A warm-hearted journey into what Dolly means to generations of women who saw their lives reflected in her songs, who first embraced her not as a star but a sister."—Elizabeth Catte.