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February 2017 - Reviews

February 2017 - Reviews

NON-FICTION

Pure Heart: A Spirited Tale of Grace, Grit, and Whiskey by Troy Ball with Bret Witter. New York: Dey St., an imprint of HarperCollins, 2017. 267 pages. Hardback in dust jacket, $27.00. This memoir charmingly illuminates not just the life of the author, Troy Ball, an inspiring mother and entrepreneur, but also her adopted hometown of Asheville, North Carolina. She and her husband, Charlie, moved to Asheville from Texas over a decade ago. After twenty-four years of mothering three sons, two with special needs, she embarked upon a career making legal moonshine. 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. “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.

 

Salt Rising Bread: Recipes and Heartfelt Stories of a Nearly Lost Appalachian Tradition by Genevieve Bardwell and Susan Ray Brown. 2016, Pittsburgh: St. Lynn’s Press, 135 pages with index, color photographs, and glossary. Hardback with pictorial cover, $18.95. This book is a delightfully informative and charming introduction to a valuable and significant dimension of Appalachian food ways. Almost every double page has at least one color photograph, and the vignettes of particular regional bread-makers are especially compelling. This is a comprehensive treatment of the subject, but also an especially accessible one as well. This book will certainly prepare the reader, every step of the way, to make a variety of delicious breads.

 

Don’t Date Baptists and Other Warnings from My Alabama Mother by Terry Barr. Shawnee, Oklahoma: Red Dirt Press, 2016. 226 pages. Currently out-of-print. Terry Barr now is a Professor of Modern Literature and Creative Writing at Presbyterian College in Clinton, South Carolina, and lives in Greenville, South Carolina. He grew up in Bessemer, Alabama, in the 1960s and 1970s. Don’t Date Baptists is his memoir of growing up in Bessemer in the ‘60s and ‘70s with a Methodist mother and a Jewish father. Themes of class, race and religion are illuminated in a thoughtful, articulate and deep way. “He peels back his life with mature, discerning, perceptive eyes and invites us into his growing up and home town experience. He’s a story teller who isn’t afraid to share his doubts, joys, anger, sorrows, and soul.” – Wanda Meade. These are remarkable personal essays—funny, wistful in the right measure, smart, and heartbreaking.” – Leslie T. White.

 

Broad River User’s Guide by Joe Cook. Athens: The University of Georgia Press, 2016. 171 pages with color photos and maps. Trade paperback, 20.00 Southern Appalachia is home to two important Broad Rivers. The one in the Carolinas begins in Buncombe County, North Carolina, and flows through Rutherford and Polk Counties. This book, however, concerns Georgia’s Broad River. Its North Fork originates in Stephens County and joins the Middle Fort - that originates in Habersham and Banks Counties - in Franklin County. The South Fork originates in Madison County and the united river flows through Hart and Elbert Counties on its way to the Savannah.  This is Joe Cook’s third Georgia river guide following his books on the Chattahoochee and Etowah. This comprehensive guide combines great practical information alongside very informative background on the history and ecology of the river. Joe Cook is executive director of the Coosa River Basin Initiative and coordinator of Georgia River Network’s annual Paddle Georgia event.

 

A Lillian Smith Reader edited by Rose Gladney and Lisa Hodgens. Athens: The University of Georgia Press, 2016. 319 pages with photos and a bibliography. Trade paperback, $30.00. Lillian Smith (1897-1966) is an early icon of Appalachian literature. In the 1930s she left her career as a conservatory-trained music teacher to assume leadership of her family’s girls camp in Rabun County, Georgia. There on Old Screamer Mountain overlooking Clayton, Georgia, she and her partner, Paula Snelling, began co-editing an important literary magazine successively titled, Pseudopodia, North Georgia Review and South Today. At the same time, she wrote for leading national publications including The New York Times and Saturday Review. In 1944 her novel, Strange Fruit, became a best seller, and, five years later, her collection of essays, Killers of the Dream firmly established her as an early proponent of the Civil Rights Movement and an astute commentator on the South. This book collects, for the first time, Lillian Smith’s most compelling writing, ranging from drama to letters to the editor to carefully selected excerpts from her books. The editors are Margaret Rose Gladney, Professor Emerita of American Studies at the University of Alabama, and Lisa Hodgens, Professor of English at Piedmont College.

 

William Gilmore Simms and the American Frontier edited by John Caldwell Guilds and Caroline Collins. Athens: The University of Georgia Press, a 2016 paperback re-print of a 1997 hardback. 276 pages with a frontispiece portrait of Simms. Trade paperback, $33. Fifteen scholars besides the co-editors, both at the University of Arkansas at the time, contributed to this comprehensive evaluation and overview that looks both inside the works of Simms and outside to his impact. Simms is widely viewed as a Southern counterpart to James Fenimore Cooper, but this volume takes him much more seriously than that. Certainly his portrayal of the southern frontier, including much of Appalachia, had a lasting effect upon not only how our region has been perceived, but also upon our literature and our life.

 

Listening to the Savage: River Notes and Half-Heard Melodies by Barbara Hurd. Athens: The University of Georgia Press, 2016. 130 pages. Hardback in dust jacket, $25. “There’s scarcely anyone writing better about the natural world than Barbara Hurd” – Alan Cheuse. There is a double meaning in the title of this book. Hurd wants us to listen to the untamed forces of nature, but this book is also an ode to the Savage River a 29.5-mile-long river in Garrett County, the westernmost Maryland county, that is the first major tributary of the North Branch of the Potomac. It was named for John Savage, an 18th century surveyor. My daughter, Sunshine, lives on this river, so I have spent time on it and also find it awesome and beautiful. Barbara Hurd, who has lived in Garrett County, is a winner of the Sierra Club’s National Nature Writing Award and the author of four previous books of essays and co-author of two more as well as one book of poetry. She currently teaches in the MFA writing program at the Vermont College of Fine Arts, “Barbara Hurd stalks the wisdom that comes from deep and attentive listening. . . . Part lyrical field guide, part writer’s journal, these generous, meditative essays court ‘finer gradations, clearer distinctions better discernment’” – Lia Purpura.

 

Appalachian Cultural Competency: A Guide for Medical, Mental Health, and Social Service Professionals edited by Susan E. Keefe. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, a 2016 paperback reprint of a 2005 release. Trade paperback with an index and an overall bibliography. Trade paperback, $34. Susan Keefe, a professor of anthropology at Appalachian State University, again has collected a wonderful array of outstanding essays on a topic of great importance to our region. Here the topic is the intersection of the professional competence of social service professionals with the cultural competence of natives of Southern Appalachia. What is meant when a client says he is “smothering” or that she has “nerves”? These essays take the reader much deeper from the perspective of both sensitive practitioners and erudite scholars.

 

The Union Sixth Corps in the Shenandoah Valley, June-October 1864 by Jack H. Lepa. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Company, Publishers, 2017. 219 pages with an index, bibliography, and photos. Trade paperback, $35.00. This is the sixth Civil War book by Jack Lepa, a retired hotel businessman who lives in Las Vegas. Not just the tight focus, but Lepa’s extensive chapter notes and in-depth bibliography attest to the impressively thoroughgoing nature of this treatment of a crucial time and place of the Civil War. The Sixth Corps was a part of the Federal Army of the Potomac that played a critical role in the third union campaign to capture the Shenandoah Valley after two previous attempts had failed. They succeeded in a big battle at Cedar Creek.

 

Let Us Now Praise Famous Men at 75: Anniversary Essays edited by Michael A. Lofaro. Knoxville, The University of Tennessee Press, 2017. 414 pages with an index, photos, and tables. Hardback with pictorial cover, $54. This is the sixth James Agee book, covering a span of a dozen years, that Michael A. Lofaro, a professor of English at the University of Tennessee, has helped create. Here he assembles an impressive international cadre of scholars to examine closely multiple aspects of the life and work of James Agee of Knoxville, the only Appalachian author to have been awarded a Pulitzer Prize in fiction.

 

The Embattled Wilderness: The Natural and Human History of Robinson Forest and the Fight for its Future by Erik Reece and James J. Krupa, a 2016 paperback reprint of a 2013 release. 144 pages with a Foreward by Wendell Berry and “Works Cited and Consulted” pages and photos. Trade paperback, $25. Robinson Forest covers 14,786 acres of land in the heart of Eastern Kentucky, where Perry, Knott and Breathitt Counties converge far from any population centers. It was purchased in 1908 by a Cincinnati lumber company and, after it had been logged, most of it was donated in 1922 to the University of Kentucky. The University has subsequently strip-mined and clear-cut some of it, sparking considerable debate on the merits of using it to generate revenue or for research or for preservation. Erik Reece teaches writing at U.K. and James J. Krupa teaches biology there. Every other chapter provides Krupa’s scientific survey of the riches of the area while every other one provides Reece’s meditations on the struggles engendered by its heritage. In his forward, Wendell Berry writes, “The Embattled Wilderness, in addition to the instruction and gratification it will give to its readers, is exactly the full and discerning evaluation of the forest that the University of Kentucky should have authorized long ago as a part of its stewardship. That this book has no such authorization will surprise nobody.”

 

Seeking Home: Marginalization and Representation in Appalachian Literature and Song edited by Leslie Harper Worthington and Jurgen E. Grandt. Knoxville: The University of Tennessee Press, 2016. Trade paperback with an index.. Trade paperback, $34. The emphasis of this collection of regional literary criticism is its multi-ethnic dimension. It does include essays on Ron Rash, Harriette Simpson Arnow, and Barbara Kingsolver, but it also has essays that focus on four African-American regional writers and on Cherokee gospel music. An indication of the breath of interest in regional writing is the fact that, although the co-editors are both professors in Southern Appalachia, only two of the other eleven contributors now teach in the region.

 

POETRY

Chasing Utopia: A Hybrid by Nikki Giovanni. New York: William Morrow, an imprint of HarperCollins, a 2016 paperback reprint of a 2013 release. 143 pages. Trade paperback, $16.00 This is the 28th book by Nikki Giovanni, one of America’s most celebrated poets. She grew up in Cincinnati, but her grandparents lived in Knoxville, so she spent summers there and graduated from Austin High, Knoxville’s high school for African-Americans in the 1960s and earlier. From there she went to Fisk, where she was expelled for her activism on Civil Rights, but later reinstated. For years now, Giovanni has taught at Virginia Tech where she is currently the University Distinguished Professor of English. “Delights on every page . . . Anyone with a love of language will be delighted with this book and the continuing publication of America’s treasured poet.” – San Francisco Book Review. On a personal note, I must add that when I was an editor, nobody turned in requested poems and other material in a more timely fashion, and nobody for whom I ever arranged a visit was ever so gracious. In turn, she even reciprocated by inviting my late wife and me to Tech where we attended one of her classes. The students sat in a circle, and she introduced each one of them to us demonstrating the depth of her friendship with every one.

 

Magic City Gospel by Ashley M. Jones. Spartanburg, South Carolina: Hub City Press, 2017. 59 pages. Trade paperback. $15 No question about it. Ashley M. Jones is a young poet who has a marvelous way of choosing what to write about, how to write about it, how to tug at the reader’s heartstrings, and how to incorporate wisdom seamlessly into well-chosen words and phrases. Magic City is a nickname for Birmingham, Alabama, earned as a result of its rapid growth from 1881 through 1920. It is the only place in the world where significant amounts of coal, iron ore, and limestone - the three components needed to make steel –occur. Cheap non-union and African-American labor gave Birmingham industry a competitive advantage over northern centers of steel production. Ashley M. Jones grew up there and still lives there and teaches at the Alabama School of Fine Arts. These poems arise clearly from Jones’ background as a young Black woman who knows what it is like to grow up in Alabama. “Seeped in the city’s difficult history, its food and folklore, this poetry explores the complicated racial and national identity of the author. In both free verse and received forms, these poems reverberate with heartache and humor. . . This is a stunning and important debut.” – Denise Duhamel. “Ashley M. Jones in Magic City Gospel is exact and exacting. Her intention is to name, and she does so in a way that renders into beauty all that is harsh about the American South. This is a poetry book that knows how to be a history book, a religious text, a book of redemption.” – Jericho Brown. Jones has an MFA from Florida International University.

 

One Man’s Dark by Maurice Manning. Port Townsend, Washington: Copper Canyon Press, 2017. 93 pages. Hardback with pictorial cover, $23.00. Maurice Manning grew up in Danville, Kentucky, at the western edge of the Appalachians, but he was blessed with several exceptionally long-lived relatives from Clay County who introduced him early and often to ways of folks deeper in the mountains. A graduate of Earlham College with an MFA from the University of Alabama, he burst onto the literary scene when his first collection was selected for the Yale Series of Young Poets. His stature was elevated further when his fourth poetry book was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. This is his sixth collection. Manning teaches at Transylvania University and lives on a farm in northeastern Washington County with his wife and baby. He also teaches at Warren Wilson’s low residency MFA program and is a regular on the faculty at the Sewanee Writers Conference. Of this book Publishers Weekly exuded, “Manning’s verse resonates with the plaintive loneliness of his rural landscapes and the divine presence that alleviates that loneliness, be it God, one’s forebears, or poetry.” Poetry Daily exclaims that One Man’s Dark epitomizes the storytelling tradition of [Manning’s] native rural South in poems rich with mythology and lyric beauty. In vivid detail that draws as readily from dreams as from waking life, Manning honors what is rapidly vanishing: the people, landscapes, and things of a world making way for an uncertain and less spiritual future.”

 

This Shaky Earth by Linda Parsons Marion. 2016, Huntsville, Texas: Texas Review Press, 73 pages with an introduction by Tracy K. Smith. Trade paperback, $9.00 This is the fourth poetry book published by Linda Parsons Marion over the last twenty years. She is an editor for the University of Tennessee and lives in Knoxville. Writing in Now and Then, Thomas Alan Holmes ended his review by stating, “Linda Parsons Marion insists that finding delight and helping others discover it provides much-needed resilience to sustain us in our changing world.” Jesse Graves writes, “This is the voice and diction of classic poetry, yet it feels completely alive at this very moment in time.”

 

We Were Once Here by Michael McFee. Pittsburgh: Carnegie Mellon University Press, 2017. 84 pages. $16.00. A native of Asheville from a generations-old Western North Carolina family, Michael McFee received not only degrees but a job teaching creative writing at the University of North Carolina, one he has held with distinction since 1990. This is his ninth poetry collection among the fifteen books to his credit. “It’s title gently insists that we imagine a future in which we aren’t – what comes through most in these new poems is the beauty and worth of the days and places we share. This is a strong, moving collection from one of our most quietly remarkable poets”– Philip Memmer. This collection starts with the expressions and the idiosyncrasies of the author’s mountain for bearers and then zeroes in on deep consideration of the death of his niece. It finishes by circling back around through the old-timers to the present day and ends with merriment.

 

The Mad Farmer’s Wife by Rita Sims Quillen. 2016, Huntsville, Texas: Texas Review Press, 27 pages. Trade paperback, $9.00 Rita Sims Quillen probably has taught more sections of Appalachian Literature than any professor. Because of her popularity and the appeal of her subject, she often taught multiple sections of this course at Mountain Empire Community College in Big Stone Gap, Virginia. Since her retirement she has become an even more active practitioner of the many genres of the literature of her home region – she was born in Hiltons, Virginia, and still lives not far from there. This poetry book was created with the blessings of Wendell Berry who created the Mad Farmer character. Whether canning, praying, dancing, loving, parenting, meditating, farming or enjoying nature, the farm wife comes alive in Quillen’s verse. She is comfortable celebrating this life which she has found to be a thought-provoking path that ultimately engenders contentment.

 

Scriptorium: Poems by Melissa Range. 2016, Boston: Beacon Press. 78 pages. $18.00. Here is a truly exciting new voice in Appalachian poetry. Three of the poems here have already been included in anthologies, and this poet has received fellowships not just from the Sewanee Writers Conference, but also from Provincetown, the NEA and two other sources. Melissa Range is from Elizabethtown, Tennessee, did her undergraduate work at UT, got an MFA from Old Dominion and an MTS from Candler School of Theology at Emory, and then her PhD from Missouri. She now teaches English at Lawrence University in Appleton, Wisconsin. This book is a National Poetry Series Winner selected by Tracy K. Smith who wrote an introduction that ends by stating, “Traditionally, a scriptorium was a room where monks sat copying manuscripts. The word calls to the sense of what is precious, what must be made and remade, what one could give one’s entire life to preserving. How elegant a corollary for the work of the poet, and of this poet in particular, whose most sacred text—the one inspiring the most rapt devotion—is the very vernacular we lie, love, grieve, fumble, and forgive in.” Of course Range’s “vernacular” is her Appalachian heritage. “Poetry is ongoing revelation, the spirit surging in new words and shapes, in fresh forms. Yet rarely have I had such a vivid sense of this as while reading Scriptorium. This is revelatory poetry of a high order.” Jay Parini. The insights this poetry reveals based on a scholarly understanding of medieval theology and those based on growing up in our mountains are deep, stimulating, and uplifting. Their juxtaposition provides cause for celebration.

 

Poems New and Selected by Ron Rash. New York: Ecco: An imprint of HarperCollins, a 2017 paperback reprint of a 2016 release. 171 pages. Trade paperback, $15.00. Ron Rash in one of a bare handful of preeminent contemporary Southern Appalachian authors. His publishing career began in 1998 with a volume of poetry, Eureka Mill, which focused on the South Carolina mill where his parents worked after leaving their North Carolina mountain farms. This is the first compilation of poems from his four previous collections, with a bonus of some poems published subsequently. It is hard to imagine more of a “must” book for any reading list of regional poetry today. Rash was a poet before he was a fiction writer, and his poetic voice permeates his fiction. Ironically, the recognition he has received for his six novels and six story collections eclipses that from his poetry. His story collection, Burning Bright, won the 2010 Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award, and his novel, Serena, was made into a Hollywood movie and was also a 2009 PEN/Faulkner finalist, not to mention a best-seller. Ron was raised in the little college town of Boiling Springs, North Carolina, where his father, after taking college courses in the evenings, was able to land a job teaching art. A distinguished long-distance runner in high school, Ron graduated from Gardner-Webb University in his hometown and received a masters degree from Clemson. Then he took a job at Tri-County Community College nearby which he held until being hired by Western Carolina University where he is now the Parris Distinguished Professor in Appalachian Cultural Studies. “Rash illuminates his dark materials with humor and tenderness . . . The elegies for a landscape and its inhabitants in Poems: New and Selected leave us with a renewed sense of how ‘too much too soon disappears;” – New York Times Book Review. “The lyric encapsulation of story [is] precisely and lovingly rendered. . .Wise and beautiful.” – Claudia Emerson. “My admiration for [Rash’s] achievement is without limit, and in my view this book deserves the enthusiastic notice of anyone interested in American poetry.” – Anthony Hecht.

 

The Book of Hulga by Rita Mae Reese. Madison: The University of Wisconsin Press, 2016. 90 pages illustrated by Julie Franki. Trade paperback, $15.00. This book gets its title from the short story by Flanner O’Connor (1925-1964), “Good County People.” Hulga is this story’s quite memorable character with the wooden leg. Reese describes her book as “part fan fiction, part hagiography, part graphic poetry, The Book of Hulga wrestles with the long shadow of Flannery O’Connor . . . The poems ask what use can be made of suffering and in what ways are we defined by absence.” The poems make extensive use of quotations from Simone Weil (1909-1943) a French philosopher and activist who Albert Camus described as “the only great spirit of our times.” The Book of Hulga is dedicated to Betty Hester (1923-1998), a native of Rome, Georgia, who attended Young Harris College. She was dishonorably discharged from the Air Force for having an affair with a woman, and lived out her life in Atlanta commuting by bus to a working class job. She is best known for her nine-year correspondence with Flannery O’Connor that she donated to Emory University on the condition that it be sealed for twenty years. It was released to the public in 2007. Hester struggled with depression throughout her life and committed suicide at the age of 75. Rita Mae Reese’s own website describes herself in this fashion: “After changing majors every semester, Rita Mae Reese dropped out of college and went to work for a lesbian press.” She goes on to say that after seven years there she earned two degrees at Florida State and an MFA at the University of Wisconsin. She now is the co-director of literary arts programming at Arts + Literature Laboratory. She was born and raised in Charleston, West Virginia.

 

STORY COLLECTIONS

Allegheny Front by Matthew Neill Null. Louisville, Kentucky: Sarabande Books, 2016. 165 pages. Trade paperback with the paper covers forming flaps like dust jacket flaps. Matthew Neill Null is a West Virginia native who traces his family in West Virginia and Southwestern Pennsylvania back to Colonial days. His first home was a log cabin in Nicholas County with no neighbors in sight. Subsequently, his family moved to New Martinsville where his mother was a nurse and his father a lawyer. With an MFA from the Iowa Writers Workshop, he now serves as the writing coordinator at the prestigious Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, Massachusetts. His first novel, Honey from the Lion, dedicated to the land and people, was published to great acclaim. This, his first story collection is dedicated to the animals. Stories here deal with a variety of wild animals including eagles, snakes and bears, but they all illuminate not just the critters but the people who interact with them. “Matthew Neill Null is one of the most powerful writers to come along in some time. He’s got vision and music and a keen sense of the dire. He’s making things fresh again.” – Sam Lipsythe

 

Family Wreath by John Sparks. Richmond, Kentucky: Kentucky Story, 2016. 133 pages. Trade paperback, $13. John Sparks is a superlative representative of a very important group, the independent scholars. He works as a technician at a hospital in Eastern Kentucky, not exactly personally subsidized by the “knowledge industry.” Nevertheless, it is he who did the research and discovered how the tradition of holiness pastors audibly gasping for breath while preaching originated. The University Press of Kentucky published his book, The Roots of Appalachian Christianity: The Life and Legacy of Elder Shubal Stearns which tells the story and resulted in Sparks becoming perhaps the least widely-known winner of Morehead State University’s Lillie B. Chafin Award as the year’s outstanding author from Kentucky or Appalachia. In contrast to this and two other non-fiction books he has published, Family Wreath is a collection of creative short stories.

 

Waiting for God. O. T. by John Sparks. Richmond, Kentucky: Kentucky Story, 2016. 150 pages, Trade paperback, $13. This is another short story collection from John Sparks, the author of the previously covered book. It includes “The Call of the Rain Crow,” one of my favorite stories, and one of the first I published when I became editor of Appalachian Heritage in 2002. The title of this collection comes from the play, Waiting for Godot by Samuel Beckett, combined with the letters O. and T. standing for overtime pay!

 

NOVELS

First Frost: A Novel by Sarah Addison Allen. New York: St. Martin’s Griffin, a 2016 paperback edition of a 2015 hardback release. 291 pages. Trade paperback, $16.00. This is the sixth novel from Sarah Addison Allen, a fabulously successful author, born and raised in Asheville, whose previous books have all landed on the New York Times bestseller lists! For this book, Allen returns to the Waverly Family that she so successfully portrayed in 2007 in her novel, Garden Spells. Sympathetic, wholesome middle-class characters and a charming small-town Western North Carolina setting make this book very widely accessible. “A beautiful, lyrical story, complete with genuine characters whose depth reflects Allen’s skill as a writer.” – Publishers Weekly. “Richly drawn characters with dilemmas everyone can relate to make this book shine above everything similar.” – RT Book Reviews. “This novel features charming characters, exploration of the family ties that bind and captivate us, and a touch of the supernatural.” – Library Journal.

 

Once in a Blue Moon by Vicki Covington. Winston-Salem North Carolina: John F. Blair, Publisher, 2017. 201 pages. Hardback with dust jacket, $27.00. This is Vicki Covington’s fourth novel is set in her hometown of Birmingham. The characters are dealing with addiction, divorce, and other personal crises but also affected by contemporary social and political events in 2008. “I wondered if anyone could ever capture the excitement so many of us felt at Obama’s first election. Vicki Covington, an expert at conveying emotion, has.” - Rheta Grimsley Johnson. “Vicki Covington is one of the most gifted and talented writers of the New South. In her latest novel, Once in a Blue Moon, she has created a most interesting group of diverse and unconventional characters, thrown together by chance, who soon come to discover the true meaning of friendship, family, and community.” – Fannie Flagg.

 

Over the Plain Houses by Julia Franks. Spartanburg, South Carolina: Hub City Press, 2016. 271 pages. Hardback with dust jacket, $26.00. The title for this novel comes from a poem by Anne Sexton, ”Her Kind” which reads in part, “I have gone out, a possessed witch,/haunting the black air, braver at night;/dreaming evil, I have done my hitch/over the plain houses, light by light . . .” There are no witches in this novel, but it is set in Western North Carolina in 1939, where a fictional preacher is worried that his wife may be a witch. In reality she is simply a woman that dreams of escaping from her husband and living a more modern life, the kind of life she is learning about from a woman who works for the United States Department of Agriculture. Part of the inspiration for this novel came from the 2008 shooting that occurred in the Knoxville Unitarian Universalist Church – the congregation of Julia Franks’ parents. It was perpetrated by a man whose wife was seeking a different lifestyle and had joined that church. Franks is a niece of Mary Lee Settle and thus drawn to West Virginia. She is drawn to Western North Carolina as well since she and her ex-husband lived there for a time. As an outdoor recreation enthusiast, she is familiar with lots of locations throughout Appalachia although she now lives in Atlanta. Charles Frazier, who she counts as one of her inspirations, said this of Over the Plain Houses, “Julia Franks writes wonderfully and knowledgeably about nature, with a fine eye for the textures of the physical world. Her ear for the diction and rhythm and creativity of Southern mountain speech delights on every page.” Kim Church wrote, “The best historical fiction conjures the past while speaking to the present. Over the Plain Houses is an absorbing, twisty, suspenseful story of a couple’s rupturing marriage in a time and place wracked by change. Precisely observed, exquisitely written, Julia Franks’ debut novel is a work of stunning emotional depth and clarity that is destined to become a Southern classic.”

 

A Moonbow Night by Laura Frantz. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Revell, 2017. 378 pages. Trade paperback. $$15. Once a month on clear nights, the moon shines on Cumberland Falls, the biggest waterfall in Kentucky, in such a way as to form a “moonbow.” Hence the title of this Christian historical romance set in the Kentucky mountains in 1777. Laura Frantz was born and raised in Kentucky and lives here now in a log cabin. This is her eighth book. “As timeless as it is historical, A Moonbow Night is the shining embodiment of everything Laura Frantz does best, from her trademark attention to detail to the unfolding of rich and textured love in a setting no less complex.” - Jocelyn Green.

 

West Virginia: A Novel by Joe Halstead. Los Angeles, California: The Unnamed Press, 2016. 212 pages. Trade paperback, $16.00. Joe Halstead was born and raised in Mount Lookout, a small unincorporated community in Nicholas County. He now lives in Lexington, Kentucky. In this novel, after a year at New York University, the protagonist, Jamie, learns that his father has jumped to his death off the New River Gorge Bridge, so he feels obliged to return home to West Virginia. Among the supporting characters is a young woman who works at Tamarack.

 

Whiteout by Laurel Heidtman. Seattle, Washington: CreateSpace, 2016. 279 pages. Trade Paperback. $15.00 The author writes mysteries under the name “Laurel Heidtman” and romances under the name “Lolli Powell.” She lives on land surrounded by the Daniel Boone National Forest in Kentucky. She has worked as a dancer, a bartender, a police officer, a registered nurse, and a technical writer, and is now retired. This novel follows a Lexington, Kentucky, insurance man’s visit to an isolated cabin in Eastern Kentucky during a huge snowstorm.

 

The Weight of This World by David Joy. New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 2017. 259 pages. Hardback with dust jacket, $27.00. David Joy is an exciting new voice in Appalachian literature. A native of Charlotte, North Carolina, he attended Western Carolina University, and there found Ron Rash as a mentor, became enamored with the land and people of the area and settled in. His first book was Growing Gills: A Fly Fisherman’s Journey, and his first novel was Where All Light Tends to Go. It caused quite a stir, with great reviews in the New York Times and elsewhere and became a finalist for the Edgar Award for Best First Novel. Joy’s new novel, The Weight of This World, has already garnered a starred review in Publishers Weekly which concludes, “Lyrical prose, realistic dialogue, and a story that illuminates the humanity of each character make this a standout.” Putnam and Son’s interviewed Joy about this book, and he set the stage this way: “This book is filled with moments of incredible brutality. Some readers won’t be able to take it, and that’s okay. That’s part of what I was trying to do, to play with that idea and to test that threshold . . . There are moments when we’re disgusted by violence and moments when we cheer it on with murderous enthusiasm. I’m interested in where that line lines.” Joy goes on to say, “I’m interested in going to the darkest places imaginable and trying to find something we all recognize in ourselves.” He continues, “Nor do I write books about Appalachia. I write stories about desperation. I write tragedy. I write the type of stories I like to read, stories where any hint of privilege is stripped away so that all we are left with is the bitter humanity of it, stories about lives pinballing between extremes because there is nothing outside of sheer survival. Within those extremes, there is gut-busting laughter and there is heart-wrenching sadness, there is murderous anger and there is lay-down-my-life love. That’s life, and that’s ultimately what I’m trying to capture.” According to the author, the sound track of the two protagonists of this novel, Thad and Aiden, is written and sung by the Drive-By Truckers, and the soundtrack of the main female character, April, is written and sung by Dolly Parton. “ A perfectly executed novel, this is a book that will endure.” – Donald Ray Pollock.

 

Prayers the Devil Answers by Sharyn McCrumb. New York: Atria Books, 2016. 341 pages. Hardback in dust jacket, $26.00. Although she was born and grew up in Eastern North Carolina, Sharyn McCrumb has fore bearers from the mountains, and has lived in the mountains of Virginia since she was in graduate school at Virginia Tech. She is widely known for providing well-researched and well-written novels that delightfully depict mountain people and places, at times capturing slots on best-seller lists and always finding multitudes of loyal and excited readers. The incident that forms the center of this novel – a woman sheriff duty-bound to preside over a hanging - actually happened in Owensboro, Kentucky, in 1936, and the setting is inspired by McAfee’s Knob on the Appalachian Trail near Roanoke. The fictional post office mural was inspired by East Tennessee history. “Prayers the Devil Answers is a rich, astonishing, marvelous book. With a superb eye for detail, Sharyn McCrumb masterfully capture the essence of Depression-era Appalachia, its rough beauty, its folklore, and most of all, its people.” – Jennifer Chiaverini.

 

Aunt Beck by Roland Mullins. Albany, Kentucky: Old Seventy Creek Press, 2016. 368 pages. Trade paperback, $15.00 Roland Mullins is a former Mayor of Mount Vernon, Kentucky, and a former Judge Executive of Rockcastle County. This is the second novel he has published since retiring. It centers on the professional staff and the patients at a drug and alcohol rehabilitation center in Eastern Kentucky. Seldom has the theme of addiction been treated with such realism and compassion, and seldom has mountain idiom been so faithfully and charmingly recorded in prose.

 

Copper Kettle by Fredrick Ramsay. Scottsdale, Arizona: Poisoned Pen Press, 2017. 225 pages. Hardback with dust jacket, $27. “Copper Kettle” in the title refers to a part of a moonshine still in this mystery that centers around a fictional family feud in Floyd County, Virginia. This is the 19th mystery novel of the author who lives in Glendale, Arizona. He is a retired Episcopal priest and medical school faculty member. “Fredrick Ramsay is the master of witty, evocative dialog, wildly inventive and imaginative plots, and characters so compelling that it is hard to believe they aren’t real people” – Donis Casey.

 

Carolina Belle: A Novel by Rose Senehi. Chimney Rock, North Carolina: K.I.M. Publishing, 2017. 282 pages. Trade paperback, $16.00 This is the eighth novel that Rose Senehi has published since moving to Chimney Rock, North Carolina, from New York State. The title is the name of the variety of apple that the protagonist, a botanist also named Belle, hopes to create from heirloom varieties grown in the orchards of Henderson County, North Carolina. “A love story. A history of the love of apples and the apple orchardists of Henderson County, North Carolina. I finished the book and was sorry to leave the landscapes and the people, and I wanted to start my own apple tree from seed.” – Emoke B’Racz