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February 2018 Reviews

February 2018 Reviews


Cherokee by Valerie Boden. Mankato, Minnesota: Creative Paperbacks, 2018. 24 pages with full-page color art directed by Rita Marshall, and an Index and Glossary.

This is a picture book apparently designed to be read to pre-readers. Every other page has a little box with a couple of sentences in it, dealing with six different dimensions of Cherokee life. The emphasis is on the heritage of the Cherokees in the Southern Appalachians.



Appalachia in Regional Cntext: Place Matters edited by Dwight B. Billings and Ann E. Kingsolver. Lexington, University Press of Kentucky, 2018. 255 pages, Hardback with pictorial cover, $60.

This volume consists of nine essays and a final chapter, “Teaching Region,” that presents seven more short essays based on presentations at a panel on that topic at the 2012 Southern Atlantic Modern Languages Association. The sixteen contributors include a musician, an artist, and professors in eight disciplines from ten states. Scattered between the essays are poems by bell hooks reprinted from her collection, Appalachian Elegy: Poetry and Place.” Topics include globalization, queer youth, foodways, and masculinity. The editors are based at the University of Kentucky. "What's so valuable about this book is that it gathers so many different ideas and approaches in one volume, thereby making them more easily accessible to audiences in Appalachian studies as well as other disciplines."―Stephen L. Fisher.


What You Are Getting Wrong about Appalachia by Elizabeth Catte. Cleveland, Ohio: Belt Publishing, 2018. 146 pages. Trade paperback, $16.95.

Like Elizabeth Catte, many of us have wanted to write a book that would dispel the terrible impressions that mainstream America has been getting from reading articles that view poor Appalachians - rather than rich people seeking tax-breaks - as to blame for President Trump. And we have wanted to counteract J.D. Vance’s claim in his best-selling book, Hillbilly Elegy, that he is the only one who escaped an Appalachian culture of poverty to lead a successful life, not just that he sometimes feels that way. Now Elizabeth Catte has written a book titled, What You are Getting Wrong About Appalachia, and we can’t wait to see if she, too, is getting it wrong.  Most importantly, she emphasizes that Appalachia is not an “it,” but a multi-cultural, multi-racial, multi-class, heterogeneous amorphous region. Her book is divided into three crucial parts. The first part refutes the claims that Appalachia is “Trump Country.” The second part refutes J. D.  Vance’s claim that Appalachia’s “culture of poverty,” is more to blame for the region’s problems than economic exploitation. The third part refutes the notion that our people are quiescent. Bravo! Another strength of the book is Catte’s attention to photographs and moving pictures. This is a distinguishing characteristic of What You are Getting Wrong About Appalachia. It is not just commendable, but stimulating to the reader for a historian to write a book that incorporates art into the narrative in such a unique way. Towards the end of her section on Vance, Catt states, “The best we can do, as community columnist Jillean McCommons suggests in the Lexington Herald Leader, is ‘turn that anger [about Hillbilly Elegy] into your next writing project. Write about your people. Tell your story. Answer with pen and pad.’” Catte ends her book on the same note. “I hope that people in the region who keep fighting will . . . capture their own images.” Elizabeth Catte did her undergraduate work at the University of Tennessee, and received both her masters and doctorate in history from Middle Tennessee State University. She currently resides in Staunton, Virginia, and has her own historical consulting firm.


Dolly Parton, Gender, and Country Music by Leigh H. Edwards. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2018. 265 pages with an Index and Selected Bibliography. Trade paperback, $20.98.

This book examines the life and work of Dolly Parton with attention to ways in which Parton has crafted her persona to appeal to traditional country music fans, while challenging conventional wisdom. “Leigh H. Edwards takes a close look at Dolly Parton’s songwriting, recordings, acting, and public persona and convincingly demonstrates that Parton is not only a powerful Appalachian musician but also a remarkably engaged artist who uses her many talents to engage with issues of gender, sexuality, and class.“ - Travis D. Stimeling, “ Read this book to learn how Parton manages to be simultaneously fake and real, ordinary and extraordinary, normal and outrageous. A model of interdisciplinary scholarship.” - Barry Shank. Leigh H. Edwards is Associate Professor of English at Florida State University.


Paintbrush for Hire: The Travels of James and Emma Cameron, 1840-1900 by Frederick C. Moffatt. Knoxville: The University of Tennessee Press, 2018. 367 pages with an Index, Bibliography, Notes, and both full-color and black-and-white photos. Hardback with dust jacket. $58.00

James Cameron (1816-1882) was born in Scotland, but he moved to East Tennessee in 1856, at the age of forty, shortly after his marriage to Emma S. Cameron (1825-1907). Although they traveled extensively, they mostly lived in Knoxville, Chattanooga, and Lookout Mountain until 1868 when they moved first to Maine, and then to California. Cameron was a painter, and during his time, the few painters who earned a living from their art, were – like Cameron - itinerant and continually seeking patrons for their work. This book is so vivid and detailed because of the diaries by Emma S. Cameron which Moffatt found in the Mills College library in Oakland, California. “The accounts of their travels and experiences read almost like a nineteenth century travel book or a period novel, except that these writings offer a true account of events as lived by the participants. The scholarship is sound and well documented.”—Steve Cotham. The author is an emeritus professor of Art from the University of Tennessee. This is his fourth book.


Test of Faith: Signs, Serpents, Salvation by Lauren Pond. Durham, North Carolina: Duke University Press, 2016. 144pages with 96 color photographs, almost all full-page, and a forword by Peter Barberie. Oversized hardback in dust jacket, $45.00.

In 1983, when he was fifteen years old, “Mack” Wolford’s father, a serpent-handling pastor from Phelps, Kentucky, died of snakebite at a West Virginia church service. Wolford worked a variety of jobs, including at a North Carolina textile mill, as a window installer in Texas, and a drywall installer in Tennessee. In 1995 he married his wife, Fran. While maintaining machinery at a West Virginia coal mine, he was injured and went on disability. In 1999 he became an ordained preacher and began following his father’s snake-handling faith. In May of 2012, twenty-nine years after the death of his father, Wolford was bitten by “Old Yeller,” a snake he owned and had handled often, at a service at the Panther Wildlife Area in McDowell County, West Virginia. Wolford was buried next to his father in Phelps, Kentucky. Lauren Pond, a documentary photographer originally from California, was invited by Wolford to photograph his services in 2011, and was invited into Wolford’s home as he was dying. She was also invited to the memorial service that transpired a year after Wolford’s death. This book consists of a little commentary and a lot of full-page color photographs that document an extraordinary life of faith. Lauren Pond now lives in Columbus, Ohio, where she works for the Center for the Study of Religion at Ohio State University. This book won the biennial 2016 Center for Documentary Studies/Honickman First Book Prize in Photography sponsored by Duke University’s Center for Documentary Studies and the Honickman Foundation, based in Philadelphia.


12 Rounds in Lo’s Gym: Boxing and Manhood in Appalachia by Todd D. Snyder. Morgantown: West Virginia University Press, 2018. 232 pages with an Index and Notes. Trade paperback, $26.99.

Outwardly, this is a biography of the author’s father, a fifth generation West Virginia coal miner who opened boxing gyms in hopes of providing opportunity and nurture for local at-risk youths. Todd Snyder does not flinch from expanding upon the stories of the youths in the gym to explore issues of social class, gender, work, family and even regional history. “This memoir will appeal to many readers: those in gender studies who study manifestations of masculinity, scholars who examine the collapse of the coalfields and the rampant unemployment found in Central Appalachia, and West Virginians who possess a fierce pride in the Mountain State and celebrate small-town triumphs.” – Jeff Mann. Booklist gave it a starred review. Kirkus Reviews opined, “An affecting testimonial to the power of action and of storytelling—to say nothing of a good right hook—to make real change.” The author is an English professor at Siena College and the author of The Rhetoric of Appalachian Identity.


Fall or Fly: The Strangely Hopeful Story of Foster Care and Adoption in Appalachia by Wendy Welch. Athens: Ohio University Press, 2018. 185 pages with notes. Trade paperback, $22.95.

Wendy Welch is best known as the author of The Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, a kind of memoir of her work establishing a bookstore in the Virginia coalfields published by St. Martin’s Press in 2012. She also wrote Public Health in Appalachia: Essays from the Clinic and the Field, published by McFarland in 2014, based on her work as executive director of the Graduate Medical Education Consortium of Southwest Virginia. This book zeroes in on the foster care and adoption system in the Appalachian Coalfields. It tells the story with an adept combination of close looks at the experiences of the three parties involved – the kids, the social workers, and the courts. “Fall or Fly is a compelling, unvarnished glimpse into the complex world of foster care and adoption in modern-day Appalachia. Dr. Welch provides readers with a multifaceted view of the system through the eyes of children, foster parents, and caseworkers. It will surely become a treasured resource, not only for those interested in becoming foster or adoptive parents but for those who desire a more complete understanding of the foster care system.” - Bill Carrico.




The Ledberg Runestone by Patrick Donovan. New York: Diversion Books, 2018. 250 pages. Trade paperback , $14.99.

This is book one of The Jonah Heywood Urban Fantasy Series following Donovan’s Demon Jack Urban Fantasy Series. The urban area is Asheville, North Carolina – not the hippy-dippy Asheville or the outdoors enthusiast Asheville, or the safe and pleasant retirement community, but an Asheville where the Carver brothers are trying to extort money, and Jonah feels obliged to accept a mysterious woman’s offer of $20,000 to find the Ledberg Runestone. Donovan is a teacher in the North Carolina Piedmont.


The Road to Bittersweet by Donna Everhart. New York: Kensington Books, 2018, 317 pages with Discussion Questions. Trade paperback with full-length flaps on the covers, $15.95.

The protagonist of this novel, set in the 1940s, is fourteen-year-old Wallis Ann Stamper. It beings in the Tuckaseegee River watershed of Western North Carolina, but the river floods her home, and her family is forced to move to the South Carolina mountains not far away. This is Donna Everhart’s second novel coming after her first novel, The Education of Dixie Dupree, an IndieNext List selection. Everhart grew up in Raleigh, North Carolina, and still lives in the North Carolina Piedmont.


Cabin Lessons: A River by Janet L. Furst. Bloomington, Indiana: Balboa Press/Hay House, 2017. 152 pages. Trade paperback, $13.99.

This novel follows Grace in a quest for self-discovery. It’s prequel, Everyday Truth of a Rainbow Woman, was told in the form of e-mails to Grace’s college-aged daughter. This book is told through diary entries, and begins after Grace leaves her long-time husband and settles into a cabin by a West Virginia river. The author, Janet L. Furst, plans this book as Book 1 of the Cabin Lessons Series. She describes herself as a grandmother who lives with her partner in West Virginia


The Roads to Damascus: A Mystery Novel by Lynda McDaniel. Santa Rosa, California: self-published, 2018. 256 pages. $11.95.

This is book two of the Appalachian Mountain Mystery Series. The protagonist, Abit Bradshaw, lives on a farm near Boone, North Carolina. When con artists fleece his school, he travels through the Virginia Mountains to Washington, D.C., and back again. He is seeking revenge, but what will he find? Lynda McDaniel grew up in Cleveland, Ohio, but lived several years on a farm near Asheville, North Carolina. While living there, she went to a writing workshop at John C. Campbell Folk School in Brasstown, and then got a job doing public relations there. Settling in Santa Rosa, California, she has become a writing coach and a prolific author.


The Birds of Opulence by Chrystal Wilkinson. Lexington: The University Press of Kentucky, a 2018 paperback edition of a 2016 release. 202 pages. Trade paperback, $19.95.

This book, Wilkinson’s first novel after the publication of two collections of short stories, won the 10th Annual Ernest Gaines Award for Literary Excellence, given to promising African-American writers. The novel follows several generations of African-American women as they wrestle with their relationship to the land, to sexuality, and to madness. "Crystal Wilkinson's Opulence, Kentucky, is small geographically and in population, but the novel's concerns are large―life, death, love, betrayal, despair, and hope. Wilkinson is a lyrical writer, and, once encountered in these pages, her characters and their stories linger in our memories long after the last page is turned. The Birds of Opulence is a novel to be read and reread."―Ron Rash. "Those birds. . . . They swoop down on and around Opulence, Kentucky, proffering a sweeping perspective of more than three decades that's both grand and intimate. Yes, they are all here, several generations of women―Minnie Mae, Tookie, Lucy, Francine, Yolanda, and Mona―and there are a few good men, too, each and every one of them indelible. Burnished with Wilkinson's stunning prose, The Birds of Opulence is golden and magnificent."―Robin Lippincott. "Wilkinson's novel is a special gift to Kentuckians. It speaks to the love of family and the region, and delivers real life tragedies and joys with honest appraisal. It deserves a spot on the shelf with the masters, James Still, Harriette Arnow, and Wendell Berry."―Louisville Review. Crystal Wlkinson was raised by her grandparents on Indian Creek in Casey County, Kentucky, and often spent the summers in Stanford, Kentucky, where several of her aunts and uncles and cousins lived. She now teaches at Berea College. She and her partner own and manage a Lexington, Kentucky, bookstore, The Wild Fig.




Appalachians Run Amok by Adrian Blevins. Kingston, Washington: Two Sylvias Press, 2018. 89 pages. $ 16.00

As you can tell from the title, Adrian Blevins does not hesitate to be outlandish. She is also adept a juxtaposing the academic or ordinary with the bizarre and the zany. The book title is also the title of the first section of poems here, followed by, “Brimstone,” Little Catalogue of Losses,” “Hither and Yon,” and “Meditation at the Car Lot.” “This poetry, cascading forward via a zillion ampersands run amok and a precarious grief is blah’s badass antidote” – Diane Seuss. “This book is smart and wise and also lots of fun.” – Lisa Lewis. Adrian Blevins is perhaps best known in the region as the co-author, with Karen Salyer McElmurray of the anthology Walk Till the Dogs Get Mean: Meditations on the Forbidden from Contemporary Appalachia, but she is also the author of two previous poetry collections and two poetry chapbooks. She was born in Abingdon, Virginia, and taught at Hollins University after getting her MA in fiction there. She also has a Warren Wilson MFA and now teaches at Colby College in Waterville, Maine.


A Girl’s a Gun by Rachel Danielle Peterson. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 2017. 59 pages. Trade paperback, $19.95.

The poet chose to give her first book a title that is also the name of an Australian band and that has been used to sum up eroticism and violence as two fundamental aspects of life. Taken together the poems in this collection tell a coming-of-age story of a girl born in the Eastern Kentucky mountains. "Rachel Danielle Peterson's collection, A Girl's A Gun, reads as part tall tale, part bildungsroman, part geode. These are poems meant to be enclosed in a palm and pressed against the heart. Peterson's strengths are in her cinematic depictions of women, her vibrant imagery, and the precision with which she code-switches into the tongue of the mountains.” – Bianca Lynne Spriggs. Rachel Danielle Peterson was born in Harlan County, Kentucky, and graduated from high school and college in Ohio. She holds an MFA in poetry from Ashland University in Ohio and an MA in Religion from Bethany Theological Seminary in Richmond, Indiana. She has taught on Saipan in the Northern Mariana Islands, and moved to Pikeville, Kentucky, in 2017.


Black Bone: 25 Years of the Affrilachian Poets edited by Bianca Lynne Spriggs & Jeremy Paden. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, a 2018 reprint of a 2017 release. 158 pages with a Preface by Shauna M. Morgan. Oversized trade paperback, $24.95

The Affrilachian Poets are a group of writers who are not of the Caucasian race but who have a connection to Appalachia. They have formed a support family around Frank X Walker, who coined the term 25 years ago to describe people of color who have encountered Appalachia, mostly through a connection to the University of Kentucky in Lexington, not far from the Appalachian Region. Many of the contributors have achieved considerable national recognition, but those who have not also well deserve our attention. "The Affrilachian Poets continue to be a groundbreaking literary force. . . . In celebration of their decades-long collaboration, the group has published its first anthology, Black Bone."―Detroit Free Press. "Black Bone: 25 Years of the Affrilachian Poets is a beautiful collection of both old and new work."―USA Today