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February 2019 Reviews

February 2019 Reviews

CHILDREN’S BOOKS AND YOUTH NOVELS

Drive by Joyce Moyer Hostetter. Honesdale, Pennsylvania: Calkins Creek/Highlights, 2018. 351 pages. Hardback in dust jacket. $18.95.

This is the fourth book in the Bakers Mountain Series. The story takes place in 1952 when Ellie and Ida are fourteen-year-old twins who live at the foot of Bakers Mountain near Hickory, North Carolina. Ida loves to sketch, and Ellie loves NASCAR. And they fall for the same boy in their class at school. Will this end well?  The author, Joyce Moyer Hostetter, lives in Hickory, her hometown, and has taught special education and developed pre-school programs.

 

NON FICTION

A Familiar Wilderness: Searching for Home on Daniel Boone’s Road by S. J. Dahlman. Knoxville: The University of Tennessee Press, 2019. 312 pages with an Index, Further Reading, Notes, Appendix and photos. Trade paperback, $29.95.

This is the author’s enjoyable, down-to-earth, story of his three-hundred-mile hike along the Wilderness Road.  He starts at Sycamore Shoals State Park, the place where, in 1775, the South Carolina land speculator, Richard Henderson, purchased much of Kentucky and part of Tennessee from the Cherokees over the objections of Dragging Canoe and subsequently hired Daniel Boone to make a road and a settlement into his new property.  Following the Wilderness Road, Dahlman entered Virginia east of present-day Kingsport, and entered Kentucky through the Cumberland Gap. He ends up at Boonesborough, the community that Daniel Boone and his party, that included African-American slaves, established to begin to settle Henderson’s land.  Although Dahlman does delve into history, this is basically a human-interest story about the very wide variety of people he meets along the way, including many who provide much appreciated hospitality. Actually, there are few books out there that give such a thorough and concrete snapshot of the people of contemporary Appalachia. The author, S. J. Dahlman, teaches humanities at Milligan College, located near Sycamore Shoals.

 

The Greater Good: Media, Family Removal, and TVA Dam Construction in North Alabama by Laura Beth Daws and Susan L. Brinson.  Tuscaloosa: The University of Alabama Press, 2019. 184 pages with an Index, Bibliography, Notes and Tables. Hardback in dust jacket. $54.95.

About 2500 people were displaced by TVA’s three North Alabama dams and reservoirs, Wheeler, Pickwick, and Guntersville, constructed in the nine North Alabama counties along the Tennessee River and completed between 1936 and 1939.  Before TVA arrived, in 1935, the average farm incomes of these counties ranged from $85 to $112 and had declined from 31% to 46% over the previous six years. The percentage of people who owned their own homes in the area inundated by Wheeler dam was 7%. In Limestone County, 16% of the residents were illiterate. It was these people that the government was forcing to leave their homes and neighbors. Fewer people in these nine counties owned their own homes in 1940, after the TVA arrived than in 1930 but, actually, by very small percentages. The authors are both communication professors and the strength of this book is that it examines the great extent of positive promotion of the TVA that was carried by local newspapers, one of the few sources of news for the residents, especially since very few homes had electricity before the TVA. The book seeks to use TVA’s own interview data to understand the impact that moving had on the residents. Unfortunately, these interviews were not a TVA priority, and arguably somewhat unreliable. For example, moving was demonstrably harder for Black families than White families, but there is no real data to illuminate how much harder, and the anecdotal evidence ordinarily consists of just a sentence or two.  Overall, this is an important subject and book, but it does not have enough data to really give the reader a very complete picture. “The Greater Good is well written and will appeal to both scholarly and regional audiences interested in the time period, southern history, and TVA.”—Aaron D. Purcell.  “This volume captures the hope for a better life that the TVA inspired and the success the TVA had in winning over small-town newspapers that framed their stories in ways that largely ignored the plight of the dispossessed. Even when their lives improved materially in their new locations, the uprooted still experienced the loss of a way of life closer to nature and close to families and friends that was destroyed forever in the name of progress for ‘the greater good.’” – Thomas Allan Scott.  The authors:  Laura Beth Daws is a communications professor at Kennesaw State in Georgia. Susan L. Brinson is professor emeritus of mass communication at Auburn.

 

Appalachia North: A Memoir by Matthew Ferrence. Morgantown: West Virginia University Press, 2019. 274 pages with a Bibliography.  Trade paperback, $26.99.

There are plenty of books that deal with Appalachia south of the Mason-Dixon Line, so I almost never review Pennsylvania books, but this book addresses directly the whole question of to what extent rural, hilly, Pennsylvania deserves to be considered “Appalachian.” Yes, it is a memoir, and it does this very subjectively with no attempt to present an intellectual argument. "Appalachia North is a lyrical homage to a region often misunderstood and overlooked. Ferrence’s engulfing prose brings to life an Appalachia north of the Mason-Dixon line and he does it with the eye of an honest poet." - Associated Press. The author grew up in Indiana County, Pennsylvania, did his undergraduate work at IUP and got a doctorate from WVU. He now teaches at Allegheny College in Pennsylvania.

 

This Atom Bomb in Me by Lindsey A. Freeman. Stanford, California: Redwood Press, 2019. 120 pages with Notes, References, and color photos. Trade paperback, $18.00.

Full disclosure. I moved to Oak Ridge, Tennessee, in January 1944 with my mom and sister after the Army Corps of Engineers finished building our house, so we could join my father who had been living there in a dormitory. I graduated from Oak Ridge High School in 1960, and even lived there during our oldest son’s kindergarten year. The author, Lindsey Freeman, is a sociology professor at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, British Columbia. She moved from Oak Ridge to Morristown, Tennessee, when she was only a few months old, but visited her grandparents there often. In trying to describe what she is getting at in this book, she gleefully cites W. E. B. DuBois’s conclusion that sociology is “woefully imperfect,” but reassures the reader that she is aspiring to the “sociological poetry” that C. Wright Mills ascribed to James Agee’s, Let Us Now Praise Famous Men.  She places her musings about the town she aspires to illuminate by stating that she was born when Jimmy Carter was President, which means she is now in her forties and began recalling Oak Ridge during the 1980s and 1990s. This book is much more a memoir of a childhood than a sociological treatise, although it does occasionally muse about the atomic symbols that set Oak Ridge apart from the rest of East Tennessee, a contrast that obviously continues to attract her attention. "These discrete vignettes spark off each other, collectively producing a text that is kaleidoscopic, wondrous, and witty. Sometimes richly comic, sometimes just quirky, but never sentimental or sugary, the writing is wry, the gaze jaundiced; there is love and affection but not affectation. Freeman presents us with an intricately conceived and intensely expressed structure of feeling, decked out here in vibrant hues." - Graeme Gilloch.

 

The Chicken Runs at Midnight by Tom Friend. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 2018. 288 pages. Hardback in dust jacket with color photos. $24.99.

Here’s the scene: Rich Donnelly, born and raised in Steubenville, Ohio, across the Ohio River from West Virginia, is a third base coach for the Pittsburgh Pirates, more absorbed with the game than his family until he learns that is eighteen-year-old daughter, Amy, is dying of cancer. Near the end of her life after watching one of his games, Amy, teases her father, “Hey dad,” she says, “when you get down in that stance and you cup your hands, what are you telling those guys on second – ‘the chicken runs at midnight’ or what?” It was just playful nonsense, but it became a fun family response when nonsense was appropriate and even morphed into a saying for the Pirate team that made Amy’s prophesy come true, after her death, when they won the World Series in 1993.  “This may be the most beautifully told, inspiring account of finding God in a baseball setting ever recorded. - Spitball Magazine. The author, Tom Friend, has written for ESPN and leading American newspapers. The TV version of this book which Friend wrote for ESPN was nominated for a 2016 Sports Emmy. A native of Washington, D.C., Friend lives in Southern California.

 

Appalachian Reckoning: A Region Responds to Hillbilly Elegy edited by Anthony Harkins and Meredith McCarroll. Morgantown: West Virginia University Press, 2019. 421 pages with an Index and photos. Hardback in dust jacket, $99.00. Trade paperback, $26.99.

Yes, arguably, Hillbilly Elegy by J. D. Vance is a book that has to be reckoned with. It was on national best-seller lists for about a year starting in the summer of 2016. And the New York Times named it one of six books to help understand Trump’s win.  And it is being made into a movie by Ron Howard. As soon as it was published, I made my really negative review public. Now, this is the second book-length response – and I hope the last. There is a solid argument for those who care about Appalachia to be pro-active and to not dignify stereotypes with responses. And, to its credit, this book does devote about 1/3 of its space to attempting to present a positive perspective on the region – after more pages of direct responses. Although most of the essays here are by mainstream academics, the editors have made a real effort to include artistic renderings of the region, in poetry and in photographs as well as traditional essays, and to include some people of color and some who identify as queer. The danger, of course, of books like this is that people will see J. D. Vance as a kind of “enemy of the people.” He is just a right-wing Republican who wrote a memoir.  I wish there were more books responding to our real enemies, books about the impact of contemporary Republican politics on Appalachia, books responding to the impact of the mainstream opioid industry on the region, books responding to the impact of state legislators on the region, and books responding to the impact of extractive industries on the region. Interestingly, like J. D. Vance, neither of the editors of this collection currently live in Appalachia – though I do feel strongly that residence or even origin does not disqualify anyone. “So often the song of this place has been reduced to a single off-key voice out of tune and out of touch. Appalachian Reckoning is the sound of the choir, pitch perfect in its capturing of these mountains and their people. This book is not only beautiful, but needed.” - David Joy. Meredith McCarroll directs the writing program at Bowdoin College in Maine and certainly wrestled with issues related to our region in her last book, Unwhite: Appalachia, Race, and Film, published last year. Anthony Harkins is a history professor at Western Kentucky University, and also dealt with issues pertaining to the image of our region in his last book – Hillbilly: A Cultural History of an American Icon (2005).

 

Sounds Like Titanic: A Memoir by Jessica Chiccehitto Hindman. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2019. 250 pages. Hardback in dust jacket, $25.95.

This is an Amazon Best Book of February 2019. The book is primarily an expose of the practice of concerts using recordings piped into sound systems and turned-off microphones in presenting music programs. The author was a violinist hired to perform as a musician to a dead mike to fool the audience into believing they were witnessing a live show. 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. 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.

 

The Sun Does Shine: How I Found Life and Freedom on Death Row by Anthony Ray Hinton with Lara Love Hardin. New York, St. Martin’s Press, 2018. 255 pages. Hardback in dust jacket, $26.99.

This was an Oprah’s Book Club Summer 2018 Selection and a New York Times best-seller.  “An amazing and heartwarming story. It restores our faith in the inherent goodness of humanity.” Archbishop Desmond Tutu. In 1985, Anthony Ray Hinton a twenty-nine-year-old African-American man living in the Birmingham, Alabama, area was arrested and charged with two counts of capital murder – murders of white men that happened when he was at work about a half-hour’s drive away. Hinton had no money for expert witnesses, inadequate knowledge of how the system worked, and a court-appointed lawyer who was pissed off that he was only getting paid a thousand dollars to defend him. Hinton was sentenced to death. The next three years he was filled with bitterness and anger. Then he decided to make the best of his life regardless of his circumstances. In 2015, the civil rights attorney, Bryan Stevenson, convinced the judges that this was a case of mistaken identity, and Anthony Ray Hardin was set free. There is lots in here – his forming a book club on death row, his friendship with the first white man ever to be executed in Alabama for killing a Black man, his firing a lawyer whose only goal was for him to get life in prison rather than to be declared innocent, and much more. “If there is ever a story that needs to be told, it is this one. Anthony Ray Hinton is extraordinary, an example to us all of the power of the human spirit to rise above complete injustice. He is using his experience as a way to turn the broken criminal justice system upside down. He is a brilliant storyteller, and his book will make people laugh, cry, and change their own lives for the better. It will also inspire people to never accept the unacceptable, like the death penalty. The Sun Does Shine will be a book that people all around the world will never forget.” - Richard Branson.

 

Day Hiking the Daniel Boone National Forest by Johnny Molloy.  Knoxville: The University of Tennessee Press, 2019.  167 pages with many topo maps and photos. Trade paperback, $24.95.

This is the very first comprehensive and detailed guidebook to the hiking trails of Eastern Kentucky’s Daniel Boone National Forest. And who better to do it than Johnny Molloy of Johnson City, Tennessee, who has published more than sixty outdoor adventure guides!  The Daniel Boone National Forest stretches in a northeast/southwest angle bisecting I-64 in the north and I-75 in the south, so these trails are easy to get to. These forty hikes may not be very well known, but they include trails to spectacular natural bridges, waterfalls, vistas and other natural wonders.  Each entry begins with eight information points from “hiking time” to “highlights” followed by Molloy’s helpful and often fascinating story of hiking the trail. Each entry ends with internal mileages along the trail so you can gauge your progress. Each also includes a photo and a topo map.

 

Red Truck Bakery Cookbook: Gold-Standard Recipes from America’s Favorite Rural Bakery by Brian Noyes with Nevin Martell. New York: Clarkson Potter, 2018. 223 pages with an Index, and 75 color pictures. A 7.75” X 9.75” hardback with a pictorial cover, $25.00.

The Red Truck Bakery opened in 2009 in Warrenton, Virginia. In 2015 it opened another restaurant in Marshall, Virginia, about 20 miles north of Warrenton and only about 50 miles west of Washington, D. C., right off I-66 about ten miles east of the Appalachian Trail. This book starts with an Introduction which tells the fascinating story of how the author got into the bakery business. Then it proceeds to three short chapters on “The Larder,” “The Toolshed,” and “Some Quick Kitchen Advice.”  Now it is ready to present 85 recipes, starting with “Breakfast Fixin’s.” “I can confirm that the Red Truck Bakery makes some darn good pie.” Barack Obama. “Full of Southern classics like buttermilk biscuits and walnut chews, as well as a number of Virginia specialties like Shenandoah Apple Cake and Appalachian Pie with Ramps and Morels.” —Epicurious. “This great little cookbook is a treasure. It holds a story of passion and persistence. It is a song of love to a region and its people. And it's chock full of recipes to make you and those you love dance around the kitchen in anticipation." —Ronni Lundy.
"There are baking books for sightseers, who drool at the pictures and shelve the book with art. There are baking books for bakers—with recipes that sound so delicious you can nearly smell them on the page. Red Truck Bakery Cookbook is clearly both.” —Phyllis Richman.

 

Blood in the Hills: A History of Violence in Appalachia edited by Bruce E.  Stewart. Lexington: The University of Kentucky Press, a 2018 paperback edition of a 2012 release. 412 pages with an Index and photos.  Trade paperback, $35.00.

This is a collection of thirteen essays, not a narrative history. None of the essays deal with the region’s wars or even union struggles, so we have experienced a whole lot more violence than considered here! Instead the essays focus on inter-racial conflicts, including race riots; feuds; murders; manhunts; assassinations, and moonshining. " Blood in the Hills is the first systematic exploration of the myths and realities of violence in the Southern Appalachian region. An important work for scholars and students of Appalachian History that will add much to the field."--Daniel S. Pierce. "The contributors to Blood in the Hills at once challenge the persistent myth of a culturally backward and inherently violent Appalachia while looking squarely at violence in the region to understand its complexity, sources, and consequences from the 18th to the early 20th centuries. Written by senior scholars and rising stars, most of them historians, these studies provide deep and critical insights into the role of violence in regional and national history and the political, economic, racial, and religious conflicts that engender it. While they challenge pejorative representations, they also provide an indispensable antidote to the all-too-prevalent romanizations of Appalachia."--Dwight Billings. ""Some of the region's brightest young scholars confront old images and received theories about mountain culture and offer new insights to violent episodes in the region's history. In so doing they tie that violence to 'deeper tensions within the fabric of American society.' A must read for those who seek to understand Appalachia as a window to the American experience rather than an exception to it." -Ronald D. Eller. The editor, Bruce E. Steward, is a history professor at Appalachian State University.

 

NOVELS

Hard Cider Abbey: A Barefoot Monk Mystery by K. P. Cecala. Scotts Valley, California: Createspace. 187 pages. Trade paperback. $12.99.

For a self-published mystery, this book has garnered remarkably positive kudos. It is the first of a series, the story of a monk who has been transferred to a West Virginia abbey where he makes friends with a monk who was raised nearby. In this book they are determined to somehow discover whether the death of the abbey’s librarian was a murder. Publishers Weekly enthused, "Gentle humor and restrained prose lift Cecala's series launch . . . Cecala crafts a quirky mystery with two unlikely sleuths and an exceptionally appealing setting. Readers will be eager for more adventures from the endearing duo." “An absolutely wonderful book with an engaging, if somewhat unusual sleuth . . . the author does a fantastic job of conveying the wildly different atmospheres of the abbey and rural Appalachia accurately. I loved the twisty plot, the author's affection for the area and the characters. I look forward to more volumes in the series.” --Janet Perry. The most recent book by the author, K. P. Cecala, is Called to Serve: The Untold Story of Father Irenaeus Herscher OFM, published by the Franciscan Institute. It is the official biography of the late Thomas Merton’s librarian who he described as his “happy little Franciscan.” Cecala claims that Herscher was her spiritual advisor as well as Merton’s. She lives in New Jersey.

 

Secret Undertaking by Mark de Castrique. Scottsdale, Arizona: Poisoned Pen Press, 2018. 265 pages. Trade paperback, $15.95.

This is the seventh book in Mark de Castrique’s “Burryin’ Barry Mystery Series,” centered around an undertaker who also serves as a deputy sheriff in a small Western North Carolina town. "De Castrique's latest mystery continues the irreverent wit and independent spirit that has marked the series thus far. The focus on the beautiful setting of western North Carolina and its Cherokee traditions is well crafted. While there are a number of other series featuring sleuthing funeral directors, this is a complex and well-executed police procedural as well."  - Library Journal. "The book is peopled with believable villains, in particular the fraudsters and liars, but it also features folks who show kindness, consideration, and a true respect for friendship. The story’s resolution is satisfying on many levels. De Castrique draws the reader into his protagonist’s world with consummate grace." - Publishers Weekly. The author, Mark de Castrique, grew up in Western North Carolina, moved away to work in television and film production, and now lives in Charlotte.

 

Deep in the Earth by Mary Bozeman Hodges. Jefferson City, Tennessee: Sapling Grove Press, 2018. 305 pages. Trade paperback, $18.00.

This is the first novel by Mary Bozeman Hodges, following two short story collections. She is the daughter of an East Tennessee zinc miner who grew up and currently lives in Jefferson City, Tennessee.  This novel is a coming-of-age story about Moss McCullen. It begins about the time of the First World War on the day that Moss’s father is killed in an explosion in the zinc mines while his mother is giving birth. “Deep in the Earth is a classic story of a boy trying to take his father's place and live his father's dream, only to be caught in the same web of classism and racism that marred his parents' lives. In authentic voices from a place she understands deeply, Mary Hodges explores the complexity of life in the zinc mines of the Mountain South as extractive industry takes hold.” -- George Ella Lyon. “Deep in the Earth is not only a passionate love story but also a detailed picture of work in the mines and life in this small town where class and race determine many fates. You will find yourself deeply involved in these lives and loves. Deep in the Earth is that rarity--a literary page-turner.” -- Lee Smith.

 

Sugar Run by Mesha Maren. Chapel Hill, North Carolina: Algonquin Books, 2018. 309 pages. Hardback in dust jacket, $26.95.

Entertainment Weekly is just one of several lists that credited this book as being one of the Most Anticipated Books of 2019. Southern Living and others called it a Best New Books of Winter 2019, and Amazon and others noted it as a Best Book of January 2019. Autostaddle chose Sugar Run to represent West Virginia in “Queer Books Across America.”  Not bad for a first novel by an unknown author with a North Carolina publisher. Sugar Run, begins in 2007 as Jodi McCarty, is released from prison in Dahlonega, Georgia, at the age of 35 after serving 18 years for manslaughter. Determined to return to her grandmother’s West Virginia home which she has inherited, along the way she falls in love with Miranda who is living in a motel room with her three young sons.  Chapters alternate between 2007 and 1988 and 1989 to fill in the back story and explain both why Jodi landed in prison and the relationships she formed earlier. "Sugar Run is one of the most riveting novels I’ve read in years. How rare it is to find a writer who brings the reader so deeply into the physical world, letting her fully inhabit a place, a time, a character’s physical being, while also propelling a plot forward with the kind of momentum not often found so perfectly wedded to such beautiful language, such languid and sensual and potent imagery. The atmosphere of Sugar Run will cling to this reader for months, after which she will read it again. This is the debut of a major new voice, one who offers us a reality more vibrant than our reality, but honest, raw, and believable."—Laura Kasischke. “Maren writes beautifully and with keen insight, but what makes this debut truly special is her ability to engender compassion in deeply flawed characters; that’s the power of good fiction.” --Erin Kodicek.  “Maren adroitly incorporates issues surrounding poverty in rural America into her narrative, including drug dealing and addiction; lack of jobs; fracking, which destroys communities and the land’s ecological health; and gun violence, which can change everything in a moment. Maren’s story is engaging and full of damaged and provocative characters who, like all of us, can be misled by our hearts.” —Minneapolis Star-Tribune. “Dread and a lush natural world infuse Maren's noir-tinged debut as she carefully relays soul-crushing realities and myths of poverty and privilege, luck and rehabilitation, and the human needs that can precede criminality through love-starved loner Jodi and her band of fellow hungry souls.”—Booklist. The author, Mesha Meren, was born and raised in rural West Virginia.  She and her partner, Randall O’Wain, a musician in a punk band, now live in the home where she was raised and that her father built by hand. I must admit that I find it very ironic that Mesha Maren’s male partner, not her, was a student at the prestigious Iowa Writers Workshop.