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January 2020 Reviews

January 2020 Reviews


What’s So Special About Today? by Kelsey N. Clark. Terra Alta, West Virginia: Headline Kids/Headline Books, 2020. 32 pages illustrated in color by Ashley Belote. 8.5” X 11” hardback with pictorial cover, $16.95.

The last page provides the author’s answer to the question posed in the title: “ Mommy, I think I finally know what’s so special about today. It’s God’s gift of love for us that never goes away.” “In her first book, Kelsey Clark has captured the simplicity of the American Dream. Through the eyes of her son and an everyday conversation between them, she highlights the joy she finds in being a mom and the simple truths of her faith. Meet a family with whom you will fall in love as you read and discover just what is special about today.” –Rev. Stephen L. Wotring. “Full of curiosity, wonder, and purpose, Clark captures your heart while engaging the questions and curiosities of most children through rhythmic verse you and your young one will want to read again and again.” --Briana Almengor. The author, Kelsey Clark, is an occupational therapist who lives on a West Virginia farm.


The Untold Story of the Three Little Pigs by Stephanie Lang. Terra Alta, West Virginia: Headline Kids/Headline Books, 2020. 56 pages, illustrated in color by Ashley Belote. 7.5” X 5.5” trade paperback, $12.95.

This rendition of the Three Little Pigs story features the pigs as students in an Ohio school across the river from West Virginia. The wolf is the quarterback of their championship football team. “Stephanie takes us on the untold journey of our childhood favorites; exploring complex childhood relationships and pressures, while keeping both kids and parents questioning what's next.” --Natalie Cline. “A lively and relevant fairy tale -- children can relate to the characters and true-to-life situations. As a mother and teacher this story opens the door to the important conversations we need to have with our kids about honesty and character building.” --Samantha Karinshak. Stephanie Land is a special education teacher in Monongalia County, West Virginia.


Beasley & the Big Guy in Red: A Christmas Story by Ellen Shubert. Terra Alta, West Virginia: Headline Kids/Headline Books, 2020. 32 pages, illustrated in color by Ashley Belote. 8.5” X 11” trade paperback, $16.95.

Beasley in the title is a basset hound. The big guy in red in the title is Santa Claus. Beasley is wanting to get a chance to see the big guy in red, but, in his excitement, he upsets the Christmas tree. Leave it to the big guy in red to save the day! The author, Ellen Shubert teaches in Preston County, West Virginia.


The Possumbilities are Endless! You Can Do Whatever You Want With Your Life by Grant Maloy Smith. Terra Alta, West Virginia: Headline Kids/Headline Books, 2020. 32 pages, illustrated in color by the author. 8.5” X 8.5” trade paperback, $13.95.

In this book a little possum girl and boy ask their parents and grandparents what they can be – in terms of vocations. It turns out that the possumbilities really are endless! "This a great book, with a wonderful message--inspiring and ideal for young readers, just like me." --Alina Morse.
"I attribute much of my success and interest in learning to my parents reading to me as a child. The Possumbilities Are Endless does an inspiring job teaching kids, myself included, that no matter who they are, they can be anything." --Rachel Seevers. The author, Grant Maloy Smith, is a successful musician as well as an author. This is his second possum book.



Echoes of the Past: My Dirt Road Diary by Amy Pennington Brudnicki. Richmond, Kentucky: Brudnicki-Penn Publishing, 2019. 254 pages. Trade paperback, $17.99.

This book consists of a series of short vignettes, memories, in no particular order, of how it was growing up in Hurricane Creek Hollow in Leslie County, Kentucky, in the 1970s. It can be read all at once, or put somewhere handy to read whenever the mood strikes for a short distraction. Each memory is very straight forward. The author is not trying to impress you with how poor or how rich or how good or how bad or  how exotic or how tough or how anything she is. Amy Brudnicki has also written a novel under a pen name. She lives in Richmond, Kentucky.


Step into the Circle: Writers in Modern Appalachia edited by Amy Greene and Trent Thomson. Winston-Salem, North Carolina: Blair/Carolina Wren Press, 2019. 111 pages, illustrated with color photographs. 8” X 10” hardback with a pictorial cover, $24.95.

This is a beautiful, well-written, coffee-table book that highlights the contributions and lives of nine mostly nationally known contemporary authors who identify with Appalachia: Wendell Berry, Crystal Wilkinson, Ron Rash, Adriana Trigianani, Silas House, George Ella Lyon, Frank X. Walker, Marie Junaluska, and Lee Smith. The profiles are written by authors who are not as nationally prominent but are well-known in Appalachian literary circles. One minor point: This is not THE circle of writers in modern Appalachia. It is A circle, arguably an important one. Through a few literary journals and workshops, these 18 authors, with a couple of exceptions, are friends who represent one kind of literary circle. Although only two of the authors profiled still live in the region, five of the authors of the profiles do. The books written up on this website, Appalachian Mountain Books, of course, show that beyond this circle are many nationally, regionally, and locally acclaimed and respected Appalachian writers. There are also others inside this circle who are worthy as well. We can easily create lots of other circles of modern Appalachian writers. For example, one of very prominent writers who live in Appalachia would overlap with Ron Rash and could include Nikki Giovanni, Charles Wright, Barbara Kingsolver, Terry Roberts, Sharyn McCrumb, R. H. W. Dillard, Rita Dove, Jeff Daniel Marion, Nora Roberts, etc. A circle of nationally prominent writers who grew up in Appalachia but have moved on would overlap with Lee Smith, and could include Cormac McCarthy, Jayne Ann Phillips, Fred Chappell, Lisa Alther, Robert Morgan, Dorothy Allison, Charles Frazier, Julia Keller, etc. The editors, Amy Greene and Trent Thomson, are a married couple who live in Hamblen County, Tennessee. Amy Green is the author of two very successful novels, Bloodroot and Long Man.


More Lean and Luscious Mediterranean by Millie Snyder. Terra Alta, West Virginia: Headline Books, 2020. 312 pages with an Index. 10” X 7” trade paperback, $24.95.

Fifteen years ago, Millie Snyder self-published Lean and Luscious which was soon picked up by a major publisher. This is her third follow-up cookbook, along with additional revisions of previous cookbooks.  From 1969 until 2013, Snyer was the CEO of Weight Watchers of West Virginia. She now owns and operates the Shape Shop Café in Charleston, West Virginia, which serves only “healthy, fresh, never-processed food and treats.”


The Joke’s on You! All I did was clean out my files by Sam Venable. Knoxville, Tennessee: self-published. 241 pages. Trade paperback, $14.95.

Good news! Those who know Sam or even have just heard of him, smile when they hear his name. Now he has cleaned out his files in search of the best jokes he’s heard over the last 50 years and put them into this book.  His thirteen previous books were funny every once in a while, but this one consists entirely of jokes. Sam Venable, a native of Knoxville, came to the Knoxville News Sentinel in 1985 at the age of 23 right out of the University of Tennessee with a BA. For fifteen years Venable was their outdoors editor. Then in 1985 he got promoted to humor columnist. Since retiring in 2014 he continues to write a Sunday column. Until now, I think my favorite of his previous books is Mountain Hands: A Portrait of Southern Appalachia, a really great picture book of mountain craftsmen. The work he is most proud of is “Fragments of Hate” which was published as a special section of the News Sentinel that tells the story of Charles Moulden, an African-American man from Sevier County who was shot by a white man in 1968 while Moulden was fishing for trout.  A Monroe County jury proclaimed his assailant to be innocent. I’m sorry this book delayed me in getting this January 2020 version of my Reviews on line. I was reading the jokes and re-writing them on e-mails I was sending to friends.



An Uncommon Woman by Laura Frantz. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Revell/Baker Publishing Group, 2020. 377 pages. Trade paperback, $15.99.

Set in the Western Virginia Mountains in 1770, this historical novel’s protagonist is Tessa Swan who was born and raised in these mountains alongside five brothers toughened by their harsh environment. Her life changes when Clay Tygart returns to command a nearby fort with Tessa’s childhood friend, Keturah. They both were raised as captives by Lenape Indians. The tension tightens when Tessa is captured by the tribe that raised Clay and Keturah. "In An Uncommon Woman, author Laura Frantz transports readers to a setting she has mastered, the eighteenth-century mountain frontier. Sensory-rich descriptions bring the landscape to life. Traverse perilous forest trails, shelter with raw relief in the rough but welcoming environs of a fort, experience the tension of an isolated homestead that might stand peaceful today but lie in smoking ruins tomorrow. Peopled with characters as resilient and compelling as the terrain they inhabit, An Uncommon Woman is an engaging story that had me up late turning pages.” - Lori Benton. The author, Laura Fantz was born in Ashland, Kentucky, and raised in three other Kentucky towns in a family with ancestral ties to Berea where she was baptized at the age of 12. Her eleven books have won her a Christy Award and been deemed best-sellers by the Evangelical Christian Publishers Association.


Enough by C. D. “Tony” Hylton, III. Terra Alta, West Virginia: Headline Books, 2020. 239 pages. Trade paperback, $19.95.

The protagonist of this novel is Rick Hill. He is the new publisher of the Lawnsville Crier, the weekly newspaper in fictional Jordon County, West Virginia. Hill quickly learns of the power of the local entrenched and well-funded politicians who burn down his newspaper and plot to murder him. "There's nothing like a good old-fashioned story about political corruption in West Virginia to pique a reader's interest. Hylton uses his experience in the newspaper business to weave a page-turner of a tale that will leave the reader cheering for principled small-town journalism." --Hoppy Kercheval. "Enough is a compelling narrative describing the machinations of a venal county political machine. Set in Southern West Virginia during the famous 1960 John F. Kennedy Presidential primary, Tony Hylton exposes the tawdry details of exercising power in a corrupt political system. He also captures the determined efforts of a brave newspaperman to clean it up. Enough is a fast moving and intriguing read." --H. Marshall Jarrett. The fact that the author, Tony Hylton, was once the editor/publisher of the Hinton (West Virginia) Daily News probably has nothing to do with the vivid imagination he somehow conjures up to capture small-town West Virginia politics.


Holding on to Nothing by Elizabeth Chiles Shelburne. Winston-Salem, North Carolina: Blair/Carolina Wren Press, 2019. 272 pages. Hardback in dust jacket, $25.95.

Holding on to Nothing is a novel about a couple who don’t have a heck of a lot, in terms of material goods, to hold on to. Lucy Kilgore hoped to leave her home town in East Tennessee right after high school, but when she got pregnant with the baby of Jeptha Taylor, who always wanted to stay, that option evaporated. "Shelburne's stunning debut novel is a long trip into small-town Tennessee. . .riveting, touching, heart-wrenching, tragic, and beautiful." ―Booklist. "Holding On To Nothing is a resonant song of the South, all whiskey, bluegrass, Dolly Parton, tobacco fields, and women who know better but still fall for the lowdown men whom they know will disappoint them. Elizabeth Chiles Shelburne writes with extraordinary love and compassion of the lives of her flawed characters; she shines a clear, calm light on their tragedies, their joys, and their hard-won redemptions." ―Lauren Groff. "Elizabeth Chiles Shelburne writes with a chafe and charm that makes you give a damn about these flawed characters, Lucy and Jeptha, makes you root for them when what little they have is at risk. This novel has all the makings of a true ballad―heartache and dead ends, booze and bad decisions, double-crossing relatives, a hand-me-down mandolin, and a loyal dog named Crystal Gayle. It also has a deep humming heart that knows sorrow. Like Lucy’s beloved Dolly Parton, Holding On To Nothing is not just country, it’s mountain. Shelburne is a literary force to be reckoned with." ―Susan Bernhard. The author,  Elizabeth Chiles Shelburne, grew up in East Tennessee, graduated from Amherst College and then went to work for The Atlantic Monthly. She started writing this book before she had any children, and now she and her husband have four. They live outside Boston.



Coal Black: Stories by Chris McGinley. Charleston, West Virginia: Shotgun Honey: 2019. 156 pages, trade paperback, $11.95.

These ten stories mostly fall into the category of crime fiction. Their titles point to dimensions of the Appalachian experience that are well-publicized, including quilts, serpents, haints and hellbenders. “Oh. My. God. Have y’all read Chris McGinley’s Coal Black: Stories? If not, hasten to them. This shit is brilliant, this shit is real. It launches with ‘Hellbenders’ and doesn’t slow down. Lord, this is great story telling. It’s Appalachians trying to survive, trying to get past the mines. If that means drugs, so be it. As McGinley writes in ‘These Hills,’ ‘All this shit around us. Drugs, poverty, sickness. The forest is the only good thing left around here.’ Beautifully written stories; this is a stunning collection.” —Rob Peirce. “Chris McGinley’s aptly named Coal Black grabs the reader by the shirt collar and doesn’t turn loose. These stories are as dark as the coal that is no longer in the mountains McGinley writes about . . . These are tough tales about tough people and I can’t imagine someone picking up this book and not being impressed. I know I was.” —Charles Dodd White. “Mesmerizing and intense, the stories in Coal Black are a treat to read, every honed sentence reminding us that we’re in excellent hands as we travel into the darkness of haunting crime and equally haunted countryside. This collection rocks.” —Rusty Barnes. “Brutal yet beautiful, sparse but with moments of lush emotional resonance, Chris McGinley’s debut collection of short fiction, Coal Black, heralds a new and necessary voice in crime fiction. The prose is so sharp that it begs to be read slowly, to linger with the reader, as McGinley’s stories explore the effects of a lost industry and the devastation of opioids in rural Appalachia. Rarely have I come across a debut so assured. This is a book that deserves an audience, and stories that deserve to be remembered.” —E.A. Aymar. Chris McGinley teaches middle school in Lexington, Kentucky.