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January 2021 Reviews

January 2021 Reviews


On Rising Ground: The Life and Civil War Letters of John M. Douthit, 52nd Georgia Volunteer Infantry Regiment by Elaine Fowler Palencia. Macon, Georgia: Mercer University Press, 2021. 194 pages with an index, Bibliography, illustrations and photographs. Hardback in dust jacket.

John Douthit joined the Confederate Army in 1862 leaving behind on his small Fannin County, Georgia, hillside farm a wife pregnant with a daughter he would never see. Her great-great grand-daughter, Elaine Fowler Palencia, has found his Civil War letters and deeply researched his regiment’s history. Her background as the author of six works of fiction and four of poetry gives this book attention to plot, characters, setting, style and theme uncommon but deeply appreciated in works of non-fiction. "Elaine Palencia has written a richly-researched, and, in the end, poignant account of a Confederate foot soldier from the mountains of North Georgia. Building from the thirty surviving letters of Sergeant John M. Douhit to his wife Martha, Palencia describes an underappreciated campaign for the Cumberland Gap, the Rebel invasion of Kentucky, the fight for Vicksburg, and an increasingly divided home front. The poorly supplied soldiers of the 52nd Georgia marched 1,000 miles, all the while fighting disease, harsh weather, and their Yankee adversaries. Here is an opportunity for the reader to grasp the absolute uncertainties of life in the ranks of the Southern army."-W. Clifford Roberts, Jr.


Records of the Moravians Among the Cherokees: March to Removal, Part 5: “This Is Not My Home Anymore” – Volume 10 – 1834-1838 edited by Richard W. Starbuck. Tahlequah, Oklahoma: Cherokee Heritage Press 2020. Pages 4893-5301 with 21 pages of introductory material after the Table of Contents, and with a frontispiece map, documents, quotes, and three appendices which includes sources and an index. Hardback in dust jacket.

“Heart freezing scenes of injustice, deception, oppression, & force, of which this Nation is the victim,” writes missionary Henry Clauder in April 1837. The Moravians were open to all the critiques that apply to all missionaries, but they were arguably among the most sympathetic to their target group and therefore among the most successful in transmitting Christian and capitalist values of any missionary group. Despite some efforts, the Moravians were unsuccessful against the racist tide that stole the land and property of the Cherokees to “cleanse” the South of all but white people and their slaves. The editor, since 1986, has worked in the Moravian Archives.


A Smoky Mountain Boyhood: Memories, Musings, and More by Jim Casada. Knoxville: The University of Tennessee Press, 2020. 309 pages with an Index, Glossary, and photos. Trade Paperback.

Jim Casada’s years writing a much-loved column for the Smoky Mountain Times of Bryson City, North Carolina, his home town, have taught him well what most delights readers, so he has arranged his wonderful memoir not chronologically but to emphasize what readers most enjoy. Part 1 is “High Country Holiday Tales and Traditions.” Part 2 is “Seasons of the Smokies,” Part 3 is “Tools, Toys, and Boyhood Treasures,” and Part 4 is “Precious Memories.” Whatever room you wish to leave this book in, even after you have read the whole thing, you can turn to it over and over again to re-read one of the 41 delightful chapters and experience the cares of the day evaporating. The chapters average about seven pages each, so you can easily pick either a short one or one of longer duration depending on your circumstances. Personally, I’d check first for one that includes his Grandpa Joe who Casada describes as “a boy trapped in an old man’s body. Full of tricks as a pet ‘coon, tough as a seasoned sapling, and imbued with seventy-plus years of wisdom accumulated by living close to the good earth of the Smokies.” Of the seventeen books that Jim Casada has written, most deal with hunting and fishing and the great outdoors. He is in many respects a modern-day Horace Kephart except for the crucial difference that Casada has deep roots in the Smokies. He retired from being a professor of history at Winthrop University in 1966.



A Deadly Edition: A Blue Ridge Library Mystery by Victoria Gilbert. New York: Crooked Lane Books, 2020. 368 pages. Hardback in dust jacket.

Amy Webber, a library director in Taylorsford, Virginia, and her fiancé find the body of the bitter rival of the host of their pre-nuptial celebration. That kicks off the excitement in this the fifth and last book in the Blue Ridge Library Mystery Series. “Endearing characters are further fleshed out in the library director's fifth mystery.”—Kirkus Reviews. “Lively small-town characters, a well-paced plot, and dollops of fascinating art history help make this a winner.”—Publishers Weekly. “The well plotted and character driven story moves quickly and has something for everyone...Highly recommended.”—Fresh Fiction. “A mystery that has suspense, surprises, and humor which makes for an addicting and delightful cozy read from beginning to end.”—Manhattan Book Review. The author, Victoria Gilbert, is a professional librarian who grew up in the kind of small town she writes about. She lives in North Carolina.


Night Bird Calling by Cathy Gohlke. Carol Stream, Illinois: Tyndale House, 2020. 431 pages with Discussion Questions. Trade paperback.

The protagonist of this novel, Lilliana Swope learned from her mother that the calls of a night bird signaled hope for comfort ahead. In 1941, she flees an abusive husband for the home of her only living relative, Great Aunt Hyacinth, who lives in the small foothill town of No Creek, North Carolina. They decide to open a library for the whole town, but the Ku Klux Klan wants it to be for whites only. “Gohlke’s efforts to address real-life issues and the evils of racism is laudable and shows religious truths in this Christian historical-fiction novel. Night Bird Calling also interlaces themes of redemption, friendship.”– Booklist. “Gohlke delivers a gripping story about the trauma of domestic and church abuse set in 1941 Appalachia. . . . Gohlke creates a cast readers will love, and the strong themes of the bonds of family forged outside one’s kin resonate. The author’s fans will love this.” -- Publishers Weekly.” Cathy Gohlke examines spousal abuse and restored faith in Night Bird Calling, an engrossing novel about a woman’s flight to rural Appalachia. . . . Night Bird Calling is a sumptuous, textured ode to small-town relationships. For all of their intricate secrets and sins, No Creek and its battlegrounds yield to become a beautiful refuge.” -- Foreword Reviews. The author, Cathy Gohlke, has homes in Northern Virginia and the Jersey shore. This is her ninth book, four of which have won Christy Awards.


The Other Morgans by Carter Taylor Seaton. Virginia Beach, Virginia: Koehlerbooks, 2020. 262 pages. Trade paperback.

You can count on Carter Taylor Seaton to tell a hell of a story, and indeed she has in this novel. The protagonist, AJ Porter, a widowed single mother, has never traveled beyond the borders of West Virginia until she inherits the 4,000 acre Langford Hall estate in Virginia. It is a place that hired its docent away from Monticello! The terms of the inheritance are that she must live there for a year or so, though the estate will cover her expenses both at her home and while living at Langford Hall. Does she still really dream of escaping Gimlet Hollow now that it is possible?  What about her boyfriend, daughter and mother?  Langford Hall is threatened by development, and Gimlet Hollow is threatened by fracking. Lots of fascinating plot lines are here to be resolved, and lots of outstanding writing to make the journey rewarding. “Carter Taylor Seaton tells this tale with grace and grit. This fast-paced novel will sweep you up in its lush detail, its close observation of characters, and its enduring love of the land and its people.” – Lee Martin.  “Carter Taylor Seaton delights readers as she takes them with AJ on a richly-textured journey that explores insights about culture, class, race, and history.” Carter Taylor Seaton has brought us two previous novels, two distinguished non-fiction books, The Rebel in the Red Jeep about Congressman Ken Hechler and Hippie Homesteaders, plus a delightful children’s book, Me and MaryAnn. She lives in Huntington, West Virginia.



Merciful Days: Poems by Jesse Graves. Macon, Georgia: Mercer University Press, 2020. 57 pages. Trade paperback.

“These poems have music, wisdom, and singular voice of a talent fully realized, and make abundantly clear that Jesse Graves is one of America’s finest young poets.” Ron Rash wrote that years ago. And now we have what Charles Dodd White considers, “Graves’ finest poetry collection to date, which is significant considering I think he is the premier poet of the American South today.” Denton Loving concludes, “Merciful Days is an elegy, but it’s not a dirge. These poems are full of joyous moments, as well as of the deepest sense of love, the kind that only expands and grows.” Years ago, when his talent was first noticed, Graves was inducted into the prestigious Fellowship of Southern Writers. Then he wrote poems of celebration, virtually bereft of elegy. Now, with grey sparkling his short beard, Graves combines the two in a beautiful and even more wise way. This poetry collection honors his deceased father and brother, but Denton Loving points out that the recognition that Graves has of these losses, “speak[s] to a larger theme that flows throughout the collection: that we as individuals are only a fleeting part of something much larger and more mysterious than we can fully comprehend.” Jesse Graves grew up in Sharp’s Chapel, Tennessee, an unincorporated community in Union County, a rural county with no U.S. highways. He teaches about 100 miles to the east at East Tennessee State University. As deep and lyrical as these poems are, they are accessible and spoken in the plain language that identifies them as centered in Union County, not a university.