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July 2017 - Reviews

July 2017 - Reviews


Agatahi: The Cherokee Trail of Tears: A People’s Resistance Against the Forced Removal from their Southeast Homeland as Related in their Own Words by W. Jeff Bishop. Newnan, Georgia: Boll Weevil Press, 2017. 247 pages with a bibliography and maps. Trade paperback, $19.99.

This is arguably one of the most important non-fiction books about our region published this year. The result of meticulous research, this book brings together for the first time an array of grassroots testimony from the Cherokees removed from the Southern Appalachians to Oklahoma in the 1830s. Their removal was ordered by President Andrew Jackson against the explicit ruling of the United State Supreme Court. Here also are documented writings and speeches by Cherokee leaders and by whites both sympathetic to the Cherokees and instrumental in their oppression. This book is a must for all institutional and individual book collections that attempt to illuminate Cherokee life and the history of the American South in the 1930s. The author, W. Jeff Bishop, is the Executive Director of the Newnan-Coweta Historical Society and holds a Masters Degree in Public History and a certification in Museum Studies. He served for many years as the President of the Georgia Chapter of the Trail of Tears Association.


Hollow and Home: A History of Self and Place by E. Fred Carlisle. Morgantown: West Virginia University Press, 2017. 199 pages with an Index, Notes, and Sources, and photos and illustrations. Trade paperback, $26.99.

This innovative book flows as memoir, but digresses often into deeper musings not only about the role of place in self-development but even about the role of architecture. Carlisle considers the writings of Edward Casey, Yi-Fu Tuan, Withold Rybczynski and others. He grew up in Clover Hollow in Virginia until the age of ten when he moved to Delaware, Ohio, but returned to Virginia to become Provost at Virginia Tech and to live in the mountains nearby. “Open, direct, economical, and vividly honest.” – Joseph A. Amato.


Voice of Glory: The Life and Work of Davis Grubb by Thomas E. Douglass. Knoxville: The University of Tennessee Press, 2017. 280 pages with an Index, Bibliography, Notes and two Appendices. Hardback with pictorial cover, $58.00.

The life of Davis Grubb (1919-1980) has cried out for a literary biography for some time, and the obvious person to write it has clearly been Thomas E. Douglass. He is the fiction editor for the University of Tennessee Press’s Appalachian Echoes series and edited reprint editions of both Hawk’s Nest by Hubert Skidmore and Fools Parade by Davis Grubb. A native of West Virginia, Douglass is Professor of English at East Carolina University. He is perhaps best known as the author of the definitive literary biography of Breece D’J Pancake. The subject of this work is Davis Grubb, arguably the most distinguished West Virginia author of his generation. The first of his ten novels, The Night of the Hunter (1953) received both popular and critical acclaim and was made into an iconic Hollywood movie featuring a screenplay by none other than James Agee and starring Robert Mitchum and Shelly Winters.


Appalachian Murders & Mysteries: True Stories from West Virginia, Kentucky and Southern Ohio compiled and edited by James M. Gifford and Edwina Pendarvis. Ashland, Kentucky: The Jesse Stuart Foundation, 2016. 411 pages with photos. Hardback with pictorial cover, $30.00.

Jim Gifford, formerly a professor at Western Carolina University and Morehead State University, has directed the Jesse Stuart Foundation for decades now. Edwina Pendarvis is a published poet and author of fiction and non-fiction books. She is Professor Emeritus at Marshall University. These two editors brought together an outstanding set of 17 authors for these 23 essays that illuminate some of our region’s most notorious murders. Victims of these murders range from children to the elderly, from a nun to a wealthy socialite. One of the saddest aspects of these stories is that so many murderers were never ascertained, or arrested, or convicted.


The Takeover: Chicken Farming and the Roots of American Agribusiness by Monica R. Gisolfi. Athens: The University of Georgia Press, 2017. 104 pages with an Index, Notes, and a Foreword by Paul S. Sutter. Trade paperback, $24.95.

This crucially important book shows ways in which today’s chicken farming in North Georgia is essentially an extension of the means of production (or should be say “oppression”) found in cotton agribusiness during Reconstruction. It shows how agribusiness retains control and profits while their contract farmers absorb most of the risk. Furthermore, this book illuminates ways that the federal government, through the USDA, has not only enabled this exploitative system, but also subsidized it. “The Takeover . . . reveals the matrix of contract growing, government subsidy, and rural impoverishment that enriched agribusiness integrators and freed these firms from financial and environmental risk.” – Sarah T. Phillips. “The Takeover . . . has put a human face on . . . how independent landowners became, in essence, sharecroppers and shows the impact of that metamorphosis on them and their families.” – Melissa Walker.


World War I and Jefferson County, West Virginia by James Francis Horn. Charleston, South Carolina: History Press, 2017. 111 pages with a Bibliography, Notes, and many photos. Trade paperback, $21.99.

Jefferson County, West Virginia, is the state’s easternmost county, where Charles Town, Shepherdstown and Harper’s Ferry are located. More than 500 county natives enlisted in World War I and another 300 came from the two county colleges, Storer for African-American students and the all-white Shepherd College. This book illuminates the war while providing background on county history and these two institutions during the first quarter of the Twentieth Century. It includes a chapter on the county’s Black population that supplied 20% of the soldiers for the war despite local opposition to their service and the fact that the U.S. Military was segregated until President Harry Truman integrated the Armed Forces in 1948. The author, James Francis Horn, a graduate of Shepherd University, has worked as a seasonal park ranger in Jefferson County and beyond.


Big Creek: A Closer Look at a National Park by Dinata Misovec. Austin, Texas: Hugo House Publishers, 2016. 214 pages with photos. Trade paperback, $17.95.

Danata, and her husband Andy, have served as volunteer campground hosts at the Great Smoky Mountains National Park since their retirement in 2010. Their campground, Big Creek, is only two miles from I-40 at the Northeast corner of the park near Cosby, Tennessee. The chapters of this book are both elaborated journal entries and thoughtful musings that together provide a real grassroots feeling for the Smoky Mountains and the National Park Service. This book will help readers to realize that people in parks do not fully vacation from the foibles of everyday life elsewhere. The occurrences at the Park mirror those of humanity as a whole, and will keep you engrossed in this book.


On Strawberry Hill: The Transcendent Love of Gifford Pinchot and Laura Houghteling by Paula Ivaska Robbins. Tuscaloosa: The University of Alabama Press, 2017. 113 pages with a Bibliography, Notes, photos, and a Forward by Char Miller. Hardback with a pictorial cover$19,95.

Gifford Pinchot (1865-1946) was the first chief of the U.S. Forest Service, the founder of the first American forestry school at Yale, and also a founder of the Society of American Foresters. He is generally considered the Father of Forestry in America. Before all this, he fell in love with Laura Houghteling, (1863-1895) the daughter of the head of the Chicago Board of Trade, who lived at her family retreat, Strawberry Hill, across the French Broad River from the Vanderbilt family’s Biltmore Estate near Asheville, where Pinchot was working as a forester. Although they had met briefly in previous years, it wasn’t until the Spring of 1893 that their feelings for each other blossomed, despite the fact that she was terminally ill with tuberculosis. By December 1894 they were considering marriage, but she died in February of 1895. Pinchot believed in the kind of spiritualism that led him to feel he could communicate with her, and for twenty years he continued to journal about their love. What is disconcerting about this book is that the author’s note at the end of the text on page 103 states that she has permission from the Pennsylvania History Society “to copy from” the article, “The Mystery of Gifford Pinchot and Laura Houghteling” by the late James G. Bradley, that appeared in Pennsylvania History in 1999. She admits that “I have not used quotation marks except when quoting from another source.” To me, this disclaimer does not justify her extensive, word-for-word, use of Bradley’s text at very crucial points in this short book.


Priceless Memories of Troop 3 by Ron Taylor. Cincinnati, Ohio: Cincinnati Book Publishing, 2017. 246 pages, illustrated with both brown-and-white and full-color photographs along with topographical maps. Oversized paperback, $24.95

This delightful book tells the history of Parkersburg, West Virginia’s iconic Boy Scout Troop #3, from 1917 until 2017. It tells of the troops leaders, its expeditions, its honors, and the honors of the scouts in the troop. The author joined Troop 3 in 1949, and rose to the rank of Eagle Scout. Since moving to Cincinnati to work for Proctor and Gamble, he has joined with the troop practically every summer, and returned throughout the year for important events.


Granny Dollar by Neal Wooten. Fort Payne, Alabama: Mirror Publishing, 2017. 165 pages with a map and photos. Trade paperback, $9.00

This is a novel based on one of the most fascinating and legendary characters in northeast Alabama history, Granny Dollar (circa 1826-1931). The author worked closely with professors and librarians and came up with 27 sources of information about this humble Cherokee woman who died 75 years ago, yet so much remains unauthenticated that it made sense to tell her story as a novel. Until somebody does even more hard work to discover the obscure sources that could possibly authenticate every aspect of the Granny Dollar story, this book will remain the closest we have to her biography. Nancy Dollar’s story was first told when she and her dog, Buster, arrived in 1926 at the Master School for Southern Mountain Boys and Girls on Lookout Mountain near Mentone, Alabama. She said that her husband of twenty years, Nelson Dollar, had recently died and she could no longer support herself. The school and its founder, Colonel Milford Howard, took her in. At that time she said she was born one hundred years earlier at Buck’s Pocket on nearby Sand Mountain, and that her Cherokee family hid from the Trail of Tears in a cave. Subsequently, they lived in the Atlanta area, but her father, William Callahan, and her fiancé, Tom Porter, were killed in Civil War battles. She was 79 when she moved to Lookout Mountain and married Norman Dollar. Homer Hickam wrote of this biography, “Intriguing, well-written, and kept my interest throughout.” Don Reid of the Statler Brothers commented, “I love it. . . .You do a great job.” The author, Neal Wooten, grew up on a Sand Mountain pig farm. A stand-up comic, he is a columnist for the Mountain Valley News of Rainsville, Alabama, and currently lives in Milwaukee.



Appalachian Missive by Donna Tolley Corriher. Vadnais Heights, Minnesota: Create Space Independent Publishing Platform, 2017. 267 pages with an index, bibliography, and photos. Trade paperback, $39.99.

This book is based on the author’s Master’s thesis as a student in the Appalachian Studies Program at Appalachian State University. Donna Tolley Corriher’s thesis committee consisted of Pat Beaver, Ceci Conway, and Fred Hay. The author classifies the book as a work of autoethnography, a combination of her autobiography and her ethnographic explorations. These center on her own family whose members have lived in West Virginia, Virginia, and Avery County, North Carolina. This book is ideal for those who want to deepen their understanding of our region from the perspective of individuals living here connected over time by kinship bonds. The author now composition at Coastal Carolina University in Conway, South Carolina .



Spearfinger by Charles Suddeth. Edmund, Oklahoma: 4RV Publishing, 2017. 55 pages, illustrated by Carrie Salazar. Oversized paperback, $11.00.

The two main characters in this book are Spearfinger, a witch who terrorizes the Cherokees of the Smoky Mountains, and Chucha, the little boy who takes it upon himself to discover her secrets and put an end to her rampages. Every word in this book appears in both the Cherokee syllabary and English. At the end of the story, the Cherokee vocabulary words are listed in both the syllabary and in English letters, along with definitions, both in the order of their appearance and alphabetically.



Reflections by Briana Morgan. Atlanta, Georgia: self-published, 2017. 282 pages including a section of Additional Resources that includes contacts for Sexual Assault Prevention, Mental Health organizations, and other help for victims. Trade paperback, $14.99

This is the second novel by Briana Morgan. It is set in the fictional town of Aldale, West Virginia. The protagonist, Ramachandra Ganeshan, is victimized both mentally and physically by a brutal assault and must gain self-confidence, not only for her own good, but also to stop the perpetrator who has victimized others.



Looking for Ireland: An Irish-Appalachian Pilgrimage by Laura Treacy Bentley. Charleston, West Virginia: Mountain State Press, 2017. 48 pages with a Glossary of Photos and a plethora of full-page color photos. Oversized paperback, $12.00        

The poems and photos in this splendid collection were created by the author in West Virginia, Western Maryland and Ireland. The author sees both a genetic (her grandfather immigrated from Ireland) and a geological connection between the continents. She was born in Maryland, raised in Huntington, West Virginia, and is a graduate of Marshall University. “[T]hese brief, compelling, poems . . . reveal fresh landscapes of thought and feeling. In our rushed and muddled world, Bentley’s meditative poems are like breathing spaces – elegant, clarifying, assured.” - Julia Keller. “The imagery of the poems is married to stunning photographs forming a perfect balance . . . This is a work of art that achieves what the poet/photographer strives for, ‘to capture wild beauty, before it takes flight.’” – Tony O’Dwyer.


The Strawberry Moon by Victor M. Depta. Frankfort, Kentucky: Blair Mountain Press, 2017. 70 pages. Trade paperback, $15.00.

This is a collection of prose poems, presented in paragraph form, by Vic Depta, a native of Buffalo Creek – yes the West Virginia community thatwas flooded in 1972, killing 125 people, injuring 1,121, and displacing over 4,000. The flood was caused when the Pittston Coal Company’s coal slurry impoundment dam #3 burst. A retired professor and prolific poet, Depta now resides in Frankfort, Kentucky. “In The Strawberry Moon Victor Depta creates a collection of prose poems that feel as nimble and fluid as haiku, yet retain the solidity of the fully pursued idea of the lyric. The poems manage to be philosophical without dwelling in abstraction, emotional without slipping into sentimentality, and both political and spiritual without reverting to sermons.” – Jesse Graves. “Readers will find here poems that delight in the everyday phenomena of the natural world. They will find, as well, however, poems grappling with the paradox of consciousness, poems unafraid to consider mountain top removal mining, and rhododendrons, and dill weed! The Strawberry Moon offers an intriguingly subtle melding of philosophy and poetry that should fascinate readers.” – Marc Harshman. “Disguised as meditations on aging and death these fine prose poems are purposeful explorations of the slender bonds that connect the natural world and the self, consciousness and the unknowable . . . . These poems of self-discovery invite reading and re-reading.” - Richard Taylor.



Galloway’s Justice by Melodee Elliott. Dallas, Texas: My Chair Publishing, 2017. 258 pages. Trade paperback, $12.99.

This novel is Book 1 in the Red’s Mountain Series. The Galloway in the title is a Deputy Sheriff in southeast Tennessee who faces several dilemmas when he suspects his girlfriend’s husband to be involved in the disappearance of a teenaged girl in the community. The author has a Master’s Degree in Library Science and lives in Dallas, Texas.


Whatever You Say by Leigh Fleming. Martinsburg, West Virginia: Envisage Press, 2017. 248 pages. Trade paperback, $9.99.

This is a contemporary romance novel, artfully plotted and expressed. It is volume 2 of the “Whatever Series,” a Highland Spring Romance. The novel is set in West Virginia, where the protagonist, Kate McNamara, a D.C. lawyer, is called back to her grandmother’s small town where she encounters Brody Fisk, a former country music star. Leigh Fleming lives in Martinsburg, West Virginia, and is a member of the Romance Writers of America.


Whispers from the Cove by Jeanne Hardt. Seattle, Washington: Amazon Digital Services, 2017. 353 pages. Trade paperback, $13.95.

This novel is Book One of the author’s Smoky Mountain Secrets Saga. The Cove in the title is Cades Cove in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, a site that the author and her husband visit every year on their wedding anniversary. This historical romance novel is set there during the Civil War. Lily Larsen, the protagonist, cannot refuse aid to the injured Caleb Henry despite her initial misgivings.


Mountain Tales & River Stories by Pete Kosky. Charleston, West Virginia: Mountain State Press, 2017. 198 pages. Trade paperback, $15.00.

Pete Kosky is a teacher who lives in South Charleston, West Virginia, and a clawhammer banjo player who is active in the old-time music and folklife communities of the state as well as its literary scene. He is, for example, a past winner of the West Virginia Liars Contest. The cover of the book is a photo by Lisa Elmaleh; Billy Edd Wheeler songs inspired some characters, and his editor is Cat Pleska. “A delightful set of stories ranging from the days of Rimfire Hamrick in Webster County to a night at Charleston’s Empty Glass in modern times. Pete calls upon his experiences as a musician, his trips to mountain men rendezvous, and even his formal education to craft some of the finest West Virginia stories you will find anywhere.” – Mack Samples. “Pete Kosky . . . will take you . . . on a dark yet vivid ride that makes you shudder. And makes you yearn for more.” – the late Lee Maynard. “This book is great fun! Reading this amazing story collection is like attending one of Pete’s music performances: you are thoroughly entertained.” Kirk Judd.


Life in the Park: A Novel by Marion T. Smith. Newnan, Georgia: Lichtenbergian Press/Boll Weevel Press, 2017. 236 pages. Trade paperback, $19.99.

Marion T. Smith, lives in Winterville, Georgia, but has created a fictional town, Halls Corner located in North Georgia. At the end of his novel is an appendix that summarizes the fictional – but quite credible - history of Halls Corner. The park referred to in the title, is a trailer park where the characters in this novel live and interact.


A Space Apart by Meredith Sue Willis. Maplewood, New Jersey: Irene Weinberger Books/Hamilton Stone Editions, a 2017 reprint of a 1979 release. 173 pages. Trade paperback, $16.95.

This book launched the terrific literary career of Meredith Sue Willis in 1979, a career that is still going strong. Publishers Weekly called A Space Apart a “noteworthy first novel.” The Kirkus Reviews called Willis “an important new talent.” This book and her next two novels were published by Scribners. A Space Apart follows three generations of the fictional Scarlin family from the 1950s into the 1970s. The setting is a small West Virginia coal-mining town, and the patriarch of the family is a Baptist preacher. Each of the ten chapters is told from the perspective of a different family member. Few books illuminate the challenges and clashes of the ‘60s as aptly and artfully as this novel.