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July 2019 Reviews

July 2019 Reviews


The Princess and the Pickup Truck by Bill Lepp. Charleston, West Virginia: Quarier Press, 2018. 32 unnumbered pages, illustrated by Lottie Looney. 8.5” X 11” hardback in dust jacket, $15.35.

The inspiration for this children’s book came while Bill Lepp was driving, with his teen-aged daughter, down a West Virginia highway when they caught up with a pickup truck carrying several mattresses. Lepp asked, “Do you think you could sleep on that?” to which his daughter replied, “Of course I could, Daddy, I’m a princess.” The result is a zany and endearing tale of a mountain man seeking a mountain princess. Bill Lepp is a professional story-teller who appears at events all over the country. He is a five-time champion of the West Virginia Liar’s Contest, a featured storyteller at the Smithsonian Folklife Festival as well as the National Storytelling Festival, and a recipient of the 2018 Vandalia Award, West Virginia’s highest folk arts award.  He has also won the PEN Steven Kroll Award for picture book writing and the Zena Sutherland Award for Children’s Literature.



Shining: Ole Smoky Moonshine Family Cookbook by Jessi Baker. Kansas City, Missouri: Andrews McMeel Publishing, 2019. 152 pages with an Index and many full-page photos in color and black-and-white. 7.75” X 8.5” hardback with pictorial cover. $24.99.

In 1950, Jessi Baker’s grandparents founded the Ole Smoky Candy Kitchen in Gatlinburg at the entrance to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park on the Tennessee side. In 2009, Tennessee passed a law that made brewing alcohol legal, and in a few months, the Bakers became the first federally-licensed moonshine makers in East Tennessee history. They now sell their flavored moonshine in all 50 states and more than 50 countries, and they host the most yearly visitors of any distillery in the world - over four million. This cookbook – really a coffee-table book with stunning photographs -  starts with a “History of Moonshining in Appalachia” and then begins the recipes for food with a chapter on Cocktails, then Dips, and Breads and on and on to Brunch and finally Desserts. Not all the recipes incorporate moonshine, but even the majority of the desserts do.  I worked as a bell-hop at the Greystone Hotel in Gatlinburg through much of 1962. Then Gatlinburg was a dry town owned by five families – The Ogles, the Maples, the Reagans, the Whaleys, and the Huffs – and it allowed no chain businesses. What a difference a few decades makes!


Eastern Cherokee Stories: A Living Oral Tradition and Its Cultural Continuance by Sandra Muse Isaacs. Norman: The University of Oklahoma Press, 2019. 305 pages with an Index, Works Cited, Notes and a Foreword by Joyce Dugan. Hardback with pictorial cover, $39.95.

This book is an amazing tour de force!  “Eastern Cherokee Stories is the most thoroughly contextualized book of Eastern Cherokee narratives to date, with rich Cherokee language information worked in wherever possible. It is a very welcome contribution to Cherokee studies and to the existing collections of Cherokee stories.” – Margaret Bender. Yes, this is not simply a collection of stories. Rather it is a treatise on Cherokee heritage and values that incorporates stories into it – in a different typeface. Many enrolled members of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians have worked very hard to promote Cherokee stories, performing them at a variety of venues, and collecting them as well, occasionally, in print. This book celebrates their contributions and transcribes their stories in their words with appropriate attribution and a different typeface, so readers can choose to just read the stories or to read the stories with the context provided. The story-tellers include “Kathi Smith Littlejohn, Davy Arch, Freeman Owle, Lloyd Arneach, Jerry Wolfe, Butch and Louis Goings, Bear Taylor, Chief Joyce Dugan, Walker Calhoun, Amy Walker, Pat Calhoun,” and enrolled members of Western Cherokee nations, the late Robert Conley and Tom Belt, both of whom taught at Western Carolina University. Also incorporated are stories told by Swimmer and others to James Mooney of the U. S. Bureau of Ethnology over 100 years ago. Joyce Dugan, who wrote the introduction to this book, was the first woman elected to be the Principal Chief of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians serving from 1995 until 1999. In that position, she established a cultural division of tribal government and was active in environmental and health issues, especially in efforts to curtail diabetes. A teacher, she previously served as superintendent of the Cherokee Schools. She has been the co-author of several books. In her Foreword, she celebrates how the concepts of Gadugi and Duyvkta are incorporated in this book, and explains that Gudugi is “the practice of helping the whole community, and Duyvkta [is] the belief that individuals have the responsibility to promote harmony, peace, balance and kindness.” The author, Sandra Muse Isaacs, is a descendent of members of the Bird Clan of the Eastern Band and is Assistant Professor of Indigenous Literature and English Language and Literature at the University of Windsor [Ontario].


Frontal Matter: Glue Gone Wild: A Memoir by Suzanne Samples, edited by Barbara Lockwood. Bodega Bay, California: Running Wild Press, 2018. 255 pages. Trade paperback. $24.99

I just checked her Facebook page, and Suzanne Samples has been posting the last few days, so I assume she is still alive. I checked the website of Appalachian State University, and it still lists her as a member of their English faculty. I checked, and there really is a Harrisville, West Virginia, in Ritchie County, kinda half way between Clarksburg and Parkersburg. Why all the checking? Because what this memoir does is to tell us what is going through the head of a woman from Harrisville, West Virginia, who teaches English at Happy Appy and has been diagnosed with a frontal lobe glioblastoma multiforme – brain cancer - at 36. No, this is not a depressing book to read. In fact it is very compelling and hard to put down. It doesn’t have any real chapters, but when it tells about what is going on in Harrisville, it puts “west virginia” in italics before it begins, and it does the same for “boone, north carolina” and for “wake forest baptist hospital, comprehensive cancer center, the dash,” or simply “the dash,” or even the name of a hotel and sometimes even “nowhere.”  This breaks the text up every few pages very nicely without the need for chapters.  I’m really glad that Suzanne Samples is still alive and that there is a zany publisher in one of my favorite places to visit – Bodega Bay, California -  that is willing to publish such a cool book as this.


Swift Justice: The Story of John F. Morgan and the Last Public Hanging in West Virginia by Merrilee Fisher Matheny. Charleston, West Virginia, Quarrier Press, 2019. 235 pages with End Notes at the end of each chapter and photos. Trade paperback, $19.81.

On November 3, 1897, in Jackson County, West Virginia, John F. Morgan, a local handiman killed Chloe Greene and two of her children, Jimmy Greene and Matilda Pfost. He also attacked a third victim, Alice Pfost, with his fatal hatchet, but she survived and ran to neighbors to report the crime. Within hours Morgan was apprehended, arrested, and incarcerated at Ripley, the county seat. He was indicted the next day, convicted the following day, and sentenced to death by hanging the day after that. Two weeks before the hanging was scheduled, he escaped from jail. He survived at large for two days before being re-captured. He was hung at a public event, attended by over five thousand people including correspondents from many American newspapers, on December 16th. Shortly thereafter, the West Virginia legislature prohibited public executions, one of the first states to do so, but it was the last state, in 1949, to prohibit hanging as a means of execution.  This book goes into detail about every aspect of this fascinating story. You learn here about not only what happened, but also, in depth, about the people involved in various ways.  The author, Merrilee Fisher Matheny, is from Ripley. This is her first book.


Haunted West Virginia: Ghosts and Strange Phenomena of the Mountain State by Patty A. Wilson. Guilford, Connecticut: Globe Pequot/Rowman & Littlefield, a 2019 edition of a 2007 release. 149 pages with Recommended Reading. Trade paperback, $16.95.

This book gives a brief but thorough recounting of 41 West Virginia stories of supernatural phenomenon. It is organized into eight sections each based on a geographical region of the state. The first edition of this book was published in 2007 by Stackpole books. The author is from Pennsylvania and has written or co-authored a number of books of Pennsylvania ghost stories and one of the ghosts of North Carolina. 



Bone on Bone by Julia Keller. New York: Minotaur Books/St. Martin’s, a 2019 paperback edition of a 2018 release. 319 pages with an excerpt of her next book. Trade paperback, 17.99.

Another novel about a West Virginia town plagued by the drug epidemic?  Yes, BUT, the author is a native of the state with a PhD who earned a Pulitzer Prize as a reporter, and this is her seventh book featuring Bell Elkins, who readers of the series first knew as a prosecutor and then learned she would spend time in prison for the murder of her abusive father.  Michael Connelly called her “one of the most fully realized characters in fiction today.” Oh, don’t worry, Bell Elkins has served her time and returned to Acker’s Gap, West Virginia, for this novel. “This haunting, thought-provoking story proves Keller is one of a kind. – Library Journal (starred review). “This thoughtful, painfully empathetic story will long linger in the reader’s memory.” – Publishers Weekly (starred review). “Keller can spin a mystery plot with the best of them, but it’s her full-bodied characters and the regard they have for one another that really sets her crime fiction apart: a bride’s back-of-the-hand caress of her new husband’s cheek, and his response, is a moment that will linger in memory long after the crime is solved.” – Booklist (starred review). “Compulsively readable and rich with psychological and social insight… Keller emphatically captures a community beset by hardship and caught in a downward spiral that she is determined to break.” – National Book Review.


Under Currents by Nora Roberts. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2019. 436 pages. Hardback in dust jacket, $28.99.

Nora Roberts has lived for a couple of decades in Boonsboro, Maryland, in Washington County, an ARC County. She ranks 17th among all time best-selling fiction writers behind William Shakespeare, Dr. Seuss, J.K. Rowling, Agatha Christie, Leo Tolstoy and a few others!  She has published over 225 novels and was the very first author inducted into the Romance Writers of America Hall of Fame, although now she prefers to be considered a fiction writer.  There are half a billion copies of her books in print and they have spent over 1,000 weeks on the New York Times best-seller list. Her latest book, Under Currents is set in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina. It tells the story of Zane Walker who escaped an outwardly prestigious but inwardly tormented small-town family for college. When he decides to return, two decades later, he meets Darby McCray who also has a story of escape and hope for a better life. "Roberts’s latest is full of powerful, magnetic characters who have overcome terrible situations. Suspense and sensual romance are expertly combined in this riveting story." - Publishers Weekly. "Heartfelt . . .Roberts continues to wow readers . . . an impressive addition to her remarkable literary canon." -Booklist. "Roberts combines complex characters with a vivid setting to create a real page-turner...this contemporary fiction mixed with a bit of suspense is completely engaging." - Library Journal.



As If It Were: Poems by Fred Chappell. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2019. 231 pages. Trade paperback, $25.95.

If any other book gets any award for the most outstanding Appalachian poetry book of this year, one could easily argue that to be a travesty. Fred Chappell has to be considered one of a bare handful of the most distinguished contemporary authors of Appalachia, and, certainly one of the very most erudite. He has this amazing ability to make his writing accessible and enjoyable for the common reader while at the same time providing for those most knowledgeable about world literature all kinds of allegories, and symbolism, and framing devices, and eucatastropes, and stories within the story, and red herings and Chekhov’s guns and other devices that parallel previous works of both fine and folk literature. How wonderful it is that at the age of 83, Fred Chappell has provided us with a book of his poems that all relate to fables!  And – if you were doubting my attributing erudition to him – here are the headings under which he has organized the poems – Social Class, Social Function, Psychology, Philosophy, Folktales, Fabulists, Fox, Parable, and Preambles/Postambles. He even includes short essays to begin to explain those choices in hopes that readers more knowledgeable and smart and wise than I can figure out that sequence and those relationships and why each poem occupies their particular space.  Don’t worry, the poems are delightful in themselves without considering any of that.  Fred Chappell grew up in Canton, North Carolina, and had a distinguished career teaching at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. He was instrumental in creating its MFA program in creative writing that has produced more outstanding Appalachian authors than any other graduate school. In 1987 he received the highest teaching award bestowed by the whole UNC system. He is the author of more than thirty books of poetry and prose including the 1968 novel, Dagan that was named the Best Foreign Book of the Year by the Academie Francais.  In 1985 the Yale University Library bestowed upon him their Bollingen Prize for Poetry. St. Martin’s Press published The Fred Chappell Reader in 1987, certainly something that few writers achieve.  In 1997 the Sewanee Review awarded him their Aiken Taylor Award for Modern American Poetry in recognition of his substantial and distinguished career. Chappell served as North Carolina Poet Laureate from 1997 until 2002.


Last Will, Last Testament by Frank X Walker. Lexington, Kentucky: Accents Publishing, 2019. 59 pages. Trade paperback. $16.00

Frank X Walker coined the term Affrilachia and founded the Affrilachian Poets initially centered at the University of Kentucky where he now teaches. He was the first African-American to become a Kentucky Poet Laureate serving from 2013 until 2015. He grew up in public housing in Danville, Kentucky, the second of eleven children. His leadership talents were already obvious in high school where he played football and served twice as class president. This is his eleventh poetry collection. In his Introduction Walker writes of learning that the same day his wife went to the hospital to deliver their baby, he learned that his father also had been hospitalized. Within a few months, his father died. A central theme of these poems is the march of the generations, and, as the title implies, what we leave behind. “In his latest collection, Last Will, Last Testament, Frank X Walker turns the same unflinching gaze he's committed to historic figures now towards his own lineage. As these poems bear witness in real time to his father's last breaths even as his new son takes his first, Walker serves again as the linchpin between generations. Ever a master distiller of the heart, Walker presents us with, arguably, his most complex elixir to date, best imbibed with no chaser.” -- Bianca Lynne Spriggs. Walker reads his poetry all over the country, indeed the world, and regularly mesmerizes audiences. Among his honors are an NAACP Image Award for Poetry, a Lannan Literary Fellowship for Poetry and a Poetry Award from the Black Caucus of the American Library Association.