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July 2021 Reviews

July 2021 Reviews


The Ashe County Frescoes of Benjamin F. Long, IV by Janet C. Pittard and David B Chiswell. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland and Company, 2021. 98 pages with an Index, Chapter Notes, color and black and white illustrations, and Bibliography. 7” X 10” trade paperback. Ben Long was born in 1945, grew up in Statesville, North Carolina, graduated from theUniversity of North Carolina, and then studied art in New York City under accomplished artists. After serving two tours as a marine in Vietnam, he apprenticed himself for eight years under Pietro Annigoni, a renowned Italian artist. In the late 1970s and early 1980s Long created frescoes in two Episcopal Churches in North Carolina’s northwesternmost county, Ashe County. Already known for his portraits and other works, he did not charge the churches. He has also created frescos for eleven additional North Carolina churches and a few others. He lives in Brevard, North Carolina, and Florence, Italy. This profusely illustrated book shows how a fresco is made and how Long’s frescos look in these rural mountain churches. Co-author Janet C Pittard lives in West Jefferson and Raleigh, North Carolina and is retired from the North Carolina governor’s office. This is her third book, and she had written over 100 articles for Our State Magazine. Co-author David B. Chiswell is retired from a career in archival work for the North Carolina Department of Natural and Cultural Resources and lives in West Jefferson.

The Battle of Richmond, Kentucky: 1862 Weather and Civil War Digest by Paul Rominger. Morley, Missouri: Acclaim Press, 2020. 240 pages with an Index, Sources, and many photos. Hardback in dust jacket.

The Battle of Richmond, Kentucky, occurred on August 29th and 30th, when the Confederate Army of Kentucky attached the Union forces protecting Richmond.  The Confederate victory is considered the most decisive of the War because most of the Union troops retreated never to regroup again. The Confederates went on to take Lexington and Frankfort, the only state capitol of a state that did not secede that they captured, but in October they were decisively defeated in the Battle of Perryville and never again controlled Kentucky. The first 50 pages of this book concern the Battle of Richmond, followed by a chapter on the history of Richmond, one on the history of nearby Berea, and four chapters on the Civil War as a whole.  In those later chapters, Sharyn Mitchell asserts, “Paul offers glimpses of the invisible warriors who operated behind the lines of the Civil War. He pays tribute to women, Native Americans, and African Americans whose services were crucial to the war efforts, but who were often unnoticed and unsung in the struggle for freedom and equality.”  The author, Paul Rominger, is a Berea native who served as a junior high and high school history teacher and school administrator.

The Dictionary of Southern Appalachian English by Michael B. Montgomery and Jennifer K. N. Heinmiller. Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 2021. 1225 pages with a Foreword by Joan Houston Hall, a dozen figures, eight tables, both chronological and alphabetical lists of words cited and ten additional features before the A-Z dictionary. 9” X 11” hardback with a pictorial cover.

This book represents arguably the greatest ever achievement in the field of Appalachian Studies. Weighing in at 6 pounds, 15.2 ounces, this is a weighty tome in both senses of the word. This book provides an amazing, unprecedented, thorough window into the Appalachian dialect. To say that it is unsurpassed is ludicrous because nothing really compares to it. “Drawing from a myriad of sources that range from Civil War letters to literary texts and difficult-to-find diary entries housed only in local archives, this encyclopedic volume will delight those seeking explanations for some of the region's most defining linguistic markers. Montgomery and Heinmiller provide a lasting analysis and tribute to the voices of the past and present. In doing so, they avoid the trite clichés that plague descriptions of the region, instead relying on careful, thorough research to present the fascinating history of regional speech patterns that linger today."—Erica Abrams Locklear.   In 2004 Michael Montgomery (1950-2019) and Joseph S. Hall (1906-1992) compiled a 600-page Dictionary of Smoky Mountain English. In 1937, Hall was hired to document the lives of the people who had remained in the Great Smoky Mountains after the National Park was established. He devoted the rest of his life to this study with a particular interest in the language commonly used and published several books on Smoky Mountain people. Michael B. Montgomery was a Distinguished Professor Emeritus of English and Linguistics at the University of South Carolina. He, too, was obsessed with Appalachian English. For years, the 2004 book was out-of-print and no copies were available, but now about ten are for sale on line priced about $300 each. The 2021 book expands the focus from the Smokies to all of Southern Appalachia and is twice as lengthy.  The current volume was made possible by the work of Jennifer Heinmiller, an Asheville, North Carolina, editor who accepted the challenging task of helping Michael bring his brilliant and tedious work to this culmination despite his multiple handicaps in speech, vision and mobility.

Sacred Catharsis by Kelli Hansel Haywood. Whitesburg, Kentucky: Belle History Publishing, 2021. 291 pages with Internet Sources by Chapter and Books and Other Resources as well as photos. Trade paperback.

This distinctive book combines a memoir, frank about physical and emotional pain, with a how-to explanation of the author’s practice of chakra which uses energy points in the body to combine and improve upon yoga and meditation.  

Silas House: Exploring an Appalachian Writer’s Work edited by Sylvia Bailey Shurbutt. Lexington: The University of Kentucky Press, 2021. 192 pages with a Foreword by Denise Giardina and Index. Hardback with pictorial cover.

Sylvia Shurbutt, a professor at Shepherd University in West Virginia, has contributed significantly to Appalachian Literature by hosting an annual conference and a literary magazine, both featuring one regional author each year. This is the first book she has edited. It collects essays by seven women and three men who look into the different genres that Silas House has attempted and some particular features of his fiction.  House is an Eastern Kentucky native best known for his first three novels, published in the early 2000s. Of this book, his colleague at Berea College wrote, "The rich, in-depth perspectives of these essays helps us discern the interconnected ways that Silas House's storytelling, in all its forms, reveals our common moral and lyrical humanity."―Chris Green.


Allegheny Front by Laurel Kile. Brookland, Arkansas: Touch Point Press, 2021. 286 pages. Trade paperback.

This is the third novel by Laurel Kile, a high school math teacher in her native West Virginia. Her protagonist, Kate, is also a West Virginian who retreats to Pocahontas County for R & R after a stressful school year.  What she finds there in the woods is a celebrity crush who she nurses back to consciousness and then health despite the fact that he is lying to her about his identity. Should she admit she knows who he is as their relationship deepens?

Betty by Tiffany McDaniel.  New York: Vintage/Penguin Random House: a 2021 first paperback edition of a 2020 release. Trade paperback.

This novel won the Nautilus Book Award and three midwestern awards. It is a coming-of-age story of a southeastern Ohio woman who is inspired to write by her family and small town despite, or perhaps because of, their poverty and violence and because of her Cherokee father’s faith in his stories and hers.  "Tiffany McDaniel has given us a vivid and haunting portrait of the writer as a young girl. Betty Carpenter survives the brutality of her childhood through her father's stories and his steadfast belief in her own. A novel of tragedy and trouble, poetry and power, not a story you will soon forget." —Karen Joy Fowler. "Betty is Betty Carpenter’s gripping coming of age story and is bold, inventive and profoundly moving. It is not a story blind to the character’s abuse, but also reveals the love, sweetness, and magic in her life. Betty is too brown, too female and too poor for the world, but her story reminds us that despite all obstacles there are those blessed times when we can still manage to find our voices and sing. A triumph!”—Stephanie Powell Watts. “So engrossing! Tiffany McDaniel’s Betty is a page-turning Appalachian coming-of-age story steeped in Cherokee history, told in undulating prose that settles right into you.” —Naoise Dolan. The author, Tiffany McDaniel, is a poet and visual artist who grew up in the Ohio hills. Her first novel, The Summer that Melted Everything, is also set in the fictional town of Breathed, Ohio.

Bewilderness  by Karen Tucker. New York: Catapult, 2021. 277 pages. Hardback in dust jacket.

This novel received “Most anticipated for 2021” from both Electric Literature and Rumpus. Irene, the novel’s narrator, and Luce both work at a pool hall in a small town in the North Carolina Mountains. Their friendship is cemented by a joyride to take revenge on an especially creepy customer.  Then their adventures begin to involve more dangerous escapades to secure the pills they become more and more dependent upon. When Luce finds a boyfriend who convinces her to choose him over drugs and move to Florida, what’s next for Irene? "Karen Tucker's debut novel Bewilderness captures the relentless tug of addiction--to a person, to a substance, to a feeling--with wrenching honesty and insight. This fierce, heartbreaking story of female friendship and loss--narrated by the wise, sharply funny Irene--had me riveted from the first page. Read it, read it, read it."--Julie Buntin.  "The kind of book that crawls under your skin and lodges there, Karen Tucker's Bewilderness offers an intimate, riveting portrait of two close friends whose hopes for their lives get derailed because of their addictions, and who struggle to figure out if having any future at all is something either of them will get to have . . . Tucker has written a powerfully intimate, heartbreaking portrait of this country's opioid epidemic, making clear the many ways that this isn't a problem happening to other people—it's happening to all of us, and it's imperative we deal with it together." —Kristin Iversen. The author, Karen Tucker, is a North Carolina native who lives in the Blue Ridge Mountains. She received her MFA from Warren Wilson and her PhD in English and Creative Writing from Florida State.


Intentional Fallacies by Edison Jennings. Frankfort, Kentucky: Broadstone, 2021. 63 pages. Trade paperback.

The greatest intentional fallacy that emerges from this volume of poetry is that only sophisticated fine art matters, not folk art. It is  a fallacy and it is intentionally perpetrated.  Jennings benefits from and incorporated both traditions. “These poems show the work of an exemplary craftsman who brings to his craft delight in discovery and plenty of affection, which are so needed in our present moment. This is an elegant and moving collection, one I will go back to again and again – Maurice Manning. “Edison Jennings’ poems are full of life. His poetry is vigorous, sonically delightful, and brims with felt experience.” Ernest F. Suarez.  The poet, Edison Jennings lives in the coalfields of Southwestern Virginia and works as a Head Start bus driver.

A Place So Deep Inside America It Can’t Be Seen by Kari Gunter-Seymour. Russell, Kentucky: Sheila-Na-Gig Editions, 2020. Trade paperback.

The poet, Kari Guntrer-Seymour, is a ninth generation Appalachian and a retired journalism professor at Ohio University in Athens, Ohio. “In A Place So Deep Inside America It Can't Be Seen, Kari Gunter-Seymour writes with clear, evocative language as she weaves stories of her people, especially the strong women in her life who are portrayed honestly and with compassion. She takes us along on an intergenerational journey through roles as daughter, granddaughter, mother, grandmother, all closely connected to those who came before and those yet to return home. These vivid poems, deeply rooted in place and nature, are filled with images of a life spent in northern Appalachia. Gunter-Seymour writes of planting by the signs and the music of Hank and Dolly, but moves on to contemporary themes like border walls and legacies of war. In these poems, the past meshes with the present, and provides solid footing to face the future.” - Jayne Moore Waldrop. “These poems feel necessary and real and stark as the Appalachian Mountains themselves.” - Rita Sims Quillen.

Serenity View: Poems and Images from the Blue Ridge Mountains by Dr. Marlene, MD. b

These are poems and full-color pictures inspired by the author’s trip to the Blue Ridge Mountains of Georgia. The author is a retired family physician who teaches nutrition at Keiser University College of Chiropractic Medicine in West Palm Beach, Florida.