FREE Shipping!
June 2020 Reviews

June 2020 Reviews


Mary Bohlen's Heritage Cooking Inspired by Rebecca Boone by Mary Bohlen. Macon, Georgia: Mercer University Press, 2020. 153 pages with a bibliography and lots of full-color photos. 7" X 9" trade paperback, $23.00.

For year's Mary Bohlen has traveled to living history homes and parks to demonstrate open hearth cooking. Although the book begins with Daniel Boone's wife, Rebecca, it moves south from there with beautiful pictures of mostly North Carolina living history sites and recipes appropriate to each. She begins with meaningful tips on cooking in fireplaces and ends with recipes that can easily be made even on a modern stove. Mary Bohlen lives in the Blue Ridge Mountains.


In the Shadow of the Valley: A Memoir by Bobi Conn. New York: Little a, 2020. 303 pages. Hardback in dust jacket, $24.95.

I think a lot of people will find this memoir really captivating, even inspiring. As Bobi Conn told an interviewer,  "I chose to share my story and reflections as honestly and openly as possible because I realize that so many of us struggle with guilt and shame for things that have happened to us, as well as the choices we have made in our worst moments. We need to be able to have honest conversations about our experiences and ourselves, if we are ever going to advance personally or collectively." This is the memoir of a woman who grew up rough and poor in a holler near Morehead, Kentucky, graduated from Berea College about 80 miles away, did graduate work in creative writing, and is the single mother of a boy who was seventeen and a girl who was eleven as she completed this book. More than many books, it demonstrates awareness of "Appalachia" but also of the fact that its evils are the evils of everywhere as is its beauty. She grew up in a family beset with physical and mental abuse and with severe substance abuse  problems, and she now realizes that the effect upon her was recurring self-loathing to the point of being tempted by suicide. Rather than being depressing, this settles in the reader as a book of self-reflection, striving, and continual awareness of the strengths as well as the weaknesses of people. Amazon deemed it a "Best Book of the Month" in the category Biographies and Memoirs. “In sobering detail and with open palms, Bobi Conn mines the depths of her desperation to earn love from a sadistically cruel father and an abused mother, from the boys and men who darken her path, from friends who betray her, and from a God who seems to have turned away from her. Conn’s honesty is heroic and heartbreaking as she shares her story of enduring the stigma of poverty and abuse, claiming her self-worth, and discovering the limits of forgiveness. A necessary and timely read.” —Susan Bernhard. “From the first sentence, I smiled in recognition of a natural storyteller, one ‘born and bound to this land,’ who is a keen observer and a loving inhabitant of the land of which she writes. This book is a wonder—a dark, tragic Appalachian ballad come to full, lush life.” —Elizabeth Chiles Shelburne.


Writing Appalachia: An Anthology edited by Katherine Ledford and Theresa Lloyd. Lexington: The University of Kentucky Press, 2020. 745 pages with an index and "Bibliography and Permissions." Hardback with pictorial cover, $50.00.

This is it. More than a decade in the making, this 745-page tome gives us an overview of Appalachian Literature that far surpasses its predecessors, Voices from the Hills: Selected Reading of Southern Appalachia by Robert Higgs and Ambrose Manning (1975) and Appalachian Inside Out: A Sequel to Voices from the Hills by Jim Wayne Miller, Robert Higgs and Ambrose Manning (1995). 
This anthology is expansive in practically every aspect. In genre, it includes fiction, creative non-fiction, poetry, drama, slave narrative, folklore, song lyrics, an address, a diary excerpt, testimony at a congressional hearing. and articles from periodicals. In time, it starts with "How the World Was Made," a traditional Cherokee story and ends with "Candy" a memoir that Denise Giardina has not yet finished, let alone published.   Included are 35 21st Century writers; 27 from roughly  the second half of the 20th Century; 28 from roughly the first half of the 20th Century, 6 from the 1800s and 7 from earlier.  It includes 4 Cherokee authors, 11 African-American writers, 8 that I am aware have identified themselves as gay and lesbian writers, and many kinds of white writers. Geographically, it ranges from South Carolina to New York. This is perhaps the most controversial decision - to ignore Alabama and to range up into New York. Making a count by states is always subjective because many people have lived in more than one state, but looking also at the setting for each piece, it looks to me like Kentucky has the most entries, with 25, followed by North Carolina with 22, Tennessee with 20, West Virginia with 12, Virginia with 7, Pennsylvania with 5, Georgia and Ohio with 3, and South Carolina and New York with 2. The emphasis seems to be on fiction and poetry writers who aspire to be considered literary writers, rather than to be popular writers and on those who identify as Appalachian writers.    
       I recommend this book for everybody, regardless of whether they give a hoot about Appalachia, because of the quality of the writing and the issues confronted and the way these writings illuminate the human condition. And I especially recommend it for those who teach Appalachian Literature.


The Arthurdale Community School: Education and Reform in Depression Era Appalachia by Same F. Stack, Jr. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, a 2020 first paperback edition of a 2016 release. 197 pages withe an Index, Notes, Bibliography and photos. Trade paperback, $30.00.

Arthurdale, West Virginia, about 15 miles southeast of Morgantown, is a community built in 1933 by the Subsistence Homesteads Division of the U. S. Department of Interior, part of President Franklin Roosevelt's "New Deal." It was the very first of 34 communities designed to provide families with a decent home and enough land to provide basic subsistence and Eleanor Roosevelt visited it. Like some of the other homestead communities, Arthurdale was created in hopes to served displaced and unemployed area coal miners. Most of these communities are still pretty vibrant, although many homesteads have changed hands, and many homes have been remodeled. The school was created to be the center of the community, and its ideals included John Dewey's disdain for competition and a desire to make education relevant to the Appalachian experience. "No one is better qualified to guide us through the complexities of the Arthurdale experiment than Professor Stack." -- Richard Angelo. "It is a much-needed study of progressive education on the local level in a rural, poor region." -- The Journal of Southern History. "Stack is to be commended for broadening our perspectives on both progressive education and Arthurdale." -- West Virginia History. This is the second book about a community school by the  author, Sam F. Stack, Jr., who teaches at West Virginia University. He is also the co-editor of a book of essays by John Dewey.


Sacred Mountains: A Christian Ethical Approach to Mountaintop Removal by Andrew R. H. Thompson. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, a 2020 first paperback edition of a 2015 release. 212 pages with an Index, Bibliography, and Notes. Trade paperback, $30.00.

This book provides a place-centered rationale for opposing mountaintop removal coal mining from the perspective of Christian ethics. It begins with an overview of the the practice including a crucial section of the downstream impact as well as an overview of Appalachia as the unique place where mountaintop removal occurs. It puts his perspective in the context of other Christian rationales for environmental concerns."Thompson shows great breadth and depth in his research and covers such areas as the ecological, environmental, and human impacts of MTR, the place of religion in Appalachia, and the concept of Appalachia as place in the consciousness of the United States as a whole." -- Tennessee Libraries. "This thoughtful interpretation of the controversies over mountain-top removal mining is unique in the range of its religious and cultural analysis." -- Willis Jenkins. The author, Andrew R. H. Thompson, is assistant director of the Center for Religion and Environment at the University of the South's School of Theology.


The Cancer Crisis in Appalachia: Kentucky Students Take Action edited by Nathan L. Vanderford, Lauren Hudson, and Chris Prichard. Lexington: Kentucky Publishing Services/University Press of Kentucky, 2020. 146 pages with photos. Trade paperback, $19.95.

Kentucky has more cancer cases, 26,000 a year, and more deaths, 10,000 per year, than any other state, and Eastern Kentucky, has a much higher rate of cases and deaths than the rest of the state! For this book, the Markey Cancer Center at the University of Kentucky invited 20 high school students and 5 college undergraduates to write an essay of about two thousand words first introducing themselves, and then telling about their personal experience with cancer, why they think cancer affects their area so harshly, and what can be done to ameliorate its impact.


Religion and Resistance in Appalachia: Faith and the Fight Against Mountaintop Removal Coal Mining by Joseph D. Witt. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, a 2019 first paperback edition of a 2016 release. 296 pages with an Index, Bibliography, Notes and photos. Trade paperback, $30.00.

I'm impressed. Until I got into this book beyond the title, I found that it was deeper and more thorough than I expected. I particularly value the author's awareness of the role of evangelical religious values in both the initial and the contemporary struggle against strip mining and mountaintop removal mining. The book provides an excellent overview of the topic. It begins with a nice historical synopsis of resistance to strip mining. Chapter two looks closely at mainstream Catholic and Protestant rationales for opposing mountaintop removal. Chapter three examines the evangelical perspective that was dominant in the first efforts to oppose strip mining in the 1960s and continues today. Chapter four examines spiritual and nature-revering religious values that conflict with the destruction of the earth. The last chapter looks at situations in contemporary movements when these perspectives came into conflict - some resolved beautifully, and others not so much. "Religion and Resistance in Appalachia: Faith and the Fight against Mountaintop Removal Coal Mining captures and interprets the complexities of what is going on -- religiously, as well as politically, economically, and socially -- among protestors fighting for their homes in Appalachia. Witt's careful study sheds new light on the role of faith in protest, and anyone interested in religious environmentalism should read this book." -- Kevin O'Brien. "Witt skillfully describes and analyzes the meaning and significance of place from various religious and utilitarian perspectives, including competing claims to place. . . .  This case study certainly deserves wide readership and far more public attention for the phenomena it documents." -- Choice. This book began as a doctoral thesis at the University of Florida in religious studies. The author, Joseph D. Witt, is now an associated professor of religion at Mississippi State University.



Shiner by Amy Joe Burns. New York: Riverhead Books, 2020. 272 pages. Hardback in dust jacket. $27.00.

This is the second book published by Amy Jo Burns. The opposite of the path many writers take, her first book was a memoir she wrote in her early thirties entitled, Cinderland, about her life as a chlld in Western Pennsylvania and her experience of telling the truth about a sexual assault that many thought was a lie. She responded to an interviewer who asked about her main inspiration for writing this book, set in West Virginia:  "The characters in Shiner—especially the women who are held responsible for the sins of the men in their lives—helped remind me of life’s quiet rhythms, and how important it is that they also get a chance to shine in the legends we tell." The character Flynn is the moonshiner who gives this novel it's title, Shiner, but three other characters play a more central role. The sinful man central to this story is a preacher named Brier, who has isolated his family on top of a mountain far from the closest mining town. The women are Ivy and Ruby, best friends, and Ruby's fifteen-year-old daughter, Wren.  Ivy falls into a fire, and Brier appears to heal her. It all takes place in one summer, and it does include snake-handing as well as  moonshine. “This gorgeously written, plot-rich novel examines the complex lives of these five beautifully realized characters . . . Being set in Appalachia, it is no surprise that the novel is also about story and its gradual morphing into legend . . . This memorable first novel is exceptional in its power and imagination. It’s clearly a must-read.”— Booklist (Starred Review)“In short, Burns masterfully builds a web of tension by drawing together the frayed threads of these characters’ lives: the coal mine’s destruction of the land, the opioid epidemic, the limited access to medicine, and the lack of freedom women experience.”—Ploughshares. "Amy Jo Burns writes masterful sentences changed with all the beauty and rage and struggle of her characters. From the first paragraph to the last, Burns builds a vibrant and complex story of myths and miracles and moonshiners, as well as of the women who fight for their lives and their dignity as their future in a culture that all too often strangles all three. Shiner is a gorgeous novel."—Phil Klay.


An Appalachian Summer by Ann H. Gabhart. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Revell/Baker Publishing Group, 2020. 368 pages. Trade paperback, $15.99.

It is 1933 in Louisville, Kentucky, and Piper Danson decides to ditch the suitor her parents think is perfect and ditch her debut party. She signs up to be a volunteer with the Frontier Nursing Service in Eastern Kentucky where her horseback riding will be done to bring nursing care to isolated mountain families. The publisher of this book is devoted to "high-quality writings that represent historic Christianity and serve the diverse interests and concerns of evangelical readers." "Gabhart handles the Appalachian landscape and culture with skill, bringing them to vibrant life."--Publishers Weekly.  "The tenacity and stalwart bravery that Gabhart so skillfully instills in her female lead in this rugged, heartwarming read are to be admired."--Booklist. This is author, Ann H. Gabhart's second Frontier Nursing Service novel. Altogether she has about 30 books to her credit including several  Shaker novels and other historical novels. She lives in rural Kentucky a mile from where she was born. 


Far Beyond the Gates by Philip Lee Williams. Macon, Georgia: Mercer University Press, 2020. 288 pages. Hardback in dust jacket, $25.00.

The chapters of this novel alternate between the voices of Lucy and Pratt. Both are divorced. Lucy is 35 and a high school English teacher. Pratt is her father and a history professor at UNC-Chapel Hill. His MS is making him aware of his mortality, and she he has invited his formerly estranged daughter to spend the summer with him at his second home in a gated community in the Smoky Mountains. She has accepted. Those gates are a symbol of what the two feel free to reveal and what they are holding within. "This book marries the power of Williams's prose with the beauty of his poetry. The result is a narrative full of enchanting characters, engaging dialogue, and sustained suspense whose imagery and insight resonate long after the final page--yet another jewel in Williams's lustrous literary career."--Heidi Lynn Nilsson. "This is a welcome addition to this writer's remarkable body of work."
--Judson Mitcham. Herein lies a tale very much worth the telling, about the burden of cumbersome secrets, and how the truth can set free the teller and the told."--Cynthia Shearer. Philip Lee Williams was born and raised and resides in central Georgia. He is the award-winning author of 19 books, 12 are novels; 3 are poetry, and four are creative non-fiction.


Outbound Train by Renea Winchester. Birmingham, Alabama: Firefly Southern Fiction/ LPC Books/Iron Stream Media, 2020. 247 pages with Book Club Questions. Trade paperback, $14.99.

This debut novel has been much anticipated by many fans of Renea Winchester as an author of prose books. It only takes a quick look at her titles to appreciate her unpretentious, but oh-so-clever, way with words that express the complexity and ambiguity of our lives - for example, Farming, Friends & Fried Bologna Sandwiches or Mountain Memories: True Stories and Half Truths from Appalachia. Her novel's title, Outbound Train, expresses the tension between loving a place and wanting to leave it. Set in 1976 with flashbacks to sixteen years earlier when Barbara Parker's daughter, Carole Anne, was born, the chapters alternate between the voices of Barbara and Carole Anne. The theme of staying or leaving takes on layers of meaning as three generations of women living together in a trailer wrestle with it. Set in Bryson City, North Carolina, where the author grew up, this novel illuminates the life and challenges of a woman working at the "blue Jean plant" in a strikingly authentic  way. I read Renea Winchester for the story and come away with a deeper understanding of the human condition. "I fell in love with the smart, strong, funny characters in this community of make-do women, and I predict you will, too." - Pamela Duncan. "Filled with unusual insight and authentic detail, this beautifully written story examines the resilience, quirks, secrets, daily hardships, and deep personal courage of three Appalachian women.  . . .Outbound Train is a novel I will remember for a long, long time." - Amy Hill Hearth. "With pitch perfect dialogue and believable characters, Winchester has crafted a story that will make readers stand up and cheer." - Michael Morris. 


A Cultured Girl: A Collection of Poems and Short Stories by Terri Mash. Buchtel, Ohio: Monday Creek Publishing, 2019., 116 pages illustrated by the author. 8.25" X 8.25" trade paperback, $17.99.

The title has more of an edge to it than the book itself, making the point, in a very positive way, that "culture" is not defined by the rich and famous and "well-educated." One of my favorite double pages, this one is prose, not poetry, is "My College Education" which depicts what is learned by a housekeeper in a college building. I think my favorite poem is "Blessings of Spring."  The author /illustrator is the youngest of six children raised in the rural hills of Southeastern Ohio.


Down by the Eno, Down by the Haw: A Wonder Almanac by Thorpe Moeckel. Macon, Georgia: Mercer University Press, 2019. 127 pages. Trade paperback, $16.00.

The Eno River, named for the Eno Indians, runs through two North Carolina counties just north of Durham and flows into the Neuse River The Haw River is about a hundred miles long and flows south of Durham into the Cape Fear River. Thorpe Moeckel spent a year exploring these two watersheds navigating the rivers in his canoe, and the earthen surroundings via trail. This book contain his musings as he explores, organized month by month. "His humility is earnest as his lyricism is grand, and Moeckel does intimately know the inhabitants of Piedmont environment to which he has committed himself, observing the compromised landscape with an awareness so enamored of every detail it is also "promiscuous." In the moments you are able to spend with these pages, you too will be let in, on the beauties tucked into the woods behind shopping plazas, and to a way of thinking and seeing that can, with what is gathered in some short lunch break walking, make the troubled-of-heart believe again that this world's tangles are where we are blessed to be ensnared." - Rose McLarney. "The word I think of with this stunning almanac is range. Moeckel ranges far and deep, farther and deeper than he has ever gone, while mostly 'sitting and looking around' the Piedmont of North Carolina. And this wondrous epic expands his range as a poet, the language in these prose poems facile, playful, breathtaking." - Janisse Ray. "That he finds the words to bring these woods to such wondrous, vibrant life is what makes this book so necessary. I've not read a book in years that bears witness to beauty with such selfless and artful gratitude." - Michael Parker.  This is Thorpe Moeckel's second non-fiction book to go with four poetry books and a middle-grade novel. He teaches at Hollins University near Roanoke and lives in Snail Hollow.


Spring Up Everlasting by William Woolfitt. Macon, Georgia: Mercer University Press, 2020. 67 pages. Trade paperback, $16.00.

Spring Up Everlasting - that title makes me think of a Renaissance, of a time when  conditions can be rough but you never know when something worth-while will appear spontaneously. The publisher's blurb expresses it more poetically: "these poems turn to the possibility that we will be braced by the mysteries of God, that the spirit will move in our broken lives and the mess of our world, and spring up everlasting." "I fell in absolute love with William Woolfitt's SPRING UP EVERLASTING and his naturalist's eye, his imagery, the lushness amidst disaster, economic, ecological, and personal. Woolfitt listens carefully to the sounds of the natural world and finds his place within it. He sings every aching note." - Jenn Givhan. "Keenly observed and empathetically wrought narratives honoring keen details of human connections to places illuminate SPRING UP EVERLASTING. - Laura Da'. About a decade ago, I was the editor of a literary magazine, and was delighted to receive a poetry submission from William Woolfitt. I think maybe he was a graduate student at the time, maybe not, but I had certainly never heard of him, yet I immediately proudly published his poem. He is now an associate professor of English at Lee University in Cleveland, Tennessee. This is his third published poetry collection to go with a fiction chapbook.