Witchy Eye by D. J. Butler. New York: Baen/Simon & Schuster, 2017. 561 pages. Hardback in dust jacket, $25.00.
This is a fantasy novel “presenting an alternative history for North America where Appalachian folk magic has shaped the landscape and society.” The protagonist is a fifteen-year-old girl with an eye that can hex. She struggles with a multitude of characters who are not-quite human in a variety of ways. “A great ride that also manages to cover some serious cultural terrain.” – Charles E. Gannon. “Excellent book. Impressive creativity and depth of world building. Dave Butler is a great storyteller.” – Larry Correia. “Witchy Eye is a brilliant blend of historical acumen and imagination, a tour-de-force that is at once full of surprises and ultimately heart-warming. This is your chance to discover one of the finest new stars writing today.” - David Farland. The author, Dave Butler, is a corporate lawyer, consultant, and trainer who now lives in the Rocky Mountain West.
Copper Kettle by Frederick Ramsay. Scottsdale, Arizona: Poisoned Pen Press, 2017. 225 pages. Hardback in dust jacket. $26.95.
This is Frederick Ramsay’s nineteenth book and fourteenth foray into fiction. He is a native of Baltimore now living in Surprise, Arizona, who taught in the University of Maryland School of Medicine and worked as an Episcopal Priest before retiring. He sets this novel at Buffalo Mountain in Floyd County, Virginia, after World War I, but his fictional work creates an a-historical family feud and cross-feud family romance onto this setting. “Set in the same locale as the author’s popular Ike Schwartz series, but years earlier, the novel is colorfully written, with an engaging cast of characters and some pretty serious themes: death, poverty, and the strength required to persevere in the face of virtually insurmountable odds.” – David Pitt in Booklist.
Extra-Ordinary Adventures: A Novel by Daniel Wallace. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2017. 328 pages. Hardback in dust jacket, $25.99.
In this novel, Edsel Bronfman, a shipping clerk, is living an uneventful life in a Birmingham apartment complex when he is awarded a free vacation for himself and a companion. This transforms his life into a fairly frantic quest for a mate. “A rollicking crash course in loving-–and in living a little.” – Garden and Gun. “Witty, winsome, and wise.” Booklist. “Soulful, wise, and surprisingly sexy . . . This is a novel about finding one’s way without a map while searching for the lost places of the human heart.” – Wiley Cash. This is the sixth novel from Daniel Wallace, the director of the Creative Writing Program at the University of North Carolina. This distinguished professor certainly achieves a wonderful confluence of an erudite consciousness along with an empathetic and knowing common touch. His 1998 book, Big Fish, made the New York Times best seller list. First editions of it now sell for over $50.
A Welcome Murder by Robin Yocum. Amherst, New York: Seventh Street Books, 2017. 263 pages. Trade paperback, $15.95
Publishers Weekly gave a starred review to this novel that depicts a native son who returns to Steubenville, Ohio, on the Ohio River across from West Virginia. There he hopes to retrieve the drug money he stashed before he went to prison, but severe complications include the murder of the FBI informant who squealed on him and the return of a former cellmate with a very different agenda. The author is Robin Yocum whose last book garnered finalist status in the Edgar Awards and who received more than thirty journalism awards while working for the Columbus Dispatch. “Yocum constructs a madcap yarn around this epicenter of economic depression, shifting narrators across a handful of quirkly, hard-bitten residents.” – The Washington Post. “Memorable oddball characters, whose ambitions collide with results ranging from comic to fatal, populate Yocum’s exceptionally clever novel.” – Publishers Weekly.
Blackberries, Blackberries by Crystal Wilkinson. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, a 2017 reprint of a 2000 release. 161 pages with a new Foreword by Nikki Finney and a new Afterword by Honoree Jeffers. Trade paperback, 19.95.
This is the first short story collection and first book published by Crystal Wilkinson whose novel, Birds of Opulence was the winner of the 2016 Ernest J. Gaines Award for Literary Excellence awarded exclusively to African-Americans. “[Crystal Wilkinson’s] honest and sensual narrative pulls the reader in like a lover sharing their most intimate secrets. Sometimes whispering, oftentimes singing, but always clear and evocative.” – Frank X Walker. “Wilkinson is a storyteller in the tradition of Southerners such as Eudora Welty and Carson McCullers. [She] understands what makes our language so beautiful. Through the diversity of her characters and the richness of her language, Wilkinson has taught me a lot” – Lexington Herald Leader. Wilkinson grew up on her grandparent’s farm on Indian Creek in Casey County, Kentucky, which inspires the setting for these stories. She now is Appalachian Writer-in-Residence at Berea College and teaches in the MFA Program at Spaulding University. She and her husband own Wild Fig Books and Coffee in Lexington, Kentucky.
Water Street by Crystal Wilkinson. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, a 2017 reprint of a 2002 release. 185 pages with a Foreword by Jacinda Townsend and an Afterword by Marianne Worthington. Trade paperback, $19.95.
As a youth, Crystal Wilkinson typically spent the school year on her grandparents’ farm in Casey County, Kentucky, and the summers with aunts and uncles in Stanford, Kentucky, the county seat of adjoining Lincoln County. That inspires the small-town setting for these stories in Wilkinson’s second collection. “Water Street continues to establish [Crystal Wilkinson] as an author who deserves wider attention.” – Washington Post. “A sharp African-American updating of Sherwood Anderson’s Winesburg, Ohio.” Utne Reader.
Galaxies: Poems by Cathryn Hankla. Macon, Georgia: Mercer University Press, 2017. 66 pages. Trade paperback, $16.00.
Cathryn Hankla grew up in the Virginia coalfield, in Richlands, where her mother worked at the local library. She has been a voracious reader throughout her life, and for decades has been a creative writing professor for the outstanding writing program at Hollins College near Roanoke. This is her lucky thirteenth book of fiction and primarily poetry. Cathryn Hankla’s “poems contemplate and honor the largest questions. The multiverse of this quietly mind-blowing book is composed of imagined constellations. There’s a profound delicacy throughout, a candor tempered by compassion Reticence has seldom seemed so provocative or quietude so dazzling.” – Alice Fulton. “The patterns that she creates . . . spiral upward from earthbound fact and observation to stellar connections and intuitions . . . .[and] result in poems of lyric capaciousness, thoughtful, intricate, and enticing.” Carol Moldaw. “The finely crafted poems in Cathryn Hankla’s Galaxies have a quiet power, a solid emotional core enhanced by playful language that never fails to attract the ear. Both earthly and otherworldly, the poems contained here make lovely leaps of sound and sense, but always return to their task of comprehending the infinite galaxies that hold and define us.” – Wyn Cooper.
The Rebel in the Red Jeep: Ken Hechler’s Life in West Virginia Politics by Carter Taylor Seaton. Morgantown: West Virginia University Press, 2017. 344 pages with an index, bibliography, notes and 31 photographs. Trade paperback, $32.99.
Ken Hechler was an icon of West Virginia politics who died in 2016 at the age of 102. He was a speechwriter for President Truman, a professor at Marshall University, and a U.S. Congressman from 1959 to 1977. As a congressman he was a principal architect of the Federal Coal Mine Health and Safety Act of 1969. He served as West Virginia Secretary of State from 1984 until 2004. After retirement he was a tireless and militant campaigner against mountaintop removal coal mining, and was arrested during a 2009 protest. More than once, I remember seeing his signature red jeep parked at Shoney’s in Charleston during their Sunday breakfast buffets. Paul Nyden wrote of this book: “Fascinating new insights into the long career of one of the Mountain state’s most intriguing and maverick political leaders.” The author of this comprehensive and compelling biography is Carter Taylor Seaton of Huntington. She published two previous books of both fiction and non-fiction and received the 2014 West Virginia Library Association’s Literary Merit Award and the 2016 Governor’s Award for Lifetime Achievement in the Arts.
Kentucky Heirloom Seeds: Growing, Eating, Saving by Bill Best with Dobree Adams. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 2017. 269 pages with an index, resources (including names, addresses and phones of resource people!), photos (including a special section of color photos), a Foreword by A. Gwynn Henderson, and an Afterword by Book Elliott. Hardback with pictorial cover, $27.95.
Billy Best came to Berea College as a student in the 1950s from a Haywood County, North Carolina, farm that has been in his family for generations. Except for his graduate studies, he has lived near Berea ever since, managing a farm not far from town that is renowned in area farmers’ markets. His interest and knowledge of heirloom vegetables is preeminent. Dobree Adams lives on a farm north of Frankfort, Kentucky. She is well-known as a photographer and also raises the sheep which she sheers to create fiber art. “Bill Best is already legend with over 700 varieties of discrete beans and hundreds of tomatoes stockpiled and catalogued . . . Best is distinguished not only for his collection of seeds, but for his keen interest in the stories that accompany them and his ability to weave those stories into the history of a people and a region, the Appalachian South.” Ronni Lundy, author of Victuals. “The book is a kind of seed itself, fecund, filled with life and potential."―Gurney Norman.
Mammoth Cave Curiosities: A Guide to Rockphobia, Dating, Saber-Toothed Cats and Other Subterranean Marvels by Colleen O’Connor Olson. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 2017. 250 pages with an index, notes, and photos. Trade paperback, $19.95.
Yes, Mammoth Cave is in Hart County, an Appalachian Regional Commission county, part of a kind of western appendix to the ARC map in the hilly hinterland west of the highest elevations. The “dating” referred to in the title is figuring out how old various features of Mammoth Cave are, not romantic adventures in the Cave. “This eclectic book delighted me from the title page to the end matter. Olson’s playful voice and sense of humor lured me along, and now I’ve a good layperson’s education in Mammoth Cave lore, cave science, and cave history.” - Wes Berry. This is the fourth book on the cave by the author, Colleen O’Connor Olson, who has served as a tour guide there for more than twenty years.
Cherokee in Controversy: The Life of Jesse Bushyhead by Dan B. Wimberly. Macon, Georgia, Mercer University Press, 2017. 218 pages, with an index, bibliography, map and photos. Hardback in dust jacket, $29.00.
The controversy alluded to in the title of this book is the conflict between the Cherokee faction led by John Ross and that led by Major Ridge at the time of the Trail of Tears. The Ross faction signed the Treaty of New Echota that accepted the inevitability of removal from their homelands in Tennessee, Georgia, and North Carolina. The Ridge faction opposed the removal implemented by President Andrew Jackson and the U.S. Army despite a Supreme Court ruling against it. Jesse Bushyhead (1804-1844) was born in Bradley County, Tennessee, and educated at Candy’s Creek Mission. He became a Baptist minister and taught at several schools for boys that surrounded that mission. In 1838, he led a party of almost 1,000 Cherokees to Oklahoma. After arriving in Oklahoma, Bushyhead became the Chief Justice of the Cherokee Supreme Court, a position he held for the rest of his life, despite death threats and the murder of two of his relatives and allies. The author, Dan B. Wimberly, taught history for twenty years at Oklahoma Wesleyan University and is now retired.
YOUTH AND CHILDREN’S BOOKS
Ashes to Asheville by Sarah Dooley. New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 2017. 243 pages. Hardback in dust jacket, $16.99.
This novel for middle school youth garnered star reviews from three sources – Booklist, Publishers Weekly, and School Library Journal. The protagonist is twelve-year-old Fella. As the novel begins, Fella is living in West Virginia with Mrs. Madison, a grandmother she barely knows. She is there because, after the death of her mother, a judge has granted custody to Mrs. Madison instead of allowing her to remain in her own family with her sister and her mother’s female partner. Then one night, Fella’s sister Zoey shows up, and they take their mother’s ashes from the mantle of Mrs. Madison’s home, determined to return it to Asheville where their family was happy together. Thus begins their wild journey! “Dooley packs plenty of emotion into this eventful road trip . . . Breathless and engaging, Fella’s distinctive voice is convincingly childlike.” – Kirkus Reviews. “Dooley skillfully balances the troubling story of a family torn apart with Fella’s lively, humorous narrative . . . in this moving, entertaining, and thought-provoking tale.” – Publishers Weekly. This is the third youth novel by author, Sarah Dooley, a West Virginia native now living in Huntington. Dooley was the winner of the prestigious 2012 PEN/Phyllis Naylor Working Writer Fellowship.
My Name Is James Madison Hemings by Jonah Winter. Illustrated by Terry Widener. New York: Schwarz & Wade Books/Penguin Random House, 2016. 32 un-numbered pages, 9” X 11.5.” Hardback in dust jacket. $17.99.
This is a New York Times notable Book and a Junior Library Guild Selection. Recommended for children 5-9, this charming, yet thought-provoking and important, picture book tells the story of a slave born to Sally Heming and fathered by Thomas Jefferson. James Madison Hemings grew up at Jefferson’s plantation, Monticello, near Charlottesville, Virginia, but – unlike his mother – was freed upon Jefferson’s death and moved to Ohio where he worked as a carpenter, a trade he had learned from his uncle at Monticello. In 1873 he was interviewed by a newspaper and was the only one of has siblings to publicly address Jefferson’s paternity. The author of this picture book acknowledges the work of historian Annette Gordon-Reed in illuminating the Heming family. "Through a poignant first-person monologue, Winter imagines the peculiar upbringing of Virginia slave James Madison Hemings, son of Thomas Jefferson and his enslaved mistress, Sally Hemings.”—Bulletin, starred review. "This gentle, emotional book is a reminder that many presidents’ biographies have distressing aspects . . . . A simple but historically solid introduction to some of the moral crises slavery presented for our nation." —The New York Times. Both the author and illustrator of this book have received multiple awards for their many picture books. Jonah Winter is a Texan who has also published poetry and specializes in biographical picture books. Terry Widener is from Oklahoma.
Anthology of Appalachian Writers: Charles Frazier, Volume IX edited by Shirley Bailey Shurbutt. Shepherdstown, West Virginia: Shepherd University and the West Virginia Center for the Book, 2017. 261 pages. Trade paperback, $20.00.
For nine years now, Sylvia Sherbutt has coordinated an Appalachian Heritage Festival at Shepherd University in West Virginia. The author-in-residence for this event becomes the subject of an anthology that consists of some work by and about that author along with selected poetry and short fiction submitted by the public. Last year’s author in residence was Charles Frazier, a native of Haywood County, North Carolina, best known as the author of Cold Mountain, which was on top of the New York Times best seller list for 61 weeks back in 1997 and garnered a multitude of awards including the National Book Award. He is also the author of Thirteen Moons, a novel that centers around the beginnings of the Eastern Band of the Cherokees, established in the 1830s when the U. S. Army removed most of the Cherokees to Oklahoma on the “Trail of Tears.” His most recent novel is contemporary and entitled, Nightwoods. This anthology includes a critical article about Frazier’s contribution to Appalachian Literature, an excerpt from Cold Mountain, and a paragraph of Frazier’s comments on the three finalists he chose in the short-fiction contest conducted in conjunction with the Appalachian Heritage Festival. The literary magazine portion of this volume includes work by a variety of regional authors including some who have been particularly active in the regional literary scene including Darnell Arnoult, Jesse Graves, Mark Harshman, and Connie Jordan Green.