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May 2018 Reviews

May 2018 Reviews




Huntington Chronicles by James E. Casto. Charleston, South Carolina: History Press, 2018. 159 pages with an index and photos. Trade paperback, $21.99.

James Casto was an editor at the Huntington Herald Dispatch for 40 years before his retirement in 2004. He is the author of more than a dozen books, about half from Arcadia and the History Press. His perspective as a newsman shines trough in this historical overview of the city of Huntington, West Virginia, in its emphasis on newsworthy events. It includes biographical sketches of 18 men and 2 women, including one Black man, Carter G. Woodson, and one Black woman, Memphis Tennessee Garrison.


In the Mountains of Home (By Colored Pencil) by H. Wayne Easter. Mt. Airy, North Carolina, Self-published, 2017. 130 pages with a drawing by the author in colored pencil on almost every page. 8” X 10” trade paperback. $26.95.

Each page has a colored-pencil drawing and a caption by the author depicting his life in the mountain home where he was raised. Wayne Easter was born in 1932 in a one-room log cabin with no electricity, no well, no spring, no out-house, and his family did not own an automobile. It was located twelve miles west of Mt. Airy, North Carolina. Now he is retired from a 50-year career selling and repairing home electronics.


Out and About in the Blue Ridge (Yesterday and Today) by H. Wayne Easter. Mt. Airy, North Carolina: Self-published, 2017. 187 pages profusely illustrated by 155 of the author’s own black-and-white pencil drawings. Trade paperback, $13.95.

This is a book of 72 of the author’s stories that range from truth to fantasy from mountain dialect to standard English. He grew up in the Blue Ridge Mountains during the Great Depression and is a veteran of the Korean War. He retired from Sears eleven years ago.


Searching for Yesterday (In Black and White) by H. Wayne Easter. Mt. Airy, North Carolina: Self-published, 2018. 165 pages illustrated on practically every page by the author’s pencil drawings. 8” X 10” trade paperback, $14.95.

This is Wayne Easter’s 6th book. It features a black-and-white pencil drawing and a caption on every page arranged by the year the drawing was completed from 2007 until 2017. The paragraph-long captions give considerable information on what it was like growing up poor way back in the mountains in the 1930s and 1940s.


That Bloody Hill: Hilliard’s Legion at Chickamauga by Lee Elder. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland, 2018. 229 pages with an Index, Bibliography, Chapter Notes, photos, and 10 appendices. Trade paperback, $35.00.

Chickamauga, Georgia, is located just south of Chattanooga, Tennessee. The battle that was fought there on September 18-20, 1863, was the first major battle of the war in Georgia and the most important Confederate victory throughout the Western Theater. More were killed in this Civil War battle than any other except Gettysburg. Almost 4,000 died and almost 25,000 were wounded! This book takes a close look at Henry Washington Hilliard’s Legion, part of the Brigade of Archibald Gracie III of Alabama Confederates serving under General Bragg. 45% of Hilliard’s 902 men died at Chickamauga. Lee Elder, the author, lives in Tallmadge, Ohio, and has served as a high school football coach in California and an auto racing publicist.


Cherokee [Images of America] by M. Anna Fariello. Charleston, South Carolina: Acadia Publishing, 2018. 127 pages with black-amd-white historical photographs on every page. 6.5” X 9.25” trade paperback, $21.99.

I suspect that if a life-long resident of Cherokee, North Carolina, and a member of the Eastern Band of the Cherokees did a picture book about Cherokee, the chapters would reflect the communities of the Eastern Band – Big Cove, Big Y, Birdtown, Paint Town, and Wolftown. Such a book would include pictures of important community institutions like The Boys Club – which retains its historical name though it now serves girls as well as boys - and Cherokee High School, and the Immersion School where students speak only the Cherokee language, the Cherokee One Feather newspaper, and the Casino where many residents work and that financially supports the Cherokee Preservation Foundation. In contrast this real book of historical photographs with captions makes no effort to capture contemporary life in Cherokee, North Carolina. Although the second chapter concerns “Family Life,” even the chapter on “Work and School” emphasizes pictures of crafts makers. The “Community Traditions” chapter again puts the emphasis on public events designed to attract tourists, as do the rest of the chapters. Despite what it lacks in focus on Cherokee as a community, it does combine 20th Century pictures that give some historical perspective to Cherokee as a community that caters to tourists. As a tourist who has visited Cherokee since the 1940s and a one-time nearby resident whose children attended school with Cherokee kids, I did enjoy looking through the pictures. The author, M. Anna Fariello, is retired from working at Western Carolina University’s Hunter Library, and has published three books on Cherokee crafts.


Rock City [Images of Modern America] by Tim Hollis. Charleston, South Carolina: Arcadia Publishing, 2017. 95 pages with full-color photographs on every page. 6.5” X 9.25” trade paperback, $22.99.

As early as the 1820s, residents began using the term, “rock city” to describe the collection of huge boulders of various sizes and shapes near the Tennessee-Georgia line on the eastern escarpment of Lookout Mountain above Chattanooga. Then in 1932 Garnet Carter, the inventor of modern miniature golf, and his wife, Frieda, purchased the area and began to turn it into a tourist attraction featuring not only magnificent views, but also “Fairyland Caverns” and “Mother Goose Village.” The result is a scenic attraction for adults combined with entertainment for kids – an irresistible family attraction, cleverly promoted by “See Rock City” barns and bird-houses. Nothing like a free paint-job for your barn or a free bird house to endear rural residents to a tourist attraction. This book provides a colorful and comprehensive souvenir or introduction to Rock City. Tim Hollis has written 30 books, many on southern tourist attractions. A life-long resident of Birmingham, he has created a museum of lunch-boxes and other memorabilia next to his home.


Constructing the Dynamo of Dixie: Race, Urban Planning, and Cosmopolitanism in Chattanooga, Tennessee by Courtney Elizabeth Knapp. Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 2018. 245 pages with an Index, Bibliography, Notes, maps, tables, illustrations and photos. Trade paperback, 29.95.

This exciting and innovative book envisions essentially a revolution in urban planning that recognizes and attempts to correct the heritage of racial oppression in contemporary urban environments. It begins by putting forward the author’s concept of “diasporic placemaking” which attempts to marshal “everyday practices, the collaborations and conflicts through which historically uprooted and migratory populations . . . forge new communities of security and belonging out of unfamiliar, and oftentimes stratified and unequal, yet shared local environments.” It ends with an exposition of what the author calls, “participatory action research” – “a set of dynamic methods with the potential for catalyzing social change.” Chapter One explores, “Settling Chattanooga: Race, Property and Cherokee Dispossession.” The next three chapters explore the role of Black citizens and racism in the history of Chattanooga’s urban planning. Chapters 5-7 “focus on interplays between formal, institution-backed and grassroots place-making initiatives, demonstrating how creative and cultural development have been central to both Chattanooga’s mainstream revitalization agenda and grassroots communities’ efforts to demand a more just and equitable city.” “Chapters 8 and 9 discuss the action research component of this research project to illustrate how an experimental collaboration between urban planners, grassroots organizers, social workers, and public librarians helped enable and expand the politics of multiethnic diaporic placemaking in Chattanooga.”


The Trees of Ashe County, North Carolina by Doug Munroe. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland, 2017. 249 pages with an Index, and replete with 165 color photographs. 7” X 10” trade paperback, 29.95.

This is number 43 in McFarland’s “Contributions to Appalachian Studies” series. Ashe County is in North Carolina’s northwest corner. It receives 40 to 60 inches of rain a year, and its altitudes range from almost a mile above sea level to less than one thousand feet. It is where the New River originates. This book starts with the history of Ashe County forests, then focuses in on particular tree species, starting with broadleaf evergreens and conifers then to native trees and introduced trees. The final chapter concerns tree culture and ranges from protected land to tree economies including apples, Christmas trees, and maple syrup. The author, Doug Munroe, is a retired nurseryman who lives in Ashe County and partners with his daughter and son-in-law in a maple syrup business.


Ultimate Smoky Mountains: Discovering the National Park by Andrew Kyle Saucier. Guilford, Connecticut: Globe Pequot. 2018. 96 pages replete with photographs by Tony Sweet on every page. 7” X 9” hardback with a pictorial cover, $19.95

This book serves not only as an excellent introduction to ‘the park,” as it is known locally, but also as a wonderful souvenir of one or several trips. It covers the basics quite well, and the photographs are stupendous. The author, Andrew Kyle Saucier, is a free-lance writer and photographer based in Chapel Hill, Tennessee, whose specialty is travel and outdoor subjects. The photographer, Tony Sweet, lives in Eldersburg, Maryland, and does photography workshops and often illustrates books.


Murder at Broad River Bridge: The Slaying of Lemuel Penn by the Ku Klux Klan by Bill Shipp. Athens: University of Georgia Press, a 2017 new edition of a 1981 release. 94 pages with a new foreword by Renee C. Romano, Suggested Reading, and photos. Trade paperback. $22.95.

On July 11, 1964, Lemuel Penn, a forty-nine-year-old father of three children and assistant superintendent of the Washington, D.C., schools was driving home with two other African-American army reservists from training at Fort Benning, Georgia. They were approaching the Broad River Bridge that separates Madison County, Georgia, from Elbert County. Shortly after 4:00 a.m. three local members of the Ku Klux Klan overtook Penn’s vehicle and shot a fatal shotgun blast into Penn’s face. This book tells the story of that murder and the acquittal of the perpetrators of it. The defense attorney for the accused Klansmen argued that Klan violence benefitted the white community and that jurors needed to protect “the Southern Way of Life” from federal government interference. It took the jury three hours to acquit. First published in 1981 by Peachtree Publishers, this is a reprint with a new foreword by Renee Romano, a history professor at Oberlin College and the author of three books on the Civil Rights Movement. She argues that this book “can help show us that it takes commitment and political work to make sure that the criminal justice system treats everyone equally. It is an on-going and vital project. ““A concise, well written account . . . Shipp argues persuasively that at this time southern justice was uneven at best and that the Klan exercised enormous, often violent, influence in that area” - Library Journal. Bill Shipp, the author covered southern politics and government for more than five decades first for the Atlanta Constitution and then for Bill Shipp’s Georgia.


Chilton County [Images of America] by Billy J. Singleton. Charleston, South Carolina: Arcadia Publishing, 2017. 127 pages with black-and-white photogrpahs on every page. 7” X 9” trade paperback, 21.99

Chilton County, Alabama, is located south of Birmingham, bordered on the east by the Coosa River and on the west by Talladega National Forest. It is named for a Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court who initially opposed secession, but then served the Confederacy. This book of historical photographs for a county that is 10% Black and 7.6% Hispanic has two pictures of Black men and no pictures of any Hispanics. Instead it has lots of pictures of beauty queens, businessmen, and buildings.


Proving Ground: Expertise and Appalachian Landscapes by Edward Slavishak. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2018. 212 pages with an Index, Bibliography, Notes, and photos. Hardback with pictorial cover, $49.95

This book takes a look at our region from a refreshingly new perspective. It demonstrates how professionals seeking to gain national reputations in their fields made use of our region as a field in which to establish their professional gravitas. It follows four individuals: J. Horace McFarland (1859-1948) of Harrisburg gained a reputation as a preservationist, Benton MacKaye (1879-1975) worked as a regional planner for the TVA and the REA and is best known as an advocate for the Appalachian Trail, Marion Pearsall (1923-1984) worked as a medical anthropologist at the University of Kentucky and focused her work on Leslie County, one of Kentucky’s most isolated mountain counties, William Gedney (1932-1989) was an art photographer from New York, whose pictures of the Eastern Kentucky coalfields solidified his career. These chapters are complemented by a chapter on the Smoky Mountains that highlights the impact of advocacy for the National Park there on the careers of several individuals. “An important contribution to Appalachian Studies, as well as a valuable work of intellectual history, Proving Ground has a novel and provocative vision.” – T. R. C. Hutton. “Refreshingly innovative and gracefully written, this cutting-edge book works at the intersection of environmental and cultural studies in valuable ways I have seen few other authors attempt.” Kathryn Newfont. The author, Edward Slavishak, teaches history at Susquehanna University.


Lake Guntersville [Images of America] by Whitney A. Snow and Barbara J. Snow. Charleston, South Carolina, 2018. 127 pages with black-and-white photographs on every page. 7” X 9” trade paperback, $21.99.

This book has four chapters; “The Lake,” “Beauty Pageants,” “Recreation and Tourism,” and “Scenes and Personalities.” Pictures of people are more prominent than buildings in this book that centers on the southern end of the lake in Marshall County, and in particular on the town of Guntersville, rather than on the northern portion of the lake in Jackson County and the town of Bridgeport. There is no coverage of Sand Mountain that rises above the lake to the east nor of the land to the west of the lake which includes Russell Cave National Monument.



Song Writing in Contemporary West Virginia: Profiles and Reflections by Travis D. Stmeling. Morgantown: West Virginia University Press, 2018. 251 pages with “Notes and Interviews.” Trade paperback, $28.99.

This is an unprecedented work of oral history which consists simply of interviews with 29 contemporary West Virginia song-writers. The interviews are divided geographically into 6 regions of the state – Charleston, The Ohio Valley, The Eastern Panhandle, The Southern Coalfields, The Tamarack Scene (Beckley to Bluefield to Lewisburg) , and Morgantown. “West Virginia’s hills are alive with the sound of music. And with Travis Stimeling as Mountain State music tour guide, audiences can now explore the work of songwriters who call these coalfields, creeks, and cities their home.”—Joni Deutsch. “Travis Stimeling has painted a representative, pointedly contemporary portrait of West Virginia songwriters.”—Jewly Hight


Writing Appalachia: One Year of Essays by Joshua Wilkey. Sylva, North Carolina: self-published, 2018. 123 pages. Trade paperback. $10.00. 

This is an important and compelling book that deserves to be read alongside or instead of What You Are Getting Wrong about Appalachia by Elizabeth Catte and Hillbilly Elegy by J. D. Vance. Like Catte, Wilkey teaches history, and his essays do provide historical background, more focused on issues than heroes. However, his approach is much more autobiographical than Catte’s. Like Vance he admits to the meanness of his grandmother and the addictions and abuse suffered by his mother. Actually, his story is even more harrowing than Vance’s in many ways, including the fact that his mother married seven times. Yet he never succumbs to any hint that he sees himself as singular or heroic for making it out of poverty and into the academic world. Read this book for background on issues like drugs and guns and poverty and for a very personal approach that will engage and ultimately uplift you. The book is a compilation of Wilkey’s blog posts on his website: This Appalachia Life that is distinguished not only for its essays but for its bibliographies that demonstrate that his life reaches well beyond his native Appalachia. Joshua Wilkey lives with his wife in Jackson County, North Carolina, and teaches history and works as an administrator at Brevard College. I only wish the title had more appeal and the book had better backing from a mainstream publisher.


Mushrooms of the Georgia Piedmont & Southern Appalachians by Mary L. Woehrel & William H. Light. Athens: The University of Georgia Press, 2017. 664 pages with 1140 color photographs, many line-drawings, 41 diagrams, 1 map and 4 tables. An Index of Common Names, an Index of Scientific Names, and a Glossary of Some Mycological Terms. A 8.25” X 9.75” hardback with a pictorial cover, $59.95.

Seriously, this book is1.75” thick! You can easily imagine a work-out routine using this book as your only weight. It is figuratively weighty as well. It covers 24 genera and 450 species. It provides information on both the toxic and the psychoactive properties of the mushrooms. It is simply well-organized and comprehensive. “The new, exhaustive guide from the University of Georgia Press, with support from the Wormsloe Foundation, will become a staple reference for anyone interested in serious mushroom identification in our area.” - M.C. Tufts. Both authors are members of the North American Mycological Association. Mary L. Woehrel is the founder and past president of the Mushroom Club of Georgia. William H. Light holds a PhD in biology and is a science and technical writer and adjunct instructor.





Steal Away Home by Billy Coffey. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2018. 376 pages with discussion questions. Trade paperback, $15.99.

This is the ninth novel by Billy Coffey who lives with his wife and kids in the Shenandoah Valley. It concerns a young man driven by his father to succeed as a baseball player who leaves his first love to pursue the game and returns to try to discern where this has left her, a young woman whose upbringing is decidedly less advantaged than his. “This rich and masterful tale is touched by the miraculous and is cleverly delivered as the first-person recollections of a seasoned catcher. Fans of America's favorite pastime will enjoy this book from page one. As the main character's memories crowd in between the third and fourth inning, there is a universal and undeniable draw to the complexities of growing up and chasing a dream or love. Coffey has composed an incredible literary journey of life, faith, love and baseball.” – RT Book Reviews. “Coffey pens another nostalgic, lyrical tale blending faith elements with the supernatural . . . Coffey entrances readers with this quiet tale of love, loss, and deciding what matters most in life.” – Publishers Weekly.



In the Midst of Innocence by Deborah Hining. Durham, North Carolina: Light Messages, 2017. 292 pages. Trade paperback, $15.99.

Ten-year-old Pearl Wallace is the protagonist of this novel set in the East Tennessee mountains during the Great Depression and Prohibition. The daughter of a moonshiner, Pearl wrestles with how to protect her best friend not only from an abusive step-father but also from racist attacks upon her. Then her biggest question becomes whether or how to confide in and/or enlist help from Emily Weston, a missionary teacher from a more affluent and privileged background, in dealing with her struggles. “Hining beautifully expresses Pearl’s inner and spoken voices . . . and vivifies a compelling twist on the familiar evangelistic journey of saving the uncivilized. An endearing ballad of the struggle for existence and understanding.”  —Booklist


Honeysuckle Dreams by Denise Hunter. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2018. 310 pages with discussion questions. Trade paperback, $15.99.

Denise Hunter is the author or more than 25 Christian romances, two of which were chosen as the basis for Hallmark Channel movies. She describes her mission in this way: “I write heartwarming, small-town love stories. My readers enjoy the experience of falling in love vicariously through characters and can expect a happily-ever-after sigh as they close the pages of my books.” This is the second in her on-going Blue Ridge Romance series, this one set in North Georgia. Here the drama centers on a custody fight that could secure or jeopardize a romance.


The Barrowfields by Phillip Lewis. New York: Hogarth/Crown/Penguin Random House, a 2018 paperback reprint of a 2017 release. 348 pages. Trade paperback, $16.00.

This is a novel that has received more positive national attention from literary critics than most recent first novels. It centers on the question of whether to go home to the mountains or not. The protagonist, Henry Aster, is raised in a mansion outside a remote North Carolina, town. His father is a lawyer who spends the evenings writing in his library, and Aster flees. Conversations he has as he is courting a young woman lead him to reconsider his decision to leave. :”Rich and complex . . . Lewis is a master of creating a sense of place.” – Kirkus Reviews. “Charming, absorbing, and assured.” – Publishers Weekly. “A stunning debut novel rich in character and place, steeped in literature and music, and fraught with family drama.” – Shelf Awareness. “Majestic and rich with the textures of Life. This is a debut so assured in its sense of place and history that it will leave you in awe of what Lewis has accomplished.” – Paul Yoon. “Phillip Lewis is a very talented writer, and his debut deserves a wide and appreciative readership.” —Ron Rash. The author, Philip Lewis, was raised in Ashe County, North Carolina’s northwestern most county, and now is a lawyer in Charlotte.


Send Down the Rain by Charles Martin. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2018. 352 pages with discussion questions. Trade paperback, $25.99.

This is the story of a Vietnam veteran who is seeking healing and solace in the North Carolina mountains at the foot of Mount Mitchell. There he finds an uprooted Hispanic family desperate for a new life. He agrees to take them back to Florida, where he was raised, arriving just as a high-school flame has lost her husband to a car accident. Send Down the Rain, “explores themes of grace, mercy, and forgiveness in this sweeping love story. . . In this relatable tale of recovery from physical and emotional trauma, Martin beautifully captures the essence of Christian principles of sacrifice and forgiveness” - Publishers Weekly. “Martin's latest is another beautifully written winner. . . Amazingly heartfelt statements about love, loss and the true meaning of friendship will resonate deeply with readers.” This is the thirteenth novel by Charles Martin, some of which have been best-sellers. He lives in Jacksonville, Florida, with his wife, Christy.


A Perfect Shot by Robin Yocum. Amherst, New York: Seventh Street Books, 2018. 307 pages. Trade paperback, $15.95.

 This is a murder mystery centering around a murder which isn’t really a mystery. “Little Tony” DeMarco, a mob-enforcer and the brother-in-law of the protagonist, “Duke” Ducheski, murders Duke’s oldest friend in Duke’s newly-established restaurant in Mingo Junction – a real city that serves as the setting for this work of fiction. How can Duke, a local legend as a high school basketball star, respond, and must that involve leaving Mingo Junction? Yocum has crafted a harrowing yet touching story about friendship, loyalty, and doing what is right no matter the cost.” – Publishers Weekly’s starred review. Robin Yocum was an investigative reporter for the Columbus Dispatch from 1980 to 1991. He is the author of several novels including a finalist for the Edgar Award.





Troublesome Creek and Beyond by Bill Weinberg. Baton Rouge: The Lisburn Press, 2018. 66 pages. Hardback in dust jacket, $21.95.

Bill Weinberg is a lawyer who moved decades ago to little Hindman, Kentucky, deep in the mountains on the banks of Troublesome Creek. He has been writing and re-writing short stories since 1996. This collection includes stories set in the Kentucky mountains alongside two set in the Caribbean. “Each story in Troublesome Creek and Beyond is honest and well-crafted. . . Bill Weinberg knows his Appalachian characters well, but his deft hand allows the richness of the Caribbean to come alive on the page, too. Weinberg made me care about all of these people long after I read each story. You will, too.” – Crystal Wilkinson. “Bill Weinberg’s stories reflect the lives and character of the people of two notable places – Eastern Kentucky and the remote Caribbean islands of St. John and St. Croix. They are about struggle, fears, and mistakes, but they are also about right choices, love and caring.” – Loyal Jones.