FREE Shipping!
May 2019 Reviews

May 2019 Reviews


Birthday by Meredith Russo. New York: Flatiron Books/Macmillan, 2019.  278 pages. Hardback in dust jacket, $18.99.

Powerful for adults as well as mature high school or even junior high kids, Birthday is the sequel to If I Was Your Girl, Meredith Russo’s first novel, published last year, that won the Stonewall Book Award, was a finalist for the Lambda Literary Award, and won awards from Kirkus Reviews, Publishers Weekly, and fifteen other literary organizations. It is a loosely autobiographical novel by a life-long Chattanooga resident who transitioned from male to female in 2013 when she was in her mid-twenties. The novel begins on I-75 in Chattanooga and follows six birthdays, beginning with their thirteenth, of Morgan and Eric, two close friends, both born as males on the same day. “Lovers who surmount the odds have always been intense emotional fodder, but rarely have we seen a story like Meredith Russo’s Birthday...true and raw, haunting and undeniable. Russo’s narrative expression of the need to live one’s truth, and the option of choosing love through it all, is a valuable reminder of what really matters.” ―The New York Times Book Review. “Stonewall Award winner Russo (If I Was Your Girl) tackles teen love, heartbreak, sexuality, and gender identity in this novel told over the course of six years through the alternating voices of transgender girl Morgan and cisgender boy Eric, two childhood best friends who share the same birthday. A realistic picture of the challenges that teens may face when finding themselves and falling in love.” ―Publishers Weekly. “Beautifully written, Birthday is an altogether singular contribution to the gradually growing body of transgender literature and, indeed, to mainstream literature, as well.” ―Booklist, starred review.


If I Was Your Girl by Meredith Russo. New York: Flatiron Books/Macmillan, a 2018 first paperback edition of a 2016 release. 313 pages with an Author Playlist, Author Q & A, Author Note, Discussion Questions, and a Deleted Scene. Trade paperback, $10.99.

When first published in 2016, this book won nineteen literary awards both as a trade novel and a Young Adult novel. It is a loosely autobiographical novel by a life-long Chattanooga resident who transitioned into her true female self in 2013 when she was in her mid-twenties. The protagonist is Amanda Hardy a new girl in her Chattanooga school who was Andrew in her old school. "A beautifully rendered YA novel . . . the first written by a transgender woman about the transgender teen experience." ―San Francisco Chronicle. "This is everything a coming-of-age novel should be―honest, complicated, and meaningful. Transcends the typical 'issue' novel to be a beautiful tale in its own right." ―School Library Journal. “Beautiful, smart, and so urgently needed, If I Was Your Girl should be required reading for every teen―scratch that, every person―in America. This book is exactly what YA is for: to break ground, to break hearts, to teach us empathy, to find the universal in the specific. I loved every word. You will too.” Julie Buxbaum.


Bluetick Pig by Jesse Stuart (1906-1984), edited and introduced by Cathy Roberts. Ashland, Kentucky: The Jesse Stuart Foundation, 2019.  97 pages, illustrated by Thomas Marsh with Discussion Questions and Activities. Trade paperback, $10.00.

From the 1930s on into the 1970s, Jesse Stuart was Kentucky’s most popular author, although Robert Penn Warren (1905-1989) was the favorite in national literary circles. Stuart published over 60 books, including poetry, stories, novels, children’s and YA books, many autobiographies and a biography of a dog and also of his father, an illiterate sharecropper in Greenup County, Kentucky. Stuart was a classmate at Lincoln Memorial University with James Still and Don West, and, like them, did graduate work at Vanderbilt. After Army service, mostly in England, Stuart returned to Greenup County and became first a one-room school teacher and then Kentucky’s youngest school superintendent before his royalties from his books and his commencement speeches allowed him to write full-time and to purchase all the land his father ever cropped for shares in Greenup County. In February of 1937, Stuart published a short story, “The Blue Tick Pig” in Esquire. It was reprinted in three of his short story collections. In 1977, he re-wrote the story as a children’s book and submitted it to his editor at McGraw-Hill who deemed it too long to publish in that form. Stuart made the Jesse Stuart Foundation the executor of his unpublished manuscripts, so the Foundation allowed Cathy Roberts of Prospect, Tennessee, to edit it and Thomas Mash to illustrate it, so that now there is a 9th children’s book by Jesse Stuart.  In this story, the protagonist, Sarah Powell, is given the runt of the litter of pigs in compensation for working for a neighbor and takes it home to raise and eventually become “the biggest attraction at the county fair.”



Black Huntington: An Appalachian Story by Cicero M. Fain III. Urbana: The University of Illinois Press, 2019. 244 pages with an Index, Notes, and Bibliography. Trade paperback, $27.95.

This is the first book by Cicero M. Fain, III, a professor at the College of Southern Maryland. He grew up in Huntington, West Virginia, the third generation of his family to live there. He began the research for this book eight years ago as part of his doctoral dissertation at Ohio State University.  This book covers African-American life in Huntington from 1825 into the middle of the twentieth century, but does not cover the impact of integration on the community. “Fain’s account of this group of blacks’ migrations and their efforts to build community and combat the ravages of racism and Jim Crowism is exceptional and matchless,” - William H. Turner. “This book not only broadens our understanding of the process of modernization in Appalachia by bringing black Appalachians onto the historical stage, it also casts light on the experience of development in Appalachia’s urban places and demonstrates how an essentially rural people shaped their own meaningful communities in a new environment of both opportunity and repression,” - Ronald D. Eller.


Craft and Community: John C. Campbell Folk School: 1925-1945 by M. Anna Fariello. Cullowhee, North Carolina: Curatorial InSight, 2018. 78 pages with Notes and Works Cited and replete with photographs. Trade paperback, $12.99

John C. Campbell Folk School is a thriving educational institution in the Southwestern corner of North Carolina that serves thousands of students from all over the world who sign up for classes in folk arts, writing, and local lore. This book features the first twenty years when those who created and sustained the Folk School now appear quite larger than life. It features ten individuals who affected its future and provides an overview of how it came into being. Anna Fariello is a research associate professor at Western Carolina University’s Hunter Library. She has curated over 30 exhibitions, mostly focusing on American crafts and authored three books on Cherokee crafts.  She earned a Bachelor’s in art and art history from Rutgers, a masters in museum studies and art history from Virginia Commonwealth, and an MFA from James Madison University.


Sovereign Entrepeneurs: Cherokee Small-Business Owners and the Making of Economic Sovereignty by Courtney Lewis. Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 2019.312 pages with an Index, Notes, Bibliography, appendices, graphs, maps, and 21 illustrations.  Trade paperback, $32.95.

The author of this book about the Eastern Band of Cherokees on the Qualla Boundary in Western North Carolina is an enrolled member of the Cherokee Nation, headquartered in Oklahoma. She has degrees in economics from the University of Michigan and Wayne State University, and a PhD in anthropology from the University of North Carolina. She teaches at the University of South Carolina in a joint appointment with the Institute of Southern Studies and the Anthropology Department. Her book deals with the impact of Cherokee business owners on the Qualla Boundary. “In this well-written, ethnographically interesting, and insightful book, Lewis takes readers to the heart of how individuals constitute indigenous economies, not only via governmental institutions but also via private enterprise.” Jessca Cattelino. “This groundbreaking book demonstrates the creativity and cultural specificity of Native Americans who own businesses and run tribal enterprises. Lewis shows us the importance of small businesses in maintaining and strengthening the economic health of Native American communities.” – Margaret Bender.


Smoke, Roots, Mountain, Harvest: Recipes and Stories Inspired by My Appalachian Home by Lauren Angelucci McDuffie. San Francisco: Chronicle Books, 2019. 255 pages with an Index and lots of full-color photographs, many full-page. 10.24” X 7.5” hardback with a pictorial cover, $29.95.

The author, Lauren Angelucci McDuffie, is a fabulous photographer and an outstanding recipe collector as well as a seasoned writer. This book is divided by seasons and interrupts the delightful recipes with occasional recollections and descriptions of country restaurants. This book is an outgrowth of a very successful food blog entitled Harvest and Honey which does include a playlist to accompany this book. The author writes about a grandmother from Allen County, Kentucky, just southeast of Bowling Green and about moving from somewhere in Kentucky to the Virginia Blue Ridge near the New River when she was twelve-years-old. The seventy recipes emphasize cooking from scratch, even telling the reader how to make s’mores that way!


Blood Moon: Am American Epic of War and Splendor in the Cherokee Nation by John Sedgwick. New York: Simon and Schuster Paperbacks, a 2019 first paperback edition of a 2018 hardback, 487 pages with an Index, Notes, Selected Bibliography, maps and photos in color and black-and-white. Trade paperback, $18.99.

Readers and scholars have, for generations, been drawn to the story of the Cherokees, arguably the tribe that assimilated most thoroughly into white society, even establishing plantations, holding African-American slaves, creating a written language, and publishing a newspaper, The Phoenix, in their language. One of the most compelling dimensions of this story is the conflict between John Ridge and John Ross, two charismatic leaders who held opposing perspectives on how to deal with President Andrew Jackson’s plan to remove all Cherokees to Oklahoma. John Ehle wrote a novel that dealt with this conflict, Trial of Tears (1989) and there are several scholarly books, but this is the first popular history treatment. It is John Sedgwick’s 6th non-fiction book to go with two fiction books.  He lives in Brooklyn. “A vigorous, well-written book that distills a complex history to a clash between two men without oversimplifying.”—Kirkus Reviews. “The most important history to know is the history that has been deliberately hidden from us. John Sedgwick’s absorbing and ultimately damning story of the destruction of the Cherokee Nation—so that white settlers could pour in and take over their rich lands—finally unearths the ugly but quintessentially American truth about our young nation’s path to expansionism.”—Rinker Buck. “Engrossing . . . Mr. Sedgwick’s account is filled with riveting, often gory details. . . . The harrowing parts of the story add not simply drama but insight . . . Mr. Sedgwick’s subtitle calls the Cherokee story an ‘American Epic,’ and indeed it is.”—H. W. Brands.



Go Down the Mountain by Meredith Battle. Herndon, Virginia: Mascot Books, 2019. 219 pages. Trade paperback, $16.95.

Go Down the Mountain is set amidst the real-life drama of the confiscation of small mountain farms to form Shenandoah National Park. The protagonist, teenager Bee Livingston, lives in Livingston Holler, but when her father dies unexpectedly, she is left with an abusive mother and finds herself having to deal by herself with men who may or may not prove trustworthy. "The world that Battle creates is unnerving and enchanting in equal measure, and always utterly beguiling ... A vivacious, absorbing, and accomplished debut." - Kirkus Reviews. The author, Meredith Battle, is a native of Virginia who lives in a 200-year-old house in the Piedmont not far from the Blue Ridge Mountains.


The Bean Can: A Book by Steven R. Cope. Frankfort, Kentucky: Broadstone Books, 2018. 180 pages. Trade paperback: $18.95.

The title and cover illustration of this novel harks back to one of the favorite pastimes that Agile and Hills enjoyed as boys growing up in Eastern Kentucky – displaying their marksmanship prowess and sometimes competing by shooting at tin cans. The novel begins when Agile’s mother asks his childhood friend, Hills, to help find him when he goes missing decades later. “Emotionally raw and true to the bone, this novel won’t leave you where it found you. The World of best friends Agile and Hills is tragic, comic, shocking, and familiar all at once. Their story and their families’ history is not set in a place, but woven of that place. Cope knows the lay of the land, the community of creatures, fields, and woods, as well as he knows his characters, some bewildered, some corrupt, others hanging on the best they can at the end of an unpaved road.” – George Ella Lyon. Steven R. Cope is a musician who performs and composes and has taught guitar to hundreds and a writer who has authored over 20 books for readers of all ages and genres and taught part-time at the three state universities within commuting distance of his rural home. He grew up in Menefee County, Kentucky, and has lived most of his adult life in the Clark County countryside.


The Ash Family by Molly Dektar. New York: Simon and Schuster, 2019. 342 pages. Hardback in dust jacket, $26.00.

This is the first novel of Molly Dektar who grew up in Durham, North Carolina, graduated from Harvard, earned an MFA from Brooklyn College and now lives in New York City.  Her mother was a folklorist, and while growing up she visited the North Carolina mountains both to enjoy nature and to visit Western North Carolina folk artists.  This novel is set near Asheville, where the protagonist, Bertie, is renamed Harmony when she joins an off-the-grid intentional community led by a mysterious and charismatic man obsessed with mankind’s destruction of nature. “The Ash Family is a suspenseful and atmospheric exploration of escape, idealism, and community, a captivating ode to the quest for something more. Molly Dektar writes with great nimbleness and insight, and her debut novel marks the arrival of a wonderful new talent." - Laura van den Berg. “In The Ash Family, the brilliant Molly Dektar explores and explodes the lines between ally and enemy, between collaboration and sabotage, between blessing and threat. Dektar evokes the irresistible beauty of the wilderness, and then exposes its ravaging harshness. This mesmerizing, terrifying book asks the hard questions: What should humankind do in the face of environmental catastrophe? Where does the individual end and the communal begin? A powerful tale by a powerful new writer.” - Helen Phillips. “The Ash Family floored me.  With stirring insight, nuanced emotion, and prose as beautiful as poetry, this magnificent novel delves into essential questions of need and desire, love and family, success and sacrifice. Molly Dektar is a wholly original writer, and we need her vision and voice more than ever.” - Bret Johnston.


Magnetic Girl: A Novel by Jessica Handler. Spartanburg, South Carolina: Hub City Press, 2019. 280 pages. Hardback in dust jacket, $27.00.

This novel begins in October 1883 in Cedartown, Georgia, and ends in May 1884 in Knoxville, Tennessee. It is based on the life of a real person, Lulu Hurst (1869-1950), who wrote an autobiography and about whom other obscure books have been written. She performed as a teenager for two years until retiring in 1885 as “The Georgia Wonder” who could demonstrate on stage seemingly miraculous feats of physical strength. This book was selected as one of Wall Street Journal’s Ten Books You’ll Want to Read This Spring and a Spring Okra Pick from the Southern Independent Booksellers Alliance. "Handler captures the ambivalence of female adolescence, where the newfound ability to captivate others exists in unsteady balance with the fear of loss of independence. A thoroughly fresh historical novel that both captures the essence of its time and echoes challenges that still exist today."—Kirkus Reviews, Starred Review. "Like the powers of Lulu Hurst, Jessica Handler's literary power feels like a sleight of hand. It's impossible that a novel can be this beautiful, this haunting, and this resonant, but your eyes (and your heart) are not deceiving you. The Magnetic Girl is a gorgeous, brutal book: a strange alchemy of love, fear, fate, and hope."—Wiley Cash. “The Magnetic Girl is a compassionate, clear-eyed coming-of-age tale unlike anything I’ve read. The story belongs to Lulu Hurst, but Handler is the one doing the true mesmerizing. What a unique, accomplished debut!”—Therese Anne Fowler. This is the third book published by Jessica Handler, an English professor at Oglethorpe University in Atlanta who earned a B.S. at Emerson College and an MFA at Queens University in Charlotte.


The Widows by Jess Montgomery. New York: Minotaur Books/St. Martin’s Press, 2018. 327 pages. Hardback in dust jacket, $26.99.

Set in Vinton County in the southeastern Ohio coalfields in the 1920s, the protagonist of this novel is Lily Ross, inspired by Maude Collins, Ohio’s first female sheriff and the only one to serve as an Ohio sheriff for over fifty subsequent years. To investigate her husband’s murder in the line of duty as the previous sheriff, Lily Ross turns to Marvena Whitcomb, whose husband has just been killed in the mines. This character, a union activist, was partially inspired by Mother Jones. The Widows is the first novel of Jess Montgomery who grew up in Ohio nurtured by an Eastern Kentucky family and now covers literature for the Dayton Daily News and is the Executive Director of the Antioch Writers Workshop in nearby Yellow Springs "In the hard-luck, homespun Appalachian town of Kinship, Ohio, in 1924, two strong women become unlikely comrades to solve a murder in this flinty, heartfelt mystery that sings of hawks and history, of coal mines and the urgent fight for social justice."―Julia Keller. "The Widows is the story of a community in crisis: the Pinkertons are waging war against miners and the law, and no one is safe from their recklessness. But two brave women take a stand, committing themselves to saving their community and families. Jess Montgomery's gorgeous writing can be just as dark and terrifying as a subterranean cave when the candle is snuffed out, but her prose can just as easily lead you to the surface for a gasp of air and a glimpse of blinding, beautiful sunlight. This is a powerful novel: a tale of loss, greed, and violence, and the story of two powerful women who refuse to stand down."―Wiley Cash. "With compassion and skill, Jess Montgomery deftly smashes stereotypes and puts a human face on the cost of coal mining in 1924 Appalachian Ohio. Rich with historical details, yet fast paced, The Widows revolves around a murder investigation. But it was the vivid voices of Lily Ross and Marvena Whitcomb that completely captivated my heart and kept me reading long into the night."―Ann Weisgarber.


To the Bones: A Novel by Valerie Nieman. Morgantown: West Virginia University Press, 2019. 220 pages. Trade paperback, $19.99.

The author, Valerie Nieman, attests that “this novel is a love letter to the genres that have thrilled me over the years, from Tennyson’s Arthurian cycle to Poe’s tales of madness to Lovecraft and Bradbury and Herbert, and films from the schlocky to the great . . . And Appalachia, where I was born, educated, and worked for most of my life [and that] has produced a great body of folk tales and traditions and stores of otherworldly events.” "In Valerie Nieman's thrilling, genre-bending novel To the Bones, the richly rendered setting is inseparable from characters' fears, strengths, and weaknesses and from nearly every tragedy and triumph in the story....The novel takes place in Redbird, West Virginia, run for generations by a coal-baron family, the Kavanaughs, whose evils run far deeper than their exploitation of the land and its people. To help achieve their ends, the Kavanaughs seem to draw dark, otherworldly powers from the coal, and from the land itself. And these powers appear unstoppable, until a few townspeople, and an outsider with some otherworldly powers of his own, try to fight back-often, with deadly consequences.” - Small Press Picks. "Evocative, intelligent prose conjures an anxious mood and strong sense of place while spotlighting the societal and environmental devastation wrought by the coal mining industry." - Kirkus Reviews. "This is the West Virginia novel done right: slam-bang story-telling in tightly controlled language, by turns horrific and funny and beautiful.” – Pinckney Benedict. A prolific author, Valerie Nieman, is now a professor of English at North Carolina A & T State University. She earned a Bachelor’s from West Virginia University and an MFA from Queens in Charlotte.


Like Lions by Brian Panowich. New York: Mnotaur Books/St. Martin’s Press, 2019. 307 pages. Hardback in dust jacket, $26.99.

Brian Panowich returns to Bull Mountain in North Georgia for the setting of this novel that follows his debut novel, Bull Mountain, that won the International Thriller Award for the best first novel and the Pat Conroy Award for the best crime novel. The protagonist of Like Lions, Clayton Burroughs, serves the dual role of the heir apparent to the area’s most notorious crime family and county sheriff. He also is a new father with a third loyalty to consider. “Brian Panowich’s glorious return to Bull Mountain is another sprawling, brutal, no-holds-barred novel that held me in a death grip from page one until it kicked me out of the door with an ending I never saw coming.”―C.J. Box. “Action and reflection are skillfully balanced in a vigorously written, trenchant tale.” ― Kirkus Reviews. Brian Panowich grew up an Army brat in Europe, and, before becoming a full-time writer, he worked as a firefighter in Augusta, Georgia.



Any Other Place: Stories by Michael Croley. Winston-Salem, North Carolina: Blair/Carolina Wren Press, 2019. 232 pages. Trade paperback, $16.95.

This is the first book of Michael Croley, a young English professor at Denison College in Ohio. He grew up in Corbin, Kentucky, graduated from Western Kentucky University, and earned an M.A. from Florida State and an M.F.A. from Memphis. The thirteen stories here have settings that range from Eastern Kentucky to Ohio to Korea. “Croley’s solid debut, set mostly in small-town Appalachia, explores masculinity, heartbreak, and isolation in 13 emotional stories . . . Readers will relish these melancholy stories of everyday and exceptional tragedies.” ―Publishers Weekly. "Michael Croley shows us the lives most of us inhabit―simple on the surface, with a rich and complicated inner life. His people yearn, fight, and love, make mistakes and gain success, and remain optimistic despite tough circumstances. This book will teach you about humanity and about yourself." ―Chris Offutt. "Michael Croley’s Any Other Place is a story collection of immense power. Croley masterfully gathers disparate worlds through his sympathy and generous grasp. As the characters approach their truths of home, family, and duty, we witness the gorgeous possibility of what ordinary men and women seek―love, acceptance, and forgiveness." ―Min Jin Lee.


Ghostly Demarcations: Stories by Joe Taylor. Montclair, New Jersey: Sagging Meniscus Press, 2019. 215 pages. Trade paperback, $19.95.

This book is dedicated to Galen King and Joe Sterns. It has an unnamed narrator, but a character named Galen, who grew up in the mountains near Irvine, Kentucky, appears in all the stories, and they all are set not far from there. Joe Taylor earned his Bachelor’s at the University of Kentucky and his Master’s and Doctorate at Florida State.  He teaches literature at the University of West Alabama and directs their Livingston Press.  This is his fourth short story collection to go with his three novels.