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November 2020 Reviews

November 2020 Reviews


Molly Mockingbird by Hannah Kay Beverage. Parsons, West Virginia: McClain Printing, 2019. 15 pages with drawings by the author on every page.  8.5” X 11” staple-bound paperback, $10.00.

Molly the mockingbird has a wonderful life living in the brushy pine in Katherine Marie’s yard. The author lives in Marlinton, West Virginia.



Bedford County Virginia Militia, 1774-1783 by Karen J. Dunn. Parsons, West Virginia: McClain Printing, 2019. 156 pages with lots of maps and charts. 8.5” X 11” trade paperback, $25.00

The author has assembled into spread sheets crucial documents obtained over many years. They tell the story of this county’s Militia from Colonial days until the end of the Revolutionary War. This gives a really unique and valuable insight into the life and times of this county during this important decade of its existence. What was found here may well be indicative of what happened in other counties. Together, these spread sheets show that the American Revolution was not very revolutionary at the grass-roots level. The people who ran Bedford County before the revolution ran it afterwards as well.


Bits & Pieces: The Middle Years by Robert Flanagan. Parsons, West Virginia: McClain Printing, 2020. 356 pages. Trade paperback, $25.00.

Bits & Pieces was the name of a column in the Hampshire Review out of Romney, West Virginia, the county seat of Hampshire County. It ran from 1999 until 2018. This collection is book three of four books that cover the column throughout that time. The author had a military career, followed by corporate callings and college teaching. He lived in seven countries and visited forty-one others. Most of his columns deal with his experiences in those places, but some deal with everyday life as a West Virginia retiree.


Bits and Pieces: Windin’ Down by Robert Flanagan. Parsons, West Virginia: McClain Printing, 2020. 394 pages. Trade paperback, $25.00

This, the fourth and last compilation of Flanagan’s columns in the Hampshire [West Virginia] Review covers from September 2012 until June 2018 when the column ended. The columns eschew politics and religion but do touch upon his four children, ten grandchildren, and eight great-grandchildren, and his cats. Most, however, tell of his experiences abroad.


The Black Athlete in West Virginia: High School and College Sports from 1900 through the End of Segregation by Bob Barnett, Dana Brooks and Ronald Althouse. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland, 2020. 225 pages with an Index, Bibliography, Notes, Appendix, and lots of pictures. Trade paperback, $39.95.

West Virginia had 40 Black high schools and three Black colleges in the days of racial segregation. Part I covers the years 1863 (statehood) to 1954 when the schools at all levels were segregated. Part II covers the years 1954 (after the Supreme Court ruled segregation unlawful) to 1964 when Black schools began playing white schools and then when integration began. “The Black Athlete in West Virginia is an original and significant contribution to the history of African Americans and school sports and is especially valuable as it is the first such work that covers one state, all the relevant sports, and in both high schools and colleges. This laudable one-state exploration allows the authors to show how West Virginia’s race relations, in particular, presented so many divergences from the norm that occurred in other states. It is voluminously researched, including interviews going back to the 1980s.”― Robert Pruter. “Anyone interested in the struggle for civil rights and equality in sport will find The Black Athlete in West Virginia appealing. It is a prototype and has the potential of serving as a template for scholars conducting similar research in other states.”― J. Thomas Jable. The authors: Bob Barnett is professor emeritus at Marshall University. Dana Brooks and Ronald Althouse are professor emerit at West Virginia University.


Boone before Boone: The Archaeological Record of Northwestern North Carolina through 1769 by Thomas R. Whyte. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland, 2020.178 pages with an Index, Bibliography, maps, drawings, and photos. Trade paperback, $29.95.

The eight chapters of this book cover eight periods of pre-history beginning with the Paleoindian Period: 11,500-9,500 BCE. Each chapter begins with a fictional vignette of life in the area in that era and provides pictures of both sites and artifacts discovered from that period. The author is a professor of anthropology at Appalachian State University and a local resident who has done archaeology research in the area for 40 years.


Coping with Crisis: A West Virginia Doctor’s Perspective by Greenbrier Almond, MD. Parsons, West Virginia: McClain Printing, 2020. 129 pages illustrated by the author’s grandchildren in color. Trade paperback, $15.00.

This is Dr. Almond’s ninth book, the first to address the pandemic raging across America. He worked for many years as a psychiatrist at the Clarksburg, West Virginia, Veterans Hospital. The book has three parts – professional reflections on PTSD; personal reflections on the impact of the pandemic, and reflections from a Christian perspective on what he calls “the wholeness of mind, body, and spirit. “


The Fighting Bunch: The Battle of Athens and How World War II Veterans Won the Only Successful Armed Rebellion Since the Revolution by Chris DeRose. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2020. 336 pages with an Index, Notes, and photos.  Hardback in dust jacket, $28.99.

At long last, one of the most fascinating, powerful, and inspiring tales of East Tennessee history is told by a best-selling author whose background as an attorney provides an additional qualification to tell the whole story. The Battle of Athens, Tennessee, took place on election day, August 1, 1946. Veterans who had returned from World War II to find the local power structure and elected officials the opposite of the democratic values they had fought for overseas drew up their own non-partisan slate to challenge the local machine. It responded with violent voter suppression techniques and began to stuff the ballot boxes in the country jail. The GIs responded with a successful armed assault on the jail in the middle of the night and permanently expelled the machine. “In a remarkable feat of dogged fresh reporting, historical research and narrative aplomb, DeRose breathes new life into the little-remembered saga of the 1946 Battle of Athens, Tennessee, when a force of angry men, led by recent World War II veterans with the ‘stamp of combat in their eyes,’ mounted a successful armed rebellion against entrenched municipal corruption and police brutality.” – Joe Sharkey. “History's best lessons are sometimes forgotten, and it's up to authors like Chris DeRose to resurrect them. He does so elegantly in The Fighting Bunch, the astonishing story of how, in August 1946, a band of World War II veterans summoned all their courage and fighting skills to stand up to and destroy a corrupt political machine. It's likely you never knew about it before - but once you've read this book, their act will resonate in your mind forever.” - Jeff Guinn. “Men who went overseas to defend the freedom of the world returned home to discover they had lost it here. How they fought to reclaim it is a riveting story that should remind every American of how precious and fragile are the freedoms we too often take for granted.” – John Bicknel. The author, Chris DeRose, is the author of four books, all of which deal with American struggles for justice. He is a practicing attorney in Phoenix, Arizona.


Number Nine and Other West Virginia Coal Mining Stories by David Kennedy. Parsons, West Virginia: McClain Printing, 2020. 149 pages. Trade paperback, $21.00.

What a valuable book this is. It really is coal mine stories. I mean it really tells you what goes on down in the mines. I’ve not seen anything like it. The author worked at nine different coal mines from 1971 until 1992.


Our Common Legacy of Faith: The Establishment of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in North Central West Virginia: The Story of the Fairmont Branch-Ward, Fairmont, West Virginia (Unofficial Version) by David Kennedy. Parsons, West Virginia: McClain Printing, 2020. 164 pages, $20.00.

This book tells the story of L.D.S. efforts in Marion County beginning in the 1830s when missionaries first traveled from Ohio into what was then northwestern Virginia. A Fairmont branch of the church was established in 1912, and a chapel was dedicated in 1924 which served until 1978 when a new church was built. The author has been involved in the Fairmont church for decades.


A Pictorial History of Dry Fork Railroad, West Virginia and Surrounding Areas by Chris Kidwell. Parsons, West Virginia: McClain Printing, 2019. 436-pages with an Index and maps and photos on practically every page. 8.5” X 11” trade paperback, $45.00.

The Dry Fork Railroad was built in Tucker, Randolph and Pendleton Counties of West Virginia. Later it was called the Central West Virginia and Southern Railroad. This book not only tells the story of railroad wrecks and lore, but also serves as a pictorial history of logging enterprises and families in these three counties. The author, Chris Kidwell, inherited many of the pictures in this book from his grandparents, and this book is the result of years of loving reminiscences with old timers in the area as he showed them the pictures and asked them to identify the people and expand on the happenings.


Stories Behind the Songs by Margaret Sue Phillips. Parsons, West Virginia: McClain Printing, 2020. 58 pages with color and black-and-white photos. 8.5” X 11” trade paperback, $25.00.

Margaret Sue Phillips performed the songs she composed at “The Little Opry” in Princeton, West Virginia, and at the Coffee House in Hinton, West Virginia, and at lots of community events. This book tells the stories behind the songs she composed.


Tales of the South Branch of Old Hampshire: J. S. Zimmerman’s Stories of Life as an Attorney and Outdoorsman by J. S. Zimmerman. Parsons, West Virginia: McClain Printing, 2020. 149 pages with an index and photos. Trade paperback, $16.00.

Joshua Soule Zimmerman (1874-1962) wrote these stories over a period of many years of his life and then his daughter gathered them into a little booklet for the family in 1970. Dan Oates edited them for presentation in this book. Together they weave a fascinating picture of life in Hampshire County, West Virginia during the last century. “A ‘country lawyer’s’ gentle stroll down memory lane. Mr. Zimmerman’s delightful storytelling makes us nostalgic for a simpler time and place.” – Charles E. Parsons.


Toward Cherokee Removal: Land, Violence, and the White Man’s Chance by Adam J. Pratt. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2020. 240 pages with an Index, Bibliography, Notes, maps, and illustrations. Hardback with a pictorial cover, $59.95.

The concept of the “white man’s chance,” assumes that white people need land and a few possessions to have a chance to make it – that makes sense. But the awful part is that, sadly, this concept assumes that if the only means white people have to achieve that security is to take it away from people of color, that’s O.K. In Georgia, white people had been given a chance by appropriating the labor of African-Americans for generations, then in the early 1800s, they used this excuse to take land and property away from the Cherokees so that the whites could have a chance. This book documents the way that the violence and intimidation by white people, coupled with the assent and often participation of authorities, allowed them to steal most of the Cherokee land in Georgia. These depredations also diffused opposition to Indian Removal - that took the form of The Trail of Tears - among both the whites and the Cherokees. The author is a professor of history at Scranton University.


Untold Stories and History of Tygart Lake by Brenda Tokarz. Parsons, West Virginia: McClain Printing, 2020. 241 pages with pictures on practically every page. Trade paperback, $30.0   

Eleven men died building the Tygart Dam in the 1930s. This book tells not just the story of their deaths but of the deaths of the first white settlers in Taylor County and many more. Read here about train wrecks, mine explosions and a jailer arrested for possession of untaxed moonshine. The author, Brenda Tokarz, grew up near the Dam, and her father was on the construction crew. After a career as an art instructor she gave tours at a Tygart Lake marina.



Dance Away with Me by Susan Elizabeth Phillips. New York: William Morrow/HarperCollins, 2020. 383 pages. Hardback in dust jacket, $28.99.

The protagonist, Tess Hartsong (get it?), a midwife, has run away to Runaway Mountain (get it?) in Tennessee in the wake of widowhood. Ian North has run away there from other demons. The question is whether they will dance away together? The big hint we get before we start is that the author is one of America’s most successful romance writers. Regardless of whether we suspend disbelief about the outcome or not, Phillips has the skills to make the journey enchanting. "Ian and Tess are pitch-perfect in this sweet and sizzling stand-alone story from best-selling Phillips."  - Library Journal. "Phillips layers this poignant love story with robust descriptions of mountain scenery and society, and a well-handled subplot about Tess’s fight for comprehensive sex education for the town’s teens. This stirring romance is sure to capture readers’ hearts." - Publishers Weekly (starred review)."In this superbly written stand-alone, this master storyteller's flair for highly imaginative plots and flawless characterization are on full display, resulting an emotionally enriching, breathtakingly brilliant tale of heartbreak and hope... lively writing liberally laced with multiple layers of delicious wit and snarky charm." - Booklist (starred review). The author, Susan Elizabeth Phillips, is the only four-time recipient of the Romance Writers of America’s Favorite Book of the Year Award and one of their Lifetime Achievement Award winners. She is credited with creating the sports romance sub-genre, although this book does not fit in that category. She lives in the Chicago suburbs.


The Last Entry by Jim Hamilton. Little Rock Arkansas: Working Title Farm/River’s Edge Media, 2019. 287 pages. Hardback in dust jacket. $21.99.

This novel begins when Tucker Trivette is 13 and digging ginseng with his Paw Paw and little brother. His paw paw looks at the last entry he made in his journal 20 years ago and confirms that he is where he wants to be. That’s not the last entry that will be made in a journal or the last time the reader wonders it there will be no more entries of a particular kind. In an informal economy, entries in a journal or a ledger book can signal a struggle that can result in poverty or survival or triumph. When Tucker returns from the Navy, he re-enters the world of the ginseng digger that his Paw Paw gave to him. Ginseng centers this novel as does the Western North Carolina forest. “I can see this book as a breakout for an insanely talented writer, and I’m thrilled to be one of the people to see it happen first. Don’t just read The Last Entry. Get lost in it. It’s easy to do.” – Brian Panowich. “. . . a riveting story about coming of age in the tradition of semi-lawless Appalachia.” – Radney Foster. “ . . . authentic and vibrant characters jump from the page, and you’ll smell the freshly turned loam with every root that’s dug.” – Dave Lucey. The author, Jim Hamilton, grew up in Alabama but has been living for 20 years near Boone, in the North Carolina mountains. He has worked as a county agent there. His familiarity with the forest shines throughout this book.


The Prettiest Star by Carter Sickels. Spartanburg, South Carolina: Hub City Press, 2020. 295 pages. Hardback in dust jacket, $26.00.

This book is one of 2020’s most acclaimed releases. Kirkus Reviews pronounced it a best fiction book of the year and it was highlighted by publications ranging from Garden and Gun to O Magazine! Set in 1986, this is the story of Brian Jackson’s return to Appalachian Ohio after six years experiencing the gay scene in New York City. The story is told not just in a narrator’s voice, but also Brian’s own voice and the voices of his mother, Sharon and his fourteen-year-old sister, Jess. "With the most inviting prose imaginable, Carter Sickels has written a beautiful, heartstring-tugging story about a young man searching for peace, and the family that loves him through thick and thin. The Prettiest Star is a novel I'll never forget." De'Shawn Charles Winslow. "Sickels' characters are painfully flawed and wholly, believably human in their failings. This unflinching honesty, conveyed in finely crafted prose, makes for a memorable and unsettling novel. Powerfully affecting and disturbing."—Kirkus Reviews (Starred Review). "As small-town news travels, Brian is vilified, accused of trying to spread AIDS, refused dentist and doctor visits, and shunned, and it tears apart his once close-knit family. The alternating narrators of Brian, Sharon, and Jess are fleshed out in all of their complexities and contradictions. This immersive, tragic book will stay with readers."—Booklist.  "This tragic story of AIDS and violent homophobia stands out by showing the transcendent power of queer communities to make their voices endure through art."—Publishers Weekly. Carter Sickles teaches at Eastern Kentucky University. This is his second award-winning novel.


Transcendent Kingdom by Yaa Gyasi. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2020. 264 pages. Hardback in dust jacket, $27.95.

“An inspiration” – Ta-Nehisi Coats.  This novel was on the New York Time best-seller list for a few weeks. It is set partly in Huntsville, Alabama, where the author, born in Ghana, grew up and partly at Stanford University where the author did her undergraduate work. Her first book, Homegoing, inspired by a trip she took back to Ghana, won four of the most prestigious honors for a first novel and made her a millionaire. Transcendent Kingdom follows the protagonist, Gifty, a doctoral student at Stanford who is studying addiction behaviors in mice while grieving for her bother who died of an overdose and taking care of her mother who is suffering from severe depression. Raised in a fundamentalist church in Alabama, Gifty flashes back to the answers that heritage provides as contrasted with what science has to offer. "Yaa Gyasi’s profoundly moving second novel takes place in the vast, fragile landscape where the mysteries of God and the certainties of science collide. Through deliberate and precise prose, the book becomes an expansive meditation on grief, religion, and family."—The Boston Globe. "A book of blazing brilliance ... of profound scientific and spiritual reflection . . . A double helix of wisdom and rage twists through the quiet lines. . . . Thank God, we have this remarkable novel."—Ron Charles. “The novel is full of brilliantly revealing moments, sometimes funny, often poignant.... [Gifty is] provokingly vital.”—James Wood. "Meticulous, psychologically complex...At once a vivid evocation of the immigrant experience and a sharp delineation of an individual’s inner struggle, the novel brilliantly succeeds on both counts."—Publishers Weekly [starred review].



Redneck Bouquet: Gay Poems from Appalachia by Jeff Mann. Maple Shade, New Jersey: Lethe Press, 2020. 103 pages. Trade paperback, $12.00.

Jeff Mann is arguably the Dean of not just the bear and the leather gay Appalachian authors, but them all. His Loving Mountains, Loving Men memoir explicitly staked out that claim in 2005, but his reputation was already there in knowing regional circles well before that and has only enlarged since. Raised in Covington, Virginia, and Hinton, West Virginia, educated at W.V.U., he has taught creative writing at Virginia Tech for decades and lives the small-town life in Pulaski, Virginia, with his husband. The title of this book of poems well expresses the confluence of forces that defines Jeff’s life: Redneck expresses the macho, the outlaw side, and Bouquet expresses the nature poet’s softer side.  Jeff majored in forestry – what other field embraces the botanist and the lumberjack? Perhaps, like me, Jeff has been drawn to his “outlaw” students on a relatively unpolitical campus where the “alternative” kids are rare. Those of us on the left used to attract them, back in the days when we also attracted the fundamentalist preachers who abhorred strip mining. Now, sadly, the Trumpsters have made deep inroads in both constituencies. We desperately need to elevate and expand the voice of Jeff Mann. That “outlaw” consciousness is pissed at the cops and the establishment that lacks respect for redneck lives and limits their livelihoods. They also lack respect for the lives of gay people and Blacks – the natural allies of rednecks. These poems express much more than the themes of “outlaw” music. Yet part of their power is that they lay the foundation for a profound consciousness that is desperately needed. There is a universality in these poems than shines through the marginal status of the impervious hillbilly and the proud queer in them.


Thumbprints in the Tracks of Time by Lois E. Caplinger. Parsons, West Virginia: McClain Printing, 2020. 100 pages. Trade paperback, $15.00

Presented here are the poems of Lois E. Caplinger, a 93-year-old grandmother who lives in Clarksburg, West Virginia. Her poetry is down-to-earth, wise, uplifting, and profoundly religious.