FREE Shipping!
November 2021 Reviews

November 2021 Reviews


Needlework by Julia Watts. New York: Three Rooms Press, 2021. 288 pages. Trade paperback.

This is a young adult novel for teens, but it also is a fine trade novel for adults. Julia Watts just keeps getting better and better and illuminating more and more dimensions of life, and, with this, her fourteenth young adult novel, she continues to make a tremendous contribution especially for rural teens who are struggling with issues of identity. Lambda Literary recommended this as one of “8 Queer Young Adult Books Coming this Fall.”  The protagonist is Kody, a sixteen-year-old rural Eastern Kentucky youth who loves to quilt with Nanny, his grandmother, and is a Dolly Parton wannabe. The book’s title unites the quilting theme with the efforts of Kody and his grandmother to care for his mother who is addicted to opioids. “Julia Watts doesn’t sugarcoat the problems in contemporary Appalachia, but she also writes with big-hearted generosity and love. Kody, the gay sixteen-year-old protagonist, is sensitive, funny, and kind. I wish I’d had this book to read when I was young.” —Carter Sickels. “Watts’s engaging book addresses timely topics like addiction, homophobia, and racism, but her gentle, heartwarming prose makes this book a comfort read. Kody’s sweetly honest narration makes it impossible not to cheer for him. . . . Highly recommended.” School Library Journal. "Watts (Quiver) depicts queer existence in a conservative white Appalachian town with realism and, effectively, hope. Even as Kody experiences harm caused by those closest to him, he never doubts his value, a characterization that proves validating in this poignant exploration of the generational trauma caused by poverty, addiction, and racism, and of the power of being loved for oneself."  Publishers Weekly. The author, Julia Watts, grew up in southeastern Kentucky and lives in Knoxville where she is working on a PhD in children’s and young adult literature at the University of Tennessee.



The American Chestnut: An Environmental History by Donald Edward Davis. Athens: The University of Georgia Press, 2021. 424 pages with an Index, Notes, and illustrations. Hardback in dust jacket.

Previously best known for his environmental histories of Appalachia and the South, Donald Edward Davis here writes about the tree that has always most fascinated him and that he has researched most closely: the American chestnut. It is also the tree whose most dense habitat centered on Southern Appalachia and that had its greatest impact there. What a fascinating and stimulating book this is. The cast of captivating characters includes Presidents, poets, singers, and murderers. But the most amazing character is the chestnut tree itself and the way its story illuminates environmental and human issues both complex and scintillating including the current fierce competition that a few rare naturally blight-resistant American chestnuts face from both genetically engineered chestnuts and international hybrids. “Of the some 650 species of trees native to the United States, none has done more to shape America’s culture and landscape than Castanea dentata, the American chestnut. In compelling detail, author Donald Edward Davis tells the sweeping story of how this magnificent tree influenced the lives and livelihoods of countless Americans and how it once dominated vast Eastern forests as a keystone species. You will not find a better, more comprehensive account of the American chestnut―its former greatness, its tragic decline, and its hopeful comeback―than this book.” -- Charles Seabrook. “In inviting prose based on deep research in a wide array of natural archives and textual sources, Donald Edward Davis gives us the definitive history of an iconic American tree. The book explains the American chestnut's ecological role, its uses, decline, and possible resurrection, from the last glaciation to the advent of genetic engineering. Everyone living in, or interested in, eastern North America should read it.” -- J.R. McNeil. “This book is the magnum opus on the American chestnut and will likely retain that status for decades to come. Wide ground is covered from deep-time biogeography and archaeology to historical Indigenous and settler-colonial uses. . . .I can’t remember the last time I was so excited about the publication of such a masterpiece of a book.” -- James R. Veteto. This is the seventh book by Donald Edward Davis, who currently works for the Harvard Forest and lives in Washington, D.C.

Blood Runs Coal: The Yablonski Murders and the Battle for the United Mine Workers of America by Mark A. Bradley. New York: W.W. Norton, a 2021 paperback edition of a 2020 release. 334 pages with an Index, A Note on Sources, Notes, and photos. Trade paperback.

Late in the night of New Year’s Eve in 1969, Jock Yablonski, his wife, and their daughter were brutally murdered in their Pennsylvania farmhouse. He had been defeated by incumbent Tony Boyle in an election for President of the United Mine Workers of America, but he was asking for a Department of Labor investigation of the election and suing the union for fraud. The election was eventually declared invalid and in 1972 Arnold Miller, like Yablonski a reform candidate, defeated Tony Boyle. Two years later, Boyle was convicted of conspiracy to murder Yablonski’s family, becoming the seventh man to be convicted in connection with the murders. "An absorbing, brilliant account of one of the most tragic murder stories in modern labor history, Blood Runs Coal judiciously uncovers the hidden layers of a brutal crime in the last moments of the tumultuous decade of the 1960s, and recovers the legacy of the heroic movement for democracy in the coal fields that remains an urgent, powerful, and hopeful cautionary tale for today."― Jeff Biggers. "Blood Runs Coal is impossible to put down. Mark A. Bradley has nailed his subjects in every possible way, from his chillingly cinematic handling of a breathtaking triple homicide to exciting courtroom dramas to a cast of villains from the violent gangs of the Hillbilly Underworld, and to the true-life heroic crusade to reform a murderous coal mining labor union. Mr. Bradley skillfully presents a world no reader will ever forget."― Charles Brandt. "Mark A. Bradley’s Blood Runs Coal skillfully presents the story of an American tragedy, a reminder that greed and violence, perpetrated by those in power, has always been a threat to our society, and that we must always be prepared to fight it."― John Sayles. The author, Mark Bradley, is a lawyer who has worked for the Department of Justice and the CIA, and now works for the National Archives.

Past Titan Rock: Journeys into an Appalachian Valley by Ellesa Clay High. Morgantown: University of West Virginia Press, a 2021 edition of a 1984 release. 215 pages with a foreword by Travis D. Stimeling and photos. Trade paperback.

Titan Rock is a feature of the Red River Gorge in Eastern Kentucky, and this is a book about that area. It combines memoir, oral history, and the short story form to present a feel for the Gorge from the times that the author’s informants remembered in the 19th Century into the 1980s when this book was first published. Ellesa Clay High first went to the Gorge as a hiker, but in the 1970s had an opportunity to interview Lily Mae Ledford (1917-1985) a banjo player of the Coon Creek Girls who grew up there. High and Ledford became friends, and Ledford introduced High to people she knew who had remained in the Gorge after Ledford had relocated. The result was that High chose writing about the people of the Gorge for her dissertation topic to earn a PhD in creative writing from Ohio University, and lived there some of that time. Later, while serving as a professor at West Virginia University, she adapted her dissertation into this book.

Snowbird Cherokees: People of Persistence by Sharlotte Neely. Athens: University of Georgia Press, a 2021 edition of a 1991 release. 200 pages with a new Foreword by Trey Adcock of the Cherokee Nation and Gilliam Jackson of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, and Index, Bibliography, Notes, photos and maps. Trade paperback.

This book is the only ethnographic study of the Snowbird Cherokees. The approximately 700 people who make up this community are part of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, but live in a mountainous rural area about fifty miles west of the town of Cherokee, North Carolina, where most Eastern Band Cherokees live on the Qualla Boundary. The new Foreword mentions some of the changes that have occurred in the 30 years since this book was published. "Neely presents a thoughtful, readable study of a harmonious people coping with the pressures of preserving their traditions and adapting to change."--Atlanta Journal-Constitution. The author is an anthropologist and professor emeritus from Northern Kentucky University. She lived in the Snowbird Cherokee community some of the time while working on this book.

Through the Mountains: The French Broad River and Time by John E. Ross. Knoxville: The University of Tennessee Press, 2021. 283 pages with Index, Selected Bibliography, Notes, maps, photos and illustrations. Hardback in dust jacket.

One of the greatest achievements in the history of American publishing was the Rivers of America series which was inaugurated in 1937 and completed in 1974 by three different prominent New York publishers. The books were mostly authored by literary figures, not historians or geographers, thus recognizing the importance of river watersheds to all aspects of the lives of people. The sixty-five books in the series pretty much covered the watersheds where all Americans lived and were often highly anticipated as literary events. Their authors are a who’s who of American literature from Marjorie Stoneman Douglas to Edgar Lee Masters and included the first book illustrated by Andrew Wyeth. Wilma Dykeman (1920-2006) had lived her whole life near the waters of the French Broad River in both North Carolina and Tennessee, and was an ideal person to write the book on that river for that series. At the time, however, she had not published a single book, and her publisher objected to her chapter on the pollution of the river, written seven years before Silent Spring by Rachel Carson established environmental degradation as a prominent topic for books. Wilma Dykeman said she would withdraw her book from consideration unless it included that chapter, and they caved. More than sixty-five years have now transpired since Wilma Dykeman’s book appeared. No wonder UT Press decided another French Broad book made sense, even if it never could loom as large as Wilma Dykeman’s book. The title of this new book recognizes one of the most dramatic features of the mountains that form the boundary between Tennessee and North Carolina – rivers that cut through the mountains from North Carolina into Tennessee. “Through the Mountains gives us fresh perspectives on the natural and cultural history of the whole French Broad River watershed in western North Carolina and eastern Tennessee. “As John Ross leads us through centuries of human habitation in the watershed, a clear theme emerges: the ongoing tension between economic development and environmental preservation, and the need for humankind to discover—or reclaim—sustainable ways of living within our natural world.”—Jim Stokely, son of Wilma Dykeman. “John Ross has given us a valued lens to the meandering lifespan of one of our storied rivers, embraced by the ancient Appalachian Mountains. It is a welcome contemporary companion to Wilma Dykeman’s iconic The French Broad in weaving the interconnectivity of land, water, and unfolding human habitation. In a larger sense, Through the Mountains is a universal chronicle of the abiding promise and peril of our nation’s vast network of rivers.”—Dr. Doug Orr. The author, John E. Ross, has written more than a dozen books about the natural world and is a recipient of the National Outdoor Book Award.

A Union for Appalachian Healthcare Workers: The Radical Roots and Hard Fights of Local 1199 by John Hennen. Morgantown: West Virginia University Press, 2021. 272 pages with Index, Bibliography, and Notes. Trade Paperback

The National Union of Hospital and Healthcare Workers was formed in New York City in 1969, but that is such an awkward name that when it first started organizing there, the local it formed, 1199 became the universal name for it. That easier name continued when the union expanded into Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Ohio, Virginia, and Kentucky. This book’s subtitle is key as Hennen begins this book with a look at the radical forces of the 1970s that were spoiling for a fight and prepared to jump to the defense of essential but grossly underpaid and overworked hospital workers. They helped create an atmosphere where a variety of people felt that they deserved social justice and that encouraged workers to feel they were not alone in their struggles. That also is a key lesson for today: progressives and labor leaders maximize their power when they work together! “How did a union of healthcare workers founded in New York City by radical Russian immigrants and composed primarily of Black and Hispanic women gain a powerful foothold in Appalachia despite determined opposition from employers and national and state politicians, as well as the impact of the consolidation of the hospital industry? John Hennen tells this inspiring story in a way that speaks directly to our current moment, when a long era of declining union power may be coming to an end.” --Eric Foner. “Hennen’s engagingly told and well-researched study is a valuable contribution to both American labor history and Appalachian studies.” --Gordon Simmons. John Hennen is Professor Emeritus of History at Morehead State University and the author of The Americanization of West Virginia: Creating a Modern Industrial State, 1916-1925.



Flight Risk by Joy Castro. Seattle, Washington: Lake Union Publishing, 2021. 331 pages. Trade paperback.

When Isabel Morales, a Chicago sculptor, receives word that her mother has died and that she has inherited property back in West Virginia, it forces open a past she has hidden even from her husband, but when she travels there, additional toxic secrets keep coming out. How can she forge a new life for herself that is based on her realities, not just her aspirations? “Flight Risk is a compelling, gritty portrait of class in America. Joy Castro traffics the rural-urban divide with complexity and compassion. The protagonist, Isabel Morales, an outsider turned artist, guides the reader through poverty, wealth, and the beating heart of our political divide as she reclaims her roots in coal-country West Virginia while reconciling the privileged life she’s built in Chicago. This is outlaw fiction at its best.” ―Melissa Scholes Young.   “From the stunning opening lines of Joy Castro’s Flight Risk, we know we’re in the hands of a master storyteller, and it held me captive until the final page. With writing so evocative I could taste her words, Castro has wrought a sharply observed love story with a social conscience―an investigation of class, family, and the many ways we get each other wrong.” ―Jennifer Steil. “Funny, sexy, and transfixing, Joy Castro’s Flight Risk is a meditation on love, marriage, art, family, womanhood―and therefore, life itself. Castro skillfully builds tension, and the slow intensity with which the plot’s arc forms gives the novel its exquisite and powerful impact.” ―Chigozie Obioma. “A deftly intelligent literary thriller, Flight Risk is that rarest of beasts―beautifully written yet a real page-turner, too. Wonderful.” ―S. J. Watson. “Joy Castro writes with a balanced urgency―elegant sentences tempered with grace and intelligence, clear and gripping character arcs and story lines―and with a depth and dimension that leans into the transformative. Another strong book.” ―Chris Abani.The author, Joy Castro, holds an endowed chair in English at the University of Nebraska and has published in several genres.

Wanting Radiance by Karen Salyer McElmuray. Lexington: South Limestone/University Press of Kentucky. A 2021 edition of a 2020 release. 264 pages with a new interview with the author. Trade paperback.

The thirty-something protagonist of this novel, Miracelle Loving, travels from town to town after her mother’s murder, practicing her mother’s profession, fortune telling, and getting odd jobs.  She spends time in Knoxville and some mountain towns, including Radiance. "A poetic tale of a daughter's quiet exploration of her past and how it pushes her forward. Part mystery, part eulogy, McElmurray's lyrical style transformed me from skeptical to fully invested in Miracelle Loving's search for identity, meaning, and love." -- The Rumpus. "Powerful and lyrical... A page-turner, but one in which the momentum is built not only on a compelling story, but on the integrity and complexity of its characters . . .  Wanting Radiance is an extraordinary book by an extraordinary writer. It's hard not to see McElmurray in her story, in her characters -- the woman with magic in her hands, shuffling the tarot cards, dealing prophecy, showing us who we were, who we are, who we can become. What's possible if we let in a little light." -- Entropy Magazine. The author, Karen Salyer McElmurray is an Eastern Kentucky native who teaches at Gettysburg College in Pennsylvania. This is her third novel and fifth book.



Daniel Boone’s Window by Matthew Wimberly. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2021. 66 pages. Trade paperback. 

This is the second poetry collection of this young author, and it is not a common feat for a second book to be snagged by LSU Press, arguably the most prestigious in this genre in the South. Wimberley’s first book focused on his relationship with his late father, and this book stays conscious of death but expands his vision into the region where he was born and now teaches at Lees McRae College in Banner Elk, North Carolina. “Matthew Wimberley possesses an uncanny ear: he listens to ghosts, nuthatches, blood, ridges, sorrow, beeches, and to the ‘run-on sentence of a creek.’ This listening is an intimacy with inheritance and Appalachia. This listening is rich with astonishing connections and leaps: the ‘clang of snow-chains’ turns into the music of a carousel and light is retooled into a ‘scalpel of an undertaker.’ Compassionate and achingly precise, Wimberley’s second book is remarkable - his immense gifts as a poet shine on every page.” --Eduardo C. Corral. “Shadows,  tinfoil, turpentine, and suicides in the river – Matthew Wimberly’s
poems draw up sorrowful skeletons from a dark pool, sluicing water from them, bringing them into brilliant light. There are small-town collapses here, rendered as the epics they are from the interior: extinctions, inheritance, generations of forgetful and forgotten men scattered like ashes through the stanzas. There are heroes here, unfaithful, their sons standing stranded by the school, waiting to be remembered and brought home. Wimberley's skills as a carpenter of verse are showcased as he strips their stories down for telling, removing the gleaming veneer of romanticism to reveal the clean pine of the roadside marker. The poems of Daniel Boone's Window call to the wandering dead, using the rhythms of regretted speeches and echoing shouts. They catalogue the wilderness while sawdust leaks out, offering depictions of a gone world, but gone only lately, not yet obliterated, and perhaps, given the right ministrations, capable of resurrection.” ― Maria Dahvana Headley.

The Girl Singer by Marianne Worthington. Lexington: Fireside Industries/University Press of Kentucky, 2021. 104 pages. Trade paperback.

The title reflects the fact that women, even very accomplished women, have too often been treated like girls. True, the majority of these poems deal with women who sing, especially well-known country singers from Appalachia, but Worthington does not present them out-of-context. Here you will also find poems that dwell on their natural surroundings and what we all have gained from women not known for their singing. “The Girl Singer is a praise song, love song, rage song,  ballad, recitative, and lament for early country music singers costumed, renamed, packaged, and sold; for the poet's mother, who filmed a teenage Dolly Parton singing in a gas station parking lot; the poet's father, caught in paralysis and a fading mind; for the musicians―country and soul―who were the soundtrack of her growing up; and for the glory of being in the audience at the Ryman when Bobby Bare kissed Marty Stuart. Worthington reclaims these beloveds, along with her "maternal people" and her grandmothers, with whom she is "encircled now, all / living together." She restores her parents to their beginning―and hers―as we go with them to the Opry on their honeymoon. Through multiple forms―fixed and invented―she renders these moments. And by turns her singing words dazzle and cleave our hearts."―George Ella Lyon. "In this lively and indelible collection, where the dead stay dancing and the crows are full of quarrel, where hands might be covered in blood or guitar calluses, Marianne Worthington's hypnotic rhythms and dazzling images transport us to barn dances, the Ryman, kitchen tables, backyard bird feeders, and Knoxville living rooms lit by the TV glow. Reverent of the thin places and defiant in their joy, these poems strum and pluck, vibrate and ring. The voice of The Girl Singer is high, clear, and true."―Erin Keane. The poet, Marianne Worthington, grew up in Knoxville, Tennessee, and teaches at the University of the Cumberlands in Williamsburg, Kentucky, 70 miles north of Knoxville.

When Light Waits for Us by Hilda Downer. Charlotte, North Carolina: Main Street Rag, 2021. 69 pages. Trade paperback.

In the introduction to this, her third poetry collection, Hilda Downer explains the title of this book. It began as an exchange of mailed photographs and mailed poems that responded to the pictures, but, too soon, the exchange petered out. She notes that “the most important component of photography and poetry [is] the right light” and that it “will come for the optimal image and understanding.” “We must ‘relearn ourselves / with what we have now,’ Hilda Downer says in her new collection When Light Waits for Us. Time—in all its countless iterations and absences—bears in on her from every side, all of life an excavation site, a record of who she became and, more hauntingly, who she did not. Even so, Downer recognizes that we live in a ‘delicate microcosm’ where ‘orchids [are] so specialized / their pollination requires / one particular species of insects.’ Her poems assert that we are no different, our souls intersecting, thereby giving us all these ways—music, photography, even poems—to ‘invent an art to make it worth starting over.’  - Jeff Hardin. Hilda Downer’s When Light Waits For Us stirs spirit and body to create new ways to strengthen the miracle of being alive to love and long and lose the gain; then to write meditations on sons and a mother, friends, the poet desiring humanity to rerun its fragile hope that Love is — the answer.” Shelby Stephenson. Hilda Downer is a retired English professor and psychiatric nurse who lives in Sugar Grove, North Carolina.


We Imagined It Was Rain by Andrew Siegrist. Spartanburg, South Carolina: Hub City Press, 2021. 196 pages. Trade paperback.

These sixteen inter-connected stories are mostly set in an imagined town in the East Tennessee hills. "With We Imagined It Was Rain, Andrew Siegrist establishes himself as a magician on the page. The stories in this collection transport its readers to the deep woods of Tennessee, where hearts are broken, where grief is fierce, and where humanity unequivocally abounds. From fireflies to baby snakes to a red lipstick kiss on the center of a forehead, Siegrist is a storyteller for whom nuance and detail still matter. This is a beautiful debut." Hannah Pittard. "Andrew Siegrist's collection of stories is a deeply moving and spellbinding look at the human condition, Tennessee, and the heartbreak of daily life. His stories move toward depth and beauty, never flinching. There is a quiet power in every detail Siegrist draws attention to, and I knew I was in the hands of a brilliant writer who writes honestly, tenderly. This is a gorgeous debut full of heart and power." Genevieve Hudson. The author lives on the Cumberland River west of Nashville. He is a graduate of the Creative Workshop at the University of New Orleans.