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October 2020 Reviews

October 2020 Reviews


Appalachian Englishes in the Twenty-First Century edited by Kirk Hazen. Morgantown: West Virginia University Press, 2020. 203 pages with an Index. Trade paperback, $29.99.

This book consists of 11 essays by professors that seek to illuminate various aspects of our regional dialect. The first part emphasizes the reality of different sub-regions within our region. The second part deals with the intersections of linguistics and ethnicity and sexuality and identity. The third and final part looks at language in four different arenas - in the high school, the college, in literature, and in the world of race-car driving. The author has taught linguistics for twenty-two years at West Virginia University.


Digging Our Own Graves: Coal Miners & the Struggle Over Black Lung Disease, Updated Edition by Barbara Ellen Smith. Chicago: Haymarket Books, an updated edition, 2020 edition of a 1987 release. 319 pages with Index, Notes, Appendix, and a Gallery of Earl Dotter photographs. Trade paperback, $19.95.

Barbara Ellen Smith is one of the most accomplished and respected scholars in the field of Appalachian studies. She is a professor of Women’s and Gender Studies at Virginia Tech who worked for the Black Lung Association in the 1970s. The photos are breath-taking, and the text is exemplary in its extensive utilization of interviews with the victims. "Digging Our Own Graves is a lesson on a public health disaster.  Smith explores the deep roots of a worker power struggle in Appalachia that continues today." —Celeste Monforton. “A valuable contribution to this important history.” —Grant Crandall. “Barbara Smith’s updated edition of her book, Digging Our Own Graves provides a significant addition to the history of the battles against black lung from its beginnings to our current efforts against resurgent severe disease.” —Bob Cohen.


Horace Kephart, Writings edited by George Frizzell and Mae Miller Claxton. Knoxville: The University of Tennessee Press, 2020. 707 pages with appendices, Notes, Selected Bibliography, Index, and photos. Trade paperback, $45.00.

Weighing in at 2 pounds, 2.9 ounces, not bad for a paperback, this book provides 707 pages and nine distinct chapters of different kinds of writings that Horace Kephart (1862-1931) completed. Each of the chapters is adroitly introduced, so the reader comes away with a deep understanding of Horace Kephart. A librarian by trade and in the early part of his life, Kephart famously abandoned his wife and his job in St. Louis, under some pressure from both, and landed in the Smoky Mountains – literally in what is now part of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park at first. During his lifetime he was most well-known for writing about camping and secondarily about mountaineers, but he also wrote about the Cherokees and guns, and even indulged in writing promoting the creation of the National Park and some fiction. Although obviously designed to satisfy the aficionados, even casual readers will find considerable fascination here.


Junaluska: Oral Histories of a Black Appalachian Community edited by Susan E. Keefe with the assistance from the Junaluska Heritage Association. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Company, Publishers, 2020. 235 pages with photos and an Index. 7” X 10” trade paperback, $29.95.

This book begins with a 31-page ethnography of Junaluska, an African-American neighborhood in Boone, North Carolina, by the author who is Professor-Emeritus in anthropology at Appalachian State University in Boone, and the author or editor of four previous very well-regarded books.  The heart of the book, however, is 35 edited oral history interviews, called “life history narratives.”  They are divided pretty evenly into five groups covering people born in different eras from 1885-1909 all the way to people born from 1960 to 1993. These interviews took place over the past three decades. This work really gives an in-depth view not just of one neighborhood, but of the African-American experience in Appalachia.


Lige of the Black Walnut Tree: Growing up Black in Southern Appalachia by Mary Othella Burnette. Black Mountain, North Carolina: self-published, 2020. 251 pages with appendices and photos. Trade paperback, $15.99.

Lige, here is a shortened form of the name, Elijah. The author, Mary Othella Burnette, is 89 years old at the time she tells these stories of her kinfolks. She tells them to Lige because he is a cousin she never met. The Black Walnut tree is significant because it stands for land ownership, a distinction often very hard fought by African Americans all over the country and in Black Mountain, North Carolina, fifteen miles east of Asheville, where the author grew up. She has lived away from North Carolina as an adult but has always held dear the stories she heard as a girl and the kinfolks she left back at Black Mountain. This book consists primarily of vignettes of the author’s kinfolks and local people who meant a lot to her. Their stories are remarkable, for  example, the story of author’s paternal grandmother who was a midwife, born into slavery, who presided over the author’s birth. There is an appendix that explains terms her family used, and another that recounts superstitions she learned about.


The Music of the Statler Brothers: An Anthology by Don Reid. Macon, Georgia: Mercer University Press, 2020. 448 pages with an Index and photos. Hardback in dust jacket, $29.00

Take this title literally. Don Reid wrote the story of the Statler Brothers Quartet, entitled Statler Brothers, Random Memories, in 2008. This is the story – by their chief song-writer and lead singer – of the music of this Staunton, Virginia quartet. It just goes meticulously and chronologically down the list of every single one of their songs! It goes song by song, beginning with Flowers on the Wall, 1966, all the way to Farewell Concert, 2003, and gives some commentary on the origins of the songs, who wrote them, often when and where – for example on the back of their touring bus. This book is very revealing and often funny, always enjoyable. “Congratulations to Don Reid, his work ethic, and his amazing memory for recalling the minutia and putting this collection together in such immaculate fashion. Actually, I'm jealous, because he and I are about the same age, and I can't remember what I ate for breakfast."--Bill Anderson. "I grew up listening to and loving The Statler Brothers, the Gospel/Country vocal group that dominated the charts for a career that spanned 40 years, 45 albums, over 250 published songs, and a list of awards longer than the funnel cake line at the county fair in my hometown. Don Reid was more than lead vocalist for The Statler Brothers--he remains one of the most creative and nostalgic storytellers in show business. The songs of The Statler Brothers evoke memories, smiles, and even tears, but in this true treasure of stories behind the songs, Don reveals where the songs came from, what they mean, and how they were recorded.” – Mike Huckabee.


Unlikely Angel: The Songs of Dolly Parton by Lydia R. Hamessley. Urbana: The University of Illinois Press, 2020. 286 pages with a Foreword by Steve Buckingham, five tables, 31 black and white photos, four appendices, Notes, Further Reading, General Index, and Song and Album Index. Trade paperback, 19.95.

This book begins with a twenty-page biographical sketch of Dolly Parton and then delves right into the songs she has written. They are organized thematically, not chronologically, and each treatment is enhanced by substantial quotations from Dolly that the author elicited. "A persuasive argument for taking Dolly Parton seriously as an artist. For folk and country music scholars, musicians, and fans." --Library Journal. "Serious Dolly Parton fans and country music aficionados will be delighted by this in-depth gander into an icon's creative process. " –Booklist. “Lydia Hamessley invites us on a deep dive into the world of Dolly Parton as songwriter.  The book weaves together insightful analyses of the musical forms, cultural roots, and meanings found in Parton’s vast catalog, with Parton’s own accounts of her music. Hamessley unveils these songs as the heart and substance of Parton’s contributions to popular culture, and will inspire every reader to take yet another listen.”--Jocelyn R. Neal. The author Lydia R. Hamessley is a music professor at Hamilton College whose scholarly interests focus on old-time and bluegrass music, especially as they intersect with Southern Appalachia and the influence of women.



The Forever Wish of Middy Sweet: A Story of What Might Have Been by Terry Kay. Macon, Georgia: Mercer University Press, 2020. 328 pages. Hardback in dust jacket, $24.00.

Oh, Terry Kay, are you sure you want to do this to us old widowers?  Will it make us reach back only to embarrass ourselves? Will it smash our self-confidence?  Will it end up making our children mad at us?  This is a novel about an old widow, Middy Sweet Young, who returns to her hometown in Northeast Georgia holding on to her memory of her high school boyfriend, Luke Mercer, now an old widower who stayed there, and their youthful pledge, “one day we’ll be together.” "Written flawlessly, as readers have come to expect, The Forever Wish of Middy Sweet touches the heart of a reader as only Terry Kay can. During a time when the world needs a story of love and hope, this new novel encourages readers to explore one of the biggest questions many of us have...'what if?' I promise, there will be times you will press the book to your heart in an attempt to absorb all of the love contained on the pages. And perhaps, just perhaps you will find the courage to seek your own forever wish." – Renea Winchester. "The Forever Wish of Middy Sweet is a magical tale of love lost and love renewed. Skillfully and with a generous hand of storyteller's stardust, Terry Kay adventures into the unexplored territory of if wishes came true, what would we really do. Readers will sit in wonderment alongside Middy Sweet long after the last page is turned."--Karen Spears Zacharias. “Kay knows that most of us only age on the outside, not inside, and his story brings that long lost love back for us with the story of Luke and Middy. It's a different kind of love story, one ticking with suspense that ends with a poetic universality you won't anticipate and will never forget. And one written from the heart." --Jeff Fields.  Now do you believe that three of Kay’s eighteen books have been made into Hallmark Hall of Fame movies?


My Heart Belongs in the Blue Ridge: Laurel’s Dream by Pepper Basham. Uhrichsville, Ohio: Barbour Publishing. 2019. 253 pages. Trade paperback, $12.99.

Set in 1918 in the North Carolina Mountains, this is the story of Laurel McAdams and her romance with Jonathan Taylor whose missionary uncle has enticed him to come from England to Laurel’s mountain community to teach at a two-room school. The author, Pepper Basham, is a prolific writer of contemporary and historical romances.  She is a mother of five, married to a preacher who started as a music minister. They live in Asheville, North Carolina.


The Red Ribbon by Pepper Basham. Uhrichsville, Ohio: Barbour Publishing. 2020. 254 pages. Trade paperback, $12.99.

After publishing more than a dozen Christian romance novels, Pepper Basham chooses her home county, Carroll County, Virginia, for this historical romance. The book’s plot centers around the county’s best-known historical incident – a gun battle on March 14, 1912, in the courtroom of the Carroll County Courthouse that ensued after Floyd Allen declared, “Gentlemen, I ain’t a goin’” when Judge Thornton Massie imposed a one-year sentence upon him. The gunfire continued on the courthouse lawn. Five died and a six-month nation-wide manhunt transpired that saw two participants executed and others serving long sentences. What precipitated the violence started with a kiss at a corn-shucking between members of two families involved in a family feud, and that is where this historical romance between her characters Ava Burcham and Jeremiah Sutphin begins. "Basham interweaves romance, adventure, and history in this enjoyable tale set against the backdrop of the Hillsville, Va., Courthouse Massacre of 1912." – Publishers Weekly. “Pepper Basham brings characters to life like few authors I know. She drew me in, made me care about her story and the characters living on the page.” – Mary Connealy.  Pepper Basham has been a finalist in at least half a dozen awards in her field of Christian romance. She is a speech pathologist who lives in Asheville, North Carolina.


Someone to Watch Over by William Schreiber. Independence, Oregon: Not a Pipe Publishing, 2020. 409 pages. Trade paperback, $14.99.

The protagonist of this novel, Lennie Riley, grew up in the fictional town of Mosely, Tennessee, in the Smoky Mountains. She left home after she had a baby that she gave up. When she returns, she learns from her brother John, that her father, whose estrangement she wanted to end, has died. She saw him as the key to finding her daughter, Michelle. As John and Lennie begin to work together to find Michelle, all kinds of family dynamics and secrets emerge as they seek both religious and paranormal assistance in their quest. "Is this a ghost story? Maybe. Is this a grace story? Absolutely. A moving road-trip to second chances.” -Karen Eisenbrey. "I love this story! A life-affirming journey from profound heartbreak to inspired hope spanning four generations of mothers and daughters. You'll yearn to hug your family!" -Hope White. "...a heartfelt story about the complicated relationships within a family and the healing power of truth. I could not put it down!"-Kelli Estes. The author, William Schreiber, is a screen-writer who was born in Augusta, Georgia, grew up in Fort Myers, Florida, and now lives in Seattle.


A Twist of Faith by Pepper Basham. Asheville, North Carolina: Woven Words Publications, a 2020 reprint of a 2016 release. 290 pages. Trade paperback, $8.99.

Dr. Adelina Roseland is a speech pathologist whose life’s ambition is to move from the satellite campus in the mountains where she is teaching to become a full-professor at the flagship, the University of Virginia. She has been assured that if she can present a compelling professional success story, her ambition can be realized. Reece Mitchell is a young widower and a marginal cattle farmer at Mitchell Crossroads nearby. He has scheduled a Chicago interview in hopes of climbing the corporate ladder. At first the question is simply can Adelina’s professional expertise transform Reece’s mountain accent enough that the Chicago corporation will take him seriously. As sparks begin to fly, the question becomes whether Reece will feel he has been betrayed by a woman who is just using him to further her ambitions. Then, the question becomes whether pursuing vocational aspirations means more than small town faith and family and romance. This is the seventeenth romance novel by Pepper Basham who is from Carroll County, Virginia, in the Blue Ridge Mountains, and is, herself, a speech pathologist, married to a preacher and living in Asheville, North Carolina.



Larvae of the Nearest Star: Poems by Catherine W. Carter. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2019. 62 pages. Trade paperback, $17.95.

LSU Press continues to be the premier poetry publisher of the South, only publishing the very best Southern poets. The 49 poems here are as eclectic as their titles, from “Two Seater” to “The Rapture,” but they are always surprising in their apt juxtapositions and swift movement from hilarity to seriousness. “I’ve been an admirer of Catherine Carter’s poetry for over a decade, but this collection achieves a whole new level with its craft, vision, and urgency. Larvae of the Nearest Stars makes clear that she is one of our country’s finest poets, and her book deserves a place on the same shelf as collections by Mary Oliver and Wendell Berry. 'I will not cease telling,' Carter tells us in the final poem. May it long be so.” -- Ron Rash. “Catherine Carter’s poems are Big Dipper fishhooks. Enter unguarded a subject such as a hornets' nest, an outhouse, a Sunday afternoon, and then―something else happens, or becomes visible. ‘This is us,’ it turns out, ‘mortal minerals in the brief era of stars, this is it.’” -- Sarah Lindsay. The poet, Catherine W. Carter, teaches at Western Carolina University and dedicates this, her third collection, to the memory of Katherine Stripling Byer (1944-2017), that university’s most distinguished poet of the last generation and North Carolina’s first female Poet Laureate.


My Surly Heart: Poems by David Huddle. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2019. 61 pages. Trade paperback, $17.95.

David Huddle grew up in Ivanhoe, Virginia, a company town located on the New River. He served in the Army in Vietnam and earned degrees from Hollins College, the University of Virginia and Columbia University. For 38 years he was a professor at the University of Vermont and still lives in Burlington. This is his 9th poetry book to go with a dozen works of fiction. “Every so often, you might return to a friend’s earlier offhand comment, realizing that the observation―so casually offered―was in fact piercingly on-point. Such is the unique tell-it-slant style of David Huddle’s volume, My Surly Heart, in which his rigorously conversational talk lays bare what’s unsaid in our public and private lives. The surprise lies beneath his down-home geniality. By asking nonchalant questions in many near-pentameter sonnets―such as “What Are You Up To?” and “How Do You Feel About Your Body?”― or by piling up atmospheric layers of musical bliss in the long-lined “How to Enter a Cosmic Quirk,” his colloquially intimate voice sets off uncanny jolts of insight. -- Kevin Clark.  “David Huddle’s My Surly Heart constellates something of a life review, from homeplace eccentrics―the wry stories we’d expect from this poet―to wrestling conformity’s demons and the shame that stings a man when he no longer has the excuse of being green. There’s regret in lines laced with no regret, a cold look at the real, which flickers at the feeder quicker than any songbird. The poet’s patient spirit of observation of himself and the world brings us many sonorous pleasures in his sonnets and other forms, which rush at us with urgency and insight, sentences pushing into lines, and lines stringing meaning along to revelations of emotion.”  – Cathryn Hankla.



You Want More: Selected Stories by George Singleton. Spartanburg, South Carolina: Hub City Press, 2020. Hardback in dust jacket, $27.00.

This volume brings together 30 of George Singleton’s best short stories from eight of his collections, reprinted from Atlantic Monthly, Playboy, Harpers, Kenyon Review, and many other prestigious magazines. They have appeared in six different years of New Stories from the South: The Year’s Best. I am proud that I published one, “Columbarium” – after I looked the word up – when I was editor of Appalachian Heritage, and that it was chosen for New Stories from the South before it was chosen for this collection. One of the stories in this book is about a man who takes his son to visit the many girlfriends who could have been his mother – now if that doesn’t entire you, what will? I mean, George Singleton has an amazing knack for putting his characters in hilarious situations! "People always ask what is the one book you’d take to a deserted island. For me, it might be this one." ―David Joy. "A greatest-hits album from a writer whose stories are like epic spitballs from the back of the class: high-arcing and unbearably funny protests against the absurdities of everyday life." ― Garden & Gun. "In his brilliant mix of comedy and tragedy and deep tenderness for the most ‘minor’ characters among us, George Singleton is nothing less than the Shakespeare of South Carolina." ―Margaret Renkl. George Singleton grew up in Greenwood, South Carolina with strong ties to the Blue Ridge nearby. He now teaches at Wofford College in Spartanburg.