FREE Shipping!
September 2021 Reviews

September 2021 Reviews


The Ghostly Tales of Chattanooga by Amy Petulla and Jessica Penot. Charleston, South Carolina: Arcadia Children’s Books, 2021. 107 pages, illustrated with black-and-white drawings and a map. A 5.25” X 7.75” trade paperback.

This book is adapted for 8 to 12-year-olds from the 2011 trade book, Haunted Chattanooga, by the same co-authors. These ghost stories are set in hospitals, schools, mountains, valleys, hotels, caves, jails, cemeteries, rivers, dams, monuments and even museums. Plus, one is set at the Chattanooga Choo Choo! All are short and sweet, and the print-size is ample. Jessica Penot is a therapist and writer who lives near Chattanooga across the Alabama line. Amy Petulla is a lawyer who founded Chattanooga Ghost Tours.

The Ghostly Tales of Virginia’s Blue Ridge Highlands by Joe Tennis. Charleston, South Carolina: Arcadia Children’s Books, 2021. 103 pages. Illustrated with black-and-white drawings and a map.  A 5.25” X 7.75” trade paperback.

This book is adapted for 8 to 12-year-olds from the 2010 trade book, Haunts of Virginia’s Blue Ridge Highlands also by Joe Tennis. Actually, it should be titled Ghostly Tales of Southwest Virginia, since most of the tales take place in the Shenandoah Valley, and some on the western side of that Valley not the eastern side where the Blue Ridge lies. Among the settings are Roanoke, Christiansburg, Wytheville, Bristol, Castlewood, and Wise. This is the fourth ghost-tale book by Joe. Tennis to go along with six other books about the area where Virginia, North Carolina, and Tennessee come together.


Gone Home: Race and Roots through Appalachia by Karida L. Brown. Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, a 2021 paperback re-print of a 2018 release. 252 pages with an Index, Bibliography, Notes, appendices, figures, tables, photos, and a map. Trade paperback.

Great to have a paperback edition of this book, confirming not only its significance in the field of sociology, but also its appeal to general readers, reinforced by the fact that it was recognized by six book awards! Three words in the sub-title are crucial. “Race” tips you off that this is a book about African Americans. “Roots” confirms the focus on individuals coming to grips with where their people are from. Arguably the most important word is “through.” Based on 150 interviews with Black people who moved away from Lynch and Benham, coal towns in Harlan County, Kentucky, his book illuminates the mostly previously ignored fact that the Great Migration was not just South to North, but often South to Appalachia, and then on to the North. “Gone Home is a migrating portrait of black families who moved from Alabama plantations to Kentucky coalfields, and from there to cities across the nation. Displaced by industrial decline, these families were forced to redefine the meaning of home and homemaking. Karida Brown eloquently follows the twentieth-century Great Migration and shows how it transformed African American identity and culture. Her beautiful book offers a deep understanding of both the American South and our nation."—William Ferris. “Brown is an engaging writer . . . This book provides insight into the interconnected issues of identity formation, social and geographic mobility, and the concept of homeplace, along with the effects of quality education and the movement of civil rights.” -- Journal of Appalachian Studies. “In Gone Home, Brown fills the pages with stories of people who lived in Benham and Lynch; she uses many of their own words to express their lived experiences. In combining historical and sociological methodologies, Brown successfully shows that although physical elements of these Black communities in Appalachia have largely disappeared, the communities themselves still thrive in migrants' memories and their continued connections with one another.” -- Journal of African American History. Karida Brown has a Masters from the University of Pennsylvania and a doctorate from Brown University, teaches at UCLA, and serves as the Director of Racial Equity and Action for the Los Angeles Lakers.  On August 18th Fisk University announced that Dr. Brown has accepted a one-year appointment to be the inaugural Diane Nash Descendants of the Emancipation Chair at its John Lewis Center for Social Justice.

The Harlan Renaissance: Stories of Black Life in Appalachian Coal Towns by William H. Turner. Morgantown: West Virginia University Press, 2021. 362 pages with an Index, Notes, and a Foreword by Loyal Jones. Trade paperback.

The title of this book makes the point that not only did African Americans experience a renaissance in New York City’s Harlem in the 1920s, but that a kind of renaissance occurred in Lynch, Kentucky,  in Harlan County, in the 1950s. This book is the memoir of William Turner,  a Black man who grew up there during that time. Turner earned a PhD in sociology from Notre Dame, and when this sociologist writes a memoir, it will be full of sociological insights, especially considering that his field within sociology is Black Appalachia. “A warm and insightful memoir of Black life in Appalachia’s coal camps that offers a bounty of correctives to the persistent myth that all mountain people are white and all poverty is self-made.” Elizabeth Catte. Dr. Turner is a former Interim President of Kentucky State University and a Vice-president at the University of Kentucky. He also taught at Winston-Salem State University and Berea College and currently teaches at Prairie View A & M University. Since Turner co-edited Blacks in Appalachia with the late Ed Cabbell in 1985, this is his first book-length publication. To say that it has been eagerly anticipated for some time is an understatement.

Painters and Their Paintings: Ashe County, North Carolina by Doug Munroe with Kim Hadley.

Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Company, 2021. 249 pages with numerous full-color Illustrations. 249 pages. 8.5” X 10.75” trade paperback.

After the introductory material, almost every left-hand page of this book provides background on one of the over 100 artists featured in this book. Then the right-hand page, and occasionally two more pages, reproduces copies of even more of their paintings!  In all, 415 paintings in full color are found in this book! Ashe County is the Northwesternmost county in North Carolina. It’s mountains are the source of the New River. Doug Munroe is, himself, a painter, the former president of an art school, and a retired nurseryman. Kim Hadley works for McFarland & Company and was in charge of this book’s photos.

The Quiet Zone: Unraveling the Mystery of a Town Suspended in Silence by Stephen Kurczy.

New York: Dey St./William Morrow, 2021. 326 pages with an Index and end-pages maps. Hardback in dust jacket.

The quiet town of the sub-title is Green Bank, West Virginia, population 250. It is quiet because that is where the Green Bank Observatory has been located ever since 1956. It prohibits the use of all devices emanating radio frequencies, including WiFi and iPads, within a radius of ten sparsely-populated miles because it is trying to pick up signals from outer space to protect us from alien creatures. No wonder a journalist like Stephen Kurczy wanted to live here for a while and experience it and tell the world about it. Those of you who blame social media for conspiracy theories, have another think coming, because the National Radio Quiet Zone has attracted quite a few without the aid of social media. And those of you who feel that the latest technology is a good thing will be reinforced by learning that the Quiet Zone has experienced quite a few unsolved murders. Perhaps practically all readers will be frightened to learn that it has also attracted white supremacists. Still, the vast majority of residents are about as normal as any Americans, and Kurczy gives us a feel for what they are all about as well. Congratulations to Stephen Kurczy, a graduate of the Columbia University School of Journalism, for bringing us this fascinating story. “Captivating. … A multilayered illustration of a unique community where things aren’t always what they seem.” -- Kirkus Reviews. "What a fascinating book! This corner of America is unique for its electromagnetic silence—but once Stephen Kurczy starts looking he finds that it's unique in other ways too. The Quiet Zone will live on in your memory."  -- Bill McKibben. "[A] fascinating, deeply reported and slightly eerie look at an unusual corner of America. ... With compassion and a journalist's eye [Kurczy] delivers a compelling portrait." BookPage (Starred Review).


Along a Storied Trail by Ann H. Gabhart. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Revell/Baker Publishing Group, 2021. 362 pages. Trade paperback.

The storied trail of the title is the trail trod by packhorse librarians from 1935 until 1943, brought to Eastern Kentucky by the New Deal’s Works Progress Administration (WPA). The protagonist of this Christian romance is Tansy Calhoun, a packhorse librarian. "Gabhart's skillful use of period details and the Appalachian landscape lend plenty of atmosphere to accompany the lessons of hope, compassion, and fortitude amid hardship. This is her best historical inspirational yet."--Publishers Weekly. "Fabulous! This beautifully written book brings a little-known part of American history to life with characters so real they linger long after the last page is turned."--Amanda Cabot. The author, Ann H. Gabhart lives on a rural Kentucky farm a mile from where she was born. She is the author of several novels set in Kentucky including several Shaker novels.

Graveyard Fields by Steven Tingle. New York: Crooked Lane Books, 2021. 278 pages. Hardback in dust jacket.

Well, I guess when one of the best wild blueberry patches in the Smoky Mountains has a name like “Graveyard Fields” some mystery writer will not be able to resist making up a story about it. I’ll still park at the place with the “Graveyard Fields” sign on the Blue Ridge Parkway on the slopes of Mt. Pisgah and fill my pail with blueberries every season I get a chance. But my job is not to tell you about blueberry picking –- I cannot write about any other picking place, because Graveyard Fields is the only one I know with enough blueberries that I don’t need to keep the secret. Rather, my job is to tell you about books, but blueberries is all I think about when I read the words, “Graveyard Fields.” So, I will let others tell you about this book: “Steven Tingle’s debut novel, Graveyard Fields, is a noteworthy, not to be missed, summer read. His flawed, but still likeable protagonist, Davis Reed, narrates and moves the story with wit and pedal to the metal.” —David Swinson. "Lovely North Carolina scenery, plenty of good beer and classic rock 'n roll, and a hell of a fun and clever mystery to follow, Graveyard Fields is right down my alley. If you don't have a blast reading this book, I really can't help you."—Ace Atkins.  "Steven Tingle possesses a smooth and lyrical cadence that will keep you rolling through the pages of Graveyard Fields like a pick-up joyriding across the North Carolina landscape. This is a gripping read, both energetic and thoughtful, and will carry you deep into the night."—Michael Farris Smith. "Graveyard Fields starts with a bang then reels you into its foggy aftermath: the day-to-day ennui of Davis Reed, a Xanax-numbed ex-PI-turned-aspiring-writer-in-hiding. Reed’s self-deprecating humor, eviscerating descriptions, and punchy jabs of dialogue are so quotable they may as well be trademarked. When Reed’s small, nagging fixations finally catapult readers into a surreal, hilarious crime novel, the result seizes the breath between wheezes of laughter. Graveyard Fields is a smart, redemptive, and cackle-provoking debut."—Chris Harding Thornton. The author is a Western North Carolina native who started in the hospitality business and then became a journalist on the hospitality beat, and now is a novelist.

On Home by Becca Spence Dobias. Oakland, California: Inkshares, 2021. 406 pages. Trade paperback.

The subject of this first novel is home. All three of these women protagonists whose stories are told in alternating chapters, yearn for their home in West Virginia, as does the author herself, now living in Southern California. Cassidy is a sex-worker in Los Angeles. Jane got a job in D.C. for the FBI, and Paloma is a Fulbright scholar in Prague. “Spence Dobias beautifully explores the secrets and anxieties echoing through three generations of women wrestling with unexpected, life-altering choices. On Home will keep you thinking about how expectations and environment can shape women’s lives and what happens when they attempt to upend both.” – Cindfy Gueli.  “Told with humor and heartbreak in equal measure, On Home is a complex portrayal of women’s work on the margins. Spence Dobias brings each woman in this novel, and their secrets. to luminous life. In prose that combines lyricism with a punk rock edge, On Home portrays the most surprising events with nuance and genuine insight. This book is a gem.” Mary Helen Specht.


English Lit by Bernard Clay. Lexington, Kentucky: Old Cove Press and Athens: Swallow Press/Oho University Press, 2021. 128 pages. Trade paperback.

Accessible but profound. Lyrical yet grounded. These poems almost all spring from the personal experience of a Black man who grew up in the West End of Louisville, became part of the Affrilachian Poets at the University of Kentucky, and has now gone back to the land near Berea. “There is no other poet living or dead that I can say this about, but I’ve been waiting on a book from Bernard Clay for more than twenty years. Every time I’ve ever read a single poem by him or heard him read a poem aloud I’ve wanted a volume of his work in my hands. He’s always had the ability to slice truth down to the bone and hold it up to the light. He’s grown more wise and his skills are sharper. I’m thankful these words are in the world and I’m certain that every reader who reads them will feel the same way.”—Crystal Wilkinson.  “One of the most rooted and nappiest voices of his generation, Bernard Clay delivers a beautiful tribute to his people, his community, and his generation’s dance with words, adding his name to the litany of Kentucky poets who love both the land and the people. – Frank X Walker. “Kentucky lit, American lit, have a new force that will be felt for years to come.”—Gurney Norman.

Perfect Black by Crystal Wilkinson. Lexington, Kentucky: The University of Kentucky Press, 2021. 96 pages, illustrated by Ronald W. Davis and Foreword by Nikky Finney. Trade paperback.

The title poem, “Black & Fat & Perfect” viewed as a narrative poem is the story of two lovers fixing breakfast together. But it is so much more than that. The juxtaposition of those three words is backed up – especially -  by two lines in the middle of the poem -  “& the dust floats into the light above them/a magical veil to cover their faces/a balm to heal all wounds.” Like the other poems here, an essay could be written about its nuances. That word “dust,” conjurs up both dirt and heritage, and  it both hides and heals them. The connections between all those words are pregnant with meaning. I am proud that I was one of the first editors to publish poems by Crystal Wilkinson, including a couple in this book, as well as one of the first to make her a featured author years before her first novel, The Birds of Opulence won the Ernest J. Gaines Award or she was hired to teach by the University of Kentucky. "If we are Black it should be Perfect. Crystal has shared a wonderful book. Curl up with a cup of soul and enjoy it."―Nikki Giovanni. “You know just how married she is to everything country especially her people and you learn quickly that being country ain't a compliment nor an insult. It's a warning and a promise that has everything to do with folk ways. With the earth. And with truth―no matter how much it hurts. With the same authentic voices that anchor her fiction and twice the personal risks, these poems will hand wash you in the creek and leave you on the line to dry. Utilizing evocative cinematic images that walk right off the page so easily you can taste the seasonings, smell the honeysuckle, feel the blades of grass beneath your bare feet and hear Crystal's allegiance to mountains, creeks and people the color of tobacco from the very first line."―Frank X Walker. "There is an ambience in Crystal Wilkinson's Perfect Black that captures the nostalgic sentiment of place with all its complexities. Wilkinson's inner ear is prominent and pronounced, and within this poetry collection lies the embodiment of women who know the 'creek' and the 'looking-glass' and we, the reader, are innocuous within the words. Imagistically, we are shown what it means to grow up country, girl and Black behind the backdrop of Appalachia. I cannot think of a more authentic voice from the 'holla' than what Wilkinson gives us in Perfect Black."―Randall Horton.


Allegiance by Gurney Norman. Lexington, Kentucky: Old Cove Press, distributed by Ohio University Press, an expanded, 2021, edition of a 2019 paperback. 210 pages with a Foreword by Leatha Kendrick. Hardback in dust jacket.

In his “Author’s Note,” Gurney Norman explains, “In this book, I write of my allegiances to places and people, to language and story making, to experiences that have stayed with me throughout my life, and allegiances to memory itself.” The “Author’s Note,” appears between 35 stories that basically follow the short story conventions. They are all autobiographical with the character, Wilgus Collier, serving as a stand-in for Gurney himself. After the “Author’s Note,” four pieces of autobiographical non-fiction follow. The final piece is a stream-of-consciousness contribution that does not fall in either the short-story or the memoir category. Gurney is 84 years old and still teaching creative writing as a full-time professor at the University of Kentucky. What makes autobiographical stories by Gurney Norman such gems is that he has lived such an interesting life. He grew up in the small farms of the Southwest Virginia hills and the Eastern Kentucky mountains, and then, after graduating from the University of Kentucky became a Stegner fellow at Stanford and participated in the 1960s California counter-culture. His first novel was Divine Right’s Trip (1972) that featured folks who grew up in Eastern Kentucky and went west for the hippie experience and then decided to return home carrying a combination of Appalachian and hippie allegiances with them. In 1977 Gurney Norman published the book of short stories, Kinfolks, that serves as the precursor to the first part of this volume. While teaching at the University of Kentucky since 1979, he has been a leader in first establishing Appalachian Literature as a sub-genre and then nurturing it. And, he has also led in combatting Appalachian stereotypes. I am proud that I published one of the stories that appears in this book and made Gurney Norman one of my featured authors. “For many people, ‘Allegiance’ is a noun, but in Gurney Norman’s hands, it is a verb—an active verb, an earthshaking process that rearranges the expectations of a homeplace, raises the windows of personal and epic history, and throws open doors of memory and imagination. Allegiance is a remarkable, eye-opening set of stories that affirm and defy time and place. It’s larger than one lifetime, resonating across generations, and inviting readers to reconsider their own allegiances.”—Sandra L. Ballard. “The highest achievement of Allegiance may be its reframing of the experience of loss.... It’s a difficult task, pulled off with savvy authorial choice and seamless prose.... Composed with a wise hand for structural shape, the vignettes transcend timelines, vacillate between first and third person, travel from childhood to adulthood and back.... The result is an exhilarating mirroring of consciousness itself, a design that is more stunning natural element than manufactured arc.” – KaylaWhitaker.