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September 2022 Reviews

September 2022 Reviews


Doctoring the Devil: Notebooks of an Appalachian Conjure Man by Jake Richards. Newburyport, Massachusetts: Weiser Books/Red Wheel-Weiser, 2021. 265 pages with a bibliography and two appendices. Trade paperback.

The devil himself or any unfriendly spirit that is bringing on bad luck or any kind of calamity needs to be conjured away or, as this title, phrases it, needs to be doctored into ceasing and desisting. The author of this book learned traditional magic practices especially from older relatives as he grew up in East Tennessee. He feels these practices and superstitions are a crucial part of Appalachian culture. He seeks to build awareness of them not only through the books he writes, but also through his business: Little Chicago Conjure, a supplier of Appalachian folk magic supplies located in Jonesborough, Tennessee. “In this keen handbook, Richards (Backwoods Witchcraft), an Appalachian native and practitioner of folk magic, elucidates his techniques of healing, conjuring, and herb (“yarb”) doctoring. Part anthropological survey and part manual, the book pays tribute to Richards’s own family line of healers, dowsers, and witches, as well as to lore of other healers and seers throughout the mountains of Tennessee, North Carolina, and Virginia. The charms, spells, and healing recipes show the influence of different cultures, with Cherokee herbal practices blending seamlessly with Christian scripture. For instance, Richards recommends a Cherokee conjure bag of tobacco, powdered clay, mustard seed, and ginseng root for luck in hunting, and Christian verses to bless the spirit of the dispatched animal. Richards’s encyclopedic knowledge of the subject and deep commitment to it make this a great starting point for those hoping to practice Appalachian folk magic.” ― Publishers Weekly.

Ossman and Steel’s Classic Household Guide to Appalachian Folk Healing: A Collection of Old-Time Remedies, Charms, and Spells. This is a reprint of The Guide to Health or Household Instruction by Anne Ossman and Issac Steel (1894) with an Introduction and commentary throughout by Jake Richards. Newburyport, Massachusetts: Weiser Books/Red Wheel-Weiser, 2022. 136 pages with a Foreword by Silver Ravenwolf. Trade paperback.

This is a collection not only of remedies, but also of spells and charms that originated in Pennsylvania Dutch country and helped shape Appalachian folk healing. It was written originally by a mother and son team. "Jake Richards has given the folk magic community a gift by bringing back into circulation Ossman and Steel’s collection of important remedies and prayers. Moreover, he has also provided the context for the work through his ongoing commentary. Richards allows the text to speak for itself while also giving explanations and insights from lived experience that fills in the blanks. For the many folks that have had the magic in their families buried or forgotten, this book provides a bridge that would otherwise be difficult to cross. There is both a familiarity in reading the contents, which speaks to what many of us grew up hearing in whispers or snippets, as well as information that is likely to be new and aide in growing anyone’s repertoire of folk magic. This book is likely to become a touchstone for many folk magicians, healers, and folks living in the Appalachian diaspora looking to connect to these traditions."—Aaron Oberon. “This work is important as it is a true testament of the state of historical folk magic in the Appalachians during the 19th and 20th centuries and has influenced the traditions of conjure and root work in Appalachia folk Christianity for nearly 200 years.”—Robert Matthew.  Jake Richards owns Little Chicago Conjure, a supplier of Appalachian folk magic supplies located in Jonesborough, Tennessee.

Pretty Baby: A Memoir by Chris Belcher. NewYork: Avid Reader Press/Simon and Schuster, 2022. 260 pages. Hardback in dust jacket.

The title of this fascinating memoir stems from the fact that the author, Chris Belcher, took first place in a baby beauty contest in her working-class West Virginia home town of 1,600. Her life after that has been unusual as she worked her way through a PhD program in English at the University of Southern California by pursuing sex work and branding herself as LA’s Renowned Lesbian Dominatrix.  “Chris Belcher's Pretty Baby reminds me why I fell in love with memoirs in the first place. Sentence by knife-sharpened sentence, the personal history she examines makes space for both the ferocity of her past selves and the resonance of who she is now. With wit, seductive candor and a willingness to question the very answers she used to swear by, Belcher doesn’t just hand us her story; she demands that we interrogate ourselves in the process.” —Saeed Jones.Pretty Baby is an unflinching, layered exploration of sexuality, queerness, and power that isn’t afraid of gray areas or contradictions, honest in its blurred lines as it moves between realms: between a rural blue-collar upbringing and academia, between academia and sex work, between sex work and sex.” —Lilly Dancyger. “Captivating . . . Belcher’s pen is at once graceful and scathing as it prods the complexities of desire—the ever-present dangers of straight maleness, the sometimes-complicated haven of female queerness.” —Michelle Hart.  “Pretty Baby is a taut and intelligent story of defining one’s selfhood and relationship ideals while toggling between the seemingly disparate worlds of sex work and academia, which are (of course) more similar than many would think. It is also an engrossing queer bildungsroman whose nervy, sympathetic protagonist had my heart from page one.” —Melissa Febos.

Red Clay, 1835: Cherokee Removal and the Meaning of Sovereignty by Jace Weaver and Laura Adams Weaver. Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 2022. 223 pages with a Selected Bibliography, Pronunciation Key, Notes, a map, and tables. 8 X 10 trade paperback.

This book is part of an award-winning series, called Reacting to the Past, of immersive role-playing games designed to make learning more interesting and thorough than conventional teaching. The series was initially developed at Barnard College, and this book was created by two professors at the University of Georgia. Jace Weaver teaches religion there and Laura Adams Weaver teaches English. Using this book, students take roles in the treaty negotiations of October 1835 between the Cherokee National Council and the United States of America held in Red Clay a small community in Bradley County, Tennessee. The United States was pressuring the Cherokees to accept their terms for the removal of their people to Oklahoma.

This book is actually fascinating, rewarding, and informative reading for those who do not give a hoot about students and games, but want to learn more about the Cherokee and the process that led to the removal of most of them to Oklahoma. Chapters include, for example, “Women in Cherokee Culture.”

The Red Truck Bakery Farmhouse Cookbook: Sweet and Savory Comfort Food from America’s Favorite Rural Bakery by Brian Noyes. New York: Clarkson Potter/ Random House, 2022. 223 pages with an Index, Foreword by Ronni Lundy, and replete with color photographs by Angie Mosier.  Hardback with pictorial cover.

While he was art director for the Washington Post and Smithsonian magazines, the author, Brian Noyes, baked on weekends in his 170-year-old farmhouse and sold his pies and breads from his old red truck. Now he owns and manages two restaurants in the vicinity of Shenandoah National Park. This book, following up on the success of his 2018 book, Red Truck Bakery Cookbook: Gold Standard Recipes from America’s Favorite Rural Bakery, includes almost 100 new recipes. Of course, any book with a Foreword by Ronni Lundy is a cinch to buy. “A salvation for the home cook: Superb bakery fare rounds out what was missing from the first book (Hello, Peach Hand Pies!), but it’s the savory contributions that got this city boy rolling up his jeans. From the Mushroom Tartines to the Quiche Lorraine to the Brunswick Stew, we finally get the Red Truck in all its glory, pulling up to our own kitchens.”—Andrew Zimmern. “Brian Noyes’s collection of joyful recipes is like flipping through a family recipe box full of comforting dishes that have been passed down through generations, with a touch of Southern charm. This is a book that readers can come back to time and time again.”—Pati Jinich. “Brian Noyes blends an ex–art director’s aesthetic passion, a busy commercial baker’s precision, and a modern Southern cook’s drive to freshen up the classics. His recipes not only look like a million bucks, they’re also the best you’ve ever tasted.”—Matt Lee and Ted Lee.

Something in These Hills: The Culture of Family Land in Southern Appalachia by John M. Coggeshall. Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 2022. 213 pages with photos, an Index, Sources Cited, Notes, and an Appendix of Informant Biographies. Trade paperback.

John M. Coggeshall, a white anthropology professor at Clemson University, made a tremendous contribution with his first book, Liberia South Carolina: An African American Appalachian Community. It was based on extensive interviews with those who live there. Now he has outdone himself. He has interviewed 47 white people and four African-Americans living in Pickens and Oconee Counties in South Carolina’s Blue Ridge Mountains. His quest is to figure out why their land - clearly not only majestic, but also menacing - means so much to Appalachian people. This book addresses the question: Why does their land have such an emotional hold on mountain people? “Something in These Hills is a laudable exploration of the culture and history of the southern Appalachians. Coggeshall unpacks the complicated connections between people and place that, as he often hears from his research participants, are hard to put into words; he provides an expository, story-filled approach to understanding sense of place."-Hope Amason. “A stunning book on the beauty and danger of the Blue Ridge Mountains. I don't know of another book that does what Something in These Hills has done: examine the cultural landscape of the Southern Appalachians through the lens of liminality, contestation, and transition."-Susan E. Keefe.


Foote: A Mystery Novel by Tom Bredehoft. Morgantown: West Virginia University Press, 2022. 244 pages. Trade paperback.

 The protagonist of this novel, Big Jim Foote, is part of the bigfoot community that lives near Morgantown, West Virginia, and is also a private investigator among humans who must not know that he is a bigfoot. Involved in two murder investigations, he hopes neither murder was perpetrated by his bigfoot kin, some of whom are involved in the opioid epidemic. “Family, folklore, and mountain folk culture all play starring roles in this cryptozoological conundrum that delights and entertains at every twist of the trail.” - Southern Review of Books. “Part mystery, part fable but all original, Jim Foote is sure to be one of your favorite literary detectives—cryptid or otherwise.” —Jordan Farmer. “The first thing to say about Foote is that it is a strange and seemingly untenable hybrid of bigfoot fantasy and detective novel noir; the second is that its matter-of-fact voice and deeply authentic setting in the hollows of West Virginia render every part of the story perfectly real and entirely (marvelously) ordinary. This is a novel that uses moonshine heritage to delve into the modern opioid epidemic, and a novel that asks about the meaning of ‘otherness’ while reminding us what it means to be human. I fell into this book and loved it from the first page.” - Molly Gloss. The author, Tom Bredehoft, is a retired English professor whose specialized in Medieval literature He lives in Morgantown, West Virginia.

The Last to Vanish by Megan Miranda. New York: Mary Sue Rucci/Scribner, 2022. 318 pages. Hardback in dust jacket.

The author, Megan Miranda, is a New York Times best-selling author of a variety of books. She grew up in New Jersey, went to MIT, and now lives in North Carolina. This, her latest novel, is set in fictional Cutter’s Pass, North Carolina, on the Appalachian Trail where six different people have vanished over the past three decades. The last to vanish was Landon West, a journalist who came to try to figure out the vanishings. Months later, his brother, Trey, checks into the Passage Inn. Abigail Lovett, a woman who moved to Cutter’s Pass ten years ago and manages it, becomes more and more disturbed as she uncovers incriminating new evidence. “To some, the small town of Cutter’s Pass, North Carolina, with its Appalachian vistas and cozy Passage Inn, is downright idyllic. To others, it’s deadly…. As Trey and Abby dig into the case, Abby realizes that the town is keeping secrets even from her.” Bustle, Best Book of July. “Megan Miranda knows how to land a twist, and her latest thriller demonstrates that to dizzying effect. A perfectly balanced cross between a cold-case mystery and a psychological thriller, The Last to Vanish’s expert plotting and surprising twists will delight readers.” —Bookpage (Starred Review). “[A] superb thriller…Evocative descriptions of such activities as hiking and rafting contain an underlying sense of dread, and realistic characters match the tight plotting. Miranda is writing at the top of her game.” —Publishers Weekly. “In economical yet elegant descriptions, author Miranda repeatedly conjures up this untamed natural world even as she unspools a labyrinthine plot. The novel’s characters are deftly sketched and its suspense is nicely tightened . . . A richly atmospheric thriller with a plucky heroine.” —Kirkus Reviews.

The Sky Club by Terry Roberts. Nashville, Tennessee: Keylight/Turner Publishing, 2022. 417 pages. Trade paperback.

In February of 1929, Jo Salter’s mother died of measles at the age of 58 in their Madison County, North Carolina, home in Upper Big Pine Valley. Before she died, she insisted that Jo not stay on their precarious hardscrabble farm with her father and the two brothers than remained of her six siblings. So, she moved into Asheville to live with an aunt and uncle. There she got a job at a bank, but the depression caused it to fail. While working there, she had enjoyed a few escapades up at the Sky Club, a notorious speakeasy and jazz club located in the mountains just above Asheville. When she lost her job, he was welcomed as a new employee at Sky Club, and there she became involved with Levi Arrowood, Sky Club’s mysterious manager. “Ever since Terry Roberts took up writing about his ancestors in Western North Carolina, he has produced a remarkably varied and valuable shelf of novels . . . but The Sky Club is the best one yet! Wildly original, this is a truly Appalachian novel all about money, sex, drinking, and the Great Depression . . . along with the more familiar themes of place and family. I especially admire the apparent ease with which Roberts has created the tough, true, funny, and unforgettable Jo Salter, an independent pistol of a woman who tells this lively tale set in a speakeasy on top of a mountain.” —Lee Smith. “The Sky Club is a wagonload of perilous fun. Terry Roberts has engaged, with customary vigor, many of his favorite themes: local Appalachian history, mountain cultures rural and urban, personal and communal courage, individuality. The resulting story is sprightly and steady in the manner of its heroine, the gifted Jo Salter. Every page here shines with truthful surprise. Bravo!” —Fred Chappell. “Fans of historical and American Southern fiction will breeze through this action-packed, fast-paced novel.” —Library Journal. The ancestors of the author, Terry Roberts, have remained in the Western North Carolina Mountains since the 1700s. This is his fifth novel portraying that region. He is the director of the Paideia Center and lives in Asheville.