Winter 2016 Book Notes: What’s New to Read in Appalachian Literature

Winter 2016 Book Notes: What’s New to Read in Appalachian Literature

We’ve all felt the need-a-new-book blues. If you’re looking for that next exciting read, check out these new and upcoming releases from Appalachian writers and publishers.


Chantel Acevedo. A Falling Star: A Novel. Durham, N.C.: Carolina Wren Press, 2014. 279 pages with Glossary, Reader’s Guide: A Conversation with Chantel Acevedo, and Acknowledgements. Paperback. $18.95.

A 2013 Doris Bakwin Award Winner, A Falling Star follows the stories of Daysy Maria del Pozo and Stella Maris Morales-Quinn, two Cuban women who came to the United States as part of the 1980 Mariel Boatlift, settling in South Florida and Pittsburgh. Haunted by painful pasts, these women struggle with family secrets and complications, among them the suicide of Stella’s mother. The novel pulses with longing and redemption, beautifully rendered in Acevedo’s prose. —Caroline Hughes

Paulette Boudreaux. Mulberry. Durham, N.C.: Carolina Wren Press, 2015. 308 pages. Paperback. $17.95.

This coming-of-age novel is set in small-town Mississippi during the 1960’s. Maddy Culpepper, the protagonist, comes from a working poor family with a mother who abandons the home to be with the youngest child that is hospitalized. Maddy is challenged with the task of caring for her three younger brothers and veteran father who is also an alcoholic. Boudreaux paints a vivid image of a young girl in search of a better future while trying to keep her family afloat. —Dylan Mullins

Moira Crone. The Ice Garden: A Novel. Durham, N.C.: Carolina Wren Press, 2014. 221 pages. Paperback. $18.95.

Set in a small town in North Carolina during the 1960s, The Ice Garden reveals the dark effects of the pressures of Southern gentility, as seen through the eyes of 10-year-old Claire McKenzie. Claire has a new little sister, but her home is far from happy. She must be on her guard around her mentally ill mother, and her inattentive father is too enraptured with his wife’s beauty to protect his daughters from the dangers of their mother. With subtle suspense and beautifully crafted prose, Moira Crone draws readers into a world on edge, where hope must be clung to in the face of neglect. —Caroline Hughes

Kristin FitzPatrick. My Pulse Is An Earthquake: Stories. Morgantown, W.Va.: Vandalia Press, 2015. 229 pages with Acknowledgements, Reading and Discussion Questions, and About the Author. Paperback. $16.99.

The nine short stories in this collection are sewn together with grief and renewal, the shock of sudden loss taking place in a variety of settings and circumstances, from the Rocky Mountains to the Appalachians, from battle to stillbirth, from dog breeders to Catholic school delinquents. Within each tightly written narrative, Kristin FitzPatrick builds the struggle of life and love to hold together with the help of unlikely healers, weathering the death and darkness that impinge on life’s happy moments. —Caroline Hughes

Michael Henson. The Way the World Is: The Maggie Boylan Stories. Omaha, Neb.: Brighthorse Books, 2015. 140 pages. Paperback. $13.99.

This collection of linked short stories centers on the character Maggie Boylan, a woman struggling for redemption from a past of addiction and criminal lifestyle. Set in rural Ohio, the stories chronicle Maggie’s strained interactions with the townspeople, revealing her profane yet compassionate character as she attempts to go straight in spite of the shame casted upon her. Henson’s dynamic characters, realistic dialogue, and gritty, moving prose build a world that is captivating and all-too-familiar to the human condition. —Caroline Hughes

Ann Hite. Where the Souls Go: A Black Mountain Novel. Macon, Ga.: Mercer University Press, 2015. 383 pages with Acknowledgements and Reader’s Guide. Paperback. $17.00.

Set in Black Mountain, North Carolina, Where the Souls Go weaves a haunting tapestry of stories from three generations of Pritchard family women, from the 1920s to the mid sixties. When ten-year-old Annie Todd encounters the ghost of a young girl, she discovers her family’s difficult past, while also dealing with her own mother’s disturbing madness. Ann Hite writes with suspense in a style that, in the words of author Lesley Kagen, “strips Southern Gothic fiction down to its bones.” —Caroline Hughes

Fenton Johnson. The Man Who Loved Birds: A Novel. Lexington, Ky.: University Press of Kentucky, 2016. 328 pages. Hardcover. $24.95.

Bengali physician Meena Chatterjee and Brother Flavian have pasts filled with risk and insecurity, but their interactions with Johnny Faye, a marijuana farmer and Vietnam vet, at a Trappist monastery in Kentucky instill in them faith and new perspectives on duty and desire. When Faye’s illegal activity get him into trouble with an ambitious district attorney, Dr. Chatterjee and Brother Flavian are faced with a life or death, justice or salvation decision. Along the way, Johnson weaves in a multitude of humanity’s deepest fears and questions of freewill, destiny, forbidden love, and politics — modern-day concerns in a Reagan-era setting, testifying to their own timelessness. —Caroline Hughes

Tim Johnston. Descent: A Novel. Chapel Hill, N.C.: Algonquin Books, 2015. 400 pages. Paperback. $15.95

Descent is a novel with the best of both worlds: the elegant style of literary fiction combined with the page-turner plot of the thriller genre. The summer before the daughter Caitlin goes to college, the Courtland family vacations in the Rocky Mountains, attracted by the natural grandeur. On an early morning run with her brother Sean, however, Caitlin disappears, thereby plunging the family into an agonizing nightmare. —Caroline Hughes

Tiya Miles. The Cherokee Rose. Winston-Salem, N.C.: John F. Blair, Publisher, 2015. 256 pages with author’s note. Hardback. $26.95.

Jinx, Ruth, and Cheyenne converge on the Cherokee Rose Plantation in northwest Georgia, in pursuit of their individual quests to uncover their ancestry. Yet, the three unite around a little-known aspect of America’s history where a wealthy Native American once owned black slaves. Together, the women confront the stories of their past to help them face their conflicts of today. Based on historical sources, this novel explores the power of sisterhood and self-discovery. —Dylan Mullins

Matthew Neill Null. Honey from the Lion. Wilmington, N.C.: Lookout Books of Wilmington, 2015. 264 pages. Paperback. $18.95

Through beautiful prose and vivid characterization, Matthew Null depicts a brotherhood that is rooted deep within the forests. Cur Greathouse finds himself at the Cheat River Paper & Pulp Company’s Blackpine camp, working alongside men logging in the West Virginia Alleghenies. Cur bumps up against themes of capital, religion, class, and a position to accept or deny a rebellion against the logging company in this riveting novel. —Dylan Mullins

Crystal Wilkinson. The Birds of Opulence. Lexington, Ky.: University Press of Kentucky, 2016. 208 pages. Hardcover. $24.95.

Set in Kentucky and spanning 1962-1995, Birds of Opulence follows members of an African-American community as they struggle with love and sexuality, loss and mental illness, all rendered in Wilkinson’s stunning lyricism. Relationships and tensions among the women of the town of Opulence grow as matriarch Minnie May Goode-Brown is pressured by long-kept secrets of shame and single mother Francine Clark fights to raise her rebellious daughter, Mona, and to maintain her sanity despite being haunted by her dead husband and judged by the rest of the community. —Caroline Hughes

Karen Spears Zacharias. Burdy: A Novel. Macon, Ga.: Mercer University Press, 2015. 183 pages with Acknowledgements, Discussion Questions, and Contact the Author. Paperback. $15.00.

Sequel to the Weatherford Award-winning novel Mother of Rain, Burdy is a story of loss and long-kept secrets. The year is 1987, and Burdy Luttrell, who is known as the best healer around to the people of Christian Bend, Tennessee, has been severely injured in a shooting at Bean Station. Now fighting for her life at a medical center in Knoxville, Burdy is desperate to tell Rain, whom she raised from infancy to adulthood, the truth about his family’s past – a secret set in 1950s Bayeux, France. —Caroline Hughes

Jeff Zentner. The Serpent King. New York, N.Y.: Crown Books for Young Readers, 2016. 384 pages. Hardcover. $17.99.

Seventeen-year-old Dill Early Jr. is the only son of a Pentecostal, snake-handling former pastor, now inmate. While Dill finds solace in writing and playing music, and in his friendship with Travis and Lydia, his senior year of high school has him wondering if these bright spots in his life are about to fade away. Zentner’s debut novel portrays the search for self alongside the struggles of family and expectations, as well as an endearing friendship in the spirit of Young Adult icons like John Green. —Caroline Hughes


Darnell Arnoult. Galaxie Wagon: Poems. Baton Rouge, La.: LSU Press, 2016. 67 pages. Paperback. $17.95.

Galaxie Wagon takes readers on everyday journeys, experiences we all must live, in poems that are profound in their pictographic precision. Arnoult explores the temporalities of existence, of love and relationships, the physical body and the aging process, but also whispers into these frustrations an underlying breath of hope, invoking the spirit of generations past, making this volume “a nest of new and old….a confirmation of a breathing heaven” (from “Forest of Wordless Words”). —Caroline Hughes

Victor Depta. Azrael on the Mountain. Frankfort, Ky.: Blair Mountain Press, 2002. 79 pages. Paperback. $11.95.

These poems tell the story of protest in the coal-mining region of Appalachia. In some 40 dramatic monologues and 8 other framing poems, Depta dramatizes the extraction of coal, especially mountaintop mining, and its destructive shadow affecting the people living in the hollows below. His bold and vivid imagery serve as a reminder of the brutal consequences of coal and electricity, and the struggle between corruption and morality. —Dylan Mullins

Victor M. Depta. Letters to Buddha. Frankfort, Ky.: Blair Mountain Press, 2015. 86 pages, with postscript. Paperback. $15.00.

Depta situates the most specific of physical details, such as “the stone horse/flexing in the plaza/in Lexington” in the poem “The Fountain” or “the tiny seeds” in “The Dandelion Seeds,” into deep abstractions and existential philosophies. The parallels he draws are direct but seamless. Letters to Buddha plunges into questions of religion and spirituality, connecting and contrasting them with the sanctity of nature and the mysteries of the human mind. —Caroline Hughes

Pauletta Hansel. Tangle: Poems. Loveland, Ohio: Dos Madres Press, 2015. 122 pages. Paperback. $18.00.

Hansel’s poetry traverses the progressions of life, illness, and death, and, as she describes in “Of What We Make Our Poems,” these poems “remind us who we/are is hatched from who we were,/this film of self now covering/who we will be.” Nostalgic with a touch of humor, these pieces draw upon memory for redemption and healing, while also invoking the recurring image of birds, the uplifting power of “loosening the ties.” —Caroline Hughes

Robert Morgan. Dark Energy: Poems. New York, N.Y.: Penguin Books, 2015. 80 pages. Paperback. $18.00.

In this book of poetry, Gap Creek author Robert Morgan explores the micro- and macrocosms of existence and the natural world. Distilling vivid moments of Blue Ridge Mountain life, he considers the seed, “contorted in a fetal knot,” as well as the night sky, the “empty space/between the stars and galaxies[,]” finding the universe under the microscope, and small nuggets of truth in the vastness of a sea of stars. —Caroline Hughes

Elaine Fowler Palencia. Going Places. Lexington, Ky.: FutureCycle Press, 2015. 46 pages. Paperback. $10.96.

Reflective of its title, Going Places highlights the reciprocal relationship between place and the individual, what happens when one breaks away from their home place, and whether that is even truly possible. Palencia’s mastery of poetic language imbues each piece with captivating physicality, inviting the reader into provocative juxtapositions of American and family history, humor, and nature. —Caroline Hughes

Mike Yarrow and Ruth Yarrow. Voices from the Appalachian Coalfields. Huron, Ohio: Bottom Dog Press, 2015. 148 pages with photographs by Douglas Yarrow. Paperback. $17.00.

Between the 1970s and 80s, husband and wife Mike and Ruth Yarrow conducted 225 interviews with Appalachian coal miners. When they listened to the recordings, they identified and arranged “found poems” in these miners’ storytelling voices. These poems appear in the book alongside Doug Yarrow’s black and white photographs of “the mines, the miners, and their lives,” and scenes from the 1977-78 coal strike. —Caroline Hughes


Dorothy H. Christenson. Keep on Fighting: The Life and Civil Rights Legacy of Marian A. Spencer.  Athens, Ohio.: Ohio University Press, 2015. 172 pages with illustrations, notes, bibliography, index, and appendices. Paperback. $22.00.

Marian Alexander Spencer, a white female born in the early twentieth century, was ahead of her time. She fought diligently to bring justice to racial minorities, joining the NAACP at thirteen. A native of the Ohio River town of Gallipolis, Ohio, she grew up around race riots and lynchings. She campaigned for integration in Cincinnati schools, and helped Cincinnati’s Coney Island become desegregated.  Though her accolades were highly praised, this biography portrays the realistic struggle she faced in creating change with a nation that was armored for resistance. — Dylan Mullins

Jesse Graves, Thomas Alan Holmes, and Ernest Lee, Eds. Jeff Daniel Marion: Poet on the Holston. Knoxville, Tenn.: University of Tennessee Press, 2015. 255 pages. Paperback. $24.95.

Over the decades, Jeff Daniel Marion has significantly contributed to Appalachian literature with his nine volumes of poetry, among other writings, and through his role as editor of several literary journals. In this collection, Appalachian writers, such as George Ella Lyon, John Lang, and Marianne Worthington, explore the impact of Marion’s poetry through essays on his sense of place, vision, voice, and role as a teacher and mentor.  —Caroline Hughes

Jim Grimsley. How I Shed My Skin: Unlearning the Lessons of a Racist Childhood. Chapel Hill, N.C.: Algonquin Books, 2015. 272 pages. Hardcover. $23.95.

Jim Grimsley remembers the first time black students first entered into his all-white school. The year was 1966 and he was eleven years old. Now, more than forty years later, Grimsley goes back to that school in Jones County, North Carolina, to explore the progression of racial equality in America on the micro level through the school’s classrooms and friendships, and the reaction to this integration. —Dylan Mullins

Thorpe Moeckel. Watershed Days. Macon, Ga.: Mercer University Press, 2015. 229 pages. Paperback. $24.00.

Moeckel takes the reader on an introspective adventure, shared in seasonal order over a period of two years, with the occasional glimpse back to his youth. In the pages come Moeckel’s detailed, philosophical attention to the natural world and homestead activities like tending to his garden, stacking firewood, and fishing on the Blue Ridge Parkway. This piece of writing paints a portrait of a young man, his family, and the appreciation for all of the places he calls home. —Dylan Mullins

Meg Reid, editor. Carolina Writers at Home. Spartanburg, S.C.: Hub City Press, 2015. 219 pages with photos by Rob McDonald, and Contributor Notes. Paperback. $24.95.

In this anthology, writers from the Carolinas talk about the homes they have found and made for themselves in the piedmont, the hills, or on the coast of North and South Carolina. In these essays, they share their writing lives as it relates to physical environment, with the photography of Rob McDonald providing snapshots of the writers’ homes. —Caroline Hughes

Maggie Thrash. Honor Girl: A Graphic Memoir. Somerville, Mass.: Candlewick Press, 2015. 267 pages. Paperback. $19.99.

15-year-old Maggie has attended Camp Bellflower for Girls, nestled in the hills of Kentucky, for years, but this summer holds a new twist for her: she falls in love with Erin, a camp counselor. Maggie begins picking up on hints that maybe Erin, who is four years her senior, likes her, too. However, tradition-steeped Camp Bellflower is no place for a romantic relationship between the two to grow. Through distinctively simple, yet no less beautiful, artwork, author Maggie Thrash renders poignant scenes of teenage girlhood, the soaring hope and tender heartbreak of first love. —Caroline Hughes


Marc Harshman. Illustrated by Cecy Rose. Mountain Christmas. Charleston, W.V.: Quarrier Press, 2015. 30 pages. Hardcover. $15.95.

A ringing, jingling miracle flies into West Virginia in Marc Harshman’s first children’s book. Each page depicts a poetic scene as Santa Clause and his reindeer glide over forest and town, mines and barns, the Ohio River and the Green Bank Observatory, verbally and visually rendered in Harshman’s words and Cecy Rose’s snow-speckled paintings. Christmas magic touches each of the characters, building anticipation in young readers for that long-awaited Christmas morning. —Caroline Hughes

Mike Norris. Carved Illustrations by Minnie Adkins. Mommy Goose: Rhymes from the Mountains. Lexington, Ky.: University of Kentucky Press, 2016. 48 pages. Hardcover. $19.95.

Norris and Adkins’s creative presentation engages youth with Appalachian oral and visual traditions. Each Appalachian children’s rhyme in this collection has accompanying photographs of hand-carved figurines of the characters in that rhyme. Colorful, bright, and catchy, the rhymes progress through varying levels of difficulty for young readers. —Caroline Hughes


Chris Arvidson, Scot Pope and Julie E. Townsend. Reflections on the New River. Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland & Company, 2015. 196 pages. Paperback. $19.99.

The New River runs from North Carolina to the border of eastern Tennessee, and is debated to be one of the world’s oldest. Throughout this anthology, writers depict the body of water through lyrical poetry, and provocative essays and stories, reflecting on how they are connected to its flow. —Dylan Mullins

Morris Allen Grubbs and Mary Ellen Miller, Eds. Every Leaf a Mirror: A Jim Wayne Miller Reader. Lexington, Ky.: University Press of Kentucky, 2014. 256 pages. Paperback. $30.00.

This collection of Jim Wayne Miller’s nonfiction, fiction, and poetry reflects the depth and significance of his impact on Appalachian studies as an author, teacher, and scholar. Accompanied by photographs of Miller and a chronology of his life, this anthology serves as both an introduction to Miller and his work, and as an indispensible resource for Appalachian scholars. —Caroline Hughes

Richard Hague, Ed. Quarried: Three Decades of Pine Mountain Sand and Gravel. Loveland, Ohio: Dos Madres Press, 2015. 393 pages. Paperback. $25.00.

A collection of short stories, poems, and nonfiction from the literary journal Pine Mountain Sand and Gravel, a publication of the Southern Appalachian Writers Cooperative, Quarried is a gritty collage of Appalachia, a textured, multifaceted depiction of its cultural landscape. Including pieces by Gurney Norman, Deborah Hale Spears, Jim Wayne Miller, Silas House, and Kentucky Poet Laureate George Ella Lyon, to name a few, this collection challenges the “McDonaldized and Starbucked homogeneity” that plagues modern America, giving voice to a colorful and lesser-heard part of the nation. —Caroline Hughes

Caroline Hughes is a Student Associate at Appalachian Heritage. She will receive her degree in English with a Writing Concentration and minor in Music from Berea College in May 2016. In the past three years, she has traveled to Ireland, England, and Scotland on study abroad trips, and completed an internship at the Carnegie Center for Literacy and Learning in Lexington, Kentucky. After graduation, she plans to attend graduate school, continue writing, and travel the world.

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