Monthly Archives: September 2011

John Hart. Iron House. New York, NY: Thomas Dunne Books, 2011.

Michael knows how to kill, possibly better than anyone else alive. He dispatches his victims without emotion or drama, a virtue that makes him nearly invisible in New York City. He is the Old Man’s silent, deadly shadow. But before New York and the Old Man, there was Iron House.

A lifetime ago, he was a small but strong boy who protected his weaker, younger brother Julian at the Iron House Home for Boys in the Smoky Mountains. But one day something horrible happened, and 10-year-old Michael became a fugitive, fleeing into the snowy wilds of a North Carolina winter. He never saw his brother again, and just as he ran from Iron House, Michael also runs from his past. He is content to kill the dishonest and criminal, to be the Old Man’s strong right arm, to leave the boy he once was at Iron Mountain…until he meets Elena.

Carmen Elena Del Portal is more than just a woman; Michael suddenly finds that she is his whole life. When she finds herself pregnant, he knows he has to start over one more time. But the New York underworld won’t give him up so easily. The Old Man may wish for Michael to find a good life with a wonderful woman, but his henchmen are a different story. In no time Michael is on the run again, back to North Carolina and the brother whose existence he tried to protect by denying it. But if he thinks that life is simpler outside the Big Apple, he’s wrong. Dead wrong.

John Hart writes lovely prose, filled with a complicated cast of mobsters, lost boys, corrupt politicians, beautiful but mysterious ladies, and witches. Iron House looms over it all, a stark presence of which Michael, for all his running, may never be free. For an immensely entertaining, complex thriller, try Iron House!

Check this title’s availability in the UNC-Chapel Hill Library catalog.

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Filed under 2010-2019, 2011, Buncombe, Chatham, Hart, John, Madison, Mountains, Piedmont, Suspense/Thriller

Chris Cavender. A Pizza to Die for. New York: Kensington Books, 2011.

Eleanor Swift loves being the owner of A Slice of Delight, even if the little pizzeria is barely making  a profit.  Her sister Maddy works with her, her two part-time waiters feel like family, and a steady supply of regulars let her know that her pizza hits the spot.  But the commercial district in Timber Ridge is quite small, and when an outsider, Judson Sizemore, decides to open a Food Network-worthy pizzeria a few doors down, Eleanor fears for her business.  When someone kills Sizemore just before his restaurant opens,  Eleanor should be relieved, but because of a few ill-chosen words that she directed at Sizemore shortly before his death Eleanor instead worries that she is the prime suspect.

As was the case in the earlier books in this series, Eleanor doesn’t wait for the sheriff to solve the case.  Eleanor and Maddy start their own investigation, drawing on the contacts and skills of their friends, from Paul the baker, to the shady Art Young, to Bob Lemmon, a lawyer who is infatuated with Maddy, to Karen, a regular customer with a variety of useful skills.  Their investigation leads them to a wealthy recluse who may or may not have some very greedy relatives.  They also uncover a tangle of romantic connections, past and present, reminding the sisters that  Timber Ridge really is a very small town!  This reader was happy to see that David Quinton, one of Eleanor’s former beaus, is back on the scene–will the next book in the series have one of the sisters sporting an engagement ring?

Check this title’s availability in the UNC-Chapel Hill Library catalog.

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Filed under 2010-2019, 2011, Cavender, Chris, Mountains, Mystery, Novels in Series, Novels Set in Fictional Places

Joanna Pearson. The Rites and Wrongs of Janice Wills. New York: Arthur A. Levine Books, 2011.

Few people look back on their high school years without cringing at least a little. Social mores often seem to be at odds with creativity, and your social group has a lot to do with what you experience and how you feel about it. For young women in Melva, North Carolina, one of the rites of passage is participating in the Annual Miss Livermush Pageant. Although Janice Wills, a junior at Melva High School, agrees to take part in this tradition mostly to make her mother happy, she also has an ulterior motive. Janice is a budding anthropologist and she reasons that one way to make the next few weeks bearable is to approach the pageant in the same way the approaches life: as an anthropological study. How else could she get excited about a festival devoted to liver pudding? Just as she begins to develop fascinating hypotheses about adolescents, Janice’s friends throw her a curve ball. All of her “observations” seem to them to be mean-spirited criticisms. Being around her is no longer fun. Only when she takes an honest look at herself does Janice find the beauty surrounding her and the value of livermush-loving Melva.

Check this title’s availability in the UNC-Chapel Hill Library catalog.

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Filed under 2010-2019, 2011, Children & Young Adults, Novels Set in Fictional Places, Pearson, Joanna, Piedmont

Alison Pratt. A Murder Before Eden. Morrisville, NC:, 2010.

The adage that claims that “Truth is stranger than fiction” is often proven true. Newspapers publish “Weird News” sections, family folklore (albeit possibly embellished a little) is passed down through the generations, and history books always have their fair share of bizarre tales.

One such head-scratcher is set in 1940s Leaksville, North Carolina, which is now Eden. Tom Pratt, an elderly man, is viciously murdered in the middle of the night in his cabin. Only his wife, Ruby, caught a glimpse of the intruder. As the authorities begin to build an easy case against Junior Thompson, a neighbor who recently escaped from prison, Tom’s family begins to question that theory. Ruby’s description of the killer fails to match Junior’s appearance, and the circumstances of the crime seem highly unusual. Then there is the fact that they do not necessarily trust Ruby, the much younger and somewhat estranged wife of their father. Could she have something to do with the crime, allowing a possibly innocent African American man to be the scapegoat? Or is the Pratt family so caught up with questioning Ruby – to the point that they hire a lawyer to defend Junior – that they ignore all other possibilities? Only a small town jury can decide, but their ruling does not stop Leaksville residents from speculating for years to come.

This book is based on a real event, one that Alison Pratt has meticulously researched. In the book’s second part, she offers a follow up on the characters’ real lives as well as her own questions related to the case.

Check this title’s availability in the UNC-Chapel Hill Library catalog.

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Filed under 2010, 2010-2019, Historical, Piedmont, Pratt, Alison, Rockingham

Lauren Myracle. Shine. New York: Amulet Books, 2011.

Patrick Truman was never afraid, or if he was it never showed. When his classmates called him a pansy or a fairy, when they stole his pants and left him trapped in the bathroom, when they knocked into him or threw the word fag in his face, it never stuck. He cast off their darkness and let his light shine, just like his grandma, Mama Sweetie, told him to. But some people are so infected with hate and anger that such strength, such survival in another is unbearable. A tourist finds Patrick one Sunday morning at the gas station where he works, beaten and left for dead with a nozzle shoved down his throat. He lies in a coma, an object of gossip and fascination to the entire community of Black Creek, his small, conservative mountain town.

Cat Robinson knows she has to get to the bottom of it. Despite their statements to the local paper, the sheriff’s department isn’t doing anything, and many people even whisper that Patrick was asking for it, maybe even deserved it. Though they haven’t spoken in years, Patrick was her best childhood friend, and Cat aches for the distance that grew up between them in high school. She starts asking questions, opening old wounds, and examining herself and her class-divided, embittered town with a critical and unsparing eye. Filled with a fire and bravery she had forgotten, Cat rediscovers herself in the search for her friend’s attacker. She remembers how to shine, even in the face of the intolerant, the mentally destroyed, and the beaten down. Even in the face of her own victimization. Undaunted and unwilling to remain silent any longer, Cat is an excellent example of how we hope our children will learn to respond to hate.

Native daughter Lauren Myracle has written an engrossing tale that acknowledges human nature’s strange capacity for both chilling evil and inestimable grace. While aimed at young adults, older readers will also find that the finely crafted characters, well-written narrative, and overarching themes of friendship, acceptance, and courage make for an excellent read. It is an apt message for our times.

UPDATE July 27th, 2012: Congratulations to Shine for winning the 2012 Amelia Elizabeth Walden Book Award for Young Adult fiction!

Check the availability of this title in the UNC-Chapel Hill Library catalog.



Filed under 2010-2019, 2011, Children & Young Adults, Mountains, Myracle, Lauren

J. Keith Jones. In Due Time. Hamilton, MI: White Feather Press, 2010.

As this novel opens, the American republic is getting a second chance.  Decades after the independent United States of America was absorbed into a world government, a rebel movement has ousted the globalists.  The rebels were led by Alexander Birch, a fighter from the mountains of North Carolina.  But while Birch is satisfied with the turn of events in the nation, a mysterious threat of a scandal is troubling him.  For help, he turns to another North Carolinian, the writer Howard Spence.  Through Spence, Birch and the reader learn the story of two young men, their unlikely friendship, the loves they find, the company they build, and the role they play in bringing liberty back to this country.  It’s a story of danger and personal betrayals, but also of  faith in the old values, courage–and time travel.


Check this title’s availability in the UNC-Chapel Hill Library catalog.

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Filed under 2010, 2010-2019, Jones, J. Keith, Mountains, Piedmont, Suspense/Thriller

Kat Meads. When the Dust Finally Settles. Spokane, WA: Ravenna Press, 2011.

Clarence Carter died unexpectedly, giggling at the irony of it all, flipped over and pinned under his Oliver tractor on account of a wayward tree stump. Bewildered but rather amused by suddenly finding himself a ghost, he wanders back through the week leading up to his death in May of 1968. With a wry but empathetic voice, he examines the lives and emotions of the inhabitants of his home, (fictional) Mawatuck County in northeastern North Carolina. He comments on their age-old feuds, new loves, and festering anger at the harshness of life, surprised at how dying can alter one’s perspective so drastically. He is particularly interested in three impending graduates of the newly integrated Mawatuck County High School; his son, Lucian Carter, his orphaned niece, Amelia Nell Stallings, and their witty friend, Harrison Doxey. Lucian should be popular: he’s white, tall, and muscular. But he refuses to play football, and he’s always sticking up for his feisty, skinny, odd cousin Amelia Nell. On top of it all, he’s friends with Harrison, whose greatest crime (as far as the rest of the school is concerned) is being a member of the “first fifteen” to integrate Mawatuck.

Clarence Carter drifts through time and space to follow the trio as they grow up in the week leading to both their graduation and his death. Amelia Nell’s grandmother Mabel pushes her to commit to running the family farm, attempting to keep it out of the hands of her rich, no-good neighbors the Halstons. Harrison dreams of sashaying onto the dance floor at the local whites-only dance club, The Lido, and impressing the hard-to-please, gorgeous Jocelyn McPherson with his nonchalant daring. Lucian just wants Clarence to stop fighting The Man (in particular the severe, debt-collecting agents who come calling in a black sedan) and pay his federal taxes. In the end, the three children, for better or worse, will walk away from high school as adults.

Kat Meads has written a lovely tale about the strength it takes to make change and break rules that shouldn’t be rules. Embedded in her story are musings on a community’s shifting identity, its connection to the land, and the meaning of loyalty and love. Based on her home county of Currituck, Mawatuck County is filled with an abundance of diverse voices; some are familiar and expected, while others are new and beautifully different. As Clarence himself warns the reader at the beginning, “surprises coming your way, my friend, that much I guarantee.”

Check out this title’s availability in the UNC-Chapel Hill Library catalog.

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Filed under 2010-2019, 2011, Coast, Currituck, Historical, Meads, Kat, Novels Set in Fictional Places

Claude C. Washburn. The Green Arch. New York: Albert & Charles Boni, 1925.

Arthur Holland is a World War I veteran suffering from a failed romance and what we would now call PTSD.  In an attempt to sort himself out, he rents a cabin outside of Beckett, North Carolina.  The cabin is nothing special, but its location is spectacular.  The agent from whom he rents the cabin provides Holland with a well-trained, spirited horse, Cham.  Soon Holland is taking long rides into the woods.  On one such ride he comes upon an enormous rhododendron, rooted in a brook.  When Holland passes under the rhododendron he feels as though he has entered an enchanted land.  Soon things happen–enchanting and otherwise–as Holland makes friends with a mysterious old man and his beautiful granddaughter and  experiences hospitality unimaginable in such a remote location.  But he also has a dust-up with a band of malevolent mountaineers who may be shadowing him on his rides.  Throughout these days of adventure, Holland still feels detached from the dangers and beauty he encounters until his foolish curiosity puts a young woman in peril.

Tryon, North Carolina is thought to be the model for Beckett. In this novel, the mountains of Polk County are portrayed as wild and dangerous.

Check this title’s availability in the UNC-Chapel Hill Library catalog.

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Filed under 1920-1929, 1925, Mountains, Novels Set in Fictional Places, Polk, Washburn, Charles C.

Alice E. Sink. Gifts of Grace. Kernsersville, NC: Alabaster Book Publishing, 2010.

“Grace” may have been the name Mrs. Thomas Riley’s parents gave her at birth, but it is also the manner in which she chose to live her life. As a girl in Mount Olivia, North Carolina, at the turn of the twentieth century, Grace was level-headed, considerate, and driven. When Thomas, her older second cousin, asked for her hand in marriage, she joyfully accepted. Thus began a partnership in nearby Weston Ridge that nurtured four strong-willed children, built a booming business in the tobacco industry, and produced an exquisite estate, Rilea, and thriving community.

Rather than being content to focus solely on her home and family, Grace boldly undertook a variety of causes, including social reform for women and children. After the untimely death of Thomas, Grace remarried. Feeling such profound love for her new husband, Jonathan, Grace wanted  to have children with him too. Doing so was dangerous for Grace but she wanted Jonathan to experience the wonder of life and love that she so greatly enjoyed throughout her full–but tragically short–life.

Check this title’s availability in the UNC-Chapel Hill Library catalog.

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Filed under 2010, 2010-2019, Historical, Novels Set in Fictional Places, Sink, Alice E.

Jeanne Webster. Strays. Fawnskin, CA: Personhood Press, 2011.

Jane is deeply unhappy. At 24, just starting out in life, she feels as though she has come to the end of the road. She lives with a smothering boyfriend in Atlanta, a city she dislikes, putting her dreams of being an author on hold just to make ends meet. She exists, but she does not live, no matter how hard she tries or prays for some kind of sign. No one answers. Things disintegrate further when she looses her job. With only a few hundred dollars in her bank account and feeling lost, she heads north to a cabin in the Smoky Mountains to regroup and get her life back on track. One wet, rainy day, she stops at a mountain outlook, thinking that if God is anywhere, surely she will find Him here. But the silence is louder than ever. Enraged and frightened, she pleads, screams, and threatens whatever is out there until a chance misstep sends her crashing onto the stony outcrop.

Waking with a large, throbbing lump, Jane is at first frightened and then bewildered to find that she has developed an interesting gift: she can understand the speech of animals and plants. Soon, a guide arrives: a tough and capable but compassionate stray mutt who calls himself Max. With Max as her companion, Jane slowly learns about the power that has always existed within her to change, to choose, and to fill her life with meaning. Together they wander the mountains, speaking with ancient trees, animals, and insects who share their purpose and wisdom with the two strays.

Jeanne Webster, a certified life coach, has written a narrative that is both a novel and a guide for those of us seeking our own passion and authenticity as human beings. Based around Native American stories she heard as a child, the plot is heavily focused on Jane’s, and by extension the reader’s, inner journey. As Jane finds her truth through the wisdom of the natural world, we begin to believe that such a transformation is possible for us as well. Readers will be particularly charmed by the sweet and lovable Max, a familiar figure of wisdom and grace to any friend of dogs.

Check this title’s availability in the UNC-Chapel Hill Library catalog.

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Filed under 2010-2019, 2011, Mountains, Religious/Inspirational, Webster, Jeanne