Author Archives: Eileen McGrath

Anola Pickett. Whisper Island. Springville Utah: Sweetwater Books, 2013.

whisperBecause her mother left when she was just three, Primmy Hopkins has grown up in a household of men.  Miz Lucinda, a neighbor, helped raise Primmy, but now that Primmy is twelve she is expected to perform the traditional women’s chores in the house that she shares with her father and her two half-brothers. Cooking meals, doing the laundry, sweeping–all this falls on Primmy’s shoulders.  But she doesn’t much like it, and she’s not very good at it either.  Her father reminds her that these are skills she should develop so that she’ll be a good wife and mother, and that’s something that Primmy doesn’t want to hear. Primmy doesn’t want that life–she wants to be part of the U.S. Life Savers Service, like her father and her brother Jacob.

But it’s 1913 and the Life Savers Service does not hire women. All the economic activity and much of the social life on the island are gender bound. Only when Primmy roams the beach with her pals Will and Emory does she feel free from the expectations of what she should do and should become.  An invitation from her mother to visit her on the mainland makes it yet cleared to Primmy what she does not want her life to be, but it takes an unexpected storm to show her–and the men in her life–what she can do.

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

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Filed under 2010-2019, 2013, Children & Young Adults, Coast, Pickett, Anola

Charles Dodd White. A Shelter of Others. Peninsula, OH: Fiddleblack, 2014.

As they came into the foothills and later the mountains, the trees nudged in closer, attending him, constricting the passage into some form he could reasonably suffer.  So different than the unfamiliar world of the piedmont, a place that was crushed, dimensionless.  Here there was a grip and hold, a country with legacies not easily slipped.

So it seems to Mason Laws, returning to his home base in western North Carolina after a term in prison.  His wife Lavada and aged father Sam are here, but Mason isn’t sure that he wants to resume his life with either of them. Lavada has been living with the old man, juggling her work in a dinner with the increasingly sad and frightening work of keeping Sam cared for and safe while his mind slips away.

Mason choose first to bunk with his Cousin Ray-Ray rather than with Lavada and his father.  Soon he gets work and a place to stay and the space he needs to reflect on his life.  But Mason isn’t much for keeping his probation officer informed of his whereabouts.  The resulting intrusion of  law enforcement into Sam’s life, combined with Sam and Mason’s history and Lavada’s feelings of obligation to the two men, brings grief to the people in this taut, dark story.

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

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Filed under 2010-2019, 2014, Mountains, White, Charles Dodd

Sam Mills. The Money Tree. New York: Xlibris, 1999.

moneyMitchell Rainey and his brother Lee are country boys.  They live outside of town in the forested mountains.  And they know those mountains–the birds, the trees, the ravines and gorges, the old trails, the best places to fish.  On the way back from fishing one day, Mitch’s dog Mica takes off.  When Mitch catches up with him, they are at a remote clearing along the riverbed. There, in the hollow of a tree, Mitch notices a plastic bag.  A bag containing $1,800.

That night, Mitch shares the news of his find with his older brother Lee.  Lee, a high school boy who has just gotten an expensive parking ticket, cannot believe his brother’s good fortune.  And because the boys are close, Mitch readily agrees to share the money with Lee.  Lee now has the funds to buy a car and new clothes that will help him shed his hayseed image and attract the town girl he’s been pining after.  Mitch only pines for better fishing gear, a deer rifle, and new collars for his dogs.

But is turns out that Mitch is sharing danger as well.  That $1,800 is drug money and when the boys come to get the last of it, they see a man killed–a man who the dealers thought had cheated them.  The thugs know that the boys have seen the murder and they now now know who the real thief is.  Mitch and Lee have to run for their lives–through the forest that they know so well and that is well described in this coming-of-age adventure story.

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Filed under 1990-1999, 1999, Henderson, Mills, Sam, Mountains, Polk

John Ehle. Kingstree Island. New York: William Morrow, 1959.

Matt Tomlinson came to Kingstree Island decades ago.  He had little, but he was good with money and he had an eye for opportunities.  He began as a shopkeeper, but he quickly expanded, buying fishing boats and the debts of local fishermen.  With his business sense and his drive, he came to own the fishing fleet, the ice house, the power plant, and a controlling interest in the island’s only hotel.  He is the big man on this remote island, and he is used to having the locals defer to his wishes.

But Tomlinson is uneasy.  He has lost his eyesight and he knows the years will continue to diminish him.  When Brandon Rhodes arrives on the island, Tomlinson senses the presence of someone like his younger self.  After his initial attempt to force Rhodes off the island fails and Rhodes attracts the interest of a few independent-minded islanders and the attractive Marsha Harris, Tomlinson vows to crush the interloper.  The struggle between the two men plays out in this isolated community among people who must bend to the weather but who come to realize that they don’t need to bend to the will of one man.

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Filed under 1950-1959, 1959, Coast, Dare, Ehle, John

Janice Maynard. A Baby for Keeps. Don Mills, Ontario: Harlequin, 2014.

babyIs it true that most of us are still haunted by our high school years?   That’s certainly the case for Dylan Kavanaugh.  Although Dylan was a good-looking athlete from a prominent family, his memories of  his high school years are mixed.  Dylan is dyslexic; reading was a struggle for him, a struggle he hid from his friends, if not his teachers.  Knowing the seriousness of his disability, the school got him a tutor.  Mia Larin was two years younger than Dylan, but she was off-the-charts bright and a quiet, patient person who helped Dylan through many assignments, including his memorable take on Romeo and Juliet. Dylan still cringes when he thinks how he treated Mia.

Imagine Dylan’s surprise when Mia shows up back in their hometown–with a baby but no husband.  In the years since high school, Mia went on to get two doctoral degrees.  She was working as a medical researcher in the Research Triangle of North Carolina when she heard her biological clock ticking.  With no man in her life and a job that she thought was secure, Mia decided to have a child through artificial insemination.  Now she has lovely little Cora, but the funding for her lab dried up, and she is close to broke.  She has come back to the little mountain town of Silver Glen to regroup.

Once Dylan learns about Mia’s situation, he springs into action.  He sees helping her–with a job and a place to stay–as a way to ease his conscience over how he treated her in high school.  But Mia’s not the shy, young nerd she was in high school.  She has her pride–and she has quite a nice figure.  Mia had a crush on Dylan in high school, a crush that he never noticed.  Now, as grownups there is a mutual attraction, but should they act on it?  This being a romance, they do, but that’s not the end of it.  Self-images formed in high school, professional setbacks and opportunities, and Dylan’s fear of fatherhood make a long road to happily-ever-after.

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

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Filed under 2010-2019, 2014, Maynard, Janice, Mountains, Novels Set in Fictional Places, Romance/Relationship

E. C. Hanes. Billy Bowater. Winston-Salem, NC: Rane Coat Press, 2014.

billyIt’s 1990 and an art exhibit on a college campus provides just the kind of issue that Senator Wiley Hoots’s campaign staff wants.  Hoots is the senior senator from North Carolina.  He’s a conservative true believer and a rough campaigner.  Seniority has put Hoots in line to head the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.  This fits with Hoots’s recent view of himself as a senior statesman, but clout in foreign affairs is not enough to turn out the voters, or to get the flood of small donations that have always floated the senator’s campaigns.  No, the campaign needs an issue that will make voters mad and scared, something that will get them talking to their friends, yelling at the TV, and writing checks to the senator’s campaign committee. The senator’s daughter provides the issue when she writes to her father to complain about an exhibit on the UNC-Chapel Hill campus.  Photos of naked girls embracing, a painting showing public urination, and so many other examples of bad taste and moral chaos!  At a public university–and paid for with tax dollars.  Bingo! A campaign issue is born.

The late Senator Jesse Helms’s crusade against the National Endowment for the Arts is clearly the inspiration for this plot, but the novel doesn’t focus on the senator.  Rather, we see the campaign–all the scheming, in-fighting, spinning, and collateral damage–through the eyes of the senator’s chief administrative assistant, Billy Bowater.  Billy, a member of an esteemed eastern North Carolina family, has been with Senator Hoots for five years.  His father, a politically connected lawyer, got the placement for Billy when Billy’s drinking and boredom with small town lawyering threatened the family’s reputation.  Billy has thrived in Washington–the bright lights, the intrigue, the nearness to power thrill him.  That thrill allows him to ignore his dislike for the senator, his politics, and the other members of the senator’s team.  Billy’s true feelings bubble up from time to time, especially when he is with Lucy Sue Tribble, a reporter for the Raleigh paper.  Readers follow Billy as the campaign swings into high gear.  This likely won’t be the senator’s last campaign, but will it be Billy’s?

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Filed under 2010-2019, 2014, Coastal Plain, Hanes, E. C., Piedmont

Chalmers G. Davidson. Cloud over Catwaba. Charlotte, NC: Mecklenburg Historical Society, 1949.

In the Catawba Valley of North Carolina in 1815, a girl of sixteen is old enough to marry, and Priscilla Brevard would be a catch for any man.  Priscilla’s father, Colonel Jonathan Brevard is a wealthy foundry owner in Lincoln County.  Her mother’s people are solid, God-fearing Presbyterians, and they all are longtime members of the local church where plain living and high thinking are the norm.  But Priscilla is just back from school in Charleston, South Carolina.  There she learned French, studied literature, and developed a taste for finer things. The fancy churches and casual attitude toward religion of her schoolmates shocked her, but in truth, Priscilla herself lacks the religious convictions of her family and neighbors.

When confronted with the choice of marrying a talented young preacher or a planter who will build her a beautiful house in nearby Mecklenburg County, Priscilla chooses the planter.  Alexander McIntosh is the son of a successful planter. When he turned twenty one, his father gave him land and slaves, but Alec’s oversight of his holdings has been perfunctory.  He didn’t feel a desire to work, to drive himself, until he gave himself to Priscilla.  She is his goddess and he will build her a temple to match her perfection.  The mansion, “Priscilla’s Price,”  is soon widely recognized as the most elegant, distinctive house in the valley.  But that is not necessarily a good thing among people who value frugality and piety.  As the years go by, Priscilla as cause to reconsider her fateful decision.

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Filed under 1940-1949, 1949, Davidson, Chalmers G., Historical, Lincoln, Mecklenburg, Piedmont

Lucia Peel Powe. Roanoke Rock Muddle. Raleigh, NC: Ivy House, 2003.

roanokeMany novelists have tried to capture the essence of a small town that they know well.  Lucia Peel Powe has set out to do this for Williamston, North Carolina, a small, but old, town at a strategic bend in the Roanoke River. In a story set in the 1920s and 1930s, Mrs. Powe gives readers a good sense of the life of the town through the stories of Ben-Olive Bazemore, the chef at the Tar Heel Hotel, Charlie Mac Griffin, who is the mayor (a decidedly part-time job) and whose father owns the Chevrolet dealership, and Big Dan Hardison and his wife Mary.

The men’s lives are particularly well portrayed in scenes of card games on a houseboat, barbecues, and political rallies, but the plot revolves around Mary.  Mary, the daughter of the town’s only doctor, is a reader and a bit of a dreamer.  Her husband, Big Dan, is a former college football star with political ambitions.  The other men like Dan even as they entertain fantasies about his wife.  But if Mary is dissatisfied with Dan, why would any of his friends be better?  A man from outside would hold more interest, with fewer complications.  Mary’s actions ripple through the community, but quietly, and just as quietly Dan and his circle of friends adjust.

Roanoke Rock Muddle will give readers a good sense of the Williamston community and the importance of the river in its life and culture.  As a bonus, the author includes fifteen recipes credited to Ben-Olive.

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Filed under 2000-2009, 2003, Coastal Plain, Martin, Powe, Lucia Peel

Ann B. Ross. Etta Mae’s Worst Bad-Luck Day. New York: Viking, 2014.

“What I wanted more than anything else was to be somebody. Somebody who was respected and listened to and treated in a nice way all the time. What I wanted was to be in a situation where nobody would ever again look at me and, without blinking an eye, think the worst.”

That’s Etta Mae Wiggins talking, and this is her story.  Readers of Ann Ross’s Miss Julia Series know Etta Mae as the cheerful, voluptuous manager of Miss Julia’s trailer-park and an occasional sidekick in Miss Julia’s adventures.  It was Etta Mae who Miss Julia recruited to rescue J. D. Pickens when he was in danger in West Virginia, and Etta Mae found a housekeeper–her granny–to manage J. D. and Hazel Marie’s household after their twins were born.  Miss Julia knows that she can count on Etta’s Mae’s energy and good heart to help her solve the problems of family and friends in little Abbotsville.

In this book, Ann Ross takes a half-step away from the Miss Julia series to give us Etta Mae’s back-story.  Etta Mae is from the poorer part of Abbot County, and her people–the Wiggins clan–have been considered lazy and shiftless.  Etta Mae grew up already judged because of her family name.  Etta Mae hasn’t help herself by her way of dressing and her complicated romantic history; some of her own missteps only reinforced people’s negative opinion of her.  And Miss Julia was one of those doing the judging.  We learn that Etta Mae and Miss Julia did not immediately get off on the right foot, and that it took Hazel Marie’s intervention and some spiked punch to break the chill between them.  This is only one of a number of funny scenes in this gentle, enjoyable novel.  Etta Mae gets her man, and some of the respectability she seeks, but that’s not to say that everything works out as she planned.

etta

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Filed under 2010-2019, 2014, Henderson, Humor, Mountains, Novels in Series, Ross, Ann B.

LaToya Hankins. SBF Seeking … Glen Allen, VA: JMS Books, 2012.

sbfAt twenty-five, Yvette Thurman seems to have her life mapped out.  She’s a journalist for a statewide magazine based in Raleigh, she has a nice circle of friends, and she’s engaged to marry a good-looking, stable man she’s known since college.  But Yvette is restless.  Not really knowing what it is that’s bothering her, she decides she’d like a little sexual fling–with a white man.  An ad on a dating site leads her to a willing partner.  It’s a nothing-special experience, but from it Yvette learns that she is just not ready to get married.

Yvette’s mother and her twin sister support her decision, as do her friends who go out of their way to include Yvette in the fun–and drama–of their lives.  But it’s not until a co-worker’s sister and her partner move into Yvette’s apartment complex that Yvette begins to reconsider how she’s always thought her life would be.  Yvette soon spends a good bit of her free time with Erica and Linda–especially Linda–and finds herself opening up to romantic relationship with another woman.  SBF Seeking follows Yvette during three years in which her heart leads her down a unexpected new path.

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Filed under 2010-2019, 2014, Hankins, LaToya, Piedmont, Romance/Relationship, Wake