Category Archives: Novels by County

6. Novels by County

Reynolds Price. Kate Vaiden. New York: Atheneum, 1986.

Considering how I was soon to behave, I have to wonder if I ever really loved him. I’d shown most other human instincts till then. Why did mothering fail me?

At age 11, Kate Vaiden makes a vow to her mother Frances never to become a mother. In a sense, she never does. Although Kate gives birth at 17 to a son named Lee, she leaves him behind with her extended family. Forty years later, Kate begins to wonder what happened to Lee. If he is still alive and well, Lee is forty, and at Kate’s best estimation, he has made his way in the world without her. She believes it is unlikely that Lee would need or want her in his life at this point. For all intents and purposes, Kate kept good on her promise. By abandoning her son, it’s as if she never bore him at all. Yet there are questions hanging over her her, the first: Who is Lee Vaiden?

The second question traces back to Kate’s roots and a major turning point in her life: Who was Frances Bullock Vaiden? Kate’s parents, Frances Bullock and Dan Vaiden  met in 1925 and married soon after. Their union was tumultuous. Dan’s father was against the marriage. Although Dan was convinced that his father would grow to love Frances, he overestimated his father’s affections. The couple decided to escape to Greensboro for a fresh start. But the fresh start withered under their passions. As a child, Kate observed her father “burn” her mother with a “hot flow of words.”

Frances’ closeness with her family created a source of tension between her and Dan. When Frances’ nephew Traswell dies, she takes Kate home to Macon to attend the funeral, but Dan stays behind. After the funeral, Dan unexpectedly shows up in Macon. He arrives while Frances and another nephew have gone to Traswell’s grave. Dan drives to the cemetery, and without warning, shoots Frances and himself. Up to that point, Kate had believed that she had a happy childhood, irrespective of any strain between Frances and Dan.  Following her parent’s murder-suicide, she is left under the care of Frances’ sister Caroline and her husband in Macon. From there, the novel follows Kate from adolescence to middle-age. Kate struggles to form any sort of lasting commitment or attachment to another person. During her formative years, what Kate loved left her. As a young woman and adult, she becomes a quitter. Whenever things get serious, Kate bolts. Single and fifty-seven years old, she’s an eternal orphan.

Kate Vaiden is the story of Kate’s life, as told by Kate in hindsight. Parents, family, and home are contentious topics for Kate. Her residual questions about her mother and lingering questions about her son influence her life. In regard to Lee, Kate regrets that her “baby-making machinery works” but “when they made me, they left out the mothering part.” Price creates a flawed protagonist in Kate who is good at hurting others and has been hurt in turn. Despite all her imperfections, Kate’s engaging and entertaining voice smooths over her less attractive qualities and makes her situation more sympathetic. The novel earned Price, who was a novelist, poet, and English professor at Duke University, the National Book Critics Circle Award.

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

Leave a Comment

Filed under 1980-1989, 1986, Guilford, Piedmont, Price, Reynolds, Wake, Warren

Lights, Camera, Novel: James Patterson’s Kiss the Girls.

Kiss the Girls Movie PosterJames Patterson’s Alex Cross series was perfectly timed for moviegoers of the nineties who were primed for psychological thrillers after a number of popular hits. Reviewers drew comparisons between Kiss the Girls and other releases like Silence of the Lambs and Se7en. However, the comparisons between the films were not entirely favorable. Kiss the Girls starred Morgan Freeman and Ashley Judd, whose career was just beginning to accelerate.

The novel follows forensic psychologist Alex Cross as he learns that his niece Naomi, a law student at Duke, was kidnapped by a lascivious serial killer who masquerades under the pseudonym, Casanova. Cross abandons DC for Durham. His emotions are high and he is focused on finding Naomi before it’s too late. Meanwhile, medical intern Kate McTiernan is Casanova’s latest victim, but not for long. McTiernan manages to escape, which makes her the anomalous sole survivor. She and Cross team up to uncover Casanova’s true identity and rescue the other victims still languishing in Casanova’s “harem.”

Kiss the Girls is Patterson’s only novel that features a North Carolina setting. But Patterson layered plenty of authenticating detail in his book to evoke the Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill area. Filming locations for the movie adaptation were largely limited to Durham, and of course, Los Angeles. The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill did not to approve the film’s request to use the university’s campus during shooting.

In the past, the University has a mixed record of accepting some requests to film on campus, but rejecting others. According to a Daily Tarheel article from 2001, UNC’s major ruling factor is maintaining the University’s image. The University also considers how the project might provide opportunities or disruptions to campus life. Ultimately, the University decided against Kiss the Girls due to its graphic content. Chapel Hill officials did not consent to give the producers permission to shut down Franklin Street for filming.

Although Kiss the Girls is second in the Cross series it was adapted first. Along Came a Spider, the first novel in the series, was a follow-up in 2001. While Kiss the Girls performed well at the box office, critics panned the film for pacing issues and a lack of uniqueness. Both Freeman and Judd were commended for their performances however. In 2012, Tyler Perry starred in an Alex Cross reboot. There are plans for a sequel reportedly.

The clip below, from Movie Clips, shows a scene following Kate’s escape where she delivers a statement to the press:

The movie version is a bit more solemn than the novel. In the book, Kate’s introductory remarks are self-deprecating and elicit a few smiles. More or less, the monologues match up.  But both versions represent Kate as a strong and intelligent character, in spite of her ordeal.

Patterson’s novel is available through the UNC-Chapel Hill Library catalog. There are copies at Davis Library and Wilson Library. The film adaptation is available through the UNC-Chapel Hill Library catalog as well. Copies can be found at the Media Resources Center in the Undergraduate Library and Wilson Library. The original blog post for the novel is here.

Sources consulted here: The Baltimore Sun, The Daily Tarheel (two different articles), Film Journal InternationalIMDb, Movie Clips, The New York Times, The San Francisco Chronicle, Roger Ebert, The Washington Post (two different reviews), Wikipedia

Leave a Comment

Filed under 1990-1999, 1997, Durham, Orange, Patterson, James, Piedmont, Suspense/Thriller

Wiley Cash. This Dark Road to Mercy. New York: William Morrow, 2014.

dark roadEaster Quillby is twelve, but she has already made up her mind about her dad, Wade: he is the loser that her mom always said he was. Wade was a professional baseball player, a pitcher, but he never made it to the major leagues and he has drifted ever since. Robert Pruitt is an ex-ballplayer too. He’s a hard man–brought up by a sadistic dad, he’s been a drug dealer and now he’s an ex-con who works as a bouncer at the Tomcat bar just outside Gastonia. And he knows what he thinks about Wade: Wade beaned him a ballgame, disfiguring him and ending his baseball career. Wade ruined his life, and Pruitt would do anything to ruin Wade’s. Brady Weller doesn’t know what to think about Wade. Brady is the guardian ad litem for Easter and her little sister Ruby–someone assigned by the courts to watch out for their best interests after their mother died from a drug overdose.

As This Dark Road to Mercy opens, Wade reappears in Easter and Ruby’s lives. He has heard that their mother died, and he thinks that he and the girls can be a family again. But it’s not just his ex-wife’s death that has spurred Wade into action. He has a stash of money–money that he stole from the original thief. With this stake, he thinks he can start anew–with the girls, and in a new place. Wade easily spirits his daughters away from the group home where they’ve been living, but before long both Pruitt and Weller are on his trail.  The action moves from Gastonia to the coast, down to Myrtle Beach, and then on to St. Louis, where a pivotal scene takes place. At times the book reads like a road-trip novel and Easter’s occasional narration adds humor, but this is a novel about serious issues: the ties of family, the darkness of the human heart, and the hope that many people have that they can outrun their past. Cash mixes in references to North Carolina minor league baseball teams, the Sammy Sosa-Mark McGwire home run race of 1998, and echoes of the 1997 armored car robbery that occurred in Gaston County, all of which clearly center his story in time and place. This Dark Road to Mercy is hard to categorize but easy to enjoy.

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

Leave a Comment

Filed under 2010-2019, 2014, Cash, Wiley, Gaston, Piedmont

A Walk to Remember: Nicholas Sparks’ New Bern

The WeddingWant to walk in the footsteps of some of your favorite Nicholas Sparks lovers? The City of New Bern has designed a “Walk to Remember Tour” based around three of Sparks’ novels: A Bend in the Road, The Wedding, and The Notebook. The tour is self-guided and highlights fifteen spots around New Bern. A copy of the tour guide is available on the City of New Bern website along with a short video showing a glimpse of Nicholas Sparks’ new home.                          The Notebook

Although not a North Carolinian by birth, Nicholas Sparks has lived in New Bern for many years, and as his fans are probably well aware, Sparks has been heavily influenced by the state. All seventeen of his novels are set in various locations around North Carolina, predominantly in small cities and towns and around the coast. Sparks has also influenced North Carolina. He and his wife established the Epiphany School of Global Studies and donated a track to New Bern High School.

A Bend in the RoadNew Bern, the second oldest town in North Carolina and birth place of Pepsi, boasts a lot of state firsts: movie theater, printing press, public bank, bookstore, postal service, capital. The town has more than 150 sites officially recorded in the National Register of Historic Places. With spring break coming up, Nicholas Sparks fans and history buffs might be interested in mingling fact with fiction in New Bern.

Read some of the blog’s past posts on Nicholas Sparks novels here.

Leave a Comment

Filed under Coast, Craven, Romance/Relationship, Sparks, Nicholas

Monique Miller. Redemption Lake. New York: Kensington Books, 2012.

Redemption LakeAnd it was all relative when she thought about it; a person’s perception was truly their reality.

Marriage is a two-way street, and it takes plenty of effort and patience to resolve disputes and stave off conflict. Problems can erupt from a single source and branch off to create additional complications. Often, it’s tough to definitively pinpoint who is right and who is wrong. Redemption Lake covers three couples struggling to support their marriages. The spouses here have been pushed so far they can barely manage to talk to each other without contempt or anger, let alone hear what the other person is saying.

Readers of Miller’s work will recognize Phillip and Shelby Tomlinson, characters from her first novel, Secret Sisterhood. In Secret Sisterhood, Shelby and Phillip confronted their marital difficulties. After attending a marriage counseling retreat and helping with the couples’ ministry, Phillip has been tasked with leading a week-long retreat at a mountain resort for three couples, and Shelby has come along to help. Phillip is worried that he isn’t skilled enough to facilitate effective communication between the couples and guide them through their problems to a successful resolution. Based on the general profiles of each couple, this isn’t going to be an easy week for anyone.

Charlotte Knight has been collecting proof of her husband Xavier’s infidelities meticulously. She knows, in secret, that Xavier visits a number of diverse sources to stray, from the Internet to a neighbor down the street. The news of her positive STD test was the final piece of evidence that pushed her over the edge. Beryl Highgate is fed up with her lazy husband Travis. He promises to find a job and pull his weight, but he never delivers. She’s exhausted from taking care of their children, their finances, and him. Something has to change. Beryl can’t take his excuses any longer. Pastor George Jones was surprised and embarrassed to learn of his wife Nina’s hidden gambling problem. Recently, he’s found out that her addiction has affected not only their finances, but also those of his church in Greenville, North Carolina. He has to find a remedy before her gambling destroys both of their lives.

Phillip knows that there are always three sides to any story: “his side, her side, and the truth.” Novelist Monique Miller structured Redemption Lake so that readers will see the stories of the three couples from all angles. The novel is organized with brief prologue documenting the surface grievances of each couple. The remainder is largely broken up in chapters that rotate between the three husbands and Phillip, followed by the three wives and Shelby. Miller concludes with “the truth” as seen through Phillip’s eyes, observing the end of the retreat and the final outcomes among the couples. Miller doesn’t gloss over her characters and write a neat, happy ending for every couple. She sticks closer to the side of realism, where sometimes things work out but sometimes things are too far gone to fix.

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

Leave a Comment

Filed under Coastal Plain, Miller, Monique, Mountains, Pitt, Religious/Inspirational, Romance/Relationship

Ernest Beasley. Cape Fear Murders. Bloomington, IN: AuthorHouse, 2011.

capefearThe body count gets high in this novel of adultery, revenge, and abuse of power set in Lee County, North Carolina.  First one high school girl is raped and murdered, then another, and another, and another. When the father of the fourth victim becomes impatient with the pace of the investigation, he contacts retired United States Marshall, Kenneth Sadler.  Sadler, a widower, is happy for the work and grateful for an excuse to temporarily relocate away from the many widows in nearby Moore County who view him as a desirable catch.

Sadler does not get off on the right foot with Lee County Sheriff Joe Dorman.  While it’s natural that the local authorities do not welcome a private investigator from the outside, Sadler learns that Sheriff Dorman may have particular reasons for trying to keep a tight rein on this case.  Other discoveries raise questions about the behaviors and intentions of both high school students and the adults in their lives.  Whose behavior is more foolish? More dangerous?

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

Leave a Comment

Filed under 2010-2019, 2011, Beasley, Ernest, Coastal Plain, Lee, Moore, Mystery, New Hanover

J. J. Murray. A Good Man. New York: Kensington Books, 2013.

goodmanSonya Richardson likes a quiet life.  After ten years in the WNBA and some wise investments, Sonya has a nice income stream and a lovely home in Charlotte. But she’s living in that big house by herself and feeling a bit lonely and bored.  Out of the blue, her publicist calls to ask her to star in  “Hunk or Punk,” a reality TV show in which a bachelorette must pick a partner from dozen men vying for her hand.  Sonya knows better than to get involved, but when her publicist signs the contract, Sonya has no choice but to be “the Nubian princess” at the center of the show.

But Sonya is her own person.  Her unscripted behavior–taking off her uncomfortable shoes in the first episode, the odd “challenges” she gives the men, her unwillingness to dump suitors on schedule–make for interesting viewing. And Sonya is not the only surprisingly element in the show.  John Bond, a widower from Burnt Corn, Alabama, is the token white suitor.  John is an assistant deacon at the AME church in Burnt Corn, a deeply religious man who has been mourning his late wife for fifteen years.  He and Sonya connect in ways that the producers could not anticipate.

A Good Man takes readers behind the scene of reality TV with funny situations and crisp dialogue. It’s clear that Sonya and John are strangers in that strange land, but their faith and their self-knowledge guide them, and even some of the people around them, to a true happily-ever-after.

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

Leave a Comment

Filed under 2010-2019, 2013, Mecklenburg, Piedmont, Religious/Inspirational, Romance/Relationship

Lights, Camera, Novel: Charles Frazier’s Cold Mountain.

Cold MountainNorth Carolina has been a popular setting for movies and television shows, yet that setting is most often fictitious. Of the 600 movies and shows nominally sited in North Carolina between 1980 and 2002, 95 percent were actually filmed outside of the state. Anthony Minghella’s adaptation of Cold Mountain was one of them. Charles Frazier’s novel depicts Confederate deserter W.P. Inman’s long and arduous journey from a hospital in Raleigh to his home near Cold Mountain and his sweetheart, the genteel Ada Monroe from Charleston, who struggles to survive on her own following the death of her father. British director Anthony Minghella scouted locations over a period of five years before deciding to film the adaptation in Romania. Filming in North Carolina would have been a boon to state tourism. When the novel was released in 1997, it created a small increase in tourism. Local businesses and state officials knew that filming here would both make jobs and increase tourism.

Romania was a more attractive choice to Minghella because the rural landscape is much more intact than in North Carolina, where elements of modern life, like telephone poles and paved roads, are present, and logging has altered the area’s appearance. Minghella also noted that there were too few period buildings around Asheville and its environs. By contrast, Minghella could more easily manipulate the Romanian countryside to look like Civil War era North Carolina. The majority of the film was shot in Romania, though a few locations in North Carolina, South Carolina, and Virginia were used.

The real Cold Mountain at its highest point is a daunting 6,030 feet. The mountain is located within the Pisgah National Forest. Asheville’s tourism site advises that only experienced hikers should dare to take on 11-mile hike, which has no trail markers. Visitors can view the mountain from the Blue Ridge Parkway.

Inman, Frazier’s protagonist is based on relatives–chiefly his great-great-uncle, but also his great-grandfather. Frazier retrieved information about Inman’s service from the North Carolina State Archives, whose records state that Inman deserted twice, although conflicting records throw doubt on the second desertion. Inman’s neck injury sustained during the Battle of the Crater and his death at the hands of the Home Guard are verified facts, represented in the novel and the movie adaptation.

Overall, the movie, featuring Hollywood stars Jude Law, Nicole Kidman, and Renée Zellweger, is faithful to the book in terms of plot, though there are differences in mood. The romance between Ada and Inman and the violence (specifically the brutality of the Home Guard) are accentuated on-screen. Most of the characters are appropriately scruffy and disheveled, given the tough conditions, but Charles McGrath of the New York Times notes that Kidman’s Ada Monroe remains improbably radiant throughout the film.

Treatment of race and slavery drew some critical remarks. Both the book and movie’s portrayal of the Battle of the Crater downplayed the important presence of black soldiers on the Union side. Brendan Wolfe made a counterpoint during a critique of the first chapter of Kevin Lenin’s Remembering the Battle of the Crater: War as Murder. Wolfe is not troubled by how the novel and the film skirt around these tense issues since the focus of the story is not strict historical accuracy or a panoramic view of the war. Cold Mountain is the story of a disillusioned man on an epic trek home that parallels The Odyssey. But race and slavery are difficult topics to broach, and the representation of the American South throughout film history is varied.

 

The clip above from Movie Clips shows Jude Law as Inman in the beginning of the film resting in the trenches and looking at a photo of Ada shortly before the Union soldiers blow up a mine beneath the Confederate trench. After the fuse is lit, there’s a grand and dramatic cinematic explosion.

Minghella’s Cold Mountain was recognized with over 70 awards following its release in 2003. Renée Zellweger won Best Supporting Actress at the Academy Awards, and the film was nominated for Best Actor, Best Cinematography, Best Editing, Best Original Score, and Best Original Song twice:  for T-Bone Burnett and Elvis Costello’s The Scarlet Tide and Sting’s You Will Be My Ain True Love. For those interested in the music of the film and Appalachian folk songs, look at this interview of Charles Frazier in the Journal of Southern Religion. Cold Mountain was the seventh film directed by director-producer-screenwriter-actor Minghella who died in 2008.  The movie is available through the UNC-Chapel Hill Library catalog, as is the novel.  The original blog post on Frazier’s novel is available here.

Sources consulted here: Augusta Chronicle, Book Browse, Chicago Times (two different articles), Encyclopedia Virginia, Explore Asheville, History Extra (of BBC History Magazine), Journal of Southern Religion, Los Angeles Times, Movie Clips, New York Times, Prologue Magazine (of NARA), USA Today, Wikipedia (Anthony Minghella, Cold Mountain [film], Cold Mountain [novel], Cold Mountain [North Carolina])

Leave a Comment

Filed under 2000-2009, 2003, Frazier, Charles, Haywood, Historical, Mountains

R. E. Bradshaw. Waking Up Gray. United States: R. E. Bradshaw Books, 2011.

waking At forty, Lizabeth is starting her life over.  Her marriage, to an inveterate philanderer, is finished and her daughter is grown.  Lizabeth has returned to school to study linguistic anthropology.  Her thesis topic is the Caroline Brogue, so she’ll be spending a few months on Ocracoke Island to do her research.

Lizabeth’s cousins have a cottage on the island, a place that Lizabeth used to visit as a child.  Lizabeth knows that she should call on Fanny O’Neal, the elderly woman who lives across the street.  Miss Fanny is an island treasure and almost kin.  But before Lizabeth can pay a call, she sees a brief romantic exchange between Miss Fanny’s granddaughter Gray and another woman.  Lizabeth is shocked by what she feels when she sees the two women, but that doesn’t keep her away from Miss Fanny’s.

Soon her visits across the street are matched by Gray’s visit to Lizabeth’s cottage and excursions around the island.  A same-sex attraction is new territory for Lizabeth, but even as she is exploring her feelings, Gray is struggling too.  Gray’s ex-wife, Dana, cheated on her and even after five years Gray is not ready to give her heart to anyone else.  Lizabeth, Gray, and Fanny survive a hurricane, but will the lovers’ budding relationship survive Dana’s unexpected visit to the island?

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

Leave a Comment

Filed under 2010-2019, 2011, Bradshaw, R. E., Coast, Hyde, Romance/Relationship

Kim Williams Justesen. The Deepest Blue. Terre Haute, IN: Tanglewood Publishing, 2013.

deepestAt fifteen, Mike Wilson is a typical teenage boy, with the same concerns as his peers.  His is counting the days until he can drive, and each day he hopes that he will better understand girls and one girl in particular–Rachel, his on-again, off-again girlfriend.  In the meantime he is working this summer, like previous ones, on his father’s charter fishing boat.  Mike doesn’t know if he’ll want to make this boat his future, but he enjoys spending time with his father, Rich.  Rich has been Mike’s sole parent ever since the two of them left Mike’s mom.   Mike was just five when he and his dad moved from Washington State to the North Carolina coast,  but Mike has memories of his mother’s unhappiness and her coldness toward him.  It’s fine with him that he has rarely heard from her these past ten years.

As The Deepest Blue opens, Rich tells his son that he is going to ask his long-time girlfriend, Maggie, to marry him.  Before he offers Maggie a ring, Rich needs to know that Mike will be OK with this change in his life.  Mike is thrilled.  Sure, it will be different, but Mike knows that Maggie and Rich love each other and, in truth, she has been like a mother to him for the past few years.  But before Rich can pop the question, tragedy strikes.  Rich is killed by a drunk driver.  Maggie and Mike are devastated–the future that there were to share has been taken from them.

But perhaps they can have a different future together.  Mike would like Maggie to adopt him, but because he is a minor he is not free to do as he pleases in such an important matter.  And because his age, his mother, Julia,  is notified of her ex-husband’s death.  To everyone’s surprise, Julia asserts her parental rights and makes plans to take Mike to live with her new family on the West Coast.  The Deepest Blue follows Mike and Maggie as they, though grief stricken, try to mange their feelings, bury Rich, and do battle with Julia for Mike’s future.  The story is told from Mike’s perspective, and readers come to see a decent, ordinary boy struggle toward the maturity that he will need to become the person his father hoped he’d be.

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

1 Comment

Filed under 2010-2019, 2013, Carteret, Coast, Justesen, Kim Williams