Category Archives: Year of Publication

4. Year of Publication

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.

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

Annis Ward Jackson. Blind Malice. North Carolina: Annis Ward Jackson, 2009.

blindIt’s every adult child’s nightmare: an elderly parent, isolated and confused, mishandles his financial affairs and winds up deeply in debt.  Rachel Myers never expected that to happen to her father Paul.  Yes, Paul was blind, but with the help of a housekeeper and a longtime farm hand and friend, Isaac Starling, he managed his mountain farm.  Rachel, who lives in Arizona, felt some pull to come home, but she knew she would never find a job in the mountains as good as the managerial job that she has in Flagstaff.

Only when Paul dies and Rachel comes back to North Carolina to bury him does she find out how bad Paul’s situation had become.  Rachel learns from Isaac that her father fired his longtime housekeeper soon after a local banker, Ed McKinney, became a frequent visitor to the farm.  And the farm itself has changed–the cattle have been sold and the house and surrounding yard have had expensive improvements that surprise Rachel.  But the biggest surprise is that Paul Myers died in debt to the tune of $230,000.  How did this happen–and does it have anything to do with the surveyor’s stakes that dot the nearby hill?  As Rachel looks into her father’s financial affairs, time and again she is led back to Ed McKinney and his puzzling influence on her father.

This is the first book in a  series of ten novels by Ms. Jackson, all set along the Blue Ridge Parkway. Watch this site for summaries of later books in the series.

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

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Filed under 2000-2009, 2009, Jackson, Annis Ward, Mountains, Mystery, Novels in Series, Novels Set in Fictional Places

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.

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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.

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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])

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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.

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

Monique Miller. Secret Sisterhood. Deer Park, NY: Urban Books, 2010.

Secret SisterhoodInfertility can be all-consuming. It’s a devastating setback for couples ready to start their families. Novelist Monique Miller writes a story of three women from different backgrounds united by their struggles with infertility.

At first Shelby Tomlinson loved her job as a registered nurse with the Silvermont Women’s Center. Her patients’ happiness at their good news rubbed off on Shelby. She felt excited to come to work in such a positive atmosphere. That elation has fizzled out ever since Shelby and her husband Phillip started trying for a baby. They’ve tried for two years without any luck. Now, whenever Shelby deals with prenatal patients their good fortune depresses her. Suddenly, she feels a stronger bond with the patients who suffer from infertility too. However, her anxiety attacks, a lifelong problem, are increasing and Phillip has been distant whenever she broaches the topic of children. Shelby can’t figure out his odd behavior. Does he have a secret he’s hiding? In the face of all this stress, Shelby manages to find some hope when a patient struggling with infertility gets pregnant. Maybe Shelby still stands a chance at beating her infertility.

Crystal Shaw wants to open a day care center of her own one day. She also wants to have a baby, but it doesn’t look like that dream is going to come true any time soon. Crystal is envious of the pregnant women around her, especially those who don’t seem worthy in her eyes. Everyone around her is getting pregnant, including her sister Shanice, who already has a baby with another man and refuses to work, relying on public assistance and her “Man of the Quarter” instead.  Crystal is tired of breezily claiming that she’s not quite ready for kids. Even her work toward establishing a day care center is difficult. Spending all her time around children only reminds Crystal how she and her husband Warren, her childhood sweetheart, haven’t been able to conceive despite trying for years. Crystal starts thinking how nice a desk job might be so she could stop confronting the harsh reality of her childlessness.

When she was young, Vivian Parker made a promise to her grandmother, Eva – a promise that she has managed to fulfill, and then some. Eva emphasized the importance of an education as a priceless investment. Once Vivian earned an education, she insisted, it could never be taken away. After Eva passed away, Vivian focused all her energy on her grades and her career. She obtained her bachelor’s and master’s, eventually becoming a successful and esteemed architect with careful planning and hard work. But she’s behind on her plans for her personal life. By thirty she assumed she would be married, and then a child or two would follow shortly thereafter. Instead, Vivian didn’t get married until thirty-eight. Her husband Roland is the CEO of the company Vivian works for. Together, they’re a powerful couple professionally. But now that they’re more serious about having a baby, they learn that even though they can bankroll expensive procedures like in vitro fertilization, they still might not be able to fight time.

Faith is a central element to Secret Sisterhood. Shelby, Crystal, and Vivian turn to their religion to strengthen themselves in the midst of hardships. Miller breaks the story up, chapter by chapter, alternating the perspectives of the three main characters, although she also creates some areas of overlap and interconnection between the women during their journey to become mothers.

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

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Filed under 2010, 2010-2019, Miller, Monique, Piedmont, Religious/Inspirational

Cooper West. Dawn in the Orchard. Miami, FL: Dreamspinner Press, 2011.

Dawn in the OrchardHolden, North Carolina is just about the last place Gary Winston ever wanted to be. He moved away from Insbrook, North Carolina, his own stifling hometown, as soon as possible, and college in Chicago was a convenient excuse. His great-aunt Harriet’s death has brought him back to North Carolina, begrudgingly. She named Gary as the heir to her pecan farm and ramshackle home. The housing market around Holden is poor, so Gary doesn’t stand much chance of selling the place, at least not quickly. And, at the present moment, he doesn’t have anywhere better to go.

Gary’s relationship with his boyfriend Roger has fizzled out. Roger couldn’t admit his sexuality openly and he kept their relationship hidden. Roger’s insecurities rubbed off on Gary and manifested as performance anxiety. A professional musician with a performance anxiety is, Gary recognizes, more than a little oxymoronic. Obviously, Gary’s inability to play in front of an audience has stalled his musical career. Since his anxiety surfaced, Gary has become relegated strictly to some spotty studio work. Broke, he’s been testing the patience of his friends through regular couch-surfing. Thankfully, his burdensome inheritance gives him a place to rest his head at night at the very least.

With the prospect of property taxes and his lack of income, Gary starts hitting pavement around Holden. But, small town that it is, there aren’t many job openings. Nobody around town wants to hire experienced barista from a big city up North. The best option left is the harvest from the pecan farm on Great-Aunt Harriet’s property. Turns out that Harriet had a contract with a local family to gather the harvest and one of the farmers looks quite familiar.

Chuck Everett was born and bred in neighboring Cornerstone, another small Southern town. According to Holden’s resident lawyer, Fred George, the Everett’s have lived in Cornerstone “since before the War.” Chuck harvests Harriet Lee’s pecan crop with his father. He also operates one of the many antique shops in Hogan and plays the fiddle on the side. Gary is attracted to Chuck immediately, but he plays it cool. Chuck comes from an old-fashioned family that expects certain behavior and condemns non-traditional lifestyles, and Gary is not certain if Chuck is gay or straight. After Gary and Chuck safely discern each other’s intentions and interests, their relationship begins to blossom. Novelist Cooper West depicts their intimacy with vivid detail. Whether or not Gary and Chuck’s relationship will thrive, depends upon how well both men can compartmentalize and put aside their other problems.

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

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Filed under 2010-2019, 2011, Romance/Relationship, West, Cooper

Lights, Camera, Novel: Robert Wilder’s Written on the Wind.

Fortune. Scandal. Romance. Debauchery. Together, they seem like the perfect  ingredients for a surefire box office hit.

No wonder Robert Wilder’s 1946 novel Written on the Wind was selected by Universal International Pictures for its racy plot-line that loosely depicts elements of Zachary Smith Reynolds’ marriage to Libby Holman and suspicions surrounding his suicide. Wilder’s novel was reviewed previously on the blog here. Reynolds’ life and his relationship with Holman also inspired another, earlier musical from 1935 entitled Reckless, which starred Jean Harlow.

The screenplay, which was not adapted by Wilder, revised three key components. All of the characters’ names change. The family tobacco fortune transformed into oil in the film. And, perhaps most significantly, the setting is relocated from North Carolina to Texas. The core focus of the story remains intact — two self-indulgent and self-destructive siblings, a disappointed father, and complicated romantic attractions — and there are many similarities between the two versions, but there are also noticeable absent or altered details.

In the translation from page to screen, Laura Whitfield’s character (mother of Ann-Charlotte and Cary) was lost. Marylee and Kyle’s mother isn’t present. Additionally, Lilith/Lucy is recast from actress to secretary. Despite the change, her character serves the same purpose. The deaths of Cassius/Jasper are different in style, but related in their connection to their daughters. And the endings, novel versus film, are quite different.

The film adaptation, directed by Douglas Sirk, starred Hollywood heavy-hitters like Rock Hudson and Lauren Bacall, as well as Dorothy Malone, Robert Stack and Robert Keith. German director Douglas Sirk worked on eight films with Rock Hudson and was known for his melodramas and use of vibrant colors. Written on the Wind was filmed in lush, bright Technicolor and is noted for its artificial appearance and flamboyant performances. Although he reached great commercial success during his career, Sirk only gained greater critical appreciation two decades later, during the 1970s. Written on the Wind was nominated for three Academy Awards and one Golden Globe. Dorothy Malone won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for her portrayal of Marylee, the sultry daughter of an oil tycoon.

The trailer from TCM, shown above, includes a variation on the quote that appears at the beginning of Wilder’s novel. Where the original quote says “What a man tells a woman and a woman tells a man should be written on the wind,” the quote in the trailer is a total reversal, “What a woman tells a man… What a man tells a woman… Are words — Too often Written on the Wind.”

To read more about the film, consult Peter William Evans’ analysis, which is available through the UNC-Chapel Hill Library catalog, or read Wilder’s original novel, which is likewise available through the UNC-Chapel Hill Library Catalog. Criterion re-released the film in 2001. Robert Wilder’s novel, however, is currently out-of-print.

Sources consulted here: Images JournalRoger Ebert, TCM Trailer, TCMDb — Douglas Sirk and Written on the Wind, Wikipedia

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Filed under 1950-1959, 1956, Wilder, Robert

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.

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