Tag Archives: African Americans

Electra Rome Parks. When Baldwin Loved Brenden. Deer Park, NY: Urban Books, 2013.

when baldwin lovedFor many people, those college years are the most intense period of their lives.  Friendship are made, identities are established, and hearts are won and lost.  So it was for “The Group,” five African Americans in the 1980s attending a school similar to North Carolina State University.  Brenden, Christopher, Bria, Baldwin, and Rihanna had good times–Christopher and Bria partying and hooking up with abandon, Brenden and Baldwin falling in love, and Rihanna keeping everyone from getting too far off track.

But as tight as their friendships were, The Group came apart. In the ten years since their graduation, communications were infrequent, and face-to-face get-togethers just didn’t happen.  It’s Rihanna’s death that brings them back together, at least for a few days.  In that time the friends confront their mistakes, bad choices, and secrets. Readers learn what happened between Brenden and Baldwin, the things that Christopher and Rihanna did that made a bad situation worse, and the secret that wild child Bria was keeping even from herself.  Their few days together, mourning Rihanna and reconsidering the past, allow them to move on with their lives and for them to support each other in the good–and sad–times ahead.

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

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Filed under 2010-2019, 2013, Parks, Electra Rome, Piedmont, Wake

C. J. Lyons. Black Sheep. New York: St. Martin’s Paperbacks, 2013.

Black SheepCaitlyn Tierney likes to keep her enemies closer than her friends. In fact, she doesn’t like to be close to her friends at all. A skilled FBI agent, Tierney is a loner by choice. She pushes away well-meaning coworkers trying to bond and casual boyfriends interested in getting serious. Caitlyn isn’t much of a rule-follower. Sometimes her unorthodox approach ruffles the attitudes of more rigid agents. She suspects they would like to goad her into quitting. Tierney doesn’t have total contempt for standard regulations and textbook procedures though. She just recognizes that bad guys don’t play by the rules, so occasionally the good guys can’t either, not if they want to win.

Without friendships, Tierney’s life is her work, and she feels no regrets for committing herself fully to her job, even though it has nearly killed her twice. She is dedicated to her career despite recent difficulty that has left her scarred, literally and figuratively. However, Caitlyn is no stranger to trauma. And regardless of the physical danger and the strict protocol, she loves teaching fledgling officers. Also, her work fulfills her beloved, deceased father’s unrealized aspiration of joining the FBI.

Caitlyn grew up in the fictional mountain town of Evergreen, North Carolina. Her father, Sean, dreamed of joining the FBI, but once he met Caitlyn’s mother, Jessalyn, he abandoned his goals and became a sheriff’s deputy instead. Love overruled his ambitions. Although Sean found contentment in a future different from his initial life plan, Jessalyn never seemed satisfied with their lives. The Tierney family’s farmhouse and their small-town disappointed Jessalyn. She juggled two jobs and strove to improve their standing. When Caitlyn decided to join the FBI, Jessalyn did not approve of her only child’s career choice. Rather, Jessalyn considered it a waste of all her effort to improve the family’s stature. Needless to say, Caitlyn and Jessalyn’s relationship is strained.

But mysterious circumstances surrounding Caitlyn’s father, Sean, and her childhood friend Vonnie’s father, Eli Hale is the major source of strain within the Tierney family. After Eli was accused of murdering a Cherokee tribal elder, Sean was forced to arrest him. Like Caitlyn and Vonnie, Sean and Eli were close friends, so the arrest disturbed Sean. He argued in defense of Eli and believed firmly in his friend’s innocence. Sean’s persistence came close to costing him his job. More unfortunately however, it cost him his life. After the toll of sticking up for Eli, Sean committed suicide. Eli was convicted. And Caitlyn carried indelible scars into her future.

Now, twenty-six years later, the man Tierney holds responsible for her father’s death attempts to contact her. Eli’s youngest daughter Lena has gone missing and he begs Caitlyn to help look for her. At first, Caitlyn refuses to listen to Eli’s desperate request. Strong, unsettled memories of the past draw her into the case. Before she went missing, Lena was rooting around for evidence to verify her father’s innocence. During the unofficial manhunt, Tierney runs across a distinctive collection of clues–zoo animals, a casino, and a motorcycle club–that relate to Lena’s disappearance and her father’s strange suicide.

Before she started writing, novelist C.J. Lyons was a pediatric ER doctor. This is her second novel focused on FBI agent Caitlyn Tierney, yet it could be read easily as a stand-alone story. Lyons’ first Caitlyn Tierney novel was Hollow Bones. Black Sheep packs a surprising ending that might hoodwink even the best armchair mystery detectives.

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

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Filed under 2010-2019, 2013, Granville, Jackson, Lyons, C. J., Mountains, Piedmont

Ann Hite. The Storycatcher. New York: Gallery Books, 2013.

The Storycatcher“I heard tell there was a colored woman’s ghost who walked the Ridge. She was what old-timers called a story-catcher. Her job was to set life stories straight, ‘cause the Lord only knew how many were all twisted in a knot.”

Ann Hite’s The Storycatcher is a Southern Gothic that will keep readers awake at night tracing the interconnections between the different families and characters. Hite’s novel is lush, complex and ambitious in style. She splits the tale between location: Black Mountain, North Carolina and Darien, Georgia and time: the action occurs in the 1930s but there are letters and recollections from the late 1800s. Like any true Gothic, Hite incorporates paranormal elements. A few of the primary characters are no longer living. They are known as “haints” to the people of Black Mountain. Essentially, they are ghosts who are waiting for their stories to be finished.

Although the story has several voices, it centers around two young girls named Shelly Parker and Faith Dobbins. Shelly is a servant to the Dobbins family. As a rule, she dislikes the Dobbins clan. Pastor Dobbins, the patriarch of the family, exerts his influence over the town. The mountain people of the area relent before Pastor Dobbins’ divine authority. Although his title gives him power however, the locals doesn’t respect Pastor Dobbins so much as fear him. Pastor Dobbins is a fire and brimstone preacher who speaks of eternal damnation. Regardless of his theological trade, he is an evil man motivated by secrets and violence. But Shelly has greater initial contempt for Pastor Dobbins’ spoiled daughter, Faith, who orders her around on silly tasks. “Miss Prissy” Faith is “the neediest white girl,” who, in Shelly’s eyes, doesn’t lift a finger. What truly agitates Shelly is Faith’s closeness to her mother, Amanda, and her brother, Will.

However, when shrouded secrets emerge and point toward Pastor Dobbins, the girls investigate. In fact, they are forced together out of necessity. Shelly can see spirits; Faith is haunted by spirits, namely Arleen Brown who died during childbirth five years prior and was buried with her infant boy. Arleen alludes to the fact that she did not become pregnant of her own accord. Arleen occupies Faith’s body and compels the novel forward. What stories will Shelly and Faith find that are left to be told?

The Storycatcher dwells on the theme of retribution. Hite adopts a splintered narrative that features multiple perspectives, specifically six female point-of-view characters. She also braids in mountain superstitions and pieces of folklore, including charm quilts, death quilts, and hoodoo. These traditions, along with the racially-charged environment of the South during the 1800s and 1930s, reiterate the sense of interrelation and the desire for vengeance to adjust past inequities.

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

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Filed under 2010-2019, 2013, Buncombe, Historical, Hite, Ann, Mountains, Suspense/Thriller

Holley Trent. My Nora. Blue Ash, OH: Crimson Romance, 2012.

noraWhen Matt Vogel shows up at Nora Frederickson’s barn door, she can’t wait to get rid of him.  Nora is a painter, and she’s bought this old farm in Chowan County from a distant relative so that she can work undisturbed.  Matt has dropped by because he is used to hunting on this land and would like to get the permission of the new owner–Nora.  Hunting is a no-no for Nora.  She has just moved from a bad neighborhood in Baltimore, and she has heard enough gun shots to last a lifetime.

Even as Nora gives Matt a quick brushoff, he likes what he sees and begins to look for excuses to come by.  Matt works at the local fishery where his early morning hours give him free time in the afternoons for hunting–and other things.  Matt is handsome and handy, and Nora’s feelings toward him thaw. Their relationship crosses racial lines, but this is not a major obstacle, and the author handles it in a way that reflects the way we live now.  The more significant barriers to their relationship are the the demands of Nora’s career and the problems that their friends and frenemies make for them.  Matt’s attempt to keep his so-called friend Chad away from Nora backfires as Chad dallies with two women who are close to Matt and Nora, and Chad’s sister tries to torpedo Nora’s career.  Despite the smallness of small town life, Nora finds inspiration in the fields and forest and people of Chowan County.

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

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Filed under 2010-2019, 2012, Chowan, Coast, Romance/Relationship, Trent, Holley

Nora Gaskin. Until Proven. Chapel Hill, NC: Lystra Books & Literary Services, 2012.

“I’ve been thinking that all of this lawyering is stupid, that Sean and the others should just open their mouths for a scraping and get it over with. But now I get it. What you’ve always tried to say, Daddy. Being innocent isn’t enough.”

Until ProvenFirst-time novelist, Nora Gaskin, weaves a powerful family drama in two parts. In 1963, Colin Phillips is more or less happily married to Rhetta Phillips, née Vance, and is dedicated to his two daughters, Eden and Wren. The Vance family is a wealthy Southern line, one that Colin, a poor boy from a mill town, managed to marry into. Colin provides for his family by working as a lawyer. Recently, Colin has agreed to represent clients pro bono if they were arrested while carrying out acts of civil disobedience. Rhetta and Colin do not see eye-to-eye on the shifting racial climate, and she is especially displeased by the news of Colin working for free since he insists that she not dip into her inheritance to support the family. But Rhetta accepts the arrangement quietly.  She has news of her own that will alter their family permanently.

Rhetta’s bachelor twin brother, Laurence, intends to return from London and live in the family guest cottage for an unspecified amount of time. Laurence has no official occupation aside from sporadic traveling and writing. While Colin feels affable distance toward Laurence, Rhetta is consumed with protective sisterly affection. For a time Laurence writes and loafs about town, then, mysteriously one day, he brings home a wife, Shelia, a librarian at the local university. He soon departs the guest cottage to establish his household. Laurence hires a local boy, Jabel Clark, to help him and Shelia spruce up their home. Jabel graduated second in his high school class, but has decided to wait to apply for college. He hopes to save money for his guardian and grandmother, Marie Minton, before he thinks of furthering his education. Marie once worked as the Vance family housekeeper and cared for Rhetta and Laurence as children. The arrangement seems to work well, at first. However, some of Laurence’s deepest secrets are revealed to Jabel, and then Shelia is found murdered. As a court case involving Laurence and Jabel gears up, family tensions run high, racial intolerance emerges, and the situation turns ugly.

In 2003, the novel resumes with the next two generations. Although the wounds of the previous case appeared to have scabbed over, one more good scratch rips them open again. Without revealing any crucial spoilers from the first half of the story in 1963, another girl is found murdered in her home and relatives from the same families are implicated in the crime again. The families are left tip-toeing around each other as the court case looming in the near future. Until Proven is packed with great tension and unexpected twists that will keep readers entranced until the final page. Gaskin delves into the dark side of family loyalty, exploring how far the bounds of truth and justice can be stretched in the name of protection and devotion.

Look at this interview in The Daily Tar Heel for more information on the author and the inspiration behind her story.

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

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Filed under 2010-2019, 2012, Gaskin, Nora, Mystery, Piedmont

Monique Miller. The Marrying Kind. Deer Park, NY: Urban Christian, 2012.

marryingAs this novel opens, Travis Highgate definitely does not look like the marrying kind.  He is divorced, disengaged from his two sons, unemployed, and about to be evicted from his not-so-nice apartment.  A chance encounter with a college friend leads to a house-sitting gig in a very nice neighborhood. This could be just the break that Travis needs, but how will Travis use it?  At first, it is all about enjoyment–days in front of his friend’s wide screen TV and nights taking out new women, using his friend’s car and even his clothes.  Slowly, Travis comes to see that this is not the way to make a life that will give him lasting happiness.  Readers will root for Travis as he struggles to dig himself out of a financial hole, live the values that will lead to happiness, save his ex-wife from a dangerous entanglement, and reunite his family.

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

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Filed under 2010-2019, 2012, Miller, Monique, Novels in Series, Novels Set in Fictional Places, Piedmont, Religious/Inspirational, Romance/Relationship

John Ehle. Move Over, Mountain. New York: William Morrow, 1957.

mountainPa Cummings wanted his sons to go north.  The segregated South in the mid-twentieth century held limited opportunities for African American men.  All of his son did go north except Jordan, who married young.  Jordan has made a life for himself, with a wife and two sons, but you can’t say that he’s gotten ahead.  He’s worked at a number of jobs, but as the novel opens he’s lost his job delivering coal.  He’s also gambled away his wife’s savings.  Just as Jordan is hitting bottom, his brother Bryant returns from the North.  Bryant has money and opinions, and he seems to be interested in playing the big man to Jordan’s wife and sons.  Sibling rivalry helps Jordan harness his ambition, but he is not prepared for the lengths to which Bryant will go to defeat him.

John Ehle wrote this book when he lived in Chapel Hill, and the fictional Leafwood and Tin Top are widely thought to be modeled on Chapel Hill and Carrboro.

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

Press 53 of Winston-Salem published a 50th anniversary edition of Move Over, Mountain in 2007. The cover art in this posting is from that edition.

 

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Filed under 1950-1959, 1957, Ehle, John, Novels Set in Fictional Places, Orange, Piedmont

Mark de Castrique. A Murder in Passing. Scottsdale, AZ: Poisoned Pen Press, 2013.

murder inReaders of the previous novels in this series know that author Mark de Castrique serves up engaging mysteries that are rich with literary and local history.  These novels are not just set in North Carolina, they weave our state’s history into the plot and the characters.

In A Murder in Passing, de Castrique introduces readers to the Kingdom of the Happy Land, a communal settlement of former slaves that existed on the North Carolina-South Carolina border in the late nineteenth century.  Detectives Sam Blackman and Nakayla Robertson are at the kingdom site for a mushroom hunt when Sam trips onto a fallen tree and discovers a skeleton. The skeleton is a big story on a quiet news day in western North Carolina, and soon Sam is once again the subject of a lot of talk. Coincidentally (or maybe not), the Blackman & Robertson Detective Agency is approached by Marsha Montogmery who wants them to find a rifle and a photograph stolen in the 1960s.  The photograph was made in the 1930s by the famous photographer Doris Ulmann at the site of the Kingdom of the Happy Land.

When Marsha’s mother, Lucille Montgomery, is arrested for the murder of the man whose body Sam discovered, it’s clear that the two crimes are linked–but how? The police don’t even have a proper ID of the victim, so they attempt to obtain DNA evidence from the family of Jimmy Lang, the man who was Lucille’s lover–and Marsha’s father.  This brings the story of America’s racial history closer to the present–to the time of the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Loving v. Virginia. Did Lucille kill a man who now could, but wouldn’t, marry her, or did someone else kill him to prevent him from making a new life with Lucille and Marsha?  Family relations are under the microscope in a mystery that invites readers to consider how true Faulkner’s famous quote–“The past is never dead. It’s not even past.”–still is.

Regular readers of this series will be happy to know that interspersed with the business of the mystery are interludes with some of the characters from previous novels such as the lawyer Hewitt Donaldson, an antagonist deputy sheriff,  Sidney Overcash, and Ron Kline from the Golden Oaks Retirement Center.  De Castrique also introduces a promising new character, an injured young veteran Jason Frettwell, who is in rehab at the Asheville V.A. center.

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

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Filed under 2010-2019, 2013, Buncombe, deCastrique, Mark, Henderson, Mountains, Mystery, Novels in Series

Judy Hogan. Killer Frost. Wethersfield, CT: Mainly Murder Press, 2012.

killerfrostPenny Weaver gets more than she expected when she agrees to teach a composition course at an historically black college in Raleigh, North Carolina. She knew that taking over another teacher’s class after the semester had already started would be a challenge, and that in teaching a remedial composition course she would be working with students unprepared for college work. What Penny was not prepared for was the morale problems at the school, the rumors of sexual misbehavior by a faculty member, and questionable management by the administration.  Penny’s circle of friends give her good advice as she finds ways to navigate the educational and racial politics of St. Francis College, but she cannot confide in them about her feelings for her department chair. Soon all these matters seem trivial compared to the murders of a faculty member and the college’s provost.  This is a spring semester like no other for Professor Weaver.

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

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Filed under 2010-2019, 2012, Hogan, Judy, Mystery, Piedmont, Wake

Shelley Pearsall. Jump into the Sky. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2012.

Jump into the SkyChange is nothing new to thirteen-year- old Levi Battle. He is well acquainted with getting passed around and traded off among relatives. His mother, Queen Bee Walker, a beautiful but demanding jazz singer, abandoned Levi as an infant in an old Ford in the parking lot of a jazz club because she was dissatisfied with her unglamorous lifestyle and the weight of her maternal obligations. His father, Charles Battle, left Levi behind to serve as an army lieutenant in World War II. By contrast to his family, Levi views himself as a person who sticks around, even though his relatives are constantly shifting.

In his father’s absence, Levi lived first in the custody of his grandmother. Upon her death, he was transferred to the care of his Aunt Odella. The novel begins in the spring of 1945. After three years of housing her nephew, Aunt Odella has decided that since the war is almost over, the time has arrived for Levi to depart Chicago and reconnect with his father who is stationed in Fayetteville. Truth be told, she is tired of her charge and wants a reprieve from her responsibility. For three years she has slept on a cot in her living room to make space for Levi in her cramped apartment. With the end of the war in sight, Aunt Odella sees the opportunity for her personal liberation too.

So Aunt Odella packs Levi onto a train from Illinois to North Carolina with a suitcase and a bag of fried chicken. Levi is panic-stricken. He fears that he will arrive at his father’s army post unwanted. As the train travels further South, Levi faces another unexpected trouble as well–racism. Before relocating, Levi was unaware of the full extent of regional differences toward race. He is unaccustomed to the open hostility that he meets in the South. On his route and upon his arrival to North Carolina, he makes a couple of honest faux pas that do not jibe with the laws of Jim Crow. In one hard lesson, a shopkeeper threatens Levi’s life when he asks for a Coca-Cola. Following that encounter, Levi understands Southern racial etiquette with greater clarity.

With a little bit of luck, Levi manages to arrive unharmed in Fayetteville only to discover that his father’s unit has moved out to a new, undisclosed location. Yet again, he has been deserted, albeit unintentionally. The people in Levi’s life do not appear to discard him totally out of malevolence. Outside factors seem to nudge between Levi and his family and snip the ties. During his time in North Carolina, Levi encounters an old sweetgrass basket weaver named MawMaw Sands who teaches him that at the center of every basket is “a knot of pain” that anchors its foundation. In MawMaw Sands’ opinion, pain and sweetness are interwoven in life. Levi’s life appears knotted with an especially large amount of pain. His challenge is to clutch at the sweetness he can find and braid it in, no matter the struggle.

Novelist Shelley Pearsall sends Levi on a journey to unexpected locations across the country in pursuit of his father. Family, is not so easily found or established, and, as Pearsall reveals, these bonds must sometimes be learned anew. This book is intended for children and young adults, however, Pearsall’s memorable characters and witty narrator could hook readers of any age. Additionally, the portrayal of racism from Levi’s adolescent and unfamiliar perspective is poignant in its genuine and innocent surprise.

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

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Filed under 2010-2019, 2012, Children & Young Adults, Coastal Plain, Cumberland, Moore, Pearsall, Shelley, Piedmont