Tag Archives: African Americans

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

Tyora Moody. When Rain Falls. Deer Park, NY: Urban Christian, 2012.

whenWhen she was a young girl, Candace Johnson was present when her mother was killed by a drunken, abusive lover.  Aunt Maggie took Candace in but her home was one of harsh, religious judgments, and Candace fled as soon as she could.  In the years since Candace made a good life for herself, marrying a police detective, raising two children, and opening her own beauty salon in Charlotte, North Carolina.

But good friends and a loving spouse are no protection from the violence of the world.  Candace’s husband is killed, and two years later the murder remains unsolved. Candace has kept herself together for the sake of her children, but as When Rain Falls opens, she is hit with another hard blow: her best friend, Pamela Coleman, is murdered in her own garage.  Her husband’s former partner is one of the detectives investigating Pamela’s murder.  The other investigator, Darnell Jackson, is new to the Charlotte police force, but not new to Charlotte.  The failure of the police department to solve her husband’s murder prompts Candace to investigate Pamela’s death; she just can’t loose her two soul mates without getting some answers–and some justice.

The two investigations–Candace’s and the official one–turn up unpleasant facts about Pamela, her law firm, and some respected people in her social circle.  Candace and Detective Jackson butt heads over Candace’s activities even as they find themselves thrown together (and attracted to each other) in various social situations.  The author does a good job of balancing several threads of the story–Candace’s backstory, her struggle as a mother and as a Christian, the possibility of a new romance, and the murder investigations–and concluding them in a satisfying way.  The community of family, friends, and clients who support Candace is well drawn, adding another layer to the novel.

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

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Filed under 2010-2019, 2012, Mecklenburg, Moody, Tyora, Mystery, Piedmont, Religious/Inspirational

Cheris Hodges. Forces of Nature. New York: Kensington Publishing Corp., 2013.

Forces of NatureIn the 1970s,  jealousy drove Douglas Wellington Jr. to great success in establishing his manufacturing company, Welco Industries. As a young man, Douglas Jr. was ashamed of his poor background, and his intellectual interests led his peers to dismiss him as nerdy.  But “money changed things and changed the way people viewed” Douglas Jr. He wielded his power and money to exact revenge on the people who once thought of him as just a poor boy from Waverly. His most ambitious sights were set on the Hughes Farm. In Douglas Jr.’s mind, Joel Hughes stole Erin Hamilton from him. Although Douglas Jr. married another woman, he was still besotted with Erin. And if he couldn’t win Erin back, then he would make them both pay.

Fast forward into the present day and Douglas Wellington III is now CEO of Welco Industries. Much of nearby Reeseville has been developed by Welco. But not quite the entire town has been dug up and gentrified. Not the Hughes Farm, at least. Douglas hopes to solidify plans on the Douglas Wellington Jr. Business Park as soon as possible to honor his deceased father’s memory and to appease his board of directors. The chairman of the board, Clive Oldsman, hounds Douglas relentlessly about speeding up the project. Originally Douglas had dreams of making a name in the music industry, but when his father fell ill with colon cancer, he was lured into the family business to please his dying father. So his sights are fastened on the Hughes Farm.

Crystal Hughes, daughter of Joel and Erin Hughes, is not about to let Welco steal her family’s farm out from under her. She’s feisty and full of ideas to protest the business park, including handcuffing herself to the desk of Douglas’s receptionist. Crystal’s determination is understandable. After all, the Hughes Farm is a legacy. The farm was the first property owned by African Americans in Duval County. Under Crystal’s management, the farm produces vegetables that are donated to the local homeless shelter. Also, Starlight House, a group home for young girls, sits on the property. Crystal has a fierce devotion to the girls at Starlight, who in turn, show their affection and appreciation by helping with chores around the farm. Crystal loves the farm and she is confident that anyone who spends time on the land will fall in love with it too. She is so confident, in fact, that she challenges Douglas to spend one week on the property before he continues with his plans to destroy the farm. Douglas accepts the offer, if only because of his attraction to Crystal.

In Forces of Nature Cheris Hodges offers a light rendition on Romeo and Juliet: two sworn enemies stifling their attraction to each other out of familial loyalty. Will Crystal’s proposition change Douglas’s mind? There is plenty of intrigue and family secrets to keep readers turning the pages of this book.

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

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Filed under 2010-2019, 2013, Hodges, Cheris F., Novels Set in Fictional Places, Romance/Relationship

Sarah Martin Byrd. The Color of My Heart. Greenville, SC: Ambassador International, 2013.

color heartHow well do we know our neighbors?  How well do we even know our own family?  Laura Carter loves her husband, Cam, and although she knows his father Monroe is a hard, racist man, she treats her father-in-law with respect.  Laura accepts the fact that Cam, an accountant, has to help his father with his farm, and she does not object when Cam goes out at at night to assist his dad.  Laura believes that she and Cam are a team, and that together they can weather any storm.

Laura’s belief is put to the test in more ways than she could have imagined.  Laura has always known that she was adopted.  At her birthmother’s request, it was a closed adoption–Laura has never know anything about her birth family.  As The Color of My Heart opens, Laura’s birthmother, Nelda Brinson, is dying and Nelda’s grandmother makes the fateful decision to contact Laura.  Nelda and her Me-Maw live so close by that Laura can visit them, and in doing so she finds out that her mother and her people are African Americans.  As Laura, Cam, and their daughters are adjusting to that fact and getting to know their new family, their older daughter Larkin becomes pregnant.  The baby’s father is her long-term boyfriend, a boy whose father is a good friend of Cam’s father and who shares his racist views.  Sarah Martin Byrd weaves these three strands together in multi-generational story that contains history, horror, cruelty, compassion, and uplift.

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

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Filed under 2010-2019, 2013, Byrd, Sarah Martin, Davie, Iredell, Piedmont, Religious/Inspirational, Rowan

Janice Sims. Escape with Me. Toronto: Harlequin Kimani, 2013.

escapeLana Corday has made a good living as a decorator in San Francisco but when her husband is accused of an enormous financial fraud, she is pursued by the media and her business dries up.  Both the media and the police badger Lana because he husband, Jeremy, is nowhere to be found.  Did Jeremy die when his yacht exploded, or did he fake his death so he could start a new life?

The FBI thinks that Jeremy is still alive and that he will come back for his beautiful wife.  Believing that Lana is the bait to catch Jeremy, the FBI enlists Lana’s father’s help. When she hears that her father has a touch of heart trouble, Lana returns to Hatteras Island to be by his side.  The FBI follows, in the person of handsome special agent Tennison Isles.  Jeremy’s deceptions have caused Lana to doubt her ability to judge people, but she can’t help but notice how her father trusts Tenn and enjoys his company.  Could she let herself fall for this upright, handsome, sexy man?

Janice Sims does a nice job of interweaving Lana and Tenn’s romance with the business of catching Jeremy, but what will set this book apart for North Carolina readers is the author’s familiarity with the Outer Banks–its geography, its beauty, its heritage.

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

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Filed under 2010-2019, 2013, Coast, Dare, Romance/Relationship, Sims, Janice