Tag Archives: Race relations

Shelia P. Moses. The Sittin’ Up. New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 2014.

The Sittin' UpStanbury “Bean” Jones Jr. is excited to take part in his first “sittin’ up.” Now that he’s twelve, his parents agree that he’s old enough to be a part of the custom. A “sittin’ up” is equivalent to a wake. Novelist Shelia P. Moses explains in an author’s note that this tradition occurred in the town of Rich Square, North Carolina because after embalming, the undertaker would not keep the bodies of deceased black townspeople, so they were taken home the night before the funeral. The ritual of bringing the body home was phased out over time, however, the ritual of gathering of family and friends to honor the deceased remained.  A “sittin’ up,” according to Moses, is held for the sake of living, to comfort those left behind and suffering from the loss of loved ones.

The year is 1940, and the people of Low Meadows are still struggling with the economic fallout of the Great Depression. The novel opens with Bro. Wiley on his death bed. At the ripe old age of about 100, Bro. Wiley is at peace that his death is drawing near. He is ready to join his forebears in the so-called “Slave Grave.” That sentiment is not shared with the rest of the community. News of Bro. Wiley’s passing weighs heavy with grief and sadness.

Although Bean is interested in the prospect of participating in his first “sittin’ up,” he feels regret that Bro. Wiley had to die. The novel focuses upon the process of preparing for Bro. Wiley’s sittin’ up. What should normally be a routine custom though goes awry with an impending storm that threatens to disrupt arrangements for the sittin’ up. No matter the forecast, Bro Wiley’s sittin’ up ends up being a transformative experience for Bean and the rest of Low Meadows.

Moses’ story is driven by characters, their culture, and a strong sense of place. She covers plenty of ground in 226 pages. The Sittin’ Up addresses a number of small-scale community dynamics from the local outcasts like the town drunk, Real Kill, and Florenza, a flirty bootlegger who is busy making sweet eyes at Reverend Hornbuckle, to tensions between Bean’s father Stanbury and his lazy, lying brother-in-law, Uncle Goat. The novel touches upon historical elements like the enduring effects of the Great Depression and the economic and social environment of sharecropping. Moses also creates additional tension with the town school teacher, Mr. Creecy, who refuses to excuse his students, and Mr. Thomas Wiley, the landowner who wants the children to stay home and harvest crops. Racial tensions between whites and blacks are featured.

Moses balances death and tragedy with life and new beginnings, and she explores the close bond between Bean and his friend Martha Rose “Pole” Cofield, and Bean’s maturation as a young adult. Moses includes an author note at the conclusion of the book, referenced at the beginning of this post. Read it first (there aren’t any spoilers) because it gives great context to the novel and it shows Moses’ personal experience as a native of Rich Square, North Carolina. In 2008, UNC-TV featured Moses on a half-hour Bookwatch segment. Read past blog posts on Moses’ work here.

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

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Filed under 2010-2019, 2014, Children & Young Adults, Coastal Plain, Historical, Moses, Shelia P., Northampton

Judy Hogan. Farm Fresh and Fatal. Wethersfield, CT: Mainly Murder Press, 2013.

Farm Fresh and FatalRiverdell has a brand new farmers’ market, and Penny Weaver has jumped on board as a vendor. She and her neighbor Leroy Hassel are responsible for retailing the harvested crop at the market, but the actual farming is a neighborhood affair that involves several of Penny and her husband Kenneth’s friends and acquaintances. Penny, Leroy, and their crew might grow some beautiful produce and yield some lovely eggs, but they’re first-timers among all the veteran farmers with plenty to learn about market politics. Farming isn’t all sunshine and roses. Penny will be forced to get her hands soiled like the rest of the farmers, but she’ll be digging up more than dirt.

Penny’s decision to shoulder a substantial role with the market causes immediate tension with Kenneth, who is not happy to learn that the market will run until Thanksgiving, which will cut into their annual six-month sojourn to Wales (Kenneth’s homeland) by two months.  He’s also concerned that between her teaching and the market, Penny will overwork herself. Then there are the implications of racism. Penny learns from the market’s manager, Nora, that two of the board members voted against Sammie Hargrave joining the market on the grounds that Sammie is just a “backyard gardener” with her flower arrangements. But Penny suspects that the board members in question voted against Sammie out of uglier motivations.

The career farmers are off to a rocky start themselves. Many of the farmers dislike Giles Dunn’s genetically modified fruit and vegetables. Most of the male farmers can’t stop lusting after Abbie Kidd, daughter of Sibyl Kidd, the resident baker and jelly-maker. Sibyl refuses to compromise with the other farmers and throws tantrums when she does not get the front spot at the market. And nobody likes Kent Berryman, the meddlesome and leering poultry agent. Kent lingers around the market under the excuse that Andy Style, a local agricultural agent, hired him to take photos of the vendors. Kent takes pleasure in inserting himself into the farmers’ business and flirting with any and every woman around.

Just as it seems that the farmers might have come closer to resolving their differences, Kent winds up dead. Or, more specifically, murdered. The police believe that Kent was poisoned after drinking homemade punch at Nora’s stand, which makes Nora their prime suspect. Penny isn’t convinced that Nora was behind Kent’s murder. Sure Nora hated Kent, but so did most of the other farmers. Kent was a difficult man to like. Worse yet, the state of the market is in jeopardy. In light of Kent’s poisoning, the state agricultural department is already considering closing Riverdell’s farmers’ market. With Nora’s freedom and the market’s survival on the line, Penny and Sammie start sleuthing.

Farm Fresh and Fatal is novelist Judy Hogan’s second Penny Weaver mystery. Hogan writes a lively whodunit that will leave readers guessing the identity of the murderer to the very last chapter. The farmers’ market setting is particularly apt. Hogan is also a small farmer who resides in Moncure, North Carolina. She used to participate in the Pittsboro Farmers’ Market. Here in the Triangle, farmers’ markets seem to be enjoying an uptick in popularity. There are markets in Chapel Hill, Carrboro, Durham, and Raleigh. Quite a few of the cities and towns, like Raleigh, have multiple markets. If you’re local to North Carolina, you can search the NC Farm Fresh website to find markets near your home town. So go buy some farm fresh produce and then hunker down and tuck into Hogan’s intriguing novel. Or read about Hogan’s first Penny Weaver mystery in this blog post and learn more about Hogan herself in this article from The Daily Tar Heel.

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

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Filed under 2010-2019, 2013, Chatham, Hogan, Judy, Mystery, Novels in Series, Novels Set in Fictional Places, Piedmont

Diane Chamberlain. Necessary Lies. New York: St. Martin’s, 2013.

Necessary LiesJane Forrester’s (née Mackie) husband, Robert, can’t understand why his new wife wants to work. Neither can her mother nor any of the stay-at-home wives in her imposed social circle. When Jane and Robert first met, her quirks beguiled him. She wasn’t cut from the same cloth of the prototypical 1960s woman. Now that they’re official newlyweds, Robert wishes that Jane would join the Raleigh Junior League and derive satisfaction in being a physician’s wife, as well as the future mother of his unborn children. But Jane wants a chance at a brief career before children. She is sensitive and idealistic and interested in helping others through work. She gets hired as a social worker in the Department of Public Welfare shortly before their wedding. Robert tolerates Jane’s job, however he makes his desire for children and his short timetable known. With an M.D., Robert has ascended the socio-economic ladder and he is concerned acutely with fitting into his more well-heeled surroundings.

Robert is not thrilled when he learns that Jane will conduct field work alone in the fictional rural Grace County. Field work entails visiting the families of the cases that the social worker manages to monitor their needs and progress. The social worker executes any actions or files any paperwork considered necessary for the greater good. Jane’s two first cases are the Hart and Jordan families who live and work on Davidson Gardiner’s farm. She neglects her boss’s advice and becomes invested emotionally in the Hart family, leading her to a series of choices that could violate the procedures of the Department of Public Welfare and negate the defined purpose of her position. But Jane feels unable to accept the rules as they’ve been handed to her. She is disturbed by how the department enforces its own code of morality and communicates its actions deceptively to the parties involved.

According Charlotte Werkmen, Jane’s boss and former social worker in charge of the case, fifteen year-old Ivy Hart is the last chance for the Hart family. Ivy’s older sister, Mary Ella has already given birth to a baby named William. Mary Ella is beautiful and slow, which Charlotte regards as a dangerous combination. Ivy and Mary Ella’s father is dead and mother is an institutionalized schizophrenic. They live in a farmhouse with their diabetic grandmother, Nonnie. Ivy worries about her family’s security in the farmhouse. Nonnie is increasingly unable to work and she has little regard for her health, indulging frequently in sugar. Because Nonnie is petulant and ornery and Mary Ella is unreliable and often missing, Ivy is the nucleus forced to mother and to hold the family together. By government standards, Ivy qualifies at a functioning level, but barely. She has an IQ of 80 and Petit Mal epilepsy. Charlotte warns Jane to watch Ivy carefully — if Ivy winds up pregnant, all her opportunities will evaporate.

Veteran novelist Diane Chamberlain deals with the sexism and racism prevalent during the 1960s and provides a historical basis to Necessary Lies. She alternates the story between Ivy and Jane’s points-of-view primarily. The novel explores the issue of people’s authority over their bodies. Chamberlain illustrates this point from both perspectives: a doctor refusing to prescribe Jane birth control without her husband’s permission to a eugenics program masked to its recipients as benevolent healthcare. The themes of control and consent reappear over the course of the novel, where institutions and people are given the power to make personal judgements for others. Additionally, the book questions the idea of people who are classified as “incapable” or “unfit” by official sanctioning. Who, if anyone, should have the agency to make decisions for those deemed “incapable” or “unfit”? Chamberlain offers an absorbing read on a fictionalized portrayal of a regrettable segment of North Carolina’s history.

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

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Filed under 2010-2019, 2013, Chamberlain, Diane, Historical, Novels Set in Fictional Places, Piedmont, Wake

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

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

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

Jeff Tolley. Azalea Springs. United States: CreateSpace, 2012.

azaleaThe good people of Azaleas Springs know that they have a problem, and it’s one that they’ve had for a long time.  J.D. McIver and his family have run the town for decades–having their way in legal and political matters and amassing wealth and large landholdings.  As the mills around the town closed and outsiders came in to work at a new tire plant, McIver has held on to most of his power.

Even the lawyers in town have to do McIver’s bidding.  Russell Vaughan, the most respected lawyer in town, handles McIver’s real estate transactions, while Gary Tatum, the public defender, gets McIver’s grand-nephews, Rusty and and Ricky Wicker, out of legal scrapes, large and small.  But Rusty Wicker has gone big time–dealing in meth, heroin, and cocaine in a partnership with a foreign drug cartel.  Suddenly J.D.’s ability to launder money seems inadequate and a corrupt sheriff’s department is not so reliable in this tale of greed, racism, and revenge.

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

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Filed under 2010-2019, 2012, Piedmont, Tolley, Jeff

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

Jean Reynolds Page. Safe Within. New York: William Morrow Paperbacks, 2012.

safewithinElaine and Carson Forsyth have been married and living in Chapel Hill, North Carolina for nearly thirty years when he is diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. At first Elaine and Carson carry on with their lives but later Carson decides he wants to spend his remaining weeks in Elaine’s childhood home–a whimsical house her parents built in the trees above a lake just outside of the Triangle. Elaine is devastated at losing her husband, but what’s worse when he passes on she’ll be left with her acerbic mother-in-law. Greta Forsyth does not like her daughter-in-law. Although both her son and his wife have tried to convince her otherwise, Greta knows what the woman who walked in on Elaine and that other boy saw all those years ago. She knows that her supposed grandson, a handsome young man in his late twenties called Mick, is really a cuckoo’s child. Her son might be taken in, but Greta is not that kind of fool.

Elaine doesn’t know how to get through to Greta; at this point in their long, bitter relationship, she’s stopped trying. Mick, her son, knows to leave his grandmother alone, but he can’t be absent for his father’s last few weeks of life. He comes home to Carolina from his shipyard job in Rhode Island, but runs into trouble he doesn’t expect when he stops to catch up with some old acquaintances. His high school sweetheart, a beautiful local girl named Kayla, went away for a time with her mother after she and Mick broke up. When the two returned, they brought Kayla’s new little brother with them. Kyle is six now, and everyone but Mick is sure they know who his parents are in reality. Caught between Greta’s accusation that he’s not his father’s son and Kayla’s family’s anxiety over his attempt to reach out to little Kyle, Mick must decide who he will be for himself. As the family dynamics shift with Carson’s death, Greta and Elaine must also reconsider their assumptions.

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

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Filed under 2010-2019, 2012, Orange, Page, Jean Reynolds, Piedmont, Romance/Relationship

Susan Donovan. I Want Candy. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2012.

Set just after the events of Cheri on Top, I Want Candy follows the misadventures of Cheri’s best friend Candace “Candy” Carmichael. Like Cheri, Candy was a high roller in Tampa’s real estate scene. When the market crashed and the girls lost everything, Cheri was the first to come crawling back to their childhood home of Bigler in the mountains of western North Carolina. Cheri’s return home went better than well– she’s happily engaged to her childhood sweetheart, and editor of the local newspaper, the Bigler Bugle.

Broke and crashing on the couch in her mother’s apartment at fancy retirement home, Candy can’t imagine what Bigler could offer. The answer comes in the form of the dashing Turner Halliday, Cataloochee County Sheriff and Candy’s former high school classmate. Turner has been in love with Candy ever since the seventh grade, but she seemed to see him as nothing more than a friend. Candy’s racist father, one of Bigler’s good ole boys, quickly put an end to any ideas the biracial Turner might have had about dating his blonde, blue-eyed daughter, too. But Jonesy Carmichael has been dead for years, and Candy is back in Bigler. When their first encounter leads to a steamy kiss, Turner begins to hope Candy might see him differently. Unfortunately, he doesn’t have as much time to think about Candy as he would like– Cataloochee County is becoming central to the production of illegal methamphetamine in North Carolina, and Turner is working overtime to bust the dealers. Additionally, Candy insists that she’s only staying in town long enough to regain her bearings before heading out to make more millions. Can Turner convince her that Bigler is more than just her past?

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

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Filed under 2010-2019, 2012, Donovan, Susan, Mountains, Novels Set in Fictional Places, Romance/Relationship