Friday, July 5, 2013

NEW GROUND by Nancy Dillingham

This compilation of short stories and poems is eloquently written with a haunting tone that will remain with the reader long after the book is finished. Dillingham begins with the story of a young woman given to an older man by her father in exchange for land, setting the tone for this collection dealing with relationships, familial and not, each so elegantly presented the reader will not be satisfied with one reading but, rather, will want to return again and again simply to absorb the exquisite poetic cadence of her prose.

DOG DAYS AND DRAGONFLIES by Chrissie Anderson Peters

In the preface, Peters writes, “The people, places and stories presented in Dog Days and Dragonflies are, by and large, stories of my life.” This collection of short stories and poems presents a childhood in Appalachia surrounded by kin, from carefree preschool days spent with a great-grandmother with one leg to a dark day with a friend who whispers the ugly secret of child abuse. Of a young woman who tries to commit suicide to an older one who wishes nothing more than to kill her abusive husband. Of a teenager’s driving lessons with her grandfather to a mystical trip with a boyfriend to Salem, Massachusetts. From a cousin running down the ice cream truck to a young child watching her mother, grandmother and great-grandmother wrap meat. All beautifully written, many with a wistful tone, reflecting a time and place free of modern-day electronic gadgetry where families were bonded and held together through the good times and the bad.


Karen Godwell grows up ashamed of her Appalachian heritage. Karen does not know who her father is and her mother flits from one boyfriend to another, some of whom are abusive and from whom Karen tries to protect her brother and sister. After Karen’s mother abandons her children, Karen and her brother and sister are raised by their grandparents, frugal people who are hard-working and expect the same from their grandchildren. Karen leaves her past behind when she goes to college and works hard at losing her accent and reinventing herself. Years later, she holds a prestigious job at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and lives a luxurious lifestyle. After her husband dies from cancer, Karen learns her brother has placed her grandmother in a nursing home and taken all her money and property. She packs up and, with her daughter, moves back to the mountains, intent on making things right. But her brother harbors a dark secret about Karen, one she has tried to forget, and now Karen must decide whether to do the right thing concerning her grandmother or risk losing everything if the secret is told. Rose Senehi is known and appreciated for incorporating environmental issues into her stories which are rich with historical and geographical detail. Karen is a woman hardened by her earlier life with a chip on her shoulder and anger issues. However, one empathizes with her feelings about her past and her conflict over protecting a brother whom she loves yet knows is mentally unbalanced and evil at heart. The characters surrounding Karen are well-developed and it is interesting that several are based on actual persons. The cultural and historical aspects of the Western North Carolina Appalachian region are intriguing and a welcome bonus to this compelling story.

BUDDY, DOG OF THE SMOKY MOUNTAINS by Ryan Webb and Sharon Poole

This book tells the story of a day in the life of Buddy, dog of Bill Landry, well-known TV host of The Heartland Series. Buddy lives in the Great Smoky Mountains and likes to visit with hikers and his animal friends in the forest. This charming book with its colorful illustrations is sure to be a favorite among small children, including those who cannot read.

CELTIC CURSE by Wendy Dingwall

Travel agent Yvonne Suarez is thrilled to do some amateur sleuthing when she is asked by Fiona Batson, the housekeeper of a former client, to travel with her to Scotland. Fiona hopes to find out what happened to her brother Duncan, who disappeared shortly before his family moved to America in the ‘60s. Yvonne uses this excursion as a familiarization trip for her agency, touring historical attractions and checking out restaurants and hotels, while helping Fiona search for clues to her brother’s whereabouts. Yvonne begins her investigation at the wool mill where Duncan worked as he vanished shortly after collecting his last paycheck. Suspects spring up fairly quickly, from a disapproving father to a close friend to persons trying to thwart an allegation of corporate pollution. When Yvonne comes under fire, she’s sure she’s on the right track but can she find the killer before he stops her? Celtic Curse is a delightful addition to the Yvonne Suarez Travel Mystery series. Dingwall’s skillful descriptions of the beautiful Scottish countryside and its historical landmarks paint a realistic picture for the reader, as if actually visiting there. She brings back David Ludlow as Yvonne’s lover and the chemistry between the two is charming and sweet. She very adeptly reveals the complex layers of Yvonne’s past relationship with her abusive ex-husband and the thin line she must walk to ensure his relationship with his daughter is not damaged. The mystery is a good one with enough suspicious characters to keep the reader guessing throughout while being entertained with stunning imagery.

IT'S JUST A DOG by Russ Ryan

Charlie Keefe’s career as an artist is going nowhere until he starts painting his Jack Russell terrier, Pete. Then Charlie becomes known as “The Picasso of Pooch Portraits” and his work is in demand as are he and Pete. When Pete unexpectedly dies while Charlie is overseas, Charlie is devastated and has a hard time coping with his guilt at not being there when Pete died. A rescue worker suggests that fostering a dog may help him move past his grief and Charlie finally agrees to a Cavalier King Charles named Brownie. Brownie’s laid-back personality is totally opposite to Pete’s demanding one and Charlie soon discovers he wants to adopt this sweet girl. Into his life comes the ghost of Pete, who does not make life for Charlie easy. No one else can see Pete, whose sarcastic comments and attempts to sabotage Charlie’s and Brownie’s relationship frustrate Charlie, intrude upon his budding romance with the rescue worker and cause others to think Charlie just might be losing it. Russ Ryan does a wonderful job portraying the emotional impact losing a dog can have on its human as well as the love and companionship these special animals bring to our lives. The back-and-forth exchanges between Charlie and the ghost dog Pete are humorous and will bring lots of chuckles. The read is fast and sweet and fun and not one easily forgotten. Worth noting: Ryan is donating a portion of the proceeds from sales of the book to the Muttville Senior Dog Rescue.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

SUFFICIENT GRACE by Darnell Arnoult

Gracie Hollaman follows the instructions of voices in her head telling her to paint Jesus on three walls of her house, then leaves her wedding ring in the middle of her bed, gets in her car and drives away, leaving behind her husband and daughter to wonder what has become of her. After Gracie crashes her car in a small Southern town, she is taken in by Mama Toot, an elderly black woman, and her widowed daughter-in-law who accept her taciturn behavior and need to paint Jesus on rusty automobile parts. Gracie’s husband Ed, convinced she has left him, slowly begins to rebuild his life, unveiling a love for cooking which opens doors for him to a different kind of life. When Mama Toot discovers who Gracie’s family is, Gracie refuses to return to them and claims the voices in her head tell her her circle is closing and she needs to be the ex-wife. Although Gracie is placed under psychiatric care, she insists on listening to the voices while exhibiting an artistic talent that is being professionally noticed. Like ripples from a pebble thrown into a pool of water, Gracie’s impact on those around her is profound as each finds their own circle closing and another world opening to them. Arnoult joins the likes of William Faulkner, Tennessee Williams and Harper Lee in penning a poignant story of family dynamics, faith, heartache, love and salvation revolving around a woman suffering from schizophrenia. Arnoult’s beautifully written poetic prose invites re-reading and savoring of certain passages. She slowly peels away personas of her characters, revealing depths they are not initially aware of, while taking her reader on a journey of love and forgiveness, faith and healing.