Saturday, November 23, 2013

Book Review: Ghost on Black Mountain

Ann Hite's Ghost on Black Mountain was our book club pick for October. Our book club usually runs 25% discussion about the book and 75% general chatting about other things, but Ghost on Black Mountain generated quite a lot of book talk. And, amazingly, for we are a diverse group of readers, we all loved the novel.

The novel begins with Nellie, a 17-year-old Appalachian girl who falls in love with the wrong guy, Hobbs Pritchard. He sweeps her away from her mother and the only home she's ever known and takes her way up the mountain. She quickly discovers that he is Black Mountain's resident tyrant, hated and feared by everyone. Left alone in their big house while Hobbs goes off to do his dirty work, Nellie begins encountering ghosts who seem to want to warn her, not harm her.

Nellie is a sweet, likeable girl married to pure evil; fortunately, the people on Black Mountain, although suspicious of her at first, realize this and rally around her eventually. But I can't reveal any of that part of the story without spoilers.

The second part of the book is told from various POVs, including Nellie's mother and Hobbs's girlfriend. Nellie comes back at the end to tell the rest of her story—and her daughter's story. The novel is filled with all kinds of twists, sprinklings of Appalachian folklore and traditions, rich characters, and lyrical storytelling.

With this novel, Ann Hite joins Amy Greene (Bloodroot) and Sharyn McCrumb (She Walks These Hills) as a distinctive Appalachian voice, one who can flawlessly weave together ghosts, folklore, and everyday characters in a book that the reader just doesn't want to put down. Highly recommended.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Book Review: Nowhere but Home

I loved Liza Palmer's Conversations with the Fat Girl and liked her More Like Her, so I was excited to get a chance to review Nowhere but Home (published by William Morrow 2013).  I like coming home tales, ones that challenge the "you can't go home again" conversation.

In this novel, Texan-turned-Yankee Queenie Wake is fired from her chef's job once again, and she finally admits a sort of defeat and heads back to her tiny Texas town. She's the daughter of the town's deceased tramp, who bestowed upon her the unfortunate name, Queen Elizabeth. She and her sister—the mother of the town's quarterback— have always been considered the city's trash. But she's been gone for a decade, and Queenie realizes that she doesn't have to accept that title anymore.

The novel takes a fascinating twist as Queenie accepts a job at the local prison, cooking last meals for death-row inmates. I found this part of the novel particularly intriguing. I never considered that this  is actually a job, and yet it must be fulfilled. I appreciated Palmer's thoughtful and insightful treatment of both Queenie, the inmates, and the prison staff.

Besides the coming-home theme and the wonderful look into last meals, Palmer includes a satisfying romance. As one might predict, the daughter of the town tramp and the son of the town's richest family once had a secret and powerful romance.  The are bound to meet up again, and their story unfolds bit by bit.

I think what I loved the most about this novel, besides the death-row parts, was the unraveling of all of Queenie's assumptions. She realizes in the course of the novel that she didn't always know the whole story and that many of her decisions and choices were based on only partial information. This is generally true for all of us, of course, but I enjoyed watching a character have "a-ha!" moments, moments of redemption.

Palmer is funny, insightful, and a great writer of dialogue. Highly recommended!