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bookBack in the days when I still believed in Santa Claus (well, actually I still believe, I just no longer feel comfortable sitting on his lap), Mother’s Day rolled around one year, and I asked my mom why there was no Children’s Day. “Because,” she replied firmly, “every day is Children’s Day.”

bookIn Withering Slights: The Bent Pin Collection (National Review Books, 2015, ISBN 978-0-9847650-3-4, 186 pages, $24.95), Florence King demonstrates once again why she remains, even in poor health, one of America’s most biting and genuinely funny social and political critics.

bookThe growing threat of drought in the Southeast and the problems of “water politics” has prodded the memory of many legislators and ecologists to anxiously recall the snail darter controversy.

bookSpartanburg poet and nonfiction writer John Lane has broken out of his comfort zone and journeyed into the netherworld of the novel and Appalachian noir. Joining company with Ron Rash, Charles Frazier, Wayne Caldwell, Wiley Cash, Pam Duncan and David Joy, Lane has maybe even raised the bar a bit by dovetailing the upstate South Carolina textile mill culture with that of the Western North Carolina farming communities. Talk about conflict! In Fate Moreland’s Widow, conflict crosses state lines and cultures and embodies the tensions and inequities in characters redolent of the haves and the have-nots and of labor unions vs. the business elite on both sides of clearly drawn lines.

bookMany Americans — and I count myself among them — are often hard on Europeans when it comes to issues like national defense, appeasement, and willingness to stand up to enemies. We belittle their failure to resist recent Russian intrusions in the Ukraine, we urge them to take a stronger stand in the Middle East, and we shake our heads at their lack of military preparedness.

bookIrish novelist Kennedy Marr is making millions of dollars through the sale of his books and as a Hollywood scriptwriter. Directors vie for his scripts, actresses and actors want to perform in his movies, and a university in England offers him a fabulous sum to teach for one year.

bookLike some other readers I know, my taste in books these last 20 years or so has shifted from fiction to non-fiction, especially history, biography, and literary studies. I still follow certain novelists — Anne Tyler, Pat Conroy, James Lee Burke, and others — and still review novels for this paper, but find that works of fiction simply don’t appeal as much as when I was in my twenties and thirties, when I read stacks of novels and poetry.

bookI spent a week reading this novel, and each time I laid it down, I expected to find a damp spot under it when I picked it up again. Rivers is about rain — unrelenting, unforgiving rain. This novel begins, “It had been raining for weeks. Maybe months. He had forgotten the last day that it hadn’t rained.” The world seemed to be dissolving around Cohen. Even the lumber that he used in his futile attempts to build an addition to his house became spongy and fell away as though rejecting its own nature. Even the land had become shifting mud and flowed away.

bookIn Annaliese From Off (Five Points Press, ISBN 978-0-692-24434-0, 362 pages, $15.99), Lindy Keane Carter gives us a rich, old-fashioned family saga set in the Georgia hills at the turn of the last century. 

The year is 1900, and John Stregal, a prosperous attorney living a comfortable life in Louisville, Kentucky, believes that he can make a fortune harvesting timber in Georgia. He forces his wife, Annaliese, and their children to make the move into this primitive community, promising them that they will all return home in two years. Accompanying them on this journey are John’s brother and partner, Ben, and his wife Lucenia, whom Annaliese dislikes and who advocates for the social justice causes of the day, including women’s rights and birth control.

bookEighteen-year-old Jacob McNeely, a shy high school dropout from Walter Middleton High School in Jackson County, North Carolina, seems resigned to a bleak future: As the son of Charlie McNeely, the biggest drug dealer in Cashiers Valley (and Laura, a mother who is a hopeless crack addict), his options are woefully limited. He can continue to endure his father’s contempt and abuse as he performs menial (drug-related) tasks, or he can venture into the world outside the mountains ... a prospect for which he has no training or aptitude. (At one point, Jacob wryly notes that he could count the times that his father had been proud of him on one hand, even if he had lost two or three fingers in a saw mill accident.)

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