The first lady of the South

First Lady of the Confederacy: Varina Davis’s Civil War by Joan E. Cashin. Belknap Press, 2006.

Civil wars are marked by a bitterness and a bloodlust that go beyond their conventional counterparts. The vicious fighting in Iraq serves as only one more example of the brutality of such a war. The English Civil War, the twentieth century wars between Communists and their opposition in Russia, China, and Vietnam, the Spanish Civil War: all illustrate the terrible carnage derived when citizens from the same country fight among themselves.

Hootnoggers: History, definitely delightful

First, the tomatoes. Then the applause.

Rob Neufeld’s Mountains, Heroes & Hootnoggers: A Popular History of Western North Carolina (The History Press, ISBN 978-1-59629-183-6, $19.95) is not, as its title suggests, a popular history of Western North Carolina, but is instead a collection of anecdotes and sketches, arranged in a loose chronology, about people and events in these mountains.

Take a Hike: New hiking book offers tips, maps and history on local mountain trails

Danny Bernstein still remembers her first tough hike — a three-day journey in 1969 up Mount Marcy, the highest peak in New York.

Southern Comfort

Cornbread Nation 2 by Lolis Eric Elie. The University of North Carolina Press, 2007.

In the last 50 years, home cooking has given way to frozen meals, microwaves, and fast foods. Restaurants in many cities are jammed, even on weekdays, and busy families often find it simpler to toss supper into the microwave than to make time for real cooking.

Livingroom predators

Relentless Enemies: Lions and Buffalo by Dereck and Beverly Joubert. National Geographic, 2006. 176 pages.

Four years ago, my family visited the Knoxville Zoo. It was February, and the cool weather seemed to make the animals unusually active, particularly the big cats.

War can be murder

Recently, a distressing bit of information surfaced on CNN about the war in Iraq. There has been a significant increase in the number of civilian rapes and murders in Iraq and Iran (and correspondingly in West Africa). New evidence indicates that many of these crimes may be the work serial killers who are using the war as a convenient camouflage.

Two outta three ain’t bad

Snow and falling temperatures — we’ve had little of the former this winter, and some of the latter — provide for book lovers the same pleasures as the sand and sun at the beach. Both meteorological extremes grant their own opportunities for fun and relaxation, but in both instances there comes a time when the bibliophile begins to look longingly for a comfortable seat, a good light, an appropriate drink, and a book.

Family ties, past and present

The Ghost at the Table by Suzanne Berne. Algonquin Books, 2006.

All of us bring ghosts to our table.

Whether we dine alone in a lovely restaurant or take our supper at home with our spouse and children. Whether we pick over our holiday meal in the solitude of a nursing-home bed or feast in some great familial hall with a ravenous horde of nieces, nephews, cousins, uncles, and aunts.

Death call Everyman

When I registered as a sophomore at Western Carolina University (then, Western Carolina Teachers’ College) in 1954, I heard a number of my classmates talking about Dr. George Herring. “Get a class under him, Gary,” they said. “Hurry! His literature classes fill up first.” Eventually, I managed to get English Literature 201 — a class that prompted me to become an English major.

Frank delivers another fine detective novel

In Marshall Frank’s latest Miami detective novel, The Latent (ISBN 1-4137-9890-X), a serial killer is terrorizing Miami’s gay community. Rockford “Rock” Burgamy, the detective assigned to the case and a stranger to the gay subculture, must not only track down the vicious killer known as J.D., but must also struggle with his own personal problems.

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