Category Archives: book reviews

The Monday Book: THE SUPREMES AT EARL’S ALL YOU CAN EAT by Edward Kelsey Moore

earl'sI read this book while at the On the Same Page Literary Festival in West Jefferson, NC. Five of us were featured alongside Edward Kelsey Moore as festival headliner, and he was FUNNYYYY!!!! His talk Thursday night not only held good writing advice, but a very humanitarian approach to life.

Which shows in his novel. Men rarely write such sure-voiced women, but he’s got the sassy, the scared, the secure and insecure down. His book is the kind of funny where you’re laughing until you’re crying, but then maybe you’re crying because you know the feeling the characters (Odette, Barbara Jean, and Clarice) are experiencing.

The voices of these best friends are so accurate, both in gender and in dialect. Take this little gem: “Something Mama liked to say: “I love Jesus, but some of his representatives sure make my ass tired.”

Yeah, this book is irreverent. As the women struggle with Big Issues like cancer, infidelity, and a few other lesser details, they clean up, lay down laws, and pretty much rock and rule. And come out with some humdingers along the way, like when Odette clear-headedly assesses why she’s cooking herself into a lather:

“Our annual January get-together was a long-running tradition, going back to the first year of our marriage. The truth, even though he denies this, is that the first party was an attempt by James to prove to his friends that I wasn’t as bad a choice of a mate as I seemed. Richmond and Ramsey—and others, most likely—had warned James that a big-mouthed, hot-tempered woman like me could never be properly tamed. But James was determined to show them that I could, on occasion, be as domestic and wifely as any other woman. I suspect he’s still trying to convince them.”

Knowing I’d be reviewing it, the phrase that kept asserting itself as I read was “life-affirming.” Or maybe that’s just a hyphenated word. Anyway, it’s an accurate description of what on the surface might be considered “latte lit” yet runs so much deeper than its genre. Like the author Lorna Landvik and a few others, Moore is a careful consumer of humanity (it was fun watching him watch people at the funder’s breakfast) with a kind-hearted approach to how the world works. It shows in his writing.

Two enthusiastic coffee mugs up for this sweet, fun, thoughtful read.


Filed under Big Stone Gap, book reviews, bookstore management, humor, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, publishing, reading, small town USA, VA, Wendy Welch, writing

The Monday Book (aka, the Guilty Pleasures of a Bookseller)

nannieOk, so I have to let you in on a secret. I love the Dear America girl diary books published by Scholastic. Each one is from an American history period or place of significance – the Revolutionary War, Colonial Jamestown, Quaker New England, the Civil War in Virginia, a westbound wagon train of Italian immigrants. They all have a particular culture and time period to evoke. I think the most recent was the 1960s, and in American  diaries, the farthest back is Jamestown.

They’re fun. They take about an hour to read. They are full of historic information with facts stuffed around the edges. They’re practically formulaic. I just love them.

My four favorites are marked from the list below (which was copied from Wikipedia, and to my delight I find I haven’t read two of these, so I have a few more discoveries to make). Most of the girls in the diaries are representative rather than actual people. One or two of them use actual names from historical documents, but beyond that are fiction. I don’t think any of them represent actual events of real people with historic documentation, more the epoch of the time.

For those who grew up on Nancy Drew, and remember the perfect grammar and manners and decision making of girls from her deportment, you’ll enjoy these books. These are real girls, with good and bad angles to their personalities and happy and sad adventures in their lives. I cried to hard during My Heart is in the Ground, I had to hide from bookshop customers.

Treat yourself to an adventure, and check a few out. Male or female, young or old, they are great reads. And good entries into difficult points of history, reduced to statistics rather than stories. Enjoy!

A Journey to the New World: The Diary of Remember Patience Whipple, Mayflower, 1620

The Winter of Red Snow: The Revolutionary War Diary of Abigail Jane Stewart, Valley Forge, Pennsylvania, 1777

When Will This Cruel War Be Over?: The Civil War Diary of Emma Simpson, Gordonsville, Virginia, 1864

A Picture of Freedom: The Diary of Clotee, a Slave Girl, Belmont Plantation, Virginia, 1859

Across the Wide and Lonesome Prairie: The Oregon Trail Diary of Hattie Campbell, 1847

So Far from Home: The Diary of Mary Driscoll, an Irish Mill Girl, Lowell, Massachusetts, 1847

I Thought My Soul Would Rise and Fly: The Diary of Patsy, a Freed Girl, Mars Bluff, South Carolina, 1865

***West to a Land of Plenty: The Diary of Teresa Angelino Viscardi, New York to Idaho Territory, 1883

Dreams in the Golden Country: The Diary of Zipporah Feldman, a Jewish Immigrant Girl, New York City, 1903

***Standing in the Light: The Captive Diary of Catharine Carey Logan, Delaware Valley, Pennsylvania, 1763

Voyage on the Great Titanic: The Diary of Margaret Ann Brady, RMS Titanic, 1912

A Line in the Sand: The Alamo Diary of Lucinda Lawrence, Gonzales, Texas, 1836

***My Heart Is on the Ground: The Diary of Nannie Little Rose, a Sioux Girl, Carlisle Indian School, Pennsylvania, 1880

The Great Railroad Race: The Diary of Libby West, Utah Territory, 1868

A Light in the Storm: The Civil War Diary of Amelia Martin, Fenwick Island, Delaware, 1861

The Girl Who Chased Away Sorrow: The Diary of Sarah Nita, a Navajo Girl, New Mexico, 1864

A Coal Miner’s Bride: The Diary of Anetka Kaminska, Lattimer, Pennsylvania, 1896

Color Me Dark: The Diary of Nellie Lee Love, the Great Migration North, Chicago, Illinois, 1919

One Eye Laughing, the Other Weeping: The Diary of Julie Weiss, Vienna, Austria to New York, 1938

My Secret War: The World War II Diary of Madeline Beck, Long Island, New York, 1941

Valley of the Moon: The Diary Of Maria Rosalia de Milagros, Sonoma Valley, Alta California, 1846

Seeds of Hope: The Gold Rush Diary of Susanna Fairchild, California Territory, 1849

Christmas After All: The Great Depression Diary of Minnie Swift, Indianapolis, Indiana, 1932

Early Sunday Morning: The Pearl Harbor Diary of Amber Billows, Hawaii, 1941

My Face to the Wind: The Diary of Sarah Jane Price, a Prairie Teacher, Broken Bow, Nebraska, 1881

***Where Have All the Flowers Gone? The Diary of Molly MacKenzie Flaherty, Boston, Massachusetts, 1968

A Time for Courage: The Suffragette Diary of Kathleen Bowen, Washington, D.C., 1917

Mirror, Mirror on the Wall: The Diary of Bess Brennan, Perkins School for the Blind, 1932

Survival in the Storm: The Dust Bowl Diary of Grace Edwards, Dalhart, Texas, 1935

When Christmas Comes Again: The World War I Diary of Simone Spencer, New York City to the Western Front, 1917

Land of the Buffalo Bones: The Diary of Mary Ann Elizabeth Rodgers, an English Girl in Minnesota, New Yeovil, Minnesota, 1873

Love Thy Neighbor: The Tory Diary of Prudence Emerson, Green Marsh, Massachusetts, 1774

All the Stars in the Sky: The Santa Fe Trail Diary of Florrie Mack Ryder, The Santa Fe Trail, 1848

Look to the Hills: The Diary of Lozette Moreau, a French Slave Girl, New York Colony, 1763

I Walk in Dread: The Diary of Deliverance Trembley, Witness to the Salem Witch Trials, Massachusetts Bay Colony, 1691

Hear My Sorrow: The Diary of Angela Denoto, a Shirtwaist Worker, New York City, 1909



Filed under Big Stone Gap, book reviews, Hunger Games, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, out of things to read, post-apocalypse fiction, publishing, reading, small town USA, Uncategorized, VA, Wendy Welch, what's on your bedside table, writing, YA fiction

The Monday Book: THREE LITTLE WORDS by Ashley Rhodes-Courter

Ashley-RC-Headshot-1-1A clear, calm, journalistic approach to your own life? Hard to achieve, but Rhodes-Courter did. This memoir is one of those books that isn’t so much about the way it’s written as what it’s written about.

It’s about being a foster child available for adoption (eventually, when somebody noticed and the system got around to it) and winning the adoption lottery, because the parents who adopt you don’t “return” you, even when you put pills in their wine. (Read it; it’s kind of like horror comedy except these were real people coping with the moment.)

The descriptions of how Ashley felt at a young age of course have to come later, so they often have an adult spin put into a child’s word. Which gives it a kind of awkward clarity that’s really helpful if you’re trying to get to the core of the feelings involved. The chronological development of Ashley’s awareness of what kind of rabbit hole she’s fallen down is really described well, because she’s been there done that and chooses straightforward language to depict the twists, turns, and funhouse mirrors.

It is no small thing to turn a maze into a straight line and still let the readers understand what the maze was like. This is that kind of book – no poetics, no histrionics, just the feelings behind the facts. It’s also built on a moment that pretty much sets the tone for the whole book: those three little words are not, in the first instance, “I love you.” Which gives the memoir a lot of its power to help us understand what it means to learn to trust when you’ve seen so little reason for trusting.

An insightful, thought-provoking book, not overly sentimental and not given to voyeurism, is unusual in the growing field of “I was a……” true life books. Good for Ms. Rhodes-Courter. And good for those who want to understand what this strange, broken world of child “protection” looks like these days.


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Filed under Big Stone Gap, book reviews, humor, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, publishing, reading, small town USA, VA, Wendy Welch, writing, YA fiction

The Monday TV Programs: Rectify and Bloodlines

mermaids 021So here’s the thing, devoted readers: I’ve hit a dry spell on books. I’ve read like four this past week but none of them really set my mind to positive reviewing – and that includes the latest Philippa Gregory, sadly. The White Princess just seemed like a rehash gone bad.


But as I’ve been  whipping out mermaid tails (to cover cat care costs here at the Little Bookstore) I’ve been clocking TV time. We don’t have an actual television machine (a joke from the Dick Van Dyke Show my friend Jenny always brings up) but we do have Netflix. And over the last two weeks I have watched Bloodlines and Rectify.

I had no idea they were still making good, original drama anyplace. There are REAL PEOPLE in these shows, families with motivations, people whose lives circle central themes but who every once in a while just go crazy. You know, REAL people.

The characters on Bloodlines are caught in old family dynamics that never go away. The statute on childhood trauma doesn’t always run out. Four siblings and their parents at a Florida resort find that out the hard way. This show is one long character study, but it feels short because of the swift action, the amazing ways in which people screw up, and the clever ways in which the writers don’t try to tell you what to think; they just lay it all out there in the grey zone. Amazing writing, amazing characters, amazing show.

One flaw: the f-word is so overemployed that when the characters truly get mad, they have nothing left to fire with. In fact, one of the most inspired acting moments comes when the oldest brother is blue-white-heat angry, but all he says is “Oh, okay” because he hasn’t got any f-words left to conjugate. Brilliant acting, but whoever’s writing should tone it down a bit. Noun, adjective, verb, and I think at one point a pronoun? Dude – overused.

Then there’s Rectify. I am still in the midst of it, and it has some harsh moments, and is a bit overly interested in the sexuality of humans, but for the most part it’s a morality play along the same deep lines as Breaking Bad. It’s like a thinking person’s Clockwork Orange. What if… what if somebody did something horrible, or what if they didn’t but got punished anyway? What if all this happened in the South, where morality and Christianity aren’t always kissing cousins? What if the actors were not trying to stereotype anybody, and the writers knew what they were talking about?

You’d have an amazing two-season run of a Georgia-based series about a guy let off Death Row based on new evidence, and how the community and his family reacted to him. And how he reacted to a new life. It’s really compelling. (As an added bonus, while on Death Row the main character was an avid reader, so lots of lit references get thrown into dialogue.)

I’ve made four mermaid tails so far and have two to go, so it’s a good thing I have all of season two on Rectify to watch yet. And yes, I accept that booksellers recommending TV shows is just a little off plumb, but I’m okay with that. Do yourself a favor and check out these Netflix shows.

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Filed under between books, Big Stone Gap, book reviews, humor, Hunger Games, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, out of things to read, small town USA, VA, Wendy Welch

The Monday Book: DESERT QUEEN by Janet Wallach

Jack’s guest Monday book review – Desert Queen by Janet Wallach

queen-of-the-desertThis fascinating account, set during the height of British imperialism, follows the life of the remarkable Gertrude Bell. Little remembered until the recent Iraq wars, it was she who sat down in 1919 and quite literally invented the country. She drew its borders, foresaw the difficulties, recommended how it should be governed, and negotiated and politicked until she got her way. That included choosing Iraq’s first King – Faisal – and making sure he was put on the throne.

The book covers her life from the late 1800s through the late 1920s. A strong willed and intelligent youngster, she was one of the first women in England to be allowed to attend a university. She went on to become a noted mountaineer and traveled throughout the Middle-East as an explorer and antiquarian. Oddly for such an ambitious and atypical woman, she was staunchly anti-suffragist, seemingly thinking of herself as an exception. She did expect to get married, have children and play second fiddle to a husband, but never did. (She had two great loves – the first was deemed to have insufficient prospects by her father and the second was a married man who was killed at Gallipoli).

Just prior to the outbreak of the First World War she began to spend most of her time in Mesopotamia and became a kind of amateur spy and agent feeding information to the colonial offices in India and Egypt as well as the UK Government back in London. She operated very much as a lone-wolf, looked down on by the all-male officials and not fitting in with their wives. As a result she spent a great deal of time with the Sheiks and other local leaders, accepted by them as almost an honorary man.

The book was doubly fascinating for me in the way that it portrays the casual arrogance of imperial powers and the patronizing way that they (particularly France and the UK) divided up the region after the end of the war. Most of the Middle East had been part of the Ottoman Empire, but with Turkey defeated and oil now seen to be so important, an undignified series of negotiations took place and the whole vast area split into brand new countries with puppet leaders. Iraq, Persia, Syria, Jordan, Lebanon and Saudi Arabia were conjured up but poor Kurdistan (that had been promised its own state) is still waiting. Then there was Palestine – –

Finally you may wonder why the subject of this book isn’t as well known as the famous ‘Lawrence of Arabia’, who was a friend and contemporary of hers. I think the answer is simply that T. E. Lawrence was a man and she was a woman. He was the acceptable dashing young adventurer who fitted the stereotype and she wasn’t. In fact it was because she was a woman and had to operate ‘under the radar’ that she was so successful.

I just wish Messrs Bush and Blair had read this book – they might have done things differently!

Two enthusiastic thumbs up from this Scottish reviewer. And I’m waiting for the movie starring Nicole Kidman andvJames Franco, directed by Werner Herzog, due out next month on general release.

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The Monday Book: SEE NO EVIL by Robert Baer

spiesWhen I teach Cultural Geography, I sometimes assign the film Syriana as an extra credit option. Inevitably, all but the brightest students turn in something along the lines of “I couldn’t figure out who the good guys and the bad guys were in this movie because everything was so twisted up.”

Yeah. Welcome to the Middle East spy network.

Baer is the “Bob” who inspired the film, and who (spoiler alert) dies in the airstrike he tries to prevent. And if you think Syriana is convulted, try reading this memoir of Baer’s life in the CIA. On the one hand, it is chronological of the guy’s life experiences. On the other, it describes in bland prose some of the most amazing twists and turns. It would be a great spy novel if you didn’t know people had died because of it.

As an example of how Baer lays out the frustration and confusion, he goes to a small Kurdish-held village on the Iranian border to see what the Iraqi official he’s working with has done: one person says he attacked the village; he swears he didn’t. After a four-hour trip in a Toyota truck mounted with gun turrets (which means he pretty much looked like the Taliban, this American CIA operative) they arrive to find the village has been shelled. He calls his Iraqi contact and says “I know what you did.”

As Baer writes, ” ‘You betrayed me,’ was his only response….. only in the Middle East could you betray someone by refusing to accept the lie he had told you in the first place.”

The book is dated as current history, but as a story of why systems continue to fail because of human personality, it’s pretty much timeless. If you’ve ever read The Prince of the Marshes, by British author Rory Stewart, Baer’s is pretty much the American equivalent.

The funny thing is, Baer makes things very clear even though he really can’t write for beans. His prose is flat, sometimes his verbs are suspect, and he never waxes poetic or gets on a soapbox. Perhaps that helps, in a memoir delivering so many mixed messages while trying to hold onto its own main theme: We’re screwed.

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Filed under Big Stone Gap, book reviews, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, post-apocalypse fiction, publishing, reading, small town USA, Wendy Welch

We Won the Inaugural International Cat Day at Bookstores Award!

In case anyone missed it, Robert Gray of Shelf Awareness did his column on us this past week. Here’s the article and the link. And we LOVED seeing Valkyttie’s picture going national. :]


Robert Gray: International Cat Day Bookstore Prize

In case you missed it, last Saturday was International Cat Day, during which “felines take over the internet (even more than usual),” the Telegraph noted. As news-gathering organizations go, our bookstore cat coverage is pretty comprehensive, so we can testify to the clickbait potential inherent in any hyperlink that includes the words “Bookstore Cats.”

See, you just went there instinctively, didn’t you? Welcome back.

Today, I have the honor of both inventing and announcing the inaugural International Cat Day Bookstore Prize winner. From a long list of worthy contenders, the judges (well, me) unanimously selected Tales of the Lonesome Pine, Big Stone Gap, Va., which is currently hosting a Bookstore Cat Adoption Reunion on Facebook to celebrate all of the “forever homes” they have found for their temporary bookstore kitty interns.

“We started in June 2009, and in May of this year we adopted out our 200th cat (named Reepicheep),” said co-owner Wendy Welch. “The bookstore is a great place to get adoptions going because it acts kind of like a pet store window; people interact with the cats, pick them up and carry them, have fun with them. The tactile experience of being around them has increased adoptions, I think. We still have ‘impulse’ adoptions, although we are careful of those. More often now that we’re established we have people contact us after viewing our Facebook photos.”

Tales of the Lonesome Pine has three cat adoption rules, Welch noted: “Let the cat choose the person–they never miss; give the cats timely literary names (we named a group Harper Lee, Scout, and Boo Radley when Go Set a Watchman came out); and write about their purrsonailities on Facebook. After a cat’s been with us long enough to know them, I usually do a ‘if this cat were a woman/girl’ post and for some reason everybody loves these. I also write a lot of ‘cat voice‘ blogs as if the cat were writing it about his experiences at the shop. These get lots of hits and comments.”

Visitors to the bookstore occasionally donate money (“a kitty for the kitties,” as her husband, Jack, describes it), but Welch said, “We don’t have a jar out and in our troubled economic region I would flat not ask people for money; there are people struggling to feed their families here, literally. We’re not interested in taking their cash. In fact, that’s who we rescue for. Some families would love a pet, be good to it, have enough to feed and care for it, if they didn’t have to pay for spaying and neutering. I have friends who can sometimes be called on to ‘sponsor’ a family if they need it, and we let those ‘kitty’ donations add up to spays as well.”

She also crochets for the cause: “It’s a hobby I’ve had since childhood; I’m fast, and if I do say so myself, I’m really good at it. I can make all sorts of fun stuff; in 2013 it was the Spay & Neuter Afghan–a free online pattern called ‘Rows of Cats.’ I put it online with a note that said ‘This is what you get if you don’t spay and neuter: rows and rows of cats.’ And those things sold like hotcakes; I sold them for the price of a neuter. In 2014 I must have sold 400 of these cool little trivets shaped like penguins and chicks and roosters. This year it is animal scarves and hoodies, and mermaid tail lap blankets. People buy these a lot, and they donate yarn so I can sell them at prices everyone can afford, and still make money for the kitties’ kitty.”

Since the 2012 publication of her book The Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, Welch said many readers “from outside the area have been quick to assist us, or to assist their local cat shelters in our honor. That’s very cool. The farthest away we have adopted cats is Kansas and Massachusetts. Someone agreed to meet the adopter halfway, and off our babies went to life in the big city–or the American plains. Whichever. We adopted a girl recently to a family in Arlington who came to see the shop because they’d read my book and wanted to see it for themselves. And they came with the idea of getting a cat in mind. We love it when this happens.”

Tales of The Lonesome Pine’s official bookshop cat philosophy is summed up nicely in her book: “The whole establishment catered in design and policy to every whim of the two permanent staff cats and the myriad fosters who have found forever homes via the bookstore.”

Sometimes people ask why they do all this. “We do it for the same reason we run a bookstore: because it’s fun, because it’s important, and because it’s compassionate,” Welch observed. “Animals can’t speak for themselves, tell their own story. They need advocates, and when they get them, they reciprocate by being way more fun to watch than Netflix–plus more engaging.” —Robert Gray, contributing editor (column archives available at Fresh Eyes Now)


Filed under animal rescue, Big Stone Gap, book reviews, bookstore management, crafting, humor, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, shopsitting, small town USA, Uncategorized, VA, Wendy Welch, writing