Category Archives: bookstore management

The Monday Book: WALKING ON MY GRAVE by Carolyn Hart

50065987_583494335446320_9215025291901009920_nThis week’s Monday book comes from Martha Evans Wiley, a fellow cat rescuer and margarita drinker. Here’s her review of Walking on My Grave by Carolyn Hart (actually a look at the whole series).

2017 Berkley Prime Crime

One of my great guilty pleasures is hunkering down with a new Carolyn Hart book, more specifically one in her Death on Demand series.  Hart’s written 26 cozies in this series, almost half of the more than 60 novels she has penned in her long career.

What I find most charming about this series is Hart’s gift for establishing a sense of place; set on Broward’s Rock, a wonderful island off the coast of South Carolina, each new book feels like coming home. Hart’s two protagonists, Annie and Max Darling, are transplants to the island having moved there when Annie inherited her uncle’s bookstore upon his mysterious death. Annie is compassionate to a fault –  her endless capacity to believe in the good in people balances well with her husband’s proclivity to be a little cynical. Her wonderful bookstore, the eponymous Death on Demand – “the finest mystery bookstore east of Atlanta” – gives Hart plenty of opportunity to show off her mystery knowledge, throwing loads of references to authors and their work, both past and present.

The latest installment, Walking on My Grave, follows much of the same successful formula that Hart has stuck with over the years. She is a master of the red herring, and it’s always fun to watch an enthusiastic Annie go head-long into impulsive schemes while Max tries to keep up with her. This time the story revolves around a rich older woman whose many heirs all have reasons to kill her – not the most original plot, but again, it’s the characters and setting that makes Hart’s work so much fun to read. She always includes a very handy guide to who’s who in the beginning, and often sprinkles sketches in the narrative to ensure that the reader isn’t left behind.

It’s not necessary to read  the series in order to enjoy it, but if you want to start at the very beginning, pick up “Death on Demand,” which sets up the setting and main characters. If you want to read just one, I recommend “The Christie Caper,” a heftier read than most of the others and a real treat for any Agatha Christie fan, or “Southern Ghost,” set in Beaufort, SC,  a wonderful trip to the old south with its dripping Spanish moss and antebellum houses.

As with any long-running series, there are some tropes – for a small island, there’s no end of people being introduced who are then murdered. Annie, Max and the gang don’t age at all, and they are curiously unaffected by any hurricanes or other weather events. But reality isn’t something I search for in a mystery, and I’m never disappointed in the adventures of Annie and Max. I’m already looking forward to my next trip to the island of Broward’s Rock.

50065987_583494335446320_9215025291901009920_n

Leave a comment

Filed under between books, book reviews, bookstore management, out of things to read, publishing, reading, Uncategorized, writing

Quart into a Pint Pot

We apologize for the sparse amount of blog posts but we are in the process of moving to Wytheville and haven’t sorted our internet service there yet.

Moving house is a fraught business which I have always hated and since we are down-sizing it’s doubly challenging. We have been running up and down the road with our car and truck loaded up with boxes and crates. The odd thing is that we still visited numerous thrift stores to pick up various items of furniture despite going to a smaller house, because the bookstore needed so little furniture.

550 tazewell

Why are we moving?

Two reasons really – the bookstore is becoming just to big for us to look after, and Wendy’s job at GMEC is expanding geographically and will require much driving up and down I-81.

What of the bookstore?

We have very good reason to believe that it will continue under new ownership. We spent the last thirteen years taking it from nothing to being a ‘go to’ place for visitors from around the country and even from abroad. It has contributed to the economy and community spirit of Big Stone Gap and we have high hopes it will continue to be the cheerful, welcoming gathering place it became.

What of us?

Our new house in Wytheville is actually older than the bookstore and has the original 1866 log cabin county jail in the backyard. Wendy has claimed this for her writing studio. She says it’s ironic since thought is freeing. Yes,dear….

It’s very close to the interstate for Wendy’s work and I will be able to continue with my radio show. It has a music room that can handle house concerts and a couple of guest rooms for visitors. We’ll be just two hours from our friends in Wise County, so not too far away. In other words, we’ll be just fine and look forward to the next chapter in our life together. Come join us for a ceilidh night!

Normal blogging will resume from January 7th 2019.

6 Comments

Filed under Big Stone Gap, bookstore management, home improvements, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, small town USA, Uncategorized, VA, Wendy Welch

The Monday Book: NEWS OF OUR LOVED ONES by Abigail DeWitt

newsI met Abigail at this year’s Festival of the Book, where we were both featured authors. She sent me a review copy on request for the Journal of Appalachian Studies, since she’s an author from NC, part of our jurisdiction. I’m the book editor for the Journal, although I am relinquishing the position in 2019. (If you’re a member of ASA and interested, please contact the Journal editor!)

Before passing the book on for review, I gave it a read myself. A novel in the form of multiple short stories among characters tied together by war experiences in France and in America after World War II, Loved Ones tends to focus on the family women. The first story is intense and even violent, not in keeping with the gentler, more measured and internally-exploring tones of the rest. Altogether, they trace from the loss of the family home to why the granddaughter raised in America continues to fixate on tragic events from family history.

Witt uses some lovely poetic language, but it is her women, from a small child to a grandmother, who bring to life the experiences of ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances. A gentle, breezy quality suffuses her descriptions with a one-step-removed sense of what horrors the stories may encompass or even hide between the lines.

In Mathilde, for instance, a girl is as much in love with the mother of her lad gone for a soldier as she is the boy himself, perhaps even more as the mother notices and returns affection, accompanied by advice in beauty tips and attracting men. Witt’s description of Mathilde as is lovely in itself, the kind of woman almost translucent in her paleness, made of steel beneath the skin.

I enjoyed News of our Loved Ones as a set of short stories, telling the story of one family and its scattered members, primarily because of Witt’s light touch on a dark time in human history.

Leave a comment

Filed under Big Stone Gap, book reviews, bookstore management, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, publishing, reading, Uncategorized, Wendy Welch, what's on your bedside table, writing

The Banks are made of Marble

Jack’s weekly blog hits close to home.

I learned something new this past week.

The banks are only interested in you now when they’re making money from loaning you money!

Growing up in a Presbyterian household in Scotland, my Mother’s rule was “you don’t buy anything until you have the money to buy it”. So nothing was bought on credit! In those days a bank was where you saved your money. Wendy comes from a similar background, so we were very happy when we found ourselves ‘free and clear’ a few years ago and not owing anyone for anything.

Scottish banks, like Quaker saving societies have a reputation for simple, basic service and not speculating with your money overnight!

Fast forward to last week and we found that not buying anything on credit means our credit rating has gone from 800+ to zero. We have banked with Regions for so long it goes back to when they were called AmSouth, but that makes no difference apparently – regulations, don’t you know!

Their ‘work around’ was for us to get at least four letters from within a list of eligible types of companies attesting to our good standing. None of them were local and I have no idea how we’d have done that within our timescale.

Eighteen years ago that same bank were happy to finance our purchase of the bookstore. We paid that off early, which probably didn’t suit them either.

So Wendy went to BB&T, which is the bank her organization works with. Her contact there said “my goodness, that’s crazy – we can do this”. A wasted week later I get phone call from their guy in Winston-Salem – “I need some details so I can check your credit ratings – – – – “

When we bought our first house together in Scotland, twenty years, ago I was invited into the manager’s office for tea and biscuits simply on the basis of our salaries, and he was very happy to approve the loan.

Now we’re in the very fortunate position of having investments we can convert into money but even that is proving time consuming and complicated, because I’m absolutely certain that every gate-keeper along the road is getting their pound of flesh!

Luckily we have investments we can call on, which we will to pay for our new house, but what’s the world come to? Perhaps this: https://youtu.be/x-o3CJytIPE (It’s Pete Seeger – go ahead and click the link.)

550 tazewell

 

4 Comments

Filed under Big Stone Gap, bookstore management, home improvements, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, Uncategorized

Miss McLeod, meet Uncle Joe

Jack missed his Wednesday deadline again – –

We have a pretty disparate group of friends that have many different interests, some of which I share. One of these, of course, is music. Every now and again some of us find some overlapping time when we can get together and can do some picking and singing.

Today was one of these days, and it was glorious!

For a couple of hours all the cares of the world disappeared and three of us threw everything else aside, forgot our cares and lost ourselves in bringing together our very different music to a common ground.

Tony had just heard that his brother had suffered a heart attack (but was recovering), while Leroy is still dealing with the death of his beloved Jenny and Tyler is trying to balance the life of a professional musician with balancing his budget. Me? I’m just juggling all the logistics of buying a new house and moving there while keeping my marriage on an even keel!

Tony is our guitar playing Presbyterian Pastor buddy who is seriously into ‘middle-of-the-road’ anything goes kind of music. Tyler is our local deep down traditional and very well informed banjo playing expert on the local music. I sing Scottish songs and ballads and play a pretty odd guitar style.

But the dark horse in all this is Leroy.

He’s very capable at playing everything from Simon and Garfunkel to James Taylor and everything in between – and he does it very well. He talks about things like diminished minor 7ths and such like.

So, for two hours we shared songs and did our best to follow each other as we sang, and every so often really got it together. We chatted about our musical preferences and veered off into lots of other things. We laughed and got more serious sometimes. And we got some renewed energy for life’s challenges.

I have to admit that I wondered if getting together at eleven on a weekday morning in the bookstore with a group of folk I’d never played music all together with before was such a great idea. But in the end it was just what we each and all needed.

One of the customers that came into the bookstore as we were getting started spent a long time “browsing” and finally said he expected to pay extra for the excellent entertainment.

Nah—we got more out of it than we put in, and that’s worth everything. Take a look here.

 

1 Comment

Filed under between books, Big Stone Gap, bookstore management, folklore and ethnography, humor, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, small town USA, Uncategorized, VA, Wendy Welch

Letters, Boxes, Words–Tomatoes

hidden roomThis time next month Jack and I should be finding places to put things in our new house. It’s 550 Tazewell St, Wytheville if you want to look up the rooms and stuff. People have already observed (correctly) that it is a half-size version of our current bookstore home.

No, we won’t be running a bookstore. Yes, the blog will continue. Yes, I’m still writing, working on my fourth book and oh glory the joy when I can stop packing boxes and start using the time for writing instead. No, I won’t be working with Appalachian Feline Friends in any significant capacity, just driving transports and running an online craft store for fundraising. I’m retiring and turning it over to younger people with more fresh ideas: no strategizing. I need the brain space.

The joys of the new house include: a hidden bedroom. Halfway up the staircase is a small hobbit-shaped door, with no stairs into it. You have to hop. This reveals a slope-sided attic space in which any self-respecting hobbit or child would delight. I revel in the prospect of filling it with my yarn, lining the sides in visible boxes, waiting for me to pluck it out and make it into things that will assist the cats or surprise and terrify friends at Christmas (2019, I hasten to add).

A small greenhouse. My heirloom tomato nerd side is already planning. If you have heirloom tomato seeds you’d like to send me, please do. Oh, the happiness of growing baby tomatoes from seeds. I’m going to pipe in classical music to help them along.

The old jail. Seriously, we inherited the 1866 Wytheville jail as part of the property. It has heat and light and it’s the perfect size for a 9-months-of-the-year writing studio. A small table, my laptop, and NOTHING ELSE! I haven’t had a designated writing room since I finished the writing residency in Fayetteville last March. Jack is the one who called it, too. As soon as he saw the room, he said, “Well, you got your studio back.” Yep.

The tiny balcony. Despite his best efforts and mine, Jack still smokes. Not in the house. It’s a deal-breaker. But on the lee side sheltered by the roof and some trees sits a small patio on the second floor, just big enough for two chairs and an ashtray. My beloved can do his bad thing out there and I won’t have to smell it and he won’t be cold in winter. Little portable heater’s chord fits under the glass door.

The big ceilidh room. The house is 1890, so it has an original and an added bit. The original has big wooden timbers framing it, exposed for aesthetic pleasure. It’s a big room, and even with two sets of double doors leading to the front and back gardens, it gets less light than the rest of the house. And it has the fireplace. This will be our music room and where we hold ceilidhs and house concerts. No furniture, just folding chairs, instruments, and the bookshelves at the far end holding our collection of rounds and songs to sing together. Already we are looking forward to meeting the Wytheville musical crowd. Debra Preese, the lady we bought the house from, knows several, and our realtor Tyler Hughes knows more. They’re rumored to be happy to have a Celtic music couple arriving.

There’s still a twinge at letting go of the bookstore, but it’s thriving and we have high hopes the next owner will continue its community service. Jack and me, we are ready for our next adventure, in a smaller house with a big heart.

36 Comments

Filed under bookstore management, home improvements, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, small town USA, Uncategorized, VA, Wendy Welch, writing

The Unsung Bookstore Heroes!

Jack makes it over the bar with the Wednesday guest post – –

This place is BIG! The odd thing is that it’s gotten bigger over the last fourteen years, as we’ve made less livable spaces more so –

It takes a bit of looking after and keeping clean, and we’ve tried various strategies to deal with that over the years. To begin with we tried to keep on top of things ourselves but later we realized that wasn’t too practicable. So we had a couple of good friends who stepped up to help. The first was Heather, who can be seen in this video jokingly using our cat Owen Meanie as a duster. Heather was an awesome cleaner, thorough, efficient, and with a wicked sense of humor.

But she moved to Colorado so then we had Anne, who not only cleaned but brought posters and knick knacks and little colored baskets to make the shop more cheerful. Eventually health issues meant she had to retire (she’s also in the video as ‘Becky’ in the needlework group). Both of them were painstaking and highly skilled and we missed them—even more as we tried others with mixed results and also went back to trying to handle things ourselves. It was clear that we needed to find someone to take the place on –

Enter Judy!

She already cleaned for our vet friend, the sainted Beth and we had heard some stories that seemed pretty far-fetched. For instance, we were told she only would agree to clean for folk she approved of, and also she did all sorts of stuff that wouldn’t normally be considered ‘cleaning’. Seemed a bit odd, but we sent out a feeler to see if she was interested.

We’re not sure how she assessed our suitability but apparently we passed the test!

Judy is absolutely amazing – she has taken us on as her extended family. She really DOES do far more than we’d expected. Just recently I asked her to mop the front porch deck – she turned up with a power washer and did the deck, the railings and the furniture! Then there was the time she dug up an overgrown bush in the back yard and then brought here truck into the yard and hauled the roots out with a chain. She loves the cats as Heather and Anne did before her, and she once used her mop to physically repel a man trying to dump kittens in the bookstore.

Do not mess with Judy. She is the stuff of which mountain families are made. Also, don’t leave your coffee cup on untreated wood without a coaster. She’ll take you out.

 

 

1 Comment

Filed under between books, Big Stone Gap, bookstore management, home improvements, humor, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, small town USA, Uncategorized, Wendy Welch