The Monday Book: ANYTHING CONSIDERED by Peter Mayle

As Wendy immerses herself in a writing project, Jack takes on  the Monday book this week.


Mayle is best known for his amusing semi-autobiographical books featuring an Englishman living in France (A Year in Provence etc) and in some ways this is another of the same – but not quite!


This does have an Englishman and it is set in France, but it’s also very different from Mayle’s previous books. This is a classic and gripping heist story and even has a femme fatale.


The basic premise concerns the fact that truffles (not the chocolate kind – the ones that grow underground) are worth a fortune and there are no ways to farm them to order. The Englishman gets caught up in the auction of a case containing the formula for growing truffles plus vials of spores in the formula ready to go. The auction involves some very shady and dangerous folk, a great deal of money and a beautiful American girl. There’s humor as well, including a group of drunken monks who aren’t really monks at all – they just dress like they are!


The odd thing is that this time some of Mayle’s characters are just a bit shallow and two dimensional but it doesn’t actually matter too much for two reasons. First of all the story is really great and rattles along at a terrific pace and secondly the descriptions of countryside and villages of the south of France which are spot on. I toured that part of the world quite a few times with my old group Heritage – so I know of whence I speak.


In case that sounds like less than a euphoric endorsement, I should say that if you like a gripping story with engaging characters, a cliff-hanger ending and some tongue in cheek laughs then you will surely enjoy this.


I know I did!

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Filed under Big Stone Gap, book reviews, humor, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, out of things to read, publishing, reading, small town USA, Uncategorized, VA, Wendy Welch

How to Ask for Kitten Rescue Help

DSCN1013Along with many independent rescuers, Jack and I triage NUMEROUS requests to take in kittens and cats. Over the years we’ve come up with a few observations and suggestions for understanding how rescuers hear and respond to those requests. We hope this helps!

1) Rescuers are focused on the animal. That seems like a no-brainer, right? Yet people often approach individuals or organizations saying they “just can’t handle kittens right now” or “have a lot on my plate.” With cats euthanized daily in shelters and untold others meeting death by coyote-in-the-woods or car-on-the-road, we’re not motivated by your convenience; we’re all about them cats, and we’re stressing ourselves in ways you haven’t even thought of to help them.

baby 22) We wish there were life reward points for being compassionate, but have never found any. It’s kind of sad, we know. You DO have a lot on your plate: college student, single parent, low income, about to move. We totally agree you SHOULD get points for caring enough to inconvenience yourself by not dumping your cat’s kittens at the shelter (because spaying your pet is next on your list as soon as you can afford it) or rescue your neighbor’s neglected kittens, or scoop a cat from an intersection. You took a stray to your garage and she rewarded you by birthing five adorable kittens. Bravo to you for taking her in. Being nice doesn’t bump you to the head of the rescue queue, ALTHOUGH WE THANK YOU FROM THE BOTTOM OF OUR HEARTS FOR CARING.

3) We’re on to your bad cop routine. Acting like a jerk and saying “they’re going to the shelter if you don’t take them” to try and motivate us is a no-no. We’re sifting through garbage dumps and crying at shelters where newborn kittens have a one-day window before they die of disease, never mind euthanasia. If we tell you we can’t take the kittens, calling us uncaring or unfeeling or saying we’re not doing our job right isn’t going to help. You are quite likely the fourth call that day – in May and June, the fourth call that HOUR.Dori

4) Don’t disdain help other than what you asked for. If you care enough to take a cat into your garage, you care enough. If we say we can’t take your kittens but will help you advertise them, get you into a network that will spay Mom cheap, find you some supplies you don’t have to pay for, or otherwise organize logistic or emotional support, don’t go off in a Facebook huff. That’s time well spent by rescuers who know what they’re doing, and it will help.

5) Pay for what you’re asking for. Let me be clear: NOBODY can afford to help all the cats out there, and NOBODY believes he or she has “extra” cash. We’re not expecting you to take food off your family’s table, but giving up lunch out, a pack of smokes, to help an animal in need? Show good faith. Offer a bag of litter or food. TRANSPORT THE CAT to the place where the rescuer can get you help. When the monthly limit we rescuers can afford is hit, our hearts break knowing we have to say no, or default on our mortgage. When a rescuer says, “I can’t,” she means can’t, not won’t.

baby 16) You are appreciated, not special. Your call asking for help with a pet/stray/feral colony is likely her third one that day. We sometimes forget to deal with you as an individual, because the stories fall into patterns. While we shouldn’t do this and try not to, well, it’s inevitable sometimes. You are not alone in doing the right thing, trying to help a needy animal. THANK YOU. BLESS YOU. Good luck, and feel free to ask for advice. We want to help you. We’ll do what we can.

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Filed under animal rescue, Big Stone Gap, bookstore management, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, small town USA, VA, Wendy Welch

You are Entering… the INDIE BOOKSTORE ZONE

A guest blog from Lyn Ford, Storyteller, who scared everybody out of their wits here on Friday night. It was a magnificent evening!

lynIn October, I often stand in candlelight and pumpkin light, moonlight and dimmed stage light, to tell frightening tales of experiences that never happened (well, most of them didn’t). I speak of love, death, relationships gone bad, strange children, the wrath of the undead—you know, your average, everyday topics of conversation. I am…wait for it…a storyteller.

I share stories in the twilight at the edges of graveyards, in haunted historic sites and moody park gazebos. But my favorite place to haunt is what the first-season monologue for the “Twilight Zone” television series calls “the middle ground between light and shadow, between science and superstition…between the pit of man’s fears and the summit of his knowledge…the dimension of imagination.” It is a place called…the independent bookstore.

Storytelling programs in independent bookstores hold a timeless, haunting energy, and the people who come to listen are ready for stories. The atmosphere can be greatly enhanced by the presence of a resident cat or two. And when the cat is named Edgar Alan Poe, well, that’s Haunt Heaven, honey.DSCN0999

I can now add to my résumé an evening spent as the guest storytelling spirit at Tales of The Lonesome Pine LLC Use Book Store. If you’re reading this blog, you may already know of the store and its owners, Wendy Welch and her husband/partner in music, story, and love, Jack Beck. But you might not know Edgar, the cat, or be aware of the occasional supper-and-stories events Wendy and Jack produce. At these special occasions, you enjoy good food and a friendly, conversational atmosphere in the café upstairs, after perusing the books and petting the lovely kitties ensconced in the bookstore downstairs.

If you’re in southwest Virginia, plan a visit. If you can’t get to Virginia, visit an independent bookstore in your area. Wandering through an independent book store is one of the best gifts you can offer yourself, especially in the season of “volumes of forgotten lore” (I’m quoting Poe the man, not Edgar the cat).   Creep through the titles among the shelves. Be shocked and amazed at the variety and value you will discover. In the crisp, cool air of October (or any other time of year), relish the warm and generous welcome of the store’s owners–they are truly happy to see you!

You’ll probably enter a different dimension of sight and sound, and stay a lot longer than you’d intended.

Lyn Ford,

visit Lyn’s website and see her books Hot Wind, Boiling Rain, Affrilachian Tales, and Beyond the Briar Patch here.

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Filed under Big Stone Gap, bookstore management, folklore and ethnography, humor, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, reading, small town USA, Wendy Welch, writing, YA fiction

The Monday Books: HANK THE COW DOG by John Erickson

hankWhen the going gets tough, the tough go to the children’s section of the library. There they check out audio books: specifically, HANK THE COW DOG audio books.

These little babies are more fun to listen to than to read, I admit readily. When I have a long trip, or need a crochet break from Netflix, or just want to surrender to silliness for a  few hours, they become my go to boys. hank quote 3

Hank is a self-important idiot cow dog of indistinct origins, hairier than he is smart. Still, Hank manages, with the help of his friends, to solve quite a few crimes on the ol’ ranch. His friends include a father-and-son buzzard team, the little dog Drover (whose voice reminds you of every western you’ve ever seen with the expendable beloved elder sidekick) and sundry horses, chickens, and ranch hands. Also his arch-enemy, The Cat.

hank quote 1Hank’s ponderous thinking processes, the voices Erickson uses for the characters (all done himself) and the cute plots (foiling a fiddling fox in the hen house, living rough with the coyotes when he decides he’s not valued enough at the ranch) make these books laugh out loud fun. Each book features at least one song, lyrical gems such as

Eating bugs is lots of fun, they don’t require a hot dog bun/Nourishment for everyone, eating bugs is fun!!!

That kind of thing.

hank quote 2With 66 to choose from, I recommend spacing them out. If you binge listen, they get the sameness that every prolific author inevitably displays. But if you parse them out over long car drives or desperate needs to stop adulting for a couple of hours, they act like little tea breaks for the mind. Return refreshed from the M-Cross ranch, and Hank’s weird brand of doggie wisdom.

Authors, take note (and heart): Erickson started self-publishing these books in 1982 out of his garage, intending them for adults; they have since been translated into 26 languages and sold more than 8.5 million copies to become one of the most beloved family-friendly series of all time. There’s a lot of joy to be found within believing in yourself.

hank quote 4hank quote 5Hank-the-Cowdog-1024x682



Filed under animal rescue, Big Stone Gap, book reviews, humor, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, out of things to read, publishing, reading, small town USA, Uncategorized, Wendy Welch, what's on your bedside table, writing, YA fiction

Prospero Pontificates on Luck and Weather

DSCN1019Hi. My name is Prospero. That’s me on the left, doing a mind meld with my foster brother, Stephen Pinkerton. We’re not related, just sharing a room at the orphanage until our forever families find us. Stephen’s cool; he used to be a stray and tells lots of street stories.

I was a shelter baby. My sisters and I went there with my mom because her family took us when we were about four weeks old. I don’t remember much, except it was cold. A few days later a nice lady named Tammy came and said, “Give me the cats” and the five of us and a guy named Eisneberg and a calico named Ave Marie, we left with her. It was nice all going together. The shelter lady (who was nice) said that didn’t happen very often, and we were lucky.

But it didn’t feel lucky, because we all went to a hospital, ’cause we were sick. Ave just kept getting sicker, but my three sisters got better fast: Dori, Morella and Madelyn–although Morella had a really bad eye problem for awhile. It made her look ugly; well, uglier than usual. Then a nice lady named Kim came and took my sisters out of the hospital, and they all got forever families, which was nice for them.

Me, I was getting nosebleeds a lot, ’cause while we were in the shelter we got these sores in our mouth and ears and noses. Nobody wants a cat who can’t keep his nose clean, so I figured the jig was up and I’d go back to the shelter. But then another lady took me to a big place full of books. It had four other cats in it, all boys. And guess what! Mom was there!!!! She recognized me and gave me a big lick. ‘Course, the other guys teased me about that, but hey, a boy’s best friend is his mom, y’know?

The people here gave me medicine and my nose cleared up. I like it at the bookstore: there’s a big cat castle, lots of toys, and plenty to eat all the time. People come in and pet us and carry us around and say nice things about how handsome we are. In the morning we get wet breakfast and you have to move fast or Patrick Wilson, the youngest guy, he’ll steal it right from under your nose. DSCN1076

There’s a big cat who lives here named Owen. He says soon people are gonna take us to a forever home. He says homes are all different; some are real and some can be fake forevers, but the people who run the bookstore will help us choose good humans.

I want a human who will make sure I never have kids, after what happened to Mom. And play with me and let me sit on their lap and maybe ride on their shoulder. It’s fun to do that. It would be nice to have a home with other cats, but I really hope my forever home has a dog in it, ’cause the bookstore has two. I like to snuggle into their fur and rub noses, and they like me a lot. Which is nice. It kinda makes up for feeling like nobody wanted us, when we went to the shelter.

So DSCN1013me and my new brothers, we’re hanging out waiting for the right people who smell reliable to come get us. It’s nice to be inside where it’s warm, with the weather getting cold and all. I think about the other cats out there who must be looking for places to stay and enough to eat, and I know how lucky I am that lady walked into the shelter and said, “Give me the cats.”


Filed under animal rescue, Big Stone Gap, humor, Hunger Games, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, small town USA, Wendy Welch

Jack’s Weekly Guest Blog tackles Celtic Fiddle

Jack’s weekly guest blog about our recent bookstore guest

Among the many delights of running our bookstore are the events that we put on. Just last weekend we had a house concert with a wonderful musician from North Carolina. Jamie Laval is an American who plays Scottish fiddle music as well as any Scot I know and we had first met some years ago when he and Wendy and I were teaching at the Swannanoa Gathering Celtic Week at Warren Wilson College outside Asheville.
Jamie stayed the whole weekend so we had lots of time to talk about his music and share a few tunes together.
But maybe the most fascinating thing happened a couple of evenings before he arrived, when we realized that he’d recently done a ‘Ted Talk’ and watched it on YouTube. He had lots of interesting things to say about his musical career and the reason he switched from playing classical violin in orchestras to making his way as a solo fiddle player specializing not just in Scottish music but west coast Scottish fiddle music!
But when he moved on to talk about how he worked with young people, and involved some of them in his performances, things really got powerful. He explained that his motivation was to open their minds and eyes to the wider world and raise their awareness of what they were capable of. Not necessarily in music but in anything they chose for themselves.
I immediately remembered when I was still working in a college in Scotland and organized student exchange programs with colleges in Denmark and Slovakia. I always had to work hard to recruit participants from among my students, and I only needed fifteen from a population of three hundred and fifty. The reasons why it was hard were simply that most of them needed exactly the boost to their self esteem and self worth that Jamie is doing with his musical events. My students often set off in fear and trepidation wondering what kind of food they’d encounter or whether they’d be able to communicate with people etc., etc. But when they came back they were unrecognizable! Confident and excited they could see, at last, that they could do anything they set their mind to.
So here’s to the folk like Jamie Laval who can find the time to invest in young people and help them to open the door to their future.
What was that about bagpipes?


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Filed under Big Stone Gap, bookstore management, Downton Abbey, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, Scotland, small town USA, Uncategorized

The Monday Book: EAT THE DOCUMENT by Dana Spiotta

EatTheDocumentWhen the front blurb of a book compares it to a cross between Joan Didion and Don DeLillo, I admit to thinking, “Nope, won’t like it.” (Call me a plebian; I’ve never been able to get into a DeLillo novel yet.)

But I started it anyway, and 96 pages later the book fell on my face because I’d dozed off trying to finish it before bed. Spiotta has an odd writing style. She tells the story by describing scenes and letting you figure out how the characters are feeling, almost like a screenplay writer. But her prose is compelling. And her characters drive the plot in magnificent ways. I’m a sucker for well-drawn characters.

It’s not just another tiresome sixties novel; it’s got pep and zest and less moral certitude and condescension than others of the genre; the female protagonist is in hiding, and it is her fifteen-year-old son who finally figures it out. Her boyfriend at the time of their criminal troubles is equally well-drawn, and a sympathetic character in ways her stiffness holds back for this reader. If you like character studies and subtle writing, this is your book.

If you like fast pacing, you may not like this novel. It’s a jumble of words, action/inaction, and ideas, and I finished it in two sittings. For me, the book was more about the action and what happens next than the way the author wrote; the words didn’t get in the way of the outcomes and how the characters were reacting to each other. Which I love in an author; poetry is fine, but don’t spend all your time proving you’re clever. Just tell the story and let your characters take over. Which Spiotta did, with bells on.

An enthusiastic two paws up for Eat the Document.

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Filed under Big Stone Gap, book reviews, folklore and ethnography, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, publishing, reading, small town USA, Uncategorized, VA, Wendy Welch, writing