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TL v67n3: Book Reviews
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Book Reviews

Wendy Doucette, Book Reviews Editor


Avery, N. (2016). A curious host: A novel

Blair, B. (2016). Superdeaths

Hess, E. (2016). Braxton Bragg: The most hated man of the Confederacy

Klassen, T. (2017). Tennessee Delta quiltmaking

Mattox, John. (2015). Thirteen brother pirates: The journey begins

Snyder, D. H., Scott, A. F., Zimmerer, E. J., & Frymire, D. F. (2016). Amphibians and reptiles of Land Between the Lakes

 

Avery, N. (2016). A curious host: A novel. N. Charleston, SC: Create Space Independent Publishing Platform. 210 pages. ISBN 13: 978-15237666550

A Curious Host, written by Nannette L. Avery from Nashville, Tennessee is a complex book, and the reader is called upon to pay close attention as the story unfolds. The story moves back and forth in time and place, with the movement mirroring that of the stray canine referred to in the book by nearly everyone who sees it as that “damn dog.” Even “the grey man” who owned the dog prior to one of the storms that serve as a backdrop to the story refers to the yellow dog in this way, although the man spends restless days wondering what has become of his companion, and even searching the town to find him.

The dog’s purpose seems to be to introduce the reader to the inhabitants of the deliberately unnamed “plain town,” a cast of characters that the author describes with an expansive vocabulary. The characters are found in the kind of places that any small town would contain: a barbershop, a diner, a bar. Each locale affords the author the opportunity to expand on the personalities of the town’s inhabitants. To expand on the characters, the author takes each one in turn and devotes a chapter to them. At times, the chapters seem a bit disconnected to the story, in part because it is difficult to follow the timeline, and to know whether the occurrence being described is in the present or the past. Among the central characters are the dog’s owner, a drunk, a woman who attends one poker game after another, a young waitress, a doctor, and a scientist whose career has focused on rare infectious diseases.

Also central to the story is a series of mysterious deaths in the “plain town.” One after another, the deaths which occur seem unconnected. However, there is one person who understands the implications of these deaths with horrifying clarity, and who knows what the reader will soon discover: the role that the dog plays in connecting them.

The premise of the book is interesting, but little attention is paid to the details of the deaths, or how they might be connected in the early part of the book. This leaves the reader wondering a bit too long about what the connection may be. The author also retreats into historical information about the town, which seems an unnecessary digression and adds to the confusion. Still, a reader who enjoys mysteries and complex storylines will enjoy this book for its unique story and the strategic use of the yellow dog to tie the events together.

Sandy Oelschlegel, MLIS
Associate Professor
Preston Medical Library

 

Blair, B. (2016). Superdeaths. Right Field Press. 220 pages. ISBN 13: 978-0692737736

Jake Bender, a retired Nashville homicide detective who is now a private investigator, is living in his hometown of Jonesborough, TN. When not investigating cases, he owns and runs a small six-hole golf course on his family farm. Ralph, his sometime investigating partner who also works at the golf shop, is another crusty retired homicide detective. Jake, Ralph, and a not-so-ferocious guard dog named Butch, are the management of what is locally known as the Jonesborough Country Club. Jake also has an ex-wife who just happens to be the current Governor of Tennessee. While divorced, things are not quite over between them.

In Superdeaths, Jake Bender is hired by the FBI to find a childhood friend who just escaped from prison. Bobby Wayne Foster had been sentenced to prison for murder but escaped after serving twenty years. Now hoping for revenge, he’s going after the individuals who crossed him.

Jake learns that Bobby Wayne is one of several former Tennessee Volunteer football players who fixed college football games and attempted to rig the Super Bowl twenty years before. A number of people made a lot of money betting on football games. When something went wrong at the Super Bowl, some of those people were very upset when they lost.

Some of Bobby Wayne’s family, who have their own secrets to hide, would rather he never get out of prison alive. An organized crime family who lost a great deal of money is also after him. Jake does not understand how dangerous Bobby Wayne is but quickly finds out. After several people connected with the game are murdered, Jake tries to determine what Bobby Wayne will do next.

The story nicely ties up in the last chapters and the outcome was not what I expected. My only complaint is that Bobby Wayne is a little too skillful at planning his revenge. For someone who had been in prison for twenty years, he was able to escape and complete an elaborate plan of revenge involving modern banking and international travel.

This is the third book by Barry Blair. He is a native of Virginia and currently lives in Jonesborough, Tennessee. All of his novels deal with Tennessee, music, and sports. Blair’s characters are believable, such as southern politicians like Edward Jefferson Foster III or old handymen like Roosevelt Johnson. His descriptions of local landmarks, music venues and other locations are on target, especially around Johnson City and Jonesborough.

Superdeaths is recommended for any library, especially those in East Tennessee. This is a fun entertaining read, and I didn’t want to stop until the end. I enjoyed this book and went on to read his other two.

Richard Griffin
Library Director
Washington County Library System

 

Hess, E. (2016). Braxton Bragg: The Most Hated Man of the Confederacy. North Carolina: The University of North Carolina Press. 368 pages. ISBN 13: 978-1469628752

While Civil War General Braxton Bragg’s entire life would be an interesting area of study, the recently-released publication Braxton Bragg, The Most Hated Man of the Confederacy is a successful attempt to focus primarily on his career during the war. In utilizing opinions from immediate colleagues, Bragg’s chief subordinates, politicians and Federal opponents, the author provides a reasonable explanation of Bragg’s actions. Through this focus on Bragg’s service, an interesting perspective is developed, a view that could cause the re-evaluation of the stigma of “Most Hated Man of the Confederacy.”

While the book is formed around the Civil War years, Hess does provide a nice overview of Braxton Bragg’s family history, including the murder of a free black man by his mother and how the event affected him personally. Like many others, the election of Abraham Lincoln in November 1860 propelled Bragg’s home state of Louisiana to secede from the Union. Bragg was named Major General of the state’s forces. His promotion to Brigadier General of the Confederate States Army moved Bragg’s military activities beyond Louisiana and into battles such as Shiloh, Corinth, Tullahoma, and Chickamauga.

Although Braxton Bragg, The Most Hated Man of the Confederacy, provides a short synopsis of his early career and concludes with his activities after the war unto his death, the majority of the text focuses on the period of his activities beginning in Pensacola, Florida and concluding the with Civil War years as Military Adviser to the Confederate President, Jefferson Davis. While Braxton Bragg did not lack the ability to correspond with his contemporaries, the author incorporates the perspectives of others who viewed Braxton Bragg from an external view. By providing this viewpoint, the reader can arguably develop a better impression of Braxton Bragg, be it negative or positive.

The author, Earl J. Hess, is the Stewart W. McClelland Chair in History at Lincoln Memorial University and the author of many books on the Civil War. Hess’s extensive knowledge of the Civil War and military history and his excellent and exhaustive ability to research his chosen topic shine through.

In conclusion, this book is an excellent resource for a variety of audiences and collections. It is comprehensive enough to fill in timeline gaps in other forms of research and help authors and historians in developing a perspective of events and happenings related to the battles and events in which Bragg took part. This book would be ideal for academic libraries who have course work focused on Civil War history and for public libraries located in the Southeast who have patrons with a deep interest in the topic.

Paula L. Webb
Government Documents Reference & Outreach Librarian
University of South Alabama

 

Klassen, T. (2017). Tennessee Delta qultmaking. Knoxville, TN: University of Tennessee Press. 155 pages. ISBN 13: 978-1621902706

The title Tennessee Delta Quiltmaking does not reflect the full picture of what the reader will find in this book. One might immediately assume that it is a crafts book which discusses the origin of various designs of quilts in the region, which it does in a small but significant way. However, the overriding emphasis is on how the agricultural and sociological history of the area (six counties in the southwest corner of Tennessee) had a direct impact on the women in the region and upon their handwork, i.e. quilts.

Ms. Klassen is a Post-Doctorate Research Associate at the Indiana University Mather Museum of World Cultures. Her in-depth research and direct contact and interviews with her “consultants” (quiltmakers and descendants of quiltmakers) provide insights into the lives and beliefs of the community from before the Civil War through the present day. Her choice of the six Tennessee counties (Shelby, Fayette, Tipton, Haywood, Hardeman, and Madison) was by happenstance when she had a conversation with a uniformed guard while viewing a quilt exhibit at the Indianapolis Museum of Art. The guard, who was originally from Haywood County, Tennessee, indicated that her mother had made similar quilts. Ms. Klassen later realized “that this Tennessee Delta location would be ideal for pursuing my interest in utility-quilt aesthetics and quiltmaking as a realm of cross-racial-group interaction” (p.xiii). The consultants are from varied financial and racial backgrounds within the small-farm communities of the region. She found her consultants (38 total: 35 women and 3 men; 20 black and 18 white) through telephone calls to extension offices, libraries, and senior centers. The place of the consultants within the communities, the part that quilting played in the consultants’ lives, and the development of the quilt designs are an integral part of the narrative. The interspersed charts and maps enhance the historical and sociological aspects of the text, while photographs (both black/white and color) of the consultants and their quilts enhance their stories.

This history of quiltmaking–from necessity for warmth to creative hobby–provides an excellent and much needed cross racial-cultural perspective in this geographical region known for historical civil rights events. The text, while academically researched and well-documented, is very readable and the notes and bibliography offer many points from which the reader can continue to expand his/her knowledge of the region, the culture, women’s history, and quiltmaking. Tennessee Delta Quiltmaking is an excellent addition to women’s history collections and regional history collections in both academic and public libraries.

Annelle R. Huggins
Associate Professor Emeritus
University of Memphis

 

Mattox, John. (2015). Thirteen brother pirates: The journey begins. 332 pages. CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform. ISBN-13: 978-1514876534

Arr, me hearty, are you looking for a swashbucklin’ good time? If so, check out Thirteen Brother Pirates by John R. Mattox II, who wrote the story for his children. This historical fiction of a group of Buccaneers and sprogs traveling the high seas on pirate and Royal Navy ships during the late 18th century begins in the streets of dreary London, crosses the Atlantic Sea, and ends in the tropics of the Bahamas.

The story begins with the nefarious plans of a lawyer turned pirate, Captain William “Blacktip” Graves. Graves wants revenge on the Jamaican plantation owner who sent him to prison for three years. His brother, Captain Richard Graves, captains one of His Majesty's Royal Navy vessels and assists Blacktip with his revenge.

The meat of the tale focuses on thirteen teenage orphans who hail from all over Europe: England, Scotland, France, Wales, Italy, Ireland, and the Netherlands. The orphans live in a boarding house and contribute in various ways to the community (one worked for a tailor, one a butcher, another a solicitor, and several were chimney sweeps). Their individual skills become valuable when assigned duties on board the Navy ship. Each orphan narrates a chapter, and a few narrate more than one. Some chapters are narrated by pirates and other sailors. The leader of the orphan gang is an Irishman, James Flaherty, whose innate leadership abilities help keep everyone in shape.

Though Thirteen Brothers is historical fiction, much of it is true to the time period. Besides his descriptive narrative of life on a ship, Mattox tackles social issues that existed in the late 18th century, such as ethnic and religious prejudices among the orphans and ship crews. There is some moderate violence, a love interest (like every good novel), and debates concerning the moral codes of friendship. My only complaint about the book is the change in narration every chapter. Reading it gets confusing because I would forget who was narrating the chapter and would have to go back to the beginning to check.

Thirteen Brothers is a great read for anyone who is interested in late 18th century nautical history. Since it is historical fiction, it is best for school libraries or public libraries with juvenile or young adult collections.

Joanna Anderson
Distance Education Librarian
East Tennessee State University

 

Snyder, D. H., Scott, A. F., Zimmerer, E. J., & Frymire, D. F. (2016). Amphibians and reptiles of Land Between the Lakes Lexington, KY: The University Press of Kentucky. 108 pages. ISBN-13: 978-083167671

Delightful is not often a word associated with science books. In this case, the descriptor fits. The authors represent conglomerate authority from years of careful study and teaching. David H. Snyder (1962–2004) served as Professor of Biology at Austin Peay State University (APSU). His colleague, A. Floyd Scott, is Professor Emeritus of Biology at APSU. Edmund J. Zimmerer from nearby Murray State University is also Professor Emeritus. David Frymire has worked as a field researcher for the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife, Murray State University, APSU, and University of North Carolina–Charlotte. Together they have compiled a practical and attractive guide to the salamanders, frogs, toads, turtles, lizards, and snakes of the Land Between the Lakes National Recreation Area (LBL).

LBL encompasses the largest inland peninsula in the United States, with 170,000 acres of mostly wooded public property between Kentucky Lake (impounded Tennessee River) and Lake Barkley (impounded Cumberland River). LBL resulted from the damming of the Cumberland River. Diverse habitats provide an abundance of flora and fauna. In 1965, the Tennessee Valley Authority funded Snyder to catalog the herpetofauna of the newly established LBL. Snyder published the first edition in 1972 to aid the visitors, of which there are currently 1.4 million annually, in identifying and becoming acquainted with the amphibians and reptiles of the area. The book can also serve as a broader guide to herpetofauna of adjacent areas of Tennessee and Kentucky. Throughout the book, one can discern in the writing style the authors’ strong relationships with the creatures and people of the LBL region. Folk names for certain animals are included with the scientific nomenclature.

Based on Snyder’s 1972 edition, the book includes new species accounts, factual updates, and corrections. An updated Preface and Introduction precede separate sections on each major group. Authors include marginally-occurring forms. Species accounts highlight species variation, distinguishing characteristics, similar species, and differences in appearance by age. Subheadings for Description, Distribution and Habitat, and Natural History clarify those topics consistently. One can also use the “keys to species” tool. Labeled anatomical drawings further assist the reader.

The authors include acknowledgements, appendix, glossary, suggested references, illustration credits, and an index of species. The Appendix includes tables of families, genera, and species. There are 30 pages of digital illustrations, including a map of LBL and 92 stunning color photographs. Suggested references are current and include both monographs and internet resources. Additionally, one may find this book online via the Muse Project ( https://muse.jhu.edu/book/47810) and a related checklist prepared by Floyd for the APSU Center for Excellence in Field Biology on the LBL site (https://landbetweenthelakes.us/wp-content/uploads/2014/03/LBL-Checklist-Amphibians-and-Reptiles-2009.pdf).

This handy reference is highly recommended for school, public and academic libraries. Special collections of regional or natural history materials will also want to include it.

Martha Earl
Assistant Director
Preston Medical Library
University of Tennessee

 


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