Peevish Pen

Ruminations on reading, writing, rural living, retirement, aging—and sometimes cats. And maybe a border collie or other critters.

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Location: Rural Virginia, United States

I'm an elderly retired teacher who writes. Among my books are Ferradiddledumday (Appalachian version of the Rumpelstiltskin story), Stuck (middle grade paranormal novel), Patches on the Same Quilt (novel set in Franklin County, VA), Them That Go (an Appalachian novel), Miracle of the Concrete Jesus & Other Stories, and several Kindle ebooks.

Wednesday, October 01, 2014

Nora Bonesteel's Christmas Past

Sharyn McCrumb’s novella, Nora Bonesteel’s Christmas Past is a must read if you like Sharyn McCrumb books, stories set in Appalachia, and ghost stories. I’m a fan of all three, so it’s no surprise that I thoroughly enjoyed the novella.

I’ve been a Sharyn McCrumb fan for two decades, having met her for the first time in Big Stone Gap when the ballad of Frankie Silver had just been released. We sat next to each other at a luncheon at the John Fox house that honored the winners of the Lonesome Pine Short Story Contest (I’d placed second that year and she was the guest speaker). Since then, I've attended readings she's done, heard her speak at the James River Writing Conference, sat next to her in 2010 at Authors on Grayson in Galax and at the 2013 Appalachian Days at the Salem Museum

She contributed a cover blurb for my Appalachian tale, Ferradiddledumday. But I’m digressing. 

One of Sharyn's most dyed-in-the-wool Appalachian characters is Nora Bonesteel, who appears in several of her Ballad novels. Nora Bonesteel has the Sight, handed down through some of the women in her family since they came over from Scotland in the 1700s. Because she has the Sight, she is able to help her neighbors with a little Christmas problem they're having—a problem rooted in the house's past.

Nora Bonesteel’s Christmas Past is actually two interwoven stories, both taking place on Christmas eve. In one, Sheriff Spencer Arrowood and his deputy Joe LeDoone (two characters who also appear in other ballad novels) go across the mountain to arrest J.D. Shull, who’d run into a senator’s car and left the scene of the accident. The senator, of course, demands an immediate arrest, even though it's Christmas eve. 

In the other, elderly Nora Bonesteel, is called upon to help out a neighbor couple—the Havertys, who normally spend Christmas in Florida but decided to stay in the mountains for this year. When their shrimp-colored aluminum Christmas tree is knocked over two nights in a row and its flamingo ornaments destroyed, Shirley Haverty thinks the house might be haunted and hopes Nora can help. Nora, who remembers the house from when she was a girl and it was Judge Honeycutt's home, gives it a try. I won't tell you what happens, but Nora's Sight plays a part.

I won't tell you how the arrest went either, but it has a wonderful O. Henry-esque twist. If you need a little more convincing that you should read the novella, check out an excerpt from Chapter 1 here

If you ain't from around the Appalachian area, never fear—Sharyn fills you in on Appalachian culture and belief. And she does with such subtlety, you won't even know you're being educated. Two examples:
     Weather: "Clabbered sky, said Spencer, peering up at the clouds. Looks like it's going to snow here before too long." 

     Behavior: When she gave me that check, she didn’t have any notion at all that she might be giving offense, and I didn’t want to hurt her feelings by correcting her.

The well-crafted story is rich in detail. The characters are believable. And the dialogue rings true. Nora Bonesteel's Christmas Past is a winner!

Here's what a couple of critics are saying about Sharyn McCrumb's Ballad series.

“Ms. McCrumb writes with quiet fire and maybe a little mountain magic....She plucks the mysteries from people's lives and works these dark narrative threads into Appalachian legends older than the hills. Like every true storyteller, she has the Sight.” —The New York Times Book Review

“There are few writers today who are able to blend past and present, tradition and law, legends and headlines in a wholly credible fashion—Tony Hillerman springs inevitably to mind. Sharyn McCrumb is another; her widely acclaimed Ballad series is one of the finest being written today.” —Bookpage

And here's what my cats are saying about it:

Dylan: "I liked it very mewch."

Tanner: "A good book to curl up with!"

Jim-Bob: "Absolutely purrfect!"

OK, so maybe the cats didn't actually read the book. But I did, and I really liked it.

According to Sharyn McCrumb's publicist, I can "give away one copy of the book to a lucky reader." So, if you'd like a chance to win, leave a comment in the comments section, wherein you tell me what your favorite Sharyn McCrumb book is and why. On Oct. 5, I'll assign each comment a number and one of the cats will pick the winner. (If your contact info isn't available via your signature, please leave your email addy so I can contact you to get your mailing address.)

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Blogger Kimberly said...

I have always loved her books too. The first one that I read was The Ballad of Frankie Silver. It kept me on the edge of my seat right to the end. I love most all books that are set in Appalachia, but the ballad series I especially like because of my love of music. Nora Bonesteel makes me think of my grandmother, so I can't wait to read this latest book.

10:41 AM  
Blogger DebCarol said...

My favorite Sharyn McCrumb book is "She Walks These Hills" because it was the first one I ever read and it propelled me to read every other book she ever wrote.

12:57 PM  
Blogger Barbara Roberts said...

Love the name, love the title, and have total confidence in my muse's taste. If Becky likes Sharyn, I know Sharyn McCrumb is golden.
I'm hooked! Which is kinda like Stuck. One way or t'other, I'll be reading this book.

9:56 PM  
Blogger Cherie Reich said...

I haven't read one of Sharyn McCrumb's books, but the fact that one of the characters has the Sight and there are ghosts interests me. :)

Thanks for the review!

10:04 AM  

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