Tag Archives: North Carolina

Lookaway, Lookaway by Wilton Barnhardt

Lookaway, Lookaway by Wilton Barnhardt

(St. Martin’s Press; 368 pages; $25.99)

lookaway         The Johnstons of North Carolina really do put the “fun” in dysfunctional.  Your family will look tame and even normal by comparison.  Scandal seems to follow members of the Johnston family, proud descendants of Confederate Civil War General Joseph E. Johnston. Tradition, pride, and appearance matter a great deal to them, yet one thing is certain:  the Johnstons will not be sending out Christmas letters along with their Christmas cards anytime soon.  You know the ones I mean, and you probably have relatives who’ve sent you these, too, bragging about what their kids have accomplished this year.

Although Lookaway, Lookaway is not written in the same unique style in which Maria Semple wrote Where’d You Go, Bernadette, this singularly Southern story will appeal to Semple’s fans.  While Semple caricatured Seattle culture, Barnhardt satirizes the South.

Barnhardt offers up wit and cleverness, a combination guaranteed to elicit a loud guffaw or two.  Case in point:  “You’ll do something, I would hope, with your future Carolina degree,” Jerene Jarvis Johnston tells her daughter, Jerilyn, when she leaves for college.  “Enjoy your independence.  Work for a few years before you see which of the young men at Carolina seems destined for something besides his parents’ basement.  Or, given the atmosphere at Carolina, rehab.”  Wickedly hilarious, this piercing story will soon be all everyone is talking about.   Lookaway, Lookaway is the perfect social satire—Southern style.



Filed under book review, Bookmagnet's Best Books of the Month, books, contemporary fiction, fiction, literary fiction, Southern fiction, Southern writers, Summer Reading

Blog Tour: The Enchanted Life of Adam Hope by Rhonda Riley

tlc tour host

The Enchanted Life of Adam Hope by Rhonda Riley (Ecco Books; 432 pages; $15.99).


Rhonda Riley

Rhonda Riley

“My husband was not one of us,” Evelyn Hope reluctantly reveals.  “He remains, after decades, a mystery to me.  Inexplicable.  Yet, in many ways, and on most days, he was an ordinary man.”  So begins Rhonda Riley’s unusual, unique, and nuanced debut, The Enchanted Life of Adam Hope.  Riley immediately arouses the curiosity of readers and also hooks them.  For a few hours, nothing else matters.

Or that is how it was for me, at least.  I still cannot get Adam and Evelyn Hope out of my head, and that is a testament to Riley’s epic love story.  Riley fuses historical fiction with elements of mystery and the supernatural in The Enchanted Life of Adam Hope to create a story that crosses genres and beguiles until the very last page.

The tale is actually one big flashback.  After years and years of keeping the truth close to her chest, an elderly Evelyn finally opens up about her husband.  She can no longer keep silent after seeing a photo of her youngest daughter, Sarah, whose formerly Caucasian features have metamorphosed into Asian characteristics.  Evelyn knows the photo has not been altered; Sarah is Adam’s daughter, after all.

This is Adam’s story (the novel was originally titled Adam Hope: A Geography), but it is also Evelyn’s, for she is “the one left to do the telling.”  In her sage and sure voice, Evelyn attempts to explain the unexplained.

At 17, Evelyn is sent to work on her deceased aunt and uncle’s farm in North Carolina, where the soil consists of deep and hard red clay.  In the days just after World War II, Evelyn labors from sun-up to sundown but senses a change coming, though she has no idea how profound the change will be or in what guise the transformation will take.

One rainy day, Evelyn comes upon a puddle, which she thinks is full of nothing but water and mud.  She is beyond surprised to discover the body of a man there, a man who is very much alive, though strange and slightly misshapen.  Mud and scars cover the man’s body.  He must be a solider, she thinks, but far from the battlefield.  After she takes the man inside and cares for him, miraculously, he heals.  The kicker is that he also changes form.  To Evelyn’s disbelief, the man grows to strongly resemble her; the two could be twins, in fact.

Evelyn does not question.  To her, “Addie” is a gift.  “To have her come up literally from the land I loved seemed natural, a fit to my heart’s logic.  The land’s response to my love.  So when fate gave me Addie, I let her be given.”

We know Addie is special, and she continues to astound us, especially when Evelyn decides she is ready for marriage and children.  Addie changes form once again to become “Adam Hope.”  Riley creates a character, unlike all others, who literally takes on the image of others.  When Riley delves into the unknown, she takes us with her.

Riley also imagines a very tangible sense of fear.  Instinctively, Evelyn knows there are those who would not understand Adam adam-hope1.jpgin the way she does.  No one can know who or what Adam is or where he truly comes from.  The situation has the potential to become volatile, and both Evelyn and Adam know this.  Yet Adam counters:  “Do you know who you are, Evelyn?  Who all of you are?  Where do you come from?  You don’t know any more than I do.”

Clearly, Adam is from the land and of the land: he can be molded like clay.  Riley uses this unconventional character to give us a geography of a body and of love, land, and family.  Adam and Evelyn begin an idyllic life together; everything seems perfect and no one challenges who or what Adam is.  He communes with horses, people, and nature in a way that is reminiscent of how Edgar Sawtelle communicates with dogs.

Adam Hope pulls you in like a magnet and entices you to stay a while.  Before long, you are entranced by his beautiful music, his way with all creatures, and, above all, by Riley’s captivating and clear language.

Uncertainty, fear, and calamity soon mar the landscape of the couple’s happy home and force them to flee.  I could not help but draw comparisons to Adam and Eve’s expulsion from the Garden.  Yet, Adam and Evelyn get lucky and find a new kind of Eden and a new home, at least until tragedy strikes their family again.

The Enchanted Life of Adam Hope explores the notion of the self versus the other; the familiar versus the strange; intimacy versus distance; and the known versus the unknown.  Riley takes us to places we have never been before in her animated and charismatic debut perfect for fans of The Story of Edgar Sawtelle and The Time Traveler’s Wife.

This novel was sold at auction, with several publishers placing bids to nab Riley’s story.  It’s easy to understand why.  The Enchanted Life of Adam Hope is a beautifully and ingeniously told tale.  Adam Hope is an understated yet formidable character, a man who is otherworldly but never alien, astonishing and ethereal but never inconceivable. Riley gently reminds us that unconditional love and acceptance matter more than difference. enchanted

tlc logo

Rhonda’s Tour Stops

Monday, April 22nd: Bookmagnet’s Blog

Tuesday, April 23rd: Kritters Ramblings

Wednesday, April 24th: A Chick Who Reads

Thursday, April 25th: Sara’s Organized Chaos

Monday, April 29th: No More Grumpy Bookseller

Monday, May 6th: A Night’s Dream of Books

Tuesday, May 7th: Giraffe Days

Thursday, May 9th: Book Snob

Thursday, May 9th: Tiffany’s Bookshelf

Tuesday, May 14th: Bibliophiliac


I am giving away a brand new copy of The Enchanted Life of Adam Hope.  Giveaway ends Friday, April 26, at 5 pm ET.  I will use random.org to choose a winner.  Good luck!   


Filed under blog tour, book giveaway, book review, books, fiction, historical fiction, literary fiction, mystery, Southern fiction, Southern writers, supernatural, TLC Book Tours

Miracles and Mirages

Miracles and Mirages

A Land More Kind than Home by Wiley Cash (William Morrow; 320 pages; $24.99).


Charles Manson.  Jim Jones.  David Koresh.  Carson Chambliss.  That last name may not be as familiar to you as the other names of famous and frighteningly real cult leaders are.  Chambliss, the fictitious pastor of the River Road Church of Christ in Signs Following, runs a small backwoods congregation in rural North Carolina in Wiley Cash’s powerful, taut debut novel A Land More Kind than Home.  Like Manson, Jones, and Koresh, Chambliss’s followers will do absolutely anything for him; Chambliss’s congregation speak in tongues, handle snakes, and even kill for their leader.

Not everyone is drinking Chambliss’s kool-aid, though.  Adelaide “Addie” Lyle, former church member, mid-wife, and one of the narrators of Cash’s novel, knows all too well just what her ex-pastor is capable of.  Addie has seen people “pick up snakes and drink poison, hold fire up to their faces just to see if it would burn them.  Holy people too.  God-fearing folks that hadn’t ever acted like that a day in their lives.”  Chambliss, Addie says, convinces them that it is “safe to challenge the will of God” and makes them feel it is “all right to take that dare if they” believe.

An incident that occurred years previously prompted Addie to take the children out of the church and teach them at her home instead every Sunday.  Curiously, Chambliss agreed to this.  Since she birthed these children, Addie feels like she has a right to their spirits.  Cash employs streams of consciousness to get the reader inside Addie’s head.  The effect is compelling and highly readable.  But Addie is not alone in her distrust of her ex-pastor.

Sheriff Clem Barefield, another narrator, knows Chambliss is a man of secrets and lies.  One of the pastor’s hands is severely burned.  The sheriff knows the damage occurred from a meth lab explosion that not only injured the pastor but also killed a missing girl.   Chambliss required extensive skin grafts, but his hand is severely disfigured.  Chambliss, of course, explains that it was “God’s will.”

The skin grafts help explain Chambliss’ fascination, or rather obsession, with snakes.  The rattles and shed skins of serpents adorn Chambliss’s barn in a frightening fashion.  Chambliss collects them and likes to think the skins “remind us that we can change into something new.”  Sheriff Barefield explains the pastor’s interest best, as snakes “shed skin, men shed skin.”  Skin “grows back” in some cases, but “sometimes it gets grafted on,” as in the case of Chambliss.

The sheriff has more pressing concerns than snakes, though.  Nine-year-old Jess Hall is Cash’s third and final narrator.  His brother, Stump, is mute and has been since birth.  The boys’ mother attends Chambliss’s church and is a loyal follower.  But the boys’ father is no fan of the pastor or of religion.

The boys see something they are not supposed to see.  Their transgression puts Stump particularly on Chambliss’s radar.  The pastor calls Stump to services and believes he can “cure” the boy of his affliction.  So do the congregation and Stump’s mother.

Cash’s characters have little or no education.  Some can be unapologetically ignorant but always real.  Their lack of intelligence makes them highly susceptible to a man like Chambliss.  Those who attend the River Road Church of Christ in Signs Following are easily led.  They believe everything Chambliss tells them, and they blindly follow his orders, whatever they may be.

Cash sets his story in his home state of North Carolina.  He peoples his book with backwoods types, hillbillies even.  There is an authenticity to his characters.  Cash peppers his prose with “reckons,” “ain’ts,” and “fixin’ to’s.”  He writes them as they really are, and the story is better because of it.  His characters believe in tobacco, hard work, God, and Chambliss, but not necessarily in that order.  The atmospheric quality to his writing brings to mind Charles Frazier, Ron Rash, and Cormac McCarthy.

A Land More Kind than Home is filled with tension.  Chambliss is not a narrator of the story, yet, in my mind, he stands out.  He is all the more menacing and dangerous when he stands on the periphery of this tale.  Cash never lets us inside his head; instead, Chambliss and his true intentions are unknowable.  This reader was drawn to Chambliss’s character; he is mesmerizing.

There is an inevitability to this tale.  From as early as page one, the reader knows things will not end well.  The beauty is seeing where Cash will take his characters and us.

Most beautiful of all, though, is when Jess warns us that miracles are often like mirages in the desert: “I thought about what a mirage must look like in the desert after you’ve gotten yourself lost and you ain’t had nothing to drink and are just about ready to die.  I reckon at that point your mind can trick you into seeing just about anything it wants you to see.”  Too bad most of the adults in this novel are not as sage as this nine-year-old boy.


Filed under book review, books, fiction

Spotlight on A Land More Kind Than Home

I’m currently reading Wiley Cash’s debut novel A Land More Kind Than Home.  If you’ve read this story or are currently reading it, then you know how taut and powerful it really is.  I can’t believe this is Cash’s first book!  It does not feel like a first novel; it reads like it was written by a pro.  Cash is a master at giving his characters an authenticity.  He fills their language with “reckons,” “ain’ts,” and “fixin’ tos” with ease.  I am hooked!

Leave a comment

Filed under books, fiction