A publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Kentucky by Heart: Reviewing some well-written Kentucky books of the ‘can’t put it down’ variety

By Steve Flairty
KyForward Columnist

Over the course of a year, I review dozens of books by local authors from all around Kentucky. A good many are of mediocre quality, at best, but I also run across some very fine ones that are well-written and of the “can’t put it down” variety.

Most recently, I came across The People Up the Holler, by Roger Guffey. It’s a book of short stories inspired by Guffey’s childhood experiences growing up in Wayne County. A retired high school math and science teacher in Lexington, he also can turn a phrase quite well, and this collection demonstrates his talent. He’s nostalgic, yet doesn’t overly sentimentalize. His stories can stretch the imagination, but yet are believable, and some ironic story twists gave me a few jolts. I’ll look forward to more from Roger.

In the last year, I’ve enjoyed other local authors’ books. Shawn Herron’s Louisville’s Alma Kellner Mystery was a riveting, well-researched work of non-fiction. The Bloodhorse editor Lenny Shulman ventured outside the realm of horse racing to write The Fix is in…Points, a fast-moving novel about shenanigans in college basketball. Frankfort author Chris Helvey’s Snapshot is a dark but well-written novel set in Appalachia. It’s one of my favorite pieces of fiction I’ve read in a while.

Susan Spoon published Weep No More, an enjoyable memoir about growing up in a central Kentucky college town, and Bill Noel, a “local” author from Louisville who also has a large following in South Carolina, continues to entertain me with his Folly Beach Mystery series. I also enjoy reading Frankfort author Michael Embry’s many novels, with his young adult novel, Shooting Star, being one of my favorites. And, I won’t forget Frank Messina’s Bluegrass Files series, the subject of a previous Kentucky by Heart column. This list is not exhaustive, and I’ll not mention ones that aren’t so good.

I checked around the state to see what authors and books others were recommending.

Two Winchester readers, Amy Scalf and Christy Witt, highly recommended Growing Room: For Life in Tight Places, by Tamera Rehnborg. Amy called the book “life-changing…(and) how God can use all our experiences to grow us.” Misheala Hampton, Nicholasville, likes Let’s be Friends, by Elizabeth Hoagland, and Roger Garrison, also of Nicholasville, is a fan of his neighbor, Anne Carmichael, and her book, Finding Joy: My Life as an Adoptee. Anne’s twelfth novel, tentatively called The Passion Pit Murders, is scheduled for release this summer.

Paula Mcpeake raves about Boone County High School and NKU graduate Mirsada Kadiric’s autobiography, I am a Refugee: Finding Home Again. Paula was impressed by the author’s book talk about her experiences given at the Boone County Library.

Go Outside, by Alton Lee Webb, is Lynn Whittaker’s pick. Lynn, of Shelbyville, called it an “inspiring book about stepping outside your comfort zone to make a difference.” She also recommends The Whirling Dance, by Libby Sears Nethery, “about surviving and starting over as a single mom.”

Kelly Cassidy, of Versailles, mentioned the children’s book, Ragsdale, by Artie Bates. It’s set in eastern Kentucky and focuses on appreciating life’s simple pleasures, and was published a few decades back.

Two Lexington authors, Karen Leet and David Miller, suggested books. Leet offered Ben Woodard’s Shakertown young adult trilogy and the Kentucky-related books and educational materials of Evelyn Christensen. Miller likes Steele Holloway’s A Willful Child, which he calls “an honest, frank, often funny” book.

Rover and Coo Coo, by Frankfort author John Hay, is the choice of Mike Creech. Mike praised the “story and artwork” of Hay’s children’s book.

In western Kentucky, Stephanie Brown, of Providence, suggested an older book by her “best teacher ever, Hugh Ridenour,” called The Greens of Falls of Rough: A Family Biography (1795-1965). She also mentioned Murray State University professor Duane Bolin’s memoir, Home and Away.

Bettie Ockerman, of Lexington, highly recommends local author John Snell, who has published three coffee table books: Red River Gorge: The Eloquent Landscape; Red River Gorge: My Second Home; and along with Ron Elliott, Through the Eyes of Lincoln.

“His photographs are spectacular and his written descriptions are just as beautiful. His beautiful wife Anne died from cancer in November and he is courageously continuing to go to the Gorge as often as possible,” Bettie said.

It’s been my experience that avoiding the works of local authors because they are not known widely known can mean you’ll miss out on some fine literature. Check out the local section of your public library or favorite bookstore, talk to reader friends, or go to book signings in your community. I believe you’ll see that Kentucky has a proud literary landscape, starting on a local level.

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steve-flairty

Steve Flairty is a teacher, public speaker and an author of six books: a biography of Kentucky Afield host Tim Farmer and five in the Kentucky’s Everyday Heroes series, including a kids’ version. Steve’s “Kentucky’s Everyday Heroes #4,” was released in 2015. Steve is a senior correspondent for Kentucky Monthly, a weekly KyForward and NKyTribune columnist and a member of the Kentucky Humanities Council Speakers Bureau. Contact him at sflairty2001@yahoo.com or visit his Facebook page, “Kentucky in Common: Word Sketches in Tribute.” (Steve’s photo by Connie McDonald)

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