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Spooks Branch, a human history story

Spooks Branch was a singular place in settlers’ loreby Rob NeufeldImportant editorial note:This is a significant historical story that is also, in parts, personal and controversial.  It is about a few families who settled a particular cove and played out their heroic and complex legacies in ways that interacted with place and time.  You don't read this kind of story much because people don't like to expose themselves or stir up trouble, even a little.  This caution makes history classes boring…See More
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City Lights Bookstore posted events
Nov 21
Rob Neufeld posted a discussion

The Rise of Asheville by Marilyn Ball

History of the "Asheville 1000" and the 1970s renaissance                       Let’s not miss the history of Asheville’s renaissance, Marilyn Ball’s new book, “The Rise of Asheville,” advocates.            She’d come here in 1977, making her one of the advance guard of “artists, entrepreneurs, and off-the-grid…See More
Nov 20
Rob Neufeld posted a blog post

Century-ago woman's apple cake recipe

Mmm, them apples in Beaverdam coveIn 1972, Helen Nelon wrote about the traditions of old-time Spooks Branch, off Beaverdam Road.  Here's what she said about her use of apples in a cake.(The full story of Spooks Branch will appear soon.)There were apples for delicious cider cooled in the spring "dreem" (drain), apples for frying for cold winter days, and for special days there were dried apple sauce fruit cakes.These cakes were made of very thin, sweet dough with dried apple sauce spread between…See More
Nov 18
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Nov 16
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Dignity is the key to Richard Russo's inspiration

So funny, and yet so exposing--Richard Russo's geniusSnakes on the lane            In Richard Russo's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, Empire Falls, the protagonist, Miles recalls the time his father, driving, had accelerated into a box on a highway.  “What if that box had been full of rocks?” Miles asks.  Unfazed, Max quizzes his son about what he would do about the box.  Max says he'd stop and look in it,  “What if it was full of rattlesnakes? “ his father asks.            The verbal match…See More
Nov 14
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Nov 13
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Nov 12
Rob Neufeld posted a discussion

Humanize the history--especially with Civil War--writes acclaimed author

Writer illuminates tangled web of Civil Warby Rob Neufeld             David Madden has written a book, “The Tangled Web of the Civil War and Reconstruction,” that deserves special attention.            First, there’s Madden’s background.  In 1992, he founded the U.S. Civil War Center in New…See More
Nov 12
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Nov 11
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Nov 10
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Coming attraction--Singleton at Malaprop's & City Lights for Calloustown

George Singleton's latest collection of stories, Calloustown...features the folk who try to survive in a place that has little to offer besides a Finger Museum and a taxidermy petting zoo,It's funny, but also tragic and angry.  The review, "Love-hate humor cries in Calloustown," appears in the Asheville Citizen-Times, Sunday, 11/15/2015.  Singleton's at Malaprop’s Bookstore, 7 p.m., Wed., Nov. 18; and at City Lights Bookstore in Sylva, 3 p.m., Saturday, Nov. 21.Here's an excerpt from the…See More
Nov 10
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Juniper Bends Quarterly Reading at DownTown Books & News

November 13, 2015 from 7pm to 8pm
Our very special Autumnal edition starts at 7PM and is sure to be a lively and vibrant set, with featured writers Randi Janelle, Tina FireWolf, Logan Parker, and Annabelle Crowe. Two of our readers have new books out, and as always there is wine flowing by donation. Hosts Lockie Hunter and Caroline Wilson look forward to seeing you there----remember, your wellbeing depends upon it.See More
Nov 9
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Love and Mercy ~ Up On Roan Mountain

My family lived and loved up on Roan Mountain and in the surrounding mountain areas, and this is their story. It's woven into a tapestry that weaves down through the years, before the days of the Civil War and up to present day. They were…
Nov 9
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It's All Relative--50 WNC women write about family

Family life as perceived by 50 WNC authorsby Rob Neufeld             If you have biases against small press books or anthologies of local writers’ work, I recommend you lay them aside and take a look at “It’s All Relative” (Stone Ivy Press), 52 stories and poems by 50 WNC women authors writing about family.           …See More
Nov 6

How to look at two of many new local books

by Rob Neufeld


            The number of books published by small, independent, and regional presses is increasing; and the number of reviewers, decreasing.

            Readers are forced to trust blogs, tweets, online comments, and flyleafs in order to make reading choices that are not ratified by best-seller lists.

            Hence the need for another book selection method—sampling.


Hook, look, and book


            Start with the hook.

            Let’s take the thriller “The Moroni Deception,” written by local author Jack Brody, and just published in e-book format. 

            The hook: A reporter discovers that two ritual murders relate to a coveted Mormon relic and the rise of a Mormon presidential candidate.

            Does the hook interest you?   If so, you’ll want to get answers to questions that arise from the teaser.

            Is the novel going to be like “The Da Vinci Code,” and be as much fun? 

            Given the hook and the title (Moroni is the angel who’d directed Joseph Smith to the golden plates), is the book going to delve into Mormon history in satisfying ways?


Sit for a spell


            Read the first 30 to 50 pages to get a feel for the book’s style.

            This is what I found in “The Moroni Deception”:

            Stock character types, featuring Michael Chenault, a rumpled, handsome journalist, keen on solving puzzles and flip in the face of danger.  If you’re interested in more ambiguity in characters, stop here.  If fun is what you crave, continue.

            Snappy suspense.  Chapters are short; the action jumps around between a few parallel plot lines; and there’s never a dull moment.

            A good amount of smooth writing.  When police detectives want to know why Chenault had been the last person that a relic-seeking man had called before being murdered, Chenault admits to having penned a tongue-in-cheek story for a tabloid newspaper early in his career.

            “A certain segment of his readership,” Brody notes, “had taken his story a bit too literally about a half-man, half-insect, rumored to be living and breeding with several of the local women in rural southeastern Pennsylvania,” and Chenault became the fringe element’s favorite point man.


The righteous brothers


            One-sixth through “The Moroni Deception,” it’s clear that we’re dealing with an expose of a Mormon plot.  Two sociopathic Mormon brothers (I saw a Mexican cartel version of them in “Breaking Bad” on TV) are admitted by “the Prophet” into the secret Danite society of assassins, and informed of their divine mission.

            “Since the United States, which had been once a great nation, was not only in great moral decline,” the assassins learn, “but on the brink of a massive financial collapse, it first had to be saved…Now, with one of their (the Mormons’) own running for…President, the time had finally arrived for the plan to be set in motion.”

            This is where I stop reading, though I realize that fiction best-seller lists are dominated by books that wed contemporary fears to ticking time bomb plots.  It’s just that, when it comes to political facts, I’m a teetotaler—no stimulants.

            Those of you all who can loosen up for such rides might still have questions.  For instance, does the plot deliver?  Are there some revelations you might want to hold onto and perhaps investigate?  Might you want to make the book a cause célèbre, pro or con?

            To aid the sampling method of book selection, the best thing for me to do, I think, is put this review on the website, “The Read on WNC,” and get reader and author comments.


Meet the family


            Susan Snowden’s new novel, “Southern Fried Lies” is a thoroughly involving novel about an Atlanta family whose members adjust in off-balance ways to a dominating, mentally ill mother.

            The title’s not exactly right.  “Southern fried” connotes a humorous treatment.  Although there is humor, the main mood is a sense of peril within periods of safety.

            The cover art is excellent—striking and artistic, promising more than genre writing.

            So that leads us to the hook.  Snowden has chosen to place a four-page prologue before the first chapter.  The prologue is a glimpse of the plot four-fifths through the book, and establishes the voice of the narrator, 13-year-old Sarah Claiborne, whom we come to love for her combination of naiveté about the world and courageous engagement with her narrow circle.

            Chapter 1 begins: “My best friend, Wendy, referred to our house on Valley View Road as the Atlanta Museum.”  We learn about Mrs. Claiborne’s mania for manners and neatness, the father’s laissez faire attitude, and the four children’s ways of rebelling—and then receive the first clear note that the Claiborne’s fussiness is underlaid by craziness.

            “It seemed like the dinner hour at the Claibornes’ had two main characters: Mother and Ben,” Sarah relates.  “The rest of us were there just to watch the play.”

            In short order, some disturbing things begin to happen.  An uncle and aunt make a surprise visit on the way to Sarah’s grandma’s beach house, to which Sarah’s family hadn’t been invited.  The visitors catch Sarah’s mom in an unguarded disheveled moment.  Sarah fears being blamed for letting them in the house, and rides off on her bike.

            When she returns, she eavesdrops on Mother slamming things and screaming at Dad.

“I’m sick of all this, Edward,” she shrieks.  “Sick, sick, sick.  Sick of pretending everything’s just fine…when it’s falling apart (thump) like a house of cards.”

            The beauty of Snowden’s novel is the orchestration between the driving plot—how dangerous is Mrs. Claiborne going to get, and what’s going to happen with Ben and Sarah?—and the incidental progress of Sarah’s first year of young womanhood.

            “Southern Fried Lies” delivers because it is not solely tied to the thriller element; and the thriller element is as murky and swampy as a Tennessee Williams play.


The Moroni Deception by Jack Brody (Visigoth Press, sold by Amazon Digital Services, July 31, 2012, 242 pages, $8.99).

Southern Fried Lies by Susan Snowden (Archer Hill Publishing, Columbia SC, trade paper, Aug. 2012, 266 pages, $16.95).



Visit themoronideception,com.

Visit “The Read on WNC: at for comments.

Susan Snowden is an Asheville area writer.  Visit her publisher at; and her editorial services website at www.snowdeneditorial,com.

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Hey Rob,  Thanks for the kind review, although I would remind you with regards to the latter portion, that in a conspiracy thriller, things (and characters) aren't always the the way and who they seem.  Below I've included a short "inside jacket" synopsis and I would remind any interested readers they can read the first 13 chapters for free on the website at   (There's a link on there for my blog as well.)

Michael Chenault, award-winning investigative journalist with the New York Times, is rousted in the middle of the night by NYPD detectives and accused of the bizarre murder of a complete stranger.  After clearing himself, Chenault finds that Martin Koplanski, the retired history professor he’d been accused of murdering, was likely killed for a mysterious Mormon relic long thought to be just a myth.  Twenty-four hours later, Chenault receives an email with a photo of the recently murdered wife of Presidential candidate, Brockston Ratchford.  She too appears to have been ritually killed in the exact manner as Koplanski, right down to having the same cryptic character scrawled in blood across her forehead.  With way more than just a hunch to now go on, Chenault heads out to Salt Lake City, the site of the Ratchford murder investigation, to find out what, if any, connection there is between the murders.

With the help of a beautiful young reporter he meets along the way, Chenault comes to learn the dark family secrets of a rising political star, along with the rather strange but true history of the Mormon church.  As he pieces the story together of what appears to be an ever-growing conspiracy, Chenault is pursued by The Brothers, two murderous zealots who will stop at nothing to retrieve the Mormon relic Chenault is also trying to find.  What Chenault eventually discovers is that what he’s uncovered may not only affect the outcome of the next Presidential election, but decide the fate of an entire religion–if he can manage to stay alive.


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