Scuppernong Bookshelf

In the Lonely Backwater

An excerpt from local author Valerie Nieman’s latest novel

Introduction by Cassie Bustamante

Local author Valerie Nieman knows a thing or two about weaving a thrilling tale of mystery complete with compelling and intricate characters. And her latest novel, In the Lonely Backwater, happens to be the perfect size for stuffing into your favorite reader’s stocking.

Maggie, an awkward high-schooler, is an outsider who lives on a small houseboat with her drunkard father in a sleepy North Carolina lake marina town, her mother having long run off to start a new life without her. In her disordered life, Maggie finds solace and order by losing herself in categorizing the plants around her.

Her world is disrupted when the body of her cousin Charisse is found shortly after a school dance. Because they’ve never been on the best of familial terms, Maggie is marked as a person of interest from the beginning.

Nieman tells us this book was inspired by an inscription on her senior yearbook: “A girl I barely remember wrote, ‘I hope all our misunderstandings are cleared up,’ and signed it, ‘Love.’ I do not remember the disagreement, but the emotional storms of high school came slamming back.”

Now, a peek inside:

I wondered if Detective Vann had memorized all the stuff in that little red notebook, which was nowhere in sight.

“She was messed up. I don’t know if it was drinks or something else. There was that big rip down the front of her dress.”

“Did she say anything about that?”

“Not to me. She and Nat went back in the trees and were talking. Then they came back and we all sat around and finished the bottle. I walked home.”

“Leaving Charisse and Nat and David all in the graveyard.”

“That’s right.”

“Anything else you remember?”

He doesn’t need to know all that I remember. I remember better about the real world than all this stuff with Charisse. I remember that Easter had come right when it was supposed to, the woods filling in green, with dogwood and fading redbud coloring the edges. Prom day came two weeks after Easter, even the oaks pushing out their leaves by that time. It had been a cool spring, late frosts, but the Thursday before prom the winds shifted; a breeze filled in from the southwest and put a chop on the lake. It turned really hot really fast, 90 degrees that afternoon. It was enough to raise a sweat during the day. By the time I got done with work and made it up to the gas station, it had cooled, just warm and nice, smell of cut grass and narcissus. The air began shifting around, more from the west, gusts and then dropping to nothing. By the time we headed to Old Trinity graveyard, clouds were filling in fast.

I remember in the graveyard, the smell of flowers rising up from Wisteria Lodge, a fallen-in plantation house whose owners now lived under the gravestones we sat on. I remember how headlights from cars on the highway moved across the graves in a certain way, depending if they were headed north or south. But then lights swung all the way across as a car turned onto the pike and stopped, and the lights stayed on, casting giant tree-shadows against the church for a long time. We could hear the motor running. Nat came out of his funk and was looking like WTF?, and Hulky stood up and started that way, then the lights and the engine cut off. We heard one door open and close. Next thing we knew, Charisse was standing inside the gate.

“Hey, guys?” Her voice rose way up at the end.

“Hey Charisse,” Nat blurted out. She followed his voice, uncertain as she walked across the graves, maybe because of high heels, but when she got to us we could see she was barefoot and there was a gash down the turquoise shimmer of her dress. Her face didn’t look right, but everyone looked ghoulish as the moon went in and out of the clouds.

I could feel the boys sweat, see how they repositioned themselves as they sat. Charisse was Charisse. Not Maggie.  OH

Valerie Nieman is the author of In the Lonely Backwater and four earlier novels, and books of short fiction and poetry. A graduate of West Virginia University and Queens University of Charlotte, she is professor emeritus of creative writing at North Carolina A&T State University. In the Lonely Backwater can be found wherever books are sold.


October Books


We asked our community, contributors and staff to tell us what books we’d find currently in their grasp. What resulted is a fresh mix of new-to-us nonfiction and literature as well as books worth revisiting. If you’d like to be a part of our O.Henry Readers Club, send along a short note with a few sentences telling us what page-turner is currently keeping you up at night. Email

We have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson is one of my favorite horror novels. It’s not gory or outright terrifying. There is a certain unsettling chill that crawls down your spine throughout the novel. If you want to feel uncomfortable, this is the perfect book. It is just so creepy and fantastical and mysterious. I have always loved the book’s ability to draw out such emotions. Not fear, but discomfort.

— Scuppernong Books intern Ingrid Lander

Nina Riggs’ The Bright Hour, published posthumously in 2017, makes me wish that I still lived on Mendenhall Street, to be nearer her creative sphere. Emerson’s great-great-great granddaughter, Riggs earned an MFA in poetry from UNCG, and this bears testament to both. Her triumphant beauty and translucence rend me.

— contributing editor Cynthia Adams

What I’m re-reading this fall is George Cukor: A Double Life by Patrick McGilligan. Considered the greatest women’s director of Hollywood’s golden age, he was also the only openly gay director in Tinsel Town, the real reason he was fired from Gone With The Wind.

— contributor Billy Ingram

Apparently I’ve been under a rock, but I didn’t know of North Carolina author Sarah Addison Allen until Wiley Cash highlighted her in our August issue. Rather than picking up her recent release, Other Birds, I started closer to the beginning with The Sugar Queen, so far a beautifully written story about family secrets with loads of sweet food references, perfect for Halloween candy season.

— managing editor Cassie Bustamante

Beth Macy and I met at neighboring author tables in Nashville “watching people line up to buy J. D. Vance’s book,” as Beth tells the story. She’s since written Dopesick, an unforgettable book about our country’s opioid addiction crisis. I’m now reading its sequel, Raising Lazarus, about everyday heroes helping us to recover.

— contributor Ross Howell Jr.

The Book of Two Ways by Jodi Picoult truly took my breath away. It’s a heart-wrenching story of paths taken, passed over and revisited that left me stunned and wanting more. I found myself reflecting on my own life’s journey with new eyes. I may never recover from reading this book, and I’m not sure that I want to! As a nerdy aside, you’ll learn a surprising amount of Egyptian history!

— reader Sarah Ross Thompson

Ten years ago, as a son of the South and integration, I was in search of a book that could help me come to terms with the racial disparities I continued to see in America. A friend recommended David W. Blight’s sweeping and eye-opening Race and Reunion, which accomplished the task and more. No event in our history imprinted its horrors upon the national consciousness as did the American Civil War, shaping a collective act of remembering that was equal parts fantasy and forgetting. Blight superbly recounts how failed Reconstruction and the mythology of the Lost Cause sewed the seeds of the racial gap that remains today — a Civil War we are all struggling to come to terms with. An engrossing history that’s more relevant today than ever. 

— founding editor Jim Dodson  OH


September Books

September is here. For the kiddos that means heading back to school. Meeting new teachers, learning a new school building, making new friends . . . big kid school can be quite a transition for the littlest littles. Fortunately, the scariest apprehensions can be tamed with a snuggle and a good book.

In our house, we’ve always used books to help prep our kids for new experiences. From the first trip to the dentist to the first time on an airplane to the first day of school, reading together ahead of time has blessed us with many smooth “firsts,” keeping meltdowns at bay. So this month’s Scuppernong Bookshelf goes out to the littles — and the parents — in all our lives. We’ve got a great collection of books about going back to school to help even the most nervous nellies feel excited about getting on the big yellow bus, ready for their next adventure. 

Llama Llama Back to School by Anna Dewdney and Duncan Reed, illustrated by JT Morrow

It’s almost time for the first day of school for Llama! But Llama Llama isn’t ready for a summer full of backyard camping, family picnics and ice cream to end. He’s anxious about his first day back at school, but maybe, with some help from his friends and Mama Llama, it will be fun after all!

The Queen of Kindergarten by Derrick Barnes, illustrated by Vanessa Brantley-Newton

A confident little Black girl has a fantastic first day of school in this companion to The New York Times bestseller The King of Kindergarten.

MJ is more than ready for her first day of kindergarten! With her hair freshly braided and her mom’s special tiara on her head, she knows she’s going to rock kindergarten. But the tiara isn’t just for show — it also reminds her of all the good things she brings to the classroom, stuff like her kindness, friendliness and impressive soccer skills. Like The King of Kindergarten, this book encourages back-to-school excitement and builds confidence in the newest students.

School’s First Day of School by Adam Rex, illustrated by Christian Robinson

The New York Times bestselling author (The True Meaning of Smekday) and illustrator (Last Stop on Market Street) team up to bring you a fresh look at the first day of school — from the school’s perspective.

It’s the first day of school at Frederick Douglass Elementary and everyone’s just a little bit nervous, especially the school itself. What will the children do once they come? Will they like the school? Will they be nice to him?

The school has a rough start, but as the day goes on, he soon realizes that he’s not the only one with first-day jitters.

The Pigeon Has to Go to School by Mo Willems

Why does the Pigeon have to go to school? He already knows everything! And what if he doesn’t like it? What if the teacher doesn’t like him? What if he learns too much?!?

Ask not for whom the school bell rings; it rings for the Pigeon!

We Don’t Eat Our Classmates: A Penelope Rex Book by Ryan T. Higgins

It’s the first day of school for Penelope Rex, and she can’t wait to meet her classmates. But it’s hard to make human friends when they’re so darn delicious! That is, until Penelope gets a taste of her own medicine and finds she may not be at the top of the food chain after all.

This Is a School by John Schu, illustrated by Veronica Miller Jamison

A school isn’t just a building; it is all the people who work and learn together. It is a place for discovery and asking questions. A place for sharing, for helping and for community. It is a place of hope and healing, even when that community can’t be together in the same room. John Schu, a librarian and former ambassador of school libraries for Scholastic, crafts a love letter to schools and the people that make up the communities within.  OH

Shannon Purdy Jones is co-owner of Scuppernong Books.


Calling All Readers!

We cordially invite you to join the new O.Henry Readers Club. We’d love to publish your thumbnail review of whatever great book you are reading at the moment.

Submit —  and join — simply by emailing our (bookish) managing editor at


July Books

Compiled by Shannon Purdy Jones

It comes out of nowhere. You’re shuffling through the workday. Doing the dishes. In general, life is going well. But still there’s that tug. It pulls at the back corners of your mind — the urge to be somewhere else, someone else. That primal need for escape.

So we’re bringing you the summer’s best sci-fi releases to escape into. Some stand alone while others are continuations of series you’ll wish you’d started yesterday. All are guaranteed to transport you worlds away. 

A Prayer for the Crown-Shy by Becky Chambers

From one of the foremost practitioners of hopeful sci-fi comes a story of kindness and love, the second volume of the USA Today–bestselling Monk and Robot series.

After touring the rural areas of Panga, Sibling Dex and robot Mosscap turn their attention to the villages and cities of the little moon they call home.

They hope to find the answers they seek, while making new friends, learning new concepts and experiencing the entropic nature of the universe. But in a world where people have what they want, does having more even matter?

The Moonday Letters by Emmi Itäranta

A lyrical mystery wrapped in a love story that bends space, time, myth and science, it’s perfect for fans of Octavia Butler and Emily St. John Mandel.

Sol has disappeared. Their Earth-born wife, Lumi, sets out to find them. Told through letters and extracts, her search leads to underground environmental groups and a web of mystery. Lumi’s journey also takes her into Sol’s hidden past and long-forgotten secrets of her own. In the end, The Moonday Letters is a love story between two individuals from very different worlds.

Flying the COOP by Lucinda Roy

Lucinda Roy continues The Dreambird Chronicles, her explosive first foray into speculative fiction, with this sequel to The Freedom Race.

In the Disunited states, no person of color — especially not a girl whose body reimagines flight — is safe. A quest for Freedom has brought former Muleseed Jellybean “Ji-ji” Silapu to D.C., where, long ago, the most famous Dreamer of all time marched for the same cause.

Tiro and Afarra battle formidable ghosts of their own as the former U.S. capital controls the fate of all dreamers. The journeys the three friends take toward liberation will challenge the nature of reality itself.

Upgrade by Blake Crouch

An ordinary man undergoes a startling transformation in the mind-blowing new thriller from The New York Times–bestselling author of Dark Matter.

Logan Ramsay can feel his brain . . . changing. His body, too. He’s becoming something other than himself. His DNA has been rewritten with a genetic-engineering breakthrough — one that could change the very definitions of humanity. And the battle to control this unfathomable power has already begun.

Fevered Star by Rebecca Roanhorse

Return to The Meridian with New York Times–bestselling author Rebecca Roanhorse’s sequel to Black Sun — finalist for the Hugo, Nebula, Lambda and Locus awards.

The great city of Tova is shattered. The sun is held within the smothering grip of the Crow God’s eclipse, but a comet that marks the death of a ruler and heralds the rise of a new order is imminent.

Sea captain Xiala, swept up in currents of change, finds an unexpected ally in the former Priest of Knives. For Tova Clan Matriarchs, tense alliances form as far-flung enemies gather and the war in the heavens reflects upon the Earth. OH

Shannon Purdy Jones is co-owner of Scuppernong Books.


June Books

Compiled by Shannon Purdy Jones

Do you ever sit back and think, “Wow, how did I get so lucky?”

It’s a thought that pops into my head at least once a summer, every summer, usually while I’m out paddleboarding on Lake Brandt or camping with my kids at Badin Lake. Because, really, is there any better place to live than North Carolina in the summertime? Whether it’s trails to be trod in our gorgeous mountains and Piedmont, waves to be surfed on the Outer Banks, or backwaters to be kayaked, our beautiful state has so much to offer. So much, in fact, that I invariably end up with a N.C. summer bucket list too long to ever finish.

While you’re busy exploring all our home state has to offer, you need a good summer read — set in North Carolina, naturally — or two (or five!). Between mysteries and romance, historical fiction and nature exploration, there’s something for everyone. Dive in and get in that North Carolina state of mind this summer.

Smile Beach Murder (Outer Banks Bookshop Mystery) by Alicia Bessette

When Callie is laid off from her reporting job, she returns to her hometown of Cattail Island and lands a gig at the local bookstore — the same one where she found comfort after her mother died, tumbling from the top of the lighthouse.

As the anniversary of her mother’s death approaches, islanders are once again gossiping about the tragedy. Then, devastating news strikes. The lighthouse has claimed another victim, Eva Meeks, of Meeks Hardware.

The police are calling it suicide, but Callie is not buying it.

In Callie’s search for answers, she enlists the help of some beloved books and several new friends, including the handsome local martial arts instructor, Toby Dodge. As she earns enemies in pursuit of the truth, Callie knows she will either uncover the killer or become a victim herself.

Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens

Sensitive and intelligent, Kya Clark, known as the Marsh Girl, has survived for years alone in the marsh that she calls home, finding friends in the gulls and lessons in the sand. Then the time comes when she yearns to be touched and loved. When two young men from town become intrigued by her wild beauty, Kya opens herself to a new life — until she become a murder suspect.

Where the Crawdads Sing is at once an exquisite ode to the natural world, a heartbreaking coming-of-age story, and a surprising tale of murder. Owens reminds us that we are forever shaped by the children we once were, and that we are all subject to the beautiful and violent secrets nature keeps.

The Night Swim by Megan Goldin

Ever since her true-crime podcast became an overnight sensation and set an innocent man free, Rachel Krall has become a household name — and the last hope for people seeking justice.

The new season of Rachel’s podcast has brought her to a small town being torn apart by the trial of a local golden boy, a swimmer destined for Olympic greatness, accused of raping the beloved granddaughter of the police chief. Meanwhile, someone is following her and won’t stop until Rachel finds out what happened to the anonymous writer’s sister 25 years ago.

Electrifying and propulsive, The Night Swim asks: What is the price of a reputation? Can a small town ever right the wrongs of its past? And what really happened to Jenny?

Under a Gilded Moon by Joy Jordan-Lake

Biltmore House, a palatial mansion being built by American “royalty,” the Vanderbilts, is in its final stages of construction. The country’s grandest example of privilege, it symbolizes the aspirations of its owner and the dreams of a girl, just as driven, who lives in its shadow.

After two years in college in New York City, family obligations call Kerry McGrefor home to the beautiful Appalachians where her family’s land is among the last pieces required to complete the Biltmore Estate. One by one, outsiders descend on the changing landscape — a fugitive from Sicily, a reporter chasing a groundbreaking story, a debutante tainted by scandal and a conservationist prepared to put anyone at risk to stoke the resentment of the locals.

As Kerry finds herself caught in a war between wealth and poverty, innocence and corruption, she must navigate not only her own pride and desperation to survive but also the temptations of fortune and the men who control it.

The Watery Part of the World by Michael Parker

Michael Parker’s vast and involving novel about pirates and slaves, treason and treasures, madness and devotion, takes place on a remote and tiny island battered by storms. Inspired by two little-known moments in history, the tale begins in 1813, when Theodosia Burr, en route to New York by ship to meet her father, Aaron Burr, disappears off the coast of North Carolina. A hundred and fifty years later, the last three inhabitants of a remote island — two elderly white women and the black man who takes care of them — are forced to leave their beloved spot of land. Parker tells an enduring story about what we’ll sacrifice for love and what we won’t.

Book Lovers by Emily Henry (And it’s the Scuppernong Books Romance Book Club’s June read!)

Nora Stephens’ life as a cutthroat literary agent is books — she’s read them all. But she is not that type of heroine. Not the plucky one, not the laidback dream girl and especially not the sweetheart. She’s a hero to her clients and her beloved little sister, Libby.

Which is why she agrees to go to Sunshine Falls, North Carolina, for the month of August when Libby begs her for a sisters’ trip away — with visions of a small town transformation for Nora. Libby is convinced Nora needs to become the heroine in her own story. But instead of picnics in meadows, or run-ins with a handsome country doctor, Nora keeps bumping into Charlie Lastra, a bookish, brooding editor from the city. It would be a meet-cute if not for the fact that they’ve met many times — and it’s never been cute.

If Nora knows she’s not an ideal heroine, Charlie knows he’s nobody’s hero. But as they are thrown together again and again — in a series of coincidences no editor worth their salt would allow — what they discover might just unravel the carefully crafted stories they’ve written about themselves.

Forest Walking: Discovering the Trees and Woodlands of North America by Peter Wohlleben and Jill Billinghurst

With Forest Walking, German forester Peter Wohlleben teams up with his longtime editor, Jane Billinghurst, as the two co-author their first book together. Together, they will teach you how to listen to what the forest is saying, no matter where you live or which trees you plan to visit next, such as:

What can you learn by following the spread of a root, by tasting the tip of a branch, by searching out that bitter almond smell? What creatures can be found in a stream if you turn over a rock — and what is the best way to cross a forest stream?

How can you understand a forest’s history by the feel of the path underfoot, the scars on the trees along the trail, or the play of sunlight through the branches? How can we safely explore the forest at night? What activities can we use to engage children with the forest?

How to Read a North Carolina Beach: Bubble Holes, Barking Sands, and Rippled Runnels by Orrin H. Pilkey, Tracy Monegan Rice and William J. Neal

In How to Read a North Carolina Beach, three leading experts in coastal geology provide a guidebook to North Carolina beach characteristics for recreational beachgoers and naturalists. Topics include the interaction of wind, waves and sand in the formation of dunes and barrier islands; smaller features such as sea foam, bubble holes and sharks’ teeth; and strategies for conservation.

What makes sea foam? What are those tiny sand volcanoes along the waterline? You’ll find the answers to these questions and dozens more in this comprehensive field guide to the state’s beaches. Shannon Purdy Jones is store manager, children’s book buyer and one of the co-owners of Scuppernong Books.  OH

Shannon Purdy Jones is co-owner of Scuppernong Books.


May Books

Compiled by Shannon Purdy Jones

At Scuppernong Books, May means one thing: the flurry of organizing and last-minute preparations for the annual Greensboro Bound Literary Festival. We’re so thrilled to have the festival back in-person after two long years, and the lineup is better than ever before. More than 60 authors will participate in panels, talks and signings May 19–22 in downtown Greensboro, including Nikole Hannah-Jones, Amor Towles and Jason Mott just to name a few. The festival also hosts workshops for aspiring authors (advance registration required) and this year will feature a special screening of the documentary film Fred Chappell: I Am One of You Forever on Sunday, May 22.

Showcasing everything from literary novels to poetry, romance to memoir, and everything in between, the Greensboro Bound Literary Festival has something to entice every bookish mind. You’ll definitely see me there, sprinting manically between selling books, moderating the Afternoon Delight romance panel, and sitting in on every single panel I possibly can. We’re so lucky to have this festival to bring nationally renowned authors and foster our literary community. Be sure to head over to to plan your festival experience and register for free ticketed events. Then check out a small taste below of the many amazing books featured at this year’s fest. Scuppernong hopes to see you there! 

The 1619 Project: A New Origin Story
edited by Nikole Hannah-Jones

In late August 1619, a ship arrived in the British colony of Virginia bearing a cargo of 20 to 30 enslaved people from Africa. Their arrival led to the barbaric and unprecedented system of American chattel slavery that would last for the next 250 years. This is sometimes referred to as the country’s original sin, but it is more than that: It is the source of so much that still defines the United States.

The New York Times Magazine’s award-winning 1619 Project issue reframed our understanding of American history by placing slavery and its continuing legacy at the center of our national narrative. This new book substantially expands on that work, weaving together 18 essays that explore the legacy of slavery in present-day America with 36 poems and works of fiction that illuminate key moments of oppression, struggle and resistance. The essays show how the repercussions of 1619 reach into every part of contemporary American society, from politics to music, from diet to traffic, from citizenship to capitalism, from religion to our democracy itself.

This book reveals long-glossed-over truths around our nation’s founding and construction — and the way that the aftermath of slavery did not end with emancipation but continues to shape contemporary American life.

The Lincoln Highway by Amor Towlew

In June 1954, 18-year-old Emmett Watson is driven home to Nebraska by the warden of the juvenile work farm where he has just served 15 months for involuntary manslaughter. His mother long gone, his father recently deceased, and the family farm foreclosed upon by the bank, Emmett’s intention is to pick up his 8-year-old brother, Billy, and head to California, where they can start their lives anew. But when the warden drives away, Emmett discovers that two friends from the work farm have hidden themselves in the trunk of the warden’s car. Together, they have hatched an altogether different plan for Emmett’s future, one that will take them all on a fateful journey in the opposite direction — to the City of New York.

Spanning just 10 days and told from multiple points of view, Towles’ third novel will satisfy fans of his multilayered literary style while providing readers with an array of new and richly imagined settings, characters and themes.

Hell of a Book by Jason Mott

In Jason Mott’s Hell of a Book, a Black author sets out on a cross-country publicity tour to promote his bestselling novel. That storyline drives Hell of a Book and is the scaffolding of something much larger and more urgent: Mott’s novel also tells the story of Soot, a young Black boy living in a rural town in the recent past, and The Kid, a possibly imaginary child who appears to the author on his tour.

As these characters’ stories build and converge, they astonish. For while this heartbreaking and magical book entertains and is at once about family, love of parents and children, art and money, it’s also about the nation’s reckoning with a tragic police shooting playing over and over again on the news. And with what it can mean to be Black in America.

Who has been killed? Who is The Kid? Will the author finish his book tour, and what kind of world will he leave behind? Unforgettably told, with characters who burn into your mind and an electrifying plot ideal for book club discussion, Hell of a Book is the novel Mott has been writing in his head for the last 10 years. And in its final twists, it truly becomes its title.

The Violin Conspiracy by Brendon Slocumb

Growing up Black in rural North Carolina, Ray McMillian’s life is already mapped out. If he’s lucky, he’ll get a job at the hospital cafeteria. If he’s extra lucky, he’ll earn more than minimum wage. But Ray has a gift and a dream — he’s determined to become a world-class professional violinist, and nothing will stand in his way. Not his mother, who wants him to stop making such a racket; not the fact that he can’t afford a violin suitable to his talents; not even the racism inherent in the world of classical music.

When he discovers that his great-great-grandfather’s beat-up old fiddle is actually a priceless Stradivarius, all his dreams suddenly seem within reach. Together, Ray and his violin take the world by storm. But on the eve of the renowned and cutthroat Tchaikovsky Competition — the Olympics of classical music — the violin is stolen, a ransom note for $5 million left in its place. Ray will have to piece together the clues to recover his treasured Strad . . . before it’s too late.

With the descendants of the man who once enslaved Ray’s great-great-grandfather asserting that the instrument is rightfully theirs, and with his family staking their own claim, Ray doesn’t know who is trustworthy — or whether he will ever see his beloved violin again.  OH

Shannon Purdy Jones is store manager and children’s book buyer for Scuppernong Books.