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Kentucky by Heart: Some recent Kentucky-related books to add to your summer reading list

By Steve Flairty
NKyTribune columnist

Always with a Kentucky-related book in my hands and being a reviewer for Kentucky Monthly, here are summaries of some of the “newish” ones I’ve recently read — with permission of Kentucky Monthly:

Enjoy Kentucky’s State Parks, self-published by Richard and Steve Pollack (2022). With their combined authorship, Middletown residents Richard Pollock, father, and Dr. Steve Pollock, son, have written, they explain, “a book about Kentucky State Park history and five generations of family memories.” The two encourage travelers to “enjoy this guide in planning your family’s trips to our beautiful parks!”

This 97-page offering includes an informative look at Kentucky’s state parks’ history, starting with the legislature establishing a state park commission in 1924 after seeing other states’ start park projects in process. As promised, the authors blend information about state parks with plenty of personal anecdotes about their camping experiences. Along the way, many colorful photos are used to illustrate the alluring landscape and the looks of happy faces. To order a copy, visit thebookpatch.com.

The Pollocks reside in Middletown, Kentucky. Richard is a retired engineer and a certified genealogist, and son Steve is a senior program manager and adjunct professor at Indiana Wesleyan University.

The Nightmare Man, by J.H. Markert (Crooked Lane Books, 2023), is meant to scare the living daylights out of the reader. It tells of a best-selling horror novelist, Ben Bookman, who finishes his latest work, The Scarecrow, by surrounding himself with all-things-terror for a weekend inside the eerie Blackwood Mansion estate, of which he is heir, overlooking the small town of New Haven.

Then fiction turns to non-fiction when on the eve of his book’s release, gruesome murders begin happening in the area in real time; ironically, they mirror the details of Bookman’s new horror novel. Not surprisingly, Bookman becomes a prime suspect. Fiercely on the investigative trail are detectives Mills and his cohort, daughter Samantha Blue. Macabre details and a whole lot of mystery blend as they move toward resolving the outbreak of crimes.

Markert, with the pen name “J.H.,” is a resident of Louisville, husband and father. He also works as a producer and screen writer.

Hidden History of LaGrange, Kentucky, by Nancy Stearns Theiss (The History Press, 2022), brings to light the often-unreported aspects of a small town’s past, this one located in Oldham County. Local historical society director Nancy Theiss has meticulously researched this 144-page book and piled it high with authentic black/white photos.

Of course, the railroad that all see working its way down Main Street is a very important feature of the city, but there is much more to LaGrange’s past that may have only recently been uncovered. The author uses authentic oral history accounts and a trove of research findings to present a very readable work. For example, the Interurban, noted as a “one-car passenger trolley that ran by an electric cable overhead connected by wooden poles,” provided great day trips back and forth between LaGrange and Louisville in the 1920s and 1930s. D.W. Griffith, the iconic and controversial film director and Oldham County native, gets significant coverage. Information about stores, churches, schools, houses, Civil War influences, devastating fires, and entertainers from the area make up much of the book.

Theiss offers a compelling perspective on a community she knows well, befitting the citizens there and offering connections to a sense of place that also stretches to those outside the area.

Last Train to Miami, by Chris Helvey (Wings ePress, 1922) is another example of the Frankfort author’s habit of writing about sordid protagonists who display enough humanity among themselves to gain the reader’s sympathy. He is on key by using this novel, set in 1961, to coax a few more sympathetic notions out of us regarding a Mafia hitman sent from Philadelphia to do a job down south to please the boss.

But for Moe Horwitz, the job doesn’t happen as he figured. He becomes a pretty good friend of the one to be hit, and he grows close to the hittee’s wife, who has a child she worries has no emotional support from his father. Moe’s personal “professionality” gets challenged, you might say. Adding to the complexity, the Mafia family members in Miami are quite puzzling characters, too. What’s up with them?

Will this veteran in the field of crime come out of this situation alive, and if so, will he emerge with at least a trace of observable dignity he might call his own? Those questions come up quite often with this author, and his readers always seem to be connected and anxiously waiting for answers. Getting there often is usually the most exciting part, and Helvey makes it happen.

Also, here a few books I’m reading purely for my own personal growth which were published a while back:

How to Read the Constitution and Why, by Kim Wehle (Harper, 2019)

• Kentucky through the Centuries: A Collection of Documents and Essays, by Doug Cantrell, et al. (Kendall/Hunt Publishing, 2005)

New Seeds of Contemplation, by Thomas Merton (New Directions, 2007)

Would be interested in knowing the books that YOU are reading, especially about Kentucky or by Kentucky authors. Email me at sflairty2001@yahoo.com.

Steve Flairty is a teacher, public speaker and an author of seven books: a biography of Kentucky Afield host Tim Farmer and six in the Kentucky’s Everyday Heroes series, including a kids’ version. Steve’s “Kentucky’s Everyday Heroes #5,” was released in 2019. Steve is a senior correspondent for Kentucky Monthly, a weekly NKyTribune columnist and a former 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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