Our 2011 gift guide for the southern reader

Still looking for the perfect gift for someone on your list? Here are a few of our favorite titles of 2011; we think they’d make stellar gifts for your family and friends!

For the music or mystery lover

In Murder on Music Row, by Stuart Dill, Judd Nix, a 23-year-old unpaid intern at Elite Management, welcomes the chance to become the paid assistant of Simon Stills, one of country’s biggest managers, but he soon finds himself a witness to an assassination attempt. When a gunman takes aim at megastar Ripley Graham, Stills’s most important client and the last hope for the troubled recording industry, on stage at the Grand Ole Opry, the shooter misses and seriously wounds Stills instead. Nix and his co-worker, Megan Olsen, decide to investigate on their own, but with music executives plotting a major merger, they can’t be sure whom to trust.

“Remember your first John Grisham? Country music veteran Dill (he served as a personal manager for Minnie Pearl, Dwight Yoakam, and other greats) doesn’t miss a beat in this debut high-adrenaline thriller full of twists and turns.”
Library Journal, starred review

Murder on Music Row: A Music Industry Thriller has more twists and turns than a spring tornado in Tennessee. This book will have you diving under the covers — with a flashlight, of course. A terrific read.”
Marshall Chapman, critically acclaimed musician and author

Read a book club guide, watch interviews with the author, and more >>

For the memory lane walker

Tales from a Free-Range Childhood, a memoir by storyteller Donald Davis, will have you hootin’ and hollerin’ at his youthful misadventures in rural North Carolina in the 1950s. Among this collection of 18 stories, Davis explains why 28 second-graders petitioned the school board to reestablish paddling as their preferred form of punishment, instead of the new policy of “suspension.” He also spins family tales about how his mother was finally convinced to give his brother Joe’s naturally curly, “wasted-on-a-boy” hair its first cut; and how he and his cousin Andy got fired from their job of “watching the baby.” Through his tender, often humorous stories about his life experiences, Davis captures the hearts and minds of readers while simultaneously evoking their own childhood memories.

“From the photo on the cover…to the strings of hilarious and touching stories, Donald Davis takes us on a journey. This is not just his story, however, as a master storyteller, he not only tells you about himself, but also strikes familiar notes that reach into each listener’s memory bank.”
New York Journal of Books

“…a well-told true story is comfort food for the soul, and Davis’s book is nourishing.”
Foreword Reviews

Read an excerpt, visit the author’s website, and more >>

For the soul food aficionado

Well, Shut My Mouth! The Sweet Potatoes Restaurant Cookbook is recipes – recipes from the restaurant, recipes from the families of Chef Stephanie Tyson and co-owner Vivian Joiner, recipes that are Southern, plain and simple. The cookbook is also the history of the two women who started a locally and nationally acclaimed restaurant (Our State, Southern Living, New York Times). As Tyson says in her introduction, “Every part of me is a part of Sweet Potatoes.” In Well, Shut My Mouth! she shares a culinary experience that has been a favorite of Winston-Salem natives and visitors for years. Now, patrons have the tools to re-create the Sweet Potatoes dining experience in their own homes.

“Everything about this book is correct except the title. Anyone with a taste bud in their mouth should follow these recipes and open their mouth.”
Maya Angelou

Watch cooking demos with the author, and more >>  

For the adventurer

The 21 tours in Touring the Western North Carolina Backroads, by Carolyn Sakowski, cover the entire mountain region of western North Carolina and provide numerous opportunities for seeing unspoiled landscapes and pastoral scenes. But scenery is not the only focus. Once you’re on the backroads, you might speculate about the history behind the old white clapboard farmhouse that dominates the valley ahead, or you might wonder about the rest of the story behind the two sentences on the historical marker at the side of the road. Touring the Western North Carolina Backroads fills in those details. Drawing from local histories and early travel writings, each tour is designed to be a journey through the history of the area. Tales of eccentric characters, folklore that has been passed down through the ages, and stories about early settlers combine to present a perspective that makes the scenery come alive.

“Touring the Western North Carolina Backroads by Carolyn Sakowski is the book to consult for Thanksgiving. No, it doesn’t have recipes but it has more important help. It will help you entertain your out-of-town guests.”
— Danny Bernstein, Hiker to Hiker

“Sakowski doesn’t choose routes simply for the scenery; almost any mountain road presents visual delights. She finds stories about people and places, then connects them, guiding readers along a narrative path as well.”
— Doug Clark, Greensboro News & Record

Find tours at the author’s website, learn “best-of” sites chosen by the author, and more >>

For animal lovers of all ages

In Animal Adventures in North Carolina, Jennifer Bean Bower shares 70 animal attractions that she has personally discovered throughout her travels of the entire state. Each entry provides contact information, driving directions, possible fees, hours of operation, and useful travel tips, accompanied by photographs and detailed descriptions of the attraction’s offerings. An extensive appendix lists additional opportunities for viewing and interacting with animals in North Carolina, including wildlife refuges, farm tours, nature preserves, and working farm vacations.

 Discover the 10 best N.C. animal adventures you didn’t know >>


Angela’s animal adventure at Hawksdene House

Over the next few months, the Blair staff will be going on their own animal adventures throughout the state, armed with Jennifer Bean Bower’s Animal Adventures in North Carolina. First up: Angela, our VP of sales and marketing, takes us to Hawkesdene House in Andrews, N.C., a mountain retreat where visitors can take a llama trek to a mountain top, discover to a” hidden” waterfall, or pan for gold without leaving the estate.


As soon as I read the first entry in Jennifer Bean Bower’s Animal Adventures in North Carolina, I knew I was going to love the book. Hawkesdene House, described as “a luxurious retreat that encompasses twenty-six acres of picturesque beauty in a scenic mountain valley at the town of Andrews,” was the first to offer llama treks in western North Carolina. After I discovered that this “luxurious retreat” was surprisingly affordable, especially in the off-season, I invited two other couples to join me and my husband, Jeff, at a three-bedroom Robinsnest Cabin for the last weekend in February—and prepared ourselves for a winter mountain retreat replete with llamas!

Although I’d seen pictures of Hawkesdene’s cabins online, I was not prepared for the combination of rugged mountain lodge and luxurious comfort that awaited us. Our cabin featured an enormous screened-in porch with tons of outdoor seating and an eight-person fire pit with complimentary firewood. Did I mention the gorgeous view?

Hawkesdene Animal Adventures in North Carolina

Or that Hawkesdene’s grounds border the Nantahala National Forest with access to a number of hiking trails? Oh, and don’t forget the llamas!

Hawkesdene Animal Adventures in North Carolina

Tempted never to leave the comfort of the cabin, we nevertheless headed out to meet the llamas—Hawke, Dene, Crazy Horse, and Scooter—who are guarded day and night by a loyal Great Pyrenees named Claude. Hawkesdene offers llama treks to the summit of Hawksnest Mountain from April to October, where they then serve guests and visitors a three-course meal at the Hawkesdene Pavilion. Since we visited in February, we hiked to Hawksnest sans llamas. We also enjoyed a two-mile round-trip hike into Nantahala National Forest to a splendid “hidden” waterfall.

Hawkesdene Animal Adventures in North Carolina

We went to the see the llamas, but Claude, the Great Pyrenees, stole the show!

Our group visited Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest off the Cherohala Skyway, where we hiked through one of the nation’s last remaining old-growth forests. Many of the trees are over 400 years old, measuring twenty feet in circumference and reaching 100 feet tall (offering opportunities for fabulous photographs). Our winter hike was especially impressive as the lack of foliage revealed the bare bones of the forest, and a recent ice storm caused many of the dead or dying trees to snap, splinter, and fall in fantastic and frightening ways. We felt we had walked into a dystopian novel featuring a dead forest. Warnings to be alert and not to linger under dead or dying trees added to the sense of danger—we even saw shards of splintered wood jabbing out of the trunks of surviving trees, so much was the force of the wind, storm, or breakage.

Hawkesdene Animal Adventures in North Carolina

For more recreational activities around Hawkesdene House, check out Touring the Western North Carolina Backroads by Carolyn Sakowski (the third edition will be published this October), North Carolina Waterfalls by Kevin Adams, Hiking North Carolina’s Lookout Towers by Peter Barr, and Fishing North Carolina by Mike Marsh. Animal Adventures in North Carolina is available at your local bookstores and through online booksellers, and Jennifer Bean Bower has events scheduled at bookstores across the state (visit our events page for an event near you). In the meantime, check out this top-ten list of some of the lesser-known animal adventures in North Carolina. Happy travels!

take a llama trek to a mountain top,

Here I am with my husband, Jeff, and our Akita, Uma.

Ten N.C. animal adventures you didn’t know

Did you catch Jennifer Bean Bower on WFMY yesterday morning? She joined the morning show to discuss a few of the lesser-known animal attractions in North Carolina, and we’ve got a few more to highlight for you today. You can find more about these sites (and 60 others) in Animal Adventures in North Carolina. The book is available at your local bookstore, through online booksellers, and at our website.

all-a-flutter Butterfly Farm

Monarch butterflies at all-a-flutter Butterfly Farm.

Llamacaddy: Head out to the green with a llama in tow, carrying your golf clubs. Children can feed and pet the llamas, and you can even trek out to one of the nearby waterfalls with a llama carrying your picnic lunch. (Brevard, N.C.)

all-a-flutter Butterfly Farm: Surround yourself with free-flying butterflies in the site’s flighthouse. Buy a lifecycle kit and watch your own caterpillars turn into butterflies. (High Point, N.C.)
Lazy 5 Ranch: Go on safari without a passport. This 3.5-mile wagon-ride adventure features 750 animals from six continents. You can feed the park’s wildebeests, water buffalo, yaks, and other animals that follow the wagon. (Mooresville, N.C.)
Thompson’s Prawn Farm: This is one cookout you can’t miss. Watch Joe Thompson and his team harvest giant Malaysian freshwater prawns, then enjoy the fruits of their labor, hot off the grill. (Cedar Grove, N.C.)
Sylvan Heights Waterfowl Park: See more than 1,500 birds from around the world, including many endangered species, and learn how the park is actively ensuring the survival of these birds. (Scotland Neck, N.C.)

Karen Beasley Sea Turtle Rescue

Franklin poses for a photo at the Karen Beasley Sea Turtle Rescue.

Horse Protection Society of North Carolina: Here, you can adopt a rescued horse, or volunteer to care for those recovering at the facility. (China Grove, N.C.)

Karen Beasley Sea Turtle Rescue and Rehabilitation Center
: Watch as Jean Beasley and her team of volunteers help wild turtles recover from illness and injury. Don’t worry; if you get attached to one, you can follow its progress on the center’s website. (Topsail Beach, N.C.)

Carolina Raptor Center: Observe raptors—or birds of prey—as you walk along a self-guided trail. On certain days, you can watch a vulture feeding or attend “PhotoWild”— a four-hour photoshoot with resident raptors. (Huntersville, N.C.)

Full Moon Farms' Ambassadog wolfdog

River, the "ambassadog" at Full Moon Farms. "Like" her on Facebook!

Natural Science Center of Greensboro: Discover science, technology, and animals at one place, in one day. It is the only facility in North Carolina to exhibit the South American maned wolf. While you can’t pet the maned wolves, animals at the Friendly Farm are happy to be petted and admired. (Greensboro, N.C.)

Full Moon Farm Wolfdog Rescue & Sanctuary: Attend a monthly “Howl-In,” where you’ll meet wolfdogs that can’t be placed in permanent homes. After the tour, stay for a potluck meal. (Black Mountain, N.C.)

Animal Adventures in the Triad: Jennifer Bean Bower’s upcoming booksignings

A perfect guidebook for families or anyone who just loves animals, Animal Adventures in North Carolina shares 70 animal attractions that Jennifer Bean Bower personally discovered throughout her travels of the entire state. Each entry provides contact information, driving directions, possible fees, hours of operation, and useful travel tips, accompanied by photographs and detailed descriptions of the attraction’s offerings.

As a Winston-Salem resident, Jennifer Bower will kick off her statewide book tour with signings in the Triad, just in time to plan some exciting excursions for the kids before spring break. Don’t miss either Triad event–some special guests will join Jennifer at each signing:

Tuesday, March 22, at 7 p.m.
Barnes & Noble
1925 Hampton Inn Court. 
Winston-Salem, NC
SciWorks will bring a live salamander and other animal-related goodies.

Thursday, March 24, at 7 p.m. 
Barnes & Noble 
3102 Northline Ave
Greensboro, NC
Conservators’ Center will bring two irresistibly cute Geoffroy’s cats (miniature leopards that max out at about 10 pounds).
Photo by Kim Pyne.

 You can view Jennifer’s full tour itinerary here.

If you can’t make it to the Greensboro signing, you can see a Geoffroy’s cat (and many others from the Conservators’ Center) in action, playing an iPad “game for cats”. Enjoy!