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The Ballad of Laurel Springs

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From the internationally bestselling author of The Atomic City Girls, a provocative novel set in eastern Tennessee that “explores the legacies—of passion and violence, music and faith—that haunt one family across the generations” (Jillian Medoff, author of This Could Hurt). Ten-year-old Grace is in search of a subject for her fifth-grade history project when she learns tha From the internationally bestselling author of The Atomic City Girls, a provocative novel set in eastern Tennessee that “explores the legacies—of passion and violence, music and faith—that haunt one family across the generations” (Jillian Medoff, author of This Could Hurt). Ten-year-old Grace is in search of a subject for her fifth-grade history project when she learns that her four times-great grandfather once stabbed his lover to death. His grisly act was memorialized in a murder ballad, her aunt tells her, so it must be true. But the lessons of that revelation—to be careful of men and desire—are not just Grace’s to learn. Her family’s tangled past is part of a dark legacy in which the lives of generations of women are affected by the violence immortalized in folksongs like “Knoxville Girl” and “Pretty Polly” reminding them always to know their place—or risk the wages of sin. Janet Beard’s stirring novel, informed by her love of these haunting ballads, vividly imagines these women, defined by the secrets they keep, the surprises they uncover, and the lurking sense of menace that follows them throughout their lives even as they try to make a safe place in the world for themselves. “This inspired story of Appalachian folklore” (Publishers Weekly) will move and rouse you.


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From the internationally bestselling author of The Atomic City Girls, a provocative novel set in eastern Tennessee that “explores the legacies—of passion and violence, music and faith—that haunt one family across the generations” (Jillian Medoff, author of This Could Hurt). Ten-year-old Grace is in search of a subject for her fifth-grade history project when she learns tha From the internationally bestselling author of The Atomic City Girls, a provocative novel set in eastern Tennessee that “explores the legacies—of passion and violence, music and faith—that haunt one family across the generations” (Jillian Medoff, author of This Could Hurt). Ten-year-old Grace is in search of a subject for her fifth-grade history project when she learns that her four times-great grandfather once stabbed his lover to death. His grisly act was memorialized in a murder ballad, her aunt tells her, so it must be true. But the lessons of that revelation—to be careful of men and desire—are not just Grace’s to learn. Her family’s tangled past is part of a dark legacy in which the lives of generations of women are affected by the violence immortalized in folksongs like “Knoxville Girl” and “Pretty Polly” reminding them always to know their place—or risk the wages of sin. Janet Beard’s stirring novel, informed by her love of these haunting ballads, vividly imagines these women, defined by the secrets they keep, the surprises they uncover, and the lurking sense of menace that follows them throughout their lives even as they try to make a safe place in the world for themselves. “This inspired story of Appalachian folklore” (Publishers Weekly) will move and rouse you.

30 review for The Ballad of Laurel Springs

  1. 5 out of 5

    Jennifer ~ TarHeelReader

    I’ve had The Atomic City Girls on my TBR since it came out, and I’m super excited I had the opportunity to read The Ballad of Laurel Springs, Janet Beard’s newest novel. What a gem of a hist fic read. Grace is in 5th grade and seeking an interesting topic for her history project when she discovers one of her relatives stabbed his lover to death and a ballad was written about it. And that murder didn’t just affect one generation of Grace’s family. The trauma has been passed down to the women throu I’ve had The Atomic City Girls on my TBR since it came out, and I’m super excited I had the opportunity to read The Ballad of Laurel Springs, Janet Beard’s newest novel. What a gem of a hist fic read. Grace is in 5th grade and seeking an interesting topic for her history project when she discovers one of her relatives stabbed his lover to death and a ballad was written about it. And that murder didn’t just affect one generation of Grace’s family. The trauma has been passed down to the women through generations, as well as the folk songs written about them. Wow! This is such an original story about Appalachia folklore. I love that it takes place across generations, and the setting in the Appalachian mountains? Of course I loved that. This is a story of strong women, triumphing over adversity, and healing inter-generational trauma. Highly recommended for hist fic fans. I received a gifted copy. Many of my reviews can also be found on my blog: www.jennifertarheelreader.com and instagram: www.instagram.com/tarheelreader

  2. 4 out of 5

    Morgan

    Hard book to rate &/or review. It lives up to its title as song (ballad) lyrics are interspersed throughout. It is a generational story of a family of Appalachian women in Tennessee. Started out well enough in 2019 when Grace has to write a story for her family history project at school. Her Aunt Dee tells her the story of “Pretty Polly” (supposedly a log ago relative) and they listen to the song. Having turned in the story it causes quite a fuss and Grace is told it’s not the kind of thing to be t Hard book to rate &/or review. It lives up to its title as song (ballad) lyrics are interspersed throughout. It is a generational story of a family of Appalachian women in Tennessee. Started out well enough in 2019 when Grace has to write a story for her family history project at school. Her Aunt Dee tells her the story of “Pretty Polly” (supposedly a log ago relative) and they listen to the song. Having turned in the story it causes quite a fuss and Grace is told it’s not the kind of thing to be talked about. Next the book turns back in history to 1907 and on. Most of it is ok but there are some parts that I found quite distasteful. Not to say that things like that don’t happen in real life, but it felt denigrating to the women in some way as each one seemed to keep making the same bad choices and terrible mistakes. Pretty Polly’s story (1891) is not revealed until the last chapter by which time I had lost track of who was related to whom anymore but still I had come to dislike everyone in this book. This really should be 1-1/2 stars at best --- oh well.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Chaya Nebel

    This lovely and engaging novel tells the stories of generations of women in the Appalachian Mountains of Tennessee. We start with a current-day girl, and then go backwards in time to the early 1900s, to the girl's great-great-great-great grandmother, then ahead a generation, and so on through the line of women in this small Tennessee town. The author focuses her story around a series of ballads original to the region, particularly one "murder ballad" that supposedly involves one of the female fo This lovely and engaging novel tells the stories of generations of women in the Appalachian Mountains of Tennessee. We start with a current-day girl, and then go backwards in time to the early 1900s, to the girl's great-great-great-great grandmother, then ahead a generation, and so on through the line of women in this small Tennessee town. The author focuses her story around a series of ballads original to the region, particularly one "murder ballad" that supposedly involves one of the female forbears of the characters. In fact, each chapter (with its focus on a different woman) is titled after another folk song, and the lyrics of the songs, interwoven into the chapters and stories, adds a nice depth and feel for the region, for the history of the place, and for the culture. The women's stories are varied, with each women experiencing her own trials and tribulations, conflicts and problems inherent to the time, place and culture. However, I loved how the author repeated certain plot elements and points from one chapter to the next, echoing the other women's tales. What I did not like so much was the (necessarily) too brief and shallow look at each woman's story. It seemed that just as I was getting interested in a storyline, the author cuts off the tale to switch to another timeline and another woman. That is the drawback when painting this many portraits (9 in all!) in an average-sized novel. The author tries to connect the women together, particularly when a woman from a previous chapter is still alive and connected in some way to the woman of the current story, but I still felt cheated of a more in-depth story.

  4. 4 out of 5

    ʚϊɞ Shelley's ʚϊɞ Book Nook

    This book was lyrical in the most literal way because it has actual lyrics in it, by way of folk songs pertaining to the area of Laurel Springs. I love stories set in the Appalachian Mountains and learning about about the people and their customs and ways of life. This story particularly grabbed my attention because it is multi generational and historical at the same time. We start in 2019 and go back to 1891. I adored the women in this story and the way Janet Beard was able to write through the This book was lyrical in the most literal way because it has actual lyrics in it, by way of folk songs pertaining to the area of Laurel Springs. I love stories set in the Appalachian Mountains and learning about about the people and their customs and ways of life. This story particularly grabbed my attention because it is multi generational and historical at the same time. We start in 2019 and go back to 1891. I adored the women in this story and the way Janet Beard was able to write through their eyes in a real way. The women in this family are to be admired for their strength and resilience. This book was fascinating and had me in its grip from start to finish. Highly recommend! With many thanks to NetGalley, Janet Beard and Gallery Books for the ARC.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Katy

    I received my copy free through Goodreads Giveaways. I read this nearly straight through - the stories were engaging and I just couldn't put it down. I received my copy free through Goodreads Giveaways. I read this nearly straight through - the stories were engaging and I just couldn't put it down.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Beth

    I was attracted to this book because it takes place in Tennessee outside of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, but it starts before there is a National Park. This book takes us from 1891-2019. Grace is doing a school project about her family history. She learns there are some bad things in her family's history but no one wants to talk about them. This book then takes us way back and we learn the stories of her ancestors. Each story is connected to an old ballad. The stories all take place I was attracted to this book because it takes place in Tennessee outside of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, but it starts before there is a National Park. This book takes us from 1891-2019. Grace is doing a school project about her family history. She learns there are some bad things in her family's history but no one wants to talk about them. This book then takes us way back and we learn the stories of her ancestors. Each story is connected to an old ballad. The stories all take place around Laurel Springs. I have hiked to Laurel Falls so I kept picturing that in my mind. There is murder, rape, adultery, and so much more. It makes you think of the secrets families hold on to and do not tell future generations. "I don't have to agree with them about everything to like them."

  7. 4 out of 5

    Tammy Buchli

    Well done and evocative multigenerational novel. Given the number of different perspectives, Beard did an excellent job keeping each protagonist and timeline distinct. All of the women were not likeable, but they were all complex, interesting and relatable. Highly recommended. Thanks to NetGalley for providing an ARC copy for my review.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Barbara

    Ten-year-old Grace is thrilled when she learned that an old mountain folk song about a man who murders his lover, was supposedly based on the murder of her great, great, great aunt. The book then rewinds back to the beginning and slowly, we learn that the women in Grace’s family left her a legacy of bad decisions, all revolving around men, desire and Laurel Springs, Tennessee. I was enthralled from page one.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Sue

    Author Janet Beard’s latest novel, The Ballad of Laurel Springs, brings the generations and secrets of an Eastern Tennessee family to life, intertwining them with the region’s traditional ballads and blues. Although reading like a series of short stories, the book closely links each of the family member’s lives, sometimes reintroducing characters at different stages of their lives while focusing on another family member. Beard captures readers’ interest from the book’s opening sentence, as ten-y Author Janet Beard’s latest novel, The Ballad of Laurel Springs, brings the generations and secrets of an Eastern Tennessee family to life, intertwining them with the region’s traditional ballads and blues. Although reading like a series of short stories, the book closely links each of the family member’s lives, sometimes reintroducing characters at different stages of their lives while focusing on another family member. Beard captures readers’ interest from the book’s opening sentence, as ten-year-old Grace narrates: “Aunt Dee told me about the murder.” Grace’s family history project is due soon to her language arts teacher. Grace’s mom has helped with the family tree, and her grandmother has sent photos, but without a family story, the project remains incomplete. When Grace asks her mom’s younger sister, Aunt Dee replies, “We got stores for sure, Gracie. . . . One of our ancestors killed somebody.” Suddenly, Grace learns the story of her great-great-great-great grandfather Will who killed his girlfriend, and hears the family legend that “Pretty Polly,” a traditional ballad, commemorates the murder. This is only the beginning of the first story, titled “Pretty Polly,” and focusing on Grace in 2019. Next comes “The Wife of Usher’s Well,” set in 1907-1908, and centered around Grace’s four-times great-grandmother, Pearl, the younger sister of the murder victim Polly. Now an adult, Pearl is married and of mother of several children. However, Pearl’s narrative is less about her family than about two teachers who arrive on the mountain to open a new mission school and about how Pearl comes to wonder if her deceased sister’s friend, Violet Nickson, might be a witch. Pearl and Abel’s son Jake plays an important role in stories three and four. “The Wayfaring Stranger” opens in 1925 with its narrator, Miriam—Pearl’s daughter-in-law—providing another attention-grabbing opening line: “My husband returned from the dead in 1925.” Believed a casualty of World War I, Jake reappears with no explanation of his whereabouts since the war. Not until the fourth story, “Careless Love Blues,” set in 1937, does another member of the extended family learn the story Jake still has not told his wife Miriam. Story after story, gradually moving forward through time, Janet Beard reveals this Eastern Tennessee family’s secrets, every connected to the music at the heart of local culture. In the last story, the author circles back to 1891 and to the voice of Polly, the murder victim, to Grace’s four-times great grandfather Will, to Polly’s friend Violet, and to the ballad “Pretty Polly.” In her acknowledgments, Beard speaks of being “raised on the songs and stories of the mountains.” Her vivid accounts dramatize regional life as experienced by young Grace’s ancestors and family members, particularly the women, whose lives seem inextricably woven into the haunting and tragic traditional music. Thanks to NetGalley and Gallery Books/Simon & Schuster for an advance reader copy.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Christy Martin

    Janet Beard writes an intriguing book full of stories of Appalachian women from the 19th Century to the 21st Century in her latest book, "The Balland of Laurel Springs". The book centers around the various things that happen to many young women at Laurel Springs. The novel is fiction but time and space take the reader thru the evolution of the area around the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The hardships of earlier times and the change in the lives that surround that area are many However, Janet Beard writes an intriguing book full of stories of Appalachian women from the 19th Century to the 21st Century in her latest book, "The Balland of Laurel Springs". The book centers around the various things that happen to many young women at Laurel Springs. The novel is fiction but time and space take the reader thru the evolution of the area around the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The hardships of earlier times and the change in the lives that surround that area are many However, as the book illustrates in its many characters and their interrelationships life remains difficult for the women of the area. Laurel Springs is one of the common denominators of the main characters as they meet there thru three centuries. Another common denominator in the book it s the music passed on thru generations of those who pioneered and settled the area. An interesting book and one that speaks to women in particular. Ms. Beard is a new writer on the best seller scene and this book shows a maturation of her literary talents. The characters are well developed, interesting, and interlinked. Janet Beard tells a good story. Thanks to #NetGalley#The BalladofLaurelSprings for the opportunity to read and review this book.

  11. 4 out of 5

    T

    Part of my family hails from Eastern Tennessee. I’ve always loved listening to the hill songs, the melodies and use of banjo/dulcimer/fiddle always haunts me. But I never truly gave notice to what the lyrics were about. Until I read this book. Each chapter focuses on a different woman in a loosely connected family that all traces back to an act of violence back in the 1890s. Each chapter has its own voice, focus, and background folk song. Pearl’s chapter reminded me of the movie “Songcatcher”. Giv Part of my family hails from Eastern Tennessee. I’ve always loved listening to the hill songs, the melodies and use of banjo/dulcimer/fiddle always haunts me. But I never truly gave notice to what the lyrics were about. Until I read this book. Each chapter focuses on a different woman in a loosely connected family that all traces back to an act of violence back in the 1890s. Each chapter has its own voice, focus, and background folk song. Pearl’s chapter reminded me of the movie “Songcatcher”. Given that this was written by someone born and raised in East Tennessee, it was written respectful of the people from that region. Too often Appalachia gets painted as an inbred, racist monolith and that isn’t the case. (See the documentary “Hillbilly” for further delving into that.) I enjoyed this novel for all the above reasons (and more), but can understand how some readers might not take a shine to it, also given all the reasons above. Many thanks to the publisher for providing me with a free copy to review.

  12. 4 out of 5

    DAB-E

    Fasinating book that covers from 1891 to 2019 and the changes that occur over time and generations. I enjoyed seeing the ballads throughout the book, many which I have heard but sometimes with slightly different lyrics. Each chapter tells about a different character from a different generation and shows the connections between them. It discusses the changes in a small community as well as how things stay the same. I wish the book had a copy of a family tree to keep track of all of the people and Fasinating book that covers from 1891 to 2019 and the changes that occur over time and generations. I enjoyed seeing the ballads throughout the book, many which I have heard but sometimes with slightly different lyrics. Each chapter tells about a different character from a different generation and shows the connections between them. It discusses the changes in a small community as well as how things stay the same. I wish the book had a copy of a family tree to keep track of all of the people and generations. This would have made it even better.

  13. 5 out of 5

    DeAnna

    🏞The Ballad of Laurel Springs🏞 Set in the Appalachian mountains of Eastern Tennessee this is a story of generations. Each chapter is told from a different decade and a different woman’s voice, starting in the early 1900’s and ending in the early 2000’s. The story begins with a song, a folksy tune about a girl that met her end at the hands of her lover. This song, amongst others, is shared from generation to generation and weaves its way through the lives of the people that live in Laurel Springs. 🏞The Ballad of Laurel Springs🏞 Set in the Appalachian mountains of Eastern Tennessee this is a story of generations. Each chapter is told from a different decade and a different woman’s voice, starting in the early 1900’s and ending in the early 2000’s. The story begins with a song, a folksy tune about a girl that met her end at the hands of her lover. This song, amongst others, is shared from generation to generation and weaves its way through the lives of the people that live in Laurel Springs. Because each chapter is different in character and time period, this book feels a lot like a collection of short stories set mostly in the same place. I enjoyed the stories and found them interesting but would have liked to connect to the characters more but the short time I spent with them in each chapter didn’t really allow that. Maybe this was intentional. The music and lyrics became their own character in this book and it was the folklore that really drove each individual story. The songs are haunting and sometimes violent, unlike the sweet bluegrass songs I grew up listening to my grandparents sing and perform as I grew up. What was familiar to me is the way music tells a story and how that story gets passed down from one generation to another. I think this is what interested me the most about this book. There’s mystery, historical importance and haunting characters in this book. It releases today if you’d like to pick it up 📚 Thank you to @gallerybooks and @netgalley for this eARC in exchange for an honest review. 3/5 ⭐️ I liked it.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Kathleen Gray

    What happened to Polly? Polly's the subject of a mountain murder ballad that runs throughout this tale of the women in a family in Southern Appalachia. The novel starts with your Grace in the present and then moves back to 1891 and the story of Polly's sister Pearl, then forward to Pearl's daughter, and so on, to include one young girl who is related as the result of an extramarital affair. Each woman is vivid, each experiences more pain than they deserve, and Beard has used them effectively to What happened to Polly? Polly's the subject of a mountain murder ballad that runs throughout this tale of the women in a family in Southern Appalachia. The novel starts with your Grace in the present and then moves back to 1891 and the story of Polly's sister Pearl, then forward to Pearl's daughter, and so on, to include one young girl who is related as the result of an extramarital affair. Each woman is vivid, each experiences more pain than they deserve, and Beard has used them effectively to show how change came to the region. Everyone is linked in some way and I'll admit that I had to pause at the beginning of several chapters to remember how they fit in (and in one case, it wasn't clear for a bit). Several secondary characters (Violet for example) span the more central stories. The device worked beautifully for me because it's how a sprawling family works. Thanks to the publisher for the ARC. Terrific characters and wonderful storytelling, AND, you will eventually read Polly's story.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Beth

    Set in the mountains of Tennessee, this book follows the lives of several generations of women from the early 1900s into the 21st century. One common thread through time was the story told in the folk song "Pretty Polly" and the nearby Laurel Springs, where the murder outlined in the song took place. Generally, this is a "men do women wrong" -- again and again -- kind of book. The audiobook was read by Jennifer Jill Araya, Andi Arndt, Robin Eller, Angel Pean, Candace Thaxton, Megan Tusing, and Na Set in the mountains of Tennessee, this book follows the lives of several generations of women from the early 1900s into the 21st century. One common thread through time was the story told in the folk song "Pretty Polly" and the nearby Laurel Springs, where the murder outlined in the song took place. Generally, this is a "men do women wrong" -- again and again -- kind of book. The audiobook was read by Jennifer Jill Araya, Andi Arndt, Robin Eller, Angel Pean, Candace Thaxton, Megan Tusing, and Nancy Wu. I thought the performances were solid. Thanks to the publishers for the review copies (digital, print, and/or audio)

  16. 4 out of 5

    Jerrika Rhone

    38% Done: For me, this book has nothing to do with murder ballads and what not. The story is about the secrets that are kept in this isolated and poor community. I like how the story is woven through families and generations. I also like how the point of view comes from the voices of the women on the mountain. 53% Done: Reads as a string of shorts and they seem to be getting more ridiculous as the years pass along. I'm pretty sure I know where each story is going as soon as it starts. Good narrat 38% Done: For me, this book has nothing to do with murder ballads and what not. The story is about the secrets that are kept in this isolated and poor community. I like how the story is woven through families and generations. I also like how the point of view comes from the voices of the women on the mountain. 53% Done: Reads as a string of shorts and they seem to be getting more ridiculous as the years pass along. I'm pretty sure I know where each story is going as soon as it starts. Good narration. DNF @ 83%: It just goes on and on and on and on and on

  17. 5 out of 5

    Diana N.

    This book follows the story of "Pretty Polly" through many generations. Each person in the family chain along the way tells their own life stories. This book felt like a bunch if short stories linked together through the family bond. I enjoyed the journey through time, but it felt very slow during several parts. I am glad that the end brought the story back to complete the circle so to speak. This book follows the story of "Pretty Polly" through many generations. Each person in the family chain along the way tells their own life stories. This book felt like a bunch if short stories linked together through the family bond. I enjoyed the journey through time, but it felt very slow during several parts. I am glad that the end brought the story back to complete the circle so to speak.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Mary Jo

    When I saw the contents list in the front of the book I wondered how so many individual characters could make a cohesive story but one chapter blended seamlessly into the next. I enjoyed the Tennessee setting, the historical aspects of the different generations of women and the references to the mountain music ballads woven through the narrative. A good read!

  19. 5 out of 5

    Nita

    Such creative writing flows through this generational story, so clever! The Ballad of Laurel Springs by Janet Beard is a beautifully written must read Five Star story! I loved everything about this book and it had me thinking of my own family secrets! #FiveStarGold #mustread

  20. 5 out of 5

    Claire Talbot

    If you like the mountains of Appalachia and the old ballads and folk songs - this book is for you. The book begins with ten year old Grace working on a family tree project, and trying to get an interesting story about her ancestors from her favorite babysitter - her mom's younger sister, Dee. Dee tells Grace the story of "Pretty Polly" an old ballad that tells the tale of of a young mountain woman murdered by her lover - whom Dee claims is an ancestor. After Grace presents the project to her mom If you like the mountains of Appalachia and the old ballads and folk songs - this book is for you. The book begins with ten year old Grace working on a family tree project, and trying to get an interesting story about her ancestors from her favorite babysitter - her mom's younger sister, Dee. Dee tells Grace the story of "Pretty Polly" an old ballad that tells the tale of of a young mountain woman murdered by her lover - whom Dee claims is an ancestor. After Grace presents the project to her mom and her class, she realizes that there are family secrets that she does not know about. The story then rewinds to the generation of Polly - and starts with the story of her sister, Pearl. Each chapter represents a certain woman in the family, and is named after a ballad. We go from 1907 to 2019 in this book - I loved the stories, and trying to find the connections in the hill families to each other. A family tree in the book would have been very helpful - I tried to draw one myself! I listened to each ballad on Youtube to try and get a sense of atmosphere as I read each chapter - one of my favorites was Johnny Cash's version of "Wayfaring Stranger". Within each story you find a woman who has loved, made terrible decisions, and pays a price for it. With the author being from Tennessee originally, I felt the characters were authentic, and well fleshed out. It was also interesting to see the Great Smoky National Park come to life in the pages, and realize the price that some families paid for our national park. The setting of Laurel Springs is very important in the story - from Polly's murder, to each generation of women - each having something important and life altering occur there. The book ends with a "reprise" of "pretty Polly" so you do find out what happened to her on that fateful day. Themes of racism and violence are also part of the story. I savored this book on a rainy Sunday - thank you to the author for providing a Advanced reader copy to review.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Anissa Telle

    The Ballad of Laurel Springs by Janet Beard follows the legacy of nine members over multiple generations of the same Tennessee family. They are connected by the same folk song and tragic murder of their relative Polly. The book is told in alternating voices from nine strong heroines at a times of uncertainty. We learn that much embellishment has actually occurred from the tragic death of Polly. However, the strength and resilience of these women can not be denied. They share an uncanny ability to The Ballad of Laurel Springs by Janet Beard follows the legacy of nine members over multiple generations of the same Tennessee family. They are connected by the same folk song and tragic murder of their relative Polly. The book is told in alternating voices from nine strong heroines at a times of uncertainty. We learn that much embellishment has actually occurred from the tragic death of Polly. However, the strength and resilience of these women can not be denied. They share an uncanny ability to find joy in whatever life throws at them. The multiple generations of women are are masterfully woven into a story true to their strengths and challenges. Beard has a gift in creating true to life characters that we can find a little piece of ourselves in. The dynamics of their relationships will keep you thinking about these characters long after you close this book. I was provided a free advance reader copy from Gallery Books in exchange for my honest review on Net Galley.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Sherry Arp

    I did receive a ARC of this book. This was a beautiful story of how history is passed from generation to generation in the simplest of forms and without intent. In the case it was generations of females from the same lineage, singing an old folk song to the next generation. Each time the words to the song or the story that went with the song changed a little, but showed a great example of how these family stories come to be. I really enjoy how the chapters were broken up by each generation, but y I did receive a ARC of this book. This was a beautiful story of how history is passed from generation to generation in the simplest of forms and without intent. In the case it was generations of females from the same lineage, singing an old folk song to the next generation. Each time the words to the song or the story that went with the song changed a little, but showed a great example of how these family stories come to be. I really enjoy how the chapters were broken up by each generation, but you didn't have to flip back and forth to remember who was who or how they connected. In a way the story began at the end and did a full circle back to the beginning, which was also ver enjoyable.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Greg

    In my mother’s house, in the hallway leading to the bedrooms, there’s a framed photograph of a Mexican woman working in the kitchen. She’s old. The photo has been blown up so you can see that her face is creased with wrinkles. All of her attention is focused down on whatever she’s doing (making tortillas? That’s what I always assumed) and there’s a smoldering cigarette in a tray behind her. Her hands are bony and knarled and she’s bent forward in a hunch. She’s my mother’s paternal grandmother a In my mother’s house, in the hallway leading to the bedrooms, there’s a framed photograph of a Mexican woman working in the kitchen. She’s old. The photo has been blown up so you can see that her face is creased with wrinkles. All of her attention is focused down on whatever she’s doing (making tortillas? That’s what I always assumed) and there’s a smoldering cigarette in a tray behind her. Her hands are bony and knarled and she’s bent forward in a hunch. She’s my mother’s paternal grandmother and the sum total of what I know of her is contained in that photo. I thought about that photo a lot while reading this book. I thought about how little I know of her or even of my other great-grandparents, some of whom I can remember meeting. Honestly, all we know is what they tell us or what is told about them. We don’t know, will never know, their secrets. All of those die with them. All of those longings, all of those tears, all of those intimacies that are only kept in the corners of their hearts - they stay there. They’re buried along with them. They are some of the most important building blocks that make us who we are and yet are never shared. Laurel Springs is cursed for the women in this book. It is an evil place, I’m convinced, and the devil himself must live there. But it’s part of them. Those corners of their hearts are filled with the memories of that place, and maybe some ancestral memory, maybe something that wormed into the genes of the family, keeps calling them back. The book itself was fine. I felt like the theme itself was muddled and the writing a bit vacant at times. The stories themselves were interesting and kept me engaged, though, and I cared about most of the characters. Worth a read, to be sure, mostly for the interesting concept of following the women of this family through discrete vignettes. *I received a copy of this book for free from the publisher, but no review was requested nor promised.*

  24. 4 out of 5

    Leighton

    Thank you to Gallery Books for this ARC in exchange for an honest review! The Ballad of Laurel Springs by Janet Beard is an engrossing work of historical fiction that incorporates music in the form of murder ballads. The story revolves around 10 year-old Grace, who is working on a school project when she finds out that there is a murder ballad about one of the ancestors in her family. Apparently, he killed his lover Polly. But he wasn't the only one. Generations of women in her family have experi Thank you to Gallery Books for this ARC in exchange for an honest review! The Ballad of Laurel Springs by Janet Beard is an engrossing work of historical fiction that incorporates music in the form of murder ballads. The story revolves around 10 year-old Grace, who is working on a school project when she finds out that there is a murder ballad about one of the ancestors in her family. Apparently, he killed his lover Polly. But he wasn't the only one. Generations of women in her family have experienced violence and been the subject of murder ballads. The book moves deftly from each woman's perspective and throughout the years as it comments on music, faith, and violence against women. Here is an excerpt from Chapter 1, when Grace hears a ballad for the first time: "The musicians wrapped up, and the audience clapped. Dee reached her phone back into her pocket. "So Willy was our ancestor?" I asked her. "Yup. He was a Reid." "Why did he kill her?" "I don't know. The song doesn't really say." "It's kind of terrible." I must have looked worried, because Dee put her hand on my shoulder. "Hey, it's just a story. I mean, it happened a really long time ago." "Yeah, I know." "Forget I showed you that song. It's probably not a good idea for your paper."" Overall, The Ballad of Laurel Springs is an innovative and original take on Appalachian folklore and music. I was fascinated by the concept of exploring the real-life stories behind ballads and songs, particularly songs that speak of violence. I really enjoyed reading how the author chose to explore these stories from the perspective of women throughout the generations. I did take off 1 star, because I don't typically enjoy historical fiction. That's not that book's fault. I'm just explaining why it wasn't a 5-star read for me personally. If you're intrigued by the excerpt above, or if you're a fan of historical fiction, I highly recommend checking out this book, which is available now!

  25. 5 out of 5

    Carol

    This book starts in 2019, and goes backwards to 1908, following a generation of women and their daughters mostly through story and ballad. You learn about a murder ballad and then about the woman the ballad was written about. It is an ambitious feat for the author, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Unfortunately, it was difficult to leave each character and go on to the character that she was connected to. The story was engrossing, but often, I wanted to learn more about the character that I was leav This book starts in 2019, and goes backwards to 1908, following a generation of women and their daughters mostly through story and ballad. You learn about a murder ballad and then about the woman the ballad was written about. It is an ambitious feat for the author, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Unfortunately, it was difficult to leave each character and go on to the character that she was connected to. The story was engrossing, but often, I wanted to learn more about the character that I was leaving before starting the next one. The author could have easily stretched the story out into a series of books That would have been more satisfying, but there is a problem here. Often when you go back in family history, the earliest generation is the least known. For example, in one part of my family tree, the earliest woman on my father's died on her wedding day. I know her name, birth and death date and who she married but nothing else. I do not know why she died and anything about her as a person except that she was born, married and died in England. This is spare, but unless you are royalty or famous, the details of our lives vanish as time goes on. A younger sister continued the family line, Ballads also do not give you the full story. We learn what happened, but often not why, I received an advanced copy of this book from the publisher as a win in a First Reads contest. My thoughts and feelings in this review are my own.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Laura

    Rating 3.5 Janet Beard's latest novel reads more like a set of linked short stories. The stories track 7 generations of women in a family based in fictional Tates Valley, on the edge of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in eastern Tennessee. ( This is my old stomping grounds. I grew up in nearby Kingsport.) The stories are linked by family connection, geography, and a common spirit of misogyny among many of the male characters, illustrated by the use of Appalachian "murder ballads," and rel Rating 3.5 Janet Beard's latest novel reads more like a set of linked short stories. The stories track 7 generations of women in a family based in fictional Tates Valley, on the edge of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in eastern Tennessee. ( This is my old stomping grounds. I grew up in nearby Kingsport.) The stories are linked by family connection, geography, and a common spirit of misogyny among many of the male characters, illustrated by the use of Appalachian "murder ballads," and religious "blood hymns" (e.g. "Washed in the Blood of the Lamb.") The only problem for me with this style is that the short story format must cover 7 different major characters separately in a relatively short book - just over 270 pages -- so the character development isn't particularly deep. The stories tie together well and Beard's sense of place and the personality of the people of the area is spot-on. The setting is reminiscent of Pigeon Forge or, more likely given its relationship to the park, Gatlinburg, and she does a good job of tracking the evolution of the area over time. The use of a particular location in the Park -- Laurel Springs (which I think is fictional) is also well-done. I enjoyed the book.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Rhiannon Allen

    10 year old Grace is working on a school project about her family history when she learns about a murder ballad that was supposedly written about one of her ancestors who murdered his lover. Travel back to the early 1900s in Eastern Tennessee and you are lead through the stories of generations of women in Grace's family who have been deeply affected by the violence and heartache these old murder ballads portray. As a woman who hails from Appalachia and whose maternal family history was greatly s 10 year old Grace is working on a school project about her family history when she learns about a murder ballad that was supposedly written about one of her ancestors who murdered his lover. Travel back to the early 1900s in Eastern Tennessee and you are lead through the stories of generations of women in Grace's family who have been deeply affected by the violence and heartache these old murder ballads portray. As a woman who hails from Appalachia and whose maternal family history was greatly shaped by the continuing misogynistic and cumbersome culture of Appalachia, this book felt like I was looking in on my own family's past. The writing gave way to some beautiful imagery of small town Appalachia, and I really felt as if I was experiencing all the pain, heartache, joy, anger, etc. right alongside the characters. The characters, while all seemingly sharing the same fate, were written with their own unique complexities. This book delves deep into the narrative of Appalachian women, and showcases how gut-wrenching that narrative sometimes can be. It sheds light on the many obstacles these women have had to face (and some still do), and reminds us that if we are not careful we could risk erasing an important history.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Cheryl

    I liked this book much more than I expected to! After reading the first few pages, I felt like the story was a little stilted and a bit reminiscent of another book I had recently read. However, I kept reading and I definitely changed my mind! This book tells the historical story of ballads from hundreds of years ago, which were brought over originally from Europe and kept alive through Applachian folklore and music. It does this simultaneously through telling the stories of multiple generations I liked this book much more than I expected to! After reading the first few pages, I felt like the story was a little stilted and a bit reminiscent of another book I had recently read. However, I kept reading and I definitely changed my mind! This book tells the historical story of ballads from hundreds of years ago, which were brought over originally from Europe and kept alive through Applachian folklore and music. It does this simultaneously through telling the stories of multiple generations of fictional Applachian women who are all connected to each other through family and bloodlines, as well as through the music and the passing down of these ballads throughout the generations. I may not be doing the story justice by my description here, but it was actually a very interesting and fast-paced read. I liked how the ending ties together all of the other stories in the book and goes back to the beginning to shed light on the enduring mystery of Polly, one of the original women in the book. Definitely something different, and very interesting!

  29. 5 out of 5

    Elaine Esan

    Thank you Goodreads for this book. I did not enjoy it. While, I found the writing to be good, I did not like the lack of character development. Each chapter written about the woman in Polly’s family seemed like more a series of short stories. In our history, because of societal and religious pressure, women were supposed to accept certain situations, regardless of their dreams and aspirations. In the Ballad of Laurel Springs, I think the majority of women characters gave into this pressure where Thank you Goodreads for this book. I did not enjoy it. While, I found the writing to be good, I did not like the lack of character development. Each chapter written about the woman in Polly’s family seemed like more a series of short stories. In our history, because of societal and religious pressure, women were supposed to accept certain situations, regardless of their dreams and aspirations. In the Ballad of Laurel Springs, I think the majority of women characters gave into this pressure where they could have spoken up for themselves. It was depressing to continually read about these women. I did not like or understand Lydia. Her actions were not consistent with the time period or any period for that matter. She had choices, but chose by her actions to ignore morality and professionalism.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Kathy

    I love family sagas, and The Ballad of Laurel Springs is a good one! Set in Appalachia from 1907 through 2019, the story is told through the POV's of eight women. I was immediately engaged with the characters, and loved how as the author moves us forward through the generations, she also fills in information about the previous ones so that we understand their lives better. There's almost a lyrical quality to Ms. Beard's writing, and her characters ring true. This was a satisfying read, and one wh I love family sagas, and The Ballad of Laurel Springs is a good one! Set in Appalachia from 1907 through 2019, the story is told through the POV's of eight women. I was immediately engaged with the characters, and loved how as the author moves us forward through the generations, she also fills in information about the previous ones so that we understand their lives better. There's almost a lyrical quality to Ms. Beard's writing, and her characters ring true. This was a satisfying read, and one which shows that while each generation makes their own choices, those who went before us are always with us in ways that we may not fully realize. My sincere thanks to NetGalley and Gallery Books for allowing me to read an ARC of the novel which is scheduled for publication on 10/19/21. All opinions expressed in this review are my own and are freely given.

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