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The Songcatcher

(Ballad #6)

4.03  ·  Rating details ·  2,465 ratings  ·  154 reviews
Haunted by a memory, Lark McCourry traces the passage of a song through generations of her family, from a Scottish island through the pages of American history, to the Appalachian Mountains in western North Carolina. As the memory of the song dims over the years, Lark's only hope of preserving her family legacy lies in mountain wisewoman Nora Bonesteel, who talks to the li ...more
Paperback, 416 pages
Published April 1st 2002 by Signet (first published January 1st 2001)
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4.03  · 
Rating details
 ·  2,465 ratings  ·  154 reviews

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Jeff Dickison
Apr 09, 2018 rated it it was amazing
One of the best Ballad books, this one has a great feel for the Carolina area involved and Nora Bonesteel is a character not soon forgotten. Wonderfully spooky.
Kaye McSpadden
Feb 19, 2008 rated it liked it
This was a "good" book, but it could have been so much better. I was highly-motivated to read it -- I had loved McCrumb's "The Hangman's Beautiful Daughter," which was an engrossing, haunting, lyrical tale about a family tragedy and the goings-on of a community of people in the hills of Appalachia. "The Songcatcher" has the same setting and it tries to have that same haunting, lyrical style. However, I felt that it lacked focus with too many story threads.

Some of these story threads, taken sepa
Feb 13, 2010 rated it really liked it
Shelves: appalachia, fiction
One of the best things about the Appalachian region is it's rich history of music. You can hear the scotch/irish melodies woven through many of the songs which were not even written down until a couple of decades ago. Sharyn McCrumb's story captures the beauty of the mountains, its colorful inhabitants and folklore. I live in these mountains and you can find music in almost any place you look any night of the week. This is one of the best books I've read about this amazing place; certainly one o ...more
Jul 16, 2014 rated it did not like it
I read this book for my Celtic Women club's summer book. If not for the meeting, I would have ditched it after the first chapter. The set up for the book is laudable: Singer Lark McCourry wants to locate a song she had heard sung when she was a little girl. When she is called back home to see her dying father one last time, she decides to look for the song while she is there. In a hurry, she hires a small plane to fly her from a big airport to the small one near her hometown. The plane crashes a ...more
Mar 16, 2011 rated it really liked it
Tracing an ancestor back to his roots gave the author some fascinating factual fodder that brightens this book about a search for an old ballad.

The author’s own family stories prove that truth is often stranger than fiction. One of the key characters is Malcolm, a member of the author’s family tree, who was kidnapped from a beach in the Scottish Isles to work on shipboard when he was less than ten years old. On the ship he worked hard but also learned songs, including the fictional one that is
Feb 26, 2010 rated it liked it
This was the first book in the Ballad series that I ever read - actually the first Sharyn McCrumb book in general that I've read and I just finished re-reading it for my bid to read the entire series in order from start to the end.

This book made me fall in love with Sharyn McCrumb. While it doesn't match the beauty of She Walks These Hills or The Hangman's Beautiful Daughter, (I'm beginning to think that none can) it's still a wonderful work. I love how McCrumb takes one historical story and sev
Sep 21, 2007 rated it it was ok
Shelves: fiction
Someone recommended this, but it probably isn't really my preferred "style" of book. Had a hard time finishing. Wavers somewhere between "historical fiction" and "mystery." Lark is a country singer who uses the music of her childhood to further her career, but simultaneously is isolated from her aging father and community roots. She must find her way back while searching for the "lost" folk-song that is her family's legacy. It doesn't sound all that interesting, and it really isn't. Quite a few ...more
Sep 28, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: books-with-poj
The Songcatcher by Sharyn McCrumb (2001, 321 pages). Subtitled “A Ballad Novel”, McCrumb’s book traces the connections between a traditional ballad and the McCourry family. The story begins in 1751 with Malcolm McCourry, a Scot kidnapped as a child, who is later brought to North Carolina. The plot alternates between Malcolm’s life story and the quest of Lark McCourry, a contemporary country singer, who is trying to track down the ballad she remembers from her childhood. Both stories are intrigui ...more
Jun 05, 2011 rated it really liked it
Shelves: read-2011
I really enjoy Sharyn McCrumb's books set in the Appalachians. I learn something new with each book, about people. This story evolves around a song that the first McCourry, a child kidnapped from Scotland in 1759 and who eventually ends up in western North Carolina, remembers. There is a story set in the present along with chapters about the family through the centuries. A touch of the supernatural gives it an enjoyable edge.
Oct 07, 2011 rated it did not like it
This is a boring book. The story jumps back and forth between an estranged father and daughter, and one of their ancestors in the mid 1700's. Then it also includes random characters along the hiking trails and tiny towns of the Appalachian mountains. At the halfway point of this book, I counted 4 separate story lines, none of them engaging, and there was no hint of how these story lines would be eventually tied together. I have permanently shelved the book.
This is mystery a bit, not murder mystery. I like that there are four plots that are all intertwined. The author used some of her own background/genealogy for this. The plot involves a folksinger looking for the perfect ballad, a Vietnam vet, and the first McCoury to come from Scotland to America in the 1700's. I also like that Spenser Arrowood and Nora Bonesteel from the author's Ballad of Frankie Silver are in this book as well.
Lisa Dunckley
May 24, 2017 rated it really liked it
Another good entry in the Ballad series by Sharyn McCrumb! I do love books where there are two different stories linked together, and few do it better than this author. In The Songcatcher, the two stories are of Folksinger Lark McCourry who is trying to track down a song that she has a vague memory of, and of her ancestor Malcolm MacQuarry, who has learned the song while being shanghaied aboard a ship as a child.

As always, there is a skillful blending of the two stories. Nora Bonesteel, the 70+
Nov 17, 2018 rated it it was ok
Shelves: fiction
I initially found the 'going back to the ancestors' part annoying because it pulled away from the main story. But the afterword put it in perspective, and I found myself appreciating the history and the way it clarified the people of Appalachia. When I read it, I had no idea that it was the sixth in a series. Maybe it would've made more sense and been better if I'd read the other five books first. As it was, it was choppy with loads of interesting characters that seemed to drop in out of nowhere ...more
Trinity Hopkins
I just finished this little gem. It was a goodwill find of my mom’s. I was drawn to it because the author is from N.C. She even went to Chapel Hill which I happen to live in the same county, only 15 minutes away.
McCrumb writes a series of books that follows a folk song handed down from the mountain folk of the Appalachia. Oddly enough my grandfather’s family are from Mt Rogers.
She goes through a century and a half of family genealogy, tracing the steps of the song. Filling in gaps of the histo
Sep 08, 2017 rated it really liked it
I enjoyed reading this book (my first by the author) and reflecting on the writing as I processed the construction of the various story lines. Although the relay between characters, time periods, and events was interesting, the handling of the conversations about the missing song became somewhat repetitive. The Afterward explained the author's sources, but it also repeated some of the novel's words--perhaps because the author was using such personal material in the narrative.
My principal enjoym
William Howle
Oct 24, 2018 rated it really liked it
Several stories in one book. Most of the Ballad series are set in Western North Carolina and Eastern Tennessee. Since I live in this area and are familiar with the people and the places she writes about, I find all these books very interesting. The book starts in Scotland in the early 1700's and ends in present day Tennessee. One of the characters is a retired lawyer, who is estranged from his country singer daughter. His home is also home to his housekeeper, who is an illiterate native of the a ...more
Oct 19, 2017 rated it really liked it
Interesting and loose account of the author's family history in flowing, engaging fiction-style storytelling. Sharyn McCrumb includes historical information about the events surrounding the lives populating The Songcatcher in the backdrop of the beautiful Appalachian Mountains. A nice narrative full of engaging characters.
Dennis Fischman
Mar 30, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: fiction, mystery
I am glad that, after a handful of very good police procedurals, McCrumb had the courage to write a multi-generation family novel. Yes, the Hamelin police department are there, and there’s even a mystery solved (in one of the backstories), but at its heart this is a book about the McCourry family and its travails across two continents and three centuries.
Carolyn (in SC) C234D
Oct 29, 2018 rated it really liked it
What I wrote back then—Good story. Keeps shifting back and forth between different time periods and different characters. Interesting Appalachian history, also going back to Scotland. Rated it an 8 out of 10.
Sarah Haman
Jun 20, 2017 rated it really liked it
I love that this book is based on how a song can be passed down through generations. It follows a family through the generations from their immigration from Scotland to the life in the Appalachians. It talks about present day, but follows the ancestors through their whole history.
Cindy Conlan
Oct 24, 2017 rated it liked it
Kept my interest especially since it was NC history.
Apr 07, 2018 rated it really liked it
Wonderful to read a novel written by someone truly skilled. Very enjoyable book.
Jun 28, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Well written story. I loved following various family members through history as a "family" song was tracked down. A wonderful telling of the life in Tennessee and Carolina mountains.
Apr 18, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: fav-author, fiction
I was amazed to find out that so many things were true from McCrumb's family history.
Jun 09, 2016 rated it really liked it
I have become a fan of Sharyn McCrumb's books, partly because of the setting of her novels which covers east Tennessee and western North Carolina. My husband's family is the Johnson City/ Jonesborough,. TN area so although I haven't actually lived there, I have seen much of the area and become very familiar with people who have been lived there all of their lives. She excels at describing the traditions and lifestyles of the natives of that area---especially the fierce independence, not wanting ...more
Jan 30, 2010 rated it really liked it
One of the things I love best about Sharyn McCrumb is her style of storytelling. She once again delivered with Songcatcher.

One of the things I will carry away from this book is how the pronounciation of words can have political meaning. Two examples are given in this book. The first is the when a New Yorker pronounces Appa-lay-cha when the mountain people prefer Appa-latch-a. The New Yorker insists on saying it his way until the second example is given. Apparently there is a city is Scotland tha
Jan 30, 2012 rated it liked it
I picked up this book in a second hand book section of a roadside cafe, looking for some light reading for the bus.

I'm not quite sure how this book counts as a mystery... but it served its purpose, keeping me entertained for a number of hours on the road, and pool-side during my holiday. I'm cynical, I know, but I just didn't think the plot was thick enough to be a mystery. It was interesting as historical fiction, and I really enjoyed the way the two stories intertwined, past and present sewn
Dec 29, 2007 rated it liked it
Shelves: mysteries
McCrumb alternates the current-day storyline with a story about the generations descended from a Scottish boy kidnapped from his home in Islay and brought to the Caribbean islands. His descendants ultimate settle in New Jersey and the Appalachians between Tennessee and Virginia. In her afterword the author explains that this history was based on what she could dig up about one of her own ancestors and his children and grandchildren. While both the historical narrative and the present-day story a ...more
Dec 16, 2011 rated it liked it
Shelves: mysteries
Back in the small town of Hamlin with Sheriff Arrowood and Nora Bonesteel. I like this series, but this wasn't one of the best. I prefer it when only Nora Bonesteel sees the dead people because she's supposed to have the sight, but when some of the other characters see them too – it takes away from it.

Feuding father-daughter start this one. Daughter has become a famous country/folk singer and is coming home to see dad who is not doing well. He is old curmudgeon who used to be a lawyer. Part of
Apr 10, 2013 rated it liked it
Shelves: history
This was an interesting book. Set in the Appalachians, what I enjoyed most about it was all of the history the author included, both about Appalachian music and the early Scottish settlers. I especially enjoyed her mention of the early Scottish settlers to Buncombe, North Carolina as I can trace my ancestry there. I did not think as far as being an overall great story that it really fit the bill for me, as it didn't seem thecharacters themselves really experienced any kind of growth or triumph ...more
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    Sharyn McCrumb, an award-winning Southern writer, is best known for her Appalachian “Ballad” novels, including the New York Times best sellers The Ballad of Tom Dooley, The Ballad of Frankie Silver, and The Songcatcher. Ghost Riders, which won the Wilma Dykeman Award for Literature from the East Tennessee Historical Society and the national Audie Award for Best Recorded Books. The Unquiet Gra

Other books in the series

Ballad (1 - 10 of 12 books)
  • If Ever I Return, Pretty Peggy-O (Ballad, #1)
  • The Hangman's Beautiful Daughter (Ballad, #2)
  • She Walks These Hills (Ballad, #3)
  • The Rosewood Casket (Ballad, #4)
  • The Ballad of Frankie Silver (Ballad, #5)
  • Ghost Riders (Ballad, #7)
  • The Devil Amongst the Lawyers (Ballad, #8)
  • The Ballad of Tom Dooley (Ballad, #9)
  • King's Mountain (Ballad, #10)
  • Prayers the Devil Answers
“Wild steep mountains floating in a haze of cloud...a sea of green trees swallowing the hills and valleys, and curling around the trails and rivers, with the wind in the leaves as its tide.” 3 likes
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