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To the Bones

4.17  ·  Rating details ·  47 ratings  ·  20 reviews
2020 Killer Nashville Silver Falchion Award finalist

Darrick MacBrehon, a government auditor, wakes among the dead. Bloodied and disoriented from a gaping head wound, the man who staggers out of the mine crack in Redbird, West Virginia, is much more powerful—and dangerous—than the one thrown in. An orphan with an unknown past, he must now figure out how to have a future.

Paperback, 204 pages
Published April 25th 2019 by West Virginia University Press
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Average rating 4.17  · 
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Kyra Leseberg (Roots & Reads)
Jul 25, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: arc
3.5 stars

Government auditor Darrick MacBrehon stops for gas off an isolated West Virginia exit and ends up in a mine crack for his trouble.  He wakes up disoriented in the hole surrounded by skeletal remains and crawls out in search of answers.

Lourana Taylor is ready to close up the local Redbird, West Virginia sweepstakes for the Thanksgiving holiday when a man staggers in with a bloody head wound.  She doesn't want any part of his trouble until he explains that he woke up in a mine.
Lourana's d
Well Read Beard
Aug 11, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: my-books
3.5 Stars

My reviews are mine and y'all know that if there is a personal connection to be made then I am going to make it. The back drop of this book is coal mining. West By God Virginia mountain top removal strip mining. The rape of the land and the people. My father was a coal miner for 30 years. This was shaft mining, 800 feet under ground, in Illinois. Now I live in Kentucky and not too far removed from these lost mountains. On another note, Lost Mountain by Erik Reece is the best non-fiction
Isaac Thorne
May 22, 2019 rated it really liked it
At first, I wasn't sure I'd be able to get into this story. The first chapter doesn't immediately allow the reader any insight into where the protagonist (Darrick) is or how he got there. That's intentional. We're experiencing the scene through Darrick's own confusion. Starting a story with that type of confusion and without any fast-approaching light dawning tends to turn me away. It felt like an attempt to kickstart the mystery of the story, but with a bit too much tease.

That said, I pressed o
Jeanne Julian
May 21, 2019 rated it really liked it
Sometimes described as "a mash-up," this novel isn't the kind I'd choose from a library shelf if I weren't familiar with the author's poetry (which is terrific). It's a multi-crime mystery, a character study of people AND place, and a fantasy all at once. However, I enjoyed it, especially the two main characters, their differences and uneasy alliance. While it's in many ways a rollicking novel with touches of bitter humor, it sternly conveys how grotesque the real-life conditions are in towns th ...more
Marjorie Hudson
Jun 05, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: novels
Valerian Nieman has made the perfect beach read...an evil coal baron, an intrepid reporter, a government man who wakes up with powers beyond his control, an ordinary woman shut down by grief, and a river so acid it strips the skin off Christians. Loved it! And the themes of souls at risk and environmental degradation caught me up in what becomes a great moral tale.
Beth Castrodale
Jun 05, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Some of my favorite novels are those in which the setting is integral to the story. In this thrilling, genre-bending novel, the richly rendered setting is inseparable from characters’ fears, strengths, and weaknesses and from nearly every tragedy and triumph in the story.

The coal-baron family at the center of the novel seems to draw dark, otherworldly powers from the coal, and from the land itself. And these powers appear unstoppable, until a few townspeople, and an outsider who discovers some o
Jennifer Davis
Oct 16, 2022 rated it really liked it
What a ride!

I will do my best to avoid spoilers. This is a tightly written wild ride through West Virginia coal country complete with terrifying folklore and acid mine drainage.
As a former journalist who worked for a daily newspaper in the northern coal counties of the state, this story provides the very essence of the mountain state and the bituminous coal patches contained there to the reader. The taste, scent, feel and sounds of the area are palpable throughout this book. Valerie Nieman gets
Steve Lindahl
Oct 27, 2021 rated it it was amazing
To the Bones by Valerie Nieman combines the fun of a sci-fi/fantasy novel with a serious critique of greed in business, especially when that greed leads to environmental harm. It is set in a small, coal mining town in West Virginia. The coal industry is waning, but the business leaders in charge have found a way to keep exploiting the people and the land surrounding them.

Darrick, a mild-mannered government auditor, traveling alone, goes off the highway for gas and ends up in a pile of human bone
Miranda miranda_crites
Sep 28, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I got excited to read “To the Bones” when I saw that it was set in my home state of West Virginia. This was my first experience reading Valerie Nieman, and I loved how she brought the characters to life. I can hear Lourana’s distinct Appalachian dialect flowing right off the pages.

It was wonderful to see some of the local West Virginia heritage and history being mentioned. It isn’t often I get to read about some of these things that are part of our culture such as: hunting ramps, pepperoni rolls
Beth Winegarner
Sep 02, 2019 rated it it was amazing
TO THE BONES is an enjoyable page-turner that turns lots of genre tropes on their heads. The characters are likeable, rich and believable and the plot never lets up. A satisfyingly quirky read.
D.A. Spruzen
Feb 17, 2020 rated it it was amazing
“To The Bones” is set in Redbird, a small town in West Virginia coal country. The town is run by and for the mine owners, the Kavanaughs, who are rarely seen as they prefer to hide away in their gated mansion. Pollution eats away at the town, but that subject is off limits. Two seemingly mismatched characters find love in spite of suffering healthy doses of sorrow and loss. So far this may sound all too familiar, but keep reading, because the book offers a unique, sometimes satirical, take on th ...more
Jul 30, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This was SUCH a pleasure for me to read for a couple of reasons:

1) I met the author and listened to her talk about writing "in the woods" before picking up a copy. She's wonderful and brilliant and lovely, and after hearing her describe the novel I couldn't wait to read it.

2) It's like ...a masterclass?... on pacing. It's a quick read, but not so quick that you don't appreciate the multitude of cool things that are also happening outside the (engaging) plot. Like...

3) Nieman's straddling of th
Gene Turchin
Dec 29, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Valerie Nieman knows her way around words. "To The Bones" showcases a talent for both story telling and the type of writing that you want to roll around in your mouth like a good chocolate. That said, the book is a gut punch from the first lines. It hit you hard and doesn't let up with the action and mystery. She captures the flavor, language and culture of small coal towns in West Virginia in such a way that you can feel the air, smell the acrid coal dust and dirt. Her descriptions overwhelm th ...more
Raymond Hutson
Feb 06, 2020 rated it really liked it
To the Bones, Nieman’s fourth novel, follows Derrick MacBrehon, an inconsequential government auditor who is inadvertently beaten and left for dead by a corrupt deputy in a small town, his body cast into a mass grave. All he did was stop to buy gas. On awakening, Derrick has acquired an unusual telekinetic power, and finds an ally in one of the marginalized citizens of Carbon County, a devastated coal town held under the mysterious tyranny of the Kavanaughs, a dynastic clan who have mined the to ...more
Stephanie Burton Cooper
Dec 31, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I really enjoyed this book. It’s a quick read and moves along at a great pace . It has a couple of good plot twists and you can tell the author knows about West Virginia coal mining. I liked the environmental angle of the story also and the humor of a “ zombie” and the Christian evangelicals thinking it was the rapture happening . Corporate greed is always a believable story line too. I got to hear Valerie Nieman give a talk at the Carolina Mountain Literary Festival in 2019 and thought an inter ...more
Jun 24, 2019 rated it it was amazing
In To the Bones, Val Nieman manages to use the common tropes of West Virginia storytelling--mining, desolation, devotion to family and tradition--and turn them on their heads. Yes, this is a horror story, a mystery story, even a love story, but is also a commentary on the more serious topics of environmental destruction and blindly following power and tradition. The reader can tell how much fun Val had writing this; you'll have the same fun reading. ...more
Rhonda Browning
Jun 29, 2019 rated it it was amazing
A must-read novel that's part ghost-story, part murder mystery, part love story, part environmental notice, and 100% enthralling! ...more
Rebecca Hodge
Jul 04, 2020 rated it it was amazing
A multi-genre story that mixes horror, mystery, and magical realism against a background of environmental disaster, TO THE BONES is an impeccably written page-turner. I cheered for Derrick, an unassuming civil servant, who finds himself unexpectedly gifted with mental powers to fight the coal barons who are destroying a small town in West Virginia. The townspeople who ally themselves with him are dealing with past crises of their own, but together, they manage to identify the true source of the ...more
Apr 11, 2021 rated it it was ok
Not a bad book, just not my kind of novel. The "literary", poetic prose doesn't really do it for me, and it bogged down the action scenes so that I had a hard time following those scenes. ...more
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Nov 16, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  (Review from the author)
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