My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Perhaps it was fate, but cousins Lily Claire and Willie T. were born the very same instant just after their mothers Sara Onselle Nash and Rachel Bodicea Nock got into a fight about something or other and just about trashed their shared hospital room.
After that, Lily Claire and Willie T. couldn’t help but be inseparable friends and playmates throughout the old roads and backwoods of Moonlight Ridge near Eden, Alabama during a long-ago time when skinned knees, grubby hands and natural music were more prevalent than they are today.
Protagonist Lily Claire relates that Willy T. “was the meanest little booger you’d ever want to see. In the early years, before we started to school, we fought about as much as we played. And then it got so that, for the most part, we couldn’t tell the difference between fighting and playing.”
There’s a lot of laughter in “Sweet Music on Moonlight Ridge.” Author Ramey Channell has filled her charming story with a boocoos (that’s a Southern word meaning “a lot”) of well-drawn, quasi-eccentric mountain people. When they come together, they’re just naturally funny even though that’s not always their intention.
They’re good people, too, and no-nonsence pragmatic, the kind it would be a pleasure to know. In the novel’s introduction, Channell says that even though she’s not Lily Claire, she used to be a lot like her. Channell grew up on a mountain like Moonlight ridge, one that “seemed like a mystical place then.”
Channell has a good memory, and she writes in the kind of lyrical prose that comes from a writer with an ear for the language of the place where her characters are coming to life on the page. Moonlight Ridge is filled with magic and mystery. As it turns out, Lily Claire and Willy T. have a better handle on what’s what in the magic and mystery department than the adults.
After this charming story comes to an end, readers will discover a handy glossary that defines words like “boocoos” and “Arby-vida.” There are some recipes, too, for those who can’t wait to try Granny’s Persimmon Cookies, Cabbage Chow-Chow or barbecued ribs with Sam Nash’s “Secret” sauce.
While one expects a talented storyteller like Ramey Channell to spin a fine backwoodsy yarn, finding food at the end of the tale is a bonus. As Lily Claire says about almost every wise revelation, “I guess it just goes to show you.”