Saturday, February 25, 2012


Author: John Michael Cummings
Genre: Short Story Collection
Published: Ugly to Start With, 2011
Personal Rating: 3.5/5 (good)
Format: eBook
Yearly Count:  16

From Goodreads:
Jason Stevens is growing up in picturesque, historic Harpers Ferry, West Virginia in the 1970s. Back when the roads are smaller, the cars slower, the people more colorful, and Washington, D.C. is way across the mountains—a winding sixty-five miles away.

Jason dreams of going to art school in the city, but he must first survive his teenage years. He witnesses a street artist from Italy charm his mother from the backseat of the family car. He stands up to an abusive husband—and then feels sorry for the jerk. He puts up with his father’s hard-skulled backwoods ways, his grandfather’s showy younger wife, and the fist-throwing schoolmates and eccentric mountain characters that make up Harpers Ferry—all topped off by a basement art project with a girl from the poor side of town.

Ugly to Start With punctuates the exuberant highs, bewildering midpoints, and painful lows of growing up, and affirms that adolescent dreams and desires are often fulfilled in surprising ways.

This was a difficult collection to read.  It was filled with heartache after heartache, and it hurt to watch a childhood blowing in the wind being whipped around in a tornado.  I suppose the author's ability to bring Jason alive to me is to be praised; however, I wish there were some good moments shared as well.  Maybe there were some for Jason, but as a parent -- it was all bad.  It definitely made me think, and I always wanted to get back to reading more about him.  Again, kudos to Mr. Cummings.  He's a fine, vivid writer.  I would not hesitate to read more of his work, IF it were not so gloomy.

The following titles are listed in the order in which I read them.  In other words, out of order.  It worked out for me, but they should be read in order to avoid spoilers.

The World Around Us

Ugly to Start With

Mountain Wake

The Wallet

Rusty Clackford

The Fence

John Brown the Quaker

Two Tunes

We Never Liked Them Anyway


Indians and Teddy Bears Were Here First

The Scratchboard Project


My thanks go to the author, John Michael Cummings, for sending me the PDF file of this collection for reviewing.


  1. Let's hope that his next collection has a few lighter pieces for the reader to help even out the reading experience!

    1. Staci ~ He has written a YA novel called The Night I Freed John Brown. I'm wondering if there's any connection between the author and Jason. Hmmm.

  2. Sounds like it's worth reading even if it is gloomy.

    1. Staci ~ it was a worthy read, but deeply moving in a sad way. Cummings writes with a very realistic tone.


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