#124 ~ Midwife of the Blue Ridge ~ Book Review and Giveaway

November 22, 2008 at 11:29 am | Posted in Books, Culture, Family, Historical Fiction | 26 Comments
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cover-of-midwife-of-the-blue-ridge
Midwife of the Blue Ridge by Christine Blevins

Maggie Duncan lost her family as a very young girl during a massacre between the British and the Scottish.  Her destiny falls into place when she helps a injured man find his way home to his wife, Hannah.  Hannah, a midwife and local healer, realizes almost instantly that her husband’s gangrene will end his life.  Childless, she sees Maggie’s arrival as the blessing to bloom from her husband’s death.  She takes Maggie under her wings and teaches her healing and midwifery.  Unfortunately, the little Scottish town in which they live is superstitious.  They think that Maggie is bad luck given what happened to her parents.  They believe she possesses the powers of the evil eye.  When Hannah gets sick with consumption, she gives Maggie one last gift before she dies – she plants the seed about going to the America.  After Hannah’s death, Maggie is living hand to mouth.  When she’s offered the opportunity to sale to America at the cost of spending four years as an indentured servant, Hannah’s words come back to her and she travels to find her destiny in the New World.

The Midwife of the Blue Ridge is an engaging novel about the joys, struggles, and courage of those who took the risk of leaving their home land in order to make their own way in Virginia.  From the very beginning, America was seen as a land of opportunity to those whose futures in their home countries was set from the moment of their conception.  It says a great deal that people would knowingly agree to four years of indentured service under unknown masters in order to have a shot at creating their own fortunes and secure their own land.  Christine Blevins brings this all to life through Maggie, Seth Martin and Tom Roberts.  Just as vividly, Blevins writes of those who were forced to go to the New World by their privileged and wealthy families found them to be an embarrassment best kept an ocean away.  Their resentment over their circumstances colored their view of this new land and how they treated other people.  In the Colonial Virginia painted in this novel, it is a toss up as to who was more savage, the Shawnee warriors or the disgraced lords of England.

Maggie Duncan is one of the most delightful heroines I’ve encountered in a long time.  Although her accent was difficult for me to catch on to at first, I was soon caught up in the story of this clever, sassy, and giving young woman.  The very scrappiness that was viewed suspiciously by her Scottish kinsmen was what kept her safe and gave her the advantage she needed to get off to a good start as Seth’s servant.  She endeared herself to Seth, Naomi and their children by her generous spirit and her strong work ethic.  Her sarcastic spunkiness endeared her to almost every single man she encountered.  I admired her optimistic yet pragmatic attitude toward life and the courage she displayed under the most stressful conditions found in the Virginia wilderness.  I enjoyed every minute I spent with her and hope that my daughters growing up in the Blue Ridge of Virginia four centuries later will develop her same strength of character.

Over the past couple of years I’ve read a great deal of wonderful historical fiction.  For the most part, I’ve shied away from historical fiction set in my own country.  I have read The Winthrop Woman and Devil Water by Anya Seton and, while they were both novels I enjoyed, they did not ignite in me the same excitement for my country’s history that Midwife of the Blue Ridge has.  Colonial America, just like Tudor England and Venice has its own charms and dangers to explore.  After reading Blevins’ novel, I am looking forward to spending some more time at home.

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Christine Blevins was kind enough to send me two copies of Midwife of the Blue Ridge, but that’s not all.  She also sent some wonderful smelling goodies!  If you would like a chance to win your own copy of Midwife of the Blue Ridge, a bar of handmade lavender soap and a bag of tea leaves, please leave a comment below about your favorite heroine or your favorite destination when you read historical fiction by 11:59pm EST on Monday, November 24.  I’ll take all the entries and add them to the List Randomizer.  The first name in the list will win the grand prize.  The last name in the list will also win a bag of tea leaves.  Based on the way the tea leaves smell, they will make a wonderful and relaxing cup of hot goodness during the winter.  The winners will be announced by noon EST on the 25th.  Good luck!

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To buy this novel on Amazon.com, click here.

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#100 ~ House and Home & My 100th Review Contest

September 8, 2008 at 12:00 am | Posted in Books, Family, LIfe, My Life with Books, Reading, Secrets and Lies | 50 Comments
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Today I have the great pleasure of hosting Kathleen McCleary on her House and Home book tour sponsored by TLC Book Tours.  I very much appreciate the invitation to participate in this tour as well as the opportunity to read Kathleen’s novel.  Please click on Kathleen’s name below to visit her website.  Click on the TLC Book Tours graphic for more information on this wonderful new book tour program.

House and Home by Kathleen McCleary

By outside appearances, Ellen Flanagan had it all: a loving husband, two beautiful daughters, a house she decorated and maintained with love and dedication, and Coffe@Home, a business that merged her passion for antiques with her interest in coffee and fine tea.  All was not what it seemed.  Sam, her adventurous and creative husband, had a passion for inventing.  When he created a baby beeper he thought would make it big, the couple put a second mortgage on their home.  When the baby beeper didn’t pay off, that second mortgage cost them the home Ellen so dearly loved and her 18 year marriage.  As time got near to vacate the house they sold, Ellen found she couldn’t part with it.  She decided that she’s rather see it burn than to allow another family to call it home.

The opening paragraph to this novel, after explaining Ellen’s attachment to the home, ends by saying that she would burn it down.  I was instantly curious, especially since this seemed pretty hard core for a novel with such a beautiful and inviting cover.  That paragraph brought to mind the song “Sunny Came Home” by Shawn Colvin.  I was eager to find out what it was about Ellen or the house that drove her to even think about arson.  When at first I couldn’t find any logical explanation for her planning something so destructive, it was frustrating.  Ellen wasn’t mentally ill, she and Sam were on amicable terms despite the fact that they were divorcing, her business was thriving, and she had the most thoughtful and supportive best friend in the world.  Why?  Then it occurred to me.  As much as she loved that house, her fixation was a protective cover. She believes that burning down her house will keep others out.  Truthfully, if not subconsciously, what she’s doing is making all that she has lost and all that she is losing tangible and visible, especially to Sam.

This is really a novel about relationships, both the good and the bad.  Sometimes there is a cost to starting them.  Sometimes there is a cost to losing them.  There are times when the cost may be too high; but in the end, you can’t live your life fully without them.  Be they with your best friend, your lover, your family, business associates, or even mere acquaintances, your interactions with other people teach you how to play, work, love, hurt, forgive, learn, laugh, cry, hold on, and to let go.  Ellen spent the first 44 years fighting to control her life. House and Home is the story of how she learns that what makes life worth living requires you to constantly take leaps of faith.

Kathleen McCleary is a clear and concise writer and she brought some wonderful characters to life.  You can feel Ellen’s pain and the anxiety brought about by her need to be in control from the start, even if you don’t completely understand it at first.  You can see how it blinds her to what she has.  House and Home is a reminder that when life feels like one crisis after another, the only way not to get lost in it all is to focus on your friends and loved ones.  It is a celebration of friendships, relationships, and family.  If you’re like me, you’ll find this novel every bit as heartwarming as the cover suggests.

Literate Housewife’s 100th Book Review Contest

I am so excited about today because it marks the day I am posting my 100th book review online.  My blog started on Blogspot and it was called “52 Books or Bust.”  I started it in January, 2007 to give me a way to be accountable to my personal goal of reading 52 books that year and to also provide me with a way to remember what I read.  It was from those meager beginnings that The Literate Housewife Review started.  I had no idea that 21months later I would be celebrating today.

In order to mark this day, I wanted to hold a contest to thank you, my readers.  Without your comments and support I can’t say that I would still be doing this today.  In honor of reaching the 100 book mark, I’m going to give one of my lucky readers a copy of House and Home and ten other books I’ve read to date.  Here is a picture of the book and the links to those reviews:

The Last Wife of Henry VIII by Carolly Erickson ~ #24
Portrait on an Unknown Woman by Vanora Bennett ~ #37
Gilding Lily by Tatiana Boncompagni ~ #66
The Lady Elizabeth By Alison Weir ~ #70
Songs for the Missing by Stewart O’Nan ~ #78
Mrs. Lieutenant by Phyllis Zimbler Miller ~ #81
Regina’s Closet by Diana M. Raab ~ #84
The Gargoyle by Andrew Davidson ~ #88
37 by Maria Beaumont ~ #89
Castaway Kid by R.B. Mitchell ~ #94

When Kathleen McCleary read that this was my 100th review and would be holding a contest in its honor, she wanted to get in on the fun, too.  So, to sweeten this contest even further, the winner will also get the opportunity to talk with the author personally!  What a fun and wonderful opportunity!  And that’s not all! The second and third place winners in this contest will also get their own autographed copies of House and Home!

Have I peaked your interest enough?  Are you wondering what you need do to enter?  Here goes:

1. Leave a comment to this post by 11:59 EST on September 9 and you will receive two entries.  Comments left beginning on September 11 at midnight receive one entry.  If you comment includes a question about House and Home, for Kathleen McCleary, or about any of the other books in the contest, you will receive an additional entry (three entries possible).

2. If you have a blog, write a post about this contest by 11:59 EST on September 9 and leave me a message with the link to earn two entries.  If you do not have a blog, you can send an email telling 3 or more friends about this contest (copy me) by 11:59 EST on September 9 for those two entries.

Selecting the winners: I will be out of town starting Friday, so this is going to be a quick contest.  I will be using the List Randomizer on random.org to enter the names and will it will determine the winner at noon on Thursday, September 11 EST.  [I have wised up since my last contest. No more writing names down on sheets of paper, cutting them out, folding them, and putting them in a box and asking my beloved husband or bewildered co-workers to pick them out.]

Posting the results: I will be posting the names of the winners at 1pm EST.  The name of the person in lucky number 1 spot wins the copy of House and Home, the selection of 10 books I’ve previously reviewed, and a phone conversation with Kathleen McCleary!  The names of the people in lucky spots number 2 and 3 (assuming that there aren’t any repeating names – if there are, the second and third unique names) will also receive an autographed copy of House and Home.

Good luck to everyone who enters and a special thanks to Kathleen McCleary for making this contest that much more special!

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To buy this novel, click here.

#90 ~ Sweetsmoke

July 31, 2008 at 5:15 pm | Posted in Books, Culture, Historical Fiction, Reading | 7 Comments
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Sweetsmoke by David Fuller

This novel, written by screenwriter David Fuller, tells the story of Cassius Howard, the carpenter slave owned by Hoke Howard, a Virginia tobacco farmer. A series of tragic events transformed Cassius from his place Hoke’s favorite and it cost him dearly. The only bright light in the entire situation was the time that Cassius was allowed to recuperate with Emoline Justice, a free black woman. Although Cassius learns a lot from Emoline, her example does not stop him from hardening himself to life and others when he returns back to the plantation. As time goes on, however, he becomes less able to avoid stepping in and helping others when he senses trouble. He even finds himself opening his heart to another slave. When he learns that Emoline was viciously murdered and that there were no plans for the local officials to even investigate it, he cannot and no longer wants to simply sit back and allow this injustice to continue. He vows to find her killer and bring that person to justice no matter what it cost him.

This is a novel that took me by surprise. I can’t say that it started out slow, because that would do it a disservice. What is true is that the first 100 pages built toward something that took me and held my imagination captive until the end. As a reader, I felt that I understood fully what it meant to be a slave. I felt I understood why Cassius had no hope for freedom in his life. Yet, as this same reader, I held out hope for him. In that way, Cassius was much more prepared for what he faced than I was. Much more prepared. When Cassius is forced to watch a female slave be sold in town, I could barely breathe. It was not an unfamiliar scene, but the added details shook me inside. Despite his distaste, Cassius swallowed him emotions as he was expected. In fact, Hoke appeared more tore up about what happened.

Fuller brings the world of slavery to light in a fresh and unique way. The most notable and thought provoking way that Sweetsmoke conveys the dehumanization of slaves was stylistic. When a free person spoke, be they black or white, rich or poor, their words were encased by quotation marks. Not so for the enslaved. When Cassius, Mam Rosie, Big Gus, and the others like them spoke, there were no quotation marks. This tripped me up fairly often at the beginning of the novel. I would read a paragraph and in my confusion realize that I was reading dialog, not prose. My reading quickly improved, but even at the end I stumbled from time to time. Still, I appreciated this choice on the part of the author. It brought home how insignificant slaves were to their owners. The fact that they might have hopes and dreams was wholly ignored and brushed aside. This was something they embodied every day. They didn’t have a last name of their own, so why would they think that their words should be heard or set apart? The lack of quotation marks makes perfect sense.

Sweetsmoke is a compelling and relevant historical novel about the lives of slaves and plantation owners. In Fuller’s world there are good and bad people on both sides of the front door of the big house. No one is idolized or demonized. Like reality, characters simply are who they are. They are not stereotyped. If you want to read challenging historical fiction, you should read this book.

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To buy this novel, which will be released on August 26, click here.

#64 ~ Devil Water

April 10, 2008 at 9:23 pm | Posted in Books, Culture, entertainment, Family, Historical Fiction, Reading, Religion | 8 Comments
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Cover for Devil Water

Devil Water by Anya Seton

They say the devil’s water, it ain’t so sweet
You don’t have to drink right now
But you can dip your feet
Every once in a little while

When You Were Young” by The Killers

Devil Water tells the story of Charles Radclyffe and his daughter by a secret marriage, Jenny. Charles is the youngest brother of James Radclyffe, the 3rd Earl of Derwentwater (I love saying and reading that name – I don’t know why). Shortly after Charles meets and becomes intimate with Jenny’s mother, Meg Snowden, James returns to England after living abroad with the Pretender, James Francis Edward Stuart. James adores his cousin James and longs for the day when James is formally recognized as the King of England. He quickly becomes Charles’ mentor effortlessly converted Charles as a Jacobitism. Jenny was conceived before James’ return. Her family on her mother’s side forced Charles into a marriage on fear of death. Despite this, he fell in love with Jenny the first time he saw her. It pained him more than he imagined when he was not allowed to be with his family.

It wasn’t until the failed Jacobite Rebellion of 1715 that Jenny reenters his life. While preparing for the rebellion, Charles convinces Meg, his secret bride, to allow him to raise her in a manner more befitting Jenny’s station as a Radclyffe. While imprisoned and waiting death for high treason, he convinces Elizabeth Lee, and old flame, to take Jenny in and raise her in London. She is well liked and well cared for in the Lee household. She is thankful for the them and is blessed with a friend in Evelyn Byrd, the daughter of William Byrd of Virginia. Still, Jenny never feels as though she belongs anywhere. Even when Charles returns to take her to the continent to live with his new family, Jenny feels like an outsider. The only person with whom she feels at home is Rob Wilson, a young man who helped her family in Northumberland. When Rob is transported to Virginia for a criminal act he committed in order to save her life, Jenny jumps at the chance to travel with Evelyn to the Colonies.

Until picking up this novel, I knew almost nothing about the Jacobites or the political climate in England that created that rift. The most compelling portions of this novel revolved around James Radclyffe and his participation in The Fifteen. His decision to take up his sword and fight when he felt certain it would mean his own demise was powerful. Although he sensed the weakness in his cousin, he fought for the Stuarts and for his faith. His dedication, loyalty, and faith in both God and man makes him a strong character. It is easy to understand how his wife could fall apart after his execution.

I sincerely doubt that Brandon Flowers or any other member of The Killers has read Devil Water, but it was very interesting to revisit this song while I was reading this book. Jenny has a constant desire for a sense of home. A sense she only really had when she was a young girl in Northumberland. She finds some peace with Rob Wilson, but she is not complete without her father. This fight costs her dearly and the reader feels this as well. Because Rob and Charles are an ocean and an ideology apart, Jenny is never complete. Her romance with Rob never has the passion that was present another of Seton’s novels, The Winthrop Woman. This bothered me while reading the novel. It wasn’t until I sat down to write this review that it occurred to me that this distance between Rob and Jenny made sense. It’s not that the author could have made their relationship more compelling and did not. It’s that Jenny’s two halves could never be happily reconciled with one another.

Jenny is an unconventional heroine. She cannot escape her fate, but she faces life bravely and never loses her dignity. Perhaps this is the greatest gift she ever received from her father. I highly recommend this novel and plan to read all of Seton’s work.

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To buy this novel, click here.

#63 ~ Through Tempest Forged

April 7, 2008 at 3:48 pm | Posted in Books, Disappointment, Family, Historical Fiction, Reading | 2 Comments
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Cover of Through Tempest Forged

Through Tempest Forged by Barbara Passaris

This novel tells the story of Paul and Elizabeth Rogers as they watch and guide their children grow up and get married as the country is on the brink of the Revolutionary War. The Rogers have three daughters and two sons and live on a plantation that Paul and his father built through hard work and determination. As their daughters move toward marriage, the country is moving toward revolution. For Paul, who remains loyal to the King of England, this makes finding suitable husbands that much more difficult.

I really wanted to enjoy this novel. It is over 600 pages and I love to sink my teeth into large novels. Unfortunately, I was not able to get past page 140. While I certainly got to know the Rogers family, the dialog was almost too formal and the narrative was often repetitive. For example, Paul and Elizabeth have several terse discussions about their “run-away” son, John Peter. While I understand that this situation is upsetting to them and that they are not completely of one mind about how to handle it, I got impatient with how often this part of the story was reinforced. When story points weren’t being revisited, the characters were often thinking things that overstate the obvious. It was this type of narration that made the book seem feel heavy. If the writing had been tightened, the author could have covered in 30 to 40 pages what occurred during the 140 I read.

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