Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Two Books about Women

 February's pick for one of my book groups was an Irish novel, Annie Dunne by Sebastian Barry.  It was a great pick, as it led to insightful and lively discussion.  Rather surprising for such a small, unassuming novel!

The main character is, of course, Annie Dunne, a simple Irish woman in her 60's living on a small farm in rural Wicklow with her cousin, Sarah.  The story begins in 1959.  Annie has never been married, and spent years living in her sister's home as a housekeeper.  When her sister died,  Annie's brother-in-law remarried, and sent Annie away, as she was no longer needed.  She was then homeless, and was invited by Sarah to come and live with her.  One day, her nephew, whom she helped raise while her sister was ill, came to ask if Annie would care for his son and daughter over the summer.  The children add a whole new dimension to Annie and Sarah's lives and Annie is surprised at her deep feelings for the children.  However, this pleasure is threatened when Annie learns that Sarah is being courted.  Old feelings arise in Annie.

This was really a quite fascinating book, with many sub-themes going on.  I loved how Annie incorporated things that her grandfather used to say and do into her everyday life.  The language and prose of the book is beautiful.  One of the very interesting things noted after reading the book, is that the children never were named.  They were always referred to in the book as "the boy" or "the girl".

All in all, an excellent book!

I followed Annie Dunne with Alice Hoffman's latest book, The Red Garden.  Each chapter of the book takes place in a different time period, going from 1750 to sometime in the 2000's.  All of the stories are about the town of Bearsville, MA (later changed to Blackwell in 1786).  In 1750, Hallie married William Brady and he led an expedition that landed in the area that Hallie named Bearsville, because of the bears there.  In the first story we are introduced to Hallie and the others who stayed in Bearsville.  Hallie helped the others survive their first winter in Bearsville. After the first winter, Hallie started a garden where the soil was as red as blood and everything grown there was red.

Each chapter was about descendants of the founders of Bearsville.  I did have a little trouble with following who was who, but finally let that go, and just enjoyed the stories.  It was very interesting how Ms. Hoffman tied all of the stories together, and to see how the world events over the years affected this small town and it's people.  This book also had lovely language and prose. I enjoyed the book!

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

$13.50 bought all of this! Library sales rule!

Two weekends ago,  I had noticed in the Bloomington Illinois newspaper that there was a library sale going on the following weekend.  As I found myself over there last weekend, I headed to Crossroads, where the sale was going on.  I was incredibly impressed with the sale.  Not only was it well organized by categories, the fiction section was also organized on shelves by author.  I was in heaven!!!  As I browsed, I became more and more excited...there were really, really good books there!  Already, I was planning for my next visit in June when the sale was again.  I needed to be more organized in my search and have a list of authors with me!

However, I ended up being quite pleased with what I did end up getting, especially the very last book I found.  I am listing all of the books that I purchased, along with the blurb from the back of the books, in order for you to see what attracted me to the choices: 

1. Life Sentences by Laura Lippman
Author Cassandra Fallows believes she may have found the story that could become her next bestseller.
2. The Seduction of Water by Carol Goodman
 Iris Greenfeder, ABD (All But Dissertation), feels the "buts" are taking over her life: all but published, all but a professor, all but married.
3. A Death In The Family by James Agee
On a sultry summer night in 1915, Jay Follet leaves his house in Knoxville Tennessee to tend his father, whom he believes is dying.
4. People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks
Hanna Heath, an Australian rare book expert, has been offered the job of a lifetime: analysis and conservation of the famed Sarajevo Haggadah, rescued from Serb shelling during the Bosnian war.
5. Remember Me by Trezza Azzopardi
Set in England against the backdrop of WWII, Remember Me is a story of pursuit of stolen goods, of missing years, and of one woman's forgotten history.
6. The Live You've Imagined by Kristina Riggle
Have you ever asked yourself, "what if?"
7. Broke Heart Blues by Joyce Carol Oates.  It didn't even matter what the blurb said.  I love her books!
In the heat of a languid July, fresh from Las Vegas, John Riddy Hart drives into the quiet upstate town of Willowsville, New York.
8. Three Junes by Julia Glass.  This was an amazing find for me and the last book that I found.  I had just looked for it that afternoon at Borders, willing to pay $25 for it, but they did not have it.  It is the March pick for one of my book groups.  Found it for $1.50!

So I headed home (actually to my daughter's home) feeling triumphant with my wonderful finds that cost me all of $9.50!

But wait, the weekend got even better.  Sunday we went to a Pancake Breakfast in the small town where my daughter lives, and their library was selling books!  So for another $4, I got the following:

1. Cast Two Shadows by Ann Rinaldi
It's 1780, and war has come to Camden, South Carolina.
2. My Old True Love by Sheila Kay Adams
The Stantons and the Nortons were families in the truest, oldest sense; extended networks of kin stretching across the mountains, everyone within hiking distance.
3. The History of Love by Nicole Krauss
Leo Gursky is trying to survive a little bit longer, tapping his radiator each evening to let his upstairs neighbor know he's still alive...
4. Burning Bright by Tracy Chevalier
No. 13 Hercules Buildings, Lambeth, 1792.

And there is it.  My haul of reading from the past weekend.  Now added to my already full pile of TBR books.  When will it stop?  As long as library sales continue, I will be buying books!


During our recent blizzard here in the Midwest, I read Wench by Dolen Perkins-Valdez. 
I had come across it  at the bookstore and from the blurb on the back:

Situated in Ohio, a free territory before the Civil War, Tawawa House is an idyllic retreat for Southern white men who vacation there every summer with their enslaved black mistresses.  It's their open secret.

I was hooked!  The story sounded very interesting. But even more interesting was that at the end of the book, I read the Author's Note that reported that Tawawa Resort did actually exist.  As Ms. Perkins-Valdez stated, the resort was located near Xenia, Ohio.  It was opened in 1852, and was actually used as stated: for Southern white men to vacation with their slave/mistresses.  After it closed, it became the Ohio African University for several years, then was purchased by the African Methodist Episcopal Church and became Wilberforce University.  As the author wrote, "it continues to be the nations' oldest, private, predominantly African American university. It is believed that the children of the unions between the slave women and the slaveholders were among the early students at the university."

The book is a fictionalized account of four black women who were slaves and were brought to the resort by their owners each summer for the years that the resort was open.  The story is a fascinating look at the years right before the Civil War broke out and how the women considered what it might mean to be free.  After all, while being there at the resort they were in Ohio, a free territory.  As events occur, the women are caught up in the tragedies that occur, and each have to consider what freedom would mean, both good and bad, for each of them.

The book is a fascinating look at pre-Civil War history.  It made me think of Beloved and The Help, with all being such important studies of our history and of great survival.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Reading During a Blizzard

Yes, the Midwest's Blizzard of the century has begun.  I celebrated with reading Genealogical Resources of the Civil War Era by William Dollarhide.  While I realize that not many of this blog's readers are going to be interested in this book, it still deserves a mention!

The book is divided into four sections: Introduction, Resource Groups, Statewide Name Lists, and Best Resource Centers.  It appears to be quite comprehensive with good suggestions for online sources as well as library/book sources.  It covers both Union and Confederate service records.

I have been especially interested in Missouri Confederate records for the past few years and I was impressed with Mr. Dollarhide's list of resources.

I would definitely recommend this book to any genealogists researching Civil War service history of ancestors.