Category: Historical

The Last Ballad by Wiley Cash

AudioFile Earphones Award Winner. Available now from Harper Audio.  From the Publisher: “The New York Times bestselling author of the celebrated A Land More Kind Than Home and This Dark Road to Mercy returns with this eagerly awaited new novel, set in the Appalachian foothills of North Carolina in 1929 and inspired by actual events. The chronicle of an ordinary woman’s struggle for dignity and her rights in a textile mill, The Last Ballad is a moving tale of courage in the face of oppression and injustice, with the emotional power of Ron Rash’s Serena, Dennis Lehane’s The Given Day, and the unforgettable films Norma Rae and Silkwood. Twelve times a week, twenty-eight-year-old Ella May Wiggins makes the two-mile trek to and from her job on the night shift at American Mill No. 2 in Bessemer City, North Carolina. The insular community considers the mill’s owners—the newly arrived Goldberg brothers—white but not American and expects them to pay Ella May and other workers less because they toil alongside African Americans like Violet, Ella May’s best friend. While the dirty, hazardous job at the mill earns Ella May a paltry nine dollars for seventy-two hours of work each week, it’s the only opportunity she has. Her no-good husband, John, has run off again, and she must keep her four young children alive with whatever work she can find. When the union leaflets begin circulating, Ella May has a taste of hope, a yearning for the better life the organizers promise. But the mill owners, backed by other nefarious forces, claim the union is nothing but a front for the Bolshevik menace sweeping across Europe. To maintain their control, the owners will use every means in their power, including bloodshed, to prevent workers from banding together. On the night of the county’s biggest rally, Ella May, weighing the costs of her choice, makes up her mind to join the movement—a decision that will have lasting consequences for her children, her friends, her town—indeed all that she loves.” From the review in AudioFile Magazine: “Narrators Karen White and Elizabeth Wylie use pacing and tone to bring characters to life in this novel about Ella Mae Wiggins, a forgotten heroine of history. For the bulk of the story White’s capable voice projects desperation and hope as Ella Mae struggles to support her family amid deplorable working conditions that lead, finally, to her commitment to strive for fair treatment. White gives unique voices to mill owners, union organizers, and Ella’s fellow workers. Wylie is the believable elderly voice of her daughter Lilly, who writes a letter to Ella’s grandson 79 years later to share the heroism and tragic consequences of those efforts. A powerful look at a dark chapter in our history when desperate people fought for equity and respect.” . . .

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UNREQUITED: Women and Romantic Obsession by Lisa A. Phillips plus GIVEAWAY

Available now from Tantor Audio. From the Publisher: “The summer Lisa A. Phillips turned thirty, she fell in love with someone who didn’t return her feelings. She soon became obsessed. She followed him around, called him compulsively, and talked about him endlessly. One desperate morning, after she snuck into his apartment building, he picked up a baseball bat to protect himself and began to dial 911. Her unrequited love had changed her from a sane, conscientious college teacher and radio reporter into someone she barely recognized—someone who was taking her yearning much too far. In Unrequited, Phillips explores the tremendous force of obsessive love in women’s lives. Interweaving her own story with frank interviews and in-depth research in science, psychology, cultural history, and literature, Phillips describes how romantic obsession takes root, grows, and strongly influences our thoughts and behaviors. As she illuminates this mysterious psychological experience, placing it in a rich and nuanced context, Phillips offers compelling insights to help any woman who has experienced unrequited obsessive love and been mystified and troubled by its grip.” My recording experience: I honestly had no idea what to expect when I set out to read this book, and I have to say that I think it’s one of the most unique books I’ve ever read, and it totally works.  Phillips has skillfully woven together her own life experience with that of other women who’ve done surprising things while in the throes of unrequited love, put them in perspective using the sciences and history and myth to create a very readable (and hopefully listen-able!) final product.  It had me thinking about some of the crazy things I’ve done in the name of love (endless letters to that director from London, making my friends ride by the house of that boy I was obsessed with in 8th grade, etc.).  The most important thing Phillips does is challenge us to find the deeper drive behind the obsession – what in ourselves are we trying to create, find or heal, that we have projected onto this man? Fascinating stuff! Listen to a sample here: THIS GIVEAWAY IS NOW CLOSED.  Joan is the randomly selected winner and the CDs will be mailed out to her as soon as I get her address.  Thanks to all for entering! I give away lots of books – to find out about them in the future, please consider following this blog, or my Facebook page, or on Twitter.

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Spoken Freely Gives Back for JIAM 2013

Welcome to Day 2 of Spoken Freely’s month long project at Going Public! Today my narration is featured both at the Going Public site and at Linus’s Blanket.  I’ve donated my recording of Louisa May Alcott‘s story Death of a Soldier to the project.  You can download just this story, or purchase the entire collection at Downpour.  In both cases, all proceeds will go to the non-profit literacy group Reach Out and Read. In any case, I hope you enjoy this lesser known work by LMA.  It represents a huge change in her life:  by volunteering as a nurse for the Union Army, LMA was exposed to aspects of life (and death) that matured her as an author.  Unfortunately, the experience not only brought her close to death, but altered her health for the remainder of her life.  Quite the price to pay for artistic growth, hmm? You can find the recording via Linus’s Blanket blog, so let’s learn a little about its writer, Nicole, who I got to meet for a cold drink on a hot day in New York this past week: HOME COOKED BOOKS (HCB): Would you give us a bit of introduction and let my readers know who you are, how you got started blogging, and what kind of books you like to read and/or review? LINUS’S BLANKET (LB): My name is Nicole and I blog at Linus’s Blanket. I started blogging five years ago when I started posting to my site as a travel journal that I envisioned would be followed by family and friends. Ha! That never really happened. But while traveling through Italy by train, I started posting my thoughts on books I was reading at the time, and to my amazement people started to come by and leave comments on my book posts. A book blogger was born. I love reading and I am an eclectic reader, so there is always a smattering of everything on my blog. I truly love literary and historical fiction, though. I would say those are my go-to genre. HCB: You review both print and audiobooks.  Can you tell us how your reading vs. listening processes/rituals/locations/times of day differ, and how writing the review is different for you? LB: I tend to listen to audiobooks from the spring through fall. So about now is prime time. The weather is really nice and I walk everywhere so I find that’s the perfect time to listen. In the mornings I will go for a long walk, so I will listen for an hour or so then and then usually between 5:30 and 6 when I go to meet friends after work. I usually review the book and the audio . . .

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The Marchand Woman by Brian Garfield

Available now from Audible.com   From the Publisher: When her son is kidnapped in Mexico, a mother seeks vengeance. Film director Carole Marchand’s son has just been kidnapped for the third time. The first two times weren’t as troubling, since Carole had abducted Robert herself – incidents in her hideous divorce. This time, the kidnappers are unknown killers, and Carole wants to know what her ex-husband, Warren, is going to do about it. Robert was in Mexico with the American ambassador when gunmen swarmed their convoy, taking the ambassador and snatching Robert up with him. As Robert disappears into Central America, Warren and his colleagues at the State Department turn up no leads. Because Robert wasn’t their actual target, his life has little value. When Carole receives word that Robert has been killed, she resolves to take revenge. If the government won’t help her, she will punish her child’s killers herself. My recording experience: This book was published in print in 1979!  But I gotta tell ya, it’s a timeless story of mama revenge, as well as a woman coming into her own (not to mention an unexpected love) at a later time in her life.  Charmingly dated, really almost a historical fiction, this book dives into our country’s troubled and full-of-trouble relationship with our neighbors in Central America.  The thriller plot line is well done and the dialogue and characters well crafted.  A satisfying dip into the backlist. Listen to a sample here:  

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The Roots of the Olive Tree by Courtney Miller Santo

Available now from Harper Audio. From the Publisher: “Meet the Keller family, five generations of firstborn women—an unbroken line of daughters—living together in the same house on a secluded olive grove in the Sacramento Valley of Northern California. Anna, the family matriarch, is 112 and determined to become the oldest person in the world. An indomitable force, strong in mind and firm in body, she rules Hill House, the family home she shares with her daughter Bets, granddaughter Callie, great-granddaughter Deb, and great-great-granddaughter Erin. Though they lead ordinary lives, there is an element of the extraordinary to these women: the eldest two are defying longevity norms. Their unusual lifespans have caught the attention of a geneticist who believes they hold the key to breakthroughs that will revolutionize the aging process for everyone. But Anna is not interested in unlocking secrets the Keller blood holds. She believes there are some truths that must stay hidden, including certain knowledge about her origins that she has carried for more than a century. Like Anna, each of the Keller women conceals her true self from the others. While they are bound by blood and the house they share, living together has not always been easy. And it is about to become more complicated now that Erin, the youngest, is back, alone and pregnant, after two years abroad with an opera company. Her return and the arrival of the geneticist who has come to study the Keller family ignites explosive emotions that these women have kept buried and uncovers revelations that will shake them all to their roots.Told from varying viewpoints, Courtney Miller Santo’s compelling and evocative debut novel captures the joys and sorrows of family—the love, secrets, disappointments, jealousies, and forgiveness that tie generations to one another.” Review from Devourer of Books: “The wrong narrator might have highlighted some of the more implausible elements of The Roots of the Olive Tree and made it slightly ridiculous, but White hit all the right notes, bringing the focus to the relationships between the women. She (and the overall formatting of the story) also made it surprisingly easy to figure out which of the five generations of women was narrating at any point in time, which is quite a feat, particularly when only Anna had any sort of distinguishing accent.” Review from Miss Susie’s Reading & Observations: “Karen White’s narration was fantastic, all her different voices and accents were spot on; you always knew exactly who was talking.  Her voice took on so many different characteristics of each of the women as they told their story and her delivery held my interest all the way through.” Review from Audiofile Magazine: “This is a moving novel, and White’s heartfelt narration . . .

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Review of THE ABSOLUTIST by John Boyne

From Other Press, New York: “The Absolutist is a novel that examines the events of the Great War from the perspective of two young privates, both struggling with the complexity of their emotions and the confusion of their friendship.” I received a copy of this book as part of my participation in Book Club hosted by Devourer of Books and Linus’ Blanket.  Although I must have read a description of it at some point, I’d forgotten it by the time I started the book, and the title didn’t give me any clues, so I had no idea what I was letting myself in for.  The opening sections of the book tease:  you learn it’s from the point of view of an older man looking back on events of his youth who drops phrases that hint of what’s to come, “aware of the mess that I had left behind me and embarrassed by it.” (p 13) I have conflicting feelings about this book. Although the subject matter is painful:  trench warfare in WWI intertwined with a homosexual love affair that is hampered at every turn, I was also infuriated and lost patience with the stiff-upper-lip-hold-in-the-emotions British characters. And although I wasn’t particularly looking forward to reading it every night as it is so emotionally unpleasant, I did find myself haunted by the main character and his stories, so full of palpable shame, self-loathing and guilt (the mystery of what’s behind his shame is dealt out in tiny tiny bits). I think I would recommend this book – but not in the summer, and not in a time when you might be distressed about the state of the world.   It takes a hard look at some of the nastiest elements of human nature, without a great deal of hope attached.  Perhaps one just has to be prepared for that. Such irony to me that Boyne’s character Sadler finds such solace and escape in books, the works of writers, “such as Jack London, who offered their readers such a respite from the miserable horror of existence that their books were like gifts from the gods.” (p.114) When this book puts us boots-deep in the horrors, with little hope of getting out.

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Review: ACCIDENTS OF PROVIDENCE by Stacia M. Brown

I read this book at the suggestion of Jennifer from LiterateHousewife.com, who set up a readalong so she’d have people to talk about it with.  So glad I joined in.  I agree, it warrants discussion.  Without the readalong, I might never have gotten around to reading it. This is a debut novel from Stacia Brown, but you’d never know it.  Her incorporation of historical detail, including legal case histories, is blended seamlessly with the imaginings from her own fertile mind.  I found the prose to be a bit intellectual and distant at first, but I think now that that has to do with her main characters and their states of mind at the beginning of the book.  And while the world of 17th century England may seem far away from us 21st century Americans, the power plays between women and men on the stages of the law, politics and religion have changed far too little.  In fact, I was able to see connections to some of the dystopian fiction I’ve read in the past year, especially WHEN SHE WOKE by Hilary Jordan, where the birth of a bastard child with an unacknowledged father leads to a young woman’s extreme punishment.  We can’t seem to get away from laws that threaten to control the rights women have over their bodies, and the fears that men have of the mysterious power a woman has the creation of a child within her body. This book starts out with the curmudgeonly character Thomas Bartwain, 17th century detective, as he sorts through the facts of Rebecca Lockyer’s case.  She has been accused of murdering and secretly burying her bastard infant, a crime punishable by hanging.  At first I was very impatient with both of these characters.  Bartwain so rigid; Rachel so vague.  But both go on a journey in the book.  Even after his duty is done with Rachel’s case, Bartwain continues to be drawn to it, and finds himself questioning his belief that “the law is beautiful; the law is order” (94).   Rachel suffers a great deal through her imprisonment and trial, but in the process finds clarity in her own beliefs and her own strength. When we meet Rachel, she’s in the throes of a horrible post-partum depression as well as the shock of losing her child.  But as she begins to claw herself back to the world, and relives the events that have led her to this trial, an uneducated but probing mind is laid bare.  At moments I wondered if she was perhaps too intellectual to believe.   But then, something has allowed her to survive in this world alone, a single woman.  A train of Rachel’s thought that really made me ponder . . .

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REVIEW AND GIVEAWAY: GODS OF GOTHAM by Lyndsay Faye

This is the first of occasional reviews that I’ll be posting here at Home Cooked Books.  I’ll only be reviewing books that I’m NOT narrating or directing for audio.  I’ve really enjoyed getting to know so many book bloggers over the past year, and thanks to them, I’m inspired to add my two cents to the kitty.  This book in particular wowed me, and I hope that others will consider reading it. From the Publisher: 1845. New York City forms its first police force. The great potato famine hits Ireland. These two seemingly disparate events will change New York City. Forever. I was surprised by how much I loved GODS OF GOTHAM.  Though I love historical fiction, I knew next to nothing about New York in the mid-nineteenth century, even less about the potato famine.  In addition, I am not one who generally seeks out mysteries (they often give me nightmares).  I think what really got to me with GODS OF GOTHAM was Lyndsay Faye’s dense and enthralling creation of this world.  As I read I could see, smell and hear the filth, stink, and clamor of New York City in the summer of 1845 (detailed down to the speckled pigs trotting about, “mud-crusted and randy and miraculously nimble”).  Her main character Timothy Wilde completely captured my heart.  A natural poet (and detective), the world was painted via his senses.  I felt the myriad tragedies, discoveries and wonders as urgently as he did. I fell in love with Tim and Bird, the young girl he inadvertently rescues, almost immediately.  With his ability to see people and situations with clarity and beauty, with her strength and courage in horrific circumstances. As an example of the dense lyricism of Tim’s observations, here’s his description of his fellow copper stars at first glance: I raked my eyes across my new cohorts.  A fool’s motley coat would have looked uniform next to the seated mob.  There seemed to be about fifty of them, and again I felt like a patch of vacant silence in the middle of a tumult. To me, this novel was as much about relationships and politics as it was about the nasty crime that Tim is challenged to solve before its discovery blows up an already roiled religious and political climate. The battle for supremacy between the American Protestant “dead rabbits” and Irish Catholic immigrants underlies a great deal of the drama, with good guys and bad guys on both sides of the aisle. Timothy and his elder brother Valentine, orphaned when their parents are killed in a house fire, have a tempestuous and compelling relationship.  Tim cannot bear to be with his brother, who seems to torment him, nor . . .

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CHILD OF THE SOUTH by Joanna Catherine Scott

is available now at Audible.com From the publisher: From the award-winning author of The Road from Chapel Hill, comes a story of loyalty, duty, and love in the days following the Civil War. Returning to characters introduced in her previous novel, acclaimed author Joanna Catherine Scott explores the terrain of a devastated South, where the war is over – but conflict lives on. Having endured years of hardship, Eugenia Mae Spotswood returns to Wilmington to find out who her mother is, only to be met with racism and hatred…. Until she is befriended by the most powerful Negro leader in the state Senate. Also driven forward are the strong-minded ex-slave Tom and his crippled former enemy Clyde Bricket. Tom spent the last years of the war working for the Union as a spy. Now, Clyde watches as his family farm slowly dies. Only if they work together can they survive.  

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THE DRY GRASS OF AUGUST by Anna Jean Mayhew

Available now from Blackstone Audio. From the Publisher: “In this beautifully written debut, Anna Jean Mayhew offers a riveting depiction of Southern life in the throes of segregation and what it will mean for a young girl on her way to adulthood—and for the woman who means the world to her. On a scorching day in August 1954, thirteen-year-old Jubie Watts leaves Charlotte, North Carolina, with her family for a Florida vacation. Crammed into the Packard along with Jubie are her three siblings, her mother, and the family’s black maid, Mary Luther. For as long as Jubie can remember, Mary has been there—cooking, cleaning, compensating for her father’s rages and her mother’s benign neglect, and loving Jubie unconditionally. Bright and curious, Jubie takes note of the anti-integration signs they pass and of the racial tension that builds as they journey further south. But she could never have predicted the shocking turn their trip will take. Now, in the wake of tragedy, Jubie must confront her parents’ failings and limitations, decide where her own convictions lie, and make the tumultuous leap to independence. Infused with the intensity of a changing time, here is a story of hope, heartbreak, and the love and courage that can transform us from child to adult, wounded to indomitable.” From the review at Literaryhoarders.wordpress.com: So..if you do get the chance to read this wonderful story, I really encourage you to listen to it. Mayhew’s brilliant and sharp writing coupled with White’s narration is a marvelouos listening opportunity that I wouldn’t want you to miss out on hearing! White superbly brings to life the voices of each of the characters involved in this story. They become so vivid, their voices will leave you breathless and physically moved, sickened, saddened, etc. Listen to a sample here: From print reviews: “Mayhew gives readers a compelling and insightful protagonist…Mayhew keeps the story taut, thoughtful, and complex, elevating it from the throng of coming-of-age books.”—Publishers Weekly “Because the novel is totally true to Jubie’s point of view, it generates gripping drama as we watch her reach beyond authority to question law and order.”—Booklist

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