Review: Caleb’s Crossing

If you want to become smitten with the brilliant Geraldine Brooks, Caleb’s Crossing is the perfect book to choose.  Inspired by a true story, Caleb’s Crossing follows the life of Caleb Cheeshahteaumauk, a Wopanaak Native who “crosses” to Christianity, and “crosses” to the life of an English scholar in the mid 1600’s.  The story is actually narrated by Bethia Mayfield (a fictional character), an incredibly bright, hardworking and honorable girl, who desperately wishes for the levels of education that are only afforded to the opposite sex.  She therefore lives vicariously through her father’s ministry, her brother’s education, and her dear friend Caleb’s crossings.  Her mastery of Caleb’s native tongue, of Latin, philosophy, and of the classics is simply from what she is able to overhear.

“How I could have astonished him, and my brother too, even then, had I opened my mouth and ventured to say, in Wompaontoaonk, that I had troubled to know them; that I knew them, in some particulars, better than father, who was their missionary and their minister.  But as I have sat down here, I had learned early the value of silence, and I did not lightly give away the state of myself.  So I got up from the fire then, and made myself busy, wetting yeast and flour for a sponge to use in the next day’s bread.”

You quickly become attached to Bethia, as she pines for the life of an academic, only to be offered the more common stations of “the fairer sex.”  She narrates the story with affection and longing, as she follows her brother and Caleb from their home island to grammar school, and eventually to what is now known as Harvard.   To help pay for her brother’s education, she works as a servant at the college, and manages to find new depths of knowledge, true love, and advanced levels of faith.  As she grows into a remarkable young woman, Caleb becomes the first Native American graduate of Harvard College.   His crossing has a price, however, and it’s for the reader to decide whether it was worth it.

From the early colonial history of Martha’s Vineyard, to the ministry that was devoted to turning Native Americans to Christian worshippers, Geraldine’s account is full of remarkable detail.  It’s impossible to summarize her story in one review!  More than once, I was struck by her prose, which more often than not read like poetry rather than a novel.  You’ll love her characters, and will be swept away as you read how they cherish learning, friendship, faith, and nature.  I’m sorry the story had to come to an end.

4 enthusiastic stars!

One Literary Hoarder’s End of Year Review & Survey

I recently read Lakeside Musing’s End of Year Book Survey and thought it was such a neat idea, that I decided to create my own as well. Hope you don’t mind the lift JoAnn! It’s also a nice and different take on the Best Of Lists that have been floating around in the past few days and weeks…

I read a great deal of historical fiction and mystery books this year! Historical Fiction dominated my reading most definitely. It was a superb year for HF!

I would often write that I wished i was here reading, instead of working the 9-2-5 gig. And as a side note, if you were interested at all in knowing what Squidoo rates as the “10 Best Books to Read by Fire” to be, check this out.

 Best Books Read in 2011 (well you have to add that first!) And these are in no particular order really and I found I did read some very good books this year, so this was an interesting exercise to complete…

  1. The Dovekeepers, by Alice Hoffman
  2. The Homecoming of Samuel Lake, by Jenny Wingfield (this is coming out in paperback soon by the way. I seriously encourage you to pick it up!)
  3. The Virgin Cure, by Ami McKay
  4. Glass Boys, by Nicole Lundrigan
  5. On Canaan’s Side, by Sebastien Barry
  6. The Dressmaker, by Kate Alcott
  7. My Name is Mary Sutter, by Robin Oliveri
  8. Dreams of Joy, by Lisa See
  9. The History of Love, by Nicole Krauss
  10. Dracula in Love, by Karen Essex
  11. Little Giant of Aberdeen County, by Tiffany Baker

Most Disappointing Book Read in 2011

  1. The Night Circus, by Erin Morgenstern. Sorry, this just did not live up to the hype for me.
  2. The Borrower, by Rebecca Makkai. Annoyed to no end by the “heroine” of this book. Like nails down a chalkboard.
  3. The Abstinence Teacher, by Tom Perrotta. I don’t know if it was the narrator (suprisingly, Campbell Scott is a horrible horrible narrator. Droning bored-sounding and grating voice) or just the story itself, but really didn’t think this was all that in any way. I was very happy when it was done.
  4. Graveminder, by Melissa Marr. Not only did the narrator get on my nerves, Marr inserted zombies and vampires from a bad teenage dream novel and I hit eject quick as quick! I don’t do zombies and vampires.

Most Surprisingly Good Book Read in 2011

Hands down, it was Dracula in Love, by Karen Essex. I have never read Dracula, really have no interest – see point about Graveminder above. So suprising to me, this story of Dracula, with Mina Harker as the focus and main character was amazing! I loved this book so much! (Jackie says it was because of all the sex in it, not really, (well ahem, maybe a little?) it was just such a wonderful story about Mina! Loved it.

The Books I recommended the most in 2011

  1. See above. Dracula in Love, by Karen Essex
  2. My Name is Mary Sutter, by Robin Oliveri
  3. The Homecoming of Samuel Lake, by Jenny Wingfield (absolutely perhaps the most recommended of the year!)
  4. The Dovekeepers, by Alice Hoffman

The Best Series Read in 2011

I discovered Maisie Dobbs! Oh how I love her. Jacqueline Winspear’s Maisie Dobbs is a great character and her mysteries are wonderful to read. I still have the final 2 to get to before she releases another one…

Favourite new author(s) discovered in 2011

Alice Hoffman for her amazing and beautiful writing. Like poetry or butter, whichever way you would rather visualize.

Nicole Krauss, Sebastien Barry and Jacqueline Winspear too.

Favourite Cover (Looks like the old world B&W got me, and then another historical time & dress)

Best Inside of Book Read in 2011 (I’m adding this category because I read a few books this year that had beautiful, journal-like pages. These were the books that couldn’t be enjoyed as much with your e-reader, for the quality and feelings evoked from the pictures, side writings, etc. would be lost!)

Most Beautifully Written Book Read in 2011

#1 is most definitely The Dovekeepers by Alice Hoffman. A Trick of the Light, by Louise Penny comes in at #2 and lastly would be On Canaan’s Side, by Sebastien Barry.

Most Memorable Characters

Well if the Academy Awards were given out to characters in books, the golden statue would absolutely go to our following:

  1. Ras Ballenger from The Homecoming of Samuel Lake, by Jenny Wingfield. My stomach would go in to tight knots, I would feel sick with fear whenever Ras Ballenger entered the page. A character that STILL has not left my mind!
  2. Lilly Bere from On Canaan’s Side, by Sebastien Barry. Lilly was just a wonderful, wonderful person that broke my heart. I love and miss her.
  3. Garrett Glass from Glass Boys by Nicole Lundrigan. A frighteningly disturbed boy!
  4. Mary Sutter from My Name is Mary Sutter, by Robin Oliveri. A fabulous heroine!
  5. Bird from The History of Love by Nicole Krauss. Just loved that boy!
  6. Oh, and I can’t forget Ruth from A Trick of the Light, by Louise Penny. She cracked me up every time!

The Books that had the Greatest Impact Read in 2011

Well right up there in the #1 spot would be The Homecoming of Samuel Lake by Jenny Wingfield. I have never before read a book where my stomach was in knots and I would go taut as a wire whenever Ras Ballenger entered! Whew! What a distrubing but incredible read!!

Same goes for Glass Boys by Nicole Lundrigan. Garrett Glass was disturbing but what a great read!

The Dovekeepers by Alice Hoffman, was just gorgeous and wonderful. Absolutely loved every single moment of that book. It’s definitely one to read again!

Review: The Dovekeepers

Just go, get it, read it, love and cherish it. 5 blazing star read!

It’s obviously up there as one of my top reads for 2011. I cannot imagine it would not become a very favourite of yours after reading either.

Alice Hoffman is one incredibly, amazingly gifted writer. This is my first Alice Hoffman, but I did buy The Red Garden this year and it has been waiting for me to open. Obviously, I will be pushing it up towards one of my first reads for 2012.

Synopsis from Goodreads: Over five years in the writing, Alice Hoffman’s most ambitious and mesmerizing novel ever, a triumph of imagination and research set in ancient Israel.  In The Dovekeepers, Hoffman delivers her most masterful work yet—one that draws on her passion for mythology, magic, and archaeology and her inimitable understanding of women.

In 70 CE, nine hundred Jews held out for months against armies of Romans on a mountain in the Judean desert, Masada. According to the ancient historian Josephus, two women and five children survived. Based on this tragic historical event, Hoffman weaves a spellbinding tale of four extraordinary, bold, resourceful, and sensuous women, each of whom has come to Masada by a different path. Yael’s mother died in childbirth, and her father never forgave her for that death. Revka, a village baker’s wife, watched the horrifically brutal murder of her daughter by Roman soldiers; she brings to Masada her twin grandsons, rendered mute by their own witness. Aziza is a warrior’s daughter, raised as a boy, a fearless rider and expert marksman, who finds passion with another soldier. Shirah is wise in the ways of ancient magic and medicine, a woman with uncanny insight and power. The lives of these four complex and fiercely independent women intersect in the desperate days of the siege, as the Romans draw near. All are dovekeepers, and all are also keeping secrets—about who they are, where they come from, who fathered them, and whom they love.
This novel is Alice Hoffman’s masterpiece

Oh yes, it is truly a masterpiece! Of the four stories, my favourite by far was “The Baker’s Wife”. I read parts while eating my lunch out and I had to leave the place because I was going to cry. I don’t think patrons would be too interested in seeing me cry over a book while trying to enjoy their fries. 🙂

Just incredible, beautiful, amazing writing. Beautiful details where each word and sentence needs to be savoured. It is by far the most beautiful writing I’ve read this year.

She writes a wonderful, rich tale about the strength of women, their relationships with one another and with the men they loved, hated, and feared, their secrets and what brought them to this place together in their care of the doves.

 “Crowds gathered, mystified, wondering if it had been Gabriel, the fiercest of the angels, who had brought this omen to us, for surely no man would have dared to approach a lion.”

“All that I needed I had been given by my mother. All that I knew, I knew because of her. But all that I sacrificed was for my daughter.”

What struck me as I reached the end, was a feeling I felt when taking a Western Religion course during my undergrad. The Jewish religion, to me, comes across as the purest, most beautiful form of religion. There was a part in this book that had a powerful impact on me as well, in terms of the plight the Jews have and their constant fight to survive and exist. I think she spoke of it beautifully in Yael/Shirah’s writing: “Revka and I make certain this creature is well cared for, ready if we should ever need to depart suddenly. Our people never know when we have to flee. Everything that is important we carry with us, whether or not it has been written down.”

Review: Incantation

Incantation is a love story….a historical tragedy….and a whirlwind of a novel where a ‘secret’ is revealed, and you find yourself waiting to see what happens with bated breath.  The story revolves around Estrella deMadrigal, a lovely teen who lives during a harsh reality when Jews who refused conversion to Christianity suffered unimaginable consequences.   She’s a girl who lives in total admiration of her family, including her severe and immensely wise grandparents, her creative mother, and her brother who is studying to become a priest.  Her best friend Catalina, a question mark for the reader from the start, is her confidante, until she allows her true colors to shine through, thus confirming all suspicions.

The setting of the novel is horrific from the start, as books are burned, Jews are forced to wear red circles, neighbors are rewarded for turning one another in, and persecution abounds.  Estrella quickly moves from naïve to gravely aware, as she’s forced to cope with astonishing religious intolerance.

At only 166 pages, this book felt incredibly brief.  Alice Hoffman’s writing is rich as usual, and she somehow manages to develop the characters in a very short span.  I still found myself wishing that the book was longer though, as I wanted to know more about Estrella’s neighbors, her love, and her future.  Overall, it’s a beautiful and emotional read, and one that will make sure that you keep picking up more treasures by Alice Hoffman.  4 stars.