Review: The Widow’s War, Sally Gunning

The Widow’s War: A NovelSally Gunning’s novel The Widow’s War is the story of Lyddie Berry who lives with her husband Edward in 1761 Satucket (Brewster), Massachusetts on Cape Cod. When Edward dies in a whaling accident, Lyddie finds herself not only bereft of his companionship but also of the life they shared: as a widow, most of her property—including her house, cow, and furniture—is now owned by her son-in-law, Nathan Clarke, who also happens to be a jerk and a pig. As the novel unfolds, Lyddie, determined to maintain her independence and continue living the life she led before Edward’s death, challenges Nathan and attempts to hold on to her freedom.

This novel is an enlightening peek into what women’s lives in the eighteenth century might have been like. Gunning’s research is meticulous, and her characters leap off the page in full relief. All the historical details ring true. One thing I think Gunning gets right in her historical novels is she is able to produce strong heroines who live within but also challenge the strictures of their time periods in ways that are believable. Lyddie’s struggle for independence was heartbreaking, realistic, and intriguing. I know that some reviewers have challenged whether or not the book realistically depicts Lyddie’s relationship with her Native American neighbor Sam Cowett, but I didn’t find it difficult to believe. I also liked that the author did not choose to have Lyddie be “rescued” through a second marriage or a sudden change of heart on her son-in-law’s part. I could have put a spoiler alert before that last sentence I suppose, but I liked the ending enough (and for a stretch of the book didn’t think it was going to happen that way) that I went ahead and spoiled it anyway. Lyddie is a likable character. She could be called stubborn, but no one would say she was stubborn if she were a man. She is independent in a time when it’s just about criminal or at least unheard of for a woman to be so, and I found myself rooting for her to be successful. She’s made of some pretty strong stuff.

The Widow’s War is the first in what she calls her Satucket trilogy. I previously read the third book, The Rebellion of Jane Clarke.

Rating: ★★★★½

I read this novel as part of the Historical Fiction Reading Challenge.

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Sunday Salon: The Shelf Awareness Interview

Still Life with Plato

No, Shelf Awareness isn’t interviewing me, but I love to read their author interviews, and they always ask the same questions (at least in my limited observation). They’re fun questions, too. So should Shelf Awareness ever want to interview me, they can simply copy and paste.

On your nightstand now:

I actually have a stack of books against the wall more than a pile on the nightstand. In my stack are [amazon_link id=”0451169522″ target=”_blank” ]Misery[/amazon_link] by Stephen King, a few Sharyn McCrumbs I want to get to, [amazon_link id=”0711231893″ target=”_blank” ]Tea with Jane Austen[/amazon_link], [amazon_link id=”B001P3OLEM” target=”_blank” ]Burning Bright[/amazon_link] by Tracy Chevalier, [amazon_link id=”0060791586″ target=”_blank” ]The Widow’s War[/amazon_link] by Sally Gunning, [amazon_link id=”0312304358″ target=”_blank” ]Moloka’i[/amazon_link] by Alan Brennert, [amazon_link id=”0679781587″ target=”_blank” ]Memoirs of a Geisha[/amazon_link] by Arthur Golden, and [amazon_link id=”0152053107″ target=”_blank” ]A Northern Light[/amazon_link] by Jennifer Donnelly, among other books I dip into occasionally.

Favorite book when you were a child:

When I was in the third grade, it was [amazon_link id=”0142408808″ target=”_blank” ]Superfudge[/amazon_link] by Judy Blume because Mrs. Elliott read it to us, and it was impossible to check out of the library for months afterward. I also loved [amazon_link id=”0807508527″ target=”_blank” ]The Boxcar Children[/amazon_link] by Gertrude Chandler Warner. When I was a little older, [amazon_link id=”0385739893″ target=”_blank” ]Tiger Eyes[/amazon_link] by Judy Blume.

Your top five authors:

  1. J. K. Rowling: Her books are pure, imaginative escapism, and I am grateful for all the time I’ve spent at Hogwarts.
  2. Jane Austen: She is my literary comfort food. I can always turn to her for a good read.
  3. William Shakespeare: Unqualified genius and master of the English language.
  4. F. Scott Fitzgerald: Beautiful turns of phrase and poetic writing. I admit his place here rests on one book—[amazon_link id=”0743273567″ target=”_blank” ]The Great Gatsby[/amazon_link].
  5. Barbara Kingsolver: I so enjoyed [amazon_link id=”0061577073″ target=”_blank” ]The Poisonwood Bible[/amazon_link], and [amazon_link id=”0061765228″ target=”_blank” ]The Bean Trees[/amazon_link] is one of the few books I’ve read in one sitting.

I should note that list fluctuates, but it’s true for today.

Book you’ve faked reading:

[amazon_link id=”1461120292″ target=”_blank” ]The Red Badge of Courage[/amazon_link] by Stephen Crane. I’ve still never finished it. I read the Cliff’s Notes for a test in American Realism and Naturalism in college, and I earned a B on it. If I’d read it, I could probably have earned an A, but that’s the way it is.

Book you’re an evangelist for:

The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver. I think everyone should read it, even if they don’t think they’re interested in Africa. What Kingsolver did with that book amazes me, and it’s the kind of writing I aspire to.

Book you’ve bought for the cover:

I’ve talked about this before, but I bought Alice Hoffman’s [amazon_link id=”0345455932″ target=”_blank” ]Blackbird House[/amazon_link] because I liked the cover, and it didn’t pay off. However, [amazon_link id=”0743298039″ target=”_blank” ]The Thirteenth Tale[/amazon_link] by Diane Setterfield and [amazon_link id=”B003WUYROK” target=”_blank” ]The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane[/amazon_link] by Katherine Howe, both of which I bought for their covers, paid off beautifully.

Book that changed your life:

This is a hard one, but I’m going with Harper Lee’s [amazon_link id=”0061743526″ target=”_blank” ]To Kill a Mockingbird[/amazon_link]. I never get tired of that book. It helped me look at my own beliefs and made me question what I would do if I were Atticus. Would I have the guts to do the right thing in the face of so much prejudice and opposition in the town, especially knowing I was licked before I began? The reason that Atticus is such a hero is that he did all this and so few people would.

Favorite line from a book:

The last page of The Great Gatsby is beautiful:

And as the moon rose higher the inessential houses began to melt away until gradually I became aware of the old island here that flowered once for Dutch sailors’ eyes—a fresh, green breast of the new world. Its vanished trees, the trees that had made way for Gatsby’s house, had once pandered in whispers to the last and greatest of all human dreams; for a transitory enchanted moment man must have held his breath in the presence of this continent, compelled into an aesthetic contemplation he neither understood nor desired, face to face for the last time in history with something commensurate to his capacity for wonder.

And as I sat there, brooding on the unknown world, I thought of Gatsby’s wonder when he first picked out the green light at the end of Daisy’s dock. He had come a long way to this blue lawn and his dream must have seemed so close that he could hardly fail to grasp it. He did not know that it was already behind him, somewhere back in the vast obscurity beyond the city, where the dark fields of the republic rolled on under the night.

Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that’s no matter—tomorrow we will run raster, stretch out our arms farther… And one fine morning—

So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.

I never tired of The Great Gatsby, and that page contains so much gorgeous writing.

Book you most want to read again for the first time:

Oh, surely the [amazon_link id=”0545162076″ target=”_blank” ]Harry Potter[/amazon_link] series. The wonder and waiting for the plot to unfold was one of the best reading experiences of my life.

The Sunday Salon

photo credit: chefranden

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WWW Wednesdays

WWW Wednesdays—August 10, 2011

WWW WednesdaysTo play along, just answer the following three (3) questions…

  • What are you currently reading?
  • What did you recently finish reading?
  • What do you think you’ll read next?

I’m currently reading Sena Jeter Naslund’s [amazon_link id=”0061579289″ target=”_blank” ]Adam & Eve[/amazon_link] for a TLC Book Tour. I am about halfway through. I have to say that so far, it’s not bad. I wouldn’t have chosen the book if I had not been asked whether or not I wanted to participate in the tour, but I have read a lot of reviews that pan the book, and it’s averaging three stars on Amazon and less than that on Goodreads, so perhaps it spins out somewhere in the second half. I’m keeping an open mind.

I recently finished [amazon_link id=”0451531388″ target=”_blank” ]A Room With a View[/amazon_link] by E.M. Forster (review), which I truly enjoyed. Great read!

I have a large TBR pile, and I plan to pull one of the following books next:

  • [amazon_link id=”0451202503″ target=”_blank” ]The Songcatcher[/amazon_link] by Sharyn McCrumb
  • [amazon_link id=”0451197399″ target=”_blank” ]The Ballad of Frankie Silver[/amazon_link] by Sharyn McCrumb
  • [amazon_link id=”0679781587″ target=”_blank” ]Memoirs of a Geisha[/amazon_link] by Arthur Golden
  • [amazon_link id=”0152053107″ target=”_blank” ]A Northern Light[/amazon_link] by Jennifer Donnelly
  • [amazon_link id=”0312304358″ target=”_blank” ]Moloka’i[/amazon_link] by Alan Brennert
  • [amazon_link id=”0060791586″ target=”_blank” ]The Widow’s War[/amazon_link] by Sally Gunning
  • [amazon_link id=”0452289076″ target=”_blank” ]Burning Bright[/amazon_link] by Tracy Chevalier

I’m leaning to the Sharyn McCrumbs just because her ideas about using old Appalachian murder ballads and stories appeals to me. I come from old Appalachian hill folks on my dad’s side, and something about Appalachians has always spoken to me.

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