Peevish Pen

Ruminations on reading, writing, rural living, retirement, aging—and sometimes cats. And maybe a border collie or other critters.

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Location: Rural Virginia, United States

I'm an elderly retired teacher who writes. Among my books are Ferradiddledumday (Appalachian version of the Rumpelstiltskin story), Stuck (middle grade paranormal novel), Patches on the Same Quilt (novel set in Franklin County, VA), Them That Go (an Appalachian novel), Miracle of the Concrete Jesus & Other Stories, and several Kindle ebooks.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

So Much to Read

. . . So Little Time

I should be working on my YA novel (seven chapters done!), but I’m busy reading.

I’m Beta-reading Sally Roseveare’s latest Smith Mountain Lake murder mystery that she wants to self-publish by summer. I’m into the last few chapters of editing/critiquing “Duke” Daly’s detective story (also set at the lake), and I’m mentoring a couple of young writers via e-mail. In fact, the KC twins sent me another five pages to read this morning.

As of yesterday, though, I’m in the midst of reading a new historical novel: Christine Blevins’ debut book, Midwife of the Blue Ridge. (Most of y’all faithful readers of this blog know I love Appalachian stories—especially when they’re set in the Blue Ridge.)

I first discovered Midwife of the Blue Ridge on the Internet. On her website, Christine had posted an excerpt available for download. After I read that chapter, I was hooked on her fine writing and her premise—Maggie Duncan, a Scots girl gifted in the healing arts, comes to America as an indentured servant in the 1760s. (Among my ancestors are a couple of indentured servants who ended up in Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains.) I enjoyed the excerpt so much that I e-mailed the author and volunteered to review her recently published novel on this blog. She said she’d send me a copy. That was several weeks ago.

When I came home from Kroger’s yesterday, a bag hung from my mailbox. A good-sized box was in the bag. Not only did Christine send me Midwife of the Blue Ridge (Berkeley, August 2008), she also sent an advanced reader copy of her latest book, The Tory Widow, which will be released in a few months. And more—see:

You know how, when you read a really good book, you wish you could experience the setting first hand? Maybe some sights and smells and tastes? Well, I can do that with Christine’s books. In the box with the books were three little bags. They smelled absolutely wonderful. One bag contained lavender water, another contained lavender soap, and another contained black bohea tea.

Each bag had an attached tag with a passage from the book and some “instructions” about the contents.

Since lavender is one of my favorite herbs, I’ll quote the tags here:


A good washing with
a solid bar of soap
sweetened with lavender flowers
will smooth the brow and ease
the griefs and pains
of the head and brain.

The scent of lavender on the
skin works especially well to
forfend the bitings of serpents
and mad dogs.

Opposite the information about lavender is this passage from Midwife of the Blue Ridge:

The day before, Tempie managed to have the Master’s tin tub installed in their cabin. The slave women toted in buckets and buckets of hot water. Aurealia gave the lend of a stiff boar-bristle brush and her last sliver of lavender soap.

Maggie benefited from the long soak in steamy water enriched with a sprinkling of aromatic herbs from Tempie’s satchel, and she scoured away every speck of Cavendish detritus—real or imagined—that might be clinging to her skin. . .

Another tag:

Sweet Lavender Water

An Admirable Tonic
Bathe the temples and forehead with
this distillate to allay Giddiness of
the Brain, and to calm palpitations
of a Nervous sort.
Useful for keeping lice, fleas and
mosquitoes at bay, throw the Water
among your clothes, and Grateful
they will smell.
Keep a handkerchief doused with
Sweet Lavender water on your person
to help mitigate an Unbearable Stink.

A handkerchief was wrapped around the bottle of lavender water, the lid of which was sealed with wax.

Here’s a passage from The Tory Widow:

The bells tolled eight o’clock when the women set out for the hospital at King’s College. The morning sun beat incessantly in a cloudless sky on a breezeless day. Gutters overflowing with human and animal waste percolated up through a filter of rotting garbage. The street stench coalesced with the smell of a low tide, forming the thick blanket of malodor smothering the entire city. With lavender-infused handkerchiefs pressed to their noses, Anne and Sally traversed the narrow streets on their trek across town. . .

I started reading Midwife of the Blue Ridge last night and couldn’t put it down. When I finish the book, I’ll post a review here. One thing I especially like is how the author handles the dialect of her main character—she captures the rhythm of Maggie’s speech and works in a few unfamiliar words whose meanings are made clear in context. The dialect, instead of being awkward or intrusive, adds flavor to the novel.

Stay tuned for an up-date on this book. Meanwhile, check out the excerpt. You might get hooked, too.

Meanwhile, I won’t have to worry about mad dogs, serpents, or giddinesss.



Blogger CountryDew said...

Wow. That makes me want to read that book!

10:32 AM  
Blogger Debi Kelly Van Cleave said...

It's true. So many books and so little time. I'm in the middle of reading one of yours right now, Patches on the Same Quilt (very good of course), and some short stories that one of the speakers suggested I read at that conference we went to, plus my gift, Cup of Comfort for Writers, plus my tax assessor of all people, just dropped me off a book to read because we got to yakking...not to mention all the non-fiction and magazines. Life is good when you have reading material.

7:03 PM  

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