May 29, 2011

Bound

by Sally Gunning

Bound is a quiet novel, or at least it seemed so to me because there's not a lot of action. Most of the conflict takes place in a young girl's head, as Alice Cole worries herself over who to trust, how to keep her secrets, where to turn.... The story is set in Colonial times. Alice travels across the ocean with her family to the New World, but her mother and brothers take sick on the journey and when she arrives in New England her father is forced to sell his daughter into servitude to pay off his debts. She has to work for eleven years as an indentured servant. At first things go well; Alice is treated almost as one of the family, raised and taught alongside the family's daughter Nabby. But when the girls are grown, the remaining years of her service are transferred to Nabby, and the new household is not as kind to Alice. She is for the first time treated as a lowly slave, is abused by Nabby's new husband. Eventually things get so miserable that Alice runs away to Satucket, where she takes up with a widow who earns her keep by taking in boarders. Alice tries hard to prove her usefulness to this new household, while struggling to keep her secret: as a runaway servant she could be in serious trouble with the law if found out. But soon she has another secret to hide that's even harder to conceal than an obscured past.

For a book with such a quiet start; told most often in Alice's simple observations and wandering thoughts, Bound turns out to have quite a few heavy topics. I wasn't expecting it to deal with rape, or murder accusations. I wasn't expecting to end up reading about a trial- which was quite interesting, unlike most trial scenes that bore me. Although the story is about a quiet girl's life, trying to just evade trouble and live in peace, it's set against the bustling events of a small New England town. There's quite a bit of politics and local strife as the colonists struggle against English taxes; Alice becomes involved in spinning when they decide to boycott English goods and make their own cloth. Another thing I really liked about the story was seeing how Alice's character grew and her perceptions changed throughout the course of the year. She had a hard time at first learning to trust and understand other people's motives; I was quite surprised at how many times the man living with the widow forgave her indiscretions and mistaken judgements. I was glad she came to like a boy her own age and realize not all men were the beasts she had grown to fear. And I liked that the ending was kind of unexpected. All in all it was a good read.

Rating: 3/5 ........ 307 pages, 2008

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May 21, 2011

The Bucolic Plague

How Two Manhattanites Became Gentleman Farmers
by Josh Kilmer-Purcell

Again, a good read but not what I expected. Actually, I had fair warning from all the other bloggers: this book has too much Martha Stewart in it. I guess I was somehow hoping everyone else was wrong! It's about two well-to-do New Yorkers who buy a mansion on a piece of farmland just because it strikes them as so beautiful. Then throw their sweat into making it a working farm again, putting in most of their hours on the weekend, with the help of a caretaker during the week. And the caretaker happens to raise goats. So in addition to having a huge vegetable garden from which they eat fresh, can and preserve, they also hit on the idea of making specialty soap out of goat milk, and selling it for enough profit to quit their city jobs and live full-time on the farm. It all sounds rather wonderful. Except that's not what the book is mostly about. One of the guys happens to work for Stewart, so it goes on and on about how they try and fail (or sometimes succeed) to live up to "Martha" standards, and how much being seen on TV would boost their soap-making venture. And all that got rather tiresome. I would have liked to read more about the garden, or the goats. There's not even a good description of how they make the goat-milk soap, for example! I don't even know why milk goes into soap... There's also quite a bit about how their relationship struggled due to the strain of keeping up with city life and the demands of the farm, and of new people they meet in the farm community. It was all entertaining and kept me turning pages, sometimes laughing aloud, but I did wish for more stuff on goats...

Borrowed from the public library.

Rating: 3/5 ........ 304 pages, 2010

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May 20, 2011

Coop

A Year of Poultry, Pigs and Parenting
by Michael Perry

It's been two weeks since I actually read this book (and the next one), so I don't recall exactly my first impressions, nor do I feel there's much I can say about it that hasn't already been said by other bloggers. See reviews linked to below. This one will be short.

Coop isn't really quite what the subtitle suggests. Yes, it's about a family man on a small farm, struggling to patch things together so he can raise chickens and pigs, alongside welcoming a new baby into his life. But the chickens really don't get much notice, and even the pigs feel like a sidestory. Mostly, the book is about family life. What it was like for him to grow up in a large family full of foster siblings, and in a small, obscure fundamentalist Christian church. To learn farmwork from an early age. The first half of the book feels almost entirely a memoir, the second part focuses more on his current life, putting together his own family and organizing things -in a haphazard way that reminds me of how I put together my own sorry cold frame- to make his farm somewhat functional. Even though it wasn't quite what I expected, I enjoyed reading it very much. Perry is a good writer, thoughtful and entertaining. A good book.

Borrowed from the public library. Got on my TBR list thanks to Raging Bibliomania and the Capricious Reader.

Rating: 3/5 ..... . 352 pages, 2009

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May 19, 2011

welcome Sonja!

I suppose most of you have guessed, from my absence here, that our new baby girl has arrived!
Sonja Mae Nevarez was born on May 9th, at 3:11 pm. She weighed 8 lbs, 10 oz. Quite a big girl! She's a content and healthy baby. The only minor complication was that she fractured her right clavicle at birth, so had to wear a sling on her arm for a week, to hold the collarbone still. It's already healed over enough that we took the sling off a few days ago. She's much happier now, able to stretch her arm around.
Our older daughter is thrilled to be a big sister.
She's already planning to turn Sonja into a reader: big sister has brought her rocking chair into my room so she can read to the baby while she's nursing.
She pulled all the old baby books we saved off her shelf, says she's going to give them to the baby, and is reading aloud through the pile.
Myself, I've hardly read anything since Sonja was born. In two weeks I've barely made it through several chapters of Bound. I have a few reviews to write of books I read just before the delivery; they'll probably be kept short and sweet. And posting here will be spotty for quite some time, at least until the baby starts sleeping through the night and I can get some decent sleep again! Until then, it's catnaps all day and hardly any pages turned. But I don't mind. Here's a few more pictures.

Sonja and Daddy:
with Mommy:
Sisters:
See you later!

May 4, 2011

Farm City

The Education of an Urban Farmer
by Novella Carpenter

Living in a run-down neighborhood in the city of Oakland, Carpenter eyed the vacant lot next door to her apartment with dreams of growing tomatoes and raising chickens. And then she went ahead and did it. Started building raised beds and growing vegetables. The operation expanded into chickens, turkeys, ducks, a beehive. Then rabbits, and eventually even a pair of pigs. Some of her neighbors enjoyed in sharing the bounty of the garden, others complained about the noise and smell of the animals. She scavenged the city streets for weeds and discarded produce to feed her birds and rabbits, and ended up dumpster-diving behind high-end restaurants to acquire enough food for the pigs. I admired her thriftiness and determination- at one point she tries to go for an entire month living just on what grows in her garden, the meat from her animals, and what she can forage elsewhere in the neighborhood (fruit trees overhanging sidewalks, for example). I've often dreamed of keeping chickens for eggs and bees for the honey, but don't think I could go quite so far as Carpenter and slaughter bunnies for the table. I'm just too squeamish! Anyhow, Farm City was a quick, enjoyable read. The author also keeps a blog about her food-raising exploits.

I found out about this book on Amy Reads. Borrowed it from the public library.

Rating: 3/5 ........ 276 pages, 2009