Saturday, November 26, 2011

252 (2011 #57). The Heretic's Daughter

by Kathleen Kent,
read by Mare Winningham

Dallas resident Kathleen Kent grew up hearing many legends about her maternal grandmother back nine generations, Martha Allen Carrier - one of the nineteen people hung during the famous Salem witch trials of 1692.  Kent spent five years researching the trials and writing this book  In it, she takes the point of view of Martha's daughter Sarah, writing to her own granddaughter in 1752.

The story begins in December 1690, when Sarah is nine, with her family moving from Billerica, Massachusetts, to nearby Andover, to live with Martha's mother.  The family has a troubled past, and brings smallpox with them, which doesn't endear them to their new neighbors.  Sarah and her younger sister Hannah are sent to live with her mother's sister's family, Roger and Mary Toothaker, back in Billerica.  At first, life with the Toothakers and her cousin Margaret seems idyllic to Sarah, especially after she returns home after the epidemic.  In time though, Sarah grows to appreciate her parents more, particularly as she learns the not-so-nice truth about her uncle Roger.

In May 1692, Roger and Martha are among those arrested for witchcraft, and Margaret and Mary are arrested to break Roger.  Sarah's father, Thomas Carrier, probably would have been arrested too, if everyone wasn't afraid of him - he is seven feet tall and rumored to be the executioner of Charles I back in England.  Having some warning before she is arrested, Martha tells Sarah that she and her siblings should tell the judges what they want to hear in order to save themselves, but that "someone must speak for the truth of things" (page 178) - and that will be Martha.  She also makes Sarah promise to protect a red book where Martha has written the family's history, which they bury in a field.

Ultimately Sarah and her brothers are arrested, but even those who "confess" are thrown into prison.  The harsh realities of prison life are contrasted with the difficulties of everyday living in colonial Massachusetts before the trials.  Kent does an excellent job depicting this dreariness and despair, as well as Sarah's growing realization of the love and strength of her parents.

Kent's novel gives weight to some theories (also discussed in Marc Aronson's Witch-Hunt) that the accusations of witchcraft were often made due to disputes over land and other property.  For example, the Toothaker's son Allen thinks he should have inherited his grandmother's property, and so testifies against Martha.  Kent incorporates the transcripts of the testimonies of Martha's accusers, who are characters in the novel with whom Martha (and sometimes Sarah) clashed.

This was an outstanding book that I highly recommend, especially to any one interested in the Salem witch trials. Actress Mare Winningham is a good choice as the audiobook reader, accurately reflecting Sarah's changing emotions as she matures and undergoes experiences no 11-year-old should have.

© Amanda Pape - 2011

[The audiobook was borrowed from and returned to my university library.  A paperback copy of the book for reference was borrowed and returned through interlibrary loan.]

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

249-251 (2011 #s 54-56). Three Kid/Teen Books About The Salem Witch Trials

After reading the fictional The Heretic's Daughter for my local book club, I felt I needed some more background information on the Salem witch trials before our discussion. I forgot to check my university library for books before leaving for the weekend, so I checked my local public library instead. I found three books on the topic, one in the juvenile section, and the other two in the young adult section.

The Devil in Salem Village, by Laurel Van Der Linde, is a short (72 pages) overview of the trials aimed at grades 4 to 6.  Early chapters on witchcraft and life in Salem provide background for the trials. The straightforward narrative makes few interpretations and conclusions, and is enhanced by quotations from transcripts of the trials as well as interesting illustrations.  A chronology, suggested further reading, bibliography, and index wind up the book.

Figures of the Salem Witch Trials, by Stuart A. Kallen, is a collective biography of key figures from this event, aimed at middle school and high school students.  After a foreword and introduction, there are five chapters, each 14 to 17 pages long, about accused witches Tituba and Rebecca Nurse, accusing pastors Samuel Parris and Cotton Mather, and Judge Samuel Sewell.  Many illustrations, including maps and photographs, highlight the text.  Endnotes, a chronology, two annotated bibliographies, and an index complete the 112-page book.

Witch-Hunt: Mysteries of the Salem Witch Trials, by Sibert Award winner Marc Aronson, is definitely aimed at teens. Aronson presents many different interpretations of the events, drawing on a variety of sources, which he details in extensive endnotes with comments. There's also an epilogue comparing many of these sources, along with an appendix focusing on Arthur Miller's play, The Crucible. A timeline, bibliography, and index round out this well researched 272-page book, and Aronson provides a 44-page study guide on his website.

© Amanda Pape - 2011

Monday, November 14, 2011

248 (2011 #53). Sleeping Better Together

by Gerhard Klosch

Despite its title, this book isn't about sex!  Rather, it's a summary of sleep research, particularly as it pertains to sharing a bed with someone else.  There's even a chapter about children and pets in the bed.

I found lots of interesting facts about sleep in this book.  The second chapter, on the cultural history of sleep, was fascinating!  Other chapters address sleep in general (the first, introductory chapter), individual sleep patterns and problems, sleep behavior and ritual (also intriguing), and problems that stem from couples sleeping together.  Each of these chapters ends with a summary section called "What Does This Mean in Terms of Sleeping Better Together?" which includes tips or suggestions for improving your sleep situation.

In the conclusion of the book, the authors address the "taboo" subject of separate beds (or bedrooms) for couples.  It was interesting to learn that a 2003 British survey of more than 1,000 couples showed 28% of those over age 60 slept in separate beds and/or rooms, while nearly half of couples over 70 did so.  This trend is seen in other countries, too, including the United States.  It seems that eventually the need for a good night's sleep outweighs social norms.

This book has an extensive bibliography, a resource list, and index.  This slim volume (178 pages) was originally published in 2008 in German.  The English translation is good, but I do have to wonder about new research in this area between the 2008 and 2011 publication dates.

© Amanda Pape - 2011

[This book was obtained through the LibraryThing Early Reviewers program.  It will be passed on to someone else to learn from and enjoy.]

Saturday, November 12, 2011

247 (2011 #52). Madame Tussaud

by Michelle Moran

This is historical fiction about the woman behind the famous wax museums in London and throughout the world.  I did not remember that she had been around during the French Revolution, and made wax models of many of the important people from before and during that time.

The heroine doesn't become Madame Tussaud until nearly the end of the book.  She was born Anna Maria Grosholtz to a Swiss mother, but was called Marie in France.  She's 27 when the book begins in 1788 in Paris, assisting her "uncle" (her mother's lover, according to this book), the Swiss doctor and wax modeler Philippe Curtius, in creating and exhibiting wax figures of famous people of the time.  

In many respects, the book is more about its subtitle, "A Novel of the French Revolution," than about Tussaud.  There's really not a lot of primary source material available about the latter:  "Tussaud's 1838 autobiography" (PW Annex Reviews, August 21, 2006), and "a handful of legal documents, a few letters circa 1802–1804, contemporary publicity material and newspaper clippings" (Kathleen Byrne in Globe and Mail, November 18, 2006, page D9), according to reviews of Kate Berridge's Madame Tussaud: A Life in Wax (which I plan to read), one of Michelle Moran's sources for her novel.  Pamela Pilbeam, author of Madame Tussaud and the History of Waxwork (another book I'd like to read), said Tussaud's "ghosted 'memoirs' claimed that she spent eighteen years at the royal court in Versailles before 1789 and also that in 1794 she was in the same prison as Josephine, Napoleon's future wife. There is not a shred of evidence for either claim" (History Today, September 2006, page 63).

Moran clearly shows Marie's business bent, so I would question any claims the show-woman makes in her own autobiography.  Nevertheless, those claims make a great story and a wonderful basis for this novel.  I appreciated the map of 1789 Paris and the list of the cast of characters at the beginning of the book,as well as the glossary of French terms at the end. The "After the Revolution" section at the end tells what happened to many of the characters. However, some - such as Marie's love interest, Henri Charles, supposed brother of the scientist and balloonist Jacques Charles - are fictional, and it would have been nice if Moran's historical notes at the end had made that clear.

I enjoyed seeing the French Revolution from yet another viewpoint, having read Sena Jeter Naslund's fictionalized biography of Marie Antoinette, Abundance, and Antonia Fraser’s Marie Antoinette: The Journey (on which Naslund’s book is based).  Moran certainly brings out all the grisly details of the Reign of Terror.

The style of this book, with chapters headed by a date (or dates), reminded me of one of my favorite books, Désirée, by Annemarie Selinko (which begins in France at the same time this book ends, following Napoleon's rise and fall from power).  It was an easy read, and I look forward to reading Moran's historical fiction set in ancient Egypt:  Nefertiti, The Heretic Queen, and Cleopatra's Daughter.

© Amanda Pape - 2011

[This book was borrowed from and returned to my local public library.]

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

246 (2011 #51). The Coldest Winter

by David Halberstam

I bought this book (subtitled America and the Korean War) as a gift for my father - he is a Korean War veteran (Air Force) and wanted to read it.  He passed it on to me when he was finished.

The Coldest Winter focuses on what led up to the Korean War and how it began (in late June, 1950), and the terrible winter of 1950-51, when the arrogant General Douglas MacArthur insists on a drive all the way to the north Korean border with China, with devastating results. MacArthur, along with his toady underling Ned Almond, and a few other officers, come off very badly in this book (as does Chairman Mao).

Halberstam, a journalist in Saigon during the Vietnam War, is best known for his book on that conflict, The Best and the Brightest.  Some of his more liberal leanings are obvious in this book.  However, its strength is in the innumerable interviews he did for this book, mostly of the men who did the actual fighting, and not just the generals and politicians trying to run the show.  This made the narrative, despite its 657 pages, quite readable.

One passage (on page 533) really stood out for me:
That was one of the great mysteries of combat, the process of going from green, scared soldiers to tough, grizzled, combat-ready (but still scared) veterans.  Some men, a small percentage, never made it...They were incapable of or unwilling to bread out of their civilian selves.  Most men, however, whether they liked it or not, went through that transformation.  They might regret it when they came home, and it might be a part of their lives they never wanted to revisit, but they did it.  This had become their universe, and it was a small and brutal one, cut off from all the things they had been taught growing up.  Most important of all, it was a universe without choice.  No one entirely understood the odd process--perhaps the most primal on earth--that turned ordinary, peace-loving, law-abiding civilians into very good fighting men; or one of its great sub-mysteries--how quickly it could take place.
If you are looking for a history with lots of details on all of the battles in the Korean War, this is not the book for you.  As already mentioned, it focuses on the period from June 1950 to April 1951, and virtually ignores the last two years of the war.  There are many maps in the book, most with military symbols explained by Halberstam at the beginning of the book (along with a glossary of military terms). I appreciated these even if I did not always understand them. There was plenty of battle description in the book for me, enough to make me further ponder the wisdom of war. Halberstam used more abbreviations in the book than I would like, although those who read a lot of military history probably don't need explanations.

I know very little about the Korean War before reading this book.  I definitely understand a lot more about how it began, and how its ending led to the Vietnam War (and later conflicts in Third World countries).  I would like to read another book about the Korean War, particularly one that focuses on the contributions of the Air Force to the effort.  Halberstam provides an extensive bibliography, so I imagine I can find a suitable source.

© Amanda Pape - 2011

[I borrowed the book from and will be returning it to my father, a Korean War veteran.]