Book of the Week (11/23/2020)

Witch: A Cranky Little Tale
by Ann Robinson (Portsmouth, NH: Peter E. Randall, 2020). 
The story, set in an imaginary town in New York State’s Hudson River Valley, is alternately narrated by sixty-something Irene Richards and her thirty-five year old daughter Shirleen McClure, as they cope with events and each other during one year that begins and ends on Halloween.  The novel is peppered with elements of magic realism, inspired by Irene’s sudden interest in witchcraft and how to introduce her newly-acquired skills into her daily routine. In a comedy of errors, Irene completes a mail-order course in the Craft, and enlists the aid of a 700-year old sorceress, Moldred of Breste, to enact revenge on her unfaithful husband, Teddy, who is recuperating from a stroke and is confined to a nursing home. Shirleen convinces her mother to sell their house and move in with her; Deke, her rough-and-tumble husband; and their son Junior, who’s very attached to his grandmom. Along comes Rolfe, a handsome French-Canadian house painter, and Shirleen is smitten.Alas, the course of true love never runs smooth. Several months pass. Shirleen tours Montreal with her French club, and who should appear? Deke tries to phone her, but she can’t be reached. The tour guide is scandalized. Two days later, a contrite Shirleen returns home. Good thing, too: Irene has developed a bogus bath product that will make her famous. When customers discover the ruse, a repentant Irene seeks solace in a neopagan lifestyle, but soon becomes disenchanted with life in a coven. Ultimately, she forgives Teddy, who has recovered his health and become a caterer. The story concludes with the Wiccan marriage ceremony of Irene’s grandson, Junior, and his pregnant girlfriend, Antoinette, the daughter of Teddy’s former mistress, Rosalie.  To everyone’s delight, Shyrena Rose is born with midwyffe Moldred in attendance (is there no limit to this witch’s talents?)  At the novel’s conclusion, Irene, having rediscovered the pleasures of traditional family life, contemplates a future without neopaganism that might even include Teddy. -- Publisher's blurb


Book of the Week (11/16/2020)

Storm Over Key West: The Civil War and the Call of Freedom by Mike Pride (Sarasota, Fla.: Pineapple Press, 2020).

Bow, NH author Mike Pride has written another important work of non-fiction that brings insight into a little known portion of American history.

"A few weeks after the Emancipation Proclamation took effect, James Montgomery sailed into Key West Harbor looking for black men to draft into the Union army. Eager to oblige him, the military commander in town ordered every black man from fifteen to fifty to report to the courthouse, “there to undergo a medical examination, preparatory to embarking for Hilton Head, S.C.” Montgomery swept away 126 men.

Storm over Key West is a little-known story woven of many threads, but its main theme is the denial to black people of the equality central to the American ideal. After the island’s slaves flocked to freedom during the summer of 1862, the white majority began a century-long campaign to deny black residents civil rights, education, literacy, respect, and the vote.

Key West’s harbor and two major federal forts were often referred to as “America’s Gibraltar.” This Gibraltar guarded the Florida Straits between Key West and Cuba and thus access to the Gulf of Mexico. When Union forces seized it before the war, the southernmost point of the Confederacy slipped out of Confederate hands. This led to a naval blockade based in Key West that devastated commerce in Florida and beyond.This book is the widest-ranging narrative history to date of the military bastion in the Florida Keys." --Publisher's blurb

 Join Mike Pride on Tuesday, December 1st, 2020, at 7pm EST, online only via Zoom, presented by Gibson's Bookstore. Registration is required: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/128147148571/


Book of the Week (11/9/2020)

Of This New World by Allegra Hyde (University of Iowa Press, 2016).

Allegra Hyde's debut story collection, Of This New World, offers a menagerie of utopias: real, imagined, and lost. Starting with the Garden of Eden and ending in a Mars colony, the stories wrestle with conflicts of idealism and practicality, communal ambition and individual kink. Stories jump between genres--from historical fiction to science fiction, realism to fabulism--but all ask those fundamental human questions: What do we do when we lose our utopia? What will we do to get it back? Over the course of twelve stories, Hyde writes with a mix of lyricism, humor, and masterful detail. A group of environmental missionaries seeks to start an ideal eco-society on an island in the Bahamas, only to unwittingly tyrannize the local inhabitants and disrupt the social ecosystem. The neglected daughter of a floundering hippie commune must adjust to conventional life with her ungroovy grandmother. A wounded veteran gets lost in erotic fantasies of his twin brother's life. Haunted by her years at a collegiate idyll, a young woman eulogizes a friendship. After indenturing his only son to the Shakers, an antebellum vegan turns to Louisa May Alcott's famous family for help. And in the final story, a down-and-out drug addict gets a second chance at life in a government-sponsored space population program, only to be flummoxed by erectile dysfunction. An unmissable debut, the collection charts the worlds born in our dreams and bred in hope -- Publisher's blurb.


Book of the Week (11/2/2020)

Bluegrass Ambassadors: The McLain Family Band in Appalachia and the World by Paul O. Jenkins (Morgantown, WV: West Virginia University Press, 2020).

Paul O. Jenkins is the university librarian at Franklin Pierce University and has written numerous articles on old-time and bluegrass music. His previous books include, "Richard Dyer-Bennet: The Last Minstrel" and "Teaching the Beatles".

"Bluegrass Ambassadors is the first book-length study of the McLain Family Band, which has spread the gospel of bluegrass for more than fifty years. Rooted in bluegrass but also collaborating with classical composers and performing folk, jazz, gospel, and even marches, the band traveled to sixty-two foreign countries in the 1970s under the auspices of the State Department. The band’s verve and joyful approach to its art perfectly suited its ambassadorial role. After retiring as full-time performers, most members of the group became educators, with patriarch Raymond K. McLain’s work at Berea College playing a particularly important role in bringing bluegrass to the higher education curriculum.

Interpreting the band’s diverse repertoire as both a source of its popularity and a reason for its exclusion from the bluegrass pantheon, Paul Jenkins advances subtle arguments about genre, criticism, and audience. Bluegrass Ambassadors analyzes the McLains’ compositions, recordings, and performances, and features a complete discography."-- Publisher's blurb


Book of the Week (10/26/2020)

Marked: The Witchcraft Persecution of Goodwife Unise Cole 1656-1680 by Cheryl Lassiter (CreateSpace, 2015).

“It must be so, it shall be so, do what you will.” So muttered Goodwife Unise Cole to her neighbor Abraham Drake as he pondered his mysteriously deceased livestock. The deaths were blamed on her familiarity with the Devil, one of many similiar accusations lodged against her– she bewitched crops; shape-shifted into a dog, a cat, an eagle; had conversations with the Devil; enticed young children; and moved at supernatural speed. Worse, she was blamed for the deaths of a man as he lay helpless in his bed and a child who had been diabolically transformed into an ‘ape.’ Unise Cole’s childlessness, low social status, and tempestuous spirit marked her for persecution as a witch in the puritan town of Hampton, where she endured three decades of accusations, whippings, court trials, and imprisonment, all in an attempt to banish her from the town. In her third non-fiction book about the people and events in the small seacoast town of Hampton, New Hampshire, Cheryl Lassiter shares her passion for detailed historical research to tell the definitive, true story of the woman known as The Witch of Hampton. --Publisher's blurb.