The Eulogist by Terry Gamble

The Eulogist by Terry Gamble is an excellent story about an immigrant family who lives in Cincinnati and southern Ohio during a period of great change in the early United States.

Here is a little on the plot from the publisher:

Cheated out of their family estate in Northern Ireland after the Napoleonic Wars, the Givens family arrives in America in 1819. But in coming to this new land, they have lost nearly everything. Making their way west they settle in Cincinnati, a burgeoning town on the banks of the mighty Ohio River whose rise, like the Givenses’ own, will be fashioned by the colliding forces of Jacksonian populism, religious evangelism, industrial capitalism, and the struggle for emancipation.

After losing their mother in childbirth and their father to a riverboat headed for New Orleans, James, Olivia, and Erasmus Givens must fend for themselves. Ambitious James eventually marries into a prosperous family, builds a successful business, and rises in Cincinnati society. Taken by the spirit and wanderlust, Erasmus becomes an itinerant preacher, finding passion and heartbreak as he seeks God. Independent-minded Olivia, seemingly destined for spinsterhood, enters into a surprising partnership and marriage with Silas Orpheus, a local doctor who spurns social mores.

When her husband suddenly dies from an infection, Olivia travels to his family home in Kentucky, where she meets his estranged brother and encounters the horrors of slavery firsthand. After abetting the escape of one slave, Olivia is forced to confront the status of a young woman named Tilly, another slave owned by Olivia’s brother-in-law. When her attempt to help Tilly ends in disaster, Olivia tracks down Erasmus, who has begun smuggling runaways across the river—the borderline between freedom and slavery.

As the years pass, this family of immigrants initially indifferent to slavery will actively work for its end—performing courageous, often dangerous, occasionally foolhardy acts of moral rectitude that will reverberate through their lives for generations to come.

Gamble provides a fascinating look at family dynamics at a time when African Americans were thought to be subservient to whites and women were considered the “lesser” sex. Gamble delicately and masterfully balances the independent thoughts of Olivia with how a woman was viewed in society at the time—without letting our modern ideas intrude into the story.

Not only does Gamble capture the dynamics of women in society, but she also portrays, in realistic terms, the evangelism movement that sweeps the country—the Second Great Awakening. Gamble writes about the revivals and how the traveling evangelists whipped people into a religious fervor that was not cooled for many years.

Finally, but not least, Gamble writes about the brutality of slavery and the untold truth of the number of rapes of slaves by their “masters.” She details the horrors that slave women had to endure not only from sexual abuse, but also witnessing their children and/or husbands being sold.

The Eulogist is an excellent encapsulation of the United States in the early to mid-1800’s.

Stay Home & Read: Give Me Liberty

One of the myriad reasons for the near-death of this blog is that I simply don’t have the time, focus or energy to put into serious reviews of serious books. I read a decent amount of non-fiction but review very little of it. I feel caught in a catch-22, if I could write serious reviews of non-fiction I could get paid to do it and yet I rarely get around to posting quick reviews of the same books because I want to do the book justice.

Well, if this whole #StayHomeAndRead thing is going to work I am going to have to post some short blog reviews of non-fiction books. So let’s start with one of my favorite authors, Richard Brookhiser, and his latest book Give Me Liberty.

There are two things happening in this book: one is a simple history of America through the lens of our pursuits of liberty, the second is an argument about American nationalism.

The first thread creates the structure of the book

This book focuses instead on thirteen documents, from 1619 to 1987, that represent shots from the album of our long marriage to liberty. They say what liberty is. They show who asked for it, when, and why. Since no marriage is ever simple, they track its ups and downs. These thirteen liberty documents define America as the country that it is, different from all others

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A Long Way Off by Pascal Garnier, Emily Boyce (Translator)

In another stroke of luck, I was looking for something short and interesting to read and grabbed A Long Way Off from the TBR pile. It turns out the release date was yesterday. So despite not necessarily being a book I would recommend for #StayAtHomeAndRead, I figured I would offer a quick review here.

Publishers Description:

Marc dreams of going somewhere far, far away – but he’ll start by taking his cat and his grown-up daughter, Anne, to an out-of-season resort on the Channel.

Reluctant to go home, the curious threesome head south for Agen, whose main claim to fame is its prunes. As their impromptu road trip takes ever stranger turns, the trail of destruction – and mysterious disappearances – mounts up in their wake.

Shocking, hilarious and poignant, the final dose of French noir from Pascal Garnier, published shortly before his death, is the author on top form.

Having read The Panda Theory I guess I should have expected odd, black humor. After all here is what I wrote about that book:

What an odd little book. Bills itself as noir but veers close to black comedy. It is French so perhaps I should have expected weird … :-)

Ditto for this book. It was a very odd atmospheric road trip.

The strength of the story is 1) Marc’s sense that he wants to escape the life he feels trapped in but that he lacks the courage to really cut loose from social bonds and be free and 2) his daughter’s nonchalant but psychopathic approach.

But again, I’m not sure if it is noir so much as black humor. If you like quirky, dark humor you might like this but it is an acquired taste, of that I have no doubt.

Warning: the final scenes are not for the faint of heart. Despite the weird events that led to it, I was not ready for it. So be forewarned.

Stay Home & Read: The Last Tourist by Olen Steinhauer

When this month started I wasn’t real bullish on the continued existence of this blog. But then the planet was hit with a pandemic, my kids schools were closed and I am working from home. I started musing on the fact that a lot of people might suddenly have more time on their hands and want to know about good books to read.  In a making lemonade sort of way I thought maybe I could provide a service with something I’m calling #StayAtHomeAndRead.  Unfortunately, as I was contemplating restarting this moribund blog my basement flooded which grabbed my attention for a few days.

But as luck would have it, what was schedule to be released today but a new book by one of my favorite authors. So I decided to start the series with The Last Tourist by friend of the blog Olen Steinhauer.

Publishers teaser:

In Olen Steinhauer’s bestseller An American Spy, reluctant CIA agent Milo Weaver thought he had finally put “Tourists”—CIA-trained assassins—to bed.

A decade later, Milo is hiding out in Western Sahara when a young CIA analyst arrives to question him about a series of suspicious deaths and terrorist chatter linked to him.

Their conversation is soon interrupted by a new breed of Tourists intent on killing them both, forcing them to run.

As he tells his story, Milo is joined by colleagues and enemies from his long history in the world of intelligence, and the young analyst wonders what to believe. He wonders, too, if he’ll survive this encounter.

Perhaps I should get the disclosures out of the way.  I’ve been a fan of Olen Steinhauer since I stumbled upon Bridge of Sighs in 2005.  I have interviewed him a couple of times, and have even started watching the TV show he created and produces, Berlin Station (by purchasing it on Amazon because I didn’t have Epix, I might add).  Unlike with The Middleman, from which the above disclosure is taken, this time I didn’t forget to post a review on pub day. So I got that goin for me.

My take?

Short version: Classic Steinhauer! Intelligent espionage fiction with twist and turns and a global conspiracy. Old characters and new. Makes me want to go back and re-read the whole series with Milo Weaver. And delete a bunch of apps off my phone…

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Pondering the death of a blog or Deja Vu all over again

More than halfway into the second decade of CM I am again pondering quitting.  This is something I have been doing since before the tenth anniversary.

It is the history that makes it hard to just quit.

What to do with all the reviews, interviews and opinions offered over the years?

But if I am honest with myself, I don’t get much joy out of posting and there certainly is no interaction or traffic on the blog anymore. I can probably get review copies just posting to NetGalley, Goodreads, Amazon, etc.

It also bugs me a little that quitting would feel like failure; reflect on my character in some way.  I always wanted to prove that I could improve my focus and writing and offer quality book reviews here again.  But the motivation just isn’t there. I’m not sure people read personal blogs anymore anyways.

I’m going to ponder things a bit more but it seems depressing to limp along for months again and come back and read another “Is this blog dead?” post.