Shelf Control #279: The Widow’s War by Sally Gunning

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Shelf Control is a weekly celebration of the unread books on our shelves. Pick a book you own but haven’t read, write a post about it (suggestions: include what it’s about, why you want to read it, and when you got it), and link up! For more info on what Shelf Control is all about, check out my introductory post, here.

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Title: The Widow’s War
Author: Sally Gunning
Published: 2006
Length: 336 pages

What it’s about (synopsis via Goodreads):

The Red Tent meets The Scarlett Letter in this haunting historical novel set in a colonial New England whaling village.

“When was it that the sense of trouble grew to fear, the fear to certainty? When she sat down to another solitary supper of bread and beer and picked cucumber? When she heard the second sounding of the geese? Or had she known that morning when she stepped outside and felt the wind? Might as well say she knew it when Edward took his first whaling trip to the Canada River, or when they married, or when, as a young girl, she stood on the beach and watched Edward bring about his father’s boat in the Point of Rock Channel. Whatever its begetting, when Edward’s cousin Shubael Hopkins and his wife Betsey came through the door, they brought her no new grief, but an old acquaintance.”

When Lyddie Berry’s husband is lost in a storm at sea, she finds that her status as a widow is vastly changed from that of respectable married woman. Now she is the “dependent” of her nearest male relative—her son-in-law. Refusing to bow to societal pressure that demands she cede everything that she and her husband worked for, Lyddie becomes an outcast from family, friends, and neighbors—yet ultimately discovers a deeper sense of self and, unexpectedly, love.

Evocative and stunningly assured, The Widow’s War is an unforgettable work of literary magic, a spellbinding tale from a gifted talent.

How and when I got it:

I bought the Kindle edition 10 years ago. (!!)

Why I want to read it:

I got my first Kindle in 2011, and immediately began filling it up with books I found on sale or offered free. I don’t know which category this book fell in, but I do know that — according to the dates in my Kindle library — this was among the first 10 or so books I acquired.

I actually didn’t even remember that I had this until just now! But I can see from the description that this is a book that would have caught my attention. I do love a good historical novel, and I’m always on the lookout for historical fiction that either introduces me to a period I don’t know enough about or to a perspective I wouldn’t have otherwise.

Colonial-era historical fiction always appeals to me, and there’s something about The Widow’s War that catches my eye. I’m always interested in hearing the voices of women from different historical eras, particularly from times when a woman’s voice would have been silenced or subservient to the men around her. Reading the synopsis makes me want to know more about Lyddie, who she is as a person, and how her struggle for independence turns out.

I’m so glad I rediscovered this on my e-book list!

What do you think? Would you read this book? And can you recommend any other Colonial-era historical novels?

Please share your thoughts!


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Audiobook Review: Agent 355 by Marie Benedict

Title: Agent 355
Author: Marie Benedict
Narrator: Emily Rankin
Publisher: Audible Original
Publication date: July 2, 2020
Print length: n/a
Audio length: 2 hours, 7 minutes
Genre: Historical fiction
Source: Free download from Audible
Rating:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

From Marie Benedict, best-selling author of The Only Woman in the Room and Lady Clementine, comes a captivating work of historical fiction about a young female spy who may have changed the course of American History.

The tide is turning against the colonists in the Revolutionary War, and 18-year-old Elizabeth Morris cannot sit by idly. Quietly disdainful of her Tory parents, who drag her along to society events and welcome a British soldier into their home during their occupation of New York City, Elizabeth decides to take matters into her own hands. She realizes that, as a young woman, no one around her believes that she can comprehend the profound implications of being a nation at war – she is, effectively, invisible. And she can use this invisibility to her advantage. Her unique access to British society leads her to a role with General George Washington’s own network of spies: the Culper Ring.

Based on true events, Agent 355 combines adventure, romance, and espionage to bring to life this little-known story of a hero who risked her life to fight for freedom against all odds.

Agent 355 takes a mysterious historical figure, imagines who she might have been, and gives her a moving and powerful story of her own.

Little is known about the real-life Agent 355. She was believed to be a spy in the Culper Ring, the network providing key intelligence to George Washington during the Revolutionary War. Agent 355 was female, and is believed to have been someone well-connected, with access to British officers through social settings. Her identity has never been firmly established, although there are many theories (see Wikipedia) as well as a variety of pop culture interpretations.

In Marie Benedict’s version, Agent 355 is young socialite Elizabeth Morris, daughter of affluent New York Loyalists who regularly socialize with the British officers quartered in New York. Elizabeth is bored and frustrated, and aches for a way to make a difference. While at a party that her parents have forced her to attend, she realizes that the officers talk openly in her presence, as the women in attendance are not taken seriously, seen as pretty decoration and nothing more.

A chance encounter with Robert Townsend, a merchant and rebel sympathizer, provides Elizabeth with the means to put a plan into motion. Soon, she’s providing key intelligence to the Culper Ring, including data on troop movements and information about possible traitors within Washington’s own corps of officers.

The audiobook is short but powerful. As Elizabeth tells her story, we enter into the dangerous life of a brave woman who knows that any mistakes could cost her everything. The pace becomes more and more breathtaking as the story moves forward, and by the end, it’s both tragic and a moving testament to the courage of a woman lost to history — but who may have made all the difference.

Author Marie Benedict’s concluding notes describe her mission to tell the stories of the women who get overlooked in the historical records. Here, she succeeds in bringing this Revolutionary War hero to life. I look forward to reading more of her work.

Agent 355 is a free selection for Audible members this month. I strongly recommend checking it out!

Audiobook Review: The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare

Witch of Blackbird Pond

The newest edition

Growing up in Connecticut, reading The Witch of Blackbird Pond was an absolute must. For years, I’ve remembered reading it back in my school days, and I know that I loved it at the time, but I couldn’t have told you much about it except for the barest of bare bones…. until now!

I was looking for a new audiobook this past week, and doing a Halloween-themed post about witches brought this children’s classic to mind. What a treat! I’m so thrilled to have revisited this terrific story.

In The Witch of Blackbird Pond, it’s 1687, and Katherine (Kit) Tyler sails into Wethersfield, Connecticut to join the household of her last remaining relatives, her Aunt Rachel and Uncle Matthew, and their two daughters, Judith and Mercy. 16-year-old Kit has lived all her life in Barbados, raised by her loving grandfather, but after his death she’s left with nothing, and leaves her beautiful island behind to start a new life among the Puritans of New England

Kit is taken in by her family, but has a hard time fitting into the rigid, restrictive life she finds in Connecticut. Her only sense of joy and freedom comes through her secret visits to the old Quaker woman, Hannah Tupper, who lives alone in a small cottage in the meadow by Blackbird Pond. Hannah is both feared and scorned by the townspeople, and despite being warned away, Kit’s visits to Hannah soon lead to danger for both of them.

I'm pretty sure this is what the book looked like when I read it eons ago!

I’m pretty sure this is what the book looked like when I read it eons ago!

I simply love this book! The language is incredibly descriptive, especially the depictions of autumn in Connecticut, and Kit’s first encounter with snow. But really, the entire thing is so well written. The words paint such a picture of Kit’s life, contrasting the Puritan bleakness with the lushness of the tropical islands.

The characters are distinct and memorable, from Kit’s kind-hearted cousin to the wealthy boy who courts Kit to the poor, hungry child who views Kit as a refuge and friend. Likewise, the plot is sharp and well-developed. The story moves along at a steady pace, but never rushes. The author manages to build drama and tension into the story, even while portraying simple moments like fixing a roof or teaching children to read their ABCs.

As for the audiobook, narrator Mary Beth Hurt does a lovely job bringing the story to life. Her voice is well suited to Kit, and yet she also pulls off the crackly old voice of Hannah and the childish voice of the young girl, Prudence. The pacing is quite good, and I felt so engaged by listening that I found myself taking the long way home just so I could listen a bit more while I drove.

Enough gushing. If you’ve never read The Witch of Blackbird Pond, you’re missing out! It’s never too late, though — the story feels fresh and exciting, even all these years after its publication. And if you’re like me, having read the book ages ago, give yourself a treat and re-read it or listen to the audiobook. I’m so happy that I did!

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The details:

Title: The Witch of Blackbird Pond
Author: Elizabeth George Speare
Narrator: Mary Beth Hurt
Publisher: Laurel Leaf
Publication date: 1958
Audiobook length: 6 hours, 24 minutes
Printed book length: 256 pages
Genre: Historical fiction (young adult)
Source: Library (Overdrive)