Turn Homeward, Hannalee
Patricia Beatty (J Historical Fiction)
The Civil War has been raging for three years now. Twelve-year-old Hannalee Reed’s father died in an Army hospital last winter and her older brother was currently in Virginia fighting for the Confederacy. She and her little brother, Jem, spend their days working in the mill making cloth for the soldiers while her mother awaits the birth of her fourth child. When Union soldiers arrive in her hometown of Roswell, Georgia, they burn down the mill and gather all of the millworkers—charging each one with treason and sending them to Tennessee and Kentucky by train. Before Hannalee is taken away, her mother pulls a button from her blouse and tells her daughter, “Wherever you go, keep this to remind yourself to come home. Turn your heart to me. Turn homeward, Hannalee!” Despite the miles between them and the impossible odds that lie ahead of her, Hannalee made her mother a promise that she would find a way home again and that is what she intended to do.
Precious is the book that not only entertains the soul of a young reader, but also enlightens their mind as well. Patricia Beatty’s Turn Homeward, Hannalee is such a book. The first half of Beatty’s book is based on actual events that occurred in July 1864 when the Yankee cavalry arrived in Roswell, Marietta, and New Manchester, Georgia, rounded up nearly two thousand mill workers, and put them all on trains heading north to either work in Union mills or to provide household or farm help to northern families. Like most of the soldiers before them, most of these workers were never heard from again—their futures forever remaining a mystery. Although Beatty targets her book for readers aged ten and older, she doesn’t shy away from depicting the cruelty, ugliness, and inhumanity that comes with war. Hannalee and Jem get to witness first-hand the horrors of the battle of Franklin, which lasted only six hours but was a terrible defeat for the Confederacy. Hannalee described the bloody scene before her by uttering, “I reckoned it was like looking into hell, and I felt sick inside.”
Although Beatty provides readers with a lot of facts and details surrounding the war, her book reads less like a history lesson and more like a thrilling action and adventure story where a new danger or challenge awaits our fearless heroine at every turn of the page. And even though Hannalee Reed sprang from Beatty’s wonderful imagination, it would be nice to think that among the eighteen hundred Georgian mill workers that simply vanished from government records, that there were a few girls—like Hannalee Reed—who traveled hundreds of miles through battlefields and blood and who survived hunger and the elements to make their way back home. That they did all of this because they had made a promise to their mothers and that was a promise worth keeping.
* Book cover image attributed to: www.amazon.com
In honor of Halloween, we’ll be reviewing ghoulishly scary and spooky books throughout the month of October.
Ghost on Black Mountain
Ann Hite (Adult Fiction)
“Mama warned me against marrying Hobbs Pritchard. She saw my future in her tea leaves: death.”
Nellie Clay was only 17 when she married 25-year old Hobbs Pritchard. With just a feed sack of clothes, some trinkets, and a childhood full of memories, she leaves the only home she has ever known and moves to Black Mountain with a man she barely knows and the ghosts he has spent a lifetime creating.
Ghost on Black Mountain is a haunting tale of abuse, power, greed, and fervent love. There is not a soul on Black Mountain that hasn’t been negatively impacted or affected by Hobbs Pritchard, and his toxic anger and avarice blanket the mountain like mist on a crisp autumn morning. Hite does a credible job in conveying the torment and fear unleashed on a tightly-knit mountain community by a man consumed by evil and jealousy. The author keeps the story interesting by having different female characters narrate and share their own histories and perspectives. Near the end of the book, just when you thought you were safely out of the woods, Hite throws in an unexpected twist by introducing an unknown character. Rather than stall the story’s progression with this sudden interruption, this shift actually adds to the story’s mounting tension and brings us ever closer to an inevitable tipping point. As this character’s story is slowly unraveled, we become uncomfortably and painfully aware that the ghost on Black Mountain may never truly rest in peace.
Ghost on Black Mountain is Hite’s first novel and she gives readers a truly gripping and all-consuming story of good versus evil and the price one is willing to pay for redemption. Like the ghosts on Black Mountain, this story and its characters will linger in your mind and lurk in your memory long after the last page is turned.
* Book cover image attributed to http://www.amazon.com
Quite A Year For Plums
Bailey White (Adult Fiction)
Roger is in love with a Yankee (although some of those people are just as nice as can be). Louise arranges letters and numbers so that she can contact space aliens (who are really small by the way). Della is having a devil of a time painting Dominique chickens (capturing their feet correctly is the hardest part) and has a penchant for labeling her garbage. And then there’s Bruce who has nightmares about fonts (he’s a typographer and takes these things very seriously). These and many more wonderfully odd characters live in a small southern town, and they laugh, love, and cry together…because that is what families do.
In the vein of Philip Gulley, Jan Karon, and Ann B. Ross, Bailey White gives us a humorous and heartfelt glimpse into rural America. In White’s world, the boy doesn’t always get the girl and even the best intentions end in defeat, but she shows us that anything can be made just a little bit brighter and sweeter with just a jar of sweet pickles or a slice of homemade plum pie.
I adore Bailey White, but this novel came up a little short as I had a hard time sinking my teeth into it. Rather than getting a rich and satisfying entrée, I was instead served several courses of appetizers. White gives the reader many humorous and delightful vignettes, but when put together, they fail to form a complete and cohesive story. Quite A Year For Plums is a quick read that doesn’t require a tremendous amount of emotional investment, but its quirky and lovable characters do make for an enjoyable book. Almost as enjoyable as a jar of sweet pickles or a slice of homemade plum pie. Almost.
* Book cover image attributed to http://www.amazon.com