Category Archives: Bob’s Reads

Review of ‘The Eastern, Book Two: Later On’ by Deb Gould

Published by Maine Authors Publishers, 2020

“History is not about dates, dead generals, battles, land acquisition, or (oftentimes) disastrous governmental decisions! I’ve always felt that history is about the people who are forced to deal with the aftermath of all those; history is ordinary people living common, lovely lives.”        -Deb Gould

    Historical fiction has many stories to tell us and lessons to teach, but only if the author makes it possible for the reader to experience the past in terms of the present day. Deb Gould has accomplished this difficult task in her 2020 novel, The Eastern, Book Two, Later On.

    Using vernacular speech and historical terms she creates characters with whom a reader might stroll the rutty roads along the Eastern River or turn at a Grange dance in 1900. These are people whose parents and grandparents were the original settlers of Pittston, Maine. The succeeding generations are a bit more modern, with machines and consumer goods making their farm lives a bit easier than that of their forebears. Some have tired of farming and dream of ways to make a better living in Bangor, Portland, even Boston, Massachusetts. 

    From the first paragraph of Later On I remembered Jane and Nathaniel Blodgett from Book One: The Early Years as being younger friends whom I had not seen in a while. Like the Thompson, Crocker, Call and Stilphen families, they had been living their life without me since I put down the first book. At the conclusion I wondered what would become of those who stayed behind to live a rustic life, as well as those younger ones who moved away.

    Public records, newspaper clippings and journal entries help to build a background bulletin board of historical fact that enlivens the storyline, especially for those of us who have a love of Maine history. The milieu rings true from the perspective how we live today.

    Beyond the story and background elements, the way Deb uses her words makes it easy to become absorbed in the reality of this book, even more than in the first. It is not only the story of individuals, but also the telling of how a culture has evolved between 1820, year of Maine’s statehood, and 1920. Words are selected and merged succinctly, much as a poet might use them, to give the avid reader a subjective experience. Deb’s writing reveals the world we all might have experienced a century or more ago.

Review of ‘Gracie & Albert’ by Cheryl Grant Gillespie

Gracie & Albert 

By Cheryl Grant Gillespie 

Androscoggin Press (2019) 

In her memoir, Gracie & Albert, Cheryl Grant Gillespie does much, much more for me than  enhance the story of her birth family from what it was in her collaborative effort, Compassionate Journey: Honoring Our Mothers’ Stories. The powerful depiction of her parents’  relationship within the crucible of Gracie’s mental illness is so vivid that it brings to mind dark  incidents in my own family, happenings often hidden from my view as a child.  

Her use of often stinging dialog painfully focuses a spotlight on treatments of the insane during  mid-twentieth century, cruelly archaic by today’s standards. Yet, the ability of the Grant family members to accept their fates and tribulations reveals the strengths of their love for each  other. 

Each time Gracie pulled her legs up into a fetal position in a chair in her doctor’s office, the pain  of her own reality could not be any sharper. With this and other compelling images, Cheryl  shows her mastery of her craft.

Review of “Through Woods and Water” by Laurie Apgar Chandler

In her wonderful new memoir Through Woods and Waters, A Solo Journey to Maine’s New National Monument (2020), author Laurie Apgar Chandler heads her epilogue with a quote from Eleanor Roosevelt which fits the book to a tee.

    “The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.”

It is the dreams of those who sought to establish Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument, of Percival P. Baxter who bulled into existence Baxter State Park and of the author herself, which fill the pages of this, Laurie’s second tale of solo adventure.

In her first, Upwards (2017), she becomes the first woman to solo paddle the 740-mile Northern Forest Canoe Trail from Old Forge in New York’s Adirondacks to Fort Kent, Maine. Conquering fears and trepidations caused by the difficulty of her effort, she proves to herself and the reader that attempting such a difficult adventure brings with it an intimate knowing of the natural world. 

Through Woods and Waters is a more mature work which not only brings the reader along for the ride, but also portrays the character of the Maine woods and the monumental efforts of those who valued the wilderness enough to want it both preserved and shared with others. In these pages we find Henry David Thoreau, Governor Baxter, Theodore Roosevelt and others of an earlier age.  We meet Roxanne Quimby and her allies in the Quimby family foundation called the Elliotsville Plantation, Inc. who donated much of the Monument’s land and waters to the National Park Service. Laurie introduces her parents and all of the friends who supported her throughout the adventure.

I have enjoyed both books, but the second is created with such sparkling language and imagery that it nearly placed me there beside her in the woods and waters. Here is an example that sets the tone of the writing.

“To the west, the sun finally won through a line of clouds to reflect on the evening-dark waters, a subtle, tranquil ending to a day of unexpected blessings.

But, no, I turned again, and the sky exploded in a blaze of apocalyptic color, perhaps beyond the craft of words to capture. From two angles, like giant spotlights, the yellow-orange ember glow of the setting sun shone up upon billowing towers of cloud, purple-gray in the shadows. Below the black silhouette of treetops, two wide paths of coral light shimmered across the water toward camp.

At that moment, a barred owl began to call from deep in the forest, the notes finding their way straight into my soul.”