As the holiday season winds down and the New Year approaches, strung along our threaded beads, my mind turns to curling up with marvelous books through the winter. I had the opportunity to read and review these books that I highly recommend.
“And so, sunset found her, this silver-haired lady, tough as leather on the outside, soft as the rich river bottom on the inside.” – Winter of Beauty, p. 6
And so we meet Sunshine Angel Lewis (Shiney) in the novel Winter of Beauty by Amy Hale Auker, a novel as rich as the river bottom itself. Shiney Lewis is the center of the wheel around which all else revolves on the rugged ranching lands of Bride Mountain, known simply as the Bride.
The prose of this novel reads as poetry of the land and the complex human dynamics that underlie apparently simple everyday life. The daily beauty and struggles of Shiney, the ranch owner; Monte, the foreman; Rafe,the old hand; Jody, the new hand; and Blake and Brenna, who bring child after child into a world they can’t afford—all these, with all of their authenticity, resonate with our own blessings and challenges. These resonances deepen our connection with life on the tinaja, where “…there are those times when the basin, and sometimes two or three basins of water in steps are full and edged with the lace of small animal tracks and the deeper impressions of big ones, like coats of arms pressed into wax wafers, mud atop the rock (pg. 7).”
The seasons of the Bride reflect human seasons throughout the novel in a manner that enfolds the reader in constant reminders that all of our experiences are narratives within a greater story. “Autumn is when the Bride dances. No longer self-conscious and why, no longer blushing, no longer heavy with heat and seed, she wears the fiery jewels she’s earned through the year. Her nests and pastures are empty, and cool nights whisper gold into her green (pg. 122).” The seasons of the Bride express seasons of life, seasons of life-changing decisions, loyalty, heartbreak, and discoveries that love often tiptoes into our lives in the most unexpected ways.
In Winter of Beauty, Auker brings this mixed-up colorful family and the Bride to elemental, exquisite life. A novel to be savored.
In The Sandoval Sisters’ Secret of Old Blood, author Sandra Ramos O’Briant weaves a tale drenched in the history and culture of Spain and the Southwest. Diaries passed down through the lineage of Sandoval women string together a cluster of lives as bold as a chile ristra. The journals begin in Spain during the Inquisition and each generation adds another volume to the collection where “human dreams had been written in archaic Spanish and terrible sins described in faded brown ink on whisper-thin paper.” Finally, we find Oratoria poring through the texts in 1841—”a dangerous time for Anglos in Santa Fe.”
New Mexico stands on the fault line between worlds, on the edge of the Mexican American war, at once part of Mexico, with the United States moving ever closer. We experience the turbulence of this time with the Sandoval sisters: Oratoria, bought by the family after her capture by Apaches in Mexico; her sister Alma, who runs away from an arranged marriage into the heart of Texas; and Pilar, the youngest sister who escapes every night to ride her father’s stallion through the northern desert until dawn. In turn, each sister seeks the diaries to find that “the recipes were there, but so were their fears and ecstasies, their seductions and adulterous affairs. The diaries were cookbooks of life.” Wisdom gained through the generations, combined with the fortune of their family, brands the Sandoval sisters as witches by la gente, the people. Each shares her story in her own voice, and through these stories we experience love, heartbreak, erotic desire, witchcraft, and the human yearning to be free and take care of one’s own.
Ancient journals, the thickness of old blood, sensuous love, and the life-altering choices we all must make, set against the rich backdrop of history, compose the heart of The Sandoval Sisters’ and the Secret of Old Blood. Ultimately, this is a novel of self-determination, of the sisters, a people, and a land. The Sandoval sisters create their role, each in her unique way reflected in future generations, and each with individual courage, for “witches do not ride broomsticks on moonlit nights. They prefer stallions.” Ramos O’Briant tells the complex story of history of the Southwest—complicated, a clash of cultures steeped in slavery, kidnapping, murder, blood, and also love, family, and the creation of fused cultures forever etched into the landscape.
“There was only one language we understood, one prayer we remembered, one path we walked upon, so far from the throne of heaven we could no longer hear your voice.” – The Dovekeepers, p. 153
The Dovekeepers by Alice Hoffman wrapped me in a shawl of history, mesmerizing language, and a great sweeping saga of a story. The book sprang from a kernel of legend Hoffman heard about the historic siege on Masada in the Judean desert 2,000 years ago, where 900 Jews retreated to hold out against the Roman armies. Ancient historians tell of the survival of two women and five children. Hoffman brings this time and these people to exquisite life.
Four women tell the tale; Yael, the bold assassin’s daughter whose mother’s death during her birth marks her childhood and sends her into the arms of a lion; Revka, the village baker’s wife determined to safe her young grandsons, rendered mute by witnessing their mother’s death at the hands of Roman soldiers; Aziza, raised as a boy for her own protection, she finds love with another warrior on the battlefield; and Shirah, who experiences the world through the lens of ancient magic and intuition.
These vastly different women find themselves together, assigned to be the dovekeepers, in Masada. “We were no different from the doves above us. We could not speak or cry, but when there was no choice we discovered we could fly. If you want a reason, take this: We yearned for our portion of the sky (p. 397).” As their individual stories unravel together in the tower of the doves, these threads create a new fabric of life, one that holds them all.
Through each woman’s unique story, Hoffman masterfully conveys increasing depths of understanding and dispels any myths of a single historical narrative. As history unfolds around these women, each responds in ways that reach through the arc of time to resonate with the reader in the present. The rich world Hoffman spins drew me in and there I lived, loved, mourned, and hoped alongside these women. I found myself reading sentences aloud to hear the sheer beauty of the language and for their feel on my tongue. This haunting story didn’t release me even after I’d finished the book. The spellbinding world Hoffman created, and the historical events of the novel’s genesis, lingered in my mind long after—and remain with me still.
These reviews were written for Story Circle Network – “review site is sponsored by the Story Circle Network, a non-profit membership organization that serves women who want to tell their life stories in diaries, journals, personal essays, poetry, and memoir,” or Great New Books – “Our passion is for recommending quality books which keep us turning pages long through the night, great books which have the potential to touch hearts, and lives, and open doors to a better world.” – both marvelous resources for lovers of books! If you’re a bibliophile (like me) always looking for great books to read, sign up to receive book reviews and other celebrations of all things literary.
The stack of books in the photograph below sits waiting for me on my bedside table now. Oh, do I look forward to sinking into their worlds…
I look forward to your own recommendations to our Dewdrops community. What wonderful books can you recommend to us? Let the recommendations of great books begin!
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