ABBOTT’S REACH

By Ardeana Hamlin

Islandport Press, 2011

279 pages, $16.95

ISBN 978-1-934031-42-1

 

Fans of historical fiction will find ABBOTT’S REACH to be a masterpiece of vivid historical accuracy. Vibrant character development and intricate, careful plotting, provide colorful and exciting insight into Maine’s seafaring families in the 1870s.

Author Ardeana Hamlin lives in Hamden, and is an editor for the Bangor Daily News. This is her second historical novel, following PINK CHIMNEYS (Tilbury House, 2003), which introduced many of the characters found here.

Clearly, Hamlin knows how to tell a good story, creating a warm, sensitive and romantic story about complex family intrigue, shady pasts, peril on the high seas, a young couple’s love and the tests that must endure.

Mercy Maude Giddings, known as M, is a bright, pretty young woman from Stockton Springs in 1871, deeply in love with Madras Mitchell, a Searsport sea captain. Fortunately, M’s mother and grandmother have raised her well: “They are wise in the ways of the world. They believe in the power of women. They have taught me to think for myself.”

They are finally married, after navigating touchy family problems, and set sail on his ship for a year-long voyage from Maine to Hawaii, where the island paradise soon reveals that Madras has a secret he’d prefer to keep hidden.

The sea voyages and married life both have rocks and shoals, with storms, ship damage, injuries, attempted mutiny, marital discord and a strong, young woman as an unexpected heroine. This tale is rich with the maritime history of 19th century sailing ships, the complexities of seaborne commerce, the adventures of women at sea, Hawaiian culture and politics, and the family structures of mariners at home and at sea.

Hamlin’s skillful portrayal of M and the challenges she faces give this story a true sense of realism and satisfying romance.

THE WILD BLUEBERRY BOOK

By Virginia M. Wright

Down East Books, 2011

88 pages, $14.95

ISBN 978-0-89272-939-5

 

Maine writer Virginia Wright comes up with some good tasting ideas. Her first book, RED’S EATS, tells of the classic Maine lobster shack in Wiscasset. This second effort, THE WILD BLUEBERRY BOOK, is even better and more delicious.

In this slim volume, Wright offers a brief and colorful history of Maine’s favorite fruit — the wild blueberry — covering everything from growing, harvesting, packaging, marketing and cooking to pickers’ lives, the fruit’s healthful benefits, funny factoids and delightful recipes. Wright lives in Camden and is a senior editor for Down East magazine.

This is fun, easy reading, supplemented nicely with color photographs and sidebars. And despite how much many Mainers may think they know about blueberries, Wright surprises with an eye-opening lesson about this iconic fruit.

As she relates, Maine produces 76 million pounds of blueberries a year, accounting for 38 percent of the world’s blueberry production. Blueberries are such an important part of the Maine diet that they can be found in pancakes, waffles, syrup, jams, sauces, pies, desserts, fruit smoothie drinks, ice cream, wine and martinis. She also tells why blueberries are considered a “superfood” for their many amazing health benefits.

Wright describes how the blueberry fields are managed through the seasons, a labor-intensive effort that includes burning the fields bi-yearly to kill weeds and insects and promote healthy future growth. One chapter vividly describes the lives of itinerant workers who endure the back-breaking labor for $2.50 a box (at 25 pounds per box and 100 boxes per day).

Learn about the remarkable difference between lowbush and highbush blueberries, how Maine quadrupled its harvest output in just 25 years thanks to a small insect, about the honor of being crowned the Wild Blueberry Queen, and the real meaning of the words buckle, slump and grunt.

— Bill Bushnell lives and writes in Harpswell.


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