THE NORTHERN REACH, by W.S. Winslow; Flatiron Books, 2021; 228 pages, $26.99.


Edith Baines is a 66-year-old widow, sitting alone staring out at the waters of Northern Reach, looking at an image only she can see — a large schooner, sails set, but no crew visible, and the vessel doesn’t move even with the wind, tide and current. What could it mean? A metaphor for her life perhaps?
Trenton author Wendie Winslow’s debut novel is a grim, multi-generational story about fractured Maine families, men and women, husbands and wives, sons and daughters, who spend their lives making themselves miserable and hurting those around them. Winslow has published short fiction before, and this effort clearly demonstrates her imagination and writing talent. She explores family relationships with care and insight, and more than a little critical observation.
Covering more than one hundred years, from 1904 to 2017, the story weaves the lives of numerous families, so many characters that Winslow wisely provides family trees to help keep track of people and how they are related by blood, marriage or romantic misadventure.
The Baines family, for example, is marked forever by tragedy and bitterness, and the Moody clan fares no better. Infidelity, marital indifference, parental neglect, self-pity, poverty, booze, drugs, illegitimate children and class-conscious scorn afflict everyone in this hand-wringing tale of woe. The fictional town of Wellbridge, Maine is where most of the characters live or are from, a town that nobody would ever call a happy place.
This reads like a generational soap opera, but there’s no joy or humor, just a lot of bad feelings and anger. And Edith knows why: “No one knows what anybody thinks. It’s the lies that hold people together, the things we never say, the false faces that mask ugly truths.”
And Edith and the schooner are still there, not moving.

THE HEALING GARDEN: HERBS FOR HEALTH AND WELLNESS by Deb Soule; Princeton Architectural Press, 2021; 223 pages, $29.95.


For centuries apothecaries and herbalists have used medicinal herbs to treat temporary, acute and chronic health conditions like cuts, coughs, burns, fever, tissue trauma, pneumonia, anxiety and ulcers. Even Ben Franklin recognized the value of herbs: “Much virtue in herbs, little in man.”
Maine is home to a number of experienced herbalists, but perhaps none so well known as Deb Soule of Rockport. She owns Avena Botanticals Herbal Apothecary, and has penned “The Healing Garden,” a fascinating instructional guide to understanding herbal medicines, gardening, harvesting, drying, preserving and preparing a wide variety of herbal teas, tinctures, tonics and infusions.
Soule has more than 35 years experience with herbal medicines, and is a passionate proponent of the ancient art and its connections to a healthy earth environment. The book is also beautifully illustrated with 200 color photographs by Portland photographer Molly Haley.
Soule describes how to create a “biodynamic” garden, one favorable to plants, insects, birds, soil and nature, using the earth’s solar and lunar biorhythms. Her descriptions and instructions are concise — when to plant and harvest, right down to the tools, equipment, work spaces and procedures required to produce a useful herb garden. There are no recipes for using herbs as culinary seasonings, but many for creating herbal tea, syrup, vinegar, honeys, oils, steams and salves, as well as obscure medicinal products like glycerites, oxymels and decoctions.
The last chapter features 18 herbs and how they are used in medicine, from mint, comfrey leaf, calendula, echinacea, wild bergamot and teasel, to anise hyssop and nettle, “one of the most nourishing herbs and food sources on our planet.” Soule also wisely mentions safety considerations, cautioning readers about proper preparation, dosage and side effects of herbal medicines.
 “Good thymes!” said one reader who loves bad puns.
Bill Bushnell lives and writes in Harpswell.

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