Tag Archives: homophobia

The Unbinding of Mary Reade by Miriam McNamara

It is misleading to say that The Unbinding of Mary Reade (please note the extra “e”) is based on historical facts since the author, Miriam McNamara plays fast and loose with the so called “truth”. Yes, Mary Read, Anne Bonnie, and Calico Jack Rackham were pirates together, but the timeline is ignored leading to a misleading narrative. What is true is that the illegitimate Mary Read was brought up disguised as her half brother Mark so as to financially benefit off her “grandmother” with the proceeds of her deceit supporting her mother. Eventually she joined the British Military and fought against the French in the Nine Years War. Mary married, settled in the Netherlands, and ran an inn, but after her husband’s early death she once again took up the role as a man and ended up on a ship traveling to the West Indies which was taken hostage by pirates who she gladly joined. She accepted the governor’s pardon in 1718-19 and became a privateer, basically a pirate for the crown, but the ship mutinied and it was at this point she joined the pirates Calico Jack Rackham and Anne Bonny (who also was disguised as a man). Eventually both their true identities were revealed. Ironically, Anne’s father had unsuccessfully forced Anne to take on a boys identity in her youth to hide the fact she was his illegitimate daughter.

While in the book McNamara portrays the two female pirates as roughly the same age, in fact, Mary Read was thirteen to fifteen years older. Of interest is the gender fluid nature of both these female buccaneers who seemed to take pleasure from men but were rumored to have an intimate relationship with each other as well, switching back and forth between the sexes as the situation dictated. That they were fierce fighters is not in doubt, shown by their efforts to hold off the invaders intent on taking them captive, although they were eventually outnumbered and captured because the male crew were too drunk to fight. Both ladies were “with child” so spared the fate of their male counterparts who were hanged for high treason. While Mary is believed to have died of child fever in a Jamaican prison (buried April 28, 1721), Anne was luckier, possibly rescued by her influential father, William Cormac, ending up in her birthplace of South Carolina.

As you can see, Mary’s life was actually quite fascinating, but the author somehow found a way to make it mundane. I had to force myself to finish this book, which seemed to drag on and on.

Back and forth between 1704, 1707, 1717, and 1719 alternating between the locales of London and the Caribbean, the backstory comes too late, leaving the reader confused as to exactly what is happening. Ultimately, the intriguing details of the lives of these two rebellious woman are not used to their best advantage. There was too much tell, not enough show, with the author too often describing the events rather than putting the characters in the midst of the action.

However, this book’s one saving grace is bringing Mary and Anne to our attention and I suggest a look at A General History of the Robberies and Murders of the Most Notorious Pyrates, published in 1724, which provides the basis of many of the myths surrounding this fascinating period on the high seas.

Two stars and a thank you though both Netgalley and Edelweiss for providing an ARC in exchange for an honest review. This review also appears on Goodreads.

The Secret Wisdom of the Earth by Christopher Scotton

How do you describe a book which creates a world then invites you to vicariously live beside the characters and experience their joys and sorrows, their hopes and dreams, their trials and triumphs? The Secret Wisdom of the Earth is that book and this is my adventure as I read it.

I entered the Appalachian region of eastern Kentucky with Kevin Gillooly and his mother who were both suffering the after effects of the tragic death of three year old Josh. When life is dealt a catastrophic event, the only place to go for healing is home, so Anna moves home to her Dad’s house with her remaining son. Not that Annie is aware of her environment, she goes through her days in a zombie-like trance leaving her father to deal with his guilt ridden grandson. Pops introduces Kevin to life in the small town of Medgar, a coal mining community experiencing the encroachment of a mega business run by William Beecher Boyd, a local man originally from Pennsylvania. Unfortunately, his success is destroying their homestead by blowing the tops off the mountains to reach the coal buried deep inside. The resulting sludge pollutes the lakes and fills the valleys with debris, yet the company pay checks sustains the life of the miners, so the backlash remains at a stand still until local hair salon owner, Paul Pierce, starts fighting back (with disastrous results). Pops owns a piece of the beautiful countryside and vows to keep it pristine as long as he lives. He refuses to sell at any price, and takes Kevin out on a camping trip so he, too, can witness the splendor and heritage of his grand dad’s youth. Jukes is where Pop’s dear wife Sarah is buried, next to the other Peebles who have resided on the property throughout the years. Along with Kevin comes Buzzy Fink, a friend from proud poor family stock. Whereas Kevin knows he will one day outgrow small town life, go to college, and begin a career, Buzzy is destined to remain in Medgar working at menial jobs to make ends meet. However, that is the future, this is the summer for fourteen year old boys to explore their world and have fun being energetic and wild. Neither realizes that they will both witness and experience a series of events which will force them to make tough decisions requiring a courage and wisdom well beyond their tender years.

What makes this book a five star wonder for first time author Christopher Scotton, is not just the idyllic plot, but the incredible characterizations. The individuals living in the town come alive so that as Kevin gets to know them, so does the reader. Then there is Pops — What an incredible man, someone we would all like to claim as a grandfather. He relates his wisdom of life and the world to Kevin, using the natural beauty of the region to help his grandson heal from the ache he carries within his heart. We, too, are touched as we experience the calamities the boys and Pops face during that fateful summer.

It’s a tale full of complexities, but simply told. A journey the reader travels with our young heroes, one which is well worth the trip. So grab your imaginary knapsack, fill it with supplies, and come along for the ride as we climb through the town and to the peak of the book, then down again, filled with the wisdom that can only be found through nature, the secret wisdom of the earth.

A special thank you to Netgalley and Grand Central Publishing for graciously allowing me to download this ARC in exchange for an honest review.