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Book Review: Charms for the Easy Life

Author: Kaye Gibbons
Published: 2005 (Originally 1993)
Publisher: Harper Perennial
Number of Pages: 272
My Rating: 3

Summary from
A family without men, the Birches live gloriously offbeat lives in the lush, green backwoods of North Carolina. Radiant, headstrong Sophia and her shy, brilliant daughter, Margaret, possess powerful charms to ward off loneliness, despair, and the human misery that often beats a path to their door. And they are protected by the eccentric wisdom and muscular love of the remarkable matriarch Charlie Kate, a solid, uncompromising, self-taught healer who treats everything from boils to broken bones to broken hearts.
Sophia, Margaret, and Charlie Kate find strength in a time when women almost always depended on men, and their bond deepens as each one experiences love and loss during World War II. Charms for the Easy Life is a passionate, luminous, and exhilarating story about embracing what life has to offer ... even if it means finding it in unconventional ways.

I found this book at my local library and because I liked the idea of the setting, in the South during the early part of the twentieth century, I picked it up and started reading it right away. It is essentially the story of three generations of women, a grandmother, her daughter, and granddaughter who are left on their own and prove that they can survive without men in their lives. It was fun to follow these three women along and see how they supported each other and loved each other despite all of the difficulties they had to endure.

I loved the grandmother in this story, Charlie Kate Birch. She was the type of person who always knew exactly what to do in any situation and was the leader and rock of the family.  Simply put- she was the sun and everyone else orbited around her. Her strong personality simply drew people to her and whether they agreed with her old folk wisdom/superstitious medical practices or not, people trusted her. The author did a great job creating a character that was really memorable and is someone you wish you could be more like. She said what she wanted to say and was never worried what people thought about her!

Sophia, the mother, played a big role in the story (she was one of the three main women) and yet at the same time I felt like she didn’t really play a part at all. She seemed fragile, especially compared to Charlie Kate, and didn’t have much of a personality. Her relationship with her daughter lacked and she was somewhat of the ‘weak link’ in the family.

One big thing that bothered me about this story is that the granddaughter and narrator, Margaret, spent so much of the story admiring her grandmother’s courage and strong will, and yet she possessed none of this herself. She did everything her grandmother told her without question and did not seem to have a mind of her own. She was very shy and quiet and did not develop the way I thought she would throughout the story. Again, I liked her more than Sophia, but I felt like she was rather dull. Maybe it’s just hard to create other standout characters in a book when you have someone has strong as the grandmother.

Kaye Gibbons writes very well and definitely provided a straightforward, authentic view into the lives of three women in the 1920s through 1940s. She seamlessly wove historical facts and times into the story without disrupting the flow or making it seem like she tried too hard with her research. I just wish she would have created more of a plot in this story to give it some oomph besides simply just talking about these women and their day-to-day lives.

It was a very enjoyable read and I liked the characters, but at the end of it I was still left wondering what the point was. 

-Busy Brunette


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