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Balm: A Novel by Dolen Perkins-Valdez

Balm: A Novel

by Dolen Perkins-Valdez

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An odd combination of magical realism, historic fiction, and the paranormal, there was almost too much here for me. Any one of them would have been great for the story, and allowed the author to expand and develop that one trait and character. However, all three main characters with such strong storylines left me feeling that none of them was drawn as fully as they could have been. I admit that I have not read Wench, but I think the two are standalone stories. My suggestion to Perkins-Valdez would have been to write three books, each telling the in-depth story of one character's perspective, while introducing the others as part of the periphery. That would have been a much more satisfying read.

While I think it could have been better, I was able to read this in one day, beside the pool, under the Alabama sun. With that, it's a recommended light read. ( )
  CarmenMilligan | Jan 18, 2016 |
Balm, the second novel from Dolen Perkins-Valdez (after the critically acclaimed Wench, published in 2010), is a rich, rewarding work of historical literary fiction. I would recommend it with confidence to readers whose interest is stimulated by the description of the plot and themes The author presents the perspectives of her.

The novel charts the journey of three different characters as they pursue their futures as newcomers to the city of the Chicago and achieve resolution of critical personal issues lingering in the immediate aftermath of the Civil War. The book is a quick read as it engages the reader interest in each of the character's personal quests. The prose provides vivid exposition of the details of setting and circumstance -- ample fodder for any reader's imagination.

There is no abstraction in the text or any significant narrative attention paid to any subject that is not tied to the development of character or the unfolding of the storyline in an intuitive way. This is not to say that the it lacks texture or depth -- on the contrary. Perkins-Valdez does not sacrifice literary quality to achieve its broad dramatic appeal and accessible style found in Balm, the sophistication of the text is observable in the organization of the novel on macroscopic and microscopic levels. I would cite the strikingly vivid prose and the author's particular choice of epigraphs for the novel as two straightforward examples that effectively reveal the author's ambition and attention to detail and the book's correspondent ability to stimulate and reward the close reader.

In sum, I found Balm to be a delightful as well as impressive read. This is my first experience reading Perkins-Valdez, but it won't be my last. Thank you for reading my ideas about this book; I hope they're somehow helpful. Please be advised I received a free copy of the novel through The Reading Room (www.thereadingroom.com) Advance Reading Copy book review request program. ( )
  kara.shamy | Jun 24, 2015 |
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The Civil War has ended, and Madge, Sadie, and Hemp have each come to Chicago in search of a new life. 

Born with magical hands, Madge has the power to discern others’ suffering, but she cannot heal her own damaged heart. To mend herself and help those in need, she must return to Tennessee to face the women healers who rejected her as a child.

Sadie can commune with the dead, but until she makes peace with her father, she, too, cannot fully engage her gift. 

Searching for his missing family, Hemp arrives in this northern city that shimmers with possibility. But redemption cannot be possible until he is reunited with those taken from him. 

In the bitter aftermath of a terrible, bloody war, as a divided nation tries to come together once again, Madge, Sadie, and Hemp will be caught up in a desperate, unexpected battle for survival in a community desperate to lay the pain of the past to rest. 

Beautiful in its historical atmosphere and emotional depth, Balm is a stirring novel of love, loss, hope, and reconciliation set during one of the most critical periods in American history.
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