Saturday, February 08, 2014

Playing St. Barbara by Marian Szczepanski - TLC Book Review

• Paperback: 400 pages
• Publisher: High Hill Press (August 1, 2013)

In the Depression-era coal patch known as The Hive, miner’s wife Clare Sweeney keeps secrets to survive. Stripped of her real name, she hides her friendship with a town pariah, haunting guilt around the deaths of her three infant sons, and determination never to bear another. She defies her abusive husband and the town’s rigid caste system to ensure a better future for her daughters, who harbor secrets of their own.

Deirdre conceals her attraction to a member of the despised Company police. Katie withholds her plans for a college education—and the convent—from her high school sweetheart. And Norah suppresses the cause of her mother’s frequent miscarriages, the devastating memory of one brother’s death, and her love for a married man.

The four women’s intertwined lives eerily mirror the 7th century legend of St. Barbara, patroness of miners, reenacted annually in the town pageant. Each daughter is cast as St. Barbara, but scandal and tragedy intervene, allowing just one to play the coveted role. In turn, they depart from The Hive, leaving Clare to endure her difficult marriage—till a mine explosion rocks the town. Forced to confront the ghosts of her past, she faces a life-changing choice. Her decision will test her capacity to forgive and challenge her to begin a courageous journey to self-redemption.

About the author:

 Marian Szczepanski

The granddaughter of immigrant coal miners, Marian Szczepanski grew up in southwestern Pennsylvania and lived as a young child in the Jamison Coal Company house where her mother and aunts were raised. She holds an MFA in fiction from the Program for Writers at Warren Wilson College and has won awards for short fiction and magazine feature writing. Playing St. Barbara is her first novel. She lives in Houston, Texas.

Visit Marian at her website and connect with her on Facebook.


My Thoughts:

Where to start?

There is just so much going on in this book and so much I enjoyed, it's going to be quite hard pinpointing just one thing, so I think I'll skip that and just say that overall, I enjoyed this book immensely.

Historic fiction at it's best.

I love anything about the Depression era, I find it fascinating and what this book did for me was actually make me go by my local library and pick up some Depression era books to read and look back through as I read through this story.

There are so many characters that it's quite hard at times to keep it all straight, I did find myself getting a little confused at times, but the best part is that, that is when the author came in to save us.  Marian provided us with a PDF download of the characters.  A way to help us keep it all straight.

That is when I really started appreciating the intricate relationships between these characters.

My favorite had to have been Clare, an extraordinary strong woman who is just trying to survive and do the best she can.  She is surrounded by this cloud of doubt hurt and grieve, she fights with everything she has.

Her daughters lives were quite interesting too.  To me though, the whole mining era, mining town, the poverty that surrounded these small towns and the families living in them, was palpable.  Marian did an excellent job of weaving all these personalities into one single book.

Lastly, I really wasn't familiar with St. Barbara but it was quite interesting learning about her and what she did and how he legend plays into the town festivities and the women's lives.

Stunning novel!

Thank you to TLC Book Tours for providing me with a review copy.


Deb J. in Utah said...

This review really reminds me of the book I am currently reading - "Prayers for Sale." It is also a depression era book about the relationship of women in a Colorado mining community. I am sure enjoying it so will probably enjoy the book you reviewed as well. Thank you!

Anonymous said...

I'm a huge historical fiction fan and reading great reviews like your has this book at the top of my TBR list.

Thanks for being on the tour. I'm featuring your review on TLC's Facebook page today.

trish said...

My favorite books are ones that make me want to read more about whatever era they're set in. I'm so glad this one did that for you!