Sue Z. (Mooresville, NC)
Has everything that makes reading a good book so enjoyable
This lovely story, based on real life characters, has everything that makes reading a good book so enjoyable. The woman, for whom the book is titled, grows throughout the entire story, becoming stronger and more her own person with every page. The other characters are equally interesting being adventurous pioneers who have come to the very tip of the country, Key West, to seek fortune and fame (or infamy in some cases).
This is the perfect book for book club discussion as it has everything, star-crossed lovers, villains, hard scrabble lives, incredible wealth and a wonderful tropical setting
Kimberly A. (Hannibal, MO)
In the World of Wickies and Wreckers
Set in pre-Civil War southern Florida, The Woman at the Light ensnares the reader into the lives of unforgettable characters, whose courage and determination defy their prescribed place in society and history. At one point in the novel, Emily, the main character, describes herself as "a child of my time and place." Through Andrew, "the one man I truly loved," she grows beyond that time and place and gives the reader a reason to applaud the tireless human spirit. The author's mastery of character development made me truly care for the people of this novel.
For book clubs, this historical novel opens a treasure trove of discussion starters: lighthouses, wreckers, slavery, Indian raids, isolation survival, and Florida's history (especially eclectic Key West!).
I really liked this book!
Phyllis R. (Rochester Hills, MI)
I began reading "The Woman at the Light" as I watched an intense red orange sunset over Lake Michigan at the Grand Traverse Lighthouse in Northpport, MI where my husband volunteers as part of the Keeper Program. I know very little about the Florida Lighthouses except to know that. Michigan has more lighthouses than any other state!
This historical novel set in 1889-1883 captures the hardships of lighthouse keepers, the unpredictability of the weather and their courage. Also the reader learns about the colorful Key West history, the wrecking and salvaging industry, cigar factories, miscegenation, status of women, slavery and abolition preceding the Civil War, and the harsh life without electricity and running water. Two thumbs up for this rewarding and enlightening novel by Joanna Brady who certainly did her research. Phyllis, MI
Barb W. (Mechanicsburg, PA)
A great summer read
I love historical fiction books, and lighthouses are a passion of mine, so this book caught my eye from the moment I first heard about it. I got caught up in the story almost immediately, and had a hard time putting it down. I liked the characters, the setting and the story itself, and will happily recommend this book to friends, family, co-workers and our library patrons.
Erin J. (Vancouver Community Library, WA)
Haunting love story
Nearly two years ago, my husband and I honeymooned in the Florida Keys. Joanna Brady's vivid descriptions of Key West--the heat, humidity, and history of "wrecking" (the practice of salvaging goods off wrecked ships for profit)--had me feeling like I was right back on the islands. Of course, that may have been due to reading most of the book while sitting in the hot sun of the terrace during my lunch breaks, but I prefer to think of it as "sensory immersion."
There really were female lightkeepers back in the 1800s, primarily widows or daughters of lightkeepers who died or became incapacitated. Emily Lowry is a fictional member of that sisterhood. When her husband vanishes without a trace, she takes over as lightkeeper of Wrecker's Cay, struggling to raise her three young children and another on the way. One day an escaped slave washes up on shore during a storm, and her children persuade her to let him stay and learn to be her assistant keeper. Emily's views on slavery evolve over the course of the next couple of years, as Andrew shifts from being a mistrusted stranger to the love of her life. But storms of all sorts blow across the islands, and nothing lasts forever. Deception and harsh social realities of the 1840s pull her family apart, and loss shadows her every turn.
I am very thankful to have read this novel in the sunshine. The constant specter of death and grief often left me feeling melancholy as it was, so I'm glad gloomy weather did not magnify that effect. I am also grateful for the times of joy and peace which balanced the mood.
What kept my rating from being five stars were the anachronisms that jerked me back out of the story, thinking, "Huh?" For example, the part where Emily notices 10-year-old Martha starting to develop breasts. It wasn't until the last two or three decades that girls starting hitting puberty so young. Before concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) began giving growth hormones to cows, chickens, and pigs and spraying everything in sight with petroleum-based pesticides and fertilizers, girls did not enter puberty until they were, on average, 12 to 14. Possibly as old as 16. So Martha growing breasts at age 10 seems highly improbable.
Likewise, when a visiting lightkeeper collapses on the tower stairs due to a bad heart, and he has Emily hand him his medicine, I was confused by the implication that she gives him a nitroglycerin pill to put under his tongue. Really? In an age where doctors still tried to bleed patients and balance their "humors," they had nitroglycerin pills? I sincerely doubt that.
And what was up with the random pot-smoking? I could understand the first time as being a plot device to break down inhibitions, but why continue? What did it have to do with anything else in the story? It added no value, in my opinion. Rather, it lowered my opinion of the characters who partook. And of the author.
Still, it was a delightful book overall--a haunting love story, set in a unique time and place.
For readers' advisors: setting and character doorways are primary. Story is secondary. There are a few scenes with sexual content but nothing especially graphic.
Rosemary T. (San Antonio, TX)
The Woman at the Light by Joanna Brady
The author presents an interesting view into the life and hardships of a women lighthouse keeper during the 1800's. Add a missing husband, an escaped slave, an illicit love affair, and a hurricane and you have a plot that keeps the reader turning pages. An added bonus is the description of an antebellum Key West.
April P. (Traverse City, Mi)
A Look into Key West History
The first page had me a little concerned, I felt as if the author was loading the page with too many descriptive words but that didn't continue. The plot was excellent and I never suspected the outcome which I have to say was refreshing, it seems sometimes authors can give too many clues which can take most of the mystery out of a book and can leave a reader feeling cheated. That did not happen in this book! I enjoyed the main character Emily, she is very strong and I appreciate how she handles her responsibilities as a mother. The author does a wonderful job of making this a historical fiction novel but many issues that women dealt with in the late 1800's as well as today run throughout this book, I believe this makes for a more relate-able book for women readers.
I also enjoyed the detailed description of the old lighthouses and the work it took to keep one operating, the author does a great job of painting a picture of shipwrecks among the Florida Keys and the necessity of the lighthouses as well as the possible seclusion and loneliness the lighthouse families/attendants may have felt at times as well as the positives to being away from societies pressures and expectations. This book made me want to live on Wreckers Cay and work the lighthouse and watch ships pass by day in and day out!