Rated of 5
by 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.
Rated of 5
by 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.
Rated of 5
by 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!
Rated of 5
by Robin F. (Tucson, AZ) The Woman at the Light
Emily Lowry's life changed forever on Wrecker's Cay when her husband failed to return to the lighthouse. Emily took over the lighthouse duties, tended to the 3 children and, one day, when a runaway slave washed up on the beach, everything changed yet again. This is almost a historical novel, but it's truly about Emily, her courage and strengths. Joanna Brady, the author won the Key West Writers Award in 2009 for this book. It is well deserved. I hope she is writing another book. I can hardly wait to read it!
Rated of 5
by Patricia D. (Woodland Hills, CA) History and Women at Their Best!
This book will be one of my favorites for this year! Historically, it is around the mid-1800s and the U.S. has acquired Florida as a new territory. The Keys are being settled and New Orleans is at its social peak. Emily and Martin, recently married, move to Key West and then are assigned to man the lighthouse at the tip of the Keys on Wreckers' Cay. When Martin suddenly disappears, Emily and her children take on this difficult job of lighthouse keeper. The story is both intriguing and suspenseful when Andrew, an escaped slave, washes up on the island. Having to keep Andrew a secret since he is a runaway, becomes even harder when a romance develops with Emily. This story revolves around how women are looked upon during this period, racial tensions, and hurricane disasters. This memoir of Emily's life is one that will definitely leave an impression on the reader both because of the story and the research Brady completed.
Rated of 5
by Vivian Harrington Loved "The Woman at the Light"
This book drew me into the drama, intrigue and ambiance of ante-bellam New Orleans, Key West, the lighthouses that gave safety to mariners off the Florida coast, Havana, and the Seminole wars. I love historical fiction that encompasses this time period which predates the American Civil War. I liked the protagonist, Emily Lowry, who married after a whirlwind courtship a man who was not ideal by her family’s standards – and moved her from sophisticated New Orleans to a rough and tumble Key West long before it grew into the gentile artists colony that it became. She followed her new husband, whom she barely knew, to Key West and ultimately to a small island where they tended a lighthouse that was integral to keeping shipping vessels from crashing onto a coral reef.
This is the story of a feisty woman who bucked convention, learned to be her own person, embraced forbidden love, made some pragmatic decisions for survival, and ultimately lived the life she wanted to live – albeit partially in the shadows. I liked Emily. Her only true ally was her sister Dorothy, who loved and supported Emily but also made decisions against Emily that made sense for the time and place. While some may have anger at decisions Dorothy made, I fully understand why she did what she did. And so did Emily.
The book was beautifully written. The story was so engrossing I didn’t want to put it down. That signifies a good book for me. I would recommend The Woman at the Light for anybody who loves historical fiction involving intriguing women during the early days of America.
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