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Stillwater, by Nicole Helget, is a Gothic, Absorbing Read that Intertwines Cultures, Race, Madness, Loss, and Love

StillwaterStillwater, by Nicole Helget, is a literary work that delves into the most vile places in people, yet also into the most compassionate places all at the same time. Her light staccato prose rich with deep accents and personalities and characters with pain and emptiness, all searching for connections, to someone who cares for them, during such volatile times that were the late 1800s in small pioneer towns such as this one located in Minnesota.

Set during the times of The Civil War, I didn’t know exactly what to expect of the novel, but it really doesn’t at all focus on anything about the Civil War. People located Minnesota were fairly far removed from it, being so far up North, except for some of the soldiers from the North who “deserted” the war often fled far and bounty hunters were looking for quick cash.  The book really focused on a pair of twins from Stillwater, who were separated from an orphanage when they were just young, the girl Angel going to a rich family in the town and the boy, Clement, being left at the orphanage with the nun and the Native American woman who lived there with her and helped her to care for the children.  Not to give spoilers, but she became his mother he never appreciated throughout his life and Angel’s mother tried to be rid of her after adopting her. Because of their bond as twins, even living in different worlds, they found each other and connected in eerie ways.

The novel has a very gothic feel, a dark undertone revealing the sad parts of human nature. The carnal desires, the crude ways of people who fight to survive in the most dire of circumstances as was the frontier. In this time and place of the river town of Stillwater, where nature still fought its own battles against human conquering, Helget intertwines French fur traders, poverty-stricken whites, Native Americans, white Christians, runaway slaves, rich people (making money off logging industry) and all the orphaned and lost children of so many cultures. The real first generations to start mixing cultures and being lost to society.

Her novel is authentic and gritty and raw in a way that mirrors some of America’s best literary Southern gothic prose.  Women with mental illnesses, sent mad over loss, and undercurrents of witchcraft, supernatural occurences, murder, death, and horrible human elements are all to be found. Helget is attune to the thoughts, actions, and feelings of so many bizarre personalities she creates in her characters and all while being true to the nature (and the actual nature–i.e environmental surroundings) of small town Minnesota.

And yet, she also shows us that life is so fragile. Clement saving a baby bird prematurely hatched from the river, a Native American woman loving an orphan boy with every ounce of herself, a runaway slave doing anything to save her son.  A nun who always wanted children ending up having so many to care for in her refuge.  Moments of pure human emotion that is almost haunting to the reader.

Helget gives us a writing style that is poetic and deep, with depth of content and original, unique sentence structure and word choice. Character driven though it is, the imagery is a propelling force. Her content is compelling and absorbing as if the reader is pulled into the river, and the town, themselves.

As dark, deep, and engaging as it was, it took me only a few hours to read due to her sentence structure and the fast-moving story line that swept me away like a river’s rushing current. A very thought-provoking read, I’ll think I’ll be pondering about this book awhile longer as the layers unfold in my mind and the connections to the characters peel away exposing all their beauty.

Stillwater, Synopsis~

StillwaterPublication Date: February 4, 2014
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Hardcover; 336p
ISBN-10: 0547898207Clement and Angel are fraternal twins separated at birth; they grow up in the same small, frontier logging town of Stillwater, Minnesota. Clement was left at the orphanage. Angel was adopted by the town’s richest couple, but is marked and threatened by her mother’s mental illness. They rarely meet, but Clement knows if he is truly in need, Angel will come to save him.Stillwater, near the Mississippi River and Canada, becomes an important stop on the Underground Railroad. As Clement and Angel grow up and the country marches to war, their lives are changed by many battles for freedom and by losses in the struggle for independence, large and small.Stillwater reveals the hardscrabble lives of pioneers, nuns, squaws, fur trappers, loggers, runaway slaves and freedmen, outlaws and people of conscience, all seeking a better, freer, more prosperous future. It is a novel about mothers, about siblings, about the ways in which we must take care of one another and let go of one another. And it’s brought to us in Nicole Helget’s winning, gorgeous prose.

Buy the Book~

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Author Nicole Helget, Biography~

Nicole HelgetBorn in 1976, NICOLE LEA HELGET grew up on a farm in southern Minnesota, a childhood and place she drew on in the writing of her memoir, The Summer of Ordinary Ways.

She received her BA and an MFA in creative writing from Minnesota State University, Mankato. Based on the novel’s first chapter, NPR’s Scott Simon awarded The Turtle Catcher the Tamarack Prize from Minnesota Monthly.

Nicole Helget shares her thoughts on writing and her influences, as well as beautiful photos of her family (including six children!) at her blog. You can also follow her on Twitter.

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My Daughter and I Review Eric Pierpoint’s The Last Ride of Caleb O’Toole: Wild West on the Oregon Trail!

The Last Ride of Caleb O’Toole is a middle reader, recommended for ages 9 and up, by the actor Eric Pierpoint, who has been seen on Hart of Dixie and older goodies I remember him from like Alien Nation, various Star Trek episodes, and much more over his long career. Taking his family history, he writes his first middle reader novel in order to teach kids some history of the Oregon Trail and he does it in a very entertaining way!

Emma, my daughter who is turning 10 this week was excited to check this one out. I’ll let her give her review and then I’ll follow-up with mine. It was a quick read for both of us and you’ll learn why in a minute.

Caleb O'Toole

Emma, Age 9, Review~

I love books that teach me history. In school we have been learning about the Native Americans in Ohio, but I am interested in all Native Americans so it was neat to learn about others out West.  I’ve never been there. I also like to read about how pioneers, or children from the past, lived since it was so different from me. I liked the character of Julie alot and really want to be motivated to do something important like she was. I agree that women can do anything.

I think the book was so good it made me not want to stop reading it and I kept turning the pages in all my free time at school until I finished it up. My favorite books are those with action that hold my focus, so this book really did that for me.

I have guy friends and girl friends and I’d recommend it to some of my girl friends who like sports and action and also to most of my guy friends. They like to read action. My grandpa liked Cowboys and Indians when he was growing up, more boys should still read it.

I am interested in this time period of history and I would like to see more books again with this theme. I haven’t seen many.  Maybe he will write more like this and I’d read them! I like the history facts in the back, they taught me alot! I can’t believe how hard life was back then!

Mom’s Review~

Stereotypically, this book would be marketed to boys and does seem like it would interest boys who enjoy adventure stories. Do boys still like books of Wild West adventures? I hope so, and if not, this should kick start that trend again!  This one features cowboys, pioneers, thieves, and Native Americans. It’s tagline reads, “There’s Danger On Every Step of the Oregon Trail” and the book lives up to telling us why that is for the O’Toole kids!

However, it’s not just for boys in our house and I hope that encourages readers to know that guys and girls can read everything and enjoy it! My daughter is multi-faceted, so though she loves girl-themes, she also likes to read action! And the history component was a huge sell for her and I know she wasn’t disappointed as she loved the Native American characters in the book. I did too, and in fact, I was so happy at how Pierpoint portrayed them and the relationships with them and the others in the book. We need more books that show the gentle and caring side of Native Americans, as well as their strength and endurance!

Another selling point for me after reading the book, which is another good reason why girls should read it, is that although the protagonist Caleb is a boy, Pierpoint showcases how Caleb’s two sisters are also able to accomplish things. He also features a woman doctor who inspires Caleb’s sister to want to perform medicine. She tells the family how she went to a university in Cincinnati, Ohio (which was awesome since we are from Ohio) and learned to be a doctor. In this time of prairie living, this would have been unheard of for most families. She tells Julie and Caleb that women can do anything! By the end of the book, I was so happy to see Julie so empowered and this would be a great read for young girls who want to achieve their dreams!  It is also subliminal enough to reinforce in young boys that women are equal and able to do as much as they do.

Besides Pierpoint hitting those social issues point on for us, the story also flew by with action that I know he has picked up from his acting and screenwriting days. He knows how to describe a cinematic view, which is highly important for children in their reading. You have to hold their attention and describe the surroundings, especially if historical and different from their present environment. He does this extremely well and the pace of the book is so quick, the pages turn quickly.

I also enjoyed that at the end of the book there is some history behind the story. Pierpoint gives some non-fiction paragraphs that tell the real facts of that time period and the Oregon Trail. It was so interesting to read this with my daughter and to know her learning was reinforced by fun and fact. We also enjoyed looking at his map on the website.  Since much of his novel is based on his family’s history of travel on these trails, he took a trip to follow the journey that people in the late 1800s might have taken and chronicled it on his site. That is a wonderful companion piece to teaching kids this era of history.  You really don’t hear much taught about life of those heading West anymore!

I love this book for teaching kids history and inspiring children everywhere. I hope he writes more historical books and takes children on more journeys through this time period. I would highly recommend this to libraries, schools, and for home libraries…..and to both boys AND girls!

GIVEAWAY~

Comment to enter to win a copy of this book, US/Canada only! Leave a proper email in the comments! For extra entries (+2) also like my Facebook page, www.facebook.com/HookofaBook.

Last Ride of Caleb O’Toole, Synopsis~

Sourcebooks Jabberwocky
September 2013
ISBN: 9-781-4022- 8171-6
Trade Paper/$7.99

Danger looms for Caleb and his sisters on every mile of the Oregon Trail.

Epic in scope, populated by unforgettable characters, this debut wild west adventure novel by popular Hollywood character actor Eric Pierpoint will thrill young readers.

Caleb O’Toole and his two sisters are left orphaned after a cholera outbreak in their hometown of Great Bend, Kansas. Attempting to fulfill their mother’s dying wish, they strike out on a one-horse wagon to travel the treacherous road along the Oregon Trail to the Montana Territory to live with their aunt.

Caleb promised to keep his two sisters safe. But safety is thirteen hundred miles away in the rugged Bitterroot Mountains, past the dust-choked deserts, monstrous tornadoes and ravenous wolves of the Oregon Trail. And after witnessing a crime by the infamous Blackstone Gang, Caleb and his sisters have no choice but to brave the dangers of the trail, trying to stay one step ahead of murderous outlaws.

Author Eric Pierpoint, Biography~

Eric_Pierpoint-5Eric Pierpoint is a veteran Hollywood actor has been on stage, screen, and television for nearly thirty five years and whose credits include Hart of Dixie, Parks and Recreation, Alien Nation, The World’s Fastest Indian, and Holes.

Inspired by his family’s heritage as part of the pioneer migration along the Oregon Trail, including a great-great-grandmother born in a covered wagon, Eric piled Joey, his trusty dog, into his car to trace his family history, experience first-hand what the pioneers must have seen during the Western Migration and learn the history of this amazingera: the American Indian Wars and tribal culture, the hardships of the wild west and friendships that formed because of the dangerous journey.The author’s journey and his research was transformed into THE LAST RIDE OF CALEB O’TOOLE, a unique adventure novel of America’s pioneer past.

Visit <http://www.ericpierpoint.net> http://www.ericpierpoint.net or <http://www.facebook.com/EricPierpointConnection> http://www.facebook.com/EricPierpointConnection.

Thanks to Sourcebook Jabberwocky for the book, but all opinions are honest here.

Emma A., Guest Reviewer, Age 9, Biography~

EmmaEmma is nine years old and a straight A student with a gift for reading and writing.  She has read at a higher level than her peers ever since the summer between Kindergarten and First Grade when she spent almost the entire summer at the beach. That was also the summer Mom was reading the Twilight series, and took her to see Eclipse at the theater, and Emma found herself loving vampires, werewolfs, and other abnormals when once she was deathly afraid of them.  This newfound knowledge of stories allowed her to overcome her fears and she now sleeps with Monster High dolls by her bed that are the daughters of a Mummy, the Abomindable Snowman, and a Werewolf.

She also likes reading about girls and boys her age, adventure and action thrillers, magic, fantasy, and history.  Besides reading and writing, she also enjoys softball, soccer, fashion, history, art, writing stories, shopping, asking questions, cooking, chocolate, and coffee. She has now added learning the violin to her list. Whew!

Watch for more of Emma, and her siblings, reviews!  And if you have a recommendation for her, send it her way via Mom (Erin Al-Mehairi).

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