Cover image for Charms for the easy life
Charms for the easy life
Gibbons, Kaye, 1960-
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Publication Information:
Hampton, NH : Chivers Sound Library, [2000]

Physical Description:
6 audio discs (6 hrs., 30 mins.) : digital ; 4 3/4 in.
A tale of three generations of North Carolina women that has charmed readers from coast to coast. Their men may come and go-- but for Margaret, Sophia and Charlie Kate, the hopes, hurts, large losses and small victories are the stuff that bind family together.
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"This CD has been indexed at intervals of approximately 3 minutes to help you find your place easily. The indexing is not audible."

"Complete & unabridged."

Compact disc.
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Audiobook on CD


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XX(1107907.11) Adult Audiobook on CD Audiobooks

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A family without men, the Birches live glorious offbeat lives in the lush backwoods of North Carolina. In a sad and singular era, they are unique among women of their time. For radiant, headstrong Sophia and her shy and brilliant daughter Margaret possess powerful charms to ward off loneliness and despair. They are protected through the years by the eccentric wisdom and muscular love of the most stalwart Birch of all: a solid, uncompromising self-taught healer, a remarkable matriarch who calls herself Charlie Kate.

Author Notes

Kaye Gibbons was born on May 5, 1960 in Nash County, North Carolina. She received a bachelor's degree in American literature from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Her first novel, Ellen Foster, was published in 1987. It won the Sue Kaufman Prize for First Fiction from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, was chosen as one of Oprah's Book Club Selections, and was adapted into a Hallmark Hall of Fame movie. Her other novels include The Virtuous Woman, A Cure for Dreams, Sights Unseen, On the Occasion of My Last Afternoon, Divining Women, The Life All Around Me by Ellen Foster, The Lunatics' Ball, and The Secret Devotions of Mary Magdalen. Her novel Charms for the Easy Life was also adapted into a made-for-television movie. She also received the Chevalier de l'Ordre des Arts et des Lettres, which recognized her contribution to French Literature in 1996 and she received the North Carolina Award for Literature in 1998.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

This is an endearingly quirky and clever tale about three generations of head-strong Carolina women. Charlie Kate is the ruling matriarch. A feisty little dame from the get-go, she's a sought-after midwife and healer by the time she's 20, traveling around the county with her bag full of herbs. She takes a break from her unlicensed medical practice to deliver her own daughter, Sophia, in 1904. While her inspired, commonsensical, and selfless doctoring practice--described in cheerfully graphic detail--flourishes, her marriage falters, and soon she and her daughter are going it alone. Sophia grows up beautiful if a bit foolish, marries the wrong man, and also has a daughter, Margaret, our narrator. Gawky and self-effacing, Margaret offers us few glimpses of herself, choosing instead to focus on the eccentricities and genius of her miracle-working grandmother and the beauty and determination of her mother. This trio of voracious readers, do-gooders, and independent thinkers live a cozy yet adventurous life. When love finally arrives for both Sophia and Margaret, Charlie Kate makes sure it's the real thing before she dies as she lived: with her boots on and free of regrets. Gibbons' humor is sly and her handling of period detail deft, while her unabashed delight in telling a good old-fashioned, heart-warming story is refreshing and welcome. (Reviewed Jan 15, 1993)0399137912Donna Seaman

Publisher's Weekly Review

Begining with her debut novel, Ellen Foster , Gibbons' work has been heartwarming and addictively readable. In this, her fourth novel, she creates a touching picture of female bonding and solidarity. Related with the simple, tart economy of a folktale, the narrative brims with wisdom and superstition, with Southern manners and insights into human nature. Like the heroines of Gibbons's previous novels, indomitable country doctor Charlie Kate and her daughter, Sophia, have been disappointed by men. Supported by Charlie Kate's homeopathic medical practice, which she pursues without the benefit of a degree but with the respect of the community of Raleigh, N.C., they live with Margaret, Sophia's daughter (the novel's narrator), in a relatively harmonious if decidedly eccentric household. All are feminists before the word was coined; all are avid readers (``When a good book was in the house, the place fairly vibrated'') and all are capable of defying conventions when urgency dictates. Gibbons' picture of the South during the Depression and WW II is satisfyingly full of period references. But her triumph is the character of Charlie Kate: strong-minded, arbitrary and opinionated, a crusader for the underdog, and the grumpy but benign ruler of her offspring's lives. Though at times she veers dangerously toward the saccharine, Gibson rescues the fairy-tale ending with a bittersweet twist, having solidly orchestrated its inevitability. Author tour. (Mar.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

When Charlie Kate Birch revives a North Carolina man after an unsuccessful lynching in about 1900, he gives her a watch, a box of snuff, and a rabbit's foot charm for the easy life. Charlie Kate, a self-educated doctor, is a woman ahead of her timeDtalented, headstrong, popular, successful. Her marriage to an illiterate ferry operator on the Pasquatank River deteriorates to the point that he abandons her and their daughter, Sophia. Charlie Kate perseveres, teaching Sophia from her wide store of knowledge, but her daughter, at 18, marries a "cad" whose philandering makes her life miserable. They do manage to produce Margaret, though, yet another in the line of intelligent and beautiful Birch women. When Sophia's husband dies, the three women live together harmoniously. One Christmas a young man gives Margaret all the icons and charms from his childhood, but she cannot think of a gift of equal value, so she turns to her grandmother for advice. The charm for the easy life is immediately passed on to Margaret for her use with the warning that the word "easy" can be defined in many ways. Gibbons's writing resonates with Southern charm, depicting the lives of her strong characters with depth and clarity. Beautifully read by Kate Fleming, the story engages the mind and the imagination.DJoanna M. Burkhardt, Univ. of Rhode Island Coll. of Continuing Education Lib., Providence (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



Charms for the Easy Life Chapter One Already by her twentieth birthday, my grandmother was an excellent midwife, in great demand. Her black bag bulged with mysteries in vials. This occupation led her to my grandfather, whose job was operating a rope-and-barge ferry that traveled across the Pasquotank River. A heavy cable ran from shore to shore, and he pulled the cable and thus the barge carrying people, animals, everything in the world, across the river. My grandmother was a frequent passenger, going back and forth over the river to catch babies, nurse the sick, and care for the dead as well. I hear him singing as he puffs her barge. At first it may have annoyed her, but soon it was a sound she couldn't five without, She may have made up reasons to cross the river so she could hear him and see him. Think of a man content enough with quiet nights to work a river alone. Think of a man content to bathe- in a river and drink from it, too. As for what he saw when he looked at my grandmother, if she looked anything like my mother's highschool graduation photograph, she was dazzling, her greeneyes glancing from his to the water to the shore. Between mygrandmother, her green eyes and mound of black hair, and the big-cookie moon low over the Pasquotank, it must have been all my grandfather could do to deposit her on the otherside of the river. Imagine what he felt when she told him her name was Clarissa Kate but she insisted on being called Charlie Kate. She probably told him that Clarissa was a spineless name. Now, some facts of her life I have not had to half invent by dream. She and my grandfather were married by a circuit rider in 1902 and lived in a tiny cabin on the Pasquotank, completely cut off from everybody but each other. My grandmother continued to nurse people who lived across the river, and soon Indian women in the vicinity came to prefer her root cures to their own. My mother was born here in 1904. She was delivered by an old Indian woman named Sophia Snow, thus her name, Sophia Snow Birch. My grandmother became hung in one of those long, deadly labors common to women of the last century. After thirty-six hours of work with little result, my grandmother decided she would labor standing, holding on to the bedpost for support, letting gravity do what it would. Sophia, however, persuaded her to be quilled, and so a measure of red pepper was blown up my grandmother's nose through the end of a feather freshly plucked from one of her many peacocks. My grandmother fell into a sneezing frenzy, and when she recovered enough to slap Sophia, she did. Sophia slapped her back, earning both my grandmother's respect and an extra dollar. Within the hour, my mother was born. She told me she had a wild-animal sort of babyhood. She remembered the infant bliss of sunning on a pallet while her mother tended her herbs. Her parents kept sheep on free range in the yard, and my mother told me how she had stood by a caldron and soaked the wool down into indigo with a boat paddle twice as tall as she was. She said to me, "We were like Pilgrim settlers. Everything had to be done, and we did everything." They left Pasquotank County in 1910. The suicide of Camelia, my grandmother's twin sister, made it impossible for her to stay there. They were so bound together that as small children, when they slept in the same crib, they awakened every morning each sucking the other's thumb. Grief for Camelia hounded my grandmother from the place where her family had lived for five generations. Within days after Camelia's hydrocephalic son died, his wildly sorrowful father wandered out and lay like one already dead across the railroad tracks, to be run over by the afternoon train. Camelia lost her mind immediately. My grandmother implored her sister to come stay with her, but she would not. She stayed alone in her house and handled baby clothes and wrung her hands in the clothes of her husband and baby until these clothes and she herself were shredded and unrecognizable. My grandmother would go each day and change Camelia's soiled dresses and linens while she walked all through the house naked, moaning, "Oh, my big-headed baby! Oh, the man I adored!" Just when my grandmother was wondering how much worse things would become, Camelia developed a fixation on Teddy Roosevelt, writing love letters to the White House which were opened at the local post office and made available to anyone who wanted a good snicker. The Roosevelt fixation continued a long time, too long, as told by the fact that when Camelia's body was found, with great razor gashes at her neck, wrists, and elbows, there was a note from her idea of Mr. Roosevelt on her kitchen table. It said: Dear Camelia, go an git yor belovet husbendzs razer and take it to bed wit yu. it wuz a mistak the babi bean born. go be wit him and yor belovet in paridiz. Luv Sinserle, Theodor Among her other personal effects, my grandmother found more than a hundred notes Camelia had written to herself from Mr. Roosevelt. My grandfather did not want to leave Pasquotank County, but the government's decision to scrap the ferry for a modern steel bridge satisfied my grandmother's urgent need to leave. She was so relieved that her sighs all but created wind. The only decision they needed to make was where to go. They chose Wake County because my grandfather was convinced that this was a place overflowing with gorgeous opportunities even for an illiterate barge operator. Charms for the Easy Life . Copyright © by Kaye Gibbons. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold. Excerpted from Charms for the Easy Life by Kaye Gibbons All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.