Balm (Dolen Perkins-Valdez, 2015)



Why did you choose this book?

I’m a huge history nerd and I especially love reading about the American Civil War.  You can then imagine that when I saw this book I had to pick it up!  Can we also talk about this insanely beautiful cover art?

What’s it about?

Sadie arrives in Chicago to find that her husband of a few months was killed in a train accident.  She starts to make a life for herself and discovers the spirit of a deceased soldier (killed at Shiloh) can speak through her.  She becomes an acclaimed medium.

Madge grew up as the daughter of a family of herbal healers in the south and has the ability to touch someone and immediately know what ails them.  She travels to Chicago to get away from a mother who didn’t show her love.  She becomes a maid in Sadie’s household.

Hemp is a former slave who travels to Chicago in search of Annie, the wife he adores and who was sold to a different owner.  He meets Madge while working as a carriage driver for Sadie’s friend.

It’s a tale of these intersecting stories and 3 people trying to make new lives for themselves in postwar America.


Historical fiction, literary fiction

Similar reads?

I’m not sure.  I would say you’d probably like other literary authors who dabble in different periods and locations.  The book I’ve read that most reminds me of this one is Jhumpa Lahiri’s The Lowland.


I have such mixed feelings about this book.  I really really wanted to love it and I adore the cover art.  But at the same time, I really struggled with it.  I couldn’t seem to care about the characters or the outcome of any of their storylines.  I’m not sure that the “fantasy” elements of spiritualism and Madge’s touch added anything to the story.  I also feel like this wasn’t the historical fiction read I expected but some type of literary fiction instead.  Maybe I missed the broader point of the story.  It seemed like the author was trying too hard to be literary, almost to the point of being pretentious.  This is a book that I finished, but I’m not sure why I didn’t just give up halfway through.

Next up?

Mission: Hindenberg (The 39 Clues, Doublecross) by C. Alexander London


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