Charms for the easy life

by Kaye Gibbons

Hardcover, 1993




New York : Putnam, c1993.


Margaret struggles toward adulthood in a world torn apart by the Second World War and complicated by her strong-willed mother, Sophia, and grandmother, Charlie Kate, in a story about three generations of passionate, willful Southern women.

User reviews

LibraryThing member tututhefirst
Thus is a truly stunning novel. Gibbons gives us the story of three generations of women living together in semi-rural North Carolina. The time line goes from just before the Great Depression until the middle of WWII. There are three women: Charlie Kate - the grandmother and 'healing woman'; Sophia
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-her stubborn daughter who reluctantly assists her mother, and Margaret, the shy, book-loving granddaughter who adores Charlie Kate and tries to learn as much as she can from her. Each brings a unique persona to the whole. Their lives are intertwined, but each very different. The respect and love they have for each other sometimes erupts into 'differences,' but together they are able to muddle through abandonment by husbands, malpractice on the part of doctors, storms, ignorance, and the war.

Margaret could so easily have been scarred by all of the tragedies she witnesses both in her grandmother's patients,and in the romantic relationships of her grandparents and parents. Instead, she emerges unscarred and ready to carry on the legacy of this unusual, loving family.

I'm certainly going to check out Kaye Gibbons' other books. This was such an extraordinary read. If her others are half as well written as this, with characters that have even half the charm, they will still be well worth reading.
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LibraryThing member jo-jo
What an interesting novel this was that brought us into the lives of three generations of women that are living in North Carolina during World War II. The book is narrated by Margaret, the youngest woman in the family. Margaret starts out the story by giving us a little background information about
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her grandmother, Charlie Kate.

Charlie Kate came to be known as the best midwife in the county and was soon requested for various medical problems that people were coming down with. She is a very strong woman and finds herself taking on and winning many battles within the community. It seemed to me that she actually became a martyr for all of the progress that she helped develop within the little town that she lived. Unfortunately, her husband grows tired of her company and leaves Charlie Kate to raise their daughter on her own.

Sophia is Charlie Kate's daughter, and although I don't think the novel really focused too much on her, she was a very important character. Sophia marries a man that her mother does not approve of and they end up having a daughter of their own-Margaret. Margaret and Sophia eventually spend most of their waking hours at Charlie Kate's home. The next thing you know, Sophia's husband leaves her and it only seems reasonable that the three women share a home together.

As they find themselves spending more time together they learn a lot more about each others dreams and goals. The grandmother is often called upon to go on housecalls for the sick, and Sophia and Margaret usually find themselves accompanying her. It seems that while the grandmother is tending to the sick individual that there is always something important for the others to do, whether it be washing dishes, preparing a meal, or consoling a family member, no job is too little at the time. Through these acts I think they learn the importance of charity, kindness, and compassion.

As World War II is in full swing, these ladies find themselves working as volunteers as they are needed. Sophia finds herself leading a local Red Cross chapter, as Margaret and Charlie Kate are asked to help out at a hospital that cares for wounded soldiers that are returning from combat. Charlie Kate helps at the hospital on a medical basis, but Margaret finds herself connecting with the patients on a more emotional level. She spends time with the soldiers by reading letters from home and writing letters for the soldiers that can't complete this task on their own. I found myself looking forward to these letters and it was probably my favorite part of this book.

With Sophia busying herself with the Red Cross efforts, Charlie Kate and Margaret form a special bond as they spend more time together. This part was especially sweet to me as I have always been very close to my own grandmother.

This book was a short, quick read and it appeared to be simple writing to me, but there was so much beauty and intimacy in the simpleness of it. I found myself enjoying this book more as it progressed and by the time I finished it I really did love it. I know that I wouldn't have chosen this book on my own, so I am grateful that this was a book club selection. I think it will make a great discussion!
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LibraryThing member CatieN
The book is set in North Carolina in the early 1900s through World War II. The grandma, Charlie Kate Birch, is a no-nonsense, frugal woman whose husband has abandoned her (she gets her revenge eventually!) who practices medicine without a license but is almost famous for how well she does it. Her
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daughter Sophia is headstrong and beautiful, marries in haste and has lots of regrets. Her daughter Margaret is the star of the book, and this is really the story of her coming of age. She is also strong and no-nonsense just like her grandmother. Quirky and wonderful book.
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LibraryThing member shearon
Kaye Gibbons does not disappoint in this heartwarming story of three generations of strong, loving women. Set in North Carolina in the 30's - 40's, we watch Margaret growing up under the love and encouragement of her mother, Sophia, a woman who although so far unlucky in love, remains open to its
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possibility, and her eccentric grandmother, Charlie Kate, known throughout the area as a healer, of the the body and the spirit. These women work together, and fight with each other, but through it all they demonstrate their strengths as individuals and the strength of the bond among them.
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LibraryThing member rachellek
This is one of my favorite books. I love Kaye Gibbons! She has 2 books on Oprah's list - but not this one. This is a good read for anyone - and makes a great gift...not too sad, weird, depressing....just a feel good book.
LibraryThing member RobinDawson
Fantastic! I’d previously read and enjoyed 'Ellen Foster' by Gibbons so I was hopeful about this and it delivered in spades. Must seek out more of her books.

Tells the story of three generations of women, and the coming of age of the youngest. The grandmother is such a tough, feisty,wise old bird
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- very endearing.
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LibraryThing member quirkylibrarian
Wonderfully character-driven novel. Charlie Kate's character is amusing and admirable even as she overshadows shy Margaret. The relatively sedate pacing sped up to a tidy, if predictable, end.
LibraryThing member jettstream
Hands down, one of my all-time favorites.
LibraryThing member SalemAthenaeum
A family without men, the Birches live gloriously offbeat lives in the lush, green backwoods of North Carolina. Radiant, headstrong Sophia and her shy, brilliant daughter, Margaret, possess powerful charms to ward off loneliness, despair, and the human misery that often beats a path to their door.
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And they are protected by the eccentric wisdom and muscular love of the remarkable matriarch Charlie Kate, a solid, uncompromising, self-taught healer who treats everything from boils to broken bones to broken hearts.

Sophia, Margaret, and Charlie Kate find strength in a time when women almost always depended on men, and their bond deepens as each one experiences love and loss during World War II. Charms for the Easy Life is a passionate, luminous, and exhilarating story about embracing what life has to offer ... even if it means finding it in unconventional ways.
This P.S. edition features an extra 16 pages of insights into the book, including author interviews, recommended reading, and more.
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LibraryThing member LesaHolstine
Three generations of women. Fabulous book for book discussions.
LibraryThing member delphimo
Parts of this book are interesting, but I felt like this book mirrored another book which I cannot remember the title. In this story, three generations of women live in virtual harmony in the South. The grandmother practices medicine and is not afraid to voice her opinion to "real" physicians. The
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mother marries a pseudo wealthy man, but he dies young. The daughter is a reader, but seems to live in the shadow of her grandmother. These three women have many quirks, but the story does not hinge on laughter. The characters seem like black women in their actions and thoughts. Many points of the story become confusing.
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LibraryThing member juniperSun
A granddaughter tells of her strong grandmother who is a healer. She learns to grow up.
Good even on a second reading.
LibraryThing member tjsjohanna
As I read this book, I kept thinking about what the title had to do with the story. I'm still not sure what exactly how it all fits together, but there is definitely some commentary going on - the pull between the traditional and sometimes superstitious way of looking at life in the American South
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during the Depression as opposed to the more literate and scientific approach that was growing stronger. I enjoyed the relationship between the three generations of women - and their strength in approaching life. The grandmother, a self-proclaimed doctor, was particularly enjoyable to read - she was funny and no nonsense and driven in her desire to help those around her with her medical skills.
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LibraryThing member CarmenMilligan
Even though this is a novel I will most likely not read again, I liked it so much that I will add all of this author's books to my TBR list. I enjoyed this book very much. The strong female characters spoke to me. They were strong, loving, sensitive, flawed and very believable.

The writing style
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was just my style. It was smart, funny, poignant and became a real voice as I read. The characters shared similarities, but were very different. They were each sympathetic, frustrating and full-bodied. I loved each one.

The book ended in a very nice and realistic way: it just ended. Much like life goes from one chapter to the next. Readers have become so used to every mystery being solved, every identity being revealed and every rock being overturned. In "Charms" there were unanswered questions, loose threads and every bit of realism that day-to-day life holds. I closed this book feeling very satisfied, and that is the best review a book can receive.
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LibraryThing member EmScape
Charlie Kate, Sophia and Margaret are grandmother, mother and daughter, living in North Carolina in the first half of the 20th century. The book is told from Margaret's perspective as she introduces the reader to her magnificent grandmother who practiced as a doctor, though without any formal
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training or licensure and was revered by established medical professionals as well as those mostly poor and rural folks for whom she cared. All three women are well-versed in Charlie Kate's peculiar and holistic, brand of healing, which is also quite progressive for her time, as she responds to a hospital administrator who invites her to witness a new technique that she's "been doing that for years."
All three women also have encounters and relationships with men, though after her disastrous initial marriage Charlie Kate has no use for any man in her life and Sophia is all too ready to go head over heels in spite of her own abandonment and divorce. Margaret is cautious, not wanting to follow in those footsteps.
All three are lovely, progressive, intelligent and independent. I very much enjoyed the characters and though there wasn't much plot, it was quite enjoyable to become acquainted with them.
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LibraryThing member DonnaEverhart
There's not one thing Kaye Gibbons has written that I didn't love. I read this book years ago, yet re-reading seemed just as fresh and new as before. You can't help but love all three of the women in this story - particularly the grandmother who was plain spoken, sharp witted, and a total riot.
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She's the relative every family has, the one person who minces no words, and commands respect even when she insults you up one side and down the other.
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LibraryThing member susandennis
This is a delightful story - kind of Cold Sassy Tree meets Bailey White's Momma.
LibraryThing member starbox
Just a LOVELY read: set in 30s/40s N Carolina, three generations of women live together. Grandmother Charlie Kate ...a healer/ self-taught doctor - a tough-minded woman, devoted to her career; her daughter Sophia, who assists her mother but still has romantic dreams after a failed marriage. And
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narrator Margaret, the granddaughter, pondering whether to pursue an education or remain with her beloved family...but then, War is declared..

Brings to life the impoverished world of rural N Carolina, the primitive medical facilities.....
Although it follows the lives of all three, the stand-out character is Charlie Kate, and it's really the story of her life. Loved it.
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LibraryThing member satyridae
I didn't like this as much as I liked Ellen Foster, but I still remember bits and pieces of it. I remember it being quintessentially Southern.
LibraryThing member meerka
So hard to remember that this isn't an autobiography, but a intimate look at the lives of three pioneering feminist women who see the details and the impact of the small things in life.
LibraryThing member SavannahHendricks
A good book!


Best Fiction for Young Adults (Selection — 1994)



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