Blog Book Tour | “Balm” by Dolen Perkins-Valdez

Posted Friday, 3 July, 2015 by jorielov , , , , 2 Comments

Ruminations & Impressions Book Review Banner created by Jorie in Canva. Photo Credit: Unsplash Public Domain Photographer Sergey Zolkin.

Acquired Book By:

I was selected to be a tour stop on “Balm” virtual book tour through TLC Book Tours.  I received a complimentary ARC copy of “Balm” direct from the publisher Amistad (an imprint of Harper Collins Publishers), in exchange for an honest review. I did not receive compensation for my opinions or thoughts shared herein. 

Whilst I was requesting to be placed on this blog tour, I requested a copy of the author’s debut novel “Wench” to become introduced to her style and possible continuity; blessedly I received a complimentary copy of the book direct from the publisher Amistad (an imprint of Harper Collins Publishers), without being obligated to post a review, as my ruminations on behalf of this novel are for my own edification only.

Interest in reading the stories:

Loved the continuity of the historical era in which the author started inside Wench. I regularly read Southern Lit in regards to the Deep South, plantations, abolitionists and the Underground Railroad in general. My first TLC Book Tour was for The House Girl and since then I have continued to find novels set within this era either for TLC or other publicists; the last of which was Redfield Farm.

Blog Book Tour | “Balm” by Dolen Perkins-ValdezBalm
by Dolen Perkins-Valdez
Source: Publisher via TLC Book Tours
Narrator: Lisa Renee Pitts

The New York Times bestselling author of Wench—called "a fascinating and tragic story" by, "deeply moving" by USA Today, and "lyrical and devastatingly beautiful" by People magazine—returns to the Civil War era to explore history's next chapter in this powerful story of love and healing.

The Civil War has ended, and Madge, Sadie, and Hemp have each come to Chicago in search of a new life.

Born with magical hands, Madge has the power to discern others' suffering and ease it, but she cannot heal her own damaged heart. To mend herself and continue to help those in need, she must return to Tennessee to face the women healers who rejected her as a child.

Sadie can commune with the dead, but until she makes peace with her father, she, too, cannot fully engage her gift.

Searching for his missing family, Hemp arrives in this northern city that shimmers with possibility. But redemption cannot be possible until he is reunited with those taken from him.

In the bitter aftermath of a terrible, bloody war, as a divided nation tries to come together once again, Madge, Sadie, and Hemp will be caught up in an unexpected battle for survival in a community desperate to lay the pain of the past to rest.

Beautiful in its historical atmosphere and emotional depth, Balm is a stirring novel of love, loss, hope, and reconciliation set during one of the most critical periods in American history.

Genres: Historical Fiction, War Drama, Literary Fiction, Southern Lit

Places to find the book:

Borrow from a Public Library

Add to LibraryThing

Published by Amistad

on 3rd January, 2015

Format: Paperback

Length: 9.2 hours

Pages: 374

Published By: Amistad (@AmistadBooks)
an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers (@HarperCollins)
Available Formats: Hardcover, Softcover, Audiobook, and Ebook

Fun Stuff for Your Blog via

by Dolen Perkins-Valdez
Source: Publisher via TLC Book Tours
Narrator: Quincy Tyler Bernstine

Genres: Historical Fiction, Southern Lit

Places to find the book:

Borrow from a Public Library

Add to LibraryThing

Series: P.S. Series

Published by Amistad

on 25th, January 2011

Format: P.S. Edition Paperback

Length: 8 hours, 17 minutes

Pages: 294

Wench Available Formats: Hardcover, P.S. Edition paperback, Audiobook, and Ebook

Listen to an Excerpt: WENCH via

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Converse via: #Balm and #DolenPerkinsValdez


About Dolen Perkins-Valdez

Dolen Perkins-Valdez

Dolen Perkins-Valdez is the author of the New York Times bestselling novel Wench. Her fiction has appeared in the Kenyon Review, StoryQuarterly, StorySouth, and elsewhere.

In 2011 she was a finalist for two NAACP Image Awards and the Hurston-Wright Legacy Award for fiction. She was also awarded the First Novelist Award by the Black Caucus of the American Library Association.

She teaches in the Stonecoast MFA program in Maine. A graduate of Harvard and a former University of California President's Postdoctoral Fellow at UCLA, Dolen Perkins-Valdez lives in Washington, D.C., with her family.

my reflections on behalf of Wench:

I elected to listen to the audiobook excerpt of ‘Wench’ prior to soaking inside the novel, as I happen to fancy listening to stories now ahead of reading them. One of these days, I will sort out how to coordinate borrowing the audiobook version at my local library whilst reading the book at the same time. Until such a time arises, I appreciate the excerpts provided online.

The narrator selected for Wench had a voice which matched well with the dialogue and tone of the unfolding story; her voice gave full depth to the setting and enveloped you inside the story even before it began to take shape in your mind. I find the best narrators have such a strong presence and bearing of what they are about to read aloud, it helps to anchour the reader directly into the soul of what the writer leaves behind for us to find.

The cover art on Wench via the P.S. Edition paperback is representative of how freedom is ever-present in the heart of the slaves who are hoping for abolition of slavery to give them their rights back – a caged free bird set in motion of flight is symbolic of the era and the lives which were changed out of ignorance. Southern literature has become a signal of light out of despair by the writers who are bringing the truth through fiction and illuminating the darkness with a knowledge of the past. This isn’t the first novel I’ve read where the writer has tucked themselves so wholly true to the historical past, where I have found as a reader I am living within the narrative as if I walked straight into the scene. Perkins-Valdez has a way of giving you a plight of yearning freedom bent against a small circle of friends who are bond to their masters yet ache to find a measure of life outside their roles therein.

The setting takes place on a resort in a free state outside of the South; herein lies a lot of the tension, as being a free state, it’s not entirely welcome to the fancies of the Southerners who holiday here. There is a distinct line of difference between the North and South, which culminated here in a place a bit outside the regular life of those who vacationed. Evenso, the disparity etched inside the story is apparent from the first chapters as you observe how difficult the lives are for the women: Lizzie who has a kind master but forgets that not all masters are as kind; Rennie whose reached a point in her life where she’d rather be free or else dead; Sweet whose pregnant when the story opens and this doesn’t lesson her burden from her chores; and Mawu whose plight is fiercely worse than all, as she strives to find a way to run.

Perkins-Valdez has written an emotional account of a time just ahead of the Civil War where the brutality of the women’s realities and the raw honesty of the era are writ onto the pages. This isn’t a novel for a sensitive heart nor the faint of heart, as certain passages will sour your stomach just to read due to how realistic they are portrayed on behalf of the lives who truly lived a composite to the trials revealed inside the plot. At it’s central heart, Wench seeks out to find the connective thread of humanity which is knitted together amongst the slaves and of whom, have formed their own familial bond out of the wrenching reality of living without freedom.

Listen to an Excerpt of BALM:

My review of Balm:

Similar to ‘Wench’, I elected to listen to the audiobook excerpt on behalf of ‘Balm’ before I continued my readings of the book. A special treat for me was finding a note from Ms. Perkins-Valdez included inside the ARC rather than from the Editor. I appreciate these letters slipped inside the opening pages of an ARC because it gives you a bit more insight into the story your about to read as much as giving a bit of a back-history to the novel’s publication. I appreciated being able to interact with the author ahead of my review via #LitChat which I will mention afterwards, however, I was quite disappointed I had missed her presence via #BlackLitChat by coming to the chat a bit too late to catch it.

Hearing the words spoken aloud by the narrator gave me a keen view into the heart of the character I was about to greet against the page – I felt in that sparse moment I had with the narrator’s voice, this was most definitely an extension of the previous novel, wherein her voice felt befit the world after the hardened hours of war. There is a lightness to Madge – an earnest hope of finding a new adventure in a city (such as Chicago) she knew no one nor knew of anything except it held a promise of a new beginning. Her innocent recollections of observation whilst she first takes in this new city of hers is lit with a heart full of the possibilities one would dare hope to find after a relocation. A spirit happily consumed by the expectations a new day in a new place would bring to a new place of residence.

Sadie reached Chicago on the footheels of death warming over her shoulders like an unwelcome shawl given to her out of sympathy yet carried with the stitchings a reminder of what she had lost the day her husband had died in a train wreck. An ominous city stretching itself past the confines of it’s boundaries and lurching ahead into the future with a particular itch towards progress, Sadie did not welcome the somber grace it projected but rather was washed in grief and uncertainty. How do you move past your husband being laid out in a house that was meant to be your home?

Hemp had to dig inside his well of hope to find the strength to begin this new chapter of his life whilst his heart was lost in a fret of worriment over his beloved wife and daughter. Freed yet separated on their journey North, Hemp attempted to make a working man’s life out of the offerings he found in a city as wide as the moon and whose acquaintance was tempered against the ache he felt to find his family. He was a man who stood on his belief in what the freedom papers granted him but he was a self-starting man who made his future, rather than waiting for it to begin.

Three spirited souls emerge into the new reality of how freedom could grant you a pathway towards a life you could only nearly have dreamt for yourself whilst finding that the passage towards solid ground was a rocky one at best.

I appreciated how Perkins-Valdez transitioned Sadie into her status as a medium; as an unexpected revelation in the midst of her attempt to sort out how to be a widow of war. Life moved forward but not in the way she imagined, but with this new thread of insight from people beyond the veil itself, was surely more than she bargained she’d have to endure. Sadie comes off well as a woman settling her nerves into the belief that what she hears and what she is learning through those voices is as true as life itself. I liked how it began as a mere whisper, then a conversation emerged forth, and finally the presence staid with her for a period of time of the visitor’s choosing.

It perhaps helps a bit I have been fascinated with series such as “The Ghost Whisperer” and slowly moving my way through the serial via the collections on dvd after having spent a good year watching the series in a haphazard order via syndicated feeds on two different channels. The inkling of a back-story similar to Sadie’s has already been planted in my imagination, but what I found the most compelling is how original Sadie’s gift truly is.

Sadie’s past was a sad chapter after she learnt the true origins of whom had initiated her chosen beloved; yet even despite the heartache of the truth rising out of a sombering loss, Sadie’s true grit was her belief in her gift. She took a balm of solace in finding she was not alone as there were other spiritualists and natural medicine healers amongst her who could perhaps help her pave her own road towards self-sufficiency if not friendship.

There is a beautiful side arc inside the narrative which dips into the back-story of Madge, which simply touched my heart because it reminded me a bit of how foster children feel a step out of place; never quite feeling as if they fit or are accepted into the fold. Madge isn’t a foster child, but psychologically at the time she left her family home, she was struggling for self-identity and self-esteem due to having a mother who was indifferent towards her child. The same bit of this part of her story, is how her mother was one of three sisters of whom were bonded in a way that was nearly too idyllic for reality and too controlled to allow anyone else into their intimate moments. A child was merely an accident of a love affair and for Madge this proved to be a consequence of how she viewed herself and her station in life. She did not have a strong foundation but a quirky nod to her  heritage (be as it may) she was endowed with a gift not popular amongst her peers. In this, I felt Sadie and Madge might have a chance to find balance alongside each other; as they are two souls living outside the orbit of where women in their generation walked.

I was pleasantly surprised when the story turnt away from Sadie and Madge, whilst giving us a stronger juxtaposition about the men in their lives: Michael and Hemp. Two men with a buried past nearly condemning their present due to the emotional baggage neither man is willing to work through in order to live without regrets. Both of the women find ways in which to encourage their men to try to make an attempt at resolving an unforeseen obstacle, yet it is Sadie who has a quickening inside her – an awareness that is deeper than bone and spirit; she nestles out what a man needs to understand even if the man has become a shadow of his former self. There is a retrospective shifting the points of view off of the lead characters directly and arch back into their individual histories; especially in regards to Madge and Hemp who are equal in needing closure.

Balm is writ with such a delicious taste of ordinary life, it bubbles forward out of the descriptions of clothes and how a city can be turnt into an artist’s lens if looked at for the first time. There is a humbling in this observational narrative, where the grace of understanding Perkins-Valdez’s characters is by picking up on the small clues of who they are and how they project who they are to the outside world. Little nuances of their personalities and their fears; hidden moments of hope intermixed with a fretting of thoughts viced against their anguish of the past.

Dolen Perkins-Valdez curates a strong voice in historical narratives:

I had the true pleasure of chattering with the author during a recent #LitChat ahead of my readings of her novels Wench and Balm wherein I tried to ask a few questions pertaining to both novels inasmuch as to her writerly life. In the author’s note to readers inside the ARC she re-clarified what she had mentioned in the chat on Twitter: how she hadn’t sought out to write a historically bent novel, nor had she figured she’d follow-up her debut historical with a story set within a short span of where the previous left off. I felt it was quite an honest look into the life of a writer whose remained true to her intuition in recognising how stories alight in our minds and hearts to be told at a time where we are not always conscience of having a story percolate inside us to such an extent as to be ‘urgent’.

Her narratives are as time-sensitive now as they would have been at the turn of the 20th Century, stepping out of the 1800s, as social conscience and social awareness of injustices are just as prevalent today as they were on the tip of minds back then. Reflectively, I warmed into Balm a bit easier than Wench in part due to the different nature of focus within the stories and a heap to do with the emotional keel of Wench was a bit much for me to take-in right now whilst I have a lot of personal stress to shift past. Sometimes a book arrives in your hands a bit pre-maturely if your not in the right mood to read it, but I was grateful I had the chance to see how Ms Perkins-Valdez began her writerly career and thus, how Balm became an extension of sorts of Wench.

My original cognitive thought of these two novels being a ‘duology’ of sorts is quite apparent if you take into consideration Wench pre-dates the Civil War whereas Balm is post-Civil War; two bookends of an era. In both instances, she draws a breath of clarity per era and time set within the locales she’s taken us forward (as they read as strong period dramas) which leave an etching impression on our imaginations. She knits us close to the scenes by enveloping us by sensory expressions of those moments, so vividly described as if we could be transported directly through time on the wings of those portraits. A clear voice in historic narrative with a sophisticated touch towards drawing in thematics we can find anchoured into present day dialogues of discussion. A co-balance of history and modern topical issues lend themselves a binding force to make reading Perkins-Valdez a powerful experience of learning through the lens of history.

Dear hearts, I am most keen to see what she pens next!

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#LitChat | a weekly literary salon where readers interact with writers
hosted by: Carolyn Burns Bass | Site | (@CarolyBurnsBass) | @LitChat

I was thankful to be a part of this #LitChat!

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#BlackLitChat | a monthly literary chat and book club focused on African-American writers & their stories; writers and readers happily interacting
hosted by: Bernadette A. Davis (@BernadetteDavis) | @BlackLitChat

The following is the Storify Ms Davis compiled on behalf of the #BlackLitChat I missed:

I haven’t yet had the ability to re-edit my posts which featured a Storify transcript – this is one of those posts where I had embedded the chat transcript on behalf of a conversation which was relevant to the topic of my review and the blog tour I was participating on – I am hopeful to find some of the tweets from this chat and re-share them – until then, kindly know Storify closed its doors.

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This book review was courtesy of TLC Book Tours:

I do apologise, I had fully intended to post this review a bit earlier than now, however, just before four o’ clock in the afternoon, an electrical storm straight out of mythological proportions struck down with such a force as to make me jump straight out of my skin! Lightning so fierce and powerful, it grounded with such a snarl of a growl and a conviction of attacking anything in it’s path. It’s been many moons since a Summer storm was *this!* intense and I daresay, I’d prefer not to meet another! It was so bad, I started to hear electrical hissing noises, as our electrical grid tried to decide whether or not to blink off! Firecrackles of pure white bolts electrified themselves like banshees and I dear reader, hoped whichever prompted the storm would find a way to end it.

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Reader Interactive Question:
What types of  multicultural accounts of history do you gravitate towards reading whilst browsing selections within historical fiction? Do you stick to a particular era in history or do you go between different centuries and countries where the stories originate? Who are your favourite authors and novels?
Comment Box Banner made by Jorie in Canva.

{SOURCES: Cover art of “Balm”, book synopsis, author photograph of Dolen Perkins-Valdez, author biography and the tour badge were all provided by TLC Book Tours and used with permission. Ruminations & Impressions Book Review Banner created by Jorie in Canva. Photo Credit: Unsplash Public Domain Photographer Sergey Zolkin. Comment Box Banner made by Jorie in Canva. Tweets embedded due to codes provided by Twitter. Post dividers by Fun Stuff for Your Blog via Pure Imagination. Book Excerpt was able to be embedded due to codes provided by SoundCloud. Buy links on SoundCloud are not affiliated with Jorie Loves A Story.}

Copyright © Jorie Loves A Story, 2015.

I tweet as I read, I encourage you to share:

Comments on Twitter:

Reading this book contributed to these challenges:

  • 2015 Historical Fiction Reading Challenge

About jorielov

I am self-educated through local libraries and alternative education opportunities. I am a writer by trade and I cured a ten-year writer’s block by the discovery of Nanowrimo in November 2008. The event changed my life by re-establishing my muse and solidifying my path. Five years later whilst exploring the bookish blogosphere I decided to become a book blogger. I am a champion of wordsmiths who evoke a visceral experience in narrative. I write comprehensive book showcases electing to get into the heart of my reading observations. I dance through genres seeking literary enlightenment and enchantment. Starting in Autumn 2013 I became a blog book tour hostess featuring books and authors. I joined The Classics Club in January 2014 to seek out appreciators of the timeless works of literature whose breadth of scope and voice resonate with us all.

"I write my heart out and own my writing after it has spilt out of the pen." - self quote (Jorie of Jorie Loves A Story)

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Posted Friday, 3 July, 2015 by jorielov in #LitChat, 19th Century, African-American History, ARC | Galley Copy, Audiobook, Audiobook Excerpt, Blog Tour Host, Bookish Discussions, Death, Sorrow, and Loss, Debut Novel, Domestic Violence, Equality In Literature, Flashbacks & Recollective Memories, Historical Fiction, History, Literary Fiction, Multi-cultural Characters and/or Honest Representations of Ethnicity, Passionate Researcher, Psychological Abuse, Small Towne USA, Soundcloud, Taboo Relationships & Romance, The Deep South, TLC Book Tours, Trauma | Abuse & Recovery, Underground Railroad

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2 responses to “Blog Book Tour | “Balm” by Dolen Perkins-Valdez

  1. It’s particularly interesting reading your thoughts since you were able to read both books in quick succession.

    Thank you for being on the tour!

    • Hallo, Hallo Trish,

      I felt reading these two stories back to back were truly what helped me best understand the author’s intentions in telling them. I would have lost something in the midst of reading only one of them. Sometimes you have to go to the start of a story in order to understand the next one in sequence – this author definitely had something to share which flowed from one story into the other and I am thankful I could take that journey with her as I was reading them. #Blessed I was hosting for you when these came into my life.

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