Wednesday, November 30, 2016

On the Banks of Plum Creek by Laura Ingalls Wilder

What a joy it was to read On the Banks of Plum Creek with my daughter Penelope this year.  We started this novel right before we went on our family voyage to Walnut Grove at the end of July.  It was wonderful to actually walk through the prairie and see the same flowers and same sights that Laura Ingalls also saw in On the Banks of Plum Creek.  It was a great book experience for both Penelope and myself.  More on our journey at this link.

On the Banks of Plum Creek is the story of the Ingalls family’s voyage to Minnesota.  After they left their cabin on the prairie that they had illegally built on Native American land, they buy land in Minnesota that includes a dugout.  Living in a dugout is a new experience for the Ingalls family and Ma is not pleased.  Luckily, Pa gets a loan to buy new timber and build them a new house – their first house made of purchased wood boards.  The loan is taken out based on what looks to be a bunker wheat group, but tragedy soon strikes with grasshoppers landing in Minnesota and devastating the area.  How will the Ingalls family make it with no money, a large debt, and no food to eat?  They are in one of their lowest moment of the series.

Laura and Mary also attend school for the first time and meet the infamous Nellie Olson.  Nellie is the spoiled daughter of the owners of the general store.  She has a life much, much different than Laura’s as she discovers attending a birthday party at Nellie’s.  Nellie has purchased toys, store bought clothes, furniture, and carpets.  Laura has a country birthday where she serves up revenge to Nellie Olson.

In contrast to Nellie, Laura has only one beloved toy, her doll Charlotte that she got for Christmas in the first book in the series, Little House in the Big Woods.  Charlotte has traveled through the West with Laura, but her story takes a tragic turn in On the Banks of Plum Creek when Ma makes Laura give away Charlotte to a younger neighbor girl in a chapter appropriately named “The Darkest Hour is Just before Dawn.”  I love this chapter and feel it is the strongest and most disturbing chapter in the book that really taps into the emotions of a child.  My son Kile ran from the room when I read this too him when he was five, and now years later, my five year old daughter Penelope was frankly disturbed by it.  “Why?” she kept asking.  I was unsure how to answer. I know Ma didn’t want Laura to be a selfish little girl, but having her give away her one beloved toy just seemed cold.

Life on the prairie was brutal.  Besides the crop failure, the family had to endure a hard winter.  “Laura shivered in her shawl.  She kept staring at the blank window-panes, hearing the swishing snow and the howling, jeering winds.  She was thinking of the children whose Pa and Ma never came.  They burned all of the furniture and froze stark stiff.”  How scary it would be as a child to be caught alone in your house during a blizzard!  

I love the scene when Pa is trapped in a snow bank so close to their house during a sudden blizzard and how Ma keeps a lantern in the window for him at night although she tells the girls he stayed in town.  This is a story I loved while reading this book as a child and I still loved reading again as an adult.

My favorite quotes:

“Pa’s slow voice answered, ‘We’re safe enough, all right.  Nothing can happen here.’”

“Out on the prairie there was a long grey rock.  It rose up above the waving grasses and nodding wild flowers.  On top it was flat and almost smooth, so wide that Laura and Mary could run on it side by side, and so long that they can race each other.  It was a wonderful place to play.”  My kids sat on this rock this summer!

“’Now, Charles,’ said Ma.  ‘Here we are, all healthy and safe and snug, with food for the winter.  Let’s be thankful for what we have.’” (Christmas and Pa wants horses, which eventually the entire family wants.)

“Laura knew now that there were things stronger than anybody.  But the creek had not got her.  It had not made her scream and it had not made her cry.” (Laura almost drowns in the creek – behold the power of water!)

Overall, On the Banks of Plum Creek gives a genuine portrayal of what life was like on the Minnesota prairie for a pioneer family.  It gives the reality of what it was like to live during brutal times.  The magic of Wilder’s writing is that she writes everything from the child’s perspective and gets it so right.  It makes children today 150 years later able to relate to the story.  It also is relatable to me as an adult remembering what it was like to be a child and also fascinating to me from a historical perspective.  It’s a book not to be missed and should be read at least once in your lifetime!  Penelope and I have now moved on to By the Shores of Silver Lake.

What was your favorite book as a child?

Have you visited any locations from any favorite novels?

If you’ve read this book, what is your favorite scene?

Book Source:  Purchased from as a set a few years ago as my beloved childhood set was falling apart upon reread.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Emma by Jane Austen Narrated by Alison Larkin

Title: Emma
Author: Jane Austen
Read by:  Alison Larkin
Publisher: British Classic Audio
Length: Approximately 16 hours and 46 minutes
Source: Review Copy from author Alison Larkin - Thank-you!

Emma is a classic Jane Austen novel about a young independent woman who tries her hand at matchmaking.  Doing so ends up causing more harm than good and makes Emma take a look into her own heart to challenge her own prejudices and to discover who she really loves.  I’ve enjoyed this novel since I was a teenager and I was more than excited to review a new audiobook version narrated by my new favorite Austen book narrator, Alison Larkin.

Alison Larkin is an excellent narrator.  Her voice is pleasant and soothing with a great British accent.  Even better is that she really gets into the characters and gives each character their own voice through the story.  I especially loved her voice for Mrs. Elton in Emma.  It was hilarious and as pompous as you can imagine.  I also enjoyed the snippets of piano music that played between the chapters.

I love listening and reading books that you’ve loved and read before.  I’ve always felt that Austen novels in particular lend themselves quite well to the audiobook format especially as Austen and her family would read her stories out loud to entertain themselves and the books seem to fit that mold.

I was struck this time on my way through Emma just how much class and your level in society really makes a difference for each thing you do.  Emma as a young woman with a fortune of 30,000 pounds does not need to worry about it, but she does spend a lot of time judging everyone else.  She finds the Martins vulgar because they farm for a living, Miss Bates to be despised because she is a single woman with no fortune, the Coles as uppity as they have come into money and think they can mingle with those that are “better” than them, etc.  Mrs. Elton also discusses this as well.  In the United States, money was king as it didn’t really matter where the money came from, but it’s funny in England that your money should be “old.”  How long did it take to go from earning money through trade and buying an estate to being “old” money?  I’m curious.

I’m also curious, where did Emma’s family’s money original come from?  I noticed this time that their estate was just a small one carved out of Donwell abbey and it made me very curious.

Jane Austen’s characters are unparalleled.  From Miss Bates who is the well-meaning person you know who can’t stop talking about boring topics to Mrs. Elton, the person who is sure she is superior to everyone around her, Austen’s characters are superb because they are the people all around us.

I love how just when you think the novel is over with many startling revelations, there was still three hours to go.  I love how Austen completely wraps up the endings for all of the characters.

My Favorite Quotes:
“If I loved you less, I might be able to talk about it more.”  This quote from Mr. Knightley makes me swoon!
“It’s such a happiness when good people get together.”
“A single woman, of good fortune, is always respectable, and may be as sensible and pleasant as any body else.”
“Oh! To be sure,” cried Emma, “it is always incomprehensible to a man that a woman should ever refuse an offer of marriage.  A man always imagines a woman to be ready for any body who asks her.”
Overall, Emma by Jane Austen is a classic novel not to be missed.  It is wonderful to rediscover a beloved classic by listening to an audiobook rendition.  Alison Larkin is a perfect Austen audiobook narrator with great voices for all of the characters.  She brings the story to life.

Monday, November 21, 2016

Darcy’s Hope: Beauty from Ashes by Ginger Monette (and GIVEAWAY!)

Pride and Prejudice, WWI, Downton Abbey – these are three of my favorite things and make for a winning combination.  Darcy’s Hope:  Beauty from Ashes includes these three elements as it tells a Pride and Prejudice variation set during WWI.  

Captain Fitzwilliam Darcy has requisitioned the dower house at Longbourn manor for the military during WWI and in doing so promised Elizabeth Bennet’s father that he would take care of her if anything happened to Mr. Bennet.  After Mr. Bennet’s untimely death, Captain Darcy proposes to Elizabeth only to be turned down. After Mrs. Bennet turns to madness and Longbourn goes down in flames, Elizabeth and Jane become nursing assistants, VADs, and are sent to France.  

Elizabeth wants to become a doctor and take care of herself, but working in a bloody field hospital, gives her pause.  Darcy arrives at the field hospital she is working to take over the general management of the hospital, but also to look for undercover agents that could be linked to the despicable Lieutenant Wickham.  Is Elizabeth part of the plot?  Can Darcy keep his emotions reined in throughout the turmoil of war?

I greatly enjoyed this novel.  One of my favorite parts of the novel was the mention of other great characters.  For example, John Thornton, mill owner and hero of Elizabeth Gaskell’s North and South shows up as a batman for Captain Darcy and helps him to understand that class boundaries don’t define people.  “He had maintained a comfortable distance from his men over their months in the trenches, but remaining aloof from Thornton had been a challenge.  Despite the mill owner being a man of trade, Darcy liked him.  Both possessed a reserved temperament and generally preferred books to crowds.”

Captain Darcy also meets Robert Knightley, the descendent of George and Emma Knightley of Jane Austen’s novel Emma.  He like Matthew Crawley of Downton Abbey, has inherited Donwell Abbey after the male heirs died away.  He has a problem as a doctor trying to fit into the life of a gentleman.  I loved his story and hope to see more of him in the follow up book, Darcy’s Hope:  At Donwell Abbey.

I enjoyed that author Ginger Monette really seemed to do her research on WWI and incorporated a lot of intriguing details throughout the story.  I also enjoyed that this variation was set after most of the events of the original story so it was more of an add-on to the story.  What if Elizabeth refused Darcy, but never received his letter?  I also liked that the novel really showed Darcy’s changing attitudes as well as his pain from being on the front in the Somme.  I will admit thought that I was dismayed by the ending as I really want to know what is going to happen next?  Who is behind the espionage?  What does Wickham’s cryptic message mean?

My favorite quotes:

“Though she despised the man, she now needed him.  Life had a cruel way of mocking her fate.”

“He startled, stunned as if struck by a bolt of lightning.  All men were the same – equal in the sense that they all had two arms and two legs.  What truly differentiated one man from another was opportunity and character.  The rest were merely superficial presentations – like money and manners.”

“But war had a way of changing things.  Sometimes beauty rose from ashes.”

Overall, Darcy’s Hope: Beauty from Ashes was an engaging historical fiction story and intriguing Pride and Prejudice variation.  I look forward to the next chapter in this saga.

For more on Darcy's Hope:  Beauty from Ashes, read an interview with author Ginger Monette at this link.


a Rafflecopter giveaway