Thursday, August 31, 2017

The Birchbark House by Louise Erdrich

I was reading Pioneer Girl Perspectives this summer and read about The Birchbark House by Louise Erdrich.  It was described as a Native American “Little House on the Prairie.”  I knew I had to read it!

Although the Little House books write the story that the Ingalls family moved onto vacant land, the land was all but vacant.  The Birchbark House tells the story of the people who lived on the land before the whites moved into the territory.  Omakayas is a young Ojibwa girl who lives on the island of the Golden-Breasted Woodpecker in Lake Superior.  This book goes through a year of her life as her family builds a new Birchbark house in the summer, harvest rice in the fall, and moves into a cedar log cabin in the winter.  This year the family faces adversity when voyageurs bring deadly smallpox to the village.  Will the family survive?  What is the secret of Omakayas?  And will her brother, Pinch, ever become less annoying?

I liked that there were several call backs to Little House, in particular descriptions on how chores were done at the time, stories that elders tell, and good pictures.  I really loved the character of Omakayas.  I loved her difficulties with her siblings, but also how she communed with animals and had the gifts of a healer.  I loved her journey throughout the novel.  I especially was fond of her pet crow, Andeg.  What a cool pet!

The illustrations were not as good as the epic Garth Williams’ illustrations of the Little House series.  This book also pales in comparison to Little House in its descriptions.  I thought about it and I think it was because Wilder was explaining things that she had actually experienced, while Erdrich is writing historical fiction about a time period that she did not live through.

What The Birchbark House did do better was to portray life in the pioneer days as it really would have been, not as a fairy tale where no one ever dies as in Wilder’s Little House books.  Omakayas faces real threats and death in this novel and it is hard for her to work through on a personal level. I appreciated that it took her time to process it as a child. This is the typical experience that happened on the frontier and is much more realistic. 

This is a children’s book, but it has a pretty harsh opening with a child being found as the only person alive on her island with everyone else dying from small pox.    I found this haunting and it made me want to read more, but I think it might be much for my six year old if I read it to her.  I would recommend this book for fourth grade and up, but it will vary depending on the sensitivity of the child.

Favorite quotes:

“The only person left alive on the island was a baby girl.” – Opening Line

“’These are my daughters,’ said Deydey, proudly.  ‘Not only did they save the corn today, but they caught and plucked our dinner! They are hunters!’”

“Whenever Grandma prayed, she made the world around her fell protected, safe, and eternal.”

“She spoke so earnestly, with such emotion in her voice that Omakayas was always to remember that moment, the bend in the path where they stood with the medicines, her grandmother’s kind face and the words she spoke.”

“Tenderly, as they walked along, the bird plucked up a strand of hair that had fallen loose from Omakaya’s braid, and then he tucked it behind her ear.”

“Omakayas tucked her hands behind her head, lay back, closed her eyes, and smiled as the song of the white-throated sparrow sank again and again through the air like a shining needle, and sewed up her broken heart.” – Last line

Overall, this is a story that needed to be told, of the people who lived here first and had a full life before being driven from the land.  It’s a perfect story to tell with the pioneering adventures of Little House.

Book Source:  Kewaunee Public Library

Monday, August 28, 2017

The Genius Files: Never Say Genius (#2) by Dan Gutman

Title: The Genius Files:  Never Say Genius (#2)
Author: Dan Gutman
Read by: Michael Goldstrom
Publisher: Blackstone Audio
Length: Approximately 5 hours and 30 minutes (5 CDs)
Source: Kewaunee Public Library – Thank-you!

The McDonalds epic trip across America continues in The Genius Files:  Never Say Genius.  Coke and Pepsi McDonald have been selected to be in a top secret “genius files” program for super smart kids.  As secret (even from their parents) government agents, they will get $1,000,000 as an adult graduating out of the program . . . or so they thought. Discovering that the one million dollars will be split up amongst all members of the genius files, an evil villain, Archie Clone, is eliminating all other kids in the genius files so he can be the sole collector of the million.

The McDonalds trip starts right where book one left off, in Wisconsin, and continues to Washington DC.   We listened to the majority of this audiobook on our family trip to Michigan and back and finished it up while back to school shopping.  My 11 and 9 year old sons had read the first book this past school year as part of the Kewaunee Library youth book club and had enjoyed it.  The kids loved book two, especially my 9 year old son Daniel.  He now has an obsession with visiting places that were highlighted in the first two books, in particular The House on the Rock in Wisconsin.  He liked the humor and the adventure.  A lot of the humor for me at least is when Coke and Pep tell their parents exactly what is going on and then are met with a chuckle from their parents who are sure they are making it all up.  The book ended with a cliff hanger.  We’ll be checking out the audiobook of book #3 for our next family trip!

The narrator was excellent in this audiobook with great voices for all of the characters.  My only annoyance was that he read out the web address each time one was mentioned in the book. I think for the audiobook it would be okay just to say go to Google Maps and type this in.

Overall, Never Say Genius was an entertaining book for the entire family and a great audiobook for a family trip!

Friday, August 25, 2017

Christian Coloring Books Galore!

I love the adult coloring book craze and think it is a wonderful way to relax.  My six-year old daughter Penelope also loves to color with me in my adult coloring books, especially on camping trips.  The following are three fabulous Christian coloring books that I took with me to color this summer.

The Parables of Jesus:  Coloring Book Devotional by Laura James and Katara Washington Patton

The Parables of Jesus is large and beautiful adult coloring book.  It contains the parables of Jesus including the actual Gospel reading, a description and discussion of that reading, and some questions to ask yourself about the passage.  Afterwards follows a detailed picture illustrating the parable for the adult to color.  The pictures are on thick white paper that is easy to color.  The binding is glued.  The pictures were of good detail for me to color with my coloring pencils, but not very fine detailed – which I like.  Some coloring books are so finely detailed, I have a hard time coloring them with my coloring pencils.  What I liked best about this book was that it is an excellent way to relax while you are coloring and also spend devotional time reading and thinking about the parables.  The parables are wonderful parts of the Gospel and I like how this book applies them to everyday life.

A Giving Heart:  A Coloring Book Celebrating Motherhood by Stephanie Corfee

This would make a perfect birthday, Christmas, or Mother’s Day gift for any mother.  Bible verses or inspirational quotes are on one page and then the opposite page is a detailed drawing to color.  You don’t need to worry about bleed through from your coloring page wrecking another coloring page as it’s either blank or has a quote on the other side.  My favorite quote is “Kind words can be short and easy to speak, but their echoes are truly endless” by Mother Theresa.  These pictures are also on thick white paper with glue binding.  The pictures are very detailed so it can take quite some time to color if you are looking for fabulously detailed pictures and something to spend a lot of time working on.

Joyful Inspirations Coloring Book with Illustrated Scripture and Quotes to Cheer Your Soul by Robin Mead

Joyful Inspirations has delightful illustrations that include a lot of flowers, outdoor scenes, cities, churches, children, etc. with inspiration quotes from famous folks and Bibles verses.  My favorite quotes was “find out where joy resides, and give it a voice far beyond singing” by Robert Louis Stevenson.”  I really loved the drawings, they were calming and really were joyful.  The only downfall of this coloring book is that the pages are double sided and medium weight, which can lead to bleed through the page.  Coloring with colored pencils works best for this book.

Book Source:  These three books were given to me by Hachette Books for review.  Thank-you!

Thursday, August 24, 2017

By the Shores of Silver Lake by Laura Ingalls Wilder

I’ve been slowly reading all of the Little House books to my daughter Penelope.  At six in the early stages of reading, I can see that in just a couple of short years Penelope will be reading these books on her own.  We both enjoy the reading time together, but with school books, the reading has been going slower on Little House. We actually finished this book last spring – but I’ve been running a bit behind on reviews!

It was great that we did finish this book last spring as we visited De Smet South Dakota in June.  We not only got to see the actual Surveyor’s house that the Ingalls family spent their first winter in in South Dakota, but we also camped for three nights at the Ingalls family Homestead in De Smet.  Having just read this book, it really made the book and story alive for both Penelope and myself.

In By the Shores of Silver Lake, the Ingalls family decides to move West after years of grasshopper plagues and crop failures in Minnesota.  Aunt Docia arrives and offers Pa a job on the railroad making good money.  Pa heads west and the family joins him taking their very first train ride.  The family adjusts to living in a railroad camp and then stay behind in De Smet to watch the surveyors’ cabin over the winter.  Pa finds a good claim and the family settles there in the spring. 

Penelope is a little sad that Laura is no longer her age and firmly a teenager in On the Shores of Silver Lake.  She was further devastated that after Aunt Docia’s visit, the family decides to pack up except for one member  - their old faithful dog Jack.  He will not be able to make this last journey with them in his old age and he peacefully falls asleep never to awaken again.  This section had me in tears, especially as our old faithful dog Jack is 14 and in his golden age.  This scene was masterfully written.  I was intrigued to find out that it was not actually factually true in my further reading this summer.  Wilder used artistic license, but very expertly as a writer wrote this scene to substitute for the real life loss the Ingalls felt at this time as they drove off and left the grave of little Freddy Ingalls.

I love how free Laura was in the book, especially racing horses with Lena over the prairie.  I also love Wilder’s vivid descriptions of building a railroad and riding on a steam train for the first time.  I was disturbed (as I was as a child) when Laura and Lena meet a woman who talks about her 12-year old daughter’s marriage.  Lena and Laura were still girls and not ready to grow up.  It’s hard to think about a 12 year old girl being married although I do know it happened in the past and probably still happens in other cultures.

As an adult, I’ve really grown to realize even more how great a writer Wilder was.  Her descriptions are beautiful and characters are realistic.  Even though it doesn’t 100% follow the story of the real Ingalls family, it tells a good story of what life was link in that time period and it also preserves the story of her family.

Favorite quotes:

“Laura knew then that she wasn’t a little girl anymore.”

“The sun sank.  A ball of pulsing, liquid light, it sank in clouds of crimson and silver.  Cold purple shadows rose in the east, crept slowly across the prairie, then rose in heights on the heights of darkness from which the stars swung low and bright.”

“I’m thankful the paymaster was sensible.  Better a live dog than a dead lion.”  I love this advice from Ma!

“It was so beautiful that they hardly breathed.  The great round moon hung in the sky and its radiance poured over a silvery world.”

“Lonely and wild and eternal were land and water and sky and the air blowing.”

By the Shores of Silver Lake is even more poignant and beautiful to me as an adult after reading it a dozen times as a child.  If you haven’t picked up this classic since you were a child or have never read it, I highly recommend it!

Book Source:  Set of books purchased from

Pioneer Girl Perspectives: Exploring Laura Ingalls Wilder Edited by Nancy Tystad Koupal

I loved reading Pioneer Girl two years ago and was excited to pick up Perspectives while I was in De Smet this summer.  Pioneer Girl Perspectives is a collection of essays about Wilder’s life and works. It is a fascinating collection and very interesting to me.  I learned a lot and have a lot of favorite quotes – pretty much the entire book!  The essays included how Laura Ingalls Wilder and Rose Wilder Lane worked together to create the Little House series, why the Little House books have a lasting appeal, how Pioneer Girl finally came to print, childhood myths explored, etc.  

Interesting Tidbits from the book:

“Leaning on her daughter’s apprenticeship in yellow journalism, Laura Ingalls Wilder felt free to meld genres, molding fact into fiction in ways that she did not acknowledge even to herself, attending to her novels’ ‘truth’ while providing the succor of a fictitious happy ending.  That was a feature, she said, of ‘all good novels.’ It is a testament to the moral complexity of her art that we are still wrestling, decades after the fact, to separate truth from fiction.”

Laura and Rose had a tenuis working relationship.  Rose’s two most famous books were based on Laura’s autobiography that she helped to work get published.  After it didn’t get published as an adult novel, Rose reworked episodes of it for her adult fiction while Laura wrote her children’s books from the source material.

“She never glamorized anything; yet she saw the loveliness in everything.”  Illustrator Garth Williams on Laura Ingalls.  I was interested to read how his research for illustrating the books helped to solve a lot of the mysteries about place and settings for the books.  For example Walnut Grove Minnesota didn’t know it was the setting for On the Banks of Plum Creek until Williams visited.

I read that an author I enjoy, Louise Erdrich started a series with the Birchbark House to tell the Native American side of the story with a little Native American girl growing up in the big woods of Wisconsin and getting displaced by white settlers.  I’m reading this book now!  It is interesting how the Little House books always describe the land as empty when it was in fact, inhabited by Native American tribes.

“Wilder’s most devoted fans do not simply identify with Laura or want to read about her, they want to be Laura.  They attend conferences based on Wilder’s work.  They research the lives of her friends, family, and acquaintances.  They buy tickets to Wilder museums, pageants, and plays.  They go on literary pilgrimages to the prairie towns and home sites associated with the books.  They throw back their sunbonnets, kick off their shoes, and go wading on the banks of Plum Creek.”  Hmmm... I have done everything in this paragraph except for attending a Little House conference.  It felt strange to be so accurately described.  Am I a Little house superfan?

Overall, Pioneer Girl Perspectives is a riveting collection of essays that delve into the many depths of Laura Ingalls Wilder and her classic series of books.  This is a must read for any fan of the Little House series.

Book Source:  Laura Ingalls Wilder Historic Homes, De Smet, South Dakota

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Forty Autumns: A Family’s Story of Courage and Survival on Both Sides of the Berlin Wall by Nina Willner (TLC Book Tours)

“Throughout East Germany there were tens of thousands, if not millions of people like my relatives, trying to raise a family, work, preserve their dignity, and live life as best they could under the circumstances they were handed.  This is the story of just one family, but is some ways it is the story of millions.”

A riveting memoir of one family’s struggle of being separated by the Berlin Wall and Communism, Forty Autumns is a powerful book.  Written by Nina Willner, a former U.S. Army intelligence officer who served in Berlin in the Cold War, Willner tells the riveting story of her family.  At the end of WWII, Willner’s mother’s family finds themselves on the wrong side of the line and are now in communist controlled East Germany.  As the rules constrict around the family, Willner’s mother, Hanna escapes to West Germany.  She meets and marries a Holocaust survivor and U.S. Army officer and moves to America to raise six kids, including Willner.  Hanna has a good life with her family, but misses her parents and siblings that she left behind.  What kind of life did they have?  This book details their struggles including being separated from family and living under a harsh communist regime.

This book is a non-fiction memoir, but to me it read like fiction.  I was captivated by the story and literally couldn’t put the book down.  This lead to more than one night of late reading when I should have been sleeping!  Willner does a fabulous job of writing about her family and making me care about the personal struggles of Hanna, Opa, Oma, and Hanna’s sister Heidi.  Willner also gives the history of what was going on with East and West Germany, the politics, the culture, and the standards of living.  I was eleven years old when the Berlin Wall came down in 1989 and remember it vividly.  This book helped me to really fully understand the importance of that event.

I also really enjoyed that besides a center insert with color pictures, the book contained pictures throughout.  The pictures were often referenced in the text as well, which I enjoyed. 

I also really enjoyed learning about Willner’s experiences as an U.S. army intelligence officer in Berlin.  She had some real nail biting experiences.  It was very interesting learning about the day-to-day of being a spy during this time.  I also thought it was great how Willner juxtaposed the journey that her cousin had at the same time as a top East German athlete working only miles away from Willner.

Favorite Quotes:

“The [Berlin] Wall is . . . an offense not only against history but an offense against humanity, separating families, dividing husbands and wives and brothers and sisters, and dividing a people who wish to be joined together.” – President John F. Kennedy

“The day that Dieter disappeared, something in Hanna changed.  She was alarmed the people seemed willing to accept the changes without fighting back.”

“What will become of a country, Oma wondered, when a mother cannot even trust her own children, and they, in turn, cannot trust their own families?”

“We have survived East Germany with our dignity intact.  This life has not always been easy, but it has not made us bend.  It has actually made us stronger.  And we are strong because our souls are free.”

“After a time, they walked back to their little car and got back in.  Reinhard started up the engine.  She looked over at him.  He smiled at her, and they continued on their way, driving onward into the beautiful unknown.”

Overall, Forty Autumns is a fascinating memoir of a family’s struggles living separated by the Berlin Wall and what communism really meant for them.  It’s an important part of our collective history and also good story.  You won’t be able to put this book down!

Book Source:  Review Copy as part of the TLC Book Tour.  Thank-you!  For more stops on the tour check out this link.

About Forty Autumns • Paperback: 416 pages • Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks; Reprint edition (August 15, 2017) In this illuminating and deeply moving memoir, a former American military intelligence officer goes beyond traditional Cold War espionage tales to tell the true story of her family—of five women separated by the Iron Curtain for more than forty years, and their miraculous reunion after the fall of the Berlin Wall.

Forty Autumns makes visceral the pain and longing of one family forced to live apart in a world divided by two. At twenty, Hanna escaped from East to West Germany. But the price of freedom—leaving behind her parents, eight siblings, and family home—was heartbreaking. Uprooted, Hanna eventually moved to America, where she settled down with her husband and had children of her own.
Growing up near Washington, D.C., Hanna’s daughter, Nina Willner became the first female Army Intelligence Officer to lead sensitive intelligence operations in East Berlin at the height of the Cold War. Though only a few miles separated American Nina and her German relatives—grandmother Oma, Aunt Heidi, and cousin, Cordula, a member of the East German Olympic training team—a bitter political war kept them apart.

 In Forty Autumns, Nina recounts her family’s story—five ordinary lives buffeted by circumstances beyond their control. She takes us deep into the tumultuous and terrifying world of East Germany under Communist rule, revealing both the cruel reality her relatives endured and her own experiences as an intelligence officer, running secret operations behind the Berlin Wall that put her life at risk.

 A personal look at a tenuous era that divided a city and a nation, and continues to haunt us, Forty Autumns is an intimate and beautifully written story of courage, resilience, and love—of five women whose spirits could not be broken, and who fought to preserve what matters most: family.

  Forty Autumns is illustrated with dozens of black-and-white and color photographs.

Purchase Links

HarperCollins | Amazon | Barnes & Noble

About Nina Willner

Nina Willner is a former U.S. Army intelligence officer who served in Berlin during the Cold War. Following a career in intelligence, Nina worked in Moscow, Minsk, and Prague promoting human rights, children’s causes, and the rule of law for the U.S. government, nonprofit organizations, and a variety of charities. She currently lives in Istanbul, Turkey. Forty Autumns is her first book. Find out more about Nina at her website, and connect with her on Facebook and Twitter.

Monday, August 21, 2017

Star Trek Prey: The Hall of Heroes (Book 3) by John Jackson Miller

A sci-fi adventure that includes a tale of vengeance one-hundred years in the making, Star Trek Prey:  The Hall of Heroes is an epic original tale that includes many favorite Star Trek characters and is the conclusion of a three book trilogy.

The Unsung are threatening the Klingon Empire and Chancellor Martok is having a hard time keeping control as the violence continues.  The Federation including Admiral Riker, Captain Picard, Commander Worf, and Tuvok work together to solve the mystery of the Unsung.

I really enjoyed this trilogy.  All three books were action packed with great character build up and interactions.  The Hall of Heroes was a fantastic conclusion with plenty of adventure.  Author John Jackson Miller really knows the classic characters and serves them well in the story while also creating new interesting characters.  I also loved that the humor typical of Star Trek has been kept into place.  It’s nice to have a light moment between action sequences. The ending of the story left it open for more adventures – I would certainly love more myself!

Robert Petkoff was a top notch narrator for this audiobook trilogy.  His voices were perfect for the characters and he did a great job of getting into character for the large cast. This was a great trilogy to listen to via audiobook.  I would love to listen to more audiobooks from this author / narrator combination.

Overall Star Trek Prey:  Hall of Heroes (Book 3) is a perfect and satisfying conclusion to the Star Trek Prey trilogy full of adventure, suspense, humor, and great characters.    Petkoff is a great character voice actor and he narrates this trilogy perfectly.  I highly recommend this audiobook and this entire trilogy!

How are you celebrating 50 years of Star Trek?  Besides listening to this riveting audiobook trilogy, I’ve been watching the Original Series, Next Generation, and Voyager episodes with my family.  We have all been excited about the new Star Trek Discovery series, but were sad to just find out its rated MA so we can’t watch it as a family.

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Darcy in Wonderland by Alexa Adams

Darcy in Wonderland is a delightful tale that combines two of my favorite British stories, Pride & Prejudice and Alice in Wonderland.  Elizabeth Bennet and Fitzwilliam Darcy have married and are raising a family of one son and five daughters.  The youngest daughter, Alice, is prone to fits of fancy that Darcy can’t help but indulge as a father.

As Alice’s oldest sister prepares for her coming out ball and her brother prepares to make his way in the world, Alice remains stuck in the schoolroom.  Behind on her lessons, her father stays behind to catch her up while the rest of the family visits the Bingley family.  While outside, they follow a mysterious white rabbit down a rabbit hole and have a grand adventure in Wonderland.

I found this novel to be very enjoyable with charming illustrations.  One of my favorite scenes was the tea party in Wonderland which was a fantastic comedy of manners with Mr. Darcy trying to maintain good manners, which is increasingly hard to do with the Mad Hatter in attendance.   I thought this novel was a perfect blend of both tales. 

Adams wrote the characters from Pride and Prejudice as I would imagine them in a future life.  Their children were intriguing as well. I wanted to learn more about this Pride and Prejudice continuation and would love to read further tales!  One of my favorite parts of the novel was a perfect conclusion with Bennet, the Darcy’s eldest and only son.  He is already knee deep in the work of running the Pemberley estate, but after Darcy’s adventure in Wonderland with Alice, he realizes that Bennet should have some fun before becoming an adult.  I loved this!

Favorite Quotes:

“As I said, you are too easy on Alice.  If you and my mother do not take her in hand and impose reality upon her, the world will someday do it for you, and it will be a far more difficult lesson to learn.”

“’I suppose one really must laugh at one’s own relations, the private company of one’s fellow sufferers, of course, for how else are they to be born?’ Elizabeth conceded. “

“’When I used to read fairy tales,’ she continued, unfazed, ‘I fancied those kinds of things never happened, and now here we are in the middle of one!’”

“’A Darcy, are you?’ cried the Pigeon. ‘And what in heaven’s name is a Darcy, I ask? You just invented it.’
 'I am a gentleman, madam,’ he assured her, attempting to check his irritation and live up to the title.”

“’But I do hate tampering with the laws of physics.  No good shall come of it.’”

“’Very fine indeed.’ said Darcy, really wanting to question the creature with whom this entire sorry adventure began, but his innate breeding insisted a mundane comment must be addressed in kind”

Overall, Darcy in Wonderland is a whimsical delight that is sure to be enjoyed by most readers.  It’s not to be missed if you are a Pride and Prejudice fan, it is a wonderful continuation of the story.

Book Source:  Review Copy from author Alexa Adams as part of the Blog Tour.  Thank-you!

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie

Why would I read Murder on the Orient Express? I have heard about this book my entire life, but I had never read any Agatha Christie novels.  I have watched and greatly enjoyed Poirot and Miss Marple mysteries on Masterpiece Theatre on PBS.  This book appears on a lot of “must read” book lists. With a new movie now being made, I thought this would be a perfect book to investigate as my August Flicks Book and Movie Club selection.

The Orient Express is heading from the Middle East to Paris when a passenger is murdered in the middle of the night. The murder happened just before the train got stuck in a snowbank so the murdered must be someone on the train. Who killed this passenger and why?  Luckily Hercule Poirot, the great Belgium detective is on the case. 

Most of the chapters in this novel are interviews of all of the passengers on the train.  Unlike usual days this time of year, the train was fully booked with an eccentric cast of characters from across Europe and America.  Their interviews were entertaining, but Poirot’s unique interviewing style kept one guessing until the end what the answer would be.

I thought this made a good book club selection.  It was short and a book everyone had heard of, but hadn’t read.  The two that made it to book club also liked the book structure with the interviews being separate chapters.  They both liked Hercule Poirot himself as he was quite the eccentric character.  The other characters were also interesting and prompted discussion which was a favorite or most likely suspect when reading the book.  The ending was unique and provided a moral quandary that also made for a good discussion.  I also brought into the discussion the point that I found it interesting that a crime tied into the murder eerily paralleled the Lindbergh kidnapping.  When I checked the copyright of the book, it only took place one year after the Lindbergh case and probably made it very topical in its day.

Overall, I enjoyed Murder on the Orient Express and thought it was a good mystery that provided a good source of discussion for a book club.  I think the unique characters and ending make this a classic book that is always good to discuss.

Favorite quotes:

“That implies a detached attitude.  I think my attitude is more selfish.  I have learned to save myself useless emotion.”

“I am not a Jugo-Slavian detective, Madame.  I am an international detective . . . I belong to the world.” – Poirot on himself.

“This was not a man who had to have information dragged from him.  It gushed out.”

What Agatha Christie novel should I read next?

Book Source:  I bought this at a used book sale years ago and finally read it as part of The Classics Club.

Anyone as excited about the movie as I am?

Monday, August 14, 2017

Death on the Prairie by Kathleen Ernst

Death on the Prairie is a perfect novel to take with you on a road trip to see the Laura Ingalls Wilder sites in South Dakota.

Chloe Ellefson is a curator at Old World Wisconsin.  A family friend asks for her help to determine where to donate a family heirloom – a quilt from Laura Ingalls Wilder.  Chloe decides to take the quilt on a road trip to the Laura Ingalls Wilder 
Symposium in de Smet, South Dakota that she has been invited to speak.  She invites along her sister Kari, who has always been the perfect sister Mary to her Laura.

As they begin their tour of the Laura Ingalls Wilder homesteads, they make new friends, but also notice a disturbing trend of unexpected violence at each stop.  What sinister plot is following the Laura Ingalls Wilder tour?  Is the quilt an actual Ingalls family relic?  What is troubling Chloe’s sister Kari?  What about her boyfriend Roelke?

I feel like this book was a love letter to all Laura Ingalls Wilder fans full of great tidbits. The story alternated between Chloe and Roelke’s viewpoint.  I liked how Roelke had a lot of deep thoughts about whether he should buy his old family farm or not and he also read Farmer Boy.  This blended in well with Chloe’s story.  I really want to learn more about this couple and their relationship, I need to read more of this series!

I enjoyed that the story was very much about sisterly bonds.  Chloe had always thought her adult sister was the way she thought was as a child. Chloe really finally got to know her sister as an adult.  Both sisters found out much more about each other; how they both envied each other and who they are as people.

I also liked the 1980’s setting for the book and the wonderful detailed website author Kathleen Ernst has for more information on all of her novels and this series of mysteries.  I definitely want to check out more books in this series!

Favorite Quote:

“In grad school I wrote a paper arguing that although Little House in the Big Woods is a novel, the historical processes Laura described – churning butter, butchering, maple sugaring – were authentic, and thus acceptable as partial documentation for historic sites’ programing.” – I had never thought about this before.  I thought it was very interesting.  I’ve always wanted to visit Old World Wisconsin and I want to even more now!

Overall Death on the Prairie is a great mystery with great characters and a great love of Laura Ingalls Wilder.

Book Source:  Purchased at Peninsula Bookman in Fish Creek, Wisconsin.

Laura Ingalls Wilder: A Writer’s Life by Pamela Smith Hill

I love the cover of this biography.  I had never seen this image before, Laura looks lovely and quite stylish.  I purchased this biography while vacationing in De Smet, South Dakota this past June.  It seemed a perfect read for our trip into the land of Laura.

This biography is not an in depth look at the details of Laura’s life, but more a look at what shaped Laura as a writer.  I was very interested that she had the idea jotted down for writing children’s’ book about her pioneer childhood back in 1902 after Pa’s death.  She saved her first foray into literature with a poem that she wrote in school.  It seems that becoming an author was a lifelong dream of Wilder’s.

Laura earned extra income as an adult writing articles on farm life for the Missouri Ruralist and other papers.  I found it interesting that she also was published in a major magazine, McCall’s, as well due to urging from her daughter Rose.

Laura and Rose had a unique relationship.  They actually both became established authors at the same time, but Rose was known on the national level, while Laura was local.  Rose pushed Laura to write and helped her when she first tried to publish her autobiography, Pioneer Girl.  Rose also helped herself to using Laura’s story from Pioneer Girl in her own adult fiction.  This caused understandable fiction in the family.  It was interesting that the biography noted that if they wouldn’t have been mother and daughter, Rose would have ended up in court due to plagiarism charges.

With Rose’s help, Laura crafted children’s books from Pioneer Girl.  Laura was a gifted writer and Rose was a gifted editor.  It was very interesting how they took a true story and fictionalized it to tell a tale.  There has been much debate about this through the years as well as on the true authorship of the books, but research has shown that Laura wrote the novels with Rose’s editorial guidance.  They had a great partnership.

Favorite quotes:           
“I began to think what a wonderful childhood I had had.  I had seen the whole frontier, the woods, the Indian country of the Great Plains, the frontier towns, the building of railroads in wild, unsettled country, homesteading and farmers coming in to take possession. . . Then I understood that in my own life I represented a whole period of American history.”  - Laura Ingalls Wilder

“Did Wilder’s adolescence, spent describing people, places, and scenes for Mary, contribute to her development as first a storyteller and later a writer? “ – I’ve always wondered this myself.

“The snow was scudding low over the drifts of the white world outside the little claim shanty.  It was blowing thru the cracks in its walls and forming little piles and miniature drifts on the floor and even on the desks before which several children sat, trying to study, for this abandoned claim shanty that had served as the summer home of a homesteader on the Dakota prairies was being used a s a schoolhouse during the winter.”  - This was from a column Laura Ingalls Wilder wrote in 1924.  She already had perfected her vivid descriptions that she used in her later fiction.

“Nevertheless, she struggled with the idea that her worked lacked artistry, that she wrote what sold rather than what would endure.”  Rose Wilder Lane.  I’ll admit, I’ve only read her fiction because of her mother and it lacks the artistry and enduring quality of her mother’s work.

Overall, Laura Ingalls Wilder:  A Writer’s Life is a great work on the process Wilder went through to create her classic works and the great partnership that Wilder and Lane had that allowed this work to flourish.  This is a must read for Laura Ingalls Wilder fans.

Book Source:  Purchased at the Ingalls Family Homestead in de Smet, South Dakota