Monthly Archives: June 2017

The World of Laura Ingalls Wilder

THE WORLD OF LAURA INGALLS WILDER:

The Frontier Landscapes That Inspired The Little House Books

by Marta McDowell

Timber Press
2017

368 pages
978-1-60469-727-8

Biography/Environment/Botany
ARC provided by Netgalley and Timber Press.

★★★★★

“It is the simple things of life that make living worthwhile, the sweet fundamental things such as love and duty, work and rest, and living close to nature.” 
— Laura Ingalls Wilder

You want to make someone smile?  Start talking about Laura Ingalls Wilder.

“Once upon a time.” Like many children’s stories, Laura Ingalls Wilder opened Little House in the Big Woods with this quiet invitation to readers to turn their thoughts back in time. Hers was a long story, rooted in her father’s and her husband’s, tales of family and farms and nature – a nature that was sometimes inviting and sometimes ferocious. It began in Wisconsin. (World of Laura Ingalls Wilder, pg 17)

Marta McDowell, a New York Times bestseller in her own right, commemorates Laura’s 150th birthday with this enchanting book filled with flowers, photographs and delightful illustrations of the places, people, flora, fauna and homes that filled Laura and Almanzo’s lives.

Don’t be fooled into thinking this is a childish work. The author has crawled beneath the covers of the Little House books and brought the physical world depicted in Laura’s books aliveNo fairy tale here; just hard working pioneers accepting the challenge of working in harmony with nature.

Stand alongside Laura, first as a child, and later as a mother herself, as she gathers berries and nuts from the forest and fields; meticulously documenting what she has found for future reference. Sweat with her as she boils the berries for preserves in a room already sweltering from the summer heat. Hand her the canning jars and the melted paraffin to seal in the fruit and keep out the spoilers. Stand back as she continues with her daily chores – on to fixing a hearty meal for her exhausted husband.

Head out to the forest with Alamanzo and his axe as he clears land for a new home, fields for the crops and domestic animals. As the years progress, observe his willingness to experiment with crop rotations and research new agricultural equipment to expand and improve their livelihood.

Experience the heartbreak of leaving loved ones and good friends behind after calamity has destroyed your hard work. Step up and take a seat in the wagon as they head out; stoically starting over…again and again. Somewhere else. Sit in the buggy and bounce and jostle along wandering through towering prairie grass toward an unknown future.

With all the hard work necessary just to survive, it will surprise you to see how valuable education and literature was to both the Charles (Pa) Ingalls family and later with Laura and Almanzo.  Where did they find the time in each day? Charles nurtured his children with stories about far away places. Laura has provided generations of children with pioneer pride, responsibility, unity of purpose, community spirit and a love for nature and the world. Her books are as popular as ever today.

Meet Laura’s daughter, Rose, named for the sweet smelling prairie flower that infused the air during the Wilder’s courtship. Learn how Rose, a bestselling author, helped her mother hone her own writing talents.

As each chapter was a diorama of a particular home site, I took my time reading the book. My favorite times were sitting on my screen porch overlooking my garden and I found that I shared Laura’s interest in the cycle of life progressing all around me. Laura and I watched birds hatch, flowers emerge from winter sleep, and note the arrival of summer’s sounds.

This dynamic work doesn’t end at Rocky Ridge Farm on the Wilder’s front porch where Almanzo and Laura enjoyed their waning years. It continues with several chapters that include a tour guide to the Ingalls and Wilder homesites today and a handy table listing all the flowers Laura mentioned in her books along with citations to each referenced. Bonus. Sources of heirloom seeds is provided for the inspired gardener.

Highly recommended reading. Here is the perfect gift for a nature loving friend or relative.

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American War: A Novel

American War : A Novel

by Omar El Akkao

Knopf | 2017
Hardcover: 352 pages
ISBN: 978-0-451-49358-3
Genre: Dystopian Fiction

ARC e-book from Netgalley and publisher in exchange for review

★★★★☆

Omar El Akkad is an Egyptian-born Canadian journalist who has reported on the war in Afghanistan, the Arab Spring uprising, and the Black Lives Matter movement in the United States.

NPR Author Interview

Contemporary American Political Climate

In the current American political climate, split between two extremes for the most part, much of the book will seem prescient. This is a reminder that the book is a novel; a story; not alternative facts. It is not an easy book to read, and for some readers, the topic too emotional or draining to handle at this time. I would recommend reading this with an open and questioning mind

Novel’s Background

It’s 2075. America is beset by flooding linked to climate change and the coastal states have lost significant if not all of their landmass. Washington D.C. was devastated by flooding and the northern capital is now in Columbus, Ohio. World wide temperatures have soared and the continental US experiences unbearable heat. Coastal states have water supplies polluted with salt water and irrigation and agriculture has disappeared.

The US Congress passed a bill prohibiting the use of fossil fuels “in response to decades of adverse climate effects, the waning economic importance of fossil fuels”. The southern states rebelled  to protect the waning coal mining industry and to preserve their southern traditions. The protests led to violence and the assassination of the President.

South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama and Mississippi seceded from the Union in 2074 and formed The Free Southern States (FSS) with it’s capital in Atlanta.

Millions of displaced citizens, some from the ravages of nature and others victims of partisan militias, have been forced into refugee camps. The south, now unable to resupply from the north and western states, is reliant on foreign assistance for food and goods. A rabid civil war, using biological and conventional weapons, raged for the next 20 years.

Story’s Focus

Amid this cacophony of war, we follow the Chestnut family through the nightmare. We meet the twins, Sarat and Dana; polar opposites. Dana, beautiful and admired -ever the family princess is contrasted with Sarat, inquisitive, introverted, furious and observant- over-sized in both body and mind. Simon, the typical teenage boy, is caught up in gangs and searching for his place in this war of against humanity. When their father attempts to take the family north for a better life, he is murdered. The children and their mother are forced into Camp Patience, a misnomer if there ever was one.

At this point the story focuses on Sarat in a story that starts out like Katniss in the Hunger Games as she stalks the edges of mental and physical confinement and ends in unimaginable horror. As we follow Sarat through the years at Camp Patience, we meet evil in the person of Albert Gaines. Gaines slowly and carefully uses Sarat’s anger and fury at the cruel deaths and injuries inflicted on her family to mold her into the perfect weapon for his cause.

Sarat’s radicalization should scare the bejesus out of the reader. If you think your child could resist the pressures of a crafty weasel posing as the answer to their mental confusion about the world- think again. And as Sarat carries out her final mission, the truth of how easy it would be to find this same horror in our own time will rock your world.

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Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine

ELEANOR OLIPHANT IS COMPLETELY FINE

by Gail Honeyman

Pamela Dorman Bks  | 2017
Hardcover: 327 pages
ISBN: 9780735220683
Genre: Women’s Fiction
Review Source: ARC e-book from Edelweiss

★★★★☆

When people ask me what I do…I tell them I work in an office. [I work] for a graphic design company…Bob, the owner [must have felt sorry for me]. I had a degree in Classics and no work experience…I showed up for the interview with a black eye, a couple of missing teeth and a broken arm.

First thing before I write another word…you are going to love Eleanor Oliphant. She’s had a rough life but there’s something very special lurking inside her and she has a quirky personality that makes her endearing.

Pity isn’t a word Eleanor would use about herself. She’s pretty straightforward about everything – one of the first thing you will notice about her is her lack of a mental filter. She is a recluse but when she bumps up against the world she has a way of expressing herself that is unique and sometimes seen as abrasive.

In her first 30 years Eleanor has learned that the world is a cruel place. She only has to look in a mirror to see that half her face was burned in a fire but she has only limited memory of how it happened. She has grown up  in foster homes; passed around like a white elephant gift. It was easier to pack her up and shove her into a new spot than to address why she doesn’t seem to fit into a normal family life.

Yet despite all of life’s misfortunes, Eleanor is perfectly happy just as she is…she sees the world as out-of-step and strange.

I have always taken great pride in managing my life alone. I’m a sole survivor…I don’t need anyone else – there’s no big hole in my life…I am a self-contained entity.

Then two things happen that crack open her self-contained world.

She wins tickets to a rock concert and is star struck by one of the musicians.  This immediate infatuation sends her on a mission to upgrade her image and is convinced that he marry her.

Next, her company computer breaks and she meets a disheveled computer repairman with a gentle spirit and a kind heart. Raymond is the only person in the office that sees her as a person not an object for ridicule and scorn. They begin a routine of lunch hour trips and in time form a social relationship that expands Eleanor’s world.

Eleanor crashes and burns when she learns that her rock star is a jerk. All of her hidden memories of childhood flood back. Her protective shell cracks as she deems herself undeserving of happiness and love. Reaching rock bottom in her life, Eleanor finds the strength to step on that last rung and begin to climb into a brighter and happier future.

As rough as this story sounds, it is not a maudlin book. It reminded me, in a way, of my favorite character in the recent bestseller, Man Called Ove. I was sorry when the book ended but I was cheering and calling out to Eleanor- you go girl! You deserve your new life.

Highly recommended.

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