January 2016 Book Reviews

Pioneer Girl: The Annotated Autobiography by Laura Ingalls Wilder. Edited by Pamela Smith Hill. Copyright 2014 by Little House Heritage Trust.

 

This is the basis for the author’s Little House series. She talks about her life from her earliest childhood memories in Kansas in 1869 to her wedding in 1885. She details her family’s many journeys from Kansas to Wisconsin where they previously lived, to Minnesota, to Iowa, then back to Minnesota, and finally to Dakota Territory. She relates many anecdotes and talks about the myriad of characters her family encountered in various locations, many of whom I remember from the Little House series, although some names were changed, and some stories varied.

She also discusses the hardships her family endured including grasshoppers in Minnesota and the blizzard of 1880 in Dakota Territory, the basis for The Long Winter, Wilder’s sixth book in the series. She also explains how her older sister Mary became blind right before the family moved from Minnesota to Dakota Territory. There were other incidents not mentioned in any of the Little House books.

According to Pamela Smith Hill, the editor, the original manuscript was not broken into sections as it is now. Each part details life in each location where the family lived with several sections devoted to their life in Dakota Territory. Scattered throughout the book are footnotes with additional information about a person, place, or thing. There are also strike-throughs and other indications of editing. At the beginning of the book, the editor explains her process, and at the end are appendices and bibliographies of books, magazine articles, and Web sites.

Although I enjoyed reading Laura Ingalls Wilder’s story from her first person point of view, I found the footnotes and editorial insertions distracting. They interrupted the flow of the story and should have been included in a separate appendix. Maybe someday, I’ll write my own autobiography the way Laura Ingalls Wilder did. I’m sure that a hundred years from now, people will be interested in how we live today, just as we are curious about how Laura Ingalls Wilder lived over a century ago.

***

On the Way Home by Laura Ingalls Wilder. Copyright 1962 by Roger Lee McBride.

 

This short book contains diary entries the author made in 1894 while she and her husband Almanzo and daughter Rose, who was seven years old at the time, were traveling from Desmet, South Dakota, to Mansfield, Missouri. They started their journey by covered wagon in mid-July and arrived in Mansfield at the end of August. The chapters preceding and following the diary entries are told from Rose’s point of view. She describes life before the family left South Dakota and after they arrived and were settled in Missouri. At the end, there is some biographical information about Laura and Rose.

I found the diary entries bland. They mainly consisted of a run-down of what happened when with little dialog or expression of emotion. How would it feel to leave your mother and father and friends whom you may never see again and move far away to a place where you’ve never been? Of course Laura and her parents and sisters did a lot of traveling, never staying in one place longer than a few years until they settled in Dakota Territory, so she was probably used to it. Still, I would like to have known her thoughts.

Rose’s chapters were more interesting. She doesn’t appear to have been given much credit for her part in the book. I was left wanting to know more.

***

The State We’re in by Ann Beattie. Copyright 2015.

 

From the author of Chilly Scenes of Winter, a book I read years ago in college, comes a collection of short stories set in the state of Maine, hence the title. These tales aren’t so much about the state as about the people. Three of them are about a teen-aged girl from Massachusetts sent to live with her uncle and aunt in Maine while her mother recovers from surgery. Other tales are about different people such as two writers who meet for lunch to discuss Truman Capote and a couple from Maine who vacation in Nevada and have an opportunity to watch a movie being made. Some stories have endings that are up in the air while others have more definite conclusions. Click here to learn more about Ann Beattie and her work.

This book gave me an idea for my own short story collection centered on a similar theme. I’ve written several tales that take place in Wyoming, my home state, and others that I can adapt so they appear to take place here. Once I get my memoir put to bed, so to speak, I’ll work on this.

 

Abbie J. Taylor 010Author Abbie Johnson Taylor

Front Book Cover - We Shall OvercomeWe Shall Overcome

Cover: How to Build a Better Mousetrap by Abbie Johnson TaylorHow to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver

That’s Life: New and Selected Poems

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What I Read in May

Prairie Tale: A Memoir by Melissa Gilbert. Copyright 2009 by Half Pint Enterprises. Published by Simon Spotlight Enterprises, a division of Simon and Schuster, Inc.

 

I first thought this book would be about the author’s experiences starring as Laura on Little House on the Prairie, but it’s not just about that. It’s Melissa Gilbert’s autobiography from her birth until 2009 including photographs.

She describes what it was like to learn as a child that she was unwanted, given up for adoption at birth. She emphasizes the fact that she was taught to hide her feelings and pretend everything was okay during her parents’ divorce, her mother’s re-marrying, her father’s death, and other heartbreaking events during her life. She talks about being involved in Gun Smoke and other movies before she signed on to the cast of Little House on the Prairie.

During her ten years on this television series, she gives detailed descriptions of filming certain episodes, describing how Michael Landon, who wrote and directed the series and starred as Pa, became a surrogate father to her, the irony of how she developed a close friendship with the actress who portrayed Nellie, the nasty little girl who goes to school with Laura, and how she didn’t always get along with Melissa Sue Anderson, who played Laura’s older sister Mary. She also discusses her involvement in The Miracle Worker, The Diary of Ann Frank, and other projects during this time. At the end of those ten years, she explains how Michael Landon wrote the last episode in which the town of Walnut Grove is destroyed to get back at NBC executives for canceling the show.

After Little House, Melissa Gilbert describes the myriad of movies and television programs in which she was involved. She also talks about her relationships with Allan Greenspan and others, her failed marriages to actor Rob Lowe and playwright Bo Brinkman, and her marriage to actor Bruce Boxleitner, and the birth of her two sons, Dakota and Michael. She also talks about saying goodbye to Michael Landon when he was diagnosed with liver cancer and passed away. She discusses her law suit against The National Inquirer over a story they printed that was fabricated by Bo Brinkman and how the stress caused her to give birth to Michael prematurely.

Melissa Gilbert also describes how she became the president of the Screen Actors Guild during the earlier part of this century. She discusses her bout with alcoholism and her work with terminally ill children. She ends the book by describing how she played Ma in a musical production of Little House on the Prairie in Minneapolis and visited Walnut Grove, Minnesota, and Desmet, South Dakota, where Laura Ingalls Wilder spent part of her life.

Reading this book made me realize that the Little House television series sensationalized Laura Ingalls Wilder’s story. Melissa Gilbert’s fans coveted her idyllic Laura Ingalls Wilder life, but Laura Ingalls Wilder’s life was far from idyllic, and although Melissa Gilbert’s family wasn’t battling blizzards, drought, and grasshoppers, she still had her demons.

 

A Little House Sampler by Laura Ingalls Wilder and Rose Wilder Lane. Edited by William T. Anderson. Copyright 1988 by the University of Nebraska Press.

 

This is a collection of essays, poems, and short stories by Laura Ingalls Wilder and her daughter Rose Wilder Lane that appeared in various magazines during the earlier part of the 19th century. Presented in chronological order, much of this work, not contained in Laura’s Little House series, covers her life growing up, her journey with her husband Almanzo and Rose from Desmet, South Dakota, to Mansfield, Missouri, and her life on Rocky Ridge Farm once they were settled in Missouri. This collection also includes some short fiction by Rose that was inspired by their experiences. The editor introduces each piece, and in an epilog, he provides additional information about this mother and daughter’s careers, and of course there are pictures.

I found some of the pieces boring, especially Laura’s articles about her kitchen and dining room on the farm. Others were fascinating. To my astonishment, I learned that Laura’s sister Mary’s blindness was caused by spinal meningitis, not scarlet fever, as indicated in the Little House books. I was interested to read a conversation between Rose and her father about the price of furniture, horses, and farm implements in 1878. I definitely recommend this book to anyone who enjoyed Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House series as a child.

 

Love, Rosie by Cecelia Ahern Copyright 2005

 

This is the story of love between two friends in Ireland, a love that withstands many years of separation. The author tells it in an unusual way through notes passed in school, letters, e-mail and text messages, newspaper articles, and other documents. Alex and Rosie go to school together as children in Dublin and become best friends. In their last year of high school, Alex’s family moves to Boston, Massachusetts, but he and Rosie still keep in touch over the years and visit each other occasionally. When they graduate, Alex is accepted to Harvard, and Rosie plans to attend Boston College to study hotel management. However, when Alex is unable to return to Ireland to accompany Rosie to the last dance of the school year, she is compelled to go with Brian, another boy in her class. They have a one night stand, and when she gets pregnant, he leaves town.

Rosie cancels her plans to go to college, has a daughter, Katy, works at a string of dead end jobs to make ends meet, marries Greg, and divorces him several years later when she finds him cheating on her. She eventually gets her degree in hotel management and opens a bed and breakfast near the beach. On the other hand, Alex becomes a successful heart surgeon in Boston, marries and divorces twice, and has two children. After almost fifty years, Alex and Rosie are together for good, their romantic dream a reality.

There are a couple of reasons why I didn’t want to finish this book. First of all, I found all the note passing and text messaging unrealistic. Yes, children pass notes in school, but at the fast and furious rate these messages seem to be flying, it’s a wonder Rosie and Alex didn’t get caught more often. As an adult, Rosie texts her family and friends constantly while at work. I was afraid that at any minute, her boss would catch her, and she would lose her job. She is fired once, and that could have been the reason. I’ve never known anyone who texts as often as Rosie and other characters do. I would have liked to see more narrative mixed with messages.

Then, there’s Rosie’s attitude. When she becomes pregnant with Brian’s child, she blames Alex for not being able to come to the dance, thus forcing her to go with Brian and then to sleep with him and become pregnant with his child. I kept thinking that she didn’t have to have sex with Brian, or she could have decided not to keep the baby and go on with her life. When she discovers Greg is cheating on her and decides to move to Boston so she can re-kindle her relationship with Alex who is divorced from his first wife, she receives a letter from Brian, living in Spain, who wants to get to know Katy. She decides to stay in Ireland for that reason and blames Alex for that, too. I wanted to tell her that she could have moved to Boston, and Brian could have just gotten to know Katy there. Then, I wanted to delete the book from my device and not give it another thought, but after some serious consideration, I realized that I wanted to know how it ends, and I’m glad I stuck with it. I like the epilog, a narrative told from Rosie’s point of view, in which she and Alex come together, both free, both ready to love each other.

 

Abbie Johnson Taylor, Author

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What I Read in April

Here’s my monthly book review. Because of all the National Poetry Month activities, I only had time to read two books last month. I’m thankful April is over with for this reason. Maybe this month, I’ll have more time for reading.

 

Last One Home by Debbie Macomber Copyright 2015

 

After downloading this book in a recorded format from Audible and hearing this author’s voice reading her letter to readers at the beginning of the book, I finally learned the correct pronunciation of her last name. (MAY-comb-ber) Not only have I read many of her books but I receive her monthly newsletter via e-mail and am kept up to date on what she’s doing with her family as well as with her writing. She’s a grandmother, but after hearing her voice, I find that hard to believe. She sounds so young.

The Last One Home is a touching story of love, betrayal, and family ties being severed and re-connected. At eighteen years of age and pregnant, Cassie runs away from her family’s home in Spokane, Washington, to Florida with the man she thinks she loves who is the father of her child. Twelve years later after escaping her abusive husband with her daughter, she has moved to Seattle where she works as a hair stylist and is accepted into the Habitat for Humanity program where she will help in the building of her own house. She also volunteers at a shelter, helping other abused women fleeing from their relationships. Her family home has been sold. Her parents are dead, and her older and younger sisters live in Spokane and Portland, Oregon, respectively.

Her first attempts to re-connect with her sisters are met with apathy. The sisters are still bitter toward her for leaving years earlier and breaking their father’s heart. However, after Karen in Spokane offers Cassie some furniture from her family home, the relationship between the three of them gradually re-develops. Cassie also finds herself falling for the man supervising the construction of her home. This is scary to her since she had similar feelings toward her abusive husband when they first met. She’s not sure she’s ready to trust another man.

As in many of Debbie Macomber’s books, the point of view in Last One Home shifts from that of one character to another. We gain a glimpse into the lives of Cassie’s sisters: Karen in Spokane and Nicole in Portland, Oregon, and sub-plots develop. They’re both married with children, and their lives seem ideal until Karen accidentally finds out that her husband was laid off from his job months after the fact and Nicole discovers her husband has been cheating on her. In the end, all three sisters come together to support each other in their trials and tribulations, and things are looking up.

The only character not given a point of view is Duke, Cassie’s abusive husband. He is eventually imprisoned for manslaughter, and I would have liked to know what he was thinking, but who knows what goes on in the heads of men like that? Do they ever see the error of their ways? This book made me mad, at Duke, at Cassie’s sisters for their closed-mindedness in the beginning, and even at Cassie for not admitting at first that she’d made a mistake when she ran away with Duke. I was glad in the end, though.

 

A Wilder Rose: Rose Wilder Lane, Laura Ingalls Wilder, and Their Little Houses by Susan Wittig Albert Copyright 2013

 

This is a fictionalized account of the lives of Laura Ingalls Wilder, author of the Little House series, and her daughter Rose Wilder Lane, spanning ten years between 1928 and 1938 while they were collaborating on most of the books in the series. Telling the story mostly from Rose Wilder Lane’s point of view, the author gives a brief account of Rose’s life growing up. The family was forced to move from their South Dakota home after Rose accidentally set the house on fire at the age of three by putting too much wood in the stove. They settled on a farm near Mansfield, Missouri.

Rose felt guilty for causing the fire and resented farm life. A free spirit, she finally left home at the age of eighteen and became a journalist, traveling all over the country and overseas, getting married and divorced, and giving birth to a son who died as an infant. She finally returned to the family farm in Missouri in 1928 when she felt obligated to help her aging parents. She built them a separate house on the property, wired both houses for plumbing and electricity, and took over the main farm house.

To tell the truth, Rose Wilder Lane was more her mother’s ghost writer. She never wanted credit for the books. Laura wrote the original manuscripts by hand, and Rose typed them, editing and rewriting as she went along. At first, Laura didn’t like her daughter’s revisions, but after Farmer Boy was rejected the way her mother wrote it, she grudgingly agreed to let Rose do the revisions.

Rose not only wrote magazine articles but also fiction, which her mother despised. This was one of many sources of tension between mother and daughter. Several of her short stories and a couple of novels were published during this ten-year period.

Susan Wittig Albert describes other stresses Rose faced during those years. Needless to say, the stock market crash in 1929 and the ensuing depression caused financial worries. Although Rose and her mother lived in separate houses, her mother constantly phoned or stopped by for tea, interrupting her writing. Her writer friends often visited or stayed with her for long periods of time, and her mother didn’t like any of them and was disturbed by gossip about them in the small town. Rose also took in two teen-aged orphaned boys and cared for them as if they were her sons. This all became too much for her, and in 1935, she moved to Columbia, Missouri, so she could be on her own. In 1938, she left Missouri for good and moved to New York where she started doing more political writing.

With her daughter’s help, Laura Ingalls Wilder wrote eight of the books in the Little House series: Little House in the Big Woods, Farmer Boy, Little House on the Prairie, On the Banks of Plumb Creek, By the Shores of Silver Lake, The Long Winter, Little Town on the Prairie, and These Happy Golden Years. These books detail her life growing up in Wisconsin, Minnesota, and South Dakota. After These Happy Golden Years was published, Laura wrote another book on her own, The First Four Years, which details her early life with her husband Almanzo. Since Rose didn’t have a hand in this book, readers were disappointed because the prose wasn’t the same as in the other books.

According to the epilog, Laura Ingalls Wilder died in 1958 after being diagnosed with diabetes. Rose Wilder Lane lived for another eleven years. The book also provides a bibliography of material by Laura Ingalls Wilder, Rose Wilder Lane, and others.

As a kid, I read all the books in the Little House series including The First Four Years. I must have been around twelve when I read that one, and I didn’t notice a difference in the prose, but kids don’t notice these things or care. It’s all about the story.

I also liked the television series, Little House on the Prairie, based on Laura Ingalls Wilder’s story. Melissa Gilbert, the actress who portrayed Laura, wrote a memoir about her experiences called Prairie Tale. I plan to read this book next and will investigate other books by Laura Ingalls Wilder and Rose Wilder Lane.

 

Abbie Johnson Taylor, Author

 

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Little Houses

Today’s poem was inspired by the NaPoWriMo prompt at http://www.napowrimo.net/day-twenty-nine/ . Click on the Dropbox link below the poem to hear me read it.

 

LITTLE HOUSES

 

Laura Ingalls Wilder, the little girl

who lived in the big woods, grew up,

got married, had a daughter,

Rose Wilder Lane, wrote about

her life with Rose’s help.

Her tales delighted me and other children.

 

Now, Susan Wittig Albert

writes about Rose and Laura’s lives during the Depression,

how Rose and Laura collaborated

on the Little House books,

still fascinating to me, but do today’s young people

want to know about life over a hundred years ago?

Do they care about a family on the prairie,

struggling to stay alive through harsh winters, drought?

This book should encourage mothers to read to their daughters,

as mine did, about the little girl in the big woods.

 

https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/15213189/little%20houses.mp3

 

Do you remember reading the little house books when you were a child? Did you have any favorite books in the series that you read more than once? Mine was Little Town on the Prairie, in which Laura, a teen-ager, starts working to support her family and launches her teaching career. I hope to finish Susana Wittig Albert’s book in time to blog about it next week so stay tuned.

 

Abbie Johnson Taylor, Author

 

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