Thursday, July 17, 2014

A Lantern in Her Hand by Bess Streeter Aldrich

A Lantern in Her Hand is one of my mother’s favorite books.  She recommended it to me when I was in middle school.  I read it and loved it.  I’ve read it a few times since then, but not since becoming a mother myself.  As it is a great book about the sacrifices that a mother made during pioneer days, I thought it was a good June pick for the FLICKS Book and Movie club, which is made up entirely of mothers.

The book starts off with an introduction about an old pioneer woman in Nebraska, Abbie Deal. The introduction ends with “This is the story of the old lady who died while the meat burned and the children played ‘Run, Sheep, Run’ across her yard.”  To me, this was an explosive beginning to the novel. Abbie Mackenzie is the daughter of a Scottish aristocrat and an Irish peasant.  With their fortune lost, her parents move to America.  Her father unfortunately dies young, but her mother moves her large family out west to Iowa.  As a child, Abbie dreams of returning to the life that her Grandmother Mackenzie had as a wealthy woman.  She meets Will Deal, a sensitive neighbor boy.  She grows into a beautiful young woman with an exquisite singing voice and great ambitions.  Ed Matthews, Doc Matthew’s son who is getting educated out East, wants to marry Abbie and take her East for training, but she can’t forget about Will Deal who is fighting in the Civil War in Ed’s place.  As Abbie marries, has children, and faces difficulties in life, she consistently sacrifices her dreams in order to fulfill the dreams of her children.

This brought about an interesting discussion at book club.  Should one sacrifice all for one’s children?  Is it selfish to keep some ambition for oneself?   While Abbie and her sacrifices were heartwarming as was her total dedication to her children, at times it was heartbreaking in the book when she wasn’t able to fulfill any of her dreams.  Two other book club members read the book, but sadly, they did not love it as much as me.  I think the old fashioned language (written in the 1920’s) and skips through time turned them off.  They felt it was very rushed trying to tell Abbie’s entire life story in one book.  Reading it again myself, I still loved it.  It was a bit rushed, but I liked how it went through Abbie’s entire life and seemed to take more time at the end for life reflection.  Abbie was proud of how she was able to help her children to succeed in life and felt her sacrifices were well founded.  I thought it was an admirable quality!

I was also struck in the book by just how alone you were as a pioneer woman.  At one point Abbie is helping her husband dig a well.  She hits herself on the head with the well handle while bringing her husband out of the well and knocks herself out.  She awakens to her crying one year old and leaves him to cross the prairie and look for help as she can’t get her husband out of the well.  Yes, she left her one year old next to an open hole in the ground to seek help as there was no other alternative.  She also has to travel with morning sickness in a covered wagon out west . . . with my hypomesis gravidum, which would have been the end to me!  I loved the detail of the trials of being a pioneer woman.  It gave me respect again for our ancestors and their struggles to find a good life for themselves.

Some of my favorite quotes from the book:
“If you want a garden – You’ve got to dream a garden.”

“You are so much a part of me, that if you were taken away, I think it would seem that you just went on with me.  And I’m sure if I were the one taken I would go on with you, remembering all you had been to me.”

“It was the only old home the children had ever known.  There ought to be a home for children to come to, - and their children, - a central place, to which they could always bring their joys and sorrows – an old familiar place for  them to return to on Sundays and Christmases.  An old home ought always to stand like a mother with open arms.  It ought to be here waiting for the children to come to it, - like homing pigeons.”

“Grace was loath to accept the decision.  ‘As I said, I’m sorry.  You owe it to yourself, if you possibly can go.  Your life has been so narrow, Mother . . . just here, all the time.  You ought to get out now and see things.’

Unwittingly, as so often she did, Grace had hurt her Mother’s feelings.  For a moment Abbie nursed her little hurt, and then she said quietly, ‘You know Grace, its queer, but I don’t feel narrow.  I feel broad.  How can I explain it to you, so you would understand?  I’ve seen everything . . . and I’ve hardly been away from this yard.  I’ve seen the sun set behind the Alps over there when the clouds have been piled up on the edge of the prairie.  I’ve seen the ocean billows in the rise and fall of the prairie grass.  I’ve seen history in the making . . . three ugly wars flare up and die down.  I’ve sent a lover and two brothers to one, a son and son-in-law to another and two grandsons to the other.  I’ve seen the feeble beginnings of a raw state and the civilization that developed there, and I’ve been part of the beginning and part of the growth.  I’ve married . . . and borne children and looked into the face of death.  Is childbirth narrow, Grace?  Or marriage?  Or death?  When you’ve experienced all of those things, Grace, the spirit has traveled although the body has been confined.  I think travel is a rare privilege and I’m glad you can have it.  But not every one who stays at home is narrow and not every one who travels is broad.  I think if you understand humanity . . . can sympathize with every creature . . . can put yourself into the personality of every one . . . you’re not narrow . . . you’re broad.’”

Overall, A Lantern in her Hand is a classic pioneer tale that also is a wonderful tale of a mother.  I loved reading it again.

Book Source:  An original copy from 1928 that I picked up at an antique store earlier in my life.

On Folly Beach by Karen White

Title: On Folly Beach
Author: Karen White
Read by:  Lyssa Brown
Publisher: Listen & Live Audio
Length: 14 hours and 13 minutes
Source:  MP3 Audio through Wisconsin Public Library Consortium – Overdrive on my Droid

On Folly Beach is an intriguing novel that combines mystery, historical fiction, and contemporary fiction.  It is overall a novel of accepting what life has dealt you and learning how to move on.  I listened to it as an audiobook and vastly enjoyed it.  The story bounces back and forth between 2009 and 1943.

In 2009 Emmy Hamilton is a widow who has lost her husband to the war in Afghanistan.  Stuck in Indiana mourning her husband, her mother helps her to get interested in books from a store in North Carolina that has mysterious inscriptions in them.  Emmy buys the book store from a woman named Abigail and moves to Folly Beach.  Once there, she meets Abigail and her handsome architect son Heath.  She also meets Abigail mysterious aunt-in-aw, Lulu who happens to come with the store purchase.

In 1943, Lulu is a young girl that is being raised by her older sister Maggie after her parent’s death.  Their beautiful cousin Cat lives with them.  While Maggie always believes in the good in Cat, Lulu soon realizes that Cat is playing Maggie after she steals her love, Jim, and marries him herself.  Maggie meets someone new that she loves, Peter, but he has secrets of his own that could destroy them all.

Overall, I highly enjoyed this book.  Lyssa Brown was a wonderful narrator.  The characters and plot were excellent and made me want to keep listening and learn more.  This is especially a great summer read!

The Intrigue by M.C. Beaton

Title: The Intrigue
Author: M.C. Beaton (Marion Chesney)
Read by:  Charlotte Anne Dore
Publisher: AudioGO
Length: 5 hours and 4 minutes
Source:  MP3 Audio through Wisconsin Public Library Consortium – Overdrive on my Droid

The Intrigue is the second book in the Daughters of Mannerling series after The Banishment.  If you liked The Banishment, The Intrigue follows the same basic premise.  Mannerling was a beautiful family estate that the daughters of Sir Beverly were very, very proud of.  After he gambles the estate away, they scheme to find ways to win the estate back.  In the first novel, the eldest daughter Isabella fails in the scheme and instead marries an Irish lord that she loves.  In this novel, the second daughter, Jessica works to win the hand of the son of the new owners, Harry Devers.  Unfortunately Harry is a drunken womanizer, but Jessica is fond of Professor Robert Sommerville.  Will Jessica follow the path of true love or will she get back the estate that her family desires?

I love regency romances.  Although this one had the same simplistic plot as the first novel, I enjoyed listening to it.  Charlotte Anne Dore was a good narrator and it was a quick story to get through.  If you are looking for something light and romantic to listen to, I highly recommend this book!

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Northanger Abbey by Val McDermid

Northanger Abbey is a Jane Austen novel that I learned to appreciate as I grew older.  I loved the parody of the gothic romance, but also loved the sensitivity and wit of Henry Tilney.  I also loved how Catherine Morland is a teenager out in the world for the first time by herself and how she learned the hard lessons of who are your true friends.  I was excited to hear that author Val McDermid was going to write an update of Northanger Abbey, but I wasn’t sure how this novel could be updated to modern times.

I think Val McDermid did an excellent job with the translation to modern times.  Instead of gothic romance, “Cat” Morland loves Twilight and the vampire genre.  She loves to read, but also longs for an adventure of her own.  Growing up in Piddle Valley as the homeschooled daughter of a Vicar, Cat has lived a very sheltered life.  She is very excited to be invited by her neighbors, the Allens to attend the Fringe Festival in Edinburgh.  Mr. Allen is a scout for top new plays to bring to London.  He has been ill so his wife Susie wants to go to Edinburgh with him to watch over him.  She does not enjoy the same entertainment as him so she wants to bring along Cat to keep her company.

While in Edinburgh, Cat meets the handsome Henry Tilney through learning Scottish dances at a dance school.  She also meets the Thorpe family and becomes good friends with one daughter, Bella.  She is not as enamored by Bella’s brother Johnny and is surprised to learn that her brother James knows the Thorpe family and Bella quite well.  Cat learns more about the Tilney family and starts to think their lives match one of her vampire gothic novels.  Is everything the way it seems?

I really enjoyed this novel and thought it was a great update.  Putting the vampire novels and social media into the book worked really well.  Also having Cat a homeschooled girl from a small town explained a lot of her naiveté.  I also loved the secondary star of the novel,   Edinburgh.  Fans of the original will know that the trip was to Bath, but Edinburgh worked quite well in this novel.  The festival sounds fantastic – I would love to attend!!

Overall, a great update to a great classic.

Book Source:  The Kewaunee Public Library

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Mr. Darcy’s Pledge by Monica Fairview

Monica Fairview is one of my favorite Austen Authors.  Her novel, The Other Mr. Darcy, is my favorite Austen sequel and I’ve given it as a gift to a few different friends.  I was very excited to be given the opportunity to review Monica Fairview’s newest book, Mr. Darcy’s Pledge.

Mr. Darcy’s Pledge is a Pride and Prejudice variation, not a sequel.  In this variation, Mr. Darcy proposed to Elizabeth Bennet, but then withheld his letter of explanation from her and returned to Pemberley.  While at Pemberley, Mr. Darcy is determined to bring his sister out in society and to help accomplish this, he knows he needs a wife.  He starts a list of all of the qualities he would love to see in a wife, but when meeting a visitor to his neighborhood, the beautiful Miss Marshall, he thinks she may embody everything on his list. Yet the ghost of Elizabeth haunts him and makes him remember many qualities in a wife that Miss Marshall seems to lack.  Mr. Darcy also seeks the assistance of the Bingleys on his task.  When fate throws Elizabeth his way, what will Mr. Darcy do?

I loved this variation.  Fairview really knows and loves the Austen characters and writes them so realistically.  I love Darcy’s inner turmoil in this book.  I also love Georgiana’s bit of spunk when she decides she does not like Miss Marshall and does want Darcy to marry her.  The new characters introduced (Mr. Darcy’s Uncle and Aunt, Miss Marshall) are perfectly drawn, interesting, and amusing.  I enjoyed this book and read it fairly quickly.  I was excited that it is Volume I and there will be another book in this series.  I can’t wait to read further!

Overall, Mr. Darcy’s Pledge is an Austen Variation not to be missed!

Book Source:  A review copy from Monica Fairview.  Thank-you!