Posts Tagged ‘Laura Ingalls Wilder’

roots and sky book table sunglasses

My reading this month – like my life – has been a little scattered. But I have still found a few really good books. Here’s the latest roundup:

The After-Room, Maile Meloy
Gifted teenagers Janie and Benjamin are trying to live a normal life in 1950s Michigan. But Benjamin is grieving his father’s death, and their friend Jin Lo is somewhere in China trying to avert a nuclear war. This third book in Meloy’s middle-grade trilogy is confusing (so many plotlines!) but full of engaging characters. I liked the first book, The Apothecary, the best.

The Baker’s Daughter, D.E. Stevenson
When artist John Darnay moves to a remote Scottish town, Sue Pringle goes to work as his housekeeper – and falls in love with him. Another lovely, gentle 1930s novel from Stevenson, with entertaining characters. I particularly liked Sue herself and her kind grandfather.

Presence: Bringing Your Boldest Self to Your Biggest Challenges, Amy Cuddy
I loved Cuddy’s TED talk on presence and “power poses.” Her book delves into the research behind her theories: she explores the body-mind connection and how we can “nudge” ourselves toward a more authentic, less anxious state of mind in challenging situations. A little long, but there’s some good stuff here.

Winter, Marissa Meyer
This fourth book in Meyer’s Lunar Chronicles finds Cinder (cyborg, mechanic, long-lost princess) and her ragtag crew scrambling to defeat the evil Queen Levana. Some witty lines (especially from Carswell Thorne) and so many battle scenes. Too long and too gory, but I’m glad I finished out the series.

The Murder of Mary Russell, Laurie R. King
I adore King’s series featuring Sherlock Holmes and his irascible, whip-smart, complicated partner Mary Russell. This 14th entry explores the origin story of Mrs. Hudson – a fascinating new angle. Richly layered, witty, gripping and so good. To review for Shelf Awareness (out April 5).

Roots and Sky: A Journey Home in Four Seasons, Christie Purifoy
Christie writes a beautiful blog about life at Maplehurst, the old Pennsylvania farmhouse where she lives with her family. Roots and Sky is the story of coming home to Maplehurst, enjoying the seasons there and sometimes struggling with this complicated, beautiful gift. Gorgeously written, wise, luminous and occasionally heartbreaking. This was my Most Anticipated pick for 2016 at Great New Books, and it did not disappoint.

Keep Me Posted, Lisa Beazley
Sisters Cassie and Sid Sunday adore one another, but have grown apart in adulthood. They begin writing snail-mail letters to reconnect, and it works beautifully – until the letters end up on the Internet. Funny, insightful and warmhearted. I particularly loved the deep bond between Sid and Cassie. To review for Shelf Awareness (out April 5).

Valiant Ambition: George Washington, Benedict Arnold and the Fate of the American Revolution, Nathaniel Philbrick
Today, the name “Benedict Arnold” is synonymous with “traitor,” but it wasn’t always thus. Philbrick delves into the early uncertain years of the American Revolution to trace Arnold’s journey from war hero to turncoat. His portraits of Arnold and George Washington are complex and thoughtful. I got bogged down by the (many) detailed accounts of battles, but once the espionage began, I was riveted. To review for Shelf Awareness (out May 10).

Little Beach Street Bakery, Jenny Colgan
After Polly’s business and her relationship both fall apart, she moves to an isolated beach town on a whim. Baking bread is her hobby, but before long it becomes her livelihood – and she finds a new home in Mount Polbearne. Light, sweet chick lit with quirky characters. (I loved Neil the puffin.) Found at the Strand last fall.

The Long Winter, Laura Ingalls Wilder
I pick up this old favorite every winter – and though we haven’t had (nearly) as much snow as last year, I still love seeing Laura and Pa and their family weather the long winter on the South Dakota plains.

Links (not affiliate links) are to my favorite local bookstore, Brookline Booksmith.

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tulips table book bowl curry lunch

It is bleak (snowy) midwinter over here – the season for strong cups of tea and lots of books. Here’s what I’ve been reading so far this month:

The Bees, Carol Ann Duffy
This poetry collection was a Secret Santa gift from a colleague. Duffy’s language is stunning and often highly political. Poems about bees are woven throughout. Lovely.

Rules for the Dance: A Handbook for Reading and Writing Metrical Verse, Mary Oliver
I love Oliver’s poetry and found much to ponder in this exploration of metrical verse. She explains the technical terms but also drops in some beautiful words about why poetry matters.

Recipes for a Beautiful Life, Rebecca Barry
A wry, insightful, often hilarious memoir of marriage, home renovation, life with young children, and the slow realization that chasing your dreams is hard work. To review for Shelf Awareness (out April 7).

Mrs. Tim Carries On, D.E. Stevenson
World War II has broken out, and Mrs. Tim is bravely carrying on, despite having to manage her own troubles and everyone else’s. I loved this second installment of her adventures – witty, amusing, occasionally poignant.

The Long Winter, Laura Ingalls Wilder
I’ve never seen anything like the snow we’re getting this winter – but at least I’m not stuck in a tiny, isolated prairie town, living on wheat. I love every page of the Ingalls family’s adventures, and the ending makes me cry.

Murder at the Brightwell, Ashley Weaver
Unhappy in her marriage, socialite Amory Ames agrees to go on a seaside holiday with an old friend – only to encounter a web of murders and lies. A sparkling, witty 1930s mystery with a wonderful narrator. A perfect snow day read.

Salt & Storm, Kendall Kulper
Avery Roe has always believed it’s her destiny to become the sea witch of Prince Island. But when a troubling dream shows her another fate, she must figure out how to stop it – if she can. Fierce, luminous and gorgeously written.

Most links (not affiliate links) are to my favorite local bookstore, Brookline Booksmith.

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harvard yard snow blue sky

The air bit her cheeks and scorched the inside of her nose with cold. The sky was coldly blue and the whole world was white. Every blade of grass was furry with frost, the path was frosted, the boards of the well were streaked with thick frost, and frost had crept up the walls of the shanty, along the narrow battens that held the black tar-paper on.

Then the sun peeped over the edge of the prairie and the whole world glittered. Every tiniest thing glowed rosy toward the sun and pale blue toward the sky, and all along every blade of grass ran rainbow sparkles.

Laura loved the beautiful world.

—The Long Winter, Laura Ingalls Wilder

I reread this book every winter, when the snow comes and we settle in for the long, hard slog before spring. I love Laura’s stick-to-it pioneer spirit and Pa’s fiddle music, and the depictions of that terrible winter in De Smet remind me that it could always be worse. (Though after three feet of snow in the past week, I am dying for a getaway to somewhere warm – an option the Ingalls family certainly didn’t have.)

This scene comes before the hard winter begins, when Laura goes to draw water from the well on the morning of the first frost. Even though the frost has killed the garden, and Laura knows that prairie winters are long and dark, she can’t help but catch her breath at its beauty.

As I fight my way through the ice and slush over here, I’m taking every glimpse of beauty I can get – including the glint of sunlight on snow. Even though it’s frigid today, scraps of blue sky like the ones above (spotted in Harvard Yard last week) are saving my life.

Like Laura, I love the beautiful world. (Though I’m ready for it to be a little warmer.)

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NYC 112

Perfect Scoundrels, Ally Carter
Kat Bishop and her crew of teenage thieves are back – but this time they’re not stealing art. Kat’s boyfriend, Hale, has inherited his grandmother’s billion-dollar company after her sudden death, and Kat senses something fishy. But Hale is proud to be his grandmother’s heir; how can she tell him the will may be a fake? Carter writes fast-paced, well-plotted, witty stories with great ensemble casts (I love Kat’s crew of thieves and her Uncle Eddie), but somehow the romance felt lacking in this book. Still a fun ride, like all her books.

The Long Winter, Laura Ingalls Wilder
I’ve returned to this book every winter since we moved to Boston, and I spent part of the recent blizzard curled up on the couch with it. I love the Ingalls family’s closeness, their singing, their humor and grit and perseverance, and the way they glory in the simple things, even when the winter winds howl outside. And I wanted to slip into the feed store for some pancakes with those Wilder brothers. Vivid and hopeful and altogether wonderful.

Full Dark House, Christopher Fowler
A bomb blows up the office of the London police’s Peculiar Crimes Unit, killing one of the unit’s oldest (and quirkiest) employees, Arthur Bryant. John May, Bryant’s partner, reflects on their decades-long collaboration, which began during the Blitz of World War II. As he remembers their first case, he wonders if there’s a link to the present-day bombing. The first in a series following Bryant and May (an Odd Couple-esque pairing) and their unorthodox crime-solving methods. Fun, but I didn’t love it quite as much as I wanted to.

Garment of Shadows, Laurie R. King
Mary Russell wakes alone in a strange room in Morocco, with no memory of who she is or how she got there. Meanwhile, Sherlock Holmes is trying to find her, while becoming increasingly preoccupied with the region’s volatile politics. A brilliant mix of history, adventure, political intrigue and wonderful supporting characters (including Mahmoud and Ali, whom we have encountered before). Russell’s ingenious mind and quick reflexes are on display, as is King’s fascination with the Arab world. Wonderful.

A Future Arrived, Phillip Rock
I loved this last volume in the saga of the Greville family, which follows the main characters (and their children) through the late 1930s to the beginning of World War II. Martin Rilke introduces his young brother-in-law to the world of journalism; Lady Alexandra’s son becomes a pilot; and everyone wonders how this war will compare to the last one. Well plotted and excellently drawn; lots of familiar faces and I enjoyed watching the new generation come of age.

The Sun Also Rises, Ernest Hemingway
I’ve not read much Hemingway except for A Moveable Feast, which I adore. But I found this tale of Jake Barnes, Lady Brett Ashley and their friends tedious and frustrating. They may have been a “lost generation,” but none of the characters are likeable, and I found the prose style choppy. I did enjoy the descriptions of Pamplona, since I’ve been there, and of bullfighting. On the whole, a dud for me.

This post contains IndieBound affiliate links.

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Nemo, aka The Blizzard of 2013, is over. (Why anyone decided to name such a monstrous storm after a little lost clownfish is beyond me.) We ended up with more than two feet of snow, more than I’ve ever seen at one time. On Saturday afternoon, our street (and cars) looked like this:

nemo snow storm feb 2013

My workplace was closed on Friday, and J got home before the snow and wind kicked into high gear. We had a cozy afternoon with books, tea, Sleepless in Seattle, and popcorn. The evening was cozy too, with tomato soup and grilled cheese, card games and more tea. And then, as we were brushing our teeth, the power went out.

I don’t like to think of myself as a sissy. But the next 23 hours were rough.

We stayed in bed late Saturday morning, then spent a couple of hours freeing our cars from the snowbanks:

snow shovel car nemo storm feb 2013

We did have hot water (thank heaven), so we treated ourselves to hot showers, then spent the afternoon huddled under blankets, sipping tea and piling on more layers as the apartment grew colder. I spent my afternoon with the Ingalls family (for perspective and a little courage), reading about the winter when they endured seven months of blizzards. I marveled, as always, at their grit and resourcefulness, and these words gave me pause:

Everything has changed too fast. Railroads and telegraph and kerosene and coal stoves—they’re good things to have but the trouble is, folks get to depend on ’em.

—The Long Winter, Laura Ingalls Wilder

Pa’s words made me sharply aware of how much we depend on our modern conveniences. Refrigerators, heaters, cell phones, microwaves, the Internet – all completely useless without electricity. I did light our gas stove several times to make tea and heat up soup, but otherwise we simply had to keep wrapping up in coats and blankets and sweaters. The roads were clogged with snow (we saw several cars struggle to make it down the street, spinning their wheels uselessly), and our entire town had lost electricity. We couldn’t depend on any of the usual things.

But we could, and did, clear the snow away from our cars with muscle and hard work. We accepted sandwiches and cups of hot chocolate from our elderly neighbors, who live downstairs. We drank cup after cup of steaming tea, thankful for gas stoves and matches. And as the dark came down, we settled in for an evening of board games by candlelight.

Nemo 011

(After this photo was taken, I put on a hat and coat. It was 47 degrees in our apartment.)

Nemo 012

About nine, the heater kicked on – which meant the power was back. We whooped and danced for joy, and laughed like children. I have never been so thankful for warmth. (And what a luxury it was to wake up Sunday morning, warm all over.)

I’m back to depending on some of the usual conveniences – email, my kitchen appliances, public transportation, the Internet. And I am deeply grateful to be warm again. But I’ll remember Nemo not only for the record-breaking snow, but for the reminder that I can count on my husband’s sense of humor, my neighbors’ kindness, and my own grit and courage. (And besides, the whole weekend – now that it’s over – makes a good story.)

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Laura guided Mary through the lean-to, and they all burst out into the glittering cold. The sun glare blinded them and the cold took their breath away.

“Throw back your arms and breathe deep, deep!” Laura cried. She knew that cold is not so cold if you are not afraid of it. They threw back their arms and breathed the cold in, and through their cringing noses it rushed deep into their chests and warmed them all over. Even Mary laughed aloud.

The Long Winter, Laura Ingalls Wilder

snow boston public garden winter shadows trees

Three times now, J and I have hopped a plane a few days before Christmas, heading south to spend the holidays with our families in Texas. Inevitably, we hear the same question a few dozen times: “How’s your winter up there in Boston?”

What most Texans don’t know – and what we didn’t know before we moved here – is that winter in Boston really starts in January.

In 2010, we flew back from Dallas to find our cars half buried in 14 inches of snow – a shocking introduction to Northeastern winters. This year, we only found a few inches of snow (now melted), but the below-freezing temps – including a couple of single-digit mornings – have more than made up for that. (We did have a rogue 60-degree day recently, but the temps are on their way back down.)

I’ve been bundling up in my down jacket, complete with scarf, hat and gloves; wearing my faux-fur-lined boots with tights and knee socks; and marveling at how much warmer 30 degrees feels than 8. (Yes, eight. With a windchill of -5.)

But I am also trying to take Laura’s advice – maybe not throwing back my arms, but remembering to breathe deeply, and plunge on ahead through the cold. Since Laura survived her share of bitter prairie winters, I figure she knows what she’s talking about.

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As an inveterate rereader, I’ve regularly spent time with some beloved childhood heroines – Anne Shirley, Betsy Ray, Sara Stanley – as an adult. But until last winter, I hadn’t reread any Laura Ingalls Wilder books in at least 15 years.

Then (you may recall) it snowed and snowed and snowed – so I picked up The Long Winter, both to remind myself that the Ingalls had it far worse than we had, and to see if I could glean some of Laura’s and Pa’s “We’ll Weather the Blast” spirit. Rereading that book (and then reading the Laura-fan memoirs The Wilder Life and My Life as Laura) made me want to revisit the whole series, and I finally got around to that last month.

I didn’t keep detailed notes as I reread, but several things struck me:

First and foremost: these books are as magical as they ever were. This is the secret of a good children’s story: to paraphrase C.S. Lewis, the truly good books from childhood hold up well in adulthood. From the first “Once upon a time, sixty years ago” to the last “Golden years are passing by, happy, happy golden years,” these books had me in thrall as much as they did when I was seven or ten or twelve. I read avidly, sometimes finishing one a day. And I welled up multiple times – on the T, over lunch, in the privacy of my own home.

I reveled in the relationship between Pa and Laura. I know he loves all his girls (like my own sweet dad), but I loved watching her help him, watching them work hard and savor the pioneer life and keep their chins up together. She’s his favorite. They both feel stifled in the prairie towns and would be happy to keep going west, following their wanderlust to the very edge of the world. I can sympathize a little (as can every girl who ever fell in love with Laura). And his fiddle is always there to cheer and comfort, whenever things grow dark.

I remembered the early books – Little House in the Big Woods, Little House on the Prairie, On the Banks of Plum Creek – most vividly from my childhood readings. But this time I found myself drawn to the middle books, especially By the Shores of Silver Lake and The Long Winter. Laura is on the edge of so many transitions here – from pioneer girl to town girl, tomboy to young lady, child to woman. And yet she’s still free, free to ride black ponies with Lena and explore the high prairie and go ice skating with Carrie in the moonlight. She’s not yet quite bound to spend all her time either helping Ma or making money to send Mary to college. And the prairie itself is still fresh and new – vast and wild and ready to explore, with so much to be discovered. The middle books are all about possibility.

I was struck as I always am by the simplicity of the narratives. Laura’s language isn’t fancy, and there are few big, climactic events – but it doesn’t matter. Her descriptions are spot on and often breathtaking, and her characters quietly compelling. I love the Garth Williams illustrations, and the many songs she quotes from (I think we need a Little House songbook), and the family warmth and love that permeates the books.

Do you make a habit of rereading childhood favorites? What do you find in them now that you didn’t find in them as a child?

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