The World of Laura Ingalls Wilder – Marta McDowell

b06xppyh47-01-_sx142_sy224_sclzzzzzzz_I distinctly remember my mother reading the Little House books to my sister and me before bed, over a longish period of time, as we got them from the library. It was before fourth grade, because it was in our original Portland house. There are only a few books I remember from that bedtime reading series- they had to have something fairly special about them to stick in my mind.

This book talks about Wilder’s connection to the natural world, and how she’d portrayed it in her books. I’d never thought very much about it, but that was definitely one of the things I loved so much about those books – the incredible sense of place she conveys throughout them. I’ve never been to a prairie – but I feel like I’ve experienced it through her eyes in her books.

McDowell breaks down the different landscapes covered by the books, and even certain intervals in the real Ingalls family life that didn’t make it into the more fictionalized version of their life in the book series. (If you want to see the difference – I highly recommend the annotated Pioneer Girl.) She talks about the actual plants and animals Wilder may have encountered, and gives ideas for doing a modern day pilgrimage to those sites. (You can visit the historic sites, but accurate representations of the landscapes are harder to find.) It’s a great book – very interesting for fans of the Little House series, but also an interesting tracing of the natural landscape over the life of a single person, and the wide variety of places she saw, and how much has changed since then. The book ships out at the end of August – I definitely recommend it.

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The Mistresses of Cliveden – Natalie Livingstone

LibraryThing Early Reviewers book.

I’ll admit, I was a little worried about this book based on the preview write up – they’re definitely trying to market this to the Downtown Abbey fan crowd, and have decided to market it accordingly.     I was a afraid it was going to go for a slightly sensationalist bent, but it’s actually a well researched book about this house – built in the 17th century, and five of the women that managed it (the first is a bit of a stretch – Anna Maria Talbot never lived there, but she was definitely an inspiration for the Duke of Buckingham to build it).     Still, these women all have interesting stories, and the history here is an interesting read.

I think my favorite was Harriet, Duchess of Sutherland, who was a very good friend of Queen Victoria, and a political activist in her own right.     (She’s a granddaughter of Georgiana Duchess of Devonshire, and continued in that Whig tradition.)     She’s an interesting person to be so influential in Victoria’s life, and I found that section fascinating.

I do think this is a good book for Downtown Abbey fans, and fortunately, it’s well written and informative.

Sounds and Sweet Airs – Anna Beer

Librarything Early Reviewers book

This book tells the stories of eight women composers, all the way back to the Renaissance Medici court.    I had previously only heard of two of them, which is one of the points of the book, and is also sad.

I minored in music in college (something I am using even less today than I am my Zoology major, but I digress).     I’d found a lot of new composers I’d never heard of through the courses I took for my minor, but you would definitely get the sense from them that women just didn’t compose up until the Romantic period.     Which isn’t at all true, but there were definite barriers to women getting noticed in musical circles, which you can imagine, based on women’s restricted roles in past times.

I think the most disappointing thing I learned is that the marriage of Robert and Clara Schumann was not the romantic musical partnership you get from the quick gloss in a history of music overview course.     Not that I should be  at all surprised, but it’s a little sad that she was more famous than her husband while alive (and more talented), but she’s mostly remembered in the literature more as his wife, and keeper of his legacy, than as a musician and composer in her own right.

This was a fascinating read – it was nice to see some stories of composers going back further in time than I had knowledge of before, and I do hope this is the start of these (and other) women getting wider exposure.

Worlds Elsewhere – Andrew Dickson

I’d never given much thought to Shakespeare in translation – I mean, the thing about his work is his amazing use of the English language.     You find lists of words that he pioneered in his work that we’re still using today.     Heck, we’ve basically moved on from that particular form of the language, and yet, his work is still taught in schools today.

But, it turns out his work has moved around the globe, and in many cases been translated, and Shakespeare has been adopted into other cultures as a national poet/playwright.     Or, his work has come to be associated with some very fraught ideas of colonialism and national identity (see: South Africa), or even with the very nature of what is art for the masses vs. the intellectuals (see: China).

There are five sections: Germany, the US, India, South Africa, and China.     The author travels to each, so you get a really great flavor of the places involved.     It’s just a fascinating read.

Trigger Warning – Neil Gaiman

I think what I most liked about this book was that Gaiman outlined where each of the stories or poems came from in the introduction.      That’s not something authors do often, though he mentioned he thought this was his least thematic short story collection, so perhaps that was his way of pulling things together more for the reader.    It was actually more helpful to get back and read those after reading the stories (which he had in fact recommended), but the quick skim head of time was useful.

This was a good near Halloween read- there were some definite creepy stories involved, but also straight fantasy, like “The Sleeper and the Spindle”, which I had no idea had an unillustrated origin.   (Coincidentally, BF, who is the main Gaiman collector in the house, just purchased the illustrated version – it arrived in the house a day after this book.)

Secondhand Souls – Christopher Moore

It’s been a while since I read the precursor to this book (A Dirty Job) – it’s on my 2007 reading list, but I read it before I actually started the blog that year.     So I definitely had to get back into the world of this story, which took a few chapters.

Charlie Asher was a Death Dealer – the people that collect soul vessels, and pass them along to others by selling them those objects.      He was a single father, and in the course of the last book, discovered that his daughter Sophie is actually the Illuminatus – the Big Death – who will grow up to rule the Underworld and have Dominion over Death (there should be a tm after that statement).     Sadly, in the last book, Charlie died saving everyone from the Morrigan – the Celtic triple War Goddess.

His girlfriend Audrey (a Buddhist nun), managed to shove his soul into a little figure made up of lunch meat, but you can’t exactly raise your daughter in such a state, so Sophie’s off with her aunts.    Life has sort of gone back to normal in the meantime, until suddenly, Sophie’s hellhound guardians disappear, and there are around 1000 ghosts hanging out at the Golden Gate Bridge.       Charlie suddenly has an urgent need to get a real body back.

At this point, the whole crew’s back – Minty Fresh, Lily, and Inspector Rivera – with a few new faces (Minty’s cousin Lemon, for instance).      Someone’s not been collecting souls, and bad things are shortly going to start happening.

Sophie is still the vulgarest seven-year old you’ll ever run into, and her friends and family are a collection of lovable oddballs.      This book probably isn’t for everyone, but if you like madcap save the world adventures, you’ll like this book.

Pioneer Girl: The Annotated Autobiography – Laura Ingalls Wilder, ed. Pamela Smith Hill

I didn’t think I’d get this book.    I won it through EarlyReviewers back in November.    I was totally psyched – I have very warm memories of my mother reading the Little House books to my sister and me when we were little.

You generally don’t get those books for at least a month or so, so I wasn’t surprise to not get it immediately.      And then I saw this.   (Quick paraphrase: the South Dakota Historical Society had no idea how popular this book was going to be, and there were nowhere near enough printed for the demand.)     Don’t get me wrong, I was thrilled at the attention the book was getting.     But I figured that meant there was no way I’d be getting my free copy.     So when I come home a few weeks ago and found a package from the South Dakota Historical Society, I knew it couldn’t be anything else.      There may have been actual squeeing involved.

So what this is is the original format that Laura Ingalls Wilder put down her life’s story in.     They’ve left in the little notes she put for her daughter (who was a more famous author than her mother in their lifetime, and was her mother’s chief editor),  some of which are just incredibly sweet, like where she notes that Rose was named for the prairie roses they found on the homestead in South Dakota.     The story was reordered, and embellished a bit in some cases, to make the Little House books.

There are also more foot notes than you can shake a stick at, that give you background information on just about anything you could possibly desire – they tracked down every person that was mentioned though census information, if they could.      Any possible historical detail was chased down, if they could.     It’s like footnote porn:  you get about three pages of notes to one page of text.

The footnotes also talk about why things were changed for the more fictionalized version that become the books.     It’s a really fascinating look into the writing process.       I have a much greater appreciation for those books, having read this one.