Friday, December 23, 2011

What I've Read Recently

What I've Read Recently . . .

The Wilder Life: My Adventures in the Lost World of Little House on the Prairie by Wendy McClure -- Nonfiction/Memoir
Growing up Wendy McClure wanted to be Laura Ingalls. She had imaginary fantasies about visiting Laura in the nineteenth century and having Laura show her around (and vice versa). Rediscovering the books as an adult launched Wendy into a frenzy of Laura Ingalls Wilder obsession. She not only reread the books, she read every biography and website she could find and even attempted recipes in the Little House Cookbook featured in the series. Supported by her boyfriend Chris (and now husband), Wendy went on a literal journey into Little House territory visiting sites that were significant to the Ingalls and Wilder clans. Wendy's observations on pioneer life are sometimes funny, especially when encountering a bizarre end-of-the-world cult at a working farm, and sometimes sad. She finally realizes what she's been searching for all along and finds her way home. At first I instantly identified with Wendy. I had no idea others had Laura fantasies too! I was obsessed with the TV show before I could read and once I read the books, my obsession became even more intense. I wore sunbonnets and prairie dresses and pranced around pretending to be Laura. I loved reading Wendy's descriptions of her childhood fantasy because I kept thinking "ME TOO!" and "No way! You too?" and agreeing with everything she said. A few chapters in, her attitude turns more cynical and I found myself disagreeing with her point-of-view. Our backgrounds are different so I think that we have very different approaches to our Laura fantasies, plus when I was 8 years old, an educator named Pleasant Rowland came up with a line of dolls, clothes, accessories and books that represented girls during different periods of American History. At 9 I fell in love with Kirsten, a "pioneer girl of strength and spirit" who allows me to fulfill my Laura fantasies without any of the unpleasantness such as wolves, locusts, drought, disease, starvation and fire. I'm glad Wendy took the journey to all the sites. I loved reading her descriptions which are sometimes written in awed tones and others in a more irreverent way. I can empathize with her disappointment that she couldn't find Laura in most of the home sites. I highly recommend she move to New England and or get a job working at Old Sturbridge Village where she can enact her pioneer fantasy. This book is a must read for those like Wendy who grew up wanting to be Laura and who have fantasized about churning butter, making sourdough bread and sleeping in a sod house! I'm not usually a huge fan of non-fiction or memoirs but I give this one an A!
The Other Countess by Eve Edwards (The Lacey Chronicles # 1) -- Young Adult Historical Fiction 

Lady Eleanor Rodriguez, Countess of San Jaime has a worthless title in the eyes of the English court of Queen Elizabeth I. Ellie's Spanish mother died leaving Ellie alone with her alchemist father. Ellie's father has little care for material matters; his desire to find a way to make gold is an obsession. He bankrupted his patron, the Earl of Dorset, and when the Earl died, his son, Will, forcibly removed the alchemist and his "brat" from the estate. Several years later, Will heads to court to seek a rich bride. He believes he has found one in Lady Jane Perceval. Lady Jane is bored by society. She knows she has to find a husband and thought she had found one in Sir Walter Raleigh. However, Sir Walter took her maidenhood and left her with empty promises. The young Earl of Dorset is handsome enough and he's much kinder than her brother Henry who is busy dallying with her maid Nell, but Jane isn't attracted to Will. His younger brother James is more charming but alas, is a younger son. At Court, Will encounters a beautiful, bewitching, dark haired maiden who embroiders badly but can read Latin. He's instantly enthralled, but then moved to anger when he discovers her true identity as the daughter of the alchemist who ruined his father. All Ellie wants to do is settle down somewhere comfortable and help her father with more legitimate scholarly pursuits. She's drawn to the handsome Earl but knows he's not for her. Each of the characters hopes to better their lives one way or another and that interest motivates them to search for happiness. Happiness will be denied or thwarted for some before they get a chance to learn if true love will triumph. This novel is similar to Phillipa Gregory's stories but written for younger readers. Girls ages 13-16 will love the sweet romance. I am an adult and I disliked the romance. The plot was boring and slow moving. It took me a long time to finish this book reading a chapter or two at a time in the bookstore. It just didn't grab me and make me want to rush right through. 
It was sweet and charming but completely unrealistic. As an historian, I appreciated the gritty every day details of Elizabethan England, including some mild sex scenes and innuendo. The characters were likable enough but do not really sound or act realistic for the time. This book is more of a fairy tale romance than a true historical fiction novel. I recommend it to teen girls who aren't obsessed with history but love a good romance. 

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