Caroline: Little House, Revisited

Caroline: Little House, RevisitedCaroline: Little House, Revisited by Sarah Miller
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Lovely writing, though occasionally overdone and repetitive. It brings back memories of reading the original Little House books and watching the TV show which aired when I was in college. My quibbles are minor – it was difficult for me to see this Caroline as anyone other than Karen Grassle, meek and mild and never ever getting angry. She seemed far too good to be true. It was stated that Laura and Mary were 3 and 5, but I’ve been around enough 3 year olds to know that they are not this verbal and articulate. They seemed more like 5 and 7. The first half of the book reminded me strongly of the Little House books with many of the same events I remembered, and I wondered if there wasn’t going to be more of the “real” Caroline. The second half was better in that regard, and the author’s note at the end was helpful. This book could stand alone without any knowledge of the books by Laura Ingalls Wilder. It might even be better without having that reference point.

Audiobook narrated by Elizabeth Marvel.

Book description: In this novel authorized by Little House Heritage Trust, Sarah Miller vividly recreates the beauty, hardship, and joys of the frontier in a dazzling work of historical fiction, a captivating story that illuminates one courageous, resilient, and loving pioneer woman as never before–Caroline Ingalls, “Ma” in Laura Ingalls Wilder’s beloved Little House books. In the frigid days of February, 1870, Caroline Ingalls and her family leave the familiar comforts of the Big Woods of Wisconsin and the warm bosom of her family, for a new life in Kansas Indian Territory. Packing what they can carry in their wagon, Caroline, her husband Charles, and their little girls, Mary and Laura, head west to settle in a beautiful, unpredictable land full of promise and peril.

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The Paris Wife

The Paris WifeThe Paris Wife by Paula McLain
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A three-star average book for me. Interesting enough, and well-researched and written, but not a style of writing (leaning toward romancy chick-lit) that I seek out nor a time and place that I am interested in. I read this because it fit my “wife” titles theme, and the bookclub is reading Hemingway next – an author I have never read. If you enjoy Paris, the 1920s, and biographical fiction this would be a lovely book for you. My overall impression of this doomed marriage is that Hadley was woefully out of her element. She would have made the perfect 1950s housewife with kids, but Hemingway was a man who enjoyed women, drinking, action (bull-fighting), and the bohemian lifestyle of the rich and famous expats of 1920s Paris.

Book description:
Chicago, 1920: Hadley Richardson is a quiet twenty-eight-year-old who has all but given up on love and happiness—until she meets Ernest Hemingway. Following a whirlwind courtship and wedding, the pair set sail for Paris, where they become the golden couple in a lively and volatile group—the fabled “Lost Generation”—that includes Gertrude Stein, Ezra Pound, and F. Scott Fitzgerald. Though deeply in love, the Hemingways are ill prepared for the hard-drinking, fast-living, and free-loving life of Jazz Age Paris. As Ernest struggles to find the voice that will earn him a place in history and pours himself into the novel that will become The Sun Also Rises, Hadley strives to hold on to her sense of self as her roles as wife, friend, and muse become more challenging. Eventually they find themselves facing the ultimate crisis of their marriage—a deception that will lead to the unraveling of everything they’ve fought so hard for.

The Invention of Wings

The Invention of WingsThe Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A fascinating and true story told in alternating voices. Well researched and the author made only minor historical adjustments to tell her story. Sarah’s stammer got a little tedious in the audio version. That was an addition by the author, and I’m not really sure what the purpose of it was, except to reinforce the idea that Sarah was also “enslaved,” in a way, by a culture that profited from slavery and did not support the advancement of women. The first half of the book rambled and went on a bit too long. The second half was riveting, but the ending left things up in the air. Perhaps there is more to be told that could become a sequel. Certainly we are still a nation shaped by slavery, and we have still not achieved a world without racism and sexism. If nothing else, our current “President” has shown us just how far we still have to go.

Book description: Hetty “Handful” Grimke, an urban slave in early nineteenth century Charleston, yearns for life beyond the suffocating walls that enclose her within the wealthy Grimke household. The Grimke’s daughter, Sarah, has known from an early age she is meant to do something large in the world, but she is hemmed in by the limits imposed on women. On Sarah’s eleventh birthday, she is given ownership of ten year old Handful, who is to be her handmaid. We follow their remarkable journeys over the next thirty five years, as both strive for a life of their own, dramatically shaping each other’s destinies and forming a complex relationship marked by guilt, defiance, estrangement and the uneasy ways of love.

Circling the Sun

Circling the SunCircling the Sun by Paula McLain
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This took me a long time to finish, because it kept getting interrupted by other things with time limits that I had to read. I learned a lot about Beryl Markham’s life prior to her flight across the Atlantic Ocean, but then I knew very little to begin with. Anything to do with aviation was mostly an afterthought. The epilogue felt tacked on and wasn’t necessary at all. The last chapter had such a great ending line – it really should have ended there. It’s a good story – as fiction – but the over-romanticization (is that a word?) of her writing makes me doubt that her Beryl is true to life. It does make me want to learn more, and perhaps read Beryl’s own book.

Otherwise, I found myself frustrated by shallow characters. At times Beryl seemed impossibly naïve and other times she was given a wisdom and grace that was beyond her years and experience. All of the men seemed to be out to take advantage of her, and perhaps that was true. Certainly she made some poor life choices. On the other hand, here was a woman who refused to give up, who refused to be defined by the conventions of her society. In that regard, she seemed more like the native Africans that she grew up with, and it surely had a huge impact on her personality. I am not a fan of colonialism, and while many of the English here seem dissolute and selfish, she also over-romanticizes the native culture. So enjoy this book for its poetic writing and if you like romances you’ll probably like this a lot, although the actual romance here doesn’t have a happy ending. But the romance does serve as the catalyst for Beryl’s future life as an aviator. A good story. I’m just not sure it is a “true” one.

Book description: Circling the Sun brings to life a fearless and captivating woman—Beryl Markham, a record-setting aviator caught up in a passionate love triangle with safari hunter Denys Finch Hatton and Karen Blixen, who as Isak Dinesen wrote the classic memoir Out of Africa. Brought to Kenya from England as a child and then abandoned by her mother, Beryl is raised by both her father and the native Kipsigis tribe who share his estate. Her unconventional upbringing transforms Beryl into a bold young woman with a fierce love of all things wild and an inherent understanding of nature’s delicate balance. But even the wild child must grow up, and when everything Beryl knows and trusts dissolves, she is catapulted into a string of disastrous relationships. Ultimately, it’s the ruggedly charismatic Denys Finch Hatton who helps Beryl navigate the uncharted territory of her own heart. The intensity of their love reveals Beryl’s truest self and her fate: to fly.

 

The Aviator’s Wife

The Aviator's WifeThe Aviator’s Wife by Melanie Benjamin

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I was pleasantly surprised by this book. After a somewhat slow start that had me shelve the book for awhile, when I came back to it I found the story quite fascinating. Is this the authentic voice of Anne Morrow Lindbergh? No. But I’ll judge the book as fiction, not as a biography. It presents a very believable account of a shy and insecure girl who can’t quite believe that Charles Lindbergh, America’s hero, has chosen her to be his wife. At the same time, she is a remarkable woman in her own right, but it takes years for her to find her voice and truly be her own person, not “The Aviator’s Wife.” In a way, her journey represents the journey of all women through the 20th century – from the submissive wife of the 30s, to the independent woman of the war years, to the idealized (but unfulfilled) housewife of the 50s, to the increasing desires of women in the 60s and 70s to exert their independence and their sexuality and “have it all.” I wish the book had continued with Anne’s life after the death of Charles. I think it also underplayed how much she did write – not just Gift From the Sea. Finally, I think the success of this book is evident in the desire of readers to learn more about the “real” Lindberghs after reading this novel.

Book description: For much of her life, Anne Morrow, the shy daughter of the U.S. ambassador to Mexico, has stood in the shadows of those around her, including her millionaire father and vibrant older sister, who often steals the spotlight. Then Anne, a college senior with hidden literary aspirations, travels to Mexico City to spend Christmas with her family. There she meets Colonel Charles Lindbergh, fresh off his celebrated 1927 solo flight across the Atlantic. Enthralled by Charles’s assurance and fame, Anne is certain the celebrated aviator has scarcely noticed her. But she is wrong. Charles sees in Anne a kindred spirit, a fellow adventurer, and her world will be changed forever. The two marry in a headline-making wedding. Hounded by adoring crowds and hunted by an insatiable press, Charles shields himself and his new bride from prying eyes, leaving Anne to feel her life falling back into the shadows. In the years that follow, despite her own major achievements-she becomes the first licensed female glider pilot in the United States-Anne is viewed merely as the aviator’s wife. The fairy-tale life she once longed for will bring heartbreak and hardships, ultimately pushing her to reconcile her need for love and her desire for independence, and to embrace, at last, life’s infinite possibilities for change and happiness.

Loving Frank

Loving FrankLoving Frank by Nancy Horan

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Possible spoiler alert! I knew the basic outline of the story of Frank and Mamah going into it, so I dreaded getting to the end of it. Nancy Horan created a very sympathetic portrayal of Mamah – and I really wanted them to have more time together. Probably Frank’s ego and narcissism would have meant that he eventually would have cheated on her. And if Mamah had grown enough to leave him, perhaps she would have gone on to an illustrious career. As it was, these two kindred spirits had a kind of co-dependent relationship that both helped and hindered their individual lives. I think Nancy Horan did a marvelous job with the historical information available to her of staying true to the characters and the time period, and yet getting inside their heads in a very believable way. There were a few gaps in the story where the narrative either glossed over large chunks of time or could have been fleshed out with more details, but I think Ms. Horan wanted to avoid making up anything that wasn’t supported by her research. As it was, she worked an enormous amount of detail into the story, surrounding it with a very elegant style of prose that beautifully evoked the time period, and flowed in a very readable manner. I could have wished for a list of her sources or suggestions for further reading at the end of the book.

Having also listened to T.C. Boyle’s “The Women”, it probably enhanced my understanding of how strongly Frank and Mamah were bound to each other, and how her death affected the rest of his life. Whatever good qualities had drawn her to him died with her and left a hole that he could never fill.

Book Description (from Amazon.com)
“I have been standing on the side of life, watching it float by. I want to swim in the river. I want to feel the current.” So writes Mamah Borthwick Cheney in her diary as she struggles to justify her clandestine love affair with Frank Lloyd Wright. Four years earlier, in 1903, Mamah and her husband, Edwin, had commissioned the renowned architect to design a new home for them. During the construction of the house, a powerful attraction developed between Mamah and Frank, and in time the lovers, each married with children, embarked on a course that would shock Chicago society and forever change their lives. In this ambitious debut novel, fact and fiction blend together brilliantly. While scholars have largely relegated Mamah to a footnote in the life of America’s greatest architect, author Nancy Horan gives full weight to their dramatic love story and illuminates Cheney’s profound influence on Wright.

I listened to the audio version narrated by Joyce Bean.

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

The Immortal Life of Henrietta LacksThe Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A great story, lots of human interest, and well told. So much more than just science – you will care about these people.

Book description:
Her name was Henrietta Lacks, but scientists know her as HeLa. She was a poor Southern tobacco farmer who worked the same land as her slave ancestors, yet her cells—taken without her knowledge—became one of the most important tools in medicine. The first “immortal” human cells grown in culture, they are still alive today, though she has been dead for more than sixty years. If you could pile all HeLa cells ever grown onto a scale, they’d weigh more than 50 million metric tons—as much as a hundred Empire State Buildings. HeLa cells were vital for developing the polio vaccine; uncovered secrets of cancer, viruses, and the atom bomb’s effects; helped lead to important advances like in vitro fertilization, cloning, and gene mapping; and have been bought and sold by the billions.

Yet Henrietta Lacks remains virtually unknown, buried in an unmarked grave.

Now Rebecca Skloot takes us on an extraordinary journey, from the “colored” ward of Johns Hopkins Hospital in the 1950s to stark white laboratories with freezers full of HeLa cells; from Henrietta’s small, dying hometown of Clover, Virginia—a land of wooden slave quarters, faith healings, and voodoo—to East Baltimore today, where her children and grandchildren live and struggle with the legacy of her cells.

Henrietta’s family did not learn of her “immortality” until more than twenty years after her death, when scientists investigating HeLa began using her husband and children in research without informed consent. And though the cells had launched a multimillion-dollar industry that sells human biological materials, her family never saw any of the profits. As Rebecca Skloot so brilliantly shows, the story of the Lacks family—past and present—is inextricably connected to the dark history of experimentation on African Americans, the birth of bioethics, and the legal battles over whether we control the stuff we are made of.

Over the decade it took to uncover this story, Rebecca became enmeshed in the lives of the Lacks family—especially Henrietta’s daughter Deborah, who was devastated to learn about her mother’s cells. She was consumed with questions: Had scientists cloned her mother? Did it hurt her when researchers infected her cells with viruses and shot them into space? What happened to her sister, Elsie, who died in a mental institution at the age of fifteen? And if her mother was so important to medicine, why couldn’t her children afford health insurance?

Intimate in feeling, astonishing in scope, and impossible to put down, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks captures the beauty and drama of scientific discovery, as well as its human consequences.