Archive | December 2015

Holiday Review: The Long Winter (Little House #6) by Laura Ingalls Wilder

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The title of this installment of the Little House series sums up the theme – The Long Winter.  When Charles notices that the muskrats have built an exceptionally sturdy home for the winter with very thick walls he points out to Laura that animals know things through the environment that we humans no longer recognize. Other signs are pointing to a cold winter and when a Native American comes into one of the shops and communicates his predictions, it frightens the settlers and rightfully so.  “Heap big snow, big wind…Many moons” while holding up seven fingers meaning seven months of blizzards.  And, yeah, guess what.  He was right.  The winter is horrible with blizzard after blizzard.  The Ingalls move into their town building rather than live in the shanty on their claim.  Food becomes scarce and as it says it’s a Long Winter.

There are several reasons this was a 5-star read.  First, the description of the winter and the struggles of the settler’s kept you on the edge of your seat.  It was truly a life or death situation.  Second, we get to see more of the grown up Almanzo Wilder and he is quite a young man although Laura still barely knows him and doesn’t seem to give him a second thought.  Lastly, and most importantly, Caroline finally has enough and tells Charles NO a few times.  Go, Caroline!

“A fellow might do it,” Pa remarked.  “With a couple of days of clear weather and a snowfall to hold up the sled, he ought to be able to make it all ri…”

“No!” said Ma.

Pa looked at her, startled. They all stared at her. They had never seen Ma look like that.  She was quiet but she was terrible.

Quietly she told Pa, “I say, No. You don’t take such a chance.”

“Why…Caroline!” Pa said. 

“Your hauling hay is bad enough,” Ma told him. “You don’t go hunting for that wheat.”

Pa said mildly, “Not as long as you feel that way about it, I won’t. But…”

“I won’t hear any buts,” Ma said, still terrible. “This time I put my foot down.”

“All right, that settles it,” Pa agreed. 

Laura and Carrie looked at each other.  They felt as if thunder and lightning had come down on them suddenly, and suddenly gone.  

Holiday Review: By the Shores of Silver Lake (Little House #5) by Laura Ingalls Wilder

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It has been such a joy reading this series of books as an adult.  They are a reminder of simpler times both in my life and in the world.

By the Shores of Silver Lake was especially interesting because I had to remember that Charles Ingalls was not Michael Landon.  Stay with me for a few minutes and I will explain.  The Little House TV series is one of my mom’s favorites so I was always familiar with it.  And, let’s just be honest, she had quite a crush on Mr. Landon.  Because of his portrayal of this character, we have in many ways romanticized the ‘real’ Charles.  And while he seems to have been a good man, he most definitely had faults.

One of my status updates while reading said “Charles had ants in his pants” and that sums up one of his biggest faults.  The family is once again forced to move.  According to him, too many people have settled near Plum Creek so when he’s offered a short term job in DeSmet / Silver Lake, he convinces Carolyn that it’s the right thing to do.  They leave their nice home (where apparently they never had a good wheat crop and never made ends meet).  The government is allowing people to claim land and if the fulfill the requirements (building, farming, etc.) then they will own said land.

Things go okay at first and the Ingalls do get some lucky breaks.  Charles was slow to make his claim and almost lost their spot but an old friend helps him out.  I guess all is well that ends well (for now) and Charles making the big decisions is a sign of those times.  But, it was hard for me to read that Carolyn basically gives up everything she wants over and over so that Charles can chase this elusive dream of his.

One good thing – Laura finally sets eyes on her future husband, Almanzo Wilder, who is also in DeSmet to make a claim.  It’s too bad that she seems more interested in his beautiful horses than him.  (Actually, I love that.)

4/5 stars.

Holiday Review: Re-Read Time – A Christmas Story by Jean Shepherd

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My husband and I will be with family this Christmas and I might not be able to post my regular re-read review of A Christmas Story so I’m pre-posting it a few days early to show up on Christmas day.  Don’t worry; I will definitely spend some time with Shepherd during breaks from presents, food and family.

Merry Christmas to all!!

 

I love Christmas.  The gifts, the food and spending time with family.  One thing I look forward to each year is watching “A Christmas Story” – usually multiple times to the annoyance of said family.

In this year’s stocking, my husband gave me a copy to read.  So, on Christmas day, I spent a few hours with Jean Shepherd and his family.

Mr. Shepherd wrote several essays about his life in lower middle class America.  These essays were compiled and created the screenplay for the movie.  While the movie actually follows the stories closely, the stories are not all set around one Christmas and there were some changes.  It was heartfelt, funny and just what I wanted on Christmas day.

The first story, Duel in the Snow, or Red Ryder Nails the Cleveland Street Kid, shares his memory of the Christmas he longed to receive a Red Ryder BB Gun from Santa along with all the subtle hints he gave his parents.  Of course, he received the classic block: “You’ll shoot out one of your eyes.”  His dad, however, came through and made sure he got his gun Christmas morning.  He proceeded to almost shoot his eye out but somehow got away with it.  Even if I had never seen the movie, I would have laughed out loud while reading this story.  It perfectly captures the feelings of childhood.  Wanting something so badly and feeling like you are being thwarted around every turn.  And just when you think all is lost, your mom or dad saves the day.

Story two, The Counterfeit Secret Circle Member Gets the Message, or The Asp Strikes Again, tells us about the secret decoder he finally got in the mail to use during the Little Orphan Annie Radio broadcasts.  “Drink Your Ovaltine” – a crummy commercial.  This may have been his first realization that nothing is free and the real world is just looking to sell you something.

My Old Man and the Lascivious Special Award That Heralded the Birth of Pop Art – Ahhh…the infamous leg lamp.  So sexy, so inappropriate.  Yes, his mom broke it on purpose.  Who can blame her?

Grover Dill and The Tasmanian Devil – finally our protagonist takes out his tormentor (Grover Dill in the written story) in a flurry of fists and obscenities.  My favorite part of this story is the detail about his mom really protecting him so that his dad wouldn’t punish him for the fight.  He literally vomits in relief and, I will admit, it almost brought a tear to my eye.  Who didn’t have one of these moments in childhood?

The final story, The Grandstand Passion Play of Delbert and the Bumpus Hounds, gives much more information about the redneck neighbors and their dogs that terrorized the neighborhood.  The dogs break in the back door and steal the Easter ham from the table.  This scene (stealing the Christmas turkey) in the movie always made me chuckle.  But, while reading, I had a much more serious feeling.  These were not rich people.  They had saved and scrimped to have a nice Easter.  The entire family looked forward to a few special meals a year and this was one of them.  To have the ham taken away was horrible.  And, the Bumpus family were awful neighbors on a day to day basis.  I sighed with relief when they moved out one night and the neighborhood was able to get back to normal.

Overall, this is a wonderful book about childhood and family with a little Christmas cheer thrown in.  I do believe I will make a re-read a Christmas day tradition.  5/5 stars.

Holiday Review: Spirit of Steamboat (Longmire #9.1) by Craig Johnson

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Spirit of Steamboat started out as one of Johnson’s free Christmas short stories that he offers to fans each year.  As sometimes happens, it grew larger and turned into a nice sized novella.

A car accident has killed several members of a family and a little girl is critically injured.  The medics need to get her to Denver for treatment or she will die.  Due to blizzard conditions the roads are impassable and a medi-vac helicopter flight is out of the question.  Newly elected sheriff, Walt Longmire, refuses to accept that there is no way to save this little girl so he comes up with a hare-brained scheme that involves Lucian Connelly as pilot, a reluctant co-pilot – Julie, Isaac Bloomfield as medic and an old B-25 bomber nicknamed Steamboat.

I usually prefer my Longmire stories to be heavy on Henry, my favorite character.  But this one only mentions him a few times and that was just fine.  There is so much action and emotion packed into 146 pages that you don’t miss the regular secondary characters.  We get to see a younger version of Walt and Lucian which is always fun.  But, what drives this story is the reminder that while the two men are very different, they share a few important characteristics – stubbornness and an unwillingness to give up. They fight the elements, naysayers and each other to try to save this little girl.

It’s a wonderful Christmas story and I loved it.  5/5 stars.

Holiday Review: On the Banks of Plum Creek (Little House #4) by Laura Ingalls Wilder

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First of all, for my Goodreads friends, check out the cover that they default to for this book.  It’s a horrendous “updated” cover with a live model.  Maybe I’m biased but I love the older covers with the drawings by Garth Williams.

Anyway, book 4 brings us back to the Ingalls family.  They arrive in Minnesota and set out to make a new life for themselves.  They first live in a dugout with a sod roof but Charles is confident he will have a large wheat harvest that year so he borrows money for the materials and builds them a house.  It’s the first time they’ve used wood from a lumber yard and he seems to go all out – floors, windows, etc.

Nothing quite goes as planned and the “grasshopper” weather they’ve been hearing about finally lives up to its’ name with a grasshopper infestation that decimates the crop and almost all green, living things around them.  To pay his debts Charles then has to walk hundreds of miles east several times to areas where he could work someone else’s farm.

Then, after they finally get back on their feet, weeks of blizzard weather cause major issues and one serious scare.

One of the reasons I loved this installment (5-stars) is that it not only shows the reality of life in that time but it also reminds us that sometimes you have to buck up and deal with consequences.  Charles made the choice to borrow the money for the new house by betting on his future crops.  The risk didn’t pay off so he had to pay the piper by leaving his family and finding another way to make the money he needed.

Hardship and frustration were only part of the story.  There was also a lot of love between the members of the Ingalls family and good times with their new church and at school – where we are introduced to the infamous Nellie Oleson for the first time.  Listen, she’s a be-yotch in the book, no doubt, but she doesn’t hold a candle to the TV version.  I chuckled many times reading Laura’s inner monologue about her frenemy.  Laura so wants to be a good girl but she has a hot temper and holds a grudge.  I love that about her.

Another great book and can’t wait to move onto number 5.

Chapter 7 – BBQ, Sweet Tea and Murder (Myrtle Mysteries)

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Later that night, Myrtle was alone in bed thinking about loss.  In a very short time, she lost her soulmate, Bradford, and her first love, Pop.  Feeling tired and lonely, she pulled out her journal.

In 1968, 16 years old meant you were practically a full grown woman.  I had celebrated my birthday a few weeks ago and was still suffering some disappointment.  Vera, Pop and I had been friends for about 8 years and an inseparable trio.  While I loved Vera like one of my sisters, I knew that Pop was more than a friend.  I just kept waiting for him to realize the same thing.  In the weeks leading up to my birthday, I had convinced myself that he was just waiting for that milestone and once I hit the magic age of 16 he would profess his love.  Instead, I received a funny card and a sweater from him while we were all hanging out together.  

Football season was over but Pop also played basketball so Vera and I attended as many of the home games as we could.  Neither one of us were the cheerleader type but we didn’t mind screaming and jumping up and down in the stands.  That night, Pop played exceptionally well scoring 25 points and making several key plays.  After the game, everyone was congratulating him and we could barely get close enough to say hello.  When he saw me, he grabbed my arm and drew me and Vera off to the side.  

“I’m so glad you guys made it.  Can you believe that game?”  Pop’s eyes were shining with excitement and pride.

“I hate to say it but even a knucklehead like you can do good sometimes.  And, you did good Pop.”  Vera still loved giving him a hard time at every opportunity.  

“It was great, Pop.  We are so proud of you.”  I was ready to get out of the crowd so was about to tell him that Vera and I were leaving.

“Hey, why don’t you guys come over to my house for a while.  Some of the team and their girls are headed there after we shower.  What do you say?”  

Vera and I looked at each other and both nodded.  “We’ll meet you there in a little while.”  I told him.  

Pop usually didn’t invite anyone over to his house.  We were his best friends and I could count on one hand how many times we’d been there.  So I was a little surprised he had asked the team to come.  When we got there, I realized that his parents and sister weren’t home.  That explained everything.  Pop wasn’t a shy person but he didn’t want to take any chances with his parents embarrassing him and he was very protective of his little sister.  

“Come on in Myrtle and Vera.  Do you want a soda?”  

“Sure, I’ll take one.”  I told him and Vera quickly said yes too.  

We walked through the rooms speaking to people we knew but both of us felt out of place.  Pop was our friend but many of the basketball players had cheerleader girlfriends and we weren’t close to any of them.  Some were mean girls but most just had their own groups of friends that they spent time with so we didn’t know each other very well.  Even in a small town in the 60s, people tended to keep to their own small cliques.  

I sat down on a couch in the library and Vera went to get another drink.  I briefly saw here through the doorway talking to Joe, her sometimes boyfriend who had just arrived.  With a sigh, I leaned back knowing that I was probably on my own for the rest of the night.  After a few minutes, Pop came through the door and shut it behind him.  

“Did she ditch you for that loser?”  Pop actually liked Joe but was protective of his friend, Vera, and didn’t like their on and off relationship.  

“It’s fine.  I’m enjoying some quiet time.  Your dad has a great book collection.”

“Don’t let it fool you.  These are all for show.  Dad doesn’t spend time on anything that doesn’t make him money or give him new connections.”  

The acid in Pop’s voice bothered me.  I had a close relationship with my family and sometimes had a hard time understanding the disdain he had for his parents.  

“Well, anyway, they are pretty.”  I said.  

“That’s why I like you Myrtle.  You can see the beauty in something that has none to other people.”  

I didn’t know what to say so I just looked at my hands.  

“Did you have a good birthday a few weeks ago, Myrtle?” Pop’s voice had gotten softer so I looked up.  His face was only a few inches from mine and my breath caught.  

“I guess so.”  

“Oh, okay.  There was something I wanted to give you that day but I chickened out.”

I grabbed his hand and asked, “What was it, Pop?” 

When he looked at me again, I knew.  As he leaned in closer, I was afraid I would pass out.  ‘Keep it together, keep it together.  Don’t let him know you’ve never been kissed.’  

When his lips touched mine, it was so soft that I wasn’t sure if he had truly touched me.  I exhaled as he pulled back slightly and then he grabbed the back of my head.  With his hand in my hair, he kissed me again and this time I definitely knew he had touched me.  It was everything I had dreamed of and I didn’t want it to end.  

Too bad Vera chose that moment to barge in with Joe.  

“It’s about time.  I didn’t think the two of you would ever play tonsil hockey.  Don’t worry Joe and I will find another room.”  

Pop looked at me and busted out laughing.  “She does have a way with words, doesn’t she?”

© Mary Brown, Lowcountry Book Lover and lowcountrybooklover.com, 2015. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Mary Brown and lowcountrybooklover.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. Any publication for profit is strictly prohibited without specific written consent by owner.

Writing is Hard a.k.a. Myrtle Mysteries Chapter 6

It’s been about six weeks since I’ve written anything other than a book review or email.  My husband’s theory is that I pressured myself by signing up for NaNoWriMo.  My theory is I just lost my motivation.  I wouldn’t call it writer’s block.  More like writer’s funk (as in “in a …”). It wasn’t that I was depressed (although I did consider that I could be) but I just wasn’t motivated in any way to do more than necessary.

To be perfectly honest, I’m still not quite out of it.  But, I’ve decided that it’s time to push my way to the other side.  Ergo, here is a very short Chapter 6 of Myrtle Mysteries.  I have considered not posting any more of the chapters and just keeping them on my laptop.  In some ways, though, getting it out in the world is part of the point.  Even if no one reads it, I still put myself out there.  Anyway…if you haven’t read the prior chapters and want to catch up, they are all categorized as “Myrtle Mysteries” in the sidebar.

 

Chapter 6:

Myrtle and Vera were able to find a booth in the back of Beth’s during the lunch hour rush the next day.  Since the diner only served a buffet, each of them took turns filling their plates.  While both were anxious to talk about all that had transpired the day before, they had their priorities straight and ate their fill first.  After a satisfying meal of fried chicken, collards, boiled potatoes and sliced tomatoes, they were ready to work.  Myrtle pulled out her notebook and pen.

“You know, some of the guys from Conbraco who are up front waiting on a table are going to be pretty PO’d when they see that we’re done eating and still taking up this nice big booth.”

“Vera, you don’t give a dang if those goober heads get mad.  In fact I see that SOB Donnie up there.  He keeps giving Steve a hard time and one day I’m pretty sure Steve will throat punch him.  Let him starve is what I say.”

“Okay then.  Remind me not to get on your bad side.”  With a look around to make sure no one was listening, Vera said, “Are you ready to talk about yesterday?”

“I’ve been waiting all morning.  Of course I am!”

For the next half hour, the two friends discussed the graveside service for Big Pop and made notes of anything they thought might be pertinent to their investigation.

The entire congregation of mourners followed the family to the cemetery across the street from First Baptist Church.  After Paul Jr. and Elizabeth were seated everyone else filed in behind them. It was standing room only.  Funerals are a social event in the south, don’t you know.  The ex-wives tried to jockey for the best position and ended up standing nearer to each other than was wise.  

WSOC’s weatherman had predicted storms for today but so far they held off.  I was hopeful we could make it just a little while longer before the skies opened up.  

As Big Pop’s casket was placed over the grave, the pastor began the simple graveside ceremony.  I could barely hear him over the increasingly loud whispers coming from the exes.  Finally, Laura screamed at Rhonda to “shut the hell up” while Shelby smirked just beside them.  Rhonda raised her hand to smack Laura and God decided to intervene.  A loud rumble of thunder was followed quickly by pouring rain.  Vera started laughing and said that Pop had probably arranged this storm himself.  I didn’t know if she should laugh or cry.  Everyone was becoming soaked and started running to their cars.  The pastor quickly said some “Amens” and signaled for the family to be escorted away.  The unfortunate cemetery crew had to try to stay and get the coffin in the ground before the entire space was filled with water.  

Vera and I made our way to Vera’s car and drove to my house.  As they say, timing is everything.  We had no sooner climbed onto the porch than it started hailing golf ball sized chunks.  As we stood there and watched the storm, weariness overcame me.  Vera came inside but left as soon as the storm settled down.    

“Vera, I don’t think we learned a thing from the service,”  Myrtle had hoped that she would remember some important detail.  A mourner showing too much emotion, a stranger standing off to the side watching the service – in the crime shows she loved, the detectives always found a suspect at the funeral.  “The only thing I want to know is what those two hussies were fighting about.  Seriously, what was so important that they had to argue right then and there?”

“Don’t worry we’ll find out what they were going on about.  And, chin up!  We might not have caught the killer but we learned one important thing.” Vera pointed out.

“What is that, pray tell?”

“We learned that a storm waits for no man.”

“How prosaic.”  Myrtle said with a roll of her eyes.  “Let’s head back to my house for some television.  Maybe a few mindless hours of the Real Housewives will give us some inspiration.”

 

© Mary Brown, Lowcountry Book Lover and lowcountrybooklover.com, 2015. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Mary Brown and lowcountrybooklover.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. Any publication for profit is strictly prohibited without specific written consent by owner.