#50 A Review of The Wilder Life by Wendy McClure

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Growing up I developed a healthy appetite for reading from a series of books you may have heard of before: Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls WilderIf you aren’t familiar, let me enlighten you.  They were a series of books that were the memoirs of Laura’s life as a child growing up on the American frontier.

The Wilder Life chronicles Wendy McClure’s journey to, as she puts it, live the “Laura experience”.  Retracing the steps of the Ingalls family as they moved across a growing America, McClure attempts to put herself literally in the shoes of Laura Ingalls and her family.  She visits Wisconsin looking for the “Big Woods” that Laura grew up in, as chronicled in Little House in the Big Woods.  She finds the real Plum Creek, and even seeks out the annual summer pageants held in Laura’s hometown.  From churning butter to standing in a hail storm in South Dakota, McClure goes beyond traditional fandom to totally immerse herself in what it must have been like for Laura to grow up in the late 1800’s.  McClure, like Laura, faces trying times, and physically and emotionally must deal with hardships along the way.  However, she emerges a new person, having a greater appreciation for Laura and the pioneers like her that braved the wilderness of America to settle and prosper.

For those of you that are intrigued by this book I must warn you that even as a lover of the Little House books I still found myself confused and lost at parts.  McClure is obviously a huge fan of the novels as she remembers details both large and small from the series.  This attention to detail in a series that I haven’t read in over 15 years had me missing some of the connections that were trying be made.  I understood the greater meaning of the connections, but unfortunately wasn’t able to take as much pleasure from them as I would have liked.

I found a lot of repetition in the book as well.  McClure writes of an overall disappointment in continuing to meet people in the Little House world that confuse what happened in the TV series versus the books.  It’s almost as though she can’t understand that not everyone around her has their memories of the books and TV series separated.  I’ll be the first person to admit that I was a fan of both, and sometimes forget what happened in which story. 

McClure is an extremely funny and poignant writer and ties all of her thoughts on modern-day living to a Little House on the Prairie themed point.  This made me begin to look at the things around me in my own life, and ponder what Laura would have thought about them if she were alive today.  The novel as a whole is an interesting look at the Little House fandom and what’s become of the places that you come to know and love in Laura’s books. 

3 out of 5 Stars

The Wilder Life by Wendy McClure
Penguin Group (2011)
Hardcover, 352 pages

My Top Ten….Books I Wish I Was A Character From (Part I)

My top ten list topic this week is courtesy of my friend Greg!  I’ll be choosing my top ten books I wish I could be a character from!  It was so difficult to pick just ten characters, I’ve read enough books for this to be a big challenge.  Without further ado, here they are!

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10.) Laura Ingalls Wilder – These Happy Golden Years by Laura Ingalls Wilder

I’ve always thought it would be super interesting to have lived during prairie times.  The lack of indoor plumbing and rough manual labor would be enough to turn some people down, but I find the way of life back then to be fascinating.  People worked hard for the things they had and it created strong constitutions and strong work ethics.  People were protective of their family and friends and helped each other in rough times.  For me, being a true romantic at heart, it’s the courtship that occurred back then that makes me want to be Laura the most.  When Laura is 16 she gets her teaching certification and moves away from her family to try to help earn money for her sister Mary’s schooling.  The stress of her new job and the distance from her family causes her to become very melancholy and homesick.  At the end of her first week as a teacher her crush, Almanzo Wilder, shows up to take her back home to see her family.  This happily begins a tradition as he takes her to and from school each weekend.  The two, much to Laura’s delight, begin courting and after three years become engaged.  It’s this book that I would most like to be Laura from.  To be courted in the old ways would be so exciting to me!  Men like Almanzo are incredibly hard to find these days.  I don’t think I’ve ever met a guy that would have waited three years for his first kiss with the girl he loved.  It was a different time back then, than it is today, so I guess had I grown up back then it wouldn’t have been so hard to believe. But I digress, I think the biggest reason I would have loved living back then was that fact that life was so much simpler then. 

9.) Hercule Poirot – Agatha Christie’s Mystery Series

How awesome would it be to be a world-renowned genius at solving mysteries?  How awesome would it be to be a world-renowned genius at solving mysteries and have an AWESOME mustache on top of it?? Pretty damn awesome if you ask me.  I’ve always been a huge fan of mysteries and always wished I could solve mysteries like Hercule.  Poirot is smart, observant, witty, personable, has saved lives, and put criminals in jail.  Poirot is so so smart and I really wish I could make my brain put puzzles together like his so that I could do some good!

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8.) Mary Boleyn – The Other Boleyn Girl by Philippa Gregory

I find the life of a royal court to be completely interesting.  The dinners, parties, dances, and courtly love are all completely fascinating to me.  To be able to live such an opulent life would be incredibly interesting.  The downfall to being Mary Boleyn of course would be the loss of independence as a female.  Woman didn’t have much power to choose anything about the path of their lives – there were no careers – woman were just used as sexual objects to garner titles, land, and wealth for their families.  The reason I want to be Mary is because she refused to just be a pawn in her family’s game.  She went against them, marrying a nobody and deciding that court life was not for her.  She became a strong, independent woman in a time where there weren’t strong, independent women.  That garners my respect, and my wish to step into her shoes. 

7.)  Alice – Alice In Wonderland by Lewis Carroll

I’ve often wondered how many people wish they could have taken a trip down the rabbit hole and seen the things Alice saw.  The once in a lifetime experiences of playing croquet with flamingos and hedgehogs, having tea with the mad hatter, being surprised by the Cheshire cat, and meeting a high, knowledgable caterpillar are all experiences I wish I myself could have had.  I’m a cautious person by nature, so I’m not sure that I would have followed the “eat me” and “drink me” signs that Alice encountered, but I definitely would have played croquet with the queen (as long as she avoided saying “off with her head!).  

6.) The Pevensie Children – The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis

Lucy, Edmund, Susan, and Peter have probably the coolest “oops” life ever.  Whilst playing hide and seek, Lucy decides to hide in an old wardrobe and finds herself in a mystical land named Narnia.  She convinces her siblings to go with her back through the wardrobe to Narnia, where after a major battle for control of the land they become the Kings and Queens spoken of in a famous prophecy.  The rule Narnia for many years until one day they find the entrance back out through the wardrobe and return to the life they left behind.  I forgot to mention that they return to this life exactly how they left it, not having aged a day.  I think it’s awesome that they were able to experience and live two whole lifetimes that were completely different from one another.  Lewis does a great job creating Narnia, and weaves childhood fantasies of faraway lands and talking animals in with relatable characters to create the ultimate exciting dream for anyone, child or adult.

Join me tomorrow for the conclusion of my top ten books I wish I could be a character from!! Make sure to leave me some comments on who you’d want to be!

The Books That Changed Our Lives – Kim’s Edition + GIVEAWAY

Many of my friends know that I love having deep discussions, especially about books, films, and life.  I recently challenged some of my friends and fellow bloggers to try to come up with a book(s) that has in some way impacted their life.  It could be a book that helped you through a rough period in life, made you want to choose a certain job path, or just made you want to try something new.  I soon started thinking about what book I would write about and came to the realization that there isn’t just one book that has shaped me into the person I am today.  There are three points in my life where books have helped push me forward and I’ve chosen to write about those points.

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As a child I was super hyperactive, hence my diagnosis with ADHD.  I was always running around and could never focus on one thing to do.  As a result my mom signed me up for a lot of activities to keep me busy.  One of my favorite activities was going to the library with my sister for story-time or arts and crafts hour.  Wanting to mimic everything my sister did, I soon found myself sitting down for hours on end reading the same books she read. I would steal her Babysitters Club, Nancy Drew, and Boxcar Children books all the time.  It was when I stole her Little  House on the Prairie series that I really understood the power of books.  Never before had I read a book that I quite literally refused to put down until I finished.  I had no idea that books could be so enthralling and captivating.  Once I had read through the entire Little House series my sister told me there was a series about Laura Ingalls Wilder’s grandmother, mother, and even her daughter!!  That news had me greedily forcing my mother to take me to the library and the bookstore to keep getting me more books.  Thankfully my mom had NO issues having a child who wanted to read and willingly took me for books every time I asked!  The Little House series was honestly the first books I read for pleasure and I credit the series for the love I currently have of novels, most specifically memoir novels.  It was through reading these books that I learned to control my hyperactivness and learn to focus on one thing at a time.  Without reading these books I’m not sure what kind of focus I’d have as an adult today.

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As I got into my later years of elementary school and early years of high school I stopped reading for pleasure.  I was forced to read tons of books in high school and was so busy with extracurricular activities that I just didn’t find it fun anymore.  My senior year in high school, my english course started reading Angela’s Ashes by Frank McCourt.  WOW.  For the first time in a long time I was hungrily reading a book.  Angela’s Ashes was everything you could ask for in a book: emotional, gripping, honest, heartbreaking, inspiring, scintillating, and so much more.  It opened the path right back up for me and I started reading again voraciously.  At 17 I started being able to read as well as learn from what I was reading.  Angela’s Ashes taught me that no matter what life throws at you, with hard work and dedication you can overcome it.  Pride and Prejudice taught me not to be so hasty in judging a person’s character.  It is only through true knowledge of a person that you can really learn what is on the inside.  Things Fall Apart taught me that not all change is bad, but forcing change for the sake of change is not beneficial for anyone.   The Harry Potter series taught me about true friendship and overcoming all obstacles with faith and confidence in yourself.  (It also opened my eyes to this magical word that I couldn’t get enough of).

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As my college years came, the amount of work that was given to us was substantial.  Being a media production major took up most of my free time as I spent it either filming or editing my projects.  As my senior year came and went and my professional life began, I found the time to read again.  Home one night and bored out of my mind I decided to watch the first Twilight film.  (You can all start laughing now) I loved it and wanted to get my hands on the first volume ASAP.  I read the entire Twilight series in 3 days.  I was hooked.  Hooked this time to vampire novels.  I read the Twilight series, the Sookie Stackhouse series, and the Vampire Diaries series all in a short period of time.  Through my vampire craze I found a book called Mr. Darcy, Vaympire by Amanda Grange and that just opened me up to the Jane Austen fan fiction world.  It is through reading all these books again that I found a passion for book reviewing, which has led to my blog!

The three books above have been my gateway books into the world of reading.  I’ve been to Ireland, Washington, regency England, the court of Henry VIII, concentration camps during the Holocaust, a state road during the apocalypse, Hogwarts, and so many other places through the wonderful worlds that have been created by Frank McCourt, Jane Austen, Stephenie Meyers, Homer, Neil Gaiman and so many others.  Reading allows us to take journeys to anywhere we want to go and to do anything we want to do without ever leaving the comfort of our favorite reading spot.

I’d love to know what books have helped shape your lives so leave a comment below!

GIVEAWAY- I’m going to be giving away a copy of Angela’s Ashes by Frank McCourt.  Leave a comment telling me if you’ve ever had a gateway book or had a book completely change your life.  Comments will be accepted through Wednesday March 30th at midnight.  Winners will be picked at random and announced Thursday March 31st.  Giveaway open to US & Canadian residents only. 

My Top 10….Literary Couples (Part II)

As promised in yesterday’s post, here are my top five literary couples!

(Please be warned, there could be some spoilers in my blurbs on each couple)

5.) Catherine Earnshaw and Heathcliff (From Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte)

                Catherine and Heathcliff to me is one of those love stories where the love the characters have for each other is their vindicating trait.  Catherine and Heathcliff grow up in the same house together, she as the master’s daughter and Heathcliff as the family’s adopted son.  As Heathcliff and Catherine grow they become closer and closer.  The two sneak over to an estate close to their own to see a lavish party and what wealth can give them.  While there Cathy gets attacked by one of the dogs and is taken inside the house where she stays for several weeks.  When she returns home she has become a lady and claims that she is marrying Edgar, the master of the wealthy estate she stayed at.  Heathcliff over hears her telling a housemaid that while she really loves Heathcliff she has to marry Edgar to get the wealth and social prominence she so desires.  Heathcliff leaves to go get educated and become wealthy, hoping that he can win Cathy back.  Heathcliff is gone for three years and in that time Cathy gets married.  When Heathcliff returns and sees that Cathy and Edgar are married he vows to get vengeance on Edgar for by marrying Edgar’s sister Isabella.  Heathcliff turns into a cruel man and literally drives Isabella mad.  Now if you’re thinking Cathy is selfish and Heathcliff is cruel, angry, bitter, and heartbroken you’d be absolutely right.  It’s who they are in the end of the novel that shows how vindicating love can be.  If you’ve never read this novel I heartily encourage you to give it a whirl.  It’s rough reading through the first time, as you want to just shake the characters and say “wake up!”, but it’s one of those stories that you have to read to understand what I mean. 

4.) Laura Ingalls Wilder and Almanzo Wilder (From the Little House Series by Laura Ingalls Wilder)

                For those that have never read the Little House series by Laura Ingalls Wilder let me give you a brief breakdown.  Laura’s books chronicled her childhood moving from place to place with her family as they tried to survive as a farming family.  Laura meets Almanzo in her teen years and falls in love with him despite there being a ten-year age gap between them.  Their courtship is one of a time long-lost and forgotten in today’s society.  Almanzo courts Laura for three years before he proposes to her and gives her first kiss.  It’s relationships like this of a bygone era that make my heart truly flutter.  Those of you that know me know that I’m a hopeless romantic and wish that life could be like it was in simpler times like these.  People weren’t fluttering from person to person; they met one person who they knew they could share their life with and did just that.  Another reason I absolutely love Laura and Almanzo is because their story is real!! It gives hope to the reader that they too can find a love as pure and consistent as theirs.

3.) Romeo and Juliet (From Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare)

                Romeo and Juliet are THE quintessential couple when it comes to ranking literary couples.  The two loved each other so much that they refused to live without the other, literally.  Any list ranking great love stories has to have theirs!  While their love is certainly tragic, it is true, wholesome, honest, and deep.  Those that find love like Romeo and Juliet’s are incredibly lucky.

2.) Anne Elliot and Captain Frederick Wentworth (From Persuasion by Jane Austen)

                Anne and Frederick….A pairing that finds me at a loss for words.  Anne in her youth becomes head over heels in love with Wentworth and accepts a proposal of marriage to him.  She is persuaded by a close family friend that the marriage would be imprudent due to what is expected of a woman of her social standing.  Wentworth has no money, no connections, and would in essence bring down the family name.  Believing everyone to know what is best for her, Anne breaks the engagement, and in doing so breaks Wentworth’s heart.  Years later the tables have turned; Anne’s father has spent the family into a debt and Wentworth has become a rich Captain in the Navy.  Wentworth’s sister and brother-in-law rent out Anne’s family estate, thus thrusting Wentworth and Anne back into each others company.  Having been separated for over 7 years Wentworth believes himself to be completely over his love for Anne.  Anne on the other hand threatens to be as in love with him as ever.  Knowing that it is her fault for their broken engagement she keeps silent while in his company.  Tragedy strikes however and Wentworth turns to Anne for her help, thus opening his eyes to this majestic creature he used to love.  They must figure out if their love is enough to overcome the years and experiences they’ve had apart.  Anne and Wentworth are truly the crème de la crème of Austen literature.  Even though they’ve been separated for several years they both know deep down that they’ve only ever truly loved each other.  That consistency is both admirable and breathtaking to a heartless romantic.

1.) Elizabeth Bennett and Fitzwilliam Darcy (From Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen)

                Where do I even begin for these guys?? Elizabeth Bennett and Fitzwilliam Darcy have a love story that is not all that hard to believe.  It is rife with misunderstanding, pride, shyness, arrogance, prejudice, understanding, forgiveness, passion, and trust.  Their relationship starts off badly with an ill begotten statement made by Darcy at a ball.  Lizzie bases her feelings for Darcy on this statement she overhears and refuses to change her opinion of him until much later in the novel.  Darcy quickly realizes the mistake in his comment when he sees her beauty and wit. He begins seeking out her company during her stay at his friend’s estate and the balls at which they are both in attendance.  Lizzie refuses to believe that he has a non-arrogant bone in his body and continues with the verbal assault on him both to his face and to her friends.  Darcy and Lizzie have a DISASTAROUS first proposal where she tells him that he is that last man in the world that she would ever marry.  Darcy realizes that she is right in her assessment of him in certain areas and writes her a letter refuting the other points.  This broken proposal makes Darcy realize he needs to change and stop being prejudiced to those below his social standing.  Lizzie, after reading Darcy’s letter, realizes that she is all wrong about him and is mortified that she was so blinded by pride.  They meet again several months later and both are completely changed in the other’s eyes.  Seeing a chance to start again they embark on a friendship that threatens to be ended when Lizzie’s sister runs away with Darcy’s enemy.  I won’t bore you with any more of the plot, (although I don’t think anyone could ever be bored by Pride and Prejudice) and get straight into why I love them.  There is such a lesson to be learned here.  While first impressions are important, don’t let them be the end all be all of shaping a person’s character.  Lizzie and Darcy find true love and companionship in each other once they let their egos out-of-the-way.  I love reading their story because they are both full of faults (as we all are) and it’s the admission of their faults to each other that paves the way for a love to blossom between them.

Well readers, there you have my top ten literary couples.  Let me know who your favorites are (whether they are in my list or have been omitted!)

Until next time, Happy Reading!