Sunday, March 31, 2013

The Wilder Life

The title:  The Wilder Life: My Adventures in the Lost World of Little House on the Prairie
The author: Wendy McClure
Publication: Riverhead, 2011
Got it from: Overdrive

One of the many pleasures of owning an iPod touch is getting to download free audiobooks from the library.  In the last two years I've been able to visit several favourite children's books that I wouldn't have had time to read otherwise: Little Women, Anne of Avonlea, Anne of the Island, Anne's House of Dreams, Five Little Peppers, and now I'm about to start on Sidney Taylor's All-of-a-Kind Family.  But I also have been enjoying some non-fiction as well: Betty White's hilarious autobiography If You Ask Me..., Joseph Ellis's biography of John and Abigail Adams, First Family, and most recently Wendy McClure's entertaining The Wilder Life.

Wendy McClure was a big fan of the Little House books growing up in the 1970's.  I remember reading and enjoying them too, especially Little House in the Big Woods for its famous sugaring/country dance scene.  But I was more of a Lucy Maud Montgomery fan.  Montgomery's world was my world - a rural Maritime one - albeit separated by a gulf of 100 years.  I couldn't quite relate to Laura Ingalls Wilder's can-do prairie family, which seemed almost impossibly hardworking. 

In this book, McClure makes it her mission to try and find "Laura World," a sentiment I can fully relate to as I spent a significant portion of my childhood trying to find "Anne World."  She tries her hand at making butter in an old-fashioned churn, twisting hay at the original Ingalls homestead, and in one hilarious chapter, takes part in a homesteading weekend that turns out to be a haven for creepy religious "end-timers."  She also researches the original Ingalls family and discovers that the "Little House" world is part fact, part fiction.  I loved the author's writing style.  The narrator of the audiobook seemed to inhabit her voice and I found myself laughing out loud at some of her turns of phrase.  When describing rival Nellie Oleson, whom Laura based on several real-life girls, she calls her "some kind of blond Frankenstein assembled from assorted bitch parts."  

McClure also visits several of the real-life Ingalls sites in her quest for the real Laura experience.  Sometimes she succeeds, sometimes she doesn't.  Along the way she meets other people just as obsessed with the details of pioneer life - bonnets, butter churns, corn cob dolls and all.  She even converts her real-life boyfriend to Laura World - sort of.  

Some of the reviews for this book say it's only for diehard fans, but I disagree.  I was only a mild fan, but I loved the whole idea of this book and enjoyed it from start to finish.  Anyone who has ever longed to visit inside a book as a child will love the author's adventures trying to do just that.

Monday, March 18, 2013

The Map of Time

The title:  The Map of Time
The author: Felix J. Palma
Publication: Atria Books, 2011
Got it from: The library

I finished this book awhile ago and put off writing anything about it, because there is just so much to say that I don't think I'm going to do it justice.  This book was originally published in Spanish and was such a huge bestseller that it was translated for the English-speaking market.  I was drawn to this book because I am fascinated by time travel.  And as it turned out, this book was nothing like what I expected.  First of all, the cover copy purports that the book is about H.G. Wells investigating the disappearance of classic novels in time.  In truth this is only a small part of the book, and not even the way you expect.

The Map of Time is essentially three long novellas with three separate but inter-related plots.  Several characters, including H.G. Wells, make appearances in all of them.  The best way I can describe the stories is that they are nesting dolls that reveal more and more with each new chapter.  

The first story is about Andrew, a dissolute young man who is drawn to a prostitute named Mary Kelly.  Anyone with a passing interest in Victorian history will recognize her as one of Jack the Ripper's victims.  When she is murdered, Andrew becomes consumed with grief and seeks a chance to rectify the past through time travel.  In this story we first encounter Wells and the mysterious and sinister Gilliam Murray, whose story and motives become more clear throughout the novel.

The second story is set up like a classic romance novel.  Claire Haggerty has a chance to travel to the year 2000 on one of Gilliam Murray's expeditions to the future.  She becomes infatuated with the hero of the future, Captain Shackleton, whom she sees defeat the automaton armies.  I can't say too much more about this story because it will ruin the pleasure of the surprise, but it builds on the reader's knowledge from the first story, so that we are aware not everything is as it seems.  

The third story is quite science fiction-y.  After the twists and turns of the first two stories, the reader isn't quite sure what is true.  This story involves a time-traveller from the future who is trying to prevent the theft of a trio of classic Victorian novels all being written at the same time.  Again, I can't say too much, but by now the reader has learned a valuable lesson not to trust anyone in the story.  

My feelings really changed as I was reading this story, and it's hard for me to discuss what I loved about it without giving anything away.  The first story was the most difficult for me to read, as the descriptions of Jack the Ripper's killings were gruesome and awful.  I loved the romance story the most.  The first two stories were really more about human nature and the Victorian fascination with time travel after the publication of The Time Machine than they were about actual time travel.  The third story goes more into the consequences of our actions and their outcome on the future (and possibly past, in the case of time travel).  Even though the book was about 700 pages long, I found myself completely engrossed and turning the pages quickly.  I highly recommend this strange, intriguing book to anyone.