31 March 2021

Books Completed Since March 1

book icon  The Wheel of Things: A Biography of Lucy Maud Montgomery, Mollie Gillen
There are newer biographies of Maud, as she preferred to be known, which go into many of the psychological difficulties she had due to her upbringing (not to mention the fact that it has recently come to light that she probably committed suicide), but I found this at a library sale and it's notable in that it seems to be the first Canadian-published adult biography of Montgomery (I could be wrong) and that it was published in 1975, long before Kevin Sullivan's production of Anne of Green Gables with Megan Follows and Colleen Dewhurst got the publicity machines rolling again and made Anne and Avonlea go from a cottage industry on Prince Edward Island to a global phenomenon.

Maud's mother died when she was not yet two years old and she was left to be raised by her maternal grandparents in Cavendish, PEI, while her father, Hugh, sought employment elsewhere. Her life is a lot like Emily Starr, including her imaginings (Maud always felt closer to Emily than Anne, and many times regretted creating the latter, as her publishers asked for endless Anne sequels—she wrote the last in 1938!), creative things which shocked her conservative grandparents. Like Anne Shirley, she found a friend in a reflection in a china cabinet, "Katie Maurice." She only lived with her father briefly when she was older, finding out to chagrin that her new stepmother, whom she hoped would love her, only wanted her as a child minder and housekeeper. Later she became a newspaper reporter, and in her thirties married a dour minister who suffered from depression. Nevertheless she took delight in life and especially in nature.

I haven't read the other bios of Montgomery, but this was enjoyable, especially considering it was pre-Sullivan, so to speak.
book icon  Re-read: The Landscapes of Anne of Green Gables, Catherine Reid
I'd already read this as an e-book and electrons didn't do it justice; I was just waiting for an affordable copy! If you loved Marta McDowell's Gardening Life of Beatrix Potter or The World of Laura Ingalls Wilder, you will love Reid's book featuring beautiful glossy color photographs of the settings of Anne of Green Gables as well as pictures of the historic sites relating to L.M. Montgomery and photographs taken by Montgomery herself (some of them hand-colored by Montgomery). Reid not only tells us the stories of the settings, but how they gave solace to Montgomery, who had a sad childhood being cared for by indifferent grandparents and then returned to a stepmother who basically turned her into a baby-minder and servant; while her writing was a success, she also had a troubled adulthood, plagued by publishers' problems, a mentally unstable husband, and her own depression.. We are shown the original Green Gables and a recreation of the town of Cavendish, which was inspiration for Anne Shirley's Avonlea, and also her relatives' home Silver Bush, which contained some of the inspirational landscapes for the Anne books and also the two Pat books. Of interest are several photos of Montgomery's scrapbooks, which were always full of floral and botanical images, and excerpts from her journals. Anyone who has read Anne, Emily, Pat, or any of Montgomery books set on PEI who has wondered "what did it look like?" will love this beautiful volume!
book icon  Death of an American Beauty, Mariah Fredericks
Jane Prescott is supposed to be on vacation, but when she's asked to help out with a pageant celebrating the fiftieth anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation being put on by the wife of wealthy department store owner George Rutherford, she finds herself drawn in to helping with the costumes. She still hopes to enjoy part of her vacation—until one of the "fallen women" that her minister uncle assists, teaching them new skills so they can quit prostitution, is murdered in front of the refuge. Her uncle's establishment has caused gossip for years, but now there are two groups saying the reverend is really running a whorehouse, and that he murdered Sadie Ellis. Sadie's gruesome death makes Jane recall a day years ago when a woman with a slashed face—a "negro" woman—was not turned away from her uncle's refuge because of her color, and she made the acquaintance of the truly exceptional Otelia Brooks.
I am in awe of how Fredericks captures the era without repeated use of the ethnic/racial/sexual slurs that would have been in common use at the time but still manages to capture the overwhelming venom of that society toward minorities and women. I love Jane because she is not a twenty-first century woman dressed up in early 20th century clothes, but even she is overshadowed in this mystery by Otelia. From her presence in this book you will know fear and sorrow, but also courage and determination.

With a supporting cast including Jane's employer Louise Tyler, the overwhelming Dolly Rutherford, Jane's old friend reporter Michael Behan, loveable pianist Leo Hirschfeld, Jane's best friend and anarchist Anna, and the ladies of her uncle's refuge, this is another winner in Fredericks' Jane Prescott series.
book icon  Death of a Showman, Mariah Fredericks
Louise and William Tyler have returned from Europe (to Louise's relief) after her sister's wedding, and lady's maid Jane Prescott is relieved to get back to normal life. But the first thing she learns upon returning is that songwriter Leo Hirschfeld, who she'd come to love during the previous summer, but who told her he'd never be married, has wed a chorus girl. But she'll have to see Leo a lot more than she planned, since he convinces Louise to be a "Broadway angel" for his new musical, produced by the great empresario Sidney Warburton. Warburton is certainly no angel, and both Jane and Louise get an education as they negotiate rehearsals where there's cast in-fighting, personality conflicts, multiple script changes, and arguments galore.

And then Warburton is shot, and there's no end of suspects, including Leo, the older actress whose lover Warburton barred from the set, the aging dance couple, and even drunken Roland Harney, the dipsomaniac performer with the little dog (you may see in Harney echoes of W.C. Fields). In the meantime, history goes on behind the scenes: Archduke Francis Ferdinand has been assassinated, and the bloody Ludlow massacre in Colorado has Jane's best friend, anarchist and activist Anna, enraged.

The main plot of the book reminds me of a similar Perry Mason episode about a discontented acting troupe, except it takes place in Jane Prescott's universe at the time when ragtime was capturing the America's imagination. It's a glimpse into early 20th century life backstage, in which people who didn't quite fit into regular society found a home in theater society—but also the story of how some of these people were exploited. While I didn't find some aspects of the plot as compelling as in the previous three books, the theatre setting was intriguing and seeing Leo again was a treat, even, alas, if he wasn't fated to end up with Jane.
book icon  Where the Girls Are, Susan J. Douglas
This is a fun study of the way the media portrayed girls and women during the baby boom era and how it tried to brainwash us into being the perfect woman: maternal, smart (but not too smart), clever (but not cleverer than the guys, of course), with a perfect figure, skin, clothes, makeup, and smiling, optimistic attitude. Well, it's fun at least  until the later chapters when the author gets into politics and turns it deathly boring, or when she seems honor-bound to dis any guy who comes along unless he's totally in favor of feminism. The sociological bits are fascinating. I never thought of Samantha Stephens as a feminist (Endora, yes, but not Samantha), because if that idiot Darrin told me I had to do housework by hand when I could wiggle my nose and do it, I'd have told him what he could with the broomstick! The chapter about the Shirelles and other girl groups was great. Also some good stuff about the rape storylines that suddenly proliferated on television drama in the 1970s that were just used for shock effect rather than to elicit any change in society, and the effect of negative ethnic stereotypes on children.

I guess politics had to enter into the mix, but I wish it hadn't.
book icon  Eleanor Roosevelt: The War Years and After (Volume III, 1939-1962), Blanche Wiesen Cook
Volume one in Cook's biography came out in 1993, the second in 2000...and then nothing. I was quite despairing of ever seeing the rest when this was released, then I had to wait to afford it. This third volume carries Eleanor from the beginning of World War II in Europe to her death.
Or rather it carries, in depth, Eleanor from 1939 until Franklin dies in 1945 All that is great. We read of the punishing schedule she sets for herself during the war: her columns, her visits to the troops, her efforts to rescue Jewish Europeans from the Nazis, her work with the NAACP and other groups pushing for fair rights for those of African descent, hosting Crown Princess Marthe and her children after Norway is invaded by the Nazis, juggling her relationships with her children and her best friend Lorena Hickok and her male friends Earl Miller and Joseph Lash, the death of her brother and her mother-in-law, and the disillusion of the end of her friendship with Marion Dickerman and Nancy Cook. Like Eleanor, Cook handles this juggling act with aplomb.
Eleanor's life after 1945 is basically summed up in 28 pages. Those years when she came into her own as an independent woman not tied to her husband's reputation. When she worked for the United Nations. When she ceaselessly championed human rights, especially those of African-Americans. When she was seriously considered as a candidate, if not for President, but at least for Vice President (an alternate history novel Eleanor Vs. Ike came from this fact). Blanche, what happened? Did you get sick, or someone in the family got sick, and you just had to stop? I don't understand. I'd so looked forward to reading the rest!
book icon  The Vanished Bride, Bella Ellis
Would you believe I have never read a novel by any of the Brontё sisters? Jane's relatives in the first chapter of Jane Eyre were so dreadful I couldn't keep reading, and that was the only one I tried.

However, a mystery as solved by the Brontё sisters, especially after watching the film To Walk Invisible was yet another thing altogether. Wealthy Elizabeth Chester vanishes from her bedroom at a Yorkshire estate, and the room is found doused in blood. Matilda French, an old friend of the Brontё sisters and nursemaid at the estate, is overcome with horror. The sisters, some years before taking on their aliases and writing Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights, and Tenant of Wildfell Hall, take an interest in becoming "lady detectors" and finding out who did such a horrible thing.
As a whole I enjoyed this, especially the sisterly bickering, and the sisters' despair over clever brother Branwell, who seems determined to drink and fornicate himself to death. Ellis tries very hard to write in the manner of a 19th century author without getting too bogged down in the verbosity of the time period, and most of the time it works well. You can see the bleakness of the Haworth area where the sisters and brother grew up, the constrictions of the time (to inquire into the missing woman, the sisters must construct an inquiry agency made up of men before anyone will take them seriously, not to mention the excuses they keep having to make to poor papa Patrick Brontё to leave the house at all!), the deterioration of the dissolute Branwell. The feminist theme is front and center, but some traditionalists may not like the message involved in the mystery's solution. And in the telling of the tale you see the germ of ideas that later would be part of a Brontё sisters' novel: gypsies, bad-tempered masters of the estate, fearful governesses...

Looking forward to the next one.
book icon  Re-read: The Horsemasters, Don Stanford
I found this book somewhere on a remainder pile long before the 1980s (and before discovering Disney made an inferior film of it). It's the story of Dinah Wilcox, a seventeen-year-old girl whose dream is to go to Wells, a small, expensive college, with her lifelong best friend, Bee-Bye Simms. But Dinah's parents are not well-to-do and it seems she will have to settle for the local state college—unless she can pass the intensive 15-week Horsemaster course at the Owen-Allerford Riding School on the English coast to get herself certified as a riding instructor so she can work her way through Wells. Funded by a bequest from her grandmother and with hope in her heart (since she's as green a horseback rider as can be), she joins three young men and ten young women for a summer not only of learning to ride well enough to do dressage, jumping, and cross-country, but how to care properly for a horse's health, knowing how to treat illness and feed the animal appropriate food.

I say this is the perfect book to give to a horse-loving child with stars in their eyes thinking owning a horse means galloping it forever on some candy-covered plain like in a Rainbow Brite cartoon without considering the care horses need. Written in an engaging style that teaches you the hard-work realities of owning and riding (there's a stirrup-less jumping exercise in something called "the Grid" that sounds gruesome), including treating illnesses like thrush, lampas, and lameness, with a cast of teens/twenties who each have their own personalities and weaknesses. We know Adrienne, the wealthy Swiss girl, is unused to hard work; Enzo, the Italian boy, is gallant and complimentary; Jill, the Scottish girl, likes to eat; Sally is practical; Bee Bye is proud, as is David; and Dinah is just doing her darnest to keep up with classmates who were either brought up on farms or with horses. In addition, although this book was written in 1957 and when the girls dress up they're all in dresses, and they're called "Miss" by the riding instructors, there's no other midcentury sexism lurking in the wings. The girls are expected to be able to do the same work as the boys (getting dirty in stable work is an equal-opportunity event!); there are no intimations that they are any less experienced riders because they are female, nor are they expected not to live up to the same standards because they are women. The author even addresses the individual personalities of the horses the young people are assigned, and how each horse is not a carbon copy of the next, and for any kids given this book, the adults are just as interesting as the Horsemasters: tough Major Brooke and meticulous Captain Pinski, the riding instructors; Mr. Ffolliott, the vet instructor; Jock Woods, the Scots stud groom at the nearby Vale School; and especially Mercy Hale, the hated head girl at Owen-Allerford, who makes the Horsemasters work hard for every achievement.

A grand, grand book in which everyone triumphs not due to how much money they have or their social status or how pretty they are, but due to effort and teamwork.
book icon  An Irish Hostage, Charles Todd
In 1916, nurse Bess Crawford saved fellow nurse Eileen Flynn's life when the ship they were on, transporting injured soldiers from the front lines of the Great War, was torpedoed. Now it's 1919, the war is over, and Eileen has asked Bess to be her maid of honor in her wedding to Michael Sullivan. But there are still terrible frictions between England and Ireland, and Bess' parents and her father's assistant Simon Brandon, are fearful of her traveling across Ireland by train. Instead, to assuage them all, Bess arranges to be flown to Eileen's home by Captain Arthur Jackson, an American still stationed in England. When Bess arrives at Eileen's house, she discovers Michael is missing, most probably kidnapped by Irish nationalists, possibly because, like Eileen, he "took the king's shilling" and worked on the side of the enemy. Are Bess and Michael's best man, another Englishman, Major Ellis Dawson, also in danger?
Historically it's easy to forget that 100 years ago the Irish were nearly rooting for the Germans, so terrible had been the English stewardship of Ireland, with its domineering landlords who sent thousands of starving Irish fleeing to the United States during the potato famine of 1849, the remaining population treated not much better than slaves. Three years after the bloody Easter Rising, the Irish nationalists still want revenge for the murder of the men who stood their ground at the Dublin post office, and you can understand their passions.

On the other hand, this really wasn't what I wanted in another Bess Crawford book. I know the war is over, and I know Bess will have a great lifestyle change now that her nursing duties appear to be complete. But I think I'd rather have her solving mysteries related to the Great War than making a detour into Irish politics. The ending of the story seems to come out of another book completely, like an espionage thriller. So—enjoyed and kept my interest, but like the WWI-set plots better.

And for those who keep asking: yes, there's the tiniest bit of progress with the Bess/Simon UST.
book icon  Rescue, Jennifer Nielsen
Meg Kenyon was born in France, daughter of an English father and French mother. All her life, she and her father have played with secret codes which he taught her about from the time she could read. Two years ago, when war was declared, Meg's dad marched off to fight, and she hasn't seen him since. She only has a jar of codes he left her to remember him by, and she's solved all but one. Meg and her mother now live with her maternal grandmother and life is hard due to food and material shortages brought about by German occupation, but they've managed to dodge Nazi wrath until Meg finds a wounded English pilot in the barn. Not only could helping him bring death upon the family, but the Germans have also discovered Meg's book of codes. Meg's mother must get her out of the area, so, even though she is only twelve, she's deputized to take the place of the wounded pilot in helping to get a family (father, mother, and son) of Jews to safety, using a series of clues in code from her father. Although the family is supposed to go to Spain, Meg realizes it would be safer for them to head to Switzerland.
While I must admit this is a page-turner of a story with a mystery embedded in it, it still sort of niggled upon me that Meg is so young to be doing this job. Yes, I know the youngest known resistance fighter in France was a sixteen year old girl who handled a machine gun, but I'm thinking as an adult from the point of view of the two adults Meg is guiding: really, who's going to listen to her, especially when she changes their destination in mid-odyssey? It seems a bit improbable. I'm also not a person who's into codes, but supposedly Meg and her dad played code games for years, so it seems impossible to me that she misinterpreted the message he left for her in the long string of verse, since even a dim bulb like me made it out! It also seems to me that they sometimes seem to go great distances in a very short time!

Otherwise, this is a neat WWII adventure story for kids, with a good lesson on the hardships—hunger, cold, loneliness, fear of being killed or sent to a concentration camp—faced by those in occupied France and how they coped and survived, and the sheer grit required just to get through each day. The text is very fair to Germans, making it clear that not all of them were Nazis, and some risked their lives to help others, and that there were also French who collaborated with their foes to gain favor or power. Meg is a great protagonist: inventive, stubborn, and resolute despite her fears.
book icon  The Sisters: The Saga of the Mitford Family, Mary S. Lovell
Except for the mention of a famed British book called Love in a Cold Climate, I'd never heard of the Mitford family until I saw Jessica Fellowes "Mitford Murders" mystery series. Author Lovell, who wrote the book in 2000, says most people under the age of 50 (which I was in 2000) wouldn't recognize the name, but older people probably would. Not sure about that, but they certainly were a strange and fascinating mob.
David Mitford, who became the 2nd Baron Redesdale, and his wife Sydney raised six daughters and a son, all of them with different passions and convictions. Nancy, the eldest and most sharp-tongued, became a noted author; Pamela was the most ordinary one, she was happy on her farm; Tom, the only son, became a lawyer; Diana, already married, fell in love with the leader of the British Facist Party, Oswald Mosley, and spent most of World War II in jail; Unity, the really strange one, had a crush on Adolf Hitler and like a fangirl, followed his appearances and became his friend—when England and Germany went to war in 1939 she tried to commit suicide; Jessica became a Communist and moved to the U.S.; and Deborah married the love of her life, Andrew Cavendish, and ended up as the Duchess of Devonshire. At one time or the other at least half of the family met Hitler early in his career and didn't think he was a bad fellow until after the war began and truths came to light. They gave each other odd nicknames: Jessica was "Decca," Unity was "Boud," their nursemaid was "Nanny Blor," David was "Farve." Jessica hated Diana for her political beliefs for the rest of her life. Nancy scandalized society by making her family the main characters in her novels (disguised and renamed, of course, but still identifiable). Even though David was "titled" the family had very little money and had to keep moving to smaller and smaller homes so the girls' "debuts" could be afforded. At one time one or the other of them was always in the British newspapers, and not always for good reasons.

I certainly didn't know what to make of these folks. For titled, rich people they certainly weren't dull. Sounded like it would be fun to talk to several of them, like Nancy or Debo, at a party, but certainly no one I'd want to be friends with. If this is "how the upper class lives," they can have it, thanks.
book icon  Alibis & Angels, Olivia Matthews
The third, and presumably last, of the Sister Lou mysteries. As Lent approaches, Mayor Heather Stanley (who we've come to learn to hate in previous volumes) finds herself threatened by someone who doesn't want her to run for re-election. After she loans a co-worker her car and her coat to get to a meeting, the co-worker is found dead in the parking lot after the meeting, having broken her neck in a fall down the stairs. The two (terminally stupid) Briar Coast police officers Fran and Ted think it was an accident. So Mayor Stanley turns to Sister Louise LaSalle for help, telling her she doesn't want to inform the police of the threats. Of course Shari Henson, reporter for the local paper, and nephew Chris LaSalle become involved, as does Shari's editor, Diego DeVarona, who knew Heather back when she worked in El Paso. If having to work on this mystery doesn't make Sister Lou uneasy enough, especially when it looks like the culprit is one of the mayor's "loyal staff," Shari's gradual relaxation into her role as reporter is thrown a curve by Harold Beckett, who Shari sees as "normal" and more deserving of a newspaper job than a former despised foster kid like herself, so her once-lessening inferiority complex roars back with a vengeance.

I like all the characters in these books (well, for the possible exception of Fran and Ted, who are really too stupid to be police officers) and I like that the situation revolves around a Catholic college and a group of sisters. Sister Lou is a saint, especially with people like Sister Marianna as compatriots. The mysteries are moderately interesting. But the author's way of describing things drives me crazy. In the opening of the book it states "Sharelle 'Shari' Henson gaped at Christian 'Chris' LaSalle." Who describes their characters and their nicknames so clumsily? Later it's "Sister Louise 'Lou' LaSalle" and "Harold 'Don't Call Me Hal' Beckett." Clothes, shoes, accessories, and furniture are described endlessly by brand name and color. If I heard one more time about Chris' and Sister Lou's "onyx eyes" I was going to scream. And what is with Sister Barbara, the prioress? Why does she allow Sister Marianna to ask questions that she has been requested not to ask, and badger Sister Lou? Just because you are a member of a religious order doesn't mean you can't be punished for being rude!
Plus you can tell these books are not proofread by a human. In one paragraph, the grounds of Sister Lou's college is being described and the text states "a ring of Burberry bushes surrounded a white plaster statue." Burberry is a brand of upscale British garments (several people in the story wear Burberry products). Perhaps they meant "barberry bushes"? Also, "plaster" statue? Outside? Stone, maybe, or concrete? Marble? Even resin, but...plaster? Out in the rain and snow? In another bit of description, a character uses a descriptive phrase used by denizens of that game where people hit little white balls along a fairway with a metal club. This is described as the character "using a gulfing term." My head hurts.
book icon  Philomena, Kate Seredy
This was the very last of the Seredy books I had never read (thankfully I found Gypsy and Tenement Tree online), and it was reprinted a few years ago in a trade paperback format with cover art by another artist. Philomena lives in a small Bohemian town with her grandmother, Baboushka, who brought her up after her parents died. In her town, girls her age (twelve) journey to Prague and go "into service" for four years learning to be good workers before coming home at age sixteen to be married. Every woman in the small community has done so, except for Philomena's aunt, who wrote home saying she was marrying a wealthy man and not returning. So when it's time for Philomena to do the same, Baboushka bids her to go to Prague to find her aunt and work for her.

Alas, Philomena can't find her aunt, but she has many adventures with different employers before her journey comes to an end, and also makes many friends. Throughout her journey, although homesick, she works hard, remains friendly and optimistic, and is always ready to comfort the sad and rescue the abused. Sometimes her escapades are amusing, other times sad, and the text is illustrated by Seredy's lovely pre-World War I views of Prague and the traditional clothing of the time.

A sweet tale of faith, determination, and courage, although today's parents may find it horrifying that a twelve-year-old was allowed to go to a big city alone.
book icon  Re-read: The Good Master, Kate Seredy
This was Seredy's first book, based on her childhood memories of growing up in Hungary, and Kate Nagy is one of the most delightful female protagonists in children's fiction ever. Spoiled by her widowed father and recovering from a bad case of the measles, Kate is sent to live in the country with her Uncle Marton (the titular "good master"), his wife, and their ten-year-old son Jancsi, who imagines Kate to be some sort of sweet invalid whom he can protect from fantastic dangers. Instead he discovers she's a headstrong, mischievous little girl with a stubborn streak a mile wide, full of pluck and admirable talents.
How Kate is "tamed" by Uncle Marton's wisdom, yet remains irrepressibly Kate and independent is the focus of this delightful story, in which she learns to ride horseback, garden, and take on some of the responsibilities on a big Hungarian farm in 1912. There's a big county fair, a horse stampede, and a river adventure. The only problematic chapter for a modern audience is one about the Romany (gypsies) in which they are portrayed as untrustworthy; this can be a good "teaching moment" about past perceptions of certain ethnic groups, and that there are good and bad in every group. Otherwise this is a wonderful portrayal of traditional Hungarian culture pre-World War I, with the colorful native costumes, ways of farming and raising animals, celebrations, and foods.
book icon  Women Rowing North, Mary Pipher
I picked this up because the subtitle was "Navigating Life's Currents and Flourishing as We Age." Well, I'm aging, and I'd like to flourish.
I think I've received better advice from Gretchen Rubin's podcast and her book The Happiness Project. Although Pipher talks to many women during the course of the book, she focuses much of the text on four composite women. Two have ill spouses, one must take care of her careless daughter's children, one has built a wall around herself due to childhood abuse. All four women learn to take care of their needs while facing futures they had not seen for themselves. Self-care is emphasized in the text, as is not to allow changes in your planned future to bring you down. It is simply, the author says, a matter of adjusting to a new normal. These are subjects I've already read about in other books and in magazines like "Breathe."

Having already experienced a few of the situations portrayed in this book, I have to admit I learned nothing new. Being older is just like living life when you're younger: you must be ready to adapt to situations you didn't anticipate—there are just more geriatric medical issues. The woman who had looked forward to retirement is now raising her grandchildren, the woman who loved to work now finds her life wrapped around her husband's illness. Only in one case does the person actually find her life improved by the change in her life's path.

Pipher's text covers a very narrow group of women. While she says she talked with all races/ethnic groups in all walks of life, her subjects seem to be solidly white and middle class. There's very little about lower-income women coping with aging.

I wasn't bored, but it didn't do much for me, either. Best part of the book were the Eleanor Roosevelt quotations.
book icon  Re-read: Stillmeadow Sampler, Gladys Taber
It's always good to end a month with a Stillmeadow book. This is the sixth in Taber's memoirs, this time divided into seasons beginning with spring.
Although she has always occasionally mentioned her eccentric father and nurturing mother in previous texts, this Stillmeadow outing provides more memories of Gladys' childhood, when, finally settled in one house in Wisconsin, her mother hosted all her school friends and only her father traveled, sometimes vanishing for months at time (he was a geologist) and once being held hostage in Mexico. She also devotes a few more paragraphs to the late 1950s fears of nuclear war. Otherwise it's the same wonderful stories of life in an old farmhouse, a place of the joys of nature and of owning dogs, to the sheer hard work of keeping up such a place, and of gardening, although the rewards of the latter are rich. Planting is followed by growth, then by harvest, then by eating of the fruits of their labor. One dog is called home and another receives an honor. Visitors come and go, including friend Barbara and her illustrator husband Ed Shenton, and Faith Baldwin, and even a visit from actress Shirley Booth.

Every season smiles over Stillmeadow, and there is much to smile at: buds, flowers, trees, grass, leaves, the Quiet Garden, the bumper crop of veg, snow, the turning of the year, bounding cocker spaniels and the always irrepressible Irish setter. Read slowly and savor: mindfulness began at Stillmeadow.
book icon  Re-read: Wyoming Summer, Mary O'Hara
I can't remember ever not loving this book, which is a bit impossible since I didn't read it until I was twelve years old when I found it in the Hugh B. Bain library. It's not a children's book, so I'm a bit flummoxed what it was doing in a junior high school library (but then neither was Especially Dogs, Especially at Stillmeadow). But, like all the books I fell in love with there, it's now an intimate part of my life, of my heart. When I found a copy, despite the water-damaged dustcover, at a local booksale several years later, my heart was full.
For 11 years, Mary O'Hara Alsop and her second husband, Helge Sture-Vasa, lived at Remount Ranch in Wyoming, 30 miles from Cheyenne, where they first raised sheep, then horses, and ran a boys' camp in the summer. A diarist from childhood, Mary's entries about the ranch, Wyoming, the horses, the boys, her husband, her study of music, the ranch hands, neighbors, and other animals found their way into her 1942 best-seller My Friend Flicka and its two sequels, as well as into a musical called The Catch Colt. Mary had tried to sell an adaptation of her diaries before Flicka, but her publisher suggested a novel instead, and it was only in the early 1960s that the manuscript that became Wyoming Summer saw the light again.
Early in the book Mary talks about certain combinations of musical notes sending her into a magical dream world she called Shinar. This book is my Shinar. Once I have passed the first sentence "I have walked down to the pasture to look at the bull" I am no longer in my chair with a book, I am with Mary in Wyoming, riding a horse along the continental divide, experiencing wild thunderstorms, studying counterpoint and thematic development, talking about the personalities of the horses, dogs, cats, and cows that populate the ranch (as well as the ranch hands and their rancher neighbors), counseling the teen boys who come to the ranch each summer to learn to ride and be independent, enjoying the majesty of the rolling grassland of Eastern Wyoming. I am with her as she copes with her husband's strong emotions, recalls her childhood, faces mercurial weather, trains a fearful setter, bakes bread, faces unreliable ranch hands, sleeps under the stars, and goes about the daily routine of a ranch without electricity and what the British would call "mod coms." To this day, two of her phrases have been with me: talking about memorable events which pass so quickly: "How fast the earth spins—" And the one that reminds me every day to be mindful, for we know not what comes: "Yes—happiness hangs by a hair–"
It is always a comfort to disappear into this beautifully-written book. Sometimes I am almost tempted to go back to page one and start all over again. Shinar calls.