Review: Into the Wild, Jon Krakauer

Into the Wild

“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.”

Henry David Thoreau

My sister gave me a copy of Jon Krakauer’s book Into the Wild for Christmas so many years ago now that I can’t remember, and I’m a little embarrassed that it has taken me so long to finally read it. I think what finally convinced me to read it at last was the recent publication of Carine McCandless’s own memoir, The Wild Truth. I had previously read Jon Krakauer’s article, “How Chris McCandless Died” in The New Yorker.

I am a funny reader. I don’t highlight or underline much in paper books, unless they are professional reading or books I’m teaching in my English classes. I didn’t make any marks in my paper copy of Into the Wild until I was more than a third, perhaps even close to halfway through the book, and I realized I needed to mark it up. I went back and found passages I liked in the parts I read before I had picked up my pencil.

For those (like me) who may not have read the book yet, it is the story of Christopher McCandless, who graduated from Emory University and disappeared on a quest to find himself in the wild. A devotee of Jack London, John Muir, and Henry David Thoreau, McCandless was drawn eventually to Alaska, where, it was supposed, he died of starvation. Jon Krakauer was asked to write about the tragedy for Outside magazine. However, Krakauer appears to have been unable to leave the story alone after the article, and this book is the result. In fact, as evidenced by the fact that Krakauer wrote the foreword to Carine McCandless’s book and is still contributing to discussion of Chris McCandless’s death, it seems plausible that he is still unable to let the story go. Once I started reading it, I also had a hard time putting the story down.

I was speaking with colleagues about the importance of narrative non-fiction. One important thing I have come to believe this year is that all of us, each and every one of us, has a story. In fact, many important stories. McCandless didn’t live to tell his story, in a sense, but in another sense, he actually did live to tell his story. Or perhaps, more accurately, he lived his story and Krakauer told it. Who was Chris McCandless, really? Just an arrogant, woefully unprepared, thoughtless slacker, as some people believe? The second coming of Thoreau? On the one hand, I understand those who are frustrated by the veneration of someone they see as foolhardy, and McCandless devotees have caused some real problems when they’ve tried to retrace his steps and find for themselves the old Fairbanks City Transit bus where he died. On the other hand, what I love about this book is that Krakauer elevated McCandless, a man who might otherwise have been forgotten by all but his family and friends, simply by telling his story, and by telling it so well.

I was particularly moved by McCandless’s friendship with and impact on a man Krakauer calls Ron Franz. I almost hesitate to share a quote here because part of me wants anyone reading this review to discover the book as I did, without having read a single line from it anywhere. On the other hand, anyone reading this review is likely not too worried about exposure, or they wouldn’t read a review (I know I avoid reviews of books I haven’t read unless I don’t mind some spoilers). So all that being said, this is the first part of the book that moved me:

“When Alex [McCandless’s pseudonym] left for Alaska,” Franz remembers, “I prayed. I asked God to keep his finger on the shoulder of that one; I told him that boy was special. But he let Alex die. So on December 26, when I learned what happened, I renounced the Lord. I withdrew my church membership and became an atheist. I decided I couldn’t believe in a God who would let something that terrible happen to a boy like Alex.” (60)

Some criticism I’ve read of the book faults Krakauer for inserting himself a bit too much into the narrative, but I actually liked it that he became close to the story. I think sometimes in telling a story about someone else, you need to identify how it’s also about you, and it is clear that Krakauer saw himself in McCandless and even indicates all that really separates the two of them is luck.

Even Ralph Waldo Emerson, in many ways the father of Transcendentalism in America, criticized his friend Thoreau, whom he felt frittered away his life: “I cannot help counting it a fault in him that he had no ambition… Instead of engineering for all America, he was the captain of a huckleberry party.”

Of course Thoreau was more than the captain of a huckleberry party. In fact, I’d argue he actually did engineer for all America. Emerson just didn’t realize it because so much of the change in thinking that Thoreau put in motion didn’t bear fruit until a century and more after Thoreau’s death.

I can easily see how one might criticize McCandless for making the mistakes he did, but as Krakauer points out,

McCandless wasn’t some feckless slacker, adrift and confused, racked by existential despair. To the contrary: His life hummed with meaning and purpose. But the meaning he wrested from existence lay beyond the comfortable path: McCandless distrusted the value of things that came easily. He demanded much of himself—more, in the end, than he could deliver. (184)

Am I arguing that Chris McCandless may one day have the impact that Thoreau has had? Maybe. I don’t know. But I do know his story is not only gripping and beautiful, in its way, but it is also important because he was one of us, and that alone makes it worthy to be told.

No man ever followed his genius till it misled him. Though the result were bodily weakness, yet perhaps no one can say that the consequences were to be regretted, for these were a life in conformity to higher principles. If the day and night are such that you greet them with joy, and life emits a fragrance like flowers and sweet-scented herbs, it is more elastic, more starry, more immortal—that is your success. All nature is your congratulation, and you have cause momentarily to bless yourself. The greatest gains and values are farthest from being appreciated. We easily come to doubt if they exist. We soon forget them. They are the highest reality… The true harvest of my daily life is somewhat as in intangible and indescribable as the tints of morning or evening. It is a little star-dust caught, a segment of the rainbow which I have clutched.

Henry David Thoreau

Rating: ★★★★★

Related posts:

Jane Austen’s First Love: Review and Giveaway

Jane Austen's First Love by Syrie James 2014 x 350In a letter to her sister Cassandra in 1796, Jane Austen wrote, “We went by Bifrons and I contemplated with a melancholy pleasure the abode of Him, on whom I once fondly doated.”

Who was this mysterious man? This question intrigued Syrie James, author of Jane Austen’s First Love. For the first time, thanks to Syrie James’s research, Jane Austen fans are treated to a glimpse of Jane Austen as a teenager experiencing all the pangs of first love.

The novel begins with a family trip to Kent. Jane, Cassandra, and their mother are invited to summer festivities in celebration of Jane’s eldest brother Edward Austen’s engagement to Elizabeth Bridges. The Bridges family is also celebrating their daughter Fanny’s engagement to Lewis Cage. On the way to the Bridges home at Goodnestone Park, Jane and Cassandra’s carriage suffers a mishap, and they are rescued by the Bridgeses’ neighbor Edward Taylor, a distant relation of the Bridges family.

Over the course of the festivities at Goodnestone Park, in which Jane convinces her reluctant mother to allow her to participate, Jane grows closer to Edward Taylor. He brings out her adventurous side, and she is captivated by his interesting life. Jane also decides perhaps mounting a theatrical of William Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream will be the perfect way to play matchmaker for the Bridges girls.

Edward Taylor comes alive in the pages of this book—is it possible he inspired some of Jane Austen’s most memorable characters? He reminded me a bit more of George Wickham and John Willoughby than Austen heroes such as Fitzwilliam Darcy and George Knightley. He is not nearly as much of a rake as Wickham and Willoughby, but he flouts convention and is a bit on the reckless side.

Jane Austen fans will enjoy the image of her portraying Puck in the theatrical as well as the casual allusions to Austen’s own works. Certainly aspects of Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility, Emma, and Mansfield Park can be glimpsed in Jane’s experiences at Goodnestone Park.

Syrie James headshot 2012 x 250About the Author

Syrie James, hailed as “the queen of nineteenth century re-imaginings” by Los Angeles Magazine, is the bestselling author of nine critically acclaimed novels that have been translated into 18 languages. Her books have been awarded the Audio Book Association Audie, designated as Editor’s Picks by Library Journal, named a Discover Great New Writer’s Selection by Barnes and Noble, a Great Group Read by the Women’s National Book Association, and Best Book of the Year by The Romance Reviews and Suspense Magazine. Syrie is the author of The Lost Memoirs of Jane AustenThe Secret Diaries of Charlotte Brontë, and Dracula, My Love, among other popular novels Syrie is a member of the WGA and lives in Los Angeles. Please visit her at syriejames.com, Facebook or say hello on Twitter @SyrieJames.

Giveaway Details

JAFL Grand Prize x 420Win One of Five Fabulous Jane Austen-inspired Prize Packages

To celebrate the holidays and the release of Jane Austen’s First Love, Syrie is giving away five prize packages filled with an amazing selection of Jane Austen-inspired gifts and books!

To enter the giveaway contest, simply leave a comment on any of the blog stops on the Jane Austen’s First Love Holiday Blog Tour.

Increase your chances of winning by visiting multiple stops along the tour! Syrie’s unique guest posts will be featured on a variety of subjects, along with fun interviews, spotlights, excerpts, and reviews of the novel. Contest closes at 11:59pm PT, December 21, 2014. Five lucky winners will be drawn at random from all of the comments on the tour, and announced on Syrie’s website on December 22, 2014. The giveaway contest is open to everyone, including international residents. Good luck to all!

Be sure to check out Syrie James’s guest posts and other reviews in the Jane Austen’s First Love Holiday Book Tour.

JAFL Banner v6

Related posts:

Review: Eleanor & Park, Rainbow Rowell

I just spent a weekend at an English teachers’ conference, and it made me remember how much I love reading YA fiction (which I haven’t done for a while), and also that Eleanor & Park was on my Kindle, and I hadn’t read it yet.

I feel a little inadequate to the task of describing this book because there is a lot that a summary can’t capture. Eleanor & Park is the story of two tenth graders who meet on the school bus on Eleanor’s first day at North High School in Omaha, NE. Slowly, the two start to realize they have some things in common, and by Christmas, they’ve fallen hard for each other. Eleanor has a difficult home life, but she tells no one, not even Park. Her stepfather is an abusive alcoholic, and her father has almost no involvement in her life. Her mother is trapped. When Park asks Eleanor “Why doesn’t she leave?”, Eleanor can only reply “I don’t think she can… I don’t there’s enough of her left” (196). Eleanor had been kicked out of her mother and stepfather’s home for a year previously, and she knows her position in the house is precarious. Honestly, Eleanor will break your heart.

I knew I was going to connect to this book when I opened it and saw it began in August, 1986. I suppose that means this book is historical fiction, but to be honest, I can’t look at it that way, even if its intended audience includes people who were born more than a decade after 1986. August, 1986 was the year I started high school myself—coincidentally at a school named North High School (actually, Parkway North, to be more precise). I had just moved, and I was really nervous about school. I can recall the bus politics of worrying over where to sit quite well. I actually wonder if this book isn’t more appropriate for someone like me than for a teenager. I gulped it down in one evening, only putting it down to make up the dough for our Thanksgiving rolls. It’s a little hard not to fall in love with both Eleanor and Park.

One of the best things about the book is the music references. Rainbow Rowell made playlists, which you can find on her blog. Eleanor and Park connect over comic books and the music mix tapes Park shares with Eleanor. Remember mix tapes? They were magical. They took a long time to make, and there was hardly anything more you that you could give someone than a mix tape. I used to have quite a talent for making them, too. Spotify is awesome in many ways, one of which is that it takes the mix tape to the next level. It’s actually my favorite thing about Spotify. I feel like I make tons of “mix tapes.” But there is something about the dedication it used to take to sit down in front of the stereo, select the songs, and try to get them to fit without too much blank space on either side of the tape.

Actually, I pretty much loved everything about this book, and I can’t really do better than what YA author John Green had to say about the book: “Eleanor & Park reminded me not just what it’s like to be young and in love with a girl, but also what it’s like to be young and in love with a book.”

Updated to add that Forever Young Adult made an excellent mix tape for the book:

Rating: ★★★★★

Related posts:

Review: My Cousin Rachel, Daphne du Maurier

My Cousin RachelNear the end of Daphne du Maurier’s My Cousin Rachel, the protagonist, Philip Ashley, reflects:

“My tutor at Harrow, when teaching in Fifth Form, told us once that truth was something intangible, unseen, which sometimes we stumbled upon and did not recognise, but was found, and held, and understood only by old people near their death, or sometimes by the very pure, the very young.” (316)

Philip was raised by his cousin, Ambrose, who travels to Italy for his health and meets a mysterious woman named Rachel. Ambrose, a confirmed bachelor, surprises everyone by marrying Rachel. Before Ambrose is able to return to Cornwall with his bride, he falls sick and dies. At first Philip is sure that his new cousin Rachel bears responsibility, but when Rachel appears at his door in Cornwall, he quickly becomes entranced by her. But is she guilty of Ambrose’s death?

I picked up this book because I love, love, love Rebecca. This book is not quite as good as Rebecca, but once again, du Maurier’s gift for rendering the Cornish coast setting and for creating interesting, troubled characters is on display in My Cousin Rachel. Rachel reminded me in many ways of Rebecca, the titular character of du Maurier’s more famous work. Even upon finishing the book, I’m still not sure what to think, and I admire the way du Maurier deftly tied the beginning to the end and brought the story around full circle. I very much enjoyed the minor characters in this book, as well. Seecombe, the butler, was particularly enjoyable. I didn’t have the sense of reading a book so gripping I couldn’t put it down, which did happen with Rebecca, but I certainly found My Cousin Rachel enjoyable. I picked it up to read for the R. I. P. Challenge, but I didn’t finish it in time. I do think that readers who enjoyed Rebecca will like this book, too, but as I said, it’s no Rebecca. Truthfully, though, few books are. I’ve been looking for a gothic read of Rebecca‘s caliber for some time now with no luck.

Rating: ★★★★☆

Related posts:

Review: Drums of Autumn, Diana Gabaldon, narrated by Davina Porter

Drums of AutumnAs I make soap, I’ve been listening to audio books, and I just finished a really long one—Drums of Autumn, the fourth book in Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series. Like the other books in this series, Drums of Autumn is narrated by Davina Porter.

This book picks up the story of Jamie and Claire as they settle in North Carolina on Fraser’s Ridge. Their daughter, Brianna, who lives about 200 years in the future in the late 1960’s, discovers disturbing news about her parents and decides to go through the stones at Craigh na Dun and help Jamie and Claire. Roger Wakefield, sometimes known by his birth name of Roger MacKenzie, discovers what Brianna has done and follows her through the stones.

I have read this book once before. I will just lay this on the table: I am not a fan of Brianna’s. I don’t like her personality much, and I can’t put my finger on why. Claire, to me, is interesting because she’s so knowledgeable about medicine, and I found her understanding of herbal healing particularly fascinating. I’m not into herbalism per se, but as a soap maker, I do find it interesting. Claire is no-nonsense, passionate, intelligent, and above everything else, interesting.

Because this book focuses so much on Brianna’s trials and tribulations, I find I don’t like it as much as the other books. I like the parts that dwell on Claire, Jamie, and even Young Ian, however. I didn’t realize until I read it again this time, but I also don’t care much for Roger. I don’t know if it’s because the pair of them seem indecisive and dispassionate compared to Claire and Jamie. I do feel that Gabaldon tries to impart some passion in their relationship, but I don’t buy it as a reader. It doesn’t feel the same. I wonder if it has something to do with this interesting comment Gabaldon made in her book The Outlandish Companion:

These [hard nuts] are the most difficult characters for me to animate; the characters whose function in the story is structural—they’re important not because of personality or action, but because of the role they play.

One example of a hard nut is Brianna, Jamie and Claire’s daughter. She existed in the first place only because I had to have a child. The fact of her conception provides the motive for one of the major dramatic scenes in Dragonfly, but it didn’t matter at all at that point who this kid was or what she would be like…

But who the heck was this character? And having created her purely for plot purposes, how was I to give her a personality? (130-131)

Perhaps it’s just my opinion, and others might disagree, but I would argue that Gabaldon doesn’t succeed fully in making either Brianna or Roger as real or as interesting as Jamie and Claire, or even as real and interesting as other minor characters who pop off the page.

Davina Porter is a heck of a good narrator, especially deft with handling all the voices of the characters. I would definitely seek out other books she has narrated just to hear her read.

In case you are wondering at this point, I have been enjoying the new Outlander series on Starz quite a bit. It is very true to the book, and the casting is excellent. I haven’t missed an episode yet. Even my husband is watching with me, insisting, “I don’t get how this is considered a woman’s story. I mean, I guess the books are romances…” Not exactly. Sort of difficult to classify. At any rate, the series is beautifully shot with great music and some fine acting. Check it out, if you haven’t.

Book Rating: ★★★½☆
Audio Rating: ★★★★★

Related posts:

Summer Reading: Greek and Roman Myth

ancient greece photo

I have been taking an online course in Greek and Roman Mythology offered by Penn State through Coursera. I have just two weeks left, and most of my reading this summer has been for this course. I have fallen a bit behind in documenting my reading as well, which is something I hope to fix. I thought, however, that I would share the texts we have read, along with my brief reviews.

First, we read Fagles’ translation of The Odyssey. As I had so recently listened to Ian McKellen read Fagles’ translation, I opted not to re-read it, and I seemed to do just fine with the coursework.

The next text was Hesiod’s Theogony. I had never read the Theogony before, and I admit I found parts of it quite interesting, at least in terms of origins for some of the popular myths with which I was familiar, including the displacement of Cronus by Zeus. This particular translation renders Uranus and Gaia as Heaven and Earth, respectively, and I admit because of unfamiliarity with the myths, I had to look that up. I think I would have liked it had their names not been translated. I found it interesting to learn, through the lectures, that the translation of “Chaos,” rendered in this translation “Chasm,” is not disorder so much as a void, which seems much more in line with the concept of the Big Bang and a move increasing toward entropy rather than away from it. In all, however, Theogony reads a little more like the “begats” in the Bible, and is not nearly as interesting as the other texts we read, though I can see why we read it.

Next we read two Homeric Hymns: the Hymn to Demeter and the Hymn to Apollo. The Hymn to Demeter recounts the story of Hades and Persephone, and the Hymn to Apollo recounts both Apollo’s birth and establishment of his Oracle at Delphi. For some reason, I didn’t get the requested translation, and I think the translations I used were a bit flowery and probably not as good. I don’t remember finding them to be all that gripping. To be honest, I can’t remember what I read much at all, which is probably not a good sign.

Afterward, we moved into Greek tragedy and read Aeschylus’s Agamemnon and Eumenides. When I was in high school, I got my hands on a list—I think I found it in a book—of texts all high school students should read in order to prepare for college. I knew my high school reading was sorely lacking, partly because I had moved so much that I went to three different high schools, and partly because we just didn’t read much. I read a lot of the books you probably remember reading in high school on my own. At any rate, Agamemnon was on that list, and I tried to read it back then and gave up. Reading it now, I think I can see why. For a play in which some interesting stuff happens, we sure don’t get to see any of it. It’s mostly some back-and-forth between Clytemnestra and the Chorus. I liked Eumenides better, mainly because it was an interesting look at jurisprudence, which was also how the course’s professor approached the play in his lectures. Talk about being damned if you do and damned if you don’t! Orestes must avenge his father’s murder, but in so doing, he must kill his mother, invoking the wrath of the Furies.

After this point in the course, I fell behind. I was supposed to read Oedipus Rex (which I have actually already read and taught before) and The Bacchae, but I haven’t finished either one yet. Reviews to come once I do. I has been a long time since I read Oedipus Rex, but I am enjoying it great deal more than I liked either of the Aeschylus plays. However, I have had to put these readings aside in order to try, as much as possible, to catch up because this week, I was supposed to have read Books 1-5 of The Aeneid translated by Robert Fitzgerald, and I have to read Book 6 for next week as well as Books 3, 12, and 13 of Ovid’s Metamorphoses.

I think the texts were well chosen in terms of a good introduction to Greek and Roman myth, and I have to say I have learned a great deal from the lectures. I do happen to think that the pace of the course is too fast and the demands are too high for a Coursera course. I think a lot of people take Coursera courses to dip in a learn a little bit, and honestly, this one is as demanding as a normal college course in terms of time. However, it is a great course, and no one is twisting your arm making you take the quizzes or write the essays—you only do that if you want a certificate. But you know me. I have to be Hermione Granger about it. As a result, I don’t think I’ve had a chance to really savor what I’m learning. In fact, I can’t keep up.

Photo by uzi yachin

Related posts:

Summer Reading

Photo by Vassil Tsvetanov Ah, summer. That glorious time of year when it seems like all the time in the world to read is within our grasp. It seems like my TBR pile is getting larger and larger. The good news is that I have managed to find myself a book club, which I’ve been trying to do for some time. The book club is reading Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. I have been wanting to read Adichie for some time, and without the impetus of the book club, I’m not sure when I would have gotten around to it.

I’m finally reading The Age of Innocence. I’ve seen the movie with Daniel Day-Lewis, Michelle Pfeiffer, and Winona Ryder many times, but I haven’t actually read the book, and it’s long overdue. I’m enjoying it a great deal so far. Beyond these two books, I’m still trying to figure out what I want to read. I signed up for a course in Greek and Roman Mythology through Coursera, and it has some required reading. Luckily, we start with The Odyssey, and I read it so recently (plus I’ve taught it a bunch of times), that I don’t feel tasked to re-read it for the class. I’m trying to figure out what’s been on my list for a long time that I really want to try to read.

However, it’s shaping up to be the summer of catching up on things I’ve meant to read for a long time. Case in point? I really would like to get to Toni Morrison’s Song of Solomon and Ernest Hemingway’s For Whom the Bell Tolls, both of which I’ve been meaning to read for some time. I keep picking up The Pillars of the Earth and putting it back down again. I didn’t used to be so squeamish about really long books with tiny print, but in the last few years or so, I don’t know… I really have to want to read it if it’s that long. I’m not as bothered by listening to them as audiobooks, curiously. Perhaps it’s that my eyes are starting to bother me now when I try to read really tiny print. As I said, I wasn’t bothered by big books with tiny print so much in the past.

I have a lot of books on my Kindle that I want to get to, as well: Eleanor & ParkLongbournThe Dressmaker, and many others besides.

I also need to read More Than This by Patrick Ness, as it’s my school’s Upper School summer read. What are you reading this summer?

Photo by Vassil Tsvetanov

Related posts:

Review: The Last Battle, C. S. Lewis, narrated by Patrick Stewart

The Last Battle is the final book in C. S. Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia series. It begins with an evil ape named Shift, who bosses around a donkey named Puzzle under the pretense of being the donkey’s friend. The two find a lion skin, and Shift gets the bright idea of having Puzzle wear it so they can fool everyone into thinking Puzzle is Aslan. A bunch of people believe it. There is a bit with some dwarfs. There is a centaur and a unicorn. The Pevensies, minus Susan, and Eustace, Jill, Digory, and Polly, are all pulled back to Narnia after a mysterious bit with a train. A bunch of people worship the evil god Tash and want him to come but aren’t very happy when he shows up.

I don’t know what heck I read.

Listen, I have no problem with Christian allegory. Despite what J. R. R. Tolkien thinks, a good case can be made for The Lord of the Rings as Christian allegory, especially if you put it with The Silmarillion. I also happen to be a Christian. However, in this novel, Lewis sacrificed the plot in favor of ham-handed allegory. And it’s not even good.

I was already prepared for the “problem of Susan,” as I had run into commentary on the subject prior to reading the book, but it bears mentioning that leaving Susan completely bereft of family because she’s a normal teenager is truly heinous. What, girls should not grow up and become women? That’s not pure enough?

But what really bothers me is that it’s supposed to be Christian allegory, and everyone’s killing people right and left. What the heck? I mean, I gather it’s more Revelations than Book of John, but still…

My advice to anyone who, like me, didn’t read these as a child and decides to read them as an adult is to read The Magician’s Nephew, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, Prince Caspian, and The Voyage of the Dawn Treader and leave it at that. Maybe The Horse and His Boy if you want to learn more about those characters, who only get a few mentions in the last couple of books and otherwise don’t figure much into the grand narrative. Stay far, far away from the final two books.

Racist, sexist, sloppily written, muddled, pile of crap. I don’t understand why a writer would desecrate his own writing like that. Patrick Stewart couldn’t save it, though his narration was brilliant. WORST. ENDING. EVER.

I so hate C. S. Lewis.

Book Rating: ½☆☆☆☆
Audio Rating: ★★★★★

Related posts:

Review: The Widow’s War, Sally Gunning

The Widow’s War: A NovelSally Gunning’s novel The Widow’s War is the story of Lyddie Berry who lives with her husband Edward in 1761 Satucket (Brewster), Massachusetts on Cape Cod. When Edward dies in a whaling accident, Lyddie finds herself not only bereft of his companionship but also of the life they shared: as a widow, most of her property—including her house, cow, and furniture—is now owned by her son-in-law, Nathan Clarke, who also happens to be a jerk and a pig. As the novel unfolds, Lyddie, determined to maintain her independence and continue living the life she led before Edward’s death, challenges Nathan and attempts to hold on to her freedom.

This novel is an enlightening peek into what women’s lives in the eighteenth century might have been like. Gunning’s research is meticulous, and her characters leap off the page in full relief. All the historical details ring true. One thing I think Gunning gets right in her historical novels is she is able to produce strong heroines who live within but also challenge the strictures of their time periods in ways that are believable. Lyddie’s struggle for independence was heartbreaking, realistic, and intriguing. I know that some reviewers have challenged whether or not the book realistically depicts Lyddie’s relationship with her Native American neighbor Sam Cowett, but I didn’t find it difficult to believe. I also liked that the author did not choose to have Lyddie be “rescued” through a second marriage or a sudden change of heart on her son-in-law’s part. I could have put a spoiler alert before that last sentence I suppose, but I liked the ending enough (and for a stretch of the book didn’t think it was going to happen that way) that I went ahead and spoiled it anyway. Lyddie is a likable character. She could be called stubborn, but no one would say she was stubborn if she were a man. She is independent in a time when it’s just about criminal or at least unheard of for a woman to be so, and I found myself rooting for her to be successful. She’s made of some pretty strong stuff.

The Widow’s War is the first in what she calls her Satucket trilogy. I previously read the third book, The Rebellion of Jane Clarke.

Rating: ★★★★½

I read this novel as part of the Historical Fiction Reading Challenge.

Related posts:

Review: The Silver Chair, C. S. Lewis, narrated by Jeremy Northam

The Silver Chair (The Chronicles of Narnia)The penultimate book in C. S. Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia is The Silver Chair. This book features the Pevensie siblings’ cousin Eustace Scrubb, who first appeared in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, and Jill Pole, a classmate of Eustace’s at a boarding school called Experiment House. Eustace and Jill are being chased by bullies when they are magically whisked to Narnia and become embroiled in a quest to find the missing Prince Rilian, the son of King Caspian X, who is now an old man.

*Sigh*. Where to start with this hot mess. I didn’t like it from the start because it’s quite clear that Lewis is attempting to skewer progressive education in his characterization of Experiment House, but rather than create a good satire, he winds up sounding like an old fart who doesn’t know what he’s talking about (“Back in my day, we took switches to kids and prayed in school!”). Eustace and Jill are not nearly as likable as the Pevensies. Puddleglum is fun, but then I think I liked him mainly because of Jeremy Northam’s voice characterization—he had the best West Country accent. The male superiority is maddening. Jill actually says, “Where I come from, they don’t think much of men who are bossed about by their wives.” Um… What? I can’t imagine Lucy Pevensie saying such a thing. Yes, I know all about Susan being interested in lipstick and stockings in the next book. Which I will read to say I’ve read the whole series.

It’s clear Lewis was thinking of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight by having the Lady of the Green Kirtle kidnap and enchant Prince Rilian, but the stories diverge quite a bit aside from a passing similarity, which is a bit of a pity, because the rest of the plot is unremarkable. For a children’s book, the pace bogs down rather unforgivably once the characters go underground, and the plot is predictable from the start to the finish. Jeremy Northam’s narration, however, is superb. I just wish he had better material to work with. One thing I figured out after reading this book—I would love to visit Hogwarts and Middle Earth, but I have zero desire to go to Narnia.

Book Rating: ★★☆☆☆
Audio Rating: ★★★★★

Related posts: