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way-westThe Way West

A. B. Guthrie, Jr.

William Sloane Associates, 1949

This story about a wagon train to Oregon was not what I expected. First of all, let me explain that I read this for the Decades Challenge (1940’s). I’d added a western into the mix for variety sake. Even though it won a Pulitzer I thought it would be a cowboy and indian shoot-em-up type book. I’m happy to tell you it is not.

This is the story of people going on a wagon train to Oregon in 1845. I should say that at the beginning of the book it’s the story of the men going to Oregon. The story opens with the main character, Lije Evans, who is just playing in his head with the idea of joining the ever growing number of people coming to his hometown of Independence, Missouri, with the sole purpose of forming trains bound for the free land in Oregon.

There’s quite a cast of characters milling around, each with his own reason to go. In addition to Lije there is:

  • Dick Summers who was a former mountain man. His wife has just died and he is talked into joining the train as it’s pilot.
  • Tadlock who is the organizer/power-hungry, soon to be captain of the group. He never quite learns that people won’t follow someone blindly. Henry McBee is Tadlock’s sidekick. He’s basically just dirty and scummy.
  • Curtis Mack is wealthier than most but whose lust hurts others. And there is Charles Fairman who is going west for the sake of his child who, at five, has always had “the fever”.
  • Bryd with his “woman” and ten children can barely afford to go but it’s their only hope for a better life. And Reverend Weatherby who has even less but he feels called to preach in the west.

That is just a few of the male characters. For the first eight or nine chapters there is very little about the women on the train. But as the train moves mile after torturous mile, the story of the women begins to come alive. I want to share some of the passages I found meaningful. This one is of Lije Evans as he thinks of his wife Rebecca

“Evans had an uneasy feeling that he couldn’t realize, ever, what it was to a woman to give up her home. They were finer drawn than men, women were, mixed more in their thinking, so that you couldn’t tell what went on in their heads. A woman might hate moving because of leaving her marigolds.”

As the book develops we begin to know more about Rebecca and Judith and Mercy and the other women and men. The author lets us see what they are thinking and experiencing and what their hopes are. But overall, this trip was physically and emotionally exhausting for everyone. On rare occasions they stopped the train for a day.

“The question came and went, leaving the thought that today was a day of relaxation and play for all except the women. The men and boys climbed the rock, and children romped, and even the oxen . . . had a chance to rest their feet. . . . Only here were the little, draining businesses of rubbing and scuffing and wringing out and hanging on a line.”

Looking back at this from the 21st century it all seems so unfair and the trip pointless. But it isn’t my history; it’s the history of my ancestors. The author does a good job of trying to help us understand the motivation and thinking of these pioneers. The writing and the dialogue both sound as if they could have taken place in that time period. That helps add to the purpose of the story. A very good read that I can recommnd to those of you who like historical fiction and, especially of this time period of western American expansion.

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mystraffstylesThe Mysterious Affair at Styles

by Agatha Christie

Penguin Books, 1920

(The picture here is from the audiobook cover. It was prettier than the paperback cover.)

I’ve read a lot of Agatha Christie’s books over the years but this year I joined an interesting challenge. The challenge is to read every single one of her novels in order of their publication. So I am going back to the beginning and starting with her first book. 

Summary: The story is set in England, specifically Styles Court, sometime during the first world war. The book is narrated by Captain Hastings who is back in England on a medical leave. He is invited by his old friend, John Cavendish, to spend time convalescing at Styles Court. Within weeks of Hasting’s arrival, John’s stepmother, Emily Inglethorpe is dead, obviously poisoned with strychnine. All this occurs while she is in her bedroom with all the doors locked from the inside. There are plenty of suspects and plenty of clues. Fortunately, Captain Hasting’s old friend, Hercule Poirot, is staying nearby and is willing to assist in solving this mystery.  

My Evaluation: For me, good, fun books introduce me to new people. In this book we meet two who will be back in future books. In addition to the narrator, Captain Hastings, Hercule Poirot is the obvious star of this book. He is intelligent, clever, extremely observant, a thinking-man’s thinker and more.

“I looked at the extraordinary little man, divided between annoyance and amusement. He was so tremendously sure of himself.”

Almost everyone is a suspect in the book. And, according to Mr. Poirot, that is the way we must approach solving this mystery.

“Still you are right in one thing. It is always wiser to suspect everybody until you can prove logically, and to your own satisfaction, that they are innocent.”

But for me, it was all the clues that had me confused. There is the coffee cup, the coco, the scrap of paper in the fireplace, an over-heard conversation, some green cloth in the door lock, a fake beard. It goes on. I had my own hunch about who did it but I couldn’t figure out how they did it with all the clues. By the end I was right in my guess of who, but was thrown off by how they did it.

All of it – the many suspects and all the clues – made for an entertaining read. I recommend it to anyone looking for a good diversion from heavier books.

So, this is number one in my quest to read all of Agatha Christie’s novels. One down/only 79 to go!  Not all in one year – it’s an on-going challenge. If you’d like to learn more about the Agatha Christie Reading Challenge go here. This book also fits my 1920’s decade for the Decades Challenge.

rlwaycldrnThe Railway Children
by Edith Nesbitt
Sea Star Books, 1906

So many things happen in this tale of three children and their mother. They have moved from their wealthy villa near London to an isolated village somewhere in the English countryside. They are suddenly very poor and their father is mysteriously away for a long time.

Being poor doesn’t seem to bother the children as they are enjoying the freedom of exploring the countryside and are especially enamored with the railway that goes by. They make friends with the station master, the porter, and especially the “old gentleman” they wave to everyday as he rides the 9:15.

The children, Roberta, Peter, and Phyllis, are normal, everyday children with plenty of arguing and mis-behaving. But they manage to have lots of fun. The book is filled with their heroic adventures such as these:

  • They witness a landslide onto the train tracks and then attempt to signal the oncoming train
  • They befriend an old bedraggled old man who speaks no English
  • They rescue a boy from inside the railway tunnel

Although the book was written over a hundred years ago, I believe it is still appealing for children today. It’s probably best for readers age 10 to 12. (The children in the story are about 12, 10, 8.) It’s written in the style of a storyteller with occasional asides to the “Gentle Reader”. Ideally, it would be best as a Read Aloud book – perhaps after dinner, a chapter at a time. Best would be to have it read by someone with a beautiful English accent.

I chose this book as my first in the Decades 09 Challenge – decade of the 1900’s.

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me2 Hi and Welcome. I'm retired, joyfully, and now have the time to indulge myself in books, family, travel, food or whatever. This blog is my way of sharing the things I'm doing - places I visit, books I read and all the other things that make up this new retired life. For more about me visit my About page.

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