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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.


miracleAnimal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life

Barbara Kingsolver with Steven L. Hopp and Camille Kingsolver

HarperCollins Publishers, 2007

I’m so glad I finally had a chance to read this book. I’m a big Barbara Kingsolver fan and when I heard she had written about this project, I had to read it. Plus my family and I along with other friends did something similar to this back in the 1970’s during that era’s Back To The Land movement. I was curious to see what her experience was like.

For those of you unfamiliar with her project let me explain. Ms. Kingsolver, her husband and two daughters set in motion a plan to live one whole year eating only what they grew themselves or what was grown within their local area. It was not an experiment to save money.

“We had come to the farmland to eat deliberately. . . . We only knew, somewhat abstractly, we were going to spend a year integrating our food choices with our family values, which include both “love  thy neighbor” and “try not to wreck everything on the planet while you’re here.”

They were both deliberate and resourceful. Starting in late winter/early spring, they scoured the area (southern Appalachia) and found a local farmers  market and from there they found sources for good quality (mostly organic) vegetables, meat (turkey sausage and lamb), eggs, chicken and fruit. This helped until they were able to get their own garden, orchard, turkeys and chickens producing. 

The book is organized into chapters which follows along with what is happening each month. Ms. Kingsolver  wrotes the majority of the book but her husband and eldest daughter have good addition. Her professor-husband, Steven Hopp, added essays primarily about the effects of industrial agriculture. Her daughter, Camile, wraps up most of the chapters with interesting stories, some excellent recipes, and a sample week’s menu of what they ate that month.

Because of my experience I wanted to know how they handled the months of harvest. To me, those are the killer months in a project like this. Those are the times when the tomatoes and zucchini and beans and corn are growing faster than you can preserve them. At the hottest time of the year you have to be back and forth between the hot sunny garden and the hot steamy kitchen. Those days, and weeks, seem endless and are exhausting. It’s an easy time to give up. But the Kingsolver family did not. They pushed right on  through it and put away enough produce “to last comfortably till the abundances of June.” 

After reading this book I’m still a Kingsolver fan. Most of it read like one of her novels. There were parts that could be called “preachy” but the Kingsolvers are very passionate about this subject, and have good reason to feel that way. Some parts of the book stand out for me: her discussion of heirloom seeds, her experience with her turkeys and her tomato harvest (the chapter called Life in the Red Zone). And, if you don’t read anything else, read the last chapter. This is her “heart” chapter in which she talks about what she might do differently and her plans for the future. It has something we can all take away and adopt even if we don’t have access to the kind of farmland Ms. Kingsolver has. I’ve already recommended this book to several people. In my opinion this is a should-read book for those concerned with healthy and responsible eating.










I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings

by Maya Angelou

Random House, 1969

Genre: Classics

It took me a long time to read this book. Not because it was boring or inferior, but because it was so incredibly good. I kept pausing to re-read passages and then to read them out loud to my husband, sometimes  to myself. 

It’s a heart wrenching true story of things that should never happen to a child. But it’s also a true story of a shameful part of our American culture and history. This is Ms. Angelou’s autobiography of her life from age three through sixteen.  

I read this book as a part of the Classics Bookclub at 5 Minutes For Books. I’m going to treat this “review” as if I am at a face-to-face bookclub and present the questions and my answers. I promise I won’t talk as much I might if this were a real face-to-face. Here are the questions:

  1. This autobiography was written in 1969, before the “personal memoir” era was born. Is there a difference between these two genres of books? To me this autobiography seems more like a novel. She tells the story of her experience as if to educate the reader about what it was like to be black and to be female during the time period. It’s not exactly the traditional autobiography with chronological tales with dates, etc. On the other hand I think of memoirs as something lighter, written by celebrities.  
  2. Assuming that you did not grow up as an African American in the segregated South, do you have more understanding of that time period and how it affected those who lived it? Yes, the author’s details of her daily life, experiences and the people she knew made me feel as if I were there with her. Most of her early life was so horrific that it is to her credit that she survived. What hurt the most was how the treatment of blacks as less than human was designed to keep them in a subservient place in society. Even children understood this and it served to rob them of any hope that their futures would be better. 
  3. In spite of the differences between her life and yours, what common themes resonated with you? I felt as if we had gone to the same church. I recall having to sit on the front row and wanting to laugh hysterically but then being shocked by the behavior of some of the adults. Another common thread was the expectation of the behavior of children and how we looked to others which was a reflection on our parents and our home.
  4. How do you think Maya was shaped by each home she lived in while she was growing up? We don’t know about her home prior to age 3. From age 3 to 13 she learned basic behavior and her place in the world from her grandmother. Although very strict and quick to administer corporal punishment, her grandmother, called Momma, understood her “sensitive nature” and her need for literature and the need to escape within the books. I do not admire her mother’s role, or non-role, in her life. She was there at the beginning and got her through high school, but only because she was forced to take the children. Maya’s grandmother was the molding force in her life.
  5.  Which female in Maya’s life do you think had the most influence (good or bad) over her? Explain your response. There’s no denying the overall influence of “Momma” on Ms. Angelou’s life. But in looking at the direction her life took, I think a lot of credit should go to Mrs. Flowers. After Maya’s horrible experience in St. Louis, Mrs. Flowers’ positive intervention was just what she needed. As Ms. Angelou said, “I was liked and what a difference it made.” (page 85) Mrs. Flowers opened up new possibilities that stayed with her for life.
  6. After reading the book do you understand “why the caged bird sings”? Yes, the cage is a metaphor for how the effects of racism kept her from experiencing all that white children took for granted. Maya was the bird singing because she finally saw hope fror the future. As a little girl she wanted to become white but as she came of age she was proud to be black. She saw that it was possible to help change America for her own and future children.

My Summary: I’m not mildly recommending this book. I’m telling you that you really must read it. Read it for the beautiful prose and poetry of it, for the little-known black history of it, or for the fact that Maya Angelou is one our living icons. But most important, read it for inspiration. If you think life is tough now, read this book.  This woman’s childhood should have made her angry, bitter and hateful. Instead she gives us books and poetry that makes the world shine and makes us feel as if “a bright sun spoke to our souls”. (page 156) Yes, this book is that good.

For what other Classic Bookcluh members thought of this book, go here.

homerHomer Price

Robert McCloskey

The Viking Press, 1941

Genre: Children’s Fiction


Homer Price was one of my childhood heroes. I was quite the tomboy and I imagined myself as Homer. We had a lot of things in common. We both lived in the Midwest, although his town is smaller than mine. We both have some rather quirky relatives and neighbors, but then quirky seems normal. We also shared some traditions that are gone now. Does anyone burn leaves in the Fall anymore? 


Homer has lots of adventures that are told in six chapters. Each chapter is a separate story. I’m not going to tell you about all the stories, just two. 


The first is the story of Uncle Ulysses’ Donut Machine. Homer is in charge of his uncle’s diner for a couple of hours while Uncle Ulysses is at the barbershop. With some help from a rich customer, Homer gets the donut machine going and the donuts are really delicious. Unfortunately, he can’t stop the donut machine and pretty soon donuts are piling up everywhere. Of course there will be a creative solution. Here’s a picture from this story. Just looking at it tickles me inside.


Another story features Homer’s Uncle Telly and the Sheriff who are competing for the hand of Miss Terwilliger, who is a very clever lady. Both men collect string and have string balls that are nearly six feet across! A contest is devised to see who has the most string with Miss Terwilliger as the prize. The clever Miss Terwilliger has her own plan for this contest. I won’t spoil it for you but, there is a happy ending.


I’m so glad this book is still in print and still popular with children. I’d recommend this book to both boys and girls in the seven to ten-year-old range. And then I’d also recommend it to adults like me who still have a big child inside of them. You can always say you’re getting this for the kids or grandkids.;)


I read this book for the Childhood Favourites Book Challange

book-comfort1Comfort Me With Apples: More Adventures at the Table 

Ruth Reichl

Random House, 2001

Genre: Non-Fiction, Books About Food

A few months ago I read and thoroughly enjoyed Ms. Reichl’s Garlic and Sapphires (see my review here). This one is equally as good, although, of course, the story is different.

Both are memoirs but Comfort Me With Apples covers the time of her life when her food writing career begins to soar. The reader is taken from her life in a commune in Berkeley to her job as restaurant critic for the Los Angeles Times.  

Although Ms. Reichl is very knowledgeable when it comes to good food, she takes advantage of the many opportunities she has to learn even more. For example, she is introduced to Thai food and immediately arranges a food tour through Thailand. She describes this amazing food trip as well as others to China, Paris, and Barcelona. She is right in the center of the changing food world in California and has the opportunity to meet some remarkable people: Alice Waters, M.F.K. Fisher, Wolfgang Puck, Marion Cunningham, and Danny Kaye. She is right in the middle of their kitchens, studying their techniques and philosophies and, yes, getting their recipes which she shares in the book.

Woven into the story about food is the story of her personal life. It is not dull. She is very open about her love  affairs and the disintegration of her first marriage, as well as other events that are both heart breaking and heart warming. Ms. Reichl’s philosophy about sharing food along with her private life is mixed in with a conversation she has with her boss at the Times. 

“Haven’t you noticed that food all by itself is really boring to read about?” I asked. ” It’s everything around the food that makes it interesting. The sociology. The politics. The history.”

The author makes her food interesting with her writing style. When she describes food she doesn’t say things like “its salty” or “this is yummy”. She describes the food in such a way that your senses know what she’s talking about. Here’s an example: “The oysters were cold, with that deep, mysteriously ancient flavor they have when they first come out of the ocean.” Can’t you just feel and smell and taste those oysters?

I hated for the book to end. I’m ready for her first book, Tender To The Bone. (I seem to be reading in reverse order.) This book is my third book for the Books About Food Challenge.



Divine Justice

David Baldacci

Grand Central Publishing, 2008

ISBN-13: 978-0-446-19550-8


My husband, Jay, and I have been David Baldacci fans since we first heard an audiotape of “Saving Faith”. We got our names on the list at the library as soon as we heard he had a new book coming out. We were number 72 a month before the book was even published!


When told it was our turn, my husband picked the book up and began reading it immediately. He couldn’t put it down and he finished it in a day and a half. It took me longer. And that will be your first clue that we didn’t see eye to eye on this book.


Let me first give you my summary of the book. Oliver Stone (aka John Carr) is in Washington D.C. and he has just killed two big shots (both bad guys). He gets out of town via Amtrak. On the train he befriends a young man and they both get thrown off the train. Stone decides to hide out in the young man’s town of Divine, Virginia which turns out to have another bunch of bad guys and other wicked things going on.


Meanwhile two other parts of the plot are happening. Joe Knox, a super detective with the CIA, is tracking Oliver. Joe’s boss wants him to find Stone for his own not-so-nice reasons. The third part of the plot is the story of the characters who are members of the Camel Club. They are racing like crazy to find and save their friend and leader of the conspiracy club.


My evaluation: This is the fourth book in the Camel Club series. I’ve enjoyed reading them up until about half way through this book. The things that were happening in the little town of Divine were just too coincidental for me. They didn’t fit the overall story line for the Camel Club. I like the idea of these smart but average and obscure citizens covertly taking on corruption at the highest levels of the government. It didn’t happen in this book for me. But as I said above, my husband truly enjoyed the book. It worked for him. 


If you are still interested in reading this book, I’d start with the other three books. (Camel Club was first.) Even though I was disappointed in Divine Justice, we still like David Baldacci’s books. Why? His books captures us with the characters. They are likable and real and some of them are horrid but still real.  Most of his stories seem plausible and the plots are intricate enough to keep you turning the pages. I’d recommend starting with Absolute Power or Saving Faith. He’s a good author. Give him a try.

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