Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Non-fiction Review: The Egg and I, by Betty MacDonald 

Title: The Egg and I
Author: Betty MacDonald. Read by Heather Henderson
Publication Info: Audio book 2015 by Post Hypnotic Press, Inc. Originally published 1945
Source: Library digital resources
Publisher’s Blurb:
When Betty MacDonald married a marine and moved to a small chicken farm on the Olympic Peninsula in Washington State, she was largely unprepared for the rigors of life in the wild. With no running water, no electricity, a house in need of constant repair, and days that ran from four in the morning to nine at night, the MacDonalds had barely a moment to put their feet up and relax. And then came the children. Yet through every trial and pitfall—through chaos and catastrophe—this indomitable family somehow, mercifully, never lost its sense of humor.

An immortal, hilarious and heartwarming classic about working a chicken farm in the Northwest, a part of which first appeared in a condensed serialization in the Atlantic monthly.

My Review:
Following their time on the chicken farm, Betty MacDonald and her family moved to Vashon Island, in Washington state. I therefore knew about her most of my life, being a Vashon kid myself (my mother in fact went to school with Betty's kids). I never much cared for her Mrs. Pigglewiggle books, but I admit to a deep and lasting fondness for Nancy and Plum, despite the fact that it's really a rather dreadful book from a literary perspective. For one reason and another, though, I'd never read The Egg and I. When I came across it while looking for something light to listen to, I decided it was time.
MacDonald's book reads as a deliberately, and at times desperately, light-hearted account of a difficult time. On the one hand, I was interested in her upbringing and the ways in which it didn't prepare her for the frontier life (she seems often rather incapable in ways that astonish me). On the other, I was at times aggravated by her exaggerated tone, as I felt that her humor sometimes degenerated into something remarkably close to whining. After all, she wasn't the only woman working on a hard-scrabble farm in the 1920s, and not everything that terrified her in the "wilderness" was all that big a deal. It felt to me like she was trying too hard both to be funny and to prove that the farm was an exceptional undertaking.
I won't go into her rather racist comments on the local Native Americans near the farm. For that, I can only say that she was a product of her time, and probably couldn't help it. Her commentary on the other local farmers was both more entertaining and less justifiable. That is, her humor sometimes slipped over the edge to become not a gentle laugh along with people, but a jabbing laugh at them (granted, some of her neighbors might have deserved it, or maybe they were just low-hanging fruit). I wonder if any of those people would have recognized themselves in her descriptions.
All in all, it was an entertaining read (listen), but, knowing some of the ways she played fast and loose with reality in her book about life on Vashon (Onions in the Stew), I won't take this as a terribly accurate historical rendering of life in Chimacum in the 20s. 
The narrator is good, and there is an introduction written by the author's daughters that might be as interesting as the book itself.

My Recommendation:
Entertaining, and well-read, but it only gets a so-so recommendation from me. I did appreciate her evocation of the PNW winters, which are dark and wet and wet and dark, and are most of why I don't live there any more.

Full Disclosure: I borrowed an electronic copy of The Egg and I from my library, and received nothing from the author or the publisher in exchange for my honest review. The opinions expressed are my own and those of no one else. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."  

Monday, December 10, 2018

Middle Grade Review: The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate


Title: The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate
Author: Jacqueline Kelly
Publication Info: Henry Holt & Co., 2009. 344 pages.
Source: Library digital resources

Publisher’s Blurb:
Calpurnia Virginia Tate is eleven years old in 1899 when she wonders why the yellow grasshoppers in her Texas backyard are so much bigger than the green ones. With a little help from her notoriously cantankerous grandfather, an avid naturalist, she figures out that the green grasshoppers are easier to see against the yellow grass, so they are eaten before they can get any larger.

As Callie explores the natural world around her, she develops a close relationship with her grandfather, navigates the dangers of living with six brothers, and comes up against just what it means to be a girl at the turn of the century.

Debut author Jacqueline Kelly deftly brings Callie and her family to life, capturing a year of growing up with unique sensitivity and a wry wit.
My Review:
I liked this book a lot. The title character is someone I can relate to--more interested in science and exploring her world than in learning the domestic arts and how to become a lady (I would like to point out to her that since we all have to eat, learning to cook is a good idea. I would like to point out to her mother that males have to eat, too, and her sons should learn to cook as well, but--that was 1899).
The book is half standard coming-of-age (ouch. I mis-typed that as "coming-of-cage," which is particularly resonant of the life Callie's mother has planned for her) and half a book about the fascination of science. What Callie and her grandfather learn and discover is less important than the search and discovery themselves. Callie learns about the scientific method, but also about the importance of being careful and accurate, including when thinking about your own feelings.

The author has a good touch--serious where it needs to be, light overall (love the accounts of the piano recital and the county fair!). The setting and characters are well-rendered, and the editing is good.
I picked this up because it was mentioned in a discussion of middle-grade books where girls are doing science. I think it's a great read for encouraging girls, as well as just a good fun read. I look forward to reading the next book in the series, and learning more about what Callie does, as this one does leave us a bit up in the air in some ways.
My Recommendation:
Check it out.

Full Disclosure: I borrowed an electronic copy of The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate from my library, and received nothing from the author or the publisher in exchange for my honest review. The opinions expressed are my own and those of no one else. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."  

Friday, December 7, 2018

Photo Friday: Gulf Hagas

I have fallen far behind in my photo reports (and then I forgot to make this live, so it's late, too), so this week we are going way back to the end of September to give you all a blast of fall color from what I gather is an iconic Maine hike (okay, we'd never heard of it before, but it really is spectacular, if a bit remote). The roads to the area are private, and the trails are maintained by the Maine Appalachian Mountain Club. We accessed the gorge from the AMC's lodge at Little Lyford Pond (which was lovely).

Although we thought that calling the gorge the "Grand Canyon of the East" was a bit over the top, there is no denying that the 3 miles of gorge, with walls up to about 130' high and a series of non-trivial waterfalls was worth the price of admission. (Note: there is a literal price of admission, as the roads that lead to the trails are privately owned and maintained. Our entrance was covered in the cost of our stay at the lodge. The figurative "price of admission" was a 10-mile hike).

The afternoon before our Gulf Hagas hike we climbed a hill near the lodge and got a sense of the landscape. But we couldn't tell at all that just off to the right of this photo there's a good hole in a earth.
Our first big view of fall color
Next day we started right after breakfast, aware that daylight was limited and the weather might be changeable. Before we even reached the creek, we were amazed at the way the trees change color.
We reached the river/creek before it entered the gorge.
The mixture of evergreen and deciduous trees made for some striking contrasts.
At the first falls we were unimpressed with the 'gorge' but enjoyed the craggy rocks about the the creek. Evidence on the rocks also told us that at times the water ran a great deal higher and faster than the autumn flow.
Stair Falls (Note: I've done my best to match the photos with the named falls. I'm probably not always right).
The falls grew more impressive, the gorge deeper and less accessible as we followed the trail downstream. On a hot day, it would be worthwhile climbing down there and taking a dip. Temps while we were there were not cold, but not "let's swim," either.
Billings Falls
Buttermilk Falls
Between falls, there were still places with pools and calm water.
The dark line on the rocks shows that the water is usually higher.
The pock-marked rock indicates how powerful, and probably debris-laden, the flow can be.
Not all the beauty was in the river.

Yellow leaves and black water
Finally left the gorge--I think we could have gone on, but were already looking at 10+ miles round trip. The stream that we followed up from the gorge had it's own falls.
The return to camp on a higher trail, away from the river, was less scenic, but much easier hiking. The gorge trail is rough, crossed with endless roots and rocks, and at times offers dizzying views off the cliff. It was a relief to get on a wide, relatively smooth trail and pound out the miles back to the lodge, where dinner awaited us. We don't usually indulge in that kind of luxury (indoor beds and meals laid on--even our sack lunches)--but I have to say it was a treat that night!
Just in case we didn't know we'd been hiking somewhere special.

 ©Rebecca M. Douglass, 2018
 As always, please ask permission to use any photos or text. Link-backs appreciated.