I really liked this. It was sweet and classy, light but meaningful. Every time i thought she was going to pull a "betcha never saw THIS coming" plot tI really liked this. It was sweet and classy, light but meaningful. Every time i thought she was going to pull a "betcha never saw THIS coming" plot twist, she instead wrote something realistic but interesting. ...more
There is something quite appealing about a fairy tale or myth turned into a novel. One of my favorites is a retelling of East of the Sun and West of tThere is something quite appealing about a fairy tale or myth turned into a novel. One of my favorites is a retelling of East of the Sun and West of the Moon, a young adult book called East, by Edith Pattou. There are plenty of examples in this vein, but that book came to mind first, which is in itself a rather good recommendation.
In The Snow Child, author Eowyn Ivey has not done a literal retelling of the folk tale, but rather used it as inspiration for her own story. The original tale is referred to in the book, with one of the characters drawing parallels between it and her own life, which is an interesting and fresh take on the re-telling technique.
The two main characters of this novel are a middle-aged couple past their childbearing years, a sad pair who have always wanted a house full of children who never arrived. The narrative gently shifts between the perspectives of these two, Jack and Mabel, made similar by the thread of melancholy woven through both. They each describe their lives in Alaska, how they came to be there, and what things were like before they arrived. Theirs is a difficult existence, as they attempt to eke out a living in an unforgiving wilderness, one which they had hoped would unite them in shared effort and reward. Instead, they are as isolated from each other in spirit as they both are from civilization.
In a rare moment of playful togetherness, Jack and Mabel build a snowman in their yard, which is so small that they come to think of it as a child. They give it features and accessories that establish it as a little girl. This act of shared creation is clearly symbolic and meaningful, and it serves to lessen the tension between them, bringing some warmth to the chill of their marriage.
Things then take a turn for the strange and mysterious. The child of snow is destroyed in the night, and the warm clothing it had worn has disappeared. What follows tests the credulity of the reader and the characters. A real girl appears in the woods outside Jack and Mabel’s cabin, wearing the clothes with which Mabel dressed the snow child. The stranger’s hair and face bear startling resemblance to those Jack gave their creation the night before.
For days, then weeks, then longer, this child becomes an ever-increasing part of the couple’s lives. They struggle with questions they cannot know, perhaps do not want to know the answers to: Is she real? Where did she come from? Did they somehow conjure her into being?
The surprising thing about The Snow Child is how the author manages to take a fantasy and turn it into something the reader can believe. Things become more plausible than one would expect, and yet there is a prevailing sense of magical fragility to the whole story. The reader might think she has it all figured out, and later come back to a place of uncertainty.
While the mystery is well-managed, that tinge of sadness never truly fades away. Each new revelation in the story changed my expectations and my hopes for the outcome, but I never felt that I really got what I wanted out of the book. Perhaps this was intentional. I was left with a small taste of the longing that had been a constant theme in Jack and Mabel’s lives, and which touched other characters in a different way.
Ms. Ivey keeps the reader guessing, and emotionally involved as well. She has crafted the story with skill, and it is well worth a read. I only suggest that after finishing it, you read or do something happy, something to ease the wistfulness that The Snow Child will leave behind....more
As sad as it was, I really enjoyed Melissa Coleman’s memoir, This Life Is in Your Hands: One Dream, Sixty Acres, and a Family Undone. It is at times iAs sad as it was, I really enjoyed Melissa Coleman’s memoir, This Life Is in Your Hands: One Dream, Sixty Acres, and a Family Undone. It is at times inspirational, at other times heartbreaking, and sometimes just frustrating. The frustration comes not from the writing, but from the actions of the people in Ms. Coleman’s story, and from the knowledge that this story is true – this is an honest account of her childhood and everyone who played a part in it. It is both tragic and beautiful.
The author has done an excellent job of taking her own memories and supplementing them with the perspectives of the adults from her young life, filling in the gaps, and yet making a cohesive story out of it. One does not recognize the different sources of the anecdotes she shares, but rather gets the sense that this was a very observant and precocious person with an astonishing power of recollection. The narrative has an easy, natural flow.
Melissa Coleman tells the story of how her parents came to the decision to drop out of the rat race, inspired by the writings of Helen and Scott Nearing – namely, Living The Good Life: How to Live Sanely and Simply in a Troubled World. The Colemans visit the Nearings and end up purchasing from them sixty acres of land adjacent to (and formerly part of) Helen and Scott’s property, in order to start their own homestead. The Colemans are full of optimism and drive, determined to make a living the old-fashioned way, by the sweat of their brows and strength of their convictions.
It is a beautiful life for a while, with baby Melissa making her appearance, and then sisters Heidi and Clara, with an influx of apprentices to help with the work and bring a little social atmosphere to the little farm in Maine. Melissa’s father Eliot is never satisfied, however, and it is his continual push for greater success and recognition, and his desire to educate others, that begins the unraveling of the fabric of the Colemans’ lives. On top of growing stress comes family tragedy, and instead of rallying together, they drift further apart – to the detriment of young Melissa.
This is not a flattering portrait of Eliot and Sue Coleman, but it is a testament to the strength and resilience of the author, who has managed to make a happy life for herself despite these early deficiencies and disappointments. She has told her story with honesty and frankness, showing the reader her emotional responses to her situation, even when she is not proud of them.
It is clear that she does not seek pity, nor desire to make herself out the blameless hero of the book. She earned my respect and sympathy by virtue of her balanced and just account of the events of her life, and because she retold them with obvious skill and grace. Ms. Coleman is a talented writer, and apparently a well-adjusted individual.
This book serves as a cautionary tale of marriage and family, as well as the danger of trying to do too much. It is also simply a story of the land and how we, as modern humans, can get back in touch with it and find our place in the natural world – not apart from it, but living in harmony with nature and each other, and remembering to maintain balance in our lives.
I found myself lost in This Life Is in Your Hands for hours at a time, unwilling to put it aside. It was well worth those hours, even with all the sadness. I highly recommend it....more
This was well-written enough to warrant 4 stars, but I just didn't enjoy it that much. The author does not portray herself in a way that garners muchThis was well-written enough to warrant 4 stars, but I just didn't enjoy it that much. The author does not portray herself in a way that garners much sympathy, and somehow manages to go for pages and pages without mentioning the man who got her into farming and with whom she claims to be madly in love. The whole book is meant to be a dual love story, love of the man and of the farm; the man, however, seems to be a minor character, which was disappointing, since I found him to be quite likable and intriguing.
This book was absolutely interesting and entertaining, and I quite enjoyed the information and anecdotes about the plants and the cultivation of the land. On the other hand, while this might have been eye-opening to some, it was difficult for me (being vegan) to stomach reading about the callousness and various cruelties that go along with animal farming, most of which I was already too aware of, and which I didn't enjoy revisiting.
While I can see how perhaps reading about these things in such graphic detail might provoke some readers to reconsider the systems that they take for granted or don't look too closely at, it's frustrating to read about someone learning of these practices and gamely participating in them despite their initial revulsion or reservations (especially someone who claims to have previously been a vegetarian).
I'm not trying to preach here, and I realize I'm coming from a place of rather fringe sentiment, but my veganism is an important part of my life, and thus is a huge part of what I bring to the table when I read any book. It wouldn't feel right to talk about this book and omit my most fundamental reactions to it.
The "yes, it's actually a bit awful, but that's the way things are" mentality saddens me, since I know it's not the way things must be. The couple in this book do all sorts of zany, off-beat, retro things to go back to a simpler way of being and to attempt to provide a "full diet" for their CSA customers... which, unfortunately, they see as necessarily including a large quantity of various meats and other animal products.
So, while this book was in many ways about overturning a status quo or two, there are also some threads woven through the book that are strongly supporting (unwittingly or not) a very different kind of status quo.
I did not write this to start an argument or to proselytize. This is just my honest reaction to the book, and I've spent a lot of time thinking about whether or not to review it, what I should say about it and just how to put it. I've done my best....more
This one almost didn't make it to 3 stars, because it really was just mediocre in my opinion, but some parts of it were enjoyable. Any of the characteThis one almost didn't make it to 3 stars, because it really was just mediocre in my opinion, but some parts of it were enjoyable. Any of the characters who were interesting, though, didn't get enough development, and everyone else seemed very two- (or even one-) dimensional.
This was a disappointment to me, because I'm always on the lookout for more American frontier/pioneer historical fiction (that isn't juvenile or young adult, though sometimes I'll take what I can get) because it's one of my very favorite genres. there just isn't enough out there within that genre, so when I find one of those rare books and it's not a thrilling, adventurous page-turner, I feel cheated....more
What a handy, humorous little reference guide to the traditional wisdom of capable women! I love this book, and it has already helped me get out a fewWhat a handy, humorous little reference guide to the traditional wisdom of capable women! I love this book, and it has already helped me get out a few stains (from spilling things on my clothes).
This book has everything from choosing produce, ironing things properly, growing an herb garden, dealing with difficult neighbors, to spending a romantic date night at home without having to shell out money for an expensive restaurant dinner, and much in between - all written in such a way as to give you a chuckle no matter what you're looking up.
The advice comes mostly from various women who lived (successfully) through the Great Depression, one way or another.
This guide is all about being frugal and living very enjoyably, by simply being resourceful, clever, and kind. It's my kind of book....more
It was, essentially, an incessant refrain of "I don't like doing this, why am I doing this? I should leave, butThis book was an onslaught of whining.
It was, essentially, an incessant refrain of "I don't like doing this, why am I doing this? I should leave, but I'm too chicken to leave. This is making me unhappy. I hate this. I'm going to keep doing it anyway."
There were interesting facts about raising sheep and their various quirks, as well as a handful of other animals, which made it readable.
The author was clearly a fish out of water throughout the whole book, going along with her partner's "dream" of owning a farm, reluctant to follow her own desires for fear of trampling those of her partner. Eventually the two women struck a balance, but not until much later than I would have preferred.
Oh, and yes, I noticed that the author and her partner were two women in a romantic relationship. There is no need to point out the fact that you are a lesbian every couple of chapters, Ms. Friend. It's really not a big deal. I got a bit tired of this routine - I'd just be getting interested in the story, the two women would have gone through something particularly dramatic and I would be feeling a bit sympathetic for the both of them, and then the chapter would end with something like, "Then, exhausted, we went to bed...together. In the same bed... because we're lesbians." Yep, I got it, and I don't understand why you're reminding me, because it just doesn't seem that crucial to the story.
Mostly, though, I could not get over the constant complaining. I nearly didn't finish the book due to that irritation. Perhaps I was inspired by the author, struggling on, insisting on continuing to do something I clearly wasn't enjoying, just like her. At least reading a book I didn't like wasn't equivalent to embracing a lifestyle utterly in conflict with my nature... also, I didn't grouse about it once, that is, until I wrote this review (which is more than I can say for Ms. Friend).
There are many, many superior books on amateur farming out there (perhaps even the ones by Noel Perrin), books that are funnier and with more endearing protagonists. I suggest you read those instead....more
This book is AMAZING. I can't believe how thorough it is, and how much information is packed into one book. It's incredible, and fantastic. The color iThis book is AMAZING. I can't believe how thorough it is, and how much information is packed into one book. It's incredible, and fantastic. The color illustrations and pictures really take this book higher than some other similar books, as well as the level of detail with which everything is treated (not too much, just enough). This is something Chris and I decided to buy because it will be endlessly helpful when we build our own house and do the homestead thing....more
We finally finished it! It took a lot longer than it would have if I had been reading it to myself, and I think that might have made it almost a littlWe finally finished it! It took a lot longer than it would have if I had been reading it to myself, and I think that might have made it almost a little more boring to me, because it was so drawn out.
Also, I think that I'm simply less interested in architecture than all the other topics in Pollan's books. I was mainly interested in the experience of building one's own home (or home away from home) by hand, and less interested in all the different architectural styles in history and how architecture ties into literary theory. A little of that information was nice, but it seemed to be a large part of the book. Chris really enjoyed that part, I think, at least more than I did.
Altogether, though, it was a very well-written and enjoyable book....more
I was looking very much forward to reading this, and I was pretty sorely disappointed. I have so far loved everything of Mr. Pollan's that I have readI was looking very much forward to reading this, and I was pretty sorely disappointed. I have so far loved everything of Mr. Pollan's that I have read, and this book just did not live up to my expectations.
I am sorry, sir, but this book meandered far too much even for me (or you). It seemed quite unpolished, and did not keep my attention. I really had to struggle to finish it, and it just seemed to drag on for ages. I couldn't read much at all in one sitting because I would get so distracted.
I wanted to like it, and there were certainly good points - insights, wit, informative tidbits - such as the section about old roses. Even taking into account how much respect I have for the author, his style and intelligence, it just simply isn't a book I'll re-read. ...more
while it's mostly well-written, it's a little jumpy and hard to follow chronologically. the author puts different events together in ways that probablwhile it's mostly well-written, it's a little jumpy and hard to follow chronologically. the author puts different events together in ways that probably make sense according to her own emotional connection to the circumstances, but this detracts from the natural flow of time for the reader.
early on, the author awkwardly inserts little statements that aren't exactly foreshadowing, but more like hints about several disasters that will soon befall her husband and herself. it seems like a cheap way to try to keep the reader interested, especially because it doesn't happen naturally.
the third aspect of the author's writing that does not impress me is the constant use of similes. they seem to be her crutch, and there are far too many of them. it seems like an effort to make her writing seem more poetic and meaningful, but i'm not falling for it.
i was not aware, somehow, that this was going to be some sort of christian inspirational book. i almost put the book down during the prologue because of the number of times the author used the word faith and then spoke about divine intervention. she continues, throughout the first part of the book, to inject a little evangelism every now and then, just when i thought i was about to enjoy myself. she seems to have a penchant for leaving the really big decisions in life up to god's will, and attributing any gut feeling she has about anything not to her own intuition, but to god telling her what to do. any time a situation gets a bit much for her, or there is a stumbling block to what she wants, she'd much rather pray to god to fix it for her, instead of pushing up her sleeves and taking care of it herself. this makes me think that not only is she a little too bible-thumping for my taste, she's also a little bit of a pansy. this is further confirmed with her statement regarding the parcel of land she and her husband were looking to buy:
"I had secretly hoped they [the owners] wouldn't sell. It was such a very long way from my manicurist."
if that is sarcasm or some attempt at dry humor, it's the only example of it i've run across so far. any thought that she might have been joking disappeared when the author's friend told her that she had initially wanted to tell the author not to move out to the remote area they had chosen, because she couldn't imagine "...you with your fake nails out there in the sagebrush."
normally, i only enjoy a book if i feel a connection with or at least some sort of positive feelings for the protagonist or the narrator. there have been exceptions, but this really isn't one. the author does become more tolerable towards the end of the book, because her experiences on the homestead inevitably have their effect on her personality. she does eventually give up on having a manicure at all times. all in all, it wasn't a terrible book, but i won't be reading it again or recommending it to anyone....more
i'm not going to finish this book - i've read 5 of the essays and i'm a little irritated with the author at this point. i've already noticed some repei'm not going to finish this book - i've read 5 of the essays and i'm a little irritated with the author at this point. i've already noticed some repetition. this is petty, but being from true central/upstate new york, by lake ontario, i'm inclined to take someone less seriously when they refer to orange county, ny as upstate. it's downstate. you're just from the city and forgot about the rest of the state.
anyway, parts of this book have read like an advertisement for this guy's produce and eggs. he spent quite a while detailing how his chickens live and what they eat, and why that makes his chicken eggs so far superior to supermarket eggs. yes, many of us know that free-range eggs are much better than conventional; people knew that long before there was such a thing as a supermarket, so this is not an egg revolution that you've started, mr. stewart.
i think what bothered me the most, though, is the essay about his dogs attacking his chickens. this is indeed unfortunate, it's a loss, and he has tried to train his dogs to leave the birds alone. but dogs have instincts, and perhaps when his chickens began scaling their fence regularly, he should have made it higher, rather than allow it to continue to happen and *hope* the dogs didn't go after the chickens that were now readily available. be that as it may, i found the following passage quite disturbing and i'd like to report this author for animal abuse.
"That night when the dogs came back, I tied them up without uttering a word and did not feed them. The next morning I took the two dead roosters and tied them with baling twine to the dogs' collars. I hit the dogs several times across the head with their dead victims, the blows measured to cause shame and humiliation rather than pain. This punishment was repeated every morning for five days, during which time the dogs remained tied up and on scant rations. By the fifth day, the two roosters, which were still attached to the dogs' collars, were in a state of advanced decay and smelled accordingly. It was an altogether unpleasant affair." (p. 35)
i personally think that is sick and disgusting, and i don't believe i could enjoy the rest of the book because of this. i no longer have any respect for the author as a person, and i don't think i give a rat's behind what he has to say about farming at this point....more