Sunday, September 11, 2011

Bastard, Conqueror, King

Today's book is about the well-known English King, William the Conqueror. He famously conquered England in 1066 after the battle of Hastings and ruled England thereafter. He's also known for instituting probably the first census of England in the great survey of the property of England and Wales in 1086 recorded in the Domesday Book. Someday, I would like to have a look at the Domesday Book. Today, however, I will stick to the book I'm reviewing.

The book is The Conqueror by Georgette Heyer. Yes, Ms. Heyer, beloved for her fluffy Regency romance, also dabbled in other periods of history. This book covers William's life before he conquered England and became King; when he was just a "humble" Duke of Normandy. William had a difficult life - he was illegitimate, but his father left no legitimate heirs and William had to fight to maintain his hold on the duchy.

In typical historical novel fashion, Heyer does not tell the story from William's perspective, but invents a best friend, Raoul de Harcourt and has him narrate the story. Although that may even be too much of a description for how the book is actually written. The book is written from the perspective of an omniscient narrator, mostly centering around Raoul, although his Saxon friend Edgar, William's wife Matilda, and even William all get their turn. The problem, really, is with the style of the narrative. The book reads more like a medieval chronicle or a retelling of a myth. William was here and did this, he rode here and fought battle here. He's always putting on some sort of armour or clothing described in medieval terms, drinking wine from horns, and galloping on horses. There's not really any description that grounds the story for the reader. Only vague descriptions of where the parties are. I didn't really get a clear sense of place and time, other than it was long ago and far away. I prefer historical novels to really set me in the place and time, and then invite me in, so it becomes the present to me when I am reading and I have to actively recall the current year as I set down the book. This book felt like I was reading a medieval chronicle and I didn't really become absorbed in it. Maybe it's a function of how historical novels were written in 1931.

Also, every now and again, Heyer would put in a somewhat anachronistic conversation. Usually her characters speak in "ye olde English", using somewhat archaic forms of speech and using the ancient terms for things. However, sometimes Heyer would drop the archaic forms of address and have characters speak in a fairly modern way. This was slightly jarring.

And, my usual criticism with historical novels - historical flaws. Now, given that the book was written 80 years ago, it could be that new scholarship has verified some of the problems found in the book and that the specific facts I have problems with were unknown to the writer. Let's hope!

Both of my issues surround William's wife, Matilda. (I guess I've just spoiled the book there, but, really, with historical novels there are no spoilers. It's already happened!) Matilda is the daughter of the Count of Flanders and was married to William after a somewhat "rough wooing". (The legend is that Matilda wouldn't have William, because he was a bastard. He then beat her, and that brought Matilda around. The legend is the basis for what happens in the book.) That is not my historical problem, however. The legend tells that Matilda rejected William because he was a bastard. However, Heyer has Matilda reject William both for his illegitimacy and because she is a widow and had sworn never to marry again. Where did this come from? Now, I am far from an historian, but neither Britain's Royal Families by Alison Weir, nor Wikipedia, mention anything about a first marriage for Matilda. I have no idea where this came from. And, since ultimately it has very little bearing on the story, why put it in?

The second historical falsehood involves the character of Judith of Flanders. In the book, she is described as Matilda's sister. (She marries a Saxon nobleman whose brother Harold is defeated by William at Hastings.) However, Judith was not Matilda's sister. She was Matilda's aunt. A little detail, but important. I understand that Jean Plaidy (another historical novelist) described Judith as Matilda's sister in her novel about the time period, so it may by a case of not enough in depth research. Further, Matilda and Judith are nearly about the same age - so Judith would have been a very young aunt to Matilda! That could explain the confusion about their relationship.

Despite my criticisms, I did enjoy the book and really was interested in the pull of cultures represented by Raoul and Edgar. It's sparked my interest again in this time period, and I may have to check some books out on this from the library. The story was a good one, I just wish the telling of it had been better.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

A Queen Among Men

This will be an interesting book review. I bought the book The Lady Queen: The Notorious Reign of Joanna I, Queen of Naples, Jerusalem, and Sicily by Nancy Goldstone, with some Christmas money. I started it right away and quickly got bogged down. I felt the book dragged and that there wasn't enough focus on Joanna. Then various library books and life events intervened and I put the book down for awhile. Then I picked it up again and read through a few more marriages and intrigues before getting sucked back into the pile of library books threatening to go overdue without being read. Eventually I picked up the book again about a week or so ago and tore through it. I was fascinated and wanted to know all about Joanna. So I have finished the book, but it almost feels like I've read two different books!

I think, in order to get an accurate perspective on the book, I'm going to need to read it again, all in one sitting. That's not likely to happen soon, but here are my thoughts on the book after my recent split reading of it.

Joanna was Queen of her own realm in a time when women didn't usually rule their own kingdoms. Even Eleanor of Aquitaine, for all her own power, was nominally just a Queen Consort. (That said, I believe that she was Duchess of Aquitaine in her own right, so she wasn't entirely powerless.) Joanna ruled on the turbulent Italian peninsula from 1343 to 1382. As she was predeceased by her father, she succeeded her grandfather to the throne. Sadly, Joanna was beset by a number of male cousins both from Hungary and from the Italian region who thought that they should be king. Joanna and her sister were involved in various schemes by these cousins and forcible and unhappy marriages were not uncommon. In addition to all of that, Goldstone weaves in the history of the Popes in Italy and Avignon, problems in central Europe (Hungary), wars in France and Spain as well as the battles between the Guelphs and Ghibellines. That's a lot of story for one small book!

That's where I had problems with it initially - I felt that the author was too focused on really trying to set Joanna firmly in her time period and show just how interconnected everything was that she lost sight of Joanna and her story. I understand that all of these other issues were going on at the time - and that they did affect Joanna. However, Joanna's story was complicated enough (especially with all of that family!) that I felt swamped by the additional information. Perhaps that's why I enjoyed the latter half of the book more - there seemed to be more focus on Joanna. Joanna really hit her stride as a Queen and I felt the end of the book reflected that.

One other nitpicky note - I would like the year I'm reading about to be put up in the top right hand/left hand corner of each page. The book covers so much information and packs in so many dates that sometimes I would forget where I was and would have to flip back a few pages to get to the last date with a year attached to it to figure out what was happening. I think that would also help humanize Joanna a little bit - the reader could look at the date and think, Wow, Joanna's only 20 and look at all the stuff she was dealing with at the time! It would help draw a connection between the reader and the subject.

If you are interested in obscure European royalty (that probably shouldn't be obscure!) you should check out The Lady Queen. I would be interested to know how it reads all the way through as opposed to when it's broken up by a long stretch of time. I find Goldstone to be slightly dry at times, but eventually the subject overcomes the writing. Queen Joanna deserves to be better known - although maybe fiction would be a better home for her. I look forward to reading a fictionalized version of this fascinating Queen's life.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

De Medici

When reading historical novels, I tend to stick to novels about English history. I know the history better, and I think that there are more of them in English language. However, I recently decided to branch out into French history with The Devil's Queen: A Novel of Catherine De Medici by Jeanne Kalogridis.

For those of you who may not know, Catherine de Medici was Queen of France from 1547 to 1557. There is a lot of interest right now in that period in English history (I would call it middle Tudor - just after Henry VIII and before Elizabeth I) so I'm wondering if some of that interest will spill over into France and the other countries at the time. It is kind of neat to catch the references to some of the Tudor folk we know so well. (Not to mention Mary, Queen of Scots - briefly Queen of France when she married Catherine's son.)

However, I digress. Catherine grew up in Italy as part of the extended de Medici clan. At one point, apparently, she was imprisoned as a child. She eventually married Henri II - at that time just a Prince of France - and they had a number of children. The Dauphin predeceased their father, which eventually paved the way for Henri becoming King after his father, Francois. Henri is also probably very well known for his mistress; the beautiful Diane de Poitiers - who was probably 20 years older or so than the King. (Thanks, Wikipedia, for helping out with these facts!)

The book begins in Catherine's childhood. The unstable political times are set out, and we quickly learn of Catherine's precocious intelligence and early love for astrology. That said, the part where Catherine murders a stableboy to help her and her aunt escape is pure fiction. I like some plausibility in my historical fiction.

Catherine is imprisoned in a number of convents and is finally freed to go live with the Pope, himself a Medici. Catherine is supposed to marry her cousin Ippolito and rule Florence with him and Catherine finds herself in many compromising situations with her cousin. Again, that is another aspect that is problematic - I don't think that the opportunities the author describes would be there.

However, Catherine is married to Henri and moves to France. I enjoyed this part of the book - I liked the author's twist in that Diane was an early passing fancy of Henri's, but he had to keep pretending that she was his chief mistress to appease the factions at court when he really was in love with Catherine. While that may not be historically valid, I thought it was an interesting interpretation of the historical record. Catherine survives the early death of her husband and is the power behind the throne for her sons who succeed as king.

Overall, this book was okay, but didn't really live up to my expectations. A book called The Devil's Queen about Catherine de Medici - I want more. I would have liked a more in-depth look at Catherine's life; the pacing of the book was off. We skipped entire years early on so we could slow down right at the end before the St. Bartholomew's day massacre - which ends the book. I found the pacing slow at the end and may not have minded if we'd gone into all these little historical details before. More historical details altogether would have been nice. I wasn't really pulled into this book like I am with other historical novels. When reading a good historical novel, the reader should have difficulty recalling current time and place when putting the book down. That did not happen here.

I also wanted more showing, less telling. Sure, the author told me that Catherine was intelligent, smart, and ruled well, but I wanted to see that. More of Catherine ruling instead of just sort of hearing about it. I also thought there wasn't enough astrology/mysticism in the book. For someone who was purportedly so interested in astrology, Catherine really only went through a few mysterious ceremonies. Yes, both horrific, but then she'd abstain from anything remotely mystic for long periods of time. I didn't get the sense that astrology was really a passion in her life. I suppose the author was trying to show a different side of Catherine - instead of the ruthless harpy everyone knows, this Catherine had the love of her husband and was at heart a good person, who only turned to the "dark side" of astrology when things were truly desperate. For a "devil's queen" she was not really very bad at all!

This book was an okay read, but not a great one. For a version of Catherine de Medici which mixes in more of the demonic and mystical, try The Master of All Desires by Judith Merkle Riley. Catherine de Medici is one of the supporting players in that book and I think her personality and interest in the supernatural really comes across well in that book. But, if you just want a primer on Catherine de Medici, this book would probably be alright. Hopefully with the interest in this time period in English history, maybe some really excellent writers will adopt this period in French history and give us a true "Devil's Queen".

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Ancient Egypt

So, where has my summer gone! Apparently I've been too busy to read. That's not entirely true - I've been busy reading Agatha Christies. I know those aren't everyone's cup of tea, so I've been trying to sneak something else in there on the side.

That something else is Child of the Morning by Pauline Gedge. As you may recall, Ms. Gedge (from Alberta!) is one of my favourite authors. She specializes in novels about Ancient Egypt. I haven't read them all, but I think her earlier works are more my favourite than her later ones. She's also dabbled in a few other genres with a Celtic novel The Eagle and the Raven and a fantasy novel Stargate. Both of them are pretty good - I like Stargate as it has a strong sense of fatalism mixed in with the fantasy elements. (Note - has nothing to do with the movie/TV show Stargate.)

Child of the Morning is the first novel Gedge wrote. But it's good - really good! One reads it and can only marvel that this is a first novel. From the beginning her characterization and scene-setting abilities are spot on. The reader is pulled into Ancient Egypt; a world so far away from ours that it might as well be fantasy. Yet in reading Gedge's books, she makes the characters come to life so the reader has someone to grab onto in this strange, new, exciting, world.

This book is about a female Pharaoh, Hatshepsut. She is maybe not the only female Pharaoh that Ancient Egypt has, but she is certainly one of the best known (after Cleopatra, of course). She is responsible for some beautiful architecture in Egypt. She was also so hated after her death that her successor tried to obliterate her name and image and so erase her from history forever. Fortunately for us, he was unable to do so.

We begin with Hatshepsut as a child; stubborn, autocratic, willful. Spoilt, even. Already with a drive for power and independence. Women in Ancient Egypt apparently had some freedoms denied their sisters in other areas of the Ancient world, but Hatshepsut was a free spirit, even for a princess. The reader observes how Hatshepsut develops and joins her in her quest to become Pharaoh, aided and abetted by her father.

Gedge creates a complete world for Hatshepsut. We learn what the Ancient Egyptians wore (very little, apparently!), ate, drank, and did. The research must have been meticulous in order for this level of detail. But the detail doesn't obscure the story as it often can -rather, it enhances it. Of course, the book was published in 1977, so there are new details about Hapshepsut's life that Gedge could not have known, but it is a remarkable work of research nonetheless.

I also enjoyed how Gedge did not feel the need to end her book on a happy note. It is not a tragic book, but the ending is realistic. The reader is left with sense of loss, but it all makes sense. We remember the happier times documented earlier and are satisfied.

Child of the Morning is an excellent book for anyone interested in Ancient Egypt and a peek into the lives of its royalty. This is an excellent book - an amazing first effort from a very talented writer. I enjoyed Child of the Morning very much and was thoroughly swept away into Ancient Egypt. This is a good read for any time of the year. Summer is good - you can commiserate with the heat in the book. (Although not this summer!) Winter is better - you can immerse yourself into Egypt's shining sands without having to pay for the airfare. Whatever time of year you read it, this book is excellent. Enjoy!

P.S. Also, who doesn't love that the Ancient Egyptians worshipped cats! They knew a thing or two - I know my two rule my house and demand absolute obedience from their puny human servants.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

One Day at a Time

Hello faithful readers - sorry for the delay in posting! I was rather busy last weekend, but things have calmed down now, and the rest of the summer should be smooth sailing from here.

The book I am going to talk about today is One Day by David Nicholls. It is about Dexter Mayhew and Emma Morley, who meet on July 15, 1988 on their last day of university. The book follows the progress of their relationship by checking in with them on July 15th for the next 20 years or so. This was another one on the Entertainment Weekly Top 10 Fiction. The book has already been optioned for a movie with Anne Hathaway (love!) and Jim Sturgess (who?).

So far, I seem to be really enjoying the non-fiction of the list and not enjoying the fiction books as much. This book is no exception. I really hated the first few chapters, but I persevered, and grew to like it. It was not bad. Do I want to own it? No. Was it a mildly enjoyable read? Yes.

I was very intrigued by the one day per year format, and I thought it really added to the book. I would read about something that the characters were planning for later on that year, and I'd have to wait until the next check-in to find out what happened. I thought that was a neat trick.

On the other hand, however, that's almost all the book had going for it. I don't think I'd be interested in the characters of Emma and Dexter if the book had just been written in a normal way. Your main characters should be able to carry a book no matter how it's written. But I just wouldn't be interested enough to read about them without the conceit of only learning about their lives one day at a time.

I might be interested enough to read about Emma - especially as I think she sort of had short shrift in this book. It's supposed to be about two people - Dex and Em - but I think the author focused more on Dexter's journey and grow than he did on Emma's. And there was some sort of inconsistent characterization at the end: Emma is thoroughly annoyed with her friends with children, yet only a few years later she wants a baby desperately. There was no hint of this complete change of mind at all.

My main problem is with the character of Dexter. He starts off as the kind of guy who is, well, a jerk. He's a lad - to use the British slang (in keeping with the Britain-set book). He tarts around with girls, drinks and drugs, thinks he's so amazing, has some sort of trust fund so he doesn't really have to work - in short, he's not a very likeable character. And he doesn't really change or grow - he does, to some extent - but is essentially the same person at the end as he was at the beginning. Unlike Emma, who does grow and change, but who is not documented as well as Dexter. With this type of characterization, it is very hard to see what Emma sees in Dexter. Sure, a woman might be swept off her feet by a pretty face, but if he's a jerk, she'll realize that sooner or later and come to her senses. Unless she's the sort of woman who will put up with jerkiness for the sake of being in a relationship. And Emma is not that sort of woman.

I also had an issue with the structure of the book. The book opens with Emma and Dexter's meeting on July 15, 1988. But, the reader does not really learn about what happened on that day. It's briefly alluded to, but not enough to form any definite conclusions about what happened. While at first I was annoyed (how are these two people supposed to make some epic connection over an encounter that brief!), I eventually came around. I liked that the author wasn't showing us what happened, but letting us make up our own minds. Until the end, after the climax of the story, when the author flashes back to July 15, 1988 and shows us what happened. I think that was a mistake, story-wise. By then, I didn't want to know about July 15, 1988, because I already had my own idea of what happened. He should have told us at the beginning, or not at all.

From all of this, it sounds like I hated the book. I truly did not - after I got into it, it was an enjoyable read; mostly because each day ended on a cliffhanger that wouldn't be resolved until the next yearly check-in. It's not a terrible book, but neither is it an amazing book. It is a nice, light-hearted summer read, however. If you're looking for something light and summery, this could be the read for you.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Summer Retreads

For whatever reason, in the summer I find myself rereading a lot of my favourite series. I know that the summer is typically either the time when people challenge themselves with difficult classics that they don't have time to read during the rest of the year, or entertain themselves with light and fluffy beach reads. Sadly, there is no beach where I live. Nor do I feel the need to challenge myself with something difficult and possibly unpleasant. Instead, I turn to favourite series that I've enjoyed in the past.

Currently I'm reading both Mercedes Lackey's 500 Kingdoms series and Laurie R. King's Mary Russell series. I'm nearly finished the 500 Kingdoms series - there were a number of the 500 Kingdoms books at my branch of the library last week, so I managed to grab a bunch in one fell swoop and read them in order. I'm just working on the last one, The Sleeping Beauty, which is my least favourite of the series. This is the one in which she attempts to meld Terry Pratchett-style humour with her usual earnest fantasy. For me, it is not a success. I don't always find that humour comes across well in books, and I'm not a fan of Terry Pratchett-style humour anyway.

I'd read my copies of the Mary Russells that I own last month, and really enjoyed them. I wanted to read a few more in the series and, as luck would have it, my library also had a number of Mary Russell books last week, so I picked those up too. It's nice when the library actually has the books that I am looking for, so I don't have to wait to order them in! I am reading them somewhat in order: I own The Beekeeper's Apprentice, A Monstrous Regiment of Women, and The Moor, so I read all of those back-to-back (which is not entirely in order). I picked up A Letter of Mary, Justice Hall, and Locked Rooms from the library, and am reading those in order.

However, I am also re-reading another series which I am finding very enjoyable. Everyone knows of my love for Agatha Christie mysteries and those featuring her diminutive detective, Hercule Poirot, in particular. I've reread the books so many times that one would think that there's nothing new left in novels for me. However, this summer I decided to reread them in order. Much to my surprise, I have never read Agatha Christie's Poirot novels in their publication order. I usually just read through them at random, picking and choosing books at whim. I am rather enjoying reading the books as Christie wrote them.

So far, I have read: The Mysterious Affair at Styles, The Murder on the Links, Poirot Investigates, The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, The Big Four, The Mystery of the Blue Train, Peril at End House, Lord Edgware Dies, Murder on the Orient Express, Three-Act Tragedy, and Death in the Clouds. I am currently working my way through one of my favourites; The ABC Murders. While the books are not strictly chronological - in that they do follow the natural progression of time but that you don't need to read them strictly in order - it is enjoyable to watch the relationships between the characters develop. The friendship between Poirot and Hastings deepens and grows, the animosity between Japp and Poirot mellows. And, too, the reader understands little references throughout the books to prior crimes which Poirot helped solve.

It was, I think, somewhat of a mistake for Christie to marry off Hastings so early and send him to Argentina. It makes for somewhat of a stretch after The Murder on the Links to have him conveniently turn up in London to help solve cases with Poirot. Fortunately, he does not appear in too many: The Big Four, Peril at End House, Lord Edgware Dies, and The ABC Murders so far. And, some of Poirot's greatest mysteries are without Hastings: The Murder of Roger Ackroyd and Murder on the Orient Express.

Murder on the Orient Express is one of my favourite Hercule Poirot novels. The solution is so clever and it all just unwinds at the end. I can't help thinking about all the behind the scenes manipulation of the parties on the train. I would like to read a novel from the point of view of the train passengers - it would be fascinating.

I also must point out Peril at End House: this is not one that my mother has a copy of, so it's not one I read a lot growing up. As a result, it is, for me, one of the lesser known Poirots in that I never remember anything about the book until I read it again. Although, I must admit, that even though I have read the Poirots so many times I usually don't remember who the murderer is. I think I do, and then realize at the end of the book that I have remembered the red herring whom Christie wants me to think has done the murder! However, there are a few in which I do know who the murderer is. In that case, it is fun to read the book from the murderer's point of view and try to grasp all the little clues that Christie put down for me to figure out who the murderer is.

Probably one of my least favourites is The Big Four. This was Christie's attempt to write a real "thriller" with spies and vast international conspiracies. I just don't think it works as well for her. Her real strength is in the type of English-country-house mysteries with tricky puzzles - not in the realm of international espionage. It does not work as well for me as some of her other books.

I'm only about one third of my way through the Christie canon, and I'm looking forward to reading the remaining books. This may last me until the end of the summer! It's especially interesting reading the earlier Poirots at the same time I am reading the Mary Russells as they are both set in the 1920s. (However, I've moved on to the 1930s with Poirot by now.) It's fun to compare the subtle differences in writing between a writer who is writing contemporaneously with the time period, and a writer who is writing of the time period in a historical sense. Not to mention that the two are completely different writers and characters. I would, however, love Laurie R. King to set up a situation in which Poirot and Holmes meet. She's brought in other fictional characters, surely she could set up a meeting between England's two most famous sleuths? Such a book has the potential to be amazing. I'll keep my fingers crossed - Ms. King has a new Mary Russell out in September - maybe this could be the one!

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Pioneers for Grownups

Recently I wrote about my love for Laura Ingalls Wilder and her "Little House" series which inspired me to be a pioneer when I grew up. Well, the books did not end with These Happy Golden Years. Laura wrote three other books which detail her travels after These Happy Golden Years. Are they suitable for children? Sure - older children. But there is quite a difference in style and tone between these latter three books and the earlier books in the "Little House" series. Those who like the "happily ever after" feeling of These Happy Golden Years (which ends on the occasion of Laura and Almanzo's marriage) will not want to read any further. Those interested in Laura's story - the good and the bad - will want to read on.

The First Four Years is a story unearthed after Laura's death. Obviously it is a first draft of a book she probably intended to write later - it is very short and the events are hasty and sketched-in without the wealth of detail Laura usually provides. However, the writing is still clearly her voice. It tells the story of the first four years of Laura and Almanzo's marriage: Laura agreed to give farming a try for four years. While her Pa had farmed, Laura had grown up more as a pioneer girl than as a farmer's daughter. She was reluctant to settle down on a farm, so she and Almanzo compromised on four years.

These four years have joy, but there is also sadness that hits Laura and Almanzo. Sad events had occurred before to Laura - her sister Mary went blind from illness. However, those events were not chronicled in a book. These sad events are, although briefly. Laura and Almanzo lose their second child, a son, as a baby; Laura and Almanzo get diphtheria; they go into debt; and their house burns down. But there are happy times too: sleigh rides, pony rides, the birth of their daughter Rose, the beautiful little house Almanzo builds for Laura.

While Laura's earlier books may have glossed over some of the tragedies and heartbreak the family suffered, this book meets it head on. Not everything is rosy for the pioneer family, and farming is difficult and hard with the farmer completely at the mercy of the elements. It would have been nice if Laura could have finished this book in her usual style, but the spare prose only serves to emphasize the hardships the family suffered. This is a darker book than the other "Little House" books.

The next book On the Way Home, details further travels of Laura and Almanzo. Their attempt to make a go of it as farmers in South Dakota failed. They then moved to Florida, hoping that the climate would be better for Almanzo. However, Florida failed them too and they moved back to South Dakota. This is where the story picks up.

Laura and Almanzo have decided to move to Mansfield, Missouri - the Ozarks, the Land of the Big Red Apple. It is 1894, but the family is moving by a familiar mode of transport - the covered wagon. A more modernized version than the one Laura traveled in a child, but a covered wagon nonetheless. Laura kept a diary of their trip and her diary entries form the majority of the book. A brief introduction is provided by Laura's daughter Rose, who was 8 at the time of the move. It is interesting to hear her recollections of her childhood with the mother we all know so well. Rose grew up to be a famous writer of her own and her introduction is filled with wit and charm. Mansfield would end up being Laura's home for the rest of her life. Finally, she and Almanzo had found a place where they could settle.

The last book in the series, West from Home, details further travels by Laura. The year is 1915 and the Panama-Pacific International Exposition has come to San Francisco. So too has Laura's daughter Rose with her husband Gillette Lane. They work as writers for papers and magazines. Rose invites Laura to come out for a visit to see the Exhibition. She does, and the book is a collection of the letters she wrote home to Almanzo. Just as Laura was her sister Mary's eyes as a girl, so to for the exhibition was she Almanzo's eyes. It is interesting to get a glimpse of San Fransisco - a young, eager city - and the spectacular exhibition through Laura's eyes. We also get a glimpse of her relationship with Almanzo and her love of their farm, Rocky Ridge, at home in Missouri.

With that story, Laura's journey is complete. We have followed her travels from a little log cabin in Wisconsin to a final train journey out to San Francisco. She had literally traveled across the entire North American continent - and mostly prior to the use of cars or trains. Her stories provide us a window on a vanished world whether happy - in the "Little House" series, or sad, in The First Four Years. These books are an excellent resource for anyone who wants to know what it was like in the "olden days."