Book Review: A Wilder Rose

Book Review: A Wilder Rose by Susan Wittig Albert

Disclosure:  I received this book in a Goodreads giveaway on the premise that I would review it.

A Wilder Rose

Most of you are familiar with the “Little House” series by Laura Ingalls Wilder, about her life as a pioneer’s child.  If not the much beloved books themselves, then from the also beloved TV series starring Melissa Gilbert.  You may also be aware that scholars now believe that Laura’s daughter Rose Wilder Lane was much more involved in writing the books than either woman ever told the public during their lifetimes.

This is a fictionalized biography of Rose, focusing on the period of 1929-1939, when the bulk of the Little House books were written.  Ms. Albert has based the story on information found in Rose’s journals and letters, plus the scholarly research of such non-fiction biographers as William Holtz, author of Ghost in the Little House: A Life of Rose Wilder Lane.  It’s an appropriate approach, given that the Little House books were a fictionalization of Laura’s life.

While the rest of Rose’s long and interesting life is covered in asides (and a wrap-up chapter at the end,) the focus is on on the difficult mother-daughter relationship between two strong-willed women who were more alike than either would care to admit, despite their deep differences.  There’s also a theme of Rose’s foster children and how they helped her fill a need in her own life.

Rose knew many famous people in her own career as a writer, including living with Helen Boylston (author of the Sue Barton nurse series) for several years in Albania.  These connections turn up at odd moments to advance the story.

One bit that really struck me was Laura complaining how kids these days have it too soft…in the middle of the Great Depression.  Some things never change!  There’s also a look at how Rose’s politics became more Libertarian over time.

There’s a bibliography of the books written by Laura and/or Rose, as well as a list of books about them for further reading.  A list of real people mentioned in the book is included, and a caveat that names of less famous characters have been changed for privacy reasons.

Because it’s based on things that really happened, the ending may seem a bit weak, but it’s well-written and I would recommend this book to older teens and adults who fondly remember the Little House books.

Book Review: The Global Public Square

Book Review: The Global Public Square by Os Guinness

Disclaimer:  I received this book from a Goodreads giveaway on the premise that I would review it.

The Global Public Square

The book’s subtitle is “Religious freedom and the making of a world safe for diversity.”  The idea is that for maximum “soul freedom” we need neither a “sacred” public square, where only the official/majority religion can speak to public policy  (as in countries with a state religion), nor a “naked” public square, where no religion is permitted to speak to public policy (officially atheistic states such as North Korea.)  Instead, Mr. Guinness advocates a “civil”public square “in which citizens of all faiths and none are free to enter and engage public life on the basis of their faith, as a matter of freedom of thought, conscience and free exercise, but within an agreed framework of what is understood and respected to be just and free for people of all other faiths too, and thus for the common good.” (p. 180-181)

As that quote might suggest, this book is rather wordy, and Mr. Guinness spends quite a long time talking around the point before coming down to his actual proposals.  He does make some good points.  Freedom of speech and religion can’t just be made real by laws; they also have to become “habits of the heart.”  Many countries sadly have laws that guarantee freedoms that have no actual effect on the ground.  And there have been excesses both by those who would insist on imposing their religious beliefs as law, and those who would ban all religious expression from public areas.

On the other hand, there are times when Mr. Guinness’ viewpoint becomes a little off, as for example claiming that human rights without a faith basis aren’t “real.”  He also elides the purpose for which “under God” was added to the Pledge of Allegiance, and fails to note that the ACLU does, in fact, work to protect religious expression when it is being unconstitutionally oppressed.  A particularly sticky subject touched upon but not thought about deeply here is whether someone who is in control of a secular institution can impose their religious beliefs on their employees or customers.  (Mr. Guinness seems to believe the answer is “yes.”)

Also, he does that thing where polyamory is in a sentence that makes it seem morally equivalent to bestiality and female genital mutilation.

There are certainly thought-provoking ideas in this book, and if you are concerned about the role of religion and free speech in public policy, it’s one source to consider.  But have a grain of salt with you at all times.

Book Review: Wrapped in the Flag: A Personal History of America’s Radical Right

Book Review: Wrapped in the Flag: A Personal History of America’s Radical Right by Claire Conner

Disclaimer:  I received this book through a Goodreads giveaway on the premise that I would review it.

Flag

This is an autobiography of Claire Conner, daughter of Stillwell J. Conner, one of the first members of the John Birch Society and one of its most fierce advocates.  In it, she shares the history of her family’s involvement with the notorious right-wing organization, and her personal journey from loyal but naive supporter of her parents’ cause through skepticism and eventually to rejection.

The John Birch Society, for those who may be unfamiliar, was founded in the 1950s by candy entrepreneur Robert Welch to fight the overwhelming menace of the  international Communist conspiracy.  It was named after a former missionary murdered by the Chinese Communists under murky circumstances, and stood against all forms of Communism and what its members believed to be Communist fronts.  The UN?  Communist plot.  Ending racial segregation?  Communist plot.  Being anti-Communist but not in the same way as the John Birch Society?   Communist plot.

This is a sad story in many ways.  According to Ms. Conner’s account, her parents’ fanaticism blinded them to the damage they were doing to their family relationships.  It also blinded them to the flaws in those they allied with, be it Holocaust deniers, violent criminals or just political opportunists.   She recalls several instances of people being stuffed down her father’s memory hole rather than have him admit he was ever wrong about them.

The Conners also seemed never to notice that the dire predictions of a Communist takeover in four, five years tops, never came true, never came close to coming true.   The JBS never admitted that previous predictions were wrong, just kept doomsaying to keep the troops in line and the money flowing.

A particularly telling story is that Ms. Conner’s parents, despite finding thousands of dollars each year to spend on the Society’s cause, told her that they could not spare one penny for her college education and she would have to pay for it on her own.  Then when she won a generous scholarship, forced her to turn it down as they had already picked a more expensive college for her to go to.  She reports that her father exploded with rage when asked why, if Claire had to pay for her own education, she couldn’t choose her own school.

Ms. Conner also discusses her involvement with the pro-life movement, originally stemming from her personal experience and her religious convictions, and how it was co-opted by political opportunists who didn’t actually care about the children, just about enraging their donor base into giving more money.

The book also discusses how parts of the JBS ethos are still alive and well in today’s Tea Party and other right-wing groups.  The John Birch Society itself may be a tiny shell of what it once was, but rabid hatred of big government , racism and a fear of the Left still linger.

There are many footnotes, and a complete index, but no illustrations.

I highly recommend this book to history buffs, those curious about right-wing politics, and those interested in biography.

 

Book Review: Spur #30 Boise Belle

Book Review: Spur #30 Boise Belle by Dirk Fletcher

Spur

I’m not sure what this type of book is called in the marketing department, so I’m going to borrow a phrase from the pulps and call it “spicy Western.”   This is a subgenre of the Western, usually in long-running paperback series, in which a tough Western hero fights outlaws and other baddies, pausing every few chapters for fairly explicit sex scenes.  It’s plot with porn, rather than porn with plot.

And what is that plot, you ask?  Spur McCoy is a Secret Service agent who has come to the Idaho Territory to investigate threats against the governor, who is running for re-election.  He’s not sure if a rash of vigilante killings is related to this or not.  Spur’s slightly distracted by the governor’s lusty and barely legal daughter, and a pretty widow (whose husband was killed by the vigilantes in a mistaken attack.)  There’s also polygamous Mormons in the mix.

The local law enforcement has been lax in dealing with the vigilantes as they save the cost of a trial, but as Spur notes, once you let one bunch of people take the law into their own hands, other people want to get into the act.  More killings indicate there’s a new vigilante in town, with a very different agenda.

This isn’t a mystery; the readers are let in on what’s going on well before Spur figures it out.  Still, it’s a bit more complex plot than many of this subgenre have.

Sadly, the paperbacks are overpriced new; check garage sales and suchlike if you think this is the sort of thing you’d be interested in.

Book Review: Dark Waters

Book Review: Dark Waters by Robin Blake

Disclaimer:  I received this book in a Goodreads giveaway on the premise that I would review it.  My copy was an Advance Reading Copy, and there may be minor changes in the final product.

Dark Waters by Robin Blake

It is the Year of Our Lord 1741 in the small but bustling English town of Preston.  Attorney and coroner Titus Cragg is shocked but not surprised to find his drunkard uncle-in-law has fallen into the river and drowned.  The coroner’s jury rules it an accidental death, and that seems to be an end of it.

But then a man falls dead under suspicious circumstances just before a hotly contested election is scheduled, and it just so happens that he shares strong political beliefs with the first to die.  Is there a political conspiracy afoot?  Mr. Cragg must unravel the riddle with the help of the young and scientifically inclined Dr. Luke Fidelis before there’s no more room to store the bodies.

This is the second historical mystery featuring the team of Cragg & Fidelis; I have not read the first.    There are author’s notes at the end concerning the politics and monetary system of the time, which enhance the value of the book. The characters are likable, and the plot moves well.

Trigger Warning:  period slut-shaming.

This is good of its kind, and I recommend it to historical mystery fans.

Note:  I have reviewed another book titled Dark Waters; there is no connection beyond the titles.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...