Review: House of Dreams: The Life of L.M. Montgomery

November 23, 2018

“Words were her salvation, her business, and her hope.”

House of Dreams: The Life of L.M. Montgomery by Liz Rosenberg

House of Dreams 2

Genre/Categories: Narrative Nonfiction, Biography, Middle Grade, Canada


House of Dreams is the biography of L.M. Montgomery. Told in narrative style with a few illustrations, the story reveals the complex and troubled life of the well-known author of Anne of Green Gables. As well as exploring her lifelong struggle with anxiety and depression, the biography also details her childhood years and her love for books and writing. Through L.M. Montgomery’s own words, we are struck by her talent, perseverance, and hope.

Amazon (Early) Rating (November): 4.3 Stars

My Thoughts:

Target Audience. This is tricky discussion. Although House of Dreams is categorized as Middle Grade, I think that because of mature themes that it’s more suitable for YA and adults than children. I’m not suggesting that children should be shielded from the harsh realities of real life or the actual life of L.M. Montgomery, but I think the book might not appeal to children. Even though there’s a great deal to admire about L.M. Montgomery, it seems that middle grade readers might be bored with or even disturbed by discussions of an unhappy marriage, mental illness, feelings of despair, drug dependencies, and law suits. In my opinion, there seems to be a great deal of adult talk about adult issues in a children’s book. It’s a sad story and may discourage children (8-12) from reading Montgomery’s work.

I need to inject here that I appreciate today’s trend of writing about difficult topics that children might face within the context of children’s or young adult literature. A few examples are: Far From the Tree (adoption, foster care), Crenshaw (homelessness), The Hate U Give (racism, black lives matter), Stella by Starlight (racism, prejudice), Louisana’s Way Home (found family), Wishtree (diversity and tolerance), El Deafo (hearing challenged), Inside Out and Back Again (immigrant experience, bullying), Wonder (disabilities, acceptance, bullying), etc. Do you have titles to add to this list?

Realism or Happiness? For mature readers, there’s a great deal of inspiration to gain from the life of L.M. Montgomery and the double life she led. One life was the harsh reality of losing her mom as a toddler and having a loving father abandon her as a young girl. Even though she was placed with grandparents, they were strict and stern.  Her other life consisted of her passion for writing and her imagination, a happy place of escape and inspiration. Laura Ingalls Wilder also wrote happy stories for children which didn’t always reflect the reality of her life. Even Louisa May Alcott was pressured by publishers to write happy stories for children. It appears that this was the expectation of the time. Thus, the unhappiness of Montgomery’s actual life was treated with lightness and hope in her stories for children:

“Thank God, I can keep the shadows of my life out of my work,” she wrote. “I would not wish to darken any other life–I want instead to be a messenger of optimism and sunshine.”

Inspirational. The author often refers to Montgomery as “heart-hungry,” always searching for family, friendship, love, and belonging. The author notes: “Maud was honing her special genius–to make the most of any situation, and to find humor under the most trying circumstances. It was a gift she would pass along to her own young fictional heroines, and a resource that upheld her for years to come. She transformed her own history of abandonment into a story of love and rescue. Ann of Green Gables is a book about creating lasting family. It is a celebration of place, a story about belonging. No one but Maud Montgomery, with all her checkered history and heart-hungry longing, could have created it.”

Not only was her ability to rise above her childhood circumstances inspirational, her ability to navigate a man’s world is noteworthy. In dealing with her publisher, she stated, “They cannot bluff, bully, or cajole.” Even though she wasn’t given a fair contract, she ended up making quite a substantial amount of money for a woman at that time. This money gave her some power and resources to sue the publishing company and to support her family as her husband’s mental health declined. Despite suffering from depression herself, Montgomery was able to take charge of her family, make important decisions, and write prolifically until the very end. She rose above her suffering for a very long time and accomplished so much in the face of it.

In addition, I think her loyalty and unwavering commitment to her grandmother is noteworthy. Her grandmother made many sacrifices for L.M. Montgomery and took care of her the best she could. Montgomery, in turn, sacrificed some things to make sure her grandmother was taken care of at the end of her life. Even though Montgomery never received the love she craved as a child and was even abandoned by her own father, she didn’t use this as an excuse to abandon her grandmother. Her sense of duty and responsibility is admirable and inspiring. In the most difficult of circumstances, she always strived to do the right thing for her family.

Favorite Quote. “She kept a notebook and pen in her apron pocket for small literary ’emergencies.’ ”

I Wish. Throughout the story, I wished the author had included real life pictures of people and places. It would have enhanced the reading in my opinion.

Recommended. As indicated above, I recommend this well written biography for YA (14+) and Adult fans of L.M. Montgomery, for readers who appreciate narrative biographies, and for all who are looking for a story about a strong, independent woman facing difficult circumstances and creating her best life. I would recommend this for mature middle grade readers with some parent or teacher support.

Although well written, I’m giving this 3.5 stars because I feel like it missed its target audience.

twinkle-twinkle-little-startwinkle-twinkle-little-startwinkle-twinkle-little-starhalf twinkle-twinkle-little-star

House of Dreams

Buy Here

Meet the Author, Liz Rosenberg

Liz RosenbergLiz Rosenberg is the author of 5 novels, 4 books of poems and more than 20 award winning books for children. She has edited five prize winning poetry anthologies (including THE INVISIBLE LADDER and LIGHT GATHERING POEMS) and her picture book, THE CAROUSEL was featured on PBS’ Reading Rainbow. TYRANNOSAURUS DAD (illustrated by Matthew Myers) is a Children’s Book of the Month Club bestseller and has garnered praise from Publisher’s Weekly, Kirkus, School Library Journal and elsewhere, and was an Amazon top 10 children’s book. WHAT JAMES SAID, her newest children’s book, (ALSO ill. by Matthew Myers) is a Best Book for Social Studies. Her children’s book, MONSTER MAMA, is currently under option as a feature movie.

Her long-awaited first non-fiction book, HOUSE OF DREAMS, a biography of author L.M. Montgomery, (Anne of Green Gables) will be published June 2018. It is a Junior Library Guild Selection.

Her first novel for adults, HOME REPAIR was a Target Breakout book, a BookBub pick, and voted top ten for Book Clubs and Most Likely to be Next Oprah Pick on Goodreads. Her second, THE LAWS OF GRAVITY, has been a best-seller in the United States, Canada, Germany and the UK. and was a Jewish Book Network selection for 2013. The Boston Globe hailed it as “a thoughtful story about morality, personal responsibility, the law, and above all, the complicated, sometimes incomprehensible ties of family.”

THE MOONLIGHT PALACE was the #1 best-selling Kindle book on Amazon. It was chosen to be a Kindle First, and was a #1 best-seller in the US and UK. BEAUTY AND ATTENTION, published in fall, 2016, is an updated re-telling of Henry James’ classic, PORTRAIT OF A LADY.

Her newest novel is INDIGO HILL, due out in November, 2018. About INDIGO HILL, author John Dufresne writes, “Liz Rosenberg loves her characters and makes us love them, too. She knows what Faulkner knew, that the past isn’t dead; it isn’t even past. She knows, as well, that every story is many stories, and she handles the complex intersecting tales of unspeakable loss, astonishing secrets, familial chaos, and heartbreak, with intelligence, poise, and tenderness.”

She is a full professor at Binghamton University’s English Department and has guest taught all over the world, from Russia to Austria to Singapore, and throughout the United States. Ms. Rosenberg spends her time reading and writing. Her hobbies and passions are reading and writing.

Happy Reading Book Buddies!

“Ah, how good it is to be among people who are reading.”
~Rainer Maria Rilke

“I love the world of words, where life and literature connect.”
~Denise J Hughes

“Reading good books ruins you for enjoying bad ones.”
~Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

“I read because books are a form of transportation, of teaching, and of connection! Books take us to places we’ve never been, they teach us about our world, and they help us to understand human experience.”
~Madeleine Riley, Top Shelf Text

Links I Love

Kingdom of the Blind will be released next Tuesday! This is an enticing promo!

If you’ve read My Dear Hamilton by Stephanie Dray and Laura Kamoie and provide a review on social media or Amazon, you can fill out this form to receive FREE bonus content!

Have you voted in the 2018 Goodreads Awards?  Final voting is Nov 13-26. To vote, follow this link. Honestly, I’m discouraged with this year’s voting because my favorites of the year didn’t make it to the final cut in most categories. Did yours?

Have you seen The Hate U Give movie? Here’s the THUG trailer. 
I’ve read positive reviews with some saying it could be one of the best movies of the year. Of course, the movie is never as good as the book so don’t miss this important read.

Looking Ahead to December

Of course I’ll be reviewing Kingdom of the Blind by Louise Penny next Friday, and then I’m planning posts that will include a November Wrap Up, a bookish gift guide, a Winter TBR, and end of the year recap. After that, I’ll see what library holds come in and watch for kindle deals. I’m definitely looking for some lighter reads in December.

My Fall TBR

I’ll be updating my Fall TBR list as I complete each read, so check this link often! Only one more read after Kingdom of the Blind until I complete my Fall TBR. Did you make a fall reading list?

Sharing is Caring

Thank you for reading today! I’d be honored and thrilled if you choose to enjoy and follow along, promote, and/or share my blog. Every share helps us grow.

 Let’s Discuss

What do you think about including harsh realities in children’s literature? Do you have some examples of this being done well?

I’d love to hear updates on your November reading! What are you looking forward to reading in December?

***Blogs posts may contain affiliate links. This means that at no extra cost to you, I can earn a small percentage of your purchase price. This money will be used to offset the costs of running a blog and to sponsor giveaways, etc.

Unless explicitly stated that they are free, all books that I review have been purchased by me or borrowed from the library.

Book Cover and author photo are credited to Amazon or an author’s (or publisher’s) website.


Prairie Fires: The American Dreams of Laura Ingalls Wilder

March 2, 2018

comprehensive…eye opening…richly researched…real life…resiliency

Prairie Fires: The American Dreams of Laura Ingalls Wilder
by Caroline Fraser

Prairie Fires

Genre/Categories: Nonfiction, American History,  Biography, Frontier, Family Life


Prairie Fires is a comprehensive look at the life of Laura Ingalls Wilder, author of the beloved (and fictionalized) “Little House on the Prairie” books that have been loved by children, teachers, and librarians for decades. Over 600 pages, Prairie Fires goes beyond biography as the author provides extensive American history material including information about westward expansion, the railroad, extreme weather, fires, the Indian Wars, rural communities, and the Dust Bowl.  The author also addresses the controversy surrounding the true authorship of the “Little House” series. Prairie Fires was chosen as one of New York Times 10 Best Books of the Year.

Amazon Rating (March): 4 Stars

My Thoughts:

First, I must mention that this is a long book! It can be tedious in places if you’re not a history fanatic. However, Laura’s true story is rather fascinating in its historical context.

One question that I wanted answered while reading is this: Why did Laura Ingalls Wilder write idyllic, happy, fictionalized stories when her actual living conditions were extremely harsh?


Through extensive research, the author draws a realistic picture of the struggle, poverty, and transient life style of the Ingalls family. As the true history of Laura’s family is significantly more harsh than is portrayed in the children’s books, I pondered why Laura chose to write the books in the happy, idealized manner that she did (besides the obvious reason that she couldn’t successfully publish the reality of her life for children). As I read, I came to realize how much she adored her Pa in spite of the harsh living conditions and his financial  difficulties. In Laura’s childhood her parents might have normalized the fact that their family moved around as much as they did, or concealed the fact that Pa had difficulty supporting them, or perhaps it was simply the norm that most people were poor and that every member of the family was expected to pitch in. As evidenced by Laura’s poem describing her Pa, she didn’t fault him for failing to provide financially; on the contrary, she remembered him fondly: for his music (violin, singing, dancing, entertaining), for adoring and cherishing his family, for his strength and physical endurance, for his spirited contentment despite the circumstances, for his excellent reputation exemplifying a faithful and loving husband, and for his character which was honest and upright. The person that Pa was to his family and his community greatly overshadowed his financial failures. I know I would have liked him because his children adored him (and that’s always a good recommendation!). In the epilogue, the author states that Wilder’s purpose in writing was “to save her father’s stories from being lost…and… promote her parents’ values which were her own: courage, self-reliance, independence, integrity, and helpfulness.” It’s understandable that in her 50s Laura began to write these stories because she adored her Pa and experienced yearning and melancholy for home, her parents and sister, and remembered and appreciated the strong moral teaching she had received. This special relationship she enjoyed with her Pa most certainly was not fictionalized, and I strongly believe that she wrote the “Little House” stories later in her life as a tribute to her dear Pa and his values.

Charles Ingalls reminds me a bit of the father in The Glass Castle as he supplied a bit of “magic” in their difficult lives and he never gave up hope for achieving his dream as he moved from place to place and provided little physical or financial stability for his family. As in Prairie Fires, the children in The Glass Castle could forgive their father of a lot because they felt loved.

Authorship of the “Little House” Series

As well as getting to know the family, the author explores the tumultuous and competitive relationship that Laura had with her own daughter, Rose Wilder Lane, and attempts to clarify the controversy surrounding the true authorship of the stories. It’s true that Rose encouraged her mother to write and provided a great deal of editing assistance; however Rose also manipulated and bullied Laura. In fact, Rose was unstable and probably mentally ill. Some feel that her daughter was a ghost writer; however, the author provides strong evidence that clears this up (at least for me).  I’m choosing not to include that spoiler here.

Traits of Settlers

Coming from the midwest, I’ve been accused of being self-reliant, independent, and stoic. An interesting part of the book for me was the identification of self-reliance as the highest and most held onto value among the settlers coming west. Also interesting was the conversation that Laura and Rose had about stoicism versus apathy. Rose accused the settlers of appearing apathetic in the onslaught of difficult circumstances because of their subdued reactions. Laura explained that when one is faced with difficult circumstances during one’s entire life that one doesn’t overreact to each instance…rather, one takes setbacks in stride (which may seem like apathy to a casual observer). The author is struck by the resilience that the settlers exhibit in facing years and years of difficult times, adversity, and disappointments. She indicates that they just keep on going time after time.


Because I grew up on the prairies of South Dakota as did my mother, grandmothers, and aunt, I can both embrace and am struck by the solitude of the farming lifestyle. Therefore, it affected me to read the author’s descriptions and explanations of the solitude that many women settlers in the mid west faced as they often endured a life of loneliness and isolation in the years before automobiles, radio, television, email, and the internet.


Why didn’t I give this ambitious and well written work 5 stars? First, I feel that it was a bit too long and too much time was spent on Rose. Also, the author became distracted by providing too many facts about too many historical events….in other words, it was overly comprehensive for me. Bottom line, readers need to know that this is an exhaustive biography and contains a great deal of American history.

I would recommend reading a print or electronic version as the audible version’s narrator is not optimal.  I have a great deal of difficulty with audio books in general and I really struggled with this read. My husband who listens exclusively to audio books gave it a listen and assured me that it would’ve been easier with a better narrator.

My Rating: 4 stars with a tip of the hat to the amount of historical research the author did in compiling this comprehensive look at the life of Wilder.


Recommended for readers who love history, who love Laura Ingalls Wilder, and who might be looking for a nonfiction historical read.

Buy Here

Meet the Author, Caroline Fraser

Caroline FraserCaroline Fraser is the author of Rewilding the World: Dispatches from the Conservation Revolution (Metropolitan, 2009) and God’s Perfect Child: Living and Dying in the Christian Science Church (Metropolitan, 1999), which was selected as a New York Times Book Review Notable Book and a Los Angeles Times Book Review Best Book. Her work has appeared in The New Yorker, The Atlantic Monthly, The New York Review of Books, and Outside magazine, among others. She lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico.



Flight Pick

If you’d like to read more about the Dust Bowl, consider Out of the Dust by Karen Hesse. It’s a beautifully written fictional account of a Oklahoma girl’s experience in the Dust Bowl. See my brief review here.

Out of the Dust

Happy Reading Bookworms!

“Ah, how good it is to be among people who are reading.”
~Rainer Maria Rilke

“I love the world of words, where life and literature connect.”
~Denise J Hughes

“Reading good books ruins you for enjoying bad ones.”
~Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

Looking Ahead:

I’m reading Island of Sweet Pies and Soldiers by Sara Ackerman for next week’s review.
(…that title and cover though! ….Are you a bit curious?!)

Island of Sweet Pies and Soldiers

Amazon information here

What are you reading this week?


A Wrinkle in Time coming to theaters NEXT WEEK on March 9! 

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society coming to theaters April 20! 

Sharing is Caring

I’d be honored and thrilled if you choose to enjoy and follow along, promote, and/or share my blog. Every share helps us grow.

 Let’s Discuss!

If you’ve read Prairie Fires, what was the most surprising fact you learned?

Were you a Little House on the Prairie reader or TV fan?

Please tell me about your early reading experiences. What were your favorite childhood reads? My favorites include Nancy Drew, Heidi, The Bobbsey Twins, Penny Nichols and the Black Imp, The Triplets Take Over, etc. My first big book and book hangover was Gone With the Wind. I still have my copy of The Bobbsey Twins!

Bobbsey Twins


What are you reading this week?














Wait Till Next Year

This book is loads of fun for baseball fans (especially Dodgers, Yankees, or Giants fans)! (Might even be a great Christmas gift!)

baseball, glove, bat

From loyal baseball fans, the refrain “Wait Until Next Year!” can often be heard after suffering a disappointing loss. In fact, it was after the Dodgers’ loss in Game 7 of the recent World Series that a fan vehemently shouted these exact words captured by a reporter’s microphone and camera. At that time, I was reminded of Goodwin’s book that had been on my TBR list for some time and that it had been declared one of my husband’s favorite reads last year. In honor of the recent, well-played, and highly spirited 2017 World Series, I decided it’s timely to read and review this popular memoir.

Wait Till Next Year
by Doris Kearns Goodwin

Wait Till Next Year

Genre/categories: Biography, memoir, baseball, small town life


Doris Kearns Goodwin writes an endearing memoir of growing up in the late 40s and 50s as family, baseball, neighborhood, and church provided the secure and stable foundation for her life. Memorably, her Long Island neighborhood was divided between Dodgers, Giants, and Yankees fans. Through baseball she learned how to tell a great narrative and to keep hope alive, from her mom she grew to appreciate the joy of reading, and from her father she experienced the joys and disappointments of baseball. During the Dodgers’ scrappy early years, Doris and her father were ardent and loyal fans and they lived out the slogan “wait until next year” over and over again.

“It was that October [of the’49 World Series] that I first understood the pain, bravado, and prayer woven into the simple slogan that served Dodgers fans as a recurring anthem: ‘Wait till next year.’ ”    ~Doris Kearns Goodwin

Doris tells of meeting baseball heroes, of nail-biting games, of having to confess at Confession that she wished the other team’s players would be injured so Dodgers could win, of the exciting World Series win in 1955, and of her sorrow as the Dodgers left Brooklyn in 1957.  She was so devastated by the loss of her team that she avoided baseball for years after the Dodgers left, and when she was convinced as a young adult to attend a Red Sox game, she transferred her loyalties, started keeping score again, and passed on her love of the game to her son. In addition to the loss of the Dodgers, she also tells of the loss of her mother at an early age.  Amazon Rating (November): 4.5 Stars.

My Thoughts:

Doris Kearns Goodwin is a Pulitzer Prize winning author, a role model for women, and well-known and respected for her presidential biographies . Some may know her from the Ken Burns’ Baseball documentary on PBS.

This is more than a great memoir; it’s a nostalgic, tender, humorous, and kind-hearted reflection on family and suburban living, current events, and social issues in the late 40s, 50s, and 60s. She describes a time when baseball was the national pastime, when parents didn’t worry about their children playing outside until dark, when children knew all the local shopkeepers, and ran in and out of their friends’ homes throughout the long summer days. She bonded with her father by learning to keep score in an official score book and then recounting the game for him (like an announcer) when he arrived home from work. Kearns Goodwin enjoyed a special relationship with her father (described later) and this helped form her interests, abilities, and skills as a historian and story-teller. In addition, as a youngster with spunk and an activist spirit, she devised a plan for her entire neighborhood to seek shelter in case of a bomb during the Cold War, and she wrote a heartfelt letter to President Eisenhower during the Little Rock Nine desegregation crisis.

Kearns Goodwin was encouraged to discover that her hope in the next game and the next season (wait till next year) could be applied to life in general and this idea helped her gain hope after the devastating loss of her mother.

Thoughts From the Hubs:

My husband thoroughly enjoyed Kearns Goodwin’s memoir because he loves history and because he spent his early years in New York and some of his fondest memories are listening to baseball games on the radio and attending a few games with his grandfather. Also, he’s an ardent baseball fan. He wants readers to know that if you’re not a die-hard baseball fan or the mere mention of baseball’s greatest players are less than thrilling, you can still enjoy this memoir because it’s about so much more than baseball. My husband suggests that for Kearns Goodwin, her memoir describes the excitement of an era where family life is centered around parents and small town communities, and the pursuit of the American Dream, including corner store business opportunities for entrepreneurs, first time home ownership, and later, the purchase of a television. Children strongly identified with their parents’ opportunities and pleasures and were brought into an adult world via sports, not so much for children to pursue their own opportunities but for them to appreciate and imitate character traits and to identify with the opportunities of others. Her father quietly used love of the game, the discipline of record keeping, loyalty to the team, and attention to detail to shape her character. Loyalty was a virtue alongside the American Dream…loyalty to family and friends and teams. Her early life was local and very much centered in the town and neighborhood in which she lived. Her self concept and self-worth were tied into her role in the family, her Catholic religion, and her team.

“I was a Catholic, a resident of Southard Avenue, a Dodgers fan,
a Rockville Centre girl.”     ~Doris Kearns Goodwin

My husband’s rating: 5 Stars.


I enthusiastically and highly recommend Wait Till Next Year for readers who love reading about a curious, enthusiastic, highly spirited, and thoughtful girl, who appreciate the retelling of history from a personal perspective, for baseball fans, and for those who love a well written memoir. It is sobering to think about her memoir next to J. D. Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy because they certainly didn’t share the same types of experiences. My Rating: 4 Stars


Wait Till Next Year

Buy Here.

Meet the Author, Doris Kearns Goodwin

Doris Kearns GoodwinDoris Kearns Goodwin won the Pulitzer Prize in history for No Ordinary Time, which was a bestseller in hardcover and trade paper. She is also the author of Wait Till Next Year, The Fitzgeralds and the Kennedys, and Lyndon Johnson and the American Dream. She lives in Concord, Massachusetts, with her husband, Richard Goodwin. More information here:



Happy Reading Bookworms!

“Ah, how good it is to be among people who are reading.”
~Rainer Maria Rilke

“I love the world of words, where life and literature connect.”
~Denise J Hughes

“Reading good books ruins you for enjoying bad ones.”
~Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society


Readers might be interested to know that two books I have reviewed on the blog were recently listed in the ‘top 20 books for far in 2017’ according to Amazon editors.

Ginny Moon (review)

Beartown (review)

In other news, will you be seeing Murder on the Orient Express this weekend?! Have you read the book?

Murder on the Orient Express

Book Information Here.

Movie Trailer Here.

Last, Wonder is soon to be released! (November 17) I can’t wait!


Review Here.

Movie Trailer Here.


Looking Ahead!

Gah! I indicated last week that I had planned to read The Other Alcott….it’s still on my TBR and planned for a future review. In my reading life, I operate better from Inspiration than Demand. I do indicate all my current reads on Goodreads if you want to see what I’ve listed there. This is all to say that next week remains undecided. Except that on Tuesday I’m working on a special blog post titled “Top Ten Books I hope My Grandchildren Read.” (You might glean some ideas for children’s or young adult’s gifts!)

Sharing is Caring!

I’d be honored and thrilled if you choose to enjoy and follow along, promote, and/or share my blog. Every share helps us grow. This week we reached approximately 2,000 overall views! Thank you!

Let’s Discuss!

Have you read Wait Till Next Year? I’d love to hear your reflections.

Will you be seeing Wonder or Murder on The Orient Express in theaters?

What are you currently reading?


Hillbilly Elegy

August 18, 2017

Do you love memoirs?

Hillbilly Elegy
by J. D. Vance

Hillbilly Elegy

“I want people to understand what happens in the lives of the poor and the psychological impact
that spiritual and material poverty has
on their children.”

Genre: memoir, nonfiction, biography, sociology, poverty


This is an observant, powerful, and sincere memoir about growing up in a poor white working class family in a poor Rust Belt town in Ohio. A Yale Law School graduate and a former marine, J. D. Vance was originally from Kentucky’s Appalachia region. His grandparents who were “dirt poor and in love” moved the family to Ohio in the hopes of escaping devastating poverty. Throughout the memoir, we learn that despite a geographical move, the family was never able to entirely escape the hillbilly culture of alcoholism, poverty, abuse, and trauma. Even though J. D. Vance beat the odds and graduated from law school, he still struggles to come to terms with his chaotic family history. The memoir is filled with detailed, humorous, dramatic, and colorful examples of what his life was like. Amazon Rating (August): 4.4 Stars.

My Thoughts:

Book clubs and friends could discuss this book for hours. The following personal thoughts represent only a few of the many discussion topics this book offers.


Primarily, it struck me that the impact of his grandparents’ love affected his life. All through school, he was a bright student; however, when his grades started falling in middle school he states that it wasn’t the teachers or the school that was at fault, rather it was the chaos at home (living with his mom)  and in his community that affected his school performance. After he went to live with his grandparents officially, this is what he writes: “What I remember most of all is that I was happy–I no longer feared the school bell at the end of the day, I knew where I’d be living the next month, and no one’s romantic decisions [mom’s rotation of boyfriends or husbands] affected my life. And out of that happiness came so many of the opportunities I’ve had for the past twelve years.” J. D.’s description of the stability his grandparents offered him caused me to reflect on the importance of the home in a child’s life and education. His grandparents were certainly less than perfect, in fact they had serious flaws which would make one question his placement in their home. However, J. D. Vance lied to the case workers so that he would be ensured of being placed in their home because he didn’t think he could make it in life without their love and the stability they offered. Children can endure a lot if they feel loved. This doesn’t make the neglect right but it does make a difference. This reminds me of the story of Jeanette Walls in The Glass Castle…even though she suffered extreme neglect, I think she felt that both parents loved her which most likely made a great difference in her ability to achieve success. Another similarity between the authors is that both Jeanette and J. D. had an older supportive and nurturing sibling which added to the love and stability in their lives.

Upward Mobility and the Family

Hillbilly Elegy offers an in-depth look at the struggles of America’s white working class. J. D. Vance describes one incident when he was in a primary grade (I think 2nd but I don’t have the book here to look it up) that helped the reader think about how important  family support is in upward mobility. He recounts sitting in class while the teacher was asking students to solve mental math problems. He felt great about his answer and was delighted when the teacher recognized his brilliant thinking. However, the next student to offer an answer explained how “times” could be used to reach the same answer. J. D. was shaken. How did this child know about “times” when he had never heard about “times.” He knew it couldn’t have been taught at school because he would’ve remembered and learned it. After some thought, he realized that the child who knew about “times” must have learned it somewhere other than at school and realized he must have learned it at home. He offers this profound reflection, “There existed a massive ignorance about how to achieve white-collar work. We didn’t know that all across the country–and even in our hometown–other kids had already started a competition to get ahead in life.” As a result of his classroom experience, J. D. went home and asked his mom and grandparents why he didn’t know about “times,” and grandpa spent the weekend teaching him “times” and division. His point in explaining that situation is that the competition starts at home with the support and “extras” that parents offer. He realized as early as 2nd grade that his poor community was already finding it difficult to compete in this area.

No Blame for Public Schools

J. D. Vance is clear that neither public schools nor public school teachers were to blame for his declining grades in middle and high school. He describes the situation as follows: “We didn’t live a peaceful life in a small nuclear family. We lived a chaotic life in big groups of aunts, uncles, grandparents, and cousins.” He describes again and again how this chaos affected his education, “The constant moving and fighting, the seemingly endless carousel of new people I had to meet, learn to love, and then forget–this, and not my sub par public school, was the real barrier to opportunity.” Officially moving in with his grandparents provided the stability he needed to succeed in school.

Optimism vs. Pessimism

J. D. Vance related throughout his stories the pessimism that permeated his community. Not only pessimism but blame. People he knew were always blaming someone else for their situation (the president, the government, taxes, etc.). When he came home from the military, one of his first observations was that he felt like an outsider, “For the first time in my life, I felt like an outsider in Middletown. And what turned me into an alien was my optimism.” He goes on to reflect that perhaps getting out of the community and entering the military and going away to college was the action he needed to take to achieve success, “It’s no surprise that every single person in my family who has built a successful home…married someone from outside our little culture.” The culture strongly defined by pessimism.

The Message From Home

Even though his chaotic childhood was filled with turmoil and trauma, J. D. Vance states, “Despite all the environmental pressures from my neighborhood and community, I received a different message at home [his grandparents’ home]. And that just might have saved me.”

Yay for grandparents!

Companion Reads

As I read Hillbilly Elegy I thought of two memoirs (among several) where the authors were able to rise above poverty and their communities: The Glass Castle and We Beat the Streets.  In The Glass Castle, we also see the hillbilly culture mentioned as Jeanette’s family moved in with her father’s mom in Appalachia. From this move, we see that the way her father treated his children could in part be due to an influence from the hillbilly culture. We Beat the Streets is a middle school read and I often referred my boys who were reading at grade level to this inspirational story about three kids who “beat the streets’ and became doctors. Theirs wasn’t a hillbilly culture but they were from a poor black community.  Information about The Three Doctors Foundation can be found here.

Final Thoughts

There’s a lot more to talk about in Hillbilly Elegy! If you read it, I’m certain you’ll need to discuss it. In fact, at times your discussions might be heated because of different reactions to one person’s analysis of a culture in crisis. I love that the insights and ideas in this book can be applied to communities around the United States. The discussion is much broader than simple hillbilly culture.

Finally, this book gave me additional insight into the chaotic lives of students at my Title 1 school. It’s difficult to learn when children are preoccupied with what drama is going on at home and in the community.

Recommended for women and men (especially those working with poor communities) for its thoughtful themes, discussion possibilities, and its ability to build empathy and understanding for different cultures and communities. Rating 4 stars.

Hillbilly Elegy

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Meet the Author, J. D. Vance

J. D. Vance.jpg

J. D. Vance grew up in the Rust Belt city of Middletown, Ohio, and the Appalachian town of Jackson, Kentucky. He enlisted in the Marine Corps after high school and served in Iraq. A graduate of the Ohio State University and Yale Law School, he has contributed to the National Review and is a principal at a leading Silicon Valley investment firm. Vance lives in San Francisco with his wife and two dogs.

Happy Reading Everyone!

“Ah, how good it is to be among people who are reading.”
~Rainer Maria Rilke

Looking Forward:

Next week, Reading Ladies will reflect on our reading roots…and in two weeks we’ll review Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate if you’d like to “buddy read.”  In three weeks I’ll review the long anticipated (at least by me!) Glass Houses, a new installment in the Inspector Gamache series by Louise Penny (release date: 8/29 …. happy birthday to me!)

Before we Were Yours

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Please Share:

I’d be honored and thrilled if you choose to enjoy and follow along, promote and/or share my blog. It helps us grow.


Please share your reflections on Hillbilly Elegy in the comments section. Did any of the themes mentioned challenge you in your thinking? How does this book compare with other memoirs you’ve read with similar themes? In addition, I’d love to hear what you’re reading.

The Glass Castle

August 11, 2017

As Reading Ladies continues to focus on women authors writing about strong women, we’re using the occasion of the newly released movie to revisit/review an old favorite….

The Glass Castle
by Jeannette Walls

Glass Castle

Genre: Memoir, Nonfiction, Biography


This is a tender, tragic, and unique story of a girl’s remarkable resilience as she survives a childhood in a dysfunctional family who lived like nomads. The father is brilliant and charismatic and taught his children about imagination and living fearlessly as well as some physics and geology. A dreamer, he often worked on elaborate plans for their future home nicknamed “the glass castle.” However, he was also dishonest and destructive when he drank. On the other hand, Mother was a free spirited artist who didn’t (or couldn’t) take responsibility for the care of her children. For the most part, the Walls children took care of themselves, demonstrating ingenuity, determination, bravery, and fierce loyalty. As the children became adults, found the will and resources to leave the parents, and enjoyed some success, the parents followed them to New York city choosing to remain homeless. The adventures are remarkable, harrowing, memorable, and quirky, all the while demonstrating themes of fierce loyalty, triumph against the odds, the power of hope, unconditional love, determination, and protectiveness. Amazon rating (August): 4.6 stars

Read the first chapter free here.

My Thoughts:

For me, an indication of a remarkable book is one that is remembered years later, one in which I learned something new, and/or one that allowed me to make a personal connection. All three criteria are true for The Glass Castle. First, it has appeared for years on my list of recommended reads. In addition, this story allowed me to gain new insights into the often unstable personal lives of my students at a Title l school and also allowed me to reflect on the homelessness situation in that some choose this lifestyle. Finally, Jeanette reminded me in particular of one former student of mine as she and her mom often sought out different places to sleep for the night and often relied upon school resources for personal supplies, food, housing, etc. Like Jeanette, this student was determined to achieve despite her circumstances, a hard worker, and kept a positive (even cheerful) attitude–but unlike Jeanette, she had my support as a teacher and the support of the school (all of the staff were aware of her circumstances).  This student came back to visit me after she graduated from college (she was actually rescued in high school by an aunt). While reading the book, I wondered why a teacher or community members were not more alarmed by the family situation or notice her hunger. Of course, Rex did keep the family on the move.

Even years later, I remember enjoying this well written, engaging, and inspiring memoir, and its reflection on homelessness. One thing that struck me during the reading is that it was written with an attitude of forgiveness and surprising affection for the parents.  Some critics would argue that she seemed to condone or excuse her parents’ behavior; on the contrary, I remember thinking that it was written remarkably free from anger and self pity. When asked in an interview with the New York Times Magazine if she forgives her mother, she states, “It’s really not about forgiveness in my opinion. It’s acceptance. She’s never going to be the sort of mother who wants to take care of me.”

From reading an interview with Jeanette (on Amazon) we discover that her mom is now living with her after she initially refused but Jeanette said she needed help with the horses, an offer Mom couldn’t refuse. Jeanette states, “I get along great with Mom now. She’s a hoot. She’s always upbeat, and has a different take on life than most people. She’s a lot of fun to be around–as long you’re not looking for her to take care of you. She doesn’t live in the house with us–I haven’t that level of understanding and compassion–but in an out building about a hundred yards away. Mom is great with animals, loves to sing and dance and ride horses, and is still painting like a fiend. ”

The Class Castle is highly recommended for readers who love memoirs and stories about individuals overcoming difficult circumstances. My rating 4.5 stars.


Glass Castle
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The movie:

I was at the first showing today (release day!). Movie goers who’ve read the book are often difficult to please! To me, the movie adaptations seem to be the “Flat Stanley” version of the book, much of the depth and details of the story are sacrificed. This image sums it up!

a film and a movie

First, allow me to focus on what I liked. I thought the casting was good….especially Woody Harrelson as Rex Walls. In addition, I appreciated the portrayal of Jeannette’s unfailing hope that her dad would come through for them. Finally, I noticed the love that both parents had for their children even though they couldn’t provide the care they needed and deserved.

The weaknesses include the feeling that this was the Disney or fairy tale version of the real story. Although the real version would’ve been a difficult movie to watch! However, I thought they could’ve shown a few more examples for the audience to gain a true appreciation of the neglect. Otherwise, the audience wholeheartedly buys into the glorification of Rex at the end of the movie.  Yes, he loved them and shared some endearing moments with the family and those facts can certainly be acknowledged; however, the overall neglect cannot be overlooked or swept under the carpet. A glaring omission in the movie included the part about the children making their way to New York City one by one and establishing a life together there apart from their parents. This venture took a lot of determination, planning, and courage on their part (of course Rex taught them to be fearless and to be dreamers!). In addition, nothing was mentioned about the youngest child, Maureen, who seemed to suffer the most from the neglect, especially after the older ones leave home.

One striking connection that I made during the movie is the similarity to Hillbilly Elegy. In fact, reading Hillbilly Elegy before reading The Glass Castle would certainly add depth to the reading experience. They would make great companion reads (more on this next week). Both stories involve Hillbilly culture and the understanding gained in Hillbilly Elegy helps me better understand the Walls family. Another important similarity is the theme of love. J. D. Vance in Hillbilly Elegy wouldn’t have made it without the love, support, and stability of his grandparents, even though the grandparents had many flaws and were less than perfect guardians. In The Glass Castle, the children felt Rose Mary’s and Rex’s love for them despite not being able to care for them. The deep love that parents or grandparents have for their children in spite of their flaws can make a significant difference in the ability of children to cope, survive, and perhaps overcome their childhood circumstances.

Would I recommend the movie?

Generally, yes. I think you’ll find the portrayal interesting and the chaos and the neglect are not as evident as in the book. I thought it was a simplistic portrayal of a very difficult story. I have the biggest issue with celebrating Rex at the movie’s end when he neglected to care for his family 90% of the time. I felt the ending sanitized the story. I encourage you to see the movie and then let’s engage here in the comments!

Movie Trailer

Meet the Author, Jeannette Walls

Jeannette Walls

Jeanette Walls lives in Virginia and is married to the writer John Taylor. She is a regular contributor to MSNBC and has worked at several publications, including Esquire, USA Today, and New York.  I think it’s interesting that the impetus for writing The Glass Castle occurred when she was a gossip columnist and her lack of transparency and honesty about her own life caused her to feel guilty as she was exposing other people’s lives in her gossip column.

Happy Reading Everyone!

“Ah, how good it is to be among people who are reading.”
~Rainer Maria Rilke

Looking Forward:

Next week, Reading Ladies will review the memoir Hillbilly Elegy by J. D. Vance if you’d like to “buddy read.” I think it’s a fascinating companion read with The Glass Castle!

Hillbilly Elegy

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Please Share:

I’d be honored if you choose to enjoy and follow along, promote and/or share my blog.


Please share your reflections on The Glass Castle (movie and/or book) in the comments section. I’d love to hear about what you’re reading, too!

Linked Up:

This post is linked up with Modern Mrs Darcy’s Quick Lit here.