Book Review: Hattie Ever After

March 15, 2013

When Kirby Larson revealed two years ago on Damsels that she was working on a sequel to her Newbery-honor book Hattie Big Sky, my comment was “Be still my heart!”  And I meant it.  Hattie Big Sky is one of my favorite books and it was the book my grad school mentor told me to study as a template for plotting a somewhat quiet, first-person historical novel.  Kirby claims that she felt like Hattie’s story was over when her homesteading adventure came to a close.  Glad to know I wasn’t the only reader who didn’t agree.

At her launch party in the indie bookstore near the Seattle suburb where Kirby and I both live, she showed pictures of fan letters begging to know what happened to Hattie next.  To me and these letter-writers, there were enough loose ends in Hattie’s story that a sequel seemed almost a given.  After writing two picture books and two middle grade novels, Kirby was finally persuaded to dig into this herself.  The result:

hattie-ever-afterIs that not the most gorgeous, inviting cover you’ve ever seen?  And it’s only the proverbial tip of the iceberg.  Hattie Brooks, an orphan who called herself “Hattie Here-and-There” most of her life, has had a taste of a home of her own on the Montana prairie and is determined to settle into a permanent home somewhere.  She takes a chance to get herself from Montana to San Francisco, where dreams of being a newspaper reporter begin to take shape.  But a girl has to support herself on more than just dreams, so Hattie’s first newspaper job isn’t typing at a desk but rather cleaning the desks after the reporters go home for the night.  On her “lunch” breaks, Hattie learns her way around the paper’s morgue, trying to find information about her Uncle Chester, who had lived there before coming to Montana.  His only letter to her said that he had been a “scoundrel,” but Hattie will learn that scoundrels as well as kind souls come in all shapes and sizes.

Oh, and remember Charlie, her school chum from Iowa?  He has his own dreams for Hattie’s new home, and he won’t take no for an answer.

Some books I rush through to see what happens next, but this is one I savored, loving Hattie’s practical, humorous take on the world and Kirby’s painstaking attention to historical detail.  Like all good historical novels, it made me want to travel to its setting, so a trip to San Francisco may be in my near future.  But even if not, the book was definitely a satisfying answer to this fan’s pondering of “What happens next?”

Emilie’s Top Christmas Songs Part 5

December 25, 2012

Merry Christmas, Damsels readers!  Despite what I said about not being in order, these two Christmas songs really are my favorites.  I will argue, even, that they are among the best Christmas songs ever made.  Enjoy my favorite carol, Silent Night, and my favorite contemporary song, White Christmas.

Jennifer’s Top Five List: #1

December 24, 2012

And we’ve made it all the way to my (two) number one favorite Christmas songs! I hope you’ve enjoyed listening to them with me! And I’ve loved you all sharing your favorites with me! Without further ado:

Traditional #1: Carol of Bells, David Foster
Of all the versions of this song I’ve heard over the years (and I’ve heard many good ones) this is still by far my most favorite.

Nontraditional #1: Take a Walk Through Bethlehem, Tricia Yearwood
I first heard this song a couple years ago when I borrowed my parents CD of it. (I “borrowed” many cds that Christmas ha!) I was looking for some new music to add to my collection. This song just spoke to me. It’s everything that Christmas should be about. I wish this song was played day after day (unlike some of the other Christmas songs they play) on the radio. This is my favorite Christmas song without a doubt.

Emilie’s Top Christmas Songs Part 4

December 18, 2012

Marrying into a family of classical singers and organists has expanded my horizons of high choral music.  Classical instrumental music I knew from my own piano and flute training, but being the terrible singer I am, I kind of missed the choral stuff.  But the Christmas my husband and I were dating, I bought him a CD of King’s College Cambridge Lessons and Carols, and we’ve listened to it every year since.  The opening song, “Once in Royal David’s City,” is nothing short of stunning.

While my husband spent his childhood learning to sing like those boys, I spent most of my “tween” years memorizing Mariah Carey songs.  While I love the original version of her Christmas hit, “All I Want for Christmas is You,” I am a sucker for the entire movie Love Actually.  I was thrilled that someone thought to put this song in one of the most adorable movies ever.

Jennifer’s Top Five List: #2

December 17, 2012

Traditional #2: Christmas in Killarny, Anne Murray
This version is from Bing Crosby. I like it, but I like the Anne Murray version better (I couldn’t find it on YouTube though). Anne Murray’s version is actually combined with another song too. I’m Irish and I think this song really pulls the Irish out of me! Oh my word whenever I hear this song I start singing along at the top of my lungs. As the Irish say: “If you don’t sing well, sing loud!”

Nontraditional #2: This is Your Gift, John Tesh
Listen and fall in love! Oh just love this song.

Emilie’s Top Christmas Songs Part 3

December 11, 2012

Today I’m cheating, since this is a really long clip.  It’s mostly traditional carols, but they are blended in a way that is unique to the 1980s, which is about as contemporary as I usually want to get this time of year.

When I first learned of this TV special from 1987, “The Sound of Christmas,” my first thought was, “Wow, someone was feeling random!”  I mean, seriously, Julie Andrews, John Denver, and Placido Domingo in one show together?  You would be hard pressed to come up with three more diverse singers…yet it’s magic.  Pure Christmas magic.  The finale of their show is a medley of Christmas carols that showcases each singer and, somehow, makes them sound lovely as an unlikely trio.  Unroll your eyes and enjoy:

Jennifer’s Top Five List: #3

December 10, 2012

Traditional #3: Emmanuel, Amy Grant
Love her version. Love the song.

(and this version leads right into Little Town so I’ve included the link for it too 😀 because part of why I love this version is the fact that this song is kind of a part of it.)

Nontraditional #3: The Peace Carol, John Denver and the Muppets
Technically this probably doesn’t qualify as nontraditional. It’s actually sung at my church in the music before mass, but you don’t hear this on the radio nor is it commonly found on other Christmas CDs so I’m considering it nontraditional! LOVE LOVE LOVE this song and it’s message.

Emilie’s Top Christmas Songs Part 2

December 4, 2012

Time to talk up some of my favorite male singers.  Don’t worry, though–you haven’t heard the last Julie Andrews Christmas song of the season.

Josh Groban just plain makes me swoon.  My college roommate turned me on to him nearly ten years ago and I have been in love ever since.  His rendition of O Holy Night gives me chills.

Chris Rice is one of my favorite contemporary Christian artists.  His lyrics have made me think, wonder, laugh, and praise the Lord.  Welcome to Our World made me think of Christmas in a whole new way when I first heard it.

Jennifer’s Top Five List: #4

December 3, 2012

Traditional #4: We Three Kings, St. Peter’s Choir
I don’t think I’ve come across a version I don’t like of this song. Some of my favorites are Michael Smith, Anne Murray, Mannheim Steamroller…too many great versions to pick one from!

I couldn’t find a version from St. Peter’s Choir, but this another really pretty one from the choir of Kings College, Cambridge.

Nontraditional #4: A Soldier’s King, Kenny Rogers

Emilie’s Top Christmas Songs

November 27, 2012

Jennifer’s list of favorite Christmas songs will prove quite impressive and well-researched, I’m sure.  Don’t get your hopes too high for mine.  Mostly it’s because I love Christmas carols and if I’m honest, the versions that still stir my heart the most are the ones from my “Wee Sing Christmas” cassette that I memorized around age four.  They are, amazingly enough, not on YouTube for your listening pleasure!

I’m also not a big fan of most contemporary Christmas pieces.  It runs in the family, let me tell you.  Around the holidays, I crave tradition, “the way it always was,” be it food, decorations, or music.  But there are a few new songs I’ve discovered that I enjoy, so they’ll come alongside my favorite carols.

(Unlike Jennifer’s, mine aren’t really in a particular order.)

Julie Andrews is my all-time favorite celebrity of any sort, and I could listen to her music all day long.  Her Christmas album from 1973 is often playing in my house this time of year, and I particularly like her version of O Come, All Ye Faithful

I don’t care for Meet Me in St. Louis and Judy Garland isn’t my favorite, but I’ve always liked this melancholy little song, Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.  I even provided piano accompaniment one Christmas in high school for a friend who sang it as a solo in a choir concert.