Friday, August 5, 2011

Retro Friday Review: These is my Words by Nancy E. Turner

Retro Friday is a weekly meme hosted by Angie of Angieville and "focuses on reviewing books from the past. This can be an old favorite, an under-the-radar book you think deserves more attention, something woefully out of print, etc."  

These is my Words: The Diary of Sarah Agnes Prine, 1881-1901 by Nancy Turner
Publisher: Harper Perennial
Publication date: 1998
ISBN: 9780061458033
Source: Library (for book group)

These is my Words: The Diary of Sarah Agnes Prine, 1881-1901 (P.S.)

Sarah Prine is growing up on the frontier in Arizona Territory in the last decades of the 1800s.  While life is far from easy, Sarah manages to find beauty and good things in reading and writing in her journal.  Her life from a 17-year-old girl to a married woman with several children is filled with sorrows, struggles, and trials, but she triumphs over it all with an indomitable spirit.

Things I Liked:
I really fell in love with this book.  I'm so glad I finally got to pick it up for book group!  Sarah Prine was just such a rich, strong, and lively character that I felt like she was a real person (even if much of the story, though loosely based on a real woman, is fictional).  It made me want to know more about my own ancestors who struggled to survive in untamed territory and dealt with death and sorrow and fear every day.  I have to admit that I was swept away in the love story as well.  Captain Elliot was a sweet and in some ways very prickly person (which made him more real).  Several members of our book club were struck by how unrealistic it felt, and that is probably pretty true, but I think there are many good times and sweet memories of relationships that can make this one ring true.  Perhaps it wasn't entirely realistic, but it is in diary form and can be considered biased in that method of storytelling (thank you book club discussion).  We had a great discussion with multiple opposing opinions that helped me get a broader grasp of the story.  I still really enjoyed the story and the adventures and the feel of this book.  Some favorite parts:

That is the prettiest kind of tree there is to me.  A cottonwood makes a little sound with the leaves like they are talking to each other, a gentle and soft sound.  In the fall they turn yellow and copper and the ground under a cottonwood looks like it is covered with pennies.  Under our cottonwood back home I used to collect the pennies and pretend I was rich. p 6
It is an awful thing to look on such sad circumstance and not be able to shed a tear.  It is not because I do not feel for these folks, but maybe I feel too much.  Part of me is glad, in a low down, mean way, that it is not Albert's or Mama's graves we are digging.  Glad that it is some soldiers I don't know and neighbors or friends but not family.  Lord, I must be the cussedest woman there is to think that.  Finally, I felt so guilty for thinking those things that I cried.  Then I began to feel the heartaches of our friends and neightbors and I cried for them, too, as we said prayers over each and every grave.  p 162
Things I Didn't Like:
At times, the story was just a little too unbelievable.  So many bad things happening one after another.  It seemed like it was unrealistic for them to experience all the things that could possibly happen to settlers - train robbery, Indian attacks, bandits, snakes, floods - you name it, it happened.  When I suspended that disbelief, I was ok with it.

Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry I assume is a bit like it (correct me if I'm wrong, I haven't read it)

Hattie Big Sky by Kirby Larson
Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder

s-factor: !@
some here and there

mrg-factor: X
nothing too descriptive

v-factor: ->->->
all those attacks and the suffering isn't lightly passed over

Overall rating: *****

What did you think of this book?

If you buy through my Amazon linkage, I will get a very small percentage


  1. Well, I loved it too but I still was a little depressed that Captain Elliot wasn't real. :(

  2. I LOVE this book! Sometimes I go back just to read Jack's letter <3

    As much as I love this first in Turner's series, I do not recommend reading any further about Sarah. I didn't enjoy the follow-up at all and haven't read the third yet.

    And I love both These is My Words and Lonesome Dove so I would agree that they are read-alikes. I would also recommend Filaree by Marguerite Noble and One Thousand White Women by Jim Fergus. Jeanette Walls also wrote a novel based on the life of her grandmother: Half-Broke Horses.

  3. Ah, good choice Melissa! My mother-in-law has been trying to get me to read this one for ages. I really need to just give in and pick it up since it really does sound so good.

  4. I've heard so many people talk about this book but I never actually read the description or anything. Suffice it to say it apparently has nothing to do with what I thought it did! I'll have to pick it up sometime. Thanks for the review. :)

  5. Jenny, you are not alone in that :)

    Melissa, I didn't know there were sequels! But thanks very much for the other recommendations, I had better add them to the list (and Lonesome Dove, darn it)!

    Angie, well if it will please your mother-in-law...just kidding, it really is a great book.

    kathy, I hope you do get a chance to read it sometime - what did you think it was about?

  6. I was gushing about this the other night at my new book club...we read a "read alike" The Diary of Mattie Spencer by Sandra Dallas -- it was a 4th rate version of Words. I've read Lonesome Dove...sure, they are both westerns and there is a love story involved, but they stand on their own and are really quite different. I highly recommend LD though -- it is epic in scale and I LOVED it!

  7. Melissa, I think I'll pass on Mattie Spencer, but I really need to get on Lonesome Dove!


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