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on December 2, 2007
I can hardly say enough good things about this book. It's exactly the sort of Laura Ingalls Wilder biography I've been wishing for: straightforward non-fiction (footnotes and everything!) with a steady focus on Laura, giving equal weight to both the true details of her life and to her writing.

As an author of children's historical fiction herself, Pamela Smith Hill gives ample insight into the craft of Wilder's writing, drawing attention to a great many elements of the structure and theme of the Little House books that I'd never put together myself. Based on those observations, Hill presents a compelling case that despite being steeped in historical and autobiographical details, Wilder's books are indeed fiction -- a personal history consciously trimmed and molded to fit the form and countours of the novel.

Hill also tackles the fascinating editorial partnership between Laura Ingalls Wilder and daughter Rose Wilder Lane, pointing out with concrete examples how the combination of each woman's natural strengths and gifts contributed to the overall shape and tone of Wilder's novels. Thankfully, Hill manages to keep Rose's dynamic and voilatile personality from overpowering the second half of the book, all the while giving an uncluttered assessment of Rose's role in bringing the Little House stories to print.

I have no complaints about this book. Not a single one.
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on June 4, 2008
I read this book out loud to my husband as we are both Laura lovers, and we were both fascinated. It was nice to learn the facts about how biographical the little house series is and isn't after years of hearing that it was her true story and then all the complaints that it wasn't.

After reading this book, I feel that I know and understand Laura much better. It turned her from a literary character into a real woman who lived the life of a farm wife. Such facts, like the true story of the long winter, were amazing. I only felt that it sort of left Almanzo out of the picture most of the time while concentrating on Laura and Rose. In my mind, you just can't have Laura without Almanzo, and I would have liked to hear more about him.

Over the years I've read everything I could get my hands on about Laura. I have also visited all the sites in her books as well as Mansfield, MO a number of times. I thought I knew all there was to know, but this book proved me wrong.
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on February 17, 2011
This is, I think, the fifth Laura Ingalls Wilder biography I've read, and I'm still not totally satisfied that everything that could be written about her has been written.

A WRITER'S LIFE is by no means a bad biography - but... I did feel that the author was somewhat harsh in her judgments about Rose Wilder Lane, and about the quality of Rose Wilder Lane's writing. This biography of Laura reveals that RWL was a deeply conflicted woman (conflicted in her feelings about her parents, and about her childhood)-and what did Laura's (and Almanzo's) parenting methods have to do with that? It's an interesting question that is, obviously, not to be fully explored in a biography of Laura - but it bothered me that the author was uniformly tough on RWL's writings in the interests of praising Laura's writing to the hilt (although she does give RWL kudos for her fine editorial work on the Little House series). Her view of RWL, both as a person and as a writer, lacked objectivity, I thought.

But it must be said this biography is very fine in its research and its discussion of Laura's growth as a writer, and exploring the creation of the Little House books.

What it lacks, for me, is what all biographies of Laura seem to lack - the "real" Laura. I don't want, really, to read again how she used her childhood experiences in the Little House series, what she left out and what she changed. I don't want to read any more about her dealings with publishers, her fans, and her adorable little-old-lady behavior at library and literary functions. I don't want to hear her praised (although as a writer she is worthy of it, I'm just tired of biographers who ladle it on). I want to know why she and Almanzo only had two children and these early in their marriage, and why they slept in separate beds. What was their married life REALLY like? Did she have a bad temper, and was Almanzo "whipped"? What was the dynamic in the marriage - was it Laura who wore the pants, and if so, is there anything to tell us how she felt about that? Is there really NO information to be gleaned about Laura's emotional life from any of the sources that are available? And in connection with that, why was Rose such an unhappy woman in HER personal life, and what part did her upbringing by Laura and Almanzo have to do with that? Were they emotionally cold as parents, and why did Rose strike out on her own so early? Was it really all due to the lack of opportunity in Mansfield and Rose's wanting to lead a city, not a country, life? And what was Laura's relationship with her sisters following her marriage - are there letters or diaries that could be quoted that would give the reader some inkling of the depth of their feelings for each other (or lack thereof)? What about Laura's relationship with HER mother? They lived in different states for 30 years, surely there are letters between them, which would give the reader some knowledge of their feelings toward each other? Why doesn't some publisher publish a collection of the letters between the family members, if enough of such letters exist - I feel confident there is a market of readers who would snap up Ingalls-Wilder family letters.)

These are just some samples of the kind of intimate detail I want in a biography of Laura, which this biography (for all its fine qualities) does not provide - but then, neither does any other, to date. The ones I've read, including this one, explore the writer of the Little House series very thoroughly, but they lose something when it comes to exploring the woman behind the writer. I wonder if it's because Laura was a children's book author that her biographers can't take a hard look at her and see her (and reveal her) as she truly was, warts and all.
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on November 25, 2008
This was an enjoyable, non-fiction read that Laura Ingalls Wilder fans will appreciate. The excerpts from letters, newspapers, and many references paint an interesting picture of the journey to create the Little House series. It was a unique perspective to focus on Wilder's life as an author, not her day-to-day life which is well documented in other books. I also liked that it included information about Wilder's daughter and her impact on Wilder's writing.

I stumbled over the author's writing style at times. The comparisons between Wilder's actual childhood and her stories sometimes read like a high school essay. And it'd be a richer read with a little more research on details from outside Wilder's immediate world, such as the market for authors at that time, who was successful, what were other popular books, etc. Last, I also thought the author worked in her own conclusions about Laura and Rose's relationship that weren't actually documented.

Critism aside, I really enjoyed reading this and learning more about Wilder's experience as an author. It is a very nice addition to biographies about Wilder for adults.
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on January 1, 2010
I received this book for Christmas from my husband -- he knows what a lifelong Wilder fan I am -- and I read it in one gulp. Wonderful!

I have read several other biographies of Laura [though not yet the John Miller] and this is the first one that satisfied me as to scholarship and in disentangling the very, very complicated and intense relationship between Laura and her daughter Rose (who edited her mother's Little House books and has at various times been credited with being the actual writer of them). This book was very even-handed and fair to both women and the author's conclusions were both humane and convincing.

(I must say I am baffled by the negative review posted here -- a "piece of garbage" by a "jealous little girl"?? This biography is so far from a hatchet job on Laura I am left wondering if the poster actually meant to be reviewing THE GHOST IN THE LITTLE HOUSE.)

The book is a bit scholarly for a mainstream biography but conversely extremely well-written for a state historical series. Kudos to the author!
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VINE VOICEon May 11, 2012
I love all things Laura Ingalls Wiler. I can't find enough information on her life to make me completely satisfied. Therefore I have read more than a few biographies about the American Icon. I found "LIW: A Writer's Life" to be a detailed and interesting biography. It is one of the most comprehensive ones that I have come across. So many of her biographies are written for children and go over the same information. I want more than that. I want the 'boring' details of her life. I want to know how she spent those last years at Rocky Ridge. I want to know everything I can about her relationship with her parents and sister, with Almanzo, and with her daughter Rose.

This biography is a little more dry reading than other LIW biographies have been. In fact I gave up reading this book after the first couple of chapters quite awhile ago and recently picked it up again as I was hoping to freshen my memory in preparation for my first trip to a LIW homesite. (Mansfield MO, an amazing experience by the way.) The details that I crave are here. The historical information appears to be factual and coincides with the other information I have previously learned of Laura and her family. None of the pictures in the book were new to me nor was most of the chapters detailing Laura's childhood days. The book probably would have been an average book in my opinion but it manages to stand out due to the in depth information about Laura's book writing years. I found the information about Laura, Rose, and the literary agents/publishers to be relatively new to me and extremely interesting. The book references Laura's manuscript "Pioneer Girl" quite a bit and I enjoyed that as well.

The author does touch upon the greatest of Laura Ingalls Wilder controversies...The Laura/Rose connection. Who was really the genius behind the LIW books. I agreed with Smith Hill's premise that the books wouldn't have been the same if only one of these fantastic authors had been involved. Laura was the heart and soul of the series, Smith Hill claims. Rose Wilder Lane cleaned the books up and made them readable with her gift of editing. Rose also had a really great gift of knowing what would make a piece of writing marketable. Together mother and daughter made these books the timeless works of art that they are.

I love Laura so of course I want to think she was as wonderful a person as she appears at the surface. At first I was afraid of digging too deep and finding out less than flattering things that might destroy some of my views of her. What I have found instead is that I am even more intrigued by Laura because she was a real person. She had faults and failings just like anyone does. That said, this biography definitely is more pro-Laura than pro-Rose. Pamela Smith-Hill doesn't paint a very pleasant picture of Laura's daughter Rose. She claims Rose was mentally unstable and depressed. (There is quite a bit of source material that agrees with these claims.) Every time the biography discusses a feud of some kind between Laura and Rose the author is quick to suggest that Rose was the one always in the wrong. I believe that Rose was depressed. I believe the life she was born into never was one she wanted for herself. I think she was very different from her mother in many ways but in some things the two were very alike. Laura surely wasn't always innocent but Rose was unlikely the bad guy this biography makes her out to be.

"A Writer's Life" probably isn't for the casual LIW fan, but I do recommend it if you are especially interested in LIW's writing days and/or her relationship with her daughter. I just wish someone would find and publish more information about Almanzo.
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on February 6, 2014
Oh that the author's editor edited this book as well as Rose Wilder Lane edited her mothers books. What was repeated over and over was that Rose edits Laura's books, as editors do, nothing out of the ordinary there, but with far less tact. The book is tedious and centers almost entirely on editing, over, and over, and over. Reading this book was like slogging through someone's collegiate thesis and their only goal was a prerequisite number of pages or words. I would have loved to have read more about Laura as a person, also, Almanzo. Very, very little of that. Far more about Rose than I really cared to read.
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on March 2, 2012
I liked this book, but readers be aware that this book is more about Laura and Rose's writing relationship and process than most anything else. It is a great book to read after having read the basics about Laura.
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on August 8, 2012
I grew up reading (and re-reading) the Little House books. Yet for all my familiarity with the fictional Laura, the real life woman remains something of a mystery. Despite utilising excerpts from loads of unpublished letters and manuscripts, this relatively short book doesn't really flesh out Wilder's personality. What it does do is offer some fascinating insights into the creation of an enduring story of the American frontier.

Pamela Smith Hill highlights differences between the story Wilder told in her books and what she actually experienced. Hill also explores the complex, often dysfunctional, relationship between Wilder and her daughter Rose Wilder Lane.

Some have suggested that Lane essentially ghost-wrote the Little House books, transforming her mother's rough notes into polished prose. Hill does not agree. While acknowledging Lane's creative and editorial input to the series, Hill is definitely pro-Laura and offers evidence to support her position that Wilder was a skilled writer in her own right.

I was particularly fascinated by the story of the books' path to publication. Editor's notes and contract details make for some surprising interesting and enlightening reading.

While this is certainly not a definitive biography of Laura Ingalls Wilder, fans of the Little House books will find it both informative and easy to read.
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on June 18, 2013
This book is excellent for understanding the process of how LIW's life was transformed into the Little House books. It also offers ample evidence that Laura herself was the main talent writing the books, but also shows how the books - especially at the beginning - could not have been as tight or polished without the active participation of her also-talented daughter, Rose. As an editor myself, I found reading the details of their back-and-forth collaboration extremely interesting. It is also a rather easy read, considering that it looks at the technical details closely.

The only flaw is that this book seems to so desperately want to dis-prove the "Rose did it all" theory that it goes overboard now and then. While she makes an excellent case for LIW's core writing talent, she does belabor the point now and then. I get it, I get it, Laura is an amazing storyteller, Rose was an awesome editor, but Rose didn't write them. Move on.

This is definitely a book those who are interested in the real, historical Laura. If you only want the magic of the Little House Laura, this is not for you.
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