Posted in Cozy, Giveaway, Guest Post, Spotlight on October 11, 2015

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Death on the Prairie (A Chloe Ellefson Mystery)
6th in Series
Cozy Mystery
Paperback: 360 pages
Publisher: Midnight Ink (October 8, 2015)


Chloe Ellefson and her sister, Kari, have long dreamed of visiting each historic site dedicated to Laura Ingalls Wilder. When Chloe takes custody of a quilt once owned by the beloved author, the sisters set out on the trip of a lifetime, hoping to prove that Wilder stitched it herself.

But death strikes as the journey begins, and trouble stalks their fellow travelers. Among the “Little House” devotees are academic critics, greedy collectors, and obsessive fans. Kari is distracted by family problems, and unexpected news from Chloe’s boyfriend jeopardizes her own future. As the sisters travel deeper into Wilder territory, Chloe races to discover the truth about a precious artifact—and her own heart—before a killer can strike again.


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Guest Post

How appropriate that Kathleen write about Laura Ingalls Wilder as her guest post for me?!  I LOVED LIW growing up and still have the set of her books on my bookshelf.

Laura Ingalls Wilder For Grownups

It’s always a gamble to return to beloved books from my childhood. More than once I’ve come across a favorite, and settled down to relive the fun…only to discover one-dimensional characters, ponderous prose, or a plot so unlikely that I can no longer enjoy the read.

Happily, when I decided to set one of my Chloe Ellefson Historic Sites mysteries in “Laura Land,” it was a delight to revisit Wilder’s tales. My protagonist is a curator and, like me, was greatly influenced as a child by the Little House books.

In Death on the Prairie Chloe is charged with documenting a quilt believed to have been made by Laura. Chloe decides to visit each of Laura’s homesites, and to rediscover each book along the way.

If you’re familiar with the series, you know that the books are a fictionalized recounting of Laura’s childhood and adolescence on the frontier of Euro/Yankee settlement. In the first, Little House in the Big Woods, Laura is five. The books mature in tone and theme as Laura grows to be a young bride in the sixth and final volume, These Happy Golden Years. (A seventh, The First Four Years, was published posthumously.)

There are, I think, several reasons why the books appeal to adults. First and foremost, Laura’s parents, Caroline and Charles, are strong supporting characters. Each is presented as a complex individual, and I understand better now the challenges each faced.

As a child I focused my attention on young Laura. Now, I find nuanced layers within the prose that reveal much about the adults. Scenes that I originally read as exciting adventures make me ache with sympathy for the fear Caroline and Charles must have endured.

Remember when the Ingalls family crossed frozen Lake Pepin in their covered wagon, only to hear that the ice broke up the next day? A passage in Little House on the Prairie describes the long moments out on the ice: “All around the wagon there was nothing but empty and silent space. Laura didn’t like it. But Pa was on the wagon seat and Jack was under the wagon; she knew that nothing could hurt her while Pa and Jack were there.” Laura—and young readers—aren’t confronted with the horrific possibility of the wagon plunging through until the family was safe on the far shore. Only then does Ma acknowledge that she thought about that possibility as they crossed.

There are many such moments within the series. Can you imagine how they felt when, as recounted in On the Banks of Plum Creek, plagues of grasshoppers devoured all of their crops, and left the Ingalls family deep in debt? Or the terror stalking them during the Long Winter, when the specter of watching their children starve or freeze to death was very real for Ma and Pa?

I also pause now to savor the lovely language. I write for children and adults myself, and I marvel at Laura’s ability to craft sentences that describe scenes and activities in language that is accessible and clear. In the early books, she perfectly captures the perspective of a small child. Consider this passage: “Mary could dress herself, all but the middle button. Laura buttoned that one for her, then Mary buttoned Laura all the way up the back.” (Little House On The Prairie)

Laura’s language is often poetic. After Mary went blind, Laura served as her sister’s eyes, constantly describing the landscape and activities. That descriptive practice served her well as an author.

Here’s just one example: “The wind, which all day long had blown strongly, dropped low with the sun and went whispering among the tall grasses. The earth seemed to lie breathing softly under the summer night.” (By The Shores Of Silver Lake)

As I re-read Wilder’s series, I was reminded that one of the reasons the books have endured is that they are as delightful and insightful for adult readers as they are for children.

Did you enjoy Wilder’s books as a young reader? Have you discovered (or rediscovered) them as an adult? What was your experience?

About the Author

kathleen ernstKathleen Ernst is a former museum curator who remains passionate about history!  In addition to the Chloe Ellefson Historic Sites series, she has written many books for American Girl, including nine about the historical character she created, Caroline Abbott. Over 1.5 million copies of Kathleen’s 33 titles have been sold. The Chloe series has earned a LOVEY Award for Best Traditional Mystery, and several of her mysteries for young readers have been finalists for Edgar or Agatha awards.

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Print copy of Death on the Prairie, US residents only please.


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