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4.2 out of 5 stars9
4.2 out of 5 stars
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on 3 April 2013
I must mention at the outset that I had a vested interest in this book as the fourth chapter is about my Great Great Great Aunt Rebecca Burlend who in 1831, with my Great Great Great Uncle John and their five youngest children, emigrated from her native Yorkshire to the fertile farmland of Illinois. After 15 years in Illinois she returned to Leeds with John Bickerdike who had travelled over to Griggsville to look at the land owned by his recently deceased brother George and whilst back in the UK she related the journey out to America and the hardships encountered in the first few years there to her eldest son Edward who was the Headmaster at Swillington school and produced the book which Sara Wheeler used during her visit to Illinois to follow up this story and include this chapter in "O My America".

In the other 5 chapters Sara looks at the lives of 5 other women who wrote about their experiences in America. Fanny Trollope (mother of Anthony Trollope) who went to Ohio, Fanny Kemble who wrote about the slavery she encountered in Georgia, Harriet Martineau and her life in Massachusetts, Isabella Bird's encounters in the Rockies and Catherine Hubback, neice of Jane Austen, who rode the new railroad out to San Francisco.

Of these, I preferred the latter two chapters out in the far west of America, but was also fascinated with the tales of Fanny Kemble and her horrific life married to a very aggresive husband and his attitude to slavery. I was however disapppointed that the first three chapters all had well over 30 pages yet the chapter about Rebecca only contained 17 pages. Had Sara Wheeler contacted either myself, or Diana Parsons a historian from Leeds University who had researched the history of the Burlend family in Illinois and written an updated narrative "In Search of Freedom", we could have supplied her with much more information for this chapter than it contained. Thankfully, after correspondance with Sara, additional content will now be added to the American version of the book when that is published later in the year.

Oveerall, however, this is a very good book, looking at the lives of these six women who had a second life in America and put pen to paper to recount their experiences in the "New World". It will appeal to both sexes and to all ages.
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on 14 April 2013
This is a great read, and I chose it as I love travelling to America, and enjoy reading about interesting and innovative women. It's colourful and informative and I became quite engrossed in it! So inspiring, as even when events didn't quite go to plan for some, the book highlights the courage and determination of the human spirit, when faced with adversity. So good to have the female perspective on the pioneering spirit, in what was often, a dangerous and lawless time. Highly recommended.
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on 24 July 2014
I love the old stories and history of the frontier from wagon trains, how people survived, Native Americans to the gold rush. So I thought O My America! was very suitable reading to take with me on a trip to the USA.

Unlike most books I read this is a factual book. Sara tells the stories of 6 women in the 1800’s who set out to America for new experiences, fortune and to enjoy life with new freedom in a new country. We meet Fanny Trollope who goes to America for fortune, Fanny Kemble who follows her heart but learns life is unfair for women and the cruel reality of slave plantations, Harriet Martineau who was after experiences for her books, Rebecca Burland who lives the harsh life of a settler farming family, Isabella Bird who was a true adventurer and Catherine Hubback who followed her children to make a new life in America.

Sara has done a lot of research into their lives and the detail she includes means we have a small bio of each and really get to know them. They are individuals in their own right, have different experiences and some we like and some not so much. But overall they are strong, determined women in a man’s world. America has given them the opportunity to try and create new lives, and escape the constraints of British society. America is a new land on the frontier where there is a mix of people who are experiencing the same hardship or joy as everyone else.

My favourite person in this book is Isabella Bird as she was a true woman adventurer. At home she was sickly but with some freedom she was determined, fearless and tried anything. She is an inspiration to go live life to the full and enjoy it and I recommend definitely reading her story. She is someone who you would want to know and listen to her amazing tales. Another favourite is Rebecca Burland’s story which captures the true reality of life on the frontier as a settler. Farming is harsh there but her determined family make it. This is the true Little House on the Prairie tale, but it is so endearing too.

Each woman is a known writer in their time and wrote about their experiences in America and this book explains their influences and reasons behind some of what they wrote. Abolition of slavery was a central theme as was the different culture in America. Some women found Americans rude, having no manners etc. but maybe that is what makes America what it is today – a society of many cultures and traditions where everyone can be themselves. The woman went to America to reinvent themselves but some seemed to expect a replica of Britain which is disappointing as what is the point in going for new experiences if you expect the same.

As well as writing the woman’s bios, Sara follows in their steps and gives us a perspective of how things have changed in the places the women went and another aspect of the terrain of the old wild west. It is interesting how life moves on and after my trip to USA I can relate to places in this book too and how different they are to what these woman experienced. But you can imagine it so vividly with the detailed descriptions and imagine the atmosphere, sun, snow, people and emotion of situations.

If you are interested in the frontier of USA then this is a great read. It may be factual but sometimes learning about other real people can be very inspiring and really brings back what is important in life and that we should live it. Also it highlights how lucky we are in the modern age in the UK and USA compared to some of the harsh things these woman saw and went through. Determination for various reasons is the core theme of this book and essentially it is about ‘girl power’!
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on 2 November 2015
Interesting to read about the experiences of these intrepid women, although I bought the book under the mistaken impression that it consisted largely of excerpts from their own writing, which to me would have been far more more gripping. However, Sara Wheeler sets the context and gives the historical perspective in a very capable manner, and on reflection this is a better way to handle the subject. What I could have done without was the writer's personal obtrusiveness: we hear about which of the women travellers is most 'like me' (who cares?); there are subjective judgements on the women (Harriet Martineau can be 'silly'); and she includes photographs of herself (!) and short accounts of her own visits to some of the historical locations - an unsuccessful and pointless exercise in my view. There's also a very disrespectful habit of referring to the women as 'my girls'. If you can overlook these elements, and a tendency to write chirpy words in order to be entertaining ('shacked up' instead of 'lived', for instance), then the book is an enjoyable journey through some fascinating history.
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on 5 April 2016
Excellent book. Well written with very interesting stories of amazing women and the history of the times. One of the few books I keep and read again.
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on 24 December 2015
Some stories not of great interest, but the rest made it worth it. We don't know we are born, in comparison to early settlers.
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on 28 November 2013
These woman were amazing. I particularly liked Fanny Trollope having known nothing of her. Great writing here from Sara Wheeler, I wish I had written it!
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on 9 October 2013
I am enjoying reading this book. Her style is interesting as well as entertaining. She makes the women come alive.
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on 24 August 2013
Feels like a history book from school and I am finding it a rather turgid read. It was set as a book club book.
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