Across the Puddingstone Dam, the last Charlotte Years book, is the best one. Dealing with issues of death, loss, family, change, and maturity, it’s the most serious of all four books, but there are still moments that are heartwarming and uplifting. One of those is the reunion of Martha and Duncan. The benefit of Wiley having written both the Martha Years and the Charlotte Years is that there’s no retconning or mistakes made—stories and characters and situations are true to what was revealed earlier.
This book is the last Charlotte book, but it’s also so closely related to Martha that it’s almost as if it’s a continuation of the Martha Years. We learn much more about Martha in this book than we ever did in the first three Charlotte books. Perhaps this book was written with the knowledge that HarperCollins was killing the series, so Wiley wanted to give as much information about her characters as possible. The book is still definitely about Charlotte, but there is a strong focus on Martha—even to the extent of sacrificing the characterization of Charlotte’s brothers and sisters.
I’m really not sure how historically accurate Wiley’s books are (in terms of the real-life people they depict, not the events), but if there’s one thing I can appreciate about this book, it’s the love and dedication Wiley clearly has for these characters, particularly Martha. And while the maturity of this book is quite a step up from the previous titles, I’m not sure that’s a bad thing, as it shows that Charlotte is growing up, too. The Charlotte Years were not my favorite, but Across the Puddingstone Dam was a highlight.
The last two Charlotte Years books are the most interesting, in my opinion. Perhaps it’s because Charlotte is of a more relatable, readable age—8 and 11, respectively—and so the problems and lessons of the book are more directly related to her, as opposed to simply something she observes. The Road from Roxbury is still not a great book, but it’s at least better than On Tide Mill Lane.
The Road from Roxbury deals with new babies, new schoolteachers, new technology, new friends, and new responsibilities. Each chapter is still more “slice of life” than anything else, but there are some plot threads running throughout to unite them. My favorite is perhaps the schoolmaster plot arc, though the plot arc that deals with jealousy, sullenness, and a near-death scare is also quite good. The rest is typical Wiley and typical Charlotte Years—vaguely interesting, but ultimately lacking in charm. It ends on the cheesy sort of note that Wiley is fond of striking—grand pronouncements and dreams that seem to come out of nowhere and are triggered by the most random things.
Having an older Charlotte makes the books more relatable and less observational, but there’s still something lacking from the Charlotte Years that I can’t quite pin down. Charm, or quality, or depth, or something. The Road from Roxbury is an improvement on the first two books, but it’s still a far cry from a good, solid, timeless children’s book.
On Tide Mill Lane is a dreadfully boring installment of the Charlotte Years. Though it details the end of the War of 1812, there is little to keep it interesting, family and friend drama aside. The Charlotte Years have always seemed the weakest to me, but this book highlights that weakness. There’s virtually no plot—each chapter is only tangentially related to others, if at all—and Charlotte has no growth at all. She’s also not a very convincing five-year-old. In fact, it’s Charlotte’s mother, Martha, who has most of the focus, as if Wiley is still trying to hold on to those Martha Years.
The dialogue and descriptions are also really cheesy. A child likely won’t find them that way, but as an adult, I could barely keep from rolling my eyes. In addition, everything is spelled out very nice and neatly, so that nothing can possibly escape the reader’s attention and understanding. I love children’s books, but this one is too non-subtle for me.
I can barely remember what happens in the next Charlotte book, but I remember the last one being quite interesting, and it at least has Charlotte stop being perpetually five. I will, however, be glad to be done with these last two books so that I can move on to the Caroline Years, one of my favorites.
Little House by Boston Bay, by Melissa Wiley, was published in 1999 by HarperTrophy.
Having finished the Martha Years, I’m moving right along to the Charlotte Years—Martha’s daughter, and Laura Ingalls Wilder’s grandmother. The same author wrote both sets of books, which is a good thing—Martha remains familiar, and the details of her life in Scotland remain accurate. Not that many details are given—Wiley saves that for another book.
As a kind of hopeless romantic at heart, for most of the book I reflected on Martha and Lewis. If I remember correctly, Martha marries Lewis, a blacksmith, someone of a much lower station than her, and as a result her family disowns her (however, there is some research that indicates that “Martha Morse” was never Scottish at all, and that her husband’s name was really Joseph). It’s kind of interesting to read this book with that perspective and reflect on all the sacrifices that were made, but also see how much Martha and Lewis love each other.
The book is fairly similar to the Martha Years books—as it would be, with the same author—although obviously without the Scottish background. Instead, we have the War of 1812, and the political tension of the day woven into the background. It’s maybe not as immediately gripping as were the backdrop of the Scottish Highlands, but Little House by Boston Bay is still part of a series that were dearly loved by me as a child—I know the scenes like old friends, and I vividly remember the too-spicy pounded cheese chapter and the Saturday family. Perhaps the Charlotte Years aren’t too exciting, but reading this book has been a great nostalgia trip for me.