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Publisher's Summary

Betty Bard MacDonald (1907 - 1958), the best-selling author of The Egg and I and the classic Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle children's books, burst onto the literary scene shortly after the end of World War II. Readers embraced her memoir of her years as a young bride operating a chicken ranch on Washington's Olympic Peninsula, and The Egg and I sold its first million copies in less than a year. The public was drawn to MacDonald's vivacity, her offbeat humor, and her irreverent take on life. In 1947, the book was made into a movie starring Fred MacMurray and Claudette Colbert, and spawned a series of films featuring MacDonald's Ma and Pa Kettle characters.

MacDonald followed up the success of The Egg and I with the creation of Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle, a magical woman who cures children of their bad habits, and with three additional memoirs: The Plague and I (chronicling her time in a tuberculosis sanitarium just outside Seattle), Anybody Can Do Anything (recounting her madcap attempts to find work during the Great Depression), and Onions in the Stew (about her life raising two teenage daughters on Vashon Island).

Author Paula Becker was granted full access to Betty MacDonald's archives, including materials never before seen by any researcher. Looking for Betty MacDonald, the first biography of this endearing Northwest storyteller, reveals the story behind the memoirs and the difference between the real Betty MacDonald and her literary persona.

©2016 Paula Becker (P)2016 Post Hypnotic Press Inc.

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  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
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Fascinating Woman - Great Biography!

This biography of one of America’s iconic women captures Betty MacDonald from top to bottom, from her grandparents to the relatives that survived her death. Her books shined a humorous, if sometimes critical, eye on certain aspects of living in the Pacific Northwest as one the last frontier lands in the country from the 1920s-1940s. Now Paula Becker draws the curtain back and shows us some of the things that Betty herself was reluctant to put in her semi-autobiographical novels.

After having listened to Betty MacDonald’s four novels, and having read her Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle books as a kid, I felt like I knew her somewhat. This biography filled in some of the blanks and had a few surprises for me as well. Getting to know more about Betty’s ancestors and her first husband was an interesting place to start. I loved that her mom was a no-nonsense kind of person and happily traveled with her husband (who worked for a mining company – if I recall correctly). This job took the family to some of the most rugged areas of the US.

Later, when Betty starts publishing novels, Becker gives a somewhat detailed account of what each one is about. While these books aren’t described one after another all in a row (but are sprinkled in among the biography along the timeline of when they were published), I did find the descriptions a little tedious. However, I have recently finished listening to them and they are still fresh in my mind. I think that if you haven’t read the books in some time (or perhaps you haven’t read all 4 of them) then this would be a good refresher for you.

For me, the most interesting parts were in the last quarter of the book – all that stuff that happens after Betty’s fourth novel, Onions in the Stew, was published. While Betty’s second marriage was evidently much happier than her first, it wasn’t untroubled. There were money problems which surprised me. Betty’s books were very well received in their day, complete with radio and TV series along with a movie. Yet success doesn’t always prepare one to manage money well, especially if one turns that responsibility over to a spouse. Betty was in the unusual position of being the breadwinner for the family and yet also feeling socially obligated to play the merry housemaker. Becker gives us details on this without falling into gossip. I really appreciate that she stuck with known facts and extracts from MacDonald letters to paint this picture of Betty’s and Don’s marriage.

While I had read on Wikipedia about Betty’s legal troubles (several people were not happy with how they were supposedly portrayed in her books), Becker gives us many details. Plenty of those complaining received a bit of fame. Some of them really seemed to enjoy it so it was hard to say that the portrayals in Betty’s books did them any harm.

I was saddened to learn of Betty’s death and this probably sounds quite odd as I’ve known since I picked up The Egg and I so many months ago that she was deceased. However, I’ve really come to enjoy her company through these books. As Becker’s biography walks us through her last months, I really felt for Betty. She died young by today’s standards but I doubt there was much more medicine could have done then. After reading her book about her lengthy stay in a tuberculosis sanatorium (The Plague and I), I can guess that she faced her final illness with the same pointed wit.

I received a free copy of this book via The Audiobookworm.

The Narration: Paula Becker narrated her own book and since this is nonfiction, it worked pretty well. She tried her hand at doing a few voices when necessary and those performances were passable. For the bulk of the book, she does a great job of maintaining an even speed and giving slight inflections here and there, letting us know that she’s just as engaged in the book as us listeners are.

4 of 4 people found this review helpful

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  • l.
  • Ladysmith, British Columbia, Canada
  • 10-07-16

Wonderful insight into Betty Macdonald s life

the story is absorbing. the subject, Betty Macdonald was a fascinating person. I loved her books. Paul has done a terrific job of bringing Betty to life. Would have preferred a more skilled narrator.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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    3 out of 5 stars
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Good, If you haven’t read any of the originals.

Is there anything you would change about this book?

If you haven’t read any of the original books then this would be ideal because it gives a rundown of all the stories, yet for someone who has read them it all felt a slight intrusion.

What was the most interesting aspect of this story? The least interesting?

Paula has taken a different stance and researched the history of Betty and her family, in some ways it fills in the missing parts of the stories and answers some lingering questions. But it also brings to mind how much of the real Betty did we gain from her books .. there is no doubt the author has done an incredible amount of work to pull it all together but I have to say I found it somewhat repetitive.

Have you listened to any of Paula Becker’s other performances before? How does this one compare?

This is the first time I have listened to Paula Becker .. I was suitably impressed. She has a natural inflection and holds your attention. In comparison to some other narrators she is very good.

Was Looking for Betty MacDonald worth the listening time?

Yes, it was worth listening because you can absorb what is available. I do however think it could be shorter by cutting out the repetitive pieces from the original books.

Any additional comments?

I have now listened to all of the ‘Betty‘ audio books and it’s fair to say I have been thoroughly entertained and enthralled. The only ones I haven’t yet discovered are Mrs Piggle Wiggles, children’s books.I admire Betty’s wit, ability to laugh at herself, the pure endurance shown to survive some of the harsh situations life has thrown at her. She always managed to appear as though she was in control even when things were incredibly bleak during the war/recession years. These books were written in a different generation and should be observed as such.

The author also narrates the audio book and that is done very well, I could happily listen to her tone and it didn’t jar on my nerves like some narrators unfortunately can. A lot of the enjoyment of a book is down to the narrator so for the author to do her own was quite an interesting concept.Overall it was an informative book, well produced but on this occasion I have to admit I prefer the ‘Betty’ originals, they will always hold a soft spot in my heart.Thanks to the author, publisher and Jess at Audiobookworm for my copy which I reviewed voluntarily.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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Terrific biography of Betty MacDonald

What did you love best about Looking for Betty MacDonald?

I loved the author's lively, humorous and heartfelt narration of Betty MacDonald's story.

Who was your favorite character and why?

Betty herself is a complex woman who got through some incredibly difficult situations (tuberculosis, divorce, a failed chicken farm) with a sharp sense of humor and determination.

Which scene was your favorite?

I was especially fascinated by the trial brought by the family who MacDonald used as the basis for her characters Ma and Pa Kettle--Betty denied everything on the stand, and the jury went her way, facts notwithstanding.

Any additional comments?

Through telling the story of the life of Betty MacDonald, the author also presents a lively and interesting overview of life in the West--primarily Butte, Montana, and Seattle--in the middle of the last century.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

Interesting book, interesting subject.

What made the experience of listening to Looking for Betty MacDonald the most enjoyable?

It was interesting to see how *DIFFERENT* Betty and the Bard family was compared to what I imagined from reading the books. It is like a book that explains Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, how magic tricks are performed, etc. - interesting, even fascinating at times, but ultimately you lose some of the magic as naivete turns to a flatter reality.

What about Paula Becker’s performance did you like?

It was competent, but a little flat. I didn't dislike it, but it gives me no reason to search out another book that she would narrate.

If you were to make a film of this book, what would the tag line be?

This would be a fine NPR documentary, and I would use the title as-is.

Any additional comments?

Not enough about Cleve!

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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    4 out of 5 stars
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  • Stephanie
  • Charlotte, NC, United States
  • 03-11-18

From reluctant reader to enthusiastic fan

What did you love best about Looking for Betty MacDonald?

The extensive research that went into this book, filling in the gaps of a biography that always seemed incomplete. I also enjoyed the writer's prose, which, like Betty MacDonald's, is evocative, compelling, and beautiful.

Who was your favorite character and why?

My favorite character is Betty, whose writing I have always adored, closely followed by the narrator, who turns from fan to detective to biographer.

Which character – as performed by Paula Becker – was your favorite?

I actually enjoyed hearing Paula's own musings about Betty MacDonald. This is a book that lends itself to broad portrayals, which are always hard to do. Becker did a fairly good job of these, but some characters -- like the Kettles -- came off as stagey.

Did you have an extreme reaction to this book? Did it make you laugh or cry?

I cried at the end when I learned the circumstances of Betty's death, and again when the author went through Betty's beloved Seattle home to salvage a few things before it was torn down. Of course, I always laugh at Betty's hilarious prose, which is quoted extensively through this book.

Any additional comments?

I was wary about buying this book, since it was written by a fellow fan. Betty's a writer with a passionate following. This often lends itself to well-meaning people crafting poorly written biographical sketches that are largely culled from their subject's own work. I was afraid this was the case with "Looking for Betty MacDonald" in the early stages, since it does rely on extensive quotations from Betty's books when putting together her early family history. A few mispronounced words also grated on my nerves -- I used to edit audiobook recordings, so I know how easy it is to make such mistakes, but they sound like nails on a chalkboard to me. I'm glad I stuck with it.What kept me hanging on was Becker's surprisingly beautiful prose, which is a lot like Betty's. Descriptive and evocative, I totally related to Paula's fascination with the life of her subject. I was impressed with Becker's perceptive insights to various characters in the Bard family -- this may be a case of "great minds thinking alike," but I appreciated the author's nuanced take on some people who were obviously very complicated, including Don, Sydney, Mary, and, of course, Betty herself.As the story went on, it was obvious that Becker did extensive research to find the woman behind the work. MacDonald's final years have always been shrouded in mystery for me, until now. I am grateful Becker answered the many questions I've had about Betty since I was eight years old, when I read the flap copy of "Mrs. Piggle Wiggle" and discovered that Betty had lived on a farm, raised rabbits, and modeled fur coats before dying at a young age. These tantalizing scraps of information made me yearn to know more. Over the years, I have gathered tidbits about Betty's life that were not included in her autobiographical works. It was only until now that I feel my questions have been answered, with one major exception: What happened to Madge, the "adopted" Bard sister with the beautiful voice, dandy fortune telling abilities, and excellent piano playing skills? She is not mentioned at all in Becker's book, and I found her absence glaring. I would have also liked to know more about where Cleve, Dede, and Allison landed. By the end of the book, I had the uncanny sensation that Betty had sought -- and found -- the right person to "discover" her, telling her story in a way that was compelling, informative, and moving. Very grateful to Paula Becker for writing this book. It's a must-have for any Betty MacDonald fan.

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Questions finally answered!


Betty Found. I've been just as hungry as this author for more answers and she found 'em!!!!