Audiobook Review | “The Plague & I” by Betty MacDonald, narrated by Heather Henderson

Posted Sunday, 22 January, 2017 by jorielov , , , 3 Comments

Audiobook Review Badge made by Jorie in Canva.

Acquired Digital Audiobook by: I am a new blog tour hostess with Audiobookworm Promotions wherein I have the opportunity to receive audiobooks for review or adoption (reviews outside of organised blog tours) and host guest features on behalf of authors and narrators alike. The Egg and I blog tour marks my second tour wherein I have become quite happily surprised how much I am now keen on listening to books in lieu of reading them in print. My journey into audiobooks was prompted by a return of my chronic migraines wherein I want to offset my readings with listening to the audio versions.

I received a complimentary audiobook copy of “The Plague & I” via the publicist at Audiobookworm Promotions (of whom was working directly with the narrator Heather Henderson and Post Hypnotic Press, Inc.) in exchange for an honest review. I did not receive compensation for my opinions or thoughts shared herein.

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Audiobook Review | “The Plague & I” by Betty MacDonald, narrated by Heather HendersonThe Plague And I
by Betty MacDonald
Source: Audiobook via Audiobookworm Promotions
Narrator: Heather Henderson

The memoir series by Betty MacDonald started with "The Egg And I", followed by the following in sequence:

"The Plague and I" recounts MacDonald's experiences in a Seattle sanitarium, where the author spent almost a year (1938-39) battling tuberculosis. The White Plague was no laughing matter, but MacDonald nonetheless makes a sprightly tale of her brush with something deadly.

"Anybody Can Do Anything" is a high-spirited, hilarious celebration of how "the warmth and loyalty and laughter of a big family" brightened their weathering of the Great Depression.

In "Onions in the Stew", MacDonald is in unbuttonedly frolicsome form as she describes how, with husband and daughters, she set to work making a life on a rough-and-tumble island in Puget Sound, a ferry ride from Seattle.

Places to find the book:

Borrow from a Public Library

Add to LibraryThing

Also by this author: Anybody Can Do Anything, Onions in the Stew

Also in this series: Anybody Can Do Anything, Onions in the Stew

Genres: Biography / Autobiography, Memoir, Non-Fiction

Published by Post Hypnotic Press

on 8th April, 2016

Format: Audiobook | Digital

Length: 8 hours 48 minutes (unabridged)

Published By: Post Hypnotic Press (@Post_Hypnotic)

About Betty MacDonald

Betty MacDonald

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 official biography of this endearing Northwest storyteller, reveals the story behind the memoirs and the difference between the real Betty MacDonald and her literary persona.

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A serious illness:

Betty MacDonald retells her experience with TB whilst equating her serious illness with an unexpected accident of fate your never quite prepared seeing intersect with your life. The interesting bit is how your life can become so very reduced of the ordinary stresses which usually occupy your hours can become focused on reclaiming your health or at the very least, attempting to survive this ‘major medical crisis’ that is suddenly delivered to your door to address. The humour Betty stitches into her life’s story has become a bit of a hallmark of this memoir series, as she has the cheekiest of ribbing humour which she happily shares as readily as she is open about how her incredibly eccentric family had a collection of old wisdom passed down through the generations.

Hers was a family where the philosophy was focused on ‘health’ as a self-assured realisation of their realities rather than a progressive work towards achieving something they did not yet have established. Her father was the one who set the rule about such things; including an incredibly regulated physical educational practice. This is one of the foundational stories she shares in this edition to explain how ‘ironic’ it was that she, of the whole family, would be the one who came down with ‘the plague’!

Even her grandmother – the stalwart Gammy had a straight-forward approach to such things in life; she was never one who backed down from sharing her mind nor telling Betty how she felt about a varied of subjects that had less to do with exercise and more to do with being the matriarch of the family. She had a caring spirit about her even if she was a formidable woman of whom everyone in Betty’s family fully respected; even if sometimes, she would grate a bit on their nerves, as she had a rather infamous reputation for her advice inasmuch as her choices in cooking!

my review of the plague & I:

Here’s the interesting bit – initially when I first started to settle into The Egg & I, I cannot lament it was the easiest memoir to lay my mind upon as the narrator had an interesting way of inserting us into Betty MacDonald’s life. So much so, despite the personal drama erupting through my life which took the hours off the clock and were in-part the key reason I postponed finishing my readings of the first memoir until this New Year; I wasn’t quite sure what to expect with the second volume! Mind you, I had high hopes Ms Henderson would have sounded more grounded in this volume and to my delight, she does! Ergo, I found myself able to alight directly into the story – picking up on the nuances of all the little inclusional tidbits of ‘life’ bubbling to the surface out of MacDonald’s now familiar style of communicating every detail she felt you should know about even if she picked out taboo subjects or provided more details than your imagination might want to allow to know!

It was here – where consumption became the central focus of her discourse to explain how difficult of an illness this was to become inflicted with but at the same time, how popular of an illness it was during her lifetime. Even her Gammy had a thing or two to say about consumption; here is where you see how Ms Henderson shines at bridging the narrative arc through differential voices; showing her dexterity but also, the ingenious way in how a small altering of voice can give dimension to a memoir from two different generational perspectives!

Prior to focusing on the ‘plague’ itself – Betty wanted you to know where she was in her life at a moment where this illness was about to derail her into a tailspin of medical adversity. She brings to light how for such a large family, they were able to focus on making sure everyone had everything they needed, even if the space they could use at home could be enlarged had they had that option. They had a cosy home life – where everything was used and nothing was spared nor wasted; this proved to set the foundation of how Betty developed her resilience lateron (hinted about in The Egg & I).

I have to admit, when she went into the descriptive details of leprosy and some of the other ailments; she started to lose me, as the visuals she described left little to the imagination. Sometimes I find less is more when medical descriptive narrative is concerned. I happily skipped a few paces ahead – as I wasn’t quite certain if she continued to follow this vein of thought if I could handle the rest of it. She lists a litany of illnesses her siblings and her had endured and survived; proving that her Dutch ancestral roots were a strong lot as much as her Scottish ancestors. There was a sibling preference for her mother’s cooking over her Gammy’s; something I could understand, as Betty had a way of making her grandmother’s food to be a work of patience knowing it would sustain you, but it might not be completely enjoyable to eat. Her father had an equally quirky approach to food; where herring and other bits of food were used to stretch during months where food was scarce. You had to admire her and her family for finding ways to combat hunger, even if sometimes they were dissatisfied, they never truly went without.

Betty takes a bit to arrive at the hour where ‘the plague’ is no longer an illness ‘you could catch’ but rather becomes the illness that takes over her life. In the beginning, between the coffee and cigs she would consume in-between her working hours, she couldn’t comprehend why she would be so dearly exhausted. Her body was stopping to function the way she had grown accustomed. As her symptoms grew, she kept putting ‘off’ what the signals were trying to tell her (seek medical help!) whilst finding that she was collecting more ailments than one woman should! All of this was a combination of how TB was infecting her with it’s deadly claw of infection. She was already divorced at this point in time, but she was unfamiliar with the causes of TB and thereby did not know what to expect.

Sadly, she contracted it by a co-worker and despite that truth of fact, she had to pay out the recovery fees herself – before of course, she was carted off to an asylum to ‘rest, recover and survive’. She was on such a rotating stock of ‘medicine’ applying their wares of specialty to everything but the TB, you have to give her credit for keeping her spirits up whilst her medical life was growing so complicated! In light of today’s health care issues, you have to wonder if she would have been as frustrated now as she was then; or if perhaps, equally vexed and exasperating! By the time she finds one doctor who knew how to diagnosis her properly, he immediately wanted to sanction her to be quarantined; if only to give her the best chance to recover. Despite the efficiency in which her care started to evolve into sight; one thing that struck her is the budget required. The blessing came in the form of finding a place which did not charge patients but it was the looming exhaustive twelvemonths hanging over her head that weighed the most on her heart.

Prior to her move to the asylum clinic to heal from TB, you had to have a chuckle of a laugh about how after the nurse left on her cursory ‘check-in’ on Betty, everything resolved back to it’s normal routine. Including the disarray of how everything had this comfortable chaos around her; everyone had their interests and their priorities. One interesting bit is that you could hear the telephone ringing and bits of the radio on the background during one of the chapter segues – this was a nice switch-up from the expected musical queuing of chapters! This signalled her transition to the clinic itself – where you listen to how regulated the hours are there, it is nightmaric a bit to know how you’d settled into a normal routine there!

And, yet this is what happened. Betty rallied together with the other patients; finding her way through her stay at the clinic with an unusual propensity for seeking the small joys and the small moments which eased her discomfort. The women with her had various degrees of acceptance of their illness, but as you listen to her disclosures of this period of her life; you gathered at this point, she just wanted to focus on it and move on. The other girls’ didn’t quite seem to be as strong as Betty or at least, their resolve wasn’t as fiercely projected. Betty was slightly protective of the other girls’ – as you can hear it in her voice; how she would relate their stories as they crossed her path but also, how each of them had a hard road to walk together.

on the memoir styling of betty macdonald:

Betty MacDonald writes her life’s stories in a stream of conscience thoughts where the style of her memoirs is more akin to listening to an oral history of a lived life than a written memoir. She has her own quirky preference for how she relates the stories of her growing years and even when she is more advanced in age; she quickly finds ways to re-reference time with her parents, siblings and grandmother. You can gather a sense these were the years that despite their difficulties, were amongst her favourite memories. She has an ease about how she relates a life lesson as a young child or a growing young woman – she finds these hidden gems of her life to provide not only background on what shaped her as an adult, but how she was raised with old fashioned common sense, rock solid moral sensibility and a willing way of knowing that sometimes life can push you push your limits but you still have to push through til tomorrow.

I am unsure how she found the will of strength to combat the prejudice of her doctors; as they weren’t the most encouraging voice during her recovery! One even implied she wouldn’t have the strength nor the patience needed to endure through the process of the cure! Imagine!? During the initial transition – her family had to be tested for TB where she mentions how even if you have a positive skin test, it only hints towards having the virus interact with you in some way at some point in your life; therefore, x-rays would be needed to prove or disprove if you had the virus at all. Ironically or not, it was known back then that more people have a positive reaction than a negative one – and yet, everyone was treated the same, as if they had the disease rather than having crossed it at some point in the past. Although, if she thought the doctors had a cold bedside manner, the nurses were just as icy. The nurses were there to help get you well, but they were not meant to make it easy for you either.

Betty definitely is a viable voice for today’s audience seeking how you can develop strength out of crisis but also, how you sometimes find your internal strength is stronger than you might give yourself credit! Betty had to deal with the boredom of the droll where hours would drain onward and without fail never differentiate from any other day except for a few choice activities or irregularities in her own recovery. She held onto the positive – even when she felt she wasn’t quite healing the way she felt she might; she became invested in the inclusive world of the clinic; where the patients and doctors; the whole environment of the clinic was her new norm (as it should be). By the time she could re-emerge out of this state of recovery, it was almost as if she had to re-remind herself what life was before ‘the plague’ where she could give herself time to re-adjust even if exiting that experience was the one singular hope which encouraged her spirit the most to heal.

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specifically in regards to the audiobook:

As I am relatively new to reviewing audiobooks and listening to them with a greater frequency than of the past, I am appreciative of Ms Jess providing a cursory outline of how best to articulate my listening hours on behalf of this audiobook and the others I shall be blogging about or reviewing in future. I’ve modified the suggestions to what I felt were pertinent to respond too on my own behalf as well as keeping to the questions I felt were relevant to share.

About Heather Henderson

Heather Henderson

Heather Henderson is a voice actress and audiobook narrator with a 20-year career in literary and performing arts. Her narrations include the NYT bestseller (now also a feature film) Brain on Fire; and Sharon Creech’s The Boy on the Porch, which won her an Earphones award and was named one of the Best Children’s Audiobooks for 2013 by Audiofile Magazine.

She earned her Doctor of Fine Arts degree at the Yale School of Drama, and is co-curator of, a pronunciation research site for the audiobook industry.

In 2015, Heather was a finalist for a Voice Arts Award (Outstanding Narration, Audiobook Classics), for her narration of Betty MacDonald’s The Egg and I.

Listening Habit:

As disclosed on my first audiobook review of The Cryptic Lines (narrated by Jake Urry), I find colouring whilst I am listening to audiobooks to be a great benefit for being able to find the right catalyst of focus to soak inside the narrations.

Up until this audiobook, I had been listening to all the audiobooks through standard speakers – however, the week this review was meant to post, I decided that the ambient noises which were proving to be more distracting than I gave them credit might remain problematic if I did not sort out which brand of headphones would work with my computer. Ergo, several tries later, I have found the Wicked Audio headphones to be the best for my budget, whilst giving me an uninterruptible listening session!

This is also one of the few times I opted not to colour but rather to listen to the audiobook straight through whilst being mindful that I find non-fiction to read a bit differently to me than fiction. With a fiction audiobook, I find colouring is helpful, but for memoirs such as the Betty MacDonalda series – one thing I noticed by colouring is that I get a bit too caught up inside the disclosures of Betty’s life and forget to find my ‘stopping points’ to where I would pause the audiobook and start to blog my ruminative thoughts. By listening to the audibook via headphones, I am finding my focus is stronger – not just for fiction but for non-fiction. To where, I do not necessarily have to rely on colouring when listening to a work of non-fiction but definitely for fiction – as when it comes to fiction, I like to just zone out and envision the story unfolding in my imagination.

The main different with non-fiction for me is that I like to approach it as if I’m listening to a guest speaker at a reading – where I don’t need to envision everything but rather to listen keenly to what is being disclosed and how the information assembled paints the portrait of the person who lived. This grants me a way to seek out those ‘moments’ to pause and reassess my own thoughts before moving forward with the text.

Number of Times I’ve heard the Narrator(s):

This is my second time I’ve been listening to Ms Henderson’s style of narration but it’s the first time, I felt I could ascertain the subject matter to such a level of enjoyment, I did not find issues with settling into how it was presented. I will be listening to the third memoir shortly after I conclude this one and I will have to reflect back on which of the three I preferred overall.

Regards to the Narrator’s Individual Character performances:

As foresaid (in the review section), I truly appreciated how Ms Henderson had the thoughtfulness to select certain key characters in Betty’s life to be brought to life by using a different ‘voice’ of their personalities. To me, the most memorable is Gammy; mostly because she is such a character in of herself! She wasn’t into new fangled information and she had a way of being quite traditional. She had an unhealthy habit of mentioning every which way to Sunday a woman could contract consumption, too! I also liked how she brought to life the woman at the clinic with the discernible accent?! She brought a bit of levity to the clinic chapters but also, added to the diversity of Ms Henderson’s range.

How the Novel sounded to me as it was being Read: (theatrical or narrative)

I felt this performance was definitively narrative. Ms Henderson has a strong speaking presence, but I felt she had an immediate confidence in her voice when this memoir began to where you could quickly shift into the story. She also has quite the knack for understanding how Betty MacDonald might have liked her story to be ‘told’, as the author herself has a lovely fierce personality which isn’t easily able to translate to ‘narration’ as you have to embrace her style of dictating her life’s memories. In this, I felt Ms Henderson truly excelled in this installment, as Betty sounded so realistically true to her own voice, you couldn’t discern Ms Henderson as much.

Regards to Articulation & Performance of different sections of the novel:

Notes on the Quality of Sound & the Background Ambiance:

I actually loved the ‘intermissions’ where music would cut through between the ‘chapters’ to set the tone of the next chapter in queue. It was a nice little surprise and it lent itself well towards feeling you were anchoured to Betty’s era rather than listening to her story in our era. The quality of this audiobook production is wicked good – the articulation of the narrator’s voice and the cut through musical interludes all come and go with precision and quality sound. You can focus on the narrator’s voice and know exactly what she is saying; her articulation of the narrative itself is definitely a strength for someone who likes to hone in one perfecting her craft. You can tell she takes her time to find the proper way to say the words which populate the memoir; straight down to the individual personalities which populate Betty’s life.

In closing, would I seek out another Heather Henderson audiobook?

Technically speaking, I am signed on for the next memoir in the Betty MacDonald series “Anybody Can Do Anything” as much as I still need to share my thoughts regarding “The Egg And I” – thereby I am seeking out another audiobook by this narrator. Now that I understand the quirkiness of Betty MacDonald and have become more comfortable with Ms Henderson’s delivery of the memoir itself, I feel more confident in listening to more of her collective works.

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 This blog tour is courtesy of Audiobookworm Promotions:

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Whilst participating on:

The Plague and I blog tour via Audiobookworm PromotionsThis is the fourth of many reviews I’ll be showcasing on behalf of audiobooks – not just through the lovely tours via Audiobookworm Promotions, but through selecting audiobooks through my local library as well as the ones I hope to purchase in the future, too! If your an avid audiobook listener, I welcome your commentary and recommendations especially for Non-Fiction titles and/or Biographies, Autobiographies and Memoir you think I might enjoy seeking out next!

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About jorielov

I am self-educated through local libraries and alternative education opportunities. I am a writer by trade and I cured a ten-year writer’s block by the discovery of Nanowrimo in November 2008. The event changed my life by re-establishing my muse and solidifying my path. Five years later whilst exploring the bookish blogosphere I decided to become a book blogger. I am a champion of wordsmiths who evoke a visceral experience in narrative. I write comprehensive book showcases electing to get into the heart of my reading observations. I dance through genres seeking literary enlightenment and enchantment. Starting in Autumn 2013 I became a blog book tour hostess featuring books and authors. I joined The Classics Club in January 2014 to seek out appreciators of the timeless works of literature whose breadth of scope and voice resonate with us all.

"I write my heart out and own my writing after it has spilt out of the pen." - self quote (Jorie of Jorie Loves A Story)

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Posted Sunday, 22 January, 2017 by jorielov in Audiobook Narrator Interview, Audiobookworm Promotions, Blog Tour Host, Memoir, Non-Fiction, Vignettes of Real Life

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3 responses to “Audiobook Review | “The Plague & I” by Betty MacDonald, narrated by Heather Henderson

  1. A belated thanks for this review of “The Plague and I” – and thanks for your comments on the music. These audio books have been a labor of love for both myself and Heather Henderson – who co-produced these as well as narrated. It was Heather’s suggestion that we use musical interludes, and I chose the music, which is trickier than you think because we had to be careful about copyrights. We obtained licenses for a few of the songs used, but of the music we used is public domain. In several cases we had to create our own recording and then give the audio that radio sound – our resident audio genius, Carl Craig, did the arranging and audio treatments.

    If you want to download or order cds, you can do so here: Post Hypnotic Press

    All of these audio books are available on

    • Hallo, Hallo Ms Craig,

      I love finding out how you added the ‘music’ to The Plague and I, as I was quite curious how that was produced! I do know about the difficulties in rights and permissions; including how most are now turning to ‘creating new music’ rather than seeking out the permissions for established sounds. I think the clever stroke of genius you had though is how you mimicked the ‘radio’ sound and how you fused all the sounds into what you would hope an ‘interlude’ would sound like once it was established. Thank you for following up with me and providing me and my readers with a bit of trivia!! Blessings to you! The production of these memoirs is lovingly done with an attention to detail – you all must be so thrilled to bits to see the audiobooks being embraced by listeners, now.

  2. I should really get back to listening more. At least for the Gutenberg titles which are totally free and have some accessible audiobooks.
    This also sounds like a very interesting book. I just finished a book about a cancer patient as well (review coming up), so it feels like related experiences.

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