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Extended Audio Sample Keeping the House Audiobook, by Ellen Baker Click for printable size audiobook cover
3.58 out of 53.58 out of 53.58 out of 53.58 out of 53.58 out of 5 3.58 (33 ratings) (rate this audio book) Author: Ellen Baker Narrator: Christine Williams Publisher: Blackstone Audio Format: Unabridged Audiobook Delivery: Instant Download Audio Length: Release Date: February 2008 ISBN: 9781455187522
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Set in the conformist 1950s and reaching back to span two world wars, Ellen Baker’s superb novel is the story of a newlywed who falls in love with a grand abandoned house and begins to unravel dark secrets woven through the generations of a family. Like Whitney Otto’s How to Make an American Quilt in its intimate portrayal of women’s lives, and reminiscent of novels by Elizabeth Berg and Anne Tyler, Keeping the House is a rich tapestry of a novel that introduces a wonderful new fiction writer.

When Dolly Magnuson moves to Pine Rapids, Wisconsin, in 1950, she discovers all too soon that making marriage work is harder than it looks in the pages of the Ladies’ Home Journal. Dolly tries to adapt to her new life by keeping the house, supporting her husband’s career, and fretting about dinner menus. She even gives up her dream of flying an airplane, trying instead to fit in at the stuffy Ladies Aid quilting circle. Soon, though, her loneliness and restless imagination are seized by the vacant house on the hill. As Dolly’s life and marriage become increasingly difficult, she begins to lose herself in piecing together the story of three generations of Mickelson men and women: Wilma Mickelson, who came to Pine Rapids as a new bride in 1896 and fell in love with a man who was not her husband; her oldest son, Jack, who fought as a Marine in the trenches of World War I; and Jack’s son, JJ, a troubled veteran of World War II, who returns home to discover Dolly in his grandparents’ house.

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Quotes & Awards

  • “Ellen Baker’s first novel, Keeping the House, is a quilt that grids a small Midwestern town in the middle of the last century. Under this writer’s deft hands, each square is a story, a mystery, an indiscretion, a tale of the great house and grand family who once ruled there. Even more, it captures the roles of women then: both the living embodiments of demure ideals and those who couldn’t fit the pattern. Edith Wharton’s novels of domestic despair come to mind with each page.”

    Jacquelyn Mitchard, New York Times bestselling author

  • “Ellen Baker’s first novel is a wonder! Keeping the House is a great big juicy family saga; a romantic page-turner with genuine characters written with a perfect sense of history, time, and place. Baker’s portrayal of the American housewife is hilarious and heartbreaking. I couldn’t have liked it more!”

    Fannie Flagg, New York Times bestselling author

  • “The novel carries us along  under the power of vivid prose and complex family history…Keeping the House is an achievement of plot and character, introducing Ellen Baker as an author who knows how to keep us turning the pages.”

    Chicago Tribune

  • Keeping the House savors of works by Willa Cather and Marilynne Robinson…It flows smoothly, and the prose is so assured, it’s difficult to believe this is the author’s first novel.”

    Philadelphia Inquirer

  • “Stuffed to bursting with stories of love, loss, revenge, obsession, emotional and physical violence, and general familial mayhem…[with] engaging characters.”

    Publishers Weekly

  • “Brimming with luscious details that authenticate the story’s various time periods, from early to mid–twentieth century, Baker’s accomplished, ambitious debut novel is a majestic, vibrant multigenerational saga in the finest tradition of the genre.”

    Booklist

Listener Opinions

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Kim hibbert | 2/12/2014

    " It was a little hard to get into this book because each chapter is a different character in a different time, but once you get it down, I loved the story. Beware of the F-bomb though. Maybe about 10 times in 500+ pages. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Karynn | 2/9/2014

    " Good leisure book...family saga that keeps your interest with an underlying mystery. Jumps back in forth between 1950 and WWI and WWII...does a good job of including historical elements. "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 Anita | 1/29/2014

    " Entertaining, but essentially a WWII-era soap opera. "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Eieios | 1/16/2014

    " This was a great read. It is a bit daunting because of its length, but it was a page-turner. It is a great story of families and their dysfunction, the trials of love and war. It had a little bit of everything. I really enjoyed the characters even though they weren't always sympathetic. The main plot surrounds a young married woman in 1950, while the subplot is about a family and their lives from 1896-1945. The story sucks you in and leaves you waiting to find out what happens next. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Grandma Weaver | 1/13/2014

    " this was a story that covers several generations of a family (1896 thru 1950) living in wisconsin. the house they lived in piqued the interest of a young bride in 1950 that had recently moved to the town.stories are told switching from different times and different people in the story. i liked the writing and really wanted to know how their stories ended. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Barb | 1/6/2014

    " I always seem to enjoy historical fiction and this story is no exception. When a newlywed moves from her hometown with her clueless new husband, she is lonely and bored, even though she does everything she believes a wife in the 1950s should. She joins a quilting group of older women from her church and during quilting sessions they snipe about the neighbors and the past. Dolly becomes interested in an old house from a troubled family of means that left the area and she visits the house, quickly developing an obsession for it. She also thinks that the acquisition of the abandoned house would help her marriage as she is feeling the lack of "partnerhood" - it feels to her that her husband lives like a single guy. I don't want to give away the ending - read this book, it is not a new read but it is a good one. "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 Grandma | 1/4/2014

    " It could have been 100 pages shorter and not missed anything. Good points for discussioin in book group about our mothers and grandmothers generations. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Charlene | 10/31/2013

    " I had a chance to meet the author as she lives near our town. She spoke at our Rotary club and shared with us how she went about writing this novel. The story is set in this region (Northern Wisconsin) during the 1950s and provides a vivid picture of the place and time. "

  • 1 out of 51 out of 51 out of 51 out of 51 out of 5 Linda Brown | 9/30/2013

    " Started 2 x, not interested "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Amie Odahl | 12/18/2012

    " Very fast read, kept my attention, easy to feel a relationship with the characters. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Junita | 8/23/2012

    " Ellen Baker is from Superior, Wisconsin (across the bridge from Duluth) and my mom cleans her teeth. This is her first novel, impressively published by Random House, about a housewife in the 1950's. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Vikki | 8/13/2012

    " I loved this book. It told the story of many generations going back and forth in time. Dolly moves to Pine Ridge and wants this old house. The many old secrets of the house are told. Very good book. "

  • 1 out of 51 out of 51 out of 51 out of 51 out of 5 Jody | 7/26/2012

    " I was excited about this book because I, too, love abandoned houses and wonder, "Who lived there?" The story wasn't all that compelling for me though and the flipping around between time periods and families was annoying. I didn't finish it. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Carrie | 7/14/2012

    " What an interesting look at housewives of the 1950's. I enjoyed the intertwined story of the young wife in 1950 with the family that lived in the house she is fascinated with. It tells their story from 1898 to 1950. The unfolding parallel keeps you turning pages to see what will happen next. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Laura | 5/18/2012

    " This was a decent story. It's worth a read :-) "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Megan Veltman | 5/13/2012

    " I didn't want to put it down. I was so involved with Dolly's marriage and discovery of the michaelson family. Loved the back and forth between times and characters' stories. I also found the magazine quotes to be a fun extra peek into the time and views on women and their marriages. "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 Kathy | 1/22/2012

    " Better at the beginning than the end. I started to feel like the author forgot where she was going and started throwing a bunch of twists and turns in that were a bit unbelievable. Ok writing overall. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Sonia | 12/13/2011

    " A wonderful multi-generational story about a family that had befallen a litany of bad luck as discovered by a lonely 1950s housewife. It was a captivating read. "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 Karen | 5/1/2011

    " A bit melodramatic at times, a bit falling in with MadMen which I have been watching an awful lot of. Surpirse in the center, but all other were easy to guess once the secrtets came out. Not a bad book, quick read, just not the best out there. "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 Laura | 2/1/2011

    " This book is very hot and cold for me.

    I appreciate the historical fiction component of this book. It's interesting to hear about roles of particular groups--women, vets, daughters, moms. But I do find all the decade switching to be a little distracting and difficult to follow "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Nancy | 2/1/2011

    " I picked it up while we were on vacation. I enjoyed it and recommended it to my book group. I liked the way the story jumped between women involved with the house gradually drawing the stories together until the intersected. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Kim | 12/31/2010

    " This book was hard to put down! It was a bit melodramatic at times, but it really kept me turning pages to find out what happened. "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 Laura | 12/26/2010

    " I enjoyed this book. It was an interesting location and I liked the use of 2 time periods and characters. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Carrie | 12/21/2010

    " Lots of twists and turns. Very entertaining. "

  • 2 out of 52 out of 52 out of 52 out of 52 out of 5 Janet | 11/8/2010

    " Maybe I just wasn't in the mood for it, but the story, which goes back and forth between the 1890s and 1950s, was too much of a downer, with the women involved frustrated at their lot in life (housewives, unhappy marriages). "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Bridget | 10/30/2010

    " Great story set in Wisconsin! Love the mysterious happenings of the Mickelson family and the characters seemed well-developed with the exception of Ginny. I would recommend to friends. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Trisha | 10/7/2010

    " A joy to read. I liked the different view points and different times. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Chris | 9/24/2010

    " Loved this book. The little snippets at the beginning of chapters taken from old 'women's magazines' was quite entertaining. Loved the story as well, bring together stores of women from different generations... "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 Margaret | 9/17/2010

    " Good points: It is set in Wisconsin and it's historical in nature.
    Bad points: Too long for the story that it tells. "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 Jolie | 9/14/2010

    " Surprisingly good book. Family saga spanning turn of the century through 1950. I especially enjoyed reading the out-dated, old fashioned homemaking ideas and excerpts from Ladie's Home Journal at the beginning of each chapter. Goes to show you how far feminism has come in the last 60 years. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Carrie | 8/17/2010

    " What an interesting look at housewives of the 1950's. I enjoyed the intertwined story of the young wife in 1950 with the family that lived in the house she is fascinated with. It tells their story from 1898 to 1950. The unfolding parallel keeps you turning pages to see what will happen next. "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 Amy | 7/25/2010

    " A good read. A story that crosses many generation and has more drama than a soap opera. Downside- expected more for the ending. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Dianne | 7/9/2010

    " What a great combination of styles and characters and storytelling.
    Plot changes and switching between families and time periods makes
    this a real pageturner. "

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About the Author
Author Ellen Baker

Ellen Baker was born in Grand Rapids, Minnesota, and grew up in Wisconsin and Illinois. She earned a masters degree in American studies from the University of Minnesota, worked as curator of a World War II museum, and is currently a bookseller and event coordinator at an independent bookstore. She lives with her husband in Wisconsin.

About the Narrator

Christine Williams is a singer and actor based in Ashland, Oregon. Her performance credits include productions at regional theaters and on concert stages across the country and around the world, from the Oregon Shakespeare Festival and the Barbican Centre in London to the Aspen Music Festival and the Grotowski Institute in Poland.