Rilla of Ingleside by L.M. Montgomery (#AnneReadalong2017)

“We must keep a little laughter, girls,” said Mrs. Blythe. “A good laugh is as good as a prayer, sometimes – only sometimes,” she added under her breath.  She had found it very hard to laugh after the three weeks she had just lived through – she, Anne Blythe, to whom laughter had always come so easily and so freshly.  And what hurt most was that Rilla’s laughter had grown so rare – Rilla whom she used to think laughed over-much.  Was all the child’s girlhood to be so clouded?  Yet how strong and clever and womanly she was growing!  How patiently she knitted and sewed and manipulated those uncertain Junior Reds!  And how wonderful she was with Jims.

“She really could not do better for that child than if she had raised a baker’s dozen, Mrs. Dr. dear,” Susan had avowed solemnly.  “Little did I ever expect it of her on the day she landed here with that soup tureen.”

433533What a way to end the #AnneReadalong2017!  I didn’t know what to expect from Rilla of Ingleside after the previous two books in the series, which for me were a two-star and a three-star read, respectively.  This one was a gem, darker and emotionally richer  than any other entry in the series.  Anne’s youngest daughter, Rilla, changes from a dreamy, aimless, fun-loving girl to a resourceful, courageous, dependable young women under the shadow of the First World War and its hardships.  We see how the community of Glen St. Mary rises to the occasion, offering its sons and brothers to the cause with bravery and grace.

There are many things to love about Rilla, from the trademark Montgomery descriptions of  beautiful landscape to the beginning exploration of Rilla’s young love life.  And I can’t forget to mention precious Dog Monday, Jem’s loyal furry friend who waits for him at the train station for the duration of the lad’s time at war.  I got choked up a time or two thinking about him getting excited every time the train pulled in and young men came home.  And one of my favorite characters from books past is in fine form here:  the formidable Susan, who isn’t shy with her opinions at all.

“When I wake up in the night and cannot go to sleep again,” remarked Susan, who was knitting and reading at the same time, “I pass the moments by torturing the Kaiser to death.  Last night I fried him in boiling oil and a great comfort it was to me, remembering those Belgian babies.”

“We are told to love our enemies, Susan,” said the doctor solemnly.

“Yes, our enemies, but not King George’s enemies, doctor dear,” retorted Susan crushingly.  She was so well pleased with herself over this flattening out of the doctor completely that she even smiled as she polished her glasses. 

Rilla herself is a marvelous character, growing and changing from a frivolous, happy-go-lucky girl to a young woman of great character and heart.  I love how she decided to take care of the sickly, orphaned baby Jims, whose mother died in childbirth and whose father was at war.  She made no pretense of liking babies at first, and I admired her honesty, but she grew to love little Jims as if he were her own, and it was sweet to see the change.  (SPOILER AHEAD) I was sad that she had to give him back to his father but happy that they would be so close and she could still see him often.  I also appreciated her maturation as it applied to her “frenemy” Irene Howard.  (Oh, Irene was just evil!)

Irene was not, as Mrs. Elliot would say, of the race that knew Joseph. 

We get to see what it was like to send away beloved sons, brothers, and sweethearts across the sea to fight, to dread every time the phone rang or the news came in.  And Walter – oh, Walter!  I won’t spoil anything that happens with Rilla’s beloved older brother Walter, but his conflicted soul at the war’s outset was a deft portrayal of what many young men went through, probably.  His letter to Rilla broke my heart.

This book ended up on my year-end Best Of list because it captivated and moved me.  I feel like I’ve read quite a few books set during the Second World War but not as many featuring the First, so that was a welcome change.  It was especially poignant when characters near the end remarked on how humanity might change for the better and learn lessons from the horrors of this war – little did they know that just twenty years later they’d be facing similar heartache and loss.

I’m so glad I participated in the AnneReadalong2017, and I want to thank Jane from Greenish Bookshelf and Jackie from Death By Tsundoku for co-hosting this event!  I never would have made it all the way through the series on my own, without the framework of one book per month.  If I had quit, say, after book five, I would have missed this marvelous last book of the series.  For anyone who, like me, didn’t read this series in their childhood, I definitely recommend them – well, the first five books and the eighth book, anyway!  🙂  They are delightful, a real respite from the crassness and noise of our time as well as entertaining, humorous stories with characters to fall in love with.

 

Thoughts on Rainbow Valley by L.M. Montgomery (#AnneReadalong2017)

Note: Jane at Greenish Bookshelf and Jackie at Death By Tsundoku are co-hosting an Anne of Green Gables series readalong for the remainder of the year.  Check out their blogs for more info on how to join the fun!

To sit in Rainbow Valley, steeped in a twilight half gold, half amethyst, rife with the odours of balsam-fir and woodsy growing things in their springtime prime, with the pale stars of wild strawberry blossoms all around you, and with the sough of the wind and tinkle of bells in the shaking treetops, and eat fried trout and dry bread, was something which the mighty of earth would have envied them.

77395Rainbow Valley is not about Anne Blythe; not even really about her kids.  It’s mostly about the new neighbor kids, the Merediths, who are running wild while their father, John Meredith, the new minister, walks around absentmindedly with his head full of theological and philosophical questions.  It’s got the trademark Montgomery musings on the beauty of the natural world, a dash of romance, and just enough of Anne and her family to keep me invested and turning the pages quickly.

After my disappointment with Anne of Ingleside, I was a bit nervous approaching this one.  But many  bloggers reassured me that #7 in the series was a winner – and they were right!  A short novel (my copy was 225 pages,) Rainbow Valley was a fast read for me – something that the previous novel was decidedly not.  The Meredith children – Jerry, Carl, Una, and Faith – are spirited and enterprising, conscious of their father’s parental shortcomings in the eyes of the town gossips.  They often tried to take matters in their own hands and not bother their father, who they clearly loved and who clearly loved them.  I didn’t find them as annoyingly naive as the Blythe children were depicted in Anne of Ingleside.  Mary Vance, an abused orphan girl who runs away and shows up in a neighbor’s barn, is a vexing character and does her best to upset the Meredith kids with her know-it-all ways.  But I couldn’t totally dislike her because Montgomery does show how horribly mistreated she was in her former situation.  I was glad that Miss Cornelia adopted her, even if her improvement in life led her to be even more insufferable.

My favorite aspect of Rainbow Valley was the emerging romance between Rev. Meredith and the spinster Rosemary West.  Rosemary and her sister Ellen lived together and Rosemary had promised her sister years before that she would never marry and leave her alone.  I was irritated initially by Ellen’s stubborn refusal to release Rosemary from her promise.  But then I considered Ellen’s plight and felt sympathy for her as a single woman in a time when single women had it pretty hard.

It is never quite safe to think we have done with life.  When we imagine we have finished our story fate has a trick of turning the page and showing us yet another chapter.  These two people each thought their hearts belonged irrevocably to the past; but they both thought their walk up that hill very pleasant. Rosemary thought the Glen minister was by no means as ashy and tongue-tied as he had been represented.  He seemed to find no difficulty in talking easily and freely.  Glen housewives would have been amazed had they heard him.  But then so many Glen housewives talked only gossip and the price of eggs, and John Meredith was not interested in either.  He talked to Rosemary of books and music and wide-world doings and something of his own history, and found that she could understand and respond.

 I  also loved that John and Ellen got along so well – she even thought at one point “what a great brother-in-law he’d make!  Oh well, Rosemary promised!”  I won’t spoil what happens in the end but, if you’ll note, I do categorize this under “Comfort Reads” so draw your own conclusions!  

So why did I rate this three stars and not more?  It’s pretty simple – not enough Anne!  My favorites of the series – the third, fourth, and fifth books – were Anne-heavy and she was a dynamic character.  Now that she’s middle-aged and a mother of six she has kind of faded into the background, unfortunately.  Overall Rainbow Valley was a comforting  story, with Montgomery’s almost cinematic descriptions of the natural landscape, charming children, and a sweet romance.  Perhaps I’m unfair to compare it to the others in the series (I dare say one could read this as a standalone and enjoy it) but I can’t help but find the lack of Anne a bit disappointing.  If I’d read this as a child I would probably have liked it more, since the Meredith kids are so spunky and appealing.

So, just one more book to go!  I’m excited that I’ve managed to stick with the Readalong! Have you read Rainbow Valley?  What did you think?

Anne of Ingleside by L.M. Montgomery (#AnneReadalong2017)

Well, that was life.  Gladness and pain…hope and fear… and change.  Always change.  You could not help it.  You had the let the old go and take the new to your heart… learn to love it and the let it go in turn.  Spring, lovely as it was, must yield to summer and summer lose itself to autumn.  The birth… the bridal… the death.

There’s something about giving a two-star rating to an Anne of Green Gables book that just makes me feel bad, guilty, like a Grinch.  After all, Anne Blythe and her family are so earnest and well-meaning, and the above quotation has some undeniably Zen truth to it, but Anne of Ingleside (#6 in the series) is my least favorite so far.  This one was mostly about the kiddos.  They were cute, precocious, mostly well-behaved… but after a while I grew weary of their antics.  Here’s a sad dog story.  Here’s another sad dog story.  Here’s where one kid is terribly naive and gets tricked into doing something naughty by a devious schoolmate.  Here’s another kid being gullible and doing something naughty at the behest of a different devious schoolmate.  By the time I got to Rilla’s story I just didn’t care anymore and I skimmed to the next anecdote.

77391It starts off with Anne being very pregnant and soon the kids are being shipped off so she can give birth at home.  The kids have no clue what’s going on, and they think Mom’s gonna die.  The whole thing made me intensely grateful for birth control and hospitals, honestly.  Then the reader is made to suffer along with the Blythe family through the extended visit of the delightful Aunt Mary Maria.  Oh my God!  She was horrible.  I thought she would never leave.  It did make me laugh that Anne finally ran her off by trying to do something nice for her.  The only thing that brightened the entire section was Susan’s wanting to fling a full gravy boat at her head.  (I wish she had!)

It wasn’t all bad, though.  I very much related to Anne whenever she took a moment to think about how quickly her children were growing up.  As the mother of a six year-old I am keenly aware of how quickly time is passing and am determined to enjoy my boy being “little” as fully as I can before he becomes too big to be sweet and demonstrative with his affections.  Those sections really resonated with me.

I also enjoyed the very last bit about Anne feeling tossed aside and underappreciated by Gilbert.  Gilbert appears to have forgotten their anniversary, or so Anne thinks, and instead wants to go visit an old flame, the glamorous and childless Christine Stuart.  Anne tortures herself with anxiety and doubt (“But did anybody really like red hair?”) and decides that Gilbert has grown tired of her.  (“Men had always been like that… always would be.”)  Gilbert gives a kind of lame excuse that he’d been terribly worried about a patient.  And his anniversary gift had been late in coming (so he didn’t even tell his wife “Happy Anniversary, dear!  Your present is late, I’m sorry, but I still love you and think you’re beautiful!”)  Hmmmph.  He says something like “Oh, Anne, I didn’t think you were the type to need things like that said to you.”  Clearly Words of Affirmation is not Gilbert’s love language.  Well, Anne is happy with his explanations, at least, and all is well as we end our time in Ingleside.  Gilbert tells her they’re going to go on a second honeymoon to Europe.  Please tell me we get to read about this in one of the last two books in the series!  I’ll feel terribly cheated if we don’t get to hear about their travels.

Two more books to go in the series before the end of the year!  (Yes, I’m a bit late with this review – should have posted it in October.)  I’m still glad I’m reading these, as they are beloved by so many book bloggers and are such a classic reading experience for so many.  Participating in the Readalong has given me the structure I need to keep going till the end!  I would have thrown in the towel on my own, so I’m grateful to Jane and Jackie for continuing to spearhead the Readalong with such enthusiasm!

If you’ve read this one, what did you think of Gilbert’s anniversary snafu?  Did you find the antics of the children tiresome?  What were some of the bright spots for you?  Is #7 in the series better?  Let me know in the comments.

 

 

Thoughts on Anne of the Island by L.M. Montgomery #AnneReadalong2017 (Book 8 of #20BooksofSummer)

Note: Jane at Greenish Bookshelf and Jackie at Death By Tsundoku are co-hosting an Anne of Green Gables series readalong for the remainder of the year.  Check out their blogs for more info on how to join the fun!

“I suppose you’ve gone and refused Gilbert Blythe.  You are an idiot, Anne Shirley!” –Philippa (Phil) Gordon

Anne IslandWell, I’m squeaking in at the last minute with the review of this!  I absolutely loved Anne of the Island.  Hands down it’s my favorite of the series so far.  I could see myself reading this one again in years to come even if I don’t read any of the others.  There is something beguiling about Anne’s experience of college.  Maybe it reminds me of my own wonderful college years – the fun and friendship, the first taste of freedom, the sense that anything could happen on any given day.

The focus of the book returns to Anne herself, rather than Davy and Dora or her neighbors, as was the case in the last book.  We see Anne cementing friendships, fending off marriage proposals right and left, and studying hard.  We see her watch her friends, particularly the ones back home, pair off and begin to get married.  Anne is content to be by herself, and even Gilbert Blythe’s gentle but steady attention is too much for her.  She is afraid to lose the friendship that they have and she’s attached to her romantic ideal, which she thinks Gilbert doesn’t meet.   It’s frustrating watching Anne crush his heart and push him away.  I was so pleased when good old Phil called her an idiot!  I practically pumped my fist in the air in solidarity!  I do understand that she just wasn’t ready to make the commitment to Gilbert, and to the seriousness of those adult emotions.  Still, it was rather maddening when everyone around her could see how perfect they were for one another and she couldn’t.

Speaking of Phil, she’s a great addition to these books, isn’t she? I do hope she turns up in future installments.  Besides calling Anne an idiot, I loved it when she said, early on, “I’ve been feeling a little blue – just a pale, elusive azure.  It isn’t serious enough for anything darker.”  Her own love story arc is sweet as well.

There was that whole unpleasant episode with the cat who wouldn’t die, and the mention of Mr. Harrison’s dog who was hung twice, but I guess times were different when it came to animals, weren’t they?  They didn’t exactly have mobile spay and neuter trucks coming to the local park, or a vet to come to the house with an injection.  Still, that sort of jarred me a bit.

The pace of this book just zipped right along, especially in contrast to the previous book in the series, Anne of Avonlea.  Alternating between visits home and time at Redmond meant that we don’t get bogged down in one place for too long.  There was just enough Marilla, Mrs. Rachel, and Davy and Dora to ground Anne’s story, but not enough to become annoyed with.  I rather enjoyed meeting crotchety old Aunt Atossa!  She was a hoot!  Diana and Anne handled her rudeness perfectly, with a measure of amusement.  It was a most entertaining section, though.

I feel like my “review” of Anne of the Island is rather light, but I don’t have a lot to pick apart about this book!  It was a fast read; I thoroughly enjoyed it and eagerly returned to its pages when I had to put it down.  It made for perfect comfort reading.  I’ve heard from Melanie at Grab the Lapels that the odd numbered books are better than the even ones.  So far she’s right!  Despite that, I am excited to read next month’s book, Anne of Windy Poplars. Reminder:  anyone can join in on this readalong!  It’s going on for the remainder of the year, one book per month.

So, reader, have you read this series more than once?  Which is your favorite book?  Do you have any more suggestions for “comfort reading?”  I’m always looking to add to my list.

 

 

 

#AnneReadAlong2017: Thoughts on Anne of Green Gables

Note: Jane at Greenish Bookshelf and Jackie at Death By Tsundoku are co-hosting an Anne of Green Gables series readalong for the remainder of the year.  Check out their blogs for more info on how to join the fun!

IMG_1643Having somehow not read any of the Anne of Green Gables series as a child (too busy reading Sweet Valley High and Babysitter’s Club, I guess) I read the first book as an adult in 2009.  I remember being quite charmed by it, but I didn’t feel the need to continue with the series for some reason.  (I get like that – it usually takes me years to complete series – too many books calling me!)  But since I’ve been book blogging, I started feeling left out of the know when it came to L. M. Montgomery’s classics.  It seemed everyone was speaking a language that I didn’t understand as I kept seeing posts about the series.  So when the #AnneReadAlong came up, I knew I wanted to join and give myself the push I needed to complete the series.  I read my library branch’s copy, which is a donation to our collection.  It’s a Canadian edition from 1942, and it has some nice illustrations.

On a second reading of Anne of Green Gables, I immediately questioned whether or not I was a horrible person.  At first, I felt irritated by Anne’s cheerfulness, her constant chirping about “how splendid!” everything was. Had I grown that cynical and cranky in eight years? I worried, is this a taste of my future as a crotchety old woman?!?

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Gilbert teasing Anne.

And then, thankfully, I began to let Montgomery’s sweet story work its charms on me.  I started to feel envious of Anne and her friends walking to and from school and one another’s houses, enjoying the beautiful natural world of Prince Edward Island.  I spend almost no time outdoors on a regular workday, sadly, and I almost never walk anywhere – to the park and back with my son when I’m off, but that’s about it.  I do love noticing birds and flowers and trees, so I feel like I connect with Anne in that way.  But my experience of modern life is probably true for many other people who live in suburbs, commute to work in cars, and work inside air-conditioned buildings.  What it must have been like to be that connected to the natural rhythms of the seasons, to be so attuned to every flowering of buds and beautiful sunset.  Yep, I’m jealous.

I was also struck by how different children seem to be now compared to the early part of the twentieth century.  When Anne was 12, she seemed so much more innocent and naive than modern twelve year-olds.  But when she was 16 she seemed so much more independent and organized than many sixteen year-olds today.  Children became “adults” much faster than we seem to now, in that they started working and getting married so much earlier, and yet while they were children they were able to fully be children and indulge their imaginations and be silly and playful.

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Anne on the Barry roof

I fell in love with Matthew Cuthbert, of course, and his devotion to Anne.  (“Matthew would have thought that anyone who praised Anne was ‘all right.'”)  His quiet determination to let Anne have a dress like the ones the other girls wear and his being flustered in the store is just priceless. I’m so glad that Anne had Matthew’s gentle adoration to counter-balance Marilla’s undemonstrative demeanor.  And yet I found myself liking Marilla more and more as the book continued.  I especially identified with her once Anne had gone to study at Queen’s, and Marilla came home to a quiet house with a “gable room at the end of the hall (that) was untenanted by any vivid young life and unstirred by any soft breathing.”  Any parent can empathize with Marilla’s grief, whether or not their child has left the nest yet.

So many of you have read this series that I’m not going to do anything like a plot summary, but I do want to highlight some of my favorite quotations and passages.  Some are funny; some are just highly quotable words of wisdom.

Marilla to Rachel Lynde when she expresses doubts about them adopting a child:  “And as for the risk, there’s risks in pretty near everything a body does in this world.”

Anne, anticipating a picnic: “I have never tasted ice-cream.  Diana tried to explain what it was like, but I guess ice-cream is one of those things that are beyond imagination.”  SO TRUE, ANNE.

Marilla, after Anne’s adventure on the roof:  “There’s one thing plain to be seen, Anne,” said Marilla, “and that is your fall off the Barry roof hasn’t injured your tongue at all.”  Ha!

Anne, to Marilla at age thirteen: “It’s perfectly appalling to think of being twenty, Marilla.  It sounds so fearfully old and grown up.”

Anne: “Look at that sea, girls – all silver and shadow and visions of things not seen.  We couldn’t enjoy its loveliness any more if we had millions of dollars and ropes of diamonds…”  Jane: “I don’t know- exactly,” said Jane, unconvinced.  “I think diamonds would comfort a person for a good deal.”  I like how you think, Jane!

I’m so glad I have an excuse to continue with the series!  This is just the breath of fresh air I need to inject my reading life with a little sweetness and wholesomeness.  Modern fiction can be so…you know…depressing!  I mean, don’t get me wrong, I like depressing as much as the next 21st century bookworm, but this is a nice change of pace.  On to Book 2 – Anne of Avonlea!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Anne of Green Gables Readalong!

Jackie at Death By Tsundoku posted today about the Anne of Green Gables Readalong.  She is co-hosting with Jane at Greenish Bookshelves.  I read the first book in the series some years ago, as an adult.  I don’t know how I managed to get through childhood without reading them!  But I never continued with the rest of the series.  I feel like I’ve missed something! Hardly a week goes by that I don’t see a post somewhere referencing those books. I’m tired of feeling left out of the loop.  So I’m joining up now, even though May is over halfway finished.

Here are the details (per Jackie) in case you’re interested in joining:

  1. Each month, starting in May, we will read and review one book in the series. Not sure if you can read all 8? No worries! Just join in for what you can, even if you are posting “late”.
  2. Post your review on your blog, website, YouTube channel, etc. and link in our monthly posts! 
  3. Read, comment, and participate on other Anne lovers’ posts, and on Twitter with #AnneReadAlong2017.

May – Anne of Green Gables

June – Anne of Avonlea

July – Anne of the Island

August – Anne of Windy Poplars

September – Anne’s House of Dreams

October – Anne of Ingleside

November – Rainbow Valley

December – Rilla of Ingleside

 

anne-of-green-gables-paperbacksAnyone interested in joining us?  Have you read this series – once or more than once?

The Long Lost Middlemarch Wrap-up

(The #Marchalong is over!  Many thanks to Juhi from Nooks and Crannies for hosting the Middlemarch readalong and giving me an excuse to reread this marvelous book!)

Oh yeah!  I was supposed to write a post about the final section of Middlemarch, Book Eight, “Sunset and Sunrise.”  I finished reading this marvelous chunkster of a book on July 12, according to Goodreads.  If you’ve been following my Middlemarch posts thus far (and God bless you!) you know that I love this book.  I love that it took me five months to finish it.  If I’d had a tighter deadline for reading and posting, I probably wouldn’t have signed up for the readalong.cover_image

We left off in Book Seven with Dorothea aghast at the unsavory allegations directed towards Lydgate.  We begin Book Eight with the Misters Farebrother, Chettham, and Brooke trying to persuade her not to get involved.  (I love Dorothea’s impassioned question, “What do we live for, if it is not to make life less difficult to each other?  I cannot be indifferent to the troubles of a man who advised me in my trouble, and attended me in my illness.”)

Rather than summarize the plot, I simply want to highlight some of my favorite quotations from this section.  I know that some of you have expressed a desire to read Middlemarch at some point, and I don’t want to spoil it.  (If you can spoil a book published in 1872!)

When Mrs. Bulstrode tells her husband that she knows all the allegations against him:

He raised his eyes with a little start and looked at her half amazed for a moment:her pale face, her changed, mourning dress, the trembling about her mouth, all said, “I know;” and her hands and eyes rested gently on him.  He burst out crying and they cried together, she sitting at his side.  They could not yet speak to each other of the shame which she was bearing with him, or of the acts that had brought it down on them.  His confession was silent, and her promise of faithfulness was silent.  Open-minded as she was, she nevertheless shrank from the words which would have expressed their mutual consciousness as she would have shrunk from the flakes of fire. She could not say, “How much is only slander and false suspicion?” and he did not say, “I am innocent.”

After Dorothea sees Rosamund and Will in what she assumes is a romantic interlude, and Rosamund tells Will to go after Dorothea and explain:

“Explain!  Tell a man to explain how he dropped into hell!  Explain my preference!  I never had a preference for her, any more than I have a preference for breathing.  No other woman exists by the side of her.  I would rather touch her hand if it were dead than I would touch any other woman’s living.”

When Dorothea and Will finally confront one another and unburden their souls:

While he was speaking their came a vivid flash of lightning which lit each of them up for the other – and the light seemed to be the terror of a hopeless love.  Dorothea darted instantaneously from the window; Will followed her, seizing her hand with a spasmodic movement; and so they stood, with their hands clasped, like two children, looking out on the storm, while the thunder gave a tremendous crack and roll above them, and the rain began to pour down.  Then they turned their faces towards each other, with the memory of his last words in them, and they did not loose each other’s hands.

This book is about everything:  love and marriage, the pitiful education of females in the 19th century, finding the courage to discover your calling, class consciousness, changing political times, spending above your means, honesty, flirtation, altruism, and what constitutes a good life.  There are many strands to the web that Eliot spins, but they are all beautifully connected and come together in surprising ways.  It is funny, witty, comforting, astute – and sometimes feels so modern that I can’t believe it was written almost 150 years ago.  I admit that I’ve missed delving into its pages and visiting its characters over the past few weeks. This is a book that I will take the time to read again in the years to come.