October 27, 2013

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Author: L.M. Montgomery
Published: 1910
Rating: B-
Genre: Romance, Novella

For those of you familiar with classic Disney films, recall this scene from Sleeping Beauty: Prince Philip is riding through a forest when he hears beautiful singing. Entranced, he searches for the source of the music and finds a beautiful maiden dancing with her animal friends. They meet and fall in love, but, before they can live happily ever after, the curse inflicted on the girl at birth must be undone. This is Kilmeny of the Orchard in a nutshell—minus the dancing animal friends. Handsome Eric Marshall, a substitute teacher, hears beautiful music in a beautiful orchard and finds a beautiful maiden named Kilmeny Gordon. He falls in love with her pretty face and childlike innocence, but she won’t marry him until he solves the riddle of of her one and only flaw, her muteness.

I love L.M. Montgomery’s stories because they’re usually about imaginative and strong-willed women. Kilmeny is characterized only by her beauty and naivety; she’s the conventional pure woman of fairy tales. This story was not my favorite (and I suppose I was bound to dislike a story eventually). Perhaps the author’s only intent was to write a romance containing little substance. If so, then the story is well-written escapism.

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October 19, 2013

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I suppose I lied when I said that there would be no L.M. Montgomery books to review for a little while. Well, I completely forgot about my other project, which was to read all of her journal volumes!

Author: L.M. Montgomery (Edited by Mary Henley Rubio and Elizabeth Hillman Waterston)
Published: 2012
Rating: A
Genre: Journal, Nonfiction

Although L.M. Montgomery’s journals—carefully tidied up by both the author and various editors—have been published since the 1980s, it wasn’t until 2012 that “unabridged” versions of her journals began being published. Unlike the selected journals, these new volumes promise to present the iconic Canadian author in a newer light.

L.M. Montgomery began keeping a journal before she was fifteen, but burned it because she was embarrassed by what she had written. At fifteen, she decided it was time to stop writing bland descriptions of the weather and record her everyday musings and profound ideas. The first seven or eight years of the journal are slow-moving and are perhaps only fascinating to those interested in the author and the inspiration behind her famous books. From her descriptions of her childhood home (Cavendish, Prince Edward Island), school, family members, and friends, it’s easy to see where the places and people of Avonlea originated. The last two years reveal a darker and more passionate side of Maud that, I think, only shows hints of itself in her later books. She is no longer a carefree teenager and now sees the world “as it really is.”

If you are a devoted L.M. Montgomery fan, this book is an excellent companion to her novels. The journals are also a good resource for those interested in Eastern Canada in the late nineteenth century. The author included many of her own pictures and I found them fascinating to look at.

To-night I went to the shore. It was a glorious evening. The sea was gleaming blue, the western sky a poem of rose and gold, emerald and azure. The sea’s blue changed to silver gray, with the boats gliding over its shimmering glory, homeward bound. When our boat came in I came home through the purple dusk, with lurid bolts of lightning hurtling over the dark clouds on the south-east horizon.

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October 13, 2013

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Author: Hannah Kent
Published: 2013
Rating: B+
Genre: Historical

“Snow lay over the valley like linen, like a shroud waiting for the dead body of sky that slumped overhead.”

Burial Rites is the beautifully gloomy story of Agnes Magnúsdóttir, a woman accused of murder and the last person sentenced to death in Iceland. Sent to a remote farm to await her execution, Agnes lives her last days working for the family housing her and telling her story to the sympathetic priest she chooses for spiritual counseling.

Hannah Kent dubbed her debut novel “a dark love letter to Iceland.” In this very interesting interview, she discusses the questions she wanted to answer in her quest to portray Agnes as humanly as possible: “Who was she? What had her early years been like? What forces had shaped her, or at least contributed to the trajectory of her life and its brutal end? Writing this book was an act of empathy, rather than sympathy. The historical Agnes was undoubtedly complex.” As the events and details leading up to the murder are revealed, black and white become shades of grey. The real message of the story is not what Agnes did and if she was innocent or guilty, but why she had to to do what she did.

“To know what a person has done, and to know who a person is, are very different things.”

While readers were allowed to access Agnes’ thoughts through select chapters told in her voice, there were other characters that I would have liked to have known better before the story ended. The story had a habit of providing only brief glimpses of certain characters’ thoughts before pulling the reader back into Agnes’ mind. I wanted to know what happened to the other women in the story—what happened to Margret, to Steina, to Lauga, to Sigga? And what about the priest, Tóti? The epilogue provided some answers, but I was still disappointed. The story was almost as much about them and the fingerprint Agnes left on their lives.

Iceland might also be considered an important character. The story would not have unraveled the way it did had it not been for the country’s harsh landscapes and weather—the snow, the cold, and the wind. Hannah Kent brought nineteenth-century Iceland to life so beautifully in her writing. Iceland has such a rich history and I want to go there one day.

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October 10, 2013

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This is the last L.M. Montgomery review for a little while, I promise! I am now finally caught up with reviewing.

Author: L.M. Montgomery
Published: 1925
Rating: B+
Genre: Canadian

“As she walked along she dramatized the night. There was about it a wild, lawless charm that appealed to a certain wild, lawless strain hidden deep in Emily’s nature—the strain of the gypsy and the poet, the genius and the fool.”

Emily desperately wants to join her friends at school in Shrewsbury, but unimaginative Aunt Elizabeth will only let her go if she promises to stop writing. Because Emily would sooner die than not write, she convinces her aunt to let her go if she promises only to write the truth.

At first, writing only facts is difficult. But Emily soon discovers that she can only better her writing by observing and describing the interesting characters and beautiful landscapes around her. With the truth, the young author begins her climb to success. She must also make a very important decision about what is most important to her.

What I admire most about Emily is her ambition. She is confident about her writing talent, but she is also constantly learning how to better it. The concept of only writing truths was an interesting one for me because I realized that this is precisely why L.M. Montgomery is so revered. Her characters often have vivid imaginations and a hunger for romance, but what would her stories be without her colourful characters, social commentary and criticisms, and descriptions of nature?

I am looking forward to finding a copy of the third book and finishing the series!

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October 10, 2013

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I am finally able to review my recent reads! To make the presentation more interesting, I decided to find L.M. Montgomery book covers different from the editions I read. I hope you enjoy the variety as much as I do! This needs to be said: twentieth-century book cover Anne is far more acceptable than new 2010s Anne.

Author: L.M. Montgomery
Published: 1917
Rating: A-
Genre: Canadian

Anne and Gilbert, finally married, begin their new life together by relocating to Four Winds Harbour. Anne can’t believe her luck that her new home is her house of dreams. Everything about it, from the rooms with character to the beautiful trees outside, is perfect.

Anne’s new friends provide the bulk of the drama in the fifth book of the Anne of Green Gables series. There is Captain Jim, the lighthouse attendant whose dream is to have his life story recorded and remembered. There is also Leslie Moore, a beautiful and sad woman who finds solace in Anne’s friendship. When a handsome writer visits Four Winds in search of a story, Anne thinks she has found Captain Jim’s storyteller and, despite certain unfortunate circumstances, romance for Leslie.

I liked this book more than I thought I would. I always thought Anne’s House of Dreams, which I started reading when I was around nine or ten and never finished, was the end of spunky, imaginative Anne. I’ve read other reviews that lamented the fact that Anne, an educated woman, didn’t pursue a writing career and instead became a boring wife and mother (and what is so wrong with that?). However, I think the overarching theme of the book is that dreams don’t always turn out the way you envisioned them to. Dreams often give way to practicality—and this isn’t always a bad thing. And old Anne is still there. She’s just grown up.

“Tears can be happy as well as sad. My very happiest moments have been when I had tears in my eyes—when Marilla told me I might stay at Green Gables—when Matthew gave me the first pretty dress I ever had—when I heard that you were going to recover from the fever. So give me pearls for our troth ring, Gilbert, and I’ll willingly accept the sorrow of life with its joy.”

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October 9, 2013

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Author: L.M. Montgomery
Published: 1915
Rating: B
Genre: Canadian

Anne Shirley leaves her beloved Avonlea for Redmond College. She misses Green Gables dearly, but is soon gleefully preoccupied with newfound independence, new friends, school exams, and even potential love interests.

This volume of the Anne of Green Gables series is perhaps the most unexciting (of the ones I have read so far, anyway). The story is, simply put, a series of charming anecdotes about Anne’s life at school. However, I found comparing college life in the late 1800s to college life today really interesting—and, in many ways, it isn’t that much different. Having read the author’s account of her college days at Dalhousie University in Nova Scotia, I can see where she got her inspiration from.

And, yes, this is the book where Anne realizes she loves a certain someone. I confess to reading it for that reason alone and I was not disappointed.

Finally, the following is a paragraph about the death of Anne’s childhood friend that I can’t forget (I omitted the name to avoid spoilers):

“Anne walked home slowly in the moonlight. The evening had changed something for her. Life held a different meaning, a deeper purpose. On the surface it would go on just the same; but the deeps had been stirred. It must not be with her as with poor butterfly [name]. When she came to the end of one life it must not be to face the next with the shrinking terror of something wholly different—something for which accustomed thought and ideal and aspiration had fitted her. The little things of life, sweet and excellent in their place, must not be the things lived for; the highest must be sought and followed; the life of heaven must be begun here on earth.”

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October 8, 2013

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Author: L.M. Montgomery
Published: 1923
Rating: A-
Genre: Canadian, Children’s

I first read Emily of New Moon when I was in grade four. I decided to read it again because I thought it was horribly boring the first time and my recollection of the story comes mostly from the television show that I watched on and off when it aired. Aside from my familiarity with the characters, reading the story again was like reading it for the first time and, because I am older, I have a new appreciation for it.

“It had always seemed to Emily, ever since she could remember, that she was very, very near to a world of wonderful beauty. Between it and herself hung only a thin curtain; she could never draw the curtain aside—but sometimes, just for a moment, a wind fluttered it and then it was as if she caught a glimpse of the enchanting realm beyond—only a glimpse—and heard a note of unearthly music.”

When Emily Byrd Starr’s father dies, she is sent to New Moon to live with her two aunts—one overly strict and the other kind-hearted—and eccentric cousin Jimmy. From the beginning, Emily’s ambition to become a famous writer is clear. The story unfolds as Emily gains inspiration from the interesting characters she encounters, her new friends (including one of my favorite characters, the foul-mouthed Ilse Burnley), local stories, and the beauty of the world around her. All of this will shape her into the writer she will become.

Comparisons of Emily to L.M. Montgomery’s other famous orphan, Anne Shirley, are inevitable. The storytelling is similar and both series are about imaginative and often misunderstood girls. But the Emily series is different because there are supernatural elements that are not present in the Anne series. As well, we get to venture inside Emily’s head through her secret letters to her dead father. The letters mature throughout the book and, even though it seems like the story has no beginning and end, character development is there and the reader realizes that the story is more about the blossoming of childhood fancies into realistic ambition than any external series of events.

Another thing I noticed about the Emily series so far was the Charlotte Bronte influence. For example, there is a scene where Emily is punished by being locked in a red room. Terrified of the pictures of her dead relatives, Emily climbs out of the window and runs away. This reminded me of the Red Room incident in Jane Eyre—the difference being that Jane stayed. I think that many of the supernatural parts of Emily of New Moon were influenced by Victorian novels like Jane Eyre.

“When I read that the flash came, and I took a sheet of paper… and I wrote on it: I, Emily Byrd Starr, do solemnly vow this day that I will climb the Alpine Path and write my name on the scroll of fame.”

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October 8, 2013

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Author: L.M. Montgomery
Published: 1921
Rating: A+
Genre: Canadian

I will be writing about many L.M. Montgomery books in the next few months. After reading The Blue Castle last year, I decided to read all of her books and journals. This was my Summer 2013 project, but I am far from finished. L.M. Montgomery is a fascinating author and I love her writing and characters so much. For those unfamiliar with the series, feel free to explore the first six books right here.

“She wanted to be alone—to think things out—to adjust herself, if it were possible, to the new world in which she seemed to have been transplanted with a suddenness and completeness that left her half bewildered to her own identity.”

Fifteen-year-old Rilla is the youngest of Anne and Gilbert Blythe’s children. On the eve of her first dance, Rilla, thinking only of pretty dresses and the handsome Kenneth Ford, suddenly encounters the grown-up reality of war. Very soon her brothers and childhood friends go off to fight overseas and the women must wait for news at home, mustering what strength they can to contribute to the war effort. When Rilla brings home a war baby, no one believes she is responsible enough to take care of it. Rilla is determined to prove them wrong—and becomes a strong young woman in the process.

Even though I love L.M. Montgomery’s beloved Anne Shirley with all my heart, I think the final Anne of Green Gables book (where Anne is a background character) is the best in the series. While the other books were lovely accounts of Anne’s life with vague starts and finishes, Rilla has a discernible plot. The events of World War I provide the framework of the story, so the subject matter is markedly darker and more heartbreaking. Even though the story is fiction, the thoughts and emotions are very real and I know they come from the author and her experiences. The sadness of WWI never hit me so hard before.

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October 7, 2013

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Author: Sappho (translated by Willis Barnstone)
Published: 2009
Rating: A+
Genre: Poetry

I read this in early 2013 and, since the book is not a novel, I am not really writing a review. I wanted to make a few comments because Sappho is an interesting figure to me and I had wanted to read her poetry for a long time.

Some say cavalry and others claim
infantry or a fleet of long oars
is the supreme sight on the black earth.
I say it is

the one you love. And easily proved.
Didn’t Helen, who far surpassed
all in beauty, desert the best of men
her husband and king

and sailed off to Troy and forget
her daughter and her dear parents? Merely
love’s gaze made her bend
and led her

from her path.

Sappho, who died around 570 BC, is the most prominent and well-known female poet of Ancient Greece. She is perhaps most famous for poems about her affection for the young female students in her school. Unfortunately, her poetry survives mostly in fragments and only a few of her poems are available in their entirety. However, the simplicity and mysteriousness of their presentation, for me, fueled my interest even more.

Someone, I tell you, in another time
will remember us.

This collection of her poetry is well-formatted and organized, with useful notes about poems wrongly attributed to Sappho, biographical information, and discussions about how Sappho’s poems have been received and even censored throughout the years. I highly recommend this book to lovers of Ancient Greece.

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October 7, 2013

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First of all, I apologize to my one or two visitors for being absent for so long. I will write a post about my current reading project soon. I am planning to get back into reviewing regularly, but my future reviews might be shorter—depending on how inspired I am by whatever book I read.

Author: John Green
Published: 2005
Rating: B-
Genre: General, Young Adult

A fan of famous people’s last words, Miles is preoccupied by his quest for “the great perhaps.” He doesn’t seem to grasp the significance of last words until he is sent to an Alabama boarding school and befriends the enigmatic and daring Alaska Young.

The theme of Looking for Alaska is not a subtle one. Reminders of last words, death, finding purpose in monotony, and so on are present on almost every page. The book is a very readable collection of awkward moments and angsty musings and I understand why so many people loved this book.

I was curious about the author and book behind half of all the Tumblr inspirational quotations that appear on my dashboard. There are many phrases in the book worth remembering, but I think those sparks of philosophical inspiration are the only things in the book that grabbed my attention as the story and characters never stood out as anything special for me. I feel like I have read this book and watched this movie before (Perks of Being a Wallflower comes to mind). John Green is an interesting author and person to be sure, so I think I will read at least one another book written by him before I form a final opinion about his writing.

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