Thursday, January 26, 2017

Looking for Anne, by Irene Gammel

Looking for Anne was my personal read for the L.M. Montgomery reading challenge this past month. I finished it a few days ago, thoroughly happy with it in spite of what I would consider some flaws. This title kept me thoroughly and engaged from beginning to end.

Looking for Anne is a study, an investigation, and an imagined fancy of what Montgomery was thinking about when writing Anne of Green Gables and what aspects of her life may have played a role in creating this beloved classic.

In this book, Gammel lays out certain events that were happening in Maud's life as she began putting Anne's story together. Gammel makes note of unpublished journal entries, considers what books and/or magazines Montgomery had likely read, and relies on letters between various individuals to explain what elements came together to inspire the red-headed Anne Shirley.

Most fascinating for me was seeing a picture of a young lady named Evelyn Nesbit whose picture Montgomery had cut out of a magazine and pasted in her journal. Along with the picture was a written explanation that this is how Montgomery imagined Anne in her mind's eye. Here is a picture of Nesbit for your benefit:

Montgomery didn't name Nesbit in her journal and its rather doubtful that she ever bothered to find out who she was. If she had, she might never have claimed Nesbit as an inspiration considering Nesbit's character and history. Nesbit has a rather sordid history which makes for sensational reading if you are interested in such things. It's hard for me to imagine Nesbit as Anne but that's to be expected, given all of the years I've spent imagining her as Megan Follows. Ha. Still, it's interesting information.

My chief disagreement with Gammel comes at her line of questions surrounding Montgomery's sexuality. She does point out that noted Montgomery scholar Mary Henley Rubio flatly denied that Montgomery was a lesbian. If Rubio's answer had been allowed stand, Gammel would have had a much shorter book. Alas, there were pages to fill! Gammel spends considerable time examining all of Montgomery's female friendships and her interactions with them. Chiefly she focuses on correspondence between Maud and friends, noting that their letters included endearing text suggesting something other than friendship. In my opinion, society today wants to point out that there famous homosexuals and lesbians throughout history for people to take pride in. While I definitely do agree that the issue of homosexuality has long rankled history, I don't think that everyone who has ever been famous should be suspect. Gammel really spends quite a bit of time on this topic and while I see and understand what would lead her to such questions, I also think she was straining at the bit. I have a few dear friends of my own that I address in special terms that I don't use for others. When you have a good, close, tight friend I think it's completely natural that you would have little nicknames, special secrets, and that you would engage in some activities that you wouldn't with someone else that you trust less.

I'm a rather extreme introvert. The real me is known by only a select few. I can completely see and understand how Montgomery would draw a particular female (or two) at a time and trust them with her innermost thoughts. Those friendships would have access to certain parts of her which were off limits to the general public. That in no way means that there is a romantic relationship but merely suggests an intense friendship to me. Montgomery and I share very many similar traits so I wouldn't assume that she had interest in women sexually but that she was just an intensely private person who poured her heart and loyalties out on those she truly loved (in a platonic way).

I don't mean to cast aspersions on Looking for Anne or suggest that you wouldn't want to read it. As I mentioned, I thoroughly enjoyed it. There's much to learn and glean from Gammel and, if nothing else, it encourages you to consider Montgomery's world a little bit more thoroughly and how it was that she was influenced by the community she lived in, as well as the books and activities she exposed herself to.

Certainly I have no regrets in reading this title. I enjoyed it! I don't know that I could say everyone would, but I did and thank Gammel for the enjoyable ride.

Monday, January 09, 2017

What We're Reading for the LMM Challenge (2017)

While everyone else has begun to figure out which Montgomery books they are reading during the month of January in conjunction with the Lucy Maud Montgomery Reading Challenge, I figured I should share my reads as well.

The last few years of this challenge I've focused on reading The Story Girl (back in 2015) and its sequel, The Golden Road (in 2016) aloud to my kids. A few months back I read Anne of Green Gables to them for the first time. I was saving it until I thought they would have a good chance at appreciating it. You can only imagine my state of mind when I told my kids we were down to the last few chapters and the following conversation ensued:

Me: "We only have a few chapters left and then we'll be done and you guys can watch the movie."
Daughter (age 5): "Oh, but I don't WANT it to be over!!"
Me: "Why not?"
Daughter: "Because I love it so much."

Sweet, sweet music to my ears. I almost died of happiness.

I can't believe I never got around to writing down all of the kids' impressions of Anne of Green Gables but such is life. It's been a busy season around these parts. Nevertheless, I didn't want January to pass us by and my miss an opportunity to read a little bit more Montgomery to them. This year I opted to read aloud Magic for Marigold.

I picked this one for a few reasons:

1. I want my kids to be aware of Montgomery's lesser known characters and not just her most famous ones.
2. They have a growing affinity for Montgomery and accept her people rather wholeheartedly.
3. I haven't read Magic for Marigold since 2014.

We're about four chapters into the story already and I'm on the fence about having picked this one to share with them. My kids (aged 4 to 10) are tracking with it for the most part. They laugh in the right parts and take interest in the characters. However I do think it is written with an adult audience in mind and much of it would seem to go over children's heads. We'll soldier on though and I know I'll hardly regret it.

For myself I chose Looking for Anne of Green Gables, by Irene Gammel.

This book has proved the perfect choice for me. I am absolutely loving it! So informative and interesting. It's distracting reading. Seriously, life has been so incredibly hectic lately I can't even begin to describe it. However, this book has forced my mind to slow down and find enjoyment in learning more about Montgomery. Montgomery and her characters really are a passion of mine and I love being distracted by a good book about both. Somehow or another, spending time with or around Montgomery leaves me feeling very calm and relaxed, introspective and grateful. She's fuel for my brain in some form or fashion so I'm grateful that January is here and it's time for this reading challenge!

I don't know if I'll manage to squeak in any additional Montgomery reads this month but I will certainly try. If I don't manage it I'm not too worried. The only thing I've decided about my reading goals for 2017 is to indulge in as much Montgomery as I like all the year long. If you are also a fan of this woman and her works, then stay tuned. I plan on spending a good bit of time with her these next few months.

Meantime, happy reading!

Saturday, January 07, 2017

Lucy Maud Montgomery Reading Challenge (2017)

L. M. Montgomery Reading Challenge

Hello, my friends! I might be a tad late launching the party but welcome to the 8th Annual Lucy Maud Montgomery Reading Challenge held every year in January right here at Reading to Know.

If you are new to this, here is the idea behind the challenge:

Read as much Montgomery as you can during the month of January.

Just that. Pure and simple.

Montgomery is my favorite female author of all time and I love beginning a new year with her quiet, spunky, imaginative characters. Despite the fact that her life was far from serene and perfect, she managed to create characters that have made the world laugh and smile for over 100 years. I take pleasure in her books, despite the fact that they are rather formulaic. I find them to be remarkably peaceful. They are quiet reads which keep a slow and steady pace and which continue to draw me back to them year after year after year. If you have not had the pleasure of reading a L.M. Montgomery book, I hope you'll take the time to do so this month. If you are looking for another excuse to take a leisurely walk around Prince Edward Island with some of your favorite friends, well then, please, let me provide that excuse!

I invite you to read any book by Montgomery or about Montgomery as part of this challenge. Audio books are, of course, very welcome as are the first two Anne movies created and produced by Kevin Sullivan. The only two things which never have and never will "count" towards participating in this challenge are the following:

  • Before Green Gables, by Budge Wilson. This is a made up history of Anne. It's the imaginings of another author about my most beloved Montgomery character.
  • I also do not allow the inclusion of Anne Of Green Gables - The Continuing Story because it's so far off the mark. This movie should be considered Anne heresy and is banned around these parts.

Consider these limitations a host's prerogative if you must. (Heh.)

Everything else is fair game.

What I ask participants in this challenge do is to write up a post on your own blog stating the following:

a.) That you intend to participate in this Lucy Maud Montgomery Reading Challenge;
b.) List which of her books you intend to read (or which movies you intend to watch); and
c.) Enjoy whatever it is that you manage to work through during the month.

I do hope you will join in and be a part of this reading challenge. I so enjoy hosting this every year and always try to learn something new about Montgomery as I read on. If you're planning to read along, please let me (and everyone else!) know in the comment section!

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

The Christmas Tree, by Julie Salamon

The Christmas Tree, by Julie Salamon was one of my personal reads this Christmas season. (You can see what the kids and I have read this year HERE.) I picked this title out of a list of recommended Christmas reads over at Goodreads. This title caught my eye because of the simplicity of the book art design. It looked cozy and calm and that's pretty much how I like my Christmas reads.

In The Christmas Tree we are introduced to the chief gardener at Rockefeller Center whose job it is to choose the annual Christmas tree which is displayed in Times Square. He's a somewhat jaded fellow who spends a good portion of the year seeking out a tree for the world to marvel at. To him it's more of a chore than a pleasure. I never really thought about how the tree at Rockefeller Center is chosen and so I found this book interesting from that angle alone; it does sound like an exhausting project. It was curious to think about how it's one person's job to fly over forests and property scouting out that perfect tree which helps represent the magic that is Christmas, not only to New Yorkers but to people all over America.

The gardener in this story is told about a possible Norway Spruce which is located on a piece of private property which is home to an Abbey. The Sisters of the Abbey are willing to let him take a look at their tree but he soon discovers that this tree holds a special place in the heart of one of them. It is one nun who has to grant permission for him to take the tree and she's not quite ready to say goodbye yet. The story revolves around the gardener, the nun and the tree. On this rather remarkable journey we learn to appreciate people and their individual stories over "stuff".

The Christmas Tree is a beautiful little story. It took me all of an hour to read but it's the sort that will stick with me for much longer. I loved it and will be keeping it around to reread in the future. Highly recommended.

Monday, December 19, 2016

Christmas Chapter Book Read Aloud Suggestions

Life is so crazy at the moment that half the time I don't know whether I'm coming or going. It feels like Christmas celebrations have to be very purposeful this year. Taking time to celebrate the season as a family amidst the busyness is a challenge but one that we've been striving towards. The week before Thanksgiving I launched us into our Christmas readalouds to make sure we'd have a chance at enjoying some fun stories throughout the month of December.

These are the books we've enjoyed:

We began with Keeping Holiday, by Starr Meade. We've read this title before, but our last reading of it was in 2013. Bookworm1 read this independently last year so he had some memory of it. To the youngest among us, this was a brand new story.

If you haven't heard of this title the best way I know how to describe it is that it is an allegory, not altogether unlike Pilgrim's Progress, geared towards children. Dylan and Clare are looking for the real town of Holiday and this story documents their journey finding it. You can read my full review of Keeping Holiday here.

All of the kids seemed to enjoy this title very much. If you are looking for a religious story that explains that we are in the "not yet" here on earth then this title is worthy of your consideration.

Next we read Christmas with Anne because I wanted to. This book is a collection of short stories by Lucy Maud Montgomery that focuses on the holiday season. Our family spent the better part of this year working our way through the Road to Avonlea series and so it seemed appropriate to top the year off with some tried and true Montgomery. If you tell my kids that a story is "like" Avonlea or that it is from Prince Edward Island, the chances are you will receive an enthusiastic response in presenting the option. Anne does make an appearance in this book (the chapter in which she receives her puffed sleeves from Matthew) but the book is a compilation of short stories not pertaining to any of Montgomery's other books or series.

The last time I indulged in this holiday read was back in 2008 so it was a nice visit for me as well. You can read my full review of Christmas With Anne HERE if you are interested in more information on this title. It can be a hard book to get your hands on, but if you come across it I highly recommend snatching it up!

Last year was the first year that I had read The Best Christmas Pageant Ever aloud to my kids and they really got such a big kick out of it then that I didn't want to miss the opportunity to enjoy it again. I threw that into our Christmas mix on the heals of Montgomery and we had a good time with it. As I said in my review last year, this isn't a book that I necessarily want my kids reading on their own, even though they are quite capable of doing so. I edited out the same things in my read aloud that I did the first go around and no one was the wiser or the sorrier.

If you are looking for a book to provide a good chuckle during the Christmas season, while still sharing the Gospel story, then this one is kind of a fun way to rehearse the Christmas story in a new way. (Don't replace your Gospel reading with this title by any means, but I think it's valid to suggest this title is a humorous way to retell the story while still being respectful.) You can read my full review of The Best Christmas Pageant Ever here.

A few years ago I picked up a copy of The Lion in the Box, by Marguerite De Angeli. We hadn't gotten around to reading it yet and so I figured on squeezing it in between reads. We read this one over the course of about two days and enjoyed it for what it was. I have to confess it wasn't my favorite but the kids all claim to love it and I can certainly understand why.

This story is set in New York City around the turn of the century. It tells the story of a poor family whose father has died. The mother works three jobs to keep herself and the children housed and fed. Although the family doesn't have very much, they are a happy crew. One Christmas Eve the family is surprised to receive a large box which has come courtesy of a well-to-do lady who met the mother and sympathized with her story. I'm sure my kids' imaginations were completely in gear when it came to unpacking this enormous box of goodies. The moral of the story is to be cheerful in all things and also to believe in miracles which sometimes happen. It's pretty formulaic and cheesy but it's Christmas and provides all the warm fuzzies that you could possibly want. From a Goodreads perusal it would seem that this story has been loved by a great many people. If I had been thinking about getting rid of the copy, I may have been swayed into keeping it once I checked its availability on Amazon.

We're finishing up our Christmas reads with Hank the Cowdog and The Wounded Buzzard on Christmas Eve. This is admittedly an unconventional read but it has been a lot of fun nonetheless.

I can't actually remember our last Hank the Cowdog read and I fear we might never have had one. Bookworm1 has read several titles independently but I have a sinking feeling that he's been the only one. As we launched into the read I realized that our younger kids weren't familiar with Hank, Drover, Slim, Loper and crew at all! Clearly I have fallen down on the job! I had to explain one or two things to them as we got into the story but, gratefully, this title can operate as a stand-alone if it must. (Listen carefully: No Hank the Cowdog book should stand alone. You should read a lot more than one.) In this particular story Wallace the Buzzard takes a nose dive into the windshield of Slim's pickup truck and a spirit of goodwill overtakes Hank and Drover in a desire to help the old buzzard out. Adventures abound (as does humor) throughout the story. Our kids are guffawing in all of the right places letting me know that Hank needs to occupy a larger place in our hearts in the coming year for truly, no childhood is complete without Hank the Cowdog.

And these, my friends, are the stories which have occupied our imaginations this December. Some old, some new with an emphasis on fun, I think. Rather, it's been fun for us and I'm grateful for each story we manage to tuck in with this Christmas. How about you all? What have you been reading this month?

Tuesday, December 06, 2016

The Girl Who Drank the Moon, by Kelly Barnhill

The Girl Who Drank the Moon is my first Kelly Barnhill book and is guaranteed not to be my last. From the very beginning of this book to the very end I was completely captivated by the story.

Open the pages of The Girl Who Drank the Moon and dive into a fantasy and adventure story which is both unique in nature and also remarkably well-crafted. Barnhill is a beautiful writer of prose and I enjoyed the sentences which made up beautiful paragraphs and chapters and book. The story begins with the explanation that every year the people of the Protectorate leave the newest born baby from their village in the forest as an offering to "the witch." No one has ever seen the witch but they are well-familiar with her and the overhanging threat that she will do Something Awful if they do not sacrifice one of their young to her on an annual basis. At the very beginning of the tale, we are introduced to a woman being forced to give up her baby girl and who succumbs to sorrow and madness as a result. She is locked away in a tower in the local abbey where the sisters see to her care. Or do they?

In the forest lives a witch who never asked to become one. Her name is Xan and it is she who takes the babies which the Protectorate leaves in the forest. However, all is not what it might seem. Xan takes the babies without understanding why they have been left and she delivers them to loving homes in a village on the other side of the forest. However, one day she collects a baby girl who captures her heart. Xan names the baby Luna and accidentally feeds her with moonlight. In so doing, Luna herself is enmagicked with a magic so powerful that Xan is forced to hide Luna's magic from her until her thirteenth birthday. Xan hopes that in time and with age Luna will learn to better control her magic and use it responsibly. The Girl Who Drank the Moon follows Luna, Xan, the woman in the tower, and also a young father from the Protectorate who offers hope to a village shattered by sorrow at having lost so many babies to the unknown witch.

Kelly Barnhill has woven together a beautiful tale of magic. Her imagination seems to know no bounds. The reader is left to marvel at and enjoy this story of tragedy and hope. The best way I know to describe it is to say that it reads like ancient lore and legend. There's a timeless feel to it that makes you to think that you've heard this story somewhere before, although perhaps not quite in the same way. There's a uniqueness to the tale which is immensely satisfying as a reader. It's always a pleasure to be told a new story in a way that is not entirely predictable if for no other reason that the story is so well-told that the reader/listener is patient enough for things to unfold as they are meant to all in good time. Barnhill is a reader's dream and no, I don't feel like I'm being overly dramatic in saying so. However, I want to be cautious that I don't puff the story up so much that when you finally get around to reading it you'll wonder what all the fuss was about. Not that you'll want to wait a long time to get to this, because it's so fun and fanciful that you'll probably want to rush right off and grab a copy. If you enjoy it half as much as I did, that'll be plenty.

In terms of worldview, I would say that more conservative readers will not like The Girl Who Drank the Moon if they are skittish about magic and witches. However, this new title has nothing over Harry Potter or Narnia or Lord of the Rings. While there is no real distinction made between what is "white magic" versus what is "black magic", there is a clear distinction between good and evil. The right side wins, leaving no ambiguity or requesting of the reader to be sympathetic towards those in the wrong. It's a clear cut story full of delicious magic and imagination of the best sort.

This book is classified as Middle Grade Fiction which I think is entirely appropriate. I plan on handing it over to my ten-year-old to read next and I fully anticipate that he will enjoy it. The Girl Who Drank the Moon is a book I am happy to keep on our home bookshelves to be enjoyed by all when they are ready for it. I can imagine myself enjoying it again at some future date.

Many thanks to Kelly Barnhill for writing this story and to Algonquin Young Readers for publishing it. I was sent a copy for review purposes. I received no additional compensation and all opinions are 100% my very own.

Monday, December 05, 2016

The Christmas Town, by Donna VanLiere

I'm a sucker when it comes to a Donna VanLiere's Christmas book. Her Christmas reads are generally calm and pleasant and make you feel all warm and cheery on the inside. There's very little upset, the plot lines are very predictable and everything always ends well enough. I was excited to discover that there was a new VanLiere on the scene this December, that being The Christmas Town.

In The Christmas Town we meet Lauren Gabriel, a single gal who was raised in the foster care system and who really has no family of which to speak. She wants more than anything to spend Christmas with a family and so decides to place an ad on Craigslist looking for a home to share for the holiday. Meanwhile she finds herself engaged in a bit of drama one town over where she winds up being volunteered to work with the children's Christmas choir. Along the way she finds out that family isn't always what you think and that there is always hope. This book is a Hallmark Christmas movie waiting to happen with warm fuzzies and the promise of a new and better tomorrow all rolled into one. I know I'm making it sound a bit flippant but it is. Donna VanLiere books aren't exactly fine literature and I'd be silly to say so. Rather, they are just a cozy comfort read designed to suit the festive feel of this season.

I've read and reviewed a few VanLiere titles around here and I'll link those titles in with this post. I don't know that I necessarily have a favorite out of these cotton candy reads, but I will say that I noticed some flaws in VanLiere's writing in The Christmas Town which had not caught my attention previously. Most notably is the fact that she kept changing tenses between the first and third paragraphs at the start of each chapter. It felt as if she couldn't decide if she wanted to reflect on what was, or set her story up in the present, or perhaps run a line of dialogue between her characters. The writing was choppy and jarring as a result. Clearly no one felt the need to take the time and edit in order to have the story flow with ease. While I was happy with the concept of the story, I thought this one was especially poorly presented and I can't say I enjoyed it very enthusiastically.

I will also say that I was sent an "Advanced Uncorrected Proof", giving me more reasons to hate ARC's than ever before. What if they fixed the verbiage and everything ended up flowing together nicely instead of taking place in the past, present and future all at once? I don't know and can't tell you if an editor got their hands on a copy and straighten out the details. Perhaps so. Perhaps not. I'm not going to seek out a new copy in order to confirm that these mistakes were caught. As I said though, I don't really read VanLiere for the brilliant writing so much as the sappy Christmas story and on this point she delivered yet again. If you haven't ever given this author a try but you are looking for some good, clean Christmas fun than she's worthy of some consideration. Just don't go into one of her reads expecting anything brilliant. You can, however, expect some fun. I think this book could have used a lot more spit and polish than it received but despite that I got what I wanted out of it and so I'm happy.

Many thanks to St. Martin's Press who sent a copy of this title my direction in order to facilitate this review. I received no additional compensation and all opinions expressed above are my very own.

Other VanLiere titles which I have read/reviewed:

Top  blogs