2017 Reading Round-Up

We’re almost the end of 2017, and I think it’s a good time to look at the good, the bad and the weird of my 2017 reading.  I read 162 books in the year, similar to last year, although I feel like I’ve read far more nonfiction and audiobooks than my usual paper fiction from past years.  As reading evolves, here’s what stood out…

1) Best of…
I’ve been splitting my “Best of” books for the past few years, so that I can highlight the ones that were best in very specific ways.

1A) Best Premise: All Our Wrong Todays by Elan Mastai
We’re the dystopia, and the ‘50s visions of the idyllic future really happened in another universe that’s supposed to be the real world.  The book was good, but that premise is just brilliant.

1B) Best World Building: Read My Mind by Kelly Haworth
I loved the religion-building especially, but this entire alternate world with a pantheon of gods and generally accepted magical abilities was so interesting and so vividly, clearly brought to life.  Wonderful.

1C) Best Romance(s): The Sun Is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon and Holding Up the Universe by Jennifer Niven
Surprisingly enough, two of my three favorite romances this year were in contemporary YA books.  In the first, Natasha and Daniel have a Before Sunrise like experience, spending one day together and falling in love (I hate instaromance, except in the rare case when it’s done really, really well).  In the second, Libby and Jack are two struggling characters who find out they can accept and complement each other.  Very fun romances both.  And that third book I mentioned?  Makes the list elsewhere…

1D) Best Hero(ine): Notorious RBG by Irin Carmon and Shana Knizhnik
I’m reading so much more nonfiction that I think it fits to choose a real person as my favorite heroine of the year.  A very inspiring book, and Ruth Bader Ginsberg’s existence in a troubled world is deeply reassuring. Continue reading “2017 Reading Round-Up”

2017 Reading Challenges: Halfway Update

The end of September must mean time for a challenge update!  I’ve moved forward pretty well in most challenges, with sporadic focus on them…but that’s been enough for most.

PictureNewbery Medal Winners
Goal: 20 Newbery Medal Winners, halving the number remaining
Host: Smiling Shelves

I’m right on track here, with five new ones added–a good amount for a quarter.  I didn’t have great success with the books, though.  I particularly disliked the main character in MC Higgins the Great (he thinks it’s fun to jump girls walking alone–not okay) and particularly disliked the writing style of The Dark Frigate (written in 1923, but reads like 1823 and not in a good way).  The others were better, but cross fingers for some stand-out good ones in the last quarter?

  1. Kira-Kira by Cynthia Kadohata
  2. The Whipping Boy by Sid Fleischman
  3. Last Stop on Market Street by Matt de la Pena
  4. Good Masters, Sweet Ladies by Laura Amy Schlitz
  5. Crispin: The Cross of Lead by AVI
  6. King of the Wind by Marguerite Henry
  7. Joyful Noise by Paul Fleischman
  8. The Higher Power of Lucky by Susan Patron
  9. Miracles on Maple Hill by Virginia Sorenson
  10. The Wheel on the School by Meindert De Jong
  11. A Visit to William Blake’s Inn by Nancy Willard
  12. The Cat Who Went to Heaven by Elizabeth Coatsworth
  13. I, Juan de Pareja by Elizabeth Borton de Trevino
  14. MC Higgins the Great by Virginia Hamilton
  15. The Dark Frigate by Charles Boahman Hawes
  16. The Summer of the Swans by Betsy Byars

Continue reading “2017 Reading Challenges: Halfway Update”

Classic Review: Emily of New Moon

Emily of New MoonHaving just finished rereading the Anne of Green Gables series, I’m about to reread L. M. Montgomery’s other most famous heroine’s trilogy, starting with Emily of New Moon.  I thought it would be fun to look back at what I had to say last time I reread!

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It’s been far too long since I read Emily of New Moon by L. M. Montgomery–ten years, I think, since I took the trilogy with me on a school trip to England.  In fact, I found a customs form tucked into my book!

Emily is a lovely and beautiful tale of an imaginative girl who dreams of being a writer–of climbing the Alpine Path to success.  She lives with relatives at New Moon farm, and runs about with her devoted friends, Ilse, Teddy and Perry.

The book sounds at a glance like it’s an opposite number to Anne of Green Gables, and there are certainly overlaps–kind yet not quite understanding guardians, the beautiful expanses of nature in Prince Edward Island, the bosom friends, flights of imagination and inevitable scrapes.  But from the very beginning, when Emily learns in devastating fashion that her beloved father is dying, there’s a tragic strain here that gives a different color to the entire trilogy.

The difference is visually clear, looking at Emily’s midnight hair versus Anne’s fiery red locks, but it goes much deeper than that.  Emily seems to feel things more deeply than Anne (despite all her drama)–both joys and sorrows.

The book also touches (with extreme discretion, of course!) on more mature subjects.  There’s Mr. Carpenter, Emily’s irascible teacher, who drinks on weekends because he feels his life has been a failure.  And there’s Ilse’s mother, who gossip has it left her husband and baby to run off with a sea captain.  Anyone who thinks Montgomery only wrote gauzy fairy tales with no shadows is wrong.

However–don’t come to the conclusion that the book is dark or morbid or depressing!  It’s still Montgomery–and it’s still Prince Edward Island–and there’s still more beauty than sadness.  Emily has her trials and her sorrows but she is also surrounded by love and buoyed up by her dreams, her joy in the beauties of nature and her passion for writing.  And while it’s been some time, I don’t remember being strongly conscious of the darker undertones when I read this at a younger age.

It’s fascinating to read this after all my reading of Montgomery’s journal.  There are strong autobiographical strands, especially in Emily’s writing goals and experiences.  I get a fun little moment of recognition every time I spot something from her real life–like when Emily’s aunt describes her blank verse poem as “very blank” (LMM’s father said the same once) or when Emily mentions a compact with a friend to never say good-bye (LMM had such an agreement with her beloved cousin, Frede).

You know I’m always going to recommend Montgomery books.  🙂  Emily of New Moon is a beautiful novel with an appealing heroine–and for adult readers, more depth and maturity than you might expect.

Other reviews:
Reading the End
Books4Fun
Bookshelves of Doom
Anyone else?

Buy it here: Emily of New Moon

TV Review: Anne with an E

Because I evidently have not written enough about L.M. Montgomery lately…today I have a review of the recent Netflix special, Anne with an E, a six-hour miniseries.  This retelling of Anne of Green Gables was billed as a darker version–and it was.  Some aspects of it were wonderful and compelling.  Others, not so much, and I do mean the darkness.  It all gave me some new insights into the themes of Montgomery’s books though, and I’m always pleased about that!

The miniseries drew me in with a very good first episode (90 minutes–the rest are 45).  It followed very closely to the original story, as orphan Anne is mistakenly sent to Prince Edward Island and Matthew and Marilla Cuthbert, who had wanted a boy.  They decide to keep the talkative, impetuous Anne, who wants so much to be good and accepted but just keep running into problems.  That much is exactly the same as the original, though this version included occasional, PTSD-like flashbacks to Anne’s earlier life, where she was verbally and physically abused by the people she worked for (more on that later).  After the first episode, well, the series diverges farther from the book.  Glimmers and elements are drawn from the original, but great swathes of new things arise too.

Aside from having a thing about completion, I think I kept watching because of the characters (and to see how it would all develop).  Matthew, Marilla, Diana, Gilbert, Mrs. Rachel Lynde–all were wonderfully cast and portrayed, very much the book characters come to life (barring a few actions the plot forced them into).  It probably helped that I already knew them, but it also seemed like the series did a very good job giving us insights and understandings into the characters.  Even some of the minor characters came through in their essential elements: Josie Pye, nasty and mean; Jane Andrews, nice if forgettable; Ruby Gillis, silly and sweet (and sweet on Gilbert).

And how about Anne (with her E)?  Well.  The good and the muddled intersect in Anne.  She looked the part, probably more than most, as Anne is usually very Hollywood pretty for being a scrawny, freckled orphan.  She blooms over the course of the book, suggesting she started without much physical beauty.  (Although I have to say, I was bothered throughout to a ridiculous degree by the thinness of Anne’s braids.  She hates the redness of her hair, yes, but she has plenty of it!)  As to character, she uses all the big words and goes into delighted raptures and has all the starved desire for love that the character should have–great swathes of her dialogue come straight out of the book.  But. Continue reading “TV Review: Anne with an E”

Book Review: Rainbow Valley by L. M. Montgomery

I’m continuing my way through a reread of the Anne of Green Gables series, and continue to have more thoughts.  This time I’m thinking about Book 7, Rainbow Valley.  Rather like certain Oz books, this is the Anne book that isn’t an Anne book.  But it’s very much a Montgomery book, with certain of her attitudes on full display.

By the time Montgomery wrote Rainbow Valley, I really don’t think she wanted to write about the Blythes anymore.  This was her fifth book (4 and 6 were written later), and because she wrote it before Anne of Ingleside, it was the first with Anne and Gilbert’s children.  With the partial exception of Walter, Montgomery doesn’t seem very interested in the Blythe children.  She gave Anne a happy ending, Anne’s children grow up in the midst of said-happy ending, and Montgomery was not yet at a point in her life when taking refuge in that happy ending was welcome to her (as in Anne of Ingleside).

So she did what other authors have done–billed the book as next in a popular series, then proceeded to write an almost original novel.  We get about two chapters of Anne and her family, then the focus shifts irrevocably to elsewhere in the neighborhood, to tell the story of the less fortunate and more interesting (to Montgomery, and by narrative convention) Meredith family.  I have to admit, the bait and switch has taken me many reads to get over.  I think this is the first time I’ve managed to really accept that this is not and was never going to be a Blythe novel, rather than feeling that we somehow got cheated out of the story that was meant to be here in the series.  And you know, after getting past that, this is a good novel! Continue reading “Book Review: Rainbow Valley by L. M. Montgomery”