Challenges Ending and Beginning

I wrote at the beginning of the year of my intent to participate in Carrie’s L.M. Montgomery Reading Challenge – and participate I did.

Anne smashing the slate over Gilbert's head

I started the year off with Mariah Marsden and Brianna Thummler’s Anne of Green Gables: A Graphic Novel. I was somewhat unexpectedly delighted with the format – but likely because my familiarity with the original story allowed me to catch little details that I otherwise wouldn’t have understood (pictures not really being my language.)

"Red cordial" with image of Anne and Diana at a tea-table

The kids and I read Kelly Hill’s excellent board books titled Anne’s Colors and Anne’s Numbers, which provided me with a lovely opportunity to introduce the children to some of my favorite Anne-ecdotes (hopefully without spoiling their eventual enjoyment of the real deal.)

Our family watched several episodes of Tales from Avonlea – which made my interested in going back and re-reading The Story Girl and Chronicles of Avonlea and the like, as I don’t remember the books being quite as sensational as the TV series was.

Anne of Avonlea by L.M. Montgomery

And, finally, I read Anne of Avonlea. Amidst the busy of the beginning of a new year, I enjoyed catching up with my old friend Anne, no longer a child but not yet a woman.

Thank you, Carrie, as usual for hosting this challenge this year!

L. M. Montgomery Reading Challenge

And now that January is over and February has begun, it’s time to begin a new challenge – Barbara’s Laura Ingalls Wilder Reading Challenge.

Laura Ingalls Wilder's Fairy Poems

The children and I are eager to participate – we’ve already finished a collection of fairy poems by Laura, as well as started Little House in the Big Woods. We’re planning to read at least one more of the little house books together and to do some activities to go along with it.

Little House, Long Shadow

I, personally, have borrowed Little House, Long Shadow by Anita Clair Fellman from the library. I’ve read the first chapter and am uncertain as to how far I’ll get before the month is up, but I’ve got it on retainer :-)

Book Review: Anne’s Colors and Anne’s Numbers by Kelly Hill

I am an absolute sucker for embroidered illustrations.

"Anne's Colors"

Not that I knew these books were illustrated in needlework when I requested them from the library to read as part of Carrie’s L.M. Montgomery Reading Challenge.

All I knew was that they were board books based on the Anne books – and that I hadn’t read them yet.

"Anne's Numbers"

Now that I have read them, I want the original needlework from each page framed in my bedroom. They’re great. I’ve flipped through the pages time and time again, wondering if I could trace the designs onto fabric and replicate them. Is that a violation of copyright? Even if I’m just intending to use them in my own home?

It really doesn’t matter because I don’t have time to embroider myself a set of Anne illustrations. But I still wonder.


"Pink cheeks" with image of Gilbert pulling Anne's hair

For now, I’m thrilled to be able to use the illustrations to share my favorite Anne-ecdotes with my children (who are as yet much too young for the real thing!)

Tirzah Mae is utterly delighted to hear of an orange-headed girl who smashed her slate over a teasing boy’s head – and of a friend who accidentally made her friend sick by giving her WINE instead of juice!

"Red cordial" with image of Anne and Diana at a tea-table

“Remember the girl who made her friend sick by ACCIDENT?” she’ll ask me. “She wasn’t trying to make her sick, she just accidentally gave her the wrong drink.”

If you can only obtain one, choose Anne’s Colors which illustrates specific stories from Anne of Green Gables. Anne’s Numbers, while charming, consists mostly of Anne in non-specific nature settings.

L. M. Montgomery Reading Challenge

Book Review: Anne of Green Gables: A Graphic Novel adapted by Mariah Marsden and illustrated by Brenna Thummler

“They” say that a picture is worth a thousand words. And maybe “they” are right – for most people.

For me?

"Anne of Green Gables: A Graphic Novel"

The written word is my heart language. Pictures are generally lost on me. So much so that the only way I can dream of understanding a movie (even if I’m paying it my full attention) is if I’ve got subtitles on.

Perhaps it’s needless to say that graphic novels aren’t really my thing.

But when the time came around for Carrie’s L.M. Montgomery Reading Challenge, I searched the library for something I hadn’t read – and found this little (229 pages) graphic novel.

I read it in about three sittings (give or take) and adored it.

Marsden does an excellent job of shortening Anne’s speech while keeping its “Anne-ness” intact. Thummler does a great job of depicting the setting, actions, and emotions of the various scenes. It’s all well done.

Anne smashing the slate over Gilbert's head

I’m fairly certain, though, that my enjoyment of this adaptation has everything to do with it being an adaptation of a familiar story. Would I have understood what was going on if this was my first exposure to Anne? I doubt so. Would someone else? Possibly. But even as much as I enjoyed this adaptation, I wouldn’t recommend it as a first exposure to Anne. Montgomery herself should be allowed to introduce her own character.

L. M. Montgomery Reading Challenge

Rating: 4 stars
Category: Graphic Novel adaptation
Synopsis: Anne of Green Gables in graphic novel format. Done well.
Recommendation: Fun for fans of Anne, possibly also a nice option for a struggling-ish reader who has already heard Anne read aloud (Maybe?) Not a suitable substitute for actually reading L.M. Montgomery.

Reading Lucy Maud

It’s that most wonderful time of the year – time to read Lucy Maud Montgomery with Carrie at Reading to Know.

Carrie has been hosting the Lucy Maud Montgomery Reading Challenge for the past 10 years – and I’ve had the pleasure of participating for at least 4 years (how is it possible it’s only that many?)

L. M. Montgomery Reading Challenge

As usual, the rule is to read as much Maud as possible during the month of January and to let the world know we’re participating (with a link to Carrie’s site).

Carrie includes a list of items that do NOT count toward the challenge (namely, the book Before Green Gables and the movies/shows Anne of Green Gables: The Continuing Story and Anne with an E. )

I’m going to push the limits of the challenge by reading a graphic novel version of Anne of Green Gables by Mariah Marsden, watching Tales from Avonlea, reading a couple of board books based on the Anne books (all from my library) – and reading one other of the Anne books (in original form). I haven’t decided which Anne book to read because I hate to start in the middle, but I think I’ve read Anne of Green Gables without reading the rest three or four times in a row now :-)

I’m looking forward to seeing what everyone else is reading!

L.M. Montgomery Reading Challenge Conclusion

I’m glad I set low expectations for this year’s L.M. Montgomery Reading challenge – because, having set them low, I was able to meet them (sort of).

I wrote that I intended to reread one of the Anne books – which I did. I reread Anne of Green Gables for probably the couple dozenth time. Yet despite multiple re-readings, Anne continues to enchant. Anne of Green Gables is a story of anecdotes, with no overarching plot – but I was struck, this time around with how many threads resolve by the end of the volume. Marilla’s crispness softens, Rachel Lynde admits that she was wrong about the foolishness of adopting an orphan, and Anne and Gilbert resolve their longstanding feud. But one of the biggest changes that occurs is Anne’s transformation from being a burden to be passed on to another each time someone dies to being a burden-lifter who passes on other opportunities in order to bear Marilla’s burden once Matthew is dead.

I also stated initially that I would possibly make another Anne outfit for my American girl doll. My hope was that I could complete the brown voile with puffed sleeves that Mrs. Lynde made at Matthew’s behest. I paid close attention to the garment’s styling, looked up fashions from the gay nineties to come up with what the dress might have looked like, and thought through how I wuld modify my doll dress pattern to accomplish that look. Then, one afternoon last week, I went down to my craft room to begin – and could not find the brown fabric I’d designated for the dress years ago. It wasn’t on my fabric shelf (either among the other browns or in any other section of the shelf), so I began searching. I searched first on my table, piled high with projects in progress. I found a pair of Daniel’s slacks and a couple of my skirts to be mended – and since they required black thread and my machine was currently threaded with that, I finished them on the spot. I was just nearing the end of the pile when Tirzah Mae sounded the alarm from upstairs – and my search (and the outfit) had to be put on hold. So no Anne outfit has been made. Maybe next year.

My final goal was that I “may or may not find and read a book about Lucy Maud from my local library” – I did find a book, Looking for Anne of Green Gables, and read and reviewed it.

So, overall, while it might not have been a substantial year compared to many, I was able to complete most of my relatively modest goals.

Check out what everyone else read and said at Carrie’s conclusion post.

Book Review: Looking for Anne of Green Gables by Irene Gammel

L.M. Montgomery states that the character for Anne of Green Gables “flashed into my fancy already christened, even to the all important ‘e’.” Irene Gammel, a professsor of comparative literature, disputes that statement, suggesting that “Anne” (and the events of Anne’s life) is the product of Montgomery’s reading, life events, and inner life.

Gammel has meticulously picked through Montgomery’s journals (both the published and the unpublished) for clues about Anne – and has gone a step further to read through the books and periodicals Montgomery would have read prior to writing Anne of Green Gables. The result is a fascinating, if somewhat speculative book Looking for Anne of Green Gables.

Prior to reading this book, I was not terribly familiar with the life of Lucy Maud Montgomery (“Maud” to those who knew her) apart from the various biographical sketches Carrie has offered at Reading to Know.

So I knew bits and pieces but hadn’t really put them together into any clear understanding of her life events and how they fit together. This book helped me put some of those pieces together – although it’s important to note that this is not a biography proper, but literary criticism of a sort.

Gammel looks at various events in Maud’s life, relationships she’d formed, and news stories from her neighborhood that may have influenced the writing of Anne. Specifically, she looks at how Maud might have (or, when possible, actually did as evidenced by journal entries) interpreted those events and used them to color Anne. For example, Gammel suggests that the theme of Anne finding a family (and Marilla coming to love Anne) reflects Maud’s fantasy of a loving family (she did not feel that she was loved by her elderly grandparents, who raised her.) Likewise, the perfect bosom friendship of Anne and Diana reflects the type of friendship Maud dreamed of and attempted to enter into with half a dozen girls who always disappointed Maud when the character of their friendships changed over time. So Gammel suggests that many of the events and themes of Anne of Green Gables represent unfulfilled longings of Maud’s.

Gammel also looks at how the periodicals Maud would have been reading might have influenced her writing. For example, Gammel notes an advice column that gives the “cure” for croup that Anne uses (The column suggests that mothers who administer this cure can save their child’s life before the doctor has time to arrive.) In another example, red-haired orphan “Ann’s” show up in several stories or poems.

When I wrote a little blurb on this book on my Nightstand post recently, Barbara H. (who read and reviewed this book in 2011 commented:

“I also didn’t like that she seemed to feel she had to try to find inspiration for much that LMM wrote – as if LMM couldn’t have just made some things up out of her imagination.

I agree and disagree with Barbara. I felt that Gammel was more heavy-handed than necessary in suggesting that this scenario or that story was THE story behind various incidents in Anne of Green Gables; but I found it interesting and fairly likely that those scenarios and stories would have influenced Maud’s writing, even unconsciously. As a fellow voracious reader (although not a particularly successful writer of fiction – I’ve dabbled but never completed anything), I can certainly identify with sort-of “absorbing” the contents of what I read and having them come out in the most unlikely places. Often, I’ll say something or write something and someone will ask me where I got that from. Sometimes I’m conscious that I’m quoting something or paraphrasing something, sometimes I’m not. Sometimes I’m aware of what work I’m quoting or paraphrasing or drawing from, sometimes not. But frequently, when someone asks me for sources, if I search hard enough, I realize that the germ of many of the “original” ideas that pop into my head are not original after all but a continuation of what Mortimer Adler calls “the great conversation” (at least, I think that’s where I got that thought :-P).

I did have a few complaints with this book, in addition to the aforementioned heavy-handedness, and they happen to be the same complaints Barbara H. made (really, you should probably read her review). Maud had a number of close female friends, and Gammel frequently implies that these were erotic in nature (it seems the vogue thing these days to rewrite artists of days past as homosexuals, and while some of them might be, I am reminded when I read such conjectures of C.S. Lewis’s statements regarding platonic male friendship being the deepest love and think maybe there’s something about same-sex friendships of the past that our current sex-crazed society just doesn’t get.) Furthermore, Gammel frequently associates nature with paganism and assumes that Montgomery’s insertion of nature into the Anne books is a sort of rebellion against the Sunday-school literature Montgomery often wrote for. While this may be (again, it’s possible that was Montgomery’s intent), I think it just as likely that Maud simply enjoyed nature and created her heroine to enjoy it as well.

Overall, though, I found this a fascinating book speculating on the origins of the character “Anne of Green Gables”.

Rating: 3 stars
Category: Literary analysis/biography
Synopsis: Gammel explores the events and stories that may have influenced Lucy Maud Montgomery’s character “Anne of Green Gables”.
Recommendation: If you really enjoy Anne of Green Gables and don’t get too upset at glimpses behind the curtain (How’s that for another literary reference?), you’ll probably enjoy this book. If conjecture or the idea that an author might not be quite as original as you originally supposed bothers you, no need to get yourself worked up by reading this book.

I read this as part of the 2015 Lucy Maud Montgomery Reading Challenge. Follow the link to check out who else is reading – and what they’re reading.

2015 Reading Challenges

While I’m not setting grandiose plans for 2015, I do hope to participate once again in some of the book-related challenges and book clubs available in this neck of the internet – and I hope to participate with my church’s in-real-life book club as well.

L. M. Montgomery Reading Challenge To kick the year off, I’ll be joining with Carrie’s L.M. Montgomery Reading challenge – rereading one of the Anne books (I’m not sure which) and possibly making another Anne outfit for “Black Anne”, my American girl doll (named thus because I happen to own Addy, the original black American girl doll). I also may or may not find and read a book about Lucy Maud from my local library. It’s certainly not too late to participate yourself – check out Carrie’s opening post at Reading to Know.

Reading to Know - Book Club Participation in the L.M. Montgomery challenge happily doubles as participation in the RTK Classics bookclub – a monthly classics book club that participants are welcome to jump into for as many or as few months as they choose. We’re going with relatively short books this year, since most of the participants are busy moms. I hope to participate as often as possible – and will be hosting the November reading of Grimm’s Fairy Tales (I’ve started reading already – but you’ll be welcome to read only a few tales if you want to, so consider joining in at least for my month :-P). To see the complete list of reading selections for 2015, check out this introductory post.

The other challenge I know I’ll be wanting to participate in this year is Barbara’s Laura Ingalls Wilder reading challenge in February. I plan to read Farmer Boy and to make as many Farmer Boy inspired recipes as possible! Learn more about Barbara’s challenge here.

Apart from those, I’m laying low – except, of course, that I continue my ongoing quest to read every book in my local library (except the ones I don’t read.) I haven’t tallied my numbers or blogged progress recently, but I’m definitely still going strong!

Are you participating in some reading challenges this year? I’d love to hear which ones. Are you not participating in any reading challenges this year? Consider joining one of the above.

Challenges in various stages of completion

L. M. Montgomery Reading ChallengeNow that it’s February, it’s time to write a wrap up post for this year’s L.M. Montgomery Reading Challenge. This year, I read only one book: The Blue Castle, which was also this month’s selection for the Reading to Know Classics Bookclub.

That would have been all I did for the L.M. Montgomery Reading Challenge, except that I took some time Saturday (I know, not in January at all) to stitch up another article of clothing for Anne’s wardrobe.

For those of you who’ve been following me for a while, you may remember the plain dress Marilla made Anne to replace her yellow-gray wincey (that was a cross between the snuffy-colored gingham and the black and white checked sateen) and the carpet bag with the funky handle (okay, I didn’t replicate that part.)

But now, Anne’s wardrobe has a third piece: the yellow-gray “skimpy” wincey. (Note the too shortness of the hem and sleeves as well as how tight the skirt and sleeves are. The goal was to have no superfluous fabric–did I succeed?)

This marks the end of Anne’s pitiful wardrobe–so the next piece will either have to be THE dress with the puffed sleeves or an outfit from after that wonderful gift. Yay! (Both exciting and scary since I’ll actually have to do some real pattern drafting to add tucks and shirrs and doo-dads for those fancy dresses.)

To see what others have been reading and doing for the challenge this past month, check out the L.M. Montgomery Reading Challenge at Reading to Know.

In addition to the L.M. Montgomery Reading Challenge, I have been trying to sneak in at least one book for the Armchair Cybils, which will be finishing up in the middle of February. Amy wrote a fantastic review of Elizabeth Wein’s Rose Under Fire–and that title just happened to be both a Cybils finalist AND in my local library system.

I’ve been devouring it. It is SO good. Rose is an American pilot who’s in the British Air Transport Auxillary, transporting planes from factory to field and back–until she finds herself landing in enemy territory and is taken to the Ravensbruck work camp where she meets a whole host of other interesting female prisoners.

One particularly interesting note for me was the early mention of (even obsession with) the German V1 “buzz bomb”. When my parents came down to Wichita to visit us last fall, we went to the Cosmosphere in Hutchinson–which has an enormous museum on the history of space. The first room included a V1 buzz bomb and gave a history of it–which made reading about it in a novel all the more fun.

I’m planning to be able to finish it up and review it by the time the Cybils winners are announced on Valentine’s Day–but it’s good enough already that you might as well put it on your watch list :-)

Finally, I’m going to be participating in Barbara H’s Laura Ingalls Wilder Reading Challenge this month. I plan on reading Little House on the Prairie (also this month’s selection for the Reading to Know Book club) as well as a number of biographies of Laura (as many as I can manage of the half dozen or so that I checked out of my local library).

The last time I participated, I made butter a la Ma from Little House in the Big Woods–and I’m eager to see what I can come up with to work on from the Prairie (When I was little, I wanted to build a log house like Pa and Laura did, but the closest I ever got was Lincoln Logs. I think it’s likely that’ll still be the closest I get after this month :-P)

So those are the reading challenges I’m participating in this month (or finished from last month.) Are you participating in any challenges this year? What are they?

Book Review: The Blue Castle by L.M. Montgomery

I knew I was going to like L.M. Montgomery’s The Blue Castle when I got to a line in the second paragraph that I could identify with oh-so-well:

“One does not sleep well, sometimes, when one is twenty-nine on the morrow, and unmarried, in a community and connection where the unmarried are simply those who have failed to get a man.”

Not that I’ve ever been on the cusp of twenty-nine and unmarried. Or that I’ve been in a community and a connection where the unmarried are simply those who have failed to get a man.

But I have been 27 and unmarried, feeling like I was simply one who had failed to get a man. I, like Valancy, “had never quite relinquished a certain pitiful, shamed, little hope that Romance would come [my] way yet.” Until I was 27 and talking to a mortgage officer about a home loan. Then, I felt sure that I’d given up hope.

I was entirely sympathetic with Valancy’s plight.

Then I got to the fourth page, where I learned of the blue castle in Spain, the daydream Valancy had been escaping to since she was a young girl. I knew at that point that Valancy and I would be kindred spirits.

I had no drab existence (at least, not in the sense of a yellow-painted floor with a hideous hooked rug and ancient photos of relatives I don’t know hung within my bedroom) or unloving childhood to escape from–but I took refuge in my own blue castles nonetheless.

Like Valancy, I decorated my castle and imagined romances for myself. I had a series of “lovers” (only one at a time, of course, like Valancy did) who each faded away as a new story presented itself to my mind.

I was never a shy child or a shy woman who cowed under the censure of a strong-willed family. I never had a dull life, was never colorless or mousy. I was not one bit like Valancy in personality or family circumstance–only in singleness and dreaming.

But that was enough for me to like her and be interested in her plight.

Thankfully, Valancy doesn’t stay a single doormouse caught up in her dreams (that’d be a rather boring book, wouldn’t it?) Instead, she receives some news that shocks her out of her complacency and compels her to start living real life.

She starts saying and doing the things she’s been thinking for so long. She throws the jar of mouldy potpouri that’s been sitting in her bedroom out the window and against the building next door: “I’m sick of the fragrance of dead things.” She announces to a dinner party of assembled family that “the greatest happiness is to sneeze when you want to.” And she moves out of her widowed mother and aunt’s house and into the home of a widowed man and his dying daughter.

And then she moves into her blue castle and building her own life–discovering along the way that her castle is a little different than she’d dreamed all along, and so much more wonderful. (I identify with this discovery completely.)

And then comes the second great shock of her life–a shock great enough to overthrow everything she’d been building for the past year (du-duh-DUH!)

I liked this book. I really, really did. And I think others will as well.

Rating: 4 stars
Category: Fiction/Romance
Synopsis: The only interesting thing in dull, mousy Valancy Stirling’s life is her dream world–the “Blue Castle” in Spain. But shocking news changes everything for her and she suddenly starts shocking everyone else by building a real life for herself–in anything but a dull, mousy way.
Recommendation: Definitely worth reading if you like romances (of the unsmutty variety) or L.M. Montgomery

I read this as a part of Carrie’s Reading to Know Classics Book Club and the L.M. Montgomery Reading Challenge–which means you don’t have to take my word on the book as the final word. All sorts of other bloggers are reading and writing up their thoughts on The Blue Castle. Check them out!

L.M. Montgomery Reading Challenge Wrap Up

L. M. Montgomery Reading ChallengeDoes anyone else accidentally call this the “Anne of Green Gables Challenge”?

I know that L.M. Montgomery has written other things. I’ve read those other things (all that my library owns, at least). But “Anne” will still (and always) be my favorite and the first to pop into my mind when L.M. Montgomery is mentioned.

And so, this year, I read Anne. Anne 1 and Anne 2, otherwise known as Anne of Green Gables and Anne of Avonlea.

I wrote a few posts with quotes as I went:

  • On Taking Risks
  • Regarding Bedrooms
  • On Contentment
  • Addie doll with carpetbag

    And I made one more piece for my small collection of Anne paraphernalia.

    This year, though, I’m doing something special. I’m making a second of this lovely carpet bag to share with ONE OF YOU!

    Addie doll with carpetbag

    That’s right. I’m giving one of these away.

    If you want to win, simply post a comment below. I’ll be keeping the comments open until February 10 (because surely I’m not the only one who sometimes takes FOREVER to get around to all the link-ups in a challenge like this!) and will draw a name from among the commenters on the tenth.

    So now, get commenting–and get yourself over to Carrie’s L.M. Montgomery Reading Challenge page to see what others did for the challenge!