Book Review: Emily of New Moon

Emily of New Moon
Book #1
by L.M. Montgomery
read by Susan O’Malley

My rating: 3.5 / 5
Genre: Children’s classic, coming of age

When Emily’s only remaining parent, the father she is very close to, dies, she is taken in by 2 aunts on her mother’s side. Aunt Elizabeth doesn’t really want her and only takes her because the lot fell to her. Aunt Laura is at least kind to Emily, but overall, her mother’s side of the family are proud, snobby people who strongly disliked Emily’s father and disdain their niece. Emily’s new classmates also treat her badly because of her proud family. Emily learns to cope with her difficulties by writing to her late father, pouring out her sadness and frustrations.

After reading the Anne of Green Gables books by the same author, this book is considerably darker, sadder, even somewhat depressing. For all the times I was surprised to see how terribly some of the people of this time period acted, especially older women, in the Anne books, a few of the characters in this book made my jaw drop. There is some charm to the story, and Emily herself is quite deep and introspective. She also can be brash and quick-tempered. I liked the way she was able to get past certain injustices or clashes with other people by simply writing about them. Though she bordered on mean when she described people in her writing at times.

There are some bright spots in her life–friends she made, for instance. I think Perry was my favorite, because though he is uncouth, he is also super kind and protective of Emily, who, frankly, could use a protector. He may have taken it a step too far now and then, but that seems to describe a lot of the characters in this book. One thing I really liked was that Emily was so terribly upset over what she was told Ilse’s mother had done, considering that that kind of thing seems so commonplace now. I’d love to go back to a time when it’s seen as a terrible, even unlikely thing. The outcome to that story arc, though, was…bizarre, is all I can really say.

I kind of get the feeling that I might like this series more as it goes, which would be completely the opposite of the Anne series, where I started to like each book less after the first one. However, I’m not completely sure if I’ll continue the series.

Extra note for the audiobook version I listened to: Overall she made the main voices distinct enough from each other, but there were times when she read the letters Emily wrote to her father where she would simply neglect to put any real emotion or inflection into parts. It could have been better.

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Book Review: Little Women

Little Women
by Louisa May Alcott
read by Barbara Caruso

My rating: 5 / 5
Genre: Classic children’s/YA coming of age

This is another classic that I had never read before, but have seen a movie or other adaptation of more than once in the past. In this case, I’ve only seen the 1994 movie with Winona Ryder as Jo, though I have seen it more than once over the years. I also did read the Great Illustrated Classic adaptation with my daughter just over a year ago, but this was my first time reading the full, unabridged version, technically listening to the audiobook. Be aware, there will be spoilers in this review, so read on at your own risk.

One of the things that struck me the most about the full story is how much these sisters thrive in their environment. This is a time period where women are oppressed and kept in their place, and while at some times this makes tomboy Jo unhappy, she doesn’t have to completely rebel in order to make some inroads and even do what she wants to do. In fact, most of what gets in her way as a writer is her own ideas, plans, hopes, dreams, failings, and attempts to be a better person. In modern times, we if we want to write historical fiction where women aren’t just stuck in a box, they are often wild and outrageous (but at least they manage to meet that one man who’s okay with the woman who refuses to wear a dress or attend any formal functions). I think that’s one of the biggest things I love about Jo.

I also really like the fact that most of the way through the story, the March sisters are striving to better themselves. They are quite poor, but vow to be happy with what they have and avoid grumbling, even as they allow themselves hopes for the future in which they find wealth in one way or the other (different for each girl). And though I speak generally, Beth is usually perfectly content with what she has. Speaking of Beth, how well did I relate to that quiet, shy girl. Even too scared to go to the neighbor’s house who’d extended an open invitation so she could exercise her talent on his piano…that would definitely be me.

I loved the references made to Pilgrim’s Progress in the first half of the book, which plays a lot into what I mentioned above, about the sisters trying to be happy with what they have and be good “pilgrims.” I’ve never read Pilgrim’s Progress, though I’ve always thought I should (tried once, but I’m really not good at sticking with books that are hard to read), and now I wish I had. The reference back to the pilgrims and the game the sisters played when they were younger, shortly before Beth’s death, made the tragedy of her death all the more emotional to me.

On probably the most disputed point of this book, though I never lamented over the fact that Jo rebuffed Laurie, it did always seem strange to me that he ended up marrying little Amy. However, after reading this book, I think Louisa May Alcott did a fine job setting up the ways the various romances went. I could certainly see that Jo had no romantic feelings for Laurie and had good reason to think that they wouldn’t have a very pleasant marriage. And when Amy was still young, a connection grew between her and Laurie that paved the way for their love later. Jo’s feelings for Professor Bhaer came very naturally, and it was easy to see why she fell in love with this mature man of integrity and morals.

Before I wrap up, I want to say a few words about Barbara Caruso, the narrator of the audiobook I listened to. I haven’t listened to many audiobooks and can really only listen to certain types of books that way, since my mind tends to miss details if I’m not careful. Also, like many others I’m sure, the narrator can really make or break my enjoyment, and I’ve discovered that I’m really picky about it. Which is why I’m really glad that this is the narrator I listened to for this book, because she did a fantastic job! I really liked how she brought the characters to life and even managed to have slight differences between the sisters. Her reading of foreign words or sentences (French and German) and accents for characters like the German Bhaer are incredible. I will definitely look for her when I listen to other books that she has narrated.

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Book Review: Anne of Ingleside

Anne of Ingleside
Book #6
by L.M. Montgomery

My rating: 4 / 5
Genre: Children’s/YA classic

See my review for book #1, Anne of Green Gables.

After watching Anne grow up and become a wife and mother, this book chronicles several years of motherhood, with an eventual six children. Like many of the other books in this series, there’s not exactly a single plot to the book, more a series of vignettes about the children’s antics and some of Anne’s own activities. Some of her children are a lot like her, fanciful and whimsical, and in some ways, it was like seeing Anne as a child again.

It was interesting, and I’m not entirely sure how realistic, that so many of her children’s scrapes led them to be outside on their own at night. I really felt for some of them, considering the ways they tended to let their imaginations run away with them. I can remember being a kid and not fully understanding what was going on, and that leading me to be scared, unhappy, sad, etc. when I probably didn’t need to be.

I did not care at all for Aunt Mary Maria, which I’m sure was intentional, but she when had the audacity to tell one of the kids, as they were about to leave home for 2 weeks, that if he was naughty, a man would grab him up in a big, black bag, I couldn’t believe it! And this after scoffing at one of the other kids for still believing in Santa, which is such hypocrisy. I don’t care what generation you’re from, you wouldn’t get away with scaring my kids like that.

I liked seeing some of the characters back from previous books, and overall, I didn’t mind that Anne had grown up so much. It wasn’t my favorite of the sequels (that honor goes to the previous, Anne’s House of Dreams), but I still liked it a lot. It’s the last book in the series proper, and I may someday read the final two books, but for now, I think I’ll stop here. When I re-read Anne of Green Gables in the future, I may skip past the next few and only re-read books 5 & 6. I’m just not a huge fan of the rest.

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Book Review: The Saturday Night Ghost Club

The Saturday Night Ghost Club
by Craig Davidson

My rating: 1 / 5
Genre: Coming of age drama

The blurb for this book says that it’s about some kids who spend the summer investigating local urban legends and ghost stories. It mentions the MC’s uncle with whom the MC spends most of his time. And in some places online, the book is compared to Stranger Things. None of these things is accurate. Oh, and you may see the book listed as horror. It’s not.

What really happens is that the summer passes quickly and only 5 local legends are investigated, the MC (Jake) goes long stretches without seeing his Uncle Calvin, and the only comparison that can be made to Stranger Things is that the book is set in the 80s and there are kids who do things.

The very first legend this club investigated was nice and creepy, and I thought it would ramp up from there. Instead, it ramped down. And the characters were limp and/or cliched. The girl felt like such a stereotype, and from the moment she’s introduced, Jake sees her as a goddess…for what reason, I still can’t tell you. Because she’s older, I guess?

Each chapter begins with tales of adult Jake’s life, from stories about his neurosurgeon cases to an account of his son being born. The reception of these parts seems to vary widely from reviewer to reviewer. I could have done without them, especially the too-descriptive explanations about how a brain looks and feels, and what it’s like to do surgery on one.

The “reveal” wasn’t very exciting, and I found it strange that the previous events didn’t all tie together like it seemed like they should (hard to explain what I mean without spoiling). Also, the book is possibly meant to be YA–it depends on where you look, but the MC is 12, after all–but there is some language and references to adult situations.

So clearly this book was a miss for me. I’m not generally one for horror anyway (and the fact that I read it a few days before Halloween is completely coincidence, as I don’t really do Halloween), but I thought it’d be a fun, intriguing read. Instead, I found myself wondering what the point of it was. And though I generally rate lower than the average book reviewer, this is the first book I’ve ever rated 1 star (I gave 1.5 stars once last year). I hate writing a review like this, and I know that the author put a lot of work into the book (as every author does) and that other people really liked it.

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Book Review: Anne’s House of Dreams

Anne’s House of Dreams
Book #5
by L.M. Montgomery

My rating: 5 / 5
Genre: Children’s/YA classic

See my review for book #1, Anne of Green Gables.

After the first book in the series, I have liked each one just a little less than the one before it. It didn’t seem quite the same anymore and also began to feel repetitive. Fortunately, this book brought me back to the love I had for the first book.

It’s not as if there are no more characters or situations that in some way mirror those from earlier books. But there was a lot less of that, and overall, everything felt new and fresh again. I’d say the characters introduced in this book, as well as getting to see Marilla and some of the others a bit more, really made the book for me. Not to mention Gilbert and Anne starting their lives together. I loved Captain Jim and got a kick out of Miss Cornelia, especially the way she and Captain Jim bantered.

Then there’s Leslie Moore. Of all the ways her story could have gone–and I had a few different predictions, believe me–I never imagined that twist.

Overall, I loved this book about as much as I loved the first book in the series. Unfortunately, it only highlighted the slower, drier books in between. I have no idea what to expect of the rest of the books in the series, but I can’t wait to find out.

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Book Review: Anne of Windy Poplars

Anne of Windy Poplars
Book #4
by L.M. Montgomery

My rating: 3 / 5
Genre: Children’s/YA classic, coming of age

See my review for book #1, Anne of Green Gables.

This book felt like a way station on the way to the rest of Anne’s life. Maybe that was intentional, but I didn’t feel very present with the story or the characters. And much of the book felt very repetitive, both to itself and to the rest of the series so far, like a rinse and repeat with only the names and locations changed.

I really liked Anne’s home for these three years–Windy Poplars, and the three women that came with it. Rebecca Dew was so much fun, especially in regards to poor Dusty Miller. And the situation with the poor, neglected Elizabeth was just about the sweetest, most heart-warming conclusion to a terrible story arc ever.

However, we get a lot of the same two basic storylines: A) Someone(s) is/are grumpy, unhappy, crabby, etc., whether in general or to Anne specifically. In some due course of time (either quickly or longer-term), Anne basically turns them happier or nicer, simply by being herself. B) Anne meets a woman who is a busybody or simply very chatty, who dominates all conversation for several pages, and something may or may not actually come of the entire situation. Any of these things on their own would not have been bad, and a few of these situations I liked more than the rest. But I feel like there could have been a lot more variety in the overall book and the three years Anne spent at Windy Poplars.

Most of the book is written in epistolary form, letters from Anne to Gilbert as they spend these 3 years apart. I’m not sure there was much reason for that, though, and even though some was written in normal 3rd-person narration, we barely got to see much of Anne’s time back at home. This meant missing out on seeing much of the characters we got to know earlier in the series. But we did see enough to see poor Dora slighted even further. Seriously, Montgomery seems to only have created Dora to give young Davy a target for his mischievousness, and she’s just this after-thought even now, 2 books later.

The series has lost a little of its charm for me, but I think this book was a bit of a departure from the rest of the series. I know it was written after books #5 & 6, so perhaps Montgomery was boxed-in, knowing she couldn’t change the later books, so not much could happen? But it just felt dry compared to the rest of the series so far. Here’s hoping that the next book regains the lovely Anne charm.

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Book Review: Anne of the Island

Anne of the Island
Book #3
by L.M. Montgomery

My rating: 4 / 5
Genre: Children’s/YA classic, coming of age

Anne 3

See my review for book #1, Anne of Green Gables.

This book takes us through 4 years of college with Anne and her school and housemates. She makes new friends, experiences loss, runs from love, and finds comfort at home. Relationships form and blossom, and life continues on all around her.

There’s a lot to love about this book. The characters are written with the same heart as the previous books, and even Marilla has an outwardly loving moment. Davy is not as terrible as he was in the previous book, though Dora is still basically nothing. I will say that there has become a kind of repetition among the characters. Many newly introduced characters seem a lot like those that were larger in previous books. Phil, for example, is a lot like Ruby (and wow with what happened there). Even Patty’s Place has some similarities to Echo Lodge. However, the charm is still there.

There are some things that happen in this book that seem like a cliche, but I can forgive that, because this book was written before they became such cliches. Anne has started to become a little too perfect and loved by all, but it seems kind of natural, rather than forced. There are quite a few romances going on in this book, which I personally enjoyed quite a bit. 

Because of how quickly these books speed through time, I echo Anne’s sentiment that it’s sad people have to grow up. Characters come and go so much, it’s hard to get attached to any of them. Still, there are a few permanents, and at the end of this book, because of the writing and dialog style I was so immersed in by then, the word “sweetheart” seemed like a whole new word when it was used. I’m a little less excited about continuing the series than I was up to this point, but I’m still looking forward to seeing what happens to Anne next.

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Book Review: Anne of Avonlea

Finished Reading: Anne of Avonlea
Book #2
by L.M. Montgomery

My rating: 3.5 / 5
Genre: Children’s classic, coming of age

AoA

See my review for book #1, Anne of Green Gables.

No longer a child, Anne Shirley starts a new adventure as the schoolteacher in Avonlea. Fortunately (for us, not for her), she still gets into scrapes, has adventures, and meets interesting people. We follow Anne through 2 years as teacher, starting with her first terrifying day. During this time, Green Gables becomes the home for 2 young orphans, who present a whole new challenge to Marilla.

I had anticipated this book being not as wonderful as the first, considering that plenty of the charm of the first was wrapped up in Anne’s childish nature. Not only has she grown and matured, she’s also been “raised” to be more proper. Still, her spirit and imagination were there, and she met other kindred spirits to provide some of that as well.

I did not care for the twins that Marilla took in, not just because Davy was such a handful, but also because Dora was…nothing. It seemed as if the author only gave Davy a twin so that he would have a target for his shenanigans, but she forgot to develop the sister, and thus, she became boring to the author, and likewise to the other characters. They liked Davy more because he needed them more (because he was a terror), and Dora was so good she had no imagination. So basically, if she’d acted up a little more, or made more mistakes, she’d be more interesting. Just…no.

The storyline with Miss Lavender is cute and sweet. I loved the way Paul Irving keeps saying, “You know, Teacher,” to Anne (and a few times, he said the same basic thing to someone else) to show that they were so similar in spirit. J.A. Harrison’s storyline was a little bizarre, yet came out nicely.

These books meander so, with time sprawling across the pages, and sometimes it’s hard to pinpoint the plot of a single book. But the overall plot seems to be the life of this orphan girl as she learns who she is, how to navigate life, and what she might want to do someday. I’m looking forward to reading about the next chapter of Anne’s life.

Side note: I have now purchased 5 out of 6 of the “main storyline” of this series. I didn’t really intend to, especially as I haven’t read enough yet to know if anything past the first one will be worth owning. But I have taken a lot of trips to Half Price Books over the last 3 months, and so often find one or two of these in the clearance section. It’s hard to pass it up for $1…

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Book Review: Little Women (adapted for younger readers)

Little Women
by Louisa May Alcott, adapted by Lucia Monfried

My/my daughter’s rating: 4.5 / 5
Genre: Classic children’s, coming of age

Little Women adaptation.png

The classic tale of the March sisters as they become women around and after the time of the American Civil War is adapted for children around age 8-10 in this book, complete with an illustration for every 2 pages. I read the book aloud with my daughter, who is 9, and am writing this review based more on her opinion of the book than my own.

I knew the story fairly well already, having seen the 1994 movie adaptation, though I’ve never read the original book (yet). My daughter was new to the story though, and overall, she really enjoyed it. The rating reflects how much she liked it, and the missing half a star was because she was super disappointed with a particular pairing that did not happen in the book (I know this book is old, but I can’t seem to bring myself to spoil it anyway, just in case).

Though I worried that much of what I was reading to her was going to go above her head, even with the adaptation, she was able to understand most of it as we went. Or if she didn’t understand something, she didn’t really realize that she didn’t. Now and then I’d stop and explain something that I thought she might not get (usually because of vernacular that is not in use these days) or that she questioned as we went.

I would recommend this book for children around 8-12, with the extra note that with younger kids, it might be helpful (and enjoyable) to read it with a parent or older sibling/friend.

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Book Review: Anne of Green Gables

Anne of Green Gables
Book #1
by L.M. Montgomery

My rating: 5 / 5
Genre: Children’s classic, coming of age

In the first installment of the books about Anne with an e, she is brought into the home of Matthew and Marilla Cuthbert, a brother and sister who are both getting up in years. They had sent for an orphan boy to help them with the work on their property, but were sent Anne instead. She charms her way into their hearts (especially the shy, kind Matthew), and they raise her from the age of 11.

This is one of many well-known and much-loved classics that I have never read before. I have family members who really like it, so I decided that with my recent reading revolution, it was time to give it a try. I’m so glad I did, as I really enjoyed this book!

Anne has such a fiery spirit, and while I would probably be a bit frustrated to be around her much in person, I liked reading her monologues. The reactions by both of her guardians often produced a smile from me too. Though as a parent who is currently dealing with a strong-willed child who tends to melt down when she doesn’t get her way, some of scenes where Anne threw a fit made me cringe. To see Anne change as she aged 5 years in this book was wonderful and realistic, and while she lost some of her loquaciousness, she remained the same kind, generous girl at heart.

I absolutely loved Matthew, and really liked seeing Marilla’s character change throughout the book. When tragedy struck, even though I could guess what was coming, I was devastated with Anne. I am really looking forward to reading the further books in this series.

Fun fact: One of my sisters and her husband have named each of their 4 kids after characters from this book series (whether first or middle names), and it was fun to find 3 of them in this first book. Though I have since learned that one of them from this book wasn’t the actual inspiration for their son’s name, but he was named after a character with the same name in a later book in the series.

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