My Lockdown Books: Fifty Six

Yes, I know that I’ve already written about one of LM Montgomery’s books but it’s my birthday so I’m indulging myself. No-one is surprised that this appears on my list of all-time favourite books. It was one in the stack of nine that formed my birthday cake a couple of years ago after all!

Birthday Book Stack

I first read Anne of the Island when I was about eight, which was ridiculously young, but it means that whenever I re-read it (and I do), there’s something new to discover. LM Montgomery was a brilliant writer and is much under-rated. There’s a general impression that her books, especially the series about Anne, are all sweetness and light but, if you dig slightly beneath the surface, you’ll see that there are some very dark elements in them.

In spite of the title, this is the only one of all the Anne books not really set on Prince Edward Island but it has long been my favourite of LM Montgomery’s books. I think it’s the best of the series and the one where Anne’s character is most fully explored. There’s a strong sense of community – off, but particularly on, the island – which Anne finally appreciates fully by the end of the novel, thus the title.

This third story about Anne, the world’s most famous red-haired orphan, sees her leave Prince Edward Island to go to college. She enjoys life in Kingsport, studying and making new friends including, she thinks, the man of her dreams. But her heart always remains on the Island – and so, it turns out, do her dreams. A book about discovering where you belong, this is LM Montgomery at her very best.

My Lockdown Books: Thirty Seven

Airborn by Kenneth Oppel is a book I had to read and my heart sank when I saw it. I was judging for the Carnegie Medal and it was on the long leet.  This appeared to be yet another sci-fi/fantasy mixture, two of my least favourite genres.  But one of the non-negotiable requirements of being on the judging panel was a commitment  to read everything…

And one should never, of course, judge a book by its cover and when I finally steeled myself to read it, I was enchanted. It’s set in an alternative past (it feels Edwardian) on an airship and tells the story of Kate and Matt who are first-class passenger and crew respectively. It’s a fast-paced adventure but it’s also a character study and has a great supporting cast.

Now, I use this as my example to young people of how the only way you can judge a book is by reading it.  Had it not been for the Medal I’d have missed this entirely.  As it is, I enjoyed it very much and then went on to spend my own money on the other two books in the trilogy!

My Lockdown Books: Twenty Three

You were expecting Anne of the Island, weren’t you?  I’m not surprised as I’ve cited it as one of my favourite books, never mind my favourite book by LM Montgomery.  That remains true but Rilla of Ingleside is a book that’s fascinated me since I first read it as a child.  And, of course, there’s so much of interest in it that it stands reading again and again (in common with much of Lucy Maud’s output).

First and foremost for me as an adult reader, it’s a Great War story and I have a particular fondness for those.  What I love especially about it is that it’s a home front story.  And it’s the Canadian home front which makes it unlike novels depicting the British home front which is what appears in most books I’ve read.  The war isn’t just over there; it’s on another continent.  There’s no chance of soldiers or nurses coming home on leave.  So there is distance, both geographically and in the perception of what is taking place in Europe.

It’s also a coming-of-age novel.  Rilla is the youngest child of Anne and Gilbert Blythe.  She’s a bit spoilt, certainly immature and desperate to be grown up and taken seriously.  She’s fifteen at the outbreak of war and the most important thing in her life is what Kenneth Ford thinks of her.  By the end of the war and book she has changed as most teenagers will but some of that change is due to the personal and national impact of the Great War.

First published in 1921, Rilla of Ingleside was written very soon after the war ended when Canada, as other countries, was coming to terms with the conflict and dealing with the after effects.  I’m not a historian but I think that gives us a less revisionist view of life and sentiment on the home front.  LM Montgomery was, of course, to some extent limited by what her publisher would accept in a novel for young people.  But she does show some of the different ways the war was viewed in a small community.  The book is layered and I know that I read it differently now than I did when I acquired my first copy (with Kim Braden on the front cover) in 1981.

Christmas Eve

If you’ve been reading this blog of mine for any length of time you’ll be familiar with my panegyrics on LM Montgomery. I make no apologies for these; she’s a great writer. I recently had the chance to purchase a first edition of my favourite, Anne of the Island, but had to decline due to the ridiculous (albeit realistic) cost. However, I did avail myself of the opportunity to buy a first edition of Rilla of Ingleside, the last in the Anne sequence. For a whole raft of reasons it’s another of my favourite books. It’s the story of four years in the life of Anne and Gilbert’s youngest child, years that see her develop and change from a somewhat spoiled, self-absorbed fifteen-year-old into a fairly mature young woman. I think it’s a wonderful character study. But, as the story begins in 1914, it is also an account of life on the home front of the Great War, the Canadian home front of course. Looking back I realise that it’s the first First World War novel I read. I can’t honestly say that it’s what sparked my interest in the period but it may well have contributed to it.

As I’ve commented on elsewhere I’ve recently started reading detective fiction having eschewed it all my life. One of my favourite newly discovered authors is Jill McGown, author of the Lloyd and Hill series. I’ve read and re-read these a number of times and love the developing relationship between Lloyd and Judy as well as the murder mysteries. I chose Murder at the Old Vicarage (originally entitled Redemption), the second in the series, fairly randomly. It’s set during a snowy Christmas and the descriptive writing is evocative. As well as great characterisation and an engrossing mystery, there are some interesting side issues to consider. It’s an ideal Christmas read, I’d say: involving and gripping without being too complex.