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: 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.

My Lockdown Books: Twelve

The time has come, as you surely knew it would, for me to share this one from my collection.  There’s nothing random about Nancy Calls the Tune by Dorita Fairlie Bruce.  It’s one of my all-time favourite books.  In fact, it’s possibly the one I’d choose if I could only rescue one of my collection of old children’s books.  The other contender is Anne of the Island by LM Montgomery.

Although written in very different times and places, they have some similarities.  And it’s what they have in common that makes me love Nancy Calls the Tune so much.  I’ve written about this before so I’ll cut to the chase: it’s the description of a small community.  Easterbraes (possibly Blairgowrie in real life) is a small Scottish town that we move to with Nancy Caird early in the Second World War.

Nancy moves to Easterbraes to take up the position of organist at the South Kirk, having met the minister, Angus Macrae, at the home of mutual friends along with his friend Nick Vossaryck.  Already there is her friend Desda, known to us from earlier books in the series.  These four form one level of community, their group being added to by Desda’s sister Rosalind as the story moves on.  The other community prominent in the novel is the congregation – anyone who’s anyone in the town seems to belong to it!

Everyone who has read this book knows that there are issues to be taken with it but I’m happy to look past those and just enjoy the warmth of the friendships and sense of the community pulling together – not always harmoniously – to promote strength and security.

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.

1st December

As it happens, the first two books in my Advent selection are the books I would describe as my favourite children’s books, one of my childhood and the other discovered as an adult. I say children’s books but really they’re teenage novels.

Anne of the Island by LM Montgomery was first published in 1915 and is the third in the series about Anne Shirley. It is the only one of the series not to be set entirely on Prince Edward Island. I first read it when I was about eight, which was ridiculously young, but it means that whenever I re-read it, 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. This third story about Anne 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.

Hilly Craig, the heroine of Sisterland by Linda Newbery uncovers completely unexpected family history which influences how she sees herself and how her future might unfold. Like Anne, she has to investigate her past but Linda Newbery, unlike LM Montgomery, does not tell us the direction her heroine’s future takes (and I know, because I’ve asked, that she has no intention of writing more about Hilly). Sisterland is a contemporary novel and it considers community and prejudice, family life and secrets. Linda creates memorable characters and depicts a variety of relationships, some of them overlapping and all containing an element of tension.

One Book, Many Editions

I recently received a copy of Anne of Green Gables from Alma Books.  As anyone who has known me for more than a few moments will know, I am great admirer of LM Montgomery’s books.  I’ve written about them at length here and drive my colleagues to distraction singing her praises.  So, obviously, this is not the first copy of Anne of Green Gables I’ve ever seen or owned.  Since the copyright on the work expired it seems like every publisher has issued its own edition.  Naturally the text remains the same so they’re all looking for a way to make their own stand out whether by commissioning an introduction from a well-known author, adding notes, including extra material or inserting illustrations.  And then there’s the front cover…

Alma Books has included helpful notes on the text, a short biography of Lucy Maud, a brief history of the novel and its main characters. It also offers a quick overview of some other well-known orphans in children’s literature.  There are chapter heading illustrations by Susan Hellard which I rather like as well as a front cover that I don’t (although she does get Anne’s hair right unlike a remarkable number of illustrators).

I’m really pleased to have this copy and will add it to my already large collection. At first glance it seemed a pretty unremarkable addition but then I read the blurb, something I had neglected to do as I sort of know the story!  Pretty much everything it says is true but it has a very modern feel to it, clearly designed to appeal to today’s readers.  I’m not knocking this – far from it – but it did occur to me to wonder how blurbs have changed over time.  Needless to say, I will be looking in to this and will report back!

Back Beside the Sea

As I write, it is a beautiful autumn day: the sun is shining, the sky is blue and there is scarcely a breeze.  The view from my windows is glorious: the trees still have their autumn colours, there are swans swimming in the pond and I can just catch a glimpse of the cathedral.  Where am I?  In my new office in Elgin.

I’ve just recently been fortunate enough to be given the post of Senior Librarian in Moray.  I have a varied remit including, I’m pleased to say, services to young people.  It’s a great job and I’m working with friendly and helpful people.  But, best of all, I’ve moved back to Lossiemouth after an absence of over twenty years.  From my house I can see the sea and the view is wonderful!

As yet, I don’t have all my books with me which is clearly not a good thing.  Deciding which titles to bring was tough and, in the end, I went for a random selection.  I do work in a library after all!  It’s been fun, though, reading my way through the books I brought.  I’d forgotten all about some of them and they’d got hidden away in my collection.  Maybe less really is more.

What did I bring?  Well, some are books I can’t be without.  Anne of the Island by LM Montgomery, Sisterland by Linda Newbery and Nancy Calls the Tune by Dorita Fairlie Bruce for example.  I also brought some short series: the Carol books by Helen Dore Boylston and the Merry titles by Clare Mallory.  And then there are some that I’ve acquired since moving.  I love Ottoline at Sea by Chris Riddell and Big Bear, Little Brother by Carl Norac and beautifully illustrated by Kristin Oftedal.

I have others, too, some of them even for grown-ups, but to feel completely at home I’ll need all my books with me.  The day can’t come fast enough!