Series wrap-up: The Emily Starr trilogy by L. M. Montgomery

One of my reading goals for 2021 was to read the Emily trilogy by L. M. Montgomery. Check! I just finished up the 3rd book, and I’m still under Emily’s spell. Here’s my reading wrap-up for this lovely trilogy:

Title: Emily of New Moon
Published: 1923
Length: 339 pages
Rating:

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Emily Starr never knew what it was to be lonely–until her beloved father died. Now Emily’s an orphan, and her mother’s snobbish relatives are taking her to live with them at New Moon Farm. She’s sure she won’t be happy. Emily deals with stiff, stern Aunt Elizabeth and her malicious classmates by holding her head high and using her quick wit. Things begin to change when she makes friends, with Teddy, who does marvelous drawings; with Perry, who’s sailed all over the world with his father yet has never been to school; and above all, with Ilse, a tomboy with a blazing temper. Amazingly, Emily finds New Moon beautiful and fascinating. With new friends and adventures, Emily might someday think of herself as Emily of New Moon.

Emily of New Moon introduces us to the unforgettable Emily Byrd Starr. Orphaned at age 10, Emily is taken in by her late mother’s side of the family, who disowned her mother years earlier when she eloped with Emily’s father. Suddenly uprooted, Emily settles into life at the beautiful New Moon with her spinster aunts, Elizabeth and Laura, and her impish cousin Jimmy. Despite her heartbreak over losing her father, Emily is soon enchanted by the loveliness of the farm and its surroundings, and settles in — with challenges — to her new home.

Emily is feisty and sensitive, speaks her mind, and doesn’t back down. She’s also highly imaginative and inquisitive, and — like Anne in Anne of Green Gables — delights in imbuing the natural world around her with fanciful names and personalities. For the first time in her life, Emily also has friends and classmates, and gets into wonderful adventures with Ilse, Teddy, and Perry. Most of all, Emily lets her secret ambition to become a “poetess” flourish, and uses every scrap of paper she can find to record her poems and stories.

This is a truly lovely book, very similar to Anne of Green Gables in spirit and tone. The author once again gives us a young girl with a sharp, expressive mind and a will of her own as a main character. The book is full of sweetness and whimsy, but we also feel Emily’s sorrow and pain as she navigates a world that isn’t always kind to her. There are memorable characters and escapades, and as in the author’s other works. Prince Edward Island is brought to life through Emily’s eyes.

Title: Emily Climbs
Published: 1925
Length: 325 pages
Rating:

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Emily Starr was born with the desire to write. As an orphan living on New Moon Farm, writing helped her face the difficult, lonely times. But now all her friends are going away to high school in nearby Shrewsbury, and her old-fashioned, tyrannical aunt Elizabeth will only let her go if she promises to stop writing! All the same, this is the first step in Emily’s climb to success. Once in town, Emily’s activities set the Shrewsbury gossips buzzing. But Emily and her friends are confident — Ilse’s a born actress, Teddy’s set to be a great artist, and roguish Perry has the makings of a brilliant lawyer. When Emily has her poems published and writes for the town newspaper, success seems to be on its way — and with it the first whispers of romance. Then Emily is offered a fabulous opportunity, and she must decide if she wants to change her life forever.

The second book in the Emily trilogy covers Emily’s teen years as she attends high school in the nearby town of Shrewsbury. While Emily is desperate to further her education and hone her writing craft, she dreads being forced to board with her judgmental, restrictive Aunt Ruth. Plus, as part of being allowed to attend high school, Emily has had to promise not to write fiction during the three years of her schooling, which is a really tough pill for her to swallow. Still, she has her diaries and her poetry, and starts writing newspaper articles as well.

As the years go by, Emily and her friends grow and have more adventures, and Emily has some initial success as a writer when magazines begin publishing her submissions, sometimes even for money. Meanwhile, she has her first suitors, but her heart really belongs to the boy she’s grown up with.

I really enjoyed book #2, although one of the romantic situations involves a much older cousin-by-marriage and is kind of icky (although Emily, bless her heart, doesn’t understand at all that there’s a romantic interest there.) While he is never inappropriate, his interest is obvious, and seen through today’s lens, it feels way too much like grooming. So icky. (Granted, the book was written 100 years ago, so perspectives on this sort of thing would certainly have been different).

Even as she gets older, Emily is still a dreamer, and it’s lovely to see her view of the world around her. Like Anne (of Green Gables), she sees magic and beauty in the world, and is driven by the need to describe what she experiences through her writing.

By the end of Emily Climbs, Emily has finished school and set her course for the future. It’s charming to see the choices she makes and the life she envisions for herself.

Title: Emily’s Quest
Published: 1927
Length: 258 pages
Rating:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Emily Starr and Teddy Kent have been friends since childhood, and as Teddy is about to leave to further his education as an artist, Emily believes that their friendship is blossoming into something more. On his last night at home, they vow to think of each other when they see the star Vega of the Lyre.

As Emily grows as a writer and learns to deal with the loneliness of having her closest friends gone, life at New Moon changes. Mr. Carpenter, Emily’s most truthful critic and favorite teacher dies (warning Emily, even as he dies to “Beware — of — italics.”). She becomes closer to Dean Priest, even as she fears he wants love when she only has friendship to give. Worst of all, Emily and Teddy become distant as he focuses on building his career and she hides her feelings behind pride.

Oh, this book grabbed me and put my heart through the wringer! So many emotions! Emily grows into her young womanhood in Emily’s Quest, and it’s both sad and inspiring in so many ways.

Although she’s been offered an opportunity to pursue a career in New York, Emily knows in her heart that she belongs at New Moon, and that this is where her joy and creative inspiration live. She continues to live with her aunts and cousin in the family home and enjoys the natural beauty of her world. Her writing gets accepted by more and more magazines, and she actually earns enough to pay back the stuffy aunts and uncles who paid for her earlier education.

But Emily is lonely without her closest friends. She has many suitors, none of whom really stir her feelings enough to accept their proposals. Her older cousin Dean provides companionship, and it’s clear that he loves her. Emily is very fond of him and loves his friendship, but I started to hate him. He’s so disparaging of Emily’s work, to the point that he pretty much eviscerates her:

“Her pretty cobwebs—” ah, there it was. That was all Emily heard. She did not even realize that he was telling her he thought her a beautiful woman.

“Do you think what I write is nothing but cobwebs, Dean?” she asked chokingly.

Dean looked surprised, doing it very well. “Star, what else is it? What do you think it is yourself? I’m glad you can amuse yourself by writing. It’s a splendid thing to have a little hobby of the kind. And if you can pick up a few shekels by it—well, that’s all very well too in this kind of a world. But I’d hate to have you dream of being a Brontë or an Austen—and wake to find you’d wasted your youth on a dream.”

“I don’t fancy myself a Brontë or an Austen,” said Emily. “But you didn’t talk like that long ago, Dean. You used to think then I could do something some day.”

“We don’t bruise the pretty visions of a child,” said Dean. “But it’s foolish to carry childish dreams over into maturity. Better face facts. You write charming things of their kind, Emily. Be content with that and don’t waste your best years yearning for the unattainable or striving to reach some height far beyond your grasp.”

Ugh. If Dean Priest was standing in front of me, I think I’d have to punch him in the face. Because of a series of events that start with Dean telling Emily that her work is basically trash, Emily goes through one of the worst periods of her life, and eventually accepts Dean’s proposal of marriage, thinking she can have a happy life with him. Fortunately, she realizes what we readers have known all along — her heart has always belonged to Teddy Kent, the boy she’s loved since childhood.

Sadly, the course of true love never did run smooth, and there’s more heartbreak ahead. I can’t tell you how completely wrung out my feelings were, reading Emily’s ups and downs, and at times, hurting so much for her that I wanted to go hide with my head under a pillow.

But fear not, there’s a happy ending! I wish the ending had been given a little more time to breathe, but it was joyful nonetheless, and that’s really all I wanted — for Emily to find the happiness she deserves.

Wrapping it all up…

The fact that I was so caught up in Emily’s life shows what a magnificently written set of books this is! There’s something incredibly beautiful about following Emily’s story from girlhood through her teens and into womanhood, seeing all the different stages of her life, and experiencing how her childhood hopes and dreams evolve over time, making her the woman she finally becomes.

It’s a lovely journey, and Emily is a fabulous character. She has the starry-eyed joy that we see in Anne Shirley (Anne of Green Gables), but her story takes its own path. While initially feeling like a similar book about an orphaned girl finding a new family, Emily becomes someone unique and worth knowing in her own right. I love her imagination and joy as a child, and how her love of the world around her infuses her writing and her ability to love others.

The books are filled with memorable quirky characters, and the setting on Prince Edward Island is so lovingly drawn that I could visualize everything Emily sees. (PEI is going to be a travel goal for me!)

I’m so thrilled that I read the Emily trilogy, and I know in my heart that these are books I’ll come back to again and again.

Mini-reviews: A trio of classic horror

Maybe it’s the month of October exerting its spooky influence over me, but I ended up reading three works of classic horror fiction this week, and they were all chillingly great. For all three, I was inspired by recent reads that drew upon these works as inspiration. Read on to find out more…

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Title: The Island of Dr. Moreau
Author: H. G. Wells
Published: 1896
Length: 153 pages

Adrift in a dinghy, Edward Prendick, the single survivor from the good ship Lady Vain, is rescued by a vessel carrying a profoundly unusual cargo – a menagerie of savage animals. Tended to recovery by their keeper Montgomery, who gives him dark medicine that tastes of blood, Prendick soon finds himself stranded upon an uncharted island in the Pacific with his rescuer and the beasts. Here, he meets Montgomery’s master, the sinister Dr. Moreau – a brilliant scientist whose notorious experiments in vivisection have caused him to abandon the civilised world. It soon becomes clear he has been developing these experiments – with truly horrific results. 

For this book and the next on my list, I was inspired by Theodora Goss’s excellent trilogy The Extraordinary Adventures of the Athena Club (which starts with The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter, reviewed here.) A newly invented character related to the happenings on Dr. Moreau’s island is one of my favorites in the Goss books, so of course I had to read her origin story.

The Island of Dr. Moreau is grotesque and horrible, but it’s also a very exciting and compelling read. I can only imagine that this would be even more startling if (unlike me) you didn’t know the major plot twist related to Dr. Moreau’s strange and cruel experiments.

There are sinister people, scary beings in the jungle, midnight chase scenes, and all sorts of terrifying encounters. Definitely recommended!

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Title: Rappaccini’s Daughter
Author: Nathaniel Hawthorne
Published: 1844
Length: 48 pages

Part fairy tale, part Gothic horror story, “Rappaccini’s Daughter” is an inspired tale of creation and control. Giovanni Guasconti, a student at the University of Padua, is enchanted to discover a nearby garden of the most exquisite beauty. In it abides a young woman, perhaps the most beautiful Giovanni has ever seen; yet as he looks out from an upstairs window, he soon learns that the garden–and the matchless Beatrice–are not the work of Mother Nature but rather the result of a monstrous abomination of creativity.

Beatrice Rappaccini is another character who appears in the Theodora Goss novels, so it was enlightening for me to read the original story about her. Here, Dr. Rappaccini is a scientist devoted to cross-breeding plants and flowers to create a deadly garden, and has raised Beatrice among the plants from birth so that she herself is poisonous. Giovanni falls in love with her, but eventually has to believe the evidence he sees that proves that Beatrice’s breath and touch are deadly.

Rappaccini’s Daughter is brief, but powerful, and well worth reading.

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Title: The Willows
Author: Algernon Blackwood
Published: 1907
Length: 105 pages

Two friends are midway on a canoe trip down the Danube River. Throughout the story Blackwood personifies the surrounding environment—river, sun, wind—and imbues them with a powerful and ultimately threatening character. Most ominous are the masses of dense, desultory, menacing willows, which “moved of their own will as though alive, and they touched, by some incalculable method, my own keen sense of the horrible.”

“The Willows” is one of Algernon Blackwood’s best known short stories. American horror author H.P. Lovecraft considered it to be the finest supernatural tale in English literature. “The Willows” is an example of early modern horror and is connected within the literary tradition of weird fiction. 

I picked up a copy of The Willows after reading The Hollow Places by T. Kingfisher, one of the creepiest books I’ve ever read (reviewed here). In the author’s notes, T. Kingfisher credits The Willows as an inspiration, so of course I had to read it.

This is such an odd story, because in some ways, it’s hard to understand why the characters’ situation is so scary. They stop on a small island in an isolated, wild section of the Danube, where the river is wild and harsh, filled with similar small islands, and surrounded everywhere by willows.

The longer the men spend on their precarious island, the more convinced they become that something unearthly is going on, that they are in fact in a place where the veils between worlds are thin, and that the best they can hope for is to evade the notice of the beings from the other side who are trying to push through.

The Willows has a creeping terror — no jump scares, just the growing sense that something is really, really wrong, and that the characters may not make it out alive. Nothing is obvious, but the overall atmosphere is chilling and disturbing. It’s a weird story, but was enlightening in terms of understanding where some of the elements in The Hollow Places came from. Really a strange yet interesting read.

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That’s my creepy classics round-up! What’s your favorite classic horror story?

Top Ten Tuesday: A TTT Freebie — 10 classics on my TBR list

Top Ten Tuesday is a meme hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl, featuring a different top 10 theme each week. This week’s is a freebie week, meaning we all come up with our own TTT topics.

I thought I’d return to an oldie but goodie — classic reads that I still need to get to. My list of to-read classics changes all the time, but for right now, these are the ten classics that I’d most like to read:

  1. The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
  2. Dracula by Bram Stoker (a re-read, but it’s been enough years that it’ll probably feel new to me)
  3. A Passage to India by E. M. Forster
  4. The Painted Veil by W. Somerset Maugham
  5. David Copperfield by Charles Dickens
  6. The Island of Dr. Moreau by H. G. Wells
  7. Peony by Pearl S. Buck
  8. Eight Cousins by Louisa May Alcott (or really, anything by this author besides the Little Women trilogy, which I’ve read)
  9. I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith
  10. Jamaica Inn by Daphne Du Maurier

After putting this list together, it occurs to me that it’s weighted toward male authors, which doesn’t make me happy — so this whole topic may need further thought! Or a follow-up post, at the very least.

Have you read any of these books, and if so, which do you recommend?

What did you write about for this week’s TTT? Please share your links!

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Shelf Control #191: The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck

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Welcome to Shelf Control — an original feature created and hosted by Bookshelf Fantasies.

Shelf Control is a weekly celebration of the unread books on our shelves. Pick a book you own but haven’t read, write a post about it (suggestions: include what it’s about, why you want to read it, and when you got it), and link up! For more info on what Shelf Control is all about, check out my introductory post, here.

Want to join in? Shelf Control posts go up every Wednesday. See the guidelines at the bottom of the post, and jump on board!

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Title: The Grapes of Wrath
Author: John Steinbeck
Published: 1939
Length: 468 pages

What it’s about (synopsis via Goodreads):

The Pulitzer Prize-winning epic of the Great Depression, a book that galvanized—and sometimes outraged—millions of readers.

First published in 1939, Steinbeck’s Pulitzer Prize-winning epic of the Great Depression chronicles the Dust Bowl migration of the 1930s and tells the story of one Oklahoma farm family, the Joads—driven from their homestead and forced to travel west to the promised land of California. Out of their trials and their repeated collisions against the hard realities of an America divided into Haves and Have-Nots evolves a drama that is intensely human yet majestic in its scale and moral vision, elemental yet plainspoken, tragic but ultimately stirring in its human dignity. A portrait of the conflict between the powerful and the powerless, of one man’s fierce reaction to injustice, and of one woman’s stoical strength, the novel captures the horrors of the Great Depression and probes into the very nature of equality and justice in America. At once a naturalistic epic, captivity narrative, road novel, and transcendental gospel, Steinbeck’s powerful landmark novel is perhaps the most American of American Classics.

How and when I got it:

I had (and then lost) a copy years ago, but just got a new one earlier this year.

Why I want to read it:

I’ve always meant to read this book. I know a lot of folks ended up having this on a school required reading list, but I never did. This year, my book group decided to do a reading challenge based on the PBS Great American Reads list, and this is one of the books I chose for my challenge. Now if only I’d actually crack it open and get started!

What do you think? Have you ever read The Grapes of Wrath, and if so, do you recommend it?

Please share your thoughts!

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Want to participate in Shelf Control? Here’s how:

  • Write a blog post about a book that you own that you haven’t read yet.
  • Add your link in the comments!
  • If you’d be so kind, I’d appreciate a link back from your own post.
  • Check out other posts, and…

Have fun!

A whale, an app, and me; or, how I finished reading Moby Dick in 79 easy pieces

Hast seen the white whale?

moby-dick-3I have!

I conquered that whale, and good.

Yes, after spending all of my reading life up to now saying, “I should probably read Moby Dick one of these days” but knowing in my heart that I never actually would… I DID IT!

Thanks to the glory of the Serial Reader app (read about it here), I have finally conquered the American classic that I never expected to read.

moby-dick_fe_title_pageSerial Reader is an app that lets you pick a public domain book to “subscribe” to. Each day, a new installment is ready to go. I got kind of used to waking up in the morning and seeing the friendly “Ahoy!” messages (I kid you not) letting me know that the new daily reading chunk was ready and waiting. Each day’s reading was typically short enough to read in 10 – 15 minutes.

Is 10 – 15 minutes something I could spare? Absolutely.

Let’s face it — the idea of reading Moby Dick or certain other massive classics is just way too daunting. I’m not afraid of the content, but I do know myself well enough to know that I’ll push my way through while constantly aching to go back to something that doesn’t feel like I’ve given myself an assignment.

But 10 – 15 minutes? Heck, I could do that over my morning coffee (which is exactly what I did most days).

I did read ahead at least a few days per week, so rather than taking 79 days to read, I finished the book in more like 60, I think.

whales-1472984_1280You probably want to know – how was it? I mean, was the book actually good?

The answer is YES. Surprise, surprise — it’s even funny at parts. Herman Melville can tell a tale, I tell you.

Of course, there are huge chunks in the middle where we have chapter after chapter about whale anatomy, the parts of whaling ships, descriptions of the jobs of every person on board a whaling ship… on and on and on. The early chapters are about our narrator Ishmael, and there are some delightful moments when he befriends the “cannibal” Queequeg, although I was sorry to see their bromance fade from the storyline as the book progresses. Really, if you took out all the parts about categorizing and labeling whale parts, the story of the Pequod and its mad captain Ahab would probably only be about a third as long as Moby Dick is in its entirety.

As to the method of reading the book, the Serial Reader approach has its pros and cons.

PROS: I read the damn book! I really don’t believe I ever would have done it otherwise. The app kept me motivated, with its scoring and little achievement badges and daily encouragements with each segment completed.

CONS: While I read the book (hurray!), I don’t believe I came even close to fully appreciating it. I read it quickly, and it was a very surface-level read. I didn’t dive into the symbolism, the structure, the themes, the references — I read it purely for story. I suppose someone could use the app and still take the time for a deeper dive into each installment, but I didn’t. I approached this read as a limited time commitment, with its allotted 10 – 15 minutes per day, and that’s all I was willing to give.

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Do I recommend it? Again, yes and no.

The Serial Reader app is a great way to tackle books that you might not ordinarily read. But as for Moby Dick, I do believe that I would have gotten much more out of it if I’d read an annotated version, or even looked through an illustrated edition with diagrams of all the whale anatomy and other goodies.

Will I use Serial Reader again?

Oh, I think so. Maybe not right away. I think I need a little free reading time where I’m not keeping up with quite so many narrative threads at once. (See my post about my reading saturation point, here.)

Likewise, I don’t know if I’d want to tackle such a big book this way again. At some points, it really did feel like a chore, and I’m pretty much opposed to anything that makes reading feel like work, not play.

But I do see the value in using the app to make a challenging read more bite-sized and manageable. I could see myself using the app for some classic sci-fi, like Jules Verne or H. G. Wells, or even some random short stories. As for longer classic fiction, I’m not sure. I’ve been saying I want to read Great Expectations for years now and still haven’t done it, so Serial Reader could be the way to get it done — but I think I’ll get more out of it as a reader if I treat it like any other book I want to read, sitting down with the book and a bookmark, and not starting anything else until I’m done… rather than treating it like an assignment with a daily deadline.

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Meanwhile, back to Moby Dick

I read it, and I enjoyed it, and I’ve been thinking about it quite a bit ever since I finished this week. The book has such a reputation as a heavy, overwhelming read, and I was surprised to find that it’s actually fun, entertaining, moving, and at times, laugh-out-loud funny. Sure, the science is a bit (oh, 150 years or so) behind the times, but for when it was written, it’s really quite remarkable. So what if Melville considers whales to be fish? I’d venture to say that what he presented was deemed accurate at the time.

So, consider me a fan. I met the white whale, and survived to tell the tale.

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