Monday, 29 October 2012

Anne of the Island - L.M. Montgomery

The Story...

New adventures lie ahead as Anne Shirley packs her bags, waves goodbye to childhood, and heads for Redmond College. With her old friend Prissy Grant waiting in the bustling city of Kingsport and her frivolous new friend Philippa Gordon at her side, Anne tucks away her memories of rural Avonlea and discovers life on her own terms, filled with surprises... including a marriage proposal from the worst fellow imaginable, the sale of her very first story, and a tragedy that teaches her a painful lesson. But tears turn to laughter when Anne and her friends move into an old cottage and an ornery black cat steals her heart. Little does Anne know that handsome Gilbert Blythe wants to win her heart, too. Suddenly Anne must decide whether she's ready for love.

A Reader's Experience...

As Anne Shirley grows up, she learns to challenge the girl she once had been. Romance becomes more real, memories more cherished, and humor more invigerating. She shows us all what it is to trade the vivid fantasies of youth for a reality that can be just as exciting, equally surprising, and a lot more satisfying.

I love how Montgomery's pursuit of romance, in the character of Anne, is both a struggle and an ideal. Readers are kept happy by the fairy tale illusions and eventual outcomes of many a character, yet we are presented with all of the false hopes and heartbreaks, the misread signals and revealations, and the imposed expectations and frustrations which must be confronted along the way. The experience of finding romance - recognising it, holding on to it, letting it go - is complexified and heartfelt. As far as love goes, such experiences allow us as readers (and when living it in real life) to recognise and appreciate the real deal whenever it comes along.

Anne has a very dear way of rekindling her old memories and feeling her way through waves of nostalgia. She is willing and able to re-live the story club days of her girlhood, the promises she made to Diana in sacred friendship, her images of Gilbert as a boy, her mishaps, her laughs, and her tears. Memories of older days add for her a sweetness and appreciation to the new, and this adds to my understanding of Anne as a character who takes nothing for granted - she lives her life fully and completely with everything it has to offer.

I love Montgomery's ironic sense of humor. The visit of Anne's latest suitor and his family with resulting destruction of Pricilla's cake, the precocious feline companions, the embarassing marriage proposals and the publication of her first literary masterpiece, baking powder and all. Like the previous novels, Anne's compromising positions add to her intrigue and charm and make her a more likable, down to earth character. Montgomery, through Anne, is able to take situations which may seem ordinary to us and liven them up naturally, without the need for overdramatic secrets or life altering thrills. The best part is that Anne will always still remain true to Anne, if all the wiser for it.

Monday, 22 October 2012

Anne of Avonlea - L.M. Montgomery

The Story...

At sixteen, Anne is grown up... almost. Her grey eyes shine like evening stars, but her red hair is still as peppery as her temper. In the years since she arrived at Green Gables as a frekle-faced orphan, she has earned the love of the people of Avonlea and a reputation for getting into scrapes. But when Anne begins her job as the new schoolteacher, the real test of her character begins. Along with teaching the three Rs, she is learning how complicated life can be when she meddles in someone else's romance, finds two new orphans at Green Gables, and wonders about the strange behaviour of the very handsome Gilbert Blythe. As Anne enters womanhood, her adventures touch the heart and the funny bone.

A Reader's Experience...

While I do recall reading the Anne books as a child, I am now finding that I somehow enjoy and get even more out of them as an adult. As I am beginning to re-read the entire series, I am already certain that it would have been an unfortunate loss had Montgomery chosen to stop writing it after the first book. It's a delight to follow such a vibrant and memorable character as Anne Shirley as she begins to move on into adulthood, and I find myself continuing to relate strongly to many of her feelings and ambitions. I admire her for her sense of devotion and compassion towards others, and I am captivated by the novel's developing sense of romance.

Anne is now a schoolteacher, who is also helping to care for orphan twins with ambitions to further her education. As a student teacher, I too feel the heavy load of responsability, high hopes for my students, and the desire for relationships built on mutual trust and inspiration which seems to affect Anne as a schoolmaster. She senses a road full of opportunity ahead of her, and while there are apprehensions about the changes moving her forward, she is very much after the thrill of the journey. I am energized by the ambition and adventure of youth, as well as the journey of curiosity and self discovery that is so thrilling for Anne. I am hoping to inspire my own youthful ambition and sense of wonder to continue to move my own story forward in to new and intriguing places.

Anne is a character who demonstrates great instincts towards the people around her, and seems to make friends, even "kindred spirits" quite naturally. She is quite gentle and sensitive when dealing with pupils in her classroom or with the twins at home. She listens to Davy's questions or Lavender's imaginings with interest and care. She is a loyal friend to many others including Paul Irving and the Harrisons, and of course Diana and Gilbert. She is a leader of the Avonlea villiage society. All of these characteristics demonstrate such strong people skills that I hope readers can pick up on and learn from. Anne seems to find the something good within everyone, even those she is not especially fond of, that they have to offer or contribute.

Oe magic element that clinches my interest in the novel is the theme of romance. It is a simple and sweet romance, even old fashioned, which to me is the essence of its charm. Anne becomes involved in the romantic tales of the Harrisons and the Irvings, as well as Diana and Fred Wright. The first two are instances of romance being re-kindled and given another chance, which to me is a beautiful and a powerful message of hope, along the lines of "if you love something let it go... if it comes back it's yours". This combined with Anne and Gilbert's changing feelings toward one another, seem to beg readers to give romance a chance. It will have it's share of heartbreak, but is a risk worth taking. Of course I love happy endings, and I believe that Anne's story at this point has only enhanced this feeling through such an uplifting sense of realistic encouragement.

Monday, 15 October 2012

Anne of Green Gables - L. M. Montgomery

The Story...

As soon as Anne Shirley arrives at the snug white farmhouse called Green Gables, she is sure she wants to stay forever... but will the Cuthburts send her back to the orphanage? Anne knows she's not what they expected - a skinny girl with fiery red hair and a temper to match. If only she can convince them to let her stay, she'll try very hard not to keep rushing headlong into scrapes and blurting out the first thing that comes to her mind. Anne is not like anybody else, the Cuthburts agree; she is special - a girl with an enormous inagination. This orphan girl dreams of the day when she can call herself Anne of Green Gables.

A Reader's Experience...

Like a comfortable old sweater, a favorite home cooked meal, or a scrapbook full of intimate and special memories, Anne of Green Gables is a delightful and timeless classic to fall in love with over and over again. She appeals to all ages as s a magnificently developed masterpiece capturing so much spirit, so much heart, and so many experiences. Montgomery writes with sensitivity and passion, exposing the heart and soul of Prince Edward Island, of family and community bonds, and of childhood realities and dreams. I can only wonder if she ever dreamed that her first novel would still be the source of such widespread impact and appeal so many years later.

As a born PEIslander, I can appreciate how Anne remains an iconic image of our sights, history, values and way of life, as well as an immense source of pride (not to mention a staple to the tourism industry). The author's description is colorful and vivid, the changes and moods of nature playing off of the changes and moods of the characters as Anne in particular interacts with the lush natural paradise around her with tenderness and facination. As readers, we can easily discover or rediscover pieces of the Island as if for the first time through Anne. It is where Anne discovers her true "home", and it serves to remind me of what a unique and special place it is to belong.

Anne of Green Gables invites readers to articulate and question what forms the bonds between family and friends and among community. As an orphan, Anne is desperate need of belonging and companionship. She is brought to the Cuthburts by chance and remains with them through choice, and it ultimately seems not only as if they were exactly what she needed, but as if she was also what they needed. Further, the community of Avonlea adopts her as their own and has developed a tight knit sense of loyalty and trust typical of small communities. Everyone knows everyone's business, everyone knows their place, and everyone has a reputation.

The author effectively represents a huge breadth of worries, challenges, joys and discoveries, and changes involved in growing up (on Anne's part) and raising a child (Matthew and Marilla's part). Anne struggles to tame her active imagination and her temper, make friends, succeed in school, learn life lessons, manage her feelings for Gilbert, accept her looks, deal with grief, and leave home, among other things. She has many first time experiences and accomplishments, from eating ice cream to passing exams. Matthew and Marilla too allow us to question how to raise our own children - to nurture, to discipline, to manage conflict, to communicate, to encourage, and to let go. Matthew and Marilla play different roles and have differing views, but it is clear that unbreakable, lifelong bonds have formed between Anne and them as her proud adoptive parents. I am amazed that the themes dealt with, using laughter and heart, are as central and prevalent now as they were back in 1908. Everything changes, of course, but some things stay the same.

Monday, 8 October 2012

The Chocolate Thief - Laura Florand

The Story...

Paris - Breathtakingly beautiful, the city of light seduces the senses, its cobbled streets thrumming with possibility. For American Cade Corey, it's a dream come true, if only she can get on infuriating French chocolatier to sign on the dotted line...

Chocolate - Melting, yielding yet firm, exotic, its secrets are intimately known to Sylvain Marqius. But turn them over to a brash American waving a fistfull of dollars? Jamais. Not unless there's something much more delectable on the table...

Stolen Pleasure - Whether confections taken from a locked shop or kisses in the dark, is there anything sweeter?

A Reader's Experience...

OK, so I am definitely not alone in admitting that chocolate is my definitive weak spot. So I spotted a novel that appeared to have turned my "Sweet tooth" in to a central passion and subject and I figured, how can I go wrong? Although the outcome of the novel is somewhat predictable, I found the characters colorful, the moments and interactions they go through entertaining, and the mood and setting enticing.

The author makes extensive, fantastic use of description - thoughts, feelings, moves - in order to create the two central characters. She is impulsive and driven, an independent go-getter who seemingly takes many risks in order to advance her career and make her dreams happen. At the same time, it is clear that she is struggling to reconcile her own dreams with the expectations of her family, which is a juggling act I feel that the majority of us will have to settle to some degree. He, too, is a dreamer who ceaseslessly endeavors to make something of himself while preserving the authenticity and skillfulness of his craft, seducing lovely women in the process.

Any time you have two willful, stubborn people with competing interests, there is bound to be drama. I was certainly amused by the banter between these characters, by how easly the dynamic could shift between them and how strongly they were drawn together. It's a kind of attraction that I can't say I've ever experienced, but the instincts and cumpulsive needs behind this developing relationship are something that the author makes very real and intriguing.

When I picture the settings of the novel - the sights, sounds, smells, tastes of a chocolate factory in the midst of Paris - I could see losing myself in it all and just soaking it in. I sense Cade's spark of adventure and the thirst to travel and explore new things, and I cannot wait to satisfy more if this curiosity within myself. There is a mood about the novel that is playful and lighthearted, with enough of a serious tone to make it believable.

The story proves that life really is a box of chocolates.

Monday, 1 October 2012

Sarah's Key - Tatiana de Rosnay

The Story...

Paris, July 1942: Sarah, a ten-year-old Girl, is taken with her parents by the French police as they go door-to-door arresting Jewish families in the middle of the night. Desperate to protect her younger brother, Sarah locks him in a bedroom cupboard - their secret hiding place - and promises to come back for him as soon as they are released.

Sixty Years Later: Sarah's story intertwines with that of Julia Jarmond, an American journalist investigating the roundup. In her research, Julia stumbles onto a trail of secrets that link her to Sarah, and to questions about her own romantic future.

In Sarah's Key, Tatiana de Rosnay offers up a mesmerizing story in which a tragic past unfolds, the present is torn apart, and the future is irrevocably altered.

A Reader's Experience...

The characters in this story are a real testament to the fragility but also to the strength of the human spirit, the child's spirit and will to survive, and the need to confront reality, step forward and continue on.

Behind the tragedy and desperite circumstances of a history which I, admittedly, still have far too little awareness of, there develops a need for closure and healing which is really only beginning at the end of the novel. There are huge moral questions as to how we move on and do better to make the world a more human place, and I appreciate the fact that this novel seems to accept that while we can't undo the mistakes of the past, we do have to acknowledge what has happened and make our peace with it, especially if we don't want hisory to repeat itself.

The novel is skillfully compelling and at times surprising. The interest builds as we discover how the lives of two key characters, seperated by time and circumstance, are finally pieced together.
When I think upon the circumstances that my own future children might be living in, I know that they will have heartaches, and can only hope that they won't live through anything near what Sarah had lived through. But whatever their struggles are, I would want to set them up with the same character, intellegence, and resourcefulness to carry them through it.

An aspect of the novel that stood out for me was Julia's powerful dedication towards finding out who Sarah was and what had happened to her. It is as if she is extremely driven by some external force, as if Sarah's story is indeed the "key" to awakening a new perspective and an understanding on her own life that is essential to her ability to develop and thrive as the determined person she is. In other words, Sarah's tragedy held a greater purpose, with such strong effects lingering on some sixty years later. Who or what might be the necessary key to my life, or yours?