Sunday, November 28, 2010

Lucy Maud Montgomery

Lucy Maud Montgomery

Lucy Maud Montgomery ("Maud without an e if you please") has been one of my favorite authors since I was a child and discovered the wonderful world of her novels and stories. I was recently able to obtain and read copies of her published journals. She kept a journal for most of her life, but destroyed her earliest journals and carefully edited her later journals for eventual publication. These journals tell the story of the wonderfully creative author of Anne of Green Gables, The Story Girl, Emily of New Moon, Pat of Silver Bush, and more.

Volume I (1889-1910) deals with Maud's teen years and early adulthood. She writes of her life with her strict, Puritanical grandparents; a year spent out west living with her father and his second family; hopes and dreams of adolescence; desire for higher education; college years; romance and dream of becoming a writer. She also covers the writing process as she begins to craft her best-known work. The volume ends with her secret engagement to the Rev. Ewan Macdonald and the publication of Anne of Green Gables.

This volume is wonderful! These were Maud's happiest years and the reader can easily sympathize with her hopes and dreams and delight in learning more about the land that inspired Anne.

Volume II (1910-1921) covers the early years of Maud's marriage and move to rural Ontario where her husband took charge of a small congregation. She writes about the petty gossips and lack of "kindred spirits" and the difficulties of being a famous author. She also discusses childbirth and raising her two beloved sons, the horrors of World War I, difficulties with her publisher and her husband's mental illness. This volume is less light and fun than the first and there are many difficult moments, however there are sweet and lovely candid moments where Maud writes about her love for her sons and the excitement of publication.

Volume III (1921-1929) is a lot darker than the previous two. Maud and her husband were the victims of an extortion plot, she was obliged to leave her original publisher for a better deal only to become involved in a lawsuit with her lying, greedy, scheming former publisher. It culminates in their move to another community. There are lighter aspects of her life which she writes of as well and the beauty of the island home she always held in her heart. I couldn't put it down yet I felt sorry for Maud for all her troubles.

Volume IV (1929-1935) covers the years of the Great Depression and Maud's struggle to support her family and friends through the tough times. She also writes about her sons' adolescent troubles, her husband's nerves, her fears, her hopes and dreams and the loss of some of them. She was also stalked by an infatuated young woman and saw a decline in sales . She remained an ever-popular author though, especially on Prince Edward Island, where tourists flocked to see her old home and people scrambled to meet her. She describes her homes in great detail, with beautiful descriptions of nature both in Ontario and on PEI, By this time, Maud was using her journal as an outlet to vent her troubles and consequently this volume is very dark and sad. It was difficult to read my favorite author experiencing so many difficulties and wishing things could have been different, yet sometimes it was hard to sympathize with her when she was so very class conscious, complaining about her maids and lack of suitable companions for her now-young-adult boys. I had to keep reading though it was difficult.

Volume V (1935-1942) covers the last years of Maud's life dealing with retirement, a move to Toronto, her husband's mental illness and her own struggle with depression. Her sons also caused much anguish with their life decisions and the world was on the brink of war once again. Yet she also described her life and times and provides a good historical record. The final pages show how Maud's depression and poor health got the better of her at last. Her final nervous breakdown caused the once lively and vibrant woman to become bedridden and unable to work. This is definitely the saddest volume. I'm not sorry I read her journals, I feel like I know and understand her better than ever, yet I felt anguish for the pain and suffering she experienced and wish that life could have been different. I think her fiction writing was a way for her to escape her difficulties and rewrite aspects of her own life she wished to change.

I highly recommend these journals which provide an excellent and in-depth look at one of the most beloved authors of all times.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

What I've Read This Week

What I've Read This Week . . .

Hello faithful followers, I apologize for the lack of frequent postings. Time for blogging is difficult during the school year. I hope to have some interesting historical information for you soon but for now, enjoy these book reviews.

The Wake of the Lorelei Lee: Being an Account of the Further Adventures of Jacky Faber, On Her Way to Botany Bay by L.A. Meyer -- Young Adult Historical Fiction

Things are looking up for Jacky now that she's about to be pardoned by the British government. Jacky plans to her beloved Jamie in London and head up Faber Shipping Worldwide. Jacky has purchased a new ship, a brig, she names Lorelei Lee to take her on her next adventure. As always, Jacky is impetuous and arrives in London before she receives word from Jaimy that it's safe to do so. Upon her arrival, Jacky learns that a change in the Admiralty led old enemies to tell lies (and half-truths) about her and reveal that she kept some of the Spanish treasure for herself. This time, there's no escape for Jacky. She's thrown in the hulks (prison ships) and her future involves being sent to Botany Bay in the new colony of Australia as part of a program forcing female convicts to marry and mate with male convicts in order to populate to the new colony. Jacky, of course, does not quite submit willingly to her fate. When she discovers that the ship that will be taking her to Australia is none other than her own beloved Lorelei Lee, she uses her knowledge of the ship to her advantage. Jacky, along with the faithful Higgins and a kind captain manage to make the voyage pleasant. However, there are those who believe the lies told about Jacky and mean her harm. Meanwhile, Jaimy has landed himself in hot water and is also being transported to Australia. Jamie's voyage is less than ideal but he has learned a thing or two from Jacky and isn't willing to submit to despair. Jacky and Jaimy continue on their star-crossed paths and Jacky tries to find a way to thwart fate in this latest adventure. As usual, Jacky is wild and impetuous, but this time she seems to have grown up a bit and learned from past mistakes. I enjoyed her adventure though it felt a bit formulaic and predictable. I especially liked Jaimy's journey and the evolution of his character. Previously I couldn't stand him but I like him much better in this book. I've grown tired of Jacky and her adventures. The novelty has worn off and each adventure brings less excitement for me. I quit reading at the end of Part IV which has a happy ending and imagine my own future for Jacky. Even though I am through with Jacky, I think faithful readers will enjoy this latest adventure as much as the others in the series.

Storyteller by Patricia Reilly Giff -- Middle Grades Contemporary/Historical Fiction Elizabeth, a 21st century girl, is sent to live with her Aunt Libby she's never met when her father has to leave the country for business. Elizabeth is upset at being left with a stranger and having to change schools but she and her Aunt Libby begin to bond when Elizabeth notices an old drawing of an ancestor who looked just like her. Elizabeth begins to feel a kinship with the other Elizabeth (called Zee) and Elizabeth's quest to know Zee's story helps her bond with her mother's family and find her way in her new school. Zee lives in the 1770s in upstate New York with her parents and older brother who came to America from Europe searching for a place to belong. Zee feels unwanted and unloved because she's awkward, clumsy and forgetful. Luckily, her closest friend Ammi likes Zee just fine. Ammi's older brother Isaac seems to like Zee too. However, Zee and Ammi's families are on opposite sides of the growing conflict between those who are loyal to the king and those who wish to be free. Zee's father and brother march off to join the patriots and Zee and her mother are left to run the farm the best they can. When tragedy strikes, Zee must pull herself together and find a path to safety and to freedom. Elizabeth and Zee's stories alternate with each chapter and show how everyone isn't perfect but each person possesses unique abilities that enrich the lives of others. I personally felt Elizabeth's story was the weaker of the two. Told in first person present tense it reads awkwardly and some of Elizabeth's feelings get left out and events are rushed. Zee's story kept me turning the pages wanting to know what happened, though some parts were a little gruesome. I appreciated the realistic portrayal of the Revolutionary War and reading about a heroine who had many faults but was still likable and a strong female character. I do not think the writing is as strong as Giff's earlier historical fiction novels but it's still above average. This is a good book for middle school children and their parents. Adults will probably like Zee and Elizabeth's desire to know Zee's story.

Forge by Laurie Halse Anderson -- Young Adult Historical Fiction
This sequel to Chains is told from the point-of-view of Isabel's friend Curzon. After Isabel rescues him from prison, having served his time in the American army for his owner, Curzon considers himself a free man. Curzon and Isabel disagree about their future plans and Isabel runs off, leaving Cuzon alone. Curzon is strong-willed and manages to make his way in the world, befriending a young soldier and rejoining the American army in the fight against the British. The soldiers are quartered at Valley Forge during that disastrous winter experiencing bitter cold and starvation. Curzon makes the best of things, despite an enemy who is determined to hate him for the color of his skin. Though Curzon enjoys the time spent with his comrades, he hesitates to get too close and share his deepest secret. Curzon also worries about Isabel, with whom he's fallen in love. He is alternately mad at her for leaving him and worried for her safety. A chance meeting with someone from his past may ruin everything Curzon has worked for, especially when he discovers that Isabel's life is in danger. Curzon has to be brave and determined in order to survive. This book is historical fiction at it's best. Anderson's descriptions of life at Valley Forge are incredibly detailed and realistic and draw the reader in. Her descriptions of life in slavery are also true-to-life and she doesn't shy away from horrific details yet she manages to do so without being too graphic. The story is populated with supporting characters drawn from imagination and real life which make the story all that more realistic. My biggest complaint is that I would have liked the story more of it alternated with Isabel's viewpoint. I kept wondering what had happened to her and whether Curzon would ever learn her fate before the end of the book. This is an excellently written novel for readers ages 12 and up. I can't wait for the next volume in the series!