Book reviews

Posts tagged ‘LM Montgomery’

Anne of Avonlea by L.M. Montgomery

In need of comfort during Melbourne’s seemingly endless Covid lockdown*, I turned to Anne of Avonlea by L.M. Montgomery, which was a favourite book of mine from childhood. Anne-fans won’t be at all surprised to learn that I began smiling again almost immediately.

Anne of Avonlea follows on directly from Anne of Green Gables. The chapters tell of Anne Shirley’s day to day pleasures, the challenges she faces and her growth as a very young school teacher at the Avonlea school. In this day and age the thought of a sixteen-year old teaching school seems unthinkable, but when this book was written it must have been commonplace, as several of Anne’s schoolfriends were also teaching at various schools on Prince Edward Island throughout this story.

Anne might be a little older but she is as impulsive as ever and the story begins with her accidently selling a cantankerous new neighbour’s cow instead of her own, after said cow broke into the neighbour’s paddock and ate his oats. A beautifully iced cake and Anne’s most sincere apology left her and the new neighbour as friends. The theme of friendship runs through the remainder of this book.

In this story, Anne’s school friends Diana, Gilbert, Jane and the other young people of Avonlea form the Avonlea Village Improvement Society. Some of the townspeople are convinced that it is the people themselves who are to be improved and are resistant to the idea, although they can usually find improvements to be made amongst their neighbours. Other curmudgeons are convinced that the society is a cover for the young people to go courting. The AVIS experienced a discouraging setback when after fundraising to paint the Avonlea Hall it was painted the wrong colour, an ugly bright blue usually seen on wheelbarrows. Regardless of this, they succeeded admirably in prettying-up Avonlea by planting trees and flowers along the town’s roadways.

There are several new faces in Avonlea, including the delightful Miss Lavender, who Anne befriended and helped to escape her enchanted castle after returning Miss Lavender’s prince to her. There were also a horde of school children who Anne taught at the Avonlea school, including Anthony Pye, whose heart she couldn’t seem to win.

At Green Gables things livened up with the arrival of six-year old twins, Davy and Dora, who were adopted by Marilla after the death of their parents. I don’t think I’ve read this book in at least thirty years and this time around I struggled with Davy and Dora’s characters. Marilla and Anne openly admitted to loving naughty Davy better than his well-behaved, dull sister, which I believe is something that a person might think privately but would never say. With more life experience of my own since I last read this book, I also thought that the death of the twin’s mother was glossed over and I particularly struggled with the children’s easy acceptance of their loss.

I was also surprised to discover that Anne and other characters were racist towards French people, who were definitely second class amongst their community.

The story ends with Anne on the verge of adulthood and about to leave Avonlea for Redmond College.

I enjoyed Anne of Avonlea despite the areas of plot that don’t stand up to the values of today.

*It has been over a month since I wrote this review and since then, things in Melbourne have changed enormously. There have been no Covid cases in over a month and lockdown has lifted, although some minor restrictions remain. Right now the sun is shining and life is good!

The Blue Castle by L.M. Montgomery

My family binge-watched the second series of Anne With An E over Easter, which led me to seek out The Blue Castle by L.M. Montgomery. Despite having loved the Anne of Green Gables books so much that I partly named Honey-Bunny after the main character, I had never previously read The Blue Castle.

The main character is Valancy Stirling, a 29-year old woman living in Deerwood with her nagging, unpleasant mother. The Stirling clan treated Valancy with disrespect and she was the constant butt of sly and unkind digs. Valancy was constantly passed over in favour of anyone else who was considered to be more important than she was.

Valancy escaped her unhappy reality by daydreaming of a blue castle in Spain to avoid the worst of her clan’s treatment. Her greatest joy in life was reading books by a reclusive Canadian naturist.

When she was diagnosed with a terminal heart condition, Valancy stopped being a victim to her family and started to live. She didn’t tell her family of her diagnosis but began her revolution by speaking her own mind. After shocking her family with her candid opinions, Valancy went to live with a notorious drunk to care for his dying daughter, Cissy Gay, who had been shunned by the rest of the Deerwood community after having had a child out of wedlock.

While living at the Gay’s home, Valancy got to know Barney Snaith, a mysterious man who the people of Deerwood suspect of being a criminal, the father of Cissy’s baby, and worse. Valancy fell in love with Barney and after Cissy died, convinced that she had nothing to lose, told Barney she had less than a year to live and asked him to marry her.

Barney agreed and they moved to his remote cabin on an island where Valancy was the happiest she had ever been, even though she knew her life will soon be over. By this time the Stirling clan were so scandalised by Valancy they wouldn’t speak to her.

Valancy was a real victim in the first half of the story, crying herself to sleep as she dwelled on her unhappiness, and recounting every mean thing that had ever been said or done to her. I liked her much better once she started to stand up for herself, say what she really thought and do what she wanted to. I also liked that she shingled her hair and bought herself some clothes that she actually liked.

I was aware before I began reading The Blue Castle that the plot was extraordinarily similar to that of one of my favourite books, The Ladies of Missalonghi by Australian author Colleen McCullough, who denied plagiarising The Blue Castle. Having read many other books by McCullough I think she was a good-enough writer on her own merits not to have plagiarised The Blue Castle on purpose. The most common opinion is that McCullough probably read the story as a child and subconsciously remembered the plot. The heroines of each have very different personalities and morals, despite the similarities in the plots. The Ladies of Missalonghi is a much cheekier book, one where the reader feels as if they are in on the joke but The Blue Castle is written as a straight romance.

I prefer my old favourite A Tangled Web, which is L.M. Montgomery’s other adult novel but can see why The Blue Castle is as beloved by her fans as any of her other works.

The Blythes are Quoted by L.M. Montgomery



For anyone who loves Anne of Green Gables, finding the short story collection The Blythes are Quoted by L.M. Montgomery will be a joy. Some of these stories were previously published and according to the cover blurb, seriously abridged in The Road to Yesterday, but this collection tells the stories in their entirety.

The stories from the first half of the book are from prior to World War 1 and the second half, after World War I. The stories throughout are of happenings around Glen St. Mary and the surrounding districts, and concern characters other than Anne, Gilbert and their immediate family, although all of the stories refer to the Blythe family in some way or other.

Between each story are poems, written either Anne or her son Walter. Anne reads them aloud to Gilbert and the children at night by their fireside at Ingleside, after which some of their conversation or private thoughts are reported. Susan Baker listens with a practical ear and doesn’t think the children should listen to poetry about witches or goblins lest their imaginations get the better of them and they find themselves unable to sleep, Walter as a small child listens to his mother’s poems and dreams of writing poetry too, but Gilbert listens to Anne’s poetry as a diagnostic tool to her emotional health, particularly after the war and Walter’s death.

While I don’t particularly care for poetry, I found that the conversation that followed each recital added to the poem itself. The poems after the war are sad and dark, unlike the more carefree poems from before the war.

The stories are a delight. Some are romances, some are mysteries and some are stories of malice. Generally the themes are darker than previous books in the ‘Anne’ series, with characters who are criminals and stories of adultery, ghosts and death.

The first story is Some Fools and a Saint, and tells of a young Methodist minister who boards at Long Alec’s home in Mowbray Narrows. The congregation disapproves of the Minister’s choice of home because of the household ghost…

In Retribution, an old maid tells a dying man exactly what she thinks of him. I remembered this story from The Road to Yesterday, but would have to re-read the story to know if it had been abridged in that collection.

My favourite story was The Cheated Child, in which an unwanted orphan is forced to find a home amongst his greedy relatives (which has inspired me to name my home ‘Sometyme’, if ever I’m lucky enough to retire to a lovely old house in a charming fishing village somewhere in Victoria’s western district).

My next favourite story was The Twins Pretend, where young Jill and PG are able to give full rein to their imagination. I didn’t realise until I’d finished the book that my favourite stories in the collection had children as their main characters, but considering how well L.M. Montgomery wrote for children, perhaps this isn’t surprising.

A Dream Come True is an amusing look at what might happen if a person is lucky (or unlucky) enough to be granted a lifelong wish. Sixty-year old Anthony Fingold has carried a torch for Caroline Wilkes for more than forty years, but when he finally gets the chance to kiss her, is it what he really wants? Read this story for yourself to see what his wife thinks of these events…

The Pot and the Kettle is a romance, and while I just knew how things would turn out for the delightful heroine and her poor lover, I still hung on every word to make sure that things ended happily.

Some of the links to the Blythes are so slight that it felt as if the references were added in a way reminiscent of Diana adding the line about the heroine saying she would never use anything but Rollings Reliable Baking Powder in Anne’s prize-winning short story in Anne of the Island, although this didn’t detract from the actual stories.

In the foreword to The Blythes are Quoted, Elizabeth Rollins Epperly says that L.M. Montgomery’s original manuscript was delivered ready for publication to the author’s publishers the day before her death, but was not published until 1974 as The Road to Yesterday, without the poetry and Ingleside evenings. I’m grateful that this collection has finally been published in full.


Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery


Honey-Bunny recently gave me the good news that L.M. Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables was being made into a television series, Anne With An ‘E’. Funnily enough, He Who Eats All of Our Leftovers and Miss S, who have never read the book, loved the television series. Honey-Bunny and I differed.

The characters who played the roles looked exactly as I had always imagined them and I also thought Green Gables and Avonlea in Anne With An ‘E’ looked perfect, but the story going off in it’s own direction rather than sticking closely to the book drove me crazy. In order to restore my equilibrium, I thought it was time for a re-read of my favourite book from my childhood. And Honey-Bunny, your middle name is Anne with an ‘E’ for a reason.

Reading Anne of Green Gables again was like catching up with a dearly loved friend who I hadn’t seen for far too long.

I don’t think I’ve ever read the book so thoroughly. When I was given the book by Santa Claus at about the age of ten (judging by the curly signature I wrote on the inside cover) I nearly didn’t get through the first page. The first paragraph, with the description of the dip in the hollow where Mrs Rachel Lynde lived, nearly put me off the book forever. Obviously I made it though at some stage, but I remember lending the book to a school friend and advising her to skip the first page!

This time, I read that descriptive first paragraph, and the whole of the first page and enjoyed them. I read and thought about all of the quotations throughout the story, which I had always skimmed over as a child, when I was too anxious to get back to Anne’s adventures to stop and look around at where I was.

I couldn’t remember Anne talking quite so much, but I remembered most of the events, such as Anne breaking her ankle while walking the ridge pole of Diana’s roof, Anne and Diana jumping onto Miss Josephine Barry in bed in the middle of the night, Anne reciting at the concert at the White Sands Hotel and being encored, Anne dying her red hair a horrible shade of green after buying hair dye from a peddler and eating ice cream for the first time;

“Words fail me to describe that ice-cream. Marilla, I assure you it was sublime.”

I read the book on the train to and from work, and was horribly afraid that Matthew’s death would leave me with a seat on my own once and for all, but I managed to hold it together. I did get teary when Anne finally made up her quarrel with Gilbert after he gave up his teaching position at the Avonlea school so that Anne could stay and look after Marilla (I don’t know why, but I had forgotten that part) and I laughed to myself when Anne made herself cry by imagining Diana as a beautiful bride, and “bidding Diana good bye-e-e—-.”

Obviously I love this book. If you missed reading this during your childhood, it isn’t too late now. If you do, I hope you will be left feeling happier for getting to know Anne of Green Gables for yourself.







A Tangled Web by LM Montgomery


I grew up reading Anne of Green Gables by LM Montgomery, pretending I was friends with Anne and Diana, day dreaming about Gilbert, imagining Green Gables and Avonlea and the island and picturing myself in white muslin dresses with leg of mutton sleeves. So it naturally followed that I did my best to read everything else written by Anne’s creator.

The story is of an extended family, the Darks and the Penhallows, who fight, bicker and gossip amongst themselves. If, however, an outside offends a Dark or a Penhallow, they close ranks immediately. For whatever reason, Darks and Penhallows generally only marry each other, which over the years has made for a family tree that no one can unravel. (As a child I accepted the inter-marrying without question, but as an adult I think they probably need some new blood).

The story begins with the matriarch of the family, Aunt Becky on her deathbed. Aunt Becky is a very old woman with an acid tongue, who decides to stir the pot one last time by summoning her whole family to her, in order to tell them to whom she is going to leave her most precious possession to, a family heirloom known as the Dark jug. I think the jug looked something like the jug below, except uglier and with a big crack.

tngled 4

The family duly turn up and are nearly all insulted and offended by Aunt Becky, who has a knack of twitting* them about the things they would rather forget. Everyone endure her jibes though, in order to remain in consideration for the jug. Aunt Becky distributes her possessions amongst her clan, although of course no one gets what they actually want, except for Aunt Becky’s elderly servant, who is given a diamond ring. At the end of the afternoon, Aunt Becky decides to rule the family from the grave, telling everyone that the jug is to be kept by a trustee for a year, after which time they will find out who is to inherit.

Throughout the course of the afternoon, the reader learns about the various Dark and Penhallow family members. There is Drowned John, who came back from a sailing trip to find that his family, believing him to be dead, had held a memorial service for him. Donna, Drowned John’s daughter, is a war widow. She falls in love during the afternoon with Peter Penhallow, an explorer, who has hated Donna his whole life. There is Little Sam and Big Sam who share a home more or less harmoniously. Sweet little Gay has recently fallen in love for the first time and Nan, Gay’s snake hipped, deceptive cousin, is planning to cause havoc. Other characters include Joscelyn and Hugh, who mysteriously separated on their wedding night, and kindly Margaret Penhallow, a poor spinster.

A Tangled Web is a much more grown up story than the Anne books. Aunty Becky dies and the story unfolds with a great many twists and turns. Creating this must have been like a spider weaving a web, with interlinked pieces all over the place until the very end, when all of the stories are satisfactorily resolved. The characters are nastier than those in the Anne books, (probably they are more realistic), but many also have their good points. Occasionally they are brave and kind and loving, in some cases surprising the reader.

A Tangled Web is set later than the Anne books. Girls show their knees and bob their hair and there are a great many people whizzing around in cars. One of the Sam’s wins a statue of ‘Aurorer’ in a raffle, a beautiful, alabaster, naked woman which I imagine is one of those beautiful Art Deco styled statues. The story is also quite dated in a great many ways, as the characters are racist, orphans are overworked and starved, and women do as either their fathers or husbands tell them to. Spinsters are pitied.

Over the years I’ve owned quite a few copies of A Tangled Web, but I loaned several copies to people who didn’t return them. I’ve previously owned several copies with the cover below. (If anyone recognises themselves as a culprit, please just keep it and enjoy it. I’ve bought another copy).

tangled 2

If however, I owned a copy of this beautiful Art Deco edition, I would never loan it to anyone.

tangled 3

A Tangled Web is one of my favourite books by LM Montgomery. It is sarcastic and witty and brilliant and it is extremely satisfying to get to the bottom of the mysteries, especially finding out why Joscelyn and Hugh’s marriage foundered. If you enjoyed the Anne books you should read this book.

*Twitting isn’t a word I generally use, but I’m sure I remember Mrs Rachel Lynde ‘twitting’ Anne.

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