Thursday, January 18, 2018

Anne of Avonlea: Still Spunky and Red-Haired


I think I am the only woman in North America not to have grown up loving Anne Shirley. Somehow, I completely missed this book growing up -- I think I must have confused her with Heidi or Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm, who always sounded so saccharine and sentimental. (If you are a fan of either, I apologize. Maybe I need to give them a try as well).

I finally got around to reading Anne of Green Gables by L. M. Montgomery about 10 years ago when my someone (possibly me) gave my then nine-year-old daughter a beautiful illustrated copy. I thought it would be fun for us to read the same book, and I also suggested it to my own mother, who'd never read it either. Well, I don't know if my daughter ever finished it, but Mom and I both did, and we loved it. (My mother went on to complete the entire series, though I don't know if she ever moved on to Emily of New Moon or any of Montgomery's other works.)

But I digress. When I decided to include the Children's Classic category in the Back to the Classics Challenge this year, I knew right away I wanted to read the next book in the Anne series. Anne of Avonlea picks up soon after the end of Anne of Green Gables (which I reread after Christmas to refresh my memory). Anne has returned to Avonlea after earning a teaching certificate, and starts a job at the village school. Though she's grown up and gets into less scrapes than the previous book, there are still funny moments, and more comic relief is provided by a grumpy new neighbor, Mr. Harrison, and six-year-old Davy Keith, one of a pair of twins adopted by Marilla after their mother, a distant cousin, has died. (The other twin, Dora, is so perfect that even Marilla admits the child has almost zero personality).


There's not so much an overarching plot as just episodes in her life over a couple of years, as she becomes confident as the teacher of unruly pupils, starts a village beautification society, and meets new and interesting characters as she wanders around Avonlea describing how beautiful and picturesque life is. (If you don't like rambling descriptions, this is not the book for you). There are tragic episodes and funny episodes, but I almost felt like this book was just filling space until the next book. Also, if you are looking for a budding romance for Anne and Gilbert Blythe, it's not here. Gilbert is teaching school in a neighboring town and he's barely mentioned. However [highlight for spoilers] they both go off to the same college in the following book, Anne of the Island. I'm pretty sure that's where their relationship really starts.

Anne of Avonlea is a pleasant, gentle read, and I can see why it's popular all over the world -- it's a very bucolic story where nothing very terrible happens to anyone, sort of an idealized vision of rural life in the early 20th century. It's been translated into many languages and I know it's very popular in Japan. I read a free digital download version and enjoyed looking at all the different cover images -- there are so many, good and bad, I think it's time I did another Awful Book Cover post.

I'm counting this as my Children's Classic for the Back to the Classics Challenge.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Christopher and Columbus by Elizabeth von Arnim: One Book Down, 99 to Go


Halfway through the first month of 2018, and I have completed exactly two books. That's it. If I plan on completing my goal of 100 books this year, I need to get cracking.

In my defense, I was traveling for a week right after Christmas (will post photos soon), and we had a houseguest for another week, which included more travel (day trips to Trier, Luxembourg, and Strasbourg). But now the weather is cold and windy, and it's a good time to hide in my burrow and read those stacks of books.

So. My first book of 2018 was Christopher and Columbus, a rather oddly titled humorous novel by Elizabeth von Arnim. It was the first book on my 2018 TBR Pile Challenge list, so that was a good place to start. And though it is a charming book, the only explorers are in the metaphorical sense.

Published in 1919, Christopher and Columbus is the story of 17-year-old twin sisters, Anna-Rose and Anna-Felicitas. It's set in the early part of WWI, and the twins, orphaned, half German and half English, are living rather uncomfortably in England with an aunt who loves them and an uncle who does not, in a town where the presence of anything remotely German is suspect. Though their mother was very English and they mostly grew up in England, they look German, sound German (a great many mentions of their inability to lose the German "R"); and have a German last name -- von Twinkler.

Not surprisingly, the unhappy uncle by marriage decides that the anti-German sentiment is too high, and the twins must go. He packs them off to America, which has not yet entered the war, with 200 pounds and letters of introduction to friends in Boston and California. On board ship, though they are traveling second-class, Anna-Rose and Anna-Felicitas find a savior and protector during a ship's emergency -- Mr. Twist, a thirtysomething bachelor without much hair but with lots of money. This sounds like it could become sordid very quickly, but in fact, Mr. Edward Twist is a kind and noble soul. Though he made pots of money inventing a dripless teapot, he is taking a break from driving an ambulance for the war effort, returning to America to visit his widowed mother.

Elizabeth von Arnim. Not Mr. Twist's mother.
Mr. Twist notices their vulnerability and takes the twins under his wing. He keeps a close eye on them the remainder of the trip, and tries to escort them to their new home in America. Things don't turn out as planned, and naturally the twins turn to him for help in an unfamiliar country. I wish I could say hilarity ensues, but not really. It's mostly charming and gently funny, but there's always an undercurrent of how vulnerable these girls are, how much anti-German prejudice exists, and obviously, the possibility that this tale could quickly become rather sordid. Indeed, many times there are hints and allegations that Mr. Twist is up to no good -- by other characters, not by the author (the only exception is Mrs. Twist, his manipulative mother, who decides that it is the twins that are up to no good. This is resolved in one of the book's most satisfying scenes).

Overall, I enjoyed this book, though I did find the twins a little twee. They didn't seem to have much character development other than their fondness for each other, and for their beautiful golden ringlets. Yes, it's the nineteen teens, but these girls felt more like 12 year olds than 17 year olds. Plus, there is the underlying ick factor of these 17 year old girls -- Mr. Twist may have had the noblest of intentions, but there are other men in the book who clearly do not. There's also some racism regarding people of color they meet along the way, all of whom are in service positions, particularly a Chinese cook. The book does make some very good points about the anti-German sentiment which is not as surprising given the anti-immigrant feeling in the world today.

Of course, everything turns out all right in the end. I've now read six of von Arnim's works, and would rate this about the middle of the pack. If you are a fan, you will probably enjoy this book, but I don't know if I'd recommend it as a first read if you've never read her before.

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Challenge Link-Up Post: Re-read A Favorite Classic


Please link your reviews for your Re-Read a Favorite Classic here.  This is only for the Re-Read a Favorite Classic category. And please tell us why it's your favorite -- or one of your favorites! 

If you do not have a blog, or somewhere public on the internet where you post book reviews, please write your mini-review/thoughts in the comments section.  If you like, you can include the name of your blog and/or the title of the book in your link, like this: "Karen K. @ Books and Chocolate (The House of Mirth). "




Challenge Link-Up Post: Classic That Scares You


Please link your reviews for your Classic That Scares You here.  This is only for the Classic That Scares You category. And please tell us why it scared you and if you were pleasantly surprised -- I'm sure we all have books that intimidate us!

If you do not have a blog, or somewhere public on the internet where you post book reviews, please write your mini-review/thoughts in the comments section.  If you like, you can include the name of your blog and/or the title of the book in your link, like this: "Karen K. @ Books and Chocolate (The Grapes of Wrath). "


Challenge Link-Up Post: Classic By an Author That's New To You


Please link your reviews for your Classic By an Author That's New To You here.  This is only for the Classic By an Author That's New To You.  

If you do not have a blog, or somewhere public on the internet where you post book reviews, please write your mini-review/thoughts in the comments section.  If you like, you can include the name of your blog and/or the title of the book in your link, like this: "Karen K. @ Books and Chocolate (Crime and Punishment)."


Challenge Link-Up Post: Classic with a Color in the Title


Please link your reviews for your Classic with a Color in the Title here.  This is only for the Classic with a Color in the Title category. Examples include The Woman in White, Anne of Green Gables, The Red and the Black, etc. (Silver, gold, etc. also count).  

If you do not have a blog, or somewhere public on the internet where you post book reviews, please write your mini-review/thoughts in the comments section.  If you like, you can include the name of your blog and/or the title of the book in your link, like this: "Karen K. @ Books and Chocolate (The Black Tulip)."


Challenge Link-Up Post: Classic With a Single Word Title


Please link your reviews for your Classic with Single-Word Title here.  This is only for the Classic with a Single-Word Title category. Examples include Emma, Germinal, Middlemarch, Kidnapped!, etc. (Titles with articles such as "a," "an," and "the," do not count.)

If you do not have a blog, or somewhere public on the internet where you post book reviews, please write your mini-review/thoughts in the comments section.  If you like, you can include the name of your blog and/or the title of the book in your link, like this: "Karen K. @ Books and Chocolate (Candide)."


Challenge Link-Up Post: Classic Travel or Journey



Please link your reviews for your Classic Travel or Journey Narrative here.  This is only for the Classic Travel or Journey Narrative category. This can be fiction or non-fiction, but the journey itself must be the major plot point -- not just the destination.   If you do not have a blog, or somewhere public on the internet where you post book reviews, please write your mini-review/thoughts in the comments section.  If you like, you can include the name of your blog and/or the title of the book in your link, like this: "Karen K. @ Books and Chocolate (Travels with Charley)." 

Challenge Link-Up Post: Classic Crime


Please link your reviews for your Classic crime story (fiction or non-fiction) here.  This is only for the Classic Crime category.  This can be a true crime story, mystery, detective novel, spy novel, etc., as long as a crime is an integral part of the story and it was published at least 50 years ago. It can have a happy or sad ending, but their must be a strong romantic element to the story.
   
If you do not have a blog, or somewhere public on the internet where you post book reviews, please write your mini-review/thoughts in the comments section.  If you like, you can include the name of your blog and/or the title of the book in your link, like this: "Karen K. @ Books and Chocolate (In Cold Blood)." 


Challenge Link-Up Post: Children's Classic


Please link your reviews for your Children's Classic here.  This is only for the Children's Classic  category.  Short stories are fine, but it must be a complete volume. Young adult and picture books don't count!   If you do not have a blog, or somewhere public on the internet where you post book reviews, please write your mini-review/thoughts in the comments section.  If you like, you can include the name of your blog and/or the title of the book in your link, like this: "Karen K. @ Books and Chocolate (The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe)."