Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Christmas with Anne

The title: Christmas with Anne and Other Holiday Stories
The author: L.M. Montgomery
Publication: McClelland and Stewart, 1995
Got it from: Mom and dad, Christmas 1996

I reviewed this one before, back when I first started this blog, and reread it again this holiday season.  As I mentioned in my original post, the stories definitely lean on the predictable side, especially if you've read other LM works.  However, if you're looking for gentle, feel-good stories, this is your book.  There's lots of tales of quarreling family members being reunited at Christmas, people learning to be generous to those less fortunate, and mistaken identities inadvertently saving Christmas. 

There are two standout stories in this collection (not mentioning Anne's puffed sleeve dress chapter, which Anne fans will all be familiar with.)  The first is Katherine Brooke Comes to Green Gables, taken from Anne of Windy Poplars.  I love the original story of Katherine Brooke, even more than the version portrayed in the Megan Follows adaptation Anne of Green Gables the Sequel.  There's something very Blue Castle-y about Katherine's transformation from bitter spinster to mellow, happy woman, even if it's through Anne's help rather than for herself.  It's a nice reminder to enjoy the pleasures of life, and not let unhappiness define us. 

The second is a sad story, but its poignancy makes it memorable.  In The Unforgotten One, a young maid is grieving the loss of a family member she served, and thinks no one remembers her as the family reunites at Christmas.  She slips outside to visit the grave, only to overhear each family member, one by one, visit the dead woman and explain how much they miss her.  Montgomery, and Victorian in general, were always close to death, and this story speaks to universal emotion of the bittersweetness of loss.

Monday, December 19, 2016

The Bookshop on the Corner

The title: The Bookshop on the Corner
The author: Jenny Colgan
Publication: William Morrow Paperbacks, 2016
Got it from: Chapters

I haven't read anything else by Jenny Colgan, but I liked the premise of this one so I got it from the library, and then ended up buying a copy for a relative.  Nina Redmond is a 29-year-old librarian in Birmingham whose library is being converted into an "information hub."  Being an old-fashioned book lover, Nina is neither willing nor able to work in this sort of environment.  As a librarian who despairs of the creeping business model of libraries and all the attendant "business speak," this book made me nod my head in agreement.

At first, Nina is lost and unsure of what to do with herself.  All she knows is matching people to books, so that's what she decides on.  Without much of a plan, she heads to an isolated town in Scotland to buy a van to transport all the books the library is throwing out.  Naturally, she ends up staying as she gets to know the locals, including a romantic train driver who goes through the town every night and her grumpy-yet-surprisingly-sexy landlord.  Before she knows what's happening, she's got everyone in town hooked on reading and finds herself falling in love with the village.

This book is feel-good, through and through.  It put a smile on my face.  Even though it was predictable, it was cute without being cutesy and I really liked the descriptions of the Scottish countryside and all the sheep. 

Sunday, December 4, 2016

No Relation

The title: No Relation
The author: Terry Fallis
Publication: Douglas Gibson Books, 2014
Got it from: Terry Fallis podcast

Terry Fallis writes the kinds of books you like to read when you need something to ground you: something light, funny and uncomplicated, where everything will be tied up in a happy ending.  Although it didn't have the feminist humour of Pole to Pole or the biting satire of The Best Laid Plans, I enjoyed listening to Terry Fallis reading No Relation on his podcast. 

The basic joke of the book is that the protagonist is named Earnest Hemmingway.  Spelled differently from the famous author and "no relation," as he would have you know.  There are a lot of classic Fallis tropes on display here.  The protagonist starts out with a rotten string of bad luck, losing his job and his girlfriend on the same day.  But in typical Fallis fashion, he turns it around to his advantage.  After a video of him getting to a fight with a DMV clerk about his name goes viral on YouTube, Earnest starts a meetup group for people with famous names called Name Fame. Befriending Diana Ross (who really can sing), Mahatma Gandhi (who has anger management issues), Mario Andretti (who can't drive) and others, Earnest must exercise the ghost of the real Earnest Hemmingway to find his inner writer.  As his travels take him to Paris, Pamplona and Key West, he also has to deal with his dad's expectation that he'll take over the family underwear manufacturing business.

It wasn't my favourite Fallis, but it was enjoyable in a comforting, lighthearted way.

Monday, October 24, 2016

A short break

Reading Outside the Lines is on a mental health break for the next little while, but will hopefully be back to regularly scheduled book blogging in the near future!

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

City of Jasmine

The title: City of Jasmine
The author: Deanna Raybourn
Publication: Harlequin MIRA, 2014
Got it from: Hoopla Audiobooks

Anyone looking for a rip-roaring 1920s adventure in the style of Indiana Jones, Miss Fisher, or my beloved Amelia Peabody, would enjoy this one.  I listened to it on audiobook and quite liked the episodic derring-do of the main characters.

Evangeline Starke (no relation to Iron Man, I presume) is a famous aviatrix in 1920s London.  She's sort of widowed - her husband, Gabriel, left her five years earlier in Shanghai and then went down with the Lusitania.  Or is he dead?  Dun dun dun.  Evangeline has a newspaper photo that might prove otherwise.  So she's off with her eccentric Aunt Dove, a former Victorian adventuress, and their sidekick bird Arthur Wellesley, to Damascus where the picture was taken.  There's lots of exotic details about the city, the desert and the archeological site where Evie ends up. Of course, it wouldn't be a true Indiana Jones-type adventure without a sacred relic, secret identities, double-crosses, lots of guns being shot, evil villains and a plane chase.  And romance, naturally. 

Saturday, September 3, 2016

The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend

The title: The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend
The author: Katarina Bivald
Publication: Sourcebooks, 2016
Got it from: The library

If you like books about small towns and reading, this one will definitely appeal to you.  Mix one part 88 Charing Cross Road,  one part Chocolat and one part The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, throw in some cornfields, and you have The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend.

Sara is from Sweden and she's never traveled outside her hometown.  Her only contact with the outside world is through books (she's a voracious reader) and her letters to Amy, an elderly woman from Broken Wheel, Iowa, who orders books from the store where Sara works.  When the story begins, Sara is out of work and arrives in Broken Wheel for a three-month visit to see Amy, only to find herself stumbling into the middle of Amy's funeral.  The townspeople insist she stay at Amy's house, and at first Sara is at loose ends, stuck in a houseful of books.  She wants to repay the kindness the townspeople have shown her, but no one will let her.  At last she strikes upon an idea: she will open a bookshop and give away Amy's books to the non-readers of Broken Wheel.

I was fully expecting this book to go all "the books transformed the people forevermore" route, but it didn't quite play out like that.  This book was cozy, and some lessons were learned, but it didn't go in all the directions I expected it to.  (Except: Amy's hunky nephew Tom.  Yeah, that went pretty much how I expected.  You can't have a good book without romance.)  There was definitely some "crazy small town shenanigans" tropes present (the author, like her character, seems to have learned everything about small-town America from the works of Fannie Flagg.)  But this book is as much a love story to other books as it is to small towns, and bibliophiles will delight in the all the references, which remain pleasingly snob-free.  Bridget Jones gets as much love here as Annie Proulx.  Although the ending petered out somewhat, most of the book was a delightful charmer.

Monday, August 8, 2016

At the Altar: Matrimonial Tales

The title: At the Altar: Matrimonial Tales
The author: L.M. Montgomery
Publication: McClelland & Stewart, 1994
Got it from: NB, 1995

On days when I just want a feel-good, happy ending story, I re-read one of L.M. Montgomery's books and everything feels right again. They are my comfort stories, and I have loved rediscovering them after first reading them about twenty years ago.  Of course there's nothing I love more than a good romance and these 18 stories have them aplenty.  What I especially love about them is that most of the characters aren't the "romantic" sorts that the characters themselves dream of.  Often they are middle aged and practical, but Montgomery somehow manages to bring out their romantic sides.

Stories I particularly love in this anthology: "Jessamine": a woman languishing in the city is visited by a farmer who restores her soul by taking her out to see his farm.  He rescues her from having to move west by his proposal.  "Miss Cordelia's Accomodation": an old maid takes a group of factory children to the country for a holiday, and meets a rather accommodating farmer.  "A Dinner of Herbs": a 33-year-old woman who faces having to share a room with a stupid teenaged relative makes a desperate proposal to a reclusive neighbour to avoid having to marry an unpalatable widower.  "The Dissipation of Miss Ponsonby" (my favourite): a 35-year-old woman who was separated from the man she loved 15 years earlier by her father is aided in making a daring escape to a dance when he returns from the west, helped by two younger neighbours who give her a makeover. 

Of course some of these stories were better than others, but every single one was enjoyable.  What can I say about Montgomery's works that I haven't already?  I'll let the editor describe it herself from the afterward: "I read them year in and year out, again and again.  I never tired of their apparent simplicity, finding them more complex than they seemed, their emotions true and believable.  They were part of my innermost being.  But there weren't enough of them."