Review: All is Mary and Bright


Andrew Bright, the Earl of Sanders, is tired of women. Ever since he inherited his father’s title, it’s been a nightmare when his mother invites female friends to his house–especially friends with unwed daughters. Even if he expresses no interest in the unwed lady, he will find her ‘accidentally’ waiting in his library.

So irate does he become that he avoids his London townhouse whenever his mother invites friends.

This time, circumstances are different. His mother and sisters have come from their country house to celebrate Christmas with him in London. In doing so, they have sacrificed many beloved Christmas traditions, and he appreciates their visit.

There is one problem, though: they have once again brought friends, a Mrs. Hatcher and her daughter, Mary. Will Mary Hatcher be the next lady he finds in his library?

Andrew could avoid the townhouse again and spend time with his questionable friends. Gamblers and drinkers, he and his friends normally go to the city for a bit of fun…and sometimes, trouble. 

However, following an embarrassing episode with these friends at the Frost Fair, Andrew has had enough. He decides he would rather spend the holidays with his family…and the Hatcher women.

When Andrew learns that Mary Hatcher is already engaged, he feels relief. At least there won’t be another flirt in his library. This relief is short-lived, though; unknowingly, Mary begins to win him over. He wants to know everything about her. He would do anything in his power to make her happy.

What cruel fate that he has fallen in love with the one woman woman he can’t have.

He feels a spark of hope on learning that Miss Hatcher hasn’t seen her fiance in two years. It becomes clear that she knows nothing about her fiance, and Andrew wonders if he can convince her to change her mind.

The truth is that Mary’s fiance can live two years away from her, but Andrew can’t live a day without her.

He soon learns that there is a reason Mary is being forced to marry a stranger. Her father is managing her life from a distance. Can Andrew and Mary live happily ever after, or will she be forced to go through with this marriage of convenience?

Marriages of convenience were common in their era, but they were usually contracts rather than vows of love. Many arranged marriages were miserable or apathetic. A person’s heart should never be used as a bargaining chip to pay a debt.

I loved that this was the message of the book. There is no better gift for Christmas than true love.

Read Kasey Stockton’s other fantastic Christmas story, A Duke for Lady Eve!

The Catholic Project – November Digest


Back in July I announced that I would be using my gift of writing to talk about my Catholic faith. It took a few months for me to decide how to do just that and where. Though I shared my conversion story here, I want this blog to focus on book reviews and other literary things. Aside from a monthly update on what’s going on in my missionary blog, here I will focus on books.

Consider these monthly summaries newsletters. My missionary blog, Write Catholic, is where you will find my posts about Catholic Saints’ lives, Catholic book reviews, and–sometime in the near future–lives of the greatest Popes, as well as conversion stories. We are given gifts and expected to use them to build the Kingdom. I want to use my passion for writing to draw people nearer to Catholicism and teach what we really believe.

Without further ado, here are some of my favorite posts from the month of November. Great sites such as Ignitum Today and Catholics Around the World have been kind enough to feature some of them.


November 8 – St. Cecilia: Listening to Heavenly Music

Saint Cecilia by Jacques Blanchard

Saint Cecilia is the Patron Saint of music in the Roman Catholic Church. She is patroness of music because it is said that she heard heavenly song in her heart. She might not have played the piano, though works of art often depict her doing so. Nonetheless, musicians ask for her intercession. Read more…


November 8 – St. Therese of Lisieux: Who’s That Nun?

In the month of October, many non-Catholics scratch their heads as their Papist friends fill their feeds with images and quotes of a nun. She died long ago, and is a Saint in the eyes of the Church. Despite her popularity, many people cannot fathom how a normal-looking girl became a Saint. Read More…


November 20: Sts. Louis & Zelie Martin: A Love Story

St. Therese’s family was close to God from the moment of her parents’ marriage. Her mother, Zelie, prayed that she would have many holy children–and all of her daughters became nuns! In this story, the graces did not begin when the Martin daughters chose to become nuns. This story begins with their parents, a tale of love written by the hand of God. Read More…


November 25 – Six Famous Carmelite Saints

When you say “I saw a nun” or “I saw a monk,” can you name which Order they belonged to? Benedictines, Jesuits, and Dominicans have different habits and ways of serving the Church. Some choose the cloistered life; others are missionaries, serving the poor. The Carmelites are one of the most famous Religious Orders. Here are six great Saints who came from this community. Read More…


November 27 – St. Nicholas Owen & His Priest Holes

Priests were targeted by priest hunters, who searched for these servants of God and arrested them. If a priest was spotted, he was given forty days to leave the country or be punished for high treason unless he renounced Catholicism. Many brave priests chose to stay and feed Christ’s sheep. They would take refuge in the homes of the faithful, hidden in tunnels or “priest holes” built by men like St. Nicholas Owen. Read More…


December 4 – St. Maria Goretti: Only The Strong Forgive

The surgeon tried to save Maria’s life, but the wounds were too deep and too many. He soon realized that he could do nothing for her. It is said that he asked his patient, weeping, to pray for him in Heaven.
“I will gladly pray for you,” Maria said.
Who is the true warrior–the one who survives and lives as a coward, or the one who falls with courage? Read More…


Conclusion

These are my favorite articles that I wrote in the month of November. I must say that, since I started this project, I have never felt so fulfilled. I am finally using my gift to serve the Church and introduce my Heavenly siblings to the modern world.

I have already published my first Saint biography for December, the story of St. Maria Goretti. I plan to write about St. Nicholas, St. Francis of Assisi, and St. Agnes this month. I post on Wednesdays and Fridays, so if you’re interested, join me on my journey to learn more about my faith.

I believe that in rough times, people need stories of heroes who also endured trials. The Saints are perfect. Comment if you have any ideas, or if you are a convert and would like to share your story!

Happy Advent, and I hope you have a lovely Christmas season!

Review: Her Silent Knight


How does a person know if they’re in love or just infatuated? One can mistake intrigue, jealousy, or obsession with love. It’s especially easy to make this mistake when you are young–when the romance in question would be forbidden–when sneaking off on clandestine visits gives you an adrenaline rush.

You feel alive, like the heroine of a great romance novel…but in most cases you are not in love.

In Ashtyn Newbold’s new Christmas Regency novel, Her Silent Knight, Selina Ellis believes herself to be in love. She seizes every opportunity to meet with her beau, Noah, against her mother’s wishes. One day during the Frost Fair on the frozen Thames river, she gives her mother the slip to find Noah and the refuge of his arms.

She’s convinced that no one she knows will discover them.

Things do not go as planned, however. Strolling on the frozen surface of the Thames is an old childhood friend, Edmund, whom she has not seen in years. He came to London to be by his ailing grandmother’s side during her last moments, but the heavy snowfall delayed his journey, so he was unable to see her.

Stranded in London because of the snow, Edmund spots Selina with Noah. He knows about Noah and the man’s rakish reputation; outraged, he determines not to let Selina be used. He decides that he will do everything in his power to prevent Selina from marrying the man. After all, Noah does not truly love her; he keeps her around for reasons of interest.

How will Edmund change Selina’s mind when she believes herself to be in love? The best plan he can come up with is to show her what real love looks like. She’s blinded by the adventure of a forbidden romance, but does not yet know what it’s like to be loved.

When her mother invites Edmund to stay with them in their house for the holidays, he has plenty of time to open her eyes. How will he do this, though, when she is determined to avoid him–when she does all she can think of to have him tossed out–when she makes him promise not to interfere?

Most of all, how will Edmund do this without falling in love with her?

My thoughts as I read this were Poor Selina. She wants what everyone else does–love–and believes she has found it with Noah. He puts on a great act of caring for her, but in reality is taking advantage of her youth and inexperience. Edmund knows this and, though Selina is irritated by his meddling in her romance, he becomes her knight–he will not allow her heart to be tread upon.

Edmund’s presence and honest desire to make her feel loved will make Selina see reality. As Selina is exposed to real love, she notices her thoughts beginning to gravitate to Edmund rather than Noah. Seeing Edmund enjoy a laugh with another lady gives her a most bitter feeling; could it be jealousy?

Selina begins to realize what Noah never gave her–but Edmund is.

Pride can be the greatest barrier to our happiness. Sooner or later, we all learn what true love is like. The journey isn’t easy, though. You make mistakes and later reflect on how silly you were–chasing an infatuation, thinking it would be your happily ever after!

Thanks to Edmund, Selina finds love for Christmas–and finally sees that what she had with Noah was not a happily ever after. 

I enjoyed this book. It was a sweet love story and gave me some good laughs! If you’re interested in more Christmas romance from Ashtyn Newbold, check out my review for The Earl’s Mistletoe Match!  Check out her website, as well, for more clean romance stories.

Review: Rilla of Ingleside


We have reached the end of my Annetober adventure with the tear-jerker Rilla of Ingleside. Of all the books in Anne Shirley’s series, this was my favorite. Its tone is starkly different from the others. Set during the First World War, we see our beloved characters deal with fear and grief that gives them all a new depth.

Rilla of Ingleside is told from the viewpoint of Anne’s youngest daughter. She is the baby of the family, and they often worry that she will always see life as a playground. She is concerned about looking pretty and winning the affections of a young man she has a crush on. Rilla often has silly tantrums, crying over things that don’t matter. Soon she will have real tragedies to weep over.

Her older brother, Jem, is the first to enlist in the army to help defend England. He has always had a fighting spirit, playing with toy soldiers and dreaming of being a hero in battle. It’s heartbreaking to read of Anne’s grief when one of her children sets off on a journey that might lead to death. We remember her as the optimistic young woman whose daydreams could ease anyone’s worries; now she is the one who needs consolation.

Dog Monday, Jem’s pet, follows him to the train station as he is leaving. Monday does not return to Ingleside, waiting at the train station for his master to return. This broke my heart. The town takes notice of this loyal dog who waits each time a train arrives to see Jem step out. A doghouse is built for Monday so that the creature can at least be comfortable as he waits. The Blythes come regularly to bring him food, but cannot coax him to return home. This was one of my favorite storylines, one only L.M. Montgomery can write with such beauty.

Walter, the second oldest Blythe son, does not want to go to war. He wants to go to college, but he faces so much shame in college–even receiving a white feather accusing him of cowardice. Tormented by shame, he enlists as well. This is when Rilla grows up; Walter is her favorite brother, and she cannot bear the thought that he might not come back. Nonetheless, he returns home and prepares to leave for war.

The Blythes now have two sons to pray for, two sons who have put their lives on the line..

Rilla now feels that she wants to make a difference. She does not fuss so much about her looks, and only thinks about the men of the town when she prays they’ll return alive from war. She leads several charitable societies and even takes in a ‘war baby,’ the child of a soldier and a woman who died at childbirth, mothering him until his father returns from the front lines. She is not recognizable as the Rilla we meet in the first chapters.

When tragedy grips the Blythe family, Anne’s optimism appears to die. One of their sons will not return. The happy family we have read about in previous books is broken. This is a touch of reality in a world so often a refuge for us when we endure tragedy. It all seems more real because we see that even Anne Shirley Blythe can be so devastated that she shuts down. Our heroine becomes relatable to us; it is an honor to grieve with her.

Rilla of Ingleside is a sad way to end the Anne series, but I thought it fitting. L.M. Montgomery closes her masterpiece of a series with a novel that is directed straight to our hearts. She gives us a younger heroine we can think about when we feel sad, inadequate, or unwanted. She helps us through grief by making it a regular part of her world–the perfect world where we previously would not have imagined there could be war.

My heart aches as I write this. The book is so powerful that I will never forget the emotions it evoked in me. Though my heart aches, I am thankful that there was some loss in the perfect world of Anne Shirley; it makes me think that there is nothing wrong with being sad, devastated, and that there are some losses that even the imagination cannot ease.

I am grateful for L.M. Montgomery’s series and glad that I took the time to read it from beginning to end. It will take your emotions in all sorts of directions; it will make you joyful, nervous, it will make you fall in love and it will make you want to cry. There is a reason it is a classic, and now I understand. I look forward to reading it from start to end again one day.

Review: Rainbow Valley


My journey through Annetober this year showed me many fictional places that I wished I could visit. From Avonlea to the House of Dreams, L.M. Montgomery knew how to create a place that could heal any soul, a place to which readers would become attached. Though I wish that I could visit these places, they are alive in my heart.

One of these places is a field after which the seventh book is named. Rainbow Valley stands out from the other books because it follows the perspectives of Anne Blythe’s children rather than her own. The brood from Anne of Ingleside have grown old enough to understand things–old enough to recognize a soul in trouble and want to help.

Not only is Rainbow Valley different in this sense. It takes us to a different house where we meet a new family. The Meredith children live in an old manse next to a graveyard. I thought this an excellent way to contrast their life with that of the Blythes. While the Blythes play in the fields of Rainbow Valley, the Manse children have games on headstones. They wander the graveyard, singing and chasing insects. Their paradise is a place of death.

The Meredith children stumble upon Rainbow Valley one day when the Blythes are playing there. From that day on, the children become friends; the Merediths are welcome to visit Rainbow Valley whenever they want. This only provides temporary relief, however. They still have no mother, and practically have no father. Mr. Meredith is an absentminded minister who has not thought about their comfort in years.

As the Meredith children remain motherless, they get into unbelievable scrapes. They are not aware, most of the time, that what they’re doing is not acceptable to society. To them, playing and singing on headstones is normal. It isn’t until Faith Meredith goes to church without socks one day that their situation becomes a public scandal.

People begin to talk about how the Presbyterian minister does not know how to care for his children. Whispers circulate that the man should remarry for their sake. It’s out of the question for him. He has not yet recovered from the death of his wife, Cecilia. He’s convinced that he never will.

The Manse in which he lives with his children is a reflection of his own soul: it needs tending, it is lonely, and there are shadows everywhere.

In my review for Anne of Green Gables, I suggested that book one was the story of Matthew and Marilla Cuthbert. Anne might have come into their lives, but the Cuthberts made the frightening decision to adopt the orphan girl. I have the same opinion about Rainbow Valley: it is the story of Mr. Meredith facing an important decision. Will he choose a life of endless mourning, or will he seek a wife to be a good mother to his children–especially after he becomes aware that they are in constant trouble?

Mr. Meredith’s heart is eager to move on. Soon he will meet a woman who’ll enchant him in a different, quiet way–a woman who is difficult to get, because of a promise she made–and perhaps that will make him more determined to fight for her love. If the wellbeing of his children was not enough to bring on a life change, a personal challenge might.

The Meredith children affect us in a different way than the Blythes; they represent loneliness while the Blythes live in a state of joy. They frolic in a graveyard while the Blythes have a field to themselves. They have no mother, while everyone who meets Anne knows she is a great parent.

If you have a ‘Meredith child’ in your life, a person who is alone and could use some company, would you invite them over to play?

Rainbow Valley challenges us to reach out to people in the graveyards of life. Not only that, it warns us that grief can take one over. If we allow grief to consume us, those we love will be affected–and it will be almost as if they were dead, as well.

Life alone is not the answer to any problem, and if you have children or others who depend on you, then you will have to make the frightening choice to stop grieving and open the window. If you live in your own Rainbow Valley and know somebody stuck in a graveyard, share your adventures with them.

This book offers a new perspective on Montgomery’s world that I truly appreciate. It was a welcome break from the colorful nature of Anne’s other books; it acknowledged that not everyone in the world knows true love. Will the Meredith children have a new mother at the end? Read this delightful novel to find out.

At last, we are nearing the end of the beloved series by L.M. Montgomery. Next week I will share my thoughts on my favorite book of them all, Rilla of Ingleside. Until then, I hope you are having a great holiday season, despite the challenges of this year!

Review: Anne of Ingleside


My journey through Annetober took me from Anne’s House of Dreams to Anne of Ingleside, the fifth book in the beloved series by L.M. Montgomery.

This book differs from the first because it focuses on the Blythe children–Jem, Walter, Shirley, Diana, Anne, and newborn Rilla. (If you hadn’t caught on yet, Rilla is short for Marilla, who certainly is deserving of a child to be named after her!) Ingleside was the second home that Anne and Gilbert lived in after their marriage, and it is where they stayed to raise their loving family.

This chronicle of Anne’s life allows us to laugh and cry over the years when their children are still young enough to get into trouble. With a big family like theirs, there’s always trouble to get into. We are delighted whenever one of the Blythe children finds themself in an awkward spot; it’s a comical way for them to learn a lesson–and for readers to learn it, too.

I was impressed at the distinct personalities each of the children have. Jem is a soldier trapped in a child’s body, ready to fight but too small to fight any real battles. Walter is a dreamer, very much like his mother was in the first book, and I could relate to his sensitive ways. Diana struggles to make friends, and for a while is insecure enough to associate with anyone at school, no matter the trouble it might bring about.

Having by now finished the series, I am doubly impressed that these personalities matured consistently. Walter will not suddenly stop being a dreamer when he’s a young man; Jem is still ready to fight. That is a post for another day, though.

Gilbert Blythe shone in this book. He is a hard-working doctor, well-respected in the community, often losing sleep to go and see a patient. In this book, Anne’s dreams seemed to move aside so that we could have a better view of him. At last we can appreciate Gilbert’s accomplishments, seeing him for the intelligent and responsible man he is. While I had already admired him, I appreciated that Montgomery gave him a spot of more importance.

As for Anne, she is happy to run her house, already having spent so much time as a schoolteacher. If you remember that Anne and Gilbert both were the best students at their schools, you might think that Montgomery was giving us a chance to appreciate Gilbert’s good grades as well as Anne’s.

Like in the other books, you’ll find plenty of fascinating characters in Anne of Ingleside. Susan the housekeeper, in particular, was my favorite. She’s a great help to Anne with the children, more of an aunt or beloved nanny than a housekeeper. Her wisdom helps the family out of many scrapes, and she has some lines that made me chuckle. Susan has a solution for everything.

My favorite scenes in this novel were those of forgiveness. When Jem discovers that the pearl necklace he bought his mother was fake, he thinks he has done a great wrong; he begs her to forgive him for having fooled her into thinking they were real, but mothers always know best. Anne assures him that the effort he made to save up for that pearl necklace made it worth more than a handful of real pearls.

I also loved how Anne and Gilbert settled a disagreement, towards the end of the book. With age come new worries and stresses. Gilbert is busy with work, and Anne has begun to notice in herself signs of aging–her red hair turning silver, her energy no longer what it used to be. It has lowered her spirits enough that she and Gilbert have a misunderstanding. We discover in the end that their love is still young and full of spirit. I think this scene was meant to remind us readers that we should always tell a person how we feel about them, because when life becomes a challenge, kind words do help.

The storytelling in this whole series is magnificent. We meet and say farewell to characters in such a natural manner that we could almost reminisce on them as people we actually knew in real life. They are so vivid that we can stop in a moment of distraction and think, “Hmm, I wonder what happened to Captain Jim?” or “What’s new with Susan?” This is the sort of story that beats time; it wins hearts of readers for generations, and it takes great skill to create such a world.

I am nostalgic for such a world. I can easily imagine that these places–Green Gables, Ingleside, the House of Dreams–do exist in some dimension we can only access in between book covers. I am nostalgic for a world where people spoke in person, built things with their hands, valued the concept of a loving family, and passed traditions on to their children. 

The Internet connects us with friends, which is wonderful, but we lost so many valuable talents–such as the ability to make our own clothing, or to enjoy the silence during a beautiful sunset, or to value gifts like Jem’s necklace. It is fortunate that books like these keep such powerful, warm places alive for us today.

In the next book, Rainbow Valley, Anne is no longer the main character. It focuses on her children as they grow into adolescents–and make more mistakes. The Blythe family is flourishing, and they invite us to join them in their play through the book; I will post my thoughts on it next week.

Review: Anne’s House of Dreams


Last week, I expressed frustration over the pacing of L.M. Montgomery’s novel Anne of Windy Poplars. I didn’t like the pacing; perhaps that was my inner romantic craving sweeter scenes. As suspected, Anne’s House of Dreams made me forget the impatient taste its predecessor left.

Anne’s House of Dreams satisfied that itch in me hoping something great would happen. The very first chapter, in fact, is promising. It opens with her wedding to Gilbert Blythe (at last!) 

How Gilbert must have struggled to believe that his bride was the girl who broke a slate on his head in school! He deserved that headache, of course; he had teased her about her red hair. I think that Anne held her grudge for too long, though, until she was no longer punishing Gilbert but herself.

This is the moment that readers were waiting for: Anne and Gilbert starting over for real.

Gilbert makes more of an appearance in Anne’s stories following Anne’s House of Dreams. I like him; he’s quiet, intelligent, and has eyes for no one but his ‘Anne-girl.’ I have the feeling that, had she never accepted him, he wouldn’t have found another woman. He’s the sort that only falls once. He was so certain of his love that he waited for her to come around.

After the wedding, Anne and Gilbert begin their new life in a house he found. Anne calls this new place the House of Dreams. It’s built on a hill overseeing the ocean. We might think of such a home as isolated, but–as other books have shown–no place is depressing if Anne lives in it.

She has a way of attracting broken souls and showing them that there is light. Even a poor, wretched cat we met in Anne of the Island came to her for healing. It is no surprise, then, that this lonely old house should find itself full of color after the Blythes move in. Souls in neighboring houses flock to Anne to bask in her presence.

The old house on the hill becomes a cheerful place of hope.

I must conclude that the ‘dull’ feel of Anne of Windy Poplars was due to it being a sort of prologue. It was Anne’s world shining but taking a deep breath before presenting us with this delightful chronicle.

Not all waiting periods are bad, and if you are being forced to wait for something, hold your breath: good things are on their way.

In this instance, the pause makes way for characters that steal our hearts. My favorite character in Anne’s House of Dreams is Captain Jim, a charismatic old sailor with countless stories to tell, the sort of person that Anne gets along with. There were moments when their bond reminded me of Anne’s bond with Matthew Cuthbert in Anne of Green Gables. (At this point in the series, it feels like so long since we’ve read about Matthew. I will never forget the chapter in which the confused man brings an orphan girl home from the train station!)

Captain Jim delights in making Anne feel at home. He knows the people in this town and all of their stories; he knows why they are hurting and, at his advanced age, has a great deal of compassion to offer the world. I was so happy when his maritime story was published as a book. He must have been delighted to revisit those moments!

Anne and Gilbert’s marriage turned out to be a happy, trusting union. They supported each other through times of tragedy, neither of them losing hope, and their tragedy was compensated with great joy. 

I cannot finish this essay without adding that Gilbert is a good man. He’s been the most patient person in the world waiting for his Anne-girl; after their marriage, he works hard to ensure that she is happy. He never asks her to quit the daydreaming that drew him to her in the first place. They are at peace, and so are readers.

Anne’s stay in the House of Dreams cannot last forever; after all, happy families must grow. We can be sure that she will be a source of light when they move to their second home.

Next week, I will share my thoughts about Anne of Ingleside. I hope you had a happy Halloween! What did you read for the spookiest day of the year?

Review: Anne of Windy Poplars


I journeyed through the world of Anne Shirley this autumn, accidentally participating in a delightful trend called Annetober. Each time I finished one of her books, I would write my thoughts in a journal.

Here are my thoughts for Anne of Windy Poplars. If you’re interested, last week I posted my thoughts about Anne of the Island.

It chronicles the three years of Anne’s life she spent as a full-time teacher. While she teaches, she’s waiting for Gilbert to finish college so they can get married.

Windy Poplars is written in a different format: L.M. Montgomery shows us Anne’s feeling by means of letters to Gilbert, many of which are long and Anne-ish. She can’t help going into rants about things she finds beautiful or bemoaning what she thinks unjust.

Anne of Windy Poplars has more promise of a loving future than the previous books; still, I found myself becoming impatient. I understood why she had to wait three years for Gilbert to finish college. Nonetheless, I felt that readers deserved more romance at this point. I kept waiting for a sweet scene with Gilbert to show that they were in love, but we mostly got shown this in Anne’s letters. Because Gilbert’s replies were never shared, it felt rather one-sided, almost as if Anne was making it up.

In short, I found Windy Poplars to drag on, sometimes wondering if it was necessary to the series in the first place.

That said, I have to admit that Anne is a masterfully crafted character. She is consistent with her optimism and willingness to work hard. She gives her students the attention that they need, spends her free time learning about her neighbors, and even asks a local about the deceased in a nearby graveyard. Instead of thinking the graveyard frightening, Anne calls it romantic. 

Although these years dragged on, they revealed an Anne who discovered the beauty of normalcy. She learns patience that her vocations entail, both her work as a teacher and her future as a married woman.

When I wasn’t frustrated about its pace, this book made me wonder if I am able to see the beauty in everyday life–the ritual, the routine. Anne tends to her students every day; few things seem to change. Routine is a part of life, much more so than a wedding. 

Contrary to popular belief, if we live our lives fully, we will spend more time doing mundane things. Events like weddings are brief flashes in our long-term memories. We can’t live waiting for exceptional events to take place, because if we do, we blind ourselves to the ordinary and don’t live as we ought to.

One moral I took from Anne of Windy Poplars is that fulfilling lives are composed of ‘ordinary’ moments. We come alive when we learn to recognize and share them with those around us. One small opportunity to make a child smile should not be wasted; this is something we learn through Anne.

Anne’s stay at Windy Poplars reminds me that periods of growth in our lives are quiet. During these periods, it is easy to believe that nothing is changing, or that we won’t achieve the things we set our minds and passions to. Real change is slow. We are unlikely to see the improvement until we look back, a decade later.

Though I found Anne of Windy Poplars to be a slow read, I reflected on it as a writer. From that angle, I realized it might have been intended as foreshadowing for the things that are to take place in the next installment. I had the happy feeling that, with these gentle chapters, L.M. Montgomery is preparing us for delightful adventures.

These ‘smaller events’ were not insignificant after all. Great feasts are composed of small dishes. Vast palaces are made of small bricks raising them up. Just so, a book in which the scenes are quiet doesn’t have to be a bad thing. These quiet scenes are preparing us for a symphony.

Finally, let us not forget the comfort of a life lived in peace. Even if you did not do anything extraordinary or heroic by the end of your journey on earth, you’ll still have memories to reflect on with a smile.

On that day, ask yourself: Did you live a life at peace with yourself? Did you enjoy the gently crackling hearth of a fireplace on a cold winter’s night, or count snowflakes as they fell? Did you gather the leaves outside your door as they turned crisp and golden?

Anne of Windy Poplars reminded me of these small blessings, all great reminders of a life lived to its fullest.

Review: Anne of the Island


If you’ve been following my posts this autumn, you’ll see I accidentally wound up participating in a thing called Annetober. I gather it is a cute term for doing something Anne Shirley-related in October. Reading through her series counts, and I’m already wondering how I’ll participate next year!

The third book in L.M. Montgomery’s series did not disappoint, though it did play with my emotions. Anne of the Island chronicles Anne’s adventures as she transitions from girl to young woman. In college, she learns more about people, encountering diverse personalities. She also faces the pain of losing a friend when, during a visit home, someone dear to her passes away after battling the consumption.

Avonlea is changing. People are moving in, while others leave or die. These changes make Avonlea a place that Anne struggles to recognize. Even though she is no longer a child and her daydreaming has gone down a notch, she still struggles with a voice inside of her that is reluctant to grow up and accept that nothing stays the same. 

She also refuses to let go of certain beliefs. This stubbornness might have been a natural reaction to growth, especially since Anne’s childhood was not easy. The stable ground she found in the little world of the Cuthberts is gradually being taken from her; she faces a future of difficult choices. 

Despite her efforts to make the best of it, she is facing life head-on almost completely alone. Bouts of homesickness in college show us how hard it is for her.

I can’t deny that, despite her obvious growth and the changes surrounding her, Anne’s reactions in this novel annoyed me. She doesn’t want to grow up, acting as if she’s been betrayed when her best friend makes a life-altering choice. She knows love when she sees it, but behaves otherwise, clinging to a childish vision of what ‘the perfect man’ should be. Later, when the person whose love she spurned seems to be moving on, this makes her angry. I hope that she will have gotten past this stage of ‘growing up’ by the next book, Anne of Windy Poplars. I’d like to see all those years she spent studying amount to fair, wise decisions.

I’m a dreamer myself; I can understand how hard it is to let go of ‘the ideal’ once you have set your mind to it. Ironically, this ‘ideal’ is not good enough for Anne in the end, either.

That said, I do sympathize with Anne about some of the ridiculous marriage proposals she received over the course of this book. 

Perhaps this element of this plot, her stubbornness, was added to remind readers that what looks perfect is not always best. The beliefs we held as children are not realistic, and no matter how we’d like to choose our own path, life is not a story we are writing. It cannot be controlled. We have to make the best we can with the twists and turns God offers us.

I did enjoy this book despite the moments of annoyance. L.M. Montgomery uses words to create a world for us that is warm, no matter what season it happens to be in Avonlea…or wherever Anne is at the time. 

The mistakes that Anne makes in Anne of the Island are comforting. I could relate to her mistakes too much, and this might be the reason for my annoyance. I was forced to remember that life will not be as I pictured it. We become stronger when we journey down the path set for us.

Readers in a similar phase of life might find comfort in Anne’s awkwardness. Are your friends moving on from the schoolhouse days? So are hers. Do you have a difficult choice to make? Here, Anne faces several. Have you lost someone close to you? Our heroes in our favorite stories deal with pain and grief.

These are phases of life that no human walks gracefully, and neither did Anne.

The conclusion of Anne of the Island did satisfy me, but I had an aftertaste of frustration. I wanted to shake her and say, ‘It should not have taken you so long, Anne Shirley Cuthbert!’ We all have a friend in real life that we want to say this to. The truth of this book is that everyone grows at their own pace, and giving their shoulders a shake will frighten them into slowing their pace. Only sun and water make a plant grow; if you love it, you should be patient.

I now move on to Anne of Windy Poplars. If you’ve been following my little Annetober journey, comment and tell me what you think about my conclusions!

Review: Anne of Avonlea


L.M. Montgomery’s theme in her classic series surrounding Anne Shirley appears to be change. It’s the sort of series you’ll want read when you’re about to open a new door in life. It reminds you that discomfort will cause your character to become stronger, helping you face the world.

If you’ve been to Literature class, you might have read Anne of Green Gables. A great many people don’t make it past that first book. There is treasure to be found in those installments that follow it, including Anne of Avonlea, the second book in this great series.

If you read my blog post on Anne of Green Gables, you know I believed change to be the greatest theme of the novel–how Matthew and Marilla Cuthbert made a scary decision, clearing the way for new forms of joy. I see the same theme of change in Anne of Avonlea, but it it focuses more on Anne.

Anne of Avonlea presents new challenges for our dreamy heroine. Having taken on the profession of local schoolteacher, she must face a reality. The reality is that people, especially children, do not always behave as we’d like them to. She also discovers patience to be a virtue that can only be strengthened over time.

Are these not lessons that we readers have learned at some point? L.M. Montgomery makes Anne’s experiences our own.

We can reflect with amusement on Anne as a child and how her accidents brought poor Marilla such grief. Anne is fifteen when book two begins and, though she has outgrown much of her her mischievous side, remains a daydreamer.

In some ways, this helps her. She is able to relate to her students by speaking to them in the language that children understand, dreams. However, it also gives her unrealistic expectations that she must overcome in order to be more productive.

It becomes, therefore, a weakness: The first time that Anne has to punish a student, she feels so guilty that she cries.

Anne of Avonlea also explores themes of human nature. Not only does it highlight that people have flaws, but it celebrates the differences these flaws create. One of the clearest examples of this is in the Cuthberts’ grumpy new neighbor.

He lives next door, and he’s ready to wage war over a cow. It is satisfying when we see that she isn’t romanticizing this neighbor’s temper; she is old enough to accept that everybody has a personality, for better or for worse.

Our dreamer is still dreaming, then, but has planted a foot on the ground. She still longs for the ideal world of her imaginings, but has sufficient realism to survive as a teacher and a young adult.

For Anne, this involves another exercise in patience; it means accepting a world where not everybody believes as they should, resolving to leave it a better place nonetheless.

If the theme of book one was change, then I believe the theme of book two is waking up. Even a dreamer cannot blind herself to reality all her life, especially if she plans to make a difference.

As humans, waking up involves being open to differences. To successfully become a teacher, Anne allows such change to take place. The question Anne of Avonlea asks us, then, is will we do the same?

There isn’t much romance in Anne of Avonlea, her focus being on these goals rather than love. She is a perfect young matchmaker for other hearts, but–I consider this a weakness–her ‘ideal man’ lingers in the back of her mind. This keeps keeping her grounded and single, even when the town begins predicting her marriage to Gilbert Blythe.

Gilbert, for his part, waits patiently in the background. He cheers her on as she succeeds and comforts her when she fails. He watches her grow as teacher, sees her blossom into a young lady.

Time and patience are the strongest warriors, are they not?

Only in one scene does Anne begin to wonder if there might be more to Gilbert than an old schoolfellow…but she quickly returns to preparations for college. Gilbert, perceiving the brief shift in demeanor, continues to wait for his dream woman; now, though, he has enough hope to be…patient.

Review: Anne of Green Gables


The title Anne of Green Gables is so often spoken of that I was under the impression that I had read it before. In reality, I’d never picked up the book, but it is so beloved that I’m sure I’m not the only person who considers it an old friend–even if they have only heard the title.

It’s fair to say that everyone–or at least most people–are familiar with Anne, the orphan girl adopted by the Cuthbert siblings. It’s known that they were hoping for a boy to help with the farm work, so she was almost sent back. This book is more than a simple girls can do what boys do; it has layers. You can dig, and oh! how delightful it is to dig.

Some of Anne’s most humorous mistakes have been giggled over, such as accidentally dyeing her hair green or breaking her tablet on Gilbert Blythe’s head. This is the surface. If you do not read the book as it is meant to be, you will miss out on the deeper things, the meat of it: You will perhaps not notice what I believe to be the most important points in this story.

I think it’s fair to begin with Matthew and Marilla Cuthbert. In a way, this is their story: They sent for an orphan boy to help them in their advanced years, and with the appearance of Anne, faced a bewildering decision indeed. I was so proud of Matthew and Marilla Cuthbert when they made what was probably the most frightening decision of their lives, the choice to change their mundane lifestyle and raise a little girl together.

Consider how frightening it must have been for Matthew and Marilla to come up with the resolve to make this choice. Especially when Anne went into her hysterical rants, the sudden disturbance of the silence they’d grown accustomed to must have been terrifying. Because of this, when Marilla acted harshly towards Anne’s (many) silly accidents, I perceived it as the product of a deep-set fear. She must have worried that perhaps she was too old to raise a girl correctly.

Few people speak of Matthew and Marilla’s courageous choice to accept the dare.

Anne’s growth from wily daydreamer to studious young woman is my second point. She had relied on her daydreams as an orphan in order to keep sane, but as she settles in with the Cuthberts and at her new school, we can see her learning to contain her nerves and focus. This is also an incredible feat! In fact, when Anne has grown older and almost finished her studies, Marilla notes that she has become quieter. She no longer falls into paragraph-long anxious rants.

Her rivalry with Gilbert Blythe might have been the motivator for this admirable change, but it creates a new Anne who is no longer simply the former orphan girl, the one no one wanted. She is ready to change the world, becoming a scholar and hoping to be a teacher.

Apart from these points, I must note that the prose sparkles. Nearly every sentence is quotable and will help the reader in some way. Anne’s quotes are poetic and work like balm to the weary heart; in this way, I believe she healed Matthew and Marilla without their noticing. Ultimately, they needed her more than she needed them. She came to sprinkle life into their graying years, after they had followed the same monotonous routines for most of their lives.

Anne Shirley gave Matthew and Marilla Cuthbert reasons to accept change. She was a reason for them to improve themselves; she gave them something young to nurture in their elder years, and these were, as a result, their best years.

Perhaps this book feels familiar to most of us because of its theme of growth. We all have blind spots and weaknesses. All of us have a character arc that could lead us to becoming different people entirely. When faced with these arcs, we feel fear; will we proceed with the life-changing decisions like Matthew and Marilla did? Will we face our weaknesses head-on and work to change, like Anne?

Contemplate your life; you will identify these character arcs if you are brave enough.

Books like Anne of Green Gables encourage us to face these changes and to grow. They also provide escapism with their soothing words, taking us away from this often painful world for a little while.

When you pick up a timeless book like this, you are holding more than pages bound by glue. You’re holding comfort, timelessness, a loyal friend with words to heal any wound…and to encourage you to be brave. 

Review: The Black Tulip


In the past month I have discovered two beautiful romance stories written by the Dumas family.

Did you know that Alexandre Dumas’ son also became a writer? Neither did I, until I read Camille and it was stated in the introduction.

It hardly seems fair that one family should produce stories so beautiful as The Black Tulip by Dumas Senior and Camille by his son, but I will talk about Camille later.

I waited a for quite while after finishing The Black Tulip before writing about it; I wanted to let it sit in my heart. Now I think that it’s time this beautiful piece of literature was talked about.

One of his lesser-known works–I had no idea about it until I found it by chance while scrolling the Kindle store–The Black Tulip has the elements of tension that make a good action novel and tragedy to give it a gothic tone.

All of this is softened, I believe, by the love story.

The object of conflict is a black tulip. I had never thought of it before, but having read Tulipomania by Mike Dash a couple of weeks later, I found out that it’s impossible for a completely black tulip to exist. The closest you can get to a black tulip is a very dark brown or purple one.

A ‘black tulip’; source

In this novel the main character, Cornelius, is a tulip-fancier during the tulip boom of Holland–a period of history in with a single bulb bred in a unique way would have been worth thousands to the tulip obsessed.

A contest is announced: there is a great money reward for anyone who can raise a black tulip, jet-black, not dark brown or purple. Cornelius is a genius with his tulips; he manages to raise three bulbs he claims will produce black tulips.

Before he can plant any of them to see if he has succeeded, he is arrested on suspicion of having betrayed the Prince of Orange.

a dark purple ‘black tulip’; source

Cornelius takes his precious tulip bulbs with him to prison as he awaits his fate.

Here he meets the jailor’s daughter, Rosa, and–suspecting that he will be put to death–he gives her the bulbs, telling her to turn them in as her own work and claim the money.

But he is not executed; the Prince takes pity on him and instead sends him away to a prison fortress for life.

Cornelius is in jail for a long time, wondering what became of Rosa and his tulip bulbs. One shudders to think of the boredom and loneliness he felt, locked away in a cell while innocent.

In his desperation for company, he uses some of the moldy bread given to him in order to attract some pigeons that will keep him company. He despairs; we can feel his despair. However, it won’t last forever.

“I’d rather have ten soldiers to guard than a single scholar.”

― Alexandre Dumas, The Black Tulip

Rosa’s father is appointed as jailor in the same prison where Cornelius is trapped. Rosa comes with him, and she has brought with her Cornelius’ treasures–the three tulip bulbs, unharmed and full of potential life.

This, reader, is where I could not put the book down: Cornelius tells Rosa how to grow a tulip, instructs her on the ideal soil to use and how much light the bulb needs, and together they raise one of the flowers from its bulb.

The imagery! I wanted to cry as they fell in love with prison bars between them, yet raised a live flower because of their collaboration. It reminded me that bars cannot stop love. 

I will not tell you how the story ends, only that it is worth reading this book because their love story is so beautiful.

I encourage you to look at the obscure classics, those books that might have been lost in time; you will find gems, and in some of them, such as The Black Tulip, you will find true love.