Book Review: The Butterfly Conspiracy by Vivian Conroy


The Butterfly Conspiracy is a historical mystery with the undertone of an adventure novel.

Miss Merula Merriweather is different from other girls. She has an unconventional family life, not knowing what became of her real parents or who they were. She isn’t the prettiest of ladies, relying on a spotless reputation to secure her future. She puts that spotless future in danger by pursuing her passion: zoology.

Merula has a special interest in butterflies. Her uncle allows her to use the greenhouse as a place to raise imported creatures from their cocoons. She has an impressive collection of butterflies, but one of them—the largest—is her pride and joy. She has raised it and seen it hatch, and makes the decision to let it out during a zoological lecture.

When Merula’s prize butterfly lands on a wealthy woman’s arm, the woman dies immediately. Blame is placed on the insect, which is killed by the butler. It was heartbreaking to read about Merula’s butterfly being disposed of mercilessly, but under the circumstances, what else could they think to do?

Lord Raven Royston was present during the scene at the lecture. He knows that Merula’s butterfly was not the cause of the death, and he wants to bring justice. He helps her rescue the last cocoon of her butterfly species, escaping a greenhouse that has been set on fire. He introduces her to a chemist friend who collects bizarre creatures such as scorpions and giant spiders. When it becomes clear that police are after her, he gives her shelter at the home he hasn’t visited in twenty years.

Merula and Raven are a great team. She isn’t the fainting sort—after all, she worked with insects for fun—and does well under pressure. He is a deep thinker and willing to try explanations that seem absurd. Together, they work out what happened to the woman. If the butterfly did not kill her, and Merula insists it isn’t venomous, what did?

Rarely do I come across a book and realize from the blurb alone that I need to read it. This was the case with The Butterfly Conspiracy; I cheated my October reading list in order to devour the mystery. The characters are very well developed, the mystery seamless, and the ending satisfying.

There is even an air of steampunk to the world described here—I was waiting for the mechanic creatures to come out!

I had already found a great mystery series in the Lady Hardcastle books, but now I will be looking out for these books too. If you want to try a new mystery series, or if you like visits back in time, The Butterfly Conspiracy is a great book!

How to Identify a Changeling


This week I finished reading The Hidden People by Alison Littlewood. It’s one of my favorite books; I loved its rich, creepy setting. I also appreciated that the ending allowed us to wonder if there might have been magic involved after all.

Because Changelings are the subject of this fantastic book, I decided to do a little digging into the topic myself. They have long fascinated me; I even tried to write about a Changeling. The character did not provide much aside from comic relief in the long run, but I remain fond of that story, the first one I took seriously.

If you’ve never heard about Changelings, you’re missing out on a great deal of fun! In many books they cause chaos and tragedy. One thing is for sure: They always bring magic with them.

Here are some characteristics that were once attributed to Changelings.

Is It My Kid?

A Changeling is a fairy child that was put in place of a human infant. Most legends say that it was done because fairies were unable to nourish their own children into strong adults. To compensate, they would give their offspring to unsuspecting humans. In turn, the human babies would be used by Changelings as servants.

Some attributes might give away the identity of a Changeling. The child left in place by the fairies may have red eyes and voracious appetites, losing their tempers if neglected for a moment. Disruptive children were sometimes called Changelings and kept in isolation.

Spirit of the Night, John Atkinson Grimshaw

An Aversion To Iron

Superstitious people believed iron could ward off fairies. You might find a pair of scissors hanging at a window to keep out dark spirits. Parents did this hoping that the iron would keep their children safe.

If a family member showed Changeling traits—a strange appetite or delight for destruction—the suspicious parent would crick them into grabbing some iron scissors. Iron would burn a Changeling, revealing their identity at once.

Scissors could also be placed over the door to a house. If the suspected Changeling felt apprehension going through the door, they would have to be removed.

How, though?

Study for The Quarrel of Oberon and Titania, Joseph Noel Paton

Leave Eggshells About

Many stories claim these odious creatures have a strange reaction to eggshells. One could dispose of a suspected Changeling by leaving eggshells by the hearth. The Changelings found these eggshells hilarious. They would reveal themselves; your intruder will show himself by means of madness and laughter.

GotIreland.com tells this story about eggshells:

The old man told him that most likely the boy had been taken by the “Daoine Sith,” and they had left a “Sibhreach” in his place. Distraught, the father wondered if he’d ever see his son again. The old man instructed him to take several broken eggshells and fill them with water, then place them carefully around the hearth in the boy’s room. He did so, and within no time, the boy was jumping from his bed in a fit of laughter shouting, “I’ve been alive 800 years and have never seen the likes of this!” Hearing that, the father pushed the Changeling into the fire, and it shot up the chimney. The real boy was spit out from the Faerie mound nearby at that very moment, and the father and son were soon after reunited (taken from: J. F. Campbell, Popular Tales of the West Highlands, 1901).


Folklore shows how our ancestors explained strange phenomena and the bizarre ways in which they solved problems. Changelings make for good stories; The Hidden People was a fantastic novel and did the legend great justice!

While we now have more dignified explanations for strange behavior (and we don’t leave eggshells on the floor), it’s fulfilling to know the beliefs of those who came before us.

What is your favorite creature from mythology? I would love to know!

5 Incredible Facts About Coco Chanel


Chanel is one of the most famous names in fashion. We have all seen the classic style of dress; we’ve heard of the famous perfume No. 5. It brings to mind thoughts of elegance and beauty.

How much do you know about the woman behind the name?

Coco Chanel was one of the most powerful women in the world. She worked her way out of a childhood steeped in poverty to create a fashion empire. Though her later life was darkened by controversy as war ravaged Europe, her determination and sense of dignity are things to be admired.

Normally I write blog posts about female authors, but my recent read of The Queen of Parisan excellent, though fictitious, novel by Pamela Binnings Ewen—inspired me to hunt out some facts that will shed some light on this iconic woman.

Coco Was Her Nickname

Though she was known by the world as Coco, the fashion designer was born Gabrielle Bonheur Chanel on August 19, 1883 in Saumur, France. Where did she get the nickname that was to become her identity throughout her life?

One theory is that it was inspired by a song she used to sing as a cabaret singer. Two songs became inseparably associated with her—Ko Ko Ri Ko and Qui qu’a vu Coco. She later said that Coco was a name her father gave her.

Wherever it is that she got the nickname, everybody knows it—this is the name that made her famous!

She Started With Hatmaking

Chanel is best known for her delicious perfume No. 5, but she did not begin her career as a fashion designer with perfume. In 1909 she opened a hat shop in Boulevard Malesherbes in Paris. Her hats were simple and notably lacking the fruits and flowers which had ornamented such accessories for years.

Her name became synonymous with simplicity and convenience. Her hats could match any color and style of dress; she upped her game by designing dresses that did not require corsets. These dresses were even so daring as to show the ankles!

Starting with the dignified, elegant hat, Chanel showed women that it is possible to achieve beauty in simplicity.

Pants For Women!

On the subject of useful fashion, we can’t forget Chanel’s trousers! Though she did not invent the idea of pants for women, she became a pioneer in the style after the first world war.

It started with her design for the hiking trousers that she made in order to get into gondolas in Venice. Soon followed her famous yachting pants which took the world by storm. Women could wear pants for their leisure activities and look as elegant as they would have in a skirt.

Chanel was not happy with unnecessary trifles that society forced into women’s fashion. She did more than make pants popular. She cut her hair into her famous black bob, which scandalized the world, encouraging her so-called ‘garçonne style.’

She Said What She Meant

The word bold describes Chanel in every imaginable way. Not only did she dress as she wished, but she was not afraid of stating her opinions on the competitors and critics who disdained her. This sometimes lost her friends, but never enough for her to sink into obscurity.

She accused Dior of dressing women like armchairs with all of the unneeded fabric that was hemmed onto his dresses. Balenciaga’s designs met her approval, but she did not like his ability to cut. Regarding Paul Poiret’s designs, she said they looked more like costumes than evening wear.

Designer Headstone

Coco Chanel designed everything in her life, so why would her headstone have been any different?

Her zodiac sign was Leo. She kept that powerful creature present in her designs throughout her life. Lions decorated her cigarette lighters and scissors. Lions were also engraved on the bottoms of her tweed suits. At the end of her life, she designed a headstone decorated with five lions.

Chanel did not have any known children. At her funeral, the front chairs were reserved for her models. She is buried in Lausanne, Switzerland.


Chanel was a woman with a strong personality who changed how the world looked. Her name remains synonymous with elegance and power. She inspired many leading ladies to carve their own ways with determination and creativity.

Next time you go out wearing No. 5 or cut your hair into an elegant bob, remember that these fashions are strong today because of this outspoken and fiery woman!

Bullet Journaling for Readers


I’ve kept journals for as long as I’ve been able to write! It’s satisfying to put my thoughts into an elegant notebook. By sheer persistence I filled a shelf with notebooks of all sizes and colors. Flipping through the pages, I encounter myself in different stages of my life. These can be difficult times, calm times, creative times.

Since my journals tend to be wordy, it took me a while to get the hang of bullet journaling. It did not seem a good fit, considering the details I’m used to recording. Something changed this year. Perhaps it was the sense that, with the pandemic, it’s been a dull world; this pushed me to try new things.

I wanted to use colorful marker pens; I wanted to draw and use washi tape. Keeping a traditional diary is therapeutic, but the bullet journal gave me a way to learn new skills.

I’m still getting the hang of it; my journal is nothing close to the things you see on Pinterest! I have found some fun ways to use it as a reading journal. As I figure out which methods work for me, I’ll share them with you.

The Bookshelf Drawing

Source: britishbookart on Etsy

I have to admit that the popular practice of drawing books to represent the real shelf is what attracted me to this form of diary.

I’ve seen really creative shelf sketches with bears, flower pots, and paintings on a shelf. My shelf drawing was much plainer. I still enjoy filling in the colors of book spines when I finish reading them!

If you’re not an artist but want to have a reading tracker, I found this excellent print on Etsy! Isn’t it adorable? It’s full of color and personality; seller britishbookart is very talented!

Genre Tracker

What is the ratio of genres that I enjoy? Do I read more Mystery than Romance? As a writer, I would find it useful to see which genre I ‘know’ most about—it’d help me find my strengths and craft better stories.

Bullet journaling offers a great way to track habits such as study time, outdoor time, or tracking the glasses of water taken daily. In a like manner, I’ve made a genre tracker.

I keep my genres general—Romance, Mystery, Self-Help. Under Mystery I gather all of the “subgenres” like historical mystery or murder mystery, making the tracker quite simple. According to my BuJo right now, right now I’m I enjoying Mystery and Romance more than Fantasy–but that could always change!

Quote Collection

Source: She Doodles on Instagram

Goodreads is a great place to save your favorite quotes from books, but my eyes are really sensitive to light. Unless I’m writing or blogging, I try to avoid computer screens; my phone light is really low.

For this reason, I prefer to keep my quotes on a page I can read comfortably.

You can make a “quote dump” page to gather these words of wisdom, or record them on the “sidebars” of your daily spreads. I’ve done a bit of both!

I’m crazy about this spread by She Doodles on Instagram; they can be used for words of encouragement, but also to keep track of quotes. It’s minimalist but catches the eye!

Cover Collage

For the same reason stated above—my eyes are sensitive to light—I don’t use Goodreads to keep track of books.

Considering all of the eBooks on my Kindle, it’s easy for me to lose track of what I have to read when I can’t see them visually!

I printed out the covers of books I haven’t read yet and glued them into my bullet journal, trying to sort them by genre. I have my section on nature books, mystery/thriller, classics…it’s a bit of work, but when you see the books collected, the work is worthwhile!

Here’s a glimpse into my own journal! You can tell I’m a fan of historical romance!

Book Reviews

I don’t post all of my reviews online, but I read quite a bit. I want to record my thoughts on each book so that I can reflect on them later. I reserved several pages in my BuJo with blue “tabs” on the edge. That way, I can easily find my personal book reviews.

It’s nothing special—I note the title, the day I finished reading, and up to three paragraphs of reflections. These are useful, because my reviews help me revisit them!


There are other fun ways to use a BuJo for reading. I’m eager to learn more as I continue this wonderful hobby! If you have any ideas, I would love to hear them!

5 Surprising Facts About Jane Austen


Despite having such a devoted fan base, Jane Austen’s life is shrouded in mystery. She was an unusual woman for her time, holding firm to her values. She believed in love matches; her stories are full of unlikely couples, yet she remained unmarried.

We don’t have much correspondence from which to learn her thoughts. Following the custom of the time, Jane’s sister Cassandra burned many letters after the author’s death.

Fortunately, not all was lost with those yellowing pages. Enough history remains to offer us a satisfying portrait.

Here are five surprising facts about Jane Austen.

1- She Enjoyed Gothic Novels

It’s not surprising that Jane Austen was well-read. She spent hours in the family library immersed in classics such as Shakespeare.

As always, literary tastes at the time were changing; she also enjoyed reading then-popular Gothic novels.

Her favorite authors included Frances Burney, Ann Radcliffe, and Maria Edgeworth. Radcliffe’s The Mysteries of Udolpho was mentioned in Jane’s novel Northanger Abbey as one of Catherine Morland’s favorite books.

Want to learn more about which books Jane read? Here is a list!

Portrait of Author Frances Burney

2- Jane Austen Hated School

The Austens were unique in their belief that education was important for all children, not only boys.

Jane and her sister Cassandra attended boarding school as young girls. Jane was only seven when she first left home to study. There is speculation about why she left at such a tender age. Some think it was because she could not bear separation from her sister.

They attended Mrs. Cawley’s boarding school for girls, where they were taught sewing and French. Jane would later write about her time at school as a torment.

3- She Was Engaged—for a Night

On December 2, 1802, Jane accepted a marriage proposal from family friend Harris Bigg-Wither. The Bigg-Wither family owned a large estate; marriage to him would ensure Jane’s happy retirement.

The following morning, she’d changed her mind. She called off the engagement, a choice that perplexed everybody–she wasn’t getting any younger.

Why did Jane choose spinsterhood over a comfortable home? We know that she believed people ought to marry for love; perhaps that was her reason.

I found this article about Harris Bigg-Wither interesting.

Drawing of Harris Bigg-Wither

4- Charlotte Brontë Wasn’t a Fan

There has been a rumor circulating that Charlotte Brontë’s classic Jane Eyre was inspired Austen’s character Jane Fairfax in Emma. This article criticizes the rumor, but it doesn’t deny that Brontë wasn’t a fan.

One can hardly blame her, seeing the big picture. Rare were female authors brave enough to publish with their names. They were generalized as lady authors, and Brontë was tired of being lumped in with Austen when their novels were so different.

I’m thankful that there is now room for different kinds of lady authors. It’s possible for us to write light-hearted romance or Gothic pieces–whatever we please!

5- Austen’s Last Piece was a Poem

Many famous authors have died and left novels unfinished. Jane Austen left two books unfinished—Sanditon and The Watsons—but her last complete work seems to have been a poem.

Titled Venta, it was dictated to Cassandra three days before Jane’s death. It’s a satirical piece about the people of Winchester, poking fun at their fervor for horse races. Jane wrote that they cared more for the races than they did for their patron saint, St. Swithin.

Various poems by Jane Austen can be found here.


It’s always fascinating to do research about the lives of famous authors. This little post does not begin to cover Jane Austen’s life, but I hope it taught you something new!

5 Myths About Sea Monsters


Humans tell stories to shed light on the unexplained, giving it a face we can imagine. It’s been our custom for centuries, and one of the most frightening mysteries our ancestors faced was the ocean.

Whether they were fishing or embarking on voyages into the unknown, they had no guarantee of a safe return. The ocean was a moody mistress; they personified her by giving her faces.

Now we know more about the world under the sea, but there remain mysteries that will never be explained. Stories make things interesting; why not learn some ocean folklore to uphold the ocean’s personality?

Siren Art by Mark Heine

Each-uisge

Not all sea monsters are giant squids of Jack Sparrow fame. The human imagination is adept at giving a shape to fear; something like water is impossible to keep in a set form.

Each-uisge is a sea monster of Scottish folklore. Its literal translation is water-horse. This monster is a shapeshifter; it can turn into a horse, pony, even into a handsome man!

Should somebody mount it while it is in horse form, they are only safe if the ocean is out of sight. A glimpse of the water changes the rider’s fate. The water-horse’s skin becomes like adhesive, making the rider helpless to dismount as the each-uisge dives into the sea.

Highland people are wary of wild horses—nobody wants to be drowned by a pony!

The Flying Dutchman

Ghost ships have marked ocean lore for as long as men have died at sea. Perhaps the most famous is the Flying Dutchman. Books and movies have been made about this spirit-ship doomed to sail on forever.

The oldest version of this legend originated in the 18th century. If hailed by another ship, the Flying Dutchman would attempt to send messages to land. At times, these messages would be to people long dead. Considered omens of death, sightings of the Flying Dutchman were dreaded by sailors.

Literary references to sightings of the Dutchman include a passage from Travels in various part of Europe, Asia and Africa during a series of thirty years and upward (1790) by John MacDonald:

The weather was so stormy that the sailors said they saw the Flying Dutchman. The common story is that this Dutchman came to the Cape in distress of weather and wanted to get into harbour but could not get a pilot to conduct her and was lost and that ever since in very bad weather her vision appears.

More literary references can be found on Wikipedia. A well-known sighting was reported by Prince George of Wales in 1880, the future King George V.

The Flying Dutchman by Stephen Palmer (Source)

Charybdis

Scholars have placed this sea monster from Greek folklore in the Strait of Messina. Charybdis appears with the sea monster Scylla to challenge heroes such as Odysseus and Aenas. Later myths identify her as the daughter of Poseidon and Gaia.

Charybdis and Scylla lived under large rocks, one on each side of a narrow channel. There was no way to escape their trap; the term ‘to be between Charybdis and Scylla’ means being presented with two opposite dangers.

Charybdis created giant whirlpools three times a day. She did this by swallowing large amounts of water, pulling sailors to their doom. In some variations of the myth, she is simply a giant whirlpool.

Siren

Ocean mythology would be incomplete without mention of the Siren. Not to be mistaken with a Mermaid, Sirens exist in different cultures under different disguises.

Some cultures portray them as beautiful women who live in the ocean; others describe them as women with birds’ feathers and scaly feet. What all Sirens have in common is a wicked custom of luring sailors to their death, usually with their songs.

Ovid wrote that Sirens were the companions of Persephone as a young girl. After Persephone was kidnapped by Hades, Demeter gave them wings to find her. When they failed to locate Persephone, Demeter cursed them. They were destined to live only until the humans who heard their songs passed by.

Another legend says that Hera persuaded the Muses to participate in a singing competition with the Sirens. When the Muses won, they plucked the Sirens’ feathers as a punishment. Wingless, the Sirens fell into the sea of Aptera, where they formed the islands known as Leukai.

Funayūrei

Ships are not the only ghostly bodies thought to dwell near the ocean. According to Japanese legend, Funayūrei are angry spirits of the sea. They appear in writings from the Edo period; they have not faded from modern folk customs.

Funayūrei are said to be the spirits of humans who died in shipwrecks. These angry spirits want to doom more humans to death at the bottom of the ocean. They would make ladies fill boats with water in order to make them sink.

Their appearances vary widely in the different legends. Some float above the water; others appear on ships to haunt sailors. They are more likely to appear when it is raining or during nights when the moon is full.


Maybe you’ve never seen The Flying Dutchman, but have you heard the sound of wind before a storm? Have you ever stared at an approaching wave and wondered if it was coming for you?

The sea is full of mysteries. Since humans can never control the sea, it strikes fear into our hearts. Coming up with stories gives us a fleeting grasp on it.

I’ve gathered butterfly myths and star myths. The stories of our ancestors are a great part of who we are as a race. Get to know those beliefs; you might find that a voice deep inside of you still believes.

Classics By Women: NOT JUST JANE by Shelley DeWees


What are the greatest powers to be found in books? There are many, but let’s think about the history behind each piece. People have been writing for centuries, some to inform and others to entertain. There’s a title about everything for everyone.

For more on this, check out my post about Jonathan Gottschall’s book The Storytelling Animal.

Once you start digging into classic literature, you will run into obscure authors and discover the roots of your favorite fairy tales. It’s like Alice falling down the rabbit hole.

Ponder for a moment how the ability to write empowers. Reading and writing have a great influence in the direction that our world takes. Literature makes such a mark on society that it wasn’t always open to everyone.

Women in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries were discouraged from writing.  It went against the gender roles that society had preset for them. Women were only taught what was necessary for marriage and raising children. If they thought about writing a book (at least, one that wasn’t on the topic of good housekeeping), they risked becoming outcasts.

“Proper” men and women alike mocked ladies who wanted to write. If their tales were indeed written, they were never published. If they were published, most authoresses so feared the condemnation of society that they didn’t publish with their names. Instead they chose the appellation By a Lady.

There are too many women with such a history to celebrate in one blog post or even in a whole book. Shelley DeWees’ Not Just Jane introduces us to seven authoresses aside from Austen who broke the rules. Some were forced into writing to make a living because their husbands could not provide, or–in the case of Sara Coleridge–forced into marriage that tore her away from her passion.

While some of these women wrote about politics, especially during the Great Terror of the French Revolution, others just had stories to tell. Some of them survived because of questionable friends in upper ranks of society. Others were taken “under the wing” of important gentleman (one had a flirtation with the Prince of Wales).

Things like this kept them fed, but didn’t change how they were perceived by the ton. It was a point of no return.

The choice to become a female writer in the eighteenth century was one of strength and bravery. Could I have taken that path when there was so much at stake? I’m glad I don’t have to balance these things now in making that decision; times have changed.

I’m glad the world is full of room for women and their stories.

Learn about seven authoresses who shaped literary history. When you finish Not Just Jane, read a book by one of these women. What can we do to honor their memories? We read the stories they must have doubted could survive.

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 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—Mozart’s Starling


Picture this: beloved composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart at his piano, writing his next masterpiece.

He has a great amount of fans eager for something new, so he cannot disappoint. Soon, he will have his piano hauled onto a theater stage (he prefers to use his own at all times); he will perform, bow to great applause, and return home (once again hauling his piano.)

Now picture on his shoulder a little feathered helper.

His pet starling, Star, offers brand-new melodies, or perhaps she trills what he’s already composed, making it sound better. It’s not known the degree to which this lucky bird helped Mozart compose, as she is scarcely mentioned in his letters or journals; what we can know without a doubt is that, like any good pet owner, he loved her.

I am always looking for quirky elements in history. I am a gardener and nature lover; I want to know as much about the past as I possibly can. When I read the description of Mozart’s Starling, I couldn’t resist–this is exactly the kind of the story I’m looking for, a legend of classical music sharing time with a common bird!

Mozart’s Starling struck me because it mixed the genius (the composer and his natural talent) with something so normal that we can relate to him: adopting a pet to inspire us.

In short, Mozart bought a pet starling from a pet shop. He was not planning to bring home a pet that day; the strange thing about Star which no one can work out to this day is that she had been in the shop singing a bit from his latest work in progress—a piece that no human had heard yet, so imagine his shock when he heard this starling!

He had met a kindred spirit in a bird. He grew to love her so much that, when her short life ended, he arranged an impressive funeral, complete with original music, to see her off—but he did not go to his father’s funeral. You choose your family, I suppose!

The author of this book, Lyanda Haupt, told as much of the story as she knew. I wish there had been more about Mozart and the bird herself, but if few records exist, the only thing to be done would be making things up. I would rather have a bite of delicious truth than pages of lies.

The truth is, not much is known about Mozart’s starling except that he had one.

I enjoyed learning Lyanda’s story, as well; in order to write this book, she adopted a homeless starling and allowed her to live practically cage-free in her home. Her starling is called Carmen, and Haupt’s tales of how Carmen learned to talk and imitate the sounds of the coffee maker or the vacuum made me smile. What precious memories to make, and I am grateful that she shared them.

Side view of a Common Starling, Sturnus vulgaris, isolated on white

I learned that starlings are generally a hated species of bird, called invasive, and some people come up with cruel ways to rid the world of them. I’m not a birdwatcher, so I don’t know how much damage that entails; all I know is that Mozart had a starling, and all of a sudden his story is more interesting to me than it was.

If you know other tales like this, of historical figures being human and relatable, please share the titles; I can’t get enough of these stories. What a joy we have in history!