Emily’s Corner: “The Blue Castle”

20170202_140222Emily and I (Serena) have been friends since the first week of freshman year of college. Other than a lost purse (I did the losing, Emily did the calming), take a wild guess as to what we bonded over? Yes, that is correct: books. And the fact that we both had plans to be English majors and would go on to coordinate our schedules to have as many similar classes as possible! All that said, Emily has agreed to be a semi-regular contributor to our blog, so keep your eyes open for posts from her in “Emily’s Corner” on random Mondays going forward!

 

95693Book: “The Blue Castle” by Lucy Maud Montgomery

Publishing Info: 1908

Where Did I Get this Book: Amazon. Though book cover purists be warned; when I tried to purchase this book for a friend they only had a recently published version that has a horrendous new book cover that makes it look like an adolescent romance novel!

Book Description: Valancy lives a drab life with her overbearing mother and prying aunt. Then a shocking diagnosis from Dr. Trent prompts her to make a fresh start. For the first time, she does and says exactly what she feels. As she expands her limited horizons, Valancy undergoes a transformation, discovering a new world of love and happiness. One of Lucy Maud Montgomery’s only novels intended for an adult audience, “The Blue Castle” is filled with humour and romance.

Review:

Emily here, I’m a college friend of Serena’s, fellow book nerd and English major. I have gleefully followed the Library Ladies since its inception, so I was delighted when Serena asked me to write a guest post. Picking a first book to review is almost as hard as picking a favorite book, but the one that always comes to mind is “The Blue Castle” by Lucy Maud Montgomery.

Most people know of L.M. Montgomery because of “Anne of Green Gables,” but I’ve been surprised by how few people (even fellow English nerds!) know of her stand-alone books. This one is a gem. This is the book I re read every year, the book that I foist upon friends and strangers alike.

I discovered “The Blue Castle” at the library my sophomore year of high school and instantly fell in love with the timid-turned-feisty protagonist. Valancy Sterling is the snubbed and put-upon spinster of her family. At the ripe old age of 29 (!) she is considered a failure and a dull one at that. (It’s a toss-up which is worse to be in the Sterling clan.) After receiving life-altering news, she flips a Victorian finger to her family and sets off on her own adventure.

It’s not a new concept by any means, but the genius of this book is in the hilarious characters. Yes, we have the typical overbearing and aloof mother, the whiny aunts, and the golden-child cousin who can do no wrong, and the pompous uncle who finally gets put in his place at the end. But Montgomery is a master at writing characters who shine, whose flaws and virtues alike liven up what would otherwise be a trope. You get the sense that each character, no matter how small or unimportant to the plotline, has their own significant life story.

The characters that truly shine are Valancy and the two male leads. No, this isn’t a love triangle scenario, thank goodness, but each man is a hero to her in his own unique way. The first is the aptly titled Roaring Abel, a carpenter and a drunk, but also a thoughtful and generous man. His character problem is what opens the door for Valancy to escape her domineering family.

The second man is of course the love interest, but here is where Montgomery throws another twist in the story. Barney Snaith does not love Valancy. “Never even thought of such a thing,” he says to her very face! You’ll have to read the book to see how Valancy gets around this one, and I assure you the result is both delightful and decidedly unladylike!

Overall, what I love most about this book is watching Valancy’s progression from dutiful daughter to a someone who creates a colorful life for herself. And yes, gets a happy ending after all.

Rating 10:  This is the finest that Montgomery has to offer!

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Blue Castle” is included on these Goodreads lists: “Best Lesser-Known Books” and “Anne and Friends.”

Find “The Blue Castle” at your library using Worldcat!

Guest Author: Kristen Twardowski

As a special treat this week, we have a guest post from blogger and author, Kristen Twardowski. Kristen wrote the book “When We Go Missing”, and has put together a post ruminating on reading, writing, her personal inspiration, and advice for aspiring authors. We are very lucky that she is willing to share these insights with us, and send her thanks and gratitude.

Welcome Kristen!

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I’ve long suspected that books, the ones we love as well as the ones we’ll never see, haunt both readers. Many of us read because we are searching for something. Maybe it is as simple as entertainment, but more often we want to find a book that makes us feel a certain way or one that tells us something about ourselves or our world.

For me, writing deals with those same issues. I write because I am looking for the answers to questions that I don’t always know I’m asking. This quest has followed me throughout my life. I like knowing things and have found there are many different ways to learn them.

History will always be my first love. I studied it in undergrad, and during my graduate work I focused on gender, particularly different iterations of masculinity in Imperial Germany. I have also worked with a wolf research and education center where we studied animal behavior and held various tours and seminars for the public. My professional life has also always revolved around sharing knowledge. I worked in academic libraries before I transitioned into the academic publishing industry where I have worked in books editorial and journals sales and marketing departments. I currently am in a role where I perform data analysis and promote books and journals. Though I never envisioned myself as a numbers person, my job is a rewarding one that ensures that readers have access to different perspectives of the world.

I recently delved into one of those alternate viewpoints in my debut novel When We Go Missing, which was released in December 2016. The novel is a psychological thriller that follows the story of Alex Gardinier, a woman who believes that her ex-husband is a serial killer and who can do nothing to stop him from her room in a psychiatric ward. When I began to write the book, I was looking to explore several themes: how people get away with murder in the United States and how the various victims of violent crimes respond to trauma. In particular, I delved into the ways that the justice system underserves poor communities, immigrants, and minority populations.

I struggled with several different aspects of writing When We Go Missing. At the most basic level, the book was on a quicker timetable than I prefer. When left to my own devices, I stew over manuscripts for long enough too ruin them. In the summer of 2016, I decided to try and overcome this roadblock by committing to publishing When We Go Missing before the start of 2017. I also found myself battling against the urge to write a nonfiction study of crime in the United States. Academia nursed me at its bosom, so the temptation to simply analyze the world was always there. I did manage to restrain myself and did not fill the novel with footnotes and citations. (The struggle was a real one.)

Now that When We Go Missing has been released into the world I have several other manuscripts that I am currently working on. The first of them is work that I like to call a modern mythology and is loosely inspired by Old Norse legends. The second manuscript is a coming of age story, which is not a subject that I ever anticipated writing about. I simply woke up one day and needed to put ideas to paper. I will very likely pursue publishing the modern mythology, but the future of the coming of age tale remains unclear.

In some ways, writing a modern mythology is returning to my roots. I am a fantasy lover at heart because those stories often distill truths about life even when surrounded by absurd and magical things. (But aren’t those things true in their own ways as well? Life is a little absurd and a little magical after all.) My favorite authors include folks like Diana Wynne Jones, Peter S. Beagle, Jan Siegel, and Melanie Rawn because they manage to portray existence in all of its beauty, and complexity, and wonder, and sadness. I always hope that that tangled web of emotion bleeds into my writing.

I encourage all aspiring writers to spend a little time on self-reflection and determine what stories they want to tell. Not everyone has to have the existential wonderings that I wander into, but writing is about more than simply putting words together. It is also about knowing what you want to say, knowing what you don’t know, and trying to draw the reader into that emotional and intellectual space. As I said before, we read to find meaning. Writers should acknowledge if only to themselves what truth they are trying to find.

Visit Kristen at https://kristentwardowski.wordpress.com/

And check out Kate’s review of her book “When We Go Missing”