Emily of New Moon by L.M.Montgomery

Author – Lucy Maud Montgomery (Canadian)
Publishing Year – 1923
Genre – Children’s Literature
My Rating – 3.5/5
Pages – 339

A sweet ride!
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This book is about Emily Starr – a whimsical little good-hearted child, who has lived her life happily out of doors, befriending cats and trees and hedges and the “wind woman”. Her life takes a huge turn when her beloved father dies and she is taken to live with her mother’s snobbish relatives at New Moon farm. A proud little child, with acute sensitivity and understanding, a unique and exquisite slowly blossoming smile, she is an endearing character with a penchant for pouring out her heart on paper. She dreams to grow up and be a renowned poetess. She slowly falls in love with every stick and stone and blade of grass in New Moon. It fits her perfectly. She makes dear new friends with Teddy – who is an amazing artist, Isle- who has a talent for Elocution and Perry- who is going to be a politician. Trouble is never far away in the house of the stiff, stern aunt Elizabeth whose ways of living are quite different than those of little Emily. They cannot understand each other but can they find a way to coexist? Will Emily’s dreams of being a poetess be stunted? What adventures lay in front of the impetuous little brat, as Aunt Elizabeth may put it? How will she deal with the loneliness without her father?

I liked reading the story although the descriptions sometimes got too exasperating to read through. I found myself unwittingly skipping some of these passages. The difference of opinions and constant rifts between Aunt Elizabeth and Emily were sometimes irksome. But what I loved about this novel and Emily, is her love of writing. She would find bits and scraps of paper and write on the back of envelopes and unused government letters. She wrote long descriptions of the daily happenings, her thoughts and musings, her flights of imagination, amusing but incisive character sketches and peachy lines of poetry. I loved how she would pause and think to recall the “one “,”right” word for what she wanted to say. She was an artist of words and chose them with exquisite care. She cannot live without writing. She must write, at any cost. It reminded me again of what it means to write, how soothing and wonderful it is, how it can uncomplicate thoughts and be a stationary well for all your vehement feelings. Today, I took a pen and paper and wrote in my own style of what has been troubling me the most — in the back of my mind. For the first time, after a lot of days, I feel the knot at the back of my mind unravel and let go.

I also really liked the last few chapters of the book where Emily outgrows her childish self. Those little pieces of poetry, once so wonderful and precious to her suddenly read like trash. Her childhood strokes of brilliant fairypowder now seem like withered leaves, fit only for burning. Outgrowing oneself is never a pleasant process. And I, for one, felt it acutely. I could relate to Emily as she outgrew herself, changed into a more mature and contained young woman, went through disappointments and fell into delicious raptures. I feel this book about Emily’s adventures was much closer to reality then the Anne of Green Gables book.

“Emily went, still a bit scared but oddly exultant behind her fright. She was so happy that her happiness seemed to irradiate the world with its own splendour. All the sweet sounds of nature around her seemed like broken words of her own delight. Mr.Carpenter watched her out of sight from the old worn threshold.

“Wind-and flame- and sea!” he muttered. “Nature is always taking us by surprise. This child has- what I have never had and would have made any sacrifice to have. But ‘the gods don’t allow us to be in their debt’- she will pay for it- she will pay.”

I found this dialogue by Mr.Carpenter oddly profound. It is one of the harsh realities I have often thought but never been able to put into words as he does. A simple but nice read. I will not forget you soon Emily Byrd Starr of New Moon.

Edenbrooke by Julianne Donaldson

Author – Julianne Donaldson (American)
Publishing Year – 2012
Genre – Romance, Regency era
Pages – 264
My Rating – 2.5/5

An Entertaining Read!
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Set in the Regency era, this love story follows Marianne as she finally finds happiness and comfort at the grand estate of Edenbrooke. The fairy-tale title of the book suggests a fairy-tale romance, and in that expectation, one is not disappointed. It was an enjoyable and quick read that I finished off at one stretch. Marianne, a wild spirited young lady who is sentimental and endearing, who likes to speak her mind very often (and send one into peals of laughter) is a sweet combination of the authentic, open hearted and lovable heroine. She is a non-conformist, not out of defiant beliefs against the societal norms but simply as a young, up-front and sentimental character. She is sent to the wonderful countryside estate of Edenbrooke to learn “elegance” and “how to behave like a lady” from her sister Cecily and other respectable family members. Marianne, herself, is overjoyed at the prospect of being in the countryside again. As she goes through this novel, in an attempt to improve upon her mannerisms and befit the high society, she is disenchanted by the supercilious hypocrisy of the people she has been sent to learn from.

The story is charming– it follows the innocent open hearted Marianne as she proves herself to be stronger, more talented and beautiful than she ever thought herself to be. The romance is delicious as it builds up between the audacious yet gentlemanly, strong but vulnerable Sir Philip who falls hopelessly in love with Marianne and is ready to go to vast lengths to win her affections. A good romance story must have it’s hurdles and must draw the story out deliciously; testing the love, evoking jealousy, with moments of tear-jerking romance, outstanding bravery and the thundering panic of having almost lost the person you love the most. And so it does. There is Cecily, the elder sister who has always accomplished what she sets out to get (and this time she sets out after Sir Philip), there is the onerous Mr. Beaufort who stands in the way, the clouded mystery behind Sir Philip’s disagreeable actions and the delightful conversations, so warm and heartfelt; as she finds happiness in his company.

This novel, while engaging and entertaining, fails to surprise. The writing is simple and unrefined making cardboard characters. It lacks freshness of detail, richness in writing, thought provoking observations, or detailed characters with an astuteness in their own psychology. It is a melodramatic light hearted read that is quite pleasant and predictable. I have to admit, a guilty, easy-going, hammock pleasure of a ride. Pick it up when you are warm and cosy and yearn for an equally cosy, comfortable, feel-good story.

Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

Author – Ray Bradbury
Publishing Year – 1953
Author’s Nationality – American
Genre – Dystopic Science Fiction, Humanity
Pages – 160
My Rating – 5/5

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Fahrenheit 451 is a dystopic novel written about an imaginary futuristic age of 2200. I absolutely loved reading this book. It’s a slim volume, a very accessible read and I think a necessary book for everyone in this age. Our lives are constantly changing, at a terrifyingly fast pace. The march of advancement in technology can’t be stopped any longer. This book is a cautionary tale of a world where the blindly consumable hogwash of mass media has replaced literature in every form. This tale focuses on the human pursuit of comfort and happiness, how it has led to the eradication of any ideas, thoughts, deeds that hold the power to question or disturb. In creating a world where books are burnt and are deemed illegal commodities, Ray Bradbury’s book is a strong statement on why literature is important, how mass media poses a threat to literature and about the dangers of de-humanisation of an illiterate society infatuated with mass media.

This is what Ray Bradbury has to say about the reason behind writing this book.

“I wrote this book at a time when I was worried about the way things were going in this country four years ago. Too many people were afraid of their shadows; there was a threat of book burning. Many of the books were being taken off the shelves at that time. And of course, things have changed a lot in four years. Things are going back in a very healthy direction. But at the time I wanted to do some sort of story where I could comment on what would happen to a country if we let ourselves go too far in this direction, where then all thinking stops, and the dragon swallows his tail, and we sort of vanish into a limbo and we destroy ourselves by this sort of action.”

The protagonist in this book, Mr. Montag is a fireman who burns books. He is astonished to find out that there was a past where firemen actually put out fires instead of creating them. These firemen, in the society are the guardians of peace and the executors of those who threaten to destroy this peace. Mr. Montag faces a crisis of conscience as he meets Clarisse, finds out that his wife almost died and concludes that he is unhappy.

The reader follows Montag as he hears Captain Beatty assail books as being mere lies. Books say nothing. Fictional books are about non existent people and figments of imaginations. Non fictional books are about one person’s philosophies shoved down another’s gullet. There is no certainty, no truth, no knowledge to be gained. They are all simply pretensions of knowledge and accomplishment, to confuse, and bewilder. Once of the same mindset, the fireman had burned books with great delight.

“It’s fine work.Monday burn Millay,Wednesday Whitman,  Friday Faulkner, burn ’em to ashes, then burn the ashes.  That’s our official slogan”  (p. 8).

Captain Beatty is a champion of the unremitting assault of fast-paced electronics that have replaced literature and flood the mind with a deluge of information delivered at such a fast rate that there is no time to think, question and “to look at the world and turn it over in one’s mind.”

On the other hand, Montag encounters Faber, a former English professor who explains to Montag how the books stitch together the patches of the universe into one garment for us. I love how Faber describes the importance of books. “The good writers touch life often,” he says, “the mediocre ones run a quick hand over her. The bad ones rape her and leave her for the flies.” He talks about the power of good books with a rich and detailed texture of information that captures fresh details of reality, makes you minutely aware by passing reality over a microscope and show it as it is– the pores and all. He also talks about the dictatorial power of brainwashing that TVs have and books do not. You can’t argue with a four walled televisor set, he says. It tells you what to think and blasts it in. It must be right. It seems so right. It doesn’t give you time to turn it over in your head and a chance to protest what is being so quickly guzzled. It becomes the truth. Books, on the other hand can be beaten down with reason, Faber says. You can put it down, take a leisurely breath and think it over. Books do not tell you what is certain and right, they show you different patches of the universe and let you decide.

Fahrenheit 451 is a great work of literature  – too great to be pigeonholed as mere muckraking, futuristic science fiction or as a manifesto against book burning and censorship. Unlike 1984, which is an exercise in political commentary railing against Utopian tyranny and Big Brother,  Fahrenheit  451  is less overtly political, less overtly about freedom alone, and more deeply about the essence of humanity,  about that which makes life worth living. At bottom, the characters, the plot, and the insights of Fahrenheit 451 are, above all else, about the life of the mind and the essential link  between a life of the mind and a life of meaning.

Bradbury identifies many forces that interfere with a life of the mind and diminish the possibility of a life of meaning. They includes separation from the written word; separation from the simple senses of taste, smell, sight, and touch; and separation from the virtues of leisure, respite, and reflection. For all the fire of Fahrenheit  451, for all the book burning and city bombing, the novel is largely about the human need for peace – for peace among nations, for peace of mind and soul. It is also about an attempt of humanity at this pursuit of peace gone awry. A MUST READ!

Night by Elie Wiesel

Author: Elie Wiesel, Marion Wiesel (Translator)
Publishing Year: 1956
Author’s Nationality: Romanian
Book Translation: French to English
Genre: Non Fiction, World War II, Religion
Pages: 171
I cannot rate this book. Read it.

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One of the bedrocks of Holocaust literature, this book is a must read for our generation to learn about the darkest zone of human history. The novel is a non-fictional account of Elie Wiesel as he is among the thousands of jews deported to the Auschwitz concentration camp in around 1942. His book made me realize how far we have come in valuing Human Rights and being tolerant of Diversity in Race, Culture, Religions etc and how important it is to speak out against any form of marginalization. The book is written in a sparse, fragmented and threadbare manner focusing on the events that took place, and snatches of conversations without any superfluous details or descriptions. I could find myself asking the same questions that Eliezer asked– about the presence of God, Humanity and Divine Justice. The Ghettos, Auschwitz camp, Buna Camp, Death March, Cattle Cars, Buchenwald camp — all of these are terrifying events that chillingly describe the evil humans are capable of.

“And then I explained to him how naive we were, that the world did know and remain silent. And that is why I swore never to be silent whenever and wherever human beings endure suffering and humiliation. We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented. Sometimes we must interfere. When human lives are endangered, when human dignity is in jeopardy, national borders and sensitivities become irrelevant. Wherever men or women are persecuted because of their race, religion, or political views, that place must – at that moment – become the center of the universe.”

Read this book because it is a moral obligation– to the holocaust survivors, to the millions of jews that were thrown into furnaces or died out of exhaustion and suffering, to the thousands of German soldiers who played the part of the devils, to see humanity at its worst, to remember this history and to protect those that continue in many parts of the world to be marginalized.

The Awakening by Kate Chopin

Author: Kate Chopin (Missouri, United States)
Publishing Year: 1899
Genre: Self-discovery, Early feminism
My Rating: 4/5

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The novel follows the protagonist Edna Pontellier in her journey of discovering herself as an individual, independent from her role as a wife and a mother. She contradicts conventions, her actions are bold, irresponsible and reckless as she tries to create a happier and more fulfilling life for herself. This novel, grasps the subtle and complex consciousness of Edna, her shifting emotions and unspoken cry for independence which materialises gradually. Edna does not fit in inside the roles defined for her as a devoted wife, a loving mother and household carer. She feels caged and gradually becomes rebellious. She learns to swim in the ocean, and this gives her a taste of freedom she yearns for.

The other two prominent female characters: Mrs. Ratignolle (the mother-woman) and Miss. Reisz (the pianist) represent the extremes of the spectrum of the life of women. Madame Ratignolle is the perfect 19th century woman who lives for her children and her husband. Kate chopin severely states, “They were women who idolized their children, worshipped their husbands, and esteemed it a holy privilege to efface themselves as individuals and grow wings as ministering angels.” Miss Reisz, on the other hand, idolizes what Edna could have been if she grew older and separated from her family. She is an independent woman who is a genius at playing the piano, she understands the depths of music and its power to arouse the soul, lash at it, sway it and embrace it in passions. Madame Ratignolle is seen consistently warning Edna when she strays from expectations and reminding her of her duties, setting an ideal example and being a kindly friend. She is presented as a delicious example of the 19th century woman. Mademoiselle Reisz, on the other hand is a generally disagreeable and unpopular woman, who takes a special liking to Edna and encourages her without verbal persuasion to set herself free.

The book’s ambiguity embraces human existence in its true form. I could understand what Edna was feeling, I felt like I had been through the conflicting emotions that swayed through her, I could relate to the sexual passions that stirred her, I could understand her. But at the same time, I could not approve of what she does. I think that American authors such as Kate Chopin excellently capture the incongruities and subtleties of human existence, stripped of the view of ethical standards and conventions but it is the British authors like Charlotte Bronte who created characters better equipped to contend with these “awakenings”. I feel the novel lacked in its ability to deal with the situation and decide what to do, rather than be torn apart by the ravages of emotions. But at the same time, that is not what it set out to do. It is a tragic work of art that captures the psychology of the woman in question very astutely. The story is misty, it focuses on Edna’s feelings, thoughts and imaginations rather than having a concrete plot. The language is excellent, as if every word is chosen with such exquisite care and purpose– I relished it. It is moving, audacious and profound. Definitely a book I must re-read.

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

Author: Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows
Publishing Year: 2008
Genre: Historical, Feel-Good
My rating: 4/5
Recommended for all those who love to read books.

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The book is set around 1945, the ending of World War II and subsequently, the ending of German Occupation on the Islands of Guernsey. The major themes of the book are the magic of reading, friendship, finding love and using these to navigate tumultuous times. The book also commemorates virtues of courage, loyalty and being strong in the face of danger.

It centres around a literary society formed during the second world war. Three of the Guernsey citizens were caught after an illicit gathering (a Pig Roast feast) and to escape punishment, one of them contrived the Guernsey Literary Society on the spot as the reason for the gathering. With a strange hodgepodge of members, from people who loved to read to people who had never read a book in their life; this literary society soon became dear to one and all. As each member tells their story in turn, I found myself laughing out loud, feeling sympathy, adoration, respect and even sadness with them. Each member had something unique to add to the society– from a Charles Lamb fanatic, a Wuthering Heights admirer to a worshipper of William Owens’ Poetry, this book creates such endearing characters that made my heart swell. To find out where the “Potato Peel Pie” came from, read the book! It’s delightful, I promise.

This book is also informative about daily life in Guernsey during the German occupation. How people of this little island were affected when the Germans took over– like not allowed to grow anything except Potatoes, having to grow and hand over their cattle to the Germans, famished workers hunting and stealing food at night in desperation, no wireless communications were permitted making the little island literally an “island” cut off from the rest of the world, even import export of goods were banned making common commodities like soap and salt unprocurable.

The story is peppered with mentions of authors and little bits of stories about them which I enjoyed. For example, I learnt Wilkie Collins is a man! (I never once doubted in my mind that Wilkie Collins was a woman, hence the shock). He is a man and he kept two different houses for his two separate mistresses and two separate sets of children! I no longer feel the gravitational pull I earlier did to read his books. Finally, it also made me want to read more poetry and remember how truly important it is. Poetry is emotion, wisdom, contemplation packed into tiny sentences. You can remember tiny sentences, not paragraphs of prose. These tiny sentences of poetry help you chuckle in situations, they are your silent friends whispering their wisdom in your ears as you experience more of life. The impact of remembering lines of poetry includes being able to recall them to describe a circumstance and emotion and then makes you ready to contend with the circumstance.

The protagonist Juliet is a writer who lives in post-war London and is having a hard time trying to find herself and a book subject that she is passionate about. She begins a remarkable conversation with the members of the Guernsey Literary society and gets to know them and love them in a series of letters. She sails to Guernsey to meet them and becomes a part of the society very soon, she finds her place among them and falls in love. Here, on the island, she finally finds a subject for her book — writing about a woman who embodies the spirit and zest of the island. Guernsey changes the course of her life forever.

Written in the epistolary form, this book is a sweet mug of hot coffee on a cold winter day. It’s an uplifting read boasting an outstanding cast of characters, from pig farmers to phrenologists, literature lovers all. It’s refreshing. It’s endearing. It’s funny. It’s uplifting. While it has a lot of good qualities, it sometimes reads like a Children’s novel. The epistolary format breaks continuation and makes it hard to follow and remember the different characters in the beginning, as they keep switching. The story is not what I would call “a serious read” but definitely one that touches my heart, it takes some impossible turns, lightens the post-war atmosphere, has a cutesy ending and is generally a feel-good book.

Here’s a newspaper clipping mentioned in the book:
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And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie

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My Rating – 2.5/5

I found this to be an easy, simple read and contrary to my expectations, a let-down as a murder mystery. The story was simply carved, the murderer quite predictable being the only one with a strong motive. There was a hint of an unexpected turn towards the end of the events but it failed to impress. The cleverness and skills of observation that are usually exploited by such mystery stories was dreadfully missing. The character development is sketchy and each person is only briefly outlined making only a poor “imitation” of a person. I enjoyed the spooky atmosphere built up in the tale and appreciated the fact that it stayed clean of sleazy elements often used in these stories.

This story is about ten strangers who are all invited to the Soldier Island under vague circumstances. This island is a trap set by an unknown stranger who calls himself Mr.Owen and writes a letter  pretending to be a relative or friend to gather these people. Each of these strangers arrive to the island expecting a nice little vacation and some time to unwind in a fancy resort by the seaside. Boy, are they wrong! One by one, each of these strangers die in unexplained circumstances and these deaths run parallel to the description of the deaths in a little rhyme called “The Ten Indian Soldiers”. The question is – who is the murderer? And why is he killing these people?

The latter question gets answered quickly– the murderer has brought together a band of strangers who have committed murders themselves in ways that went undetected by the law. For example, encouraging a child to swim to a dangerous spot and then unsuccessfully attempting to save him while he drowns to his death. Another example is leaving twenty natives on their own to meet their fate on a dangerous island. These are crimes committed that lead to a murder indirectly and cannot be traced back to the killer by the law. Each stranger on the island is guilty of such a crime. It is hard to write a novel with ten murders as each of these strangers meets their death and still hold the readers’ interest, however the novel manages to do that. The story gets spookier gradually as each soldier dies leaving lesser and lesser remnants of hope. The Indian rhyme, the ten china figures which gradually disappear as each person dies and the setting of a large house on an island cut off from the rest of the world are strong elements that add to the overall spooky atmosphere.

Some interesting questions on guilt and justice are touched on the surface, posed incompletely and left. The murderer believes that their crimes must be brought to justice. He takes it upon himself to correct the imbalance and serve justice that the law fails to. But the question is- who gives him the power to decide what justice is? Is he right to play god to these people and determine that they are sinners and condemn them to their death? Is “sin” as black and white as that? What constitutes a “sin” and how do you measure the degree of fault? Does the conscience of the sinner play a role in the administration of justice– if the sinner is tormented by his/her conscience, is he in some sense better than a cold-blooded killer? And in that case, does he/she deserve lesser punishment? If a sinner believes he/she has not done anything wrong, but has simply acted in the correct course according to the personal perception, is that person devoid of blame?

The murderer kills these people on the island according to the degree in which he believes the sinner is guilty. In case of cold-blooded crimes, he makes these people suffer longer. In case of people tormented by their own conscience about their deeds, he ends the suffering of these people quickly. The determination of the rank and relative degree of blame is interesting. For example, according to the executioner – running two children over with a car and feeling no remorse is better than firing a pregnant servant who then goes to commit suicide and feeling perfectly in-culpable about it.

Overall, I expected cleverer turns from the story, some ingenious sleuthing and ‘Aha!’ moments. This expectation was not met with and I was disappointed with the book. It managed to weakly touch over some interesting questions on guilt, justice and conscience after committing a crime.