Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Jane of Lantern Hill by L.M. Montgomery

"Life, deal gently with her... Love, never desert her." ~Jane of Lantern Hill

Jane of Lantern Hill is one of my favorite L. M. Montgomery novels. Set in the late 1920's, it was one of her later books, and maybe that's a good thing. The story is light and well-paced, the characters are as endearing as her earlier Edwardian novels, but the book lacks the endless descriptions and flowery poeticism that are so prevalent in the Anne books. Not that the descriptions are necessarily a bad thing...

I'm getting off topic. Jane of Lantern Hill centers around an eleven-year-old girl named Jane Stuart, who lives with her mother, her aunt Gertrude, and her grim, austere grandmother at 60 Gay Street in Toronto. Grandmother and Aunt Gertrude rarely smile, but Jane and her mother get along beautifully--and of course there's Jody, the little girl next door, Jane's best friend. All her life, Jane has believed her father was dead... until a girl at school reveals the awful secret: Jane's father is alive and well, living in a remote little place called Prince Edward Island. And things only get worse when her father, out of the blue, writes to say that he wants Jane to come spend the summer with him. Summer on a tiny little island away from Mother, with a father she's never met and doesn't want to meet? Jane is sure that the next three months will be agony.

She's in for a real surprise. PEI is not only a beautiful place, it's a friendly place. Jane and her dad get on fantastically from the beginning, and Jane makes dozens of new friends. She learns housekeeping in Dad's little cottage, teaches herself to swim in the dazzling blue gulf, develops a liking for cats, and manages to capture an escaped lion. But she can't be perfectly happy, because she knows Mother is far away in Toronto, missing Jane tremendously. Why on earth did Dad and Mother ever separate in the first place....?

This book is a delightful read, and I heartily recommend it! Jane is one of those heroines who is almost real; she's the kind of girl I'd like to have for a friend. The book is probably best for ages 10-16, and it's available through Borders, Barnes and Noble, and the Lancaster County Library System. I'd rate it a nine out of ten.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Wives and Daughters by Elizabeth Gaskell

Wives and Daughters is one of those beautiful, timeless, endearing and enduring classics that is unfortunately "on the back shelf", so to speak. It is more popular than some of Elizabeth Gaskell's other novels (North and South, Mary Barton) but it doesn't have the recognition it deserves. Written in the early 1860's, the story takes place some thirty years earlier.

Seventeen-year-old Molly Gibson, the heroine, lives in the fictional town of Hollingford with her widowed father. They are happy together and have a close, warm relationship. But Dr. Gibson feels that Molly ought to have a mother, and so he asks Mrs. Kirkpatrick, a middle-aged widow, to marry him. The new Mrs. Gibson is kind to Molly, but she doesn't understand her, and Molly wishes things could be as they were before. Molly gets on better with her new stepsister, Cynthia Kirkpatrick, but the two girls are very different. Meanwhile, Molly strikes up a friendship with the Hamley family (hey! it rhymes!) of Hamley Hall: the elderly Squire Hamley, his delicate wife, and their two sons, the poetic Osborne and the studious Roger. When Mrs. Hamley dies after a lingering illness, Molly becomes even closer to Squire Hamley; he looks upon her as a daughter. She and Roger also become very close, sharing a love of nature and science.

But then things begin to happen very fast when Molly accidentally discovers Osborne Hamley's deepest secret. To make matters worse, Roger Hamley falls in love with Molly's stepsister Cynthia and proposes to her--just before he leaves for a two-year journey in Africa. Then Molly begins to fear that Cynthia has a secret of her own, involving Mr. Preston, the local land-agent...

I won't tell any more, because I don't want to give away the whole plot, but I will say that it is the kind of story you can't put down. I read it in November 2010, but didn't get around to writing a review until now (shame on me). The characters were so real and vivid, the narrative well-paced and interesting, and the dialogue enchanting. Dr. Gibson, in particular, was extremely funny!

I'd recommend this book for ages twelve and up, and rate it nine out of ten--I withhold the tenth star only because the novel isn't finished! Yup, that's right. Mrs. Gaskell died before she finished writing this, her last book (well, obviously it was her last book). But it is evident how she intended the story to end, and you aren't really left hanging at the last page. I would recommend watching the 1999 BBC miniseries based on the novel, with Justine Waddell and Keeley Hawes. It does a nice job of tying up the loose ends and finishing the story.

This book is in the public domain, so you can find it on Google Books or Project Gutenberg. I also have a copy of it, so if anyone in my area would like to borrow it, please let me know!