Sunday, August 10, 2014

The Blue Castle by L. M. Montgomery

Okay, quick survey. . .  what is the worst cover of a book you've read so far in 2014?

And how does it compare to this one:


Honestly, is this not the CHEESIEST book cover you've ever seen????  (Unless, of course, you are a regular reader of paperback romances, or the illustrator of this cover, in which case I apologize in case I've offended you. )

And my next question is this:  I know that book covers will attract readers to books, but have you ever been so put off by a book's cover that you actually refused to read it?  I ask this, because I bought this book more than six years ago after reading rave reviews by some of my favorite bloggers.  However, I could never bring myself to read it because I was too embarrassed.  Seriously!!

I finally decided I'd give it a try the other day -- I honestly wanted something from my TBR shelves that was short, and that was the complete opposite of Moby-Dick, which I had just finished, after six weeks of listening to the audio in the car.  I had also started reading a Zola novel which just wasn't doing anything for me.   

This is the story of Valancy Stirling, who lives somewhere in Canada with her mother and aunt, and is completely cowed and browbeaten by her entire extended family.  At twenty-nine, she is an old maid, and her family will never forget it.  When I  actually started reading it, I still didn't crack my lousy mass-market paperback -- I read the first chapter or so via the e-book version from Project Gutenberg Australia.  

I was pretty much hooked when I read this paragraph in Chapter I:

Aunt Wellington, of whom Valancy stood in abject awe, would tell her about Olive's new chiffon dress and Cecil's last devoted letter. Valancy would have to look as pleased and interested as if the dress and letter had been hers or else Aunt Wellington would be offended. And Valancy had long ago decided that she would rather offend God than Aunt Wellington, because God might forgive her but Aunt Wellington never would.

Things get very interesting when something absolutely life-changing happens to Valancy.  Without telling her family why, she decides to take matters into her own hands and live her life the way she wants, without giving a fig about what other people think.  This completely shocks her family and most of the population of her small town, and the reactions of her family members are pretty hilarious.  I don't want to give too much away, but this part of the book is full of wry observations and some laugh-out loud moments.

This book was written by L. M. Montgomery, the beloved writer of the Anne of Green Gables series.  I discovered Anne fairly late in life -- I never read it as a child because I somehow got it confused with Pollyanna, and I assumed Anne would be a sickly-sweet goody two-shoes.  I never read Heidi either.  Still haven't.  (If there are any Heidi and Pollyanna fans out there, please tell me if I should reconsider). The Blue Castle is Montgomery's only book meant for adults, and it does remind me a bit of what Anne would have been like as a grown-up, though I can't for a minute imagine her as browbeaten as Valancy is in the beginning of the book -- so, really, Valancy is like Anne after she takes charge of her own life.

Anyway, this book is funny and charming, and there's a nice little love story, though the ending is a bit unrealistic.  But it's a fun fast read, just over 200 pages in most editions.  It's a great summer read if you can get past the horrible cover.  Clearly, the publishers never actually read it, because the couple on the front look nothing like Valancy and the love interest.  I only wish I'd bought a later edition with this cover:


or even this one: 


(Also cheesy, but not nearly as bad as the first one.)

Or even this one:


This one's better, but to be fair, Valancy's mother and aunt would faint dead away before they let her near a window with this much skin showing.  And don't get me started on the makeup -- this book was published in 1926.   

Anyway -- what books repelled you before you even opened the covers?  And has anyone actually read Pollyanna and liked her, or does she make your teeth ache?  

27 comments:

  1. I love Blue Castle. Tangled Web is another Montgomery novel written for adults, by the way. I loved it too.

    Pollyanna. It's NOT the movie. I find it so much better than the movie! That being said, it might not be for everyone.

    Heidi. I love Heidi!!!

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    1. I hadn't heard of Tangled Web, I thought The Blue Castle was her only adult novel. I'll look for it, thanks!

      And maybe I will give Heidi and Pollyanna a try -- the books, anyway.

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  2. Oh, there are so many cheesy LMM covers out there, especially by the same publisher who issued your copy of The Blue Castle. And, frankly, it's a cheesy book so I can sort of understand how they chose the cover illustration. I'm a huge LMM fan but have never really liked this book. It seems so much like one of the juvenile romantic fantasies LMM's more famous creations, Anne and Emily, might have written during their teen years.

    As for Pollyanna and Heidi, you should read them both! They're wonderful books.

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    1. It does seem like something Anne would have written! I've only read the first book in the series, I have too many others on my TBR list to get sucked into the the entire series, not to mention the New Moon series -- someday!

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  3. I read this a while back and found it lovely. Some things felt a little unrealistic—just as you said—, but, somehow, even those went well with the overall feel of the book. A nice summer read :-).

    PS: I've read Pollyanna, but didn't particularly like it.

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    1. It was a great summer read, and just the thing after Moby-Dick, which I found to be a bit of a slog in parts.

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  4. I will nominate some of the Georgette Heyer covers, especially those of the 1960s and 1970s. They were clearly designed by people who had never read the books - or anything about the Regency period. They are just awful.

    I found the first chapter of this book so depressing that I have never been able to get past it - and I've tried more than once.

    I just read Pollyanna earlier this year, and it was much brisker and unsentimental than I expected - I really enjoyed it. Heidi has been a favorite from my childhood, so I'm not the most objective reader there - but I don't think it's too drippy.

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    1. Oh, I'll have to look for those Heyer covers! All the Heyers I've read so far have been the new Sourcebooks reprints, which have really nice covers. I'm actually planning on The Unknown Ajax for my next read -- might have to use Heyer for my next awful covers post.

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  5. It's a lovely book, isn't it? But those covers... ouch.. I read an e-book, so escaped the horror of having to look at the cover! Re Pollyanna, I read this recently and it was not as ghastly as I thought it would be, though it is slightly repetitive in getting its message across. I was pleasantly surprised.

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    1. I started reading it online, which really helped me to get over the awfulness of that cover. Maybe I'll give Pollyanna a try sometime.

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  6. My copy also has the terrible cover... I blame it on the age of Harlequin novels.

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    1. It's very Harlequin-esque!! That's why I put it off for so long!

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  7. I'm nostalgically rather fond of the movie of Pollyanna, though that is largely due to Karl Malden. Karl Malden is the best in that film.

    Anyway, delighted you liked this, awful cover notwithstanding! It's my favorite single LM Montgomery book, with Jane of Lantern Hill a close second. I love all the mean things Valancy says to her aunts and uncles once she stops caring what they think of her! (John Foster is a dreary bore, however. Valancy is insane to love his writing.)

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    1. I've only ever seen Karl Malden in those old American Express commercials. I may have to find the movie just to see him in something else.

      And I did skim the John Foster bits, they were a little boring.

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  8. I own the version of this book with the crappy cover. (It is awful, isn't it?) But I love the book. It's one of my favorite romances. As for Pollyanna...I've never made it through the book. Does watching the Haley Mills version of the movie count?

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    1. I really enjoyed it. I didn't know it was Hayley Mills in the movie, I only remember her from the Parent Trap!

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  9. Oh, that IS an awful cover! It's cheesy covers like these that make people think a nice, normal book is going to be some poorly-written genre lit. But from LMM, of course we're going to get something high quality! Thank you for introducing another of her books onto my radar.

    Personally, the worst cover I've ever seen is on a 1970s paperback of Little Women. It's this angular, interpretive, art deco kind of image, showing faces in profile and Victorian lace-up shoes, in black with orange highlights. Ugly!

    I can't speak for Pollyanna, but I do remember reading and enjoying Heidi. Then again, I was about 10, so who knows how I would feel about it now?

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    1. OK, I'm totally going to look for all the awful Little Women covers after this, especially the 1970s art-deco. Sounds HIDEOUS!

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  10. Yes, that is a horrific cover and totally doesn't do justice to the interesting story housed within it. I enjoyed The Blue Castle too--my comment was that Valancy is how would've turned out if she hadn't been adopted and loved by the Cuthberts.

    I only read Heidi myself within the past 5 years and thought it actually pretty good. Not sickly sweet. I never read Pollyanna though, and the sickly sweet reputation is what kept me from reading Little Women for most of my life.Turns out LW was also much better than I had thought it would be.

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    1. Valancy is so down-trodden!! I'm trying to imagine Anne living with the Sterlings. Ye gods. I'm so glad Valancy grew a spine and told everyone exactly what she thought. I'm just so sorry she put up with it for so long!

      I haven't read Little Women for a long time but I should give it a re-read. I'd also like to read some of the sequels.

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  11. I read the same edition of The Blue Castle and I was too embarrassed to take it out of the house! Too funny, we definitely judged the book by its awful cover.

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    1. Side note, for some reason you have the word verification turned on and there are ads that pop up over the numbers. Anyway, it took 8 tries to get my comment to post.

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    2. I did not know about the annoying ads!! I've turned the word verification off, hope that makes it easier. Thanks for letting me know!

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  12. I have enjoyed Heidi, Little Women and Pollyanna all three (at various ages). Yes, a bit sentimental in places, but they feature heroines of spirit who deal with adversity as real people do.

    Heidi is worth reading for the wonderfully crusty grandfather who raises goats on the mountain. Pollyanna has an amazing amount of humor and pokes fun at many social conventions of the time.

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  13. There are too many dire and dreadful covers out there to worry about them all (except for a laugh). This cover art isn't too bad as covers go, but it has nothing to do with the story at all. Clearly a generic cover that could be one of many vaguely 1900ish romances. Clothing - wrong. Characters -- wrong. Flowers -- wrong. Swoony attitudes -- wrong. Pine trees - uh, right. Yes, they got the pines right. Go figure.

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  14. Me again. Try Googling Blue Castle and select Images. Quite a few (plus some stills from my favourite Castle episode).

    I think this cover is the best. Somebody read it, right down to the green dress and the beads.
    http://4.bp.blogspot.com/-wbwyo8hRu40/UP703zOg8eI/AAAAAAAAFEg/_3edPjkiq_4/s1600/bluec.jpg

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  15. The Blue Castle has been unlucky with its covers hasn't it! I have the Hesperus edition which I consider pretty horrible. Shame because it's a nice little book really.

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