Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Books that Made a Difference: The Blue Castle

Well thank you all so kindly for your comments/advice on my adventures in the neutral zone yesterday!  Your comments were surprising to me, but in a good way, and I am always mindful that there is much to learn in this life. 

My aversion to neutrals has now been tempered by these comments and I will dip my toes into these peaceful waters now and then (only now and then, as frankly, I do not yet have many neutrals!)  But I am now open to them, and my experience with the universe is that once you are open to something, it keeps showing up!

Today I am off on a completely different tangent.

This month's issue of O magazine contains a great article by author Hallie Ephron about her life growing up Ephron and life with a mother who was a talented writer, and unhappily, an alcoholic, which has had a huge impact on Hallie and the other three sisters' lives, including the late, great Nora Ephron.

Now all that information, interesting and candid and moving as it was, did NOT catch my eye.  What caught my eye in this article was the fact that at a certain age each sister received a copy of The Blue Castle, by L.M. Montgomery, from their mother.  Hallie thinks the reason they all received the book was that their mother wanted to ensure that they lived their lives without the constraints of what others think. 

BlueCastle.jpg

The novel, published in 1926, is not one of the more famous of L.M. Montgomery's works and is definitely not a children's novel.  To read the general plot, visit here, but don't scroll down too far - spoiler alert!  I loved this book when I first read it as a teenager, because this was a character who, upon thinking that her life would soon be over, lives and speaks her truth.  The book is funny and romantic and heart-breaking in places and lovely and heart-warming and I spent many a night dreaming of finding my own Barney Snaith and Blue Castle.

It got me thinking of the gift of a good book.  When I receive a book from a friend I am always so pleased; it is typically a book that he or she thinks I will like, often because they like it.  As a child, my mother took us to the library each week and we stacked up for the coming two weeks.  We certainly owned all of L.M. Montogmery's books, and I continue to read them now and again as an adult and they bring me a lot of comfort.

As per Hallie Ephron, I was trying to think of a book that my mother recommended to me in particular as a youth.  Then I recalled her giving me her copy of Gone with the Wind, the copy I still have.  This particular copy was one she had bought for herself in 1964, but she told me she had first read it at my age - 15 - and been blown away by the sweeping epic of it all. 



Well I read it in 1988 and despite having already seen the movie years before and knowing how it all turned out, I recall crying like a baby through the last 50 pages!  That's what a good story will do for you!

So, like Hallie Ephron, I feel that I must recommend The Blue Castle to you.  But be prepared - it is romantic and lovely and decidedly not fashionable in 2013.  But so good.  And when you are done that, move on to Pat of Silverbush and Mistress Pat.  Oh who am I kidding: read all of Montgomery's work - you will be glad you did!

So today's question: what books meant the world to you as a teenager?  Have you reread them since?  How did they come to you - a recommendation from a parent, a friend, a librarian?

And while we are on librarians - I will say this - librarians are heroes and heroines to me!  Many of my greatest reads as a child were based on the recommendation of a good librarian.

Happy Tuesday all - stay safe out there and read on!

Oh and P.S.  this morning, J Crew is previewing its Fall 2013 collection at New York Fashion week.  I will be checking it out and will report back this morning.  I wish I was there, mostly because, well, I wish I was there!

61 comments:

  1. Well, to piggy-back on the nerd theme from yesterday, my absolute favorite books in high school were the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy series. My friends all read them, and could quote entire passages. I can't remember now how we came across them. I think we must have ordered them from the Scholastic Reader.

    I think the first assigned book I really connected with was Their Eyes Were Watching God. I remember thinking, for the first time ever, that language could be beautiful.

    I have never heard of the Blue Castle, but will be sure to check it out. Thanks for the recommendation!

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    1. Merry Wife, I have never read Their Eyes Were Watching God, but will download it to my kindle! It sounds wonderful!

      I forgot about Scholastic. That was the happiest day of the schoo month for me, when that scholastic order would arrive!

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  2. I have NOT read this book and will find it immediately, thank you so much, I'm so looking forward to it.
    My Grandma Jean was the librarian in our town and a well-loved figure, she is a real character. Still alive at 91 and though her short term memory isn't the best anymore (to say the least) she can still remember way back.
    Anyway she was a wonderful influence on me and reading saved me as a child and teenager, ours was not a happy home but a book was always a refuge and it was never difficult to procure a book, I only had to walk down to the library to see Grandma Jean.

    Looking forward to your thoughts on the fall collection!

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    1. Yay for Grandma Jean - she would know about this book for sure! It takes place in your part of the world and up in the Muskokas so you will probably be familiar with the geography of the world she paints!

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  3. Hi WMM, I love "The Blue Castle"!! I stumbled across it by accident when I was a teenager - I found a copy of it at a garage sale and was immediately intrigued as it didn't seem at all like any of the Anne or Emily books which are so much more famous. My favourite book as a child was "The Hobbit". A friend of my older sister gave it to me when I was about 8 or so and I still have the book to this day. I have read it countless times and plan to give a copy each to my kids.

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    1. Louie - I LOVE the Hobbit, but I must confess to only reading it when I was in my 30s, out loud, to my son. We started with the Hobbit and went through the whole LOTR series. They are amazing books. I should reread the Hobbit again - I recently saw and anjoyed the movie and need to remind myself of a few things!

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  4. sigh...The Blue Castle got me through an unhappy adolescence and beyond for sure! That and Dostoyevsky's The Idiot! I can't tell you how many times I've read the Blue Castle over the years, dreaming of my own blue castle and looking for the wit to play against conventions! It's funny that you mention it because I just came across it a couple of days ago in the work of this illustrator on Pinterest. I wanted to track down the edition!

    http://www.masakokubo.co.uk/illustration/books/

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    1. Oh MY gosh - those are amazing illustrations - I would want this version for sure, too! ALl I own now is one of the paperback version. We had a very old one and some old Anne books and Kilmeny of the Orchard. My sister and I played rock, paper, scissors, I got some old Anne's (one which is original) and Kilmeny. I am so glad you loved the Blue Castle like I did!

      I have never read the idiot. Another one to download to the Kindle!

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  5. I was very much into South American literature when I was a teen, I think Gabriel Garcia Marquez and in particular One Hundred Years of Solitude should be read by every teenager, it opens up a new world.
    Never heard of The Blue Castle but I am gping to look it up.

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    1. HI Ema!

      I didn;t read One Hundred Years of Solitude, but that book changed my life. It moved me so much. I agree - every teenager (or adult) would benefit from that book. That is a book that is going with to the desert island!

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  6. Back where I went to school, a reading list for each vacation was mandatory, so whether we liked it or not, we had to read and summarize all the books on the list. That said, I realized later in life how important those mandatory readings were.

    But for me, the Alexandre Dumas novels were special. I used to read them every summer while I was growing up.

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    1. Rose - that is really neat! Were your parents teachers? I haven't read Dumas for many years - may have to see if I have my old copies - so well written, so exciting!

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    2. No, it was the school curriculum. :D School was really strict where I grew up.

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    3. well think how well-rounded that school made you!

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  7. Oh a book called something like Boy David about a boy in the holocaust, I don't remember it much now ( I was about 7 or 8) but it had a really deep affect on me in a positive way. Then as a disgruntled teenager Catcher in The Rye because " he felt what I felt" and Camus' "Nausea"
    I was a weird introverted youngster - still am.

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    1. I have not heard of Boy David, but I can imagine the impact. WHen I read the Diary of Anne Frank at 11, I was blown away. Love Cather in the Rye - and all of Salinger's books. So witty and thoughtful. I have not read any Camus. Now must look that up!

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  8. When I was a child, "Heidi" for sure. Drank warm milk out of bowl for a long time, and had a deep affection for goats.

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    1. I loved Heidi and I did the whole drinking milk from a bowl thing, too! I have never been to switzerland, but I must go there because of Heidi!

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    2. I loved Heidi too. I tried goat's milk because of it and hated it!

      The funny thing is, when we decided to move to Switzerland, I didn't really think about Heidi. Actually, the first thing here that made me think about it was being called "Frau," because I remember always shuddering at the name Fräulein Rottenmeier.

      Now I really do have local goats that I visit, you can here the cor alpin (I don't know what it is in English - alpine horn?) at night when you're in the alps, etc. There is a Heidi character in a milk commercial for one of the national chains. And there is a whole region named "Heidiland"! I really need to re-read the book.

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    3. Oh Abby, I really do have to go!

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  9. Hi WMM, I'm afraid that I was not much interested in the classics, but I did go to the library very regularly. I mostly liked to read non-fiction books about travel and biography. (I've always been a bit of a general knowledge nut.) For fiction I discovered P.G. Wodehouse - love, love, love the humourous use of language!

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    1. You Know, I have never read P.G. Wodeouse - I have friends who rave about them! Okay - another one to the list!

      DO you remember those old books we used to have in what was then known as Social Studies? The ones about each country with lots of pictures, that we probably wildly out of date even in the 60s and 70s - pictures of the historic costumes, the GDP, pages of exports and imports and about the museums and famous landmarks? I was crazy about them and always begging the teacher to let me take them home!

      The older I get I am more and more drawn to biography. I am finally ready to tackle Mark Twain's autobiography - has been on my kindle for months and just was never getting around to it!

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    2. You have just reminded me of a series of volumes I took from my kids' elementary school when we were decluttering the library. It's the Land and Peoples series from The Grolier Society - I wonder if that's what you mean? They are absolutely beautiful - the latest copyright date is 1953 (I just got one out to check). It's so interesting to dip into them and see how the world has changed.

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    3. I think you are right, Patricia, am going to search for some!

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  10. Other authors who wrote for both children and adults--Rumer Godden and EB White. The latter's essays live on the bookshelf in the bedroom and are good for picking up when one's head is muddled. And Charlotte and Stuart. RG's adult books are OK-- The Peacock Spring, The River among many others that blend British and Indian ways-- but Miss Happiness and Miss Flower, my favorite of the children's books has everything. A lonely little outsider girl, doll houses, Japanese ways,family life.

    Our librarian at our tiny library was Drusilla when the girls were young---magical old woman. Must find Blue Castle; we have all the Anne books.

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    1. YOu know I have never read Rumer Godden as well, I have to get to that! SO many books, so little time! It is funny how certain stories stay with us. I remember reading a book about a little girl who only wanted wallpaper with blue roses on her walls and becoming obsessed with having the same, except we lived in a rented house with wood panelling so there was no way!

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    2. Lane, if you can't find, let me know, they pop up regularly in used book stores here and in Halifax (youth CanLit). I may even have a spare un-set copy boxed up at my Dad's.

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    3. Thanks, GF. Does WMM have your email?

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    4. I do Lane let me know - I can send you one too if you like!

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    5. Lane, it is getfreshpress at gmail dot com One of us will make sure you have a copy, just "shout".

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    6. I totally would like both, please.

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    7. BLUE CASTLE Lane, email me your snail mail addy and I will get my spare copy mailed off to you as soon as I can connect with my Dad, likely Friday. Sadly, I only have the cheapie paperback version, not WMM's pretty antique cover. But it is the illustrated not the rather garish photo version from the 1990s. All yours, good story!

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    8. Help! Unclear how to do this!!!

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  11. There weren't any books that meant the world to me, but I read a lot. I didn't get that attached to books. As an older teen, I read F. Scott Fitzgerald's books, Hemingway's, Greek plays (this still strikes me as odd!), Dostoeyevsky (also odd!). I don't know how much influence these had on me, probably Hemingway made the biggest impact. Senior year English teacher was influential, although most of these I listed were not school-assigned. I also read my share of junk books (Sidney Sheldon, Danielle Steel, etc).

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    1. Cate, i think you were very deep, with a touch of Steel and Sheldon! I confess to never having read a greek play outside of class!

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  12. Soo many good books from my childhood and teen years. I love reading. I grew up watching my grandparents and my parents reading a lot and I wanted to be just like them. I remember getting a book of Brothers Grimm fairy tales from my grandma when I was around 7 probably, and just devouring it while I was sick and stuck in the house. I remember being terrified of the stories, but so interested in What was going to happen next that I kept reading. I still have that book and I smile when I see it on the bookshelf. I think this is why I have a hard time using ereaders. I love the smell of good old books and I love turning the pages.
    Jane Eyre I read at about 12, 16, 19 and again in my 20s. I still love it, but funny how my perception of it changes as I get older. I even wrote a lengthy thesis/honors paper on it in college - good times.
    Soo many good books. I look forward to reading the comments.

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    1. A, I am with you - I save kindle for more disposable titles, I hate to part with books!

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    2. Yes, painful to part with them. I measured my bookshelf feet once to see how many books I could actually keep-- well over 200feet--but this did not really help. My oldest daughter is worse and is a real reader/critic type; we have started boxing up her books for when she is not over seas teaching English.

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  13. BOOK IT Where I was growing up there were no English bookstores, libraries (or multi-channel TV) so everyone expat crammed stacks of books into suitcases and voraciously shared round dog-eared copies. Childhood books are a whole other chapter (Mongomery, Milne...). But the earliest things I remember choosing for myself came "off-list" from my Dad - Alex Hailey's Roots (which I was far too young for and lead to a parental argument), Bond novels (awkward questions again, but we lived in Jamaica and went to GoldenEye once. I was grabbed by the exotic - and familiar Caribbean - locales and un-churchy Vesper), ditto Leon Uris' Exodus (like GWTW). Yep, my yen for good historical fiction happily endures. Other big lasting loves would be Dickens beyond the 8th grade reading list (those details). Also consoled to discover others' shared boarding school "traumas" through John Knowles A Separate Peace, Catcher, Lord of the Flies, the Delderfield novel To Serve Them All My Days (very Downton-Branson.) Actually, still occasionally dip into that genre in kinda nostalgia - Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, Prep, Donna Tartt's Secret History...Oh, and my fave series of youth was a family thing, Lord Peter Wimsey by Dorothy Sayers, female author, humour, bumbling bon vivant in Pimpernel style, crush.

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    1. Get Fresh - did you ever come across The Chalet School series? I think the school was in Austria or Switzerland. I used to think it would be so wonderful to be in boarding school! Oh, and I read Lord Peter Wimsey too - I have a general love for mysteries and detective and spy novels. I should have mentioned Agatha Christie as well! (It's all coming back to me!!)

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    2. Hurray Patricia, you reminded me, when I was younger the only couple of those I got my hands on (one was set in wartime)- just like Nancy Drew for me. Although I didn't always agree about the reforming or becoming a nun. Thought was very cool that the school moved around due to mid-20th history. Wow, the last time I thought about Chalet School was on our honeymoon, when my DH (who is Welsh) drove me across the English-Welsh border for first time. How funny.
      BTW, IMO, in much fiction, boarding school is either romanticized or overly awful misfit. It was a fantastic core education and a chance to live with kids from all over the world, but yes lonely - and cold - at 11.

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    3. Hi GF, I just read up on The Chalet School - I must have only read the later ones as I definitely only remember the alpine setting. I didn't realise there was a whole history beforehand of moving around.
      My husband went to boarding school in southern Africa and he absolutely loved it. I think having the chance to mix with children from all over the world is such a gift - I was so happy that our boys could experience an international school when we lived in Budapest.

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    4. Oh, and of course that would be Alex Haley, who I still mix up names with also author, Arthur Hailey.

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    5. Absolutely Patricia as an only child in a pretty isolated bubble those school years were my window on a really diverse world and closest thing to sibs. My mum was an international school teacher in the Caribbean and Venezuela too.
      Budapest is near top of my bucket-trip list. Grandparents' neighbours escaped in '56 and shared wonderful stories, pics.

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    6. Interesting to hear your thoughts on international school, GF. If we have kids here, they will likely go to international school, for language and cultural reasons.

      At university, I met a lot of people who grew up all over the world. I was always a little envious of that, especially since I was from the much reviled (by others) Toronto.

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    7. I wanted to be in boarding school after Enid Blyton books! But i grew up in very small town and that could have been why!

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    8. Lord Peter Wimsey! My fave was " Nine Tailors".

      WMM-- you must read Wodehouse; fine in little bits and so cheering and funny.

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  14. There were many books that were if not life changing then at least world opening like Ema says. Btw, I also loved South American literatyre, 100 Years of Solitude was one of my favorites too, also Hopscotch by Cortazar and anything Borges. As a kid I read this book called In Desert and Wilderness 42 times! It is by Polish Nobel Laureate Henryk Sienkiewicz who is best known as author of Quo Vadis but this was childrens book about two kids kidnapped in Egypt and traveling through Africa. Every day I was wishing I would be kidnapped so I can have all those adventures. I read fantasy novels like Tolkien and Ursula LeGuin in middle school. In High School I was all about 'meaning of life' and 'intrinsic loneliness of human existance' (deep, I know) so I was heavy in Camus, Kafka, South Americans and poetry of T.S.Eliot and Rilke. Oh, cate and I also loved the Greek drama, there is nothing new since then. When I was in college I read everything by Milan Kundera and Unbearable Lightness of Being changed my outlook on everything in life. I never liked the English and American litearature too much, it felt too old fashioned to me when I was young but I did give it second chance in my thirties and I appreciated it more.
    I suppose that's the advantage of growing up in non English speaking coutry, you end up reading (and same with movies) more variety since everythin is in translation. I read quite a lot still now, my last 'life changing book' was The Road by American, Cormack McCarthy.

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    1. Kundera and Unbearable Lightness of Being have been my favorite author and book for many years (I also loved The Joke), but I was older, in my 20s already I think. I wonder if I would like it as much if I read it again now...

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    2. I have never read the book or seen the movie now added to list!

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  15. What a great comment thread today!

    I read a lot as a kid and teenager.

    I remember reading Heidi, Black Beauty, and the Secret Garden repeatedly. My close friend's mother had grown up an English ex-pat in India, so the Secret Garden felt more personal.

    As a teenager, I was into CanLit, and really read quite a lot. My friend's mother was always getting us to read Indian-Canadian authors and I particularly loved Rohinton Mistry.

    As a teen, I started reading Anne Michael's poetry, which I still really like (especially The Weight of Oranges). And Leonard Cohen, what can I say, I love him.

    I really love some Michael Ondaatje, particularly The English Patient, In the Skin of a Lion, and Running in the Family.

    I liked reading Robertson Davies and Timothy Findley, but the only book that I remember having a big impact on me was Findley's The Piano Man's Daughter.

    When I was a teenager, though, the author who had the biggest impact on me was Margaret Laurence. I read The Diviners so many times. I also liked The Stone Angel.

    Then I left Canada and only ever heard about Margaret Atwood. So strange, because there is a wealth of other literature there!

    I have not read much fiction lately, this post is quite inspiring.

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    1. I already wrote a book above but I have to say I loved The Fine Balance by Robinton Mistry. I never realized he was Canadian.

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    2. Well, like many Canadians, he was born elsewhere :) That is true that his books have become known outside of Canada. I went to see him read in high school, and have a signed copy of one of his books. I was a little star struck :)

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    3. Oh a fine balance amazed and destroyed me - such a good book. I had to phone a friend when i was done!

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  16. WMM, I had forgotten about Lake Muskoka setting! Funny since I worked in area over past six years. Must dig out of storage locker and re-read - Valentine weekend romance?

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    1. I retread it last year so I am good. I may retread "Betsy's Wedding" by Maud Hart Lovelace

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    2. OMG- We are twin daughters of different mothers. I was the only one of my friends that was enraptured by Betsy, Tacy, and Tib. Obviously even back then I was a clothes horse, because I still remember excitedly reading about about Tib's beautiful skating outfit in ( I believe) blue velvet with white fur trim.

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    3. Oh I love all those books! I am a huge Betsy Ray fan! Every one in awhile Ii even do my own version of Sunday supper! I really loved Emily of Deep Valley - I

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  17. Hi WMM! Well, I have never heard of 'The Blue Castle', but will definitely be giving it a look-see now. Like others, I also read a lot as a child and teenager. A few of my favorite authors were Hemingway, George MacDonald, and C.S. Lewis.

    As an adult, I still love to read, but find it much more difficult to find time to do so. My latest read has been The Outlander series by Diana Gabaldon. If you haven't heard of it, you should check it out. It's about an English combat nurse hurled back in time to 1743 Scotland. She falls in love with a Scottish warrior, even though she is already married to an Oxford professor in her future life in 1945. The storyline is quite riveting, with lots of adventure and romance. I am on book 5 of the 7 book series, and would love to finish them if I can ever find time.

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  18. I loved Lewis! I haves heard of the Outlander series, but never read it! I have so many good reading Rex's today - so much to read!

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