Review x 2: Rose in Bloom and The Blue Castle

Nov 10, 2017

About half of my reading goals this year were loosely defined, giving me plenty of wiggle room and opportunities to change my mind, and the other half were very specific. Number Three was one of the latter: "Read Rose in Bloom by Louisa May Alcott and The Blue Castle by L.M. Montgomery."

I read Eight Cousins last year, and I knew if I didn't put a high priority on reading the sequel, Rose in Bloom, it would be years before it happened, which would make me think I had to reread Eight Cousins before I could pick it up, and . . . you can see how that could turn into a vicious cycle for me.

By contrast, The Blue Castle has been on my to-read list for years and years and years. And every year, I thought I would get to it, and every year, I didn't. Except for this year. I knew making a goal would force it to happen.

Because the two books were grouped together in my goals, it only makes sense to review them together, although they're actually not very similar at all.

Rose in Bloom was a slow read for me. I listened to it, and, as you might remember, this is not the year of the audiobook. It probably took me four months to listen to, and the only reason I ended up getting through it was because I made weekly goals along the lines of, "Listen to an hour of Rose in Bloom."

All of Louisa May Alcott's books have a strong moral undertone (I'm making assumptions here since I haven't read all of her books, but my sample size would indicate that this is the case), but this one was especially heavy handed. Rose was a little too much of a goody two shoes for me (and when the girl who has always been a bit of a goody two shoes herself admits that, then you know it must be pretty blatant).

I grew tired of Rose continually chiding and preaching to her cousins, giving up certain things because they were giving her too much pleasure (as noble as that is), and sacrificing all of her time for the good of others. It was just too much, and I couldn't seem to muster up the same feelings of adoration that everyone else seemed to feel about her. She was too good and too saintly, made all the more aggravating because she was always bemoaning how she was not good and not saintly and must therefore try a little harder.

One of the reasons I really wanted to read this book was because when I reviewed Eight Cousins, I mentioned that I was so curious about Uncle Alec and what made him stay a bachelor. One of my friends commented and said that all of my questions would be answered in Rose in Bloom. And so I kept waiting to hear more about Uncle Alec's past and what I was sure would be a failed love interest, but I guess I was looking for the wrong thing because that kind of story wasn't there. (Then again, maybe I just missed it because I was reading the book so sloooowwwllly.)

I will say that the ending redeemed the book a bit for me because it was so sweet and exactly what I wanted to happen. So there's that.

The Blue Castle was a completely different ride--one that was quirky and completely unbelievable and just so much fun.

Valancy Stirling has always lived under the oppressive thumb of her mother and various relations. She wears what they want her to wear, spends her time doing what they except her to do, and laughs appropriately at all of Uncle Benjamin's insufferable jokes. But after she finds out she has an incurable heart condition and has less than a year left to live, she throws all cares to the wind and finally lives her life the way she wants to. It's thrilling and exhilarating, and she takes the reader right along with her.

When Valancy first learns about her diagnosis, she is naturally upset, but I loved this line: "Rebellion flamed up in her soul as the dark hours passed by--not because she had no future but because she had no past." This rebellion makes her bold and brazen in a way that is completely endearing--like, she buys herself a green dress (shocking!) because she's always been made to wear brown, and she goes to the Presbyterian church even though the entire Stirling clan has always gone to the Anglican church. She creates a past for herself, something that she can fondly look back on and that other people will remember her by.

I mentioned above that it's a rather unbelievable story, and it is, and I suppose some readers would fault it for that, but I didn't. I loved every unbelievable moment. There have been times in L.M. Montgomery's books where I've wanted more (who can read Anne of Windy Poplars without thinking, That's all sweet and charming, but what about Anne and Gilbert?!), but there are no passionate feelings lacking in this one (and of course, it's all innocent and perfectly appropriate (even if Valancy thinks she's being scandalous), which made me love it even more).

After I was done with it, I pushed it into my sister's hands, and she in turn pushed it into my mom's hands. So within about a month of each other, we all had read it, and we all loved it.

I think part of the reason I loved it so much was because it was so different from what I was expecting. For some reason, I had the impression that it was going to be dark and moody, so when it ended up being spunky and sassy and even at times a bit silly, it delighted me to no end. Valancy's mother is too awful, Barney is too perfect, and Valancy is too adorably clueless for real life, but they're all just the right amount of those things to make a really good story.

I can see this one turning into a comfort book--one that I return to when I just want to escape into a happy place.

I know many of you count Rose in Bloom as your favorite Alcott novel, and even though it won't be mine, I'm interested to hear why you love it so much. And what is your opinion of The Blue Castle: is it endearing or ridiculous?


  1. I've had The Blue Castle on my shelf for years so maybe it's time to pick it up! Thanks for the review.

  2. I love The Blue Castle! For all the reasons you said in your review. It has definitely become a comfort read for me--I probably re-read it at least yearly.

  3. I adored Rose in Bloom. However, it has been a long time since I have read it. (Although I have reread it a number of times.) I admit that it is preachy, like most of Alcott's books. The reason that I particularly love Rose in Bloom is because the romance between Rose and Mac. I love Mac so much.

    I don't think there is a L.M. Montgomery book I haven't read, but I have such a deep, and abiding love for The Blue Castle. My book has pages falling out of it from my sisters and I reading it so much. In fact, I referenced it a number of times on my blog during my single years, but specifically here:
    Ironically, that was the year I met Mr. F. (Not exactly Barney, but not too shabby either. ;))

  4. I read Rose in Bloom because I'm a completist, but it's not my favorite. I vaguely remember it as preachy and disjointed, and the whole Mac/Charlie thing annoyed me for reasons I can't recall at all -- doesn't Charlie die pathetically after reforming following an accident or something? Bleh. My favorite Alcott is either Little Men or Under the Lilacs (because runaways from the circus!). Then there are the "secret" Alcotts that she wrote under a different name that are basically the stuff Jo wrote in Little Women until the Bhaer guy made her feel guilty about earning a living; you could try some of those short stories if you want to experience non-moral Louisa.

    I love Blue Caste with a deep, abiding affection. It's on my shelf of books to read if I'm feeling down or need a boost. I brought it with me to the hospital when I had my first baby. When I saw you were reading it I was actually a bit nervous -- do you remember in your book club blab when you talked about the fear of recommending books? If you didn't like The Blue Castle it would be hard to keep following your blog -- my whole image of you would be darkened. And not only did you like it, you liked it for the right reasons! (I have no idea what wrong reasons would be, but still.) Thank goodness you are a fan :-)

    1. This comment made my day. I love that your loyalty as a blog reader was dependent on my reaction to a much-beloved book. (I would totally do the same thing.) But yes, I'm in Camp Blue Castle. From here on out and forever.

      And I'm glad to hear similar sentiments expressed about Rose in Bloom. I was feeling a little guilty for not being in love with it. I think I'm kind of missing Jo, and Rose just didn't cut it.

  5. Don't know if you'll see this comment in 2020, but the answer to the Uncle Alec mystery is answered very very subtly in both Eight Cousins and Rose in Bloom - I think there are about three or four sentences combined between the two books. Basically, if you read all the hints, Uncle Alec was in love with Rose's mother, but she was in love with Alec's brother (Rose's father). This caused an estrangement between the brothers that they made up when Rose's father was on his deathbed, which is why he decided to make Alec Rose's guardian. Mac tells Rose in Rose in Bloom that if she never learns to love him or falls in love with someone else, he will be like Uncle Alec in at least one sure way - fidelity - because his first love would be his last.


Proudly designed by Mlekoshi playground