The Blue Castle by L.M. Montgomery is one of my all-time favorites, so I decided it was time for a reread.
Valancy Sterling wakes up on the morning of her 29th birthday and realizes that she has nothing to live for. Her life to that point has been one of nearly unendurable monotony: she lives in genteel poverty with her mother and an elderly cousin, looked down on by every member of her extended family because she is an old maid. Her only joy in life is her imaginary "Blue Castle," where she leads a rich fantasy life of adventure and romance. But on this birthday morning, she feels it is time to face reality. One of the ways she does this is by going to see Dr. Trent, a heart specialist, about some pain she has been having. She does this without telling her mother or any of her family, as she dreads the fuss and advice of her family. But Dr. Trent's diagnosis, sent a few days later by mail, turns Valancy's world upside down: she is dying, with perhaps a year to live if she is careful. Valancy is not afraid of death, but she resents the fact that she is dying when she's never really had a chance to live -- so she decides that, for the time she has left, she will do whatever she wants, without worrying about her family's opinions or reactions. She goes to nurse an old school friend who is dying of consumption, even though her friend is the daughter of the town drunk and disgraced for having a child out of wedlock. She befriends the notorious Barney Snaith, a man with a mysterious past and an unconventional present way of life. She buys new clothes, reads whatever she wants, and does whatever she pleases. Her family thinks Valancy has gone mad. And then, Valancy does something even more outrageous: she asks Barney to marry her . . .
I don't know how I could objectively review this book; I've read it more times than I can count. I love the characters, the humor, the descriptions of nature, the wacky plot twists at the end of the book that manage to bring everything together. There's definitely romance -- a sort of sweet, unconventional one -- but the story is less about the romance and more about Valancy coming to terms with what she wants from life and bucking the rather ridiculous conventions of her day. This is my favorite Montgomery novel, and I definitely recommend it!
(Reviewed from my personally purchased copy.)