Sunday, August 5, 2012

What I Read This Weekend

What I Read This Weekend . . .

The Little Women Letters by Gabrielle Donnelly -- Contemporary/Historical Fiction

The loving, eccentric Atwaters are a present day family living in Islington, in North London. There's Fee, a 1970s feminist and family therapist; her husband David, a Londoner with dry wit and plenty of charm; lovely, perfect Emma who is marrying the solid, dependable Matthew; baby Sophie, the actress and middle sister Lulu, a bit harsh and wild and difficult to get along with. There is also Charlie, Lulu's best friend, a lonely young woman attracted to the lively Atwaters as well as a host of other secondary characters. Fee Atwater also happens to be the great-granddaughter of Jo March! Fee has inherited all of Jo's independence and spirit with more advantages and opportunities. She's grateful that her daughters live in a modern world where they have as many opportunities as they wish to take advantage of, which is why she worries a bit about Lulu who is a bit lost. Sent to the attic on an errand, Lulu discovers some lost letters written by Grandma Jo many many years ago. She discovers that like her, Jo was stubborn, awkward and strong but with the help of her loving family she grew from an awkward girl into a confident woman who never lost sight of the importance of family. Jo's letters help guide Lulu as she tries to figure out her life. Emma and Sophie too must learn to figure out how to navigate the transition to adulthood in this funny, warmhearted novel. I simply adored this book! The characters truly come to life through witty and amusing dialogue and descriptive, distinctive personalities. The dialogue between the characters was so realistic I could easily picture me saying many of the same things to my siblings. All of the main characters are counterparts to characters in Little Women. Like Marmee, Fee dispenses loving advice to her daughters. I identified with Lulu so much more than even my beloved Jo. I can not count the number of times I have had the same conversations with my parents:
Parents: What do you want to DO with your life?
Me: I don't know.
Parents: Do you want to go back to school?
Me: NOOO (even though I did in the end)
Parents: What do you want to do with your life? What are your plans?
Me: I don't know...

I've ALSO had the same conversations about relationships with my friends. Fortunately they are more understanding than Emma and Meg. I laughed out loud in a lot of places in this novel, especially when some of the secondary characters were on the scene. I just adored Jo's letters. The author did an amazing job making them sound like they were written by Jo (Louisa) and making the 19th century come alive. I loved the descriptions of what the Alcotts were up to during and after the events of Little Women. The letters are touching, tender and funny and truly reveal a portrait of the loving March family. The author also did an excellent job making parallels between the Marches in the nineteenth century and the Atwaters in present day. Sometimes those parallels felt a little forced, especially towards the end but not enough to make me like the novel any less. I can not gush enough about this novel. I highly recommend it to fans of Little Women who want more of the Marches and to those who enjoy light contemporary novels who may find themselves wanting to read or reread Little Women.

Louisa and the Country Bachelor (Louisa May Alcott Mystery 2) by Anna Maclean -- Historical Mystery

After the investigation of the Wrotham murder, Louisa is in need of some rest and relaxation. She's invited to visit her Uncle Benjamin Willis and cousin Eliza in Walpole, New Hampshire. Louisa is glad to get out to the country and pleased to have some money to be able to bring the rest of the family along with her. Walpole proves to be anything but restful. The locals are interested in politics and gardening and a misstep with either one can cause a scandal. Then, shortly after the Alcotts arrival, a young man falls to his death. The man, a Dutch immigrant named Ernst Nooteboom, was invested in land that would make him a wealthy man. His sister Lilli seems to think her brother was murdered for his property and she will do anything to prevent his murderer from obtaining the land. Louisa feels Lilli must be right and sets about investigating once again. The Alcotts also have their hands full with their nosy neighbor, Ida Tupper, deemed "fast" by Abba. When Louisa meets Ida's unusual son Clarence Hampton, she's suspicious of his erratic behavior. Could he know something about Ernst's death? With the help of her friend Sylvia, Louisa once again sets out to bring justice to her corner of the world. This story is far less probable than the first book in the series. Louisa does not have any justification for being interested in a supposed murder of someone she's never met. She barges in where no lady should go and asks pointed questions that she has no business asking. I do not mean to say that she was acting unladylike for we know she did not care for the feminine ideal, but what I mean to say is that I found it unbelievable that she would go to such lengths to investigate and that people would willingly talk to her. The mystery is far more difficult to figure out than the Wrotham murder. I had my suspicions about a few bits and pieces of the story but the who and why remained a mystery until somehow Louisa figured it out. What really shines in this novel is the details about domestic life and life in Walpole just before the Civil War. The famous actress Fanny Kemble makes an appearance and readers get to witness a famous Alcott play. All of these details provide a wonderful window into the world of Louisa May Alcott. I think mystery readers will enjoy the story and those who know a little bit about Louisa will enjoy seeing her in this setting. I am not sure Alcott scholars would enjoy this novel.

1 comment:

  1. Hi! I wanted to thank you for being a part of the Louisa May Alcott reading challenge. I love your reviews here---both of these books are making it on my to-read list, along with any other LMA books by Anna Maclean. I'm so excited about these after reading your review!


Leave comments and or suggestions for QNPoohBear, the modern bluestocking.