Summery: Facing waning book sales, fickle fans, and mounting debts, Charles Dickens was feeling anything but merry. His publishers believe that a new book for Christmas will turn the tide but the holiday is only a few weeks away and Dickens is feeling downright Scrooge-ish and has a bad case of writers block to boot. It will take a very special muse to help Dickens make piece with the ghosts of his past and write a classic book that will endure for many Christmases yet to be.
My Thoughts: A fun, light-hearted read for the holidays, Mr. Dickens and His Carol is a highly fictionalized version of how Dickens’ A Christmas Carol came to be written. Perfect for enjoying with a cup of cocoa by a cozy fire, this festive holiday book is a great addition to your Christmas reading list.
Hello again, book lovers. I may have mentioned it once or twice, but Little Women and the rest of Louisa May Alcott’s books were a huge part of my childhood and have meant a lot to me and to generations of women in my family. Not only that, but Louisa was also one of my heroes when I was growing up and has been a big influence on my life. It’s her birthday today and so in celebration of this wonderful author, I decided to share my book review of The Little Women Letters and a Little Women – inspired outfit for the holidays. Enjoy!
Summery: Lulu Atwater is a bit of a loss. While her vibrant younger sister is living a charmed life as an aspiring actress and her solid, dependable older sister is about to get married, Lulu has no idea what she wants to do, where she fits in, or if she will ever find love. Then she discovers a trove of letters written by her great-great-great-grandmother, Jo March. As Lulu works her way through the letters, she discovers more about the lives of the “Little Women” from whom she is descended and gains insight and understanding into life, love, and sisterhood.
My Thoughts: I’ve read Little Women, Little Men, and Jo’s Boys more times that I can count so I cautiously excited when I discovered The Little Women Letters. Through these three books, I followed the lives of the “Little Women,” (Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy), from their girlhood to marriage, motherhood, and beyond – reading with interest as their children and Jo’s “boys” from her school at Plumfield grew up and started lives of their own. So the thought of visiting with the March family once again was something I couldn’t resist.
When I opened the book and read the first letter from Jo to Amy, I was shocked at how well the author, Gabrielle Donnelly, captured Louisa May Alcott’s voice and tone. I mean, it was seamless and I really felt like I was reading a lost chapter of a Louisa May Alcott book – at least at the beginning. But as the book progressed, I began to have the sneaking feeling that Donnelly may not know that Louisa May Alcott wrote two sequels to Little Women, and that there were a whole host of characters and much more of the March family history to draw on so she just began making stuff up as she went along. Instead of Lulu and her family being descended from either of Jo’s sons, Donnelly gave her a daughter. When Jo and her husband start their school for Little Men, instead of using any of the Plumfield boys from the books, Donnelly created some generic character and plugged him into the letters. She also liberties with the plot of Little Women too. She creates a ill-fated love affair for Jo and has Meg turning into an obnoxious match-maker but completely ignores Laurie and his proposal. In fact, Laurie is only mentioned once or twice until he comes home married to Amy. And while, Beth’s death features large in the letters, Lulu only discovers letters from Meg, Jo, and Amy.
As an Alcott super-fan, these changes, omissions, and weird additions prevented me from loving this book as much as I wanted to. That’s not to say that there weren’t things to enjoy about the book. It’s just that it was a bit of a mixed bag for me and to be honest, a more casual fan, especially one who read Little Women years ago and hasn’t come back to it as often as I do, would probably enjoy it more than I did.
When I think of the holidays, I think of time spent at home with family and few books evoke that feeling quite as well as Little Women. With this in mind, I designed this warm holiday outfit with a Little Women Novel Tea Necklace from the C. S. Literary Jewelry Etsy shop and a Little Women book purse by Novel Creations. There’s so much to love about this outfit but the best parts, (for me anyway), is how it reminds me of my own family and how many of us have grown up with the March sisters. My Little Women tea necklace was inspired by my own memories of drinking tea and talking about this book with my grandmother and the book purse has the same cover as the much-loved copy of Little Women I have on my own bookshelf. All together this beautiful outfit captures everything that is warm and cozy and bright about the holidays.
WARNING: Do not read Dear Fahrenheit 451 unless you are prepared for your to-read pile to swell and grow exponentially.
(Don’t say I didn’t warn you!)
Dear Dear Fahrenheit 451:
I knew the moment I read your title that we were destined to spend some time together. I mean, what’s not to love about love letters and break-up notes to books!? Still, I am not sure what I enjoyed more, geeking out with you about the books we both love, discovering new books to check out in your pages, or knowing that I’ve dodged some bullets in my frequent quests through my public library. I loved all the little insights into the librarian life and the reading lists at the end of the book were a delightful surprise.
Thanks for the memories and for all the book recommendations!
See you around the library,
In The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter, author, Theodora Goss, combines and re-imagines several classic horror stories, (including The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, The Island of Dr. Moreau, and Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, etc.), to create a literary mash-up with lots of humor and more than a touch of girl power. The best way I can think to explain it is to imagine a feminist version of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, where the “daughters” of famous mad scientists band together to solve a series of grisly murders. With an assist from Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson, the ladies use their unusual talents and abilities to confront their monstrous pasts and to track down the mysterious Société des Alchimistes.
While the narration, as told by Catherine Moreau with lots of commentary and interjections from the other ladies, could be a little distracting for some readers, I found it amusing and thought it gave the reader a sense of all the different personalities that were coming together to form the team. The author did a great job of giving enough backstory for each of her characters so the reader doesn’t feel lost if they haven’t read all of the original books but for those who have, the little literary shout-outs and references were a lot of fun. My only complaint was, considering the mad scientist theme of the story, if I was going to include an Arthur Conan Doyle character in the book, I would have gone for someone from The Lost World as opposed to Sherlock Holmes. Still, since the Alchemist’s Daughter is obviously the first in a series, there is still time for the ladies to encounter many more literary figures on their adventures.
All in all, The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter is a fun romp through classic horror / adventure stories and makes a great Halloween read for a reader who wants something suitably spooky for the season but not especially scary or gory.
After a run of disappointing reads, it was a delight to discover A House Among The Trees by Julia Glass. The book centers on the recently deceased children’s book author and artist, Mort Lear, and the various characters who are left to pick up the pieces after he dies, including his long-time assistant, an actor who will be playing Mort in an upcoming bio-pic, the man who unwittingly inspired the character that made Mort famous, and the museum curator who is desperate to secure Mort’s papers and drawings for her museum. There’s a lot to sink your teeth into with this book, particularly themes of honoring the people we lose, (their stories and their legacies), of how and why people distance themselves from each other and how easy it is to get trapped – even by things that originally seemed positive. But what I really loved the most about A House Among The Trees was the author’s skill at creating her central character. Glass used the real-life children’s author, Maurice Sendak as the foundation for Mort, grafting layers of fiction onto elements lifted directly from Sendak’s life and using Sendak’s classic children’s book, Where the Wild Things Are, as inspiration for the fictional story book that rocketed Mort to fame and fortune. In the hands of a lesser author, this could have backfired badly, but Glass manages to use just enough of the real author to make Mort feel like a real (and beloved) part of her readers’ childhood and to infuse Mort’s book with the same sort of menace and wonder that was often found in Sendak’s work. This works well to draw the reader into the story, giving them a real emotional connection to Mort and making them feel invested in his story and legacy.
I hate to admit it but I am a bit of a purist when it comes to books. It’s rare that I find a modern take on a classic that is both faithful enough to the original text to avoid annoying me but that still brings something new and interesting enough to the story that makes it worth reading. To my surprise, Sarah Shoemaker’s Mr. Rochester – a re-telling of Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre – manages to achieve both. Since the original book was from Jane’s perspective, readers only learned what Mr. Rochester chose to share about his past and motivations. But Shoemaker takes advantage of that fact and provides a rich backstory that builds upon Bronte’s foundation. In the first part of the book, we learn about Rochester’s youth and education and I got both a slight Dickens vibe at times and subtle parallels to Jane’s early years.
Later on, Shoemaker turns her attention to life at Thornfield Hall after Rochester meets Jane Eyre. During this part of the book, the author turns the original dynamic on its head so that now it’s Jane that comes across as inscrutable and out of reach, while Rochester becomes increasingly desperate to force some acknowledgement of her feelings from her. Since the odds are that anyone reading this book will have read the original story and know how it ends, Shoemaker focuses on exploring the motivation behind some of the Bronte’s most baffling plot points – specifically why Rochester behaves the way he does when he is trying to win Jane’s love and why his father and brother trick him into marrying Bertha in the first place even though they knew she was mad. If at times the author works a little too hard to justify some of Rochester’s odder moments, including dressing up as an old gypsy woman or pretending to be in love with Blanche when he really wants to marry Jane, it’s totally forgivable since she, (and Charlotte Bronte), have done such a good job at making Rochester into a character that readers want to love. The extra plot elements she added to explore the history between the Rochester and Mason families was interesting and well done and I have to admit, after all the ups and downs of the story, I broke into a huge grin at the line, “Reader, she married me.”
All in all, I definitely recommend Mr. Rochester for all my fellow Charlotte Bronte fans who are looking to revisit this classic story.
The ultimate “staycation read” for when you are longing to run away from your everyday existence, The Enchanted April is every bit as enchanting as the title suggests. The story tells of four English women, each struggling with various disappointments and loneliness, who decide to pool their resources and rent a romantic Italian villa for the month of April. Although the woman are very different in background and temperament – which leads to the occasional, (and rather funny), butting of heads – each experiences a sort of renewal during their stay at San Salvatore.
My only complaint about this light but highly enjoyable book is that the resolution of all the character’s problems seemed to come together rather quickly and easily without much more effort than a simple (and much needed attitude change). I guess the moral of the story is that it’s easier to evaluate your life and make changes in a villa on the Mediterranean than back home in your everyday life, and if that’s the case, I am more than willing to try it. I would have also loved an epilogue (or a sequel) that explored how all of these vacation epiphanies and romances continued (or didn’t) once everyone got back home. But other than that, I really enjoyed this fun little novel and highly recommend that you add it to your summer reading list.
Have you ever been disappointed in a new book by one of your favorite authors? That’s the situation I found myself in this week after reading Morgan Llywelyn’s After Rome. I really wanted to love the book as much as I have loved other Morgan Llyweln books but, as hard as I tried, I really couldn’t see After Rome as anything other than a pale and lifeless re-treading of old stories and characters that Llywelyn has used to much better effect in her previous books.
After Rome, particularly suffers in comparison to the book Morgan Llywelyn wrote about the coming of the Romans, Druids. If After Rome was a stronger book, it would have felt like a continuation of the saga that Llywelyn told brilliantly in Druids, but instead the two main characters felt like blander reincarnations of Druid’s two main characters without any of their strength and personality. And while Druids had an engrossing plot that had me emotionally invested from the first page, After Rome never seemed to reach any kind of satisfying payoff with a plot that just trailed off rather than concluded.
I seriously considered not reviewing After Rome because I adore Morgan Llywelyn and her brand of historic fantasy inspired by Celtic / British myths and history. As a long-time Morgan Lywelyn fan, I just think that it would be a shame if a new reader picked up After Rome as their first Llywelyn book and judged her writing by it. So instead, here is what I think. Skip this book and instead pick up one of the many brilliant Morgan Llywelyn books that came before it. I STRONGLY recommend Bard: The Odyssey of the Irish, Finn Mac Cool, Red Branch, Lion of Ireland, Grania: She-King of the Irish Seas, and, as you can probably guess, Druids. You won’t regret it.