Beth's Book-Nook Blog

Reviews of What I've Been Reading….

Illuminated by the Message -LOUISA MAY ALCOTT – A Literary Portal to Prayer

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My friend Susan Bailey – whom I know through Orchard House – was kind enough to gift me with a copy of her new book: LOUISA MAY ALCOTT Illuminated by the Message, part of the Literary Portals to Prayer series. This selection is one in a series of books from Catholic publishing house ACTA that takes beloved writings by authors such as Dickens, Shakespeare, and Jane Austen and paisr them with similarly themed passages from the Bible.

Using a variety of Louisa’s writings, Ms. Bailey has made connections between some of the most touching passages of Louisa’s children’s books and her journals, linking them to Bible passages of both the Old and the New Testaments. One of my favorite passages links an excerpt about Beth in Little Women as she cares for her broken but beloved dolls to a psalm that cites God as a safe-house for the battered.

This would be a nice volume to keep nearby for daily reflection. It makes me realize how deeply one can interpret Louisa’s work, too.

Thank you, Susan, for my beautiful gift copy!

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Review: LITTLE WOMAN IN BLUE by Jeannine Atkins

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So – we all know my obsession with all things Alcott, right? Well, this summer at the Summer Conversational Series, I met Jeannine Atkins, who was quite charming, and she was speaking about May Alcott and her new novel about her (which came out in September). Of course I NEEDED this book and right away. Jeannine kindly gifted me with an ARC and I tucked it away so that I could savor it.

If you know me, you know that I am very, very picky when I read about the Alcotts. If stories don’t fit what I deem to be true and right, well then I don’t want any part of it. I’ve been know to stop reading a book, shout “Hogwash!”, and actually toss it away if it contains what I perceive to be Alcott sacrilege. Jeannine was such a genuinely nice person that I had my fingers crossed that I would not be doing any book tossing!

Well, no worries. This book is an absolute delight. Right from the first pages I knew Jeannine had done her homework. There is SO MUCH of the real Alcotts included in her pages, from things they said to the flowers they picked to the food they ate to the people they visited. This book is so on target that I know Jeannine had to have spent hours reading and digesting the real journals and letters of the family. Kudos to her!

If you only know the Alcotts as the family of Little Women, then you are in for a treat. Even if you only know me peripherally, you know that I am always talking about the whole family and how fascinating they all were. May is my favorite. Sweet, beautiful May (“Amy” for you Alcott newbies) was the youngest, the most beautiful, the most vivacious, and the talented artist who spent her late teen/early adult years developing her art, teaching art to the young people of Concord, and drawing on the walls of her bedroom at Orchard House (still seen today!). May was determined to see and study in Europe and to become a true artist. This book is May’s story — her friendship with Julian Hawthorne, her complicated relationship with Louisa, her love for her family, and her struggle to become an artist when female artists were not encouraged. It is also May’s love story of her relationship with Ernst and her dream of one day being both an artist and a mother.

Now I’ll be honest — SPOILER ALERT — I dragged out this book so that it didn’t have to end. I cried the last three chapters because I know what was coming. I just have always loved May (the REAL May, not “Amy”). I loved this book so much!

Jeannine, if you are reading this, I am sending you a virtual hug because I’m just so happy that you portrayed the Alcotts so realistically. Thank you so much for your beautiful novel of “summer’s golden child”.

To the rest of you – even if you are just a little bit curious, go out and get this book – pronto! You can thank me later.

(picture from google images)

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Kickstarter Campaign for Orchard House Documentary – only 60 hours left!

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If you know me, you know I have a complete obsession with all things Alcott — the person, the family, the books, etc. I’m a “Little Women” junkie (I’m actually also a lifelong devotee to Laura Ingalls Wilder, but that’s for another post).

Orchard House, the house museum of Louisa May Alcott in Concord, MA, where she wrote Little Women is running a Kickstarter campaign in order to create a documentary about the house. This is how the official page describes the project:

The Documentary Project:

Everyone has a special place – a mountaintop, a cathedral, a beloved home – that makes them feel safe, connected, and inspired. For millions of people from all over the world, Orchard House is that place: a gathering place, where people from many backgrounds have come together for over 350 years to count themselves part of a community – a community steeped in hope, courage, and perseverance.

Many who wish to experience Orchard House may never be able to visit in person, and there are millions more that do not realize the house exists. Together with your pledges and our dedication, this film will change that.

The history of Orchard House includes the prolific Alcotts, of course, but other stories remain unexplored. Even a visit to the home cannot reveal all there is to tell about Orchard House. That’s why we need to make this documentary.

Our film will be an hour-long, PBS quality documentary that will dive deep into those stories starting in the 1600’s. We will tell of the courageous occupants before the Alcotts, including the rescuer of a kidnapped woman and a Revolutionary soldier. We will also offer insights about Concord’s rich literary history; chronicle the process of how the museum was created in 1911; and, of course, give a behind-the-scenes look into the Alcott family and their time in Orchard House. We will seek national and international distribution to share interviews with house staff, Alcott scholars, celebrity friends, and the people of Concord to illuminate the remarkable power of place Orchard House possesses.

You can see the whole project, read more, make a pledge of just about any amount, and see the details at:

We are SO CLOSE to reaching the goal of $150,000 and there are only a handful of hours left.

Only a little more than $7,000 to go! #pledgeyourlove http://www.louisamayalcott.org

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Review: Fifty Shades of Louisa May by L M Anonymous (Yep – you read that right!)

If you know me personally, you know I did NOT like “Fifty Shades of Grey”. I never reviewed it because I didn’t finish it (made it about 2/3 through). Anyhow — a friend jokingly suggested I read “Fifty Shades of Louisa May”, and I never gave it a thought until the other day when I was pondering how Fifty Shades was still on the NYT best seller list. Louisa May popped into my head and since it was less than $10 on Kindle, I bought it.

First, let me say I did not know what to expect with this book. If you know me, you know my passion for all things Alcott and that I hobnob with Alcott scholars and run around in a hoop skirt at the museum and just love, love, love that whole family. I was feeling a bit sensitive, for want of a better word, that someone might be maligning my beloved Alcotts. I have to say how surprised I was at how much I enjoyed this truly ridiculous read. First, if you think it’s like the original Fifty Shades, you are off the mark. It’s more of a satire on the time period of the Alcotts, Transcendentalism, and the social mores that held in New England in the 1800’s. It’s erotica that makes fun of erotica. I’m not a huge fan of erotica (to me, some things should just be left behind closed doors – or book covers, for that matter); but L M Anonymous (who claims to be Louisa’s spirit) writes in the voice and style of Louisa’s work (kudos to you for that, sir/madam!) and portrays the main players (Louisa, her sisters, her parents, Emerson, Thoreau, Hawthorne, even Melville) in caricature. Whoever wrote this book knows a LOT about these people and these places, and I have to wonder who is the real author. Someone I know? One of the Alcott scholars? I think not as there are a few minor factual errors that a true Alcott scholar would not make. But the level of detail included that is correct (e.g. what Louisa dreamed about when ill from typhoid fever; the true personalities of the main players) is there, so it’s definitely someone who has read extensively on the family and their friends. The best part of the book for me was trying to figure out who wrote it!

Now I can imagine that some folks would not “get” this book. Alcott lovers, like myself, could be offended (when you study great minds, you often overlook their sexuality). Those who want a read like Fifty Shades will most probably be disappointed. I can’t say I recommend this book – erotica is just not my thing and I generally don’t recommend books with graphic sexual content – however, if you are a lover of this time period and can imagine ridiculous scenarios (e.g. Melville playing peeping Tom to Nathaniel and Sophia Hawthorne; Louisa on a quest to lose her virginity) then you might enjoy it. I laughed out loud through much of it and read it in a few hours.

Here it is on Amazon where I am an Associate:

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REVIEW: The Little Women Letters by Gabrielle Donnelly

A few weeks ago I had the pleasure of reading British author Gabrielle Donnelly’s “The Little Women Letters”. I had received the book as an advanced reader copy while attending the BBC part of BEA in New York in May. (See also my recent post of a video clip of Ms. Donnelly discussing her book). I really enjoyed reading this modern day novel of three sisters who parallel and are the descendents of the fictional March sisters of “Little Women”.

The Atwater sisters live in London and are the great great granddaughters of Jo March. Emma is the always sensible eldest, similar to Meg March. Sophie is the beautiful and somewhat self-centered youngest sister, similar to Amy March. And Lulu is the middle child, seeking to find her way, parallel to Jo March. Their mother is actually somewhat similar to the real “Mrs. March” Abba May Alcott: a feminist and social worker. They even have a crotchety old aunt from Boston – Aunt Amy in this case – similar to Aunt March. Notably, Beth March is missing (a wise choice, in my estimation). The girls seek to solve the various issues in their everyday lives, while Lulu finds a stash of letters written by Jo March to her sisters long ago. The similarities are striking and she takes solace in these letters as she struggles to find a job, a profession, and a relationship with a man.

I think I’ve written before of how I am an incredibly harsh critic of fictionalized stories of Louisa May Alcott since I am quite knowledgeable about the family and spend time at their house museum in Concord. I was a tad sceptical when I began this book as I feared I would once again be disappointed by the actions or discordant voices I might find. However, this book is not about the Alcotts, it is about the March family – and a family in modern times. I was struck by what an excellent job Ms. Donnelly did in capturing not only the voices of the March sisters of “Little Women”, but the essence of the Alcotts as well. There were too many similarities and subtleties between the real family and this novel to think that it was coincidence. Ms. Donnelly not only did her homework, but did an excellent job in capturing that embodiment of character that is Alcott. My hat’s off to her!

This is a book that I would read, put down, and then pick up again. The story moved much like “Little Women” does: a slice of life in a family of sisters. I am guessing LW fans will adore it.

See this book on Amazon where I am an Associate:

 

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“The Little Women Letters” by Gabrielle Donelly

I just finished this novel last night — having received it at the BBCon as an ARC. I will be posting my review shortly – but wanted to share the following You Tube video of Ms. Donelly discussing her book and discussing Orchard House — home of the Alcott family in Concord, MA, where I spend time. I was actually there today for their summer conversational series kick-off. And “Little Women” was on television today, too (the Winona Ryder version). It was a Little Women kind of day, I guess!

Enjoy!

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