Little Women

As a child, one of my favourite classics was Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women. It has been many years since I last read it, and as I began to read it again I wondered whether it would live up to my strong childhood memories of the story.

Little Women was originally published in two parts, but is now generally sold in one volume, telling the story of the March sisters. The story begins at Christmas, when Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy are mourning the lack of presents due to their current state of poverty. The novel follows Jo and her sisters as they grow up, improving themselves, finding love and dealing with loss.

Little Women is a well – loved classic and one that I remember with real fondness. The story is still as interesting as I found it as a child and Jo is an engaging and powerful protagonist to centre the novel on. At times, however, Little Women is overly drawn – out and prone to moral lecturing. I particularly found the pages describing Meg’s children to be an unnecessary distraction from what felt like the ‘real story’.

This is not to say that the overall result of Little Women is unpleasant or a poor reading experience: there is a reason that it is such a popular classic still. The faults and flaws shown by the main characters are ones that we can still relate to: Meg’s desire for worldly goods and pretty things; Jo’s quick temper and impatience; Amy’s desire to impress and be accepted; Laurie’s tendency to be idle and petulant when he doesn’t get his own way. Alcott paints for us an image of characters who try to do the right thing but often get it wrong, make mistakes and need to begin all over again… and shows us that this is in fact the only way to become better people – a message still relevant to today’s reader.

The romances within the novel make for enjoyable reading, but at heart Little Women is a love story of an entirely different nature: it is a story of love between sisters and between family.

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Afternoon Tea at the Sunflower Cafe

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When I am looking for a light, summer read I often turn to Milly Johnson. Her books are easy page – turners, often about women needing second chances at love and/or life. This is what I enjoy do much about them – it’s not always just about the romance; often her books are much more focused on women making female friendships and establishing careers and paths in life following controlling relationships.

Afternoon Tea at the Sunflower Cafe follows this tradition. Connie is married to Jimmy Diamond who runs his own successful cleaning company. The trouble is that he hasn’t told her exactly how successful it is; or that the profits are funding his series of affairs with younger women. When Connie does discover this she has one goal in mind: to destroy Jimmy’s successful business by establishing her own and stealing his staff and customers. Will she succeed and create a rival cleaning firm to be proud of?

Now, to be honest, the idea of revenge by destroying a business doesn’t sit that we’ll with me, but since this is fiction we’ll let that slide. Also, if you’re familiar with Milly Johnson’s other books, the characters and plots do become a little formulaic at times (plain, downtrodden woman who loses weight: check; cheating husband: check; charming new man: check).

What you do have in the end though is a light, easy book that is perfect for reading on the beach or on holiday. Somehow you can’t end it without feeling happy that things turn out right for underdogs eventually.

First book in two months… ‘Summer at Little Beach Street Bakery’

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It’s been over two months since my last book blog post… its taken me over 9 weeks to read this book. I know exactly how long it’s been because around 6 hours after I posted my last book blog I gave birth to my baby boy.

Reading with a newborn is a tricky business (more so when you’ve got 2 other kids to look after as well) and I’ll try to explain why…

1. You can’t pick anything focused too heavily on death, misery or emotional turmoil. In the weeks after having a baby your hormones just can’t take it!
2. No complex whodunits with a range of characters. Lack of sleep and having to read in short bursts mean you just can’t keep track of the range of characters and who did/said what.
3. No complex literary texts with long words. See above, re: tiredness. After having my daughter (over 3 years ago now) I had one day when I was so tired that I literally lost the ability to read.

With all that in mind I decided that a light, summery book was the way to go.

‘Summer at Little Beach Street bakery’ was exactly the kind of book I needed. Easy-to-read, not too many characters or sub -plots, feel good reading throughout. It was light and easy to enjoy, even when read in short bursts … I never lost track of what was going on in the plot. I particularly enjoyed the dramatic storm towards the end of the novel, even though the rescue involved was not particularly believable – but who cares about believable in this sort of story? I certainly didn’t.

Easy-read chick-lit… a bit on the disappointing side: ‘It’s Raining Men’

I’ve read a few of Milly Johnson’s books in the past, finding them to be easy to read and enjoyable – great for when I am feeling too distracted to really concentrate on over-complicated plots and complex language. The books are often about second chances and finding love in unexpected places and this one stuck to that same formula, although it just didn’t quite live up to what I was expecting.

It tells the story of 3 women who book a holiday at a luxury spa, only to find that a mistake with the travel agent has left them in a run-down town in the middle of nowhere – certainly not the spa experience they were hoping for. The town also seems to hold some mysteries, which the inhabitants are determined to keep to themselves, making them not very welcoming to the newcomers.

Where this book differs to previous ones that I’ve read by the same author is that there is a strange ‘mermaid’ sub-plot (yes, you did read that correctly) that just doesn’t fit with the genre I was expecting from the book. Overall, it was disappointing. Not at all what I was expecting.153

Enjoyable easy-read

Enjoyable easy-read

During the summer I always like to pick up a quick-read or two; something romantic and girly that doesn’t require any thinking whatsoever. I’ve read a few of Milly Johnson’s other books so when I saw ‘The Teashop on the Corner’ I thought I’d give it a go as one of my summer reads.

I actually read most of this on the train and it was perfect for that purpose – not so complex that the various distractions made me lose sense of the plot. It tells a similar story to a lot of her other books; it’s all about people finding second chances at happiness when they least expect it.

The story is at times over-contrived and highly improbable, and the attempts at describing banter over literature seem stilted and anything-but-natural but I enjoyed it and it even drew a tear from me at the end. It won’t be staying on my bookshelf in the long term, but it provided a welcome distraction for a few days.

An old favourite

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Sometimes, a book is so familiar, so well loved, that reading it is an instant source of comfort. For me, ‘Pride and Prejudice’ is most definitely that book.

I first read it in my early teens, and it was probably my first introduction to anything written before the 20th Century and opened my eyes to a very different world, especially in terms of the role of women at the time. The main characters spoke to me so clearly, I felt that I knew each of them personally.

Sometimes people ask me how I can read a book so many times, and one of the reasons I do is that every single time I pick up on something different, some more subtle meaning. This time it was an awareness of just how rude Colonel Fitzwilliam is in mentioning to Elizabeth that he must marry for money – almost Wickham-esque actually in his motives. I’d previously always thought him quite pleasant but in reality perhaps he shows us that at least Darcy is willing to overlook everything for his feelings – unlike Fitzwilliam who appears on the surface to be more amiable.

My favourite part of ‘Pride and Prejudice’ is always Elizabeth’s visit to Mr and Mrs Collins in Kent, although I often find it hard to define why. Perhaps it is the combination of the ridiculous Mr Collins and haughty Lady Catherine, who are just so enjoyable to read about, mixed with Darcy’s clear struggle to repress his feelings for Elizabeth and her absolute shock when he reveals them.

As always, my final thoughts on this book are that it is such a fantastic story, so well told, that I refuse to see why anyone wouldn’t love it as much as I do.

Sophie Kinsella ‘Wedding Night’

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Sometimes books and authors fall into the category of guilty pleasures,  and Sophie Kinsella most definitely meets that description for me. Her books may not be literary, or about important things, but they almost always make me smile (or even laugh out loud) and that is sometimes all that is needed.

This book did have some genuine laugh-out-loud moments and it certainly proved an effective distraction for a while. If I was being picky I might say that I didn’t like the frequent switching of narrative perspective all that much and at times the focus on sex was a bit annoying.

However, sometimes reading a book with a happy ending that makes you smile is its own reward. Pure rom-com escapism.