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on 25 October 2016
This book has become a comfort read for me. I originally approached it apprehensively - would it spoil Little Women for me? The answer is a resounding No. It actually enhances Louisa Alcott's story and I heartily recommend it to anyone who, like me, grew up loving the March sisters. It would be great if Gabrielle Donnelly could write a sequel, I'm sure there's plenty of material left in the box of letters!
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on 25 August 2015
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on 13 January 2013
Lulu is the middle sister of the Atwater family. Her older sister Emma is planning for her wedding, and her younger sister Sophie is pursuing an acting career on the stage, so she can't help that she is the failure of the family, not sure what to do with herself. She's working dead-end jobs and has no romantic prospects. But then, as she is looking through the attic for some old family recipes, she finds a collection of letters written by her great-great-grandmother Josephine March. "In her letters, Jo writes in detail about every aspect of her life: her older sister, Meg's new home and family; her younger sister Amy's many admirers; Beth's illness and the family's shared grief over losing her too soon; and the butterflies she feels when she meets a handsome young German. As Lulu delves deeper into the lives and secrets of the March sisters, she finds solace and guidance, but can the words of her great-great-grandmother help Lulu find a place for herself in a world so different from the one Jo knew?"

The tie-in to Little Women was good in this one, but it also stands well alone as its own story about a young woman trying to find herself. I like Little Women a lot, though I haven't reread it recently, so I got most of the references. Sometimes, however, Lulu could be a bit too nasty to her sisters, borderline taunting rather than teasing. However, The Little Women Letters is an amusing read, I would almost say a beach read, even though I read it in the fall. But it's the kind of book best for a sunny afternoon or two.

The book doesn't just focus on Lulu though; it also focuses on Emma and Sophie's lives and complications, as well as their parents and Charlie, Lulu's friend. This one kind of reminded me of The Weird Sisters, but I think it was much better. At least, the subject was more interesting to me.
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on 9 April 2016
Written by Gabrielle Donnelly and published in 2011 by Penguin Books, The Little Women Letters “explores the imagined lives of Jo March’s descendants–three sisters who are both thoroughly modern and thoroughly March.” It parallels the lives and characters of the three March sisters — Meg, Jo, and Amy — with Jo’s great, great granddaughters — Emma, Lulu, and Sophie. The reader gets little glimpses of the March family’s life after Little Women ended and before Little Men began, as one of the modern girls get to know their ancestor through her great, great grandmother Jo’s letters.

From the little I remember of when I read Little Women, it was like having a favourite reading chair next to a sunny window or a fireplace, happily and comfortably witnessing the lives of sisters as they grow up, find love, and yet still have each other to come back to when life throws them a curveball. You smile in different ways — wry amusement, contentment, or just plain happiness at their fortunes. The Little Women Letters is similar, in the sense that it is a story about a family with three sisters having different personalities, and how they navigate the challenges of life.

However, this book started me off with none of these warm, fuzzy feelings. It was actually more of a confused frown, before completely degrading to what-the-fuck. Like a couch that looks absolutely comfortable until you plop on it and find out that it badly needs re-upholstering.

The modern March sisters, called Atwaters, are all in their twenties, and yet they bicker like tweens. I had to pause to think whether my younger sister and I would be communicating as such if we did not live in different continents, but despite us having different personalities, we never talked to each other like that, even before I migrated nor doing my visits. Their conversations felt forced and contrived, like a salesperson doing a hard sell but just completely missing the mark. I do not know whether it was all meant to be endearing and to show sisterly love, but even Jessica and Elizabeth Wakefield in their pre-teens had wittier banter.

The Jo character, Lulu, is described all over the book as the “odd one out”. Plain-looking but smart, and odd (the reader musn’t forget). I wish I counted how many times that word ‘odd’ was used because it was employed so often that it was grating. Despite being smart, she did not know what she wanted to do in life. She hovers between one job to the next, but she is always, always happy to cook for others, and she is very, very good at it. So tell me — why and how a supposed extremely smart woman never ever thought that, oh, how about the culinary arts, eh?

There are other things, which I would like to mention but I feel is just nitpicking and rubbing salt to the wound. I will mention one and no more — one of the Atwater girls have a near death experience from anaphylaxis. And while anaphylaxis is a serious life-threatening condition, the treatment for it did not warrant the dramatic length of waiting time described in the novel. If it was, the girl would have been on a ventilator for breathing support, with either a tube or a hole in her neck for breathing access.

Towards the end of the novel, Lulu finds a match, a soulmate of sorts, and there are the beginnings of a relationship at the last twenty or so pages of the novel. That gives you the idea how incredibly quick this developed; it was like, SNAP! there goes a love life for Lulu. Again, my face took on the confused frown, and again went, “whaaaaaaaaat?”

From the author’s website, I learned that the idea for this novel came from an editor and they had different writers pitch a sample first chapter, and then choose which writer to further develop the story. It was a good idea, but I personally do not think it was executed well. The charm I associated with Louisa May Alcott’s book was to be found in very few parts, and even then it could not exude it enough to make the book recommendable. I nearly gave up on this actually, and considered not finishing it, but I always feel I have to push through just to see if it turns to be a gem. The general consensus on Goodreads seems to be positive, so I do not know whether it is a matter of taste or you need to be smoking something special to get it.
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on 8 February 2013
I picked up this novel chiefly for its connection to Little Women, a book I remember fondly from childhood, and was delighted to find that I thoroughly enjoyed it.

The characters are colourful and vivid, especially the three sisters - although I found myself most warming to the mother and father, who have a most endearing and inspiring approach to marriage. The family depicted feels real, and I found myself rooting for each member to find an answer to his/her concern. This is a book in which the author clearly thinks carefully about realism, and she handles character development in a mature way that leads to well-rounded, touching characters.

My favourite element of the book is the letters from Jo March that are interspersed with the present-day action. I found myself wanting to re-read the Little Women series afterwards, to see how the letters cleverly tied in. I think the author has done a wonderful job of matching tone and style to Louisa May Alcott's - no easy task! - and the resultant juxtaposition of the formal, flowing, poetic style of the letters with the modern, jovial style of the present-day description is striking, and makes for interesting, engaging reading.

But for me, what is most powerful in the inclusion of the letters is the bringing together of two different worlds - nineteenth-century American, and twenty-first-century England. I remember reading Little Women as a child and getting a strong sense of the moral lessons imparted, and also being struck by the gentility of the romance back then. Set against the modern sisters' difficulties in love and careers, the letters provide food for thought as to how society has changed. Jo was always my favourite character in Little Women, and to have her words reach across the decades to comfort and guide her great-great-granddaughter creates a fascinating connection between then and now, allowing the author to explore just what it means to be a woman forging her own path in the world, and finding the love that will last.

This is a book that stands out in the women's literature genre. It is romance, but it is romance with so much more to offer, with a guaranteed feel-good-factor. It is a must-read for any reader who remembers Little Women fondly - and for those who love books about sisterhood and romance.
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on 5 October 2011
Am I reading a different book to the previous reviewers? Clunky and verbose, utterly unconvincing dialogue, sentences so long and convoluted one has to read them twice before grasping the author's intent, one dimensional and unbelievable characters... why the previous reviewers have given this 5 stars I have no idea.

Check out this sentence:

'Lulu rooted through those briefly, tracing the long Massachusetts faces of her mother's family as they moved through the last century and more, stopping to inspect an old woman with a sweet expression, wearing a lace-edged cap and holding a baby in a large lace collar, a glamorous younger woman with permed hair and dark lipstick, smoking a cigarette and looking haughtily to the side, a couple of young men in American naval uniforms, and finally, delightedly, happening on one of a younger, thinner Fee, with wild curly hair and a stern expression, waving a banner that read THE PERSONAL IS POLITICAL.'

And breathe...

I know the author is British, though currently residing in the States - but the dialogue has an awkwardness about it that, to me, reads like an American trying to write authentic 'English-sounding' characters and not quite pulling it off.

I adore Little Women, so I wanted to love this book - I think the premise is a good one. I struggled on, through the treacly dialogue and long-winded narrative, but just reached the point of no return: a letter, written by Jo of the original 'Little Women', read by the modern day Lulu. It relates the story of Jo accompanying Laurie to a ball, in place of a stricken Amy.

'And, oh, Marmee, I wish you could have seen the dismay on the faces of Laurie's friends when they discovered that the Miss March who was to accompany him for the evening was to be, not the youngest, but the eldest!'

Maybe I'm being picky - technically, Meg is no longer a Miss March now she's married - but would Jo really have described herself as the eldest Miss March? This book made me FEEL picky though - the characters were so irritating and their dialogue so gratingly unbelievable.

Anyway, I've given up (most unlike me). I'll stick with the original books, thank you very much.
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on 11 June 2011
This is a delightful book, connecting the three Atwater sisters living in London in the 21st century with the March family living just outside Boston in the the 19th century, as described by Louisa May Alcott in Little Women. Letters written by Jo March provide a comfort and inspiration to Lulu, the middle Atwater sister, who is strugling to find her role in life. I really liked the Atwater family, especially the girls' mother, Fee, and loved revisiting the story of Jo, Meg and Amy March through Jo's letters. Gabrielle Donnelly's interweaving of the stories of the two families is terrific.
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on 12 June 2015
I really feel I must have been reading a different book to most reviewers. I agree with reviewer Ann Gorman - this is a dis appointing read all round. For me at least, the author does not capture any of the tone of the original classic series on which it piggybacks, and, indeed, I feel, unlike other reviewers, that the voice of Jo March is not at all accurately represented by the author. I struggled to continue reading this book, but kept going as I felt that soon, surely, I must find the promised true echoes of the original books. Sadly this was never to be for me, and, as a stand alone novel, this seemed at best very slow, and at worst turgid. Sorry.
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I really wanted to like this book, but I couldn't quite do it. I did enjoy the letters the author creates that are supposed to have been written by Jo March. I thought they were in character in terms of the original book, and rather charming, and show the author really does know her onions when it comes to Little Women. The thing that really annoyed me was the modern day story. I found it badly written and rather long winded. I also thought the final letter that Lulu finds was dreadful and really ruined my enjoyment of the bits that went before. There was absolutely no need for it at all and it was so contrived.
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on 17 February 2014
I wavered between a 4 and a 4.5 when I finished reading this book. My main reason for wanting to deduct stars is just because I didn't feel entirely satisfied with the man that Lulu ended up with at the end of the novel. Partly because I just liked the first love interest more, but mainly just because I didn't feel like I had enough time to witness the romance between Lulu and the second love interest develop. But perhaps this is the way the romance between Jo and Fritz occurs in 'Little Women'? It's been a while since I read the original. I also got a little bit annoyed at Emma's behaviour, but I did come to like her more towards the end of the novel. I liked her growth of character, even if it took me a while to warm up to her. Sophie was brilliant, I think the author perfectly captured the manner of speech that so many young female university graduates in England have. That said, she may be a little caricatured and not so relatable, but she was still a lot of fun.

As for the 'Little Women' parallels, I picked up on so many. Perhaps I even read some parallels into the novel that weren't intentional. Even so, I loved them. I was also immensely impressed by how the author perfectly captured Jo's voice. Absolutely perfect! It was like discovering scenes that the author had cut from the final draft of 'Little Women'. So I think this book has two audiences: standard chick-lit fans and those who wish Louisa May Alcott had written more about the March sisters.

Ultimately, I'm settling on a 4.5 for this book as, despite my slight disappointment with Lulu's choice of boyfriend at the end of the novel, I did truly love this book and am immensely impressed with how the author presented the legacy of the March family and captured Jo's voice. It was a fun read, and, as one critic writes, a "treasure trove" for 'Little Women' fans. I originally wanted to mark it down because I wished the book hadn't ended with one final letter from Jo, and that we'd been able to witness more about the modern-day sisters, but perhaps the ending was for the best. Highly recommended!
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