I first read this novel when I was about ten years old because my mom gifted me a collection of literary classics that included Little Women and its sequel, Little Men. Since I was born and raised in Italy, my first copy was an Italian edition which I still own, even though it now shows many signs of wear and tear because I have read it multiple times over the years. A few years ago I also bought a beautiful American edition which is part of the Barnes & Noble Leatherbound Classics and I have already read it twice since then.
What is it about Little Women that has made the book so precious for so many different generations over the decades? Probably this is also due to the fact that it was one of the first books to focus on female characters; it seems that men are more like supporting characters in the lives of the female protagonists, and, even though it is narrated in the third person, the book tends to tell the events mainly from the point of view of the March sisters.
The story is set in the 1860s and begins during the American Civil War; Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy March live in the small town of Concord, Massachusetts (where Louisa May Alcott also wrote the book), and the first chapter introduces the sisters who are preparing to face a Christmas of hardships because of the war, with many concerns due to the fact that their father serves as chaplain for the Union Army. The March sisters have very distinct personalities but are united by the deep affection they feel for each other; Meg, the eldest (she is sixteen when the story begins), is very rational and feels responsible to the other sisters. Together with Jo, she works to support them all; while she is employed as a governess by a family in the neighborhood, Jo assists her wealthy aunt March, who lives alone in a mansion. Jo is stubborn and very outspoken; she loves writing stories, some of which will be published by local newspapers to provide financial support for the family.
“The impossible could not have happened, therefore the impossible must be possible in spite of appearances.”
During the course of last summer I read my second Agatha Christie book and I really enjoyed it; Death On The Nile is a great mystery novel and I have also reviewed it on the blog. While I really appreciated the twists and the setting, reading Murder On The Orient Express, my third Agatha Christie book, has been an even better experience, since I was already familiar with the character of Hercule Poirot and the writer’s style.
To me, this book confirmed Agatha Christie’s genius in building the plot and creating the right amount of suspense in the process of solving the case. I am very fascinated by the fact that, even though this novel was published in 1934, it feels very modern and the language used by Christie makes you feel like you were reading a modern novel, as if it were set in present times.
The book takes place aboard the Orient Express, a train that used to connect the Middle East to Europe in the first decades of the 20th century. The famous Belgian detective Hercule Poirot is traveling from Istanbul to London by train, along with a series of passengers that make for very interesting characters; they come from all different places and each of them has their secrets and peculiar traits. When a murder occurs, Poirot and the other passengers find themselves stuck on the train while traveling through Yugoslavia due to a heavy snowfall and it is very likely that the murderer is still on board.
As Poirot begins to investigate the murder, which immediately appears to be related to a crime case in the USA that occurred a few years before the events in the book, the passengers are being interrogated by the detective, and it is clear from the outset that most of them have something to hide… During this investigation, Poirot is accompanied by Monsieur Bouc, his old friend and director of the Wagon Lits; while Bouc immediately jumps to conclusions about who the perpetrator of the murder might be, Poirot prefers to wait until he is well informed about the facts before expressing an opinion on the matter.
As I have previously mentioned in my article about Halloween book recommendations, I tend to read books according to the current season so in the wintertime I will find myself reading books like Anna Karenina or War and Peace (I still haven’t read the latter but have recently heard that it’s a great book to read when it’s cold outside).
Today I am going to recommend you five books that I’ve enjoyed through the years that are perfect for Christmas time. I am currently rereading one of the books included in the list, a novel that is not entirely set during Christmas but it evokes deep feelings of tenderness; I first read it when I was ten years old and it holds a special place in my heart.
Here below you will find my top five books to read around Christmas, in no particular order:
1) Let It Snow by John Green, Maureen Johnson and Lauren Myracle: I am a fan of John Green’s books, as I have read three of his YA novels and enjoyed them all (I still cry when I think about Looking for Alaska). Let It Snow is a series of interconnected tales written by three authors from which the magic of the holidays shines through. You will probably have a preference for one of the stories over another (my favorite remains “Jubilee Express”, the one written by Maureen Johnson), but they all have such a great Christmas atmosphere, since the events also take place during a snowstorm. The short stories in this anthology are all connected by a thread so you recognize the characters as you read on. The book has lots of sweet moments and it even made me laugh at some points. There is also a Netflix film adaptation available which is not bad; I have noticed that it seems to be a love-it-or-hate it kind of book, but if you are in the mood for a light Christmas read you will probably enjoy it.
2) A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens: this is one of the most famous Christmas stories which has been adapted for the screen multiple times (there is also a Mickey Mouse version that I saw when I was little and another one starring the Muppets). Ebenezer Scrooge is a very grumpy and stingy man who resents the Christmas season, but suddenly he is visited by three spirits who advise him to change his attitude before it is too late. It is a classic story which is known worldwide and it is rich in symbolism; it really makes the reader understand how it’s never too late to change their ways. It is very profound and I always like to revisit it during the holiday season because it conveys the true meaning of Christmas, something that we all need to be reminded of in an era of excessive consumerism; many parts of the story underline how money cannot really buy happiness, and this is perfectly clear when you look at the character of Mr Scrooge, who is actually an unhappy person that refuses to take part in the joyful atmosphere of Christmas. A Christmas Carol is a deeply known and appreciated tale which is almost a personification of Christmas itself.
A few days ago I watched the second and final season of The Baby-Sitters Club on Netflix and it brought to mind so many different moments from the book series it is based on. Watching the show was very emotional for me, since I grew up with these books. I own plenty of them and, along with the Goosebumps series, they remind me of my childhood, when I would consider them as friends because they kept me company on many afternoons, as I would immediately pick up a book to read after finishing my homework. The Netflix show brought me to reread a few of the books from the Baby-sitters Club series and it felt very nostalgic because they meant a lot to me when I was a kid.
The story follows four middle school girls who decide to found a Baby-Sitters Club; Kristy, one of the girls, comes up with this idea after she witnesses her mother struggling to find a baby-sitter when Kristy and her older brothers are too busy to take care of their little brother. Kristy thinks: “Wouldn’t it be great if a person in need of a baby-sitter for their kids could easily find one by calling an organization that provides baby-sitting services?” She pitches the idea to her friends Claudia, Mary Anne and Stacey and they go on to establish a successful club, attracting many customers in the fictional town of Stoneybrook, Connecticut, and holding club reunions three times a week in Claudia’s room. The book series is very educational and it is one of the smartest and most innovative example of entrepreneurship for pre-teens I have ever read about; everything regarding the club is organized down to the smallest detail and each of the girls plays a specific role, like people in a work team or a company. Aside from Kristy, who is the president and founder of the club, Claudia is the vice-president and she provides the phone line at which clients contact babysitters. Mary Anne is the secretary and keeps track of all the client appointments and personal commitments. Stacey is the treasurer and, being very good at math, she is in charge of club funds and collects dues. During the course of the series, other people join the club, such as Dawn, who befriends Mary Anne at school after moving from California, junior members Mallory and Jessica, who are a couple of years younger than the other girls, and two other associate members, Shannon and Logan, who are respectively Kristy’s new neighbor and Mary Anne’s boyfriend; they substitute the girls as babysitters when none of them are available.
Not only does the book series recount the misadventures of the characters during their baby-sitting jobs, but also it deals with the typical daily challenges that pre-teens have to face; first love, fights and misunderstandings between friends (the babysitters themselves have several confrontations throughout the series, sometimes even funny ones), school issues and disagreements with parents. Moreover, The Baby-Sitters Club is a series that can touch on significant and profound issues, introducing and explaining them to young readers in the right way; an entire book is often devoted to a particular topic, like when Claudia becomes convinced that she is an adopted child and starts researching to find out who her real parents are. I recently reread this book and it is strange to see how a little girl was still able to find information in an era when there was no Internet (the BSC books were published between 1986 and 2000 and sold about 176 million copies; Ann M. Martin wrote the first 35 books in the series but later they were written by different ghostwriters).
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