Daddy-Long-Legs by Jean Webster

A century after her death, Puffin has re-issued its edition of Jean Webster’s best-selling, and most famous, novel Daddy-Long-Legs. It is the story of Judy Abbott, an orphan sent to college by an anonymous benefactor.  The novel is told in a series of letters written by Judy to the man she calls Daddy-Long-Legs (because she has only ever seen his elongated shadow).  Through them the reader witnesses her adjusting from orphanage life to the kind her new friends take for granted.  Judy is a very human heroine and she really steps off the page in this immediately engaging novel.

When it was published at the beginning of the twentieth century, Daddy-Long-Legs became part of the selection of books for older girls in which the heroine left school and moved into the adult world. It’s not only concerned with young adult society however; it also considers some of the concerns of the day including women’s suffrage, socialism and hot topics like eugenics.  Many of the books of this genre have vanished without trace but Daddy-Long-Legs survives.  I know why I think it’s still relevant but I’d be interested to hear your thoughts.

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Little Women by Louisa May Alcott

Set during the American Civil War, Little Women is the most famous of Louisa May Alcott’s novels.  At the centre are four sisters: lovelorn Meg, clever and complex Jo, shy Beth and vain Amy.  They are much like any siblings in that they squabble amongst themselves but support each other in public.  None of them is perfect, not even the central character, Jo.

In spite of its wartime setting and the fact that the girls’ father is a military chaplain, the book has a predominantly domestic setting and is more concerned with the minutiae of family life than the affairs of the wider world. I say that in explanation, not criticism, however, as there is nothing tedious about the plot.  The sisters have very distinct characters and concerns and readers are typically drawn in to their lives.

Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy. The March sisters.  Do you know who I’m talking about?  Could you have told me the title and author of their book?  Do you know the other books in the series?  Little Women is described as a classic and, if by that experts mean it is a book that is so well written and observed that it has something to say to successive generations, I’d agree.

There’s a lot of debate about how old you should be to read the classics and how much readers of today understand books written 150 years ago, or even one hundred years ago. My own feeling is that people should read books whenever they are ready to.  Reading should always be a pleasure and a choice.  I read Little Women when I was eight or nine but I know I didn’t understand it all.  However, people don’t really change much and, like many of the classics, Little Women is pretty much about the characters.  And because they are such good fun, I’ve re-read the novel many times over the years and got something different from it.

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Snowfall by KM Peyton

Charlotte Campion is bored with her circumscribed life. At sixteen she has travelled no further than a few miles from her grandfather’s country vicarage.  And then suddenly, amazingly, she finds herself in Zermatt climbing the slopes of the Matterhorn.  Released from her benign prison, Charlotte’s world opens up in new and shocking ways as she gets to know her brother’s friends – and falls in love for the first time. Snowfall is a novel about defying conventions and following one’s dreams set in the late Victorian period.  It is written by that most consummate of storytellers, KM Peyton, with sensitivity and élan.

That paragraph above is how I reviewed the book in The Scotsman a few years ago.  You’ll gather from it that I particularly enjoy KM Peyton’s books.  I think she creates fascinating characters and then gives them interesting storylines.  I’ve been reading her books since I was a teenager and I still enjoy them.  A few years ago at the Carnegie Medal awards ceremony I met her and I was so star-struck that I could hardly speak!

I hope you enjoy reading Snowfall and I hope it will encourage you to read more of her books including The Edge of the Cloud for which KM Peyton won the Carnegie Medal early in her writing career.  And look out for Wild Lily, her latest book due out in February.  I’d be very interested to hear your views on her books – and also any stories you have about meeting your favourite authors.

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The More the Merrier by Anne Fine

Family Christmas anyone?  Frankly Ralph would rather not bother.  His house is crammed full of relatives, none of whom is talking to all the others, and it’s becoming clearer by the minute that his brother Harry is their mother’s favourite, whatever she says to the contrary.  Anne Fine is at her hilarious best here as she romps through Christmas at the Mountfields’ home.

The More the Merrier is not a difficult read; in fact you’re likely to gallop through it.  But it is laugh-out-loud funny and ideal for all those who live through big family Christmases, like it or not, and those who don’t, and wish they did or are glad they don’t.  And we will all recognise some of the (slightly caricatured) family members.

How do you feel about reading seasonal literature?  Would you ever consider reading a book set at Christmas at any other time of the year?  Do you have a favourite Christmas book or scene from a novel?

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Rilla of Ingleside by LM Montgomery

A few months ago I was part of a conversation about First World War novels. We were discussing what we liked about them and if there was a particular book that had started off our enjoyment of them.  As I was trying to remember my reading history, I realised that my first book set during the First World War was one I’d never really thought about as being a war story (although it is).  The book is, of course, Rilla of Ingleside by LM Montgomery.

It is the final book in the series that begins with Anne of Green Gables and it concerns Anne’s youngest daughter. I read it because I had read the rest of the series and loved them all.  So, although Rilla is set between 1914 and 1918 I never really thought about the fact that it fell into the category of First World War literature.  It is also, of course, set in Canada, on Prince Edward Island, so a different home front to the one we usually think about.  At the start of the War, Rilla is fifteen, vain, naïve and very much the baby of the family.  But as the War goes on and her siblings are drawn inexorably into the conflict Rilla is forced to grow up.

This remains one of my favourite books and I’ve re-read it many times. When I realised that it is actually a First World War novel I read it again and got a whole lot more out of it.  November, with its commemoration on Remembrance Sunday, seems like a good month to suggest it to you.  I’d love to hear what you think of it – and if you have other First World War novels you think we should all read.

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The Glass Swallow by Julia Golding

I thoroughly enjoyed The Glass Swallow.  It’s a fantasy and a companion piece to Dragonfly.  Fantasy is something I don’t usually choose to read but I am so glad that I didn’t miss this.  It’s beautifully written and cleverly plotted.  Under the story there’s a whole discussion about who survives and prospers when society breaks down but it’s quite possible to read it without consciously considering that.  So much did I like The Glass Swallow that I bought Dragonfly and I hope that there will be more titles in this series.

Although I’m often reluctant, experience has shown me that sometimes it’s a good idea to read books that you would instinctively avoid.  In the course of my work I’ve often had to that and often (but not always) I’ve discovered books that I love.  The Glass Swallow fell into this category.  I knew it would be well written but I let the genre put me off.  In the end I had to read it for an event I was doing with Julia and I’m very glad that I was pushed into it.

So, this month, I challenge you to read not only The Glass Swallow but also something that comes from a genre you wouldn’t normally touch with a barge-pole!  Let me know how it goes.

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My Brother is a Superhero by David Solomons

If you had spent most of your eleven years on earth devouring comics and knew all there was to know about superheroes, their powers and archenemies, wouldn’t you be annoyed if your Maths-nerd of an older brother was chosen to join their ranks?  Luke is, in My Brother is a Superhero.  David Solomons’ debut children’s book is lip-twitchingly funny and clips along thanks to a super-plot and cast packed with special (if unusual) powers.  Miss it at your peril.

David Solomons’ book is written as though it were set in reality although, as soon as one stops to think about it, it is patently ridiculous and clearly not set in the real world as we know it.  How do you think the author manages to make his readers suspend their disbelief?

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