The Lost Summer of Louisa May Alcott by Kelly O’Connor McNees – Book Review

The Lost Summer of Louisa May Alcott by Kelly O’Connor McNees

Louisa Alcott wants nothing more than to be a professional writer; she wants to go off to Boston and make her way in the world as a completely independent woman. Her family needs her now, however. Louisa’s father, an ardent transcendentalist, refuses to work on principal, so his wife and four daughters survive largely on the kindness of others. When the family is offered the use of a house in Walpole, New Hampshire their lives are already starting to change, and when Louisa meets a young man named Joe, she must reconsider what exactly it is that she wants from life.

It has been a very long time since I read “Little Women” and the sequels, but I loved them as a child and so was excited to get a taste of Louisa Alcott’s life in “The Lost Summer of Louisa May Alcott.” Novelizations of famous authors such Louisa May Alcott can be tricky at times, especially versions like this that posit a romantic relationship for which there is no actual evidence. Honestly, I was a little worried that “The Lost Summer of Louisa May Alcott” might succumb to  Jane Austen-syndrome – a flurry of vaguely related novels that often border on the absurd. Luckily, McNees did not even come close to falling into that trap.

The best part about “The Lost Summer of Louisa May Alcott” is the fantastic historical detail that McNees brings to her story. Everything felt quite authentic and I was amazed by the people with whom the Alcotts rubbed elbows. I also loved learning about Louisa’s family, since I knew nothing about her life or family prior to reading “The Lost Summer of Louisa May Alcott.” I have to say, her father drove me crazy! Idealism is one thing, but he didn’t seem to have even a modicum of practicality.

As for the fictional romance, far from seeming absurd, I think it actually helped to illustrate Louisa’s character. It truly caused her to evaluate what it was that she wanted from life and make difficult decisions. McNees did an admirable job putting Louisa into a situation where we could really be shown her character instead of having to be told about it.

Loved it! Whether you’re a fan of Louisa May Alcott or you simply like historical fiction about strong, independent (but not overly modern) women I highly recommend “The Lost Summer of Louisa May Alcott.”

Buy this book from:
Powells.*
A local independent bookstore via Indiebound
.*
Amazon
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This review was done with a book received from Lydia at Putnam Books for this TLC Book Tour.
* These links are all affiliate links. If you buy your book here I’ll make a very small amount of money that goes towards hosting, giveaways, etc.

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Discovering Madame Grandin’s Chicago – Guest Post by Mary Beth Raycraft, Translator of “A Parisienne In Chicago”

Mary Beth Raycraft is the translator for “A Parisienne in Chicago.” The book’s website is currently under construction, but does feature some interactive maps.

While translating Madame Léon Grandin’s 1894 travel memoir, A Parisienne in Chicago, Impressions of the World’s Columbian Exposition, I also played the role of tag-along tourist.  Since I am not a Chicagoan, I allowed Madame Grandin to lead me around the city, pointing out its most striking aspects.  From strolls in Washington Park, busy circuits of shopping and culture in the Loop, and long days exploring the Exposition at Jackson Park, Madame Grandin took full advantage of her ten month stay to discover many different facets of the city.

Mapping the neighborhoods and places in Chicago mentioned by Madame Grandin helped me to visualize her movements throughout the city. Madame Grandin and her husband, the sculptor Léon Grandin, lived in a series of boarding houses located near Jackson Park.  Upon arrival at the train station in Chicago in August of 1892, they were greeted by a grueling heat wave and headed to the south side of the city. Since Léon was part of a team of sculptors working on the Columbian Fountain for the exposition, the boarding house at 3700 South Ellis Avenue was convenient to the fairgrounds.  Although they complained about the miserly landlady and the insubstantial meals, their room offered a pleasant view of Lake Michigan.  In search of more comfortable accommodations and better food, the Grandins moved to another rooming house near Drexel Boulevard, which Madame Grandin compared to the elegant Avenue des Champs Elysées. During the final months of their stay, they lodged at the Everett Hotel at 3619 Lake Park Drive.

After spending several weeks exploring the south side of the city, Madame Grandin discovered that a tram car conveniently shuttled between Jackson Park and The Loop. The throbbing heart of the city, The Loop was the focus of many of her expeditions, including visits to the Athenaeum, the Chicago Public Library, and the Auditorium, where she and her husband attended the Inaugural Ball of the Exposition in October 1892.  Madame Grandin also frequented the commercial establishments of The Loop, including the elegant Siegel Cooper department store and Gunther’s Confectionary on State Street, where she found the candies far superior to those in Paris and indulged her sweet tooth.  Madame Grandin’s outgoing personality and curiosity about the city soon led to a flurry of social activity.  Her friendship with two instructors at the Art Institute, Lydia Hess and Marie Gélon Cameron, enabled her to visit their studios and classes, located at the time in the Athenaeum.  She even managed to obtain an introduction to Bertha Palmer and attended numerous receptions at Palmer’s elegant home on Lake Shore Drive.

Although the primary reason for her trip was to accompany her husband to the Exposition, it seems that the city of Chicago was the most impressive spectacle of all. As Madame Grandin circulated in the bustling streets, explored exhibits at the fair, strolled in the parks, and socialized at parties, dances, and cultural events, she discovered a dynamic urban setting which, in many ways, she found preferable to her home city of Paris.

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A Parisienne in Chicago by Madame Leon Grandin – Book Review

A Parisienne in Chicago: Impressions of the World’s Columbian Exposition by Madame Leon Grandin, translated by Mary Beth Raycraft

In July of 1892, Madame Leon Grandin and her husband boarded a ship in Le Havre heading for New York. They stayed for six weeks with relatives in New York, then headed across the country to Chicago, where her husband would be working on the Columbian Fountain project for the 1893 World’s Fair. “A Pariesienne in Chicago” is Madame Leon Grandin’s travelogue of her time in America, focusing extensively on social customs and societal norms in the United States and in Chicago in particular.

As I was reading Madame Leon Grandin’s account of her time in Chicago in 1892 and 1893, the quote about the past being a foreign country was continually running through my head. Madame Grandin traveled from Paris to the place that I live, but the Chicago of 120 years ago is nearly as foreign to me as it was to her, even discounting the changes in technology between then and now. The things that really got to me don’t seem like big things, but they were so unexpected I was just shocked, things like Thanksgiving being a religious holiday where people headed to church in the morning instead of watching parades and football.

Being as this was a translation of a 19th century travelogue focusing on social practices in Chicago, I was amazed at how completely engaging “A Parisienne in Chicago” was. I literally did not want to put it down because Madame Grandin’s voice was so engaging. I attribute this both to Grandin’s writing style (which included lots of exclamation points!) and to Mary Beth Raycraft’s skillful translation. I do think it is important to note that, the subtitle not withstanding,  only a very small portion of the book actually deals directly with the World’s Fair, so if that’s your main impetus for picking this book up you may be disappointed. That being said, I think this was much more interesting for the social history it highlighted than it would have been if it were just Grandin’s impressions of the World’s Fair.

Highly recommended.

Buy this book from:
Powells.*
A local independent bookstore via Indiebound
.*
Amazon
.*

This review was done with a book received from the publisher for this blog tour.
* These links are all affiliate links. If you buy your book here I’ll make a very small amount of money that goes towards hosting, giveaways, etc.

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