Audiobook Review: Meg & Jo by Virginia Kantra

Title: Meg & Jo
Author: Virginia Kantra
Narrators: Shannon McManus, Karissa Vacker
Publisher: Berkley
Publication date: December 3, 2019
Print length: 400 pages
Audio length: 13 hours 46 minutes
Genre: Contemporary fiction
Source: Library
Rating:

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

The timeless classic Little Women inspired this heartwarming modern tale of four sisters from New York Times bestselling author Virginia Kantra.

The March sisters—reliable Meg, independent Jo, stylish Amy, and shy Beth—have grown up to pursue their separate dreams. When Jo followed her ambitions to New York City, she never thought her career in journalism would come crashing down, leaving her struggling to stay afloat in a gig economy as a prep cook and secret food blogger.

Meg appears to have the life she always planned—the handsome husband, the adorable toddlers, the house in a charming subdivision. But sometimes getting everything you’ve ever wanted isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

When their mother’s illness forces the sisters home to North Carolina for the holidays, they’ll rediscover what really matters.

One thing’s for sure—they’ll need the strength of family and the power of sisterhood to remake their lives and reimagine their dreams.

Christmas won’t be Christmas without any presents.

And a Little Women retelling wouldn’t be nearly as convincing if it didn’t start with that memorable opening line!

Dangle a Little Women retelling in front of me, and naturally I’m going to read it. And while Meg & Jo has been on my TBR for a while now, I finally got the motivation to dive in thanks to my book group, since this is our February pick.

In Meg & Jo, the March sisters are all grown up and living their own lives. Meg has settled into married life with her husband John and their adorable two-year-old twins, staying put in the family home town in North Carolina. Jo moved to New York years back to pursue a journalism career, but after being laid off from her newspaper job, she’s working as a prep cook at a fancy restaurant while secretly writing a food blog. Beth is in school studying music, and Amy has an internship in the fashion world.

Meg & Jo is narrated in alternating chapters by (obviously) Meg and Jo, and it’s their stories that are the focus of this book. (Beth and Amy are still there, mostly in the background and in their occasional appearances as they visit home, but they’re not POV characters in this book.)

As the book progresses, we learn that neither Meg nor Jo is truly leading their best lives. Meg is a stay-at-home mom, and her husband gave up his teaching and coaching job to work at a car dealership so he could better support their growing family once they found out Meg was pregnant. Neither one is entirely happy. Sure, they love each other and their children, but Meg pressures herself to do it all as payback for John working so hard, not realizing how she’s shutting him out and denying him the opportunity to be a true partner. Meanwhile, John is working at a job that means nothing to him, and can’t bring himself to talk to Meg about it. The communication problems between Meg and John are the central challenge they face.

As for Jo, her blog is doing well, but she’s frustrated. She likes working in the restaurant, but it’s not exactly advancing her writing career. As the story progresses, she falls into a romantic relationship with Eric, the renowned chef and owner of the restaurant, but secrets and a lack of clear intention seem to doom the romance before it can really bloom.

Complicating Meg and Jo’s separate lives further is family drama back home. The March parents live on the farm passed down through Abby’s (Marmee’s) side of the family. Abby runs the farm and the home herself, while her husband Ashton seems to devote all his time to his calling, serving as chaplain and counselor to military vets. When Abby becomes injured, her farm duties fall to Meg — and once Meg takes over, she starts to realize the precariousness of the farm’s future.

As the sisters return home for their mother’s recuperation and for the holidays, they come together to support and love one another. Secrets are revealed, there are plenty of surprises, and ultimately, there are promises of future happiness for Meg and Jo.

So… did I enjoy Meg & Jo? Yes, for sure! It took some getting used to, but seeing the March family transplanted into modern-day lives was quite fun and for the most part, really engaging. I did want to give Meg a good shake from time to time — it was so obvious to me that her attempts to take the household burdens off of John were actually alienating him. The book does a good job of showing how she was modeling her approach to doing it all on what she saw in her own parents’ marriage and internalized as the way things should work, and I was actually proud of Meg when she finally started to understand that accepting John as a true partner was the key to their future happiness.

Jo could be pretty clueless about certain things, and OF COURSE keeping her blog a secret was going to come back to bite her. I had a hard time believing some of the fallout, good and bad, once her secret came out. I did like her relationship with Eric, although I would have liked to see it given a little more time to grow before the big blow-up.

Beth and Amy seem to be basically true to their Little Women depictions, although (150-year-old spoiler alert!) Beth is alive and well in Meg & Jo! I held my breath for about half the book, waiting for her to develop a horrible illness, but thankfully, the book didn’t go there. Beth is gentle and sweet, very shy, and is committed to her musical career. Amy is spoiled, flighty, and impulsive, just as you’d expect.

One of my favorite parts of the book is Amy calling Jo out on trying to put them all into boxes, reminding Jo that in real life, people aren’t just one thing. I loved that their argument started over Pride and Prejudice – Jo sees Meg as Jane, and herself as Lizzie — but what roles does that leave for Beth and Amy? Amy rightfully resents that Jo can’t see her as anything but the pampered, entitled child she once knew. I loved the coming to terms that starts to occur between the sisters.

Another big difference between Little Women and Meg & Jo is how the March parents are depicted, especially the father. In Little Women, Mr. March is largely absent, off in the war and doing God’s work. They miss him terribly, but know he’s following an important path and never seem to resent him. In Meg & Jo, Mr. March comes off as kind of a jerk, at least when it comes to being a husband and father. Yes, he has a calling to tend to the men and women who are suffering after giving so much to their country — but he absolutely neglects his family in order to do so, leaving his wife and children to manage on their own and taking no responsibility for their financial or physical well-being.

Meg & Jo is a little longer than it needs to be, and some interludes at the restaurant and on the farm could have been tightened up a bit. I’m glad I listened to the audiobook rather than reading a print copy, since that helped me feel less like the story was dragging (and I could listen at a faster speed when it was!) The audiobook has different narrators for Meg and Jo, but honestly, their voices are very similar, so if I picked up in the middle of a chapter, it wasn’t obvious from the narrator whose chapter I was on.

As a Little Women fan, I was happy to experience Meg & Jo and see the author’s vision of a modern-day March family. While the story is a little light-weight at times, I enjoyed the characters and their challenges, and it was amusing to see how their 19th century lives could be translated to the 21st century. A follow-up, Beth & Amy, is due out this spring, and I will definitely be reading it!

Top Ten Tuesday: A TTT Freebie — 10 classics on my TBR list

Top Ten Tuesday is a meme hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl, featuring a different top 10 theme each week. This week’s is a freebie week, meaning we all come up with our own TTT topics.

I thought I’d return to an oldie but goodie — classic reads that I still need to get to. My list of to-read classics changes all the time, but for right now, these are the ten classics that I’d most like to read:

  1. The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
  2. Dracula by Bram Stoker (a re-read, but it’s been enough years that it’ll probably feel new to me)
  3. A Passage to India by E. M. Forster
  4. The Painted Veil by W. Somerset Maugham
  5. David Copperfield by Charles Dickens
  6. The Island of Dr. Moreau by H. G. Wells
  7. Peony by Pearl S. Buck
  8. Eight Cousins by Louisa May Alcott (or really, anything by this author besides the Little Women trilogy, which I’ve read)
  9. I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith
  10. Jamaica Inn by Daphne Du Maurier

After putting this list together, it occurs to me that it’s weighted toward male authors, which doesn’t make me happy — so this whole topic may need further thought! Or a follow-up post, at the very least.

Have you read any of these books, and if so, which do you recommend?

What did you write about for this week’s TTT? Please share your links!

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Top Ten Tuesday: Top Ten Childhood Favorites (updated 2019)

Top Ten Tuesday is a meme hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl, featuring a different top 10 theme each week.

This week’s top ten topic is Childhood Favorites  — a topic I featured back in 2013. And you know what? While I might be tempted to add another ten, there isn’t a single one of my original choices that I’d want to remove. So, once more with feeling… ten favorite books from my distant past that have absolutely influenced me as a reader…

1) Little Women by Louisa May Alcott. In early readings, I wanted to be Beth (go ahead, psychoanalyze me based on that little fact!), then envied Amy her world travels, but finally came to appreciate Jo in all her prickly glory. Pop culture references to Little Women always make me happy — like when Joey read it on Friends. Classic, in so many ways.

2) A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle. It just never gets old. Me in 2013: I’m trying to convince my 10-year-old to read it, mostly so I’ll have a good excuse for rereading it myself. 2019 update: The 10-year-old is now 16, and still hasn’t read this book. But I’ve reread it myself, so all is well.

3) From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E. L. Konigsburg. Seriously, wouldn’t you love to run away to live in a museum? This books was responsible for my mad scribblings, throughout my youth, of a whole bunch of half-written stories involving running off to exotic locations and having crazy adventures.

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9 of my top 10 childhood favorites — I can’t believe I still have all of these!

4) Knight’s Castle by Edward Eager. I read this book as a kid and loved it — but years later, all I could remember was that it was about kids entering into an imaginary world throught their toy castle in the playroom. I had no idea about the title or author and was never able to track it down, until my daughter came home with Half Magic by the same author, and something just clicked into place.

5) The Little House books by Laura Ingalls Wilder. I just adored these books as a kid, and didn’t know enough at the time to be bothered by some of the problematic elements. I loved Laura and her family, the crazy struggles for survival in harsh circumstances, and of course, the love story between Laura and Almanzo. Whoa, those blizzards! I still get cold thinking about the kids trying to get home from school during a wild snow storm. Brrrrr.

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Merry, Rose, and Christmas Tree June

6) Merry, Rose and Christmas Tree June by Doris Orgel. This story of a girl and her dolls just really stuck with me, and it wasn’t until a couple of years ago that I finally tracked down a copy. The fact that it’s illustrated by Edward Gorey just makes it even more of a win.

7) The All-of-a-Kind Family series by Sydney Taylor. My sister and I could not get enough of these books about a Jewish family living on the Lower East Side of New York in the 1920s. Inspiration for many a game of make-believe at our house — we even asked to take on dusting chores so we could play the button game. (If you’ve read the books, you’ll understand).

8) Charlotte’s Web by E. B. White. Oh, come on, admit it — you cried when you read this one, right?

9) Tall and Proud by Vian Smith. I went through a phase where I read everything I could get my hands on about horses.* The only thing better than a horse book was a book about a girl fighting a dreadful illness. So what could be better than this terrific book (out of print now, I believe) about a girl with polio who learns to walk again for the sake of her horse?

*I felt like I should only include one horse book on this list, but it was a close call — so here’s my special little shout-out to the books of Marguerite Henry, most especially, Misty of Chincoteague, Stormy: Misty’s Foal, and Mustang: Wild Spirit of the West.

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Horse books!

10) Light a Single Candle by Beverly Butler. In the same spirit as #9, this book about a girl dealing with blindness really resonated with my tween-self’s love of fictional heroines bravely battling illness, disability, or some other dramatic/tragic life event.

 

It’s really hard to stop at ten (or 10-ish, since I included extra horse books!).**

**I realize that I excluded Judy Blume’s books, which should certainly be on this list — but since I did a whole post about Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret last year (actually 2012), I figure I’m covered already.

What are your favorite books from childhood? If you did a TTT post this week, please share your link!

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