Sarah Miller brings the wise, patient mother of Little Women to vibrant, complicated life in Marmee, her fourth historical novel. As the Civil War rages, Margaret March must care for her four daughters while her husband, Amos, serves as an army chaplain. The novel opens with one of many scenes familiar to readers of Little Women, the March girls giving up their Christmas breakfast to feed a destitute German family. Miller's first-person narration adds a new layer: Marmee's deep conflict about asking her daughters to go without, even while she longed to help those less fortunate than her own family.
Miller (Violet and Daisy; Caroline; The Borden Murders) ably explores Margaret's inner struggles: her efforts to tame her temper; her mixed pride in and frustration with her girls; and her affection and worry for her husband, mingled with exasperation at his lack of concern for money. Readers see much of Margaret's work at the local charity rooms, as well as her relationship with their housekeeper, Hannah, and the guilt she harbors about a past incident that cost the March family their fortune. Miller balances these new additions with the familiar beats of Alcott's classic novel: Jo's writing "vortexes" and publishing journey; Beth's love for music and eventual illness; Amy's artistic aspirations; Meg's journey to marriage and motherhood; and the presence of Laurie, who becomes a surrogate brother and son. The result is a loving, dynamic portrait of a woman to be reckoned with, who balances deep care for her family with her own fierce desires to be heard, respected and loved. --Katie Noah Gibson, blogger at Cakes, Tea and Dreams