Saturday, June 16, 2018

Little Women on Masterpiece

Little Women on Masterpiece

This is a review of the recent small screen mini-series adaptation of Little Women starring Maya Hawke (daughter of one of my teen crushes Ethan Hawke-how can that be?!) as Jo, Willa Fitzgerald as Meg, Kathryn Newton as Amy, Annes Elwy as Beth, Jonah Hauer-King as Laurie, Emily Watson as Marmee, Dylan Baker as Father March. Also starring Angela Lansbury as Aunt March and Michael Gambon as Mr. Laurence

This wasn't a BAD production, it just wasn't quite as faithful a narrative as I had hoped. The cinematography was beautiful- almost too beautiful at times. The light shining in on Beth during her death scene was just way too annoyingly obvious. The scene is emotional enough to understand without being hit on the head. The sets are nice but not what I expected. Orchard House looks hardly anything like Orchard House. In fact the Alcotts lived at The Wayside, next door, when the story takes place so I'll give them a pass. The scenery is very pretty but not New England. It looks too stylized and computerized. 19th-century Concord looks nothing like real Concord. I know Concord better than I know my hometown and I know there are many 19th-century buildings still standing on Main Street and the center of town that are easily identifiable. I wanted to walk with Jo down streets I know well and see buildings I know. I suppose that's a minor quibble no one but a local would complain about. 

One MAJOR MAJOR MAJOR historical error occurs near the end. Jo refers to the editor of Godey's Lady's Book as a HE. The editor was still Sarah Josepha Hale, the woman responsible for "Mary Had a Little Lamb" and Thanksgiving. I'm positive Jo would know that! How could she not admire a career woman and a fellow writer even if Hale was a widow? Also under the historical accuracy note: The costumes are lovely but maybe a bit off here and there in the collar, necklines and droop of the shoulders. Perhaps on purpose to show the March family isn't wealthy because the more expensive clothing is well done. Amy on the balcony in France looks like she stepped out of Renoir's famous painting! I thought there was just a wee but too much of the unmentionables showing. Concord society would be horrified. As a historian though I DID really appreciate the costume designer showing off that period correct underwear. It looked well-done so why not show modern people what women had to wear? It sets the stage for the reform dress movement that Louisa writes about in Rose in Bloom. 

What this production did differently that I did enjoy was set the story in the correct setting. It's set during the Civil War and the famous scene with Marmee reading Father's letter to the "little women" shows Mr. March off at war. It's incorrect that he's administering to a member of the U.S. Colored Troops at this time and historians are sure to call that blunder but I liked the juxtaposition of the cozy homefront and the reality of the war. It makes Father's letter that much more poignant. I also loved the scene when John Brooke marches away to war and the Marches are standing around the piano singing a lovely ballad. That was very effective in conveying the feelings of watching a loved one go off possibly never to return. 

The acting was so-so. Emily Watson was great as Marmee, trying to hold her family together in difficult times. She's not saintly and perfect. She's a real woman trying to raise four adolescent girls alone and sometimes her temper frays and pops out a bit. She's very loving and kind though but some of her guidance is lacking. Her emotion when she learned Beth's secret was heartbreaking. I also liked Dylan Baker as Father. Father March is witty and a bit sarcastic. I chuckled at a few of his lines. He's kind and loving but not too indulgent. Marmee is still the main parent in this production. Mr. March mainly appears at the end of the novel (In Good Wives) and that part of the story was so rushed the actor barely got a chance to develop the character. The sisters had good chemistry. Their acting talents vary widely. Kathryn Newton was excellent as Amy. She was exactly how I imagine Amy-spoiled, snobby, selfish and wanting to be older than she is. Some may argue that she doesn't look 12 but I've seen 12 year old girls that look full grown and adults who look 12. The actresses not appearing in age order didn't bother me. My younger sister and younger cousin both look older than me. 

The weak links were sadly Maya Hawke as Jo and Jonah Hauer-King as Laurie. Maya just didn't have enough punch to be a correct Jo. Much of this was due to the limited material. I didn't buy her as a 19th-century young woman struggling to hold on to her childhood in order to resist change, including the gender norms of the day. Maya's Jo is free spirited and wild but I don't think Maya's delivery really conveyed that. She does have great chemistry with Jonah though. Jo and Laurie remind me so much of Anne Shirley and Gilbert Blythe that it makes me wonder how much Lucy Maud Montgomery was inspired by and disappointed in Little Women! Laurie was absolutely dreadful. His line delivery is wooden, his accent changes and he's not the fun, playful boy who becomes the March boy. His romance with Amy is made sweet and romantic to be believable for a modern audience who knows the only reason he married Amy is because she was the only available March sister. Amy marries him for comfort and security and they understand each other's superficiality. This production cuts out the reasons for them getting together-he gives her a hard time about her flirting too much in Europe and she gives him a hard time about being lazy. He runs off to work hard to be worthy of her. This was all glossed over in favor of a sweet little romance. 

The other two sisters were nice. I liked sweet Meg and gentle Beth but I don't think Beth's kindness or unselfishness was really fully conveyed. It's so hard to judge acting when the script is lacking. I think both young actresses did a fine job.

Angela Lansbury is one of the finest English/American actresses ever and she shines here as Aunt March. This is the first time I've seen the similarities between Aunt March and her namesake Jo! They're both stubborn and feisty, independent women in their own ways. The pet parrot is hysterical! Michael Gambon doesn't have much to do here. My favorite role of his was in Elizabeth Gaskell's "Wives and Daughters" and here Mr. Laurence is a very similar character to Squire Hamley. His stubborn pride nearly costs him his family. It takes the warmth and kindness of the March family to thaw old Mr. Laurence and show he has a heart after all. I didn't agree with the choice to not bring up Laurie's backstory and how Mr. Laurence became estranged from his only child. (See also "Wives and Daughters" on how NOT to be a parent of a stubborn adult child). is nice as Professor Baher. He looks too young to be the old man all readers make him out to be but I doubt Professor Baher actually is old-he just seems to be. 

The story cut out too many important bits. It focused on the sisters and their relationship with a little bit of emphasis on how Marmee raised her girls. While Marmee is shown giving books to the girls for Christmas, Pilgrim's Progress is cut out. I probably would have removed that too for a modern audience but it serves to showcase the March family values. Another important scene that is left out is when the girls prepare a Christmas surprise for Marmee. One other bit that I wish was left in to show the March family's beliefs is when the girls are left alone to play housekeeping and Jo makes a huge mess. I did like how Marmee has to explain to Jo how she keeps her temper. That's also important. More fun parts that were removed include Jo's play the girls perform at Christmas. This is so much fun and shows the personalities of the sisters very well and foreshadows the "blood and thunder" tales Jo will later write. The Pickwick Club was also cut out. Again this shows the reader the girls' personalities and introduces Laurie as one of them. The ending was way too rushed. I also didn't care for the modern sounding background music.

Final verdict: This was too slow to be appealing to younger viewers and cut out too many important parts but is overall enjoyable enough. 3 out of 5 stars *** 

Photos taken from The Internet Movie Database. Copyright belongs to PBS and BBC.

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Louisa May Alcott Summer Reading Challenge 2017

Louisa May Alcott Summer Reading Challenge

Hosted by In the Bookcase

Louisa May Alcott Reading Challenge

1. Daniel on the Run: Louisa, Will and the Underground Railroad (bottom) by Claiborne Dawes; illustrated by J. Stephen Moyer
2. Louisa May & Mr. Thoreau's Flute by Junie Dunlap & Marybeth Lorbiecki; illustrated by Mary Azarian (middle)
3. Norna Or, the Witch's Curse by Louisa May Alcott, edited by Juliet McMaster for Juvenilia Press (top)

Louisa May Alcott Summer Reading Challenge Reviews

Louisa May Alcott Reading Challenge

Norna Or, the Witch's Curse by Louisa May Alcott; edited by Juliet McMaster for Juvenilia Press

This is the play that "Jo" wrote. The March sisters perform a similar play at Christmas in the early pages of Little Women. In 1848 Louisa and her sister Anna collaborated to compose this bloodthirsty tale of yore about a wicked villain who stops at nothing to attempt the win the woman whose fortune he covets. A kindly witch steers the action in the right direction with her vengeful curse! The editors' notes explain when this was written, the history of publication (Anna Alcott Pratt oversaw the original publication as a companion to Little Women and the original manuscript is now missing). The textual notes explain the archaic language and the influences of Shakespeare, Sir Walter Scott, Charles Dickens and the other writers Louisa and Anna enjoyed. While Louisa liked the villains and heroes, Anna preferred the romantic bits and leading lady role.

This play was considered shocking at the time. It's very much over the top and bloody. The villain is absolutely wicked and remorseless. The hero is noble and kind and the heroine not too overly sweet and good. She knows her own mind and isn't too proud to show it. I can't say I liked the play. I'm too old for that kind of nonsense but as Anne Shirley would probably have loved it, I would have too in my youth. The student drawn illustrations are comical and add to the absurdity of the play. 

I recommend reading this play to see how Jo/Louisa's writing developed and if you're curious about that play in Little Women. It's a great addition to my library! Thank you to Juliet McMaster for providing me with the advance release flyer at the Jane Austen Society of North America Annual General Meeting in 2016. 

Louisa May & Mr. Thoreau's Flute by Julie Dunlap & Marybeth Lorbiecki; illustrated by Mary Azarian--picture book/early readers

In Concord, Massachusetts seven-year-old Louisa May Alcott is not quiet and obedient like her sisters. Her father tries and tries to teach her to be quiet, obey her parents and follow the rules. Louisa would rather jump from hay lofts and be wild and free outdoors. When she learns a neighbor, Mr. Thoreau, is leading the children on an outing to pick berries, Louisa begs to go.  Mr. Thoreau is odd but magical! He teaches the children about the beauty of nature and plays his flute. Louisa is enchanted by the unusual man. She senses a kindred spirit in him. Louisa wishes her words would come as easily as Mr. Thoreau's notes. Can she ever create something so beautiful?

This story may not be 100% true in facts but it is a good introduction to Louisa May Alcott. The spirit of the story is true even if the facts are not. Louisa was a wild, wilful girl who hated being forced into the narrow box prescribed for girls and women at that time. Mr. Thoreau was an odd duck who didn't fit in, much like Louisa. His teachings and his music inspire Louisa to become a better writer. This is a lovely message for children. I think nature loving niece and nephew will especially enjoy this book and niece who identifies with Jo March, will sense a kindred spirit in Louisa. I certainly did when I first read about her. This book also provides a great introduction to Henry David Thoreau though I think my nieces and nephews may have read the Henry bear series (by D.B. Johnson) based on Thoreau's life. It provided me with a better sense of who he was as a person. 

The woodcut illustrations are wonderful! An old-fashioned craft that gives both the old-fashioned feel but also the bold splash of color modern kids like. I like wild Louisa with her hair flowing and her ink blots. She reminds me of Laura Ingalls. The colors seem accurate for the period (I'm not seeing any wild colors that don't appear in nature) and show kids that old doesn't mean dull. 

Daniel on the RunDaniel on the Run by Claiborne Dawes, illustrated by J. Stephen Moyer--early middle grades historical fiction (grades 1-3)

It's the 1840s in Concord, Massachusetts and young Will Crawford likes to tease girls with frogs. The one girl who isn't creeped out is Louisa Alcott. Two years Will's senior, twelve-year-old Louisa is gutsy and strong. She's Ok for a girl. When Louisa shows Will the best berry patch, she loses Anna's good hat but finds a surprise- an enslaved boy running north to Canada. Can Louisa and Will help the boy on his journey?

As a realistic, historical factual event this incident never happened and the book is too much fiction for my personal taste. I find it highly doubtful that Louisa would identify herself and Will and share so much about the Underground Railroad. The broadside shown on the title page shows just why this would be detrimental to the abolition cause. Louisa's parents could be arrested and jailed. Anyone Louisa mentions or brings in to help could be arrested. The point of the Underground Railroad is that it operated in secret! The people, the signs, the signals, they're all secret! It was against the law to help a runaway slave and slave catchers could come and haul the enslaved person back in chains. People got scared, feared arrest and imprisonment so would turn on their neighbors if they had to. Louisa's parents were extraordinarily unusual in their attitudes and beliefs. They're way ahead of their time even today.

I didn't particularly care for the sketch style illustrations. I don't think Louisa looked like herself. We don't know what she looked like at 12 but I don't think this is an accurate representation. To quibble, I'd say she would wear her hair down or pulled back in braids and her skirt should be shorter because she's a child and not a grown woman. We know this from Little Women!

Now, evaluating the story from the perspective of my nieces who are just learning about the Underground Railroad, I think they will enjoy the story. They don't know much about Louisa and this is a good, brief introduction to her personality. Will is fictional and I don't really like him because he's kind of mean and a tease. Will learns a lot in a brief amount of time and I believe it will shape his character. I bought this mostly for my nieces and I will put it downstairs in my library for their little hands to grab and read. I hope it will later introduce my nephews to my hero.

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

In the Bookcase: A Literary Christmas Challenge 2017 Part VI

A Literary Christmas: 2017 Reading Challenge //

Epiphany with TeaEpiphany with Tea by Renata McMann--Austenesque Short Story

After 10 years of marriage, Mr. Darcy knows his Elizabeth very well and knows she is about to win this argument. Elizabeth wants to bring her late sister's child into their home. Mr. Darcy refuses to have the son of George Wickham in his home but as he reflects on the day Elizabeth agreed to become his wife, he realizes being with Elizabeth has changed him.

This is a Pride and Prejudice variation that deviates a LOT from the paths Jane Austen chose for her characters. I do not like that. The original works because of the way the story unfolds. However, the author seems like a skilled writer and if I ignore the characters as eponymous Jane Austen creations and just go with the flow, I really like the story! It's very sweet and charming. It's also very unrealistic given the time period. I know most readers just want the characters to talk about their feelings instead of a BIG MISUNDERSTANDING but in Jane Austen's day, ladies and gentlemen didn't discuss things like feelings, hence the plot of the original novel. Anyway, this is a sweet little short story that doesn't have anything to do with Christmas but is rather heartwarming just the same.

In the Bookcase: A Literary Christmas Challenge 2017 Part IV

A Literary Christmas: 2017 Reading Challenge //

A Regency Christmas IVA Regency Christmas IV by Mary Jo Putney, Sandra Heath, Mary Balogh, Marjorie Ferrell, Emma Lange

The Christmas Tart by Mary Jo Putney features a down-on-her-luck heroine and a nobleman with too many cares. When dressmaker Nicole Chambord is fired through no actual fault of her own, she’s kicked out on the streets on Christmas. With only a gaudy cloak and a few coins her in pocket, how will she survive? Sir Philip Selbourne has been working too hard since his father’s death. His friends decide he needs some Christmas cheer in the form of a woman warming his bed. When Nicole is propositioned by Philip’s friends, she weighs the offer. Can she go through with it? Philip wants nothing more than peace and quiet before he returns to work. When he finds a woman in his bed, the offer is tempting but is all what it seems?

The very beginning of this story sounded so familiar but none of the rest of it did! It was predictable but I liked it. Despite the premise, this is a clean story with only kisses and very mild sensuality. Philip is a saintly, swoony sort of hero. He loves his family and respects women. Nicole is admirable. I can’t imagine going through all the tough situations she’s been through in her life. She’s a very strong young woman and I really liked her.

In A Seasonal Stratagem by Sandra Heath, Leon, Earl of Holmwood, bets his friend he can seduce a kiss from the lovely Miss Rosalind Faraday, niece of a very respectable matron. The usual complications ensue. This story is pretty standard in the Regency canon. I’m not fond of heroes who try to seduce unsuspecting females –especially those who do it for a wager. Leon is no exception. The misunderstanding was typical and the ending predictable.

The Porcelain Madonna by Mary Balogh features a Christmas-hating hero, Darcy Austin (yes really, she went there), Earl of Kevern and a shabby genteel heroine, Julie Bevan. When the Earl spies the lovely young woman staring at the porcelain Madonna and Child figure in the window of the jewelers, he is enchanted. He is thrust into her company when he stops a young would-be pickpocket from stealing her reticule. Instead of allowing him to thrash the boy, Julie takes pity on the poor boy who surely must have a great need to steal. It is Charlie who continues to bring these lonely souls together again and again during the Christmas season. As they await a Christmas miracle, the Earl makes a startling discovery about himself.

This is by far the best story in the collection. It’s a real Christmas story about helping others, forgiveness and joy. There were lots of feels and I even teared up a little towards the end. I’m not sure about the historical accuracy of the figure and I really don’t think an Earl would do some of the things he does in the story, but it’s a sweet story. I really liked how the hero’s backstory wasn’t revealed until the end. I had already guessed what it must be but it still came as a revelation. This wounded gentleman captured my heart. Julie is an angel. She’s a little too saintly for my taste yet I did feel the same way she did about Charlie. She’s a Dickensian sort of heroine! This is a sweet, kisses only romance for Christmas.

The next story Christmas Rose by Marjorie Ferrell is a long tale about a couple who are unable to conceive and have grown apart. When Lord Holford returns home from Christmas revels, he discovers a woman leaving a basket on a doorstep. He is horrified to discover the basket contains a young baby! The mother claims she can’t keep the baby because her lover is on his way home from the Continent and she is desperate to keep him and his love. If he finds out there is a child, their relationship will be over. Lord Holford comes up with an ingenious plan, but will it work? His wife will need to think it was all her own idea if it is to succeed.

The first chapter was very sweet. Failure to conceive and adoption are not common subjects in Regency romances so it was refreshing to read about a different plot. However, the rest of the story derails from there. The misunderstanding is so annoying! Lady Lanford is an idiot. She obviously doesn’t know or trust her husband. They should just TALK to each other. He is a very nice gentleman and trying hard to please his wife. It breaks his heart that she is so depressed from her perceived inability to become pregnant. She repays his gift to her by behaving childishly and even her parents think she behaved badly. The story goes on too long and is too improbable. Give this one a miss if you don’t like silly wives and misunderstandings.

Warning: semi-graphic love scenes with the emphasis on how the characters feel.

The final story The Best Gift of All by Emma Lange seems to be based on Georgette Heyer’s A Civil Contract. (and shows why Georgette Heyer is the master of her craft). Newlyweds Philip and Megan Lindsay, Earl and Countess of Westphal have grown apart after only one week together. Philip resents his father and elder brother dying with deep debts that forced him to marry a cit’s daughter. While Philip has been with his mistress in London, Megan is back at the estate overseeing repairs. She both dreads and longs for her husband to return to her and to her bed. The memories of that week together make her blush furiously! When Philip returns, he brings a party of stranded travelers, including one who makes his family raise their eyebrows. He feels captivated by his fresh, youthful bride and knows he can easily seduce her. Is that enough?

UGH! I did not like this story. I hated this Philip. He’s a selfish, immature rat turd who doesn’t deserve a nice girl like Megan. I can see why he would fall in love with her but other than seeing him riding in the park, she doesn’t know him well enough to love him. Where Georgette Heyer paints a realistic portrait of a couple learning to live together and come together as a couple, this story features a randy hero and his equally lustful bride who continually think about going to bed together. That isn’t much to base a relationship on. I did enjoy the Christmas festivities and the lively, loving family but that was about all.

Warning: Graphic love scenes.

In the Bookcase A Literary Christmas Challenge 2017 Part III

A Literary Christmas: 2017 Reading Challenge //

Christmas Bells
Christmas Bells by Jennifer Chiaverini-- Historical Fiction/Contemporary Fiction/Contemporary Romance

In 1860, Henry Wordsworth Longfellow is more successful than ever. His poem about Paul Revere is about to be published and he delights in the comfort of his lovely home and family. His wife Fanny is the love of his life and his children, especially the little girls, are a delight. However, with the growing tensions over slavery and President Buchanan's inaction, the country may soon be headed to war. Henry fervently prays and hopes it will never come to that. Though he is an abolitionist, he is also a dedicated pacifist. As the world heads towards war, Henry's life will be shattered in more ways than one. As he plunges into depression, it seems nothing can bring him out-that is-until he hears the bells ringing on Christmas Day. In present day Massachusetts, Sophia is a public school music teacher in an underprivileged school. She is passionate about music and about helping children discover their own passion. Unfortunately budget cuts are looming and Sophia is about to be out of a job. She still has a position as choir director for St. Margaret's Catholic Church, which she loves. Lucas, the accompanist, is passionate about urban renewal and architectural design. His love brought him to St. Margaret's. He loves working with the kids, but mostly he loves being with Sophia. His love for her has endured years of friendship and relationship drama on both ends. His timing is always bad. He's worried she can never feel for him what he feels for her. Should he declare his feelings at last? Choirboy Alex Moran is thrilled to have a solo in the upcoming Christmas concert. If only his dad could see him sing. Mr. Moran is in Afghanistan and Alex misses his dad like crazy. The internet has been broken for a month and Alex hasn't spoken with his dad since before Thanksgiving. Alex's sister Charlotte, a brilliant straight-A student has her own worries. She worries about school and worries her mom is keeping secrets from her. Is the Army's internet really broken or did something happen to her dad? Laurie, Mrs. Moran, doesn't know what has happened to her husband. She fears the worst and can't bring herself to ruin the holiday season for the kids. Camille Barrett, wife of the late senator Paul Barrett knows how it feels to grieve a lost loved one. She was as devoted to her husband as her and they shared a passion for helping the people of Boston. Their shared passion for philanthropy and music led them to donate Paul's piano to the church. She loves to hear the children's choir singing and the piano playing. If only Paul were beside her still. Father Ryan is praying for his parishioners having a tough time this holiday season, especially Jason Moran. Jason is not just a parishioner, but Ryan's best friend from college. Will this holiday season be a happy one? Only Sister Winifred, who hears directly from God, believes it will be.

I have mixed feelings for this novel. The multiple points of view is a unique style that I haven't seen before, however, it bogs down the story and prevents the central plot from really shining. I didn't need to read backstories for the modern characters or know too many details about their problems. I wanted the story to focus on Sophia and Lucas and parallel Henry and Fanny's love story. I get that the story of the Morans loosely parallels the Longfellows as does the Barretts (more closely) and that's nice but unnecessary. There's just too much going on. The multiple points-of-view also make the story repetitive. We already know what happened so why repeat it? Why not pick up where the story left off? I expected the story to alternate between what drove Henry to write Christmas Bells and the modern love story. The conclusion to Sophia and Lucas' story and to Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's story were both unsatisfactory because it took so long to get there.

This author also has a problem with "telling". She starts off great in 1860, sharing lovely details about the Longfellow home in Cambridge and their lives there. There are moments of greatness in the beginning and middle but I skimmed a lot of the war news because that was too much telling. I did want to know what happened to the soldiers in the story and stayed up too late reading to find out. I ended up skipping to the end to try to find out.

I really like Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. I loved his poetry when I was growing up-(what New England kid doesn't know "The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere"?) -but didn't know a lot about him until I read Forever and Forever: The Courtship of Henry Longfellow and Fanny Appleton. Authors can draw on his journals and letters to make Henry come alive. He seemed to have been a kind and sensitive man who loved deeply and felt sorrow keenly. His love story is a true romance and a true tragedy. However, I felt Henry was a little overly sensitive and overprotective of his son. Having been a wannabe rebellious teen, I know how Charley felt and what he was going to do, even without consulting the historical record. Charley made some very valid points. I'm sure I would feel the same way as Henry though if I were a parent during the Civil War. The war was so horrendous I can't even imagine living through it.

The Longfellow family seemed like a charming, lively bunch. Fanny is portrayed as sensible but sweet and loving. I wonder how much time she actually spent with the children? Henry seems to have spent a lot of time with them but the story mentions the girls' governess frequently. My heart broke for Alice but I enjoyed learning more about what happened to her as an adult and I need to look her up. Annie's confession broke my heart and who knows what actually happened? I wonder if she had PTSD for the rest of her life?

The modern characters are hit or miss. There's only one chapter from Sophia's POV in the beginning. She seems like a modern day Fanny Longfellow-intelligent, kind and caring. Her feelings for Lucas seemed fairly obvious and since it's the 21st century, I don't know why she didn't talk to him about his feelings! He is a modern day Henry-sensitive, deeply caring and unsure of himself. I liked him a lot but again, I felt like he was ignoring the obvious and wringing his hands too much.

The story spends more time with the Morans. Alex is such a typical 10 year old boy. He has to be modeled after someone because he reminded me so much of my downstairs neighbor-also 10 with ADHD! The novelist never says Alex has ADHD but I'm betting he would be diagnosed with it in real life. Charlotte reminded me a lot of myself. I liked the siblings rivalry. It felt real to me. The lengthy backstory of Laurie and Jason is sweet but not at all necessary. He's a lot of fun and she's down-to-earth. I liked them but I didn't need to spend so much time with them to be eager to find out what happens to Jason!

I love Father Ryan! I never thought I'd say that about a priest, being a historian and feeling the same way as Liam. He's fun and lively and I get the sense he was a ladies' man in college. He is devoted to the community and helping the people. I did not need to read the theological debate about sports-boring and unnecessary to the overall plot! Who cares if God wants the Bruins or Penguins to win? (Go Bruins, obviously!) Also not necessary was his family drama.

Camille and Paul's story is all telling and no showing aside from the scenes where she is going through his office. Stop right there! Call an archivist! Those papers belong in the state archive! The details were wonderful and I felt Camille's grief. She serves as a catalyst for the final action but is otherwise not important to the plot. Paul, while a wonderful man and a uniquely caring politician, was also not needed. The piano was donated by a local son made good is enough.

I don't regret reading this novel but it was long and rambling. Tightened up and without the obvious deus ex machina, it would be a better story.

I wish I had an audio of this story. The Madison Children's Choir that inspired the novel doesn't have a video of them singing this song online. I found some but they weren't quite as described in the novel.

Thursday, December 21, 2017

In the Bookcase A Literary Christmas Challenge 2017 Part II

 A Literary Christmas: 2017 Reading Challenge //

Mrs. Jeffries and the Three Wise Women (Mrs. Jeffries #36)Mrs. Jeffries and the Three Wise Women by Emily Brightwell--historical cozy mystery

Abigail Chase is furious with her husband's business associate Christopher Gilhaney for ruining her Guy Fawkes Night dinner party. He managed to insult every single one of her guests, all of whom left very early. As Gilhaney walks home through the mews he hears the noise of the fireworks and worries about drunken revelers. Little does he know he has a bigger problem! A mysterious masked person manages to shoot the cautious and street-wise Gilhaney through the heart! Inspector Nivens manages to convince Chief Inspector Barrows that the killing was a simple robbery gone wrong and he'll be able to solve the mystery in no time. Unfortunately for Nivens, it's not so simple and with the Home Office pressuring the police to solve the murder, Nivens is taken off the case. Witherspoon is now on the case. Witherspoon and the servants are upset their Christmas plans are about to be ruined. Mrs. Goodge, Luty Belle and Lady Canonberry notice no one else's hearts seem to be in the case. They can't let Inspector Witherspoon down. He doesn't deserve a black mark on his record despite the incompetence of Inspector Nivens. Can they convince everyone else to put aside their own selfish desires and help their dear Inspector crack the case?

I am so amazed at the author's ability to keep this series fresh. This mystery was so complicated and had so many suspects, I never figured out who the actual killer was. I was on the right track as to why but who could have been anyone. It did seem obvious in hindsight but it took Mrs. Jeffries quite a long time to get there! My big complaint with this novel is the length. There's a little too much of nothing to report and a bit too much repetition.

As always, the characters are a delight. I love Mrs. Goodge and her network of sources. They're very colorful. Luty Belle the stereotype annoys me but she has a heart of gold and I can't help but enjoy her. Lady Canonberry is so admirable. I liked what she said about fighting for what she believes in and I love how her relationship with Inspector Witherspoon is moving forward. They're very sweet together. The rest of the characters are annoying-on purpose. They behave selfishly, which is understandable, but as they are reminded-justice doesn't take a holiday. They do owe Witherspoon for their positions and for the kindness he gives them! HE doesn't want to work over Christmas any more than they do. I am impressed with the Inspector. He has come a long way in this series. He's more shrewd and less naive than he was when he started though still oblivious to the help he's given! I think even without the help, he could have figured it out eventually.

New characters are numerous. Let's start with the victim-Christopher Gilhaney. He seems like a very unpleasant, unlikable sort of man in the beginning. Then the reports about him get conflicting. He sounds like a complicated person. I admire him for his good qualities and how he was able to overcome his childhood circumstances. The Chases seem like a typical upper class married couple. They tolerate each other -he with good humor for the most part. She seems a bit irritating and bullying though. Mr. and Mrs. Bruce, on the other hand, barely tolerate each other. He married her for her money and their relationship shows just how that works out! I found them a bit over-the-top and unrealistic though, like characters in a movie. Miss Holter came as a bit of a surprise. She seems to be a soul sister of Miss Havisham! Mr. Webster was also a surprise. I suspected something different about him. Mr. Newton seems a bit too kind and conscientious to be realistic for the time. I'm not sure what to make of him, if he is a villain or not. The others are rather forgettable and I kept getting confused as to who was who.

If you like this series, you will enjoy this book a lot. If you're just beginning the series, this book works fine as a stand alone, though I would backtrack several books and not start here. Overall, a fun holiday read.