Tuesday, June 8, 2021

Louisa May Alcott Summer Reading Challenge Week 1

Louisa May Alcott Reading Challenge

Little Witches: Magic in Concord by Leigh Dragoon--Graphic novel for tweens/Middle Grades Historical Fantasy

Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy March are little witches living in Concord, Massachusetts with their mother. Father is far away healing people wounded in the Civil War. The girls push on with their household chores as Marmee wishes them to, while Aunt Josephine March complains about everything they do. When Mr. Laurence, a former enslaved man and witchfinder moves in next door, the girls are nervous but Jo soon befriends his grandson Laurie and old Mr. Laurence assures the Marches he's more interested in Confederate mages than hedge witches. When things, and later people, start disappearing in Concord, the Marches are to blame. With Marmee away, it's up to Meg to decide what to do. She thinks the problem is too big for the girls to solve on their own and they should wait for Mr. Laurence but when the situation becomes more fraught with difficulties, headstrong Jo takes the lead. Can they figure out what is going on and save the day on their own?

My 12-year-old niece just got this book and recognized it as an adaptation of Little Women. She knows I'm a Louisa May Alcott fangirl and Little Women is very near and dear to my heart. She was eager for me to read this book RIGHT NOW. At 12, I know she won't be interested in talking to me for much longer so I agreed to borrow the book and read it. I did not expect to like it, the original novel is an old friend I can quote from by heart and I've seen and disliked all the adaptations. To humor my niece I kept an open mind and I'm glad I did! The author is as much a devoted fan of the original novel and LMA as I am! I feel like she is a kindred spirit. I could easily tell how well she knew the novel AND the time period. I appreciated that a lot.

The first half of the book was more enjoyable for me. I really liked the nods to the original novel and the incorporation of Alcott family history. I smiled when I saw the apple tree, knowing, as the author does, the Alcotts had an apple orchard behind Orchard House, hence the name, as Bronson believed apples were the most perfect food. Having the Marches in this novel have a magically enhanced apple tree was a charming nod to the Alcott family. This half of the book includes a letter from Father, Jo writing and the introduction of the Laurences. Old Mr. Laurence is clearly based on Frederick Douglass who did indeed make quite a bit of money lecturing and writing Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass and My Bondage and My Freedom. I don't believe the Alcotts and Douglass knew each other but they did sort of run in the same antislavery and women's rights circles. Father March was forced to close his parlor school because he allowed in a Black student, just like Mr. Alcott. I also picked up on the fact this author has given Father the name Robin, which it very well COULD be because we know Jo's son is Rob after his grandfather! Mrs. March visits the Hummels but nothing about the baby being sick. I love the little nods that show the writer knows her stuff! Because I know the Alcotts and Transcendentalism, I understood the references in this book but I think for younger readers or those who haven't read the novel in some time, a bit of explanation is needed.

The witchcraft world building isn't as strong as I would like it. Why does Marmee only want the girls to learn hedgewitch magic like knitting, gardening, household chores and women's work? That is absolutely NOT what Abigail Alcott wanted for her children and I don't think Marmee does either. Being a Transcendentalist doesn't mean NOT changing the world! Mrs. Alcott was eager to vote and hoped she would be able to in her lifetime. Louisa was for reforms of all kinds.

In the world of this novel, Meg keeps knitting and for some reason knitting is magical and she isn't very good at it. What does what mean, exactly and why? Meg worries a lot. She stays home and doesn't work as a governess for the Kings. There's no John Brooke in sight to flirt with and she doesn't envy the girls in her old social circle. She's lost the essence of who she is in this translation.
Jo isn't so much of a writer but she's strong-willed, a leader and DETERMINED. Jo wants to be DOING something to help her family and in this case, that means witchcraft. Aunt March (ah the author missed a detail-she's Father's AUNT, not sister), is more likable here. She tells it like it is and sometimes she's a little harsh. She disapproves of what Marmee teaches the girls for good reason because surprise! Aunt March is like a magical epidemiologist trying to research and figure out how to save the world from things like the Black Plague. That's super awesome and totally badass of Aunt March! In this version of the story, Jo doesn't go read to Aunt March. The timeline is sped up and Amy becomes Aunt March's beneficiary very early in the story. The reason is, Jo is set in her habits and too old to train. Amy is young and still teachable.

Beth is super sweet and has an affinity for animals but she isn't all that shy. She says Mr. Laurence will let her play his piano but she doesn't ever go and play. Her illness comes from a surprising source having to do with the magical plot. I was surprised and not too thrilled. Yes we all cried when Beth was sick and later when Beth died but she kind of has to die because Lizzie Alcott died. Wouldn't it have made more sense for Amy to try to figure out what was wrong and try to cure Beth? Instead, there's a wild plot that seems disconnected from the rest of the story. It involves magic and the disappearances in Concord. Apparently Beth can not DO magic but she can repel it? This needs some clarification.

Amy is a little more likable here too. She's young and silly sometimes. I LOVE the inclusion of her malapropisms, it's my favorite part of her character in the novel and usually gets cut out of adaptations. She's not as bratty or as snooty. Mr. Davies was totally wrong to punish Amy and not the Snow girl. The other girl was bullying Amy first! OK so Amy wasn't supposed to be hiding pickled limes in her desk but she wasn't abusing her powers, she was a young girl trying to keep from getting into trouble at school. She didn't really know what was going to happen and what did happen was harmless. The OTHER girl should have been punished for being mean to Amy. Mr. Davies turns out to be a real surprise. I wasn't expecting him to be a fleshed out character. In trying to correct other people's behavior, he does the one thing he truly hates. I feel almost bad for him.

The startling magical conclusion needs a LOT more explanation. I don't understand what happened and why, except they all combined their talents to work together. The magical element needs more fleshing out-what, why, how? It kept me up late reading though.

Another casualty of this type of storytelling is Jo and Laurie's friendship. I don't get the closeness that's in the original and how Jo wants to be a boy, free of the restrictions placed on girls. While this avoids the problem of his proposal, that's part of the charm of the original novel. Who doesn't love Laurie?

Also included is a bonus short story. It's simple and cute. Like Beth, I love animals and don't regard common garden pests as bad. However, if I had to rely on a garden for food, I'm sure I would feel differently.

The illustrations in this graphic novel are dreadful. If it's set during the Civil War, why are the girls wearing turtleneck sweaters and long skirts? Where are the iconic wide skirts and sleeves? Bonnets? Gloves? Some of the men are shown wearing old-fashioned queues (ponytails or braids). That's not correct for the 1860s either. The shopkeeper and some of the people in the background look more accurate. The neutral color palette doesn't do anything for me. I did like seeing Orchard House even though the Alcotts didn't live there at the time the story takes place. I also liked the train station which is still there. None of the shops looked familiar. I know the town so well so I would have included the familiar buildings as they looked in the 1860s.

With a little more fleshing out, this novel could be truly a great adaptation for tween/young teen girls who just can't slog through all 600 pages of the original and prefer a little more excitement in their plots.

Louisa May Alcott in June Reading Challenge


Louisa May Alcott Reading Challenge

It's that time of year again! Thank you Tarissa for hosting this fun challenge. 

  1. Little Witches: Magic in Concord by Leigh Dragoon
  2. Jo: A Graphic Novel by Kathleen Gros
  3. Meg & Jo by Virginia Kantra (Maybe)
  4. Only Gossip Prospers by Lorraine Tosiello (maybe)

Sunday, December 27, 2020

What to Read While Stuck at Home This Winter

 We're still social distancing so better make the best of it and pick up a good book! This one will be released on Dec. 29th

To Fetch a Felon (A Chatty Corgi Mystery #1)
To Fetch a Felon by Jennifer Hawkins--Cozy Mystery

I received an e-ARC from Crooked Lane Books through NetGalley. The opinions expressed in this review are my own and not affected by the giveaway.

Emma Reed and her Corgi Oliver are exploring the charming Cornish village of Trevena where they hope to make their home. Emma has dreams of opening her own tea shop and Oliver is eager to chase foxes away from his special human. Emma does not expect to encounter the village crank, Victoria Roberts, a woman who does NOT like dogs and owns half the village, including Penhallow's, the old tea shop Emma hopes to reopen. She worries Victoria won't let her rent Penhallow's. Emma decides to bring over a peace offering of scones to discuss renting the shop but when she arrives, she discovers Victoria lying dead on the floor. Oliver suspects something unnatural killed Victoria but being canine, he can't express what is is in human terms. Some kind of flowers in the tea? The village is abuzz with gossip about Victoria's death. Who DIDN'T want to kill her, aside from her friend Louise? Another visitor, Parker Taite, a writer, encourages Emma to investigate, believing real estate agent Maggie Trenwith killed Victoria to get her hands on Victoria's land to sell to developers. Emma isn't sure she trusts Parker but she knows she's in a unique position to gossip with the locals and uncover information DCI Brent can't, as competent as she is. With Oliver at her side to make friends and sniff out clues, can she solve the mystery before her dreams crumble like overbaked scones?

I really, really liked this book. It ticks most of the boxes for me: dogs, English village and baking! There's actually even a historical mystery to solve but it's too recent for my interests or else this would tick all the boxes. Trevana is charming but once all was revealed, I found the village full of dark, sad secrets and maybe not so charming. I loved traveling to Cornwall though, I place I fell in love with through the The Poldark Saga. Here we see modern Cornwall, still stuck in time very much as it was way back when, just after the Poldark times. There's a high street, a fish and chips shop, a B&B, a vintage home furnishings store, a closed tea room and friendly people, aside from one. There are also two cute dogs and some yummy treats!

The mystery is very good. The suspect pool is limited but I didn't guess whodunit. I did sort of suspect the first part but not the second. It was very heartbreaking. The writing style is lively and engaging. Non-crazy dog ladies might not enjoy the chapters from Oliver's point-of-view. At first even I thought it was weird but I quickly fell in love with this unique way of telling a story. I noticed only a few errors in the ARC I hope are corrected before the paperback hits the market in a month. All were in the second half of the book. The only real problem I had with this novel is that it's too long for a cozy and too repetitive. If it can be trimmed (Emma's parts), it would be a 4.5 star read from me. Not 5 because of the big reveal.

The characters are so well-developed, they fully come alive to me. Emma, a 45-year-old finance sector veteran, is a little older than I normally like my heroines, but she seems younger. Her age isn't relevant to the story, just her experience working as a banker. It made her wise but wore her down. I absolutely ADORE her unique relationship with her Corgi pup Oliver. Oliver is absolutely adorable. He's super loyal to Emma and sees it as his duty to guard her and protect her. He doesn't ever WANT to leave her but sometimes he can't help but chase a fox- you know, just to scare it away from his Emma. Emma can speak to Oliver- literally. She hears his thoughts in English and he understands everything she says back. What I found enjoyable about this concept is that unlike the other novels I've read, the dog speaks dog and not human. Oliver reports his impressions from scents. Names of people and things are not important. Emma doesn't always know what he means because of the way they communicate. The house smells like flowers. bad. wrong. It's up to Emma to interpret what that means. Oliver is just too darn adorable. Emma does know when he wants more sausages or to visit the fish and chips shop. He may speak doggie English but anyone who is owned by a canine know their stomachs speak louder than words LOL! Oliver is a true Watson to Emma's Sherlock.

Victoria Roberts was the village crank but she had a heart of pure gold when it came to those she loved and cared about. Victoria wanted to keep the village pristine and untouched by modern life (I believe they have wifi though and cell towers). She owns half the village to keep it the way she likes it-free of tourists and developers. I understand that feeling and I'm not sure the development deal is a good one but the village already has one closed shop, how long before others follow? How long before Trevana gets left behind and the young people move to more touristy areas or the cities where the jobs are? Victoria was a complicated character and in many ways I feel sorry for her. In other ways, I don't.

Maggie Trenwith (love the name, wink wink), the real estate agent, is fierce. She's determined to get what she wants and won't let anyone or anything stand in her way. She can be ruthless. Her charm seems fake and turned on to land a commission. I don't know if I trust her. I don't think she'd stoop to murder but maybe? Like Maggie, Parker Taite is not always likable. I didn't like him or trust him from the start. However, Oliver seems to like him, so... maybe he's OK? I think his ethics are shady and perhaps his morals as well. I liked him for murderer until... well, it seemed like he wasn't. I think he came to Trevana to cause trouble.

Louise Craddock, Victoria's best friend, is a nervous type. Victoria was certainly the alpha in the relationship, but I assume Louise was content to leave it that way. I think Louise cared about Victoria and what Victoria thought was right. Without Victoria she has to make her own decisions. Did she kill her friend to inherit the land to sell to developers? I don't think she has it in her to murder someone but I think she knows more than she lets on. Victoria's nephew, Jimmy, seems to know what happened. He made a mistake and is paying for it. As a result, he needs money. Could he have murdered his aunt to inherit? I believe he poisoned his aunt to put her out of commission for awhile so he could take over her business deals and sell to the developer. Unlike his aunt, he likes dogs and is kind to Oliver. I don't think Jimmy killed his aunt on purpose.

Oliver makes a new friend too, Percy, the Yorkshire Terrier, who is staying with Parker Taite. Percy is a Houdini. He likes to run away and explore and play. He's like a toddler. I don't like Oliver's attitude towards Percy. I happen to love terriers for their terriertude and their selective hearing. Yorkies aren't real terriers though. They've been bred down to be companions more than working dogs, as Percy is supposed to be. I think Percy's problem is his human is away and his human's brother has no idea what to do with him or any interest in him at all. Percy has a huge role to play at the end of the story though.

Ruth, Louise and Victoria's best friend, no longer lives in the village. She lives in a care home. Why? She's only about my mom's age~ 70ish. That's not old enough to be in a nursing home in a wheelchair. Ruth's childhood was utterly heartbreaking and sadly, rather common. What on earth was wrong with people back then?! I don't get it. Her father was despicable and should have been in jail. No wonder no one missed him when he disappeared. The secondary mystery revolves around him.

Emma's first friend in the village, Genny Knowles, owner of the fish and chips shop, is a huge gossip. I can't stand that normally but Genny is friendly and fun. She appreciates the village as is but knows the tourists bring in business. She can take or leave the development. Genny also knows a good thing when she eats it and encourages Emma's dreams. I think Genny can be a bit mischievous but a good friend to have around. Angelique, the B&B owner, is a motherly figure who cares about her guests. She's kind and supportive of Emma and good to Oliver. Her daughter, Pearl, has some big ideas that could help Trevana stay relevant with the B&B at the center. I'm not sure I like her ideas. They make sense but she moves FAST and I'm not sure everyone else is ready to keep up. Other quirky villagers include PC Patel, a kind young man who grew up in the village. His family is a bit eccentric but proud of him. He seems extremely sympathetic for a cop. DCI Constance Brent, a female detective, is wonderful. She's intelligent and seems to know more than she lets on. She's very sweet with Oliver and according to Oliver, she has dogs of her own. She's firm with Emma but not mean and for a change, doesn't think Emma is the killer. Ben, the taxi driver, is friendly and Emma seems to be developing a crush on him. Only time will tell if he will reciprocate.

I highly recommend this book to dog lovers and English village cozy mystery lovers. Baking mystery fans will enjoy it too. MOSTLY recommended though for crazy dog people, like myself. You do have to suspend some disbelief but the dog stuff is cute and fun. I can't wait to read more about Emma and Oliver's adventures in Cornwall! I need some recipes, too, in the completed paperback edition, thank you!

Written by Darcie Wilde/Sarah Zettel, etc. Thank you to the publisher for suggesting the idea.
I can't wait to read book 2.

Thursday, December 17, 2020

What to Read While Social Distancing... Still

Murder in the Snow (A Lady Eleanor Swift Mystery #4)Murder in the Snow by Verity Bright-- Cozy Mystery --1920s

Thank you to NetGalley for a free advanced review copy of this book. All opinions expressed in the review are entirely my own and not affected by the giveaway.

It's Christmas and Lady Eleanor Swift is excited and nervous about hosting the entire village and some of the next to a big 'do at her home. She is thankful for her small family of the ladies, Clifford and even naughty Gladstone to help see her through and share in the tidings of the season. Ellie even extends the invitation to curmudgeonly coal deliveryman Mr. Canning. He's surprised at the invitation. No one else has ever been kind to him. With the villagers drinking mead and enjoying the festivities, what can go wrong? Well, a sudden snow storm for starters and then a man dropping dead during the fun run. When Canning falls down during the run, Ellie tries to help but it's too late. The doctor isn't much help or sympathetic for Mr. Canning had a heart condition. Clifford fears Canning was murdered and in the same method as Ellie's uncle! Is the same person responsible? When the coroner dismisses Mr. Canning's death as an accidental overdose of digitalis, it's up to Ellie and Clifford to solve the mystery, if there is one.

This mystery didn't quite capture my attention. I figured out what happened right away. The villain was super obvious to anyone paying attention to who was where when. The motive, however, was a shock. I was surprised when Ellie didn't figure it out sooner. What I loved about this book is the charming Christmas celebration activities. I'm not sure about a fun run in 1920 but maybe? The internet says they started much later- in the 1970s and 80s. I also really loved the character development over the series and learning more about Uncle Byron and Clifford's secret past. I am not crazy about love triangles and I hope this one doesn't go on too long.

I have truly grown to know and love Ellie as the series has progressed. She's grown up a lot and come into her own. At first she had a chip on her shoulder and wanted to be anywhere except at the Manor. She was angry, fearful and ready to run but when she discovered a murder, she was persistent. Now Ellie has a home and a family she loves. She's endeared herself to many of the villagers in the area by her kindhearted and open approach to being lady of the manor. She's managed to understand their needs and institute some much needed reforms. What is really touching is Ellie's relationship with Clifford. He's more than a servant and more than a friend. Really, Clifford is a stand-in for the uncle she lost before she got to know him. Clifford sees Ellie as his to protect, picking up where her uncle left off, but I believe their relationship has grown in his heart as well and she's like a niece to him and not just someone to protect on behalf of her uncle. Clifford seems to care for Ellie for her own sake. I love his wry sense of humor and his devotion to Ellie's uncle. Ellie and Polly also have a special relationship. I love how Ellie educates the girl subtly, helping Polly grow in confidence. What happens to Polly here is terrible. It's obvious she's very young and not too bright. Ellie knows this and is sympathetic. She's willing to stand up for her friend. Trotters and Butters are charming but I get them confused. Hands-down, my very most favorite character is Gladstone! I kept squealing "He's SO CUUTTTEEE!!!!" throughout this whole novel. Yes he's naughty, but he's a spoiled dog. I like the naughty ones the best. Gladstone is more animated and shows more personality than he has ever before. I just want to sit next to him and rub his belly while he snores!

Mr. Canning is a curmudgeon, he's mean, nasty, selfish and doesn't give a care about anyone or what anyone else thinks. His actions in the past have been horrendous, yet he didn't deserve to be murdered. He's not quite a two-dimensional character. Something Ellie said resonated with him and made him pause to think. It also gave me an idea of what happened.

Constable Fry is a really nice man. He's kind and caring and does his job. Unlike the Inspector, he seems more open to possibilities. I also really liked Solemn Jon, the undertaker. He's just the opposite of his name and nothing bad affects him or his jolly mood. DCI Seldon is not the man for Ellie any more than Lancelot is. Seldon seems to care about her but he doesn't think outside the box, which is why she solves more murders than he does. He looks at the evidence but doesn't consider alternative solutions. He's too rigid and unbending for Ellie. Another character who appears in the story but isn't a suspect, is Mrs. Fontaine, Rev. Gaskell's housekeeper. She's hardworking and helpful. I think she seems dedicated to her employer. I think she knows more about Canning's past than she lets on though.

Main suspects include Dr. Browning, who is kind of cranky and reluctant to gossip. He has a past history with Canning that could have cost him his job. I'd say he's not the murderer. He's a doctor and he wasn't treating Mr. Canning at this point and if he was going to kill the man, why now? Rev. Gaskell, another nooo from me! Not the doctor or the reverend! I can't stand the idea of the most trusted people in the village being a murderer. Rev. Gaskell quotes from the Bible way too much for my liking. He seems kind but a bit absentminded. He isn't above losing his temper and it does seem like he could be guilty. Miss Moore, the florist, is a more likely suspect. A single mother, she's struggled her whole adult life since having her son Alvan. Her lover behaved abominably towards her and she's suffered for her actions. She has the motive and the means and was spotted around the victim at the time he would have ingested the poison. Her son Alvan is a more likely suspect. That man has a quick temper and spends a lot of time drinking. He seems kind of shady and up to something with the barmaid. Ellie's final suspect is a person unknown to her, a large, bearded man named Hubert Wraith who was seen arguing with Canning multiple times throughout the day he was killed. This man certainly could have been the murderer.

Returning characters include Lord and Lady Langham and Lancelot. I do not like Lancelot. He's still too childish for Ellie and as she notes, he doesn't understand why she was so offended by his behavior at the debate. His parents are nice but I think they wouldn't understand either. They spoil him. Their friends are also there at their New Year's party. The Dowager Countess is still nasty, Cora seems OK, Baron Ashley and his wife are sweet but the other couple are still sour. There wasn't much of them in this book. I liked seeing more of the villagers instead.

I look forward to another entry in this series. This series is perfect for Downton Abbey fans who also love cozy mysteries.

Movie Review : Enola Holmes

 Enola Holmes

(2020 Netflix, based on the books by Nancy Springer)

Starring: Millie Bobby Brown as Enola, Louis Partridge as Viscount Twekesbury,

Henry Cavill (aka Superman) as Sherlock Holmes, Sam Clafin as Mycroft; cameos by Helena Bonham Carter as Eudoria Holmes and a host of famous British actors

Enola Holmes, a spunky 16-year-old-girl was not raised like other girls in 1884. With her father dead and her older brothers living adult lives (her second brother is the famous detective), it was just Enola and her mother. Enola was educated in unconventional subjects. She's read every book in the Ferndell library, practiced archery, tennis and Jiu Jitsu and learned to solve word games. When her mother disappears on her 16th birthday, Enola is devastated. She asks her brothers to come home to help her find her mother but instead of helping, her guardian, Mycroft, tries to send her to a strict boarding school for young ladies (run by Harry Potter's Aunt Petunia). Enola is aghast and devastated at the loss of her freedom and determined not to put up with it so she escapes in Sherlock's old clothes and heads off to find her mother. Her adventure brings her into contact with the young Marquess of Twekesbury. He, too, is running away from home. They disappear in London separately, but when it becomes clear someone is trying to kill Twekesbury, Enola must put her skills to the test if she's going to save herself and her friend. 

This is such a fun movie! While there are numerous historical and logistical errors, I watched the movie to evaluate it from the perspective of an aunt of tween girls. Would they love the story about a gutsy, plucky, smart, brave teenage girl- excuse me, lady detective. I would have absolutely adored this story when I was much younger. I hope they do too.

The plot is ridiculous. It apparently centers around the Reform Bill of 1884 with a side order of women's suffrage. The mystery seems fairly easy to figure out, until the twist. The villain is a real villain with no shades of gray and definitely not a Disney-fied villain turned hero. The mystery is more of a subplot to the real story of a young woman's coming of age and coming into her own. Those are the stories I always loved reading as a girl. The end of the movie suddenly gets very, very dark and intense. I didn't like that and was surprised at how intense it was for a movie aimed at 12/13-year-olds. My mom HATED the reveal! I do love the wordplay games in the story and how Enola uses wordplay to send a coded message to her mother. That's very clever and ensures no one else can intercept the message.

Enola is a great heroine in the tradition of lady detectives like Miss Fisher and Amelia Peabody but for tween girls. Enola is 14 in the books and 16 in the movie. Enola isn't a perfect person. She's young and often makes mistakes. Enola runs away from home, which you should totally not do- unless your sexist brother tries to put you in a strict reform school for unconventional girls who try to defy gender norms, of course. (See also, madhouse). She has to decide between doing the right thing vs. doing what she wants. I couldn't help but like this character though. She had the incredible unconventional upbringing I would dream of if I were a Victorian girl. It's difficult for her though being a smart woman in a man's world. Her brothers don't understand her, not even Sherlock. 

Tweens and teens can relate to feeling like their families don't understand them. In Enola's case though, they really don't. Mycroft is a sexist bully and a prig who can't even be bothered to offer any comfort to his little sister who is confused and upset. She may be 16 but she's still a child. So Enola must take matters into her own hands. She's gutsy and her unconventional knowledge helps save her life. 

Tweksbury is less appealing, probably on purpose. To be fair, he was raised in the lap of luxury, spoiled and allowed to study the natural world with his father. He even has his own treehouse with a library! Why should he know someone is trying to kill him and how to save his own life? He's rather whiny and ungrateful at the beginning of the movie but later on he comes through for Enola and I liked him better. 

The adults all appear as secondary to the teens. The adults are there to thwart the teens or to lightly help them on their journey. Particularly memorable is Lestrade, a detective friend of Sherlock's, or is he? Then there's Miss Harrison, the boarding school headmistress. She strongly resembles Harry Potter's Aunt Petunia Dursley or even Dolores Umbridge. She's about punishment and correction. She forces Enola to fit the prescribed feminine mold, turning the students into mini Victorian Stepford wives. Miss Harrison also seems motived because she has a crush on Mycroft, who we have established is a sexist prig. One adult is an actual assassin the teenage heroine must fight off. A helpful adult would have been nice but this movie is for and about young girls from the perspective of a young girl. The generation of girls raised with the attitude that girls can do anything will appreciate this aspect of the story better than adults.

Tweksbury's family is pretty conventional. A Marquess would never be sent off to India to the army. He would take his seat in the House of Lords. However, this Marquess is under age so that plot doesn't make sense. Ignoring that, it seems obvious his uncle wants to kill him and inherit the lot. Sherlock isn't all that sensitive to Enola's drama. He's properly analytical and detached from most of his emotions. I think he does care for his little sister but doesn't want to get involved in his brother's business. I don't know much about Sherlock Holmes so I can't comment whether his character is true to what Conan Doyle intended. Mrs. Lane, the Holmes family housekeeper, is the only one who loves Enola and is concerned for her welfare. Edith, the tea shop owner and secret Jiu Jitsu expert, is both a help and not much help for Enola. She evaluates Enola's readiness for self-defense and clues Enola in as to why her mother disappeared. I found it especially interesting that this woman is a woman of color in 19th-century London. It seems plausible but I'm not sure how accurate it would be for her to be a tea shop owner and suffragette. 

The acting in this production is not super great. I recognize most of the adults from other period dramas and they're all great as usual. The children are less so. I think Millie Bobby Brown overacted a bit, especially when breaking the 4th wall and addressing the audience. However, she's energetic and perky, making Enola a fun character. She does an incredible job with the physical challenges of playing this character. Louis Partridge played his part satisfactorily but I can't rave about his performance. 

The costumes are not super accurate for 1884 but give an idea of the stuffy, fussy dresses women were forced to wear. Enola even asks for a whalebone corset, indicating the torture women had to put up with in the 1880s. (It should be steel bone. Steel boning was more common in the 1880s AND the boning can be used as a weapon or the boning channels to hide a knife.) The dress Enola chooses looks more like something an actress or less respectable woman would wear. I think that's the point. She's hiding from her brother and he would never think to look for a lady attired in such a dress.

I need to watch this again with my nieces to really get a true idea of how this is reaching the target audience! Update: Niece #2 (age 10 1/2) recommend this to ME! She said I would really like it because of the suffragette plot. I told her I saw it and loved it! From the perspective of a tween girl, this movie is really amazing. Enola is an intelligent sleuth and an action hero for tween girls. If she serves as a role model for my nieces and they learn a little something about history, even if the timeline is off by decades, I'm good with that. My inner 12-year-old loved it anyway.

Watch on Netflix: https://www.netflix.com/title/81277950

all pictures copyright Legendary Pictures. Images used for illustrative purposes only. No copyright infringement intended.

Monday, September 7, 2020

What to Read While Social Distancing? : A Special Post 2

 Forget Me Not (The Gents #1)Forget Me Not by Sarah M. Eden-- Georgian Romance

Thank you to NetGalley and Covenant Communications for a free advanced copy of this book. Opinions stated in this review are entirely my own.

Katie Jackson's review on AustenProse is pretty much perfect, but I promised to review this book so here it goes:

After losing his siblings and childhood playmates, Lord Lucas Jonquil decides it's time to live his own life. He heads off to Brier Hill, his estate, to get settled and then he's off on adventures living life to the fullest. His little playmate, Julia Cummings, is heartbroken - again- at yet another loss. Her mother, twin sister and two childhood friends are already gone and her older brother is fighting against the rebels in America. When her best friend decides to up and leave without telling her, the loss seems unendurable. He promises he'll be back to visit soon but eight years go by without Julia ever seeing Lucas again. Now she's a young lady who prefers the quiet solitude of home, reading and studying to the childish romps and games they used to play. It's safer that way. Lucas has been off mountain climbing and having adventures, living life to the fullest. He can't wait to be off on his next trip. Lucas and Julia are both stunned when their parents publicly announce the old friends are to be wed in a week's time. This is news to the not-so-happy couple! Julia resents being forced into an unwanted marriage and Lucas feels trapped. Can these two make it work? It doesn't seem like it and they may need some divine intervention to help. Enter Lucas's best friends, known as "The Gents," a lively band of brothers who are determined to help fix their friend's broken relationship.

Normally I'm not a huge fan of marriage of convenience novels. They go on too long with too many misunderstandings and the couples never talk. This one is no exception and even after they work things out, it goes on too long. However, I was eager to read this after binge reading the Jonquils series all spring and summer. I adore this family and I really wanted to get to know Father. I really enjoyed that aspect of the book. The little "Easter Eggs" (nods) to the Jonquils series are wonderful.

Philip is the son who most takes after Lucas. Lucas, known as "Jester" to his friends, hides behind a mask of comedy. He jokes and pretends everything is OK even when it's not. He's cruel to Julia at times but also sweet, tender, loving and romantic. To be fair to Lucas, what teenage boy/young man tells his plans to a little girl? NONE! Not even if they're childhood friends. Maybe he assumed her father had told her or maybe he was waiting until the last minute to make parting less painful. We never really learn why he didn't tell her he was leaving except that he was thoughtless. Later on, he is thoughtless and doesn't talk to her about his plans. He never asks what her hopes and dreams are and doesn't try to figure out how their differences can be reconciled. He still cares about Julia but he doesn't consider her thoughts and feelings much.

Like the brothers, I assumed Mater and Father fell in love at first sight and were inseparable until death did them part. However, Mater hints that the Jonquil men, including their father, make idiots of themselves in front of the women they love. Lucas is no exception. .

Julia, too, bears some of the blame for their early marital problems. She behaved rather immaturely when she heard the news of their impending nuptials. Julia sounded younger than 2o but I attribute that to the fact she hasn't had a Season or been anywhere outside the village other than to visit cousins in Berkshire. Julia is grieving the loss of so many people she loves and putting up walls to protect herself is easier than dealing with the pain. I don't really blame her for that but she needs to tell Lucas. Julia doesn't have any empathy for Lucas's grief either. He lost his siblings and hers and most recently, her elder brother STANLEY, one of his best friends. She doesn't consider that his jetting off on adventures is a way to keep from being alone with his feelings.

I liked little Julia, the feisty hoyden, game for any adventure. She sounds like a lot of fun but like her twin, I prefer reading and playing with my dolls to crazy, dangerous stunts. Lucas's goal is to recapture that magic childhood and bring back HIS Julia. He should be getting to know her as an adult and find some common ground. He makes a bit of a beginning, which is very sweet, but it's not enough to make up for his casual dismissal of her. I have a soft spot for him though because even though he's a dunderhead when it comes to love and romance, he is fundamentally a nice young man. (Yet, after bearing him 7 sons I'd be like GO AWAY on one of your mountain climbing adventures PLEASE! Don't come back until after I'm too old to have babies or birth control is invented).

I really appreciate how smart Julia is. She is vastly intelligent and all self-taught. Her governess sounded narrow-minded and stupid. I love how Julia has a thirst for knowledge and isn't afraid to go after it. She's opinionated and makes her thoughts known at a time when women were supposed to be ornaments to Society. (Elizabeth Poldark, that vapid doll is an excellent example of a Georgian woman). It's easy to see why Philip is attracted to Sorrel because young Julia is very much like Sorrel, intelligent and prickly.

Lucas's friends are a lot of fun. I enjoyed meeting them and seeing Lucas from their points-of-view. First we meet Kester Barrington, aka "Grumpy Uncle." I don't think Kes is grumpy at all. He's an introvert by nature and cautious. Just because he's the voice of reason, doesn't mean he's grumpy. He's just not crazy! I like him a lot and can relate to him best of all. No mountain climbing for me, thanks! "The King" turns up next. Digby LAYTON is silly but he's used to getting his own way and what he wants is for his best friend to stop being a dunderhead. His rule is gentle and benevolent. He surely must be Philip's godfather and sartorial advisor because he acts like a fop. I suspect he isn't and I find that affectation annoying but Digby is fun and makes people smike. Lord Aldick Benick, younger son of the Duke of Hartley, is the strong, silent type. He seems imposing. "The General" has a keen mind and likes to use his brain to strategically plan things, in this case, how his best friend is going to win over his wife. Henri Fortier aka "The Archbishop" is the peacemaker of the group. He also seems a little bit silly. I think he must be the namesake and godfather of "Holy Harry" Jonquil. (Henry is also Lucas's middle name). Finally, Niles Greenberry doesn't say much but he's up for anything and I expect his loyalty has earned him the nickname "The Puppy." They love Lucas like a brother and accept Julia as a sister and want to help but sometimes their plans interfere with the romance and Lucas (and the reader) is frustrated!

It was also fun to meet the Jonquil boys' grandparents. "Flip" gets his wit from his Jonquil grandparents. They're very much in love and share a wacky sense of humor. They can make the weather sound funny and interesting. I really like them, arranged marriage notwithstanding. Not as charming is Julia's father, Lord Farland. He means well and probably wants to make sure Julia is taken care of before he dies like his wife and son but he did her a disservice. Julia has never been anywhere or met anyone. Her only childhood friends are dead or married and moved away. It's heartbreaking to see her withdraw into herself. First, he should have at least sent her to a Little Season or a season in Bath, mourning or not. She could have attended informal gatherings, made friends with other girls on the verge of coming out and met gentlemen. No dancing, of course, but at least she could go for a drive or a walk with a gentleman, provided she was suitably escorted. Then the arranged marriage wouldn't have been such a shock and so confining.

We also meet the Duke of Kielder as a little boy of 6 or 7 and his parents, the Duke and Duchess. This is a deeply unhappy family. The Duke is a homebody and his wife is always itching to travel with her gal pals. He could, legally, forbid her from leaving home, but I think he cares about her and doesn't want to do that. He's unhappy she doesn't like to stay home. Little Lord Folkstone is lonely. He's so serious for such a young lad. Julia's heart goes out to him.

There's also a brief cameo by Robert Finley, a rotter. He's the awful, annoying boy in the neighborhood. He apparently takes after his father. I assume the Mr. Finley in The Kiss of a Stranger and As You Are is his son. Robert isn't as bad as the present Mr. Finley.

I really want to see more of Lucas and Julia as parents to 7 mischievous young boys but at the same time, it will be heartbreaking! Knowing what happens made this one a little tough to read. Poor Julia! How she endured so much loss, I don't know.

My only real complaint other than the length is that other than the fashions and dances, the time period doesn't really stand out. I would have liked to see more specifics about Georgian etiquette. For example: what were the Georgian mourning customs? Were ladies allowed to show emotion? I would have also liked seeing Julia learning how to be a wife from an advice book. She does acknowledge the law of the day makes her belong to Lucas and that, to her, is a misery. I'm not sure he can dictate the terms of her title in her marriage settlement though. Wouldn't Parliament have to redo the patent formally? Is she only the Baroness of Farland because she's the only surviving child or does the title normally pass through the female line? That makes a big difference for the grandchildren. (The Heart of a Vicar)

I also want to comment on the book design. It's so beautiful! The blank pages between chapters are covered in a forget-me-not design which carries over to the margins of the first page in the chapter. It's pretty even in black and white. I really like that.

One last comment: My rating for Adobe Digital Editions 4.5.11? half a star! It kept freezing on me and I had to borrow an android tablet and download the NetGalley app just to read this book.

Monday, August 31, 2020

What to Read While Social Distancing? : A Special Post

 What to Read While Social Distancing? : A Special Post

Are you still stuck at home? Here's another book recommendation for you.

Dough or Die (A Bread Shop Mystery, #5)Dough or Die by Winnie Archer--Cozy Mystery

Thank you Kensington Books for the free ARC. All opinions expressed in this review are my own and not affected by the giveaway. #KensingtonCozies #CozyClubCard

Ivy Culpepper is excited when Olaya Solis agrees to feature her bread shop, Yeast of Eden, on a cable food network's new show about the best bread bakeries in America. Olaya wants the program to feature her new Bread for Life program she started to lift up and empower low income and immigrant women in the community to help them develop hirable skills and develop self-confidence. The women will learn to bake and share recipes from their cultures. When the show starts filming, Ivy is starstruck by the co-host, Sandra Mays, a local celebrity but soon learns filming a reality show with two hosts is not the smoothest procress. Egos are at work and the production takes twice as long as necessary. The cameraman, Ben Nader, is a local man who grew up escaping the drama of his teen years by climbing up to the roof of what is now Olaya's shop. While everyone is on a filing break, Ben is struck by a car and nearly killed. Ivy witnessed the incident and knows this was no accident. Who would want to harm Ben and why? Then someone else turns up dead on the roof of Yeast of Eden and Ivy worries Olaya and the shop could be implicated. Was there a connection between the two events and if so, was one of the people connected to the program involved? If not, then it must have been a member of the Bread for Life program and that could be a disaster for Olaya. Ivy sets out to figure out whodunit to help Olaya. She also seems to have a stalker. Ivy isn't certain the stalker has something to do with the murder. She thinks she can handle it herself. Can she figure out the clues before it's too late?

This wasn't the best book of the series. It's long, repetitive in spots and Ivy goes way overboard in her investigation. She does something unconsociable and I can't believe she would stoop that low as to investigate in a private room at a battered women's shelter. That's just wrong! The initial hit and run accident happens early in the book but the murder doesn't happen until halfway through. I didn't really know or care who the murderer was. I was able to put the book down and go to sleep. The story didn't pick up until 2/3 into it and then it rushed along until I put the clues together just ahead of Ivy. I was a little more interested in the Ivy stalker plot but not much. I was mostly into the Bread for Life program which is an incredible, amazing idea. This story will not age well. Ivy makes numerous pop culture references to reality TV food programs and celebrities Paul Hollywood, Mary Berry, Guy Fieri; named shows like Diners, Drive-ins and Dives. I like it better when the network and shows are fictionalized. Readers can use their own references to make the connection. How does Ivy even have the time to watch that much TV?

Ivy, Ivy, Ivy. She's a nosy baking apprentice with no good reason to investigate the murder. I really don't like how she kept asked pointed, personal questions and digging into people's private business. I don't understand how Emmeline didn't do that in the first place. Suddenly deciding to volunteer at a women's shelter and then using that opportunity to investigate and even snoop is just plain bad investigative technique. Let Emmaline do that if necessary. Ivy lied and snooped. I think she went too far this time. Her heart is in the right place but her methods need work. When she came across the big clue she didn't even put it together. At least she figured it out before she got into trouble. The stalker subplot is lame and just padding. It wasn't necessary at all and not entirely resolved. It was unrealistic at best. Miguel is a sweetheart and totally amazing. I think he's read for a longterm commitment but she's not ready yet. Maybe in the next book?

Emmaline is hardly in the story in the capacity of sheriff. She's busy trying to solve the hit-and-run with no clues to go on then the murder. She's normally awesome at her job and I think Ivy should just trust her. Emmaline wouldn't purposefully make Olaya look bad. Emmaline is in the story in the capacity of friend and soon-to-be sister-in-law. She's a great friend and will be a wonderful, lively, official addition to the Culpepper clan. I noted in the uncorrected proof her hairstyle is more natural in z waves, a change from her usual black braids. At the very end of the book there's another mention of her hair and this time it's in braids. The passage as written is slightly in error and repetitive. That's the time to discuss her hair and how she's going to wear it for the wedding.

Olaya is an amazing woman! Her heart is giant and she truly loves helping people with her "magical" bread. The Bread for Life program is inspiring and amazing! I really liked learning about the different breads. I thought Ivy's first blog post should have been exactly what Olaya said about baking bread and why she started the shop. I'm sure if one of the women proves to be a murderer, Olaya will have compassion for her and try to help in any way she can. Penelope is hardly in the story but she comes through for Olaya even though they have a past history. I like seeing their friendship grow. I miss Penny's zany investigations though. Without them the story is heavy.

Olaya has a new apprentice baker, Felix. He seems fun and eager to learn as much as Ivy. I think he will be successful one day. Ivy's brother Billy gets in on the investigation, bouncing ideas around with Ivy and Emmaline. It's nice to see him doing so well. Even Ivy's dad is doing well. He makes some brief appearances and is there for Ivy when she needs her dad. Agatha isn't in the story enough. She's cute but she doesn't have anything to do this time. Too bad!

The women of Bread for Life all have some kind of baggage they're trying to leave behind. Baking becomes group therapy. Zula from Eritrea is a lot of fun. She takes to baking and sharing her culture wholeheartedly. She's open about her past and her personality is bubbly. I can't see her being a murderer. What would the motive be? Amelie from Germany is also fun. She's alone in the world but she doesn't let it stop her from enjoying her new life in Santa Sofia. I can't see her as a murderer either. Claire's background is a mystery. She's quiet, mysterious and doesn't think she has any culture to share. There could be some reason for her to want Ben out of the way but the murder motive is a mystery. Then there's Esmeralda, Esme to her friends, from Mexico. Ivy uncovers secrets from Esme's past that could lead to a motive for hurting Ben and possibly murder.

Sandra Mays and Mack Hebron are both awful people, especially Sandra. Sandra is a big fish in a small pond. She enjoys being recognized and fawned over as a local celebrity. She has bigger dreams of being a big fish in a big pond. What would she do to get there? It sounds like she'd step on anyone who got in her way. She doesn't like hearing no and she fights a lot with Mack. He's deliberately rude and disrepectful to her. He antagonizes her just to watch her get angry. Yes she has a giant ego that needs deflating but that's not a nice way to do it. Mack claims he's not heartless but he is rather callous and cruel at times.

Ben Nader is a nice guy. Everyone loves him and he doesn't have a rap sheet or any skeletons in his closet. He and his wife Tammy are grieving the loss of their son in a car accident 10 years earlier and raising their grandson. Ben is a family man, a handy man, a camera man and there's no good reason someone would want to run him over. His wife, Tammy, is barely keeping it together. I think she needs professional mental health care help because she seems to be just about unglued. She owes to her to grandson to be the best she can be. I feel sorry for the kid. So much has happened in his short life.

Vivian Cantrell operates a shelter for abused women. Ivy had no idea it existed but it's searchable so anyone can find it. Vivian is tough vetting Ivy yet the home is on Google, she doesn't require a background check on anyone and just trusts word-of-mouth. Some of the rules are strict and some of the policies seem strange like moving people around to different rooms without their knowledge. I can't decide if I like her or not. I like what she's doing but not her personality.

Ivy meets a number of women who need help escaping their pasts. Angie is quiet and indifferent towards Ivy's gardening plan but then her personality changes as the garden starts to grow. It must be healing for her. Meg becomes Ivy's friend on the inside and helps with the investigation. A petite, blond, Irish woman, Meg seems to know everything that's going on. She helps Ivy with her snooping but has enough sense to feel guilty about it. I sense Meg is rather mischievous. She introduces Ivy to Mickey, a woman sadly co-dependent on her abuser who seems to be getting away with it! Mickey is a hoarder but able to disengage to help Ivy. One more person is a surrpise to Ivy but it makes sense. Ivy is completely disrespectful towards this woman, even chasing the woman down in order to interrogate her about Ben. I really liked that woman and even though the clues were there, I think Ivy should have left her alone.

This isn't my favorite series to read. The bread sounds amazing but it's not enough to make up for the somber plots. At least a good person didn't die this time!