Sunday, November 20, 2022

Sense and Sensibility Play Review

This two-hour adaptation was inspired by Jane Austen and Emma Thompson's wonderful screenplay. It emphasizes the comedy but without losing the essence of the story. The script even uses Jane's own words in parts. The narrator is portrayed by seven actors portraying gossips. Perhaps they're servants, perhaps neighbors. They relay pertinent information such as Mr. Dashwood's death and how that affects the ladies and why. I appreciated the explanation for those who may not know the story as well as I do. 

The actors mostly all play multiple roles regardless of gender. Elinor and Marianne are the only two who don't play more than one part. The costumes took some getting used to. They're meant to be silly and over-the-top for the most part. The gossips wear their undergarments on the outside and not specifcially period undergarments but period inspired : fancy Victorian style corsets and panniers; some wore more modern clothing and the Dashwood sisters wore sort of prom dresses with Elinor changing outer robes to mimic the Regency style. 

The gossips talk really fast and over one another sometimes. I found it difficult to understand them at first. I also found it hard to understand Marianne in the beginning. She speaks very fast. The Dashwood sisters in this production are Latina and refer to each other as "querida", a Spanish term of endearment. I thought that was very sweet and added an extra element to the love story between the two sisters. The play is pretty faithful to the novel. Of course a lot is removed for time constraints but when time passes, the gossips prance around on stage with hand painted signs stating "time passes" or "One month later." I would recommend they slow down and show the signs to the whole audience because people sitting around me had trouble seeing them and I couldn't see what was on one sign. It's not super important but for those who don't know the story, they might want to know time is passing!

This adaptation discusses sense vs. sensibility and keeps the sisters' personalities and conversations mostly in tact. Marianne is a lover of nature, poetry, plain speaking and is a whirlwind of energy. Elinor is not as patient as she is in the novel. Sometimes she sounded on the verge of losing her temper with her sister instead of keeping all her feelings tramped down. 

Mrs. Dashwood is reduced to only a few scenes in which she is idle and eating biscuits from a tin. Margaret, portrayed by a petite woman, is very cute. She gives the impression of youth by her dialogue- wanting to see puppies and teasing her sisters about their beaux. F- his name begins with an F! I completely believed she was a child. The other two sisters I felt didn't quite click with their characters as much but I couldn't see either of them trading roles.

Sir John Middleton and Mrs. Jennings pop in and out with their customary energy and loudness. Sir John is portrayed as somewhat effeminate. Watch for his hounds because I nearly died laughing. The actors nailed bad dog behavior. Look down on the floor and watch the hounds and not the people. Trust me! Unless you don't like doggy antics. They only appear twice. Mrs. Jennings is a loud, nosy gossip just as she is in the book. The actress is small but her hat gives her the impression of being a larger older woman. Lady Middleton appears in a few scenes played by a different person each time. She hides under a mop of curly hair and offers little to the conversation. As in Emma Thompson's version, her annoying children are left out of the story. 

Lucy and Anne Steele are played by members of the company who also portray gossips. Lucy wears undergarments as clothes but Anne is played by a male actor in non-Regency female attire and a wig. Anne is hilariously stupid and Lucy is a little less catty than in the novel. She prefers more direct confrontation, getting up in Elinor's face. Her secret is revealed much sooner than it is in the novel and so poor Elinor suffers longer. Poor Edward is drawn from Hugh Grant's portrayal. He's shy, awkward, bumbling and can't always spit out the right words and his poetry recital does not meet with Marianne's approval. (FYI: Jane Austen's favorite poet, Cowper, is pronounced like Cooper.) 

The finale was inspired by Emma Thompson's with a really funny twist. Edward seems to have been evesdropping on other gentlemen of our aquaintance. I think I was the only one who picked up on that, at least enough to guffaw loudly. 

Col. Brandon was the most believable and true to the original. He was the straight man to the comedic extras. Even though the actor played multiple roles, I feel he was best as Col. Brandon. I had forgotten he was also a gossip, the characters were as opposite as Elinor and Marianne. The same actor also played Thomas, the servant at the end of the story who provides some gossip that finally makes Elinor break down. Again, the actor was transformed into a totally new person. For some reason, the story of Col. Brandon's lost love was changed and the name of her daughter was also changed. It's a shorter explanation but doesn't quite make as much sense as the original plot. Also, where's the duel between Col. Brandon and Willougby? GONE!

Fanny and John Dashwood are played for laughs. He's a foppish man in 1970s clothing who loves his wife and gets turned on by her nastiness. She manages to convince him not to do anything for his sisters. It's a shorter speech than in the novel but conveys the same meaning. The actress also played a gossip and there was little distinction between them. The scene where Fanny learns of Lucy's secret is a full on fight scene! It's different but funny. No Regency lady would behave in such a manner though.

The actor portraying John Dashwood also plays Willoughby. He's handsome and smarmy, not as charming as the original. His story is tweaked slightly to make him more caddish. He even shows up at Marianne's near deathbed totally drunk. Marianne is informed of his perfidy shortly after that. 

One scene I especially liked was the masquerade ball in London where Marianne is searching for Willoughby before she finally sees him. The music sounded appropriate and the dance looked inspired by the movie version of 19th-century dancing. I think the soundtrack was courtesy of Bridgerton soundtrack stars Vitamin String Quartet or someone similar. I recognized pop music in the faster piece they danced to. Regency Lady Gaga anyone? The scene, where Marianne refuses to dance, effectively conveys her distress and obsession with Willoughby.

The sets were very simple but fancy wasn't necessary. I liked the piano painted onto a box. It worked just fine. The magic of theater is using your imagination and let the acting and dialogue weave a spell around you.

I saw the show in previews and it had a few kinks to work out but overall is ready for an audience to come and be entertained.

Monday, November 7, 2022

What To Read This Fall

What to Read This Fall

ever Love a Lord by Regina Scott-- Sweet/Traditional Regency Romance 

Thank you to Regina Scott for the advanced copy of the e-book. All opinions expressed in this review are all my own and not affected by the giveaway.

Petunia Bateman is back home with her brother and sister-in-law after an exciting but unsuccessful Season. Three years ago her heart was crushed by Lord Ashforde who decidedly informed her she misunderstood his intentions and he was not courting her. Since then, she has found no one she wishes to marry. Tuny has been careful to guard her heart ever since. She doesn't mind living with her family. She loves her brother, his wife and children and their lively, loving household but to have someone to share her life with, to be a partner as Charlotte is to Matty, would be nice. When Tuny is elevated by the Batavarian prince for her help catching the villains responsible for threatening the Batavarian royals, she's shocked. Tuny is even more shocked to learn she's expected to work closely with Lord Ashforde to convince him to advise King George to return the Batavarian kindgom to the rightful ruler. Tuny is not so thrilled to have this job sprung on her. Nor is she happy to be saddled with a 24 hour guard in case she's in danger from her association with the Batavarian court. Lord Ashforde lives a carefully ordered life, alone, in his house with his servants and his library. He knows the time has come to sire an heir but he has yet to find the right wife. He can't stop thinking about Miss Bateman! He has never met her equal in intelligence, kindness and beauty. Ash is prepared to court Tuny, if she'll have him, but he can not give her his whole heart. It would be unwise to give in to his passions. That way lies ruin as Ash knows too well from his childhood spent with a pleasure seeking father. Before he weds, however, he would like to find his family jewels, sold long ago to pay his father's debts. He would pay anything to have them back. Meanwhile, he must solve the dilemma of his feelings for Tuny and figure out which side it's on in the Würtemberg question. Which is harder? A weighty political problem or matters of the heart?

I was so looking forward to Tuny's story from the beginning. I loved her character when she was a little girl and couldn't wait to get to know her better. Yet, this story turned out to be my least favorite of the quartet. It lacked that certain element of suspense Regina Scott is known for! In the previous books there was a villain threatening the characters and they had to figure out who it was. That part of the plot comes VERY late in the story and I suspected it was going to happen that way all along. It felt a little anti-climatic in a way. The main focus of the story is romance and I'm torn in my feelings about it.

I caught two typos: 45.55% Ch. 11, the word stones after silver probably shouldn't be there. Also slight historical inaccuracy in Tuny's literary reference, albeit funny. She wouldn't know about the mad wife in the attic  or the massive hound stalking the grounds The Hound of the Baskervilles but I suspect Regina Scott tossed those in there as a wink wink to her readers who will certainly get the references. The monster hunting the moor must be Frankenstein, which is referenced again and was already published in the original form. The second edition, the one most readers know, won't be published until 1831.

I still love Tuny. She's never fully adapted to being part of the ton and still feels her low origins. She's forthright, capable of looking after herself and more at home in Covent Garden than Mayfair. One thing I love about Tuny is her ability to speak her mind. She's never mean about it though. She never says anything unkind. In fact she has a big heart and loves with her whole heart. Tuny is just innocent and doesn't really understand the point of not saying what you mean, the way the nobility acts. She can toss out a veiled insult like the best of them though and not too nice to do it too. I like that about her. She's never overtly rude. I also love her passion for learning and can relate to her feelings about books. What we learn about Tuny in this book is her love for her family. We get to know Charlotte and Matthew better and meet their daughters, Daphne and Rose. Charlotte has changed a lot. She's softer, warmer, kinder and a loving mother. She's involved in the raising of her girls, but not so much Tuny. She understands Tuny is who she is and can't be forced into a mold set by the snobbish ton. Tuny is great with her nieces. The girls are very energetic and precocious. I could have done without them at first but then Ash enters the picture and the girls become important in understanding his character. I wish Tuny still had a dog though. I was sad she didn't have one but a dog plus two small girls would be a lot. Matthew is also a hands-on parent and as loving a father as he was to his sisters. He still plays bear! It's very sweet seeing such a large man behave so gently and kindly with his young female relatives. The girls adore their father as much as Tuny does.

I have mixed feelings about Ash. At first he's rather Mr. Darcyish but for a good reason. He's reacting to the excesses of the previous generation, in essence becoming Victorian. That makes him a bit boring. But he's also reactionary and quick to feeling animosity towards other men who might look twice at Tuny. Yet, he's also very sweet and kind. I love how thoughtful he is towards Tuny's nieces. He takes the time to do something nice for them and be personally involved in their lives. It shows he'll be a good father, unlike his own. Ash is a slow and careful thinker, something I relate to. He doesn't make rash decisions. I appreciate his considering the issue from all angles, something no one else is doing, but after getting to know Prince Otto Leopold and Count Montalban, I'm on their side the same way Tuny is! I want Ash to just say "YES! Give the lands back to King Frederick." I'm not sure his solution is the way to go.

Larissa, Callie and Belle have little to do in this story and I miss their friendship with Tuny. They still plot and plan but not as frequently as they did during the Season. Meredith and Julian are hoping to play matchmaker. Julian likes Ash and thinks he'd be good for Tuny. Meredith, not knowing about Tuny's previous heartbreak, isn't so sure. It's up to Fortune to figure it out.

The Wellmantons are back and causing trouble again, this time mainly on the female side. Lady Wellmanton is a snobby, selfish woman who wants to snag Ash for one of her simpering daughters. They don't show any signs of intelligence. All they do is giggle and bat eyelashes- something Ash is adverse to. Lord Wellmanton also hopes to gain an ally in Ash, if not for his daughters, for political reasons. Can he be trusted? Herr Von Mendelsloh, the envoy for Würtemberg, is also back and trying to meddle. He's certainly untrustworthy but is he a villain? He's proven himself before but how far will he go to protect his king's interests? He's super condesending towards Meredith and ignores Fortune all together. Definately not someone Julian wants to be friends with.

Eminently trustworthy is Ash's butler, Peaves. At first he seems snobbish and very proper but that's just his military training. He looks after the household and seems to feel fatherly towards Ash. The Imperial Guards are fun and I can't wait for their series. The nicest is Mr. Huber. He plays with the children and has a soft spot for the Duchess of Wey's temporary governess, Miss Winchester. Miss Winchester has gone missing and Mr. Huber is very worried about her. Keller, Roth and Tanner are not as sweet as Mr. Huber. Roth is crazy suspicious. Tanner sees Tuney as his duty to protect but also as a sister to protect emotionally. I love how they interfere in the courtship. They're so funny!

Even though I didn't love this book as much as I had hoped, I still don't want to say goodbye to these characters and I'm eager to see them pop up in the next series.

Sunday, September 25, 2022

Banned Books Week 2022

 Banned Books Week 2022


The last year has seen a record number of challenges and outright bans in schools AND public libraries across America. Texas holds the record for more books banned in its school districts than any other state. Books are being challenged for teaching the so-called Critical Race Theory, which some parents and administrators feel causes children to feel extreme mental guilt and anguish. I'm not sure what they think students of color have been feeling all these years and how they feel not seeing themselves represented in literature.

Books are also being challenged and banned for supposedly obscene content, which often means LGBTQ+ issues and/or books that discuss puberty for adolescents, teen sex/sexuality and even some books featuring illustrations of nude babies and nude art. Yes you read that correctly- nude babies are obscene. Don't people bathe their children and take them to the beach? Let toddlers run through the sprinkler? Change diapers in public? 

Here are some reviews of some of the best of the banned and challeged books I've read lately.

ew Kid
by Jerry Craft -- Middle Grades Graphic Novel

The story details the daily microaggressions and racism Jordan faces but also how he deals with the problems with humor and art. It also shows how he pushes himself to make friends and introduce his Black friend and White friend to show what they have in common.

This book was banned and an author talk cancelled in Katy (Texas) Independent School District last year because a parent complained it "teaches critical race theory and promotes Marxism." I don't know what Marxism is supposed to be and Jerry Craft had to look up CRT to see what he was accused of teaching. He based the story on his own experiences and didn't want to write a book full of doom and drama as most books aimed at Black kids are. He wanted to write about his experiences with humor and that's what he did. Fortunately, the ban was overturned and the kids got to attend the virtual presentation.

Read my review at GoodReads

Class Act by Jerry Craft -- Middle Grades Graphic Novel

This story is funnier than New Kid. It's also more relatable to more kids as they learn to navigate friendships in middle school. Many kids have friends from the neighborhood and then friends from school. Both groups are very different. This book presents a mature and thoughtful way of finding out how to be friends with everyone without feeling pressure from either group. 

Once again, Jerry Craft created a compelling and funny slice of middle school life. You can't help but like Drew and Jerry. I'm eager to read more.

Recommend for kids 11+ AND adults. Adults could stand to learn some things the same way the teachers and kids in this book do.

Read my full review on GoodReads

 Ritu Weds Chandni by Ameya NarvankarRitu Weds Chandni by Ameya Narvankar--Picture Book

A little girl, Ayesha, is excited to attend her cousin Ritu's wedding. Ayesha can't wait to dance at the baraat ceremony! This wedding will be a bit different than the last family wedding because Ritu is leading at baraat herself when usually the groom does it. Not everyone is happy with Ritu marrying another woman and some people want to stop the wedding. It's up to Ayesha to save her favorite cousin's big day!

This is a really cute story. I learned a lot about Hindu weddings and some Hindi words. Ayesha is a sweet little girl. She's just excited to party and happy her cousin is happy. She just wants her cousin to have a special, memorable, happy day. The lengths some people go through to stop the wedding are appalling and disrespectful. You don't have to like it. You do have to suck it up and keep your mouth shut. I've been there, done that (not for LGBTQ reasons) but because the groom was a douchebag or otherwise not someone I thought was right for my friend/family member). Leave it to a small child to understand that love is love and love needs to be celebrated! There is a strong message here. Ayesha's aunt says "There is nothing wrong with them getting married... some people just don't understand love."

A list of Hindi words is in the back which is helpful. There's also a heartbreaking author's note explaining how this beautiful marriage would not be allowed in India at the time of publication and India has only recently decriminalized same sex relationships. The author, a gay man, felt the lack of same sex representation in books and media when he was growing up. He lacked role models on which to model the relationship he wished to have with his own partner. He felt stifled by expectations around him but realized it's much worse for women. He hopes the book will being about a multifaceted and nuanced discussion on human rights.

He says "To change society's minds we need to appeal to their hearts. To do this we need more people to hear our stories. So keep reading and sharing and educating those around you."
A list of books for young readers about the South Asian LGBTQ+ experience is included.

 When Aidan Became A Brother by Kyle LukoffWhen Aidan Became A Brother by Kyle Lukoff -- picture book

This book is excellent and should be given to every expectant parent as a reminder not to get caught up in gender stereotypes and gender identity. When Aidan was born his parents decorated his room pink and frilly and bought him lots of dresses. Aidan did not like pink or dresses and always got his clothes dirty. Everything thought he was a different kind of girl, until he got the courage to tell his parents he was actually a boy. Now Aidan's Mommy is expecting a new baby and he worries about what the baby will think about everything. Aidan helps his parents readjust their expectations and go truly gender neutral. Their baby welcoming party does not reveal the gender of the baby. Balloons spell out "It's a baby"!

This book is lovely. It is simple and easy enough for young children and older adults to understand. Children take this stuff in stride so I think this is more for the parents and for children who don't fit in. I appreciate the acknowledgment that some girls have rooms full of science experiments and bug collections and how lots of little girls don't wear dresses.

I also like how Aiden gently corrects adults when they ask "Are you excited for your new little brother or sister?" He replies "I'm excited to be a big brother!"

The message is simple. Listen to your children and love and accept them for who they are.

Aidan's Mommy says "When you were born we didn't you were going to be our son. We made some mistakes, but you helped us fix them.
And you taught us how important it is to love someone for exactly who they are. This baby is so lucky to have you, and so are we."

An author's note simply explains how when they were born everyone thought they were a girl. The author's story is different from Aiden's. The point of the book is to help kids who are transgender understand what they're feeling and helps them talk about it when they're ready. It's also for kids who feel like they don't belong sometimes or worry about making mistakes.

I, too, hope Aidan grows up in a world that supports and believes in him! Give this book to the governors of all the states that have passed or want to pass anti-trans bills. Give it to every older person who doesn't understand, every classroom.

Uncle Bobby's Wedding (2020) by Sarah S. Brannen  Uncle Bobby's Wedding by Sarah S. Brennan--picture book 

I really enjoyed this one. It's not about the ISSUE of gat marriage but about a young girl fearing change, the change in her special relationship with her uncle.  I can relate to Chloe. I had a special uncle and I was around before he married and had kids. Not sure I've gotten over my cousins stealing my thunder though. I love how this book is about something any kid can relate to and Chloe just happens to have two uncles.

The illustrations by Lucia Soto are nice. The people look like people and the pictures are very colorful.

It Feels Good to Be Yourself A Book About Gender Identity by Theresa Thorn It Feels Good to Be Yourself: A Book About Gender Identity by Theresa Thorn --picture book

This is a non-fictionish book explaining gender identity, pronouns, and everything you need to know about gender identity. The explanations are simple and easy to understand. I really like the diverse illustrations showing all kinds of kids. This book is for any kid, to teach them that it's OK to speak up and don't be afraid to be yourself-whoever you are- he/him, she/her, they/them, trans, non-binary, cisgender. Includes some helpful terms to know, a note about pronouns, some helpful resources, more helpful resources, author's note, illustrator's note. I actually want to give this to the older people in my life who just don't understand gender is a spectrum and gender identity is fluid.

This book has been challenged of course with mixed results. Banned in Florida of course but kept on the shelves in Rockwood, MO school district. It was quietly pulled from the shelves in Lebanon and Lancaster counties, PA. In Nebraska, the book was linked with others containing graphic content and a board member felt uncomfortable reading content aloud including the line from the book “When a baby is born, the parents make a guess as to the child’s gender. As the child gets older, they can choose their identity.”

 Your Name Is a Song by Jamilah Thompkins-Bigelow

Your Name Is a Song by Jamiliah Thomkins-Bigelow -- Picture book

Banned by the anti-critical race theory conservatives in Central York, Pa., (later overturned) this book is about a young Black girl, perhaps newly arrived from West Africa or the Caribbean. She's dismayed that her new teacher can't pronounce her name and other kids made fun of her. Her mother teaches her that names are a song. She siiiinnggs each name and explains the meaning behind it. Because Africans had their history and names stolen from them, they had to invent new ones. The mother teaches her daughter these names and the meanings behind them. The girl then takes that lesson to school where the teacher can pronounce all the name - even Siobahn (really?) except hers. The girl teaches the teacher and students exactly what her mother taught her and sings out each child's name.

In the back of the book is a glossary of names and meanings. The author explains not every person pronounces the name the same way so ask how they want it to be said. (yes, why is Bob=BAWB? My uncle's name is "BAHB!" actually even though you'd think with the Massachusetts accent it would be "BAWB".) I THINK the real reason this book is banned is because one of the names is Trayvon. The author states she included this name in honor of Trayvon Martin, an innocent victim of gun violence. Unfortunately this section doesn't come up very well on the e-book. Some lines run together.

The illustrations are digital but still quite lovely. The colors swirl and dance with the names. The mother wears a headscarf indicating she's from somewhere else. The people come in all skin tones, even the light skinned people come in pale and paler. 

Wednesday, July 27, 2022

What to Read this Summer

 What to Read this Summer

Murder Spills the Tea by Vicki Delany-- Cozy Mystery

Thank you to Kensington for a free advanced reading copy. All opinions expressed in this review are all my own and not affected by the gift.

Lily has been signed up, against her will, for America Bakes! a popular TV contest. Lily wants nothing to do with being on TV but Rose and Bernie insisted. The crew are staying at the B&B and Rose believes the publicity will be good for business. Lily is swamped with business right now and doesn't really have time to be on TV but she goes along with it. Filming baking for TV is nothing like it is in real life and Lily is close to her wit's end. When bad boy judge Tommy Greene purposefully trips her waitress, Marybeth, and proceeds to insult Marybeth and insist Lily fire her, Lily has had enough. To make matters worse, the owner of the local bakery is Lily's competition and come to spy and throw accusations at Lily. When Lily tries to quit, the director threatens to sue her for breach of contract. She can only continue and hope the torture doesn't last too long. Early the next morning while opening her kitchen, Lily discovers Tommy Greene bashed in the head with her marble rolling pin! Not again! This time she'll leave it to the police to discover the murderer and stick to baking. However, when Detective Williams sets his sights on Lily's waitress Cheryl, who is Marybeth's mother, Lily has no choice but to go along with Bernie and Rose's plans to get involved. Can she solve this one before Cheryl is arrested for a crime Lily is sure she didn't commit?

I liked this third book best of the three so far. The story stays focused on the mystery and the baking without veering off into the insane antics of the two sidekicks. Even Bernie remains more focused this time. I still think Chuck Williams needs to be sacked. He's still a pompous fool. I had the same list of suspects as Bernie but I discounted the obvious ones. I changed my mind about who I thought it was and ended up being right about the murderer, but I won't tell you if it was my initial top suspect. The murder doesn't make a whole lot of sense but it doesn't seem to have been premeditated.

Lily does not have any interest on being on TV. Her passion is baking. Baking makes sense. You follow a formula and end up with something delicious. She also feels no need to compete with the North Augusta Bakery. Comparing the two is not like comparing apples and oranges but like comparing Hostess and Entenmenns. There's some overlap in the types of food they make but they're different. Lily hosts a tea room for an indulgent experience where people come to linger and enjoy the whole experience. The bakery is your standard café where people can sit down to eat for soups and sandwiches or grab a tasty treat. I don't know why the owner, Allegra is such a witch. Allegra feels antagonistic towards Lily for no good reason. She makes assumptions about Lily's personality and motivations which could not be farther from the truth. Lily goes way out of her way to be nice to this woman. I would have stayed away from the crazy. Lily has enough crazy in the form of her grandmother, Rose.

Rose's helpless little old lady act fools only those who don't know her. She's conniving and spunky. She likes to be in the thick of things and know everything that's going on. Encouraging Lily to spy on the police questioning suspects is unethical but how else is the reader supposed to know what is going on since the story is told from Lily's point-of-view. I don't mind it although I would be furious in real life if someone did that to me. Bernie claims to be sticking to the outline Lily made her submit and writing is going well. She still makes time to investigate though and to appear on TV. Rose and Bernie have big egos and should back off when Lily asks them to. Bernie's romance with Matt seems to be progressing slightly-I hope. At least she's willing to hang out with him and stopped sparring with him.

Lily's romance is still stalled. She's attracted to Simon and feels jealous that he's gotten close to Det. Amy Redmond but still won't date him. He's CLEARLY into her and such a great friend. I can see why Lily wants to keep him at arm's length but how about an adult discussion on what his plans are for after the summer? How about she tell him she's attracted to him, enjoys his company but doesn't want to start a relationship that won't go anywhere. Move over Lily because Simon is swoony!

Cheryl Wainright is a Mama Bear when it comes to her family. She will defend her cub no matter what. She may be abrasive at times and have a hot temper but I don't think she's a murderer. Marybeth is an adult and Cheryl shouldn't have stepped in. Marybeth was upset but she handled the situation and should have told that to her mother. It wouldn't have changed anything though. If Marybeth was a kid, I could see why Cheryl would step in to rescue her but she's a grown adult with children of her own. Cheryl may have been a wild child in high school but judging her based on past behavior 30 or more years ago is just silly. People grow and mature. Marybeth is more timid than her mother, sweet and hard-working. I feel bad for her that she was put in that ridiculous situation and the moronic police accuse her mother of murder. She doesn't deserve that.

We learn more about Amy. She's a real straight shooter but this time she seems to be leaning towards believing Cheryl is the murderer. She knows she needs to gather the evidence, unlike Chuck. We also learn more about her personal life which shows a softer side of her and reveals she really is a kind person. Unlike Chuck who lacks brain cells and initiative to actually solve a murder case. How many times does Lily have to be nearly killed before the chief fires Chuck and promotes Amy? That idiot should have been fired for the first investigation!

The TV people are not a very pleasant lot. The only nice one is Melanie, the hair and makeup person on set. She sure likes to gossip though. The victim, celebrity chef Tommy Greene, is the bad boy of the cooking world. He continually loses his temper at everyone and everything. Like Rose, he's English and working class. Tommy champions the workers and the common man. He turns his nose up at Lily's posh tea room and sneers at the ladies who enjoy Lily's tea parties. Yet he owns more than one home, restaurant, a boat, etc. He'd probably say he worked for it all and clawed his way to the top. So did Rose! Rose has lived the American dream and made it possible for Lily to live her dreams. It's Tommy who sets in motion the events that lead to his death-or did he? Tommy has a few surprises up his sleeve.

Josh Henshaw, director, is really mean and tough. He's also a sleazy womanizer of the first order and I was hoping he would be murdered. He doesn't bother to learn the names of anyone from Tea By the Sea or Victoria On Sea. He always refers to Lily as "the pretty blond", suggests she wear something more revealing and doesn't understand why hair should be up and covered when working in a kitchen. It's all about TV for him. I think he's the murderer because right away he knew Tommy had been killed. Reilly, the assistant director, is even more nasty than Josh. I think they have a rivalry to see which one can be as loudmouthed and rude as possible. Reilly acts more like the director than Josh and is not happy with anything less than MAJOR drama.

Claudia D'Angelo, a legend in the New York City baking world, cookbook author and Lily's inspiration, seems nice enough at first. She acts mild mannered and soft spoken but the longer she stays, the more she becomes unraveled. Her temper flares and she becomes snappy and rude. Some of the clues point to her as the murderer but what was her motive and why would she frame Cheryl? Just opportunity? Scarlet McIntosh, former beauty queen, lacks a background in food. She's more of a femme fatal. She supports Tommy's anti-posh people crusade and seems interested in currying favors from him. Did he reject her and she took her revenge? Scarlet is disinterest in Cape Cod, the murder and Lily's tea room. She's very selfish and annoying. I do think she could be the murderer.

Other suspects come from within the North Augusta community. Gary Powers is married to the mayor but you'd never know from the way he acts. He's a serial cheater, a womanizer and so obviously sleazy. The way Bernie deals with him is fabulous. I think he's too obvious and too dumb to be the murderer. The other suspect is Allegra from the North Augusta bakery. Allegra is a local woman who inherited the bakery from her mother. She doesn't have the training, the passion or the drive that Lily has. Lily puts love into everything she does, uses locally grown produce and bakes original baked goods. Allegra produces standard café/coffee shop fare like cakes, cookies and tarts. Allegra believes she should win the show and how dare anyone think Lily deserves it. Allegra has a giant chip on her shoulder, hates everyone and is even nasty to her own nephew. Her brother-in-law Gary owns a stake in her business. How far would Allegra go to win? How far would Gary go to see her win? I can see Allegra as the murderer because Cheryl is framed. Allegra is the only suspect who has a personal reason to frame Cheryl and using Lily's rolling pin would even implicate Lily, someone she sees as an enemy.

I still don't get a Cape Cod vibe from this series but it's enjoyable for a bit of light reading.

Monday, July 4, 2022

Louisa May Alcott Summer Reading Challenge Week 4

Louisa May Alcott Summer Reading Challenge Week 4

Louisa May Alcott Reading Challenge

More to the StoryMore to the Story

by Helena Khan
Middle Grades Fiction


Jameela Mirza is an American teenager struggling with being the second of four sisters. She loves being part of a big, close-knit Pakistani-American Muslim family but sometimes her sisters drive her crazy. Jameela dreams of becoming an award-winning journalist like her late grandfather was and her father dreamed of. Baba always supports her but he takes a job half a world away for six months and Face Time and phone conversations are limited and shared with her sisters. Jameela is frustrated because the middle school paper editor always wants bland, boring stories. When Jameela is asked to profile her new family friend, Ali from London, she finds a way to write the story she's always dreamed of. A misunderstanding threatens her friendship with Ali and her future as a journalist. Then her younger sister Bisma becomes sick and Jameela is devastated, confused and worried. What can she, a 13-year-old girl do to help her sister? Can she discover how to use her voice to make a difference after all?

I really, really liked this adaptation of Little Women. It's different enough so that readers who unfamiliar with the original story can still read and enjoy this but also similar enough to be appreciated by those who know and love Louisa May Alcott's novel. It's a story of four sisters and their daily lives. 19th-century values are translated to NO DATING for the Mirza sisters and Transcendental philosophy is equated to no phones for the two younger girls and no social media. That makes sense but there should be more to it than that. These sisters fight a lot, as much as the March sisters, sometimes more, but at the end of the day they're family and they love each other and support one another.

I appreciated the changes to the story to update it for present day. I liked learning more about Desi culture. For example, instead of the opening scene being set at Christmas, it's set during Eid, which that year fell during the hottest summer in Atlanta. I also really appreciated the discussion on microaggressions. Some I didn't even realize and others are absolutely appalling. Baba, Mr. Mirza, has to fly to a job interview on Eid, a big Muslim holiday. One of the sisters points out he would never be asked on a job interview on Christmas. Good point and very true, a fact a local school board recently had to contend with when they put the first day of school over the most important Jewish holiday! Mr. Mirza chose not to fight it though. Also wonderful is Jamilla's struggle to become a real writer. I was surprised by the outcome of the school paper subplot. It was refreshing to read about (view spoiler) This story only takes place in less than a year and doesn't include the second half of the novel.

The characters in this story are younger than Alcott's. Aleeza, the youngest sister (Amy) is only 10 and Maryam (Meg) is 14. In Little Women, Amy is 13. That skews the story a little younger, especially for a modern reader but that was fine with me because I'm tired of the Jo/Laurie dilemma. However, it makes Jameela and Aleeza's fights awkward because Aleeza really is very young and lacks an understanding of some things Jameela feels strongly about. Certainly 10 is too young to understand cancer and all that implies. So in that regard, I felt that sometimes the squabbles between the sisters were too much. Otherwise, I really enjoyed Jameela's voice. It took me awhile to get into the first-person narration. I would have preferred to know more about all the sisters but once the story went along, I got caught up in Jameela's struggles and identified with her even though I'm not a teenager or a person of color. I DID however write for the Junior High newspaper and wanted to write stories about an issue I felt strongly about and realized no one was actually reading anything in the paper except the personals column and certainly not my "real" journalism. Like Jameela, I also broke the ethics rules sort of by accident so I could certainly relate to that part of her story. I could also relate to her casual dressing style and lack of interest in fashion, unlike Maryam who is into clothes and makeup.

I loved Jameela's relationship with her father, whom she calls Baba. It felt Austenesque in the way Mr. Austen supported Jane and tried to get her published. Baba's father was an award-winning journalist and Baba always wanted to be one too but it was a risky profession so he went into science instead. He studies infectious diseases and ironically, he lost his contract with the National Institute for Health. The story clearly takes place pre-COVID! How quickly it feels dated! As a consequence of losing his contract, Baba is out of work and money is tight. Jameela is acutely aware of this, much as Louisa May Alcott was aware of her family's precarious financial situation. Fortunately for Jameela, her father wants to work and does not ask or want the children to get their working papers. Maryam babysits and Mama works.) Jameela worries about money a lot but keeps her feelings bottled up inside. She isn't as close to her mother and doesn't want to worry Mama with her concerns while Baba is away. Jameela also keenly feels the loss of her only ally in the family and the author is a good enough writer to make ME feel that loss FOR Jameela. I felt sad with her and mad at the others for not giving her time alone to speak with Baba.

The other sisters are less developed because of the first-person narration. We only see them from Jam's perspective. Maryam is a teenager. At 14 in high school, she wants to fit in with her peers. She's always looking at her phone and has her headphones on. She's a little disconnected from Jameela and they're not very close. Jameela accuses Maryam of spoiling Aleeza, their youngest sister but I didn't see it that way. Maryam tries to mediate but it sounds to Jameela like Maryam is taking Aleeza's side. I didn't see Aleeza as spoiled or bratty, certainly not like Amy. She's younger and therefore more innocent than Amy. While at 13, Amy is fully capable of understanding why she's being left out even if she doesn't like it and the consequences of her actions. Aleeza doesn't feel left out, she's just very young and acts young. She never does anything to deliberately provoke Jameela and therefore I think some of Jam's anger is unjustified.

Bisma is super sweet. She's a little shy and very loving. She is still a little girl and wants harmony in the household. Bisma loves music like Beth. I admit to tearing up a bit when Bisma becomes sick; not at the same level as Beth's near deathbed scene but still, I cared enough about this sweet little girl to be upset. Her illness is scary and so is the treatment.

Ali is not Laurie. He's not the spoiled, wealthy, lonely young man next door. Ali's father died recently and his mother is busy trying to sell their house so they can move to Atlanta to be near family. Ali was sent alone so he could start school right away and not arrive in the middle of the year. He also has a little sister back home he misses very much. His relationship with his sister makes him great with Bisma and Aleeza. He's especially wonderful with Bisma. Ali has a darker side to him. He's brooding and there's something weighing on his mind. It makes him a more well-rounded character but he could be a little bit better developed. He's fun and funny most of the time though. He's friendly and bonds with all of the sisters. His comments on British vs. American English are funny but today kids have YouTube and TikTok to introduce them to other languages and cultures so I'm not sure that sort of miscommunication happens today. It did in my day but I figured out trousers vs. pants pretty quickly. (A fellow intern, British born and middle schooled in the U.S. had a really funny story about the language difference though). I didn't like all the times Jameela worries about him checking out Maryam and their conversation about it. That felt a little too forced.

Mama is not as wonderful as Baba. She has to take care of the four girls and the house and work outside the home. She has little time to intervene in sibling rivalry and she doesn't share Jameela's passion for writing so Jameela can't confide in her. I did appreciate the inclusion of Marmee's angry every day of my life speech and wise counsel on learning to control your temper. Her advice works today as well as it did in the 1860s. The secondary adults are fabulous. I love Uncle Saeed and Farah Auntie. They're so vibrant, warm and loving. They don't have an equivalent in the original novel. Even though they come from a different background than my family, I see similarities between Farah Auntie and my great aunt Mary. They both express love with fabulous food and in spite of being childless, love and care for numerous family and friends.

As much as I enjoyed this, it felt a little short. I would like a sequel to catch up with the Mirza sisters and see how Bisma is feeling. Maybe it could be from Aleeza's point-of-view to better understand her and see how she feels being the youngest of four girls and the sister of a sick person. How does Bisma's illness change her? I would imagine she has to grow up faster and learn about things her parents would rather not have her worry about at her age.

I highly recommend this novel to tweens, teens and adults whether they're fans of Little Women or not.

Wednesday, June 22, 2022

Louisa May Alcott Summer Reading Challenge Week 3

Louisa May Alcott Summer Reading Challenge Week 3

Louisa May Alcott Reading Challenge

Great or Nothing

Great or Nothing 
by Joy McCullough, Caroline Tung Richmond, Tess Sharpe and Jessica Spottswood
Young Adult Historical Fiction/Women's Fiction

As a standalone story about sisters grieving the loss of their wonderful, perfect, GOOD sister and coming to terms with the changes WWII brings to their lives, this is a pretty decent novel. As a standalone queer romance, it's a cute short story.

What I liked:
The historical details about how WWII affected the people on the homefront. The families left behind, the Japanese-Americans eager and willing to fight but incarcerated because of their race, the young women forging their own paths in life for the first time. This was well done. I also liked the incorporation of the minor subplots about Japanese-Americans and the racism they faced. The history of the Red Cross Clubmobile program was also fascinating. I knew about the Salvation Army doughnut girls but not the WWII Clubmobile program. I somehow missed that in my research into food during the World Wars. Try molasses doughnuts for an authentic taste.

I liked seeing the characters grow in confidence, except Amy.

I really liked Charlie. I relate more to her than Jo because Charlie is far more like the original Jo March. She's feisty, determined and fearless! I wholeheartedly agree about the women in the military auxiliary services. Only NOW, after most of them are dead, can they be buried at Arlington. I totally don't buy into the rhetoric of focusing only on the rah rah rah hooray for America stuff. I appreciated the relationship between Charlie and Peg though and understand Peg's view of the situation. They were much more like Jo and Meg, even their names. Meg and Peg are both nicknames for Margaret and of course Charlie is a masculine sounding nickname like Jo. I especially enjoyed the budding relationship between Jo and Charlie. They have a lot in common and bond over those commonalities. While Charlie is confident in who she is, Jo is still struggling to figure out what she wants.

I also found Doro a lot like Jo, more than the Jo that is presented here. A student at the high school where Meg is a teacher, Doro is a force to be reckoned with. She's angry and raging at the world. Life has been unkind to her and she's a teenager so it's extra tough. Her story is sad and I know she's not the only one going through that. I'm sure there will be others at school too. I LOVE the way Meg helps Doro deal with her rage. It's similar to how Marmee offers her wise counsel to Jo with her "I'm angry every day of my life" speech. It's a great scene because it also helps Meg deal with her own rage against the world.

Unlike many reviewers, I enjoyed Beth's poems from beyond the grave. Poetry isn't my thing and blank verse is weird but Beth recapped some of the events from Little Women Part I to help jog readers' minds. It also shows a different side of Beth, what she was really thinking and feeling. It makes her less of a saint and more human. I also appreciate how she shares that she can't protect anyone she loves even though she wishes she could but she'll be there with them in spirit. That's a very sweet thought and I often imagine my loved ones with us still, watching and celebrating or helping us along the way. My sister has actually experienced evidence of that first hand so I'm buying Beth's beyond-the-grave plot.

All of this would have made a great novella! Even Jo's story would have made a good short story. Meg's story paired with it would be a good novella.

What I do not like is ...
As an adaptation of Little Women, it fails majorly. It goes on too long and the authors completely misinterpreted their characters. It lacks Marmee's wise counsel and that warm, cozy feeling that makes all of us want to be March sisters.

The story is filled with inconsistencies. The second part of Little Women covers Beth's final illness and death. This occurs AFTER Meg has married John and had the twins, AFTER Jo was in New York and while Amy is in Paris. In this reimagining, Beth is dead and she was apparently the glue that held the sisters together so now they've argued and scattered. There are also references to Father losing his money in the stock market crash of '29 but also references to Father being like Bronson Alcott and not being able to support his family. MANY MANY MANY people lost their money in the stock market crash. That's not Mr. March's fault. Even 1860s Father March is based more on Ralph Waldo Emerson than on Bronson Alcott.

I do not like these March sisters much. These sisters are mean and nasty to each other. They fight, they lie and hold grudges. They're grown adults not teenagers and they still act like they're 13-17. It went on too long and wasn't really concluded. Apparently in this universe, Beth was the glue that held them together and without her, they come undone. This is completely off.

Little Women is about sisters and the bond between them. Family was everything to Louisa May Alcott. If it wasn't, she would have ran away from home, disguised herself as a man and fought in the Civil War. If Louisa wasn't all about family, she wouldn't have literally worked herself to death trying to support them all because her lazy father was too noble to work. Little Women is about sisterhood. The sisters share an unbreakable bond. Yes they have their differences and even fight but when Amy fell through the ice, Jo realized her temper nearly killed her sister. Marmee's wise counsel helped Jo curb her temper. At the end of the day, the sisters are sisters. They fight sometimes but they love each other. They grow closer as adults after Beth's death, realizing life is precious and ambition is great but family is more important.

In the original novel Meg is happy with her choices to become a wife and mother. She wants those things, it's not just what's expected of her. In this version, Meg wants those things too but she's also a school teacher and a good one. She's making a difference in the lives of children who need her. They attend a regular old public school and don't always pay attention to what she's teaching but she begins to see the difference as she befriends a student named Doro.

Still, Meg wants to get married. She's the one stuck at home with Marmee and she's the one trying to put on a brave and happy face for everyone. Sometimes she resents her sisters for leaving home and leaving her behind. This is not the Meg March I know. The Meg March I know was happily married and a mother by this time. This Meg sounds more like Jo.

There's a whole chapter replicating the "Meg Goes to Vanity Fair" chapter in the original which Beth helpfully points out. Didn't Meg learn her lesson the first time? In this story she runs into a fellow teacher and not Laurie which makes her embarrassed and ashamed. This part does not equal the part in the original where Meg buys a new dress at the encouragement of Sally, even though she knows she can't afford it. Meg finally learns to be content with what she has at that point thanks to a loving and patient husband. This Meg still isn't quite sure. There's also a chapter than mirrors the original when Aunt March gives Meg a hard time about getting engaged to a poor man. Like the original, it spurs Meg into realizing she knows what she wants. At that point in the novel it just doesn't make sense because the timeline is way off. Sallie Gardiner is a classic mean girl.

Meg and Jo apparently had a huge fight. We never really learn what it was about, just Meg's inability to see Jo. They apparently fight over their life choices. Meg wants marriage and not a career while Jo wants ....??? They're supposed to be super close and tell each other everything so why doesn't Meg know what's in Jo's heart? Jo can NOT love Laurie enough to want to be his girl. That's tough because it's wartime but can't Meg see that he's their brother and Jo's bestie and not a love interest? If they're really that close, she should know that. Then Amy interferes and Jo snaps at Amy and Amy rebels.

I don't read Jo as queer. I don't have a problem with a queer romance story or a story inspired by Jo March but not a direct adaption. There are good reasons she rejects Laurie's proposal. 1)They're too young. He's just finished school, he's kind of lazy and doesn't do anything to support a family. NO ONE in the March family is pressuring Jo into marrying him. That's just a bad idea. 2)They're like siblings. She thinks of him as a boy, a brother, a friend. 3)They're too much alike. Amy flatters Laurie's ego and lets him think he's hot stuff. Jo tells it like it is and they'd never get along. 4) Jo is freaking out because her sisterhood is about to be broken up and OMG that means she'll be the eldest and now she has to be an adult and nothing will be the same and 5)MOST IMPORTANTLY Louisa wanted Jo to be her alter ego- "a literary spinster content to paddle her own canoe." I wish someone would do it right and leave Jo as she is with her ambition and her pen. No need for romance.

Jo doesn't become a duller version of herself as she ages (see Anne Shirley for THAT, she grows up, she matures, she stops acting like a child. Jo learns to control her temper but that doesn't mean she isn't still angry, like Marmee. Jo learns from life experience about what she wants and what she doesn't. She learns her limitations. She can be great, she just needs time.

Jo matures and grows as the novel goes on and after her time in New York, she returns home and must become the adult of the family as Marmee and Father do not see Beth's illness for what it is. After Beth's death Jo returns to writing with the encouragement of her family. She's gotten to know herself better and grown up. She misses all her sisters and grieves for their lost childhood. Enter Professor Beher. He knows how she's feeling and what's in her heart. He's a good man and helps Jo become a better woman. Marmee, Meg and Amy see what's going on right away and even Laurie figures it out quickly. They all support Jo.

I also don't see Jo giving up her writing just because she can't find someone to publish her stories. She doesn't in the original, she just changes direction. Is Jo changing direction in this novel? Not really. She's running away from her problems, her fears and her own feelings. Working in a factory makes her too busy and tired to think. That's not healthy. She needs a Professor Beher to help her find her way. Enter Charlie, her boarding house mate's sister. Charlie is a lot like Jo. She sees Jo, she understands Jo and pushes Jo to be a better writer and better sister but it doesn't quite ever reach the level of interaction between Jo and Fredrich Beher. There needs to be more to the story. I wish Charlie had been introduced sooner and interacted with Jo more.

I don't like angry, angsty Jo. In the original, Jo is a straight shooter. She tells it like it is and doesn't shirk her duty. She tells Laurie why she doesn't want to marry him. She goes to New York to get away from home and gain life experience and mature a bit. This Jo is just running away. Yes it's scary and I get it but I find it incredibly hard to believe that in this alternate 1940s story, Meg and Marmee wouldn't know who Jo is and why she can't love Laurie like that even if Jo doesn't know herself. I'm reasonably certain my mother and siblings wouldn't bat an eyelash if it were me. I would, however, and have, argued with my sister about her choice to marry and raise a family. Today women have more options. In the 1940s not so much and in the 1860s none at all. I don't see Meg and Jo having such a big argument.

Amy is the worst of all. She's still bratty. At 16, she's tired of being left out of her sisters' lives. Now she's the only young one without Beth. She's angry at her older sisters and mad because Jo considers Amy a snoop. In this case, it's untrue but Amy probably was like that when she was younger. Instead of talking to Marmee or to Meg, who in the original always takes Amy's side, she decides to run away herself and PROVE to her sisters she's grown up. In her mind, she seems to imagine everyone else still at home. She doesn't seem to know Jo and Father are away. In Amy's mind she's still the baby of the family and won't they be surprised when she comes home. Amy does all kinds of wrong things. She's not all that likable. Amy lies about her identity and lies to her family about where she is! Her ruse is so elaborate and she involves her cousin which could potentially get Flo in serious trouble. Amy joins the Red Cross in London where it's dangerous. If she's killed her family will never know where she is. That's just horrible! Marmee and Father already lost one child, why put them through that again?

In London, Amy befriends Edie, who seems to be a troubled soul, determined to be a bad seed. She's a bad influence on Amy who is already a horrible person. While the Red Cross is not the military, there are rules and regulations and rules for a reason! They are NOT there to go all "khaki wacky" over the soldiers. (There's a reason why Dorothea Dix set the rules for nurses in the Civil War being 30+ and ugly).

The two younger girls are horrible to their supervisor, Marion. I guessed Marion's secret pretty quickly. Edie is incredibly rude and racist towards a Black serviceman as well, making Amy side with her instead of doing the right thing. Jo wouldn't have been so rude, Meg would have scolded and Beth would have been shy but at least talked to the man. Amy feels a bit ashamed. She KNOWS that's not the way she was raised but she does it again! She keeps silent when she should speak.

I still don't buy the Amy/Laurie romance. It's still underdeveloped. A lot is told rather than shown and I don't like that. Why does Laurie love Amy? Why does she love him? She's had a crush on him since childhood but we don't know much more than that. He knows her secrets and keeps quiet and still falls in love.

I also don't understand why Amy thinks she has to give up art. Florence Pugh's Amy gave that great speech in Greta Gerwig's 2020 film. (Amy's genius vs. talent speech). It was hard for women in the 1860s but this Amy seems to enjoy art and is good at it. Does she even know she's not great? I don't understand that.

Are you still reading? One more minor critique. If I were going to update Little Women and set it in New England, because it is a quintessentially New England story, I would have made the Marches half Irish or ethnic, descendants of mill workers AND the Boston abolitionist. It would make more sense. I don't know anyone in New England who is pure Yankee. I had maybe one classmate who didn't know where her family was from and when but judging from her name, her ancestors were likely French-Canadian mill workers and I very much grew up in the same kind of community as the March sisters not too too far from Concord.

I'd like to know how much research the authors did on WWII Concord. I was curious whether there was a swimming pool and if Amy had ever been to the other side of town, near the factories, to try "exotic" ethnic food. I'd have liked to see her head a little bit west on a date and visit a little hole in the wall restaurant in Fitchburg known as L'Conco D'Oro. She could have befriended Rita, age 15, the youngest in the family of 5 children. She had two big sisters. I think they could have related to one another! Sadly I don't think Fred Vaughn would have gone to an Eye-talian place. Too exotic. She'll have to go with Laurie when he comes back.

Anyway; TL:DR This book had potential but it's not a good adaption of the beloved novel.