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:

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