When Women Invented Television: The Untold Story of the Female Powerhouses Who Pioneered the Way We Watch Today (2021)

When Women Invented Television: The Untold Story of the Female Powerhouses Who Pioneered the Way We Watch Today

Book: When Women Invented Television: The Untold Story of the Female Powerhouses Who Pioneered the Way We Watch Today
Author:
 Jennifer Keishin Armstrong
Publication Info: 2021, Harper
Genres: Nonfiction, Pop Culture, Women’s History, Media/Culture Studies, Biography
My Rating: 4 stars. 4 star average on Goodreads

Summary

The New York Times bestselling author of Seinfeldia tells the little-known story of four trailblazing women in the early days of television who laid the foundation of the industry we know today.

It was the Golden Age of Radio and powerful men were making millions in advertising dollars reaching thousands of listeners every day. When television arrived, few radio moguls were interested in the upstart industry and its tiny production budgets, and expensive television sets were out of reach for most families. But four women—each an independent visionary— saw an opportunity and carved their own paths, and in so doing invented the way we watch tv today.

Irna Phillips turned real-life tragedy into daytime serials featuring female dominated casts. Gertrude Berg turned her radio show into a Jewish family comedy that spawned a play, a musical, an advice column, a line of house dresses, and other products. Hazel Scott, already a renowned musician, was the first African American to host a national evening variety program. Betty White became a daytime talk show fan favorite and one of the first women to produce, write, and star in her own show.

Together, their stories chronicle a forgotten chapter in the history of television and popular culture.

But as the medium became more popular—and lucrative—in the wake of World War II, the House Un-American Activities Committee arose to threaten entertainers, blacklisting many as communist sympathizers. As politics, sexism, racism, anti-Semitism, and money collided, the women who invented television found themselves fighting from the margins, as men took control. But these women were true survivors who never gave up—and thus their legacies remain with us in our television-dominated era. It’s time we reclaimed their forgotten histories and the work they did to pioneer the medium that now rules our lives.

Review

It was the Golden Age of Radio and powerful men were making millions in advertising dollars reaching thousands of listeners every day. When television arrived, few radio moguls were interested in the upstart industry and its tiny production budgets, and expensive television sets were out of reach for most families. But four women—each an independent visionary— saw an opportunity and carved their own paths, and in so doing invented the way we watch tv today.

The author focused on four pioneering women during this time period in media/television: Irna Phillips, Gertrude Berg, Hazel Scott, and Betty White.

The book recognizes these women as four different parts of tv’s history of the time — these themes included womanhood/gender, motherhood, being unmarried/single, being political or opinionated. Having certain identities. Race, religion, gender. Mix this against the backdrop of the Cold War, McCarthyism, shifting dynamics socially and culturally, and one can see how media has played an indispensable role in US history. It’s only fair to tell the unique stories and perspectives of the women who played their part in the rise of television.

The format of the book is split into chapters that focus on the unique attributes of the four women analyzed. In my view, they can be deemed almost symbolic of certain obstacles faced as well as personalities, successes and victories. The author noted for example that daytime stars paved the way for Winfrey or DeGeneres. They created the appeal of the soap opera or the family drama. Building off the back of the massive success of radio, television eventually became more accessible to the general public — the impact is obvious. More entertainment, more commercialization, more news, more access. Nowadays we probably take it for granted, having the whole world in our hands every day as long as our phone’s charged. Imagine just a short while ago, it was all brand new.

I learned quite a bit about these women. Most importantly to me, it was a well researched topic that was interesting and relevant. A lot of books are coming out about the role of women in certain industries, like coding or intelligence during WWI-II or science generally. There will definitely be room to dig deeper into the experiences of women in the entertainment industry, but I think this book did a great job of taking the initiative to bring together four experiences and show overlap, thematic similarities AND the specific obstacles & positive influences by each of these women. 

Who’s it good for?

Fans of the above listed women who are covered in this book, those who like to read about women’s history, those interested in media/cultural studies (especially 1920s-30s USA), those interested in television/celebrities.

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/54236116-when-women-invented-television

Teatime at Grosvenor Square: An Unofficial Cookbook for Fans of Bridgerton—75 Sinfully Delectable Recipes (2021)

Teatime at Grosvenor Square: An Unofficial Cookbook for Fans of Bridgerton—75 Sinfully Delectable Recipes

Book: Teatime at Grosvenor Square: An Unofficial Cookbook for Fans of Bridgerton—75 Sinfully Delectable Recipes
Author:
 Dahlia Clearwater
Publication Info: 2021, Sky Horse Publishing, Simon & Schuster
Genres: Cookbook, Pop Culture, British Food, Tea Time, Cultural Studies, Baking
My Rating: 4 stars

Summary

Delightful food and drink recipes inspired by Netflix’s hit show Bridgerton and Julia Quinn’s bestselling novels. Finger sandwiches, pastries, roasts, desserts, cocktails, and more!

You are cordially invited to dine with society’s finest! From the magnificent macaron towers to the heavenly fruit-topped trifles, the food of Bridgerton steals the show. Teatime at Grosvenor Square brings you 75 tempting recipes inspired by those candy-colored treats and opulent feasts.

Now you can create a spread of delicate finger sandwiches, captivating canapés, and bite-sized sweets scrumptious enough to impress Queen Charlotte herself! Plus, you’ll find a few recipes worthy of a Bridgerton family supper.

Whether you choose to enjoy a delicious confection with Daphne or a strong cocktail with the Duke, Teatime at Grosvenor Square will make binge-watching Bridgerton even better!

Review

This cookbook has a collection of English teatime favorites. My all-time favorite is the cucumber sandwich, and my favorite dessert is Victoria sponge cake. I decided to try out the recipe for cucumber sandwiches. The recipe was easy to follow and the visuals helped give an idea of what to model the display after. I have made these sandwiches plenty of times before, but this recipe was a bit different (it worked just fine!).

I found that most of the recipes are clear, straightforward and appropriate for all ranges of skill levels in the kitchen. Some require basic ingredients, while others are a bit more specialized. The types of foods include: scones and pastries, jams/spreads, cakes and pies, cookies, ice creams/pudding type desserts, soups, meat based dishes, and cocktails. There are 75 recipes jammed into this cookbook!

Teatime at Grosvenor Square: An Unofficial Cookbook for Fans of Bridgerton―75  Sinfully Delectable Recipes: Clearwater, Dahlia: 9781510767294: Amazon.com:  Books

The pictures are so beautiful. They make me wish I could set up some nice spreads! Therefore, they have some great presentation ideas. Almost every recipe gets a corresponding photo so you can see what it would look like.

Teatime at Grosvenor Square: An Unofficial Cookbook for Fans of Bridgerton―75  Sinfully Delectable Recipes: Clearwater, Dahlia: 9781510767294: Amazon.com:  Books

As for the Bridgerton tie in, it is mostly due to 1) the “English tea time” theme and 2) names or little blurbs added to the dishes. Of course, these are inspired by the time period and the cultural themes. So that’s really where it ties in the most.

As a result, you don’t need to be a Bridgerton fan to get any value out of this cookbook. It can be a standalone, as long as you want to make the typical “tea time” foods.

Good for a fan of the show or not! If you want to put on a tea party or quaint dinner, or even just an assortment of nice looking treats for a gathering, this is a good choice.

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/56802057-teatime-at-grosvenor-square

New Autobiography/Memoir: Will by Will Smith (2021)

Today’s post is just an informative one about a new book/audiobook published this week by Will Smith. This book is autobiographical and memoir style. I’m listening to it via Penguin Audio, which in my opinion is one of the best ways to “read” memoirs (listening to the author tell you their stories!).

The book is entitled simply Will and published on 9 November 2021 by Penguin Press. Here is the official Goodreads summary for what it entails:

Summary:

One of the most dynamic and globally recognized entertainment forces of our time opens up fully about his life, in a brave and inspiring book that traces his learning curve to a place where outer success, inner happiness, and human connection are aligned. Along the way, Will tells the story in full of one of the most amazing rides through the worlds of music and film that anyone has ever had.

Will Smith’s transformation from a fearful child in a tense West Philadelphia home to one of the biggest rap stars of his era and then one of the biggest movie stars in Hollywood history, with a string of box office successes that will likely never be broken, is an epic tale of inner transformation and outer triumph, and Will tells it astonishingly well. But it’s only half the story.

Will Smith thought, with good reason, that he had won at life: not only was his own success unparalleled, his whole family was at the pinnacle of the entertainment world. Only they didn’t see it that way: they felt more like star performers in his circus, a seven-days-a-week job they hadn’t signed up for. It turned out Will Smith’s education wasn’t nearly over.

This memoir is the product of a profound journey of self-knowledge, a reckoning with all that your will can get you and all that it can leave behind. Written with the help of Mark Manson, author of the multi-million-copy bestseller The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck, Will is the story of how one person mastered his own emotions, written in a way that can help everyone else do the same. Few of us will know the pressure of performing on the world’s biggest stages for the highest of stakes, but we can all understand that the fuel that works for one stage of our journey might have to be changed if we want to make it all the way home. The combination of genuine wisdom of universal value and a life story that is preposterously entertaining, even astonishing, puts Will the book, like its author, in a category by itself.

The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air Cast: Where Are They Now | PEOPLE.com

I’m personally really excited to complete this book. I love The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air and some of Will Smith’s other works, including his time in music. I am interested really in just learning what I can about his experience, hopefully quite a bit about the show and maybe his relationships with other cast members. Of course, there will be plenty about his childhood, family, wife/children, etc.

Quick Thoughts

My quick thoughts so far is that I absolutely love the cover. I am kinda amazed really that I hadn’t seen any media attention for this release prior to this week. I subscribe to tons of emails, work with books all day long, read constantly, and use bookish social media constantly, and I never saw much of anything about this release. I saw a mention in a newsletter this week and was surprised! I thought maybe it was a book ABOUT Smith, not by Smith. Either way, I love the cover, it’s really cool and I would like to see the edition IRL especially if there are photographs (I’m sure there are).

The audio is crisp and of course a high quality production. I honestly believe that memoirs/autobios are great on audio most of the time. I’ve yet to listen to one that wasn’t. There’s just that added level of intimacy in the storytelling process when you can hear the author recount their words.

Put this one on your radar if you’re into memoirs, autobiographies, nonfiction, celebrities/media history, etc. I suppose it’s really best if you’re a fan of Will Smith, but I’ve hardly ever heard of anyone who wasn’t. Review to come, no where near finished with this one yet!

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/en/book/show/58375739

New York Times article: https://www.nytimes.com/2021/11/09/books/review-will-smith-memoir.html

Website: https://willthebook.com/

Amazon First Reads – November 2021

If you’re an Amazon Prime member, you can get one free Kindle e-book from the selection provided every month by Amazon book editors choices. There are usually nine genres represented. From my experience, the books tend to be from small/indie publishers or new authors, as well as Amazon’s publishing entities. The books are early release copies.

For November, the choices are as followed:

At First Light (Dr. Evan Wilding Book 1) by [Barbara Nickless]

Choice 1 – Mystery
Title: At First Light (Dr. Evan Wilding Book 1) by Barbara Nickless
Summary: On the muddy banks of the Calumet River, a body has been found posed next to a series of mysterious glyphs and bearing wounds from a ritualistic slaying. Chicago detective Addie Bisset knows only one man who can decipher the message left by the killer: her friend Dr. Evan Wilding. A brilliant forensic semiotician, Evan decodes the etchings as Viking Age runes. They suggest either human sacrifice or righteous punishment. But to what god? And for what sins? Only one thing is clear from the disturbing runic riddles: there are more victims to come. As Evan races to determine the identity of the Viking Poet, he and Addie uncover the killer’s most terrifying secret yet: the motive. This startling discovery puts Evan’s life in mortal danger, and verse by ancient verse, time is running out.

Choice 2 – Book Club Fiction
Title: Three More Months by Sarah Echavarre
Summary: What if you woke up one day and the loved one you’d lost was suddenly, inexplicably alive again? Chloe Howard’s devotion to her job has come at a cost: spending time with the most important person in her life—her mother. Vowing to change, she plans a trip home. Sadly, hours before she arrives, her mother passes away, leaving Chloe without a goodbye and riddled with grief and regret. But maybe…maybe it’s not too late. Just days before the funeral, Chloe finds her mother unaccountably alive and well. And it’s no longer May; she’s been transported back in time to March. No one—not Chloe’s brother, friends, or colleagues—understands why Chloe is so confused. How can she make sense of this? It’s impossible. But Chloe is going to make the most of it. She’s going to do everything differently: repair family rifts, forge new bonds, tell her mother every day how much she loves her, and possibly prevent the inevitable. This is a second chance Chloe never saw coming. She’s not wasting a minute of it.

Choice 3 – Domestic Suspense
Title: Into the Sound by Cara Reinard
Summary: A terrified voice on the phone. The line goes dead. The mystery begins. During a superstorm, Holly Boswell receives a panicked call from her sister, Vivian: Come get me…There’s somebody coming. But when Holly arrives at a Long Island marina, there’s only her sister’s abandoned car. Vivian is gone. It’s all eerily familiar. Holly and Vivian used to play hide-and-seek as children. It was a reprieve from the mental abuses of their parents, psychology professors who raised the siblings as if it were research. Decades later, Holly is reminded of their childhood games. In her relentless search for the answers, Holly is reading between the lines in Vivian’s journals. She’s untangling clues in their mother’s diary and discovering secrets from her sister’s private world that are casting a dangerous shadow. Maybe Vivian has reasons for wanting to disappear from her well-to-do life. Or is it something more sinister? As Holly follows Vivian’s trail, she can’t shake the feeling that someone might be following her.

Choice 4 – Historical Fiction
Title: The Last Rose of Shanghai by Weina Dai Randel
Summary: In Japanese-occupied Shanghai, two people from different cultures are drawn together by fate and the freedom of music… Aiyi Shao is a young heiress and the owner of a formerly popular and glamorous Shanghai nightclub. Ernest Reismann is a penniless Jewish refugee driven out of Germany, an outsider searching for shelter in a city wary of strangers. He loses nearly all hope until he crosses paths with Aiyi. When she hires Ernest to play piano at her club, her defiance of custom causes a sensation. His instant fame makes Aiyi’s club once again the hottest spot in Shanghai. Soon they realize they share more than a passion for jazz—but their differences seem insurmountable, and Aiyi is engaged to another man. As the war escalates, Aiyi and Ernest find themselves torn apart, and their choices between love and survival grow more desperate. In the face of overwhelming odds, a chain of events is set in motion that will change both their lives forever. From the electrifying jazz clubs to the impoverished streets of a city under siege, The Last Rose of Shanghai is a timeless, sweeping story of love and redemption.

Choice 5 – Memoir
Title: Flying on the Inside: A Memoir of Trauma and Recovery by Rachel Gotto
Summary: When her six-year-old daughter found her collapsed on the kitchen floor, Rachel had no idea how much her life was about to change. A brain scan revealed a dark shadowy mass, a huge abnormal growth of tissue that, whilst benign, was still growing and would surely kill her. It was too big to operate on. It needed to be ‘managed’, and Rachel had, at best, two years to live. Refusing to accept the bleak prognosis, Rachel was determined to stay alive. She had already lost far too much. She had already watched her brother succumb, at only twenty-eight, to cancer. She had already lost her beloved husband in a terrible scuba diving accident when she was six months pregnant. So she did the only thing she knew how to do. She fought for her life. This gripping and inspiring memoir about overcoming tragedy and trauma charts one tenacious woman’s incredible fight to find light in the darkest of journeys. It is a life-affirming tale of positivity and hope in the face of the most difficult of human experiences.

Choice 6 – Literary Fiction
Title: Bed Stuy: A Love Story by Jerry McGill
Summary: Rashid is a young Black man from Bed Stuy, Brooklyn, with a complicated life. Looking for an escape from a neighborhood few ever leave, he finds it in Rachel—married, twenty years his senior, and the daughter of a Holocaust survivor. It begins with a flirtation and a tryst. It becomes an intense romance, exhilarating and enriching, that defies the expectations of Rashid’s friends and family. What draws Rachel to Rashid is his curiosity, his need for intimacy, and his adoration—everything lacking in her crumbling marriage. But as the fault lines of their relationship become more prevalent, so do the inevitable choices one makes when falling in love.

Choice 7 – Contemporary Romance
Title: Read Between the Lines by Rachel Lacey
Summary: Books are Rosie Taft’s life. And ever since she took over her mother’s beloved Manhattan bookstore, they’ve become her home too. The only thing missing is her own real-life romance like the ones she loves to read about, and Rosie has an idea of who she might like to sweep her off her feet. She’s struck up a flirty online friendship with lesbian romance author Brie, and what could be more romantic than falling in love with her favorite author? Jane Breslin works hard to keep her professional and personal lives neatly separated. By day, she works for the family property development business. By night, she puts her steamier side on paper under her pen name: Brie. Jane hasn’t had much luck with her own love life, but her online connection with a loyal reader makes Jane wonder if she could be the one. When Rosie learns that her bookstore’s lease has been terminated by Jane’s family’s business, romance moves to the back burner. Even though they’re at odds, there’s no denying the sparks that fly every time they’re together. When their online identities are revealed, will Jane be able to write her way to a happy ending, or is Rosie’s heart a closed book?

Choice 8 – Historical Fantasy
Title: Innate Magic by Shannon Fay (#1 of series)
Summary: Delightfully cheeky, unquestionably charming, and sometimes maddeningly naive, cloth mage Paul Gallagher is desperately trying to make a name for himself in a reimagined postwar London. But in a world where magic is commonplace, sewing enchanted clothes is seen as little more than a frivolous distraction. Paul is hiding a secret, however: he possesses a powerful—and illegal—innate magic that could help him achieve his wildest dreams. Unfortunately, Paul confides in the wrong person—his latest crush, Captain Hector Hollister—and is drawn into a sinister plot that risks reigniting the machinery of war. To make matters worse, the pretty American gossip reporter Paul just met reveals her personal quest to expose a government cover-up may be related to Hollister’s magical goals. When Hollister threatens the life of Paul’s dearest friend, he realizes that his poor judgement has put not only his family and friends in danger, but also the whole world. The only way to set things right may be for Paul to undergo the dangerous ritual to become Court Magician—the most powerful magician in the country. But is becoming part of the institution the best way to enact change in a terribly unjust society?

Choice 9 – Children’s Picture Book
Title: Dancing with Daddy by Anitra Schulte
Summary: Elsie can’t wait to go to her first father-daughter dance. She picked out the perfect dress and has been practicing swirling and swaying in her wheelchair. Elsie’s heart pirouettes as she prepares for her special night. With gestures, smiles, and words from a book filled with pictures, she shares her excitement with her family. But when a winter storm comes, she wonders if she’ll get the chance to spin and dance her way to a dream come true.

My choice was the historical fiction! Have fun 🙂

Star Wars: The Princess, the Scoundrel, and the Farm Boy (2015)

A New Hope: The Princess, the Scoundrel, and the Farm Boy (Star Wars)

Audiobook: Star Wars: The Princess, the Scoundrel, and the Farm Boy
Author:
 Alexandra Bracken
Publication Info: 2015, Disney Lucas Film Press
Genres: Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Young Readers, Novelization, Audiobook
My Rating: 3.5-4 stars

This review is for the book and audiobook versions of Star Wars: The Princess, the Scoundrel, and the Farm Boy published in 2015 by Disney Lucas Film Press. It is considered a Disney canon junior novel. It is written by Alexandra Bracken. Currently, it has 4.06 stars on Goodreads. I gave it 3.5 stars and 4 stars for the audiobook version.

Summary


The galaxy is at war.

Although the Rebel Alliance has won a few battles against the Empire, hope is fading. The Empire is about to unveil the greatest weapon the galaxy has ever seen–the Death Star. The Rebels’ only chance to defeat it now lies in the unlikely hands of a princess, a scoundrel, and a farm boy….

Review


Published by Disney-Lucasfilm, this is a canon novelization of A New Hope. It is split into three sections: The Princess (Leia Organa), The Scoundrel (Han Solo and Chewbacca), and The Farm Boy (Luke Skywalker). Also features Obi-Wan Kenobi, C3PO and R2D2, as well as a hilarious version of Jabba the Hutt….

I listened to the audiobook. I have to say, it is one of my fav audiobooks ever so far and got me back into listening to books! The voices are spot-on, and the sound effects and music set the atmosphere perfectly. Poor reviews I’ve noticed for this book complain that it is just a copy of the movie — well, yeah… but I think it’s ideal for anyone wanting to read, especially kids, and practice that skill (it is a junior novelization).

If you’ve seen the movie, you know the plot. Here and there, there are bits of added analysis that I thought were actually kind of insightful. The guided perspectives are interesting, but my fav is Han’s. I don’t think I need to do a summary, but I’ll add that the book’s rather short and you can finish the audiobook in a few hours. It covers the nitty gritty of things.

Who’s It Good For? — All readers, but especially middle grade – young readers. I suggest the audiobook more than the book alone. Both together would be adequate for a young reader, but for an adult might be a bit slow. I listened to the audiobook while doing things around the house, so that’s where I got my entertainment value.

Bottom Line: Highly recommended for kids/middle grade readers especially with the audio. I imagine this would be very good to help with encouraging reading.

Links

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/21947304-a-new-hope

The Poison Garden (2020)

The Poison Garden

Book: The Poison Garden
Author:
 Alex Marwood
Publication Info: 2020, Penguin Books
Genres: Suspense/Thriller, Cult, Psychological Thriller/Suspense, Fiction
My Rating: 3 stars

Summary


Shocking, tense and sharply written, The Poison Garden is the gripping new novel from the international bestseller and Edgar award-winning Alex Marwood.

Where Romy grew up, if someone died you never spoke of them again.

Now 22, she has recently escaped the toxic confines of the cult she was raised in. But Romy is young, pregnant and completely alone – and if she is to keep herself safe in this new world, she has some important lessons to learn.

Like how there are some people you can trust, and some you must fear. And about who her family really is, and why her mother ran away from them all those years ago.

And that you can’t walk away from a dark past without expecting it to catch up with you…


Review

This is a psychological thriller about a secretive and mysterious cult, The Ark, set in Northern Wales and southern England. The story begins with a police officer finding a large amount of deceased people on an estate; there are only a few survivors. The book switches between an adult survivor, Romy (who is pregnant), Somer (her mother), and Sarah (an aunt who will be tasked with attending to her after she is released from care after surviving the mass deaths). Two others, minors, survive and are shipped off to live with the Aunt, who is grappling with the death of a sister she never really knew and the newfound responsibility of taking care of mysterious and odd cult-surviving children.

Essentially, the original mother was kicked out as a young pregnant single mother by her domineering hyper-religious parents (who were implied to be cult-like in religion) and found a new home via a predatory cult in northern wales. The leader is a charismatic and manipulative man + his American wife who grooms members. They all are assigned work, roles, etc and every now and then women are impregnated by the leader.

Much weirder than even this….

This is nothing like a heartwarming Kimmy Schmidt type story. It is really, really weird, and there is a lot of building up to….

SPOILERS AFTER THIS POINT

The survivors are manipulated BACK INTO THE CULT after they spent 300-something pages describing how crappy and abusive it was. Romy and Somer have brief moments of awareness but that seems to matter little — at the same time, even though I wish it didn’t end this way, I actually appreciate the ending. I KNOW, contradictory. Why? Because it is realistic in the psychological aspect: they were born and bred quite literally into the cult, and leaving simply wasn’t an option. I appreciate that, but don’t understand why Sarah, the “regular adult,” was manipulated into it so easily?

Content Warnings

Okay for fans of psychological weirdness. Warning: contains rape, abuse, murder, emotional/physical harm, drugs, “bad words” and abandonment / being kicked out due to pregnancy, and lots of death.

Links

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/44777424-the-poison-garden

Calling All Witches! The Girls Who Left Their Mark on the Wizarding World (2019)

Calling All Witches! The Girls Who Left Their Mark on the Wizarding World (Harry Potter and Fantastic Beasts)

Book: Calling All Witches! The Girls Who Left Their Mark on the Wizarding World
Authors: Laurie Calkhoven & Violet Tobacco
Publication Info: 2019, Scholastic
Genres: Popular Fiction, Fantasy, Fan Work/Art, Harry Potter Lore, Young Readers
My Rating: 3.5-4 stars

This book review is for Calling All Witches! The Girls Who Left Their Mark on the Wizarding World published by Scholastic in 2019. This book is part of the Harry Potter Wizarding World collection. It is credited to Laurie Calkhoven & Violet Tobacco. It currently has 4 stars average on Goodreads.

Summary


For all the girls as clever as Hermione Granger, as strong as Leta Lestrange, and as fierce as Minerva McGonagall, this incredible compendium is packed with the stories of Harry Potter and Fantastic Beasts’ extraordinary heroines! Besides the series’ best-known characters, get to know the female mentors, founders, rule-breakers, and — yes, even villains like Bellatrix Lestrange and Vinda Rosier — who made the wizarding world what it is today.

Complete with gorgeous, full-color illustrations and photography from iconic movie moments on every spread, fans will love this colorful romp with the most empowering witches of our age. Explore the many ways these women built, enriched, and saved the wizarding world, and get inspired by their stories in this compelling handbook–a must-have for fans!

Review


This book features the women of the Harry Potter series. From the major to minor characters, this book is split into thematic chapters. Both sides of the Wizarding World are shown, including characters such as the obnoxious, dogmatic Professor Umbridge or the evil, insane Deatheater Bellatrix Lestrange. It does include professors at Hogwarts and new additions to the Wizarding World such as the Fantastic Beasts characters.

In my view, the strength of this book is in its delightful illustrations. The image below shows an example of the layout of the book.

Calling All Witches! The Girls Who Left Their Mark on the Wizarding World  (Harry Potter and Fantastic Beasts) | Scholastic Canada

Essentially, a character is introduced alongside a full-color drawn image with symbols related to their story. Some characters get full pages and some are grouped together in themes like Dumbledore’s Army. As shown below, there is a passage about Hermione and her contributions to the Harry Potter canon. Each gets some sort of depiction about their unique contributions or characteristics; as shown with Hermione, the author assesses her to be “intelligent, gifted, brave.” Of course, it is not a full coverage of the character and sometimes it seems a bit surface level, but keeping in mind the age/reading level of the book, as well as its aims, it is meant to be more of a children’s book than anything. Keeping it simple and straightforward is really the whole point. But I mean… if it got extended into a deeper character analysis, I think it would be amazing.


This is a short read, but visually beautiful. It is something that I would suggest for fans of the Harry Potter series. This is also a great read geared toward young readers, as it is engaging and relates to a popular series. All ages, however, will be delighted if they are big fans of the Harry Potter series. The illustrations are amazing, and I love the layout idea. I read this book on an ebook reader and was still impressed by the visuals, so I would be optimistic and say that it definitely will look good IRL as a physical hardback copy.

Links

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/46043127-calling-all-witches-the-girls-who-left-their-mark-on-the-wizarding-worl

The Perfect Guests (2021)

Book: The Perfect Guests
Author:
Emma Rous
Publication Info: 2021, Berkley Books
Genres: Thriller/Suspense, Mystery, Dual POV/Timeline
My Rating: 1 or 2 stars, didn’t really like it (unfortunately) 

The Perfect Guests

Today’s review is for The Perfect Guests by Emma Rous (2021) published by Berkley Books in January of this year. It is categorized as a thriller/suspense novel. It’s a little under 300 pages, set in England, and utilizes a dual POV and past/present timeline alternating between chapters. This is similar to the author’s previous release, The Au Pair.

I received an electronic copy of this book through a sponsored giveaway by the publisher, facilitated through NetGalley, in exchange for honest feedback.

The USA Today bestselling author of The Au Pair returns with another delicious, twisty novel–about a grand estate with many secrets, an orphan caught in a web of lies, and a young woman playing a sinister game.


I read The Au Pair last year on a whim. I just searched in my library’s database for the keyword “England” and the book popped up. I had no prior knowledge of the book whatsoever; in fact, based on its cover and title, I thought it was a romance. However, it was a really surprising and captivating read. I decided to be on the lookout for more by Rous, and I was quickly rewarded with news of this release of The Perfect Guests. Yet, I was left feeling a bit let down with The Perfect Guests… unfortunately for me, it was not worth the excitement.

As a reviewer, I do not like leaving negative feedback. However, sometimes negative feedback is the most honest feedback. As I discussed above, I am a fan of the author and their previous book; I want her books to succeed. Despite my build up to what is going to be some critical points made, I will say that the book holds a 3.49 average rating on Goodreads (over 5,000 ratings).

Without further delay (anxious sweating), I need to dive into some of my feedback for this book. The review will first be a summary (spoilers will be indicated before in bold, so be careful) and then a review which includes the pros and cons of this book. Scroll to the very bottom for links to where you can get it if you feel so inclined!

Summary

The past storyline is set in 1988 with Beth Soames as the main point of view character. Beth, a preteen, is orphaned after her parents and disabled brother are killed in a car accident while rushing to the hospital. Through these circumstances, she ultimately arrives in the care of the Averell family. The Averells live in a large, grand estate (Raven Hall) in the Fens, which is coastal area of east England, and seem pretty welcoming when all things are considered. Beth meets their daughter, who is around her age, named Nina. The story follows these two girls as their friendship develops. One of the constant themes throughout this development is Beth’s sense of identity being tied to 1) keeping the family happy so they don’t chuck her out, 2) listening to what Nina wants to do because of #1, and 3) not having much opportunity to leave the estate due to its isolation from the local village and Nina’s parents’ rigid insistence that they stay on the estate. They find some solace in exploring the grounds, including often swimming in the lake (see cover photo) and hanging out with one local boy.

The modern timeline is set in 2019, with the main point of view being Sadie, a wanna-be actress struggling to make ends meet. We are introduced to her as she is clearing out her mother’s belongings and receives a call from her agent about participating in a murder mystery event as a hired guest. When she hears about the pay and the opportunity, Sadie is invigorated and readily agrees. When she turns up to the (seemingly) elaborately organized event at Raven Hall, she has mixed feelings about the guests, the estate, and the host. There seems to be a lot of fire damage to the building, and some of the areas of the home are just plain creepy. According to locals and information she gleans, the family who had lived in the Hall for ages had been turned out since a tragedy occurred some decades before… but now, guests are arriving who seem to have mixed emotions, various ties to the place, or just seem a bit off. When all is said and done, Sadie is wondering if this isn’t just an acting gig… and she may be correct.

Summary P2 (Spoilers)


This book utilizes dual timelines (past and present day) and two different main character points of view. The past is focusing on the Averell family (owners of Raven Hall) and Beth, and the present focuses on Sadie and the guests at the all-but-abandoned Raven Hall. The reader knows that a tragedy happened at Raven Hall due to Sadie’s timeline revealing this info, but it is not clear until about halfway to little bit over halfway through what exactly happens. This is the build-up: the reader knows a tragedy is going to happen in the past timeline (due to foreshadowing given in the present day), and thus knows that the present day timeline (murder mystery game) is shady and very likely related to this event.

Spoilers below this line in this section due to the nature of the discussion on themes utilized by the author. This would spoil some of the plot revelations if you are looking to read this book. Scroll past this until the next section to avoid.

There are several themes throughout the character development in this book which relate to the overall plotline. One of the major themes is Beth’s sense of obligation to the family. As the family takes Beth in with seemingly no legal or moral obligation to do so, Beth seems to feel bound to pleasing the family, following their rules, and not making much fuss. Leonora is Nina’s mom, and she has some rigid rules about her daughter’s life, including all but limiting her to isolation at the estate. She does not often leave the area, and she only has one other real friend, a local boy named Jonas. As you can probably already guess, there is romantic tension in this whole situation. Having developed a teenage relationship with Jonas, Beth starts to detach herself from the obligations of keeping to the estate or following along with what Nina wants to do… however, something even more impactful occurs which alters her forced loyalty the family.

Throughout the story, a “grandfather” figure often travels to the estate from his base in the USA. Every time, the family just straight up freaks out, especially Leonora. Her husband, Marcus, travels the world for business, so sometimes he’s not there… but he’s often there when the grandfather figure turns up. The relationship between the grandfather and Nina’s parents is very tense, as he is characterized as harsh, unreasonable, and terse. Unfortunately, on his first visit, Nina is too sick to come down to see him (for the first time ever), so Leonora asks Beth to pretend to be her. He wouldn’t know because he’s never met or seen a picture of her, so why not? She dresses up a bit differently, does her hair up, and plays the violin for him. He is moved and wants her to come back with him to America, which she declines. This is recurring plot point, but it just becomes odd that Nina is always suddenly too sick to see her grandfather when he does turn up…. and that Beth has to pretend to be her every time…

In the present day, Sadie takes on the acting job of pretending to be a guest for this murder mystery game at a fancy estate (Raven Hall, former home of the Averells and Beth in the past timeline). The whole thing seems really organized and legitimate, from the promised pay to the formalities of 1) her invitation, 2) going through her agent, 3) sending her clothes and instructions, 4) picking her up and transporting to the location. It all just seems like a budding enterprise hoping to act out a game in a perfect setting: an old, abandoned estate with a blemished past. However, Sadie starts to pick up on some of the body language of the guests and the pitfalls of the host and game. Something just seems off; the building seems spooky, one guest in particular seems very agitated and out of place. There’s no cell phone service, and the cars are gone… a few people just got a bit sick off one of the dishes… someone has disappeared? It all seems to be going to pieces when…

You guessed it, there’s an ulterior motive for having this get together. But why Sadie? And who is everyone else? And why?

Major spoilers!! Please don’t read past this line if you have any intention of reading this book. Skip to next section (see headings).

The reader knows that there is a tragedy coming. The present-day Sadie timeline knows that something happened at Raven Hall, but we don’t know what. We do know that the past timeline is probably building up to that revelation. Importantly, there are several things going on that hint at what it could be. First, there is the hunch that Leonora is poisoning Nina, but we don’t know why. Beth figures out that it’s something in her drink and it’s linked to grandpa’s visits. Could it be one poisoning too far? Or could it be that the secret will be let out and something happens to Beth? Or could it have something to do with the lake… it’s on the cover, they go out there a lot, and there’s something going on with Nina and Beth’s relationship as they start to clash over boys, wanting to go out, disagreements, and her parents. Why is there fire damage to the estate? It’s damaged near Nina and Beth’s old bedrooms; did they get trapped in a fire? If so, why and how?

There’s also something going on with the whole grandpa storyline. Why does he keep coming back? Why does he want to get rid of the estate and why does he want Beth/Nina to come back with him so badly? Also, what’s the whole deal with Leonora being so attached to the house? Who is running the mystery game and why… is it revenge?

Well, we figure out that Marcus (Nina’s dad) has died around the time of the tragedy. Did it have something to do with the fire? Did Leonora or the grandpa go crazy and try to get rid of the estate? Or was it something to do with…

yep, yet another timeline. Sometimes we get to read this other POV but we don’t know (or at least I didn’t) who it is until the end of the read. Someone is sneaking around trying to get back into the estate but someone else lives there now. Is it Leonora after being turned out? Is it Beth due to being kicked out? Or maybe Nina coming back to reclaim after her parents couldn’t keep it for some reason?

Who bloody knows…. because….

Review


This book has way too much going on and none of it made any sense by the end. It’s convoluted, trite, and forced. Too many twists, no substance to most of them, and little character development enough to understand why any of this is happening. This is especially the case with Sadie’s timeline. So many new characters are introduced (although several are not technically new, as they are featured in the past timelines) and the reader is aware that they have some ties back to the past, but it’s not clear how or why. The ultimate point to all of this was that the family, specifically Leonora, was obsessed with Raven Hall and for some reason they are turned out. It becomes a point of the book that the murder mystery game has something to do with that, but we don’t figure out why until the last few sections.

As I said earlier, I liked The Au Pair. The weakness of that release (and many other reviews agree with this) was the ending. The build up was interesting and entertaining, but the final bang was unbelievably forced and left me thinking, “Really? After all that… this is the big revelation?” It’s like the conclusion of an undergraduate paper written before the deadline… it’s like you just want to get it over with, so you slap it together and say bye. That’s a real shame because I think Rous is talented and a budding author in this genre. I think that she has a knack for the dual pov/timeline writing style, but her weakness is in 1) the endings, 2) too many loose plotlines.

This book would’ve benefited substantially from being clearer in its character development, concise in its choice of twists and turns, and choosy with its elements of suspense. You have an orphan, poison, fire, spooky house, murderer, dead husband, mean grandpa, murder mystery game, someone may have disappeared, house marred in tragedy, someone is snooping in the yard, was someone upstairs or left that door open?, did someone poison the dessert, why did she look at me funny?, I’m going to snoop in people’s rooms, ew this room is creepy, oops someone tried to catch me on fire…

But why though?

That’s the main critique that I have. Why? Why? Why? Drive it home. Why did these characters care so much about this place, why stage a game to exact revenge?

Spoilers

To hide false paternity? Really. That’s all? Because someone fell in the lake and died… but didn’t really? Only one person did, and it wasn’t who you thought because you ran away and hid your whole life and identity and now they found out and want to kill your daughter that they’ve been stalking so they came up with this huge elaborate plan to do so?

I guess. It just ends abruptly with a Scooby-Doo style, “and I would’ve gotten away with it too!” ending and I just didn’t like it.

Which stinks because I was looking forward to this release. I wouldn’t really recommend it unless you think I’m wrong and it sounds really good. In which case, I say go for it! I want Rous’s books to succeed and I will give her next book a go, whenever it comes. I just think that I see some patterns for improvement in The Au Pair and in The Perfect Guests. As with all writers, practice makes perfect and with each book, I hope the best for her stories!

Links

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/53231988-the-perfect-guests