Monday, July 21, 2014

MMGM- Secrets of the Manor

Confession: When I was in elementary and middle school, I wanted to live in an English orphanage. I liked my parents well enough, but adored Edward's Mandy as well as Carlson's Happy Orphelines, and was sure that an English orphange would be awesome. I hadn't read much about English manor houses (except for the Chronicles of Narnia, and England was NOT the point of those!), but loved Sayers' Lord Peter Mysteries in college. Downton Abbey was a natural progression for me, but now I'm deep into season two of Larkrise to Candleford. I am predisposed to like the following series!

18775448Whitby, Adele. Beth's Story (Secrets of the Manor #1)
June 24th 2014 by Simon Spotlight

In 1914, Beth is looking forward to celebrating her 12th birthday because she will be considered a young lady and recieve an heirloom locket, the twin of which her cousin and penpal Kate in America will get. Another cousin, Gabrielle, and her family are visiting from France for the occasion, but Gabrielle and her snooty maid are causing all sorts of difficulties, especially when Gabrielle's own heirloom necklace is missing. The blame is pinned to Beth's new lady's maid, Shannon, whom Beth pulled from the ranks of housemaids to assist her, even though other maids had more experience. Since Shannon is going to be dismissed unless Beth can figure out what really happened, Beth investigates and finds out what really happened. This is the first book in the series; in the second, Beth travels to America to visit her cousin Kate.
Strengths: This is a short (148 pages), appealing book that girls will be apt to read themselves into... I know I would have! Like the Royal Diaries from Scholastic, this is concerned more with day to day life than larger historical events of the time, but that makes it a good introduction to historical fiction for young readers. The fact that this is a series with books with appealing covers makes this a must have for elementary libraries and a good bet even for middle school.
Weaknesses: Beth is rather overprivileged and worthy of a few light slaps at the beginning, although she does improve. Had this been any longer, I probably would have given up on the book because she was so unpleasant at the beginning.

18722882Barrett, Tracy. The Stepsister's Tale
June 24th 2014 by Harlequin Teen

Ever since Lady Jane Mountjoy's alcoholic father abadoned her family, she and her sister and mother have tried to survive as best they can in their rapidly disintegrating mansion. While food and fuel are scarce, Jane's mother seems oblivious to this and insists that they still act like "ladies" even though they are lacking shoes. When their mother goes to town for a week and comes back with a new husband and stepdaughter, the depth of their deprivation is revealed. The husband starts to try to repair the mansion, but soon falls ill and dies, leaving his daughter Isabella behind to deal with his debts. Things become even worse, and soon Jane is depending on the kindness of their impoverished neighbors, exchanging mending for food and firewood. When the prince announces a ball for all the young ladies in the kingdom, Isabella thinks that this might be her way out of her situation, but Jane has discovered secrets about the prince that make this seem like less of a good idea.
Strengths: This is a fresh retelling of the Cinderella tale, deftly switching things up with a new villain. At first, this confused me, because I couldn't tell who was supposed to be evil-- both Jane and Isabella, while both flawed, were sympathetic. Very cleverly done. There's not much happiness here; everything is deprivation and ruined grandeur, which might make this appealing to readers who want problem novels. Our 7th grade used to do an entire unit on Cinderella, so this would be interesting for that, or for a unit on folktales.
Weaknesses: The cover makes this look like a cheesy Gothic romance novel. Especially like the eyeshadow and the well plucked eyebrows. Not how I saw the characters at all!

It's Marvelous Middle Grade Monday at Ramblings of a Wannabe Scribe and What Are You Reading? day at Teach Mentor Texts and Unleashing Readers. It's also Nonfiction Monday at Anastasia Suen's blog.


  1. Probably not one for me, but I do have several young readers who would enjoy both these books. Thanks for recommending.

  2. Anonymous11:12 AM EDT

    Well too on the orphanage. I also wanted to solve mysteries whilst there. I am a tad (well, more than a tad) behind on my middle grade reading and have not read Secrets of the Manor yet.

    So, so agree on the cover of the YA...!

  3. Both stories sound fascinating, although I am not a fan of either cover, alas!

  4. I hope you are enjoying Larkrise! I really enjoyed that series. The book it's based on (while very different from the show) is interesting as well.
    These look like interesting titles! I especially thought the first one sounded intriguing--a sort of Downton Abbey for young people. Thanks for featuring these!

  5. Gosh I heard about this Cinderella retelling from Tracy years ago and I'm so glad it's out!

  6. I understand you completely. I wanted to live on the Island of the Blue Dolphins or live with the Pevensie children and visit Narnia through the wardrobe but I also wanted to keep my family too. I was also deep into Louisa May Alcott books and loved all her characters.

    We have very similar movie tastes. I have always wanted to see Larkrise to Candleford but haven't been able to find it. I suppose I can buy it at A and E. If you haven't yet seen it, check out Cranford. Talk about girl power (old girl power) Emma Stanton has her best role ever and all the characters are fabulous. Cranford is right up there with all my Jane Austen favorites.

  7. Anonymous4:12 AM EDT

    Was studing both covers of books for today and wondering what readers would be drawn in... It has been a while since I completely disliked a character that I just shut it... The Stepsisters' Tale sounds quite intriguing, haven't read a good fairy tale adaptation novel in around... a month or so... :)

  8. ...and I wanted to go to boarding school!

  9. Two lovely middle-grade titles, thank you so much for sharing them. Beth's story sounds like something my 12 year girl might be interested to read. Glad to always chance upon new reading materials, thanks to you.