Thursday, October 29, 2015

Review: Jane-Emily

Jane-Emily: And Witches' Children by Patricia Clapp.

The Plot: Louisa and her nine year old niece, Jane, are visiting Jane's paternal grandmother for the summer. While there, Jane learns more and more about Emily, her aunt, who died at age twelve.

Is Jane becoming obsessed with Emily?

As Louisa learns more about the long-dead child, she finds out that the dead girl was willful, spiteful, bratty, mean.

And she begins to realize that it's not Jane who is obsessed with Emily. It's Emily who is obsessed with Jane. And Emily won't take "no" for an answer.

The Good: Jane-Emily holds up remarkably well -- incredibly well - it is still as spooky and scary and terrifying and creepy as it was when I first read it, years and years ago. 

Part of what makes Jane-Emily so brilliant is that it creates a feeling of doom, of suffocation, of fear, with very few actual occurrences. It starts with a young girl who seems to know more about a long-dead aunt than she should, and gradually and slowly that becomes more. A poem she shouldn't know about, a broken doll, a torn dress. But more than anything else, all the people who knew Emily can't seem to stop talking about the dead child. And none of it is good. We aren't supposed to speak ill of the dead, especially dead children, especially your own dead child, so that it's done here again and again, just adds to the myth of Emily. Because if someone is speaking ill, it has to be true, right?

What's also terrific about Jane-Emily and who is telling the story (an adult) is that it allows the book to tease with the idea that there is a logical explanation up until the very end, when everything goes dangerous, wild, and out of control on a rainy night. As an adult reading it, I could almost argue that even then, there is a logical reason for all that happens, with a bunch of emotional caught up in their own myth-creating around a sad, long-dead child.

Almost. But it is so much more delicious to instead believe as Jane and Louisa and the others believe. Once upon a long time ago, there was a strong-willed girl named Emily who always, always got her own way and was never told "no." Being spoiled led to great unhappiness for all around her, and her own death. Angry and frustrated to be dead, she came back to haunt the living, punishing her mother, and driving her father to his death. And now, with a new child living in her house, her room, with her family, Emily wants a playmate. One she'll tease and torment -- and want forever.

Much like my rereading of Wait Till Helen Comes was influenced by now modern sensibilities, so I viewed the parents as almost as bad as the ghost, my reading of Jane-Emily is viewed through a modern eye. I confess, I don't think many children or young teen readers will care that Adam is arrogant, controlling, and obnoxious -- because I think he's clearly an adult and children know adults can be all that, but, like Louisa, they love them anyway.

But what do kids think about the continuing message that the problem with Emily was not that she was some sort of bad seed, but, rather, the results of being spoiled and never disciplined? That a permissive parenting style was the problem? That a child-centered marriage was at fault? (And in a way, being child-centered continues as they all talk about Emily.) I don't think they are going to pick up on it as I did; but I do think that they all know "that kid." The one who gets away with everything, at home and at school, and is a bully and mean and a bit horrid. One reason we don't need many details about what Emily has done is the reader can fill them in, based on the Emilys they know. A kid may not want to be punished or reprimanded themselves, but they see, in playgrounds and classrooms and neighborhoods, what happens when other kid aren't. So I think that is why they will accept the origin story of what created Emily -- and why it is just so scary.

Emily is the kid next door, who is now in your house, and won't go home or go away. And while you try to make her happy, you hope that eventually someone will tell her "no". And that she'll listen.

OF COURSE a Favorite Book Read in 2015.

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© Elizabeth Burns of A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Jane-Emily, Chapters Twelve to Sixteen

And we're in the final third of Jane-Emily!

Chapter Twelve

Oh dear. So Adam is going away for a week's course in surgery, and it's all and good for him, but here's the thing. He's also all "and I leave tomorrow." And I'm really, you had no notice of this? You had to wait this long to tell Louisa?

And there's a hint of a proposal to come. Martin who, right!

And Louisa is doing some nervous cleaning and long story short, finds something hidden in Jane's mattress, which used to be Emily's, and it's a child's blood oath of marriage between Adam and Emily.

And of course Louisa totally loses it because what 18 year old wouldn't be jealous of and threatened by a dead 12 year old everyone describes as evil and bratty?

And Jane is also losing it, saying Emily "wanted me to do things" and I'm all WHAT THINGS JANE WHAT THINGS. And I like that there is a hint here that there isn't a Ghost Emily but instead some lonely, damaged, insecure women who are obsessed with a dead child, because that child has more personality than any of them. And Jane did those things on her own and blamed Emily.

Oh! The dress, the favorite dress, has been ruined. And based on the timeline, Jane wasn't around, so we can't blame her. Louisa clearly blames Emily.

Chapter Thirteen

Now Louisa is wondering about Jane being the catalyst for what is going on. And I do wonder how much of Emily's haunting are things Jane has done -- but even that works for haunting, because it's what Emily has made her do.

But, but, but, Jane wasn't around for the dress bit! Plus, you can't blame the wind because there was no wind.

Adam proposes! And how funny is it that this book is built around a courtship and proposal?

And Louisa's first reaction is to say I don't know and cry. So Adam goes all he-man and hustles her away and then turns her "roughly" and leads her "forcibly." But why wouldn't Louisa want this in a husband? It is 1912. We haven't seen her father, but everyone around her seems to see her just as wife material. Plus it is a light romance, fairly non threatening.

And Louisa keeps crying and says it's because Emily will hurt Jane and so Louisa shouldn't marry Adam to protect Jane and maybe it's because Louisa realizes that Doctor Pipe isn't that great but she cannot identify why and wow am I over-reading into this.

And the pipe comes out. NO THAT'S NOT WHAT I MEANT.

Oh and here's something else to ponder about how forceful and in charge Adam is; this is the same person who let/liked Emily bossing him around as a child.

Chapter Fourteen

So Jane got herself locked out of the house in the rain, and even thought it's August, it's cold, and long story short, most of our main players are convinced Emily did it to kill Jane and yes, Jane is getting might sick.

"But how does one deal with a little girl who no longer lives." Well, you could call the Winchesters and put out some rock salt and dig up the body and burn it. (What, you're not watching Supernatural?)

So Jane is getting sick and Louisa goes to call Adam but she doesn't have his number because she never telephoned him. What? I guess this is 1912 etiquette for engaged/courting couples?

And then -- and then -- we get this firm position: "Good is still stronger than evil," and "I have no fear of the likes of Emily." Does this mean that Katie doesn't think Emily has killed her brother and father and wants to kill Jane? Or that she thinks Emily is more a memory than a true ghost?

I like how matter of fact Katie is, also reassuring to the reader.

Chapter Fifteen

And Jane, like her aunt Emily, has pneumonia. And it's pretty scary and touch and go, and of course no hospitals because it's 1912 and no one can do anything but sit and wait. (And apparently not call her other grandparents? Because no mention is made of Louisa's parents during this health crisis.)

And it's all terrible and sad and scary and even the weather is getting into it and finally FINALLY Mrs. Canfield does what she never did before and says "no" to Emily: "I will not allow it." She will not allow Emily to take Jane? She will not allow Emily to haunt them all? She will not allow the past to control the present? Whatever, she finally, finally disciplines Emily.

But the ball is glowing!

So Mrs. Canfield goes out and knocks it over and Jane screams and all the scary nature stuff stops.

And Adam is around for all of this but says very little. Is he thinking "goodness the hysterical ladies" or "huh, Emily is real"?

Chapter Sixteen

In a way, the chapter after the last. Because Emily was vanquished by her mother. Is it the mother finally parenting Emily? Is it a guilty mother finally deciding to get on with her own life and not live in the past, be controlled by the past?

Anyway it's all better and happy families!

They're opening windows and letting in light and cleaning out the attic!

And there's some pity for the child who "needed an authority and discipline she never got." Remember, kid readers: Mom and Dad yelling and taking away the WiFi code is because they love you and don't want you to become a terrible ghost.

And then the final wonderful sentence: "None of it could have happened. And yet it did. Or did it?"

And tomorrow, my final thoughts!

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© Elizabeth Burns of A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Jane-Emily, Chapters Seven to Eleven

And more on my chapter by chapter reading of Jane-Emily!

Chapter Seven

And another letter from Martin and it's all about Susie Pepper. This is also when I realized that if Louisa has any friends, or is getting letters from anyone other than Martin, she isn't telling us.

Of course, for this book, who really cares about Louisa's life or friends outside the story? Part of the great atmosphere is not just the escalating creepiness and linkage and obsession of Jane and Emily, but also how claustrophobic it all is, with the bulk of the book taking place in the house and the garden of Mrs. Canfield. There are apparently no neighbors with children, no friends. But as I type this up, I wonder.... have the stories of Emily, has Mrs. Canfield's apparent reclusiveness, meant that her house is "that" house in the neighborhood and she has no friends?

Oh, Susie on hearing about Doctor Pipe: "she's sorry you have to go out with old men."

And now more Emily. "You didn't know Emily."

OK, but at this point, what? Her own mother talks down about her, but for what? Tantrums at four because her parents were away? Melting one doll's face? So she's bratty but is she really such a bad seed?

Oh good lord the world is match-making Louisa and Doctor Pipe like there's no tomorrow.

And more food! I want the lobster and fresh bread and coffee! So Adam is cute. And a doctor. And lobster. But man -- obnoxious.

"Emily was the most strong-willed person I ever knew." (So that's why no voting for women?) "It never mattered to her whether something was right or wrong, or whether it might hurt someone else. If it pleased Emily -- that was all that mattered." What I love about this, is it explains to us the problem with Emily. But also, because it's a middle grade book that is more about the atmosphere of terror than the acts of terror, we aren't shown what it was that Emily did that showed she didn't know right from wrong (or didn't care); we don't see who is hurt. Instead, the voices of adults (Louisa, Doctor Pipe, Mrs. Canfield, Katie) repeatedly tell us that there was / is something wrong with Emily.

And we find out more how Emily died: pneumonia. Also, Doctor Pipe smokes again. "I sniffed with pleasure as the first small puffs of smoke floated over the table." Now, I didn't note the pipe smoking either of the times I'd read it before. And I wonder how it would go over with today's audience, when smoking is so actively hated on. (Though pipe smoking, like cigars, somehow is "cool" when cigarettes aren't.) Anyway, I remember quite the few contemporary books of the 70s and 80s when cigarette smoking wasn't just cool, but -- like here -- the smell of it was liked, was a fond memory, was a good connection.

Topic. While I was musing how social standards changes even how we think of a smell, we were finding out that basically Emily did a version of suicide by pneumonia, by deliberately getting herself sick. She did it for attention (specifically, Adam's) but it ended up killing her. That's pretty awful; but here's the thing. The person she hurt was herself. I wonder, much as I love how creepy this book is, and much how it still is creepy, I think a book like this today would have had to up child Emily's harm to others. There would be dead kittens, not melted dolls; and a mysterious death of a neighbor's child, not Emily's own self-inflicted illness.

And Adam remains condescending about Louisa's fears. I think this is deliberate -- not to show show Adam is obnoxious (he is), but to have the reader more easily dismiss his dismissing Louisa's fears.

Also as Adam and Louisa share about their lives, little is shared with the reader about Louisa. The reader knows more about Adam's schooling than Louisa's.

OK and at some point Adam says "I'm a doctor, Louisa" and I have some Star Trek flashbacks. And ugh -- "For a very pretty girl you get some strange ideas." He's so dismissive! And she's judged strictly on her looks! And no one cares. But again, I think this is because the target reader isn't a teen, who would want or expect more, even at the time of publication. It's for readers for who the idea of courtship and marriage is remote and removed enough that a man thinking a girl pretty is enough.

Chapter Eight

"Emily and I both loved her father more than we did each other." And more of the messed up family dynamics, or "why you shouldn't spoil your child." Mr. Canfield died shortly after his daughter -- of a heart attack, in her room.

WOWZA. And apparently Mrs. Canfield both believes in Ghost Emily and thinks she had a hand in the deaths of her father, brother, and sister-in-law.

One other thing -- the way Mr. Canfield treated his daughter is seen as spoiling, and also as a case where his family hadn't had daughters in ages so Emily was unique. Interesting to me, at least, the timeline isn't mentioned. How (if the married nearly 40 years before line about Katie is true) Emily was a late in marriage, unexpected but probably eagerly wanted, child. And while his emotional attachment to her is discussed, neither in text or even subtext is the thought this adult had: just how far his physical attachment went.

Oh, and after hearing some Emily stories all night, in the candlelight Louisa SEES A STRANGE FACE NOT HER OWN.

And then Louisa basically loses her shit and I feel sorry for Jane, to be honest.

Chapter Nine

So basically Emily lives in the ball, or her power is centered there. (But then, how / where did John's accident occur that Emily could be responsible? But isn't part of the terror of the story not whether or not Emily is haunting her family, but whether her family believes they are haunting her, giving her, even after death, the same power she had before?)

Louisa is torn between wanting to believe something is terribly wrong and wanting there to be a logical explanation. Much like the reader of the book. Oh, who am I kidding? Any reader of the book is saying that the logical explanation is Emily is haunting them.

Oh, and a warning -- stay away from Emily's ball! Don't move her ball!

Chapter Ten

"I want to improve my mind -- " Oh, why is that, Louisa? Could his name rhyme with Doctor Pipe?

Though at least Louisa is doing something other than needlework and braiding Jane's hair. Which if this was a teen book would make one go "what?" but for the kid who is Jane's age, reading this book? OF COURSE an adult (and Louisa, while 18, is an adult) is going to be just this boring. And existing just for the children in their lives, to braid hair, and be angry, and be supportive.

And Jane is playing with a dollhouse and part of me wants the dollhouse.

Louisa is falling hard; "Everything we [Adam and Louisa] did together was a delight." I guess he's stopped his anti-voting lectures. By the way, everything was tennis, walks, canoeing, talking. And a kiss. This could easily satisfy those readers wanting a very clean, light romance.

The L word is used, and Adam remains self-important. So get this power move: he calls and tells Katie that it's important and Louisa has to hurry to the phone. So she does. And it's to tell her he loves her! Aw, sweet, right? But she says, dude, I thought something terrible happened! And Adam is such a dick: he's all "why do you have such a gloomy mind." Ugh this is not going to be a happy marriage.

He invites her to dinner with his Dad, and he tells her what to wear. It's a dress she's worn before, described before, is like her favorite.

And Louisa? Is all "damn Emily I know you liked him but I have him now." You know what is weird on a reread? Why Louisa is so hot about what a dead tween thought about her current boyfriend. It's almost gloating. Again, this wasn't a thought in prior readings and I also get that it's being used to direct the reader how to think -- or what to fear.

Also, Emily may have broken a dollhouse doll in anger. I mean Ghost Emily, not Years Ago Emily.

Chapter Eleven

"It was not until I saw the approval in Adam's eyes that I was reassured." Sigh. Oh, Louisa.

And oh dear -- at Adam's house, "they were tended with patient firmness by a tall, erect, soft-spoken Negro woman named Sarah." Yeah, I'm not going to look up acceptable usage in 1912 versus when the book was published but seriously. Also, while I get that Adam's "I don't really know any ladies" line to Louisa was about his not having sisters or a mother, what is Sarah? Chopped liver?

And of course dinner with Dad, after Dad saying "don't let her go" based solely on her clothes and looks, ends up being . . . all about Emily.

I mean, I get Emily is bratty meets evil. But they way they sometimes talk about this poor, dead, child. At the time, it didn't bother me. Probably because as a kid? I knew fully well kids are bratty. And evil. And I didn't need evidence to convince me, beyond what was in the text. And because kids can be self-centered, it would make sense that a kid would be the topic of every conversation adults have.

Oh, and we get more on the theme of "if only her parents had been stricter," with Dad -- who is also a doctor -- basically saying it's all because Emily was spanked. No, really. "If he'd taken the flat of his hand to her once or twice" and "if that child had been raised properly, she'd be alive today."

But don't worry, Old Doctor isn't blaming dear Mrs. Canfield. Just her husband. It's not her fault that she was so "passionately in love with her husband" that she wasn't going to "anger him." (Um, isn't that fear of husband? Whatevs. Though I guess this may be why Doctor Pipe thinks women shouldn't vote, because Mrs. Canfield was too in love with Dead Husband to act rationally about Emily? But then isn't that a reason for no one to vote because Mr. Canfield was far from rationale."

Ok, and this gets weirder. "[Emily] belonged to her father." "Emily was a sultry person." "The real tragedy was Lydia. A woman who loved her husband more than life itself, and a man -- and a man who came to love his child more than his wife." OK, remove my modern view of whether this was incest or incest-like. Instead, it's about parents who put their child before themselves, so instead of being a real parent, and parenting, they let their kids get away with murder.

Can you imagine what these folks would think of modern parenting?

And more, by the way --  "But it was Emily he created. . . . A daughter like that is a formidable rival for any woman."

And after Emily's death, Dead Husband punished his wife for Emily's death. And she seemed to agree. (I wonder what Jack thought, since apparently not long after Emily's death he married Charlotte? And was a better parent to Jane?)

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© Elizabeth Burns of A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy

Monday, October 26, 2015

Jane-Emily, Chapters One to Six

The first time I read Jane-Emily I was a child; what I remember is how creepy it was, the girl haunted by the ghost of a dead child and a creepy garden globe.

The second time I read Jane-Emily was about fifteen years ago, as an adult, and what struck me then was, yes, ghost story still creepy, but that the person telling the story was not the girl being haunted (or for that matter the dead child) but, rather, an eighteen year old cousin.

The classic ghost story was framed as a story by a teenage girl.

This time, I read it taking notes chapter by chapter, looking to see how it was put together; why was it so scary; and why was it put together the way it was.

So my first few posts are those scattered thoughts, meant to be read by someone who has already read the book. They are written by someone who half-remembers what happens in the book. And they are written in-time, without much reflection. That reflection will come later, when I sit back and sift and put it together.

So, let's begin, shall we?

Chapter One

"There are times when the midsummer sun strikes cold, and when the leaping flames of a hearthfire give no heat. Times when the chill within us comes not from fears we know, but from fears unknown -- and forever unknowable."

And that's how it begins: not with ghosts and scares, but with thoughts and memory. A spooky atmosphere is being created, and letting us know we are about to talk about fear. Known and unknown fear.

This is all "I," "I," "I." She's 18, she is upset to be leaving Martin Driscoll behind in the summer before he leaves for college, and it's June 1912. (Here's a fun game I play with books set in this time period, it's called "who dies when?" So I'm all "oh, so who goes to World War I in a few years?" I shouldn't be so snarky about Martin, all things considered.) (Jane-Emily never mentions the war, that's just a quirk I have in reading.)

Louisa is traveling with her nine year old niece, Jane, to visit the "elderly" Mrs. Canfield, her niece's grandmother. Jane's parents died the year before in a horse and buggy accident that sounds quite gory, but is described so sparely, that it's almost not noticed. Her mother was thrown against a tree; her father dragged; and with those few sentences, Jane is an orphan. She is also "unnaturally withdrawn," something that will come up again and again, but heck, she's an young child who lost both her parents.

(Note, while Jane's mother is the narrator's sister, so obviously older, as was her husband, no exact ages are given. Yes, I draw family trees as I go along, so this matters. Neither are ages for the narrator's own parents (Charles and Martha Amory) given, but since the paternal grandmother is "elderly" I assume she is older than the narrator's own parents.

And Louisa (that's her name) is such a teen girl! She's complaining about leaving Martin behind: "But Mother! Martin and I have a million plans for this summer." But this story is being told AFTER whatever happens ("that last rainy night") so is she playing up her own youth, before the summer? Poor Martin: He has "beautiful, deep thoughts."

OK, so now they are at the grandmother's house, which is big but a bit shut in and gloomy, but Mrs. Canfield and her servant (housekeeper/cook/maid all in one), Katie, are nice. Jane is staying in Emily's room...

Wait, who?

Emily. Who died at 12, and Louisa is all "oh, yeah, I think I heard about her, but I forgot." And then Louisa says, about Jane, "that cool impersonality that children have for people they never knew." And here is what is brilliant: Louisa is as much describing herself as Jane; and also appears to be describing the reader, also. The reader who will see Jane-Emily as a story about a dead girl's ghost, rather than about a dead girl.

Oh and FINALLY a look in the back garden and the "large bright reflecting ball!"

Oh and Louisa looks into the mirror so we know what she looks like. Blonde curly hair. Blue eyes.

Now we meet Katie who has an "ample body". Oh! Katie started working for Mrs. Canfield since she was 16, and since Mrs. Canfield married, so "almost 40" years. I like figuring out timelines, so this means Katie is about 55; and assuming Mrs. Canfield was at least 20 when she married, she's now at least 60.

And Mrs. Canfield talks, well, it's just weird how she talks about dead Emily. Emily was "rather different" and "not particularly considerate of other people." This starts a pattern: considering Emily died at twelve, considering it's Mrs. Canfield's only daughter, considering both her children are now dead, Mrs. Canfield is almost cold and distanced in how she talks about Emily. Is this a way of processing grief? Maybe, but as a child reader it just meant that from the start, I was on guard against Emily, suspicious of her, because what type of mother talks about her child this way? None, unless it was true. Unless we should be wary of Emily.

And more of Martin and his poetry.

Chapter Two

A letter from Martin! It seems like a long letter but it's really "a few lines scattered over several pages." BURN. Martin isn't what he tries to seem, is he?

And apparently there is a reference to her "rose-tipped hands" and all I can wonder is did she have sunburn when Martin wrote this?

The summer goes by, Jane is getting better, Martin is writing, and a bit of foreshadowing and impending doom ("how could I know there could be anything in that quiet Lynn household to hurt or frighten her?")

And there's a visit from Jacob, the weekly gardener. Now, as a kid, I was all "servants! wow, rich." But now, having been spoiled by Downton Abbey, I'm thinking "only one full time servant? And part time gardener? Mrs. Canfield isn't that well off after all, is she? Also does Katie ever get time off? I don't think so.

Oh, and the weird references from Jane begins, with Jane saying she looks like Emily even though she has apparently never seen a picture of Emily.

And we learn Adam Frost is back in town, the nice young doctor. HMMMMM. Oh, and Emily's playmate.

Excellent, I have more ages to work with to figure out a timeline. Adam is 24, which is how old Emily would have been; Emily died 12 years before, at age 12. Both Emily and her father died before John (Mrs. Canfield's son) and Charlotte (Louisa's sister) married. With Jane being 9, that means they married only ten or eleven years ago, so fairly soon after the deaths of John's sister and father.

This makes me wonder at John's age. The youngest he could have been -- if he married when 21 -- was 31, or seven years older than Emily. Also, given the length of time of his parent's marriage (almost 40 years ago), that would make his parents married nine years before their first child was born. Or, John could be as old as 39 (born right after his parents' marriage), marrying at 29. But this would have made him 15 years older than Emily, and there's a later reference that makes me think this is too old. Also, either way, if Emily would have been 24, her parent's had been married 16 years when their second child was born. That would have put Mrs. Canfield in her late 30s, if not older.

Wait, I'm the only one who figures this stuff out?

What's more important is that young Emily had a serious crush on Adam, and they were friends.

Also if Adam is 24, let's figure out if Louisa is too young for him. 24 divided by 2 is 12, add 7 -- 19. Louisa is 18, so that's close enough. Also as I'm thinking about it, Louisa is old enough to be out of school but school is never mentioned. Yes, Martin is going to college, but Louisa doesn't mention her school, any plans (it is 1912, I guess), and now that I'm writing this, I don't think Louisa even mentioned any teachers or friends.

Actually it's kind of interesting, what a blank slate Louisa is. It makes her the perfect narrator, and the lack of information about her, her interests, her ambitions, is why this isn't a story about an 18 year old and the ghost of a dead girl. She's just telling the story. But she's not that much a part of the story, more the person to tell the story and perhaps (as we'll see) shape the story so that the reader is scared when she is, worried when she is, angry when she is, bewildered when she is.

Louisa is a bit intimidated by Adam, he being a doctor. And she being someone who hangs out with a nine year old, doing needlework, writing letters.

Oh more creepiness! To Jane: "You think a lot about Emily, don't you?" Jane replies, "Emily thinks a lot about me."

And some fashion details, sashes and bows and such.

And he's holding a pipe. ADAM HAS A PIPE. Oh dear. Poetry Boy versus Doctor Pipe.

Chapter Three

And Louisa is a bit intimidated because Doctor Pipe has traveled abroad, and knows so much, and she doesn't understand half of what Doctor Pipe and Mrs. Canfield are talking about. But hey, she's young and pretty and has great clothes so that all works in her favor. But then "boredom crept over me" and I giggle.

ARGH Doctor Pipe is talking about women's rights and the votes and just NO NO NO maybe I should call him Doctor Asshole. Because he's all women are too emotional to vote. And Louisa doesn't help at all by saying how "I wouldn't know much about voting, but some women are quite intelligent."

Not you, Louisa. Not you.

OK. Here's the thing. Doctor Pipe is the romantic lead for our Louisa, if you haven't figure that out yet. He's older, he's handsome, he's a doctor, he's all the things that someone can "look up" to. But seriously, who goes to dinner with three women (Mrs. Canfield, Louisa, Jane) and spouts off about how they shouldn't vote? And spoiler, he never takes this back or explains it. And further spoiler, since he let Emily boss him around all the time, he's known some strong women, so maybe this is a reaction to that? I don't know. I also wonder what this passage was doing, why it was here, in a book published in 1969, has this mini rant about the vote? And having something so negative coming out of the mouth of the hero?

Honestly it's the worst. He's the worst. He's patronizing and says worse things and it's set up as a sort of rom-com bit, with him saying "women would just vote emotionally" and they are so "unpredictable" but then being all "but I don't really know any women so maybe we can spend time together..." And so yes he's that guy. (His mom is dead, Emily is dead, and I guess he's been at same sex schools his whole life but ARGH. Seriously, would you want this guy as your doctor?)

And more on Emily. She was a "hellion."

And talk of moonlight BUT THERE IS NO MOON.

Chapter Four

And the next day, breakfast, Mrs. Canfield rings a bell to summon Katie. I hope they pay her well.

Ha ha ha who am I kidding? I'm sure they pay her crap.

Also there is a lot of food: cinnamon buns! Melon on chilled plates! Eggs!

Jane is wondering if she is pretty and is told "when the time comes that prettiness is most important to you, you will have no cause to worry."

More wisdom from Mrs. Canfield; 'The young have no conception of death, yet it has a mysterious appeal for them." I love how she is saying this, and that it's true for Jane, and also Louisa, and I think even Emily, but also the reader who maybe won't realize that they are the ones being talked about.

More bad poetry from poor Martin. Thank goodness we don't have to read it.


And then Jane writes a poem about pansies that is a thousand times better than Martin's.



Chapter Five

Louisa is getting a bit suspicious of Jane's talking about Emily and the poem and stuff, but she rationalizes it all away.

Louisa clearly likes Doctor Pipe, though she pretends she doesn't.

Jane seems obsessed with Emily but insists she doesn't want to be.

More clothes.

Oh and a CAR. And Doctor Pipe and his pipe and oh, the days when smoking was so casual and OK and he never even asks about it as he puffs away. Anyway, he treats the ladies to a night of band music and fireworks and no lectures on their inferiority to women. He asks Louisa to dinner and he's pretty pushy about it, not taking no for an answer, but then Louisa is pretty wimpy and doesn't say no outright. He's all "do you like lobster" and she's all "yes" and he's all "it's a date." And Louisa is all "his confidence irked me" and I'm all "it's not confidence."

Chapter Six

Do you know what's a great thing to do, on a hot summer day? Explore the attic! But it's more like a spare room on the top floor of the house? By Katie's room, of course. And another small bedroom.

And it's the perfect attic. It's full of toys and old clothes and books and all sorts of things to explore and discover. Trunks! Parasols! Dollhouses! Even a couple of ... ancient rifles?

Oh, more time -- apparently Mr. and Mrs. Canfield took a trip to New York twenty years ago (so Emily would have been 4), basically ending when Emily being so upset, tantrums, etc., about her parents being away that they had to return early. So part of me thinks, in 1892, they could find out about it so quickly to return home half-way? Also they left John and Emily with Katie and a nursemaid. OK, so I doubt John would be 39 now as that means he was 19 at that time, and Mrs. Canfield wouldn't be talking about leaving a 19 year old with a nursemaid.

This trip matters because it's to establish Emily being a brat, and her parents playing into it, but I'll be honest, part of me is thinking -- this kid is four. FOUR. She's been left with servants and a brother and I can get why she'd be upset about that. What does a young kid know about "oh, it's fine, I'll be well cared for by the staff while they're gone?"

And wow -- a casual mention that the problem was Emily never got a "firm hand in punishment." More on this later.

Oh, they got a telegram. That was pretty scary, I guess. So they went home. You know, it's OK for parents to go on a vacation, just them. And yes, Emily was a brat for making them come home. But... I think a four year old could be given a twinge more sympathy. More on this later, but Emily is given so little sympathy.

Also interesting set up: it's the indulgent dad versus the mom who wanted to discipline.

Oh! "Such indulgence [of Emily] was harmful." More on this later, but I kind of like how the child-reader is basically being told "your parents punish you so you don't become like Emily, someone who dies and haunts the living."

Also, all this talk of being more firm is, right now, coming in part from Louisa who is 18. And whose only experience with kids is young Jane. Hardly an expert.

More on Mrs. Canfield not daring to discipline Emily because it would have angered her husband. And I get that Emily is a brat but there is also a part of me feeling sorry for this kid, caught between this weird dynamic.

Also interesting to remember this sermon against permissive parenting is from 1969. And that all of Emily's problems are from being a spoiled Daddy's girl. But was she just spoiled? Or something more?

Let's see, Emily got pissed at a doll and melted its face. And I remember this being "ugh, Emily" but now I'm all, "oh, who among us hasn't messed up a doll?"

More stuff about the reflecting ball, and how it's linked to Emily, and how the distorted faces -- are they distorted faces? Or is it Emily's face? Is Emily's face living in the ball?

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© Elizabeth Burns of A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Review: These Shallow Graves

These Shallow Graves by Jennifer Donnelly. Delacorte Press. 2015. Reviewed from ARC.

These Shallow Graves by The Plot: New York City, 1890. Josephine Montfort has the type of life that others dream about: her family is old and respected, their money is old and respected, and she has a life of privilege and ease, of being waited on, of going to balls and parties.

Jo has friends and family and her own dreams: a dream of being a writer, of being a reporter, like Nelly Bly. It's not something a proper young lady does, however.

And then her father dies. The official report is he accidently shot himself while cleaning his gun ... but Jo has her doubts.

Those doubts, and Jo's own desire for the truth, will lead her away from the proper homes of rich New York, to places dark and dangerous.

The Good: Jo is a great heroine: while These Shallow Graves begins with Jo working on a school paper, hoping for better stories than the proper way to brew tea, Jo is very much a product of her world, her class, her time. She is limited in ways she doesn't know; and one wonders how Jo's future would have gone, had her father not died.

But her father does die, and Jo grieves but she also has questions and the instincts of a reporter, and those two things drive Jo outside the safety of her home and those she knows. Questions get answers and more questions, and there are more bodies; as well as a mysterious past and tragedies.

ARGH. You can tell that because this is, at it's heart, a mystery, I don't want to get too into the details of the mystery itself. What I can say is that I appreciate the contradictions within Jo: she is smart and clever, yes, but she has been protected by her wealth and her privilege. For example, most readers will pick up earlier than Jo does when characters are talking about brothels and prostitutes. But that is purposeful, to illustrate that Jo's being "protected" work against her by creating a level of ignorance that puts her into danger. If the reader is sometimes a step or two ahead of Jo, it's because they haven't been kept isolated behind walls of wealth and sexism.

These Shallow Graves is also very much a feminist book, looking at the options, and lack of options, of women in the late nineteenth century. There are mothers who seem to be coldly calculating as they arrange and plot suitable marriages, until one steps back and sees what happens to those women who aren't protected by money and family connections. Or, rather, what these women fear will happen to their daughters. It becomes clear early on just how narrow Jo's world is, and how that narrowness comes from fear and how that is it's own "grave", burying her dreams and hopes and desires deep.

That women do have choices, even if those choices are tough ones, is shown: yes, there are pickpockets and prostitutes and homeless women; there are people whose poverty destroy them. But there's also a mention of Edith Wharton and a young woman going to medical school. Yet it's clear that freedom, for women, is not easy or simple.

There is a bit of a love triangle, between the suitable young man that everyone, including Jo, thinks of as her future husband because, well, everyone assumes it. Such a good match, such good families, and they are friends so why not? And then there is the driven reporter, who latches onto the story of Jo's father as his ticket to a better job. Can he be trusted? And can Jo trust her feelings about him? Yes, a triangle.... but the two young men also represent the two choices Jo has: do what is safe, or do what she wants. What will make her family happy, or what will make her happy.

One last bit: without getting spoilery, I liked that many people rose to the occasion when the situation warranted. While there are some expected and unexpected betrayals, there are also people who prove themselves worthy of Jo's trust and friendship. People aren't black and white, for or against Jo. They are not shallow; they have as much depth as Jo -- it's just they are sometimes in a world that doesn't allow that depth.

These Shallow Graves are the secrets of the past; the places bodies have been buried; and also the world of Jo and her friends and families, limited by society, sexism, and prejudice.

A Favorite Book of 2015, because of the complexity of Jo. And I both want a sequel -- this could easily be the start of historical mystery series -- and a companion book, because Fay, well. Fay. Once you've read this, I think you'll agree: FAY.

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© Elizabeth Burns of A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Review: Shadows of Sherwood

Shadows of Sherwood (Robyn Hoodlum) by Kekla Magoon. Bloomsbury USA Children's Books. 2015. Review copy from publisher.

Media of Shadows of Sherwood
The Plot: A Robin Hood retelling, with Robyn Loxley as a twelve year old girl who seeks her imprisoned parents and allies herself with the have-nots of her world.

The Good: I love retellings, I love seeing what is kept, what is changed, how it's updated.

Confession: this is one of those books that while I'd heard a bunch of buzz, I'd avoided most reviews, wanting to read it fresh. The cover told me that the retelling was also updating the setting, putting Robyn in a modern world.

Well, I was wrong. And right. Yes, it's a modern world but it's not our modern world. The technology seems about fifty years in the future; the city is Nott City, and the discussion of the city and its surroundings, while matching the Robin Hood tales, doesn't match our own geography. So it's not just a retelling; it's a fantasy, in that it's not our world. But it's so close to our world, that even non-fantasy readers will enjoy it. And the names of places and people will make those familiar with Robin Hood smile: Loxley Manor, the Castle District, people named Tucker and Scarlet and Merryan.

Robyn is amazing. Awesome. Courageous, stubborn, smart -- and a bit spoiled. She's the child of privilege who likes to sneak out at night. It's the sneaking out that saves her, when her politically involved parents are taken as part of a coup. Suddenly, she's without anything or anyone and is forced beyond the borders of her comfortable life. For example: Robyn isn't even familiar with money or trading, because chips and credit have always covered her needs. But as she meets others -- a young girl living on her own, a boy who is hiding something -- she adjusts. Forced to be an enemy of those in charge, she quickly sides with the others who are enemies of those in power: the poor, those without connections, those living hand to mouth.

Robyn is biracial; her parents, and their backgrounds, are part of the story and even mystery Robyn is trying to uncover. Mystery may be the wrong word; but while her parents now have powerful connections and jobs, allowing for Robyn's very upper class upbringing, Shadows of Sherwood quickly sketches in the background of their lives and world. And their background is what targeted them during the current coup, and their lives before Robyn's birth is part of what she needs to learn more about to figure out her own present and future. Robyn's hair is braided, and it turns out it's a distinctive style taught to her by her father. It's unique; and when she is alone, seeing another with the same style of braid is one of those clues. While this is not our world, it's a world where skin color and money matter, just in different ways. So while there is the adventure of survival, and helping others, there is also the mystery of the past and the future and finding her parents.

This is the start of a series, and so it's Robyn's origin story. Who she was. How she becomes Robyn Hoodlum, robbing from the rich to give to the poor. With that told; and with the start of her "merry band" coming together, I look forward to what Robyn and her crew will do next.

Because Robyn is terrific. Because the world building is so full. Because it's an inventive retelling that is also true to the source. Because I want more. Shadows of Sherwood is a Favorite Book of 2015.

Meanwhile, while waiting for more Robyn, over at Nerdy Book Club the author, Kekla Magoon, shares a bit about writing this book.

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© Elizabeth Burns of A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Jane-Emily Read Along

Are you ready for a Read Along?

jane-emilyKelly, Leila, and I are doing a read-along of one of my favorite books from my childhood: Jane-Emily: And Witches' Children by Patricia Clapp. For the read along, I'm reading the 2007 ebook version from Harper Collins.

Please, join us for the read along! It's an old-school scary book, and I read it as a kid. If you remember a book with a haunted garden globe?Then you also read this book. I reread it about fifteen years ago and I thought it held up then; and I'm looking forward to rereading it again.

It's often called a children's book, but it's one of those books narrated by a teen. From the publisher:

Emily was a selfish, willful, hateful child who died before her thirteenth birthday. But that was a long time ago.

Jane is nine years old and an orphan when she and her young Aunt Louisa come to spend the summer at Jane's grandmother's house, a large, mysterious mansion in Massachusetts. 

Then one day . . . Jane stares into a reflecting ball in the garden—and the face that looks back at her is not her own.

Many years earlier, a child of rage and malevolence lived in this place. And she never left. Now Emily has dark plans for little Jane—a blood-chilling purpose that Louisa, just a girl herself, must battle with all her heart, soul, and spirit . . . or she will lose her innocent, helpless niece forever.

One of the most adored ghost stories of all time is available again after thirty years—to thrill and chill a new generation!

We will all be talking about this the last week of October - please, join us, wherever it is you like to talk about books. Blogs, Tumblr, Twitter, Instagram -- it all counts. Talk about it as a new reader, or as someone rereading; talk about how the style of books have changed over the decades and whether (and how) Jane-Emily would be published today; talk about whether there are dated portrayals or if it has held up over the years. Talk about the cover changes. Talk about garden globes. Whatever you want... just join us.

The hashtag we'll be using to find each other over all those platforms is #JaneEmily.

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© Elizabeth Burns of A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Review: Sweet Madness

Sweet Madness by Trisha Leaver and Lindsay Currie. Merit Press. 2015. Review copy from publisher.

The Plot: 1892. Fall River, Massachusetts.

Bridget Sullivan, 17, is the made in the household of the Borden family. Everyone thinks the family is peculiar; but as an Irish immigrant, her options for employment are few and far between.

She tries to do her job, but Bridget can't help but feeling sorry for the Borden's daughter, Lizzie. She sees firsthand the strange goings on in the Borden household. She begins to wonder, about the Bordens, about Lizzie.

Are they just strange? Or is there danger in the house?

The Good: When your name is Elizabeth; when your nickname for that name is Lizzie; when your last name begins with the letter B; you quickly become acquainted with the rhyme, "Lizzie Borden took an axe."

Perhaps that is why I have a life long fascination with true crime stories and murder mysteries.

Sweet Madness is the story of the Borden family in the summer days leading up to the murders of made famous in that children's rhyme. It's nicely researched -- and not just research into the immediate family, but also to their neighbors and extended family, and also a look at the lives of the Irish immigrants of the time.

Sweet Madness is a YA story because Bridget herself is a teen, working hard hours and trying to do right by those she works for, while at the same time, trying to have something to herself that is just hers: friends, a boyfriend, a life outside the Borden household. The real Bridget Sullivan may have been older than this fictitious one, but any questions about age are explained away by Bridget saying she lied about her age to get a job.

Any book about Lizzie Borden and Borden murders must give some hypothesis about the murders, about who did it, and why. I really liked where Leaver and Currie went, and their exploration of what it meant to be a "spinster" in that time and place, and the family dynamics, and possible insight into the characters of Lizzie, her father, and her stepmother. I won't say more than that; you need to read Sweet Madness (or talk with me about the ending in the comments.)

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© Elizabeth Burns of A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy

Thursday, October 08, 2015

Review: Walk on Earth a Stranger

Walk on Earth a Stranger (Gold Seer Trilogy) by Rae Carson. Greenwillow Books. 2015. Reviewed from ARC.

The Plot: 1849 Georgia. Leah Westfall lives with her parents, and together they hide her secret: she can find gold. It calls to her. To the rest of the world, her father is lucky; a luckiness that the family has to hide.

Her world comes crashing down when her parents are murdered and Leah finds herself running for her life. But where to go, what to do?

She can find gold. So she decides to go where everyone who has gold fever is going in 1849: California.

The Good: Oh, so much to like about Walk on Earth a Stranger!

First is, girls getting stuff done. At the start of the book, Leah is 15. She is devastated by the murders of her beloved parents, especially when she realizes who is behind it and that she is not safe. As a minor, and a woman, she has few options so she runs away. Dressed as a boy, and calling herself Lee.

So yes, this becomes a girl dressed like a boy story! Love. Leah binds her breasts and pleads modesty to explain her needs for privacy. And yes, Walk on Earth a Stranger is the type of book that doesn't shy away from things like Lee having to figure out what to do when she gets her period.

Lee's journey across the country is quite the adventure, by horse, by boat, by wagon. Pretending to be a boy gives her a level of safety and independence in her travels, but it doesn't totally protect her. It's still, at times, a struggle, and there are things -- there are people -- to fear.

Lee meets a wide assortment of people during her travels. One friend from the start is a neighbor and quasi-romantic interest, Jefferson. What I like about Jefferson is that he doesn't save her, and Lee doesn't need saving; they are friends, who may become something more, but they are equals. At times there are secrets and misunderstandings between the two, but the friendship is constant.

At least half of the book is the journey to California. It's not easy; there are difficulties, based on the method of travel, the ignorance and naivety of some of the travelers, and problems with some of those they are traveling with. Lee sees firsthand the hatred and fear of those in their party towards Indians, ranging from malicious actions to making up stories. She also sees it in how Jefferson (whose mother was Cherokee) is treated and talked about.

The people traveling to California are an odd mixture, bound together mainly by need and timing. It includes families and young men; people hoping to make their fortune finding gold and people hoping to make their fortune off of the gold seekers.

The Joyner family is the one that Lee travels with the longest, and so perhaps that is why the Joyners, and Mrs. Joyner especially, fascinates me. The Joyners are a well off family, bringing their furniture with them, insisting on tablecloths and china at meals. They have prejudices and biases typical of their time. (The interactions, or lack of interactions, between families based on religion and background is another fascinating part of the story.) The trip itself takes the family physically out of their comfort zone, and as the story continues Mrs. Joyner is continuing pushed beyond her comfort zone. Her character trajectory, when she rises to the occasion, when she falls, makes me hope to see more of her in the second book. Once in California, will she fall back to who she was? Or continue to grow and adapt?

Finally, what I like is that Lee's gift is not an easy answer. "Finding gold" sounds wonderful but the reality, not so much. Her parents, for example, knew that they had to be careful about who knew how much they had found; and also to take a care of whose gold is found. I liked the way that Lee used her gift in ways other than prospecting.

Walk on Earth a Stranger ends with Lee in California, and I liked that resolution, that the book was all about Lee's journey and about her gathering around her a small group of people she can trust. I'm looking forward to the next book, not just to find out more about Lee and her friends, but also to see if some of the many questions raised in the first book get answered.

And yes, I adore Rae Carson and her writing, so of course this is a Favorite Book Read in 2015.

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© Elizabeth Burns of A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy

Tuesday, October 06, 2015

Review: A Curious Tale of the In-Between

A Curious Tale of the In-Between by Lauren DeStefano. Bloomsbury USA Children's Publishing. 2015. Review copy from publisher.

Media of A Curious Tale of the In-BetweenThe Plot: Pram Bellamy has been raised by her two aunts, Aunt Nan and Aunt Dee, in the Halfway to Heaven Home for the Aging. Pram has been homeschooled, which means she has been able to keep her secret -- she talks to ghosts. Oh, it's not scary or creepy; her best friend, Felix, is a ghost. But it is something she knows she has to keep secret.

But a person cannot hide forever: and when Pram is sent to school, she meets Clarence. Like Pram, Clarence's mother is dead. As Clarence and Pram's friendship grows, he shares with her his own secret: his desperate need to find his mother -- his mother's ghost. Clarence is unaware of Pram's secret, but she couldn't help him anyway. Sometimes ghosts come to her, sometimes they don't. She doesn't see Clarence's mother; she's never seen her own mother.

Lady Savant is one of the spiritualists a searching Clarence goes to. She doesn't give Clarence any answers, but she does recognize Pram's power. And she wants it for her own.

The Good: A wonderfully creepy book -- not creepy because ghosts. To Pram, ghosts are not much different from humans. Felix is her best friend, even if she's the only one who can see him.

A Curious Tale of the In-Between starts as an exploration of Pram: telling us a bit about her distraught mother, who took her own life while pregnant with Pram. Telling us a bit about the strange home Pram has been raised in.

And then it turns to creepy and to terror, not because of ghosts or the supernatural, but because of one person who craves the power Pram has. Lady Savant, who is willing to say anything and do anything. People, not what lurks between life and death, or what happens after life, are the threat. But people are also what can save us.

This is a great middle grade book: it's about Pram learning more about herself and her world while making closer connections with friends and family, living and dead. It's also got a sense of place I found delightful even while being scared. Pram's aunts and the home they run are almost like something out of Dickens; the mystery of Pram's parents, even the names used (Pram, Clarence, Felix) make this reminiscent of older stories. Yet it's more that it's a timeless story, not a historical story. And the horror is just enough -- just enough to scare the reader, to make one turn the pages even faster, even, perhaps, to make one skip to the last page just to make sure it ends well.

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© Elizabeth Burns of A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy

Thursday, October 01, 2015

Review: Daughters Unto Devils

Daughters unto Devils by Amy Lukavics. Harlequin Teen. 2015. Reviewed from ARC.

Daughters unto DevilsThe Plot: Amanda, sixteen, and her family live in an isolated mountain cabin. The previous winter had been very bad: they were snowed in, her mother got sick, there were complications when her youngest sister was born, and Amanda herself.... well. They don't talk about that.

Amanda's father thinks life will be better on the prairie, so he packs them all up in the wagon and moves them out, where they find an abandoned cabin.

Life isn't better. The horror is just beginning.

The Good: One of the scariest books I've read in the last ten years; made scarier by how short this book.

Amanda is sixteen; the family lives in a cramped one room cabin, a cabin "built for three" but now housing Amanda, her parents, and her four younger siblings. Emma, her younger sister and best friend; the children, Joanna and Charles; and baby Hannah, born deaf and blind.

Amanda is full of guilt: guilt over wishing her baby sister dead instead of a burden, draining the life out of her mother; guilt over the child she carries, the result of sweet words and warm embraces with the boy who brings the post to the village at the foot of the mountain; guilt over how she went crazy last winter, convinced she saw the devil in the woods and that he was coming for her.

While there are references to a bigger world - the village where Pa goes for supplies and where Amanda sees Henry for the first time, Aunt Charlotte and her children - the world of Daughters Unto Devils is small, as small as Amanda's family and the one room cabins they live in. This is a family isolated; a family that seems close but sharing beds does not mean sharing secrets.

Early on, Amanda is told a ghost story and delights in the thrill it gives her. The story is explained as being about "the land itself. It had been soured by an infection of constant panic, hate, and fear. The man [telling this story] said that in some places, the land can come out to play through the living. It can even make folks go mad."

A land infected that in turns infects others. Panic and hate and fear -- and yes, guilt -- making one susceptible to such infection and evil.

What happens to the people in such a land?

I don't want to say much more. Just where can one hide from devils and demons and the land itself?

And remember how the scariest part of Twilight Zone episodes was that terrible things could happen to anyone? That it wasn't about who deserved it; it one could only live through it and not escape. Bad things happen to people.

In Daughters Unto Devils, very bad things happen.

And for days after, I was half-afraid to look out the windows or into mirrors, afraid of what may be lurking in corners, just out of sight.

Heck yeah, a book this scary is one of my favorite books of 2015.

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© Elizabeth Burns of A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy