Tag Archive: The Secret Garden


A brand-new Victorian mystery will have you singing “Deck the Halls” in October, while you hunt for clues alongside twelve-year-old Myrtle Hardcastle, her unflappable governess Miss Judson, and their opinionated cat, Peony.  My wife, borg contributor, and Edgar Award-winning author Elizabeth C. Bunce has been writing her Myrtle Hardcastle Mystery Series for a few years now.  Prompted by a quick mis-utterance of “premeditated murder” and a chatty cat that showed up one night in the rain, a character and an idea took hold and before we knew it she had created and sold the first four books in a new series of mystery novels.  The first book, Premeditated Myrtle, an Indie Next Pick named to Amazon’s Top 20 Children’s Books of 2020, arrived in bookstores last year along with the second installment, How to Get Away with Myrtle, a #1 Amazon New Release.  Not only did Premeditated Myrtle win this year’s Edgar Award (the Mystery Writers of America award recognizing the mystery, crime, suspense, and intrigue genres, in its 75th year), it was named an Honor Book by the 106 years and counting Society for Midland Authors, it was named to the Library of Congress’s annual Great Reads from Great Places list, and it was nominated for the Agatha Award and Anthony Award. Tomorrow readers can follow Myrtle’s next sleuthing adventure in Cold-Blooded Myrtle, available in bookstores everywhere and here at Amazon.

Premeditated Myrtle introduced readers to Myrtle Hardcastle, an aspiring sleuth who can’t read enough about the new science of criminology, and hopes to one day work for Scotland Yard.  Her first case was the death of her neighbor, an expert on breeding rare flowers who dies under mysterious circumstances.  Premeditated Myrtle is a blend of To Kill a Mockingbird and A Secret Garden, as Myrtle tries to enlist the aid of her father, the town prosecutor, to help solve the case after she points to the wrong man.  In the second novel, How to Get Away with Myrtle, Myrtle, her curious cat Peony, and her intrepid governess Miss Judson embark on a seaside vacation on an excursion train.  But the vacation is cut short when a rare tiara is stolen and someone is murdered before the train arrives at the station.  It’s an Agatha Christie style mystery that finds Myrtle on the case as she’s stuck in a vacation town that is nothing like it was advertised, and everyone, including her aunt, is a suspect.

premeditated-myrtle-bunce-peony-the-cat-trns

In Cold-Blooded Myrtle, winter arrives and as Myrtle prepares for a hopefully uneventful traditional Dickensian Christmas, notable locals are found dead in ways that seem to mimic the murders of historical figures.  Soon Myrtle discovers her late mother was close to the victims, and Myrtle hopes secrets from her past and a famous archaeologist may lead to the truth.  A local newspaper reporter is digging into the case of a secret society and a missing student at nearby Schofield College, but is she getting too close, and why does she know so much?  And why is the reporter so chummy with family friend and legal clerk Mr. Blakeney?  What is the secret behind the long-closed bell tower?  Cold-Blooded Myrtle brings together The Watcher in the Woods, Phantom of the Opera, and The Goonies, as Myrtle, Judson, and Peony investigate an early Cold Case File. Industry reviewer Kirkus provided the novel a starred review, saying,

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Wizard of Oz MinaLima cover

Review by C.J. Bunce

It is easily the greatest and most influential American fantasy novel of all time, certainly the best of the 19th century creations, and after reading the original story, you may find it unlikely not to have influenced later British authors’ works like J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit and C.S. Lewis’s The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe.  It is L. Frank Baum’s The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, first published in 1900 and now given the ultimate dose of classical style and color by the renowned designers behind the Harry Potter movies, Miraphora Mina and Eduardo Lima, the artists known as MinaLima.  Especially considering the extra care taken in the margin artwork and the incorporation of the color in Baum’s story with every page, this may be the best volume in the now eight-volumes of children’s books in the MinaLima library from HarperDesign books.  Take a look at a preview of twenty of those wonderful pages below.  Baum’s The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, lavishly illustrated with interactive elements by MinaLima, was published this month, and is available now here at Amazon.

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Little Mermaid cover

Review by C.J. Bunce

One hundred and eighty-five years after Hans Christian Andersen first penned his fairy tale The Little Mermaid, the most famous fish out of water story continues to charm readers of all ages.  Countless editions of Andersen’s famous story, along with his other famous works, have been printed and reprinted, and adapted for the small screen and big screen with the latest–a live-action version–coming from Disney by the end of the year, incorporating songs from the studio’s 1989 version.  But if you haven’t read the original fairy tale lately–or at all–you may be surprised to learn how much closer the 1984 live-action movie Splash was to the original.  With the new film on its way, what better time to revisit the original, and we’ve found an incredible new, lavishly illustrated edition from designers MinaLima that makes a great storybook to read to kids, full of interactive elements.  Check out a preview of The Little Mermaid and Other Fairy Tales for borg readers below, along with some details of what you’ll find inside, including some important fairy tales everyone, of every age, should know.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

Borrowing a phrase and idea from the song The Teddy Bear’s Picnic, a new storybook is coming next week for children four to six years old, and it is exactly the book to get your little kids excited about the coming spring, and maybe take some outings into the woods.  Poet Rachel Piercey and artist Freya Hartas have created a perfect picture book, If You Go Down to the Woods Today, a story from the Brown Bear Wood, a beautiful, over-sized book of wonderful images of cute animals experiencing exciting parts of the year that echo events in your child’s life.  Its classic design and interactive story is certain to be the favorite book of someone you know.  Take a look at some pages inside below.

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It’s not every day you get to be part of a project that is exciting and fun.  My wife, borg contributor, and author Elizabeth C. Bunce has been writing her Myrtle Hardcastle Mystery Series for a few years now.  Prompted by a quick utterance of “premeditated murder” and a cat that showed up one night in the rain, a character and an idea took hold and before we knew it she had created and sold the first four books in a new series of mystery novels.  But as Tom Petty said, “the waiting is the hardest part.”  Tomorrow, after the obligatory pandemic delay, not only does the first book, Premeditated Myrtle, arrive in bookstores, but the second installment, How to Get Away with Myrtle, too (available in hardcover, eBook, and audiobook).  How often do you begin a new series and can hardly wait that next year for the second installment?  Solved! 

It’s been exciting to watch Elizabeth build the story from the ground up, featuring 12-year-old Myrtle Hardcastle, an irrepressible and tenacious heroine living in England in 1893 as the sciences of criminology and forensics are taking off.  Her father is a local prosecutor, and with her governess Miss Judson she forms a sort of dynamic duo, solving crimes as she faces the pressures of Victorian society and growing up with other kids whose interests are less… morbid.  And the team is only complete with Peony, a truly opinionated neighbor cat, who joins her on her sleuthing.

“Bunce crafts a truly captivating murder mystery, throwing in a delicious mix of twists, red herrings, and relatives excluded from the family fortune…the book will make readers yearn for more of Myrtle’s (mis)adventures.”  —Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books 

Premeditated Myrtle is currently an Amazon Best of the Month Editor’s Pick and #1 Amazon New Release, and last month How to Get Away with Myrtle was a #1 Amazon New Release (and is currently a #3 New Release).  Last week Netflix Life and Fansided included the Myrtle Hardcastle Mystery Series on its list of “7 Books to Read if You Like Enola Holmes on Netflix.”  

“In the tradition of heroines like Flavia de Luce and Harriet the Spy, Myrtle is a fine example of the Victorian scientific female—smart, inquisitive and fearless,” says Rhys Bowen, the New York Times bestselling author of the Her Royal Spyness series. “Written with a terrific mixture of humor and suspense, Premeditated Myrtle is a perfect read for any budding detective.”

Elizabeth’s first novel, A Curse Dark as Gold, won the American Library Association’s inaugural William C. Morris Award for a young adult debut novel and was named a Smithsonian Notable Book. Her high fantasy Thief Errant series includes the novels StarCrossed, A Chicago Public Library Best of the Best book for 2010, and Liar’s Moon, one of Kirkus Blog’s Favorite YA Novels of 2011. StarCrossed and A Curse Dark as Gold have appeared on Oprah’s Kid’s Reading List. Her novels have been named to the ALA’s Best Fiction for Young Adults list, and she is a three-time Kansas Notable Book winner. 

Here is more industry praise for Premeditated Myrtle and How to Get Away with Myrtle, coming to online and brick and mortar bookstores next week in the Myrtle Hardcastle Mystery Series:

PUBLISHER’S WEEKLY

Channeling classic Victorian whodunits, Bunce’s detective series opener features a quirky, winning narrator and a lively secondary cast… A generous, well-wrought relationship between governess and charge complements tightly plotted twists… Myrtle is as clever as she is determined, and her expertise—seen in evidence collection and courtroom antics—is certain to delight genre stalwarts and mystery novices alike. 

BOOKLIST STARRED REVIEW

There is something afoot at Redgraves… Myrtle’s above-average intellect, passions for justice and science (an endearing blend of her parents’ professions), fondness for detective stories, and predilection for asking questions make her the perfect person to investigate what is obviously a crime most foul. Written very much in the style of Alan Bradley’s Flavia de Luce mysteries, Myrtle’s spirited investigation—aided by her governess, who champions the Socratic method of learning—is a joyful thing to behold. Well-crafted red herrings throw Myrtle and readers alike for a loop or two…Set in Victorian England, this mystery gleefully overturns sexist norms and celebrates independent women of intellect, with Myrtle Hardcastle leading the charge.

BOOKPAGE STARRED REVIEW

Premeditated Myrtle is a book young readers will love and adults may well sneak out of backpacks and off of nightstands for their own enjoyment… Myrtle has an investigator’s tool kit and access to her prosecutor father’s law library; she is curious to a fault, brave and persistent. Bunce keeps secondary characters grounded in reality as well—even a cat has an interesting character arc—and the quest to determine who killed Miss Wodehouse is as keenly plotted as the best adult cozy. Here’s hoping for more adventures with this delightful, heroic protagonist. 

BULLETIN OF THE CENTER FOR CHILDREN’S BOOKS

Bunce crafts a truly captivating murder mystery, throwing in a delicious mix of twists, red herrings, and relatives excluded from the family fortune. Miss Judson and Myrtle work as a power duo, with Myrtle offering up big ideas and Judson giving those ideas practical applications. Myrtle is an entertaining protagonist, not afraid to get her hands dirty, sneak into mansions after dark to find a clue, or call out sexism of men toward her scientific interests or the racism toward her governess… the book will make readers yearn for more of Myrtle’s (mis)adventures. 

HORN BOOK MAGAZINE 

This clever and lively Victorian English village murder mystery starring precocious twelve-year-old fledgling detective Myrtle Hardcastle has all the trappings: households with cooks and governesses and groundskeepers; church luncheons and afternoon teas; mysterious newcomers; missing wills. Also, poisoned elderly ladies… Bunce does an excellent job of making Myrtle the lead actor but gives her a strong set of (mostly female) supporters… Myrtle’s narration is Arch with a capital A (“Dear Reader, kindly permit me to pause to properly introduce one of the Key Players in this narrative”), but it suits the novel’s setting and subgenre to a T.

KIRKUS REVIEWS 

A saucy, likable heroine shines in a mystery marked by clever, unexpected twists. 

BOOKLIST

Bunce fully utilizes the story’s classic mystery settings (the train, a grand hotel full of unusual guests, and a small town of memorable characters) as she spiritedly chucks red herrings at readers and Myrtle alike. Humor and wit make the narrative sparkle, and, happily, Myrtle is as irrepressible as ever.

SCHOOL LIBRARY JOURNAL

Readers who enjoyed Premeditated Myrtle will rejoice in this second installment featuring the plucky protagonist, her beautiful and multitalented governess Miss Judson, Peony the cat, and a whole new cast of strong female characters. References to Scotland Yard and investigative techniques will delight young Sherlock Holmes aficionados. The advanced vocabulary will send even the most sesquipedalian readers scurrying to the dictionary… VERDICT This deeply plotted sequel is an additional purchase for collections serving the most precocious readers who long for a fast-paced mystery where women shine.

Elizabeth will be appearing at several virtual events in the coming weeks beginning with a virtual book launch at Watermark Books, Tuesday, October 6, 2020.

Congratulations to Elizabeth on her book launch!

C.J. Bunce / Editor / borg

Merry Christmas!

It’s that time of year again, time to take a look forward at what movies should be on your radar for 2020.  Are you going to see them all?  Heck no.  These are the genre films we think borg readers will want to know about to make their own checklists for the coming year–and they are only the films we know about so far.  We pulled 85 of the hundreds of films that have been finalized or are in varying stages of final production, slated for next year’s movie calendar.

What looks to top the list for most fanboys and fangirls?  Ghostbusters: Afterlife Scarlett Johannson solo in Black WidowA new James Bond movie, No Time to DieVin Diesel in Bloodshot and a new Fast & FuriousThe original Tom Clancy novel series is finally continuing with an adaptation of Without Remorse Comic book adaptations are in less supply in 2020, but look for Venom 2, Wonder Woman 1984, Eternals, The New Mutants, Morbius, Birds of Prey, The Old Guard, and did we mention Black WidowCompare the below list to our 2019 list and even the 2018 list, 2017 list, 2016 list, 2015 list, or 2014 list, and your takeaway may be seeing the studios moving genre content from the big screen to the small screen via streaming services.

Do you like sequels?  There are far less coming to theaters in 2020 than in 2019, but many more remakes of movies, books, and TV shows are on the way.  In fact, with all the blockbusters in 2019, 2020 looks pretty tame as the cinema marquee is concerned.  Some films don’t have locked in release dates yet: Amazon Studios and Netflix haven’t revealed dates for the following 2020 releases (those we know you’ll find on the calendar below):

  • 7500, a film about a highjacked airplane, starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt (Amazon Studios)
  • The Dig, a film about a woman finding archaeological treasures on her land, starring Ralph Fiennes, Lily James, and Carey Mulligan (Netflix)
  • Horse Girl, Alison Brie stars and directs this story about an awkward girl who fuses her dreams with reality (Netflix)
  • Jingle Jangle, an animated Christmas story with the voices of Forest Whitaker, Keegan-Michael Key, and Hugh Bonneville (Netflix)
  • Louis Wain, biopic of the 19th century artist starring Benedict Cumberbatch, Claire Foy, and Andrea Riseborough (Amazon Studios)
  • The Old Guard, adaptation of comic book story, starring Charlize Theron and Chiwetel Ejiofor (Netflix)
  • Radioactive, a film about Marie Curie, starring Rosamund Pike and Anya Taylor-Joy (Amazon)
  • Rebecca, adaptation and remake of the Daphne Du Maurier classic novel, starring Lily James, Keely Hawes, Kristin Scott Thomas, and Armie Hammer (Netflix)
  • Welcome to Sudden Death, sequel to Jean-Claude van Damme 1995 movie starring Michael Jai White (Netflix)
  • The Willoughbys, animated adaptation of the Lois Lowry book, with voices of Maya Rudolph, Martin Short, and Jane Krakowski (Netflix)
  • Wonderland, murder conspiracy mystery starring Mark Wahlberg, Allan Arkin, and Colleen Camp (Netflix)

Some of these films will have revised release dates, or get pushed to 2021.

So grab your calendar and start making your plans–here are the movies you’ll want to see in 2020 (and some you might not!):

January

The Informer – Thriller, starring Joel Kinnaman, Rosamund Pike, Ana de Armas, Common, and Clive Owen – January 10.

Underwater – Thriller, stars Kristin Stewart in underwater horror story – January 10.

Dolittle – Family/Comedy, stars Robert Downey, Jr. in remake of the classic, with voices of Tom Holland, Rami Malek, Octavia Spencer, Emma Thompson, Antonio Banderas, Ralph Fiennes, and Michael Sheen – January 17.

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Our borg Best of 2018 list continues today with the Best in Print.  If you missed them, check out our review of the Best Movies of 2018 here, the Kick-Ass Heroines of 2018 here, and the Best in Television 2018 here.

So let’s get going.  Here are our selections for this year’s Best in Print:

Best Read, Best Sci-fi Read – The Synapse Sequence by Daniel Godfrey (Titan Books).  The Synapse Sequence is one of those standout reads that reflects why we all flock to the latest new book in the first place.  The detective mystery, the future mind travel tech, the twists, and the successful use of multiple perspectives made this one of the most engaging sci-fi reads since Michael Crichton’s Jurassic Park.  Honorable mention: Solo: A Star Wars Story novelization by Mur Lafferty (Del Rey).

Best Retro Read – Killing Town by Mickey Spillane and Max Allan Collins (Hard Case Crime).  The lost, first Mike Hammer novel released for the 100th anniversary of Mickey Spillane’s birth was gold for noir crime fans.  This first Hammer story introduced an origin for a character that had never been released, in fact never finished, but Spillane’s late career partner on his work made a seamless read.  This was the event of the year for the genre, and a fun ride for his famous character.  Honorable mention: Help, I Am Being Held Prisoner, by Donald E. Westlake.

Best Tie-In Book – Solo: A Star Wars Story–Expanded Edition novelization by Mur Lafferty (Del Rey).  Not since Donald Glut’s novelization of The Empire Strikes Back had we encountered a Star Wars story as engaging as this one.  Lafferty took the final film version and Lawrence and Jon Kasdan’s script to weave together something fuller than the film on-screen.  Surprises and details moviegoers may have overlooked were revealed, and characters were introduced that didn’t make the final film cut.  Better yet, the writing itself was exciting.  We read more franchise tie-ins than ever before this year, and many were great reads, but this book had it all.  Honorable Mention: Big Damn Hero by James Lovegrove (Titan).

Best Genre Non-fiction – Hitchcock’s Heroines by Caroline Young (Insight Editions).  A compelling look at the director and his relationship with the leading women in his films, this new work on Hitchcock was filled with information diehard fans of Hitchcock will not have seen before.  Young incorporated behind-the-scenes images, costume sketches, and a detailed history of the circumstances behind key films of the master of suspense and his work with some of Hollywood’s finest performers.

There’s much more of our selections for 2018’s Best in Print to go…

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Review by C.J. Bunce

A new print edition of Frances Hodgson Burnett’s novel The Secret Garden is coming to bookstores next month, and its artistry and design could stand as the definitive version–a storybook that could be a new favorite for the next generation of readers.  Originally published in serial form for both adults and children in 1910, Burnett’s classic book of children forced to grow up in difficult times and the value of friendship to their growth was initially not so well-received.  Burnett would be better known for her novels Little Lord Fauntleroy and The Little Princess even years past her death, but over time The Secret Garden flourished to become a beloved favorite, frequently ranked high on British and American reading lists, including those of School Library Journal, the U.S. National Education Association, and the BBC.  The novel made its way into the public domain, and has been the subject of countless print editions, as well as plays, musicals, television features, and theatrical films.  Actors Dean Stockwell, Maggie Smith, Derek Jacobi, Glynis Johns, and Honor Blackman have all found roles in various adaptations of the book.  And soon another big-screen adaptation is coming your way from StudioCanal starring Colin Firth and Julie Walters.

Design studio MinaLima has partnered with Harper Design to release a truly beautiful version of The Secret Garden incorporating three-dimensional elements and hundreds of pieces of colorful line art and decorations.  A garden’s worth of vibrant flowers hug the footer numbers at the bottom of each page, colorful end papers adorn each new chapter, the off-white pages have an antiqued appearance, each chapter finds an old-fashioned stylized introductory letter, and pop-up images emphasize story elements.  It even includes a traditional paper doll, and cleverly folded paper gardens.  The 384-page hardcover features a gilded, textured cover, and tucked throughout the book are symbols and images found in Burnett’s sumptuous text.  The fifth in a series of children’s classics illustrated by MinaLima, including Peter Pan, The Jungle Book, The Beauty and the Beast, and The Little Mermaid and Other Fairy Tales, The Secret Garden is the pinnacle of these accurately self-described “lavishly illustrated” editions, finding a story that doesn’t require illustrations, but is enhanced so well by MinaLima’s application of them.  At two points in the story, letters are received via post by key characters, and instead of merely printing them in text as found in the original novel, the illustrators include two actual letters, designed as replicas, neatly folded just as you would have found real letters in the late 19th century, ready for readers to pull out and read as they move through the story.  That tactile experience will move readers young and old.

The style of artwork is suited to the story, combining British and Indian influences the young lead character Mary Lennox would have been familiar with, plus ink color choices and wallpapers similarly found in her era.  In this tale, Mary, an initially angry, “quite contrary” daughter of a British couple living in India that dies of cholera, finds herself nearly abandoned at a widowed uncle’s giant mansion back in England.  There she discovers the widower’s abandoned garden, and her relationships with three young people, an older girl and two boys, allow her to grow and move beyond her past.

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