Emma

4W, 1H – Audio

Austin, Jane, (c. 2007). Emma.  Read by Anghard Rees and a full cast.  BBC Radio. 5 discs (5 hrs, 15 mins) , $35.95.

ISBN:  978-1-6028-3281-7

Reviews

Publisher’s Weekly, The Book Bag

Annotation:

Bright, young and with no intention of marrying, Emma Watson happily inserts herself in other people’s lives, believing her skills as a matchmaker are needed.

Summary:  

Beautiful, clever, rich and single, Emma Watson has no interested in love or marriage but she delights in playing matchmaker whenever possible.  Her sights are set on her new companion, Harriet Smith who Emma views as the perfect match for the vicar, Mr.Elton.  Unfortunately, Mr. Elton has his eye on Emma and could not bring himself to fall for someone as lowly as Ms. Smith.  The only person who seems to understand Emma even better than she understands herself is their family friend Mr. Knightly who continuously warns Emma to mind her own affairs.

With the appearance of Jane Fairfax and Frank Churchill who are secretly engaged, the whirlwind of matchmaking blunders continues until even Emma seems satisfied with the outcome.

Evaluation:

Warning – if at all possible, pick another audio book version of Emma.  I am only taking the time to write this up so as to deter those from thinking it might be a good choice.  I listen to many books on CD and yes, the reader matters.  It was suggested to me that I experience an audio book with a full cast, not a single reader in order to compare the performances.  Well, that exercise is complete and I will forever listen to the single narrator audio book.

Having several voices at once without the visual help of a play, is confusing and at times annoying.  This selection includes music and background noise.  For example, as Emma and Harriet are walking from one place to another, there are birds chirping in the background and the constant sound of grass swooshing either from a breeze of from their walking through the fields.  I was so baffled by the additional sounds that I lost some of the dialogue, or could not hear it.  In addition, the producer decided that it would be a great idea to lower the volume at the end of every scene or chapter ultimately eliminating the last few sentences of the dialogue.

I know that Emma is a widely popular story so this is not to discourage anyone from reading or listening to it, just don’t listen to this version.

Genre/Subgenre:

Classic/Romance

Readalikes:

Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackeray

Surrender by Amanda Quick

Book Discussion Questions:

1. Describe the friendship between Emma and Harriet.  Would you say that Emma is a good friend?  Are her intentions altruistic or more selfish?

2. Mr. Knightly and Emma are described as intimate friends at the beginning of the story.  How does their relationship change as the story progresses?  What causes them to change?

3. Matchmaking is an important element in the story with some successes and some definitely not.  Which couples are good matches, which are bad and why do you think they either will or won’t last?

4. Is Emma a sympathetic character?  Does she have good intentions or is she ultimately thoughtless and unconcerned with the effects she has on people’s lives?

Reasons for selection:

I admit that I have never been a Jane Austin fan.  I don’t say that lightly because I am surrounded by fans and I try to keep that under wraps.  But I wanted to give the stories another whirl instead of just dismissing them as “classic” and “boring”.  (Yes, I am slightly uncultured that way, despite my parents best efforts.)  I picked up this Audio Book with the best of intentions, eager to hear the wonderful sounds of a British accent caught up in the ever-so-uninteresting lives of the 19th century England.  As you can see from my evaluation, my experience was less than pleasing.  However, knowing that the version was at fault, not the story, I plan on finding a better audio book and will joyously listen to that and hopefully appreciate Ms. Austin’s widely acclaimed talents.

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Lamb

https://i0.wp.com/contentcafe2.btol.com/ContentCafe/jacket.aspx 4W, 4H

Moore, Christopher (c. 2002).  Lamb.  William Morrow. 417 pages , $24.95.

ISBN:  9780380978403

Reviews
Examiner.com,  Christianity Today – an interview

Annotation:

How did Jesus become the Messiah?  Biff, Jesus’ childhood pal, has been resurrected to retell the story of the Messiah’s teenage years, farts and all.

Summary:  

There is no history of Jesus’s life outside of his much celebrated birth and the years leading up to his much celebrated death (and re-birth).  Thankfully, satirist Christopher Moore decided to pen his version for the history books.  Biff, Jesus’ (Joshua’s) childhood friend is resurrected to come back and write the story in order to clear up any confusion.  He tells the story of young Joshua’s journey, much like any Jewish boy during the first century, who struggles to find his way in the world, learn his trade and figure out the opposite sex.  But as a burgeoning Messiah, Joshua has a few things working against him; namely that in a world of sin and lies, he is vulnerable in his honesty and generosity.  That’s where Biff comes in.  Biff is not susceptible to such personality traits and helps Joshua navigate his way through the mores of the culture.  However, when the beautiful Mary the Magdalene (Maggie) marries Jaken the jerk, Joshua and Biff leave on a journey to find the three magi present at Joshua’s birth.

Evaluation:

Moore’s blend of wit and historical content make this the over-the-top read that will thrill those that question the legitimacy of the Bible stories as well as those that live by the New Testament.   Taking such a revered subject as Jesus Christ and creating a life story for him is nothing short of crazy.  Even Moore states that he was ready to move in with Solomon Rushdie when the book hit the stands.  But the opposite happened and Moore was instead asked to speak on the topic at various seminary schools.  Biff is the perfect id to Josh’s ego with Maggie playing the unwitting role of the femme-fatale.  And if you don’t laugh at Josh’s attempt at honing his trade as the Messiah, then you may not be prepared to enjoy the rest of the book.

Genre/Subgenre:

Sattire

Awards:

YALSA Best Books for Young Adults – 2003

Readalikes:

Good Omens by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett.

Unholy Night  by Seth Grahame-Smith.

Book Discussion Questions:

1.  Did you learn something from this book that surprised you?

2. Would Joshua have made it to maturity without Biff?  Do you think Jesus had any human – not divine – help in becoming who he was?

3.  As an “equal opportunity offender” what do you think Moore’s purpose was in writing this book?  Were you offended?

4. Biff asks, “Are all women better and stronger than me?” to which Joshua answers “Yes”.  Do you think Moore believes this? Do you think Christianity teaches this?  How are women viewed in various world religions?

Reasons for selection:

A friend of mine, with similar tastes, suggested this book to me.  I do enjoy satire and found Moore’s interpretations laugh-out-loud funny.  I thought that this might be offensive to the truly religious but in further research, it seems that many seminary schools use this book in their classrooms.  I mean, why not?  No one else has documented the history of Jesus’ teenage years so why not leave it someone who is known for holding nothing sacred :).

The Art of Racing in the Rain

4W, 4H

Stein, Garth, (c. 2008). The Art of Racing in the Rain.  Harper Audio. 6 CD’s (7 hours) , $34.95.  Read by Christopher Evan Welch.

ISBN:  978-0-06-156540-3

Reviews
Powell’s Books, Book Reporter

Annotation:

Narrated by the family dog, Enzo looks back on his life with Denny, the aspiring race car driver and the lengths to which Enzo goes to protect their family.

Summary:  

Enzo has the soul of a human but is stuck with the paws of a dog.  He would much rather have the ever-so-useful opposable thumbs so that he could be more helpful to his family.  On the eve of his death, Enzo reflects back on the life that he has led with Denny; from the day Denny chose him from the large litter and brought him back to the apartment in Seattle to the the past few days leading up to this moment.  It has been an exciting life with Denny’s race car driving career, his beautiful wife and their wonderful child.  But when tragedy hits, Enzo knows that it is up to him to keep the family together and ultimately protect Denny from those that want to do him wrong.

Evaluation:

Stein skillfully brings to life each character with insights that only a dog could have.  It is a beautifully written story about family, devotion and the willpower needed to do the right thing.  And although the subject can be difficult and frustrating, Welch’s voice is perfect for personifying Enzo who is restricted by doing more because of his inability to speak and grab things.  Humorous, insightful, tragic and restorative, this book is a wonderful read/listen showing  the magical relationship between a man and his dog while life races along as ever-increasing speeds.

Genre/Subgenre:

Mainstream Fiction

Awards:

Booklist Editor’s Choice – Adult Fiction for Young Adults – 2008

Readalikes:

 Merle’s Door by Ted Kerasote

A Dog’s Purpose by W. Bruce Cameron

Book Discussion Questions:

What is “the art of racing in the rain”?

Using a dog as the narrator puts a unique spin on the story?  What would have been some of the major changes if the narrator had been a human?  And which human would have had the most unique perspective?

“No race has ever been won on the first corner; many races have been lost there.”  How does this observation carry through the story?

Did you learn more about race car driving from this book?  Do you agree with the parallels set forth between racing and living?

Do you look at your dog (or other dogs) differently after reading the book?

What exactly does the Zebra represent?

Reasons for selection:

At Sacramento Public Library, most librarians have “What I’m reading now” as part of their email signature.  This book came up on a message from one of the Branch Supervisors and as a dog lover, I was immediately intrigued.  She explained that they had just read it for their monthly Book Club and all members unanimously loved it.  With that, I picked it up.

The Yard

  4W, 4H

Grecian, Alex.,  (c.2012). The Yard. G.P. Putnam’s Sons. 422 pages. $25.99.

ISBN #:  9780399149542

Reviews:      The Guardian,  New York Times

Annotation:  

It’s 1889 London. The Yard’s Murder Squad is now faced with an even more menacing threat than the Ripper; the murderer is killing detectives.

Summary:  

Inspector Detective Walter Day has just moved to London to work with the Murder Squad, a department that had been recently formed to deal with the new phenomenon of the serial killer.  Since the unsolved case of Jack the Ripper the year before, Scotland Yard has been trying to regain the trust of the population in an environment that is disease ridden, poor and dangerous.  Day is the first detective on the scene when a member of the squad is discovered in a steamer trunk at the railway station with his mouth and eyes sewn shut.  Along with Dr. Bernard Kingsley, London’s first forensic pathologist and a pioneer in his field, Day sets out to piece together the mystery before more detectives are targeted.  The plot is rounded out with a cast of characters involved in separate events but all of which help contribute to the aesthetics of  a Victorian city rife with murder, crime and an overwhelming distrust of the police.

Evaluation:

Grecian captures the gritty, dank nature of Victorian London and the detectives who were determined to try and keep order in this chaotic environment.  He successfully intertwines historical facts with colorful characters to his story. A gripping and atmospheric read, mystery and history enthusiasts will enjoy the story and look forward to more in the Walter Day series.

Genre/Subgenre:

Mystery/Historical

Readalikes:

The Alienist by Caleb Carr.  The Railway Detective by Edward Marston.

Book Discussion Questions:

What is significant about the setting for this novel?

Forensic Science was still too new to trust in solving cases.  What type of evidence did they need to rely on to solve a crime?

Grecian includes several settings in this novel.  Which did you find most intriguing?

Reasons for selection:

I discovered The Yard through the Stop Your Killing Me! newsletter  I receive monthly.   I normally stray from historical mysteries because I feel they get bogged down in the atmosphere and fall short of the plot.  I was pleasantly pleased when I read this novel to find that it was a page turner. I was intrigued by the obstacles faced in solving crimes during this post – Jack the Ripper time frame.

The Coroner’s Lunch

  4W, 4H

Cotterill, Colin, (c. 2004). The Coroner’s Lunch.  Soho Press.  257 pages , $22.95.

ISBN:  1569473765

Reviews

New York Times, Kirkus Reviews

Annotation:

Appointed as State Coroner in Communist Laos, Dr. Siri upsets the Party by taking his job seriously, solving politically sensitive murders with his unique style.

Summary:  

Seventy three year old Dr. Siri is looking forward to retirement regardless of the societal upheaval surrounding him in 1975 Communist Laos.  An apolitical, Parisian educated doctor, the Party magistrate appoints Dr. Siri to the position of state coroner knowing that he will be a good communist and tow the party line.  But Dr. Siri is not one to do much towing and finds himself butting heads with his appointees when he decides to take his job seriously and work the cases brought to him.  Along with his two assistants, Siri uncovers the secrets behind three intertwined murder plots much to the annoyance of those in charge.

1970’s Cambodia is brought to life through the sobering and sarcastic observations of Dr. Siri.  He is a realist that enjoys the beauty of his country while he puzzles over the contradictions of ruling power.  The country’s history is eloquently brought in to the story through the power of dreams which helps remind the readers that Cambodia is a country rich with cultural intent.

Evaluation:

Cotterill successfully describes an area of the world that has long been in a tug-a-war for its identity.  Dr. Siri and his colorful assistants are wonderful characters that add three dimensions to a period of time that proved to be both chaotic and predictable.  Effective sleuthing will appeal to the mystery lover and the area and political turmoil that create such vivid imagery will appeal to the history buff.  The combination is effective and makes for a perfect “cozy” read.

Genre/Subgenre:

Mystery/Cozy

Readalikes:

The Shape of Water by Andrea Camilleri.  Killed at the Whim of a Hat by Colin Cotterill.  Death of a Gossip by M.C. Beaton.

Book Discussion Questions:

What do we learn in the first pages about Dr. Siri?

What is Laos’s relationship to Thailand? to North Vietnam?

Does the paranormal add to to take away from your enjoyment of the story?

Reasons for selection:

Colin Cotterill was recommend to me by a friend who knew I enjoyed mysteries and stories that took place in other cultures.  Cotterill is a great find and I recommend him to many people who enjoy a light, yet intriguing read with fun, surprising characters.

The Keeper of Lost Causes

  4W, 4H

Adler-Olsen, Jussi, (c. 2011). The Keeper of Lost Causes.  Dutton.  395 pages , $28.79.

ISBN:  9780525952480

Reviews:

 Kirkus Reviews, Publishers Weekly

Annotation:

Relegated to cold cases, Chief Detective Morck finds himself intrigued by the five year old disappearance of a prominent politician.

Summary:  

A shooting that paralyzed his partner and should have ended his career has only served to make Chief Detective Morck bitter and unmotivated, a state that is apparent to all in the precinct.  Delegated to the basement, Morck has been assigned to work on the cold cases where he can pretend to stay busy and useful.  However, his recently assigned assistant, Assad, prods him into action and together they take on a five year old case involving a missing politician.  The circumstances surrounding the disappearance are intriguing enough to make Morck shed his aura of indifference and put his detective skills to work to piece together the puzzle.

This dark and gritty narrative successfully shows the detailed workings of a cold case juxtaposed to the victim’s horrific plight and the horror endured while the detectives methodically work there way to the answer.  Interspersed with wit and colorful characterizations, Adler-Ollsen explores the dark side of human nature and leaves us wanting more out of Department Q.  This is the first book in the series.

Evaluation:

For fans of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, The Keeper of Lost Causes hits the mark.  Set in Denmark, Chief Detective Morck wants to give up on life but circumstances won’t allow him that luxury.  Partnered with the ultimate optimist, Assad, Morck finds himself fascinated with the challenges of solving a relatively recent cold case.  The story is compelling, horrific and humorous which is not an easy mix to accomplish but the author succeeds on all levels.

Genre/Subgenre:

Thriller/Psychological Suspense

Readalikes:

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson.  Alex by Pierre LeMaitre

Book Discussion Questions:

What makes Carl Morck’s character so believable?

Describe the relationship between Morck and Assad?

Despite the horror of the crime, there is comic relief throughout the story.  How big a part in the story does it play?

Reasons for selection:

I found this in NoveList as an Author-Readalike for Stieg Larsson.  It is the first in the Dept Q series and does not disappoint.  I was hooked from the beginning and managed to get through the pretty grisly parts.

The Last Runaway

  4W, 4H audio

Chevalier, Tracy, (c. 2013). The Last Runaway.  Penguin Audio. 8 discs (10 hours) , $32.99   Read by Kate Reading.

ISBN:  9781611761412

Reviews

The Guardian, Oprah.com

Annotation:

Immigrating to America in 1850, Honor moves into pre-Civil War Ohio where she must establish roots while not losing her sense of self.

Summary:  

Honor Bright travels with her sister from England to help her get settled with her new husband in Ohio.  It’s 1850 in America and Honor, a young, quiet Quaker woman, finds herself stranded in this foreign land when her sister dies on the journey.  Befriended by a milliner, Honor’s sewing skills help Belle with her business until Honor must leave to settle with a Quaker family in the neighboring town of Faithwell.  But Belle’s brother, Donovan, has taken an interest in Hope which does not bode well for Belle’s other business, that of helping free slaves through the underground railroad.  Donovan is a slave hunter and a good one at that.  His unwanted attention raises questions in Faithwell and puts Honor in a precarious position with her new family.

But Honor is true to her faith.  She understands the danger involved yet she becomes part of the underground railroad, helping slaves on their journey to freedom.  As she tries to fit in with her American family and avoid Donovan and his baffling appeal, Honor strives to do what is best until she is pushed too far and she can no longer distinguish between right and wrong.

Evaluation:

Beautifully written, Chevalier creates a story that captures an element of american history from the perspective of a reluctant immigrant who sees America and its challenges with fresh eyes.  The struggles of the “slave issue” in the free state of Ohio are just as intense as elsewhere with Honor’s character having to battle with the moral ambiguity of helping to free innocent people and protecting her own family.  A great work of historical fiction. brought to life with the reading  by Kate Reading whose different voices, inflections and accents created a vivid picture of life in America as seen through the eyes of Chevalier’s characters.

Genre/Subgenre:

Historical Fiction

Readalikes:

The Rebellion of Jane Clarke by Sally Gunning.  The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd

Book Discussion Questions:

Quilting is significant to the main character.  How does it enhance the story?

Which character(s) would you have liked to see more developed?

How is Honor “flawed”?  Are there aspects about her character that you find difficult to comprehend?

Reasons for selection:

This book was chosen for one of our class’s book discussion selections.  I listened to it thinking that I might not be able to get into it by reading the print version due to the pace of the story (an assumption).  I thoroughly enjoyed listening to it and found myself intrigued by the story and wondering how Chevalier was going to effectively bring all the pieces together.