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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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.

I am Half-Sick of Shadows

I am half-sick of shadows: a Flavia de Luce novel    4W, 4H

Bradley, Alan. (2011).  I am Half-Sick of Shadows.  New York: Delacorte Press. 320 pages.  $17.99.

ISBN  978-0385344012.

Reviews: 

National Post Review;  The Globe and Mail

Annotation:  

Flavia de Luce, a precocious 11 year old, puts her sleuthing skills to the test when a famous actress is murdered at the family estate.

Summary:  

It’s a few days before Christmas in Bishop Lacey, a fictional village in post World War II England.  As outlined in previous novels, the de Luce’s have financial troubles so to help bring in more money, Flavia’s widowed father, Colonel de Luce, has rented out the family estate, Buckshaw, to a film crew.  The famous actress Phyllis Wyvern will be starring in the film and while all the household is starstruck, it is Flavia that earns her trust.  In the middle of a snow storm that strands the majority of the villagers at the estate, Flavia discovers that Phyllis Wyvern has been murdered.   And although the local police do not always appreciate her help, there is a grudging admiration for her sly and effective ways of always putting the pieces of the puzzle together.

Evaluation:

Alan Bradley’s Flavia de Luce novels always deliver.  The appeal of these books lies in the unique 11 year old perspective that is delivered through the precocious and adventurous eyes of Flavia.  She is the youngest of three girls whose widowed father has detached himself from the world through stamp collection and the older sisters are a constant source of irritation.  Yet Flavia’s keen determination for the truth drives this independent child into situations normally avoided by children her age and most adults for that matter.  And while she is helping to put together the clues of the murder, she is bound and determined to prove her sisters wrong by developing a plan to “capture” Father Christmas on the roof of Buckshaw before he has a chance to get down the chimney.  In true Flavia style, both mysteries are solved simultaneously with impressive energy.

Genre/Subgenre:

Mystery/Cozy

Readalikes:

A fatal grace by Louise Penny

Real Murders by Charlaine Harris

Book Discussion Questions:

How did Flavia put her chemistry passion to use in this novel?  What has been your favorite use of chemical observations in this series?

Bradley dives deeper into the de Luce family relationships with each novel.  How are Flavia’s observations of her family changing?

At the beginning of the novel, we are in the midst of Flavia’s dream.  How does the dream define Flavia?

Reasons for selection:

This is the 4th novel in the Flavia de Luce series and I have opened every one with great anticipation.  Flavia was introduced to me by a long-time Adult Services librarian who sensed my appreciation for mystery, wit and the cozy feel of the English countryside.  Perhaps this is Harriet the Spy with an even greater IQ and a lot of access.  After all, not every child has their own fully operational chemistry lab!