Monday, January 25, 2016

What I Read in May 2015 Part I

What I Read in May 2015 Part I ...

Emma by Alexander McCall Smith -Austenesque Contemporary Fiction

Emma This modern retelling of Emma has way too much backstory. The first quarter of the book is all about Mr. Woodhouse and his history, then how Miss Taylor came to live with them (with a Sound of Music reference - love it!) and how Isabella met John. Finally, about halfway through we meet Emma, recently returned from University in Bath with a degree in design and nothing to do. She hosts a dinner party for the neighbors and decides to fix up her former governess, Miss Taylor, with widower James Weston. She also invites Harriet Smith, a young woman who assists the English as a Foreign Language teacher Mrs. Goddard. Emma, fresh from her success with the Westons turns her attentions to Harriet. You know the rest or you think you do but there are some surprises towards the end. Most of the plot is removed to make room for backstory and I really wish he had included more plot and less pondering because I liked the writing style. The writing sort of mimics Jane Austen's cadence a bit without being ponderous or old-fashioned,it's witty, like Jane Austen. At times though there were some really odd passages that stuck out - Emma pondering on sex and physical attraction - that I didn't feel fit in with the tone of the story. Also the moral at the end was too much for a modern book. It didn't need to be spelled out. I wanted more plot.

Mr. Woodhouse's story is cute and funny and I really liked him as a character. I also loved Mrs. Goddard aka Mrs. God, the hippie teacher. She's a lot of fun. Harriet is a sweet girl and deserves happiness. Mr. Knightly is barely in the book. George is Mr. Woodhouse's friend and neighbor but he doesn't spend much time with Emma. He's very kind and generous and more empathetic than his brother. Emma is portrayed as controlling. From her childhood to the revelation at the end, she insists on controlling everyone in her life. I have never seen Emma that way - just spoiled, selfish and bored. This Emma is not quite as lively and witty as the original. Maybe if there was more plot she would have been. As in the original, there's no good reason why she doesn't like Jane Fairfax except for jealousy. Frank Churchill appears here too but in a limited role. He's not quite the same as the original - not fully developed and appearing briefly to advance the mystery of Jane Fairfax plot.

I preferred other retellings of Emma over this time. Even the webseries Emma Approved grew on me over time. I will try to check out some of the author's other books because I did like his writing style.

Content some might find objectionable:
discussions about sex, homosexuality
brief contemplation on physical attraction
hinted drug use
characters living together before marriage 

he Wishing Spell by Chris Colfer -- Middle Grades Fantasy

The Wishing Spell (The Land of Stories, #1)

Twins Alex and Connor are as different as can be. Alex is an overachiever. She does well in school, but is miserable because all the other kids are mean to her. Connor is an underachiever, a wisecracking kid who often falls asleep in class. The one thing they have in common is their love of fairy tales. Their dad used to tell them stories to make them feel better and read to them from the big Book of Stories at their grandmother's. Now their dad is dead and their mom is too busy trying to pay bills to be with the twins much. After a school lesson in fairy tales, Alex discovers The Book of Secrets acting strange. She can't figure out what to do. She really wants to peer inside the fairy tale world but clumsy Connor accidentally knocks them both into the book! Now they're stuck in the fairy tale world with no way home. They meet a frog who tells them about the Wishing Spell which will help them get home if they gather the right objects together. Off they go on a quest for magical objects in the land they know so well - or think they do anyway. They're unprepared for the dangers they face from their beloved tales. Will they ever make it home again?

I loved Chris Colfer on Glee and when I saw he narrated his own book, I had to listen to it. The story isn't all that new - at times it reminded me of Harry Potter and of course it involves fairy tales, but I enjoyed the trip through the fairy tale world. Alex and Connor's adventures start and stop a lot. They find themselves in danger but somehow manage to get out of it too easily. It wasn't until part 7 that I got really into the story and couldn't put it down. There were some surprises along the way though I had already guessed right away what took the kids half the book to figure out.

I wanted to like Alex because she's me at that age but I found her a bit too soft for my tastes. She's not Hermione, always coming up with the answer. She's kind and empathetic and sometimes that isn't what is needed. I liked clever, wisecracking Connor better. He's smarter than he thinks he is and saves the day more than once with his quick wits. My favorite characters are Goldielocks because she kicks some serious butt and Red Riding Hood because she provides the humor. Though I absolutely hated seeing women fighting. We have a hard enough time in life and should support one another not fight each other. It sent the wrong message to kids.

Chris Colfer's narration surprisingly left a bit to be desired. His delivery of the narration was too rushed. He excelled at doing character voices though, especially the female ones. He's horrible at accents and I couldn't figure out if some of the characters were sometimes speaking in a southern accent or an English one or some combination. The voices themselves were a lot of fun though and add a lot to the story.

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