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Maddie Reviews: Emma by Jane Austen

9 Jul

9780143106463_Emma_ClaDlx.indd
Earlier this year, I decided to deviate from my usual reading material and go for something a bit different. I got a copy of Emma through a free book something-or-other, and decided- why not? I had been inspired to start reading Jane Austen because of Gwyneth Paltrow, The Mother Daughter Book Club series, and just because it sounded like something that would be more interesting to me. I figured that if I was going to finally start to brave literature from the early 1900s, why not start with something a bit gossipy and love triangle oriented?

You’ve probably heard of this book before. It was the last book that the famous Jane Austen published in her lifetime. Its heroine is the witty and intelligent but extremely nosy Emma, a member of the higher branch of English society from around the eighteen hundreds. As the publisher description adequately describes her, “she was beautiful, clever, rich, and single.” She is set apart from her peers (and, I think, other heroines of her time) by being content to remain perfectly clever and single. As she says in the book, “’I never have been in love; it is not my way, or my nature, and I do not think I ever shall.’” Certainly, the main plot point of the story is her delightful nosiness.

In the very beginning, she sets out to match her new charge/protégé, the young Miss Harriet, an orphan of unknown parentage, to the handsome, young, and wealthy Mr. Elton. Emma decides she must take Harriett under her wing after her main companion, the former Miss Taylor turned Mrs. Weston, is married. Making matches and getting into people’s business is our dear protagonist Emma’s favorite pastime. The story evolves to include the interesting twists and turns of Emma’s scheme, with some things extremely unexpected, and others that could be guessed from the beginning – for, really, what is a Jane Austen novel without romance?

Overall, I really enjoyed this book. I noticed how Jane Austen seemed to use some facts of English society in the story, remark about them in a clever prose, and then (very subtly) make fun of them, as if to say, through her characters and their actions, that some aspects of society were just plain stupid. To give a specific example I have in mind would spoil some of the book, so I’m just going to leave it at that.

Another thing I liked about this book were all the different characters. There is the disagreeable friend of Emma’s, Mr. Knightly, her father, Mr. Woodhouse, who seems to have a rather stalkerish obsession with their town doctor, Perry (and health), the young, slightly dimwitted Miss Harriet, and the dapper Mr. Elton.

I also love her use of language. It was the kind of book that you are bursting at the seams to read in a British accent, and cuddle up with a cup of mint tea, a blanket, and a small dog by the fireplace.

There were things about this book that I wasn’t as fond of. First, there are spaces in places they simply shouldn’t be. The same can be said of the letter u, and other odd things that appear in places that they don’t in American English. The book, while much more interesting, than, say, The Scarlet Letter, is still a bit tedious and hard to read at times. The plot as well, or at least parts of it, was extremely predictable. For example, I knew that ______ would end up with ______ and that ______ would, like, NEVER work out, and they’d end up back with _______ . . . I think you get my point. Saying all of this, though, it was still readable.

If you struggle sometimes with regular English, let alone older English, and classics just aren’t for you, then you may want to wait a few more years to tackle Emma. On the other hand, I highly recommend this book if you like classics, or want to start reading them. This book is most definitely a great place to begin! Also, if you appreciate love complications and just all-around extremely satisfying (read for five hours straight in a very large generously stuffed chair) books, you’d definitely adore this one.

So, pick up Emma, by Jane Austen: It’s a great way to start reading classics, and to perfect that British accent.

Maddie
Title: Emma
Author: Jane Austen
Publisher: Originally published in 1815 by John Murray

Note from Em: Maddie and I used to co-host a radio show together where we talked about all the great (and sometimes not great) books that we read. Sadly, Maddie had to leave the radio show when she and her family moved several hours away. Luckily she still shares her love of reading and her book reviewing talents with the world! Her reviews are also posted on the Bound By Books radio show blog.

Maddie Reviews: Code Name Verity

4 May

Maddie
Note from Em: Maddie and I used to co-host a radio show together where we talked about all the great (and sometimes not great) books that we read. Sadly, Maddie had to leave the radio show last year when she and her family moved several hours away. Luckily she still shares her love of reading and her book reviewing talents with the world! Her reviews are posted on the Bound By Books radio show blog and here’s one of her latest reviews, which I thought you all would enjoy!


CodeNameVerity
Code Name Verity was an amazing and thought-provoking book. As I have said before to those I know (in post-novel babbling disorder), I love fantasy and science fiction, and yet, despite this love, the genres that really GET me. . . the genres that affect me and leave a lasting impact are realistic and historical fiction. Code Name Verity is, I believe, the epitome of why this is true.

This story starts out with the narrative of “Verity”, a prisoner of the Gestapo in Nazi occupied France during World War Two. The time is October of 1943, and “Verity” is a Special Operations Executive for the Allies. She was sent to France to help with the French Resistance, but in the first 48 hours of her mission, she looks the wrong way when crossing the street and someone notices, which leads to her capture. She arrived in France by way of plane flown by her best friend (Maddie Brodatt, an English First Officer with the Air Trasnsport Auxiliary), but their plane is hit by an antiaircraft gun and crash lands. “Verity” gets out by parachuting, but she never finds out what happened to Maddie before she is caught. She (and the Gestapo) can only believe that Maddie is dead. Through torture by the Nazis, she goes on to reveal her story to the captain. She tells much of it through the eyes of her best friend. The book has many, many, many unexpected twists and turns, and has so many delicious spoiling opportunities, I can’t even explain farther than the first 57 pages without giving away something you really wouldn’t want to know.

I loved this book.

It was brilliant. It was historical. It was heart-wrenching. It was heart-warming. . . it was, without a doubt, an illustrious, absolutely stellar novel. I loved the characters – Queenie, “Gloriously daft, drop-dead charming, full of bookish nonsense and foul language, brave and generous”. The one who you would normally think of as the character you hate, but. . . you just. . . can’t. Then Jamie, the favorite brother and subject of Fear Number Three. There was the Bloody Machiavellian Intelligence Officer, who really doesn’t have a huge role, but whose “name” is brilliant. SS-Hauptsturmfuhrer von Linden, the Nazi captain with a soft spot for children. They all resonated with me, in some form or another.

In this book, I also loved the historical aspect. Now, I know that it IS historical fiction, but this book seemed especially well-researched and thought out. It almost felt like you were reading an extremely descriptive biography. I don’t know that much about World War II, but I certainly learned a lot by reading this, especially about how women were involved, specifically in the UK.

This leads me to another thing about this book that I appreciated. It showed a different, less explored point of view. Regarding the second World War, most of the fictional literature that exists is about the Holocaust – or, at least, everything I have come in contact with. This book shows the different perspective of the people actually fighting in Britain. To tell the truth, I have never really thought about that viewpoint.

Finally, this book made me cry. All of the best books that I’ve read make me cry – and they are all historical or realistic fiction. You get so wrapped up in the story, and, as I mentioned earlier, it feels like you are reading a biography. The characters come to life, and it takes a few minutes when you’ve finished to remember that they’re fictional. Code Name Verity really provides some thought (and makes me appreciate my nickname).

I loved this book a lot, but there were a few things that were less perfect. I suppose that the time it took Verity to write her confession novel was a bit unbelievable. Would she really have gotten that much time? Probably not. Also, Verity’s many names were hard to either keep track of or adjust to. Right after you had just gotten familiar with calling her one name, she would introduce another, and you would have to re-order your picture of her in your mind to get familiar with it, just like some of the plot twists in the story. Oh, the plot twists! I sometimes pride myself in predicting what is going to happen in a book, for, really, I am usually right. But in THIS book, I was continually shocked and surprised, marveling at how I really didn’t see some of the things coming. I loved it. Nevertheless, as with the name changing, it got confusing, which I believe can be both good and bad. It is puzzling the first time around, and you may want to reread some paragraphs over again, but in the long run, it makes you want to reread the book. Basically, the quote from the New York Times on the front cover explains it nicely: it’s “a fiendishly plotted mind game of a novel.” I feel that it is one of the books that doesn’t get old very easily, and you can spot something new every single time. Lastly, I suppose the worst thing about this book was that it took me six days to read the first 84 pages. The start seemed very slow, and I kept reading it in little increments. I discovered that you have to start this book when you have a good long time to just sit down and READ. After you get over the initial hump, the plot drags you in, and then you’re glued until the finish.

I would recommend this book to absolutely EVERYONE to read. If you like historical fiction, then this is a must. Its plot, as well as its characters, are well-crafted, and it tells an inspiring overarching tale of friendship that makes you love it to bits. That said, though, you have to have tolerance for descriptions of things you may not know anything about, like wireless operators, Puss Moths, and Nazi officer rankings, so you might want to have an interest in the time period.

So, the bottom line is. . . READ THIS BOOK. It is amazing, thought provoking, and tells a tale of friendship that you simply cannot miss.

Maddie’s Rating: 5 out of 5
Title: Code Name Verity
Author: Elizabeth Wein
Publisher: Disney-Hyperion (2012)

Maddie Reviews: The Diviners

25 Mar

Maddie
Note from Em: Maddie and I used to co-host a radio show together where we talked about all the great (and sometimes not great) books that we read. Sadly, Maddie had to leave the radio show last year when she and her family moved several hours away. Luckily she still shares her love of reading and her book reviewing talents with the world! Her reviews are posted on the Bound By Books radio show blog and here’s one of her latest reviews, which I thought you all would enjoy!

I have very interesting friends, and it is because of them that I read this book. My one friend was reading this in the library at school, when my other (slightly crazy) friend came up behind her and started reading her page aloud with various interesting voices. The next thing I knew, my slightly crazy friend was reading the book too, and giving more commentary. (“Ooo! I think Tommy’s going to die! DON’T GO IN THERE, TOMMY!”) They both talked about how good the book was, and had several silent screaming fests when they discussed it afterwards. . . So, my curiosity got the better of me, and I absolutely had to read it.

The Diviners
This book, The Diviners, by Libba Bray, primarily focuses on the main protagonist, Evangeline (Evie) O’Neill. It starts out with her being exiled to New York City to cool off (the reasons being along the lines of her accusing the town golden boy of knocking up a chambermaid at a particularly boisterous party). It takes place in the 1920’s, so as the cover remarks, New York is stuffed to the brim with speakeasies, pickpockets, Ziegfeld girls and silent pictures. “The city ran on corruption as much as electricity.” Evie’s only reservation about leaving her small town was that she’d be stuck living with her Uncle Will, who owned a museum of American Folklore, Superstition, and the Occult, otherwise know by New Yorkers as the museum of Creepy Crawlies- a place “arrears on its taxes”.

Anyway, Evie, known to her small town as “that awful O’Neill girl” a flapper through and through, also had a gift- or rather, a supernatural power. She could take an object that was important to the person whose item she was examining, and get. . . sort of. . . transported to a scene in the person’s life when they possessed that object.

Also going on in this book are POV’s (points of view) from different characters, the other main POV being a character named Memphis, who was a numbers-runner for Papa Charles, “the undisputed king of Harlem”. Memphis too, had a gift- a different gift, though he hadn’t used it in a long time, for when he needed it most, his ability had failed him. There are other characters in this story, too, ranging from the reserved assistant of Evie’s uncle, Jericho, who (guess what!?) hides a secret, to Theta, a Ziegfeld girl and friend of Evie’s. She, (Theta) lived in an apartment with her “brother”, fleeing from her past-and, yes, her gift.

There are many interesting characters, but the main plot point of the story is about a series of murders, done by a serial killer whom the reader knows from the beginning, called Naughty John. The victims were branded with a cryptic, mysterious symbol and a note. Evie’s uncle was called to the scene by the police, as the killings seemed to be religious or occultish in nature, and the rest of the book unfolds with Evie realizing that her gift could help catch the killer. Evie, Sam, (another character; a NYC pickpocket), her uncle, and Jericho discover in the process of solving the case that the killings were the start of something bigger.

Personally, I enjoyed this book (for the MOST part). I loved the complicated weaving of the storyline. I loved the third-person storytelling, and how it switched POV’s constantly from a random aristocrat to the wind. I loved the names- especially me, being a name fanatic, encountering names such as Memphis and Theta gives me an embarrassingly large dose of satisfaction. Perhaps, my favorite thing, though, was the historical fiction aspect. I swear, I’ve learned more about the twenties, the Harlem Renaissance, and Prohibition than I have from ever watching a PBS special. Because of this book, I can recite ten examples of flapper slang off the top of my head. Finally, I started reading it the same afternoon I got it, and finished it the next morning. So, yes, it was THAT good- the kind of good that you sit and stare at for a couple minutes afterward, and get bug-eyed when you realize that THERE IS A SEQUEL.

There were things about this book that I did not appreciate as much. . . the main thing being the ending. It had a very last-minute relationship plot twist that I just did not like. Besides that, the only other real flaw that stayed with me was that the characters sometimes aggravate the reader- (Dude! Don’t go in there! Are you STUPID!? There’s a creepo! OR THERE! DON’T WALK INTO A RANDOM ABANDONED WAREHOUSE!!! OR under a creepy bridge! ESPECIALLY when the psychic ten-year-old told you NOT to!) . Lastly, depending on your perspective, you might think that the book talks a little bit TOO much about Prohibition and other subjects along those lines.

I would not recommend this book to someone who doesn’t like really creepy books-there are scenes from the POV of some of the victims (at one point, it seems like someone dies every other chapter). Also, if you do not like more complex plots or the whole Armageddon bit.

BUT, if you DO enjoy any of the above. . . or, well, even if you don’t, you should pick up Diviners by Libba Bray, because you can bet on your life-ski that you’ll enjoy it.

Maddie’s Rating: 5 out of 5
Title: The Diviners
Author: Libba Bray
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers (2012)