Sunday, January 15, 2017

Emma by Alexander McCall Smith and The Magnolia Story by Chip & Joanna Gaines and Mark Dagostino

I love Jane Austen's novels.  Love.  They are where I go for comfort reading.  I tend to avoid modern retellings or sequels because I know that I will be disappointed.  However, when I came across Alexander McCall Smith's retelling of Emma, I knew I would have to give this one a try.  I have read several of his previous works including many from the No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency series, and I have always enjoyed them.  I was hopeful.

Ultimately, I am glad I read it, but I was disappointed.  Part of my disappointment was of my own inability to draw the characters into the 21st century.  Each time a new character was introduced, my mind's eye immediately had them in late 17th century attire.  I had to force myself to put them into modern times.  It made reading it difficult because I was constantly realigning the setting.

I truly enjoyed the backstory the McCall Smith provided the characters with.  It was told with a great deal more detail and development than the original Emma.  In fact, it was this part of the book, which was about half of it, that I liked the best.  Once the story began the actual retelling part where Miss Taylor, whose character I found to be somewhat flat, finds herself in love with James Weston, that I started to dislike the book a bit.

I thought that the modern parallels were interesting, but they were not as interesting as the original and lacked development.  As I read, I attempted to judge it as a stand-alone story rather than something I already felt I knew.  That wasn't very satisfactory either though because I think I would have been even less content with this book without my understanding of the characters as they were developed by Austen.

I think the part that provided the greatest disappointment was that I can recall only two real conversations (maybe three) between Emma and George Knightly.  In fact, George Knightly was not in the book very much at all.  His presence felt forced and unnatural.  Their realization of loving each other was very anticlimactic because they had little interaction with each other throughout the book.

The best thing about reading McCall Smith's Emma is that it made me decide to finish rereading Austen's Emma that I began late last year.  I am going to reexamine the characters as I read, and I believe I will be able to do so with a fresh perspective.

Emma was has mostly been my nighttime reading.  During the day, I have been listening to Chip and Joanna Gaines read their book The Magnolia Story through Audible.  I got my husband an Amazon Dot for Christmas, and I love being able to listen to audio books on it.  The sound is great, and it is so easy to ask Alexa to start or start reading when it is convenient.

Memoirs read by their authors are my favorite audio books, and this one did not disappoint.  In fact, it exceeded my expectations.  I felt as though Chip and Joanna were sitting there with me rather than reading through a speaker.  It was a great way to pass the time as I worked, and I would enjoy listening to it again.

They each tell memorable moments from their lives, and, in the end, all of them are tied nicely together in a cohesive way.  I love Fixer Upper, and hearing more about the ups and downs, maybe the downs in particular, of their lives gave me a lot of insight into how they got to where they are now.  I appreciate the fact that they are both authentic and transparent about experiences they have had.  The way they shared their faith was meaningful and personal without being preachy.

The five hours I spent listening to The Magnolia Story passed too quickly.  I was sorry when it was over.  Unfortunately, I can't say the same for Emma.  With that said, I completed two books this week that I wanted to read, and I found enjoyment in both.

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Books about Books

Last year as I settled into my new position as a librarian, I read The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry and Mr. Penumbra's 24-hour Bookstore.  The main thing they shared in common was that the main character was a bookshop owner and loved books.  I enjoyed them greatly and decided to start the year off with another book about books.

Jenny Colgan's The Bookshop on the Corner sounded like a perfect cold weather read.  Nina is a librarian who is losing her job.  She decides to take control of her life by changing what she doesn't like and pursuing her dream in a way that is unexpected to her as well as everyone who knows her.

I loved this about her.  She was willing to put aside everything that was comfortable about her life and make a change because it felt right.  This is an idea that I think many people can identify with, but few have the courage to pursue.  As a reader, I loved that I was privy to Nina's thoughts, apprehensions, and excitement over the direction her life took.

The fact that this book is set in England and Scotland makes it even better.  Colgan's description of the Scottish countryside, people, and its traditions made me feel as if I were there.  The details were not superfluous; they made the book more enjoyable.

This is a great book for travelers (or those who would like to), book lovers, and romantics.  This is adult fiction, but would be not be inappropriate for mature teen readers.  I am very happy with my first read of the new year; it was a most happy way to pass some very chilly days!

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Some 2016 Favorites

Welcome!  In an effort to become a more reflective reader myself as well as to document my own reading, I have decided to start a side blog of the books I'm reading both for pleasure and to recommend to students or grow professionally.  I want to improve at making time to read because it is easy to get lost in the busy ways of life, so I am taking some cues from this post at Modern Mrs. Darcy on ways to read more this year.  They are great recommendations for anyone; check them out.

Since I haven't completed anything yet in 2017--although I am always in the middle of at least one  Austen book--I thought I would list some of my favorite reads from 2016.  I will refrain from including all five Jane Austen novels that I listened to on Audible as I worked this summer.  Just know that anything by Jane is an automatic favorite each and every year.

  • A Spool of Blue Thread by Anne Tyler--I read this with really high expectations, and, to be honest, I'm not sure I liked it; however, I read it in March and have thought about it throughout the year.  There was definitely something about it that stuck with me.
  • At Home in Mitford by Jan Karon--I never get tired of visiting Mitford.  I wanted to reread this series this year, but only made it through the first book.  Goals. :)
  • The Book Whisperer by Donalyn Miller--I love this book.  It makes so much sense, and it is one that I plan to revisit over the next few months, so that I can further incorporate her ideas into our library.
  • The Dot by Peter H. Reynolds--This little story is amazing and very impactful.  I hope to incorporate Dot Day next year with our sixth graders.
  • Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan--This is one of those books that I think if someone were to make a movie, the events wouldn't match what happened in my mind at all, but I loved the mixture of the old with the new and the way it made me think about technology.
  • Pax by Sara Pennypacker--I adore this book.  It is so good.  I read it in about three hours one day.  I couldn't put it down.  It is simply lovely.
  • The Selection Series by Kiera Cass--Honestly, I'm not a big fan of The Hunger Games, and I do not like The Bachelor at all, but the combination of the two in The Selection worked for me.  I read the first three books in the series in two days.  I couldn't put them down, and it was so much fun.

While I read many others, these were the 10 books (12 if you count all three Selection books) that either I enjoyed the most or made a major impression in some way or another.  

I'm setting some reading goals for 2017--the first of which is to make a dent in this stack of books on my bedside table before I order more.  That may be the most difficult one of all to keep!  My main goal is to read three books a month for a total of 36 books this year.  I will record my progress on my reading blog.  It will mostly be a mixture of YA and adult fiction with a few professional books thrown in as well.  I'm looking forward to a year of reading.  I can't wait to get started, so I think that I won't; I'm going to start my first book of the new year, The Bookshop on the Corner by Jenny Colgan, right now.  Happy Reading!