Emma by Jane Austen
Emma is one of Jane Austen's masterpieces. It is a skillfully told story with deep and well drawn characters. Emma is a character the audience is not really supposed to like, and yet I find myself liking her in spite of myself. She is flawed, and she makes bad choices, but she is a human character who is trying to do what she thinks is best. The audience can relate to her because she is flawed, and we can like her because she learns by the end of the story that she is not perfect and she is not the ultimate authority.
(Minor spoilers below.)
This story has many elements to it that normally would be found in a mystery story. I love mysteries, so this is part of why this story appeals to me. There is so much going on under the surface that you have to pick up on through careful reading. In the case of Jane Fairfax and Frank Churchill, once you know the end of their story, you can see that the clues were there all along. Why did it take Frank so long to repair Mrs. Bates' spectacles? You don't think about it at the time, but looking back you can only assume that he was there to visit Jane, not only Mrs. Bates. How did he know about Mr. Perry's carraige, and why does Jane get so nervous when he says that? Obviously it was because Jane told him about it in one of her letters.
Another thing I love about this story is the way Emma and Mr. Knightly make a smooth transition from being just friends to realizing they are in love with each other. This transition would be an easy thing to make awkward, but Austen does this with such subtlety that it seems natural.
Oh my, I said I would keep this brief, didn't I? I'm sorry, I just really love this story, it's hard not to keep talking about it.
Princess Academy by Shannon Hale
Miri lives in a small village on Mount Eskel where the villagers have quarried valuable linder stone for generations. Unfortunately, Miri is considered too small to help in the quarry even at age fourteen. She longs to be needed and she feels left out by the workers who use "quarry speak" to communicate with each other without words.
When Mount Eskel is chosen as the place where the future princess will be found, all the teenage girls from the village are taken to a nearby makeshift academy, where they will learn how to be a princess. At the end of the year, the prince will come and choose his bride.
Miri must decide who she wants to be. She wants to be chosen by the prince, so she can help her village, but she also wants to stay on Mount Eskel and be with her childhood friend (or possibly more than a friend), Peder. She wants to be helpful, but she doesn't know how.
I won't tell you the whole plot, just that it is excellent and I recommend it for everyone. Don't be put off by the girly sounding title. We read this book out loud as a family, and my eight year old brother really enjoyed it. It has a lot of adventure and suspense. I love it becaue the world where it is set was so well described that it felt like a real place. All of the characters are well written, and a few of them have secrets that you don't find out until the end of the book. The ending ties everything together is a logical but unexpected way.
Ok, I guess since I couldn't keep them brief, I will just do two books today. : ) I will tell you some more of my favorite books tomorrow.