What I’m Reading 8/21/17

When preparing this post, I realized that I had written way too much content.  Since I’ve begun writing reactions/reviews/summaries in a notebook immediately after finishing a book, I’ve noticed that my comments have gotten a longer.  So I decided to do some shifting around, giving some of the books where I had more thoughts posts of their own.

Here, you can find my thoughts about several of my recent reads.  Keep an eye out over the next week for others–I’ve got a writeup for a fantasy novel primed and ready to go and, as soon as I finish Our Dark Duet by Victoria Schwab, I’ll give the Monsters of Verity duology their own post.

Here’s what I’m discussing this week:

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Inbox // Outbox 1/9/16

Inbox:

The Light Between Oceans by M.L. Stedman

I’m halfway through the audiobook version of this and am doing my best to withhold judgement until the end.  I really WANT to like this book.  I just don’t know if I can.  The historical aspects are really enjoyable, but a couple of the main characters get on my nerves.  Plus, the reader is annoying–his voice trails off at the end of sentences and is hard to hear.

Saving Hamlet by Molly Booth

This was a fluffy, fun YA read.  Theater kid, Emma, suddenly finds herself promoted to Stage Manager in what is on track to become the worst production of Hamlet ever to grace the high school stage.  One evening, she trips and falls through the auditorium stage’s trap door and finds herself enlisted as an assistant at the Globe Theater in London… in 1601.  There’s not a lot of depth here, but my not-so-inner literature nerd loved all the Shakespeare.

Wayfarer by Alexandra Bracken

Bracken’s first book, Passenger, didn’t blow me away.  There have been quite a few YA novels about time-traveling pirates released lately and none of them have been as satisfying as I wanted them to be.  Still, I’m intrigued enough to keep going and hope to get to this in the next week or so.  (Probably when I finish the Hamlet book).

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Outbox:

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On the Shelf: Rick Riordan, Classics on Audiobook, and a Bit of Dickens

I’ve been shirking my summer reading lately… which explains why I didn’t make a book-related post last week.  But, I assure you, I have a good reason!  (More on that later.) Even though I haven’t completed anything worth reviewing lately, I’ve still been literary.  Instead of following my usual format, I thought I’d take an opportunity to discuss all the stories I’ve consumed.

First up: Blood of Olympus by Rick Riordan I’ve been inching my way through Riordan’s vastly entertaining stories about modern-day demigods for several years.  Whenever the next one comes my way, I pick it up.  I started the Heroes of Olympus series three years ago and, although the final novel has been out for a year or two, I finally got around to reading it on my Kindle.

Yes, I know these books are written for twelve year-olds.  But what’s the fun of reading if you don’t appreciate stories for all ages?  Although the writing isn’t spectacular, I ADORE these books.  The characters are just plain FUN.  The plot moves quickly, pulling me in and keeping me up late into the night. I won’t spoil the final novel for any of you who haven’t read them, but it did not disappoint!  I read for hours straight, unable to put the book down.  A satisfying conclusion to a highly enjoyable series!

Check out this FABULOUS fan art by Viria, one of my favorite artists:

Photo taken from Google Search

Audiobook Talk: Since I do field work for my summer job, life gets boring quickly.  So, I listen to audiobooks!  What I love about listening to novels is that it gives me a sense of purpose–the plot progresses to an end, giving me a goal to work towards.  It breaks up the day and gives me something to look forward to amid weeding, hoeing, and other menial tasks.

Every summer, I listen to J.R.R. Tolkien’s masterpiece on audiobook.  I’ve been through them at least four or five times now.  I started this year’s listen during my first few days back at work.  Fellowship of the Ring took a mere four days–a new record!  The Two Towers took longer–about a week.  The Return of the King went quickly as well.  I don’t really know what else to say about the series outside the fact that it’s an old favorite and no summer would be complete without it.  I’m hoping to get through the copy of The Silmarillion I received for Christmas sometime this summer–a project that has now been set up quite nicely!

Last week, I returned to another old favorite: Pride & Prejudice by Jane Austen.  Like many, many, many others, I’ve been reading and re-reading Austen’s classic for years.  It’s been quite a while since I last touched the novel itself.  What I love about P&P is that it’s the kind of story that you never tire of reading.  Every time through, something different strikes you.  Listening made certain aspects of the story stand out in ways that I had never before considered.

Now, I’m revisiting another old favorite: Jane Eyre.  I’m currently almost nine hours in–Rochester just dressed up as a gypsy in order to mess with his house guests (and find out if Jane has feelings for him).  I’ll probably finish this one by the end of the week.

Finally, the book that has been holding me up… Two years ago, I started reading Bleak House by Charles Dickens.  I got 350 through before sending it to the back-burner due to assigned reading.  This summer, I’ve vowed to finish the massive 800 page chunker.  The problem is… it’s an enormous story with at least thirty characters that are difficult to keep track of.  I had to re-read the Sparknotes summary for all the chapters leading up to where I left off, as well as character descriptions.  This helped a bit, but I really didn’t get my bearings until I had plowed through fifty pages or so.  I’m now on page 473 with half the book to go.

It’s a wonderful book (minus the boring parts) and I WISH that my Victorian Lit professor had assigned it.  I feel like there’s so much that I’m missing.  But the central characters are enjoyable–I especially love Mr. Guppy.  The portions Esther narrates are my favorite.  I also laughed out loud at the part where Mr. Krook spontaneously combusted.  Dickens has lots of balls in the air at the point I’m at and I’m excited to see how he connects everything.

So… that concludes another On the Shelf!  Maybe this weekend, I’ll take a break from Dickens and read something review-able.  In the meantime, are there any books that I talk about here that you’ve read?  What are your thoughts on them?  Based on these texts, are there any you recommend me adding to my massive “To-Read” list?

On the Shelf: Saint Anything by Sarah Dessen

This week, I’m delving into the realm of YA fiction.  I read two novels belonging to the genera this week: I Am the Messenger by Markus Zusak (an old favorite) and Saint Anything by Sarah Dessen.  I considered highlighting the Zusak novel, but decided against it ’cause the review would be nothing but me raving about how much I love it.  Instead, I chose to discuss the newest Dessen book.

My Rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

Goodreads | Amazon

SummaryPeyton, Sydney’s charismatic older brother, has always been the star of the family, receiving the lion’s share of their parents’ attention and—lately—concern. When Peyton’s increasingly reckless behavior culminates in an accident, a drunk driving conviction, and a jail sentence, Sydney is cast adrift, searching for her place in the family and the world. When everyone else is so worried about Peyton, is she the only one concerned about the victim of the accident?  Enter the Chathams, a warm, chaotic family who run a pizza parlor, play bluegrass on weekends, and pitch in to care for their mother, who has multiple sclerosis. Here Sydney experiences unquestioning acceptance. And here she meets Mac, gentle, watchful, and protective, who makes Sydney feel seen, really seen, for the first time.

My Thoughts:

I discovered Sarah Dessen in high school and became an instant fan.  Her books Just Listen, Lock & Key, and Along for the Ride were some of my favorite reads back in the day.  She’s one of the few writers where I will read anything she writes.  (Mind you, this isn’t because she’s high-quality literature.)

Dessen’s novels are engaging, fun, and they go fast.  Although it’s nearly 500 pages, Saint Anything took only two days to plow through.  It’s the kind of book you curl up with in bed at night and end up staying up FAR too late with.  You know, the “Just one more chapter…” game.

My main issue with these books is that, although they’re enjoyable, they’re highly formulaic.  Her heroines are all the same– pretty high school/pre-college age girls trying to find themselves amid tumultuous family situations.  Along the way, they discover a new group of friends that accept her for who she is and show her how to enjoy/approach life in a new way.  Along the way, she finds love with a special, unique, insightful boy who does not see her in the way the world wants her to be, but as she really is.  This is freeing… but brief.  At some point, things go wrong, the relationship goes rocky, family troubles explode, and the heroine is left in a mess.  By the end of the novel, though, she is able to piece things back together, learns something new about herself, her family begins to heal, and she steps into the future with her boyfriend.

There.  I just summed up every single Sarah Dessen novel.  Now you don’t have to read any!  I’m kidding.  If you like reasonably well-written stories about self-discovery and summer romances, you’ll enjoy almost all these books.

I did enjoy Saint Anything… but it followed too close to the formula and, frankly, wasn’t a stand-out.  Sydney was a mildly boring, but relatable heroine.  Her friends were quirky and fun, but felt like shadow copies of more interesting incarnations of the same characters in previous novels.  The love interest, Mac, was likable, but a bit bland.  I strongly disliked her parents–they were over-protective, judgmental, and terrible judges of character.

There was a review of Goodreads that claims the most this novel did was make them want to eat pizza… and I must say, I wholeheartedly agree.  While reading the book, I enjoyed it, but don’t think I’ll be giving it a second visit.

You will like this book if you enjoy: reasonably well-written YA novels, quick reads, stories of self-discovery, family relationships, and cute summer romances.

My suggestion: Skip this book.  It’s nothing special.  If you want to read Dessen, go for one of her books written in the 2002-2009 range.  Her earlier novels fall flat and her more recent ones are too formulaic.

See you next week for more book talk!

On the Shelf

I come bearing another edition of On the Shelf, a feature where I talk about the books I’m currently reading or have recently finished.

Let’s start with academics.

Lady Audley’s Secret by Mary Elizabeth Braddon

This Victorian bestseller, along with Braddon’s other famous novel, Aurora Floyd, established her as the main rival of the master of the sensational novel, Wilkie Collins. A protest against the passive, insipid 19th-century heroine, Lady Audley was described by one critic of the time as “high-strung, full of passion, purpose, and movement.” Her crime (the secret of the title) is shown to threaten the apparently respectable middle-class world of Victorian England. (summary via Goodreads)

We finished discussing Braddon’s popular novel in my Victorian Lit class this week.  The story is thrilling, filled with masked identities, bigamy, and hidden crime.  It’s a fast-paced story for its time and has some fantastic characters–the energetic Alicia, passionate Clara, and lazy Robert.  The title character is a gorgeous mastermind who will stop at nothing in her pursuit of a better life.  Braddon presents a complex argument regarding law, crime, and gender.  Is it a feminist novel?  It easily could be.  You’ll have to read it for yourself to find out!

The one downside of this novel is that Braddon isn’t particularly skilled at writing prose.  She tends to use the same words over and over again, which gets dull.  However, my favorite sentence in the book is probably this one:

The windows winked and the flight of stone steps glared in the sunlight, the prim garden walks were so freshly gravelled that they gave a sandy, gingery aspect to the place, reminding one unpleasantly of read hair.

Sorry, redheads.  Braddon doesn’t seem to like you very much.

The Evermen Saga by James Maxwell

Remember the other day when I gushed about the pain of a wonderful first read?  I was talking about this series.  (The cover is pretty awful, isn’t it?  I’m thankful I read the books on my Kindle to avoid staring at the photoshopped monstrosity.)

In my last installment of this feature, I was in the middle of the first novel of the series.  This past week, I finished the fourth. You’re probably thinking, “Woah, Amelia.  You’re in your senior year of college and managed to finish four 500 page fantasy novels within a few short weeks?  Are you insane?”

Answer: Kind of.

I’d label it weakness, not insanity.  When I enter a well-crafted world and become attached to its inhabitants, there’s no stopping me.  I become a rabid book breather and do not stop until I hit the end.

The thing about Maxwell’s series is that, like many fantasy novels, they aren’t literary.  The characters aren’t super original and there are gaping plot holes.  Too many convenient things happen for it to be completely believable.  But the series is FUN!  As far as pleasure reads go, it’s top-notch.  The world was so compelling that all its faults are forgotten.  I ‘d go so far as saying I adore the book’s universe.  The Tingarian Empire is diverse, historic, and well-planned.  The magic in the series, based on runic lore fueled by a deadly magical liquid called essence, is compelling and fantastic.

What I loved about the series is that there is never a dull moment.  The pacing is quick, bringing us from one battle to the next.  Yes, the characters aren’t super original, but they won my heart.  I found myself rooting for them as they faced incredible odds.  Each book was more dynamic than the next, and the finale in the fourth book was splendid.

A Thousand Perfect Things by Kay Kenyon

In this epic new work, the award-winning Kenyon creates an alternate 19th century with two warring continents on an alternate earth: the scientific Anglica (England) and magical Bharata (India). Emboldened by her grandfather’s final whispered secret of a magical lotus, Tori Harding, a young Victorian woman and aspiring botanist, must journey to Bharata, with its magics, intrigues and ghosts, to claim her fate. There she will face a choice between two suitors and two irreconcilable realms.

In a magic-infused world of silver tigers, demon birds and enduring gods, as a great native mutiny sweeps up the continent, Tori will find the thing she most desires, less perfect than she had hoped and stranger than she could have dreamed.  (Summary via Goodreads)

I found this book via Kindle’s Daily Deal option.  It’s my gym read and, so far, has succeeded in taking my mind of the pain of the elliptical machine.  I’m not overly invested in the characters yet and still don’t know how I feel about the story.  But the world is intriguing.  I love the idea of an alternate Victorian period where England represents cold, hard science and India embodies magic and mystery.   I’m excited to see where it goes!

What’s next?

Starting this weekend, I’ll be delving into the massive Victorian chunker, The Way We Live Now by Anthony Trollope.  I’m also hoping to start The Jane Austen Book Club by Karen Joy Fowler.

What have you been reading lately?