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?

On my bookshelf

When I’m not running around doing campus ministry or diagramming sentences for Grammar & Language or working the circulation desk at the library, you can usually find me with a book.  (Actually, now that I think about it, I have a book in all three of those situations… but I digress).  I’m taking less credits than usual this semester, which means I have slightly more free time.  So, in true English major fashion, I’ve been filling my time with books!

Here’s what I’ve been reading lately.

1. Mary Barton by Elizabeth Gaskell

This is Elizabeth Gaskell’s first novel, a widely acclaimed work based on the actual murder, in 1831, of a progressive mill owner. It follows Mary Barton, daughter of a man implicated in the murder, through her adolescence, when she suffers the advances of the mill owner, and later through love and marriage. Set in Manchester, between 1837-42, it paints a powerful and moving picture of working-class life in Victorian England.

(Description from Goodreads)

The perks of being in a Victorian literature class is that I’m assigned books I’d read for fun.  I just finished Mary Barton this afternoon (a week earlier than the syllabus called for) and loved it!  Gaskell vividly describes life for the lower classes of Manchester, makes a complicated argument for the solution of class disatisfaction.  About halfway through the novel, Gaskell changes pace and I found myself unable to put the book down, wanting to know what happens to all the characters.  I found the end a bit unsatisfying, but am willing to forgive Gaskell for that.

2. The Selection series by Kiera Cass

For thirty-five girls, the Selection is the chance of a lifetime. The opportunity to escape the life laid out for them since birth. To be swept up in a world of glittering gowns and priceless jewels. To live in a palace and compete for the heart of gorgeous Prince Maxon.

But for America Singer, being Selected is a nightmare. It means turning her back on her secret love with Aspen, who is a caste below her. Leaving her home to enter a fierce competition for a crown she doesn’t want. Living in a palace that is constantly threatened by violent rebel attacks.

Then America meets Prince Maxon. Gradually, she starts to question all the plans she’s made for herself–and realizes that the life she’s always dreamed of may not compare to a future she never imagined.

(Description from Goodreads)

I downloaded the first book for cheap on my Kindle for reading material at the gym and then proceeded to read the entire series in a week.  The trilogy definitely has weaknesses–it feels like a cheap knock-off of The Hunger Games, characters are pretty two-dimensional, and it’s not that well written.  Despite these things, though, I adored the trilogy.  It’s like The Hunger Games meets reality t.v. meets fairy tales.  They’re not perfect, but make for excellent brain candy.  And, oh my goodness, the covers are SO PRETTY.

2. Enchantress by James Maxwell

Ella and her brother, Miro, are orphans, their parents killed long ago in the ongoing struggle against the mad Emperor.

From the day Ella witnesses an enchanter using his talents to save Miro from drowning, she knows what she wants to be. But the elite Academy of Enchanters expects tuition fees and knowledge. Determined, Ella sells flowers and studies every book she can. Meanwhile, Miro dreams of becoming one of the world’s finest swordsmen, wielding his nation’s powerful enchanted weapons in defense of his homeland.

A dark force rises in the east, conquering all in its path, and Miro leaves for the front. When the void Miro left is filled by Killian, a charming stranger from another land, Ella finds herself in love. But Killian has a secret, and Ella’s actions will determine the fate of her brother, her homeland, and the world.

(Description from Goodreads)

I haven’t finished this one yet.  It’s my current gym salve.  (By that, I mean it takes my mind off the pain of the gym and gives me something to do.)  Book one of a trilogy, the only reason I happened upon this one was because it was a featured daily deal on the Kindle store.  It’s not particularly well written, not very original, and the characters feel really flat.  But Maxwell creates a very compelling world that I want to know more about.  I’ve avoided reading Goodreads comments on this one, not wanting to spoil my enjoyment.  Because, so far, it’s definitely been an enjoyable read!

4. The Beginning of Everything by Robyn Schneider

Golden boy Ezra Faulkner believes everyone has a tragedy waiting for them—a single encounter after which everything that really matters will happen. His particular tragedy waited until he was primed to lose it all: in one spectacular night, a reckless driver shatters Ezra’s knee, his athletic career, and his social life.

No longer a front-runner for Homecoming King, Ezra finds himself at the table of misfits, where he encounters new girl Cassidy Thorpe. Cassidy is unlike anyone Ezra’s ever met, achingly effortless, fiercely intelligent, and determined to bring Ezra along on her endless adventures.

But as Ezra dives into his new studies, new friendships, and new love, he learns that some people, like books, are easy to misread. And now he must consider: if one’s singular tragedy has already hit and everything after it has mattered quite a bit, what happens when more misfortune strikes?

(Description from Goodreads)

This was my brain candy this past weekend.  I downloaded a copy on my Kindle from the local library.  Again, it’s your typical coming-of-age YA novel, but enjoyable.  Schneider’s writing reminds me of John Green and Rainbow Rowell.  It was a fast, fun read.

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Have you read any good books lately?  What were they?  Do you have any recommendations?