I continued my trend from March and read a ton in April – at least I did in the first half of the month. Now that university has started again, my reading has gone down drastically. With all classes being online and me having to prepare them much more thoroughly beforehand, everything just seems to take up so much more time than it does in a regular semester. So fingers crossed we’ll eventually be able to return to normal!
Anyway, I read a lot this month, and though I continued with my 17th century required reading, I also read quite a lot of other things. Like last month, the majority were rereads (I reread the entire Winner’s Curse series, the Graceling trilogy, Sorcery of Thorns and Red, White & Royal Blue), but I also found some new gems that I can’t wait to share with you! So, without further ado, let’s get into the books! (Feel free to skip ahead to the ones that interest you – I know this wrap-up is quite long…)
King Henry IV, Parts 1 and 2 (Lancaster Tetralogy #2 and #3) by William Shakespeare (each 3/5 Stars)
I stayed true to my word and finally read these, so now I am up to date concerning this history tetralogy 😉 And these two plays might actually be my favorite ones out of the four. I really like how they intertwine a more serious plotline, i.e. Prince Hal’s falling out with his father and the brewing rebellion, with comedy. Falstaff is one of my absolute favorite Shakespearean characters now, and I felt so heartbroken about what happened to him at the end of 2 Henry IV… I’m with Elizabethan audiences here – he was totally the best part of these plays and didn’t deserve this!
The Jew of Malta by Christopher Marlowe (3.5/5 Stars)
I actually quite enjoyed reading this. The plot was engaging and fun, and I actually think that, structurewise, it’s a much better play than Marlowe’s more famous Doctor Faustus. However, this does promote some pretty harmful racial stereotypes about Jews and Muslims. Yes, it questions some of them, but on the whole, one can’t deny that the protagonist Barabas is portrayed as a greedy villain and that the main Muslim character, the slave Ithamore, is a ruthless criminal. For that alone, I had to dock points from my rating. Other than that, though, I really liked this. The play tells the story of Barabas, a wealthy Jewish merchant who lives in Malta. When the island is asked to pay its long overdue tribute to the Turks or risk invasion, the governor, not having the money to pay, decides to take the Jews’ wealth, including Barabas’s vast fortune. What follows is a typical revenge tragedy, as the greedy Barabas tries to save his assets and get back at the governor.
The Merchant of Venice by William Shakespeare (3.5/5 Stars)
And we continue on my Shakespeare journey… Since I had just read The Jew of Malta and I knew that The Merchant of Venice dealt with similar themes – one of the main characters and the villain of the story is a Jewish money lender named Shylock – I decided to read this right afterwards and see how they compared. And on the whole, I actually quite liked this. Similarly to The Jew of Malta, it is unfortunately rather antisemitic, but not to the same extent as the former. Here, at least, we get a Jewish villain with more nuance. Shylock is not just greedy, but he explains what made him that way – namely the way Christians treated him and tried to undermine his business – and he also doesn’t get a gruesome ending like Barabas does in The Jew of Malta (though he is forced to convert to Christianity). However, apart from that complaint, I actually had a great time with this. I love Portia and how independent she is – here, we finally get to see an intelligent woman taking matters into her own hands. She has by far the most agency of any of the characters in this play, and after reading a ton of patriarchal and misogynistic crap from this time period, this was really refreshing! Plus, I am totally on board with all the critics who say Antonio is actually in love with his best friend Bassanio. Though it’s not explicitly on the page, you can definitely read it this way, and I think that adds such a tragic element of unrequited love to this…
The Revenger’s Tragedy, author unknown but probably by Thomas Middleton or Cyril Tourneur (3.5/5 Stars)
Like ‘Tis a Pity She’s a Whore, which I read in March, this tragedy was so macabre my messed-up sense of humor thought it was extremely funny. There is a revenge plot involving a duke kissing the poisoned lips of the skull of the girl he murdered – because the girl’s fiancée dressed it up as a country woman willing to sleep with the duke. Two brothers accidentally wind up getting their brother killed instead of their stepbrother because they don’t phrase their orders explicitly enough. There is a dead body that gets stabbed again when someone else wants it killed. Overall, this was dark and deals with some pretty heavy topics like rape, oppression of women, and misuse of power, but somehow, it still manages to be comic. This is another play I’d really like to see on stage!
Kim by Rudyard Kipling (2/5 Stars)
This is probably the most boring book I’ve read so far this year – and that’s saying something, because many critics apparently say it’s one of the greatest spy novels of its time. Honestly, if this is great, I really don’t want to read the others… Anyway, this follows a young orphan named Kim who grows up in late 19th century India. Kim is the son of an Irish soldier, but he grew up raised like a native in the city of Lahore. One day, a lama (i.e. a Buddhist holy man) passes through, claiming that he wants to find a river that will lead to Enlightenment. And the rest of the book is pretty much Kim and the lama walking around trying to find the river. Yes, there’s this one part where Kim runs into his father’s old regiment, gets sent to school, and starts training as a spy, but all that is never really the focus of the book. Instead, we get tons and tons of walking, and Kim and the lama talking about nothing that I found remotely interesting. The only thing I liked about this book was the portrayal of India – I learned so much about different beliefs, Indian geography and languages, and the occupation by the British Raj just by reading this, and the setting felt absolutely real! Other than that though, I was supremely bored.
We Should All Be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (4.5/5 Stars)
We had beautiful weather here in Bavaria at the beginning of April, so, in order to take a break from all the classics I was reading, I decided to get a picnic blanket and listen to an audiobook while basking in the sunshine. And this essay was perfect! I had wanted to read it for a while now, so I was really pleased that Scribd had the audiobook. Plus, it’s narrated by the author, and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie has such a calm, pleasant voice to listen to! Anyway, the title kind of already gives away what this is about: It’s an essay explaining what the term feminism means, how women are still disadvantaged in today’s society, what lead to this situation, and what can be done about it. It draws from many of the author’s own experiences, both in Nigeria and in the US, and was, overall, a really well written and researched argument. Sometimes, though, I did wish the essay had gone into a little more depth – some of the points were kind of obvious, and I would have liked to see more concrete examples and historical background to flesh them out further. Although who knows – maybe, to some people, these certain things that should be obvious, unfortunately aren’t. I think this is a great essay that draws attention to many things that are still wrong in today’s societies, and I highly recommend everyone read it. It’s not very long, either, so it’s definitely doable 😉
Marriage A-la-Mode by John Dryden (3.5/5 Stars)
And we’re back to the plays – this one is a Restoration comedy that has two main plotlines. The first involves King Polydamas of Sicily’s search for his heir – after he usurped the throne from the previous king, his wife left him, still bearing their unborn child. However, by trying to restore his child to their rightful place at court, Polydamas comes between a young couple that’s hopelessly in love. The second – and in my opinion much more interesting – plotline involves two couples who are trying to have affairs with each other’s partners. However, the characters constantly end up agreeing to rendezvouz in the same place as their husband/wife/fiancé/fiancée is trying to meet up with their actual partner, which leads to many comedic misunderstandings. This play may not really have a lot of depth to it, but it was certainly pretty funny!
Julius Caesar by William Shakespeare (4/5 Stars)
I didn’t know much going into this play – I mean, I did know about the life and death of Caesar. I took five years of Latin in school, so I could hardly avoid that. But I didn’t know much about how Shakespeare had used the historical material in his play. I was very pleasantly surprised by this, though! I loved how nuanced the characters were, and especially Brutus as a tragic hero grew on me. This portrayal of him was so different from the ruthless adoptive-parent killer that I’d heard about in school (Okay, fine. Maybe he wasn’t presented as that evil then, either, but he definitely wasn’t as sympathetic as in this). Plus, I really liked how this made you think more about politics and power. My list of Shakespeare plays I want to see on stage is getting longer and longer…
The Way of the World by William Congreve (3/5 Stars)
When I was reading up on this afterwards, one critic said that this was described by many as “a sexual comedy of manners”. And I’m totally with the “many” here – pretty much everyone had an affair with everyone, there was lots of intrigue that could pretty much be traced back to unrequited love, and heaps of gossip and innuendo. This would probably be very funny to see on stage, but reading it, I somehow just wasn’t that into it. I did think parts of it were pretty funny – there’s this character who pays women to wait for him in a coach and then asks after himself in disguise in order to seem more desirable, and a horny old lady who was just plain ridiculous – and I appreciated the betrayal of women as strong and independent, which really makes this stick out from other plays from this time period. On the whole though, this didn’t really hit me on a deeper lever, and I just thought it was okay.
Get a Life, Chloe Brown (The Brown Sisters #1) by Talia Hibbert (4/5 Stars)
I listened to this on audiobook on Scribd and had such a great time that I got slightly sunburned because I ended up staying outside on my picnic blanket listening to it for much longer than I intended. Whoops… Anyways, this is an adult romance book told from the perspective of both love interests. After almost being run over by a car and seeing her life flash before her eyes, our heroine Chloe decides her horribly boring life needs a major make-over, and she writes out a list with items to get her started. #1: Move out, which she promptly does. Chloe quickly clashes with her new apartment building’s superintendent Red, who thinks Chloe is a stuck-up, arrogant rich girl. This book was really cute, it has (as far as I can tell) great disability rep (Chloe has fibromyalgia and suffers from chronic pain and exhaustion), a very realistic portrayal about what it’s like for a guy struggling to deal with a past abusive relationship, wonderful sibling relationships, and a pretty awesome cat 🙂 I also really like the writing style, which was full of voice and extremely sarcastic. The only thing I have to criticize is that, in my opinion, the author went a bit overboard describing the main characters’ physical attraction to one another. They can’t look at each other without fantasizing over the other’s body parts, and constantly being bombarded with that felt a little weird and over the top… Other than that, though, I’d really recommend this!
The How and the Why by Cynthia Hand (5/5 Stars)
I LOVED this book!! It’s the best thing I’ve read in a while, so please, please go read it! It follows theater-nerd Cassandra, who was adopted when she was just six weeks old. Cass adores her parents and wouldn’t give them up for the world, but she can’t help but wonder about her birth mom: the sixteen-year-old who gave her up for adoption 18 years ago. So she starts searching. This is such a heartfelt, wonderful story, which alternates between chapters from Cass’s point of view and letters that her birth mom S. wrote to her before she was born. It has awesome family relationships, one of the best portrayals of friendship I’ve read in a while, and deals with the struggles of growing up and choosing what you are passionate about. I couldn’t put it down and sobbed my way through some of the later chapters. And coming from someone who doesn’t often cry while reading, that’s a pretty big compliment to this book. Read it!
Also, for any of you interested in more of my thoughts on this book, feel free to check out my full spoiler-free review!
Hamlet by William Shakespeare (4/5 Stars)
I’m definitely decimating my most-embarrassing-classics-I-haven’t-read list – and I actually really liked Hamlet. Following the story of a prince told to avenge his father’s murder by said father’s ghost, it had a great mixture of dark atmosphere, madness, and death – in other words, it was right up my alley. I really enjoyed following along with Hamlet’s struggle and liked how morally ambiguous he was. I’m glad I finally know the context of the famous “To be, or not to be” quote. Plus, that scene with the skull just gave me The Revenger’s Tragedy flashbacks, so I just couldn’t take it as seriously as I probably should have. Overall, I had a good time, and I’m glad I finally read it!
Chain of Gold (The Last Hours #1) by Cassandra Clare (4.5/5 Stars)
It was honestly just so much fun to be back in this world again! At first, I was a bit overwhelmed by the sheer abundance of new characters and figuring out how all of them were connected, but by the end of the book, I had grown to either love or resent all of them! I can’t really give any details about this without spoiling the Infernal Devices, so I’m not going to. All I will say is that I think you can really tell that Cassandra Clare has grown as a writer with each book – this is probably her best one yet from a writing standpoint, and plot-wise, it’s also pretty great 😉 The stakes are high and we actually even get a few deaths, and while there’s romance, it definitely takes a backseat compared to the plot – when we do get it, though, it’s very satisfying. Or unsatisfying – that bracelet thing was so frustrating (in the best way possible)!
King Lear by William Shakespeare (3/5 Stars)
King Lear is probably the most depressing Shakespeare play I’ve read so far – but that doesn’t mean I didn’t like it! It had such multidimensional characters and was extremely political, so I actually found it quite intriguing. The story follows King Lear – Who would have thought? -, Britain’s aging monarch who wants to pass on his power to his three daughters. To determine which of them is the most worthy, he asks his children to tell him how much they love him. The two elder daughters, Goneril and Regan, suck up to him like nobody’s business, and unfortunately for him, he believes their flattery over their younger sister Cordelia’s more sincere simple answer. [I know – I read two books in a row where one of the main characters is called Cordelia. What are the odds? I don’t think I’ve ever read that name before, other than in Anne of Green Gables… ] At the same time as Lear is being betrayed by his kids, the Duke of Gloucester’s bastard son Edmund also schemes to get rid of his brother and father so that he can finally get the recognition he deserves. What follows is lots of political violence, upheaval, and tragedy. Overall, I found this play to have a lot of depth, and while I’d describe it as nihilistic rather than exciting, I still think it’s a worthwhile read!