If You Like Books About Books, Then Read…

If You Like (60)

If You Like, Then Read is a feature where we offer reading suggestions based on books you already like, scheduled once a month. If you have more suggestions, feel free to tell us in the comments! You can check out the rest of these lists here.

The Book Scavenger by Jennifer Chambliss Bertman

Emily’s parents have a quest to live in each of the fifty states, so this time it’s off to San Francisco, which just so happens to the home of Garrison Griswold, creator of Emily’s favorite game Book Scavenger.  Then Emily finds what appears to be the start of Griswold’s newest game.  Along with her new friend James, she’s ready to break ciphers and follow the clues to an unspecified treasure.  But others are after the treasure as well and they’re not afraid to break the rules.

Matilda by Roald Dahl

Matilda is a genius, but her parents, obsessed with making money and watching television, can’t see that.  Luckily, Matilda soon discovers the library and can forget for a moment her abusive family life by escaping into different worlds.

The Island of Dr. Libris by Chris Grabenstein

Billy is spending the summer with his mother at the lakeside cabin of one of her colleagues, Dr. Libris, but unfortunately, there’s nothing to do–no television, no phones, no video games.   Forced to read, Billy opens the bookcase and dives into a world of magic and adventure.  But soon the clangs of swords and the crashes of giants seem to sound real.  Is it just Billy’s imagination or are the stories coming to life?

Story Thieves by James Riley

Owen finds life incredibly boring and escapes every chance he can get into one of his favorite books.  Learning that his classmate Bethany can actually jump into stories and experience them, then, is just about the greatest revelation ever.  Bethany warns him they cannot interfere with any plots, but Owen longs to change the course of his favorite series and become a literary hero. But Owen’s actions have unintended consequences and soon he finds himself starring in what could be his first and only adventure.

The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon

The son of an bookseller, Daniel discovers  a long-forgotten copy of The Shadow of the Wind by Julián Carax.  Finding that this is one of the kinds of books that changes a life, Daniel sets off to acquire more of the author’s works.  Instead he learns that someone has been destroying all of Carax’s books and that he is now enmeshed in an old mystery surrounding Carax’s life.

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

Set in Germany during WWII, this story follows foster girl Liesel Meminger as she steals books from her neighbors and shares them with the Jewish man hiding in her basement.

Mini Reviews: Shakespeare’s Romances

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Pericles

Shakespeare’s romances often make his wildest plots seem tame.  In this one, Pericles, Prince of Tyre, loses his wife in a shipwreck and leaves his daughter Marina to be raised by another couple.  When Marina’s stepmother Dionyza becomes jealous of her beauty, Dionyza orders her killed–but Marina ends up sold to a brothel where she, hilariously, ends up converting all the patrons while she protects her chastity.  The play is far-fetched but exuberantly so–Shakespeare makes his audience not only accept the absurdities but also enjoy them.  A good dose of romance both with Marina’s parents and for Marina herself doesn’t hurt, either.

Cymbeline

Shakespeare loves his problematic romances, from Viola and Orsino to Isabella and the Duke.  In Cymbeline presents a perhaps even more troubling relationship.  Princess Imogen has married Posthumus, a good man but one of lower birth. Her father Cymbeline banishes Posthumus who, while abroad, makes a wager that one Jachimo cannot seduce Imogen.  Jachimo can’t, but he lies about it and Posthumus orders Imogen’s death.  Convoluted plot stuff follows until everyone meets up again at the end to try to sort things out.  My verdict?  I thought Shakespeare had some crazy plays before I read this one, but Cymbeline might win my vote for the craziest.  Jachimo’s stratagems and Posthumus’s instant anger are bizarre enough, but when they mix with potions, lost children, and a Roman invasion that seems like an after-thought…well, you know magic is happening.  It’s so bizarre that I can’t help but want to see it performed.

(Intriguingly, William Hawkins adapted Cymbeline in the 18th century to make it more in line with classical unities.  While doing so, he also announced that his play was not about lovers, but about war.  He inserted a lot of patriotic speeches and some yelling of “Britain and Liberty!” to drive his point about British nationalism home.  His version contains a lot talking rather than showing (because doesn’t want to change locations), but it’s still fascinating.)

The Winter’s Tale

The Winter’s Tale is one of my favorite Shakespeare plays.  It gets some criticism for its depiction of Leontes, a king who, without evidence, accuses his wife Hermione of adultery and orders her death, along with the exposure of their newborn daughter.  (This is a particularly interesting characterization since Shakespeare’s source, Green’s Pandosto, has another man visiting Hermione’s room, thus providing a basis for suspicion–but Shakespeare cuts this out.)  The result is a beautiful extended meditation on sin, repentance, and redemption.  And it features my favorite female character, Paulina–the only person in court who dares to tell Leontes he’s mad.

The Tempest

The Tempest is famous for being Shakespeare’s last play–that is, the last he wrote without a co-author–and thus is often interpreted as a meditation on the playwright as magician or author, and as his adieu to the stage.  This critical interpretation ends up being what I find most interesting about it as otherwise its adherence to the classical unities makes it seem like nothing much happens, plot-wise.  Some mariners run around the island, Ferdinand chops wood, Ariel presents a masque….   I understand why Davenant and Dryden made it into a rom com during the Restoration.  Their version is at least funny.

Double Falsehood by Lewis Theobald (Or the Alleged Adaptation of a Lost Shakespeare Play)

Double FalsehoodINFORMATION

Goodreads: Double Falsehood
Series: None
Source: Purchased
Published: 1728

SUMMARY

In 1727, the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane presented a production of Lewis Theobald’s Double Falsehood; or, The Distrest Lovers.  Theobald claimed he had adapted a play by William Shakespeare from manuscripts  now lost.  Scholars since have been divided over whether Theobald’s play is really an adaptation of a lost play called Cardenio by Shakespeare and Fletcher or if Theobald is the mastermind behind one of the world’s great forgeries.

Double Falsehood follows the machinations of Henriquez, the younger son of the Duke.  Henriquez woos the lower-born Violante, rapes her, then leaves her to pursue another woman, Leonora.  Henriquez knows his friend Julio is planning to become engaged to Leonora, so he lures Julio away to court so he can force Leonora into a marriage with him in Julio’s absence.  The Duke’s older son Roderick, worried about his brother’s behavior, follows him and tries to right his wrongs.

Review

The introduction to the Arden edition edited by Brean Hammond (2010) notes that this play, based on an episode in Don Quixote, is rather short and uneven–both indications that it could very well be an adaptation of an earlier work.  Hammond also points out that some irregularities in the text could have resulted from its pruning–two lowerclass characters appear in a scence, announce they will follow Henriquez, then disappear; Violante and Julio know each other but audiences don’t know how; the plot promises a scene in which the one of the characters will pretend to be a corpse, but never stages it.  This is all very interesting if you want to speculate on whether Theobald forged the play or not.  It does not, however, make for smooth reading.

I enjoyed Double Falsehood because it is the type of crazy and convoluted plot that I would expect from a late Shakespeare.  However, it is, first of all, more disturbing than many of Shakespeare’s plays.  His plays are noted for problematic endings, but here we have an ending in which the “happy” part comes from Henriquez marrying the wronged Violante.  He raped her.  I guess he’s saving her reputation by marrying her afterwards, but I felt sick when I read it.  Secondly, the play is, quite simply, choppy.  It feels like a series of scenes thrown together without ample time for full character development or any space left for the reader to breathe.  I know shortening Shakespeare’s plays to make them easier for audiences to comprehend was a thing back in the day, but that doesn’t mean the explanatory bits have to be cut.

I really think this could be a great play if only we could have had the Shakespeare/Fletcher original.  (Yes, I’m choosing a side in the debate. It seems like a play that they would have written and the version we have now seems definitely like something someone hacked apart while trying to “adapt” it.)  As it is now, it’s still a compelling story.  Just really rough around the edges.

3 starsKrysta 64

Where Are Shakespeare’s Women?

Shakespeare 2

As we become increasingly aware of the ways in which women have been written out of history, we look back at Shakespeare and we might find ourselves saddened or annoyed at the lack of women in his plays.  However, we have to keep in mind that in Shakespeare’s time, women did not perform on stage.  Any female roles were performed by boy actors.  Thus Shakespeare could only write as many female roles as there were boys in the company.

When Restoration theatre companies began staging Shakespeare’s plays, they were bothered by the lack of female characters, too–because they introduced the actress to the stage in England.  Eager to show off their new talent, companies performed adaptations of Shakespeare’s plays with added female characters including a sister for Caliban, a love interest (or two) for Timon of Athens, and a lady companion for Imogen (from Cymbeline).

Today we tend to stage the original Shakespeare and not the Restoration adaptations.  However, though this means that female roles have once again decreased, Shakespeare, when he writes women, often makes them remarkable.  A few of my favorites include:

  • Paulina from The Winter’s Tale: The only one bold enough to tell King Leontes he’s mad.
  • Hermione from The Winter’s Tale: She possesses great nobility and grace, even when threatened with death.
  • Beatrice from Much Ado About Nothing: Sharp-witted and fun!
  • Cordelia from King Lear: She holds fast to her principles and remains loyal to her father, despite adversity.

Who are some of your favorite women in Shakespeare?

Movie Review: Kubo and the Two Strings (2016)

Kubo and the Two StringsSummary

Eleven-year-old Kubo lives alone with his mother, telling stories in the village during the day and hiding from the moon at night.  Then one day he stays out too late and suddenly he finds himself on an impossible quest.

Review

Kubo and the Two Strings deserves to receive rave reviews from the critics–but how they are to write them I cannot say.  After the film ended, I knew I could not speak of what I had just seen–to give words to the beauty, the emotion, the depth of this film, would be somehow to shatter it.  How could one calmly write such sentences as, “Humor mixes with heart” or “The visuals are gorgeous” or any other similar stock phrase when faced with an experience such as Kubo? I am sure I cannot.

So this review is, in some sense, a non-review. I cannot tell you how I felt while viewing this, how I felt afterwards. I cannot find the words to discuss the visuals, the music, the story.  I will just say this: The story is about stories, and about the ways they shape our lives and our deepest selves.  The story speaks to that secret part of viewers, the part that wants to believe, wants to know, wants to be known.  It asks viewers what story they will be a part of.

So, if you haven’t seen Kubo yet, go.  I cannot tell you exactly why you must go–only that you will not likely be disappointed.  You may think you have seen the old quest story, the coming-of-age story, plenty of times before–but you have never seen it like this.

5 starsKrysta 64

A Witch’s Kitchen by Diana Sanchez (ARC Review)

witch's kitchenInformation

Goodreads: A Witch’s Kitchen
Series: None
Source: Netgalley
Publication Date: September 25, 2016

Official Summary

Millie’s a witch, so why can’t she do magic?

Despite her mother’s best efforts to teach her, every spell Millie tries goes horribly wrong, but she’s a fabulous cook. When Millie conjures chocolate sauce instead of a transformation potion, her mother gives up and sends her to the Enchanted Forest School, where she’s bullied by goblins, snubbed by an elf, and has her hat stolen. Even as Millie’s magical talent begins to develop, turning her house ghost into a frog and accidentally charming her entire class, Millie starts to wonder: what if she’s not a witch at all? To find out, she and her new friends embark on a dangerous quest to find Millie’s father in the Logical Realm, in contemporary Salem, MA.

Deep in a fantasy realm adjacent to our own, the Enchanted Forest School is located in the branches of an enormous oak tree and has a dragon for a headmistress. Millie’s initial delight in attending school rapidly fades as she struggles in the unfamiliar social environment, encountering fellow students of magical races, making new friends, and discovering that her mother’s style of magic isn’t the only one available.

Review

A Witch’s Kitchen introduces readers to a spunky protagonist who simply wants to get things right, whether that’s in the kitchen making delightful recipes or growing up to be a properly talented witch, as her mother expects.  Millie has a lot of heart and a lot of gumption, and readers will be clamoring to make her their new literary best friend.  Add a dash of magic, a pinch of trouble, and a seasoning of adventure, and you have one delightfully charming middle grade novel.

The prose of the novel does read young, so readers used to middle grade for a little older audience may have to take a moment to settle in and get accustomed to it.  However,  the story eventually overtakes the writing, and readers will be drawn into a world where elves, pixies, goblins, gnomes, witches, and more share an Enchanted Forest–and have to deal with each other at school.  Hi-jinks naturally ensue as the young characters practice their magic.

The, perhaps inevitable, result of all these different magical races in one place is a lot of info-dumps.  Sanchez has to share with her readers the history of the fantasy world. as well as some of the culture of each species.  I liked when Millie, as the new student, had to share some of witch culture with her class. However, I think some of the other information could have been integrated a little more gracefully.  I also wanted to hear more about the segregation in the forest, as Sanchez introduces this idea but doesn’t fully explore it.

However, beyond the simple (yet, ok, still compelling) story of Millie trying her best to succeed at school as the token witch student, there’s also a bigger story here–involving Mille’s mother, some of the other adults, and a secret portal to the Logical Realm (aka our world).  Sanchez packs a lot of excitement into this story, nicely drawing it out in ever-widening circles, as the characters’ actions have impacts on bigger and bigger things in the world.

The Witch’s Kitchen is just a nice addition the middle grade witch books in the world. Charming and occasionally quirky, with a lot to share about important subjects like talent and family and kindness, it’s a great choice for readers of middle grade fantasy.

3 stars Briana

Classic Remarks: The Taming of the Shrew

Classic Remarks 1

Classic Remarks is a meme hosted here at Pages Unbound that poses questions each Friday about classic literature and asks participants to engage in ongoing discussions surrounding not only themes in the novels but also questions about canon formation, the “timelessness” of literature, and modes of interpretation.  Feel free to comment even if you are not officially participating!  This week’s prompt is:

Is Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew misogynistic?  Should we continue to stage it?

William Shakespeare’s comedy The Taming of the Shrew features the story of of Petruchio and Katherina, the titular shrew.  Petruchio arrives in Verona hoping to marry a rich woman and his friends suggest he woo Kate, known for her ill humor and sharp tongue.  They are perfectly willing to sacrifice Petruchio because many men love Kate’s sister Bianca–but Bianca’s father has decreed no one shall have her until he can get Kate off his hands.  Petruchio, however, has no fear–he believes he can break Kate to his will.

So follows a tale that sees Petruchio wed Kate, then make her life miserable.  He begins by arriving to his own wedding late, dressed in strange clothes.  He then refuses to stay to the wedding feast.  Once he lives with Kate, he tries to give her a taste of her own medicine by yelling as much as she.  He also ensures that she has no meat and that she is unable to sleep.  All this culminates in a bet where the men in the play wager their wife is the most obedient.  Petruchio wins.  He has “tamed” his wife to do whatever he wants and to say whatever he wants.

This sort of plot has not aged well.  Though some might suggest that Petruchio’s behavior is only mirroring Kate’s, showing her how others feel when she yells at them all the time, these arguments gloss over Kate’s hunger and sleep deprivation, caused by the orders of her husband.  And though audiences still enjoy bodily humor, like seeing Tom and Jerry hit each other in the old cartoon, it’s hard to play what looks like domestic abuse for laughs.  Is it really funny that Kate hasn’t eaten or slept?  Maybe Tom and Jerry never really seem to get hurt by their antics, but Kate is clearly is suffering, begging the servants for food and complaining beggars at the door receive better treatment than she.

In the attempt to soften the plot, some productions play Petruchio and Kate as always secretly in love from the start; Kate is protesting the marriage merely for show.  But if you leave in the scenes where Kate is starved for meat and tired of constant brawling, you still have the problem of domestic abuse.  Petruchio’s treatment of Kate is not less problematic just because the audience believes the two sincerely in love.

I’d be hesitant to label the play as “misogynistic” simply because Shakespeare’s time would not have had the same problems with it as modern audiences.  All the same, when I think about it, I wonder how I would stage such a production and make viewers believe it really has a happy ending with a loving marriage and not a defeated woman.  You could stage the bet as being sort of pre-arranged by Petruchio and Kate; Kate obeys her husband because she wants him to win, not because she is broken and terrified of what he’ll do to her if she refuses.  And yet…what to do with the hunger and sleep scenes?  I’d be tempted to cut them entirely, leaving only Petruchio’s ridiculous behavior and his imitations of Kate’s complaints.

For me, it’s difficult to erase the hunger and sleep deprivation scenes, no matter how hard you try to soften the other aspects of the play.  To get me rooting for Petruchio and Kate’s marriage, a modern adaptation could not stage the play exactly as written; it’s not enough to say, “Hey, Petruchio’s a good guy now that his wife is docile.  She won’t have to worry about abuse again so long as she behaves herself.”  I need to know that Petruchio is not capable of outright cruelty, and that Kate will be safe in their marriage.

Participating this week?  Leave your link in the comments below!

Krysta 64