Books: A Batch of Mini-Reviews

Posted 25 July, 2016 by Lianne in Books / 2 Comments

Pretty sure I mentioned this last time but I seem to be on a roll with these mini-reviews this year 😛 Lots of books I read recently that didn’t warrant a post of their own; included in this batch of mini-reviews are some classics and one DNF *le sigh*


The Major Works
By: Samuel Taylor Coleridge
Format/Source: Paperback; my purchase

Samuel Taylor Coleridge, poet, critic, and radical thinker, exerted an enormous influence over contemporaries as varied as Wordsworth, Southey and Lamb. He was also a dedicated reformer, and set out to use his reputation as a public speaker and literary philosopher to change the course of English thought.

This collection represents the best of Coleridge’s poetry from every period of his life, particularly his prolific early years, which produced The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, Christabel, and Kubla Khan. The central section of the book is devoted to his most significant critical work, Biographia Literaria, and reproduces it in full. It provides a vital background for both the poetry section which precedes it and for the shorter prose works which follow. There is also a generous sample of his letters, notebooks, and marginalia, some recently discovered, which show a different, more spontaneous side to his fascinating and complex personality.

I finally got around to reading some of Coleridge’s works when I picked up one of the mini Black Classics (review). I greatly enjoyed it and decided to pick up his collected works. While this is a good collection of his works and ideas, I was much more interested in his poetry and some of his lectures than his essays and his Biographia Literaria, which to be honest I decided not to read at this time.

Anyway, his poetry was interesting, a mix of long epics and shorter poems. His poems reminds me a bit of John Keats, which makes sense given that they were contemporaries, but they aren’t as flourishing or as ingrained in the nature thematics as Keats is. There’s also a more morose feeling to his poems; it’s hard to explain, maybe the book cover had something to contribute to this overall feeling, but there’s that. I wish the poetry was more complete in this collection but nonetheless it’s a solid selection and I enjoyed reading it.

Rating: ★★★☆☆

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The Falcon Throne (The Tarnished Crown Quintet #1)
By: Karen Miller
Format/Source: eBook; my purchase

In the distant past, the Kingdom of Harcia was torn apart by royal brothers who could not accept a lesser inheritance. Now, the consequences of their actions are coming to light.

Balfre, son of Aimery, Duke of Harcia, is his father’s heir. But he has dreams of a crown, not a coronet. He dreams himself the king of a Harcia re-united, but his brother Grefin, their father’s favorite, stands in his way.

Harald, debauched Duke of neighboring Clemen, is feared and despised by his nobles. He thinks he can trust his bastard-born cousin Ederic … but Ederic fears for the duchy and will do what he must to save it.

And caught between dangers is Harald’s infant son, Liam. Stolen by his nurse, vanished into the lawless Marches, he is the spark that will grow to set the world on fire.

This book has been on my TBR list for years; I’ve long heard of Karen Miller and seen her books on the fantasy shelves but never thought about checking her works out. The premise of this book sounded interesting and was fortunate to pick this book up on sale as part of a promo. However given its length and everything else happening with my TBR pile it sort of just sat there unread for a long time.

Finally I decided to pick it up earlier this year as I was finally cracking down on some of the books that had been sitting on the TBR for a long time. The opening was pretty chilling but after that it became a drag. Details about jousting don’t really interest me and yet once we settled on Balfre and Grefin’s story and I am finally interested in their characters, bam! Shift of setting and focus on other characters and starting the whole process all over again that I was just not feeling it and decided to put it down.

I thought about it for a bit and came to the conclusion that it felt like such a character dump these first how many chapters. I’m used to reading books with large character ensembles but I found here that I just dind’t care for these characters nor had a clear sense of what their situaion was all about; at least with books like GRRM’s A Game of Thrones (review) which this book is frequently compared the narrative eases you into the story through one set of characters and inviting the others in over time. It didn’t help that I just didn’t care for these characters, really, everyone’s pretty unlikeable (save one–and I reckon that won’t last long either), not to mentiont he rampant sexism–must it be so blatant at every intro of each of the groups involved in this?

So yeah, The Falcon Throne just wasn’t for me.

Rating: DNF

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Beowulf
By: Unknown
Format/Source: Paperback; was a Christmas gift

Legendary fantasy writer J. R. R. Tolkien spent much of his life studying, translating, and teaching the ancient tales of northern Europe at Oxford and drew on them for his own writing. These epic stories, with their wizards and knights, dragons and trolls, cursed rings and magic swords, are as fascinating today as they were thousands of year ago. Reading them brings us as close as we will ever get to the magical worlds of the Vikings and the origins of their twentieth-century counterpart: Tolkien’s Middle Earth.

Beowulf tells the epic story of the heroic Beowulf and his battles, first against the monster Grendel, who laid waste to the castle of the Danish king Hrothgar, then with Grendel’s avenging mother, and finally with a dragon that threatens to devastate his homeland.

I received this edition a few years ago as a gift for Christmas; it’s part of a series looking at the Scandinavian epics that influenced Tolkien’s works (I think I talked about it once or twice here on the blog). I had read it shortly after I got it but never got around to reviewing it here so here we are 🙂

Beowulf follows the exploits and victories of its titular character, a brave and heroic character who faced every obstacle and enemy head-on without fear and for the glory. His enemies varied, from opposing lords to sneaky characters or lore to dragons. I can definitely see some similarities or where Tolkien was inspired for his works, in particular the dragon’s den of riches and having to deal with said dragon. It was interesting but I can’t say it was the most memorable of epics (which is probably why I never reviewed it the first time). There were some great lyrical bits here and here and yeah, the elements in this tale makes it obvious as to why it was included in the collection.

Rating: ★★★☆☆

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A Midsummer Night’s Dream
By: William Shakespeare
Format/Source: eBook
My first review of the play

A Midsummer Night’s Dream is a romantic comedy by William Shakespeare, suggested by “The Knight’s Tale” from Geoffrey Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales, written around 1594 to 1596. It portrays the adventures of four young Athenian lovers and a group of amateur actors, their interactions with the Duke and Duchess of Athens, Theseus and Hippolyta, and with the fairies who inhabit a moonlit forest.

I read this play for the first time two years and thought it was okay, I wasn’t blown away by it or anything. I think it’s still better for me to watch it as opposed to just read it, especially as I found myself havin a bit of difficulty keeping track of the mishaps and confusions amongst the couples throughout the play (dammit Puck & Oberon!), but I appreciated much of what was going on this time around. There were some amusing bits here and there, especially as Puck and co. were getting ready to stage their play-within-the-play (heh, that familiar trope). As I mentioned keeping track of the couples proved to be a bit of a challenge especially after the spell kicked in and everyone started acting otherwise but I really felt for Helena’s confusion, the spell that Puck dropped brought out some interesting things from the characters but it also sucked for the principle characters at the start.

As an aside, I found myself cracking up a bit how, for a play set in Athens, there’s mention of “French crowns” and something about the English that I don’t recall at the moment xP It happens often in Shakespeare’s works but I couldn’t help but especially chuckle with this one just because the contrasts just couldn’t be any more apparent 😛

Overall I much appreciated A Midsummer Night’s Dream this time around, from the antics to the theatrical wonder that the story espouses. Now I’m going to have to pick up the stage adaptation from the Globe a few years ago as I really need to see this story play out in action.

Rating: ★★★☆☆

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Juius Caesar
By: William Shakespeare
Format/Source: Paperback; my purchase
My first review of the play

Shakespeare may have written Julius Caesar as the first of his plays to be performed at the Globe, in 1599. For it, he turned to a key event in Roman history: Caesar’s death at the hands of friends and fellow politicians. Renaissance writers disagreed over the assassination, seeing Brutus, a leading conspirator, as either hero or villain. Shakespeare’s play keeps this debate alive.

I decided to revisit this play again around March (Ides of March, the whole deal there). I enjoyed reading it the first time, finally the infamous Senate scene and Mark Antony’s funeral speech (still one of my favourite speeches from Shakespeare) and just the ebb and flow of the story. This time around I perhaps enjoyed it much more in some of the gestures that the characters partake in, the theatrics of it all (I really need to watch a stage performance of this place just to see the way it’s delivered); I don’t know why the image of the conspirators dipping her hands in Caesar’s blood didn’t strike me the first time but it certainly did this time around. And omg I was howling when Mark Antony approached them afterwards, congratulating them for ridding Rome of a tyrant and shaking their hands because you know he’s marking each and every one of them for what they’ve done.

I also really appreciated the themes and what Shakespeare was trying to do with this play. It’s obviously a very political play, discussing the elements of authority, tyranny versus the republic, freedom and control and liberty. And yet the way the conspirators went about their goal to overthrow a tyrant raises the question whether or not they did the right thing or whether there was another way to have gone about fulfilling their goals; Mark Antony himself poises the question to the Roman mob whether Caesar himself was a tyrant with the goal of crowning himself king. It was only now that perhaps I realised that Brutus is really the central character here; the others of course are interesting as well, and Mark Antony does sort of steal the show a bit towards the end especially after Caesar’s death, but Brutus is fascinating because he has his reasons but, like everything else about this play, it begs the question whether he’s the hero or the villain of the piece. Fascinating stuff.

Also, obligatory meme:


(image source)

Rating: ★★★★☆

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The Duchess of Malfi
By: John Webster
Format/Source: Paperback; my purchase
My first review of the play

A macabre Jacobean tragedy, loosely based on true events.

The play begins as a love story, with a Duchess who marries beneath her class, and ends as a nightmarish tragedy as her two brothers exact their revenge, destroying themselves in the process.

I read this play last year and thought it was interesting, but I think reading it online didn’t exactly warm me fully to the full expanse of this play. So I picked up a copy of the play (the Nick Hern Books edition; very nice edition btw because it’s mass paperback size) and re-read it recently. Suffice to say, re-reading it this time around was much more intense, the tension much more immediate. The Duchess’ brothers are complete jerks (to put it mildly), forbidding their sister to remarry to keep the wealth within the family–and in the case of Ferdinand, because of his rather incestuous fascination with his twin sister O_o But the Duchess refuses to follow their whims and marries in secret Antonio, a man from a lower class, and has three children by him without anyone knowing (trying to wrap my head around that bit–timelines are especially wonky in this play). When their relationship is discovered by the brothers, well, everything goes south from there =S

So yeah, feelings were provoked by the Duchess’ brothers and their selfishness and all-around douchery; Ferdinand goes into full creeper mode when he finds out about the Duchess’ secret marriage which was pretty icky–even their brother the Cardinal was O_O I love how strong the Duchess is throughout her ordeal; she’s obviously dealt with some massive injustices throughout the book and she has moments in which she falls into despair but she faces her brothers with her head high, which is admired even by the likes of Bosola, who switches sides and carries out revenge against the Cardinal and Ferdinand in the name of the Duchess. Bosola is a curious fellow, very mercenary and outside the upper class circles, and yet the conversion was fascinating. The final showdown of course was full-blown Jacobean with lots of blood spilt.

I’m glad I revisited this play again as it was pretty exciting to read it this time around!

Rating: ★★★★☆

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And those are the mini book reviews! Have you read any of these titles? Would you read any of them at some point in the future?

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