Review: A Midsummer Night’s Dream by William Shakespeare

EBOOK, 126 P.
1600
SOURCE: PUBLIC DOMAIN

From Goodreads:

Shakespeare’s intertwined love polygons begin to get complicated from the start–Demetrius and Lysander both want Hermia but she only has eyes for Lysander. Bad news is, Hermia’s father wants Demetrius for a son-in-law. On the outside is Helena, whose unreturned love burns hot for Demetrius. Hermia and Lysander plan to flee from the city under cover of darkness but are pursued by an enraged Demetrius (who is himself pursued by an enraptured Helena). In the forest, unbeknownst to the mortals, Oberon and Titania (King and Queen of the faeries) are having a spat over a servant boy. The plot twists up when Oberon’s head mischief-maker, Puck, runs loose with a flower which causes people to fall in love with the first thing they see upon waking. Throw in a group of labourers preparing a play for the Duke’s wedding (one of whom is given a donkey’s head and Titania for a lover by Puck) and the complications become fantastically funny.

I think I first saw A Midsummer Night’s Dream on stage at the age of ten and ever since then it has been one of my favourite Shakespeare plays. Over the years I’ve seen a few productions, but before this month, I’d never actually read the original play itself. After I finished reading the latest book in the Shakespeare’s Star Wars series earlier this month, I craved for more wit and wisdom from the Bard and thus decided to pick up this classic.

The story of A Midsummer Night’s Dream is set in Athens where a young couple, Hermia and Lysander, decides to run away because they are expected to marry other people. Hermia’s father wants her to marry Demetrius instead of Lysander, and her friend Helena is madly in love with Lysander. Thus, when Helena finds out that the young lovers plan on fleeing, she allerts Demetrius and together they follow the couple into the mystical forest outside of the city. However, in the forest Oberon and Titania, the king and queen of fairies, are feuding. Oberon plans to win the argument with the help of a potion that will make the person fall madly in love with the first thing that they lay their eyes on. Puck, however, ends up mistaking two people together and love changes course as she who was once loved is now scorned and vice versa. At the same time a group of workers is rehearsing for a play to be performed in the Duke’s wedding, with little no knowledge of acting.

Reading Shakespeare can at the same time be very rewarding and very frustrating. At least for me, I almost never get the full gist of the play until after I’ve read it or upon re-reading. However, that also makes every reading experience fun, because there are always new things to discover and to focus your attention to. Although I remembered the plot of the play very clearly and knew some of the quotes by heart, the experience of reading the play still felt new and fresh to me. A Midsummer Night’s Dream is one of Shakespeare’s fantastical comedies, but more than just being a funny love polygon, it also deals with identity and the balance of rationality and irrationality. There are some laugh out loud moments but also moments that make you ponder on the modernity of the play in some ways.

As I mentioned earlier, I’d only seen the play performed before and thus reading the play revealed some things that I either hadn’t noticed or had been cut in the production. I also noticed that the final scene depicting the worker’s play, which was horrible and absolutely hilarious at the same time, was often either cut or shortened in productions that I’ve seen. In terms of a dramatic structure it is perhaps not what you want to end with, but in terms of hilarity, it is superb – a play within a play. I cannot review A Midsummer Night’s Dream objectively in any case, but if you haven’t yet read this Shakespearean comedy, I’d highly recommend that you do so immediately.

5/5

Through the forest have I gone.
But Athenian found I none,
On whose eyes I might approve
This flower’s force in stirring love.
Night and silence.

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Review: The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey

PAPERBACK; 417 P.
TRANS. MARJA HELANEN
BAZAR, 2013/2012
SOURCE: FROM THE LIBRARY

From Goodreads:

Alaska, 1920: a brutal place to homestead and especially tough for recent arrivals Jack and Mabel. Childless, they are drifting apart–he breaking under the weight of the work of the farm, she crumbling from loneliness and despair. In a moment of levity during the season’s first snowfall, they build a child out of snow. The next morning, the snow child is gone–but they glimpse a young, blonde-haired girl running through the trees. This little girl, who calls herself Faina, seems to be a child of the woods. She hunts with a red fox at her side, skims lightly across the snow, and somehow survives alone in the Alaskan wilderness. As Jack and Mabel struggle to understand this child who could have stepped from the pages of a fairy tale, they come to love her as their own daughter. But in this beautiful, violent place things are rarely as they appear, and what they eventually learn about Faina will transform all of them.

The Snow Child is almost like a fairy tale retelling, except that it doesn’t just stop there. It is filled with stunning imagery of the wilderness of the Alaskan nature as well as of the intricate moments between an old couple. I picked up the book based on a recommendation and once I started reading it, I flew through it like a snow storm.

The story of The Snow Child begins about two years after an aging couple, Jack and Mabel, rooted themselves up and moved to Alaska. It is the 1920s and much of the country is still mostly untamed, encouraging people to try their luck in taming the land to farming and other pursuits. Neither Jack nor Mabel truly knew what to expect, and the emptiness and slow progress of the new homestead is slowly gnawing on their relationship. In addition, Mabel mourns the fact that she isn’t able to bare children and has to accept the life of a childless wife. Both feel that they’ve disappointed the other and channel their grief in different ways, but cold Alaskan nature that seems to separate them also has a way of forcing them to realise how much you do need your family and friends. As the first snow of the winter falls, Jack and Mabel build a small girl out of snow. The next morning the snow has disappeared and soon enough a small girl starts appearing at the skirts of the farm. Who is she and where does she come from?

The Snow Child is an absolutely wonderful, beautiful and heartwarming story about love, friendship, family and wilderness. The writing style is poetic and very engaging, inviting you to become more invested in the incredible lives of Jack and Mabel. It captivates your attention, excites the imagination and paints a picture of warmth with cool hues. The narration flows wonderfully and I must give credit to the translator for the seamless execution of the translation. The story is very moving and opens your eyes to the struggles that people went through during the habitation of areas such as Alaska. The effect of the story brought to mind The Book Thief by Markus Zusak, so if you enjoyed that, I’d highly suggest that you also pick this up. The Snow Child is definitely one of my favourite read of this year so far and I can’t wait to read more from Eowyn Ivey. I’d recommend the book to all readers who enjoy reading about the intricacies in family relationships and about nature relationships and the art of acceptance. You’ll fall in love slowly, and then all at once.

If you need more convincing, go read Claire‘s review in her blog Word by Word.

5/5

To believe, perhaps you had to cease looking for explanations and instead hold the little thing in your hands as long as your were able before it slipped like water between your fingers.

Review: Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson

EBOOK; 183 P.
AMAZON MEDIA, 2012/1883
SOURCE: PURCHASED

The most popular pirate story ever written in English, featuring one of literature’s most beloved “bad guys,” Treasure Island has been happily devoured by several generations of boys—and girls—and grownups. Its unforgettable characters include: young Jim Hawkins, who finds himself owner of a map to Treasure Island, where the fabled pirate booty is buried; honest Captain Smollett, heroic Dr. Livesey, and the good-hearted but obtuse Squire Trelawney, who help Jim on his quest for the treasure; the frightening Blind Pew, double-dealing Israel Hands, and seemingly mad Ben Gunn, buccaneers of varying shades of menace; and, of course, garrulous, affable, ambiguous Long John Silver, a one-legged sea-cook . . . and more!

The unexpected and complex relationship that develops between Silver and Jim helps transform what seems at first to be a simple, rip-roaring adventure story into a deeply moving study of a boy’s growth into manhood, as he learns hard lessons about friendship, loyalty, courage and honor—and the uncertain meaning of good and evil.

Treasure Island is one of those children’s classics that manage to thrill year after year. One of the most read pirate stories, it features a cast that will haunt you for better and for worse. Despite having read a lot of the classic children’s tales already as a child, this was my first time reading Stevenson’s book.

Treasure Island begins when a strange sea-farer lodges into a small family owned inn. The young son of the family, Jim Hawkins, follows this strange man who seems to believe he’s haunted by a man with a peg-leg. The family is almost convinced of his lunacy, until one day a blind man stops into the inn and delivers the seaman a black spot. The events that are kicked into motion from there take young Jim on a quest for a true treasure as he and and his friends take the sails to find the mysterious Treasure Island.

When I picked up Treasure Island, I expected to find an exciting but maybe a bit dull or simple story about a young boy sailing to find a pirate treasure. And in a way, that’s what Treasure Island is in an essence. It is the wildest dream of every kid, to sail with adults and prove yourself worthy and to out-wit the pirates. However, what made the story so enjoyable was Stevenson’s engaging way of writing. The book is a fast-paced adventure that is sure to set your imagination running wild and your mind thirsting for adventure. Sure, it falls into some of the children’s adventure story tropes, but damned if I didn’t wish that I’d read this as a child. I read Dr. Jekyl and Mister Hyde many years ago, but now I think I’ll have to revisit it to see how I’d feel about it now. If you haven’t already read Treasure Island, I definitely recommend that you do so – even if only for the child-like excitement that it brings – and if you have children and/or younger siblings, read this to them.

4/5

“For thirty years,” he said, “I’ve sailed the seas and seen good and bad, better and worse, fair weather and foul, provisions running out, knives going, and what not. Well, now I tell you, I never seen good come o’ goodness yet. Him as strikes first is my fancy; dead men don’t bite; them’s my views—amen, so be it.”

Review: Night Film by Marisha Pessl

 HARCOVER; 624 P.
 BOND STREET BOOKS, 2013
 SOURCE: FROM THE LIBRARY

Everybody has a Cordova story. Cult horror director Stanislas Cordova hasn’t been seen in public since 1977. To his fans he is an engima. To journalist Scott McGrath he is the enemy. To Ashley he was a father.
On a damp October night the body of young, beautiful Ashley Cordova is found in an abandoned warehouse in lower Manhattan. Her suicide appears to be the latest tragedy to hit a severely cursed dynasty. For McGrath, another death connected to the legendary director seems more than a coincidence. Driven by revenge, curiosity and a need for the truth, he finds himself pulled into a hypnotic, disorientating world, where almost everyone seems afraid.

The last time McGrath got close to exposing Cordova, he lost his marriage and his career. This time he could lose his grip on reality. ONCE WE FACE OUR DEEPEST FEARS, WHAT LIES ON THE OTHER SIDE?

Night Film… what can I say about Night Film? My feelings are a bit mixed. I began reading this over 600 paged monster at the end of February and finished it already at the end of March, but I’ve been putting of reviewing it simply because I cannot make up my mind whether I liked it or not.

Night Film follows the character of journalist Scott McGrath who had a successful career before he chose to investigate the wrong man–the legendary cult film director Stanislas Cordova–and soon he was a publicly shamed, poor and divorced man with a slight drinking problem. Doesn’t sound that interesting? Well, it wouldn’t be unless suddenly the daughter of Cordova and a musical prodigy Ashley Cordova commits suicide at an empty construction lot. This gives wind to McGrath investigations as he begins to track down Ashley Cordova’s last movements only to discover that they all lead to him – to Cordova.

Although the premise of Night Film is not that original, but the execution of the novel is superb. The book consists not only of chapters of text but also images, online articles, screenshots of websites and printed letters. Pessl does not only tell you what is found in the documents – she shows them to you. These multimedia elements made the book a visual experience, which I truly enjoyed. The typography and general design of the book were also fantastic. The story of Night Film is twisted – it is beyond trippy, which makes it sometimes a bit hard to follow. The story is more of a psychological thriller than horror, although some of the scenes did really cause me to turn away from the book.

My issue with the book is not so much of the writing or the construction of the plot, because the book kept surprising me time and time again. My issue with the book was more about the feeling after I’d closed the book. In the end I didn’t feel that I’d gained something. The book had gripped me and thrilled me and scared me, but it didn’t leave a lasting imprint. I guess I was hoping for a deeper impact, a real sense of understanding, or something ground-shaking – in other words, my expectations were higher and the book didn’t really live up to them. Nevertheless, Night Film is a very very interesting page-turner and I’d highly recommend it to those who enjoy their thrillers and intense plots.

3.5/5

Because every one of us has our box, a dark chamber stowing the thing that lanced our heart. It contains what you do everything for, strive for, wound everything around you.

Review: William Shakespeare’s Star Wars: The Phantom of Menace by Ian Doescher (Shakespeare’s Star Wars #4)

HARDCOVER; 176 P.
QUIRK BOOKS, 2015
SOURCE: FROM THE PUBLISHER

O Threepio, Threepio, Wherefore art thou, Threepio?

Join us, good dentles, for a merry reimagining of Star Wars: Episode I as only Shakespeare could have written it. The entire saga starts here, with a thrilling tale featuring a disguised queen, a young hero, and two Fearless knights facing a hidden, vengeful enemy.

‘Tis a true Shakespearean drama, filled with sword fights, soliloquies, and doomed romance… all in glorious iambic pentametre and coupled with twenty gorgeous Elizabethan illustrations. Hold on to your midi-chlorians: The play’s the thing, wherein you’ll catch the rise of Anakin!

The Phantom of Menace is the fourth book in the Shakespeare’s Star Wars series. Reviews of the first part of the series can be found here: Verily, A New Hope, The Empire Striketh Back, and The Jedi Doth Return.

The wit and wisdom of the Bard joins once again forces with one of the most well-known sci-fi film series as Ian Doescher rewrites the first of the second, Episode I – The Phantom Menace, into Shakespearean metre. Having enjoyed the first three of the series, I was elated to find out that the following three will all be published in 2015: first one in April and the following during the summer. Fun times ahead!

As mentioned above, The Phantom of Menace begins the prequel series to the original trilogy, and it is the only one of the entire series that I’ve actually seen the film of – a shame, I know! Hence I was expecting to know the full storyline of the book before I started, but it turned out, my recollections came only after about 100 pages into the book. To those whose knowledge of the story is as hazy as mine, The Phantom of Menace is set in time where peace between The Republic and The Federation, the two ruling powers, is crackling. The darker forces are gaining more influence and the citizens of the poorer planets suffer hunger and oppression. Two Jedi Knights are sent to negotiate terms of a trade agreement, but the end result leaves them stranded on a desert planet with a broken ship. With the help of a peculiar young boy, Anakin Skywalker, they must reach the Senate in Coruscant before the planet Naboo and its citizens are doomed.

Writing in iambic pentametre is extremely hard as it is, so I cannot but applaud the work that Ian Doescher has done. He manages to complete the task and weave in multiple references to Shakespeare’s own works, such as Romeo and Juliet. Even though I am great fan of Shakespeare’s works, I could not catch them all – luckily there’ll be a small reference guide! As in the previous titles, there’s always something extra added to the story, and in this case it is the deeper understanding and background to the character of Jar Jar Binks, the “fool” of the story. I laughed out loud reading some of the scenes about the travel through Naboo as well as during the soliloquies of Rumour, and gripped the edges of the book during the pod-racing (even though I knew the end result!). To the fans of the film series, Shakespeare’s Star Wars is a must-read, but it also offers joy and excitement to the fans of the Bard.

The Phantom of Menace is released on April 7th, 2015.

4/5

We have acquir’d a hyperdrive and in
The acquisition comes a boy as well
What strange part shops have they on Tatooine
That do include a lad with ev’ry sale!
‘Tis double-dealing ta’en to an extreme.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for my honest review.

My review of Verily, A New Hope (#1), The Empire Striketh Back (#2) AND The Jedi Doth Return (#3).

March Reads and April Plans

Hiya!
It’s April which means it’s finally spring! Yaay! Although here in Finland, spring means mud, surprise showers of rain/snow/freezing rain/etc., and general grayness, it’s also the time of the year when you start having decent amount of sunlight and occasionally even sunshine. Unfortunately for a student, spring also means endless hours spent in libraries researching one paper whilst writing two others, too many sleep-deprived days, and WAY too many cups of coffee.

However, to counter the previous statement, my March was also a very social one. I had friends visiting me for a few days, with whom I toured around the town to see some of the sights. I attended some kick-ass parties (St. Patrick’s, for one), ate some delicious cakes, saw The Theory of Everything in cinema, and went to a few gigs. I ate some delicious dinners and enjoyed some crazy coffee breaks with other equally-tired students. So all in all, I think my March was a great one. I read 5 books in March, most of which I read during the first week.

Books read in March:

March was also the month of reading more women and more feminist fiction. I guess it all started with Adichie’s We Should All Be Feminists, which made me fall in love again with essays and novellas (Those are great especially when you don’t have that much time), but after that I started browsing through Amazon, and look for titles that I had marked in my head as “read this! (later)”. And that’s how I found Kate Chopin’s The Awakening. The Awakening is a novella that is set in the late 19th century and follows a young woman, Edna Pontellier, who is on a vacation with her husband and two sons in a wealthy summer resort. Edna appears to be the model wife and mother, but during this particular summer, things start changing – Edna starts changing. The novella follows the main character as she pushes the boundaries of society with her independence as well as her illicit love affairs. Chopin’s writing is absolutely stunning, and I’d definitely recommend it to everyone who is interested in the social expectations towards women in the late 1800s. 4/5 Now that we’re three months into the year, I thought it would be good to check back upon those resolutions and reading goals that I set in the beginning of the year. I’ve listed the challenges and my progression below:

  1. Male/Female ratio: 10/10
  2. Goodreads challenge: 20/50
  3. Big Books: 1/4
  4. Languages: Finnish (4); English (16); Swedish (0); German (0)
  5. Poetry: 0/4
  6. Reading England 2015: 1/7 (+2 Detours)
  7. 15 in 2015: 3/15
  8. TBR 274: 3/20

So far, I’m actually doing quite well with all of the challenges – except poetry. However, I’ve already started reading one collection, so I’ll get there eventually! Looking at the numbers, I was actually very surprised that the male/female ratio was exactly 50/50. At the end of February, the male dominance was quite strong, so I guess the fact that I didn’t read as much classics this month also meant that I was reading more female authors. Huh. I’m still 8 books ahead of my Goodreads challenge, despite the fact that I haven’t finished a book in over two weeks, so completing that one shouldn’t be a problem. The only thing that I feel I’ve been neglecting is the Reading England 2015 challenge. I’ll try to step up my game with that, but lately I’ve been more drawn towards American classics, so we’ll have to see how that goes.

April TBR:

  • Nineteen Eighty-four by George Orwell (currently-reading)
  • Edith Södergran – poems and aforisms (currently-reading) (Swedish)
  • Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson (currently-reading)
  • William Shakespeare’s Star Wars: The Phantom of Menace by Ian Doescher
  • The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey
  • Open Secrets by Alice Munro
  • The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Díaz
  • The Brothers Lionheart by Astrid Lindgren (Swedish)
  • Maa on syntinen laulu by Timo K. Mukka (Finnish)
  • The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold

Ok yes, I know this is impossible for me at the moment, but this is my immediate TBR. I started reading Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-four about two weeks ago, but unfortunately I only managed to read 80 pages before life kicked in. So now I’m going back to the beginning and starting all over again – hopefully this time I’ll be more successful! As for the poetry collection, I’ve been taking my time with it. Because the collection includes all of Edith Södergran’s published works, it will probably take me the whole month to go through it, but it’s also something nice to dip into every now and again. Lastly, I started reading Treasure Island yesterday on a whim, and it’s actually quite exciting. I can definitely see why it’s a classic!

One of the most exciting things in April is the fact that the next installment in the Shakespeare’s Star Wars series will be released! I was lucky enough to get an early copy from the publisher and I’ve been waiting for the right moment to crack it open and explore this strange and exciting world of Shakespeare in space. The rest of the books on my TBR are all books that I checked out from the library early in March but that I had to renew because I was unable to read any of them within the month. So I hope to read as many as I can out of those before they are due back. Most of the titles are from my TBR 274 list and I am equally excited to read all of them! I’ll be traveling a lot during the Easter vacation, so I plan on using that time to plow through some of these.

How was your March? Did you read anything exciting? Let me know in the comments! Good luck to all of my fellow students and happy Easter to you all! x