Phew! So I’m finally up to date (kind of, I know this is late too!). I actually did really well in March and read 10 books, although I have to admit that some of them were slightly shorter than average. For mini reviews of everything I read this month, just keep reading!
The Light Fantastic – Terry Pratchett
This follows the continued adventures of Rincewind, Twoflower, and the suitcase, as they travel often unintentionally around the Discworld. As I think I mentioned in my first round up, after I had read the first book (The Colour of Magic), these books seem to be quite confusing. Considering that this is a children’s book, I was quite surprised, but perhaps you have to have a child’s open mind and curiosity to really be absorbed by these stories! Despite a more fast-paced plot than the initial book in the series, this was quite same-y. I have the next few of Pratchett’s Discworld instalments in published order, and I’m not sure if I’ll continue with them right now. I put this down halfway through and struggled to pick it back up, so maybe these are best shelved for another time.
The Bear and the Nightingale – Katherine Arden
I’ve had this book for a while and never got around to reading it, and WOW am I glad I did. It was really enjoyable and just one of those ‘unputdownable’ books. The main character, Vasya, is just wonderful, a brilliant literary creation, and the plot is wide-ranging but really intricate and engaging. Arden incorporates so many different elements into her tale – Russian culture, old Moscow, royalty, power, family, magic, marriage, spirits, religion, corruption, nature, morality, love, tradition, romance, death – but they all weave together effortlessly, creating a rich and gripping fairytale-style narrative. I think a lot of people would like this book, and I can’t wait to get my hands on the next book in the series to follow Vasya to Moscow.
Dear Ijeawele – Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Short but sweet, and oh so relatable. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s suggestions for raising a child with values of equality highlight the goodness in the world, and stress how much more there could be. Although this is technically about parenting, it’s also subtitled ‘A Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions’, and in fact more accurately relates to how we all treat one another, and how we can change our own attitudes to treat others with more respect and humanity. It’s kind of a manual, but honestly everyone should read this – plus it’s so short that there’s really no excuse not to!
Women & Power – Mary Beard
This comprises two essays based on lectures which Mary Beard gave, and both generally focus on how women have always been disadvantaged throughout history and into the present day. I love Mary Beard, and being a classicist myself (well – nearly!) I’m always keen to read anything which is connected with issues of the ancient world. Beard emphasises the fact that structures simply don’t change, and so there’s only so far that women can get. Although things have come a long way in (relatively) recent times, there is still so much more to come. There are also some ideas about how this can be done, which is refreshing. This is eminently readable, and for anyone who follows her on Twitter, this is written with Beard’s infamous wit and intelligence inherent within the prose.
The Complete Plays – Christopher Marlowe
Not exactly a normal everyday read, but after seeing Dido Queen of Carthage in Stratford at the Royal Shakespeare Company I was prompted to pick up this complete edition of Marlowe’s plays. They are all tragedies, and all are quite dark and fairly peculiar. Dido, for instance, is a great play based on Ancient Greek myth, but with ridiculous and slightly exaggerated deaths. Doctor Faustus follows a learned scholar who blindly signs a pact with the devil, the Jew of Malta is peppered with an excessive amount of deaths (and is resolved suspiciously swiftly at the end), and the Massacre at Paris is again overdone death. Edward the Second stands out for me with a cohesive plot involving obsession, betrayal, fighting, fleeing, and uncertainty. As someone who enjoys theatre, plays, and literature in general, I’m glad I read these, but possibly they’re better seen on stage!
Selected Letters – Jane Austen
I love Jane Austen, and I’m really interested in the lives of authors, so this was kind of a no-brainer for me. Jane’s letters are fascinating, and showcase her wit and occasionally her prejudices. The letters are predominately addressed to her sister Cassandra, so are quite one-sided. Family matters are central, and Jane’s letters were previously oft-dismissed due to perceived mundanity of the ‘women-centric’ subject matter, including a healthy dose of gossip. However, they are a valuable insight into her thoughts and everyday life, which is beneficial when her literary creations are so few and prized.
The Cruel Prince – Holly Black
Despite a pretty shocking start, the faerie, magic, royalty, betrayal, murder, and fledgling romance in Holly Black’s tale soon win over her reader. There is quite a lot of murder, but the fantasy element offsets this slightly. There is an unusual reversal of roles in comparison to other fantasy – humans are brought into the land of faerie and remain human, they don’t get given any powers, and are generally considered ‘lesser’. However, I liked the story, I liked the main character Jude and her elder sister Vivi, but I really hated Jude’s twin Taryn. In fact, one of the main downsides to the actual story for me was that Taryn’s actions as Jude’s twin sister just seemed quite unbelievable. No spoilers, but this was the only negative for me in a truly enjoyable YA fantasy gem.
The Heart’s Invisible Furies – John Boyne
Firstly, I’d like to admit that I only read this book because I had bought tickets to see John Boyne speak at the Oxford Literary Festival. Secondly, the event was cancelled, I read the book anyway, and am now devastated that I didn’t get to go. This is an amazing lifelong epic centred around Cyril, an Irishman who is forced to hide and lie about his sexuality for much of his life, with some dire consequences (although some of the awful events in his life aren’t because of this. They’re just awful). Cyril is hugely unlucky, especially in his younger years, but weirdly blessed too. This masterpiece is just beautifully written, poetic, haunting, full of emotion, and utterly personal. I can’t tell you much more about this – just read it!
Jane Austen, The Secret Radical – Helena Kelly
Yep, more Jane Austen! An interesting new take on Austen’s life and her writings, Helena Kelly’s book avoids the repetition which is often found in other non-fiction centred around Austen’s life. Each chapter focusses on one of Austen’s six novels, so this is great for anyone who hasn’t read some of the novels, or wants to know about the radical elements associated with each one. There is a bit of overlap between these chapters, with some of the novels mentioned comparatively within different chapters, but overall it’s extremely well structured. Its stunning to think of all the views and opinions which Jane might have been hiding in her books, which would be missed by many a modern reader. Personally, the only adverse element of Kelly’s work is the lack of a particular outcome or conclusion, in that not much can be stated with any certainty. This is of course an issue with evidence and source material, not a failing of the author, and this is really excellent food for thought, especially for a lover of Austen.
Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race – Reni Eddo-Lodge
Currently very popular and ‘current’, more than anything this book is relevant. Eddo-Lodge puts forwards extremely well-articulated arguments, and gets her point across clearly and in good detail. As she mentions, it can be uncomfortable to read, but it wouldn’t be relevant nor true if it didn’t prompt this kind of reaction. There’s a particularly excellent chapter on whitewashing in feminism which was particularly eye-opening. Although not necessarily essential reading, I think this is certainly one to look out for if this piques an interest.