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Book Concierge (tessabookconcierge) | 2512 comments Mod

Read any good books lately? We want to know about them.

Enter your reading list and/or reviews here. Did you like it? Hate it? Feel lukewarm?

Share your thoughts with us.

Happy reading!


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Melissa (melissasd) | 858 comments Ready Player One (Ready Player One, #1) by Ernest Cline
Ready Player One by Ernest Cline
5 ★

Wade Watts lives in a desolate world in the year 2045 with his only escape being the OASIS, a virtual reality world. Many people spend most of their time in the OASIS being someone else. When the man who designed it dies, he releases a video challenging all within the OASIS to find his easter egg and win all his wealth and control of the OASIS. Wade is the first to find the first clue and gate and it puts his life in danger. I loved all the 80s references in this book. It really brought back some memories. The adventures and games Wade has to play move the story along pretty quickly, but he gets hung up a few times with his feeling for a fellow player. These chapters were hard to get though. I just wanted the author to get back to the hunt. As the story winds down the action and anticipation built. I had a very hard time putting the book down with only a few chapters left. It's a a book full of gaming information and the author did an excellent job creating the OASIS and the designers background. I look forward to seeing the movie.

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James F | 1609 comments Critical Articles on The Merry Wives of Windsor [1975-2012] 326 pages

Eighteen journal articles downloaded from Academic Search Premier, about a play I'm going to see performed next month (not sure if I've ever seen it before, but if so it was ages ago); of uneven value. I'm counting them together as a single "book" for purposes of my goals. Most of them try to make the play into a more significant one by some interpretation (usually in terms of present-day literary theories), and I think that's hopeless -- it's just not Shakespeare's best work, even if some in the eighteenth century thought it was one of his masterpieces. He did have some duds, bardolators to the contrary notwithstanding, and I tend to believe the tradition that it was written quickly and under some constraints. The articles do cast some light on patterns that are in the play -- which explains how it has its effects (it is good comic entertainment and will probably work well in performance), but has nothing to do with its aesthetic value. The same patterns, such as the pharmakon (scapegoat) and the alazon (miles gloriosus), can be found in his great plays -- and in Big Nate and The Diary of a Wimpy Kid. The question is what you do with the pattern. And okay, there may be some symbolic meanings, it is Shakespeare. . .

[See my challenge thread for the individual articles]

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The Beauty of Humanity Movement by Camilla Gibb
The Beauty of Humanity Movement – Camilla Gibb – 4****
The novel focuses on a group of residents of Hanoi. Told from multiple points of view, and moving back and forth in time, it requires some attention by the reader. I found it very atmospheric. I’ve been to Vietnam and her descriptions of the sights of Hanoi – the markets, the new construction, the lake, the restaurants and art galleries – were exactly what I remember. Gibb also perfectly captured the noise and bustle, the traffic (crossing the street!!!), the torrential rains, and the smell of pho.
LINK to my review

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Dark Places by Gillian Flynn
Dark Places – Gillian Flynn – 4****
Libby Day was seven when her mother and two sisters were murdered. Twenty-five years later she’s asked to revisit that night and help uncover the truth. Flynn knows how to write a suspenseful psychological thriller. Here she explores memories and psychological trauma. I was caught up from the beginning and held on tight through all the twists and turns the story took.
LINK to my review

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Dead, Bath, and Beyond (Victoria Square, #4) by Lorraine Bartlett
Dead, Bath and Beyond – Lorraine Bartlett with Laurie Cass – 3***
This is book # 4 in the Victoria Square series. It has all the hallmarks of a cozy mystery – an amateur sleuth who cannot keep her nose out of police business, a colorful cast of supporting characters, a fun business venture that keeps our heroine busy, and some love interest. It held my attention and I was entertained.
LINK to my review

message 6: by James (last edited Jun 08, 2018 09:29PM) (new)

James F | 1609 comments William Shakespeare, The Tragedy of Othello the Moor of Venice [c. 1604; Signet Classic ed. by Alvin Kernan, 1963] 270 pages

Leonard F. Dean, ed., A Casebook on Othello [1961] 269 pages

Two editions of Othello, the third play I will be seeing at the Utah Shakespeare Festival next month, the first with some and the second with much added material. I won't attempt here to review Othello itself, beyond saying that I have a problem with the way it is compressed and tend toward the opinion of those early critics who considered that our extant version may be considerably "cut" (it's much shorter than Shakespeare's other tragedies written at the same period, Macbeth, Hamlet and King Lear).

The Signet edition, in addition to the text, contains a translation of the story the play was based on, from Cinthio's Hecatomithi, and four secondary works: excerpts from Rymer and Coleridge, a selection from Maynard Mack's The Jacobean Shakespeare and Robert B. Heilman's article "Wit and Witchcraft: An Approach to Othello".

The Casebook is obviously intended as a textbook, with questions at the end; in addition to the text, it contains 16 short articles or excerpts from secondary material: slightly different excerpts from Rymer and Coleridge; excerpts from books by Hazlitt, George Bernard Shaw, Bradley, Stoll, and T.S. Eliot; Leo Kirschbaum, "The Modern Othello", Winifred M. T. Nowottny, "Justice and Love in Othello, and Robert B. Heilman, "Othello: The Unheroic Tragic Hero"; four selections on particular actors or performances of the play; an excerpt from Aristotle's Poetics and an excerpt from Richard B. Sewall, The Tragic Form.

Given the age of both books, the criticism included is mainly of historical interest; the emphasis is on attacking or justifying the play as a whole and explaining the characters of Othello and Iago rather than more specific questions.

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Espresso Tales (44 Scotland Street, #2) by Alexander McCall Smith
Espresso Tales – Alexander McCall Smith – 3***
Book two in the “44 Scotland Street” series about the residents of a particular apartment building in Edinburgh. The novel is a sort of ensemble piece, with chapters alternating among the characters. It’s not great literature but it is fun to read. Reminds me of Armistead Maupin’s Tales of the City series.
LINK to my review

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To Kill a Mockingbird (To Kill a Mockingbird, #1) by Harper Lee
To Kill a Mockingbird – Harper Lee – 5***** and a ❤
Is this the quintessential American Novel? Will it stand the test of time as Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn has done? Time will tell. I do know this, however. This is a singularly powerful novel that has touched generations of readers in the 50-something years since it was first released and remains high on many “must be read” lists. It’s a well-paced novel, a fast read with elements of suspense, family drama, humor, and moral lessons.
LINK to my review

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Mad Love by Suzanne Selfors
Mad Love – Suzanne Selfors – 2.5**
Okay, I knew it was a YA romance going into it, and I definitely see the appeal for the target audience. You have all the elements for a successful romance, including “meeting cute,” attractive characters, a nemesis that shows some redeeming qualities in the end. Add a dash of Greek mythology and a sprinkle of magical realism, and you have a pretty good idea for a teen romance. It’s just not my cup of tea.
LINK to my review

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Island of the Blue Dolphins (Island of the Blue Dolphins, #1) by Scott O'Dell
Island of the Blue Dolphins – Scott O’Dell – 5*****
This is fast becoming a classic of children’s literature. O’Dell has crafted an enduring story of strength, courage and resilience. Karana, a young Native American woman left behind on an island off the California coast when her tribe departs, is practical and brave, resourceful and creative. She works hard at survival, but she works “smart” as well. The book won the John Newbery Medal for excellence in children’s literature.
LINK to my review

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James F | 1609 comments Herman Vanstiphout, Epics of Sumerian Kings: The Matter of Aratta [2003] 176 pages

The ancient Sumerian epics divide into two groups: those which make up what we call the Epic of Gilgamesh, and those which make up the "matter of Aratta". These four epics, known today as Enmerkar and Ensuhgirana, Enmerkar and the Lord of Aratta, Lugalbanda in the Wilderness and The Return of Lugalbanda (in Sumerian library catalogs they were just listed by their first words), were according to Vanstiphout's introduction probably originally composed under the Third Dynasty of Ur (2112-2004 BCE), about a thousand years after the invention of writing, and our present texts were probably finalized and copied in the scribal schools of the Isin-Larsa period (2017-1763); they are thus among the earliest works of literature, more than a thousand years older than the Homeric epics and the earliest books of the Old Testament.

Like the Epic of Gilgamesh, they deal not with the kings of Ur but with the earlier kings of Unug (Akkadian Uruk, Biblical Erech, modern Warka), just as the Greek epics dealt with an earlier Mycenaean era and much mediaeval literature looked back to the Roman Empire. They recount the conquest of the (otherwise unknown) city of Aratta, probably somewhere in central Iran but here more of a symbolic opponent, by Enmerkar, a legendary king and possibly considered the builder of Unug. The three narratives (Vanstiphout considers the two Lugalbanda epics to be parts of the same poem, although that is disputed by other scholars) are three different accounts of the conquest, although we cannot be sure whether it was thought to represent three variant accounts of the same event or three successive events, and if they are successive what order they should be read in.

In Enmerkar and Ensuhgirana, the conflict is begun by Ensuhgirana, the king of Aratta, who sends a message to Enmerkar demanding that Unug surrender and become a tributary of Aratta; he refuses, and a sorcerer living in Aratta puts a spell on a city belonging to the territory of Unug, which causes a famine; a "wise woman" from Unug then engages the sorcerer in a magic contest and defeats him, whereupon Aratta surrenders to Unug.

Enmerkar and the Lord of Aratta is the longest and most interesting; here Enmerkar takes the initiative, threatening to invade Aratta, and the Lord of Aratta (unnamed in this poem) proposes three challenges, which Enmerkar solves by superior technology (including the invention of writing, which is believed to have actually been invented in Unug). In the end, the two cities agree to trade the grain of Unug for the gold and precious stones of Aratta; the epic is essentially a myth of the invention of trade.

Lugalbanda in the Wilderness begins with a military expedition against Aratta; Lugalbanda is an officer in Enmerkar's army, one of eight brothers, who becomes suddenly very ill during the march and is left behind with a supply of food, but is expected to die; he prays to various gods, is healed, has a dream in accordance with which he captures some animals and makes a banquet for the gods. In a somewhat obscure final section there appears to be some sort of battle in heaven between various spirits (stars?) and there is a suggestion that Lugalbanda becomes himself something more than human. (Lugalbanda like Enmerkar is a legendary and perhaps deified early king of Unug; in some accounts he is the father of Gilgamesh.) In the second part/epic, The Return of Lugalbanda, he wanders in the wilderness looking for the army of Enmerkar, finds the nest of the Thunderbird, feeds and honors the chick of the Thunderbird and is rewarded by the gift of supernatural strength. The Thunderbird then leads him to the camp of Enmerkar, where he appears to the surprise of his brothers. The seige of Aratta is unsuccessful; Enmerkar asks for volunteers to return to Unug and carry a message to the goddess Inanna in her temple there, but everyone else refuses. Lugalbanda then volunteers to go back alone, and uses his magic speed to make the trip in one afternoon. Inanna gives him instructions on how to defeat Aratta (by catching and eating a magic fish which is apparently a kind of horcrux for the king of Aratta.) Unexpectedly, the epic ends here with a praise song for the goddess without describing his return to the camp or the defeat of Aratta. (Vanstiphout compares this somewhat remotely to Christian saints' legends, but surprisingly doesn't mention what seems to me the obvious parallel, the story of Philoctetes in the Greek Trojan Cycle.)

I am currently reading Thorkild Jacobsen's The Harps That Once. . . : Sumerian Poetry in Translation, an anthology published in 1987, which also contains two of these epics, Enmerkar and the Lord of Aratta and The Return of Lugalbanda (Jacobsen considers the two Lugalbanda poems to be separate compositions) and while the basic story is the same in both versions the details are quite different; partially this may be do to a different selection of texts (the epics are found in many copies which are slightly different), but it also shows that we still do not understand the language perfectly. In particular, the "spell of Nudimmud" in Enmerkar and the Lord of Aratta is translated in a totally opposed way; for Jacobsen it is a version of the "Tower of Babel" myth where the gods cause an original unified language to become many different languages, while for Vanstiphout it is a prophecy that the originally multilingual civilized world will all come to understand Sumerian (which in fact was a scholarly lingua franca for the entire Near East for centuries).

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Catching Fire (The Hunger Games, #2) by Suzanne Collins
Catching Fire – Suzanne Collins – 2.5**
Book two in the Hunger Games trilogy. Fast-paced formula continues with the characters facing numerous challenges and struggling with whom to trust and which alliances to forge in order to survive and win. I thought Collins was stretching things out to fill the pages.
LINK to my review

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Melissa (melissasd) | 858 comments Crown of Midnight (Throne of Glass, #2) by Sarah J. Maas
Crown of Midnight (Throne of Glass #2) by Sarah J. Maas
5 ★

Celaena Sardothien is now the King's Champion, but she is far from the loyal subject her wants. She is just there to do her time and be free, but there are things happening in the castle again that draw her in. The king gives her a name of the next person she is to "take care of" and Calaena decides to get information out of him first. Secrets are revealed about Nehemia and Dorian. Some surprising, some not so much. Chaol is conflicted when it comes to keeping quiet as Captain of the Guard and warning Celaena and Nehemia about things. I was slightly disappointed in Celaena's ability to solve problems. She doesn't think about things like she should. She's gets frustrated and emotional way too easily. I was not surprised by the death in the book (no spoilers), but it still did not make it easy. Things I suspected after the last book are revealed in the one. Calaena is now enroute to a new destination and I look forward to reading Heir of Fire. There is still much to learn about Celaena, Dorian and Chaol.

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James F | 1609 comments Thorkild Jacobsen, The Harps That Once. . . : Sumerian Poetry in Translation [1987] 498 pages

This is an anthology of poetry from Sumerian, the first language to be written, and the earliest extant literature. It contains most of the more important poetic texts, divided into eight categories: the texts concerning Dumuzi (the dying and resurrected shepherd god, similar to the later Adonis), including variations of his courtship and marriage to Inanna and his death; lovesongs, ostensibly about kings and queens, and very sexually explicit, as is much of the Sumerian poetry; three hymns addressed to Enlil, Inanna, and Nanshe respectively; myths, including the famous "Descent of Inanna" into the underworld; two Aratta epics and "Gilgamesh and Aka"; the "Cursing of Akkade"; three hymns to temples; and three laments for cities and temples destroyed in the barbarian conquest of Ur.

Not knowing Sumerian, I can't speak to the accuracy of the translations, but Jacobsen was considered a major expert. Not everything is understood, and there is room for much disagreement. The translations are fairly understandable, although the translator has a penchent for using the most archaic and obscure English vocabulary possible. He says in the introduction that he was planning a companion volume to include the prose works, but I haven't found any indication that it was ever published; Jacobsen died in 1993.

message 15: by James (last edited Jun 19, 2018 01:21AM) (new)

James F | 1609 comments Liu Cixin, The Three-Body Problem
[2007, tr. 2014] 400 pages [Kindle]

The first book in a science fiction trilogy originally published in China, dealing with "first contact" with an alien civilization, the Trisolarians. The novel is both similar and different from most American science fiction; the "action" plot is not all that unusual, but the author expects the reader to have more knowledge of math and science than is expected in most American science fiction, even of the "hard" science fiction genre (though it is not absolutely essential to understanding the action). Having been written in 2007, the science is more up to date than most of the science fiction novels I have read lately, which gave it a certain realism.

The book opens with a chapter called "The Age of Madness" set during the height of the "Cultural Revolution", and Chinese history, both ancient and recent, form the background of the action; the pessimism of many of the characters with regards to human civilization and the possibility of rational reform, which is central to the plotline, is very understandable in the context of the goals and hopes of the Chinese Revolution and its degeneration into irrational violence and tyranny under Mao (although recent American politics don't exactly give much reason for optimism either.) I was reminded of Kim Stanley Robinson's Mars trilogy, one of the best recent science fiction novels I have read, in that both trilogies combine reasonably accurate "hard" science with an interest in politics, which are usually separated in different subgenres. In addition, Liu Cixin's book has a very modernist literary structure, with several subplots that at first seem totally unconnected. I will be interested in seeing whether the quality of this first novel is kept up in the sequels.

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Trans-Sister Radio by Chris Bohjalian
Trans-Sister Radio – Chris Bohjalian – 3***
The novel is told by four central characters: Dana, Allison, Carley and Will. One of them is transgender. Bohjalian tackles blended families, small town politics, prejudice, marriage, relationships, and the idea of “love conquers all” in this novel. The story forces the reader to examine (and re-examine) the labels we assign to people and the knee-jerk reactions we have to those labels. I was intrigued and it held my interest, but I don’t think it’s Bohjalian’s best effort.
LINK to my review

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Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton
Ethan Frome – Edith Wharton – 4****
I love Edith Wharton’s writing. I love the way she explores relationships and unfulfilled desires. The tension is palpable, the yearning almost unendurable. The setting is Starkfield, Massachusetts, in winter; as if the reader needs a reminder of how depressing and lacking in color Ethan’s life is. Though I was reading in the midst of a summer heat wave, I felt chilled.
LINK to my review

message 18: by James (last edited Jun 22, 2018 01:13AM) (new)

James F | 1609 comments [Critical articles on Othello] [1970-2000] 334 pages [Kindle]

Twenty articles on Othello downloaded from Academic Search Premier, which I am counting as one book for my goals. (Another twenty from 2000 to the present will be counted as another book, if I finish it before the Festival.) The one generalization I can make is that while the earlier secondary works (including all from the Signet edition and the Casebook which I read in the last couple weeks) focus on the characters of Othello and Iago, the articles from the 1970s on, undoubtedly due to the rise of third wave feminism and feminist criticism, focus largely on the character of Desdemona, with some attention paid to Emilia and even Bianca. From the 1980s on the articles tend to be more postmodernist and psychoanalytic, less intelligible, and less in touch with the actual play. [See my challenge thread for the individual articles.]

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Days Without End by Sebastian Barry
Days Without End – Sebastian Barry – 4****
Historical fiction that looks at America in the mid-19th century, through the eyes of Thomas McNulty, an Irish immigrant teenager. Beautiful, poetic, powerful writing that tugs at my heart and alternately disturbs me and cradles me in a loving embrace.
LINK to my review

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James F | 1609 comments Stanislaw Lem, Hospital of the Transfiguration [1956, tr. 2006, this ed. 2017] 224 pages [Kindle]

Hospital of the Transfiguration was Lem's first novel, written in 1948 but not allowed to be published until 1956. The main character is Stefan, a young man from a once noble family who has recently been licensed as a physician; the book opens with him attending the funeral of an uncle. As he is about to return to the city, he meets a friend from medical school who invites him to apply for a position at a nearby lunatic asylum, the Hospital of the Transfiguration. The remainder of the novel, with the exception of a visit to his dying father, takes place at the asylum. The novel is set in 1939-1940, at the beginning of the German occupation of Poland, which is always present in the background although it only comes to the foreground in the last chapter.

Unlike Lem's later work, this is not science fiction; it seems in some ways like a historical novel, but since it was written less than a decade after the events, it probably should be considered a psychological realist novel. Through most of the novel, there is not really any connected plot; rather it is a series of vignettes or character studies of family members, doctors, patients, and others with whom Stefan comes in contact, which gives it a rather fragmented style. Much space is given to conversations on philosophy and literature between Stefan and a famous, cynical or nihilistic poet who is not exactly a patient but has obvious psychological issues. The novel considers many of the same philosophical questions that permeate his later science fiction works. It differs from them in being the only work as far as I know which is actually set in Poland and with Polish characters; his science fiction generally has either Western or cosmopolitan future characters.

Even in this first novel, one can appreciate Lem's ability as a writer, although I wasn't totally satisfied with the occasionally awkward translation.

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Melissa (melissasd) | 858 comments Time Jumpers (Five Kingdoms, #5) by Brandon Mull
Time Jumpers (Five Kingdoms #5) by Brandon Mull
4 ★

We had to wait quite some time for the last book in this fun series, but it was worth it. The author did a great job refreshing the readers memory of all that had happened previously. Cole is back with all his friends and some new ones. Violet is a young Wayminder who joins the group by the queen's request. She is an excellent addition to the story. There are many twists and turns in the book and although I will miss the group it did end on a good note.

message 22: by James (last edited Jun 28, 2018 12:21AM) (new)

James F | 1609 comments [Critical articles on Othello [2000-2017] 406 pages [Kindle]

The rest of the articles (another twenty) on Othello from Academic Search Premier. To read some of these articles, it would seem that Shakespeare had been reading alot of deconstructionist epistemology, Lacanian psychoanalysis, and postcolonial theory and decided to write a play exemplifying those ideas. Again, see my challenge thread for the individual articles (they're not all like that).

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I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter by Erika L. Sánchez
I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter – Erika L Sánchez – 4****
Fifteen-year-old Julia narrates this coming-of-age story set in Chicago. The novel opens shortly after her sister has died. Her mother and father are absorbed in their grief, and Julia feels smothered by their over-protectiveness. I really like Julia; she’s talented, bright, resourceful and tenacious. But she’s also a hurting teenager and risk for major depression.
LINK to my review

message 24: by Melissa (last edited Jun 29, 2018 06:48PM) (new)

Melissa (melissasd) | 858 comments Judgment in Death (In Death, #11) by J.D. Robb
Judgment in Death (In Death #11) by J.D. Robb
4 ★

A cop is killed in one of Roarke's clubs while working a second job and Eve soon finds herself investigating a whole department for corruption. It is discovered that one of Roarke's old acquaintances is involved and things start to get dangerous. It's always a joy to visit Eve and Roarke again. I so love the way they banter about things. Peabody and Mavis are back as well. Mavis has a new gig that it heating up for her. Peabody continues to follow Eve's lead. I'm looking forward to the day when Peabody comes into her own. The only thing that continues to bother me in this series is how independent Eve is and how she won't let anyone help her. She even pushes Roarke away many times. She still feels like she has to prove herself. Although it makes for a great story, I hope she one day gets over that.

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James F | 1609 comments Anne Ridler, ed., Shakespeare Criticism: 1919-1935 [1936] 388 pages

Ridler's anthology, published in 1936, contains fifteen lectures, articles, or chapters of books written in the first part of the twentieth century, which make up a representative selection of British Shakespeare criticism, of varying qualities. The principle of arrangement seems to be from the oldest to youngest authors, rather than the dates of the selections themselves.

The earliest author is J.M. Robertson, with an excerpt from a book on Hamlet comparing the play with its source and with the First Quarto. Next is the 1930 Shakespeare Association Lecture by Spurgeon on imagery in the tragedies; probably this week I will be reading her book on the same topic, which is presumably an expansion of this. Then a book excerpt from E.E. Stoll on the relationship between tragedy and comedy; a lecture on emending Shakespeare's texts, by W.W. Greg; Granville-Barker's preface to King Lear, revised from his book, which I will probably read before next year's vacation (I reread the Shakespeare plays that will be presented and some Shakespeare criticism each year before I go to the Utah Shakespeare Festival on my vacation); L.L. Schücking on soliloquies, arguing that they are a convention for giving the audience information and should not be used to infer that the character actually is boastful or consciously villainous or introspective; and three rather subjective analyses of Henry V, Troilus and Cressida and Hamlet by Charles Williams.

T.S. Eliot's Shakespeare Association Lecture "Shakespeare and the Stoicism of Seneca" is humorous; the first half is consciously humorous, making fun of various scholars for making Shakespeare think just like they do, while the second half is funny because Eliot procedes to give us an objective account of what Shakepeare really does, which is write like T.S. Eliot. Then there is an interesting piece on metaphor by J. Middleton Murry; an interpretation of Two Gentlemen of Verona by H.B. Charlton, which was one of the best things in the book; a piece on allusions to current events in several plays, by G.B. Harrison; one by J. Isaacs on Shakespeare as a practical man of the theater and what we know about the conditions of theater in his time; Edmund Blunden on the allusions hidden in the seemingly crazy dialogue in the storm scene in King Lear; G. Wilson Knight's essay on Othello from The Wheel of Fire (which is the next book on my list); and the last is George Rylands comparing the early and later plays.

Some worthwhile, some not, just like the modern criticism I read on The Merry Wives of Windsor and Othello last month. I thought it was interesting that at least four of these articles from the 1920s and early 1930s mentioned Charlie Chaplin.

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The Terra-cotta Dog (Inspector Montalbano Mysteries) by Andrea Camilleri
The Terra-Cotta Dog – Andrea Camilleri – 3.5***
Book two in the Inspector Montalbano series has him solving a 50-year-old crime. Montalbano is a wonderful lead character. He doesn’t suffer fools gladly, nor sweat the small stuff. He’s intelligent, a loyal friend and is always ready to find the humor in a situation, no matter how dire. Camilleri populates the novel with an assortment of colorful characters that complicate Montalbano’s life. Interesting, engaging and entertaining. I’ll keep reading the series.
LINK to my review

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