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Let’s review all the books I read this summer (part 2)

Welcome back to part two of my fun little book diary! By this point in the summer I had started a Shakespeare program, which means I had to read a lot of Shakespeare books. I’m quite proud of how many novels I managed to slip in between. This will conclude my summer reading reviews, and it may be a while before you see more book reviews from me, as I first need to somehow find more time to read.

Twelfth Night” by William Shakespeare

Yes, this is a play, not a book, but I read it from a book, so…it counts. I read this play for “work” but I still had a ton of fun with it. Despite seeing many productions of this play, I hadn’t read it cover to cover in a few years, and it was lovely to go back to it. A true classic full of love, hijinks, gender, whimsy and yellow stockings. I really do think this is one of Shakespeare’s best comedies and it’s quite an easy play to get into for beginners as well. Sometimes a tried-and-true reread is what you need during the summer. 5/5.

“Dragonfly in Amber” by Diana Gabaldon

Since I enjoyed “Outlander,” I figured I might as well read its sequel. Like “Outlander”, “Dragonfly in Amber” is long, complicated, at times gory and well grounded in history. It takes a classic time travel trope—a story being told out of sequence—for a jaw-dropping first act. However, there’s a fine line between effective dramatic tension and shooting your narrative in the foot, and this book strayed a little too close to that line for comfort. There was also a fair amount in the middle that felt like wheel-spinning rather than forward momentum. Still a solid read, but not on the level of its predecessor. 4/5.

“This is How You Lose the Time War” by Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone

After making it through all 900 pages of “Dragonfly in Amber,” I picked this book up because it was mercifully short. I went in hoping for a gritty, futuristic sci-fi flick. And this book was that, but it was also so much more. At its core, it is a sapphic love story, but a love story that takes place across centuries, through letters and against the backdrop of infinite war. As a piece of sci-fi, it is excellent. The book ends in the middle of the narrative, which would generally frustrate me, but for a story like this, it was beautifully fitting. 5/5.

“Voyager” by Diana Gabaldon

My journey with the “Outlander” series came to its unceremonious conclusion with this book. I wasn’t planning on continuing the series at all, but I had an international flight, and a long book in a series you know is ideal for an international flight. Long is the operative word here. This book was 1,076 pages, and by the end of it, I felt a bit like a zombie. The first half was quite good, with fun time-travel shenanigans, an engaging story and the introduction of some great new characters. The second half, in which Our Heroes get on a boat and meander across the Atlantic for 500 pages, was less good, and by that I mean it was kind of awful. There were also some racist caricatures that really rubbed me the wrong way, and the final denouement is far too abrupt. The book wasn’t unforgivably bad, mostly due to its strong first half, but it was bad enough that it made me give up on the series. 3/5. 

“Measure for Measure” by William Shakespeare

More Shakespeare, once again for work rather than for fun. That being said, “Measure for Measure” is still a wonderful play. It’s complex, gritty, philosophical, dramatic and some scenes always feel like a punch to the gut no matter how many times you read them. This is a play that has lost none of its power in the last 400 years and demands to be read. 5/5.

“Julius Caesar” by William Shakespeare

If you’re sensing a theme of Shakespeare plays that I read for work, that’s because I ended up having to read a lot of Shakespeare plays for work. “Julius Caesar” isn’t my favorite—there’s a depressing lack of women and the plot does go a bit wonky in Act V. Still, the play has some truly iconic moments and I think it’s still worthy of very high praise. Brutus, Cassius and Antony are marvelously complex characters, and there are some interesting meditations on tyranny, patriotism and justice. 5/5, but on the low end of 5/5.

“Fire with Fire” by Destiny Soria

I picked this up because the plot sounded a lot like “How to Train Your Dragon” and I like “How to Train Your Dragon.” The book is a relatively gritty urban fantasy about dragon slayers and sorcerers, with complex leads and great biracial representation. It also features a delightfully hateable villain, a cool aunt, a sassy dragon and some great battle scenes. The book does a great job keeping you on the edge of your seat despite how absurd its premise can get at times. There was a romantic plotline that was absolutely disposable and completely irrelevant to the main plot, but I suppose that’s the risk you take with YA fiction. 4/5.

“As You Like It” by William Shakespeare

The final Shakespeare play I read for work this summer. No spoilers on the plot, because I’m directing it with Brandeis’ Hold Thy Peace this fall (watch this space…). Anyway, “As You Like It” is a great feel-good play, full of whimsy and wonder and joy. It’s one of those stories that just leaves a smile on your face and restores a bit of your hope in humanity. And it features one of Shakespeare’s best female leads and some amazing comedy bits. 5/5.

“The Librarian Spy” by Madeline Martin

2023 saw several World War II spy novels, and this is the first I managed to read this year. It was a strong story about two women, one working in an American spy bureau, the other fighting with the French resistance. It was an engaging portrait of the Righteous Among Nations and did make me tear up at one point. The novel also avoided the trap I’ve sometimes seen of romanticizing the World War II period. There were a couple subplots that felt unnecessary, and some narrative threads that went unresolved, but it was still a solid read with great leads, high stakes and a satisfying conclusion. 4/5.

“Fourth Wing” by Rebecca Yarros

It’s painful to admit, but the TikTok hype got to me. Also, this book has dragons, so I was bound to read it sooner or later. In many ways, this book was very similar to “Fire with Fire” down to the curmudgeonly dragon with a telepathic bond with a feisty human. The book did a good job making the stakes feel very real and I was very invested in its main character. It’s also fairly lengthy at over 600 pages and I was able to get through it in a couple days. Unfortunately, the worldbuilding was pretty sloppy, meaning that certain final twists and revelations didn’t hit nearly as hard as they should have. Yarros expands her world from the smaller school setting to the wider geopolitics of the fantasy world setting far too quickly and ends up biting off a bit more than she can chew in the third act. There is also a romance plot that was a bit rushed, but I could accept it due to some helpful magic system contrivances. Overall, the first half of this book was much stronger than the second, and the final battle was a bit of a struggle to follow, but the story kept me engaged, the dragons were awesome and the final cliffhanger is superb. 4/5.

“The Hollow Sea” by Annie Kirby

“Lyrical” is probably the best way to describe this book. The plot can be wanting, and the conclusion is not as satisfying as it could have been. However, the non-linear timeline is very engaging and the book has a way of sucking you in. I read it in one sitting, and the book had a kind of hypnotic power. I suppose that’s just good writing. Unfortunately, I found the main character pretty insufferable. There’s some interesting stuff about infertility, but I didn’t like the way the story wrapped up that thread. And for a book that billed itself as based on mythology, I felt like there could’ve been a lot more mythology and a lot less day-to-day drudgery. Overall it was a solid read and aided tremendously by the high quality writing and interesting timeline. However, it was not as good as it could have been. 3/5.

“Lady MacBethad” by Isabelle Schuler

Essentially, this book is Lady Macbeth’s origin story. It’s rooted in the historical figure Gruoch MacBethad (the inspiration for Lady Macbeth). At times, Gruoch can be quite irritating, but she still made a compelling and complex protagonist. Her world felt sufficiently harrowing, and the supporting cast was well fleshed out. I do wish this book had gone beyond origin story and actually reimagined the events of “Macbeth.” Concluding where it did, the whole book felt rather anticlimactic. Still a strong read with a concept practically made for me, but I don’t think it quite achieved its full potential. 4/5.

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