Review: The Shakespeare Book by DK Publishing

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Learn more about the work of William Shakespeare with The Shakespeare Book, packed full of infographics, inspirational quotes, character guides, and more bonus material that illuminates the bard’s work, from Shakespeare plays like Twelfth Night, Julius Caesar, Hamlet, and As You Like It, to his best-loved sonnets, and even obscure lost works. Every comedy, tragedy, history, and poem of Shakespeare’s is collected here in this comprehensive guide.

Shakespeare’s canon comes to life with images, idea webs, timelines, and quotes that help the reader understand the context of Shakespeare’s plays and poems. Each play includes a glance-able guide to story chronology, so you can easily get back on track if you get lost in Shakespeare’s beautiful language. Character guides are a handy reference for casual readers and an invaluable resource for playgoers and students writing reports on Shakespeare. The Shakespeare Book includes the best of Shakespeare, and it’s set to become a staple for theater lovers, Shakespeare students, and Shakespeare fans because its information is delivered in such an understandable and inspirational way.

While it didn’t get as in depth about some of the themes of the plays as I may have liked, this is a very good overview of Shakespeare’s works, laying them out chronologically and explaining not only the plot, but some of the thematic elements of the work and a history of interpretations of the play itself. It’s a good reference, especially when introducing someone to Shakespeare and points out much of what is referred to as “problematic” in some of his lesser accepted plays. Definitely a reference book, but a very nice looking and easy to use one that won’t intimidate new inductees to the plays.

4 out of 5

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Review: Secrets of Sloane House by Shelley Gray

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One woman’s search for the truth of her sister’s disappearance leads her to deceit and danger in 1893 Chicago.

Rosalind Perry has left her family’s rural farm in Wisconsin to work as a housemaid at Sloane House, one of the most elegant mansions in Gilded Age Chicago. However, Rosalind is not there just to earn a living and support her family-she’s at Sloane House determined to discover the truth about her sister’s mysterious disappearance.

Reid Armstrong is the handsome heir to a silver fortune. However, his family is on the periphery of Chicago’s elite because their wealth comes from “new money” obtained from successful mining. Marriage to Veronica Sloane would secure his family’s position in society-the lifelong dream of his ailing father.

When Reid begins to realize that Rosalind’s life may be in danger, he stops thinking of marriage prospects and concentrates on helping Rosalind. Dark things are afoot in Chicago and, he fears, in Sloane House. If he’s not vigilant, Rosalind could pay the price.

I’ve read the third book in this series and while I enjoyed that one, this is the better book in terms of plot. Rosalind is desperate to find her missing sister and starts working in the same house she had been in an attempt to find clues. It’s perhaps a bit unbelievable that she’d be able to get hired on at her sister’s employer so easily, especially with no previous experience. That being said, the actual mystery of what happened to her sister is well carried out as is the characterization of Reid, who is a kind man in an unusual social situation with his family being new money. His interaction with Rosalind causes her more problems with her employer than it fixes, but Reid’s kindness is in character. The novel is a fast read and one of the better additions to the inspirational fiction genre.

4 out of 5

Review: The Fall by Bethany Griffin

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She has spent her life fighting fate, and she thought she was succeeding. Until she woke up in a coffin.

Ushers die young. Ushers are cursed. Ushers can never leave their house, a house that haunts and is haunted, a house that almost seems to have a mind of its own. Madeline’s life—revealed through short bursts of memory—has hinged around her desperate plan to escape, to save herself and her brother. Her only chance lies in destroying the house.

Almost powerless in a house with a mind of its own and no way to escape, Madeline Usher is doomed to suffer the family “illness” without any friends or family. Her parents are dead, her brother has been sent away, and she is at the mercy of unpleasant doctors, one of whom seems to be slowly losing his mind. Madeline is completely at a loss, but rather than simply succumb to the evil of the house, she fights back in every way she can figure out how. The house itself is a character more evil than any of the madmen running through the story, but the house also has weaknesses. Griffin runs the novel parallel to the original Poe story in such a way that the ending is believable even knowing “The Fall of the House of Usher”. The novel puts things vaguely hinted in the short story a bit more explicitly. The house is a bit fixated on incest, so there is an undercurrent of Madeline’s relationship with her brother sometimes being unhealthy. The novel also makes it fairly clear that Roderick was sent away from school over “rumors” concerning him and another male student. What can be inferred from that statement is at the reader’s interpretation.

The main interesting feature is that the book is bleak, Gothic horror that doesn’t always show up in the YA genre. There is no happy ending (though there is a sliver of hope at the end that the short story doesn’t provide) and the setting is oppressive, but it’s one of the most straightforward attempts at the Gothic novel I have seen in a while.

4 out of 5

Review: Rogues of the Road by Tony Duke

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A complete and concise look at the malefactors, rogues and highwaymen who pursued their evil and wanton calling by assaulting and depriving the fair citizens of England of their most precious and prized possessions by use of the most reprehensible of methods… Highway Robbery! This book is mainly concerned with the Seventh Commandment, and its application to the protection of property in eighteenth century England during a period when highway robbery was, for many, the preferred way to steal.

While very informative and well researched this book ended up being a bit on the dry side. I feel like it was someone’s thesis paper they were working on that they published. The information about the “real” Dick Turpin was interesting, but the book felt like everything was rushed with sort of superficial detail to fit it all into a paper. Good book if you’re looking for information, maybe not so much if you’re looking for a riveting read.

3 out of 5

Review: Literary Hoaxes by Melissa Katsoulis

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The ultimate reader’s-guide to the works that fooled publishers, readers, and critics the world over. When Dionysus the Renegade faked a Sophocles text in 400 BC (cunningly inserting the acrostic “Heraclides is ignorant of letters”) to humiliate an academic rival, he paved the way for two millennia of increasingly outlandish literary hoaxers. The path from his mischievous stunt to more serious tricksters like the fake Howard Hughes “autobiography” by Clifford Irving, Oprah-duper James Frey, takes in every sort of writer: from the religious zealot to the bored student, via the vengeful academic and the out-and-out joker.

But whether hoaxing for fame, money, politics, or simple amusement, each perpetrator represents something unique about why we write. Their stories speak volumes about how reading, writing, and publishing have grown out of the fine and private places of the past into big-business, TV-book-club-led mass-marketplaces which, some would say, are ripe for the ripping.

People create literary hoaxes for a number of reasons. Some are looking to trick the “experts”, some are looking to get noticed, some are truly not in touch with reality. These hoaxes seem to happen even in the age of the Internet, though they tend to not go as far as some older hoaxes did. The fascinating part is how the hoaxes themselves reflects how eager people are for a good story, even one that seems too good to be true. Some of these hoaxes actually changed the course of literary movements. Any way around it it’s interesting to see the bold, insane, or mercenary creators of some of the most famous literary hoaxes. Some are likable, some are pitiable, some are simply distasteful, but they all made their mark if just to make the literary world a little more wary before swallowing a good story.

4 out of 5

Review: The Walled City by Ryan Graudin

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730. That’s how many days I’ve been trapped.
18. That’s how many days I have left to find a way out.

DAI, trying to escape a haunting past, traffics drugs for the most ruthless kingpin in the Walled City. But in order to find the key to his freedom, he needs help from someone with the power to be invisible….

JIN hides under the radar, afraid the wild street gangs will discover her biggest secret: Jin passes as a boy to stay safe. Still, every chance she gets, she searches for her lost sister….

MEI YEE has been trapped in a brothel for the past two years, dreaming of getting out while watching the girls who try fail one by one. She’s about to give up, when one day she sees an unexpected face at her window…..

Though not using the name, this book is based on the very real Kowloon City, once the most densely populated place on Earth before being razed and the inhabitants being displaced. A place so a world unto its own that it really did seem like a dystopia set in a movie, Kowloon City was a labyrinth of buildings stacked on top of each other, some not seeing the light of day. In the unnamed version of Kowloon City, Dai is desperate to bring down a drug and prostitution king pin that will provide his way out of exile in the city. He crosses paths with Jin, a street child, and Mei Yee, a young prostitute kept in a brothel owned by the king pin. Mei Yee’s situation is sympathetically and delicately handled and her plight is shown as how tragic and truly bleak child trafficking is. While the plot is a little too “happy coincidence” to really be believed in how everyone’s stories keep intersecting, the upbeat ending is probably the best choice as a welcome relief from how dark the novel actually is. Murder, violence, drug addiction, and prostitution are all real parts of these teenagers’ lives.

4 out of 5

Review: The Great Pretenders by Jan Bondeson

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Jan Bondeson, M.D., focuses his medical expertise and insightful wit on the great unsolved mysteries of disputed identity of the last two hundred years. Did the son of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette really die in the Temple Tower, or did the Lost Dauphin reappear among the throngs of pretenders to the throne? And what does DNA testing reveal about the Dauphin’s mummified heart? Who was Kaspar Hauser: an abused child, the crown prince of Baden, or a pathological liar? In this highly entertaining work covering the most famous cases of disputed identity, Jan Bondeson uncovers all the evidence, then applies his medical knowledge and logical thinking to ascertain the true stories behind these fascinating histories.

People always want to figure out a mystery, even more so when there appears a person who was supposed to have died under unfortunate circumstances. We want to right a cosmic wrong. Yet in the majority of cases it can pretty definitively be said that it’s just wistful thinking and the delusions or lies of someone claiming to be the lost famous person. The author carefully untangles the circumstances and evidence around some of the most famous cases of disputed identity. Never mocking those who believed the pretenders and always trying to keep a fair hand, the evidence stacks up especially with modern advancements. Perhaps the most fascinating part is WHY the person originally went missing or who these people actually were. There’s the additional interest of why these pretenders do what they do. Is it fame? Is it a search for money? Is it for attention? Sometimes the speculated reasoning behind these con games is as hand to look away from as the actual mystery.

4 out of 5