Review: Speak Easy, Speak Love

speak easy, speak loveMcKelle George, Speak Easy, Speak Love

This debut novel is a YA retelling of Much Ado about Nothing set in the 1920s. Hero Stahr and her father Leo run a speakeasy called Hey Nonny Nonny on Long Island, with the help of Pedro “Prince” Morello. Benedick Scott is an aspiring novelist who chafes under his privileged upbringing and finds a sympathetic home at Hey Nonny Nonny. So does Beatrice Clark, Hero’s cousin, who wants to be a doctor despite her gender and her poverty. Margaret Hughes, the speakeasy’s resident jazz singer, longs for success on a bigger stage — almost as much as she longs for Prince’s standoffish brother, John — but her black skin may stop her from achieving either dream. As these characters fight to keep Hey Nonny Nonny up and running, they must deal with parental pressures, misunderstandings, dangerous bootleggers, and falling in love.

I wasn’t prepared for how much I would love this book. The premise sounded fun, but I thought at best I’d get a lighthearted romp — or, more likely, it would all go horribly wrong. I didn’t expect to care so deeply about these characters, to be so moved by their stories, or to be so invested in their relationships. But I adored this book, and I’m very sure it will be on my “best of 2019” list a year from now! The writing style is sharp and inventive — Beatrice, for example, is described as “a clock-throwing ruin of a girl,” and how could you not love her after that description? I loved the central romance between Beatrice and Benedick, which unfolds with agonizing, delicious slowness. As in Shakespeare’s original, the joy comes from their teasing banter and mutual respect for each other’s intelligence. The book deviates from the play somewhat with the secondary characters, but I thought all the changes made sense and enhanced the story the author was telling. In short, I loved (LOVED) this book and would definitely recommend it to anyone who likes the premise!

Mini-Reviews #2: May books

Still behind on reviews, so here’s a batch of minis for the books I read in May!

Spy Among Friends, AOne Perfect Day

Ben Macintyre, A Spy Among Friends: Kim Philby and the Great Betrayal — Guys, if you’re at all interested in espionage in the 20th century, you need to read Ben Macintyre! This is a fascinating stranger-than-fiction account of Kim Philby, an old-school English gentleman who rose to an extremely high position in the Secret Service while actually being a spy for the USSR.

Rebecca Mead, One Perfect Day: The Selling of the American Wedding — Mead, a British journalist, examines the contemporary American wedding from a sociological and monetary perspective. If you enjoy weddings but suspect they’ve gone off the rails in recent years decades–particularly in the ever-inflating costs for both the couple getting married and their guests–you’ll find a lot of interesting material here.

Vinegar GirlRaven King, TheLike Water for Chocolate

Anne Tyler, Vinegar Girl — First there was The Austen Project, for which six famous contemporary authors tried their hand at updating the novels of Jane Austen. Now Hogarth Shakespeare is doing a similar project with the Bard’s plays, with Vinegar Girl being a retelling of The Taming of the Shrew. Judging it as a novel, I found it a very pleasant read, albeit not particularly original or memorable. But I didn’t think it was a particularly good retelling of The Taming of the Shrew! So whether you enjoy the book will probably depend on what you’re looking for.

Maggie Stiefvater, The Raven King — If you love the series, you’ll love the ending! I thought certain plot elements were resolved a bit too abruptly, but the heart of the book–the relationships between Blue, Gansey, Ronan, Adam, and Noah–remains true. I was also torn on the addition of Henry Cheng as a character. First of all, I should say that I LOVED Henry Cheng! (Maybe he could have his own book? More Henry Cheng, please!) But part of me felt like the book was already crowded enough between the five main players and all the people at Fox Way. Be that as it may, I found this book to be a deeply satisfying ending to a wonderful series. If you love fantasy, you definitely need to read it!

Laura Esquivel, Like Water for Chocolate (trans. Carol Christensen and Thomas Christensen) — I’d heard a lot of good things about this book; people are always mentioning magical realism and comparing it to Sarah Addison Allen’s books (which I love). But ultimately, it didn’t do much for me. I felt sorry for Tita, doomed to take care of her bullying mother and remain unmarried while the love of her life marries her sister. But I also found the entire situation entirely too melodramatic, and the supernatural elements didn’t charm me. Overall, a disappointing read.

Review: No Bed for Bacon

No Bed for BaconCaryl Brahms & S.J. Simon, No Bed for Bacon

In this hilarious send-up of the Elizabethan era — or rather, the Elizabethan era as perceived by popular culture — Sir Francis Bacon is desperate to obtain a bed that Queen Elizabeth has slept in during one of her royal progresses. He wants it to be an heirloom for his family, as he knows the bed’s value will only increase through the years. Sir Walter Raleigh’s attention is divided between his new cloak, which he hopes will be the envy of everyone at Elizabeth’s court (especially that dandy, the Earl of Essex), and his upcoming introduction of the potato to England. Meanwhile, Sir Francis Drake is grumbling about the fact that he hasn’t been able to do any really good pirating in years; theater owner Philip Henslowe will do anything in his power to shut down his rival, Burbage; and Shakespeare is trying to work on a new play, Love’s Labour’s Wunne, but he keeps getting distracted by the problem of how to spell his own name. Add a little romance, an overly ambitious watchman, and some reminiscing about the glory days of the Armada, and the stage is set for high comedy with a few history lessons thrown in.

I didn’t know it until I read the introduction, but this book is actually part of the basis for the Academy Award-winning movie “Shakespeare in Love.” But while the movie focuses almost entirely on the romance between Shakespeare and the noble Lady Viola, in the book it’s just one of many plots involving the most famous figures of the Elizabethan age. If you know anything about the era or are interested in learning more, I highly recommend this book! It’s pure farce, so there isn’t much “plot” to speak of, but the jokes are more than funny enough to make up for that! One of my favorites was an exchange between Shakespeare and Bacon about some plot element of Shakespeare’s play that Bacon didn’t like. Shakespeare responds with great indignation, “Master Bacon, do I write my plays or do you?” Then there’s this internal monologue from a Puritan who seeks to shut down the theater: “People had no right to enjoy themselves. He was going to stop them. His cause was a just one and he knew it. He was enjoying himself.” So if you like Shakespeare and don’t mind a little (or a lot of) silliness, you should definitely check out this book!

Review: A Midsummer Tempest

A Midsummer Tempest

Poul Anderson, A Midsummer Tempest

Set during an alternate version of the English Civil War, this novel follows Prince Rupert of Bohemia, one of King Charles’ most valiant allies. Unfortunately, Charles is losing his war against the Puritans, and after a particularly brutal battle, Rupert is captured by a Puritan nobleman and placed under house arrest. He immediately begins plotting his escape, but fate steps in when he meets his captor’s beautiful niece, Jennifer. The two of them end up fleeing the Puritan’s house together and receiving help from an unlikely source: Oberon and Titania, the king and queen of Faerie. They encourage Rupert to find the lost treasure of Prospero, whose magical artifacts will help the king’s cause; but Rupert must brave many dangers before he can fulfill his quest.

There are so many clever, ingenious concepts at work in this book that it’s almost too hard to list them all. First there is the obvious debt to Shakespeare: in this world, he is not merely a playwright but also the Great Historian, so everything he wrote is factually true. (Bohemia even has a sea coast!) Thus, this book is full of all the wonderful Shakespearean plot devices — faeries, star-crossed lovers, uncouth jesters, shipwrecks, and a very unusual tavern, to name a few. My favorite thing was realizing that several of the characters actually talk in iambic pentameter. Sure, it makes the style a bit choppy and stilted, but the characters talk in iambic pentameter! Add in a discussion of parallel universes, some trains, and angry Puritans getting their comeuppance, and I’m sold! I’d definitely recommend this one if you’re interested in the premise.