Speak Easy, Speak Love: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Beatrice knows that if she leaves New York when she’s kicked out of boarding school, she’ll never be able to come back and realize her dream of becoming a doctor. She refuses to accept that future and determines to stay on course at all costs. Even if it means relying on an uncle she barely knows to take her in. Her uncle’s ramshackle mansion, Hey Nonny Nonny, holds quite a few unexpected boarders and hides a big secret: it’s a speakeasy offering entertainment and illegal spirits.

Hero, Beatrice’s cousin, loves the old house more than almost anything and she’s been doing everything she can to keep the eccentric speakeasy afloat. But with prohibition agents watching, limited supplies of liquor, and the pesky problem of needing to pay the staff, Hero isn’t sure if they can make it through one more party let alone the entire summer season.

Hero has always been able to rely on Prince, her steadfast friend who sees the speakeasy as his home and as a chance to prove himself to John, the half-brother who has never accepted Prince enough to let him in on his dealings as a member of the local mob.

Singing at Hey Nonny Nonny could be Maggie’s ticket to something bigger. But only if she’s willing to leave her friends there behind. And only if talent agents are willing to see beyond her brown skin to her big talent.

Then there’s Benedick who is determined to avoid the stuffed shirt life his father has laid out for him. No prep school graduation. No college. No banking job. Definitely no trust fund. Benedick is a writer and he’s sure that if he has the chance he can make it without his father’s backing–or his approval.

It’s dislike at first sight for Beatrice and Benedick–a feeling that only grows stronger in the face of repeated misunderstandings and arguments. Everyone else can see that Beatrice and Benedick are perfect for each other, but they both might be too stubborn to realize it without a lot of help in Speak Easy, Speak Love (2017) by McKelle George.

Speak Easy, Speak Love is George’s debut novel and a retelling of William Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing.

Written in the third person this novel shifts perspective primarily between Beatrice and Benedick as they arrive at Hey Nonny Nonny. Their story also overlaps with arcs for Hero, Prince, Maggie, and John over the course of an eventful summer that will change their lives forever.

Winsome characters, perfect pacing, and a plot that is simultaneously unique and true to the source material make Speak Easy, Speak Love a delight to read. Set primarily in Long Island, New York, this novel offers a quieter side of the Prohibition in the 1920s that isn’t often seen in historical fiction. Careful researching of the time period and an obvious familiarity with Shakespeare help to make this story vibrant and evocative.

Although they are living in the past, George handles this plot through the responsible lens of modern ideals. Benedick, often in discussion with Beatrice, contemplates his privilege as a young white man from a wealthy family and the knowledge that even during his rebellious flight to Long Island his family acts as a safety net. In contrast, Beatrice is used to having no one and has to learn how to both build and trust a support system as she finds true friends and family for the first time in years. Of course, Beatrice is also a classic feminist as she chases her dream to become a doctor. Side plots following Maggie and Prince explore the idea notion of belonging as well as barriers put in place by racism and discrimination at this time.

Speak Easy, Speak Love is a witty and droll story about six teens, an unlikely speakeasy, and the connections that will change their lives forever. A must read for fans of the 1920s, Shakespeare buffs, and anyone looking for a bright diversion. Highly recommended.

Possible Pairings: The Diviners by Libba Bray, The Game of Love and Death by Martha E. Brockenbrough, These Shallow Graves by Jennifer Donnelly, Under a Painted Sky by Stacey Lee, Every Hidden Thing by Kenneth Oppel, Belle Epoque by Elizabeth Ross, Snow White by Matt Phelan, Iron Cast by Destiny Soria

You can also check out my interview with McKelle starting tomorrow.

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Infinite In Between: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

“Not necessarily the beginning and not really the end, either. It was the infinite in between, all those minuscule and major moments when they’d dipped in and out of each other’s lives. That had been their journey and somehow, even though they hadn’t realized it, they’d been on it together.”

The five of them meet at high school orientation.

Gregor plays cello and he loves his family. His world feels far too small to be starting high school where older kids like his sister seem so much more together. He is hopelessly in love with Whitney but he has no idea how to tell her especially when his grand gestures manage to go awry. Getting Whitney to notice him is Gregor’s biggest problem  until a sudden tragedy changes everything.

Everyone saw the viral video of Zoe’s actress mother screaming at her in a dressing room. She knows everyone sees her as a spoiled brat who is just like her mom. But that isn’t the whole story. It isn’t even close.

Jake knows he’s gay. He knows it the same we he knows he’s an artist and the same way he knows he can’t play football anymore after what happened on the bus. The harder part is dealing with his crush on his best friend, Ted.

Whitney is pretty and popular. She seems to have it all. Except things at home are starting to unravel and there’s a constant push and pull to balance expectations people have of who Whitney should be like–her white mother or her black father.

Even at orientation, Mia is an outsider. She doesn’t have many friends or much of a family with her parents more interested in work than her. Mia is an observer and an expert at blending in. But before high school ends she’ll have to figure out where she fits and how to speak up before it’s too late.

Five teens. Four years. One journey that changes everything in Infinite in Between (2015) by Carolyn Mackler.

Infinite in Between is written in close third person perspective which shifts between Gregor, Zoe, Jake, Whitney, and Mia. The novel starts with their orientation the day before high school and follows all of them through four years to graduation day.

Despite the broad scope and large cast, Infinite in Between is fast-paced and populated with well-developed characters. While each character has their own journey–often without much overlap–all five of their stories intersect in interesting ways throughout the novel often in ways only apparent to the reader.

Infinite in Between is an inventive novel ideal for readers making their own way through the labyrinthine passages of high school as well as readers who appreciate overlapping narratives and stories reminiscent of Six Degrees of Separation. Highly recommended.

Possible Pairings: In Some Other World, Maybe by Shari Goldhagen, The Smell of Other People’s Houses by Bonnie Sue Hitchcock, One of Us is Lying by Karen M. McManus, The List by Siobhan Vivian

*A copy of this title was provided by the publisher for review consideration at BEA 2014*

Resurrecting Sunshine: A Review

Resurrecting Sunshine by Lisa A. KoosisAdam Rhodes, Sunshine’s boyfriend and backup guitarist, wishes he could process his grief in private for both rockstar Sunshine and the girl she used to be when she was still called Marybeth and they were growing up in foster care. Instead Adam settles for dulling his senses–and the pain–with alcohol.

When Dr. Elloran shows up at Adam’s door he expects her to be looking for a last piece of Sunshine. Instead, she offers Adam the impossible: Elloran plans to use cloning and Memory Archiving Port (MAP) technology to bring Sunshine back to prove to the world (and her investors) that Project Orpheus can resurrect the dead.

The project will go forward with or without Adam, but if he plays along–helping this new Sunshine remember the final days of her life and restoring other degraded memories–he’ll have the chance to see Marybeth again. And maybe this time he can keep Marybeth alive and well.

As Adam remembers the tragedy that led to his and Sunshine’s fame, he is forced to confront painful memories of her death and begins to question if bringing Marybeth along the same path is right for anyone in Resurrecting Sunshine (2016) by Lisa A. Koosis.

Simplistic and utilitarian world building ground this science fiction novel in the near-future of 2026. While Koosis is careful to name all of the relevant technology (most notably MAP technology) but never explains it enough to provide the proper backdrop or urgency for the story.

A slow start and weak execution detract from this potentially intriguing premise. Short chapters will appeal to reluctant readers willing to play along with the often tedious plot. Koosis raises some interesting questions about cloning, depression, and suicide but her prose falls short of insightful answers. Appealing for fans of this specific sub-genre of science fiction.

Possible Pairings: Where She Went by Gayle Forman, Loss by Jackie Morse Kessler, The Cost of All Things by Maggie Lehrman, More Happy Than Not by Adam Silvera, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

*A more condensed version of this review appeared in School Library Journal from which it can be seen on various sites online.*

Iron Cast: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Iron Cast by Destiny SoriaIn 1919 Boston Prohibition is on the verge of making alcohol illegal and hemopathy shows are officially against the law. Thanks to a blood condition hemopaths can perform a variety of illusions through poetry, painting, or music. While it is not illegal to be a hemopath, it is deemed dangerous to regular society and highly restricted.

Best friends Corinne Wells and Ada Navarra have called Johnny Dervish’s club, the Cast Iron, home for years blending their respective talents as a wordsmith and a songsmith both on stage and in cons meant to rustle up enough money to keep the club open.

After a routine job goes awry, Ada is imprisoned in Haversham Asylum, a hemopath prison with dark secrets and dangerous implications for its hemopath inmates. Ada’s escape from Haversham sets off a series of events leaving two Cast Iron workers dead and Dervish in the wind.

With only each other and their talents as hemopaths and con-women to rely on, Ada and Corinne will have to confront uncomfortable truths about Johnny, the Cast Iron, and themselves if they want to keep their freedom in Iron Cast (2016) by Destiny Soria.

Iron Cast is Soria’s debut novel.

The narration alternates close third person between Corinne and Ada’s perspectives which highlights and contrasts the girls’ vastly different upbringings. (Corinne comes from a high society family, while Ada’s parents are working class immigrants–her mother is from Mozambique and her father is Portuguese.) Ada and Corinne’s differing perspectives on their work with Johnny Dervish and the use of their hemopath talents add nuance to the story.

An atmospheric combination of alternate history and fantasy complete with vivid descriptions of everything from historic Boston locations to complex hemopath illusions make this fast-paced novel incredibly evocative. A diverse cast of flawed and complex characters striving to do better complement the solid female friendship at the core of this story.

Iron Cast is a simultaneously whimsical and chilling blend of mystery and fantasy. Numerous twists, sweet romance, humor, and strong pathos make Iron Cast even more appealing. Highly recommended.

Possible Pairings: Passenger by Alexandra Bracken, The Diviners by Libba Bray, The Game of Love and Death by Martha A. Brockenbrough, Truthwitch by Susan Dennard, Speak Easy, Speak Love by McKelle George, The Shadow Society by Marie Rutkoski, The Crown’s Game by Evelyn Skye, Sorcery and Cecelia by Caroline Stevemer and Patricia C. Wrede, Illusions of Fate by Kiersten White

You can also read my interview with Destiny Soria!

*A more condensed version of this review appeared in the December 2016 of School Library Journal as a starred review*

P. S. I Like You: A Review

P. S. I Like You by Kasie WestLily and chemistry do not mix. So much so that her chemistry teacher limits Lily to one sheet of paper for notes during class. No notebook to write down song lyrics or create sketches. But chemistry is still chemistry (boring) so Lily soon begins writing some of her favorite song lyrics on her desk to pass the time.

When Lily gets to class the next day, someone has continued the lyrics. Soon Lily and her new pen pal are sharing favorite bands, secrets, and their innermost thoughts. The only problem is that Lily has no idea who is writing her letters.

As she tries to balance school, friends, and her responsibilities at home (not to mention her song writing ambitions and her crippling stage fright), Lily feels like she and her pen pal are getting closer. But it turns out pen pals (and, okay, crushes) can sometimes be hiding in plain sight in P. S. I Like You (2016) by Kasie West.

West delivers realistic dialogue and dynamic characters in her latest contemporary novel. While Lily often reads young (complete with snap judgements and impulsive decisions) she remains authentic for most of the story. Lily’s hectic home life and her musical aspirations make her a particularly sympathetic and interesting narrator.

Attentive readers will figure out the identity of Lily’s pen pal early in the story leading to some fun moments of confusion and mistaken identity as Lily makers her way toward the same conclusion. P. S. I Like You is a short and sweet romance sure to appeal to readers who enjoy characters with obvious chemistry (pun intended) and partly epistolary tales.

Possible Pairings: Suffer Love by Ashley Herring Blake, A Week of Mondays by Jessica Brody, Tell Me Three Things by Julie Buxbaum, Shuffle, Repeat by Jen Klein, The Romantics by Leah Konen, The Museum of Heartbreak by Meg Leder, This is What Happy Looks Like by Jennifer E. Smith

The Serpent King: A Review

The Serpent King by Jeff ZentnerDill is used to being an outsider. First because of his father’s Penecostal ministry where members handled poisonous snakes to prove their faith. Then later because of his father’s arrest for possession of child pornography. Consequently Dills tries to keeps his head down and does what is required to get by while attracting as little attention as possible.

Travis doesn’t worry much about what other people think of him, his dragon necklace, or the staff he carries everywhere. He knows who he is and refuses to let anyone diminish his abiding love of fantasy novels–also he’s 6’4″ which is a big help even if he hates aggression and violence.

Lydia has never avoided notice in her life. Born and raised in small town Tennessee, she dreams of life in the big city. And she knows that her ambition and her fashion/lifestyle blog Dolly Would will help her get there–starting with her application to NYU.

While Lydia and Travis have their eyes on the future, Dill knows that this last year of high school is as good as he can hope for. As everything ends and falls apart around him, Dill will have to try to write a new beginning for himself in The Serpent King (2016) by Jeff Zentner.

The Serpent King is Zentner’s first novel. It alternates first person narration primarily between Dill and Lydia with fewer chapters from Travis.

This novel is filled with evocative descriptions and dynamic characters. Lydia especially comes across as larger than life throughout the novel. While all three friends have a strong bond, they also have a lot of secrets. The contrast between their narrations highlight the ways that these friends come together and also the ways that they keep each other at a distance.

In addition to dealing with his family’s poverty and the repercussions of his father’s arrest, Dill also struggles with his faith throughout The Serpent King as he tries to reconcile his religious beliefs with his ambitions (and his mother’s refusal to believe that Dill can or should want more from his life).

Lydia’s life is a huge contrast to both Dill and Travis. Her family has more money, stability, and affection than either of the boys can imagine. While Lydia refuses to rein in her ambitions because of Dill and Travis’ limitations (they are both poor, have weaker grades, and fewer prospects after high school), she does unpack her privilege and gain some hard-won empathy as the novel progresses.

The Serpent King is an introspective and meditative novel closely focused on Dill, Lydia, and Travis. Thoughtful prose and a tense plot build to a satisfying conclusion as these characters realize the future can be whatever they choose to make it. Although the overall tone of this novel is melancholy, the story remains empowering and ultimately hopeful.

Possible Pairings: Teach Me to Forget by Erica M. Chapman, Rapture Practice by Aaron Hartzler, This Raging Light by Estelle Laure, When We Collided by Emery Lord, The Sky is Everywhere by Jandy Nelson, Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell, This Song Will Save Your Life by Leila Sales, The Beginning of Everything by Robyn Schneider, Cloudwish by Fiona Wood

You can also check out my interview with Jeff Zentner starting tomorrow.

Shuffle, Repeat: A Review

Shuffle, Repeat by Jen KleinJune knows with every fiber of her being that high school doesn’t matter. The friends she makes, the traditions, the classes–none of it matters in the long run. At the start of her senior year of high school, June already has her eye on starting college when her real life can begin.

Oliver loves high school. He revels in the rituals like prom and sports, the traditions like senior pranks. Oliver plans to make the most of his high school experience and be able to look back on every moment fondly when he gets older.

June and Oliver have known each other for years, an annoying side effect of their mothers being best friends. But they don’t get to know each other until the start of their senior year when their mothers arrange for Oliver to drive June to school. Every day.

Awkwardly quiet drives slowly begin to shift to heated debates about music, musings about life, and more. As they get to know each other, both June and Oliver will have to decide if young love has a place in a world where high school doesn’t much matter. Unless maybe it does . . . in Shuffle, Repeat (2016) by Jen Klein.

In this standalone contemporary, Klein throws together complete opposites and explores what might happen next. Despite much of this story taking place during car rides, Shuffle, Repeat has a strong sense of place with evocative descriptions of June and Oliver’s quaint town.

June and Oliver are both white but the book is filled with a varied cast of misfits among their unique groups of friends. June’s best friend–a gay boy with Indian family–gets an especially heartwarming side story throughout the novel.

Philosophical discussions about what matters in life contrast well with vocal discussions of music and classic high school moments (the book begins with June nervously making her way to prom and then backtracks to the start of the school year).

June is an often abrasive first-person narrator. She is not afraid to state her opinions and she is stubborn when those convictions are challenged. She jumps to conclusions and is, frankly, judgemental when it comes to her preconceived notions about Oliver.

But Shuffle, Repeat isn’t about June being right all the time. Instead, through her relationship with Oliver and generally moving through the school year, June begins to realize she might have been wrong about a lot of things.

Shuffle, Repeat is a smart story with a fun romance. Snappy dialogue, an honest-to-a-fault narrator, and plenty of senior year shenanigans make this a great summer read. Recommended.

Possible Pairings: Never, Always, Sometimes by Adi Alsaid, The Best Night of Your (Pathetic) Life by Tara Altebrando, Don’t Ever Change by M. Beth Bloom, A Week of Mondays by Jessica Brody, Reunited by Hilary Weisman Graham, To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han, P. S. I Like You by Kasie West