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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The Thousandth Floor: A Review

The Thousandth Floor by Katharine McGeeThe year: 2118. The city: Manhattan. The place: The Tower–the world’s first thousand floor skyscraper. Other buildings have since overtaken the Tower but it still stands as an icon in Manhattan where it acts as a city unto itself.

Everyone thinks Leda Cole has everything. But after a stint in rehab, she’s learning that it’s all too easy to give into her addictions when things stop going her way.

Eris Dodd-Radson has the perfect family, wealth, and beauty. Until a family secret ruins all of that.

Rylin Myer’s life is far from glamorous all the way down on the thirty-second floor of the Tower. As the only person who can take care of her younger sister, Rylin is determined to do whatever it takes to survive at any cost.

Watt Bakradi has an illegal computer and hacking skills that could get him in a lot of trouble. When Watt is hired to spy on a girl on the upper floors, he can’t imagine the ways it will complicate his life.

Up on the thousandth floor, Avery Fuller has the best of the best right down to her genetically engineered looks. But this girl who can have everything is haunted by the one thing that remains stubbornly out of her reach.

The Tower is a world unto itself with everything residents could want–especially the residents of the upper floors. But when you’re all the way at the top, it’s a long fall back to the bottom in The Thousandth Floor (2016) by Katharine McGee.

The Thousandth Floor is McGee’s first novel and the start of a new series.

If you have ever wondered what a book might look like with elements of the Gossip Girl series and pieces from the game Tiny Tower, look no further. Filled with twists and turns this novel is exactly what you’d expect from its pitch complete with truly fascinating (and often horrifying) world building.

McGee rotates between the close, third-person points of view of several characters to create narratives with unexpected points of intersection. The Thousandth Floor is a fun bit of mystery with sensationalism and voyeuristic thrills thrown in as readers are thrown into the world of the Tower. Recommended for readers looking for a juicy diversion that doesn’t shy away from drama. A great stepping stone for readers looking to try their hand at speculative fiction as well.

Possible Pairings: Landscape with Invisible Hand by M. T. Anderson, The Secrets We Keep by Trisha Leaver, The Thousandth Floor by Katharine McGee, The Edge of Falling by Rebecca Serle, Gossip Girl by Cecily von Ziegesar, Falling into Place by Amy Zhang

*An advance copy of this title was provided by the publisher for review consideration*

Currently reading The Thousandth Floor by Katharine McGee. The year is 2118 and most of Manhattan has been redesigned to accommodate The Tower–the first thousand floor skyscraper in the world. The Tower is a world unto itself with everything residents could want–especially the residents of the upper floors. But when you're all the way at the top, it's a long fall back to the bottom. The Thousandth Floor is exactly what you'd expect with a premise that blends Gossip Girl and Tiny Tower. A fun diversion you should watch for this August. #booknerdigans #bookstagram #bookishfeatures #goodreads #bookstagramfeatures #instabook #instareads #igreads #booknerd #bibliophile #books #reading #currentlyreading #amreading #bookworm #bookish #bookgram

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The Raven King: A Review

“If you can’t be unafraid, be afraid and happy.”

The Raven King by Maggie StiefvaterGansey has been searching for his lost king for years. In the years after he died–and was brought back–Gansey is certain that finding Glendower is his destiny. Surely, such a quest is what he was saved to complete?

Along the way Gansey’s unlikely friends have joined him in the hunt: Ronan, a dreamer inextricably linked to the ley line and the magic of Cabeswater; Adam, who bargained away his autonomy to become Cabeswater’s magician; Noah, whose grip on his life is becoming more and more tenuous the longer he is dead; and Blue, the girl from a psychic family who is not psychic at all, the girl who is going to kill her true love with a kiss, the girl who loves Gansey.

For months now, Gansey and the rest have been creeping closer. Glendower is almost found. Dreams and nightmares are building. A storm is coming. Every quest has an end, but this time no one knows what they will find when it’s over in The Raven King (2016) by Maggie Stiefvater.

The Raven King is the final book in Stiefvater’s widely acclaimed Raven Boys Cycle. It is preceded by The Raven Boys, The Dream Thieves, and Blue Lily, Lily Blue. This book should definitely be read in order with the other books in the series and (obviously) has spoilers for the earlier books.

It’s always bittersweet to come to the end of a much-loved series. With characters like Blue and Gansey and Ronan and Adam, it’s especially hard to say goodbye. But The Raven King is the conclusion these characters deserve–possibly even the one they have earned–after everything they’ve survived and accomplished in the rest of the series.

Like the rest of this series, The Raven King is extremely well done with flawless writing and a tight plot. Although some rare readers might find the ending a bit too perfect, this book is also an excellent example of what you have to always trust the author.

The Raven King is a story where all of the characters are hurtling towards very specific goals and destinations only to realize that in the end the destination wasn’t the point at all–it was the journey, it was the people met along the way (particularly when it comes to the new characters introduced here). A completely satisfying conclusion to a stunning and evocative series.

Possible Pairings: Loop by Karen Akins, The Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert, Unspoken by Sarah Rees Brennan, Blackfin Sky by Kat Ellis, The Accident Season by Moïra Fowley-Doyle, Clarity by Kim Harrington, Fire and Hemlock by Diana Wynne Jones, Once a Witch by Carolyn MacCullough, It Wasn’t Always Like This by Joy Preble, The Shadow Society by Marie Rutkoski, Extraordinary by Nancy Werlin, Pivot Point by Kasie West, The Replacement by Brenna Yovanoff

*A copy of this title was acquired from the publisher for review consideration at BEA 2016*

These Shallow Graves: A Review

These Shallow Graves by Jennifer DonnellyNew York. 1890. Jo Montfort wants her education and her life to mean something. She doesn’t want to finish out her time at school only to get married. Jo dreams of following in the footsteps of Nellie Bly to become a famous reporter who can write articles to help make the world better.

Jo’s dreams, and her more prosaic future, become uncertain in the wake of her father’s accidental death while cleaning his revolver. The only problem: Jo knows her father would never have been reckless enough to clean a loaded gun.

With the help of an ambitious young reporter, Jo sets out to find the truth. In her search for the truth, Jo will dig up old secrets and shocking truths in These Shallows Graves (2015) by Jennifer Donnelly.

These Shallow Graves is a standalone historical fiction novel.

Donnelly’s novel is well-researched and thorough bringing the world of 1890s New York to life around Jo’s story with thoughtful details and historically accurate settings.

The characters pale in comparison to these rich settings. Although Jo grows throughout These Shallow Graves, she remains painfully naive and idealistic to a fault. Her sensibilities are also decidedly (frustratingly) modern despite her upbringing in New York’s Gilded Age. Jo remains a fun, very feminist, heroine in this story about a girl making her own way but it’s impossible to wonder how likely such a story would be in the time period of the novel.

Jo never quite operates comfortably within her time period and the story suffers a loss of credibility as a result. As a mystery (and a romance) These Shallow Graves works well but not, perhaps, as well as it could while certain motivations and events bear the scrutiny of a close reading better than others.

These Shallow Graves is another fine historical mystery from Donnelly with the requisite doses of romance and suspense. Readers looking for an immersive read and a strong heroine will find much to recommend here.

Possible Pairings: Speak Easy, Speak Love by McKelle George, The Dark Days Club by Alison Goodman, Eighty Days by Matthew Goodman, The Gilded Cage by Lucinda Gray, A Breath of Frost by Alyxandra Harvey, A Spy in the House by Y. S. Lee,  Nobody’s Secret by Michaela MacColl, These Vicious Masks by Tarun Shanker and Kelly Zekas, Illusions of Fate by Kiersten White

*A copy of this book was acquired from the publisher at BEA 2015 for review consideration*

The Word For Yes: A Review

*I don’t think this review is spoilery given what readers know from the publisher copy and the title. But you might disagree so read with caution.*

The Word for Yes by Claire NeedellJan, Erika, and Melanie Russell have never been especially close as sisters.

Eldest Jan is less present as she begins her first year at Brown where she struggles with lingering doubts that her life as an overachieving high school student will leave her stranded as a mediocre college freshman.

Effortlessly beautiful Erika with her science know-how and low social cognition has always been the beloved oddity in the family. Everyone worries about Erika being able to take care of herself in a world that is far less kind than she would imagine.

Youngest Melanie, at fifteen, is still figuring out where she fits with her high-achieving parents and sisters. Perpetually angry and frustrated by everything Erika does, Melanie is eager to leverage her own social savvy against the constraints of her youth to have some actual fun at the coolest concerts and parties she can find.

When Melanie is sexually assaulted at a party, the entire family is thrown into turmoil. In the wake of the date rape, Erika is sure the crime should be reported while Melanie is desperate to get back to normal. In the weeks after the rape, questions of consent and intention swirl about both Melanie and Gerald at their private school as both of them–and even Erika and Jan–wonder how to move forward in The Word For Yes (2016) by Claire Needell.

The Word For Yes is Needell’s first novel.

The narration alternates chapter viewpoints to follow each sister and even Gerald–the boy who assaults Melanie–throughout the novel in close third person. However, because The Word For Yes is so short, these chapters often feel abrupt and cursory as the novel moves from subplot to subplot.

It’s hard to think of The Word For Yes as anything but an issue book since the entire driving force of the story is Melanie’s rape and its aftermath. As such, certain comparisons are inevitable. While this book joins recent publications like Aaron Hartzler’s What We Saw and Consent by Nancy Ohlin in the important conversation about rape and sexual assault, it fails to add anything new to that discussion. It also falls short compared to classics like Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson or Inexcusable by Chris Lynch.

The Word For Yes also touches upon issues of bullying, adjusting to college, and changing family dynamics. Sadly this book ultimately lacks the depth to offer anything but a quick read that takes on too much. Plot threads for each sister–including what is meant to be a powerful confrontation scene for Melanie–come off as decidedly anti-climactic and even clinical with so little time being spent on individual aspects of the story.

While The Word For Yes should be applauded for attempts to thoughtfully discuss issues surrounding rape, as well as some level of diversity, this novel is ultimately too slight to be anything but a forgettable issue-driven story.

Possible Pairings: Never, Always, Sometimes by Adi Alsaid, Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson, What We Saw by Aaron Hartzler, Inexcusable by Chris Lynch, Althea and Oliver by Christina Moracho, Consent by Nancy Ohlin, Hello, Goodbye, and Everything in Between by Jennifer E. Smith

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

These Vicious Masks: A Review

These Vicious Masks by Tarun Shanker and Kelly ZekasEngland, 1882. Evelyn would rather do anything than spend another night at another interminable party with the same vapid women and the same eligible bachelors that her mother considers ideal candidates for marriage. Evelyn has no desire to be married off so quickly and disappear behind the veiled curtain of domesticity.

Little surprise, then, that Evelyn immediately secures passage to London when her younger sister Rose disappears under mysterious circumstances.

Accompanied on her search by the dashing Mr. Kent and the brooding Sebastian Braddock (who claims Evelyn and her sister have healing powers), Evelyn is thrown in a world of secrets populated by extraordinary people. Evelyn isn’t sure what to believe or who to trust. The only thing Evelyn knows for certain is that she has to find Rose before it’s too late in These Vicious Masks (2016) by Tarun Shanker and Kelly Zekas.

These Vicious Masks is the first novel from Shanker and Zekas. It is also the start of a series.

These Vicious Masks starts with a fun premise. Victorian England. Romance. Superpowers. Action. This book literally has it all complete with a heroine with decidedly modern sensibilities (something that was, personally, less satisfying to read than a character operating within the social mores and expectations of her era).

Evelyn’s narration is filled with snark and humor as she bemoans her status an a young (bored) debutante before her sister’s disappearance. The story is filled with evocative descriptions but thinner on historical detail with the time period serving more as set dressing for the novel than an integral part of the plot.

Readers will follow Evelyn’s search for Rose with as much interest as they will her romantic prospects with the appropriately contrasting suitors of Mr. Kent and Mr. Braddock in a love triangle that is filled with intrigue and tension.

These Vicious Masks is a fast-paced and super fun read. Ideal for fans of light historical fiction and superhero adventure. An open-ended conclusion and shocks in the denouement promise an exciting next installment.

Possible Pairings: Etiquette & Espionage by Gail Carriger, I’d Tell You I Love You, But Then I’d Have to Kill You by Ally Carter, Clockwork Angel by Cassandra Clare, These Shallow Graves by Jennifer Donnelly, The Clockwork Scarab by Colleen Gleason, The Dark Days Club by Alison Goodman, My Lady Jane by Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, Jodi Meadows; A Breath of Frost by Alyxandra Harvey, A Spy in the House by Y. S. Lee, The Beautiful and the Cursed by Page Morgan, Illusions of Fate by Kiersten White, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen

*An advance copy of this book was provided by the publisher for review consideration*

Even in Paradise: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

“They were all royalty. They were all gods. They were all broken.”

Even in Paradise by Chelsey PhilpotCharlotte Ryder is pretty certain about the course of her life. She has her group of friends at St. Anne’s. She has her roommate at the boarding school. Charlotte has her memory box, her studio time, and her plans to become an artist.

Charlotte never expects that she will meet the infamous Julia Buchanan when she abruptly transfers to the school at the start of their junior year. Charlotte never expects that she will become Julia’s friend.

It’s hard to ignore Julia Buchanan’s pull. Charlotte is easily absorbed into Julia’s magical world of luxury and decadence; she even finds herself drawn into the great Buchanan family with all of their spectacle and charisma.

As she becomes closer to Julia and the rest of the Buchanans, Charlotte realizes that Julia’s effervescent personality and easy smiles are part of a facade. Julia’s life–like those of her family–has been shaped by a tragedy that still haunts her. In trying to uncover Julia’s secrets, Charlotte hopes to help her friend. Instead, the truth might tear them apart in Even in Paradise (2014) by Chelsey Philpot.

Even in Paradise is Philpot’s first novel. It is a loose retelling of Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh with strong undertones reminiscent of The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald as well. Although Philpot credits both of these classics among her inspirations, Even in Paradise is also very much its own story.

Charlotte is a heroine who starts the novel on the periphery of her own life. So much of who Charlotte is, not to mention what she does, is defined by her friendship with Julia or who she is in Julia’s presence. It’s impossible to ignore the pull of Julia’s dizzying world. But it is only in gaining distance from that world that Charlotte really begins to come into her own with character development that is both fascinating and empowering.

Although this story has some adorably romantic moments (and even the hint at something more) Even in Paradise remains very firmly a story about friendship with a plot ranging from the initial moments that can tie people together right through to the moments with potential to tear them apart.

Despite any perceived pain or loss, Charlotte has no regrets when it comes to her friendship with Julia  and the other events during Even in Paradise. It’s refreshing, and even a bit shocking, to see that kind of conviction in a narrator. It is powerful to see Charlotte’s introspection and acknowledgement at the end of the novel of the many people and moments that have shaped her present self.

Even in Paradise is a subtle, contemplative novel about growing up and growing apart. A story about finding yourself in the midst of feeling lost. Recommended.

Possible Pairings: The Best Night of Your (Pathetic) Life by Tara Altebrando, The Vanishing Season by Jodi Lynn Anderson, Great by Sara Benincasa, Someday This Pain Will Be Useful to You by Peter Cameron, A Little Wanting Song by Cath Crowley, Prom and Prejudice by Elizabeth Eulberg, The Summer I Turned Pretty by Jenny Han, And We Stay by Jenny Hubbard, Jake, Reinvented by Gordon Korman, We Were Liars by E. Lockhart, The Start of Me and You by Emery Lord, Saving Francesca by Melina Marchetta, Since You’ve Been Gone by Morgan Matson, This Adventure Ends by Emma Mills, Damaged by Amy Reed, The Beginning of Everything by Robyn Schneider, The Edge of Falling by Rebecca Serle, Hello, Goodbye and Everything in Between by Jennifer E. Smith, Wild Swans by Jessica Spotswood, Confessions of the Sullivan Sisters by Natalie Standiford

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

You can also check out my interview with Chelsey!