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.

Advertisements

The Language of Thorns: Midnight Tales and Dangerous Magic: A Review

Leigh Bardugo follows up her popular Grisha trilogy and its companion Six of Crows duology with The Language of Thorns: Midnight Tales and Dangerous Magic, a collection of atmospheric short stories which serve as an excellent introduction to the Grishaverse for new readers while expanding the world for seasoned fans.

The six short stories (including three previously published by Tor.com) are inspired by the cultures found in the Grishaverse as well as traditional fairy tales, folk tales, and myths. In her author’s note Bardugo explains her thought process as she examined familiar fairy tales and pulled at the troubling threads found within.

Every story is accompanied by Sarah Kipin‘s border illustrations which grow around the pages as the tales unfolds culminating in a double page illustration at the end of each story. Two color printing enhances the collection and makes this a stunning addition to any bookshelf.

In “Ayama and the Thorn Wood,” a Zemeni tale with nods to Cinderella, The Thousand Nights and Beauty and the Beast, Ayama ventures into the Thorn Wood where she must speak truth while placating a fearsome beast with fanciful stories.

The Ravkan story “The Too-Clever Fox,” follows Koja–an ugly fox–as he learns that sometimes help from a friend outweighs mere cunning when he tries to stop a ruthless hunter.

Bardugo’s answer to Hansel and Gretel, “The Witch of Duva” follows Nadya into the woods where she finds a wondrous witch who can help her discover the truth about her new step-mother–but only for a steep cost.

Beautiful Yeva questions her father’s decision to follow the common fairy tale tradition of setting nearly impossible tasks to choose her future husband in “Little Knife” as Semyon uses his abilities as a Tidemaker to get help from a river to complete them.

The Kerch tale of “The Soldier Prince” explores themes of identity and desire when a demon named Droessen creates a nutcracker soldier who comes to life–but is being alive the same as being real?

The collection finishes with the Fjerdan story “When Water Sang Fire” about a sildroher mermaid named Ulla who dreams of being able to use her singing magic as she chooses, until her attempt to create a fire that will burn underwater ends in betrayal and heartbreak, suggesting a possible origin story for the Little Mermaid’s notorious sea witch.

Themes of feminism and empowerment color each story with heroes and heroines given the chance to choose their own fates and stir the pot, for better or worse. Strong writing, compelling stories, and gorgeous illustrations make this collection a must have for fans of the author and readers eager for new fairy tale retellings to devour.

Possible Pairings: The Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert, Girls Made of Snow and Glass by Melissa Bashardoust, Entwined by Heather Dixon, Cruel Beauty by Rosamund Hodge, Enchanted by Alethea Kontis, Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine, Frogkisser! by Garth Nix, Hold Me Like a Breath by Tiffany Schmidt, The Rumpelstiltskin Problem by Vivian Vande Velde

*A more condensed version of this review appeared as a starred review in the October 2017 issue of School Library Journal*

The One That Got Away: A Review

Ruby has the perfect life in New York City. She is great at her job, she lives alone in a chic Manhattan studio apartment. She is making it.

But as she prepares to head to England for her sister’s wedding, even Ruby has to admit that she might not be thriving. Her life is divided between work and her weekly gym sessions. There isn’t time for anything else with such a demanding job. But Ruby isn’t sure that matters in the face of having her NYC dreams become reality.

Heading to England couldn’t come at a worse time. But then again there’s never a good time to watch your sister marry the best friend of your ex-boyfriend. Ruby and Ethan were a perfect pair until they weren’t. Now, ten years later, the sting of that painful breakup lingers.

Seeing Ethan again brings back a lot of old memories. Enough that Ruby starts to wonder if walking away all those years ago was ever the right choice in The One That Got Away (2017) by Melissa Pimentel.

This standalone contemporary romance is a modern retelling of Jane Austen’s Persuasion complete with the English setting. The story has a rocky start with a New York City backdrop that is largely divorced from reality particular for a professional thirty-something.The story picks up as Ruby heads to England but the characters never quite manage to fit the plot they are given.

This disconnect deepens as the story progresses. Both Ruby and Ethan are haunted by regrets and fear of wasted opportunities. Making up for lost time, more than anything, is the theme of this light romance. Despite the characters being close to the age of Austen’s own heroine and hero, Ruby and Ethan’s concerns make more sense for characters who are older. While Ethan is a tech wunderkind with tons of talent and money but the idea that Ruby is already not just situated in her career but stagnating feels false. This might be a personal thing as a thirty-something myself who is far from stable but Ruby’s life and her problems felt like the property of a character at least a decade older.

The One That Got Away is a snappy romance complimented by Ruby’s first person narration in a storyline that explores her past with Ethan as well as her present. Recommended for readers looking for a new romance from a fresh voice.

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

Stealing Snow: A Review

Stealing Snow by Danielle PaigeSnow has spent most of her like behind the walls of the Whittaker Institute. The high security asylum is meant to help rehabilitate troubled patients, like Snow, let go of their delusions.

But Snow doesn’t think she’s crazy. Not really.

Being near Bale makes like at the Institute bearable. At least until Bale claims he can see what Snow really is when they kiss. And breaks her hand in two places.

When mysterious hands grab Bale and pull him through a mirror, Snow knows that she has to follow. A voice in her dreams tells Snow exactly what to do in order to escape. Following the voices directions, Snow makes it outside and finds herself in the wintry world of Algid.

Snow soon learns that Algid is her true home and her father is determined to do everything he can to hold onto the throne–and keep Snow far away from it. As magic, mayhem, and trickery collide, Snow will have to decide who she can trust if she wants to rescue Bale and make it out of Algid alive in Stealing Snow (2016) by Danielle Paige.

Stealing Snow is the start of Paige’s new series which is a dark retelling of The Snow Queen.

Paige goes for a darker tone right from the start with Snow residing in an asylum that seems to come straight from the pages of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. While this setting offers a gripping backdrop for the opening of the story, it also often defies logic as readers realize Snow has been at the Institute since she was a child (and is, in fact, still only seventeen suggesting there should have been at least some type of schoolwork or high school equivalency studies).

The story picks up considerably when Snow actually arrives in Algid and more of the novel’s characters are introduced. Snow finds a veritable band of misfits as she makes her way through Algid trying to find her father, the Snow King, and rescue her love Bale.

Along the way Snow encounters numerous love interests, her own snow magic, and vast conspiracies that stretch between Algid and our world. While this series opener raises many questions about Snow, her family, and Algid, readers will have to wait for future installments for most of the answers.

Stealing Snow is a fast-paced adventure with a sharp-tongued narrator who isn’t afraid to be ruthless. Paige takes some of the familiar elements of The Snow Queen and shakes them up with an inventive reimagining of the this fairy tale and the frighteningly evocative world of Algid. Recommended for readers looking for a new fairytale retelling that is extra dark.

Possible Pairings: Splintered by A. G. Howard, Princess of Thorns by Stacey Jay, Reign of Shadows by Sophie Jordan, Winterspell by Claire Legrand, Cinder by Marissa Meyer, Snow Like Ashes by Sara Raasch, Ruined by Amy Tintera

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

The Princess and the Warrior: A Picture Book Review

The Princess and the Warrior by Duncan TonatiuhMany prosperous suitors ask Princess Izta to marry them. She refuses them all. Instead it is a warrior named Popoca who steals Itza’s heart when he promises to be true to her and stay by her side.

The emperor is wary of such a match for his only daughter. But he promises that if Popoca can defeat the fierce Jaguar Claw that he and Itza will be allowed to marry. When victory is in Popoca’s grasp, the Jaguar Claw conspires to tell Itza that her true love has died. Grief stricken, Itza falls into a deep sleep that even Popoca cannot lift.

But true to his word, Popoca stays by Itza’s side forever in The Princess and the Warrior: A Tale of Two Volcanoes (2016) by Duncan Tonatiuh.

The Princess and the Warrior is Tonatiuh’s reimagining of the Aztec legend of two volcanoes: Iztaccíhuatl, the princess who continues to sleep, and Popocatépetl, the warrior who spews ash and smoke, trying to wake his love.

Tonatiuh’s artwork is immediately recognizable with sharp line work and figures always shown in profile. This style, reminiscent of Aztec art itself, lends itself especially well to this story.

The text of The Princess and the Warrior draws readers in from the first page with a evocative language and a sense of urgency. The story is aptly retold in picture book form here with themes that will bring to Romeo and Juliet to mind for older readers.

The book concludes with an author’s note from Tonatiuh talking more about his creative choices for this book and the source material. The book itself is well-packaged from the dustjacket and case covers to the interior pages. Bold full-page spreads highlight action in battle scenes while smaller detail illustrations add momentum to the story.

The Princess and the Warrior is a fantastic addition to any picture book collection. An obvious recommendation for any fans of picture book versions of classic folktales and myths. Recommended.

*An advance copy of this title was acquired from the publisher at BEA 2016*

Mighty Jack: A Review and Our Favorite Fairy Tales Blog Tour Post

mighty-jack-blog-ad-1Mighty Jack is my first time reading a Ben Hatke comic (although I’m already a big fan of his picture books) and it won’t be the last as I’m eager to see what Jack, Maddy, and Lily get up to next. As a long-time fan of fairy tales and fairy tale retellings, I am thrilled to be part of the blog tour for Mighty Jack.

Now that I’ve told you how much I enjoyed this fairy tale retelling, I’m also sharing my favorite fairy tale adaption. For me the answer is immediate and obvious: Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine.

My mom got me my copy of Ella Enchanted (a loose retelling of Cinderella) when she was doing freelance data entry at HarperCollins a year or so after the book had received its Newbery honor. I devoured the story and, unlike a lot of childhood favorites, wound up keeping my copy safely on my shelves. Years later I wrote an entire scholarly paper about why Ella Enchanted is such an effective feminist text (and why the movie is not). Being the type of person I am, I told all of this to Gail Carson Levine when I met her a few years ago and had her sign my beloved copy.

Onto the review!
Mighty Jack by Ben HatkeJack is not excited about the summer vacation. While other kid’s are goofing off and hanging out with their friends, Jack has to watch his autistic sister while his mother struggles to make ends meet with extra hours at her two jobs.

Watching Maddy is a lot of responsibility and not always easy since Maddy never talks. When Jack and Maddy accompany their mom to a flea market, Maddy unexpectedly tells Jack to trade the family van for a box of strange seeds.

Jack’s mom is understandably disappointed and upset. But Jack and Maddy go forward with planting the seeds. The plants look normal. At first. But then Jack, Maddy, and Lily (the girl next door) start to notice strange things in the garden like onion babies and seeds that can turn a person blue.

The more Jack learns about the garden, the more he wonders about the seeds and their purpose. With dangers looming behind every leaf, Jack will have to decide how far he is willing to go for adventure–and how much he’s willing to risk to keep his family safe in Mighty Jack (2016) by Ben Hatke.

This retelling of “Jack and the Beanstalk” blends familiar elements with Hatke’s unique interpretation. The graphic novel remains faithful to the original text with Jack’s dubious trade and the magical seeds growing. This story focuses more on the early parts of the tale as Hatke sets the stage for future installments.

Jack’s responsibilities at home and his complicated relationship with his mother and sister all come through in the text and expressive illustrations. (It’s worth noting that Maddy is never identified as autistic in the story itself only in the jacket copy.) While Jack sometimes resents the pressures of having to watch out for his sister and act responsibly for his mother, the family’s affection and unconditional love is obvious which is refreshing in a story that plays with fairy tale tropes.

Like many comics, Mighty Jack is a fast read. With so much excitement and adventure, readers will be eager to get to the last page (and even more eager for another book to see what happens next). The illustrations feature Hatke’s signature artwork as well as full color illustrations. The text and dialogue throughout is a decent size and can be read comfortably. Recommended for fans of the author, comic readers looking for a new adventure, and readers who devour fairytale retellings.

Possible Pairings: Rapunzel’s Revenge by Shannon and Dean Hale, Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine, Princess of the Midnight Ball by Jessica Day George, Kate and the Beanstalk by Mary Pope Osborne, illustrated by Giselle Potter; Snow White: A Graphic Novel by Matt Phelan, Heir Apparent by Vivian Vande Velde, The Rumpelstiltskin Problem by Vivian Vande Velde

Be sure to check out the other stops on the tour:

Vassa in the Night: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Vassa in the Night by Sarah PorterSixteen-year-old Vassa Lisa Lowenstein isn’t sure where she fits in her family or if it even qualifies as a family. Her mother is dead. Vassa’s father stayed only long enough to settle Vassa with his new wife. So now she has a stepmother and two stepsisters. Chelsea is nice enough but Stephanie might actually hate Vassa–which is fine since it’s mostly mutual. It’s an odd living arrangement to Vassa but no more peculiar than a lot of things in her working-class Brooklyn neighborhood.

The nights have been acting especially strange as they become longer and longer. When her stepsister (Stephanie, naturally) sends Vassa out in the middle of the night for light bulbs the only store that’s still open is the local BY’s. Everyone knows about BY’s, and its owner Babs Yagg, but people do tend to remember a store that dances around on chicken legs and has a habit of decapitating shoplifters.

Vassa is sure getting out of the store quickly will be easy. Even her enchanted wooden doll, Erg, is willing to behave and keep her sticky fingers to herself this once. When things don’t go as planned in BY’s it will take all of Vassa’s wits and Erg’s cunning to escape the store alive and maybe even break whatever curse has been placed on Brooklyn’s nights in Vassa in the Night (2016) by Sarah Porter.

This standalone urban fantasy is inspired by the Russian folktake “Vassilisa the Beautiful.” Although Vassa is described as incredibly pale, the rest of the book is populated with characters who are realistically diverse. Complicated dynamics within Vassa’s blended family add another dimension to the story. Evocative settings and imagery help bring this bizarre corner of Brooklyn to life including strong allusions to the Studio Ghibli film “Howl’s Moving Castle.”

Vassa is a cynical, no-nonsense character who is quick to make jokes and take risks with the delightfully sharp-tongued Erg at her side. Vassa’s frank narration is sure to remind fans of Veronica Mars as will her resigned acceptance of her role as hero in this story.

Elements of traditional horror blend well with high-concept fantasy in this surprising and engaging tale. A deliberate lack of romantic tension makes Vassa in the Night a refreshing read focused on themes of self-reliance, friendship, and family.

Possible Pairings: The Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert, The Darkest Part of the Forest by Holly Black, Plain Kate by Erin Bow, The Diviners by Libba Bray, The Reader by Traci Chee, Labyrinth Lost by Zoraida Córdova, Fire and Hemlock by Diana Wynne Jones, Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones, Extraordinary by Nancy Werlin, Paper Valentine by Brenna Yovanoff, Dust Girl by Sarah Zettel

*A more condensed version of this review appeared in the August 2016 issue of School Library Journal as a starred review from which it can be seen on various sites online*