Romeo and What’s Her Name

28265679First Lines: “What’s so urgent?” my best friend Jillian Frankel called out as she made her way through the throngs of juniors clogging the halls of Shaker Heights High School.

Hey guys!  So I’m on Spring Break this week and incredibly hopeful that I’ll get a few more posts up than I have been lately!  (Also, I know it’s April Fools today, but let’s just ignore that.  Not really a fan of this “holiday” anyway.)  So this book was one that I wanted to read because of the Shakespeare connection.  And the acting.  You’ll see.

I’m just going to copy the actual jacket here, since it does a good job: Understudies never get to perform. . . which is why being Juliet’s understudy in the school’s yearly “Evening with Shakespeare” is the perfect role for Emily. She can earn some much-needed extra credit while pursuing her main goal of spending time with Wes, aka Romeo, aka the hottest, nicest guy in school (in her completely unbiased opinion). And she meant to learn her lines, really, it’s just:
a) Shakespeare is HARD,
b) Amanda, aka the “real” Juliet, makes her run errands instead of lines, and
c) there’s no point because Amanda would never miss the chance to be the star of the show.

Then, Amanda ends up in the hospital and Emily, as the (completely unprepared!) understudy, has to star opposite the guy of her dreams. Oops?

It was…sort of cute. If this was any Shakespearean work, it was A Comedy of Errors. Everything that our characters do is just one farce after another. Emily especially is basically a comedian in teenager form. Everything she touches turns into a clumsy accident. Which, while funny, gets incredibly old when she seems to be incompetent rather than simply an unfortunate girl.

It wasn’t until the second half of the book that I started getting more into it. I truly almost put it down in the beginning because I just couldn’t connect with anyone or anything. Even the Shakespeare sometimes made me cringe (especially Emily’s attempts at Shakespearean language). While I’m not a Shakespearean purist by any means, I do think it needs to be treated with respect. And I didn’t really feel like this book did that, so it was off-putting to me as an English teacher/nerd. For the normal reader? It’s probably not a huge deal.

The second half, as I mentioned, was better. I understood the friendships better and Emily was less of a Danger-Prone-Daphne. If only the Emily that existed there could have existed throughout most of the book.

I also struggled with some of the characters seeming like complete stereotypes. Amanda, Emily’s rival for the role of Juliet and Wes’s affections, is your textbook Queen Bee. Vicious, popular, manipulative, and nasty, Amanda is every Mean Girl we hated in school. But it’s completely a caricature rather than feeling like an actual character. It just wasn’t fun to read.

I think part of my problem was with the writing style.  It was very obvious.  I mean, you can tell so much information from the first sentence alone, like an info-dump there.  I’m not saying the whole book was an info-dump, but it was one of those where the surprises were never subtle.  It was one where Emily would say things like, “Why should I do that?  That’ll never happen.”  And then it does.  Like 10 times over.  Rinse, wash, repeat.  It’s only funny like twice.
But I did still kinda like it because it was still entertaining after I understood what was going on. It just wasn’t as great as I was hoping.

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Romeo & Juliet (2013)

The most dangerous love story ever told.

I’m just going to start this by admitting that I’ve read this play roughly 4 times (and nearly all of that because of schoolwork) and that, while the story does seem romantic at times, Romeo and Juliet are kind of idiots.  I love the story, but you can tell they’re just kids making dumb decisions.  Ok?  On with it.

Do I really need to break down the plot for this?  Please tell me I don’t.

Ok.  We’ll start with the good.  First of all, the settings/set design for this movie is fabulous.  This is something I generally don’t pay attention to, but my God, it was all stunning.  I think it’s partly because it’s leaps and bounds ahead of the 60s version of this movie and more historically accurate than the Baz Luhrmann version.  It was striking.  It was beautiful.

Also, this was adapted/written by Julian Fellowes of Downton Abbey fame and it shows.  This is the only version I can think of where characters like the Nurse and Friar Lawrence (called “Father” Lawrence in this movie) have a real chance to shine.  Most movies cut them out to give our main kiddos more love scenes.  But it was just fantastic to see the more minor characters (even Lord and Lady Capulet!) step a little further into the light.

I thought that the casting was also excellent.  I really liked Hailee Steinfeld’s performance as Juliet (though I have seen other reviews that said she wasn’t pretty enough?  I though she was pretty.  And besides, Juliet’s only supposed to be like 13 and trust me, 13-year-olds have not grown into their looks).  And Douglas Booth was great as Romeo, though I admittedly spent more time looking at his cheek/jaw bones rather than actually paying attention to his acting.  That boy has a very pretty face.

But the most surprising casting choices that soared were those of Lord Capulet, Father Lawrence, and Nurse.  Damian Lewis brings a light-hearted attitude to Lord Capulet that does occasionally turn dangerous.  But it’s perhaps the first portrayal of Lord Capulet where I really felt like he loved his daughter.  Nurse (played by Lesley Manville) was funny and charming and caring.  I loved that she had a bigger role than usual.  And Paul Giamatti as Father Lawrence…who would’ve thought that would work?  Giamatti brought to the role this quick wit, hope, and just enough shifty-eyed attitude to make him seem like he’s always scheming up something.

Even through all of this, there were some things that were…well, not what I expected.

For example, there is very little Shakespearean dialogue in this movie.  A lot of it that is here comes from the most famous lines.  The balcony scene.  The chorus introduction.  The death scene.  And a few random lines between here and there that are famous.

And some of the scenes were changed.  Like how the whole movie starts off out a jousting match between Tybalt and Mercutio.  Here I was quoting along with the chorus in the first two minutes of the movie before I had to stop and figure out exactly what was happening.  A joust?  Really?  Admittedly, the movie is usually quite close to the play, but there are definitely striking differences at crop up.

So to sum up: great casting and set design, little of Shakespeare’s actual words.  But hey, there are also some pretty kicking sword fights.  I guess that makes up for something?

Still Star-Crossed

First Lines: In fair Verona’s streets, the sun was hot.  Late summer was upon the city, and the sun, oh, it beat.

I forget how I first heard about this book.  I think it cropped up on Goodreads under books I may be interested in.  (It’s one of the few times Goodreads is right on that.)  It sounded fascinating, and it was just my luck that it happened to be faced out on a shelf at the library, waiting for me.

It would seem that Romeo and Juliet’s deaths were in vain.  The families, sworn to be at peace with each other, are brawling in the streets as they always have.  And Prince Escalus has had enough of death.  He believes the only way to end the feud is to publicly marry the two families together.  He chooses the most eligible Montague bachelor, Benvolio, and  the Capulet maiden, Rosaline.  Both are still hurting from the deaths in their families.  Benvolio has lost his best friend and Rosaline feels responsible for all the bloodshed of the summer.  But that does not mean Rosaline and Benvolio want to be married.  No, they despise each other…but they may have to work together to end the feud once and for all.

I’m a self-professed nerd when it comes to fiction like this.  I love reinventing old stories, especially Shakespearean ones.  And this book put a different twist on Romeo and Juliet.  I mean really, what does happen after the lovers die?  Would the families of Verona just up and stop fighting or is it more complicated than that?  I loved that this book ran with that idea.

I admit, I may have read this all in one day.  It was just so good.  I was shamelessly addicted to it.  I really loved the language, all the ’tis and thy and thou.  It made it seem like it was really Shakespearean (even though it’s much easier to understand than Shakespeare).

I thought the plot was pretty spectacular.  (I wouldn’t have finished the book in one day if it wasn’t, right?)  There are a lot of twists and turns I didn’t anticipate.  And there’s a mystery going on that needs to be solved that was really cool.

But it was the characters that I liked the best.  Benvolio is probably the most well-known character going into the story.  We know him from the original play.  And he’s pretty true to that character.  As are the other characters from the original work.

The characters are just so great.  They’re all distinct.  And you understand what they’re feeling, as the narration jumps between 3-4 characters usually.  (In total, I think the book follows 5-6 narrators.)  That was really easy to follow, just as a note.

I feel like I’m not doing this book justice.  It was amazing.  It gave me all the feels.  And just talking about it again now makes me want to reread it.

Prince of Shadows

First Lines: I stood in the dark corner of my enemy’s house, and thought of murder.  In his bed, Tybalt Capulet snored and drooled like a toothless old woman.

When I knew that Rachel Caine was writing a take on Shakespeare, I knew it was going to go on my to-read list.  I mean, I’ve read the entirety of the Morganville Vampires series and as an English nerd, I’m a fan of Shakespeare.  And I love alternate fiction.

In Verona, the Montagues and Capulets are only after one thing: power.  Boys are weapons in which to fight their war; the girls are currency to buy more political influence.  Benvolio has known all of this for as long as he can remember.  He fully expects that he will die for the Montagues at some point in his presumably short life.  By day, he is a Montague sword.  By night, he is the infamous Prince of Shadows, the most famous and ambitious thief in Verona.  He steals from the conceited and arrogant who slight those in his family.  One fateful robbery takes him to the house of the Capulets, where he lays eyes on the plain but beautiful Rosaline…and may rewrite the story of his doomed household.

When I started this, I was super excited.  I’m always looking for alternate fiction like this because I think it really cuts at another layer of this much-told story.

Unfortunately, I just didn’t like it as much as I thought I would.  First of all, it seemed to take nearly half of the book before we really got into the meat of Romeo and Juliet.  I was expecting this to be the play, but from Benvolio’s perspective.  Only it wasn’t.  Which is ok, but it was a little bit of a let-down from what I had thought it would be.

And some of the backstory it tells was really great.  Like Benvolio’s sister, who is actually quite spiteful and hateful but still somewhat sympathetic through Benvolio’s eyes.  And the reasoning how the “curse on both your houses” comes about.

What I didn’t like so much was Benvolio’s thieving, ironically enough.  It’s not that I’m morally against it in these stories; if I’m ok with Robin Hood (and I am), then I should be fine with Benvolio.  But it just felt a little out of place, and I never shook that.  Also, I wasn’t really a fan of Mercutio at all in this story, which was really disappointing.  I felt that he was an entirely different character in the play than in this story.  And he has a very traumatic backstory here that just never quite felt realistic.

I think really, I just found the story to be a bit too cluttered.  Benvolio’s right in the middle of nearly everything that happens in the play, and all the backstory going on didn’t help matters.  He’s pulled in 20 different directions, but the main 3 plots seemed to follow what Mercutio was doing, what Romeo shouldn’t be doing, and what Benvolio wanted.  And those three were in a constant flux.  It was just too much about everyone else and too little about Benvolio.

On the upside, I was quite thrilled with Rosaline’s part in the whole thing.  I like that in modern retellings, she’s taking a larger role.  And she’s quite clever.  I’m always a fan of that.

Overall, I just thought the story was going to go in a different direction than it did.  If I had gone into it with more realistic ideas of how the story would be told, I might have liked it more.

Spotlight Friday (95)

Hey everyone!  I hope no one was too frozen this week with this polar vortex that hit the US.  That said, here are some new books that are guaranteed to warm your heart!  🙂  Sorry, really bad attempt at humor.

Such Sweet Sorrow by Jenny Trout

Release Date: February 4, 2014

Summary (from Goodreads)Never was there a tale of more woe than this of Juliet and her Romeo…But true love never dies. Though they’re parted by the veil between the world of mortals and the land of the dead, Romeo believes he can restore Juliet to life, but he’ll have to travel to the underworld with a thoroughly infuriating guide.

Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, may not have inherited his father’s crown, but the murdered king left his son a much more important responsibility—a portal to the Afterjord, where the souls of the dead reside. When the determined Romeo asks for help traversing the treacherous Afterjord, Hamlet sees an opportunity for adventure, and the chance to avenge his father’s death.

In an underworld filled with leviathan monsters, ghoulish shades, fire giants and fierce Valkyrie warriors, Hamlet and Romeo must battle their way through jealousy, despair, and their darkest fears to rescue the fair damsel. Yet finding Juliet is only the beginning, and the Afterjord doesn’t surrender souls without a price…

What’s To Like: I can readily admit that I’m a bona fide English nerd.  When I saw that this had to do not only with Romeo but with Hamlet too, I geeked out.  They’re both two of my favorite Shakespearean plays.  But I absolutely love this twist on it with the underworld and (apparently) some Norse mythology thrown in as well.  Can this possibly be bad?  I don’t think so.

The Sound of Letting Go by Stasia Ward Kehoe

Release Date: February 6, 2014

Summary (from Goodreads)For sixteen years, Daisy has been good. A good daughter, helping out with her autistic younger brother uncomplainingly. A good friend, even when her best friend makes her feel like a third wheel. When her parents announce they’re sending her brother to an institution—without consulting her—Daisy’s furious, and decides the best way to be a good sister is to start being bad. She quits jazz band and orchestra, slacks in school, and falls for bad-boy Dave. 

But one person won’t let Daisy forget who she used to be: Irish exchange student and brilliant musician Cal. Does she want the bad boy or the prodigy? Should she side with her parents or protect her brother? How can she know when to hold on and when—and how—to let go?

What’s To Like: I’m always drawn to these stories, partly because I think they resonate in some way with everyone.  We’ve all had moments where we felt like our parents were treating us like children, even though we felt like adults.  We all want to try to be someone else, but we may not go the same way Daisy does and completely abandon our old personalities.  Still, this already feels real and I want to see what Daisy goes through.

All That Glows by Ryan Graudin

Release Date: February 11, 2014

Summary (from Goodreads): Emrys—a fiery, red-headed Fae—always embraced her life in the Highlands, far from the city’s draining technology, until she’s sent to London to rejoin the Faery Guard. But this isn’t any normal assignment—she’s sent to guard Prince Richard: Britain’s notorious, partying bad boy and soon-to-be King. The prince’s careless ways and royal blood make him the irresistible for the dark spirits that feed on mortals. Sweet, disheveled, and alive with adventure—Richard is one charge who will put Emrys’s magic and heart to the test.

When an ancient force begins preying on the monarchy, Emrys must hunt through the London’s magical underworld, facing down Banshees, Black Dogs and Green Women to find the one who threatens Richard’s life. In this chaos of dark magic, palace murders and paparazzi, Emrys finds herself facing an impossible choice. For despite all her powers, Emrys has discovered a force that burns brighter than magic: love.

What’s To Like: I’m drawn to this book for a number of reasons, not the least of which being that it’s written by a guy.  Did you catch that?  I honestly think this is the first YA book about faeries that I’ve ever seen written by a guy.  That’s absolutely fascinating, and I’m excited to see what he brings to the table.  I also like how this includes not only fae, but the British monarchy.  It sounds like it’s going to combine adventure, romance, old-fashioned times with modern technology (the combination of fae and the prince), and hopefully some really good sass.  I can’t see someone like Emrys being a pushover.

My review of All That Glows.

When You Were Mine

First Lines: Shakespeare got it wrong.  His most famous work, and he completely missed the mark.

As an English Major, well, I’m kind of a fan of Shakespeare.  I’m not one of the rabid avid fans who can quote back portions of each play back to you, but I tend to enjoy his works.  And since Romeo and Juliet is perhaps his best known work, it’s not a surprise that a lot of YA books use it as a source.

You thought you knew the story, but you don’t.  Set in modern USA, Rosaline Caplet is best friends with the gorgeous Rob Monteg.  And when they start falling for each other, life couldn’t be any better.  Until Rosaline’s cousin Juliet shows up and steals Rob away from Rose.  Rose knows that Juliet isn’t exactly mentally stable, which makes her fear for Rob’s life.  While Shakespeare didn’t tell the right story, he certainly didn’t get it wrong…

Hmm…what do I want to say about this?  I suppose I should begin with saying that it was just a smidgen hard to get into early on.  I guess I’m spoiled from other books where I can connect in the first two or three lines with the main character.  Rose is very speech oriented at times, and it bogs things down.  It’s probably the author’s thoughts shining through more than Rose’s personality.  Anyway, it took a while for characters to fully develop.  And even then, I still feel like Rob was sort of a flat character.  We’re shown a lot of Rob in flashbacks, but not a lot of his current personality shines through and I picked up on that.  It’s not a big issue, but it sort of dulls the sympathy you have for him.

I liked how closely the story stayed to the play and how it diverged.  It wasn’t as predictable as you would think.  Juliet is made out very quickly to be the enemy, which is different from the play for sure.  I was worried that since it was set in modern times, it wouldn’t be as good but it worked out well.  Rose is given some very cool (if somewhat flat, again) friends and putting it in a high school just gives the story a more realistic feel…in that you can imagine 17 year olds thinking this person is “the one” after like, one date.  I certainly did this at 17.

It was cute, definitely.  Small bits are kind of cornball, I admit, especially when it comes to R&J stuff.  But Rose is still a good protagonist and there’s a bit of a mystery going as to why Juliet and Rose are the enemies they are.  Still, if you tend to read these Shakespearian rewrites, this is just up your alley.

Lady Macbeth’s Daughter

First Lines: The nameless baby lay on the cold ground, wrapped in a woolen cloth.  An owl hovered overhead and seemed to clutch a shred of cloud in its talons, drawing it across the moon like a blanket.

I read Macbeth in high school in my senior English class.  It was a little weird (I’m not the biggest fan of Shakespeare’s tragedies), but I thought it was cool that it was based off actual people.  I mean, Shakespeare was writing about people 500 years in the past, his time.  Imagine trying to research that.

Lady Macbeth’s Daughter is a fictionalization of Macbeth in which Macbeth has a daughter soon after his marriage to Lady Macbeth.  Macbeth desperately wants a son, only to have a daughter with a gimpy leg.  Macbeth orders her left to die in the woods.  However, she’s rescued by three witches (foreshadowing…) and is raised by them.  They name her Albia.  As Albia grows, she becomes bound to the fate of Macbeth, who is ruining Scotland with his kingship.  Albia goes to live with Banquo and his son, Fleance.  Albia has to save Scotland and with Banquo’s family behind her, she feels maybe she can do it.

I realized as I was reading that I had more of an outline of what happened in Macbeth to follow than I had a detailed map of what exactly happened.  This is probably best because I wasn’t reading too deeply into it.  It was more for enjoyment while I knew what was supposed to happen next.

I liked Albia’s spunk.  She didn’t want to take no for an answer from anyone and she was willing to stand up to the King (her father who didn’t know she lived).  That’s some serious spunk since the King was killing anyone who so much as looked at him wrong.

The supporting characters were pretty neat too.  Some were made up for the sake of the story, such as Colum, a shepherd who took care of Albia’s family’s sheep.  Others, like Fleance and Banquo, were just amazing to see more of.  I commented on an earlier post about liking to see what goes on in the heads of characters I know.  This is my way of getting that.

This isn’t the first book Lisa Klein has written that tackles Shakespeare.  She’s also written Ophelia, which I highly recommend if you wondered what Ophelia’s story was while reading Hamlet.  I had to reread Hamlet this year and I couldn’t help but seamlessly include what I’d read about Ophelia into it.