Thursday, May 31, 2018

Book Note: As I Descended

Talley, Robin. As I Descended. New York: HarperTeen, 2016.

As I Descended is a young adult novel that is derivative of Macbeth. Its title comes from a question Macbeth asks not long after the murder of Duncan.

This version of the plot is set in an upper-crust boarding school with a history of ghosts and supernatural activity. Indeed, our Macbeth analogue is tempted into action when a Ouija board says "Usted conseguirá lo que más desea" (20)—you will have what you most desire.

The novel generally follows the plot of the play, but the characters have been changed along with the setting.  Our Macbeth and Lady Macbeth are Maria and Lily, a lesbian couple. Duncan is Delilah, the top student and soccer player. The Kingdom of Scotland is the college scholarship for which they're competing.

All in all, it's a compelling read, but it does take agency away from the characters and give it to a myriad of ghosts, figures from folklore, and other supernatural creepy things. Some sample pages follow.  Note: The extracts below are not appropriate for all readers.

The first encounter with the supernatural elements in the novel:

Maria starts to realize that the spirits are telling the truth:

Lily persuades Maria to put drugs in Delilah's glass so that she'll test positive on the upcoming drug test and lose her chance at playing on the soccer team or winning the scholarship:

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Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Book Note: Exit, Pursued by a Bear

Johnson, E. K. Exit, Pursued by a Bear. New York: Speak, 2017.

In Exit, Pursued by a Bear, we're off to cheerleading camp for a Winter's Tale retelling—for the first part of the book.

Hermione and Leo have been a couple, but he's starting to become jealous—and not just of her and other guys. He's also jealous of her ideas and her cheerleading performance.

But things suddenly change.

Then, during a fireside camp activity, Hermione is administered a "date rape" drug and is raped. She wakes up in the hospital, uncertain of what happened or who did it. The rest of the novel addresses the aftermath—including determining who was responsible and how he did it.

The novel deals with those deep issues in a sophisticated way, not pulling any punches with the serious nature of the crime and its consequences.

It's not exactly my cup of tea, and it does deviate from Shakespeare's plot after following it for a while, but it's an interesting novel that opens doors for conversation.

Here's an extract from relatively early in the novel so you can get a feel for it.

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Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Book Note: New Boy

Chevalier, Tracy. New Boy. London: Hogarth Shakespeare, 2017.

Hang on tight, everyone, this may take a while. This will be a roundabout way of talking about Tracy Chevalier's New Boy, but it's one way of getting my point across.

Have you heard the music of Alison Krauss? She's astonishing. She's won twenty-seven Grammy awards—twenty-seven!—and she's recorded tons of amazing music. She's even released an album with Robert Plant of Led Zeppelin fame.

I trust you're following me so far. We have an amazing performer who is known for an incredible singing voice.

Have you heard her sing "Ghost in this House"?

Let's all take a quick listen:

Listen to that astonishing voice. It has an unbelievable clarity to it. Listen to the "up" and the "down" in the lines "I don't keep this place up; / I just keep the lights down." You can slice that note anywhere you want and you'll get exactly the same segment—it's beyond comprehension. It's like a giant salami of sound, cured to perfection.

So . . . amazing performing . . . incredible voice.

But what she's singing is little more than drivel. The melody is great; the voice is superb. But the lyrics leave an enormous amount to be desired. I listen to the song entirely because of the voice.

Note: For a better marriage of voice, melody, and lyrics, listen to Alison Krauss sing the Beatles' "I will."  

Another Note: I have the same complaint—as seemingly-unthinkable as it might be—about Adele. She needs to cover more Dylan, sing more gospel numbers, or do the Cole Porter Songbook. Put that voice to better use, Adele, than singing codswallop like "Rumor Has It." 

I told you that to tell you this.

Tracy Chevalier's New Boy is very well-written, has an excellent concept involving race, and presents a number of intriguing voices.

But it just doesn't work.

The primary reason for that is its setting. The plot of Othello is played out in the grade-school classroom. That's a place for jealousies and rivalries, of course, but the idea of Dee "going with" Casper behind Osei's back lacks gravitas, to put it mildly. I suppose a handkerchief is a light enough object, so the idea of a strawberry pencil case replacing it isn't too far off. But the rest of the plot does not work in the setting, however well-written it might be.

Here are a few sample pages, starting with Dee's first lie to Osei.

Ian (our Iago analogue) tempts Osei in this section:

Finally, Osei lashes out at Dee:

Again, the book is well-written and interesting, but, all in all, it doesn't succeed.

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Bonus: Alison Krauss singing "I Will":

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Book Note: Paint

Tiffany, Grace. Paint. Tempe: Bagwyn, 2013.

Grace Tiffany has written a number of historical / biographical novels about Shakespeare. Witness her Will: A Novel (for which, q.v.) and her Shakespeare had a Daughter (for which, q.v.).

In Paint, she takes on the mystery of the sonnets, telling the story of Emilia Lanier, the woman some people name as the Dark Lady of the Sonnets.

Frankly, I'm more interested in Shakespeare in Star Trek than in theories about the Dark Lady—though they do sometimes overlap (for which, q.v.). But this novel is well-written and fairly interesting.

I'll just give you a quick sample from the first third of the novel and let you decide if it's your cup of tea or not.

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Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Book Note: The Shakespeare Stories

Matthews, Andrew. The Shakespeare Stories. Illus. Tony Ross. Croydon: Orchard Books, 2015.

This delightful collection of sixteen Shakespeare plays retold for early readers has only recently come to my attention.

These are more than fabulous introductions to the plots of the plays. Each one has a brief essay at the end that opens up some of the questions raised by the play in question.

And they're illustrated by Tony Ross, who is deeply influenced by Quentin Blake (who illustrated many of the Roald Dahl books). I find the illustrations to fit the plots and their retellings perfectly.

Let me show you what I mean—and, just so you know, the books are available individually as well as in the box set pictured here, so if you just need the Hamlet, you can get it.

Speaking of Hamlet, here's The Shakespeare Stories' take on it:

Matthews, Andrew. Hamlet: A Shakespeare Story. Illus. Tony Ross. Croydon: Orchard Books, 2015.

I'm very fond of the Hamlet for its illustrations and its clarity of plot presentation, but it does reveal one critique I have of all the stories: it needs more Shakespeare! I know that they're designed for early readers, but Shakespeare has many passages that are clear and comprehensible, and working those in would provide a terrific foundation for kids reading the plays later. couldn't they work in "to be or not to be" in the section that provides Hamlet's POV during the big soliloquy?

But let me give you a substantial portion of this retelling of the play. Each retelling has a brief dramatis personae, so we'll start with that, and then we'll get Hamlet's most famous soliloquy and some interaction with Ophelia.

Matthews, Andrew. The Tempest: A Shakespeare Story. Illus. Tony Ross. Croydon: Orchard Books, 2015.

We can turn to The Tempest quickly—for two main reasons. First, I like the way Caliban is presented. He's a monster, but a sympathetic rather than a scary one. Second, the second spread below shows that the books do incorporate quotations from Shakespeare—but not as part of the retelling . . . just as interludes or epigraphs.

Matthews, Andrew. Twelfth Night: A Shakespeare Story. Illus. Tony Ross. Croydon: Orchard Books, 2015.

I wanted to provide a sample of the short essays as well, so here is the one for Twelfth Night, which I thought was just right for opening questions about the play—getting readers to start thinking about what they've just encountered in a retelling and preparing them for what they may encounter in a future, fuller version of the play.

All in all, these are highly recommended additions to family libraries, school libraries, and personal libraries. And they make fantastic gifts from Shakespearean aunts and uncles to potential Shakespearean nieces and nephews.

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Monday, May 7, 2018

Book Note: Queen Lear

Conley, Ellen Alexander. Queen Lear. N.p.: N.p. 2013.

It's another self-published Shakespeare novel!

This time, I'm not reading it all the way through. I read the opening, skimmed a bit, found it to be not too compelling and too full of easy profanities, and sent it back to the library.

But I'll also call your attention to it so you can either grab it (if it's your cup of tea) or avoid it (if it isn't).

Letty Lear is a real estate mogul who divides her empire between her three kids (and their kids). Then things become complicated, though the plot from there on doesn't closely follow Shakespeare's.

In any case, here are the first few pages—with some censored words.

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Friday, May 4, 2018

Book Note: Peril at End House

Christie, Agatha. Peril at End House. New York: Bantam, 1988.

I'm sure Dame Agatha Christie was asked—far more often than she liked—where she got the ideas for her novels.

I think I can answer where she got one of the ideas in Peril at End House, a novel from the early 1930s.

Actually, it's Hercule Poirot's idea, but I imagine Dame Agatha had something to do with it.

I'll tell you the plot point and then provide the text to support it.

In the novel, several attempts have been made on the life of Mademoiselle Nick Buckley. After the last, Hercule Poirot has put her in a private hospital with strict instructions that she should see no one but him and Hastings and that she should eat no outside food. Unwisely, she eats a chocolate that she thought was sent by Poirot himself and becomes very—but not dangerously—ill.

That's when Poirot has the idea. See if you can figure out where he may have gotten the idea. It starts about halfway down page 142 below (click on the images to enlarge them):

Where could he have thought of such a thing?

I'll just provide you with a quick speech from Friar Francis in Much Ado About Nothing:
                                            Pause awhile,
And let my counsel sway you in this case.
Your daughter here the princes left for dead:
Let her awhile be secretly kept in,
And publish it that she is dead indeed. (IV.i.200-04)
Poirot's motives are a little different—he wants to smoke out the attempted murderer—but the plot is the same!

I'll let you read the novel to determine whether the end is more like Much Ado's or Romeo and Juliet's.

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Bardfilm is normally written as one word, though it can also be found under a search for "Bard Film Blog." Bardfilm is a Shakespeare blog (admittedly, one of many Shakespeare blogs), and it is dedicated to commentary on films (Shakespeare movies, The Shakespeare Movie, Shakespeare on television, Shakespeare at the cinema), plays, and other matter related to Shakespeare (allusions to Shakespeare in pop culture, quotes from Shakespeare in popular culture, quotations that come from Shakespeare, et cetera).

Unless otherwise indicated, quotations from Shakespeare's works are from the following edition:
Shakespeare, William. The Riverside Shakespeare. 2nd ed. Gen. ed. G. Blakemore Evans. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1997.
All material original to this blog is copyrighted: Copyright 2008-2039 (and into perpetuity thereafter) by Keith Jones.

The very instant that I saw you did / My heart fly to your service; there resides, / To make me slave to it; and, for your sake, / Am I this patient [b]log-man.

—The Tempest