Wednesday, April 26, 2017

William Shakespeare on TV, The Midnight Queen by Sylvia Izzo Hunter, Dangerous to Know by Renee Patrick and A Vintage Affair by Isabel Wolff

Just a few days ago theater folk everywhere celebrated Shakespeare's birthday, on April 24, so I was delighted to see that there's a new show about William Shakespeare in the works, albeit with a young man playing Will as a punk-rocker of his time. 

TV: Will

TNT has set July 10 as the premiere for its "young Shakespeare drama"
titled Will
Deadline reported, adding that the series stars Laurie Davidson as
William Shakespeare "and chronicles his wild 20s in the punk-rock
theater scene of 16th century London." The cast also includes Olivia
DeJonge, Ewen Bremner, Colm Meaney, Mattias Inwood, Jamie Campbell
Bower, William Houston, Lukas Rolfe, Max Bennett and Jasmin Savoy Brown. 
"Theater back then was like punk rock," said series creator Craig Pearce
at TCA in January. "It was a completely revolutionary form of
entertainment, something for the masses, and... was really rapidly
evolving." Pearce is writing and co-executive producing the project.

The Midnight Queen by Sylvia Izzo Hunter was one of those books that, once I had hold of a copy, looked and sounded so familiar that I was afraid I'd already read it. Fortunately, the story is good enough that it's perfectly fine if I have, because I enjoyed the second reading and becoming reacquainted with the characters. This is another of those YA books that is enjoyable for adults and teens alike. The book's protagonists are Gray Marshall, an Oxford student, and Sophie Callendar, a young woman who has been told that women/girls can't be schooled in magic, and whose stepfather has cast a spell to suppress her natural siren-style magic of singing and playing music. Gray is an impoverished student who is roped into a deadly game with his classmates that ends in one of them dying, and Gray being imprisoned at Professor Callendar's home. Here is the blurb: In the hallowed halls of Oxford’s Merlin College, the most talented—and highest born—sons of the Kingdom of Britain are taught the intricacies of magickal theory. But what dazzles can also destroy, as Gray Marshall is about to discover…
Gray’s deep talent for magick has won him a place at Merlin College. But when he accompanies four fellow students on a mysterious midnight errand that ends in disaster and death, he is sent away in disgrace—and without a trace of his power. He must spend the summer under the watchful eye of his domineering professor, Appius Callender, working in the gardens of Callender’s country estate and hoping to recover his abilities. And it is there, toiling away on a summer afternoon, that he meets the professor’s daughter.

Even though she has no talent of her own, Sophie Callender longs to be educated in the lore of magick. Her father has kept her isolated at the estate and forbidden her interest; everyone knows that teaching arcane magickal theory to women is the height of impropriety. But against her father’s wishes, Sophie has studied his ancient volumes on the subject. And in the tall, stammering, yet oddly charming Gray, she finally finds someone who encourages her interest and awakens new ideas and feelings.

Sophie and Gray’s meeting touches off a series of events that begins to unravel secrets about each of them. And after the king’s closest advisor pays the professor a closed-door visit, they begin to wonder if what Gray witnessed in Oxford might be even more sinister than it seemed. They are determined to find out, no matter the cost…
The somewhat convoluted plot and "Victorian" prose, which is overwritten and full of flourishes don't help tell this tale, but it's a testament to Hunter's storytelling abilities that the story shines through regardless. A solid B for this one, with a recommendation to anyone interested in Steampunk fantasy or historical fantasy with a romantic subplot.

Dangerous to Know by Renee Patrick, the second Lillian Frost/Edith Head mystery, was slihgtly more complex than the first one, but just as entertaining and full of deliciously gossipy secrets of the stars of yesteryear. I really enjoyed the debut novel from this husband and wife writing duo, so I was pleasantly surprised that they managed to avoid the sophomore slump that so many authors succumb to. Party planner Lillian ends up in a real pickle on the eve of World War 2, and has to call upon her level-headed mentor, the fabulous Edith Head, costume designer to the stars at Paramount Pictures, to help her solve the whodunnit of the murder of a young composer. Here's the blurb:
Los Angeles, 1938. Former aspiring actress Lillian Frost is adjusting to a new life of boldfaced names as social secretary to a movie-mad millionaire. Costume designer Edith Head is running Paramount Pictures’ wardrobe department, but only until a suitable replacement comes along. The two friends again become partners thanks to an international scandal, a real-life incident in which the war clouds gathering over Europe cast a shadow on Hollywood.
Lillian attended the Manhattan dinner party at which well-heeled guests insulted Adolf Hitler within earshot of a maid with Nazi sympathies. Now, secrets the maid vengefully spilled have all New York society running for cover – and two Paramount stars, Jack Benny and George Burns, facing smuggling charges.
Edith also seeks Lillian’s help on a related matter. The émigré pianist in Marlene Dietrich’s budding nightclub act has vanished. Lillian reluctantly agrees to look for him. When Lillian finds him dead, Dietrich blames agents of the Reich. As Lillian and Edith unravel intrigue extending from Paramount’s Bronson Gate to FDR’s Oval Office, only one thing is certain: they’ll do it in style.
Renee Patrick's Dangerous to Know beguilingly blends forgotten fact and fanciful fiction, while keeping Hollywood glamour front and center.
I just love knowing that the incidents in the book, and most of the characters, are real, and the things that happened actually occurred and were hushed up by the studios, though the gossip columnists of the day certainly let the cat out of the bag anyway. I also really enjoy the fictional interactions of stars like Marlene Dietrich with Lillian and Edith, because it really brings these Golden Age film stars to life again. The prose is snappy and fun, and the plot moves along like a Coney Island roller coaster, so I'd give this second Lillian and Edith mystery an A, and recommend it to anyone interested in the glamorous and secretive Hollywood of the past.

A Vintage Affair by Isabel Wolff was one of those novels that looked to be right up my alley, but also looked like a novel I'd read before, about a woman who owns a vintage clothing shop. The one I'd read before takes place on a small Island somewhere, however, and this book takes place in London, so they're different takes on a similar story. Phoebe Swift puts her heart into her vintage clothing business, and though many of her family don't support her, she develops friends who do, and while on a buying trip, she develops a friendship with Therese Bell, an elderly Frenchwoman who tells her a story about a small blue handmade coat that she was supposed to give to a childhood friend, but was unable to do so when that friend, who was Jewish, was captured by Nazis during WWII. Phoebe has similar guilty feelings about being unable to save a needy friend whose boyfriend she felt she'd stolen. Here's the blurb:
Every dress has a history. And so does every woman.
Phoebe Swift’s friends are stunned when she abruptly leaves a plum job to open her own vintage clothing shop in London—but to Phoebe, it’s the fulfillment of a dream, and her passion. Digging for finds in attics and wardrobes, Phoebe knows that when you buy a piece of vintage clothing, you’re not just buying fabric and thread—you’re buying a piece of someone’s past. But one particular article of clothing will soon unexpectedly change her life.

Thérèse Bell, an elderly Frenchwoman, has an impressive clothing collection. But among the array of elegant suits and couture gowns, Phoebe finds a child’s sky-blue coat—an item with which Mrs. Bell is stubbornly reluctant to part. As the two women become friends, Phoebe will learn the poignant tale of that little blue coat. And she will discover an astonishing connection between herself and Thérèse Bell—one that will help her heal the pain of her own past and allow her to love again.
I was surprised at the elegance of the prose in this novel, and the waltz-like plot that seemed to float along and was over before you know it. I was also surprised at the mystery of what happened to Therese's friend, and how immersed and invested I became in her story. I wasn't expecting to find this book so compelling that I couldn't put it down, but I did, and I read it in one sitting. A well deserved A for this book, and a recommendation to anyone who finds vintage clothing intriguing and the stories behind each piece fascinating
as well as those who are intrigued by stories of what happened to those who escaped death in the concentration camps of WWII.

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