So as you guys know, I announced a little more than a week ago that I would be participating in this year’s Retelling-a-Thon… specifically Shakespeare Week! Retelling-a-Thon is actually a pretty small little readathon. It’s hosted by Frayed Books, and this week was hosted by Harker over at The Hermit Librarian, so a big heaping thanks to the both of them for this fun little readathon!
For Shakespeare week, I committed to reading seven books in my original announcement post. To review, these were:
- Foul is Fair by Hannah Chapin
- Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead by Tom Stoppard
- Tandem by Anna Jarzab
- Lords and Ladies by Terry Pratchett
- Bright Smoke, Cold Fire by Rosamund Hodge
- Speak Easy, Speak Love by McKelle George
- Hag-Seed by Margaret Atwood
So lets see how all that played out and let me tell you a little about the books and what I thought of them. As I mentioned in my announcement post, I definitely did not read these in order of the challenges and sort of focused on audiobook due dates and mixing up longer and shorter books.
#1. Tandem by Anna Jarzab
So about three days before the readathon, I checked my tagged audiobooks for the readathon and panicked because Hag-Seed was no longer available. I immediately put it on hold, and borrowed Tandem. So, um, I actually ended up listening to the whole of Tandem before the start of Shakespeare Week. Oops.
I actually quite liked this book, though. I’ve tried a few different YA multiverse books, and it’s a big topic to handle even at the best of times. I thought Tandem managed that aspect really well. Because of all the worldbuilding, the pacing of this book was really slow. As an audiobook, it really helped that I could speed up the narrator. All in all, I liked it.
Now, as far as a Twelfth Night retelling goes… I’m not sure it was very successful. If anything, Tandem is “inspired by” and “contains” Twelfth Night rather than being a pure retelling. It did require one character to step into another’s life… but for me, that was where the similarities ended.
>> Read: Before the Readathon (oops).
>> Challenges: Read a Twelfth Night retelling.
#2. Foul is Fair by Hannah Chapin
Foul is Fair was one of the reasons I joined this readathon in the first place – it worked perfectly for one of the challenges, and was one of the last remaining books on my High Priority TBR. Guys, my NetGalley rating is now at 100% and I FEEL SO FREE. I’m going to give it a couple months (maybe more! *gasp*) before requesting more eARCs.
This book was incredibly intense and so easy to read. Honestly, I struggle with the ebook format… but this one had me hooked. Even where the book itself had some flaws (mainly the fact that it was SUPER unrealistic), the writing style pulled me right through and it was forgivable. It’s filled with triggers, though, so tread carefully.
Foul is Fair is a Macbeth retelling and guys… confession. I haven’t actually read Macbeth. I know bits and pieces of it and I’m clever enough to call it “The Scottish Play” in theatres, but that’s it. I jus never ran across it in my schooling, and while I have a copy, it’s part of a HUGE paperback Shakespeare collection with tissue paper pages and I struggle to read it…. BUT. From my limited understanding of the play… I feel like this was probably a really good modernization from Lady Macbeth’s POV.
>> Read: Day 1.
>> Challenges: Read a Macbeth retelling.
#3. Bright Smoke, Cold Fire by Rosamund Hodge
Bright Smoke, Cold Fire comes in as my choice for a Romeo and Juliet retelling. I expected a tragic love story in this book, but I didn’t expect a fog settling over the world, leaving behind hordes of the undead. Necromancer stories in YA are pretty few and far between. They’re also one of the subgenera I really enjoy – they’re dark and unpredictable and there’s a lot of potential. So as soon as I got settled into the worldbuilding, I had pretty high expectations for this one.
Unfortunately, I didn’t really feel as though this was the most successful book. Like Rosamund Hodge’s writing style a lot, but there was a lot of things happening here and the book as a whole felt directionless, with a lot of redundant scenes. There were also a lot of potentially interesting scenes that were skipped right over. Altogether, not the strongest of her works.
In the case of Bright Smoke, Cold Fire, the retelling really got in the way. The story was interesting when you took out the Romeo and Juliet bits. I think she tried overly hard to integrate the names and aspects of the play, and it took away from the other half of the story. I’m not sure if it all reconciles in book two, but I didn’t love this as much as I wanted to.
>> Read: Day 2.
>> Challenges: Read a Romeo and Juliet retelling.
#4. Lords and Ladies by Terry Pratchett
Coming straight off another Discworld novel in my last readathon, I was keen to add another of Terry Pratchett’s novels to my TBR for this readathon. The Light Fantastic had been a light, easy, fun read and I was hoping for the same from Lords and Ladies.
Again, this didn’t quite go as planned. Lords and Ladies tells an interesting story, and it feels separate from the Discworld universe. I actually enjoyed the storylines and I enjoyed the witches. It was just a bit more dense and serious than what I was looking for this time.
As far as retellings go, I think Lords and Ladies was one of the more successful ones in this readathon. As a retelling of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, it had all the elements of the play that I wanted to see. On top of that, it maintained the spirit of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, which I think is so important in a retelling.
>> Read: Day 3.
>> Challenges: Read an A Midsummer Night’s Dream retelling.
#5. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead by Tom Stoppard
This was my Halmet retelling choice because I’ve heard my theatre friends talk about the play before and also I heard it was funny. All that besides, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead is a short book (because it’s a play) and it’s really nice to mix those in when you’re doing a readathon. Sort of a nice refresher, you know?
Ultimately for this one, I had to slow down my reading and really focus, because I found myself a bit lost. I haven’t read Hamlet since high school, and I have no doubt that hindered me further. I think those with a fresher experience of the play will do better with this one. My ultimate decision on Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead was that it’s be happier seeing the play than reading it.
For retelling quality, I think this play did a great job. It’s almost fan fiction in nature, choosing to single out two minor character from Hamlet and using them to discuss things like death, mortality, and reality. The play weaves through their interactions from time to time, but they don’t overlap one another so much that the effect is lost. Honestly, it’s really well done.
>> Read: Day 3.
>> Challenges: Read a Hamlet retelling.
#6. Hag-Seed by Margaret Atwood
After starting her MasterClass last month, I’ve been wanting to dig into another one of Margaret Atwood’s books. Have you ever noticed that once you see an author, their work just seems to live more vibrantly? That’s how I’m feeling about Margaret Atwood.
Generally, I thought it was a really good book. As with most of her writing, Hag-Seed was just a little bit outside my comfort zone, story wise. The other two books I’ve read by her have both been dystopians (The Handmaid’s Tale and Oryx and Crake) so going in for a pure contemporary revenge tale? A bit of a change. A good one, though!
This was an excellent retelling of The Tempest. Weaving the actual play into the story as a performance that provided cover for Felix’s true intentions was a brilliant choice, and I liked the way the story both was The Tempest and took time to actually analyze the play. I thought everything came together really successfully, and to be honest? I expected nothing less.
>> Read: Day 4.
>> Challenges: Freebie! I chose to make it a retelling of The Tempest.
#7. Speak Easy, Speak Love by McKelle George
Speak Easy, Speak Love has been on my TBR for a while because I absolutely adore the 1920s and I love Much Ado About Nothing. There was a little buzz around this book when it first came out, but it seemed to fadein the background pretty quickly, so I hadn’t heard many reviews. I’m really excited to feature it, because it was a great book.
McKelle George didn’t stop at speakeasies and flappers. She built several other aspects of the 20s as well, including but not limited to the Charles Lindbergh flight and frankly? My historian heart was so happy. So the atmosphere is fantastic, but the story was lovely and witty without being overly sappy.
The alignment between Speak Easy, Speak Love and Much Ado About Nothing is fantastic. The characters all get a good amount of screen time – I was really worried it would be a sappy romance between just Bea and Ben but I felt like the whole spirit of the original story was there. I thought that all the character were really well represented and true to themselves. This was my favorite book of the readathon!
>> Read: Day 5.
>> Challenges: Freebie! I chose to make it a retelling of Much Ado About Nothing.
#8. Vinegar Girl by Anne Tyler
Since I finished Tandem before the start of the readathon, I felt like I had cheated a little and so I wanted to add another book to my list. Since I had more trouble choosing a Twelfth Night retelling than any other, I decided not to choose another one of those, but instead went for a completely different play. Also, since I enjoyed Hag-Seed, another Hogarth Shakespeare seemed like a good choice.
This was a really short book, so I had a bit of trouble reconciling my thoughts? I thought it was pretty underwhelming as a whole. The characters weren’t given much time to develop and instead they fell into stereotypes. There wasn’t enough build up to the twists for me to feel invested? Generally an underwhelming book, but at least it was short!
Writing a modern retelling of The Taming of the Shrew is challenging. It’s too easy for those relationships to be toxic and for women to be portrayed as objects. Literally tamable? Like a wild animal. At the end of the day, only one of the storylines was taken from the play and the message it tried to put across – that a person’s choice is their own despite anyone’s opinion – got a bit lost in the last few pages.
>> Read: Day 6.
>> Challenges: Freebie! I chose to make it a retelling of The Taming of the Shrew.
That’s it! Eight books! I don’t think any of them blew me away? I liked Hag-Seed and Speak Easy, Speak Love but I did not feel like any of these books were WOW WOW WOW. I’m not sure if I picked the wrong books for these challenges, but I feel like there’s still a lot of room out there for variety and improvement. Fairytale retellings are so popular – I’d absolutely love to see more Shakespeare retellings!
I will say, I’m really glad I participated in this because it allowed me to push up some of my TBR items and i was a bit of a change from what I had been reading. I do feel like I’m getting a bit burnt out after three readathons in a row, so I’m probably going to slow down my reading a bit more for the next few weeks!
Are you a Shakespeare person? I definitely am, but I’m always felt in the minority. The language in the plays is a bit difficult to swallow if you aren’t feeling it, so I get it! Tell me where you stand on the Bard in the comments!