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Speak Easy

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3.74  ·  Rating details ·  578 ratings  ·  132 reviews
"If you go looking for it, just about halfway uptown and halfway downtown, there’s this hotel stuck like a pin all the way through the world. Down inside the Artemisia it’s this mortal coil all over. Earthly delights on every floor."

The hotel Artemisia sits on a fantastical 72nd Street, in a decade that never was. It is home to a cast of characters, creatures, and
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Hardcover, Limited, 144 pages
Published August 31st 2015 by Subterranean Press
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Average rating 3.74  · 
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 ·  578 ratings  ·  132 reviews


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Althea Ann
Feb 01, 2016 rated it it was ok
Quite certainly, the author had an enormous amount of fun writing this. However, it failed to grab me. I found the dense, faux-1920's slang a slog to get through; it made the short book feel far longer than it actually is; and I didn't feel that the story contained enough of a payoff.

The events take place in a hotel which is a metaphor for the world - paradise up top and the underworld in the basement. In this hotel, along with a bohemian rag-bag of eccentric denizens, lives Zelda Fair, a
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Algernon (Darth Anyan)
Apr 27, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2016

A novella of the Jazz Age by a master storyteller, or how to make words put on their glad rags and go dancing the charleston, get drunk on illicit liquor and take the reader on yet another wild, exhillaranting ride through a world both familiar and incredibly weird. The scene is a town that goes by many names, yet is unmistakable in its energy and deviousness. The time is Christmas week 1924:

There’s this ragamuffin city out east, you follow? Sitting pretty with a river on each arm, lit up in
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Caro
After waiting a great deal of time for this book to arrive (you'd think that pre-ordered copies would arrive on time!) I finally got around to reading Valentes new venture into surrealism.
The novella itself is short, and the description already gives everything away without spoiling the entire tale so I won't repeat the content and skip ahead directly to my thoughts.
The writing, as always, was brimming with creativity.
The style, while directed to an adult audience, reminded me a lot of the
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Jon
Sep 03, 2015 rated it it was amazing
This is a retelling of The Twelve Dancing Princesses set during the prohibition era 1920s and focuses on the lives of the residents and staff of the Artemisia, a New York hotel where movie stars rub shoulders with gangsters, artists and politicians; a beacon of hope for the wannabes of the city - the writers, the chorus girls, the 'stars-to-be' - where anybody who wants to be somebody eventually finds themselves; an opulent, hedonistic playground where anything and everything goes.

Zelda Fair
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Margaret
Zelda Fair finds a door in her closet, opens it with a steak bone, and follows it down and through walls to Al's--a Bacchus-like fairy--party scene in the basement of the Artemisia hotel. And Frankie (F. Scott Fitzgerald) follows her.

The last 3 chapters are the most powerful in the novel--particularly knowing that the real F. Scott Fitzgerald plagiarized parts of Zelda's diary. I almost wish this had been a short story, because the rest, while I could tell was a lot of fun for Valente to write,
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Lisa
I am going to exalt an Unpopular Opinion, which I’m sure in Internet will interpret as hate. If you would be so kind, blame my English lit background — if I cannot unpack something, what’s the point of living?

Speak Easy is, as foretold by the back cover summary, a mixture of Twelve Dancing Princesses with the origin of Zelda Sayre (here Fair) with F. Scott Fitzgerald (here Frankie Key) love story with a dash of "The Great Gatsby" thrown in, "Flappers and Philosophers" and "The Jazz Age" as
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Erika
Dec 12, 2015 rated it really liked it
Fans of Valente will certainly not find themselves let down by this novella. Set in a fantastical Jazz Age New York in the Artemisia hotel, Speak Easy follows the paths of a number of characters, but the heart of the story lies in Zelda Fair. Zelda's a truly remarkable character--a little unruly, very determined, just the teensiest bit aloof, and beloved by all.

I had the best time reading this book. I was captivated for the few hours I spent reading it, and continue to be fascinated by the world
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Vanessa
“It’s… it’s so direct, you know? You look at a painting and it fills you up. You read a book and sometimes it’s so good you feel like you could live on it. And now we do live on it. Everyone does. It’s perfect. You should try it.”

Alternate versions of Zelda Fitzgerald (Zelda Fair), Francis Scott Fitzgerald (Frankie Key) and Al Capone (Al) living in an hotel, Artemisia, whose basement is a fantastic reality? + Roaring Twenties, prohibition and "The Twelve Dancing Princesses" reinvented?
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G.
May 24, 2016 rated it really liked it
Nobody came without their sequins roaring. Hell, without sparkle, you were as good as naked in the Artemisia. And oh yes, King Gin and Queen Whiskey and their little bouncing baby Champagne showed up first and left last. Screwing in the bathroom, dancing on the tabletops, giggling on the rug.

Not so much a retelling as a reimagining of The Twelve Dancing Princesses set during the prohibition. In a fishtank of a hotel called Artemisia, which is a world onto itself, Valente's smart-mouthed narrator
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Cathy
I feel lucky that my library system got one of the limited edition, signed copies of this book. It definitely has a similar creative and fantastical tone to the Fairyland books, but was aimed at an adult audience. It was just a bit overwhelming, the constant barrage of imagery and allusions didn't give me a chance to breathe. There was a lot about it that was creative and charming and lovely and unsettling and realistic even in the way it described adult emotions and actions. It was just a lot ...more
Whitney Milam
Jun 18, 2015 rated it it was amazing
SEARING AND STUNNING. In total awe - as per usual when finishing a book by Catherynne M. Valente - but this one was so specifically everything I could possibly desire from a dark surrealist fairytale about the Fitzgeralds. Killer conceptual execution and prose to die for.
Karl
Sep 26, 2015 marked it as to-read
This is copy 506 of 1250 copies signed and numbered by Catherynne M. Valente.
Clare
Jul 10, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Catherynne M. Valente was the Guest of Honor at this year's Readercon, so, although I was trying to be frugal, I just had to get one of her books -- signed, preferably. I've only read two of her other novels and a few short stories, but that's enough to know that she's an absolutely genius storyteller. Her work varies pretty widely in tone and theme, but it's always dense with allusions and myth and the prose is so gorgeous and vivid it makes you want to read it out loud to somebody.

Speak
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Fats
Jan 12, 2019 rated it liked it
If she could see where the elevator was hiding, she'd run to beat the four minute mile. Instead, she talks, because even at the end of the whole world, Zelda Fair could talk the ear off an elephant. She laughs her patented oh-get-over-your-fine-self laugh and bolts on her good-time-girl smile.

When I started reading this book, I felt hopeful and got excited. The prologue read like it came straight out of Frank Miller's Sin City, with a noir vibe. Speak Easy is set in the 1920s, during the
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Gabrielle
This book has everything it needed to make me fall in love with it, and it worked. I am obsessed with the roaring 20’s, I love fairy tale retellings, I worship beautiful language and I yearn for magic. Enter Catherynne M. Valente. The woman who writes as if she lived in my dreams…

“Speak Easy” is a short, stunning novella retelling the “Twelve Dancing Princesses”, a fairy tale I hadn’t even hear of before, using thinly disguised versions of Zelda and F. Scott Fitzgerald as the main characters.
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Christina
Speak Easy is a retelling of one of my favorite fairy tales, featuring my favorite literary couple, in one of my favorite time periods, by one of my favorite short story authors. Needless to say, I bought this ebook the minute I saw on Goodreads that it had been released so that I could read it right away.

I had SUCH high hopes for this, but I didn't love it as much as I thought I would. The story has a clear focus in probably the first and last quarters of the book, but it really flounders in
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Book Riot Community
Set at the hotel Artemisia in a decade that never was, Speak Easy is a fantastical story of bootlegger fairy tales, jazz and organized crime, through which the lovely Zelda must navigate. Valente reinterprets The Twelve Dancing Princesses if Zelda Fitgerald was the main character, and delivers a fun tale unlike anything else. She is, as always, a brilliant storyteller and fantastic weaver of worlds.


Tune in to our weekly podcast dedicated to all things new books, All The Books:
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Champaign Public Library
Aug 27, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: staff-recommends
Recommended by Rebecca K.

Don't listen to the bookflap, this slim fable is more like a jazz-era Eurydice & Orpheus than 12 Dancing Princesses. In search of respect, meaning, and agency, a flapper named Zelda who rooms with two other artistic women in the Hotel Artemisia finds hooch, parties, a pelican…and a very small door. Expect period lingo and find unexpected messages about the strength and worth of women during America's first period of liberation. Fits in a purse and can be read in a
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Kate
Did I put this both on the "historical fiction" shelf and the "fantasy" shelf? I sure did! Fight me.

This isn't my favorite Cat Valente, but even a so-so Valente is pretty good. I won't spoil the central conceit of the novel--you'll probably pick up what historical "thing" is her focus right away--and I enjoyed that very much. The world-building took up a lot of time, though, and the style of it was meant to be fun but felt like a lot of scenery-chewing to me. (Maybe I just didn't "get it"?)
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Amanda Prado
this is a 140 page novella that read like a 340 page novel - as in it took me a long ass time to get through it. the low rating reviews that call this writing style too dense, over the top, mildly difficult to follow along, and therefore way too slow for a novella are right - i like that kind of thing but i understand its not for everyone. if you dislike "over the top" writing, better skip this one. if you dont have a problem with that, then make sure you also dont have a problem with a story ...more
Orinoco Womble (tidy bag and all)
Prose can't carry a novel, as I have said before. I enjoyed about the first half, but then it became more of a fever-dream or bad LSD trip. You don't have to be high to appreciate this novella, but I bet it would really help. The driving metaphor became a bit too obvious, and the symbolism just stood up and shouted at the reader. By the end I was glad it was over. Convoluted language does not a great writer make.
Aimee
Feb 23, 2017 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
I had to force myself to finish this book. Had it been 20 pages longer, I would have decided it was absolutely not worth it.
The book comes across as trying way, way too hard. It's written in fast, tumbling "20s speak" style where sentences are 3 paragraphs long and fit in 10 similes in a single sentence. The book is 95% description, and 5% plot/action, and that may be generous. I'm all for lush description, but this just seemed to be description for description's and cleverness' sake. While
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Ashley Libey
Dec 01, 2015 rated it liked it
I had mixed feelings about this novella as I was reading it.

On the positive side of things, Catherynne M. Valente’s writing is, as always, beautiful, luxurious and complex. This is a book that makes you slow down as you read in order to absorb all the details. And they’re definitely details you won’t want to miss. The world of the Artemisia is absolutely fabulous. It’s bursting with life and if it were a real place, you’d hurt your neck trying to look around at everything.

On the other hand, the
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Amy
Oct 08, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This novella, hoo boy…

It's a retelling of the "12 Dancing Princesses" fairytale, by way of Alice in Wonderland (if you squint really hard…and stand on your head), set in a bathtub-gin-and-LSD-soaked hotel in the 1920s at the height of Prohibition/the flapper era. A blue elfin (?) mob boss (who may or may not also be God) plays a part and fictionalized versions of F Scott & Zelda Fitzgerald figure prominently. Reading this makes you feel like you're having a Nyquil-induced fever dream in
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Lark
Nov 09, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: fantasy
This is a Cat Valente book, and with those words I already know that I will love this book. Her rich, velvety prose, the longing in her words, the strangeness of her world and how familiar it is anyway. Speak Easy takes you straight into the 20's of the prohibition and speakeasies and where there is the underground debauchery, "morphine like a quicksilver dream, laudanum like white honey, and the infinite, all-forgiving bubble-sea of wet-hot happy juice", girls and dandies and bellhops. It's an ...more
Chris
Dec 11, 2016 rated it liked it
Shelves: fantasy
An interesting retelling of the "12 dancing princesses" story, recast in Jazz Age finery in an evocative hotel-slash-speakeasy full of interesting characters, following a stand-in for Zelda Fitzgerald as she descends into its fantastic underworld. The writing is vibrant and lush---it captures the real-life Zelda's style, full of metaphor and literary flourishes---but overall it comes on very strong, a triumph of style over substance. Perhaps too strong for me; I appreciated it, but I didn't fall ...more
Melani
Oct 20, 2015 rated it liked it
Shelves: fantasy
Zelda Fair lives in hotel Artemisia, and it’s the hotel of your 1920’s dreams. There are parties on every floor and Zelda is the toast of all of them. Frankie, a poor bellhop, is besotted with her. And Al, the underground ruler of it all, steals her away. Catherynne Valente took Zelda Sayre, F. Scot Fitzgerald, the roaring 20s, Prohibition, and the fairy tale of The 12 Dancing Princess then chewed them up with her lovely language and spit out this novella.

Review can be found here
Sarah
I'd been wanting to read this for ages, and then the strangest thing happened: I discovered it on my e-reader. My non-internet-connected, only-downloads-things-i-own-directly-from-my-computer ancient Kobo. Magic is clearly afoot.
Claire
Mar 18, 2016 rated it liked it
Shelves: fantasy
To be fair, I won a copy of this book by chance. It's not one I picked for myself.

I'd give it a 2.5. The narrator writes in heavy 1920s lingo/slang, so if you're not into that, you probably want to read something else.
Marina
Dec 22, 2015 rated it liked it
This book must be what an acid trip feels like.
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Catherynne M. Valente was born on Cinco de Mayo, 1979 in Seattle, WA, but grew up in in the wheatgrass paradise of Northern California. She graduated from high school at age 15, going on to UC San Diego and Edinburgh University, receiving her B.A. in Classics with an emphasis in Ancient Greek Linguistics. She then drifted away from her M.A. program and into a long residence in the concrete and ...more
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“She's got a man's nightshirt on and stockings with holes in them. Somebody else's tie, a gold and green chevroned number, hangs around her neck and just at this moment it looks like a king's mantle draped over her shoulders. Her hair's all loose, her lipstick and eyeliner gone a-roving. She's got a cigar in one hand and a jar full of gin in the other, and she's laughing, laughing like for once that damned chicken crossed the road for something really good.” 7 likes
“Funniest thing about love, how it shakes loose when no one's looking. How the dark helps it along. Maybe that's why we dug caves so much, way back when.” 2 likes
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