Most Anticipated 2021 Releases

Although, like 99% of book bloggers, one of my reading resolutions is (yet again) to read more backlist titles, it’s fun to look ahead to the shiny new releases coming out each year. Last year I read 16 of my 26 most anticipated new releases, which I think is pretty decent! Here are some 2021 releases that have captured my attention. Summaries are in smaller font above and come from goodreads, my thoughts are below that.

Cover of Summerwater by Sarah Moss

Summerwater by Sarah Moss
January 12th
FSG

They rarely speak to each other, but they take notice—watching from the safety of their cabins, peering into the half-lit drizzle of a Scottish summer day, making judgments from what little they know of their temporary neighbors. On the longest day of the year, the hours pass nearly imperceptibly as twelve people go from being strangers to bystanders to allies, their attention forced into action as tragedy sneaks into their lives.

At daylight, a mother races up the mountain, fleeing into her precious dose of solitude. A retired man studies her return as he reminisces about the park’s better days. A young woman wonders about his politics as she sees him head for a drive with his wife, and tries to find a moment away from her attentive boyfriend. A teenage boy escapes the scrutiny of his family, braving the dark waters of the loch in a kayak. This cascade of perspective shows each wrapped up in personal concerns, unknown to each other, as they begin to notice one particular family that doesn’t seem to belong. Tensions rise, until nightfall brings an irrevocable turn.

Like many bloggers, I really enjoyed Ghost Wall and Moss’ prose, so I’m curious about this one.

Picture of the cover of Dealbreaker by L.X. Beckett

Dealbreaker by L.X. Beckett
January 26th
Tor Books

Rubi Whiting has done the impossible. She has proved that humanity deserves a seat at the galactic table. Well, at least a shot at a seat. Having convinced the galactic governing body that mankind deserves a chance at fixing their own problems, Rubi has done her part to launch the planet into a new golden age of scientific discovery and technological revolution.

However, there are still those in the galactic community that think that humanity is too poisonous, too greedy, to be allowed in, and they will stop at nothing to sabotage a species determined to pull itself up.

I read Gamechanger, the first book in their Bounceback series in 2019 and thought it was a really exciting and underhyped debut with worldbuilding that was immersive, intricate, and completely believable as an extension of where our society is today. I suspect it’s going to me a little complicated for me to want to read while the pandemic is worse than ever, but I look forward to reading Dealbreaker in the Fall maybe?

Cover of Winter's Orbit by Everina Maxwell

Winter’s Orbit by Everina Maxwell
February 2nd
Tor Books

While the Iskat Empire has long dominated the system through treaties and political alliances, several planets, including Thea, have begun to chafe under Iskat’s rule. When tragedy befalls Imperial Prince Taam, his Thean widower, Jainan, is rushed into an arranged marriage with Taam’s cousin, the disreputable Kiem, in a bid to keep the rising hostilities between the two worlds under control.

But when it comes to light that Prince Taam’s death may not have been an accident, and that Jainan himself may be a suspect, the unlikely pair must overcome their misgivings and learn to trust one another as they navigate the perils of the Iskat court, try to solve a murder, and prevent an interplanetary war… all while dealing with their growing feelings for each other.

I’ve been burned too many times to put much stock in comp titles, but Ancillary Justice meets Red, White & Royal Blue sounds very much up my alley! Queer romance plus space politics? I have a mighty need! It’s also blurbed by some authors I really enjoy, including Ann Leckie, Emily Tesh, and Martha Wells, who compares it to another series I enjoy, Lois McMaster Bujold’s Vorkosigan Saga. Also, when I added this to my goodreads TBR list a close friend mentioned that she read and loved an original fanfiction version of this story.

Cover of The Witch's Heart by Genevieve Gornichec

The Witch’s Heart by Genevieve Gornichec
February 9th
Ace Books

Angrboda’s story begins where most witches’ tales end: with a burning. A punishment from Odin for refusing to provide him with knowledge of the future, the fire leaves Angrboda injured and powerless, and she flees into the farthest reaches of a remote forest. There she is found by a man who reveals himself to be Loki, and her initial distrust of him transforms into a deep and abiding love.

Their union produces three unusual children, each with a secret destiny, who Angrboda is keen to raise at the edge of the world, safely hidden from Odin’s all-seeing eye. But as Angrboda slowly recovers her prophetic powers, she learns that her blissful life—and possibly all of existence—is in danger.

With help from the fierce huntress Skadi, with whom she shares a growing bond, Angrboda must choose whether she’ll accept the fate that she’s foreseen for her beloved family…or rise to remake their future. From the most ancient of tales this novel forges a story of love, loss, and hope for the modern age.

This one is getting a lot of hype but I haven’t heard enough from trusted sources to know whether it will be to my tastes or not. I’m definitely intrigued by the summary and I have an interest in learning more about Norse mythology, but it’s not a priority for me.

Cover of The Echo Wife by Sarah Gailey

The Echo Wife by Sarah Gailey
February 16th
Tor Books

Martine is a genetically cloned replica made from Evelyn Caldwell’s award-winning research. She’s patient and gentle and obedient. She’s everything Evelyn swore she’d never be. And she’s having an affair with Evelyn’s husband.

Now, the cheating bastard is dead, and the Caldwell wives have a mess to clean up. Good thing Evelyn Caldwell is used to getting her hands dirty.

I loved Gailey’s Magic for Liars and this sounds really intriguing!

Cover of The Galaxy and the Ground Within by Becky Chambers

The Galaxy, and the Ground Within by Becky Chambers
February 16th 2021 

Harper Voyager

With no water, no air, and no native life, the planet Gora is unremarkable. The only thing it has going for it is a chance proximity to more popular worlds, making it a decent stopover for ships traveling between the wormholes that keep the Galactic Commons connected. If deep space is a highway, Gora is just your average truck stop.

At the Five-Hop One-Stop, long-haul spacers can stretch their legs (if they have legs, that is), and get fuel, transit permits, and assorted supplies. The Five-Hop is run by an enterprising alien and her sometimes helpful child, who work hard to provide a little piece of home to everyone passing through.

When a freak technological failure halts all traffic to and from Gora, three strangers—all different species with different aims—are thrown together at the Five-Hop. Grounded, with nothing to do but wait, the trio—an exiled artist with an appointment to keep, a cargo runner at a personal crossroads, and a mysterious individual doing her best to help those on the fringes—are compelled to confront where they’ve been, where they might go, and what they are, or could be, to each other.

The fourth book in Chambers’ Wayfarer series. I have to admit that I wasn’t quite as thrilled by the third installment as I was The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet and A Closed and Common Orbit, but with the pandemic still raging and my brain craving comfort food, Chambers’ soft hopepunk style could be exactly the right book at the right time.

A Desolation Called Peace by Arkady Martine 
March 2nd
Tor Books

An alien armada lurks on the edges of Teixcalaanli space. No one can communicate with it, no one can destroy it, and Fleet Captain Nine Hibiscus is running out of options.

In a desperate attempt at diplomacy with the mysterious invaders, the fleet captain has sent for a diplomatic envoy. Now Mahit Dzmare and Three Seagrass—still reeling from the recent upheaval in the Empire—face the impossible task of trying to communicate with a hostile entity.

Whether they succeed or fail could change the fate of Teixcalaan forever.

I really enjoyed A Memory Called Empire and although I’m not sure my pandemic fog brain can handle something as political, dense, and complicated as Martine’s writing can be right now, I will definitely be picking this up before the end of the year.

Cover of The Councillor by E.J. Beaton

The Councillor by E.J. Beaton
March 2nd
DAW

When the death of Iron Queen Sarelin Brey fractures the realm of Elira, Lysande Prior, the palace scholar and the queen’s closest friend, is appointed Councillor. Publically, Lysande must choose the next monarch from amongst the city-rulers vying for the throne. Privately, she seeks to discover which ruler murdered the queen, suspecting the use of magic.

Resourceful, analytical, and quiet, Lysande appears to embody the motto she was raised with: everything in its place. Yet while she hides her drug addiction from her new associates, she cannot hide her growing interest in power. She becomes locked in a game of strategy with the city-rulers – especially the erudite prince Luca Fontaine, who seems to shift between ally and rival.

Further from home, an old enemy is stirring: the magic-wielding White Queen is on the move again, and her alliance with a traitor among the royal milieu poses a danger not just to the peace of the realm, but to the survival of everything that Lysande cares about.

In a world where the low-born keep their heads down, Lysande must learn to fight an enemy who wears many guises… even as she wages her own battle between ambition and restraint.

I know very little about this, so it could be hit or miss, but it’s classified as Machiavellian political fantasy, which is definitely my jam.

Cover of The Lost Apothecary by Sarah Penner

The Lost Apothecary by Sarah Penner
March 2nd
Park Row

Rule #1: The poison must never be used to harm another woman.

Rule #2: The names of the murderer and her victim must be recorded in the apothecary’s register.

One cold February evening in 1791, at the back of a dark London alley in a hidden apothecary shop, Nella awaits her newest customer. Once a respected healer, Nella now uses her knowledge for a darker purpose—selling well-disguised poisons to desperate women who would kill to be free of the men in their lives. But when her new patron turns out to be a precocious twelve-year-old named Eliza Fanning, an unexpected friendship sets in motion a string of events that jeopardizes Nella’s world and threatens to expose the many women whose names are written in her register.

In present-day London, aspiring historian Caroline Parcewell spends her tenth wedding anniversary alone, reeling from the discovery of her husband’s infidelity. When she finds an old apothecary vial near the river Thames, she can’t resist investigating, only to realize she’s found a link to the unsolved “apothecary murders” that haunted London over two centuries ago. As she deepens her search, Caroline’s life collides with Nella’s and Eliza’s in a stunning twist of fate—and not everyone will survive.

With crackling suspense, unforgettable characters and searing insight, The Lost Apothecary is a subversive and intoxicating exploration of women rebelling against a man’s world, the destructive force of revenge and the remarkable ways that women can save each other despite the barrier of time.

One of my goals this year is to read more historical fiction, a genre I generally really enjoy but don’t pick up as often as I should and this looks like a great choice. It’s partly set in one of my favourite historical periods (Georgian England) and has a decidedly feminist slant that appeal to me.

Cover of The Unbroken by C.L. Clark

The Unbroken by C.L. Clark
March 23rd
Orbit

Touraine is a soldier. Stolen as a child and raised to kill and die for the empire, her only loyalty is to her fellow conscripts. But now, her company has been sent back to her homeland to stop a rebellion, and the ties of blood may be stronger than she thought.

Luca needs a turncoat. Someone desperate enough to tiptoe the bayonet’s edge between treason and orders. Someone who can sway the rebels toward peace, while Luca focuses on what really matters: getting her uncle off her throne.

Through assassinations and massacres, in bedrooms and war rooms, Touraine and Luca will haggle over the price of a nation. But some things aren’t for sale.

I believe this is a w/w fantasy and I saw it pop up at least once among fantasy authors I follow on Twitter so it sounds like something I’ll enjoy.

Picture of the cover of Hummingbird Salamander by Jeff Vandermeer

Hummingbird Salamander by Jeff Vandermeer
April 6th
MCD

Security consultant “Jane Smith” receives an envelope with a key to a storage unit that holds a taxidermied hummingbird and clues leading her to a taxidermied salamander. Silvina, the dead woman who left the note, is a reputed ecoterrorist and the daughter of an Argentine industrialist. By taking the hummingbird from the storage unit, Jane sets in motion a series of events that quickly spin beyond her control.

Soon, Jane and her family are in danger, with few allies to help her make sense of the true scope of the peril. Is the only way to safety to follow in Silvina’s footsteps? Is it too late to stop? As she desperately seeks answers about why Silvina contacted her, time is running out—for her and possibly for the world.

Honestly I’ve fallen behind on Jeff Vandermeer new releases but his book Borne made such a lasting impression on me that I keep adding his books to my TBR. Hopefully this will be the year when I read through both some of newer releases and his back catalogue. This eco-thriller does sound really intriguing!

Picture of the cover for Empire of Pain by Patrick Radden Keefe

Empire of Pain by Patrick Radden Keefe
April 13th
Doubleday

The Sackler name adorns the walls of many storied institutions: Harvard, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Oxford, the Louvre. They are one of the richest families in the world, known for their lavish donations to the arts and sciences. The source of the family fortune was vague, however, until it emerged that the Sacklers were responsible for making and marketing Oxycontin, a blockbuster painkiller that was a catalyst for the opioid crisis.

The one and only non-fiction book on my most anticipated list! Say Nothing was my favourite book of 2019 and I know shockingly little about the opioid crisis, so this seems like the perfect opportunity to learn more in a really compelling way.

Picture of the cover for Open Water by Caleb Azumah Nelson

Open Water by Caleb Azumah Nelson
April 23nd
Grove Press/Black Cat

Two young people meet at a pub in South East London. Both are Black British, both won scholarships to private schools where they struggled to belong, both are now artists – he a photographer, she a dancer – trying to make their mark in a city that by turns celebrates and rejects them. Tentatively, tenderly, they fall in love. But two people who seem destined to be together can still be torn apart by fear and violence.

At once an achingly beautiful love story and a potent insight into race and masculinity, Open Water asks what it means to be a person in a world that sees you only as a Black body, to be vulnerable when you are only respected for strength, to find safety in love, only to lose it. With gorgeous, soulful intensity, Caleb Azumah Nelson has written the most essential debut of recent years.

Thank you to Rachel for letting me know about this one, which looks really beautiful.

Picture of the cover for Fugitive Telemetry by Martha Wells

Fugitive Telemetry by Martha Wells 
April 27th
Tor.com

When Murderbot discovers a dead body on Preservation Station, it knows it is going to have to assist station security to determine who the body is (was), how they were killed (that should be relatively straightforward, at least), and why (because apparently that matters to a lot of people—who knew?)

Yes, the unthinkable is about to happen: Murderbot must voluntarily speak to humans!

Again!

Martha Wells’ Murderbot series continues to be a delight. I’ve never rated a book in the series below four stars and I’m really excited about this one, which features a murder mystery plot!

Picture of the cover for Ariadne by Jennifer Saint

Ariadne by Jennifer Saint
May 4th
Flatiron Books

As Princesses of Crete and daughters of the fearsome King Minos, Ariadne and her sister Phaedra grow up hearing the hoofbeats and bellows of the Minotaur echo from the Labyrinth beneath the palace. The Minotaur – Minos’s greatest shame and Ariadne’s brother – demands blood every year.

When Theseus, Prince of Athens, arrives in Crete as a sacrifice to the beast, Ariadne falls in love with him. But helping Theseus kill the monster means betraying her family and country, and Ariadne knows only too well that in a world ruled by mercurial gods – drawing their attention can cost you everything.

In a world where women are nothing more than the pawns of powerful men, will Ariadne’s decision to betray Crete for Theseus ensure her happy ending? Or will she find herself sacrificed for her lover’s ambition?

Ariadne gives a voice to the forgotten women of one of the most famous Greek myths, and speaks to their strength in the face of angry, petulant Gods. Beautifully written and completely immersive, this is an exceptional debut novel.

I’ve had a love of Greek mythology since childhood and although I don’t always love books based on myths, they can be brilliant. I’m really hoping this falls into the brilliant category.

Picture of the cover for Sorrowland by Rivers Solomon

Vern – seven months pregnant and desperate to escape the strict religious compound where she was raised – flees for the shelter of the woods. There, she gives birth to twins, and plans to raise them far from the influence of the outside world.

But even in the forest, Vern is a hunted woman. Forced to fight back against the community that refuses to let her go, she unleashes incredible brutality far beyond what a person should be capable of, her body wracked by inexplicable and uncanny changes.

To understand her metamorphosis and to protect her small family, Vern has to face the past, and more troublingly, the future – outside the woods. Finding the truth will mean uncovering the secrets of the compound she fled but also the violent history in America that produced it.

Rivers Solomon’s Sorrowland is a genre-bending work of Gothic fiction. Here, monsters aren’t just individuals, but entire nations. It is a searing, seminal book that marks the arrival of a bold, unignorable voice in American fiction.

I love Rivers Solomon’s books and will definitely be reading their latest work. I’m also very intrigued by this being gothic fiction!

Picture of the cover for Black Water Sister by Zen Cho

Black Water Sister by Zen Cho
May 11th
Ace

Jessamyn Teoh is closeted, broke and moving back to Malaysia, a country she left when she was a toddler. So when Jess starts hearing voices, she chalks it up to stress. But there’s only one voice in her head, and it claims to be the ghost of her estranged grandmother, Ah Ma. In life Ah Ma was a spirit medium, the avatar of a mysterious deity called the Black Water Sister. Now she’s determined to settle a score against a gang boss who has offended the god–and she’s decided Jess is going to help her do it.

Drawn into a world of gods, ghosts, and family secrets, Jess finds that making deals with capricious spirits is a dangerous business. As Jess fights for retribution for Ah Ma, she’ll also need to regain control of her body and destiny. If she fails, the Black Water Sister may finish her off for good.

I didn’t love her previous release, The Order of the Pure Moon Reflected in Water, but Sorcerer to the Crown is one of my all-time favourites. I love that this is set in Malaysia and is a contemporary fantasy. Also this cover is drop dead gorgeous!

Picture of the cover of A Master of Djinn by P. Djeli Clark

A Master of Djinn by P. Djèlí Clark
May 11th
Tor.com

Cairo, 1912: Though Fatma el-Sha’arawi is the youngest woman working for the Ministry of Alchemy, Enchantments and Supernatural Entities, she’s certainly not a rookie, especially after preventing the destruction of the universe last summer.

So when someone murders a secret brotherhood dedicated to one of the most famous men in history, al-Jahiz, Agent Fatma is called onto the case. Al-Jahiz transformed the world 50 years ago when he opened up the veil between the magical and mundane realms, before vanishing into the unknown. This murderer claims to be al-Jahiz, returned to condemn the modern age for its social oppressions. His dangerous magical abilities instigate unrest in the streets of Cairo that threaten to spill over onto the global stage.

Alongside her Ministry colleagues and her clever girlfriend Siti, Agent Fatma must unravel the mystery behind this imposter to restore peace to the city – or face the possibility he could be exactly who he seems…. 

I really enjoyed Clark’s novella set in the same alternate Cairo, The Haunting of Tram Car 015, and I’m looking forward to seeing more of Agent Fatma.

Picture of the cover of The Chosen and the Beautiful by Nghi Vo

The Chosen & The Beautiful by Nghi Vo
June 1st
Tor.com

Immigrant. Socialite. Magician.

Jordan Baker grows up in the most rarefied circles of 1920s American society―she has money, education, a killer golf handicap, and invitations to some of the most exclusive parties of the Jazz Age. She’s also queer, Asian, adopted, and treated as an exotic attraction by her peers, while the most important doors remain closed to her.

But the world is full of wonders: infernal pacts and dazzling illusions, lost ghosts and elemental mysteries. In all paper is fire, and Jordan can burn the cut paper heart out of a man. She just has to learn how.

Nghi Vo’s debut novel reinvents this classic of the American canon as a coming-of-age story full of magic, mystery, and glittering excess, and introduces a major new literary voice.

One of my most hotly anticipated for sure. I’ve heard glowing reviews and Vo’s The Empress of Salt and Fortune was one of my favourite 2020 reads. I still need to read The Great Gatsby, but I honestly cannot wait for this queer immigrant twist on a classic!

Photo of the cover for One Last Stop by Casey McQuiston

One Last Stop by Casey McQuiston
June 1st
St. Martin’s Griffin

For cynical twenty-three-year-old August, moving to New York City is supposed to prove her right: that things like magic and cinematic love stories don’t exist, and the only smart way to go through life is alone. She can’t imagine how waiting tables at a 24-hour pancake diner and moving in with too many weird roommates could possibly change that. And there’s certainly no chance of her subway commute being anything more than a daily trudge through boredom and electrical failures.

But then, there’s this gorgeous girl on the train.

Jane. Dazzling, charming, mysterious, impossible Jane. Jane with her rough edges and swoopy hair and soft smile, showing up in a leather jacket to save August’s day when she needed it most. August’s subway crush becomes the best part of her day, but pretty soon, she discovers there’s one big problem: Jane doesn’t just look like an old school punk rocker. She’s literally displaced in time from the 1970s, and August is going to have to use everything she tried to leave in her own past to help her. Maybe it’s time to start believing in some things, after all.

Casey McQuiston’s One Last Stop is a magical, sexy, big-hearted romance where the impossible becomes possible as August does everything in her power to save the girl lost in time.

Like so many others I fell hard for Red, White, and Royal Blue. Even though I took issue with its very American slant, shallow depiction of an alternate British royal family, and some of the prose, I still loved it and I’m very excited to see what McQuiston does next.

Picture of the cover for The Wolf and the Woodsman by Ava Reid

The Wolf and the Woodsman by Ava Reid 
June 8th

Voyager

In her forest-veiled pagan village, Évike is the only woman without power, making her an outcast clearly abandoned by the gods. The villagers blame her corrupted bloodline—her father was a Yehuli man, one of the much-loathed servants of the fanatical king. When soldiers arrive from the Holy Order of Woodsmen to claim a pagan girl for the king’s blood sacrifice, Évike is betrayed by her fellow villagers and surrendered.

But when monsters attack the Woodsmen and their captive en route, slaughtering everyone but Évike and the cold, one-eyed captain, they have no choice but to rely on each other. Except he’s no ordinary Woodsman—he’s the disgraced prince, Gáspár Bárány, whose father needs pagan magic to consolidate his power. Gáspár fears that his cruelly zealous brother plans to seize the throne and instigate a violent reign that would damn the pagans and the Yehuli alike. As the son of a reviled foreign queen, Gáspár understands what it’s like to be an outcast, and he and Évike make a tenuous pact to stop his brother.

As their mission takes them from the bitter northern tundra to the smog-choked capital, their mutual loathing slowly turns to affection, bound by a shared history of alienation and oppression. However, trust can easily turn to betrayal, and as Évike reconnects with her estranged father and discovers her own hidden magic, she and Gáspár need to decide whose side they’re on, and what they’re willing to give up for a nation that never cared for them at all.

This apparently features enemies to lovers as well as Hungarian history and Jewish myth, which certainly sounds unique, but it’s this tweet that made a friend and I both add it to our TBRs:

Picture of a tweet by author Shelley Parker-Chan that reads If the idea of an exquisitely tormented, one-eyed, celibate, Catholic prince going down on his knees is for you, Ava is doing a giveaway of The Wolf and the Woodsman
Picture of the cover for The Hidden Palace by Helene Wecker

The Hidden Palace by Helene Wecker
June 8th
Harper

Chava is a golem, a woman made of clay, able to hear the thoughts and longings of the people around her and compelled by her nature to help them. Ahmad is a jinni, a perpetually restless and free-spirited creature of fire, imprisoned in the shape of a man. Fearing they’ll be exposed as monsters, these magical beings hide their true selves and pretend to be human—just two more immigrants in the bustling world of 1900s Manhattan. Having encountered each other under calamitous circumstances, Chava and Ahmad’s lives are now entwined—but they’re not yet certain of what they mean to each other.

Each has unwittingly affected the humans around them. Park Avenue heiress Sophia Winston, whose brief encounter with Ahmad left her with a strange illness that makes her shiver with cold, travels to the Middle East to seek a cure. There she meets a tempestuous female jinni who’s been banished from her tribe. Back in New York, in a tenement on the Lower East Side, a little girl named Kreindel helps her rabbi father build a golem they name Yossele—not knowing that she’s about to be sent to an orphanage uptown, where the hulking Yossele will become her only friend and protector.

Spanning the tumultuous years from the turn of the twentieth century to the beginning of World War I, The Hidden Palace follows these lives and others as they collide and interleave. Can Chava and Ahmad find their places in the human world while remaining true to each other? Or will their opposing natures and desires eventually tear them apart—especially once they encounter, thrillingly, other beings like themselves?

It’s finally here!! I read The Golem and the Jinni back in 2013 and the sequel has been in progress for years but finally has a publication date and a cover! I really need to re-read the first one but I remember absolutely loving it and I’m really hoping this lives up to my high expectations.

Picture of the cover for The Witness for the Dead by Katherine Addison

The Witness for the Dead by Katherine Addison
June 22nd
Tor Books

When the young half-goblin emperor Maia sought to learn who had killed his father and half-brothers, he turned to an obscure resident of his Court, a Prelate of Ulis and a Witness for the Dead. Thara Celehar found the truth, though it did him no good to discover it

.Now Celehar lives in the city of Amalo, far from the Court though not exactly in exile. He has not escaped from politics, but his position gives him the ability to serve the common people of the city, which is his preference. He lives modestly, but his decency and fundamental honesty will not permit him to live quietly.

Is 2021 the year of long-awaited sequels? This is the follow-up one of my all-time favourite books, 2014’s The Goblin Emperor. Its protagonist Maia is also one of my favourite literary characters and I absolutely cannot wait to see more of him and Addison’s worldbuilding in this.

Picture of the cover for The Last Graduate by Naomi Novik

The Last Graduate by Naomi Novik
July 6th
Del Rey Books

At the Scholomance, El, Orion, and the other students are faced with their final year—and the looming specter of graduation, a deadly ritual that leaves few students alive in its wake. El is determined that her chosen group will survive, but it is a prospect that is looking harder by the day as the savagery of the school ramps up. Until El realizes that sometimes winning the game means throwing out all the rules .

A Deadly Education was one of my 2020 favourites and I’m looking forward to seeing how the story progresses!

Picture of the cover for A Psalm for the wild-built by Becky Chambers

A Psalm for the Wild-Built by Becky Chambers
July 13th
Tor.com

It’s been centuries since the robots of Earth gained self-awareness and laid down their tools.
Centuries since they wandered, en masse, into the wilderness, never to be seen again.
Centuries since they faded into myth and urban legend.

One day, the life of a tea monk is upended by the arrival of a robot, there to honor the old promise of checking in. The robot cannot go back until the question of “what do people need?” is answered.

But the answer to that question depends on who you ask, and how.
They’re going to need to ask it a lot.

Becky Chambers’ new series asks: in a world where people have what they want, does having more matter?

I’ve enjoyed Becky Chambers’ hopepunk style of writing with diversity, optimism, and intriguing world-building and I’m looking forward to seeing what else she can do outside of the Wayfarers series.

Picture of the cover for She who became the sun by Shelley Parker-Chan

She Who Became the Sun by Shelley Parker-Chan
July 20th
Tor Books

“I refuse to be nothing…”

In a famine-stricken village on a dusty yellow plain, two children are given two fates. A boy, greatness. A girl, nothingness…

In 1345, China lies under harsh Mongol rule. For the starving peasants of the Central Plains, greatness is something found only in stories. When the Zhu family’s eighth-born son, Zhu Chongba, is given a fate of greatness, everyone is mystified as to how it will come to pass. The fate of nothingness received by the family’s clever and capable second daughter, on the other hand, is only as expected.

When a bandit attack orphans the two children, though, it is Zhu Chongba who succumbs to despair and dies. Desperate to escape her own fated death, the girl uses her brother’s identity to enter a monastery as a young male novice. There, propelled by her burning desire to survive, Zhu learns she is capable of doing whatever it takes, no matter how callous, to stay hidden from her fate.

After her sanctuary is destroyed for supporting the rebellion against Mongol rule, Zhu takes the chance to claim another future altogether: her brother’s abandoned greatness.

Probably my most anticipated title of the year. I absolutely cannot wait to get my hands on this. There has been so much positive buzz from people I trust and it sounds very much like my kind of fantasy.

A Marvellous Light by Freya Marske
November 2nd
Tor Books

Robin Blyth has more than enough bother in his life. He’s struggling to be a good older brother, a responsible employer, and the harried baronet of a seat gutted by his late parents’ excesses. When an administrative mistake sees him named the civil service liaison to a hidden magical society, he discovers what’s been operating beneath the unextraordinary reality he’s always known.

Now Robin must contend with the beauty and danger of magic, an excruciating deadly curse, and the alarming visions of the future that come with it—not to mention Edwin Courcey, his cold and prickly counterpart in the magical bureaucracy, who clearly wishes Robin were anyone and anywhere else.

Robin’s predecessor has disappeared, and the mystery of what happened to him reveals unsettling truths about the very oldest stories they’ve been told about the land they live on and what binds it. Thrown together and facing unexpected dangers, Robin and Edwin discover a plot that threatens every magician in the British Isles—and a secret that more than one person has already died to keep.

One of my other most anticipated releases this year is Freya Marske’s debut. I’ve followed Marske on twitter for awhile now because she is a fellow Lymond fan and she’s also very into The Untamed, which I’m obsessed with. I suspect that means we enjoy the same tropes. I’ve heard a lot of good buzz about this one and can’t wait to read it!


There’s no way I’m going to get through all of these, but there are a lot of exciting new releases to turn to (and to pre-order from your local indie bookstore!) What upcoming books are you most excited about? Comment and let me know.

Most Disappointing Reads of 2020

2020 was a topsy-turvey year of reading for many of us, what with that whole global pandemic thing happening. While some books provided a comforting refuge or allowed us to escape from what was going on around us, others failed to meet expectations. Reading is always subjective and not all of these are bad books per se, they’re just books that, for one reason or another, left me underwhelmed.

The Angel of the Crows by Katherine Addison
My rating:
Okay this one is on me. I placed a hold based on how much I love the authors’ other works (The Doctrine of Labyrinths series and The Goblin Emperor) without knowing anything about it. To its credit, The Angel of the Crows is exactly what it says on the tin, but the label reads “Victorian Sherlock Wing!fic”. Honestly, circa 2010 Chelsea might have really loved this. 2020 Chelsea was willing to go along for the ride but not at all invested. Retelling Arthur Conan-Doyle’s stories with a supernatural element is an interesting enough idea and it works well for awhile, but this book is almost 450 pages and it spends almost the entire time on these retellings. Knowing as I do from her prior works how skilled Monette/Addison is at worldbuilding, I was disappointed by how unoriginal this was.

Cover of Tarnished are the stars by Rosiee Thor

Tarnished Are the Stars by Rosiee Thor
My rating:
I hate to include an #ownvoices Ace novel on my list of least favourites and this is honestly as much a case of me aging out of enjoying YA as a genre as it is any issues with the book itself. Tarnished Are The Stars hooked me quickly with its interesting dystopian concept – all technology (including medical tech like prosthetics and pacemakers) are banned from a new settlement on ‘Earth Adjacent’ because of the role tech is seen to have played in Earth’s destruction. But as a heart condition impacts more and more of the population, a rebel civilization on the outskirts uses technology to keep its people alive under the nose of the ruthless commissioner. Ultimately Tarnished just ran out of steam. Its breakneck pacing didn’t allow characters a chance to breathe between events or to have moments of self-reflection and growth. Also, character choices felt like they were being dictated by plot, rather than by their motivation, which made for murky characterization. However, I did appreciate that Tarnished are the Stars is the rare YA SFF standalone, it has wlw lead characters, and that it not only features #ownvoices asexual representation, but A) Aro-Ace rep and B ) in a male viewpoint character! I do question the decision to have the ace character come from a home without familial love and to have no platonic connections until the events of this book as it plays into the “broken asexual” trope, but the rep is mostly well done and that’s important. This is likely a worthwhile read for a younger, and especially a younger questioning audience, I just found it too rushed to work for me.

Cover of Real Life by Brandon Taylor

Real Life by Brandon Taylor
My rating:
There’s a joke to be made here about both Real Life and real life falling flat. But more seriously I had high hopes for this one since I’ve had a lot of success with reading LGBT literary fiction in the past and I enjoy the author’s Twitter presence, but I just found this so dull. I hate using that word too, but the pacing is absolutely glacial. Literary fiction can walk a fine line for me between being beautifully written and moving or overwritten and surface-deep and unfortunately Taylor too often lands on the overwritten side of that line. His prose can be beautiful, but at times he veers into saying something because he can say it in a pretty way rather than because it’s something that adds to the story in any way. I felt sympathy for Wallace, a Black gay Southern poor biochemistry graduate student living and working in a white Midwestern space, and thought that Taylor depicted both the overt racism and the microaggressions that he faces, in a very honest way, but I found it hard to root for Wallace. He’s SUCH a melancholic passive character and even though those characteristics are informed by past trauma, I wanted so badly for him to stand up for himself in some small way and was increasingly frustrated when nothing changed. I feel some guilt about disliking something that is obviously so personal, especially as a fairly privileged white woman, but I just never connected enough with Wallace to make this an enjoyable reading experience for me.

Cover of The Old Guard Book One: Opening Fire by Greg Rucka

The Old Guard Book One: Opening Fire by Greg Rucka & Leandro Fernández
My rating:
I was not the right reader for this. Many people fell in love with the recent Netflix movie adaptation of this book over the summer. While I watched and enjoyed the adaptation, I enjoyed it in a popcorn eating-that was a fun action movie with some diversity as a bonus-I will never watch this again way. But for some reason I borrowed the graphic novel anyway. One Goodreads review said that it read like a rough draft for the movie and I honestly can’t think of a better description than that. If you’re a big fan of the movie you may enjoy seeing how characters and dialogue evolved (and yes, Joe and Nicky’s moment about what they mean to each other is here) otherwise you’re better off just watching the movie. Also, I hate the art. I’ve never hated comic book art more than I do this work by Leandro Fernández.

Cover of The Catalogue of Shipwrecked Books: Christopher Columbus, His Son, and the Quest to Build the World's Greatest Library by Edward Wilson-Lee

The Catalogue of Shipwrecked Books: Christopher Columbus, His Son, and the Quest to Build the World’s Greatest Library by Edward Wilson-Lee
My rating:
There was so much potential here to tell a really interesting story, and instead of letting Hernando’s library and his organizational system speak for itself, Wilson-Lee focuses so much on the connection to illegitimate Hernando’s father, Christopher Columbus, that literally the entire first third of the book is about Columbus. The result is a meandering exploration of the time period that doesn’t know what it wants to be. There’s too much “perhaps” and “maybe” for this to be a purely factual work. There’s too much focus on Spain and its history for this to be a biography. And crucially it’s not compelling or well-written enough to entertain or impart knowledge in a meaningful way. I did really enjoy the parts focused on Hernando and his attempts to classify his collection, but they were too few and far between to sustain my interest. Admittedly I don’t read much non-fiction, but if I hadn’t been reading this in order to lead a book club at work, I wouldn’t have finished it. Tellingly two of the book club members also didn’t make it past the first hundred pages.
Full Review here

Cover of The Regrets by Amy Bonnaffons

The Regrets by Amy Bonnaffons
My rating:
The only other book I read in 2020 that I wish I’d DNFed, The Regrets claims the title of my Least Favourite Book of 2020. It also has the distinction of being the only book on this list that is not just a case of me being the wrong reader for this particular book (although I very much was), but a book that I cannot in good conscience recommend to anyone. This is a bad case of a blurb setting up expectations that are destined to be let down by the contents of the novel. I expected a funny, sexy, quirky, rom-com ghost story. What I got was an unlikable, pretentious, handsome, and aimless protagonist and his quirky manic pixie dream girl/sexy librarian stereotype love interest that I wondered if Bonnaffons was deliberately parodying how literary straight white male authors write. Yet the most offensive thing about The Regrets is that the author has clearly never set foot in a city library or spoken to a librarian in her life. Manic Pixie Librarian shelves, alphabetizes, and day dreams literally all day. She never interacts with the patrons, certainly never does any programming or answers any reference questions, but worst of all she muses about how empty the library is during the day… in Brooklyn. Are there no seniors, no unemployed or homeless people, no new or stay-at-home moms with kids under the age of 5 in Brooklyn?!? If you’re not a librarian you might be able to suspend your disbelief enough to read this, but really why would you bother?

What books did you find disappointing this year? Let me know or link me your blog posts in the comments.

Favourite Theatre of 2020

With the 2020 theatre season cut short by a global pandemic, I expected my list of favourite theatre for the year would be very short. I miss live theatre and that glorious experience of the lights going down and a group of strangers sharing an experience together, but I think the circumstances (both Covid-19 and then the Black Live Matter movement making important and long overdue conversations happen in the arts) have forced companies to innovate in lasting ways. Here are some of the theatre experiences, whether live, live streamed, or recordings I found for the first time, I loved this year:

“Caroline, or Change” (Obsidian Theatre/Musical Stage Company)
I don’t care for this musical. I don’t understand what the personifications of inanimate objects add to the story and it’s a musical where very little actually happens with a score that I find forgettable. That said, I can’t imagine a better production of this musical than the one I saw in February. It didn’t hurt that this was the first performance I’ve ever seen in one of Toronto’s most beautiful but little used (for theatre anyway) locales, The Winter Garden Theatre! The set was gorgeous and used levels well to denote place, but what really sold this was a tremendous cast anchored by R&B singer Jully Black as Caroline. Black’s portrayal of Black maid CarolineThibodeaux during the Civil Rights movement and the assassination of President Kennedy was subtly powerful and her voice was enough to make you leap from your seat to applaud. Rising star Vanessa Sears was also a standout as Caroline’s more progressive daughter, Emmie.

“Amadeus” (The National Theatre)
I’d only ever seen the 1984 movie adaptation of Amadeus, so I jumped at the chance to watch the National Theatre livestream of their 2018 production during quarantine. It’s an excellent production in almost every way. I love the costumes, set, and direction and I thought Lucian Msamati’s performance as Salieri was a masterclass. Unfortunately I wasn’t keen on Adam Gillen’s Mozart. It’s a difficult role that really requires balancing Mozart’s childlike naiveté, his genius, and how insufferable and proud he can be. A balance that Tom Hulce gets so right in the movie. Gillen too often came off as childish rather than childlike, throwing tantrums like a toddler, and I wound up entirely on Salieri’s side. It’s a shame the balance wasn’t there because everything else about this production I adored.

A Streetcar Named Desire” (The National Theatre)
A bright spot in the pandemic was learning that my library had subscribed to some performance databases, including the National Theatre Collection. Looking through their productions led me to this Gillian Anderson-led gem. I’d only ever seen a ballet adaptation of Streetcar, so it was really interesting to watch a production of the play. Anderson gives a masterful performance as Blanche and it took me awhile to even recognize The Crown’s Vanessa Kirby! I wasn’t quite as taken with Ben Foster’s Stanley, but this play was still so compelling that it didn’t feel long at all. Highly recommended.

“Julius Caesar” (The National Theatre)
Another National Theatre Collection find was Julius Caesar, starring Ben Whishaw (Brutus), Michelle Fairley (Cassius), and David Morrissey (Mark Antony). Julius Caesar is a play that I had never read before Project Shakespeare asked if I had any interest in playing Cassius. I absolutely fell in love with it and watched two productions, of which I much preferred this. Whishaw and Fairley have a lovely dynamic as Brutus and Cassius and the modern setting, which doesn’t always work for me, was very effective here. I’ll probably watch this again ahead of Project Shakespeare Round II: Julius Caesar.

“Ghost Quartet in Concert” (Crows Theatre)
It really took most theatre companies about six months to figure out how to make effective streaming theatre, either by pre-recording or by performing live for the camera. The live production of Ghost Quartet in 2019 was one of my favourite theatre experiences of the year and I listen to the music from it a lot so I couldn’t wait to see the cast reunite and film a concert version of the show in October. This was one of the isolation theatrical experiences that felt most like being at the theatre to me. My mom and a few friends all bought tickets for the same date/time and afterwards we texted about our experiences. The sound was absolutely glorious, the four-person cast had terrific chemistry and were in fine voice, and I loved that the creative team who made the live show so engaging an experience were involved in this filmed and streamed concert version.

“Porchside Songs” (Musical Stage Company)
One Toronto theatre company that pivoted quickly and intelligently to our present conditions was The Musical Stage Company. Their announcement in the summer and fall that they would put on a series of socially distanced, live music concerts, each featuring a few well-known local artists (including the exquisite Hailey Gillis) in a Toronto front yard was innovative and exciting. I immediately texted a friend and while we missed out on the first set of timeslots trying to find a date that fit everyone’s schedules, the performances sold out and new dates were added, one of which she secured. The performers stood more than six feet away and wore masks when not performing, audience members (who adhered to public health guidelines) were also masked except when in our six feet apart chairs, and when the music started I was not alone in blinking back tears. That feeling of experiencing live performance with a group is like no other and this performance meant the world. Also Hailey Gillis was in my friend’s yard singing with her beautiful voice and accompanied by another fave, Andrew Penner! Just an exquisite night.

“Secret Life of a Mother” (The SLOM Collective/The Theatre Centre)
Neither the friend I went to see this with in February or I have kids or ever intend to have kids, yet both of us teared up over this raw, darkly comic exploration of pregnancy and motherhood. Breaking taboos right, left, and center, this one-woman confessional piece talks about miscarriage, panful childbirth, and feeling like a failure as a mother. Playwright Hannah Moscovitch and real life close friend, actress Maev Beaty (who have collaborated before on “Bunny”) are a match made in heaven. Beaty was already on my short list of Toronto actors I would see in literally anything and this only affirms that view. I really wish I’d gone earlier in the run so I could tell every woman I ever met to go see this.

The Cellist” (The Royal Ballet)
Oh how I loved this! Choreographer Cathy Marston (who choreographed the Jane Eyre ballet I saw in 2018) created this one-act ballet about talented post-war cellist Jacqueline du Pré, whose career and life were cruelly cut short by multiple sclerosis. The Royal Ballet premiered this work in February 2020, just before everything shut down, and the ballet was streamed for a limited time in June by the Royal Opera House. Lauren Cuthbertson, who originated the roles of Hermione in The Winter’s Tale and Alice in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, is exquisite here, giving a nuanced performance as du Pré. Her sense of loss as her condition deteriorates is keenly felt and left me weeping. Marcelino Sambé is equally compelling as her cello. So often in ballet the story is centered around a pair of lovers, the better to allow for pas-de-deux, but The Cellist is focused on a woman’s love for her instrument and the beautiful music they create together and I found that especially moving. It looks like a DVD/Blu Ray will be released in February and I can’t wait to get my hands on it!

“Acts of Faith” (Factory Theatre)
Like many of you, I’ve found it hard to concentrate and remain focused during the pandemic. I keep reaching for my phone and absently scrolling, but I didn’t reach for my phone once during Factory Theatre’s live streamed performance of Acts of Faith, a one-woman play starring Natasha Mumba. The story follows Faith, a young African woman who gets mistaken for a prophet. Faith begins using her ‘gift’ to right wrongs and punish the wicked, but her actions erode her own faith and drive her away from home and church. I literally couldn’t take my eyes off of the charismatic Mumba for the entirety of the play and the script was funny, moving, thoughtful, and tightly paced. If you ever get a chance to see a production of this play, do it!

“Angels’ Atlas” (The National Ballet of Canada)
How surreal that I saw this just over a week before the world shutdown! Even in a parallel universe where we had a full theatre season, this would still be the best thing I saw. There aren’t enough superlatives in the world to describe how much I adored choreographer Crystal Pite’s Angels’ Atlas. The ballet is a perfect blend of luminous lighting design, music that accentuates the emotional aspects of the ballet, particularly the rapturous choral music, ingenious choreography by Pite, and a talented company of dancers able to execute Pite’s version perfectly. Fittingly for our times, Angels’ Atlas is a ballet about human connection, which means I haven’t been able to stop dwelling on it over the last ten months. It left me breathless and teary-eyed; I hoped it would never end. I can only imagine how much more meaningful it would be after the pandemic when we’re able to safely gather again. I’m desperately hoping The National Ballet brings this one back soon – ideally as their return to the stage. Reader, I would weep buckets.

PROJECT SHAKESPEARE
What can I say about Project Shakespeare that I haven’t already said and that can’t be summed up by overuse of the heart eyes emoji? Project Shakespeare has honestly saved me. Living alone and with no work to do from home it fulfilled my need for social interaction, not only bringing me closer to friends but introducing me to supportive, talented, new friends. It forced me to stop doomscrolling and put me in touch with my creative side as I took on costumes and props ranging from 18th century hair to The Bear in the famous stage direction from The Winter’s Tale to building a life-size cardboard coffin! It brought me out of my shy, introverted shell and released my inner Leo. It made me laugh at a time when I couldn’t stop crying. And, of course, it gave me a renewed appreciation for The Bard. Thank you Abby and Rachel for making this happen. For giving me theatre at a time when there’s been precious little, and for letting me make theatre, when I had only ever been a fan before. Truly a highlight of the year. Also, we’re famous in England.


How was your year in theatre? Did you take advantage of global streaming from The Stratford Shakespeare Festival or the Royal Opera House? Did you participate in theatre with your friends? Let me know in the comments!

July Wrap-Up

At least once a year I swear to be a more regular blogger and, despite my best intentions, break my oath. This year I make no promises, but as what I’ve taken to calling “Pandemic Brain Fog” lifts, I hope to be around more for the second half of the year.

I know some folks have found their reading habits relatively unaffected by world events, but I’ve really struggled. During isolation I experienced a lot of attention-span issues. Despite an abundance of free time, my anxiety was overwhelming and I accomplished very little. With things in my part of the world cautiously reopening though and the weather improving I’ve been regaining reading speed.


My Dark Vanessa
by Kate Elizabeth Russell  small 5 stars
Like a Love Story
by Abdi Nazemian  small 3 half stars
“Othello”
by William Shakespeare  small 4 stars
Brideshead Revisited
by Evelyn Waugh  small 3 half stars
Network Effect
by Martha Wellssmall 4 stars
The Empress of Salt & Fortune
by Nghi Vo  small 4 half stars

Monthly Total: 6
Yearly Total: 33 / 60

Currently Reading: I’m hoping to finish Katherine Addison’s The Angel of the Crows either tonight or tomorrow. It’s also my birthday week, which means I’m going to make a real effort to read books that I think stand a real chance of being five star reads for me. I definitely want to finish Pat Barker’s Regeneration Trilogy and I’m also tempted by Never Let Me Go (one of Rachel’s all-time favourites) and trying some Mary Renault.

***Seen on TV***

Those focus issues I’ve been having extend to TV and films so I haven’t been watching much in the way of new material, but there were a few things that sucked me in.

Hamilton (Disney+) – I know this is the world’s least original opinion, but I really do love Hamilton. I was fortunate enough to see most of the original cast on Broadway (Groff and some of the ensemble members had left by then) in June 2016 and even though I have a good quality bootleg that I’ve watched a few times since, It really was a treat to watch a professionally filmed version of this brilliant show.

Never Have I Ever (Netflix) – This coming-of-age comedy-drama about an Indian-American teen trying to improve her social status while dealing with the death of her father sucked me in and I binge-watched the show in about a day! There are definitely some cringe from second-hand embarrassment moments and some of your standard teen show tropes, but I loved the fact that protagonist Devi was allowed to be abrasive and unlikable while still showing vulnerability. The conflict between first generation immigrant Devi and her Indian heritage, represented by her mother gave this show depth and set it apart from other teen properties.

The Baby-Sitter’s Club (Netflix) – As a librarian it has been wild to see Ann M. Martin’s iconic nineties kid series beloved by a whole new generation, albeit in a different form (the graphic novels fly off the shelves). I’m really curious to see if these kids will also take to Netflix’s adaptation. Although I didn’t read all of them, I certainly read enough of these books growing up that the nostalgia factor is huge and so I was pleased to see this updated, diverse (Mary-Ann is mixed race! Californian Dawn is Latinx! They babysit for a trans kid!) take on beloved characters.  It’s definitely age appropriate fluff but it was exactly what I needed in these terrifying times.

***Stage on Screen***

“Amadeus” (National Theatre Live)
I loved almost everything about this production of Peter Shaffer’s fictionalized account of a rivalry between composers Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Antonio Salieri. The design was superb, colourful and grand when it needed to be, yet intimate enough to let the actors shine, and the clever choice to place the orchestra on stage and weave them in amongst the story paid off.  Lucian Msamati gave a tour-de-force performance as Salieri and most of the rest of the cast were terrific… except his rival. Part of the joy of the film adaptation is that Tom Hulce with that wonderful ridiculous laugh balances the immaturity and vulgarness of the fictional Mozart so well with his genius for music. He’s frustrating yes, but there’s such a charm to his performance. Unfortunately I found The National Theatre’s Adam Gillen completely lacking in charm. His Mozart is a petulant shouty, rude child and I mostly just wanted to slap him. It’s a shame but still a wonderful production.

“Romeo & Juliet” (Stratford Shakespeare Festival)
Admittedly my main reason for wanting to watch this was to see if Sara Farb (who I adore, don’t get me wrong!) can act in Shakespeare productions. I saw her Cordelia in the Festival’s “King Lear” and it was such a wooden performance that all of the tear-jerking Lear-Cordelia scenes fell flat. Since then though I’ve seen her give standout performances in plays like “The Last Wife” and “The Virgin Trial” and as Middle Alison in “Fun Home”. The verdict? Yes, “King Lear” was either poor direction or a weird fluke. Farb is a lovely believably teenage Juliet. My only complaint is that she’s so teenage, and her Romeo equally youthful that their choices almost enforce that old misconception that all there is to “Romeo & Juliet” is two dumb teenagers in lust. It’s a solidly good production though.

“Love’s Labours Lost” (Stratford Shakespeare Festival)
Maybe the play is better when read, certainly Project Shakespeare’s version was enjoyable, but even though I didn’t think the Stratford version was bad, was just really bored. That said, Mike Shara (Berowne) was really excellent, as was Juan Chioran (Adriano de Armado). I found the women lackluster though and the child actor playing Moth earnestly irritating.

“King John” (Stratford Shakespeare Festival)
Group watched with Project Shakespeare members. Pretty much a snore. Funny for all the wrong reasons (I’m still not over them pronouncing dauphin as dolphin for literally the entire play), a very strong smarmy Nathan Fillion as Captain Hammer (okay these days I could probably have just stopped at smarmy Nathan Fillion…) vibe from Phillip the Bastard, and the actress who played Constance is apparently awful and racist so plenty of reasons to give this one a miss!

“Thom Pain (Based on Nothing)” by Will Eno (Red Line Productions)
Thom Pain has the distinction of being the closest experience to live theatre that I’ve had since the Pandemic. The monologue play was performed by Toby Schmitz (Jack Rackham in Black Sails) in a theatre, filmed by nine cameras, and streamed live across the world. The production quality was great and I can’t fault Schmitz’s performance but mostly Thom Pain just confirmed that Will Eno’s works are not for me. I saw an equally well-acted and beautifully designed production of his critically acclaimed Middletown in pre-pandemic times and it did nothing for me. I guess Eno’s particular brand of self-deprecating, philosophical, observations on contemporary living isn’t for me. It sure was nice to see some theatre anyway though.

***Miscellaneous***

The biggest change for me this month has been physically heading back to work. It’s such a complicated situation. On the one hand I agree that libraries provide necessary services to those who are most vulnerable, including older adults and low-income families who do not have Internet access at home, printing services especially for government forms and job-hunting, and entertainment for people experiencing homelessness who I imagine have been hard hit during the pandemic, and curbside pick-up of books. On the other hand, returning staff to work in any environment has to be done safely and staff should be communicated with about the process and about the precautions being taken by the employer. I was concerned that this process of consultation was not happening and incredibly worried about what that would mean for further stages of reopening. I’m optimistic that the pace will be slower and that staff will have more input into the reopening process as the library prepares to fully open in August though. It’s been lovely to see coworkers (from a distance of course) and to help patrons, but we’ve been very short on staff and trying to help customers safely and ensure that they are following the mandatory masking bylaw is draining. After a few weeks I now feel more settled in though.

Otherwise Project Shakespeare, which Rachel writes about so well, has been consuming my time and although I’m still nervous and have a lot of self-doubt about my acting abilities, it’s a really supportive environment and has allowed me to flex my creative crafting measures and I’m so thrilled to be a part of it.

I hope you’re all well and staying safe! Have any of you been experiencing this ‘Pandemic Brain Fog’? Do you have any tips to work through it? Let me know in the comments!

Stay at Home Shakespeare

220px-shakespeare
Like many bookish friends, I’ve been reflecting a lot on Emily St. John Mandel’s prescient novel Station Eleven lately. For those who haven’t read it, the book takes place after civilization has been destroyed by a deadly pandemic known as the “Georgia Flu”. (Despite the premise, it’s a beautiful, lyrical book that’s ultimately hopeful about humanity and if you haven’t read it but are one of those who devoured the 2011 thriller Contagion in March you should definitely pick this up. If you don’t like your fiction quite so eerily relevant to current events, I’d suggest making a mental note to read it in a few years). I recently attended a TPL crowdcast event promoting Mandel’s new novel, The Glass Hotel (which you can watch here), where the interviewer mentioned that Station Eleven (2014) has re-entered the Canadian Fiction bestseller list in the wake of COVID-19. I don’t think any of her readers expected to relate to the characters of Station Eleven in such a literal way, but almost as unexpected is just how much I’m relating these days to the novel’s theme of connection with others through art, and more specifically, through Shakespeare.

From Zoom readings of his works conducted both by amateurs armed with a great deal of enthusiasm and actors taking their passion for their craft virtual while they wait for theatres to reopen to free streams of his plays by respected institutions across the globe, the Bard seems to be everywhere these days! So whether you’re keeping a carefully organized list of Shakespearean and other theatre productions to stream before they disappear or are simply looking to dip your toe into the water, here are a few ways to incorporate some Shakespeare into your quarantine life!

Shakespeare Plays Streaming

picture of Martha Henry as Prospero in The Tempest

The Stratford Festival
I have to start with some homegrown Canadian Shakespeare talent, which means the Stratford Shakespeare Festival! Located in Stratford, Ontario, Canada, the Stratford Festival runs annually from April to October. Although its primary focus is Shakespeare, the Festival also performs other plays and even some musicals in rep/rotation. The festival is offering free streaming of 12 of its productions, scheduling its film showings around four themes that seem relevant today: Social Order and Leadership, Isolation, Minds Pushed to the Edge, and Relationships. A new film is released each week on Thursday and it’s then available for 3 weeks on the Stratford Festival website. Their kick-off production, “King Lear”, has now expired, but here are the next several weeks and their availability:

Available Now:
“Coriolanus” (April 30 – May 21) * expires this Thursday
“Macbeth” (May 7 – May 28)
“The Tempest” (May 14 – June 4)

Upcoming:
“Timon of Athens” (May 21 – June 11)
“Love’s Labour’s Lost” (May 28 – June 18)
“Hamlet” (June 4 – June 25)
“King John” (June 11 – June 25)
“The Adventures of Pericles” (June 18 – July 9)
“Antony and Cleopatra” (June 25 – July 16)
“Romeo and Juliet” (July 2 – July 23)
“The Taming of the Shrew” (July 9 – July 30)

picture of the Globe Theatre in London, England.

Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre
A reconstruction of the Globe Theatre, the Elizabethan theatre in London where Shakespeare’s plays were performed, Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre performs plays, offers tours and educational visits, and serves as a cultural landmark. During its closure, Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre is making some of its plays available online. While Macbeth is available until schools reopen in the UK, other selections will be available to stream for 14 days:

“Macbeth” (2020) – available until UK secondary schools reopen.
“The Winter’s Tale” (2018) – May 18 until May 31
“The Merry Wives of Windsor” (2019) – June 1 until June 14
“A Midsummer’s Night’s Dream” (2013) – June 15 until June 28

If your Shakespeare itch is still not scratched or there’s a different play that you’re looking for, Shakespeare’s Globe also has additional selections on its on demand platform Globe Player to rent, purchase, or send as a gift.

Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre in London raises 95% of its revenue through ticket sales, guided tours, education workshops, retail and catering – which all depend upon the venue being open to the public and are in critical danger of not being able to reopen after the pandemic so I know times are tight for many of us, but if you are able to donate to the Globe or help one or more of these wonderful arts organizations offering programming, please consider doing so.

coriolanus_2013_play

National Theatre Live
The broadcast arm of the National Theatre in London has been streaming a different play every Thursday. Plays are then available to watch for 7 days. I missed their acclaimed production of “Antony & Cleopatra”, but between June 4th and June 11th you can stream the 2014 Donmar production of “Coriolanus” starring Tom Hiddleston. Although I can’t say Coriolanus is my favourite play, this is an excellent adaptation of it which I was lucky enough to see during my trip to London in 2013!

Picture of Patrick Stewart as Macbeth

PBS Great Performances
Getting on board with free streaming content, PBS Great Performances has unlocked the 2009 Rupert Goold production of “Macbeth” starring Sir Patrick Stewart.

Shakespeare Ballets Streaming

picture of San Francisco Ballet's production of Romeo and Juliet

San Francisco Ballet’s “Romeo & Juliet”
This ballet adaptation of the classic tragedy “Romeo & Juliet”, danced by the San Francisco Ballet Company, is streaming on Youtube from May 11 until May 25 as part of #LincolnCenterAtHome. If you’ve never seen a ballet adaptation of Romeo & Juliet it has a gorgeous score by Sergei Prokofiev and is well worth watching!

RB_Winters_Tale_0263_0

The Royal Ballet’s “The Winter’s Tale”
One of the major reasons that I wanted to write this blog post was to let people know that one of my all-time favourite ballets, and the ballet that I would most recommend to someone who has never watched a ballet before and is curious (please don’t just watch the bloody Nutcracker and call it a day) was available to stream for free! The Royal Opera House has been alternating weeks between filmed performances of its opera and ballet performances. Christopher Wheeldon’s “The Winter’s Tale”, danced by The Royal Ballet, premiered on their Youtube channel on May 1st and was supposed to be available to view until June 1st. Unfortunately, and without any explanation, it’s been taken down early. I know it’s incredibly tacky to complain about something free (does it help that I legally purchased a copy of the blu ray?), but I know there were people who planned to watch but, due to the overwhelming amount of time sensitive theatre content out there, were waiting because they believed they’d have time, so it seems a little unfair. Still, if anyone is interested in this one I may have a way so um give me a shout if you’re interested?

Picture of dancers from American Ballet Theatre production of Ashton's The Dream

American Ballet Theatre’s “The Dream”
This isn’t part of the overwhelming amount of content made available for a limited time during the pandemic, but an older filmed version (from 2002) of Fredrick Ashton’s charming one act ballet based on “a Midsummer Night’s Dream” is available in its entirety on Youtube.

Marquee.tv
If your finances haven’t been impacted by COVID-19, or if you’re comfortable signing up for a free trial and cancelling before the charges begin,this honestly does look like a pretty cool subscripton service featuring ballet, films, etc. although the layout makes it very hard to find everything that is available. Personally I don’t think there’s enough there for me to consider an annual subscription but maybe the free trial or for a few months. It does have my beloved “The Winter’s Tale” production by the Royal Ballet as well as I think a more recent HD version of Fredrick Ashton’s “The Dream”. Other Shakespeare includes a whole bunch of Royal Shakespeare Company productions, including “Richard II” with David Tennant.

Shakespeare Zoom Readings

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#ProjectShakespeare
For the last four weeks #ProjectShakespeare has been the highlight of my quarantine! I was invited by Rachel and Abby to join the group and made my debut in April playing the integral roles of Francisco, Cornelius, and Messenger in “Hamlet”. While I took musical theatre and dance lessons and even a year of drama in high school,
I’m a shy, anxious person who loves watching and writing about plays and musicals but has never entertained dreams of appearing in them. Yet despite the intimidating level of talent and dedication in this group, everyone is so supportive and welcoming that I’ve enjoyed every single minute of preparation and performing. I’ve since appeared as Luciana in “The Comedy of Errors”, Cordelia in “King Lear” (a highlight for me!), and Don Pedro in “Much Ado About Nothing”. As a casual group ultimately reading/performing Shakespeare for fun, we decided that recording or streaming the performances would be somewhat daunting so these aren’t available to view or rewatch, but if you have a group of friends, or friends of friends, that would be interested in reading Shakespeare or other plays, I would highly recommend Zoom readings with friends!

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#CoronaColdReads
The first stirrings of an idea for a post about the prevalence of Shakespeare in our coronavirus times came when I had to turn down a request to read a small part in a special birthday edition of a Shakespeare Zoom reading by a friend because… yes, you guessed it, I had already committed to another Shakespeare zoom reading! Kelly Bedard, the creator and editor of an online Toronto-based independent theatre (and film and TV) review site called My Entertainment World has been running her #CoronaColdReads twice a week. Streaming live on Youtube (but you can also watch the full performances after the fact) on Tuesday and Saturday nights, roles are mostly played by actors she knows from the Toronto indie theatre scene and by friends from her Alma Mater’s Shakespeare Society, although other actors have also appeared and the “King Lear” #CoronaColdReads cast features some pretty starry names if you’re at all familiar with the Toronto/Stratford theatre scene! During May they’ve been performing the history plays and I can’t watch to stream some of these soon.

Although, as an avid theatre-goer, I see an average of one Shakespeare production every year or so, Shakespeare has never had as huge an impact on my life as his works are having right now. Between making time to watch the Stratford premieres, trying to fit in what other Shakespeare plays I can, reading the plays (some of them for the first time), and performing as part of Project Shakespeare, the Bard has completely transformed my quarantine.

Have you watched any of these or turned to Shakespeare in quarantine? What are your favourite plays or productions? Let me know in the comments and stay safe!

Get to Know the Fantasy Reader Tag

I’m going to make an effort to get back into semi-regular blogging now that I have some time on my hands and I figured what better way to ease back in than with a tag?! I’ve shamelessly stolen this from Hadeer, but the original idea comes from the Get to Know the Romance Reader Tag created by Bree Hill, which was adapted for fantasy readers by The Book Pusher.

1. What is your fantasy origin story? (How you came to read your first fantasy novel)

I have a notoriously bad memory, which only gets worse the further back I go, so I honestly can’t recall my first experience with fantasy, but I was a fan from a young age. Phoebe Gillman’s beautifully illustrated The Balloon Tree, about a princess who must save her kingdom from her evil uncle, the archduke, when he stages a coup while her father is visiting a neighbouring kingdom, remains one of my favourite picture books. My mom read aloud to me and my younger brother the early Harry Potter books as well as middle grade fantasy staples like the Chronicles of Narnia, and some of my favourite series as a 9 or 10 year-old were Bryan Jacques’ Redwall, featuring anthropomorphic animals in an abbey, and Lloyd Alexander’s high fantasy, welsh myth-inspired Prydain Chronicles. The first “adult” fantasy I remember reading is Marion Zimmer Bradley’s The Mists of Avalon though, which I read during 7th grade science class (hiding it under my desk, likely not very subtly given the size of the book)!

2. If you could be the hero/heroine in a fantasy novel, who would be the author and what’s one trope you’d insist be in the story?

Forgive me, but I hate these kinds of insert yourself into a story questions. Honestly I just don’t feel that I’m interesting enough to be a fantasy heroine! I will say that I admire the way that Robert Jackson Bennett writes women, and women who are perhaps unlikely protagonists (such as Shara, a clever spy yes, but a quiet tea-drinking, glasses wearing spy, in City of Stairs and middle-aged, disabled military general Mulagesh in City of Blades), and his skillful worldbuilding, so I’d probably want him to take on the project. A few tropes I love to see employed are the protagonist, a master of self-control, taxed to their absolute limit, resulting in exhaustion fainting, angsty and complicated, but ultimately loving, sibling relationships, and condemnation by the court of public opinion ultimately revealing that all is not as it seemed and the character has been wronged. I’m not sure that I’d want any of these things to happen to me though!

457301523. What is a fantasy you’ve read this year, that you want more people to read?

I haven’t read much fantasy so far this year (although my order from my local SFF indie bookstore is set to ship in May, so look for that to change!), but I did love Daughter from the Dark by Marina and Sergey Dyachenko, translated from the Russian by Julia Hersey. It’s a twisted (though arguably more straightforward than their previous effort translated into English, Vita Nostra) standalone about a DJ who saves what appears to be a ten-year-old girl named Alyona from danger, only to find himself with questions about who she actually is and what she wants from him. Is she a daughter whose existence he’s just learned about? A young con-artist? An otherworldly being seeking to return to paradise with her brother? Or something more sinister? The development of the fraught relationship between DJ Aspirin and Alyona is compelling and I loved the way in which Daughter From the Dark talks about music, art, and freedom.

4. What is your favorite fantasy subgenre? What subgenre have you not read much from?

My favourite subgenre is definitely secondary world fantasy. A big draw for me is worldbuilding and there’s so much that can be done in creating a world with its own cultures, rules, and history. Sometimes that also means a magic system. The Coldfire Trilogy by C. S. Friedman does this very well with its energy field known as the fae that can be manipulated/Worked to perform magical feats, though not without consequences. Robert Jackson Bennett’s Foundryside with its magic system that is more reminiscent of technology/coding but set in an Italian city state inspired secondary world, is also an outstanding example. I love the fact that secondary world doesn’t have to mean magic though. Lara Elena Donnelly’s Amberlough Dossier series of spy novels are set against the rise of a facist government certainly draw inspiration from Weimar Berlin, but they’re differentiated not by magic (in fact there’s no magic at all), but because they’re set in a secondary world with different political tensions and events.

The subgenre I’ve read the least is definitely urban fantasy. Surprisingly, for someone who LOVED Buffy the Vampire Slayer, I’m actually not big on reading about vampires, werewolves, and other assorted creatures and their daily lives. I realize that it’s a big subgenre so it’s entirely possible that I just haven’t read the right book yet. I realize that I’m generalizing/oversimplifying when I say this, but I don’t typically find that urban fantasy offers enough worldbuilding or deep diving into characters to keep me happy and the tropes don’t tend to appeal to me personally.

5. Who is one of your auto-buy fantasy authors?

I don’t buy a lot of books period because I live in an apartment in a big city so I don’t have a lot of space and I have access to an excellent library system, but the ones that come closest are probably Robert Jackson Bennett, Leigh Bardugo, and Katherine Addison/Sarah Monette. They haven’t written a lot of adult fantasy but based on the strength of one trilogy, I would also say Katherine Arden and Lara Elena Donnelly. N. K. Jemisin is also high on my list.

6. How do you typically find fantasy recommendations? (Goodreads, Youtube, Podcasts, Instagram..)

A bunch of different ways! I follow Tor on social media and their blog and tend to read the forthcoming releases posts. I don’t always agree with their choices, but I follow what’s being nominated for the big SFF awards (Nebula, Locus, Hugo). I read blogs of course and especially value recommendations from bloggers/friends whose tastes align closely with my own. I especially value picks from any of my fellow Lymond Chronicles fans since we tend to have a very specific set of tropes that we love. On Goodreads I tend to read a few two star and a few five star reviews of a book to see what people loved about the book and what didn’t appeal to them to see if it’s something that’s going to bug or elate me, and while I take them with a grain of salt, if a bunch of authors I love have enthusiastically blurbed a book, it’s often a good sign that it’s something I’m going to enjoy as well.

7. What is an upcoming fantasy release you’re excited for?

50202953._sx318_Piranesi by Susanna Clarke. Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell is one of my all-time favourite books, so it would be an understatement to say that I’m excited about this! I love Clarke’s sense of humour and her creativity and can’t wait to see what her new book will offer. The comparison titles (Circe and The Ocean at the End of the Lane) I’m taking with a grain of salt since I wasn’t wowed by either book, but I think there’s a good chance that they’ve just picked popular fantasy titles with crossover mainstream appeal.

45166076._sy475_The Order of the Pure Moon Reflected in Water by Zen Cho. I’ve really enjoyed both of Cho’s previous titles and the description for this (queer found family wuxia fantasy!) sounds both right up my alley and perfectly timed for my ongoing spiral into The Untamed obsession!

 

8. What is one misconception about fantasy you would like to lay to rest?

I’m going to second Hadeer here and say the fact that it’s written by middle-aged/old white men for white men. There have always been women writing fantasy, they have just historically often been less prominent or critically lauded as male writers in the genre. Increasingly diverse writers are publishing and being promoted and there are more #ownvoices stories out there.

Although we’re talking about fantasy specifically here, I’d also like to say regarding its sister genre, science-fiction, one misconception I had was that it wasn’t for me as a not particularly science/engineering/math-oriented person and as a woman. I realized that, like most genres, it wasn’t that the entire genre wasn’t for me, it was about having to do some research to discover what I wanted from the genre. I found that “hard sci-fi”, which was driven by science and technology and ideas, was still not my cup of tea but that I loved character-driven stories with a compelling emotional core, like Becky Chambers’ Wayfarers and Martha Wells’ Murderbot Diaries, and clever political intrigue tales with fascinating protagonists like Lois McMaster Bujold’s Vorkosigan Saga, and Ann Leckie’s Imperial Radch. It’s just about digging a little and finding what content or which subgenre appeals to you.

9. If someone had never read a fantasy before and asked you to recommend the first 3 books that come to mind as places to start, what would those recommendations be?

SO, obviously this is going to depend on the person, but here are some general recommendations:


Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo. I have yet to find a person who didn’t enjoy this book/duology. I gifted it to my not a reader friend (she reads maybe a book or two a year, maybe) and she finished the first one and bought Crooked Kingdom. I gifted it to my brother’s girlfriend, who is not a fantasy fan. She loved it. This is the one book that I will thrust at absolute everyone and be confident in my recommendation. It’s YA, but has crossover appeal. It’s fantasy, but has crossover appeal. The characters are three-dimensional, flawed but compelling, the pace is quick and filled with plot twists, yet Bardugo slows down and gives her characters enough time to breathe and to come face-to-face with their trauma. Six of Crows is the perfect gateway book.

A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab. Not as universally successful a recommendation as Six of Crows, but I’d be pretty confident in saying most people who pick this series up enjoy it. I’ve recommended this to my not a reader friend for when she finishes Crooked Kingdom and I’ve gifted this to other people who don’t necessarily enjoy fantasy. Perhaps because there’s a historical element and it’s grounded in our world, I think A Darker Shade of Magic is a more accessible pick than say jumping into a high fantasy novel.

The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden. Perhaps a little riskier, but I just found this world and Arden’s prose so entrancing that I feel like others could easily be sucked in. There’s a historical element and a mythic/folk tale element that may be easier to accept than a high fantasy story as well. I also gifted this to my brother’s girlfriend and she loved it.

10. Who is the most recent fantasy reading content creator you came across that you’d like to shoutout?

Honestly I’ve been really out of the loop and haven’t been keeping up on blogs or seeking out new content enough lately as I’ve been caught up in the never ending doom spiral these days but if you read a ton of fantasy please drop your blog in the comments and I’ll take a look!

Top Ten Tuesday: Single-Word Titles

I’m just squeaking in under the wire here, but I loved this Top Ten Tuesday topic so much that I wanted to participate, even though it’s last minute! At first I thought it would be a challenge to fill all ten slots on this list, but I actually ended up having to leave some out. Here are ten of my favourite books that go by just a single word:

34810320Sadie by Courtney Summers
This gritty YA thriller is one of the best things I read in 2018. Told in alternating points-of-view, one in which the titular protagonist tracks her younger sister Mattie’s killer across America and the other a serialized podcast of her story by a local radio personality trying to locate the missing Sadie, the book is less about what happened and more concerned with how events unfolded. Sadie herself is so intriguing; her determination to make right the botched police investigation and bring Mattie’s murderer to justice is balanced with her resourcefulness and vulnerability and Summers handles the dark themes of her book (which is definitely on the mature side of YA) with sensitivity. This was one of those books that I couldn’t stop thinking about long after I put it down!

15195Maus by Art Spiegelman
Yes, I know there are subtitles for this genre-defying graphic novel, but if I were to reference just Maus to almost anyone, I’m certain they would know what I’m talking about so I feel justified in including it here. Originally serialized from 1980 to 1981 (it’s now commonly published in either a one or two volume collected edition), Maus depicts both Art Spiegelman’s interviews with his father about his experiences as a Polish Jew and Holocaust survivor, and Art’s memories of the complicated relationship he has with his father. Memorably, the Jewish characters are drawn as mice, Nazis as cats, etc. Maus became the first graphic novel to be awarded the Pulitzer Prize and it’s significance both as a work of literature and in its sobering account of the Holocaust and the inter-generational impact of that trauma, really can’t be overstated. It’s also damned good. As you’d expect from the subject matter, Maus can be difficult to read. It’s unflinching and honest and will move even those with the hardest of hearts, but it’s well worth reading and will no doubt remain a classic.

25353286Provenance by Ann Leckie
Compared to her Imperial Radch trilogy, I felt like this standalone novel set in the same universe but featuring an entirely different cast of characters, undeservedly flew under the radar. Admittedly a book so focused on a fundamental archival principle (“provenance” is a term for the individual, family, or organization that created or received items in a collection) was always going to appeal to my librarian who seriously considered becoming an archivist nature, but I honestly loved Provenance! Leckie raises important questions about the way we document historical events, wondering if a document needs to be genuine to be important? Or can it gain significance through what it represents, even if it is based on a lie? Provenance is part mystery, part coming-of-age tale, and part political thriller with astounding worldbuilding, subtle but pointed social commentary, and engaging characters. I just wish more people would read it!

14497Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman
No one can accuse Neil Gaiman’s works of flying under the radar. They’ve been adapted into TV series, movies, plays, and even an opera, but I still have a soft spot for Neverwhere. I love the idea of London Below, a world where people who fall through the cracks of society go, sometimes merely through showing compassion for others, and especially the way in which Gaiman has used the existing London tube stations as the inspiration for creatures and beings that inhabit his byzantine underground world. Although protagonist Richard Mayhew is your standard fantasy ‘everyman reluctantly sucked into adventure’ character, the beings who populate London Below are every bit as strange as their setting. It’s been about seven years since I read it last so I’m definitely due for a re-read.

Foundryside RD4 clean flatFoundryside by Robert Jackson Bennett
Set in an industrial city inspired by the Italian City States, Foundryside is an inventive, fast-paced book about a street smart thief who gets in over her head when she unknowingly steals an immensely powerful object. Sure it has a gorgeous cover, but it’s Bennett’s creation of one of the most innovative magic systems I’ve ever encountered that has me singing Foundryside‘s praises. Basically the consciousness of objects in the world can be manipulated when they’re inscribed (referred to in-world as ‘scriving’) with a set of magical symbols and codes. Operating like the rules of a computer programming language in our world, scriving tricks objects into believing that they are supposed to behave differently. The result is a fantasy novel uniquely placed to comment on the ethics of technology, intellectual property, and anti-competitive practices that create barriers to information for the less privileged members of society.

32322796Elegy by Vale Aida
As anyone who has been reading this blog, or following me on social media knows, I am physically incapable of shutting up about Dorothy Dunnett’s Lymond Chronicles. I have a literary type and it’s the clever, witty, competent, theatrical hero every bit as frustrating as they are intriguing. He who places everyone else above himself even while putting up a facade of apathy. Author Vale Aida’s Elegy and Swansong (the Magpie Ballads duology) are a delightful Lymond pastiche. Like the idea of the Lymond Chronicles but worried about the dense prose and untranslated quotations? Wish Lymond was more overtly queer than subtextually queer (it’s still pretty damn queer, it was just written in the 1960s)? Love the enemies -> lovers trope? Then Elegy and Swansong are for you! They are independently published, but available in eBook or paperback form through Amazon or Book Depository and are well worth buying! I fell in love with the characters, swooned over the lush prose, and delighted in the political intrigue.

PachinkoPachinko by Min Jin Lee
I feel like considering it only narrowly missed out on the top spot on my ‘Favourite Books of 2017’ list, I don’t talk about Pachinko nearly enough, so here goes: I knew very little about Korea in the 20th century so this multi-generational historical fiction novel following an ethnic Korean family living in Korea under Japanese rule, and then in Japan itself, was an eye-opening experience. It’s a novel that doesn’t shy away from depicting discrimination and hardship faced by Koreans living in Japan, who were seen as foreign residents and shut out of many traditional occupations. What makes Pachinko so engrossing though are its characters. Although the characters are realistic and flawed, at times making choices that are not in their best interests, I love that this family isn’t afraid of hard work and sacrifice in order to achieve a better life for their children. When they succeed, we feel their happiness, when things don’t go as well and they endure hardship, we bare their pain. It never feels long, and I was carried away by the elegant prose and the engaging portrait of one family through the decades.

68485Swordspoint by Ellen Kushner
I love that the genres of fantasy and science-fiction have come far enough that taglines like “lesbian necromancers in space!” and “queer librarians on horseback fighting facism!” are being used to sell books. It wasn’t always that way, but there were pioneers, like Ellen Kushner’s 1987 “mannerspunk”/”fantasy of manners” novel Swordspoint. It’s a second-world fantasy (meaning it’s set in another world but there’s no magic) about a bisexual master swordsman (Richard St. Vier), who is hired by nobles to settle their disputes by dueling on their behalf. The plot is largely political intrigue among nobels, but it’s Kushner’s lovely prose and the way in which she writes her captivating characters (particularly Richard and Alec and their relationship) that stayed with me long after I finished the book. I’m definitely due for a re-read this Spring!

31451186Borne by Jeff VanderMeer
I’m not just including Borne because I’m especially proud of the review where I compared the concept of this novel to studio executives hearing the pitch for SpongeBob SquarePants for the first time (although, I am proud and I stand by it!), it’s honestly one of my favourite standalones of all time. I value uniqueness in my reads and I can’t think of anything stranger than Jeff VanderMeer’s novel about a sentient cross between a sea anemone and a squid, a towering, insane, flying grizzly bear, and a post-apocalyptic city scavenger. Often eloquent and beautiful, Borne is a melancholy, but ultimately hopeful, exploration of humanity, the environment, and non-human intelligence.

35018890Amberlough by Lara Elena Donnelly
All three of Lara Elena Donnelly’s Amberlough Dossier trilogy books are single-word titled books and I absolutely adore them. Inspired by both Cabaret and Weimar Republic Berlin, Amberlough is a tense spy drama set in a sensual, richly described, secondary world during the rise of a fascist government coup. I’ve rarely A) been so tense while reading a book and B) found myself absently reflecting on the book even months after I finished reading it. I loved the moral ambiguity of the world and its characters, the relationships between each of the characters (but particularly Aristide and Cyril), and the political intrigue. Amberlough is one of those rare books that has imprinted on my heart and that I know I’ll be re-reading for the rest of my life.

What are some of your favourite single-word book titles? Drop me a comment and let me know!

Want to join in the fun? Head on over to Top Ten Tuesday, created by The Broke and Bookish and now hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl!

January/February Wrap-Up

We’re 2 months into 2020 and honestly? I’m not off to a great start. I’ve read 10 books so far (3 of them re-reads), which puts me on track for my Goodreads Challenge goal of 60, but I don’t have a new 5-star read to show for it. February hasn’t been a great month for me personally and I’ve been struggling with both Seasonal Affective Disorder and stress over my job situation (my temp. FT position is coming to an end in less than a month and I don’t know what’s next for me) so I only made it through 4 books this month – 2 of them novellas. Hopefully March will be a more successful reading and blogging month for me!


JANUARY
The Raven Boys (re-read) by Maggie Stiefvater  small 5 stars
The Catalogue of Shipwrecked Books by Edward Wilson-Lee  small-2-stars + Review
The Dream Thieves (re-read) by Maggie Stiefvater  small 5 stars
Blue Lily, Lily Blue (re-read) by Maggie Stiefvater  small 5 stars
A Memory Called Empire by Arkady Martine  small 4 stars
Tarnished Are The Stars by Rosiee Thor  small-3-stars

FEBRUARY
To Be Taught, If Fortunate by Becky Chambers  small 3 half stars
The Unspoken Name by A.K. Larkwood  small 4 stars
The Regrets by Amy Bonnaffons  small-2-stars
Upright Women Wanted by Sarah Gailey  small 4 stars

Current Reading: I am slowly working my way through Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall. I keep getting sidetracked by new release library holds but I am genuinely enjoying it and looking forward to getting back into Wolf Hall in March. I’m just starting Daughter from the Dark by the Dyachenkos (trans. by Julia Hersey). I loved Vita Nostra so I’m hoping this will be another strong release from them. I’m also continuing with my Ace Books Challenge by picking up Belle Révolte by Linsey Miller. Besides those books I’m really desperate to get a few five star books under my belt so I may dive into my backlist of titles I’ve been wanting to read for awhile rather than grabbing the new and shiny.

***Seen on TV***
I don’t have cable or any streaming services except Netflix but I’m slowly trying to catch up on some of the TV that I’ve missed. In the last few months I’ve watched (either on DVDs from the library or on Netflix):

  • Chernobyl (HBO) – Difficult to watch at times but eye-opening, especially since it occurred the year I was born so I didn’t know that much about the events or the government response. Skip episode four entirely if you’re triggered by seeing multiple dogs die.
  • Good Omens (Amazon/BBC) – I read the book years ago and really liked it so I’d been waiting to get my hands on this. First of all, David Tennant and Michael Sheen are perfect as Aziraphale and Crowley and I loved watching their relationship develop on screen. Generally I thought the pacing and depiction were very good. My one complaint is that when Tennant and Sheen weren’t on screen I found myself losing interest, but this is a gorgeous tribute to Pratchett’s work and is so enjoyable!
  • Star Trek Discovery (CBS All Access) – The plot is a little bonkers at times and can be hard to follow, but I just love these characters so much that I don’t even care! Pike was a tremendous addition to the show, Ethan Peck was great as Spock, and I continued to enjoy the relationships between characters: Tilly and Michael’s friendship! Saru and Michael’s respect for and trust in one another! Stamets getting his husband back! I’m curious to see where it will go next, but honestly I’m most interested in the characters so it hardly even matters.
  • The Untamed (Netflix) – In case you missed it, I’ve wholeheartedly fallen into The Untamed and I’m never climbing out! The Untamed/CQL is a Chinese-subtitled fantasy series set in ancient China about different sects who seek immortality through dispelling demons and monsters using magic and swords. It’s part political machinations, part murder-mystery, but mostly it’s a love story between the rule-abiding stoic Lan Wangji (aka. Lan Zhan) and carefree mischievous Wei Wuxian (aka. Wei Ying) that transcends decades, family obstacles, and even death! Although based on a gay Chinese novel, censorship prevents it from openly being depicted as a love story but somehow the show is even gayer as a result? There’s lots of yearning, touching, long-held gazes, and yes they even have their own in-show ship song (sung by the actors portraying the roles). The special effects are awful, but the acting, costumes, and set design are terrific. I’ve actually cried watching this show, which is rare for me, and I’m so hooked that I think I’m on my fifth or sixth re-watch. Let me know if you want to gush about The Untamed with me!

***Seen on Stage***

In contrast to my reading, I saw a lot on stage! The odds that I’ll write full reviews are not good, so here are some short reviews on the Toronto theatre scene this month:

Mother’s Daughter and Jesus Hopped the ‘A’ Train (Soulpepper)
My day off happens to fall on a Wednesday so I made it a two-show day by taking in a matinee performance of Mother’s Daughter and spending the evening at Jesus Hopped the ‘A’ Train at Soulpepper.

Mother’s Daughter is the final part in playwright Kate Hennig’s Queenmaker trilogy, exploring Tudor Queens through a contemporary feminist lens. While I still think the first of these plays (The Last Wife, about Catherine Parr) is my favourite, I loved this story of the much maligned “Bloody Mary” Tudor as she comes into her power. It’s very much a play about perception and legacy, deftly exploring how women (and particularly women with power) are viewed and remembered by those around them. Why is Mary villainized while her father, who executed indiscriminately, is remembered more fondly by history? At the heart of Mother’s Daughter are the relationships between women. Mary (played as a sympathetic anti-hero by Shannon Taylor) has a fraught relationship with the apparition of her dead mother Catherine of Aragon/Catalina (Irene Poole in a commanding performance), who urges her to be merciless and eliminate rivals while she has both a sisterly love and a healthy distrust of half-sister Bess (charismatic Jessica B. Hill), a more able political player, and finds commonality with the pious, doomed Lady Jane Grey (Andrea Rankin). I sympathized with Mary as she at first attempts to placate her enemies and grant them clemency, only to make choices that arguably lead to ruin when she’s pushed to act decisively. Told in accessible colloquial language (in the wake of Brexit, a line about how the ‘English do not like Europeans’ referencing Mary’s unpopular marriage proposal from Spain drew laughter), Mother’s Daughter is a timely and perceptive exploration of women in power.

Set almost entirely in the notorious Rikers Island prison, playwright Stephen Adly Guirgis’ Jesus Hopped the ‘A’ Train explores themes of contrition and hypocrisy. Minimal set design emphasizes the bleak environment faced by incarcerated men and highlights the sliver of sunlight they observe in their daily allotment of yard time. Although this production is anchored by strong performances from Xavier Lopez as Angel Cruz, on trial for attempted murder, Diana Donnelly as his put-upon, proud defense attorney, and the reliably excellent Daren A. Herbert as charismatic fellow inmate Lucius Jenkins, I couldn’t fully connect with the story. I suspect the play is meant to cause audiences to reflect on morality. I’m all for moral ambiguity and it’s a theme I usually love to see explored, but I found the weighing of an unintentional killing of one man, essentially a cult leader who has objectively done bad deeds, against eight lives of “normal” people taken intentionally to be too cut and dried for me to take seriously.

Singin’ in the Rain – Film with Orchestra at the Toronto Symphony Orchestra
I’ve been to a couple film with orchestra presentations in the city now with mixed results, so I was a little skeptical about how well this would work but figured that either way it was a chance to see one of my favourite films on the big screen. Singin’ in the Rain with the TSO was such a delight though! After the first few minutes (in which the live orchestra drowned out the movie musical), the sound was adjusted and I had a lovely time. Admittedly I’m not a film buff and I don’t tend to see a lot of movies while they’re still in theatres, so I’d forgotten the sheer joy of watching and reacting to a film with other people and how fresh that can make the experience even of watching a film you can practically quote from memory. An all-time great made even better with a live orchestra.

Secret Life of a Mother (Crow’s Theatre)
I went into this one-women show completely blind, having booked tickets entirely because I loved both playwright Hannah Moscovitch and Maev Beatty, the actress starring in it. As it turns out, it’s a raw exploration of pregnancy and motherhood that’s by turns laugh-out-loud funny and incredibly poignant. Both the friend I went to see this with and I do not intend to ever have children, yet it had both of us tearing up so I can only imagine the impact this beautiful show would have on a mother or mother-to-be! One of many highlights was Maev sharing that during childbirth, starred at by impatient doctors, she felt such pressure to perform that she pushed so hard she gave herself a black eye! I absolutely loved this and would recommend it to most (although it does deal with difficult issues, including miscarriages, so not for women who have recently been through a miscarriage or infertility).

Caroline, or Change (Musical Stage Company and Obsidian Theatre)
If you’ve never been to Toronto, The Winter Garden Theatre is one of the most gorgeous theatre venues I’ve ever seen. It’s one part of the last surviving double-decker theatre in North America and the ceiling is adorned with lanterns and real beech branches and leaves to give the appearance of an Edwardian garden. These days it’s mostly used as a venue for TIFF so I was thrilled when the Musical Stage Company announced their residency in the Winter Garden Theatre. As I’ve come to expect from Musical Stage Company, this production is top-notch. The cast is terrific, with standout performance from R&B star Jully Black in her first musical theatre role as Black maid Caroline, and Vanessa Sears as daughter Emmie and the simple multi-level effectively conveys the reality of 1963 Louisiana. Unfortunately the problem with Caroline, or Change is the source material. The music is beautifully sung in this production but there’s not a memorable song among them, the book is clunky, and there’s an over-reliance on the double-meaning of change (Caroline is told that she can keep any change found in her employer’s clothes while she does the laundry and the musical is set against the backdrop of the 1960s Civil Rights Movement and the assassination of President Kennedy. I’m also a little baffled by the choice to have all of the inanimate objects (the laundry machine, the radio, the moon, etc.) personified as human beings yet nothing’s ever done with this concept and Caroline doesn’t interact with them? Anyway, great cast, great production, but not a musical that I enjoy. I cannot freaking wait for next year and the Musical Stage Company production of Natasha Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812 though!!