Top Ten Tuesday: Most Anticipated Books Of H2 2017

This week’s topic is the Top Ten Most Anticipated Books For The Second Half of 2017. Weirdly enough a bunch of books I’m anticipating have just come out or are coming out in June, just short of making this list. A further few are due out in January 2018, just after the cut off. I managed to find ten books due out this summer and fall that I’m really looking forward to reading though.

Want to join in the fun? Head on over to Top Ten Tuesday, hosted by The Broke and Bookish.

255288081. That Inevitable Victorian Thing by E.K. Johnston
(Release date: October 3, 2017)
A friend of mine who read an ARC has been raving about this for ages, and I’ve generally only heard positive things about this book. Certainly the premise sounds right up my alley, and I love that my home city of Toronto plays a role, so I can’t wait to give it a try!

Synopsis: Victoria-Margaret is the crown princess of the empire, a direct descendant of Victoria I, the queen who changed the course of history two centuries earlier. The imperial practice of genetically arranged matchmaking will soon guide Margaret into a politically advantageous marriage like her mother before her, but before she does her duty, she’ll have one summer incognito in a far corner of empire. In Toronto, she meets Helena Marcus, daughter of one of the empire’s greatest placement geneticists, and August Callaghan, the heir apparent to a powerful shipping firm currently besieged by American pirates. In a summer of high-society debutante balls, politically charged tea parties, and romantic country dances, Margaret, Helena, and August discover they share an unusual bond and maybe a one in a million chance to have what they want and to change the world in the process —just like the first Queen Victoria.

318177492. The Stone Sky by N.K. Jemisin
(Release date: August 15, 2017)
The first book in her Broken Earth trilogy, The Fifth Season, deservedly won the Hugo Award for Best Novel last year and its follow-up, Obelisk Gate, is nominated this year. Both books are like nothing I have ever read before. Jemisin’s prose and world-building is exquisite, her fiction diverse, and her stories incredibly engaging. I can’t wait to finish the trilogy this summer with The Stone Sky.

Synopsis: The Moon will soon return. Whether this heralds the destruction of humankind or something worse will depend on two women.
Essun has inherited the power of Alabaster Tenring. With it, she hopes to find her daughter Nassun and forge a world in which every orogene child can grow up safe.
For Nassun, her mother’s mastery of the Obelisk Gate comes too late. She has seen the evil of the world, and accepted what her mother will not admit: that sometimes what is corrupt cannot be cleansed, only destroyed.

342732363. Little Fires Everywhere by Celene Ng
(Release date: September 12, 2017)
I LOVED Ng’s first novel, Everything I Never Told You and ranked it number four on my list of the best books I read in 2016. It was the kind of novel I was still thinking about days, and even weeks after finishing it. The prose was exquisite, the subject (a Chinese-American family’s struggles with sexism and race in 1970s America) one not often dealt with, and the characters were all flawed and nuanced. Based on the strength of that one book I would read just about anything this author puts out.

Synopsis: In Shaker Heights, a placid, progressive suburb of Cleveland, everything is planned – from the layout of the winding roads, to the colors of the houses, to the successful lives its residents will go on to lead. And no one embodies this spirit more than Elena Richardson, whose guiding principle is playing by the rules.
Enter Mia Warren – an enigmatic artist and single mother – who arrives in this idyllic bubble with her teenaged daughter Pearl, and rents a house from the Richardsons. Soon Mia and Pearl become more than tenants: all four Richardson children are drawn to the mother-daughter pair. But Mia carries with her a mysterious past and a disregard for the status quo that threatens to upend this carefully ordered community.
When old family friends of the Richardsons attempt to adopt a Chinese-American baby, a custody battle erupts that dramatically divides the town–and puts Mia and Elena on opposing sides. Suspicious of Mia and her motives, Elena is determined to uncover the secrets in Mia’s past. But her obsession will come at unexpected and devastating costs.

335668714. The Speaker by Traci Chee
(Release date: November 7, 2017)
I really enjoyed Traci Chee’s first book in this series, The Reader, which struck me as something of a love letter to books and those who love to read, but in a fascinating YA fantasy story. I remember loving both of the protagonists, Sefia and Archer, and I can’t wait to read what happens next in their story.

Synopsis: After barely escaping the clutches of the Guard, Sefia and Archer are on the run again and slip into the safety of the forest to tend to their wounds and plan their next move. Haunted by painful memories, Archer struggles to overcome the trauma of his past with the impressors, whose cruelty plagues him whenever he closes his eyes. But when Sefia and Archer happen upon a crew of impressors in the wilderness, Archer finally finds a way to combat his nightmares: by hunting impressors and freeing the boys they hold captive.

With Sefia’s help, Archer travels across the kingdom of Deliene rescuing boys while she continues to investigate the mysterious Book and secrets it contains. But the more battles they fight, the more fights Archer craves, until his thirst for violence threatens to transform him from the gentle boy Sefia knows to a grim warrior with a cruel destiny.

253532865. Provenance by Ann Leckie 
(Release date: September 26, 2017)
I still have to read the final volume in Ann Leckie’s Imperial Radch trilogy, but I love the world-building, the inventiveness of the plot, and the characters, particularly snarky with a heart of gold former ship Breq/Justice of Toren. Ann Leckie is definitely on the list of authors I would try just about anything by, and I can’t wait for this new book.

Synopsis: A power-driven young woman has just one chance to secure the status she craves and regain priceless lost artifacts prized by her people. She must free their thief from a prison planet from which no one has ever returned. Ingray and her charge will return to her home world to find their planet in political turmoil, at the heart of an escalating interstellar conflict. Together, they must make a new plan to salvage Ingray’s future, her family, and her world, before they are lost to her for good.

340769526. The Language of Thorns by Leigh Bardugo
(Release date: September 26, 2017)
I’m not usually a short stories person, but at this point I think I’ll read just about anything Leigh Bardugo writes, and I love the rich world-building she’s done through the Grisha trilogy and then through the Six of Crows duology. I can’t wait to read more from her vivid imagination.

Synopsis: Travel to a world of dark bargains struck by moonlight, of haunted towns and hungry woods, of talking beasts and gingerbread golems, where a young mermaid’s voice can summon deadly storms and where a river might do a lovestruck boy’s bidding but only for a terrible price.

Inspired by myth, fairy tale, and folklore, #1 New York Times–bestselling author Leigh Bardugo has crafted a deliciously atmospheric collection of short stories filled with betrayals, revenge, sacrifice, and love.

285261927. 27 Hours by Tristina Wright
(Release date: October 3, 2017)
I’ve heard a few good things about this one, mostly because I gather it’s about 4 queer teenagers battling to save the planet. I’m all for increased diversity in fiction and this sounds really interesting, so I’m looking forward to reading it.

Synopsis: During one twenty-seven-hour night, if they can’t stop the war between the colonies and the monsters from becoming a war of extinction, the things they wish for will never come true, and the things they fear will be all that’s left.

27 Hours is a sweeping, thrilling story featuring a stellar cast of queer teenagers battling to save their homes and possibly every human on Sahara as the clock ticks down to zero.

297607788. The Tiger’s Daughter by K. Arsenault Rivera
(Release date: October 3, 2017)
Victoria Schwab’s blurb reads: “A love letter to my favorite kind of fantasy―rich, expansive, and grounded in human truth. It is a story of star-crossed loves, of fate and power and passion, and it is simply exquisite.” I also gather it’s Mongolian-inspired epic fantasy and involves queer protagonists, so this is definitely one I’ll be reading!

Synopsis: The Hokkaran empire has conquered every land within their bold reach―but failed to notice a lurking darkness festering within the people. Now, their border walls begin to crumble, and villages fall to demons swarming out of the forests.

Away on the silver steppes, the remaining tribes of nomadic Qorin retreat and protect their own, having bartered a treaty with the empire, exchanging inheritance through the dynasties. It is up to two young warriors, raised together across borders since their prophesied birth, to save the world from the encroaching demons.

This is the story of an infamous Qorin warrior, Barsalayaa Shefali, a spoiled divine warrior empress, O-Shizuka, and a power that can reach through time and space to save a land from a truly insidious evil.

339582309. Forest of a Thousand Lanterns by Julie Dao
(Release date: October 10, 2017)
I don’t know much about this one, but it looks really interesting! An East Asian fantasy reimagining of The Evil Queen legend about one peasant girl’s quest to become Empress–and the darkness she must unleash to achieve her destiny, it apparently features an anti-heroine and a richly developed fantasy world – sign me up!

Eighteen-year-old Xifeng is beautiful. The stars say she is destined for greatness, that she is meant to be Empress of Feng Lu. But only if she embraces the darkness within her. Growing up as a peasant in a forgotten village on the edge of the map, Xifeng longs to fulfill the destiny promised to her by her cruel aunt, the witch Guma, who has read the cards and seen glimmers of Xifeng’s majestic future. But is the price of the throne too high?

Because in order to achieve greatness, she must spurn the young man who loves her and exploit the callous magic that runs through her veins–sorcery fueled by eating the hearts of the recently killed. For the god who has sent her on this journey will not be satisfied until his power is absolute.

2992370710. One Dark Throne by Kendare Blake
(Release date: September 19, 2017)
I gave the first book in the series 3.5 stars on goodreads, saying that I definitely had some issues with it, but I was engaged enough to keep reading and to continue the series. I loved the concept, but thought it started off very slowly and the writing style and plot felt a little younger skewing within the YA genre. I’m still excited about the next book though.

Synopsis: The battle for the Crown has begun, but which of the three sisters will prevail?

With the unforgettable events of the Quickening behind them and the Ascension Year underway, all bets are off. Katharine, once the weak and feeble sister, is stronger than ever before. Arsinoe, after discovering the truth about her powers, must figure out how to make her secret talent work in her favor without anyone finding out. And Mirabella, once thought to be the strongest sister of all and the certain Queen Crowned, faces attacks like never before—ones that put those around her in danger she can’t seem to prevent.

Are you looking forward to reading any of these? What are your most anticipated books for the rest of the year?

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Stage: Onegin

Onegin

“Oh dear father up in heaven, release us from boredom, oh dear father up in heaven send us a good time,” sing characters in the opening earworm song of Onegin, a new Canadian musical written by Amiel Gladstone & Veda Hille. The Musical Stage Company’s new production certainly succeeds in this goal, with a show that is inventive and fun. By presenting the nineteenth century source material in a contemporary way, they show that this classic tale’s exploration of love has relevance today.

The musical is based on Alexander Pushkin’s novel in verse about bookish country girl Tatyana Larin, who falls for St. Petersburg dandy Evgeni Onegin. She declares her feelings for Onegin in a letter but he condescendingly rejects her advances. Later he is invited to Tatyana’s name day celebrations by his good friend Lensky, a hot-tempered poet who is engaged to Tatyana’s younger sister Olga. Bored at the celebrations, Onegin avenges himself by flirting and dancing with Olga. The display upsets Lensky and he challenges his former friend to a fateful duel.

While the novel has previously been adapted into an opera (Eugene Onegin, first performed in 1879 and also credited as an inspiration for this musical), I’m most familiar with it from the excellent John Cranko ballet (created for the Stuttgart Ballet in 1965).

Self-referential and interactive, Onegin involves its audience. The actors move among the audience, break the fourth wall (as Lensky says in the first number, “that’s right, I’m actually talking to you. It’s one of those shows”), and even use the first row as a postal service to deliver letters between parties. This could easily be taken too far, but in Onegin it adds to the fun atmosphere of the performance.

The gorgeous two-level set, created by Denyse Karn, is designed to resemble the old house full of books that Tatyana dreams about. Clever staging allows the space to transform with minimal adjustments so a folded white sheet becomes a snow covered dueling ground, and the remnants of a cup of tea become the spilled blood that follows a duel.

Comprised of a three-person on-stage band and a seven person cast, the ensemble is strong and sounds richer than you would expect from its small number. A shout-out to Shane Carty, who plays Prince Gremin and others and whose baritone gives the ensemble depth (and I’m not just saying that because he brought me a shot of vodka in my second viewing!).

Rare is the show where it’s not just one or two songs that stick with you, but most of the score. That was the indie-rock inspired Onegin for me. Standouts are “Let Me Die”, Tatyana’s solo about falling in love, Lensky’s moving “Olga Will You Weep”, sung the night before his duel with Onegin, and the earworm “Oh Dear Father” that opens the show. This is a score I would happily listen to over and over again.

The standout performance of the night comes from Hailey Gillis. Her Tatyana has a naive earnestness in the first act and is believably awkward and lovestruck in her interactions with Onegin. She matures in the second act into a confident young woman, capable of feeling her youthful passion for Onegin while realizing how poorly he treated her when she was an uncultured country girl and not a member of society. I never feel like I have enough superlatives to describe a Hailey Gillis performance and here, where she plays a character that she can really sink her teeth into, she shines, showing vulnerability and passion by turns. Her voice has a light, almost ethereal quality to it, that suits the score, and her acting is subtle with every choice feeling genuine. You can see the hope leave her eyes as Onegin turns Tatyana down.

The other standout is Josh Epstein, reprising his Jessie award winning role as Vladimir Lensky. Serving as a narrator of sorts for the show, his Lensky is both genial and passionate. Epstein seems the most comfortable with the self-referential style of the show, and his soaring tenor is a treat to listen to, especially in the moving night before the duel solo “Olga Will You Weep”. Even knowing how the story would play out, each time I wished that Lensky would reconcile with Onegin, not ready to say goodbye to the character.

There’s something almost intoxicating about Onegin for me. I first saw the show when it was still in previews and by intermission was planning a return. Shortly into the second viewing I realized that I had to see this one last time before it closed and have since bought tickets for a final performance. Needless to say, I love it.

As much as I enjoy this show though, I do have some critiques of the production. I’m so glad I went back for more because some of the issues I had when I saw Onegin in previews had been fixed, most noticeably, the cast have settled into their roles and are more comfortable with the style of the material. This is especially true of Daren A. Herbert, who played bored so well in the first act that the charming rakish young dandy didn’t always come across, and whose voice wasn’t always settled in the score. This time around he was a standout, incredibly charming from the get go, which meant that I felt sympathy for his Onegin even as I cheered Tatyana on. His voice was also stronger, finding the perfect balance between rough emotion and pitch.

There are still a few things that don’t work for me with this show, most notably the comic relief. Admittedly I’m not a huge fan of the comic relief song in musicals. I’d be perfectly happy to listen to Les Miserables without “Master of the House”, or Jesus Christ Superstar minus “Herod’s Song”. Onegin has two such songs designed to break the tension.  “Queen of Tonight” at least draws a few laughs from the audience, although I thought its placement interrupted the flow of the show a little, but the song about rules for dueling fell completely flat and could use some re-writing, particularly since any musical in the modern age with a song about dueling is going to draw comparisons to Hamilton and “Ten Duel Commandments” this song ain’t.

As a mostly sung-through musical, I also found the transitions between songs were sometimes rough and could use some smoothing over.

All in all, Onegin isn’t perfect yet, but it’s a promising new Canadian musical with one of the best scores I’ve heard and a universally strong cast. I’m sure the road for this musical, which will also be heading to the National Arts Centre in Ottawa this fall, and on a tour of Western Canada, is not over yet and I hope very much that it will one day lead this very deserving show to The Great White Way.

If you’re in the Toronto area, don’t miss the chance to see this wonderful show before it closes on Sunday!

Onegin plays until June 4th at the Berkeley Street Downstairs Theatre.

Photo of Josh Epstein, Daren A. Herbert, Hailey Gillis by Racheal McCaig Photography

Reading the Hugos: Ninefox Gambit

26118426Ninefox Gambit by Yoon Ha Lee
Published June 14, 2016
star-3-half
Ninefox Gambit marks a couple of personal firsts for me. It’s the official start of my challenge to read all of this year’s Hugo Award nominees for Best Novel (I read The Three-Body Problem, the first book in the Remembrance of Earth’s Past trilogy, earlier this month but its the final book that is nominated this year for Best Novel). It also marks my first venture into the military sci-fi subgenre. I had my doubts about the subgenre, wondering if the battles waged would be detrimental to the development of interesting three-dimensional characters, but as it turns out, I worried for nothing. Ninefox Gambit is an enjoyable and completely unique read, although not always easy to understand.

When Captain Kel Cheris bends the rules, using heretical tactics to save her teammates from death, she is disgraced and her team disbanded. However, Kel Command gives her a chance to redeem herself by taking part in a plot to retake the Fortress of Scattered Needles from the heretics. To do so, she must ally with the undead Shuos Jedao, a tactician who has never lost a battle and may be able to successfully besiege the fortress. However, Jedao is remembered for going mad in his first life and murdering two armies, one of them his own. And he’ll be in Kel Cheris’ head the whole time.

The one issue I had with this book was that I felt it desperately needed either an extra paragraph in the synopsis that said something about the world, or a glossary to keep track of the character names, factions, and even maneuvers Yoon Ha Lee throws at the reader with limited explanation. Ninefox Gambit is one of those books that throws you into the deep end and hopes you can swim. Now this isn’t something that puts me off a book (I am a Dorothy Dunnett fan after all!), but it can make things difficult in a science-fiction setting where the reader is left to concentrate not just on the story but also on trying to figure out the make up and rules of an entirely new world with limited guidance.

Here’s the context I wish I had known when I started this novel. It’s set in the hexarchate, a far-future society that relies on advanced mathematics to produce a shared calendar that is more than just a measurement of time and that shapes everything. The large volume of people all adhering to the high calendar and celebrating the same holidays produces exotic effects that seem almost magical. However, the effects only work as long as everyone follows the same calendar. Since most of the hexarchate weapons and technology are exotic, dissidents can cripple hexarchate technology by changing the calendar and therefore the math that underlies reality. Dissidents, seen as heretics, are punished severely by the empire, destroyed whole planets at a time, so the hexarchate is perpetually at war.

The world has six different factions (hence hexarchate), including the technology-oriented Nirai who have knowledge of mathematics, the warrior Kel who routinely carry out dangerous and sometimes suicidal military missions, and the cunning, amoral Shuos who carry out intelligence and are responsible for strategy and tactics. If you’re interesting in reading Ninefox Gambit, I recommend checking out the author’s faction cheat sheet, published on his website by reader request, which looks really helpful for keeping the factions straight!

The world building is evidently really unique and well thought-out, I just didn’t feel like I had the context to grasp it all and it did detract from the reading experience for me. There is a lot to love about Ninefox Gambit though, especially the main characters.

Cheris is an instantly likable character. A mathematical genius, she has the ability to be one of the Nirai, the technology-oriented faction, but chooses to join the military Kel faction because she wants to be part of a team. Aside from being a female math genius and a skilled warrior(!), Cheris has a signifier, the Ashhawk Sheathed Wings, that means she’s very mentally stable, she is a mediocre duelist, and she unwinds by watching ridiculous dramas.

It’s her push and pull interactions with Shuos Jedao, the shifty imprisoned immortal General, that make the book for me. The relationship is one of necessity and mutual dependence. Cheris needs his tactics to stand a chance at her nearly impossible mission to retake the fortress, while for Jedao it presents an opportunity to to escape his immortal imprisonment in the bleak black cradle for a time, but does he have an ulterior motive? Cheris’ internal thoughts as she tries to determine how much she can trust this man and how much he is keeping from her are really interesting.

I really enjoyed Ninefox Gambit and I will definitely be hunting down the second book in the series, The Raven Strategem, which comes out in June. Part-way through the book I remarked that it was a cross between Ann Leckie’s Ancillary Justice and C.S. Friedman’s Coldfire Trilogy and I hold to that, although I think there’s a dash of The Traitor Baru Cormorant in there as well. It adds up to a totally unique concoction and now that I’ve familiarized myself with the world, I can’t wait to see what Yoon Ha Lee does with it next! Recommended if you like your sci-fi political, smart, and sometimes complicated, but also a lot of fun.

Books: The Upside of Unrequited

30653853The Upside of Unrequited by Becky Albertalli
Published April 11, 2017
star-3-half
Seventeen-year-old Molly Peskin-Suso has had twenty-six crushes and no relationships. Fearing rejection, Molly never puts herself out there, because fat girls have to be careful. But when Molly’s willowy blonde flirtatious twin falls hard for a new girl, Molly fears losing her sister and being left behind. Fortunately Cassie’s new girlfriend has a cute hipster best friend named Will who might just be crush material. There’s just one problem, she might be falling for her co-worker Reid, an awkward fantasy fan with a season pass to the Ren Faire, instead.

When Molly’s family and friends were first introduced, I worried that all of the wonderful diversity was an attempt to tick every box but wouldn’t be fleshed out into three-dimensional characters or explored in any meaningful way.  Fortunately I was wrong. Each of the characters are well-written and have flaws and personality quirks that set them apart.

One of my favourite things about this book is the rare positive depiction of parents in YA, and not just parents but gay inter-racial couple parents! Patty and Nadine are obviously loving mothers who care deeply about their family and each other. They successfully walk the line between being friendly with their teenagers and knowing when to lay down the line about inappropriate behaviour or intervene as needed. In fact, if I had read this book at the beginning of the month, they definitely would have made my Top Ten Tuesday on Favourite Moms in Literature!

I also loved that there was such a focus on women and on their relationships (platonic, romantic, and familial). I don’t know if I’ve ever seen so many different types of relationships between women in a single YA book before, from sisters Cassie and Molly, to engaged couple Patty and Nadine, to young love, to Molly and Cassie’s other friends, their cousin Abby and their friend Olivia.

But while Albertalli plants the seeds for these fabulous relationships, I think the novel is so short that some of them remain under-developed. With the exception of their first meeting, most of Cassie and Mina’s relationship develops off the page. This decision does mean that the reader, like Molly, feels isolated by the lack of detail about the relationship and how Cassie and Mina interact as a couple, but it means we never fully understand Cassie’s motivations in shutting her sister out, and she comes across as a fairly unlikable and selfish character as a result.

As much as these people all care about each other, I appreciated the fact that not everything is perfect. Grandma means well but makes racist comments and comments negatively on Molly’s weight. Nadine’s sister is homophobic, and the sisters and parent-daughter relationships experience strain over the course of the novel.

Admittedly the miscommunication sometimes made me cringe, but I think it’s an indicator of just how well Albertalli writes realistic teenage characters. Teenagers with crushes can be stupid when it comes to first relationships, prioritizing their boyfriend or girlfriend over their siblings and friends, and I think the awkward does he/she like me or not reads as very true to life as well.

I think there’s been some criticism over the obsession with boys and the desire to have a boyfriend that comes through so strongly in The Upside of Unrequited. I can see the merit in this and I’m usually quick to critique an overabundance of romance, but I also (vaguely) remember what it’s like to be sixteen or seventeen and to wonder what it would be like to have a boyfriend, and to have such a bad crush on someone that you walk into a door frame because they talked to you (yes, that has actually happened to me). Add to that Molly’s sister being in a serious relationship and the fear that she’ll lose Cassie to the girlfriend and yes, I understand the boy crazy in this book.

Ultimately I really liked Molly. She’s creative and crafty, always coming up with recipes, decorations, and even dress alterations off of pinterest. Although she’s a little passive as a protagonist, Molly has a few great moments where she stands up for herself that made me want to cheer. Also the message is generally positive. A fat girl protagonist falls for a boy and he likes her exactly the way she is and falls in love with her not despite, but because of, who she is. Molly doesn’t lose weight, undergo a makeover, or change her hobbies to snag the boy, he’s already smitten. Also, Molly and Reid are really adorable together.

The issue I had with The Upside of Unrequited is the same one I had with Queens of Geek. They’re both important books with a message that provide representation for marginalized groups and I’m thrilled they exist and do recommend both of them, but they’re a little fluffy and light on plot for my personal tastes. As much as I enjoy a light read every now and then, I wish there had been more tension beyond the internal angsting of who will Molly choose and will she make a move?

La Bohème: An Opera Newbie’s Thoughts

photo stage copy

Before Tuesday night I had been to a grand total of two-and-a-half operas, including an excellent and gorgeously sung production of Carmen, and half of a Don Giovanni best forgotten. With such limited experience of opera, I hesitated over whether I should write a review at all, but part of the magic of Against the Grain Theatre’s contemporary take on La Bohème is that it appeals to both opera newcomers and seasoned veterans alike.

I may not be qualified to comment on the technical aspects of this performance, such as how the English-translated libretto works compared to the original Italian, or on the vocal technique of the performers, but I can certainly discuss how the opera works as an introduction to opera newcomers, its timeless themes of friendship, love, and artists struggling to pay the rent, and the superb performances from a universally excellent cast.

This modern “transladaptation” of Puccini’s classic opera is set in present-day Toronto, sung in English, and takes place at a dive bar in the Annex (and yes, you can drink during the show!). Puccini’s characters and music are kept, with some minor updates (Rodolfo is a screenwriter, rather than a poet). The orchestration is stripped down to a solitary piano, but the simple accompaniment serves to highlight the strong voices in this well-rounded cast.

The opera opens with Rodolfo (Owen McCausland) and Marcello (Andrew Love)’s frigid apartment, as they burn sections of Rodolfo’s latest screenplay to stay warm. Joined by friends Colline and Schaunard (Micah Schroeder), who arrives bearing food and beer, they ply the shady landlord with liquor and send him away without the rent he demands. While the others head to the bar, Rodolfo stays behind to work on a script, but when a power outage strikes, he meets Mimi (Kimi Mc Laren), who is looking for someone to light her candle, and they fall in love.

Rarely have I seen a cast as strong as this one. From Kenneth Kellogg (as Colline)’s beautiful aria to his coat, to Owen McCausland (Rodolfo)’s strong tenor, which is particularly heartbreaking in his final tragic scenes with Mimi, there is not a weak link among them. Adanya Dunn is also captivating, introduced as a flirtatious, confident Musetta who does what she wants (including very nearly Marcello in a memorable scene on the bar!), she later shows a softer side as Musetta prays for Mimi to live.

The two standout performances of the night belong to Kimy Mc Laren and Andrew Love though.

Kimy Mc Laren is a wonderful Mimi. Her decline and death are incredibly affecting, aided no doubt by the fact that she imbues her character with a warmth and light that give the audience the impression that she is not just loved romantically by Rodolfo, but is also loved as a dear friend by the other artists, particularly Musetta and Marcello.

A fan of Andrew Love’s since his Les Miserables Toronto days, I was pleased but not at all surprised to see him steal every scene he’s in as Marcello. His characterization is nuanced, showing all of Marcello’s sides, from jealous suitor to clowning roommate, to grief-stricken friend, and it’s always a treat to hear Love’s gorgeous baritone again.

It would be easy for this adaptation of La Bohème to lean too heavily on the local setting, including references with a wink, but the subtler inclusion of details like a shot glass with a blue jays logo, and a casual reference to shopping on Bloor Street West, are just enough to set the scene and spark the thrill of recognition. Although less subtle, I also enjoyed the fact that Colline gets a job at BMV, a used bookstore located across the street that I frequent whenever I’m in the neighbourhood. Modern touches on the set and in the translated libretto add to the atmosphere, with the words, “I’ll text him” sung in a rich baritone drawing chuckles.

As a relative opera newcomer, I can’t imagine a better introduction to the art form than this one. Inventive and interactive (Musetta in particular wanders into the audience during the second act), La Bohème manages to be both laugh-out-loud funny and poignant by turns. The 1896 opera’s themes of struggling artists trying to make a living still carries weight in a world where millennials with four-year degrees struggle to find jobs in their field, and in a city where housing prices have skyrocketed. Its other themes of friendship and love are timeless. I highly recommend snagging rush tickets for this unique show if you can. I guarantee you will not regret it.

Finally, a shout out to the creative minds who came up with and designed the La Boheme faux newspaper that serves as the show’s programme, complete with articles, a headline (“The Rent is Too Damn High”), and a classifieds section. Given Toronto’s current housing market situation, the subject is timely. I particularly loved the listed requirements for renting an apartment in Toronto these days: “landlords now demand 10 post-dated cheques, first and last month’s rent, a cleaning deposit, a repair deposit (your landlord isn’t going to fix that thing on their own), a reference letter from all former employers going back five years, dental records, access to social media accounts, and, in some cases, a urine sample.”

La Bohème plays until June 2, 2017 at the Tranzac Club. The show is sold out for the rest of its run, but rush tickets are available for $35 cash only at the door for each performance.

Photo of Kimy Mc Laren and Owen McCausland by Nikola Novak

T5W: Favourite Minor Characters

Top Five Wednesday is currently hosted by Sam from Thoughts on Tomes. Want to join in the fun? Check out the goodreads group!

I took a bit of a detour the last few weeks to do a few Top Ten Tuesdays, but I’m back to Top 5 Wednesday with a list of my Favourite Minor Characters! I think the hardest part of compiling this list was trying to determine which characters counted as minor. This week’s topic defines minor characters as ‘less than a sidekick or a side character’ and uses the example of Ron and Hermione being side characters, while Lavender Brown, Oliver Wood, and Dean Thomas are minor characters. I’ve tried to keep to characters who are less than a sidekick, so hopefully I’m not too far off base here!

Without further ado, here’s my list:

3511981. Danny Hislop (The Lymond Chronicles)
I could probably make an entire top five list of my favourite minor characters from The Lymond Chronicles, but Danny Hislop is definitely at the top of it! I’m pretty sure it’s actually impossible to dislike Danny. From his first appearance as a soldier of Saint Mary’s he provides a much needed lightness to the series, asking why the men follow Francis Crawford of Lymond and assuming (correctly) that he’s gorgeous. Upon meeting Francis for the first time he actually moans, and proceeds to follow Lymond as much for the drama and out of curiosity than anything else.
Here are a few of his best lines:

“Gorgeous I called him and that he is…..And nasty I called him, and that, Maeve, was a shrewd piece of insight, for nasty he certainly is. And a clever bastard, I called him…Not to his face, dear. We’re not all born to be heroes. But what he may not know, Maeve, is that I’m a clever bastard as well.’

“As a reward for… what is your principal characteristic, would you say?”
“Treacherousness,” said Danny, gloriously.

“‘Do you think he will notice?’ Danny said. ‘I sometimes feel if I placed myself nude on the floor between the Voevoda and one of his meetings, he wouldn’t even walk round me.’”

173785082. The Women of 300 Fox Way (The Raven Cycle)
It feels only right to consider this formidable set of women as one (although if I had to pick a single woman it would be my favourite, Persephone). Blue’s family consists of her mother, Maura, Estonian psychic Persephone with her cloud of pale hair, confident Calla, Maura’s sister Jimi, and her daughter Orla. Growing up in this environment, surrounded by psychics with distinct but strong personalities, has clearly shaped Blue to be the self-assured individual she is, and I love that there is this sisterhood feeling to 300 Fox Way. All of the women are fully-realized despite the fact that they mostly play minor roles in the story, and I would happily read a collection of short stories about these ladies.

“Persephone said, “What an unpleasant young man.”
Calla let the curtains drift shut. She remarked, “I got his license plate number.”
“I hope he never finds what he’s looking for,” Maura said.
Retrieving her two cards from the table, Persephone said, a little regretfully, “He’s trying awfully hard. I rather think he’ll find something.”
Maura whirled toward Blue. “Blue, if you ever see that man again, you just walk the other way.”
“No,” Calla corrected. “Kick him in the nuts. Then run the other way.”

72601883. Finnick Odair (The Hunger Games)
Oh Finnick. Introduced as a somewhat cocky flirtatious male victor from district 4, as Katniss gets to know him, she and the reader discover that there’s more to Finnick than meets the eye. He is close to Mags, an elderly woman who was his mentor, and he is deeply in love with “mad” Annie Cresta, who is also a former victor. As an ally to Katniss and Peeta in the Quarter Quell, he helps to keep them alive and is an integral part of the story in Mockingjay where he falls into depression over Annie’s captivity by the Capitol, but assists in creating rebel propaganda, where it’s revealed that he was prostituted to wealthy citizens by President Snow, who threatened the people he loves. Probably my favourite character in these books besides Katniss herself, I have all kinds of feelings about Finnick Odair.

“Finnick!” Something between a shriek and a cry of joy. A lovely if somewhat bedraggled young woman–dark tangled hair, sea green eyes–runs toward us in nothing but a sheet. “Finnick!” And suddenly, it’s as if there’s no one in the world but these two, crashing through space to reach each other. They collide, enfold, lose their balance, and slam against a wall, where they stay. Clinging into one being. Indivisible.
A pang of jealousy hits me. Not for either Finnick or Annie but for their certainty. No one seeing them could doubt their love.”

226373584. Cardenio (Doctrine of Labyrinths series)
Cardenio is a true minor character. A cade-skiff who drags the river under the city for bodies, he’s shy, quick to blush, and perhaps the best listener Mildmay has ever met. His role in the plot is minor. Cardenio sometimes offers information, but for Mildmay who is chronically underestimating himself and who has been used by some of those closest to him for their own purposes, including Kolkiss who raised him as a thief and assassin and took sexual advantage of him, and his brother Felix who often treats him poorly, Cardenio is the one person who wants nothing from him, who is just a good friend. (Ignore the truly awful cover that makes this look like a paranormal romance with a tattooed redhead, it’s actually a dark fantasy quartet.)

“Okay?” I said.
“Yeah. Really okay.  I mean, nobody’s ever given me this good a present before. Thanks.”
“Hey, you’re the only person I know’s ever made it to journeyman cade-skiff. That’s gotta be worth something.”
He blushed like a girl, and I let him off the hook by asking him to tell me what kind of thing he was learning this decad. We talked the way we always did, about everything under the sun. Cardenio was maybe the best listener I’d ever met. With him I didn’t feel like I had to worry about my scar.”

crookedkingdom5. Nikolai Lantsov/Sturmhond (Crooked Kingdom)
Okay, I’m sort of cheating since Nikolai is a character who had a larger role in Leigh Bardugo’s Grisha trilogy, but he appears more briefly in Crooked Kingdom. A snarky pirate king with a heart of gold, how could I not love Nikolai? I might have squealed a little when he popped up in Crooked Kingdom. I’m fascinated by characters who are malleable/able to code switch when in different company (like Prince Hal in Henry IV) and Nikolai is one of these characters, using his persona as Sturmhond the pirate to negotiate in situations where he cannot go as King of Ravka. Seeing him match wits with Kaz Brekker in Crooked Kingdom was a particular delight. Should Ms. Bardugo ever write more of Nikolai’s story I’ll be among the first in line to read it!

“Ravka is grateful for your service,” Sturmhond said as they turned to go. “And so is the crown.” He waved once. In the late afternoon light, with the sun behind him, he looked less like a privateer and more like… but that was just silly.”

Honourable mention to:

Jaqen H’ghar (A Song of Ice and Fire)
A girl is fascinated by Jaqen H’ghar, from his unusual manner of speaking to his relationship with Arya Stark, to his mysterious past.

The Red God has his due, sweet girl, and only death may pay for life. This girl took three that were his. This girl must give three in their places. Speak the names, and a man will do the rest.

Margaret Erskine (The Lymond Chronicles)
Anyone who puts up with Francis Crawford deserves a medal really, but especially Margaret Erskine. Overshadowed by her glamourous mother, she is often overlooked or pitied, having been widowed twice by age 19 (I think?), but Margaret is intelligent and uses her ability to be unnoticed to watch everything around her and use it to her advantage. At the end of Queens’ Play offers Lymond some advice that sticks with him through the rest of the series. Also she has this gem:

“Silently, Margaret Erskine held open the door. Lymond’s eyebrows shot up. ‘My dear, have patience. My wounds are to be salved.’
‘Go away and bleed to death,’ said his onetime savior sharply. ‘On behalf of the female sex I feel I may cheer every lesion.’

Who are your favourite minor characters?

Mystery Blogger Award

I was nominated by the fabulously eloquent Rachel of pace, amore, libri for the Mystery Blogger Award – thanks Rachel! If you like literary fiction, general fiction, and/or hist fic and aren’t following Rachel already, you’re definitely missing out. Also she has incredibly photogenic cats.

mystery-blogger-tag

The Rules:
Put the award logo/image in your post.
List all the rules.
Thank whoever nominated you and leave a link to their blog.
Tell your readers 3 things about yourself.
Nominate 10-20 people and notify them.
Link back to the creator of the award.
Ask nominees any 5 questions of your choice, with a weird or funny question.
Share the link to your best/favourite post of yours.

3 Things About Me:
1. Most of the music I listen to is cast recordings and musical theatre songs, and I am such a sucker for a baritone. I have tenor favs too – I was indoctrinated into love of Colm Wilkinson young through both the Canadian cast album of Phantom of the Opera and through Les Miserables and my love only grew when I saw him live (he’s a senior citizen but hugely funny, still has the voice, and puts on a fabulous show!). I would also watch or listen to just about anything for Jeremy Jordan and his combination of charisma with those glorious note he hits, but my ultimate love is baritones. Small wonder that one of my favourite songs is the baritone duet, “Lily’s Eyes” from The Secret Garden!

2. Horror is my one automatic nope genre, both in film and in books. I don’t mind a good thriller or a work of suspense, but I don’t like to be scared and I can’t deal with gore so I avoid horror like the plague!

3. I’m not a naturally neat person. I really wish I was. I wish that a bit of mess bugged me and switched something into gear in my brain to make me tidy up, but sadly that’s not me. I’m not the girl who apologizes for having 5 dirty dishes in her sink, I’m the girl who was up frantically cleaning at 12 am the day before friends or family come to visit so the apartment resembles other people’s normal levels of tidiness.

Rachel’s Questions:

1.What’s your favorite book-to-film adaptation and why?
I have to go with Lord of the Rings. I have minor quibbles with the movies (mostly Faramir, and even those are helped by the extended versions somewhat, and the sheer amount of fighting in The Two Towers getting a little boring after a bit), but in general what a feat adapting these huge, dense, classic books to film and doing so in a way that is exciting, that keeps with the spirit of Tolkien’s novels, and that feels real. I LOVE these movies, and I think they were so well cast. The films move me and make me want to fall into Middle Earth, or at least Rivendell and Hobbiton, and live there.

2. If you had to live in another country for a year, where would you choose?
I would 100% live in the UK for a year. I actually sort of tried this a few months after graduating university by enrolling in the SWAP program, where basically the program helps you with things like getting a working VISA for a year and offers some resources for housing etc. The plan was to go to the Republic of Ireland for up to a year and then to the U.K. Except I went in early 2009 when the financial crisis was causing all kinds of havoc. I did have friends I met in the program who stayed and found jobs and lived in Ireland, but generally it was much harder to find employment than I had been told, and I this was my first time away from home so I was already nervous. In the end I decided to use the money I had saved to travel and see what I wanted to see instead of worrying about whether or not I could get a job. I do sometimes wonder what it would have been like if I had stuck it out and tried to live and work in a foreign country, but my seven week traveling spree was the right decision for me at the time. I love London especially though, the mix of culture (The West End! Museums!) and history, and architecture, (and a better transit system!) and a country that isn’t too different from my own really appeals to me and it would be really cool to live there.

3. What’s your favorite board game/card game?
My great sadness is that because I am an introvert, someone more comfortable in small gatherings of a few people or one-on-one, game playing opportunities are few and far-between. I love playing games though. In high school we played Asshole (also known as President) the card game at lunch for months on end, I also liked Signal. My favourite game has to be Ticket to Ride though. I LOVE that game and I’m so sad that I never have anyone who will play with me!

4. Describe your ideal breakfast in detail.
As someone who loves fruit and pastries, breakfast is my favourite meal of the day! I love eggs benedict, I love french toast, and I love breakfast pastries. I think my ideal breakfast would probably be a buffet so I could have small amounts of multiple dishes. There would be some fresh fruit, especially strawberries and mango slices, some scrambled eggs, perhaps with feta, parsley, and cherry tomatoes, breakfast potatoes of course, danishes and/or muffins, and french toast. The scones benedict with tea at Alice’s Tea Cup in New York would also work!

5. Which fictional character do you most relate to and why?
I always have such trouble with this question! I think it’s partly because characters by their very nature generally have to be more ambitious, decisive, take charge than I am or they wouldn’t be very interesting to read about. I think that’s why I relate to two of Brian Fuller’s protagonists, Jaye Tyler from Wonderfalls and George Lass from Dead Like Me. Both characters are independent, sarcastic, fairly introverted, and are generally unambitious, forced into action by the universe.

My Questions:

1. What other languages do you speak, and which language(s) would you like to learn?
2. What would your ideal home library look like?
3. Describe your favourite tea or coffee mug.
4. Which author, living or dead, would you most like to meet and why?
5. What’s your unpopular food opinion?

Tagging:
Aditi @ Readers Rule
Luna @ BookishLuna
Elise @ The Bookish Actress
Emily @ Embuhleeliest
Cate @ Shelf Pickings

As always, if you don’t do tags, have already done this one, or are just plain not interested, please feel free to ignore!

And if you weren’t tagged but would like to do my questions, please do and link back to me so I can read your answers!

Books: The Three-Body Problem

20518872The Three-Body Problem by Cixin Liu, translated by Ken Liu
Published November 11, 2014 (originally published 2007)
star-3

Objectively I can see why The Three-Body Problem is so acclaimed. The concept behind it is fascinating, the science is well thought out, and although the book is set during and directly following China’s Cultural Revolution, it touches on themes that are relevant today. Personally though, I found The Three-Body Problem a bit of a slog.

There are a few reasons why the book didn’t click with me and the biggest one is genre. Admittedly I tend towards the Fantasy side of Science-Fiction & Fantasy. Much like my general preference for musicals over plays when it comes to live theatre, a science-fiction novel has to be really special for it to speak to me in the same way that a fantasy book does. I’ve read some fabulous science-fiction in the past few years though, including the first two books of Ann Leckie’s Imperial Radch series, Lois Mcmaster Bujold’s Vorkosigan Saga, and Erin Bow’s YA sci-fi Prisoners of Peace duology, so what was it about The Three-Body Problem that put me off?

Well, Liu’s book belongs to the “hard science fiction” sub-genre, which is characterized by an emphasis on scientific accuracy. To put it another way, there was too much science in this science-fiction novel for my librarian brain. Hard science isn’t an immediate no for me (I really enjoyed The Martian, I think because it was written with such a sense of humour), but it means a novel has to work harder to appeal to me, by containing a really engaging plot and/or characters who are deep and well fleshed out. I didn’t have that experience with The Three-Body Problem. Physics and math were never strong subjects for me, as evidenced by my Bachelor’s degree in English and my profession as a librarian. For many people who come from STEM-backgrounds, I expect the scientific plausibility will be a selling point rather than a detractor, I’m just not one of those people.

Across all genres, I enjoy reading about interesting, fully fleshed out characters who I can really connect with. Sadly The Three-Body Problem does not offer enough background or depth on its characters to spark a connection. I liked Wang Miao, I was intrigued by Ye Wenjie, and I appreciated Da Shi because his sarcasm and somewhat jerky behaviour at least meant that he had some personality to differentiate him from the other characters, but that was it. Without the emotional connection to characters, the most I could feel was a vague curiosity about three body and the eventual way that events will play out for the human race.

Finally, I found The Three-Body Problem really slow. I think I had read 185 pages in this nearly 400 page book before I felt like I was into it. It is the first book in a series so obviously some leeway is required to set up the world and the action, but I felt like the pacing was uneven throughout. However, it’s not all bad. There were a few things I thought the book did really well, namely:

Trisolaris. The most interesting parts of the book for me were the interludes set in the virtual reality video game world of three body. Liu creates an incredibly interesting and unique world with “chaotic” and “stable” eras, a civilization that continues to rebuild and advance in technology even after facing and being destroyed by various occurrences, and a race who dehydrate themselves in order to survive the volatile chaotic eras. These chapters were among my favourites in the book and I loved hearing about Trisolaris and its inhabitants.

Concept/Themes. It made a lot of sense to me that a character who has experienced tragedy during the Cultural Revolution and who looks around and sees the Cold War tensions of East and West decides that humanity can no longer help itself and needs outside intervention in the form of an alien race. In this day and age where the world seems to get wackier every time I check the news, the concept, while pessimistic, made a lot of sense to me (although I’m skeptical that an extraterrestrial power would be a better option).

Ultimately this just wasn’t the book for me, but I am intrigued enough to see where the story goes next. Honestly if I hadn’t committed to reading the Hugo Best Novel nominees I think I would still pick up the second book in this trilogy, but not for several months. However, I’ll be tracking down a copy and working my way through The Dark Forest in June.