Stage: Rose

rose

Touted as Soulpepper’s first original musical, Rose boldly defies categorization. It’s based on a children’s book (avant-garde poet Gertrude Stein’s The World is Round) yet there are songs and gags that will fly right over the heads of many little ones. The narrative initially follows a familiar path, as a precocious child grapples with questions of identity and her place in the world, and yet the plot takes bizarre, but often entertaining, twists.  Nine-year-old Rose’s journey of self-discovery brings her face-to-face with a pride of lions, her faithful canine companion Love laments his need to be let outside to pee in the soulful ballad “Let Love Out”, and Rose narrowly escapes from a terrifying group of… otters? While this new Canadian musical hasn’t quite reached the height of its potential yet, it’s still an immensely charming show that delivers big laughs with a lot of heart.

A revelation in Musical Stage Company’s Onegin a few years ago, Hailey Gillis is so genuine and endearing that I connected with the titular Rose immediately. I know this is an odd thing to say about an actress who has proven herself capable of playing different roles extremely well, but Gillis has this truthful, self-aware quality that makes it easy to get sucked into her performances. She brings a warmth and inner strength to Rose, a bright and inquisitive nine-year-old with one big problem – she can’t say her name out loud because she doesn’t yet know who she is.

Peter Fernandes has never been better suited for a role than he is here. I’ve often found Fernandes to be miscast or to have a tendency to be too much of a ham in his past roles, but he brings a boyish charm and humour to the role of Rose’s best friend Willy. Other standouts are Sabryn Rock, as the understandably exasperated schoolteacher who must contend with an unusually inquisitive student, and Jonathan Ellul as Love, Rose’s loyal doggo.

Adapted by Mike Ross and Sarah Wilson, Rose is a departure for Toronto’s largest not-for-profit theatre company, in that it’s not a musical cabaret but a fully-fledged musical complete with dancing. Although the three-piece on-stage folk band, which serve as the narrators of Rose’s story, are firmly rooted in Soulpepper’s musical traditions, additional songs have soul, bluegrass, and traditional musical theatre influences.  The score isn’t particularly earwormy, yet the songs work extremely well in the context of the show. Monica Dotter’s choreography playfully  draws upon children’s musicals of the past to feature obligatory classroom scenes complete with desks and simple, energetic motion. Rose even pokes gentle fun at the genre, but never in a way that feels mean-spirited.

Lorenzo Savoini’s design is simple yet effective, using a colour palate that reflects the iconic blue ink on pink page illustrations used in the original book. Alexandra Lord’s costumes are equally evocative, as she dresses the townspeople of Somewhere in colourful clothing and brings the animal characters (including Love the dog, the pride of lions, and a group of back-up singing bunnies) to life in style.

Full disclosure, I attended a preview performance of this new musical, so it’s entirely possible that some of the issues I had with Rose were already resolved by opening night. The performances I saw were strong and very polished for this early in the run, but the material could use some tightening up.

The biggest problem Rose has is that it’s unbalanced. While the first act is high energy and utilizes the show’s talented ensemble to the fullest, the second act drags. Let’s face it, there are only so many ways to make a character’s solitary climb up a mountain engaging! The loss of momentum is keenly felt in a musical that already runs long (the runtime is two-and-a-half hours) for a show that is ostensibly aimed at children. There are some high points after intermission, including the repetition of a song sung in a round, a lovely long-distance ‘thinking of you’ duet, and a finale that both touches and inspires, but other scenes – especially one involving spiders and a joke about sailors – should be trimmed or cut altogether.

Whether it’s in a book, a ballet, or a play, I value uniqueness and Rose certainly wracks up points for creativity. It’s a madcap musical romp that’s ultimately triumphant and hopeful – the sort of story that, like Matilda or Billy Elliot, encourages us to be who we are and proudly. Like it’s heroine, Rose may still have a way to go before it reaches maturity, but it’s an incredibly entertaining journey nonetheless. If you’re in the Toronto area, Rose is not to be missed.

Rose runs until February 24th, 2019 at the Young Centre for Performing Arts in the Distillery District in Toronto. Peek behind the scenes in this video.

Photo of Hailey Gillis and the Rose Ensemble by Cylla von Tiedemann.

Top Ten Tuesday: Books I Meant to Read In 2018 but Didn’t Get To

There were A LOT of books I wanted to read in 2018 and just didn’t get around to, so I couldn’t resist participating in this week’s Top Ten Tuesday. It turns out working in a public library is both the best and the worst thing that can happen to your TBR. It’s great to have first access to books, but really messes with your backlist reading when you’re constantly surrounded by what’s new and shiny! Here are some of the titles I didn’t quite get to last year:

1392810. Daughter of the Forest by Juliet Marillier
I picked up the entire trilogy at a used bookstore on a friend’s recommendation in 2017, but I still haven’t read any of them. Daughter of the Forest is the first book in a historical fantasy series that takes inspiration from Celtic mythology though, so obviously this is right up my alley! I can’t wait to finally check this out in 2019.

676979. Fire From Heaven by Mary Renault
Historical fiction is one of my favourite genres and Mary Renault is generally viewed as the queen of historical fiction, so I feel a bit like a Fake Fan for never having picked up any of her novels. A close friend has also been raving about her works for as long as I’ve known her, so I really need to make an effort to read some Renault.

284492078. Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor
Yet another book that I’m sure I’ll love when I finally get around to reading it! This one is pretty much universally adored throughout the book blogging community and is one of few fantasy novels that my mom’s read that I haven’t (she loved it). I really need to catch up.


178999487. Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier
In 2018 I crossed one longstanding classic on my TBR off when I finished Jane Eyre. Rebecca has been on that list nearly as long. I ending up opting for different classics than I intended to, reading Anna Karenina and Onegin in the fall instead of Rebecca, but 2019 is the year – I promise!

315486. Of Human Bondage by W. Somerset Maugham
This was on my five star predictions list in December 2017, so it’s about time I pick it up! I’ve seen a stage adaptation of this book (which I adored), and I know it’s one of Rachel’s favourites, so I know I’m going to love it, I just need to set aside the time for backlist reading in order to appreciate it!


328025955. Record of a Spaceborn Few by Becky Chambers

A lot of the books I meant to read last year fell victim to my magpie tendency to pick up new and shiny books spotted at the library instead of what I really wanted to read, or to a lack of time to read. Record of a Spaceborn Few was an issue of availability. Although published in October (in Canada, in the US it came out in July), copies are STILL On Order at my local library. Sigh. My library is wonderful and offers access to so many books I wouldn’t be able to afford to buy/have the space for in my apartment, but the waiting can be killer and the fact that it’s been almost three months and this book is still not available to borrow is definitely a little frustrating. Oh well, there are always other books to read in the meantime.

382553424. Frankenstein by Mary Shelley/The Dark Descent of Elizabeth Frankenstein by Kiersten White
I read Frankenstein over a decade ago in university and remember really enjoying it, but I hoped that 2018 would be the right year to revisit this classic. As an added bonus, I hoped to have the story fresh in my mind so I could pick up Kiersten White’s YA retelling from the perspective of Elizabeth Frankenstein. More than most classics though, Frankenstein feels like a very seasonal read and when my fall filled up and we moved into December, I just didn’t feel like reading it any more. This fall I’m definitely going to get through both of these though!

354854473. The Monster Baru Cormorant by Seth Dickinson
One of my most anticipated sequels of 2018 and I still haven’t picked it up! Generally if an author publishes a book a year in a series then I don’t always feel the need to re-read because I remember events well enough to continue on. If it’s been more than a year though, my memory gets a little choppy. I read The Traitor Baru Cormorant in summer 2016 and it’s a (brilliant, brutal) book full of politicking so I felt like I needed a re-read before picking up the next chapter in Baru’s saga, but I just ran out of time in 2018. This year I will definitely be reading both books in this brilliant series.

379697232. The Iliad by Homer/The Silence of the Girls by Pat Barker
I was first on the holds list at Toronto Public Library for The Silence of the Girls. I checked back daily until it appeared in the library catalogue and had the satisfaction of being number one. But it’s 2019, the book has been published, copies have gone out and come back, and my hold is still set to inactive. Why? Because although I have a pretty good grasp on Greek mythology, I really wanted to read The Iliad first. If you’ve ever looked at a copy of The Iliad though, you’ll know it’s a monster of a book, and (stupidly) I wound up committing to read another monster (Anna Karenina) in Fall 2018, so The Iliad went unread. I’ve enlisted a friend though and we’re planning to start in the next few weeks! Wish me luck so I can cross both of these books I’m sure to enjoy off my TBR in 2019!

771971. Assassin’s Apprentice by Robin Hobb
Of course the number one book I meant to get to last year and didn’t is the first in Robin Hobb’s Farseer series. Robin Hobb has been on my TBR for quite literally years! I’m a huge fan of the fantasy genre and have made strides over the last few years to read sci-fi and fantasy works written by women and authors of colour, but I’ve neglected backlist authors in the genre. I was sure 2018 would be the year and even agreed to be part of a buddy read of Assassin’s Apprentice with a few friends. Well, newer, shinier books came out and I had a tumultuous year personally and I kept pushing back the buddy read. Suddenly it was 2019. So I’m making a public vow that this will be the year I finally read Assassin’s Apprentice! Seriously. If you don’t see a review in a few months time please nag me until you do!

Have you read any of these? Which ones should I bump up my TBR? Let me know in the comments!

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!

Books: The Wildlands

36711026The Wildlands by Abby Geni
Published September 4, 2018
star-3-half
Following her evocative literary debut The Lightkeepers, Abby Geni returns with a contemporary, competent novel that explores many of the same themes. Exchanging the exotic Farallon Islands for rural Oklahoma and the southwest, The Wildlands is an interesting, and at times uncomfortable novel. I enjoyed it, but after wholeheartedly loving her glittering debut, I’d hoped for more from the author’s second novel than I actually got.

Geni returns to the theme of nature and our relationship to it, skillfully depicting the beauty and the danger inherent in the natural world. Like her debut, which paralleled the ways that animal species instinctively survive their harsh environment with the human ability to tell the mind what it needs to hear in order to cope, The Wildlands deals with the aftermath of traumatic events.

After a category 5 tornado decimates their Oklahoma farm and kills their father, orphaned siblings Darlene, Tucker, Jane, and Cora McCloud cope in both healthy and unhealthy ways. Faced with seeing her siblings divided up and placed in foster care, eldest sister Darlene sacrifices her college ambitions to step into a parental role. She takes a job at the local grocery store so she can provide for the family. Three months later, second eldest sibling Tucker walks out after a fight with Darlene and disappears.

The novel is told from two perspectives; an adult Cora looking back on the summer that her nine-year-old self, under the thrall of stories told by a charismatic brother she desperately missed, agrees to accompany Tucker on a cross-country mission she doesn’t really understand, and Darlene’s efforts to rescue her missing sister before it’s too late. Cora’s narration does serve as a softening lens through which to view the erratic temperament and actions of her eco-terrorist older brother. But as his love for animals in their natural wild state and hatred for the human race’s destruction of nature drives him to become more and more radical over the course of the novel it’s difficult to feel anything for Tucker besides discomforted by the power he has over Cora and a searing resentment. Tucker is certainly a realistic character, but we’ve reached the point as a society where it’s downright depressing to read about yet another (admittedly likely mentally unstable) resentful young white man who responds to trauma by committing violent acts while an elder sister, experiencing the same trauma, abandons her dreams to provide for her family.

Like in her previous novel, the author explores themes of storytelling and truth. Tucker ends all of the stories he uses to maintain a hold over Cora with “this is all true you know. This really happened”, and Cora herself is an unreliable narrator because what nine-year-old remembers events and conversations exactly as they happened? Particularly if a part of her is trying to protect the brother she loves. Geni also explores the idea of being in transition between different states of being. Darlene waits for news that her sister is either dead or has been found alive, animals exist on Tucker’s scale between Wild and Tame, and Cora herself, who has two identities over the course of the book.

After the eloquent prose of The Lightkeepers, this was a bit of a letdown. The simpler prose certainly serves the story Geni is telling, but I missed the evocative depictions of nature, the throwback feeling of a novel set in the present but so clearly influenced by Agatha Christie, and the overwhelming feeling of atmosphere achieved in her debut. The Wildlands is a solidly good read with an ending that will satisfy, but will I remember it six months down the road? Probably not.

 

T5W: Most Disappointing Books of 2018

I wanted to start the new year of blogging off on a more positive note by looking ahead to new releases I can’t wait to get my hands on and by looking back on the best theatre I saw in 2018. Now that we’re well into January though, it’s time to reflect on some of the books that not just fell short of the coveted three star or above rating on goodreads, but that were, for one reason or another, downright disappointing.

97817822719255. Clinch by Martin Holmén (translated by Henning Koch)
My rating: 2.5 stars

Admittedly it’s been more than a decade since I tackled a hard-boiled detective novel, but I remember really loving noir classics The Maltese Falcon and The Big Sleep. The problem with novels like these, published in the 1930s and featuring masculine detectives and femme fatales, is that too often they also reinforce homophobic stereotypes. So I had high hopes for Clinch, a novel published in 2016 but set in gritty 1930s Stockholm and starring Harry Kvist, a bisexual ex-boxer out to clear his name. Unfortunately while the concept is there, the execution is sadly lacking. The plot meanders and fails to grab, but more critically I never felt anything toward Harry Kvist beyond a certain detached pity for his situation. Holmén seems to be trying for a rough-and-ready antihero type, but what he ends up with is a man who isn’t very bright, solves literally every single problem he encounters with violence, and has only one redeeming quality – a soft spot for animals. The resulting novel is a muddy mystery that has little in the way of looking for clues or deducing leads and a whole lot of hitting random people in hopes of gaining information. It gets old fast. Yes it’s brutal, graphic, and, to a certain extent, atmospheric, but I just didn’t care. This has to be the first book I’ve read where the protagonist gets crabs though, so there’s that, I guess.

363271174. The Court Dancer by Kyung-Sook Shin  (Translated by Anton Hur)
My rating: 2.5 stars
Another case of a terrific idea poorly executed. I hoped that this would be another great East Asian historical fiction read in the same vein as Min Jin Lee’s Pachinko or Lisa See’s The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane, but The Court Dancer is written in a way that keeps the reader at arm’s length so we never connect with any of its characters. Set in the 1880/90s, when isolationist Korea began to open its doors to the west, the book is divided between French diplomat Victor’s time in Korea, where he falls for Yi Jin, a skilled dancer and favourite of the Queen’s, and their time as a couple in Belle Epoque Paris. Unfortunately this is one of the worst paced books I’ve ever read. Quite literally half of the book is spent on Victor trying to gain permission to marry Yi Jun, who is so reticent that the reader has no idea how she feels about any of this. Victor himself is less in love with Yi Jun than he is enraptured by her beauty and the fact that she speaks French, so it’s hard to care at all about them as a couple. I was much more interested in the relationship between Yi Jun and the Queen, so naturally scenes between them occur only in brief flashbacks later on. The Court Dancer is the rare book that manages to be both lethargic and melodramatic, with high drama happening to characters we care little for. As a result, what should be a crushing, soul destroying tragedy is instead merely bittersweet and forgettable. Full review here.

356575113. Warlight by Michael Ondaatje
My rating: 2 stars
I tried to foray more into Can-lit this year and the results were decidedly mixed. While I loved Our Homesick Songs, a magic realism novel about the decline of the fishing industry in Newfoundland, and liked Thea Lim’s An Ocean of Minutes, a dystopian love story about the immigrant experience, I barely made it through Ondaatje’s Warlight. The prose, I’ll admit, is eloquent; It’s elegant, poetic, and a little dreamy. But when the characters are dull and the plot non-existent, pretty writing alone is not enough. I never connected with any of the supposedly ‘eccentric’ major or minor characters and got the distinct impression that these were the sorts of character traits that only an author who reads exclusively literary fiction (and who has never picked up a sci-fi or fantasy novel in their life) would consider strange. Ondaatje is an illustrious enough Canadian author, and writes well enough, that I would consider reading more of his works in the future, but this one left me struggling to understand what the big deal is and desperate to cleanse the palate with a more exciting and cohesive read. Full review here.

302013272. The Lonely Hearts Hotel by Heather O’Neill
My rating: 2 stars
A textbook case of take the comp titles with a grain of salt. I picked this up because it was being compared to The Night Circus, but tonally the two books couldn’t be more different. I didn’t walk away from The Lonely Hearts Hotel with any swell of emotion, appreciation for the imagery, or sense of magic. In fact, I was mostly just frustrated with this tale of two talented orphans in Depression-era Montreal. O’Neill’s over-stylized prose aims for whimsical charm, but sets a light and casual tone that doesn’t fit the dark and disturbing subject matter. The result is a book that seems to trivialize the very childhood sexual abuse, prostitution, abuse, and drug addiction it depicts. The tonal dissonance is so bad that it’s as if the entirety of Breaking Bad (not just a scene or two or a special one-off episode but the whole show) was told in the style of Pushing Daisies. I wasn’t won over by the romance either. How invested can you be in a ‘love story’ between a pair of characters who haven’t seen each other since they were 15 when all the male character can think about is how he can’t wait to penetrate her? There are some creative ideas here and a few lovely turns of phrase, but I didn’t find the emphasis on quirky descriptions of graphic sex, violence, and abuse nearly as charming as the author obviously does. Also, there are a lot of clowns. Your mileage may vary depending on how you feel about clowns.

13264201. Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson
My rating: 2 stars
While one of the classics I read in 2018 (Jane Eyre) ended up on my Favourite Books of 2018 list, Robert Louis Stevenson’s classic Treasure Island tops my Most Disappointing list. Why oh why do we as a society subject children to this deceptively slim volume of tedium masquerading as an adventure story?! It took me two whole weeks and the grim determination to not DNF to make it through these 187 pages. I can sort-of understand why Treasure Island would capture the imagination of readers in the nineteenth century, but this is one classic that the years have not treated kindly. The over-descriptive prose robs the narrative of any sense of tension or urgency, the characters are thinly written, and unless you’re fluent in 19th century nautical slang you’re bound to miss at least some of what’s going on. It’s particularly distressing that this book is recommended for pre-teen and teenage boys – often the most reluctant readers. I appreciate the impact that Treasure Island has had on pop culture, but my advice is to enjoy the media it’s inspired (especially the brilliant television series prequel Black Sails) and leave Treasure Island on the dusty shelf where it belongs. Full review here.

What were your most disappointing reads of 2018? Let me know in the comments!

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

Most Anticipated 2019 Releases

We’re a few weeks into 2019 and already a few hotly anticipated new releases have hit shelves. I’m currently re-reading The Girl in the Tower to prepare for The Winter of the Witch, the final book in Katherine Arden’s Winternight Trilogy, and as a devoted fan of both Buffy the Vampire Slayer and the Conqueror’s Saga, I can’t wait to see Kiersten White’s take on the Buffyverse in Slayer. Here’s a look at some of the other amazing 2019 releases that stand in the way of my eternal bookish resolution to read more backlist titles!

39855052

Kingdom of Copper by SA Chakraborty
January 22, 2019
Harper Voyager

Nahri’s life changed forever the moment she accidentally summoned Dara, a formidable, mysterious djinn, during one of her schemes. Whisked from her home in Cairo, she was thrust into the dazzling royal court of Daevabad—and quickly discovered she would need all her grifter instincts to survive there.

Now, with Daevabad entrenched in the dark aftermath of a devastating battle, Nahri must forge a new path for herself. But even as she embraces her heritage and the power it holds, she knows she’s been trapped in a gilded cage, watched by a king who rules from the throne that once belonged to her family—and one misstep will doom her tribe..

Meanwhile, Ali has been exiled for daring to defy his father. Hunted by assassins, adrift on the unforgiving copper sands of his ancestral land, he is forced to rely on the frightening abilities the marid—the unpredictable water spirits—have gifted him. But in doing so, he threatens to unearth a terrible secret his family has long kept buried.

And as a new century approaches and the djinn gather within Daevabad’s towering brass walls for celebrations, a threat brews unseen in the desolate north. It’s a force that would bring a storm of fire straight to the city’s gates . . . and one that seeks the aid of a warrior trapped between worlds, torn between a violent duty he can never escape and a peace he fears he will never deserve.

The first book in the series, City of Brass, was unique and inventive and I look forward to returning to this world and seeing where the journey goes next.

36307634

King of Scars by Leigh Bardugo
January 29, 2019
Imprint

Nikolai Lantsov has always had a gift for the impossible. No one knows what he endured in his country’s bloody civil war—and he intends to keep it that way. Now, as enemies gather at his weakened borders, the young king must find a way to refill Ravka’s coffers, forge new alliances, and stop a rising threat to the once-great Grisha Army.

Yet with every day a dark magic within him grows stronger, threatening to destroy all he has built. With the help of a young monk and a legendary Grisha Squaller, Nikolai will journey to the places in Ravka where the deepest magic survives to vanquish the terrible legacy inside him. He will risk everything to save his country and himself. But some secrets aren’t meant to stay buried—and some wounds aren’t meant to heal.

I think I squealed out loud when Leigh Bardugo announced that there would be new books set in the Grishaverse published starring Nikolai Lantsov. Although I definitely prefer Six of Crows to the Grisha trilogy, Nikolai was hands down my favourite character from the series and I look forward to seeing more of him, and more of my darling Nina. I’m a heavy public library user, but this is one of few books on this list that I’ve pre-ordered!

41940477

Vigilance by Robert Jackson Bennett
January 29, 2019
Tor.com

The United States. 2030. John McDean executive produces “Vigilance,” a reality game show designed to make sure American citizens stay alert to foreign and domestic threats. Shooters are introduced into a “game environment,” and the survivors get a cash prize.

The TV audience is not the only one that’s watching though, and McDean soon finds out what it’s like to be on the other side of the camera.

Robert Jackson Bennett has become an auto-buy/borrow author of mine and although I imagine this dark science-fiction novella about gun violence will be a sobering and at times difficult read, I’m certain it will be worth tackling.

37534907

The City in the Middle of the Night by Charlie Jane Anders
February 12, 2019
Tor

Set on a planet that has fully definitive, never-changing zones of day and night, with ensuing extreme climates of endless, frigid darkness and blinding, relentless light, humankind has somehow continued apace — though the perils outside the built cities are rife with danger as much as the streets below.

But in a world where time means only what the ruling government proclaims, and the levels of light available are artificially imposed to great consequence, lost souls and disappeared bodies are shadow-bound and savage, and as common as grains of sand. And one such pariah, sacrificed to the night, but borne up by time and a mysterious bond with an enigmatic beast, will rise to take on the entire planet–before it can crumble beneath the weight of human existence.

When I set myself the challenge of reading all the Hugo nominees for best novel in 2016, I encountered Charlie Jane Anders’ novel All The Birds in the Sky. I remember thinking it was unlike anything I’d read before (originality is always a plus for me) and loving the flawed, engaging female protagonist. She’s definitely an author to watch and I look forward to reading her latest novel.

40381319

The Priory of the Orange Tree by Samantha Shannon
February 26, 2019
Bloomsbury Publishing

The House of Berethnet has ruled Inys for a thousand years. Still unwed, Queen Sabran the Ninth must conceive a daughter to protect her realm from destruction—but assassins are getting closer to her door.

Ead Duryan is an outsider at court. Though she has risen to the position of lady-in-waiting, she is loyal to a hidden society of mages. Ead keeps a watchful eye on Sabran, secretly protecting her with forbidden magic.

Across the dark sea, Tané has trained all her life to be a dragonrider, but is forced to make a choice that could see her life unravel.

Meanwhile, the divided East and West refuse to parley, and forces of chaos are rising from their sleep.

I’ll admit it, I initially was drawn to this book by it’s incredibly beautiful cover. I didn’t read as much fantasy as I wanted to last year, and as a result I had a pretty dismal reading year, so I’m looking forward to taking on this epic fantasy. The nearly 850 page count is a little daunting though, so maybe not until I’m well ahead on my goodreads challenge…

39395857

The Raven Tower by Ann Leckie
February 26, 2019
Orbit

For centuries, the kingdom of Iraden has been protected by the god known as the Raven. He watches over his territory from atop a tower in the powerful port of Vastai. His will is enacted through the Raven’s Lease, a human ruler chosen by the god himself. His magic is sustained via the blood sacrifice that every Lease must offer. And under the Raven’s watch, the city flourishes.

But the power of the Raven is weakening. A usurper has claimed the throne. The kingdom borders are tested by invaders who long for the prosperity that Vastai boasts. And they have made their own alliances with other gods.

It is into this unrest that the warrior Eolo–aide to Mawat, the true Lease–arrives. And in seeking to help Mawat reclaim his city, Eolo discovers that the Raven’s Tower holds a secret. Its foundations conceal a dark history that has been waiting to reveal itself…and to set in motion a chain of events that could destroy Iraden forever.

After her Imperial Radch trilogy and the standalone Provenance I’m firmly in the Ann Leckie camp. I’ve adored her contributions to the science-fiction genre so I can’t wait to see her take on fantasy.

40538657

The Island of the Sea Women by Lisa See
March 5, 2019
Scribner

Mi-ja and Young-sook, two girls living on the Korean island of Jeju, are best friends that come from very different backgrounds. When they are old enough, they begin working in the sea with their village’s all-female diving collective, led by Young-sook’s mother. As the girls take up their positions as baby divers, they know they are beginning a life of excitement and responsibility but also danger.

Despite their love for each other, Mi-ja and Young-sook’s differences are impossible to ignore. The Island of Sea Women is an epoch set over many decades, beginning during a period of Japanese colonialism in the 1930s and 1940s, followed by World War II, the Korean War and its aftermath, through the era of cell phones and wet suits for the women divers. Throughout this time, the residents of Jeju find themselves caught between warring empires. Mi-ja is the daughter of a Japanese collaborator, and she will forever be marked by this association. Young-sook was born into a long line of haenyeo and will inherit her mother’s position leading the divers in their village. Little do the two friends know that after surviving hundreds of dives and developing the closest of bonds, forces outside their control will push their friendship to the breaking point.

Historical fiction is a genre I love but I don’t read as much of it as I do fantasy or even YA. I’m determined to read more historical fiction, and to read more diverse historical fiction that isn’t just about Europe, so Lisa See is the natural choice. The only Lisa See book I’ve read so far was about China, but her novels are well-researched so I look forward to reading the first novel she’s written set in Korea.

27818782

The True Queen by Zen Cho
March 12, 2019
Ace Books

When sisters Muna and Sakti wake up on the peaceful beach of the island of Janda Baik, they can’t remember anything, except that they are bound as only sisters can be. They have been cursed by an unknown enchanter, and slowly Sakti starts to fade away. The only hope of saving her is to go to distant Britain, where the Sorceress Royal has established an academy to train women in magic.

If Muna is to save her sister, she must learn to navigate high society, and trick the English magicians into believing she is a magical prodigy. As she’s drawn into their intrigues, she must uncover the secrets of her past, and journey into a world with more magic than she had ever dreamed.

Georgian/Regency England is one of my favourite historical periods, so it’s not surprising that I was swept away by Zen Cho’s first novel, Sorcerer to the Crown. Witty, light, and empowering, it’s a brilliant underrated book about a woman of colour and a former slave upending convention and achieving power in a society that has put up barriers against them. I can’t wait to return to this world!

40642333

The Bird King by G. Willow Wilson
March 12, 2019
Grove Press

Hassan has a secret–he can draw maps of places he’s never seen and bend the shape of reality. When representatives of the newly formed Spanish monarchy arrive to negotiate the sultan’s surrender, Fatima befriends one of the women, not realizing that she will see Hassan’s gift as sorcery and a threat to Christian Spanish rule. With their freedoms at stake, what will Fatima risk to save Hassan and escape the palace walls?

As Fatima and Hassan traverse Spain with the help of a clever jinn to find safety, The Bird King asks us to consider what love is and the price of freedom at a time when the West and the Muslim world were not yet separate.

Okay, I know very little about this one. However, the cover is gorgeous and it’s about a period in history/place that I know very little about so I’m intrigued.

40917716
The Glass Woman by Caroline Lea
March 26, 2019 (Canadian publication date)
Penguin (UK)

1686, ICELAND. AN ISOLATED, WINDSWEPT LAND HAUNTED BY WITCH TRIALS AND STEEPED IN THE ANCIENT SAGAS.

Betrothed unexpectedly to Jón Eiríksson, Rósa is sent to join her new husband in the remote village of Stykkishólmur. Here, the villagers are wary of outsiders.

But Rósa harbours her own suspicions. Her husband buried his first wife alone in the dead of night. He will not talk of it. Instead he gives her a small glass figurine. She does not know what it signifies.

“The villagers mistrust them both. Dark threats are whispered. There is an evil here – Rósa can feel it. Is it her husband, the villagers – or the land itself?

Alone and far from home, Rósa sees the darkness coming. She fears she will be its next victim . . .

I love atmospheric novels like Burial Rites (which this book has been compared to), The Lightkeepers, and Jane Eyre. This has the potential to be incredibly atmospheric and it’s written about an interesting period in time that I know nothing about. Sign me up!

40381927

The Last by Hanna Jameson
April 9, 2019
Atria Books

For fans of high-concept thrillers such as Annihilation and The Girl with All the Gifts, this breathtaking dystopian psychological thriller follows an American academic stranded at a Swiss hotel as the world descends into nuclear war—along with twenty other survivors—who becomes obsessed with identifying a murderer in their midst after the body of a young girl is discovered in one of the hotel’s water tanks.”

The other genre I don’t tend to read a lot of but would like to are thrillers. This murder mystery/dystopia sounds like a promising place to start.

39863305

Amnesty by Lara Elena Donnelly
April 16, 2019
Tor Books

The revolution has come and gone, with Amberlough City striving to rebuild itself from the ashes. The Ospies have been ousted, and the very face of the nation has been changed in the process.

Now, a rising politician is determined to bring Amberlough’s traitors to justice.

I’m cutting the summary short since it’s spoilery for the first book and I want as many people to read Amberlough (and come talk to me about it) as possible! Lara Elena Donnelly’s first book in the Amberlough Dossier trilogy was one of my favourite reads this year and I loved her follow-up, Armistice, as well. If I could pick any book on this list to get my hands on immediately it would be Amnesty. I have a feeling it’s going to absolutely break my heart (with an excess of feelings and potentially bad things happening to characters I love – not because the book is bad!) but I want it anyway. Is it April yet?

41118857

The Dragon Republic by R.F. Kuang
August 6, 2019
Harper Voyager

In the aftermath of the Third Poppy War, shaman and warrior Rin is on the run: haunted by the atrocity she committed to end the war, addicted to opium, and hiding from the murderous commands of her vengeful god, the fiery Phoenix. Her only reason for living is to get revenge on the traitorous Empress who sold out Nikan to their enemies.

With no other options, Rin joins forces with the powerful Dragon Warlord, who has a plan to conquer Nikan, unseat the Empress, and create a new Republic. Rin throws herself into his war. After all, making war is all she knows how to do.

But the Empress is a more powerful foe than she appears, and the Dragon Warlord’s motivations are not as democratic as they seem. The more Rin learns, the more she fears her love for Nikan will drive her away from every ally and lead her to rely more and more on the Phoenix’s deadly power. Because there is nothing she won’t sacrifice for her country and her vengeance.

The Poppy War was another on my list of favourite books read in 2018. A brutal fantasy debut featuring a ruthless antiheroine, I loved The Poppy War and can’t wait to find out what happens to Rin next.
Are you looking forward to reading any of these? What are your most anticipated releases of 2019? Let me know in the comments!

Best of Stage 2018

Instead of delving into my most disappointing reads, I’d like to start the new year on a positive note by looking back fondly at my favourite theatre productions of 2018.

I desperately wanted to post a Best of Stage list in 2017, but time got away from me and I never did get around to writing one – something I regret to this day. Although my 2018 year of theatre (much like my year in books) didn’t live up to high standards set by 2017, Toronto and London stages still offered plenty to love.

10. The Dream Being and Nothingness (National Ballet of Canada)

dream

No one is more surprised than me that my favourite National Ballet of Canada pieces this year were not multi-act story ballets, but double and triple bills showcasing shorter works! I often find Principal Dancer Guillaume Côté’s choreography to be inconsistent, but he’s at his best with Being and Nothingness. It was an absolute pleasure to revisit the ballet three years after its Toronto debut. Based on the philosophical work by Jean-Paul Sarte, Being and Nothingness is an inventive and melancholy contemporary piece that featured strong performances by Principal Dancer Greta Hodgkinson and Second Soloist Felix Paquet (who’s had a breakout year) on opening night. New to me was Frederick Ashton’s The Dream, a one-act re-imagining of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream set in Victorian times. Combining enchantment with humour, The Dream benefited from dream (yes, I made that joke) casting. Actual Ballet Disney Prince Harrison James was a noble Oberon and the perfect partner for Jillian Vanstone‘s regal Titania. It was Skylar Campbell, perfectly cast as the mischevious Puck, who stole the show though, seeming to soar across the stage. Hopefully it won’t be another 17 years before The Dream returns to the Toronto stage!
Watch trailers for The Dream and Being and Nothingness.

9. Bed & Breakfast (Soulpepper – Toronto)

b&b

Written by Canadian playwright Mark Crawford, Bed & Breakfast is a delightful farce about a downtown-dwelling gay couple who decide to leave the big city and open a bed & breakfast in a small Ontario town. Certainly there’s comedy to be found in the classic fish-out-of-water trope, which sees Brett and Drew adapting to life in a slower-paced locale, but Bed & Breakfast is also an emotionally resonant piece that doesn’t shy away from depicting small-town homophobia and long-held family secrets. What made the Soulpepper production this summer work so well though were the performances. Real life couple Gregory Prest and Paolo Santalucia played not only the central B&B-owning couple – they also portrayed every single one of the play’s other 20 characters! Both actors are well-known to Toronto audiences for their range, and Prest in particular has become an actor I would go see in just about anything (read my gushing review of last year’s brilliant adaptation of Of Human Bondage for more on Prest), so Bed & Breakfast served as the perfect showcase for their considerable talents. Through the addition and subtraction of simple props like an earring or a trucker cap, the actors stepped into the roles of the quirky townsfolk, including a flaky, pregnant coffee shop owner, an Irish lesbian, and an awkward adolescent boy in this heartwarming must-see Canadian comedy.

8. Les Miserables (Queens’ Theatre – London)

mis kil

Les Misérables is my all-time favourite musical, but the fact that it merits a place on this list is undoubtedly influenced by two things. One: I didn’t see a lot of shows this year that blew me away, and Two: The last production of Les Misérables I watched (the US tour cast in 2017) featured some of the worst across-the-board principal casting I’ve witnessed for this musical. The 2017/18 West End cast were not the best I’ve seen in their respective roles, but this was nonetheless a very solid cast.  Killian Donnelly was a standout in the role of Valjean, showcasing both control over and knowledge of how to use his powerful voice. For such a young actor (Donnelly was 33 when I saw him), his aging and death scene were among the most believable I’ve seen and I loved his dynamic with both Cosette and Fantine. Carley Stenson also stood out as one of the best Fantines I’ve ever watched. In the post-Anne Hathaway years there’s been a tendency to sing “I Dreamed A Dream” as a paint-by-numbers, heavily choreographed, ‘here is the big song the audience is waiting for’ kind of moment, but Stenson’s Fantine looked natural throughout and sang with a gorgeous belt that never edged into shouting. After becoming familiar with the Broadway/Tour staging over the last few years, it was also lovely to see the original turntable staging of the London production again. It is a shame that I missed David Thaxton (off sick the week I was there) as Javert though. After a string of awful Javerts, it would have meant a lot to see someone who understands the role take it on, and I have no doubt that Les Miserables would be higher on this list if I’d watched him perform.

7. The Dreamers Ever Leave You / The Four Seasons Emergence (National Ballet of Canada)

emergence

My favourite National Ballet of Canada production of the season was this excellent triple-bill featuring works by Canadian choreographers. Originally co- produced with the Art Gallery of Ontario as an immersive ballet that allowed members of the public to walk around the dancers and take photos, The Dreamers Ever Leave You was inspired by the paintings of Group of Seven artist Lawren Harris. I missed the widly popular Art Gallery of Ontario staging, so I was thrilled to have the chance to see a version of the ballet (modified to fit a traditional stage) this Spring. It did not disappoint. Set to an original score written and performed live by extraordinary pianist Lubomyr Melnyk, this moving ballet succeeded in evoking the beauty and loneliness of Canada’s northern landscapes.

To say I’m not a fan of James Kudelka’s choreography would be putting it mildly. I hated The Man in Black (a short ballet set to music by Johnny Cash and danced wearing cowboy boots), and I was underwhelmed by his versions of both The Nutcracker and Swan Lake. But with The Four Seasons I found a Kudelka ballet I actually liked watching! Set to Vivaldi’s famous work of the same name, it depicts the life cycle of a man through the lively spring of his youth, sultry summer, lazy fall, and his decline and infirmity come winter. The choreography was still very classical for my tastes, particularly for a piece that debuted in 1997, and the costumes left something to be desired, but The Four Seasons was an enjoyable short ballet and an excellent showcase for Guillaume Côté.

An unsettling work that posits “the instinct for social organization found in the insect realm as a precise metaphor for human interaction and purpose”, Crystal Pite’s Emergence is one of the most unique ballets I’ve ever encountered. Opening with an eerily realistic approximation of an insect and set to a drone soundscape and a monotonous chorus of whispered counting, Pite uses ballet dancers to reproduce swarm behaviour seen in the insect world in this deservedly acclaimed ballet. Watch footage of Emergence.

6. The Music Man (Stratford Shakespeare Festival)

music man

With revivals of classic musicals like The King and I, My Fair Lady, and, most controversially, Carousel recently appearing on Broadway stages, there have been questions over whether some musicals are timeless classics or dated relics that have nothing to say to modern audiences. I can’t say that I have any particular attachment to The Music Man as a show, but Director/Choreographer Donna Feore did just about everything right in this thoroughly enjoyable revival. Her choreography breathed new life into a dated story by adding crowd-pleasing, high-energy dance numbers performed by a talented ensemble. Yet it was the inspired casting that made this production so memorable. The Music Man is based on the idea that one con-man is so damn charming that he manages to swindle an entire town, yet in the end no one really minds that much. Who better for the role of Professor Harold Hill than the vortex of charming that is Daren A. Herbert!? In his Stratford debut, Herbert was charismatic, playful, and had excellent chemistry with both Marian the Librarian (a likable Danielle Wade) and close friend Marcellus Washburn (Mark Uhre, a true triple threat). There are some elements in The Music Man that don’t translate as well to present day sensibilities (Harold Hill’s admonishment of fast women, for example) and, as a librarian, I’d be creeped out if a guy I had rejected wound up stalking me at my place of work, but minor quibbles aside this was a tremendous amount of fun.

5. Jane Eyre (Northern Ballet – London)

Jane Eyre

My favourite ballet of the year was Jane Eyre, performed by Northern Ballet, an English touring company based in Leeds known for their storytelling. Part of the reason I chose to visit the UK when I did was so that I could catch their London engagement and I was not disappointed. Cathy Marston’s striking choreography uses classical ballet language but with a contemporary edge. She made adapting Jane’s internal narrative into a medium that doesn’t use speech look effortless. Antoinette Brooks-Daw (as Young Jane) and now-retired ballerina Dreda Blow (as Jane) were both gorgeous to watch, subtly conveying Jane’s strength of spirit and independence even as she undergoes hardship. Yet from the moment he appeared on stage, sprawling insolently into a chair and preventing Jane from leaving the room with an elegantly outstretched leg, I was captivated by Javier Torres’ Mr. Rochester. He was quite simply magnetic. and there was an immediate chemistry between his Rochester and Blow’s Jane that only intensified through a series of passionate pas-de-deuxs. It’s easy to understand why Dance Europe referred to Northern Ballet as boasting “the best dance-actors in the world”. I’m thrilled that I had the opportunity to witness such a talented company performing a largely faithful and clever adaptation of the early feminist source material we hold so dear.
Read my full review of Jane Eyre.

The acclaimed American Ballet Theatre (ABT) are performing Cathy Marston’s Jane Eyre this summer at the Metropolitan Opera House, so if you’re in New York City this June I highly recommend checking it out!
Watch the trailer for Northern Ballet’s Jane Eyre here.

4. The Cursed Child (Palace Theatre – London)

cursedchild

The Cursed Child is the only entry on this list that succeeds not because of its script, but in spite of it. As many Harry Potter fans found when the script was published in 2016, the plot is a convoluted mess that reads more like bad fan-fiction than a carefully constructed work of literature. The character of Delphie is so thinly written that even the most talented actress wouldn’t be able to imbue her with any depth, and the heterosexual romance foisted upon us despite a lack of chemistry and at the expense of developing the far more interesting gay subtext is, unfortunately, exactly what we’ve come to expect from Rowling. The script has its moments, using humour to great effect (in particular I’ll never be able to walk past a farmer’s market again without smiling), but it’s the theatrical wizardry (pardon the pun) and the performances that have made The Cursed Child work as well as it does. Without giving too much away, The Cursed Child made me believe in magic, or at least in the ingenuity and imagination of an exceptionally talented creative team. More than once I found myself wondering how’d they do that?! There’s such a feeling of nostalgia attached to Harry Potter for many of my generation and this play was able to recapture the magic of reading about the wizarding world for the first time in an immersive theatrical way. I caught the second year cast of the London production and genuinely enjoyed everyone’s performances. The original trio were all believable, particularly Thomas Aldridge as an endearing Ron, but I was actually most interested in the Malfoys. Scorpius (Samuel Blenkin) became my favourite character by the end of the show and the standout of the evening was James Howard as a pitch-perfect Draco. Ultimately The Cursed Child is a play about parent-children relationships with all of their complexities, friendship, and how you thought your life would go vs. how your life actually is. As a millennial, this is definitely a theme that speaks to me and I loved The Cursed Child in spite of its plot holes.

3. Fun Home (Musical Stage Company/Mirvish Productions – Toronto)

fun home

I’m surprised it took this long for Tony-award-winning musical Fun Home to make it’s Toronto debut, but it was worth the wait! For the last few years The Musical Stage Company has been behind some of the best musical productions in the city (including Onegin and Life After, two of my theatre favs from 2017), so I couldn’t wait to see what they’d do with the funny and heartwarming story based on Alison Bechtel’s graphic memoir about growing up in a funeral home and the discovery that both her and her father were gay. Fun Home in Toronto was professional, well-designed and well-directed,  but the starry all-Canadian cast were the number one reason to see this production. All three Alisons (played as a girl by Hannah Levinson, as a sexually awakening college student by Sara Farb, and as an adult by Laura Condlin) were superb and stand to clean-up at any Toronto theatre award shows. Reliably excellent Evan Builing, Cynthia Dale, and Sabryn Rock rounded out the cast of this terrific show.
See Sara Farb perform “Changing my Major” (featuring the Toronto Reference Library!)
Watch the trailer for Fun Home in Toronto here.

2. The Wolves (Howland Company/Crow’s Theatre – Toronto)

wolves

I don’t have a single negative thing to say about the Toronto debut of Sarah DeLappe’s Pulitzer-Prize nominated The Wolves. I went in nothing absolutely nothing except that it had been well-reviewed and was blown away by Courtney Ch’ng Lancaster’s thoughtful direction, a talented young cast made up of women and non-binary individuals, and the clever dialogue that so perfectly captures the cadence and thought processes of teenage girls. The staging of this play about an indoor girls’ soccer team at a transitional time in their lives was kinetic, following the team as they stretched, warmed-up, and played, all while discussing everything from talking behind one another’s backs to periods and the Cambodian genocide. Characters were identified by their jersey numbers rather than their names, yet each player had a distinct personality and their unique place within the group. The Wolves was also one of the best-paced shows I’ve ever seen, with a 90-minute no intermission run-time that ensured the play didn’t overstay its welcome, yet gave enough time and weight to its characters to develop them fully and leave a lasting impact. Humourous, heart-warming, and featuring one of the best ensemble casts I’ve sen recently, The Wolves was undoubtedly a highlight of the Toronto theatre scene this year.

1. The Ferryman (Gielgud Theatre – London)

ferryman

On my final night in London I caught the closing performance of The Ferryman and all I can say is WOW. What a way to end a trip! Set almost entirely within the Carney farmhouse in Northern Ireland during the 1980s, The Ferryman is about a family haunted by the unexplained disappearance of one of its members (the brother/husband/father of those left behind). Predicated on the idea of physical and psychological ‘ambiguous loss’ – which occurs when a loved one disappears and their whereabouts are unknown – The Ferryman is a weighty play about family conflict, loss, and the toll of existing in an in-between state without closure. I loved the references to myths and folklore, the crowd-pleasing presence of live animals and a (very young and very well-behaved!) baby that made the play feel so real, and the emotionally charged performances given by the entire cast, especially Rosalie Craig as the maybe widow-maybe wife Caitlin Carney. As someone fascinated by Irish history, I adored everything about this. The Ferryman is currently playing on Broadway and I can’t recommend it highly enough. Go see this magnificent play while you can – oh, and stagger your water intake because it’s a long play with one short intermission!

Have you seen any of these ballets, musicals, or plays? What were the best things you saw on stage in 2018? Let me know in the comments!