June/July Wrap-Up

I haven’t written any reviews for the last few months, but I still wanted to look back briefly on my reading so far this summer and highlight some of my favourites. Since I haven’t written any longer reviews, here are some brief thoughts on each of the ten books I read in June/July:

Alice Payne Rides by Kate Heartfield  small 3 half stars
While slogging through The Raven Stratagem this month I really needed something fun and Alice Payne Rides fit the bill. Like its Nebula nominated predecessor, Alice Payne Arrives, this consequences of time travel novella is fast-paced, features a cast of engaging characters, and shows evidence of impeccable research as it includes historical mysteries like the disappearance of Arthur of Brittany.

An Unkindness of Ghosts by Rivers Soloman  small 4 half stars
Unsurprisingly, this novel about the journey of a space ship organized much like the antebellum South is at times difficult to read. Dark-skinned sharecroppers from lower decks, like protagonist Aster, endure brutal treatment, deplorable living conditions, and pervasive casual cruelty from white upper-deck “owners”. An Unkindness of Ghosts certainly isn’t subtle, and the plot does meander, but the characters are unique, diverse in sexuality and gender (two of the lead characters appear to be written as non-binary, a minor character is asexual) and dimensional, and the world-building grounds this sci-fi treatment of American slavery.

Sorcerer to the Crown by Zen Cho (re-read)  small 4 half stars
If you liked Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell but wished it was more diverse and faster-paced then rush to your local library/bookstore and pick up Sorcerer to the Crown. This book is so damned charming! The author comments on issues such as racism, sexism, and classism by depicting the microaggressions Zacharias Wythe, a freed slave and the newly appointed Sorcerer Royal, experiences courtesy of his peers, and the prejudice faced by Prunella, a half-Indian woman practicing magic. The tone of the novel is so much more light-hearted than this description suggests though. There’s wit, there’s magic, there’s romance. What more could you want?

The True Queen by Zen Cho  small 4 stars
While I found this sequel to Sorcerer to the Crown equally charming, the plot twists were a little predictable (and frustratingly the reader arrives at the answers before the characters do in almost all cases) so it didn’t quite enthrall me like Cho’s first book. What a delight to return to this world and these characters though. I loved seeing Prunella in power, enjoyed the deeper development of minor characters from Sorcerer to the Crown like Rollo, Damerell, and Henrietta, and I found Muna a sympathetic protagonist.

Daisy Jones & The Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid  small 4 half stars
Taylor Jenkins Reid is one of the most compulsively readable authors I’ve ever encountered. Like The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo, I found this book difficult to put down I was so engrossed. Formatted as a series of interviews with former members, friends, and family of a Fleetwood Mac-inspired fictional band, it evokes the 70s rock scene in LA with all the sex, drugs, and rock’n’roll you’d expect, but there’s an emotional heart beating under all that glamour. I had trouble telling some of the male bandmates apart and kept having to flip back and forth to remember who was who, but other characters, like independent Karen, and of course Daisy and Billy, whose chemistry practically leaps off the page, drew me in.

On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong  small 4 stars
There’s no denying that this is a gorgeous book. Its language is as accomplished as you’d expect from poet Vuong and there are moments of great profundity but ultimately this just wasn’t a book that I connected with personally. The exquisite prose is to be admired though.

Exit Strategy by Martha Wells  small 4 half stars
Rogue Protocol by Martha Wells  small 4 half stars
I continue to absolutely love the character of Murderbot and its reluctant journey to explore its humanity. Often in science-fiction the non-human characters actively seek out human experiences. I think it’s rarer to see a character who so desperately would prefer not to bother with human interaction or experiences and yet can’t help being pulled in that direction.

Lie With Me by Philippe Besson (translated by Molly Ringwald)  small 4 stars
Drawing understandable comparisons to other LGBT works like Call Me By Your Name and Tin Man, Lie With Me is a beautifully translated story of an affair between two teenage boys in France and the lasting impact of their time together. Although it doesn’t cover new territory, it’s no less poignant for that.

Ninefox Gambit by Yoon Ha Lee (re-read)  small 3 half stars
I thought that on a re-read Ninefox Gambit would be easier to comprehend, but alas I still found myself longing desperately for a glossary. It’s still too military sci-fi, a genre I have no interest in, to really appeal to me, but the characters of Jedao and Cheris are written so well and their dynamic is so engaging that it kept me interested even when I had no idea what else was going on.

***Seen on Stage***

The National Ballet of Canada’s production of The Merry Widow this June was a glittering delight. So incredibly charming that I seriously considered playing hooky from work so I could see it again with a second cast, The Merry Widow also marked one of the last performances of principal dancer Xiao Nan Yu before she retired from the stage. I’ve been a fan of Nan’s for awhile and seeing her dance the leading role of rich widow Hanna Glawari was definitely bittersweet. As thrilled as I am that I got to witness one of her final performances, she will be so very missed and I can’t believe I’ll never see her thoughtful Tatiana (in Onegin) or powerfully composed Paulina (in The Winter’s Tale) again. I’ve never been the biggest fan of Guillaume Cote, but he was unrecognizably good here, displaying a talent for comedy as the drunk Count Danilo and then partnering Nan beautifully in their romantic scenes later in the ballet. Jillian Vanstone was also winning as the young Valencienne and the set design and costumes deserve a mention for their sheer splendor.

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But of course the highlight of June for me was finally getting to see Jeremy Jordan sing live! That’s one to cross off my bucket list for sure! The song choices in this Modern Broadway concert series highlighting the Toronto Symphony Orchestra left something to be desired, and I wasn’t as impressed with his co-star, Betsy Wolfe, as I was by Jordan, but I wouldn’t trade this experience for the world. Jeremy Jordan is a charismatic, ridiculously charming performer with a tenor to die for and hearing those notes in songs like Santa Fe sung live was a treat.

If I’d seen The Lion King fifteen or twenty years ago I have no doubt I would have loved it. Seeing it as an adult, when its puppetry and design are no longer as innovative as they were when the musical debuted, I was less impressed. I’m still glad that I finally saw The Lion King though and I enjoyed it (there were great performances on this tour from the actors playing Timon and Pumbaa, from Greg Jackson as Zazu, and especially from Mufasa understudy William James Jr.).

I went to see Soulpepper’s production of August Osage County entirely for the cast and was not disappointed. The performances were simply stunning in this family drama. Samantha Brown (as live-in Cheyenne woman Johnna) played a character with little dialogue but held her own, subtly saying as much with her facial expressions and body language as any other character on that stage. This is very much a play about formidable, sometimes unlikable, women, and Nancy Palk and reliably great Maev Beatty were perfectly matched as manipulative mother and daughter. It’s a long play, but it never felt long. The humour sparkled and the drama and plot twists kept the audience enthralled.

I can’t say that the National Ballet of Canada’s summer mixed program Physical Thinking (comprised entirely of works choreographed by William Forsythe) did much for me. I liked it at the time but even a few months later I’m having trouble remembering the program.

With a day off work at the end of July, my mom and I purchased online rush tickets to see the Canadian cast of Come From Away. We’d previously seen the show during its pre-Broadway Toronto tryout in December 2016 and loved it but hadn’t been back since. I’d forgotten just how funny, heartwarming, and just plain enjoyable this show is! If you haven’t seen Come From Away yet, it’s now in Australia, London, New York, Toronto, and on tour across North America and I definitely recommend it as a great night of theatre.

***Life Updates***

I’ve been pretty scarce around these parts for the last few months and most of that is because my job has been keeping me busy. The public library branch where I work is perpetually short-staffed and while it means that I have been getting a lot of hours and experience, it also means a lot more responsibility. Lately I’ve found the sheer volume of work to be done really stressful and that coupled with existing mental health issues has left me feeling very drained. Some of the positions are starting to be filled so I’m hoping to have more of a system of support in the branch soon.

I am enjoying life as a Children’s Librarian though! I do a weekly Family Time session where I do half an hour of themed stories, songs, and rhymes, followed by a craft. Initially this was really daunting, but I’ve become more comfortable with it and I really enjoy seeing my regulars (a few of the kids hugged me last week, which was really sweet) and the crafts are going over really well! Last week we made ocean-themed suncatchers out of tissue paper, contact paper, and ocean animal silhouettes, and the week before that was glow-in-the-dark paper bowl jellyfish!

I’ve also been around less because my faithful 7-year-old laptop is on its last legs. Sometimes when I start it up it doesn’t charge even though it’s plugged in, and it’s always reallllly slow. I did buy a new laptop but haven’t had the time to set it up yet. Fingers crossed I can do that this weekend!


***Coming up in August***

 I’m still desperately trying to find some five-star reads that blow me away. One step towards that is reading through my backlist of owned books. I have about 10 that I’ve identified and set on their own shelf, so I’m going to get through 2 a month until the end of the year. If you have any suggestions for books you think I’d love, send them my way!

For my one year anniversary of being a public librarian in May I wanted to do a sort-of FAQ/AMA about being a Librarian. It didn’t happen, but I think there’s enough crossover and curiosity with book bloggers and libraries/librarians that I’m still going to write a bit about my experiences and day-to-day life and answer any questions you might have. I’m also planning to do a series on places in Toronto for book lovers, so stay tuned for that too in case you ever find yourself in “the 6ix”!