Books: The Good People

The Good PeopleThe Good People by Hannah Kent
Published September 27, 2016
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Hannah Kent’s literary debut, Burial Rites, blew me away last year with its atmospheric setting and strong, flawed female protagonist, so I had high hopes for her latest novel. Unfortunately I found The Good People to be something of a disappointment. Although Kent’s new novel is rich in historical detail and provides an excellent window into rural nineteenth century Irish life, I never fully connected with her characters and thought the plot lagged.

Set in County Kerry, Ireland in 1825, the story follows the efforts of three women in a superstitious community to heal one’s ill grandson. Recently widowed Nora, and her hired girl Mary, are informed by Nance, an elderly recluse who is believed to have knowledge of healing gifted by the fairies, that the boy is a changeling child, and together they attempt to restore the true Michael and banish the fairy child through folklore and rituals.

The Good People is impeccably researched historical fiction. Even before I read the acknowledgements it was obvious that Kent had thoroughly researched Irish history, culture, and folklore. The result is a richly detailed world where the characters, settings, and customs feel authentic. As someone who likes my historical fiction heavy on the history, this really appealed to me. I love that I could practically smell the turf fires burning, and feel the cold of the river in winter. If I had to sum Hannah Kent’s writing up in a word it would be atmospheric, and she delivers here again, evoking a mood that is tense with superstition and suspicion.

I also love that Kent’s subject matter is once again the every woman. Much of historical fiction tends to focus on nobility and the upper class, so stories written about the rural laborer and working classes are a welcome divergence, and an important one.

One of my issues with the novel is that there was no character I truly connected with. I certainly sympathized with the plight of characters in The Good People, but none of them grabbed me in the same way that characters in Kent’s first novel, Burial Rites, did. Women like Nance, Mary, and Nora all feel authentic and three-dimensional, but I can’t say that I grew attached to them, which prevented the book from tugging at my heart strings in the way that it should have.

My biggest complaint is that The Good People just doesn’t have enough of a story to tell. Despite being under 400 pages, it feels long. Very little in the way of plot happens throughout and the emphasis on folklore and superstitious healing is initially interesting, but grows dull after a few hundred pages of focus. Honestly, I thought The Good People would fare better as a (long-ish) short story or a novella, instead of the full-length novel that Kent has stretched the thin story into.

Even though I found The Good People a bit of a let down and would have preferred it in novella form, I’m still enough of a fan of Hannah Kent’s well-researched style and atmospheric writing that I’ll be picking up future works of hers, and for those who haven’t yet read Burial Rites, I highly recommend it to fans of atmospheric, character-driven historical fiction.

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Books: One Dark Throne

29923707One Dark Throne by Kendare Blake
Published September 19, 2017
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Those who adored Three Dark Crowns will likely enjoy this quick-paced sequel that furthers the stories of three sister Queens pursuing a single island throne. But for those less enthused by the first book in the series, One Dark Throne offers more of the same. This includes, but is not limited to, an interesting but underdeveloped setting, continued emphasis on romance to the detriment of all other relationships in the book, and a very young and not particularly sophisticated style of writing.

I wanted to like both Three Dark Crowns and One Dark Throne so much more than I ultimately did. Some of this is undoubtedly dissidence with what I was hoping for and what I got. The idea behind the books, of an island that chooses its ruler from a set of triplet queens, each with a gift (naturalist, poisoner, or elemental), has so much potential. There’s an opportunity here for a fascinating examination of feminism, of powerful women being used by their elders and turned against one another and forced to kill. In Mirabella there is the promise of familial affection and sisters who decide not to play the roles that have been set out for them, but sadly One Dark Throne delivers on only a fraction of this potential because the relationships between women, for the most part, play second fiddle to romantic attraction.

Some of this is to be expected – it is YA after all and the main characters are teenagers, but there is SO MUCH ROMANCE in these books. Blake spends far more time on each queen’s feelings towards her various suitors than she does on how these sister rivals feel about each other. It’s especially disappointing because the group of male suitors are virtually interchangeable, to the point where I would have a difficult time coming up with adjectives to describe each of them!

This is going to sound harsh, but one issue I have with this series is that I don’t think it’s well-written. With their emphasis on romance and lack of worldbuilding, Three Dark Crowns and One Dark Throne definitely read on the young side of YA. Although set in a fantasy-esque world that draws inspiration from fairy tales and the past, Blake seems to have decided to convey this by having the two sisters raised in proper settings, Mirabella and Katherine, speak without using contractions. I suspect it’s supposed to sound formal and historical, but since the rest of the dialogue is very contemporary, I just found the lack of contractions made the characters sound stiff and unnatural. If the goal is to set Arsinoe, the wilder tomboy sister, apart from the other queens, it could be accomplished in a more effective manner, for example, by having her speak using invented slang words.

There’s also a lack of skill shown through plot twists, such as (SPOILER) Jules’ legion gift, that read like they were not planned from the start of the series, but invented for this book. I understand that the series was originally intended to be a duology and has since been expanded to a planned trilogy, which probably accounts for the awfully convenient plot turns.

I also found the sparse worldbuilding disappointing. I could excuse a lack of information about the setting and culture of Fennbirn and the Mainland in Three Dark Crowns, but I expected the second book in the series to provide a better sense of how the Island differs from the Mainland, how it came to have this unusual method of governing, and why it is split into these different factions/gifts. Instead I don’t feel like any of my questions were answered to my satisfaction. Without spoiling too much, it looks like there may be some more information that will expand the world in book three, but after nearly 800 pages do I care enough to continue reading in some vague hopes of learning more? I don’t think I do.

Despite the negative review, I want to emphasis that I didn’t hate this. One Dark Throne is still a fun, quick read, it just doesn’t build towards answers or leave me wanting more. There may be more interesting things ahead for the characters in book three, but it doesn’t feel like there’s enough story left to carry two more novels when Three Dark Crowns and One Dark Throne have relied so heavily on “filler” scenes.

Monthly Wrap-Up: September

I’ve been a fairly negligent blogger – at least when it comes to reviewing – for the last few months. I can’t put my finger on exactly why this, but I will definitely try to be more diligent about posting my reviews in a timely fashion in the future!


At first glance my monthly total of three looks low, since I usually average 6 or 7 books a month. The reason for this? I’ve been taking on Tolstoy’s 1,300 page epic War & Peace! In September I read about 675 pages of the book, and I’m going to continue through October. At the moment, I’m hoping to have it finished by the end of the month. The good news is that two of my three reads this month were five-star books that I absolutely adored!

The Stone Sky by N.K. Jemisin  small 5 stars + Review
All the Birds, Singing by Evie Wyld  small 2 half stars + Review
The Heart’s Invisible Furies by John Boyne  small 5 stars + Review
War & Peace by Leo Tolstoy (in progress – 675 pages completed)

Book of the Month: The Heart’s Invisible Furies by John Boyne. I really can’t say enough about how much I enjoyed this book, or accurately express how (darkly) funny it is! I laughed out loud and I actually cried, that’s how moving I found this compelling work of Irish lit.

Runner-Up: In any other month, The Stone Sky by N.K. Jemisin would likely have be the best thing I read, but then John Boyle came along! It’s never easy to wrap up a series and satisfy everyone, but I thought The Stone Sky was the perfect conclusion for this fantasy trilogy, with a truly epic climax, memorable characters who are strong yet vulnerable, and a focus on platonic and familial relationships that I really appreciated.

Least Favourite: I didn’t have a lot of choice this month, but All the Birds, Singing would probably still have ended up here. It wasn’t a bad book, it just really wasn’t my type of book.

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Operation War & Peace: As I mentioned, I’ve been reading War & Peace in a goodreads group that includes fellow bloggers Hadeer and Rachel. We’re all working along at our own paces (Hadeer’s already finished!) and I finished volume 2 (including the 70 pages that make up the musical Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812!) by the end of the month. I suspect it’s one of those books that I’ll be glad to have read, and that I’ll like, but that I’ll have no desire to ever read it again.

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Seen on Stage: I was really hoping to wrap up my stage reviews for things I saw this month, but I didn’t quite manage to get the Onegin at the National Arts Centre in Ottawa review finished tonight, so I’ll finish that off early next week instead. September was a month of returns, as I saw revised productions of two shows I had seen before and enjoyed. A four hour road trip to Ottawa was involved to see Musical Stage Company’s Onegin (which I saw three times in Toronto earlier this year), but it was well worth it as the show has only gotten better with time and 99% of the subtle but significant changes that have been made to the material have improved it. I was sadly less impressed with the return of my Fringe favourite The Seat Next to the King. It’s still a great play, but I thought the larger theatre space didn’t do it any favours and I’m not sure the ten minutes of additional material added anything to the play except for some interesting historical context. Both of the new (to me) plays I saw were interesting and well performed, but didn’t standout.

Omnium Gatherum (play) by Theatre by Committee – Reviewed for My Entertainment World
Onegin (musical) by the Musical Stage Company at the NAC in Ottawa – Review to come
Picture This (play) by Soulpepper – Review
The Seat Next To The King (play) by Minmar Gaslight

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Coming up in October: Today I’m off to New England for a whirlwind weekend to (finally) meet Rachel of pace, amore, libri, as well as Steph of Lost Purple Quill, and take in a few shows (including a trip to see Les Miserables of course)! Rachel and I have been friends online for several years and we’ve met mutual friends, but have never managed to be in the right place at the right time to meet up, so I’m really looking forward to this long awaited adventure, and I can’t wait to meet new friend Steph either!

My reading list is fairly loose for the month of October, but I’m currently starting Hannah Kent’s The Good People, something I’m really looking forward to since I loved her first novel, Burial Rites, as well as Kendare Blake’s One Dark Throne. I have Leigh Bardugo’s The Language of Thorns in transit between branches at the local library too, so I can’t wait to dive into it!

What was your favourite read in September? What books are you planning to read in October?

 

Books: The Heart’s Invisible Furies

33253215The Heart’s Invisible Furies by John Boyne
Published August 22, 2017
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I went into The Heart’s Invisible Furies entirely blind. I knew it was set in Ireland, I knew by virtue of Rachel recommending it to me that it was probably devastating, and I knew that she had loved it. Rachel’s words carry so much weight for me that I put it on hold at the library without knowing another thing. From the very first page I was hooked! Like A Little Life, it’s a brick-sized book that never feels long. I finished all 580 pages of the hardcover in a matter of days because I COULD NOT PUT IT DOWN. The pace is swift and never drags, the characters are funny, flawed, and engaging, and the tragedy is tempered with a wicked sense of humour that had me literally laughing out loud. I absolutely loved The Heart’s Invisible Furies and know that come December it will be near the top of my list of Best Books Read in 2017.

Told from the first-person perspective of a man looking back on his life, The Heart’s Invisible Furies is a sweeping saga about growing up in twentieth century Ireland as a gay man. The story begins when Cyril’s mother, Catherine Goggin, is denounced by the priest in front of her entire town for becoming pregnant at 16. Forced to leave home, she takes the bus to Dublin, buys a ring in a pawn store, and passes herself off as a war widow to gain employment. Realizing she can’t raise the baby alone, Catherine gives Cyril to a wealthy but eccentric couple who provide for his physical comforts, but constantly remind him growing up that he is not a real Avery. This is a lot funnier than it sounds! Cyril’s life gains focus when he forms a friendship with the glamorous Julian, but as they grow up, Cyril realizes that he feels something more than friendship for Julian.

The first-person narration by Cyril is hilarious, poignant, and even tragic as it deals with the hypocrisy of the Irish Catholic Church, homosexuality in twentieth century Ireland (Cyril is told by a doctor that his romantic and sexual feelings for men don’t mean he’s gay because “there are no homosexuals in Ireland”), adoption, AIDS, and other heavy topics.

As a Canadian I have a very love-hate (okay, I admit it – mostly hate) relationship with our national style of literature, Can Lit. Stylistically it tends to be slower-paced, and consist of character-driven works set in rural areas where the landscape can mirror the emotions and emptiness of the main character. I’m exaggerating, but honestly not by much. Until I picked up The Heart’s Invisible Furies, I hadn’t given much thought to the national literature of other countries.

From the opening of the book I had flashbacks, not to the content, but to the tone of Angela’s Ashes, a book I read probably fifteen years ago. Both use black humor as a coping mechanism for tragedy, both involve criticism of the Catholic Church, and although The Heart’s Invisible Furies is fiction, it’s told from the perspective of the central character, Cyril, looking back on his life in a way that feels a little like a memoir, with a tone that is blunt, funny, and sad all at once. If this is characteristic of Irish Lit as a whole, I’ll definitely be looking for more recommendations! I can see how this particular sense of humour may not translate for all readers, but it was right up my alley.

One of the things I loved most about this book was its characters. Boyne doesn’t shy away from making his characters flawed, and not just superficially. Cyril makes massive errors in judgment, some of which quite literally change the lives of everyone around him, and yet we still root for him, because he does so without cruelty of intent. I like to think that I would make different decisions in his place, but I can see why Cyril makes the decisions he does, that he errs from a place of searching for acceptance in a country and culture that doesn’t accept him for who he is.

Although male characters figure prominently, Boyne writes some exceedingly capable women. Catherine Goggins, Cyril’s self-reliant, yet kind birth mother who he unknowingly meets in different contexts throughout the novel is exceptionally determined. Another favourite character is Alice, Julian’s academically inclined and witty sister.

My one criticism is that the book relies heavily on coincidence, or on fate, however you choose to view it. Even in a smaller city like Dublin, it stretches belief that Catherine Goggins would, unknowingly, run into Cyril time and time again, so fair warning that you will have to suspend your disbelief early in order to let The Heart’s Invisible Furies really work its magic.

With that one caveat though, I wholeheartedly loved The Heart’s Invisible Furies, and will definitely be reading more by John Boyne in the future.

World Ballet Day

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When you think of ballet, what’s the first thing that pops into your head? The Nutcracker? Swan Lake? The classics definitely have their place, but there’s so much more to discover about ballet. That’s where World Ballet Day comes in!

WHAT: Since 2014, this free 22-hour continuous livestream relay has taken viewers across the globe behind-the-scenes of five professional ballet companies. The livestream provides a peak into morning company classes, where dancers warm up for the day, as well as live footage of rehearsals for upcoming works, and interviews with dancers.

WHO: Five international renowned ballet companies: The Australian Ballet, Bolshoi Ballet, The Royal Ballet, National Ballet of Canada and San Francisco Ballet.

WHEN: Wednesday, October 4 at 9PM EST until Thursday, October 5th at 7PM EST. All times in EST.

9:00 pm (October 4) to 2:00 am – The Australian Ballet
2:00 am to 7:00 am – Bolshoi Ballet
7:00 am to 12:00 pm – The Royal Ballet
12:00 pm to 2:00 pm – The National Ballet of Canada (on tour in Paris)
2:00 pm to 7:00 pm – San Francisco Ballet

WHERE: Companies from Melbourne, Moscow, London, Toronto (but on tour in Paris), and San Francisco will be streaming live footage on Youtube. You can watch the livestream on the official website here!

WHY: To provide viewers with an inside look at professional ballet companies in the studio, on tour, and in performance. It’s 22-hours of ballet and you can watch as much or as little as you like of companies around the world. What’s not to like?!

Whether it’s due to ticket prices, or geographic location, ballet can sometimes seem inaccessible. World Ballet Day is a fantastic initiative that allows five of the world’s top ballet companies to show off the versatility of the art form, and provide a free look at what ballet’s all about.

If you’re interested, you can find more information on the program schedule, the companies participating, and everything here:
http://worldballetday.com/about

Wishing you a Wonderful World Ballet Day!

Top 5 Tuesday: Most Read Authors

I’m not much for scary reads or for thrillers, so the multiple weeks of Halloween-themed topics for my usual weekly book tags are leaving me a little cold this month, which is why I’m branching out to join Top 5 Tuesday!

Top 5 Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by the wonderful Bionic Book Worm.  This week’s topic:

OCTOBER 3 – Top 5 most read authors

1. LOIS MCMASTER BUJOLD
61900Lois McMaster Bujold has written several science-fiction and fantasy books, most notably her space opera epic The Vorkosigan Saga. I’m still, slowly, working my way through this series, which features the Miles Vorkosigan, a physically disabled, but strategic genius, protagonist. Precocious and gifted, Miles is as skilled at getting himself out of trouble as he is at getting into it in the first place. I’ve enjoyed some books in the series more than others, but have always liked them enough to keep reading. One of the best things about women writing science-fiction is that, in my opinion, they tend to have more developed characters and character arcs than many of the male authors I’ve read in this genre. While Bujold provides space battles, strategy, and alien races, she also provides richly developed, flawed, and engaging characters throughout.

Where to Start: My favourite book of Bujold’s is her fantasy novel The Curse of Chalion. I loved the middle-aged protagonist and found him kind and the kind of person I wanted to root for, and I loved the world-building. I also highly recommend Shards of Honor and Barrayar (sometimes found in a collected edition as Cordelia’s Honor), the first and second chronologically in her Vorkosigan Saga. It features a middle-aged incredibly awesome female protagonist, Cordelia Naismith and a lovely slow burn love story.

2. DOROTHY DUNNETT
112077Dorothy Dunnett was a prolific Scottish author, best known for her six book Lymond Chronicles and for her eight book House of Niccolo books. I’ve read, and re-read, and wept over The Lymond Chronicles. Telling the story of a brilliant, polyglot, bookworm of a Scottish nobleman in 1500s Europe, they are hands-down my favourite series of all time. The Lymond Chronicles left me with the biggest book hangover I’ve ever had, which is probably why I haven’t been able to fully commit to her other books yet. I’ve read the first two House of Niccolo volumes and, while they were good, the plot and the main character, Claes, didn’t grab me in the same way. I fully intend to read the rest of the series at some point, I just need some distance from my beloved Lymond!

Where to Start: Book 1 of the Lymond Chronicles, The Game of Kings. It’s a dense book that takes some time to get into, but give it a fair chance (100+ pages), don’t worry if you don’t understand everything (literally no one but Ms. Dunnett herself does), and trust that the plot, as well as protagonist Francis Crawford of Lymond’s motives, will all become clear in the end, and it will charm you too. Hot tip: don’t try to translate the foreign quotations on a first read.

3. V.E. SCHWAB/VICTORIA SCHWAB
22055262Publishing under Victoria for her YA releases, and V.E. for her adult books, I’ve now read 6 of her books and have enjoyed them all. I have to admit that so far I prefer her adult books. Vicious and The Shades of Magic series are my favourites, but I liked This Savage Song and Our Dark Duet as well. I’m eagerly looking forward to both the Vicious sequel, Vengeful, and to her announced Threads of Power series! Also I follow Ms. Schwab on twitter and I feel like we’d get along really well! If nothing else, we could bond over our shared hated of white chocolate and Earl Grey tea!

Where to Start: If you’d like a standalone about superpowers and dubious morals, try Vicious. If you’re interested in magic, multiple Londons and a wonderful dynamic between a cautious, fretting male protagonist and a bold, knife-wielding female protagonist, try the first book in her Shades of Magic trilogy, A Darker Shade of Magic.

4. N.K. JEMISIN
thefifthseasonI’ve read six of N.K. Jemisin’s works so far and will definitely work my way through the rest of her books. For the last two years in a row, this African-American woman has won the Hugo Award for Best Novel, not an easy task in a genre that is still dominated by white men. The Broken Earth Trilogy, for which she won these awards, completely deserved to win imho. Featuring exquisite world-building, lovely prose, and flawed but engaging characters, this is a series I would recommend to absolutely everyone, and Jemisin is pretty much on my automatic to-read list at this point.

Where to Start: I REALLY enjoyed her lesser known Dreamblood Duology, but I also think the recently finished Broken Earth trilogy is a masterpiece of fantasy, so it depends on what you’re looking for. The Killing Moon is inspired by Egyptian mythology and deals with dreams, the magic of the sleeping mind, and morality. The Fifth Season is a complex work set in a world where Seasons, major climate events, threaten the world’s population every few hundred years, and where Orogenes, who can use the earth’s power to quell the shakes, are systematically oppressed and feared.

5. NEIL GAIMAN
14497In terms of most titles period, Neil Gaiman is one of the authors I’ve read the most, but unlike the other authors on this list, in his case I’ve only read 3 novels (4 if you count Good Omens, which he co-authored). The other 8 are all graphic novels. I definitely think graphic novels count as literature, but because they’re shorter I don’t know that I count them on the same level as reading a full several hundred page novel. Anyway, I’ve opted to put Gaiman on my list, but I have to admit that while the other currently living authors on this list are ones who I eagerly read new material from, I don’t tend to feel rushed when it comes to Neil Gaiman’s work and there’s a lot of his books I still have to read… one day.

Where to Start: If you like graphic novels and haven’t read the wacky and wonderful trip that is Sandman, I highly recommend doing so. Otherwise my favourite book of his is Neverwhere, which involves a hidden London Below that runs through the Underground. It’s definitely more fun if you’ve ever visited London, but is still an enjoyable read.

Honourable Mentions

MAGGIE STIEFVATER, LEIGH BARDUGO, GEORGE R.R. MARTIN, and SARAH MONETTE
I actually have four authors who I’ve read five books from and will read more from in the future, so I’ve included them here. I have to admit that I don’t intend to ever read Stiefvater’s The Wolves of Mercy Falls, but The Raven Cycle and The Scorpio Races are all favourite books of mine.

I enjoyed Leigh Bardugo’s Grisha Trilogy, but I LOOOVVVED her Six of Crows Duology. I have The Language of Thorns in transit for me at my local library, so I’ll be reading that in October!

Yes, I’m a fan of George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series and I hope he does one day finish the series. I’ve also read one of his graphic novels, The Hedge Knight.

Sarah Monette’s Doctrine of Labyrinths series is not for everyone, but it’s among my favourite books ever, as is her standalone The Goblin Emperor, which is published under her pseudonym, Katherine Addison.

Do you have a favourite book by any of these authors? Who are your most read authors?

Stage: Picture This

PictureThis

Based on a 1924 Hungarian play (The Battle of Waterloo by Melchior Lengyel), Soulpepper’s Picture This is an entertaining farce that serves up real laughs. Relying mostly on slapstick and physical comedy, it’s a play that manages to both feel fresh and act as an affectionate throwback to a different era of comedy. It’s not profound. In fact, I probably won’t remember much about this play a year from now, but Picture This is most definitely a fun night out that saves the best for last in a hilarious post-credits scene.

In a 1920s Hungarian hotel lobby, the concierge doesn’t answer the phone, the bell-hop never seems to carry any luggage, and the waitress passes by without taking drink orders. No, it’s not the worst hotel ever, directors, actors, and composers from the local film scene have temporarily taken jobs as staff in hopes of being noticed by major Hollywood director Red (Cliff Saunders), who is staying in the building.

At the heart of the play is Romberg (Jordan Pettle), a down-on-his luck local film producer who hopes to convince Red to make his next silent film at his film studio in Budapest for $5,000 American dollars – a fraction of what it would cost to produce in Hollywood. In on the plan is old flame Milli (Michelle Monteith), an actress posing as a cocktail waitress, who would star in the film.

The twist comes in the form of a misunderstanding. When Red runs into an old friend, Mr. Brown (David Storch), who also immigrated to the United States decades earlier, they immediately catch up. The film industry observers witness the meeting and assume Mr. Brown is a business associate of Red’s. In actuality, he runs a fur shop in Buffalo and is kept on a tight leash by his prudent wife, who has just left town for a few weeks. Left in charge of the exactly $5,000 in life savings he and his wife possess, and free from under his wife’s thumb, Mr. Brown is swayed by Milli’s flattering attentions and goes along with the plan to finance a movie in Budapest – just as long as it’s completed in two weeks (before his wife returns!).

The second act sees Romberg and the rest of the local film scene trying to cobble together an epic film with a limited budget and a short window in which to complete the project. Adding to the dysfunction is temperamental (and somewhat sleazy) lead actor Boleslav, who has been cast as Napoleon.

The set is quite frankly so stunning that it deserves its own paragraph. I mean, I would happily live on this set for the rest of my life! Designer Ken MacDonald outdoes himself, creating a turquoise, art-deco inspired hotel lobby that is elegant, yet playful. Featuring dark wood and a recurring pineapple motif, the set is so evocative that I lamented its loss when the lobby gave way to a film set for Act II.

The humour is generally strong, with a few gags, both verbal and physical, landing particularly well. I guffawed as Romberg pitches his idea for a film about The Battle of Waterloo, Napoleon, and his beloved Josephine. ‘Of course, where would Napoleon be without his noble horse?’ cries a clueless Milli. An accordion-playing gag and a scene where bad actor Hudascek (Gregory Prest) lurks outside a window with his headshot are also laugh out loud funny. While Prest is excellent in a minor role, generating laughs even without speaking, I was less impressed with the actor playing the writer character, who comes off very one-note as he repeats his frustration with the historical inaccuracies in the film.

The standout performances of the night come from Buffalo couple Mrs. and Mr Brown (David Storch and Brigitte Robinson, respectively) though. Storch is pitch perfect as the meek fur salesman. Jumping at the chance afforded by a case of mistaken identity to gain some autonomy over his life by emulating his powerful old friend Red, he is swept away by the grandeur of the plan and the excitement it brings to his mundane Buffalo existence. Brigitte Robinson is an excellent contrast, stealing every scene she’s in with a wry and commanding presence.

On the otherhand, while I enjoyed both Michelle Monteith (as Milli) and Jordan Pettle (as Romberg)’s performances on their own, I would have liked to see more of a connection between them. As a couple they’re sweet enough, but the chemistry never really fully ignites.

All in all, Soulpepper’s Picture This is an entertaining comedy that’s sure to please, and has the added benefit of the best ‘Exit, Pursued by a Bear’ I’ve seen since The National Ballet’s (excellent) production of The Winter’s Tale! It’s definitely worth checking out, especially in this day and age, where we could all use a few hours of escapism and a good laugh.

Picture This plays until October 7th, 2017 at the Young Centre for Performing Arts in the Distillery District.

Photo by Cylla von Tiedemann

Books: The Stone Sky

31817749The Stone Sky by N.K. Jemisin
Published August 15, 2017
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With the last book in any trilogy, there is a sense of trepidation as I turn the pages. Will the novel live up to my high expectations? Will it provide answers for all of the questions asked in previous volumes? And, most importantly, will the final pages of the book deliver a satisfying conclusion to the series? With Jemisin’s The Stone Sky, the answer is yes, yes, and yes! Overall the book may be more of a 4.5 stars for me, but I have to throw in that extra half star for closing out this epic trilogy in such a powerful way.

The Stone Sky is set, like its predecessors, in the Stillness, a single supercontinent where Earthquakes occur frequently and the aftermath every few centuries results in a “Fifth Season”. Seasons are sporadic climate events where the sky turns ashy, earthquakes become frequent, and even the local flora and fauna become hostile. This latest and last apocalyptic event, the Yumenes Rifting, will cause the loss of all life, unless a powerful orogene – someone born with the ability to manipulate thermodynamics – can harness the power of the obelisks to return the wayward moon to its orbit and put an end to the Seasons once and for all.

Continuing the story from the Hugo Award-winning Obelisk Gate, – and I’d be shocked if The Stone Sky isn’t at least nominated next year as well – The Stone Sky presents us with two candidates. Essun, a middle-aged woman and skilled orogene, and her pre-teen daughter Nassun. Both orogenes, they have each lived through horror, watched the people they love turn against them, and have even killed. While Nassun has experienced only heartbreak and fear at the hands of humans, Essun has finally found belonging in a community of orogenes and “stills” who work together to survive. This fundamental difference is what separates mother and daughter.

The Stone Sky is masterfully written, with Hoa, the Stone Eater, weaving the viewpoints of both orogenes together with his narration that explains his world, the origin of the Obelisks, and how and why the moon was lost. The prose and worldbuilding is as wonderful as before, with Jemisin also providing new settings beyond the Stillness. Interestingly enough, this is the most magical book of the series, providing more fantasy aspects than the series had shown previously, but all are so well set out that they make perfect sense and require little in the way of suspension of disbelief.

I also got the sense, while reading it, that this is an important story. The protagonists are both women-of-colour, marginalized people in a world that oppresses and rejects them. Both characters are powerful and have agency over the choices they make, but they are also allowed to be vulnerable and to seek help without ever being viewed as weaker for having done so. With another character, Jemisin provides meaningful commentary on the enslavement of a race, and the process of de-humanizing them in order to further another civilization’s greed for more, more, more.

The characters continue to be at the forefront of Jemisin’s story. Essun in particular has such a fantastic arc over the course of the series, going from a cautious woman trying to pass for a “still” and protect her family, to a bitter and independent woman who trusts no one, to finally finding acceptance and a sort of ‘found family’ among the residents of Castrima. Nassun’s journey is more fraught and heartbreaking, but no less engaging. The secondary characters, from a transgendered character, the brilliant, but scattered Tonkee, to mysterious Hoa, and to patient Lerna, are all people I cared about and rooted for.

I also love that although the series is not without romantic and sexual relationships, it’s platonic and familial relationships that form the core of the story. All of the relationships are so well-written and each has a unique dynamic.

The Stone Sky is an incredible achievement, a moving and epic final part to a trilogy that should be read by every single fan of fantasy fiction, and probably by many others who don’t consider themselves fans of the genre.