Stage: Bandstand

Bandstand

This original Broadway musical set in the 1940s finds Private First Class Donny Novitski (Corey Cott) returning from war to find no one’s hiring, not even a talented, but a little cocky, singer and pianist like him. When NBC announces a national competition bringing together competing swing bands from each U.S. state for a shot at stardom, Danny Novitski sees his shot. Putting together a band made up entirely of fellow veterans, and coaxing Julia Trojan (Laura Osnes), the widow of his best army friend, to sing the lead, the Ohio-based band find their voices and confront their pasts through music.

Admittedly this period and this type of music are not favourites of mine. Generally I like my history pre-twentieth century and my music more traditionally musical theatre than swing, but I enjoyed Bandstand and was sorry to hear that it will play its last performance on September 17th. Directed and choreographed by Tony-award-winning Hamilton choreographer Andy Blankenbuehler, Bandstand features some strong dancing. The choreography both enhances scenes with subtle choices, and boldly complements the swing music of the period. The image of the weight of the dead soldiers being carried on the backs of those who live on was particularly memorable.

One draw for me was the chance to see Laura Osnes, a true triple threat, live. She did not disappoint! Osnes gives a vulnerable performance as war widow Julia Trojan, showing resilience and charm. Her character’s grief and desire to know how her husband really died are keenly felt, but her Julia is also spirited and passionate. As Donny Novitski, Corey Cott proves her equal. He’s cocky, but never to the point of being unlikable, and he gives a nuanced depiction of the frustration some veterans felt at being portrayed as heroes for their service, yet unable to find work and readjust to life when they returned from the front.

The ensemble, including those who make up the band, remind me a little of Once. All have distinct slightly quirky personalities, even if they are a little stereotypical, and succeed in showing the varying impacts of war on soldiers. A special shoutout to Beth Leavel, as Julia’s mother Mrs. June Adams, who steals the show with some memorable lines and actions, including a platter of over-paprika-ed deviled eggs!

The music was a bit hit and miss for me. Although I enjoyed it at the time and thought it suited the story, there are only a few songs that stuck with me and I’d be more likely to buy a few individual songs off the cast recording than to download the entire album. That said, those few songs are earworms that I found coming back to me days later!  The musical also features a discordant climax song about veterans and the mental health issues they face that I found very poignant and rightfully angry in the course of the story, but not particularly pleasant to the ear.

Ultimately I enjoyed Bandstand, although it’s a pretty predictable show where most of the twists can be guessed well before they happen. I suspect the musical will resonate more with those who are at all interested in WWII stories, in stories that deal with veterans and the aftermath of war, and/or those who enjoy swing music though. Don’t fit into any of those categories? I’m fairly confident you’ll still have an enjoyable afternoon or evening, and walk out humming one or two of the songs.

Bandstand plays until September 17th, 2017 at the Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre in New York City.

Books: Obelisk Gate

26228034Obelisk Gate by N.K. Jemisin
Published August 18, 2016
star-4
I finished my re-read of Obelisk Gate, the second book in N.K. Jemisin’s Broken Earth trilogy, on schedule as the last book in my Reading the Hugos challenge, but I’ve been dragging my feet on writing a review for it, not because I didn’t love it (I did!) but because I’ve been exhausted this week and wanted to have the time to do it justice in review form. I considered rushing home last night and trying to write something up before the awards were announced Friday evening but was too tired to ultimately do it. The upside is that it means I get to write this review with the knowledge that for the second year in a row N.K. Jemisin has won the Hugo Award for Best Novel! It really is a deserving series, imho, her finest works of fiction (that I’ve read) to date, and I can’t wait to get my hands on the final book in the trilogy later this month. Congratulations to N.K. Jemisin!

Obelisk Gate is set in a world called 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 which cause flora and fauna become hostile, changing their behaviour to fit the dangerous atmosphere, a time when the sky turns ashy, and human “comms” declare martial law. Seasons also inhibit civilization from ever evolving beyond a certain point. In fact, the world has only lasted this long because of orogenes, a marginalized group of people (also known by the slur “rogga”) born with the ability to manipulate thermodynamics, who can quell shakes. But orogenes are an oppressed minority, killed by those who don’t understand, or kept in check by Guardians of the Fulcrum, who can resist their power and control orogenes through fear.

Picking up right where its predecessor left off, in mid-conversation nonetheless, Obelisk Gate continues the story of Essun and her daughter Nassun. Having learned that the Earth is a) alive and b) angry, Essun learns that her old friend Alabaster, a powerful orogene, has a plan to placate Evil Earth and eliminate Seasons forever, and that he needs her help to do it. But as the Season encroaches, can she learn fast enough from Alabaster’s cryptic instructions or will they seal the fate of the world? In perhaps the more heartbreaking of the two narratives, we also backtrack to Nassun and her struggle for acceptance by her bigoted father and by the world at large.

Obelisk Gate isn’t so much a better book than The Fifth Season, as it is a worthy sequel with the advantage of reader familiarity. In her first book of this trilogy, Jemisin creates a world so different from our own and rich with detail that it’s a lot to take in. Obelisk Gate has a head start because it can assume the reader is already familiar with the mechanics and prejudices of the world from the first book in the series. This allows for an easier transition that builds on the exquisite world-building and the fully developed but flawed characters introduced in The Fifth Season to continue Essun’s story.

While its predecessor shifted between three non-linear POVs (Damaya, Syenite, and Essun), Obelisk Gate proceeds in a linear fashion, narrowing the focus to one character we’re familiar with, and one who is new to us. I remember initially finding The Fifth Season so jarring partly because Essun’s chapters are written in the second-person, a perspective I don’t think I’ve ever encountered before in published fiction! Much like adjusting to the one gender pronouns in Ann Leckie’s Imperial Radch series, where all characters including those who are biologically male are addressed as “she” and “her”, the use of second-person in The Fifth Season took some time to get used to. The second-person chapters continue in Obelisk Gate but again, with familiarity it’s an easier read.

Although the book’s setting and the abilities some of its characters exhibit place it firmly in the realm of fantasy, I’ve recommended this series successfully even to those who don’t usually read fantasy. The prose is absolutely gorgeous and the worldbuilding, while complex, is so well thought out and deep that it transcends genre. Many second books suffer from taking a step back from the action, but Obelisk Gate is far from hesitant in its storytelling. The pacing gives the characters time to breathe and develop, but also includes enough action and suspense to keep the reader engaged.

I also really enjoyed these characters. Essun has been so guarded for much of her adult life, and has been through such trauma, that she finds it difficult to connect with others, but Obelisk Gate gives her people to care about, a position in the comm that matters, and a higher purpose. I love her snarky yet caring exchanges with Alabaster, as these two share such a complicated and bitter history but they also need one another. And then there’s Nassun. My heart breaks for Nassun. As her childhood slips away forever when she realizes by calling her bigoted father “Daddy” she can more easily manipulate him to continue to see her as his daughter and not as a “rogga”, and as she falls so quickly into loving another being as a father-figure because she has been so starved of affection from those close to her.

Whether you’re a fan of fantasy novels or not, I really can’t recommend this series highly enough, and if you’re a fan of fantasy and you’ve never read any of Jemisin’s work, well what are you waiting for?! The final book in the series come out this week I believe, and I know it will be an exciting, but bittersweet experience to say goodbye to this series I love.

Monthly Wrap-Up: July

July was generally a good month of reading for me! I ended up rating most of the six books I read this month four stars, and the only exception was Too Like The Lightning, a case of fabulously ambitious ideas that weren’t executed as well as I hoped. I continued my Reading the Hugos challenge, to read all of this year’s nominees for Best Novel and really enjoyed All The Birds in the Sky, but my favourite books of the month are all YA titles.

July17

Tash Hearts Tolstoy by Kathryn Ormsbee  small 4 stars + Review
The Refrigerator Monologues by Catherynne M. Valente  small 4 stars + Review
Too Like The Lightning by Ada Palmer  small-3-stars + Review
All The Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders  small 4 stars + Review
The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue by Mackenzi Lee  small 4 stars + Review
Now I Rise by Kiersten White  small 4 half stars + Review

Book of the Month: Now I Rise by Kiersten White. I enjoyed the first novel in her The Conqueror’s Saga, Now I Rise took it up to a new level. I loved the fact that this is a book about consequences and the fallout from choices made, and that no one is left unscathed.

Runner-Up: A tie between Tash Hearts Tolstoy by Kathryn Ormsbee and The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue by Mackenzi Lee. I loved both of these books and would recommend them to just about anyone. Tash Hearts Tolstoy is a rare YA contemporary where I really connected with the characters and enjoyed the storyline. I also LOVED that it features an asexual protagonist who isn’t forced to change and who has friends who support her. The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue is just so damn charming. I was swept away by its adventure and a delightful central trio of characters.

Least Favourite: Too Like the Lightning by Ada Palmer. This may partially have been a case of my expectations being too high, but I didn’t think it clearly delivered on its ambitious ideas. There are some interesting thoughts and concepts here, but I didn’t connect with the characters and found the plot slow-moving.

***

Reading the Hugos Challenge Update: 6/8  Month three of my challenge to read all of the Hugo nominees for Best Novel and besides Cixin Liu’s Deaths End (which I gave up on after suffering through the second book in his trilogy), I have just one more book to go! I’ll be re-reading N.K. Jemisin’s Obelisk Gate in the first week of August shortly before the awards are announced on August 11th.

***

Seen on Stage: July was a busy month for me! Kelly Bedard, the editor of My Entertainment World, asked if I was interested in joining their staff and covering the Toronto Fringe Festival. I saw a total of 16 shows, 11 of which I reviewed for My Theatre Toronto. You can read my write-up of the experience, my reviews of the 5 shows I saw on my own, and check out my reviews for My Entertainment World in this wrap-up post on the Festival. My favourite shows of the lot were definitely the rightfully hyped The Seat Next to the King, Grey, and Recall. The Seat Next to the King I found incredibly moving. It was a case of a great script being elevated by some simple but inventive direction and a pair of actors who had immediate and strong on stage chemistry. Grey was a poignant exploration into a crime that challenged the audience’s preconceptions by slowly peeling back the layers to reveal contributing factors to a murder (including parental neglect, disability, and bullying). Finally, Recall was a sci-fi dystopia about children with latent sociopathic tendencies being targeted before they commit a crime. Recall was anchored by strong performances by the whole cast and a quickfire script.

***

Coming up in August: I’ll be on vacation in New York City for the first week of August, so the blog will be quiet during that time, but when I return I’ll be reviewing the last in my Hugos challenge, N.K. Jemisin’s Obelisk Gate. I’m also hoping to finish off a few series, including V.E. Schwab’s Our Dark Duet, and the final book in Ann Leckie’s Imperial Radch trilogy.

What was your favourite read in July? What books are you planning to read in August?

Bizarre Historical Events Book Tag

Hey guys! Last month I came across this fabulous history-inspired book tag created by A Book Without End and just knew I had to do it. I love history, I even debated doing my Master’s in it or getting a professional degree in Public History before settling on becoming a Librarian, so the history love runs deep. What better way to learn about both bizarre events in history and books than with this incredibly fun book tag?!

|Emperor Elagabalus drowning his court in flower petals. Literally.| Name a book villain who would totally do this.

elegyThis sounds like it would fit The Empath, the fabulously dramatic, beautiful, but ruthless antagonist of Vale Aida’s clever fantasy novel Elegy. The Empath has long red hair and a billowing red cape, and the author’s tag for her character on tumblr is #drama emperor dervain teraille, so this is right up his alley!

|When King Philip II of Macedon sent the Spartans a lengthy threat of what he’d do if they did not yield to him, and they answered with a sarcastic one-word response -“if”| What hero/heroes would most likely answer like this to a threat from the antagonist.

SixOfCrowsApparently I like my heroes and anti-heroes snarky, because two immediately popped into my head: Breq, the brusque former Justice of Toren ship from Ann Leckie’s Imperial Radch series and everyone’s favourite teenage criminal mastermind, Kaz Brekker of Leigh Bardugo’s Six of Crows duology. Breq does not care at all what others think of her (she’d also fit the Alexander Hamilton fighting the entire party one) and is in the process of taking revenge against the emperor of the galaxy Annander Minnai herself, so I can’t imagine her being scared off by a lengthy threat. Kaz Brekker is just clever enough to call a bluff and to follow through on a crazy heist plan that can’ be done. He’s definitely the type to reply in this fashion!

|When Australia declared war on the Emus, and lost| A book that did not end up like you expected (in the terms of the plot).

22752127I didn’t really know what to expect from The Serpent King by Jeff Zentner and I spent the first half thinking, ‘okay it’s good but I don’t think it’s 4.26 stars on goodreads good!’ and then the last third of the book hit me like a train. I totally didn’t see where the book was going and I found it to be moving, well-written, and an excellent portrayal of depression. It’s definitely a book that’s somewhat inconsistent and rough around the edges, but it does all come together in that poignant last third of the book.

|Lichtenstein sending its army of 80 men to attack Italy and coming back with 81| A book you thought would be bad but actually ended up really liking.

23943137I wasn’t sure how I would feel about Sorcerer to the Crown by Zen Cho when I first started reading it and for the first sixty pages I thought it would be simply a poor imitation of one of my favourite books, Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell. But as I kept reading I found that yes, certainly there are similarities. Both are books about magic and magicians set in regency England. But I was quite charmed by Sorcerer of the Crown, which is ultimately lighter and fluffier, but also more diverse (both protagonists are PoCs, one a woman and the other a freed slave). Additionally, its diversity allows the author to comment on prejudice at the time.

|Alexander Hamilton challenging the entire democratic-republican party to a duel| A character who would totally do this.

112077I guess there are a few ways to take this, either a character who is all out of fucks to give and doesn’t care what others think of them, in which case Breq from Ann Leckie’s Ancillary Sword fits (that’s actually kind of the plot of the book – the world going but that’s not how it’s done! and Breq shrugging and carrying on), or an impulsive and stubborn character issuing a foolish challenge. The second meaning is definitely Will Scott in Dorothy Dunnett’s The Game of Kings. He blunders right in, especially early in the book, without listening to advice and it’s endearing but also makes me want to facepalm. Oh Marigold.

|The Chinese setting monkeys on fire and launching them at British ships|  A book based on a great idea/concept

26409580Sure these days the YA dystopia is a genre in and of itself, but even within the genre there’s room for innovation and that’s what I found in Erin Bow’s The Scorpio Rules and The Swan Riders. The duology is set in a world where wars over water are common, but an artificial intelligence called Tallis has taken over and has an unusual way of keeping the peace. Tallis has taken a hostage from every world leader – their child heirs – and if any government declares war, their hostage’s life is forfeit.

|Emperor Caligula calling for an assembly just to tell everyone he could kill them all| A villain who just loves to gloat

6The first villain who comes to mind is actually Voldemort in J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series. Voldemort seems to love gloating over Harry, doing so in Goblet of Fire and waiting for his followers to arrive to kill Harry, and again in the final book when he believes that Harry has been defeated. Villains who gloat before they’ve actually done the deed really need to take a page from Adrian Veidt’s book…


|An old civilian woman aiding in the killing of their besieger King Pyrrhus by throwing a tile at him|
 A minor character you can totally imagine helping the heroes like this)
17378508I had trouble coming up with a minor character at first but then it hit me, Calla from The Raven Cycle quartet. I can definitely see bold Calla throwing a tile (or more) at someone who deserved it.

|When the US sent tanks, Special Forces, Tae Kwon Do experts, soldiers with M-16s grenade launchers etc., all just to cut down one tree| A book you really don’t understand all the hype around it.

22544764I never understood the buzz about Uprooted by Naomi Novak. I read it last year after it had been nominated for just about every major fantasy award, and assumed I would therefore love it and I just didn’t. I didn’t really like any of the main characters, I would have been more interested if Agnieszka’s love interest had been her pretty best friend from childhood instead of the (frankly) quite boring and rude Dragon, and I didn’t find it twisted fairytales or was enough of a unique spin on one to keep me interested.

|That one time in Prague when a Protestant threw a Catholic out of a window, only to have him survive by landing in horse shit which resulted in a large war| Favorite rivalry in a book (series)

JonathanStrangeMy favourite rivalry is not always antagonistic. In fact, it starts out as a teacher-trainee relationship, and develops into a partnership of equals, but quickly dissolves as the two magicians find that they have completely different methods and approaches towards performing magic. I’m talking, of course, of Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke. I love the odd couple vibe of young, daring Strange and reclusive prickly old Norrell and the dependency of their relationship as the only two practicing magicians in England.

|That one time a bucket started a war| A book whose sole existence makes you question humanity (and the publishing industry). 

15839976How could I say anything else but Pierce Brown’s Red Rising trilogy? I want to scream at the top of my lungs about how much I don’t understand the appeal of this series, especially given how blatantly misogynistic the books are. The female characters (which there are few of to begin with) are all there to be treated as sexual objects or love interests only. There are gratuitous rape scenes. There is the fact that the male protagonist’s wife is killed off in the first forty pages of the book purely to further the male character’s story and to give him man pain. The worldbuilding is shoddy at best, a strange hybrid of The Hunger Games, random Greek/Roman mythology, and a bizzare colour system. The protagonist himself is not at all likable, despite being a Gary Stu, and in general the book reads like a Michael Bay movie. Save yourself. Do not read this book!

|Julius Caesar being taken hostage by pirates, only to be angry at the low amount of money they demanded and made them demand even more money for his freedom| Some character who would definitely act like this if taken as hostage.

22637358I’m pretty sure this is Felix from Sarah Monette’s Doctrine of Labyrinths series. When he’s in his right mind (so not half of the first book) Felix is an incredibly flawed protagonist. He’s vain in appearance, has a damaging view of himself as better than everyone around him (while secretly harboring the inner belief that his humble origins actually make him worth less than others), and he speaks in a deliberate upper class accent. I can definitely see Felix being offended at being offered for a low price.

|The Mexican president who was in office for only about 45 minutes| A character you just feel sorry for.

alittlelifeIf you don’t feel badly for Jude St. Francis in A Little Life, there’s probably something wrong with you. After surviving a truly horrific past of physical and sexual abuse when he was a child, Jude is physically and emotionally scarred. However he carries on, becoming a top-notch lawyer, and associating with a group of friends who respect and care for him. A Little Life is a bit of a reverse fairy tale though, or at least one of the oldet fairy tales without the Disney happy ending, where everything that can go badly does. For every good thing that Jude has in his life, something awful balances it out, and he can never fully escape his past, even when he is surrounded by people who love him.

|The General whose last words, before getting shot under the left eye, were “They couldn’t hit an elephant at this distance”| Which character would most likely meet their end this way.

30319086I took this as a character who is so completely oblivious about what’s right in front of them and my answer is Oliver from If We Were Villains. I was going to say he’s the most oblivious character I’ve ever encountered, but Jerott in The Lymond Chronicles gives him a run for his money. I could see both of them being unaware enough of the world around them to get taken down like this.

I’m not going to tag anyone in particular, but this is a REALLY fun and unique book tag to do, so I highly encourage anyone who is interested to fill this out, pingback to Ella who created it, and feel free to consider yourself tagged and pingback to me too – I’d love to read your answers!

The Mid Year Freak Out – Book Tag

The lovely Steph over at Lost Purple Quill tagged me in this book tag, which looked like a great way to review the highlights of my reading so far this year. Thanks Steph! I’m not going to tag anyone because I know this one has been making the rounds and I haven’t kept up with who has already been tagged, but if you want to do this, please consider yourself tagged!

1. The Best Book You’ve Read So Far In 2017
PachinkoI could choose a couple of books here, but I’m going to go with Pachinko by Min Jin Lee. I fell in love with this moving tale of a multi-generational Korean family living in Japan between 1910 and the 1980s. The prose is eloquent yet clear, the characters are incredibly likable, and I loved learning about this period and place in history that I knew so little about. Pachinko was recommended to me by Rachel @ Pace Amore Libri (thank you Rachel!) and was a monthly pick for a bookclub we’re both in, and I couldn’t be more thankful. This is one book that I would recommend to just about everyone!

2. Your Favourite Sequel This Year
AConjuringOfLightMy other five-star read so far this year is V.E. Schwab’s A Conjuring of Light, the final book in her Shades of Magic trilogy. Like any final book in a series, A Conjuring of Light was a book I both couldn’t wait to get my hands on and read with anxiety that it wouldn’t live up to expectations, or that the plot wouldn’t wrap-up in a satisfactory way. I shouldn’t have worried – A Conjuring of Light was everything I hoped it would be and more, although bidding goodbye to the characters I so loved was difficult.

3. A New Release That You Haven’t Read But Really Want To
29283884
I’ve been looking forward to Mackenzi Lee’s The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue since a friend gushed about it a few months back. Fortunately it’s in transit to me from my local library, so I’ll be able to read it later this month!

 

4. Most Anticipated Release For The Second Half Of The Year
25528808Another one that I’ve heard rave advance reviews of is E.K. Johnston’s That Inevitable Victorian Thing, which will be published on October 3, 2017! I was already excited about reading this book before I read anything by Johnston. Now that I’ve read and loved Exit, Pursued by a Bear, I cannot wait to get my hands on this one!

5. Your Biggest Disappointment
There are a few books that all turned out to be disappointments for me, mostly for the same reason: they had great concepts and gorgeous covers, but the execution didn’t live up to the promise of the material. Those books are:


->  Of Fire and Stars by Audrey Coulthurst – This was a textbook example of great concept, poor execution for me. The author switches genders of the typical prince-princess story to give readers a lesbian couple, but plays every other trope straight for a very conventional story. The book also lacks almost any world-building, so it’s fun at the surface level but cracks start to show as soon as you look at it with a closer eye.
-> Everfair by Nisi Shawl – I admired the ingenuity that went into this alternate history/steampunk Belgian Congo novel, but it’s a debut novel and it showed. Everfair reads more like a series of vignettes than a novel with a plot, and often skips over action scenes with important moments happening off the pages of the book. It also never grabbed me emotionally.
-> The Love Interest by Cale Dietrich – It wasn’t a bad book. I gave it 2.5 stars and even enjoyed reading it since it was a short enough read that I didn’t feel like I had wasted my time, but the world wasn’t thought through and the author didn’t seem to know whether it wanted to be a unique YA dystopia or a pure satire. This lack of direction meant the execution was sometimes sloppy.

6. Biggest Surprise Of The Year
SwingTime
Swing Time was the first Zadie Smith novel I’d ever read, a book I picked up mostly because of the dance theme I’d read was a big part of the novel. I think that’s a bit misleading, dance doesn’t play nearly as heavily into Swing Time as I expected, but I still REALLY enjoyed the book, rating it a solid four stars. This was a very pleasant surprise because after requesting the book from my library I read some goodreads reviews, even from people who enjoyed the book, that didn’t recommend it as the best choice for a Zadie Smith newbie and I had started to second-guess my decision. Fortunately, Swing Time worked for me, and I hope to read more from Zadie Smith in the future.

7. Favourite New To You Or Debut Author
15q8eafOne of my favourite books of the year to date is Katherine Arden’s exquisite and evocative historical fantasy The Bear and the Nightingale. It was a hell of a debut, with prose that hooked me from the very first page and characters I fell in love with, especially Vasilisa, a protagonist who is wild and brave but also compassionate towards others. This book made a fan out of me. I will happily read anything else Katherine Arden releases into the world… especially the planned sequel (set for release in early 2018)!

8. Your New Fictional Crush
30319086I don’t know that I really have one? But I think the closest would be James from M.L. Rio’s If We Were Villains. James was one of my favourite characters in the novel. He’s studious, constantly looking through his books, and works hard to earn his success. He’s a terrific actor, who usually plays princes and heroic roles, and he’s well liked by his friends. It certainly doesn’t hurt that he’s also described as handsome, although from a biased source (his closest friend Oliver). I also have a giant girl crush on Irene from Genevieve Cogman’s The Invisible Library. A competent librarian spy who uses precise grammar and practical quick-thinking to complete her missions? Sign me up!

9. New Favourite Character


A toss-up between Breq/Justice of Toren in Ann Leckie’s Imperial Radch series and Vasya in Katherine Arden’s The Bear and the Nightingale. Breq is an enigmatic presence initially, brusque and determined to complete her mission of vengeance, but always fascinating and resourceful. A music-loving millenia old spaceship AI inhabiting the body of a single human “ancillary”, in Ancillary Sword, she’s diverted somewhat from her vengeance and relishes trying to help out the victims of inequality on one planet and challenging the presiding ideas about class and what is respectable. Arden’s Vasya is introduced as a child, but even as a girl she’s singular among her family because she can see the household spirits and interact with them. Free-spirited and bold, Vanya is also kind, trying to help those around her and obviously caring deeply for her family and her siblings. Caught between doing what is expected of her as a woman and doing what’s right, she’s a new favourite character of mine.

10. A Book That Made You Cry
30319086Well, although A Conjuring of Light certainly made me tear up, as did Pachinko and The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane, and the end of City of Miracles, the only book so far this year to make my I Actually Cried shelf on Goodreads is M.L. Rio’s If We Were Villains. I suspected I would enjoy the book, but I really didn’t expect the novel to be as moving as it was! Even when I could guess where the plot was going, I cared about the characters enough that the narrative still tugged at my heartstrings, and I loved the ambiguous ending.

11. A Book That Made You Happy

The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet and A Closed and Common Orbit by Becky Chambers. The best way to describe these books, particularly the first of the Wayfarers series, is that they are Hufflepuff books. They’re books that are comfortable and cozy, without ever feeling manipulative or overly fluffy. They’re books about people being nice to one another and how you choose your family and protect them. Although they both have somewhat rushed and overly neatly tied up endings, I loved reading both books and they definitely made me happy.

12. Your Favourite Book To Movie Adaptation That You’ve Seen This Year
elle-hidden-figures-margot-lee-shetterlyI can’t judge on a comparison level since I don’t think there are any where I’ve both read the book and seen the movie this year. I haven’t read the book, but I saw the Hidden Figures movie about female African-American mathematicians employed at NASA, who play integral roles in launching the program’s first space missions. The movie was fabulous! It made me smile and I loved all of the leading characters. I’m not much of a non-fiction reader, so I don’t know if I’ll ever read the book, but I enjoyed this immensely.

13. Favourite Book Post That You’ve Published This Year
I was pretty proud of the books I ultimately came up with for the T5W topic ‘Books For Your Hogwarts House’. I selected books that seemed quintessentially Ravenclaw to me, and my choices seemed to go over well!

14. The Most Beautiful Book You Bought Or Received This Year
AConjuringOfLightIt has to be A Conjuring of Light by V.E. Schwab! I adore the covers on this series, and this beautiful hardcover is no exception. The online bookstore was selling signed editions for only fifty cents more than an unsigned edition, so my copy is signed by the author too!

 

15. What Are Some Books That You Need To Read By The End Of The Year

So so many! Some Rachel recs are definitely on this list – especially East of Eden by John Steinbeck, and Of Human Bondage by W. Somerset Maugham. I also REALLY need to start reading Robin Hobbs’ series, so I think those are the top of my list!

Disney Princess Book Tag

I was tagged by both Aditi @ Readers Rule and Dany @ Perspective of a Reader for this tag, so thank you both for thinking of me! Aditi and Dany both have great blogs, so please check them out!

Snow White
This Book (like the Movie) Started It All
Favorite Debut Book From an Author

everythinginevertoldyouEverything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng

I still can’t believe that Everything I Never Told You is this author’s debut! It’s a tremendously well written book about a Chinese-American family in 1970’s small-town Ohio and the pressures that Lydia, the favourite daughter, faces from her parents, both of whom are determined that she will fulfill the dreams that there weren’t able to. Told through exquisite prose, this quiet but poignant book hooked me from its first line, “‘Lydia is dead. But they don’t know this yet.”

Cinderella
A Diamond in the Rough
Just Like Cinderella, You Either Didn’t Expect Much Out of This Character in the Beginning But they Turned Out to Be a Total Gem

6041689Sansa Stark in the A Song of Ice and Fire series by George R.R. Martin

Like many readers, I was initially skeptical of Sansa Stark in George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series. She’s presented as a girl who enjoys embroidery, lemon cakes, and romantic stories about knights and is naive to a fault. When she is betrayed by her betrothed, resulting in the death of her father, Sansa has to grow up quickly. Held as a hostage in Kings’ Landing, she learns to become a player in the game rather than a pawn, but she does so without ever losing her kindness. I can’t wait to see what the rest of Sansa’s journey holds when Martin continues the series, because Sansa has become one of my favourite book characters.

Aurora
Sleeping Beauty
A Book That Makes You Sleepy or Just Could Not Hold Your Attention

59716To The Lighthouse by Virgina Woolf

This book has the magical power to give me insomnia. I tried reading it twice, made it twenty pages in, and promptly realized that I had taken in absolutely nothing each time. Third time wasn’t the charm for me, I gave up on the book.

Ariel
Under the Sea
A Book With a Water/Ocean Setting

7025002Adrift by Arlene C. Harris

I unabashedly love Arlene C. Harris’ as yet unfinished Pont-au-Change series of unofficial Les Miserables sequels. Sure it’s essentially published fanfiction, based very much on the source material, but I think it’s well-written and with strong characterization. As someone who, despite over 1,400 pages of content, wanted more of Hugo’s characters, I love these books. The plot involves author Victor Hugo, in the process of penning his great novel, by chance encounter running into ex-convict Jean Valjean and former policeman Javert, who fill in some of the gaps. This third book in the series takes place almost entirely on a ship, and even involves a mystery!

Belle
Beauty and the Books
Name a Book With the Best Bookworm/Book Lover

21416690Irene in The Invisible Library by Genevieve Cogman

Does it get any better than an intelligent, practical, and badass librarian spy? Irene is a professional spy for the mysterious organization The Library, which harvests fiction from different worlds. Alongside her new trainee Kai, she’s thrust into an adventure that involves secret societies, danger, and magic, but it’s nothing this grammar-loving librarian can’t handle!

Jasmine
The Thief and the Princess
Name Book with an Unlikely Love Story (Either in Terms of Romance or a Book You Didn’t Expect to Love So Much)

15819028The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wrecker

The premise of this lush magic realism set in turn of the century New York City is the unlikely friendship and romance between Chava, a golem made of clay and brought to life by a disgraced rabbi, and Ahmad, a Jinni made out of fire and born in the ancient Syrian desert. Although they come from completely different backgrounds, these two characters discover one another (neither one sleeps) walking and form a connection. It’s a beautifully told story and I’m so excited that there will be more (a second book, The Iron Season, is currently being written)!

Pocahontas
The Real Life Princess
Name a Book that is Based on a Real Life Person You Want to Read/Have Read

TheChosenMaiden1The Chosen Maiden by Eva Stachniak

The Chosen Maiden is a fictionalized account of the life and accomplishments of ballet dancer and choreographer Bronislava (Bronia) Nijinska, the sister to legendary dancer Vaslav Nijinsky, who was known as “Le Dieu de la Danse” (The God of the Dance). Told from Bronislava’s perspective, the novel explores themes of art and modernity as Bronia sees beyond her rigid classical training and strives to be a great artist, dancing and creating bold new works.

Mulan
The Princess that Saved Her Country
Name the Fiercest Heroine You Know

27190613Lada in And I Darken by Kiersten White

I love that there were several characters who came to mind when I considered which heroine to choose! Lada is definitely one of the fiercest characters I’ve encountered. A Wallacian royal, she’s ruthless, and fights the assimilation of her country into the Ottoman Empire tooth and nail.

Tiana
The Princess With The Coolest And Most Diverse Crew
Name a diverse book whether it is a diverse set of characters (like Tiana’s group of Naveen, Louis, Ray, and more) or just diverse in general

30653853The Upside of Unrequited by Becky Albertalli

It’s harder to get more diverse than Molly Peskin-Suso’s friends and family! The book’s protagonist is a fat girl, and her nearest and dearest include lesbian twin sister Cassie, their interracial gay couple parents, Cassie’s new girlfriend Mina, who is Korean and pansexual, etc. This was a really cute fluffy contemporary YA read that’s very positive.

Rapunzel
Let Your Longggggg Hair Down
Name the Longest Book You’ve Ever Read

24280Les Miserables by Victor Hugo

Of course the answer to this one is Les Miserables, with the Signet Classics translation (my personal favourite translation) clocking in at the 1,460 pages that have led the fandom to refer to the book as “The Brick” for its physical resemblance to one. Hugo probably could have used an editor, but I still really love this book and what an accomplishment it is to look back from the end of the book and think, ‘I read that!’

Merida
I Determine My Own Fate
A Book Where There is No Love Story/Interest or Isn’t Needed

AncillarySwordAncillary Sword by Ann Leckie

Sadly unlike fiercest heroine, it’s still difficult to come up with books where there is no love story/interest, or at least where it isn’t the main focus of the piece. This makes me incredibly sad, and I’d love more recs of books where a love story is not a major focus of the book. Ann Leckie’s Ancillary Sword is decidedly not romance focused. Breq/the former Justice of Toren has more important things on her AI-mind than romance as she takes on a new role as Fleet Captain and leads the ship Mercy of Kalr on a diplomatic mission to Athoek, a planet known for its tea, which was annexed hundreds of years ago but is experiencing unrest. There’s enough world-building, fabulous social commentary, and character development in this quieter second novel of the Imperial Radch series that there is really no need for a love story at all.

Anna & Elsa
Frozen Hearts
A Book in a Winter/Cold Setting

15q8eafThe Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden

I can’t imagine a book that more evocatively captures winter than this medieval Russian folktale inspired novel about the winter king and a brave and wild maiden. Vasya’s family sleep atop a giant oven, and the cold is vividly captured in Arden’s poetic descriptions. I wanted to curl up under a blanket with a cup of tea and never finish this enchanting book!

Moana
How Far I’ll Go
A Character That Goes on a Journey

huq5onThe Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet by Becky Chambers

Rosemary goes on a literal journey, joining the crew of the Wayfarer, a small-ship that builds wormholes, to go off planet on a year-long flight. Although she’s initially running from her past, she discovers that family isn’t biological, it’s who you choose. The crew members all have their differences, but they care deeply about one another and respect each other’s believes and cultures.

I feel like I’ve been tagging people a lot and everyone’s still trying to catch up, so I’m not tagging anyone, but if you read this and feel like doing it, please consider yourself tagged!

Monthly Wrap-Up: June 2017

June has been a month of highs and lows for me when it comes to books. Four of the books I read this month I gave four or more stars to and really loved. One I found fun and with a great concept, but the execution was lacking, and one I’m still baffled that there are people who actually like the book and don’t find it offensive, shallowly written, and dull. Still, after May where nothing I read really grabbed me, June was definitely a step forward.

June17

Exit, Pursued by a Bear by E.K. Johnston  small 4 half stars + Review
The Dark Forest by Cixin Liu  small-2-stars + Review
The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane by Lisa See  small 4 stars + Review
The Love Interest by Cale Dietrich small 2 half stars + Review
If We Were Villains by M.L. Rio  small 4 half stars + Review
A Closed and Common Orbit by Becky Chambers  small 4 half stars + Review

Book of the Month: A Closed and Common Orbit by Becky Chambers – I enjoyed A Closed and Common Orbit even more than I did her first book, The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet. Despite the rushed ending, this book was a delight to read and the dual narrative structure worked much more effectively than the aimless vignettes of The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet.

Runner-Up: I can’t choose between If We Were Villains by M.L. Rio and Exit, Pursued by a Bear by E.K. Johnston – They’re such different books, but I adored them both. Exit, Pursued by a Bear is unflinching in its portrayal of the aftermath of rape, but Hermione is a fabulous protagonist and I love that the book gives her a rock solid support system and that she ultimately regains the power she’s lost. If We Were Villains was surprisingly moving, with characters who I cared about and rooted for.

Least Favourite: The Dark Forest by Cixin Liu – Oh boy. With Liu’s first book in the Remembrance of Earth’s Past series it wasn’t to my tastes but I could understand why it was so critically acclaimed. With The Dark Forest I’m honestly at a loss. I struggled through its 500 pages and have no desire to continue with the series, finding the book uncomfortably misogynistic in its treatment of the female characters and all of the characters bland.

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Reading the Hugos Challenge Update: 4/8 I’m two months into my challenge to read all of this year’s nominees for Best Novel and I’m half-way through! Unfortunately this is one challenge I won’t be able to complete. I really disliked The Dark Forest and I don’t have the willpower to suffer through nearly 600 pages of another Cixin Liu book just to tick it off a list, especially considering the reviews I’ve read of this book. I’m still planning to read the other nominees (Ada Palmer’s Too Like The Lightning, Charlie Jane Anders’ All the Birds in the Sky, and N.K. Jemisin’s Obelisk Gate) in July though.

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Seen on Stage: June was a great month of theatre for me! Although the National Ballet’s version of Swan Lake is not my favourite, it was the first ballet I saw as an adult so seeing it again felt like coming full circle, and Emma Hawes (recently promoted to first soloist) made an impressive debut as Odette. The company premiere of A Streetcar Named Desire really impressed me with gorgeous performances by all of the opening night cast I saw and interesting choreography. I also spent a fabulous day at Stratford, taking in the enjoyable HMS Pinafore, and the highly anticipated The Virgin Trial, which was fabulous.

A Streetcar Named Desire (ballet) by the National Ballet of Canada – Review
Swan Lake (ballet) by the National Ballet of Canada
HMS Pinafore
 (musical) at the Stratford Shakespeare Festival – Review
The Virgin Trial (play) at the Stratford Shakespeare Festival – Review

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Coming up in July: Some exciting news for me this month, the editor of My Entertainment World, a great website that covers theatre and other branches of entertainment with reviews, interviews, and even annual awards, read my review for Streetcar and asked if I would be interested in writing for them! Of course I said yes, so I’ll be covering the Toronto Fringe Festival next week and writing stage reviews for the My Theatre website. I’ve only seen a few Fringe productions in the past, so I’m excited and anxious about this new experience.

Since Fringe involves a lot of shows in a short amount of time, I’ve geared up by queuing some Spotlight on Stories posts in advance, so my posting schedule shouldn’t be interrupted, but I may be slow to reply to comments and I might fall behind in reading all of your lovely content.

My TBR tends to depend on when my holds come in from the local library, but this July I’ll definitely be reading the other three Hugo award nominees that I haven’t gotten to yet, as well as Now I Rise by Kiersten White,  the sequel to And I Darken, as well as Mackenzi Lee’s The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue.

What was your favourite read in June? What books are you planning to read in July?