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.

***

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.

***

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

***

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?

 

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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!

Books: The Stone Sky

31817749The Stone Sky by N.K. Jemisin
Published August 15, 2017
star-5
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.

 

The End of the Year Book Tag

Like Rachel, I’ve seen this tag going around and thought it looked like a really fun way to look back on the year so far and glance ahead to 2018 in books.

I wasn’t specifically tagged for it, so I won’t tag anyone in return, but if you feel like doing this please pingback so I can read your answers!

Are there any books you started this year that you need to finish?

I’m pretty up-to-date with my reading for this year actually! I’m currently reading War and Peace in a group read that includes Rachel and Hadeer, so my first priority is finishing that off, but I’m targeting end of October to finish the book so I’ll be done by the end of the year.

Do you have an autumnal book to transition into the end of the year?

I don’t at the moment, but I’ve been toying with the idea of reading King Hereafter by Dorothy Dunnett, which is a take on the historical Macbeth. Not explicitly autumnal, but I associate Macbeth with Halloween and fall. We’ll see, I might need a break from denser reads after War and Peace!

Is there a new release you’re still waiting for?

I’m on the library holds list for Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng at the moment. I LOVED Everything I Never Told You, and I’ve been similarly positive reviews for this book, so I can’t wait to read it! Also, I’ve heard good buzz about That Inevitable Victorian Thing by E.K. Johnston and have been told that it’s up my alley so I’m looking forward to that, which I think is released sometime in October.

What are three books you want to read before the end of the year?

Besides the books I’ve already mentioned in this post, Vale Aida published the second part of her The Magpie Ballads duology, titled Swansong, so I’m looking forward to reading that. It’s a really excellent fantasy series that definitely draws inspiration from Dorothy Dunnett, so right up my alley! I currently have The Good People by Hannah Kent in transit from another branch of my public library, and I loved her other book, Burial Rites, so this should be a good read. Finally I’ll pretty much read anything Leigh Bardugo writes at this point I am such a fan of her writing, so I can’t wait to get into Language of Thorns.

Is there a book you think could still shock you and become your favorite book of the year?

Hmm I’m not sure! You never know, and I haven’t figured out all of my reading for the next few months anyway so things might change. I don’t have a far and away leader of the pack yet either. So far I think Pachinko, A Conjuring of Light, A Closed & Common Orbit, The Heart’s Invisible Furies, and The Bear and the Nightingale are in the mix.

Have you already started making reading plans for 2018?

Only slightly. I’ve been feeling the itch that occurs every few years to re-read Dorothy Dunnett’s The Lymond Chronicles, my favourite series of all time, and I think I’ve managed to convince Steph, Hadeer, and Rachel, who have never read the series, to read along with me, so that has me very excited! Otherwise I’ve bought a lot of books recently, many used ones that I was looking for copies of, but still, so I’d like to devote some of 2018 to reading books that I already own and clearing out my bookshelves a little.

Stage: King Lear (Shakespeare in High Park)

Lear

Shakespeare in the Park feels like a summer rite of passage. Every major city has at least one seasonal production of the Bard’s works, performed in an outdoor theater under the stars, and Toronto is no exception. Celebrating its 35th anniversary this season, Canadian Stage’s Shakespeare in High Park is a local institution. So it may be surprising to learn that until this year I was a Shakespeare in High Park virgin!

I’ve lived in Toronto for five years now and I’m still slowly working my way through essential Toronto experiences. I’ve visited the Island, the Beaches, waited in line for instagramable food, trekked out to Scarborough to see the Bluffs, and visited the Christmas Market in the Distillery District. Shakespeare in High Park has always been on this to-do list, but it took a female-fronted production of King Lear for me to finally make it to a performance.

Canadian Stage sets Shakespeare in High Park’s Lear loosely in the 1600s, drawing inspiration from the reign of Elizabeth I, but its selling point is definitely the casting of a woman, stage veteran Diana D’Aquila, in the role of Lear. Her performance itself was transcendent, but the casting of a woman also allows this Lear to explore issues of what it means to be a powerful woman in a traditionally male-dominated role. Of note is the fact that, according to a director’s note, the play was originally approached with the thought that the audience would experience a female Lear in the context of a Hilary Clinton presidency. Instead, President Trump’s vision for the United States has brought misogyny in the Western World into sharper focus.

A female Lear allows for some fascinating commentary on how women are viewed by others, and how they choose to present themselves to inhabit traditionally male roles. Following in the example of Elizabeth I, Diane D’Aquila presents Lear as a once-powerful ruler in decline. Although I thought the opening scenes of the play, in which D’Aquila enters as a frail older woman in a white chemise and is dressed on stage, fitted into the black corset, hoop skirt, and ruffled high collar that show her to be a Queen, went on too long, I liked the concept and symbolism behind this ceremonial dressing.

Diane D’Aquila is the number one reason to watch this play. As Lear, she is captivating, portraying the mental decline of this once powerful woman, the anguish of loss and regret, and the tyrannical fits of fury expected from a woman who has never been denied in her life. At times she displays physical tics and tremors, as well as lapses in concentration that indicate a descent into senility, but these are subtle choices and never feel over-the-top. I couldn’t take my eyes off her whenever she was on stage, and I held my breath as she staggered into the audience, climbing the outside arena’s stairs into the storm. D’Aquila admirably balances fragility and strength in her portrayal of this ailing monarch and it’s an incredibly sympathetic performance.

This masterful performance is just one more reason why a female Lear is such an interesting choice. While King Lear is one of the greatest roles a classical male actor of a certain age will play, it’s that much more difficult for older women to be cast in leading, or at least major, roles. Seeing a woman take on Lear, and do so with such success, was incredibly powerful to witness.

King Lear is perhaps not the most well-known of Shakespeare’s tragedies – Hamlet or Romeo and Juliet are more commonly cited as favourites – but I adore this play. For those new to King Lear, the play tells the story of an aging monarch, who plans to divide her kingdom between her three daughters, Goneril, Regan, and her youngest and dearest daughter Cordelia. Before issuing them each a parcel of land, she demands a declaration of love and devotion. While the eldest daughters extol Lear’s virtues and are rewarded, Cordelia speaks honestly and is banished. Goneril and Regan soon reject their mother, casting her out into a raging storm. Meanwhile Edmund, a bastard son, schemes to supplant his half-brother Edgar as heir to their father’s earldom.

At the heart of the play is the fraught relationship between Lear and her daughter Cordelia. The last actress I saw play the role of Cordelia was inexplicably wooden, and it threw off the whole dynamic of an otherwise solid production. Fortunately Amelia Sargisson is an excellent Cordelia. She is honest and compassionate in the play’s early scenes, creating a character who is likable and wronged by Lear’s ego. A highlight of the play was seeing Cordelia appear on the second level of the set, backlit, and surrounded by billowing smoke. I had chills watching this armor dressed Cordelia, a sword in her raised hand, rallying her troops. Seeing this scene in a play where Lear is portrayed by a woman adds a feminist undertone to the story, and I loved that Cordelia had this grit and determination without losing her compassionate nature.

The other performances were generally solid, particularly the sarcastic Fool (Robert Clarke), and Earl of Gloucester (Jason Cadieux). I liked Michael Man’s Edgar, but in this shortened version of the play it felt like the “B” story, featuring Gloucester, Edgar, and Edmund, had less time devoted to it so we saw comparatively little of his Edgar.

My one complaint is with Edmund (Brett Dahl). I can’t say whether it was an actor’s choice or a case of direction gone wrong, but Dahl played Edmund as stereotypically gay, complete with a lisp and an inexplicable costuming choice where he was the only character wearing an open shirt (or no shirt at all!) for most of the night. I’m of two minds about the choice to play Edmund as homosexual. It does add an interesting element to the scenes between Goneril and Regan as they fight over Edmund’s nonexistent affections, because Edmund is all the more coldly calculating while he clearly plays the women for power/ambition. My problem with it is that the portrayal was just so over the top! Subtlety, thy name is not Edmund. There have been so many cases of the stereotypically gay or coded-as-gay villain in film and other mediums that it’s murky enough territory to wade into, but particularly with such an insensitive portrayal.

The costuming is also a little hit-and-miss. Shakespeare in High Park uses black-and-white costuming that melds the modern with the Elizabethan. This is most effective in Lear’s period black gown, which evokes Elizabeth I with her high ruff collar, and in the simple white chemise she wears underneath. I was less impressed by the more modern gowns worn by Goneril and Regan and the men’s costuming, which had a contemporary feel to it, despite the swords. Since Canadian Stage runs two Shakespeare productions in rep (this year Twelfth Night was the other play), set design has to work for both. This lead to a fairly sparse two level set, brought to life mostly by lighting (which I thought was well done) and a tall throne, which acts as an anchor for the production. The throne design is reminiscent both of a medieval torture device (there are straps for the ankles and wrists) and of the Iron Throne, an interesting commentary on the cost of power.

Some mixed results with the costumes and set and a portrayal of Edmund that didn’t work for me personally are minor complaints though in a production that feels so fresh and interesting. Diane D’Aquila’s performance alone was worth the trek to High Park, and there’s a lot here to admire, from a strong yet kind Cordelia, to the commentary on what it means to be a woman in a male-dominated role. This was my first trip to Shakespeare in High Park and if the quality is generally this high, it certainly won’t be my last.

King Lear
wrapped its summer run in High Park on September 3rd.

Photo of Jason Cadieux & Diane D’Aquila, by Cylla von Tiedemann.

Books: Our Dark Duet

32075662Our Dark Duet by Victoria Schwab
Published June 13, 2017
star-3-half
Set roughly six months after the events of This Savage Song, Victoria Schwab returns to the world of Verity, a place where violent acts breed actual monsters, with Our Dark Duet. In order to step up and take on a leadership role in the FTF, an organisation that aims to keeps the city safe from monsters, August Flynn has repressed the humanity he yearns for and embraced his nature as a sunai monster who can steal ‘bad’ souls with a song. But when Kate Harker, a gifted monster hunter now living in nearby Prosperity, is threatened by a new and terrifying monster that can turn its victims against one another, she realizes she can’t outrun her past. Will her return to Verity be enough to fight back the monsters, including one of her own making? And will August let her back in? Our Dark Duet is a bittersweet ending to an interesting duology about humanity, monsters, and the gray area in-between them.

Schwab seems to delight in subverting gender expectations in her work, a choice that I wholeheartedly applaud. As in her Shades of Magic series, the Monsters of Verity duology gives us an impulsive and independent female protagonist (Kate) who feels most at home with a weapon in her hand, and a more brooding and careful male counterpart (August).

Both of the main characters held my focus, and I enjoyed reading about the changes they had undergone since This Savage Song, but I also really missed the interaction between Kate and August, which doesn’t occur until mid-way through Our Dark Duet. Oddly enough, when the same author places Lila Bard and Kell Maresh on separate journeys for a good chunk of A Gathering of Shadows, she pulls it off brilliantly! So why doesn’t it work as well here? I think part of the reason is the supporting cast.

The Shades of Magic series features minor and side characters, both in Red London and on the pirate ship Lila joins the crew of, who were all fully fleshed out and interesting in their own right. To be honest, I found Kate’s crew of allies in Prosperity all a little one-dimensional. August fares better in Verity, with his family and an engaging villain to support his arc, but even still, few of the supporting players match the heights of Rhy, Holland, or Alucard. The exception continues to be August’s sister Isla, who is a delight! Although voiceless, she gets across more with a touch, a glance, or an action than many characters do with the full range of motion and ability to speak. I also really enjoyed the introduction of the genderless, down-to-business, sunai Soro and vicious Malchai Alice.

Admittedly I tend to like characters more when they agonize over their feelings, even when they don’t show this on the outside, than when they shove them down and repress emotions in the course of duty, so it took me a bit to warm up to August this time around. It’s the presence of characters like Isla, who in her quiet and gentle way disapproves of August’s choice to embrace his monster duty, Kate who straight out asks August what he’s playing at, and feline companion Allegro, who abandons August’s company as he reaps souls, who humanize August again. Once the cracks in her armor begin to show and he wonders if he’s doing the right thing, he becomes (at least to me) a much more engaging character.

Victoria Schwab has a gift for maintaining tension throughout her books, and this is no exception. Several subplots are deftly balanced, from August’s struggle with his own nature and role to Kate’s battle of wills with the chaos eater invading her mind. Full disclosure, I didn’t think to re-read before embarking on Our Dark Duet and it definitely made the beginning harder to follow as I tried to remember where This Savage Song left off! Although the first-half is slow going, once the novel kicks into gear in the second half it’s an engaging and fast-paced ride.

T5W: Favourite Bromances

It’s been a few weeks since I did one of these, but how could I resist sharing some of my favourite literary bromances?! This week’s topic focuses on Favourite Bromances, defined here as a ‘platonic relationship between two characters who identify as male’.

My personal take on bromance has always been really close, through thick-and-thin male friendships, so I’ve stuck to close friendships, rather than just my favourite platonic relationships between men. For example, I adore everything about the dynamic between Richard and Francis Crawford in Dorothy Dunnett’s The Lymond Chronicles, but it’s not always a close relationship so they don’t make the cut here!

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

TheDreamThieves1. Gansey and Adam Parrish/Gansey and Ronan Lynch
(The Raven Cycle by Maggie Stiefvater)
One of the things I love most about The Raven Cycle is that the platonic relationships are depicted as being equal in importance to the romantic relationships that develop over the course of the series. In fact, Stiefvater said that while writing the book she had a post-it note on her computer that said, “Remember that the worst thing that can happen is that they can stop being friends.” As someone who has no interest in being in a romantic or sexual relationship, it means so much to me that all of the friendships in The Raven Cycle are depicted so well and that they are placed on equal footing as romantic love. Even though there are ships in this book, including one that is among my favourite fictional romantic relationships of all-time, I also adore the friendships between characters and especially the ‘bromances’ that Gansey has with Adam Parrish and with Ronan Lynch. Despite their differences in social class and upbringing, Gansey obviously thinks the world of Adam Parrish, and although he experiences some understandable envy, Adam cares so much about Gansey. Both Gansey and Ronan have siblings of their own, but their relationship with one another is so close that they seem to consider each other brothers. I love that platonic relationships in general, but especially the bromances between these characters, are so important throughout The Raven Cycle.

‘While I’m gone’, Gansey said, pausing, ‘dream me the world. Something new for every night.’

5290152. Frodo and Sam/Merry and Pippin
(The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien)
I’m pretty sure you could fill an entire Top 5 with just bromances from Tolkien’s epic The Lord of the Rings, but I’ve stuck to (cheating slightly) just two between my beloved hobbits. Sam and Frodo are definitely the kind of friends who stay by each other’s side (quite literally!) until the end. When the Ring has Frodo in its grasp, Sam is there to give him the strength he needs to carry it forward. It’s a beautiful friendship inspired, I remember being taught in an undergrad course, by the WWI soldier relationship between a private and a batman (A batman, was a soldier who was required to fight but who was also tasked with looking after an officer’s kit, cooking, and cleaning – Downton Abbey fans may recall the connection between Lord Grantham and Mr. Bates). Although perhaps not put through the same intense testing as Frodo and Sam’s connection, I also love the bromance between hobbits Merry and his cousin Pippin. Nearly inseparable, their paths are forced to diverge and they swear fealty to different lords, but remain the best of friends.

‘Come, Mr. Frodo!’ he cried. ‘I can’t carry it for you, but I can carry you and it as well. So up you get!…. Sam will give you a ride. Just tell him where to go, and he’ll go.’

AConjuringOfLight3. Kell and Rhy Maresh
(The Shades of Magic series by V.E. Schwab)
I think that what I love most about Kell and Rhy’s relationship is how well these brothers complement one another. Kell is often serious, restrained, and worrying about something, while Rhy is jovial and flirtatious. They couldn’t be more different and yet they would do absolutely anything for one another, to the point where Kell literally binds their lives together in order to save his brother. Although Kell feels like an outsider when it comes to the royal family and his adopted parents, he has always considered Rhy his brother.

Kell smiled. It was a rare thing, and Rhy wanted to hold fast to it—he was the only one who could make his brother smile, and he wore it like a badge.

14kiizd4. Prince Aleksander and Seyonne
(The Rai-Kirah Trilogy by Carol Berg)
This is one of those tropey (but somehow still really fun to read?!) cases of enemies who become reluctant allies and ultimately close friends. Many of Seyonne’s people, who have been waging a secret war against demonkind, were enslaved by the invading Derzhi people. After 16 years as a slave, he is purchased by the heir to the Derzhi Empire, Aleksander. Naturally at first they despise one another, but Seyonne sees a spark of greatness in Aleksander and as he sets about trying to save him from a powerful demon that is pursuing the heir, they become fast friends. The friendship is developed slowly enough that it’s believable and feels true. Although the rest of the trilogy unfortunately never quite lives up to the promise of the first book, I do love this friendship, a true bromance of two men who may disagree on issues but don’t love each other any less for their differences of opinion.

‘Grandfather was right, wasn’t he? This is not just about your oath anymore, not about saving the world from demon chaos. This is about Aleksander.’
‘I would give my life for him – a stubborn, arrogant, murderous Derzhi. I think I’ve lost my mind.’
‘You sound just as he did, cursing you for an insolent barbarian…just before he went dashing off to Avenkhar to find you.’

242805. Les Amis (especially Enjolras and Combeferre and Courfeyrac)
(Les Miserables by Victor Hugo)
As much as I love Les Miserables, both the book and the musical, I have sometimes felt that the fandom tends to get a little hung up on les amis, the revolutionary students fighting on the barricades, to the detriment of the other characters. For a topic like this week’s T5W though ‘The Friends of the ABC’ fit perfectly. Introduced in a chapter titled, “A Group That Almost Became Historic” are Enjolras, a charming young man capable of being terrible who represents the logic of the Revolution, Combeferre, who “completed and corrected Enjolras” and represents the philosophy of the Revolution, and Courfeyrac, full of youthful animation. I love this trio and how different they are, yet how well they fit as a team and build on each other’s strengths. Whenever I’m seeing a musical adaptation of the book I can’t help but keep an eye out for a strong central trio of amis thanks to the descriptions and interactions of this trio in The Brick (as the unabridged Les Mis is affectionately known).

‘Enjolras was the chief, Combeferre was the guide, Courfeyrac was the center. The others gave more light, he gave more heat; the truth is that he had all the qualities of acenter – roundness and radiance.’

That’s it for my, somewhat eclectic, list of favourite literary bromances. Have you read any of these? Who are your favourite bromances? Let me know in the comments!

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.