June/July Wrap-Up

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***Seen on Stage***

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

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

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

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

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

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

***Life Updates***

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

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

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


***Coming up in August***

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

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

April Wrap-Up

Although April was a better month of reading for me, I was less successful at following through and writing reviews for every book I finished. I’m still working through my backlog of reviews but am hoping to be caught up soon!

 

Witchmark by C.L. Polk  small-3-stars + Review
Blackfish City by Sam J. Miller  small 3 half stars + Review
Gods, Monsters, and the Lucky Peach by Kelly Robson  small 4 stars + Review
Armistice by Lara Elena Donnelly small 4 half stars (re-read – RTC)
Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik  small 4 half stars + Review
The Calculating Stars by Mary Robinette Kowal  small 4 stars + Review
Amnesty by Lara Elena Donnelly  small 5 stars (RTC)

Book of the Month: Amnesty. Was there ever any doubt? I’m still finding time to write proper reviews, but I’ve been shouting my feelings about the Amberlough Dossier series from the rafters for months. Amnesty brought the trilogy to a bittersweet and perfectly appropriate conclusion. Stay tuned for more feelings on this underappreciated series of books and their ridiculously gorgeous art deco inspired covers!

Least Favourite: Witchmark. I was the wrong reader for this book. It’s a cute fluffy queer romance that’s light on plot, yet somehow also light on character development? I liked it but it felt like a missed opportunity to create something really unique and exciting. Those who like their books a lot lighter than I generally do will undoubtedly get more out of it than I did.

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Seen on Stage: I didn’t get out to see much theatre this month, but I did make it to the hottest ticket in Toronto right now, a sit-down Canadian production of Dear Evan Hansen! I have some issues with the book and story of Dear Evan Hansen (okay, and maybe also some lingering bitterness about how Natasha Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812 should have won the Tony, or at least the heartwarming Come From Away), but the production design is sensational, the music is great, and the Canadian cast, led by Robert Markus as Evan, is insanely good.

My two sentence review of Angélique, which received its Toronto premiere at Factory Theatre was as follows: Fucking White People. Yes All Men. Based on the true story of Marie Joseph Angélique, an enslaved Black woman who was hanged for setting fire to Montréal in 1734, it’s undoubtedly a depressing story in which Angélique is repeatedly let down, abused, and punished by those who have power over her. The script could use some tightening though, as there was a musical moment that can only be described as bizarre that needs to go and these prevented the play from hitting as hard as it could.

***

Life Updates: On April 24th I attended an author event at the Toronto Reference Library where Sally Rooney was interviewed about her work by author Sheila Heti. Part of my motivation for going was to try and get a book signed after the reading as a surprise for Rachel, but I genuinely loved hearing Rooney speak. She was eloquent, whip-smart, and thoughtful in her answers even when asked questions that took a long time to get to the point and I can’t recommend going to see her speak highly enough if you ever have the chance. After the Q&A I joined the signing line and was able to get her to sign a copy of Conversations With Friends for Rachel and my coveted print ARC of Normal People for me. What a great night!

I then spent the last weekend in April visiting the wonderful Rachel and her cats! I really needed a break from city life and realized I hadn’t had more than 4 days off in a row for a year, so it was a much needed vacation. We watched a depressing Irish movies marathon, read, drank tea, visited all the great indie bookstores in Vermont, and I spent a lot of time admiring Percy and, my Queen, Lily. Thanks for having me Rachel!

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Coming up in May: I’m finishing up my Reading the Nebulas challenge this month! I’ve finished the nominated novels but still have 3 novellas to go. My copy of Conversations With Friends arrived from the library, so I’m looking forward to diving into that. I’m also filling in for one of my library colleagues to run the branch bookclub this month! I’m very excited about it but I have to read the book first, so I’ll also be reading The Submission by Amy Waldman. We’re finally starting to see some Spring-like weather here in Toronto so hopefully it will soon be balcony reading season!

What did everyone else get up to in April? What was the best book you read this month?

March Wrap-Up

Well, no one can say my March reading list lacked variety! A non-fiction professional development book, a buzzworthy literary novel, a fantasy debut from a respected science-fiction author, a narrative non-fiction true crime book, an indigenous YA urban fantasy, and a queer second-world fantasy about the rise of facism. March was a mostly positive month of reading for me, with all but one book scoring 4 stars or higher, and I’ve found a new favourite in Patrick Radden Keefe’s brilliant Say Nothing. Unfortunately The Raven Tower, which was one of my most-anticipated books of 2019, fell flat, but 5/6 ain’t bad!

The Librarian’s Guide to Homelessness by Ryan Dowd  small 4 stars
The Raven Tower by Ann Leckie  small-2-stars + RTC
Normal People by Sally Rooney  small 4 stars + RTC
Say Nothing by Patrick Radden Keefe  small 5 stars + RTC
Trail of Lightning by Rebecca Roanhorse  small 4 stars + Review
Amberlough by Lara Elena Donnelly (re-read)  small 5 stars + RTC

Book of the Month: Say Nothing is the only book I’ve read so far this year that I am certain will wind up on my year-end list of favourites. I’m interested in Irish history and have visited Belfast before so I had an abstract knowledge of the conflict in Northern Ireland known as “the Troubles”, but Say Nothing sets out clearly the day-to-day existence of living through this period, contextualizes the events of the Troubles, and relates the murder and disappearance of Jean McConville, widowed mother of ten. It’s not always an easy book to read, but it’s deeply compelling and will haunt me for a long time.

Least Favourite: Ann Leckie’s Imperial Radch trilogy and Provenance, her standalone story set in the same universe, are among my all-time favourites, but I was bitterly disappointed by the author’s first foray into fantasy. The Raven Tower is an experiment that just did not work for me at all. The characters are kept at arm’s length so I never connected with them, the pace can only be described as glacial, and although I stubbornly kept reading, I should have DNF-ed this because the pay-off is just not there.

***
Seen on Stage: The Toronto theatre scene is traditionally strongest in the Fall and Winter, and this was no exception!

My March highlight was undoubtedly the immersive, site-specific production of Kiss of the Spider Woman at the Don Jail. The Don Jail, a former prison and the site of a number of hangings before capital punishment was abolished in Canada, provided an appropriately atmospheric and creepy venue. Despite the uncomfortable seating, I was blown away by the cast, whose voices were accentuated by the fabulous acoustics of the jail. Fingers crossed for a remount because the short run was sold out before it even opened and I would brave the discomfort of tall metal bar stools again for a second opportunity to see this brilliant production!

I had been looking forward to Schools Girls ever since the season announcement thanks to glowing reviews of the off-Broadway production, and sure enough I loved this hilarious and yet poignant show that deals with issues like shadeism, racism, and classicism in a nuanced way.

I also loved getting to see two National Ballet casts dance Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. It’s the perfect ballet to introduce young audiences to dance and I loved seeing two up-and-coming ballerinas tackle the lead role with completely different, yet valid, interpretations. I wasn’t as thrilled with the mixed program, finding Balanchine’s Apollo a little dull for my liking (although there’s some intricate partnering there). Night was a welcome company debut for Canadian choreographer Julia Adam though, and I enjoyed the very classical flourish of Paquita.

Kiss of the Spider Woman at the Don Jail by Eclipse Theatre Company
Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by The National Ballet of Canada (x2)
School Girls; or, The African Mean Girls Play by Obsidian Theatre in association with Nightwood Theatre
Apollo; The Sea Above, The Sky Below; Night; and Paquita by The National Ballet of Canada

***

Coming up in April: I’ll be continuing my read of the Nebula nominees for Best Novel with Witchmark and Blackfish City. I’m also anxious/excited about the release of Amnesty, the final book in the Amberlough Dossier series, on April 16th! The most exciting news though is that I’ll be visiting Rachel for an extended weekend vacation in April. I look forward to showering her beautiful cats with affection, reading and chatting books, and enjoying the beauty of Vermont!

What was the best book you read this month?

January Wrap-Up

We’re not off to a great start 2019! After a lackluster 2018, I was really hoping to start the year off with a couple of five star reads. Alas, it was not to be.

I’m realizing that as much as I love reading, I have trouble doing it consistently or with enthusiasm when I’m stressed/tired due to external factors, and/or when the weather has me down. As someone who suffers from Seasonal Affective Disorder, I’m impressed that I’ve accomplished as much as I have lately (working full-time hours but sometimes spread over six days in a customer service focused position and not having two days free together all month). The downside is that even though I have all these amazing books to read, I don’t feel like I have the energy or focus to devote to them right now. I’m hoping to find a healthier balance (or at least more engaging books!) in February.

A few bright points:

1. Katherine Arden’s Winternight trilogy books are as delightful to read for a second time as they were the first time around and the peak January weather we’ve been having has definitely made them the perfect choice this winter.

2, My favourite non-re-read of the month was actually a work of non-fiction! I read VERY little non-fiction, but the combination of birds and British history was pretty much irresistible and I really enjoyed reading this biography of Yeoman Warder Chris Skaife and his special relationship with the ravens of the Tower of London.

3. Although my other reads were on the meh side of things, in one case competent but not provoking any lasting emotional response and in the other light and fun but also predictable and lacking depth, there was nothing I hated reading this month.

The Wildlands by Abby Geni  small 3 half stars + Review
The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden (re-read)  Reviewed in 2017
The Girl in the Tower by Katherine Arden (re-read)  Reviewed in 2018
The Ravenmaster by Christopher Skaife  small 4 stars + Review
Slayer by Kiersten White  small 2 half stars + Review

Book(s) of the Month: Honestly, re-reading Katherine Arden’s first two Winternight Trilogy books in anticipation of The Winter of the Witch was the highlight of my month. I love Vasya and the development of the characters as well as the rich mythology Arden draws upon. These are the perfect read to make it through the snowy, windchill-filled Hell that is January.

Least Favourite: I was disappointed by Kiersten White’s Slayer. One of my favourite YA authors, responsible for writing complicated, three-dimensional, flawed young male and female characters (in her Conquerors’ Saga) taking on slayer mythology? I’ve wanted to read this since it was first announced and, as a massive Buffy fan, this should have been a slam dunk. Instead I was underwhelmed by just about every aspect of this story. There’s enough potential here that I’ll probably pick up the next entry in the series at some point, but it won’t be a priority.

***

A highlight of my month personally was attending the Ontario Library Association Super Conference for the first time! The annual event is Canada’s largest continuing education event in librarianship, but it does focus largely on public and academic librarianship. As a Research Librarian who had worked mostly in financial institutions, I didn’t feel like there was enough programming offered to justify going on my own dime and, to be perfectly candid, many corporate libraries (at least in my experience) don’t bother investing in their employees’ professional development.

I was so thrilled to have the opportunity to attend the conference and soak up the knowledge from more seasoned information professionals, including an eye-opening and thoughtful panel by Ryan Dowd on homelessness in the library. I immediately placed a hold on his book after the session finished and I know that I’ll be using his techniques for years to come. It was also really inspiring to hear about how one library system was breaking down boundaries by going out into the community to engage seniors through VR technology and connecting incarcerated men with their children on the outside through the opportunity to record themselves reading a bedtime story.

I’ll admit it, attending the expo and getting to chat with publishers and vendors was a bit of a thrill. I scored a couple of ARCs for books I really wanted to read (including Charlie Jane Anders’ The City in the Middle of the Night, which I’m reading now), and added a few new titles to my TBR!

It’s been a very tiring month, but certainly a productive one!

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Coming up in February: Rachel and I finally started our buddy read of Robin Hobb’s Assassin’s Apprentice! I found it a bit of a slow starter at first, but I also didn’t have as much time or energy to devote to it as I had hoped. I did end up enjoying the book and I suspect I’ll love the rest of the series. I’m also reading The Winter of the Witch and it is every bit as good as I’d heard! February has been packed so far work-wise, so I’m trying not to over-commit with a firm reading list for the month and to do more mood reading. I’m going to try and be more on top of my blogging (and especially reviewing) this year as well.

What was the best book you read this month?

Monthly Wrap-up/update: October & November

As Lin Manuel Miranda would say, I’ve had a bit of a month. My November has involved a job interview, the death of a family member, the end of a temporary contract job I really loved (with my future prospects still uncertain), a couple of theatre shows that just weren’t for me, a ballet performance that really was, trying to get a jump on my Christmas shopping and decorating, dealing with an early start to my Seasonal Affective Disorder brought on by a record-setting lack of sun in Toronto, and, finally, obtaining a permanent part-time position as a public librarian. Let’s just say it hasn’t left a lot of time for reading or blogging!

December is still looking pretty packed, but I’m planning to be a little less scarce around these parts and hopefully I’ll be back to blogging, reading, and commenting more frequently soon!

October was mostly consumed with my foolhardy quest to read Anna Karenina before seeing the National Ballet of Canada’s modern adaptation in mid-November. I didn’t quite make it (I still had 200 pages to go when I attended the ballet), and I didn’t always enjoy it, but I’m glad that I can now say that I have read this classic of Russian literature. I found another Russian classic, Alexander Pushkin’s novel-in-verse Yevgeny Onegin, far more enjoyable. To balance out the denser classics and the impending gloom of a Canadian winter, my other reads this fall were both shorter and faster-paced.

Vengeful by V.E. Schwab  small 4 stars
An Ocean of Minutes by Thea Lim  small-3-stars + Review
The Last Days of Judas Iscariot by Stephen Adly Guirgis
Sadie by Courtney Summers  small 4 half stars
Yevgeny Onegin by Alexander Pushkin (translated by Anthony Briggs)  small 4 half stars
Gmorning, Gnight!: Little Pep Talks for Me & You by Lin Manuel Miranda (illustrated by Jonny Sun)  small 4 stars
Runaways, Vol. 2: Best Friends Forever by Rainbow Rowell (illustrated by Kris Anka)  small 4 stars
Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy (translated by Richard Pevear & Larissa Volokhonsky)  small-3-stars

Book(s) of the Month: After seeing and loving both a ballet and a musical adaptation of Alexander Pushkin’s novel in verse, I finally got around to reading Yevgeny Onegin. I loved it. This is the first translated classic since Les Miserables where I thought, you know what? I would love to read another translation and compare! Less romantic and more witty than its ballet and opera adaptations, Yevgeny Onegin is a compelling classic and Tatyana, is the shy, bookish, dreaming heroine we deserve! I also adored Sadie by Courtney Summers. It’s one of those books where I found myself thinking about it long after I had put it down, and I found Sadie herself such an intriguing protagonist.

Least Favourite: There was nothing I read this fall that I disliked, but there were a couple of books that were just… fine. Unfortunately, they’re both books that have been, to a certain degree, hyped and so I expected more out of them.  I liked the premise (and the striking cover) of Thea Lim’s Giller-nominated An Ocean of Minutes, but the characters and the love story at its core fell flat. Anna Karenina has been called the greatest work of literature ever written. It wasn’t even the best thing I read this month. Unlike War & Peace, which was a slog, I did actually find parts of Anna Karenina engaging, but I don’t think characters are Tolstoy’s strong suit. I found Anna Karenina too long, disjointed (the Levin/Kitty story and Anna/Karenin/Vronsky story didn’t connect or weren’t contrasted effectively enough for my tastes), and I was never very interested in Levin’s philosophical musings or Tolstoy’s thoughts on Russian farming techniques in the nineteenth century. Sorry Tolstoy, I just don’t think your works are for me.

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Seen on Stage: Fall marks the beginning of the traditionally packed Toronto theatre season. Over the last two months I’ve watched 2 ballets, an opera, a concert performed by musical theatre artists, a musical, and 4 plays!

Highlights: 
The Dream, Frederick Ashton’s ballet adaptation of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Featuring the most perfect opening night casting I could imagine (including my ballet dancer fave Skylar Campbell as mischievous Puck, and a regal Harrison James and Jillian Vanstone as Oberon and Titania), I enjoyed this double bill with Guillaume Cote’s Being and Nothingness immensely.

The Wolves
is undoubtedly one of the best things I’ve seen on stage all year. The cast was comprised entirely of women and non-binary individuals, all of whom were wonderful, the dialogue really captured the way that teenage girls talk to one another as they effortlessly move from serious topics to casual observations and gossip and back again, and the pacing was pretty much perfect.

Hart House Theatre’s Heathers was a tremendous amount of fun with catchy tunes (I went home and downloaded the cast recording), and the joy that comes from an engaged, mostly student, audience. Not coming from a religious background or that community, I undoubtedly missed references in Judas Noir, an all-black adaptation of The Last Days of Judas Iscariot, but it was just so much fun that this didn’t detract from my enjoyment of the play at all! Some tremendous performances in there as well.

Middletown (play) at Crow’s Theatre, a remount of a Shaw Festival production
The Dream & Being and Nothingness by The National Ballet of Canada
Anna Karenina (choreographed by John Neumeier) by the National Ballet of Canada
Uncovered: Joni Mitchell & Carole King by Musical Stage Company
Eugene Onegin by the Canadian Opera Company
Dancing at Lughnasa by the Toronto Irish Players – Review for My Entertainment World
The Wolves by The Howland Company/Crow’s Theatre
Judas Noir by Obsidian Theatre/BDB Productions – Review for My Entertainment World
Heathers by Hart House Theatre

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Coming up in December: It’s that time of year again! I’m starting to think about my Favourite reads and theatre performances of the year and will try to have lists up in a timely fashion, but I’m also really hoping to read a few more things that will make my Top Ten Books Read In 2018 because so far the list is looking a little weak…

Honestly I don’t have a set reading list for December and I’m in a pretty big reading slump at the moment, so I’m just hoping to pick up something that engages me. I have a few possibilities checked out from the library and I’ll keep you posted! I make no promises because I’m notoriously bad at promising to write a review later and never doing it, but hopefully I’ll be posting some thoughts on a few of the books and/or things I’ve seen on stage in October and November on here too.

Since I am now a newly minted Children’s Librarian and want to be able to provide effective reader’s advisory services, it means that I’ll be reading more middle grade and picture books. I’m thinking about adding a Middle Grade Monday feature once or twice a month where I’ll compile short reviews of middle grade and other younger reader things I’ve been reading, both for my benefit and for any parents, teachers, or fellow librarians out there who are curious.

Happy Reading!

Books: The Marrow Thieves

34649348The Marrow Thieves by Cherie Dimaline
Published September 1, 2017
star-4
The market is saturated with dystopian YA novels these days and, like many readers, I’m a little fatigued by the genre, yet Cherie Dimaline’s award-winning The Marrow Thieves is an important and engaging addition to the canon. A rare example of an #ownvoices indigenous author writing speculative fiction, The Marrow Thieves details the hardships faced by characters as they are hunted further and further north with limited resources and fewer people they can trust. This poignant exploration of the struggle to retain culture, oral storytelling tradition, and language against all odds should be read and studied by all young Canadians

Sadly the premise behind this dystopia is not so out there considering Canada’s treatment of indigenous people over the years. In the wake of a world decimated by global warming, where the surviving people have lost the ability to dream, the government turns to its shameful past and revives the residential school system that stripped First Nations members of their language, culture, and families. In a darker twist, white people known as Recruiters capture Indigenous peoples, transport them to these schools, and then harvest their bone marrow, which is used as a remedy for dreams. First Nations members are literally and horrifically reduced to a commodity.

‘Story’, a nightly oral storytelling ritual in which older kids and adults in Frenchie’s found family band gather to hear and remember aspects of their culture and history, fleshes out how the world came to be this way. It’s an ingenious way for Dimaline to both preserve preserve indigenous culture in-story and to deliver exposition in a way that feels organic.

Dimaline’s writing style is lyrical at times, befitting oral storytelling tradition, but also realistic about the way the novel’s largely teenage cast interact with one another. Stray words of The Language (indigenous languages that the younger generation don’t speak) dropped in-text are hoarded and repeated by Frenchie, who views them with an awed regard.

Unlike many YA dystopias, this is a character-driven book where the emphasis is on found family and survival rather than trying to change the world. I loved that the oldest and youngest characters, who could be viewed as a burden on the band’s survival, are actually the beating heart of French’s group. I was invested in the characters, interested in their backstories, and I loved most of the relationships, familial, platonic, and romantic.

Protagonist French (given name Francis), a 16-year-old Métis boy, is believably teenage. Even when there are bigger things at stake he experiences petty jealousy, comparing himself physically to other First Nations characters who he thinks may have caught the eye of Rose, the girl he’s falling in love with. Big-hearted and concerned with the survival of everyone in his band, from the youngest Ri to not-all-there Elder Minerva, he holds a certain survivor’s guilt about being the only member of his immediate family to not be taken by the Recruiters.

Because this is YA, there’s a love interest. Rose does at least get some depth; she’s a dissenting voice who questions the band’s path and wants to take immediate action, but mostly we see her through French’s eyes. A lot is made of her physical beauty, her curls, and round cheeks, and dark skin, and I wound up wishing she’d been fleshed out more.

My favourite character though, was Miigwans. Middle-aged and the leader of the band, he grieves the traumatic loss of his husband, Isaac, to the schools. I love that The Marrow Thieves is not only diverse in terms of representing different First Nations cultures, but that it also features a gay character!

The Marrow Thieves definitely works on a symbolic level rather than a literal one. Dimaline handwaves explanations for things in a way that feels more appropriate for a work of magic realism, but nothing in the book lends itself to that genre. It’s a little disconcerting in a book that is otherwise to grounded. The author also has a bad habit of overusing end of chapter foreshadowing in a clunky, unsubtle way that I found irritating:

“neither of us could imagine that everything would change in just a few hours”
“I had no way of knowing that things would shift again”
“we didn’t know that he was an animal we had yet to imagine could exist”

You’ve hooked us, just tell the story!

Besides these minor complaints though, I found The Marrow Thieves to be a thought-provoking book about storytelling, language, and how the loss of it removes us from our roots, and love of all kinds. It also has one of the better endings out there. Beautifully rendered through thoughtful, lyrical prose, The Marrow Thieves ends on a hopeful note that lets us know that all is not lost.

 

 

Books: Penance

31423183Penance by Kanae Minato, translated by Philip Gabriel
Published April 11, 2017
star-3-half
In a rural Japanese town, five elementary school students play in a nearby park, unaware that only a few hours later one of them will be dead. When a strange man asks for help from one of the girls, Sae, Maki, Akiko, and Yuko each compete to be the one chosen, but it’s their newer friend Emily who he leads away. A few hours later Emily is found murdered, and none of the girls can remember what the man looked like. Emily’s mother, Asako, curses the surviving girls and makes them promise that they will either find the man responsible or do penance in some other way.

Shortly before the fifteen-year statute of limitations on murder runs out, each of the girls and Emily’s mother reflect on the events of that fateful day, the aftermath of the murder, and its impact on them.

Penance is a quick-paced, engaging read that you’ll undoubtedly finish in a few hours. Each of the five chapters is set more than a decade after the murder takes place and is told from a different character’s point of view as author Kanae Minato slowly reveals how the events of that day have shaped each girl differently based on their personalities and the role they were asked to play (staying with the body, fetching the police, finding a teacher, or informing Emily’s mother). The characters are clearly differentiated from one another and exhibit believable and unique responses to the trauma they have undergone, but the real draw here is the book’s thorough examination of themes of blame, responsibility, and guilt.

Unfortunately, while I found the characters and their voices completely believable, the unrealistic twists and turns took me out of the story and kept me from being wholeheartedly absorbed in Penance. I don’t always mind when coincidence is used with a heavy hand by an author or when the book requires a certain degree of suspension of disbelief (as evidenced by the fact that The Heart’s Invisible Furies and A Little Life are two of my favourite books of all time), but here it struck me as disingenuous for some reason.

Penance was so squarely a three-and-a-half star book for me that I agonized over whether to round up or down on goodreads. Ultimately I rounded up because, despite its faults, Penance is a gripping, well-paced read that never drags. I don’t think it’s a book that will stay with me, but I certainly enjoyed the journey.

Not Good Enough Tag

I wasn’t officially tagged, but Steph of Lost Purple Quill recently did this tag and where the book blogging squad goes, I follow (also it looked like a lot of fun)!

HOW IT WORKS:

  1. You write down the names of 30 fictional characters on pieces of paper.
  2. You pick two names at a time and answer each of the 15 questions. For each question one of the two characters will be the one you believe fits best and the other is “not good enough”.

YOU ONLY HAVE ONE MORE SPOT ON YOUR SPELLING BEE TEAM, WHO WOULD YOU PICK TO COMPLETE YOUR TEAM?

Vasya (The Bear & The Nightingale) VS. Gert Yorkes (Runaways)

Gert! Despite being only fifteen(ish?) she’s super bright and bookish, plus Vasya is from medieval Russia so I think a lot of contemporary English words would completely escape her.

BOTH CHARACTERS WANT TO KILL YOU, WHICH ONE WOULD YOU KILL FIRST SO YOU HAVE A BETTER CHANCE OF SURVIVING?

Shara (The Divine Cities) VS. Damen (Captive Prince)

Oh man, I am going down! Damen poses more of a threat in hand-to-hand combat with his skills and size, but I hate the idea of giving Shara, an intelligent spy, more time to plan! I’d try and take out Damen first, but I don’t think I stand a chance here.

YOU’RE ON THE BACHELOR/BACHELORETTE AN YOU’RE DOWN TO THESE TWO CHARACTERS, WHICH ONE ARE YOU GOING TO GIVE YOUR ROSE TOO?

Ingray Aughskold (Provenance) VS. Iyone Safin (The Magpie Ballads)

I feel like Ingray would be the safer choice since she’s a little more transparent, but I have a pretty big girl crush on Iyone. She’s manipulative and ambitious, but so damn intelligent, and I’d like to hang out with her friend group (Savonn and Hiraen) and get into trouble with them, plus canonically she does get wooed by her girlfriend with a rose, SO I’m going with Iyone.

YOU’VE BEEN CHOSEN FOR THE HUNGER GAMES, WHO WOULD MOST LIKELY VOLUNTEER IN YOUR PLACE?

Eliza (Eliza and Her Monsters) VS. Sansa Stark (ASoIaF)

This is so cruel, I just want them both to be happy! Eliza’s anxiety would definitely prevent her from volunteering or standing much of a chance though. I think Sansa would step up, and she’s survived this long in Westeros, I’m pretty sure she stands a shot in The Hunger Games!

YOU’RE STRANDED ON AN ISLAND. WHICH CHARACTER WOULD YOU SACRIFICE TO ENGAGE IN CANNIBALISM?

Savonn Silvertongue (The Magpie Ballads) VS. Laurent (Captive Prince)

Oh My God, they’re so similar though! I feel like I’d probably be the sacrifice since I couldn’t take either one of them (and then they’d probably get together). Savonn is built more in the Lymond mold of self-sacrifice though, so I could see him giving up his life, and Laurent is more likely to find a way off the island.

YOU’RE THE NEXT DC/MARVEL SUPERHERO (WITH YOUR OWN TV SHOW OF COURSE), WHO IS YOUR SIDEKICK?

Lada (And I Darken/Now I Rise) VS. Lila Bard (Shades of Magic)

I’m 100% sure I’m the tag-along sidekick in both scenarios! Neither woman takes instruction well or is likely to play second fiddle to anyone, but they might let me tag along… if I prove to be useful. Lila is slightly less likely to kill me. Slightly. I’d be her sidekick.

YOU’RE A MANAGER OF AN AVOCADO ADMIRING COMPANY, WHO WOULD YOU FIRE FOR LACK OF COMMUNICATION SKILLS?

Philippa Somerville (Lymond Chronicles) VS. Miles Vorkosigan (The Vorkosigan Saga)

I feel like Miles would just constantly get himself into trouble. I mean, he’d get himself out of it again too, probably by talking, but Philippa would be a more consistent employee, so I’d fire Miles.

YOU’VE JUST FINISHED A BOOK IN WHICH YOUR FAVOURITE CHARACTER DIES, WHICH CHARACTER IS MOST LIKELY TO COMFORT YOU?

Kaz Brekker (Six of Crows) VS. Eowyn (Lord of the Rings)

WELL, obviously it’s not going to be Kaz, so Eowyn it is!!

UGH, IT’S HIGH SCHOOL. WHO WOULD MOST LIKELY BE PART OF THE POPULAR CLIQUE?

Inej Ghafa (Six of Crows) VS. Mildmay (Doctrine of Labyrinths)

Neither is really popular kid material, but Mildmay, with his scar, glower, and lack of self-confidence is most likely to be the outsider here. Inej could be a popular kid if she wanted to, maybe if Nina was by her side, but mostly people are probably a little intimidated by her.

THE DAY HAS ARRIVED; YOU’RE FINALLY A YEAR OLDER! WHO WOULD HAVE THE NERVE TO FORGET YOUR BIRTHDAY?

Turyin Mulaghesh (Divine Cities) VS. Breq (Imperial Radch)

Breq has probably remembered but she won’t let on or acknowledge my birthday except in some roundabout way that makes it look like she doesn’t actually care, while secretly being a softie. Turyin forgets and swears a lot about it, but she has a damn good excuse for forgetting.

YOU’VE JUST FOUND AN UPCOMING BOOKTUBE STAR? WHO WOULD MOST LIKELY BE?

Francis Crawford (Lymond Chronicles) VS. Kell (Shades of Magic)

It’s totally Francis. His obscure references and throwaway quotes in other languages mean that you only ever understand a quarter of what he’s saying, but he’s so handsome and charismatic, and what you do understand of his reviews is so engaging that you’re addicted anyway. Kell’s more of an oddity. I think people would watch him more in hopes that he’d perform a magic trick than for his reviews or thoughts on books.

SLEEPOVER TIME! UNFORTUNATELY YOU CAN ONLY INVITE ONE PERSON, WHO WOULD YOU INVITE?

Alec Campion (Swordspoint) VS. Jonathan Strange (Jonathan Strange & Norrell)

Alec would definitely be more fun, but then again it’s also entirely likely that he starts some kind of a fight and causes mayhem. Strange is far too distracted for a slumber party though. He would spend the entire time somehow engaged in magic and books and not paying any attention at all, so Alec it is! At least Alec’s sharp tongue would amuse.

BAM, YOU’RE PREGNANT. WHO’S THE FATHER/MOTHER?

Ronan Lynch (The Raven Cycle) VS. Luna Lovegood (Harry Potter)

I mean… biologically neither of these scenarios would ever happen. I’d like to co-parent with Luna though. She’d be a little spacey, but kind and creative and I think we’d get on. I’ll leave Ronan to Adam and Opal and his farm.

YOU’VE JUST WRITTEN A SUPER IMPORTANT TEXT. WHO WOULD ‘SEE’ IT, BUT NOT REPLY?

Cyril Avery (The Heart’s Invisible Furies) VS. Jean Valjean (Les Miserables)

I feel like running away is kind of Cyril’s M.O., so I could definitely see him doing this. If Valjean doesn’t respond it’s more likely to be because he doesn’t know what to say or he’s unfamiliar with texting.

YOU’VE JUST WOKEN UP AND IT’S TIME FOR BREAKFAST. YOUR MUM’S BEEN REPLACED BY WHO?!

Maia (The Goblin Emperor) VS. Adam Parrish (The Raven Cycle)

Oooh, I think Adam would be a more practical and effective parent but Maia is such a cinnamon roll that he would always have my best intentions at heart. I have to go with Adam though.

This was a tremendously fun tag! I wasn’t tagged by anyone, so I won’t tag anyone in return, but if you feel like doing this, definitely pingback here because I’d love to read your answers!