Sunday Snapshot: Musical Mugs

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As a lover of musicals and the theatre, I couldn’t let today pass without recognizing that the 2017 Tony Awards are tonight! The Tony Awards are undoubtedly my favourite awards show, and one of my favourite nights of the year. When else do you get to see incredibly talented people gratefully accepting recognition for their work alongside performances and songs by skilled companies of actors and actresses?

Here’s my collection of musical mugs, which span three cities and several fabulous shows (also Doctor Zhivago and Love Never Dies… try not to judge me too hard)!

Books: Exit, Pursued by a Bear

25528801Exit, Pursued by a Bear by E.K. Johnston
Published March 15, 2016
star-4-half
After my last few YA contemporary reads, which I really enjoyed but felt were a little fluffy and perhaps aimed at a younger audience than me, Exit, Pursued by a Bear was a very welcome change of pace and I absolutely loved it.

The novel is loosely based on Shakespeare’s play The Winter’s Tale, and draws its title from the play’s most famous stage direction. Protagonist Hermione Winters has everything going for her. Alongside best friend Polly, she’s co-captain of her school’s cheerleading team, she has a boyfriend, and she’s about to enter her senior year, but at the team’s summer training camp, someone slips something in her drink and she blacks out. Exit, Pursued by a Bear deals with the lead up to, and the aftermath of, the rape, as Hermione figures out how to move on from here.

Although Exit, Pursued by a Bear deals with serious themes, including date rape drugs, sexual assault, teen pregnancy, and abortion, it differs from other rape survivor stories in a few ways.

First of all, and most importantly, Hermione has an excellent support system in place that helps her through. She has parents who are protective but supportive of her decisions, who want to be there for her but also know when to take a step backwards, even when it hurts them to do so. She has a best friend who would go to Hell and back for her, who is her champion, and who will happily fight anyone who dares to so much as look at Hermione the wrong way. She has a therapist who is quirky but effective, letting her come to terms with and remember what’s happened to her in her own time and without pushing, and she has a cheerleading team who, after some initial awkwardness and a few poor decisions, completely have her back. This support system is part of what prevents the book from being a tragedy.

The rest comes from Hermione herself. Rape is often about power and control. The use of date rape drugs in particular leaves Hermione unable to remember any details about her attacker or the assault itself that she can provide the police with. Her rapist takes away her power, but Exit, Pursued by a Bear is primarily a book about taking back power and regaining agency.

Hermione is a wonderful protagonist. Intelligent, popular, and courageous, she is determined not to be defined by what’s happened to her and to move forward with her life. Although she does have trauma to work through and the attack does change things for Hermione (she stays off of social media, is triggered by the scent of pine, etc.) she is also determined to keep living. Hermione continues her cheerleading, she plans to go to college and live in residence away from home, she doesn’t fall apart. There is nothing wrong with stories where the victim does fall apart, these stories are every bit as valid as Hermione’s in Exit, Pursued by a Bear, but I love that this is a story about strength, about support systems, and about a girl who takes back power and does so in her own time.

This is not to say that the book sugarcoats the assault or the aftermath. Johnston doesn’t dance around the slut-shaming and victim-blaming that initially follows sexual assault, but much of this is shut down early in the novel. The overall picture I got was one that shows the pain, the helplessness, and the fear Hermione feels and, importantly, the impact that Hermione’s assault has on those around her (from her parents, to the friends who blame themselves for not spotting what was happening, to the inexperienced police officer whose career path she influences), but that also shows the bravery of the main character and the excellent support system she has in place.

I also loved the way the book ended, putting the power back in Hermione’s hands in a way that is more than just symbolic. Exit, Pursued by a Bear is an insightful examination of strength and support in the face of trauma after an assault, and features a protagonist and other characters who I cared about deeply. I highly recommend it to all.

 

 

Stage: A Streetcar Named Desire

Streetcar

Unsettling and intense, A Streetcar Named Desire, danced by the National Ballet of Canada in the work’s Canadian premiere, is a striking ballet that sticks with you long after the standing ovation ends.

Rather than a literal retelling of the acclaimed Tennessee Williams play, A Streetcar Named Desire is choreographer John Neumeier’s reaction to the thematic, emotional, dramatic and psychological realities that the play represents. He chooses to set the opening scenes of the ballet where the play ends, with Blanche DuBois in an asylum. The first act follows Blanche’s back-story, from her love for and marriage to a younger man, Allan Gray, her feelings of betrayal as she discovers him locking lips with another man, and Gray’s resulting suicide. Her devastation is hauntingly shown through the repetition of his suicide, the gunshot ringing out again and again in her mind.

As her home of Belle Reve falls into decay, Blanche follows her bolder sister Stella to the French Quarter of New Orleans and the second act more closely follows the story of the play. Out of place in the jazzy modern city, Blanche clashes with her sister’s rough husband Stanley Kowalski and although she is courted by his earnest friend Mitch, Blanche cannot escape her past.

The play is a perfect match for Neumeier’s dark and expressive choreography, which has the ability to convey emotional complexity. I’ve seen a few of Neumeier’s ballets before, most notably Nijinsky, my favourite ballet of all time, and each work seems to require its dancers to be especially strong actors in order to convey the emotional depth of the material. This quality makes Neumeier’s ballets an excellent fit for The National Ballet of Canada’s repertoire.

I was thrilled to hear that Sonia Rodriguez, in my view one of the most gifted dancer-actresses this universally talented company has to offer, would be dancing the role of Blanche DuBois on opening night. As Blanche, she is quite simply stunning, showing the fragility of a woman who can’t adapt to the changing world around her. From her opening scenes, where she trembles on the bed in an asylum, Rodriguez is vulnerable and expressive. She is matched by an excellent Guillaume Cote, as the rough Stanley Kowalski. A savage alpha-male, he beats his chest and engages in boxing matches (a change from the movie Stanley’s stationary love of poker to a hobby more dynamic and action-oriented). Despite this, Blanche is drawn to him, leading to the fateful rape scene, depicted with a brutal, unflinching, physicality.

The rest of the opening night cast was similarly strong. Jillian Vanstone is a lively, carefree presence as Stella, and although the character of Mitch doesn’t have a lot to do, Evan McKie makes the most of the role, giving a sympathetic portrayal of a man who genuinely cares for Blanche and is enraged when Stanley reveals the truth about her past.

There are just four leading roles, but I was pleasantly surprised to find that Allan Gray, danced in the opening night cast by Skylar Campbell, had nearly, if not more, to do in the ballet than Mitch. Campbell’s duet with his friend, played by Francesco Gabriele Frola, was a highlight for me, as the choreography demonstrates the pull Gray feels towards the other man and his suppressed longing. Campbell is precise and expressive in the role, and reappears in the second act as a doppelganger newspaper boy who Blanche tries to seduce.

Like he did with Nijinsky, Neumeier chooses music that effectively intensifies the unnerving atmosphere of the work. Set to music by Prokofiev and by Alfred Schnittke, A Streetcare Named Desire has no live orchestra though, a decision that allows the stage to be extended over the pit and the action to take place closer to the audience. Although the loss of a live orchestra is felt, I think the choice works for Streetcar.

A Streetcar Named Desire is a very physical ballet, particularly for Stanley and for Blanche, who is thrown around the stage a great deal. In that respect it makes for an interesting contrast with Neumeier’s Nijinsky, where the male lead throws himself around the stage in a way that must leave bruises.

Personally, I not only enjoyed the inventive choreography and emotional intensity of the ballet, there were also several refreshing things to admire. The National Ballet of Canada has often focused, to a certain extent, on height-based casting, so the opportunity to see Evan McKie, one of the tallest dancers in the company, partner petite Sonia Rodriguez was a first for me. Although the height gap could look awkward, as McKie has to bend nearly in half to rest his head on her shoulder, I really enjoyed the opportunity to see these two gifted dancers duet.

A Streetcar Named Desire also presented the opportunity to see McKie play a role entirely different from the classical prince roles or, alternately, the characters who are quite frankly somewhat dickish (Onegin, Leontes) he has often played in the past. Although he dances these roles very well, it was a nice departure to watch him portray a slightly awkward sweet and earnest man.

And finally, kudos to the multi-talented Dylan Tedaldi, who shows off a fine singing voice (and to my untrained ear a pretty good southern accent!) with his rendition of Paper Moon.

I’ve never seen Tennessee Williams’ acclaimed 1947 play or even watched the movie. Beyond the famous STELLA! cry and Blanche’s famous final line, “I’ve always depended on the kindness of strangers”, I probably couldn’t tell you a single other thing about the play, so I certainly can’t comment on the ballet as an adaptation. I loved the National Ballet of Canada’s A Streetcar Named Desire though, and highly recommend it to those interested in an intense, emotional, but very beautiful night out at the ballet.

A Streetcar Named Desire is on stage until June 10, 2017 at the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts.

Photo of Guillaume Cote and Sonia Rodriguez by Aleksandar Antonijevic.

T5W: Books for Your Hogwarts House

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Or yet in wise old Ravenclaw,
If you’ve a ready mind,
Where those of wit and learning,
Will always find their kind.

This week’s Top 5 Wednesday topic is Books For Your Hogwarts House and yes, you guessed it, this Librarian is a proud Ravenclaw! Like many book bloggers I suspect, I have always loved books and learning. I pursued first an undergraduate degree in English, and then a graduate degree in library and information science, and I value and admire creativity and intelligence in others.

This winter my parents and I visited the Wizarding World of Harry Potter for the first time. Before we went, all of us took the house percentage quizzes and it turns out we’re a family of Ravenclaws (except for my brother, a Slytherin)!

Without further ado, here are the five books I think represent Ravenclaw well:

JonathanStrange1. Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke
When I began to consider books that represent Ravenclaw, Susanna Clarke’s historical fantasy about English magic during the Napoleonic Wars immediately came to mind. Although magical history and theory is studied, practical magic is believed to be long dead, until the reclusive Mr. Norrell reveals his ability. He becomes a celebrity overnight, and takes on a student in another practicing magician, the young and dashing Jonathan Strange, but their differences in style strain the partnership.

Why should Ravenclaws read it?
Obviously the subject matter, the history and revival of English magic, is a perfect fit for the intellectually curious Ravenclaw, and readers will enjoy Jonathan Strange’s somewhat unconventional uses of magic. The author’s wit has been compared to Jane Austen, and this well-researched novel even includes footnotes about the history of magic and texts for further study!

1226382. The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde
Oscar Wilde is surely synonymous with the word wit by now, and for good reason! My favourite work of his has to be the brilliant comedic play, The Importance of Being Earnest, which satirizes Victorian ways. Featuring mistaken identities, double lives, and a misplaced handbag, this popular farce is well worth a read.

Why should Ravenclaws read it?
Although the play is over a century old, it still manages to be funny and the infamous scene with the muffins always makes me laugh. Wilde’s works are perfect for the Ravenclaw reader who values “wit beyond measure” as man’s greatest treasure.

162993. And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie
Although I enjoy a good mystery, I have to admit that I’m one of those people who rarely puts it all together before the end. Because of this, I have immense respect for anyone who can write an engaging mystery, and Agatha Christie is the master of this genre. I haven’t read many of her books yet, but I found And Then There Were None, a story where ten strangers summoned as weekend guests to a private island begin to be killed off until there is no one left, incredibly atmospheric and clever.

Why should Ravenclaws read it?
Christie shows ingenuity in bringing all of the characters’ deaths in line with the ten little soldiers poem. The way in which she paints a psychological portrait of each of these people with a dark secret and the way she keeps the reader guessing until the very end with red herrings and plot twists is brilliant to read and sure to draw admiration from the Ravenclaw reader.

ioj8xt4. Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel
Station Eleven is one of my favourite books. It’s perhaps a more controversial Ravenclaw choice, but I love the central theme in this soft post-apocalyptic novel, “because survival is insufficient”. I feel like it’s a very Ravenclaw concept, this idea that civilization and life is more than just getting by and surviving, there has to be a preservation of art and knowledge and a purpose to existence. This is demonstrated in the ways in which the characters carry on after the world as they know it ends. Kristen joins the travelling symphony as an actress, performing Shakespeare with its enduring appeal, to survivors of the pandemic. Clark opens the museum of civilization at the airport to preserve the way of life before and hold objects that no longer have any practical use, like high heels and a motorcycle, and a minor character begins printing a newspaper.

Why should Ravenclaws read it?
Station Eleven features culture and creativity and preservation of knowledge, told through beautiful prose in a story that is completely unique in setting the action during the pandemic, in its first days, and then fifteen years, entirely skipping the early days following the end of the world and the mayhem and brutality to tell a story about the new culture that begins to emerge and hope for the future.

2983175. Sandman by Neil Gaiman
(Art by Sam Kieth, Mike Dringenberg, and Malcolm Jones III)
I was a little stuck on exactly which Neil Gaiman book belongs on this list, but ultimately went for his critically acclaimed Sandman graphic novels. For me, Sandman (and Neil Gaiman in general) represent that wildly imaginative, original, and eccentric part of Ravenclaw, much like Luna Lovegood. The Sandman comics are stories about stories. They’re not always linear, they’re not always easy to understand, but they’re always incredibly creative and interesting. The stories focus on Morpheus, the anthropomorphic personification of dreams, one of seven Endless, along with Destiny, Death, Desire, Despair, Delirium–who was once Delight–and Destruction, and blend history, mythology, and horror.

Why should Ravenclaws read it?
The Sandman comics are unlike anything I’ve ever read before, and in that way represent the eccentricity and uniqueness of this house. Neil Gaiman’s brain is a fountain of original thought, which is perhaps at peak weirdness in Sandman. The series won’t be to everyone’s tastes, but it’s definitely worth checking out for the sheer imagination and creativity of the work.

Which Hogwarts house would you be in? And which books do you think represent your house?

The Unique Blogger Award

I was nominated by my wonderful friend Rachel of pace, amore, libri for this award. Thank you Rachel! It’s been an honour to undertake the book blogging journey with you!

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The Rules

  • Share the link of the blogger who has shown love to you by nominating you.
  • Answer the questions.
  • In the spirit of sharing love and solidarity with our blogging family, nominate 8-13 people for the same award.
  • Ask them 3 questions.

Rachel’s Questions

1.Who’s your favorite actor/actress and what’s your favorite performance that they’ve ever done?  It can be something you’ve seen on stage, or in a film/television show/etc.

As Rachel guessed, this is difficult to narrow down, so I’m completely cheating and I have a few answers:

One has to be English theatre actor David Thaxton. There are no other actors who I have literally crossed an ocean to see, and although there have been other reasons, seeing him perform was a huge impetus to take these trips to London. My favourite performance that I’ve seen live has to be his turn as student leader Enjolras in the 2008/09 West End cast of Les Miserables. His strong baritone, natural charisma on stage, and camaraderie with his fellow actors was really captivating. I didn’t have the chance to see it live, but the recording of his Olivier award (basically the UK-Tonys) winning performance as Giorgio in Passion at the Donmar (which you can watch by booking an appointment to visit the V&A Museum’s archives) was stunning and made me cry just from a video.

The second is Canadian baritone Andrew Love. I first spotted Love playing the Bishop and other roles in the Toronto cast of Les Miserables and even in brief scenes his voice blew me away, so naturally when I heard he was understudying the role of Javert and would go on one Saturday in November, I dashed to the theatre to buy a last minute ticket and it was beyond even my high hopes. His voice is superb, but his acting is every bit its equal and his take on the role was thoughtful and very human. He was also fabulous recently in Against the Grain Theatre’s modern English-language take on La Boheme. I’ll definitely be following his career for the rest of my life.

Finally, as far as film actors go I think Oscar Isaac is ridiculously talented and has the ability to transform into each role he takes on. My favourite is definitely Poe in the new Star Wars movie (namesake for my pet), but I also loved his work in A Most Violent Year. And I’m currently working my way through Toby Stephens’ (Maggie Smith’s son!) filmography. My favourite role of his is, obviously, Captain Flint in Black Sails. His monologue’s rival Bryan Cranston’s in Breaking Bad and he’s played a fabulous arc with this character.

2.Which book would you most like to see adapted into a film and why?

I’m kind of already getting this, because the book I think would be best suited to an adaptation is Marvel’s Runaways comics, which are being turned into a Hulu show. The snappy pop culture dialogue, diversity of the teenage protagonists (which include a Japanese-American girl, a Jewish overweight girl, a vegan lesbian, and an African-American prodigy), and great backstory (everything thinks their parents are evil at somepoint, but what if you found out your parents were actually supervillains?) were really ahead of their time and I can see the show working really well as long as it’s cast smartly and well-written.

3.Talk about and share a picture of your pet(s)!

I have a pet cockatiel named Poe (after the Star Wars character) and she’s a laugh a minute. She’s very affectionate to the point of being clingy (she flies after me when I leave the room), enjoys headscratches and eating broccoli and other people food, and can’t be trusted around computers or books (she tries to eat them). Like most cockatiels, she’s curious and needs to be kept busy with toys to chew on and explore. She also loves having baths, but hates the being wet part, so she has a blast splashing water around, but when she’s done she runs around in irritation until her feathers dry off. Here’s what she looks like wet!

qohtvp

I Nominate

My Questions

  1. Talk about and share a few of your favourite book covers.
  2. How do you organize your bookshelves? (by author, by genre, by colour, etc.)
  3. Besides books, do you collect anything? If so, what do you collect?

As always, feel free to skip this, especially if you’ve already been tagged by someone else!

Monthly Wrap-Up: May 2017

After the fabulous month of reading I had in April, May was a bit of a disappointment. The majority of the six books I read were enjoyable reads in the three to three-and-a-half star range, with only two books I gave four stars. I’m definitely hoping that June will be a better month for me!

I was hoping to review Defy the Stars by Claudia Gray, which I really enjoyed and gave a solid four stars, but I’m having a busy couple of weeks and have contracted the summer cold that’s going around here, so not this month.

May17

City of Miracles by Robert Jackson Bennett small 4 stars + Review
Queens of Geek by Jen Wilde small 3 half stars + Review
The Three-Body Problem by Cixin Liu  small-3-stars + Review
The Upside of Unrequited by Becky Albertalli small 3 half stars + Review
Ninefox Gambit by Yoon Ha Lee small 3 half stars + Review
Defy the Stars by Claudia Gray small 4 stars

Book of the Month: City of Miracles by Robert Jackson Bennett – Although I didn’t love it as much as the first two books of the trilogy, this is a worthy conclusion that offers closure to the characters we know and love.

Runner-Up: Defy the Stars by Claudia Gray – This exactly the kind of sci-fi I enjoy, a meditation on what makes us human that also touches on subjects of the environment, politics, and class, and features likable dynamic characters in Abel and Noemi.

Least Favourite: The Three-Body Problem by Cixin Liu – It’s a great book, it just wasn’t a great book for me. A little more science than I like in my sci-fi and without well developed characters and an engaging plot to make up for it.

Have you read any of these? What did you think? What were your best and worst reads of the month?

Seen on Stage:
The mediocre reading month was made up by a fabulous month of Toronto theatre. Onegin and La Bohème were both amazing, and I can’t recommend them highly enough:

Onegin (musical) by the Musical Stage Company (x2) – Review
La Bohème (opera) by Against the Grain Theatre – Review
Porgy & Bess in Concert by Soulpepper

I hope everyone has a wonderful June!

 

Top Ten Tuesday: Most Anticipated Books Of H2 2017

This week’s topic is the Top Ten Most Anticipated Books For The Second Half of 2017. Weirdly enough a bunch of books I’m anticipating have just come out or are coming out in June, just short of making this list. A further few are due out in January 2018, just after the cut off. I managed to find ten books due out this summer and fall that I’m really looking forward to reading though.

Want to join in the fun? Head on over to Top Ten Tuesday, hosted by The Broke and Bookish.

255288081. That Inevitable Victorian Thing by E.K. Johnston
(Release date: October 3, 2017)
A friend of mine who read an ARC has been raving about this for ages, and I’ve generally only heard positive things about this book. Certainly the premise sounds right up my alley, and I love that my home city of Toronto plays a role, so I can’t wait to give it a try!

Synopsis: Victoria-Margaret is the crown princess of the empire, a direct descendant of Victoria I, the queen who changed the course of history two centuries earlier. The imperial practice of genetically arranged matchmaking will soon guide Margaret into a politically advantageous marriage like her mother before her, but before she does her duty, she’ll have one summer incognito in a far corner of empire. In Toronto, she meets Helena Marcus, daughter of one of the empire’s greatest placement geneticists, and August Callaghan, the heir apparent to a powerful shipping firm currently besieged by American pirates. In a summer of high-society debutante balls, politically charged tea parties, and romantic country dances, Margaret, Helena, and August discover they share an unusual bond and maybe a one in a million chance to have what they want and to change the world in the process —just like the first Queen Victoria.

318177492. The Stone Sky by N.K. Jemisin
(Release date: August 15, 2017)
The first book in her Broken Earth trilogy, The Fifth Season, deservedly won the Hugo Award for Best Novel last year and its follow-up, Obelisk Gate, is nominated this year. Both books are like nothing I have ever read before. Jemisin’s prose and world-building is exquisite, her fiction diverse, and her stories incredibly engaging. I can’t wait to finish the trilogy this summer with The Stone Sky.

Synopsis: The Moon will soon return. Whether this heralds the destruction of humankind or something worse will depend on two women.
Essun has inherited the power of Alabaster Tenring. With it, she hopes to find her daughter Nassun and forge a world in which every orogene child can grow up safe.
For Nassun, her mother’s mastery of the Obelisk Gate comes too late. She has seen the evil of the world, and accepted what her mother will not admit: that sometimes what is corrupt cannot be cleansed, only destroyed.

342732363. Little Fires Everywhere by Celene Ng
(Release date: September 12, 2017)
I LOVED Ng’s first novel, Everything I Never Told You and ranked it number four on my list of the best books I read in 2016. It was the kind of novel I was still thinking about days, and even weeks after finishing it. The prose was exquisite, the subject (a Chinese-American family’s struggles with sexism and race in 1970s America) one not often dealt with, and the characters were all flawed and nuanced. Based on the strength of that one book I would read just about anything this author puts out.

Synopsis: In Shaker Heights, a placid, progressive suburb of Cleveland, everything is planned – from the layout of the winding roads, to the colors of the houses, to the successful lives its residents will go on to lead. And no one embodies this spirit more than Elena Richardson, whose guiding principle is playing by the rules.
Enter Mia Warren – an enigmatic artist and single mother – who arrives in this idyllic bubble with her teenaged daughter Pearl, and rents a house from the Richardsons. Soon Mia and Pearl become more than tenants: all four Richardson children are drawn to the mother-daughter pair. But Mia carries with her a mysterious past and a disregard for the status quo that threatens to upend this carefully ordered community.
When old family friends of the Richardsons attempt to adopt a Chinese-American baby, a custody battle erupts that dramatically divides the town–and puts Mia and Elena on opposing sides. Suspicious of Mia and her motives, Elena is determined to uncover the secrets in Mia’s past. But her obsession will come at unexpected and devastating costs.

335668714. The Speaker by Traci Chee
(Release date: November 7, 2017)
I really enjoyed Traci Chee’s first book in this series, The Reader, which struck me as something of a love letter to books and those who love to read, but in a fascinating YA fantasy story. I remember loving both of the protagonists, Sefia and Archer, and I can’t wait to read what happens next in their story.

Synopsis: After barely escaping the clutches of the Guard, Sefia and Archer are on the run again and slip into the safety of the forest to tend to their wounds and plan their next move. Haunted by painful memories, Archer struggles to overcome the trauma of his past with the impressors, whose cruelty plagues him whenever he closes his eyes. But when Sefia and Archer happen upon a crew of impressors in the wilderness, Archer finally finds a way to combat his nightmares: by hunting impressors and freeing the boys they hold captive.

With Sefia’s help, Archer travels across the kingdom of Deliene rescuing boys while she continues to investigate the mysterious Book and secrets it contains. But the more battles they fight, the more fights Archer craves, until his thirst for violence threatens to transform him from the gentle boy Sefia knows to a grim warrior with a cruel destiny.

253532865. Provenance by Ann Leckie 
(Release date: September 26, 2017)
I still have to read the final volume in Ann Leckie’s Imperial Radch trilogy, but I love the world-building, the inventiveness of the plot, and the characters, particularly snarky with a heart of gold former ship Breq/Justice of Toren. Ann Leckie is definitely on the list of authors I would try just about anything by, and I can’t wait for this new book.

Synopsis: A power-driven young woman has just one chance to secure the status she craves and regain priceless lost artifacts prized by her people. She must free their thief from a prison planet from which no one has ever returned. Ingray and her charge will return to her home world to find their planet in political turmoil, at the heart of an escalating interstellar conflict. Together, they must make a new plan to salvage Ingray’s future, her family, and her world, before they are lost to her for good.

340769526. The Language of Thorns by Leigh Bardugo
(Release date: September 26, 2017)
I’m not usually a short stories person, but at this point I think I’ll read just about anything Leigh Bardugo writes, and I love the rich world-building she’s done through the Grisha trilogy and then through the Six of Crows duology. I can’t wait to read more from her vivid imagination.

Synopsis: Travel to a world of dark bargains struck by moonlight, of haunted towns and hungry woods, of talking beasts and gingerbread golems, where a young mermaid’s voice can summon deadly storms and where a river might do a lovestruck boy’s bidding but only for a terrible price.

Inspired by myth, fairy tale, and folklore, #1 New York Times–bestselling author Leigh Bardugo has crafted a deliciously atmospheric collection of short stories filled with betrayals, revenge, sacrifice, and love.

285261927. 27 Hours by Tristina Wright
(Release date: October 3, 2017)
I’ve heard a few good things about this one, mostly because I gather it’s about 4 queer teenagers battling to save the planet. I’m all for increased diversity in fiction and this sounds really interesting, so I’m looking forward to reading it.

Synopsis: During one twenty-seven-hour night, if they can’t stop the war between the colonies and the monsters from becoming a war of extinction, the things they wish for will never come true, and the things they fear will be all that’s left.

27 Hours is a sweeping, thrilling story featuring a stellar cast of queer teenagers battling to save their homes and possibly every human on Sahara as the clock ticks down to zero.

297607788. The Tiger’s Daughter by K. Arsenault Rivera
(Release date: October 3, 2017)
Victoria Schwab’s blurb reads: “A love letter to my favorite kind of fantasy―rich, expansive, and grounded in human truth. It is a story of star-crossed loves, of fate and power and passion, and it is simply exquisite.” I also gather it’s Mongolian-inspired epic fantasy and involves queer protagonists, so this is definitely one I’ll be reading!

Synopsis: The Hokkaran empire has conquered every land within their bold reach―but failed to notice a lurking darkness festering within the people. Now, their border walls begin to crumble, and villages fall to demons swarming out of the forests.

Away on the silver steppes, the remaining tribes of nomadic Qorin retreat and protect their own, having bartered a treaty with the empire, exchanging inheritance through the dynasties. It is up to two young warriors, raised together across borders since their prophesied birth, to save the world from the encroaching demons.

This is the story of an infamous Qorin warrior, Barsalayaa Shefali, a spoiled divine warrior empress, O-Shizuka, and a power that can reach through time and space to save a land from a truly insidious evil.

339582309. Forest of a Thousand Lanterns by Julie Dao
(Release date: October 10, 2017)
I don’t know much about this one, but it looks really interesting! An East Asian fantasy reimagining of The Evil Queen legend about one peasant girl’s quest to become Empress–and the darkness she must unleash to achieve her destiny, it apparently features an anti-heroine and a richly developed fantasy world – sign me up!

Eighteen-year-old Xifeng is beautiful. The stars say she is destined for greatness, that she is meant to be Empress of Feng Lu. But only if she embraces the darkness within her. Growing up as a peasant in a forgotten village on the edge of the map, Xifeng longs to fulfill the destiny promised to her by her cruel aunt, the witch Guma, who has read the cards and seen glimmers of Xifeng’s majestic future. But is the price of the throne too high?

Because in order to achieve greatness, she must spurn the young man who loves her and exploit the callous magic that runs through her veins–sorcery fueled by eating the hearts of the recently killed. For the god who has sent her on this journey will not be satisfied until his power is absolute.

2992370710. One Dark Throne by Kendare Blake
(Release date: September 19, 2017)
I gave the first book in the series 3.5 stars on goodreads, saying that I definitely had some issues with it, but I was engaged enough to keep reading and to continue the series. I loved the concept, but thought it started off very slowly and the writing style and plot felt a little younger skewing within the YA genre. I’m still excited about the next book though.

Synopsis: The battle for the Crown has begun, but which of the three sisters will prevail?

With the unforgettable events of the Quickening behind them and the Ascension Year underway, all bets are off. Katharine, once the weak and feeble sister, is stronger than ever before. Arsinoe, after discovering the truth about her powers, must figure out how to make her secret talent work in her favor without anyone finding out. And Mirabella, once thought to be the strongest sister of all and the certain Queen Crowned, faces attacks like never before—ones that put those around her in danger she can’t seem to prevent.

Are you looking forward to reading any of these? What are your most anticipated books for the rest of the year?

Stage: Onegin

Onegin

“Oh dear father up in heaven, release us from boredom, oh dear father up in heaven send us a good time,” sing characters in the opening earworm song of Onegin, a new Canadian musical written by Amiel Gladstone & Veda Hille. The Musical Stage Company’s new production certainly succeeds in this goal, with a show that is inventive and fun. By presenting the nineteenth century source material in a contemporary way, they show that this classic tale’s exploration of love has relevance today.

The musical is based on Alexander Pushkin’s novel in verse about bookish country girl Tatyana Larin, who falls for St. Petersburg dandy Evgeni Onegin. She declares her feelings for Onegin in a letter but he condescendingly rejects her advances. Later he is invited to Tatyana’s name day celebrations by his good friend Lensky, a hot-tempered poet who is engaged to Tatyana’s younger sister Olga. Bored at the celebrations, Onegin avenges himself by flirting and dancing with Olga. The display upsets Lensky and he challenges his former friend to a fateful duel.

While the novel has previously been adapted into an opera (Eugene Onegin, first performed in 1879 and also credited as an inspiration for this musical), I’m most familiar with it from the excellent John Cranko ballet (created for the Stuttgart Ballet in 1965).

Self-referential and interactive, Onegin involves its audience. The actors move among the audience, break the fourth wall (as Lensky says in the first number, “that’s right, I’m actually talking to you. It’s one of those shows”), and even use the first row as a postal service to deliver letters between parties. This could easily be taken too far, but in Onegin it adds to the fun atmosphere of the performance.

The gorgeous two-level set, created by Denyse Karn, is designed to resemble the old house full of books that Tatyana dreams about. Clever staging allows the space to transform with minimal adjustments so a folded white sheet becomes a snow covered dueling ground, and the remnants of a cup of tea become the spilled blood that follows a duel.

Comprised of a three-person on-stage band and a seven person cast, the ensemble is strong and sounds richer than you would expect from its small number. A shout-out to Shane Carty, who plays Prince Gremin and others and whose baritone gives the ensemble depth (and I’m not just saying that because he brought me a shot of vodka in my second viewing!).

Rare is the show where it’s not just one or two songs that stick with you, but most of the score. That was the indie-rock inspired Onegin for me. Standouts are “Let Me Die”, Tatyana’s solo about falling in love, Lensky’s moving “Olga Will You Weep”, sung the night before his duel with Onegin, and the earworm “Oh Dear Father” that opens the show. This is a score I would happily listen to over and over again.

The standout performance of the night comes from Hailey Gillis. Her Tatyana has a naive earnestness in the first act and is believably awkward and lovestruck in her interactions with Onegin. She matures in the second act into a confident young woman, capable of feeling her youthful passion for Onegin while realizing how poorly he treated her when she was an uncultured country girl and not a member of society. I never feel like I have enough superlatives to describe a Hailey Gillis performance and here, where she plays a character that she can really sink her teeth into, she shines, showing vulnerability and passion by turns. Her voice has a light, almost ethereal quality to it, that suits the score, and her acting is subtle with every choice feeling genuine. You can see the hope leave her eyes as Onegin turns Tatyana down.

The other standout is Josh Epstein, reprising his Jessie award winning role as Vladimir Lensky. Serving as a narrator of sorts for the show, his Lensky is both genial and passionate. Epstein seems the most comfortable with the self-referential style of the show, and his soaring tenor is a treat to listen to, especially in the moving night before the duel solo “Olga Will You Weep”. Even knowing how the story would play out, each time I wished that Lensky would reconcile with Onegin, not ready to say goodbye to the character.

There’s something almost intoxicating about Onegin for me. I first saw the show when it was still in previews and by intermission was planning a return. Shortly into the second viewing I realized that I had to see this one last time before it closed and have since bought tickets for a final performance. Needless to say, I love it.

As much as I enjoy this show though, I do have some critiques of the production. I’m so glad I went back for more because some of the issues I had when I saw Onegin in previews had been fixed, most noticeably, the cast have settled into their roles and are more comfortable with the style of the material. This is especially true of Daren A. Herbert, who played bored so well in the first act that the charming rakish young dandy didn’t always come across, and whose voice wasn’t always settled in the score. This time around he was a standout, incredibly charming from the get go, which meant that I felt sympathy for his Onegin even as I cheered Tatyana on. His voice was also stronger, finding the perfect balance between rough emotion and pitch.

There are still a few things that don’t work for me with this show, most notably the comic relief. Admittedly I’m not a huge fan of the comic relief song in musicals. I’d be perfectly happy to listen to Les Miserables without “Master of the House”, or Jesus Christ Superstar minus “Herod’s Song”. Onegin has two such songs designed to break the tension.  “Queen of Tonight” at least draws a few laughs from the audience, although I thought its placement interrupted the flow of the show a little, but the song about rules for dueling fell completely flat and could use some re-writing, particularly since any musical in the modern age with a song about dueling is going to draw comparisons to Hamilton and “Ten Duel Commandments” this song ain’t.

As a mostly sung-through musical, I also found the transitions between songs were sometimes rough and could use some smoothing over.

All in all, Onegin isn’t perfect yet, but it’s a promising new Canadian musical with one of the best scores I’ve heard and a universally strong cast. I’m sure the road for this musical, which will also be heading to the National Arts Centre in Ottawa this fall, and on a tour of Western Canada, is not over yet and I hope very much that it will one day lead this very deserving show to The Great White Way.

If you’re in the Toronto area, don’t miss the chance to see this wonderful show before it closes on Sunday!

Onegin plays until June 4th at the Berkeley Street Downstairs Theatre.

Photo of Josh Epstein, Daren A. Herbert, Hailey Gillis by Racheal McCaig Photography