A Year of Reading Diversely: Sister Mine

Previously on A Year of Reading Diversely.

sister-mineSister Mine, Nalo Hopkinson

Check it out if you enjoy: Someplace to Be Flying, Anansi Boys, urban fantasy that’s not about vampires

Buy it here!

Guys, I really like audiobooks. I got on the bandwagon kind of late, but since I’ve been doing most of my commuting on foot this summer, I’ve found they’re a great way to consume fiction on-the-go. (And considerably safer than my usual method of gluing my eyes to my phone while navigating Denny Way. Nothing has really changed since I was a kid, when my mom constantly told me to stop reading while I’m walking — only the medium.) But they do present a couple of challenge when it comes to reviewing. It’s harder to go back and reference stuff, for one thing; I don’t have spellings of names and places easily available, for another. Most of all, though, listening to someone read the book adds another layer of interpretation between me and the author’s words, and I have to take that into account when talking about my impressions of the book. So reviewing a novel I consumed on audiobook is a little more like reviewing a play or a movie: there are the author’s words, and there’s the performance and interpretation of the reader.

And but so anyway. Sister Mine is a 2013 urban fantasy novel by Jamaican author Nalo Hopkinson. The story centers around Makeda Joli and her sister, Abby. Abby and Makeda are formerly-conjoined twins with a fraught relationship, and they’re biracial — in that they’re half human and half god. Their father, Boysie, is Papa Bois, the Trinidadian god of living things; their mother, Cora, is a human woman. Well, was a human woman. She’s a lake monster now. It’s complicated. You know how gods are.

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A Year of Reading Diversely: Ancillary Justice

Recently, I asked my social circle for book recommendations — specifically genre fiction (sci-fi, fantasy, horror … basically anything that wouldn’t be called “literary” fiction by the New York Times), by authors who aren’t straight white men. My friend Jéhan mentioned K. Tempest Bradford’s challenge, which is based on the idea of reading only non-straight/cis/white/able-bodied/male authors for an entire year. At which my friend Heather, being a competitive sort, threw down the gauntlet and dared me to take up that challenge.

So here we go! A Year of Reading Diversely. First up:

Leckie_AncillaryJustice_TPAncillary Justice, Ann Leckie

Buy it here!

Check it out if you enjoy: Star WarsMass Effect, Battlestar Galactica, The Vorkosigan Saga

I started with Ancillary Justice because, well, I had a long list of authors and books, and Ancillary Justice was the first one that was actually available as an ebook from the Seattle Public Library. It seems telling to me that the very first thing I experienced when embarking on this challenge was an obstacle of accessibility. In many cases, SPL just straight-up does not have enough copies of books by authors from marginalized communities — women, LGBTQ people, people of color — to keep up with demand. I’m delighted to know that so many people in Seattle want to read Nalo Hopkinson and Octavia Butler, sure. But just as many people must want to read Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, which I was able to get immediately. Obviously there are best-selling authors from marginalized communities that I can check out easily, like Suzanne Collins, but my “Recommended for you” screen includes starts with James Dashner, Dan Brown, and George R. R. Martin.

Anyway, on to the actual book.

Ancillary Justice is told from the point of view of One Esk (alias Breq), an ancillary: a human body inhabited by a fragment of an AI that once ran a warship called the Justice of Toren. The novel opens with the narrator on a remote planet in the Radch empire, where she discovers one of her former captains lying beat-up in the snow outside a bar. For much of the first half of the novel, the narrative switches between Breq’s attempts to find a reclusive doctor with her extremely unhelpful captain in tow, and an extended flashback to Justice of Toren‘s time on a newly-annexed planet.

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Review: Totally biased folk rock music edition

O brave new world, that has such legislation in it! There are so many things I want to write about right now — naturally, because I have homework (!!) and nothing gets my creative juices flowing like avoiding stuff with a deadline.

This morning Twitter greeted me with Coheed and Cambria singing Justice Scalia’s dissenting opinions on the ACA and same-sex marriage. Which I can’t embed because WordPress doesn’t like Funny or Die’s video player, so click on the image below or the link in the last sentence to go to the video.

Screencap via AltPress. http://bit.ly/1FHgnCw

Screencap via AltPress. http://bit.ly/1FHgnCw

Bearded dudes with guitars and tight harmonies are kind of my jam, so I figured I’d take this opportunity to plug a couple of friends who are also creating music that fits that description precisely.

Nicholas Mudd
Check it out if you like: 
Old Crow Medicine Show, Christian Kane’s down-tempo stuff, early Bob Dylan
Personal favorite: “Tell Me Girl” (So fare thee well, I guess I’ll see you in hell / And I hope you’re doing alright)

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Review: STAGEright’s “Into the Woods”

Man, remember when I used this blog for things like reviews?

This last Monday I threw up my hands and said “Screw working, I’m going to go see a show!” I ended up at STAGEright’s production of Into the Woodsthe most hipster Sondheim I’ve ever seen. And I mean that in the nicest possible way, because it also ranks as one of the most enjoyable Into the Woods I’ve seen.

"Always ten feet behind! / Always ten feet below!" Nathan Brockett and Faith Howes. Photo via STAGEright's Facebook.

“Always ten feet behind! / Always ten feet below!” Nathan Brockett and Faith Howes. Photo via STAGEright’s Facebook.

The costumes, by Chelsea Cook, might be my favorite part of the design. Clad in vests and skinny jeans, slouchy beanies and A-line skirts (and a little bit of drag), the cast wouldn’t look out of place walking the streets of Capitol Hill. Alyssa Milione’s lighting gives the show the sepia tone of an Instagram filter. The general effect reminds me of the autumnal feel of the original Broadway production, but made contemporary—appropriate for a play about familiar stories turned on their heads.

Director Matt Giles has created a truly minimal show. The set consists of just three ladders, some crates, a trash can, and some suitcases; the orchestra is replaced with a piano, a cello, a violin, a drum-set, and a chorus of kazoos; and in a show that’s traditionally full of symbolic double-casting, Giles has gone one step further and triple-cast a couple of actors. A clothes hanger becomes a harp, and a megaphone becomes a giant. It’s the kind of theatrical magic I love best, where all the work is done with a gesture and imagination. Transformation, appropriately, is the name of the game. (Special kudos in this arena have to go to Nathan Brockett, who not only transforms from Cinderella’s Prince to the Wolf, and from one of Cinderella’s step-sisters to Cinderella’s Prince within songs, but also ran back to the band to play violin.)

By stripping away production elements to the bare essentials, Giles gives the story and the words primacy. It’s a credit to the cast that during some of Sondheim’s most rapid-fire lyrics, I was delighted to hear (and understand!) lines I’d never heard before. And Giles makes a smart choice in letting the story stand on its own merits without trying to comment on it: Into the Woods is a rock-solid story with enough complicated ideas and emotions on its own.

"There are giants in the sky!" Photo via STAGEright's Facebook.

“There are giants in the sky!” Photo via STAGEright’s Facebook.

This means that if you’re a Woods aficionado, you’re not necessarily going to be surprised by the story you see. All the emotional beats and arcs that you know and love are there, landed with confidence and competence, but familiarity. But that also means that if you’ve never seen Woods before, you should absolutely go see this one and ruin future productions for yourself.

Because I do think you could do way, way worse than to use this as your baseline Woods. The intimate space, the smart staging, and the obvious energy and pleasure of the cast give the whole production a sense of magic. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, et cetera–but I think, too, you’ll wonder. And the woods are made for wondering.

Into the Woods plays through April 25 at Hugo House.


Review: “Love In the Time of Zombies”

Last weekend Elisa and I were honored to be invited to review Vagabond Alley Productions‘ “Love In the Time of Zombies,” which opened on Saturday. We were doubly honored when the Horror Honeys offered to host said review as part of their Undead Thursday line-up!


The play’s central plot-line is the most fundamental of zombie tropes: our heroes are in a safe enclosed space, fighting the zombie hordes, when another survivor (Robert Hankins) comes into their sanctuary with a suspicious wound. This scene is practically obligatory in any zombie media, and it’s easy to see why. You’ve got immediate tension, a mystery to solve—is it a cut or a bite?—and the ethical questions of whether or not to kill the infected person before they turn. (Pro tip: It’s never just a cut. Tie that guy up before it’s too late.)

Click on over for the full review, and thank you again to Vagabond Alley and the Horror Honeys for giving me a chance to actually use my degree for its intended purpose. It’s a fun show: if you’re in Seattle and in the mood for some late-night zombies and live theatre, check it out! Tickets are only $10 online.

And if you enjoy me and Elisa yakking about horror, you should also check out our fledgling podcast, Femimonstrosity, wherein we sit around with coffee and ramble about movies like Bram Stoker’s Dracula and Rosemary’s Baby. I promise it’s worth every penny.

Review: “Chalice,” Robin McKinley

Cover of The truth of the matter is, these days I reread a lot more than I read. I was thinking back over the books I’d read recently and almost all of them were ones I’d read before, that I was (or am) rereading for various reasons: Red DragonThe Hunger GamesRose Madder, dribs and drabs of Mairelon the Magician and A Wizard Alone. There’s nothing wrong with rereading; when I packed up to move to Seattle, the box of books contained the ones I knew I’d always be able to come back to.

But I’ve also been writing more lately, and as comfortable as my old favorites are, I needed some new grist in my mill, so this morning (is today still Monday?) I grabbed Chalice off my shelf — and read the entire thing in a day.

When I’m listing my favorite authors I don’t usually list Robin McKinley, although I’m not sure why. Spindle’s End is one of my all-time favorite books, and Deerskin and Beauty and her short-story collection A Knot In the Grain are books that are lodged in my heart like words on the tip of your tongue. And Chalice has absolutely wormed its way in there too. My copy clocks in at 263 pages, but it didn’t feel like it at all: I zoomed through about two-thirds of it on my (ungodly long) commute to and from Tukwila, and actually ignored Tumblr for several hours to finish it. Continue reading

Mini-review: “Captain America: The Winter Soldier”

By p1xer on deviantart.com.

By p1xer on deviantart.com.

I finally caught up with the rest of the world and saw Captain America: The Winter Soldier yesterday. I have a mess of notes I jotted down during the credits, in the vain hope that I might write a full review, but I have two posts in my drafts folder I really want to finish, plus at least two just-for-fun writing projects that I’m actually excited about, so that full review may never materialize.

I do want to touch briefly on the movie’s central ideological theme, though, before I get too distracted. Spoilers ahoy!

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Review: “Song of Spider-Man”

Reeve Carney and Jennifer Damiano as Peter and MJ, at the Tonys. They sound like nice kids. I forgive Carney for his lackluster turn as Ferdinand in “The Tempest.”

A couple of weeks ago, a friend of mine, Becca, acquired a copy of Song of Spider-Man: The Inside Story of the Most Controversial Musical in Broadway History, by Glen Berger. She then sent it on to a friend of ours in England, Debi who had seen the show with her in New York. They wrote about their thoughts on the book, and they agreed on several things: that Glen Berger is unnervingly in love with Julie Taymor, that Glen Berger finds it very important to tell everyone that he is a Serious Professional Writer, and that the book invites you to throw it across the room multiple times.

I, stressed out about the upcoming tech week for the spectacular production I was assisting on, commented to Debi that I HAD to read this book. And just before tech week actually started, I got a parcel from the Royal Post containing Glen Berger’s tell-all.

My cackling could, I hope, be heard across the pond.

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Review: Disney’s “Frozen”

I rang in the New Year by going to see Frozen with my big sister the glaciologist, who is obviously the optimal person to bring along to a movie that’s about a) ice and b) sisters. Really, though, if you’re going to see Frozen, I highly recommend bringing a glaciologist if you have one handy. I’m assured that the snow and ice was really well done.

(Sidebar: I have bragged to some of my friends before that Gina is, or at least has been called, the unofficial poet laureate of the International Glaciological Society on account of how her poems and songs have been requested by the president of said IGS and won awards. Click those links and marvel at her ability to rhyme words like “callipygian” and “cryosphere” without even blinking.)

Okay, moving on to the movie.

Elsa in Let It Go

I don’t care if this sounds like a bad pun — I get chills every time.

First things first: I liked Frozen quite a bit. I don’t think it was Disney’s best movie ever, and I’ll delve into that a little more deeply, but I thought it was an enjoyable movie with AMAZING music, beautiful production design, and a core of something very important: a story about women who save each other and save themselves.

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Music reviews: “The Way I’m Running” and “The Electric Lady”

PigPen Theatre Co., The Way I’m Running

So last year around October 6-8, I was in New York on my way to Seattle via Spain, and while there I got to see PigPen Theatre Co.’s The Old Man and the Old Moon. It was really exciting to me that this year, almost exactly a year from when I saw PigPen live, they released a new album of music — just in time for my birthday, no less.

Important disclaimer: these excellent dudes graduated with me in CMU’s School of Drama Class of 2011, so I’m not a totally unbiased reviewer. That said, these guys are some of the most talented artists, storytellers, and musicians I’ve ever experienced, and even if I didn’t know them I’d be stanning for them.

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