WIP Wednesday

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L’Esperance and the dratted peacock continue (though I haven’t touched the latter in months), and this summer I tossed two new ones into the rotation. One has even been finished!

L’Esperance, based on original artwork by Diogene Maillard, designed by Michele Sayetta of Heaven and Earth Designs:

 

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Ex Libris, based on original artwork by Aimee Stewart, designed by Michele Sayetta of Heaven and Earth Designs. I’m taking a different approach with this one – using a stitch method that goes much faster than the one I’m using for L’Esperance:

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Frederick the Literate, a kit from Dimensions Gold Collection:

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ARC readathon update

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  1. Delicious Foods, by James Hannahan
    Totally recommend. Gripping, moving, occasionally a little surreal, and does some mind-bending things with the narration.
  2. Sleepless in Manhattan, by Sarah Morgan
    A fun contemporary romance novel, the start of a set. May have to look up the others – Morgan created a compelling cast of characters.
  3. Anything for You, by Kristin Higgins
    Merely okay – kept reading, and got a few laughs, but mostly a rather predictable romance novel with predictable character types. Middle of a series.
  4. Paradise Lodge, by Nina Stibbe (releases 7/12/16)
    Persistently quirky, but amusing. Imagine the main character from Louise Rennison’s books having an actual brain, a conscience, and living on shaky financial ground in 1970s Leicester.
  5. I’m Still Here (Je Suis La), by Clelie Avit & translated by Lucy Foster (releases 8/23/16)
    LOVED THIS. Finished it in under two hours – couldn’t step away from it for long, and I was so engrossed while reading it on the train home that I almost missed my stop. Simple story, but breathtaking.
  6. The Thousandth Floor, by Katharine McGee (releases 8/30/16)
  7. Secrets of Nanreath Hall, by Alix Rickloff (releases 8/2/16)
    Enjoyed this tremendously. Has “feature film” written all over it, and I mean that in the best possible way. I’d love to see this interpreted onscreen.
  8. The Secrets She Kept, by Brenda Novak (releases 8/2016)
  9. Commonwealth, by Ann Patchett (releases 9/2016)
  10. The Life She Wants, by Robyn Carr (releases 9/27/16)
  11. The Bookshop on the Corner, by Jenny O’Colgan (releases 9/2016)
  12. Monticello, by Sally Cabot Gunning (releases 9/2016)
  13. The Queen of Blood, by Sarah Beth Durst (releases 9/2016)
  14. Just Fine With Caroline, by Annie England Noblin (releases 10/2016)
  15. Winter Storms, by Elin Hilderbrand (releases 10/4/16)
  16. IQ, by Joe Ide (releases 10/18/16)
  17. The Rift: Uprising, by Amy S. Foster (releases 10/2016)
  18. Long Way Gone, by Charles Martin (releases 10/4/16)
  19. Goldenhand, by Garth Nix (releases 10/11/16)
  20. Mister Monkey, by Francine Prose (releases 10/2016)
  21. The Comet Seekers, by Helen Sedgwick (releases 10/2016)
  22. Orphans of the Carnival, by Carol Birch (11/2016)
    Another one I couldn’t put down. Based on a real woman’s life, and one of the best-written ARCs I’ve had yet.
  23. A Portrait of Emily Price, by Katherine Reay (releases 11/1/16)
  24. Butter: a Rich History, by Elena Khosrova (releases 11/15/16)
    Given as a gift to my brother.
  25. The Second Mrs. Hockaday, by Susan Rivers (releases 1/10/17)
  26. Little Deaths, by Emma Flint (releases 1/17/17)
  27. The Young Widower’s Handbook, by Tom McAllister (releases 2/7/17)
  28. The Orphan’s Tale, by Pam Jenoff (releases 2/28/17)
  29. The Daughters, by Adrienne Celt (left over from previous haul, released August 2015)
  30. Words Without Music, by Philip Glass (left over from previous haul, released April 2015)
  31. She Came from Beyond!, by Nadine Darling (left over from previous haul, released October 2015)

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    Just SOME of the ARCs from ALA Annual 2016 in Orlando.

See How the Fates Their Gifts Allot

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There is something thrilling about the sound of an orchestra tuning. It’s a sound that announces the beginning of something magical. It draws me in, somehow simultaneously settling my mind and making my heart race.

I have yet to find anyone who agrees with me on this, but I stand by it. The ritual of dimmed lights, applause for the conductor, and then the sound of first the strings finding their A, then the other instruments joining in – it’s beautiful and intoxicating.

On Saturday, I went to the Lamplighters Musical Theatre’s performance of their reworked “Mikado,” titled “The NEW Mikado,” at the Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts. This production makes a valiant and largely successful attempt at retaining the musical and narrative structure of the original operetta while addressing the racial and ethnic aspects of the original that are uncomfortable and distasteful to a modern audience. Their solution? Remove the entire story from the setting of the fictional and highly stylized setting of the Japanese town of Titipu, and place it instead in a fictional and highly stylized town called Tirmisu in the fifteenth-century duchy of Milan.

And you know what? It works. It really, really works. I loved it.

But as I sat in the darkened theater, listening to the orchestra tune and then play the familiar melodies of the late Victorian operetta, my mind couldn’t stop wandering to my own past.

“The Mikado” is incredibly important to me. Every time I have seen it or been involved with a production of it in any way, it leaves ripples of impact in my life.

In 1997 or 1998, my mother took me to see a production of “The Mikado” put on at Stanford University by their Gilbert and Sullivan Society, The Stanford Savoyards. I remember sitting enthralled through it, and still have snapshot memories of the two act finales. After that, we went to several of the Savoyards’ productions until in early 2002, I decided to audition to join the chorus myself. I was fifteen at the time, and the production staff made it clear that I was an exception to their usual rules about the age of participants. But that audition, and then being in the production, introduced me to a new part of myself. It was the most daring thing I had ever done, I felt, and took me to a world of magic and camaraderie that opened my eyes.

I won’t deny that I enjoyed being the petted youngest member of the company. It’s always nice to feel special. But more than that, I was treated as an equal member of the effort to bring the show to the stage. And really, I was only two or three years younger than some of the others, who were freshmen at Stanford.

It’s hard for me to explain the impact of those few months of rehearsal and performance. Desperate for approval and encouragement in my singing attempts, longing to feel like a valued member of a community engaged in a shared endeavor, I really think that joining the Savoyards in 2002 was a pivotal moment for me. The weeks I spent in rehearsal, performance, and social interaction with the Stanford students in the company proved to me that even without a 4.0 GPA, I could keep up with these students I viewed with some awe.

Being in “Mikado” in 2002 (and “The Sorcerer” that fall, and “The Gondoliers” in the spring of 2003) gave me the courage to apply to Stanford.

As I listened to the familiar music on Saturday, my mind kept going back to May of 2002, as I’d wait backstage for the entrance of the women’s chorus. We’d all bustle about, putting finishing touches to wigs, makeup, and costumes, and occasionally pausing to listen intently to the faint strains of music and dialogue coming through the backstage PA system, praying that the tenor and the trumpet were both having good nights as they approached the high notes.

I remember the movements backstage as a sort of dance, as we knew exactly when to step aside for Ed’s manic sprint offstage at one side and re-entrance on the other side for the next verse, or to make our way to the exact spots for our entrance. At times I remember some people quietly dancing in the wings, compelled to move by music and adrenaline.

In 1997, “Mikado” planted a spark of interest in trying the stage for myself. In 2002, it showed me that I could, in fact, belong at Stanford and find a community there. In 2005, it woke me up to the fact that I was no longer enjoying the theater experience.

And now, in 2016? I have only rarely gone near Gilbert & Sullivan in the past eleven years. The memory of the overwhelming and frightening rage and loss I felt as I saw my time with the Savoyards ending has to some extent tainted the memories of the magic and passionate love I had for the experience. I’ve even flinched away from the music itself.

Perhaps it’s been long enough now that I can start reclaiming that music. I feel no desire to get back onstage, and the only thing I regret about my decision to leave the Savoyards is how long it took me to accept the end of the era for me. It was a life lesson in “leave before you hate it.”

Except for those moments when I hear an orchestra tune. During those moments, as the lights dim and the familiar combination of instruments all seek harmony on their A, I find myself briefly in the velvet darkness of the wings, or the yellow light of the cramped, crowded dressing rooms in Dinkelspiel Auditorium. And for a moment, I miss it. But just for a moment. Then I let myself float away into the magic of theater.

ALA Annual 2016: Revenge of the ARC

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Okay, I went a little nuts regarding advance reader copies this conference. I’m still in Orlando, and the exhibit hall doesn’t close until tomorrow afternoon, but this is it. No more books for me. Seriously. I mean it. Here’s the haul:

  1. Delicious Foods, by James Hannahan
  2. Sleepless in Manhattan, by Sarah Morgan
  3. Anything for You, by Kristin Higgins
  4. Paradise Lodge, by Nina Stibbe (releases 7/12/16)
  5. I’m Still Here (Je Suis La), by Clelie Avit & translated by Lucy Foster (releases 8/23/16)
  6. The Thousandth Floor, by Katharine McGee (releases 8/30/16)
  7. Secrets of Nanreath Hall, by Alix Rickloff (releases 8/2/16)
  8. The Secrets She Kept, by Brenda Novak (releases 8/2016)
  9. Commonwealth, by Ann Patchett (releases 9/2016)
  10. The Life She Wants, by Robyn Carr (releases 9/27/16)
  11. The Bookshop on the Corner, by Jenny O’Colgan (releases 9/2016)
  12. Monticello, by Sally Cabot Gunning (releases 9/2016)
  13. The Queen of Blood, by Sarah Beth Durst (releases 9/2016)
  14. Just Fine With Caroline, by Annie England Noblin (releases 10/2016)
  15. Winter Storms, by Elin Hilderbrand (releases 10/4/16)
  16. IQ, by Joe Ide (releases 10/18/16)
  17. The Rift: Uprising, by Amy S. Foster (releases 10/2016)
  18. Long Way Gone, by Charles Martin (releases 10/4/16)
  19. Goldenhand, by Garth Nix (releases 10/11/16)
  20. Mister Monkey, by Francine Prose (releases 10/2016)
  21. The Comet Seekers, by Helen Sedgwick (releases 10/2016)
  22. Orphans of the Carnival, by Carol Birch (11/2016)
  23. A Portrait of Emily Price, by Katherine Reay (releases 11/1/16)
  24. Butter: a Rich History, by Elena Khosrova (releases 11/15/16)
  25. The Second Mrs. Hockaday, by Susan Rivers (releases 1/10/17)
  26. Little Deaths, by Emma Flint (releases 1/17/17)
  27. The Young Widower’s Handbook, by Tom McAllister (releases 2/7/17)
  28. The Orphan’s Tale, by Pam Jenoff (releases 2/28/17)

Best Picture Project: Spotlight

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One of the best compliments I can pay any artistic production – film, television, theater, etc. – is to say that I did not once check the time while consuming said artistic production.

When the screen went dark and the concluding text started to appear on the screen, I was startled and disappointed to find that SPOTLIGHT was already over.

The Best Picture winners in recent years have been easily recognizable as technically strong, stand-out productions, but SPOTLIGHT is the first one in a long while that I have found so engrossing on every level. I recognize the value of BIRDMAN and TWELVE YEARS A SLAVE, but it’s really not since THE ARTIST and THE KING’S SPEECH that I could see myself raving about a winning film.

SPOTLIGHT doesn’t explode on the screen so much as it smolders, growing hotter and hotter as the story unfolds. Every performance is tightly wound, from Liev Schreiber’s reticence as editor-in-chief Marty Baron to the face of Eileen Padua, who plays Rachel McAdams’ character’s grandmother, as she reads the final story in the paper. spotlight_28film29_poster

One of the things I loved about it was the way the main characters, the Spotlight crew, were not shown as righteous crusaders, but as flawed and passionate journalists who believe that this kind of truth should be spoken aloud and in public. Though they all believe fully in what they are doing regarding the Church, they each lose something along the way. Sacha (Rachel McAdams) can no longer bring herself even to accompany her grandmother to church because she gets so angry when she thinks of the abuse survivors she’s interviewed. Matt Carroll (Brian d’Arcy James) discovers during research that a priest “treatment center” is a block or two away from his house and becomes tortured by the idea of them being so near to neighborhood children. Mike Rezendes (Mark Ruffalo), a lapsed Catholic, always thought he would return to the Church someday, but now cannot. And Robby Robinson (Michael Keaton, in a performance I much prefer to the one in BIRDMAN) is dealt a double blow by discovering one of the priests in question was a teacher at his high school, and then realizing that all the pieces of the story were already at the Globe and had crossed his desk eight years earlier, but he hadn’t put it all together.

This film walks a delicate line between the hopeful tone of knowing the story dealt a blow to institutional corruption and the despair of realizing the story uncovered by the Spotlight team is a single piece of a much larger picture. Indeed, as Rezendes goes to the office of the lawyer who has helped tremendously with the story to hand-deliver a copy of the paper, he sees an interview room with three children in it, and the lawyer tells him that two were abused in a nearby parish. The satisfaction disappears from Rezendes’ face as he sees this proof that little has yet changed. Indeed, the film ends with text briefly describing the immediate impact of Spotlight’s nearly 600 stories on the subject of child sexual abuse by priests and friars in Boston over the course of 2002, and follows that with a truly disturbing list of other places in the world where major priestly abuse stories have come to light. It takes four screens of double columns to show the entire list.

SPOTLIGHT is an extraordinary piece of filmmaking, without a weak spot that I can determine. If you haven’t seen it yet, I strongly urge you to do so.

WIP Wednesday

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Look! You can see the tip of one wing!

 

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And the peacock is now 25% complete. After nine years. Hopefully it won’t take another nine to finish it.

Once Upon a Time

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I started watching ONCE UPON A TIME and I love it. Don’t judge me. Admittedly, my main fascination is with Robert Carlyle and Emilie de Ravin, because he’s mesmerizing – sometimes truly blood-chilling and sometimes all coiled, barely restrained power – and the chemistry they have together makes my heart ache. The accents involved don’t hurt, either. The look on his face in the season 1 finale when he sees her – it’s

But I am a little weary of the Disney version of fairy tales and classic children’s literature being so dominant in our culture. I’d like to suggest a few characters to throw into the mix.

I’m only on season 2, so I don’t know who-all gets added into the mix in the next two and a half seasons, so bear with me and no spoilers, please.

First point is, if we’re stuck with Disney only, where’s Giselle from ENCHANTED in all of this? She lives in the Land Without Magic, after all.

But on to the fun part: bringing in some non-Disney flavor.

The one that I keep coming back to, that piques my interest the most, is the Slavic folklore character Baba Yaga. Sometimes she’s solo, sometimes she’s one of a trio of sisters. We’d probably describe them as witches, but not in any sense that we recognize from Grimm or Perrault. They reward the worthy, if it pleases them, and usually after they have received something in exchange, like a period of housework or similar. And they don’t solve the problem. Instead they provide the worthy individual with a tool or two and a piece of advice to help them solve their own problems. And then there’s the distinctive characteristics. She flies around in a mortar and pestle, her house is on giant chicken legs, and frequently complains about the “Russian smell” of some of her visitors.

In general, I’d love to see OUAT tap Slavic folklore for some of its characters and imagery. Fenist the Falcon, the various Vasilisa characters (the Fair, the Wise, the Brave), the Firebird, Maria Morevna… It’d be great to see some of that world join into the Western European (and Disney-interpreted) world of OUAT.

To go back to the world of Grimm and Perrault, though – what about one of my favorite fairy tales, “The Twelve Dancing Princesses,” or Bluebeard, or – wait, where the heck is Rapunzel? There’s also the Goose-girl, East of the Sun and West of the Moon, the Fisherman and His Wife, the Elves and the Shoemaker, Thumbling… and that’s just a tiny taste of the most commonly-known fairy tale collections in Western Europe. There are countless other story traditions from all of the world. Let’s face it, the only reason Mulan is in OUAT is because she was featured in a Disney movie. What about bringing in another taste of Asian folklore, from any of the Asian cultures? What about Jewish tradition, or Native American, or African, or South American, or Maori?

What about the creatures of myth – I mean, selchies have OUAT written all over them. A seal-woman who cannot change if you hide her sealskin? There’s something there, for sure.

It’d be interesting to see some of the historical stuff come in, too, like the Malleus Maleficarum and the Benandanti of the Early Modern period of European history.

Just saying. The fairy tale world is SO much richer than Disney presents.

Midwinter ARCs, Part 1

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I’ve gotten through a few of the Advance Reader Copies that I picked up at ALA Midwinter last month, and thought I’d post a few thoughts about each.

The Turning Point, by Freya North

A fun, lightweight weeper of a read. Has Lifetime Channel movie or summer chick flick weeper like THE NOTEBOOK written alllllll over it. It’s not silly or trite, but it is a little bit predictable. That said, the characters and situations are entirely plausible and I’d definitely recommend it.

Last Call at the Nightshade Lounge, by Paul Krueger

Loved this one. It’s fun and quirky and full of engaging characters. Like The Turning Point, I could see this one optioned for a movie or an oddball tv series, but it’s also great fun for a quick real-world-fantasy read. I really hope the author revisits these characters in subsequent work – they were fun to get to know, and I was sorry the book ended as soon as it did.

The History of Great Things, by Elizabeth Crane

Started well with an interesting structure, but it took a weird turn in the last third that kind of ruined it for me. The idea of mother and daughter characters taking it in turn to tell each other’s life story is an intriguing one, prompting thoughts about how others see our own lives, and what they may or may not know. Kind of taking the “walking a mile in someone else’s shoes” thing to a different place.

The Decent Proposal, by Kemper Donovan

Incredibly predictable. Sufficiently amusing to keep reading, but incredibly predictable. Reading it was kind of like this:

2 chapters in: Okay, this is a little rom-com-y, but I’ll bite.

4 chapters in: Why is everyone in the book described as so perfectly beautiful?

Halfway through: Rapidly turning into hate-reading.

3/4 through: WTF.

End: *headdesk*

 

Currently working on Sisi: Empress on Her Own, by Allison Pataki, which is historical fiction based on Elisabeth, Empress of Austria-Hungary in the late nineteenth century. I actually read rather a lot last month – also finished Furiously Happy, by Jenny Lawson, Point of Honour, by Madeleine Robins, and Dear Committee Members, by Julie Schumacher.

 

WIP Wednesday, Double Stuf Edition

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It’s been a while since I did a WIP post on either of my projects, so guess what? Today you’re getting BOTH. Lucky you!

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L’Esperance, pattern designed by Michele Sayetta via Heaven and Earth Designs. Worked in floss, 1×1, on 25ct Lugana. Currently working on fourth page of 48.

 

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Peacock Tapestry from “Art Nouveau Cross-Stitch,” by Barbara Hammet. Worked in wool on 10ct canvas mesh. Currently on second page of six.

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