Saturday, 27 June 2015

Book Review- Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz

So, it’s Pride Day, or whatever you call the day where really major cities hold their Pride celebrations, being the last weekend of June and thus commemeorating the Stonewall Riots. It’s also the day after the Supreme Court of the USA announced it’s a constiutional right for all people regardless of gender and sexuality to get married if they choose, and states can’t deny this. YAY!! In celebration, here’s a book I read for Faye’s LGBT Readathon and really enjoyed!


Title:  Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe
Author:  Benjamin Alire Sáenz
Series:   N/A
Published:    February 2012 by Simon and Schuster
Length:  368 pages
Source: borrowed from friend
Summary : Aristotle is an angry teen with a brother in prison. Dante is a know-it-all who has an unusual way of looking at the world. When the two meet at the swimming pool, they seem to have nothing in common. But as the loners start spending time together, they discover that they share a special friendship—the kind that changes lives and lasts a lifetime. And it is through this friendship that Ari and Dante will learn the most important truths about themselves and the kind of people they want to be.

Review: 1987. Two very different boys meet and form a friendship. Together they have fun, navigate their teenage years and, learn things about the universe and themselves.
I've had this on my to read list for ages, because it's on many people's lists of brilliant gay teen novels, and it's been hard to find (I don't think it has a UK publisher). Yay for friends who bother buying things off the internet instead!
This is one of those quietly brilliant books. I'm not always into discovering who you are type stories, but I liked this one.
My favourite thing was watching the friendship between Aristotle and Dante grow. It's organic, full of setbacks, but ultimately endures. It's a beautifully close friendship and love, and it just makes you smile for them, because it's the kind that makes you think they're soulmates, and makes it natural for things to progress at the end, but it would be OK even if it didn't because some kinds of bond are so profound they don't need anything else but if there is then that's fine too.
Close second is all the family relationships going on, from the easiness with Dante's father (who is a generally awesome person) to the awkwardness surrounding Aristotle's imprisoned brother.
Then there's  the development of Aristotle and Dante, Dante knowong what he wants, Aristotle figuring it out. They learn a lot, they go through a lot with and without each other.
Also, the final feeling the book left me with. It's not loud happiness, like Simon vs the Homo Sapiens Agenda, another gay story I got through quickly and loved. In Aristotle and Dante,  it's more a quiet kind of contentment, that everything's been resolved, that the future will all work out.
This is all becsuse of the writing (OK, all books are what they are because of writing, but here I want to make a point of it). It's narrated by Aristotle, and we see  Dante directly from his letters. We get all of Aristotle's thoughts and questions and emotions and view of the world and it all comes together into a story that feels real and full.

Overall:  Strength 5 tea to a tender, gentle story about many forms of love.



Thursday, 11 June 2015

Book Review- I'll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson

Title:   I’ll Give You the Sun by
Author:  Jandy Nelson
Series:   N/A
Published:   2 April 2015 by Walker
Length:  416 pages
Source: library
Other info:  Nelson has also written The Sky is Everywhere
Summary : Jude and her twin brother, Noah, are incredibly close. At thirteen, isolated Noah draws constantly and is falling in love with the charismatic boy next door, while daredevil Jude cliff-dives and wears red-red lipstick and does the talking for both of them. But three years later, Jude and Noah are barely speaking. Something has happened to wreck the twins in different and dramatic ways . . . until Jude meets a cocky, broken, beautiful boy, as well as someone else—an even more unpredictable new force in her life. The early years are Noah's story to tell. The later years are Jude's. What the twins don't realize is that they each have only half the story, and if they could just find their way back to one another, they’d have a chance to remake their world.
Review: Jude and Noah are close twins, both aiming to get into art school, both falling in love. Then their mum dies, and the bond breaks.
From everyone else's reviews, I was hoping I'd liked this. The first chapter starts well, introducing us to a thirteen year old artist who frequently envisions paintings in his head. We learn of his aim to get into art school, an aim shared by his twin sister. The second chapter is narrated by said twin, age 16, frustrated with her art projects, and frequently referring to the advice her grandmother gave her. From then, I don't really know.
It's hard to get in to. Literary-wise, I appreciate the character consistency of painting titles and advice. Reader-wise, I found it annoying. It also took me time to work out  the  thing with Grandma and ghosts. Was it supernatural? Was it Jude's personal beliefs? I knew nothing about this book before I started beyond the near universal love from bloggers. It was quite confusing.
I didn't connect properly to the characters. This  then had a knock on effect on my overall experience of the book.
I didn't mind reading about all the interactions between Jude, Guillermo, and Oscar, and Noah and Brian. But I just didn't really care. Also, if you asked me to describe chronologically what happened, I would be totally unable to do so.
To be honest, I only had three reasons to keep reading this. One: because so many people enjoyed it, and I felt I needed to persevere. Two: I really wanted to know why Noah hadn't made it into the art school, when from the (admittedly biased because it's narrated by him) first chapter. Three (when we found out why): It was so far in to the book I may as well finish it.


Overall:  Strength two tea to a book I was hoping to enjoy, but sadly couldn't.



Sunday, 10 May 2015

Theatre Review- Titus Andronicus by William Shakespeare, performed by Smooth Faced Gents

Title: Titus Andronicus
Writer:  William Shakespeare
Director:  Yaz Al-Shaater
Performed by: Smooth Faced Gentlemen
Cast:  Ariane Barnes, Olivia Bromley, Anita-Joy Uwajeh, Ely Condron, Lia Burge, Ashlea Kaye, Helen Coles, Emma Nixon
Seen at:  Greenwich Theatre

Review: Following a bloody war with the Goths, Romans return home with prisoners but without an emporer. Titus Andronicus is appointed, but he refuses. Saturninus is appointed emperor, and he says he wants to marry Titus’ daughter, Lavinia. Lavinia and her lover/Saturninus’ brother object, so Saturninus takes Tamora, the queen of the defeated Goths, as his empress. Throw in her two sons, her lover, and her desire for revenge (fair enough, considering within the first five minutes of the play, her eldest son is cut up, despite her pleadings), and you have Shakespeare’s bloodiest play... here performed with an all-female cast and a lot of red paint.
I was very excited to see this. I read Titus a few years ago, and wondered how it could be done on stage what with...everything. I saw a cinema screening of the RSC production where they did it very realistically, which was pretty good. And then I saw this.
Everybody has the same costume as a base-black trouser, white shirt, and braces. Coats and props are used to differentiate major characters from eachother, but  even without these, you can tell when people are playing different characters.
 This was cast perfectly! Ariane Barnes is a strong Titus, being the right mix of funny  in some places and and emotional in others.  Anita-Joy Uwajeh plays Aaron with a distinctive style that I couldn’t pin down but which one of my friends said was mythical and magical. Elly Condron is Lavinia, who makes you form an emotional connection with her depsite her losing her tounge about a third of the way through ,and having what seems like quite a few of her lines cut. Olivia Bromley’s Tamora is coldhearted, but you can feel the power coming off her.  Everybody was very talented and embodied their character(s) wholly, changing styles as they changed character, especially considering Helen Coles and Ashlea Kaye’s characters were completely morally opposites (Chiron and Lucius for Coles and Marcus and Demetrius for Kaye). And on a less serious note, Lia Burge’s  Saturninus telling Emma Nixon’s Bassianus  “Sir, you are being very short with us!” was wonderful.
They kept the tone right. From my reading of Titus, I enjoyed the humour (and it does come thick and fast, with Shakespeare taking the sass levels high), to contrast with the horrors that the play contains. It comes through in this play, but as I said, it allows suitable tenderness in the scenes with the Titus family, completely in contrast to Aaron’s casual attitude to demanding a hand in return for the exchange for sons, the moments when Titus suggests names of Lavinia’s attackers, and the background Goths passing round Aaron’s child and their different attitudes to him while serious things happen in the front.
I am completely in love with this staging. There’s white screens, behind which the characters change (sometimes), and  paintpots at the front. The strictly held colour scheme of black, white, and red, with silver and brown accents, and the replacement of knives and swords with paintbrushes and rollers made it look a bit surreal, which allowed them to do all kinds of gory things on stage. It was a brave decision to do Lavinia’s mutilation on stage, but they made it work so horrifyingly well. Accompanying music was provided by the actors singing, and they did it very well, holding their lines while also effecting scene changes and such, although it did seem a little random, only happening at some scenes and not others. 
It’s very fast. I think they cut about an hour’s worth of lines, which is a shame, especially when Lavinia and Bassianus had brilliant lines before they lost the ability to speak, but it was still easy to follow and enjoy, and we kept some very good monologues.
There could be  political/feminist discussions over having an all-female cast, especially considering there's only three canonically female characters, and the really terrible fate of one of them. I'm not going to discuss that, because regardless of their gender, all eight actors conveyed the characters and made them real. 

Overall:  Strength 4 tea to a slick, brilliantly acted performance. Can’t wait to catch the Smooth Faced Gents  (possibly again in Titus, definitely again in Othello) up in Edinburgh!



Tuesday, 5 May 2015

Blog tour for CHOPSTIX by A. T. RAYDAN

Today, the blog tour for Chopstix by A. T. Raydan. It looks like a fun read, and I'm hoping for a bit of Chinese mythology to come in the book later... For now, here's a blog post by the villains, the Chi.

Welcome to the House of Chi

Who are we? We are the faceless shadows in the darkest night, the formless shape caught in the corner of your eye, the uncanny feeling you’re being watched when no one is around. We are the House of Chi, but you can think of us as the Gatekeepers.

Chi is natural flowing energy that flows through your body, the life force that keeps you conscious, keeps you breathing. Chi surrounds you in every aspect of life. The House of Chi lay at the source of this energy.

We are governed by the mantra: Preservation, Protection and Purification. Our “members” span across the globe, we are open to people from all walks of life. There is no country, no city or town that is hidden from our influence. 

Our history is shrouded in hidden mystery, many have sought to uncover the secrets of The Chi, but in order to know our past, and you must become part of our future.  However, I must warn you, membership is eternal; those that join cannot escape their duty without facing the ultimate punishment. 

We have many tasks and purposes, which you learn when initiated. But for now know this, we will recover the ancient relics from the City of Jade, as is our ancestral right. Only a fool would dare get in our way.

Chopstix by A.T Raydan is published by Unique Inspiration (paperback, £6.99). Available online from Waterstones here and on Goodreads here.

NEXT STOP:  Read about the fire that changed everything for Chopstix on Teen Librarian
YESTERDAY’S STOP: Nayu’s Reading Corner asks Chopstix Author A.T. Raydan all about her new book.


About Chopstix: Wendy Wu is an ordinary teenager, with a secure home and caring parents who worked hard running the family’s successful Chinese restaurant. Other than the occasional encounter with the bullies at her new college, Wendy could honestly say that life was good.  
When out of the blue fate delivers Wendy a cruel blow, her life is turned upside down. Shaken by grief Wendy retreats in to her room, struggling to come to terms with terrible events that destroyed all she held dear.  With her parents gone, it is her Aunt Daiyu who she turns to for support. 
Why could Wendy always sense when danger was near?  Why did she suddenly feel she had to save people under threat?  Aided by her aunt, Wendy uncovers a mystical side to herself she never knew she had, and an ancestral secret that will change her life for ever…


Tuesday, 21 April 2015

Book Review- A Darker Shade of Magic by V. E. Schwab

Title:  A Darker Shade of Magic
Author:  V. E. Schwab
Series:   A Darker Shade of Magic #1
Published:   27 February 2015 by Titan
Length:   400 pages
Source: Publisher
Summary : Most people only know one London; but what if there were several? Kell is one of the last Travelers magicians with a rare ability to travel between parallel Londons. There is Grey London, dirty and crowded and without magic, home to the mad king George III. There is Red London, where life and magic are revered. Then, White London, ruled by whoever has murdered their way to the throne. But once upon a time, there was Black London...

Review: Kell is one of the last Antari, a blood magician. As the adopted brother of the prince in Red London, where magic is prized, he hops between the other Londons- White, ruled by a ruthless brother/sister duo, Grey, without magic at all, and occasionally Black, which was wiped out by London, on diplomatic missions. He’s also a smuggler. At some point he meets Lila,  a thief from Grey London, as he’s smuggling artefacts between the worlds. She hopes to be a pirate and adventure, and with Kell she gets more adventure than she’d thought as they try to return an artefact he’s taken.
I wanted to read this because, as you may have noticed, I am a little obsessed with London and its variations. I’ve enjoyed the London based urban-fantasy I’ve read so far, and the idea of four Londons, each very very different, intrigued me. Also, Schwab posted on Goodreads a summary of elements:-magic, cross-dressing thieves, Londons (plural), and a royal who is equal parts Prince Harry and Jack Harkness- which definitely caught my eye.
The characters are fun and fleshed out. I think my favourite was Rhy (the aforementioned royal mashup of Harry and Captain Jack) who starts off providing comedy and then by the end he’s more than that and you just want to hug him. Then come the Dane twins, the cruel rulers of White London, who I loved reading about as they do evil things.  Kell and Lila, I really enjoyed seeing their friendship develop, but I didn’t care for them as much as I did for Rhy, Astrid, and Athos.
The writing was good in places and bad in places. There’s a lot of world building to start with, and partially though the middle. I love how each London is completely different and how each world the London is in is completely different in elements like language, rulers, and general ambiance. While the world building to start is brilliant, it also makes the book slow down, and for me, it never picked up the pace or interest/adrenaline levels,  even with all the plot twists and the fight scenes, which is probably the main reason I didn’t enjoy this as much as I was hoping. It did pick up towards the end though.

Overall:   Strength 3 tea to a historical fantasy novel set across three beautiful worlds but, for me, was let down by the pacing and plot.


Thursday, 2 April 2015

Theatre Review: Spring Awakening by Sater and Sheik, performed by Renegade

You know I said at the start of the year that I wanted to do more theatre, and I’d do it with Renegade.... well, I was going to, but then I got a job (which makes my compulsive book buying financially viable!!) but then it meant I couldn’t be in this. I’m glad I got to see it though!

Title:  Spring Awakening
Writer: Stephen Sater and Duncan Sheik, based on work by Frank Wedekind
Director:  Alex Howarth
Performed by: Renegade Theatre Company
Major cast: Tom Noyes, Niven Willett, Alex Brain, Joe Oliver Eason, Mhairi Fairholm, Joe Carter, Hayley White
Seen at: Duke Street Theatre
Other info: I reviewed  Spring Awakening by Frank Wedekind, the play that this musical is based on, here.

Review-contains mild spoilers for the twists Renegade put:  Late 1800s Germany.  Schoolboys and girls discover sexuality. It really does not go well. Among other things, Wedla Bergmann does not understand how babies are made, Moritz Stiefl is tormented by erotic dreams, and Melchior Gabor, having read about sex, now believes in nothing. Spring Awakening: A New Musical follows a set of turbulent coming-of-ages, with everyone’s internal monologues making up the songs.
I know Renegade from being ensemble in their last show, Lucky Stiff. As a company, they're wonderful to work with, and I know the production team has changed from Lucky, but I was hopeful that the effort and the uniqueness of  ideas and things put in for Lucky would also be seen here, a show which I already loved.

When you get there, the tone is immediately set by red lighting, the children sitting in pairs with candles in between them, the adults looking on strictly, and church music in the background. The stage is square, there's two rows of seats on each side, and two sides have further seating behind. There's staging areas behind and among the seats too, for a really intimate, immersive experience.
I think my favourite performer was Niven Willett, who poratrays.  Moritz's lost, confused character through every bit of his  body and face and movements. Then there was Alex Brain, who plays Wedla's innocence really well and has a beautiful voice. Tom Noyes plays the self-assured Melchior, well, getting most of the really high notes of Left Behind. Then  there’s the two Joes (Eason and Carter), Hanschen and Ernst. Eason's ease of being and casualness  as Hanschen... brilliant, in both My Junk and the seduction scene (with a brilliant use of strawberries), And then Hayley White, Martha, whose crying at the funeral nearly got me goin. And then Tanita Gold, Dominique Hamilton, and Zac Abbott who doubled as all the adults, each taking on very different personas as they played different people.
To be honest, all the cast was brilliant, both as their own characters, and as an ensemble. Director Alex Howarth made really good use of  all the cast, who, if they weren't in the scene, were probably hovering on the edges, watching and reacting. The group dances were sharp and on point, and so was the singing.

The music was a bit different to the version I'm used to from the soundtrack. They use acoustic guitars instead of electrics, and the backing in places is more gentle and allows for the vocal harmonies to come out a lot more. I loved Melchior's backing in Whispering, traditionally Wedla's solo. Also, love to the actors playing guitars and accordions on stage as part of the show. The only thing I didn't like was the oddly upbeat string music in the scene change just before Wedla dies in agony. Considering most of the themes had been played pretty straight, the one subversion felt really out of place.
The setting and lighting was really good. They use not just normal stage lighting, but also candles and torches and handheld lights to draw attention to things. The permanent set was ladders at each corner of the  stage, plus the levels afforded by the seating, and chairs suspended from the ceiling.   Movable ladders and chairs were also used really well, and so was the piano, being brought in for the haystack scene. The scene changes were really quick, being fully incorporated into the action most of the time, and leaving no time for applause in between each song.
The more adult themes are handled well. The abuse and the suicide were stylised, and Wedla's death was played wonderfully. The haystack scene was surprisingly consensual. There's a lot of violence played really roughly, making the anger in those scenes seem real.

The little touches really made it. The boys in the classroom writing the Aeneid at speeds fitting for their characters. The fact that Martha, who had said she was in love with Moritz, was the one who cried most at his funeral. Moritz's scarf. The whole metaphor of ballet shoes vs. combat boots, showing Wedla as ultimately still a child when she dies. The Those You've Known scene, when it seems that Ilse died as well (and then she's playing pirates with Moritz and it's heartbreakingly beautiful).

There's many powerful moments in the show, which Renegade did wonderfully, but I really have to highlight The Dark I Know Well. It's one of my favourite songs, and I'm so happy with how it was done here. You see, the versions I've watched online have been haunting, tragic, profound. The one I saw here was fucking terrifying. The actors on all sides acting out punches and defences. The looks of menace on everyone's faces. The boys crowding in around Martha and Ilse, as they try and hold on to each other in desperation. The lighting showing Martha and Ilse’s faces, but everyone else as less actors, more shadow. Everything about that scene...I'm sorry, I could go on forever about how brilliant that was. 


Overall:  Strength 5 tea to a powerful, intense show that got the Renegade Treatment and was definitely made better for it. So much love goes to all the cast and crew.


Links: Company