10 Reasons to Watch Galavant (Musical Monday)

Galavant (Series) - TV TropesHello, and welcome back to Musical Monday! This blog is almost entirely dedicated to reviewing books, but every two weeks on Monday I dedicate a post to one of my greatest loves: musicals. For the most part, I’ve stuck to reviewing traditional stage musicals, but I thought I’d take a departure this time and write about a TV musical that is criminally under-appreciated: Galavant. I watch a lot of TV, so it’s hard to pick an outright favorite show, but if I did, it would probably be Galavant, because it is just about perfect. TV viewers definitely let themselves and Galavant down by not watching it while it was airing, because it got cancelled after only two short, hilarious seasons. Yes, it has the most satisfying final scene in the history of television, but it deserved to have at least two or three more seasons.

If someone had looked inside my brain and formulated a show specifically to my tastes, they couldn’t have done better than Galavant, which is a musical parody of medieval fantasy. It’s hysterically funny but engages with tropes in surprisingly sophisticated ways. Galavant does for medieval fantasy what Crazy Ex-Girlfriend does for romantic comedies. It is one, but it’s also a meta commentary on them. It works as a surface-level comedy, but is also clever enough to be the subject of a college report (seriously! My sister did one!).

It has a charming cast that’s a combination of recognizable actors (Psych’s Timothy Omundson plays King Richard, Luke Youngblood of Harry Potter and Community fame plays Sid, and Downton Abbey’s Sophie McShera plays Gwynne) and relative unknowns (some of the biggest roles—from Galavant to Isabella to Jester—are played by actors whose imdb pages are still pretty short).

What’s it about?

When the evil King Richard kidnaps Madalena, lady love to the gallant Sir Galavant, it sends Galavant into a long depression he only shakes when Princess Isabella, whose kingdom was captured by the same King Richard, approaches him to engage his help in freeing her family and her people. Galavant jumps on the chance to win Madalena back, unaware that Isabella is leading him into a trap.

So without further ado, here are 10 reasons to watch Galavant

1) The Songs

Even though the episodes are very short, they all have at least one or two original songs that hilariously advance the story but are also catchy enough that you can listen to them on their own (I have often done this, including while writing this post). There are a pretty wide variety of musical styles, from a rap battle to a Les Mis parody to a song set to the dirge of an executioner’s drum to a cheesy karaoke-style number. There are some blatant homages to well-known songs (I particularly love when Richard and Galavant sample from West Side Story and even pull out the classic Shark and Jet snapping move; there’s also a clear reference to Grease). The lyrics are playful and often challenge their form. A song about hatred is sung like a loving duet, songs break the fourth wall  to acknowledge that they’re being sung, and so on.

Oh, and did I mention that Alan Menken—who worked on The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, Newsies, Pocahontas, Hercules, Enchanted, Tangled, and more—did the music? Because he did, and it’s brilliant.

In Memoriam: Shows & Characters We Lost in the 2015-2016 TV Season  [Contributors: Jenn, Rae, Maddie, Deb, Lizzie, Megan, and Chelsea] ~ Just  About Write

2) The Meta and Satire

I love a good bit of metafiction, and that’s something that Galavant does best. It makes liberal use of anachronisms and tropes to cheerfully mock its genre and the time period it’s set in. Galavant as a whole is a masterclass in effective meta. One of the best meta moments is in the first song of the second season, which absolutely defies explanation. Every line is deeply, deeply meta, lampooning both Galavant itself and the larger entertainment landscape. Just watch it.

If you don’t love it, I don’t trust you. Later, before the climax of the season, a character sings a recap song to catch everyone up and then, unwilling to fight in an upcoming battle, offers to sing it again to delay, in case someone missed it. At a tense moment, Galavant suggests that it’s a good day to die and someone replies, “We won’t, there’s one more episode.”

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Wide Sargasso Sea (Mini Book Review)

Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean RhysCharlotte Brontë’s novel Jane Eyre has been one of my favorite classic novels since I first read it some time in early high school. I also love the BBC version with Ruth Wilson and Toby Stephens (I’ve also seen the one with Mia Wasikowska and Michael Fassbender; it’s okay). Because I love it so much, I wrote one of my biggest college papers on it. I read a lot of literary criticism about it, and I was surprised that a lot of those scholars mentioned another book: Jean Rhys’ Wide Sargasso Sea. Wide Sargasso Sea is the story of Bertha Mason, Rochester’s first wife, and it is centered in the Caribbean, a place where Rhys spent a significant portion of her childhood. It surprised me to see Wide Sargasso Sea held in such esteem, not because I knew anything about it—at the time, I didn’t—but because it’s essentially fanfiction.

Of course, lots of books are published that reimagine the classics, and they aren’t considered fanfiction. Bridget Jones’ Diary by Helen Fielding, Death Comes to Pemberly by P.D. James, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies by Seth Grahame-Smith, Longbourne by Jo Baker, Pride by Ibi Zoboi, and The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides are all different versions of Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen. And those are all retellings of the same book that I was able to come up with off the top of my head. There’s even a precedent for me reading Jane Eyre retellings; while looking for Wide Sargasso Sea I read Mr. Rochester by Sarah Shoemaker. So rewriting the classics is clearly a common and accepted thing that is considered a more elevated artform than the fanfiction that you might find on something like Archive of Our Own. But putting Wide Sargasso Sea right next to Jane Eyre feels weird to me, because a lot of people do put it right there. Almost every article I read for my Jane Eyre essay either dedicated a paragraph or more to the ideas posited in Wide Sargasso Sea or explicitly stated that they were not going to.

I wrote that essay about five years ago, and it’s taken until now to find Wide Sargasso Sea. My old library supposedly had a copy, but even though I worked there and looked for it on and off for two full years, it never turned up. So finding it at my current library was very exciting.

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Girls of Paper and Fire (Book Review)

Girls of Paper and Fire by Natasha NganWhen I stop to think about it, I actually haven’t read many review of Natasha Ngan’s Girls of Paper and Fire. I saw it on a few vague lists of diverse YA fantasy and since that’s my jam, I added it to my to-read list and then got it at the library because it was more readily available than some of my other choices.

Have you ever unintentionally read two books in close proximity that are bizarrely similar to each other? It happens to me all the time, and I don’t know if that’s just because I get in a certain mood and pick books that I can tell subconsciously are going to satisfy the same want, or if the universe is telling me something. In any case, in the last month or so I have read two different fantasy novels about a young woman who is forced to leave her family to be the companion to the king of a distant kingdom, only to fall in love with another woman. The books even have similar titles. The first was Of Fire and Stars by Audrey Coulthurst, which is a more romanticized version. The protagonist is sent to marry a largely inoffensive prince, and she falls for a princess. Girls of Paper and Fire has much harsher edges: Lei, the protagonist, is a low-caste human woman who is ripped from her family to be one of eight personal prostitutes—called “Paper Girls”—to a demon king who is a cruel, inhuman rapist. Lei’s love interest is one of the other Paper Girls, and it’s understood absolutely that the consequences of discovery will be violent, disproportionate, and catastrophic.

Amazon.com: Of Fire and Stars (9780062433251): Coulthurst, Audrey ...I wasn’t a huge fan of Of Fire and Stars, and as I read Girls of Paper and Fire, I couldn’t help thinking that this was what Coulthurst meant to write. Girls of Paper and Fire is intense. The stakes feel high, the caste system makes sense, and the characters are well-drawn. We understand why Lei falls for her love interest, and we understand how dangerous the love story is while still understanding why our heroine pursues it. There’s not a minute when the reader isn’t painfully, horrifically aware of the violence inherent to Lei’s situation.

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Everything About You is So Musical

Welcome back to Musical Monday! To the best of my ability, I’m going to try to theme these more. When I first started writing about musicals I did it totally randomly. I’d pick five random shows with nothing in common and slap them onto a post together. Last time I did a Musical Monday I wrote about three shows that were loosely based on historical events, and I like the idea of having them sorted.

This time, the theme is even tighter. These three musicals–none of which I’ve actually seen–are all about unpopular high-schoolers making their way up the social ladder in, let’s say, less than ideal ways. Furthermore, none of them are original musicals: two were based on movies, and one on a YA novel.

Mean Girls (musical) | Mean Girls Wiki | FandomMean Girls

Which cast recordings have I heard, and which is my favorite? I think there’s only one… the OBC recording.

Are there any good YouTube-available clips? Actually, yeah! Mean Girls is pretty good about putting clips on YouTube. There are actual performances of “Sexy” and “Stop” as well as music videos for “World Burn” and “I’d Rather Be Me.” “Apex Predator” has a music video in addition to a live performance on the Today Show. Plus, the cast performed “Where Do You Belong/Meet the Plastics” at the Tony Awards.

What’s it about? It follows the same plot as Tina Fey’s 2004 classic movie. Basically, a new girl who has been homeschooled her whole life goes to a public high school and falls in with the popular clique, realizes how terrible they are, and then brings them down from the inside with the help of a few outsider pals.

See the 2017–2018 Broadway Season in GIFS | Playbill

What’s so good about it? It’s cute and silly, just like the movie. Mean Girls is not the kind of musical that’s going to change lives or be remembered as a classic, but it’s still fun. The songs are catchy and expand the characters from the original movie, so it’s unsurprising that it is popular with young adults, especially those of us who grew up with the movie.

My favorite songs: “World Burn,” “’Till Someone Gets Hurt,” and “Meet the Plastics”


Be More ChillBe More Chill

Which cast recordings have I heard, and which is my favorite? There are two main ones, and they are honestly only subtly different because most of the cast stayed with the show as it moved from Off-Broadway to Broadway. I heard the Off-Broadway version first and—possibly because I saw it first—prefer it. That said, I’m not a huge fan of the direction for the Broadway version. The Squip, in the original novel, sounds like Keanu Reeves and the Broadway version leans into that to the detriment of the songs; Michael is also played a little different (read: more stoned), and I prefer the original characterization. Still, if you’re a Dear Evan Hansen fan you’d probably be interested to hear the Broadway cast, because the insanely cool Jared Kleinman (aka Will Roland) plays Jeremy.

Are there any good YouTube-available clips? A few. That is, there are some good ones but if you know this musical at all you have to cringe a little at a few of the censored lines. It’s not, like, Spring Awakening at the Tonys censorship, but it’s still enough to warrant a shaking of the head. Still, we’ve got “Pitiful Children,” “Two-Player Game,” “More than Survive,” and “Michael in the Bathroom.”

What’s it about? Based on the novel by Ned Vizzini, Be More Chill is about a tragically unpopular high schooler who downloads a supercomputer called a Squip into his brain. The Squip is intended to help him navigate the world in a cooler, chiller way… but it goes about as well as you’d expect.

Broadway Theatre GIF by Be More Chill Musical - Find & Share on GIPHY

What’s so good about it? It’s silly fun. This is the rare adaptation that improves its source material 100%. I didn’t care for the book—there’s some sexist, racist, and homophobic stuff in it, which the musical thankfully eliminates and/or outright criticizes—but the musical improves on it drastically, making the characters more sympathetic and the social commentary stronger. The songs are very catchy, and have a kind of electronic sound you don’t often hear in musicals. Seriously, like half of them are major earworms. Be More Chill only made it to Broadway because it went viral with teens and young adults, which actually makes a lot of sense. This is a musical for people for whom technology plays a large role, which means that it probably has a pretty steep generational divide (I have a hard time picturing my grandparents enjoying it, even though they love theatre) that I happen to be on the right side of.

My favorite songs: “Michael in the Bathroom,” “Pitiful Children,” and “Two-Player Game”


Heathers: The MusicalHeathers

Which cast recordings have I heard, and which is my favorite? I think there’s just the one with Barrett Wilbert Weed. I mean, there’s also the soundtrack from that Riverdale episode, but, like, lol.

Are there any good YouTube-available clips? Not very many. I found two montages, plus a studio recording of “Candy Store” and a low-key performance of “Seventeen” at Barnes & Noble.

What’s it about? Mean Girls but with more murder. A girl falls in with a group of popular mean girls, which is bad enough, but then her unpopular boyfriend turns out to be a murderous psychopath.

Heathers the musical uploaded by Nightwing on We Heart It

What’s so good about it? This is the weird show that I like but also I don’t. It has some very good songs, but I don’t think I’d actually want to ever see it because it’s dark. Like, really dark. There are a couple of shows that have compelling music but are too graphically violent for me to enjoy actually watching (Sweeney Todd and Little Shop of Horrors are also in this very specific category) and Heathers is one of them. So, yeah. Great songs. I loved to listen to this one and then I read the Wikipedia synopsis (I have not seen the movie it’s based on) and went yikes. Still like the music, though.

My favorite songs: “Candy Store,” “Freeze Your Brain,” and “Dead Girl Walking”


gif credits here, here, and here

The Lightness of Hands (Book Review)

Amazon.com: The Lightness of Hands (9780062382894): Garvin, Jeff ...If you haven’t read Jeff Garvin’s first novel Symptoms of Being Human, you should do yourself a favor and do so. It’s a very powerful, beautifully written story about a gender fluid teenager trying to make their way in the world. Riley is an adorable, eloquent, compelling protagonist who’s impossible not to love, and Symptoms of Being Human made a huge impression on me. The Lightness of Hands is Garvin’s second book, and I knew when I saw his name on the cover that it would be well written and emotionally raw.

What’s it about?

Ellie’s father used to be a famous magician before he flubbed a big trick on live TV. Now he and Ellie live in an old RV, skimming gas and occasionally swiping wallets to get themselves from one low-paying gig to another. They’re at the end of their rope and out of their much-needed medication (Ellie’s is for Bipolar II, her father’s is for his heart) when an unexpected lifeline appears: the chance for a do-over. Now all Ellie has to do is get her father across the country and persuade him to perform the escape that ruined their lives.

What’d I think?

symptoms of being humanPersonally, I did not like The Lightness of Hands as well as Symptoms of Being Human, even though from a writing and storytelling standpoint I think it is probably equally good. Riley is an adorable nerd, and I’m always a sucker for an adorable nerd. Ellie is more than her diagnosis, but I’d be lying if I said that her Bipolar II doesn’t dictate most of her story. Between that and her extreme poverty, Ellie doesn’t have a whole lot of mental space for anything else. She only manages to steal a few minutes a day for herself because otherwise she and her father would be unable to keep their heads overwater. This makes for a powerful and depressing picture of poverty.

The Lightness of Hands shows us the dark side of following your passion. So much fiction shows us people achieving their dreams and being majorly successful, so it’s almost surprising to come across the opposite of that. It makes that tale-as-old-as-time struggle more compelling. Ellie loves the highs of performing, but she fears the crash that comes after it, both the depressive crash from her bipolar and the lack of economic stability that she has grown so uncomfortably comfortable with. For Ellie for much of the novel, the dream is a stable, well paying career that she is not passionate about.

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Book Club: Florence Adler Swims Forever

florence adler swims foreverIt’s been a little while since I’ve written book club discussion questions, since the shut down has successfully shut down the book club. Now, with the plan to reinstate virtual book clubs, I’m back. I’ve determined that these work the best if I try to keep the questions themselves fairly neutral and leave my personal opinions in a different post. I posted my review a while back–you can read that here–but I think it very likely that my opinions may have bled through to these questions more than usual. I tried my utmost to keep some semblance of neutrality, but I have some real problems with Florence Adler Swims Forever and I was not able to entirely edit them out. Make of that what you will!

As always, these questions are FULL of spoilers so don’t read them unless you’re okay with that.

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The Umbrella Academy Season 2 Mini Review (Spoiler-Free)

Netflix finally dropped The Umbrella Academy season two, and I’m almost embarrassed at how quickly I binged it. I stumbled across the first season of the show shortly after it was released, so I’ve been waiting impatiently for the second season for the better part of a year. From the get-go, I loved The Umbrella Academy. It’s a weird, character-focused fantasy adventure series that balances an ensemble cast and has a brilliant score. I would’ve been eagerly anticipating season two even if season one hadn’t ended on a gigantic cliffhanger, which it definitely did.

Now I’ve seen the second season, and happily it lives up to season one. It does a good job of expanding the world while still holding onto the things that made the first season so fresh and exciting. If pushed, I’d probably say that I narrowly prefer season one, but it’s definitely close because season two is also really fun. And I’ve only seen season two once, while I’ve seen season one… more times than that…

umbrella academy diego here we go

The soundtrack is still dynamic and occasionally random, and the characters are still dysfunctional in the best possible way. Since those are the most important elements of The Umbrella Academy to me, that alone is enough to count this as a successful sophomore season.

What impressed me the most, though, was the show’s willingness to go in new directions. When the first trailer dropped, and arguably after the first episode, it looked like the plot for season two was going to take us to roughly the same places that season one did. That was misleading. Yeah, there’s still the threat of an apocalypse, but the feeling is different and the plot develops in very different ways.

The main characters’ relationships with each other have changed, and they’re shuffled  slightly. After season one, everyone was talking about Klaus and Number Five. It would’ve been easy to capitalize on those two characters’ popularity by pushing them to the forefront, but instead the other members of the family got time to shine. I’ve loved Diego from the start, but I’d argue he had the least to do in season one. Not so in season two, when Diego gets to carry a lot of the plot and have a lot of personal growth. Allison, after spending a lot of season one focused on Vanya and Luther, takes on a powerful, emotionally heavy storyline about the civil rights movement in the 60’s. Luther was an important part of the first season, but a lot of fans went into the hiatus disliking him for the decisions he made in the latter half, and this season makes it impossible not to sympathize with him and feel his regret about those choices. Also, his physical comedy is just brilliant this season. His comedic eating? Beautiful. His reaction shots? Iconic. Somehow, the show even manages to put Ben—who is dead—front and center.

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The Raven King (Book Review)

raven kingI really, really enjoyed The Raven Cycle. I consider YA fantasy my favorite genre because those are stories I get the most excited about, but when it comes down to it… it can be very hit or miss. I’ve been running this blog for about three years, and in those years I’ve only discovered four new favorite YA fantasy series: Leigh Bardugo’s Six of Crows duology, Mackenzi Lee’s Montague Siblings, Adam Silvera’s Infinity Son (and that hardly counts as a new fantasy discovery because I found Silvera through his contemporary work and added him to my ‘I’ll read anything by’ list) and now Maggie Stiefvater’s Raven Cycle. Of course, I’ve kept reading my standby fantasy authors like Cassandra Clare, Rick Riordan, and Holly Black but there’s been a dearth of new stories I’ve fallen in love with, which hasn’t been the case for YA contemporaries. I’ve found lots of new favorites there, from Angie Thomas, Alice Oseman, Riley Redgate, Becky Albertalli, Adam Silvera, Jandy Nelson, Adib Khorram, Misa Sugiura, and more. It’s been a long time since I felt like I really dug into a new fantasy series, and so The Raven Cycle has been extra special. With everything going on in the world, it was a good time to find a new series I could fully, deeply invest in.

What’s it about?

The Raven King is the final book of The Raven Cycle. Gansey and his crew—Blue, Adam, Ronan, and Noah—are closer than they’ve ever been to finding the dead Welsh King Glendower, but the closer they get the more dangerous the other searchers become. At the end of last book, Piper—Greenmantle’s wife—awoke the sleeper Gansey’s crew was warned against, and the sleeper is a demon intent on destroying Cabeswater. What’s worse, with the finish line slowly coming into sight, the group knows that Gansey’s death is just around the corner.

What’d I think?

FYI, this review has spoilers. I’ll mark the individual paragraphs with [safe] or [spoiler.]

dream thieves[safe] This is such a great finale. I still think book two, The Dream Thieves, is the best book in the series, but The Raven King certainly comes close. Piper and her demon are the terrifying big bads the series has wanted since the beginning, lending a air of danger to proceedings that until now have felt the tiniest bit like a game. Gansey’s long-promised death feels more real. I never expected Gansey to die and stay dead—he’s radiated death is merely a way-station vibes from the start—but with a literal demon flitting around, poisoning the powerful and unknowable Cabeswater, the threat feels a little more real.

[safe] Also, I actually cared more about Gansey this time? I don’t know why. From the start of the series, I’ve had a slight disconnect from him. As the series has progressed, I’ve come to love all the main characters. I glommed onto Ronan from the start. My assessment of him after reading only the first book was, “Ronan is by far the most compelling character.” I also liked Adam, and credited his POV with my interest in the story as a whole. By The Dream Thieves I adored poor, sweet, dead Noah. When I finished Blue Lily, Lily Blue I realized that I was invested in Blue even though I’d been initially dismissive of her because of her romance-centric premise. Gansey was the outlier, and now with all four books under my belt I’m realizing… I like Gansey, too. I almost want to reread the whole series, both because I don’t want to leave it behind and because I want the opportunity to appreciate Gansey more. I don’t even know why I like him more now. He didn’t do anything in particular that changes my mind, but he sneakily grew on me and now I love the whole crew.

[mild spoiler] There’s a new Raven Boy in The Raven King, and I have mixed feelings about him. On one hand, I like Henry. He’s yet another kind of rich-boy-with-a-secret, and it’s great to have a young character who ties into the magical auction scene. If Henry were just Henry I’d absolutely like him, but there are a few things that keep me from wholeheartedly embracing him. First and most obviously, the other characters have four full novels to earn my love and attention so Henry has to work quadruple time to make up for it. I like him, but it’s difficult to see him as a fully-fledged Raven Boy on the same footing as, say, Adam or Gansey. Second—and this is the big one—Noah. Noah is an important part of The Raven King, but he’s not really a Raven Boy anymore. He’s corrupted. He gets possessed. He’s creepy, and the others react to it. I knew this was going to happen to Noah. I knew he’d have to pass on because the living world wasn’t right for him anymore, but that didn’t make it hurt less to have him all but ignored by his friends. He spends so much time alone, isolated, and scared. He’s no longer joining Ronan for illicit late-night car races or sweetly hanging out with Blue. He stands apart, and now there’s Henry. It’s not a replacement. No one overtly swaps Henry for Noah, but it feels a bit like Henry is standing in Noah’s place.

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All You Wanna Do is Watch Musicals

It’s Musical Monday, and this week I’m focusing on three musicals loosely based on history. I haven’t seen them, but hopefully I will someday!

Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812 - Wikipedia

Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812

Which cast recordings have I heard, and which is my favorite? There are actually two recordings available, which I didn’t know until I sat down to write this post. There’s the original Broadway cast recording with Josh Groban, which is the one I listened to. There’s an earlier recording as well, but I haven’t heard it. Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812 is a great musical but it never really got off the ground because of some shaky stuff going on behind the scenes regarding cast changes. Also, being up against Dear Evan Hansen at the Tonys didn’t help.

Are there any good YouTube-available clips? Yeah, a few. The cast performed “Balaga” and “The Abduction” here, “Prologue” and “Pierre” on GMA, and a medley at the Tonys.

What’s it about? This musical stages one of the most action-packed sections of Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace. It’s a proportionately infinitesimal section of the book—maybe a hundred pages or so—and basically tells the story a naïve young woman who nearly elopes with a scoundrel while her fiancé is away at war.

The Ten Best Broadway Shows Of The Year

What’s so good about it? The score is absolutely unlike anything I’ve heard before. It’s very, very Russian and it’s very, very wild. At times there are intentionally dissonant harmonies and extremely exuberant dancing. The cast plays instruments onstage in addition to singing. There are slow, beautiful, traditional ballads and chaotic uptempo numbers. From the little bit that I’ve seen and from what I’ve heard, the performances are immersive; the cast actually goes into the audience and interacts with them directly, which sounds like a potentially stressful but very exciting/entertaining experience. War and Peace is a bit of a slog, but this musical brings its characters to life and it was very helpful to me as I was reading because it allowed me to get a better sense of the characters and their relationships.

My favorite songs: “Dust and Ashes,” “The Abduction,” and “Pierre”


Plays in the Park: Evita | Entertainment, Arts & Culture ...

Evita

Which cast recordings have I heard, and which is my favorite? Okay, so technically I have watched the movie with Madonna, but I didn’t follow it particularly well, but I’ve listened to the musical many, many times so when I think of Evita I think of it as one that I’ve heard more than one that I’ve seen. I have listened to both the original 1979 cast and the 2012 revival cast recording. This seems to be a very unpopular opinion, but I don’t love Patti LuPone’s version but absolutely adore Elena Roger and chose the revival every time I’m in the mood for Evita.

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July 2020 Wrap-Up

This was a much better month for reading than I’ve had lately. I’ve been borrowing books from people with tastes that don’t match mine, but this month was almost entirely dedicated to books that have been on my list for a while and that are entirely of my own choosing.

I read…

dream thievesThe Dream Thieves by Maggie Stiefvater (The Raven Cycle #2)

Have you noticed that some series don’t get off the ground until their second attempt? The Raven Boys was okay. I liked it, but I liked it more for its potential than for what it actually is. Thankfully, The Dream Thieves lived up to the potential and more. The interesting secondary characters got more involved in the main story, and Stiefvater stepped back or straight up nixed elements that clearly weren’t working in the the series debut, specifically the uninspired love triangle. I love the whole series now that I’ve finished it, but The Dream Thieves is the pinnacle.


Call Me by Your Name (Movie Tie-In) by André Aciman, Paperback ...Call Me by Your Name by André Aciman

I am whatever the opposite of a hipster is when it comes to reading. If everyone is reading something, I read it. I figure everyone probably has a point. This has been a widely read book ever since the movie came out, and I’ve heard raves about the quality of the writing. I liked Call Me by Your Name fine, but I didn’t love it. The writing is incredibly good, as promised, but the story is mediocre. There’s such a laser focus on the romance that anything and everything else is an afterthought. This is absolutely the intention, but it’s not to my taste. I’m glad I read Call Me by Your Name so that I know what everyone’s talking about, but I’m glad I got it from the library instead of buying it.


Amazon.com: The Gentleman's Guide to Getting Lucky (Montague ...The Gentleman’s Guide to Getting Lucky by Mackenzi Lee (Montague Siblings #1.5)

I absolutely adored The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue when I read it back in 2018. I found it hilarious and cute and refreshing and surprising, so I read The Lady’s Guide to Petticoats and Piracy as soon as it was released. I didn’t jump on this one quite as fast, mostly because it’s a novella and I read to fast too warrant buying those, but as soon as I saw that it existed I knew I’d get it from the library ASAP. I enjoyed it, but it has a definite fanfictiony feel (no shade to fanfiction; it’s just not my jam). While the main series mixes its silly, fluffy moments with entertaining plot and social commentary, Getting Lucky is all silly and fluffy. That said, it works for what it is. The only people who would like it are people who really, really love Percy and Monty… but thankfully the only people who are going to read it are people who really love Percy and Monty.


Amazon.com: Tash Hearts Tolstoy (9781481489331): Ormsbee, Kathryn ...Tash Hearts Tolstoy by Kathryn Ormsbee

If you’re looking for a quick, queer, fangirlish read, this is a good one. It’s about a girl who is adapting Leo Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina into a YouTube series. Her project blows up unexpectedly, leaving her to juggle new commitments while trying to figure out her future and her romantic prospects. I wouldn’t read this if you’re looking for a great romance (while the asexual representation is good, Tash’s love interest doesn’t do anything for me). I enjoyed the nerdy elements of this book as well as the platonic relationships between Tash, her best friend/co-creator Jack, and their cast. While Tash Hearts Tolstoy isn’t going to make my annual top ten list, I did like it a lot.


25164304Of Fire and Stars by Audrey Coulthurst (Of Fire and Stars #1)

This book. I really wanted to like it. I found it on a list of LGBTQ+ novels, and since queer fantasy is one of my favorite subgenres (Six of CrowsThe Darkest Part of the Forest! The later Shadowhunters booksThe Song of AchillesThe Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue!) I figured I’d give it a try. That was… well, not a mistake. I didn’t hate Of Fire and Stars, but I also didn’t like it. The romance is cute enough. This is one of the rare books that has a more compelling romance than actual plot. That’s not necessarily saying much, though, since the plot is… like that. It moves slowly, hinges on powerful characters being idiots, and wraps up with one of the most blatantly obvious twist endings I’ve ever encountered. While I’m all for more diversity in fantasy–there aren’t a lot of queer women in fantasy, at last as far as I’ve observed–that’s pretty much the only thing Of Fire and Stars has going for it.


florence adler swims foreverFlorence Adler Swims Forever by Rachel Beanland

I read this for book club, and I very much disliked it. The basic plot comes from a real story in author Rachel Beanland’s family history, and I think that blinds her to how inherently sexist it is. It’s supposed to be a story about a mother putting herself and her family through a horrible ordeal to protect her daughter and unborn granddaughter. It’s actually a story about a mother who makes an illogical, irrational choice to methodically strip her daughter of all agency in her life by lying relentlessly to her all while acting like she’s a martyred mother of the year. I was barely two chapters into Florence Adler Swims Forever before I couldn’t stomach it any more, and I only plowed through it because I knew I’d be called upon to discuss it.


blue lily lily blueBlue Lily, Lily Blue by Maggie Stiefvater (The Raven Cycle #3)

It’s been way too long since I found a good fantasy series that I could blow all the way through in a matter of weeks. The Raven Cycle was a good one. The series hit its stride in book two, and while that is overall the strongest book of the series, I really enjoyed Blue Lily, Lily Blue. Probably my favorite part of it is that Adam and Ronan teamed up and made a kind of team-within-the-team, and their dynamic is surprisingly sweet and emotional. I felt that some of the plot elements in this book were slightly less sharp than in The Dream Thieves or The Raven King, but there are some great twists and I felt that of all the single-book villains introduced in this series, Blue Lily, Lily Blue arguably has the strongest.


raven kingThe Raven King by Maggie Stiefvater (The Raven Cycle #4)

What a great ending! I’m actually really sad to be done with this series, because it’s been a little while since I found a fantasy series I could really dig into. The Raven King finishes the series on a high note, and I know that I’ve said it a thousand times, but I’ll say it again: I’m so glad that Stiefvater figured out that Adam and Ronan are the standouts of the series. Gansey and Blue definitely improved from The Raven Boys to here, but shifting the focus slightly to give all four members of the squad roughly equal billing (although I’d argue that, though Gansey seems to be the leader of the group, Adam is actually the hero of the series, as much as there is a singular hero) was absolutely the right move. Anyway, I really enjoyed this series and I added Call Down the Hawk to me to-read list literally less than a minute after finishing it.


Amazon.com: Opal (a Raven Cycle Story) eBook: Stiefvater, Maggie ...Opal by Maggie Stiefvater (The Raven Cycle #4.5)

I almost didn’t include Opal on this, because it’s so short calling it a “novella” is a stretch. In the end, though… I did include The Gentleman’s Guide to Getting Lucky, and–roughly speaking–Opal is for Adam and Ronan what The Gentleman’s Guide to Getting Lucky is for Monty and Percy. It follows Ronan and Adam through the eyes of Ronan’s little faun girl, Opal. It’s mostly a sweet, domestic story but the POV is intriguing; Opal is childlike and made of dreamstuff and therefore has incomplete knowledge of what’s going on and lacks the ability to use context clues. As a result the reader has to continually filter Opal’s narration into more human terms, which makes for a very different reading experience. It’s intriguing, too, and there are some occurrences that neither I nor Opal fully understood and will likely be touched upon in the Dreamer Trilogy.


Amazon.com: The Lightness of Hands (9780062382894): Garvin, Jeff ...The Lightness of Hands by Jeff Garvin

Years ago, I was blown away by Jeff Garvin’s first novel, Symptoms of Being HumanI liked it enough that I read The Lightness of Hands without reading the summary first, which is almost unheard of for me (I like to know what I’m getting into). It’s good, but it didn’t make the lasting impression on me that Garvin’s first book did. It’s not a sophomore slump, but personally I found it less engaging. The thing Jeff Garvin does best is tossing his readers into his characters’ heads. Ellie, the protagonist of The Lightness of Hands has Bipolar II. Her tough financial situation means that for a significant portion of the novel, she doesn’t have access to the medication she needs. It’s viscerally exhausting and stressful, but extremely well written. So even though the plot is pretty predictable, the book is worth reading for the strength of the writing and the characters.


I watched…

Hamilton

drunk bros hamilton

I blabber on and on about musicals, so of course I watched Hamilton as soon as it was available. It is so, so good. I laughed, I cried, I obsessively talked about it with everyone in my life who is even slightly interested in musicals. It’s just… it’s Hamilton! There’s a reason it’s a global phenomenon.


Smash

Amazon.com: Watch Smash Season 1 | Prime VideoDid I mention that I love musicals? I think I did. My sister recommended Smash since she’d seen a few episodes when it aired and liked it. Also, for Broadway lovers like me, it’s a smorgasbord of great cameos. I love seeing Broadway stars on TV, so seeing people like Christian Borle, Wesley Taylor, Leslie Odom Jr., Jeremy Jordan, and Bernadette Peters on popular shows is super fun. I’m the person who spends the whole show going, look! Philippa Soo is a background dancer! Aside from that, any show with elaborate musical numbers is going to appeal to me, so I really enjoyed Smash despite its flaws. And apparently it’s going to become an actually Broadway musical sometime? That’s so cool!


Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist

Amazon.com: Watch Zoey's Extraordinary Playlist, Season 1 | Prime ...Once again, musicals. I promise I didn’t only watch musicals. Just mostly musicals. Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist has been on my radar for a while. If you’re the sort of person who watches Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, Galavant, Gleeand Smash the Internet algorithm is going to figure out to market all musical TV shows to you (also, my sister-in-law recommended Zoey). It’s great, and even though it’s also a TV musical, it’s about as different from Smash as you could get. It’s far more dramatic, for starters, and even though it’s got actual magic in it (magical realism, at least), it’s more grounded. It uses existing songs exclusively rather than writing its own numbers, and–with the notable exceptions of Alex Newell and Skylar Astin–features a cast of actors who aren’t necessarily known for their vocal chops. And it really, really works. It has some hysterically funny moments and some that are heartbreakingly sad, and it also manages to be really feminist (and diverse!). Two thumbs up!