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was sold to gypsies as a small child for half a tank of gas and a kitten. She was quickly, if not easily, retrieved by her mother after the kitten was revealed to be an Eldrich horror looking for a ride into the nearest metropolitan area to begin wreaking havoc. It's been a bone of contention between Maria and her family ever since, whether the Horror-kitten would've been more or less trouble than she grew up to be.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Book Review: The Game

Since the beginning of July up until two days ago, I had an 11 year old living with me. An 11 year old who wasn't too fond of reading. Eventually, we found common ground in museums, where she got to look at shiny things that used to belong to dead people, and I got my history mojo flowing and all was right in the world.

We also went to the opening night of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 - more on that later. Before heading out, she asked me if I had anything short for her to read while we were sitting in line, and since I never get rid of books I like, I found her something.


From Goodreads:

Hayley's parents disappeared when she was a baby. Since then, she has been raised and homeschooled by her grandparents. Grandad is overworked and travels a lot; Grandma is much too strict and never lets her meet any children her own age. When Hayley does something wrong—she is not quite sure what—they pack her off to her aunts in Ireland. To Hayley's shock, her family is much bigger than she thought; to her delight, the children all play what they call “the game,” where they visit a place called “the mythosphere.” And while she plays the game, Hayley learns more about her own place in the world than she had ever expected. This original novella by Diana Wynne Jones is sharply funny, fast-paced, and surprising until its very end—like all of this acclaimed author's work.

The Good:

As a lifelong fan of mythology - Greek and otherwise - , and a childhood player of my own 'games,' this book struck a chord with me. The world of the mythosphere is fascinating and full of possibilities. While the late, great Jones draws predominantly on Greek and Roman mythology, she touches on other sources as well, including folk and fairy tales, and even classic literature, making the world seem dazzlingly familiar.

The characters are charming and reasonably memorable, in concept if not in actions. It's easy to see that this evolved from a novella; the concept is amazing, but the work executing it seems only half done, especially with the characters. However, the magic Diana Wynne Jones touch makes even the things that seem only half formed charming.

The Bad:

One of the things I've always had mixed feelings about with regards to Jones' writing is how soft a hand she uses. Often times, it works really well, but there are stories and moments within stories where I feel that she sells herself short by not delving deeper into the subject. Hayley's loneliness about her parents, the frustration of the cousins and the rest of the family about having to obey Uncle Jolyon, the motivations and machinations of Harmony, Fiddle, and Flute are just a few of the areas that I feel could have been explored more thoroughly.

The mythosphere has the potential for not just a larger book, but a series of books, and I confess to being disappointed that more time wasn't devoted to this world. Of course, there's always the realm of fanfiction, and who's to say that in a few years devoted readers won't write their own sequels as was done for Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy. But it won't be Diana Wynne Jones writing it, and that makes me sad.

The Rest:

While this book is mainly targeted at Middle Grade readers, I think it's enjoyable by all ages, Young Adult included. On my reread, I noticed mentions of a lot of darker myths that younger readers might not notice which add a lot to the sense of danger and risk in the mythosphere.

While the size of the books bothers me personally, it makes for an approachable, non-threatening book for kids who consider themselves non-readers. The Game is quick, colorful, and engaging.

My Rating: 4/5 Mushrooms.

Playing with the Stars,

Sunday, July 24, 2011

WAYR 7/23/11: The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer

Lately, I've been wrestling with Michelle Hodkin's debut novel, The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer. And I mean wrestling in the best, most infuriating way ever.

TAC 11 Book #3: Despite my known abhorrence of headless figures on covers, I'm actually okay with it. This cover fits the tone of the book very well so far.
I'm not going to use the jacket description here, because it really doesn't describe much.

The premise is that Mara, our narrator and protagonist du jour, has just survived an accident that has left three of her friends dead. She has no memory of the event, including how her friends died, how she survived completely unscathed, or why they were even at the location of the accident. What she does know is that the accident has left her with increasingly intense hallucinations - the product of PTSD from the accident, her doctors tell her. While Mara is consumed by guilt for her friends deaths, fear of her deteriorating mental health, and frustration at the amnesia her own mind has enforced on her, the decision is made to move away from the constant reminders of her friends. Maybe, with reminders of the tragedy and her lost friends put behind her, Mara can move on with her life and begin to get well.

She doesn't.

The family's new home in Florida only seems to exacerbate Mara's problems with the additional stresses of a new school, a high profile court case her father has taken on, and an alluring if infuriating classmate with a rather daunting dating past.

I'm about halfway through as of this post and working myself back into reading the rest. I enjoy Hodkin's writing and it's easy to get wrapped up in Mara's unease as her mind betrays her and the tantalizing mystery of the accident as her memory regains bits and pieces of that night. In fact, the intensity of the writing in that regard is part of why I had to put it down - I get very empathetic toward characters in stressful situations; it's a real problem sometimes.

I like that Mara, as a character, is morally ambiguous. She's not obviously good, but she's not bad either. She's simply existing in her mind as it appears to be falling apart around her.While I think Libba Bray did it better in Going Bovine - and Madame Bray does just about everything better, I think - , Hodkin's imparts a believable sense of horror and fascination with what's going on.

There are a few things that are driving me crazy, though.

It can't quite seem to make up whether or not it's a paranormal thriller or a psychological one. There are certainly heavy aspects of both, but it can't quite seem to decide if it's one or the other, and it hasn't quite resolved itself enough to be both.

Also, love interest Noah is attractive in that way only fictional characters can be; too cool for school in a fictitious universe, the guy I and my friends used to harass mercilessly in real life. As a reader, I'm sure many a girl will lust after him, but I have a hard time seeing Mara falling for such an absolute asshole. She gets that he's cute, but she doesn't want a relationship - at least at the point of the book I'm at now, where everything is all tense and broody between them. Then again, she is going crazy....

Anyway, I'm curious to see how this book ends and will get back into as soon as I stop being such an over emotional wuss*. For those who care about such things, this IS part of a series. Michelle Hodkin's is working on Mara Dyer 2: Electric Boogaloo AT THIS VERY MOMENT. If you lack an ARC like moi, you can still visit the website at http://michellehodkin.com/ or talk to the author herself on Twitter.

Psychodelically Yours,

*That said, I'm going to go cry over Deathly Hallows some more.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Event Review: Mirena e Floro

Welcome back Armand O'Bryan, my pen-named pal, with yet another BVAF review!

Nagged, cajoled and wheedled by my colleague Maria into attending yet another event offered by the fledgling Baltimore Vocal Arts Foundation, I found myself in Brown Center's Falvy Hall watching yet another unusual performance, which seems to be this organization's calling card.  "Love Between Acts - A Program of Operatic Intermezzi" was supposed to have been a dual presentation of Mirena e Floro by Francesco Gasparini and Giovanni Battista Bononcini alongside Pergolesi's famous La Serva Padrona.  Being more familiar with the Pergolesi work, I was disappointed to learn that it had been canceled due to a singer's illness. The company forged ahead with the earlier intermezzi,  an unusual compositional sandwiching of three scenes, bound together thematically only by the title characters' battle for dominance in their dysfunctional relationship.

The operatic intermezzo, literally meaning "in between", is not meant to tell a complete story.  Presenting brief, comic scenes, these works were used as inconsequential dramatic relief between the acts of larger, opera seria productions from the late Baroque to mid Classic eras. "Inconsequential" probably best describes the flimsy plot of Mirena e Floro, in which two combative lovers try rather unsuccessfully to resolve deep-seated and unexplained trust issues. The difference in compositional style between the sections by Gasparini and those by Bononcini would not have been evident  when the works were presented as separate entities placed between acts, but when offered side by side, the disconnect is more obvious.  Bononcini proves more adept at setting musical comedy, while lyrical melodies flow more easily from Gasparini. The overall effect makes almost as much musical and dramatic sense as watching un-sequenced re-runs of "I Love Lucy". 

Baritone Andrew Sauvageau and soprano Laura Strickling were for the most part equal to the challenges presented by this trilogy, with Strickling playing straight-man to Sauvageau's incredibly nimble comic antics.  Sauvageau proved the consummate singing actor. Vocally and physically flexible, he was a delight to the eye and ear.  Ms. Strickling, while somewhat unsteady at the onset, grew stronger as the show progressed and delivered lush tone and impressive vocal pyrotechnics in the third intermezzi. Some clever staging and overt hamming made this non-sensical work bearable, but it is easy to see why Mirena e Floro has not endured in standard operatic repertoire.

If you want to see the La Serva Padrona, the show that was canceled, BVAF has a Youtube channel with the production from January at Baltimore Theater Project.

Trapped Backstage,
-Maria (& Armand!)

PS - And there was no cajoling or nagging involved. It was Artscape; everyone wants to go to Artscape.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Event Review: Journeys - A Cabaret About the Places Life Takes You

Please give a Meep-worthy welcome to Armand O'Bryan, a friend IRL who shares an appreciation with me for nom de plumes. Friday the 8th, we both attended Baltimore Vocal Arts Foundation's latest cabaret. Now, for a word from our guest blogger!
Cabarets and dinner theater are not usually the places I expect to find innovative programming, but I was pleasantly surprised by the Baltimore Vocal Arts Foundation July 8th at Germano's Trattoria in Little Italy. 
Titled "Journeys - A Cabaret About The Places Life Takes You", this mini-production, lightly staged in the compact confines of Germano's Cabaret room, featured a highly eclectic combination of song literature, thematically tracing aspects of the emotional journey from cradle to grave. At first glance I thought I might find the juxtaposition of art song and Broadway ballad or blues unsettling, but for the most part this was not the case. Some repertoire combinations worked better than others, the most successful being Laura Stuart's rather amazing stylistic metamorphosis as she moved from Massenet's challenging "Je suis encore" from Manon, to a full out Broadway belt rendition of "Here I Am" from Dirty Rotten Scoundrels'".   
All the artists exhibited a surprising degree of stylistic versatility, switching easily between classical and contemporary repertoire. Some stand out moments included baritone Michael J. Begley's rendition of "How Many Miles" from Kurt Weil's Lost In The Stars, soprano Adrienne Webster's bluesy, heart wrenching singing of Leslie Adam's "The Heart of A Woman", and Robyn Stevens' transcendent rendition of Rorem's "Ferry Me Across The Water".  While I found the placing of "For Good" at the end of the program a little too blatant an appeal for knee jerk water works, and the encore audience sing-along of "Somewhere Over The Rainbow" tacky, I still have to applaud the tender and tasteful interpretation of Schwartz offered by Stuart and Webster, whose performance left me thinking: "how nice to hear this sung by real voices".
For a company that's only a year old, BVAF has done an impressive job, establishing presence and high performance quality. I've been lucky enough to attend and work for a number of their shows over the past year, and their latest show, Journey's, is just proof to me that they're going to keep getting better.
We Sing, We Dance, We Go Home Happy,
-Maria (and Armand!)

Still Kicking

Oh my goodness, it's been a month - almost - since my last post. Amazingly enough, this is not completely because I'm a lazy slob. I've got a couple of books reviews I've been working on, two guest reviews of events, and my thoughts on the last Harry Potter movie to share with you. Unfortunately, my main man, my baby, my one true love, Edgar, got hacked a few weeks ago and has been out of commission until, well, yesterday. While I still have his big sister, Yachiru, typing anything on her 9 1/2 inch keyboard is an exercise in raising my blood pressure.

But I'm back for now!  First up, we'll be getting an event review from a friend for Baltimore Vocal Arts Foundation's latest cabaret (I would have reviewed it, but since I'm kind of working with the company now, that would be a definite conflict of interests), followed by my feeble attempts to articulate how Deathly Hallows Part 2 made me feel. Stay tuned for more exciting and potentially snarky opinions from yours truly.

The Girl Who Cried,