Chicago at the Hollywood Bowl

Confession time: I am not a big fan of Chicago.

I know. I know.

It’s not the music: it’s fantastic and several songs are considered classic for good reason. It’s the characters. There isn’t a single likable soul amongst them which makes the emotional investment in the show more difficult. It’s possible, but for me, it takes good casting to really make the show work for me.

And I am happy to report that the generally speaking the cast was fantastic all around. I will say that I enjoyed the three supporting roles the best. Lucy Lawless (Matron “Mama” Morton), Stephen Moyer (Billy Flynn) and Drew Carey (Amos Hart) all felt like they were made for the parts. Special props to Drew Carey who might be the most perfect Amos I’ve ever seen. His physical appearance plus the way he can kind of crawl into himself made him a perfect non-entity. Stephen Moyer was as charming as ever and Lucy Lawless easily gave Queen Latifah a run for her money. I  enjoyed her performance so much I wish she’d had more stage time.

This isn’t to say that the female leads were bad – far from it. Both Samantha Banks (Velma) and Ashlee Simpson (Roxie Hart) performed their hearts out and were great from both the singing and the dancing. My problem was more that these parts are generally cast with middle aged women in their forties and I think that it honestly works better when they’re older. For one, Roxie is singing a song about having missed her chance in show business. It’s kind of hard to buy that if Roxie looks to be in her mid-twenties.   Beyond that though, the way these characters act and their motivations feel much more like they belong to women who are fed up with it all and know they are stuck in life. It just feels like it’s more befitting women older than these two girls are. The choice to cast them younger was a deliberate decision of Brooke Shields and I just don’t think that casting younger necessarily paid off. I don’t think they had the life experience behind them to pull off that extra bit of world weariness that those parts demanded.  

Staging wise, this is the 1996 revival show from the dance, to the costumes, to the minimalist set pieces. This kind of show is actually perfect for the Hollywood Bowl since the limitations of the stage don’t lend themselves well to more elaborate fare.

All told, any qualms I had with this show were minor and I thought it was done so well that I would have bought a recorded copy if any had existed. I enjoyed this version more than I ever did the film or even the national touring company production I saw back in the late 90s. The show remains as relevant as ever (maybe even more so in light of the Trevyon Martin case) and I’m really happy I went. I don’t know that I’m necessarily a convert, but this version got me really close. And that’s better than I expected.

P.S. I love whoever came up with the idea of having Moyer pretending to fang during Razzle Dazzle when he sang about getting away with murder. Great little aside that didn’t interrupt the show but still showed that they weren’t taking this too seriously.

 

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Good Reads #41: Tiger’s Quest

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I always find trilogies to be risky things: I tend to love the first books, and then the second book can be a major let down (c.f Catching Fire, which I loathed) while the third can sometimes be redemptive.

I didn’t hate this book, but I do think this book lost some of the magic that I thought Tiger’s Curse had.

On the one hand, the book starts with Kelsey adjusting to college life and dating guys. I kind of like it because it at least it shows her trying and not just going straight for the pure true love root. On the other hand, the dates go on too long and I think there is at least one too many. We didn’t need that awful date. It just felt like padding.

My other gripe with this book is that this part of the quest takes her characters to freaking Shangri-La. Shangri-La. Where can she possibly take the characters that won’t feel like a let down after?

I’m also iffy on the development with the relationship between Ren and Kelsey. I’m sure it’s plot related, but seems cliche.

It wasn’t a bad book, but it’s just after how promising the first was, this just felt like a let down.

Verdict: Borrow it.

Good Reads 40: The Rithmatist

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I’ve made no secret I am a sucker for world building. It will drag me in like nothing else and it’s a great disappointment if an author sets up a great premise and doesn’t actually flesh it out. Sanderson does not disappoint.

In the world of this book, there is an art called Rithmatics, where young adults use chalk drawings (based on lots of geometry) to duel and fight off the wild “chalkings” 2-D figures that can kill humans. Those who the talent are chosen at a ceremony at 8 years old. They get 8 years of training, serve the state for 10 years, then are free to do whatever with a stipend. They are seen as kind of an elite class.

Our protagonist wants to be one, but was not chosen. The fact that he wasn’t chosen doesn’t deter his interest in them, and he’s almost obsessed with them, studying the theory and sneaking in on classes even though he himself can’t work the magic. He’s tasked with helping a Rithmatist solve a string of kidnappings of Rithmastists. And he does so purely through his own intelligence and determination. The book at one point looks like they might give him the ability through a loophole…but it never comes back. He remains powerless. In a big fight at the end of the book he perseveres through his wits and by teamwork. I love that. He’s a normal guy who desires to be bigger and becomes big while remaining normal. It’s great. And I applaud Sanderson for that.

I also applaud Sanderson for clearly thinking out his system of magic, with every chapter having an illustration of a defense or giving some kind of lesson of the basics of the system. Too many authors insinuate that there is magic but never explain the hows or why.

This book was a joy and a great discovery. I can’t wait for the sequel and I can’t wait to check out some of his adult fantasy novels.

Verdict: Buy it.

Good Reads #39: Infatuate

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Infatuate is the sequel to Illuminate; one of the (if not the) first book I ever gave a one star book review on Good Reads too and a book I basically ripped to shreds for its absolutely absurd framing device, predictable plot and the way that the cover and the names basically gave away any twists that the plot held.

At the same time, I had found the book a compulsive read. At the time I think I called it not-quite so-bad-its-good, but in time I’ve upgraded to that status. I kept reading because I wanted to know what happened. Not that it made me want to read the sequel or anything. I just picked it up because I was browsing the shelves and kind of figured out why not.

On the one hand, a lot of the truly bad stuff has been cleaned up. For one, the set up (the trio have finished a semester early due to summer school) is much less absurd than parents being okay with sending off their children to an internship that no one knew about and most likely violates child labor laws. Secondly, there are no Haven Terras or Luicans or Dante’s here. All the new characters have name like Sabine and Connor and Jimmy.  The book even manages to make it’s one “twist” a bit of a surprise. On the down side…the book just isn’t as fun any more.

In the first book we got the story of Haven trying to figure out what she was and trying to survive in a place that felt like a legitimate threat to her. Here, Haven practically figures out who the baddies are, quite literally, on the first night she’s in town. She’s told that the Krewe (this book is set in NOLA) is more dangerous than the Outfit because they are “emotional.” However, from what I could gather, emotional just seems to mean “Likes to party and get you high as a kite as you go on a ritual murder spree, even though the would-be angels are actually more spectators than participants.” On the other hand, we actually got to know members of the Outfit; she was even seduced by one of them. They felt like a legitimate threat and there was exploration and discovery as she fought to stay alive. The stakes just didn’t feel as high here. My other big knock is that Agresti fell into the trope of a would-be love triangle with her fighting with boyfriend while being tempted by her would-be lover of the last book. It’s just there.

As much as it pains me to say it, by the book getting better it got more bland. What was so-bad-its-good is now just kinda competent and there. I’ll still probably read the last one just to see what happens, but this remains a series I can’t recommend.

Verdict: Skip It.

Good Reads #38: Tiger’s Curse

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My big gripe with Vampire Academy was that it felt like it didn’t really do anything unique or special. It was a high school drama with vampires. It was handled competently, but brought nothing new to the table.

I picked up Tiger’s Curse at the same time; the cover caught me eye and something about it made me not want to put it down, even as I wondered if I should get that third book knowing that I was to be getting in several books within another week or so from the library.

Turns out my gut was on to something, because this was a great book. It’s a simple set up: a 17 year, fresh-out-of-high-school girl takes a job at a circus and befriends the show’s tiger setting off a chain of events that wind up her going to India, coming face to face with a Goddess after making a temple run that Indiana Jones would be proud of. There’s also a nice romance that isn’t wince inducing.

All in all this is what I’m looking for when it comes to a fun read – enjoyable but different and a young adult novel that could be easily pushed in adult genre if the heroine had been a few years older.

If you’re looking for something different, check it out.

Verdict: Borrow it (if in paperback, buy it)

Farewell, Anita Blake

So this past week Affliction, the 22nd novel of the Anita Blake vampire series came out. I had placed a hold on it at the local library, but a friend got me a copy of the e-book. After skimming the first fifty pages or so and spotting Anita asking a stupid question I skipped to the final chapter to get the handy-dandy wrap up that Laurell K. Hamilton is oh-so fond of.

Anita grew more powerful. Again. Both in her vampire powers in her were powers. Jean-Claude grew more powerful. There was talk of a polyandrous commitment ceremony – Jean-Claude, Micah and Nathaniel for sure, the rest were up in the air. There was perfunctory plot wrap up because gods know that no longer cares to wrap it up properly. And as I was skimming it, I’m like screw this. I’m done.

I’ve held on to the series a lot longer than other people who have read the books I know, even though I knew they weren’t very good. A kind of Stockholm Syndrome, I guess. But it still makes me sad that it’s gotten to this point. I have a lot of history with this series.

I’ve been reading them faithfully for some seventeen years; when they were coming out twice a year, only in paper back and they didn’t contain any sex. Back when Anita had enough power that vampires weren’t quite the threat to her they were to most humans, but not like the overly powerful day-walking vampire who doesn’t drink blood that she is today (and I can make that claim since she’s also a pan-were who doesn’t shift). Back when Laurell didn’t absolutely ruin a character just to give Anita more powers. Back when plot was absolutely front and center of the books, and not having to wonder whether this book was going to be sex with a hint of plot, or plot but taken out of St. Louis and away from the side-characters I liked just so Laurell could avoid the temptation of having her characters fuck all book long. Back when Anita could be seen as a female lead to look up to, and not just a Mary Sue who has all of the authors issues. Back when the books were good enough to take her from paperback-only sales to New York Times best-selling and releases in hard back. Back when she had to put effort into things.

I obtained my desire to keep books in immaculate shape from this series after a friend chewed me out for wrecking the spine on her book.

This series even shaped what I like to see in vampire literature – I loved the notion of vampires who were not only out of the coffin, but had a full and thriving governmental system with a hierarchy and rules in place as opposed to vampires being just lonely soles who occasionally may pass one another as time marches on.

This series and its success not only inspired Charlene Harris, but helped pave the way for her, and without it we wouldn’t have True Blood one of my favorite television shows.

There was a lot of good in these books, both on the page and off, but I absolutely cannot find any of that in the books anymore. It’s just gone. The books are a former shell of themselves. They’ve gone on too long and should have ended with the death of The Mother of All Darkness because these last few books have been pretty aimless.

Not all series need to be deep to be enjoyable. When the series began they were great beach books. Interesting mysteries with interesting characters in an interesting world.

Now though? They seem to be little more than an excuse for poorly written smut with oversized members and trying to turn Anita into a vampire without giving her the fourth mark because she’s made Anita a selfish bitch who still doesn’t seem to get that if she dies she’ll probably take three-four people with her at least because of the way she’s bound to others. She risks all of Jean-Claude’s territory because their enemies all assume she’s taken that fourth mark. Yes, she has the excuse of wanting to be human, but she isn’t anymore. She’s gained a vampire’s morality and thinks like them. She fights like them and has collected an array of abilities that most Master vampires in this universe could only dream them. She is a vampire in everything but name and Laurell seems blind to it. And I’m tired of it.

I’m tired of all of it. I can no longer defend the series, however weakly. I’m done.

Farewell, Anita Blake. You were an interesting ride to take. I just wish my journey had ended better.

Good Reads #37: Vampire Academy

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After reading Gameboard of the Gods I had a few people ask me how it was because they adored this series and didn’t want to be let down. Having read both can I say that you’re guaranteed to like the other if you enjoy this series?

Honestly, I’m not sure.

This isn’t like Souless and Etiquette & Espionage where one is “adult” fantasy and the other is “young adult” fantasy and they’re both in the same universe and written in so much the same style that it’s easy to make direct comparisons. In fact, had I not known that these were written by the same author, I’m not entire sure that I would have guessed.  And honestly, I actually preferred Game Board of the Gods, as imperfect as it was and even though it didn’t quite come together for me as well as this book did.

That book had at least an interesting set up and was trying for something novel with the use of all these different pantheons and had an interesting mystery to boot. It didn’t quite work, but I’m intrigued enough that I really do want to see the sequel and I do hope that it only gets better.

On the other hand, this book is fluff. Fun fluff to be sure, and a great summer time read, but stil, it’s fluff.. It was enjoyable, sure, but did it really do anything all that new or all that interesting with the vampire mythology? Not so much. It’s the kind of book that I could easily see being turned into another show on the CW. I don’t mean that as a slam, but just a statement on how a good example of the form it is. It’s just the more young adult fiction I read, the more I take to be impressed. I want authors to challenge conventions and do something different. High school drama – for that’s ultimately the core of this book – is only interesting for so long. To grab my interest in the long term I need more. Although the Beautiful Creatures series was also uneven, it kept me so long because once setting was established, it largely kept us out of class and wove plots with characters and fun magic. Here, at least half the drama surrounded lunch room gossip. Just not the same.

I can easily see why this book would have a lot of followers and maybe if I’m in a lull with nothing to read I might see myself picking up the next. But at the end of the day it’s just kinda there for me.

Verdict: Borrow it