Saturday, June 17, 2017

Les Miserables: Reviews of the 10th and 25th Anniversary editions

Dear All:
This is kind of a random post, but I absolutely love musicals and I randomly saw a Les Mis Flash mob on Youtube and it got me kind of thinking about this amazing musical again. It's definitely my favorite musical of all time.

There have been two big anniversaries where it's been taped for the masses, the 10th and the 25th anniversary. I had never seen the 25th, and so I just watched it for the first time last week. There were generally good reviews, especially for the big finale at the end, but having grown up with listening to the cast of mostly the 10th anniversary, it was hard for me to fall in love with the 25th. Just a note, this is not a film of the actual musical, and some of that is hard to miss if you've seen the actual musical as many times as I have (7 times!), but the voices especially in the 10th anniversary make that up for me.

Let's start with the 10th anniversary edition. I'm sure some of this has to do with nostalgia, but I just love this cast from top to bottom. Some definite cast highlights for me include:
Colm Wilkinson as Jean Valjean. He obviously originated the role on Broadway as well as in London, and so he created and crafted the role for everyone to come after. To me, he is the pinnacle of what Jean Valjean is and should sound like. His gruff, high warbly tenor is perfect for the role, and even his crazy touches at the end of some songs such as "Who am I?" just ring true to me. There is something in the fatherly tone of his voice that just becomes more and more poignant as the musical goes on to his solo, "Bring Him Home," which still brings me to tears every time.
Philip Quast as Javert, has that ringing baritone with such authority, that it gives me chills every time he sings "Stars" or his suicide song. And he and Colm during Confrontation are just thrilling to see and hear. What I wouldn't give to have seen these two in action in the actual Broadway musical.
Lea Salonga as Eponine is just spectacular. The original role was played as more wimpy and sad, which may be more close to what the original book dictates, but Lea brought her feisty side to the role, as she did with her magnificent turn as Kim in Miss Saigon, which I really appreciated. And her voice is just amazing.
And who can ever play Marius as well as Michael Ball. His voice could melt the hardest of hearts, so warm and tender and just wraps you in a warm hug. I absolutely adore him and always have. His "Empty Chairs and Empty Tables" will make anyone cry-- the best rendition of this song ever.
The other cast is really strong as well, including Judy Kuhn as Cosette and Ruthie Henshall as Fantine, Michael Maguire as Enjolras and the bawdy couple the Thenardiers (Alun Armstrong and Jenny Galloway).

Because this took place in 1995, the actual filming and sound is not as good as the 25th, but the voices I think speak for themselves.

On to the 25th anniversary.
Jean Valjean: played by Alfie Boe. Many people prefer Boe's voice to Colm Wilkinson's and sometimes say he plays the character way better. I can see why-- Boe has a beautiful voice, probably more beautiful than Colm's, and is clear as a bell. He effortlessly delivers the full range of all of the notes for sure and has deep emotion in his voice. That said... there is just something about the gruffness, almost Western twang quality of Colm's voice that really speaks to me as Valjean. So the clearness of Boe's voice, while really beautiful, almost distracts me from the role. Colm actually comes back at the end for the finale to sing both "Bring Him Home" with the other key Valjeans over the years as well as "One Day More," but Colm at this point is getting up in age. So people say, wow look at how much better Boe is than Colm-- sure, now. Valjean is a really tough role and this is why Cole can't play it anymore. So between the two I definitely prefer Colm in the 10th.
Norm Lewis as Javert: I liked him a lot as Javert, but he doesn't have the ringing authority as Quast. But out of the cast members in the 25th, he was definitely one of the stronger singers by far.
Lea Salonga as Fantine: I thought she was actually very good in the role especially for "I Dreamed a Dream." I didn't really like her in some of the other songs, which I preferred Ruthie in, and because she was so strong as Eponine, it made it hard to visualize her in this role.
Katie Hall was delightful as Cosette, with a pretty soprano, fit for the role.
Out of all the cast members, I think maybe the one single cast member that I preferred in the 25th versus the 10th was Ramin Karminloo as Enjolras, wow! Enjolras is supposed to be super hot and a great singer and Ramin was both in spades! Really impressive.
The other impressive cast member was Samantha Barks, who has done a terrific job on Broadway with Eponine and also starred in the Les Miserables 2012 film (the best cast character in the film too-- wish they had cast some other Broadway cast members!).
Jenny Galloway reprised her delightful Madame Thenardier role, and Matt Lucas was passable as her husband.
And last and definitely least was Nick Jonas as Marius. No one ever can compare to Michael Ball, but you can at least have a strong singer! Nick had a thin voice that barely carried, and all of the songs he had to sing with someone including "A Heart Full of Love," and "In My Life," and "One Day More," you could barely hear him. The pop, nasally quality of his voice did him no favors, and the really poignant "Empty Chairs at Empty Tables" fell flat and I honestly had to fast forward through half of it.
I really enjoyed the finale where all the old cast members came back and sang "One Day More." Nick Jonas doesn't even join the cast as Michael Ball blows him away in this one song.

Overall, I enjoyed watching and critiquing both of these versions, but before I had seen the 25th, I had bought both DVDs on a whim. After I saw the 25th, I promptly returned it. My heart will always stay with the 10th. *Le swoon*

Hope you enjoyed my critique! What are your favorite singers from the Les Miserables cast? What other musicals/Broadway singers do you love?

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Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Book Highlight: Obsidian and Stars by Julie Eshbaugh and Giveaway of either IVORY and BONE or OBSIDIAN and STARS (INT)


Update and correction: I did want to add a correction to my review that this is a DUOLOGY so this book is finishing out the story! I have updated my review to reflect this as well. I think I was just wishfully hoping to see these great characters again!

Dear All:

I am thrilled and honored to be able to promote the absolutely wonderful and lovely Julie Eshbaugh who I connected with after her amazing Ivory and Bone (which if you haven't read it yet, what the heck are you waiting for???)! The sequel, Obsidian and Stars (fabulous titles too!), is now out. So I'm going to tell you a little bit about the book, Julie, and my own thoughts about it (I loved it!), a short flash interview, and a giveaway of one of her amazing books!!!

Goodreads Book Description: In the sequel to Ivory and Bone—the prehistoric fantasy novel that New York Times bestselling author Amie Kaufman described as a “richly crafted world of life-and-death stakes”—the story shifts to Mya’s viewpoint as vengeful adversaries force her to flee the life she once knew.

After surviving the chaotic battle that erupted after Lo and the Bosha clan attacked, now Mya is looking ahead to her future with Kol. All the things that once felt so uncertain are finally falling into place. But the same night as Kol and Mya’s betrothal announcement, Mya’s brother Chev reveals his plan to marry his youngest sister Lees to his friend Morsk. The only way to avoid this terrible turn of events, Morsk informs Mya when he corners her later, is for Mya to take Lees’ place and marry him herself.

Refusing to marry anyone other than her beloved, and in an effort to protect her sister, Mya runs away to a secret island with Lees. And though it seems like the safest place to hide until things back home blow over, Mya soon realizes she’s been followed. Lurking deep in the recesses of this dangerous place are rivals from Mya’s past whose thirst for revenge exceeds all reason.

With the lives of her loved ones on the line, Mya must make a move before the enemies of her past become the undoing of her future.

My Rating: 4.5 Couches

My Review: I am so fortunate to have received an ARC of this amazing book ahead of the presses! Eshbaugh completely floored me with the first installment of this series, and I knew I had a lot to look forward to with the second book. I award this book 4.5 stars.

Because the first book ended so perfectly and without a cliffhanger, I was wondering (and I'll admit a little worried) about how Eshbaugh would continue the story in the sequel. I shouldn't have worried--she got me to love a prehistoric fantasy after all, which I thought was impossible! We are re-introduced to the wonderful characters from the first. Kol, the beloved narrator from the first book, takes a bit of a backseat as we are now in a first person narrative of Mya, the girl he has fallen for literally and figuratively. Mya and Kol seem to be so close to their happily ever after, and yet, dissent still brews both internally and externally. The two clans struggle with combining forces as well as keeping their distinct cultures and history. Chev, Mya's older brother and leader of their clan, has passed a decree that causes Mya to make a drastic decision to preserve her younger sister's happiness. And while it made sense to me as a reader at the time, what follows at least makes me wonder if it was the right decision after all.

What I loved: Eshbaugh's writing is gorgeous, lush, and on point. As with the first book, I was drawn in with the lyrical prose. I'm a plot girl and typically just skip through description, but instead, I found myself just wanting to wrap myself in the warmth of her words. She absolutely amazes me. I loved getting to see Mya's perspective in this book, as she remains quite a mystery from the first. She is a powerful woman, and it's nice to see her coming into her own as a leader in her own right. I loved the introduction of a new character, Noni, but I won't say more to not spoil the reader. The book is fast paced and I tore through it in two days (would have been one, but I forced myself to go to sleep so I wouldn't be dying at work the next day). I really liked seeing Kol and Mya's relationship develop more, and getting to see the politics of the clans. I also loved the themes of clan versus family and different ways to lead for the same goals. I also marveled how this didn't feel like filler, but an entire encapsulated story on its own and beautifully done. Definitely no sophomore slump here!

Just a very small point, and this probably would have been rectified if I reread the first installment prior to reading the ARC, but especially with the introduction of so many new characters, it sometimes was hard keeping track of who everyone was. I did miss being in Kol's head, but that's probably because he's my book boyfriend.

Overall, I loved revisiting this world and the wonderful writing of Eshbaugh--this is a fantastic book. This second installment should be on the top of everyone's to read list!

A little about Julie: Julie Eshbaugh once produced an online video series for teens which received several honors from the Webby Awards. Now, she focuses her time on writing. You can find her online at julieeshbaugh.com or on twitter @JulieEshbaugh


Flash interview with Julie:
1.Travel or home body? Travel (but I love coming home...)
2. Hot chocolate or coffee? Coffee
3. Cats or dogs? Both!
4. More fun to write: first book or sequel? First book is more fun, sequel is easier.
5. Beta readers or not? Yes, I love my beta readers.
6. How many drafts before final publication? 5-6? Hard to say, but that's maybe an average.
7. Chocolate or fruit candy (skittles, Starburst)? Fruit candy
8. Pizza or sushi? Pizza
9. Harry Potter or Lord of the Rings? Harry Potter
10. Favorite Disney princess? Belle
11. Favorite song? How Soon is Now by the Smiths
12. For love interest: good guy or bad boy? Good Guy

Giveaway: Now Julie is generously giving away either a hardcover copy of IVORY AND BONE (the first book) or OBSIDIAN AND STARS (the sequel) depending on if you have started the series or not! This is a rare INTERNATIONAL giveaway so INT friends please try for the book! Go forth and enter!

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Tuesday, June 6, 2017

St Louis Epic Reads Event TOMORROW! Left Bank Books hosting authors Kimberly McCreight, Julie Murphy, Evelyn Skye, and Joelle Charbonneau and WIN one of their books (US only)

Dear St. Louis Friends!
This blog post is really late in going out, but I did want to give a shout out to the best book store ever, Left Bank Books, as they are doing a terrific event with YA authors Kimberly McCreight, Julie Murphy, Evelyn Skye, and Joelle Charbonneau! You have to purchase tickets ahead of time on the Left Bank Book site. You can even get a discount if you buy books from all four authors! Click on this link and enter! I'm very sad that I can't attend the event. Sign up for the event at this link:
http://www.left-bank.com/epicreads 

And read the book descriptions below. Then enter a giveaway!

Ramona Blue Goodreads Book description of Ramona Blue by Julie Murphy: Ramona was only five years old when Hurricane Katrina changed her life forever.

Since then, it’s been Ramona and her family against the world. Standing over six feet tall with unmistakable blue hair, Ramona is sure of three things: she likes girls, she’s fiercely devoted to her family, and she knows she’s destined for something bigger than the trailer she calls home in Eulogy, Mississippi. But juggling multiple jobs, her flaky mom, and her well-meaning but ineffectual dad forces her to be the adult of the family. Now, with her sister, Hattie, pregnant, responsibility weighs more heavily than ever.

The return of her childhood friend Freddie brings a welcome distraction. Ramona’s friendship with the former competitive swimmer picks up exactly where it left off, and soon he’s talked her into joining him for laps at the pool. But as Ramona falls in love with swimming, her feelings for Freddie begin to shift too, which is the last thing she expected. With her growing affection for Freddie making her question her sexual identity, Ramona begins to wonder if perhaps she likes girls and guys or if this new attraction is just a fluke. Either way, Ramona will discover that, for her, life and love are more fluid than they seem.
 


31371234Goodreads Book Description of The Scattering by Kimberly McCreight: New York Times bestselling author Kimberly McCreight raises the stakes in the second book of the heart-pounding Outliers trilogy, a uniquely speculative story about secrets, betrayal, and a world where one small group of people are blessed—or cursed—with an incredible power.

Wylie may have escaped the camp in Maine, but she is far from safe. The best way for her to protect herself is to understand her ability, fast. But after spending a lifetime trying to ignore her own feelings, giving in to her ability to read other peoples’ emotions is as difficult as it is dangerous.

And Wylie isn’t the only one at risk. Ever since they returned home, Jasper has been spiraling, wracked with guilt over what happened to Cassie. After all they’ve been through together, Wylie and Jasper would do anything for each other, but she doesn’t know if their bond is strong enough to overcome demons from the past.

It is amid this uncertainty and fear that Wylie finds herself confronted with a choice. She was willing to do whatever it took to help Cassie, but is she prepared to go to the same extremes to help complete strangers . . . even if they are just like her?


27211901Goodreads Book Description of The Crown's Fate by Evelyn Skye: Russia is on the brink of great change. Pasha’s coronation approaches, and Vika is now the Imperial Enchanter, but the role she once coveted may be more difficult—and dangerous—than she ever expected.

Pasha is grappling with his own problems—his legitimacy is in doubt, the girl he loves loathes him, and he believes his best friend is dead. When a challenger to the throne emerges—and with the magic in Russia growing rapidly—Pasha must do whatever it takes to keep his position and protect his kingdom.

For Nikolai, the ending of the Crown’s Game stung deeply. Although he just managed to escape death, Nikolai remains alone, a shadow hidden in a not-quite-real world of his own creation. But when he’s given a second chance at life—tied to a dark price—Nikolai must decide just how far he’s willing to go to return to the world.

With revolution on the rise, dangerous new magic rearing up, and a tsardom up for the taking, Vika, Nikolai, and Pasha must fight—or face the destruction of not only their world but also themselves.
 


32051572Goodreads Book Description of Dividing Eden: From the author of the New York Times bestselling Testing trilogy comes a sweeping new fantasy series, perfect for fans of Victoria Aveyard and Sarah J. Maas.

Twins Carys and Andreus were never destined to rule Eden. With their older brother next in line to inherit the throne, the future of the kingdom was secure.

But appearances—and rivals—can be deceiving. When Eden’s king and crown prince are killed by assassins, Eden desperately needs a monarch, but the line of succession is no longer clear. With a ruling council scheming to gain power, Carys and Andreus are faced with only one option—to take part in a Trial of Succession that will determine which one of them is worthy of ruling the kingdom.

As sister and brother, Carys and Andreus have always kept each other safe—from their secrets, from the court, and from the monsters lurking in the mountains beyond the kingdom’s wall. But the Trial of Succession will test the bonds of trust and family.

With their country and their hearts divided, Carys and Andreus will discover exactly what each will do to win the crown. How long before suspicion takes hold and the thirst for power leads to the ultimate betrayal?
 

To help promote the event and these authors, enter to win one of these great books below!
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Saturday, June 3, 2017

Armchair BEA: Giveaway Day - Win a mystery box of books (US only)!

Update 6/13/17: I'm changing the giveaway end date to tomorrow so that I can give the winner 24 hours to respond and then ship it out on Thursday when I have time, otherwise, it'll be another 2 weeks before I can do so! Thanks for understanding!

Dear All:
To celebrate the final day of Armchair BEA, I'm doing a giveaway of a mystery box of books to anyone that's interested, not just participants of Armchair so please sign up! These may have ARCs, finished copies, etc of adult, YA, or MG. It will be a mixed lot! This will be a good way to earn some brownie points with my husband who is always wanting me to clean my shelves and pass along the love! Enjoy!
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Thursday, June 1, 2017

Armchair BEA Day 2: What do readers want and how do I connect with my book loving community?

Dear All:
Unsurprisingly, I'm late to the party with Armchair Book Expo. I'm always so jealous of those of you who get to go, but at least we can still party at home! The questions this year are great as they are always. Let's tackle the first set.

  • What Do Readers Want?: What makes or breaks a book? How do we rate the books, or determine if it is good literature or a good story? What do we want from an author event? How does diversity representation fit into all of this? 
What makes or breaks a book? 
I think this really depends on the reader. But I think to generalize, there has to be a hook, something to draw the reader in, and the pacing has to be good to keep interest. Characters that are three dimensional and relatable are a huge plus, but I may care about this more than others.  A structured plot is important-- meandering for 400 pages without a story is a huge downer.

For me, specifically, I love character interaction and learning about characters, so this is vitally important to me. I really need to be drawn in by the first 100 pages, if not, it's really hard for me to continue. Extra pluses include: good science if it's a dystopian or science fiction book or anything related to science, a terrific three dimensional villain, a really swoony love story that is well done, a strong friendship, great dialogue. What breaks a book for me includes: no plot, lots and lots and lots of scenery with very little character interaction, cookie cutter characters, I really don't do books in prose well although I've tried it. Instalove is usually a no-no.

How do we rate the books, or determine if it is good literature or a good story? 
For me, if I'm still thinking about the book a few days later, that's a good sign it's going to get at least a 4 star if not 5 star. Even if I'm not in love with the book, the books that make me think and feel deeply are the ones that I'm going to rate highly. Beautiful prose is a high one for me as it's actually harder to find, especially in YA. Deftly drawn characters who are memorable and stand out are a huge plus. If you have some of my no-nos listed above, the book will get a lower rating from me.

What do we want from an author event?
I absolutely love author events. I think the best author events incorporate material that is totally different from what we can get online. Some tidbits that authors can share about their books that are unable to be found elsewhere. I also love when if it's a group author event if they start discussing a topic together, ramping each other up. I think it's important to have a moderator who has really interesting questions to get the conversation going. I don't particularly love readings from books, so I could totally do without that. I do love when authors give us an inside scoop about their process. A great question and answer session always makes an event that much better. A good audience is key.

How does diversity representation fit into all of this?
I think this is very important and something that I've become aware of more and more. So many characters are white in all of literature and yet, there are so many really diverse and wonderful cultures, why shouldn't it be reflected in the literature as well? Reading and books elevate us and join us together in a multi-cultural community, and we should embrace it. I love reading about characters and cultures different from my own (and also about my own! When I found Lara Jean, I was so thrilled!), and those that are from different cultures deserve characters that they can identify with. I do believe that authors should be sensitive to other cultures and try to incorporate them when they can into books.  
  • Let's Collaborate & Listen: The online book community has changed so much over the years. How do we keep up within our own book-sphere as well as within the community as a whole (i.e., libraries, bookstores, authors, publishers, etc.)? 
Here, I just want to send a shout out to my local indie bookstore, Left Bank Books, who has been so amazing and has made me aware of the terrific local book scene in St. Louis. I am thrilled to continue working with them for author events and giveaways. They have been so generous in promoting authors with events and also donating books for giveaways to help boost them. Please please please, support your local bookstores! The cost you pay for book may be higher, but believe me, it's worth it for the quality of service and the experience of being inside of one!
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