Book Review: “Long Night Moon” by S.M. Reine

Long Night Moon by S.M. Reine
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

SM Reine does it again! Long Night Moon is a great next chapter in the “Seasons of the Moon” YA urban fantasy series that Reine has built, and as with the other two novels, I was HIGHLY entertained.

In terms of plot, “Long Night Moon” wasn’t nearly as suspenseful as its predecessors, BUT the book certainly develops the larger world of the werewolf in a wonderful way. We get to see, bit by bit, who is actually a part of this world, and it’s not JUST werewolves! We also get to see all the challenges that werewolves, especially Rylie, has to deal with, especially in terms of dealing with the human side vs. the wolf side.

Reine does an excellent job of bringing a lot of humanity to her characters, and she’s also great at following human logic and natural reactions to the weird happenings around town. She’s also not afraid to trouble the relationships and loyalties of her characters, and that always makes for super engaging, never predictable dynamics surrounding love, loyalty, duty, and friendship.

Long Night Moon, as well as the “Seasons of the Moon” series in general is a great YA series, and I’m super excited to pass it on to my daughter when she gets old enough!


“LONG NIGHT MOON” VIDEO REVIEW



 

View all my reviews

Rock on, read on,
<3 Colby

Play Review: Vietgone by Qui Nguyen

Vietgone by Qui Nguyen
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Qui Nguyen does it again, UGH!! I LOVED THIS PLAY!

Vietgone was so touching and poignant, and also simultaneously hilarious. And real. I really enjoyed reading it, and I’m pretty sure Qui is one of my favorite playwrights now. I LOVED the way he turns language on its head and subverts our understanding of “the outsider”, by allowing us to hear what Americans sound and look like in stereotypical translation. It was great hearing how I might sound speaking Vietnamese really poorly and to be caricaturized; it’s literally something we NEVER see in mass media, and I love Qui for that.

The rapping sequences also gave me LIFE.

I love how there is also an entire generational language happening here, which I LOVED. LOVED. Between Tong, Quang, Huong, and Nhan, we see them as fully-realized human beings living their lives in as much color and feeling and expression as possible. Then when we see the Playwright with Quang in the end (the Playwright being Quang’s son), we see Quang re-characterized from the Playwright’s perspective: as annoying, slightly out-of-touch, old-fashioned… everything we see immigrants characterized as on television, but not ever fully human. This juxtaposition of perspectives was so powerful to me; to realize that our parents lived lives that were just as real as our own is also super subversive in many ways.

The very real way that Qui expresses the horrors and losses experienced during war really resonated with me; my heart just broke at all the flashbacks and the very real ways in which these families were torn apart by the war. It really hurt too to see that Quang had to finally face the truth about not being able to go back to his family, and I felt both really tortured and uncomfortable with the not-knowing anything about his family’s fate. The only thing that gave even the slightest comfort about him not being able to go back was that his children never really knew him; so there wasn’t much of a loss for them there. But not knowing what happened to his wife, children, and family was pure torture. Same with Tong’s brother, Khue and Pham.

I guess we are supposed to get closure from the fact that Tong and Quang end up together, but there’s still a huge hole for me (in my heart) at the end of the play. I cried. At the same time, Qui does an amazing job of humanizing everyone, subverting stereotypes and expectations, and of giving everyone a deep and abiding motivation for who and how they are. Even Nhan, who doesn’t have much of a character arc, still serves a really important purpose to the overarching story. The themes about the American perspective on the Vietnam war hit home for me pretty hard, because Qui taps into a social consciousness that Americans (myself included) have never really interrogated; he brings some real talk to our armchair summary of the war, especially because we only talk about the Vietnam War as it pertained to the loss of American lives, glory, and legitimacy. But no one ever talks about what was really going on on the ground level, and Qui minces no words as he sets us completely straight.

There’s a lot going on here, and way more than I have time to parse out; there are SO many layers that are easier to discuss in person than on a written review. Sorry my thoughts are so all over the place, but WOOOOOW. This play really blew me away. So authentic, funny, grounding, and real. So SO good. Loved it.

View all my reviews


Rock on, READ on,

<3 Colby

Play Review: Two Trains Running by August Wilson

Two Trains Running by August Wilson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I read this play for my Playwriting class, so read this review with that in mind.

This play is so on point, and also just so damned delightfully BLACK. Definitely something to add to the “Stay Woke” syllabus, especially because, unfortunately, the social zeitgeist has not changed much, it seems. LOVE IT. I also felt as though I was sitting around a bunch of my uncles, listening to them talk about life, love, spirituality, and politics. But what I love the most about Wilson’s piece is that it is not only honest with a racially-divided society, but it’s also really honest with itself and with Black people about the state of Black people.

But what I love the most about Wilson’s piece is that it is not only honest with a racially-divided society, but it’s also really honest with itself and with Black people about the state of Black people.

The character I connected with the most, strangely enough, was Hambone. His function as the “soul of Black folk” was super powerful for me in the play. The very perseverance of getting what one is owed, because he worked for it and was swindled out of it, and trying to reconcile society’s debt to you is super powerful. At the same time, Wilson seems to also be making a counterargument via Hambone, that if you wait on another (even if he owes you) to give you your due, you’ll not only be waiting forever, but you may just collapse in on yourself. It’s surprisingly segregationist and nationalist in a sort of “reverse” way.

Loved this. OBVIOUSLY would love to produce this.

View all my reviews

Rock on, READ on,
<3 Colby

Play Review: “The River” by Jez Butterworth

The River by Jez Butterworth
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

** spoiler alert ** I read this play for my Playwriting class, so read this review with that in mind.

*** READER BEWARE SPOILERS FROM HERE ON IN! ***

This is another piece that tricks you into thinking it meanders… and then it punches you right in the face as the playwright shows you exactly where this is going. A really lovely and poignant story of love, loss, and patterns of pain that are acknowledged, but somehow remain unbroken. I really appreciate that the playwright felt no need to wrap this up with a blow and slap it upside the cheek with a happy ending. The man’s journey and fate is very real: his search for love, his failures to find it, and his de-evolution into what his uncle used to be… or is this more of a “to be continued” / “he’s still looking for real love” kind of ending?

Not sure, but either way I enjoyed the ambiguity of it all. That in itself was my entry point / human portal into the piece among all the wonderful imagery and mythology. The ambiguousness of life and the weird journey it sends us all on.

What really struck me too were the craft and methods used here: the metaphors with the fish, the Nordic (?) mythology, the poetry and the singing (which I loved), and the emotional realness of the characters. At first blush, the characters feel like Mary Sues and a John Doe, more like avatars for the human experience rather than humans themselves. In some ways this works, and in others, it limits my connection to the characters. In how they represent our emotional and existential struggles, however, the playwright is spot on (imo).

The thing I loved the most about the playwright’s craft here, though, is that he plays around with time, continuity, and emotional temporality in an interesting way. Instead of creating a realistic timeline of events, he instead chooses a variety of focal points: the scarlet dress, the reflection in the bowl, the dive into the freezing water. All stark, striking, and tactile images that really activate, engage, and bewitch the senses. As far as plot goes, The River didn’t do it for me, but as for the other things that comprise a theatrical experience (especially on the emotional level), I was super engaged and touched by the end.

View all my reviews

Rock on, READ on,
<3 Colby

Play Review: “Bethlehem” by Octavio Solis

Bethlehem by Octavio Solis
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

As an FYI, this is yet another play I read for my Playwriting class, so read this review with that in mind. Some very gutty gut reactions here, and there are spoilers. Ok, cool. Let’s get it on!

*** READER BEWARE SPOILERS FROM HERE ON IN! ***

Seriously. Reading this was triggering and traumatizing AF.

OOOOKAY, now that I’ve reacted, I’m going to attempt to discuss Bethlehem from a dramaturgical perspective, lol. This play was masterfully done, and the playwright’s command of unreliable narrative was mindblowing to say the least. I really loved the amorphous, transcendent nature of characters in the play, and Solis makes sure to build a world built around the language and context of the field of surgery– organs, autopsy language, etc. There are a lot of craft-centered things done here that work so well.

As for the story, I was sick to my stomach. In the end, I honestly have no idea what happened to who in the play, not because it wasn’t clear necessarily, but because I just simply did not want to know who raped who’s sister, got raped by his father, butchered yet another innocent woman, strangled his girlfriend, raped a corpse, and then murdered yet another person, cut his heart out, and put it in a bag.

Wtf.

Am I the only one who was just so completely overwhelmed by the content that wading through the craft and analysis of it feels like a monumental task? Anyone? Bueller? (Did I spell that right?) Anyways… those are my thoughts. I’m so glad I don’t have wine on deck, because I’d totally just climb into the bottom of the bottle and just never come out. That’s how this play made me feel.

View all my reviews

Rock on, READ on,
<3 Colby

Play Review: “The Long Christmas Ride Home” by Paula Vogel

The Long Christmas Ride Home by Paula Vogel
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Man, Vogel does it again, y’all. This was honestly one of the most beautiful plays I’ve ever read. Maybe this is just my perspective as an outsider (and feel free to check me if I’m wrong), but I loved the intentionality and care with which Vogel synthesized Japanese imagery, color, movement, and sound into the piece. My favorite part of this collage was the dance that brought Stephen back to life.

Most of all, though, I admire Vogel’s craft– how she fused setting, imagery, and story to show us a really bright and simultaneously dark cross-section of this family’s life. I really loved how she played around with narration and dialogue, character and avatar. She essentially built three layers of character– one with the puppets, one with the avatars / puppet masters, and then the last with the actual voices of the characters as they spoke for themselves and to each other. She also seems to transcend time pretty seamlessly without losing story or continuity, which I found really impressive.

Um, basically? I was jealous. Why, Paula Vogel? WHY can’t I have your brain?!

View all my reviews

Rock on, READ on,
<3 Colby

Play Review: “Luna Gale” by Rebecca Gilman

Luna Gale by Rebecca Gilman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

NOTE: The following is response feedback that I wrote for the class I read LUNA GALE for, so take this “review” with that in mind!

Also? ** SPOILER ALERT!!! **

I have to say that Luna Gale has really influenced me to focus on a project that has been nitpicking at me for a long time. Since 2012. It’s called “The Right Hand”, and it delves into the question of religion, faith, and God in a different way. It’s a genre piece, but also sort of a philosophical wandering”, I guess.

Not to make it sound more important than it is, but I think working on “The Right Hand” feels apt.

This is especially true because I really struggled with the morality compass in this story. Everyone felt pretty deplorable and untrustworthy; Caroline is certainly not innocent here, but I really felt as though she was completely outnumbered. Not only that, she was fighting some sort of secret cabal at the very same time that she was fighting all of the bureaucratic issues at work. Religion is not an issue, but when your co-workers and key members of a case are banding together based on faith, to the extent that they ignore clear-cut state policies, well… Houston, we have a problem.

Religion is not an issue, but when your co-workers and key members of a case are banding together based on faith, to the extent that they ignore clear-cut state policies, well… Houston, we have a problem. At the same time, Caroline was operating on a faith of her own, which was also super dangerous, especially considering the potential fate of Luna Gale. I mean, her parents almost killed her via neglect and stupidity, and Caroline believes that “they’re good people”? Well guess what? Babies aren’t little rewards that are given out to “good people”; and Caroline was treating Luna Gale as just that, prioritizing her “good feelings” about Karlie and Peter over what was really the best for Luna.

It just seemed as though, as was brilliantly said in class, that everyone was so high off their own faith-based beliefs that they ignored the facts. Thankfully, we have a somewhat happy ending, but we reached this point with very little faith it would turn out that way.

As for the actual “quality” of the play, Luna Gale knocks us down and out of the park. 🙂 I really loved reading it because the characters with very multifaceted and we never really knew what their motivations were. The playwright is masterful in hiding the “real” play that she is writing, which kept me in some serious suspense!

View all my reviews

Rock on, READ on,
<3 Colby

Play Review: “Mangdragola” by Niccolò Machiavelli

Mandragola by Niccolò Machiavelli
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

An interesting farce comedy that essentially reinforces what Machiavelli’s been saying all along: “The ends justify the means”. Being that I read this in class, I wrote a required Play Reader’s Journal for this piece, and so I’m just going to use that as my review.

** SPOILERS FROM THIS POINT ON!!! **

Play Reader’s Journal for Niccolò Machiavelli’s Mandragola

I. Vital Statistics

1. Title: Mandragola (The Mandrake)
2. Playwright: Niccolò Machiavelli
3. Date of Composition: 1504; also 1524-1526
4. Period: The Italian Renaissance
5. Company/House of Initial Performance: Performed during the Carnivale in Florence
6. Setting of Play: Florence
7. Genre of Play: Comedy

II. Characters and Action

Characters
1. Callimaco Guadagno: a dastardly fiend who is “in love” / in lust with Lucrezia, and who desires to sleep with her.
2. Siro: Callimaco’s servant
3. Messer Nicia Calfucci: an old, “simple-minded”, and rich judge, who is also Lucrezia’s husband. He wants a son and heir.
4. Ligurio: a marriage broker and hack, who now hustles food out of people for a living, He helps Callimaco to get into bed with Lucrezia
5. Sostrata: Lucrezia’s mother, who doesn’t see anything wrong with her daughter having a lover, and a baby, along with a rich husband. (Is she the early incarnation of feminism?)
6. Friar Timoteo: a corrupt friar and man of the cloth who Callimaco convinces (read: pays) to play an integral role in the deception of Lucrezia and Nicia
7. A Woman: a person who introduces Machiavelli’s idea of women and introduces the themes they represent (I think)
8. Lucrezia: a beautiful and very virtuous woman, whose reputation for both precedes her. She is controlling of her husband Nicia

Action

While living in Paris, Callimaco hears of the famed beauty and virtue of Lucrezia, the wife of a rich judge, Messer Nicia. He is so enamored with her that he returns to Florence to find, court, and sleep with Lucrezia. He cannot do so, however, because Lucrezia is married. Still, there is a loop hole for Callimaco: Lucrezia and Nicia have yet to have a child and heir, and Nicia wants a son more than anything.

So Callimaco, his servant (Sirio), a marriage broker (Ligurio), and a corrupt friar (Friar Timoteo) devise a plan to help Callimaco get into bed with Lucrezia. Callimaco will disguise himself as a doctor and prescribe Lucrezia the mandrake, a potion that will increase Lucrezia’s chances at having a child. The downside, though, is after Lucrezia takes the potion, the first man to sleep with her afterward will die. This isn’t true, of course; this is all a ruse that Callmaco throws onto Nicia so that Callimaco will be allowed to sleep with Lucrezia.

After a lot of scheming and plotting, Callimaco use Friar Timoteo to convince Lucrezia that having an affair on her husband is actually not morally corrupt, but is Lucrezia’s divine duty. Lucrezia, being the morally virtuous woman that she is, is very against this entire plan. In the end, however, her mother (Sostrata) and the Friar convince Lucrezia that this is her duty and she need not feel corrupt or ashamed. Reluctantly, Lucrezia agrees to the plan.

When Callimaco (disguised as the supposed sacrificial lamb who will sleep with Lucrezia and die from the mandrake) finally goes to Lucrezia and reveals his true identity, they sleep together. Lucrezia now knows that this entire mandrake deal is a farce and that she was set up and used by all the corrupt people in her life. She decides that she will then take her own piece of the pie, and so takes Callimaco as her lover. The plays ends with everyone essentially getting what they want while disregarding their piety altogether.

III. Themes and Resonance

Machiavelli certainly does not hold back in his critique of the church and of the Bible, both of which are deliberately misinterpreted in order to further the ends of evil. This particular quote from The Friar really stood out to me “As for whether the act is a sin, that’s easy: because it is the will that sins, not the body; and it’s a sin if it displeases the husband, whereas you are obliging him; or if you take pleasure in it, whereas you find no pleasure” (21). The Friar also tells Lucrezia that “her purpose is to fill a seat in paradise and make her husband happy” (21).

Here, Machiavelli shows us how easy it is for men to be swayed to the side of evil when what they desire is close at hand. Nicia wants a son, but is pushed into this crazy situation that he knows is wrong (morally and biblically), all because he wants an heir. The Friar is getting paid off with crazy coins to engage in this deception (the very act of which is a major insult to the Church and their system of exchanging morality for money). And of course, Callimaco, the scoundrel, is totally revamping the idea of “monogamous marriage” and introduces polyamory into a once pious household. This is an episode straight out of Days of Our Lives… the Italian Renaissance version.

The theme that stood out most to me is the one that was realized through Lucrezia: that, even though we may have an instinct of right and wrong, sometimes external power dynamics can exert such force on us that we are led astray from our own morals. I found it pretty amazing (and daunting) that though Lucrezia knew that laying down with another man was wrong, she gave into the religious preachings and proddings of the Friar to do “God’s work” and fall pregnant with another man. Machiavelli makes an interesting point about man abandoning his own inner compass for the sake of religion and allowing true evil to befall himself and his household as a result.

Another interesting take on this play is that one can say that Machiavelli has succeeded in demonstrating the viability of his own philosophy, “the ends justify the means”, above and beyond that of the Church. Can man truly be saved? Is the Church potent enough to really led men into the hands of God? Or is Machiavelli truly the only one who understands man’s true nature, and does man’s nature always win in the end, even against the omnipotence of God? All questions I considered when reading this piece.

In conclusion, though the points raised by the piece are interesting, Machiavelli’s overstated theme felt a little forced and unconvincing. This was mainly due to the style in which he told the story, mainly by using the Prologue and a lot of exposition. I think that if Machiavelli’s bitterness weren’t coming across so clearly, he could be more convincing on the page as to the Church’s corruption. While the Prologue was really entertaining and brazen, it pretty much killed any hope of subtlety and subtext. Therefore, the playwright’s intentions were made painfully clear. From a stylistic standpoint, I personally tend to be more convinced of a play’s message when I’m not being beaten over the head with it, where I can fall into the “showing” aspect of the piece more so than the “telling” aspect of the piece. On my part, I’m dying to know how the audiences reacted to this play in that time.

View all my reviews

Rock on, READ on,
<3 Colby

Book Review: “The Successful Author Mindset” by Joanna Penn

The Successful Author Mindset: A Handbook for Surviving the Writer’s Journey by Joanna Penn

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

As usual, Joanna Penn knocks the ball out of the part with her insight into the author mindset. We are pretty hard on ourselves as creatives, and Penn dives right in to give us some good ole fashioned inspiration, truth, and literary courage! It’s not all boo-hoos and balms, though.

Penn also dishes out some tough love and real talk on how to make a career as an indie author, urging us to keep our goals clear, to define success for ourselves, and to literally get your ass in a chair and get those words on a page.

What I love most about the book is that it’s super organized and to the point. Whenever I’m feeling overwrought, doubtful, or just plain lost on my own creative journey, I can easily find a passage in it that will give me inspiration. Kind of like the Book of Psalms… but for psycho, self-deprecating writers and angsty creatives! Yes, it is like a Bible, y’all… I took it there.

Loved this book and look forward to reading the rest of Penn’s non-fiction (and fiction) series!

View all my reviews

Rock on, READ on,
<3 Colby

Book Review: “Divergent” by Veronica Roth

divergentDivergent by Veronica Roth
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Sooo… while Divergent didn’t completely knock the stuffing out of me, as far as YA novels go, this was a solid and engaging run! Divergent takes an interesting idea and spins it into a hook that keeps you wanting to turn the page. I just wonder how all of this looks when taken to its logical conclusion. I watched the first two movies but haven’t seen the last two, deliberately, as I wanted to experience the literature first. (As a side note, I really love how the movies brought the novels to life and fills in a lot of the visual gaps.)

THE STORY: For me, Divergent’s plot turned out to be a bit flat and unsurprising, but the character relationships were REALLY fascinating. Character depth, conflict, the exploration of humanity and morality, and especially the romantic / sexual tension, are where Roth shines! Roth does a great job of exploring the tense, nervous, and yet somehow heady relationship between Four and Tris, drawing us into their tension and holding us there.

AS A SIDE NOTE: Readers often compare Divergent to The Hunger Games, which personally, I find unreasonable and ridiculous. And kinda cray too, lol. Come on, really? They’re two completely different stories, set in two completely different locations, courting two different worlds, and featuring two COMPLETELY different heroines who have different stakes and arcs. The only similarity between them is the fact that they are dystopian works with strong female leads… and if that makes them the same, then I advise readers to broaden their ideas of genre and girlhood.

In all, this is a light and enjoyable read, and I’d totally take it to the beach or on vacay with me. Many thanks to Roth for putting her wonderful voice and ideas into the world. I love dystopian stories with complicated heroines, and I will DEFINITELY be continuing this series (and hopefully completing it) in 2017!

View all my reviews

Rock on, READ on,
<3 Colby