Thursday, March 28, 2013

Book Review: The Light Between Oceans

Released in 2012, we were recently sent a copy of The Light Between Oceans by M. L Stedman in celebration of its paperback release in April. Already receiving a lot of much-deserved buzz, we had nothing but great things to say about it.

From the very first chapter, I knew I would love this book.

The Light Between Oceans is a stunning debut novel by M.L. Stedman. The entire novel and story unravels beautifully with nary a stutter or stumble. 

Tom Sherbourne, a WWI vet is struggling to understand why his life was spared when all his friends have died in the war. Wanting to lead a quiet, lonely life with only his thoughts, he decides to take a post at an out of the way lighthouse. Upon arriving in Point Partageuse he meets and falls in love with Isabel. Someone so unlike himself, full of life, hopes, dreams and laughter, he was unable to resist her pull.

Isabel and Tom's life on Janus Rock is quiet but steady. Tragically, Isabel is unable to bring a baby to term. Fate intervenes and one day a row boat washes onto their shore with a dead man and a live baby. In one decision, their lives are irrevocably changed.

I pretty much read this in two days and didn't want it to ever end. It's so well written that I felt Tom's turmoil over their decision and Isabel's hurt and confusion when she thought Tom had betrayed their family. 

The Light Between Oceans just might be the best book you never read in 2012. And with the release of the paperback novel soon, you should pick this gem up immediately

This brilliant debut tells the heartbreaking story of Isabelle and Tom Sherbourne and how one mistake in a desperate time changes their lives and the lives of many in the sleepy ocean side town of Partageuse.

Beautifully written, Stedman builds an emotional and morally sensitive novel that begs the reader to put themselves in the shoes of our isolated lighthouse keepers and question how far they would go to find happiness in an otherwise lonely situation. 

Each character is beautifully developed, these aren't just characters in a book anymore, they are people you empathize with and people you want to see rise above their hardships and find some beauty in the life they have chosen. 

But even the other side of the coin, the characters who have the power to strip our leads of their happiness, you can't help but empathize with them, too. A questionable line is struck down the middle, who's side are you on? Who will come out with the least amount of damage in the end? 

A journey of rights and wrongs, of betrayals and forgiveness, The Light Between Oceans weaves a complicated, mesmerizing mess that pulls at your heart strings from start to finish. The hopeful humility and powerful loyalty we see between characters, even in the worst of situations, gives us a warm faith in humanity; we are all just trying to live life as best and as full as we can.

City Girl Rating: 5 out of 5 glasses of wine.

If you can’t get enough of this book, like we couldn’t, Simon and Schuster Canada is holding an event at Indigo (55 Bloor St. W, Toronto) on Tuesday, April 2, 2103 at 7pm with author M.L. Stedman to promote the release. Stedman will be doing a talk and a reading. More Info

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Book Review: Last Class

“What do a gay teenager whose first name is Last, a future sorority queen who calls her horse Pierce Chad Stonington III, a virgin-until-marriage pledge group, a pirate radio station, a wacko fundamentalist Christian terrorist organization, and the National Guard have in common?” 

These are the questions posed by the description of Emkay Scott’s debut novel Last Class, a comedic look at love, sex, rebellion and authority in a small rural town amidst a modern-day sexual revolution. 

Though Last Class is his first, Scott writes like a veteran author with a satirical voice that must stem from something deeply rooted in the comedic experience of culture, society and the written word. 

With a complimentary nod to writers like Tom Robbins, who writes wildly poetic stories with strong social and philosophical undercurrents and bizarre facts, Scott weaves together the complicated relationships of eccentric characters spanning different time periods all working towards one common goal: self expression and sexual freedom.

There is Last Mundy, the shy high school student who launches a protest against narrow-minded teachers by way of an ask column in the school newspaper and a pirate radio station with the help of his best friend turned lover Suresh and editor Muffin Ainsley.

Former herbal supplement dealer Heidi Malone gets the lulled loins of housewives to rise up in support of her sex toy business, which is under authoritative ridicule for public indecency (due to a large hand carved wooden penis on the hood of her car) and violation of the Community Decency Ordinance. With an army of dildo-wielding housewives and Last’s father Arthur behind her, Heidi rises up against the oppressing community standards.

Bringing the two seemingly different situations together is Treasure Stephens. Somewhat of a guardian angel to everyone, Treasure is the idealist, pointing each person in the right direction and providing the all knowing voice of revolution to each personal situation. By creating a fake terrorist group to perform a fake kidnapping, Treasure oversees the coming together of the small town as they stand up to local authorities and the National Guard in a hilarious standoff that you have to read to believe.

Scott pays particular attention to small, unique details, details that build these lucrative creative tangents about larger than life characters that not only make you laugh, but bask in the cleverness of what you are reading.

Judging by the colourful characters and eccentric situations found in Last Class, one can only assume that Scott must be a story within himself, bursting with artistic ideas, which we are bound to see more of in his next book, currently in the works.

Last Class by Emkay Scott is currently only available as an e-book. You can find it on amazon or wherever else e-books are sold.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Canadian Music Week Rundown: Day 4

As is often the case during music festivals, there are so many bands to see and  schedules often end up conflicting and hard choices about what show to go to have to start being made. Last night was one of those situations. Metric and a slew of indie favourites were playing at the Kool Haus, but the Horseshoe Tavern also had a killer lineup as well, all at the same time.

It’s kind of a tradition to see Metric in Toronto every time they play. I think in the last seven years, Ashley has only missed them once. So you can see the dilemma that arose here, does she pass up a tradition for a bunch of bands she’s been anxious to see and have heard a lot about? Or stick with what she knows and figure what she doesn’t know won’t hurt her?

After some deep soul searching, a negotiation was met.

The Indies presented by SeriousXM @ The Kool Haus

8pm – Cadence Weapon
We hit up the Kool Haus nice and early to see hip hop artist Cadence Weapon. With little background or interest in hip hop myself, this was definitely new territory for me, but it came highly recommended so I figured what the hell.

The unknown information going into the Indies that night was that the show was really just a Metric concert, and the eight other artists on the bill had an opportunity to play two songs each. Yes, each artist played two songs each and then they left the stage.

Thankfully we got there just as Cadence Weapon was starting, because those two songs went by quickly and it was over before I really had a chance to figure out whether I was into him or not. I will give him this, though; those two songs were stuck in my head during the walk from the Kool Haus to the Horseshoe. He’s definitely someone worth looking into more.

CMF Showcase presented by Collective Concerts @ The Horshoe Tavern

The fact that everyone at the Kool Haus only had two songs made it really easy for us to decide to go check out the Horseshoe instead. We got there just as The Zolas were finishing up and were able to grab a table. I figured it was just luck that we had got there early enough to get a decent spot with a clear vantage point to the stage (the most important thing for a shorty like me), but the venue actually remained rather empty for the extent of the night, which to me was incredibly surprising given the awesome that came pouring off that stage.

9pm – Dustin Bentall and the Smokes
Is it too cliché to say that Dustin Bentall and the Smokes were smokin’ last night? Donning a black cowboy hat “in honour of Stompin’ Tom”, Dustin Bentall took the stage to belt out some rockin’ country tunes. 

While it’s hard to completely embrace a similar sound after seeing Daniel Romano the other night, at least Dustin Bentall had a full set of his own tunes and gave us an in depth taste of what it is he has to offer. They started the night off on the right foot and I immediately knew we made the right choice in leaving the Kool Haus.

10pm – Young Rival
Young Rival sounds like they would have a good sound, but for whatever reason, their set sounded a bit muddy and mushed together to me. I didn’t feel like anything really stood out or grabbed my attention, which is a shame because I have been reading some hype about them. There didn’t seem to be a lot of energy or interaction, but it still seems like there is potential for something bigger and more entertaining. 

11pm – Savages
Another band I’ve been reading a lot about and they did not disappoint. While I don’t really understand why a band from the UK is part of Canadian Music Week, I’m glad they made the trek to Canada for the first time and I’m even gladder that I was there to see them.

Going back to my never ending search for awesome female rockers, these ladies are more aggressive and musically solid than any of the bands we have seen this far during CMW. With a kind of psychedelic rock sound, they get straight to the point and absolutely rocked and really blew us away. I need to know more about them, I need to hear more from them.

12pm – Limblifter
The 90s are back in full swing, you’re seeing the rebirth of the times in music and fashion all over these days. So how fitting and exciting is it that Limblifter are back on the scene? 

With an interchanging roster of Canadian musicians, founder Ryan Dhale has been able to keep the band alive for all these years.

The Horseshoe gig is one of a few shows Limblifter is doing in Canada, making it a special opportunity for everyone who was around to see them. Debuting a few new tunes, Dhale threw longtime fans a few bones as they launched into old favourites like Tinfoil and Ariel vs Lotus to close the set.

Despite all the years that have passed, Limblifter were just as tight, just as talented and just as awesome as they were in the 90s. 

As I said, this was definitely worth missing Metric for.

images (c)CityGirlScapes

Friday, March 22, 2013

Canadian Music Week Rundown: Day 3

It’s Friday. The week is nearly done, but Canadian Music Week is far from finished.

CMF Showcase presented by Big Sound @ Lee’s Palace

Unlike the Horseshoe on Tuesday night, arriving at Lee’s for 10pm gave us a little more room to breathe. We got there just as The Trouble with Templeton was finishing up and the venue was pretty empty. People were seated along the walls, but the open area in front of the stage was clear of bodies. Of course, it didn't stay that way for long.

10pm – The Balconies
Always on the lookout for strong female rockers, I’ve been waiting for my chance to see the Balconies live for some time now. I missed them during NXNE, so there was no way I was missing them this time around.

There was nothing modest about this band, they came on heavy and never let up through the entire set. A mix of old and new tunes, The Balconies gave no doubt to why they were drawing the largest crowd of the night. 

With a lingering 80s hair metal feel, leader of the pack Jacquie showed off her rock moves by swirling her hair around and taking deep lunges while gyrating to the beat. She has a huge stage presence and a voice to match, which is quite a scene to witness, but sometimes it all seems a bit too theatrical and over the top. But hey, that’s what it’s all about, isn't it?

11pm – Rah Rah
These Saskatchewan darlings are having fun and they want you to know it. Full of energy and pizzazz, Rah Rah showed off their unique collective mentality, taking turns on varying instruments, sharing the lead vocals and bouncing around on stage while shooting joy filled glances at each other throughout it all. It really seemed like they were just a bunch of pals having a good time in their basement.

Despite their performance energy, their overall sound kind of fell flat for me. Granted, at least one member was fighting off a cold which no doubt interrupts the flow of things, but it just seemed like there was something missing. 

Not to mention, there was an air of try hard surrounding them all; certain things seemed a bit too gimmicky: mechanical moving cats that sat on the amps, bright red sunglasses thrown on for show, blow up balloon letters that spell RAH that were thrown into the crowd - which, actually, was sort of cool to see, but makes it hard for me to take things very seriously. But that’s probably it, they don’t want to be taken seriously, they want to have fun and that much shows.

12am – Two Hours Traffic
Lee’s was still hopping at midnight in anticipation of the East Coast flair of Two Hours Traffic. While they started out with a new tune that sounded a bit too Beatles-esque, the foursome quickly fell into the groove with some older pop melodies that had fans bopping on their feet singing along. 

The band seemed comfortable and relaxed on stage, rifling through their catalogue with ease despite a recent lineup change which seems to have given them a more mature and sophisticated sound. This isn’t bad, but there’s definitely a noticeable growth between the unmistakable uplifting pop songs of prior and the new material from their latest album Foolish Blood

images (c)CityGirlScapes

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Canadian Music Week Rundown: Day 2

For Ashley, 2013 is the year of rock. She’s already been to a number of local shows, but this week, Toronto is built on rock and roll as Canadian Music Week takes over the city and Ashley forgoes sleep for a week of rock. Missing the first night due to conflicting tickets to see Rock of Ages, let’s pick things up on Day 2.

Outlaws and Gunslingers Americana Music Association Showcase @ the Horsehoe Tavern

When we arrived at the venue just before 10pm, the place was already near capacity. We had to wait in line briefly while the authorities conversed about how many more people can be let in before having to turn away bodies. Thankfully, they eventually conceded with a “fuck it, you can all go in” and in we went.

What was interesting about the Horseshoe show last night was that there wasn’t just one lone cowboy on the stage, each set combined three entities all packing their own material collaborating together to play each other’s songs for an entire set. I’m not really sure how well this worked, but it did expose us to some new sounds and new artists that we might not have had time to see otherwise.

10pm – Oh Susanna, Daniel Romano, Kayla Howran
Our main reason for heading to the Horseshoe was to see Daniel Romano. He opened for Whitehorse a couple of weekends ago, but we missed his set and only saw him briefly when he joined Doucet and McClelland on stage toward the end of their gig.

Remembering him fondly from his Attack in Black days, Daniel carries himself with a whole different attitude this time around. His solo tunes have that classic country twang with a solid rock and roll heart that creates the image of kicking back on a porch during a hot summer’s day. It reminds me of home.

Sadly, we weren’t very familiar with Oh Susanna and Kayla Howran going in to things, but both sported powerful voices that filled the venue front to back with beautiful Americana melodies.

11pm – Jim Cuddy, Danny Michel, Quique Escamilla
Staying for the next set wasn’t really planned, but the happy accident provided us the opportunity to see Canadian icon Jim Cuddy. Cuddy was joined by Spanish artist Quique Escamilla, who was beside himself with the honour of sharing the stage with such a legend, and songwriter Danny Michel.

Similar to the first set, the three took turns leading each other through their repertoire, introducing us to a mixture of traditional folk with a dash of Mexican flavour. Cuddy was in great spirits, laughing and joking in between songs. It was well worth sticking around for.

There are no live images from the show, the venue was so packed and Ashley is too short to make that happen. Sorry. Other images are from google images.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

We Wanna Rock!

The unfortunate thing about seeing the same play multiple times by multiple casts is that you know what to expect and more often than not, there are some pretty big shoes to fill. A long time ago, before the existence of this very blog, we first saw Rock of Ages at the Royal Alexandra Theatre and it blew us away. The glitter, the hilarity, the strong Canadian cast... it’s really hard to top that. The 2012 film adaptation, however, strips the story of everything that made it special and kind of ruined the whole appeal for us.

Last night, Rock of Ages returned to Toronto once again with a touring cast for a short run at the Sony Centre for the Performing Arts and we were hoping that it might reignite that feeling inside for men in tight pants and epic 80s power ballads. 

We’re very familiar with this venue from a musical standpoint and were interested in how it would house a theatrical production that isn’t just a rock and roll show. The show plays out very much the same, same old story, same old songs, but it did seem to take on more of a rock and roll vibe at the Sony Centre. 

Maybe it was just the influence of the venue or maybe it was because people are far more familiar with the production this time around, but the crowd was really into it, shouting, singing along, and screaming. It was a lot louder and a lot more interactive than the Royal Alexandra production, which increased the energy and the overall feel of the entire production.

The sound, however, kind of faltered. There were a few technical glitches during some of the scenes with some interference in the mics cutting off the performers and at certain points during the show; you could hardly hear a voice over the band. But it was opening night; it’s hardly going to go off without a few bumps in the road. Luckily, those bumps did little to derail the show from its path to awesomeness.

Our lovable narrator, Lonny (Justin Colombo), was drinking in the crowd’s energy and using it to fuel his raunchy sidekick role from start to finish. Blessed with delivering some of the play’s best lines, Lonny kept things moving right along at a quick, entertaining rate, dragging Drew (Dominique Scott) and Sherrie (Shannon Mullen) through their rocking love story.

Scott and Mullen both fell a little shy of Canadian power duo Yvan Pedneault and Elicia MacKenzie, but they fit incredibly well together and carried the show with the fierce confidence you expect from budding rock stars on the LA strip. Their bashful flirtations and misplaced anger bounced off each other in a delicious mix of chemistry that has you rooting for them through the whole production, even when you already know how the story ends.

Rock god Stacee Jaxx (Universo Pereira) is one of our favourite characters. It could be the long, flowing blond hair, those tight pants or his chiselled abs, but his rock bottom drunken ego and cowboy hat lures us in every time. Pereira’s arrogant strut and powerful performance of Wanted Dead or Alive was a fan favourite as well.

The second act, however, pulled out the big guns and stirred up a louder roar of laughter and audience hollering. Particularly the flamboyant rebellious Hit Me with Your Best Shot number performed by Franz (Stephen Michael Kane) and Regina (Megan McHugh) in matching blue and silver spandex suits. It’s not something that can ever properly be described in words, you have to see it to believe it.

And then there was also the other romance story, or should we say bromance story, between Lonny and Dennis (Jacob L. Smith), which is beautifully explored during the choreographed number to I Can’t Fight This Feeling, complete with lift. Colombo and Smith create a hilarious but also rather touching and emotional relationship between the two long time friends, it almost breaks your heart that it took them that long to finally confront those feelings they’ve long since been harbouring.

From that point forward, they toss out song after rocking song, tying together all the loose ends right up until the happy ending and the final number – Journey’s Don’t Stop Believing. Everyone was on their feet, glittered confetti was being shot out into the audience, not a single foot stood still as the Sony Centre turned into a concert venue and everyone rocked out through that final song.

So, it may not ever compete with the Rock of Ages of 2010, after all, there’s always something special to be said about your first time. But Rock of Ages at the Sony Centre by far surpasses the movie adaptation and is still nothin’ but a good time.

Rock of Ages is only running until March 24, so act fast, this is the final countdown.

images from the Rock of Ages Facebook page

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Winter Is Coming

Winter may be on its way out, but with the growing anticipation over the return of Game of Thrones on HBO at the end of the month, Game of Thrones: The Exhibition has opened its doors to the world of Westeros at the Design Exchange in Toronto.

Curated by HBO, the Game of Thrones: The Exhibition is a touring, interactive adventure with over 70 original artifacts relating to the houses Stark, Lannister, Tagaryen, Baratheon and Greyjoy from seasons one and two, with select pieces from the anticipated third season. 

Fans can tour through each section divided into houses and learn about their favourite characters and take an intimate look at costumes and artifacts from the show including model dragons, kick-ass weaponry like Joffrey’s crossbow, daggers and Ice and Longclaw, crowns, jewelry, books and full detailed garments.

Each section has video with interviews from show creators and costume designers, as well as detailed written information and pictures of the beloved characters from the show.

If you want to get a little more involved, there are two interactive components of the exhibit. One which places fans amid the epic battle of Blackwater Bay (from season two), shooting arrows from a standstill cross bow into a digital sea of wildfire.

The other, of course, is what every diehard fan will be waiting for... a chance to sit upon a replica of the iron throne and have their picture taken. (Surprisingly, and impressively, there is no additional cost for this opportunity.)

The exhibit has no price, but time-slot tickets have to be purchased ahead of time and have since sold out. But the Design Exchange is holding RUSH tickets for the exhibits, more information can be found on their website. 

The exhibit is only on display until March 16, so if you can’t wait until the end of the month to get your Game of Thrones fix, camp out at the Design Exchange (234 Bay St) for your chance to explore the epic fantasy world.

images (c)CityGirlScapes

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Vietnam - It'll Always be Home

With two of my three weeks done and gone, I figured it was time to talk about my country a bit.

This is my third time coming back and each time, I'm impressed by the sheer number of tourists that are flocking to South Vietnam and how the infrastructure has improved. They still have a long way to go, and if it were up to me, I'd educate the populace about the environment and not throwing trash everywhere.

As you've surmised, I'm from the south and have spent most of my time here in Bac Lieu, my birth town, and in Can Tho, my mom's hometown. Each one of these cities is my home away from home. It's hard for me to describe the peace and tranquility I always feel when here. It grounds me in ways that living in Toronto never could. I'm not saying that I'd ever live in Vietnam permanently, Toronto is my home; but I'll always come back here.

This trip is a short one but I've done quite a lot with it. My dad has built a house in Bac Lieu and we've been busy with visiting family and finishing some personal things. Everytime I do make the trek to the far side of the world, I try to visit at least one place I haven't before. This time, I went to the resort island of Phu Quoc. Which is nestled in the Gulf of Thailand, the largest island that belongs to Vietnam but is geographically closer to Cambodia.

Up until a few years ago, Phu Quoc was a best kept secret, a place only those tourists in the know knew about and wanted to keep it that way. But, with tourism the way it is, an airport was built and now has millions of visitors annually.

Sao beach (best on the island) is further but worth the trip. A white sandy beach and crystal clear blue water awaits you. Whereas Long Beach is, well, as it's name suggests, long. It's also part of the main strip and has a serviceable and highly accessible beach.

I'm a bit of a shopaholic and foodie so each night I eagerly awaited sundown so I could race to Cho Dem (night market) for the day's fresh caught fish and seafood. And of course the shopping. I had a pearl necklace made just for me for $150,000 dong ($7.50 CDN) and other assorted nicknacks.

With Phu Quoc being such a large island, it's smart to sign up for the various tours offered so that you won't miss all the attractions. Snorkeling and diving are great as the coral reef is something not to be missed. And if that's not for you then there's always night fishing....for squid.

My favorite stop was the Myrtle farm where they harvest the myrtle fruit to make Ruou Sim, myrtle liquor.  I also visited a fish sauce factory but the aroma was too much.

If you're a tourist in Phu Quoc or anywhere in Vietnam, don't forget to haggle when shopping. I never pay what they ask and often will buy multiples to get the best price.

For those of you missing me (that's you, Ashley), I'll be back on March 14. Until then.

images (c)CityGirlScapes
1. Myrtle Flower
2. Phu Quoc mornings
3. Sao Beach panorama
4. Fish Sauce Factory
5. Long Beach sunset

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Book Review: Family Pictures

Veronica won the ARC for Family Pictures by Jane Green on Goodreads as part of the first-reads program. 

This is my first Jane Green novel and I am delighted to have been lucky enough to get to read this before it hits the shelves. The story is compelling, characters so lively that I swore could be my neighbours and were more real than anything manufactured on "reality TV" programming. 

Family Pictures is one that will stay with you through the years. It redefines what family actually is and what you may think is perfect isn't all that it seems. 

Sylvie and Maggie live on opposite coasts but are bound together in the most devastating way. Having both been betrayed, each moves on with their lives, coping the best way they know how. Years later they are brought together again by tragedy. This time, they realize that they're kindred spirits and embrace all that has happened to them was a blessing in disguise; enabling them to be who they were truly meant to be.

Family Pictures hits shelves on March 19 and it should be on yours.

City Girls Rating: 4 glasses of wine out of 5.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Hart House Gets Bent

Over the years, we’ve made it a long running tradition to hit every seasonal production at Hart House Theatre. We’ve had a pretty good run, which is why even though Veronica has taken off to the warm and sunny skies of Vietnam, Ashley still attended opening night of their latest production, BENT on Friday.

One of the more political plays on the Hart House docket, BENT is based on the 1979 play of the same name by Martin Sherman which revolves around the Nazi persecution of homosexuals and the significance of the pink triangle, a concentration camp badge used to identify prisoners who were sent there as a result of their sexuality. 

A story of love and the struggle to survive, BENT follows the colourful Max (Liam Volke) as he and his boyfriend Rudy (Jordan Gray) flee Berlin after a confrontation with some of Hitler’s men. The lovers are arrested and sent to Dachau concentration camp, where they meet Horst (Jad Farris). Straining to maintain tolerance and human dignity under horrible circumstances, Max and Horst develop an intimate relationship in the least intimate of situations and eventually learn the dignity and power in knowing what or who one is.

While everyone shines on the darkened stage, it’s the relationship between Volke and Gray that really stands out. The chemistry they create between each other without even having the luxury of looking at each other is a powerful thing. And the resilience they show by spending the latter half of the play repeating the same monotonous movements over and over and over again is pretty impressive. 

As the show comes to a close and the intensity has built to its highest, you’re feeling the pain and overflowing emotion that the two are experiencing on stage. BENT is genuinely a powerfully political play that will hauntingly linger well after the curtains close.

The remaining performances are Wednesday March 6 – Saturday, March 9 with a preshow artist chat on Saturday at 1pm. Buy tickets.

images by Daniel DiMarco from official website