Huff & Stitch by Cliff Cardinal: Book Review

Huff & Stitch

Obtained: Playwrights Canada Press
Pages: 112
Publish date: March 27, 2017
Rating: ★★★★

SUMMARY

Huff is the wrenching, yet darkly comic tale of Wind and his brothers, caught in a torrent of solvent abuse and struggling to cope with the death of their mother.

Wind’s fantastic dream world bleeds into his haunting reality, as he’s preyed on by the Trickster through the hallways at school, the abandoned motel he loves more than home, and his own fragile psyche.

-from Native Earth Performing Arts

Kylie Grandview, single mom, and one of the nameless faces that blip across the screens of internet pornography is seduced by her dreams of starring in a main stream movie. In a twisted, turning series of self-sabotaging decisions ultimately resulting in the loss of her child, Stitch is Kylie’s last ditch effort to tell the truth about what happened to her face.

-from Native Earth Performing Arts

WHAT I LIKED

I’ll say right off the bat, I enjoyed reading Stitch more than I enjoyed reading Huff. They evened out to four stars because one earned 3 stars from me, while the other was a 5. Both plays utilized the idea of characters that were personifications of things (in Huff, a character represented smell, while in Stitch, there was a character representing a yeast infection – yup). Which I really liked – I love that theatre has the ability to make visual things that typically aren’t visually accessible.

I found that Stitch was a more interesting read for me, because it addressed a lot of feminism and gender issues. It was really disturbing to think about Kylie’s daughter stumbling upon the porn starring her mother and even reenacting the scenes with her friends, but it also made me feel sad that women kind of fall into the expectation that their worth is dependent on their appearance and their sex appeal. There are many more things I could write about regarding this play, but for now I’ll leave it at this: if you’re interested in reading about women’s issues, this is a great read.

AND WHAT I DIDN’T

I don’t think I particularly didn’t like anything about either play, I just don’t think I related much with Huff, so I felt more disconnected reading that one. I think I’d like to see it on stage before coming up with a final opinion on the play.

RECOMMEND IF…

  • You like reading theatre; and
  • You can stomach reading disturbing scenes.

Huff & Stitch is available online at Chapters Indigo, Book Depository, and Kobo.

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Black Dog: 4 vs the Wrld by Matthew Heiti: Book Review

Black Dog: 4 vs the wrld

Obtained: Playwrights Canada Press
Pages: 112
Publish date: March 14, 2017
Rating: ★★★★

SUMMARY

A darkly comic story of four teenagers struggling with death, depression, and the shadow of a black dog.

Two is fraught. While dealing with the impossible expectations of her parents, she is trying to understand why her brother has taken his own life. It’s not until a fateful school detention that she meets three other students as lost as she is.

-from Goodreads

WHAT I LIKED

I loved the fact that this play breaks the fourth wall. Heiti doesn’t invite the audience to think about mental illness, but forces them to. The play begins with the cast members in the audience. People who suffer mental illness aren’t “those people over there”, they’re everyone and anyone. The characters don’t even have names: they’re Two, Three, Four, and Five. It allows the reader to relate to them, rather than distancing them with a name that isn’t their own.

I’m sorry, when I read theatre, I automatically go into “essay” mode. Because to me, theatre is just smart and much more fun to analyze. Which I definitely did the entire time I was reading this piece.

I loved the realism of the characters. I loved the way that Heiti incorporated technology and the screen into the play; I thought that was particularly interesting.

AND WHAT I DIDN’T

My only complaint is my usual complaint about what happens when I read theatre: it was too short. I wish I could have seen a production of the play to see how it was interpreted from page to stage, but I guess reading it gave me the freedom to come up with my own ideas of what this story looks like.

RECOMMEND IF…

  • You liked The Breakfast Club;
  • You like literature that breaks the fourth wall; or
  • You are interested in stories about characters who have to overcome intense internal struggles.

Black Dog: 4 vs the Wrld is available online at Chapters Indigo, Book Depository, and Kobo.

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On Friend Groups – And Why I Don’t Have One

This post was inspired by Beverly’s post on her blog, Bev’s Eye View. Because I’ve seen a few instances, and know quite a lot of people who are part of a group of friends and love it. And I can see why! You have a group of people who you can go out and do things with, who have your back, who feel much like a second family. Why wouldn’t that be awesome?

Unfortunately, I’ve just had too many bad experiences with groups of friends, that I kind of don’t want one anymore.

First, let me clarify.

This is not to say that I don’t have friends.

I do have friends. Lots of friends. Some might say too many friends.

While people in friend groups have a set group of people they reach out to when they need someone, I’m not limited to that. I have like 5 people I’m super close to, but they’re not close to each other. Most of them don’t even know each other. And then I’ve got about 15-20 people outside of those 5 (who again, mostly don’t know each other), and genuinely enjoy hanging out with on a regular basis. So I maintain those friendships.

I just honestly prefer hanging out in very small groups, or one-on-one for more personal human interaction time. In elementary school, it was always about “who was mad at who for what stupid reason”. I have two friends I still talk to that I knew in elementary school.

In high school, I had probably the closest thing to a friend group I’ve ever had. I was dating a guy and was welcomed in by his friends. I quite liked having them there, but there was always the itching feeling that they only included me because I was dating their best friend. We broke up. Four years later, the friendships still stuck. Until they didn’t, and I was promptly “ejected” – shall we say – from being included in that group. Cool.

I’ve sort of been included in friend groups of the boys I’ve dated, but after this incident, I was much more aware of maintaining my own friendships and not relying on this means of meeting people. Because when the relationships ended, so did the friendships.

I find my experience with friend groups has been very negative because I see them, a lot of the time, from the outside-in. The people involved in them are cliquey; they’re scared of not being invited out with the rest of the group; they don’t venture into new territory and try to include new people.

I love not having a friend group.

I have various people in my life who I can talk to about different things and who know me on different levels. I can spill my deepest secrets to a friend I met in college, then the next day go to a book signing with a friend I met online, and then have drinks with a friend from work, and then have a girls painting night with a friend I met through a friend, and then go to a concert with a friend I met through an ex. I’m not stuck doing the same thing with the same people, ever. And quite honestly, it’s fuckin’ sweet.

I’m not limited to the same 5 or 6 perspectives as people who have the same friends forever. I’m not scared to talk to new people and cultivate new friendships. In fact, I love meeting a new person and getting to know them, and going on some new adventure together.

There are few friends I’ve hung onto for a number of years, but most of my friends come and go. And I don’t mind. I enjoy knowing people, no matter how temporary. Old friends fade and new ones come and add to my life in new ways. And the ones that do stick around, well those are the ones I see as my family.

So I guess my “friend group” exists. It’s just 20-30 people big. And I never hang out with them all at once.

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The Gauntlet by Karuna Riazi: Book Review

The Gauntlet

Obtained: Simon & Schuster Canada, ARC
Pages: 298
Publish date: March 28, 2017
Rating: ★★★

SUMMARY

A trio of friends from New York City find themselves trapped inside a mechanical board game that they must dismantle in order to save themselves and generations of other children in this action-packed debut that’s a steampunk Jumanji with a Middle Eastern flair.

When twelve-year-old Farah and her two best friends get sucked into a mechanical board game called The Gauntlet of Blood and Sand—a puzzle game akin to a large Rubik’s cube—they know it’s up to them to defeat the game’s diabolical architect in order to save themselves and those who are trapped inside, including her baby brother Ahmed. But first they have to figure out how.

-from Goodreads

WHAT I LIKED

I loved the diversity in this book. I don’t know about you, but I’m so sick of reading about white people doing white people things and eating white people food and having any POC feeling very white-washed to make them “digestible” and “easier to read”. So reading a book where the protagonist wears a hijab was pretty awesome. I liked taking a dive into a new perspective and getting a taste (quite literally) of a culture different than mine.

I also really enjoyed the storyline. I thought it was original, and I was interested to see what would come next.

AND WHAT I DIDN’T

I wish there was more. I expected a super developed fictional world, but I felt as though a lot of the plotlines weren’t developed as much as they could have been. I only got a handful of pages in before these characters I barely knew or cared about yet were being swept up into a board game. I think it would have been better if Farah’s life had been a little bit more developed before tossing her into this situation. On the other hand, if the Gauntlet world was also more developed and given more detail, I could have forgiven the lack of context. But I didn’t feel particularly attached to either world.

Also related, the author compares instances Farah encounters in the Gauntlet to instances in her past, but they were moments that we as readers didn’t get a chance to read about first. Some foreshadowing or ability to make connections from one world to the other would have made it a lot more meaningful to the story. I understand this book is for young readers, but it felt a little too “young”.

RECOMMEND IF…

  • You’re looking for a diverse book;
  • You enjoy fantasy and books for young readers;
  • You like stories that move fast and don’t look back.

The Gauntlet is available online at Chapters Indigo, Book Depository, and Kobo.

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Bon Jovi: This House is Not for Sale Tour

Bon Jovi w/ Cannons
When: April 11, 2017
Where: Air Canada Centre – Toronto, ON
Seats: Lower level, Row 25 – Rear

THE COMPANY

This was the first concert where Jacob accompanied me, and it was really exciting – mostly because I’m a pretty quiet person, but when it comes to concerts, I’m loud and I sing and dance the whole time. And it’s kind of scary to go to a show with someone who may or may not clap along or cheer at the end of a song. But we had a great time dancing together!

It was also particularly awesome because we got these tickets off of Groupon, so they were $20 each. So it was super last minute, but such a great night.

THE PERFORMANCE

I was kind of worried, because our discount tickets put us sort of behind the stage, but honestly the view was incredible. And when Bon Jovi hit the stage, everyone was on their feet, dancing and cheering the whole night. I was excited to hear a handful of my favourite songs (“Shot Through the Heart” – heyyyooo) but I didn’t realize how many other songs I recognized!

I think what I loved the most was that JBJ was really open to creating an experience for all types of fans. At one point, he began explaining the meaning behind the band’s newer songs and what they meant to them before beginning each one. Then he announced, “This is the last new one – the rest are hits from here on out.” When a band has so many hits, it must be hard to find a happy medium when touring a new album. But I think they did a great job at introducing This House is Not For Sale to an audience that was likely hoping for hits or their older tunes.

THE AUDIENCE

The audience at this show was incredible. Sitting at a “behind the stage” angle actually gave me a new appreciation for shows, because it allowed me to see the audience from the perspective of the band on stage. I’d look out and see the lights illuminating the faces in the crowd, and I could see how much fun they were having singing the lyrics along with the band. It was so cool. And of course, my favourite part of any show – when the audience pulls out their lights and makes the ACC look like the night sky – was just amplified because of all the excitement and my surprisingly amazing seats.

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COMPLETE SETLIST:

  1. This House is Not for Sale ♥
  2. Knockout
  3. You Give Love a Bad Name ♥
  4. Lost Highway
  5. Who Lot of Leavin’ ♥
  6. Roller Coaster ♥
  7. We Weren’t Born to Follow
  8. I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead
  9. We Got It Goin’ On ♥
  10. Who Says You Can’t Go Home ♥
  11. It’s My Life ♥
  12. We Don’t Run
  13. God Bless This Mess ♥
  14. Scars on This Guitar ♥
  15. New Year’s Day
  16. Lay Your Hands on Me ♥
  17. Born to Be My Baby
  18. Have a Nice Day ♥
  19. Bad Medicine ♥
  20. Keep the Faith

Encore:
21. Always ♥
22. Captain Crash & the Beauty Queen from Mars
23. Wanted Dead or Alive ♥
24. Livin’ on a Prayer ♥

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April Cosmetics Haul

April was a great month for makeup! My beauty subscriptions were awesome and I bought my first Sephora products! Let’s review:

ipsy

First off, the ipsy glam bag for April was actually adorable. The bag in itself. I’ll be using this clutch as a concert bag at least a few times this summer! My favourite products in this bag were the TONYMOLY Liptone LipCare Stick in Rose Blossom and the Meg Twin Nail Polish in Lovey Dovey. I’ll use both of those at least semi-regularly. The other products, the OFRA Cosmetics Blush, the  Elizabeth Mott Show Me Your Glow Shimmer Shadow & Highlighter and the Hanalei Aloe Soothing Gel are all things I’ve never really experimented with before. So I’ll probably try them out this summer!

Topbox

As you may remember from last month, I actually unsubscribed from Topbox because I wanted to cut down on cosmetics expenses. So this was my last bag before the end of my subscription. And now I really regret cancelling because this has been my favourite beauty bag I’ve received so far from either Topbox, or ipsy. I may re-subscribe once I’ve budgeted my life a bit better.

I’ve never used lip liner, but I tried the LARITZY Cosmetics Lip Pencil, and it may be a more regular tool for me. I’ll also definitely use the La Roche-Posay Micellar Water ULTRA. But my favourite items in this bag were the Cake: The ‘Do Gooder Volumizing Dry Shampoo Spray and the Schwarzkopf Professional OSIS+ Volume Up. Dry shampoo gets me through so many hectic days (more than I care to admit), and my hair often falls flat, so I love volume sprays. I may purchase the Cake dry shampoo on a regular basis now.

Image result for cake volumizing dry shampoo sprayImage result for Schwarzkopf Professional OSIS+ Volume Up

Sephora

I’ve never actually spent more than 5 minutes in a Sephora before this month. But there was one thing I really wanted, and I knew Sephora was going to be the place to have it. And that was a quality bright blue lipstick. After searching the store for the best shades, I decided that Sephora’s Cream Lipstain in Siren Song was the way to go. I’m so excited to wear this shade out to some great shows this summer!

I also picked up Kat Von D’s Everlasting Liquid Lipstick in Beloved, because a friend of mine posted about it and I love the shade. It’s similar to one I wear to work often, so adding this to my collection was actually super productive.

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See anything here you’re interested in? Do you subscribe to beauty boxes? What are some of your favourite products you’ve picked up this month?

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Michelle Muses: April 2017

April was a crazy month. I didn’t realize how busy it was until I looked back at my calendar. Let’s take a look at some of the highlights!

Emo Night: This actually was the last day of March, but I didn’t include it in my last month’s Muses post! I went with my friend (now boyfriend, but that’s to come), and it was such a great time. They played a lot of blink-182, Sum 41, and Green Day which I don’t particularly consider emo, but it was great. I’m a huge Green Day fan, so when they started playing Jesus of Suburbia, I got way too excited.

First date: Yes, yes. So “friend”, who became “best friend”, ended up becoming “guy I’m dating” pretty quick. This is Jacob. Our first date was really romantic, too, because we’d gone to Dave & Busters as one of our first hang-outs as friends, talking over a nice dinner and then playing video games and winning game tickets, but now we got to do it again and not be awkward or hold back from being cute. ❤

Bon Jovi: I got tickets to see Bon Jovi in Toronto off of Groupon, and I’m so glad I decided to get them. Because it was such an incredible show! Recap post to come in the next week or so!

Art Afternoon: I spent a day with my friend Theresa painting and creating art pieces out of shells and smashed plates. The idea originally came from the fact that I had some pent up anger about the recent breakup, so she suggested we take that out by throwing plates and making art. It was so much fun and surprisingly relaxing. I’m hoping to spend more time painting and doing art on my own in May.

Mini-putt: I’ve never visited this mini-putt course before, so it was nice to play on some new holes. Fun fact, Jacob kicks my ass at everything we do (bowling, pool), so when I narrowly beat him at this game, it made me feel a little bit better ;P

The Lockhart: I feel like I post about this at least every couple months. But this trip was nice because I went with my friend Frances, who first of all, had never been to the Lockhart before. But also, it was nice because we both had lots to catch up on. We had drinks and gossiped, and also, made plans as to when to book our upcoming 2017 vacation!

Photo shoots: My friend, Nikki, needed a model for her photography class, so I eagerly accepted the offer. As a photographer myself, I never get to be in front of the camera. So it was a lot of fun to get to be the model. We had a great shoot in graffiti alley too. I may use one of those photos as my new blog pic! (Cause it’s been a while since I’ve had blue hair, and probably gonna keep my blonde for a while).

Bestie’s birthday: One of my best friends, Christine, had her birthday at this awesome Japanese restaurant this past weekend. We made her order a samaurai sake bomb (pictured above – the giant bowl) which she took like a champ, and the food was delicious too. I had a great time!

This month has been kind of insane. I’ve actually been so busy with work (stuff I didn’t include in this blog post), and personal things, that I’m making May the month of relaxation. But I’m sure there will still be a few things to report back in May’s Michelle Muses!

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You Are Happy by Rebecca Deraspe: Book Review

You Are Happy

Obtained: Playwrights Canada Press
Pages: 128
Publish date: October 11, 2016
Rating: ★★★★★

SUMMARY

Bridget finds her brother Jeremy in a closet attempting suicide. Again. Determined to help him find some kind of happiness, she searches grocery stores looking for his potential wife, which affirms what she already thinks: there are couples practically everywhere. Eventually she meets Chloe, and her plans to stage a happily-ever-after are finally set.

-from Goodreads

WHAT I LIKED

You Are Happy was the first piece I’ve read in a while that blatantly makes a statement. It was honestly really dark, but I just kept laughing at the absurdity of it all – the absurdity that I realize surrounds us, but we take for granted as normal. There are not couples everywhere. Being in a relationship isn’t the one thing that will save you from being depressed. It won’t change your life and give you purpose. But that is the premise of this play.

I also laughed at how fast Jeremy and Chloe fall for each other. Bridget just decides that the two of them should be together, and immediately, they just are. As though deciding to be together equates to falling in love. It was uncomfortable to see how the couple goes from just having met to full-blown long-term relationship in a matter of seconds. I loved the comment on how our society expects relationships to be one thing, when really a partnership should be built on the two personalities involved.

AND WHAT I DIDN’T

I loved everything. If I had one complaint, I’d say I wish it was longer. I wish I could see it on stage.

RECOMMEND IF…

  • You enjoy satires;
  • You want to read something short but powerful;
  • You don’t need to be in a relationship to be happy.

You Are Happy is available online at Chapters Indigo, Book Depository, and Kobo.

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Event Recap: Jeff Zentner, Susin Nielsen, and Danielle Younge-Ullman

I haven’t wanted to go to a book-related event in a while. (Kind of been enjoying the break from having to be “book blogger Michelle” all the time). But I told myself there were a handful of authors I’d 100% go see if given the chance. People I could not miss. So when Jeff Zentner was announced to come to Brampton, I marked off my calendar and started counting the days.

I arrived at my personal favourite bookstore, ordered a green tea frap, sat down near the Starbucks fireplace and cracked open Zentner’s new novel, Goodbye Days, to get ready. As people started to show up, I grabbed a seat in front of the panel table and got ready to see three amazing authors. Some context: I’ve read Susin Nielsen’s We Are All Made of Molecules and loved it. 5 stars. I’ve read Jeff Zentner’s Serpent King and it is one of my favourite books of all time. I’ve never read any of Danielle Younge-Ullman’s work, but I was very excited to purchase Everything Beautiful is Not Ruined. The three authors took the stage after greeting some familiar faces, and the panel began.

Each of the authors took their turn in front of the mic to talk a bit about their new books, and then read a small excerpt. As each author took centre stage, I could immediately feel their personality all the way from the second row. Susin, Danielle, and Jeff were all incredibly down-to-earth and were having just as much fun at the event as the people who came to see them, which made it all the more enjoyable.

Then it was time for audience questions, where each author took their turn discussing fan-prompted topics such as their writing process, how they come up with their characters, and why they all chose to write novels dealing with grief and coping with loss. It was very clear that Susin, Danielle and Jeff were answering the questions and discussing their writing as sincerely as possible. I’m not a fan of listening to authors who very obviously have answered questions so many times that they just recite answers from memory, and I was very captivated listening to this group.

Once there were no more audience questions, it was time for the book signing! When it was my turn, I first approached Susin, who asked if I was an optimist or a pessimist (a la her newest protagonist), and said that I must be an optimist if I was a blogger. (I am definitely not). (I’m an anxious little bean). (Optimists die first). Anyway! It was such a delight to talk to her.

Next I met Danielle. At the beginning of the event, she was introduced as having dabbled in the Toronto theatre scene, and for the rest of the afternoon I was trying to figure out why she looked familiar. (Some of you may recall my obsession with theatre). I’m very excited to be able to read Everything Beautiful is Not Ruined, and hopefully report back to all of you how amazing it is!

And finally, I got my chance to talk to Jeff. This was his first signing outside of the States (!!) which made it all the more exciting. He signed my books and told me he liked my “no day but today” tattoo, and I got to tell him how much I loved The Serpent King. So you can imagine, I left the bookstore feeling quite dazed.

This Chapters is the one I grew up with. It’s the bookstore my friends and I have visited regularly since I was 11 years old, going for coffee dates and browsing the shelves as wee little book addicts. And now it’s the Chapters where I got to meet three fantastic authors and have my day made. It’s an afternoon I don’t think a book event will live up to for a while.

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The Zolas @ The Opera House

The Zolas
When: March 16, 2017
Where: The Opera House – Toronto, ON
Seats: General Admission – Floor

THE COMPANY

This show was such a last minute thing. My friend Marco messaged and asked if I wanted to go with him to a concert. And I’m always up for a concert. Even if I don’t know the band – as was with this case – I know Marco and I have pretty similar taste in music, so I trust him. I listened to some Zolas before heading out, and already had a few favourite songs in mind as we headed to The Opera House.

THE PERFORMANCE

The show was fantastic! The audience was so hyped when The Zolas took the stage, and the band was able to keep the excitement rolling their entire set. There was a good mix of upbeat songs that I could bop along to, and some slower, more mellow tunes, which I always enjoy. And even during the slower songs, I was really enjoying watching the band rock out. There was never a dull moment.

I thought it was especially cool that during their last song, the lead singer came into the crowd and performed from the centre of the floor. Everyone circled around and shone their cell phone lights on him, lighting the venue. It was a really cool experience!

Side note: It’s been a month and I still frequently get “Ancient Mars” stuck in my head.

THE AUDIENCE

Shows are just significantly more enjoyable when they’re general admission shows, honestly. I don’t care if I don’t know the band – if I’m standing in a general admission area, I feel like I’m part of the crowd. Part of the show. Part of an experience. Not just watching – but a part. And that’s how I felt this entire show.

The Zolas really seemed to appreciate the fact that they filled The Opera House with so many enthusiastic fans, and you know what – they gained another one that night. I’d happily buy a ticket to see them in Toronto again.

COMPLETE SETLIST:

  1. In Heaven
  2. Molotov Girls ♥
  3. Get Dark ♥
  4. Fell In Love with New York ♥
  5. Ancient Mars ♥
  6. Cultured Man
  7. You’re Too Cool
  8. Freida on the Mountain ♥
  9. This Changes Everything
  10. Marlaina Kamikaze
  11. Cab Driver
  12. Strange Girl ♥
  13. CV Dazzle
  14. Swooner ♥

Encore:
15. Invisible ♥
16. Observatory
17. Escape Artist ♥