Thursday, April 19, 2018

ThrowBook Thursday: Top 10 Books

Yes, I know this is a ThrowBook Thursday post, and therefore it's supposed to be about a book that's stayed with me over the years. But I honestly wasn't sure which one book to talk about this month, and I thought I could revisit my top 10 books.

Only I haven't actually done a top 10 books post. I've done posts on my top 10 books to reread, top 10 fantasy books, top 10 non-fantasy/sci-fi books, and even top 100-ish books. So today I'm going to do a Top 10 Books post, with an emphasis on why these books have stayed with me. These are the books that I would choose if I had to choose only ten books to be able to read for the rest of my life.

Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell

One of my perennial favorites, this novel is the perfect mixture of fantasy and so-called "literary" fiction. It blends the humor and social commentary of authors like Austen and Dickens with the magic of Tolkien. It has spiritual, moral, and emotional depth. It features creepy, dangerous fairies and magicians who have no idea what they're doing. It has copious amounts of footnotes that actually build on the story at hand.

The Sword in the Stone

Otherwise known as the best thing T.H. White ever wrote. This is the story that (very very loosely) inspired the Disney film (which I still love because of Merlin). Merlin tutors young Arthur (and sometimes Kay as well) in all manner of subjects, attempting to ready him for his eventual (and unknown to him) kingship. It's one of the first fantasy stories I can remember, and it sparked my lifelong love of that magus supreme, Merlin.

The Chronicles of Narnia

This is no surprise to anyone, and before you argue that it's seven books: I have an omnibus edition on my shelf. It's one book. So there.

Anyway, these books never cease to offer up something more when I come back to them. They have been an encouragement to me in low times and have helped shape my imagination.


This is a more recent addition to this list, but ever since I first read this book last year, I haven't been able to keep the story out of my mind. It has magic and folklore, romance and intrigue, and a plot that keeps you guessing the whole way through.

Till We Have Faces

Another fairy-tale story and one of Lewis's classics, Till We Have Faces may say more about a person's spiritual journey than almost anything else I've read by him. It also operates in many ways as a working out of some ideas Lewis puts forth in The Four Loves.

The Lord of the Rings

This book, like Narnia, is no surprise. (And yes, it is one novel; silly publishers and their need to break things up.) ((Though if someone could release an omnibus of this, The Hobbit, and The Silmarillion, I would be most grateful.)) I have to go back and reread this every few years because it's just so dear to my heart and soul.


I first read Plenilune a couple of years ago. (I remember because I wanted to start reading it the day our nephew was born, but had forgotten to load it on my Kindle, and therefore wound up reading The Paper Magician first.) From the first chapters, I loved this world and the richness of the prose. If Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell is the blending of Austen and Tolkien, then Plenilune is the blending of Austen and Edgar Rice Burroughs (without the questionable commentary on genetic superiority). It's filled with allusions to Shakespeare and Scripture and it doesn't mind letting the reader do some work filling in the gaps.

The Celtic Way of Prayer

What? A nonfiction book on this list? Well, at least it's Celtic.

I'm just kidding. This book was recommended to me a few years back and it left a strong impression. If ever I feel like I need to put more prayer and song in my life, this is the book I think of to help me do it.

The Four Loves

Yes, three C.S. Lewis books is a lot for a 10-book list. But the man shaped me as a writer and a reader. This book helped me understand love in a multi-faceted way, and seeing the expressions of the ideas contained here pop up in his fiction makes it that much more notable.

Something Wicked This Way Comes

No list like this would be complete without the other author who shaped me as a writer, Ray Bradbury. The man could write poetry in the form of a story, and he knew how to capture nostalgia in all its beautiful and terrible aspects. He may not have invented the creepy circus trope, but he certainly excelled at it.

What are some of your top books of all time? Tell me about them in the comments!

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Coco Review: Family and Creativity

If you've been around me for any length of time, you know I'm usually always late to the game when it comes to keeping up with pop culture. Movies are no exception, even when it comes to movies I'm very excited to see. All of this is to say I've finally seen Disney/Pixar's Coco (and much sooner than I usually see movies after they've left theaters). There are spoilers ahead, but I've done my level best to keep them vague in regard to BIG TWISTS out of respect for those who (like me) are late to the game.

If you're unfamiliar with the movie, Coco is about a boy named Miguel whose family has forbidden music for generations -- all because his great-great-grandfather (a musician) left town and never came back. Not to be undone by his betrayal, his wife, Imelda, decided to support her family by becoming a successful shoemaker, a business the entire family continues to operate today. There's only one problem: Miguel loves music, especially the songs of the famous Ernesto de la Cruz. Miguel has video of de la Cruz's movies, television appearances, and songs, and has even decorated a secret guitar in the manner of de la Cruz's famous instrument.

Though he loves his family, Miguel can't seem to reconcile their hatred for music with his own passion. As the Day of the Dead approaches, he finds himself torn between honoring his family's wishes (and, in keeping with the holiday, the dead members of his family) and pursuing his chance to play in a local music competition. When he breaks into de la Cruz's mausoleum to borrow the famous guitar, Miguel finds himself transported into the Land of the Dead. In order to return to the living world, he must obtain his family's blessing. The problem being that only Imelda will give the blessing, and only if he gives up music forever. Unhappy with this offer, Miguel sets off to find his great-great-grandfather, who he is sure will give him a family blessing without strings (or perhaps with guitar strings).

As someone who has grown up with Pixar films, I've come to expect a lot from their stories. Whether it's Toy Story, The Incredibles, Up, Brave, or Inside Out, I know I'm in for a moving, character-driven story. Coco is no exception to this. Miguel's struggle feels incredibly close for me because although I've been blessed with family that supports my creativity, I know this is not always the case. Whether in family relationships or the business world, creativity is often seen as a stepchild to more "useful" or "practical" skills. (Never mind that creativity and imagination are required for scientific endeavors as well.)

This isn't to say that Miguel is portrayed as the noble artist struggling to overcome the ignorance of those around him. It's clear from the first act of the film that Miguel needs his family's practicality to ground him as much as they need his creativity to free them. When Miguel notices de la Cruz's guitar in a faceless picture of his great-great-grandfather (Imelda was resolute that her husband be forgotten completely), he latches onto the idea that de la Cruz is his great-great-grandfather and uses this belief to justify his rebellion against his family's wishes. Miguel may be the protagonist of the movie, but he has a lot of maturing to do.

This wouldn't be a Pixar film if it didn't have at least one heart-crushing scene, and Coco has several: the scene when Miguel's guitar is destroyed by his angry abuelita (grandmother), spurring Miguel to run away; when Hector's friend vanishes because no one on Earth still remembers him; when the truth behind Hector's death is revealed; when Miguel thinks all is lost; when Hector is on the brink of vanishing; when Miguel returns to the living world and tries to reach Mama Coco with music.

Guys, I don't usually cry or tear up in movies, but Pixar tends to be the exception to that (the beginning of Up, anyone? Or Bing-Bong?). I teared up multiple times in this movie. Despite having some of the twists spoiled for me and my wife and I calling some of the others, I still found myself moved by the emotion of the journey. That's just good storytelling.

And lest I give you the wrong impression, this movie is also full of humor, including may Frida Kahlo references and this scene:

In the end, the message of Coco is not "Family is important" or "Follow your dreams." It avoids going the route of cliche Disneyfied morals in that respect. The message is more like "Families need dreams and dreamers need their families." Miguel has to learn that his family (past and present) is important and worthy of respect. His family has to learn that holding a grudge for decades only poisons you; it does not strengthen you. There is a joy in this movie in seeing relationships mended and wrongs set right. It does not condone paying back evil for evil (though it does take some joy in seeing the villain get his comeuppance). In short, it's a movie that I think is needed today. If you haven't seen Coco, do so.

Have you seen Coco? What did you think? Let me know in the comments.

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Watercolor Wednesday: Narnia and AprilFae

I know I'm late with this month's art post. I haven't been as actively computering this week and it's always slipped my mind when I've been active. So here we are. I did a couple of Narnia paintings centered around Shasta and joined the April Fae art challenge on Instagram, so I've been very steadily making paintings and drawings for the last two weeks. I also did some prep sketches for the next couple 100 Myths drawings, but I'm saving those for once the final versions are done, probably after April Fae is over.

First up, the Shasta series.

This first one is a rendition of Shasta's night among the tombs of the ancient kings of Calormene. Note the cat keeping him company.

I loved the colors in that one so much I wanted to do a portrait of Shasta with the same scheme. But first, a practice sketch.

Then the colorized version:

Day one of April Fae was the Fool, so I drew a Faerie hunter who felt foolish for taking a bet.

Day two was Titania, so I painted the Faerie queen as she appears in Albion Academy.


Day three was moon, so I did a line art drawing based on the poem I wrote that day. (Did I mention I'm also doing a poem-a-day challenge this month?)

Day four was "her eyes were wild" so we have a Fae girl with wildflowers for eyes.

 I didn't get to paint on day five, so for "poison" I drew a Poison Ivan who hangs around the poison ivy plants.

Day six was the Lady of the Lake, and I wound up going a different direction than I intended. She's kind of a mermaid/kelpie looking thing rather than your traditional enchantress.

Day seven's prompt was "Godmother" and I of course had to do something different. I did a fairy godfather inspired by Murray, Martin Short's character in A Simple Wish. He also came out a bit dryadic. 

Day eight was Jenny Greenteeth, and I got to practice drawing something creepy while taking inspiration from The Oh Hellos. That's a win, right?

Day nine was "the veils are thin," and after floundering around with that idea for a while, I got the day's poem written, and the poem inspired a painting. So double challenge for the win.

Day ten was the Oak King, and I didn't get a decent prep sketch done that day, so I free-handed the figure and quickly reminded myself why I prefer having a good sketch done first. I did get some hand lettering in, along with a fun oak leaf in the corner and the crown/tattoo design came out great.

Day eleven was the Holly King, and once I got my concept sketch done, I kept going with more possibilities, so we have a whole royal family of Hollys.

I may do another art post later this month with more April Fae pictures, but if not, the rest will be in next month's post. Are there any that you want to see me do more paintings in that style? Are there some you'd like to see me tackle again? Let me know in the comments.

Monday, April 9, 2018

Beautiful People: Favorites Edition

Beautiful People is a blog link-up hosted by Paper Fury and Further Up and Further In. This is the last edition (for now), and it's all about favorites!

1. Favorite genre to write in?

Fantasy for sure. I occasionally write something sci-fi-ish or horror, but fantasy is where I belong.

2. What book (a real actual published book!) do you think your character would benefit from reading?

Mortimer should probably read Uprooted. Merlin would benefit from Narnia. Bryn should probably read The Book Thief.

3. Favorite piece of dialogue you’ve written?

You mean I have to choose? Robin's conversation with Vivienne from Albion Academy is probably at the top of the list. It's one of the earliest snippets from that book and really helped me define their characters.

4. What did your character want to be when they grew up, and what did they actually become?

Merlin wanted to be anything but a wizard. I don't think that's working out for him so far. Bryn wanted to be a Valkyrie, and . . . well, if you've read Albion Academy, you know how that's going. Mortimer didn't really have "when I grow up"-style dreams per se, but he did want to be a spectacular Djinni. I'd say he's off to a pretty good start.

5. Favorite character name(s)?

I'm a bit proud of Merlin's middle name, Marcellus. It just adds such a weight to any instance his full name gets used. I also like Gabriel Faust (especially when I think he was almost Melman Goode *shudders*). Alamar Stone was another fun one to pull together. And let's not forget Spork.

6. What makes your character feel loved, and who was the last person to make them feel that way?

Mortimer feels loved when he doesn't feel like people see Djinni first, Mortimer second. The last time he felt this way was whenever he last hung out with Bryn and Merlin.

Merlin feels loved whenever Kaya calls him Anaia, when Harry treats him like a normal person, and the rare occasions when his mother doesn't make her praise hinge on Merlin's magical prowess. The
first two happen most days, but the latter only happens once or twice in Albion Academy.

Bryn feels loved when she connects with others either physically or through a shared activity. When she can spend time with her sisters, go hunting with Thor, or hang out with Merlin and Mortimer, she feels loved.

7. Favorite character you’ve ever written?

This is one of those "depends on the day" kind of questions. Usually, my favorite character is the one I've just finished writing. But the characters that I have the most fun writing are usually Belchor and Robin because they can get away with almost anything. Ariel Isamu from There's No Place Like Home? is also a favorite.

8. If your character were permanently leaving town, what would they easily throw out? What would they refuse to part with? (Why?)

Mortimer wouldn't need much. He'd probably keep his wand and nothing else if push came to shove. Merlin would take his Book, ring, and staff and the picture of him and Kaya from her tenth birthday where he tried to levitate her cake and wound up making it explode. Bryn would take a spear, her wand, and her Valkyrie badge.

9. Favorite tropes to write!

I'm terrible at knowing what tropes I write, but I do a lot of kitchen sink mythology in the Albion books and I love seeing that sort of trope in fiction. I'm also a fan of tragic backstories and redemption arcs.

10. Which story has your heart and won't let go?

As far as stories that need to be written? The rest of the Albion series, its sister series the Shadow Quartet, and Ashes and Dust, my urban phoenix/vampire story. (There are lots more, but these are the ones shouting the loudest right now.)

As far as stories I've read/watched that won't let go: Narnia, Till We Have Faces, Beauty and the Beast, The Lord of the Rings (and Middle-earth in general), The Princess Bride, Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell, Uprooted, Watership Down, Aladdin, Ladyhawke . . . I could go on and on.

11. Favorite relationship between characters you’ve written?

The friendships between Merlin and Harry and Merlin/Mortimer/Bryn are all top for me. There are some relationships that develop in Albion Apparent that take the cake but I won't go into those in detail because

12. Toni Morrison once said, “If there's a book that you want to read, but it hasn't been written yet, then you must write it.” What are the books that you want to see more of, and what “holes” do you think need filling in the literary world?

I really want to see more fiction that inspires bravery on an everyday level. Fiction that promotes characters mending friendships and relationships of all kinds rather than discarding them because they don't want to put in the effort to work past the other person's flaws. Stories that make the soul sing and imbue a sense of awe, wonder, and joy.

13. Favorite Pinterest board/aesthetic for a book?

I'm terrible about keeping my Pinterest boards organized and sleek, but my Albion board tends to get the most love.

14. Favorite time periods & settings to work with?

I tend to work with more or less contemporary time periods, but I like using secondary world settings where I can play with the landscape, plant/animal life, and magic in new ways. Even if we don't get as much of that in the Albion books.

15. When people are done reading your book, what feeling do you want them to come away with?

I want readers to come away from any of my books feeling they've just experienced something worthwhile. If I've given them something to feel joyful about or cry about or get angry (in a good way) about, I've done my job. If they also have a reason to think about the themes and events of the stories afterward, or better yet go back to read the stories again, I've done my job well.

With Albion Academy, I want readers to know they're not alone in this world and that true friendships exist. I want them to know that forgiveness is possible.

Thanks for joining me today! If you want to see what other folks' responses are, check out the link-up here. (And if you have a favorite from Albion Academy that didn't get mentioned, tell me what it is!)

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Top 10 Tuesday: Fictional Old People

Today is a special day in my family: it's both my grandmothers' birthday. In honor of that, I wanted to do a top 10 fictional grandparents post, but given the shortage of fictional grandparents that came to mind, I expanded the post to include non-grandparent characters who are also in a mentoring/parental relationship with characters who are at least 1 generation younger than they are.

Grandma Fa (Mulan)

The original Disney #GrandmaGoals, Grandma Fa is the old person many of us aspire to be. She speaks her mind, isn't afraid to sass off about the ancestors' lack of luck ("They're dead."), and loves her family deeply.

Gramma Tala (Moana)

The Disney #GrandmaGoals of the latest generation, Tala isn't afraid of her reputation as the village crazy lady. In fact, she embraces it. She's also the village's storyteller, passing on her knowledge of her people's history and culture to the younger generations. She doesn't let Moana forget her past or her destiny, and she does it with verve and heart to match any grandmother out there.

Uncle Iroh (Avatar: The Last Airbender)

The real reason I couldn't leave this list at just grandparents, Iroh is one of the best characters in the Avatar universe. He is wise, but not incapable of being foolish for those he loves. He is strong, but finds his strength in wisdom rather than force. He cares for his nephew when no one else sees anything of value in Zuko. And even when things look bleakest, he still has hope for the future.

Matthew and Marilla Cuthbert (Anne of Green Gables)

Though they are old, unmarried siblings hoping to adopt a boy who can help Matthew around the farm, Matthew and Marilla rise to the occasion when they're sent red-headed Anne by mistake. Matthew takes to Anne right away, treating her like the daughter he never had. Marilla, once she accepts the idea of Anne's eccentric personality being a fixture at Green Gables, does much the same. By the end of the first story, you can't imagine Anne without Matthew and Marilla, or them without her. Their love for one another is as strong as can be.

Galadriel (The Lord of the Rings)

Fun fact: Galadriel is actually Arwen's grandmother. In addition to her other duties as one of the most powerful Elves in Middle-earth, she takes an interest in her grandchild's romantic prospects. She gives Aragorn hope (for himself and for his future) when the Fellowship passes through Lorien. She makes certain that they have what they need in order to live long and happy lives together. (The fact that she also gives Frodo a gift that saves the quest to destroy the Ring doesn't hurt matters, either.)

Gandalf (The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings)

While Gandalf is not (as far as Tolkien ever stated) a parent or grandparent, his interest in Bilbo, Frodo, and the younger hobbits of the story gives him a place on this list. Heart-wrenching memes connecting Fili and Kili with Merry and Pippin aside, Gandalf truly cares about his small charges; for proof, look no further than the snarky, "If you don't like my burglar, at least don't damage him!" in The Hobbit or his restrained anger at the Mouth of Sauron's words in The Return of the King. He may be a grumpy old wizard, but he's our grumpy old wizard.

Professor Digory Kirke (The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe)

Professor Kirke at first seems to be just another minor character in the backdrop of the Pevensies' journey into Narnia. But as the later book reveal, he maintains his connection with the four siblings, tutoring Peter for his exams and making sure the friends of Narnia are able to get together for moral support. He treats them like family and takes an interest in their educations. He becomes more like Uncle Digory than the Professor by the end.

Professor Minerva McGonagall (The Harry Potter books)

If McGonagall is not your favorite Hogwarts professor, we may need to have a discussion. She's stern and sassy and cares deeply about her students, their wellbeing, and their education. She does not tolerate foolishness (looking at you, Gilderoy Lockhart), or incompetence (*cough*Umbridge*cough*). Also, she can turn into a cat. And she's portrayed by the incomparable Dame Maggie Smith. Why wouldn't she be one of your favorite old people?

Ninny Threadgoode (Fried Green Tomatoes)

Before I knew of McGonagall's existence, I had been introduced to Ninny Threadgoode. She is not the hardcore, defending Hogwarts with statuary type old person that McGonagall is. Instead, she is an older woman who takes the time to help a younger (than her) woman through some self-searching difficulties in her life. She isn't above stating the obvious and expressing concern, and she has her own insecurities to deal with. But Ninny is not a ninny. She's a faithful, caring person who doesn't stop caring just because life gets hard and things change.

Cipur (Willy the Sparrow)

This entry probably comes from the most unknown story on this list. Willy the Sparrow is an animated film from the '90s about a boy who likes to scare and torment the animals around him. As punishment, he's turned into a sparrow to see life from their perspective. One of the characters who helps him on his way is an older sparrow named Cipur. Cipur loves knowledge and the resourcefulness of humans, so much so that he'd love to be human. He's cranky and not always the most patient, but he cares deeply about those around him. It is a testament to his love of knowledge and others that when he feels betrayed by Willy and turns his back on the boy, Willy refuses to let Cipur make an even bigger mistake and helps the old sparrow get home despite the storm threatening to ground them both. Cipur, like my own grandfather, leaves his charges with the ideal to "never stop learning." And that makes him worthy of this list.

Who are some of your favorite grandparents, mentors, and other "old people"? Let me know in the comments!

Monday, April 2, 2018

Monday Musings: The Little White Horse and Au Revoir, Crazy European Chick

With the musicals post last week, I'm sure some of you were wondering if I was still reading. The answer is yes, and I have two books to talk about today: Elizabeth Goudge's The Little White Horse and Joe Schreiber's Au Revoir, Crazy European Chick.

The Little White Horse

I picked this one up because I wanted to compare it with the film The Secret of Moonacre. While it lacks some of the book's characterization, the film does a surprising job of keeping the themes of pride and repentance. However, the main story is still vastly different. The quarrels in the book are over much smaller and meaner things (like the use of pink geraniums) than in the film (which uses family feuds and heritage to a greater extent).

I enjoyed some of the humor of the story and the character of Robin a great deal. Robin is like a Puckish version of The Secret Garden's Dickon, and his determination that he'll marry Maria is endearing only because she agrees and their both young enough to see the humor of the statement. 

Despite these positive elements, I found the overall style of the book less than enthralling. While drawing on the same literary background as The Secret Garden and the Narnia books, The Little White Horse seems to be less interested in letting its characters be real. Maria's failures hardly feel like real setbacks because the book is set from the beginning on her success. She has the aid of more than a couple of preternaturally intelligent animals, and the goodwill of everyone she meets (with the possible exception of the leader of the Men of the Dark Woods, but even he admires her tenacity).

There are a few moments that give me pause, such as the Parson calling the earth our mother in a hymn to God or the cook entering Maria's room while she sleeps to lay out sweets for her. But there are also moments that almost capture the same magic and beauty of Narnia, such as the times when Maria walks with Wrolf through the night or catches sight of the titular horse.

All in all, The Little White Horse is not a bad read, but I don't think I'll come back to it anytime soon.*

*An earlier version of this review first appeared on my Goodreads page.

Au Revoir, Crazy European Chick


Joe Schreiber's first young adult novel, Au Revoir, Crazy European Chick follows young Perry Stormaire on the eventful night he's forced to take Gobi, the foreign exchange student his family is hosting, to the prom. Turns out, she's not really a foreign exchange student. The truth is that Gobi is an assassin with 5 targets to hit in a single night, and Perry is now her driver, alibi, and accomplice . . . whether he wants to be or not.

What follows is a breakneck thrill ride that doesn't shy away from the harsh realities of Gobi's work or the emotional truths Perry is forced to confront in the course of their evening together. Schreiber's prose is tight and his plotting excellent. If there are fewer surprises to be had than one might expect from such a premise, Schreiber's humorous tone and emotional honesty more than make up for the lack.

Gobi is written in the style of the femme fatale but she displays a fully complex range of emotions, some more subtle than others. Perry's stunned reactionary characterization sticks around only long enough to make his growth into an active person believable. The ending has the right emotional beats to make the preceding story feel complete. If you're a fan of wit, thrills, and unevenly matched duos, you'll probably love this book. (Beware some vulgarity, sexual dialogue, and graphic violence stemming from the nature of the book's subject.)

Have you read either of these books? What did you think of them? Let me know in the comments!

Monday, March 26, 2018

Monday Musings: The Phantom of the Opera and Love Never Dies

As I mentioned in last week's post on The Hunchback of Notre Dame, I've been listening through some of my favorite musicals again lately, along with favorite musicals suggested to me by others. Two of those musicals are inspired in whole or in part by Gaston Leroux's The Phantom of the Opera: Andrew Lloyd Webber's The Phantom of the Opera and his maybe-sequel (he can't seem to make up his mind about that) Love Never Dies. I want to look at what's good (and not so good) in these musicals.

The Phantom of the Opera

Phantom is one of those musicals that everybody seems to know about. At the very least, they've probably heard one of the show's more popular songs like "Music of the Night" or the title number. If you're unfamiliar with the story, it's the tale of an up-and-coming opera singer named Christine DaaƩ and her lover, a young nobleman named Raoul, as they are swept into the machinations of the mysterious Phantom of the Opera. The Phantom has long been a figure of legend at the Paris Opera, and has his own private box from which he may view all the shows. He also holds highly opinionated views on the way the opera house should be run, including which parts should be offered to which singers.

After a long time apart, Christine and Raoul are reunited and find their once companionable friendship blossoming into something more. Unfortunately, Christine's musical tutor (her "angel of music" as her father once termed it) does not appreciate Raoul's intrusion into Christine's life. The angel reveals himself to be the Phantom, and Christine is torn between her devotion to her music (and thus, to the Phantom who has secured her a place as the rising star of the opera) and her love for Raoul. As the Phantom's true personality makes itself known, Christine grows ever more fearful of the Phantom and what he might do to keep her as his own.

One thing that has puzzled me is the romanticizing of the Phantom in popular culture. Though the novel presents the Phantom as a pitiable but deranged genius, the popular impression of the musical's version seems to be more sympathetic. Yet as I've listened through the soundtrack again, I find that the musical has actually preserved the obsessive (and possessive) aspects of the Phantom's personality. He is brilliant, but as Christine says in the final scenes of the play, it is in his soul, rather than his disfigured face, that the true deformity lies.

The songs of Phantom range from the haunting and lasting "The Phantom of the Opera" and "Music of the Night" to the romantic "All I Ask of You" to the dazzling "Masquerade." There are scenes and songs which lean heavily on the operatic setting of the musical such as "Prima Donna," but many of the songs favor a rock and pop style that meshes surprisingly well with Christine's necessarily operatic voice. "All I Ask of You" is my personal favorite because of its genuine emotion between Raoul and Christine (in contrast to the Phantom's seductive lyrics in "Music of the Night").

Love Never Dies

More than 20 years after the premiere of Phantom, a second show featuring many of the same characters appeared. Love Never Dies was based partially on a novel that itself was a sequel to Phantom, but I can't really view it as a sequel because although many of the characters' names are the same very few of them act consistently with who they were in Phantom (either play or novel).

Supposedly taking place 10 years after Phantom (the dates are actually further apart, but who's counting?), Love Never Dies views Christine as an international success who's a bit down on her luck. Her husband, Raoul, has gambled away their fortune, and she's now forced to take a job at an American amusement park and entertainment center run by the mysterious Mr. Y (if it isn't already obvious, he's the Phantom). Madame Giry and her daughter Meg (supporting characters from Phantom and friends of Christine's and the Phantom's) have been hiding and helping the Phantom as he works to rebuild his life after the events of the previous play. Christine has a son (whose paternity is, shall we say, uncertain) named Gustave, who is a delight to her but a burden to Raoul. (I did warn you that the characters weren't themselves.)

If you can divorce yourself from the idea that these are the same Raoul, Christine, Meg, and Erik/Phantom from before, Love Never Dies is actually a beautiful musical with compelling characters. The story in itself is fraught with tension. Will Christine stay with Raoul or choose the Phantom? Is Gustave really Raoul's son or the Phantom's? Will Meg's obsession with the Phantom ever garner his attention, or is his own obsession with Christine too strong?

As before, the Phantom's main song about Christine ("Till I Hear You Sing") seems romantic, but the fact that he's still pining away after a woman who's now married kind of kills some of that, especially when you consider the possessive nature of his "love" for Christine. (However, taking it apart from the previous show, it's a beautiful look at the longing for lost love many of us  have experienced.) Other standout songs include the rock theme "Beauty Underneath" and the dueling duet between the Phantom and Raoul, "Devil Take the Hindmost." The Phantom and Christine also get a lovely song "Beneath a Moonless Sky."

If you do listen to the soundtrack for Love Never Dies, try to get the concept recording, as it's different from the versions later produced, keeping the original songs and order. Keep a synopsis handy, though, as the finale sort of drops off. (There is action on stage, but it's silent; I wish they'd inserted a reprise of "Beauty Underneath" since that would have tied in perfectly with the onstage action.)

Are you familiar with either of the musicals in today's post? What do you think of them? DO you have favorite songs? Let me know in the comments!