Hello, and welcome back after the short break, readers! For our American audience, I hope you all had an enjoyable Fourth filled with family, friends, food, and maybe a good book. As I sat in one of the fields where we set off fireworks in my town, I hoped to pass the time with a book that the cover was eager to hail as a “sexy fairy tale” and “a bittersweet story about the tides that tug at the human heart”. By this point it’s no secret that I’m a fan of fairy tales, and especially re-tellings of the tried and true fables we’ve come to know over the centuries. So picking up Mermaid by Carolyn Turgeon seemed like a no-brainer to me—plus, she’s a local author, and I wanted to support her. However, instead of a “sexy” twist to the story of The Little Mermaid, all I ended up getting was the same exact damned story with a couple more named characters, and I wanted to stop reading after the first twenty pages of the book. Spoilers to follow.
Last week I reviewed Broadway Nights, a book I unexpectedly found at good ol’ Half-Price Books. Another book I was thrilled to come across in my used book store’s Performing Arts section was Ken Mandelbaum’s Not Since Carrie: 40 Years of Broadway Musical Flops. I’ve been keen on reading this book ever since I got interested in Carrie, the musical, several years ago, but hadn’t come across it in any of my bookstore visits (why I never looked online for it, I don’t know). I’m pretty sure I actually let out an audible gasp when I saw this copy wedged on the shelf and immediately snatched it up before proceeding to the register smiling like I had some kind of juicy secret. Hopefully I didn’t unnerve anyone too much, but I can’t really bring myself to be too bothered because I was on cloud nine.
To start with, I both love and hate the cover. I’m not fond of the typeface selected and really hate that it’s used for the title, subtitle, and author’s name. It’s just too much, especially for a typeface that’s so decorative and not particularly legible, and it kind of obscures the book’s name. Is it 40 Years of Broadway Musical Flops: Not Since Carrie or Not Since Carrie: 40 Years of Broadway Musical Flops? Yes, the “Not Since Carrie” part is larger, but being written in the same font and having everything perfectly aligned to the left makes it read more like a paragraph than a title. I much preferred the title as presented within the book:
Doesn’t that look nicer? Using different fonts to give emphasis and impact, and actually arranged like a title rather than a block of text? What I love bout the cover, of course, is the photo. Gah, I spent an inordinate amount of time just looking at that photo and picking up little details like the glittering floral design on Carrie’s dress that I was never able to see in online photos of the show.
A little costume porn goes a long way with me, so that saves the whole cover.
Anywho, 300+ words into this review, maybe it’s time to actually talk about the content of the book, huh? The first section included Mandelbaum’s acknowledgements, operational definition of a “Broadway Flop” (No more than 250 performances, no significant productions after closing, only shows which were intended to play Broadway even if they closed before making it to their opening, and only those with a narrative), and some preliminary information about the infamous musical from which the book gets its title.
I’ve read books by Holly Black before, namely her “Modern Faerie Tale” series: Tithe, Valiant, and Ironside. While I liked them well enough (I was all about Prince Valiant, actually), my one complaint about them was that they weren’t particularly gripping. I kept picking up Ironside and putting it back down, and it took me far longer than it should have to finish it. So when I got White Cat, the first book in “The Curse Workers” trilogy, from the library, I thought it’d be much the same. I settled down for some light reading at around three in the morning (don’t judge me) and didn’t go to sleep until six—after I’d turned the final page, found out the next book wouldn’t be out for a year, and paced around my apartment until I’d exhausted my brain into shutting up.
I’d been worried it wasn’t going to be gripping; White Cat had a grip more inescapable than a particularly vicious anaconda.
My favorite kind of books are the ones that grab you by the collar on the first page, swallow you whole, and leave you with an acute sense of loss when they finally spit you back out at the end.
You don’t read the book. The book reads you.
The Casual Vacancy is not one of those books.
Mild spoilers ahead.