Hobson’s Choice

Many years ago in Mrs Dove’s English class, a group of students (including me) studied the play ‘Hobson’s Choice’. We also watched the wonderful black-and-white film with Charles Laughton and Sir John Mills. Therefore, when I saw that the Birmingham Royal Ballet was putting on the ballet as part of the summer season, I knew it had to be a treat for me and my Mum to go.

It was perfect! A fairly modern ballet as it was first composed, choreographed and performed in 1989. It is absolutely magical, totally reminiscent of those old silent movies. The story is told completely through the music, the choreography and the perfect expressions all the dancers performed. And, any ballet that can get ’10 Green Bottles’ into its score is good fun. Every dancer on the stage performed their character with great humour and emotion, and it really brought the whole story to life. The whole ballet was completely engaging and the audience were enthralled. There was even a little sing-along too.

‘Hobson’s Choice’ is such a delightful story which actually has a very strong female lead in the guise of Hobson’s daughter Maggie. This could be considered quite unusual for its time. But she is certainly the one behind sorting out her father and helping Will Mossop to really be appreciated for the talented boot maker that he is. She was performed brilliantly by Beatrice Parma.

Although, this may not be your traditional ballet tale, it was wonderful and I would absolutely love to see it again, as sometimes it does not feel like you can take it all in when you just watch it once.

Do you enjoy the ballet? Do you have a favourite?

The Paper & Hearts Society by Lucy Powrie

I discovered that this book was going to come into the world by first following Lucy Powrie on Twitter. When you find out that people have had the chance to publish a project that means so much to them, I think it is important to support them.

So, as soon as I found ‘The Paper & Hearts Society’ in the wild I knew I had to purchase a copy. I am so glad that I did because this turned out to be the book I needed to read when I was an awkward teenager – in fact, I think it is the book that many of us bookworms needed as teenagers.

This novel brings together Tabby, Henry, Ed, Olivia and Cassie, who are all completely different but are totally and utterly unified by their love of books, leading to the deepest of frienships. It is a great cast of characters, and with my reading with pride month, it brings LGBT+ to the centre of the novel too (which, as recently announced, also lines up with Lucy Powrie’s second novel perfectly).

The thing I admired most about ‘The Paper & Hearts Society’ was the different topics it tackled, which must throw more challenges at young people as they try to carve their own path. Tabby faces bullying from her ‘friend’ Jess, which impacts her mental health and her friendships; social media impacts their friendships and each character has their own background struggles. All of this is handled well and you will laugh and cry with all of the characters along the way.

The final pages didn’t just leave me wanting more, and with yet another reading list – but also with a deep desire to become a member of ‘The Paper and Hearts Society’, and set off on a literary road trip.

Have you ever finished a book, hoping you could be part of the story?

Reading for Pride Month

I have decided that I wanted to try and complete June reading books to celebrate Pride month. This, of course, does not mean I do not read books with LGBTQ+ characters or themes the rest of the year, but it has been good to have a focus this month.

I have based all my choices on books that I have seen on Instagram or in the press. I did not read what they are about before I start, but just dived right in to find out more.

Unintentionally, the first two titles I chose had the same theme, and it has been fascinating to see how two different authors have handled the same theme.

First up is ‘My Brother’s Name is Jessica’ by John Boyne. Aimed at 9-12 year olds this book tackles the issue of Sam having to understand his brother’s desire to transition to become his sister – the person she believes she should always have been.

I was really pleased to find a novel that tackled such a subject for younger readers. Boyne tackles not only the emotions that Sam goes through, but also for so many different people that are impacted by Jason’s secret. You go on an important journey of self-discovery with all all the characters and I am not ashamed to say that I shed a tear or two as I reached the story’s conclusion. Boyne’s writing is so engaging that this was a novel that I struggled to put down.

My second novel this month was ‘Birthday’ by Meredith Russo. This has a similar theme as ‘My Brother’s Name is Jessica’ but is a YA novel. Morgan and Eric have spent every birthday together and have grown up together. However, Morgan has been struggling with a decision: should she live as her true self and will she be accepted if she does? Aimed at older readers, this novel is grittier at times and full of raw emotion. I felt as though I was living every emotion that Morgan and Eric were. And, there are some twists in this tale which make this book a gem and one of the happiest endings I have read in a while. (Although it is an emotional roller coaster).

It is great that there are now so many more books with a diverse set of characters and story lines for younger readers.

Have you read with Pride this month? Any recommendations?

An Unwanted Guest by Shari Lapena

Sometimes you just want to read a contemporary thriller – often with a dark or blue cover with a white or yellow font – and ‘An Unwanted Guest’ fits that criteria perfectly.

This is a locked room mystery – by this I mean it is set in one confined space with a small cast of characters, one of whom must be the villain. It reminded me a little of the Christie classic ‘And Then There Were None’.

Our cast of characters have all arrived at a secluded guest house during a winter storm. So, let’s be honest, we know that there are going to be problems of some kind. Of course, it also appears that this combination of people is not going to have anything in common. However, as the atmosphere becomes more tense, secrets begin to be uncovered and cracks appear in the facade.

Of course, I do not want to write a review that contains spoilers (which can sometimes be difficult with these thrillers), so this may be a little short and sweet. I will say that this is a page-turner because, to be honest, we are always keen to know who did or did not do it. However, for me, I would have liked a little more of the investigation process, as it was a little bit of a simple solution after a good build-up. Although, like all good thrillers, there was another sudden twist in the tale – the story is never quite over.

Have you read any good thrillers recently? I am always keen to hear recommendations.

The Scarlet Plague by Jack London

One of my favourite places ever is a local Oxfam charity bookshop. It is always like a wonderland of books, as it often brings to your attention books that you did not even know you needed. The last time I entered the shop, that is exactly what happened to me. Nestled in the classics section was a novella by Jack London called ‘The Scarlet Plague’ and it immediately grabbed my attention. I have never read a book by Jack London (although ‘The Call of the Wild’ is on my to-be-read pile) but I have had a an interest in him since my first visit to Canada, when I discovered that he had ventured on the Klondike Trail.

‘The Scarlet Plague’ is a great little read and a book that I am a glad I have decided to read as an introduction to London’s work. This is one of those classics that was set in the far future (post-2013) but actually is still very relevant today. In fact, the date if this tale is irrelevant but the story is highly relevant – and is a stark warning of what could happen if almost ALL of mankind was to be wiped out by plague. It is a fascinating study of how the world would have to start again and those who had never experienced the ‘modern’ world would never really be able to comprehend it – it would seem stranger than fiction.

I thought this book was wonderful and a great, undiscovered gem. Have you ever stumbled across a surprise, joyful read?

The Screwtape Letters by C.S Lewis

I have admired and been a little bit fascinated by C.S Lewis since I was a child. I was drawn into his Narnia world when I watched the original TV adaptations, repeatedly listened to the radio adaptations – and, of course, as a bookworm read the Narnia novels. However, that was as far as my knowledge of his literary work went (although his links to the beautiful city of Oxford always sparked my imagination too).

However, my mum had often told me that I should read ‘The Screwtape Letters’, so when I spotted it in the local Oxfam bookshop, I picked up a copy (after all, you are not breaking your book-buying ban when the money goes to charity obviously).

Before I even started reading the book properly, I spotted the dedication to J.R.R Tolkien and decided that this was a book I had to read, as that is a literary friendship I would have loved to have witnessed.

I feel that this is a book that I may need to read more than once. This is a book of many layers and I do not think that reading it once really brings it all to your attention. The demon Screwtape writing to his nephew is such a fascinating idea. Lewis clearly uses this is a tool to be able to pass comment on mankind and human nature. He uses his wit and, in some cases charm, to pass some really rather damning commentary on the world that man inhabits.

Again, like many of these books of some of our great writers of the past, it is a book that could have been written for the modern audience. Sadly, it emphasises some of the follies that could explain this crazy world we are currently living in – after all, we really only have ourselves to blame.

Have you read any of Lewis’ work (other than Narnia)? Where could I take my reading adventure next?

The Labours of Hercules by Agatha Christie

This novel was ‘Maidens of Murder’ May book club choice. I am so pleased that it was because I have had a little bit of a slow reading month (I blame the day job) and this book seemed to pull me out of the slow slump.

Anyone who regularly reads the blog will know that I am a Poirot fan, so I am always happy to discover a book where he takes the lead. This one was slightly different to the usual books, as it was a full novel, but each chapter was like a self-contained story as Poirot embarked on his self-motivated challenge ‘The Labours of Hercules’.

I usually do not like short stories, but this I did enjoy. There was a level of satisfaction as Poirot solved a mystery by the end of each chapter. Of course, Poirot also finds satisfaction as he manages to solve a crime in the vain of the labours of Hercules (his namesake also).

I also find it interesting how this novel compared to the David Suchet TV adaptation. It was clever how they incorporated the tales for the TV and which tale they selected to make centre stage. Now I have read the book, I would quite like to watch the TV adaptation with a little bit of a critical eye. Although, I am pretty sure the book was better.

Have you read any novels in May which were not quite what you expected?

Bloody Brilliant Women by Cathy Newman

As a history teacher for the day job, this book really appealed to me. This may sound strange but I have not always been a fan of reading books about History. They can sometimes be very technical and very hard-going, which can, sometimes attack someone’s love of history. However, recently I have found some really excellent history books – and combined with a new love of learning have really embraced reading factual books.

Now, this book is ‘Bloody Brilliant’ in so many different ways. Number one, it is a book about women in history but more importantly it is about some of the women that the history books have not recognised quite as much as they should have done. Cathy Newman has done an amazing job of ensuring that they can now have more of the recognition that they deserve. It really inspired me to ensure that, as a woman, some of these women make it into lessons so that they are highlighted to future generations. You never know, they may be the inspiration someone needs to go forward and be ‘Bloody Brilliant’.

Number two, it is written in a wonderfully accessible way. It will bring history to many readers who may usually be put off by the idea of reading a ‘fact-filled’ book.

Number three, the cover. In fact, the cover is so fabulously eye-catching that it started a conversation between myself and a fellow train passenger about whether it is a good read. By the end, I am pretty sure that she would be picking up a copy herself.

Finally, this book is a stepping stone to finding out more about some, if not all, of these women. You realise that they have paved the way for some of us to have far more opportunities in our lives. I know, it’s always up for debate if full equality has been achieved, we would not even be this far without them.

Do you have any favourite inspirational women from history?

The Boy at the Back of the Class by Onjali Q. Rauf

This book needs to be on every bookshelf in the country. This has to be one of the most wonderful stories I have ever read.

Onjali Q. Rauf has written the Children’s book that needed writing – I could not believe how easily accessiable she has made the issue that she tackles in this novel.

Through the innocent eyes of nine-year-olds, we meet Ahmet – a young refugee boy who is running away from the bullies. And all our young heroes want to do is help him find his family. The most wonderful adventure then unfolds as they attempt to ensure no borders are closed before Ahmet is reunited with his family.

This tale will make you smile and it will make you cry. Tears of happiness as well as of sadness. And this book will stay with you long after you have read the final words.

The thing that made this novel was the fact that the children who befriended Ahmet saw nothing but a friend who needed help, without being influenced by any opinions of others. It also makes it so clear that we can all learn so much from each other and that a multicultural society is one of the best gifts that we have.

This book truly deserved to be a ‘Waterstone’s Children’s Book Prize’ winner – but it should never only be read by children. It is a gift that should be read by all to remind us that, metaphorically, we should all make friends with the boy or girl at the back of the class.

Nine Perfect Strangers by Liane Moriarty

I was swept up in the hype of ‘Big Little Lies‘ – and enjoyed it. I read ‘Truly Madly Guilty‘ – and was not as big a fan but finished it all the same. However, ‘Nine Perfect Strangers’ found its stride and swept me away again.

This novel is not something that you will ever predict. Nine strangers are thrown together on a health retreat, all with the aim of making a change or escaping it all. However, not is all as it seems with the health retreat, those that run it or the characters.

I, personally, do not think that any reader will predict this tale or its rather dark twist. You do become rather invested in these nine perfect strangers and, when the novel reaches its end, you are given a small chance to draw your own conclusions about their futures. It is clear, however, it will all never be quite be the same again.

I could not out this book down. It has been a prefect holiday-time read, as it includes mystery, a little romance and humour along the way. Although I am not sure I would want check out an isolated health farm with ‘Nine Perfect Strangers’ (whatever its Trip Advisor rating).