Three Festive Reads…so far!

I love a theme or a focus when I pick my reads. In June, I ‘Read with Pride’; in November, it was about ‘Non-fiction’, and December is all about festive reads.

So, I have started with three quick reads (not at all motivated by the fact that I do not want to fail at my Goodreads target) and every one has created fantastic festive feels in different ways.

Father Christmas’s Fake Beard by Terry Pratchett

This book was an impulse buy a few weeks ago. The title contained Christmas and the author is Terry Pratchett, so I thought it was a win-win situation, and it was.

This collection of short stories, all based around Christmas, is full of wit and humour. They really reminded me of the tales of Roald Dahl, which made me happy because those were always favourites growing up.

This is a fantastic book for readers of all ages who want some Christmas spirit.

Twas the Nightshift Before Christmas by Adam Kay

‘This is Going to Hurt’ has been quite the runaway hit in the book world. So, this festive ‘sequel’, which focuses fully on five Christmas shifts, is a gem.

Although some have referred to this as more of the same, I feel that is what makes it work. What I always think is important about these books is that it highlights the work of the NHS at this time of year. Things don’t stop (and thnak goodness for that), and life carries on as it needs to.

There is humour and sadness among these pages – and quite a study of human nature at times. And, for me, a real appreciation of the work of every member of the NHS, whtever the time of year.

The Snowman by Michael Morpurgo

Yes, that is by Michael Morpurgo and not Raymond Briggs, but this was done with the original author’s blessing.

This is not a retelling; after all, the original story is a picture book. For me, this is an intepretation of the tale, even making it more festive.

James is a boy who feels he does not quite fit in with everyone else. His stutter seems to hold him back. However, when he meets or makes The Snowman, combined with the magic of Christmas, things appear to change.

This book is great for those of us who grew up with the original. Also, it is a chance to introduce the tale to a whole new generation. So, spread the joy and grab a copy of this gem.

Matthew Bourne’s Romeo and Juliet

Ballet and Shakespeare: what could be more perfect? Thrown in with Matthew Bourne’s skill if setting his productions in unusual settings, you have a great evening of theatre.

Bourne’s ballet is set in an aslyum, which may not be the usual setting for one of Shakespeare’s greatest love stories, but it worked. Now, I do not claim to be an expert on the deeper ideas about the interpretations but for me this was about the patients versus the establishment, and the forbidden love comes from the ‘Girls’ and ‘Boys’ being divided.

Whatever the interpretation should be, the point is the fact that this is an enjoyable production. The choreography is engaging and tells the story beautifully at every stage. There is humour, raw emotion and devastating tragedy.

The staging is simple but powerful, the stark white of the patients costumes and their ‘prison’ is a great contrast to the tale unfolding on the stage. The dark form of Tybalt casts his shadow over the lives of the patients. And a violent, heart-breaking tale unfolds.

Having seen this and ‘Sleeping Beauty’, it makes me keen to see more of Matthew Bourne’s interpretations, as he is clearly not restrained by conventions.

Have you seen any of Matthew Bourne’s productions? What are your thoughts of his style?

The Choice by Edith Eger

I have just returned from Krakow, Poland. The purpose of this visit was to visit Auschwitz and educate young people on the past, present and future of the Jewish community of Europe. After all as the quote from George Santayna states, ‘Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it.’

One of the greatest ways for us to understand the tragic events of the Holocaust is from the testimonies and memories of those who sadly had to experience them. One such survivor was Edith Eger, and has put pen to paper to bring us a true story of hope in her work ‘The Choice’.

I knew nothing about this book until a friend had read it and passed it on to me, as she wanted a History teacher’s view of it. And she could not have timed it better to coincide with my trip to Poland.

Oh my – what a book – what a life. I am so glad that Edith Eger felt she could tell her story as part of her attempt to release herself from her past.

Edith became a prisoner of Auschwitz when her family was sent there along with thousands of Hungarian Jews. She talks about her experiences in the camp – even her encounter with Doctor Mengele. However, this is not the sole focus of the book; this is about the choices she consciously makes to survive. And these choices are made by Edith every day, from the moment she was taken to the camp right up to now.

Edith Eger comes across as an extremely strong woman who did not want her past to define her, but to allow her to become the woman she is today. Now, she helps others to make the choices they need to, for them to become the best versions of themselves. Edith does not want others to make the mistakes that were made in the past.

This book is one that is almost impossible to put down, as you follow Edith Eger through her life story. It certainly made me consider the choices I make a little more carefully as, ultimately, we are the only people in control of our future and we do not have to rely on others or events beyond our control to take over.

This book is an inspiration and certainly made me look at my trip to Krakow a little differently to those trips I had made before.

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 ABC Murders by Agatha Christie

Reading a novel by Agatha Christie at this time of year is like a hug. Although this is not a festive read, it has been selected by ‘The Maidens of Murder’, as the BBC has an adaptation of this classic in its festive TV schedules.

One reason why this novel makes me happy is that our dear friend Hastings provides us with the narrative (well, the parts that they can). Returning to a novel with one of my favourite fictional teams already means I will enjoy the story. And I did…

I found this to be one of Christie’s most clever tales. You really do fall for the huge red herring that is marked for you from the start – even though you know you probably should not. Our murderer really does go out of their way to try and get away with murder.

Of course, you know that Poirot will always get his target. However, this also reminded me of Sherlock and his foe Moriarty, as this is more of a case of puppet and a puppet master as many of their classic encounters can be.

As a bold statement, I think this could be one of Poirot’s most wonderful cases – especially as the big reveal was as much of a surprise to me as the characters in the room with man himself.

I would like to thank ‘The Maidens of Murder’ for encouraging me to read of a scope of Christie’s work – I look forward to more in 2019!

Pyramids by Terry Pratchett

I am about to make a bold statement: this is my favourite Pratchett ever (so far – as I am reading them in order).

I was late to discovering Pratchett. Mr Bookwormandtheatremouse is a big fan so I decided I should give the Discworld novels a go, especially once the beautiful hardback books were published.

I have to admit that sometimes I am not entirely sure what has happened in the stories but I have always enjoyed them. However, ‘Pyramids’ seems to have changed that. I managed to keep the thread of the story even without chapters (that has really taken some getting used to). ‘Pyramids’ is infused with Pratchett’s gentle humour and witty observations that create his Discworld parallels to our world. Their version of Ancient Egypt is highly ridiculous with a whole host of highly comical and equally ridiculous characters. Yet, the odd voice of reason comes in the shape of our hero, Teppic, his ghostly father and a camel (well, he offers thoughts of reason).

This book has certainly reignited my joy in being part of Discworld. I accept that chapters are not a thing and sometimes I will need a character list to keep me on track, but the escapism is totally worth it (and the giggles).

The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins

The Bookstagram community has been one of the best spaces I have found. It has brought together so many fabulous bookish people and it has encouraged me to read all sorts of books that I may not have read or have had on the to-be-read pile for a while.

My latest read-along (that I actually managed to complete and stick to) was ‘The Moonstone’, as part of the ‘Victorian Sensation Book Club’. This has been a lovely community where, in the month of November, we read a section a week shared our thoughts. There have been great discussions and such a friendly atmosphere (and the end of November does not mean that the chatting stops).

And, now to the novel, my only regret has been that I did not read this sooner. ‘The Moonstone’ is a story I have known for a long time thanks to TV and Radio adaptations, but I had never got round to picking the book up. What wasted time that was because I absolutely loved this!

From the moment I started this book I could not put it down. Collins created a wonderful detective story (some say the first modern one in fact) from the word go. You are drawn into the narrative by how ‘The Moonstone’ ended up leaving India and arriving in England. Even that simple introduction is shrouded in mystery just as the rest of the tale is. Collins creates a colourful cast of characters who become mixed up in the mystery of ‘The Moonstone’. However, together, they eventually also manage to solve the mystery of this magnificent stone.

This is a tale that has stood the test of time as it can still engage modern audiences. However, it is also a novel of its time with references specific to the period but all of that is the context of the era.

Reading ‘The Moonstone’ has firmly cemented Wilkie Collins in the territory of one of my favourite authors of the classics. I can not wait for the next read with the ‘Victorian Sensation Book Club’, which is ‘The Woman in White’ in January.

Glorious Guernsey

So, we have returned to the routine like we never left it. After 6 wonderful weeks off, week one of the day job has been completed. This has left me reflecting on the adventures of the summer. Our big adventure was 5 days in Guernsey. The reason we went to Guernsey was simply because I had read ‘The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society’ and I wanted to see if was as wonderful as the novel made it seem.

Destination: St Peter Port

This is the capital of Guernsey, a port town. It is a charming, historical town. So beautiful with wonderful architecture and cobbled streets. The views out over the harbour are stunning. For a capital is has a very relaxed vibe (although it is slightly hectic if the cruise ships come in). You easily find yourself wandering round, not noticing the time pass. Only a few paces up the hill you easily leave the hustle and bustle of St Peter Port and it is still all so beautiful. As you walk behind the city in a north east direction you find a part of the town with a very French style and atmosphere, to the north west you come across glorious gardens that could be in the English countryside. As capitals go – it is an adventure.

Day One: Castle Cornet

I LOVE castles; a sniff of history and I am in my element (another reason Guernsey is glorious) and Cornet Castle oozes it! You can do all the attractions at the castle in any order you like but we started with the story if the castle, short, sharp facts of its colourful history. Perfect to ensure we were out in time to see the firing of the Noonday gun. This was very History geeks dream, the men come out in period army uniforms, check and fire the gun. OH MY WORD, does it make you jump (I doubt anyone has a successful photo of the event), even though you know it is coming it always seems worse but it is worth it for the electric atmosphere of feeling like they are experiencing a historic tradition.

We then made our way round the other museums housed in the castle and explore the grounds. The views of Guernsey you can get from different parts of the castle are stunning. You spend hours exploring and learning so much history about the colourful castle. This is certainly one of the gems in the Guernsey crown.

Day Two: The Underground Hospital and The Little Chapel

A huge part of the charm of Guernsey is that you can so easily get round the island on the bus. So, we caught the bus a little further inland to allow us to explore the German underground hospital from the occupation during World War Two and follow that with a gentle stroll to the Little Chapel (in the rain).

The underground hospital is simply a route of tunnels but the atmosphere in unbelievable (especially on a very rainy day). As soon as you hear one echoing sound it sets your imagination firing about what it would have been when it was in full use. The two gentlemen who work there (and count you in and count you out again) are very knowledgeable and willing to share their vast knowledge of the occupation with the visitors.

The Little Chapel is a short walk from the underground hospital. It is stunning! Inspired by the grotto of Our Lady of Lourdes at Massabielle (a small market town in the foothills of the Pyrenees). The chapel has been rebuilt on a number of occasions, always by Brother Deodat (although he never saw the final version), and the chapel as it stands today was started in 1923 and decorated with pebbles and pieces of broken china as other materials were scarce. In 2016 The Little Chapel Foundation was established to work to preserve the chapel as little had been done for it several years. You can not visit Guernsey without visiting this chapel.

Day Three: Victor Hugo’s House

Guernsey is an island that is perfect for a book and theatre lover because this is the island that Victor Hugo spent his exile AND finished ‘Les Miserables’.

Nestled to the north east of St Peter Port is a rather imposing white house that flies French flag – Hauteville, the home of Victor Hugo and owned by France. You do have to book onto a tour in the language of your choice so you need to be flexible (we went for another beautiful walk while we waited for our tour).

The gardens are open to the public to stroll around at your own pace at any time Hauteville is open. The views are stunning out to sea. The garden is beautifully laid out with a great Oak in the centre planted by the great man himself. (LOVE!)

I can not out into words the interior of Hugo’s house  you would have to see it for yourself (in some sense to believe it). However, the tour of the house is fascinating, the snippets the guides share are fascinating and I think you will leave with a desire to read Hugo’s books. (Especially when you see the EXACT spot he finished Les Miserables).

So, Guernsey is glorious. The food is fantastic. The views are stunning. The walks are wonderful. The people are friendly. You really need to visit!

Have you ever visited the Channel Islands? What did you think?

 

 

The Book of Mormon

Last week was my birthday, and the only way that a Bookworm and Theatre Mouse wants to spend their birthday is at the theatre. I was lucky that Mr Bookworm and Theatre Mouse seemed to agree and, even more surprisingly, he agreed to a musical (slightly strange) – and then I discovered why: he had booked us tickets for The Book of Mormon at the Prince of Wales Theatre in London. Now, my thoughts (as echoed by a few of my friends) was that this was something that he wanted to see and may not be my cup of tea. Oh, how we were all wrong; I loved it, the way that I loved Avenue Q – it was a musical for adults.

From the moment the first note was struck, the audience seemed to be giggling and it did not take long for this to become almost hysterical laughter from some, including me at points. This musical is a friendly and harmless ribbing of the Mormon faith. It is all done in good humour from the writers of South Park. The comedy comes from the script, the songs and the excellent comedy timing of all the actors on the stage. The best laughs all seemed to be thanks to Elder Cunningham – his comic timing and sheer enthusiasm brought so much enjoyment to everyone, even those on the stage with him. However, the ensemble as a whole made the full experience thoroughly enjoyable (even if you did catch yourself laughing at things that you are not entirely sure you should be).

There are, of course, some clever comments on the society that we live in throughout the play, all done in good humour, but it does leave you thinking about the world that we are in and maybe some of our actions.

Although, before I arrived, I had no real idea about what to expect, I left humming the tunes and find myself reliving moments and having a bit of a giggle. Not always at the most appropriate times, but it is the sign of an excellent show if you are still thinking about it a long time after the curtain has dropped.

There was a standing ovation for this production and it was well deserved – it really was a piece of very happy escapism from the ever-so-slightly-crazy world we live in.

6 Months Blogging – Happy Half Birthday!

S0, 6 months ago today, Bookworm and Theatre Mouse was born. It was an idea that I had been thinking about for a while but I did not have the confidence to launch it until a good friend, Hayley from Home, encouraged me to give it a go and told me she would read it (so I knew I had one reader if nothing else!). I am so glad I did – and here are 6 reasons why…

  1. A chance to share what I love: Books and theatre are my passion and have been for a long time. It is a joy to be able to share my thoughts with you all about both of these subjects, and hopefully encourage other people to enjoy them too.
  2. The support of people out there: The messages on Instagram and Twitter that let me know that people have liked what I have written and visited my little blog.
  3. Discovering so many fabulous things: It has been a joy to check out other blogs and some great online companies that have a book, paper or theatre focus. There are so many talented people out there. Especially Ashley King for letting me have a sneak peek at his latest project ‘Witch for a Week.’
  4. Trying something new: This blog has encouraged me to look beyond the things I know I love and try new genres and styles. It has been a pleasure to see amazing plays that I wouldn’t have necessarily tried before, and discover brilliant authors and unforgettable books.
  5. A chance to do something different: Hobbies are so important and this is a great one. It also means that I find inspiration from the amazing community out there for my other hobbies (Harry Potter cross stitch is one of the best so far).
  6. Looking to the future: The chance to keep developing this blog is something I look forward to every day, learning new things and adding more little stories – bring on the next 6 months!