Hag-Seed by Margaret Atwood

Wow – what a combination – Atwood and Shakespeare. One, as you will know, I have been a fan of for a very long time, and one I only discovered this year when I read the ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’.

For me – and I suspect it is open to interpretation – Hag-Seed is not a simple retelling of The Tempest. It seems to be so much more than that. In fact, believe it is that clever technique of a play within a play. A technique that Shakespeare himself was a fan of.

You begin thinking that Felix just wants his revenge for losing his job, and possibly the loss of his wife and daughter, BUT you end through subtle hints wondering if he in fact believes he is the great sorcerer Propspero. However, throughout his antics does he become more like Caliban than he cares to admit or aware enough to realise?

I do not want to walk you through the novel because that will spoil the enjoyment for anyone who wants to pick it up (go on, you know you want to!). All I will say is it has all of Atwood’s skill for storytelling, and she does make the tale her own. You do not need to be a fan of the Bard to pick this novel up – it is almost irrelevant with the dark, humourous storytelling that Margaret Atwood has offered.

So, are there any retellings (of anything, by anyone) you think I should try?






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.

The Girl Friend by Michelle Frances

Thank you again to #BookClub140 for introducing me to a title that I may not have picked up otherwise. It is honestly the best thing about a book club community: they allow you to try something new.

The Girl Friend is a traditional psychological thriller that leads you on all sorts of twists and turns and makes you consider people’s motives. Although you get a good insight into all the characters, you can not help but turn the page to find out what trickery is to come next to allow Cherry to get her way. There is an interesting study of family relationships within the tale too; when and how do you make those decisions about who you trust or where your loyalty lies?

I am not sure that you necessarily invest in any of the characters, as they all seem to have clear faults – that almost leads to the tension between two of the central characters, Dan’s mother Laura and his girlfriend Cherry. In fact, it is Cherry’s mother that most of my sympathy lay with, rightly or wrongly.

If you want a good page turner, this book really does keep you turning the page from the moment you start, as you want know how the prologue was reached and what will happen next. And, if you enjoy a tense conclusion that does still leave a little question mark in your mind, then this is the novel for you.

Have you read any good thrillers recently that you think I should pick up and give a go?

Talking as Fast as I Can by Lauren Graham

Like so many, I am a huge Gilmore Girls fan, so when I spotted that Lauren Graham – aka Lorelai Gilmore – had written a memoir, I had to give it a go. I managed to find a copy in The Works at a bit of a bargain price, so I had to grab a copy.

I will be honest: other than that iconic show for so many and a couple of film roles, I did not know an awful lot about Lauren Graham so I was looking forward to finding out a little bit more about her. You do have to take a moment to get your head around the writing style as never has a title been so apt for a book; she is certainly talking as fast as she can (which appears to be something that has come from working on the Gilmore Girls, as there are some epic speeches in most episodes).

This is clearly an honest reflection on the journey that she had on becoming a star, the ups and downs that come with such a career, however, she does seem to take most experiences for their positives and rarely seems defeated. She speaks with such fondness about stars she admires, such as Carrie Fisher and Betty White, and their successful careers. Of course, she acknowledges the chances that the Gilmore Girls gave her and what a great cast she worked with during this show, originally and for ‘A Year in the Life’.

Once you start this, you are hooked. It is like reading words from a friend; you will laugh and you will cry sometimes at the most unexpected moment, but it does give you some faith that not all things Hollywood have a dark side.

Fan of the Gilmore Girls or not, I think that we could all take something away from this memoir – even if it is just to be a bit more positive about the paths our lives take, because there is always a silver lining!

Titus Andronicus – Don’t eat the pie!

The Rome Season from the RSC so far has been incredible, with their productions of Julius Caesar and Antony and Cleopatra, so I had very high hopes for Titus Andronicus. My excitement levels had also been building since it had been announced that David Troughton would be taking the lead role. There are two reasons why this is big news for me: 1. (confession time) I am a huge Archers fan, and 2. (a more grown-up reason) he had been brilliant in King Lear as Gloucester, really making you believe that his eyes had been plucked out.

It was with great excitement that I arrived at the theatre; I was keen to see where this adaptation would take us. As it happens, it more or less brings us bang up to date – maybe a little worryingly so, considering the current situation in parts of the world, but the story does move seamlessly into the 21st century.

There are of course themes of conflict, power, wealth, deception and revenge; in fact, it is a very hard-hitting tale and maybe not one for the faint-hearted. The acting throughout from the whole cast was stunning; you were mesmerised by what was unfolding in front of you, even if at times it is slightly uncomfortable viewing. For me, it does contain one of the best acts of revenge in any Shakespeare (and possibly in any tale) but so as not to spoil it too much, I will simply warn you not to eat the pie – especially if it is being served to you by Titus himself!

This production was again a credit to the whole Royal Shakespeare Company and all the people it takes to bring such a production to the stage. It was truly brilliant and an excellent third installment in the Rome Season and a thoughtful reflection that the issues in modern-day society are not that far removed from those of thousands of years ago.

Coriolanus is the fourth part of this Rome Season, and I am excited to see what that has in store for us later this year.

A Christmas Wish by Erin Green

It’s a slightly unusual time of year to read a book with such a festive title, but I can make an exception when I am lucky enough to call the author of this book a friend. It is, also, her first published title, so I could not wait to get started.

This is a beautifully written novel with a great collection of characters. Flora, the central character, has one main wish for Christmas: to find out who her birth mother is.

This one main mission leads her on quite an adventure, starting with head butting a policeman, and introduces her to a whole host of colourful characters, as well as turning village life upside down. This book is a real page turner as you follow Flora (and others) on a voyage of discovery about themselves and the people that they love. You will be rooting for a happy ending for everyone – even Veronica.

There is a real humour and warmth to the writing, but you will shed a tear as you move to the conclusion of the story. Also, make sure you read the dedication, author note and acknowledgements in this novel, as it is as much a part of the story and the journey that Erin has been on writing this gem of a novel. (And there is another one coming in 2018.)

Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter – whatever the time of year, we should all enjoy ‘A Christmas Wish‘ (and very likely reread at Christmas time).

The Wind in the Willows – Musical

Growing up, The Wind in the Willows was one of my favourite stories. So, when I spotted that a musical adaptation was heading to the London Palladium for the summer holidays, I had to grab a slice of the action.

The Twitterverse had also dropped so many hints about the show that, by the 3rd of August, my excitement was off the scale. Stiles and Drewe were providing the tunes, Julian Fellowes had written the adaptation, and Rufus Hound AND Gary Wilmot were starring – Exciting!!

Our seats were at the front of the upper circle; my favourite seats in the theatre. They give you a perfect view of the stage and it is easy to dodge the safety rail.

From the moment the first note was struck, you were transported from the city of London to the Riverbank. I and everyone around me had a massive grin on their face as we met the inhabitants of the Riverbank and Mole met Ratty.

The story unfolds as you would expect with Mr Toad and his speedy adventures, and the love of his friends, resulting in a very happy ending. Via some incidents with the Wild Wooders, and scrapes with the law, of course.

The performance of each member of the cast was wonderful. Fabulous singing and dancing all round and everyone looked truly happy to be on that stage. However, there has to be some special mentions for the amazing Mr Toad, played to full comic potential. Badger was a true mentor to all the creatures that he encountered. And Chief Weasel was the perfect baddie that you love to hate (well, only a tiny bit); he does also seem to have the catchiest tunes. Overall, though, it was a true team performance that had the audience enthralled.

In fact, it is all so fabulous that the cast recording has been on repeat since seeing the show. I cannot get enough of the songs and memories of this wonderful show.

This really is a musical for all ages, and if you have a chance to catch it, I would really recommend it – it is one of the best shows I have ever seen. Thank you to every single member of the cast, orchestra, creative team and theatre staff who made the whole thing such a wonderful experience.


Conclave by Robert Harris

Having lived in Italy during the election of Pope Benedict XVI, this title immediately caught my eye. I think we are all probably a little intrigued about what takes place during the Conclave and how such an old tradition continues to have a place in the modern world.

Of course, as Harris clearly states at the start of his novel, this is a work of fiction, but he has clearly researched in great detail the rules, regulations and traditions of the Conclave. However, he has also brought this story bang up to date with reflections on the troubles that the religion (not simply the Catholic Church) has in the twenty-first century. The lead character, Cardinal Lomeli, often reflects on the struggles between his faith, the modern world and unsettling the order of things, which leads the tale on some twists and turns. It is possibly an unusual setting for such a thriller, but Harris has managed to keep the reader guessing until the end and the twist, for me, was quite a surprise – but one that again really reflected an issue of the modern age.

It can be hard to write a post about a book that has a level of mystery and intrigue to it, as you do not want to spoil it for others. So, I just want to let you all know that I could not put this book down; I was always keen to pick it up and find out what was going to happen next, or who had a secret that was going to be discovered (and if, how, why that secret would make it out and what that would mean for the tale). This has certainly reignited my interest in the novels of Robert Harris, so now I just have to decide which to read next.