The Power by Naomi Alderman

I picked this up in one of my favourite bookshops ever – it is a little Oxfam Bookshop which always has the most wonderful collection of titles, and you feel like you are doing a little bit of good whenever you donate or purchase from this little establishment.

So, on a very cold November Saturday morning, I popped in and found a bargain unread copy of ‘The Power’ and I could not leave it on the shelf. I had been asked by a few friends if I had read it and I had kept saying no so I thought it was about time I turned that answer to a ‘yes’. I had also spotted that Hayley (Hayley from Home) had picked up a copy, so I felt inspired.

I found the idea of this novel fascinating; from the title to the story, there is so much in this book that I am not sure I can do it justice in a blog post. I am not often stuck for words with a book that I have enjoyed but I feel that this is the sort of book that you need to be able to have a very informed discussion about. So, I am just going to give it my version of a review.

Immediately, I was gripped by the idea of the role-reversal in society and, in fact, what an impact that would have on the world. It is ridiculous to think that women having ‘power’ should be such a dramatic tale as we grow up in the 21st century but, sadly, I think it would be a shock to some of those in the world. In fact, ‘power’ was such a significant word throughout the novel because it took on so many different meanings throughout the book, strength and control being just two of them.

I was fascinated by the way that it addressed the interpretations that people can have of the same information. The religious ideas in the tale suggest that if things had been interpreted differently, would it be a woman that would be found to be central to the beliefs and ideas in the world?

The structure of the tale, looking at how ‘The Power’ impacts a variety of different figures, makes the novel a page-turner, as you are keen to see what awaits each character. I did on occasion find that some of the tale was a little longer and my attention was not always focused, but I was still keen to know what would happen next. I have not read many tales like this one, other than ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ (which I read earlier this year), but I am ready to seek out more tales like this one as I find that they really do make you think and challenge the world that we are in. I enjoy being made to think about the world we live in and question what we know as fact.

Have you read ‘The Power’? How did you find it? Any other books you would recommend along these themes?

Paris for One by Jojo Moyes

A friend of mine who loves books as much as I do shared this beautiful book with me. After I insisted that I would enjoy a book of short stories, even though I love Jojo Moyes, she proved me well and truly wrong.

In fact, I finished the book in no time at all. The simple thing that drew me in was the fact that there were so many fabulous females in the stories. It was great to read about ‘normal’ women who carry the same anxieties and guilty secrets many of us do (I do have rather a weak spot for crisps, like one of the heroines).

My favourite stories were both based in Paris. The lovely story that gives the book its title drew me straight in. In fact, it left me with a burning desire to visit Paris. The romance and adventure that the city can offer all those who visit, for whatever reason, is beautifully created in this story. You root for the heroine from the moment you start reading, as a series of unfortunate events leads her on quite an adventure and, ultimately, to a much better happy ending than she may have been due if she did not seize the day.

My second-favourite piqued my interest, as it is a lovely story that flits between the past and present to tell the story of two newlywed women who clearly knew what they wanted and how to ensure that they had it. However, it also suggests that sometimes there needs to be compromise. It also harks back to the romance of Paris in the early 20th century and the artistic lifestyle led by those who wanted to share their passion for art.

However, overall, the whole book is a joy of stories that are page turners. It has certainly made me excited for the publication of Jojo Moyes new book, ‘Still Me’, in January. I also may be less dismissive of short story collections in future, as it is a real talent to be able to tell a story in so few words and pages.

The Rest of Us Just Live Here by Patrick Ness

The ever-fabulous and dedicated bookworm Hayley, of Hayley From Home, sent me the novel ‘The Rest of Us Just Live Here’. She told me that she hoped I would enjoy it because she knew a number of people had not given it the best reviews. So, immediately I knew it had to go to the top of my to-be-read pile, because I was intrigued, as I had only ever heard great things about Patrick Ness novels. I had also been a huge fan of ‘A Monster Calls’ when I had read it a few years back.

Before I started this novel, I did not read anything about it; I had no idea of the genre or the concept of the tale, so I knew I would be reading it without any predefined ideas. As I picked it up and saw that each chapter had quite an introduction, I was curious about the need for it and as I moved through the novel I loved the fact that these introductions were another story, that of the Indie kids, unfolding as we followed the adventures of the main characters. Now, at moments, I was not sure I fully understood the tale; it took me a little while to get my head around the fact that the title actually makes it very clear that we are following those that ‘just live here’, as all sorts of strange goings-on are happening all around them.

The interesting concept for me was the actual desire of the main characters to really want an ‘ordinary’ life; for example, the desire for the main character Mikey to be with the girl he believes he is in love with and make it to his high school graduation, and be able to leave the town for college with his best friend. He does not want any drama to take over and he certainly does not want his high school blown up again. Although, he is also fighting his own demons, even if they are not zombies with blue eyes. However, as the story unfolds, I really enjoyed the exploration of ‘ordinary’ – are any of us ordinary, or are we all on our own extraordinary adventure that is our life?

Something that really struck me with this novel was the care and empathy with which Patrick Ness tackled some very sensitive issues. The one that really struck me was the lead character Mikey and his sister dealing with the idea that they are ‘messed up’ or ‘broken’ by their personal issues and how over-protective that makes them of their ‘normal’ younger sister and, in turn, of each other.

This is a fabulous coming of age novel that really gripped me from the moment I started reading it. I am really keen to find some more Patrick Ness novels to read now, because I have been impressed by this and ‘A Monster Calls’.

Have you read any Patrick Ness novels? Are there any more you would recommend?

 

#LoveTheatreDay

So, today is #LoveTheatreDay, and that is pretty much my dream day! Shame that I could not really celebrate with a theatre trip, but I thought I would share with you all my top 5 shows of all time. (At this current moment at time, because I really struggle to ever make this definitive, and I change my mind all the time as I change the criteria).

1. Matilda – The Musical

This is one show that will always make any list about theatre that I love. This stunning adaptation of the much-loved Roald Dahl book is a show that I have seen 3 times and I am always considering seeing it again (after all, it is touring next year). My love of this show is based on so much! It is a fabulous story from the mind of one of the greatest storytellers of all time, with a wonderfully colourful collection of characters. The songs are simply wonderful; it is probably one of my most played albums on my iPod, as they contain all the humour and sensitivity of the story. And the set…oh the set is a beauty, perfect for setting the scene for the story. I could go on and on about my love of this show, but I think that is a taster of why I am such a fan of this wonderful show.

2. Nativity! – The Musical

This is a very new show to the musical theatre scene and I have already written a post about how wonderful it is (please, feel free to pop over and have a read), but it still needs another mention here. Nativity! – The Musical is based on the much-loved Christmas film and it is simply a joy. You will not leave the theatre without smiling and singing, if you were to see it. This is one of the happiest shows I have ever seen, so if you can catch it this festive season, I would really recommend it.

3. Love’s Labours Lost and Much Ado About Nothing (Love’s Labours Won)

I have cheated here – I know! This is technically two shows but they were produced by the RSC asĀ  a pair that, really, you need to see together to appreciate. These two productions were both absolutely stunning; so much humour and warmth in both. However, they also had a very important message about World War One and the impact that it had on so many. The ensemble who brought both plays to life were a joy to watch. This was, again, perfect proof of how versatile the stories of Shakespeare can be as they transcend the generations.

4. All New People

This was a play by the wonderful Zach Braff that I was so determined to see I went all the way to Glasgow to see it. It did not disappoint! I am a huge Zach Braff fan and the thought of, one, seeing him on stage and, two, in something that was his own work was just too much to miss for me, and it was great. Such skilled writing and acting, and a great tale about what can happen when a random selection of people are thrown together.

5. Spamalot

This is a show that holds a special place in my heart as my dad is a huge Monty Python fan (as is Mr BookwormandTheatreMouse), and it is a musical that I have seen with them both. This is just classic, silly comedy that sweeps you away on the most ridiculous adventure, but every moment is so entertaining. The affectionate mick-take of musical theatre that runs all the way through the production is also so much part of the fun. I have seen professional and amateur productions of this, and both were so entertaining and brought so much joy to the audience that it was a real reminder of why theatre is such a great part of our culture.

There you go; that is – at this precise moment – 5 of the best for #LoveTheatreDay, but I have been lucky enough to see so many amazing productions and made so many happy memories at the theatre with friends and family that I would just urge you all to enjoy as much live theatre as you can!

Turtles All The Way Down by John Green

October was an exciting month for YA fans because John Green’s newest novel was published. Like many fans, I ensured that I purchased a copy and, from that moment, it was topic of conversation with so many other book lovers.

Now, I know it is November, but my ‘to be read’ pile is always growing and I have a strict one-book-at-a-time rule, so I got this title a little later than I would have liked at the beginning of November. I was hooked from the first page because not only is John Green a wonderful storyteller but the characters that he creates are always so engaging and so real. I may no longer be a teenager but I can still relate to some of these characters and the experiences that they go through. He also tackles issues that are part of our everyday lives but sometimes are considered taboo or simply are too difficult for some people to talk about. A novel is a chance for people not only to escape, but also to gain experience and grow as individuals.

The central theme in this novel is mental health. It is a sensitive but engaging exploration of not just how the issues can impact one individual but those around them. A moment that really struck a chord for me is when the central character, Aza, realised that she was a character in her best friend’s Star Wars fan fiction. As she saw herself there, she has a real moment of reflection about herself and how others view her. It goes on to be a wonderful turning point for her, even if it is not the easiest moment for her to handle.

There is so much in this novel and I do not want to spoil the full tale for anybody. All I will say is that if you are a John Green fan, and even if you are not, this is a wonderful book to read, especially with all the positive attention that mental health is finally getting in today’s world.

Twelfth Night

There is always a buzz of excitement in this household when we know we are off to the RSC. There was a little addition to the excitement because Mr BookwormandTheatremouse has never seen Twelfth Night (this was my third adaptation) and, also, because Adrian Edmondson was in this production. Although, if I am honest, as a huge Archers fan (yes, I have admitted it), I was equally excited to see Michael Cochrane.

I always avoid looking at anything before a visit to an RSC production that might have given anything away about the adaptation. However, on this occasion, it was clear that it was a Victorian setting from the lovely production poster.

This production is, in fact, truly stunning. It is a real nod to the humour of the likes of Oscar Wilde and classic music hall entertainment of the later Victorian era. The setting and atmosphere created also leads to a gentle study of relationships of different kinds, and really made me appreciate that we live in a time in this country where ‘love is love’ and not a crime. Maybe I have over-thought that angle, but as a history teacher in my day job, it really struck a chord.

So, on a lighter note – this production is stunning (yes, I have said it again)! It is one of the most complex sets that I have seen at the RSC, as they take us through the tale and from town to country. However, it all moves seamlessly from scene to scene. The music hall vibe comes from the songs that are dotted throughout the play. As always, the music is beautifully performed and perfect for the setting of the play.

Adrian Edmondson is absolutely fabulous as Malvolio. Playing the character wonderfully stern but still with subtle humour, he manages to make Malvolio a character that you feel sympathy for. However, there is not an individual star in this production; the ensemble work together to make this a laugh-out-loud comedy with a sensitive side.

As we left the theatre, we could not help discussing how much we had enjoyed the production. It is cheeky but very thoughtful, and perfect for the festive season.

Murder on the Orient Express – What a classic!

This week has been a dream for me as an Agatha Christie lover – I have read Murder on the Orient Express, I have listened to Murder on the Orient Express (thank you BBC Radio 4 Extra) and I have watched Murder on the Orient Express. So this post is a little different because I cannot just leave it as a book review as I have so much love for this story.

I decided to read the book before I saw the film simply because I am a Bookworm and it has been a long time since I have read this title (or any Agatha Christie novel) and there was a beautiful edition published to go along with the release of the film which looked like a first class ticket to the Orient Express. So it is fairly simple, I loved it. I know the story, the characters and the twist but I still find it page turning because it is told in Agatha Christie’s unique style. Poirot is a wonderful detective and a lot of the enjoyment is being in his mind as he solves the mystery of the murder of the American on the Orient Express (which is surprisingly busy for the middle of winter). The thing I love the most about this tale is how it leaves you thinking about the conclusion – and the morality of the tale.

So, like so many Christie fans, I was intrigued by another version of Murder on the Orient Express. I have watched the old versions many a time and I have listened to the BBC Radio adaptation many a time too so I was not sure where else this tale could go – and how loyal to the book it would be. However, to sum up, I loved it. Branagh has brought a wonderfully romantic version of the story to the big screen. It is not word for word the book and it has taken a couple of liberties but at the heart it it still the story. This version has brought some humour to the story (often at the expense of Poirot himself but it is all affectionate) but there is clearly love for the work of Christie at the centre of the adaptation. The acting from the whole cast is wonderful, I would be here all night if mentioned each star by name, but of course Branagh shines as Poirot and leads the cast with expertise. Overall, I adored this film and would happily watch it again and again (just like I have done with all other adaptations growing up).

I cannot spoil the story for any of you but if you love a classic mystery story or you are not sure where to start I cannot recommend Murder on the Orient Express enough but please do try to read the book first!

Nativity! The Musical

Last week was my 2nd wedding anniversary, and what other way is there for a Theatre blogger to celebrate than to see a play? Not just any play, but the Christmas favourite ‘Nativity! The Musical’.

Currently running at the REP in Birmingham, before it tours the country and lands in London, this is one of the most glorious musicals I have have ever seen. This production is an even more musical adaptation of the wonderful British film ‘Nativity!’. The tale is the same and still set in Coventry. Mr Maddens (Daniel Boys) and Mr Poppy (Simon Lipkin) need to help St Bernadette’s Primary School pull off a Nativity production fit for Hollywood (due to a slight misunderstanding). There are of course , twists and turns, and laughter and tears along the way, but it is a really charming tale with all the spirit of Christmas.

From the moment you walk into the theatre, the atmosphere is one of clear excitement. The audience of all ages were clearly huge fans of the film and could not wait for the performance to start. As the stage comes alive and the adventure begins you are swept away. Every member of the company (and especially the children) is clearly having the time of their life bringing the show to the audience. Simon Lipkin (who I was lucky enough to see earlier this year in Wind in the Willows) is the most fabulous Mr Poppy, playing the character with such humour and affection, In fact at one particularly emotional moment, a young member of the audience called out ‘I love you’ to Mr Poppy as he shed a tear.

I was also really pleased to have the chance to see Daniel Boys in a musical, as I was a big fan all those years ago when he was a contestant on ‘Any Dream Will Do’. (That is one off the bucket list as I have now seen my three favourites from that show in musicals – so easily pleased). He did not disappoint; such a lovely singing voice and overall fabulous performance.

However, the real stars were the children who injected so much enthusiasm and humour into their parts the audience was always cheering along with them.

I laughed all the way through the production (apart from the couple of moments where they don’t just tug but yank on the heartstrings and even Mr BookwormandTheatremouse might have had a lump in his throat) and leapt to my feet when the finale was on. In fact, it almost feels like you are celebrating with the cast.

Overall, this is a loyal adaptation of the film (all your favourite parts will be there) and it will leave you feeling very happy and very festive. Bravo to all!

This was the exact expression that I had on my face all the way through this dream of a show!

One of Us Is Lying by Karen M McManus

This was a title that had been intriguing me for a while. I had seen a few people out and about reading it and I had added it to my mental ‘to be read’ list.

So, when I found myself without a book on a recent day trip, this was the book that I picked up – and I am glad that I did. This novel reminded me of the classic crime of the Queen of Mystery, Agatha Christie. The reason I make such a bold statement is because the characters were so well developed throughout the tale. Each appeared to have no or very little connection to each other, yet they are drawn together by the mysterious death of their school mate, Simon. There is also a clever use of ‘secrets’ to help weave the tale as it reaches the conclusion. After all, will they work to protect them or free themselves from their burdens?

Although this is a YA novel that works well as an adult novel, I think those of us a little older than the intended audience may read it with a little nostalgia in their hearts. I felt there was a little nod to all those teen ‘friendship’ groups we loved growing up, such as Buffy and her friends (although this novel has nothing to do with vampires, other than a slight goth character), or those misfit teens we spent detention with in ‘The Breakfast Club.’

So, it you love classic crime and want to be reminded of those ‘popular culture’ teen years, then this is the novel for you.

 

Warcross by Marie Lu

This was not a title I was sure I would enjoy – despite how beautiful the cover is – however, I really enjoyed it.

This was an engaging tale of mystery and intrigue. Set in the world of gaming, it reminded me of the Hunger Games as the teams took on their challenges, although it is all a virtual world. However, virtual reality does not mean it keeps the central character Emika Chen any safer – in fact, it probably puts her in more danger. Is she blinded by the ‘new’ life she is experiencing in Tokyo as part of the games? After all, it gives her the kind of life she has probably been craving for longer than she realises.

For me, the attraction of this tale was that nothing at all is as it seems. It is a clear warning of the power that too much technology could give one individual. Will we reach a point of technology giving too much control to the minority rather than the majority – an all-too-real fear even now in the 21st century. Lu cleverly leaves you wanting more as she concludes this novel, leaving it on a clear but not too dramatic cliffhanger. I certainly can’t wait to find out what happens next.

Any one else given Warcross a go? Have you found it a surprise?