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?

The Dry by Jane Harper

I always love bookmail; a combination of books and snail mail is a dream. So, when ‘The Dry’ turned up thanks to my Auntie, I was excited.

I had heard of ‘The Dry’ but was not really sure what it was about, however when I realised it was a thriller, I may have picked it up sooner. The atmosphere jumps out of the book from the moment that you start reading. You can immediately sense ‘The Dry’ and the impact that it has on the people of the small Australian town. It also adds to the thrill of the read, as it almost gives each character an additional edge as they deal with the past, present and uncertain future. So much of the tension comes from the environment that it is all taking place in, especially at the thrilling conclusion.

It can be hard to review a thriller without revealing spoilers. All I will say about the plot is that Aaron Falk is a character that you have sympathy for, as his story, past and present, unfolds with each page. There are two mysteries all the way through the novel: who killed the Hadler family? And is it connected to an unsolved death many years before? The present-day crime certainly stirs some ghosts from the past and it does not take long for the people to be pushed to the limit.

This novel certainly has you wanting to know what happens next. It is quite a debut from Jane Harper; I hope we see many more stories from her pen.

Have you read any great debut novels? What would you recommend?

The Break by Marian Keyes

One think I love about Autumn (although there are many) is that so many wonderful books are published. 2017 has meant a new Marian Keyes novel and I was counting down until it was published.

I was not disappointed when I picked this book up – immediately I was drawn into the ‘adventure’ all the characters were about to embark on.

It is a fascinating study of all sorts of relationships. This tale is not just about ‘The Break’ and the impact that it has on Hugh and Amy at the centre of the story, but the many ripples that come from it and impact other characters. There is, also, a clever reflection of how life carries on for everyone, despite what other events may be taking place. For me, the inner strength that so many of the characters found in tough times was inspiring and, in fact, ‘The Break’ did not just apply to Amy and Hugh and what they went through, but also the desire that others may have to find a ‘break’ from the lives they’re living.

As always Marian Keyes handles all the issues she tackles with humour and warmth. She manages to empathise with so many experiences that her readers may be facing and it always seems to be like you are reading about friends and not strangers.

As I read this novel, I laughed, I cried (just a little) and I never wanted to put it down. I have to thank my lovely friend Erin Green for introducing me to the novels of Marian Keyes one World Book Night a few years ago, because, since then, she has become one of my favourite authors.

Have you ever read any novels by Marian Keyes? Do you have a favourite?

Theatre Club – 42nd Street

It is that time of year again, another reason why I love Autumn, the second Theatre Club of the year. This time it is my turn to be surprised and it was the best surprise – in fact it was the exact show I was hoping for – the glitzy and glamorous ’42nd Street’.

Now, I really admit that I did not have a clue what the musical was about, but I could just tell that it was going to be a smashing musical. We were in the gallery of the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane (a theatre we already love as we saw ‘Charlie and the Chocolate Factory’ there on another Theatre Club trip) and the view was perfect.

The show starts as it means to go on, with a beautifully choreographed tap routine. The tale is one of a young, talented potential star wanting to take on Broadway, as another ‘older’ star could be ready to give up the stage for the man she loves, as the company tries to get the show ready for the stage. Throughout the production, the performances were stunning. The singing was fabulous and all the dance routines were jaw dropping. I was certainly ready to put my dancing shoes on by the end of the show.

CJ Johnson was fabulous in the role of the established star Dorothy Brock and Clare Halse was absolutely stunning as Peggy Sawyer; he dance skills were mesmerising from start to finish. However, as always the whole cast, ensemble and orchestra made the show the memorable performance it was.

I can guarantee that if you take the opportunity to see this West End gem, you will come out tapping your feet and humming all the tunes.

So, the big question is, what to see for the next Theatre Club – any recommendations?

Coriolanus

I always look forward to my trips to the RSC. It is a tradition to attend with my mum, dad and Mr BookwormandTheatreMouse, and knowing we were off to see Coriolanus added huge excitement. My Mum studied Coriolanus at A-Level (a little while ago…hehe) and she had been going on and on about wanting to see it again, so I was keen to see why this play had captured her imagination.

We were all hooked from the moment that it began; as always, the action was immediate. And, with war as a central theme, there was a wonderfully choreographed fight scene between Coriolanus and Aufidius early on. However, their enthusiasm did seem to be a little too much, because after quite some encounter with the shutters, that formed a key part of the scenery, they no longer worked. This technical hitch did not spoil anyone’s enjoyment; in fact, after the slight interlude, the cast managed to make quite a joke of the situation as they returned to the stage and acted as though nothing had happened.

All seemed well as the tale continued and the power struggles developed, until in a moment of total darkness there was quite a crash as the shutters stopped the play again. I only mention this because of the amazing spirit of the cast, crew and RSC staff as they proved that the show must go on. All of this, in fact, led to us having an exclusive performance – as in it became a shutter-less performance. This did not remove from the story or the action at all; you would not have known that the shutters were missing, other than that it was a missing element of the industrial setting.

The play was one that had a clear theme of war and the struggle for power. Coriolanus has clearly been brought up to be a fighting machine, but the desire for power from the people around him exposes some of his weaknesses. This leads to an alliance that eventually ends in tragedy.

Sope Dirisu led the cast wonderfully in this production and really finds his stride as the play develops. As you would expect from an RSC production, the whole cast gel together to bring the story to life for the audience.

I think that this is a hidden gem in the Shakespeare collection and I am so glad that my dad is determined to collect a whole set to keep us all visiting the RSC.