The Island at the End of Everything by Kiran Millwood Hargrave

I do my best to try new authors as much as I can and not necessarily rush to read the same authors in quick succession. However, very much like Patrice Lawrence, I discovered the writing of Kiran Millwood Hargrave earlier this year when I read ‘The Girl of Ink and Stars’, and when I spotted ‘The Island at the End of Everything’, I knew I had to give it a go.

The attraction of this book is that (very much like her previous book) the adventure takes place on exotic shores, and there is a strong female lead who does not let anything hold her back. In fact, Ami uses her experiences to make her the strong and independent young lady that she is, even though, for many of us, her experience could be beyond our imagination. For me, there was a strong Dickensian feel to this story, as the cruel Mr Zamora arrives and changes her life for ever. Along the bumpy road of life that unfolds, it is love that is central to her motivation and determination. As the reader of the novel, you go through a roller coaster of emotions – always rooting for a happy conclusion.

A very clever feature of the story is the use of the butterfly; to describe this in too much detail could spoil the read for others (similar to oversharing the setting), but it is such a clever link throughout the tale. For me, it is mainly a reminder of the importance of the fragility of life and the sheer beauty that the adventure of life can be.

This is a beautifully written story that will keep you gripped from start to finish – you will not be able to stop yourself from getting drawn in.

Miss ‘Standing Ovation’ Saigon

I love a musical and therefore could not pass on the opportunity to see Miss Saigon when it landed at the Birmingham Hippodrome this month.

Now, I am going to be honest, I was not fully aware of the details of the story. I had an idea that it involved the Vietnam War and it was famed for a helicopter (the way that Les Mis is famed for a barricade), but that was about as far as it went. And I am, in fact, glad that was all I knew, because nothing could have prepared me for the intensity of the love story that unfolded before my eyes – and the powerful ending.

I was mesmerised from the moment the first note was struck. The performances were stunning by every single individual on the stage at all times. You felt the emotions of every character as the story develops. The songs are so powerful, almost choral in places, and are a real attraction of the play.

The set was unbelievable and so versatile. I fully understand why the helicopter is such a talking point, as it really adds to the passion of the one moment that changes the paths of Kim and Chris forever…

The show fully deserved the standing ovation, as everything was wonderful: the performers (with special mention to the leads), the musicians, the lighting – the whole thing! In fact, I have not stopped thinking about Miss Saigon since I left the theatre; I can certainly see why it is a favourite of so many theatre-goers.

So, is Miss Saigon one that makes it onto your favourite musicals list?

 

 

Indigo Donut by Patrice Lawrence

Having read the award-winning ‘Orangeboy’ earlier this year, I was excited when I realised that ‘Indigo Donut’ would be published in mid July.

First of all, how can you not be intrigued by the title? It is a fabulous name for a book and a great way to be introduced to the lead character, ‘Indigo’. She is a fascinating character and, despite all the complex paths she has taken through life, has become a stronger fighter. However, it is the friendship of Bailey that makes her realise her true self-worth. It is a fascinating study of human nature and how we have a desire to know where we come from and what makes us ‘us’.

There is, similar to ‘Orangeboy’, a clever use of music and the love of music (in this case, a lot of Blondie), entwined in the narrative. I certainly need to find a copy of ‘Parallel Lines’ now and blast it out. (I am sure the neighbours wouldn’t mind.)

When, reading this, I laughed, I cried and I reflected on the importance of all the bonds and ties we make through life and how family can mean so many different things to so many different people.

So, go on, give this wonderful book a go.

Vinegar Girl by Anne Tyler

If you are a regular reader of the blog, you’ll know that I love Shakespeare. I cannot quite quote the Bard, but I am a huge fan of the stories and the characters that he created for us – so, when I found out about the Hogarth Shakespeare project that was opening up the opportunity to give some of his most beloved plays a modern twist, I knew I had to read them.

So, I have started with ‘Vinegar Girl’ by Anne Tyler. This is a modern take on ‘The Taming of the Shrew’, one of Shakespeare’s most famous comedies, and Tyler’s writing certainly keeps the light-hearted charm of the tale. This version is set in America, with the lead character, Kate, doing her best to look after her father and sister, and keep her ‘expressive’ mouth and face under control.

Kate has not quite had the life she may have imagined, but is a little taken aback when her father suggests she should marry his lab assistant, Pytor, in order to secure his green card. There is a clear exploration of the relationships between the characters and how small things can lead to big changes. Image is also central to this story: the image that people try to portray, sometimes even leading to surprising discoveries about the ‘real’ people.

There is a charm to this book that does make it very difficult to put down. You find yourself rooting for almost every character as they almost haphazardly make their way through day-to-day life. And there is a happy ending, even if it is not a fairy tale.

This has certainly inspired me to have a go at all the others – the question, however, is which one?

The Girls by Emma Cline

I was convinced that this book was not for me – I did judge it by its cover, and all the hype over the last 12 months, and was absolutely convinced that it was not a book for me. However, when it came up as the #BookClub140 read on Twitter I thought I had better give it a go and not judge a book by its cover.

As soon as I picked it up, I was hooked. There is something so compelling about this book; I am not sure it is a comfortable read, but it is a book you certainly can not put down. The atmosphere that is conjured up on every page is mesmerizing and really draws you into the story. Told in reflection of a balmy summer in the 1960s, which to most of us would probably be a romantic image, but it holds a dark secret that will haunt Evie for the rest of her life. In fact, it more or less follows her wherever she goes as she gains unintentional fame. There are little hints throughout the story about the events that haunt her and you can not help but turn the pages to find out what exactly took place.

This tale also offers an interesting study of human nature. What exactly makes this collection of ‘misfits’ tick and why is it that they are willing to follow the lead of Russell, even if it has devastating consequences? It strikes a level of fear in you that people can be so vulnerable and so easily led, and that they may not consider the impact of any of their actions outside their inner circle.

This is a book that really makes you think and you may not be sure if you should enjoy it or not, but it is one that I really recommend you should add to your to-be-read pile this summer. You could even join the #BookClub140 chat on twitter at the end of the month.

All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

This is a title that I had spotted in the bookshops many times but had never quite got around to picking up. However, not so long ago, a lovely friend handed it to me and simply said ‘You need to read this, you’ll love it.’ And she was right! (Don’t you love having friends who know you so well they can pick books for you?)

I won’t lie, I was mildly concerned about the length of the novel, as I am not usually one for weighty historical fiction. However, a huge part of the charm of this book is that it is written in short, sharp chapters that allow you to process the story and keep you turning the page.

The two central characters are so wonderful, you fall in love with them as soon as you start seeing their story unfold. Marie-Laure is a wonderfully strong female character. She shows that, against all odds, people find strength to survive and achieve their dreams. Werner, meanwhile, is a boy who clearly finds himself torn between the desire to do the right thing and to grab opportunities that will give him a ‘brighter’ future.

One of the real skills of this storytelling is the clever way that the stories of these two characters cross over. Ultimately, a random series of events but almost shared experience draws Marie-Laure and Werner together. We also see that there is always kindness and the desire to do the right thing, whatever side war may put you on.

The novel certainly has an emotional conclusion, but it is wonderful that it shows the power of happy memories and the kindness of strangers.

Have you read any books that you have found to be a real surprise with how much you loved them?

Vice Versa – The Royal Shakespeare Company

As you may have realised if you are a regular reader of this little blog, I am quite a fan of The RSC and their work. Usually, it is all about their adaptations of Shakespeare, but recently I have decided I need to give some of their other work a chance (after all, ‘Wendy and Peter Pan’ and ‘Matilda’ are two of my favourite shows and they were brought to life by The RSC). So, when a friend asked if I fancied going to the theatre, I jumped at the chance to see ‘Vice Versa’. And, how can you say no to £16 tickets?

Vice Versa has been created as part of the Rome Season (which sensibly includes ‘Julius Caesar‘, ‘Antony and Cleopatra‘, ‘Titus Andronicus’ and ‘Coriolanus’) and it is an absolute joy of comic theatre. I can say without reservation that we laughed from start to finish, and were rather delighted that, despite being set in Ancient Rome, it was in modern English.

Vice Versa is ‘a new Roman comedy by Phil Porter, inspired by the plays of Plautus, and it is sheer comic genius. The cast, with their epic comic timing and clear enjoyment of being on the stage, bring this play to wonderfully raucous life for the audience. The tale is mainly told by Dexter, a slave, played by Sophia Nomvete (a wonderful comic actress) as the farce unfolds to ensure that the ever-so-vain General Braggadocio gets his just desserts after kidnapping Voluptua (played by Ellie Beaven – I slightly fan-girled at this, being of the generation of ‘The Wild House’ and ‘Down to Earth).

The laughs just keep coming all the way through the play; it reminded me of the good old-fashioned comedy of the Carry On films, as there are some slightly cheeky jokes. However, it has also carefully observed the current world around us to make some very pertinent comments about the madness that is the world we live in.

The musicians are also a brilliant part of this play, especially as several end up on the stage during a wonderful scene with the monkey (I’ll say no more…), as they provide the wonderful atmosphere and sound effects for the comedy that unfolds on stage.

This is really one of the most feel-good productions I have ever seen. Everyone involved is incredibly talented at bringing all the joy of theatrical comedy to the audience – the laughter was infectious in the theatre. I do not believe that anyone there did not leave without a huge smile on their face – because we certainly did.

Vice Versa is playing at The Swan in Stratford-Upon-Avon until the 9th September, so catch it if you can!

An American in Paris – You can’t take that away from me!

The memories of ‘An American in Paris‘ certainly won’t ever be taken away from me – what a beautiful, toe-tapping show!

Saturday, a friend and I ventured to the Dominion Theatre in London to see the much talked about show, ‘An American in Paris’. I will be honest that I did not know a lot about this show other than I heard good things and I knew it had been a film with Gene Kelly I had always meant to see but had never quite got around to (it has certainly shot to the top of the to-be-watched list now!). I, also, knew that it was the music of Gershwin so surely it was not going to disappoint – and it didn’t.

From the moment the first note was struck, you were enchanted with the set and the cast. The most beautiful choreography is used throughout the show to send you dreamily to post-war Paris and join the adventures of the three men trying to find their place in the world after the events of the years before. And the set, wow: such simply seamless transition from scene to scene with the most wonderful muted colours of the always romantic Paris. You cannot take your eyes from the stage even for a moment! Lise’s ballet scene in Act 2 is one of the most beautiful pieces of dance I have ever seen; I was truly mesmerised by the talent of every member of the cast on the stage.

Through all of this, you find yourself rooting for every character, whatever their story. However, you know in your heart of hearts that only one of the ever so charming men, Jerry, Henri or Adam can get the girl (and, let’s be honest, you will all agree that it is the right one in the end, as it is Lise’s heart desire). It certainly is a happy ending!

I think one of the things that also made the show so enjoyable for me was the number of people there who were clearly huge fans of the film and were reliving all their happy memories of it. I am sure that any fan of the film will not be disappointed by this production in any way at all.

This really is a wonderful traditional musical that I would recommend to anyone in a heartbeat. It only leaves the big question – what to see next and can anything beat this?

 

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!

Coppelia – A Dancing Doll

Cinderella was such a inspiration earlier in the year that my Mum and I could not turn down the chance to see the Birmingham Royal Ballet’s version of Coppelia. Recently, my Mum had been reminiscing about a 1970s production that she saw at Sadler’s Wells which was even more reason why we had to go and see the 2017 production at the Birmingham Hippodrome. We were not disappointed!

Coppelia is a happy and light-hearted ballet. It is a magical tale about Dr Coppelius and his misguided desire to bring his beautiful doll Coppelia to life. There is charm and gentle humour in the tale that will appeal to all.

This production did not disappoint at all – from the moment the curtain went up, the atmosphere was electric. You can see the enjoyment on the faces of all the fabulous dancers as they dance the beautifully choreographed steps. They tell the story with every movement and every action, and you are fully engaged in the stage. The music performed by the orchestra helps bring a magical atmosphere and tells the story with skill.

The Birmingham Royal Ballet has certainly reignited my passion for dance – especially ballet – and I hope to catch many more of the productions they put on in the future.