Hidden by Emma Kavanagh

Someone recommending a book is always a joy. So, when a friend of mine suggested the book ‘Hidden’, it seemed worth a read.

A nice easy read told in short, sharp chapters from the point of view of the key characters. It introduces the story at the point of a tragedy and you then go back to follow the characters through the story to find out why they have faced such an event. These people are all already connected by the tragic shooting of Dylan Lowe about a year before, and their lives continue to cross paths – until they are brought together again as witnesses or victims of ‘The Shooter’: the mysterious character of the novel who has been watching the hospital where Dylan Lowe is in a coma.

The plot does not need spoiling (which, therefore, makes it hard to summarise) but is well constructed. There are a number of occasions you feel that you may know the identity of ‘The Shooter’, only to be thrown by a plot twist. I was as surprised as the characters in the book when their identity was revealed, and this does lead to you having some sympathy for the character. If you are fan of modern thrillers this will be a definite read for you.

The honour of Book 8 in my year of books goes to this title…now what to read next?

Why World Book Day is a great idea – even after 20 years!

I realise that there may be many people in the panic of creating a costume for tomorrow, as it is World Book Day and the tradition seems to have developed that this must mean we must dress as our favourite character to show we have read a book. However, I do think that it is more than that – and maybe we need to see past that.

A celebration of books and reading can surely only be a good thing. Anything that encourages people to read is a fabulous idea. Even if it is one of the only times of year people really think about books, at least they are. For me, it was always more a struggle of who is your favourite character; for my sister, it always seemed to be who is the most unusual character that she could go as (one year it was a skunk…), but what mattered was that we were thinking and talking about books.

There was always the eager anticipation of what we would spend our World Book Day book token on – never an easy decision, as we were all bookworms, but I take joy in thinking that token was like the golden ticket for Charlie Bucket, and it introduces children to a whole new world that can bring them happiness.

Of course, it’s not just about children. Quick Reads appear at this time of year by many of our bestselling authors, and this often encourages adults to read and try something new too – and one of the biggest adventures anyone can ever have is finding a new story to enjoy.

So, as the fancy dress panic begins to fade (for adults and children) and World Book Day leaves us for another year, think about the key message – how important it is that we all have an adventure in words!

Why I love the Royal Shakespeare Company

One evening in 2009, I walked into the RSC’s Courtyard Theatre with my parents. We had arrived to see Julius Caesar. This was not my first experience of Shakespeare in Stratford-Upon-Avon but it was the first that did not result in me returning to a classroom to write an essay.

I had read Self Made Hero’s Shakespeare Manga Julius Caesar in preparation, but nothing can really prepare you for the experience. I was hooked from the moment that the cast took to the stage. The RSC Ensemble were, on this occasion, led by Greg Hicks in the role of Julius Caesar, but a huge part of the charm was that there was not a ‘star’, but an ensemble of very talented actors telling the story of the Emperor of Rome. I left that evening exhilarated with a new appreciation of the Bard (I already loved Romeo and Juliet but that was probably thanks to Baz Luhrmann casting Leo in the film…). It was clear from that moment that nothing could beat seeing these plays on the stage. I was lucky enough to see a number of the plays at the Courtyard with the RSC Ensemble and have never looked back since and now visit the beautiful RSC Theatre.

Over the years, going to the RSC productions have become something of a family tradition. And, if we have not had the same desire to see some of the productions, then I have gone with friends who have a similar passion for the theatre. However, none of us restrict ourselves to the tales of Shakespeare. The wonderful musical ‘Matilda‘ started at the Courtyard and ‘Wendy and Peter Pan’ was a fabulous retelling of J.M Barrie’s classic.

Memories are made each time we visit this wonderful town and its theatre, and I can not wait for the fast-approaching Rome Season and making many more memories.

Top 10 memories (in no particular order – and I have probably still missed something):

  1. Matilda on a very snowy December day.
  2. Othello with Hugh Quarshie in the title role and Lucian Msamati as Iago.
  3. Richard II with David Tennant (and spotting him in the street on the morning of the play).
  4. Wendy and Peter Pan (on both occasions).
  5. Love’s Labours Lost, sitting on the same row as Prince Charles.
  6. Julius Caesar – that first grown-up RSC experience.
  7. The Merchant of Venice with Sir Patrick Stewart as Shylock.
  8. Twelfth Night with the very funny Richard Wilson as Malvolio.
  9. Much Ado About Nothing with Meera Syal and a truly exotic setting.
  10. The wonderful Hamlet with the award-winning Paapa Essideu in the lead role.

Cinderella certainly goes to the ball!

For 10 wonderful days, Birmingham Royal Ballet transported their audiences, at Birmingham Hippodrome, to the most fabulous fairy tale world of Cinderella.

Ballet appears to be becoming a bit of a little tradition for this time of year. Last year, Mum and I went to Matthew Bourne’s Sleeping Beauty (stunning) and, this year, we continued the fairy tale theme with Cinderella. I am not going to claim to be a expert in dance – I did ballet when I was younger, but the skill of these dancers was unbelievable. As beautiful as the costumes are (and they were) and as majestic as the sets are (and they really were), it was down to the dancers and the wonderful choreography to tell the story. The music offers a beautiful narration, but it really is the elegant movements of the those on the stage that truly brings the story to life.

You feel every emotion that Cinderella portrays, from her early tragic story to her happy ending. The ‘Ugly Sisters’ make you love them with the ‘elegant’ comedy they portray (I did wonder if it is harder for one to keep up the flat-footed movements of her character when she must be so used to being completely elegant and delicate). And Prince Charming, well, the strength in his dancing was amazing. When he lifted Cinderella with a stunning one-arm lift, the audience went wild (or as wild as an audience at the ballet dares to be).

However, despite the character name checks, the production would not have been as amazing as it was without the whole company. Every dancer on the stage made ‘Cinderella’ the stunning production that it was. As did the orchestra (I have always slightly envied those who play an instrument) who performed with such skill.

This production simply left me wishing that I could go to the ballet every week. It was beautiful!

The Little Paris Bookshop by Nina George

The title of this book was the reason it was chosen as the next read (as well as the rather pretty cover). Who can resist being transported to Paris and, more importantly, a bookshop in the stunning city?

The bookshop gets even better when you realise that it is a ‘book barge’ run by a bookseller who really believes in the power of books. You can not help but admire how direct Monsieur Perdu is with his customers, but they always thank him in the end – even if it takes a little time.

The benefit of a ‘book barge’ is that it is the perfect vessel for a journey of self-discovery after a very long time of living in the shadows. (The prompt for the journey was an interesting twist that you all need to discover for yourselves.) There is a variety of fascinating characters to be met as the journey through France unfolds, who all help and learn from each other in their own way. The relationship that occurs between three of the central characters reminds me of a modern-day ‘three men in a boat’ of Jerome K Jerome fame.

As you reach the conclusion and the pieces fall into place, you do celebrate the happiness you hope continues when you close the pages – and you realise that, sometimes, you should not make snap judgments but be aware of what could really have taken place.

A Boy Made of Blocks by Keith Stuart

This choice was made thanks to the world of Twitter. #BookClub140 from ‘Parker and Me’ (which was introduced to me by the lovely ‘Hayley From Home’) selected this as the February title ahead of a Twitter chat at the end of the month. Therefore, it grabbed the accolade of Book 6 in A Year of Books 2017.

‘A Boy Made of Blocks’ was a touching tale with a colourful collection of characters. They are all instantly likable and are all facing different adventures in life.  At times each is facing a challenge, but as they do so it is also a journey of self-discovery. You root for each and every one of them as you follow them on their adventures, even if you do not always agree with the choices that they make. It is a real page-turner that can cause a roller coaster of emotions and occasionally catches you off-guard, as you realise that you may be shedding a tear or two. (Always a good look on a busy train on a Sunday afternoon).

The relationship between Alex and his son Sam (a boy made of blocks) blossoms beautifully throughout the book and shows that sometimes you have to be willing to embrace an adventure whatever form it may take. You may even make it through successfully and realise that you are braver and stronger than you think you are. It is a tale that really does make you hope for a happy ending (although you will have to read it yourself to see if that wish comes true).

If you enjoy titles like ‘About a Boy’ by Nick Hornby and ‘Man and Boy’ by Tony Parsons, then this is a book for you.

Small Great Things by Jodi Picoult

Jodi Picoult is known by many as the author of ‘My Sister’s Keeper’. That is, of course, not her only title, but she is known for tackling difficult subjects in her fiction and this novel is no exception.

Book five of A Year In Books 2017 is ‘Small Great Things’. This was a book that was difficult to put down. It tackles the difficult issue of race and how it can define people, and often not in the ways that the characters expect. It is a very well-written tale and Picoult has taken time (as always) to really research her topic and her characters, ensuring that it all comes to life from page one. It is a brilliant courtroom drama and it keeps you on the edge of your seat throughout. There is a happy ending for some and possibly not in ways that the reader may be expecting. Overall, it is an emotional rollercoaster of a read and it does not disappoint.

If you want a book that makes you think, not just as you read but even after you have finished the final page, then this is the book for you.

Theatre Club 1: What a Triumph!

It can finally be revealed that the first ‘Theatre Club’ trip of 2017 was to see…‘Half A Sixpence’ at the Noel Coward Theatre.

The choice was made simply on the suggestion of my mum. We were on one of our jaunts to the big smoke and she spotted it and made it very clear that I would be a fan. To be honest when she told me that the film was Tommy Steele with a banjo, I was intrigued and the decision was made there and then that this would have to be the first adventure of 2017.

So, on a rather cold, grey London day, my friend and I met for our traditional catch up and theatre date. We started with a stroll around Covent Garden and lunch at one of our favourites, ‘The Palm Court Brasserie’. We discovered this lovely little restaurant on one of our other ‘Theatre Club’ dates and it offers a great pre-theatre set menu. The service is always excellent and the staff are very friendly. We passed a good couple of hours enjoying good food and good company, before leaving fully prepared for our afternoon in the theatre.

It is a simple stroll to the Noel Coward Theatre, which is beautifully showing off that it is home to ‘Half A Sixpence’. Even the atmosphere as you enter the theatre is electric. We had balcony seats (with a warning of a restricted view) and they were some of the most comfortable seats with leg room that we have ever had. The safety rail does not obstruct the view too much as the whole stage is used and it certainly did not impact on our enjoyment of the show.

From the moment ‘Half A Sixpence’began, the audience were hooked, and it appeared that the cast were having a lot of fun too. Their energy is infectious and you are swept away with the story. You can not help but like Arthur Kipps (played in the matinee on February 11th by Sam O’Rourke) as he goes from rags to riches to rags to riches on a journey of self-discovery. The songs are catchy throughout and when ‘Flash Bang Wallop’ is performed, it’s like a party on the stage and in the aisles. (The ladies next to me had clearly been waiting for that very moment). The appreciation from the audience was amazing and the cheers were non-stop, especially for Arthur and Ann (Sam O’Rourke and Devon-Elsie Johnson).

We both really enjoyed the production and will no doubt have the tunes in our heads for days to come, especially…‘Flash Bang Wallop’!

http://www.halfasixpence.co.uk/

Theatre Club – A little tradition for making memories

This is one of the two weeks in the year where excitement levels are crazily high. It is one of the two weeks of the year which is the build up to ‘Theatre Club’. This is a little tradition to ensure that a friend and I will always catch up at least twice a year (as it is so easy for busy lives and distance to throw up obstacles).

The only rules to ‘Theatre Club’ are it needs to take place as close to our birthdays as possible (sometimes easier said than done), a good pre-theatre lunch is a must and a show is booked as a surprise. The final rule is always my favourite as it is such a joy to see the excitement at the big reveal or to be the one who can not wait to find out what the delight of the afternoon is going to be. There have never really been any rules about the shows that have to be booked but it seems that musicals are the winners. After all, they are a perfect girly treat!

Although, it can not yet be revealed what the show will be this weekend, here are 5 of the shows that have made it into ‘Theatre Club’:

  1. Guys and Dolls – The rendition of ‘Sit Down You’re Rockin’ The Boat‘ blew the audience out of the water.
  2. Funny Girl – Sheridan Smith really did shine as the star of the show.
  3. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory – A dream for any Roald Dahl fan and chocolate lover.
  4. Once – Such a charming story of struggling musicians set in Dublin.
  5. Singin’ in the Rain – Nothing more to say other than a timeless classic.

So, how are you going to get out there and make more memories?

Lyrebird by Cecelia Ahern

Book 4 of a #ayearinbooks2017

The best thing about picking up a book by Cecelia Ahern is that it is like stepping into a fairy tale for adults. There is always a collection of colourful characters and a few subplots that intertwine seamlessly into the main story.

Laura ‘Lyrebird’ is a lovely character to follow on her journey of self-discovery. The story takes her from her the quiet Irish countryside to the lively city lifestyle of Dublin, and her talent for mimicry throws her into the difficult celebrity spotlight. It is quite a roller coaster, but along the way she influences the lives of the many that she meets and they too end up on a road of self-discovery…

It is a heartwarming tale and a perfect piece of escapism on these winter evenings of early 2017.

Now, what to read next?