A Place Called Perfect by Helen Duggan

Now, you should not judge a book by its cover, but this book has one of the most beautiful and intriguing covers I have ever seen. So, when it was the Waterstones children’s book of the month last month, I had to read it.

From page one, I was hooked; I knew it was going to be an adventure that I wanted to be part of. From the moment Violet and her family arrive at Perfect, there is a sense that it may not live up to its name. The rose-tinted view that all the residents have thanks to glasses that they all wear simply does not seem to be shared by Violet (she was perfectly happy with the life she had), especially after her father disappears. Once she meets Boy, the adventures really pick up pace as they work to prove that things do not need to be ‘perfect’ to be exactly what they need. It is a tale that proves that a little love for family, and determination, can defeat evil.

This reminded me of the classic tales of authors like Neil Gaiman. A good collection of characters, some we like and some we don’t, but ultimately a tale that stays with you a long time after you read the last word.

After all, do we really want everything to be perfect?

Glorious Guernsey

So, we have returned to the routine like we never left it. After 6 wonderful weeks off, week one of the day job has been completed. This has left me reflecting on the adventures of the summer. Our big adventure was 5 days in Guernsey. The reason we went to Guernsey was simply because I had read ‘The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society’ and I wanted to see if was as wonderful as the novel made it seem.

Destination: St Peter Port

This is the capital of Guernsey, a port town. It is a charming, historical town. So beautiful with wonderful architecture and cobbled streets. The views out over the harbour are stunning. For a capital is has a very relaxed vibe (although it is slightly hectic if the cruise ships come in). You easily find yourself wandering round, not noticing the time pass. Only a few paces up the hill you easily leave the hustle and bustle of St Peter Port and it is still all so beautiful. As you walk behind the city in a north east direction you find a part of the town with a very French style and atmosphere, to the north west you come across glorious gardens that could be in the English countryside. As capitals go – it is an adventure.

Day One: Castle Cornet

I LOVE castles; a sniff of history and I am in my element (another reason Guernsey is glorious) and Cornet Castle oozes it! You can do all the attractions at the castle in any order you like but we started with the story if the castle, short, sharp facts of its colourful history. Perfect to ensure we were out in time to see the firing of the Noonday gun. This was very History geeks dream, the men come out in period army uniforms, check and fire the gun. OH MY WORD, does it make you jump (I doubt anyone has a successful photo of the event), even though you know it is coming it always seems worse but it is worth it for the electric atmosphere of feeling like they are experiencing a historic tradition.

We then made our way round the other museums housed in the castle and explore the grounds. The views of Guernsey you can get from different parts of the castle are stunning. You spend hours exploring and learning so much history about the colourful castle. This is certainly one of the gems in the Guernsey crown.

Day Two: The Underground Hospital and The Little Chapel

A huge part of the charm of Guernsey is that you can so easily get round the island on the bus. So, we caught the bus a little further inland to allow us to explore the German underground hospital from the occupation during World War Two and follow that with a gentle stroll to the Little Chapel (in the rain).

The underground hospital is simply a route of tunnels but the atmosphere in unbelievable (especially on a very rainy day). As soon as you hear one echoing sound it sets your imagination firing about what it would have been when it was in full use. The two gentlemen who work there (and count you in and count you out again) are very knowledgeable and willing to share their vast knowledge of the occupation with the visitors.

The Little Chapel is a short walk from the underground hospital. It is stunning! Inspired by the grotto of Our Lady of Lourdes at Massabielle (a small market town in the foothills of the Pyrenees). The chapel has been rebuilt on a number of occasions, always by Brother Deodat (although he never saw the final version), and the chapel as it stands today was started in 1923 and decorated with pebbles and pieces of broken china as other materials were scarce. In 2016 The Little Chapel Foundation was established to work to preserve the chapel as little had been done for it several years. You can not visit Guernsey without visiting this chapel.

Day Three: Victor Hugo’s House

Guernsey is an island that is perfect for a book and theatre lover because this is the island that Victor Hugo spent his exile AND finished ‘Les Miserables’.

Nestled to the north east of St Peter Port is a rather imposing white house that flies French flag – Hauteville, the home of Victor Hugo and owned by France. You do have to book onto a tour in the language of your choice so you need to be flexible (we went for another beautiful walk while we waited for our tour).

The gardens are open to the public to stroll around at your own pace at any time Hauteville is open. The views are stunning out to sea. The garden is beautifully laid out with a great Oak in the centre planted by the great man himself. (LOVE!)

I can not out into words the interior of Hugo’s house  you would have to see it for yourself (in some sense to believe it). However, the tour of the house is fascinating, the snippets the guides share are fascinating and I think you will leave with a desire to read Hugo’s books. (Especially when you see the EXACT spot he finished Les Miserables).

So, Guernsey is glorious. The food is fantastic. The views are stunning. The walks are wonderful. The people are friendly. You really need to visit!

Have you ever visited the Channel Islands? What did you think?

 

 

Goth Girl and the Sinister Symphony by Chris Riddell

I am a HUGE Goth Girl fan and when I spotted a copy of The Sinister Symphony in Waterstones when I needed an emergency book for a train journey, I was so excited and had to purchase it immediately.

Reuniting with Ada Goth and her pals is liking meeting with old and new friends. I am far older than the target audience of this book, but the charm of Chris Riddell’s creations is that the humour works on so many levels. He certainly writes jokes in there for the older readers as much as he does for the target audience. (I may have caught myself laughing out loud at points and that can be a little embarrassing as you sit on a busy train from London.) There are wonderful little comments on society and clever plays on words throughout, which are nods to the world we live in and some of the characters from popular culture.

Ada’s latest adventure takes place at a music festival organised by Lord Goth in the grounds of Ghastly-Gorm Hall. There are the usual giggles along the way as Ada tries to keep all her plans for her father and his future happiness on the right path.  There was real happiness for me in this tale as there were nods to Narnia (and a surprise addition at the back of the book), which is one my favourite books from my childhood.

As usual, the book is beautifully presented with Chris Riddell’s stunning illustrations throughout, which bring each character to life for the reader. I was smiling a bit like a fool as I turned each page, as you can not help but be cheered by what you see on each page.

I am so pleased that I can add this to my collection of Goth Girl books and urge you all, young and old, to go on an adventure with Ada and The Attic Club – you will not regret it.

Wonder Woman – Warbringer by Leigh Bardugo

Wonder Woman has been BIG in 2017, in fact it has been quite a year for Girl Power as a whole. So, that makes Diana the perfect character to launch Penguin’s collaboration with DC to bring 4 of their most iconic characters to a new generation of YA readers.

For me, this novel was a little slow to get started with a lot of scene-setting. Although, as there is the aim to hook a whole new generation then they need the background to give them the context of the wonderful Wonder Woman.

Once the pace of the novel picked up, it was a thrilling read. It is action-packed once the story is established. There are well-crafted nods to Greek mythology (as you would expect) and it spiked my interest in that fascinating era.

The thing for me which really stood out in this story were the incredibly strong female characters. Wonder Woman aside (as we all know what a star she is) but also the two other key female leads. Alia, has struggles of all kinds as she has grown up as part of an important family but she knows her own mind and has a true sense of responsibility (especially once she is aware of the secret she did not know she held). Her best friend, Nim, is another girl who for different reasons has not always found it easy. She is an openly gay character but it is clear that, despite her outward confidence among her friends, there is a cultural struggle for her. It is great to read a novel of such fantasy having such real characters who can really bring such modern issues to readers.

This is similar to the theme of the novel – war. It is such a current story (and sadly, one that won’t date) that has certainly picked out some of the biggest issues of the twenty-first century. Maybe even some of the fears of the people who are reading the book.

Overall, a clever concept that will bring a whole new generation to Wonder Woman.

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).