The Shires #MyUniverseTour

I have a secret…I love country music, especially British country music. Also, I have the loved the British duo ‘The Shires‘ since I heard ‘Nashville Grey Skies’ on BBC Radio 2 back in 2014. Since first hearing that single, I have collected their two albums, ‘Brave’ and ‘My Universe’, gone to gigs whenever I could (I have seen them 3 times) and followed their career with interest.

So, on Tuesday 25th April, I went to see The Shires for the 3rd time at Warwick Arts Centre with a friend. Again, The Shires, their band and their support did not disappoint. The set list was a wonderful combination of songs from both of their albums, so nobody in the audience could have left disappointed, as I am pretty sure that they managed to get the favourite songs of pretty much every audience member into the set. The passion that Crissie and Ben have for their music comes across every time that they perform and, as they pen so many of their own songs, you can really feel the emotions.

This was an especially emotionally charged gig as they performed ‘Daddy’s Little Girl’ – a song that Crissie wrote about her Dad – which brings a tear to my eye every time. Additionally, there was not a dry eye in the house when Ben donated one of his guitars to a charity auction for ‘Zoe’s Place‘, a local charity. One of the most deserving standing ovations I have ever witnessed.

The audience were all on their feet, dancing, clapping and singing along to all the wonderful songs that this duo and their band belt out. There is certainly a clear mutual respect between The Shires and their fans.

Nobody will have left this gig disappointed, and all will certainly have been singing the songs from the set list for the rest of the week.

Orangeboy by Patrice Lawrence

It is a fact that I cannot be without a book and, on a recent trip, I needed an emergency book as I had finished the one I had with me. I entered trusty Waterstones and not being too sure what I fancied to read (I can be lost in a bookshop for hours, or possibly even days) and I saw Orangeboy on the table with the other Waterstones Children’s Book Prize winners for 2017. The cover attracted me immediately so I thought I would give it a go. There is one exclamation for this title…wow!

Orangeboy is a great young adult fiction title that will stay with me for a long time. The opening chapter has you hooked and you are left in no doubt that you want to know what will happen next.

Marlon Sunday is introduced to the reader just as the date he is on ends in tragedy, and very quickly he is caught up in a world of gangs and fear. Unfortunately, it is a world that he is not completely unaware of due to the antics of his older brother, but Marlon is torn throughout the novel with his desire to do the right thing but also protect his own family. You find yourself on the journey with Marlon as he tries to navigate this underworld and you are rooting throughout for him to be okay, to make the right choices and to solve the mysteries of why Orangeboy is such a target – what really happened to his brother, Andre?

This is such a well-written novel, narrated by Marlon. You feel like you know each character, although, with some, you are certain to question the choices they make or the way that they live their life. It may be young adult fiction but I think it is a book that should be read by all, as it will stay with you for a long time!

The Girl of Ink and Stars by Kiran Millwood Hargrave

I am not always one that selects prize-winning titles, but this is a well-deserving winner of the Waterstone’s Children’s Book Prize 2017.

The art work on the cover of this book is absolutely stunning and immediately catches your eye, even before you reach the magical sounding title. This is a story that takes you on a real adventure and, most importantly, there is wonderfully strong and independent female lead character in Isabella. She is a girl who will fight with real courage and fierce loyalty for the people she loves and the beliefs that are important to her.

When Lupe, Isabella’s best friend, goes missing, it is Isabella who uses her great knowledge of the stars and maps to support the search party. As you follow the characters on their adventures, there is a great use of myths and stories to influence the decisions made by those living on the island. It really reflects on how the ideas that can be with a nation of people for as long as they can remember, passed on to each generation, can lead some to have fear and misunderstanding and others to have the courage to fight for what they care for. You see the characters really form as each part of their adventure influences them personally.

You are on the edge of your seat throughout the story, never sure what is going to come next. You feel the danger and excitement as you turn each page; it is impossible to put this novel down. It may be a children’s book, but it is one that adults will enjoy just as much.

The Bookshop Girl by Sylvia Bishop

I was once lucky enough to be a bookshop girl for one year between studying. Therefore, I was instantly drawn to this book – and even more so because of the stunning cover courtesy of the very talented Ashley King.

There is something about this magical tale that reminded me of the favourite stories of my childhood. There is something almost Roald Dahl-like about this adventure, with its wonderful characters. They are colourful and instantly spark your imagination, and are brought to life throughout the book with beautiful illustrations.

The main setting of ‘The Great Montgomery Book Emporium’ is somewhere that I would absolutely love to visit. So many books and so many adventures facing anybody who sets foot in there – it’s delightful. It also emphasises the real pleasure that books can bring an
ybody that is around them. However, the bookshop at the start of the story, ‘The White Hart Bookshop’ (it was a pub in the previous life, after all), is full of charm too.

From the moment you start this charming tale by Sylvia Bishop, it is so difficult to put down, as you are just rooting for the Jones family to have a happy ending.

The Breakdown by B A Paris

I love a book title that is clever and, for me, this is one of those. ‘The Breakdown’ can refer to the car in the lay-by at the start of the novel (and, in fact, the crime scene), and the mental state of the central character as the story develops.

It can be difficult to talk about thrillers, as part of the enjoyment is not knowing. The pace of the story sets the scene and reflects the ‘breakdown’, however the book becomes ever more fascinating as it hurtles towards the conclusion and you revisit all your thoughts and ideas about the story.

Cassie, the main character, is someone you feel both empathy and sympathy for, although I was not sure some of her actions accurately reflected the educated woman she had been presented as. Although, this could be due to the ‘breakdown’ concept of the story – it certainly makes you wonder how you would behave if ‘fear’ was always with you. Despite the thriller side of the book, I think the fear Cassie has of her family history is more pivotal to the whole story.

Overall, it was a satisfying read – but a story I would only think works as a one-off.

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer & Annie Barrows

The ever-so-lovely fellow bookworm Hayley From Home sent me this absolutely wonderful little book. It is a title I have been aware of for a while but, as I always have a ‘to read’ pile that is sky high, it had just not quite ever made it onto it. However, I wish I had discovered it sooner!

This tale is told in the sweetest collection of letters. Snail mail is such a romantic idea in this crazy world of technology; there is such a dreamy notion about people’s feelings being put down on paper. The characters are all so wonderfully portrayed through the letters. The style of each letter and telegram is unique to each character and, therefore, you don’t really need them described to you in any other way. The letters even bring the ‘absent’ character, Elizabeth, to life and the reader learns about her just as Juliet does.

The historical setting of the story is Guernsey just after the occupation in WWII. It allows the characters to reflect on their experiences and relationships with each other and the Germans. The thing that stands out for me the most in this novel is the question ‘does being on the other side automatically make you the enemy?’ It’s something I’m still contemplating now.

This treasure of a book has left me wanting to develop my knowledge of this period in Guernsey’s history, and even make a visit to the island.

So, always share your favourite reads with your friends because you never know what treasures you may uncover.

Antony and Cleopatra

After the bar had been set by Julius Caesar, I had very high hopes for Antony and Cleopatra and…it did not disappoint. Antony and Cleopatra is a gorgeous, golden production and is still flying the flag high for the Royal Shakespeare Company’s Rome season.

The settings for this production are the ancient civilisations of the Roman Empire and Cleopatra’s Egypt. The scenery is amazing as it seamlessly moves between kingdoms and the action. It, also, clearly connects to the Caesar production in the current Rome season. The music fully supports in creating the atmosphere for the destinations and the story as it unfolds.

There is no mistaking the Queen of Egypt in her stunning, shimmering costumes. Josette Simon plays Cleopatra with real elegance and perfect humour. Antony Byrne is a commanding Mark Antony and together they play out the true passion between the two lead characters. The rest of the cast perfectly support the central characters as the plot picks up pace. It is always wonderful seeing the ensemble of actors move from one play to another demonstrating their true versatility.

For one of the longer of Shakespeare’s plays, you are hooked from the moment the stage erupts into life with a dance scene in Egypt until the tragedy of the final closing scene, played out beautifully by all those involved.  The intense applause was well deserved for all involved (on the stage and behind the scenes) as the lights signalled the end of the performance.

The next stop will be Titus Andronicus and, if the first two plays are anything to go by, I absolutely can not wait.

March means The March Family

As a lover of all things books, BookishlyUK instantly caught my eye on social media. They just seem to have an amazing collection of all things books, including one of my favourite book accessories: the bookmark.

So, when I saw they did a monthly Bookishly crate that you could order, I had to give it a go, especially as March was ‘Little Women’ by Louisa May Alcott; a book that I have very fond memories of growing up.

The crate arrives promptly after ordering, and it is really exciting opening the box and finding what is inside. The items have clearly been placed lovingly in the box, and it is very well packaged (we all love some bubble wrap). There is a copy of Little Women, which has the lovely sleeve designed by BookishlyUK – they have a lovely page and marble style to them. The matching bookmark has the best rule for life – ‘Eat, Sleep, Read, Repeat’ – and matches the sleeve of the book beautifully.

As a lover of all things books, there is a great collection of other goodies that allow you to share your love of books in other ways. There is a framed book page print with a lovely quote to bring a smile on even the dullest of days – this is a piece of home decor I have always been a fan of. I love being able to display literature and positivity in different ways.

For me, snail mail is another way to share the love of words. The two greetings cards included, again with quotes from the book, are perfect to pop a note in the post to friends who have a similar passion for books. They are well designed and can be used for any number of occasions.

To top it all off, there is a tote bag – and you can never have too many tote bags! This is another brilliant use of a quote from Little Women. It cleverly references another passion of mine, coffee, which again proves how well thought out the crate is, as the final little treat it contains is ‘Perk-u-latte’ coffee. For me, there is not a better combination than a good book and a coffee – but I have been good and am saving it until I can really set aside the time to reread Little Women and savour every sip.

This little crate, for me, cannot be faulted. The fact that you can order it as you fancy and don’t have to subscribe means you can keep an eye out for the books that you love. They would also make a lovely gift for someone you know who loves reading.

I will certainly be keeping an eagle eye out for other titles that may make the crate.

I’m Travelling Alone by Samuel Bjork

The wonderful thing about a book club is that it encourages you to read titles that you would not usually select. #BookClub140 by Parker and Me has been a really great way for me discover new titles and feel part of a book club, even when I am struggling with time. This month’s book has been another great read.

I have not really embraced ‘Scandi Crime’ – I think it has just passed me by. However, this book had me hooked from the moment I read the first page. Short, sharp chapters are used to keep the pace of the story and have you constantly wanting to find out what happens next. It is a complex, clever story with many twists and turns, and you’re always guessing what will happen next.

The two lead characters, Holger Munch and Mia Kruger, are interesting people, and you very easily empathise with their situations. As with many great detective stories, they have their own demons and a complex relationship with each other, but you root for them throughout the novel, hoping that it is going to be a happy ending. (Although, you may occasionally question some of their very stubborn decisions…).

In this story, you are never really sure what is going to happen next and your imagination has you constantly trying to work out where the crossover in the stories may come. It is a tale that you really become invested in as you become suspicious of pretty much everyone, and Samuel Bjork uses minor characters with skill to really bring great depth to the plot.

I would really recommend this book to anyone who enjoys a well-constructed crime thriller, and I am intrigued to see where the second encounter with Munch and Kruger will take us.

 

Who Let the Gods Out by Maz Evans

I picked up this little treat when it was the Waterstones Book of the Month for Children. I was got by those wonderful words ‘half price.’ The book had caught my eye every visit, as it is has the most fabulous orange-edged pages with a lighting bolt in white, and there is something very cool about the sophisticated cartoon style of the characters on the cover. Once you open the book, the little Pegasus that runs along the bottom of the page to form a little flip book illustration is good fun.

The story is a great little adventure with a colourful collection of characters inspired by the gods and beliefs of Ancient Greece. They may not be as you expect, though: Zeus the ladies man with a penchant for crazy shirts, and Aphrodite and her dating agency are just two of the larger-than-life figures that help Elliot keep his family home from the grasp of the local ‘lady of the manor’ figure.

The themes of the book are certainly adventure and friendship, and it makes you realise that sometimes both of these can exist in the most unlikely of places – and you have to put your faith in the most unusual people. You can certainly warm to the characters and hope for good to rule in the end.

The conclusion of the story has been left open for the adventure to continue, and it would be interesting to see what happens next.