The Scottish Play

First trip to the RSC’s new season was to see ‘The Scottish Play’. This is the shortest Shakespeare play (just a bit of trivia for you) and also one of my favourites. There is something comforting about a good old-fashioned good-versus-evil tale with a sprinkling of madness, ghosts and witches.

Now, I am not going to lie. Christopher Eccleston as Macbeth and Niamh Cusack as Lady Macbeth were quite a draw. Also, the fact that this is a season of female directors adds an attraction – how will these classic tales be adapted?

So, what was the play like? A bleak and modern setting – with sprinklings of excess – for me really emphasised the greed from the Macbeths but also highlighted the descent into madness of the two leads.

There was something very cinematic about the production as lines from play were projected onto the scenery and a digital clock ticked down to the big conclusion. (A wonderful stage fight between Macbeth and Macduff). And while I do not like to post spoilers, the time theme played a big part in the play’s finale – especially the idea of history repeating itself…

Christopher Eccleston is a really engaging Macbeth. He fully embraces the role – taking us all on the journey of Macbeth’s madness. However, for me the real villain of the piece will always be Lady Macbeth. I am not sure if Shakespeare or this adaptation intended that view but it is certainly how I view the play – and Niamh Cusack convinced me I was correct. Cusack certainly made the role her own and was mesmerising to watch. Macbeth was her puppet until she was too overcome by the guilt of her actions.

Although I name-check the two leads, as always there is not a star. RSC productions are always a team effort. No production would be as wonderful as they are without the whole cast giving it their all and, of course, those who work behind the scenes. (That knocking made me jump each time.)

I am now on countdown to the other productions this season – look out for those posts too as we travel through the season on the words of Shakespeare.

Sky Song by Abi Elphinstone

This was another title shared by my fellow bookworm Faye. Before we even discuss the book, we need to discuss the absolutely stunning cover. It is true that you should never judge a book by its cover, but this is a stunner! The cover beautifully sums up Erkenwald, our setting, but also it is almost alive with emotion. I adore it and could almost frame it and pop it on the wall.

So, the story: this is another beautiful adventure in a stunning snowy setting. A good versus evil traditional tale – with a wonderful villain in the Ice Queen. There is something a little Narnia-esque about it, so it will not disappoint, especially if you are a fan of ‘The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe’.

Erkenwald is in the grip of deadly winter as the Ice Queen’s hold seems to be getting stronger. Our heroes Flint, Erska and Blu are determined to prevent this from happening and return snowy Erkenwald to its rightful people, the traditional tribes.

Along with the support of the animals and mythical creatures of the land, they face danger and adventure as they aim to remove the Ice Queen from the Winterfang Palace. They want peace restored, families restored and the spell to be broken.

It is a lovely read, another novel with a strong female lead, but also the idea that we all have our skills to share. If you like a good old-fashioned adventure novel with a little sprinkle of magic, this is the book for you.

One by Sarah Crossan

One had caught my eye many times when I was book shopping. It has a stunning and intriguing cover with two faces so close together and similar that they could almost be the same person – and never has a novel had a cover that demonstrates the story so perfectly but without spoiling any of the beauty of the novel. I have finally read this beautiful tale thanks to my book buddy Hayley, from Hayley from Home (anyone would think we are both avid readers), as she popped some lovely book post to me recently.

I am not sure that I can do this book the justice it deserves as I, of course, can not reveal any spoilers, but I really do want to share my thoughts on this novel. I will share that this book has the beautiful Grace and Tippi at the centre; two such different characters, but they share so much being conjoined twins. This story is beautifully written and presented, to convey to the reader all of the emotion of the story, not only for the two girls, but for those that they encounter on their path through life. Despite their unusual situation, they have one desire, to be able to have the same experiences as others of their age, they find happiness and friendship with Yasmeen (another girl who has always faced life a little differently to others) and Jon. However, despite this opportunity, they are constantly reminded that they are not like everyone else, and how will they ever tackle falling in love and accepting that they can be loved for who they are?

Despite the obvious focus this novel has on the girls, there is also an examination of the impact that their situation has on the family. Another struggle that the girls must face, as they feel an element of guilt as elements of home life appear to unravel, in some aspects obviously and in other ways slightly hidden from sight.

As we begin to reach the conclusion of the novel, there is a twist. You know it is coming to some extent, but maybe you do not expect it to happen in the way it does. You are so invested in this novel by the end, thanks to the beautiful writing of Sarah Crossan, that to be honest you are left wanting more. Although, I think this novel will stay with you long after you read the last word and you will be imaging your own next step for the characters.

This post may not have done this book justice – the only thing that will is you picking it up and reading it yourself. Have you read any Sarah Crossan novels? What should I read next?

The Fandom by Anna Day

This novel is incredibly clever; it is a story (maybe not the stressful aspects) that I think many ‘fans’ will have imagined. It is the concept of the experience of the ultimate fan fiction, having the opportunity to live the novel that you love.

There are so many nods to the novels such as ‘The Hunger Games’ that a fan of any such novels will be hooked. However, it does carry an important message about being true to yourself and not trying to fit a mould that other people may be trying to force you into. In fact, Katie is one of most fabulous characters I have encountered in a while. Although she plays more of a supporting role, she really demonstrates you don’t have to be what other people think you should be – she loves Shakespeare, not ‘The Gallows Dance’, and how to speak her mind – what a star! By the end, it is clear that ‘perfect’ is not always ‘perfect’ so why do we waste a lot of time focusing on it? In fact all the ‘flawed’ characters are the best!

The twist towards the end of the novel is a clever one and really did get me thinking about the amount of time some of us invest in those novels we are really ‘fans’ of. As well as, the pressure that some of the novelists may be under when they create some of these worlds to ensure that they keep them alive for those who read and love their books.

So, overall, this really was such a clever concept for a novel. Such a different take on some of the YA books we have recently grown to love – give it a go if you have ever read any of the recent dystopian YA fiction series novels because you may never look at them in the same way again.

Fantastically Great Women by Kate Pankhurst

Adventures With One of Each recently tagged me in a photo of ‘Fantastically Great Women who made History’ because she thought it would be a book I would enjoy. She was not wrong! (And, of course, I could not read just one of the titles in the series.)

I felt that there was no better day to share my thoughts on both of the ‘Fantastically Great Women’ books, than International Women’s Day. These two titles for children are two books that between them keep 26 fabulous women in the limelight. One of the best things about these books is that they do not focus on the ‘obvious’ candidates. There have, of course, been so many women throughout history who have achieved so much, but some who made history are often still in the thoughts of the public. However, there are others who have not quite been as instilled in our history and they may be slipping the mind of the public as ‘Great Women’.

I wanted to pick 5 women from the pages who I find an inspiration.

  1. Mary Seacole – I did a little squeal of joy when I found her in amongst the pages. A contemporary of Florence Nightingale, Mother Seacole does not always have the same airtime as a heroine of the Crimea.
  2. Sacagawea – This was a great woman that I did not know about until these books. Sacagawea worked as a guide and a translator for the Lewis and Clark (European Settlers) as they attempted to travel the Rocky Mountains. Her work resulted in her being seen as an equal to Lewis and Clark.
  3. Ada Lovelace – The amazing, inventive mind of Ada Lovelace dreamed up a whole collection of wonderful machines. She was really quite ahead of her time.
  4. Mary Shelley – As a big fan of the story of Frankenstein, I have an admiration for Shelley and her imagination. The tale has an important message about the fears of science and how we treat each other. It takes quite a lot of talent to write a tale that is still so highly regarded today.
  5. Agent Fifi – This lady and her work really made me smile. Who does not dream about being an undercover agent? Agent Fifi really does prove that women can be exactly what they want to be (and so much more).

So, if you want to be inspired, these beautifully written and illustrated stories of ‘Great Women’ are the books for you – and all the other strong girls you know!

Happy International Women’s Day!

Still Me by Jojo Moyes

I was first introduced to fabulous Louisa Clark in 2013. I remember it so clearly because my lovey friend Erin Green gave me the World Book Night edition of ‘Me Before You’ and I absolutely loved it. From that moment I was determined to follow the adventures of Louisa Clark and all the characters she meets along the way. After all, Lou feels like a long-lost friend each time you pick up one of the books.

‘Still Me’ is the third installment of Louisa’s adventure as she has taken the huge step to move to New York and work as the companion/PA to the incredibly rich Mrs Gopnik. There is absolutely no way that I can share spoilers to this story because I know that there is a whole world of Lou Clark fans out there. However, I will say that nothing is plain sailing and there is a host of colourful characters who help Louisa realise who she is and that she is ‘Still Me’.

This novel really make you feel like you are in New York (if you have been as a tourist – the Rockefeller Centre scene is perfect). You almost wish you were meeting the people our much-loved heroine is encountering (well, most of them anyway). It is an emotional read; I shed a few tears, but mainly because one event reflected my family experience at the start of the year.

This book has certainly reignited my desire to head back to New York, or at least embrace more adventure in my life. After all, ‘knowledge is power’ and you only have one life, so let’s make it count while we can.

If you have never met Louisa Clark, it is time to go back to ‘Me Before You’ and follow her adventures because you never know she may teach you some important life lessons.

Night School by Lee Child

I can not travel without so, this week, I ended up with a book emergency – A train journey without a book is just not something I can handle. So, with this choices limited to what was available at Manchester Piccadilly Station, I ended up with ‘Night School’ by Lee Child.

Now, I will be honest, despite the fact that Lee Child hails from Coventry, I have never read one of his books. I simply thought they would not be something I would enjoy or really have any interest in (I have never seen a Jack Reacher film either). However, I was a little surprised about how much I actually enjoyed this novel. Lee Child certainly knows how to write a page turner. Once the scene is set and I got my head around the character names and their roles, the pace was quick and I was keen to see how Jack Reacher would catch his man (or several men or maybe, even a completely different man to the one you think he wants). Set in Berlin, it also takes a little look at the relationship between the US and Germany after the Cold War.

Despite the fact that there are so many Jack Reacher novels, this book could be read as a standalone story. I suspect if you were a dedicated fan you may know a little more about Reacher as a character, but even from one book he is not a complete stranger.

So, I feel I need to put an apology out there for being a little judgmental about these books before I tried them. I won’t in future be too worried if Jack Reacher has to be my travelling companion.

The Explorer by Katherine Rundell

In January, I got a comment on Instagram asking if I was only reading books with Eleanor in the title, after two of my choices had just that. Then, I have noticed that in February I appear to have a thing for books by authors named Katherine. Funny how these things work out. Anyway, back to the point…

‘The Explorer’ is the third book I have read by Katherine Rundell and I am going to make the bold statement that it is my favourite. This books is a wonderfully traditional adventure story. It reminded me of all the great classics such as ‘The Famous Five’ and ‘Swallows and Amazons’.

The joy of the story is that it proves how resourceful children can be in the face of adversity, without the support of adults. I mean being stranded in the Amazon jungle is more or less as extreme as it can get. However, it also shows that the majority of the important lessons we learn in life come from experience. Our four heroes learn an awful lot about themselves while they are stranded – even the very young Max.

Another theme of the novel which really struck me (and my love of History) is the real desire of the Explorer to preserve the ‘world’ he has discovered. I really admire the way Rundell addresses the damage the desire to explore did to different parts of the world and some things are better left a secret.

This book, although for younger readers, is one that I think we should all read, as there is a beautifully nostalgic feel to this tale which should be shared with all.

The Bear and The Nightingale by Katherine Arden

One of the best things about books is the desire that people have to share books that they have enjoyed. This title was shared with me by a dear friend (who also lent me ‘The Lightkeeper’s Daughters’) and I am so glad that she shared it with me. This is a title that I would not have picked up, I am not sure why, but I now realise I would have missed out on so much for no real reason.

This is a fairy tale for adults, set in Russia (somewhere that is such a mystery to many of us) in so many magical winter months. Folklore is simply a way of life for all in the tale but for Vasya, it is life. The spirited young lady has ‘powers’ that many can only explain as magic, frowned upon by many in the village, especially in the Church. However, without her, will the village and its people ever really be free? Or will the dark magic in the woods take control?

Although, to start with I thought the book was a little confusing, I found that once the scene was set I was enthralled by the whole book. There was such a romantic, fairy tale element to the novel and it really does transport you back to the fairy tales that we all grew up with.

So, don’t be like me and unreasonably think that you just wouldn’t read a book for no real reason, because you could miss out on one of the greatest adventures in words.

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by J K Rowling (Illustrated by Jim Kay)

There is very little point reviewing Harry Potter because I am sure the majority of the Book Blogging world will have encountered the young wizard in some way. So, I have decided to simply have a little ramble about my top 5 reasons why I love Harry Potter and the Hogwarts world.

  1. It encourages people to read

I am a huge advocate of encouraging people to read and if the adventures of Harry Potter and pals means people (of any age) will pick up a book – who are we to complain? Illustrated versions, young covers or adult covers, picking up a book and entering a new world is something everyone should have a go at.

2. There is a Harry Potter character for us all

Something that makes the world of Hogwarts such a wonderful place is there is a Harry Potter character for us all – and any situation. I think we can all relate to different characters in all sorts of life situations. I was even asked at an interview which character I related to in Harry Potter (the answer in that stage of my life was Hermione – I do not know if it would be now). So, occasionally, when we need some guidance there is someone from the wonderful wizarding world who can give us some guidance. After all, ‘when in doubt go to the library’.

3. Escapism

One of the charms for me is the pure escapism of the Harry Potter novels. I adore the fact that the Wizards and Muggles co-exist. I love to think that is really possible, especially on visits to London and you spot some of those familiar landmarks that make it into the books.

4. ‘Always’

The pure loyalty and strength of friendship shown throughout the novels is inspiring. This struck me from the very first story, that the importance of friendship and loyalty is central to the stories. It is highlighted at different moments by different characters but it is always there in the background. Just as the friendships we all develop through the love of Harry Potter are important to us.

5. We all wish we had been to Hogwarts

Surely, the most important reason we love Harry Potter is because we all wish we had been to a school as fabulous as Hogwarts. Every time I pick up one of the novels I wish I could have boarded the ‘Hogwarts Express’ (because is there anything better than a steam train?) and have been whisked away to the stunning Hogwarts. The Quidditch, the feasts, the houses – even the lessons sound fun. Who could not enjoy such an adventure?

So J K Rowling, I thank you again for introducing us to this world and Jim Kay, I thank you for giving this wonderful wizarding world another lease of life with the stunning illustrations. And, finally, just from me, Hufflepuff forever!