The Girl With All The Gifts by M.R Carey

This is not a book I would ever read if I was faced with a choice. A strange statement, I realise, as I have clearly read it, but that is thanks to it arriving in a little bookish parcel from Hayley of Hayley From Home. I also actually enjoyed it – my first step into real zombie fiction.

Once I started reading this book, I could not put it down. I was intrigued at every page and chapter about what was going to happen next. Melanie, the girl with all the gifts, appears to be living a monotonous life of routine and confinement. It does not seem to make sense and nor does the ‘fear’ people express around her and her ‘friends’. When an attack breaks the ‘life’ she is used to, and she finds herself on the run with four adults, she finally realises the uncomfortable truth, forges some unusual friendship and understands exactly what it is that makes her different.

The tale was a little bit slow in the middle but it did seem to reflect the development of the story and experiences of the characters. There are brilliantly jumpy moments, emotional moments and even moments of real humour. Although, the thing that really appealed to me was that this was a story with a heart. There is a real human side to this zombie book. And the twist was not one I expected, but was very well done.

This was an ideal book for the dark autumn nights – I am glad that Hayley sharing it with me pushed me out of my comfort zone and encouraged me to try something new.

Has a friend ever helped you find a surprising new read?

Simon Reeve – The Tour

As you may know, my lovely friend Miss W and I love an adventure. This time it was a trip to Birmingham Town Hall to hear the travel presenter/adventurer Simon Reeve speak on his tour, which has coincided with the release of his book ‘Step by Step’.

We have heard Simon Reeve speak before as an ambassador for Kuoni, so we knew we were in for a good night. We were looking forward to hearing which stories he would share at this event.

To begin with he shares some information about his background – which, although he has never hidden it, may surprise some. Then he discusses and shares the different series of events which led to him presenting the amazing BBC documentaries. The joy of listening to Simon Reeve speak is not only the passion with which he speaks but also the humour. It is clear that he appreciates every chance he has but he also wants people to understand that we can all learn from travel. We can all be enriched by any kind of travel; we do not have to go far to experience adventure.

Also, the emotion with which he tells some stories shows that maybe we have to really appreciate the privileged position that we are in and build out cultural literacy and understanding of those that may not be so lucky. A chance meeting could also change lives forever (a little like my friendship with Miss W).

I certainly left the show ready for an adventure, ready to read my copy of ‘Step by Step’ and with a desire to have even more awareness of the world around us. We do not need to experience life on a screen – we need to go out and adventure. So, thank you Miss W for an amazing birthday present – where are we off to next?

The Return of Theatre Club

 

September 22nd 2018 was the day that Theatre Club returned. It had a little break while a lot of exciting events took place but now it was back and as awesome as ever.

We shook it up a little this time, deciding one of us would organise food and the other the show. This way there was a surprise for both of us. After all, who does not enjoy a surprise?

So, for me, the surprise was brunch at ‘100 Wardour Street’ – and what a brunch (slightly alcoholic) it was. It was a three course food sensation – with a cocktail. And it was simply delicious. For me (and Mrs M) it was a starter of streaky bacon, duck eggs and tomato foccacia, followed by wild mushroom risotto (Mrs M had the Seabass), and concluded for us with waffles, berries and the most delicious Chantilly cream. It was perfectly accompanied by a ‘Cloud No 9’ cocktail, which was just a dreamy combination of gin, blueberries and lemon juice (there may have been other things but those were the best). We both absolutely loved the chance to sit down and put the world to rights – and it was a perfect place to do so.

After, it was my chance to spring the surprise, which was ‘School of Rock’. This was a show that had been on my radar for a while and was recommended by so many. It was a great choice! As soon as the lights went down, there was an excited vibe in the theatre. (As I would guess many of the audience had seen the film). The joy of this show is that it is full of humour for all, adults and children alike. The songs are catchy from the word go and you are filled with instant happiness. The talent shown by every child on the stage is extraordinary, singing, dancing, playing instruments and making people laugh. I also, as a teacher, loved the little life lesson about what a difference an inspirational adult can make, even if they are not the role model you would expect.

By the end of the show, you are encouraged to quite literally dance in the aisles. After all, you are witnessing a rock concert – so what else should you be doing other than having a great time?

For me, this really was a five-star show and a five-star day out with an awesome friend. I absolutely can not wait to start planning for our next Theatre Club, because making memories is one of the most precious things you can do.

Notes on a Nervous Planet by Matt Haig

Less than a month ago I read ‘Reasons to Stay Alive’ and it left such an impression on me that I was keen to read ‘Notes on a Nervous Planet’. The thing that always strikes me is that Haig is so honest in his writing. His willingness to share personal experiences and his successes (and flaws) makes it such a relatable read.

The irony of this book is that I was introduced to Matt Haig through social media. Yet he makes a very good point about the impact, sometimes negative, that such things can have on our lives. Having felt anxiety levels rise over the years (and working with the young people of the 21st Century) this book certainly encouraged me to re-evaluate my use and potential reliance on social media.

This book also reminds you that the simple things in life are worth enjoying. After all, do we really need a 24-hour life? Our bodies are made for sleep, so let them sleep. Give yourself the chance to recover from whatever the day has thrown at you.

Follow some, if not all, of the guidance Matt Haig offers and you will start to realise that we can not control everything around us, but we can support ourselves to reduce our nervousness. You will also learn some history as you go and it will spark some other paths of interest that you may wish to follow.

So, slow down, pick up a book and take a little break from the Nervous Planet.

The Seven Dials Mystery by Agatha Christie

This months ‘Maidens of Murder’ book club choice is ‘The Seven Dials Mystery’. This was not a title that I was aware of but, as regular readers of the blog will know, I am always happy to give a Christie novel a go. It also seems fitting that I finished it on Agatha Christie’s birthday, which is a fitting tribute to the ‘Queen of Crime’s’ memory.

I found this novel an absolute joy to read. It really reminded me of the novels of PG Wodehouse, as there was a humour and charm to this novel that resonated with me from the first page.

This is not a novel that involves Poirot or Miss Marple, but instead Superintendent Battle (who appears in five of Christie’s novels). However, for me, other than his part in the big reveal that we¬† all associate with Christie’s work, he is not the star of the story. This novel in fact has a wonderfully strong female lead in ‘Bundle’. A young (and fairly wealthy) lady who sees herself as a little bit of an amateur sleuth and ends up embroiled in the ‘Seven Dials Mystery’ when two young men from her social circle wind up dead.

It is a beautifully crafted novel, as you would expect, but does read in a slightly different style to the Marples and Poirots I am used to. This made it even more appealing to me as it demonstrated that Christie is a consistently skilled writer but can make small adjustments to her style to keep the stories fresh.

I absolutely can not wait to see what next month’s offering is as so far each title has reignited my love of Agatha Christie’s work.

The Magic of Christmas Tree Farm by Erin Green

I am unbelievably lucky to call the lovely author Erin Green a friend. She is one of the most inspirational ladies I know and I have followed her writing career with great excitement and pride. So, imagine my surprise one grey day (pretty sure it was grey but that could be artistic licence) when I got a little message asking me which name I would like my character to have in her latest novel. As an avid reader and huge fan of Erin’s work, this was one of the most fabulous things to ever happen.

Erin’s third offering is a truly beautiful tale with a heart. Set at the most wonderful time of the year, it tells the tale of three lovely ladies who are at three very different stages of their lives but who all want the same thing – that very special stomach flip and the future happiness we all deserve. The tale centres around the delightful Christmas Tree Farm, a place that offers festive magic for all.

The real beauty of Erin’s writing is that you can relate to the characters and their experiences. We will all have felt Holly’s teenage fears, we all know that life can not always be all we imagined but it can still be our best life like Angie, and Nina’s loss will strike a note with anyone who has experienced something similar. This book certainly should come with a mascara warning because the story will catch you out unexpectedly with its beautiful sensitivity.

It was also a complete joy to recognise the little tributes to people that Erin (and in some cases, I) know. The inspirations were clear and wonderful. The little observations Erin has made of people are delightful. So, I can not thank Erin enough for such a lovely reading experience and opportunity (she even described my wedding dress perfectly).

So, whatever your usual reading pleasure, you will enjoy this novel. It does have romance, it has humour but most importantly for me it has some key messages about life. After a difficult year at points for me, this book was quite a support.

And, this year, I think I might wrap a couple of extra presents in memory of loved ones – and pass them on to people I know could really love them…

P.S Kitty is an awesome character!

Magpie Murders by Anthony Horowitz

I have been a fan of Anthony Horowitz since I was a child. My sister discovered his comic children’s novels and I used to read them too. Also, being a huge fan of murder mysteries, I have watched many episodes of ‘Foyle’s War’ and ‘Midsomer Murders’ with Horowitz’s screenplays.

I am ashamed to say that ‘Magpie Murders’ has been on my ‘to be read’ pile for a long time, but I finally picked it up this month. It just seemed like a great novel for autumn, as it has so many hints of classic crime fiction.

This novel is a clever concept, like a novel within a novel. You start off reading the final Atticus Pund story by the author Alan Conway. You are reading it as his editor reads it, realising alongside her that the novel is not completed. However, the problem is Alan Conway appears to have killed himself and nobody seems to know where the end of the novel is. There also seems to be something odd about the death of its author. So, Susan Ryeland, a fan of crime fiction, finds herself not only on the hunt for the final chapter of ‘Magpie Murders’ but also for the truth about Conway’s death.

It is incredibly clever how Horowitz intertwines the two stories, as well as all the little nods to so many of the fictional detectives we know and love. It is certainly a book for crime fiction lovers, especially fans of Agatha Christie classics.

For me, the setting of Suffolk, especially little towns like Woodbridge, was an added joy, as I have so many happy memories of spending time with my extended family there.

This is quite a long read but it is certainly an enjoyable one especially as the nights draw in.

The (very) Merry Wives of Windsor

A couple of weeks ago I posted about Romeo and Juliet, and as part of that had a little ramble about my favourite Shakespeare plays – and I have realised I did not mention The Merry Wives of Windsor. What an error on my part, because after seeing the third adaptation of it in 8 years, I have remembered what pure comedy gold it is and how much I love it.

I will start with the words of my dad ‘Can we see it again and we need it on DVD’ – high praise indeed from Daddy Bookwormandtheatremouse, who only really started seeing Shakespeare as my mum wanted to.

There is so much to say about this production, so first and foremost, the staging catches your eye from the moment you arrive. I do not like to spoil the setting for people who may want to see it, but from two buildings they create a whole glorious, over-the-top world for our colourful characters.

Then we move on to the amazing costumes, so cleverly structured that they are modern and Elizabethan all at the same time. They are perfectly suited to each character and tell us so much about who they are before any action has taken place. Brilliant!

However, the cast was the most fabulous part of the whole thing. Every single actor on that stage was an absolute joy to watch. There was so much physical comedy, as well as the humour of Shakespeare’s words, and everyone on the stage put their heart and soul into every moment. There is no star, it is an ensemble of stars, and you will leave with some incredibly happy memories. I have never seen such wonderful ‘flossing’ (the dance move), found a pink wheelie bin so amusing or seen a remote controlled golf trolley almost cause a cast to corpse. I do though need to give some special mentions, as they were so impressive: David Troughton’s Falstaff will surely go down as one of the greatest of all time, David Acton’s Sir Hugh was pure ‘Welsh’ comedy gold and Jonathan Cullen’s Dr Caius had me crying with laughter (especially with my French heritage). However, it really is a little unfair for me to make this statement, as it would not have worked if even one member of the cast was missing. And, really, the women are the stars as they make fools of the men – girl power!!

So, in conclusion, this is one the funniest plays you will see – ever! And, by luck it is being broadcast in cinemas on 12th September – so go if you can. It is pure comedy gold!

Reasons to Stay Alive by Matt Haig

If you visit my blog regularly you will know that I have read a few of Matt Haig’s children’s fiction books and I adore the the novel ‘How to Stop Time’. However, despite this, I had never read ‘Reasons to Stay Alive’ and now I really wish I had read it before.

I was aware of Matt Haig’s struggles with mental health and have always admired what an advocate he is for talking about mental health. Yet I was still so struck by the complete honesty in this book. I knew that this book chronicled the struggles Haig had faced when he had to bring himself back from the brink – an incredibly brave move in itself – but I did not expect that he would be so willing to be so ‘warts and all’ about the decision. This book taught me so much about mental health and even caused me to evaluate my life and how I live day by day.

However you see your life, this book is an inspiration. You will come away considering all the reasons there really are to stay alive and greet a new day, as well as giving you the chance to understand and evaluate the interactions you have with so many people every single day.

I have come away with a desire to learn more about mental health (you are provided with some further reading ideas), to really take care of my own mental health, to support other people and always be willing to listen as much as I talk and vice versa.

And…I am going to ensure I appreciate all those reasons I have to stay alive.

Flight of a Starling by Lisa Heathfield

This is the third Lisa Heathfield novel that I have read this year. Again, I was surprised by the book, different again from the previous two, but still a compelling read.

This novel focuses on the lives of a group of travellers who tour with the Circus, and especially on the sisters Lo and Rita. Great to read another novel with strong female characters. I would consider this a coming of age novel, as it really tackles the complex fabric of relationships for both girls: their relationship, family relationships and romantic relationships. For Lo, everything seems difficult as she has fallen for a boy outside the trusted Circus circle and she is having to carry an additional secret that is almost suffocating her and her existence. Rita, despite her odd moments, feels that tradition of their family carries more weight than it seems to for Lo.

However, one moment for Lo will change life forever – for everyone. Despite it all, it may even bring everyone closer than ever before.

This was not as tense to read as ‘Seed’ and ‘Paper Butterflies’; although it is still full of emotions and difficult ideas, it is a little more gentle on the reader. I still finished it while continuing to think about it as the last word is fading.

I am grateful to the Twitterverse and Bookstagram for introducing me to these fascinating YA novels and, in turn, I have been able to share them with other readers.