Four the Love of Matilda

This week I was lucky enough to see ‘Matilda: The Musical’ for the fourth time. A beautiful friend of mine and I went out on a school night – a big deal as we are both teachers – to see the touring production at the Birmingham Hippodrome. It was everything I hoped and remembered it would be. Humour, great tunes, wonderful characters – and a serious but heart-warming message for adults and children alike.

However, this post is going to be a little more about the appreciation of the wonderful character that is Matilda Wormwood.

Growing up I was a huge Roald Dahl fan and I still remember the birthday my Uncle gave me ‘The BFG’, The Witches and Matilda. They were 3 novels that struck a chord with me but most particularly ‘Matilda’. Like her I was a total bookworm (although maybe not as advanced) when it was not particularly cool. However, she made me realise that it did not matter – if you like to read then you can read. I am so glad that my parents encouraged me to read (unlike the Wormwoods) because, just like for Matilda, it brought so much more to life. In fact, as I have grown up, reading has become one of the things that has been important in some of my closest friendships. Books and words were even feature of my wedding day.

Matilda is also a wonderful character and role model. She is a strong female lead and – as the wonderful musical always reminds you – it is OK to be a little bit naughty. You really should not let anything stop you from standing up for what is right and, in turn, stand up for yourself.

So, my love of the book by Roald Dahl and Tim Minchin’s musical interpretation is all based om the fact that you should never let anything stand in your way. When I grow up – I want to be just like Matilda Wormwood.

P.S You really should go and see the show while it is at the Birmingham Hippodrome – it is marvellous!

Tin by Padraig Kenny

Apologies for the delay in blog posts – technical issues meant that everything slowed. However, now we are back in business and we start with ‘Tin’. My lovely friend suggested that this may be a book I would enjoy, so I gave it a go.

The concept was an interesting one – a world of humans loving alongside a world of mechanicals. In some cases, it is difficult to tell them apart – in fact mechanicals are almost seen as a replacement for some lost ones.

However, what really struck me about this novel was its comment on war and the struggle for power that can come with this. The conflict that comes with having a machine that can end war but also the moral dilemma of the additional issues this causes. Now, I may have read too much into this as a children’s novel, but this is why I enjoy books of all genres for all ages as they can be enjoyed and interpreted in so many ways. This, of course, is why reading is the gift that keeps giving.

Additionally, the characters in this book bring some wonderful humour to the story (despite the very serious messages I have suggested it carries). It is an enjoyable read. Another great discovery for 2018.

Evil Under the Sun by Agatha Christie

So, thanks to the power of Instagram I discovered the account @maidensofmurder – an Agatha Christie book club! Oh my, the excitement! This is simply my idea of a perfect account – it includes pictures of beautiful Agatha Christie novels, and encourages people to read them for a discussion. Ideal!

So the month of discovery could not be more exciting for me because June’s title is ‘Evil Under the Sun’. This is a novel that, I am ashamed to admit, I have never read, but it is a story I have adored since first seeing the Peter Ustinov film version. With great excitement I have picked up this novel and enjoyed every single page of it. I always feel that I can not give Agatha Christie novels the review that they deserve. They are such a classic in the crime fiction world with so many fans that the pressure on a bookblogger is intense.

However, I am going to offer my humble opinion of ‘Evil Under the Sun’ – it is a classic. For me, it contains everything that makes Agatha Christie the Queen of Crime. I have always been a little more Team Poirot and there immediately, is why I love this, because it is one of his many adventures (although I miss Hastings, but he does make an appearance in the much loved ITV version). Along with that, it has a cast of colourful characters with all sorts of backgrounds and dark secrets – who offer a few red herrings. And, of course, a murder that seems to not have a solution until Poirot and his little grey cells become involved. However, you would think Poirot deserves a holiday some time.

I was also pleased that the Ustinov version was not too far from the original story. Now, maybe, I need to seek it out for yet another viewing.

The Duchess of Malfi

As, I am sure you have realised, I am really rather a fan of an RSC production. This weekend, we popped along to see The Duchess of Malfi. This was the choice of my Mum and was a play that I knew nothing about. I knew it was a play from a similar era and it was to be a revenge tragedy, but that was as far as my awareness went.

Well, wow, it was definitely a revenge tragedy – the level and symbolism of blood made ‘Titus’ look like ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’. I have not been to a play before where the front row is given blankets in case the blood splashes.

Anyway, back to the play (rather than the blood). The Duchess of Malfi’s two scheming brothers certainly have their eyes on her land and fortune. However, as a strong, independent woman, she makes some choices of her own which do not sit comfortably with the plans of the brothers. As things follow the path as it unfolds, the Duchess makes some decisions to save herself and those she loves from the corruption of society. As the term ‘tragedy’ suggests, it is not a happy ending for all involved.

I do not like to reveal spoilers because, despite it being an old and famous play, each production is different and special.

So, instead, I will comment that the acting was superb by all the cast. Particularly both Joan Iyiola as the Duchess and Chris New as the Cardinal. You fully believed each of the characters they were portraying. And, let’s be honest, we all love a good villain, which the Cardinal embodied perfectly.

I am not sure I need to see quite such a tragedy again but it was certainly memorable and has introduced me to a play that I may not have known otherwise.

Seed by Lisa Heathfield

I was lucky enough to win a fabulous little book giveaway from Chelley of Tales of Yesterday.  ‘Seed’ was the first of the novels I decided to read. I went into this book blind; I had no idea what to expect, I did not even read the blurb as I decided I just wanted to jump straight in and give this novel a go.

I will admit, I was surprised by the setting – it does not spoil it to mention that it is set among a cult – and therefore it does go on to tackle all the issues that come with such a life. It also skillfully weaves in an ongoing mystery for our heroine Pearl – who is she really? It is a fascinating study of human nature and could encourage us to contemplate that ever-present question – nature versus nurture. The characters with different backgrounds certainly have very different perspectives of the lives that are led inside ‘Seed’ and on the ‘Outside’. The strength that comes with knowledge could be the only thing that could cause Papa S’ kingdom to fall.

I have to admit that, at odd moments, the novel could be a little uncomfortable to read. There is a simple suggestion made about the experiences of those young people of ‘Seed’, but this does not take away from the desire to find out hoe the book will conclude. You certainly do become invested in some of the characters and develop a thorough dislike for others, which also encourages you keep reading.

I am glad to have discovered the work of Lisa Heathfield and I look forward to seeing where the other novels take me.

Have you ever been surprised by the setting of a novel?

Death in the Clouds by Agatha Christie

I always wonder if it is worth posting about my latest Agatha Christie read because, well, they are not new titles and so many of you may have read them and not really be interested in my thoughts. However, when I explore that world out there I realise how many of us love Agatha Christie’s work and the character of Poirot.

I was keen to pick up a Poirot after reading ‘Poirot and Me’ by David Suchet. I picked ‘Death in the Clouds’ because it is one that I haven’t read but remember fondly from the ITV series. Although, it makes me sad when Hastings is not on the scene, you can always rely on Inspector Japp to lighten the mood and he does that delightfully in this book.

The joy of this story is that the crime takes place on a plane and nobody notices. Additionally, the investigation takes our hero between Britain and France – it is indeed a very continental investigation. There are, of course, all the other magic ingredients of a good murder mystery: eccentric characters, scandal, secrets and the big Poirot reveal.

This is not my favourite Poirot story but I still enjoyed every single page because there is something incredibly engaging about the words of Agatha Christie.

Last week, I also listened to ‘Death on the Nile’ on Radio 4 Extra and discovered ‘Maidens of Murder’ on Instagram. All of this together simply means that there is even more love of Agatha Christie in my life, and made me realise that if I want to share my thoughts why the heck not, because so many of us love Poirot.

Wilde Like Me by Louise Pentland

BrummyMummyof2 was one of the first bloggers I discovered when I was considering joining the blogging world. And, through following her many adventures (not at all jealous of the recent Disney adventure) I discovered her story of becoming friends with Louise Pentland, thanks to the world of social media. This encouraged me to pick up ‘Wilde Like Me’, the first novel by Louise Pentland, and it is a Sunday Times bestseller, don’t you know.

Although, I don’t really believe in narrowing books down to gender – this is a book for the ladies. Lousie Pentland has created a character, Robin Wilde, who is real. She has the same fears and worries as we all do and, as she learns some life lessons along the way, they are certainly the lessons we have or need to learn. I was a little concerned to begin with that the tale would suggest that us women need a man to be happy, but as the plot unfolds Robin confirms that this is not the case; in fact it could be considered a bonus once you have found your happiness.

I enjoyed the clear cultural references which reminded me of growing up – my personal favourite was the reference to Silly Putty.

The best past of this novel is the fact that the story, as with the characters, is real. OK – we may not all fly off to New York (no spoiler – a statement of fact), but a lot of the day-to-day action is bound to have happened to you or a friend (Easter bonnets is all I am saying). It feels as though Louise Pentland has put her heart and soul into this novel and you certainly feel that it has her humour on every page.

It will be interesting to see how Robin Wilde’s story unfolds, but I hope it keeps its relatable nature because I think readers will find her a friend, not a fictional character.

Too Close to Home by Linwood Barcley

This was a book I was sent thanks to The Reading Residence’s book swap. To my shame this was a swap last year and was sent to me from The Crafty Lass as something that she had enjoyed and she hoped I would enjoy it too.

The thing I enjoy the most about a book swap is the chance to read a book you would not pick yourself. I am not sure that I would have picked this novel myself, for no other reason than the fact that it would have not been on my radar. I enjoy the crime thriller genre but sometimes feel a little overwhelmed by the choice, so it was nice to have this chosen for me.

Although, to begin with, I found this story a little slow going it did pick up as the story developed. In fact, the story has many different strands to it that knit together to create the main plot. The murder of one family in the neighbourhood creates all sorts of trouble for Jim Cutter, his wife and his son. Secrets of many people in the town are revealed and the road to the conclusion of the tale is bumpy for all involved. I did enjoy predicting what would happen next and was not too far off solving parts of the plot, but I did not necessarily have all the parts in the right order to complete the puzzle.

This has all the ingredients of a good crime thriller and is worth a read if that is your genre of choice. I would read Linwood Barcley again when I need a book of this kind because when the pace picked up it was a page turner.

Have you discovered any new authors through book swaps?

Art

One of my favourite things is to give theatre experiences as presents. Making memories with people you love is so precious, so I grab every opportunity I can to spend time with all the special and important people I know.

So, the trip to Birmingham Hippodrome was a Birthday treat for my Mum. The play was ‘Art’ and the cast was the appeal – Nigel Havers, Denis Lawson and Stephen Tompkinson. I mean – what a cast that is – one was even in the original Star Wars Trilogy (as well as being Ewan McGregor’s uncle).

I knew ‘Art’ was clearly about…Art, but other than that I had no idea what we were in for as our evening entertainment. However, as the play unfolded I was not at all disappointed. The play studies the relationship between the 3 men, Serge, Ivan and Marc – best friends until a piece of ‘White’ artwork becomes almost the fourth part of the relationship. Their differing opinions of this piece of ‘Art’ leads to a very close and comical evaluation of their friendship.

The chemistry on-stage between the 3 actors is clear from the word go and makes the play even more enjoyable to watch. There is also the joy that the 3 are equal; there is no star but 3 talented actors bringing the story to life. Although, saying that, there is a wonderful moment where Ivan (Tompkinson) recreates a conversation and phone call that has taken place off-stage and it is a moment of pure comedy which had the audience in fits of giggles.

I am so glad that I chose this play to take my Mum to, as we both left with smiles on our faces. And it was worth it for my Mum’s great review – ‘It is very French!’.

The Surface Breaks by Louise O’Neill

I picked this book because the #bookstagram world was posting so many photos of the beautiful cover. It has one of the most stunning covers I have ever seen!

Now, I have to confess, I have never read the original story of ‘The Little Mermaid’. In fact, my only experience of the story is my favourite Disney film of all time. (Which I still remember going to see at the local cinema with my Dad). So, for me, this was not a retelling but the discovery of Louise O’Neill’s writing.

I have to be honest that the tale was a little slow to begin with. Although, I appreciate that it was setting the scene and allowing us to understand the life of our central character, ‘Gaia’. However, once the tale picked up pace and the surface had been broken, I could not put this book down. The writing was wonderful and engaging, and you do become invested in all that is unfolding in the pages in front of you.

The thing that really struck me about this novel, was not only the strong female lead (once she realises it) but the comment on the patriarchal society. Gaia, and the world of her sisters’, is dominated by men. Not particularly pleasant men at that. Gaia’s independence and realisation that there must be more lead her down a path she would never have expected. In fact, her rebellion against the norm leads to a really rather dramatic change.

So, not only am I inspired to read ‘The Little Mermaid’, the tale that inspired this book, but I want to encourage everyone to read this tale and consider equality on all sorts of levels.