6 Months Blogging – Happy Half Birthday!

S0, 6 months ago today, Bookworm and Theatre Mouse was born. It was an idea that I had been thinking about for a while but I did not have the confidence to launch it until a good friend, Hayley from Home, encouraged me to give it a go and told me she would read it (so I knew I had one reader if nothing else!). I am so glad I did – and here are 6 reasons why…

  1. A chance to share what I love: Books and theatre are my passion and have been for a long time. It is a joy to be able to share my thoughts with you all about both of these subjects, and hopefully encourage other people to enjoy them too.
  2. The support of people out there: The messages on Instagram and Twitter that let me know that people have liked what I have written and visited my little blog.
  3. Discovering so many fabulous things: It has been a joy to check out other blogs and some great online companies that have a book, paper or theatre focus. There are so many talented people out there. Especially Ashley King for letting me have a sneak peek at his latest project ‘Witch for a Week.’
  4. Trying something new: This blog has encouraged me to look beyond the things I know I love and try new genres and styles. It has been a pleasure to see amazing plays that I wouldn’t have necessarily tried before, and discover brilliant authors and unforgettable books.
  5. A chance to do something different: Hobbies are so important and this is a great one. It also means that I find inspiration from the amazing community out there for my other hobbies (Harry Potter cross stitch is one of the best so far).
  6. Looking to the future: The chance to keep developing this blog is something I look forward to every day, learning new things and adding more little stories – bring on the next 6 months!

Coppelia – A Dancing Doll

Cinderella was such a inspiration earlier in the year that my Mum and I could not turn down the chance to see the Birmingham Royal Ballet’s version of Coppelia. Recently, my Mum had been reminiscing about a 1970s production that she saw at Sadler’s Wells which was even more reason why we had to go and see the 2017 production at the Birmingham Hippodrome. We were not disappointed!

Coppelia is a happy and light-hearted ballet. It is a magical tale about Dr Coppelius and his misguided desire to bring his beautiful doll Coppelia to life. There is charm and gentle humour in the tale that will appeal to all.

This production did not disappoint at all – from the moment the curtain went up, the atmosphere was electric. You can see the enjoyment on the faces of all the fabulous dancers as they dance the beautifully choreographed steps. They tell the story with every movement and every action, and you are fully engaged in the stage. The music performed by the orchestra helps bring a magical atmosphere and tells the story with skill.

The Birmingham Royal Ballet has certainly reignited my passion for dance – especially ballet – and I hope to catch many more of the productions they put on in the future.

 

The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

So, I have finally picked up this book – I know I am very late to the party with ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’.

I have heard so much about this book and Hayley from Home is a huge fan, so she inspired me to finally pick it up and give it a go (as well as it being the title for this month’s #BookClub140). I had a bit of an idea of the plot and, to be honest, I think that put me off for a while as it seemed a little bit depressing. However, I was so wrong; I could not put the book down and it really appealed to the history geek in me.

It is true that it is a rather hard-hitting storyline and there are clearly influences from our history that have helped form the plot, but I actually found it fascinating and thought provoking. It really does make you realise that we take an awful lot of our freedom for granted and that it is a delicate balance that avoids us slipping into such a terrifying reality.

The narrator’s voice is perfect throughout the novel. You empathise with her from the first line and you have a continuing desire to find out what her story is and where it may go; this is certainly what kept me turning the page. The characters were incredibly rounded and fascinating, considering their roles were so carefully defined in society. You do feel resentment towards those characters that appear to be privileged in society but they all, also, have demons that seem to be haunting them. There is the fear of not fulfilling the role you have been placed in, as well as the constant memory of the past and what may have been. The cliffhanger ending really does leave you with your imagination going off in all sorts of directions, never really knowing which are correct.

The final ‘chapter’ that suggests that this society is being studied is something that had really caught my imagination as a teacher. It left me thinking about the way we teach about societies of the past and when we may have been close to similar situations in our past.

I did not find this a difficult or harrowing read, but I am not sure that I am quite prepared for the television adaptation as this is taking the story out of my own safe imagination and possibly bringing it closer to reality.

Have you read any other of Margaret Atwood’s books? If so, where would you recommend me to venture next?

 

 

Wee Free Men by Terry Pratchett

I saw an article not so long ago that suggested that there were not enough lead female characters in children’s fiction, but yet again I have stumbled across another: Tiffany Aching is one of the most fabulous female lead characters I have encountered.

Tiffany encompasses the idea that girls can be courageous and ambitious and will not let the world that they live in hold them back. In fact, it was interesting at the end of the tale that Pratchett highlighted the fact that successful and heroic females do not always get the recognition that they deserve, but they are confident enough in their own abilities that they do not need public adoration.

As I am sure you can see, I loved reading ‘Wee Free Men’. There was a charm to the book from the moment you picked it up. It was full of Pratchett’s usual wit and humour that works on so many levels (adults can always enjoy his children’s books as much as his target audience) and the voice that he gave the ‘pictsies’ was spot on. I often found myself chuckling as I heard their ‘wee’ Scottish voices throughout the novel.

The foe of Tiffany is the ‘Queen’, who kidnaps her younger brother. With the help of the pictsies and a mildly grumpy toad, Tiffany has to fight the dreams that the Queen creates for her to try and get her brother home. Her inspiration throughout is Granny Aching, who she gets her strength of character from. It is quite an adventure for all involved.

So, I think I may have found one of my new favourite characters, as it is rather a lot of fun to join Tiffany on her adventures.

Spamalot

Having grown up in a household that often recited Monty Python jokes (the most common being ‘Are you Mary Queen of Scots?’ – which gets repetitive when you are a history geek), any opportunity to see Spamalot can not be missed.

On Friday 26th May, we went to see this very show at the Belgrade Theatre in Coventry. It was production of this marvellous musical put on by the Coventry Musical Theatre Company, a local amateur theatre group. However, you would not – for even one moment – have thought that this was anything less than a fully fledged professional group. From the moment the curtain lifted, the laughs started and there was clearly a lot of passion for their craft on the stage. King Arthur led his band of hapless knights (with the ongoing support of Patsy) with all the merriment and japes that you’d expect when you see the title ‘Monty Python’s Spamalot’. The musical numbers were performed with skill and the dancing beautifully choreographed. The support from the orchestra added to the atmosphere – and also added a little interactive comedy from the wider troupe.

A highlight, which I am sure you will not surprised by, was the audience all singing along to ‘Always Look on the Bright Side of Life’; you felt the buzz of excitement as soon as the first chords were struck.

The overall production was wonderful and I can not praise it enough. I am really looking forward to seeing what else Coventry Musical Theatre Company has to offer in the future.

Letters from the Lighthouse by Emma Carroll

I am a huge fan of Michael Morpurgo because he makes history accessible for readers of all ages, and Emma Carroll has done exactly the same with this lovely tale, ‘Letters from the Lighthouse’.

Set in WWII, it follows the adventures of Olive and her younger brother Cliff as they are evacuated from London to the Devonshire coast. Before they leave, their sister disappears during an air raid and the only clue to her disappearance appears to be a coded note and a link to the village the children are evacuated to. I do not like to give the plot away, other than to say this mystery intrigues Olive and Cliff while they embark on Devonshire life and move to the Lighthouse with the mysterious Ephraim.

What really delighted me about this tale is the cleverly interwoven lessons from history (as a history teacher, this is a real joy). Also, reading it this week especially, I found myself reflecting on the way that people will pull together in times of need, whatever their background.

The story is beautifully written with wonderful characters. It is a real page turner as every new question is raised or a new mystery solved. This is a story that will stay with me for a long time and I can not wait to share it with others.

Are you a fan of historical fiction? Any recommendations?

Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty

I have really enjoyed taking part in #BookClub140 from Parker and Me (as always, thanks for the recommendation, Hayley from Home), as it has led me to read books I may not have chosen otherwise.

This is one such title. Obviously, I had heard all the hype about the HBO series but I did not know anything about the story. However, once I started, I could not put this book down; I was eager every day to make some reading time – but we all know that is easier said than done sometimes.

The key with this novel is that there is the mystery within the tale from the moment you read page 1. Now, I do not want to share any spoilers, but never has a title of a book been more apt. It is fascinating to follow the revelations of the big little lies from the 3 central characters: Jane, Celeste and Madeline. As the reader, you understand why some of the lies have been created and some of the secrets kept. It does not take too long to become all too clear the huge impact that some actions can have on so many people, intentionally or otherwise. I was also left thinking about how we never really know the personal battles that people are facing.

There is a clear humour and sensitivity to the writing that adds to the joy of reading this book. The conclusion of the tale, I think, will be considered a happy, or at least potentially positive, one for the characters that you grow to admire – and, possibly, an understandable one for others.

I would like to give some more of Liane Moriarty’s books a go. My Auntie has suggested ‘The Husband’s Secret’ – what do the rest of you think?

Tommy – He sure played a mean pinball

So, I knew Tommy was a Pinball Wizard and that I would be treated to some wonderful tunes from ‘The Who’, but that was about it when a lovely friend and I arrived at The Birmingham Rep on Wednesday evening. I must confess we were both as clueless as each other, however by the end of the show, we had both been blown away.

The production of ‘Tommy’ came from The New Wolsey Theatre Ipswich along with Ramps on the Moon. Ramps on the Moon works towards developing the chances of employment and artistic opportunities for disabled performers (please visit their site to find out more, as I do not feel that I can do their work justice).

So, the story of Tommy, the Pinball Wizard, was, of course, told through the tunes of ‘The Who’ and the amazing artistic skill of the company. The use of sign language, that was at times skillfully choreographed into the lovely dance routines, was seamless. The complementary skills of the different actors moulded the narrative together and you could see the enjoyment of all involved.

The musicians were wonderful and clearly threw themselves into channeling their inner ‘Who’ to bring joy to all. The passion for their craft was clear, especially with the rendition of ‘Pinball Wizard’ (more than once).

When this wonderful production reached its conclusion, there was one of the most deserving standing ovations I have ever witnessed. I urge you to catch the ‘Tommy Tour’ if you can to see why.

I certainly now know that there is much more to Tommy than being a Pinball Wizard.

Witch for a Week by Kaye Umansky

When I found out that Ashley King was illustrating a book for Kaye Umansky, I did a little squeal of joy. Growing up I was a massive ‘Pongwiffy’ fan; Kaye Umansky’s books were staple reading for my sister and I (and even my mum). So, when I saw that there was a new title and a wonderful collaboration between these two, I had to read it.

‘Witch for a Week’ is out in October, just in time for Halloween, but I have been lucky enough to have a sneak peek and I loved it. It was great to revisit the writing of Kaye Umansky, accompanied by the illustrations of Ashley King.

Elsie Pickle is a lovely heroine who takes on the job of temporary caretaker of the ‘Tower in the Forest’ for the local witch, Magenta Sharp. Along with a wonderful little collection of characters, including a talking raven and a rather hapless, scruffy dog, she embarks on quite an adventure. Elsie is a determined young lady who uses her skills in customer service (thanks to the family shop) and the guidance offered by the handbook ‘Everything You Need to Know’ to tackle whatever the ‘Tower in the Forest’ and the rather interesting locals throw at her.

There is so much humour and warmth in this book, just as I knew there would be. You can not help but wish you were part of the adventures. The illustrations really bring the characters to life, their personalities shining through in each drawing. This is a book that children and adults alike are going to enjoy reading.

So, make sure you give this book a go and find out if you have what it takes to be ‘Witch for a Week’. Thank you Ash for giving me the chance to find out!

 

American Gods by Neil Gaiman

Mr Bookworm and Theatre Mouse introduced me to Neil Gaiman about 7 years ago. Since then, I have become a massive fan of Gaiman’s work and, as there has been such hype about the TV series of ‘American Gods’ (how can there not be when Lovejoy is in it?), I thought I had best read the book first. This is a rule I have: try to read the book before I see any kind of adaptation.

I think this is the longest Neil Gaiman book I have read and it seemed to take me a while to get through it. Not due to lack of enjoyment, but due to real life getting in the way. I was, in fact, hooked from the moment I picked up this title – it does have quite a dramatic start and I constantly tried to sneak in a few pages wherever and whenever I could since then. I was fascinated about Shadow and his story and the mysterious Mr Wednesday from the word go, and you just get more drawn in as you are introduced to the vast array of colourful characters throughout the novel. You just want to keep turning the pages, as you’re always keen to find out what is going to happen next.

It does take some concentration to keep up with the tale as it marches towards the conclusion, but that does not take away from the enjoyment of the book. It is extremely clever storytelling when even the smallest incident turns out to have quite an impact on the story. So much is revisited that you wonder if you should have given each event more of your attention as it happened – which is something great that you’ll often find in Neil Gaiman’s stories.

The research and detail that has been put into this book to intertwine all the gods and folkloric figures from around the world as they converge in America (as so many different cultures have done) is commendable, and has left me with a desire to find out more about a number of them. Mr Bookworm and Theatre Mouse was quizzing me on if I had worked out who they all were, but I am happy to find out as I go rather then predict.

This book was a brilliant read and overall, for me, it has left me thinking about ‘Shadow’ and shadows: do we always know what is going on or what is going to happen? Do we need to be in the spotlight, or should we be looking at the magic of the shadows?