Tuesday, 23 December 2014

Book Review: A Night On The Orient Express by Veronica Henry

A Night on the Orient ExpressA Night on the Orient Express by Veronica Henry
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

After reading The Long Weekend by Veronica Henry I grabbed the next book of hers with two hands. I loved the style of her writing, the characterisation and the way all of the stories interlinked.
A Night on the Orient Express is about, unsurprisingly, the events that take place just before, during, and just after a journey on the Orient Express. This book focuses on several different characters, Imogen, off to Venice to pick up a painting that belonged to her grandmother Adele, who has a story of her own; Simon and Stephanie and his troubled children Jamie and Beth; Robert, the guard on the train; Emmie and Archie, thrown together by a match-making company; and Riley, a famous photographer and Sylvie, his muse and an actress.
Veronica Henry describes the Orient Express with exquisite detail and love. She has clearly travelled this way and I believe she talks from experience. For me, travelling on the Orient Express is nothing but a dream and to me it sounded wonderful and magical. I have been to Venice, and she described that beautifully too.
For me, these books are all about the characters, and unfortunately that's where I was let down. I enjoyed Imogen's story, but Adele's was much more intriguing. I felt like Imogen and her bad boy Danny were too caught up in what others thought and what 'kind' of people they were. I wanted to scream at her to 'just get over it'. Simon, Stephanie, Jamie and Beth had lots of interesting twists and turns, but I would have liked to know more about Simon and his ex-wife. I didn't particularly find him very sympathetic. I would have liked to know much more about Robert, like we did with Angelica in The Long Weekend, while Emmie and Archie were very predictable. Riley and Sylvie seemed to go on and on about how they were 'famous' and being recognised, although, as a keen photographer I did find his insight sometimes interesting.
I suppose the thing that irritates me, as it did with the last book, is that Veronica Henry seems to be obsessed with label, and material things. All of her characters are wealthy, upper class people (with the exception of just one) and seem to be able to throw money at everything. Staying on in Venice for a few more days, on a whim, is no problem.
But this won't stop me from reading more of her books, and I do race through them, turning each page with excitement, looking forward to the stories unfolding.

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Friday, 19 December 2014

Book Review: The Long Weekend by Veronica Henry

The Long WeekendThe Long Weekend by Veronica Henry
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

After reading The Girl Who Fell From The Sky I wanted something a bit more light and fluffy. My Mum had read this book ages ago and had recommended it to me and once I found it on her dusty window shelf I couldn't put it down.
The story follows several different people and their interweaving dramas as they come to stay at The Townhouse by the Sea in Pennfleet, Cornwall. The main characters are Claire and Luca, the owner and head chef of the hotel. Claire is well thought out and a sympathetic character. There were times when I wanted to shout out for her, and I winced and laughed along with her story. We also meet Nick, on his stag do; Laura and Dan, searching for her father; Angelica, the receptionist with feelings for the boss; Trevor and Monique, the couple who part-own the hotel; and Colin, with his ex-mistress and illegitimate daughter in tow. All of them have secrets and over the course of The Long Weekend everything becomes unravelled.
Veronica Henry has a great knack for describing the hotel, it's beautiful rooms and the surrounding area. I've not been to Cornwall for years but I could easily picture the boats bobbing in the marina and the colourful shop fronts.
The author is also brilliant at people, creating characters (and lots of them), without getting them confused with each other and giving them real flesh and bone. I felt like I'd known these people a long time and their stories were heartbreaking and uplifting. I found myself rooting for them and cheering them on.
My only criticism with this book, is that everyone was of the same level. And by that I mean, young, beautiful, fit. Everyone went to the gym, lived the life of luxury (except Angelica), which gave the characters as a whole only one dimension. Although I suppose at two-hundred quid a night, you would have to earn a certain amount to stay at The Townhouse by the Sea.
Saying that, I read this novel in two days and am looking to read more Veronica Henry soon. It has more depth than a chick-lit, but not so dark and depressing that when finished you need to watch five episodes of Will & Grace to cheer yourself up.

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Thursday, 18 December 2014

Book Review: The Girl Who Fell From The Sky by Simon Mawer

The Girl Who Fell From The SkyThe Girl Who Fell From The Sky by Simon Mawer
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I was lent this book by a friend from the theatre, after cheekily eavesdropping in on their conversation and popping up at a convenient time.
Initially, I wasn't sure. I don't really read books about the war, Birdsong being one exception, but this sounded different. It was clear from the start this wasn't about the front line, this was about a woman doing her best in war torn France.
I really enjoyed reading about the processes that Marian Sutro went through in order to go undercover. I thought it went get confusing trying to remember what her name was at different points throughout the novel but I managed to keep track quite easily. Marian herself was a likeable character, easy to sympathise with, but still a woman with some gumption, definitely ahead of her time.
The novel really gets going when she is dropped into France. I can't imagine what it would have felt like, to be dropped into the dark, knowing you could be dead before your feet touched the ground, but Simon Mawer describes it with incredible detail and realism.
As we follow Marian through France and her dangerous journey, we grow to love her, care for her and wonder what is going to be her fate. I don't want to give anything away, but as things go from bad to worse I was absolutely gripped. As I held the book in my hands, my knuckles were white.
As the book came to an end I was absolutely furious! It seemed like someone had ripped the last few pages out, leaving the reader teetering. I cannot wait to read more of Simon Mawer and hope there is a follow up to this. I recommend this book highly, it is much more than a novel about the Second World War, it is about relationships, love and above all, hope.

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Wednesday, 3 December 2014

Book Review: The Killing Place by Tess Gerritsen (Rizzoli & Isles #8)

The Killing Place (Jane Rizzoli & Maura Isles, #8)The Killing Place by Tess Gerritsen
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

When I picked this up a while back in a supermarket (if I remember correctly), I had no idea that it was one of the series that popular US TV show Rizzoli and Isles is based on. For me it was the concept that sounded interesting, twelve abandoned houses, truckloads of snow and a burnt out truck.
As I've not read any other books by Tess Gerritsen I'm not sure how they normally pan out, but this book focused on Maura Isles. After having argument with her priest boyfriend she decides to throw caution to the wind and goes off on a mini-break with her old friend Doug and his daughter Grace.
The tension soon mounts as they become stranded halfway up a mountain, stuck in the snow with no sign of rescue. Nobody even knows they've left for their little trip. They come across a dozen houses all left empty as if suddenly everybody just disappeared into thin air. This was the part of mystery that really got me excited. There is no explanation for what has happened, the small group discover clues around the community complex but nothing conclusive. Then things go from bad to worse.
The book is written really well, and grips you from the beginning, the characters are interesting and the twists come thick and fast. I don't have much experience reading about religious sects and cults so I found that interesting too. For me, the idea of where all these people had disappeared to and what had happened was thrilling and original.
The second half of the book detours somewhat but is still enjoyable and tense. However, there was a feel of 'American procedure', which comes with most of these kinds of books. I was also disappointed to find that the characters had been taken from the book but there was no adaptation of this book into an episode of Rizzoli and Isles. In the future I may read more this series.

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Saturday, 29 November 2014

Book Review: The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach

The Art of FieldingThe Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Living in rural Shropshire (almost North Wales) I do not know much about baseball. In fact, I think it would be quite safe to say that I know nothing, other than I've heard of the expression 'the bottom of the ninth'. But then again that could be from somewhere else. However, upon picking this book up in the sale box at The Works (read: for next to nothing) something caught my eye.
The blurb details the five main characters that the book focuses on: Henry Skrimshander, Mike Schwartz, Owen Dunne, Guert Affenlight and Pella Affenlight. One thing is clear, something happens that alters their lives forever.
As I started to read this book I must admit I found it a bit much, lots of baseball lingo, all of which went straight over my head. The first character we meet is Mike, who spots Henry's talent on the field at a baseball game and recruits him to Westish College, where Mike himself is on the baseball team, and the football team and any other team you can think of. Owen is introduced as Henry's room mate. Guert Affenlight is the president of Westish College and Pella is his daughter. We are introduced to the characters gradually which I think is a stroke of genius on the author's part as it can be overwhelming to meet everyone important at once, especially when they have such complicated (albeit fantastic) names as these.
It was a slow start for me, as the beginning mainly focuses on Schwartz and Henry and a lot of baseball. Although I found the training interesting, I struggled to visualise the baseball games as I don't know the different positions or moves. But as Guert is introduced, the story really comes into its own. Guert was probably my favourite character, he has so many layers and so much history. I would have liked to know more about his past and his relationship with Pella's mother, but we are just given a brief summary.
All the intertwining relationships make for brilliant reading. Chad Harbach's speciality really is characters. Every single one of them was individual, unique, had many layers. They felt so real that I could meet them in the street. In fact, I would like to meet them. They had lots of different human qualities, which I myself could identify with.
The setting and the way he described the college was also exquisite. Being at university at the moment I have some idea of college life and the author made it believable, life like and actually a place that I wanted to be. Unfortunately, after lots of googling I have discovered the college is completely fictional, although you can buy a Westish Harpooners t-shirt!
The most clear thing is that Chad Harbach really knows his baseball. And as I read, and the team progressed, I became more and more excited for them. When it came to the final match (? game?) I was really rooting for the team. Having said that, my only negative is that I struggled to keep track of the other baseball players. Not only did they have names, they have nicknames and I could never remember which one was which. However, they're not really an integral part of the story.
There are lots of twists and turns, some I saw coming, others I definitely did not. But that is the beauty of this book. It took me almost a month to read, but for once, I really didn't mind. I enjoyed being swept away into this world and learning about the characters and the challenges they overcome. I look forward to reading more Chad Harbach in the future.

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Friday, 31 October 2014

Book Review: Murders Most Foul by Alanna Knight

Murders Most FoulMurders Most Foul by Alanna Knight
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I picked this up for 99p at a Works sale, not really expecting much. It was set in Victorian Edinburgh and being a fan of Sherlock Holmes and Ripper Street I thought I would be my kind of thing.
We follow young DC Jeremy Faro, recently promoted as he and his colleagues investigate the case of a dead prostitute. She's been strangled and beneath her cold body is a playing card, the nine of diamonds.
His sergeant isn't convinced, but Faro believes the card is significant and when the victims start piling up Faro follows the case to Glasgow and Lumbleigh Hall where his 'lady friend' Lizzie is working as the lady's maid.
With maids gone missing, emotional vicars and suspect perfumers, the case has more twists and turns than a French plait. The characters are believable, fleshed out and the language used is appropriate for the time period. I felt like I was swept back in time and I only worked out who the murderer was before Faro did, and even then, I didn't know all of the motives.
Once it got going I couldn't put it down and I can't wait to read the rest of the Jeremy Faro series and the other books Alanna Knight has written.

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Friday, 24 October 2014

Book Review: St Patrick's Gargoyle by Katherine Kurtz

St. Patrick's GargoyleSt. Patrick's Gargoyle by Katherine Kurtz
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

For some reason this took me an age to read. It was recommended by my Aunt and as I hadn't read a quirky light hearted fantasy in a while I thought I'd give it a go.
The story centres around Paddy, a gargoyle at St's Patrick's in Dublin. He's quite a character, funny in some ways charming. I've never read a book from the point of view of a gargoyle, so that was quite interesting.
As soon as the book starts we're whisked off on a chase through the Dublin streets. Paddy enlists the help of Templeton, an elderly gentlemen with a mint condition Rolls Royce, to track down the thieves who have stolen the church's silver.
Their friendship blossoms, and leads Templeton (a Knight of Malta) down a path he never thought possible.
It's a cute little story, with some nice characters and a unique perspective, but I was never grabbed. Reading it wasn't a chore, but I didn't hunger to read the next chapter like I have with other books. I may read more of Katherine Kurtz in the future, but I'm in no rush.

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Monday, 6 October 2014

Book Review: Harbour by John Ajvide Lindqvist

HarbourHarbour by John Ajvide Lindqvist
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I can't really say why I took me soooo long to finish this book. Maybe working on a play and starting university didn't help.
I first heard about The Harbour in Vogue when it was a recommended read. I've always been a fan of Nordic Noir and thought this sounded intriguing. I'd not read or watched Let The Right One In, but I knew it was held in high esteem, so I looked forward to reading something by the same author.
John Ajvide Lindqvist has been described as Sweden's Stephen King and I get the comparisons. He creates interesting believable characters with heart and a story. Characters that you want to have a happy ending. But also, like Stephen King, the ending was rather ambiguous, which is a thing of frustration for me. I would rather have a definite ending with everything tied up neatly and some sense of closure which this did not have.
I particularly liked Simon, and enjoyed reading about how he came to be on the island. The story flits between the past and the present which gives the book depth and perspective.
I suppose the main thing that was disappointing for me was the pace of it. I found it incredibly slow. I've read books of this size before and I've managed to whip through them with speed, but as I said, there was no 'pull' in this novel. Some books I can't wait to read every night but I was simply not bothered with this one. I don't always mind the 'slow burner' but I found that I wasn't always concentrating and therefore would have to re-read certain sections.
Overall I enjoyed this book, but next time I read John Ajvide Lindqvist I think I will pick something a bit shorter.

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Wednesday, 3 September 2014

Book Review: We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler

We Are All Completely Beside OurselvesWe Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I can honestly say I've never read a book like We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves. The blurb on the back was vague enough to not give anything away while still intrigue me.
I really wanted to read something that was about families, and the relationships within them and this was a perfect 'family study'.
Without giving too much away this book follows Rosemary Cooke. We meet her while she is at university, not sure of which path to take and still struggling with the loss of her brother and sister.
Right from the beginning her sister Fern is mentioned but it's not entirely clear what happened to her. Rosemary starts her story from the middle, so finding out Fern's fate is slowly unravelled. I must admit that's what kept me going through most of the book, the unknown, the mystery.
While I enjoyed Karen Joy Fowler's style of writing, and was easily swept into the story I didn't particularly care for any of the characters. I was inside Rosemary's mind but I didn't feel anything towards her, no sympathy, I didn't feel any fondness towards her brother and I found Harlow to be really irritating.
Once the mystery was revealed I was still interested in Rosemary's story, as, like I said before, I'd never read anything about the subject matter. In all honestly, I wasn't aware that it happened. The way her parents reacted to certain things somewhat surprised me and I can't say I agreed with every decision but I think that's the point. This is the kind of book that's supposed to instigate discussion.
So overall I gave this book a three. Despite some reviews stating that they had great emotional reaction I found the book a bit hollow. But it didn't take me to long to zip through it. I may read some more of Karen Joy Fowler in the future.

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Monday, 1 September 2014

9 to 5...

Daily Prompt: In honour of Labour Day in North America, tell us what's the one job you could never imagine yourself doing?

Although I don't celebrate Labour Day this prompt inspired me as deciding on a career has always been difficult for me. I'm a creative person by nature, I love music, art, drama, books and I'd always envisaged a career in one of those fields. However, recently I've discovered a love of working with children and combining my two loves of drama and children together would be perfect for me.
My nightmare job would simply be doing something that involved working in an office, monotony, doing the same thing, day in, day out and with no creativity or inspiration. My greatest fear is working as some kind of office manager, or office anything really, unless that office is covered in art and involves writing and a freedom to use a bit of artistic license.

Saturday, 30 August 2014

Book Review: The Silver Linings Playbook by Matthew Quick

The Silver Linings PlaybookThe Silver Linings Playbook by Matthew Quick
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I've had this book on my to-read list ever since I saw trailers for the film back in 2012. The film really looked my kind of thing and as I always have a book before film rule I waited.
I wish I'd read this book sooner. The Silver Linings Playbook is simply one of the best books I have read for a long time. I finished it in two nights, last night staying up until half four. It somehow manages to be heart warming and funny despite dealing with difficult subjects.
The main character and narrator is Pat Peoples, who has recently been released from a mental institution into his mother's care. A few things are apparent at this stage, he did something awful to end up in the 'bad place' and it's related to his wife Nikki. Nikki is Pat's world. He will do anything to reconcile with her and end 'apart time' (read, restraining order). He reads the books that she teaches as part of her English syllabus and mostly he tried to be a good person and do what is right. He always looks for the silver lining in everything and believes his life is like a movie and therefore he will get his happy ending, because everybody gets their happy ending.
It's fair to say Pat is an unreliable narrator, but despite this he is likeable and provides the reader with an insight into mental illness, something in this day and age people still seem afraid to talk about.
His family and friends provide a menagerie of characters. His Mum is clearly the person he relies on the most. She is kind and caring and does everything she can to support her son. I like that she becomes more assertive during the story. His father is a mean, rude, grump who only seems to lighten up when his beloved Eagles win a game. His brother Jake and friend Ronnie provide 'manly backup' and his therapist Cliff, an Indian man who is also a fan of the Eagles is a great character helping him come to the right decisions on his own.
Then there is a Tiffany, a woman who is just as troubled as he is. Her husband passed away and she is left a widow, severely depressed and aiming to overcome this by having lots of random sex.
The characters are real and sympathetic and provide a great back up to Pat's story.
One of the thing's I didn't really enjoy about this book was the constant reference to football. I'm British and not a sports fan of any kind so I didn't particularly care about it, although I know it symbolises commitment to something, and for Pat's father and brother it's a family event, a time when they all come together.
There are lots of things within this book that surprised me but I don't want to give anything away as I want every reader to be just as shocked as I was. It really represented what mental illness can do to your life and those around you. That it doesn't simply affect one person. But with the right help things can become better.
I was disappointed at the end that not everything came together neatly, and then I realised that was the whole point. Matthew Quick's book is supposed to show the reader that life is not like a movie, we don't walk off into the sunset and that's okay as long as we appreciate what we've got.

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Thursday, 28 August 2014

Book Review: L.A. Confidential by James Ellroy

L.A. Confidential.L.A. Confidential. by James Ellroy
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I had read Ellroy's The Black Dahlia as part of my A-Z of authors and I really enjoyed the style of his writing.
I wanted to watch the film of L.A. Confidential but my policy is always to read the book first so I ordered it off Amazon and waited until the time was right.
I enjoy being sucked into Ellroy's noir world, but as it says on the cover 'not for the feint-hearted' and you need to be in the right frame of mind to cope with the bad language and the constant violence.
The story follows three policemen, Bud White, Ed Exley and Jack Vincennes. White to all intents and purposes is a thug, fighting and murdering his way through L.A. Exley is a police poster boy and does whatever he can to get to the top, but he is disliked intensely by his peers. Vincennes is hiding a lot of secrets but is enjoying his fame as a police consultant on TV programme Badge of Honour. All of them are vastly different, and it's their sparring that makes for an interesting read. They're also greatly flawed and I can't say I particularly sympathised with any of them but I wanted to follow their story to it's conclusion.
The reader is plunged into the deep end with a riot in the police cells at Christmas. Several police officers go to town on their prisoners fuelled with drugs and drink. Exley takes the stand against them and they're scattered far and wide working for different divisions. All of them are working on different cases, the massacre of The Nite Owl, books of torture porn, the rape and murder of a prostitute. And as always in Ellroy's world, everything seems to come together.
I love the author's characterisation, the style of his descriptions and the language he uses is excellent. I really felt part of this world he has created. But sometimes, because of that, the facts for me get muddled and I have to reread things to ensure that I have understood what's going on or that I haven't missed a major plot point.
I will definitely read some more of James Ellroy, but I think I'll give my brain some time to recover from the macabre and the language.

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Wednesday, 27 August 2014

End Of An Era

Daily Prompt: As a kid, were you happy or anxious about going back to school? Now that you’re older, how has your attitude toward the end of the summer evolved?
In a few weeks time I will be something I never thought I would be: a student. I will be part of Glyndwr University, learning all there is to know about Education.
When I was younger, although I longed for the summer holidays by the time September came around I was looking forward to using the new stationary I had bought, a diary, folders, pens, notebooks.
As much as I liked having the time off I would also be incredibly... bored. There were only so many books to read, films to watch, things to do. I was never really an outdoorsy kid, so for me playing in the square was never really an option.
By September the 1st I was ready to learn, get stuck back into my subjects and see my friends again, back to some kind of routine.
When I finished my A-Levels I wanted a break from education. I was fed up of coursework and exams and wanted to go out, get a job, live life.
After volunteering at school I realised that working with kids was what I was supposed to do with my life and took the steps to go back to university and qualify to be a teacher. I think it's quite ironic that considering I planned to never return to education, now I will be in education for the rest of my life.
Like when I was at school, or maybe more so, I'm counting down the days until my course starts. I'm a mixture of apprehension and excitement. I'm looking forward to structure and routine but also nervous to meet new people, the people I'm going to spend the next three years with. I also have a bedroom full of new stationary that I'm eager to use, so nothing new there then. 

Sunday, 24 August 2014

Tomorrow's World

Years ago, scientists predicted that by 2014 we would have robots doing all our household chores for us. They would keep our houses clean, cook for us and generally be a welcome companion. According to Back to the Future 2 next year we're to have Jaws 19, self tying shoes and hover-boards.
Today's Daily Prompt asks me what I would get a robot to do for me. Unfortunately for you, I'm quite boring in my response. I would have my robot do the hoovering, walk the dogs and do the dreaded washing up, all of the things I hate doing. Laundry I would happily do myself as I find folding quite therapeutic. When my parents went away I discovered that life is busy enough without housework!
As for other responsibilities I would quite happily continue to do my own homework, stage managing and volunteer work. I do all of those because I want to.

Saturday, 23 August 2014

The Long Run

(Today's Daily Post asks us to call inspiration from the first line of the last song we listened to. I couldn't remember what that was so I hit shuffle on my phone...)

I used to hurry a lot, I used to worry a lot, I used to stay out til the break of day.

Music is such an important part of life. It can bring back a memory in a flash, it can make you smile, make you dance, make you want to sing your heart out.
For me, The Eagles, and this song remind me of a time when I attempted to write a novel based on their hits. I listened to their Greatest Hits album on repeat, despite it being released long before I was born, and I would create characters out of the lyrics, see the stories unfold, see the car speeding past as 'the lights are turning red', envision the 'girl, my lord, in a flat-bed Ford.'
In my bed, the characters sung their songs and all their stories weaved together. It was epic, very complicated and involved several mind maps and lots of scribbling.
Unfortunately it never really got under way, although I still keep the notebook full of ideas and every time I hear a song by the fantastic band I see my characters. This particular line was sung by a teenage werewolf called Tam who had fallen in love with a very married witch.
As for me, I still hurry quite a bit, I worry a hell of a lot, and I've never stayed out til the break of day.

Tuesday, 19 August 2014

Digging A Tunnel To China

Today's Daily Post asked a question which I knew the answer to immediately. It's an answer I've known ever since 2011.
You have the ability to build a magical tunnel from your home to anywhere in the world. I imagine most people would answer with some far flung exotic place they've always wanted to visit. For me, it's very different, it's my home town.
Friends and family are very important to me and seeing as a fair few of them still leave in East Sussex I would build a magical tunnel to the South, branching off towards Seaford, Barcombe, Bexhill and with a stop in London.
It's hard for my family to travel all this way with various commitments, and unfortunately my Dad isn't well enough to travel at all. For me, it takes five hours to get there, and that's providing there are no delays or any adverse weather. To be able to pop through the tunnel to have dinner with my Nan, visit my Dad would be just wonderful.
Although I don't dislike the journey, travelling to Sussex is such an ordeal. It takes a whole day's worth of travelling, so what starts off as a five day holiday quickly becomes three. The public transport where my Nan lives is absolutely appalling, so once I'm at her house I can't really get anywhere else.
Then there's the luggage, if I'm staying a week I need a wheeled suitcase and taking that on the underground is certainly not fun.
I've realised this is becoming a moan about public transport so I'm going to cut it short. A tunnel to Sussex would just be a dream come true. Or teleportation, I'm not particularly fussy.

Tuesday, 12 August 2014

Dear Sir or Madam, Will You Read My Book?

Lately, I haven't been particularly inspired by the Daily Prompt suggestions, but today's actually got my brain working.
Ever since I can remember I've wanted to be an author. When I was a kid I wrote stories about squirrels, now I write about murder, mayhem and sex. I love writing, I love disappearing off into a mysterious world, sometimes fantasy, with characters that you love and hate and love to hate. I enjoy reading as much as I enjoy writing, but for me to get a book published would simply be a dream come true.
Today's prompt asks us to choose whether we would like to be revered and studied by a select few in about half a century, or whether we would like to be a popular paperback author, enjoyed by millions.
It didn't take me long to figure this one out. I want my work to be enjoyed by millions. The great thing about reading a book is that it's different for everyone. A character description can be interpreted in so many different ways. The locations mean different things to different people. For me, I love reading Peter James because his books are set in and around my home town, so I can picture where his characters are. For those that have never been to Brighton they can let their imaginations run riot.
I would love for people to read my novel and ask me questions about what or who inspired me. I'd love for readers to be taken away from their struggles in life to a little pocket of my own imagination. Reading is for everyone and should be enjoyed by everyone, which is why I love what World Book Night is doing by encouraging those that do not read.
Also, I do not believe books should be studied. Despite my love of English at school, I hated English Lit. Reading a book and then analysing why a character did something, or why the author decided it would be raining. As an author, my answer would just be 'because it is', but tearing apart and analysing something I would normally enjoy is not my idea of fun.
When I visit Booka, my favourite bookshop in town, I love looking at their displays. There's a large round table just inside the front door and if one day I could walk in and see my book on that table, I would be over the moon.

Sunday, 10 August 2014

Book Review: State of Fear by Michael Crichton

State of FearState of Fear by Michael Crichton
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I have always been a massive fan of Michael Crichton ever since I watched Jurassic Park as a kid. I adore the medical drama series ER, and consume his books in a matter of days.
So, looking for something in the 'action-adventure' vein I picked up State of Fear.
It took an age to actually get going. There were bits of action here and there but most of it was related to global warming, and whether or not this is a real problem in our modern age or we're blowing it out of proportion. Don't get me wrong, part of me loves that Crichton goes into such depth, and doesn't 'dumb it down' for his audience, but when he was referencing genuine scientific journals I got a bit... fed up. I didn't pick this up to be lectured, I picked this up because I wanted a thrill ride.
The actual 'action-adventure' stuff is great. Characters get stuck in the snow, there are lighting storms and all kinds of dangerous weather to contend with. The author really knows how to build tension and keep it going.
The characters are also well thought out and developed. I really liked Evans, a lawyer, who seemed like he'd got all caught up in this accidentally.
So overall, an interesting, pulse pounding piece, but would have been much improved, by more action and less debate.

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Thursday, 31 July 2014

Handy Andy

New day, new prompt. Today, The Daily Post questions my love of handmade items, when nearly everything is available to buy ready made why do we bother buying handmade stuff? Because handmade equals heart.
My favourite little shop in Oswestry is Booka, because it's unique, different and because it sells gorgeous handmade cakes. Yes, it may be a little rough around the edges but it tastes delicious and comes with service with a smile.
I love giving handmade gifts too. I'm not sure if taking photographs counts (because it does involve button pressing), but for my friend's birthday I gave her one of my popular Scrabble Art pieces. Scrabble Art is where I put together a person's name and their qualities or family members and take a picture. I suppose I am still making the gift as I sit there with my Scrabble box counting letters and hunting to find the elusive Q. I also gave her a box of home-made brownies.
My step-dad bakes the most wonderful bread and my Mum spends hours in the garden growing our own fruit and vegetables. We also have our own chickens so have a steady supply of eggs. Although not all of these are handmade, they all have a sense of doing something for our ourselves rather than buying ready made.
Following this tradition I also really enjoy writing my hand. Although I love having this blog and keeping it up to date, when I first have a spark of creative energy I get out a pen (or even a pencil) and some paper and feel the words flowing through my fingertips.
What I'd really like to do is have a go at making my own clothes. I have a bucket list and on that is 'to make my own dress'. To be able to take a basic design and a fabric I like and make something that I can wear and enjoy would be brilliant.
Handmade and home-made is definitely for the win and I would always pick it over something inscribed with 'Made in China'.

Monday, 28 July 2014

The Rain In Spain

It'll be a beautiful day, she had said. You won't need an umbrella, or a coat. So when I felt the first drops of rain on the back of my neck I cursed my mother for her tireless optimism.
But this was just a shower, nothing more, it would pass in a few minutes. We were in Spain, not Wales! But the rain only became heavier, soaking through my thin shirt.
It was no longer an option to stay outside, so without even looking up I pushed open the door nearest to me.
A brass bell above the door sounded loudly. The door swung shut behind me and all noise vanished. It was like the shop had been enveloped in cotton wool.
When my eyes adjusted to the dim fluorescent lighting I realised I was in some kind of antique shop. A thick layer of dust coated every artefact on the shelves. The bell hadn't brought anybody to the cluttered desk so I thought I'd just take a look around while I waited for the rain to pass.
The shop didn't appear to specialise in anything. There was a mishmash of clocks, wooden boxes, vases, statues. The whole right wall was covered in books of different shapes, sizes and conditions, while the left displayed some beautiful paintings and artwork.
I could feel the raindrops drip down my back and into my underwear. In this heat, at least I would dry quickly.
I walked down a narrow aisle until I reached the end where there was an enormous chest. Even me, at six foot could have curled up in there and closed the lid. It was full of junk mainly, bits of twisted metal that no longer resembled anything. But something caught my eye, something brass.
I gripped the handle tightly and pulled. With a great wrench it was released and I realised what I had in my hand was a lamp. It was covered in inscriptions and fine detail in a language I didn't recognise. It certainly wasn't Spanish. It immediately reminded me of Aladdin, a magic lamp. Maybe I would discover a genie and get to make three wishes I thought with childish glee. I even gave it a cursory rub before laughing at myself and dropping it back into the chest.
I made my way back to the window and peered out through the grime. It was still pouring down. Do I brave the weather or hang about a bit longer? I didn't get to make my decision, as the owner of the shop emerged through a plan wooden door behind the counter.
"Buen dia," he said, wish an open smile.
The man must have been in his seventies. He had no hair on his head but a white moustache and wore round spectacles on a bulbous nose. He dressed fairly plainly in a white shirt and waistcoat and the skin on his arms seem to hang off him.
"Hola," I said, hesitantly.
Thankfully, he picked up on my lack of language skills. "I see you are not from these parts."
What gave it away, my pale skin and fair hair? Or the camera swinging from my neck?
"No, I'm on holiday with my family," I said, moving towards the counter.
"Then welcome my dear," he said, clasping my hand.
As he took my hand I felt a jolt of electricity. It was like a burst of static from his hand to mine. Considering his wrists and fingers were gnarled with arthritis he had a surprisingly strong grip.
"Something seems to be troubling you," he said. I tried to remove my hand but he would not let me. After only a moment I stopped worrying about that, I felt myself relax. It felt like I had known this old man for years.
"Money. This holiday is practically free because of our relatives but my Mum and I barely have two cents to rub together," I said, like pouring my heart out to him was perfectly natural.
"Anything else?"
"My Dad is sick. It's terminal and I don't know what I'm going to do when he's gone." I blinked back tears from my eyes and tried to keep it together.
"What else is there?" he said, soothingly, using his thumb to stroke the back of my hand.
"I think my little brother is taking drugs, and I'm scared for him."
That last statement came out in a 'whoosh'. I'd never shared that with anybody, not even my mother.
The old man let go of my hand and all of a sudden all the noise came rushing back, car horns in the street, the sound of rain on the roof, the ticking of the clocks. I felt light headed and thirsty all at once.
"Are you alright my dear?" asked the shop owner, concern in his eyes.
"I just think I need to sit down," I said, plonking myself in a conveniently placed wooden throne.
"You take as long as you need," he said, "I'll get you something to drink." He tottered off back through the wooden door.
He must have been gone for about fifteen minutes when I gave up waiting. The rain had stopped and I felt generally healthier than I had before. I decided to wait no longer and continue on back to the villa.
When I let myself in through the front door my mother rushed at me, almost knocking me over.
"You'll never believe it!" she cried. Her face was wet with tears but there was a broad grin on her lips.
"What?" I asked, searching for some kind of clue.
"The doctors called. Your father's scan is clear. It's gone, all the cancer is gone." We spent about ten minutes jumping up and down and hugging in delight.
"There's another thing, your brother came to me today. He's been taking drugs but he feels awful about it and wants to get some help so we need to support him. Okay?"
"Of course, of course," I said, feeling slightly peculiar about what was going on.
"Now come inside," she said, whisking me in to enjoy a glass of lemonade.
Two of my 'wishes' had been granted. No, it couldn't be. This was just coincidence nothing more. Genies do not exist and they do not live at the back of antique shops in Spain.
The evening came upon us and I was flicking through the channels trying to find something that wasn't a Spanish soap opera and I happened upon the Euromillions. Something made me pause and something told me to look in my bag. It took me all of two seconds to discover the scrunched up Euromillions ticket that I had never bought and I watched in horror and delight as each number that came up was printed on my piece of paper. This couldn't be happening this wasn't possible. Cue more jumping up and down with my Mum.
The next day I decided to go back to the little antique shop to tell him all that had happened. But as I got closer I discovered it wasn't there. In it's place was a tired old Laundromat. I pressed my nose up against the glass to see if I had made a mistake, but the shape of the room was similar. Some of the clutter had found it's way there too. At the back I could just make out an old man sitting behind a counter, grasping another girl's hand as he had mine. I wished I could talk to her, share my experiences but part of me knew that was not an option. Make them count, I thought. Make them count.

(This was brought to you by a Daily Prompt. For the details, click here.)

Sunday, 27 July 2014

The Dream Team

Christine Hughes as Hippolyta
Since late February The OD Project has been working on it's latest open-air Shakespeare production. After the success of Much Ado About Nothing in July 2013, we returned this year with more gusto than ever for a unique performance of A Midsummer Night's Dream, a play of mischievous fairies, confused lovers and rude mechanicals.
Lead by Debbie Glenn, rehearsals started in early spring, a mixture of old faces and new. The play was cast but we were missing a Puck (a rather vital character) and Philostrate, an attendant to Duke Theseus.
Three auditioned for the playful Robin Goodfellow, veteran Tom Evans (aged 15), and newcomers Katy Bird and Shaun Higgins. The part was given to Mr Higgins, Tom taking the role of the bumbling Philostrate and Katy becoming lead fairy.
We were cast, rehearsals began with vim and vigour, there was lots of jumping, magic glowing fingers and giggles. Then two people had to drop out for unavoidable reasons, leaving places for Lysander, one of the four lovers and Bottom a rather vital mechanical who suffers from Titania's affections. It seemed that wherever we turned we were losing cast members, at no one's fault, but we needed to replace them and quick for the upcoming performances in July.
From lft to rght: Rhys Davies, Nick Chesters as Bottom, Larry
Collins as Peter Quince, Sander Van der Horst as Oberon,
April Ryder as Titania
Morgan Buswell and Nick Chesters stepped up to the roles respectively and rehearsals continued, helping our newcomers settle in as much as possible.
As the Stage Manager I got to work tea staining paper and gluing ribbon to make scrolls. I had meetings with Mark Evans, our brilliant set designer who made pillars turn into trees and Rosie my fellow Stage Manager who had somehow been put in charge of the costumes (and a mighty good job she did of it too!).
Rehearsals seem to go on forever. This year was a six month period, the year before was a staggering ten months. As always we seem to have all the time in the world, until suddenly it's on us and there is so much to do. Fairies need fairy lights, the marquee needs to be erected, costumes need to be altered. The list is never ending.
Tom Evans as Philostrate, Harry Ford as Flute, Rhys
Davies
Our first rehearsals as The Vaults (a fantastic pub in the heart of Oswestry with a beautiful performing space) always gives the cast a burst of energy. Being outside in the summer weather with everything coming together, costumes finally being completed, set pieces starting to arrive makes us realise how close we are to opening night.
We hired several costumes from the Royal Shakespeare Company and they were picked up on the Friday before the week of performance. Thankfully we received them early as several of them were in states of disrepair and despite us giving accurate measurements they didn't all fit properly. Out of all the costumes, only two needed no alteration or required the removal of a few ribs.
On Sunday a technical rehearsal at Chirk Castle (our first and only rehearsal) really put everything in perspective. It's a beautiful location, but it is huge. In comparison The Vaults is intimate.
Gabriella Edge as a fairy
Dress Rehearsal came and went with the only hitch being Puck misplacing his costume. As the character is bare chested a pair of trousers was all that was required and could be supplied. This time around Dress Rehearsal felt like opening night, so by the next morning I felt relaxed and ready to crack on with a show that I knew was going to be a hit.
Cast members started to arrive around six thirty. I'd been there for a few hours setting up and adding the finishing touches. Then came the news that no amateur dramatic company wants to hear. Someone was sick. Ian Collings played Starveling, a small role that he had really made his own. But looking like he belonged in The Simpsons he was sent home with orders to rest and our musical director Michael Jenkins stepped in. By Wednesday night he looked less yellow, more cream and rejoined the cast for two more successful performances at The Vaults. Each night our audience seemed to grow in size. Our Thursday audience definitely laughed the most and for the actors to hear the reaction it put a spring in their step.
Elly Clark as a fairy
Friday came with a change of location. So we packed up our pillars, trees, balloons and fairy bower and made our way to Chirk Castle. The heat was blistering and setting up a marquee in the midday sun was torture. At this stage we were unsure of numbers. Malcolm Lord, who was selling tickets to the cast had only sold four. I went home for a shower and a change of clothes and by the time I had returned to the wonderful Chirk Castle, the place was filling up. After a rousing speech from Debbie we put on a brilliant show, with no issues and an audience of more than a hundred. Roll on the last night!
All week, as an open-air production, we had been watching the weather forecast. A storm was coming. From friends on Facebook that still live in Sussex I had seen magnificent pictures of the sky filled with lightening. But that meant at some point it had to reach us.
During the day it had been raining on and off, but as the evening came round the sun came out and we all remained cautiously optimistic. We prepared for the worst with pac-a-macs and umbrellas at the ready, but hoped for the best. The first half of the performance went off without a hitch. The sky looked a bit darker but no sign of adverse weather yet. Then after the interval spots of rain began to appear, thunder rumbled and the sky lit up. I huddled under the tent, counting with the cast to work out how far away the storm was while the poor lovers were 'asleep' in the middle of the stage getting completely soaked. The worst thing was that with the pummelling rain I couldn't hear the cues for the actors or set changes. In the end I abandoned my script and the tent and went to stand by the hedge. Once I'd gotten over the fact that I was going to get soaked I just didn't care! But miraculously, despite the raging storm, the audience stayed. They were nearing two hundred and a few people sneaked off, but most stayed until the bitter end with us. As soon as the play came to an end, the rain eased up and stopped and the actors took great joy in adding in weather related lines.
So another successful year, working with a group of people that make everything so much fun, even in stressed and weather torn conditions. I can't wait until next year, when it all starts again. There are readings in September and October for the four plays under consideration as our next production.
If you wish to be a part in the OD Project, please don't hesitate to contact me.
'So, good night unto you all, / Give me your hands, if we be friends, / And Robin shall restore amends.'

Act Your Age, Not Your Shoe Size!

Age is just a number.

This is one of the most common sayings of all time, and today's Daily Prompt asks what I believe when it comes to age. For the full details, click here.
I am twenty-two. When I think about that, nothing really comes to mind. You're supposed to become an adult at twenty-one but according to my family I'll never be one. Until I have children of my own I will always be the baby of the family. Older people look back in fondness at certain years but there isn't one year that sticks out for me. I didn't really enjoying being a teenager, and turning twenty-one wasn't particularly exciting. I've always felt older than I am. As the only child I grew up quickly to involved in conversations and I've always been given my fair share of responsibility. By the time I was a teenager I acted like an adult, now that I'm in my early twenties I feel like I'm nearer thirty.
During secondary school I was always the 'mum' of the group. I was responsible, careful, kept an eye on my friends. I didn't get drunk, I never wanted to, I always felt like I should look out for them.
Now I'm older and my main friendship group is mums in their thirties I'm the baby of the group. But I feel like they accept me for being a bit more mature, for not acting like twenty-two years. As one of them said 'she is wide beyond her ears', don't you love auto-correct!
But I still have friends my age, that I get on perfectly well with. Having said that, my two closest friends are quite grown up. One has a full time job, rising career, independent with a brain for business. The other just graduated from university in London and plans to start working there in September. Neither of them go out clubbing every weekend and come home plastered.
I also have friends younger than me, in their late teenage years. I love spending time with them, they keep me up to date (because I'm so hip and cool!) and we have a great time together, even if they don't always get cultural references.
My oldest friend is in their eighties. And by friend I don't mean acquaintance, I mean someone that I genuinely care about and talk to about my problems and vice versa. So in terms of friends, age is meaningless. My eighty year old friend might not get my Harry Potter joke, but my repertoire stretches far and wide I'm sure I can find something that we have in common.
As for dating, I was once told by a colleague that a member of her family had been disowned because she chose to date someone nine years older than her. Frankly, I was appalled! (About the disowning, not the age gap.) I find myself attracted to people almost double my age, and I believe I have the maturity to be in a relationship with someone of that age. I've also considered dating younger (as long as it's legal!) because it really doesn't matter as long as you have a connection. If it was me in her situation my partner would be thirty-one. That seems like the perfect age to me, mature enough to deal with responsibilities and not be down the pub every night, but still young enough to start a family with.
As for my age it's still something I'm not sure about. I don't look my age, and when people discover that I'm 'only twenty-two', they say I'm a baby. Whenever I worry about what I'm going to do with my life they say 'don't worry, you have plenty of time', even though it really doesn't feel that way. I've worked out that by the time I'm a qualified teacher I will be twenty-six. When I say it like that it doesn't seem old, but four years ago I was eighteen, and that seems like a lifetime ago. So I'm attempting to ignore my age, and not compare myself to what other twenty-two year-olds have achieved. But I still celebrate as much as I can with my loved ones every April. 

Saturday, 26 July 2014

Book Review: The Gates by John Connolly

The Gates (Samuel Johnson, #1)The Gates by John Connolly
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

When I picked up this book I didn't realise it was aimed at children/young adults. The blurb had me hooked. Meet Samuel Johnson and his dog Boswell. Nothing much happens in Samuel's life, that is until his neighbour Mrs Abernathy opens the gates to hell.
A lot of other reviews compared author John Connolly to Douglas Adams but I found myself comparing him to Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett. The comedy and wit injected into the plot reminded me very much of Good Omens.
Samuel Johnson is a lovely central character. Being an eleven year old boy I didn't really identify with him that much but I imagine a young boy would like him. John Connolly also deals with modern day family problems, such as Sam's Dad leaving and how that affects his life.
The demons that feature in the novel aren't your normal demons. In fact, they're funny and not altogether very bright.
The action is described very well and humour is injected at every point, making it an enjoyable read.
I've read some of John Connolly work in the past and didn't enjoy it very much. But this I thoroughly enjoyed and will be recommending it to a ten year old who I'm sure will enjoy it just as much as I did.

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Thursday, 24 July 2014

In The Summertime, When The Weather Is Fine...

Another day of writer's block and another daily prompt brought to you buy The Daily Post. Click here for the details of today's prompt.
Music plays such an important part of my life. I rarely listen to silence, I like something in the background, whether it's Mumford and Sons, classic rock, 70's disco or swing. I've even taken to listening to classical music recently when I'm working so not to get distracted and start singing along.
There are certain songs that remind me of different people and different events. Barry White instantly reminds me of my Dad. The first time I heard him sing in the car it was to one of his songs. Equally, anything cheesy and disco brings back recollections of dodgy Dad dancing at a family event.
The whole Grease soundtrack reminds me of my childhood, re-enacting the scenes and the songs with friends was one of my favourite past times. Westlife's Flying Without Wings also brings back fond memories of performing with my fellow ten-year-olds.
My Mum introduced me to Bruce Springsteen, eighties rock and The Eagles. Many a time we've sat playing cards head banging and singing along to Whitesnake and REO Speedwagon.
In my later teenage years I have distinct memories of my whole year group singing along to Don't Stop Believin', which thanks to Glee has been one of the biggest hits of my generation. On the last day of term Use Somebody was also belted out by 200 eighteen-year-olds. However, the fact that I just had to look up the name of the song, shows what a lasting impact it made.
As for the song of this summer that I'll remember when I'm forty-two, well really I'm stumped. Pharell Williams' catchy pop tune Happy seems to be constantly playing in every advert, used for every sport celebration and on the radio every five times. It's got to the stage where I'm actually getting sick of it. The only other 'recent' song is Let It Go from Disney's Frozen. That seems to be following me around despite the film being released before Christmas.
If you look through my Spotify playlist everything on there will have been released years ago, or it'll be from a musical, or it'll have no words at all, or it'll be an acoustic version of a well known song.
If I had to narrow it down to just one song I would plump for The Coffee Song by Not Completely Blonde, a local band that made my perfect summer's day. A couple of weeks back I took my choir kids on a backstage tour of The Theatre Severn. The day was rounded off by the lovely members of Not Completely Blonde doing an acoustic set for us and a party. The day that initially I hadn't been looking forward to was just brilliant, I couldn't have asked for anything better. And now, as I'm typing this, the chorus of The Coffee Song is working it's way into my brain. Enjoy!

Wednesday, 23 July 2014

Book Review: The Altar of Bones by Philip Carter

Altar of Bones. Philip CarterAltar of Bones. Philip Carter by Philip Carter
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Lately I've been tearing through books like they're going out of fashion. This book was promised to be an adventure thriller, full of Russian spies, conspiracies and family history.
There are several prologues setting up the story, which I won't dwell on too much. They're interesting and insightful and they tie nicely into the story later on down the line. The two stories we should focus on are those of Ry O'Malley and Zoe Dmitroff who are brought together unwittingly in search of the altar of bones.
Zoe is a strong, likeable heroine, unless it comes to confined spaces and Ry is charismatic and handsome exactly what you'd expect from an action thriller like this one. Although it annoyed me that he was called Ry and not referred to by his full name.
Another reviewer said that this reads like a film script and I have to agree. There is cliché after cliché, and so many gun fights I found myself skimming the action to get onto the next part of the actual plot.
I enjoyed the historical references and the section that involved Ry's step-dad and Marilyn Monroe. In fact, that could have been a story all of it's own. This book was hefty and I think that was an issue, cut out some car chases and make this book two, or even book three. There was so much scope and it had been crammed all into one novel.
I gave this book two stars, because although I enjoyed it and found myself addicted to turning it's pages, I also was glad when it was over. I found it quite predictive and like many thriller books I've read before.
The only thing that wound me up, was that while Zoe was on the run, the first (and possibly last) chance she got to eat and she ordered a salad. That's an insane woman, right there.

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Wednesday, 16 July 2014

Full Disclosure

I feel that my creative writing has come to a stand still lately so I thought I'd have a go at a Daily Prompt. See here for the full details of today's.
So someone gives you a device which allows you to hear other people's thoughts. You can hear everything they are thinking, good and bad. The catch? It can never be turned off.
A few years back I would said 'hell yeah, hand me that chip!' I would have enjoyed listening in, discovering secrets, being my general nosey self. I love people watching, I love observing their body language, seeing people interact. Getting inside their brain would have been the icing on the cake! 
However, now, I'm more aware of privacy, more aware of not wanting to share every bit of information with the outside world. With the increase of social media, it seems like everybody posts pictures of every meal they eat, every time their mood shifts they change their status on Facebook, they have a new idea and Twitter is updated. In this day and age, is a mind reading chip even required when our lives are plastered all over the internet for everyone to see?
I have taken care to only show parts of my life and my world that I want others to see. I'm quite proud of my photography skills so images appear quite frequently. I'm quite happy to post my opinions on books, TV programmes and movies and I like to promote local events that I'm involved in. But my relationship status is hidden. I don't post very frequently at all about what I'm doing. I like to keep an air of mystery.
I also think being able to hear the thoughts of others would be claustrophobic. Imagine going out to a public event, somewhere where there is a lot of people. You would literally be bombarded. 
Also, I think friendships and relationships are protected by not knowing every thought and niggle. I love my friends and family to bits, they mean the world to me. But they are not perfect people, nobody is. Some days, I may be irritated by them, or not agree with something and I'm sure the same applies for them. But do I want to hear 'her bum looks big in that'? Or 'I wish she'd stop moaning'! No, definitely not. I have confidence issues as it is! 
So my mad scientist friend, you can keep your chip, I have learnt that the best thing to do is keep my nose out of other people's business!

Book Review: Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

Gone GirlGone Girl by Gillian Flynn
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Every now and then I browse through IMDB and look at the recently released trailers. Gone Girl was one of the first that popped up. Directed by David Fincher and staring Ben Affleck (who has spectacularly revived his career) I didn't hesitate to watch it. As soon as it was over I knew I HAD to read this book. A quick hunt through the Kindle Store and I purchased it for 99p.
When I saw the cover I realised I had picked it up in shops a few times, always intrigued but never going so far as to actually purchasing it.
As soon as I began reading I was hooked. The chapters alternate between Amy Elliot/Dunne's diary entries and narrative of Nick Dunne on the day that Amy disappears. The 'two sides to every story' idea intrigued me and I enjoyed reading each perspective. I've read books similar to this in that two or more narratives run alongside each other and normally I've preferred one over others but I looked forward to reading both of them.
Both Nick and Amy are immediately likeable, characters that you can relate to with flaws and feelings. They have believable family situations and the economy crash even plays a part in their story.
When Amy suddenly disappears, tonnes of questions are raised. The audience is kept in the dark for so long, but as a reader I couldn't wait to read the next chapter, find out what was going on, what had happened to Amy. Immediately, as her husband Nick is shrouded in suspicion and I found myself questioning his innocence as many of the characters do.
What elevates this novel from a run of the mill thriller to a full on character driven piece is Gillian Flynn. The touch of the treasure hunt, which Amy organises every anniversary, puts everything in a spin spreading clues far and wide, and is just a touch of genius.
As a single person I think I may take this book differently to someone who's married. Essentially this book is about marriage, and it analyses Nick and Amy's relationship at every turn.
It's so hard to review this book without giving anything away. I want to recommend it to everybody, so they have that same feeling of angst and excitement as the plot unravels and every piece is put into place. This book not only entertained me, it made me think, it made me look at people differently, and myself too. The only reason I gave it four stars is that it ended too quickly. I would have liked a prologue, or something that rounded the novel out, I found it too abrupt.
I would love to read more Gillian Flynn in the future and look forward to the film adaptation in October.

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Tuesday, 8 July 2014

Book Review: Miracle Cure by Harlan Coben

Miracle CureMiracle Cure by Harlan Coben
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I needed to read a book that I knew I would rip through in next to know time. My go to author for a quick read is Harlan Coben. I picked Miracle Cure as a book I known I hadn't read and settled down to be swept off into a world of mystery, suspense and conspiracy.
This novel features bright, beautiful Sara Lowell, an up and coming news reporter who is married to Michael Silverman a brilliant basketball player. As always with Coben's characters, if they're not childhood sweethearts they're almost perfect. They can't just be a regular journalist and basketball player they have to be the best, and they've all overcome adversity in some way to become these amazing people. Maybe the author wants us to aspire to be like them but I just feel that they're so unrealistic you can't relate to them. Although Michael Silverman's fame is key to the plot.
The story centres around an AIDS clinic working towards a cure for the virus. When several of it's patients suddenly get murdered after being cured, the police are brought into investigate.
Obviously this is a very simple and brief synopsis. There are several twists and turns, lots of intriguing characters and the fact that I read this book in 24 hours is testament to how easy it is to read and how much 'pull' it has to keep the reader invested page after page.
Coben doesn't dumb down his audience either. The science is explained well and thoroughly, but you only know what you need to know, he doesn't overload you with scientific material.
Overall, a great read, but I worked out who the culprit was before the end of the book, and I like to be surprised. However, this has given me a hunger to read and write, which was just what the doctor ordered.

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Monday, 16 June 2014

Book Review: Murder at the Laurels by Lesley Cookman (Libby Sarjeant #2)

Murder at the LaurelsMurder at the Laurels by Lesley Cookman
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

When I want to get into the 'twee murder mystery' frame of mind I always pick up Lesley Cookman. Her characters are likeable and funny, but also verging on caricature.
The plot for Murder at the Laurels is very traditional. Libby's friend Fran has an estranged aunt via marriage, who promptly cops it, leaving a small number of suspects. Aunt Eleanor lives in a care home, and immediately the owner of the home and two nurses are considered 'in on it'.
Having worked in a care home I was concerned at how care assistants would be portrayed. We don't have a good 'rap' in the media but I was pleasantly surprised by Cookman characters.
I was easily drawn in to the story, and I felt for the characters. Also, I didn't work out who the murderer was. Suspicion changed from person to person as the story progressed.
The reason that I only gave this three stars is because I missed the theatrical side of the story. The last novel was set heavily in the local theatre and I enjoyed that because of my own experiences at amateur theatre. However, it looks like the next one will take place at a pantomime, so I look forward to reading more of this series.

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Sunday, 8 June 2014

School of Rock...10 years on!




While browsing for choir material for September (yes, I am trying to be THAT organised) I suddenly had a brainwave. When I was in secondary school, my friends and I had varying levels of musical talent. From what I remember Stu played keyboards, Dan played guitar, Hannah was an excellent drummer and the Jess' were bass and guitar respectively. Singing was my only claim to UCTC fame, and organising, I was generally good at that. One of our collective ideas was to perform at the end of the school year (something that didn't happen incidentally), a selection of school related songs. The setlist was: Teenage Dirtbag by Wheatus, What I Go To School For by Busted and School of Rock from the movie of the same name.

I had last done 'rock' as a choir subject in the 2012/2013 academic year, and seeing as any children that were in choir then, were leaving this summer, I had a brand new selection of minds to mould and introduce to Queen, Bon Jovi and Journey.

The School of Rock song popped back into my head easily enough. With a few clicks I was watching the original video on YouTube. My brain instantly adapted the song for choir. I could see the kids really 'rocking out'. With our recent fund raising event we could even splash out on some inflatable guitars and top hats.

Then with a few more clicks I found this, and felt about 100. This is a reunion video of Jack Black and the kids from School of Rock, a ten year reunion video. The 'kids' are now my age, if not a little older, they've barely changed. and they still make fantastic music together. So enjoy this little trip down memory lane and look out for a performance coming to you local primary school!

Saturday, 31 May 2014

Book Review: The Silence Of The Lambs by Thomas Harris (Hannibal Lecter #2)

The Silence of the Lambs (Hannibal Lecter, #2)The Silence of the Lambs by Thomas Harris
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Everyone is at least familiar with Anthony Hopkins' portrayal of the infamous Hannibal Lecter. I must be one of few people that hasn't seen The Silence of the Lambs however I am watching Hannibal on Sky at the moment.
So I went into this picturing the wonderful Mads Mikkelsen as Hannibal, and Laurence Fishburne as Jack Crawford. However Jodie Foster was and always will be Clarice Starling.
What I didn't realise was that this wasn't the first in the Hannibal series. It is definitely the most famous, but I wasn't aware Red Dragon came before. Not that it matters because Thomas Harris writes his characters with such conviction and confidence.
The world of Quantico is so familiar now in different TV shows and films that it's easy to slip into this world of behavioural analysts, murderers, senators and policemen. It's well written, and every time Clarice meets Lecter you can feel the tension between them. Your skin crawls every time Hannibal speaks.
I don't want to give anything away, so I'm just going to encourage you to read this! Do it! Lose yourself in the infamous characters, the gritty dialogue and thrill of the chase.


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Tuesday, 20 May 2014

Sing When You're Winning

Me and Choir rehearsing at the church.
I have been running Weston Rhyn School Choir since January 2013. Ever since we started we have been going from strength to strength. This school year, ten girls turned up at the school hall for my first choir lesson. Already I knew we had something special. I had a close knit group that supported each other and cared for each other. Their voices blended well together when they sang, and there was this display of comradeship that I didn't have the previous academic year.
In December 2013 we were asked to perform for St John's Carol Service. There was some upset and nerves, but what really amazed and inspired me was their kindness towards each other. They held each others hand, they all rallied around each other.
Just before the Easter Holidays we performed to parents, to raise money for a minibus for a backstage trip to Theatre Severn in Shrewsbury. All we needed was £40, we raised a staggering £113! As ever I am continuously thankful to the wonderful parents and extended family for their support and encouragement. Whenever help is needed they are always at hand and nothing is too much trouble.
With our Easter performance came some more good news. We were to perform at Weston Rhyn Music and Arts Festival with several other choirs to raise money for the Charlotte Hartey Foundation. I was to don my Maria Von Trapp hat and perform Do-Re-Mi, while I asked one of the older members to sing a solo. Admittedly, there were nerves (mostly mine), but I had no doubt that they could perform to the standard required. Even singing alongside Llangollen Male Voice Choir and Folk/Rock band Not Completely Blonde.
The rehearsal came along, and we performed well, getting used to the acoustics in the large church, getting used to standing on the stage. Then along came the evening performance. At first came exclamations of 'I can't believe so-and-so's here!', 'I can't do it, I'm too nervous', 'When are we going to perform?'
We were given the chance to start the second half, and as we broke for the interval I could feel my nerves creeping in. I kept smiling, encouraged the children to get a drink, relax, chat to the other singers, maybe they could learn something. Then it was our turn to perform.
Me and Choir performing on the night.
I started at the very beginning, which is, according to Julie Andrews, a very good place to start and we sang with a smile and to perfection. We were met with riotous applause and whoops, and I'm not exaggerating. The audience loved us. Then we all departed the stage to let the soloist perform. Again, she was met with applause and support. Lots of other singers came along to congratulate her after she'd sat down. What a fantastic night, with so many fantastic performers and I am proud to include my choir within that.
At the end of the evening I was glowing as several audience members came to tell me how brilliant the choir were. It's lovely to hear their praise and encouragement.
I had choir today, and we've moved on to other projects. But as they sing together, so their love and support for one another I feel that proud glow return. I am truly lucky to be working with such brilliant children and I remind them of that fact as often as possible.

Wednesday, 14 May 2014

Book Review: Sirens by Tom Reynolds

SirensSirens by Tom Reynolds
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I've wanted to read this book since I saw the TV series way back in 2011. I recommended this to my Book Club, but alas, it didn't get picked.
So with a grand total of £60 in Amazon vouchers for my birthday I ordered up all the books that I wanted to read.
As a Care Assistant, health care does have an interest for me. I'm interested to see how other medical professionals view us. I've also always had a love for medical television, such as ER and Grey's Anatomy, but not once have I watched or read something that just focused on EMTs.
Tom Reynolds is a very accomplished writer. He is witty, funny and manages to get his point across without sounding too whiny. Obviously there are a lot of similar cases within this book but it doesn't get repetitive at all. I love how he doesn't talk down to his reader, he explains technical terms but he doesn't simplify them so much that the reader feels idiotic.
One negative thing, is that despite having been an A&E nurse himself, Tom Reynolds has no respect for midwives, GPs, nurses or any individuals involved in medicine, or social services. I can understand his frustration in part, having dealt with doctors who turned up in the middle of a resident's lunch, or didn't really seem to care. But his dislike for them seemed intense. Although to his credit, when he did meet a medical professional he liked and respected he did praise them, it just wasn't very often. He also described a good relationship with the police, which was surprising, but nice to read about, and moaned about the fire service.
I love how he captured the culture of London and the different communities that lived there. He highlighted how wonderful and helpful most strangers can be, while sometimes families seem not to care.
I was overwhelmed with the amount of stories that focused on an individual suffering from drug or alcohol abuse. It seemed a colossal waste of time for him to transport these people who clearly didn't want to be taken to hospital. And the amount of people that they can't save is also a lot more than we mere mortals realise. At one point he states that relatives of patients have high expectations because of how many people are resussitated on TV and I have to agree with him.
I also particularly liked the nicknames that were used, especially 'Nan down'.
Overall a great read filled with warmth and humour, I only wish there were more of his stories to read.

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Tuesday, 6 May 2014

Book Review: Pirate King by Laurie R. King

Pirate King (Mary Russell, #11)Pirate King by Laurie R. King
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

When I picked up this book I was super excited. Sherlock Holmes! Pirates! A film crew! What more could anybody want?
Unfortunately, this story lacks a lot. I have never read anything by Laurie R. King before, or any of the Mary Russell stories and I'm not sure I missed out.
Mary Russell in this incarnation, is Sherlock Holmes' somewhat surprising wife. This story is set in the 1920s, where Holmes must be a great deal older than his wife, and he wasn't featured until over half way into the novel, which was a bit disappointing.
Mrs Holmes is a strong female lead. I liked her, and she is definitely one of the stars in my two star rating. She holds her own in a male led world and provides a fluent narrative.
But the other characters were all very one dimensional, and there were far too many of them. Pirate King is about Randolph Flytte an eccentric film director. His film is about a film crew making a silent film version of The Pirates of Penzance, who then get kidnapped by pirates. There are thirteen daughters of the Major General, constables, pirates, and the crew. It's hard to keep track of who is who. Maybe a cast list or a 'credits' would have been beneficiary.
The reason Mary Russell is involved is because of a secretary that has gone missing, who Russell replaces. By the time the book is finished the resolution of this is somewhat cast aside in favour of swashbuckling.
I enjoyed the first half of the book, where the cast are assembled. The insight into the film industry in the 1920s was interesting and the trip on the boat to Lisbon reminded me of Peter Jackson's King Kong.
But overall, it veered off track too much and got lost amongst action and adventure. Maybe if I start at the first book I will enjoy it more, but I'm just glad that this one is over.

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Wednesday, 23 April 2014

Book Review: The Fault In Our Stars by John Green

The Fault in Our StarsThe Fault in Our Stars by John Green
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

My friend Helen nagged and nagged and nagged me to read this book. 'You must read it', she said, 'you will love it and you will cry'.
I must admit, I read the blurb and cringed. This wasn't my kind of book at all. I read books to take me away from all the crap in my life, I don't pick depressing reads.
From the moment I started reading I knew I would love this book. The character of Hazel Grace Lancaster is brilliant. I'd never read a story from the point of view of someone with cancer. Her attitude to her sickness was interesting to read. I never pitied her, and I think that was important, Hazel Grace would not want to be pitied. I thought she was funny and a refreshing female lead.
Then in walks Augustus Waters, one of the most amazing romantic leads I've ever read. Like Hazel I fell in love with him as I read each page, found out more about him. He also has a wicked sense of humour and this insatiable love of life, adventure and spontaneity.
I must really give great praise to John Green. He writes characters that can be easily related, realistic characters that take you on this incredible journey, through laughter and tears. After only one chapter I looked up the author and plan to read much more of his work.
I don't really want to give away what happens, because reading it and finding each surprise was part of the enjoyment, all I can say is READ THIS BOOK! You won't regret it!

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Sunday, 13 April 2014

Book Review: Twelve Angry Men by Reginald Rose

Twelve Angry MenTwelve Angry Men by Reginald Rose
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I have been considering directing a project for my local amateur theatre and narrowed it down to Twelve Angry Men and 'The History Boys'. I'd seen the film for the former and only knew it was a play because it was recently performed in Birmingham with Martin Shaw and Robert Vaughn.
When I'd first seen the film, my main thought was the tension. Not a lot physically happens and it's very dialogue heavy, but I was hooked from the minute the twelve men entered the jury room to the minute they exited.
The play in written form loses none of this tension. As I am considering it for an amateur theatre I pictured women as well as men in the role of each of the jurors. Reginald Rose portrays each character with individualism and the language used is vivid and filled with energy. The words jump off the page and by the time I had finished my knuckles were white.
Although a somewhat unrealistic play, the journey the reader (and eventually the audience member) is taken on is exhilarating ride, that finds you questioning your decision making and asks what you would do put in Juror #8 situation.

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Thursday, 10 April 2014

Book Review: The Blinded Man by Arne Dahl (#1)

The Blinded ManThe Blinded Man by Arne Dahl
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I was familiar with the TV series of the same name before I picked up The Blinded Man, the first in this collection.
The casting director of the TV series did a top notch job hiring actors that perfectly portrayed Arne Dahl's characters. Of course, the obvious exception is the leader of the A-Team, who is turned from a man in the novel, to a female on screen. Despite their flaws, they're all thoroughly likeable and their individual stories and quirks display their humanity. It's also interesting to see how each of them develop relationships with each other.
The case itself is nicknamed 'The Power Murders' by newspapers and media. Over a short period of time, three men who are high in society and wealthy are killed, execution style. Paul Hjelm is our main character and we follow him on his many leads as the case twists and turns to it's eventual conclusion.
Dahl not only writes characters well, but he knows how to wrack up the tension and excitement. As the authorities close in on their suspect, I literally felt on the edge of my seat (or more appropriately, my bed, which is where I mostly read).
My only complaint is the title. In Nordic circles it's known as 'Misterioso' which makes sense as there is piece of music by the same name linked directly to the murders. I feel like The Blinded Man was a quick afterthought.

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