Truth: The Oleah Chronicles by Michelle Johnson

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What would you do if everything you thought
to be true in your life was a lie?
Sixteen-year-old Angel Seriki must face overwhelming truths about her family when she meets Zander Black, a new student to her high school who is smart, charming and devastatingly beautiful. The revelations he uncovers to her about her family’s past changes everything, and as her relationship and feelings for Zander deepen, so do the risks involved. She must now accept her fate and face the true reality of who and what she is. Even if that means giving up everything, including being human.
 oleahchronicles.com

 

Truth is the first in a series of books by Michelle Johnson, an imaginative young writer with a penchant for mythical creatures and all things creative.

In Truth, Johnson has created a very interesting cast of characters, made even more so by introducing some of them in one world, before ripping them away and depositing them unceremoniously in another. This displacement is for good reason; if an evil queen threatened you and the entire population of your home planet, you’d probably jump ship too. No? Then you clearly have never crossed paths with Satan’s little sister before.

Truth is essentially a vamped up story about coming of age. We watch Angel grow from a regular teenager into a fierce heroine as she survives persistent vampires, homicidal demons, earthquakes, an unwanted 17th birthday party and worst of all, high school boys.  Despite all the other-worldly characters, and planet hopping, Truth is a very down to earth book. The characters are believable, which is made apparent in the closing chapters: when Angel is forced to give up her whole world, literally, the reader can’t help but feel her agony, particularly at the loss of her friend who she will do anything for. It is this deep friendship that spurs our reluctant heroine on to save the world, rather than the throngs of Oleahs bowing before her on her home planet.

The story kept my attention from page 1. I enjoyed the relationships depicted and the believable tensions and ensuing arguments that arose throughout. Johnson has got the balance between sci-fi, fantasy and the plausible spot on by dealing with everyday issues in a supernatural reality.

I look forward to the next installment!

 

Wonder.land: a new musical by Damon Albarn and Moira Buffini

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Welcome to wonder.land, where you can be exactly who you want to be.

A brand new musical inspired by Lewis Carroll’s iconic
Alice in Wonderland, with music by Damon Albarn and
book and lyrics by Moira Buffini.

The adventure will start here.

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When I found out I was going to see wonder.land, (which was approximately 35 minutes before the show started courtesy of a brilliant birthday surprise from my dear friend Gem), I was super excited, but didn’t know quite what to expect.

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“Meet me at The Palace Theatre at 7pm …”

I hadn’t heard much about it but the hot pink, semi faced Cheshire Cat on the billboard astride the Palace Theatre told me that I could expect some Alice and Wonderland type shenanigans with a modern twist. Sold. After the obligatory purchase of  showtime sustenance (giant buttons, obvs) we descended into our seats in the rafters (seriously, there should be parachutes or some kind of safety apparatus provided in those seats. I felt very much like a seagull coming to roost on a steep cliff face. But without the wings. I’m quite sure I developed vertigo.)

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View of the stage from the rafters at the Palace Theatre

The show began with our modern day Alice (Aly) in her rather drab bedroom, introducing us to her life and the other life in the game Wonder.land that is about to swallow Aly and the audience whole.  Aly uses wonder.land to escape her world, in which she is struggling to fit in at a new school that she has moved to due to a breakdown in her family. The drabness of her room is soon replaced by a psychedelic array of colours, textures, special effects and sounds that appear to filter from her imagination as she begins to play the game. Here, she creates an avatar that looks like the classic image of Alice that we all know and love.

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The White Rabbit and Aly’s avatar, Alice (theskinny.co.uk)

There is a wonderful amalgamation of real actors and visual effects on stage which creates a very other-worldly feel.  The Cheshire Cat is a little bit creepy, gliding across the stage in his ethereal, projected form, while the mad hatter (a real humanoid) pops up every so often throughout the musical in various locations, guiding the characters into ever mischievous adventures.

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The Cheshire Cat

I enjoyed the modern back story, which depicted the adolescent Alice’s attempt to survive a new school environment and wove together with Lewis Carroll’s original characters. As Aly guides Alice through Wonder.land, she meets these other characters, such as an egg and a lizard who are fellow students of Aly’s. We also meet the Caterpillar and of course the ominous White Rabbit who must be followed!  I thought some of the scenes were a little inconsequential and didn’t really add to the story. Some of the scenes with Aly’s errant dad felt a little forced like they were trying to eke out the story.

My absolute favourite character (I think possibly of all time) is Alice Manxome, the slightly delusional and very hilarious head teacher at Aly’s new school. She was just brilliant. She provided the most laughs, had the best voice by far and gave the musical a bit more oomph for the adults in the audience, the rest of the show being aimed more at teenagers. A particular favourite line was during a conversation between Ms Manxome and an errant student, which went a little something like this:

Student:

But Miss, I have dyslexia!

Ms Manxome:

We didn’t have dyslexia in my day. We had a condition                                called Thick.

Controversial, perhaps but that got the biggest laugh/ applause of the evening. This one line essentially sums her up. I love her.

Alice Manxome and her manipulated version of Alice with Aly watching helplessly on. (scscircle.com)

Alice Manxome is also a very cleverly placed, pivotal character that links the two worlds together. After confiscating Aly’s phone and placing her in detention (Ms Manxome delights in the habitual humiliation and incarceration of her students) the cruel head teacher provides our villain as she develops from simple Alice to a rather vicious Queen of Hearts character. She does this by assuming Alice’s avatar, making her as manipulative and malignant as she is. This of course causes problems for Aly who has to fight to save her character from the judging eyes of the other players (i.e. her fellow students at her new school) and worse, complete deletion from wonder.land.

While at times I did feel that I had stumbled into a show for the young ‘uns, I did enjoy it very much, weirdness and all. As well as being very entertaining, the show provided many good messages for the audience, young and old alike. There is a strong emphasis on “being yourself” and accepting yourself when others maybe don’t. Another message is to stand up to bullies, whether they be your peers or your superiors. There is also a strong commentary on the overwhelming use of technology in every day life. We’re all guilty of obsessively starting into our smartphones while dismissively grunting at the people in the real world who want to talk to us. When did it become socially acceptable to reach for your phone before saying “good morning” or playing games in lieu of having a conversation of an evening? It’s just rude, people. Look up and get a life. But read this blog first because its really good, then get a life.

Wonder.land has finished its run at The Palace Theatre in Manchester but it will be continuing Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland 150th anniversary celebrations in London from November 2015. You can watch the trailer here and read more about the 150th anniversary of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland here and here.

Romeo and Juliet by Chester Performs

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This is my second trip to Chester Performs in as many years. For those of you who are unindoctrinated, Chester Performs is an outdoor theatre event that springs up for the summer months in Grosvenor Park in the middle of Chester. Its a risky business, weather wise what with the gaping hole atop the auditorium. Allow me to illustrate further: on Sunday we started with torrential downpours, which progressed onto a light chill/ drizzle which then blossomed into eye squinting, sunstroke inducing hot sun.

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Awaiting the performance in the rain.

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A kindly Chester Performs worker fighting against soggy bottoms


The initial deluge saw the performance delayed a little but we didn’t mind. This was helped by inhaling the poshest picnic ever which consisted of sandwiches, cheese, olives and prosecco. Good times.

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Slightly bedraggled but happy with our prosecco!

It was a struggle to choose between the three plays but in the end we went for Romeo and Juliet because its a classic and it just happened to be on my birthday (happy birthday to me, happy birthday to me, happy birthday to Alicia, happy birthday to me). Ahem.

You can never see Romeo and Juliet too many times. This is not possible. I last saw it in September 2014 at the Victoria Baths in Manchester, which you can read all about here. I love how each interpretation of Romeo and Juliet is so original while retaining the authenticity of the story. Chester Performs version is the most refreshingly “authentic” version I’ve seen to date. I think a lot of theatre companies try to modernise, sexualise and americanise this play (just like wordpress is doing now as I write. NO, wordpress there is no “Z” in modernise and you do not spell “theatre” as “theater”. No offense to any American readers. But you’re wrong.) But here, we have a rustic, Italian setting, a young and petulant teenage Juliet, an excitable and somewhat immature Romeo and a historically accurate ending (read, no guns. Luhrmann, I’m looking at you).

The costumes were pretty and practical. Juliet had some great costume changes; a sage green play/ work dress; innocent, bridal white bed clothes; a stunning golden wedding robe. My only gripe is that the wedding guests arrived in black (bit depressing) but then again, the wedding day does immediately morph into a period of mourning so I’ll let that one slide. At least the guests didn’t turn up to the wedding in white and/ or cream. That would have been v. embarrassing for all involved, I’m sure we all agree.

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Awaiting drama in the rain!

Juliet was my favourite Juliet to date. She was a young, bouncy, conflicted, petulant, bright, passionate, beautiful angst ridden teenager. I enjoyed seeing a Juliet with a tousled blonde bob as opposed to the usual long, sleek, brunette locks. Romeo wasn’t my favourite, but again he was refreshingly different. He wasn’t stylish or devastatingly handsome or particularity suave but he was Juliet’s perfection, and that’s all that mattered. They played the relationship in such a believable way. They were hysterical in each other’s company and desolate when apart. They conversed at a remarkable speed,infusing as much emotion as possible into their last days. At one point I could not reconcile the soaring energy of the first half with the inevitable tragic end. It just didn’t seem possible that the world could continue without these two ecstatic lovebirds within it. But the whole cast were brilliant and the energy levels remained constant, if the happy mood did not.

One of my favourite things about Chester Performs is the use of music in their performances. They always have cracking singers and this time we were even treated to a singalong sesh pre-show with two ukulele clad minstrels. We had to sing in Italian, so I have no idea what they tricked us into saying. Everyone seemed to enjoy it anyway.

All in all, a very fun day out, which comes very highly recommended.

I’m hoping to get to some more performances this year to see the other shows on offer, but if not I’ll definitely be back next year!

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And the sun came out! See you soon Chester!

 

 

 

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

circus

 The circus arrives without warning. No announcements precede it. It is simply there, when yesterday it was not. Within the black-and-white striped canvas tents is an utterly unique experience full of breathtaking amazements. It is called Le Cirque des Rêves, and it is only open at night.

But behind the scenes, a fierce competition is underway—a duel between two young magicians, Celia and Marco, who have been trained since childhood expressly for this purpose by their mercurial instructors. Unbeknownst to them, this is a game in which only one can be left standing, and the circus is but the stage for a remarkable battle of imagination and will. Despite themselves, however, Celia and Marco tumble headfirst into love—a deep, magical love that makes the lights flicker and the room grow warm whenever they so much as brush hands.

True love or not, the game must play out, and the fates of everyone involved, from the cast of extraordinary circus per­formers to the patrons, hang in the balance, suspended as precariously as the daring acrobats overhead.

http://erinmorgenstern.com/

Erin Morgenstern is a talented writer lady living in Manhattan where she is currently working on her next masterpiece. Her debut novel needs no introduction, I’m sure, but tough you’re getting one anyway.

The Night Circus is, as it says on the tin about a circus. That only happens at night. It follows said circus on its global adventures, whose multiple stages provide lavish entertainment. The stage (s) has more than one purpose. Of course it entertains, but it also plays host to an intense competition with a sprinkling of peril and a dash of amour.

I don’t want to give anything away, so I’ll keep it short and sweet. But I will say this if you don’t mind. I wanted to hate this book. I really did. With all my heart and soul. I don’t know why exactly; its immense popularity, overnight success or the fact that the author has achieved that which I never will – that’s right people, she’s a NaNoWriMo winner. I am highly distrustful and/ or envious of anyone who can write a novel the month before Christmas. When does she shop please?!

Anyway, I wanted to hate it, but its no use. It’s far too charming, the characters too adorable and the story too intriguing. The more I attempted to rip it to shreds and the harder I pulled downwards, the higher it flung me in all sorts of directions like a somersaulting acrobat a la Cirque des Reves.  It has everything; fairy tale love, adventure, a duel to the end, a circus, magic, train journeys, red scarves, dresses that repel rainwater (can someone get the scientists working on that one).  I love this book.

If you haven’t already read it, as I suspect many of you have, go read it now.

The Taxidermist’s Daughter by Kate Mosse

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Sussex, 1912.

In a churchyard, villagers gather on the night when the ghosts of those who will die in the coming year are thought to walk. Here, where the estuary leads out to the sea, superstitions still hold sway.

Standing alone is the taxidermist’s daughter. At twenty-two, Constantia Gifford lives with her father in a decaying house: it contains all that is left of Gifford’s once world-famous museum of taxidermy. The stuffed birds that used to grace every parlour are out of fashion, leaving Gifford a disgraced and bitter man. The string of events that led to the museum’s closure are never spoken of and an accident has robbed Connie of any memory of those days.

The bell begins to toll and all eyes are fixed on the church. No one sees the gloved hands holding a garotte. As the last notes fade into the dark, a woman lies dead.

While the village braces itself against rising waters and the highest tide of the season, Connie struggles to discover who is responsible – and why the incident is causing memories to surface from her own vanished years. Does she know the figure she sees watching from the marshes? Who is the mysterious caller that leaves a note without being seen? And what is the secret that lies at the heart of Blackthorn House, hidden among the bell jars of her father’s workshop?

orionbooks.co.uk

Greetings book fans!

After an excellent week in Crete, I can think of no better way of re-submerging into real life than sharing a book review with you lovely people. So here is my review of Kate Mosse‘s The Taxidermist’s Daughter.

As per a previous post re holiday reads, I wanted a ‘once you pop you just can’t stop’ kind of book to accompany my holiday.  It had to be intriguing enough to keep my attention on a long flight (which began BEFORE the hour of 7am) but be accessible enough that I could  dip in and out throughout a busy week. Said week involved blood vessel bursting bike rides, thunder storms, bandaging fiance’s gross foot wound (true love), watching friends get engaged in the mountains, enjoying a spot of sunstroke, being embraced by an old Greek man with particularly moist arm pits that emitted a particularly pungent scent, drinking pina coladas and getting caught in the rain. (All of those things really happened). In addition, thanks to Mosse’s clever writing, I got some avian taxidermy and very strange murders thrown into the mix.

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Mosse said that she wrote this book after a long fascination with Taxidermy and I can see why. It certainly aroused a morbid curiosity in me. Mosse very neatly describes all the intricacies of the art of Taxidermy, unraveling each of the painstaking and often gruesome processes that makes a lifeless bird breathe again.  Mosse clearly has a high respect and interest in Taxidermy and she uses it beautifully as a metaphor for the life cycle of humans. The theme wraps around the characters, revealing their outwardly idyllic lives to be nothing short of a horror story. At the climax of the story, Mosse skilfully strips away the dead flesh and rebuilds the character’s lives into a beautiful tableaux, complete with a church wedding on a sunny day in which the characters can finally play happy families.  Just like the tableaux of birds that once sat in Gifford’s museum; finally resplendent even after the effects of death.

The quest for beauty is clearly an important theme in this novel. As well as the taxidermists in the story who aim to achieve beauty in their work, there is a portrait painter who loves to capture the beauty of his subjects.  All of this is set against a beautiful, if volatile country backdrop.  When I saw Mosse speaking at Harrogate History Festival a couple of years back, she talked about how her stories emerge from landscape. In Labyrinth, Sepulche and Citadel Mosse her inspiration was the Languedoc region in the south of France, which is described in some detail. Here, Mosse paints a vivid picture of the Sussex countryside out of which she draws her characters in such a way that they couldn’t possibly be anywhere else.

I am always a fan of Kate Mosse’s work and she has not let me down yet. If you haven’t tried her books before, or you found The Languedoc Trilogy not quite to your taste, I would most definitely recommend The Taxidermist’s Daughter. It’s a similar style to her previous work in that the voice changes chapter to chapter, but the theme is much darker than anything she’s done before; even counting The Mistletoe Bride.

Let me know what you think.

Alicia

My Life with Michael by Lori Schafer

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My Life with Michael: A Story of Sex and Beer for the Middle-Aged is a romantic fantasy for anyone who has ever wanted to have their beer and drink it, too. Surprisingly sweet, the story follows the course of an adulterous affair between two ordinary people confronting the changes that aging brings to the experience of love and sexuality. With humor and honesty, my novel explores the pleasures and pitfalls of the adulterous relationship: the crudity of the courtship, the raw sexuality that ultimately lapses into monotony, and, inevitably, the bittersweet farewell.

http://lorilschafer.blogspot.co.uk/

Lori Schafer is an eclectic writer, mainly focusing on romance, erotica and memoir.  This year she is celebrating the publications of two of her novels, adding to a list of short stories already available in print/ online.

I’d like to start by thanking Lori for sending me a copy of her book in exchange for an honest review. It’s always a pleasure to be approached by authors and entrusted with their hard work. So, Lori and booky readers, this is what I honestly thought of My Life with Michael.

To me, this book felt like two books written separately and spliced together somewhere in the middle. Let me explain. The first half is essentially taken from the shadowy corner of a popular lingerie/ sex accessory store. (You know with the fluff encrusted accessories, pocket sized battery operated toys and naughty books. Hey! Don’t you go  pretending you don’t know said corner! I see you. Oh, those batteries are for your electric toothbrush. Right, okay … ) Here, I’m sorry to say there isn’t much of a story line and the sexy happenings that do occur could easily be condensed into a short story collection a la Ann Summers. The second half however deals more with the effect that the adulterous relationship has on the people surrounding the illicit couple.

Schafer puts a LOT of detail into every chapter. Every day, every encounter, every beer festival, every sex scene is described in such minute detail that I now know more about Kathy than is reasonably acceptable. This would be OK, except that every chapter is essentially the same and can be summarised thus:

  • Kathy is bored with her boring boyfriend
  • Kathy goes to beer festival with boring boyfriend
  • Kathy and Michael make eyes at each other while boring boyfriend is distracted by beer
  • Kathy and Michael run away and have sex while boring boyfriend is probably having an affair of his own
  • Kathy and Michael slink back to their respective boring partners until next time

I couldn’t relate to the characters at all. It may be because I haven’t yet reached middle age, or that the thought of a beer festival (every weekend) doesn’t make me jump for joy, or that I have hobbies other than sex.  I couldn’t really get on board with the motivations of the characters either. Kathy and Michael are having an affair but they don’t really have any good reason; Kathy is bored of her 7 year relationship with her boyfriend and Michael’s wife has sworn off sex apparently.

I’m all up for a passionate affair but there’s nothing significant affecting Kathy and Michael’s decisions. There is no life or death; no real emotional need for these two people to be together. Think the direct opposite of Romeo and Juliet. Its all a bit wishy washy. People, if you’re not happy in your relationship, BREAK UP! Simple. No affairs required.

There are also quite a few gender specific stereotypes that I didn’t enjoy. As their affair progresses, Kathy and Michael decide that they need to rent a house so they can pretend to be real people in a real relationship. So obviously, Michael (the man) finds the stronghold while Kathy (the woman) spends weeks with her frivolous soft furnishings, making the house beautiful for her man, not letting him step foot in the door until it is perfection. Having said that, there is an interesting feminist commentary in chapter 13 re the pros and cons of marriage in the 21st century. Had this chapter appeared 13 chapters sooner I would have been happier.

I did grow fond of the characters towards the end but it was a bit too late. The read would have been made easier had we had another voice to guide us through the story. As it was, I found Kathy’s singular voice a little monotonous.

Its not really my cup of tea, but if you like your fiction with a heavy helping of filth and a  sprinkling of deviance then this book may be just the one for you.

Holiday Books for the Discerning Reader

 A short disclaimer:

There are no book recommendations in this post. It mostly consists of an open letter to the internet, which mostly consists of moaning and laziness. There. You have been forewarned.

Dear all search engines of the internet

There seems to be a problem with the language abilities of your search tools. It seems to be affecting all of you, which is odd. I can only assume its a algorithmical virus that has affected all internal dictionaries.  The problem is thus: when I type in a query, you provide a mismatching answer.

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Allow me to illustrate this further. When I type the words “holiday reads” into your search engine, my eye balls are bombarded with books covered in pastel illustrations and/or pictures of beaches. The (often) terribly punned titles shimmy across the dust cover in swirly calligraphy. The stories you recommend are invariably whimsically “romantic”, most of which would be better suited to a gossip magazine than in the pages of a book.

Note, that I asked for a “holiday read”, not a soppy, patronising “sizzler”.

I would not read this type of book at home, so I doubt my preferences are going to change when I leave the country. Now, you may question my wanting to find a “holiday read” at all. Why not just search for my next read as I usually would: trawling through reviews, flicking through bookshop websites, talking to actual humans. Well, internet, I didn’t want to bring this up but I have a very serious condition. I am lazy. There, I said it. I want to find a book that I happen to be taking on holiday to read, and I want you to tell me which one to read and then deliver it to my door. Or Kindle. I do not feel that I should be discriminated against because of my Laziness (actual disease) so it is only fair that you review your practices and bend to my every whim and start diversifying your wares when it comes to books that are recommended for holidays.

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When thinking about broadening your literary horizons, you may wish to consider the following points.

The purpose of the holiday read is three fold:

1) The airport/ airplane. The holiday read enriches an otherwise lengthy and dull wait. It is also a good shopping deterrent. Why do they fill airports with so much stuff that I think I want? FYI, it is just as expensive as in the real world. We must stop being fooled by the duty free tag. Invest in a good book, and those euros are safe.

2)  When hungover, holiday read can be placed lightly over the head so as to provide a slight shade. If the holiday read is of good quality, people will rightly believe you to be wildly intelligent and brilliant and not suspect how ropey you actual feel.

3) Whether on a romantic vacay with your other half (yep, just said “vacay”. Deal with it) or a fun filled week with friends, at some point you’re going to have to converse with your holiday companions. When comparing tan lines and sandal blisters becomes a little monotonous, delving into the lives and adventures in a good holiday read is always intriguing; what makes the author stand out, where they got their inspiration from; what do you think will happen next; how will it end?

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Yes, holidays are about discovering new lands, slowly poisoning yourself into happy stupors with really strong, cheap cocktails, testing the limits of factor 6 tanning oil and making brave, bold decisions such as the obligatory toe dip in the sea, which is NEVER the temperature that it purports to be. Trickery. But without a good book under my belt, it is a wasted week. Like all my weeks.

So, please all search engines of the internet, why not shoe in a few more intellectually stimulating books into your “holiday reads” lists. And hurry up, I have less than two weeks to play with here.

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Ta very much.

Yours acrimoniously

Alicia S. Bruce

PS. We also have the little problem of you suggesting “holiday reads for MEN/ holiday reads for WOMEN”. We’ll catch up about that another time.