Red August by H. L. Brooks

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On the cusp of womanhood, August Archer wakes up from powerful erotic dreams of werewolves to find her real life is even stranger, more violent, and more passionate than she ever could have dreamed in this modern-day telling of the Red Riding Hood story.

Hlbrooks.com

An adult retelling of beloved fairytale Little Red Riding Hood by author H. L. Brooks. Like the classic, there is a young girl named (August) Red, a grandmother living in a questionable, foliage bound residence, some pretty terrible parenting and of course the dangerous wolf with big eyes, big ears, big teeth and in this case, a rather large something else…

Unlike the story we all know and love, Red August contains a beast which is not entirely human nor entirely wolf, an errant mother who is definitely hiding something and an apothecary lady who deals in some rather unsavoury substances.

This is certainly a tale for the grown ups and not one that I would snuggle down to with my nephew and/ or niece of a Sunday eve. In other words there’s LOTS of sex in it. I don’t see this as a bad thing (so long as it’s true to the character, you can write whatever the heck you like my friend), but some people can be put off by this kind of fiction. If that’s you, Brooks has written a very interesting blog post explaining why there is quite a bit of sex in this book which you can read here.

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I enjoyed the way that Brooks played with the well known story, bending the rules a little so that we could see alternate angles, and introducing us to characters and their backstories to enrich the experience.

My favourite element of the book is the setting. The deep dark woods with the flowing stream, which encompasses Grandma’s quaint if generously proportioned home. Then there are the occasional references to the family’s homeland, Scotland, which wasn’t explored nearly enough for me.

Like all good books, Red August is awash with mystery and intrigue. As we slowly unravel the family secrets, and learn more about Red’s past, her current situation does make more sense but I wanted more. I sometimes felt a little out of touch with what was happening, but I guess that’s how Red must have felt among her family for a little while.

For a writer, an amazing part of the storytelling process is to share an important message that transcends the superficial storyline and reaches readers on a personal level. Bearing this in mind, I think Brooks has missed a trick in this book. (Dear author, please do forgive me for the next paragraph if I’ve interpreted this wrong. I feel inclined to tell you here that I am on a very tight schedule what with me being very busy and important with work and studying. Also, last night my cat decided that I was not looking nearly fancy enough for slumber and so he rolled himself out into a furry wrap and donned my chest, stretching from shoulder to shoulder, and proceeded to purr with volumes to rival the deepest thunder, between the hours of 3am and 6am making me a very sleepy human today.)

What I mean by that is I feel that the author sometimes glosses over some of the heavier subjects. Allow me to illustrate. Towards the beginning of the book, following an intense bout of bullying, August is sexually assaulted in a most brutal manner by a boy from her new school. This whole episode is soon forgotten however when the rest of the story kicks in. There is no mention of this violent, sexually explicit experience later on, even in relation to August’s many sexual fantasies and later on in her intimate encounters with Faolon.

Whether this is to demonstrate August’s resilience to the mental effects of the attack (an attribute worthy of her new found family history?) or whether the whole incident is an example of unnecessary background information on the author’s part, I haven’t quite worked out yet. I’m inclined to go with the latter. The boy who attacked August is left out of the book altogether, once he has been ruthlessly dealt with. There is already so much going on in the book that this episode serves little purpose but to paint August as an unfeeling robot, which of course we know she isn’t. It could also be construed as a way to show August’s protective relationship with her mother (as she shields her mother from hearing about her attack) but their relationship is shown in various other ways anyway.

Either way, it adds a certain darkness to the story.

I enjoyed the whole concept of the Red August. You guys know I bloody love a fairytale with a modern twist.

I look forward to the next instalment of the Red August series, which I believe is due out in 2016!

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Thanks Heather for sending me a copy of Red August to read and review.

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The Mermaid’s Sister by Carrie Anne Noble

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There is no cure for being who you truly are…

In a cottage high atop Llanfair Mountain, sixteen-year-old Clara lives with her sister, Maren, and guardian Auntie. By day, they gather herbs for Auntie’s healing potions. By night, Auntie spins tales of faraway lands and wicked fairies. Clara’s favorite story tells of three orphan infants—Clara, who was brought to Auntie by a stork; Maren, who arrived in a seashell; and their best friend, O’Neill, who was found beneath an apple tree.

One day, Clara discovers shimmering scales just beneath her sister’s skin. She realizes that Maren is becoming a mermaid—and knows that no mermaid can survive on land. Desperate to save her, Clara and O’Neill place the mermaid-girl in their gypsy wagon and set out for the sea. But no road is straight, and the trio encounters trouble around every bend. Ensnared by an evil troupe of traveling performers, Clara and O’Neill must find a way to save themselves and the ever-weakening mermaid.

And always, in the back of her mind, Clara wonders, if my sister is a mermaid, then what am I?

carrienoble.com

I was first attracted to this book by its fairy tale influences and also mostly by its pretty cover. This is because I am a shallow human being and fully accept that dark side of myself that judges books (and all things in life) by their covers. I’m also going through a bit of a fairy tale phase at the minute. Can’t get enough. Sometimes you just need to immerse yourself in a world where dragons are pets and mermaids are credible beings. I think I read somewhere that this book was a re-invention of The Little Mermaid. (It is possible that I may have imagined this.) Aside from the fact that there’s a mermaid in the story that experiences some metamorphosis along the way, there is little similarity. This isn’t a bad thing. Noble’s story is much more inventive: she has dragons in her story, which Hans Christian Andersen failed to utilise. Rookie mistake. (Just kidding Hans. I adore you).

As would be expected, Maren the mermaid is devastatingly beautiful. Clara, her human sister, pales in comparison, or at least this is what we are led to believe by Clara’s first person narrative. At first I felt sorry for Clara. It must have been hard for her growing up with such a stunner as her sister.  Believing herself to be second best both physically and competently, Clara defensively clings to propriety and manners. But the favourable reaction that she provokes among the male characters indicate that she is being somewhat of a self-deprecating attention seeker. Because of this, I didn’t particularly warm to Clara but I did want her to succeed in her mission, if not for her, for the people around her.

There are lots of clever little twists in the plot that link each character, whether they are main players or background fixings. Noble puts equal depth into all her characters, good and evil alike, creating a well-balanced narrative. She allows an empathetic experience across the board, exposing cruel Soraya’s compassion, and devoted O’Neill’s spineless indulgence.

The use of a first person narrative allows a steady, sing song like feel, which Noble sometimes steps out of with the use of dialogue and/or, (my favourite) when a character within the story tells a story of their own.  This is how we learn about Auntie’s past and how she came to live on Llanfair Mountain; a fairy tale within a fairy tale if you will. Very nice. All in all, an exciting, imaginative fantasy somewhere between the realms of The Night Circus and Shrek.

Can I just say (I can, its my blog) that there are a few negative reviews of this book on goodreads by people who have admitted to reviewing it despite only getting about 30% through. Not clever, people. Especially as a lot of the comments don’t even hold up if you read the whole book. I’m not against negative reviews, but I am opposed to bad reviews and bad reviewers who can’t even finish a book before ripping it to shreds. That is all.

I would just like to take this opportunity to thank me for buying this book so that I could read it and write an honest review about it. You’re welcome.

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!

 

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 Evil Seed by Joanne Harris

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When Alice Farrell is drawn to a Grantchester churchyard and reads a strange inscription on Rosemary Virginia Ashley’s gravestone, she feels oddly disturbed.

And when her former boyfriend Joe returns to Cambridge with his new girlfriend Ginny, Alice is repelled by the ethereal, lavender-eyed beauty – and certain of her evil.

Then Alice finds an old diary in Ginny’s room and reads the story of Daniel Holmes, who lived in Cambridge forty years earlier, and fell under the fatal spell of Rosemary Ashley. As the two stories intertwine, Alice’s suspicions about Ginny increase – until past meets present in a terrifying climax…

joanne-harris.co.uk

I’ve had a few long car journeys to contend with at work recently, so I thought I’d give audio books a chance.  Here’s my review of the very first audio book that I ever listened to – The Evil Seed by Joanne Harris, which consequently, is the very first book that Joanne Harris ever wrote.

The story begins a little ambiguously with several intriguing characters, sharing a town but divided by time, with their ordinary lives and ordinary dilemmas. It quickly becomes clear however that they are anything but ordinary as they each come to terms with their role in the vampire story in which they are embroiled. Some utilise keen detective skills, some attempt to run while others use the full force of denial to move through the drama.

The most interesting characters for me were Alice and Daniel. Both are the voice of reason in their respective time zones. They got the most airtime and maybe this is why they felt like the most rounded characters. Joe and Ginny on the other hand were very two dimensional, despite their pivotal roles in the story.

I’m going to go all feminist on you now ….

Ginny is a vampire. Say what you want about those bloodsuckers, but having done at least 8 hours of research into the nature of vampires (Twilight) I can confirm that vampires are strong, cunning and their lightning speed makes Usain Bolt seem positively sluggish. In other words, no one messes with Ginny. She would NOT be in my top three people to run into in a dark alley of an evening.

It says a lot about our society, does it not, that supernatural Ginny with knowledge and age that belies her iridescent appearance must act like a vulnerable, needy, pathetic excuse of a human, desperately seeking the protection of a male human in order to fit into our world. Just sayin’.

I know that Joanne Harris has mixed feelings about her debut novel. Not because we’re bezzies (except we did meet one time and I have a photo to prove it) but because I read it on her internet site on the web.  I too have mixed feelings about it. Mostly, I wish I had read it in book form rather than listened to it in broken car journeys. I’m not sure that I would have assigned the voices I heard as read by the narrators to the characters. The story itself is quite slow paced, but I did very much enjoy ‘reading’ Daniel’s diary in and among Alice’s journey.

If you love Joanne Harris, give it a go. I believe it is currently in print. Alternatively, why not give audiobooks a try? I downloaded my copy on iTunes.

Enjoy!

Write Now

Hello lovely readers

Hope your week has been fun thus far.  Today, I’m going to do a slight sales pitch for your eyeballs.  So, simultaneous apologies and allure-isms coming your way (this is a real word.  I know this cos I’m a writerer).

If you are a writerly type who enjoys a jaunt to the theatre, and you are located in the West Yorkshire area, then you should really know about Write Now.  Its a writing group specifically focused on writing for theatre.

A writer friend recently asked me, What actually happens in writing groups?  So for he, and anyone else who wants to know, here is a brief summary of what  actually happens in our writing group.

WHAT

Our main focus is writing for the stage but we do sometimes discuss screenplays too.  We talk about writing techniques including developing character, relationships between characters, place, purpose, motives, backstories.  We share reading recommendations, play recommendations, competition deadlines.  Sometimes we go watch a play together.  We talk about our goals and how to achieve them.  We read plays of established playwrights and some that we have written ourselves.  Oh, and we do some writing too.

All of this stuff might seem pretty obvious to any seasoned writer but talking about it really helps to hone our existing ideas and often create whole new ideas.  I always leave a Write Now sesh with at least five brand new characters and/or stories germinating in my head.

WHERE

Large Meeting Room, In the Attic, Up the Spiral Staircase, Through the Bar, Lawrence Batley Theatre, Huddersfield, West Yorkshire, England, Planet Earth.

LBT

WHEN

Every other Tuesday, 7-9pm term time only.  (email letscreate@thelbt.org for Autumn dates)

WHO

Unlike a lot of other writing groups, we have the advantage of having a real life, published, working, human playwright to lead the way.  Emma Hill is our resident expert in all things theatre.  The rest of us are theatre and writing enthusiasts.  Apart from Emma, there are no professional writers among us (yet) but we are all really good and brilliant and funny.

WHY

Traditionally, writing is a solitary activity.   But writing for theatre definitely lends itself to writing groups.  We are able to bring our works in progress to the group and hear our characters come to life, through group readings.  This is where we discover if our ideas actually work and whether our characters are believable.  Yeah, you can always ask friends and family to read your scripts but there’s something quite delicious about sharing your work with peers.  We give each other honest and constructive feedback. Everyone has the opportunity to discuss any issues / ideas that they have about their own stuff.

MISCELLANEOUS

There are usually about 6 sessions per term. Each session is £8 and paid upfront at the beginning of term.  I think the cost is slightly less for students but I am not a student so I don’t take note of such things.

I originally joined Write Now following an active search for writing groups and stumbling across it on the LBT website.  I have always been a writer in secret but I wanted to meet other writers.  I was also interested in developing my somewhat non-existent dialogue writing skills within the stories I was scribbling.  What better way to do this than to dive into a writing medium that deals almost solely in dialogue!?

If you are a writer in West Yorkshire, wanting to develop your scriptwriting skills (or even if you just find yourself at a loss for what to do of a Tuesday evening, we’re not picky) Write Now is the place for you!  So, do pop along, wielding the writing implement of your choice, a sprinkling of theatre lovin’ enthusiasm, a big wodge of lined paper and join the fun!

Check out the Lawrence Batley Theatre website here

Email letscreate@thelbt.org or call 01484 430528 for more information

Hero and/or Villain and True Love’s Kiss

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So I went to see “Maleficent” last night.  Definitely a firm favourite already.  I can’t wait to get this in my DVD collection.  The idyllic scenery is breath-taking, Ange is on fire as the eponymous hero and/or villain while the story is captivating.  The nuts and bolts of the story as we know it are there, but rearranged quite darkly.  The characters that we expect to be “good” find themselves ferreting about in the shadows, while the “villain” is twisted into a much more favourable light, as you will see.

I’ll just say this now.  While I’m not a fan of spoilers, I fear that there may be some lurking below.   So, if you haven’t seen this film yet and you don’t want to inadvertently find out any crucial info that may ruin your enjoyment of the film, I wouldn’t risk it.

Anyone still with me?

I’ll take that as a yes…

Moving on.  I do enjoy a retelling of a classic tale (hence my all consuming obsession with Once Upon a Time), because it allows the audience to delve that little deeper into the world of the story.  Classic fairy tales can sometimes be seen as a little outdated with regards to morals and ideals, particularly with regards to a woman’s place in the world.  But by retelling these tales and putting a modern spin on it, we still get to keep the characters and the stories that we know and love while experiencing them from a different perspective and learning something new about the world that we thought we already knew.

(SPOILER ahead) One of the most important messages in “Maleficent” as a retelling of “Sleeping Beauty”, is that the hero and the villain of the piece are not always as they seem.  First impressions are powerful things, but dig a little deeper and your assumptions are probably wrong.  At the end of the movie, the narrator, who turns out to be a grown up Aurora, tells us that the prophecy stating that either a hero OR a villain would unite the two lands, was wrong.  She says that in the end, it was one who was both hero AND villain in the form of Maleficent, the good fairy turned bad.  I found this statement particularly interesting, as we have been discussing this very thing in this week’s Write Now session – the protagonist hero with a dark side.

(More SPOILERS in this paragraph) I don’t agree with Aurora’s closing statement.  I don’t think Maleficent was ever the villain at all. She was always good.  She just reacted, quite understandably, in a negative way to the violation and heartbreak that she suffered at the hand of Stephen.   She experienced intense pain and torture at the loss of her wings and the betrayal of her childhood sweetheart.  But she does not let this pain defeat her. She powers on and takes a stand against the real villain in the piece – Stephen.  Sure, some of the things she does seem a little mean.  Yes, it isn’t socially normal to curse a baby on her christening day. And yes, turning birds into humans into wolves into horses into dragons to do your bidding and thereby perpetrating casual slavery does seem somewhat tyrannical, I’ll give you that. But what was the girl to do?  She was heartbroken!

Throughout the film, Maleficent shows her true nature in her developing relationship with Aurora.  She can’t help but shower Aurora with motherly love and in the end, it is this love that saves Aurora from the curse.   I like the idea of exploring the nature of true love’s kiss.  It’s an intrinsic fairy tale device and is something that has cropped up in a few movies recently – showing true love’s kiss as being something much more substantial than that between a boy and a girl who have met once before if at all.  Not good messages for the young brains absorbing these stories.

In “Enchanted” (2007) Princess Giselle desperately longs for her prince to come along so that she can experience true love’s kiss.  Her wish comes true when the very dashing Prince Edward gallops into her life. This film begins with a typical fairy tale happy ending; a situation that is all based on looks and chance meetings. As the film develops, Princess Giselle realises that she has nothing in common with her “true love” and she eventually finds a meaningful relationship with the right person.  Happy times.

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In “Frozen” (2013), true love is depicted as sisterly love, rather than the traditional romantic connotations.

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Again, in “Maleficent”, the nature of true love is depicted as that deep bond between family and friends rather than random handsome boy who has just met random beautiful girl.  After all, Aurora is awakened from the curse by the only person who truly loves her despite everything that they have been through. And despite the “prince” being drafted in to plant a smacker on the poor girl.

In Disney’s “Sleeping Beauty” (1959) Maleficent was a pure baddy.  There was not a jot of good in her.  “Maleficent” 2014 has shown us that there is more to the story than we thought.  Would a straight up villain save the day and undo the wrong that she has inflicted? No, no she would not.  Maleficent will always from now on be a hero in my eyes.  Good job, Disney folk.

In conclusion, I love this film.

The End.

 

PS the soundtrack for Maleficent is so beautiful.