A few days ago Always in the Write turned one and yes, I’m still celebrating. I’m truly amazed that I haven’t quit yet if I’m honest – I don’t like being a quitter but I know what I’m like and didn’t have high expectations of myself! What better way to celebrate than the first in that one series I mentioned ages ago and haven’t touched since my A Bookshelf For…series! Here are my top books I’ve reviewed for each month, along with links to the full reviews if you’re interested. It’s been quite the year, with some damn good books taking centre stage.
I mean, this is pretty self-explanatory really. I figured that as I post reviews for all the books I read, why not dedicate some space to music, film & television as well – so here it is. Lists of my recent loves, hates* and looking forward-to watching/listenings.
*Hate is a strong word but in the interests of contrast – dislike doesn’t have the same ring!
“‘You were meant to be more than a common beggar, our Bess. You could be a blesser. Next time you see a sick cow, bless it. Say three Ave Marias and sprinkle some water on the beast. Folks will pay you for such things’ […] What nonsense. The Church Warden would have me whipped and fined for saying the Ave Maria – and that was but mild chastisement. Catholics were still hanged in these parts”
**Real events that happened 400 years ago can’t have spoilers but I won’t spoil anything non-factual**
If you’re in the UK, you may have heard a new craze in the lead up to the University Challenge Final. I am, of course, talking about Monkmania – the love of Eric Monkman; Economics student, head of Wolfson College, Cambridge’s UC team and all-round genius. His eager attitude, facial expressions and sheer brainpower have won over the country.
Now, I’m not naïve enough to believe that all the attention Monkman has garnered is positive; in fact, most probably like him “ironically”. They love to mock him, rather than genuinely love him. He’s a novelty that they’re probably already bored of at the time of publishing this. I put it to you, however, that this sudden wave of attention for University Challenge, Monkman himself and academia in general, could be good.
It is London, 1756. In his Bloomsbury attic sits Dr Sabian Blake – astronomer, scientist, and master of the Kabbalah. Dr Blake is in possession of the Nemorensis, an ancient leather-bound book that holds the secrets of the universe. Scribbled into one of its margins is a mysterious prophecy and deciphering it could prove the key to saving London from a catastrophic fate. But there are others interested in the Nemorensis too, for more sinister reasons . . .
Wormwood is an allegorical fantasy novel, with strong Christian imagery throughout. The story centres around a book called the Nemorensis, seen by some as a fount of knowledge and others the Devil’s work. Dr Sabian Blake, owner of Nemorensis at the beginning of the book, finds a prediction in the book of a comet, Wormwood, falling to Earth and destroying London.
I was given this novella in exchange for an honest review. Sorry it’s late!
The Golden Tup is a novella, originally published in a collection called The Red Grouse Tales – named for the pub in which the stories were told by the author’s friends. The idea of a collection of stories originally verbally told, while an ancient tradition, has become quintessentially British to me. This may be to do with the sheer amount of Victorian fiction I’ve read with this theme, but I am partial to these kinds of stories.
With this in mind, the story is more a story-in-a-story. It opens with the storyteller and her friends. One of the friends enquires about the main characters of the actual story, leading to this being told. The Golden Tup reminds me of The Turn of the Screw in many ways, the obvious similarities in format being one of them.
The darkness and ambiguity in the story also reminds me of James’ work. The Golden Tup is incredibly dark in many ways. The main story focuses on a young couple who move into a long-abandoned farm house. They live a relatively happy, peaceful existence; until things ominously take a turn for the worst. Their tale mirrors that of the previous tenants in many ways, shedding light on why the property had been unoccupied for so long. Garland uses supernatural and religious themes that work well with such a rural, traditional setting. I like the use of Milton’s Paradise Lost, although I did find that this was forced at times.
There were several parts where the writing fell slightly short for me, but that is almost forgiven by the format of the tale. This is a ‘campfire’ sort of story, made to be told in a raw and natural way. It isn’t intended as perfectly polished literary narrative, and that works in this instance. It is the kind of story I can imagine people telling based on shocking headlines or local dramas – if there’s one thing I know about villages it’s that both imaginations and gossip run wild.
This adds a sort-of quaintness to an otherwise depressing and quite shocking tale. It is grounded in the more realistic setting of the pub in which it is told. The rural, quaint overtones are again comparable to many Victorian works of this kind, such as Frankenstein. There’s an element of fun that works to engage the reader further in the tale.
Overall I really enjoyed this story. It was short enough to read on a train journey but engaging enough that I would want more, and may get hold of the full collection. It is a nice little horror story to sink your teeth into, with some interesting motifs and themes.
See you soon,
So I don’t think this will really become a thing because I really don’t write creatively anywhere near as often as I should, but I’ve had these characters/this story kicking around for a really long time now and I’ve not really done much with it.
Over the last 6 years or so I’ve had periods of time in my life where I’ve had the luxury of being able to do the writer-y thing and sit in a coffee shop and work for hours; bliss, right? This hasn’t been possible recently, but it is how I started the idea this piece is a part of. I worked in a charity shop over the summer of 2014 and in the quieter periods there was a lot of staring out of the window while
stabbing myself with the tagging gun being a totally competent employee with perfect hand-eye coordination who could tag clothes and daydream at the same time. I once watched an older lady eat lunch at a bench opposite the shop under an umbrella – on a perfectly sunny day. That’s how the main character of the actual story, Lyza (the grandmother in this extract) came to be. I’ve got my characters mapped out and a few small extracts like this but working out a full plot is a challenge and a half. It’s meant to just be a really fun, silly little story!
Just for some context, as this is an extract therefore not really meant to be read alone, Wyn and Lyza are vampires, Janey is half vampire but her dad Cal (Wyn’s husband) is a fire demon. Janey’s two, so trying to control her powers in the human world is tricky, to say the least. This extract is really, really short but I hope you enjoy it all the same.
‘Janey, we’re going to be late.’
‘I don’t want a hat!’ Janey screamed, throwing the straw hat onto the floor and stomping her foot. Wyn scooped the hat up and put it back on her daughter’s head.
‘You have to wear it, you’ll burn otherwise.’
‘No.’ Janey glared at her mother in defiance. Wyn jumped behind the sofa, just as two rays of orange shot from Janey’s eyes and scorched the wall where her knees had been only a second before. The hat followed and Janey ran off. Wyn heard her struggling up the stairs, and took her chance.
‘Just like her father. Right then, desperate times call for desperate measures.’ She went to the wicker box next to the sofa and pulled out a thick, velvet throw. She swept out of the room, catching her daughter halfway up the stairs. In one smooth motion she had her covered from head to toe in the blanket, rushed outside and strapped into her car seat.
‘Hi mum, I’m really sorry but we’re going to be late. Janey would rather burn holes in the sofa than wear her hat. We’re on our way but I need to go to the shop and get another throw first, she’s gone through another two this afternoon.’
‘You should just let her go outside without it, she’ll be happy to wear it then.’
‘Oh let’s just give her garlic bread as well while we’re at it, shall we? I’m not letting her burn, mum.’
‘I’m kidding darling, just get here when you can. I’ll get Henry to speak to her when you get here, she’ll listen to him.’
‘Thanks mum, see you soon.’
Wyn parked the car and sighed in relief as she looked in her centre mirror; Janey was fast asleep. She silently prayed that she’d stay that way, at least until she could get her back in the car. She put on her own hat, a black sunhat with large rims, before gently placing the straw hat on Janey’s head.
‘Mumma?’ Janey rubbed her eyes, waking up just as they were at the checkout. She looked around, confused.
‘Well, look who’s awake! Hi there pretty girl!’ Wyn smiled at the cashier, an older woman with a strong Southern American drawl. ‘And isn’t that a lovely hat you’re wearing!’
Wyn froze, worried that Janey would get angry if she realised she was wearing the hat again. Janey, on the other hand, seemed quite happy to accept the compliment, giggling.
‘Thank you.’ She said, looking angelic. Wyn almost rolled her eyes as the cashier took a lollipop out of the box at the till.
‘Is she allowed one? My treat for being so good.’
‘Yes, thank you. You’re very kind.’ That’s why she was being so agreeable, Wyn thought, anything for sweets.
I know it’s short and unpolished but I hope you enjoyed – unfortunately not had much time this week but I will be back with a review for you on Wednesday!
See you soon,
PS I know the photo has nothing to do w this, I just didn’t have anything relevant! Plus it’s only part of my face so like, sneak peek? Kinda? It’s a stretch.
I was given a copy of this book via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
Paris for One and Other Stories is, as you might expect from the title, a book of short stories. The book features the titular Paris for One, more of a novella than short story, followed by 10 shorter stories of varying lengths.
Paris for One, the main story, follows an anxious Nell as she travels to Paris for the first time. What was supposed to be a romantic weekend with her uninterested boyfriend soon turns into a journey of self-discovery and of Nell finding her courage. The story also follows Fabien, a Parisian writer who was left heartbroken by his now ex-girlfriend a few months before the story begins. He is working on a book but lacks the motivation and confidence to finish it.
Okay, so you can probably see where this is going. I can’t say the story isn’t predictable, but it’s well written, charming and sophisticated.
All of the stories follow similar themes of romance and self-discovery. Relationships are the central theme for this collection. There are marriages, new loves, break ups and old friends. Couples who can’t make it work and couples who work through thick and thin. The protagonists are all strong, realistic women. Some of the stories are set in Paris, but this isn’t a running theme.
As a historical fiction junkie, it comes as no surprise that my favourite story in the collection is Honeymoon in Paris. I adore when stories combine the past with the present, but it is so easy to get wrong that I approach these kinds of stories tentatively. Moyes got this trope completely spot on, however, with her tales of Liv and Sophie. It was only on googling the book for this review that I learned that this is a sort of mini-prequel to a novel based on the two women, The Girl You Left Behind – it’s safe to say that I will be giving that a read!
Overall, I really enjoyed this book. I was in London when I started it and I feel like it would be a perfect commuting read. The stories are gripping but wrap up nicely, and can be read in short periods of time. While I have found myself wanting more from some of the stories, they work wonderfully as stand-alones and are all paced really well. They might not be deep, brooding or particularly “literary”, but these are lovely little stories to brighten your day with and help restore some of your faith in humanity. I hadn’t read any of JoJo Moyes’ work until now, but I can see what all the fuss is about.
See you soon,
So unless you’ve been avoiding me intentionally, you probably know that I saw Harry Potter and the Cursed Child at the Palace Theatre in London last weekend and haven’t really shut up about it since.
There’s so much to say, and I feel like I’ve been holding it all up waiting to spill it all out once I’d analysed everything properly in my head, but seeing as that would take even the most seasoned analyst (aka me) weeks and weeks, I decided to do it now. I won’t shut up about it still, but it’s a start. You can live in hope.
I’ve tried to keep this spoiler free, so if you’ve not seen it or read the script you are safe to read on. Okay there’s a tiny spoiler but if you’ve seen the press release photos you’ll know it anyway. I’ve marked it so if you do want to skip it you can.
Now I know most people have a lot of criticism of the script. Looking back on the show, I can see why. The plot isn’t great and if I tried to sum it up on paper it would sound ridiculous – does sound ridiculous, in fact. What you must remember when reading a script is this: the script =/= the play. It’s just the script. It’s not the whole play. The writing is one dimension to a multi-layered performance piece. There’s far more to consider in theatre than the words on the page. In a novel, you have full characterisation, subplot and description in the words. In a play a lot of this comes down to the actors, the music, the set. The feel of the play is often found more in these other aspects than the writing – so it’s bound to come off feeling unpolished and shallow. The script has the words the characters say, but can’t completely portray the way they say them – the actors do that. The music adds tension or relief. The set adds description and context. I understand not liking the script, I do, but it’s important to remember that the script isn’t the full picture. It’s also important to remember that there isn’t the time to fit the whole entire story of the universe in one play – it’s 5 hours long as it is! It took 7 books to fit 18 years of Harry’s life in – a play can’t fit the next 20 odd years in their entirety in.
Right, well that’s that out of the way, let’s talk about the show. I think going along the lines of the above rant, we’ll break it up.
Actors and Characterisation
Firstly, BLACK HERMIONE IS EVERYTHING. I was a little disappointed that Noma Dumezweni was off on the day I saw it but the cover, Nicola Alexis, was incredible. I can’t sing her praises enough. This Hermione can come off a little cold, but she always did. She is overly logical and tends to use her head over her heart, just as she did as a child – this has always given the wrong impression. She is warm when it matters and fiercely loyal (also just plain fierce) but unafraid to make difficult decisions. Cursed Child Hermione is no different, just more grown up.
I was a little disappointed by Ron’s part in the play. It feels similar to his part in the films – he is just the funny best friend. While he’s charming and again the actor was fantastic, his part was relatively small. I’d have liked to have seen just him and Harry have a moment or two; but as I said above, time constraints are understandable.
Harry…. Harry’s always been a difficult sod, hasn’t he? There were moments where I thought “that’s not my Harry” or “my Harry wouldn’t think like that”, but on thinking about it – Harry in the play is 20 years older than when we last left him (well, excluding the end scene but we didn’t really get much from that did we). A lot has changed and a lot still haunts him. He has three children, a stressful job, PTSD from the whole “nearly died when my parents were brutally murdered then again every year for 7 years, after 11 years of living with abusive muggle pricks”* thing – he’s not exactly going to be the cheeky chappy sassy teenager who told Snape not to call him sir still. He’s moody, neurotic, angry, self-centred… which he kind of was anyway. A lot. He’s scared, he’s protective of his children and like so many parents he hasn’t got a clue what his kid’s problem is. So while I had moments where I was disappointed in his character, I also found it realistic that as an adult he’s obviously changed somewhat. People change and it isn’t always for the better.
*My words not his, but still true.
Ginny played a far bigger role than in the films, which I was so glad of, but again I’d have liked to have seen more of her. She was still a sort of supporting role for Harry a lot of the time, with a few badass outbursts – she is a badass so why don’t we see that?
Draco was charmingly funny with the usual “I’m more emo than you” competitions with Harry thrown in for good measure.
McGonagall. BAMF as per.
The kids. Oh, the kids. My beloved next generation of freedom fighters. So many mixed feelings.
You can tell Albus is Harry’s, that’s pretty much all I need to say. He does the “YOU DON’T UNDERSTAND ME IT’S NOT A PHASE” thing just as well as his father.
James is a lovable prick, like his granddad.
Scorpius, man. SCOR-PI-US. I’ve loved him since we were introduced, but now we’ve got some real characterisation? Love, love, love him. Anthony Boyle totally smashed it, he had us in stitches, tears and everything in between. Brilliant.
Rose…was not what I was expecting. I think I’d pinned an awful lot of hope on Rose, and unfortunately for me her characterisation was the least realistic – I found myself feeling that this wasn’t the child my Ron & Hermione would have raised. Cherrelle Skeete is a wonderful actress and she did a beautiful job, but I wasn’t keen on the character and that did upset me.
I won’t discuss any of the other characters so as not to spoil it, so…
Wow. Just wow. The visuals were absolutely breathtaking. It was clear that a lot of thought went in to making transitions, prop changes etc as smooth as possible, while also having that typical magic touch.
The magic itself was shown beautifully and we kept saying that we couldn’t see wires, couldn’t tell how most of it was done – of course it’s not all completely seamless, but for theatre they did a damn good job.
The costuming was brilliant and some of the special effect costumes were actually better than their film CGI counterparts. Absolutely everything was thought out and incredible detail went into creating the visual effects in the play. My only complaint is MINOR SPOILER BUT NOT IF YOU’VE SEEN THE PRESS PHOTOS that they changed the Ravenclaw colours yet again! We’re blue and bronze, not blue and silver and not blue and light blue. They also changed Hufflepuff’s colours to yellow and brown. They look good, sure, but I quite like being blue and bronze. SPOILER OVER
The music was lovely, and certainly felt like a run on from the film scores, but didn’t pack quite the same punch. Of course, in a play you don’t really expect grand overtures (except from a musical), so I believe it fit its purpose, but it wasn’t as memorable to me as I’d have liked.
I’ve sort of mentioned this already, but the plot didn’t bowl me over. It was fine, but not massively strong or impactful. A lot of people go on about the discrepancies in the plot and JKR’s existing logic about certain things, but if I’m honest I haven’t memorised every detail of canon and I think it made sense even if it wasn’t the strongest storyline in the history of the world. I didn’t go into this taking it as the eighth story, more an added bonus. I’m perfectly happy with the pure main canon of 7 books and 7 films; anything after these are either added bonuses I happen to like or things I don’t like but don’t feel too upset about because they’re not actually part of the main story in my eyes. I never particularly wanted more books or more canonical stuff, so to me I could take it or leave it (or, I could before).
So to sum up, the plot wasn’t the best and I can see how it might not translate on the page. Coupled with incredible actors and a wonderful, atmospheric set it almost doesn’t matter. It got me excited, proud of my precious characters and I may have shed a tear or two. Or several. We were very lucky to get most of the main cast working on the day we went, and all who performed did a fantastic job. I’m the first to admit that there are a lot of issues, both with the play and with using theatre to tell this story, but there’s just something about the atmosphere and the actors that made The Cursed Child so enjoyable to me. Maybe it’s just the effect of the theatre.
Have you seen it? Read it? Thoughts?
See you soon,
I was given a copy of this book via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
It would be small and manageable, just a tiny bird, embarrassingly little. Not a crisis. And that’s why I regret it. Because the attitude that somehow, without our acting, the little things will take care of themselves does not ring true anymore.
Kyo Maclear’s Birds Art Life Death follows her through a year of her life and discovery of birds and their impact. At the beginning of the book her father is unwell and she is beginning to fall out of love with her art. She falls into a rut of being unable to write and create the way she’d like – until she meets a bird-loving musician. The Musician, as he is referred to throughout the novel, introduces her not only to birds but to the idea that the small and seemingly insignificant can mean everything.
For someone who was in such a creative rut, Maclear writes beautifully. She is honest, funny and writes with quiet grace. Her work is well thought out and intelligent, but also raw and natural. Her struggle to create is relatable and her observations pure and uncensored. Her encounter with a Peregrine falcon, for example, shows the greying and harsh Toronto environment against the majesty of the bird.
This is by no means a research book. Maclear’s ornithological interest doesn’t become boring, and she doesn’t write about fact or science – in fact she does write about finding the balance between looking at birds too scientifically or too sentimentally. In a period of being unable to go out birding with the musician she reads books on birds, and finds that many are too factual for her needs. She writes more often purely on her experiences with birds, not the science behind them – although occasionally this does play a part in moving the story on.
The point of the book is to show that the insignificant, small things can be some of the most important. Birds are a constant, as are art, life and death. No matter what is happening in the world, people will take comfort in the small things – and that’s okay.
Birds Art Life Death is a wonderful little book. It is understated and modest, just like it’s subject matter, but with a lot of life lessons and wisdom in its pages. I’m a little disappointed that I only have the eBook copy – I feel like there are some books I want to physically hold, and this is one (that is a good thing!).
See you soon,