A Night at the Theatre | Theatrical Blog Tour

To imagine my life without the theatre in it would be very difficult. I’ve been lucky enough to spend time both in the seats and on the stage. When the lovely team at Usborne asked me to write a little about my love for the theatre in order to celebrate the release of Theatrical by Maggie Harcourt, I leaped at the chance.

C1083E63-261A-456C-B4B0-304BBBF2E4F8

My earliest memories of the theatre all involve my tiny grandma, Betty Little. She would pick me up in her little red Mini, which had absolutely no suspension whatsoever, and we would head over to the Rhyl Pavillion, a theatre that literally had a waterpark known as The Sun Centre attached to it for most of my childhood (I’m always a little bit surprised that other lobbies don’t have a slight odour of chlorine). We would watch all manner of shows, with a bag of Werthers Originals between us — surreptitiously unwrapping each sweet without causing any sound was all part of the experience. I loved seeing stories unfold before me, the rush of excitement knowing that anything could happen.

Throughout primary school, I was regularly on the stage — I was Mary twice, a fox cub in Fantastic Mr Fox, the lead girl in this really strange musical that seemed to be a rip off of both Rocky Horror and Petshop of Horrors (I just played the sample of Looking for the Action, a song which has haunted my memory for 20 years), and one of the ugly sisters in Cinders, amongst others. I remember playing Mary Jones, a young Welsh girl who walked miles to get a bible from Bala, more than once; the scent of the plastic fish and bread I was supposed to mime eat so very vivid twenty years later. My childhood is punctuated by learning lines, being fitted for costumes made of impossibly shiny material, the drying sensation of the heavily painted lipstick and of Jonathan Fisher-Jones and I trying to box people in during the waltz part of Cinders, just to make it a little more fun.

WhatsApp Image 2018-07-16 at 18.39.39

My parents absolutely pegged me for a theatre kid, but as my high school had no real drama program and we couldn’t afford the local theatre school, my thespian days were over and I focussed more on my voice. Our high school put on annual summer concerts at the very same theatre I spent my childhood, in which I would usually insist on singing at least two solo pieces. I belted out I Dreamed a Dream, the intonation entirely copied from Ruthie Henshall as I’d never heard another version sung. I bounced along to the achingly sweet Walking Back to Happiness, a song I was gifted by my music teacher due to my low rich voice. I performed a definitely-too-raunchy version of Fever while wearing a plunging dress and a feather boa in my final concert, aged seventeen. And in between these performances, we ran around the backstage and its corridors, walked by so many before us. We would find hallmarks of previous visitors, consigned to history like ghosts — a rogue lipstick, a song list, a sign designating whose dressing room was whose. Those memories are some of the happiest of my teenage years, the giddy rush of performance and the camaraderie of local showbiz.

Processed with VSCO with c1 preset

This year, I’ve been incredibly lucky to see some fantastic shows. My dear friend Ruth and I have made a pact to go see as much theatre in the next year or so as possible, and my musical obsessed friend Lauren has promised to show me all her favourite shows when I move to South London later this year. I howled with laughter at Verity Rushworth’s performance of History of Wrong Guys from Kinky Boots. I sobbed extensively through Hamilton, a musical that occupied every waking thought of mine in 2016. I marvelled at Laura Linney’s almost chameleonic ability to switch between the characters of Lucy Barton and her mother in the monologue adaptation of My Name is Lucy Barton. I marvelled at the dialogue and playfulness of Friel’s Translations at the National Theatre, all the time thinking of how colonialism scours the land.

Each experience so different but unforgettable to all my senses; the collective held gasp of the audience, the sooty vapour of stage smoke, the change in lighting to draw the eye. Theatre’s all-sensory nature amazes me, and even a bad play can still be an interesting night.

And this is what I think Harcourt’s novel Theatrical explores so effortlessly — not only the life behind the scenes, but that brought to the stage, the life in the seats. I was completely absorbed into Hope’s story, not only her swoony romance but her work managing the stage, which Harcourt has clearly researched extremely thoroughly.

Here’s the blurb for you:

Hope dreams of working backstage in a theatre, and she’s determined to make it without the help of her famous costume-designer mum. So when she lands an internship on a major production, she tells no one. But with a stroppy Hollywood star and his hot young understudy upstaging Hope’s focus, she’s soon struggling to keep her cool…and her secret.

Theatrical is the perfect summer novel, not only for theatre lovers, but for anyone who has ever wanted to follow their passions and dreams.

You can pick up your copy of Theatrical here:

Hive (UK) // Book Depository (International)

Why not go check out the other stops on the tour and learn about other people’s relationships with the theatre.

Theatrical blog tour (1).jpg

Thank you kindly to Stevie Hopwood for inviting me to be on the tour and for sending me a reading copy of Theatrical, and to Maggie Harcourt for writing it.

Please note that Book Depository links from this site are affiliate links.

The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden | 1 Minute Reviews

Now, I know that Spring is immediately around the corner and we’re all begging for some sunshine but I’m going to encourage you to take a step back, think of the deepest winter colds and dive into The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden. The first in a new series, this novel is the quintessential wintry fairytale set in medieval rural northern Russia.

9781785031052.jpg

Vasalisa Petrovna (Vasya) is the daughter of a farmer and a woman who hears the call of the forest, who knows her last act will be bringing Vasya into the world. Strong and brave, Vasya regularly visits the dangerous forest, converses with the house-spirits, rides like the wind and tries to defy the limited expectations thrust upon her. Raised on the stories of housekeeper Dunya, told by the warmth of the oven, Vasya soon realises that these tales are not fiction, but very much real. And she can feel the rising darkness in the forest.

As new characters enter Vasya’s life — her stepmother Anna, her new sister Irina, the preacher from Moscow — she must fight to stay true to herself and protect the forest that she loves and fears

Ahhh I loved this book so much. It’s just the perfect intersection of folklore and whimsy and danger and brilliance. This is my favourite kind of novel, a blend of tidbits of history mixed with folk legends added to an original, exciting story.

Arden’s descriptive and lyrical prose constructs a fascinating, rich world and the harsh realities of Lesnaya Zemlya, which you can read more about on Penguin’s blog.

The story is itself is a slow burn, following Vasya as she grows into a young woman facing marriage and the fears and mistakes of the adults around her. Arden successfully builds tension with every new mention of the waning house-spirits and the ice-blue eyes and the mysterious stranger in Moscow; it creeps upon you like frost up a window pane.

I really enjoyed the terse relationship between Vasya and Father Konstantin Nikonovich, both so determined that their understanding of the world is correct. Despite him playing a sort of antagonist role alongside Vasya’s stepmother Anna, I ended up having a lot of sympathy for this man so completely out of his depth in poverty and the harsh winter

This is marketed as a literary fantasy in the general fiction or possibly SFF sections of bookshops, but I think it would be readily enjoyed by fantasy young adult fans (and for the sake of gift giving, I can’t think of any content unsuitable for teens).

Also, Arden has helpfully included a glossary in the back, which I urge you to glance over before you start reading.

I strongly recommend you pick this book up, especially those of you currently enjoying a Spring snowfall as it is a book that begs to be read in the dark of the night before an open fire while snow falls outside. I was very delayed in getting round to it, having been bought it for my birthday by my wonderful friend Grace. Don’t be like me, don’t wait, especially if you also live for chilling fairytales and brave intuitive girls, because this is the book you need to be reading right now.

Once you’ve read The Bear and the Nightingale, pop back here and read the prologue Katherine wrote about Marina that didn’t make the final cut — however she advises you actually read the book first due to spoilers!

The second book, The Girl in the Tower, is published in hardback on the 25th January so you’ll be able to swoop from one to the other and commiserate with me as we wait for the next instalment of the Winternight saga.

Get it here: UK (Hive) / International (Book Depository)

What to read next:

The History of Bees by Maja Lunde | 1 Minute Reviews

This is undoubtedly a strange way to begin a review, but I should tell you that I really like bees. Ten years ago (yikes) I was studying Zoology at the University of Liverpool and had the joy of learning about bees across several modules – their waggle dances of communication, their societal structure and, sadly, the way their populations have been crashing due to Colony Collapse Disorder.

This time of my life coincides with one of the three timelines in The History of Bees, a wonderful novel told from three narrators spread across 250 years – William in England in 1851, Tao in future China in 2098 and finally George in the USA in 2007.

history of bees.PNG

After recovering from a bout of depression, naturalist William is determined to invent a new form of beehive, in order to catapult him and his children into fame, particularly his beloved heir Edmund.

George is a beekeeper, battling against modernisation in the farming industry whilst also trying to keep his business afloat, though his wife just wants to move to Florida and his son doesn’t seem to want to farm at all.

Far in the future after the collapse of the global bee population, Tao is a human pollinator, gently transferring pollen to fruit trees – an incredibly challenging manual job in a world falling apart due to the loss of essential biological processes. When her son suddenly becomes ill and then is taken by mysterious authorities, Tao sets out on a harrowing journey to find her child.

The History of Bees is a haunting story about families, the weight of being a parent and a child, the expectation of futures that could be built or destroyed in an instant. The parents themselves are so focused on their children becoming one way or another, not quite seeing the potential in them that manifests differently or – in William’s case – overlooking all his other children.

All three strands of narration kept me hooked, particularly the disturbing but quite imaginable future imagined in Tao’s storyline. This is a book that fans of Station 11, The Bees (well of course) and Never Let Me Go would find a lot to like – reader friendly speculative fiction, rooted in our own world, while the late 1800s timeline reminded me a lot of parts of The Essex Serpent. Of course, the storylines all tie in together at the end, which is immensely satisfying.

If like em you like complex family dramas and dystopian future storylines, you will be pleased to discover their combination here. The History of Bees is a fantastic, clever novel that touches upon our possible future of environmental collapse, seeking to warn us about possible ecological futures but also the dangers of parenting with an endgame in mind. I really do not think this should be missed.

The History of Bees is currently available in hardback, with the paperback publishing in April 2018. You can get it here.

What to read next:

Thank you kindly to Simon and Schuster for sending this copy over to me.

Ramona Blue by Julie Murphy | 1 Minute Reviews

Julie Murphy‘s second book, Dumplin’, was one of my absolute favourite young adult novels of 2016, and I had high hopes for her third novel, Ramona Blue. Murphy’s writing has proven to be thoughtful, with well crafted characters and good politics threaded through. I was very pleased to once again be bowled over by her work.

Now, do not be alarmed but this is not a slight novel for the average young adult contemporary, coming in at 400 pages altogether. But there’s a reason for that, and allow me to reassure you that the size is not indicative of filler.

This is a story that needs to be told slowly. This is a story of the grinding reality of inescapable poverty, the importance of both chosen and biological family, and the fluidity of human sexuality.

9780062418357

Ramona lives in Eulogy, Mississippi, a town known for its summer holiday makers, who have shaped Ramona’s life as much as its permanent residents. The novel opens with her saying goodbye to her first girlfriend, Grace, as she and her family pack up ready to return to their home as the new school year approaches. Shortly after Grace leaves, Ramona’s childhood best friend and former summer visitor Freddie and his grandmother Agnes return to Eulogy to live permanently. Freddie and Ramona re-bond over a love of swimming and the shared pain of long distance relationships. But when that bond starts to head towards romantic feelings, Ramona begins to question everything about her identity.

Meanwhile, Ramona’s sister Hattie is pregnant with her boyfriend Tyler’s baby, and Tyler seems to have moved himself into the tiny trailer she shares with her sister and father. As a tall girl, things were feeling cramped to begin with…

Ramona Blue spans 10 months of her life as she struggles to balance her school life, her possible futures and her many part time jobs. Of all the young adult novels I’ve read, this one expertly relays the realities of being inescapably poor as a teenager, and having to take responsibilities far above your station as a child.

Murphy explores the complexities of LGBTQ+ identity and fluidity between labels with great care, creating a thoughtful, honest and open-hearted novel.

Ramona Blue is currently only available in hardback until late Spring 2018, but I really think it’s worth the money. Also the cover underneath the dust sheet is such a pleasing shade of cream.

Interested? Get it here!

What to read next:

Thank you kindly to the team at Harper Collins, Balzer & Bray and the lovely Ammara at Harper Insider for sharing this copy with me.

Spellslinger by Sebastien de Castell | 1 Minute Reviews

If I had one word to sum up this book, I’d probably go for “quippy”. I’ve not laughed out loud so frequently while reading a book for quite a while, probably not since Frogkisser by Garth Nix.

Kellen is a Jan’Tep, a sorcerer. Or at least he hopes to be by his sixteenth birthday. The only problem is he doesn’t appear to have any magical powers. His sister is set to be the most advanced sorcerer of their community, despite her youth, and with his father looking to be the net leader of the Jan’Tep, Kellen is feeling more than a little awkward about it.

9781785761324

When Kellen wins a magical dual using his wits and no magic of his own, his place in the Jan’Tep society is questioned. But when a mysterious Argosi traveller named Ferius Parfax walks into his life, Kellen begins to consider that his home is not all what it seems.

With the mysteries of the Shadowblack curse, the murderous past of the Jan’Tep and the plight of the magicless Sha’Tep underclass, who Kellen is set to join, Spellslinger is a richly enjoyable novel. Kellen and his magical impotence makes a great story; you’re forever rooting for him to work out some way to best the others. He’s completely self deprecating, but aware of his own intelligence and strengths (up to a point, at least). He’s a very easy character to like, especially when his best friend and crush turn against him for his tricksy ways.

Screen Shot 2017-10-21 at 16.21.00.png
Sebastien de Castell on the story behind Spellslinger, taken from his website

I’m completely in love with the mysterious wanderer Ferius Parfax and her mysterious pack of cards, some of which she uses as weapons. She’s a dry-wit, always with a cigarette in her mouth and a wisecrack on her tongue. Ferius and Kellen’s faithful squirrelcat/nekhek friend Reichis provide much of the sassy dialogue – his whole demeanor and voice in my head is so completely Rocket Raccoon.

Don’t believe me – listen to this excerpt from Kellen’s first interaction with Reichis.

I’m really looking forward to reading Kellen’s future adventures over the series, of which there appears to be five books in total. I think if you’re a fan of Pratchett, Bardugo, Schwaab, and Nix, you’re going to find a lot to like here.

Interested? Get it here in a beautiful paperback with sprayed red edges. The second outing, Shadowblack, has just been released in Hardback.

Also, if you sign up to the Sebastien de Castell Readers Club here, you get a free Spellslinger short story!

What to read next:

 

Tin Man by Sarah Winman | 1 Minute Reviews

I love slightly melancholic books. There’s something wonderful about being wrapped up in bed with a warm drink reading a book that stirs an ache in your chest… perhaps that’s just me.

Stories with LGBTQ+ characters or themes get extra points from me. I have quite the stack of sad gay novellas to work my way around to. I was pleasantly surprised to discover that Tin Man fits snugly into that extra-special category.

9780755390977

Now, some might argue that revealing the relationship between Ellis and Michael going beyond the boundaries of platonic love is a spoiler, but given I have a whole list specifically of LGTBQ+ Ya books, I’m going to hazard that a fair few of you are here for discovering new queer reads. This is the second book this year with an incredibly vague blurb, which lists them as “inseparable”, that actually turns out to be a sad gay book, with Sebastian Barry’s Days Without End last taking up that mantle. I’ve yet to read Days Without End, but I bought it purely because the bookseller informed me it was a “secretly gay” book. He knew what I was after.

Anyway, back to Tin Man. Yes, it’s queer. Yes, it’s very sad. It’s actually probably one of the best books from the adult fiction section that I’ve read so far this year.

The story begins with the winning of a copy of Vincent van Gogh’s Sunflowers by Dora Judd, a somewhat formidable woman and mother of Ellis, who the novel follows from there on. We find Ellis as an forty-six year old man, depressed and working in a car plant, wondering where the years have gone. Through nonlinear narrative, we are introduced to the two people who mattered most to him, who both appear to have moved on – his wife Annie, and his childhood best friend Michael.

Through the discovery of a box of Michael’s diaries at his father’s house, Ellis uncovers Michael’s lost years. The years after Annie arrived, the years after their marriage, the years after their trip to France.

Winman’s novel takes us through the complexities of human sexuality, the history and friendships of Vincent van Gogh and the AIDs crisis in Britain of the late 1980s, all with a literary flair and considered gentleness. I’m completely in love with this sunny-covered, melancholic novel, and I think many of you will fall head over heels as well.

Interested? Get it here in hardback or preorder the paperback, due out in March 2018.

What to read next:

Thank you kindly to Katie V. E. Brown and Tinder Press for sharing this copy with me.

Warcross by Marie Lu | 1 Minute Reviews

Marie Lu is one of those YA authors whose books I used to look at repeatedly when I worked in a bookshop. Sometimes you just know when you’re going to get on with an author, even if you know nothing about them. From my first experience with Lu’s writing, I’m feeling pretty confident about our ongoing relationship.

When my copy of Warcross (sent from the lovely folks over at Penguin Platform) arrived, I stripped off the dust jacket because you often find something super cool underneath. I did not expect this shiny rainbow cloud of gay joy.

Screen Shot 2017-10-09 at 20.28.45

My first impressions of Warcross were these stunning graphics, including the front cover which looks remarkably like (a much fancier version of) a graph I accidentally created of a 3D simulation of a coral reef. In fact, the design work in Warcross has gone beyond just the book itself – go check out the website with fancy graphics linked to the book itself, and while you’re there, check out the extract too.

Let me say this, Warcross is a pretty cool book. I mean it. Emika Chen is a bounty hunter who rides a flying skateboard, has rainbow hair, and struggles to get by on the mean streets of New York. After losing out on a particularly high bounty, Emika makes a risky move while watching a Warcross international game, accidentally revealing herself to the whole world.

source
This one is my favourite, for reasons that will become clear once you read the book

In doing so, Emika becomes an overnight sensation and is invited by the game’s young billionaire creator Hideo Tanaka to Japan to be a wild card entry to the Warcross Championships… and to be his spy too. All is not as it seems; can Emika hunt down the other undercover players threatening the games?

To be clear here, Warcross isn’t your typical e-sports game; it is a virtual reality capture the flag game, in which teams work together and use power ups to steal the other team’s prize. Cool, huh? I’m not being flippant, I genuinely was and still am super excited by this premise. Heck she even made the dark web a literal shady place you could walk around, not that you particularly want to.

The popularity of Warcross has spilled outside your usual gamer communities, giving it status akin to most other international sports tournaments, garnering filled stadiums and millions of viewers online. This global status also makes any threats to the game and its fans such incredible high stakes that Emika must work quickly and remain undercover during her time competing.

9780241321423

Emika herself is a complex girl, fun to embody and follow. She’s stubborn, reckless, foolish and hurting from the loss of both her parents. She’s fallible, and I couldn’t help but root for her all the way through. Also yay, Chinese-American protagonist, hooray!

Lu’s experience in the games industry bleeds into this novel, and while certainly speculative fiction it never feels far removed from our current society. Her world-building around the NeuralLink system is impressive, and the romance she sets up was more than a little swoony.

Warcross is an engaging and exciting speculative fiction thriller, suitable for gamers and non-gamers alike. It’s not immediately clear if this is the beginning of a trilogy – like Lu’s previous works – or a duology, as GoodReads indicates a listing for a second book. However, if you enjoy Warcross as much as me, you’ll be hitting that Want to Read button so very quick – that ending left me very (war)cross… sorry.

Interested? Get it here – note that it is the UK Penguin hardback edition you want to buy if you want this shiny rainbow gloriousness.

What to read next:

Thank you ever so to Penguin Platform for sending this copy over to me.