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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Dear Martin by Nic Stone | 1 Minute Reviews

Sometimes, I pick up a book and instantly get a good feeling from it. It’s a specific sort of hum, as though the book is whispering that yes, you should absolutely read me.

I got this feeling from Dear Martin, a book which went on to completely exceeded all my expectations.

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Dear Martin opens with Justyce McAllister, a teenage honour student and debate team champion, finding his on-and-off girlfriend indisposed and tries to help. Of course, none of his credentials matters to the white police officer who sees a young black man with a white woman, finding Justyce in handcuffs.

Frustrated with endemic racism in society and racial profiling by the police, Justyce looks to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. for answers, choosing to write him letters that pepper the book.

But this first brush with the law is not the last, and when Justyce goes driving one day with his best friend Manny, they find their lives threatened by a white off-duty cop.

I read Dear Martin in one sitting, only stopping briefly to get a drink. It is a powerhouse of a novel; do not be fooled by its diminutive stature. From the get-go, my heart raced along with this furious book. Dear Martin illustrates how small decisions can later haunt you, especially when you are a young black man living in the America of today.

Justyce himself is a compelling, charming character, easy to support even when you can see he is making potentially dangerous choices. The rest of the cast are believable and interesting characters, resolving for a great and heartbreaking story.

The book is split up into multiple narrative structures — from the straight prose, to play script style narrative particularly during classroom discussions and the aforementioned letters to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. This mix of style is really interesting, and from an educational point of view, represents a great opportunity to introduce young people to a varied narrative, along with such a politically timely, important story.

Where The Hate U Give followed Starr as she started a movement, Dear Martin follows Justyce as he desperately tries to get by and deal with the dangers life keeps throwing at him. Both are essential reading and compliment each other well.

If you want to know more about Dear Martin from Nic Stone herself, check out this video below from Adam Silvera’s YouTube Channel:

On Dr. Martin Luther King Day, Nic Stone also gave the following talk at a Community College in America, which I think is a great introduction to her as an author and the political background of black rights that feeds into Dear Martin.

Mark out a few hours, sit yourself down and prepare for an intense reading experience.  Dear Martin is a poignant, politically charged, heart racing novel that is an absolute must read for 2018.

And, if you head over to my Twitter, you’ll find me giving a copy away!

Get your copy here:

UK (Hive) // International (Book Depository)

What to read next:

Thank you kindly to Nic Stone and the team at Simon & Schuster Kids for sending a copy to me, and allowing me on the Dear Martin blog tour. Go check out some of the other stops on the tour!

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The Exact Opposite of Okay by Laura Steven | 1 Minute Reviews

You know when you read a book and can recognise it’s going to be a big deal to its intended audience? Yep. That.

Laura Steven‘s debut novel The Exact Opposite of Okay is a furiously frank, funny and feminist novel following teenager Izzy O’Neill, whose life is changed dramatically when someone posts explicit photos of her having sex online. Desperately trying to keep things together, Izzy also has to cope with her over-worked grandmother, her best friend Danny’s strange new behaviour, her other best friend’s new mate, her potential love-life and the fallout from being caught with a politician’s son.

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The Exact Opposite of Okay focusses in on the cruelty of revenge porn, a subject very much in the limelight at the moment as YouTuber Chrissy Chambers recently won her lengthy legal battle against her former boyfriend. I found it very refreshing that Steven’s characters repeatedly affirm that there is nothing wrong with sending a cheeky consensual nude; the issues arise when people betray that trust.

This book happily sits alongside the wave of feminist young adult contemporary novels we’ve been blessed with in the last few years — the Spinster Trilogy by Holly BourneMoxie by Jennifer Mathieu, and The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks by E. Lockhart all immediately spring to mind. Izzy herself, with all her swagger, wit and unwillingness to be shamed for enjoying sex, conjures Hannah from Non Pratt’s Trouble and Emma from Editing Emma by Chloe Seager, both voices I’ve thoroughly enjoyed reading of recent.

More than that — and light spoilers ahead friends — Steven dives deep in to the murky realm of the Nice Guys and the Friend Zone, monikers for men and a fictional space they inhabit where women refuse to have sex with them because they’re “too nice”. As a teen (and even during adulthood!), I had a few friends hit me with this card. It was extremely refreshing to see Izzy deal with this slyly-sinister behaviour openly, with Steven clearly orienting it as something to watch out for and avoid. I know that it’s going to help a lot of young people identify problematic relationships in their midst.

The Exact Opposite of Okay is not just an enjoyable read, but I firmly believe it is a book that will influence, console and help a whole generation of teenagers.  I very much look forward to what comes next from Laura Steven, another fantastic 2018 debut author.

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

What to read next:

Thank you kindly to Electric Monkey for doing a proof giveaway at YALC where absolute angel Jim from Ya Yeah Yeah won a copy just for me.

The Wicked Deep by Shea Ernshaw | 1 Minute Reviews

What a pleasantly macabre novel this is.

As a former teen witch wannabe from watching The Craft too many times, I have an innate weakness for literary witches. The Wicked Deep had been on my radar for this exact reason, so I was very pleased when Simon and Schuster offered to send me a copy of the UK paperback.

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Marguerite, Aurora and Hazel Swan were drowned in the town of Sparrow’s harbour, accused of witchcraft and seduction. But their souls could not be contained by their aquatic prison. Every summer the sisters return to land, inhabiting the bodies of local girls, luring boys and men to their deaths in the harbour that claimed them 200 years ago.

Penny Talbot has been watching the Swan Season from the sidelines for years, too superstitious to take part in the town’s Swan-themed parties and celebrations, too wary to celebrate an annual slaughter. When a tourist named Bo blows into town looking for work, Penny finds herself drawn to him, offering him work in the lighthouse she lives in. But when Bo catches the attention of the Swan sisters, Penny must fight to keep him safe.

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Can we pause a moment to admire the USA cover? What a beaut!

Where The Graces has all the sex and swagger of The Craft, The Wicked Deep has all the darker sides of Practical Magic — a small town utterly linked to one family of women and its curse.

I enjoyed reading the burgeoning relationship between Penny and Bo — there’s nothing like a bit of jeopardy and a 200 year old curse to bring a couple together.

Shea Ernshaw‘s debut novel demonstrates that she is an author to watch out for, providing the reader with an engaging (and often unreliable) narrator in Penny, a complex set of relatable villains, and a small town with a blood-curdling history.

Inspired by the Salem Witch trials, this is a fantastic novel of revenge, curses and murder set against a backdrop of the salt-sprayed Oregon coast.

Get it here: UK (Hive) // UK Paperback and USA Hardback (Book Depository)

What to read next:

Thank you to the lovely team at Simon and Schuster for sending me not just a copy of the book but the delicious smelling Sparrow candle from Meraki Candles.

Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi | 1 Minute Reviews

This is hands down going to be one of the best novels you’re going to read this year. I’m that confident. Yes, art is subjective, but honestly, this is a furious, brutal riot of a book and I think any fans of Sabaa Tahir, Nnedi Okorafor, Leigh Bardugo and Alwyn Hamilton are going to be extremely pleased with this book. This is easily a personal favourite of 2018, and is going to be absolutely huge — already evidenced by its competitive publishing auction and already snapped up film rights.

Inspired by Yoruban folklore, Children of Blood and Bone is the first novel in the next big fantasy epic series, and  follows three Orïshan teenagers whose lives are changed forever when they discover a way to return magic to their world.

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Zélie is a Magi, easily identified by her sheer white hair, who has been training to fight in secret with Mama Agba. Even though magic has been struck from their lands, Magi still live as second class citizens, punished and forced further into poverty routinely by the cruel King Saran. Meanwhile, Princess Amari witnesses the murder of her Magi best friend at the hands of her father, understanding the part of a mysterious scroll in it all, which she steals from the palace.

Drawn together at a market, the two girls work together to flee not just Amari’s father but her intense brother Inan. When Mama Agba reveals to the girls that the scroll presents an opportunity to restore magic to Orïsha, the girls and Zélie’s brother Tzain set off on an adventure across the country.

 

I completely fell in love with this novel, a slow burn you can’t turn your head from. It hooks you in deep and I’d find myself having to return to my daily life wondering what would befall the characters next. I particularly enjoyed the eerie connection between Inan and Zélie, an intense connection on a semi-psychic level they cannot escape, somewhat like that of Rey and Kylo-Ren.

UK readers, do not be put off by the size of the paperback — chapters are relatively short as the narrative flits between Zélie, Amari and Inan, but importantly the book never feels slack, an impressive feat for a debut novel at almost 600 pages. I await the rest of the Legacy of Orisha saga with bated breath, especially after that ending.

This is a novel of rebellion, of uprisings, of fire and might. While the tale may be fantasy, the intense emotion that bleeds through every page is all Adeyemi’s, a literary reaction to the deaths and persecution black people in America (and globally) are experiencing daily.

You may have already come across the author Tomi Adeyemi through this beautiful moment she shared with us all — the day her books arrived. You might not know that her website has a wealth of creative writing tips and lessons, a resource I’m going to be reading all of!

We have been blessed with a wealth of young adult releases this Spring, but if you’re going to pick just one to read, pick this.

Children of Blood and Bone is a passionate epic, an immersive battlecry of a novel, a book that you absolutely must not miss.

What to read next:

Thank you kindly to My Kinda Books and PanMac News for kindly sending a copy over to me.

Traitor to the Throne by Alwyn Hamilton | 1 Minute Reviews

Stop right there — if you haven’t read Rebel of the Sands, then get your ass out of here because there are spoilers abound!

Everyone says the middle book of a series is the hardest to write, and often where a series can take a downturn. Having decided to binge read the whole Rebel series this month, I can assure you that it does not suffer that fate. Instead, Alwyn Hamilton brings us an intense novel rife with deception.

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Traitor to the Throne finds Amani in the middle of the rebellion, attempting to infiltrate the city of Saromatai after a number of their spies have been captured. But shortly after a thrilling escape, Amani is kidnapped and finds herself in the hands of Jin and Ahmed’s father, the Sultan. But what does he want with a demdji, and can Amani escape in one piece?

The adventure of this novel is in some ways in a lower key, but rarely does the tension let up. Hamilton makes it clear that the world of the harem is cut-throat. This is a novel of political machinations, subterfuge and danger at every turn, which makes it quite different from the guns-blazing Wild West of Rebel, but it doesn’t make it any lesser a novel.

Hamilton introduces a whole cast of new characters, and some surprisingly familiar faces (I won’t spoil who!). Luckily, she provides a character list at the very front of the novel so you can remind yourself who everyone is! I particularly loved new character Sam, a mischievous Albish defector with fae ancestry who has been posing as the Blue Eyed Bandit.

Traitor also takes a deeper dive into the mythology of Rebel’s world, bringing the stories of Hawa, The First Hero and the Djinni right to the forefront.

Traitor to the Throne is a tense, immersive novel that builds upon the furious start in Rebel of the Sands and promises an explosive ending in Hero of the Fall.

Hive // Book Depository

What to read next:

Goodbye Perfect by Sara Barnard | 1 Minute Reviews

It was obvious that I was going to love this book. If you’re not familiar with Sara Barnard, let me assure you that she is a powerhouse of UKYA. Barnard’s contemporary novels rank as my favourites up with Non Pratt and Alice Oseman, and I’m always blown away by her characterisation.

Goodbye Perfect is no exception to the successful streak started by her previous books Beautiful Broken Things and A Quiet Kind of Thunder, confirming that Barnard is firmly cemented as one of the UK’s greatest YA authors.

Goodbye Perfect follows Eden McKinley, the “troubled” girl with average grades and a bit of a reputation. Eden and Bonnie are best friends who tell each other all their secrets, or so Eden thought. When the police suddenly appear at her house after Bonnie’s jokey messages that she’s run away, Eden starts to realise that Bonnie is gone… and she’s left with her secret boyfriend Jack. When Eden discovers Jack’s real identity as her former teacher, she struggles with what to do next — keep the secrets or betray Bonnie to the police.

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Eden is another great narrator, and probably my favourite so far of Barnard’s creations. A little rough around the edges but calmed by gardening, Eden feels refreshingly different from your standard middle-class bookish narrator. I completely fell in love with her — her fears and worries feel so real.

I loved the portrayal of her relationship with long-term boyfriend Connor, a carer to his mum and a steadying influence. Barnard’s writing on sex has always been brilliantly frank, and I really like how it is discussed once again here, showing that the right time to have sex is when it feels right to the both of you.

Unlike so many other stories about student-teacher affairs, Goodbye Perfect presents the power imbalances and danger of such “romances”. It is exceptionally frank and refreshing in a world where Pretty Little Liars, for instance, romanticised such an abuse of power.

I read the book in a single sitting, as I’ve done with all her other books. The world she creates is so immersive and believable, and her strong pacing makes it easy to devour it completely, without feeling like you’ve rushed through. Goodbye Perfect is a compelling story about secrets, lies and dangerous relationships, a gripping and timely contemporary YA.

Next up from Barnard is Floored, a novel written by seven UKYA authors about the people stuck inside a lift, also from My Kinda Books.

Hive // Book Depository

What to read next: