Monday, 22 December 2014

Interview with the women producers behind The Scottsboro Boys



A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to review The Scottsboro Boys in London's West End, which tells the harrowing piece of American history in which nine African American boys were accused of raping two white women and were in the first instance sentenced to death without much of a trial or even proof of the allegations.

The musical received 12 Tony Award nomination on Broadway before making its way across the pond and playing a sell-out run at the Young Vic Theatre earlier this year. The show has now returned to London and is playing at the Garrick Theatre in the West End until 21 February 2015.

Catherine Schreiber and Paula Marie Black are the two women producers behind the production and I spoke to them for Woman's World (which is where this interview first appeared) about their involvement with the show and the challenges of bringing it to the UK.

How did you became involved with The Scottsboro Boys?

Catherine Schreiber (CS): "I met with Jacki Florin, a lead producer on The Scottsboro Boys. I read the script on a Friday, flew to Minneapolis (where it was playing pre-Broadway) the following Wednesday to see it. It was one of the most emotional, life-changing and powerful experiences I have had in theatre. And that was it. I had to become involved in the show."

Paula Marie Black (PMB): "I was very aware of The Scottsboro Boys on the New York City theatre landscape but hadn't experienced the production. The Scottsboro Boys never left me, it whispered in my ear and then centered directly in my heart and this has never happened to me before as a producer.

"I simply sensed brilliance and knew how meaningful and life-changing it would be for myself and all of us on this production. I had no doubt that my destiny and The Scottsboro Boys had intersected and I had an important role to play as a lead producer."

What was the most challenging part of bringing this moving story to the stage? And the most rewarding?

CS: "The most challenging part was finding support for the musical, which despite being nominated for 12 Tonys, closed early on Broadway for a variety of reasons.

"Some were skeptical about doing a musical in London, particularly a show about one of the greatest travesties of justice in American history, but I was convinced (as were the other producers who joined me) that the sophisticated London audience would appreciate this brilliant masterpiece by Kander and Ebb and I am thrilled that they have.

"And I must add, what has been also deeply rewarding was getting involved in the Scottsboro Boys Museum in Alabama. I became a founder to support the great work being done there by Shelia Washingon, so that the story of the Scottsboro Boys is not forgotten. It was deeply gratifying to be a part of history, to be honoured with the key to the city of Scottsboro and to be honoured to give the key note address in Alabama when the Governor of Alabama signed the Scottsboro Boys Act April 19th, 2013, exonerating the boys. This show has helped change history. I am very deeply proud to be part of this."

PMB: "I was very focused as a lead producer to protect and lift this production. I did not let its past history of a short run on Broadway of just 49 performances, and ultimately 12 Tony Award nominations, affect me. I simply said and believed my positive affirmation out loud that was then and this is now."

Can you tell us about the journey of bringing the musical from New York to London? Were there particular challenges to promoting it to a British audience?

CS: "When the show closed on Broadway, I was determined that it find a new life and we always thought London would be the place to go. I was honoured to get the rights from the John Kander, David Thompson and Susan Stroman to do the show and I believe this was because of my passion and commitment to the project.

"We were blessed that David Lan and the Young Vic embraced the show. It was the perfect theatre to co-produce with. I also knew I didn’t want to produce it without some of the original brilliant cast members and we were able to bring six American actors to the Young Vic.

"One of the challenges we faced in London was that we were presenting part of American history few Londoners, indeed not many Americans, knew about. But the themes in the show are universal and The Scottsboro Boys has touched the hearts of those who see it."

PMB: "I deeply and simply felt that London's theatre community would have the distance and ability to accept the brilliant creative concepts and message of this production.

"I believe The Scottsboro Boys is a both a timeless and contemporary piece of American musical theatre that at the same time makes the audience face square on injustices, questioning their own perspectives and in doing so leaving the performance potentially changed as injustices continue around the world."

Besides The Scottsboro Boys, what other projects are you currently working on?

CS: "I have been working full-time on The Scottsboro Boys for the past few years, but I am working on bringing a new play by an American playwright to the Chichester and thrilled at the opportunity to work with Jonathan Church.

"I’m a supporter of Matilda and The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time in New York, and also a producer on The King’s Speech. I hope to have some time now to fully consider the wonderful projects being offered to me, besides getting my own film scripts into production and yes, return to acting and my own writing for a bit. And I would love to do another production with the Young Vic."

PMB: "I am executive producer of the cast album of The Scottsboro Boys and looking very much to preserving John Kander and Freb Ebb's lyrics and composition with the cast and orchestra at the iconic Abbey Road Studio Two later this month.

"I am also a co-producer on Made in Dagenham, honouring all women in the UK and around the world who stand up for change; a Tony Award winner for Hedwig and the Angry Inch; and co-producer for On The Town, also currently running on Broadway.

"My future musical productions headed for Broadway, and each one lifting the works of a woman director and/or playwright, are Fun Home, The Great Comet of 1812, Black Orpheus and Unchain My Heart…the Ray Charles Musical."

Friday, 19 December 2014

Book review: I Will Marry George Clooney (... By Christmas) by Tracy Bloom


My edition: paperback, published on 9 October 2014 by Arrow, 375 pages.

Description: There comes a time in every woman's life when the only answer is to marry George Clooney. For Michelle, that time is now.

Slogging her guts out in a chicken factory whilst single-handedly bringing up a teenager who hates her is far from the life that 36-year-old Michelle had planned.

But marrying the most eligible man on the planet by Christmas could change all that, couldn't it?

Sometimes your only option is to dream the impossible - because you never know where it might take you.

Rating:

Thursday, 18 December 2014

Book review: The Strings of Murder by Oscar de Muriel


My edition: Paperback, to be published on 12 February 2015 by Penguin, 406 pages.

Description: Edinburgh, 1888. A violinist is murdered in his home. The dead virtuoso's maid swears she heard three musicians playing in the night. But with only one body in the locked practice room - and no way in or out - the case makes no sense.

Fearing a national panic over another Ripper, Scotland Yard sends Inspector Ian Frey to investigate under the cover of a fake department specializing in the occult. However, Frey's new boss, Detective 'Nine-Nails' McGray, actually believes in such supernatural nonsense.

McGray's tragic past has driven him to superstition, but even Frey must admit that this case seems beyond reason. And once someone loses all reason, who knows what they will lose next...

Rating:

Wednesday, 17 December 2014

Book review: The Day We Disappeared by Lucy Robinson


My edition: paperback (proof), to be published on 9 April 2015 by Penguin, 434 pages.

Annie has a secret. But if she's not going to tell, we won't either. It's a heart-breaking secret she wishes she didn't have - yet Annie isn't broken, not quite yet. Especially now there's someone out there who seems determined to fix her.

Kate has run away. But she's not going to tell us why - that would defeat the point of running, wouldn't it? It's proving difficult to reinvent herself, however, with one person always on her mind.

Scratch beneath the surface and nobody is really who they seem. Even Annie and Kate, two old friends, aren't entirely sure who they are any more. Perhaps you can work it out, before their pasts catch up with them for good...

Rating:

Tuesday, 16 December 2014

Theatre review: Sikes & Nancy (Dickens With a Difference #2)



After the mediocre experience of Miss Havisham's Expectations (the first in the double bill of Dickens plays I saw back-to-back at the Trafalgar Studios last week) my own expectations had been considerably lowered, so I was pleasantly surprised when James Swanton took the stage and with an expressive performance transformed the evening into something truly memorable.

Theatre review: Miss Havisham's Expectations (Dickens With a Difference #1)



Growing up outside of the UK I've always been a lover of the stereotypical Dickens London at Christmas time in all its forms, from the source material in book form to the endless amount of cinematic and theatrical adaptations. And so I was excited when an invite arrived in my digital inbox to Dickens With a Difference at the Trafalgar Studios in the West End, promising to give me my Dickens fix with two one-act plays based on some of the author's most famous novels; Great Expectations and Oliver Twist.

Monday, 15 December 2014

Theatre review: This is Not a Christmas Play



As a lover of the festive season my one-track mind decided to focus on the word 'Christmas' in the play's title and ignore the 'not' preceding it, after all this was a production put on during the season of joy and the poster too emanates the festivity of December.

Friday, 12 December 2014

Beauty review: Phytonutri Qi Energising MM Face Peel by Mel Millis



As soon as I laid eyes upon the gorgeous packaging of Mel Millins' Phytonutri Qi Energising MM Face Peel, I fell head over heels in love with the stunning, not to mention clever, design. The paper bag the product came in was infused with British wild seeds, which not only presented it in a beautiful and luxurious way, but is also very environmentally friendly as it can be torn up and planted - recycling at its very best.

This was the first time I applied a face peel at home and I was surprised by how different it was to using a face mask, which I am much more familiar with. I found the application a little more difficult - though I did get better with practise - as the product was very sticky, almost like a glue, and would not spread out easily or evenly. However, once it stuck it did stay firmly in place.

After letting the peel work its magic, I took it off with the gentle organic muslin cloth provided (top tip: do this in the shower as it can get messy). My face instantly felt incredibly clean, smooth and even, which was a very pleasant sensation and for that reason alone I have already used the product several times.

My skin did start to feel a little tight ten to fifteen minutes after I'd taken off the peel, so I used a rich moisturiser to nourish my face and make sure it would be properly hydrated and keep the smooth sensation for longer.

Even though I hadn't used a face peel at home before, after using this one I am definitely sold. Mel Millis also gets a big thumbs up for its stunning and sustainable packaging, which really adds to the appeal of the brand.

Thursday, 11 December 2014

Book review: The Stall of Second Chances by Dana Bate


My edition: Paperback, published on 20 November 2014 by Constable & Robinson, 406 pages.

Description: Sydney Strauss is obsessed with food. Not just with eating it - though she loves that too - but with writing about it as an aspiring cookery reporter. But food journalism jobs are more coveted than cupcakes, and so Sydney is stuck working for one of TV's biggest egomaniacs - until she's left scrambling for shifts at the local farmers' market.

Selling muffins at the Wild Yeast Bakery is hardly going to make her the next Nigella. But soon Sydney is writing the market's weekly newsletter, and her quirky stories gain attention from a prominent food columnist. After years of being left on the shelf, she's even dating again. And then Sydney gets a shot at the story, one that could either make her career or burn it to a cinder - along with her relationship and her reputation.

Rating:

Wednesday, 10 December 2014

Book review: Now That I've Found You by Ciara Geraghty


My edition: Paperback, to be published on 22 January 2015 by Hachette, 399 pages.

Description: Forty-two-year-old Vinnie knows lots of things. He knows new books and school shoes are expensive. He knows his teenage daughter keeps getting into trouble and he knows his seven-year-old has wet the bed every night for over a year.

What Vinnie doesn't know is whether his wife is coming back, or if he will ever get better at single fatherhood.

Ellen knows that what happened in the accident was all her fault. She knows she's too scared to get behind the wheel of a car ever again and she knows that some scars are harder to hide than others.

What Ellen doesn't know is how to move on. And she doesn't know anything about Vinnie, the taxi driver who drives her to physiotherapy every week.

And neither of them knows they're going to change the other's life forever.

Rating:

Tuesday, 9 December 2014

Theatre review: Assassins at the Menier Chocolate Factory



Stephen Sondheim Assassins is a tricky musical to put on in British theatres as it's a very American story about US presidents and those who assassinated them, or tried so at least. Most Brits will be familiar with the assassination of JFK by Lee Harvey Oswald and many will probably also know the story about Abraham Lincoln and John Wilkes Booth, but that's where for most the historical knowledge on assassinations will end.

Monday, 8 December 2014

Penguin Annual Women's Fiction Evening



Last week I received a super last-minute (the day before) invite to Penguin's Annual Women's Fiction Evening and even if I'd been busy the night of the event (which thankfully I wasn't) I would've changed my plans, because the email included a huge list of fabulous authors I admire. To get the chance to not only enter the glorious Penguin offices on the Strand (working there has been my dream for many, many years) but also get the opportunity to mingle with so many talented ladies sounded like the perfect way to spend an evening - and it definitely was.

After being invited to the Penguin Blogger Night earlier this year and Penguin's Annual Fiction Showcase just a few weeks ago by my blogging friend Laura, I was thrilled when I could finally return the favour and invite her as my +1 to the Women's Fiction Evening, especially because we both love this genre of books so much.

So often high expectations can lead to disappointment, but the evening was even more brilliant than we could've possibly imagined. We got to admire piles and piles of beautiful books that are being published next year (I admit, I may have stroked a cover - or two), chat to lots of Penguins (who were lovely, even if I am a tad bit envious of their jobs), enjoy endless refills of Prosecco and scrumptious canapes (I especially loved the mini pigs in blankets and the salmon blinis), meet fellow bloggers (hi Bronagh and Rea!) and of course mingle with a whole host of awe-inspiring authors.


Just some of the books on display

We got the chance to talk to the likes of Jojo Moyes (I was totally starstruck when I asked her to sign my copy of The Girl You Left Behind, my absolute favourite of hers, and while we chatted about her work on the Me Before You screenplay), the always lovely Lucy Robinson (who definitely won for the most eye-catching proof of the night as the popping neon pink could be spotted - and coveted - from across the room), Giovanna Fletcher (who made the effort to be there, even though she was ill, bless her), Louise Candlish (who was so sweet and even remembered me from Twitter!), the gorgeous Sinéad Moriarty, Kate Riordan (who wore the most gorgeous, sparkly shoes), Dinah Jefferies, Jane Shemilt and Eve Chase. Told you it was an amazing line-up of people, and we didn't even chat to all the authors there!

My one regret (as always) is that I didn't take any pictures with the authors (as I found it a bit awkward to ask) or of anything else really but the mountains of books. Ah well, there's always a next time (if I'm lucky enough to be invited again!).

We all got beautiful bright orange Penguin goody bags as we left (which had cards from all the releases there, chocolate, tea, a Penguin cookie and a novel) and were allowed to grab whichever books we liked from the tables. I felt like a kid in a sweet shop and came away with:


My glorious, glorious spoils from the night (most of these are signed too!)


Thanks so much to Cat from Penguin for the invite! You've made two book lovers very, very happy :)

Friday, 5 December 2014

Cover reveal: Conditional Love by Cathy Bramley


I absolutely adored romantic comedy novel Conditional Love when Cathy Bramley self-published her debut last year (read my review) and I was thrilled for her when she landed a publishing deal with the wonderful people at Transworld.

After releasing the adorable Ivy Lane in four digital parts throughout this year (the full paperback will be out in February 2015), Transworld is now re-releasing Conditional Love in ebook (today, 5 December 2014) and paperback (2015) with a brand-spankin' new cover:


The cover isn't the only thing new in the Transworld-edition of Conditional Love.

Author Cathy Bramley said: "It is essentially the same story, with the same characters and the same happy ending. So what is different about it?

"Well, I feel like my writing has developed since I first wrote it almost two years ago and so when Transworld very kindly gave me the opportunity to re-write it, working closely as usual with my editor, Harriet Bourton, I jumped at the chance.

"I took on board her editorial comments, sharpened up the narrative, tweaked some of the characters and generally I’ve given the book a more punchy, fast-moving feel."

Personally, I am very excited about this new version of Conditional Love and will be picking up a paperback when it comes out next year. If you cannot wait that long, you can purchase the ebook on Amazon right now!

Wednesday, 3 December 2014

Book review: The Christmas Party by Carole Matthews


My edition: Paperback, published on 23 October 2014 by Sphere, 448 pages.

Description: Louise Young is a devoted single mother whose only priority is providing for her daughter, Mia. Louise has a good job in a huge international corporation and she's grateful for it. The only problem is her boss who can't keep his hands to himself, but Louise can handle him. What she really doesn't have time for is romance - until she meets the company's rising star, Josh Wallace.

Louise usually says no to evenings out but she's decided to let her hair down tonight. It's the office Christmas party, she has a pretty dress to wear and she's looking forward to some champagne and fun. She's completely unaware that others around her are too busy playing dangerous games to enjoy the party - until she's pulled into those games herself . . .

Rating:

Tuesday, 2 December 2014

Interview with author Fiona Harper



Fiona Harper is no stranger to sparkling seasonal novels. After Kiss Me Under the Mistletoe (2012) and Make My Wish Come True (2013), this year's festive read is the enticingly titled The Little Shop of Hopes and Dreams, which centres on Nicole and her Hopes & Dreams proposal agency.

It sounds like another romantic winner to me and I can't wait to curl up on a wintery Sunday afternoon with a copy of the book and a cup of hot cocoa. To celebrate the release, I caught up with Fiona to talk about all things festive - from writing seasonal stories in April to her own perfect Christmas day (this interview was originally published on Woman's World).

This is not your first seasonal novel, what attracts you to writing about this time of the year?

"Christmas is an intriguing time of year to write about. Lots of people get caught up in the fantasy of Christmas – fairy lights and snow, lovely food and glittery presents – and yet, because we all have these expectations of how perfect it should be, we set ourselves up for emotional turmoil when things don’t go as planned. There’s plenty of mileage in that for a writer and great opportunities for stories that tug at the heart strings."

How do you transport yourself to wintery days when you’re planning and plotting your novels months before the first flake of snow has even hit the ground?

"It’s a bit strange, I grant you. Sometimes I’m writing about frosty Christmases when everyone is wearing T-shirts and shorts! However, I spend so much time thinking about my story world, I forget it’s not real. One year I saw a lady with her shopping trolley piled high at the supermarket and I thought to myself, ‘She’s stocking up for Christmas!’ And then I remembered it was actually April, and it was only Christmas inside my head!"

What does your ideal Christmas look like?

"A morning at home, opening Christmas stockings on our bed with my two daughters. They’re teenagers now, so it can get a little crowded! Then we go downstairs, make tea and have Christmas breakfast muffins, and then we set to work opening the presents under the tree. After that would be a nice Christmas lunch with family.

"If I’m cooking, I have to make the following or it doesn’t feel like a proper Christmas lunch: pork and chestnut stuffing, bread sauce and proper gravy made using the turkey giblets. I’m also pretty partial to apricots wrapped in bacon to go along with the little sausages. Ooh, and parsnip gratin! (Can you tell I love my food?)"

What is the worst gift you’ve ever been given for the holidays? And the best?

"Do you know, I honestly can’t remember a really bad one! I’m sure I’ve had some, but obviously I don’t hold grudges about them.

"The best gift is the fruit my husband puts in my stocking. Not expensive, I know, but it’s always a surprise, because years ago he got fed up putting satsumas in my stocking and started branching out. I’ve had all sorts of different fruit over the years including guava, passion fruit, kiwis, dragon fruit…

"One year I had a whole pineapple sticking out the top of my stocking, another a yard of Jaffa cakes. (They just about count as fruit, don’t they? I certainly told myself that as I scoffed my way through them!) Last year I had individually gift-wrapped strawberries and one held a strawberry-shaped charm for my charm bracelet."

What festively themed novels from other women’s fiction authors could you recommend to our readers?

"I love Sarah Morgan’s books and her Snow Crystal trilogy is reaching its conclusion this holiday season with Maybe This Christmas. I also really enjoy Carole Matthews and Scarlet Bailey for a bit of festive fun."

The Little Shop of Hopes and Dreams is published by Mills and Boon and you can buy your copy from Waterstones, Amazon or your own preferred retailer.

Monday, 1 December 2014

Penguin's Annual Fiction Showcase



I haven't been to a lot of book events lately because I've been so incredibly busy at work, but all of a sudden I had two events scheduled about a week apart!

After the book launch for The Propephecy of Bees by R.S. Pateman, last week I was Laura's plus +1 to Penguin's Annual Fiction Showcase, which was held at new Foyles (I told you, I'd never stop calling that) on Charing Cross Road. As it is literally around the corner from my office, this was perfect for me even with my busy schedule.

I attended the Penguin Blogger Night earlier this year (also courtesy of Laura's invite), and the set up for this one was very similar. There were six very different books highlighted, which either have just been published or are to be released in the upcoming year, and the authors of said novels were present for a chat and, later on in the evening, a reading.

While all the readings I caught were wonderful little tasters for the books, I have to say that I particularly loved the bit we heard of Paul Murray's The Mark and the Void, which was not only hilarious but also educational (who knew that without Ian Fleming, The Lord of the Rings would just be a bunch of Hobbits and Elves reciting poems to one another? ;)).

As I hadn't read a single one of the books yet (most of the proofs had only just come out) I did not only get the opportunity to hear about all of these exciting new titles, but I also got to pick up the ones that sounded the most appealing to me personally. So while I already have several huge to-read piles that are dangerously close to toppling over, I ended up taking home yet another bag full of exciting new reads:


In all it was a fab evening, many thanks to Penguin for organising it and to and Laura for inviting me along!

Friday, 28 November 2014

Interview with author Alexandra Brown



British women's fiction author Alexandra Brown is best known for her popular Carrington's novels, a heartwarming series of books set in a luxury department store in the aptly named Mulberry-On-Sea.

This month saw the release of her latest novel, The Great Christmas Knit Off, which takes place in the cosy town of Tindledale and involves a whole new set of wonderful characters for readers to fall in love with.

I absolutely loved her latest novel (read my review here) and am very excited to be sharing my interview with Alex, which first appeared on Woman's World.

What kind of writer are you? Do you have any rituals that help you get in the writing-zone or a particular word count you set for yourself each day?

I’m a very lucky writer, as I have a brilliant editor who not only brainstorms story ideas with me, but she also writes my synopsis, which makes the actual writing part of the process so much quicker and easier.

I tend to aim for between 1000 – 2000 words per day and I’m very superstitious when I write – I can’t possibly start without having lit a candle first and making sure my lucky writing poncho is on my chair…

You spent three novels and an ebook novella writing about Georgie Hart and her Mr Carrington, was it difficult to (temporarily) let them go and create a whole new set of characters for The Great Christmas Knit Off?

Very much so and I was super conscious of not rewriting Georgie’s character, but once I got going I absolutely loved writing The Great Christmas Knit Off and getting to know the new characters.

The knitting theme of the novel really speaks me, how did you come up with the idea to revolve your new book around it?

I’ve always wanted to write a book with a knitting theme, since childhood really, when I used to knit and natter with my nanny Edie - I have such fond memories of this, and the The Great Christmas Knit Off is dedicated to her, she even has a little cameo part as one of the Tindledale Tappers knitting group.

As your new release is a festive read, the inevitable question of course is: What does your ideal Christmas look like? Or, after spending the hotter months of the year knee-deep in seasonal sparkle for your book, are you ready for January to roll around?

I absolutely adore the festive season and my ideal Christmas is at home, with my husband and daughter - a crackling log fire, enormous real pine tree, huge pile of presents, lots of festive food and plenty of fun, love and laughter…

Even though The Great Christmas Knit Off has only just hit the shelves, can you already reveal what you're working on next? Another cosy novel set in Tindledale or perhaps you're reuniting with Georgie and the gang?

I’m just about to start a new novel, the second in the Tindledale series which will be out next summer.


The Great Christmas Knit Off is out now, so get your copy from Waterstones, Amazon or your own preferred retailer.

Wednesday, 26 November 2014

Launch party for The Prophecy of Bees by R.S. Pateman



I don't often tend to venture Camden ways, but when I received the invite for the book launch of The Prophecy of Bees by R.S. Pateman (read my review of the book here) I was more than happy to make an exception. Ever since I read Rob's excellent debut novel The Second Life of Amy Archer (review here) I've been hoping to get a chance to meet him in person and this was the perfect opportunity to do so without having to travel to a faraway book fair.

We were welcomed inside the Cecil Sharp House in a themed room, which was decked out with bees dotted around on the ceiling and the iconic black and yellow stripes decorating the walls. Thankfully these were cute-looking creatures, rather than a swarm announcing imminent doom like it does in the book!


Also gracing the walls were some of the superstitions Rob had come across during his research for the novel - ranging for the peculiar to the downright horrific. I thought they were incredibly interesting to read, particularly as I hadn't heard of many of them before, though I'm glad I'm not a superstitious person because I wouldn't have wanted to follow all of the 'cures' listed.

As soon as we arrived we went up to Rob to thank him for the invite; he was incredibly kind and I'm so pleased we finally got to meet after having spoken on Twitter ever since I reviewed his first novel last year. We briefly discussed his first two books and the fact that his third one - another psychological thriller, but without the superstitious angle of his most recent release - is nearly finished. It always amazes me that authors are already writing their next novel when the latest one has barely hit the shelves, I don't know how they find the time to write one book while promoting another.


Not wanting to hog Rob's time as there were plenty of other people there wanting to congratulate him on his new novel, my friend and I sat down with some of the delicious canapes pictured below (I'm not usually a fan of chips, but these were lovely!) and listened to the beautiful folk music being performed live by Ben Moss and Laurel Swift.

The book launch wasn't just the perfect excuse to mingle with the author and buy a copy of the new book to get signed, as has been the case with previous launches I've been to, but there was also an extensive reading and bonus Q&A session, which was a great way to learn a little more about Rob's writing background and how his books came to be. Particularly fascinating to hear was that he is superstitious himself and he picked up some new ones while he was researching The Prophecy of Bees. It's probably a good thing his third novel does not involve any!


After the readings and Q&A I also got my books signed and Rob was so incredibly gracious and kind. It was a wonderful night, filled with interesting bookish insights, yummy canapes and good music - the perfect way to spend a Wednesday evening and unwind after a hectic day at work. Thank you very much Rob for the invite!


Monday, 24 November 2014

Theatre review: Irving Berlin's White Christmas



The treetops glisten and the children listen to hear sleigh bells in the West End after the glittering opening of Irving Berlin's White Christmas.

Admittedly, when I first arrived at the Dominion Theatre I was missing the eye-catching Freddie Mercury statue which had been guiding tourists and theatregoers to We Will Rock You for over a decade, but the almost life-like snow that fluttered down onto the red carpet and the gorgeous seasonal decorations inside of the theatre, not to mention the fresh-looking recently refurbished interior, made me feel very festive and forget all about Freddie.

Friday, 21 November 2014

Book review: The Great Christmas Knit Off by Alexandra Brown


My edition: Paperback, published on 6 November 2014 by Harper, 400 pages.

Description: Heartbroken after being jilted at the altar, Sybil has been saved from despair by her knitting obsession and now her home is filled to bursting with tea cosies, bobble hats, and jumpers. But, after discovering that she may have perpetrated the cock-up of the century at work, Sybil decides to make a hasty exit and, just weeks before Christmas, runs away to the picturesque village of Tindledale.

There, Sybil discovers Hettie’s House of Haberdashery, an emporium dedicated to the world of knitting and needle craft. But Hettie, the outspoken octogenarian owner, is struggling and now the shop is due for closure. And when Hettie decides that Sybil’s wonderfully wacky Christmas jumpers are just the thing to add a bit of excitement to her window display, something miraculous starts to happen…

Rating:

Wednesday, 19 November 2014

Theatre review: The Scottsboro Boys



The Scottsboro Boys is the third musical I have seen in as many weeks that references the story of Rosa Parks, an African American women who refused to gave up her seat on the bus to a white passenger in the 1950s, which goes to show how topical racial discrimination remains in today's day and age.

Monday, 17 November 2014

Book review: The Prophecy of Bees by R.S. Pateman


My edition: paperback, to be published on 20 November 2014 by Orion, 362 pages.

Description: When Lindy, a recently widowed American expat, buys a large manor house in the Cotswolds, she thinks it's the fresh start she and her wayward daughter Izzy need. Stagcote Manor is a large, rambling house with a rich history and Lindy is thrilled at the prospect of their new life there.

Izzy, however, is less convinced. She longs to be back in the hustle and bustle of London. There's something unnerving about the house that she can't quite put her finger on. And as Izzy begins to immerse herself in Stagcote life, she gradually realises the locals have a lot of strange and disturbing superstitions, many of them related to the manor.

When Izzy begins to investigate the history of the house, her unease soon darkens to fear as the manor's dark past finally comes to light.

Rating:

Friday, 14 November 2014

Book review: The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks by E. Lockhart


My edition: Paperback, published on 6 November 2014 by Hot Key Books, 342 pages.

Description: Fifteen-year-old Frankie Landau-Banks has grown up a lot over the summer. She's no longer daddy's little girl - and almost immediately after starting the new semester at her highly prestigious school, she bags goofy-but-gorgeous Matthew Livingston as her boyfriend. They get along great but then Frankie discovers that Matthew is a member of a boys-only secret society that specialise in 'hilarious' pranks. Which hardly seems fair... especially when Frankie knows she's smarter than any of its members. And to prove this, she's going to teach them a lesson.

Impersonating lead member Alpha by using a fake email account is surprisingly easy, and soon Frankie is setting the boys up with all sorts of ridiculous schemes and sending them on wild goose chase after wild goose chase. Alpha's not prepared to lose face and admit it's not him sending the emails - but the fun can't last forever, and soon Frankie will have to choose between what she think she wants, and the reputation she deserves.

Rating:

Wednesday, 12 November 2014

Book review: The Twelve Dates of Christmas by Lisa Dickenson


My edition: Paperback (proof), published on 6 October 2014 by Sphere, 223 pages.

Description: At thirty, Claudia's life is stale and the romance with long-term boyfriend, Seth, has disappeared. Determined to inject some festive spark back into their love life, Claudia and Seth go on their first date in a very long time. But when the night ends in disaster, Claudia suddenly finds herself facing life - and Christmas - alone.

Life alone is exciting, scary and full of soon-forgotten exercise regimes and ill-advised attempts at crafting sexy underwear. It's also filling up with dates, surprisingly. With best friends Penny and Nick at her side, a surplus of festive markets, mulled wine and Christmas tunes, Claudia attempts to face all this change with gusto. One thing's for certain: this year, Christmas is going to be very different . . .

Rating:

Monday, 10 November 2014

Theatre review: Made in Dagenham



For the past six months it has been very quiet in terms of big, exciting new shows moving into the West End, but with autumn comes a change of wind to the theatre capital of the UK with many new musicals and high-profile plays opening in short succession. For the longest of time I was most excited for the opening of British-born Made in Dagenham, starring none other than Gemma Arterton.

Friday, 7 November 2014

PapayaGold's PAW PAW balm



This balm isn't intended to soothe the paws of your precious pet, instead the name refers to Australia's tropical Paw Paw (more widely known as papaya), which is used to create the ointment. The moisturising product is also enriched with bioactive Manuka Honey 20+, farmed in the country next door to Oz; New Zealand, and is free from harming ingredients such as parabens and sulphates.

Lacking colour, odour and taste, in the first instance the look and feel of the product when opening the lid was similar to that of a tub of Vaseline. However, it's far less greasy and more thick in consistency, making it perfect to apply to visible areas of the skin, such as on your face, without leaving an unsightly filter of grease behind, or sticking to your clothes.

When trialling the ointment I found that it was wonderful to use on tougher areas of my skin, such as my knees and the back of my heels, as it not only soothed but also softened. And this wasn't after consistent use either, just two of three applicants made a world of difference for me. It also worked wonders as a moisturiser on my face and limbs, though foremost this has very quickly become my lip balm of choice.

I love a good balm or gloss to treat my lips and prevent them from chapping, especially in the current biting autumn weather. While I was happy with the brand I was using before, it didn't last as long as this one does. The PAW PAW balm rarely needed topping up throughout the day, which is perfect for me as I always forget to do this until it's too late.

Also good to note is that the product comes in a bright red travel-sized, sturdy tube, which makes it ideal to pop into your favourite handbag. It's small enough as to not take up unnecessary space and the popping colour means it's easy to spot, even if your bag is filled to the brim with random bits and bobs.

Wednesday, 5 November 2014

#LDNTheatreBloggers meet-up at Soho Grind



Coffee cocktails at Soho Grind

The fabulous Rebecca from Official Theatre has started something very exciting for London-based (and those who don't mind travelling to the capital) theatre bloggers by regularly bringing them together for evenings of helpful info about blogging and theatre while enjoying delicious cocktails and chatting to like-minded people (point in case: the first gin-up and group outings to Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, Autobahn and Sunny Afternoon).

The Official Theatre outings are always tremendous fun so when I received the invite for Monday's meet-up I immediately RSVP-ed even though I only arrived back in London the night before. I knew it'd be worth swapping an evening watching television from under my duvet - after all, I could always catch up on sleep (and my TV-shows) the rest of the week after work.

Though I work near Soho and often venture there for a bite to eat, I'd never actually been to Soho Grind before, the bar which was hired especially for the 30-odd theatre bloggers invited to the evening. While it was quite small, it was very cosy and the Prosecco reception definitely added to the appeal of the evening (not the mention the plentiful cheese and meat platters, which made for excellent dinner fare).


Some of the delicious meat and cheese platters laid out for us

While enjoying drinks and cheese I mingled with fellow theatre lovers; catching up with old faces and meeting new people as well, as the network of theatre bloggers is ever expanding. Before too long we were 'officially' welcomed with coffee cocktails (the bar's speciality) and a brief masterclass on how to make the drink. As a non-coffee drinker myself (I know, I know) I was given a different cocktail instead and while I don't remember the name, I loved the sweet strawberry concoction.

And we even got to make our own cocktails on the evening as well, though our team's name was once again already taken (and ended up winning!) by the time it was our turn. We need to learn to use our quiet voices.

The evening wasn't solely focused on consuming and making cocktails though, there was some 'serious' stuff discussed as well, including an interesting introduction by James from SeatPlan on the website's admirable intention of capturing regular people's comments (and pictures, where possible) of every seat in London theatres, to provide information to potential customers that isn't readily available yet.

After all, theatres often have different price ranks for their seats, but a cheaper price doesn't always mean the seat is bad (and the other way around too, some top price seats are not as good as others). So by including honest opinions from the regular public, it should make it easier for people to decide which tickets to buy to a play or show. I think it's a great idea as I'm always after finding a great seat for a fair prize and I hope many people will be leaving their reviews so SeatPlan can create a comprehensive database.


The cocktail we made, with subtle zesty decoration...

To top off what was already a fantastic night we were also treated to a beautiful acoustic set by Bity Booker, what a talented lady! If you enjoy listening to new music then I definitely recommend visiting her website for a free download of her digital album. It's worth checking out, I promise.

Anyway, long (blog) story short, I had a brilliant night with the #LDNTheatreBloggers, it's always a joy to get the chance to catch up with this lovely lot. Many thanks to Official Theatre and SeatPlan for fabulous evening!

Monday, 3 November 2014

Book review: A Most Desirable Marriage by Hilary Boyd


My edition: Paperback, published on 2 October 2014 by Quercus, 441 pages.

Description: Lawrence and Jo have enjoyed a strong marriage, the envy of their friends. Even after thirty years they have lots to say to each other, many interests in common and, until recently, a good sex life.

But Lawrence seems wary and restless. Something’s wrong. Just how wrong, Jo is about to discover…

Can they use their years of history – all the things they’ve shared – to overcome a devastating betrayal?




Rating:

Friday, 31 October 2014

Book review: A Thousand Pieces of You by Claudia Gray


My edition: Paperback, to be published on 6 November 2014 by HarperCollins, 357 pages.

Description: Marguerite Caine's physicist parents are known for their radical scientific achievements. Their most astonishing invention: the Firebird, which allows users to jump into parallel universes, some vastly altered from our own. But when Marguerite's father is murdered, the killer—her parent's handsome and enigmatic assistant Paul—escapes into another dimension before the law can touch him.

Marguerite can't let the man who destroyed her family go free, and she races after Paul through different universes, where their lives entangle in increasingly familiar ways. With each encounter she begins to question Paul's guilt—and her own heart. Soon she discovers the truth behind her father's death is more sinister than she ever could have imagined.

Rating:

Wednesday, 29 October 2014

Theatre review: Memphis the Musical



Set in 1950s Tennessee, when racial segregation was still a distinct part of society in the southern part of the States, we meet rhythm and blues-loving Huey Calhoun (Killian Donnelly).

He's not very good at holding down a job, but his contagious love for soulful songs eventually leads him to landing a slot on the local radio station and he quickly gathers a loyal following of impressionable teenagers who share his rebellious taste in Rock 'n' Roll music.

His rapid rise to fame causes outrage among many of the older locals, however, because while he promotes and plays tunes from black performers, both Huey and the majority of his adolescent fans are white.


©Photo by Johan Persson

Running parallel to Huey's story is that of Felicia (Beverly Knight), a singer in a black rock and roll bar owned by her brother Delray.

One night when he's wandering the streets, Huey follows the hypnotising sounds of Felicia's voice into the bar and, while initially he's perceived as completely cuckoo for showing his white-boy face in the establishment, he soon becomes friends with the locals and falls in love with the star performer.

But at a time when African-American Rosa Parks makes headlines for not giving up her seat on the bus to a white person, both government laws and prejudice stand forcefully between Huey and Felicia's growing romantic relationship.


©Photo by Johan Persson

With a focus on subject matter as loaded as racial discrimination it's surprising how joyful and exciting this show, which has a book and music by David Bryan and Joe Dipietro, truly is.

From the very first moment the curtain goes up, Memphis is a thrilling spectacle which has more than just hints of the upbeat contagiousness from Hairspray and is filled to the brim with slick and wildly impressive choreography reminiscent of West Side Story.

Plentiful with catchy tunes, colourful costumes, funny one-liners and a gimmicky set design, it is obvious from the start why this soulful show won the Tony Award for Best Musical. And having had a chance to grow and evolve on Broadway, where it ran for three successful years, the production currently gracing the London boards is polished to a tee.


©Photo by Johan Persson

While the entire production seemed flawless, with the large ensemble providing beautiful harmonies during the big group numbers, Killian Donnelly and Beverly Knight were the ones who really shone on that Shaftesbury stage.

Donnelly's Huey was endearing and bonkers at the same time, and with his funny improvisations he frequently had the audience in stitches. Knight is probably best known to the general public as a pop singer and it can always be risky to stuntcast a vital role in a musical but she more than held her own; her powerful pipes stole the show on more than one occasion.

I generally watch several productions each week, but it has been a very long time since I've been this impressed by a newly opened show in the West End. It single-handedly brings the glitz and glamour of a slick and stylish Broadway show-stopping spectacle to London, paving the streets to the Shaftesbury Theatre with soul and Rock 'n' Roll.


©Photo by Johan Persson




Memphis the Musical is playing at the Shaftesbury Theatre and is currently taking bookings until 28 March 2015, you can buy tickets here.