Tuesday, 30 June 2015

Book review: Only We Know by Simon Packham


My edition: Paperback, published on 4 June 2015 by Piccadilly Press, 229 pages.

Description: What is the secret of Lauren's past?

Lauren's family have moved house very suddenly, and she and her sister Tilda have to go to a new school. Lauren's determined to reinvent herself, but she's panic-stricken when she sees Harry, who she knew a few years ago. Luckily Harry doesn't recognise her, and she knows she has to make sure it stays like that.

Lauren, unlike Tilda, settles in well. She makes friends, is helping to organise the school fashion show, and has boys asking her out. But just as her life finally seems to be looking up she starts receiving macabre packages. When she gets a message: 'Isn't it time your new friends knew all about you?' she has to admit that someone knows her secret. But who - and what should she do?

Rating:

Monday, 29 June 2015

Theatre review: Miss Saigon



I had the profound pleasure of reviewing the 25th anniversary production of Cameron Mackintosh's Miss Saigon when it opened in the West End last year, which was a truly epic introduction to this magnificent show. So when I was offered the opportunity to watch the tremendous musical once more, now with a partly new cast, I of course couldn't say 'no'!

Theatre review: The Liberty Tree at The Cockpit Theatre



©Nick Spratling

Rosa is a call centre worker and after a particularly bad day at work - the new owners have taken away their employees' bonuses and put them on zero-hour contracts, and the one person who protests the new regime is instantly suspended - she goes to bed only to wake up in the Land-of-Do-As-You're-Told; a magical place where she meets a colourful cast of characters while she's following a road to the liberty tree, a legend which can supposedly save them all.

Friday, 26 June 2015

Book review: The Looking Glass House by Vanessa Tait


My edition: Paperback (proof), to be published on 2 July 2015 by Corvus, 298 pages.

Description: Oxford, 1862. As Mary Prickett takes up her post as governess to the daughters of the Dean of Christ Church, she is thrust into a strange new world. Mary is poor and plain and desperate for change but the little girls in her care see and understand far more than their naive new teacher. And there is another problem: Mary does not like children, especially the precocious Alice Liddell.

When Mary meets Charles Dodgson, the Christ Church mathematics tutor, at a party at the Deanery, she wonders if he may be the person to transform her life. Flattered by his attentions, Mary begins to believe that she could be more than just an overlooked, dowdy governess.

One sunny day, as Mary chaperones the Liddells on a punting trip, Mr Dodgson tells the story of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. But Mary is determined to become Mr Dodgson's muse ­ and will turn all the lives around her topsy-turvy in pursuit of her obsession.

Rating:

Thursday, 25 June 2015

Book review: My Grandmother Sends Her Regards and Apologises by Fredrik Backman


My edition: Hardback, published on 4 June 2015 by Sceptre Books, 320 pages.

Description: Elsa is seven years old and different. Her grandmother is seventy-seven years old and crazy. Standing-on-the-balcony-firing-paintball-guns-at-men-who-want-to-talk-about-Jesus-crazy. She is also Elsa's best, and only, friend. At night Elsa runs to her grandmother's stories, to the Land of Almost-Awake and the Kingdom of Miamas. There, everybody is different and nobody needs to be normal.

So when Elsa's grandmother dies and leaves behind a series of letters apologizing to people she has hurt, it marks the beginning of Elsa's greatest adventure. Her grandmother's letters lead her to an apartment building full of drunks, monsters, attack dogs, and totally ordinary old crones-but also to the truth about fairytales and kingdoms and a grandmother like no other.

Rating:

Wednesday, 24 June 2015

Book review: Lost & Found by Brooke Davis


My edition: Paperback (proof), published on 29 January 2015 by Hutchinson, 289 pages.

Description: Millie Bird is a seven-year-old girl who always wears red wellington boots to match her red, curly hair. But one day, Millie’s mum leaves her alone beneath the Ginormous Women’s underwear rack in a department store, and doesn’t come back.

Agatha Pantha is an eighty-two-year-old woman who hasn’t left her home since her husband died. Instead, she fills the silence by yelling at passers-by, watching loud static on TV, and maintaining a strict daily schedule. Until the day Agatha spies a little girl across the street.

Karl the Touch Typist is eighty-seven years old and once typed love letters with his fingers on to his wife’s skin. He sits in a nursing home, knowing that somehow he must find a way for life to begin again. In a moment of clarity and joy, he escapes.

Together, Millie, Agatha and Karl set out to find Millie’s mum. Along the way, they will discover that the young can be wise, that old age is not the same as death, and that breaking the rules once in a while might just be the key to a happy life.

Rating:

Tuesday, 23 June 2015

Book review: A Seaside Affair by Fern Britton


My edition: Paperback, published on 26 March 2015 by Harper, 448 pages.

Description: When the residents of the Cornish seaside town of Trevay discover that their ramshackle but much-loved theatre is about to be taken over by a global coffee chain, Cafe au Lait, they are up in arms. It is up to Penny Leighton to come up with a plan to save it.

Trevay soon finds itself at the centre of the universe when A-listers arrive to take part in a charity season at the theatre.

The play throws out a chance to Jess Tate, girlfriend to TV heartthrob Ryan Roberts. His career is on the rise while hers remains resolutely in the doldrums. But when opportunity comes calling, it isn't just her career prospects that are about to change...

Rating:

Monday, 22 June 2015

Theatre review: The Clockmaker's Daughter at The Landor Theatre



©Poppy Carter

The Landor Theatre is a popular and well-respected fringe venue in London, yet after reviewing both Damn Yankees and She Loves Me at this theatre in a pub, I admit I wasn't wow-ed yet by the productions they put on (this may partly be due to the fact that these shows simply didn't appeal to me quite as much as previous ones that played there and I missed, such as Ragtime and Into The Woods).

Sunday, 21 June 2015

West End Live 2015, Saturday 20 June



West End Live is without a doubt the most anticipated weekend of the year for stagey people, showcasing some of the best of the best the West End has on offer spread out over two musical-filled days in London's Trafalgar Square. Completely for free!

While I have previously only reported about it in 2013, this year actually marked my 7th visit to the annual theatrical event (which is now in its 11th year) and the first where I had press accreditation so the quality of my pictures is (hopefully) a lot better. That way people reading this who were not able to attend might still feel like they were there – and those who did go can relive some of their favourite moments.

My highlights (as ever) were the extraordinarily catchy Jersey Boys, the totally epic Miss Saigon (which I'm visiting for review again next week) and Les Miserables, and the AMAZING Memphis with one of the last performances by Killian Donnelly before he heads off to join the fabulous Kinky Boots (opening at the Palace Theatre in August).

The whole day was once more organised fantastically by Westminster Council, MasterCard and The Society of London Theatre, the only hiccup being the heavens opening up late afternoon but that is something they have no control over and also, it wouldn't be West End Live without getting drenched!

Without further ado, click below for some of my photos of the first day of West End Live 2015. I tried to share some shots from each of my favourite performances as I wanted to keep it fair (although, admittedly, I have a LOT more photos from some shows *cough* Memphis *cough* than others) and I will do the same from the Sunday performances, which I'll be heading to later this afternoon.

Friday, 19 June 2015

Interview with author Fredrik Backman



I usually tend to stick to the same authors when it comes to book releases I want to get as soon as they're out int he shops, but I recently discovered a new writer who with his unique novels has catapulted himself into my list of favourites: Fredrik Backman. It started when I read A Man Called Ove and my love for his quirky and amazingly layered characters grew even more exponentially when I finished his new book, My Grandmother Sends Her Regards & Apologises a few weeks ago (review to follow).

So when I was contacted by his publicist with the opportunity to feature an interview with the author himself on my blog, I didn't have to think twice. My questions may be a bit a mundane and fangirly, but his answers are anything but; filled with his distinct flair for humour. Enjoy!

Hi Fredrik, thanks so much for stopping by my blog today! I absolutely adored A Man Called Ove, which was a perfect balance of humour, quirkiness and a heartwarming message. Did you deliberately put all these elements into the story to create your unique main character and his journey, or was this influenced heavily by your own humour and writing style?

It's a very long and complicated question...so...well...I didn't really plan ahead. I just tried to tell a story that I felt something about, and then I made my best to tell it as honest and entertaining as possible. And then I gave it to my wife, and she laughed maybe three times during the entire script, and I asked where she was in the story at the time and she told me and I went back and tried to write more stuff like that. That's where the dedication on the first page of the book comes from. "For Neda. It's always to make you laugh. Always."

Ove initially came across as a stereotypical grumpy old man yet as the story progressed and we, the readers, got to know him better it became evident that there was a far more complex and surprising character hiding underneath the stern exterior. Was this something that surprised you as well? Were there things that happened either in Ove's life or to one of the other characters that you didn't expect either when you started writing the novel?

Well...that's...these are hard questions. I don't plan everything out in a novel before I write it, but I wouldn't exactly say I just sit back and wait to be struck by inspiration either. So I don't think "surprised" would be the word I'd use, because that sounds a little bit like I had quite a bit of illegal drugs in me and sat down at a typewriter and woke up the next morning at the bottom of a pile of paper and just "WOOOOO! DID I WRITE THIS?". I've heard somewhere that's what Robert Louis Stevenson did with Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde and I'm really happy it worked out for him but I don't really do good with drugs. I'm a very anxious guy to begin with, and I get headaches very easily. So...no...I'm never really "surprised".

Wow, this answer really got out of hand. But...yeah, sometimes you take a different route halfway through a novel than you initially intended and maybe that's a bit surprising. In the first draft of A Man Called Ove the cat didn't appear until chapter 14, but my stubborn editor kept arguing that it should be the hero of the story, so in the end I changed it and wrote the cat from chapter 2. It changed the whole dynamic of the book, really, which I didn't really understand until the book was printed. So that was surprising. So yes. I should have just answered that from the beginning!

After the international success of A Man Called Ove, did you have a different approach when writing My Grandmother Sends Her Regards and Apologises?

No, because I had no idea it would be a success. Neither did my publisher. When they figured out that A Man Called Ove had started selling a lot of copies I had been writing my next novel in peace and quiet for 6 months. When they asked to see the script and I gave it to them they...well...they panicked a little bit. We had a lot of discussions about me using made up animals and swords and sending 7 year old girls to space (I didn't really, they misunderstood that part) and so on and so on. The sales department sent me a lot of emails asking me in different ways if I couldn't write an Ove 2 instead, but I kept answering "HOW!!!???".

In the end my wife told them that if they want me to behave they can't leave me alone for 6 months because then I will start having some "weird ideas", and that's why she won't leave me alone with the kids for "more than two hours, without calling the insurance company first". And by then I guess the publisher kind of realised it was too late to force me to write a new script altogether so they gave up and published the one I wanted to write.

So...your question was...oh yes! No! I didn't have a different approach with the second book, I just wrote something I liked and tried to get my wife to laugh and hoped that someone else would like it too. There's a Norwegian author called Erlend Loe who answered a question similar to this with "I can only write one book, the one I want to write". That's my general feeling. I also had some great advice from another writer when I published A Man Called Ove, which was to start writing my second novel before my first one started getting reviews. Because then I would be unaffected by them, regardless if they were good or bad. Probably some of the best advice I've ever gotten.

And what does an average writing day look like to you anyway? Do you have a strict routine or is every day different?

Noooo. I don't have routines. I have kids. And my wife has a real job with desks and power points and pants and stuff, so I'm in charge of seeing the kids to and from kindergarten and half of the time they have colds and then we stay home and watch god damn Frost a million times. So no, not that much a routine writer, I just write when I'm allowed. But what I have discovered, to be honest, is that it's not really important to set aside time for writing. It's more important to set aside time for thinking. Writing is fun, so one way or another I always find time for that.

Finally, even though My Grandmother Sends Her Regards and Apologises has only just had its UK release, are you already working on your third novel? If so, is there anything you can tell your readers about the story?

I'm working on my fourth, actually. My third one was released in Scandinavia last year. It's called Britt-Marie Was Here and is sort of a spin-off, focusing on the character of Britt-Marie who is a neighbor to Elsa in My Grandmother Sends Her Regards and Apologises. It's a lot about cleaning stuff. And football. A lot about football.

* * *

Thanks so much Fredrik for stopping by Page to Stage Reviews today! And readers, make sure you pick up his delightful novels; My Grandmother Sends Her Regards and Apologises was published in a beautiful hardback in early June and you can buy the novel from WaterstonesAmazon or your own preferred retailer, A Man Called Ove was published in paperback in May and you can get a copy from Waterstones, Amazon or your own favourite book shop!

Thursday, 18 June 2015

Book review: The Doris Day Vintage Film Club by Fiona Harper


My edition: Paperback, published on 23 April 2015 by Mills and Boon, 420 pages.

Description: Claire Bixby grew up watching Doris Day films at her grandmother’s house and yearned to live in a world like the one on the screen – sunny, colourful and where happy endings with chiselled leading men were guaranteed. But recently Claire’s opportunities for a little ‘pillow talk’ have been thin on the ground.

Until she meets mysterious Dominic. Nic is full of secrets but their connection is instant. Could he help Claire finding the Hollywood ending she’s been searching for?

Perhaps, perhaps, perhaps…


Rating:

Wednesday, 17 June 2015

Book review: The Improbable Theory of Ana and Zak by Brian Katcher


My edition: Paperback (proof), to be published on 18 June 2015 by Katherine Tegen Books, 336 pages.

Description: When Ana Watson's brother ditches a high school trip to run wild at Washingcon, type-A Ana knows that she must find him or risk her last shot at freedom from her extra-controlling parents.

In her desperation, she's forced to enlist the last person she'd ever want to spend time with--slacker Zak Duquette--to help find her brother before morning comes.

But over the course of the night, while being chased by hordes of costumed Vikings and zombies, Ana and Zak begin to open up to each other. Soon, what starts as the most insane nerdfighter manhunt transforms into so much more. . . .

Rating:

Tuesday, 16 June 2015

Cheap London: How to see West End theatre for less!


After my first Cheap London post, titled 5 ways to go to the cinema for free, today I will be sharing some of my tips on how to see normally budget-shattering musicals and plays in London's famous West End theatre district at a fraction of the cost!

1. My ultimate tip, and the reason this post is being published this week, is the glorious West End Live, taking place the weekend of 20-21 June. Now in its 11th year, this completely free event showcases some of the best the West End has to offer spread out over two musical-filled days in Trafalgar Square. This is without a doubt the most anticipated weekend of the year for stagey people, but there is a lot to enjoy for casual theatre-goers too. And they also cater to children with fun events; so it's great for the entire family.

There are smaller similar events through the year, such as the Olivier Awards live show in Covent Garden and West End Busking, and there's even a taster of WEL in Victoria this coming Wednesday 17 June, but none are quite as spectacular as West End Live itself. This year marks my 7th visit to this glorious event and to get in the mood, have a look at my blog post of the 2013 showcase, which is filled with pictures and videos. Bring water, food, comfy shoes, a sunhat and all your stagey friends - and get ready for a brilliant West End weekend.

2. If after watching teaser performances at West End Live your list of shows and plays you REALLY want to see has grown exponentially but your theatre budget hasn't, then day seats might be just the thing for you. If you're American you may know them as rush seats instead, but basically these are tickets you can get from the box office of the theatre on the day of the performance itself.

Day seats are not a given though and each production has its own system, but it's well worth looking into it. Most of the time it's listed on the show's website and if not, just pop by the theatre box office to ask. Examples of day seats, include £15 front row tickets to The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, £25 for Miss Saigon and just £5 for lucky 16-25 year-olds for Matilda the Musical. Some theatres sell a set number of tickets, other times it's simply best available. One notable exception is The Book of Mormon, which is so popular that they have a lottery system instead (both in person and online). 

3. Under 26s aren't only super lucky with the Matilda day seats, but there are a host of offers to tempt the young 'uns to the theatre. Like with day seats the offers vary, so it's worth checking the websites of each individual theatre and/or production you're interested in, but some well-known schemes include £5 tickets with the Entry Pass at the National Theatre, Young Barbican at (you guessed it) The Barbican and £12 tickets with the Old Vic's Under 25s Club.

4. While the West End gets all the attention, if you venture to just outside the border of the famous Shaftesbury Avenue there's a host of off-West End venues that are instantly a lot more affordable. Some of my favourites are The Almeida Theatre, Southwark Playhouse, Union Theatre, Charing Cross Theatre, Trafalgar Studios, Arts Theatre, St James Theatre and Jermyn Street Theatre. And even further afield, but still very accessible from central London, are Greenwich Theatre, Richmond Theatre and New Wimbledon Theatre.

5. My final tip is National Theatre live, which isn't only a great way of seeing theatre if travelling to the West End isn't an option for you, or a production is so popular that you didn't manage to get any tickets, but you can also get a front-row, unrestricted seat to some of the best productions for a snippet of the top price you'd pay for a seat in the theatre. True, for cinema some of the broadcasts are perhaps a bit at the top end of the ticket price, but if you remind yourself that you're paying for top quality theatre, then it's really a bargain.

And my personal favourite thing about NT Live? Getting to watch a production again, even years after it has closed in London. I find it wonderful to have the chance to rewatch outstanding performances I've seen live on stage on the big screen; it makes me appreciate the art of theatre even more.

* * *

I hope you find these tips helpful, if you have your own advice to help others go to the theatre for less in the West End and beyond, then do drop a line in the comments. And if you've used any of the above to see a show or play at a more affordable price I'd love it if you could let me know about your experience as well.

In future posts I'll cover museums (some known, some not so much) and much more! If there's anything in particular you'd like me to give you some tips on for discounts or freebies in London, just leave a comment below.

Tuesday, 9 June 2015

Cover reveal: Wickham Hall Part One – Hidden Treasures by Cathy Bramley


I don't do many cover reveals, because in between my crazy busy new(ish) job, moving house, and reviewing for other sites (such as Novelicious and Lovereading) I barely have time to keep up with my blog nowadays as it is. However, when the lovely Cathy Bramley asked me if I wanted to take part in the cover reveal for the first part of her latest serial, Wickham Hall, I just couldn't say no!

Ever since I read her delightful debut Conditional Love I have taken part in cover reveals for her novels, including Appleby Farm and the revamped Conditional Love, and she is always a joy to work with – not to mention the shiny fact that I get to see the cover a few days before its public reveal to be able to prep my blog post, which is definitely an added bonus.

And with Wickham Hall, the Transworld designer has once more captured the beautiful, heartwarming essence of Cathy's writing; it's summery, girly, incredibly eye-catching and makes me long for long country walks and a hearty pub lunch. What do you think?! 


Holly Swift has just landed the job of her dreams: events co-ordinator at Wickham Hall, the beautiful manor home that sits proudly at the heart of the village where she grew up. Not only does she get to organise for a living and work in stunning surroundings, but it will also put a bit of distance between Holly and her problems at home.

Holly loves the busy world of Wickham Hall - from family weddings to summer festivals, firework displays and Christmas grottos. But life isn't as easily organised as an event at Wickham Hall (and even those have their complications...). Can Holly learn to let go and live in the moment?

After all, that's when the magic happens...


The series will be published digitally in four parts this year and then in a complete novel both digitally and in paperback in 2016.

Amazon links to get your pre-orders in now: Wickham Hall Part One – Hidden Treasures on 25 June, Wickham Hall Part Two – Summer Secrets on 23 July, Wickham Hall Part Three – Sparks Fly on 24 September and Wickham Hall Part Four – White Christmas on 26 November.

Thursday, 4 June 2015

Book review: The Dish by Stella Newman


My edition: Paperback, published on 21 May 2015 by Headline, 416 pages.

Description: When Laura Parker first crosses forks with Adam Bayley, she's only after one thing: his custard doughnut. But when she takes a closer look she sees a talented, handsome man who outshines the string of jokers she's been dating.

There's just one problem. Adam's job means Laura has to keep her job as restaurant critic for The Dish, a secret. Tricky for someone who prides herself on honesty.

Can the truth be put on ice long enough for love to flourish?

And how can you expect your boyfriend to be honest if you're not quite telling the truth yourself?

Rating:

Tuesday, 2 June 2015

A Fabulous Night In with Lindsey Kelk, Lucy Robinson and Lucy Holliday



When I first visited the spectacular new HarperCollins offices at London Bridge, for the launch of C.L. Taylor's The Lie, I was chatting to Fabulous Magazine's Claire who mentioned they'd soon be hosting an exciting event there in conjunction with HarperCollins; A Fabulous Night In with Lindsey Kelk, Lucy Robinson and Lucy Holliday.

Needless to say, on the day of the ticket release I had my refresh finger at the ready to get myself a ticket and I was super excited when I received the coveted confirmation page. Lindsey Kelk (About a Girl, I Heart Christmas and What a Girl Wants) and Lucy Robinson (The Day We Disappeared and The Unfinished Symphony of You and Me) are two of my favourite authors, not only because they've written a whole host of fantastic books, but also because they're genuinely lovely and very funny women that, yes, I would like to spend a fabulous night in with. Admittedly at this stage I wasn't familiar yet with Lucy Holliday's writing, but her new book, A Night in with Audrey Hepburn, sounds pretty smashing too.

Arriving at the HarperCollins offices smack-down in front of the Shard, I was once more mightily impressed by the stunning view over London. We picked up drinks from the bar (Baileys in my case, yum), bagged our front row seats to the event and spent some time strolling along the premises; spotting famous landmarks as the sun went down over the city and admiring the HarperCollins book wall (yes, they have an actually wall made out of books!). I've been wanting to work in book publishing for ages and having seen the amazing new HarperCollins offices I now really want to work for them (if you have sway with the Harper hiring team please get in touch!).

Of course we weren't there to admire the view (though it was a big bonus!), instead the room of book lovers had assembled to listen to the brilliant authors present. The event was hosted by Fabulous Magazine's Claire Frost and she asked the panel some fantastic questions that led to interesting and often hilarious answers.

Some insights we took away from the night were that Lindsey Kelk used to ghostwrite and she has even written a teen medieval novel! I'm not entirely sure how the conversation then steered to the classic werewolves and vampires in YA fiction, but she admitted that Nick from her About a Girl series is actually a werewolf. Gasp! (spoiler alert: this may not actually be true.)

The authors also touched upon what the best and worst things are about being an author. Lucy Robinson said that she loved the 30 second commute to work, making up people she loves and have people actually read your work - and sometimes even be really touched by it. Lucy Holliday added that the worst thing about being a writer is "the abyss of terror", which the other two authors wholeheartedly agreed with. Lindsey Kelk also said that the editing process was like "getting your homework back in the worst possible way". Ouch.

They spoke about their writing habits, which vary hugely. Lindsey Kelk basically knuckles down for two months of stress and tears and little preparation beforehand, and she has an amazing (my word, not hers) book by the end of it. Lucy Robinson on the other hands spends months carefully planning her story, which she finds makes it a lot easier when she actually gets to writing it from start to finish. Those of you who have read her latest novel, The Day We Disappeared, will know that this way of working was necessary for that book to come together as it did - as it was a really intricately woven story that worked on so many levels.

Very excitingly, Lucy Robinson revealed that she is plotting a book that she loves to write with Lindsey Kelk. Clearly this needs to happen right now!

Finally, the three authors were asked who they would love to have a fabulous night in with themselves. Lindsey Kelk suggested Taylor Swift, Emma Stone and Jennifer Lawrence. Or, she loves spending time with her mates too. Lucy Robinson said she'd love to spend it with the favourite characters from her books, which I thought was such a neat idea (and I've totally bagged my seat next to Jan Borsos from The Unfinished Symphony of You and Me already!). And Lucy Holliday answered Daniel Craig. And Denzel Washington. And George Clooney. Hear, hear!

After the panel it was time to get our books signed (for which the queue snaked all around the room, the authors were very popular), which was good fun and Lindsey Kelk even had a bowl M&Ms on her desk with her name on it and the title of her latest book, Always the Bridesmaid (I totally snagged one and may or may not have accidentally propelled it in her direction – subtle!).

This was an evening befitting its name; fabulous! I hope HarperCollins and Fabulous Magazine will be hosting similar bookish events in the future, as I'll definitely be keen to listen to other inspiring authors in this gorgeous setting (while enjoying a glass of Baileys).

Some snapshots from the evening:





This post first appeared on Novelicious.