Monday, 31 August 2015

Theatre review: Thoroughly Modern Millie at the Landor Theatre



©Richard Davenport

The Landor Theatre in Clapham is a lovely, intimate venue but the productions I've seen there in the past year have been very hit or miss for me. While I didn't enjoy the revival of Damn Yankees, new original musical The Clockmaker's Daughter is one of the best shows I have seen in 2015 so far. Being another revival, Thoroughly Modern Millie could've easily been another miss for me, but I've wanted to see this show ever since I disappeared in a YouTube void of clips from the Broadway production with Sutton Foster and Gavin Creel in the leads, and so I was keen to catch it live on stage at the first available opportunity. While it would've been very hard for a cast to match those Broadway greats, the Landor version was really rather excellent.

Friday, 28 August 2015

Book review: Emmy & Oliver by Robin Benway


My edition: Paperback, published on 16 July 2015 by Simon & Schuster Children's, 340 pages.

Description: Oliver's absence split us wide open, dividing our neighborhood along a fault line strong enough to cause an earthquake. An earthquake would have been better. At least during an earthquake, you understand why you're shaking.

Emmy and Oliver were going to be best friends forever, or maybe even more, before their futures were ripped apart. But now Oliver is back, and he's not the skinny boy-next-door that used to be Emmy's best friend. Now he's the boy who got kidnapped. A stranger - a totally hot stranger! - with a whole history that Emmy knows nothing about.

But is their story still meant to be? Or are they like the pieces of two different puzzles - impossible to fit together?

Rating:

Tuesday, 25 August 2015

Book review: The Summer of Secrets by Sarah Jasmon


My edition: Paperback, published on 13 August 2015 by Black Swan, 352 pages.

Description: The summer the Dovers move in next door, sixteen-year-old Helen's lonely world is at once a more thrilling place. She is infatuated with the bohemian family, especially the petulant and charming daughter Victoria.

As the long, hot days stretch out in front of them, Helen and Victoria grow inseparable. But when a stranger appears, Helen begins to question whether the secretive Dover family are really what they seem.

It’s the kind of summer when anything seems possible . . .

Until something goes wrong.

Rating:

Monday, 24 August 2015

Theatre review: Seven Brides for Seven Brothers at Regent's Park Open Air Theatre



©Hugo Glendinning & Feast Creative

A tour of Seven Brides for Seven Brothers hit London last year and I wasn't impressed with the show at the time; the songs weren't memorable, the story was outdated and the performances were adequate at best. However, when I first heard the the classic would be a part of this year's Regent's Park Open Air season I was interested to see how it would compare, especially as I have heard nothing but great things from this unique theatre yet had never had the chance to visit before. And when Alex Gaumond was cast in one of the leads (who I loved in Top Hat, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels and We Will Rock You), I knew I had to give Seven Brides for Seven Brothers another chance.

Friday, 21 August 2015

5 Musicals (And 1 Play) That Need a West End Run



We're really lucky in London, having a wealth of exciting and diverse theatre on our doorstep with the West End, Off-West End shows, Fringe theatre and UK tours hitting the outer regions of Greater London. In recent years I've seen some absolutely splendid productions from Book of Mormon, Loserville and Matilda to smaller productions or those a little further afield, including The Clockmaker's Daughter, Grand Hotel and Assassins.

As a self-confessed musical theatre geek, I have spend many hours trawling YouTube for Tony ceremonies and other performances from productions that don't make it over here and consequently buying the full soundtracks to add to my ever-growing musical theatre collection. It's great to discover brilliant new shows that way, but it's not so great when there is no opportunity to then see them in London.

SEE ALSO: Cheap Theatre - How to See West End Theatre for Less

This is why I've created my list of productions that I believe TOTALLY deserve a West End run (or at least a home somewhere in the capital).


Catch Me If You Can

I have not seen this live on stage yet, but I adore the cast recording and there are ways to watch the full Broadway production online *cough* YouTube *cough*, which has definitely sold me on this show even more. I've always been fascinated by the story of teenage-conman-extraordinaire Frank Abagnale Jr, I adored the movie adaptation with Leonardo DiCaprio and Tom Hanks, and the musical went one step further to glamourise Frank's life. It really is suited for the sparkle of Broadway and the songs are SO good.

Live in Living Colour - Aaron Tveit (Frank), this performance is a
studio recording but has clips of the show too


Mary Poppins

This one has been in the West End before but during a time I wasn't living here (in fact I was living in Canada and Australia, so just a tad too far away). As my favourite Disney film of all time and with one of the most stunning sequences in musical theatre with Step in Time, this show has always been on my must-see list. It is touring the UK next year so hopefully they make a West End stop before or after, though I admit I'm disappointed that neither Gavin Lee or Gavin Creel will be taking on the role of Bert again, as they're both such phenomenal performers (I've seen them in Top Hat and Book of Mormon, respectively).

Step In Time (be sure to stick around for Bert's (Gavin Lee)
showstopper at the 5:45 mark)


Newsies

Based on the Disney film of the same name from the early 90s (which stars an all-singing, all-dancing Christian Bale in the lead) this was one of my two favourite shows (together with Kinky Boots, which is starting previews in London tonight!) when I made a trip to Broadway back in 2013. The songs are brilliantly catchy and the story of the newspaper boys on strike is both charming and grounded in American history, but it is the phenomenal choreography that makes this show so very special. Watch the below Tony Awards rendition of Seize the Day for a sneak-peek. 



Next to Normal

You might be sensing an Aaron Tveit theme here (as he was also in the aforementioned Catch Me If You Can) and you wouldn't be wrong, he has done some extraordinary, different productions. The plot for this rock musical isn't as cheerful as most shows, as it focuses on a woman with bipolar disorder and also covers other heavy themes such as drug abuse and loss of a child. But, guess what? Musicals don't always have to be jazzhands and big smiles, this story is absolutely phenomenal. It's heartbreaking, for sure, but also beautiful and the music is incredible. It ran on Broadway from 2009 until 2011 after a pre-Broadway try-out and followed by a US National Tour. And there has even been a run in The Netherlands, so surely a London one is bound to follow?!

I'm Alive - Aaron Tveit (Gabe)


The Addams Family

This show based on the famous fictional family also ran on Broadway between 2010-2011 (it was a good time for musicals) but has never received a professional production in or near London, for as far as I'm aware. I did see an amateur version in London last year but both production values and the cast were pretty sub-par and so I am in desperate need of a do-over. The music is so catchy, you guys!

Crazier Than You - Krysta Rodriguez and Wesley Taylor (Wednesday
Addams and Lucas, respectively, both of Smash fame)


Peter and the Starcatcher

During the previously mentioned trip to Broadway in 2013 we saw many musicals but also a handful of plays. Peter and the Starcatcher, a prequel to the famous story by J.M. Barrie, had a successful Broadway run a few years prior, and the version I caught was off-Broadway. It was extra-ordinary; the staging and choreography was imaginative, the story was gripping and poetic, and the overall result was pure magic. It was a really different kind of play and had some songs too, so that's my excuse for including it in this post. You can watch a nearly 10 minute preview with clips from the Broadway show below (which stars Christian Borle, another Smash-actor).



These are my favourites that I've not had a chance to watch in the UK yet. What musicals and/or plays would you love to see open in a London theatre? Post your suggestions below!

Wednesday, 19 August 2015

Book review: Summer at Little Beach Street Bakery by Jenny Colgan


My edition: Paperback, published on 28 February 2015 by Sphere, 396 pages.

Description: Summer has arrived in the Cornish town of Mount Polbearne and Polly Waterford couldn't be happier. Because Polly is in love: she's in love with the beautiful seaside town she calls home, she's in love with running the bakery on Beach Street, and she's in love with her boyfriend, Huckle.

And yet there's something unsettling about the gentle summer breeze that's floating through town. Selina, recently widowed, hopes that moving to Mount Polbearne will ease her grief, but Polly has a secret that could destroy her friend's fragile recovery. Responsibilities that Huckle thought he'd left behind are back and Polly finds it hard to cope with his increasingly long periods of absence.

Polly sifts flour, kneads dough and bakes bread, but nothing can calm the storm she knows is coming: is Polly about to lose everything she loves?

Rating:

Tuesday, 18 August 2015

Blog tour: Review of Mile High by Rebecca Chance


My edition: Ebook, published on 13 August 2015 by Pan Macmillan, 496 pages.

Description: First class is about to get dangerous...

Pure Air's new LuxeLiner is flying from London to LA - its inaugural journey - with a first-class cabin packed with A List celebrities. As the feuding crew compete to impress their famous passengers, the handsome pilot tries to win the attention of a pretty young stewardess.

But one VIP singer is battling something seriously sinister: watching her every step is a very determined stalker, someone who will go to any lengths to get the star to satisfy their desires. At thirty thousand feet there is nowhere to run, and nowhere to hide...


Rating:

Monday, 17 August 2015

Blog tour: Review of Appleby Farm by Cathy Bramley


My edition: Paperback, published on 13 August 2015 by Corgi, 480 pages.

Description: Freya Moorcroft has wild red hair, mischievous green eyes, a warm smile and a heart of gold. She’s been happy working at the cafĂ© round the corner from Ivy Lane allotments and her romance with her new boyfriend is going well, she thinks, but a part of her still misses the beautiful rolling hills of her Cumbrian childhood home: Appleby Farm.

Then a phone call out of the blue and a desperate plea for help change everything…

The farm is in financial trouble, and it’s taking its toll on the aunt and uncle who raised Freya. Heading home to lend a hand, Freya quickly learns that things are worse than she first thought. As she summons up all her creativity and determination to turn things around, Freya is surprised as her own dreams for the future begin to take shape.

Love makes the world go round, according to Freya. Not money. But will saving Appleby Farm and following her heart come at a price?

Rating:

Friday, 14 August 2015

Book review: The Chocolate Apothecary by Josephine Moon


My edition: Paperback, published on 2 July 2015 by Allen & Unwin, 389 pages.

Description: Christmas Livingstone has 10 rules for happiness.

Nurturing the senses every day, doing what you love, and sharing joy with others are some of the rules but the most important for her is number 10 - 'Absolutely no romantic relationships'.

Her life is good. In her enchantingly seductive shop, The Chocolate Apothecary, she tempers chocolate and creates handmade pieces; her friends and family surround her; and her secret life of wish granting brings joy to herself and others.

She doesn't need a handsome botanist who knows everything about cacao to walk into her life. One who has the nicest grandmother intent on interfering, who's adopted a gorgeous rescue dog, and who needs her help to write a book on her passion, chocolate. She really doesn't need any of that at all.

Or does she?

Rating:

Thursday, 13 August 2015

Blog tour: Author Eva Holland's writing room

To celebrate the publication of The Daughter's Secret today (13 August 2015), I'm excited to share with you a guest post from author Eva Holland! Have you always wondered where the magic of creating a gripping read happens? Or are you just a tad curious and want to snoop around her work space? Look no further, as Eva shares where she writes and what her routine is!


"My desk is wedged into the bay window of the spare bedroom. It is the perfect writing space for me – far enough away from the distractions of books and people downstairs and right next door to my bedroom so I can shuffle to it in my pyjamas as soon as I wake up.

"I’ve always been messy and my desk in no exception. I envy writers who have orderly systems for recording their thoughts in notebooks. I just scribble on or in whatever I have to hand. As result my desk is a mess of notebooks, old envelopes and Post It notes covered in my scrawl. Apart from my notes, the only thing I must have on my desk when I write is a frequently refilled cup of coffee.

"My writing routine is very simple: I start as early as I can and I always unplug my modem. The internet is an amazing thing but I have no ability to focus on my work in progress if I could be reading the whole of Wikipedia instead!"



Blurb: When Rosalind's fifteen-year-old daughter, Stephanie, ran away with her teacher, this ordinary family became something it had never asked to be. Their lives held up to scrutiny in the centre of a major police investigation, the Simms were headline news while Stephanie was missing with a man who was risking everything.

Now, six years on, Ros takes a call that will change their lives all over again. He's going to be released from prison. Years too early. In eleven days' time.

As Temperley's release creeps ever closer, Ros is forced to confront the events that led them here, back to a place she thought she'd left behind, to questions she didn't want to answer. Why did she do it? Where does the blame lie? What happens next?


The Daughter's Secret is out now and you can purchase your copy from Waterstones, Amazon.co.uk or your own preferred retailer.

Wednesday, 12 August 2015

Theatre review: Grand Hotel at Southwark Playhouse



Victoria Serra (Flaemmchen) and the cast of Grand Hotel. ©Aviv Ron

It's 1928 and in Berlin the Grand Hotel is the finest place to stay and be seen. Guests range from charming, thieving nobleman Baron Felix Von Gaigern (Scott Garnham) and charismatic ballet dancer Elizaveta Grushinskaya (Christine Grimandi) on her umpteenth farewell tour, to young typist Flaemmchen (Victoria Serra) with big Hollywood dreams (and an even bigger secret) and the terminally ill Otto Krigelein (George Rae), who just wants to feel alive. The colourful cast of characters is only triumphed in eccentricity by those permanently present in the hotel; its staff members.

Tuesday, 11 August 2015

Blog tour: The Royal We authors Heather Cocks and Jessica Morgan talk about writing together

Today I'm very excited to be part of the blog tour for The Royal We by Heather Cocks and Jessica Morgan of Go Fug Yourself fame! I've recently read quite a few novels written by more than one author, including Tiny Pretty Things and How to Be Bad, and I'm sure I'm not the only one who's been wondering how co-writing actually works. The lovely ladies behind The Royal We share their experience in today's blog tour guest post.


The Royal We -- our new book about an American who falls in love with a prince who’ll inherit the British throne -- is the third novel we’ve co-written. And anytime two author names appear on a book jacket, it inspires loads of logistical questions: “Do you sit in the same room and watch each other type?” “Does one of you do the dialogue, and the other write the descriptions?” “How often do you want to kill each other?” (The answers are, respectively, no, no, and hardly ever.) We completely understand why it’s tough imagining one literary baby coming from two people -- while that may be how human babies are made, writing has a reputation for being more of a solo undertaking. However, we’d argue that not only is it possible to write together, but it’s our favorite way.

1) Four hands are better than two. We start with a detailed outline and trade the manuscript back and forth, editing each other’s work before adding the next section of the story. This means only one of us has custody of the book at a time, and the other gets a prescribed mental break, which prevents the dreaded burnout. And you know that last-day-of-vacation feeling, where dread creeps in about the work you left stagnant on your desk? This system obliterates that. We can walk away knowing the project is perking along in trusted hands.

2) We’re a team. No matter how much they love you, the people who are invested in your success -- your spouse, your friends -- may not have the bandwidth for yet another conversation about what your main character would sing at karaoke. So it’s comforting having one person who is exactly as invested in this book as you are, and who doesn’t need you to re-explain the plot six times whenever you need advice.

3) We push each other. The first thing they teach you in improv comedy class is to react to your scene partner with, “Yes, and...” so that the scene always moves forward. (Ergo, if they pretend to hand you a human bone, you don’t say, “That’s not a bone, it’s a Dairy Milk.”) In writing, sometimes this turns into “Yes, or...” but the idea is the same: Two people building on each other’s ideas can take things much farther than you’d have gotten on your own.

4) You’ve got backup. By necessity, whatever we’re working on gets read multiple times by us both, meaning we catch more typos and errors than we would on our own. With each proofreading pass, we’re surprised by what we missed and the other person found.

5) It’s fun. Getting the newest pages from each other is like a sneak peek at your new favorite book by your old favorite author. And there’s no greater thrill than that. J.K. Rowling, are you sure you don’t want to get in on this? Because we’re available.



Blurb: Rebecca Porter was never one for fairy tales. Her twin sister, Lacey, has always been the romantic who fantasized about glamour and royalty, fame and fortune. Yet it's Bex who seeks adventure at Oxford and finds herself living down the hall from Prince Nicholas, Britain's future king. And when Bex can't resist falling for Nick, it propels her into a world she did not expect to inhabit.

Dating Nick immerses Bex in ritzy society, dazzling ski trips, and dinners at Kensington Palace with him and his charming, troublesome brother, Freddie. But the relationship also comes with unimaginable baggage: hysterical tabloids, Nick's far more suitable ex-girlfriends, and a royal family whose private life is far more tragic than anyone on the outside knows. The pressures are almost too much to bear, as Bex struggles to reconcile the man she loves with the monarch he's fated to become.

Now, on the eve of the wedding of the century, Bex is faced with whether everything she's sacrificed for love–her career, her home, her family, maybe even herself – will have been for nothing.


You can purchase your copy of The Royal We from Waterstones, Amazon.co.uk or your own preferred retailer.

Monday, 10 August 2015

Theatre review: Three Days in the Country at the National Theatre



Amanda Drew (Natalya) and John Simm (Rakitin). ©Tristram Kenton

Based on Turgenev's A Month in the Country, this abridged production was as fast-paced as you'd expect from a play that had been shortened from five acts to just two; taking what could have easily been a sluggish tale of infidelity and unrequited love in the Russian countryside to a snappy comedy that a times leaned perhaps just a tad too much into slapstick territory.

Friday, 7 August 2015

Book review: The Blue by Lucy Clarke


My edition: Paperback, published on 30 July 2015 by Harper, 396 pages.

Description: They had found paradise.
What would they do to keep it?

With a quick spin of the globe, Kitty and Lana escape their grey reality and journey to the Philippines. There they discover The Blue – a beautiful yacht, with a wandering crew.

They spend day after languorous day exploring the pristine white beaches and swimming beneath the stars, and Lana drifts further away from the long-buried secrets of home.

But the tide turns when death creeps quietly on deck.

A dangerous swell of mistrust and lies threatens to bring the crew’s adventures to an end – but some won’t let paradise go…whatever the price.

Rating:

Thursday, 6 August 2015

6 Great British Baking Books in Fiction



Inspired by the start of the new series of The Great British Bake Off, kicking off 10 weeks of delicious baked goods, soggy bottoms, and a plethora of innuendos from Mel & Sue (baking has never been so sexy!), I want to share some of my favourite fictional reads steeped in mouthwatering home-baked goods, and written by British authors.

After all, a slice of GBBO-inspired cake or still-warm-from-the-oven bread tastes just that much nicer when enjoyed with a good book in hand, doesn't it?

Wednesday, 5 August 2015

Blog tour review: A Very Big House in the Country by Claire Sandy


My edition: Paperback, published on 30 July 2015 by Pan Macmillan, 418 pages.

Description: For one long hot summer in Devon, three families are sharing one very big house in the country. The Herreras: made up of two tired parents, three grumbling children and one promiscuous dog; the Littles: he's loaded (despite two divorces and five kids), she's gorgeous, but maybe the equation for a truly happy marriage is a bit more complicated than that; and the Browns, who seem oddly jumpy around people, but especially each other.

By the pool, new friendships blossom; at the Aga door, resentments begin to simmer. Secret crushes are formed and secret cigarettes cadged by the teens, as the adults loosen their inhibitions with litres of white wine and start to get perhaps a little too honest ...

Mother hen to all, Evie Herreras has a life-changing announcement to make, one that could rock the foundations of her family. But will someone else beat her to it?

Rating:

Monday, 3 August 2015

Theatre review: The Who's Tommy at Greenwich Theatre



©Claire Bilyard

Based on the 1969 concept album by legendary British rock band The Who, Tommy tells the tale of a young boy who is so traumatised by an event he witnesses, and his mother's reaction to it, that he becomes deaf, dumb and blind. Understandably it's hard for him to function normally after that and matters are made worse by family members who take advantage of him. However, despite his severe limitations, there is one thing that he is incredibly good at: playing pinball. Even if you're not familiar with the musical or the album it's based on, you undoubtedly know the track Pinball Wizard, which is about Tommy's rise to fame and was sung by Elton John in the movie adaptation of the show in the 1970s.