the woodcutter – kate danley

The Woodcutter – Kate Danley

“The Wood did strange things to humans, especially humans who had a distant touch of the fae within. It turned them from ordinary people into mad hermits, cannibals who ate children thinking they were made of gingerbread, and people who swore thay had been asleep for one hundred years.”

I am an admin for a wonderful (extremely popular) book lover’s group on Facebook, and I decided to ‘use’ the members the other day.

I wanted a book that was whimsical, fairytale-like. Something escapist and reminiscent of the Grimms.  I couldn’t have got a better recommendation from a member – and even better, it was listed in Kindle Unlimited , so no extra cost!

A young woman is found dead in the forest by the Woodcutter, only her chipped glass slippers hinting at her identity.  The Woodcutter is the Keeper of the Peace, and guards the Wood which acts as a barrier between the Twelve Kingdoms of Man and the Realm Of The Fae.  He needs to find the maiden’s killer and ensure that there are no other murderous plots afoot.

This book was exactly what I wanted – a tale of faery and whimsy. Beautifully written, the prose was evocative and could have been written any time in the last few hundred years – apart from perhaps the crack whore in the night club – although she was still handled very delicately and didn’t seem to clash with the style of the rest of the story!

The tale purposely played on the fairy tales that everyone is familiar with – Cinderella, Little Red Riding Hood, Jack & The Beanstalk, Rapunzel etc. It became fun to try and work out who each character was before it was made obvious.  The murderous plot could have just been another fairytale wound in amongst the others – and indeed it was.

I think many people forget just how violent and gruesome the actual Grimm’s tales were before they became Disneyfied.  Danley manages to make her story beautiful, yet violent and cruel, showcasing the best and the worst of people.

I know that this wont be for everyone, but if you’re prone to a bit of whimsy, a bit of magic and a bit of the fairy dust with your murders, this is a fantastic yet easy read – and look how gorgeous that cover is!

the lost art of sinking – naomi booth

The Lost Art Of Sinking – Naomi Booth

I received this as a review copy in exchange for an honest review.

I must admit, when I first saw it, I was expecting a full length novel, but at just 137 pages, it is most definitely just a short novella.

The blurb states that the girls of Class 2B have been perfecting the art of fainting. I found this first line really intriguing, as I did the first part of the story.

Esther, like many girls in her class have been holding their breath or hyperventilating and competing amongst themselves to see who can be the first to pass into a graceful faint.

Although set in North England, for some reason, this had a whiff of the Japanese about it – I could imagine it being a typical Japanese schoolgirl obsession, so the juxtaposition with hearty English girls compared to my internal pictures made it even more compelling.

I really wanted to know more about the schoolgirls, why they had ALL started doing this, what made them continue, how they practiced, but we only followed Esther’s story, and the story left school and followed her through relationships and her life where she continued the practice.

I did enjoy the gentle following of what on the surface was the life of a ‘normal’ young girl leaving home and seeking her own place in the world through varying relationships, coming to terms with the circumstances surrounding her mother’s death and her interaction with her father. However, I felt that the auto-asphyxiation part of it was just an addition to add an interesting element to a rather dull character.

I would have loved more of the group mentality surrounding it, rather than following Esther alone.

An unusual, interesting little story, but not one that I think will stay with me particularly.

 The Lost Art of Sinking by Naomi Booth will be published on 1st June 2015.

the accident – c l taylor

The Accident – C L Taylor

Oh Sue. Poor poor Sue. Everything awful that could ever happen to a woman has happened to Sue, and now her 15 year old daughter is in a coma after being hit by a bus. Sue is convinced that this was a suicide attempt, but nobody else believes her, and obviously this means she’s mad as she has suffered from mental illness in the past.

This book started out so well, with such promise, and I felt that the beginning had come as an inspiration to the author. However, the inspiration soon fizzled out, leaving a formulaic plot, with unlikeable and unbelievable characters acting out increasingly unlikely scenarios.

the nightclub scene was hilarious – I don’t know of any London nightclub that would have an issue with a 43 year old woman gaining access (and being a 43 year old London woman, I felt quite affronted!). But even the hilarity of THIS scene paled compared to the climax which I did have a giggle at.

Even the sentences seemed to lack enthusiasm, not knowing when to stop – they just seemed to go on and on for no reason (apart from racking up the word count). Less is more. And in this case, more was most definitely less.

I probably would have left a short, non-committal review but the icing on the cake was the sentence “He probably thinks I’m about to do a Sylvia Plath and walk into the sea.” Oh dear. Now, that jarred with me, but I thought “Oh no – I must have got my Plath and Woolf mixed up!” so I did a quick Google to check. Perhaps the author should have done a quick Google herself before she hit ‘Publish’.

the invisible library – genevieve cogman

The Invisible Library

Irene is a librarian, but not just your run-of-the-mill librarian. Following in her parents’ footsteps, she is a professional spy for THE Library. A mysterious, secretive library that straddles parallel worlds. The librarians of the invisible library are tasked to ‘obtain’ and bring back pieces from the various alternative worlds. Many have just a few words different in one alternate, whereas some only exist in one, and this is what makes them valuable.

Irene is tasked with travelling to an alternate London with her new trainee, the enigmatic (and handsome) Kai where her search for the book is not as easy as she would have liked – not only does this alternate have magic and fae, there are also vampires and werewolves thrown into the mix. Airship transport and lack of long-distance communication have to be factored in, as well as attack alligators!

With only her knowledge, cunning and use of ‘the Language’ to convince objects to do as she’d like, Irene soon realises that she may be a little out of her depth.

There are some brilliant ideas in this – and book lover is going to go mad over the idea of LIBRARIAN SPIES!! However, there seemed to be more ideas than depth of story. I can completely forgive this as it IS so full of ideas, and because the characters are very well drawn.

This was only published a couple of weeks ago, and Goodreads is pitching it as ‘The Invisible Library – Book 1’ – another reason that I am willing to forgive the story depth, as I feel that this may well be the set-up of a fantastic series.

Don’t get me wrong – there is plenty of action – it’s a rip-roaring adventure that drags you through the streets and residences of an alternative London by the scruff of your neck – sometimes at altitude! And if no second book is forthcoming, I will still be happy to have read this one.

It’s no Rivers of London or The Eyre Affair, but kind of a low-budget mix of the two – so if you like those series, then you will like this too.

elizabeth is missing – emma healey (audiobook)

Elizabeth Is Missing

“Elizabeth is missing!”

This thought comes to 82 year old Maud frequently.  Sometimes she’ll have been thinking about something completely unrelated – the best place to grow marrows perhaps, who that strange woman is in her kitchen, or who moved her staircase.  But suddenly, she’ll remember that she hasn’t seen her best friend for quite some time (although she isn’t really sure when exactly she last saw her) or she will find one of her own handwritten notes, reminding her of Elizabeth’s strange disappearance.

Maud’s daughter Helen doesn’t seem to be taking her concerns seriously, although Helen gets very serious about many of the other things that Maud does – like trying to cook for herself.  And when she goes to the police, they already seem to know the story, and yet they also aren’t trying to find Elizabeth. They just tell her that she needs to stop contacting them – although Maud doesn’t remember having done so before.

Maud’s concern about Elizabeth and the changes ion her own life start to get confused and her mind is cast back to the years after WWII when her own sister Sukey went missing under mysterious circumstances. A mystery that was never solved.

This story has been so beautifully written. The care and the attention and the heart-break of ‘witnessing’ someone falling into dementia / Alzheimers is extremely carefully handled. Although you feel sorry for Maud, it’s never in a belittling way, and it makes me wonder whether the author has been close to someone that has been affected like this.

With Maud being such an unreliable witness, the two ‘disappearances’ are intriguing, as well as frustrating as you know that you are never getting the full story – just little snippets with allusions to more that you have to grab for yourself as clues.

Over the course of the book, Maud’s memory becomes increasingly worse – she can’t always remember the name of things – “The bed for sitting on” instead of “sofa” for example.

If you’re expecting an exciting thriller, this isn’t really the book for you. The real ‘thriller’ aspect comes far more towards the end of the book once we have been given all the clues about what has happened to both Sukey and Elizabeth.

The majority of the story is following Maud’s rambling consciousness, which in itself is fascinating. We, as the audience, read that she’s gone to make herself a cup of tea, and then wandered off, and then feels thirsty and wonders why she hasn’t had a cup of tea for so long, and then wanders back to the kitchen to find the kettle surprisingly warm. We see Maud’s memory loss even though she doesn’t.

Many people, like myself, will have witnessed a family member that has gone through this. It really is heart-breaking, especially when they don’t recognise you, as Maud occasionally finds with Helen and her granddaughter Katy.

There are echoes of Before I Go To Sleep and (the film) Memento in this, but it is truly unique. A fascinating book.

I actually listened to this as an audiobook, and I have to say that Anna Bentinck’s narration is absolutely spot on! It really, really adds something to the whole story – her characterisation is perfect. So, if you are an audiobook lover, this is certainly one to get!

a series of increasingly impossible acts, tricycle theatre

A Series Of Increasingly Impossible Acts

Could you eat a whole lemon? Can you move a car wheel by the power of your mind alone?  Can you fold yourself into a suitcase?

These are part of a series of impossible acts that the guys of The Secret Theatre Company attempt in this show.

As we took our seats at the lovely Tricycle Theatre in Kilburn (I haven’t been there since seeing Adrian Lester in Red Velvet!), the young cast were already on the stage ‘warming up’, as if they were about to run a 100m.  Members of the group then came and had a chat with various members of the audience – I had a lovely chat with Nadia. So far, so ‘different’!

Pens and paper were then handed out to about a dozen people and they were asked to simply write down the name of one of the cast. It was then down to one audience member to pick one of the names out of the hat – to randomly choose which of the cast would be the night’s protagonist. This ensures a different show every night – although I expect the underlying themes etc would be the same.

Last Friday, we had the lovely Cara Horgan as our protagonist. So, she introduced herself, and attempted the impossible acts.

What came next is difficult to explain. This is less a show, and more a 70 minute out-pouring of genuine memories and emotions from the night’s protagonist – from the awkward first kiss, to school dances, broken relationships, remembered misdemeanours and heartfelt confessions, fit into structured ‘scenes’. Aided by the rest of the cast, Cara guided us through her highs and lows including full-on wrestling, downing a bottle of beer and a full cast dance routine.  A friend was around for one of the shows where there was a Q&A afterwards. Apparently the way the show goes has a lot to do with the cast member’s state of mind on the night as much as anything!

It’s poignant, thought-provoking, honest, quirky and endearing – even though occasionally I wasn’t all together sure what I was watching.  There were laugh out loud moments, and moments that were harder to watch. I have to admit, there were moments that it felt slightly similar to Losers – but in a good way!!

It was so entertaining that I want to take my daughter to see it and am more than happy to watch the whole thing again – especially as there would probably be a different protagonist considering there are 10 cast members.

A Series of Increasingly Impossible Acts is showing at the Tricycle Theatre until 31st January. You can buy tickets here.

the mayan prophecy – alex scarrow (audiobook)

The Mayan Prophecy

Liam O’Connor should have died at sea in 1912.
Maddy Carter should have died on a plane in 2010.
Sal Vikram should have died in a fire in 2026.

Yet moments before death, someone mysteriously appeared and said, ‘Take my hand …’

I started reading (well, listening to) the Time Riders series as I had already read and loved a couple of Alex Scarrow’s ‘adult’ books, and it sounded like a series that my daughter would enjoy. As with a lot of YA series, I read the first to check it would be OK for her.

I got the first TimeRiders audiobook almost exactly a year ago. And the main characters and the whole concept was enchanting. I felt so drawn in by the stories of Liam, Maddy and Sal that over the past year I have continued to work my way through the series – in fact I almost caught the lovely Mr Scarrow up – the last (Book 9 – The Infinity Cage) only having been published in November.

Now, I know that the time travel paradoxes (parodxii?) are flawed throughout, and that this would annoy many who are purist about their time travel (such as my husband), but the characters, the research, the pure adventure in these books are fantastic – almost perfect. I’ve also learnt some lovely snippets of history.

The three main characters are rescued moments before their deaths by Foster, who tells them that they have been signed up by ‘The Agency’ to help him police time travel as they all have specific skills that are required. Their base is in a 48 hour loop time bubble, located in a bridge arch workshop space in New York on Monday 10th & Tuesday 11th September 2001.  The ideal place to be located to spot if there have been any changes in history.

The technology they are using is from the 2040’s and includes a couple of meat-bots for protection, Bob & (later) Becs who have GM human bodies with highly-advanced computer processor brains.

The books take the group all across the world and time, often leaving them supposedly stranded – and with an underlying story-arch of who picked them? Why are they there? Who are they really working for? Is it actually their job to ensure that mankind eventually ceases to exist?

In this particular story the story-arch is definitely drawing to its conclusion – they find more explanations for their own existence, and some of the clues in the earlier stories are being decoded.  The team travel to Nicaragua in 1994 to visit some symbols that helped them to decode The Holy Grail (in The Doomsday Code – book 3 and probably my favourite) to see if they can find any more clues. This leads them to visit the same spot in the 1400s when everything starts to go horribly wrong.

I hate to say this, but this is my least favourite of all the books. However, there may be a number of reasons why this is. For starters, I don’t want the series to end. I love the characters, and the thought of not being able to dip into their rather intriguing lives actually upsets me!

Also, they all seem less sure of themselves, and less sure of each other. They feel like they’re distancing themselves, and that is actually a theme within the book. The problem with not being a tight team is that something bad always happens to the stragglers – and that concerns me for the last book. I want it all to be lovely in the end!

This book was also a lot more dark and violent than the previous ones too – which is harsh considering they’ve been back 65million years, to the American Civil War, Nazi Germany, Medieval England, Victorian London 19th Century pirates and Empirical Rome!

A wonderful, wonderful, well-written and researched, exciting series where I am dreading finishing the final book. I know I’m going to put it off for a little while yet!

Also, I have done the whole series as audiobooks, and Trevor White has narrated them all – and he does an absolutely brilliant job. They aren’t short books, and yet his energy levels keep the suspense and the action and excitement palpable!

a perfectly fine life – playwrought #3, arcola theatre

PlayWROUGHT #3

This is the third year that the lovely Arcola Theatre in Dalston has run their ‘PlayWROUGHT’ series.

These are rehearsed readings with talented actors and directors featuring the work of established and new playwrights. The series is seen as an opportunity for the writers to see hear their brand new work in a professional setting, with an audience.

I went last night to see A Perfectly Fine Life written by Annie Pierce, and I believe this was her first ever play.

There was a very crude ‘set’ (a few chairs and tables and a couple of props), a little lighting and the actors, although obviously familiar with the piece, were reading from their scripts.  They did get up, and move through the different scenes. A narrator gave some indications of scene or time passing that would obviously have been worked out for a final production.

However, it was surprising that after a while, I simply didn’t notice these facts. The story was indeed so gripping, and the actors barely stumbled that the fact that the scripts that they were reading from became almost invisible.

From the blurb:

“Zinnia can’t have the baby she wants. Elizabeth offers to be a surrogate mother. And lawyer Anwen does her best to handle everyone’s interests. But when things do not turn out as expected,what is it like to depend on a stranger for what you want most?”

I loved the story, and I really felt for all the characters in what becomes a very difficult situation – and wasn’t at all what I was expecting. Each of the four main characters – successful couple Zinnia & David who desperately want a baby, and Ghanaian couple Elizabeth & Jacob who initially want to be able to give their children a better life with the money that they can make from Elizabeth’s surrogacy.

Social issues and prejudices weren’t tip-toed around – they were confronted head-on, realistically, even though that may not have been particularly comfortable to witness in some parts.  I guess the only part that I was slightly disappointed with was the ending.  It confused me slightly but also felt a little twee in comparison to the rest of the play.

I’m just sorry that I only just now knew about the PlayWROUGHT series, just as it’s coming to an end again for the year. I will be looking out for it next year for definite. A fantastic idea that attracted a surprisingly large audience and was fantastically presented.

I hope that Annie Pierce got some great feedback from it – and if I ever notice A Perfectly Fine Life on at a London theatre, I will be sure to go along to see how it translates to a ‘proper’ stage!

I’d also like to say that I haven’t been to the Arcola since March 2012 to see The Pitchfork Disney, and they’ve done a LOT of work to it since then – it’s a really nice space. Especially the bar where this week they started serving hot food. A big bowl of veg stew, arancini balls, tasty salads and various condiments (you have the choice of everything, some or nothing – no menu) that totally hit the spot for just £5. Well worth a visit!

the temp – emily benet

The Temp

I was lucky enough to spend a rather interesting day with Emily Benet in November 2013 when we were both part of the E17 Storywalk.

The Temp tells the story of twenty-something Amber, who has been undertaking a series of temping jobs while she decides what she wants to be when she grows up. Having lurched from one drunken gallery private view to another with her best friend Farrell, she decides “I could do this” and so becomes ‘an artist’.

The book takes us on her whirlwind experience of becoming an artist, starting with a little white lie, via a dashingly handsome sponsor, complete with a set of supportive friends and ending up…well, you’ll have to read it to find that out.

I have to say, I really liked Amber and her friends, and there were some fantastic original artistic ideas in the book. It made me quite sad that it wasn’t a true story! However, the story was not at ALL what I was expecting from the title. I thought that we were going to be treated to little vignettes of life as a transient being – a slice of life in all the odd jobs that temps have to endure.

Apparently the original title was Spray Painted Bananas. Emily wrote the book on the online platform Wattpad where it reached over a million hits! I can see that the title maybe gives away some of the plot, but I think I prefer it, personally.

I really enjoyed the quick snippet of Amber’s life and experience that we’re treated to, but for once, I wish a book had been longer. I wanted more! Perhaps there’s another Amber story for us to be treated to? Tie Dyed Cauliflowers? Emulsion Rolled Kumquats? I shall be waiting Emily! 😉

The Temp is only 99p on Kindle at the moment. Go on girls, treat yourselves. OR you can check out the trailer and maybe win a copy?

losers, the rag factory

Losers
Losers

So, this was my first theatre trip of 2015 – to a place I had never heard of (let alone been before) and that is this company’s debut show.  Risky? Maybe – but a theatre company calling themselves Tit4Twat was a good sign that I would probably appreciate their humour.

The show blurb:

LOSERS is a show about four reality TV rejects who are deliciously – perhaps dangerously – desperate for fifteen minutes in the limelight. They might be sick of X Factor, Bakeoff and even Extreme Couponing turning them down – but Arthur, Rachel, Sophie and Will are far from giving up on their dream.

In fact, they’ve created their own ‘genuinely original’ reality game show. The ultimate way to show casting directors that they’re capable of being the next Jade Goody. And you are invited. In fact, you are invaluable.

Arming the audience with electronic voting handsets, the wannabes will compete fist-to-fist in eight nail-biting rounds to prove they’ve got what it takes to make it in the delectable world of ‘reality’. Shit may go down. Who knows? You (and your electronic handset) decide.

The Rag Factory wasn’t the easiest place to find and certainly ‘unique’, just off of Brick Lane (cue the usual having to fight off from being dragged into various curry houses on the way there and back) – and the back alley and rickety stairs felt a bit like walking to a kill room – but the welcome was very warm and the space was fine once we were in there. Perfect for a new theatre company, I guess!

The show wasn’t sold out, but was very well attended – which I guess is what is needed, considering one of the key parts of the show is the fact that the audience get to vote on the outcome.  I couldn’t have been more excited when I was given my little electronic handset – the power was now mine. Well, mine and the rest of the audience.

At first, it felt a little forced – Arthur, Rachel, Will & Sophie giving us the background as to why they had decided to create their own reality TV show, which we were now part of – but once they got going, their ‘contestant show reels’ playing behind them as they told us a bit about themselves were very amusing, and things started to relax.

I really don’t want to give too much away, but they split the show into 8 rounds – and at the end of each round, dependent on the audience’s votes, there was a winner and a loser (occasionally, in the case of a draw, there was more than one loser).  The winner then got to inflict a punishment on the loser(s).

The rounds included ‘most genuine’, ‘best bum’, ‘best Beyonce’ and a quick-fire round. And the punishments got increasingly brutal/gross. As it says in the blurb, shit DID go down! But the four of them were genuinely likeable all the way through.

I can understand that it wouldn’t be for every one, but I thought it was hilarious – definitely an entertaining 70 mins that left me with a smile on my face.

Losers is showing every Friday, Saturday & Sunday until 1st February, and I hope that they get a packed room every night – they definitely deserve it – they couldn’t do much more to ensure their success…and *I* certainly wouldn’t do some of what they do on the night! Visit http://tit4twat.com/ for more info and to book tickets. Go on. Do it!

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