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Archive for February, 2020

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Three stories combine…

Present Day: In Ridinghouse Bay in Northern England, Alice Lake, single mother of three young children and three dogs, finds a man on the beach. He has no idea of who he is, why he is there, or how he got there, but Alice takes pity on him and lets him stop at her holiday house. While he is there, she tries to help him recover his memories.

Meanwhile in London, young newlywed Lily who has come from her home in Ukraine to live with her husband Carl Monrose, is desperate for answers when her husband fails to come home from work. The police are dismissive of her at first, so she sets out to find him on her own.

1993: The Ross family are holidaying in Ridinghouse Bay. Son Graeme and daughter Kirsty are with their parents on the beach when a handsome and enigmatic stranger strikes up a conversation. None of them realise that this is an encounter which lead to disaster.

These three stories start out separately but soon start to intertwine, and while some parts  were sort of guessable, there were plenty of surprises too. It did take me a while to get into and I was somewhat sceptical about it at first as I did not really enjoy the last book I listened to by Lisa Jewell. However, this one won me over in the end. I listened to the audiobook which held my attention during some long and hilly runs! Narration by Antonia Beamish, who did an excellent job.

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Not having ever read the play by Alan Bennett, or seen the film adaptation of The History Boys, I went into the production knowing very little about it. Set in the 1980s, the story revolves around six bright, high-spirited students and their very different teachers – Hector (Ian Redford) and Irwin (Lee Comley). The teaching staff is rounded out by Jeffrey Holland as the results-obsessed headmaster Felix, and Victoria Carling as Mrs Lintott (in fact, the only female in the whole play).

Hector is a man confused about his own sexuality, which causes issues for him and others, and who wants to, if not incite the boys to rebellion, at least make them think for themselves about what they want to do with their lives, rather than merely follow the path to Oxbridge which Felix is determined they must do. Young supply teacher Irwin is brought in to temper Hector’s anarchic style of teaching. Mr Lintott is the foil to all three of the male teachers, seeing things more clearly and stating things more succinctly. The boys not only have to cope with the pressure of dealing with their futures, but also with everything that comes with being a teenager – they can be loud, raucous, in some cases, discovering their own sexuality, and for at least one, turning to religion to the bemusement of his unseen parents (they were prepared for dealing with drugs, but not for God!)

The beauty of this production was in the script, which was fast paced, humorous and poignant, but also in the casting; whoever was in charge of picking the cast did an outstanding job, as there was not one single weak link in the whole cast.

The boys were played by Thomas Grant as Posner – in love with a fellow student, coming to terms with his homosexuality, but with a sweet sense of humour and a lovely singing voice which he was able to demonstrate on a number of occasions; Jordan Scowen as Dakin, cocksure for the most part but displaying vulnerability too, witty and clever; Frazer Hadfield as Scripps (I adored him), probably the most level headed of the group, sometime narrator to the audience, and an excellent piano player; Joe Wiltshire Smith as the non-academic Rudge with a dry sense of humour; James Schofield as Lockwood; Arun Bassi as Akthar; Dominic Treacy in a very humorous turn as Timms; and Adonis Jenieco as Crowther.

The musical interludes – featuring well known songs from the eighties with video clips of the cast, showing what is going on with the characters outside of what is going on on stage – were ingenious and allowed seamless set changes on stage.

Overall, a truly wonderful production – highly highly recommended.

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In 19780s Deptford, widower and merchant Jonah Hancock is shocked to discover that the captain of his trading ships has traded the ship for what seems to be a mermaid. As news of the mermaid spreads through the community, Mr Hancock is catapulted into high society, where he meets the beautiful and notorious Angelica Neal. The scene is set for a tumultuous journey for both of them…

I honestly wasn’t expecting too much of this book when I picked it up, but I reasoned that I had bought it, so something about it must have attracted me. (It does have a most beautiful cover, so it could have been that!) Actually though, I thoroughly enjoyed it. It’s definitely slow in pace, but for me that was a bonus as it gave me chance to savour the beautiful and luscious writing.

I never felt much for Mr Hancock, and did not particularly like Angelica at first, although my feelings towards her did change and become more positive. The mysticism of the mermaid combines with the gritty reality of life in a shipping town, and focuses a lot on how inhabitants of brothels live their lives, and it is all described wonderfully.

The book is split into three sections and the third section was my favourite, but I enjoyed the whole thing. If there was one niggle, I would have liked to have known more about certain characters (Polly for example) and what the outcome of their stories was. Otherwise though, this is an example of an original story with wonderful writing.

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I listened to the audiobook of The Cows, expertly narrated by the author herself, Dawn O’Porter, plus Karen Cass and Laura Kirman. It’s a mixed bag of a book for me – definitely held my attention throughout, but when looked at in retrospect a lot of the things that happened were verging on ludicrous.

The story centres around three women – Tara, a tv executive who makes a silly mistake one night and it threatens to ruin her life; Cam, a well known blogger who has a hugely successful career, but her mother and sisters despair of her life choices; and Stella, a young woman mourning the death of her sister, who is driven to desperate lengths to get what she wants out of life. Each in her own way, refuses to follow the herd and this has consequences for all of them.

Without giving away any spoilers, I thought the story was entertaining enough and as mentioned, extremely well narrated. Although I listen to and enjoy audiobooks, I generally prefer printed books. On this rare occasion though, I think listening to the book enhanced its appeal. Some of the events that happened just seemed so unlikely that it was fairly obvious they were simply there to move to story along. Stella’s story in particular, while it achieved the point of showing how far people will go to make their dream come true, seemed so ridiculous that I almost lost interest. I liked Tara, I quite liked Cam, and I hated Stella although I did feel some sympathy for her.

I think I expected the book to be more of a comedy – and it isn’t. It is a drama, firmly set in the current day – the internet and social media play surprisingly large roles in this story.

Overall, I enjoyed it enough to try another book by Dawn O’Porter, but this is a flawed read, which I would recommend but with some caution.

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